Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Feminization of AIDS in Africa

April 16, 2011


  While back oldest daughter was an intern at an affiliate of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).  Her work took her to a conference in Nairobi “Integrating programming to address gender-based violence and engage men and boys to challenge gender inequality in national AIDS strategies and plans”.

  On her day off, she explored Kibera, the second largest (after Soweto) slum in east Africa.  There, she came upon a group of women selling hand made crafts, such as the pin above, to help defray the expense of their AIDS related medicine.  The women had organized themselves because “no one was helping them”.

  “The women I met had been ostracized because their husbands (and their husbands’ families) threw them out of their house/family when they disclosed their status.  Odds are, they got HIV from their husbands (who are more likely to have been promiscuous outside of the marriage).”

  Three-quarters of those 15-24 living with HIV in Africa are female.  The grim reaper follows with AIDs being the leading cause of death for African women 25 to 34.  Aspects of biology and physiology make females more likely to contract HIV during even consensual sex. 

  Furthermore, “heightened female HIV susceptibility is rooted in gender inequality, which leads to sexual assault and women’s limited ability to negotiate safe sex”.*  Forced sex can lead to tissue tears and abrasions thus facilitating disease transmission. 

  The relative few women able to fund an IV drug habit are similarly disadvantaged because they are usually the last to share a needle. Some HIV positive women have been reinfected by a mutated version of the virus thus complicating treatment programs.

  These are acts of individual violence and discrimination, yet an emerging aspect of the human rights paradigm holds that states are responsible for amelioration. Due diligence principles are being developed with potential to “transform patriarchal gender structures and values that perpetuate and entrench violence against women” and the closely related feminization of AIDS in Africa. 

*These are very few words describing a complex and terrible state of affairs.  Read ”Due Diligence in the Context of Gender Inequality and HIV”, by Tiana O’Konek for more information


In His Image*

February 18, 2011

  On January 3, 1963 aired an episode of the Twilight Zone that I’ve not forgotten even though I was then not quite eleven years old.  My memory doesn’t always serve up perfection, but generally does well enough to summon up the gist. 

  We meet the chief protagonist, Alan Talbot, early on.  He seems to be going about his life in an average sort of way, but starts getting headaches and memory problems.  Visiting his hometown with his girlfriend he finds that nothing looks familiar.  Then, walking along a road confused, a car bumps him and he rolls into the ditch alongside.  Shaken, he stands up and checks for injuries. 

  Just before giving himself a clean bill of health, he examines an abrasion on his right forearm which strangely does not bleed.  We watch as he peels it back revealing lights and gears etc.  He’s a robot and no less astonished uncovering that fact than are we.


  Good story huh?  Well, it came to mind the other day when I read a paper written by Nick Bostrom, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Oxford.  It’s serious, well wrought, and entitled “Are You Living In A Computer Simulation”.

  “This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.”

  It is all too easy to understand statement (1), but it is not unreasonable to doubt (hope!) that’s (not) how the future will unfold.  For statement (2) to be the way things pan out Bostrom argues that all future civilizations must converge in their inability or unwillingness to undertake ‘ancestor-simulations’.

  Statement (3) is by far the most interesting.  Perhaps we are not in the fundament of reality.  Perhaps some zitty ubergeek is at the controls.  When he/she/it detects incipient awareness in one of us he/she/it rewinds and edits or maybe just sends us to a bar.

  Computing power has increased incredibly and the pace seems only to quicken.  Moore’s Law has shortened from eighteen to twelve months.  Watson, the supercomputer that just bested the Jeopardy human champs juggles 80 trillion calculations a second spread over ninety servers.  At least one big thinker, Ray Kurzweil, predicts that a PC sized machine will be able crunch that much that fast in a decade or less.

  Bostrom demonstrates that there are no theoretical limits to continued expansion.  In a posthuman stage of civilization, he posits, such a mature stage of technological development will make it possible to convert planets and other astronomical resources into enormously powerful computers.

  Extremely sophisticated simulations are employed today for all manner of undertakings.  It seems inevitable that our distant descendants would run simulations of their forebears.  Furthermore, …”if we don’t believe that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations…”

  Implications?  No radical ramifications.  There might well be subtle modifications to our belief systems related to a desire to understand posthuman motivations, but “no tendency to make us ‘go crazy’”.  However, I guess I’d hope that they don’t run out of computer power or trip over the plug.    

*In His Image was the name of the Twilight Zone episode…

**Veracity of proposition (3) would ‘aha’ the manner in which mathematics perfectly describe the whole fabric of our universe.

***cf Post of 12/24/11 in which I discussed the concentric circles in the cosmic background radiation that Roger Penrose posits are vestiges of a former universe and how it might relate to “a Platonic world of abstract realities that can be discovered by human investigation, but are independent of human existence”.

