Palestinian refugees feel sting of U.S. funding cuts to United Nations program

Earlier this month, the United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestinian refugees in the near-east (UNRWA) warned that it’d have no choice but to make deep cuts to its programs, due to a funding freeze enacted by the United States Government. Last week, in light of a 217 million dollar funding shortfall, UNRWA lowered the boom: employees for a number of vital programs, including housing assistance, medical and mental health support, education and employment programs have either been given drastic pay cuts or told that they no longer have jobs. According to The Washington Post, UNRWA dismissed 154 of its employees, 125 of which are located in Gaza, and downgraded another 580 to contract workers. The head of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees union, Amir al-Miss’hal stated that in addition to this, UNRWA has also canceled an additional 1,000 jobs by ordering a hiring freeze of employees destined to fill in for UNRWA workers approaching retirement.

Unsurprisingly, shit is now going down: hundreds of UNRWA declared a sit-in, this past Monday, with threats from the UNRWA employee’s union of a strike that could throw Gaza into chaos. One UNRWA was so unhinged by losing his to job that he attempted to set himself on fire, this past Wednesday.

From The Washington Post:

Earlier this year, the U.S. cut around $300 million in funding to UNRWA, resulting in a $217 million budget shortfall. U.N. officials say the cuts are “the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced.”

Of the five areas in which the agency operates, Gaza is the most vulnerable given its dire living conditions and devastated economy after more than a decade under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

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Congress may fund the search for intelligent life in space as they can't find any in Washington

Does extraterrestrial life exist? It's a question that, for the past 25 years, Congress didn't care to try and answer.

In 1993, just as SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was getting its shit together with a massive program that would see observatories around the world equipped to search the universe for signals that may have been produced by intelligent alien life, Congress pulled the plug on funding them, preferring to throw money at NASA instead. In the U.S. Capital, SETI became a four-letter s-word that didn't end in 'hit.' While all of this is literally in the past, it's now also figuratively in the past as well.

From Space.com:

The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a bill that includes $10 million in NASA funding for the next two years "to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe." Such technosignatures would come in the form of radio waves that have the telltale features of being produced by TV or radio-type technologies. An intelligent civilization could also produce those signals intentionally to communicate with other civilizations like ours.

Having SETI funded by the U.S. Government, again, would represent one helluva boost in resources for scientists who, for the past two decades and change, have had to rely on funding from private interests like universities to continue their search for intelligent life beyond earth. However, as with all things the government sticks its snout into, there's a catch. Read the rest

Surprise, TechCrunch panders to awful start-up founders!

In this terrible post, TechCrunch panders to the worst kind of start-up exec, the lying and failing kind. Nothing in their piece is good advice, and no one should look to these bozos for business tips.

Here is a nice excerpt:

Lying is a requisite and daily part of being a founder, the grease that keeps the startup flywheel running. No one likes to put it that way of course. Instead, we use phrases like “hustling” and “fake it until you make it” to make the idea of lying more palatable. “Information control” is among the most important skills a founder has traditionally needed for success, and these euphemisms change nothing of the daily behavior.

This is a crock. Having run a few startups, and having had a number of good exits, what I think you ought to do is operate to a plan!

If you find yourself in a place where your next round of funding is doubtful, it is most likely due to you failing to achieve the things you set out to in the first place, or no one wants what you are building. If you are failing to hit your targets, chances are you shouldn't be trusted with another round.

You know how venture rounds are termed A, B, C... etc? Investors expect you to hit the goals you set out in an A round, if you do it is very likely you'll get a B round of funding completed. If you miss all your objectives, well I suppose you can read this shit from TechCrunch. Read the rest

How will the Sequester affect science

Basic science — the kind of research done for curiosity's sake, in order to better understand how parts of our world work — is the foundation of applied science — research that's aimed at developing a product, or tool, or achieving a goal. In the United States, the federal government is, by far, the number one funding source for basic research. So what happens to that investment in our future when things like the Sequester come along? Obviously, funding goes down. But the details are what's important here. Tom Levenson explains the short-term and long-term impacts. Read the rest

Kickstopped

Media coverage of successfully Kickstarted projects sometimes makes it look like an easy source of funds for any old half-baked idea. Nope. [Buzzfeed] Read the rest

I can't go out tonight, the robot is washing my hair

This hair-washing robot, introduced by Panasonic at a public demonstration in Tokyo last week, is actually a pretty practical idea. Washing your hair involves a decent amount of small motor coordination and finger dexterity, things that people often lose when they have a spinal injury or other kinds of nerve damage. A hair-washing robot could offer those people a bit more independence when it comes to their daily routines. That's a good thing.

But the real reason I'm posting this here is to show you how easy it is to take research that is objectively beneficial, and make it sound deeply silly and frivolous. All you have to do is show that picture (which is a little funny looking already, right?) and frame the story from the perspective of privilege—the perspective of people who have no problems controlling the nerves in their hands and forget that not everybody shares that skill.

Why would anybody need a robot to wash their hair? Oh, those crazy Japanese and their robots! They should put that money into something really useful. Amiright?

The next time a politician or pundit tells you about "wacky" scientific research that isn't worth funding, remember the hair washing robot, and think about whether the research is really as silly as you're being lead to believe.

Image:REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon

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