31 December 2011

Lunatic hackers? By Sybil

Internet and other mans of communication are controlled by Governments, and are even censored in some countries. To fight this censorship, the Chaos Computer Club, a German group of hackers, which is even against anti-piracy laws because they undermine online freedom, is planning to create its own satellite system, in order to allow a safer and more independent access to Internet...

But, putting a satellite in stationary orbit turns out to be difficult for these hackers as they have a low budget and they do not have the high-tech know-how to send up their satellite! Some people fear that this new grid, free from any control, would allow illegal communications.

The final, and very ambitious, goal of these hackers is to send a civilian to the moon within the next 23 years...

Given their limited means, their grandiose ambitions would appear a little Utopian! 


23 December 2011

Communist dynasty... By Clotilde & Hannah

North Korea is mourning the death of its “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-Il. According to North Korean State media, millions are weeping in the streets and crying out their loss. This may seem a bit strange knowing that Jong-Il’s arrival to power in 1994 was quickly followed by a famine causing around 2 million deaths and that today there are still daily food shortages and very poor infrastructures.

Kim Jong-Il’s death could mean a new hope for this country, but his successor is none other than one of his sons, about whom we don’t know much beside the fact that he is in his early twenties. He is maybe a bit young to take on the task of improving the lives of 23 million people...

12 December 2011

Back to the future... By Jenguiz

Are we in 1984?

In 1948 George Orwell wrote 1984. He describes a man's life in a totalitarian regime. Has our world become like the one described in this novel?

In 1984, the Government is always keeping an eye on the population. An ordinary citizen simply can't escape from video cameras, they are almost everywhere, even in his home. And what is happening today? Videocameras in shops, in most public places, on top of your computer screen, even on your television set if you have kinect, a camera that detects your moves for some videogames. Of course, these video cameras are said to be there to guarantee our safety, just like in 1984, in which huge posters in the streets remind you that "Big Brother is watching you". He is watching after us and watching us at the same time in order to better control us... What is worse today than in the novel, is that we are not even aware of the fact. Governments can keep an eye on people thanks to satellites, cell phones or GPS. There is Internet too of course ; what you do on it can never be erased and can be scrutinised by the powers that be and by big firms that analyse computer data on consumers' behaviour and attitudes (in order to better influence our choices).

What about the "thoughtcrimes" in 1984, the fact that people have thoughts against the Party? In the USA, the House of Representatives voted a bill against "thought crimes", ostensibly to condemn politically incorrect motivations (e.g. racism) for a crime, but the law is probably more a means of restricting free speech (Hate crime article on the Web). The Fouth Amendment to the United States Constitution which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures has been trampled by the Patriot Act (voted to fight terrorism) ; the Federal Government has used this law to conduct witch hunts against anyone who does not entirely agree with it... The Occupy Wall Street protests are a sign that people can still think and act for themselves against the pensée unique of neoliberalism, but for how long? In China, independent workers' unions are not allowed and strikes are violently repressed by the Party (BBC News article). There are unfortunately plenty of other examples of the restriction of freedom (of thought) by Governments... And, if you replace the "Party" with "Multinational Firms", is behaviour against the hegemonic globalised consumerist system (which relies on the propaganda of advertising) not tantamount to thought crime, i.e. "dangerous" anti-conformist thought?

Another way to control the population in 1984 is to give the people someone to hate. Every day, "two minutes of hate" sessions consist of propaganda movies and pictures of the nation's ennemies ; people have to express violently their hatred of the enemy. There are even songs of hate. What about us? Nearly every day, we can see on the news people who talk about terrorist groups, murderers, big dogs, the latest pandemic, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, etc. And people often hate and fear these so-called dangers vehemently, irrationally, and then can't do anything else, like think for themselves... Isn't there some sort of manipulation by the media going on here? And, think about it, does France's national anthem, the Marseillaise, promote peace?

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past" is one the Party's slogans in the book. Manipulating information is a means to control people. Modifying documents is easier than it was in Orwell's time, thanks to software like Photoshop. The plathora of information available today and the confusion that the virtual world of Internet instills actually makes us doubt about what the truth (about the past or the present) actually is ; people therefore tend to accept simplistic explanations, which suits those in power rather well. They have succeeded in making us control our own thoughts ourselves, which is something even Orwell had not imagined...

In 1984, the Party tries to limit people's ability to think through Newspeak, a language that expresses things in the most basic way, and in which a lot of notions no longer exist, especially those against the party. It is a simplification of language to limit intellectual potential. It is a means of making people think that black is white (that for example "freedom is slavery"). Nowadays, in France particularly, a lot of people use words awry, and there are a lot of propositions to simplify French spelling. Poverty of language means poverty of thought...

I think that TV contributes a lot to making people more and more narrow-minded ; it is now a part of nearly every person's life (at least, in countries of the North) and therefore a good tool to manipulate public opinion and control people's minds. It is also useful to make people concentrate on things that are not important like the lives of celebrities, and in this way turn their attention away from real problems. The TV does not look at you like in 1984, but it is nonetheless a means of control...

The few totalitarian regimes that are left in the world are simply tacky and will disappear sooner rather than later, replaced by material wealth and sophisticated means of communication. But, are we any happier or do we care for one another more than in a totalitarian world? We let ourselves be manipulated, we are still fearful and ignorant. We are not in 1984, but perhaps 2011 is worse because we have no excuses for the world's misery. And we are living with the illusion of freedom...

