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.

Process unclear

Another day, another flowchart trying to explain the remaining Brexit options, at the end of this article from the BBC on Jeremy Hunt’s take on recent events.

Brexit: Jeremy Hunt says ‘absolute priority’ to avoid European polls
The foreign secretary said the public would find it “hugely disappointing” to be asked to send MEPs to Brussels. Asked if it could be a disaster for the Tories, he told the BBC “in terms of polling it certainly looks that way”.

process-unclear

Want more?

Brexit: What happens now?
The UK was originally due to leave on 29 March. The first extension shifted that date to 12 April. But now the UK now has just over six months to decide what it wants to do.

Government ministers are continuing talks with Labour leaders to try to find a compromise deal. If they can agree, MPs will be given a chance to vote on the deal. If not, a range of alternative options will be put to them instead.

process-unclear-2

Everything’s upside-down

Feeling disorientated?

Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”

Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”

upside-down-1

It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.

“A small twist with a big impact”: New ZeitMagazin International cover reflects topsy-turvy Europe
The new SS19 issue of ZeitMagazin International, the German weekly’s English-language sister publication, is all about Europe in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Mirko Borsche, the creative director of the biannual glossy magazine, has created a limited-edition cover for 1,000 copies showing the map of Europe turned upside-down.

“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”

upside-down-2

Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.

Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.

Still being led by donkeys

I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m more than happy to share another article about them. It was great to see one of their billboards just down the road from me here in Leeds, and here they are again, on that recent Brexit march.

How the viral Led by Donkeys anti-Brexit campaign is haunting flip-flopping politicians
On a weekend that featured an array of aesthetically creative Brexit protest signs, the most memorable was perhaps the simplest: just a quote from arch-Brexiteer David Davis, blown up to massive size and unfurled over the thousands of protestors gathered in London’s Parliament Square.

still-being-led-by-donkeys

I thin they’re right about the impact of these physical, in-your-face representations of what could be seen as throwaway lines.

Richard says that the effectiveness of the group’s tactics has something to do with relationship between offline and online speech. “We discovered that if you take a digital format, a digital message and you put it up on a six-meter-by-three-meter billboard in a town centre, in a physical space, it forces that politician to own those words,” he says. Bringing an online quote into the offline world seems to overcome the internet’s ephemerality; it makes a statement more substantial.

Another take on all that.

The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy
Welcome to Disneyland. Leading Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg is playing Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice from Fantasia; Theresa May is the wicked witch from Snow White — though she is short on magic. Across the pond, an evil ogre known as Donald Trump is waiting to eat us all up.

It’s grim; but it’s a great learning experience. Has anyone learnt? Has former Brexit secretary David Davis worked out that his plan to leave the EU while retaining “the exact same benefits” as staying in the single market, was a little ambitious? Or that the Germans actually care more about the integrity of the EU than about selling Brits BMWs? Has Michael Gove finally noticed that we did not after all “hold all the cards” the day after we voted to leave? Has anyone worked out that frictionless trade is quite complicated, and that the dreary Brussels machinery does a good job for us?

We shouldn’t count on it.

I loved this last line. An inquiry is coming, surely?

Government by slogan does not work. Are we taking back control or handing it over to Brussels? By the time we find out, it will be too late. If the UK prime minister had a sense of humour, she would set up the committee of inquiry now, so it could take evidence in real time, as the tragedy unfolds.

A response to that petition

The government have responded to that viralled petition that 5,830,676 (and still counting) people have signed, about revoking Article 50.

Petition: Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
It remains the Government’s firm policy not to revoke Article 50. We will honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum and work to deliver an exit which benefits everyone, whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

Revoking Article 50, and thereby remaining in the European Union, would undermine both our democracy and the trust that millions of voters have placed in Government.

I don’t think they could have responded any other way.

The map of where the signatories come from is interesting. People from every constituency have taken part, from what I can see, following the north/south, urban/rural pattern seen in the original referendum.

a-response-to-that-petition-1

Speaking of which:

EU cannot betray ‘increasing majority’ who want UK to remain, says Tusk
Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you.

“Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union.”

Update 15/04/2019

Even though the government responded negatively, above, the petition was still debated in the House of Commons. Here’s the Hansard transcript.

Leaving the European Union
It is entirely coincidental that the date is 1 April, but I must confess to hoping right up until noon that the Prime Minister was at some point going to reveal to the nation that the Government’s entire handling of Brexit has actually been the most painstaking and elaborate April fool’s day hoax in history, and that she does in fact have a plan to get us out of this mess. Regrettably, that did not happen, and we are still in a national crisis.

A class act

Brexit blah blah blah. Chris Dillow makes some interesting points on how we might have got here.

On class difference
My point here should be a trivial one. Background determines character, so rich backgrounds tend to generate different characters than poor ones. I’d suggest other differences, all of which should disqualify most posh people from politics:

1. If everything comes naturally to you, you don’t need to think so much about how to get it. So you under-invest in learning how to hustle, negotiate or strategize. (Is it really an accident that the western politician who most mastered these arts, Lyndon Johnson, came from a poor home?) This might be one reason why Brexit has gone badly. Having spent his entire life thinking he could get what he wants simply by asking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been disturbed to find that the EU doesn’t work like that.

[…]

3. The rich don’t appreciate just how important money is. For a poor family, an extra fiver at the end of the week can make the difference between relief and misery. This warps their political priorities. Whereas I regard economic growth and redistribution as the main political issues, the rich have others – Brexit if you are on the right, Palestine if on the left.

And so on.

Whilst we’re on the subject (kinda):

Oh **UK!

I liked The Economist’s headline this week.

oh-uk

Oh **UK! What next for Brexit?
When historians come to write the tale of Britain’s attempts to leave the European Union, this week may be seen as the moment the country finally grasped the mess it was in. In the campaign, Leavers had promised voters that Brexit would be easy because Britain “holds all the cards”. This week Parliament was so scornful of the exit deal that Theresa May had spent two years negotiating and renegotiating in Brussels that mps threw it out for a second time, by 149 votes—the fourth-biggest government defeat in modern parliamentary history. The next day mps rejected what had once been her back-up plan of simply walking out without a deal. The prime minister has lost control. On Wednesday four cabinet ministers failed to back her in a crucial vote. Both main parties, long divided over Brexit, are seeing their factions splintering into ever-angrier sub-factions. And all this just two weeks before exit day.

Explaining the Brexit endgame

Another Brexit vote, another significant defeat. Here are a couple of useful charts outlining what might happen next.

The Brexit state of play: a guide to this week’s crucial votes

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-3

Here’s a version from Quartz, set on a calendar. An interesting note on 18 April…

Every possible remaining Brexit outcome

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-2

It’s enough to drive you mad.

Brexit has become a mental health issue
Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist based in the UK, says it’s not surprising that the uncertainty over Brexit is weighing on mental health. If “you suddenly find that decisions that are made on a national level are impacting your material security, that is definitely going to be a significant negative life event,” she explains. “And we know that people facing significant negative life events can tip over into mental health issues—such as depression and anxiety.”

[…]

The UK’s National Health Service could find itself less able to address mental health issues in the near future. An NHS briefing (pdf) last year said Brexit’s impact on mental health services would be “far reaching,” in part because of the risks it poses to the supply of workers. About 165,000 NHS employees are EU nationals, and while those that are already in the UK can apply to stay, domestic recruitment alone won’t be able to meet future staffing needs.

And how about this for a summary of the key issues here?

🇬🇧🔥 Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED! 🔥🇪🇺

Unforeseen Brexit impact #324

As the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit continues, here’s a look at how some in the art world are dealing with its ramifications.

Art world scrambles to ship art before Brexit deadline
The British Council is sending all works for Cathy Wilkes’s Venice Biennale exhibition in Italy “well ahead of the 29 March deadline to avoid any possible disruption”, says a spokeswoman. Wilkes, who is based in Glasgow, Scotland, has been selected to fill the British Pavilion this year.

The organisers of the biennial’s Irish pavilion are also transporting works from Eva Rothschild’s London studio early to avoid any delays at British ports. “We don’t know what’s going to happen after 29 March but it’s not worth the risk of things getting held up at customs. The ramifications are huge,” says Mary Cremin, the commissioner and curator of the pavilion and director of the Void Gallery in Derry, Northern Ireland.

It’s not just a problem for British art going out to Europe.

The prospect of hefty EU import taxes is already disrupting exhibition programmes in the UK. Tornabuoni Arte in London is closing its show of paintings by Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana two weeks early and transporting the works back to Italy to avoid a potential multimillion-pound reimport bill. Italy’s import rate stands at 10%.

“We are covering our backs because no decision has been made yet, but we are looking at an enormous amount of money to reimport incredibly expensive works. It’s crippling,” says a gallery spokesman.

The title for the Venice Biannale’s art exhibition is so appropriate.

Biennale Arte 2019
The 58th International Art Exhibition, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, will take place from 11 May to 24 November 2019 (Pre-opening on 8, 9, 10 May). The title is a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil; “interesting times”, exactly as the ones we live in today.

What makes good governance?

In an attempt to get rid of the sour taste left in our mouths from yesterday’s post about the rise of populist politics, here are some more award-winning data visualisations via David McCandless and the Information is Beautiful people.

The winners of the World Data Visualization Prize
Conducted in partnership with the World Government Summit, the prize focuses on how governments are improving citizens’ lives. We asked entrants to use the power of data-visualization to illuminate data on the innovations and decisions – seen and unseen – that drive progress.

Here’s my favourite, an interactive overview of the different factors that contribute to happy countries (or not).

GOV|DNA — Discover the DNA of a good government
This interactive visualization enables the exploration of the DNA of a good government. You can analyze and compare multiple indicators to investigate their influence on countries and the related behaviour and performance of governments.

what-makes-good-governance-1

Political storytelling

Politics is all about story-telling, reframing the world around us to encourage us to think a certain way. Verso have released an extract from James Meek’s new book, Dreams of Leaving and Remaining, offering an explanation of why the Brexiteers got the upper hand at the referendum.

James Meek on Brexit and the myth of St. George
Of the two folk myths bound up with Englishness, the myth of St George and the myth of Robin Hood, the myth of St George is the simpler. Robin Hood is a process; St George is an event. Where Robin Hood steals from the rich, which is difficult, to give to the poor, which is trickier still, and has to keep on doing it over and over, St George kills the dragon, and that’s it. Before the dragon is slain, the people are tyrannised. They live in a state of misery, fear and humiliation. When the dragon is slain, society’s problems disappear. The swish of the warrior-saint’s sword slicing through the dragon’s flesh and the great beast’s death cry are, to the oppressed, both a joy in themselves and the herald-notes of a new era of happiness. The slaying of the dragon is quick, easy to remember, and easy to celebrate.

Robin Hood is justice; St George is victory. Slow, complicated, boring Robin Hood–like achievements such as a national health service, progressive taxation and universal education yield in the folk narrative of England to events that can easily be held in consciousness as St George–like releases, so often involving the beating by the English, or the British, of the non-English – the destruction of the Spanish Armada, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, or Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick against Germany in 1966.

The Guardian continues this look at political language with its new series on the recent shift to a certain kind of anti-elite, right-wing politics.

Revealed: the rise and rise of populist rhetoric
Major study analysing speeches of leaders from 40 countries over two decades shows surge in populism.

political-storytelling-1

It’s interesting, though, what research is suggesting about the poster boy for populist politics — it might not be all down to him.

The Teleprompter Test: why Trump’s populism is not his own
Kirk Hawkins, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, said there was a “dramatic difference” in the language in Trump’s speeches, depending on whether or not they were scripted. “Trump’s speeches with teleprompters all have longer words, longer sentences, and less frequent use of his pet words. And they have much higher levels of populism,” he said. “This is powerful evidence that Trump’s populism is not entirely his own.”

He’s still full of BS, though.

President Trump has made 9,014 false or misleading claims over 773 days
The president averaged nearly 5.9 false or misleading claims a day in his first year in office. He hit nearly 16.5 a day in his second year. So far in 2019, he’s averaging nearly 22 claims a day.

You’d think that would cheer him up a little.

A debate-watching robot learned Trump’s emotional self: sad!
A robot built around Microsoft’s Emotion API may have uncovered something surprising about the dominant emotions of either candidate. Or it may have just spat out a lot of random numbers.

Having fun, Dave?

As Brexit continues to mess things up…

The fragmentation of the big parties
One reason Brexit has proved tricky is that the party divide does not map onto views about Europe. This week 11 moderate mps, eight Labour and three Conservative, decided that they had had enough—and more may join them. Given that Parliament seats 650 mps, their resignation to create a new Independent Group might seem a minor tremor. But it matters: as a verdict on Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn; as another complication in resolving Brexit; and as a warning of an earthquake that could yet reshape Britain’s two-party system.

… let’s not forget who got us into this hole.

David Cameron checks in from Nice

So what do you think, is Brexit making things better?

Is Britain great again?

Enough is enough

The shambles that is British politics continues.

Labour MPs quit over Brexit and anti-Semitism
The seven Members of Parliament, many of them longstanding figures in the party, said variously that Labour was racist, had betrayed its working-class roots and was a threat to national security. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not fit to become Prime Minister, they said.

One of the seven, Luciana Berger, said she had become ashamed of the party she’d served as a Member of Parliament since 2010. It had become “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left,” she said.

Good for them. It couldn’t have been an easy decision.

I can no longer support Corbyn becoming prime minister, which is why after 22 years I’m leaving Labour – I hope you’ll join me
The party’s collective failure to take a lead and provide sufficiently strong, coherent opposition to Tory government policy on the UK’s relationship with Europe, with all the adverse implications this poses for the working people of this constituency, is a betrayal of the Labour interest and Labour’s internationalist principles. This started with the leadership’s halfhearted effort to campaign for Remain in 2016, followed by its refusal even to commit to the UK staying part of the single market and now its offer to facilitate a Tory Brexit. So many families in my constituency, like me, have relatives from EU countries and feel grossly betrayed by the party.

I support the liberal, international rules-based order underpinned by Nato, which Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were instrumental in establishing in the wake of the Second World War. This demands the UK plays an active role on the international stage. Through its lukewarm attitude towards Nato, reluctance to act where necessary, and willingness often to accept narratives promoted by states hostile to this country, the party’s leadership has turned its back on this history.

So what happens next? Will this make a difference?

Watson tells Corbyn he must change direction to stop Labour splitting
Watson’s emotional intervention came as a number of Labour MPs were poised to follow the founders of the new Independent Group – and after reports on Monday night that some Conservatives were also ready to defect.

Saying that he sometimes “no longer recognises” his own party, Watson urged Corbyn to ensure Labour remains a broad church and reshuffle his shadow cabinet to reflect a wider balance of MPs.

Update

Wait, there’s more.

MP Joan Ryan quits Labour for Independent Group
Joan Ryan has become the eighth Labour MP to quit the party in the past 48 hours, citing its tolerance of a “culture of anti-Jewish racism”. The Enfield North MP said she was “horrified, appalled and angered” by Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, saying its leadership allowed “Jews to be abused with impunity”. Ms Ryan said she did not believe Jeremy Corbyn was fit to lead the country.

Three MPs quit Tory party to join breakaway group
In the letter, the former Tory MPs said the party was “in the grip” of the DUP and the pro-Leave European Research Group over Brexit, and said there had been a “dismal failure” to stand up to them. They wrote: “We find it unconscionable that a party, once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”

I wonder what the Lib Dems think of all this. As the BBC notes, “the group now has more MPs in Parliament than the Democratic Unionist Party and equals the number of Liberal Democrats.” If this group of eight previously Labour MPs and three ex-Conservative MPs are forming the new centre ground, are the Lib Dems even relevant anymore?

No change

Another great find from Futility Closet.

Unquote
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” — Isaac Asimov, Newsweek, Jan. 21, 1980

I wonder why that quote, from 1980, made me think of this news item from just the other day, in 2019.

Why the attack on our cameraman was no surprise
President Trump interrupted his speech and checked that Ron was OK. But there was no condemnation. No statement that this was unacceptable. The Trump campaign issued a two-line statement on the incident, but equally did not condemn what happened. What conclusion should we draw from that? What message does it send to people who feel hostile towards the media?

Hashtag political satire

Perhaps Twitter is good for something after all?

Four men with a ladder: the billboard campaigners battling Brexit
It all began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. They were talking about the infamous David Cameron tweet – “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me or chaos with Ed Miliband” – which was doing the rounds again after Theresa May cancelled the vote on her deal in December. And someone said: why don’t they slap it on a billboard, make it the tweet you can’t delete?

hastag-political-satire

How an army of farcical fakes ruined Turning Point UK’s big day
The result was a surreal farrago of misunderstanding and noise. Fake accounts would call out Turning Point’s genuine handle as a fake set up by antifa extremists, and sometimes would even go as far as exposing other fellow fakes as fakes. It was fakes calling out convincing-looking fakes as fakes in order to reroute Twitter’s attention to other fakes.

hastag-political-satire-2

Seeing Brexit clearly

Even as we approach the end of the beginning of Brexit, it’s still hard to pin down what it is. On one hand, it’s simple — it’s a mistake. On the other, the complicated tangle of frameworks it’s operating within is hard to grasp.

Here’s a very helpful visual explainer from David McCandless.

Brexit explained
Everything you need to understand about Brexit in one graphic. Written, designed and narrated by David McCandless

Sometimes, an outside view can best illuminate the absurdities we’re too close to. Here’s an article from the Washington Post.

The collective madness behind Britain’s latest Brexit plan
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that her party reject her own Brexit plan so she could go back to negotiations with the European Union and dismantle an agreement that her government reached with the continent, on an impossibly fast timeline, during talks that have already been ruled out. On every level, it is an insane way to behave. The British government is actively sabotaging the work it has spent the past two years completing and then doing a victory dance.

The return of political science – and snooker

Even in these Brexit endtimes, I still don’t think we appreciate how relatively straightforward things are for us here.

Knowledge is power: Uzbekistan lifts ban on political science
Uzbekistan will resume teaching political science this year, according to a presidential decree signaling the return of a subject said to have been decried as pseudoscience by the previous leadership.

Though limited to only one state-run university, the move announced on Thursday highlights the Central Asian nation’s modernization drive after decades of isolation under late president Islam Karimov.

[…]

Karimov’s successor, former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has launched a broad reform program and moved to abolish some of his predecessor’s most restrictive and bizarre policies, such as bans on buying foreign currency, painting faces at soccer games and playing billiards and snooker.

China’s fear of losing control

This isn’t quite the brave new world we were hoping these new technologies would enable.

Davos: George Soros calls Xi Jinping a “dangerous opponent” of open societies
Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.” Echoing recent concerns raised about China’s use of facial-recognition technology, Soros asked: “How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That’s the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.”

Tracing his critique of authoritarian governments to his own childhood under Nazi occupation in Hungary, Soros, who is now 88, urged the Trump administration to take a harder stance on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China,” he said

The complicated truth about China’s social credit system
What’s troubling is when those private systems link up to the government rankings — which is already happening with some pilots, she says. “You’ll have sort of memorandum of understanding like arrangements between the city and, say, Alibaba and Tencent about data exchanges and including that in assessments of citizens,” Ohlberg adds. That’s a lot of data being collected with little protection, and no algorithmic transparency about how it’s analysed to spit out a score or ranking[.]

[…]

The criteria that go into a social credit ranking depends on where you are, notes Ohlberg. “It’s according to which place you’re in, because they have their own catalogs,” she says. It can range from not paying fines when you’re deemed fully able to, misbehaving on a train, standing up a taxi, or driving through a red light. One city, Rongcheng, gives all residents 1,000 points to start. Authorities make deductions for bad behaviour like traffic violations, and add points for good behaviour such as donating to charity.

Running a red light is one thing, but what if you’re a journalist investigating corruption and misconduct?

Chinese blacklist an early glimpse of sweeping new social-credit control
What it meant for Mr. Liu is that when he tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system refused his purchase, saying he was “not qualified.” Other restrictions soon became apparent: He has been barred from buying property, taking out a loan or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to,” he said. “What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In China, facial recognition tech is watching you
Megvii, meanwhile, supports the state’s nationwide surveillance program, which China, with troubling inferences, calls Skynet. Launched in 2005, Skynet aims to create a nationwide panopticon by blanketing the country with CCTV. Thanks to Face++, it now incorporates millions of A.I.-enhanced cameras that have been used to apprehend some 2,000 suspects since 2016, according to a Workers’ Daily report.

[…]

Jeffrey Ding, an Oxford University researcher focused on Chinese A.I., believes there is more pushback in the West against deploying facial recognition technology for security purposes. “There’s more willingness in China to adopt it,” he says, “or at least to trial it.”

But there’s also less freedom to oppose the onslaught. “The intention of these systems is to weave a tighter net of social control that makes it harder for people to plan action or push the government to reform,” explains Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The line from Soros about the danger from “the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes” chimes with what I’m reading in James Bridle’s new book, New Dark Age.

May we live in interesting times.

Trim Trump touch-ups?

The BBC have a couple of before-and-after images of President Trump that raised a smile this morning.

Trump team accused of posting edited images on social media
Social media users were quick to point out the possible tweaks to this image, which was shared on Mr Trump’s official Instagram and Facebook accounts. […]

The ruffles in the president’s suit have been smoothed out near his shoulder and he looks trimmer, specifically around his neck. His hair also seems tidier, although this could be a result of the image being superimposed on a different background, and his face has been brightened.

One of the more unusual differences is that Mr Trump’s fingers seem to have been made longer.

How vain! I can’t replicate it properly here, but you must check out the interactive slider they have on their website, to see for yourself.

trim-trump