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Israel calls Human Rights Watch a propaganda tool, says it is not welcome – Washington Post

Posted: February 26, 2017 at 10:41 pm

JERUSALEM The Israeli government is refusing to allow an American investigator from Human Rights Watch into the country, saying Thursday that the group is systematically anti-Israel and works as a tool for pro-Palestinian propaganda.

Officials at Human Rights Watch one of the most prominent rights monitors in the world denounced the decision to deny entry to Omar Shakir, its recently named Israel and Palestine country director. Shakir is a U.S. citizen. His parents were from Iraq.

The New York-based group shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. One of the top backers of Human Rights Watch is financier and philanthropist George Soros.

Our staff cant work in Cuba, Egypt, North Korea, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela. This is not a club that Israel wants to join, said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. Bashi, an Israeli, is based in South Africa.

Authorities in Egypt in 2014 barred two senior executives of Human Rights Watch from entering the country as the pair were about to release a year-long investigation ofmass killings of anti-government demonstrators at the hands of security forces.

In a letter dated Monday, Israels immigration service, which approves visas for foreign workers, said it based its rejection on an advisory from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which noted that for some time now, this organizations public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of human rights. It did not cite specifics in the letter.

Emmanuel Nahshon, a top spokesman for Israels Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Israel rejected the visa request for Shakir, basing its decision not on the individual but on its low opinion of Human Rights Watch.

We said no. Its very simple. We consider the group to be biased, systemically hostile toward Israel. In a way, we consider them absolutely hopeless, Nahshon said.

He said the refusal to allow the Human Rights Watch investigator into the country does not signal a new get-tough policy against nongovernmental organizations, as its critics charge.

This doesnt mean that Israel will not allow human rights organizations to work in Israel. On the contrary, were keen to work with them, Nahshon said. He added that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israels commitment to basic democratic values, Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Bashi said that in the past year, Human Rights Watch has not only reported on alleged violations by the Israeli government but also investigated and condemned the arbitrary detention of journalists and activists by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and executions by Hamas authorities in Gaza. It also probed and denounced a Jerusalem bus bombing claimed by a suspected affiliate of Hamas, the Islamist militant organization that runs the Gaza Strip and has been designated a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.

Homegrown rights groups here, such asBTselem and Peace Now, and global organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long been accused by Israelis of unfair treatment. The Israel-based groupNGO Monitor, which provides information to the Israeli government on Palestinian incitement, charges that Human Rights Watch disproportionately focuses on condemnations of Israel and promotes an agenda based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.

On its website, NGO Monitor features a short video clip of Shakir speaking at the University of California at Irvine in 2010 in favor of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which supporters say is designed to force Israel to end its almost 50-year military occupation and practices it compares to apartheid against Palestinians. Shakir was not working for Human Rights Watch then.

Israelis say the BDS movement seeks to delegitimize Israel. A number of U.S. governors and state houses have come out with executive orders and billsagainst the boycotts.

Israels right-wing government has recently targeted Israeli human rights groups for extra scrutiny and warned European governments to stop funding them. Members of anti-occupation groups, such as Breaking the Silence, which is composed of Israeli army veterans,have been called traitors.

The Israeli parliament in July passed a bill to increase transparency for Israeli NGOs that get most of their funding from abroad. Leaders of the nongovernmental organizations, who make up the core of Israels peace camp and are stalwarts of the dwindling left wing in Israel, said the law was written by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus governmentto muzzle opposition to the military occupation of the West Bank.

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Not another AI post – TechCrunch

Posted: at 10:41 pm

Federico Antoni is managing partner at ALLVP, an early-stage VC based in Mexico. He is a lecturer in management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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Over the last couple of years, a billion new people have joined the super-connected world. Billions more around the developing world, now, walk with a high-speed computer in their pockets. And yet, they dont have a bank account, a formal education or access to most of the services we take for granted in the U.S. Imagine the possibilities imagine how you can change the lives of billions of people.

This is how I closed the Stanford class about venture opportunities in emerging ecosystems three years ago. Looking back, when I first began teaching the course, I could only count on the brilliant and spontaneous minds seated in front of me to help me foresee the possibilities.

I recognized that it was hard to imagine them from the trenches. So, I mostly stuck to describing the macro opportunities and the barriers that had prevented local entrepreneurs from making it big (leaving the majority of the world unable to unlock the benefits of their ideas): material, cultural and adoption walls.

Indeed, starting a tech company in emerging economies is an enormous feat that faces innumerable roadblocks due to poor access to capital, lack of support networks and an inadequate talent pool. Even if a founder is able to gain traction against these odds, scaling is hard because of poor infrastructure, an ill-suited financial sector and uncertainty in the legal and political contexts.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is accessing local markets. Potential client bases lack purchasing power, a reliable internet connection and sufficient education levels to operate in the digital world; some lack the motivation to climb out of poverty. Consequently, smartphone penetration alone did not really prepare developing economies for the new Uber of X or the Airbnb for X. However, it did create the most propitious environment to build thousands of X + AI solutions, setting the stage for the upcoming revolutionaries: homegrown AI-first innovators.

The best indicator of why machine learning technologies will shape the world more deeply than anybody predicted is how fast the open source movement in the field is moving. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Google are opening parts of their most advanced algorithms. Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingstone and other visionaries launched the OpenAI initiative to foster collaboration and democratize access for founders: Deep learning is an empirical science, and the quality of a groups infrastructure is a multiplier on progress. Fortunately, todays open-source ecosystem makes it possible for anyone to build great deep learning infrastructure.

Anyone, anywhere, any time! Indeed, over the last couple of years, AI research reached a tipping point precipitated by a combination of low-cost ultra powerful computing, progress in algorithm design and access to large sources of data. OpenAI believes accessing AI capabilities should be as easy as launching a website.

By now, you must be convinced that the world will be eaten by intelligent software literally in the scariest scenarios. If you are a technologist, you can almost touch the future. You can feel a car stop automatically as it arrives at your destination. You can hear the door open automatically. Without looking, you see yourself jumping off and heading directly to a highlighted table. A 165-degree personalized latte, perfectly flavored to your morning palette, is already waiting for you. You virtually wave a quick see ya to your gaming pals before you drop your Oculus Rift 6 and start your real-life day. You know the future will be awesome in the Valley. Facebook and Tesla are poised to own whats next

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, automation will transform billions of lives in simpler but more profound ways: from getting a decent primary education to providing spot prices for crops, as well as access to fair credit and personally matched job opportunities. Billions of smartphones, the best sensors on earth, are already widely deployed. I believe local entrepreneurs will own that part of the future. They will lead this revolution because local problems will be finally solved at a cost that the majority will be able to afford.

Most of the traditional barriers founders face will be eradicated as most tech solutions will be detached of local infrastructure and local non-market environments think of local currencies, for example. This, in turn, will attract part of the whopping $10 billion in financing already backing some 1,500 AI startups from 70 countries (Venture Scanner). And this is projected to rise more than fourfold in 2017 (Forrester Research). Technical teams around the world will be connected to the global AI community for collaboration and support. These local idealists will be empowered to lead a new wave of innovation by leveraging their proximity to local problems, by accessing unique local data and by better understanding the humans they want to serve.

One spring morning in 2017, a 40-year-old mother of three living on the outskirts of Bangalore feels a small lump in her right breast. She immediately called her mother, who urges her to visit the local clinic that recently acquired a state of the art mammography scanner. When she got there, as she stood in line, she could see the white artifact, the size of a vending machine, in an empty room. The lights were off.

Is that the machine?, she asked. Why do I need to wait three months for my consultation? No one is using it!The man behind the desk responded, Well, we have the scanner, but our only radiologist moved to another city and we havent been able to find a replacement.

Medical equipment is often useless without the manpower i.e. experience and intelligence of a specialist, and three months is overly sufficient breeding time for cancer. Waiting three months could be the difference between life and death. India, like most developing economies, faces a chronic shortage of medical doctors. India has 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people lower than Chinas 1.5 or the United States more than 2 and Frances 3.5, according to WHO. Thankfully, in India and other countries with similar challenges, nurses and paramedics have become the cornerstone of their healthcare systems. Unfortunately, even if they could be taught to operate a mammography scanner, they can seldom detect masses or micro calcifications.

Rohit Kumar Pandey, Tathagato Rai Dastidar and Apurv Anand want to solve the problem caused by the chronic shortage of trained medical practitioners. They are part of the team that founded SigTuple, an Indian startup that is building a platform to provide healthcare solutions by detecting different diseases using machine learning software. It promises to automatically analyze medical images and data to aid diagnosis.

A Computer Science PhD, former director of Amexs Big Data labs and now SigTuples Chief Scientist Officer, Tathagato believes the only way healthcare services can reach more people and take advantage of infrastructure is to make doctors more efficient. In the future, lack of specialists or lack of local infrastructure should not be a barrier for better womens health. Long distances and translation issues in a country with more than 100 different spoken languages will no longer prevent the unprivileged from gaining access to basic services wherever they live.

Nurses will be enhanced by AI to heal anyone, teachers will be empowered to teach at a personalized pace and local journalists will be liberated of language constraints to give citizens more sources of information. It has long been established that solving local problems, as opposed to importing global solutions from rich countries, should be the calling of native entrepreneurs.

Still, today, many founders choose to launch and scale copycats that can only cater to the upper classes in emerging markets. They are going after technology early adopters who have decent purchasing power. Automation will soon make services in poor countries cheaper than they have ever been. Solving local problems at scale will now become economically feasible. So these founders have the advantage of being on the ground and living first-hand the problems they will solve.

Even the best Stanford storytelling techniques will never be as powerful as living the real and deep frustration caused by a problem hurting your own on a daily basis.

I have an investor friend who loves drones. He often flies his latest addition in front of his office, where he questionably experiments attaching objects on top of the lenient quadrupeds. The difference between this investor and any other gadget-obsessed VC is that Mbwanas office is not on Sand Hill Road or SOMA, but in front of the African Savannah.

Until now, I had never understood his fascination for overpriced flying toys. Today, computer vision and image processing will be able to monitor land use or deforestation programs, drastically improve efficiency for farming and even check for flood risk. He bets governments and development agencies will start using them more and more. Mbwana knows better than any other VC, because he knows the local terrain. And local terrain is data.

Admit it: Do you still have that idealized view of a Masai holding a feature phone checking market prices, popularized by the media?, writes Mbwana on his Savannah Fundsblog.

Knowing the land and the local organization to get data may very well make the Masai farmer fantasy become a reality. And Mbwana will be there to help founders do exactly that. He knows that successfully integrating the power of drones and computer vision technologies to solve problems in Africa is only half the challenge. Partnering with governments and corporates will be a necessity not only to reach the consumer but to get access to data.

Negotiating with multiple entities across sub-Saharan Africa is not easy, and local entrepreneurs and hands-on investors have a clear advantage. Moreover, as innovation in business models and tech accelerates, the outdated or sometimes total lack of regulation in developing economies can play in ones favor, albeit riskily. While the FAA has already regulated drone flying, curtailing innovation in a nascent industry in the U.S., most emerging markets have yet to address it. So Mbwana will have the chance to support founders pushing the envelope in unregulated countries and maybe bring solutions to the U.S. once local regulations approve.

