Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A Response to Islamophobia

Laurens
Laurens
Fri Dec 11, 2015 8:05 pm by Laurens

Let’s first begin with a definition of the term Islamophobia. I posit that Islamophobia is the irrational prejudice against Muslims, often revolving around an idea that Islam as a whole is violent in nature due to the occurrence of terrorism among a minority of Muslims.

There are some who posit that this is just a made up word that is used to discourage any kind of criticism of Islam. The first thing to point out is that all words are made up, it is what tends to be done when a new thing occurs that needs a concise description. To say a word is made up and therefore cannot be describing something real makes no sense. Secondly it’s not true that it was invented to discourage criticism of Islam, it is meant to discourage criticisms based off a bigoted and prejudiced view of Islam. No secular person is going to have a problem with you putting forth a well reasoned argument as to why you think the Qu’ran is not divinely inspired. The problem is when people like Sam Harris advocate that we profile people who ‘look Muslim’ (whatever that means) at airports because being Muslim inherently makes you suspect according to him.

Of course as with any word it is going to get misapplied and misused, but this does not negate the fact that Islamophobia is a very real phenomena, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in society. If you are not convinced that the above definition relates to an actual phenomena, take a look at the following examples:

This list is by no means exhaustive. Anti-Muslim hate crime is rampant across the Europe and the US. In the face of these facts you cannot deny that there is an irrational hatred and fear of Muslims that is aptly described by the term Islamophobia. Obviously it is not just something that is expressed in violent crime and abuse. By far the most pervasive form of Islamophobia is in it’s rhetoric. With people like Sam Harris insisting that Islam is somehow an existential threat to civilization or Donald Trump advocating for a ban on Muslims from entering the US.

In my opinion perhaps the main issue that aids the growth of Islamophobia is the mainstream media, and what it chooses to report. We only ever hear about Islamic terror attacks, thus it is easy for us to develop a misguided belief that this is a characteristic of Islam rather than an anomaly. This, combined with a lack of education on Islam provides fertile ground for the development of Islamophobic views. One thing that is often said is that moderate Muslims do not do enough to speak out against terror. This is demonstrably untrue:

(Again, not an exhaustive list)*

Muslims do more than enough to speak out against terrorism. Failure to do elemental research before making a claim is a characteristic of bigotry. Having said all that, why should they have to speak out in order to prove that your assumptions about them are incorrect? They have no more obligation to condemn it than your average Christian has to condemn the Westboro Baptist Church. They might want to of their own accord, but they shouldn’t have to just to educate ignorant morons who can’t be bothered to do elemental research. If someone says “all Christians are like the Westboro Baptist Church” does that mean all Christians are obligated to now speak out against the WBC in order to prove this moron wrong? Of course not. In the case of Islam people are speaking out, all the time, and it still doesn’t change people’s views.

As with Christianity, Islam is incredibly diverse. A brief glance at this Wiki page will demonstrate just how diverse. Extremely conservative sects such as Salafism are prone to extremist interpretations, but it is important to note that this is but one of many diverse sects. It is also worth adding as a side note that an ally of the West; Saudi Arabia uses it’s extreme wealth (a lot of which comes from us) to export Wahhabism (the strict Saudi form of Salafism) across the world—a contributing factor to the rise of ISIS. Politics aside however, the point is that Islam contains a wide variety of interpretations, only a very small subset of which promote extremism.

It is for this reason that pulling quotes out of the Qu’ran doesn’t prove anything. You can find horrendous abhorrent things in the Bible, but you’d be hard pressed to find many Christians that believe it, or act upon it—many won’t even know it’s in there. The same goes for the Qu’ran. Just because you can find something in there that appears to condone violence, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all Muslims believe it. Religions are complex things, we can appreciate this when we talk about Christianity, why is it so difficult to accept when it comes to Islam?

Islam is a religion, not a race is a catchphrase you hear a lot in this debate. I don’t see how that is relevant though, all it really suggests is that Islamophobes are bigoted in a different way than racists are. Well done! Although in many instances this is not true—hence why attacks on Sikhs have risen along with the rise of Islamophobia. If you have brown skin, a beard and a turban you must be Muslim according to some. Demonstrating a link between racist views and Islamophobia.

It is often asserted that the left are inventing the term Islamophobia in order to limit the free expression of those who are just out there to criticise ideas. This not true. Criticise ideas all you want, no one is going to call you an Islamophobe if you want to write an article about how you don’t think that Muhammad was divinely inspired (assuming it doesn’t make broad generalizations about all Muslims or insults them unnecessarily). If, however, you are going to advocate social policies that are inherently discriminatory against Muslims, or ramble about how moderate Muslims do not do enough to condemn terrorism (despite this being demonstrably false) thereby implying that all Muslims are terrorist sympathisers then you are an Islamophobe and you deserve to be called out on it.

Of course Islamic terrorism is evil, and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, but we shouldn’t allow it to fill us with so much hatred and fear that we completely abandon our critical faculties. Sadly it seems many already have. This is not a case of uber-left-wing people pandering to extremists through fear of reprisals if they so much as venture the slightest criticism of Islam. It’s simply reasonable people trying to tell those who are caught in an epidemic of scaremongering that they have blown things out of proportion and should think before they make sweeping generalizations. Islamophobia is a real and very disturbing phenomena and it needs to be spoken out against.

