Category Archives: Culture

Quote of the day II: Intolerant ghost in the machine


From German journalist Sara Weber, writing in Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Algorithms decide who Facebook suggests you should befriend and when future self-driving cars will apply the brakes. They are a sequence of orders that can solve a problem, if applied correctly. They are supposed to be systematic, logical and produce the same result even after the umpteenth application.

But every algorithm is programmed by humans who are part of various social strata and whose work is influenced, consciously or not, by their preferences and prejudices. And the more the world is driven by technology, the more this is a problem.

“We assume that technology is neutral, but there are no neutral algorithms,” says Corinna Bath, a computer specialist who researches technology development and gender issues. She says technology is always influenced by social standing, though very few people realize that.

Algorithms can be downright dangerous if they have been programmed to make racist or sexist decisions. Mind you, this probably doesn’t happen on purpose. Most programmers probably aren’t aware of the fact that their prejudices are influencing the code they develop.

Chart of the day: The U.S., fatter by the year


From Gallup:

BLOG Obese

And now for something completely different. . .


Lenin’s Tomb, the most famous monument of the Soviet era is one that can’t be explained in terms of orthodox Marxism.

After all, a philosophy that rejects life after death has no need of carefully embalmed corpses.

But there it is, a architectural anomaly next to the Kremlin Wall, housing a carefully preserved by a process that remains a state secret in the post-Soviet era.

What, then, is it all about?

Historian J. Arch Getty offers his own sometimes humorous take in the UCLA Academic Senate’s 119th Faculty Research Lecture.

Getty is a professor affiliated with UCLA’s International Institute’s Center for European and Russian Studies, and has served as a research fellow at the Russian State Humanities University in Moscow and as a senior visiting scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He has written several books on Soviet era, and is currently writing a text on the history on the treatment of the dead in Russian history.

From University of California Television:

Dead Man Talking: Lenin’s Body and Russian Politics

Program notes:

Arch Getty explores the intriguing details surrounding Lenin’s body, which was embalmed shortly after his death in 1924 and has been on public display ever since in a mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square. Getty is a Distinguished Professor in the UCLA Department of History.

Chart of the day II: Students more eager for protest


From The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015 [PDF], the annual survey of America’s first year college students, from the University of California, Los Angeles’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program:

BLOG Protest

Blood on the border: Homeland security run amok


From being a relatively minor federal law enforcement before 9/11, the Border Patrol has been radically re-envisioned and empowered Borders and Customs, a militarized forced equipped with the latest in technology and more than doubled in size to a force of more than 21,000 armed agents.

In this investigation conducted by a Berkeley-based journalism center, MSNBC, and Mexican broadcaster Telemundo, we get a unique look at the actions U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the Department of Homeland Security, boasting more than 60,000 employees,

The focus is seen from the viewpoints of those who have been the subjects of violence from the agency’s 21,000 armed agents, as well as by those who have been charged with overseeing the agency and investigating its actions.

Alonzo Pena, Deputy Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 2009 until the following year, and had spent 24 years as a special agent for other federal law enforcement agencies, describes the mindset succinctly: “They think they are the policemen of the world,” proudly declaring themselves La Máquina Verde, the Mean Green Machine,fighting alien invaders.

They live by the motto “When I bleed, my blood is green” Substitute blue for green and the words are the same as esnl heard many, many times during our years as a reporter. We suspect they also employ a rationale we’ve heard repeatedly from police at all levels of government: “Better to be judged by twelve [the size of the jury in most U.S. criminal courts] that carried by six [pallbearers in the typical funeral],” a rationale all too often accepted by their bosses, though less so since phones started coming out with built-in video cameras.

And when it comes to shooting brown people, they seem find it just as easy a do cops farther north of the border.

The report focus on men and women who have been the victims of agent violence, including rape and murder. Their numbers include unarmed criminals and alleged criminals, shot in the back while fleeing — an action strictly against agency policy — and Native American youths, shot on their own land.

One was a sixteen-year-old Mexican youth, shot in the back by an agent who fired through border fence and killed the boy on a Mexican street.

James Tomsheck, deputy commissioner for internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection from 2006 to 2014, came to the agency from a distinguished 30 years in the Secret Service. He describes an agency with a history  of protecting agents they know to have acted wrongly, then lying about the crimes they have committed. “I believe there is a culture of holding only themselves accountable, and interfering with outside agencies who attempt to hold Border Patrol personnel accountable for their actions.”

Tomsheck looked at 28 fatalities inflicted between January 2010 and June 2014 that he deemed merited further investigation, including seven he deemed high suspicious. None was prosecuted.

His frankness may have cost him his job under the new “reform” director brought in because of the results from Tomsheck’s findings.

It’s an important report, well worth your time.

