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30 March
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Soyer: End forced marriages

Soyer: End forced marriages

BY HANNAH SOYER | MARCH 27, 2015 5:00 AM

Until I had read the recent New York Times article Woman breaks through chains of forced marriage and helps others do the same, I thought that such things were only in faraway countries such as India, China, or those in the Middle East. However, according to a 2011 survey by the Tahirih Justice Center, there had been 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage in the past two years in the United States.

Apart from those people directly involved in the arranged marriages or those involved in the religious communities that practice them, I am sure that this was the first many people had heard of such an abhorrent crime happening right here in America.

People may question my use of the word forced over arranged, but it is important to realize that in the case of marriages, they mean the same thing. Indeed, arranged may be a term used to make the act appear less violent.

But can a marriage really be a violent thing? Yes. Also according to the study done by the Tahirih Justice Center, girls as young as 15 are being forced into marriages in the United States, more likely than not under threats of ostracism, beatings, and even death. Once they are in the marriage, it is practically impossible to divorce, as most of the communities that practice forced marriage (Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Sikh, etc.), do not allow women to divorce their husbands.

Fraidy Reiss, the woman profiled in the New York Times article, was married for 15 years to a man she had been forced to marry because of the Orthodox Jewish community that she grew up in. Since her divorce, which was a long and difficult to obtain, she has founded an organization called Unchained At Last.

According to its website, Unchained At Last is the only nonprofit organization in the United States that works to help women and girls avoid or leave forced marriages. The website also says it estimates that the number of women and girls forced into marriages to be a lot higher than the number given by the Tahirih study, simply because of the sheer size of the communities mentioned earlier.

There have not been many studies done on forced marriages in the United States, which is probably because it has received so little coverage. As a result, girls and women who are forced into these situations are looked over and marginalized. What does this say about Americas (slowly) progressing approach to feminism? Not much.

How can we expect to successfully fight for womens equal pay when there are still women in this country unable to access the freedom of being able to marry who they want (as long as its a man)? This is why it is so important to make this a national issue, one that needs to be talked about and one that needs to be addressed.

In todays issue:

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30 March
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Are sweatpants and yoga pants ruining women and marriages?

TORONTO¬†— Sweatpants are ruining the world. Or so some might have you think.

This week, American author and cultural critic Fran Lebowitz, went on a tirade about certain fashion choices that she despises. Among them? Yoga clothes.

Even men wear them! she exclaimed to Elle.com. Its just another way of being in pajamas. You need more natural beauty to get away with things like that.

30 March
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On Faith: Concerts to benefit church choir tour, Buddhist summer camp

Concerts on successive Fridays at United Church of Chapel Hill will feature a world premiere and performances by local artists and the church youth choir.

Both concerts will be at 7:30 pm in the church sanctuary, 1321 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. No admission fee will be charged, but donations are welcome.

On Friday, cellist Roman Placzek and pianist James Rice will present “From Brahms to Dumka,” featuring sonatas by Brahms, Debussy and Chopin. A composition by Placzek “Dunka for Cello and Piano” will have its world premiere.

The offering at this concert will support the refurbishment of the church’s 3-octave Schulmerich handbells.

On March 27, Alexander Anderson will present “Bach to the Future,” to benefit the summer tour of the United Church Youth Choir. The program will feature preludes and fugues in C major and B minor. The program will also include Bach chorales, sung by members of the choir, paired with the matching organ chorale preludes.

Placzek is a cellist, composer, soloist, chamber musician, orchestral player and music educator who has performed with many artist, ensembles and orchestras across Europe and the East Coast of the US

Pianist Rice holds a master’s degree in Collaborative Piano from the UNC School of the Arts. He earned his undergraduate degree in music education from the University of Tennessee and studied at the Ian Tomlin School of Music at Napier University, Edinburgh.

Born in Scotland, Anderson was educated at Glasgow University and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. As assistant organist at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, he was a prize winner at the St. Albans International Competition. He was organist and director of chapel music at Rollins College in Florida and back in England was director of music at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire.

Buddhist benefit

The Won-Buddhist Meditation Temple will hold a benefit concert for Dharma Camp scholarships from 7:30 to 8:45 pm Friday, March 20.

Each summer the temple offers a unique five-day Dharma Camp for children. Because of growing interest, this summer it will offer a week in June and/or a week in July.

Last year 15 children received scholarship support.

The concert will offer a variety of music: violin, flute, piano, dulcimer, guitar as well as singing.

A donation of $10 to $20 is suggested.

The Meditation Temple is located at 8021 Old NC 86 between Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Hillsborough.

Organ recital

Robert Parkins, university organist and professor of the Practice of Music at Duke University, will give an organ recital at 5 pm Sunday at Duke Chapel.

His recordings have appeared on the Calcante, Gothic, Musical Heritage Society and Naxos labels.

The recital, titled German Organ Music of Three Centuries, will include music performed on the Flentrop organ by Buxtehude, Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Reger and others.

This is the final program in the Duke Chapel Organ Recital Series. All are welcome.

Interactive Easter

To prepare for Easter, Christ United Methodist Church in Southern Village is offering an interactive experience from 4:45 to 6:30 pm Wednesday, March 25.

Individuals and families will journey through five stations, following Jesus’ footsteps during his last days on earth.

The journey will take you from Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to a sit-down Last Supper, to prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, to rediscovering the sacrifice of Good Friday and finally to celebrating Jesus’ resurrection at the empty tomb.

Designed for parents/caregivers and their elementary-age children to experience the Easter story together, the event focuses on hearing, seeing, smelling and even tasting some of what Jesus experienced.

Child care will be provided for very young ones.

IFC donation

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service has received $3,000 from the Food Lion Charitable Foundation to help feed Chapel Hill residents. IFC will use the gift for food purchases or nutrition education.

“Our neighbors in need are extremely grateful for the gift. Without gifts from Food Lion and other support we receive from our community, we wouldn’t be able to provide food to the homeless, hungry and working poor households who come to us for help,” said John Dorward, IFC executive director.

For more than 50 years, IFC has mobilized the community to address homelessness, hunger and economic disparity. Its food pantry provides monthly grocery allotments and holiday meals to more than 4,600 local households. The Community Kitchen serves three free meals 365 days a year, to anyone.

Orange County has an estimated 20,900 households needing food, according to Feeding America. Last year, the Community Kitchen served 84,645 meals and the food pantry distributed 16,826 bags of groceries and 867 holiday meals.

Jungian dreams

Chris Beach, a Jungian analyst and registered counselor with a private practice in Portland, Maine, will discuss “Big Dreams” in a lecture at 7:30 pm Friday, March 27, and on Saturday, March 28, in a workshop from 10 am to 4 pm at Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church on Willow Drive.

These events, sponsored by the CG Jung Society of the Triangle, will examine three kinds of numinous experiences that are inner in nature, ie big dreams of great importance individually or collectively, visions as if dreaming while awake and active imagination.

These will be considered in the lives of historical figures, such as Jung, German writer and composer Hildegard von Bingen and Black Elk of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) as well as in the lives of participants and others they have known.

Beach works with individuals, facilitates dream groups and teaches courses on dream interpretation, psychological type, Jungian psychology, active imagination and ethics.

Formerly, he served as a teacher and headmaster in Kenya and as an assistant attorney general representing Maine’s Department of Human Services.

For more information visit the website of the Jung Society of the Triangle.

29 March
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Schwab Intelligent Portfolios: Intelligent Investing Or Marketing Hype? (SCHW)

Due to the increasing popularity of robo adviser investing, Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW) has entered this market with its introduction of Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. For a minimum of $5,000 initial investment, Schwab sets an asset allocation using ETFs and rebalances the portfolio periodically. For a minimum of $50,000, a client may elect tax loss harvesting by the program. No adviser fees are charged on top of the fees charged by the ETFs. Is this a game changer? Should you enroll?

How much will it cost?

One major implicit cost is cash drag. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios hold 6-30% of assets in cash, allowing Schwab to earn the spread between the interest it pays on the cash deposits (currently around 0.12%) and investment income from such deposits. Assuming average stock market return of around 10%, a 6-30% cash allocation costs 0.6-3% annually! That is at least twice as much as the 0.3% annual adviser fees charged by other similar robo adviser programs, as stated in Schwabs disclosure. For comparison, neither Wealthfront nor Betterment mandate cash allocations. After all, if I want to hold cash, why do I need to give it to a robo adviser? While Schwab pays only 0.12% on cash deposits, you can earn over 8 times as much with a high yield savings account, which also allows you to withdraw money anytime. This implicit 0.6-3% annual fee from cash drag belies Schwabs claim as a no-fee robo adviser.

But that is not all.

