Sunday, October 30, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 142: Neighbourhood bullies . . . and the dangers of ill-informed (or outright cynical) gotcha rhetoric manipulating the public in democratic polities

CY, in an exchange at the UD blog, draws our attention to Bob Dylan's 1983 song, Neighbourhood Bully:

This biting commentary on ill-informed and/or cynically manipulated public opinion in our day, is sobering backdrop for addressing a wider cluster of issues.

It is worth pausing to note that not only has there been a report that Iran is within six months of nuke weapon production capacity if it wants to (as in does a flea-ridden dog want to scratch?), but there are serious questions as to whether it has got a few ex-Soviet tactical nukes by black-market means already. (I first heard whispers of that from Hal Lindsey in the mid 1990's; looks like he may well have had a point.)

That's why I read Mr Netanyahu's recent "better a bad press than a good eulogy" remark at the UN baked up by the pointed question he asked as to whether the world really wants to see nukes in the hands of Iran, as  most likely a restatement of the point that sometimes, there is no avoiding a war, in such circumstances, it may only be postponed to the advantage of your enemies. As of course happened in the 1930's, when Europe's recoiling in horror from the slaughter of the 1914 - 18 war led to not acting in good time to avert an even worse war from 1939 - 1945. Hitler was not a man who could be placated, he could only be contained or stopped.

They failed to contain him, so they then had to stop him, at horrific cost, and with even more horrific possibilities lurking in the background.

Sadly, this lesson may be playing out again in our day, so we may need to do some rethinking about who the real bully in the neighbourhood is.

Against that disturbing backdrop of the way that turnabout accusations can make us see the intended victim as the aggressor -- e.g. Churchill was dismissed in the 1930's as a war-mongering has-been when he was warning about the rising tide of Hitler -- I want to reflect on a recent brew-up on the Internet over Atheism advocate Richard Dawkins' recently announced reason for refusing to debate with Christian Philosopher-Theologian, William Lane Craig. 

Namely, Dawkins -- falsely -- accuses Craig of supporting genocide, a word that drips with the implication: Nazi. (ADDED, Nov 3: In case this is needed, this clip documents Dr Craig's actual views on morality, including obviously genocide etc.)
(NB:The particular matter is about a debate over the handling of  the invasion of Canaan and some of the troubling issues it raises for Judaeo-Christian theists. Cf. my notes here.)

The utter cynicism and turnabout manipulation behind Dawkins' rhetoric can be seen from his 1995 Scientific American Article, "God's Utility Function" [pp. 80 - 85.]:
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it difficult to look at anything without wondering what it is "for," what the motive for it or the purpose behind it might be. The desire to see purpose everywhere is natural in an animal that lives surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts - an animal whose waking thoughts are dominated by its own goals and aims . . . .
Somewhere between windscreen wipers and tin openers on the one hand, and rocks and the universe on the other, lie living creatures. Living bodies and their organs are objects that, unlike rocks, seem to have purpose written all over them . . . . The true process that has endowed wings, eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood.

It is Darwinian natural selection . . . . The true utility function of life, that which is being maximized in the natural world, is DNA survival. But DNA is not floating free; it is locked up in living bodies, and it has to make the most of the levers of power at its disposal. Genetic sequences that find themselves in cheetah bodies maximize their survival by causing those bodies to kill gazelles. Sequences that find themselves in gazelle bodies increase their chance of survival by promohng opposite ends. But the same utility function-the survival of DNA-explains the "purpose" of both the cheetah [--> i.e. predator]  and the gazelle [--> i.e. prey] . . . .

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
[NB: This article raises the issue of the problem of evil, here emphasising the problem of natural evil; probably the strongest argument in the atheists' arsenal, but one that only works by implicitly assuming that good and evil, thus moral obligation, are real; while ducking the implication that the only valid worldview in a world in which OUGHT is real, is one that has a foundational IS that adequately grounds ought. And materialism -- scientific atheism today, has no such is. So, the objecting atheist actually has no grounds to stand on to make the argument; his argument, in the end is self-defeating, and so the proper response is to insist that such an atheist face that issue before proceeding further. (Cf here for a preliminary discussion of the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.)]

Given this additional perspective, we can now see that for Dawkins, appeal to moral sensibilities ends up being little more than a cynical means to persuade by manipulating emotions, for in his more frank and straightforward moments, he admits that, on his materialistic worldview, there is "no evil and no good." 

And so, he acts as one who holds power to manipulate to advance his perceived interests: if your feelings can be so twisted by a false but persuasive accusation against one of those "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked" backward, anti-science "fundamentalists," that you are repelled by the dominant idea of God we see in our civilisation, the Judaeo-Christian, Bible-based view, then that is pulling us away from fairy tales to get us to accept Science as the fount of practically all knowledge and truth. Which to him is as close to good and purpose as he gets.

"The end justifies the means," "might makes right," and "all is fair in love and [culture] war," etc.

If that is his real underlying view (and the evidence we can see points that way), then the willingness to smear, snip out of context and knowingly falsely accuse make a lot of saddening sense.