 

* I realise that I appear to contradict my assertion that we only hear about Islamic terror attacks in the news by posting a list of news sources that report Muslims speaking out against terror, however I do not believe these stories are as widely spread, or given as much time as stories about terror attacks. Terror attacks are always front page news, these stories aren’t.

Why Atheism Should Be Taught In Religious Studies

Laurens
Laurens
Wed Dec 02, 2015 7:44 am by Laurens

This week we had news that secular views being left out of GSCE Religious Studies was a mistake. Of course this has got some conservative commentators backs up. Why should we teach non-religion in classes about religion? To answer that first we should ask why we are teaching children about religions in the first place. Clearly, or at least hopefully we don’t teach Religious Studies in order that children can decide which is the right one, or be told what to believe. We do it to encourage harmony and understanding. So we don’t remain ignorant and all become massive Islamophobes (although I’m not sure that is working out so well).

In light of this, it is very important to educate people about those who have no religion at all. To complete our set of understanding. No one is advocating that Religious Studies classes teach kids that God is imaginary, just that people are made aware of what atheists are all about and why. To neglect this is to leave people open to all sorts of nonsense that gets said about atheists by the religious. That atheists have no morals for example, or that atheists believe in nothing. The only way to counter such misinformation is to educate people. If Religious Studies has a purpose at all, it is to nurture understanding between faiths and beyond to the irreligious. Otherwise there is really no use in teaching it.

I also think that it should not be called Religious Studies, but rather Philosophy and Ethics or some more inclusive title. Again not to marginalize religion, but to encourage an understanding of world views that extend beyond religion and the broader context in which religions and philosophies interplay and relate to each other. Just teaching kids what each different religion believes is not truly insightful. It would serve us all well to learn about the cultural context in which these beliefs evolved. It doesn’t undermine belief in Christianity to learn about Jewish Messianism and the Roman occupation of Judea (and subsequent corruption or perceived corruption of the Jewish temple authorities), but it surely teaches us something about humanity, our history and how we cope with change. We would all do better if we were educated on all different kinds of Philosophies and their cultural and historical heritage, a vital part of that is those who have rejected religious belief in favour of a rational and empirical world view.

This is not a case of sneering liberals wanting to turn your children into God-hating communists. Its about giving the next generation the best possible understanding of what it is to be human, our struggles, and cultural heritage in the hope that it will iron out any prejudice and tribalism. Really, including atheism in Religious Studies should be the first in a step towards teaching a broader humanities subject. Not because we want to remove religion from your children’s lives, but because religion doesn’t have the monopoly on things humans believe and should therefore only comprise a part of their education on the subject.

UPDATE 04/12/2015 – It has been pointed out to me that I was perhaps unclear about my usage of the term atheism. To be clear I do refer to the wider definition that is probably better defined as Secular Humanism that simply atheism—which could apply to religions such as Buddhism. So whenever I use the term atheism in the context of it being taught as part of a Religious Studies syllabus, I mean Secular Humanist views, not just lack of belief in God.

School reality in Austria

Inferno
Inferno
Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:00 am by Inferno

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time now but I never got around to it. I wanted to continue my politics series, but atm Austrian politics really sucks and I’d rather not talk about it.

In my last post on education, I briefly brushed on one astounding fact: Education is hereditary. I stated that “between 60-80% of learning achievement can be predicted by looking at the background of children”.

I won’t delve into why that is too much, but I want to explain how that creates problems for teachers.

I am currently teaching at a school in Vienna. It’s not a bad school at all, in fact I’m quite happy about the school’s infrastructure, the colleagues there, the children and of course the parents. All in all, I’m satisfied.

Could things be better? Of course they could. Our computers and printers are slow and old, our projectors hardly work at all and we’ve barely got enough space to work on. (About the size of an average computer screen, 1.5 if you’re lucky.)
Compared to Nordic countries, that’s nothing! In Sweden, I had my own desk and two cupboards. That’s about as much as our head mistress gets!

All that aside, there’s a much deeper problem with our education, one that can’t easily be fixed.

 

Let’s back up a little. A few decades ago, kids were still beaten. Kids were scared to go to school, but they went anyway. Kids had suffered through a damn lot.

And yet, they got good grades, learned a lot and essentially built what we have today: A (more or less) functional society with (more or less) good morals and a (more or less) slowly closing gender gap, with (more or less) little discrimination against people due to whatever reason… All in all it’s a good society, though of course there are still things we can improve.

However, kids were more polite, though that is of course not due to any innate quality of generations past, but rather because they feared the rod. In any case, teachers in those days had it much easier but used inadequate methods to teach.

Nowadays, we have the exact opposite. Teachers have the benefit of smartboards, neuroscience, excellent teacher training, readily available teaching materials and so on and so forth.

And yet, teaching is more difficult than ever. You have to make your subject not only more interesting than the other subjects, but you actually have to compete with video games, movies, taking drugs, drinking and even sex. Try doing that, making your subject more interesting than sex: Good fucking luck.

 

If that were the only problem, we’d be in trouble, but we would be able to fix it: Appeal to the parents, make them work a bit.

Here’s the real problem: Many parents, at least in Austria, think they know better than the teachers. I’ll give you an example. Last week, we talked about “animals” in class: Basic vocabulary, talking about them, etc. Possibly the easiest animal for a German kid to remember is “rat”. So I was surprised to see that a boy had written “ret”. While my colleague was teaching, I went up to him and asked him about that. Here’s the short discussion that ensued:

Kid: “My mom told me you spell it like that.”

Me: “Well that’s a problem then because that’s not the way it’s spelled. I studied English for a reason, did your mom? Look, here’s the book spelling it “rat”, here’s the dictionary, here’s…”

Kid: “I don’t care. My mom told me you guys suck anyway, so I don’t have to listen to you.”

Now this might be an isolated incident, but it’s still representative of the mentality many parents hold: Teachers are lazy, get paid too much and they know absolutely nothing. Here’s another example. We’re currently re-structuring the curricula at my teachers university college (PH Wien) and I volunteered to help. Needless to say we have no power to do anything at all, but we still meet regularly. During the first meeting, one of the participants (parents association representative) asked, and I paraphrase his long question: “How come, after all this training, there are still bad teachers?”

Now this, of course, betrays a wild ignorance of Gaussian distribution: Some people are very good, a lot are medium and some are very bad. Teachers training doesn’t get rid of the bottom percent, it just moves the whole curve a bit to the right, aka. towards the “better” part of the curve. However, there is a deeper message: Teachers need to be controlled, they need to be supervised, they need to be watched over.

On the whole, of course, I agree: Teachers should do their absolute best, just as doctors and firefighters and … should do their absolute best. No questions asked. However, that’s not possible without public support (aka money) and public support (aka supporting parents and society).

 

The third problem, and I’ll be sure to confuse you with this sentence, is migration.

“Wahhh, right wing scum.”

No, don’t get me wrong. The problem isn’t with migrants, it’s with how we accept migrants. This may be different in other countries, but migrants in generally aren’t welcomed in Austria: There’s a strong anti-immigration strain-of-thought, especially in large cities. If the only thing you tell migrants is that they’re lazy and that their language isn’t worth a damn, then we’ll have a society of people who think just that. If we tell people that only our language is important, then not only will migrant children lose their identity, but we’ll lose the ability (or willingness) to adapt to new cultures.

This may have something to do with our history: We’ve had a long-standing feud with the Ottoman Empire (aka the Turks) and we’ve been invaded more often than possibly any country on earth. (This may or may not be a slight exaggeration) We were once a mighty empire with loads of cultures where we didn’t have to fear diversity, now we’re a tiny country with no say in any matter. However, fear of diversity will kill this small country: Only through increased diversity and increased acceptance of it will we be able to hold our place.

Finally, it is exactly the wrong approach to tell children that their language isn’t worth anything: We must encourage them to learn their mother tongue, if only because mastery of one language will make mastery of a second language more probable. The earlier, the better; the more, the better. In short: If, as a foreigner, you want your kid to learn English, teach it your mother tongue first.

 

Jumping back to the beginning, I think I’ve identified a few problems with schools as they’re currently run:

1) School needs to be exciting, but schools nowadays are boring.

2) Society neither trusts teachers, nor are they seen as authority figures. Where respect and mutual aid used to be the norm, distrust and low-profile conflict are now much more common. Parents tell their kids not to trust their teachers because “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. Parents think they’re experts in education, simply because they have a kid and have read a few books on the subject.

3) Education isn’t as “interesting” a political topic any more. Screw what they said in “House of Cards”: Education isn’t anything that will capture votes. Or maybe it will, but after that we won’t do anything useful. I’ll have an entire post about that soon. *

4) Cultural identity and the benefits from it aren’t recognised as worth protecting, instead we want people to assimilate in a way that’s comfortable for us. Never mind what’s best for the kid, let’s think about what’s best for me.

These are just a few of the problems teachers in Austria (and probably also in other countries) face. I’m not saying that teachers are saints, of course not. Neither am I saying that they’re purely victims. I’m saying that we should be realistic about the challenges of teaching, that parents should support a child’s learning and that schools can’t work miracles. When in doubt, talk to your child’s teacher once in a while and formulate a plan how you can best support your child.

*There are many things I could talk about, but I think this will be the most interesting. I’ll be talking about current problems in schools (due to the system), current scientific investigations into the topics including possible solutions, and I’ll talk about how the state is trying to fix it: By doing the opposite of what experts are telling them, I might add.

If you have any questions regarding schools, school reforms, teaching practices, etc. I’ll be happy to answer.

Global Warming – Is there a solution?

Inferno
Inferno
Mon Feb 17, 2014 1:52 pm by Inferno

I spend way too much on my newspaper. 200€ a year, just to get a weekly paper. Granted, it’s about 10m² just on one page and it’s as thick as your average Bible, but still… For those of you who don’t know it, I’m talking about the German newspaper “Zeit”. It really is excellent, I just don’t have the time to read it every week. Not even close. So mostly, I just pluck out the articles that really interest me and go through those.

I won’t bore you with the article in “Zeit”, instead I’ll link to the article it references:

Rollin Stones: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Short version: We’re pumping out much more CO² than we should. In fact, if we keep going at this rate then we’ll reach the red line (about 565 Gigatons until 2050, counting from today) in just over 18 years. (Today’s output ~31Gt/y, and 565/31=18.2) The problem: We’ve got about 2700Gt of CO² sleeping under ground in the form of coal, gas and oil.

So what are our choices? Depending on which side you listen to, there’s different solutions and different non-solutions. If you listen to the deniers then obviously there’s no need for a solution, the greens (note: NO capital G) say that solar/wind/bio-fuel and cutting carbon emissions (either through fuel economy or reducing the economy) are solutions but that nuclear power is a big no-no. The nuclear industry says that nuclear energy is the only solution.

If you’re reading this, you’re interested in what I think and say. Only to thrash it in the comments.

I will try to base my arguments on as much science as I can, though I warn you up-front: Not all here is hard science, some of it is soft science aka. humanities. In those cases, I present arguments and hope that they’re good enough.

A paper in 2004 (Pacala and Socolow, 2004) offers 15 solutions. (page 3 in the PDF, page 970 on paper) They can be categorized into two (or three) sections:

1) Improve efficiency

2) Use renewable energy sources or those of low CO² output

2.1) Use carbon sinks for fossil fuels

All of these 15 solutions are good and I can think of a few others, though they would be costly and possibly not as effective. So let’s focus on these 15. We’ll agree that 1 and 2.1 are all good, skip forestry (I’m very happy to see that on the list and it’s something that will take a lot of effort, sadly) and we’ll move to #2. Here we have five possible solutions: Biofuels, Photovoltaic, Hydrogen, Wind and Nuclear. I’ll try to very briefly deal with all of them, but I will completely skip Hydrogen because I know exactly nothing about its use as a fuel. If anyone could enlighten me in the comments, that would be much appreciated. It’s also noteworthy that both Hydro-electric power and tidal power have been skipped. The solution: There’s just so damn few of them, they make no global impact whatsoever. (Combined, they could potentially make up 1/4th of the power needed today, but that’s potential (i.e. sometimes not accessible and/or in natural reserves) and there’s huge costs involved.)

Potential energy available

So let’s quickly look at those four remaining sources of fuel. I’ll start with Wind.

There are two ways of harnessing the power of the wind: Offshore wind farms and Onshore wind farms. Theoretically, wind power could give us more than enough energy. (see graphic 1) For the following figures, I will rely on this 2010 UK report as shown over at Wikipedia.
We can easily see that there is a huge difference in cost between onshore and offshore wind power: Offshore costs nearly twice as much. That’s also the reason why many companies are reducing their offshore wind power spending and are focusing on other means. For example, to achieve Britain’s goal of 15GW, this article suggests that you’ll need about 60$ billion. I don’t have that kind of money and neither do they, it seems.
The second way, onshore wind power, suffers problems of its own. Turbines don’t look good, they kill birds (though not nearly as many as people might want you to think), they’re unsafe… None of these are real problems, so we’ll skip those and get onto real ones. For this, I have absolutely no concrete number and must rely on what I was told by a high-ranking member in the Austrian ministry for agriculture. (includes renewable energy) If his numbers are correct, then onshore wind installations are pretty much used up. Austria produces about 1400MW from Wind Energy, or about 4% of our national consumption. Most countries produce between 1-7% of their energy from wind energy, in fact the EU average is 7%. Only countries with access to the ocean or with huge parts of unused land produce more than that. If I am to trust said person above, the EU average can rise to 10%, maybe 12%. It’s doubtful if more can be produced, simply because the turbines take so much space.
In short, Wind power can only do so much to curb carbon emissions. We must look further.
Having dismissed wind power as a viable alternative, we move on to biofuels. Contrary to common belief, not all of biofuels are generated by sugar cane or maize. This pop-sci article discusses the worth of forestry-related biofuels. Other researchers are looking into algae, fungi and other alternative biofuel sources.
Apart from the obvious problems with biofuels, like “food vs. fuel”, soil erosion, deforestation, impact on water, etc., there’s another huge problem: ERO(E)I or Energy Return On (Energy) Investment. Basically it means that you put in X amounts of energy and you get Y back. If Y>X, then you have a net gain. An EROEI of 1 means that you just break even: You get back what you put in, so there’s no gain. An EROEI of anything lower than 1 means you lose energy. Fusion, to take but one example, has an EROEI lower than 1.
OK, I see what you’re getting at. What’s the EROEI of bio-fuels? Murphy and Hall (2010) calculated three different EROEI’s:
1) Biodiesel with 1.3
2) Corn-based Ethanol with 0.8-1.6
3) Ethanol (Sugarcane) with 0.8-10
Most biofuels are simply too inefficient to make a big impact. We’d have to use vast swathes of land to achieve this. As Pacala and Socolow (2004) state:

Option 13: Biofuels. Fossil-carbon fuels can also be replaced by biofuels such as ethanol. A wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provided the ethanol itself were fossil-carbon free. This ethanol production rate would be about 50 times larger than today’s global pro- duction rate, almost all of which can be attrib- uted to Brazilian sugarcane and United States corn. An ethanol wedge would require 250 million hectares committed to high-yield (15 dry tons/hectare) plantations by 2054, an area equal to about one-sixth of the world’s crop- land. An even larger area would be required to the extent that the biofuels require fossil-carbon inputs. Because land suitable for annually harvested biofuels crops is also often suitable for conventional agriculture, biofuels production could compromise agricultural productivity.

Now I suggest, and you may or may not agree with that assessment, that this is simply unacceptable. We can not, nor should we, use biofuels to replace fossil-carbon fuels. Our greatest hope lies in electric motors. Biofuels can substitute a small sliver of current use, but if I were to make decisions I’d ban them outright.

This leaves us with the photovoltaic and nuclear options. To achieve 1/15th of today’s energy consumption, we’d need an area the size of Israel. (2mio ha = 20,000km² ~Israel or Slovenia) This wouldn’t be a problem if we could just plant them wherever we want, but we have to factor in watts per m² (Graphic 2), distance to destination, etc.

Watts per m²

There is the added problem that photovoltaic costs quite a bit (see UK 2010) and again uses up large tracts of land. However, some people suggest it could make up 3-4 wedges (of 14-16 wedges needed) in this battle. I’m not so optimistic, at least not with the current state of technology. I’m all for using photovoltaic, don’t get me wrong. We’ve got some panels installed ourselves, as much as we could fit on the roof. However, they’re still not at a point where they’re effective enough to really take over. Currently, the most effective (and expensive?) cells have an efficiency of 44%. The average is far below that.
My conclusion: Solar power is by far the most promising of the above four mentioned, but we shouldn’t slack off on innovating them.

Last but not least, I want to turn  to nuclear power. I have previously already talked about how nuclear power is actually an incredibly safe alternative, the problem is just that people don’t know about that. I won’t go into that here. The above mentioned UK estimate (2010) calculates nuclear cost as being lower than tidal, offshore wind and solar power, and as being in the vicinity of other forms of energy. (onshore, coal, gas, biomass, etc.) By “in the vicinity” I mean that they overlap a huge amount, because of course there is some error margin. Nuclear’s EROEI is, depending on what kind of reactor you run, either lower than wind’s (10 vs 18) or much higher than wind (50 vs 18), but no matter what it’s far higher than either biofuels or photovoltaic (1.3 and 6.8 respectively).
There is then, only one real problem: Nuclear energy is a good way of battling CO² output, but on its own it’s not sufficient.

Nuclear alone may just not suffice

I will reserve a political discussion of these issues for a later time. I hope that I’ve made a few points clear:

  • Some suggested solutions (biofuels, wind) may just be far less viable than advertised. These “solutions” should be avoided if at all possible or at least only implemented to a certain degree.
  • Other solutions are difficult to talk about due to a lack of information (wind) or due to public opposition (nuclear), though that wasn’t mentioned now.
  • Various solutions are needed to solve this problem. No one solution can fix this problem on its own. (Well, returning to our hunter/gatherer days might…) Greens are harming the cause (of reducing CO²) by not allowing nuclear energy to be part of the solution.
  • I personally would go further and postulate that avoiding the oncoming crisis is ONLY possible if we use nuclear energy. I’d suggest going for 3-4 wedges instead of the 1 wedge suggested, if only to have a safety net. As soon as solar energy comes to the point where it can actively take over, we can turn off the reactors and lean back in contentment. But until then, nuclear energy is a vital part of the solution.

Open wide, let me put this in you

Prolescum
Prolescum
Thu Jan 30, 2014 12:52 am by Prolescum

Given that the UK Government is considering switching to open source formats and software, and that several municipalities (or entire government departments) within and without the EU have decided to ditch proprietary software in favour of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) alternatives, it’s worth us having a look at the pros and cons of such a move, if only to better understand (or object to) the decisions being made at this level.

Firstly, a quick explanation of the terms are in order:

Open Source Software: See here for the official Open source Definition

Open source is a development model based upon the “four software freedoms” elucidated by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation as: the freedom to run [the] software for any purpose; the freedom to study how the program works and change it to suit your needs; the freedom to redistribute the code; the freedom to distribute your modified software so others may benefit from your changes.
The free in Free Software refers to liberty, not price. In practice, this means that using software with an open source license gives developers, engineers and end-users the ability to share their ideas and make contributions (fix errors or bugs, add new features etc) that benefit anybody using said software. It also means that the code is available for constant review, giving rise to the argument that FOSS deals easily and promptly with, for example, security issues.

Proprietary Software:

Software licensed under the exclusive terms supplied by the copyright holder. Generally speaking, proprietary licenses give the right only to use the software under certain conditions, in practice meaning that one is restricted from modifying, sharing, studying, distributing or reverse engineering the code.
Only the provider of the software has access to the source code, and therefore only they can modify, release updates or add new functionality to the software.

Licensing:

It’s worth noting that both proprietary and open source (or free) licensing uses the same legal basis (usually copyrights) to construct agreements. Proprietary licensing (most often in the form of an End User License Agreement) will state precisely what you can and cannot do with your purchased license, whereas open source licenses can vary from completely free, i.e. no restrictions at all, to the requirement that published code must be released using the same or equivalent licensing.

So how would it benefit government departments?

1. Switching formats (for example from Microsoft’s proprietary .doc Word document format to the open standard .odt format) could mean that all government departments regardless of operating system or software in use will be able to read and write to the same target and expect the same results. Of course, I suspect this happens now with office documents, but is burdened by an EULA with an annual fee.
As the format has new features added, no additional cost is applied outside the manpower required to roll out the updates. This would also make it easier for the various departments to deploy a variety of operating systems depending on their needs without the burden of having to re-format documents for particular users.