In the early hours of a cold night in 2012, a young Mexican artist, Pia Camil, and architect, Mateo Riestra, welcomed their first son. They gave him what must be the most Mexican name of all: Guadalupe.

Having his first baby touched Mateo profoundly. That year, the young father launched a Kickstarter campaign for a project that had become urgent. He knew Disney and Mattel would entertain and distract Lupe, but he felt his son needed a different type of toy that would better equip him with more important skills to get a head start in the world.

After a successful campaign, Mateo decided to drop his design studio and start a toy company called Lupe Toys with the mission of leveraging natures intelligence to develop gamesome educational experiences. Wanting to have more impact, he joined NUMA Mexico,Mexicos affiliate of a French global accelerator, to transform his indie toy company into an edtech startup. After months of exploration, the focus turned on the development of an IoT-based gaming system running on a machine learning platform that could measure and increase childrens creativity.

Creativity is a better predictor of lifetime accomplishments than IQ or school performance. Imagine a generation of kids around the world benefiting from a personalized learning experience powered by machine learning to become more creative and, in turn, more successful.

Mateos ambitious journey to transform education did not come from a stay at Singularity or from a lab in Israel. Love sparked it. Explain to a social media wizard with no kids how it feels to see your baby marvel when her creativity is empowered. Its impossible to understand that feeling even if you provide the best analytical tool to analyze millions of Facebook timelines. Try to explain a Mexican Albur, a vulgar ironic Mexican joke, to the wittiest British data scientist. To borrow from Shakespeare, There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

In short, you need to understand words beyond Googles search gold mine you need cultural context and the experience of hearing the tone that often precedes the joke. Teaching to understand deep feelings or cultural references will require entrepreneurs who understand local humans. Life can only teach life, and not a successive jumbo round of financing. Beyond simply eliminating repetitive tasks and outsourcing entire professions to software, AI will put people at the center of software development. AI can empower entrepreneurs to create, imagine and innovate at entirely new levels to drive not only growth, but happiness.

The fourth industrial revolution is here. While large tech companies will focus on cutting-edge solutions, and corporates in developing economies will miss yet another wave of innovation, AI-first entrepreneurs in emerging markets will bring a revolution to address the problems brought by a hot, flat and crowded world.

I believe the only true barrier for these entrepreneurs is doubting that only they can make these things happen. Will Tathagatos software save lives in India? Will Mbwana back the next drone unicorn? Will Mateo educate new, more-creative minds? I dont know. What I do know is that these transforming applications of deep learning will come from developing economies.

Now that youve reached the end of your quick diagonal read, this may feel just like any other post about AI paraphrasing The Economist or a16z. But, its not about artificial neural networks or about training machines to think. Its about human will. Its an outcry for battle written for every founder working hard from emerging ecosystems around our planet. Even if they still feel the odds are against them and see walls being built, AI may very well be the tool they needed to truly make it big. Maybe now they can start a company built to solve a local problem and scale to change the world for the better.

This post is about a better world brought by human ingenuity. Its about a human opportunity, an invitation to founders and investors in advanced economies to come and help us change the lives of billions of humans. Come join the movement to help mankind move forward for a better, fairer future. Its time!

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Viral Facebook post alleging human trafficking tactic was just a poorly attempted prank – The Daily Dot

Posted: February 25, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Last week a grim Facebook post by 19-year-old Ashley Hardacre went viral with a warning to other women: Beware of items left on your car’s windshieldthey could cost you your safety.

According to Women in the World, Hardacre detailed a strange anecdote regarding her own car’s windshield. She had just left the mall where she works in Flint, Michigan, and when she arrived at her car, she found a flannel shirt on her windshield.

Next to her, however, were two other carsone of them runningand Hardacre said she immediately felt uneasy and didn’t want to get out of her car. She thought it might have just been a mistake, the shirt left by accident, so she tried to remove the shirt with her wipers. It didn’t workthe shirt had been completely wrapped around one of the blades.

“Luckily I knew better than to remove the shirt with cars around me so I drove over to a place where I was safe and quickly rolled down my window and got the shirt off,” Hardacre wrote.

She had recalled hearing about this tactic before, however, being used by human traffickers to abduct young women. Traffickers would make targets get out of their cars to remove the item from their windshields, and then take women when they were distracted.

Hardacre reported her story to Flint police, who said they had never seen anything like her situation before. Though her Facebook post has since been taken down, it was shared more than100,000 times.

“There have been no other incidences like this. Its kind of unknown as to what or why or who [did this],” Brad Wangler, a Flint Township police detective sergeant, told CBS News earlier this week.

But as it turns out, Hardacre wasn’t being targeted by traffickers. No, she wasn’t in danger that nightat least not because of the flannel shirt itself. According to MLive, the mysterious shirt was courtesy of dumb, not funny pranksters.

According to Flint police they were able to identify the description of a car as well as two men with the help of the mall where Hardacre works.

“As a result of these interviews, they admitted to putting the shirt on the vehicle as a random prank,” a statement from police read. “Also, interior video surveillance at the Genesee Valley Center corroborated their presence at the mall.”

The police said the men had no idea that putting the flannel on the car could have been interpreted as a human trafficking tactic, and that they left the parking lot more than an hour before Hardacre left work. They’ve also apologized to her, because “their actions caused her to feel scared that night.”

So, don’t worry folks, there is no spiking trend of shirts on cars being used to lure human trafficking victimsjust jerks trying to think up of idiotic ways to scare people.

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Israel Accuses Human Rights Watch Of ‘Propaganda,’ Denies Access – Huffington Post

Posted: February 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm

WASHINGTON The Israeli government is blocking an American citizen from taking his post with Human Rights Watch in Israel, accusing the group of engaging in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda.

The 39-year-old Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization sent a request in July 2016 for its new Israel and Palestine program director, Omar Shakir, to start his assignment in October. The approval process is supposed to take 60 days, but Human Rights Watch heard nothing back until Monday.

The group received a letter from Israels Interior Ministry denying the work permit on the grounds that we were not a real human rights organization, said Shakir, a California native of Iraqi descent with a masters degree from Georgetown and a law degree from Stanford.

The Interior Ministry cited guidance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a letter explaining its decision not to grant Human Rights Watchs request. The opinion received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that, for some time now, this organizations public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of human rights, and therefore recommended denying the application, the letter stated.

The Israeli government did not respond to The Huffington Posts requests for comment.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Human Rights Watch has operated in Israel for three decades, Shakir said. The last director of the Israel and Palestine program was an Israeli national and did not need a work permit. However, previous regional directors needed and received work permits from the Israeli government, he added.

On theIsrael/Palestinepage on its website, Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel for severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians human rights and for building unlawful settlements in the occupied West Bank. But it also criticizes the Palestinian Authority for arresting dissenting students and activists and Hamas security forces in Gaza for using torture.

This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israels commitment to basic democratic values, Iain Levine, who oversees Human Rights Watchs research and reporting, said in a statement. It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.

Human Rights Watch pointed to a law Israel passed last July that increased reporting requirements for organizations that support Palestinian groups and receive foreign funds, but not for those that support the expansion of Jewish settlements.

Human Rights Watch got a vote of support onThursday from the U.S. State Department, whose acting spokesman, Mark Toner, said it strongly disagreed with Israels description of the group.

HRW is a credible human rights organization and even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do, Toner said. We reference HRW reports in our own reporting, including our annual human rights reports.

Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978 to monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which included guarantees of human rights. The nonprofit now operates in some 90 nations to report on human rights conditions. In 1997, a group it co-founded, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Israel joins Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea on the list of nations that refuse entry to Human Rights Watch to monitor human rights conditions.

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Examining The Human Impact Of The Northern Sea Route – Huffington Post

Posted: at 5:47 pm

A research project is examining how the establishment of Russias Northern Sea Route has shaped the lives of residents along the countrys northern coast, amid the booms and busts of industrialization.

Most discussion about ABOUT Russias Northern Sea Route focuses on shipping traffic and sea ice. However, an anthropological study is taking a different tack, by looking at how industrialization along the route has affected northern residents.

Connecting the ports of Norway and Japan, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is roughly half the distance of the southern route between the same two destinations through the Suez Canal. This translates to a saving of around 10 days of travel and related fuel costs. However, the NSR is often impassable for parts of the year due to sea ice. As climate change claims more and more summer ice, though, the routes navigational window is rapidly changing, and could potentially grow to six months of the year by the end of the century. Ice levels were at the second lowest yearly minimum on record during last Septembers travel season, despite some areas holding more ice than normal, such as the Laptev Sea. For convoys equipped with icebreakers, its been a year of firsts for winter travel.

The Russian government celebrates the thaw as the beginning of a new era. For the respected Arctic anthropologist and research lead, Nikolai Vakhtin, its an era that must be studied. His latest project is a partnership between Tyumen State University in western Siberia and the European University in St. Petersburg. Vakhtin works out of the latter, in the same port city where Russias nuclear icebreakers are built (and recent birthplace of Arktika, heralded for her ability to slice through ice 4m/13ft deep). Soon, the team of 10 researchers will commence ethnographies in seaport communities along the coast of the Arctic Ocean from Murmansk in the west to Kamchatka in the east.

The Russian Arctic is a diverse region of roughly 2 million people, including settlers and members of some of the 41 groups represented by the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON). Some communities share a long history of adaptation to change dating back to the frenzied fur trade of the 17th century. Other communities and cities emerged only in the 1950s. Still others, such as the coastal city of Khatanga near the coal-rich Taymyr Peninsula, are being repopulated by Indigenous peoples from surrounding communities following the exodus of settlers in the post-Soviet era.

The idea of the NSR dates back to the 16th century, Vakhtin explains, and its allure has persisted in step with dynamic military, economic and now climatic trends. The result is a region characterized by highs and lows, evidenced by modern hotels and abandoned infrastructure. As if following the jolting ups and downs on a heart monitor display, use of the NSRpeaked in the late 1980s, then slowed significantly in the 1990s. It downturned in the years following the Great Recession of the late 2000s, experienced a short spike in 201213, then dropped once more in 2015.Part of this wild ride is due to the NSRs diverse functions: global shipping route, strategic point of military control and facilitator of resource extraction.

On the shipping side, Sergey Balmasov from the Centre for High North Logistics explains that widespread use of the NSR is hampered by a host of restraining forces such as a slumped freight market, collapse in oil prices, icebreaker technology and seasonal navigation periods. If calculated solely based on ship movement from Asia to Europe without call to an NSR port, 19 vessels carrying around 200,000 tonnes were transported in 2016.

On the military side, it was during World War I that Russia began building infrastructure along the NSR to use as a blockade-free exit route, a trend that continued into the Cold War. Vakhtin explains that military motivations for development of the route persist, and though they fluctuate according to geopolitical tensions, its a powerful stimulant for economic growth in Arctic towns and cities.

But while the future of the Northern Sea Route as a global transportation corridor remains uncertain, its use as a route for moving Russian Arctic resources to eastern and western markets seems for the time being its most enduring material driver.

Although resource prices waver, extensive reserves of diamonds, nickel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) remain locked under the icy terrain, scraped free by glaciers. Interest in the Arctic is rising: It is connected with the rise of extracting industries, Vakhtin says.

Today, the NSR is used year-round by Nornickel, the worlds leading nickel producer, as it moves ore from Norilsk to processing plants in the Kola Peninsula. The Taymyr Peninsula holds significant coal deposits, while the Yamal Peninsula holds Russias largest gas reserves, propelling the construction of an LNG terminal and seaport in Sabetta. At least one platform for offshore oil extraction is in permanent operation in the Pechora Sea. For these industries, the NSR is an important route for raw building materials and supplies, Vakhtin explains. Though figures vary depending on exactly what movements are included, they totaled 6.9million tonnes in 2016.

Usage and viability of NSR as an export route to deliver natural resources out of the Arctic to the markets is on the rise for sure, echoes Balmasov, who is also the head of the Northern Sea Route information office. (He adds that the route still has a way to go given the general lack of backup infrastructure such as shipment and repair docks, fueling stations and communication, rescue and navigation hubs.) Pressure to complete the $27 billion LNG plant in Sabetta is so great that a Netherlands-based cargo vessel just made history by sailing through the route during the winter months albeit escorted by icebreakers to deliver materials for its construction. Similarly, a convoy of vessels carrying supplies destined for port infrastructure in Pevek made history in January by traveling through the western portion of the Siberian coast in the cold of winter. Theyve been locked in ice, however, for a month in Chaunskaya Bay, awaiting assistance from a nuclear icebreaker.

For the many communities along this route, such as the Nenets who herd reindeer and the growing population of Khatanga, these economic and climatic changes are shifting perceptions and realities. Its an environment ripe for study, and the need to know more about the local effects of development is the driver behind the archival work and ethnographies the team will be conducting within 10 selected communities along the route. The balance between industrial development and its influence on the local population is an important question that requires extended anthropological research, Vakhtin says.

At present we can only say that NSR will influence both the life and the perception of the local people. This, he says, includes both hopes and fears.

This article originally appeared onArcticDeeply. For weekly updates about Arctic geopolitics, economy, and ecology, you cansign up to the ArcticDeeplyemail list.

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Swastika Written In Human Feces Found In Bathroom At RISD – Huffington Post

Posted: at 5:47 pm

A top U.S. art school is investigating an act of anti-Semitism on campus that may make some stomachs turn.

A swastika drawn in human waste was recently discovered in a gender-neutral bathroom in a dormitory at the Rhode Island School of Design.

This level of disrespect and vitriol is completely unacceptable and RISD Public Safety is investigating this isolated incident as both an act of vandalism and potentially a crime of hate, Jaime Marland, director of RISD public relations, said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

Marland added that college authorities held a community meeting with the affected dormitory floor and are encouraging anyone with information about the incident to come forward.

We are deeply committed to providing a safe and supportive campus environment for our students and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, she told HuffPost.

Its unclear whether the anti-Semitic incident was also aimed at LGBT students, given the national debate over trans students access to restrooms that match their gender identities.

Brown RISD Hillel, a Jewish campus organization,said it was saddened and angeredby what had happened.

To say we condemn the RISD graffiti is too mild and obvious a statement, said Rabbi Michelle T. Dardashti, an associate chaplain at the college.

Students of Jewish history understand that deadly anti-Semitism has been cyclical, thus current manifestations (in the forms of graffiti, bomb threats, cemetery vandalism and white-supremacist and alt right rhetoric) are hard to write off as trivial or innocuous, Dardashti said in an email to HuffPost.

Students told NBC 10that the swastika was just the latest of several feces-related acts of vandalism that have occurred on campus.

There have people using their own fecal matter in a harmful way in the bathrooms, in the showers, all over the bathroom, one student said.

The incident comes a time when the U.S. is witnessing a wave of anti-Semitism. Eleven Jewish community centers received bomb threats on Monday, forcing evacuations in ten states. After strong urging by press and fellow politicians, President Donald Trump finallydenounced anti-Semitism on Tuesday.

The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and Jewish community centers are horrible and painful and a very sad reminder of the work that must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil, Trump said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization, has called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to create a special task force to investigate threats targeting Jewish community centers around the nation.

This story has been updated with comment from Rabbi Michelle T. Dardashti.

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Amnesty International: Thai human rights ‘deteriorate’ – Bangkok Post

Posted: February 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Supporters of Amnesty International protest at the Thai embassy in Washington after the 2014 military coup. (File photo)

The government is still restricting people’s human rights in a variety of ways, and is too keen on suppressing its critics, according to Amnesty International’s annual report for 2016/2017 released Wednesday.

“The military authorities further restricted human rights” during the past year, the report said.

“Peaceful political dissent, whether through speech or protests, were punished or banned. Politicians and human rights activists faced criminal investigations and prosecutions.”

It added: “Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread.”

It urged the government to take a more active approach in the protection of human rights.

It also said politicians and human rights activists were subjected to criminal investigations and prosecutions and were faced with legal retribution when disagreeing with the state, and condemned the instances when peaceful political dissent through speech or protests was punished or banned.

Responding to the report, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman Sek Wannamethee said it failed to fully address the development of the human rights situation in Thailand.

