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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Down With the Corporate Bean-Counters Who Spy on Their Workers

When overpaid corporate boneheads substitute slogans and computer metrics for real solutions, they're admitting that they are the problem.


For generations, workers have been punished by corporate bosses for watching the clock. But now, the corporate clock is watching workers! They count this as progress.

Called "digital productivity monitoring," it's an integrated computer system including a real-time clock, camera, keyboard tracker and algorithms to provide a second-by-second record of what each employee is doing. 

Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon, pioneered use of this ticking electronic eye in his monstrous warehouses, forcing hapless, low-paid "pickers" to sprint down cavernous stacks of consumer stuff to fill online orders, pronto — beat the clock, or be fired.

Trust us


It's in there somewhere


How disease spreads in large crowds

Typical movement behavior at large events increases risk of spreading infectious diseases

Universiteit van Amsterdam

What is the typical movement behaviour of visitors to large events, such as concerts, and what does this mean for the risk of spreading infectious diseases like COVID-19? 

A group of researchers from the Informatics Institute at the University of Amsterdam, together with an epidemiologist from the Utrecht University, set out to investigate using data from events in a large stadium in Amsterdam. Their results have now been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world responded with social distancing measures including the cancellation of events involving the gathering of large crowds. Although it is intuitively clear that crowded events present a high level of risk for the spread of an infectious disease like COVID-19, a lot depends on specifically how people move in crowds. 

Despite a large body of scientific research on both crowd dynamics and human mobility in the past decades, surprisingly little is known about human movement in the specific context of large, crowded events.

Organic Hemp Farm in Hopkinton First of its Kind in Rhode Island Cannabis Industry

New growth industry for RI's agriculture

By Colleen Cronin / ecoRI News staff

Lovewell Farms in Hopkinton is the only certified-organic
hemp farm in Rhode Island. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)
Among the horse barns and turf fields of South County lies an agricultural endeavor looking to provide high-quality cannabis crops that won’t get you high.

Lovewell Farms, Rhode Island’s only certified-organic hemp farm, produces a wide range of cannabidoil (CBD) products under a model of education, sustainability, and advocacy.

Since the company started in founder and co-owner Mike Simpson’s Providence kitchen about four years ago, Lovewell has invested a lot of time sharing information about the benefits of and debunking the myths about CBD.

Traveling to farmers markets around the state is part of the company’s marketing and sales strategy, and Simpson said he’s seen the look of bewilderment in people’s faces when they start to approach Lovewell’s booth and realize he’s selling a cannabis product.

“I say it all day long to people… ‘It’s not pot. It’s cannabis, but it’s not THC,’” said Colette Chisholm, Lovewell’s regional wholesale manager.

CBD is only one of about 100 cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive drug. After the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill Act, hemp became legal to cultivate and sell in all 50 states.

Even though they look exactly alike and even smell similar during harvest season, THC plants and hemp plants have different chemical compositions. Hemp has higher levels of CBD concentration and less than 0.3 percent THC, so the products they produce likely won’t get a user high.

Name-calling in politics grabs headlines

Many voters don’t like it 

Beth L. FossenIndiana University

A voter and her child cast a ballot during the midterm primary
elections in Virginia in June 2022. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Spending on political advertising is setting records in the midterm elections. But evidence shows that negative messages might discourage voters from casting ballots altogether.

As the 2022 midterms get closer, political attacks in campaign advertisements are on the rise.

In November, Rep. Paul Gosar shared an anime cartoon video showing him physically attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, and President Joe Biden.

That same month, Rep. Ilhan Omar called her Republican colleague Rep. Lauren Boebert a buffoon and a bigot on Twitter. Even the official White House Twitter account has gotten in on the politically divisive action, making recent headlines when it snapped back in August 2022 at several Republican members of Congress who criticized the Paycheck Protection Program – after they themselves had their loans forgiven.

Uncivil messages by politicians have become more and more common in the last decade. Political attacks are now a regular occurrence in an increasingly polarized political environment, encouraging voters to get mad and plan to vote ahead of Election Day in November.

But that doesn’t mean these kinds of advertisements and personal attacks actually work.

I study political marketing and, as a former campaign manager and political consultant, have seen politicians use uncivil strategies firsthand with the hopes of getting themselves elected. My research on political advertising suggests that highly polarized communications could be losing their persuasive power and can even backfire in the upcoming midterms, hurting a candidate’s chances.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Conspiracy theories are dangerous even if very few people believe them

A threat to democracy, public health and more

Keith Raymond HarrisRuhr University Bochum

Lies don’t have to spread far to cause problems. 
numismarty/iStock/Getty Images Plus
There is an open question among pundits and researchers: Do more Americans believe in conspiracy theories now than ever before?

But as a scholar of conspiracy theories and their believers, I am concerned that focusing on how many Americans believe conspiracy theories can distract from their dangers.

Even if most people dismiss conspiracy theories or accept them only in some limited sense, leaving very small numbers of true believers, the high visibility of these false ideas can still make them dangerous.

Association without belief

Philosophers often suppose people can explain their actions in terms of what they want to do or get, and what they believe. However, many of people’s actions are guided not by explicit beliefs but rather by gut feelings. These feelings aren’t set in stone. They can be influenced by experience.

This principle is taken to heart by advertisers who aim to influence behavior, not by changing how people think but how they feel. Manipulating feelings in this way can be accomplished by subtly associating a product with desirable outcomes like status and sex.

This can also take a negative form, as in political attack ads that aim to associate an opponent with threatening imagery and descriptions. Forging similar mental associations is one way in which conspiracy theories, like other misinformation, might have consequences even without being believed.

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Statewide school construction program has invested more than $2.2 billion in funding to repair or replace over 200 school buildings across 31 districts in Rhode Island

Treasurer Magaziner Celebrates Progress of Historic Investment in Rhode Island Public Schools 

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner celebrated the progress of the historic investment made in Rhode Island schools through a once-in-a-generation plan to repair or replace Rhode Island's public school buildings that provides enhanced state funding for public school districts. As co-chair of the Rhode Island School Building Task Force, Treasurer Magaziner led the development of the statewide school construction program that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018.   

The Fiscal Year 2023 Budget passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly contains $300 million of funding to extend the statewide school construction program, including a $250 million bond proposal for voters to consider on the 2022 ballot.   

Viruses may be ‘watching’ you

Some microbes lie in wait until their hosts unknowingly give them the signal to start multiplying and kill them

Ivan ErillUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County

Phages can sense bacterial DNA damage, which triggers them to
replicate and jump ship. Design Cells/iStock via Getty Images Plus
After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might picture a virus as a nasty spiked ball – a mindless killer that gets into a cell and hijacks its machinery to create a gazillion copies of itself before bursting out. For many viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the “mindless killer” epithet is essentially true.

But there’s more to virus biology than meets the eye.

Take HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus that does not go directly on a killing spree when it enters a cell. Instead, it integrates itself into your chromosomes and chills, waiting for the right moment to command the cell to make copies of it and burst out to infect other immune cells and eventually cause AIDS.

Exactly what moment HIV is waiting for is still an area of active study. But research on other viruses has long hinted that these pathogens can be quite “thoughtful” about killing. Of course, viruses cannot think the way you and I do. 

But, as it turns out, evolution has endowed them with some pretty elaborate decision-making mechanisms. Some viruses, for instance, will choose to leave the cell they have been residing in if they detect DNA damage. Not even viruses, it appears, like to stay in a sinking ship.

My laboratory has been studying the molecular biology of bacteriophages, or phages for short, the viruses that infect bacteria, for over two decades. Recently, my colleagues and I have shown that phages can listen for key cellular signals to help them in their decision-making. Even worse, they can use the cell’s own “ears” to do the listening for them.

Human Trafficking’s Newest Abuse

Forcing Victims Into Cyberscamming

by Cezary Podkul, with Cindy Liu for ProPublica

The ads on the Telegram messaging service’s White Shark Channel this summer had the matter-of-fact tone and clipped phrasing you might find on a Craigslist posting. But this Chinese-language forum, which had some 5,700 users, wasn’t selling used Pelotons or cleaning services. It was selling human beings — in particular, human beings in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and other cities in southeast Asia.

“Selling a Chinese man in Sihanoukville just smuggled from China. 22 years old with ID card, typing very slow,” one ad read, listing $10,000 as the price. Another began: “Cambodia, Sihanoukville, six Bangladeshis, can type and speak English.” 

Like handbills in the days of American slavery, the channel also included offers of bounties for people who had run away. (After an inquiry from ProPublica, Telegram closed the White Shark Channel for “distributing the private information of individuals without consent.” But similar forums still operate freely.)

Fan, a 22-year-old from China who was taken captive in 2021, was sold twice within the past year, he said. He doesn’t know if he was listed on Telegram. All he knows is that each time he was sold, his new captors raised the amount he’d have to pay to buy his freedom. In that way, his debt more than doubled from $7,000 to $15,500 in a country where the annual per capita income is about $1,600.

Fan’s descent into forced labor began, as human trafficking often does, with what seemed like a bona fide opportunity. He had been a prep cook at his sister’s restaurant in China’s Fujian province until it closed, then he delivered meals for an app-based service. In March 2021, Fan was offered a marketing position with what purported to be a well-known food delivery company in Cambodia. 

The proposed salary, $1,000 a month, was enticing by local standards, and the company offered to fly him in. Fan was so excited that he told his older brother, who already worked in Cambodia, about the opportunity. Fan’s brother quit his job and joined him. By the time they realized the offer was a sham, it was too late. Their new bosses wouldn’t let them leave the compound where they had been put to work.

Unlike the countless people trafficked before them who were forced to perform sex work or labor for commercial shrimping operations, the two brothers ended up in a new occupation for trafficking victims: playing roles in financial scams that have swindled people across the globe, including in the United States.

Tens of thousands of people from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region have been similarly tricked. Phony job ads lure them into working in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, where Chinese criminal syndicates have set up cyberfraud operations, according to interviews with human rights advocates, law enforcement personnel, rescuers and a dozen victims of this new form of human trafficking. 

The victims are then coerced into defrauding people all around the world. If they resist, they face beatings, food deprivation or electric shocks. Some jump from balconies to escape. Others accept their lot and become paid participants in cybercrime.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Even though he doesn't actually read....

For Donald Trump, Information Has Always Been Power

by Andrea Bernstein for ProPublica

A Closer Look

Examining the News

Ever since the FBI came out of Mar-a-Lago last month with box after box of documents, some of them highly sensitive and classified, questions have wafted over the criminal investigation: 

Why did former President Donald Trump sneak off with the stash to begin with? Why did he keep it when he was asked to return it? And what, if anything, did he plan to do with it?

It’s true that Trump likes to collect shiny objects, like the framed Time magazine cover that was stowed, according to the U.S. Justice Department, alongside documents marked top secret. It’s true, as The Associated Press reported, that Trump has a “penchant for collecting” items that demonstrate his connection to famous people, like Shaquille O’Neal’s giant shoe, which he kept in his office in New York’s Trump Tower.

But I’ve covered Trump and his business for decades, and there’s something else people around him have told me over and over again: Trump knows the value of hoarding sensitive, secret information and wielding it regularly and precisely for his own ends. 

The 76-year-old former host of “The Apprentice” came up in the world of New York tabloids, where trading gossip was the coin of the realm. Certainly sometimes he just wanted to show off that he knew things about important people. But he also has used compromising information to pressure elected officials, seek a commercial advantage or blunt accountability and oversight.

What if

For more cartoons by Ruben Bolling, CLICK HERE.


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