2. Overall costs of deployment are reduced (not paying for licenses or new iterations of the software, for example). This is a disputed one, as a counter argument exists. The cost of retraining staff for using new software, and the cost of training or employment of new IT staff with a new system has been said to vacuum up any savings made by switching.
As it currently stands, much of the UK Government is still using versions of Windows and other related software created well over a decade ago, so I believe the retraining costs of switching would amount to much the same were they to update to more modern versions, with the added benefit of lower future spending.

3. Updates, bug fixes, plugins and tweaks etc can be created in-house without additional licensing or approval. Most IT departments, whether government or business, have employees who write and deploy software for front- or back-end offices. An easily understood example might be an intranet where employees have access to FAQs, forums, customer databases and the like. As has been my experience, certain parts of an intranet may make use of bespoke Internet Explorer (Microsoft’s default browser) features, such as ActiveX plugins. Only IE supports ActiveX, and only Microsoft decides whether a plugin is still useful or will be deprecated.
This is a problem because the choices are often either to use an outdated browser (not secure when used outside the intranet) or rewrite from scratch to whichever iteration they update to. This is a vicious circle, and would be ameliorated by using an open standard such as HTML5 to code the intranet and open source software to maintain legacy features (for example by using a browser’s plugin architecture or altering its code) while keeping up-to-date with regards to general internet security.

4. Writing your own software. Libraries and back-end services written for one open source program can often be used in other programs without express permission (depending on the license), lessening the burden of writing new ones from scratch.

What are the downsides to switching?

1. With regards to format-switching, Microsoft Office now supports open document formats, so only some brief training informing staff to save in .odt would be required. Switching entire platforms may require further training due to the variety of options available outside the proprietary software pool, however, given that various departments may be required to give training for new versions of proprietary OS deployments, I believe the costs are comparable.

2. Long term viability. An issue that comes up within the Open Source communities is what to do with a project when its creators or maintainers decide to no longer support the software. This could add to the overall costs if a department depends on some code that is no longer supported, as it may require a switch to an alternative or for the IT chaps to maintain it themselves.

3. Interoperability. An issue that plagues the modern world as a whole, really, but one that should concern a government considering deployment of FOSS. An example might be using Microsoft’s Exchange for email. Support for ActiveSync et al outside the Windows environment is choppy, if not appalling.

4. Regulations. There may be legal requirements upon software deployment, such as using particular encryption methods or in fact using software with specific licensing restrictions, exemptions, or requirements. I believe this would be the issue most necessary to adhere to, and the most difficult to overcome.

All cards on the table, I am an advocate of FOSS, so my opinions should be regarded accordingly.

That said, these are only a few of the pros and cons we should consider (the ones that came to mind when writing this post…). Can you think of any other issues governments could run into from a switch? Or perhaps you’ve noticed a benefit not noted above? How about a mistake I’ve made? Comments and suggestions very welcome through the comments link below.

Further reading:

List of Open Source Licenses
Legal Issues and Best Practices around procuring or deploying open source software

“What about this document?” Holocaust deniers make me sick!

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Tue Dec 17, 2013 12:43 am by theyounghistorian77

So, in the space of less than a week, I have caught out twice two different Neo-Nazi holocaust deniers on Twitter trying to use (or rather abuse) this ITS B.A.D Arolsen file against me (at the bottom of the post) in their mad claims that the true total of Jewish deaths is lower than the approx 6 million figure that I and every other scholar who is not a Nazi or a racist accepts as the truth (on a range of various sources; see Lucy Dawidowicz, “The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945″; Raul Hilberg, “The Destruction of the European Jews”; Peter Longerich, “Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews”; and Arno J Mayer, “Why did the Heavens not Darken?” among many many other excellent titles).

For those who do not know, the ITS B.A.D Arolsen is, as it says on its website, “a centre for documentation, information and research on Nazi persecution, forced labour and the Holocaust.” It’s an excellent service and I would recommend in the same vain “The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names” by the Yad Vesham Center which has painstakingly compiled “the biographical details of two thirds of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices.” For those who do not know too much about the Holocaust, I would highly consider you visit both websites together and fully digest them, so that one may begin to get an understanding of the actual vast scale of the tragedy of the Holocaust, for both document it. Unsurprisingly, no Neo-Nazi I have ever had the unfortunate luck to to run into has ever admitted to liking full documentation. It proves too much truth. Take for example the following written by General Commissioner Wilhelm Kube on 31 July 1942, which is arguably one of the most explicit documents about the Nazi mass extermination. No denier has ever managed to explain this one away to me, and I don’t expect any to. Thus far I have quoted it in all debates I have ever had with Neo-nazis, even on this very forum.

“In every encounter with partisans in White Ruthenia, it has been established that in the former Soviet part of the district general as well as in the former Polish part the Jews together with the Polish Resistance Movement in the East and the Red Army men of Moscow are the mainstay of the partisan movement. As a result of this, and in view of the danger to the whole economy, the treatment of the Jews in White Ruthenia is a predominantly political matter which, therefore, should not be solved according to economic but political angles. During detailed consultations with the SS Brigadefuehrer Zenner and the extremely capable Chief of the SD, SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Dr. jur. Strauch, we found that we had liquidated approximately 55,000 Jews in White Ruthenia during the last 10 weeks. In the Minsk-Land area, the Jewry was completely exterminated, without endangering the allocation of labor in any way. In the prevailing Polish Lida area, 16,000 Jews, in Slonim 8,000 Jews, etc., were liquidated. The preparations for the liquidation of the Jews in the Glebokie area were completely disrupted by the arbitrary action by the rear army area, which has already been reported to your office. In the rear army area , I was not contacted , 10,000 Jews were liquidated who were scheduled for extermination by us anyway. In the city of Minsk about 10,000 Jews were liquidated on 28 and 29 July, 6,500 of whom were Russian Jews , mainly old people, women, and children , the remainder consisted of Jews unfit for work, most of whom had been sent to Minsk from Vienna, Brno, Bremen, and Berlin in November of the previous year at the Fuehrer’s orders.

