• Sep 28, 2013 » Emerging shadows
    Tim Noble and Sue Webster Tim Noble & Sue Webster‘s shadow sculptures emerge from jumbled statues of discarded wood. #
  • Physician at the Frontier: Development of Public Healthcare in Saskatchewan, Canada from 1915 to 1965

    Published September 28, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    On July 1st, 1962 two-thirds of physicians in the Saskatchewan locked their practices, commencing a strike against the Province’s newly enacted Medical Care Insurance Act. The debate about whether public healthcare would meet the needs of populations extends back into the beginning of the last century. These protests culminated after five decades of changing medical practice and legislation in the province. The debate has been shaped by three stakeholders, the government, and the public and healthcare professionals. The position of these stakeholders has changed over time, depending on broader socio-political and economic trends.

    In this paper I examine evidence of physician attitudes towards increasing public and government involvement in their profession between 1915 and 1965. I find that physicians initially responded positively to public and state intervention, but increasingly became hostile towards such intervention, with hostilities culminating in the strike. I argue that this drastic shift in attitude was shaped by three underlying factors: (1) concerns about adequate compensation, (2) concerns about professional autonomy, and (3) increasing professionalization of physicians. I will examine how each of these factors related to broader socio-political and economic trends and associated health care legislation in Saskatchewan. In the first part, I will look at legislation concerning municipal doctors and hospitals between 1915 and 1930. Then, I will examine depression-era medical schemes as well as schemes developed during and in the response to the Second World War. Finally I will discuss the development of universal healthcare in the province between 1947 and 1962. Under each of these arrangements, I will look at funding, provision and delivery of medical services, and the response of the medical profession.

    medicareprotestcanadaProtesting the implementation of medicare, July 11, 1962. Saskatchewan Archives Board. Image source.

    Continue Reading »

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi
  • Aug 19, 2013 » Still life coming alive
    Alexa Meade Instead of capturing and constraining a slice of life on a still canvas, Alexa Meade breathes life into canvases and sets them free in a perpetually moving world. #
  • DRM and rights in a digital world

    Published August 14, 2013 | 2 responses so far
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    A couple of days ago I was listening to an older edition of Science Weekly, particularly a lecture by Cory Doctorow. I found the lecture to be a truly thought-provoking look at digitization of the world and its implications. Doctorow’s focus was on DRM (Digital Rights Management) in the narrow scope, but broadly dealt with our rights and freedoms in an increasingly digital world. He made a lot of interesting points, I’d like to go over some parts of the lecture which I found very interesting.

    When it came to DRM, I have to be frank– I never really understood the controversy in some technology quarters. It always made sense to me that any company or artist worth their salt would try to do their best to prevent, or at least discourage, pirating. However, Doctorow framed the issue from a completely different perspective, and related DRM to the broader issues of a person’s rights and freedoms to control their life in the digital world. At the beginning of the lecture Doctorow began by describe our world as a digital one, where everything we do and everything we are is encased in a computer.

    “We have computers on our desks, and we have computers in our pockets. We have computers we insert in our bodies, and we have computers into which we insert our bodies. And they have the power to liberate us, or enslave us. When computers don’t tell us what they’re doing, they expose us to horrible risks.”

    As a lay person, I’d wondered what was the worst that could happen: You can’t copy that DVD or game you bought? An inconvenience for sure, but not a full-scale tragedy. Doctorow gave several examples of the risks and some real-life worst-case scenarios. One particularly compelling example was the Sony BMG copy protection rootkit scandal in which Sony essentially installed two pieces of software via their CDs to prevent copying by interfering with the operating system interface. The programs were designed to not be detected by the computer at all, and prevent recognition of software with a certain extension (rootkits). Now, of course, this was very quickly exploited by virus-developers etc. to help install other nefarious programs. The popular narrative often places the blame on the virus-makers, blackhat hackers, etc. But Doctorow’s metaphor provided a wonderful counterpoint to this: the viruses, trojans etc. were like opportunistic infections taking advantage a gaping open wound. A wound caused by Sony effectively committing a covert assault on the digital extension of millions of individuals, all in order to enforce their DRM.