It is an effective means to a desired end, and one Dawkins expects to get away with in the major media.

Which, he knows, are in his corner.

No wonder, then, we see the amoral cynical heart-numbness that seemingly is unhesitating in smearing and slandering. For, Dawkins knows -- must know -- that neither Craig nor any other serious Christian thinker supports mass murder of a race; i.e. genocide.

But, if you think you can get away with the false accusation, and so get out of a tight spot . . .

The issue has stirred up somewhat of a storm of comment exchanges across the Internet, including at a leading Intelligent Design blog, Uncommon Descent. In one of the threads there that deal with the matter, I have felt it wise to comment as follows, in response to some rather heated exchanges. 

I believe the matters raised are of sufficiently broad interest and relevance that I wish to now share them in their own right, here at the KF blog. 

I pick up from an exchange of comments by CY and SA:


>>  . . . a major problem with Christian ethics on the ground, is that we tend to absolutise the turn the other cheek principle, taking it out of its proper context — do not be waspish in the face of insults and personal abuse, and turn it into a governmental mandate.

If you look carefully in the Gospels, you will see that Jesus has occasion to deal with the question of force in the teeth of determined evildoers. 

For instance, that lurks under his dealings with soldiers including Centurions. He does not say, quit; he says, serve God. When he deals with the Herod family, as a prophet he is pretty direct in criticising the pattern of injustice. When challenged on taxes, he gives a classic: give Caesar what is his, and God what is his. The subtlety involved is what Paul discusses in Rom 13:1 – 10. Caesar is God’s servant to do us good by defending the civil peace of justice, holding the power of the sword in that cause and having taxing power in support of that mandate. Of course, as God’s servant, he is accountable under God for justice. 

Also, elsewhere in scripture — Moshe’s “Let my people go” is classic — when a tipping point has been reached; i.e. when evil triggered by selfish abuse of the power of choice becomes an exceeding danger in the teeth of obvious consequences and ignored correction God will act on the behalf of an oppressed people. And a part of that can be expressed in popular uprising and actions of legitimate representatives.

This by the way is what across 2,000 years of Christian influence on our civilisation, was channelised into the peaceful means of the general election.

Then, when Jesus comes towards the end of his ministry, there is a crucial but puzzling incident. For, he says go buy a sword, and he is understood literally, there are two swords.

He says, that is enough.


Then, we come to Gethsemane, and Peter pulls one of the swords and tries to start the revolution. 

There is a palpable echo here of the situation in the Maccabees where at Modein, the pagan rulers have sent agents to make the village sacrifice pigs to idols. The revolution begins when the first Jew to turn traitor and blasphemer steps forward and the sword is pulled, cutting him down, with the officials who came to impose evil and apostasy by force. To abuse the power of the sword in the hands of government to protect the civil peace of justice. Wolves, in shepherd’s clothing.

The father and six of seven Hasmonean brothers perish in the struggle, in which the recurring theme is, that the Gentiles always break their treaties. 

This is the background against which Peter tried to cut off the head of the servant next to him; he ducked, that’s why the ear was cut off instead.

Jesus’ reply was that those who live by the sword die by it. And he healed the servant.

Somehow, that did noting to defuse the situation, and seemingly, it was suspiciously missing in action in the trials that followed.

Somebody was suppressing highly relevant evidence that did not suit the kangaroo court’s agenda.

Jesus’ mission was NOT to launch a new Maccabean revolution. 

Indeed, that is what comes out very explicitly in his trial: the authorities are reacting to a teacher of righteousness who is making them uncomfortable in injustice, hypocrisy and corruption [don't forget, he seems to have cleansed the temple twice, driving out the money changers at whip point] by treating him as if he were a rebel. Indeed, they end up manipulating the crowd — notice, the issue of the flip side of democracy, misrule influencing and influenced by manipulated, intimidatory mobs shouting out foolish slogans as popular will — to literally put him in the place of a notoriously murderous leader of rebellion and brigandage, Barabbas.

Notice, when he does speak before a judge willing to at least listen to the sound truth — he is silent before those who are just raging mobs dressed up in fancy robes and sitting in seats of government — he points out that he has not been leading rebellion, but publicly teaching the truth and calling men, including of course men in government, to repentance in light of the Kingdom of God in heaven. The ultimate kingdom foreshadowed by Daniel that shall grow as a mountain filling the whole earth, shattering the proud and arrogantly wicked kingdoms of unjust man in rebellion against his maker. 

A kingdom that comes peaceably by the truth in love, in the teeth of fire and sword.

So, he is cutting clean across those who would lead a revolution against Rome: Rome has not yet filled the cup of its iniquity, but ISRAEL has, now culminating in scheming against Messiah.

An Israel that will not heed the sign of Jonah, nor the counsel of God by the example of Assyria: repentance even on the brink of prophesied national destructive judgement by disaster may avert it. For, God is merciful.

Something that Dawkins et al conspicuously omit in their overheated incendiary rhetoric.