The Slutsk area was also ridded of several thousand Jews. The same applies to Novogrudok and Vileika. Radical measures still remain to be taken for Baranovichi and Hanzevichi. In Baranovichi, about 10,000 Jews are still living in the town alone, 9,000 of whom will be liquidated next month. In the town of Minsk, 2,600 Jews from Germany have been left over. Besides, all the 6,000 Jews and Jewesses are still alive who have been working, during the action, with the units who had employed them previously. Even in the future the largest Jewish labor force will be in Minsk, since the centralization of armament industries and the burden on the railways makes this necessary for the time being. In all other areas the number of Jews utilized for labor by the SD and myself will be fixed at 800 at the outside but at 500 if possible so that after the completion of the action 8,600 Jews will remain in Minsk and approximately 7,000 in the 10 remaining territories, including the territory Minsk-Land, which is already free from Jews. The danger that the partisans will, in future, derive any important support from the Jews will then have ceased to exist. I myself and the SD would certainly much prefer that the Jewish population in the district general of White Ruthenia should be eliminated once and for all when the economic requirements of the Wehrmacht have fallen off. For the time being, the necessary requirements of the Wehrmacht who is the main employer of the Jewish population are still being considered. The clear anti-Jewish attitude of the SD and the difficult task of the units in White Ruthenia to deliver again and again new Jewish transports from the Reich to their destination, both put an undue strain on the physical and spiritual strength of men of the SD and diverts them from their real purpose, which lies in the White Ruthenian region itself.

I should therefore be grateful if the Reich Commissioner could see his way to stop further Jewish transports until the partisan threat has finally been overcome. I must make 100 percent use of the SD against partisans and against the Polish Resistance Movement, both of which demand the use of the full strength of the SD units, which are none too strong as it is.

After the conclusion of the anti-Jewish action in Minsk, Dr. Strauch, SS Lieutenant Colonel, reported to me tonight, with justifiable wrath, that without any order from the Reich Leader SS and without notification of the commissioner, a transport of 1,000 Jews has suddenly arrived from Warsaw for use in this air fleet area.

I should like to ask the Reich Commissioner (who has already been advised by teletype), in his capacity as the highest authority in the Ostland, to stop such transports. The Polish Jew is, exactly like the Russian Jew, an enemy of all that is German. He represents a politically dangerous factor, the political danger of which exceeds by far his value as a specialized worker. Under no conditions must Wehrmacht agencies of the army or the Luftwaffe, be allowed to import, without the approval of the Reich Commissioner, into an area under civil administration, Jews from the General Government who might endanger the entire political work and security of the district general. I am in full agreement with the commander of the SD in White Ruthenia, that we are to liquidate every Jewish transport which has not been ordered or announced by our superior officers, so as to avoid further unrest in White Ruthenia.” – Source

so they always turn to tidbits, lunatics and distortions to make their case, tactics that are of course very familar to the Creationists on this forum and they easily belong in the same category of stupid (even if somewhat more offensive perhaps). This is what brings me to the following document you see now:

What do we have here? Although I will not say I am 100% sure on this namely because actually up until this week i hadn’t seen it, but I’ll take my cue from this which is another excellent website on Holocaust education and specialises in refuting denier arguments. From that I am inclined to believe we have a 1979 document taken out of context by the deniers that, in actuality, represents figures for applications to death certificates made by family members and relatives of the victims. Of course, if an entire family had died in the holocaust, there would be no one around left to make an application. Remember, this document comes from 1979, so it’s one thing the figures seen would be incomplete even in that department anyway by modern standards, families since would have made claims. It’s entirely something else that the figures within cannot describe final numbers of Holocaust dead like in the way the deniers are spinning this document.

In short Holocaust deniers makes me sick!

Austria – A period of doom or boon?

Inferno
Inferno
Sun Dec 15, 2013 10:05 pm by Inferno

It’s been quite some time since Austria’s general elections. In fact, it’s been so long that we’re almost decided on a new government.

 

You see, when I last talked about Austrian politics, we weren’t sure who would win. Now we know: The moderate left party (SPÖ) won, the ÖVP came second.

 

Since then, I’ve had headaches every day.

First of all, the right wing party gained 3%, putting them in third place. It was really close, they already had 22.5% and only the mail votes (basically you vote by mail, preferred by Greens and ÖVP) put them down. In a surprising turn of events, the public realized that the NEOS are a viable alternative and that FRANK is full of shit.

Be that as it may, the two largest parties gained a majority vote, so they can form a coalition without any problems. Well, if they’d agree on anything, that is. Sadly, they’ve been bickering since the elections took place (late September) and haven’t really made up their mind on anything.