The ETFs selected have fees of their own. The asset allocation recommended is based on risk tolerance and investment horizon. The lowest cost asset allocation possible, recommended with the highest risk and return potential, and minimum 6% cash allocation, is shown below:

29 March
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Three of the Doctor’s Companions and an FBI Agent Will Be at Fan Expo Dallas

Courtesy of Dallas Comic Con

No self respecting comic book convention can call itself such a thing without celebrity guests. Its like having a baseball team without a ridiculously cartoonish mascot costume worn by a man whose distinct mixture of meth and failure to drive the fans into a frenzy. Its like a role playing game without someone delivering a foppish medieval accent that would get them laughed out of a Dark Ages bar, hopefully with their lower intestine intact.

The Dallas Comic Cons Fan Expo Days is coming up in May and theyve already got a long list of famous faces from such storied sci-fi and fantasy franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly and the DC and Marvel Comics universes. But, none of them are complete without at least one representative from Doctor Who, the longest-running granddad of sci-fi geekery among obsessed fanboys and fangirls.

The folks behind Fan Expo Dallas confirmed that three of the BBC series most famous female faces will be attending the convention starting on May 29 at the Dallas Convention Center.

According to the conventions Facebook page, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper and Karen Gillan will appear, and Sylvester McCoy, aka the Seventh Doctor, is also scheduled to attend the geek festivities.

Fan Expo Dallas organizers also announced recently another new famous face will join the long dais on autograph row in Dallas for the first time. X-Files star Gillian Anderson, best known for playing FBI Agent Dana Scully on the long running series, has also been confirmed as a guest for the convention.

Other famous names who are scheduled to appear at the convention include The Walking Deads Scott Wilson, Saw and Princess Bride star Cary Elwes, Star Trek Voyagers Jeri Ryan, Ming-Na Wen and Henry Simmons from ABCs Agents of SHIELD, Fireflys Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk, Princess Leia herself Carrie Fisher, Batman and Robin Adam West and Burt Ward respectively, Gothams Robin Lord Taylor and Drew Powell (Baccarin also fits in this category), Dean Cain from Lois Clark: The Adventures of Superman, Smallvilles Laura Vandervoort and I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden.

And yes, of course Stan Lee will be there. You cant have a comic convention without him. If the organizers didnt invite him, the fans would burn the convention center to the ground.

29 March
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Do we really want the future that rapid technological change is bringing?

To be sure, prior waves of technological development have caused economic displacement. The mechanized loom and the automobile destroyed entire pre-existing industries, but they also launched new ones to replace them. At present, we face the prospect of technological advances — both existing and planned — that threaten to short-circuit that dynamic, and to destroy more jobs than they create. Such a trajectory has been commented on by a variety of voices in science and economics, including respondents to a recent PEW Center survey on the future of robotics. According to one such respondent, Everything that can be automated will be automated when the economics are favorable. The business consulting firm the Hackett Group estimates that around 2.2 million service jobs will have been lost to automation between 2006 and 2016. The future direction of this trend is particularly evident when one looks at the current arms races in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

Apple’s Siri smartphone application may be a novelty interface today, but Siri’s creators are in the process of developing its next iteration — an AI application that can take advantage of web connectivity to research and execute a host of human-like administrative tasks, such as finding and booking airline tickets and hotels rooms, and then paying for them with stored credit card information.

If the technology is successful — and if enough consumers are comfortable using it in lieu of human assistance — entire job categories could be eliminated in a remarkably brief time frame. Arizona States Alex Halavais has laid part of the blame for our tepid post-2008 economic recovery on automation, noting that AI and robotics have already had a negative impact on job creation, with more of the same likely to come.

If enough job displacement occurs in a short enough period of time, the trend will cause a renewed (and prolonged) economic crisis, as consumers’ dollars vanish in the wake of automation-driven job displacement. The social impact of such a change will certainly stretch beyond the purely economic, and will cause broader social instabilities and disruption.

Losing ourselves in technology

Some of those disruptions will be psychological, as machines take over more and more functions previously performed by human beings — moving the individual experience of the world from one defined by human interactions to one in which people are immersed within a technological envelope that provides its own interactive feedback, largely independent from humans.

Over the last decade, we have seen this trend emerge within the “avatar”-driven world of online gaming. As with many things in our digital age, that which was formerly virtual is now imposing itself on the real.

