Daily Archives: February 25, 2015

(NYT Opinionator) Benjamin Bratton–Do we understand the REAL dangers of Artificial Intelligence?

[Elon] Musk, [Bill] Gates and [Stephen] Hawking made headlines by speaking to the dangers that A.I. may pose. Their points are important, but I fear were largely misunderstood by many readers. Relying on efforts to program A.I. not to “harm humans” (inspired by on Isaac Asimov’s “three laws” of robotics from 1942) makes sense only when an A.I. knows what humans are and what harming them might mean. There are many ways that an A.I. might harm us that that have nothing to do with its malevolence toward us, and chief among these is exactly following our well-meaning instructions to an idiotic and catastrophic extreme. Instead of mechanical failure or a transgression of moral code, the A.I. may pose an existential risk because it is both powerfully intelligent and disinterested in humans. To the extent that we recognize A.I. by its anthropomorphic qualities, or presume its preoccupation with us, we are vulnerable to those eventualities.

Read it carefully and read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(BBC) Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan alleges the Tide has turned against Boko Haram

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has said the tide has “definitely turned” against militant Islamists as regional forces recapture territory.

His comments came hours after Boko Haram militants were blamed for killing 27 people in bombings in two commercial centres in the north on Tuesday.

Boko Haram had hit “soft targets” because of the setbacks it had suffered in battle, Mr Jonathan said.

Regional forces have recaptured eight major towns in recent weeks.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Nigeria, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

Water Missions International to increase aid to devastated Malawi communities

Water Missions International announced Tuesday that it is doubling its response to severe flooding that impacted southern Malawi in recent weeks.

An agreement between the Charleston-based nonprofit and UNICEF Malawi aims to increase safe water projects from eight to 17 communities in the African country, according to a news release.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * South Carolina, Africa, Charities/Non-Profit Organizations, Malawi

Computing in the Classroom-From “Teaching Machine” to the promise of 21st c. learning technology

On November 11, 1953, psychology professor B.F. Skinner sat in a fourth-grade math class, perturbed. It was Parents Day at his daughter Deborah’s school. The lesson seemed grossly inefficient: students proceeded through the material in lock-step, at the same pace; their graded assignments were returned to them sluggishly.

A leading proponent of what he called “radical behaviorism,” Skinner had devoted his career to studying feedback. He denied the existence of free will and dismissed inner mental states as explanations for outward action. Instead, he focused on the environment and the organism’s response. He had trained rats to push levers and pigeons to play Ping-Pong. A signed photo of Ivan Pavlov presided over his study in Cambridge. Turning his attention to a particular subset of the human animal””the schoolchild””Skinner invented his Teaching Machine.

Roughly the size and shape of a typewriter, the machine allowed a student to progress independently through a curriculum, answering test items and getting instant feedback with a few pulls of a lever. “The student quickly learns to be right. His work is pleasurable. He does not have to force himself to study,” Skinner claimed. “A classroom in which machines are being used is usually the scene of intense concentration.” With hardly any hindrance from peers or teachers, thousands of students could receive knowledge directly from a single textbook writer. He told The Harvard Crimson, “There is no reason why the school room should be any less mechanized than the kitchen.”

Sixty years later, Skinner’s reductionist ideas about teaching and learning continue to haunt public education””especially as it’s once again being called upon to embrace technology.

Read it all from Harvard Magazine.

Posted in Uncategorized

World Council of Churches condemns atrocities by ISIS in Syria

The World Council of Churches condemns the latest attacks and atrocities by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) most recently against Christian villages in the region of Khabour in the governorate of Hassake, Syria. According to reports received, in the early morning of 23 February large numbers of IS fighters attacked these villages, killing a number of civilians, taking approximately 100 people captive, and provoking a mass exodus from these communities. These attacks seem to be attempts at opening a new corridor towards the Turkish border that could facilitate the procurement of both weapons and mercenaries.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Ecumenical Relations, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Syria, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(Commentary) Joshua Muravchik–Muslims and Terror: The Real Story

In other words the Muslim states have often denounced “terrorism,” but only by defining that term to exclude any and all attacks against Israel and miscellaneous other depredations, such as against Americans in Iraq, undertaken in the name of “national resistance.” To countenance terror in some cases is to countenance terror, period. Who, after all, would support terror on behalf of causes that he opposes? Just as the only meaningful test of support for free speech is support for speech with which one does not agree, so the only meaningful measure of opposition to terrorism is to condemn it even if carried out in the service of a cause of which one approves.

This the Muslim world remains reluctant to do. Palestine is its signature cause. Although the Palestinians did not invent terror, it was Fatah and kindred Palestinian groups that in the 1970s, with their attacks on airplanes, ships, trains, embassies, and even the Olympic Games, made terrorism the scourge of international life that it is today and inspired others to emulate their deeds. Yet how many Muslim voices can be heard anywhere decrying Palestinian terror? Even the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, which has repeatedly renounced terrorism, continues to honor child-murderers and pay stipends to imprisoned terrorists and the families of deceased terrorists. Its official news agency described last summer’s killers of three Israeli teens as “martyrs.” This past November, when four rabbis were hacked to death in prayer in Jerusalem, Abbas condemned the deed, but that same day, as Palestinian Media Watch has documented, Fatah’s Facebook page signaled to the Palestinians that he did not really mean it. It posted a clip from a television interview with one of Arafat’s bodyguards describing how Arafat sometimes bowed to foreign pressure to condemn terror attacks but would do so insincerely because, the guard explained, Islam allows lying under such circumstances. Any viewer would grasp the implication that Abbas was acting in the same manner as his predecessor.

Aside from playing semantic games with the word terrorism, there is another reason that helps to explain why the world’s Muslim governments maintain a strong front in defense of terrorism even while surveys, like Pew’s, suggest that most Muslims reject violence against civilians. The political dynamics of any community are shaped only in part by the proportion of people who believe one thing or another. They are also shaped by the intensity with which views are held. A huge advantage accrues to those who, in Yeats’s line, “are full of passionate intensity.” Today, in the Muslim world, the passionate ones are the Islamists.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Foreign Relations, History, Islam, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(NBC) Many 911 Centers Can't Locate Callers Because of Old Technology

A NBC News investigation has found that many 911 centers around the country still rely on dated technology instead of something as widely used as Google maps, which means dispatchers may not be able to find you when it matters most. Experts call it a public safety crisis, stating that the majority of wireless calls to 911, some 60 percent of callers, cannot be located by emergency dispatchers.

Read it all and watch the whole chilling video report.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT) Hunter Garth–Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service

I did know he was a vet and so I did what seemed natural: I thanked him for his service.

“No problem,” he said.

It wasn’t true. There was a problem. I could see it from the way he looked down. And I could see it on the faces of some of the other vets who work with Mr. Garth when I thanked them too. What gives, I asked? Who doesn’t want to be thanked for their military service?

Many people, it turns out. Mike Freedman, a Green Beret, calls it the “thank you for your service phenomenon.” To some recent vets ”” by no stretch all of them ”” the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.

To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance ”” physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Psychology, Theology

(Ethics Daily) Elijah Brown–Iraq's Religious and Ethnic Minorities Face Genocide

Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are living at the edge of extinction.

They are marginalized and under threat from the genocidal actions of the Islamic State in Iraq, resulting in the purging of religious and ethnic minorities from their historic homes.

If immediate action is not taken, the existence of religious and ethnic minority communities, such as Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, will continue on a trajectory of precipitous decline into virtual non-existence.

In the last decade, the Christian community has plummeted from approximately 1.5 million to 300,000.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Iraq, Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

A Prayer to Begin the Day from the Gregorian Sacramentary

O God, who willest not the death of a sinner: We beseech thee to aid and protect those who are exposed to grievous temptations; and grant that in obeying thy commandments they may be strengthened and supported by thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Lent, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said,

“Today, when you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

–Hebrews 3:12-19

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

Jeremy Bouma–Knowing the Elephant: Revelation’s Place in a Theology of Religions

Maybe you’ve heard the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. The story is told from the vantage point of a king who watches as men grapple with the reality of the massive creature:

One man holds the tail, another its tusks; one person grasps the elephant’s ears, another touches its massive body. Each person insists the creature is as his perspective allows, which is why the story is often quoted in the interest of religious pluralism, even agnosticism.

Except, as Daniel Strange notes in his new book Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock, the story demonstrates epistemic arrogance, for the king insists he sees the whole elephantine truth that all the world religions miss!

Given this story, when it comes to a theology of religions Strange insists one needs to reveal the foundation upon which they base their authority….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Globalization, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CNN) Supreme Court to hear religious freedom case Tomorrow

Samantha Elauf was apprehensive to interview for a sales job at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch in 2008 because the 17 year old wore a headscarf in accordance with her Muslim faith. But a friend of hers, who worked at the store, said he didn’t think it would be a problem as long as the headscarf wasn’t black because the store doesn’t sell black clothes.

Ultimately Elauf failed to get the job, and her story has triggered a religious freedom debate regarding when an employer can be held liable under civil rights laws . The Supreme Court will hear the case on Wednesday.

Like many retailers Abercrombie has a “look policy” aimed to promote what it calls its “classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Michael Roth–Religion’s Role in the History of Ideas

It happens every year. In teaching my humanities class, I ask what a philosopher had in mind in writing about the immortality of the soul or salvation, and suddenly my normally loquacious undergraduates start staring down intently at their notes. If I ask them a factual theological question about the Protestant Reformation, they are ready with an answer: predestination, faith not works, etc.

But if I go on to ask them how one knows in one’s heart that one is saved, they turn back to their notes. They look anywhere but at me, for fear that I might ask them about feeling the love of God or about having a heart filled with faith. In this intellectual history class, we talk about sexuality and identity, violence and revolution, art and obscenity, and the students are generally eager to weigh in. But when the topic of religious feeling and experience comes up, they would obviously just prefer that I move on to another subject.

Why is it so hard for my very smart students to make this leap””not the leap of faith but the leap of historical imagination? I’m not trying to make a religious believer out of anybody, but I do want my students to have a nuanced sense of how ideas of knowledge, politics and ethics have been intertwined with religious faith and practice.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Education, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Young Adults

(Reuters) Church of England accused of double standards over low wages

The Church of England was accused of double standards on Monday (Feb. 23) for offering jobs in cathedrals at lower wages than those it has called on other British employers to pay their workers.

Under the banner headline “Wages of Sin,” the Sun reported that it had found several advertisements for jobs in cathedrals that offered pay well below the “living wage” of 7.85 pounds ($12) an hour, endorsed by the Church and senior politicians.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church recognized that no employer could ramp up wages overnight, and was working hard to get to a point where it was paying all of its workers the living wage.

“It’s embarrassing. We’d prefer to be there. We’re getting there as quickly as we can,” Welby, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican communion, told the BBC.

Read it all.

Posted in Uncategorized