Against that backdrop, those who tried to rise up against Rome, three times [once in the diaspora], would fail, at horrible cost to the nation over the next 100 years.

There are many lessons in that for our time and our civilisation, one that is rapidly filling up the cup of its iniquities.

In that context, I think we need to take serious and sobering stock of what it is for leaders of government to confront radical, out of control evil, and the dilemmas they often face of choosing the horrible in the face of the worse than merely horrible. And, we must tear our hearts through that reflection, until we have been opened up to be wounded, so that our hearts have lurched in the face of such terrifying dilemmas. 

So, let us stand by the side of the road [to Verdun] with Petain, watching the young men he is forced to send to their doom because foolish policies maintained for years in the teeth of his own advice [advice that seems to have retarded his career . . . ] have brought the nation to that point where the forts they needed were not well guarded, had indeed been stripped of guns, and the officer corps was not properly prepared to handle the challenge of Germany; they had been trained to think in terms of fast-moving infantry attacks and cavalry tactics, in the face of over a decade of evidence from South Africa and from Eastern Russia on how much the world had changed thanks to the rapid fire long range rifle and the machine gun. Not to mention, the heavy mobile, rapid firing guns that were needed were missing — they were only then being hastily designed or improvised. 

Stand by Petain as he sees the ashen faced, staggering few survivors coming back down the same road a matter of days later. 

Knowing that this horrendous rent in blood was what was holding the pivot of the line. (The very reason why Verdun — guard city of a major invasion route ever since the days of Gaul — had in the 1880′s been re-fortified in the modern way [a ring of more or less underground forts at enough distance to keep artillery out of range of the key point] in the aftermath of the defeat at the hands of Prussia in the 1870′s, and had been updated in the early 1900′s.)

Let it rip a hole in our hearts, a sobering hole that can open our hearts and minds to understand that things too often are much much more painful, difficult, horrible and complex than we would like them to be.

THEN, we can safely address the sorts of issues that Craig was grappling with, with a perspective that is sufficiently broad to see that whichever way we come out on it, there will be horrific difficulties that we with our bounded rationality cannot fully understand.

And in particular, we must come to grips with the sort of dilemma a Churchill faced as he made the decision to send in heavy but fragile and vulnerable bombers to force Germany to fight a major home front attritional campaign that drained it of the crucial resources that would otherwise have made mincemeat of the Russians. 

88 mm Flak 18 in action against tanks
in North Africa (note antiaircraft mounting)
For just one crucial instance, if the capacity to make the infamous 88 mm anti aircraft and antitank dual use gun was not largely diverted to protecting German cities, it would have been available on the Russian Front, with predictable horrific consequences — think of the slaughter just a few of those guns did so often in the Middle East at that time, or indeed how Rommel’s gun line of just such guns had stopped the counterattack at Arras at a crucial point in the May 1940 campaign. 

The same, for the fighter and fighter-bomber capacity that went into fighting off the bombers. 

And the imposed losses on the cities put a severe restraint on the capacity of German war production to surge. 

But, at a horrific cost in civilian lives, including children.

Note the abortive Arras counter-attack, stopped in key part by Rommel's improvised 88 mm gun line
Because Rommel’s improvised gun-line held in May 1940, there was not going to be a Western Front in France until the Germans had been bled white through horrific attrition, on the East Front and over Germany. 

Attrition that could not even be put in words to the public who had seen what the Western Front in 1914 – 18 had cost and would do almost anything to avoid that again, which is exactly what led to the ill-advised passivity and appeasement in the face of Hitler in the 1930′s when he could have been stopped at far lower cost. (And let us not forget, the Russians paid something like over 20 million lives to defeat the Germans. But the alternative was much, much worse.)

I hope this is enough, that we have been duly torn, sobered up and shamed over our habitual superficiality and glib gotcha rhetorical tactics.

Those who refuse to learn from bitter history, are doomed to repeat it.

It is in that context, that I am utterly incensed at Dawkins’ cynical cowardice, lying — VJT has demonstrated that beyond doubt — and slander. Neither Craig nor any other responsible Christian leader or thinker is an advocate of genocide; something Dawkins full well knows.

They are grappling — and sometimes stumbling in the grappling — with issues that cut right across history and come down to today as we see how we foolishly talk about an Arab Spring, not seeing the rising tide of Islamist naked aggression that seeks to exploit the uprisings, or the Iranian nuke and ballistic missile programmes that back it. 

Why is it that in an information age with experts on instant tap, we are so willfully ignorant of the religiously motivated ideology of the IslamISTS? 

Why do we not even know that even the DATE of the 9/11 attacks — 318 years, less one day from the last IslamIST surge high water mark at the gates of Vienna in 1683 under the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph, just before Jan Sobieski of Poland personally led the Cavalry charge on the 12th of Sept that broke the siege — is pregnant with symbolism of the IslamIST intent? (Hint: UBL was making a bid to be Caliph, and his base “in the direction of Khorasan” was itself pregnant with symbolism connected to the end of days global conquest Black Flag Army and related hadiths.)

