As the Buddha said 2500 years ago... we're all out of our fucking minds. (Albert Ellis)
There have been a few occasions over the last year where people suffering mental illnesses have been the subject of much discussion.
In March 2015 there was the tragic loss of Germanwings flight 9525. It was discovered that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been receiving treatment for mental illness. Under strict privacy laws, nobody at his employer, the airline, had received any information about the diagnosis or treatment.
During the summer, the private mailing list for a large online community discussed the mental illness of a contributor to a project. Various people expressed opinions that appeared to be generalizations about all those with mental illness. Some people hinted the illness was a lie to avoid work while others speculated about options for treatment. Nobody involved mentioned having any medical expertise.
It is ironic that on the one hand, we have the dramatic example of an aircraft crashing at the hands of somebody who is declared unfit to work but working anyway and on the other hand when somebody else couldn't do something, the diagnosis is being disputed by people who find it inconvenient or don't understand it.
More recently, there has been openly public discussion about whether another developer may have had mental illness. Once again, there doesn't appear to be any evidence from people with any medical expertise or documentation whatsoever. Some of the comments appear to be in the context of a grudge or justifying some other opinion.
What's worse, some comments appear to suggest that mental illness can be blamed for anything else that goes wrong in somebody's life. If somebody is shot and bleeds to death, do you say low blood pressure killed him? Likewise, if somebody is subject to some kind of bullying and abused, does this have no interaction with mental illness? In fact, Google reveals an enormous number of papers from experts in this field suggesting that mental illness can arise or be exacerbated by bad experiences.
Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in the UK each year. In the USA it is 26% of the adult population, each year. These may be long term conditions or they may be short term conditions. They may arise spontaneously or they may be arising from some kind of trauma, abuse or harassment in the home, workplace or some other context.
For large online communities, these statistics imply it is inevitable that some participants will be suffering from mental illness and others will have spouses, parents or children suffering from such conditions. These people will be acutely aware of the comments being made publicly about other people in the community. Social interaction also relates to the experience of mental illness, people who are supported by their community and society are more likely to recover while those who feel they are not understood or discriminated against may feel more isolated, compounding their condition.
As a developer, I wouldn't really like the idea of doctors meddling with my code, so why is it that some people in the IT and business community are so happy to meddle around in the domain of doctors, giving such strong opinions about something they have no expertise in?
Despite the tragic loss of life in Germanwings 9525, observing some of these other discussions that have taken place reminds me why Germany and some other countries do have such strict privacy laws for people who seek medical treatment.
This is not a new world, this is simply an extension of the old one. I'm not going to write here about sweeping changes that are happening now, but changes that have been taking place in plain sight for many decades. No one has flipped a switch, only tweaked and tuned variables here and there to lead us down this path. I'd like to reflect on where we are now but there is no way I could describe how it is we got here, the journey was far too complex and filled with ommissions, half-truths and outright lies. It's likely we will never know what has brought us here.
I live in Scotland, a country that is a part of the United Kingdom and a member of the European Union. We have a Scottish Government, although certain matters are still handled by the UK Government. The European Government also handles some matters and these can take effect across the entire European Union. I do not feel that I can hold trust in any of these bodies anymore.
The European Convention on Human Rights was, for me at least, a beacon of hope. A series of fundamental rights guaranteed to be upheld for every person within the European Union. A series of fundamental rights that has been ignored by governments repeatedly:
- 1999: it was held the UK had violated the human rights of several homosexual soldiers who had been dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality
- 2002: it was held the UK had violated the human rights of a widower regarding entitlement to receive bereavement benefits who had been discriminated against on account of his gender
- 2005: it was held that the UK violated the human rights of prisoners by denying them the ability to vote
- 2010: the stop and search procedures used by the UK police pursuant to the Terrorism Act 2000 were considered illegal under the ECHR because they did not require the police to have grounds for suspicion before using them
This is not an exhaustive list, just select cross-sections of our recent history. It is important to remember that in each of these cases, it took a citizen to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. These rights were violated by the UK government until the actions were challenged, the legislation that allowed them was currently enacted into UK law without regard for the ECHR.
It should also be noted that the ban on prisoners voting is still in effect in the UK.
We've learnt that the ECHR is not an effective safeguard against the abuse of powers by government. The UK government also sees the Human Rights Act as a problem, although at least scrapping it has been delayed for now.
