Archives for August 2017

Today’s protesters can learn from this violence free protest.

On this day in 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, now known as the March on Washington . The march was the brainchild of civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who once said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” They worked diligently for nearly two years, convincing members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to put aside their differences and participate.

The president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, needed support for the passage of his Civil Rights Act, and gave his approval, as long as there would be no violence. Two days of protests, speeches, and sit-ins were planned. On August 27, thousands of people began pouring into the city. They came by bus, train, and air from Milwaukee, St. Louis, Birmingham, California, with water jugs and picnic baskets and Bibles. Chicago and New York declared August 28 “Freedom Day” and gave workers the day off. The city of Washington, D.C., banned liquor sales for the first time since Prohibition, hospitals stocked blood plasma and canceled elective surgeries, and the Pentagon amassed 19,000 troops in the suburbs, just in case things got violent.

There was no violence. There was not one single arrest. Marchers linked hands, they sang, and they chanted all the way from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 16th speaker of the day, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., began what would become one of the greatest speeches in history with, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

He ended with, “When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Pure bullshit!

It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And Cobb — who was, in 2013, charged with terrorizing people while trying to create an all-white enclave in North Dakota — reacted like a sore loser in the schoolyard.

 

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said, trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.”

 

Then, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he took to the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute those results. That’s not uncommon: With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

 

 

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped. In a new study, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan examined years’ worth of posts on Stormfront to see how members dealt with the news.

 

It’s striking, they say, that white nationalists would post these results online at all. After all, as Panofsky put it, “they will basically say if you want to be a member of Stormfront you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish.”

 

I went to medical school in Charlottesville. I know white anger well

But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.

 

Panofsky and Donovan presented their findings at a sociology conference in Montreal on Monday. The timing of the talk — some 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — was coincidental. But the analysis provides a useful, if frightening, window into how these extremist groups think about their genes.

 

Reckoning with results

 

Stormfront was launched in the mid-1990s by Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His skills in computer programming were directly related to his criminal activities: He learned them while in prison for trying to invade the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in 1981, and then worked as a web developer after he got out. That means this website dates back to the early years of the internet, forming a kind of deep archive of online hate.

 

To find relevant comments in the 12 million posts written by over 300,000 members, the authors enlisted a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, to search for terms like “DNA test,” “haplotype,” “23andMe,” and “National Geographic.” Then the researchers combed through the posts they found, not to mention many others as background. Donovan, who has moved from UCLA to the Data & Society Research Institute, estimated that she spent some four hours a day reading Stormfront in 2016. The team winnowed their results down to 70 discussion threads in which 153 users posted their genetic ancestry test results, with over 3,000 individual posts.

 

About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.

 

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Some rejected the tests entirely, saying that an individual’s knowledge about his or her own genealogy is better than whatever a genetic test can reveal. “They will talk about the mirror test,” said Panofsky, who is a sociologist of science at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.’” Others, he said, responded to unwanted genetic results by saying that those kinds of tests don’t matter if you are truly committed to being a white nationalist. Yet others tried to discredit the genetic tests as a Jewish conspiracy “that is trying to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry,” Panofsky said.

 

But some took a more scientific angle in their critiques, calling into doubt the method by which these companies determine ancestry — specifically how companies pick those people whose genetic material will be considered the reference for a particular geographical group.

 

And that criticism, though motivated by very different ideas, is one that some researchers have made as well, even as other scientists have used similar data to better understand how populations move and change.

 

“There is a mainstream critical literature on genetic ancestry tests — geneticists and anthropologists and sociologists who have said precisely those things: that these tests give an illusion of certainty, but once you know how the sausage is made, you should be much more cautious about these results,” said Panofsky.

 

A community’s genetic rules

 

Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe are meticulous in how they analyze your genetic material. As points of comparison, they use both preexisting datasets as well as some reference populations that they have recruited themselves. The protocol includes genetic material from thousands of individuals, and looks at thousands of genetic variations.

 

“When a 23andMe research participant tells us that they have four grandparents all born in the same country — and the country isn’t a colonial nation like the U.S., Canada, or Australia — that person becomes a candidate for inclusion in the reference data,” explained Jhulianna Cintron, a product specialist at 23andMe. Then, she went on, the company excludes close relatives, as that could distort the data, and removes outliers whose genetic data don’t seem to match with what they wrote on their survey.

 

But specialists both inside and outside these companies recognize that the geopolitical boundaries we use now are pretty new, and so consumers may be using imprecise categories when thinking about their own genetic ancestry within the sweeping history of human migration. And users’ ancestry results can change depending on the dataset to which their genetic material is being compared — a fact which some Stormfront users said they took advantage of, uploading their data to various sites to get a more “white” result.

 

  1. Scott Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, who has studied consumer use of genetic tests and was not involved with the study, said the companies tend to be reliable at identifying genetic variants. Interpreting them in terms of health risk or ancestry, though, is another story. “The science is often murky in those areas and gives ambiguous information,” he said. “They try to give specific percentages from this region, or x percent disease risk, and my sense is that that is an artificially precise estimate.”

 

Racism in medicine – part 2

READ MORE

What happened when I talked about what others ignore — racism in medicine

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,’” said Panofsky.

 

That’s a far cry from the message of reconciliation that genetic ancestry testing companies hope to promote.

 

“Sweetheart, you have a little black in you,” the talk show host Trisha Goddard told Craig Cobb on that day in 2013. But that didn’t stop him from redoing the test with a different company, trying to alter or parse the data until it matched his racist worldview.

 

About the Author

 

Eric Boodman

Eric Boodman

General Assignment Reporter

Eric is a general assignment reporter.

the writer that TheWashington Post called “the poet laureate of sour alleys and dark bars, of racetracks and long shots”: Charles Bukowski.

 

Bborn in Andernach, Germany (1920). He wrote more than 45 books of poetry and prose, including It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963), Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969), Post Office (1971), Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977), Ham on Rye (1982), and The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992).

His American father had been stationed in Germany during World War I, and Bukowski was the product of the man’s affair with a German girl, whom he later married. The family moved to Los Angeles when Charles was a toddler, and that’s where he grew up. He was picked on for his small size and his German accent, and when he was a teenager, he had such bad acne that it left permanent scars. His father had a violent temper and used to beat him. Bukowski was 13 when a friend gave him his first drink, and he, Bukowski, said, “This is going to help me for a very long time.” He studied journalism in college for a couple of years, but then dropped out when World War II started, and he moved to New York to become a writer.

He published his first story when he was 24; the story was called “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip.” The rejection slip in the story reads, “Dear Mr. Bukowski: Again, this is a conglomeration of extremely good stuff and other stuff so full of idolized prostitutes, morning-after vomiting scenes, misanthropy, praise for suicide etc. that it is not quite for a magazine of any circulation at all. This is, however, pretty much a saga of a certain type of person and in it I think you’ve done an honest job. Possibly we will print you sometime, but I don’t know exactly when. That depends on you.” Bukowski would later estimate that his work was 93 percent autobiographical.

He published one more story after that but then received rejection after rejection, and he gave up writing for 10 years. He drank his way from New York to L.A., and wound up in a hospital, half dead from a bleeding ulcer. The doctor told him, “If you have another drink, it will kill you.” Bukowski kept drinking, and he worked a series of odd jobs — at a pickle factory, a dog biscuit factory, a slaughterhouse, and at the post office — and then, when he was 35, he started writing poetry. His first collection was called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail  (1959). Ten years later, when he was 49, Bukowski accepted a job offer from John Martin, the publisher of Black Sparrow Press. Martin idolized Bukowski, and had started Black Sparrow with the sole aim of publishing his work. Martin was sure he was the next Walt Whitman, and he offered him $100 a month to quit his job and write. “I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve,” Bukowski wrote in a letter. “I have decided to starve.” In return for Martin’s faith and support, Bukowski published almost all of his major work through Black Sparrow from then on.

Bukowski summed up his philosophy in a letter he wrote in 1963: “Somebody […] asked me: ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.”

Reposted from W.A.

Imagination

“Take this pill,” the medicine man said when the moon was overhead,

“Strike me dead if it doesn’t make you young and full of pep again.”

 

I believed his words because; diplomas hanging on his walls put me in awe

of how accomplished he was, so I took the pills to be young again.

 

Instead, they put me into a stupor for a month or more. One day I awoke and my head was clear, but what I treasured more than anything, had disappeared.

 

Before taking those pills, something within spoke to me throughout the day, not in words,

but in thoughts that turned everyday objects and happenings into heavenly moments of joy.

 

I could write a story or a poem anytime I put a pencil in my hand, and always had an ending that twisted and turned and spurned the main theme, like a dream to the reader’s eyes.

 

I’d see colors so bright, they’d blind anyone else, and music of any kind filled me with joy before those pills killed God’s gift to me. Is it worth staying alive now that the best part of me is gone?

 

Before that part got lost, I enjoyed my own company more than any others. I was free to think and design, whatever my imagination sent my way. It was my best companion and friend.

 

I wanted to stop the pharmaceuticals but was told, “Take them for the rest of your life or you’ll die.”

 

As I lay in the dark, I cannot see what choice to make, because my imagination has died and without it, I cannot see or hear things that are beautiful to me.

XPRIZE Enlists Science Fiction Advisors to Dream Bigger

Lovesick Cyborg

XPRIZE Enlists Science Fiction Advisors to Dream Bigger

By Jeremy Hsu | July 29, 2017 8:31 pm
A view of the website featuring some members of the XPRIZE Foundation's Science Fiction Advisory Council. Credit: XPRIZE

A view of the website featuring some members of the XPRIZE Foundation’s Science Fiction Advisory Council. Credit: XPRIZE

The world of 20 years ago would probably seem unrecognizable to many who have grown with Internet and mobile services enabling an always-connected, everything-on-demand lifestyle. Now imagine hitting fast forward and teleporting 20 years into the future to consider how science and technology may have shaped society in the world of 2037. That’s the premise for an XPRIZE competition backed by some of the finest storytellers turned science fiction advisors.

The XPRIZE Foundation is more known for sponsoring competitions aimed at spurring companies to reach scientific and technological milestones, such as sending robotic rovers to the moon or creating a medical “Tricorder” in the style of “Star Trek.” But this summer, the X-Prize Foundation unveiled a new Science Fiction Advisory Council consisting of book, film and TV storytellers such as Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Neil Gaiman (“American Gods”), Andy Weir (“The Martian”) and Veronica Roth (The Divergent series), among others. Some of these science fiction advisors have already written short stories that envision passengers aboard ANA Flight 008 from Tokyo to San Francisco being flung 20 years into the future.

XPRIZE’s Seat 14C campaign also invites members of the public over the age of 18 to submit their optimistic vision of the future as a short story between 2,000 and 4,000 words. That contest for runs until August 25, 2017, which is when XPRIZE will narrow down the finalists to three stories. Members of the Science Fiction Advisory Council will vote on the winning story and writer, who will in turn receive  a Tokyo travel package worth $10,000, including round trip economy airfare to Tokyo for two, four nights in a 4-star hotel, $1,500 in spending money, a GoPro HERO5 Ultra HD Camera and an ili Handheld Universal Translator.

“The stories will be judged based on unique vision of the future, adherence to story prompt, and alignment with a techno-optimistic view of the future,” according to an XPRIZE press release.

Anyone needing inspiration for envisioning how the world might change within 20 years might consider looking 20 years into the past for lessons. In 1997, the vast majority of Americans still used dial-up modems to access email services and websites at speeds that would seem unimaginably slow to anyone who has grown up in the age of broadband. More people still carried pagers than cellphones, and the iPhone’s debut was still 10 years away. Home entertainment systems primarily consisted of bulky cathode ray tube TVs, VCRs and maybe a Nintendo 64 or PlayStation video game console. Drivers and pedestrians relied upon maps and memory rather than GPS devices to navigate the world.

Many of the household names among today’s tech movers and shakers had yet to make their mark back in 1997. The tech giant Google would not be officially founded until a year later in 1998. Amazon was not even a five-year-old company selling books online in competition with dominant brick-and-mortar booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. Netflix had just officially formed in 1997 and would not launch its online service focused on mailing out DVDs to customers until the following year. Last but not least, Steve Jobs had just returned to the helm of Apple after the company’s share of the personal computer market had fallen to barely 4 percent while hemorrhaging more than $1 billion each year.

That was 20 years ago in the past. Whoever creates wins the XPRIZE 14C competition by creating a compelling vision of the world in 2037 will also become an honorary member of the XPRIZE Science Fiction Advisory Council. The council of science fiction advisors is charged with the following:

The advisors will assist XPRIZE in the creation of digital “futures” roadmaps across a variety of domains: Planet & Environment; Energy & Resources; Shelter & Infrastructure; Health & Wellbeing; Civil Society; Learning & Human Potential; and Space & New Frontiers. These roadmaps will be dynamic, interactive narratives that describe a vision for the future in each of these domains and identify the ideal catalysts, drivers and mechanisms—including potential XPRIZE competitions—to overcome grand challenges and achieve a preferred future state.

In other words, the XPRIZE Foundation is hoping that its science fiction advisors can help the nonprofit organization envision realistic paths for creating a “preferred future state.” The main fly in the ointment may be the fact that people often have very different ideas about what makes for a better future. But it’s worth a shot to look beyond the usual types of expertise in gathering more far-out ideas from many of the better storytellers of our age. After all, science fiction has already played a role in shaping the future by inspiring scientists and engineers for decades.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: TECHNOLOGYTOP POSTS

eclipse

https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/wyoming/

Antimatter!

Physicists began speculating in the late 19th century that there may exist particles and matter that are exact opposites of the matter that surrounds us, mirror-image anti-atoms and perhaps even whole anti-solar systems where matter and antimatter might meet and annihilate one another. But on this day in 1932, American physicist Carl Anderson discovered the first physical evidence that antimatterwas more than just an idea.

Anderson was photographing and tracking the passage of cosmic rays through a cloud chamber, a cylindrical container filled with dense water vapor, lit from the outside, and built with a viewing window for observers. When individual particles passed through the sides of the container and into the saturated air, they would leave spiderweb tracks of condensation, like the vapor trails of miniscule airplanes, each type of particle forming a uniquely shaped trail. Anderson noticed a curious pattern – a trail like that of an electron, with an exactly identical, but opposite curve – an electron’s mirror image and evidence of an anti-electron. Anderson named the antimatter particle the positron and won a Nobel Prize for his discovery four years later.

Around 1940, biochemist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov took up the newly discovered particle, using it as the basis for his fictional “positronic brain,” a structure made of platinum and iridium and his means for imparting humanlike consciousness to the robots in his story collection I, Robot.

The fictional uses of antimatter and the positronic brain have since spread throughout literature and popular entertainment, from the writing of Robert Heinlein to the classic British television series Doctor Who to propulsion systems and the sentient android, Data, in the American science fiction series Star Trek – even to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, the sequel to his wildly popular DaVinci Code, in which the Illuminati intend to destroy Vatican City using the explosive power of a canister of pure antimatter.

Reposted from Writer’s Almanac.