Abortugal

I have some good news from the Iberian Peninsula. It’s not about José María Aznar, who said 4 years after promoting Bush’s war that no weapon of mass destruction were in Iraq. It’s about the status of abortion in Portugal. It was a referendum about abortion legality, and Portuguese answered « sim ».

The Soviet Union, with legislation in 1920, and Iceland, with legislation in 1935, were two of the first countries to generally allow abortion. Now, within Europe, only Poland, Malta, Ireland and Portugal have very restrictive abortion laws. But only the Portuguese government actively prosecutes doctors, nurses and women having abortion. Performing an abortion with consent of the woman is punishable by a 3-year jail sentence. Also the woman undergoing the abortion can get a 3-year jail sentence. In 2001 seventeen women were on trial for having an illegal abortion and a nurse was convicted to 7 1/2 years of prison for performing illegal abortions.

The Portuguese government plans now to seek approval in the Portuguese Parliament of a proposal to make abortion legal in the country, despite low turnout in February, 11th referendum on loosening the current law. Approximately 59% of voters were in favor of loosening restrictions against abortion, while 41% voted to keep abortion illegal. Only 40% of the population turned out, less than the 50% threshold requirement to support a change in the law. Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates of the ruling Socialist party said that there were enough « yes » votes for parliament to lift the abortion ban.

Viva Portugal !

Universitop

Last days, I heard a lot about a Top World Universities. I read in the press, ‘this University in Germany is a good one because it is good ranked in the Top. And this one, in UK, is bad ranked: don’t send your children there’. Well, it is funny. People were talking about the Top 500 World Universities made by guys from Shangai Jiao Tong University. Hmm. In the top 20, we can see 17 US Universities. It doesn’t seem very realistic. Let’s inspect the methodology they used.

The methodology can be find online. What are the criteria to get a good ranking?

Alumni and staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals is one criteria. Well. Why not; but in my view, it doesn’t give an information about the quality of the education or the faculty; I think that if you are a genius (such as Newton, Einstein), you will won a price in your life wherever you have studied before. For example, Einstein is born in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. Can we deduce that Ulm is in the top 20 cities of the world containing cleverest people? Obviously not.

Highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories is also a criteria. Articles published in Nature and Science. Articles in Science Citation Index-expanded, Social Science Citation Index. All of those publications analyzed are in English language. So the two « best countries » in the ranking are USA and United Kingdom, two English speaking countries; Canada is not so far away (5th). Even if English tends to be the international language in the academic world, a lot of countries, especially in Europe, still doesn’t publish all their researches in English, but in their native language. So the Top is very biased and the English-speaking institutions are taking a big advantage over the others.

The last criteria is the size of institution to evaluate the academic performance with respect to the size of an institution. Already here, we can see that the criteria are very few and irrelevant. But this last criteria insists on a big problem: the difference of education systems.

Ranking universities worldwide is not possible. There are huge differences of universities and education system in the large variety of countries. Let’s give some examples. In some countries, there is a strong selection to enter in University (e.g. England), and in other countries, everyone is accepted if you have an high school diploma (e.g. in France). Some University are public institutions and other are private (they are in the same ranking here). In France, 85,7% of the Universities budget comes from public money; this is 59,3% in Canada and 46,9% in USA. The size of the Universities can be very different. In Paris (10 millions inhabitants), there is 17 Universities: Paris I to Paris XIII, Université de Marne-la-Vallée, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, Université d’Évry-Val d’Essonne, Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. In Tokyo (12,5 million inhabitants), there is more than 100 Universities, if we count also colleges. Some big cities around the world just have 4 or 5 Universities. This is not equitable. The budget of Universities is very different too: Paris VI, the biggest scientific French University has €243 million (2002) for 30 000 students; Harvard University, in USA, has $29.2 billion (2006), hundred times more, for 20 000 students.

So, what about this ranking? Biased, irrelevant, false: pick your favorite word.

Bill Gates loves you

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said on August 9th it was giving $500 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, by far its biggest grant to the fund. Gates is the richest man in the world. Gates is widely considered one of the world’s most influential people. And, especially, he is the co-founder, chairman, shareholder, former chief software architect, and former CEO of Microsoft.

Bill is known as the ‘terrific’ star of the proprietary software. Since the 1980s, Gates and his company have been the focus of much controversy in the computer industry: most criticism has been for its business tactics, perceive as unfair and anti-competitive. For example, Microsoft embraces and extends technologies, only to create a new competing standard, writing their own incompatible version of the standard (e.g. Java, OpenDocument, Internet Explorer). Microsoft works against interoperability, does a lot of FUD about free software, supports Digital Rights Management (DRM), software patents and Trusted Computing (TCPA/Palladium etc.). Microsoft is also a synonym of bugs and security holes. That is, Gates is for a lot of computer scientists a nightmare.

