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marmar's Journal
marmar's Journal
December 1, 2012

David Sirota: The Dangers of a Data-Driven World

from In These Times:

The Dangers of a Data-Driven World
As we increasingly use algorithms that base decisions on past successes, innovation is threatened.

BY David Sirota

If the recent political era has taught us anything, it has reiterated the enduring truth of George Santayana's aphorism about memory and duplication. Whether once again watching tax cuts fail to deliver a promised economic boost or witnessing more wars fail to deliver stability, we are reminded that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But then, as much as those haunting words are meant as a warning, technology is today coding Santayana's principle into society's operating system, as if mimicking history is an admirable objective. Indeed, whether it’s movie studios, record companies, government intelligence agencies or corporate human resources departments, algorithms that use the past to predict—and create—the future are making more and more decisions.

For those employed in creative endeavors, it's comforting to believe that technology's use in the information economy begins and ends with the kind of straightforward processes (data entry, dictation, etc.) that require little cognitive analysis and even less artistic thinking. Yet, as Christopher Steiner shows in his mind-blowing new book Automate This, algorithms taking into account past commercial successes are being deployed by the film and music industries to choose which movie and album proposals will be produced. What's more, an increasing number of the algorithms' selections have proven profitable.

Steiner also documents the CIA’s seeming preparation for a real-life version of the WOPR from the 1980s flick War Games. Through grants to New York University and the Hoover Institution, the agency is trying to algorithmically quantify the history of past political and military decisions for the purpose of predicting—and perhaps eventually shaping—future events. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/14244/the_dangers_of_a_data_driven_world

December 1, 2012

War on Christmas (cartoon)

December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day: We Can’t “Get to Zero” Until We End the Drug War

AlterNet / By Jag Davies

World AIDS Day: We Can’t “Get to Zero” Until We End the Drug War
The global war on drugs is severely jeopardizing the overall "fight against AIDS."

December 1, 2012 |

The official theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Getting to Zero.” As we acknowledge the vast suffering of the hundreds of millions of people who have been infected or impacted by HIV/AIDS on December 1st, it is impossible to ignore an inconvenient truth: that the global war on drugs is severely jeopardizing the overall "fight against AIDS."

Throughout the world, research has consistently shown that drug criminalization forces people who use drugs away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risks become significantly elevated. Mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders also plays a major role in spreading the pandemic, as inhumane conditions and lack of HIV prevention or treatment measures in prison lead to HIV outbreaks and AIDS cases behind bars – and among families and communities once those imprisoned are released.

Roughly 33 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV – and injection drug use accounts for one-third of all new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa. New infections have been falling since the late 1990s, but HIV incidence has increased by more than 25 percent in seven countries over this time span, largely as a result of syringe sharing.

This year two powerful reports were released – by the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law – with the backing of distinguished world leaders and medical experts. Both reports concluded that the criminalization of people who use drugs is fuelling the HIV/AIDS pandemic and undermining efforts to protect them, their families and communities. ..........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.alternet.org/world-aids-day-we-cant-get-zero-until-we-end-drug-war

December 1, 2012

Prominent fundamentalist: God gets sad when we don’t use the oil He gave us

from Grist:

Prominent fundamentalist: God gets sad when we don’t use the oil He gave us
By Philip Bump

[font size="1"]Bryan Fischer, ranting about something.[/font]

Bryan Fischer runs the American Family Association. He is … a piece of work. He spends most of his time bashing homosexuals, but is not afraid to dip a poison-soaked toe into the broader waters of far-right conservatism. Some tweets of his, to set context:

According to CDC, 90% of all malesever diagnosed w/ HIV/AIDS got it either through male on male sex or IV drug use.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) November 27, 2012

LA mandates condoms for gay porn for health reasons. Should mandate for all gay sex, since want to protect health of all.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) November 8, 2012

My game-day prediction: Romney, 51-48, 300+ electoral votes, looting.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) November 6, 2012

Rapidly decaying magnetic energy field around earth indicates maximum age of earth at 20,000 years. answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v7…

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) November 6, 2012

Charming. That last one, though, gets to the point of this story, why we’re bothering to write anything about him. Fischer is also a climate change denier. And on his radio show today (he has a radio show, apparently), he suggested that failing to use fossil fuels was an insult to God. .....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://grist.org/news/prominent-fundamentalist-god-gets-sad-when-we-dont-use-the-oil-he-gave-us/

December 1, 2012

Three Men Who Wouldn’t Let the NSA Get Away With It

via truthdig:

Three Men Who Wouldn’t Let the NSA Get Away With It

Posted on Nov 30, 2012
By Thomas Hedges, Center for Study of Responsive Law

The trial of former CIA agent and whistle-blower John Kiriakou has prompted many Americans to strongly criticize the Obama administration and its lack of oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Kiriakou, who uncovered the torture program that was started under President Bush and continued under President Obama, will face 30 months in jail and lose his government pension. Since his trial began in April, whistle-blowers such as Kirk Wiebe and William Binney, both of whom worked at the National Security Agency and then left because of mismanagement and corruption, have warned that intelligence agencies are abusing the Constitution and lavishing private companies with expensive contracts in exchange for subpar data processing and analysis systems.

Kiriakou, Wiebe and Binney, who were each presented with a Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., said that the intelligence community cares more about protecting itself and its interests than those of the public.

The NSA, for example, has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars over the past 10 years according to Wiebe, Binney and several other former NSA employees who have blown the whistle on the agency’s financial mismanagement. Spending at the NSA, they said, increased significantly after the 9/11 attacks without much regulation. The agency used the period of fear after the attacks, these whistle-blowers said, to inflate its budget and arrange high profits for corporate friends. The waste, they charged, hampered significant programs and bloated inefficient ones.

The agency wants “to fix big things with big dollars and big business,” Wiebe said over the phone. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_kgb_would_have_been_delighted_by_the_nsas_toys_20121130/

December 1, 2012

Gay-friendly mosque to open in Paris

(BBC) A prayer room described as Europe's first gay-friendly mosque is opening on the outskirts of Paris.

The new centre is run by Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, a gay Islamic scholar, married to a gay man, and the founder of Homosexual Muslims of France.

Mr Zahed regularly attends the Grand Mosque in Paris, but says he wants to create a more "inclusive" place for gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims.

He says many of them felt uncomfortable praying in established mosques. ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20547335

December 1, 2012

World Aids Day: ‘Turning the tide will fail if funding is not increased’

(Independent UK) Three decades on from the start of the Aids pandemic, the main global agencies are uncertain whether to be cheerful or gloomy about prospects for the worst disease of modern times .

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids), a collective of 11 UN groups, is bullish, announcing a more than 50 per cent drop in new infections across 25 countries since 2001, and an "unprecedented acceleration" in the response. An extra 59 per cent of patients have been put on anti-retroviral drugs in the past two years, and deaths from Aids in sub-Saharan Africa have fallen by a third since 2006.

Malawi is the star performer, with a 73 per cent fall in new infections, and Botswana, Namibia and Zambia have all more than halved their rates, proving that a combination of drugs, condom distribution and safe-sex messages can work.

However, One – the global advocacy movement co-founded by rock star and campaigner Bono – says there is a $6bn annual funding gap for Aids programmes and warns that efforts to "turn the tide on the Aids pandemic will fail unless funding, co-ordination and political will … are stepped up". ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/world-aids-day-turning-the-tide-will-fail-if-funding-is-not-increased-8372622.html

December 1, 2012

WalMart’s Tears for a Tragedy

from Consortium News:

WalMart’s Tears for a Tragedy
November 29, 2012

Exclusive: On Saturday, a fire swept through a garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing some 120 workers trapped behind locked doors. WalMart, one of the factory’s clothes buyers, quickly distanced itself from the tragedy, but WalMart’s profiting from sweatshops is a long-term pattern, writes Barbara Koeppel.

By Barbara Koeppel

WalMart. STOP, PLEASE. It’s hard to hear how “troubled” you are, as you claimed on Monday, about the fire at the Tazreen factory that sewed your clothes. Or that the factory was “no longer authorized” to produce your merchandise. Or that you will “continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

This has to be hogwash from a company known for its tight control over production and prices. Or one that pushes its suppliers to the last penny (or the taka, in Bangladesh).

So another 120 workers — mostly women — who earn 20 cents an hour died last Saturday in a building where 1,000 worked and the fire extinguishers didn’t, and exits were locked.

WalMart, surely you dissemble. Just as in 1991, when you contracted with the Saraka garment factory in Dhaka to make your clothes, only one year after the plant had a fire killing 25 children — well covered in the news. ..........(more)

The complete piece is at: http://consortiumnews.com/2012/11/29/walmarts-tears-for-a-tragedy/

December 1, 2012

Gay-friendly mosque to open its doors in Paris


Paris is about to become Europe’s first city with a gay-friendly mosque, a mosque that refuses to discriminate based on gender. It will allow gay, transgender people and women who don’t want to cover their heads or sit in the back to worship with male and female prayer leaders. Founder Ludovic Mohammed Zahed wants the mosque (its address is currently not publicized) to function both as a place of worship and a refuge for oppressed Muslims. “Current Islamic ethics may condemn this sexual orientation,” Zahed, an openly gay expert on the Koran said to press, “but in fact nothing in Islam or the Koran forbids homosexuality.” The mosque will also perform same-sex marriages and funeral rites for those who have been denied them by traditional mosques.

December 1, 2012

The Dark, Dismal Future Of Public Health Care In Texas

The Dark, Dismal Future Of Public Health Care In Texas: Health Commissioner Claims High Rates of Uninsured Are a Myth

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check . This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The new executive commissioner of Texas' Health and Human Services Department -- the social services behemoth that's currently in the process of building a whole new Texas Women's Health Program (WHP) so it can exclude Planned Parenthood from providing contraceptives and cancer screenings to low-income Texans -- has some interesting views on the condition of public health care in his state. And by "interesting," I mean shocking. I mean shockingly ignorant. Astounding, even.

Dr. Kyle Janek is an anesthesiologist by training, but for the last 18 years has served as a Republican in the Texas Legislature and as a lobbyist for various medical organizations. Governor Rick Perry appointed him as executive commissioner of the Texas HHSC on September 1st. You might expect that in 18 years of being plugged into Texas politics and state health policy, he'd have a decent grasp on the issues facing Texans.

You'd be wrong. Because Kyle Janek doesn't believe -- despite credible, widely accepted evidence to the contrary -- that one of Texas' most pressing health problems, its high number of uninsured adults, is real. He doesn't believe that more than a quarter of Texans are uninsured , as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. He told a Texas Tribune reporter in early October that he believed that number to be "inflated," and then reiterated his point in an extended interview with Tribune editor Evan Smith on October 31st. (Through his press representatives, he refused an interview with RH Reality Check .) Here's his most recent take via the Tribune:

"It's not that I don't believe those numbers. I don't believe the reasoning for those numbers." ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.alternet.org/speakeasy/rhrealitycheck/dark-dismal-future-public-health-care-texas-health-commissioner-claims-high

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