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Status Notices / Scheduled maintenance, 2023-07-08
« on: July 05, 2023, 12:08:45 AM »
The homepage, forum and wiki will be going offline for up to 2 hours on 2023-07-08 between 08:00 and 10:00 UTC.

In your local time (if you are logged in and have your time offset correctly configured), this is
July 08, 2023, 08:00:00 AM to July 08, 2023, 10:00:00 AM.

The server will be upgraded to a new stable release of its operating system. This introduces the risk that problems will arise afterwards. If you notice any, please create a thread in Suggestions & Concerns so that we can deal with it. Thank you.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / 2022 Northern Ireland election
« on: May 04, 2022, 03:32:52 PM »
There is an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly tomorrow, and it is set to be a historic one. In the wake of Brexit, the DUP has imploded, paving the way for Sinn Féin to overtake them — the first time a nationalist party will be the largest in more than a century of Northern Irish history. However, their usual rhetoric of campaigning for a border poll on Irish reunification has taken a back seat to dealing with the wake of Brexit and the cost of living crisis this time around.

Brexit, now firmly history in the rest of the UK, has been central to this election debate, with the Northern Ireland Protocol continuing to be as contentious as everyone warned it would be before Brexit was signed off on. The Protocol keeps Northern Ireland within the EU's single market, creating a customs border in the Irish Sea and obligating the UK government to perform checks on goods imported into Northern Ireland from Great Britain — an obligation they are currently failing to meet. This is necessary to avoid a hard border within the island of Ireland, an outcome considered undesirable by all involved.

Meanwhile, the DUP is insisting they will not participate in government until the Protocol is reworked, while still providing no practical alternative suggestions. Since this is very unlikely to happen and the Good Friday Agreement mandates that the Northern Irish government must share power between nationalists and unionists, the likely outcome is that forming government will be difficult, even with Sinn Féin in the dominant position.

The other winner in this election is likely to be Alliance, a centrist party that identifies as neither nationalist nor unionist, but sets itself apart from sectarian politics. They are predicted to gain several seats, and they tend to be a stabilising force in Northern Irish politics, so this is the best news of all for me.

Further reading: NI Assembly election: Everything you need to know — The Irish Times

Whatever the outcome, Brexit is certain to dominate political discourse in Northern Ireland for months to come. Predictably, the rest of the UK continues to not care or even understand that this issue exists, furthering the disconnect between the British in Northern Ireland and their countrymen on the other side of the Irish Sea who consider them little more than a nuisance. I wish I could say a solution was on the horizon, but Westminster has repeatedly rejected every possible solution, leaving Stormont with little recourse of its own.

Suggestions & Concerns / Let's use the site-wide theme in CN
« on: April 26, 2022, 11:30:43 AM »
Last time this issue was discussed, the argument against changing the CN theme went along the lines that CN is for garbage threads with no value, and therefore it doesn't make any difference if they are readable or not. But if we're putting threads like this one, in which people are actively participating, into CN, then I think it certainly does matter that people can continue to use them.

The CN theme has long been unsuitable for colour-blind users and a burden on those of us who maintain the forum because the code is not up to the same standard as the rest (which, for SMF, is saying something). I propose that we delete it, save ourselves some work, and just use Blanko's theme everywhere.

Arts & Entertainment / 2022 Six Nations Championship
« on: January 26, 2022, 03:43:03 PM »
The Six Nations kicks off next week in Dublin, with Ireland v Wales. I will, of course, be supporting Ireland. Wikipedia has the full list of matches, but for next week, we have:
  • February 05, 2022, 02:15:00 PM — Ireland–Wales (Dublin)
  • February 05, 2022, 04:45:00 PM — Scotland–England (Edinburgh)
  • February 06, 2022, 03:00:00 PM — France–Italy (Saint-Denis)

So this is an interesting move. Just the other day, the Taoiseach said the Republic's 12.5% corporate tax wasn't its selling point, citing joining the EU as more important for the nation's economic growth.