Is it possible that Gates, the bad guy of software and the frightening marketing champion, is a real philanthropist outside of technology? It is not so obvious. Well, giving a lot of his money for health is a very good thing. We will always need money to fight against diseases and viruses. The money given by Gates will help the research and a lot of people. But let’s analyze this philanthropy in detail.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in 2006 the largest (richest) charitable foundation in the world. Founded by Bill Gates in 2000, its aim is to provide life-saving health care products and technology for the poorest parts of the world. On the foundation values page, we can read that « science and technology have great potential to improve lives around the world ». Why not, but, when Gates wants to help people with technology, does it means he wants spread the happiness with his technological products? Another thing, Gates and his private foundation are more and more important is the ‘charity world’. For example, because of his giving to The Global Fund, he was speaking at the opening of the 16th international conference on HIV and Aids, being held in Toronto (Canada) in August. It is normal, that a computer scientist billionaire opens such a conference?

So, the giving of Gates is a not a bad thing, but it is not as spectacular as we can read in the newspaper. The giving is very big, but in fact, a lot of people do giving in their life, and the rate wages/giving can be the same. Another point, today the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as largest charitable organization, has 5 times more budget than World Health Organization. So private Gates foundation helps kindly public organizations. Governments, with big companies and financial institution, have developed since 30 years liberal politics which are minimizing the social services and the solidarity; shareholders are sometimes more powerful than states and international health organization. And the causes of the ineffectiveness of the states are just the same as those which have permit to people like Bill Gates to build disproportionate fortunes! When there is no more solidarity, a kind billionaire comes and offers charity, and we have to make him a hug, hmm?

This is not the only issue. A foundation like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation defines its own goal, which can be different from the national public health policy of a country. With putting a lot of money in a direction, often more than the budget of the local Department of Health, a philanthropist can modify seriously the health priority. Instead of giving money to the Red Cross or a local government that know the issues and the way of solving them, this is money coming from another continent without knowing half of the local context.

Obviously, the philanthropy of Gates is also matter of corporate image and branding for Microsoft and himself. Sometimes, this may be also just business. Recently, India bought a lot of Microsoft products just after Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave a lot of money for health. Coincidence?

In conclusion, the famous philanthropists are not always the angels that they claim to be. For example, Bono, lead singer of rock band U2, known for his humanitarian involvement (he has also his own foundation ONE Campaign), moved his accounts base to Amsterdam in order to avoid tax payable on artists royalties – a tax that artists in Ireland wouldn’t have had to pay up to recently.

Jag känner en bott, hon heter sommarhit

A new Swedish hit is what we could called ‘a geek song’. The lyrics of ‘Boten Anna’ of Basshunter deal with a chatter who meet a bot on IRC. The story is very funny, and the music very cool – indeed, it is very good if you like eurodance 🙂 The videoclip of the song is funny too, but the two guys in it are looking more than clubbers than computer geeks. Even if you like neither IRC nor dance music, you should watch the video clip just for the kitschy dance demonstration on a pedalo ! Note that ‘Boten Anna’ is not the first song about IRC, another one was a big hit on the French Internet in 2003 : Tessa Martin’s ‘Terriblement Efficace’ . A second note, the lyrics of Basshunter are in Swedish, this is good that everybody is not contaminated by the English language supremacy in music!

Belgay

Belgium has voted into law today a bill allowing homosexual couples to adopt children. Now that this new law has been definitively approved, they will share the same rights as heterosexual couples to adopt children.

Elsewhere in the world, some other countries have already enacted laws granting homosexual couples the right to adopt children. Gay adoption is legal in Sweden, Andorra and Spain. In the Netherlands too, but the child adopted need to have the Dutch nationality. Iceland, Norway, Germany and Denmark allow ‘stepchild-adoption’ so that the partner in a civil union can adopt the natural (or sometimes even adopted) child of his partner. In Canada adoption is within provincial/territorial jurisdiction, and thus the law differs between each province and territory; gay adoption is legal without restrictions in 9 provinces/territories. Within the USA, 10 states allow adoption without restrictions by openly gay and lesbian couples, as England and Wales in United Kingdom. In Australia, gay adoption is legal in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia, step-child adoption in same-sex couples is possible in Tasmania.

I’m very happy about this new Begian law. But something makes me still sad. Why this law doesn’t exist in all countries, especially in democratic ones? Obviously the effects of parenting conducted by same-sex couples and that of heterosexual couples will be quite the same. The only difference between homo- and heterosexual parents is the things they do together, when they are in their bed. But, the children never see that, they never participate in any way in the sexual life of their parents! To me, the question ‘do we have to approve adoption by gay people?’ is as stupid a question as ‘do we have to approve adoption by Black people?’. Gays are as much citizens as other people. In a democracy, they must have exactly the same rights as everybody : marriage, adoption etc.