    According to Doctorow, there have been other examples of this kind of behaviour. He described a scandal involving seven companies involved in hire purchase laptop business. Providing these laptops on installment plans, the companies felt they needed to reduce risk of loss. Hence they essentially began monitoring users, interacting with their webcams etc. all under the guide of ensuring their property would not be lost, without any outward indication that the computer was being monitored. After a legal battle, the companies were told by the government that they could continue to “monitor”, so long as their users consented to it. That is, as long as it was in the fine print.

    “[Consumer Union] reckoned that it would take 27 hours a day to review all the user agreements that you interact with in a day… and they all come down to the same thing, by being dumb enough to be a customer of this firm, you agree that they’re allowed to come over to your house and punch you in the mouth… so none of us read them… before you click the agree button, one thing you’re sure of, is you don’t agree.”

    The comedian Eddie Izzard actually has a fantastic bit on terms and conditions which I think would be quite fitting here.

    “They’ve made us liars… No one has read the terms and conditions. No one in the world. No one. Even the lawyers who wrote it wrote it like this. It could say anything in there.”

    Eddie-Izzard-no-one-reads-contracts

    Indeed when it comes to terms and conditions the user who makes the choice not to read the contract or skim over the contract is to blame. Right? But does reading the fine print even make a difference when (a) a user don’t understand what it says (b) a user no choice but to agree with it and hope for the best. In getting a mortgage, making a large purchase etc. we take our contracts to lawyers who’ve been trained to read these things. But is it realistic to expect people to do the same when purchasing a toaster? Most of us have an assumption of trust and goodwill, or at least, a hope that our toaster won’t start broadcasting our eating habits to the world.

    For instance, when I purchased my tablet I had a host of apps I wanted to install to make the tablet actually useful. However, all of these apps wanted a range of strange permissions. It perplexed me as to why a calculator wanted permission to access my “fine (GPS) location”, phone calls “read phone state and identity”, personal information “read contact data”. It wasn’t one or two obscure apps that asked for these permissions, almost all of them asked for permissions that seemed to be completely unrelated to their purpose. Of course, I consulted various websites, and the advice was generally “use common sense”, and “when you come across something you don’t understand, usually a bit of deductive reasoning can figure out why an app needs to do something.” But what if I can’t figure it out? What if I draw the wrong conclusion? Do I need to do this for every single app? What if the app isn’t trust-worthy? What if I don’t want my calculator to have access to my camera? It became a matter of installing an app and hoping for the best, or not installing any apps at all and not taking advantage of my purchase.

    We all have the choice to not use a tablet or a smartphone, or not even a computer. We can become luddites and hide in caves. But we live in a world where everything is going digital. In the words of Doctorow “We have computers we insert in our bodies, and we have computers into which we insert our bodies.” But increasingly we are living in a world, people don’t know what is happening to their computers. They may as well be black-boxes. According to Doctorow, we’re also increasingly living a world where legislation, pushed in part by DRM-supporters, hinders or even criminalizes those who know from informing people about what is happening to their computers and other electronics. Even with the best of intentions in mind—we’re all becoming more and more vulnerable.

    By the end of the lecture Doctorow did not really propose a ‘solution’ or a way to navigate into the future. However, I think his point was not really for us– the users– to understand the nitty-gritty parts of DRM. Rather, for us to keep in mind the broad ramifications when smaller debates and legislation involving digital technology come up. For this reason, whether one doesn’t agree or isn’t sure what to think– I think listening to Doctorow’s lecture is worth the time.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

    Back to the basics

    Published July 05, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    I was invited to give some tips on evaluating speeches for a Toastmasters Newsletter. I thought it might be worthwhile to share.

    Back to the basics
    Marzieh Ghisi, CC, CL, President of McGill Toastmasters Club

    “In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the language; third the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.”
    -Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

    The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described the means of persuasion as a triangle made of 3 parts: logos (logic and reasoning), ethos (trust and authority), pathos (emotions and beliefs). When evaluating a speech, there are many things to consider but I like to keep it simple so I have developed a modified version of Aristotle’s triangle for public speaking purposes: what did they say? how did they say it? did it capture the audience?

    What did they say? Things that made sense!
    “Logos” means convincing by logic and reasoning, with clarity and evidence to support your message. The way a speech is written, the way it flows from once concept to the other, the introduction and conclusion should all be clear and logical.