Micheál Martin has told the Dáil that negotiations that would see corporation tax set at a minimum 15% are "not complete at all" and Ireland is seeking further clarification on the issue.

However, he claimed that our low corporate tax rate "on its own is no longer a unique selling point," adding: "It never was, actually."

Instead the Taoiseach has said that investment in education and our joining the European Union were among the "fundamental pillars" which have lured multi-national companies to Ireland.

Now indications are that the Irish are going to raise their corporate tax to the OECD minimum of 15%.

Ireland is expected to adopt a 15% minimum corporate tax rate after several months of negotiations with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sources close to Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe say the Irish government “need certainty around the rate”, and assurances that Ireland won’t be forced to increase it further.

Much of the discussion has centred on the language of the global agreement.

The Irish government has insisted on the removal of the term “at least” 15% with regard to the amount each country should charge. Dublin is demanding a guarantee that it won’t be forced to increase the amount at a later date.

While it’s not clear yet whether this has been removed, sources say the Irish are amenable to the updated text which the government received on Monday.

I find this surprising, although if it does not drive business out of Ireland, it could be a very positive step. The Republic has long had to limit its government spending due to the low tax income, and this could allow the government to invest more in housing and healthcare, two of the most important problems in Ireland today.

After spending the past 30 years covering their share of the island with a world-class motorway network, the Republic of Ireland is now shifting priorities towards cleaner transport options. Specifically, they have a "two-to-one" rule in favour of public transport in this year's National Development Plan, as the Irish Times reports.

In all €35 billion has been earmarked for transport spending until 2030. All of the big roads projects contained in the Fine Gael government’s plan from 2018 have been retained – including the M20 motorway from Cork to Limerick; the Galway City outer ring road; the co-funded A5 to Derry; the upgrade of the N4 from Mullingar to Longford; and the N24 from Limerick to Waterford.

While their inclusion was being presented by sources in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as a “win” for those parties, it was quietly acknowledged within Government circles that the programme for government commitment to a two-to-one ratio favouring public transport over roads, in addition to exacting climate-change obligations, would mean at least some of those projects would not be progressed.
The "co-funded A5 to Derry" refers to the N2 Dublin–Derry road, the northern half of which is signposted as A5 by the British government. As the Republic has an interest in the Dublin–Derry corridor, they are contributing funds to improvement of the route within Northern Ireland.

A significant part of the reason for the priority shift is that the Green Party is part of the coalition government for the second time in history.

A senior Minister from one of the bigger coalition parties agreed. “Every thing is being climate assessed. You must remember it is (Green Party leader) Eamon Ryan who is managing the Department of Transport and also the transport budget.”

Even among the road projects, it seems we can expect prioritisation based on climate impact.

All of the major projects will also be climate-proofed, with those deemed “climate-positive” and “neutral” getting preference over those classed as “climate-negative”.

This is very promising — Ireland is lagging significantly behind most of western Europe in terms of public transport, and it will be great to see some improvements there. I am also glad to see that road projects are being deprioritised rather than scrapped entirely, as some road projects (such as the Cork–Limerick road, whether that ends up being motorway or not) are sorely needed for economic development, but it would be nice to see them completed in an ecologically sustainable way.

Arts & Entertainment / 2022 FIFA World Cup
« on: October 02, 2021, 03:17:21 PM »
The qualifying rounds are well underway for most FIFA regions for next year's World Cup in Qatar. There are a few games I'm interested in next week:
  • October 08, 2021, 06:45:00 PM — Latvia–Netherlands (Riga)
  • October 09, 2021, 01:00:00 PM — Ethiopia–South Africa (Bahir Dar)
  • October 09, 2021, 04:00:00 PM — Azerbaijan–Republic of Ireland (Baku)
  • October 09, 2021, 06:45:00 PM — Switzerland–Northern Ireland (Geneva)
Of all these teams, only Azerbaijan is already eliminated from qualifying, and the Republic of Ireland can only qualify through the playoffs.