****Here is Professor Bostrom’s paper.  Read it.  You’ll be blown away.

An Unplanned Allegory

June 4, 2010

  Smoking is nasty, dirty, and deadly.  I know that all too well.  I’ve tried it though and have been in the sway of its allure for many years.  In fact, I was in a cigar smoking club while in kindergarten.  We lived near a farm and a friend whose father always had a box of stogies on his desk would purloin a few and meet the rest of us in Farmer D’s apple orchard.

  I was the only one who could finish one.  Maybe that’s why I’m the shortest in the family.  I smoked a pipe for a while and tried cigarettes.  Thankfully, nothing stuck.  My favorite part was fidgeting with the paraphernalia – lighters and all.  I became quite proficient at rolling my own, but, uh, that’s another story.

  What is interesting to me now is how cigarette smoking is portrayed in modern cinema.  The actual act, I mean.  Next time you’re watching a movie and someone has a butt in hand notice carefully what happens when it gets to a mouth.  You will almost certainly witness a very poor bit of business no matter between whose even Oscar winning fingers it is held.

  Anyone can be cool, graceful, tremulous, or whatever’s appropriate to the role from pack through ignition.  However, lips once pursed, chest has to raise as lungs fill or it looks fake and taints the whole dang flic.  99% of the time you get the feeling that the actor either is worried about his/her own health or else is stealthily furthering his/her own antismoking campaign.   

 What would be the right thing to do?   Faithfully portray the character, as imagined by its creator, to the best of one’s ability or ask for a rewrite?  The solution I’ve just described is a compromise that I’m surprised to see condoned by today’s top talent.

  When this issue comes to mind, I’m drawn back to the opening sequence of The Client in which a young boy sneaks a couple cigarettes from his mother, goes into the woods with his brother, and they light up.  Looks real to me and the sequence conveys more about those two characters than dialogue ever could.

  The tragedy though is that Brad Renfro won awards for his portrayal of the older brother, but died of an overdose at age twenty-five.  Perhaps the bright lights were more than he could handle, but I wonder if instead that the long draw at age ten evidenced a naïve slipping of his skin to such a degree that it could not be made snug again once shooting stopped.      

Ya Baby

May 14, 2010


   Ever see True Lies?  It’s an action-comedy flic in which, early on, main protagonist spy Arnold Schwartzenegger returns home after a few days of violence and intrigue in Switzerland.  Unknowing wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, asks “How’d it go at the trade show, you make all the other salesmen jealous?”

  That bit came to mind recently after perusal of both the digital and paper versions of the Economist.  First, in the “Executive Focus” section of the magazine, a posting asks: “Where else could you deliver intelligence to Whitehall, protect your country, and pretend you had a boring day at the office?”

  Then, online same day, an imperative popup: “Make a world of difference – Clandestine Service – The Ultimate International Career”.  The first (as I hope you guessed) was an advert for the British Intelligence service MI6/SIS.  The second was for our own CIA.  I had to check it out.  

  …”There are some fundamental qualities common to most successful officers, including a strong record of academic and professional achievement, good writing skills, problem-solving abilities and highly developed interpersonal skills.  Overseas experience and languages are important factors as well.  Officers must be perennial students…”

  Check.  So far so good.  “The CIA offers exciting career opportunities and a dynamic environment.  We’re on the forefront of world-altering events – as they happen.  So working here isn’t just a job, it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”  Copy that.

  Ok, let’s try the personality quiz.  First question: “Which activity would you like your mission to include: a. Rock Climbing, b. Dining on haute cuisine, c. Surfing the waves, d. Shopping on Rodeo Drive, or e. Reading a best selling novel.  OMG!  I’m in!

  Uh, oh.  Maximum age is thirty-five without special dispensation.  Hmm.  How about if I tell them that I agree with John Le Carre in that “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”?  And that I’m an oenophile like famed expert Frank Schoonmaker who was in the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS.  Or that I’m interested in art like Brit Poussin expert and spy Anthony Blunt?*

  Uhm, the application begins with this admonition:  “Friends, family, individuals, or organizations may be interested to learn that you are an applicant for the CIA, but widespread public knowledge of your Agency affiliation could limit your opportunities.  We therefore ask you to exercise discretion and good judgment in disclosing your interest in a position with the Agency.” 

  Guess I better just push delete, get my passport, pack my tuxedo, grab my rope, and go. Ya Baby!

*Well, Blunt was probably a poor choice here especially since there are other nonfictional examples of connoisseur spies.  He turned and provided information to the USSR.   But then again, late in his life he expressed regret and claimed to have been blinded by a personal crusade against fascism.

** Here’s the link if you’re a US citizen: and here if you’re British: