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Watchdog Tries to Verify Coordinates of Afghan Health Clinics; Gets a Surprise

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When the official watchdog overseeing U.S. spending on Afghanistan asked the U.S. Agency for International Development recently for details about the 641 health clinics it funds there, the agency readily provided a list of geospatial coordinates for them.

But when the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) went looking for the $210 million dollars worth of clinics, the majority of them weren’t there.

John Sopko, the special inspector general, SIGAR John Spoko sent USAID a letter on June 25 asking about the clinics. where they are.

“Thirteen coordinates were not located within Afghanistan,” the letter reads. Additionally, 13 more were duplicates, 90 clinics had no location data data, and 189 coordinate locations had no structure within 400 feet.

One set of coordinates was in the Mediterranean Sea.

“My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510 — nearly 80 percent — of 510—nearly 80 percent—of the 641 health care clinics funded by the PCH [Partnership Contracts for Health] program,” wrote Sopko.

In his understated conclusion, Sopko noted drily: “To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, both USAID and MOPH (the Afghan Ministry of Public Health) need to know where they are.”

According to the letter, USAID provided geospatial coordinates for 551 of the facilities to SIGAR in May 2014. But USAID spokesperson spokesman Sam Ostrander told The Interceptthose coordinates are actually separate from the organization’s internal records, which are more accurate: “USAID maintains GPS data for the health facilities it has constructed in Afghanistan and that database is separate from the data on which SIGAR relied in issuing its inquiry letter,” Ostrander wrote in an email. “The inquiry letter is based on Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) data, not USAID-maintained data.” He said that SIGAR’s June 25 letter was the first time SIGAR raised concerns about the geospatial data.

“GPS coordinates are not the first line in monitoring a health facility,” Larry Sampler, an assistant in USAID’s Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs department, wrote in a statement sent out by the agency’s press office. “Coordinates can help, but are not required, to locate the target community and to serve as a cross reference to USAID. It has been a common practice for Afghan ministries to use the location of a village center as the coordinates for a facility, particularly when there was limited access to GPS technology.”

Sampler wrote that USAID maintains connections with local Afghan staff and third-party third party monitors, who routinely check into the clinics.

But Ostrander also told The Intercept that USAID will be working with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to update its outdated and sometimes inaccurate location data for the clinics.

And this isn’t the first time that USAID has handed SIGAR faulty or inadequate data on its public health missions in Afghanistan. In 2012, when SIGAR requested information about USAID’s infrastructure projects, including new schools, clinics clinics, and roads, large parts of the dataset were missing, inaccurate inaccurate, or duplicated. According to a 2013 letter from SIGAR, there were “concerns” about the dataset’s “completeness and reliability,” not just in terms of faulty location data but also missing cost information and project descriptions.

The health clinics were formed under USAID’s Partnership Contracts for Health Program, which “supports the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to deliver basic health services to more than 1.5 million Afghans every month,” according to a fact sheet on USAID’s website. The health facilities include basic health centers, prison health centers, emergency care care, and midwife care. The project has an overall budget of $259 million, and was first implemented in July of 2008.

SIGAR, formed by Congress in 2008, is responsible for independent oversight of reconstruction and relief projects within Afghanistan, which are worth over $100 billion dollars as of March 2015.

(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)

Photo: Satellite image of the alleged location of an Afghan health clinic by 2014 DigitalGlobe Inc., via SIGAR

The post Watchdog Tries to Verify Coordinates of Afghan Health Clinics; Gets a Surprise appeared first on The Intercept.

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digdoug
4 days ago
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Christ. It's almost like we aren't even trying to win Hearts and Minds.
Louisville, KY
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Pixar’s films put technology and storytelling hand-in-hand

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Pixar’s films put technology and storytelling hand-in-hand:

But Brave also feels underdeveloped and overly cartoony in comparison to Pixar’s best. There isn’t a lot of story, and there aren’t very many characters—not even in the background. And there’s a deterministic quality to the actions and attitudes of the two main leads, who seem to be hitting set marks in order to fulfill some larger plan to subvert the usual Disney Princess paradigms. Often throughout Pixar’s run, other studios released similar movies that over the long haul have seemed less essential. A Bug’s Life is better than Antz. Finding Nemo beats Shark Tale. Monsters, Inc. edges out Shrek (even though the latter spawned multiple sequels and a Broadway musical). But Brave’s mother-daughter dynamic—while well-done—isn’t as poignant as Disney’s 2010 feature Tangled, and Brave’s depiction of an exotic ancient kingdom is less engrossing than 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon. Coming from another company, Brave would be an impressive achievement. From Pixar, it feels too slight.

That’s the first time it’s ever really clicked for me what doesn’t work with Brave. It’s still good, it’s just not actually BETTER than things that came out near it. How to Train your Dragon and Tangled are both better.