I don't know whether I'll be able to watch all of these games online, but I'll try to if I can. Should be interesting.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Germany elects a new Bundestag
« on: September 27, 2021, 12:05:33 PM »
And what an election! The centre-right Christian Democratic Union has been narrowly beaten by the centre-left Social Democrats, but either would need to form a coalition with two other parties to govern. That leaves the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic Party holding the cards — a huge win for the political centre. Happily, the extremist parties on both sides of the spectrum, AfD and The Left, are losing seats.

This is the moment for Greens supporters to rejoice:

The Greens had their highest-ever election result in the Bundestag with 14.8% of the vote, a 5.8 percentage point jump on the previous election, making them the third-biggest party in parliament, preliminary results show.

It also means the party will likely be a kingmaker in the next German coalition government.

There is also good news here for those of us concerned about the spread of divisive extremism beyond the UK:

Both the far-right and far-left parties were set to lose seats in Germany's Bundestag, according to preliminary results.

"The three-way race between Olaf Scholz, Armin Laschet and Annalena Baerbock led to a consolidation of the political centre at the expense of the far left and the far-right parties," said Loss.

I don't think a better outcome could have been hoped for, realistically. This is a very good sign for the future of western Europe.

Bosnian Serb politicians have said they will boycott the country's institutions in protest at the United Nations high representative's decision to ban genocide denial.

This is in reference to the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian War, in which over 8000 Bosniak Muslims were murdered. While I don't condone genocide denial, I do think that those with a different view of what happened have the right to express their opinions. Every healthy democracy must protect the right to free expression.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has submitted an application to join the European Union, and this issue will undoubtedly present a hurdle for their application. Let's hope they get back on the right track.

The European Parliament has passed a law allowing e-mail and messaging service providers to automatically scan all messages for suspicious content and report matches to police, under the guise of protecting children. The linked article provides a good, if somewhat biased, overview.

This is not as invasive as surveillance legislation in some other parts of the world. For instance, it does not require service providers to conduct surveillance, it only permits it, which enables users to choose providers that respect their privacy. The full text of the legislation also provides limitations on the extent of such surveillance, restricting it only to detection of child abuse. It also explicitly excludes breaking of end-to-end encryption from its remit.

But Patrick Breyer, the author of the article linked in the first paragraph, makes an argument that this surveillance will not actually help combat child abuse.

Indiscriminate searches will not protect children and even endanger them by exposing their private photos to unknown persons, and by criminalising children themselves. Already overburdened investigators are kept busy with having to sort out thousands of criminally irrelevant messages. The victims of such a terrible crime as child sexual abuse deserve measures that prevent abuse in the first place. The right approach would be, for example, to intensify undercover investigations into child porn rings and reduce of the years-long processing backlogs in searches and evaluations of seized data.

Further (see the linked article), he is planning legal action in the context of a European Court of Justice ruling on the subject.

You can see a list of which MEPs voted which way on the legislation here, under the section Use of technologies for the processing of data for the purpose of combating online child sexual abuse (temporary derogation from Directive 2002/58/EC). This may be helpful in determining whom to vote for in 2024, whichever way you lean on this issue.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Civil unrest in South Africa
« on: July 17, 2021, 12:18:04 AM »
There has been rioting and looting in South Africa this past week, after a culmination of the COVID pandemic worsening an already struggling economy, and the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma amidst allegations of corruption while in office. Wikipedia has some basic background reading on the subject.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed the nation on this issue.

“It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, co-ordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy. The constitutional order of our country is under threat,” said Ramaphosa.

He also commented on the country's unpreparedness to deal with the incidents.

“We must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage of this nature.

“While we commend the brave actions of our security forces on the ground, we must admit that we did not have the capabilities and plans in place to respond swiftly and decisively.”

On a more positive note, the rainbow nation showed what it is truly capable of in the wake of this destruction.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Facebook group Rebuild South Africa, which was started by volunteers wishing to assist those physically, psychologically or otherwise harmed by the violence, said it already has more than 22,000 members.

They further said that the Rebuild SA initiative is not associated with any government entity.

