Siri refuses to find prostitutes in China

In response to criticism in China that Siri could find local prostitution services, Apple has removed escort services from search results in the region. According to AppleInsider, “Though as of Wednesday Siri can still find local escort services in the U.S., that functionality has apparently been removed in China, according to The Times of India. A customer service representative for Apple explained that the company has blocked information related to ‘escorts’ in response to ‘reports from our users.’ Elsewhere in the world, queries such as ‘Where can I find Continue reading “Siri refuses to find prostitutes in China”

A different kind of poll

Ok, so we are all fed up with polls about the election. Check this out from Slate: “Poll Finds Majority of Americans Are Racist.”  As Daniel Politi summarizes, “In the four years since the United States elected the country’s first black president, a majority of Americans express outright prejudice toward blacks. Perhaps even more surprising though is that the numbers have slightly increased since 2008. A full 51 percent of Americans explicitly express anti-black prejudice, up from 48 percent in 2008, according to the Associated Press. When an implicit racial attitudes test is used the number increases to 56 percent, compared to 49 percent four years ago. The AP surveys, which were carried out by university researchers, ultimately found that President Obama could lose a net 2 percentage points of the popular vote due to anti-black attitudes. Continue reading “A different kind of poll”

Phillip Morris’s new remorse over China sales

Falling rates of smoking are one of America’s greatest public health triumphs, with numbers dropping 20% since 2005 alone. Hence, it is widely known that for some time tobacco companies have focussed on international markets. For example, in China, men smoke at double the rate of those in the U.S. and in Russia the rate is nearly three times that of America. As more and more nations recognize the human and economic costs of tobacco use, international pressure is building against the U.S. companies who profit from smoking.

In “A Marlboro Vaccine? Maybe for China,” The Wall Street Journal Reports that cigarette giant Phillip Morris is trying to improve it’s image in China ” where more than a third of the world’s cigarettes are smoked. “In one curious effort, (Phillip Morris) is setting out to develop flu vaccines derived from a type of tobacco plant. Continue reading “Phillip Morris’s new remorse over China sales”

Think globally digitally, act locally

We’ve all heard the expression “think globally, act locally.” This aphorism holds a particular potency today, as many people feel powerless in the face of huge corporations and bureaucracies. But what does acting locally mean, actually? In the type of micro-politics advocated by radical democracy proponents like Chantal Mouffe, this mean being political in every aspect of everyday life. So local doesn’t just mean becoming an activist in ones town. It also means being political at the breakfast table, with friends, or at school and work––or on your laptop computer for that matter.

The Platform for Good initiative is a new project to encourage kids to think about social change. The simple premise is that thinking about what is “possible” (as opposed to what exists now) can start at any age. So why not encourage young people start making things better. As discussed on the Smart Mobs blog, “A Platform for Good initiative builds on in order to integrate and promote youth social activism in the classroom. The younger generation definitely has a voice, as proven among others by the Chilean Penguin Revolution, and a right to express their beliefs and personal preferences concerning the direction toward which different things go in the world. is a wider platform where people and groups of all ages can start petitions on issues they want to solve by gathering and harnessing social support. If enough support is obtained, the battle for the respective change is won.

The Platform for good makes use of these online collaborative resources with the goal of cultivating among students a sense of digital citizenship and involvement in social activism by initiating social movements for change at the level of local and national communities. On the website, links are given for successful projects like the First Woman Moderator of the Presidential Debates in 20 years, the Lorax Petition Project (with an environmental message built around the movie Lorax), and the Crayola Recycle Markers Project. Such examples educate and inspire students to believe in their power to make their country and the world a better place to live in.

Performance and the new cultural democracy

The economic recession has had one weirdly positive effect on the art world: democratization. Increasingly, museums and symphonies find that they can no longer get by on the generosity (or lack thereof) to an elite minority. Large cultural institutions need new audiences to justify their existence and to qualify for public dollars. Venues that once couldn’t care less about attendance now anxiously await busloads of kiddies and seniors. “Education” and “outreach” programs have exploded in recent years, with many places literally giving away tickets to boost admissions. Aside from benefitting “social practice” artists who have always occupied the fringes of art world, the is move to larger and more democratic approaches to audience has favored genres that are more friendly to the public.