The government is following its roadmap to bring the country to democracy and would not be budged from that course.

The constitution drafting process and the national referendum on the draft charter in August 2016 was open for the public and parties to voice their opinions through many channels, he said.

“Thailand observes the importance of freedom of expression and respect for human rights according to international principles. However, law and order as well as the prevention of rifts in society must also be considered,” he said.

People who are facing lese majeste charges are allowed to defend themselves according to due legal process and have the rights to be judged fairly, he said.

In regards to Amnesty International’s call for Thailand to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the MFA spokesman said Thailand signed in 2012, but related domestic legal processes are still in progress.

Amnesty International also urged the government to respect peaceful rallies in the interests of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.

Human rights defender Anchana Heemmina further asked the government to recognise and protect human rights defenders instead of using the law to prosecute them.

“The first thing is to withdraw the cases [of human rights] taken against critics, or not intimidate, or not arrest them and detain them in military camps,” she said.

The group also wants to ban the use of torture in Thailand and urged the government to use alternative means to find evidence for cases instead of trying to get those under investigation to confess.

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Lifetime Achievements: Paying Tribute to 4 Human Rights Heroes – Huffington Post

Posted: at 12:40 pm

=On 26 February Hollywoods brightest stars will gather in LA for the Oscars. The biggest film event on the calendar will provide a welcome distraction from the reality of a year that has seen assaults on human rights in almost every country.

Times like these can bring out the best in us, mobilizing people around the world to fight for what is right. Just like in the movies, sometimes extraordinary circumstances can make heroes out of ordinary people.

There are countless brave activists around the world who take great personal risks to defend human rights. Since its awards season, Amnesty International is paying tribute to four human rights heroes whose dramatic stories could – and should – be made into movies:

Its been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamara was dragged from a barbers chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut.

Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable.

But this isnt Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabes reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and theres no happy ending in sight.

Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamaras disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery.

Goldman Environmental Foundation

Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished.

One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras.

In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities.

Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way but they were powerless to stop it.

Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Bertas work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted.

It is essential that Bertas assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Bertas story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate.

Sirikan Charoensiri, also known as June, is a young lawyer who has bravely stood up for human rights during a dark period of military rule in Thailand. In June 2015, she was on hand at a peaceful protest by pro-democracy student activists in Bangkok to monitor the situation and provide legal representation, if necessary.

She now finds herself facing sedition charges and a potential trial in a military court alongside her clients. She also faces charges in two additional cases relating to her defence of the student activists and could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

As the Thai authorities have escalated their crackdown in the name of security, people who stand up for human rights in the country are increasingly falling foul of a government intent on silencing dissent.

As June herself put it: There is now an environment where risk is visible and imminent.

In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, womens rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Irans prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women.

What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed.

Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.

Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights activists around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression. Take action now, and join us in fighting back.

Anna Neistat is the Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaNeistat

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What’s it like to be a human rights activist in post-Pussy Riot Russia? – New Statesman

Posted: February 22, 2017 at 3:41 am

On 21 February 2012, five brightly-dressed members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot took to the altar of Moscows Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to protest links between the Russian Orthodox Church and its chief saint Russian President Vladimir Putin. Virgin birth-giver of God, drive away Putin! they shouted from beneath now-iconic balaclavas.

The Punk Prayer was both a political statement and a powerful feminist message. Six months later, a judge sentenced three of the girls to two years in prison (one was rapidly released) on a conspicuously apolitical conviction of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

These past five years, Russias involvement in crises in Syria and Ukraine has cast a dark shadow over relations with an increasingly cleaved-off West. The year 2015 saw opposition politician Boris Nemtsov murdered some 500 metres from the Kremlin walls.

Domestically, society has constricted people challenging the political status quo. However, low-key initiatives retain traction.

Artists are simply silent, says Russian curator and gallerist Marat Guelman, who left for Montenegro in early 2015. It is better not to say anything about politics, it is better to bypass these issues.

This is a major difference from five years ago. Despite persecution against Pussy Riot, people were not afraid to defend them, he says. It was a better time.

There are three topics artists and curators now avoid, says artist and feminist activist Mikaela. One is homosexuality . . . especially if it involves adolescents, she says, citing a 2015 exhibit about LGBT teens called Be Yourself. Authorities closed it and interrogated the galley owner. Then the war in Ukraine, she says. Russian Orthodoxy is the third topic you cannot tackle.

Marianna Muravyeva, a law professor at Moscows Higher School of Economics, says that aside from the government completely discarding human rights rhetoric, the most significant legal change is the gay propaganda law and legislation against those who insult the feelings of believers.

The latter came into force in July 2013. Since then, the Orthodox Church has made deeper societal incursions. Muravyeva says that the secular nature of the Soviet Union led to residual feelings of guilt towards the Church and now it uses that capital.

Mikaela observes a cultural expansion, citing a new TV channel, radio station and three new churches in her neighbourhood alone.

Orthodox activist attacks on exhibits have increased. In August 2015, they targeted an exhibit at one of Moscows most prominent art galleries. Its perpetrators were found guilty of petty hooliganism and handed a 1,000 rouble fine (14 by todays rates).

Any word written in Old Slavonic lettering is spirituality, says Guelman. Any work of art by a modern artist . . . depravity, sin, the impact of the West.

Similar groups are active across Russia, and galleries err on the side of caution. Perpetrators, while self-organised, believe their actions to be state-sanctioned, says Muravyeva. They are influenced by the kinds of messages conveyed by the government.