We live in a very, very dangerous time, and are too often willfully ignorant and foolish.

That is the price we pay for the sort of foolish gotcha polarising rhetoric that we tolerate in public discussions.

A price that predictably leads on to blood.

Rivers of blood.

That is the context in which Netanyahu has denounced the UN as a theatre of the absurd and has declared: better a bad press than a good eulogy.

Israel faces an existential crisis manipulated by Iran as it races to complete its nuke programme. 

I am highly confident on the track record of 1967 that Israel will act decisively soon, regardless of the horrific cost and the price they will pay in the eyes of the world as “neighbourhood bully” [Thanks, CY]; for the alternatives are far worse than merely horrible. (Indeed, in that regard, I think the Schalit exchange is a clearing the decks for action.) 

Against that backdrop, Dawkins is using the excuse of a known false accusation of support for genocide, to duck being held publicly responsible for his many ill-founded but manipulative statements over the course of decades.

That is a strong sign of a man who knows he is in the wrong, but is too proud to climb down, whatever the cost to others.

THAT is the main focus that his thread has from the Original Post.

The tangential and poisonous distractive talking point does need to be addressed, but it can only be soundly addressed in a context where we have first taken the time and effort to build enough background and have had enough moral pain to feel the weight of the full balance of the issues. 

A weight that must start with: why is it that we find ourselves inescapably under moral government, even in the teeth of the materialistic ideology that Dawkins et al champion in the name of science, that leads to the implication that there is no real OUGHT, there is just IS, and no is that — per materialistic premises, can ground ought?

From that and other related considerations, we will then see that ethical theism is a serious and respectable position. 

Then, we can look at the central warranting argument and grounds that are foundational to the Christian, ethical theistic tradition; a point that has been central to the Christian intellectual-prophetic challenge to our civilisation ever since Paul challenged the Stoics and Epicureans on Mars Hill on 50 AD. (This point, we must note, is pivotal to Craig’s argument as he then goes on to grapple with a difficulty on grounds that are much less firm either way. A responsible addressing of what Craig actually argued, would fairly deal with that context in a sober fashion instead of brushing it away in a gleeful, willfully out of context “gotcha and so I don’t need to talk to you.”)

Look back above and in other threads where this has come up, onlookers, and see if the objectors have seriously and soberly grappled with that context. 

On fair comment, no; this has all been an exercise in selective hyperskepticism and too often gleeful rhetorical bashing.

That should be sobering, and it is a big part of why I have called up the sort of wider context as above. 

We must be responsible.

In that context, we can then reasonably look at the particular issues in a more balanced, more informed, more sober-minded way. One that I find conspicuously missing in action.

And, onlookers, it is no accident that, after several times of linking the discussion just linked, there has been no responsible addressing of these aspects form the circle of objectors.

Red herrings, led away to strawmen soaked in vicious ad hominems [the false charge of support for genocide fairly drips with the implied accusation, Nazi] and ignited through incendiary gotcha rhetoric are rhetorically very effective. But hey come at a terrible price: clouding the issues, poisoning the atmosphere, polarising it, and stirring hostility that all too soon becomes hate and scapegoating, leading on to violence, overt mob violence or covert violence by abuse of the power of law and policy and institutional dominance.

Those are the tactics that Dawkins et al have been indulging for decades, and it is high time that they were called to public account for that.

That will not happen if we keep on following red herrings and cheering on the burning of ad hominem soaked strawmen.

So, please at lest think about what is at stake in the wider context of all this, for our civilisation.>>

I trust this will prove helpful, as we reflect on troubling issues and even more troubling times. END

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Capacity Focus, 15: Ubislate/Aakash, the Indian, "$35" tablet /Slate PC is here!

The Ubislate/Aakash, ~ US$70
This blog has been tracking the rise of the sub- US$100, Tablet PC as a new platform for student computing. 

With textbook costs heading for US$ 100 each, and with the rise of the ebook, wireless computing, and of the Android open source mobile device operating system, an Educational Tablet PC revolution is predictable, based on a modification of mobile phone technology.

So, it is no surprise to see that the first of these has now been launched [cf prev. here], in India, Ubislate/Aakash, the Indian, "$35" tablet /Slate PC.

The machine uses Android 2.2, has a 366 MHz processor, 256 MB RAM, a 2 GB Flash drive mass storage [comparable to a cell phone] plus 2 GB in an SD slot, expandable to 32 GB. The 7" touchscreen uses resistive technology. There are two USB ports, and for wireless access is uses WiFi (with GPRS & 3G options). It can host a keyboard.

Production costs are about US$50, and the Indian Government has sponsored the first 100,000 for graduate students, giving the subsidised US$ 35 or so price. Ubislate is the projected commercial version, and looks targetted at US$ 70.

According to the linked Wall Street Journal Report:
A clearly overjoyed Kapil Sibal, the human resources development minister, whose ministry oversaw the development of the device, billed it as India’s as a gift to the world’s children – and an anti-poverty tool.