10 December 2011

No care for those who cannot pay... By Adam

In their article dated 25th November 2011, Randap Ramesh and James Ball, two journalists from The Guardian, write about the NHS's reshuffle by the British Government.

The changes risk harming patients because Hospitals will have to reduce choice of medical treatment, and doctors will not receive any money for needy patients.

As far as I am concerned, the NHS reform proposition is outrageous. The British Government has decided to destroy people's rights to health care. Isn't this against the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ?

"Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union : Health care. Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities."

Even the USA has (now, thanks to Obama) better health care ! What are the British up to ?!

8 December 2011

The (abuse of) power of the media. By Madeleine & Agathe

The media today is very fast, thanks to Internet and new communications technology, making it omnipresent; is this not dangerous ?

The media is supposed to be objective but frequently it is not! It influences people's judgement and people have trouble thinking for themselves...

The news is often negative: wars, natural disasters, poverty and politics, etc. Why is there so little positive news ? The media contribute to the gloom of our daily lives...

The lives of the rich and famous, and even the lives of ordinary people sometimes, are revealed to the world; journalists do not respect people's privacy...

7 December 2011

Arab Spring for the Muslim Brotherhood? By Edouard

On the website of the Guardian, in a news item dated 1st December 2011, we learn that, after the Arab Spring, the Islamic parties have done very well in the elections... The main Islamic party, the Muslim Brotherhood (founded by Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s), has obtained its first electoral victory in Tunisia (Ennahda). The Muslim Brotherhood has also won the elections in Egypt. Its influence has increased in Libya and in Morocco. The USA and Europe are worried by these results. The dictators in those countries for a long time used the argument that “the autocrat you know is better than the extremist you do not”. Today, the Islamic parties have formed transitional governments with liberal and secular parties, like in Tunisia. But, are they really a threat for their people ?

The Arab Spring surprised everybody. The Muslim Brotherhood is now the main party in North Africa. The countries where it is already in power like Saudi Arabia or Iran are not democratic. To my mind, the North African countries have to be very vigilant to prevent theocracies like in Iran. It could really become a threat for their people and for us...

What do you think ? Comments please !

Do you give money to beggars on the street? By Anne-Sophie

Some of the homeless people you go past in the street have really creative - humorous - signs to gain your attention. They laugh about their own dire situation, thereby showing that they have a little dignity left... They are demonstrating the humanity giver and taker have in common. It's often an efficient technique to gain alms ! In a sense you, the giver, are paying for having had a good laugh; you feel good about giving because you are not too embarrassed.

There are those who tell passers-by the disarming truth : they need money for drugs, alcohol, whatever. It's a kind of desperate, aggressive, black humour...

Others try to gain your pity. They tell you they need money for their family, their children or for someone else. You wonder if you should believe them, and by the time you have found the answer, you have walked past the problem...

In some countries, beggars do not speak at all, they supplicate on their knees, face down, hands shut tight in front of them. Sometimes they are even prostrate on the ground... How humiliating !

6 December 2011

Watch IT, kids! By Floriane

Older people may not be so out-of-touch with Information Technology after all... Meet Sophia Petrillo, IT advisor!
The artist Chacho Puebla photographed her in his latest project "the advice of Grandmothers". With her big glasses and mop of grey hair, she looks like the perfect grand mother. Sophia gives advice full of common sense about Web sites and social networks, and contributes to the Mashable Web site.

3 December 2011

Reality for our kids please! By Adam

Louise Tickle, in her article for The Guardian dated November 18th 2011, deals with the use of computers in education. Do computers help or hinder our kids' education, do they help them be more creative?

I think computers have their use, but they are only a tool, not an end in themselves. The danger is that computers make kids lazy and their mastery is certainly not the purpose of education. Children need to discover first hand our landscapes, heritage, literature, art, and the rest, actively, with others, not through a machine, via virtual means, in a sterile fashion.

Numerical books for example destroy the osmosis between the reader and a real book, because a book isn't just a text but also a thing to touch and even smell. Each line of a book needs to be savoured. Books die if they are not there in your hands... Culture is a tactile, senses-based, learning experience, in real 3-D, to be shared with others, from an early age.

The end of the world is nigh (again)! By Timothy

Honey pack your things we’re going to see the world before it goes BOOM! I’ve sold the house, the kids and even the dog...”

WHAT?! Are you dumb? Oh, why did I even marry you? 2012 was just a joke!”

Some years ago a bunch of scientists discovered a stone tablet with Mayan hieroglyphs which predicted a so called “end of the world” in the year 2012. And then the press got a hold of it and then everyone started to freak out as usual. Everyone keeps on saying that everything will end but I don’t want to believe it. For all those who are having panic attacks just thinking about it, do not worry, have no fear, the end of the world is not nigh...

A German expert after studying the tablet a tiny bit more carefuly was able to understand a bit more: the tablet would in fact predict not the end of the world but just the beginning of a new era. The tablet predicts the coming of a god which the Mayans would have to prepare for. Since they are a tiny bit extinct, they won’t be able to prepare a room for him, he’ll just have to go to a motel and I don’t think they do charity...

This article goes to show just how silly some people become when they hear of a so-called end of the world. The world also ended in 2000, remember? So, I hope that people will not freak out when yet another end of the world prediction pops up!