    How did they say it? Loud and confident!
    “Ethos” means convincing by establishing trust and authority, and giving your audience the impression that you are someone worth listening to. The focus is on the speaker here. Great speakers can have audiences listening to them. They seem worth listening to because they appear to know something— because of the way they’re dressed, their posture and their body language.

    Did they engage me? Yes!
    Finally, “pathos” means appealing to your audience’s emotions and beliefs. In public speaking, this can be achieved in a variety of ways. The eyes are the window of the soul, and the best way communicate emotions. So when you look the audience in the eyes, you are immediately engaging them at an emotional level. Your words can have the power to make people laugh or cry or go “hmmm!” Asking the audience to participate, asking them questions, and allowing them to reflect on their own experiences and beliefs are also a great ways to engage your audience.

    With the above triangle in mind when evaluating a speech, you can almost guarantee a great evaluation that will not only be valuable for the speaker you are assessing, but will also be worth listening to.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi
  • Jun 14, 2013 » Ice Sheets
    ice_sheets 21,000 years ago? Try this winter in Montreal. # #
  • Iran Votes: Reflections Four Years Later

    Published June 14, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    Four years ago, in mid-June, I headed on a trip to Iran after not having the visited the country for a decade. It was meant to be a personal trip, but in many ways I got more than I bargained for. As I wrote in a journal on route to Tehran:

    “When I planned this trip months ago it was to be a personal experience, a rekindling with old memories… After all, the last time I crossed the Atlantic, I never envisioned that I would not see Iran again for so many years. I hoped that the country that I left would be a better country when I returned to it. But no one seems to have had anticipated the events that have transpired in the past few weeks in Iran.” – 2009/06/29

    ***

    My trip coincided with the aftermath of the most divisive election in post-revolutionary Iran, on the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Islamic Republic.
    I arrived in Iran in the aftermath of the election, but like many others had followed the events closely in the preceding months and weeks through the news and social networks. Weeks before the election I asked a reformist friend living in Iran how he thought the election would turn out. His sentiments I passed off as naïve pessimism. “[The reformist] will win, but [the conservative] will become the president.” But how? “Aji maji lataraji” Hocus pocus.

    On the other side of the world we were watching the country hold its first live presidential debates on state-controlled media, reflecting a move towards greater transparency and engagement. We were seeing candidates, who were by all measures old guard conservatives, morphing into maverick reformists. We were seeing student movements, dormant following their bloody suppression ten years earlier, bloom once again. Reformist friends posted pictures of their green or yellow wrist-bands on Facebook, videos of a 20-km chain of green-clad men and women were shared, shared, shared. Conservative friends were conspicuously silent. Was this Iran’s Carnation Revolution?

    ***

    The day before the election, even my pessimistic friend seemed to have embraced a cautious optimism along with 40 million others who cast their vote in the election. As the election levers were pulled, the polls on this side of the world still fluctuated, and the outcomes were anything but predictable. Nevertheless, it seemed evident to me that Iran had entered an era where different perspectives and new movements would not be silenced. The idea that the friends I’d left years ago now had themselves the opportunity to live in a true democracy where every person would have a voice compelled me:

    “While cynicism remains strong and every candidate can be criticized and rightfully so, I can’t help but admire those who go to the polls to make a sincere effort towards a better tomorrow. They go with optimism and the hope that promises that have been made will be delivered. Whatever the outcome of this election, with a vote-turnout that is expected to reach into 80% (pretty incredible!), I am most glad that Iranians are so passionate about the opportunity to vote and take their fate into their own hands. I hope the same kind of fervor and call to responsibility is carried on in the post-election era because as it goes… any day without apathy is a good day.” – 2009/06/12

    Some of last memories I had of Iran from nearly a decade before were seeing the former president Mohammad Khatami’s election posters plastered on every wall almost over night. Iran was on the verge of change. What an exciting time it was to be there again after all these years.

    ***

    On the 14th of June, 2009, there was a rapid change in the mood. If the color green had spattered Facebook newsfeed before, now it flooded the newsfeed. Searing images, videos, reports began to trickle out of the country. Protests, speeches, and more protests. Then came the terrifying reports: the detentions, the prisons, and the blood. Like many others I was glued to the news as I packed my bags, trying desperately to understand what was unfolding.