That is, until now. Just yesterday (12.12.2013) it was announced that all talks had succeeded and that a new government would be formed. I’ll come back to that in just a second, but I need to deal with something first.

This SPÖVP coalition (SPÖ + ÖVP, but we simply can’t think of them as separate. They’re like an old, married couple) tried to get one particular law through since 2001: A new public service law (I think that’s what they’re called?) for teachers. It’s all about how much money we’d make and how much we’d work, that sort of thing.

Now you might think that’s an easy thing to do. But then you read “trying since 2001″ and you realize: Something’s not right.
Congratulations, you’ve just taken your first step to understanding Austrian politics: If something can easily be done, Austrian politicians will choose the hard and completely crazy way.

In this case, the Teacher’s Union rebelled against the law, complaining that we’d get more work for less pay. You know, work 50 hours instead of 40, yet lose about 200k€ over a lifespan. I’m not joking, those are the official figures.

So yeah, no service law change in the last 12 years. Now this new government absolutely has to pass this law, a law I’ve been rebelling against for the past few months, if they’re to be taken seriously. (Well, nobody takes them seriously any more, if there were to be a new vote, they’d lose by a landslide.)

Now in the past few months, I’ve been politically active (the first time in my life) in trying to stop this new law dead in its tracks and instead get an expert commission on the case. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this and the final vote passes on Tuesday (17.12.2013), so I’m extra busy in organizing a demonstration (protest) and generally getting the info out there.

At our last protest, we were able to gather about 450 of us, on Monday we’re expecting a bit over 1.000 with about 20.000 protesting in all of Austria. We weren’t able in mobilizing the masses of Teachers because our Union did not approve.

In any case, that’s what I’m currently involved with.

 

 

Now, I said that I’d talk about this formation of government thing. Basically, they’re supposed to cut spending, increase revenues, the usual. One way to cut spending inside the government was to get rid of ministries. The two parties decided on two ministries.

If, by now, you know anything about Austria, you’ll know that they didn’t uphold the deal. All ministries will remain. Well, that’s not exactly true: They will change, but they will still be there. For example, a new ministry for “Youth and Family” will be created, but to keep the balance, another one has to be integrated into an existing ministry.

It makes absolute sense to merge the ministry for education (BM:UKK) with the ministry for science (BM:WF) (in charge of Universities). The BM:WF creates teachers training and generally handles tertiary education, the BM:UKK deals with pre-tertiary education. The two fit perfectly.

If you vote “answer two, they did not do that” then you receive 100 internets. Of course, the simple, logical solution did not sit well with Austrian politicians, so they decided to merge the BM:WF with a different ministry and they kicked out the minister (currently the most liked minister we have) as they did so.

Now here’s the question: Which ministry would they merge the BM:WF with? Possibly the ministry for transport, innovation and technology (BM:VIT). Then again, that would be too obvious. It could be merged with the ministry for health (BM:G), responsible for hospitals and doctors training. No, still too obvious. It could be merged with the ministry for agriculture, forests, ecology and water management (BM:LFUW), but even that is too logical still.

Instead, it will be merged with the ministry for economy, formerly (formerly as of yesterday) the ministry for economy, family and youth (BM:WFJ). (Remember that the latter two are being split off to form their own ministry… Why? No idea. Because, change.)

This obviously makes no sense, if only because it will lead to further marginalization of universities and will probably lead to increased economic incentives to join a university.

 

So there you have it, folks: My current life laid out in front of you, with all the political ups and downs we’re currently experiencing in Austria. With any luck, we’ll successfully thwart the new law, but we’re most assuredly entering a period of troubles in Austria.

Or is this really just a ploy by the government? They want us to think we’re going down the drain so they can then jump out as our saviours. I wouldn’t put it past them, but I doubt they’re intelligent enough to pull off such a scheme.

Another ridiculous poll from the Daily Express.

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Sun Nov 03, 2013 10:31 am by theyounghistorian77

According to probably the UK’s most hyperbolic newspaper on a front page published on November 1 2013, “98%” of respondents to its survey agreed with a motion that there should be a “crusade” against migrants, particularly Bulgarian and Romanian ones. A classic argumentum ad populum.   Of course what the daily express did in setting the question was to contextually load it by embedding it within a stream of highly negative information about the subject matter. The previous day, for example, the Express ran a story suggesting within it that 28 Million (emphasis on that number) Romanians and Bulgarians could be coming to our shores. Any astute observer of population statistics would immediately pick up that “28 Million” is a cumulative figure representing both the approximate populations of Romania (appx 22 Million rounded) and Bulgaria (appx 7 Million rounded) [So actually appx 29 Million, using 2012 statistics]. To suggest that all 28 or 29 Million would indeed be coming here is evidently absurd, for it would mean that there would be absolutely no Romanians and Bulgarians in, erm, Romania and Bulgaria. So why the such large number? 1) Again, tabloid sensationalism 2) Again, negative information. So that figure of 98% agreeing with the loaded question is to be sadly expected, plus the fact that only Express readers were polled anyway. If there should be a campaign against anything, it would be against conducting ridiculously biased polls like this. Of course, not that this is new to the Express anyway. Also, why the image on the front page of what appears to be an Islamic headscarf seeing that Bulgarians and Romanians are overwhelmingly Christian?

Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com