Enter performance art. In the old days, performance was a marginal affair because it was edgy and conceptual––but also ephemeral. Continue reading “Performance and the new cultural democracy”

Half the Sky to launch online game

Half the Sky now is going digital with a new online game. In early 2013, the movement to empower women and girls continues with a new adventure on Facebook. This new game is part of a growing effort on the part of game developers (Zynga, in this instance) to partner with groups working for social change.  Half the Sky Movement: The Game is inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and brings players first to a small village in India to meet Radhika. The press release says that “Over 300 million people play online social games each month, and their demographic profile cuts across gender and age groups. In the game, Radhika will take players on a global journey, from India to Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the U.S. In her transition from oppression to opportunity, she must find her voice in her own house and gain financial and social independence. Players start with very little, but as they complete quests to help Radhika and other girls and women, Radhika becomes a community leader. Whether helping a girl in the village to buy a bicycle that will take her to school, or fighting off an international gang of sex traffickers, Radhika becomes a force within her world. Continue reading “Half the Sky to launch online game”

Signs of rising fascism in Greece and …

Economic decline. Record unemployment. Anti-immigration. Anger toward government. Does any of this sound familiar? Well this isn’t the American Republican Party we are talking about. These are the markers of a rising fascist movement in Greece, where the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” is gaining political momentum. It seems that hardship has a differential effect among nations, bringing citizens together in some countries, and dividing them bitterly in others. In Greece the situation is getting ugly these days. In an article entitled “Fear and Loathing in Athens: The Rise of Golden Dawn and the Far Right,The Guardian describes a tale of civil unraveling that indeed might give US voters something to consider. Put simply, the platforms of Greece’s Golden Dawn and the US Tea Party movements are nearly identical. As The Guardian’s Maria Margolis writes, “You can hear it from blocks away: the deafening beat of Golden Dawn’s favourite band blasting out … ‘Rock for the fatherland, this is our music, we don’t want parasites and foreigners on our land’…Tonight is the opening of the Golden Dawn office in Megara, a once prosperous farming town between Athens and Corinth. Continue reading “Signs of rising fascism in Greece and …”

“Homeland’s” Muslim problem

Muslim and Arab stereotypes are nothing new in American media. From Ali Baba to Aladdin, negative images have persisted in children’s stories. Then came 9/11 and Hollywood’s need for an all-purpose post-Cold War villain––and the stage was set for the universalized charicature of the terrorist. Regrettably, this year’s most celebrated television drama series, Homeland, is fueled largely by such xenophobic ideology, which it serves up with troubling representations of sexuality and race. And yes, Homeland is our beloved President’s favorite show. A wonderfully thorough discussion of these issues appears in the article “Homeland, Obama’s Show” appearing this week in

For readers unaware of the program’s premise, Homeland is an updated Manchurian Candidate narrative about a brainwashed former Marine who becomes a congressman. As discussed in the article by Joseph Massad, “The racist representation of Arabs is so exponential, even for American television (and this Continue reading ““Homeland’s” Muslim problem”

Gaga feminism

“In Gaga Feminism, instead of pitting bodies with vaginas against bodies with penises, I argue that we are living in a new world where the categories of male and female are rapidly being updated all around us,” writes Jack Halberstam is an essay in the  Los Angeles Review of Books. As Halberstam puts it, “Truth be told, gender and gender politics nowadays have little to do with simple genitality and are much more connected to new social arrangements, diverse households, and innovative classifications of identity, community, and desire …  In a world of sperm banks, in vitro fertilization, queer families, butch daddies, transgender men and women,  and heteroflexible women, pretending to be offended by the use of the word “vagina” in a public speech or making insupportable claims about rape and pregnancy are not just quaint and old-fashioned: they signal a deep ignorance about the world we live in and the enormous changes that have taken place within it in the last two decades. Continue reading “Gaga feminism”

And now, the three-parent embryo

As debates about marriage equality continue in nations around the world, science is changing the terms of the debate. Remember that behind much of the argument for the “one-man/one-woman” stance is that “God” established such “natural” pairings for breeding purposes. Hence heterosexual unions are deemed pre-ordained and above government––even though divorce statistics reveal that most conventional marriages fall apart. In fact, according to current statistics the most common “family” unit in the U.S is now a single person living alone.

Now the traditional breeding paradigm faces a new threat. Scientists in Oregon have created embryos with genes from one man and two women. Continue reading “And now, the three-parent embryo”

World opinion on U.S. presidential election

Outside the United States, people favor Obama by a five-to-one margin in the upcoming American presidential election. A  BBC World Service opinion poll has found sharply higher overseas approval ratings for US President Barack Obama than Republican challenger Mitt Romney.An average of 50% favored Mr Obama, with 9% for Mr Romney, in the survey of 21,797 people in 21 countries.Only Pakistan’s respondents said they would prefer to see Mr Romney win November’s election. France was the most strongly pro-Obama (72%). The survey was conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA between 3 July and 3 September.

Even worse than hating your body

It’s not great secret that fashion ads portray women and men unrealistically, promoting unachievable standards of beauty and reinforcing stereotypical codes of gender identity. This week one story is getting a fair amount of play, as a Christian Dior ad featuring Black Swan actor Natalie Portman has been banned in Great Britain for being airbrushed. At first it seemed that the British Advertising Standards Authority was irked at the ad featuring Portman promoting a mascara, accompanied by the boast that the product delivers a “spectacular volume-multiplying effect, lash by lash.” But it turns out that rival L’Oreal cosmetics first noticed the ad and filed a complaint. As The Guardian reports, ironically L’Oreal has been one of the biggest offenders in controversies over airbrushed and exaggerated beauty ads in recent years, with ads Continue reading “Even worse than hating your body”

Assault on Reason, revisited

With the approaching elections in the US, the nation’s polarization is getting more and more attention. Similar divides persist in many countries, causing those on both sides to wonder why their opposition seems so entrenched in its opposition. How can they not understand? Why are people so wrong-headed? What causes people to vote against their own interests?  One infamous figure in American politics has given this matter a lot of thought––and for good reason. Let’s not forget that former Vice President Al Gore actually was elected by the popular vote when he ran for the nation’s highest office, Continue reading “Assault on Reason, revisited”

68 nobel winners endorse Obama

“If you believe, as we do, that America’s future is bound in essential ways to science and innovation, we urge you to join us in working to ensure the reelection of President Obama. “ So reads, “An Open Letter to the American People” in which 68 Nobel Prize winners in different scientific fields have come out and openly endorsed the Democratic candidate for another four years in office.

Recall that in 2009 Obama himself won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to improve global cooperation and non-violence. Here’s how the letter begins: “America’s economic future, the quality of our health, and the quality of our environment depend on our ability to continue America’s proud legacy of discovery and invention. As winners of the Nobel Prizes in science, Continue reading “68 nobel winners endorse Obama”

First Native American saint

This week the Vatican will canonize its first ever Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. As the Catholic Church has already bestowed such status on 10,000 other people, this is a pretty big deal. A member of the Mohawk tribe who lived in the seventeenth century, Kateri was chosen for canonization following the miraculous recovery of a five-year old boy in 2006. Large numbers of Catholic Native Americans from the US and Canada will make the journey to Rome to witness the recognition of their own personal Saint by Pope Benedict XVI. Coverage of the canonizaton appears in the current edition Time News Feed, and elsewhere. As Sorcha Pollack writes,  “Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as Lily of the Mohawks, was born in 1656 in what is today upstate New York. Continue reading “First Native American saint”

The science of forgetting

As the baby boom generation ages towards retirement, attention grows over how people can remain mentally sharp. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia make  boomers start to worry when they lose their car keys or stumble over a name. At the same time, Internet search engines
and home data storage have made the actual need to remember less important. Add to this the rapid pace of media and the public’s seemingly relentless focus on immediacy over history, and it seems like a wholesale assault on memory is sweeping the culture. So a story like “The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories” recently appearing in Wired magazine would seem to support the current culture of amnesia. Continue reading “The science of forgetting”

Violent crime ends 20-year decline

Violent crime has spiked upward for the first time in nearly two decades, according to a report released yesterday by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. “The report shows the rate of violent crime among teen and adult victims grew 17 percent in 2011 from the previous year, a finding that stopped the historic decline since 1993. The timing couldn’t be worse for supporters of California Ballot Initiative 34, which would abolish the death penalty in the state. Analysts say that statistical crime increases often trigger reactionary “moral panics” resulting in measures such as California’s infamous “Three Strikes” law, also the subject of a ballot initiative to lessen its punitive severity this year.
According to the recently released federal numbers, between 2010 and 2011, the rate of violent victimization increased 17 percent, from 19.3 to 22.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. The increase in total violence was due to a 22 percent increase in the number of aggravated and simple assaults. There was no statistically significant change in the number of rapes or sexual assaults and robberies. While the percentage change in violent crime from 2010 to 2011 is relatively large, the actual difference between the rates for those years (3.3 victimizations per 1,000) is below the average annual change in violent crime (4.3 victimizations per 1,000) over the past two decades. The low rates make the percentage change large, but crime still remains at historically low levels. Since 1993, the rate of violent victimization declined 72 percent. The rate of total property crime increased 11 percent, from 125.4 to 138.7 victimizations per 1,000 households between 2010 and 2011. Household burglary increased 14 percent, from 25.8 to 29.4 victimizations per 1,000 households. In 2011, 49 percent of violent victimizations and 37 percent of property victimization were reported to police. From 2010 to 2011, there was no statistically significant change in the percentage of violent victimizations reported to the police. The percentage of property victimizations reported to the police declined from 39 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2011.”

Print is dead?

The “death of the book” has been talked about for half a century, along with the demise of the newspaper, he obsolescence of the magazine, and, more generally, the end of reading. It started with worries about radio and television, then shifted to concerns about computers and games, and now attaches to social networks and mobile devices.  Today this topic resurfaced with the announcement that Newsweek would suspend production of the print version of the magazine in 2013, with unsympathetic observers immediately offering an “it’s-about-time” response. After all, electronic media bring us “stories” in ways that are faster, cheaper, more dynamic, more visual, and in greater more abundance. It’s a no brainer right? Continue reading “Print is dead?”

Ending modern day slavery

“You know that moment when you read something, and then immediately have to re-read it because you cannot believe it is true? That happened to me when I read that the levels of slavery and people trafficking today are greater than at any point in history.” These words by Tony Maddox introduce the CNN Freedom Project, which two weeks ago won an Online Journalism Award (OJW) for its newly launched digital magazine combatting global slavery. CNN received honors in the Best Feature category for it series “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” which followed the stories of slaves and slave owners in Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish slavery but where it is thought between 10% and 20% of the population still live in servitude. The United Nations estimates the total market value of human trafficking at 32 billion U.S. dollars.

But slavery isn’t an abstract or far-away issue. California accounts for 25% of human trafficking in the US, with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco leading the list of slave cities. This November, California Ballot Initiative #35 would strengthen criminal penalties for those who gain from such exploitation. Continue reading “Ending modern day slavery”

To track or not to track

If you haven’t heard, the internet privacy wars are gearing up to what could be Armageddon for advertisers and commercial data collectors. With Microsoft automatically setting the “Do Not Track” option “On” in its latest version of Internet Explorer 10 as many as 43 percent of internet browsers may stop reporting customer information to merchandisers and other snoopers.  As discussed recently in the New York Times, “The advent of “Do Not Track” threatens the barter system wherein consumers allow sites and third-party ad networks to collect information about their online activities in exchange for open access to maps, e-mail, games, music, social networks and whatnot. Marketers have been fighting to preserve this arrangement, saying that collecting consumer data powers effective advertising tailored to a user’s tastes. In turn, according to this argument, those tailored ads enable smaller sites to thrive and provide rich content.” Continue reading “To track or not to track”