The hashtag #CleanUpSA has also gained traction on Twitter as ordinary South Africans share contacts and skills to restore some sort of order in what has been the country’s worst few days of civil unrest since the dawn of democracy in SA.

Hopefully things settle down soon, although the broader problem of South Africa's high unemployment rate is going to be a long-term one.

According to Inrix, Galway is, after Dublin, the second-most congested city in Ireland. This is, in many ways, unsurprising. Belfast, Cork, Limerick and Derry all have larger populations, but Cork and Limerick both have (half) ring roads that enable through traffic to bypass the city centre, while Belfast has an inner city bypass. Galway, on the other hand, funnels all traffic transiting the city over the 4-lane Quincentenary Bridge. What's more, the city is laid out such that the residential areas are mostly in the west, and the employment centres are mostly in the east, so that most working people drive across this bridge twice per day.

As always with transportation problems, this has given rise to lively debate over the best solution. There is a ring road proposed for Galway as an extension of the M6 motorway from Dublin that currently dumps traffic onto city roads, but due to geographical and environmental constraints, it needs to be built much closer to the city than ring roads typically run, which has raised concerns that it will only make traffic problems worse. There is a good explanation of the history and status of the project in The Journal. Although that article says a decision on the project was due from An Bord Pleanála in April, that has now been delayed twice to August, so we still don't know if this is getting built.

But only a fool would think that a ring road by itself would solve the city's congestion problems. A good public transport network is vital to reducing car dependency in any modern city, and given the low population density in and around Galway, buses are the favoured option. Galway City Council has now announced that they intend to submit plans for a new Cross City Link bus project by the end of the year. Crucially, this proposal includes restrictions on private traffic during peak hours, which will help deal with the problem of buses being delayed by the same congestion problems as cars.

There is a brochure with some preliminary details on the project on Arup's website, although we will have to wait and see what the Council submits to An Bord Pleanála. If they get it right, this could go hand-in-hand with the ring road to significantly reduce the number of cars on Galway's streets.

Bus Éireann is trialling three new hydrogen-fuelled double-decker buses on some Dublin bus routes.

The plan is to closely monitor how they operate to learn as much as possible about where and how they can be best used and examine how operational and carbon savings can be best made.

I haven't heard much about hydrogen fuel in a while, so this is interesting. I'm curious to see where it leads.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Territorial map of the world
« on: July 13, 2021, 02:35:32 PM »
This map from openDemocracy shows the nations of the world including their sea territories.

There's also a close-up section of Europe.

It's interesting to see how different everything looks when you include maritime boundaries.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Translations of the Bible
« on: June 30, 2021, 01:18:35 AM »
This is a subject I've become somewhat interested in recently, and the issue has turned out to be a lot more complex and nuanced than I initially realised. Broadly speaking, the Christian Bible can be broken into three parts with their own distinct history, and all three have generated controversy to a greater or lesser degree, either in their translation or in their status as scripture.

Parts of the Bible

The oldest is the Hebrew Bible, which is the collection of ancient Jewish writings that have survived in the original Hebrew (or, for a few passages, Aramaic), and which are considered canonical by Jews and all Christian denominations. These were first translated into Greek (a translation now known as the Septuagint) in the 3rd century BC, which is the source of most controversy surrounding the translation. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word הָעַלְמָה ("young woman") was translated with the Greek παρθένος, which can mean either "maiden" or "virgin". Because Isaiah 7:14 is talking about a pregnancy, it would have been considered unlikely to be read as "virgin" at the time of its translation, but in a modern Christian context it is often taken as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus. Jews, who regard the original Hebrew text as authoritative, do not accept this Christian interpretation.

Next come the deuterocanonical books or apocrypha, terms preferred by Catholics and Protestants, respectively. These are pre-Christian Jewish writings which appear in the Greek Bible, but not the Hebrew Bible. These have widely varying histories. Some were originally written in Hebrew, but the original texts have been lost. Some are parts added to books in the Hebrew Bible — for example, around half of the Greek book of Daniel is nowhere to be found in Hebrew. Others, like 2 Maccabees, were entirely authored in Greek by Hellenised Jews. Whatever the reason for their absence from the Hebrew Bible, they are not considered canonical by Jews or Protestants, some are included in the Catholic Old Testament, and a few more are also included by Eastern churches.

Finally, there is the New Testament, thought to be originally written in Greek, although some proposals of a Hebrew original for the Gospel have been floated. This is, obviously, rejected by Jews, but it is universally accepted, as the same set of books, by all major modern Christian denominations. It is nevertheless controversial in the choice of manuscript used as the translation source. The most widely known English translation of the Bible, the King James Version (KJV), was created centuries ago based on the Byzantine manuscripts known at the time. Modern Biblical scholarship prefers the older Alexandrian text-type, which is missing some verses that were presumably added later to the Byzantine text-type. Therefore, from the point of view of someone familiar with the KJV, modern translations of the New Testament have "missing" verses.

Ancient translations

The issue of which source to use for translation is further complicated by the fact that no originals survive — and, indeed, for the older books of the Hebrew Bible, the concept of an original may be inapplicable, as these very likely originated as oral traditions that were only written down centuries later.

For the Old Testament, the main sources are the 10th-century Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) and the 3rd-century-BC translation into Greek, the Septuagint (LXX), of which near-complete manuscripts survive from the 4th century AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls, from the 4th century BC, were discovered in the mid-20th century and have helped to improve the historical accuracy of recent translations.

The Latin Vulgate is also a useful point of reference, for two reasons. First, Jerome used the work of Symmachus when translating the Vulgate. Symmachus translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, independently of the Septuagint. His translation is reported by ancient authors to be more natural Greek than the Septuagint, but survives only in fragments, making the Vulgate our best insight into Symmachus's work. Second, the Vulgate was the only version of the Bible ever read by most scholars in western Europe for about a millennium, thanks to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

For these reasons, modern Bible translations typically use multiple sources in different languages, especially for the Old Testament. Only by comparing different surviving manuscripts can we obtain a clear picture of what was meant by the original. Yet, for the selfsame reason, modern translations often differ in their reading of particular passages due to preferencing one translation over another. The better translations offer footnotes with alternate readings so that the reader is aware of the ambiguity.

Modern translations into English

No translation prior to the 1950s can be considered up-to-date with modern Biblical scholarship, for the simple reason that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not available to translators before then. Since the 1950s, there have been numerous translations made — too numerous to list here — with varying advantages and disadvantages.

Generally, translations are classified on a spectrum of formal equialence vs. dynamic equivalence. Strict formal equivalence would produce unintelligible English, because Hebrew and Greek grammar is so drastically different from English, so formally equivalent translations tend to take just enough liberties to produce grammatically coherent English sentences.

Dynamic equivalence tries to convey the same meaning in natural English, which necessarily involves different phrasing in some cases. For example, in Luke 15:8, the Greek word δρᾰχμή refers to a drachma, an ancient Greek coin, but such currency is totally unknown to most modern readers. Modern translations, even formal translations, generally replace it with "silver coin", although formal translations tend to explain the original word as a footnote. In other cases, ancient idioms may need to be rephrased to make intuitive sense to modern readers, where a formally equivalent translation may leave them as is.

Another difference between translations is how they handle the deuterocanonical books. It is not always practical to provide these in a way that is useful for both Catholics and Protestants. The book of Esther, in particular, has whole new sections added to it in the Septuagint, that — if included separately — would make reading Greek Esther quite cumbersome indeed. Instead, Catholic Bibles either replace translations of the Hebrew books with the Greek ones, or include the Hebrew Esther and the Greek Esther separately.

My opinion

I have been researching available translations and selected personal favourites from the available options. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is generally accepted by Biblical scholars as the most accurate formal translation, and I now own a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), which is based on the NRSV and has a large number of annotations, maps and essays to explain how to interpret the scriptures. I love the NOAB as a reference, especially since it includes all deuterocanonical books, even those used by Orthodox churches but not the Catholic Church.

But the NRSV is not very amenable to easy reading, so I also now have a copy of the Catholic edition of the Good News Bible (GNB), which is written in clear, simple English, liberally seasoned with footnotes. I have been reading this for the past couple of weeks, and so far it is by far the smoothest translation I have ever laid eyes on.

Although it is quite popular, I do not like the New International Version, partly because of its Christian theological spin on the Old Testament (it uses "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14) and partly because it has fewer footnotes to explain alternate readings than the GNB. The KJV is right out for my purposes, as it is simply too old to benefit from modern Biblical scholarship.

But most of all, I'm glad I have researched the subject so that I have an understanding of how and why modern Bible translations differ, and what to expect. I have never actually read more than fragments of the Bible before, and the Good News Bible is making it extremely easy to do so, so I would wholeheartedly recommend that to any fellow Bible-curious folks.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Volt Europa
« on: June 25, 2021, 09:37:18 PM »
I have been reading through Volt Europa's policies. They are a Europe-wide political party that sits with the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament.

I thought this deserved its own thread because the concept of a pan-European party is a new one. The existing EU parties are all loose alliances of national parties, whereas Volt is a European party with national chapters. They now exist in all 27 EU member states, plus the UK and Switzerland.

Aside from the usual Green politics, some of their more interesting policies are:
  • European federation;
  • enable the European parliament to propose legislation;
  • creation of a European public broadcaster;
  • establishment of an EU military;
  • EU-wide guaranteed minimum income;
  • in contrast to most Green parties, support for investment in nuclear power as a way of achieving emissions targets; and
  • in the UK, rejoin the EU.
So far, their greatest success was in the 2021 elections in the Netherlands, where Volt Nederland won 3 seats in the national parliament. But currently, they only have one MEP: Damian Boeselager of Volt Deutschland. You can see a report of his activities and watch his contributions to plenary debates.

I find their policy platform interesting and will consider voting for them in 2024, but more than that, I hope this is the first of many pan-European political parties. Europe could use some more cross-border cooperation and less rabid nationalism right now.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / European federalism
« on: June 24, 2021, 06:00:37 PM »
This is an idea that has been floating around for decades, and still strongly divides opinion. The suggestion is for the EU to federate — each EU member would become a subdivision within one big country of Europe. Until very recently, I was extremely opposed to the idea based on my negative experiences of federation in Australia, and on what I know of the American federal system. But recently, my views have begun to change, and I will try to explain why.

The futility of the nation-state

The main argument I have heard against federation is about the sovereignty of nation-states. The principle behind the nation-state is that each nation, in the sense of a group of people with shared cultural identity, should govern itself based on its own distinct values. But in practice, this is very difficult to achieve, which is why most European states are only approximations to true nation-states. Their boundaries don't actually line up with the borders between nations, which may not be well defined at all.

For instance, the northern half of Belgium is culturally Dutch, while the southern half is culturally French. The Republic of Ireland's border with the UK should be in the Irish Sea, not through the middle of Ireland. Catalonia doesn't belong to Spanish culture, Frisia doesn't belong to Dutch culture, and Åland doesn't belong to Finnish culture. There are Germans in Italy, Hungarians in Serbia and Russians in Latvia, alongside many more examples, but I think my point is clear.

In principle, some of these have straightforward solutions, nevertheless made politically challenging by the dominant culture's reluctance to grant a minority self-determination. Others cannot be reasonably solved regardless of political circumstances — no matter how you draw up the Germany–Poland border, you are going to leave some people on the "wrong" side, unless you create a maze of exclaves. We can therefore conclude that the nation-state is an impossible idea to achieve in practice, outside of isolated (in the literal sense) examples such as Iceland.

Federalism as an alternative to nation-states

Once we accept that the nation-state is impossible, the primary argument against European federation disappears. On the other hand, the European Union's motto is "united in diversity", which speaks to its goal of respecting and valuing the various national identities within it. So, counterintuitively, European unity has greater potential for the recognition of differing cultures than the unachievable nation-state model, in which the values of the dominant culture in an area can suppress those of minority cultures.