Much of these breaches of human rights are justified by the government as in the interest of the runaway train known as "national security". I have recently had direct contact with one aspect of this during my journey home from 32c3. You can read about my experiences with airport security here and here.
My experiences at these airports angered me for a number of reasons. The first of which was that I was asked to expose my genitals as part of the routine screening, which I do not believe to be proportionate at all. At Luton, I was at the point where I was intending to leave the airport and take the train instead before I was allowed to excercise my right to opt-out of the nude body scanner.
Since these incidents, I have conducted some research into these scanners and started an article on the Open Rights Group wiki.
While the security officer at Luton had tried to tell me that the radio waves used could not penetrate clothing, they in fact can and this is the entire purpose of them. While the security officer at Luton told me that the machines did not generate an image, they are in fact doing exactly that, even if that image is processed by computer vision algorithms as opposed to being viewed by a human reviewer.
A leaflet by the Department for Transport, made available on the Aberdeen Airport website, also states that no image is created, and yet this is exactly how the scanners work. I have never seen this leaflet printed and available in the airport itself, although I admit I do not fly regularly and may have missed it. That said, it does not provide a true representation of the scan process and I would go as far to say it contains an outright lie.
In a document published by the UK Government titled "Response to the consultation on the use of security scanners in an aviation security environment", they state:"nearly all passengers, if they fully understand the procedures, would be unlikely to opt for [the alternative of a private search]"
Even with this display of confidence that they believe the public are happy with the invasion of privacy brought by the security scanners, they have still chosen to not fully inform the public in the way in which the scanner operates.
It is the lies that anger me the most. We claim to live in a democracy and you cannot have a democracy without transparency. It is not too late for the Government to earn back my trust, but for now, they haven't given me good reason to believe anything they produce.
If you have read this article and you would like to support efforts for change in the United Kingdom, please consider joining the Open Rights Group and perhaps getting involved in their work.
December was the eighth month I contributed to Debian LTS under the Freexian umbrella. It was a bit of a funny month since most of the time most open CVEs were already taken care of by other team members (which is nice) but it resulted in me not releasing a single DLA which feels weird.
Nevertheless in total I spent nine hours working on:
LTS Frontdesk duties like the triaging of 16 CVEs and patch reviews (which actually found an error reassuring me that spending time on this is useful).
Finding a fix for CVE-2015-7555 in giflib. I did not release a DLA yet since I hoped upstream would comment if this is the proper fix.
- Discussion on using the same nss in all suites continued.
- I did further upgrade test for nss focusing on Java this time (which is a heavy user of nss for its certificate handling).
- Enabled the internal testsuite of nspr as well since nss and nspr often get updated in lockstep. This resulted in 809723 and upstream bugs 1236333, 1236334, 1236244 (which were already merged thanks to Wan-Teh Chang). The current modifications are available here. Overall the test suite needs more cleanups but it's already useful as is.
On unpaid time I introduced some usertags for tracking our non DLA related activities (although it seems I'm currently the only user).Other Debian stuff
- I uploaded libvirt 1.3.0~rc1 and 1.3.0~rc2 to experimental and 1.3.0 final to unstable.
- I uploaded libvirt-python 1.3.0 with newly added autopkg tests
- Filed bugs reminding that libvirt-bin is a transitional package that will be dropped soon.
- git-pbuilder updates to 1.37 and 1.38
- fixes for 791759 and 766350,
- doc updates including the addition of the patch queue handling
Still looking for time to finish gbp import-orig's rollback support.
- I added a function to link to the Debian BTS to my emacs config to ease writing these kind of posts.
This release is very large part the work of Thierry Onkelinx who added stable sha1 support in a new function sha1(). Here, stable means that numerically equivalent numbers (in the sense of the semi-famous R FAQ entry 7.31) result in identical hashes. This is useful for hashing results from numerical analysis---where the representation may differ bitwise between, say, 32 and 64-bit platforms. We started to write a little more about this in a (at this very point still rather unfinished) little vignette.
We also had a nice pull request from fellow Rcpp hacker Qiang Kou who updated the code to use XLENGTH so that large vectors can be supported.
A new Octopress version was promised a year ago. While I've liked writing in Markdown, the deployment workflow was horribly broken and keeping Octopress up to date was impossible. I blogged so seldom that I needed to consult the documentation every time in the recent days.
After looking into several projects, Ghost seems most promising. And the good news: it has a split-screen Markdown editor with integrated live preview.