Nothing will change unless something changes

Such horrible news, again. Here’s The Onion, again.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
DAYTON, OH—In the hours following a violent rampage in Ohio in which a lone attacker killed 10 individuals and injured 27 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
EL PASO, TX—In the hours following a violent rampage in Texas in which a lone attacker killed 20 individuals and injured 26 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

The ‘Recommended Stories’ section on each of those pages really drives the point home.

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It’s difficult for other countries to understand why this is still such an issue.

America’s mass shootings are a political choice
Empirically, the US is an outlier on gun violence because it is an outlier on gun access. Americans have easier access not just to guns, but specifically to military-designed semi-automatic weapons with large magazines that are able to murder with efficiency.

Getting rid of those weapons might not solve all the problems, but it’s a start, surely.

Trying to remember

Another article about China, this time looking at how protesters and censors try to outwit each other.

The forbidden images of the Chinese internet
Some removed images are unsurprising: depictions of state-sanctioned violence, cartoons disparaging government leaders, and aerial shots of protests. But many of them appear innocuous at first glance. All images—even harmless ones—of top Chinese political leaders are banned, except on official websites and approved blogs. For other content, moderators tend to err on the side of caution since private companies, rather than the government, are responsible for complying with state guidelines. After President Xi Jinping eliminated term limits, for example, censors temporarily banned the letter “n,” which was likely a reference to the math symbol and was used to poke fun at the undefined length of his tenure.

[…]

While Pooh Bear might be the most well-known of playful creatures removed from China’s web, he’s not the only one. Years earlier, censors blotted out mention of a 72-foot-tall inflatable frog after internet users likened it to former president Jiang Zemin, once nicknamed “toad.” And after a 2013 recreation of “Tank Man” replaced the tanks with inflatable rubber ducks, “the yellow rubber duck, in whatever context, was doomed to the blacklist forever,” Smith said.

Anything that might jog netizens’ memory of controversial events is subject to scrutiny. Images of candles, typically held at memorials, were removed around the time of the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Other, more covert references, such as playing cards that read “8964” for the year 1989 and date June 4th, have been removed. When Liu Xiaobo died in July 2017, censors went so far as to block out images of an empty chair—Liu was honored with an empty chair at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony when he was barred from leaving the country, turning a mundane household object into a political symbol.

Falling short

I think I need to make a bigger effort to find more positive stories. Everything I read convinces me more and more that we’re a planet of idiots.

Scarecrow’ statue of Melania Trump unveiled in Slovenia to mixed reviews
“I can understand why people might think that this falls short as a description of her physical appearance,” Downey told AFP, but insisted that he found the end result “absolutely beautiful”.

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If he’s saying this isn’t a good description of her ‘physical’ appearance, does he mean he was trying to represent her — what? Intellect?

Has humanity reached ‘peak intelligence’?
Whatever the cause of the Flynn effect, there is evidence that we may have already reached the end of this era – with the rise in IQs stalling and even reversing. If you look at Finland, Norway and Denmark, for instance, the turning point appears to have occurred in the mid-90s, after which average IQs dropped by around 0.2 points a year. That would amount to a seven-point difference between generations.

Great, now look what you’ve done

Who gave this clown the keys?

Artists fearful about the future under new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“When Boris Johnson campaigned to become mayor of London first time, one of his pledges involved cutting budgets for art projects like the Fourth Plinth; that was until he realised that culture for London was actually a good [thing]. Typically, he had strong opinions about subject matters he didn’t have any clue about, and then later he had to change his mind when he was finally confronted with the facts. However, that didn’t really make him interested in the arts,” Elmgreen adds.

It seems HE can be free

It need not always be about the money.

A debate is under way about the cost of higher education
But the most powerful arguments for free university are about values rather than economic efficiency. To politicians like Mr Sanders, a post-secondary education is a part of the basic package of services society owes its members. There are broad social benefits to a well-educated citizenry, because new ideas allow society as a whole to prosper and cultivating an informed population in an increasingly complex world probably takes more than 12 or so years of schooling. Amid constant technological change, a standing offer of free higher education may represent an important component of the social safety-net. Universality reinforces the idea that free education is not an expedient form of redistribution, but part of a system of collective insurance undergirding an egalitarian society. To progressive politicians, means-tested services send the message that government programmes are for those who cannot help themselves, whereas universal programmes are a means by which society co-operates to help everyone.

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Hong Kong paper power

The protests in Hong Kong continue. Quartz has some dramatic photos from a recent clash. It began peacefully but then deteriorated after the police started using pepper spray.

Hong Kong police clash with protesters in shopping mall
Following a standoff that lasted several hours on the street, police attempted to clear crowds off the roads by sending in riot police, eventually pursuing protesters who hadn’t dispersed from the scene into the shopping mall, New Town Plaza. There, protesters hurled objects including umbrellas, helmets, and bottles at the police, who were at one point vastly outnumbered. After reinforcements arrived, officers in riot gear charged up escalators to the various floors of the mall, using batons and pepper spray as they beat their way toward protesters. People were also seen throwing objects at police officers from upper levels of the mall.

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The scale of these protests is quite incredible.

A bird’s-eye view of how protesters have flooded Hong Kong streets
Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, June 16, and marched almost two miles (three kilometers), protesting a proposed extradition bill and calling for the city’s leader to step down.

It was the largest of three major protests against the bill that were held over eight days. More demonstrations are scheduled for Wednesday, ahead of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan. The composite images below help show the enormous scale of the June 16 demonstrations.

This is just one of those images.

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But it’s just not about the people, it’s about how they’re getting their messages across, and how those messages are being defended.

Post-it notes are the new weapon of choice for Hong Kong’s protesters
All across the city’s districts—from its financial hub to the suburbs neighboring mainland China and outlying islands—walls big and small covered with colorful pieces of paper with the thoughts and wishes of Hong Kong people are sprouting up. Their inscriptions range from inspiring quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. to expletive-laden calls for death to police. It’s the latest in a strategy protesters are calling “flowers blossoming everywhere,” a Chinese saying appropriated to signify that the recent protest movement in Hong Kong has now spread far from its downtown epicenter to neighborhoods everywhere.

They’re called Lennon Walls, named for the original section of a concrete staircase near Hong Kong’s government complex that was covered with Post-its during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The name itself was adopted from the John Lennon Wall in Prague, a place where Czech youth expressed their political thoughts through graffiti and Beatles lyrics.

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(I just hope it all ends well this time.)

Making Twitter better, but why bother?

Twitter. I’m one of those boring snobs who say it was so much better in the old days, before it went all mainstream and shouty. I yo-yo a little with it; joining in, deleting everything, joining in again with a fresh account, deleting again.

I imagine someone trying to explain to me, back in 2007 when I first joined — happily twittering away to myself into the void — that in 12 years’ time it would become so embedded everywhere, its toxicity so inevitable and intractable, that Twitter would have to create specific rules to deal with hate speech from a sitting President of the United States.

Trump tweets could be restricted after Twitter moves against abusive posts by high-profile politicians
The new policy, announced by the company on Thursday, will affect world leaders and other political figures who use the platform to threaten or abuse others. It comes amid accusations Twitter has unfairly allowed the US president to tweet hateful messages other users would be censured for, and which critics say could lead to violence.

Why Twitter’s new policy on political figures’ tweets is encouraging
There is a strong argument that the rules governing everyone else’s ability to harass or spew hate should apply equally to those in power, whose harassing behavior is most likely to silence critics or cause other harm. But there’s also an argument that private companies such as Twitter have the least business meddling with the public conversation when elected or would-be-elected officials are involved. Doing so could have a dramatic impact on the democratic process, and citizens deserve to know what the people who represent them are doing and saying — perhaps even especially when their comportment is appalling.

I wonder what impact it will have on him, if any, to know that his posts have been formally categorised as hateful.

Politicians this side of the Atlantic can’t leave it alone, either.

Jeremy Hunt tweets solo Q&A after Boris Johnson skips debate
While answering Twitter users’ questions on Brexit, Hunt promised to give full rights to Europeans living in the UK and to “deliver a Brexit that works for the 48% not just the 52% — a positive, open and internationalist Brexit, Great Britain not Little England.”

What can be done? Here are a couple of suggestions.

Chrissy Teigen’s 2 suggestions for Twitter would make it 100 percent better
In a couple of tweets from Wednesday and Thursday, Teigen proposed two functions: One would create a feed for only happy posts that a user could access or view when they’re feeling emotional. The other proposed an “address book of sorts” where a user could, through typing or a link, note the reason why they started following somebody in the first place.

I use lists to help with both of those functions, but I’m not sure if I can be bothered going through the motions with it anymore. Does it bring me joy?

Known unknowns

An introduction to what promises to be a fascinating new blog from Anna Powell-Smith, “about the data that the government should collect and measure in the UK, but doesn’t.”

Missing numbers
Across lots of different policy areas, it was impossible for governments to make good decisions because of a basic lack of data. There was always critical data that the state either didn’t collect at all, or collected so badly that it made change impossible.

Eventually, I decided that the power to not collect data is one of the most important and little-understood sources of power that governments have. This is why I’m writing Missing Numbers: to encourage others to ask “is this lack of data a deliberate ploy to get away with something”?

By refusing to amass knowledge in the first place, decision-makers exert power over over the rest of us. It’s time that this power was revealed, so we can have better conversations about what we need to know to run this country successfully.

Satire or harmful deception?

Fake videos — they’re just a bit of fun that we’re happy to spread around on social media, right? Whilst they play a part in the BBC dystopian future drama, Years and Years, helping to sway a general election, we’re not really fooled by them, are we?

Well, perhaps not yet, but they’ve got US politicians worried enough about their upcoming presidential election in 2020 to officially look into it all.

Congress grapples with how to regulate deepfakes
“Now is the time for social media companies to put in place policies to protect users from this kind of misinformation not in 2021 after viral deepfakes have polluted the 2020 elections,” Schiff said. “By then it will be too late.”

At the outset of the hearing, Schiff came out challenging the “immunity” given to platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, asking panelists if Congress should make changes to the law that doesn’t currently hold social media companies liable for the content on their platforms.

Another example.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People
Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say.

A ‘fake’ arms race, for real

This essay from Cailin O’Connor, co-author of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, frames the issue of online misinformation as an arms race.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting
What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. When the radio was first invented, as a new form of media, it was subject to misinformation. But regulators quickly adapted, managing, for the most part, to subdue such attempts. Today, even as Facebook fights Russian meddling, WhatsApp has become host to rampant misinformation in India, leading to the deaths of 31 people in rumour-fuelled mob attacks over two years.

Participating in an informational arms race is exhausting, but sometimes there are no good alternatives. Public misinformation has serious consequences. For this reason, we should be devoting the same level of resources to fighting misinformation that interest groups are devoting to producing it. All social-media sites need dedicated teams of researchers whose full-time jobs are to hunt down and combat new kinds of misinformation attempts.

I know I’m a pretty pessimistic person generally, but this all sounds quite hopeless. Here’s how one group of people is responding to the challenge of misuse of information and fake videos — by producing their own.

This deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg tests Facebook’s fake video policies
The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say “We’re increasing transparency on ads,” to make it look like it’s part of a news segment.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

The crowded race to the top

Nominations officially open today for Theresa May’s replacement. The sprint is expected to reach the finish line towards the end of next month, and the press are frothing all over it.

But consider this look at the US presidential marathon race, with a year and a half still to go.

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More candidates and earlier
We’re 536 days out and 23 Democrats are in. In contrast, there were 8 around this time in 2008.

It’s still 1984, and always will be

It’s 2019, but are we any further on?

Nothing but the truth: the legacy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Orwell was both too pessimistic and not pessimistic enough. On the one hand, the west did not succumb to totalitarianism. Consumerism, not endless war, became the engine of the global economy. But he did not appreciate the tenacity of racism and religious extremism. Nor did he foresee that the common man and woman would embrace doublethink as enthusiastically as the intellectuals and, without the need for terror or torture, would choose to believe that two plus two was whatever they wanted it to be.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is about many things and its readers’ concerns dictate which one is paramount at any point in history. During the cold war, it was a book about totalitarianism. In the 1980s, it became a warning about technology. Today, it is most of all a defence of truth.

Speaking of liars.

Boris Johnson may be the UK’s next Prime Minister, but he’s up on criminal charges for Brexit “Battle Bus” lies
Ball’s complaint claims that Johnson knew that his NHS promises were lies, and as evidence, cites instances in which Johnson used accurate figures. The complain calls for a criminal sanction as remedy for these lies, because “lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics.”

There will be preliminary hearings tomorrow, and then one of four things may happen: Johnson may appeal, the Criminal Prosecution Service may allow Ball to continue with his own private proceedings, or the CPS may take over the proceedings, or they may shut them down on the basis that the prosecution is not in the public interest.

George Orwell jumped ahead 36 years. With his new TV series, Years and Years, Russell T. Davies only leaps from five to 15 years ahead, but his vision of the future feels likelier and far scarier as a result. Why do we, the audience, keep doing this to ourselves?

From Years and Years to Bird Box: why we turn to dystopian dramas in a crisis
Right now, it’s hard to think of a more prescient film than the 2006 thriller Children of Men with its depiction of environmental catastrophe and xenophobia; call me naive but not in a million years did I think we’d get so close to Alfonso Cuarón’s vision. Great art is supposed to reflect life, or so we are told. For me, the power of Years and Years lies not in its moments of high drama but in its more subtle drawing of the growing tensions between families, generations and cultures, and the line the series draws between now and the years to come. The future is here on TV, but the question is: have we got the stomach for it?

Years & Years (2019): Official Trailer

Ta ra, Theresa

The press are keen to analyse her political legacy (blah blah blah blah), but I’d rather look at Prime Minister May’s time at Number 1O via two of my favourite things – photos and charts.

The political life of Theresa May – in pictures
A look back over May’s political career, from being elected as MP for Maidenhead in 1997 to Brexit, the snap election that backfired and her onstage dancing at the 2018 Tory conference.

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Theresa May: Premiership in six charts
1. She hasn’t been in office long
Mrs May has developed a reputation for surviving in almost impossible circumstances, but she is still among the UK prime ministers with the shortest time in office.

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What a load of crap

The world is full of it.

The curious history of crap — from space junk to actual poop
That’s the thing about our garbage: We have become experts at acting like it doesn’t exist. Space trash, in fact, barely registers as a blip compared to the enormity of the waste our species generates. In disused home appliances, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic equipment, or e-waste, we generate close to 45 million metric tons of waste every single year. That’s the equivalent of over 4,500 Eiffel Towers. Trash that could obstruct a city skyline. But not only do we not see it, most of us don’t even know where it goes. […]

But even then, what we toss out is just the tip of the proverbial trashberg. Most garbage comes from the manufacturing process. What we throw in the bin—the final product—represents a mere 5 percent of the raw materials from the manufacturing, packaging, and transportation process. Put another way, for every 150 kilograms of product we see on the shelves, behind the scenes there’s another 3,000 kilograms of waste that we don’t see. In total, the world produces approximately 3 million metric tons of garbage every 24 hours. That number is expected to double by 2025. And if business continues as usual, by the end of the century it will be an unfathomable 10 million metric tons of solid waste a day.

Some people produce more crap than others, though.

‘Staggeringly silly’: critics tear apart Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book
“Absolutely abysmal”, “anathema to anyone with an ounce of historical, or simply common, sense”, “a dozen clumsily written pompous schoolboy compositions”, “yet another bit of self-promotion by a highly motivated modern politician”. […]

“No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg’s book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them. But there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published.” […]

“The book really belongs in the celebrity autobiography section of the bookstore. At best, it can be seen as a curious artefact of the kind of sentimental jingoism and empire-nostalgia currently afflicting our country.” […]

“Before I started, the prospect of Rees-Mogg in Downing Street struck me as a ridiculous idea. But if this is what it takes to stop him writing another book, then I think we should seriously consider paying the price.”

Political persuasion 2.0

I’ve been enjoying (if that’s the right word) Wired UK’s recent articles on how technology is being used against us.

A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page
Other debates revolve around the Brexit jargon and the page’s 19-word-strong glossary. Is Leaver the best way to refer to Brexit supporters, or is Brexiteer more common? And is “Remoaner” the remain-supporting version of “Brextremist” or is the latter somehow nastier? A recent question on the Brexit talk page, where editors discuss changes to the article, raises another question about the term Quitlings. Is it something to do with quislings, and if so, shouldn’t the glossary mention that? For now, the consensus is that yes, it is a reference to the Norwegian Nazi sympathiser Vidkun Quisling – whose name has evolved into a synonym for traitor – but that the term isn’t widely used enough to justify including it in the article.

The Brexit Party is winning social media. These numbers prove it
The extraordinary level of this online engagement is inextricable from the populist nature of Farage’s message. “Polarised content does brilliantly, hence Farage has significantly more reach than any of the main political figures of the UK,” says Harris. “His content will receive significant numbers of shares, comments (both positive and negative) and likes and negative dislikes, and will have more organic reach than content from mainstream political parties that people like to see in their timeline but don’t like or comment on it because they passively agree with it.”

The EU elections are next week. Fake news is not the problem
Information operations are rarely about changing the things people believe, but changing the way they feel. Anger and fear are not things we can correct with better facts. As we head into the EU election, this fact should be at the forefront of our minds. Media monitoring is vital, and the work of fact-checking organisations to identify, correct and call out false information is a necessary and valuable part of this. But it is crucial that we look beyond the accuracy of the news, and zero in on how the media ecosystem as a whole is being manipulated. Inflammatory trending stories, harassment of journalists, feverish online debates – the public discourse behind all of these is being pushed and prodded by those who want to see us angry, divided, and mistrustful of each other.

The secret behind Gina Miller’s anti-Brexit tactical voting crusade
Miller’s Remain United campaign uses a technique called multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) to analyse polling data and identify which Remain-supporting party stands the best chance of winning seats in the European elections on May 23. Remainers are encouraged to vote for those parties in order to secure a sizeable pro-EU representation from the United Kingdom in the European parliament.

Battling Brexit

Don’t worry about Brexit, a 76-year-old former Secretary of State, and a 72-year-old former spoon bender are on it.

Brexit: Vince Cable stakes Lib Dems’ claim as torch carriers for remain
Vince Cable has staked the Liberal Democrats’ claim to be the leading remain party in the European elections, as he unveiled a forthright new slogan for the campaign: “Bollocks to Brexit.” The phrase, previously plastered on stickers and T-shirts by ardent remain supporters, is now emblazoned across the Lib Dem manifesto for the 23 May poll – though more squeamish candidates will have the option of one that just says “Stop Brexit”.

Bending BREXIT? Uri Geller Sends Open Letter to Theresa May
I feel psychically and very strongly than most British people do not want Brexit. I love you very much but I will not allow you to lead Britain into Brexit. As much as I admire you, I will stop you telepathically from doing this — and believe me I am capable of executing it.

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Elections everywhere

Polarisation seems to be the political theme, these days.

Socialists strengthen hold in Spain election
Spain’s Socialist Party strengthened its hold on the government on Sunday in the country’s third national election since 2015, with nearly complete results showing growing political polarization and party fragmentation. […] An anti-immigration and ultranationalist party, Vox, won its first seats in Parliament, a major shift in a country that long appeared to be immune to the spread of far-right movements across Europe, in part because of the legacy of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

This doesn’t sound good.

Benin’s government has shut the internet ahead of an election that has no opposition
The West African nation now joins the list of African states, including Sudan, DR Congo, and Egypt who have limited online access ahead of key elections, political referenda, or anti-government protests this year. Activists say the cut-offs usually have significant economic, political, and social costs, particularly given how popular messaging apps like WhatsApp are crucial for voters, journalists, and election observers.

Some places are getting it right, though.

It only takes India a month to set up a better election than the US
To be sure, the Indian election is a thing of wonder. Its scale alone is mind-boggling: More than a million polling stations, 900 million voters, nearly 2,300 parties. It is also an impressive work of democratic logistics that can teach a few lessons to the rest of the world, including countries with far more resources, like the US.

Meanwhile.

The French Ambassador is retiring today. Here’s what he really thinks about Washington.
Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

 

This report is ███████████

So what are we to make of the Mueller Report on Trump’s dealings with Russia? Here’s The Economist‘s take on it.

What to make of the Mueller report: Robert Mueller’s magnum opus
The first 170 pages concern Russia. […] Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s campaign chair, who was deep in debt to a Russian oligarch, shared internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, one of his Kiev-based employees with apparent links to both that oligarch and Russian intelligence. Even Rick Gates, Mr Manafort’s right-hand man, believed Mr Kilimnik was a “spy”. That did not stop Mr Manafort from meeting Mr Kilimnik. George Papadopoulos, a junior foreign-policy advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, tried to let the campaign know early on that the Russians had compromising material on Mrs Clinton (nobody thought to tell the FBI). Donald Trump junior arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. And of course Mr Trump himself was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow project until just five months before the election, while simultaneously pushing for better relations with Moscow. None of this may have been illegal, but had voters known about it they might have made a different choice.

[…]

The report’s second part deals with obstruction of justice. […] The striking thing about this section, when read in full, is how self-wounding Mr Trump’s behaviour has been. Had he simply kept quiet, and let Mr Mueller complete his investigation into his campaign’s links into Russia, the obstruction investigation never would have happened. Instead, he interfered clumsily on many occasions, allowing the special counsel to amass a damning record of the president’s truculence, dishonesty and contempt for federal investigators.

The report itself is quite an important, historical document, though.

Mueller Mania is in full swing, and people are paying a pretty penny for the free report
The Mueller Report is available for free on the Justice Department’s site (here). But that didn’t stop publishers from printing it for profit.

Simon & Schuster’s Scribner published a version “presented with related materials by The Washington Post” — available for $10.22 as a paperback or $7.99 on the Kindle — that topped Amazon’s best-seller rankings. Publisher Skyhorse’s version, featuring an intro by a Harvard law professor, claimed the #2 spot (at $9.20 in paperback); publisher Melville House’s straight-up version (just $7.27) took the #3 spot. […]

People aren’t buying books, they’re buying mementos
The fact that people bought enough copies of a free report to mint not 1 but 3 separate best-sellers may seem unlikely, or even downright dumb.

But it’s not the first time a government document has gone big: The Starr Report (about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) and the Pentagon Papers both became popular best-sellers after printing in 1998 and 2011, respectively.

Perceptive publishers know that people don’t buy these books for the info they contain, but the emotions they evoke: A physical Mueller Report meta-memorializes months of dramatic, scandalous, and conversation-starting news cycles in a single, boring book.

You would have thought we had had enough by now.

Remember when Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, shot himself in the foot with some sloppy document formatting? Mueller’s report wasn’t much better, initially — it was just a collection of scanned images.

The official PDF of the Mueller report has been updated in a subtle but important way
The decision immediately elicited groans from people trying to search the report for juicy details. A giant file of images has no text to search. It was also condemned by a group involved in setting technical specifications for the portable document format: “This deliberate and unnecessary act made the document substantially harder for anyone and everyone to use, forever,” wrote Duff Johnson, executive director of the PDF Association, in a delightful review of the file’s nerdiest details.

News organizations and Mueller fanatics quickly addressed this problem by running the PDF through a process known as optical character recognition (OCR) to add searchable text to the document. So, to review: The Mueller report was written on a computer, then printed out on paper, scanned back into digital images, and finally regenerated into text using software.

Of course, not everything in the report has been made available to us. As this image from FlowingData shows, a significant amount of redaction has taken place.

Redacted
The redacted version (pdf) of the Mueller report was released today. Here’s the thumbnailed view for a sense of the redactions.

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And as this Quartz Obsession post explains, redaction is big business.

Redaction
95 million: Documents classified by the United States in 2012

2 million: Employees the National Archives estimates it would take, given a year and a half, to review one year’s worth of current classified output of one US intelligence agency

14,462: Peak size of the US government’s World War II-era Office of Censorship, whose duties included redacting letters

But let’s end this on a more creative note.

The Trump-era boom in erasure poetry
Published less than a month after Trump’s first executive order banned citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, “Form N-400 Erasures” is an example of erasure poetry, a poetic form that has spiked in popularity since Trump’s elections galvanized a culture of resistance online. Also known as blackout or redaction poetry, this is a type of poetry created from the substrate material of an existing text. Obscure many of the words, these poems command, and you will find the sentences that have been there all along.

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While erasure can mimic the violence of the state, it can also expose the human cost of suppression, and symbolically restore a voice to the silenced.

Erasing the language of Trump, on the other hand, provides the particular satisfaction of watching Trump say exactly what he means, stripped of bombast. That perverse pleasure drives “When You Win It’s Winning,” Ariel Yelen’s erasures of four of his speech transcripts. Here, Trump is hyperbolic and boastful as ever, but in erasing certain words, Yelen has him articulate the implications of his rhetoric. “I / want / a new America / an / America / so / reckless / s / o / disastrous / s / o / chao / t / ic /,” he says. “I / am / what is wrong with this country.”

We’re all in this together. Right?

Hanna Rosin from NPR has noticed a worrying trend. It’s not just that we’re caring less, but that we’re reducing who we care for.

The end of empathy
Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!

It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.

But surely we’re all in this together.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people
Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

An ugly problem, a possible solution

Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic takes a long, hard look at Instagram and the extent of the misinformation and extremist ideologies that riddle the site.

Instagram is the internet’s new home for hate
Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm. On March 17, I clicked Follow on @the_typical_liberal. My account lit up with follow requests from pages with handles alluding to QAnon, and the app immediately prompted me to follow far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and Candace Owens, as well as a slew of far-right meme pages such as @unclesamsmisguidedchildren and @the.new.federation. Following these pages resulted in suggestions for pages dedicated to promoting QAnon, chemtrails, Pizzagate, and anti-vaccination rhetoric.

On and on it goes.

@q_redpillworld17, for instance, which requested to follow me after I followed @the_typical_liberal, has posted several videos and images claiming proof that the New Zealand shooting was a “false flag”; one post compares the mosque’s blood-spattered carpet with another image, implying that the carpets don’t match so the shooting was staged. Another is a graphic video of the shooting, with a caption claiming that the bullets disappeared mid-air. Another suggests 200 examples of proof that the Earth is flat. Another falsely claims that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is secretly connected to the Clintons, who feed baby blood to George Soros.

It’s interesting, vital reading, with links to Instagram accounts I’m certainly not going to follow or even link to here.

But what can be done? Ignore the worries of the privacy, anti-censorship and free-speech activists and regulate the whole tech industry? Yes, let’s start with that.

The white paper on online harms is a global first. It has never been more needed
Some of the worries seemed rooted in the classic error of confusing the internet with a few giant companies that have come to dominate that world. In reality, the problem we have is not the internet so much as those corporations that ride on it and allow some unacceptable activities to flourish on their platforms, activities that are damaging to users and, in some cases, to democracy, but from which the companies profit enormously. Sooner or later, democracies will have to bring these outfits under control and the only question is how best to do it. The white paper suggests one possible way forward.

It does so by going to the heart of the problem – corporate responsibility.

[…]

The white paper says that the government will establish a new statutory duty of care on relevant companies “to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services”. Fulfilment of this duty will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator with formidable powers and sanctions at its disposal. Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.

You can read the White Paper online and judge for yourself.