“Today we demonstrate to the world that we will not falter in our resolve to secure our future for our children,” he said. “Let me not limit the achievements of this great enterprise to only our children…this is for all of you who are disempowered.”
In short, the Indian government is open to global, third world partnerships.

A device like this, with appropriate applications -- "apps" these days -- would be useful for calculations, lab or field data input, processing and storage, light duty document processing, browsing and more. It would also serve as a very effective ebook reader. 

No camera is listed, but that is not a top priority, and a USB cam can be added.

With an appropriate front end USB device and the right Apps, it would also work as a digital storage oscilloscope or similar lab/field instrument.

Onward aspirations are to bring the price down to US$ 35 and even US$ 10.

But, even at US$ 70 - 100, we are looking at some very good potential for re-tooling education delivery. END

Monday, October 03, 2011

Capacity Focus, 14: Print on Demand, Risograph and other related short-run print technologies for education and training

One of the challenges for a regional education effort is the need to cover short-run printing needs cost effectively. And, nowadays, that includes not just course readers, manuals, exam papers etc, but also reproduction of CDs or DVDs and their labels.

Risograph CZ-180 Tabletop, c.
US$ 1500 - 2000
A first step to that is the Risograph style digital duplicator, in the range of 300 - 600 dots per inch [DPI] resolution. These updates to the traditional mimeograph machine burn a negative in a gauzy stencil that comes in rolls and print from it using a type of printer's ink. They are capable of printing 60 - 150+ pages per minute, on letter or legal sized sheets [paper or thin card stock], and nowadays -- if one is willing to pay for it -- certain models can reproduce in two colours. 

This option gives the ability to use the traditional black or sepia ink, and a highlight colour such as blue, green or red. With some creativity, that can also give blended tones between the underlying colour of the paper, the highlight colour, and the black or sepia. 

This sort of option is an economical solution for print runs of 50 - 10,000, including for tutor developed course readers or course manuals based on expanded class notes with exercises, assignments, and practicals, or the like.

(Cf. comparable developments here, and a discussion on possible pitfalls here and here. The bottomline is, that such readers really need to be developed by tutors, and should not be little more than compilations of text books or published articles. Nor should such change from semester to semester, seemingly at whim. Of course, my own inclinations are that ebooks, with educational tablet PCs that give a comparable reading experience to paper, are the ultimate way to go. The first wave of such tablets should be coming out in the next year or two.)

To get an idea of what is happening internationally, we may clip The Daily Bruin's article "Questioning course readers":
Steven Hardinger, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, assigns a course reader and a lecture supplement as requirements for his Chemistry 14C course.

His course reader, called a Thinkbook, provides students with extra notes on the material that he has accumulated over the past 10 years as well as practice problems, while the lecture supplement contains printouts of lecture PowerPoint presentations.

Though Hardinger used to offer all this material online, he started using a reader after surveying one of his classes. He found the majority of students said they would be willing to pay for the convenience of having all the material bound into one book.

“I don’t think I’ve had any student in the past five years say they didn’t like it and that they’d rather have it online,” Hardinger said.

The Thinkbook and lecture supplement cost $40 and $42.75, respectively, at the UCLA textbook store. Many students opt to buy them rather than the $200 textbook because they are more useful, said Kimmie Wong, a fourth-year integrative biology and physiology student.

“I liked the Thinkbook a lot because it gave us a really good idea of the types of questions the professor would ask on exams,” Wong said. “For the most part, the textbook wasn’t that helpful, so I didn’t buy it.” . . .
Notice, the opportunity: “I don’t think I’ve had any student in the past five years say they didn’t like it and that they’d rather have it online . . .”

Q: Why is that so?

A: US$200 for a college Chemistry textbook is stiff, but unfortunately, that is where conventional textbook prices are clearly headed: US$80 - 200. Such escalation is not sustainable in a world where the Amazon Kindle Fire just launched at US$199 [NOTE: probably a loss leader to lock in readers for the Kindle market of books etc.], where the OLPC-Marvell educational tablet has a target price point US$100 or less, and where ebooks may reasonably be distributed electronically for US$5 or 10 - 20. An economy keyboard and dock are probably going to come in at maybe US$ 40 - 60 in bulk.

So, we are back to a situation where the obvious choice is ebooks and readers, where some paper based printing is going to be necessary too. Hence, the significance of the Risograph type machine for informal institutional printing, for volumes where it is not cost-effective to use an ink-jet or laser type printer. 

(As in, it's the cost of ink and that of toner that get you.)

A similar solution, for more formal publication with higher resolution and a more professional presentation, would be a Print on Demand Service; perhaps something like XLibris; note their self-publishing guide. (Cf. Xulon for Christian titles, watch the video here.) 

Such publishers specialise in short runs, in theory down to one, and print to order and ship. They fill the niche between the sort of short run duplication above, and high run printers. 