Earlier this year, the focus of the Las Vegas consumer electronics show largely centered on the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) — the use of Internet connectivity in household objects to facilitate real-time monitoring of domestic functions. Such IoT devices combine in-home sensors with AI to provide feedback and suggestions on everything from home heating to health metrics, and may soon be able to undertake tasks such as ordering food when the refrigerator gets low.

These time-saving devices might seem novel today, but they may have problematic side effects as their use scales up. Long term, living within such a technological cocoon raises the very real risk that people will degrade basic cognitive skills that allow them to understand how their own environments function. If we are honest with ourselves, we see anecdotal evidence of this in the lives of those we know. GPS technology in cellphones has already diminished the ability of some to read maps or to understand how to navigate directions in the real world without technological assistance.

Technological dehumanization

The aspirations of the tech market are far more comprehensive than creating smart appliances, and are aimed at placing a permanent tech interface between the individual and the world at large. The recently shelved Google Glass was an attempt to market technology that mediated the literal world view of human beings by providing ongoing web displays on the inside of a pair of eyeglasses. The near-term market failure of Glass does not mean that such technology is going away. Indeed, Facebook and Microsoft are now investing heavily in the development of virtual reality headsets that will deliver a complete, computer driven world to the user. In each of these mediated scenarios, capturing, processing and exploiting user data is a central part of the process, subjecting users to continuous corporate surveillance. The conceit that Facebook brought to the web is what it and other tech companies are attempting to bring to reality — a pervasive means of mediating and commodifying all human activity, down to our emotions, expressions and fears.

A related merger of the virtual and the real is found in the drive of tech designers to bring human-like traits to technological interfaces, including those in robots. Sophisticated, AI-driven programming is increasingly being vested in robotic devices that react to human emotions by observing and interpreting voice inflections, facial expressions and the like. Hello Barbie is among the early domestic applications of this approach. To see where the trend is headed, one must look to Japan, whose tech sector has produced a variety of automatons intended for use as elder care assistants, bartenders, and hotel porters.

The design conceit behind the integration of human traits into machines is to refine the so-called user experience by making the interface between man and sophisticated machine less distinct, and thus easier to interact with. At some fundamental point, this cross-over will cease to be a mere design feature, and will produce substantial cultural side-effects on everything from interpersonal relationships to conceptions of human rights.

The cultural superstructure of Western society has been built upon the premise that there is something valuable, worthy and unique to every human being — indeed to humanity itself. Inescapably then, with each human trait that we cede to machines, we gradually delegitimize and devalue ourselves. In an increasingly atomized society that already suffers from significant rates of mental illness, products that respond like quasi-people are likely to trigger all manner of emotional disassociations and anti-social behaviors.

Building a fragile world

The net effect of these changes will be the construction of a society where individuals may have numerous opportunities for distraction in the consumer market, but where they will also lack real, substantive control over most aspects of their lives, as such control will have been off-loaded to technological intermediaries such as self-driving cars and AI digital assistants.

Such a world may also lack more fundamental controls, as its integrated and complex nature may make it subject to high-level instability, as technology is built to mediate technology, increasingly at speeds that are beyond human scale. Take, for instance, the unintended impacts of high-speed, high-volume financial trading, much of which is now automated. While automation has reportedly improved hedge-fund returns, many have also identified it as a key ingredient in market volatility. Would we be wise to extend such an approach to all aspects of our daily lives?

In addition, there is a growing realization among some economists that as technology continues to proliferate, its benefits are becoming increasingly one-sided. Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes an economic landscape where middle-class job growth is already suffering from the impacts of automation and digitization. The middle seems to be going away, he says, while the top and bottom are clearly getting farther apart. With each passing year, economic data continue to indicate that increases in productivity have failed to result in commensurate increases in real wages. In a consumer-driven economy, such a trend is unsustainable, and disruptive impacts will ultimately be felt.

Time to make a choice

Up until recent years, much technology has been additive to the human story, in that it has enabled humans to expand their innate capabilities. You are reading this critique of technology on a computer, presumably, which brings you (a human) the perspective of another peer. We now appear to be headed toward a future that is subtractive, with technology working to diminish the human experience by subsuming it within itself.

And so, we find ourselves at a point at which individuals must make tangible choices about whether to stay on a path that appears marked for calamity, or to alter their lives and communities (and their utilization of technology) to avoid the worst possible consequences. By necessity, those changes will start at the personal level, but must ultimately scale to create broad-based social and economic alternatives.