Furthermore, the EU already has a better democratic system, in my view, than either the US or Australia. I don't think we should ignore the problems present in other federal systems, but I no longer believe their existence is a reason not to try to do better, either. Any concrete proposal for federation should look at federal systems around the world, adopt their strengths, and learn from their weaknesses.

Practicality: Is this the time and place?

If we assume for a moment that federalism is desired, is this the appropriate juncture for it? Personally, I don't think so. There are still many obstacles the EU must overcome to be ready to federate. For one thing, Serbia and Montenegro are currently in the process of negotiating their accession, with more prospective members hoping to begin negotiations in the coming decade. Such a radical reform of EU politics as federation would disrupt these negotiations by calling into question the stability of the union.

Another reason not to federate just yet is that the EU still has some way to go to in terms of democratisation. Currently, the number of MEPs is allocated based on, but not directly proportionally to, the population of each member. Consequently, a resident of Malta has roughly ten times as much political power as a resident of Germany. Also, the requirement for unanimity in the European Council has no place in a federal system.

Finally, there are practical considerations. Only 19 of the 27 members of the EU presently use the euro. Only 22 participate in the Schengen Area, a situation that depends on Irish unification to satisfactorily resolve. Then there are various microstates that participate in the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, but which are not members of the EU — should they be included in a European federal state?

In summary, I do now support European federation, but I do not see it happening until at least the 2040s — enough time for Ukraine and Georgia to submit their applications to join, and if accepted, for them to be integrated into the union. Enough time to reform the democratic system, and enough time — hopefully — to work through the issues blocking adoption of the euro and Schengen. But only time will tell.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / The workings of European democracy
« on: June 17, 2021, 08:14:14 PM »
I've never looked very deeply into the workings of the EU, as someone who is ineligible to vote in European elections. The system of numerous institutions spread across three different cities always seemed a bit daunting. However, I am almost certainly going to be eligible to vote in 2024, so I decided it is time to educate myself so I can decide who to vote for in a few years.

For those of you who are not European, and our British residents who still do not understand what they opted out of, I will provide a brief summary here. The EU is composed of seven institutions; of these, this discussion will be limited to the four that comprise the legislature and executive, as these are the ones voters can most directly influence. The other three — the judiciary, the central bank and the auditing body — are a topic for another time.

Despite much propaganda thrown around regarding the supposedly undemocratic nature of the EU, it strongly resembles most Western democracies in its structure. Where appropriate, comparisons will be drawn between EU institutions and the institutions of other democracies.
  • The European Parliament (EP) is comparable to the lower houses of many bicameral parliaments around the world, such as the House of Commons in the UK, or the House of Representatives in the USA. It is elected directly by eligible voters in each member state, although the exact criteria for voting eligibility vary by state, with an election held every 5 years. As the only institution directly elected by the people, this will be discussed in more detail below.
  • The European Council (EUCO) and the Council of the European Union (Council) are, taken together, somewhat analogous to the upper houses of many parliaments, such as the Senate in the Netherlands or (somewhat more loosely) the USA. (A comparison with the House of Lords in the UK would be too strained, given how undemocratic the British system is.) The purposes of these institutions are to represent member states, rather than representing the people directly. The EUCO is comprised of the heads of government of each member state, and the Council rotates its membership according to the topic under consideration — for example, when the Council is convened on environmental issues, it will be composed of the Ministers for the Environment of each member state.
  • The European Commission (EC) is the executive of the EU. It consists of 27 members, one from each member state, who are appointed through a process involving both the EUCO and the EP. One difference between the EC and the executives of most other democracies is that the EC need not be elected from within the ranks of the EP, but since the EC cannot be formed without the approval of the EP and it relies on the EP's continued support to do its work, it is no less democratic. The current President of the European Commission, analogous to the prime minister in most democracies, is Ursula von der Leyen.
I will now go into some further detail on the EP, as this is the most directly relevant institution to voters. Rather than the familiar party-based approach, the EP is organised into groups, which are groups of members (MEPs) with similar ideologies. This arrangement, as opposed to organising MEPs by the state they represent, facilitates cooperation between the representatives of different member states with similar political views. Generally, each group will be composed of the elected representatives of ideologically related European political parties, although there are exceptions where different members of a party have joined with different groups. European parties, in turn, are formed from cooperation between national parties of member states with similar ideologies.

