Quicklinks: crows, climate and computers

There’s an interesting story about crows from the BBC (found via io9) about a girl who regularly feeds crows. That wouldn’t be so remarkable if the crows weren’t now giving her gifts in return. We probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Crows are highly intelligent and have long term memory of people. There are wild animals that can think and feel and reciprocate a person’s gifts. If people had more interactions with animals we would probably hear more such stories. At the moment they tend to be limited to pets.

One of my recent quicklink posts (well… December) mentioned both the need to reduce consumption of meat to reduce (drastically) our impact on climate change and the strong opposition that meets such proposals. In a heartening, though non-binding, move, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have released their 2015 scientific report to the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services which explicitly mention reducing consumption of meat due to the effect on climate change. This is covered in Slate.

In the world of computing it seems like we are gradually winning the fight against unnecessary and invasive internet surveillance. Not necessarily because everyone has been convinced but because the people fighting surveillance are a cohesive movement. And then there’s also an interesting piece on how discussion about security vulnerabilities in code can be prevented laws. The main feeling of the article is frustration at how laws prevent important ethical discussions.

If not free speech then what?

Free speech is absolutely vital for the sort of society in which I wish to live. I want a society where ideas can be freely exchanged, where they are judged on their merits alone and not on who supports or derides them. If we do not have freedom of speech then there can not even be debate on any other issue. This is something I’ve tried to defend throughout the history of this blog, whether it was calling out France for outlawing opinions, the UK for arresting people for harmlessly expressing their views or just arguing against offence being something we should be protected from. Now I need to do it again. Continue reading

Feminism and equality

I’m all for equality. As Trivium declares, rather strongly:

Equality for every race, sex, sexuality,
And every choice to live our lives,
And to you bigot cretin, ignoramus,
Mind your own god-damn, fucking business

Therefore I tentatively support feminism. I say tentatively because, at times, it seems to move from promoting the equality of women to becoming anti-male and, at times, dangerously irrational. I do have a few recent examples about where I think feminism has moved away from equality and where I can no longer support it. Continue reading

Is there life after a mistake?

It’s a question worth thinking about due at least one story in the news. Ched Evans was convicted of rape, sentenced to five years in jail and released after serving half of it. He is a football player who is once again training with Sheffield United and that has caused a certain amount of drama. A television presenter resigned as a patron of the club, followed by two others, as well as a sponsor threatening to leave, and an Olympic medallist says she will want her name removed from the stadium if he is re-signed. Is that the right course of action? Continue reading

Animals in zoos

White Bengal Tiger at Cougar Mountain Zoo.

In a sense this post serves as a follow up to one of the links in a previous post of mine. I linked to a piece that argued that animal captivity was not inherently wrong and which detailed a number of ways in which captivity might actually be better for the animal. I would agree that there are occasions when captivity is ethical and/or necessary but I got the feeling that I would find much fewer occasions than the author would. I want to now draw people’s attention to an article published last month in Slate which looks at how zoos are bad for animals. Continue reading

World Humanist Day

Today is World Humanist Day which serves to celebrate and promote secular humanism. Although I’m a bit apprehensive about the name, humans are not the only creatures that are important, it’s still an important movement with which I share a number of goals. There is a long post about the history of humanism on Wikipedia but, for those who are not familiar with it, the International Humanist and Ethical Union defines it as follow.

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

These are important points for us to move forward as a society and not live in the sort of world where people are sentenced to death for marrying someone of a different religion or a society where someone can sell medicine that has no effect just because they dreamed it up. The British Humanist Association recently put a series of videos describing humanism that were narrated by Stephen Fry and deserve a look. They give the humanist answers to questions about morality, truth and how we find meaning in our lives.

Lastly, and related, I want to bring attention to a petition for secularism in South African schools. Secularism isn’t only important for atheists, it’s important to everyone who wants the freedom to believe what they want. It means that people can not discriminate or impose their views just because they are Christian and you are Muslim, or they are Hindu and you are an atheist.

Some good news

About a month ago, I wrote about the case of Cornealious Michael Anderson III, a man who was convicted but never sent to jail. He managed to turn his life around and start a family but was re-arrested 13 years later and was going to have to serve that time. I am pleased to say that, a few days ago, he was released from prison and given credit for his entire sentence.

“You’re a good man, and you’re a changed man, and that makes a huge difference in my decision today…. You’re not the man you were fourteen years ago,” said Brown. “I believe that continuing to [incarcerate you] serves no purpose” — here there were gasps and tears from the Anderson family — “I think it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. I think it would unnecessarily punish an obviously rehabilitated man.”