Nowadays, self-organisation is integral to artistic expression. Mikaela witnessed educational institutions and foreign foundations telling artists we are with you, we know you are smart but they cannot host political works for fear of closure. Not knowing where the invisible line lies foments uncertainty. Its self-censorship, she says.

Dissident artist Petr Pavlensky, notorious for nailing his scrotum to the Red Square in late 2013 (Fixation) and setting fire to the doors of the FSB in 2015, advocates personal agency.

Fixation was about a sense of helplessness in Russia that must be overcome; he tried to convey the amount of power the castrated have. Pavlensky says, Look, I have even less than you, says Guelman. The artist and his partner Oksana Shalygina are now in France intending to seek asylum after sexual assault accusations.

Some rise to the opportunity, such as Daria Serenko. She rides the Moscow Metro carrying political posters as part of Tikhy Piket or Silent Protest. Her 12 February sign depicted a girl with her head in her arms inundated by the comments received if a women alleges rape (she was probably drunk, what was she wearing?).

However, as a lone individual in a public space, she experienced hostility. Men, as always, laughed, she posted on Facebook afterwards. Earlier this month an anonymous group pasted painted plants accompanied by anti-domestic violence messages around Omsk, southwestern Siberia.

Their appearance corresponded with Putin signing legislation on 7 February decriminalising domestic abuse that causes minor harm. While it doesnt specifically mention women, Muravyeva says that the message women can manage on their own is a disaster.

On 27 January, after Russias parliament passed the final draft, pro-Kremlin tabloid Life released a video (He Beats You Because He Loves You) showing how to inflict pain without leaving a mark.

Heightened social awareness is aided by online networks. Since Punk Prayer, the proportion of people using the internet in Russia has exploded. In 2011, it was 33 per cent, while in 2016 it was 73 per cent, according annual Freedom House reports. Authorities have concurrently exerted stronger controls over it, eg. targeting individual social media users through broadly-worded laws against extremism.

Last July, the hashtag # (#IamNotAfraidtoSay) went viral. Women documented experiences of sexual violence. Russian organisation (Sisters), which helps survivors receive psychological support, receives 250-350 crisis calls annually.

Over the past year, the number of applications increased, because of the hashtag, it says. New media platforms Meduza and Wonderzine also emerged as more socially aware outlets. Previously all we had was LiveJournal communities, Mikaela says.

Bottom-up challenges are partially due to a generational shift. Nobody bothered before, says Muravyeva. Those children who were born after 95 . . . they were already born in a very free society they dont know what it is to be afraid, they dont know what it is to be self-censoring, what it is to be really scared of the state.

Aliide Naylor is a British journalist and former Arts and Ideas Editor of The Moscow Times.

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The Post-Human World – The Atlantic

Posted: February 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Famine, plague, and war. These have been the three scourges of human history. But today, people in most countries are more likely to die from eating too much rather than too little, more likely to die of old age than a great plague, and more likely to commit suicide than to die in war.

With famine, plague, and war in their twilightat least, for nowmankind will turn its focus to achieving immortality and permanent happiness, according to Yuval Hararis new book Homo Deus. In other words, to turning ourselves into gods.

Hararis previous work, Sapiens, was a swashbuckling history of the human species. His new book is another mind-altering adventure, blending philosophy, history, psychology, and futurism. We spoke recently about its most audacious predictions. This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.

Derek Thompson: In Homo Deus you predict the end of work, the end of liberal individualism, and the end of humanity. Lets take these one by one.

First, work. You have a smart and scary way of looking at the political implications of mass automation. At the end of the 19th century, France, Germany, and Japan offered free health care to their citizens. Their aim was not strictly to make people happy, but to strengthen their army and industrial potential. In other words, welfare was necessary because people were necessary. But you ask the scary question: What happens to welfare in a future where government no longer needs people?

Yuval Harari: Its a very scary scenario. Its not science fiction. Its already happening.

The reason to build all these mass social service systems was to support strong armies and strong economies. Already the most advanced armies dont need [as many] people. The same might happen in the civilian economy. The problem is motivation: What if the government loses the motivation to help the masses?

In Scandinavia the tradition of the welfare state is so entrenched that perhaps theyll continue to provide welfare even for masses of useless people. But what about Nigeria, South Africa, and China? They have been encouraged to provide services mostly in the hope of advancing prosperity, [which requires] having a large basis of healthy and smart citizens. But take that away and you might be left with countries with elites who dont care about the population.

Thompson: The last point is interesting, because, in Europe and the United States, the opposite seems more true: The population doesnt care about, or think it needs, the elite. Thats a part of how we got Trump and Brexit. Now you see these radical-right backlashes against the establishment sweeping across Europe. Why is this happening now?

Harari: Thats the big question. I didnt foresee it coming. Its not my expertise to look at the political situation in the U.S. or in Europe. But if you look at the objective condition of health and so forth, most people in the U.S. and Western Europe have better conditions than they used to. But they feel like they are being pushed aside and losing power. And they fear their children will have a worse life than they do today. I think these fears may be justified. But I dont think the antidote will work. Trump will not help Alabama voters regain their power.

Thompson: Americans might be richer and better educated than they used to be a generation ago, with better health care and superior entertainment options. But the fact of progress doesnt seem to matter. The story is all that matters. And the victorious Trump story was that Americas cities were falling apart and I alone can fix it.

Harari: [White Americans without a college degree] are a declining class within a declining power. The U.S. is losing power compared to the rest of the world, and within the U.S., the Trump voters are losing their status. Even though they are experiencing better conditions, the narrative self which is dominant in most people tells a story of decline, which says that the future will be worse than the present. And most peoples happiness depends on their expectations, not their conditions.

Thompson: Lets say the future for most people is a universal basic income, wonderful psychedelic drugs, and virtual reality video games. People dont starve. They arent miserable. But they also stop striving. The Walt Disney virtueschallenge yourself! go on an adventure!are sacrificed to live permanently inside of Disney-style entertainment. Is that utopia or dystopia?

Harari: Most philosophers will say that your hypothetical is a dystopia. A far worse world.

But you could argue that people already spend most of their lives in virtual games. Most religions are virtual games superimposed on the reality of life. Do this, and theres a penalty. Do that, and you get extra points. There is nothing in reality that corresponds to these rules. But you have millions of people playing these virtual reality games. So what is the difference between a religion and a virtual reality game?

Recently I went with my nephew to hunt Pokmon. We were walking down the street and a bunch of kids approached us. They were also hunting Pokemon. My nephew and these children got into a bit of a fight because they were trying to capture the same invisible creatures. It seemed strange to me. But these Pokmon were very real to the children.

And then it hit me: This is just like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! You have two sides fighting over something that I cannot see. I look at the stones of buildings in Jerusalem and I just see stones. But Christians, Jews, and Muslims who look at the same stones see a holy city. Its their imagination, but they are willing to kill for it. Thats virtual reality, too.

Your hypothetical also raises a deep philosophical question: What is the meaning of life? Historically philosophers investigated questions that were interesting to only half a percentage of humankind.

Thompson: Right. What is ideal way to seek happiness? isnt a useful inquiry when the entire countryside is dying of plague.

Harari: Yes, but once you are free from considerations of famine and plague, this becomes a much more practical question: What is the meaning of life? If you design a self-driving car, you must design ethical algorithms in the case that its about to hit a child. Do you risk injury to the pedestrian, or the passenger? That is suddenly a very practical question. Philosophy, once an archaic system, becomes central once we take care of widespread death and misery.

Thompson: Alright, lets move from the end of work to the end of individualism.

You have a beautiful way of summarizing human beings relationship with authority. First, we believed that authority came from the gods. But that belief has yielded to modern liberalism, which tells us that authority comes from individuals. Democracy says power comes from the voters, not the divine. Capitalism says the consumer is always right, not the Bible. Marketers say beauty resides in the eye of the beholder, not in platonic forms.

But you have a ominous prediction that humans will merge with the computers, algorithms, and biochemical devices that make our lives better. We will yield our authority and identity to data and artificial intelligence. What invention or innovation in the world right now is the best example of this future?

Harari: I like to begin with the simple things. Look at GPS applications, like Waze and Google Maps. Five years ago, you went somewhere in your car or on foot. You navigated based on your own knowledge and intuition. But today everybody is blindly following what Waze is telling them. Theyve lost the basic ability to navigate by themselves. If something happens to the application, they are completely lost.

Thats not the most important example. But it is the direction were talking about. You reach a juncture on the road, and you trust the algorithm. Maybe the junction is your career. Maybe its the decision to get married. But you trust the algorithm rather than your own intuition.

The most important invention thats spreading now is biometric sensors. They may become ubiquitous. Humans will consult their biometric data to determine how to live. That is really interesting and scary stuff, because we will no longer be in charge of our identity. We will outsource our executive decisions to biometric readings of our neurochemical signals to decide how to live.

Thompson: Here is how I understand this idea. Its the future, and Im hungry on a Friday night. I think, Id like fried chicken. Then I consult my AI daemon, which can read by biochemical signals and predict my future emotions, and it says to me: Actually, Derek, a chicken salad will make you happier. So I eat salad.

On a case-by-case basis, this technology seems wonderful. Its making me so much healthier and happier. Technology is rescuing me from the natural errors of misreading my future wants and needs. But over time, I have disappeared, because I have outsourced my identity to a biochemical analyst.

Harari: Yes, exactly.

In this scenario, we will come to see that decisions dont come from a mystical soul but from biological processes in the brain. In the past we couldnt gather the data and analyze it. So you could imagine that there is a mystical, transcendental soul inside you making these decisions. From a practical perspective that was a good enough estimation. But once you combine a better understanding of the biochemical processes in the body with the computational power of big data then you have a real revolution, because this traditional notion of free will no longer make practical sense and you can have algorithm that make better decisions than an individual human.

Thompson: Thats fascinating, because I now think of these algorithms as bringing me closer to myself. If a fitness tracker encourages me to run more, or an entertainment algorithm discovers a song I love, Im happier. And I prefer myself happy.

But over time, my decisions have been reduced to brain signals and brain signal readers. I am not special, or sacred, or even individual. Im just a vessel for a bunch of signals that are best read by a computer. There is no room for me in that arrangement.

Harari: What really happens is that the self disintegrates. Its not that you understand your true self better, but you come to realize there is no true self. There is just a complicated connection of biochemical connections, without a core. There is no authentic voice that lives inside you.

Have you seen Inside Out? For me this was the tipping point in popular cultures understanding of the mind. For decades Disney sold us the liberal individualistic fantasy: Dont listen to your neighbors or government, just follow your own heart. But then in Inside Out, you go inside this little girl Riley, and you dont encounter a self or a core identity. What the movie shows to children and their parents is that Riley is a robot being manipulated by chemical processes inside her brain. The cataclysmic point in the story is your realize that none of the sources inside her are her true self. In the beginning you identify with Joy but the critical moment comes when you realize none of these emotions are Rileys true self. Its a balance between different sources.

And I think this is what will happen more and more on a general level. The very idea of an individual that exists, which has been so precious to us, is in danger.

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