This idea may be easier to grasp with an example. The largest group in the current EP is the European People's Party Group (EPP Group), made up of the eponymous European People's Party (EPP), along with some representatives from the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM). In turn, the EPP is made up of various national parties, including:
  • Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) in Germany,
  • Partido Popular (PP) in Spain,
  • Platforma Obywatelska (PO) in Poland,
  • Νέα Δημοκρατία (ND) in Greece,
  • Fine Gael (FG) in Ireland, and
  • Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA) in the Netherlands, among many others.
So, if a German voter were to cast a vote for the CDU in an EP election, that would translate into a vote for the EPP, and their representative would ultimately sit as part of the EPP Group. Groups in the EP will generally have a leader who speaks for them in plenary sessions, as in this session from last year, where each group presents its response to President von der Leyen's proposed funding to recover from the pandemic.

This system results in some odd incongruences. For instance, I would not support either of the major parties (Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael) in Irish national elections (assuming that I were eligible to vote), but so far I like the Renew Europe (Renew) group, in which Fianna Fáil participates. Conversely, I like some of Partij voor de Dieren's positions in the Netherlands, but they have chosen to align themselves with the group The Left in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL), which is too left-wing for my taste, so I would not vote for them in a European election.

In order to facilitate clear communication between people of differing backgrounds, and to minimise the misunderstandings that come with language barriers, MEPs are permitted to speak in any of the EU's 24 official languages. A team of expert interpreters translates all statements into 23 of these in real time (Irish is presently excluded due to the difficulty in finding qualified interpreters), so that all MEPs can understand each other, and all European citizens can understand each session. EP sessions are available to watch, live or recorded, online in any of the 23 EU languages other than Irish.

This is all fairly new to me and I am still getting a handle on how it all fits together, but this is as good a summary as I can give of what I have encountered so far. As for the reason I began looking into this, my own views seem to fit somewhere in between the groups Renew and Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), and the EP sessions I have watched so far seem to confirm this. I'm going to keep watching EP sessions and try to get to know the system a bit better so I can make an informed choice in a few years.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / Irish reunification
« on: May 30, 2021, 08:32:35 PM »
There have been renewed calls for a referendum on Irish unity following Britain's recent self-immolation. Until recently, broaching the subject at all would have been utterly futile, but the introduction of the Irish Sea border is starting to change that, as Euronews reports.

While the appetite for unification may not yet be hungry enough to push for constitutional change, there is a growing urgency at least in increasing cross-border cooperation, given the two countries' shared geography and history.

A working group has produced a report on the matter with some recommendations, according to the Irish Sun.

The final report by the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland states: “It would be highly unwise for referendums to be called without a clear plan for the processes of decision-making that would follow.

“Such a plan would need to be agreed by the governments, working closely with the full range of actors in Northern Ireland, across the island of Ireland, and in the UK.”

So there is some work to be done, but headway is being made, which is nice to see. Given the obstacles, we probably won't see a referendum take place this year, but it seems within the realm of possibility to happen within the next couple of years.

Status Notices / Scheduled maintenance, 2021-04-18
« on: April 15, 2021, 02:45:44 PM »
The homepage, forum and wiki will be going offline for about 15 minutes on 2021-04-18, between 09:00 and 09:30 UTC.

In your local time (if you are logged in and have your time offset correctly configured), this is:
April 18, 2021, 09:00:00 AM

We will be updating to the latest version of SMF at this time, as well as incorporating some fixes for issues raised in the Suggestions & Concerns forum.

At the same time, we will install security updates on the server which hosts the homepage, forum and wiki. These will be non-disruptive to functionality, as the server is running a stable OS release that gets critical fixes only.

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