Category : Corporations/Corporate Life

(DW) UN: Pandemic did not slow advance of climate change

The UN released a report on Thursday warning that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the pace of climate change.

Virus-related economic slowdown and lockdowns caused only a temporary downturn in CO2 emissions last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

“There was some thinking that the COVID lockdowns would have had a positive impact on the atmosphere, which is not the case,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at a news briefing.

The United in Science 2021 report, which gathers the latest scientific data and findings related to climate change, said global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions between January and July in the power and industry sectors were already back to the same level or higher than in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(WSJ front page) Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show

Eva Behrens, a 17-year-old student at Redwood High School in Marin County, Calif., said she estimates half the girls in her grade struggle with body-image concerns tied to Instagram. “Every time I feel good about myself, I go over to Instagram, and then it all goes away,” she said.

When her classmate Molly Pitts, 17, arrived at high school, she found her peers using Instagram as a tool to measure their relative popularity. Students referred to the number of followers their peers had as if the number was stamped on their foreheads, she said.

Now, she said, when she looks at her number of followers on Instagram, it is most often a “kick in the gut.”

For years, there has been little debate among medical doctors that for some patients, Instagram and other social media exacerbate their conditions. Angela Guarda, director for the eating-disorders program at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said it is common for her patients to say they learned from social media tips for how to restrict food intake or purge. She estimates that Instagram and other social-media apps play a role in the disorders of about half her patients.

“It’s the ones who are most vulnerable or are already developing a problem—the use of Instagram and other social media can escalate it,” she said.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth, Women

(Unherd) Giles Fraser–Our spending on longevity research belies our faulty understanding of death

Death was once — potentially, at least — an expression of some ultimate triumph. Now it is the bitter failure of our technology. And whatever we spend on it, no amount of money will overcome this gap.

Death, then, is the political issue we are not talking about. Even after the pandemic, when the daily death figures were broadcast on every news broadcast, we continue to say little about death other than making the uncritical assumption it is always to be avoided.

And so we are sleepwalking into a state of affairs in which the young will resent the elderly for the burden they place upon them. Of course, we should support the generous funding for social care. What we ought to be challenging is whether the medical technologies that are keeping us alive for ever longer complement our understanding of what human existence is for.

But I see little appetite for that. In a secular society, we have few intellectual or cultural resources to challenge the pervasiveness of more-ism. And to live deeper, more meaningful lives is not the same as living longer ones.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Death / Burial / Funerals, Economy, Eschatology, Science & Technology, Secularism

(MIT Tech Review) Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Last October, a large group of scientists made their way to Yuri Milner’s super-mansion in the Los Altos Hills above Palo Alto. They were tested for covid-19 and wore masks as they assembled in a theater on the property for a two-day scientific conference. Others joined by teleconference. The topic: how biotechnology might be used to make people younger.

Milner is a Russian-born billionaire who made a fortune on Facebook and Mail.ru and previously started the glitzy black-tie Breakthrough Prizes, $3 million awards given each year to outstanding physicists, biologists, and mathematicians. But Milner’s enthusiasm for science was taking a provocative and specific new direction. As the scientific sessions progressed, experts took the stage to describe radical attempts at “rejuvenating” animals.

That meeting has now led to the formation of an ambitious new anti-aging company called Altos Labs, according to people familiar with the plans. Altos is pursuing biological reprogramming technology, a way to rejuvenate cells in the lab that some scientists think could be extended to revitalize entire animal bodies, ultimately prolonging human life.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(NYT) Big Tech Has Outgrown This Planet

The already bonkers dollars of Big Tech have become even bonkers-er.

My colleagues and I have written a lot about the unreal sales, profits and oomph of America’s five technology titans — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook. This might feel like old news. Tech’s Titanic 5 have been big and rich for a long time, and they’ve gotten even more so as people and organizations have needed their products during the coronavirus pandemic. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We get it.

But no, we really don’t get it. American’s technology superstars have launched into a completely different stratosphere than even other wildly successful companies in tech and beyond.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Science & Technology

Martyn Minns–Pittsburgh ad clerum on anti-social media

Today we are living with instant messaging in which many people document their every thought – almost in real time – on various social media platforms. There is no time to reflect on the impact of their words on the unsuspecting world. When they are feeling angry or hurt, social media is ready 24 hours a day to pass along the pain-filled sentiments to everyone. This is already generating unprecedented levels of depression and self-harming behavior among teenagers – both boys and girls. I have witnessed the potential for serious damage with our own grandchildren.