From Noticias Telemundo:

Border Patrol Shooting | Noticias | Noticias Telemundo

Program notes from Reveal, the renamed website of Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting:

Paralleling a decade of growth, the U.S. Border Patrol has seen a rise in corruption and a troubling trend of the use of deadly force. Amid a national debate around police use of force, The Center for Investigative Reporting, in collaboration with Telemundo and MSNBC, spent seven months investigating deadly force by Border Patrol agents and how these incidents are handled by its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Highlighting specific shootings involving agents and how a hiring surge that began more than a decade ago contributed to these issues, the investigation charted several incidents along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas.

Among those interviewed were victims, speaking publicly for the first time, of a brutal assault, rape and attempted murder by a Border Patrol agent in South Texas. Reporting from Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, correspondent José Díaz-Balart got an exclusive first look at a new Border Patrol training tool: a use-of-force simulator used to prepare agents to respond appropriately to threats. Along with interviews of former high-ranking officials, some speaking publicly about inside details for the first time, the investigation offered new insights into how the U.S. government has failed to hold the agency accountable.

And now for something completely different. . .


Love a good conversation? You know, one in which two people approach each other with respect and talk about the things that give meaning to their lives?

If so, then you’ll enjoy this meeting of two minds, one a highly respected essayist and novelist, the other a classically trained musician.

There’s a natural affinity between musicians and writers, or at least that’s been the case in our own experience. Both mine the world for experience, then interpret what they discover through their own inner creativity, working with the tools of the respective callings.

In this video from University of California Television, the conversation is between Steven Schick, Distinguished Professor of Music and holder of the Reed Family Presidential Chair at the University of California, San Diego, and essayist, author, and short-story writer Barry Lopez, who has held teaching appointments at several leading universities:

Music and Nature: Barry Lopez and Steve Schick — Helen Edison Lecture Series

Program notes:

National Book Award-Winning author and environmentalist Barry Lopez joins UC San Diego’s Steve Schick, a world-renowned percussionist, to explore the intersection of music, words and the natural world.

Lopez’s description of the writing process, from the initial process of selection and immersion in the subject of the world to the act of setting the words down on paper [a process greatly enhanced by music], brought repeated smiles of our lips.

Sit back, pour a nice glass of red, and enjoy. . .

Native American drinking stereotype busted


Another myth debunked.

From the University of Arizona Newsroom:

In contrast to enduring stories about extraordinarily high rates of alcohol abuse among Native Americans, University of Arizona researchers have found that Native Americans’ binge and heavy drinking rates actually match those of whites. The groups differed regarding abstinence: Native Americans were more likely to abstain from alcohol use.

The UA study, published online Monday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, was conducted by James K. Cunningham, lead author, a U.S. Fulbright scholar and social epidemiologist with the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine and the UA Native American Research and Training Center; Teshia A. Solomon (Choctaw), director of the Native American Research and Training Center; and Dr. Myra Muramoto, head of Family and Community Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data from a survey of more than 4,000 Native Americans and 170,000 whites between 2009 and 2013. The survey, called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, was administered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The UA study also used another nationally representative survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to measure how often Native Americans and whites engaged in excessive drinking in the past month. Again, findings for the two groups were comparable.

BLOG Drinx

About 17 percent of both Native Americans and whites were found to be binge drinkers, and about 8 percent of both groups were heavy drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks on one to four days in the past month. Heavy drinking was five or more drinks on five or more days in the past month. Sixty percent of Native Americans reported no alcohol use in the past month, compared to 43 percent of whites.

“Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn’t mean that alcohol problems don’t exist,” Cunningham said. “All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.

“But falsely stereotyping a group regarding alcohol can have its own unique consequences. For example, some employers might be reluctant to hire individuals from a group that has been stereotyped regarding alcohol. Patients from such a group, possibly wanting to avoid embarrassment, may be reluctant to discuss alcohol-related problems with their doctors.”

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Solomon noted that comparable rates of alcohol use do not necessarily result in comparable rates of alcohol-related health problems. “Native Americans as a group have less access to medical care, safe housing and quality food, which can amplify health problems connected to alcohol,” she said.

“Negative stereotyping of groups of people who have less access to health care creates even more health disparities,” Muramoto said. “Based on a false negative stereotype, some health care providers may inaccurately attribute a presenting health problem to alcohol use and fail to appropriately diagnose and treat the problem.”

The researchers feel that their study could impact beliefs about Native Americans’ alcohol use.

“It’s our hope that the media — movies, television, newspapers, radio, Internet — will represent Native American alcohol use more accurately,” Cunningham said. “It’s time to let the myths about elevated drinking fade away.”

A summary of the report, “Alcohol use among Native Americans compared to whites: Examining the veracity of the ‘Native American elevated alcohol consumption’ belief,” can be accessed here. [For the full article, another damn paywall, $35.95, to be exact — esnl]