Careless Stereotyping

Ramadan LanternsI’ve been privileged to travel widely, and have had conversations with educated people in several countries where Islam is the norm. On one visit to the Levant, one of my acquaintances made statements starting “Christians should…”. I was taken aback. After all, what characteristic do all Christians have in common?

When you eliminate all the doctrines that are contested, balance for those who support right- and left-wing politics, allow for two millennia of schisms and state co-option and factor the micro-fragmentation of the protestant portion of Christendom, the only thing left in common is the syllable “Christ”. I realised the term was being used as shorthand for a stereotype, embracing everyone far away in the western world, summarising a set of sketchy facts mixed with biases and misunderstandings.

So when we in the west who are not adherents to Islam speak of “Muslims”, who are we talking about? We are doing the same thing my acquaintance in the Levant did; taking countless unfamiliar people who we consider “different” and tagging them with a word that doesn’t mean much to us but does allow the application of a stereotype.

More than that, it’s a bad stereotype. Just like calling everyone in the western world “Christian”, I have a problem with the attribution of any motive or collective responsibility to the 1.6 billion people who actually are Muslims, or of a unified strategy by the 49 countries where they are the majority, let alone to the others caught up in the stereotype’s dragnet (many of whom are in fact Christians, as well as other religions).

To say “Muslims should…” is to immediately use an impossible generalisation, to invoke a stereotype, to validate the rhetoric of discrimination and to indicate unfamiliarity with people who might fall into the classification (as well as to covertly engage in ignorant proselytism as some of the conversations I’ve followed this weekend illustrated).

How can discussion of a statement that starts something like “Muslims should…” by people who are not Muslims do anything other than harm? Given the number of people, of countries, who are tarred with that brush, certainly nothing actionable could arise from it. That’s why, when I hear people ascribing actions or motivations to “Muslims”, I now respond: “which Muslims, where, and how do you know?”

Rome’s Answer To Milton Keynes

High Roman Wall, originally uploaded by webmink.

We went walking yesterday around the remains of the Roman town Calleva Atrebatum in Silchester, Hampshire. This was an large, bustling town at the focal point of England’s road network in Roman times. It appears to have been the distribution hub for Roman Britain, just like the modern purpose-built town of Milton Keynes.

It declined when the Romans left, and was finally killed off in the 13th century by the Black Death. A great deal of the enormous town wall remains standing, enclosing otherwise almost empty farm land.

Air New Zealand Goes Hobbit

Their safety video is the first I’ve actually wanted to watch all the way to the end…


London Thrill Ride

Seems the fairground is now a London fixture. Walking back across Waterloo Bridge at the end of our last holiday break of the summer, we saw that the London Eye has been joined by a sort of “London Needle” that provides a high-level thrill-ride on flying swing-seats over London. We didn’t have time to try it out but it looks exciting!



These were the ones over the Dales – on the way into Wensleydale, in fact – rather than anything to do with computing.




We spent the last two days in Dentdale (in the Yorkshire Dales National Park) following my talk at OggCamp. Here’s a taste of what it was like:

Call For Participation

Have you ever attended an open source conference? In my article for ComputerWorldUK today, I briefly review four good choices that you can attend over the next few months.

Portland Submarine tour

Operations RoomTorpedo RoomTorpedo TubeSubmarine Tower

Portland Submarine tour, a set on Flickr.

One enjoyable perk of being a speaker at OSCON and a new author at O’Reilly Media was an invitation to their “Friends” reception at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. It featured a tour of the decommissioned US Navy submarine USS Blueback, which you can see here.

Border Chaos

It’s not just Heathrow – Eurostar is a mess too. I had a meeting in Paris on Monday and was transiting London so took Eurostar instead of flying from Southampton. The outbound journey was no trouble at all, with barely a glimpse at my passport by the French border staff. But the return journey today was another matter.

I queued for the entire hour prior to the train departure, and boarded the train at the time it was supposed to depart (it was 12 minutes late, presumably because of delayed passengers). There was absolutely no reason for the queue, except for the passport check by the UK Border Force.

Their process it slow at the best of times – every passport has to be scanned and electronically checked, presumably the visual check all other European border staff use isn’t enough. But it was especially slow for two reasons. First, there weren’t enough staff on duty – only one of the three cubicles I could see was occupied. Second, the extra checks on people with non-EU passports were done in a way that blocked the lines of EU-passport-holders. The French border guy told me this had all started 4 or 5 days ago – what’s the betting staff from Eurostar have been drafted in to Heathrow to paper over the cracks?

Of course, the reason this is happening is because of political grandstanding by the UK government. None of them has to put up with any of this inconvenience as they have their own rich-and-special lanes, so they are happy to leave the public to be hugely inconvenienced while their political infighting over staffing levels, accountability and “being tough on immigration” plays out.

You may have thought it was just Heathrow that was messed up, but Eurostar in Paris and Brussels is just as bad. I took this video while I was waiting today to help you see the mess Theresa May is overseeing:


By the way, if you’re a TV editor looking for content, go right ahead and use this, it’s CC-BY licensed so you don’t need to ask me.

✈ I Always Wanted A Portico

I Always Wanted A Portico, originally uploaded by webmink.

This house in Edinburgh has a grand classical portico – on the roof of the house next door! Never let practicality get in the way of your dreams!

(sample of the daily posts from The Global Mink)

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