When I was a child – light years ago – we had a childhood chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me!” It was intended to increase resiliency and avoid physical retaliation, but, sadly, it is simply not true. Hurtful words – uttered in person or via social media – can leave deep wounds long after physical scars might have healed. By way of response to this reality, our son and his wife have not only restricted the hours that social media is available in their home but also denied their 15-year-old son his own mobile phone – over considerable protestations!

I readily admit that the social media explosion has produced remarkable benefits. We are able to communicate with friends and family in ways that we never imagined. Angela serves as our family social media queen and stays in regular contact with our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and our rapidly growing global extended family. She passes along photographs, family news, and prayer needs, and because of her good efforts, we have stayed well connected throughout the pandemic lock down. We have even located high school friends with whom we had lost contact. I am also able to learn a great deal about the various clergy and churches that I now serve as interim bishop, because I can read through their websites and social media posts. But there is a dark side to all of this.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Language, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(Goulburn Post) Anglican Bishop of Canberra/Goulburn speaks up on Jerrara Power plan

The Reverend Davies was one of 15 members of the community, many of them from Bungonia, to speak during open forum.

He said he wasn’t from Bungonia but “breathed the same air.” In addition, parishioners in the area were “very distressed about the proposal to process up to 330,000 tonnes annually of Sydney’s waste in the rural zone. The Reverend Davies took the matter to Dr Short, who wrote that he had become keenly aware of the importance of environment and air quality, particularly to Goulburn Mulwaree residents.

“This was highlighted in the lead-up to Christmas, 2019 when we were unable to go ahead with an outdoors carols program because of the impact of smoke from the bushfires,” he wrote.

Dr Short noted Jerrara Power’s scoping report had mentioned residents’ concerns about air quality, health and drinking water impacts associated with industry, including quarries in Goulburn Mulwaree.

“Noting the concerns that are acknowledged here and the fact that the vast majority of waste to be processed at the facility would come from outside the local government area, I support any process that would allow the interests and concerns of local residents to be fully heard and evaluated,” the letter stated.

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Posted in Anglican Church of Australia, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(C of E) Alan Smith announced as next First Church Estates Commissioner

Alan Smith, Senior Advisor – ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Risk and Inclusion, and former Global Head of Risk Strategy at HSBC, is to be the next First Church Estates Commissioner, Downing Street announced today. Alan has also been a Church Commissioner since 2018.
The First Church Estates Commissioner chairs the Church Commissioners’ Assets Committee, a statutory committee responsible for the strategic management of the Church Commissioners’ £9.2 billion investment portfolio.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Chair of the Commissioners’ Board of Governors, said: “I am delighted that Alan has chosen to use his skills and experience to serve the Church and greatly look forward to working with him. Climate change is the most urgent challenge we face, and Alan’s knowledge of environmental issues and risk management will be critically important for the Commissioners’ work. I’d also like to thank Loretta Minghella for her hard work and leadership during her time at the Church Commissioners.”

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “We are pleased that Alan will succeed Loretta. Alan’s experience as a Commissioner and his role on the Commissioners’ Audit & Risk Committee means he’s extremely well suited for this leadership role.”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Religion & Culture, Stock Market

(NYT) Facebook’s Next Target: The Religious Experience

Months before the megachurch Hillsong opened its new outpost in Atlanta, its pastor sought advice on how to build a church in a pandemic.

From Facebook.

The social media giant had a proposition, Sam Collier, the pastor, recalled in an interview: to use the church as a case study to explore how churches can “go further farther on Facebook.”

For months Facebook developers met weekly with Hillsong and explored what the church would look like on Facebook and what apps they might create for financial giving, video capability or livestreaming. When it came time for Hillsong’s grand opening in June, the church issued a news release saying it was “partnering with Facebook” and began streaming its services exclusively on the platform.

Beyond that, Mr. Collier could not share many specifics — he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Religion & Culture

(LA Times front page) Dire Climate Predications Are Becoming Real Around Globe

More unprecedented heat waves also could be in store, like those experienced this month in the Pacific Northwest, where hundreds of people are believed to have died from the extreme temperatures, and Russia’s Siberia, where nearly 200 separate forest fires have choked the region in smoke that has since drifted to Alaska.

“All of this was predicted in climate science decades ago,” said John P. Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “We only had to wait for the actual emergence in the last 15 to 20 years. Everything we worried about is happening, and it’s all happening at the high end of projections, even faster than the previous most pessimistic estimates.”

Scientists and environmental activists are in a race to persuade the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Failure to do so could result in massive disruptions such as famine and widespread coastal flooding. Time is short: Global temperatures have already risen on average by 2.16 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.

Last week, the European Union proposed sweeping legislation aimed at cutting emissions by more than half of 1990 levels by 2030 through the phasing out of gasoline and diesel cars and the imposition of tariffs on imports from polluting countries. The plan poses formidable challenges for the 27-country bloc, including trade tensions and a political backlash from those who deny climate change is happening.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(NYT) Americans’ Medical Debts Are Bigger Than Was Known, Totaling $140 Billion

Americans owe nearly twice as much medical debt as was previously known, and the amount owed has become increasingly concentrated in states that do not participate in the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion program.

New research published Tuesday in JAMA finds that collection agencies held $140 billion in unpaid medical bills last year,. An earlier study, examining debts in 2016, estimated that Americans held $81 billion in medical debt.

This new paper took a more complete look at which patients have outstanding medical debts, including individuals who do not have credit cards or bank accounts. Using 10 percent of all credit reports from the credit rating agency TransUnion, the paper finds that about 18 percent of Americans hold medical debt that is in collections.

The researchers found that, between 2009 and 2020, unpaid medical bills became the largest source of debt that Americans owe collections agencies. Overall debt, both from medical bills and other sources, declined during that period as the economy recovered from the Great Recession.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Personal Finance & Investing

(NYT) Cape Cod restaurant shuts down for a ‘day of kindness’ after customers make its staff cry

But since restaurants in the state were allowed to fully reopen on May 29, the treatment of the Apt Cape Cod’s 24 employees, many of whom are young and who include the couple’s two children, had gotten worse.

“It’s like abuse,” she said. “It’s things that people are saying that wouldn’t be allowed to be on TV because they would be bleeped. People are always rude to restaurant workers, but this far exceeds anything I’ve seen in my 20 years.”

Felt Castellano, 39, said that some customers had assumed that it would be business as usual, but had not grasped that restaurants were still grappling with staffing and supply shortages. That can mean that wait times are longer and that some items on the menu are not available, which she said has been a source of some of the verbal abuse toward the restaurant’s employees. When a group of diners didn’t get the table that they had requested, she said, they threatened to sue.

“I would say that it is its own epidemic,” she said.

The restaurant’s Facebook post resonated with many people online, who condemned the boorish behavior.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Psychology

(Bloomberg) Big Technology Is Gearing Up for a Massive Fight With Modi’s India

India is growing increasingly assertive in its efforts to control online communications, challenging Twitter and Facebook’s practices and threatening to set a precedent that could extend far beyond its borders.

The largest U.S. internet firms are fighting new Intermediary rules issued by Narendra Modi’s government in February that they say curtail privacy and free speech. Officials have demanded Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. take down hundreds of posts this year, divulge sensitive user information and submit to a regulatory regime that includes potential jail terms for executives if companies don’t comply.

While the administration’s push to exert more control over user data and online discourse reflects efforts globally to come to grips with tech giants and their enormous influence, the stakes in India are particularly high for internet firms because — shut out of China — it’s the only billion-people market up for grabs. Unlike authoritarian regimes such as Beijing, critics fear actions taken by the world’s largest democracy could offer a template for other governments to encroach on personal privacy in the name of domestic security.

“India has introduced draconian changes to its rules,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in April. They “create new possibilities for government surveillance of citizens. These rules threaten the idea of a free and open internet built on a bedrock of international human rights standards.”

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, India, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General

(Forbes) 93% Of Managers Watch As Mental Health Negatively Impacts Bottom Line

Gone are the days when workers asked themselves, “How could someone like me be having a nervous breakdown?” Today, one in 5 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime and now more likely due to the pandemic.

Mental health concerns, often called invisible disabilities, aren’t flying under the radar at work anymore. They are being identified by team managers and the C-suite, who are quickly realizing that there is no going back to normal.

If your CEO wasn’t paying attention before, this should keep them up at night: According to a Verizon Media white paper. A stunning 93% of managers are finding that the mental health of their employees is having a negative effect on their bottom line. Top issues included grief, burnout, discrimination, and stress and all of this comes coupled with the added strain that families and caregivers are feeling. When employees miss work, are less productive and even communicate less clearly than than usual, their teams’ performance also slips.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Psychology, Theology

(C of E) Church Commissioners hold companies to account on environmental and social issues in supply chains

The Church Commissioners has, over the last year, expanded its responsible investment activities from being largely focused on climate change to include engaging with companies in a wide range of sectors across a number of integrated issues include biodiversity, human rights and controversies.

Olga Hancock, Senior Engagement Analyst for the Church Commissioners spoke to Responsible Investor as part of a panel of experts focussing on due diligence and supply chains. In the discussions, Olga spoke on the work of the Investor Policy Dialogue on Deforestation, for which she Co-Chairs the Indonesia workstream, the work of the National Investing Bodies of the Church of England on Extractives, and the work of the CCLA led “ Find It Fix It Prevent It” Modern Slavery Initiative.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stock Market

C of E Church Commissioners report strong long-term investment performance

Continued strong long-term investment performance enabled the Church Commissioners to extend financial support to the Church of England during the pandemic

Church Commissioners also give confidence about maintaining distributions through this triennium and the next

Determined action on climate change continues whilst the Church Commissioners deepen its focus as Responsible Investors on twin pillars: Respect for People, Respect for the Planet

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Stock Market

The Church of England Pensions Board’s response to Shell CEO’s statement

“We continue to engage with Shell on the implications and how accelerating its plans will enable the company to meet the requirements of the CA100+ Net Zero Company Benchmark by 2023. It also underlines the importance that we must all work to decarbonise the real economy to reshape energy demand and ensure all companies – energy companies and all their customers in shipping, aviation, transport, road haulage, power generation and elsewhere are aligning to net zero.”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Stock Market

(CBS) 60 Minutes Interviews Sir David Attenborough, age 95

Anderson Cooper: You were skeptical of– of climate change And I think that’s– that’s interesting, because I think it makes your warnings now all the more powerful.

Sir David Attenborough: Yeah, yeah, certainly so. And if you’re going to make a statement about the world, you better make sure that it isn’t just your own personal reaction. And the only way you can do it, do that, is to see the– the work of scientists around the world who are taking observation as to what’s happening. As to what’s happening to temperature, what’s happening to humidity, what’s happening to radioactivity, and what’s happening ecologically?

Anderson Cooper: You’ve said that– that “climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet for thousands of years.”

Sir David Attenborough: Yes. Even the biggest and most awful things that humanity has done, civili– so-called civilizations have done, pale to significance when you think of what could be around the corner, unless we pull ourselves together.

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Posted in Animals, Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Stewardship

(NS) Google has mapped a piece of human brain in the most detail ever

Google has helped create the most detailed map yet of the connections within the human brain. It reveals a staggering amount of detail, including patterns of connections between neurons, as well as what may be a new kind of neuron.

The brain map, which is freely available online, includes 50,000 cells, all rendered in three dimensions. They are joined together by hundreds of millions of spidery tendrils, forming 130 million connections called synapses. The data set measures 1.4 petabytes, roughly 700 times the storage capacity of an average modern computer.

The data set is so large that the researchers haven’t studied it in detail, says Viren Jain at Google Research in Mountain View, California. He compares it to the human genome, which is still being explored 20 years after the first drafts were published.

It is the first time we have seen the real structure of such a large piece of the human brain, says Catherine Dulac at Harvard University, who wasn’t involved in the work. “There’s something just a little emotional about it.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(NYT The Upshot) Workers Are Gaining Leverage Over Employers Right Before Our Eyes

It also means companies thinking more expansively about who is qualified for a job in the first place. That is evident, for example, in the way Alex Lorick, a former South Florida nightclub bouncer, was able to become a mainframe technician at I.B.M.

Mr. Lorick often worked a shift called “devil’s nine to five” — 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. — made all the more brutal when it was interspersed with day shifts. The hours were tough, but the pay was better than in his previous jobs, one at a retirement home and another serving food at a dog track. Yet it was a far cry from the type of work he had dreamed about in high school, when he liked computers and imagined making video games for a living.

As a young adult, he took online classes in web development and programming languages, but encountered a Catch-22 many job seekers know well: Nobody wanted to hire a tech worker without experience, which meant he couldn’t get enough experience to be hired. College wasn’t for him. Hence the devil’s nine to five.

Until late last year, that is. After months on unemployment during the pandemic, he heard from I.B.M., where he had once applied and been rejected for a tech job. It invited him to apply to an apprenticeship program that would pay him to be trained as a mainframe technician. Now 24, he completed his training this month and is beginning hands-on work in what he hopes is the start of a long career.

“This is a way more stable paycheck, and more consistent hours,” Mr. Lorick said. “But the most important thing is that I feel like I’m on a path that makes sense and where I have the opportunity to grow.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(Forbes) What Will The New World Of Work Actually Look Like?

The most helpful resource I found in understanding the future of the workplace is a whitepaper produced by the folks at Haworth. Haworth is a privately held furniture company focused on building work environments that help people be their best, whether they’re at the office, at home or at their “third place.”

In their whitepaper, Haworth describes the new world of work as “Work from Anywhere.” They point out that employees are often in the driver’s seat and “they’re naturally drawn to places that make them feel comfortable and productive.” The most salient argument from this whitepaper is that there is no one single answer—no one-size-fits-all approach for companies in the post-pandemic workplace.

According to Marta Wassenaar, “Work from Anywhere is the ecosystem that gives organizations and employees choice in when and where work occurs. This autonomy supports creativity and drives innovation. The flexibility serves as a tool for attraction and retention. The work from anywhere ecosystem certainly has an impact on organization culture and workforce wellbeing, too.”

Employees will split their time among these three work locations. When at the office, people will be working with each other—think collaboration and access to equipment and resources that are not available at home. Meeting centers, video studios, and other places for collaboration, play, broadcasting and engaging will replace walled-in offices and individual workstations. Wassenaar from Haworth adds, “Although collaboration can happen virtually, working together on the same task is better done in person. Virtual teams need to put in more effort, time and intentionality toward developing and maintaining social connections.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(Gallup) Seven in 10 U.S. White-Collar Workers Still Working Remotely

Before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement last week that fully vaccinated people can forgo masks in most settings, the majority of U.S. workers reported doing their jobs remotely during the pandemic, including 51% in April. But this varied widely by job type, including 72% of white-collar workers and 14% of blue-collar workers. These rates have been fairly stable since last fall, after declining from their peaks in April 2020, when most schools and non-essential businesses were shuttered.

Gallup’s remote-worker trend is based on data collected each month via web as part of its COVID-19 tracking poll, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults aged 18 and older, using the probability-based Gallup Panel. Workers are considered remote if they report working from home at least 10% of the time in the past week.

Given the relative stability of remote work over the second half of the pandemic to date — from October 2020 to April 2021 — it is appropriate to use the combined data to analyze aspects of remote work in greater detail. On average during this period, 52% of all workers, including 72% of those in white-collar occupations and 14% in blue-collar occupations, have performed their job all or part of the time from home.

Gallup’s white-collar job category comprises occupations traditionally performed in offices or behind a computer. The blue-collar category includes jobs mainly involving manual work or physical labor. Three job areas — education, healthcare and sales — primarily involve interaction with clients or the public and are harder to categorize using the blue-collar/white-collar definitions. Their orientation to remote work is unique and is discussed below in the context of other specific occupations.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology, Sociology

(MIT Technology Review) Is a New Kind of Search Engine on the Horizon?

In 1998 a couple of Stanford graduate students published a paper describing a new kind of search engine: “In this paper, we present Google, a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext. Google is designed to crawl and index the Web efficiently and produce much more satisfying search results than existing systems.”

The key innovation was an algorithm called PageRank, which ranked search results by calculating how relevant they were to a user’s query on the basis of their links to other pages on the web. On the back of PageRank, Google became the gateway to the internet, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page built one of the biggest companies in the world.

Now a team of Google researchers has published a proposal for a radical redesign that throws out the ranking approach and replaces it with a single large AI language model—a future version of BERT or GPT-3. The idea is that instead of searching for information in a vast list of web pages, users would ask questions and have a language model trained on those pages answer them directly. The approach could change not only how search engines work, but how we interact with them.

Many issues with existing language models will need to be fixed first. For a start, these AIs can sometimes generate biased and toxic responses to queries—a problem that researchers at Google and elsewhere have pointed out.

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Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Language, Science & Technology, Theology

(Economist) A ransomware attack on Apple shows the future of cybercrime

Apple is a prominent victim of the booming business of “ransomware” . In its original incarnation, at the start of the 2010s, this involved spreading malicious software to ordinary people’s computers. The software would encrypt pictures, documents and so forth, transforming them into unreadable gibberish. If the victims paid a ransom, the hackers would provide the decryption key necessary to restore the scrambled files—at least, in theory.

These days the practice is more professional. Hackers increasingly focus on big organisations rather than individuals, since firms are more likely to pay larger ransoms. Hospitals, universities and even police forces have been attacked. Besides Apple, REvil claims to have stolen data from Kajima Corporation, a big Japanese construction firm, the government of Fiji, Pierre Fabre, a French pharmaceutical company, and dozens of smaller businesses. And as big organisations usually store back-ups of valuable data, which makes scrambling attacks less damaging, hackers increasingly threaten their victims with leaks instead.

Working out the size of the problem is tricky. Coalition, a firm which provides insurance against cyber-attacks, says ransomware assaults made up 41% of claims in the first half of 2020. (“Funds transfer fraud”, the second-biggest category, accounted for 27%). According to Palo Alto Networks, a cyber-security company,the average ransom demand rose from $115,000 in 2019 to $312,000 in 2020.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

(Guardian) How the Colonial Pipeline hack is part of a growing ransomware trend in the US

The wider American public was afforded an unwanted glimpse into the Wild West world of ransomware this week, after a cyber attack crippled Colonial Pipeline, causing fuel shortages across the eastern seaboard and states of emergency to be declared in four states.

But experts warn that ransomware attacks – which are part-ransom, part-blackmail, part-invocation of squatters’ rights – are becoming more frequent, while the mostly Russia-based hackers are growing more sophisticated with their methods.

They have hit solar power firms, federal and local government agencies, water treatment plants and even police departments across the US. As the nation’s eyes were focused on the pipeline attack this week, another hacker group was busy targeting Washington DC police – striking at law enforcement in the American capital.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

(Washington Post) ‘It’s pretty marginal’: Experts say Biden’s vaccine waiver proposal unlikely to boost supply quickly

“There is no mRNA manufacturing capacity in the world — this is a new technology,” [Moderna CEO Stéphane] Bancel added. “You cannot go hire people who know how to make mRNA. Those people don’t exist. And then even if all those things were available, whoever wants to do mRNA vaccines will have to, you know, buy the machine, invent the manufacturing process, invent creation processes and ethical processes, and then they will have to go run a clinical trial, get the data, get the product approved and scale manufacturing. This doesn’t happen in six or 12 or 18 months.”

Several officials involved in the U.S. coronavirus response said they worried the decision would damage their relationship with the drug industry, noting the Biden administration is relying on it not just to boost vaccine supply but also to devise additional coronavirus treatments and vaccines, particularly given the risk of variants.

“We’re all counting on pharma to come up with vaccine booster shots, and what happens when we try to get to the front of the line?” said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly comment.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg Green) Up to 20 Percent of Groundwater Wells Are in Danger of Running Dry

As many as one in five wells worldwide is at risk of running dry if groundwater levels drop by even a few meters, according to a new study appearing Thursday in the journal Science.

Wells supply water for half the world’s irrigated agriculture, as well as drinking water to billions of people. But the aquifers that wells draw from have been imperiled in recent years as intense demand and lack of government management have allowed them to be drained. The scale of the threat has been difficult to calibrate, however, especially at a global level.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara produced their analysis by compiling construction records for almost 39 million groundwater wells in 40 countries, including their locations, depths, purposes, and construction dates. They found that between 6% and 20% are no more than 5 meters deeper than their local water tables, “suggesting that millions of wells are at risk of drying up if groundwater levels decline by only a few meters,” the authors wrote.

One solution when wells run dry is to dig deeper, but that often leads to poor water quality, according to the researchers. Well construction is also expensive, meaning that digging deeper isn’t always an option.

Global warming and sea level rise due to climate change are also contributing to the problem.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(RNS) Likes and prayers: Facebook tests new ‘prayer post’ feature

When the unfamiliar pop-up touting a new feature appeared on Robert P. Jones’ Facebook, the CEO and founder the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) posted a screen grab to Twitter.

