NewsQuirks 723

Deeper Savings

After a severe winter caused Danville, Va., to exceed its snow removal budget, city Councilman E. Stokes Daniels Jr. proposed digging 5-foot-deep graves at city cemeteries instead of the standard 6 feet. Daniels said that the move would save the cash-strapped city as much as $300 per grave. Mayor John Hamlin responded to the proposal by pointing out, "We can always encourage cremation."

Holy Roller

Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, a former stunt pilot who was a surprise winner in January's presidential election, drew criticism for declaring his faith in mystic Lena Lolisvili. Lolisvili, whom local media have dubbed a Lithuanian Rasputin, claims that God tells her the future and cures people by wrapping them in energized toilet paper.

Hide and Seek

Police in Stuart, Fla., charged Melissa Anne Nunziato, 28, with leaving the scene of an accident after she caused a fender bender. They said she fled into a K-Mart bathroom and tried to conceal her appearance with hair dye, makeup and a change of clothes stolen from the store. Police found her in the bathroom, along with empty boxes and price tags for the stolen items in the trash.

Looking for Jerome Anthony Dobbey, 24, on drug charges, police went to a house in Burlington, Iowa, on a tip that the suspect might be living there. After a brief search, they found Dobbey hiding in a refrigerator.

Happy Mother's Day

Mary Hill, who killed her daughter and another girl three years ago when she crashed into a tree while driving more than 70 mph, lost custody of another daughter when a sheriff's investigator testified in Sanford, Fla., that Hill told her she wished the surviving daughter had died in the crash instead of her older sister. Investigator Mary Ellen Humes also told Circuit Judge Donna McIntosh that Hill said she wished she could ram her and her daughter, who is now 13, into a tree "and die." The daughter was placed in state custody.

Louisiana District Judge Todd Hernandez sentenced Leteerica Stevens, 23, to two years in prison for torturing her daughter because the child could not spell her name. According to police reports, when the 4-year-old girl misspelled her last name, Stevens and her former fiance, Ebonderell Metoyer, 26, who is not the girl's father, made the girl stay in the push-up position with her hands on the spiked side of a car mat. Next, they bound her legs with a leather belt and blindfolded her, then placed her on a table with her arms outstretched and hit her with another belt. The girl fell from the table several times and broke her leg.

Police in Greeley, Colo., reported that Jennifer Farrell, 33, left her six children home alone while she took a 17-day European vacation with her 60-year-old boyfriend. She left the oldest child, a 14-year-old girl, in charge of the other siblings, ages 12 through 6, and stocked the kitchen with 3 gallons of milk and three loaves of bread. She gave her daughter $7 and a credit card. "She left them some supplies," police Sgt. John Gates said, "but it wasn't enough for two weeks."

Can You Hear Me Now?

Hoping to track the eating habits of 25 moose, researchers at Sweden's University of Agricultural Sciences announced plans to tag the animals with cellphones. The phones, which contain a built-in global positioning system and enough battery power to last a year, will send messages to the researchers seven times a day.

When Dorah Mwambela dropped her wireless phone down an open-pit toilet in Mombasa, Kenya, she offered 1,000 shillings (about $13) to anyone who would recover it. The Daily Nation reported that three men tried but all fell into the pit and died. "The fumes inside must be extremely poisonous considering the short time it was taking to disable the retrievers," acting police chief Peter Njenga said after officers stopped a fourth man from climbing into the latrine, and the search for the phone was abandoned.

Artificial Intelligence

Richard N. Castle, a recent engineering graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, announced that he has developed shoes for the blind. The footwear contains infrared sensors that detect objects up to about a yard away and vibrate to indicate the direction and distance. "When you get used to it, you can feel what's going on around you," Castle said. "You can tell when you're closer to something or farther away."

Scientists James Fogarty and Scott Hudson of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania said they are developing technology that will let telephones decide when someone is too busy to be interrupted and ask the caller to leave a message. Tiny microphones, cameras and touch sensors reveal body language and activity to determine a person's availability. Hudson told New Scientist magazine that the technology should be "deployed in a couple of years."

The Spanish company Polyphonic HMI said that it has developed software that can predict a song's chances of becoming a hit before it is released. Five major record labels so far are testing it. According to New Scientist, the software, dubbed Hit Song Science, works by matching a song against the musical traits of known hits, searching for patterns in melody, harmonic variation, beat, tempo, rhythm, pitch, chord progression and fullness of sound. These traits were determined by analyzing 3.5 million songs. "There are a limited number of mathematical formulas for hit songs," Mike McCready, Polyphonics HMI's chief executive, said. "We don't know why." McCready added that songs with matching traits don't always sound the same, pointing out that Beethoven and U2 share similar values and that Norah Jones falls into the same cluster of traits as hard-rockers Van Halen.

Sticky War

China's Ministry of Science and Technology has launched a project, dubbed the "863 Program," to develop a chemical weapon over the next 18 months that will dissolve discarded chewing gum. Calling the chewing gum waste problem a "big public sanitation headache," Yu Xichun, director of the Science and Technology Officer, said the project also aims to lower the cleanup cost from 13 cents a piece to 2 cents a piece while creating no new pollution. The China Daily reported that China's 1.3 billion people chew 2 billion pieces of gum per year.

Compiled from the nation's press by Roland Sweet. Submit clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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