    ***

    Today I look at the list of my friends living in Iran on Facebook and their faces, smiling or stern, stare back at me through the screen. Unlike four years ago, there are no colors and no slogans decorating the wall in favour of one candidate or another. No green, no yellow, no red, no blue, no purple. Living in one of the world’s healthiest democracies, I cherish my right to vote. So I wonder if Iranian youth, many looking for reform, have succumbed to voter apathy as many news reports claim?

    Scrolling down the sea of faces, I see a solitary slogan against a green background audaciously proclaiming: “I will vote”.

    iranian_vote

    A heated debate is taking place beside the picture.

    A brother admonishes his sister’s slogan, viewing participating in the election as giving legitimacy to a flawed democracy “To vote is trample the blood of those who died in the Green Wave.” Below, a young woman expresses her doubt and uncertainty “I don’t know what to do!!!” Further down, the original poster defends her slogan with pleas for optimism “I think voting is the only path which won’t be followed by any regrets. We’ll do our best though there may be little hope.”

    In seeing these snapshots, it has become apparent to me that my friends living in Iran are not indifferent. Though their dreams of dialogue, engagement and reform have been deferred, their spirit is unwavering. They vote or abstain from voting not out of apathy, but because they are angry, frustrated, or against all odds—holding on to a morsel of hope for a better tomorrow.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi
  • May 12, 2013 » A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
    mount stupidVia @SMBC. Forbes Mag (2011) writes on the importance of avoiding Mount Stupid in decision-making. #
  • Fishermen in the Information Marketplace

    Published May 12, 2013 | One response so far
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    Fishermen in the Information Marketplace
    Behavioral, Economic and Social Changes Associated with Introduction of Mobile Phones in Fishing Communities of Kerala, India
    By Marzieh Ghiasi (April 2012)


    Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day.
    Teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.
    But give him a mobile phone and you’re really talking!

    - The International Development Magazine, 2005

    Kerala-fishermen-fishing*Image source

    What is the broad context?

    The vast and rapid adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) globally has led to a lot of speculation about how societies are integrating these technologies and how they are in turn being altered by them. According to Steward (1955: 38) unique local features such as subsistence needs are thought to affect local cultural contexts, socio-economic arrangements and the way technologies are adopted. Steward (1955: 40) outlined three steps to evaluate the how culture, technology and production relate and interact. The first was to identify the material and socially-derived needs in a society; the second behavior and exploitative patterns in a society; and the third, the extent to which these patterns affect other social arrangements. Examining each of these allows us to appraise what kind of needs ICTs are meeting, how they are affecting behavior, and broad social superstructures.

    The state of Kerala, in South West India, has the second largest fishing output in India, and a substantial portion of the industry is based on traditional fishing practices. The cultural practices, the introduction of new technologies and the economic output of these communities have been closely monitored and cataloged. Throughout the years fishing industry has undergone mechanization, and the introduction of ICT into communities. However, these technologies have been received differently and have affected local culture differently. In this paper I examine how mobile phones, in particular, have been adopted to meet needs of fishing communities Kerala. I will further examine whether mobile phones are reinforcing or changing behavior and exploitative patterns in these societies. Finally, I look at how these patterns are influencing more indirectly other aspects of the culture.

    What does this post explore?

    Many studies on the mobile phones in the developing world focus solely on economic output as a measure of effective technology integration. Though on the short term, economic benefits lead to diffusion of technologies, over the long term and integration of technologies depend on how well they serve the social well-being of fishing communities. I argue that mobile phones in fishing communities of Kerala have been adopted and integrated into the culture because they enhance users’ the capacity for decision-making by increasing choice and reducing risk, by establishing evenly distributed information flow.

    In the first section of this post I will describe the social and economic context of Keralite fishing communities prior to the diffusion of mobile phone technology. In the second section of the post I will examine the outcomes associated with the diffusion of mobile phone technology and its outcomes related to the communities’ fishing activities with respect to spatial and economic decision-making. Finally, I describe five ways that mobile phones have been integrated into spatial decision making, and the effect on economic arrangements. I will also examine the broader socio-cultural outcomes of the diffusion and adoption of this technology and its impact on socio-economic hierarchy, cooperation and collusion, and gender roles. I will conclude by assessing whether the outcomes observed in Kerala are a product of unique environmental, socio-economic and spatial arrangements in the region or if they can be generalized to elsewhere.
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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

    The Origins of AIDS (Jacques Pepin)

    Published March 30, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    The Origins of AIDS (2011)
    Jacques Pepin
    306 pages

    AIDS was first identified in North America in 1981 and its infectious agent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was isolated two years later. In the subsequent 30 years, AIDS has become a global pandemic that has led to around 30 million deaths. Pepin’s book tackled the origins of this devastating infectious disease subject in three parts: first, he examined the origin of the virus itself; second, he examined the context that permitted and even promoted outbreak of the virus; finally, he examined the global routes by which the virus traveled. Each part of the story was addressed through a historical lens and supported several lines of evidence, including viral biology, epidemiological and sociological data.

    The book began by examining current scientific understandings of where and when HIV made the transition from a simian ancestral virus to a human virus. Pepin examined colonial-era records, and modern molecular clock analysis of samples to pin-point the origin of the M strand of HIV-1 which is responsible for the vast majority of the global burden of AIDS. These lines of evidence point to a ‘patient zero’ in the Congo around 1921, with a confidence interval of ±10 years. Outlining the theories proposed to explain how the virus jumped, Pepin suggested that the most plausible is the ‘cut hunter theory’, where handling and consumption of chimpanzee bush meat is believed to have provided a route for cross-species transmission. However, palaeo-virological evidence suggests that simian variants of the virus have existed since at least the 15th century, in areas populated by humans. Why did the AIDS epidemic not emerge earlier?

    To investigate this question, Pepin took the reader to late 19th century, where sociopolitical trends led to greater access to weapons for hunting, and increased urbanization and public health campaigns which facilitated the spread of HIV. The colonization of central and West Africa by European powers brought about increasing urbanization, accompanied by great gender imbalance as these newly created cities became predominantly populated by young men seeking jobs. In early 20th century, these urban centers became breeding grounds for the sexual transmission of the virus facilitated by prostitution.

    While the behavioural component of the spread of AIDS has long been established, Pepin explored a second less-discussed but perhaps equally important factor: interavenous injections conducted as part of colonial public heath campaigns. I cringed a little when I began to read this part of the book since it quickly brought to mind the discredited AIDS origins theories. However, Pepin outright rejected such conspiracy theories. Rather what he described, thoroughly and with good evidence, is a classic “road to hell is paved with good intentions situation” and the culprit: un-sterile injections. Pepin provided evidence for repeated use of needles and lack of sterilization processes that may have exposed individuals to greater risk of exposure to HIV than they would have been otherwise. An excerpt in the book from medical archives describes common practices of the time, where “the syringe [was] used from one patient to the next, occasionally retaining small quantities of blood”. Pepin described “the largest ever iatrogenic epidemic” in Egypt where non-sterile anti-schistosomiasis injections were associated with a rise in blood-borne HCV infections. He postulated that in Central Africa the iatrogenic amplification of AIDS may have similarly occurred via “well-meaning” campaigns targeted to combating tropical diseases among the general population and containing sexually-transmitted such as syphilis among prostitutes and high-risk individuals.

    The latter chapters of the book followed the route of HIV out of central Africa in the 1970s at the heels of globalization and decolonization processes that led to great inter-continental migrations and dispatching of foreign nationals into the area. Pepin provided evidence that the jump was likely facilitated by a single Haitian who worked in the Congo. In Haiti, the virus proliferated and jumped to North America via commercial blood trade and sexual transmission, though the author argued that the former is probably responsible for the vast dissemination of the disease. While the latter part of the book was very interesting, I felt that it lacked the detail of the former part of the book. I think this in part had to do with the fact that there has been massive investigations into the African origins of HIV, and details about the early years of HIV in the Carribean and North America remain more murky.

    Overall, the Origins of AIDS provided a comprehensive and enjoyable to read account of the origins and the rise of AIDS. Through synthesizing current scientific research and archival documents Pepin reinforces the book’s central thesis that AIDS is a “tragedy… facilitated (or even caused) by human interventions.” The book’s narrative, interwoven with vast amounts of quantitative and qualitative evidence, made a compelling case that this global pandemic was not singularly driven by biology or individual behaviours, but broader social, political and economic frameworks.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi