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Opinion | This Has Been the Best Year Ever
So I promise to tear my hair out every other day, but let’s interrupt our gloom for a nanosecond to note what historians may eventually see as the most important trend in the world in the early 21st century: our progress toward elimination of hideous diseases, illiteracy and the most extreme poverty.

When I was born in 1959, a majority of the world’s population had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. By the time I die, illiteracy and extreme poverty may be almost eliminated — and it’s difficult to imagine a greater triumph for humanity on our watch.
progress  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
The Social-Media Decade | National Review
Social media’s strange power comes not just from its intelligent algorithms, which make such an exhaustive study of us. It comes from its strange combination of virality — things that spread wildly with memetic power — and exhaustive documentation, a function associated with modern institutions.

What will be the results? I’m not sure. But so far it looks like the decade of social media will make moral panics a habit. It will give us the politics of undereducated and narcissistic children, and a creeping sense that totalitarian levels of surveillance and social intervention are the natural consequence of free people interacting freely.
politics  socialmedia  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Opinion | Look Up
Plenty has been written about the perils of modern electronic devices, real or feared: They’re rewiring brains. They’re shortening attention spans. They’re killing dinner-table conversation. They’re disrupting sleep patterns. They’re addictive. A somewhat ungainly word came into being a decade ago: nomophobia — short for no mobile phone phobia — meaning a fear of being without one’s phone, or at least without juice or network coverage.

But there’s a more basic failing that is apparent every day in a great walking city, be it London, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Boston or, for our purposes, New York. The frailty is inattentiveness. What’s the point of navigating the metropolis if you ignore the very sights that give urban life its verve?
smartphones  city  attention  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Identity as Dependent Variable: How Americans Shift Their Identities to Align With Their Politics
Political science generally treats identities such as ethnicity, religion, and sexuality as “unmoved movers” in the chain of causality. I hypothesize that the emergence of partisanship and ideology as social identities in the U.S., combined with the increasing demographic distinctiveness of the nation’s two political coalitions, is leading some Americans to engage in a self-categorization and depersonalization process in which they shift their identities toward the demographic prototypes of their political groups. Analyses of a representative panel dataset that tracks identities and political affiliations over a four-year span confirm that small but significant shares of Americans engage in identity switching regarding ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and class that is predicted by partisanship and ideology in their pasts, bringing their identities into alignment with their politics. These findings enrich and complicate our understanding of the relationship between identity and political behavior and suggest caution in treating identities as unchanging political phenomena.
politics  identity  HTT 
7 weeks ago
The smartphone tracking industry has been rumbled. When will we act? | John Naughton
About 80% believe they have little or no control over the data collected by tech companies and that the potential risks of that data collection outweigh the benefits. Yet they continue to use the services provided by corporations of which they are apparently so suspicious.

This is the so-called “privacy paradox”, and the question is, what is needed to trigger an appropriate shift in regulation and public behaviour. What would it take for governments to take coherent, effective measures to stop the ruthless exploitation of personal data by surveillance capitalists? What would it take for ordinary users to decide to use services with less unscrupulous and opaque business models? What would transform this from a scandal to a crisis that would lead to systemic change?
surveillance  privacy  technocracy  smartphones  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
We ‘Gender-Critical’ Feminists Pay a Price for Speaking Out. But the Price of Silence is Higher - Quillette
Trans ideology is simply a new form of sexism disguised as liberation. It plays on traditional stereotypes about the roles of women, it claims that body transformation is the only way to be who you truly are, and it tells women to be compassionate to others at the expense of their own well-being. Women refused to stay silent before the monolithic oppression of the old misogyny, and we won’t stay silent now. It doesn’t matter if the calls to keep women in their place are coming from the right, as they traditionally were, or the left, where they’re coming from now: We’re going to speak against it, and we’re going to do it loud.
sexuality  gender  identity  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Can the Art World Kick Its Addiction to Flying? | Frieze
In 2009, the critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud published (in English) a book-length essay called The Radicant. The term ‘radicant’ refers to plants that root from the stem above ground instead of below; to be radicant, Bourriaud wrote, meant ‘setting one’s roots in motion, staging them in heterogeneous contexts and formats, denying them any value as origins’. It was a critical concept that he already lived, de-emphasizing his home base in Paris in favour of an itinerant existence amongst international museums, galleries and studios, the roosting points of art-world peregrination. Bourriaud documented his travels explicitly in his introduction, as if to demonstrate his commitment to cultural nomadism: ‘This book was written between 2005 and 2007 in the places to which circumstances brought me: Paris, Venice, Kiev, Madrid, Havana, New York, Moscow, Turin and, finally, London. Cities and places, rather than countries.’ ‘Nations are abstractions I distrust,’ he wrote – too fixed, too ideological.

To Bourriaud, the Centre Pompidou’s pointedly international 1989 mega-exhibition ‘Magiciens de la terre’ (Magicians of the Earth) represented ‘the official entry of art into a globalized world shorn of master narratives, a world that is henceforth our own’. In other words, the art world grew to encompass territories beyond its usual Western poles. At the same time, perhaps, art history lost its previous teleological thrust in exchange for a ‘continuous, low-amplitude motion’. Cultural globalization represented a kind of loss of self: ‘Nothing counts, since nothing really binds us or requires us to commit to ourselves.’ The diaphanous, churning loss of self must be countered instead by travel, constant juxtaposition against new people and places. [...]

The art world’s addiction to travel and the aura it imparts is chronic and it’s only getting worse. Today, as I watch colleagues depart for another fair, residency or retrospective, I think not of their open-bar, expenses-paid, five-star destination, but of the plane trip there. The three square metres of Arctic sea ice that melt for every tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. (A return flight New York to London generates approximately 986 kg.) The fact that one small group – the 12 percent of Americans who make more than six round-trip flights a year – are responsible for two-thirds of the US’s aviation emissions. We see the pointed internationalism of the cultural vanguard as a bulwark against the inward-oriented conservatism of our moment, but we talk less about how all that movement is only accelerating climate change.
[There is no possibility that *anyone* in that world will curtail their flying: the combination of perceived glamor and genuine terror of stability — those who stay in one place will never be able to flee themselves — will always outweigh any sense of responsibility to the planet.]
art  climate  travel 
7 weeks ago
Opinion | The Decade of Disillusionment
The 2010s were filled with angst and paranoia, they pushed people toward radicalism and reaction — but they didn’t generate very much effective social and political activity, beyond the populist middle finger and the progressive Twitter mob. They exposed the depth of problems without suggesting plausible solutions, and they didn’t produce movements or leaders equipped to translate disillusionment into programmatic action, despair into spiritual renewal, the crisis of institutions into structural reform.

It is this peculiar cultural predicament — the combination of disillusionment with stability, radicalization with stalemate, discontent and derangement with sterility and apathy — that I keep calling decadence. Whether it will last another 10 years is an open question; a catastrophe or a renaissance might be just around the corner. But as we usher out the 2010s, this decade of distrustful stability and prosperous despair, it has no rival as the presiding spirit of our age.
decadence  culture  culturewars  politics  society  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
2018 was the year the Internet splintered
The Internet’s Warring States Period will define what it means to be a digital power in a global context. Each government’s attempt to define the rules either projects its policy globally or fragments what was once the common ground of some aspect of the internet. The earliest and most obvious examples of fragmentation came from website blocking, a common technique to control information among authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Iran. In the early days, accessing the internet outside these countries’ borders generally required a relatively simple mix of proxies and virtual private network services. [...]

The Warring States Period not only defined what we understand today as Chinese civilization, but it also came to define the role of the state and the acceptable tactics in the inevitable bids for power that emerged. The Internet’s Warring States Period is similarly shaping the role of states in the global internet and defining what constitutes acceptable digitalpolitik, which changes by a country’s position and market influence.
internet  China  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Rethinking Polarization
It is impossible to know just how to evaluate the relative or absolute merits of those and other contributors to tribalization. Take your pick and add your own. The common theme, in any case, is that humans were designed for life in small, homogeneous groups where change was slow and choices were few. So if we find ourselves living in large, heterogeneous populations with fast-paced change and a bewildering array of choices, we may be more apt to build a tribal cocoon for ourselves: a form of emotional rescue (to use Groenendyk's term) that partisan polarization can provide if more pro-social ways of connecting fail. [...]