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digdoug
4 days ago
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selfshare.
Louisville, KY
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On Bobby Jindal

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https://twitter.com/anildash/status/352477552

Hey @nikkihaley, this is why I said playing along with white supremacy won't help you, even being born in the U.S. https://t.co/LwG1iNHuuf

I'm telling you @nikkihaley, the minute you step out of line, they'll just say you're an immigrant & a Sikh again: https://t.co/JUn2kl6ZWg

I have no issue with the small minority of South Asian Americans who are conservative. I do have an issue with undermining our community. But consider why "Bobby" Jindal won't even let his oldest friends wear Indian clothes at his events: http://t.co/CiRA1dnes5

And consider: only 3% of Indian Americans are Republican, lower % than African Americans. https://t.co/mdsj5US4ce http://t.co/g9SdIISprT

Honestly, I hope Jindal gets nominated. It'd legitimize Indian American candidates while showing how everyone hates his stupid-ass platform.

I suspect it may be hard for others to understand why every Indian American they know is so vehemently offended by Bobby Jindal. The answer is simple: We are pressured everyday to erase & censor ourselves, to reject our parents and our culture. It's constant.

From the folks at a TSA checkpoint to the coworker who refuses to learn how to pronounce our names, we are always fighting to be ourselves. And what Bobby Jindal represents is complete capitulation. The worst fear is confirmed—giving up in total surrender will be rewarded.

So the visceral rejection of everything about Jindal is a simple assertion that our identities and values matter & shouldn't be compromised. (Also, Jindal is a clown with terrible policies.)

A few points about Jindal: I don't think we should say "he's so white", even as a joke. He has a specifically Indian American pathology. Most white folks don't have occasion to ponder Indian American identity at all. There aren't that many of us. So Jindal's not being "white".

It's not just that he left his parents' faith (Hell, I did that, too). But rather, Jindal thinks no one should be of his parents' faith. It's not that Bobby Jindal doesn't identify as Indian American, it's that he doesn't want anyone to identify that way.

So, while I'm happy to make jokes about Jindal, the reason he is truly toxic is because he would erase the very community that made him. I can mock that Bobby Jindal turned his back on his name, Piyush. But what's sad is he'd prefer there be no boys named Piyush in America.

My name is Anil Dash. That's what my parents named me. They're Indian Americans, and I'm proud to be of them. I'm proud of my community.

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digdoug
6 days ago
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Supreme Court explained in infographic

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supremecourt Recent rulings at the Supreme Court of the United States have left some people confused at its ideological composition, traditionally held to be perfectly balanced between four liberals and four conservatives, with a “swing vote” "swing vote" in the middle. In order to help explain what’s what's going on, I prepared this useful info-graphic.
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skorgu
10 days ago
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actu-lol
etiberius
7 days ago
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ÜT: 33.997032,-86.035736
peelman
7 days ago
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Seymour, Indiana
digdoug
7 days ago
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Louisville, KY
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JayM
9 days ago
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Boston Metro Area

Animated interactive of the history of the Atlantic slave trade.

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For the full interactive version, use a larger device.

Interactive by Andrew Kahn. Background image by

Tim Jones

.

Usually, when we say “American slavery” or the “American slave trade,” we mean the American colonies or, later, the United States. But as we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4 percent of the total—came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

This interactive, designed and built by Slate’s Andrew Kahn, gives you a sense of the scale of the trans-Atlantic slave trade across time, as well as the flow of transport and eventual destinations. The dots—which represent individual slave ships—also correspond to the size of each voyage. The larger the dot, the more enslaved people on board. And if you pause the map and click on a dot, you’ll learn about the ship’s flag—was it British? Portuguese? French?—its origin point, its destination, and its history in the slave trade. The interactive animates more than 20,000 voyages cataloged in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. (We excluded voyages for which there is incomplete or vague information in the database.) The graph at the bottom accumulates statistics based on the raw data used in the interactive and, again, only represents a portion of the actual slave trade—about one-half of the number of enslaved Africans who actually were transported away from the continent.

There are a few trends worth noting. As the first European states with a major presence in the New World, Portugal and Spain dominate the opening century of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, sending hundreds of thousands of enslaved people to their holdings in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Portuguese role doesn’t wane and increases through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, as Portugal brings millions of enslaved Africans to the Americas.

In the 1700s, however, Spanish transport diminishes and is replaced (and exceeded) by British, French, Dutch, and—by the end of the century—American activity. This hundred years—from approximately 1725 to 1825—is also the high-water mark of the slave trade, as Europeans send more than 7.2 million people to forced labor, disease, and death in the New World. For a time during this period, British transport even exceeds Portugal’s.

In the final decades of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Portugal reclaims its status as the leading slavers, sending 1.3 million people to the Western Hemisphere, and mostly to Brazil. Spain also returns as a leading nation in the slave trade, sending 400,000 to the West. The rest of the European nations, by contrast, have largely ended their roles in the trade.

By the conclusion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at the end of the 19th century, Europeans had enslaved and transported more than 12.5 million Africans. At least 2 million, historians estimate, didn’t survive the journey. —Jamelle Bouie

Correction, June 25, 2015: The interactive originally displayed incorrect locations for St. Vincent and Zion Hill. They are in the Caribbean, not in the U.S. and Canada, respectively.

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digdoug
10 days ago
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Jesus. Just.. Jesus.
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A picture is worth a thousand words

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baked by Marcy Sutton

Even with the best of intentions, when writing captions, it’s easy to forget important details for people who can’t see an image.

Some of the most successful captions I’ve read recently were by my fellow graduates of Brooks Institute of Photography, where I studied photojournalism before becoming a web developer. In the photojournalism field, you are required to gather details about any subject filling your frame: first and last name, occupation or education, and any other critical details. It’s essential reporting: a photograph without a caption would be an incomplete story.

When writing a caption, how much detail is enough for an image? Well, it depends on the image. Some images are used only as space filler, contributing nothing to an article or webpage. They could be marked up in HTML with an empty alt attribute and no one would miss anything, because for some reason people pay money to put terrible stock photography into prime online real estate.

How does one write a caption for a stock photo? Should you comment on why a grown lion is shredding the gnar on a mountain bike or is it irrelevant to the rest of the webpage? How does a cat shift with no thumbs?

In comparison, images can also provide important details. A tweet containing only image data could visually present a most hilarious joke or an infographic from the White House showing the current unemployment rate. Without captions, will visually impaired people be able to understand what was in the tweet? What if an image doesn't load–is there any metadata attached about what was in it? Will search engines have to rely on computer vision to caption images where humans with working eyes but out-of-practice empathy muscles didn't do it?

I will admit it takes a disciplined person to always provide detailed captions for image content. I like to think of myself as compassionate and committed to this practice, but even I mess up sometimes, or I'll selfishly tweet something vague where the important detail is in the image. I always come back to wanting to share complete information with all my friends, some of whom are blind or vision-impaired. I don't want to leave them out of jokes or visual delights.

Turns out, writing captions when the information is fresh in your mind not only benefits your friends with disabilities, it can also help you in the future by providing a written record in more detail. In your amazing travel photo, was it a good day? At what bridge did you find that important scene, and what was that local food again? Assembling more of a complete story comes easier when you do it right away, and the text can provide additional data later.

Dogs in a van on their way to the park, including my dog Wally.

For a detailed caption, how much information is “enough”? Let’s look at a photograph I received from my dog walker, Ian, of his group on their way to the park, seen above. My dog Wally stands in the left side of the frame, surrounded by six other dogs. When I shared the photo on Facebook, I tried to write a really good caption. The thing is, an image like this one contains infinite detail: each dog is a different breed, in a certain position, making a face with their eyebrows blowing in one direction, and one is plotting to escape. Colored leashes appear in the foreground with windows in the background looking through to other vehicles and trees. Here’s the caption I wrote at the time, requiring a few edits as I noticed details I'd missed (including an entire dog):

I can't get enough of this picture of Wally and his pals riding in the van to the park Ian sent me, titled "Class Photo". Wally is on the left with his ridiculous eyebrows, beard and scruffy tuxedo, a black lab photobombing in the back, a little brown Chewbacca dog with the cutest face and black feet (stomping in the mud?), a sweet Brittany spaniel who looks like it wants to escape, an extremely photogenic pitt/lab mix (?), and two adorable little brown terriers also with amazing eyebrows—one I almost missed. I'm happy moments like this happen.

I could easily write an essay about how much I love this photograph. But do people want to read all that? Maybe. There’s a balance between writing enough information and too much information. We have to strike the right balance, taking into account our readers’ time as well as ours, as writers. You could spend all day writing the wittiest caption but will the value of the photo balance out the time spent? That better be one hilarious image.

The medium in which we write also has an impact–it's impossible to jam that much detail into a tweet without relying on 3rd party services, which have their pros and cons. For the visually impaired, services like Easy Chirp fill gaps where the interfaces we use to publish media don't give us the necessary options to share information in more equal formats.

As content creators, social media butterflies and communicators on planet Earth, we are capable of describing ourselves in more than just the visual sense. Let us use our talents to describe what's in our photographs–not only will it preserve text data, it will make our jokes and shared memories more inclusive to all.

Thanks to Matthew Bianchi for laughing with me at awkward stock photos and helping to write captions.

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digdoug
13 days ago
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Sharing for the dog party photo. I want to meet those dogs. They're all good dogs.
Yes they are.
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