(NB: With certain POD publishers, it is possible to have your book automatically offered on Amazon. The critical problem, though, is to build readership and thus sales. Using the book in a course or seminar is a good start for such. But that book has to make the impression that it is a serious work, well worth the buying and a pleasure to read. That means that would-be authors have to learn how to write a salable book, and navigate the treacherous waters of the book marketing game. [Cf. here on and here for starters, and here for some inspiration. Bottomline: most of us can write something of book length. Writing something that is salable in enough quantity to be worth it, that is another story. That takes informed planning and disciplined effort.])

In addition, there are now POD kiosks set up to print individual copies for end users, from a PDF formatted electronic copy, especially of classic works no longer in print. 

Such units, however, are quite expensive, US$ 140,000 is a recent quote. 

(Two colour, free standing Risograph type units may go for over US$25,000. But, such may be a reasonable investment for one or two nodal colleges integrated with a regional educational network. Investing in a POD press is also probably worth considering.)

When it comes to duplicating CD's or DVDs, and printing labels for them, many good solutions are available. (Cf. here.)

Noting all caveats, it is clear that, if desired, well-written course readers with tucked in DVD's are a very feasible solution for our envisioned training needs.

In addition, as POD technology becomes more affordable and accessible, the shift in the economics of publication will allow for a focus on niche markets, and for developing focussed readers, manuals, handbooks etc, to cover training needs.

In this world of the near future, publishers will be paid for editorial and marketing services, not for speculating on how well books will do in the market, or for warehousing -- which can dominate actual production costs. 

The rise of that world also means that we will have to beware next generation vanity presses that abuse POD technology to rake in money from aspiring writers, while not helping such would be authors develop readable, attractive, salable, well marketed works. 

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

But plainly, a revolution in publishing is dawning, and we need to surf the wave of change. Not least, so we will not be swamped by it.

From a Caribbean regional perspective, then, all of these trends and opportunities point to the potential of a networked independent regional education system that takes advantage of these technologies to deliver strategically targetted education and training. 

Precisely what the AACCS initiative is about.
So, again: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 141: How soon we forget the holocaust, and how easily we refuse to see what is going on in our own day

Today, we need to look at something -- Ray Comfort's "180" video -- that will take up a bit over half an hour, and will not be comfortable viewing. 

Indeed, it has a warning on gruesomely graphic content, taken from the Holocaust. 

(And, yes, these things happened within living memory; and I have personally seen such materials and the like in the official records of the trials of the major war criminals in the reference section of my University's main library. I note that I was -- up to that point, after nearly forty years, the ONLY person to have borrowed those shocking trial records. So, plainly, the Holocaust has not been receiving anywhere near the degree of attention it should have, for decades.)

I think it is vital for us to take time to see this video, as it exposes how, systematically -- it HAS to be systematically -- the upcoming generation has been led to be ignorant about where Nihilistic, will to power radically relativist supremacism rooted in evolutionary materialism and associated ideas and movements leads. Indeed, where it has been known to lead, ever since the days of Plato in The Laws, Bk X, 2350 years ago.

We can hardly plead that our civilisation has not been warned in good time on this subject, by leading lights!

(And BTW, why is it that the passage I have just linked is not prominent in discussions of these matters? That, too, is suspicious.)

Anyway, let us brace ourselves, and then let us pause to watch Comfort's video:

Now, Comfort is not just exposing the way we have been led to forget the Holocaust or how we have become so ignorant of moral principle, that many in our day plainly cannot cogently think about moral issues. 

He goes on to point the finger straight at the US Abortion holocaust, whereby over 50 million -- half a generation -- have been slaughtered in the womb; on the flimsy excuse of a "right to choose." This, backed up by dismissals of the obvious: the child in the womb is a human life; half the time of an entirely different sex from the mother, and indeed, right from conception and implantation, it has its own separate genetic identity.

And, no, we do not have a "right to choose" to take a fellow human being's life, especially an innocent one. Killing may be justifiable or excusable as a lesser of evils to protect the innocent or in self defense or the like, but it surely is not -- CAN NOT BE -- a "right."

Indeed, the very fact that the phrase "right to choose . . . " is as a rule left incomplete is a telling clue as to what is really going on. Somehow, "I have a right to choose to kill my innocent, unborn baby because that baby is inconvenient to me" -- the actual predominant reality of mass abortion on demand -- is not something we can explicitly hold up to public scrutiny.

But, the resulting mass bloodguilt is utterly corrupting and corrosive to conscience and ability to think straight on moral matters.

The responses on this issue, once the relevant context of the holocaust is brought to bear, are therefore eye-opening. 

(And nope, playing the so-called "Godwin's law" card fails; the issue is the mass slaughter of innocent but inconvenient human life by legal permission of a culture. Ray is quite correct to highlight the analogy that if you have wired a building for implosion, and hear that someone may have wandered into it, you would be utterly irresponsible and guilty of blood to ignore such a warning and push the demolition plunger.)

I also saw on the Youtube page that there was a linked video of objection. 

Astonishingly, it is a political label and demonise attack, which simply does not engage the issue of mass slaughter of innocent but inconvenient human life: why is it, objector, that so many people -- including a woman who, sadly, had aborted her unborn child -- turned out to be so ignorant on the other side of some pretty serious issues at stake, and on being exposed to Comfort's questions, changed their views in minutes or even perhaps seconds?

Absent a cogent response on the issues, objector, you are simply playing at Saul Alinsky style demonisation political rhetoric backed up by self-confessed self-righteous hacking.

So, we now all need to look very seriously at the significance of Hitler and his Holocaust for our day.

For the good of our souls, and of our common civilisation. END

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Capacity Focus, 13: "O Level" Computer Studies in the Caribbean and foundational educational capacity for a high tech world

Just over a week ago, Sept 24, the KF blog looked at O Level Physics as a gateway, foundational education issue for our region's survival in a high tech age. Just before that, Sept 11, we looked at a way to upgrade our educators ("training the trainers") through an in-Service Dip Ed leading to a Master's Degree in Education.

Machakos Girls School, Kenya, Africa:
some ideas for what is possible -- note
the design of the workstations

We need to extend this today, by looking at education in Computer Science and related Information, Communication and Multimedia Technologies; with some remarks on the relevance of the Open Source --"free" and with source code available -- Software movement. 

Courtesy Wikipedia (which tends to be reasonably reliable and helpful on these non-ideological topics) we may define:
Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is available in source code form: the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change, improve and at times also to distribute the software.

Open source software is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open-source software is the most prominent example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open content movements.[1]

A report by the Standish Group states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.[2][3]
Such software is often of comparable quality to commercial packages, and is in some key cases so reliable that for instance Apache Server software and Linux Operating software are key backbone technologies for the Internet. 

The Android Mobile OS logo
The Android phones and tablets that are increasingly common are based on Linux and extensions by Google for the phone and/or tablet device. Open Office and/or its Libre Office fork are excellent office productivity programs. Gimp and derivatives like GimPhoto are quite comparable to commercial image manipulation software. Inkscape is an excellent drawing package. Blender* is competitive as a movie and three dimensional animation package. Audacity is a great sound manipulation package. Moodle is a very impressive education content management package. The blogosphere sits on freely available technologies, such as WordPress; and of course this blog lives in the longstanding Blogger site now owned by Google. Content Management systems such as Joomla and Drupal are quite effective. Wiki creation software is mostly open source. And so forth.

Now, it is obvious that we live in a high tech, digital age; one that has in it a major component of open source software as a digital commons, with value added services as a key business model. 

But, we of our region primarily participate as consumers, not producers. 

And yet, the August 10, 2011 news on Apple being capitalised in the markets to the tune of about US$ 350 - 360 bn (and thereby overtaking Exxon, the energy company known in our region as Esso or perhaps Mobil), tells us how the global economy has changed, has become de-materialised. In the case of Apple, digital services and related gadgets and devices have overtaken the traditional energy giants as the most potentially lucrative businesses in the world. As, markets essentially value companies on anticipated earnings across future time. 

That immediately means that knowledge and skill that can drive creation of digital services and devices, can be a huge value-added driver of economic development, here in the Caribbean and across the world. 

So, the issue is not just the consumption of software, devices and content produced by others, but that we too need to engage the global market for digitally based services and devices, a market of essentially unlimited potential.

Educationally, that means we need to shift focus from "Information Technology" to Computer Science, to Authoring, and to the productive use of key software [preferably Open Source, in an Educational context] to create valuable content. Indeed, a key model is to piggyback on open source materials by using such to create valuable content.

As a gateway, we need to look at secondary education, again. For that, the new Cambridge GCE Computer Studies Syllabus provides a useful reference model; especially for the second chance secondary and bridging education market that we have in mind. The associated 7010 Syllabus and Examination (for 2013) are organised as follows:

1: Applications of computers, with social and economic consequences

2: The Systems Life Cycle [for Info and Communication Technology (ICT) systems]

3:Problem solution including algorithm design, programming techniques and logic gates, emphasis on pseudocode with no particular language emphasised [I strongly favour Java as a powerful, largely open source language in the C family and with capacity to address web, multimedia, communications, data processing and traditional computer programming requisites. As Alice evolves, it may become a very useful introductory and bridging language. For multimedia production, I am looking very seriously at Blender and Audacity. Inkscape is a powerful drawing package. GimPhoto is a very good image processing package. (cf. here.) Dassault Systemes has developed DraftSight as a free for registration 2-D educational CAD package that is well worth a look.]

4: Generic software [-- notice the studious avoidance of lock-in to the Microsoft etc empires --] and the organisation of data [i.e. data structures and data bases] [I suggest that we should look at Open Office and/or the Libre Office fork (my current main Office Suite) as a good open source office productivity suite using ISO standard file formats, and also compatible with MS Office. For working with PDFs I currently strongly recommend PDF-XChange Viewer, especially for its markup features]

5: Hardware [foci: laptops, Desktop PCs, embedded micro-controller/-processor systems], systems and communications

6: For Alt to Coursework: system development project stages, incl: investigation of current system, action plans, hard/software selection, flowcharts and pseudocode, test data and algorithm testing, implementing alternatives with pros and cons, testing, documentation, evaluation, advantages and limitations of going to a new system

Paper 1: Theory, structured short answer

Paper 2: School Based Assessment through creation of a single major work involving use of the computer to solve a specific problem

Paper 3: Alternative to coursework

(Option 1: P1 + P2, Option 2: P1 + P3)
Again, we can see a good overall survey of a substantial body of reasonable content, enhanced by the flexibility of options regarding school based assessment. 

My own preference for this course -- since PCs are now ubiquitous, would be to go for SBAs if possible; or, if the admin headaches wold be just too much, to use the local school to actually do an SBA-like exercise as a capstone and integrative project for the course; for local certification of capacity. The alternative to practical paper can then be done by way of gaining the recognised international certification to complement the local, portfolio of achievement and profile based certification of achieved competence.

For laying out a microcampus, computer centre computer based seminar room suitable for use with a computer studies programme, I suggest a U-based layout similar to one I developed 10 years ago for a Centre in a regional university -- this can work in a room that is 15 feet wide and "long enough," depending on the number of stations desired; where tower PCs should be mounted TRANSVERSELY on a lower shelf along the U. (One advantage of this unusual mounting, is that it enhances control of "going below" to do things with the PC.)  Diagram:

A suggestion for a computer-based educational seminar room
(The central, modular table should be suitable for modest lab work)
The U-shelf should be at 29 inches, and a flat screen -- big advantage over the CRTs I had to work with c. 2000 -- will sit on it or even be fastened to the wall. A keyboard and mouse tray should be mounted on drawer slides at t he 26 inch level for the top surface and should be about 27 inches wide as well, to hold both mouse and keyboard at a reasonable level; optical mice, please. Secretary-style roller chairs will allow students to pivot from working at their own stations to a common focus around the conference table. Since that is modular, it can be re-organised for group work. And, since students face outwards when working at their local stations, the tutor can easily oversee what is going on on the student screens.

A typical Document Camera: EV-408
(white paper)
For teleconferencing, some Pan-Tilt-Zoom [PTZ] cameras mounted high would be helpful, and a camera on an overhead projection mount would also be helpful for teachers who wish to project materials on the screen.  (If you have a nice, calligraphic script -- use a square knib pen, handwritten notes and sketches etc, as well as small objects could be projected in this way.)

It should be noted that if a series of local or teleconferenced lessons are suitably captured by microphones and camcorders, with some augmentation, they can be turned into a course DVD or series of DVDs.  Such a course DVD or DVD set, with ebooks etc, would possibly be marketable in itself.

The sort of  facility just described is quite easily within the reach of a typical community centre, school or church facility, and would be adaptable to the educational needs of many levels of students, for many subjects.

By the way, I am also advocating that we need to reconceptualise our regional high school system:
a: seeing 1 - 3 forms as a foundational "Junior High" component that incorporates a bridge from primary [we should not hesitate to use a bridging "lower first" form for those who need it, as high school level education is now the real necessary foundational level for the global workforce; as once 7th standard or 9th grade or 8th grade were . . . ], and 

b: with 4 & 5 forms (with room for an upper 5th for those who need it, as was done in the late 1970's  by the well-known Foundation School in Christ Church, Barbados that my brother attended) as an intermediate level of qualification. On that baseline, 

c: 6th form can then be reworked as an upper level secondary and tertiary level bridging programme, with possibilities for integration into an Associate Degree. 

d: Opening up of a technical and paraprofessional track for sixth form or community college studies, would be a major breakthrough.

e: I suggest that at the 3rd form standard, a foundational Secondary certificate should be awarded.

f: at 5th form level, an intermediate High School Diploma should be issued, 

g: both of these being built on a portfolio based profiling of student achievement, of which external exam certification should be simply one component.

h: At 6th form/community college level, certificates should build bridging and technical/academic units towards an Associate Degree. 6th form graduates should have an upper level High School Diploma, with again a portfolio based profile. 

i: Throughout the system, external examination results should be just one component.
Of course, all of this brings us back to the AA CCS proposal that I have been developing, for a regional cybercollege with microcampus local presence:

The proposed, 64 credit regional Associate in Arts, Concentration in Caribbean Christian Service
Such a programme, with integrated second chance secondary education and bridging studies, should be well suited for educational renewal.

In this whole construct, the introduction of a computer studies curriculum, as proposed above, would then serve as a key technical capacity building component.
So, with this Capacity Focus blog post, we have put down a third plank in the platform for targetted educational transformation for the Caribbean. In future posts, DV [let's try for one a week for now], we will look at other strategic action points.  END

*F/N: Blender seems to have a problem, by which some video cards apparently have incompatibilities. This manifests as a white rectangle instead of a video preview for video strips with the Video Sequence Editor. As a workaround, if the render is set to a power of two, e.g. 512 x 512 or 1024 x 1024, the editor preview will work, though of course the image as seen there may be distorted somewhat.