The seeds of such alternatives are visible today — they can be seen in phenomena as diverse as the local food movement and a bill introduced in the Utah House of Representatives to shut off the water supply to the National Security Agency data warehouse at Bluffdale. Both are reactions to an environment that has fast become too complex, too fragile and too invasive.

Ours is a human world. It is a world in which we are inescapably tethered to each other, and ultimately tied to a resource base of real and finite limits. We ignore the brittle nature of that inter-dependence at our peril.

MattEhlingis a St. Paul-based writer and media producer who is active in government transparency and accountability efforts.

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If youre interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writinga letteror a longer-formCommunity Voicescommentary. (For more information about Community Voices, emailSusan Albrightatsalbright@minnpost.com.)

29 March
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Happy 10th birthday, new Doctor Who

With the winningly charming Tennant at the TARDIS console, the revamped Who was off to the races. Viewership regularly topped 10 million per episode. Tennant and Piper had even better chemistry than Ecclestone and Piper. The show gradually perfected a formula that appealed to all walks of society, young and old, geeky and not. Rose left the show, stuck in an alternate dimension: we got ever more able companions in Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). Captain Jack earned his own spin-off, the X-Files-esque Torchwood. And Moffat created the creepiest Who villains of all time — the Weeping Angels, statues that only bare their pointed teeth and attack when youre not staring unblinkingly at them.

When RTD and Tennant both left, Moffat took over and picked the young unknown Matt Smith as his Doctor, with Karen Gillan as his fiery sidekick Amy Pond. For Smiths first season, the show was widely promoted in the US It worked beyond the BBCs wildest dreams, and Smith became something of a heartthrob. His quirky, kinetic madman in a box version of the Doctor connected with audiences around the world.

By the time of The Day of the Doctor, the film-length episode that marked the 50th anniversary of the original show, Who was a bona fide global phenomenon. Day of the Doctor broke the Guinness World Record by being simulcast in 94 countries, both on TV and in 1,500 theaters.

The Doctor, Moffat declared, had gone from saving the planet to conquering it.

29 March
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Doctor Who: 12 NuWho Characters Who Should’ve Been Companions

BBC

The companions have always been a hugely important part of Doctor Who. They tend to be the audiences connection point to the wonderful and wacky world the Doctor inhabits. As a result they garner a vareity of emotional reactions from fans whether it be love or hate.

Occasionally, a one-off character is such a hit with the fandom that there are calls for them to take on the companion role. Its happened recently with Faye Marseys Shona McCullough, who struck a chord with viewers from her first moments on screen, dancing her way straight into their hearts. There has been a lot of speculation that Shona could become a companion alongside Clara for Series 9, and many words spent arguing both for and against this possibility.

However, Shona isnt the only new series character who came close to being a companion. Shes not even the first character to connect with fans and receive calls to be a new companion. There were a multitude just before her in Series 8, where it felt like the writers were testing out new potential companion dynamics. Its not a new thing either there have been companion-material since the revived series began, but who didnt actually make it onto the TARDIS team, for one reason or another.

Lets take a retrospective look through the new series so far, and revisit several characters who could have travelled in the TARDIS if things had turned out differently.

29 March
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The computers that will help scientists step closer to the Big Bang

In the course of a day the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is expected to gather more data than passes across the internet.

The SKA will be an array of 3,000 radio telescopes that will gather cosmic emissions in an attempt to see the universe a few hundred of million years after the Big Bang – farther back in time than any telescope has glimpsed.

Handling the 14 exabytes of data that will be gathered by the dishes in South Africa and Australia will require processing power equal to several million of todays fastest computers.

A high-performance computing architecture with data transfer links that far exceed current state-of-the-art technology must be developed to gather, store and analyse the 13 billion year old data.

To meet this computing challenge IBM and its partners at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, are coming up with some novel machines, including what they claim is the worlds first water-cooled, 64-bit microserver.

The prototype microserver, on show at the CeBIT technology fair in Hannover in Germany, is roughly the size of a smartphone, between four and 10 times smaller than traditional rack mounted servers.

29 March
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Robots act as space station companions

Japans first robot astronaut, Kirobo, recently completed its first mission aboard the International Space Station.

Now, Mirata – a second robot that stands 34cm (13.4in) tall – is soon to take its turn space.

Its all part of a Toyota-backed project to try to understand how humans interact with robot companions capable of recognising faces and maintaining a conversation.

The BBCs technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones met with both Mirata and Nigel Morris, chief executive of the marketing firm Dentsu Aegis Networks, which is also involved in the scheme.