So where does that leave us? In a swamp, but with a path out. We cannot change human nature. We are stuck with our Serengeti-evolved selves. But we are rational creatures, capable of analyzing and understanding the forces that beset us, and then capable of responding. Getting traction against affective polarization and tribalism will require some direct measures, such as civic bridge-building. Even more, it will require indirect measures, such as strengthening institutions like unions, civic clubs, political-party organizations, civics education, and others. Above all, it will require re-norming: rediscovering and recommitting to virtues like lawfulness and truthfulness and forbearance and compromise.
[But how? How do we accomplish any of these admirable recommendations? What would be Step One?]
politics  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Opinion | What nation isn’t obsessed with ensuring economic growth? New Zealand, apparently.
Last month, the island nation released its first “Wellbeing Budget.” Contra most national spending plans, the goal of the coming year’s appropriations is not to boost gross domestic product but to increase the happiness of the country’s citizens. In the next fiscal year, all of New Zealand’s noncore spending must be oriented toward five well-being goals: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, supporting indigenous people, transitioning to a low-emissions economy and thriving in a digital age. And to measure success, the government will track nontraditional indicators such as perceived environmental quality and sense of belonging.

It remains to be seen how effective this new budget will be at addressing the issues it calls out, or whether the initiative will outlast the tenure of progressive Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But as a statement of values and a signpost for other modern governments, it’s a major step.
politics  economics  health  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
We’ve just had the best decade in human history. Seriously | The Spectator
Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.

Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing. [...]

As we enter the third decade of this century, I’ll make a prediction: by the end of it, we will see less poverty, less child mortality, less land devoted to agriculture in the world. There will be more tigers, whales, forests and nature reserves. Britons will be richer, and each of us will use fewer resources. The global political future may be uncertain, but the environmental and technological trends are pretty clear — and pointing in the right direction.
futurism  progress  economics  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
A Field Guide for the Entire 21st Century
So it was distressing, this holiday season, to learn that the Eastern goldfinch could soon depart the Garden State, at least for half the year. If global temperatures rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2080, the goldfinch’s summer range will no longer include any part of New Jersey, according to the National Audubon Society. So too will the goldfinch exit Iowa, where it is also the state bird. In fact, many state birds could soon fly their domiciles: the yellowhammer from Alabama, the purple finch from New Hampshire, the ruffled grouse from Pennsylvania. The official birds of Georgia, Idaho, and Utah will all see their ranges shrink dramatically in the state.

These changes are described in “Survival by Degrees,” a new online project released by Audubon. It was created with one of the country’s most prominent data-visualization firms, Stamen Design.
climate  nature  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
The Thoreau of the Suburbs - The Atlantic
The demand for a true wilderness experience has spilled over to TV, where shows like Man vs. Wild and even the Survivor franchise try to create an illusion of total isolation. Alaska: The Last Frontier, a reality show on the Discovery Channel, documents the life of an extended family homesteading in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Each episode opens with a pan of the surrounding land. In this pan, producers carefully avoid the nearby town of Homer, where the camera crew stays, making the Kilchers look like they live alone in the snowy mountains at the edge of the world.
[Some years ago I watched an episode of Man vs. Wild set in the Little River Canyon of northern Alabama — a place I happen to know very well. There were several points when Bear Grylls was struggling through a part of the canyon I had walked, and I knew that if they just panned the camera up a bit the audience could see a gas station and convenience store on the well-traveled highway at the rim of the canyon.]
nature 
7 weeks ago
I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them. - MIT Technology Review
What’s changed? Most of what they wrote in the assignment echoed the papers I’d received in 2014. The phones were compromising their relationships, cutting them off from real things, and distracting them from more important matters. But there were two notable differences. First, for these students, even the simplest activities—getting on the bus or train, ordering dinner, getting up in the morning, even knowing where they were—required their cell phones. As the phone grew more ubiquitous in their lives, their fear of being without it seemed to grow apace. They were jittery, lost, without them.

This may help to explain the second difference: compared with the first batch, this second group displayed a fatalism about phones. Tina’s concluding remarks described it well: “Without cell phones life would be simple and real but we may not be able to cope with the world and our society. After a few days I felt alright without the phone as I got used to it. But I guess it is only fine if it is for a short period of time. One cannot hope to compete efficiently in life without a convenient source of communication that is our phones.” Compare this admission with the reaction of Peter, who a few months after the course in 2014 tossed his smartphone into a river.
[This matches my experience. My students in general dislike their phones, and the central role those phones play in their lives, but they see no path to disconnection, can imagine no means of resistance.]
smartphones  socialmedia 
7 weeks ago
David Brooks | The Media Is Broken
The big difference for those of us in media is that the main story is not only where the decision makers are creating events. It’s also and maybe more so in the eyes of those doing the perceiving.

Obviously, in this era it’s even more important to have a news organization that is ideologically, culturally and geographically diverse, so you can surface and explore the different unconscious ways groups see.

It’s also important to ask different questions. It’s not enough to simply ask people’s opinions through polls and interviews. Epistemology is deeper than opinions. It’s found through deeper probing.

This is a wonderful opportunity for us to think about our jobs in more profound ways. The core insight is that in a hyper-pluralistic society you can’t know people in other groups until you know how they know you.
journalism  HTT  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Galileo’s Error by Philip Goff review – a new science of consciousness
Darwin didn’t explicitly endorse panpsychism – the view that there is an element of consciousness in all matter, or, somewhat more cautiously, that consciousness is one of the fundamental properties of matter. But he saw the force of the position, and saw that it implied our profound ignorance of the nature of matter: “What is matter? the whole thing a mystery”. Certainly he understood the point that William James made in 1890: “If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very origin of things. Accordingly we find that the more clear-sighted evolutionary philosophers are beginning to posit it there.”

Philip Goff’s engaging Galileo’s Error is a full‑on defence of panpsychism. It’s plainly a difficult view, but when we get serious about consciousness, and put aside the standard bag of philosophical tricks, it seems that one has to choose, with Wallace, between some version of panpsychism or fairytales about immaterial souls. This is of course too simple; Galileo’s Error lays out many of the complexities. It’s an illuminating introduction to the topic of consciousness. It addresses the real issue – unlike almost all recent popular books on this subject. It stands a good chance of delivering the extremely large intellectual jolt that many people will need if they are to get into (or anywhere near) the right ballpark for thinking about consciousness. This is a great thing.
[Certain people will believe almost anything that helps them avoid considering the possibility of a consciousness that's not reducible to electrochemical brain activity.]
science  neuroscience  philosophy  mind  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
The Stories We Were Told about Education Technology (2019)
One of the problems with a lot of ed-tech journalism, I’d argue, is that it is has not been particularly interested in accountability. Some of that, thankfully is changing. Trade publications have been far less committed to explaining what ed-tech is or does or was and far more committed to proselytizing what it might be or might do — all good, all positive of course. Far too many articles — and this is surely what its venture capitalist and philanthropist backers hope — have not reflected the landscape but have tried instead to shape it. That’s why stories about the golly-gee-whiz prospects of learning to code, game-based learning, social emotional learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain transcripts, and tutoring — by chatbots or by gig workers — still fill the pages of these publications. It’s not that these things are necessarily trends; it’s that certain folks very much hope they will be.

And so that we don’t forget and so that we can hold some of these people and companies accountable, here is a list of some of what did actually happen this year.
edtech  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
The 1619 Project Is Not History; It Is Conspiracy Theory
And again: the 1619 Project is not history; it is ignorance. It claims that the American Revolution was staged to protect slavery, though it never once occurs to the Project to ask, in that case, why the British West Indies (which had a far larger and infinitely more malignant slave system than the 13 American colonies) never joined us in that revolution. It claims that the Constitution’s three-fifths clause was designed by the Founders as the keystone that would keep the slave states in power, though the 1619 Project seems not to have noticed that at the time of the Constitutional Convention, all of the states were slave states (save only Massachusetts), so that the three-fifths clause could not have been intended to confer such a mysterious power on slavery unless the Founders had come to the Convention equipped with crystal balls. It behaves as though the Civil War never happened, that the slaves somehow freed themselves, and that a white president never put weapons into the hands of black men and bid them kill rebels who had taken up arms in defense of bondage. The 1619 Project forgets, in other words, that there was an 1863 Project, and that its name was emancipation.
history  race  from instapaper
7 weeks ago
Why Latinx Can’t Catch On - The Atlantic
Schoolmarms don’t make language. For all the fulminations about the singular they, for instance, English speakers have used it liberally for centuries, from Middle English on. It is quite ordinary for languages to have gender-neutral pronouns, and English-speakers felt natural recruiting they to serve that purpose. The idea that something that felt so ordinary was “wrong” was an imposition from on high that had little effect beyond what copy editors could get their pens on. Some used he/she; others laboriously alternated between he and she; but in speech especially, just as many relaxed and used they, and the world kept spinning.

Today, there is a new singular they that refers to specific people, as in “My girlfriend is sick, so they’re staying home.” This usage, favored as a linguistic reflection of gender fluidity, strikes many, especially people of a certain age, as faintly absurd. They see it as an imposition from above, or at least from without; they regard it as a mere fashion statement. But people way below that certain age are using the new singular they quite fluently. Chances are, it will truly catch on in the language, because for those embracing it, it comes from below, and feels natural and useful in a changing America.
language 
8 weeks ago
Historians Clash With the 1619 Project - The Atlantic
Nell Irvin Painter, a professor emeritus of history at Princeton who was asked to sign the letter, had objected to the 1619 Project’s portrayal of the arrival of African laborers in 1619 as slaves. The 1619 Project was not history “as I would write it,” Painter told me. But she still declined to sign the Wilentz letter.

“I felt that if I signed on to that, I would be signing on to the white guy's attack of something that has given a lot of black journalists and writers a chance to speak up in a really big way. So I support the 1619 Project as kind of a cultural event,” Painter said. “For Sean and his colleagues, true history is how they would write it. And I feel like he was asking me to choose sides, and my side is 1619's side, not his side, in a world in which there are only those two sides.”
[It's hard for me to trust a historian for whom historical accuracy is insignificant in comparison with taking the right "side."]
history  socialjustice  race  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
Emily Wilson talks about translating ‘The Odyssey’, Lina Giannarou | Kathimerini
I think it can be hard for people outside the academy to realize how much, within the academy, and within the classics field in particular, literary translation is seen as a fringe activity. Most translators of Ancient Greek and Latin texts, in the English-speaking world, are not academics. They’re often retired (male) academics, or freelance writers. One set of issues has to do with the devaluing of translation in the academy, such that it doesn’t get you tenure or promotion and might count against you (it shows you’re a dilettante or someone who does “outreach,” not serious scholarship; a total misrepresentation but one that is commonly believed).
translation  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
Dominion by Tom Holland — how Christianity shaped our world
The danger in seeking to claim modernity for Christianity is not that it is exaggerated, but that it wants us to acknowledge that there is no relation between the west and the rest that is not religious in form. Human rights are a matter of “repackaging Christian concepts for non-Christian audiences”, while secularism itself has “depended on the care with which it covered its tracks”. This can only have the consequence that non-Christians must agree to live in an enduringly Christian environment or resist modernity as an alien faith.

Fortunately, that choice is false. Even if the “West” is “moored” to its Christian past, it is also unmoored from it, and Christianity made this departure possible too. Following Feuerbach, a recent philosopher dubbed Christianity “the religion for leaving religion behind”. It was Christianity that gave the keys to the kingdom to revolutionaries who made it a very different place.
christian  history  secularization  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
First, the Smartphone Changed. Then, Over a Decade, It Changed Us. - WSJ
I ended up using a paper map and directions given to me by actual humans to get where I wanted to go. Sure, it took me 30 minutes longer to get to my destination than if I had used Google Maps. But I was thrilled to see that the part of my brain that had to link together different highways, cardinal directions and instructions from gas station attendants still worked.

More than that, it allowed me to better visualize where I was in the physical world because I knew how I had gotten from there to here. You feel strangely grounded in a way you can’t be when you’re vacantly making turn after turn dictated by a computer. Again, it has only been a decade, but I had forgotten what that felt like.

The best part of my only-tech-from-2010 challenge? No never-ending social-media feeds.

Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or tapping through Instagram Stories when I had a down moment, I’d look out the window of the car or strike up a conversation with the hotel concierge. Not once during my trip to the Detroit area did I have ads targeting me to eat Detroit-style pizza or to visit the local outlet shopping mall to buy a scarf. It was nice to be back in control of my information, my time and my brain.
tech  neuroscience  socialmedia 
8 weeks ago
Too anxious to press play
We tend to think art is a mirror held up to society. But in times of great change or distress, it's important to remember German playwright Bertold Brecht's rejection of that notion. He said "art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it." You would think that in these difficult times, we would want art to challenge the status quo, that we would gravitate toward film and TV that speaks to how we might react to dark forces rising. But is it possible that the rise of digital technology is changing the social function of entertainment, more sharply cleaving a line between the sort that is meant for pleasure and the kind that is meant to edify, or connect you with, the human?

That is perhaps too large a question for now. But it seems there is something about modern life that is changing how we relate to the things we previously used as distraction tools. With the infiltration of work into daily life, to-do lists pinging on our phones, and a set of digital tools designed to keep us hooked and never at rest, is it any wonder that YouTube is preferable to a hard film about a failing marriage? Maybe my brain is broken. But maybe, as 2019 draws to a close, it isn't the only thing that is.
tech  anxiety  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
Radiant Zigzag Becoming: How Terrence Malick and His Team Constructed To the Wonder
One odd but telling reference point Malick gave his editors was Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to the Penguin Books edition of Samuel Richardson’s revolutionary 1740 novel Pamela. In the intro, Doody discusses the fact that Richardson’s novel, which unfolds as a series of letters, presents an internalized narrative that appears, on the surface, to lack any and all artifice. “He loves the formless, the radiant zigzag becoming,” Doody writes, and the phrase “radiant zigzag becoming” soon became an unofficial motto for the film, representing its constant sense of movement and the fact that the characters’ relationships seem to always be in flux.
movies  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
Andrew Sullivan: America’s New Religions
“Ms. Warren has also troubled advocates of racial equality and justice, who say her attempt to document ethnicity with a D.N.A test gave validity to the idea that race is determined by blood — a bedrock principle for white supremacists and others who believe in racial hierarchies.” The social-justice movement’s suspicion of science, especially genetics, is at work here. And it is not “racial science” to examine your DNA to see which genetic subpopulation in the world you belong to, or where your ancestors lived. It’s science.

So if you send off for a 23andMe test, in the view of many Democrats, you’re a white supremacist! This seems to be where the Democratic Party now is. Hunker down for a second term of Donald J. Trump.
politics  religion  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
Facebook fails to convince lawmakers it needs to track your location at all times
"I appreciate Facebook’s attempts to inform users about their privacy choices. However, I am concerned that these efforts are insufficient and even misleading in light of how Facebook is actually treating user data,” Coons said in a statement. “In their response to our letter, Facebook confirmed that there is no way for users to prevent Facebook from using their location and serving them ads based on that information, even when location access has been turned off. Facebook claims that users are in control of their own privacy, but in reality, users aren’t even given an option to stop Facebook from collecting and monetizing their location information. The American people deserve to know how tech companies use their data, and I will continue working to find solutions to protect Americans’ sensitive information."
Facebook  socialmedia  technocracy  politics  from instapaper
8 weeks ago
There Are No Children Here. Just Lots of Life-Size Dolls.
"There are no chances for young people here,” said Ms. Ayano, who remembers when the village had a medical clinic, a pachinko gambling parlor and a diner. Now, Nagoro does not have even one shop. “They can’t make a living.”

Some 350 dolls made by Ms. Ayano and her friends outnumber the human residents by more than 10 to 1. All around Nagoro, she has staged the dolls — made of wood and wire frames, stuffed with newspapers and dressed in old clothes donated from across Japan — in various scenes evoking the real people who once populated the village.
dystopia  futurism  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
Better Language Models and Their Implications
We can also imagine the application of these models for malicious purposes, including the following (or other applications we can't yet anticipate):

- Generate misleading news articles
- Impersonate others online
- Automate the production of abusive or faked content to post on social media
- Automate the production of spam/phishing content

These findings, combined with earlier results on synthetic imagery, audio, and video, imply that technologies are reducing the cost of generating fake content and waging disinformation campaigns. The public at large will need to become more skeptical of text they find online, just as the "deep fakes" phenomenon calls for more skepticism about images.
AI  dystopia  technocracy  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
Is Terrence Malick ahead of his time or out of date?
Around the same time Poots appears in Knight of Cups, there is a shot of a dog from underwater, manically trying to grab a ball in its jaws. Of course, the very motion that causes then keeps pushing the ball just an inch out of reach. It is perfect – a teasing philosophical idea, caught in a single, endlessly eloquent image. In the course of one of the more annoying films I’ve seen in recent years, it instantly became one of my favourite scenes in cinema. It probably crosses my mind every day. Which is a way of saying that, even now, when it comes to Song to Song, and every Malick film from now until doomsday, although I’ll understand if you want to walk out, I’m staying put.
movies  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
Do Democrats and Republicans Get Different Results? - Niskanen Center
Republican and Democratic politicians offer very different agendas and proposals, but do they translate into real differences in outcomes? John Holbein finds that party control of government does not have any near-term impact across dozens of social and economic outcomes. But Jacob Grumbach finds that recent party control is associated with big changes in policy in some issue areas, sometimes producing real differences in directly-related outcomes like health insurance rates. Parties influence policy and some related outcomes, but perhaps not enough to declare one party better at improving well being.
politics 
9 weeks ago
Books Won’t Die
Throughout the nineteenth century and again in the twentieth, every generation rewrote the book’s epitaph. All that changes is whodunnit. Gautier’s culprit was a very real historical phenomenon: the daily papers emerging in 1835 thanks to broader literacy, the metal press invented around 1800, and steam printing shortly thereafter. Later sci-fi writers imagined a succession of replacements: “fonografic” recordings (Library Journal, 1883), “telephonic sermons” (Edward Bellamy, 1887), VCR-like “Babble Machines” (H. G. Wells, 1899), microfilm-esque “reading-machine bobbins” (Aldous Huxley, 1932), and “spools which projected books” (Ray Bradbury, 1948). In 1885, the French librarian R. Balmer gave the names of “whispering-machine” and “metal automatic book” to something that sounds uncannily like an audiobook. Its user “would place the machine in the hat, and have the sounds conveyed to the ear by wires.” Besides curing eyestrain, these “reading machines” would “permit of the pursuit simultaneously of physical and of mental improvement.” Translation: instead of hunching over desks, intellectuals would be free to jog. And with both hands free, their wives could read while dishwashing: “The problem of the higher education of woman would be triumphantly solved.”

The more spandex jumpsuits, the fewer leather-bound volumes: the future was recognizable by its bookshelf-bare walls.
books  reading 
9 weeks ago
Opinion | Inconvenient Murders
So allow me to put it plainly: We are suffering from a widespread social health epidemic and it is rooted in the cheapening of Jewish blood. If hatred of Jews can be justified as a misunderstanding or ignored as a mistake or played down as a slip of the tongue or waved away as “just anti-Zionism,” you can all but guarantee it will be.

Yet beneath the finger-pointing and the victim-blaming and the accusations of panic lobbed against a people that know a little something about persecution, there is the same old bigotry — the hatred of Jews that has presaged the death of so many seemingly civilized societies. A hatred that still, after centuries, exerts its powerful allure during periods of political and economic unrest, when the angry, the confused, the shortchanged and the scared look for simple explanations and a scapegoat. And even those who seek to uplift the marginalized can’t seem to find their voice when it comes to Jews facing anti-Semitism.
antisemitism  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
Andrew Sullivan: Boris Johnson’s Winning Formula
If Johnson succeeds, he’ll have unveiled a new formula for the Western right: Make no apologies for your own country and culture; toughen immigration laws; increase public spending on the poor and on those who are “just about managing”; increase taxes on the very rich and redistribute to the poor; focus on manufacturing and new housing; ignore the woke; and fight climate change as the Tories are (or risk losing a generation of support). That’s where the GOP will have to go if they want to recover from becoming an authoritarian cult.

Come to think of it, this would be a great formula for the Democrats as well if they really want to win in 2020. And that’s where the other parallel comes in. Labour’s policy-makers and intellectuals had no idea they were going to be electorally slaughtered, because London is the same bubble as New York, D.C., San Francisco, and Austin. I had very intelligent Labour friends of mine telling me this week that Corbyn could well pull off a miracle. And the knee-jerk reaction of Left Twitter to the results does not suggest that bubble is even close to being pricked. But London is not England. And Brooklyn, thank God, is not America. In the immortal words of the anti-Corbyn lefty Nick Cohen: “Never mistake your Twitter feed for your country.”
[Andrew continues to be the sharpest, shrewdest, most incisive political commentator I know.]
politics  Brexit  England  conservatism 
9 weeks ago
Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Menace? - Charlie's Diary
Let's get back to the 90/9/1 percent distribution, that applies to the components of the near future: 90% here today, 9% not here yet but on the drawing boards, and 1% unpredictable. I came up with that rule of thumb around 2005, but the ratio seems to be shifting these days. Changes happen faster, and there are more disruptive unknown-unknowns hitting us from all quarters with every passing decade. This is a long-established trend: throughout most of recorded history, the average person lived their life pretty much the same way as their parents and grandparents. Long-term economic growth averaged less than 0.1% per year over the past two thousand years. It has only been since the onset of the industrial revolution that change has become a dominant influence on human society. I suspect the 90/9/1 distribution is now something more like 85/10/5 — that is, 85% of the world of 2029 is here today, about 10% can be anticipated, and the random, unwelcome surprises constitute up to 5% of the mix. Which is kind of alarming, when you pause to think about it. [...]

This is proximate-future stuff, mind you. In the long term, all bets are off. I am not a believer in the AI singularity — the rapture of the nerds — that is, in the possibility of building a brain-in-a-box that will self-improve its own capabilities until it outstrips our ability to keep up. What CS professor and fellow SF author Vernor Vinge described as "the last invention humans will ever need to make". But I do think we're going to keep building more and more complicated, systems that are opaque rather than transparent, and that launder our unspoken prejudices and encode them in our social environment. As our widely-deployed neural processors get more powerful, the decisions they take will become harder and harder to question or oppose. And that's the real threat of AI — not killer robots, but "computer says no" without recourse to appeal.

I'm running on fumes at this point, but if I have any message to leave you with, it's this: AI and neurocomputing isn't magical and it's not the solution to all our problems, but it is dangerously non-transparent. When you're designing systems that rely on AI, please bear in mind that neural networks can fixate on the damndest stuff rather than what you want them to measure. Leave room for a human appeals process, and consider the possibility that your training data may be subtly biased or corrupt, or that it might be susceptible to adversarial attack, or that it turns yesterday's prejudices into an immutable obstacle that takes no account of today's changing conditions.
futurism 
9 weeks ago
A design for death: meeting the bad boy of the euthanasia movement | 1843
Nitschke says he doesn’t want “to make a load of money from it,” but there’s Silicon Valley swagger in his latest project’s ambition to disrupt the business of elective death through technology. The Sarco concept came to Nitschke while watching "Soylent Green", a 1970s sci-fi movie in which Charlton Heston, disgusted by a world ravaged by global warming, seeks euthanasia in the serenity of a customised government clinic. It’s set in 2022. Eventually, Nitschke wants the 3D-printed Sarco to be accessible on demand to anyone, anywhere – a sort of cosmic Uber into the great beyond. But for now, he’s taking his invention to Switzerland because it’s the only jurisdiction worldwide in which, “so long as there’s no malicious purpose”, assistance in a suicide is not a crime.
[Looking forward to a story about Adolf Eichmann, the bad boy of Hitler's death camps]
death  technocracy 
9 weeks ago
Labour’s anti-Semitism shame must never be forgiven | Coffee House
One is Corbyn’s support for Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh. The pair were convicted in the 1990s in connection with a car bomb explosion outside the Israeli Embassy in London and another against a building in London that housed a number of British Jewish charities. Not only did Corbyn run a campaign to get these two released from prison, but when they were released he acted as a character referee for at least one of them, claiming that Botmeh was a suitable person to be involved in the governance of a British university. Why would he do that? Of all the people in the prison system up and down this land, why would Corbyn have put such effort into getting a release for these two (and praising them, at that) who had been involved in the bombing of Jewish targets in London? [...]

Jeremy Corbyn will lose this election and every effort should be put into ensuring that he loses it big: that what happens on Thursday is not just a defeat, but a defeat of such crushing totality for the Labour party that it takes it years to recover. It should be such a defeat that it is not possible for a Keir Starmer or Emily Thornberry to simply pick up the reins and go back to business as usual. Other left-wing parties may emerge and flourish. But the Labour party must never be forgiven for what it has offered to the public at this election. What Corbyn has brought into the mainstream has toxified Britain and the party that allowed it to happen should be held to account.
antisemitism  England 
9 weeks ago
Involving Orcs - New Rambler Review
The blogger John Rogers famously observed: 
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. 

Actually they both involve orcs—inherently demonic creatures, irretrievably evil. And so does Lisa Duggan’s new book Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed. Duggan capably shows how Rand’s story rationalizes plutocracy and cruelty.  In her depiction, Rand is an orc and so are her fans. 

Duggan is a careful and honest scholar, and everything she says about Rand is true. But she is selling a different version of the same Manichean narrative. Her portrait of the libertarian right is as one-sided as Rand’s portrait of the redistributive left. Duggan fails to grasp some of the deepest sources of Rand’s appeal to otherwise decent people—the value of individual creativity, the benefits of capitalism, and the possibility of state overreach—and so misses opportunities to find common ground with many who are drawn to Rand’s minimal-state dogma. Drawing people, particularly young people, away from that dogma is morally urgent, but it won’t happen unless Rand’s legitimate attractions are understood. 
politics  ethics  libertarian 
9 weeks ago
The Christian Withdrawal Experiment
At a time when American politics is so fractured and dysfunctional, the idea of huddling among our own holds undeniable appeal. SSPX parishioners believe they know God’s way and try to follow it, largely unencumbered by those who do not share their views. But there is peril in the premise that we would all be better off living among our own. Democracy depends on the friction that comes from encounters with difference. The movements for abolition, enfranchisement, labor dignity, and civil rights all stemmed from factions of Americans demanding rights and basic respect from their neighbors. If the country’s most fervent believers, whether Catholics, evangelical Christians, civil-rights advocates, or environmentalists, were to simply give up their visions for a better nation, the American project would stagnate.
[I’m wondering whether this counsel goes both ways: That is, if the SSPX folks need to be recalled to their civic responsibility, does anyone else need to be asked to treat the beliefs of conservative Catholics with respect? Or is all the moral obligation on one side?]
BenOp  politics  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
“Link In Bio” is a slow knife
But killing off links is a strategy. It may be presented as a cost-saving measure, or as a way of reducing the sharing of untrusted links. But it is a strategy, designed to keep people from the open web, the place where they can control how, and whether, someone makes money off of an audience. The web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data in the ways that Facebook properties do.

Links take us to places where we can make choices that Instagram never would.
internet  socialmedia  Facebook 
9 weeks ago
Fortunate Naivety
Whichever rhetorical tack we choose, there are still countless vulnerable people hidden in our own communities or across the world, and the people who are able to read about Jean Vanier’s life have a wealth of resources to share with them. Perhaps the greatest is simply time and presence, those things that the totems of our digital age are draining the most slyly as they cultivate a banal cynicism. Vanier was the sort of person that we desperately need an army of; hopefully it is not naive to say that an army of people like him are out there, ready to love others like he did if only they could chuck their cynicism.
christian  charity  disability  from instapaper
9 weeks ago
Cheating is the norm. Plan your course with this in mind. | Small Pond Science
If you make it through the upcoming semester without having busted any students for cheating, then the odds are that you failed to detect the academic misconduct that happened in your class.

Cheating is pedestrian and commonplace. The bulk of tests and assignments are probably done honestly, but cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are super-duper common. Academic dishonesty happens far, far more often than we detect. Most students arrive into college from a “culture of cheating.”

There’s no shortage of peer-reviewed literature indicating that most college students cheat, and that cheating happens all of the time, and that situations when nobody cheats are the outliers.

I always start my courses telling my students that I have no expectation that any individual will violate the academic integrity policy. But I also let them know that nearly every semester, one or more students have received an F course that I teach because they were found to intentionally violate the academic integrity policy. And I spend time with my class on the topic so that it is wholly clear what constitutes cheating and plagiarism. There can be no valid cries of ignorance once academic misconduct is detected.
academentia 
10 weeks ago
Why We Don’t Report All of the Cheating We Detect | ChronicleVitae
Most students cheat, or so they eventually admit in surveys of college alumni. Weighing the collective evidence, it appears that only about a quarter of undergraduates have not cheated. Much of the misconduct goes on below the radar of faculty members, and we can’t do much about something we don’t see. The real question is: Why aren’t we reporting more of the cases that we do detect?

If you’ve taught in higher education, you no doubt have discovered plagiarism on a written assignment or cheating on an exam. It’s also likely that your college or university requires you to report every one of those incidents — or maybe on your campus, that’s a request rather than a mandate.

Regardless, faculty members are drastically underreporting academic-integrity violations. Most of us just deal with these situations on our own, or perhaps by mentioning it to colleagues. At some level, we all realize that underreporting makes the problem seem less severe than it is and reduces an institution’s incentive to adopt stronger measures that would promote academic integrity.
academentia 
10 weeks ago
Lucy Ellmann: ‘We need to raise the level of discourse’
I find the annual celebration of contemporary writing, the Xmas lists of 2019 books, quite offensive. It seems so arrogant. These lists suggest that the most relevant books must be the ones most recently published. That’s daft. It’s nice of people to take an interest in new writing of course, especially when one has a book out that year oneself, but let’s face it, it’s a marketing ploy. They want to shift some books, and to do so they glory in the “now” – while everybody knows readers would get more from reading Ulysses or Woolf or Kafka.
BBD  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Larry and Sergey: a valediction
They were prophets, Larry and Sergey. When, in their famous 1998 grad-school paper “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” they introduced Google to the world, they warned that if the search engine were ever to leave the “academic realm” and become a business, it would inevitably be corrupted. It would become “a black art” and “be advertising oriented.” That’s exactly what happened — not just to Google but to the internet as a whole. The white-robed wizards of Silicon Valley now ply the black arts of algorithmic witchcraft for power and money. They wanted most of all to be Gandalf, but they became Saruman.
google  technocracy  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Stories of an extraordinary world - Walking the wall: my Brexit hike in northern England | The Economist
That none of the seats on the route I walked will change hands on December 12th does not mean nothing has changed in the “middleland”. I had expected hearty scepticism of Westminster, but I was taken aback that so many doubted the good faith of all politicians. Some held them in contempt. This was new to me and, as someone who believes most MPs go into politics for the right reasons, profoundly depressing. Yet it was hard to mount the case for the defence. Voters this far north – and in such safe seats – are right that Westminster does not spend much time talking about their needs. I understand why so many here backed Brexit, in large part because they felt ignored. The delays and endless debate since then have hardly persuaded them that they are now being listened to. If politicians want to reconnect with voters, they could do worse than start with this walk. But they should probably wait until summer.
Brexit 
10 weeks ago
Rethinking the Infamous Milgram Experiment in Authoritarian Times
Some of Milgram’s subjects did defy the experimenter. Like Jan Rensaleer, a Dutch immigrant who responded to the experiment’s warning that he had no other choice to continue at 255 volts with the following memorable declaration:

“I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.”

In some cases, the subject stood up during the experiment and walked away.

So maybe it is a mistake to view Milgram’s work as an “obedience experiment”—although he clearly did. Maybe what he actually conducted was a disobedience experiment, showing that some people will not follow orders no matter how strong the social pressure.

They are out there, waiting the moment when history calls upon them to disobey. We should not lose sight of them in the weeds of social psychology. They are Stanley Milgram’s unheralded legacy—and we may even stand among them.
psychology  politics  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
The Smartest Guys in the Clubhouse
There’s no reckoning coming, but there is something perversely satisfying and darkly apropos about seeing where all those McKinsey-scented insights and learnings (to use another corporate consultancy term of art) wound up. All those merciless cullings and endless organizational refinements, all that data and all the brilliant minds and machines working it over, all resolving to some underpaid grunt in a folding chair whaling away on a garbage can because the members of the team’s brain trust of thoroughbred data nerds simply took it for granted that they could get away with it. All that data, all those numbers, all those shifting variables, continually delivered the same answer: What are you going to do, stop us?
ethics  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Tendrils of Mess in our Brains
Watts observes that elements of the natural world – clouds, foam on water, the stars, human beings – are not messes, though the nature of their order remains inscrutable, and Watts doesn’t try to pin down its precise nature. Mess seems to be somehow a property perceptible only in the presence of human artifacts. Is this the result of some kind of aesthetic original sin on the part of humans, uncanny beings severed from the holiness of Nature? I hope not. “Humans are bad” is a boring answer.

We can learn something about order from the mystery of mess. We start here: a cloud is not a mess, but an ashtray full of cigarette butts is a mess. In tracking down why this is so, we will find, through the lens of the mess and the non-mess, a clue to the hidden orders in our minds.
history  nature  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
How a Flawed Experiment "Proved" that Free Will Doesn't Exist
Because of issues such as these—and others that I don’t have space to mention—it seems strange that such a flawed experiment has become so influential, and has been (mis)used so frequently as evidence against the idea of free will. You might ask: why are so many intellectuals so intent on proving that they have no free will? (As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out ironically, “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving themselves purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”)

This is probably because the nonexistence of free will seems a logical extension of some of the primary assumptions of the materialist paradigm—such as the idea that our sense of self is an illusion, and that consciousness and mental activity are reducible to neurological activity. However, as I suggest in my book Spiritual Science, it is entirely possible that these assumptions are false. The mind may be more than just a shadow of the brain, and free will may not be an illusion but an invaluable human attribute, which can be cultivated and whose development makes our lives more meaningful and purposeful.
philosophy  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern
Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent some time in the past trying to show “‘the lack of scientific certainty’” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “‘primary issue.’” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument—or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized objectified facts. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?

In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the ap- pearance of objective statements, do we now have to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we said? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not?
latour  critique  science  climate 
10 weeks ago
W.H. Auden's "Tradition and Value" | The New Republic
Human history is a wave-series of civilizations. At the crest of each, society is united in a community of belief, a standard concept of the True and the Real “with reference to which its activities can be given purpose and meaning and value.” In each trough this common standard disintegrates; “public truth is shattered into innumerable private truths.” An artist is always confronted with the problem. What has value? What and according to what pattern of emphasis shall I select my materials? Those born in the crest periods can give the answer of their society in which they are assenting members; but those born in the troughs can only give personal subjective answers with no guarantee that they will be valid for others. At present we are in such a trough.
auden  history  culture 
11 weeks ago
Auden On Freud and Psychonalysis | The New Republic
In the long run, however, the welcome given to psychoanalysis by the public is based on a sound intuition that stands for treating every one as a unique and morally responsible person, not as a keyboard—it speaks of the narcissism of the Ego, but it believes in the existence of that Ego and its capacity to recognize its own limitations—and that in these days is a great deal. The behaviorists are certainly right in one thing; the human mind does have a nature which can be tampered with: with a few drugs and a little regular torture every human mind can be reduced to a condition in which it is no longer a subject for psychology.

Psychoanalysts and their patients may sometimes seem funny little people, but the fact that they exist is evidence that society is still partly human.
auden  psychology  humanism 
11 weeks ago
Opinion | Are Liberals Against Marriage?
So in the never-ending right-left debate about how to explain the decline of marriage and what to do about it, I think the important developments are twofold. First, the emerging phase of conservatism is more inclined to integrate left-wing arguments about the effects of economic policy and neoliberal capitalism into its cultural diagnoses — though whether this integration will lead to a wiser right or just be swallowed up in Trumpian hypocrisy and folly is an entirely open question.

Second, the emerging phase of liberalism is less inclined to concede anything to conservatives on the cultural front. It is tracing a return to the spirit of the 1970s, to the promise of ever-widening liberation — and the long-term influence of that return on a society already shadowed by sterility and loneliness will be, shall we say, interesting to watch.
marriage  sex  politics  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
The biggest lie tech people tell themselves — and the rest of us
When I asked the man behind the system, French inventor Marcel Saucet, how the students in these classes feel about being watched, he admitted that they didn’t like it. They felt violated and surveilled, he said, but he shrugged off any implication that it was his fault. “Everybody is doing this,” he told me. “It’s really early and shocking, but we cannot go against natural laws of evolution.”

As a reporter who covers technology and the future, I constantly hear variations of this line as technologists attempt to apply the theory Charles Darwin made famous in biology to their own work. I’m told that there is a progression of technology, a movement that is bigger than any individual inventor or CEO. They say they are simply caught in a tide, swept along in a current they cannot fight. They say it inevitably leads them to facial recognition (now even being deployed on children), smart speakers that record your intimate conversations, and doorbells that narc on your neighbors. They say we can’t blame these companies for the erosion of privacy or democracy or trust in public institutions — that was all going to happen sooner or later.
technocracy  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
China Uses DNA to Map Faces, With Help From the West
Already, China is exploring using facial recognition technology to sort people by ethnicity. It is also researching how to use DNA to tell if a person is a Uighur. Research on the genetics behind the faces of Tumxuk’s men could help bridge the two.

The Chinese government is building “essentially technologies used for hunting people,” said Mark Munsterhjelm, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario who tracks Chinese interest in the technology.

In the world of science, Dr. Munsterhjelm said, “there’s a kind of culture of complacency that has now given way to complicity.”
China  surveillance  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Opinion | Democratic candidates should spend less time courting the Twitter vote
Harris dropped out of the race on Tuesday afternoon. Warren, by contrast, remains very much in the hunt. But her poll numbers have nearly halved since October. If that trend continues, then soon Warren, too, will be looking for an exit.

It’s tempting to linger on the superficial similarities between the two candidates — both women, both lawyers — rather than the deep differences. Warren is a fundamentally ideological candidate, while Harris is a consummate careerist whose main passion seems to be the acquisition of power. Yet, beneath the deep differences, there is one important similarity: Both candidates often appeared to be running less for president of the United States than president of Twitter.
socialmedia  politics  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
On the Passing of Oberlin Plaintiff David Gibson - Quillette
This is the man Oberlin students and faculty vilified as a racist, who Oberlin College punished by cancelling his cafeteria contract, and who is now accused, even in death, of attacking free speech for attempting to clear his family name. The Gibson family aren’t racists, they were just grist to a political mill. And as I watched all this all unfold in court, I was stunned by how unnecessary and senselessly destructive the whole episode had been.

About 300 people showed up for David Gibson’s funeral at the First Church of Oberlin. The church was built in the 1840s and is now one of the oldest landmarks in the town, along with the college campus and the town square where the Underground Railroad had once helped slaves from the South escape to Canada. It was at this church that Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, and Woodrow Wilson all addressed the Oberlin community over the years. But, aside from a few retired professors, no one from Oberlin College was there to pay their respects.
academentia  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Can the US government stem the tide of ‘fake news’ in a postmodern world? | Evgeny Morozov
We’re starting to see an irony of the “post-truth” world: the democratization of knowledge has been matched by the intensification of the bureaucratic model. This time, however, the human side of bureaucracy is presented as archaic and uncool, to be replaced by “objective” algorithms and ledgers. The one true utopia of this mode of thinking – already glimpsed in places like Singapore or Estonia – is a fully-automated bureaucratic system enforcing the rules with Prussian efficiency.

The digital culture that ensues makes for a very odd beast. Not surprisingly, it’s conducive to the kind of cognitive dissonance feeding the alt-right. On the one hand, in a populist manner reminiscent of Wikipedia, it dispenses with expertise, as everyone is assumed to be equal to everyone else, much like the nodes on the blockchain network (another myth). On the other hand, it intensifies the modernist faith in rules and regulations – and the possibility of finding, by some quantitative means, the single truth, which can then be made available to all, without any intermediation by forces other than technology. If one had to come up with a label for this ideology, “populist modernism” would be quite appropriate.

The contradictions of such a bizarre ideological mix are quite apparent: in dispensing with the experts, it replaces them with faith in “technology” and “progress”. But since such accounts usually lack any meaningful discussion of the political economy of technology (let alone that of progress), they have nowhere to fall back upon to explain historical change. What, after all, drives and shapes all that technology around us?

In such accounts, “technology” is usually just a euphemism for a class of uber-human technologists and scientists, who, in their spare time, are ostensibly saving the world, mostly by inventing new apps and products. The experts, thus, are brought in through the back door, but without any formal acknowledgement (or possibility of democratic contestation). These experts — whether Wikipedia editors or blockchain engineers — are presented as mere appendages to the sheer force of technology and progress, when in reality they’re often its drivers.

This is hardly the sort of secure, reliable foundation on which democratic culture can flourish.
technocracy  algorithms  knowledge  truth  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
A Word from Abigail Thompson
Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized. Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and describe “multiple activities in depth.” Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test.

The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine. Whatever our views on communism, most of us today are in agreement that the UC loyalty oaths of the 1950s were wrong. Whatever our views on diversity and how it can be achieved, mandatory diversity statements are equally misguided. Mathematics is not immune from political pressures on campus. In addition to David Saxon, who eventually became the president of the University of California, three mathematicians were fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath in 1950. Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.
academentia  socialjustice 
11 weeks ago
Noisy Retrospection: The Effect of Party Control on Policy Outcomes
Retrospective voting is vital for democracy. But, are the objective performance metrics widely thought to be relevant for retrospection—such as the performance of the economy, criminal justice system, and schools, to name a few—valid criteria for evaluating government performance? That is, do political coalitions actually have the power to influence the performance metrics used for retrospection on the timeline introduced by elections? Using difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity techniques, we find that US states governed by Democrats and those by Republicans perform equally well on economic, education, crime, family, social, environmental, and health outcomes on the timeline introduced by elections (2-4 years downstream). Our results suggest that voters may struggle to truly hold government coalitions accountable, as objective performance metrics appear to be largely out of the immediate control of political coalitions.
politics  democracy 
11 weeks ago
The Gospel in the Prayer Book | The North American Anglican
Many modern Anglicans do not even own a Prayer Book. Their Bible Study scheme, if they have one, owes nothing to the lectionary. They rarely hear, nor do they wish to hear, what used to be called ‘Prayer Book teaching’ – exposition of the Articles and services. The Prayer Book has little hold on their affections. They patronize it, treating it as a rather faded family antique, nothing like as precious as their forbears imagined. They seem to have no inkling of its real worth.

The attitude of some Evangelicals, in particular, contrasts strikingly with that of a former generation. A century and a half ago, Charles Simeon, vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, and preacher of a famous set of University sermons on The Excellency of the Liturgy, never lost an opportunity of praising the Prayer Book and criticizing its critics. The deadness and formality experienced in the worship of the Church arise far more from the low state of our graces than from any defect in our Liturgy.

But many today treat the set services as a mere stodgy preliminary, tending only to take the edge off one’s appetite, and the idea of the Prayer Book as an aid to spiritual worship leaves them cold.

In this situation, what is needed is a detailed account of the Prayer Book’s particular virtues.
BCP  Anglican 
11 weeks ago
Tech Has Drained the Reality Out of Our Real Lives
There is a sense in which copy and original have swapped places where live music is concerned. The videos and photographs of the gig — the copies, in other words — have taken on the character of the original: These are the things that feel real (to the ones posting them on social media, at least). Meanwhile, the gig itself — the original — takes on the vague, spectral character of a copy. We find ourselves trapped in a closed loop of images with no possibility of escape to something that not only is real, but feels real, too.

But if the experience of live music feels less satisfying in the age of smartphones, the opposite is true of the pictures that smartphones enable us to take. The capacity to make innumerable attempts at a “good photo” without penalty means we’re no longer forced to live with the duds. Instant retouching eliminates blemishes and brightens color palettes. The world appears more vivid, with all the unappealing bits happily excised. And where once our photographs showed us as vulnerable and startled, they now show us versions of ourselves that are unruffled, assured, ready for anything.

It isn’t just that our virtual worlds and lives look better than our actual worlds and lives, though they typically do. They often seem more real, too. This is because the virtual world seems more orderly, less confused than the actual world. It makes more sense. The serene selves we recognize in our photographs, endowed with purpose and direction by the pseudo-narratives of social media timelines, seem more truly us than the fretful, rudderless souls we feel ourselves to be nowadays. And when a photo gets “likes,” and we feel ourselves to be the objects of joint attention, we enjoy a heightened sense of our own reality — but the self felt as real is, paradoxically, the virtual one that lives in the picture rather than the actual person that lives in the world.
socialmedia  photography  music  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Charles Darwin, letter to Charles Lyell, 1861
I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.— I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am

Ever yours

C. Darwin
11 weeks ago
resistance in the materials
Until quite recently, every self-professed digital humanist I knew was deeply engaged in tool-building, and in the most fundamental and direct kinds of humanities re-mediation. The tools we crafted might be algorithmic or procedural—software devices for performing operations on the already-digitized material of our attention—or patently ontological: conceptual tools like database designs and markup schema, for modeling humanities content in the first place. These were frameworks simultaneously lossy and enhancing, all of them (importantly) making and testing hypotheses about human texts and artifacts, and about the phase changes these objects go through as we move them into new media. No matter the type, our tools had one thing in common: overwhelmingly, their own users had made ’em, and understood the continual and collective re-making of them, in response to various resistances encountered and discovered, as a natural part of the process of their use. In fact, this constructivist and responsive maker’s circle was so easily and unavoidably experienced as the new, collaborative hermeneutic of humanities computing, as the work itself that—within or beyond our small community—we too rarely bothered to say so. [...]

Casualized labor begets commodity toolsets, frictionless and uncritical engagement with content, and shallow practices of use. I am not an uncritical booster of the tenure system, nor am I unaware of the economic realities of running a university, but I find it evident that, if we fail to invest at the institutional and national level in full-time, new-model, humanities-trained scholarly communications practitioners, devoted to shepherding and intervening in the conversion of our cultural heritage to digital forms (now there and back again!)—and if we allow the conversion of a generation of scholars to at-will teaching and DH labor—humanities knowledge workers of all stripes will lose, perhaps forever, control over Morris’s crucial triad: our material, our tools, and our time.
DH  work  academe  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Multiverse Theories Are Bad for Science
I am not a multiverse denier, any more than I am a God denier. Science cannot resolve the existence of either God or the multiverse, making agnosticism the only sensible position. I see some value in multiverse theories. Particularly when presented by a writer as gifted as Sean Carroll, they goad our imaginations and give us intimations of infinity. They make us feel really, really small—in a good way.

But I’m less entertained by multiverse theories than I once was, for a couple of reasons. First, science is in a slump, for reasons both internal and external. Science is ill-served when prominent thinkers tout ideas that can never be tested and hence are, sorry, unscientific. Moreover, at a time when our world, the real world, faces serious problems, dwelling on multiverses strikes me as escapism—akin to billionaires fantasizing about colonizing Mars. Shouldn’t scientists do something more productive with their time?
science  physics  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Ed-Tech Agitprop
I've been thinking a lot lately about this storytelling that we speakers do -- it's part of what I call the "ed-tech imaginary." This includes the stories we invent to explain the necessity of technology, the promises of technology; the stories we use to describe how we got here and where we are headed. And despite all the talk about our being "data-driven," about the rigors of "learning sciences" and the like, much of the ed-tech imaginary is quite fanciful. Wizard of Oz pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain kinds of stuff.

This storytelling seems to be quite powerful rhetorically, emotionally. It's influential internally, within the field of education and education technology. And it's influential externally -- that is, in convincing the general public about what the future of teaching and learning might look like, should look like, and making them fear that teaching and learning today are failing in particular ways. This storytelling hopes to set the agenda.
edtech  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
To decarbonize we must decomputerize: why we need a Luddite revolution
But it’s clear that confronting the climate crisis will require something more radical than just making data greener. That’s why we should put another tactic on the table: making less data. We should reject the assumption that our built environment must become one big computer. We should erect barriers against the spread of “smartness” into all of the spaces of our lives.

To decarbonize, we need to decomputerize.
climate  computing  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Opinion | Social Media and the Populist Moment
In a recent Boston Review essay, Tufts political scientist Eitan Hersh notes that many American liberals participate in politics through a kind of uber-online “political hobbyism,” in which real-world organizing recedes in favor of constant engagement “from behind screens or with earphones on.”

Inside this hobbyist’s world the centrality of those screens becomes a given. Spend all your time on Twitter and Facebook and it seems that Twitter and Facebook must be essential to the far right’s appeal, and that a better social media ecosystem would suffice to deal with Trump or suppress Marine Le Pen or sideline Nigel Farage.

But if the other side is actually less online than you are, this assumption leads to two mistakes. First, you end up downgrading the obvious real-world forces driving populism’s appeal, persuading yourself that an algorithmic tweak or better fact-checking will deal with deep trends — economic stagnation, social crisis — that would exist with or without fake news.

Second, you lose sight of the ways in which your own information bubble is a potential radicalizing force — including for people observing it from outside, for whom it makes political liberalism seem like an airless world filled with hyper-educated ideologues. Indeed, on the evidence of a Democratic primary that seems made for the social-media bubble, it’s liberalism that’s being warped by online feedback loops and radicalization cascades.
politics  socialmedia  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Opinion | Our National Parks Are in Trouble
Perhaps it’s no surprise that my most instructive visit was to the Interior Department’s Washington headquarters in 2018. The spacious hallways of the five-acre, stone-quarried edifice, where the Park Service’s bison motif was omnipresent, were strangely empty. Some 1,500 employees during the Trump administration, including many scientists, had been dismissed or reprimanded. So the three longtime Park Service officials I was there to meet with about my book were clearly demoralized.

One of them spoke to my fears when she told me that they couldn’t recommend anyone there to write an environment-focused foreword for the book, even though the Park Service had collaborated on it with my publisher. Not long after my visit, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would resign under pressure as he faced investigations into his business dealings and policy decisions. He was replaced by David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist.
climate  ecology  politics  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
News From Real-Life Benedict Options | The American Conservative
What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing something like La Bénnison Dieu in their own lives? What are the conceptual barriers within themselves that they have to overcome? What are the practical ones?

To change your lifestyle, the most necessary quality is patience: it is impossible to change all your habits at once, and you will encounter many disappointments. But it is worth it.

I think that the most difficult conceptual barrier to overcome is the fear of living in community. It is easy to see the disadvantages and possible abuses, especially with the abuses of authority and sexual abuse that have taken place in the new “charismatic” communities. But on the other hand, we do not see the disadvantages and excesses of the individualistic and consumerist society. And once you have tasted the kindness of being able to provide services between neighbors, of being able to have a good time every day, of being able to count on each other, of being able to spontaneously share meals, believe me, you can no longer do without them. We try to protect ourselves against the excesses of new communities by not pooling finances, and by preserving the intimacy and autonomy of each family; but at the same time we reject contemporary individualism, which prevents people from developing ties of dependence between themselves, which is what they are meant to do, however!

The most difficult practical barrier to overcome is, in my opinion, the fear of losing one’s material, psychological and spiritual comfort. However, here again, we only see the disadvantages of a simpler and more sober life, and we do not see all the advantages. My current life allows me to practice the Christian virtues much more than any prayer group I have ever attended in the big cities!

There is also a form of spirituality that is a great obstacle to life change, and that consists in thinking that the spiritual life is totally independent of the life we lead every day. For example, we think it is quite possible and compatible to work in a company that commits social and environmental crimes while being Catholic: what matters is to pray and go to Mass, and so spirituality is totally detached from concrete life; but who does not see that going to Mass while making the world less good is not compatible? Our religion is the only religion of the incarnation; what we do every day is fundamental in God’s plan of salvation. It is the whole social doctrine of the Church that must be rediscovered and put into practice in order to achieve true coherence in our spirituality.
BenOp 
11 weeks ago
Panto should be about escapism, not saving the planet | The Spectator
"I remember a time, not so long ago, when panto was a blessed relief from this kind of tub-thumping agitprop. The writers didn’t eschew politics, but lampooned hand-wringing do-gooders on both sides of the aisle. Panto is part of the great satirical tradition in the British theatre, embodying the same anarchic, out-of-school spirit that animated Oliver Goldsmith and W.S. Gilbert. What’s so lamentable about the new breed of inclusive, inoffensive pantos is that this tradition has been hijacked by those intent on ‘educating’ and ‘improving’ the masses. For the poor schoolchildren forced to sit through these civics lessons it must be like being back in the classroom."
from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Why Are College Students So Afraid of Me? - WSJ
The maudlin self-pity on display at Holy Cross doesn’t arise spontaneously. It is actively cultivated by adults on campus. A few days before the Holy Cross protest, faculty and administrators at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., convened a therapeutic “scholars” panel to take place during another talk of mine. The goal was to inoculate the university against the violence that I allegedly represented.

Bucknell’s interpersonal violence prevention coordinator; the director of its Women’s Resource Center; the interim associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion; a women’s and gender studies professor; and an economics professor discussed rape culture, trauma and racism. Students and faculty were then invited to join in painting “self-care” rocks.

This craft activity, in which participants write feel-good messages on stones, was originally designed for K-5 classrooms. It may not be what parents paying Bucknell’s $72,000 annual tuition and fees had in mind. No matter. According to Bucknell’s interpersonal violence prevention coordinator, it was “especially important” for students who had attended my talk to come to the scholars “space” afterward and practice self-care.
academentia 
12 weeks ago
Raising Kael: On Pauline Kael’s Controversial Criticism of Citizen Kane
Every aspect of this debate is interesting, I think: the extent to which Welles simply filmed what Mankiewicz had written, the validity of the claim that “cinema is the work of a single person.” (NB: It isn’t. Ever. At all.) But I believe that that authorship/auteur-ship controversy has tended to obscure the most incisive and generative insight of Kael’s essay: In a very important sense, Citizen Kane is a comedy about newspapers. And that is a surprising and generally unacknowledged key to its lasting greatness.
movies  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
The Tragedy of the ‘Trans’ Child | National Review
Since there are no objective tests to confirm a transgender diagnosis, all of this is arbitrary and dependent on a child’s changeable feelings. To make aggressive treatment more acceptable, its advocates have come up with a media-friendly euphemism, “gender affirmation.” If it’s affirming, activists say, it’s also kindness, love, acceptance, and support. The opposite, trying to help a child feel more comfortable with his body, is a rejection: abuse, hatred, “transphobia,” or “conversion therapy” likely to lead to child suicide. This is a lie — a lie designed to obscure a critical truth: that neither a child, nor his parents on his behalf, can truly consent to experimental, life-altering, and irreversible treatments for which there is no evidentiary support.
gender  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
How China’s Rise Has Forced Hong Kong’s Decline
The urban core remains filled with crumbling concrete housing blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s. Many streets are dirty and chock-a-block with low-margin shops hawking fake iPhone cases and cheap SIM cards, while anodyne malls sell global consumer brands that can now be found anywhere in mainland China. Instead of belonging to the twenty-first century, it feels trapped in the 1980s.

Again, one can argue that if Hong Kong feels left behind, it is because China’s rise made wealth and prosperity flow elsewhere in the region. But this is another indictment of China’s stewardship: it failed to install visionary leaders who might have helped Hong Kong retain its place among the handful of truly key global cities. Instead, the city has been run by a series of Beijing-approved mediocrities, all of whom have either resigned in disgrace or been engulfed in crises. All the city’s chief executives were fatally hampered by having to defer on all important decisions to Beijing, making them more like colonial governors than autonomous rulers of a dynamic metropolis.
China  city  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Opinion | The Tyranny of Convenience - The New York Times
So alluring is this vision that it has come to dominate our existence. Most of the powerful and important technologies created over the past few decades deliver convenience in the service of personalization and individuality. Think of the VCR, the playlist, the Facebook page, the Instagram account. This kind of convenience is no longer about saving physical labor — many of us don’t do much of that anyway. It is about minimizing the mental resources, the mental exertion, required to choose among the options that express ourselves. Convenience is one-click, one-stop shopping, the seamless experience of “plug and play.” The ideal is personal preference with no effort.
algorithms  automation  technocracy  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Look, Latin Is Not Useless, Neither Is It Dead | Literary Hub
Latin is beautiful. This fact undergirds all that I will be saying in these pages. Beauty is the face of freedom. What all totalitarian regimes have most strikingly in common is their ugliness, which spreads to every aspect and form of life, even to nature. And by the adjective “beautiful” I mean to say that Latin is various, malleable, versatile, easy and difficult, simple and complicated, regular and irregular, clear and obscure, with multiple registers and jargons, with thousands of rhetorical styles, with a voluble history. Why give ourselves practical reasons for encountering beauty? Why impede ourselves with false arguments about comprehension? Why submit ourselves to the cult of instant access, of destination over journey, of answers at the click of a button, of the shrinking attention span? Why surrender to the will-less, the superficial, the defeatists, the utilitarians? Why not see that behind the question “What’s the point of Latin?”—perhaps posed unassumingly—rests a violence and an arrogance, an assault on the world’s richness and the greatness of the human intellect?
language  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
On Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, and the Art of Omission | Literary Hub
"I’m an architect and yet I have a terrible time trying to understand what he did here,” Lesniak said. “It keeps changing in spatial dimension. The planes on the wall become almost like folded paper. He does it with the color, with the trim, with the banding. The wood is folding across the corners. At night, the building glows from the outside. Think about when this was built. This is the beginning of the century. This is a spaceship. Nobody has ever seen anything like this."
architecture  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Google wants to finish your sentences. That's a problem.
Machine learning works by taking what exists and then suggesting it back to you. In other words, algorithms are centripetal in nature because they are based on feedback loops. They will inevitably suggest language or phrasing that other people are already using.

It's hard to seriously say that one new feature in one piece of writing software will fundamentally change language. But Smart Compose is part of a broader pattern in digital culture that at least beckons people toward sameness. The rise of algorithms in things like writing software isn't going to doom us, but they are a centripetal force that you can either choose to go along with or resist.
google  language  algorithms  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
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