“Wondering what fb algorithm thinks it knows about me?” Jones mused.

The new Facebook feature? Prayer posts. The function will allow members of Facebook groups to ask for and respond to prayer requests.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Religion News Service that the social media platform is currently testing the prayer post feature.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Spirituality/Prayer

(PD) The Censorship of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Unbooking of Ryan T. Anderson

Unperson: “A public figure, especially in a totalitarian country, who, for political or ideological reasons, is not recognized or mentioned in government publications or records or in the news media. A person accorded no recognition or consideration by another or by a specific group. . . . Introduced in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949)”—Dictionary.com

It seems somehow fitting that the great beat poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, departed this mortal realm (at the age of 101) on February 22, 2021, the day after Amazon.com digitally unbooked When Harry Became Sally. Authored by Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and founder of Public Discourse, When Harry Became Sally offers a critical assessment of the transgender movement.

Anderson is an honest and careful scholar, one who makes a real effort to understand his opponents’ arguments and answer them with charity and rigor. Anderson’s views are not in ascendancy among elites these days, as is evident by the vitriol hurled at him by activists as soon as When Harry Became Sally was published. These critics, I am afraid to say, are not at all interested in debate, discussion, or a careful sifting through the evidence and arguments. What they seek is absolute unquestioned conformity to their views, policed by roving cyberspace inquisitors whose mission is to extract confessions from their targets and to inculcate in them the habit of unforgiving social justice scrupulosity. This is not to say that Anderson does not have some serious academic critics who raise penetrating questions about the quality of his sources, the strength of his arguments, and the nature of his project. Here I am thinking of two critical reviews that appeared in the Journal of Medical Humanities and Studies in Christian Ethics.

But that’s all the more reason why Amazon’s removal of Anderson’s book from its catalog is so pernicious: it marginalizes from the public conversation an intelligent and informed voice that should be confronted and taken seriously by those who disagree with him. As my esteemed Baylor colleague, Alan Jacobs, points out:

The censors at Amazon clearly believe there is only one reason to read a book. You read a book because you agree with it and want it to confirm what you already believe. Imagine, for instance, a transgender activist who wants to understand the position held by Ryan Anderson and people like him in order better to refute it. That person can’t get a copy of the book through Amazon any more than a sympathetic reader like me can.

What does all this have to do with Ferlinghetti? More than you may think. Founder of the small press City Lights Books, he published in late 1956 Howl and Other Poems, authored by the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Soon after the book was published, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges. The reason? The book’s poems included lines that contained graphic descriptions of sex acts, and thus, the government reasoned, it was legally obscene.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

(Wired) The Secret Auction That Set Off the Race for AI Supremacy

Two months earlier, Hinton and his students had changed the way machines saw the world. They built what was called a neural network, a mathematical system modeled on the web of neurons in the brain, and it could identify common objects—like flowers, dogs, and cars—with an accuracy that had previously seemed impossible. As Hinton and his students showed, a neural network could learn this very human skill by analyzing vast amounts of data. He called this “deep learning,” and its potential was enormous. It promised to transform not just computer vision but everything from talking digital assistants to driverless cars to drug discovery.

The idea of a neural network dated back to the 1950s, but the early pioneers had never gotten it working as well as they’d hoped. By the new millennium, most researchers had given up on the idea, convinced it was a technological dead end and bewildered by the 50-​year-​old conceit that these mathematical systems somehow mimicked the human brain. When submitting research papers to academic journals, those who still explored the technology would often disguise it as something else, replacing the words “neural network” with language less likely to offend their fellow scientists.

Hinton remained one of the few who believed it would one day fulfill its promise, delivering machines that could not only recognize objects but identify spoken words, understand natural language, carry on a conversation, and maybe even solve problems humans couldn’t solve on their own, providing new and more incisive ways of exploring the mysteries of biology, medicine, geology, and other sciences. It was an eccentric stance even inside his own university, which spent years denying his standing request to hire another professor who could work alongside him in this long and winding struggle to build machines that learned on their own. “One crazy person working on this was enough,” he imagined their thinking went. But with a nine-​page paper that Hinton and his students unveiled in the fall of 2012, detailing their breakthrough, they announced to the world that neural networks were indeed as powerful as Hinton had long claimed they would be.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology