Sunday 27 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

”I often think how much easier the world would have been to manage if Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini had been at Oxford.”

  • Lord Halifax, Neville Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary.

Er, note that he said Oxford, not Cambridge.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Haydn String Quartet No. 62, Op. 76 No. 3 “Emperor” (2nd mov) Veridis Quartet (Live performance)


Can democracies stand up to Facebook? Ireland may have the answer

This morning’s Observer column:

Last month, the Irish data protection commissioner (DPC) sent Facebook a preliminary order ordering it to stop sending the data of its European users to the US. This was a big deal, because in order to comply with the ruling, Facebook would have to embark on a comprehensive re-engineering of its European operations, or to shut down those operations entirely, at least for a time.

Such a shutdown would of course be traumatic for the poor souls who are addicted to Facebook and Instagram, but it would be even worse for the company – for two reasons. The first is that it makes more money from European users’ data – an average of $13.21 (£10.19) per user in 2019 – than from any other territory except the US (where it earns $41.41 per user); the second is that failure to comply could land it with a fine of up to 4% of its global revenue, which in Facebook’s case would come to about $3bn. Given the scale of its revenues, that’s not a showstopper, but it would nevertheless be annoying.

Predictably, the company was furious, threatening, as one commentator put it, “to pack up its toys and go home if European regulators don’t back down and let the social network get its own way”…

Read on

How to debate against a liar

The first Presidential debate is coming up on Tuesday.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry. He has [some advice] ( for Joe Biden on how to handle Trump.

When Joe Biden debates President Trump on Tuesday, he will have to figure out how to parry with an opponent who habitually lies and doesn’t play by the rules.

As a psychiatrist, I’d like to offer Mr. Biden some advice: Don’t waste your time fact-checking the president. If you attempt to counter every falsehood or distortion that Mr. Trump serves up, you will cede control of the debate. And, by trying to correct him, you will paradoxically strengthen the misinformation rather than undermine it. (Research shows that trying to correct a falsehood with truth can backfire by reinforcing the original lie. )

Instead, Biden should use more powerful weapons that will put Trump on the defensive.

The first weapon may be the most effective: humor and ridicule.

Trump, faced with a pandemic and an economic downturn, tells Americans what a great job he’s done. In response, Mr. Biden should smile and say with a bit of laugh: “And just where have you been living? South Korea? Or Fiji? You cannot be in the United States — except maybe on the golf course. We’ve got about 4 percent of the world’s population and 21 percent of all Covid deaths and the highest unemployment since the Great Depression! You must be living on another planet!”

The retort mocks the president as weak and unaccomplished, which will rattle him. He is apparently so fearful of being the target of a joke that — unlike any president before him — he has skipped the last three roasts at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Lots more in that vein. Professor Friedman also comes up with something I hadn’t thought about: there won’t be a live audience.

President Trump will not have a live audience to excite him and satisfy his insatiable need for approval and attention, which means he will be even more vulnerable to a takedown. True, no one will be there to laugh at Mr. Biden’s jokes, but it doesn’t matter because the goal is serious: to expose the truth and unnerve Mr. Trump by getting under his skin.

Interesting piece throughout.

Project Orion

One of the most interesting and unusual books I read during lockdown is George Dyson’s Analogia: the Entangled Destinies of Nature, Human Beings and Machines. In one section of it he describes an extraordinary, top-secret project that his father, the great physicist Freeman Dyson, had worked on in the late 1950s — the Orion Project. Crudely summarised, this was a project to build a huge spaceship powered by a large number of successive nuclear explosions. It sounds so daft that I have doubts even as I type the words. But the project was real (fuelled in part by post-Sputnik panic in the US) and prototypes were built and tested, though most of the information about it was highly classified until George Dyson campaigned vigorously to have it released.

Anyway, I finished the book wondering what else was known about Project Orion, and — lo! and behold! — look what I found: a wonderful 2002 BBC documentary, To Mars By A Bomb – The Secret History of Project Orion, about it.

It’s nearly an hour long, so make some coffee, pull up a chair, and ponder the exquisite madness of ultra-clever human beings.

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Saturday 26 September, 2020

A message from the cloud appreciation society

From our coastal walk on Thursday.

Quote of the Day

”An expert is someone who knows the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and who manages to avoid them.”

  • Werner Heisenberg

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mark Knopfler & Chet Atkins playing I’ll see you in my dreams and Imagine live at the Secret Policeman’s Third Ball 1987.


Thinking about Lincoln

I’ve been thinking about Abraham Lincoln a good deal ever since I listened to David Runciman’s unmissable podcasted talk about Max Weber’s famous lecture “Politics as a Vocation”, delivered to students in Munich in 1919. Towards the end of his talk, David identifies Lincoln as the politician who comes closest to meeting Weber’s stringent requirements for a democratic leader, and so I’ve been driven to digging out Gore Vidal’s famous historical novel about him and other stuff.

Today, I came on Adam Gopnik’s roundup essay in the New Yorker on a raft of contemporary biographies of Lincoln, which of course I dived into and found myself transfixed by this wonderful photograph of him which I’d never seen before. It’s such a revealing portrait of its subject.

Lincoln was famously ungainly and physically awkward. Gopnik retells the story of when he was President and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, compared him to a baboon. Asked how he could endure such an insult, Lincoln replied: “That is no insult; it is an expression of opinion; and what troubles me most about it is that Stanton said it, and Stanton is usually right.”

Gopnik’s argument is that historians’ visions of Lincoln have been shaped by their own political landscapes and cultural contexts. Which neatly explains why he has been much on our minds at the moment. And isn’t it weird — looking at the current GOP — that he was a Republican!

Ireland might yet be forced to accept that €13 billion in back tax from Apple

This is straight out of the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department.

Way back in 2016 the European Commission issued a ruling that Ireland had given Apple a “sweetheart deal” that let the company pay significantly lower taxes than other businesses. “Member States cannot give tax benefits to selected companies — this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” the EU’s antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in 2016.

The commission ordered Apple to pay €13 billion ($14.9 billion) in back taxes to the Irish government. Needless to say, Apple disputed the decision, with CEO Tim Cook calling the judgment “total political crap.” But — here’s the startling bit — the Irish government also appealed the decision! This must be the first recorded case of a cash-strapped government facing Brexit campaigning not to receive enough dosh to run the country’s health service for a year or two.

In July this year In July, the General Court of the EU annulled the 2016 ruling on the grounds that that the commission had failed to make its case. “The commission did not succeed in showing to the requisite legal standard that there was an advantage” for Apple, they declared, and “the commission did not prove, in its alternative line of reasoning, that the contested tax rulings were the result of discretion exercised by the Irish tax authorities.”

On Friday the Commission announced that it will appeal the court’s July ruling, with Vestager saying in a statement that the court “has made a number of errors of law.”

“The General Court has repeatedly confirmed the principle that, while Member States have competence in determining their taxation laws taxation, they must do so in respect of EU law, including State aid rules,” Vestager said. “If Member States give certain multinational companies tax advantages not available to their rivals, this harms fair competition in the European Union in breach of State aid rules.”

Quite so.

A detached observer might ask why the Irish government took the line it did in this case. The short answer is that since 1958 the prime strategy of the Irish state has to carve out an economic future for a small island by being nice to giant foreign companies (especially US ones). So if it were obliged to take a more hands-off stance to these giants — even as some of them, especially Facebook and Google (both with their European HQs in Dublin) are turning toxic — then it would be changing the habits of several political lifetimes.

This one will run for a while yet.

Why we need satire

From the (consistently funny) current issue of Private Eye — sometimes the only publication that keeps UK residents sane and the moment.

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Friday 25 September, 2020

Mellow fruitfulness

Rose-hips and blackberries. Seen on our coastal walk yesterday.

Quote of the Day

”The best number for a dinner party is two — myself and a damn good head waiter.”

  • Nubar Gulbenkian

I have a good friend who used to say that the best conversations in his house always took place between himself and the TV set.

Musical alternative to the radio news of the day

Für Elise: Lang Lang


A year is such a long time in Brexit politics

Private Eye, 25 September, 2020

Tracking historical changes in trustworthiness using machine learning analyses of facial cues in paintings

It’s amazing what people do research on. This paper published in Nature Communications describes an interesting use of machine-learning technology to analyse portraits over the ages. The researchers built an algorithm to automatically generate trustworthiness evaluations for the facial action units (smile, eye brows, etc.) of European portraits in large historical databases. Their results show that “trustworthiness in portraits increased over the period 1500–2000 paralleling the decline of interpersonal violence and the rise of democratic values observed in Western Europe.

Portraits are particularly promising to document and quantify the level of trust over time. Experimental work have revealed that specific facial features, such as a smiling mouth or wider eyes, are consistently recognized as cues of trustworthiness across individuals and cultures. In this paper, we capitalize on this large empirical literature to build an algorithm that estimates trustworthiness based on a pre-identified set of facial characteristics. More precisely, we apply recent machine-learning methods to extract quantitative information about the evolution of social cues contained in portraits. The algorithm generates automatic human-like trustworthiness ratings on portraits based on the muscle contractions (facial action units) detected in facial displays using the open software OpenFace. This algorithm was trained on avatars controlled for trustworthiness and optimized using a random forest procedure (see Supplementary Methods for more details). To assess the generalizability of our model, we then tested its validity on four databases of natural faces rated by real participants. We first demonstrated that the algorithm produced trustworthiness ratings that were aligned with those produced by human participants in all four controlled databases.

Interestingly, the only painting illustrated in the paper — a portrait of Thomas Cranmer, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. He helped build the case for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which was one of the causes of the separation of the English Church from union with the Holy See. Along with Thomas Cromwell, he supported the principle of royal supremacy. So he was the polar opposite of a “troublesome priest”. Interestingly, the algorithm examined Gerlach Flicke’s famous portrait of Cranmer and pronounced him untrustworthy. Which I’d say was a pretty shrewd assessment.

Jonathan Dancy’s British Academy memoir of Derek Parfit.

Whenever a Fellow of the British Academy dies, the Academy commissions another Fellow to write an extended memoir of him. (The Royal Society has a similar tradition.) Jonathan Dancy’s memoir of the Oxford Philosopher Derek Parfit is a gem. (And quite a long read.)

Parfit was a genius, but by the metric-driven standards of contemporary academia he would have had difficulty holding onto an academic post. I never knew him personally, but his wife, Janet Radcliffe Richards, was at one time a valued colleague of mine, and it was from her that I learned that in addition to being a distinguished philosopher he was also an interesting and fastidious photographer. Larissa MacFarquhar wrote a fabulous New Yorker profile of him in 2011. Here she is on his photographic habit:

Sometime after he gave up the idea of being a poet, Parfit developed a new aesthetic obsession: photography. He drifted into it—a rich uncle gave him an expensive camera—but later it occurred to him that his interest in committing to paper images of things he had seen might stem from his inability to hold those images in his mind. He also believed that most of the world looked better in reproduction than it did in life. There were only about ten things in the world he wanted to photograph, however, and they were all buildings: the best buildings in Venice—Palladio’s two churches, the Doge’s Palace, the buildings along the Grand Canal—and the best buildings in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building.

His photographs are enigmatic and fascinating. Bryan Appleyard (himself a photographer) has a lovely New Statesman piece about an exhibition of them held in 2018.

His perfectionism in photography was as fierce as in his philosophy. Over about 25 years he shot thousands of rolls of film but he only believed he had made “about 120 good photographs”. There was method in this, an adaptation of his own sense of a shortcoming. “What he said about the whole project,” says Richards, “was that he wasn’t an artist but he was a good critic, so he took thousands and thousands of photographs and just selected the ones he thought were best.”

Sometimes his processing went wrong. Richards tells me that one St Petersburg picture was not displayed by the gallery because it was just too processed – “too CGI, too postcard”. And his favoured cities did not always co-operate. He eventually stopped going to St Petersburg because he said the snow had become the wrong colour and he abandoned photography altogether when he decided weather in general had changed.

From a distance Parfit struck me as an astonishing combination of formidable intellect and a kind of childlike innocence; and also as a thoroughly good person. Dancy’s memoir and MacFarquahar’s profile reinforce that impression.

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Thursday 23 September, 2020

On our way to North Norfolk today, we came on a flower we’d never seen before on a roadside verge.

This is one of the (tiny) flowers, shot with a Summilux 28mm on macro setting.

Quote of the Day

”Pray, good people, be civil; I am the Protestant whore.”

  • Nell Gwyn, the actress who became Charles II’s mistress. She is supposed to have said it when her carriage was besieged by an angry mob who thought she was the King’s unpopular Catholic mistress, Louise de Kérouaille.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Dougie Maclean & Guests – Caledonia


So why is this front-page news now?

It would be news if a normal politician — or indeed a normal person — said it. But Trump isn’t normal — and surely we all knew that by now. If a mafia boss were elected president and began behaving like a mafia boss, then nobody would be surprised. They might be outraged or alarmed, but surprised? Not in the least. Trump is a like a low-grade mafia boss with a short attention span. Of course he will dispute the results if he loses the election. Goddam it, he disputed the results in the election that he won!

The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world

Eerie and possibly insightful essay by Nick Couldry and Bruce Schneier, who needs no introduction.

Six months into the pandemic with no end in sight, many of us have been feeling a sense of unease that goes beyond anxiety or distress. It’s a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the nice things we regularly do.

What’s blocking our everyday routines is not the anxiety of lockdown adjustments, or the worries about ourselves and our loved ones — real though those worries are. It isn’t even the sense that, if we’re really honest with ourselves, much of what we do is pretty self-indulgent when held up against the urgency of a global pandemic. It is something more troubling and harder to name: an uncertainty about why we would go on doing much of what for years we’d taken for granted as inherently valuable.

They think we’re suffering from Acedia. Eh? Apparently it was a malady that plagued many medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.

It’s here, moving back to the particular features of the global pandemic, that we see more clearly what drives the restlessness and dislocation so many have been feeling. The source of our current acedia is not the literal loss of a future; even the most pessimistic scenarios surrounding Covid-19 have our species surviving. The dislocation is more subtle: a disruption in pretty much every future frame of reference on which just going on in the present relies.

Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. Covid has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them very often. We don’t know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building. That’s what many of us are feeling. That’s today’s acedia.

That rings a bell. When a loved one becomes terminally ill, for example, you discover that day-to-day living becomes harder because the future has become both certain and uncertain. It’s very disabling.

Thanks to Charles Arthur for spotting it.

The NHS Test and Trace app has two flaws: QR codes and people

As a conscientious citizen (note: not ‘subject’ — I’m an Irish citizen rather than a British subject) I downloaded the app and it’s now running on my iPhone.

Nicole Kobie has an interesting piece in Wired about it, based on the experiences of people in Newham, which was one of the two areas in the country where it’s already been trialled.

The trials were clearly necessary and useful because they’ve highlighted some important areas of potential difficulty

Conflicting QR codes are one of several problems raised by the contact tracing app, alongside residents having phones too old to use the app, language challenges in this diverse area, and distrust of the government.

A key feature of the app is that it is supposed to let you check in to a venue by scanning an official NHS QR code displayed in the premises you are trying to enter. But Newham residents told WIRED that they’ve barely seen any of the official NHS QR codes in shops or restaurants. [This could be because the residents were effectively Beta-testers for the app and the QR codes would not have been widely distributed.]

Others say they’re confused as to whether a QR code on the door is the right one to scan or not, as existing contact-tracing systems also use the codes – just wait until these codes are ubiquitous and scammers start putting up false ones. And some residents reported that the QR code throws up an error message in the app or simply takes too long to scan, causing queues to enter a shop — hardly ideal in these times of social distancing. “Although the app looks good, if I can’t use the QR scanner, it defeats the object of the app’s purpose,” wrote one app reviewer on Google Play.

Another challenge was downloading the app.

Residents were sent out a detailed, four-page letter with instructions on how to install the app and use one-time codes to activate it for the trial, which residents said was off-putting – especially so for those who don’t speak English as a first language. The council has pushed for the app and online advice for it to be available in several languages, including Polish, Gujarati, Urdu and more, but as Fiaz notes, Newham has more than 100 languages and dialects spoken locally.

And then there’s the age of your smartphone…

It only works on recent smartphones, running Android 6.0 or iOS 13.5 later; that’s iPhone 6S and newer. However, that risks leaving out people with older phones, in particular those without the money to buy a newer one. …

Apparently Age UK is warning that this could leave those most at risk of Covid being treated as “second-class citizens.” Another way of putting it is that it’s just another illustration of how the pandemic is revealing the extent of inequality in UK society.

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Wednesday 23 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

”Give me a man with big hands and big feet and no brains and I’ll make a golfer out of him

  • Walter Hagen, the first great professional US golfer who won the US Open twice and the British Open four times.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Labi Siffre – Something Inside So Strong


Thanks to Ian Clark for the suggestion.

The TikTok farce

I was going to write about this, but then the weekly edition of Ben Evans’s (free) newsletter dropped into my inbox and I realised there is no way I could do any better than that. So here is his take on it, in its entirety:

As of right now (and this will probably change again), the plan is that there will be a new US company running Tiktok US, with a board of US citizens (who?), that will move its systems from (mostly) Google Cloud to Oracle’s (distant also-ran) cloud platform, and Oracle will manage the data and source code. Bytedance says it will IPO this company next year and that Oracle and Walmart will be able to buy a 20% stake before then (at what valuation?). In addition, there is a nebulous claim of ’25k new jobs’ in the USA (for what?) and of ‘$5bn’ going from Bytedance to either the US Treasury (the Oracle press release) or an ‘education fund’ (Trump), but Bytedance says it doesn’t know anything about that (!) and that actually this is just an estimate of future corporation taxes. Oracle also has a press release claiming Tiktok ‘chose’ their ‘tech’ because it’s better. Don’t embarrass yourself, Larry.

Setting aside the chaos – what does this solve? As a reminder, we worry about subtle manipulation of what videos are shown, and we worry about the app on your phone being used to steal other data, either deliberately or via ‘bugs’ left in accidentally-on-purpose. The actual user data on Tiktok’s servers comes a distant third: even if Oracle can look after that, who cares? What matters is who runs the app and the recommendation systems, but we have no visibility on what that would look like, and Oracle is not the company to play any kind of role here.

Finally: Trump demanded it be shut down or sold: instead the app continues in place, Bytedance still has a majority, a Trump donor now has an option to buy a minority stake and gets it as a (partial) customer, and we don’t have visibility on a solution to the (very real) actual issues. It does notionally get a US board, but we didn’t need all this chaos to get that. But, Trump has (he claims) a cheque to wave around. This is a shakedown, but it’s also a climbdown. Putin does this in Russia all the time, but manages it much better. Links: Tiktok statement, Oracle press release, Bytedance on that $5bn

Ben’s newsletter and blog are really good. You can sign up here.

The UK government’s communications strategy examined

POLITICO’s Andrew McDonald on how the government guidance has varied:

July 4: Go to the pub … July 8: Go to restaurants … July 17: Work wherever your employer wants you to … August 19: No excuse not to go back to the office … August 28: Go back to the office or risk losing your job … September 14: Report rule of six breakers … September 16: Don’t report rule of six breakers … September 22: Work from home, curfew on pubs and restaurants.

Read the full timeline here.

To put it another way: A senior Conservative tells the FT’s Seb Payne: “We told people to eat out, now we’re telling them to eat in. We told people to go back to the office, now we’re telling them to work from home. It’s a total shambles and I can’t see how people are going to understand it.”

Me neither.

Watching Boris Johnson’s plea to the nation to link together last night, the one question in my mind was: is Dominic Cummings also required to adhere to these ‘guidelines’?

From the (terrific and free) Politico daily newsletter.

btw: The full timeline is really instructive.

What If Trump Refuses to Concede?

If you want a tranquil day, then perhaps you should give this long read by Barton Gellman a miss. It covers questions that I never thought we have to ask in my lifetime. And I’m glad I read it. What we always forget is that democracy is a very fragile plant. And it’s historically an accident or a blip that we’ve sustained it this long. It was probably the trauma of WW2 that shocked us into trying to make it work. And then we got complacent. Between now and Christmas we will discover if America’s long experiment with democracy is over.

If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern.

As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. Thus the blinking red lights…

Many thanks to Seb Schmoller, who pointed it out to me. I had missed it.

En passant: of all the publications I read, the Atlantic is the one that has come out of this crisis period with flying colours.

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Tuesday 22 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all these people who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.”

  • Graham Greene, Ways of Escape, chapter 9.

Simple: they keep a daily blog.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Albinoni: Adagio For Strings And Organ In G Minor, Berliner Phil and von Karajan


Boris Johnson is not lost; he’s right in front of you

Nice Financial Times column by Robert Shrimsley. Sample:

It was all meant to be such fun. There would be cocktails at Chequers, hilarious nose-tweaking of po-faced progressives and the bellowing of “Brussels sucks” as they roared down freedom highway like Mr Toad in his new car. Anyone who got in the way would be sacked, debagged or prorogued. Yes, there’s a crisis, but dammit where’s the good old Boris they used to know?

The answer is he’s right there in front of them. Mr Johnson’s weaknesses were never hidden. It cannot, surely, be a shock to discover his lack of focus, carelessness, excessive delegation and love of the bold play over the grinding detail. Furthermore, “good old Boris” is not going to change. He is not, aged 56, suddenly going to “get a grip”.

Their dismay would be laughable if it were not shared by his MPs, who are staggered by his mis-steps and outraged by the obvious contempt shown for them by his Downing Street team.

Even loyalists are open-mouthed at the accumulation of errors. How, they ask, could a conservative premier advocate breaking the law? How could he not foresee that the return of schools would lead to surging demand for Covid-19 tests? As they look ahead to mass unemployment and virus spikes, MPs can no longer see the rapids for the rocks.

Well, as the notices in antique shops say: “If you break it, then you own it.”

Facebook needs Trump as much as Trump needs Facebook

Interesting Bloomberg piece:

Zuckerberg isn’t easily influenced by politics. But what he does care about—more than anything else perhaps—is Facebook’s ubiquity and its potential for growth. The result, critics say, has been an alliance of convenience between the world’s largest social network and the White House, in which Facebook looks the other way while Trump spreads misinformation about voting that could delegitimize the winner or even swing the election. “Facebook, more so than other platforms, has gone out of its way to not ruffle feathers in the current administration,” says Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Accountable Tech, an organization making recommendations to tech companies on public-policy issues. “At best, you could say it’s willful negligence.”

The pattern hasn’t been confined to U.S. politics. A Facebook executive in India was accused in August of granting special treatment to a lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who’d called for violence against Rohingya Muslim immigrants. (It was only after the Wall Street Journal reported on the posts that the company banned the lawmaker, T. Raja Singh.) A memo from a former employee, published by BuzzFeed on Sept. 14, detailed how Facebook had ignored or delayed taking action against governments using fake accounts to mislead their citizens. “I have blood on my hands,” she wrote.

The (long) piece goes on to details the ways in which Zuckerberg has sought to deflect Trump’s ire onto other targets. But…

Trump is trailing by 7 points or so nationally, and it’s likely that a Biden administration would seek to regulate Facebook. In July, Zuckerberg got a preview of the Democrats’ playbook when he faced the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, alongside all the other major tech executives. Representatives’ questions for him were pointed, prosecutorial, and informed by thousands of internal emails and chat logs that seemed to suggest a path for regulators to argue that the company should be broken up or penalized in some other way.

As the election nears, and Trump continues to lag in the polls, the prospect of a Biden presidency becomes more likely. And last January said that he also favours removing Section 230 protections and holding executives personally liable. “I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan,” he told the New York Times in January.

So Zuckerberg seems to have woken up to the risks — for Facebook, not humanity — of a Trump loss. The Bloomberg piece says that he’s told employees that the company is likely to fare better under Republicans.

Just one more reason for electing Biden!

The legal fight awaiting the US after the Election

Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker‘s legal eagle, has a long piece in the magazine looking forward to November 3 and its likely aftermath. There’s no good news in it. Here, in a nutshell, is why:

Trump’s grievance is almost certainly tied to the fact that Democrats are more likely to vote by mail in the upcoming election than Republicans are. This will contribute to a phenomenon called the “blue shift”—votes that are counted, and reported, later on tend to favor Democrats. This year’s blue shift may be particularly dramatic. In a recent poll by Hawkfish, a data firm associated with Democrats, only nineteen per cent of Trump supporters said that they planned to vote by mail, compared with sixty-nine per cent of Biden supporters. Using data from late-summer polls, Hawkfish predicted that Election Night results could show Trump in the lead, with a total of four hundred and eight electoral votes. Four days later, with seventy-five per cent of the mail-in votes counted, Biden would take the lead, with two hundred and eighty electoral votes and, with all the votes counted, the former Vice-President would win the Presidency, with three hundred and thirty-four electoral votes.

You can imagine the scenario. And gun sales have gone through the roof in the US. The only consolation is that there’s a shortage of some kinds of ammunition.


Why would anyone pay £1500 for this when they could have, say, an infinitely more useful Apple Watch for a third of the price?

Look, as a regular reader of the Financial Times I get it that for some rich guys watches are basically the male equivalent of women’s jewellery. And that’s fine by me: it’s a free country and all that. But what baffles me is why anyone would pay good money for a half-assed smartwatch that a famous analog watch brand has tried to cobble together.

I’ve just read a friendly review of it and this is the best it can say:


If you want a smartwatch that looks like a traditional Tag, the Connected 2020 fully delivers. That attractive design now includes an upgraded screen and the extra software additions help to make it feel less of a Wear OS watch. The included watch faces are great, while the new sports app certainly shows good potential.

Its sports tracking skills can’t really rival what you’ll get from a serious Polar or Garmin sportswatch, but if you’re more 20 minute treadmill runner than marathon racer, it should more than do the job.

There are other brands like Montblanc and fellow LVMH stablemate Louis Vuitton that have noticeably raised their game on the luxury smartwatch front. But Tag Heuer remains ahead of the pack as far as building a truly desirable smartwatch that feels worthy of that steep price tag.

There’s no getting away from it: the Tag Heuer Connected 2020 is a beauty of a smartwatch.

Sad, isn’t it.

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Monday 21 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

”Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering that we work for Fox.”

  • David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction”, Glastonbury 2013


An amazing moment: the first time the Stones played Glastonbury. I’ve always been a fan, but the lovely thing is that one of my grandsons has also been one since he was a very small boy. And on this Saturday evening, I was watching the gig at home, while somewhere in the crowd were three of my kids, and that particular grandson.

Mick Jagger had some interesting things to say about it at the time:

Going on was this amazing sight. I’ve done a lot of big crowds, but normally when you do these big crowds you can’t often see them. In this case, though, the crowd goes up the hill and was illuminated by flares. You could actually see 100,000 people, which was amazing. The crowd was amazingly supportive, vibrant, enthusiastic, exuberant – even though you’re a long way away from them, you can still feel the wave of feeling coming from them.

Glastonbury has had a long, involving history, as almost a protest, and then evolving into this anything-goes, very different, multi-generational event, with every kind of music represented and lots of other things besides. I used to joke that it’s the alternate Ascot, which is maybe a bit of a misnomer, but it’s an amazing English cultural event that embodies some kind of Englishness – some odd Englishness. Glastonbury is a great tradition, and the way it’s evolved, it sort of represents this rather eccentric English culture, in a really good way. Everyone reveres it because of that, and because of its longevity – it’s been passed down through generations. People have got this special affection for it.

Mists and mellow fruitfulness

An audio fragment from a morning cycle ride.


Packing the US Supreme Court

The late Justice Ginsberg by Art Lien.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg has triggered a political and legal storm in the US. As expected, Trump has announced that he intends to nominate a right-wing candidate for her place to be confirmed as soon as possible. And true to form, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader — who refused a confirmatory process for one of Barack Obama’s nominee in the last year of Obama’s term, on the grounds that democracy required that they wait until after the presidential election — has now decided that Trump’s nominee should be confirmed before the election. Neither of these stunts should surprise anyone, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of good folks from being outraged.

Meanwhile — as I mentioned yesterday — the enraged Democrats have reminded us that the number of judges on the Supreme Court is not specified by the Constitution and can therefore be increased (or reduced) by an Act of Congress. Accordingly, if the Republicans insist on pressing ahead with the sure-fire confirmation of Trump’s nominee and then Biden is elected, there’s nothing to stop a Democratic administration from packing the court by increasing the number of justices, thereby securing a non-Republican majority on it.

Needless to say, this has in turn, caused outrage in some circles.

Enter the historians, who point out that in the 1930s Franklin Roosevelt threatened to pack the court with his nominees if the existing Court continued to oppose his New Deal legislation. In the end, he didn’t have to carry out the threat, because the justices backed down.

Now comes Henry Farrell, a terrific Irish-American political scientist, with this post:

The obvious point here is that Roosevelt’s threat was the reason why the Court backed down. If Roosevelt had not made it clear that he was willing to upset the game, by packing the Court, the Court would have had no reason to back down on judgments and precedents that systematically limited the scope of democratic politics. One norm that had been pretty systematically trashed – judicial respect for what citizens and their democratically elected representatives actually wanted – was only preserved through Roosevelt’s credible threat to upset another norm.

There’s lots more… His piece is worth reading in full.

Sex in the office? Or a crude publicity stunt?

This story from the FT‘s Sifted site belongs in the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department.

The chairman of the dating app Thursday mistakenly sent a confidential email to a public-mailing list apologising for one of the company’s cofounders being caught having “sexual activity” in the office, according to the company.

The letter, posted below, expresses “great disappointment” and says that the company’s leaders “do not condone any sexual activity on office premises between employees.” Chairman Tim Hammond added that, in line with government guidelines on coronavirus, the office has been “thoroughly cleaned”.

Sifted was alerted to the note by this Tweet, and obtained a copy of the letter. The company has not responded to multiple requests for comment but issued a statement on its Instagram account saying: “We’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone that received an unintentionally circulated email today. Thank you for alerting us to the mistake. Many have asked — was it rigged? No, but we’ll run with it.”

It’s unclear which of the three cofounders — Sam McCarthy, Matthew McNeill and George Rawlings — were being referred to in the letter.

There are, however, reasons to suspect that this could could just be a publicity stunt, given that Rawlings has form, as we racing enthusiasts say. Last year, for example, he performed a stunt last year on the streets of central London to draw attention to the app (which was then called Honeypot).

So what was he up to then?

The dating app entrepreneur posed at busy spots with a huge cardboard sign saying: “I @GeorgeRawlings cheated on my girlfriend and this is my punishment. Do NOT download Honeypot.” He later admitted it was a stunt.

Press coverage wasn’t exactly positive, but Rawlings estimates that the number of downloads that resulted from the stunt equated to approximately £9,500 in online marketing spend. All that at a cost of £2.65 — the price of some cardboard and a pen.

Advice: If you were thinking of using Thursday’s services, don’t.

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Sunday 20 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“The nature of things is a sturdy adversary”

  • Edmund Burke

Reminds me of the famous reply Harold Macmillan gave to a reporter who asked him what kept him awake at nights: “Events, dear boy, events”.

Musical alternative to this morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton: Cocaine — at the Albert Hall


Slow and enigmatic start. Worth waiting for, though.

The Social Dilemma: a wake-up call for a world drunk on dopamine?

This morning’s Observer column.

TL;DR version: the new Netflix docudrama is a valiant if flawed attempt to address our complacency about surveillance capitalism.

Spool forward a couple of centuries. A small group of social historians drawn from the survivors of climate catastrophe are picking through the documentary records of what we are currently pleased to call our civilisation, and they come across a couple of old movies. When they’ve managed to find a device on which they can view them, it dawns on them that these two films might provide an insight into a great puzzle: how and why did the prosperous, apparently peaceful societies of the early 21st century implode?

The two movies are The Social Network, which tells the story of how a po-faced Harvard dropout named Mark Zuckerberg created a powerful and highly profitable company; and The Social Dilemma, which is about how the business model of this company – as ruthlessly deployed by its po-faced founder – turned out to be an existential threat to the democracy that 21st-century humans once enjoyed.

Both movies are instructive and entertaining, but the second one (which has just been released on Netflix) leaves one wanting more. Its goal is admirably ambitious: to provide a compelling, graphic account of what the business model of a handful of companies is doing to us and to our societies. The intention of the director, Jeff Orlowski, is clear from the outset: to reuse the strategy deployed in his two previous documentaries on climate change – nicely summarised by one critic as “bring compelling new insight to a familiar topic while also scaring the absolute shit out of you”.

For those of us who have for years been trying – without notable success – to spark public concern about what’s going on in tech, it’s fascinating to watch how a talented movie director goes about the task…

Read on

What to do if Trump and the Republicans in the Senate ram through a new Supreme Court nominee.

Interesting. I hadn’t known that the number of Supreme Court justices is not stipulated by the Constitution. That means an Act of Congress could change it.

Johnson’s not up to the job. Who knew?

It’s funny how many people seem still to be astonished by the incompetence of the Johnson administration. Given his record as a lazy, irresponsible toff who has all his life left behind him a wake of chaos, unhappiness and offspring, what else could one expect? Andrew Rawnsley has a nice column about this in today’s Observer. Here’s its conclusion:

Funnily enough, the book Superforecasting [which Dominic Cummings reviewed enthusiastically put on his reading list for ministers] identifies one of the core reasons why this government is failing. “The worst forecasters were those with great self-confidence who stuck to their big ideas,” wrote Mr Cummings himself. They are lousy at understanding the world and coming to good judgments about it. “The more successful were those who were cautious, humble, numerate, actively open-minded, looked at many points of view.” Now, which is a better description of the Johnson-Cummings method of government? “Cautious, humble, numerate, actively open-minded, looked at many points of view”? That doesn’t sound like them at all. “Great self-confidence”, which leaves them stubbornly wedded to their “big ideas”? That’s much more like it.

Their biggest idea of the moment is that leaving the EU’s single market without a deal would be fine even in a double-whammy combination with a re-escalation of the coronavirus crisis. Bear in mind his previous record as a soothsayer when the prime minister confidently predicts that a crash-out Brexit would be a “good outcome”. I hazard a guess that this is his most calamitously wrong forecast of all.

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Saturday 19 September, 2020

The Joy of Six

Nice tribute to Alex Comfort’s great 1972 bestseller

Quote of the Day

“A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11 per cent of people in the US had contemplated suicide during the June spent in lockdown (up from 4.3 per cent in 2018). Among those aged 18-24 it was 26 per cent.”

  • Gillian Tett, writing in today’s Financial Times.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel: Silent Worship – Somervell’s arrangement of Handel’s aria Non lo dirò col labbro from his opera Tolomeo, performed by Mark Stone (baritone) and Stephen Barlow (piano).


This is how Jonathan Swift would be writing about Johnson & Co

Wonderful column by Marina Hyde. Sample:

Do you remember Ye Olde Operation Moonshotte, an ancient promise by the elders of this government to test 10 million people a day? My apologies for the leading question. There are absent-minded goldfish who remember that figure, given it was announced by Boris Johnson’s government barely three seconds ago. The only representative of the animal, vegetable and possibly mineral kingdoms who doesn’t remember it is the prime minister himself, who on Wednesday told a committee asking him about it: “I don’t recognise the figure you have just given.” Like me, you probably feel grateful to be governed by a guy whose approach to unwanted questions is basically, “New phone, who dis?”

Like me, you will be reassured by Matt Hancock’s plan to throw another “protective ring” around care homes. What’s not to fear about a Matt Hancock ring, easily the most dangerous ring in history, including Sauron’s Ring of Power. Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate – sent direct to you Read more

Like me, you are probably impressed that the government is ordering you to snitch on your neighbours for having seven people in their garden, while whichever Serco genius is running testing as a Dadaist performance piece about human futility gets to live in the witness protection programme. Shitness protection programme, whatever.

Speaking of which, like me, you probably feel relaxed to learn that Chris Grayling, who notably awarded a ferry contract to a firm with no ferries, is now to be paid £100,000 a year for seven hours work a week advising a ports company. When I read this story I imagined his aides pulling a hammer-wielding Grayling off the pulped corpse of Satire, going: “Jesus, Chris! Leave it – it’s already dead! We need to get out of here!”

Terrific stuff. Made my day. And I hope yours, after you’ve read it.

American colleges are the new Sweden

From Politico’s newsletter…

Now there’s a new Sweden to study: American college campuses. Watching thousands of students gather in classes, in dorms, and in social settings is providing another laboratory for epidemiologists.

Here’s what they’re learning:

Herd immunity won’t save us anytime soon. More than 88,000 people have been infected across about 1,200 college campuses. That’s a fraction of the country’s total student population of 20 million. About 60 people have died, mostly college employees.

Experts believe that herd immunity will kick in when about 70 percent of the population is infected — assuming an initial infection provides lasting immunity, which scientists still aren’t sure about.

“It is almost impossible to imagine a college campus will get to herd immunity,” said Howard Forman, a health policy professor at the Yale School of Management, who is leading a team that rates college Covid dashboards.

Asymptomatic exposure is a real problem. College students are carrying Covid without symptoms and then spreading it to the general population, who are then getting sick at much higher rates than the students are.

“When I talk to a lot of colleges and universities, the biggest concern is fear of downstream health in the general population,” said Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor at MIT Media Lab, which has been developing contact tracing apps and other technology to contain Covid. “We always suspected asymptomatic transfers but now see they are real. It is frightening.”

Social distancing has been more clearly defined. There’s still been a lack of clarity about what counts as close physical contact. Colleges are showing how the calculation is more involved than just remaining six feet apart and staying outdoors.

“Before colleges opened, close contact meant going to a barber or people in a meat factory together or going to a senior care center,” Raskar said. “Now it’s more complex.” Cases are spreading at outdoor events if people spend prolonged periods in proximity, without masks. NYU suspended 20 students for throwing a party in Washington Square Park.

Telling people what to do isn’t enough. Trying to force students to follow rules by issuing strict guidelines and handing out punishments isn’t keeping them from spreading Covid. Education, awareness and clear public health messaging about the importance of wearing masks, downstream risks to vulnerable populations and the contagiousness of the disease has proven to be far more effective at containing Covid, Raskar said.

The campuses that are doing well are in areas without much community spread, Forman said. They also have the money to conduct widespread testing and have students who are highly compliant with guidelines. Just a handful of non-compliant students threaten an entire college reopening plan. The University of Illinois had a comprehensive Covid plan and even accounted for parties, but a dozen students who failed to isolate after testing positive for Covid sparked an outbreak.

The UK is about to discover if these lessons also apply here.

“It turns out that human nature is awful and the algorithms have figured this out, and that’s what drives engagement.”

This is a quote from a Berkeley computer scientist who, with a machine-learning expert, Guillaume Chaslot, in 2016-17 ran a web-scraper on YouTube for 15 months looking for how often the site recommended conspiracy videos. They found the frequency rose throughout the year; at the peak, nearly one in 10 videos recommended were conspiracist fare.

In comes in “YouTube’s Plot to Silence Conspiracy Theories”, an interesting Wired piece by Clive Cookson who — as far as I know — in the first journalist allowed inside YouTube’s growing effort to curtail or counteract the radicalising impact of its recommender algorithms.

It’s a long read, but worth it. And it starts with — what else? — a flat earth conspiracy theorist who business was ruined by tweaks in YouTube’s recommender algorithm!

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Friday 18 September, 2020

State of the nation

Captures the mood nicely — of both the US and the UK.

Quote of the Day

“As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents”.

  • George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones – Baby Please Don’t Go (Live At Checkerboard Lounge)


Amazing recording. Includes Keith Richards multitasking with cigarette and guitar.

When I previously mentioned this wonderful campaign, I appended the wrong link for anyone wanting to donate.

Here’s the correct link.

Many thanks to readers who pointed out the error.

What Julian Assange has in common with mainstream American media

Interesting Columbia Journalism Review essay by Harry Stopes, who worked with the novelist Andrew O’Hagan on the abortive project to ghost-write Assange’s autobiography.

TL;DR version: Assange and the media both believe that information changes the world.

Longer version:

In attempting to battle Trump with “the Truth” the American media has evinced the same simplistic faith as Assange in the capacity of information itself to be a driver of political change. This was most visible around the Mueller report and impeachment efforts but is mostly everywhere, all the time: the blind conviction that in the American public sphere there exists a common frame of reference against which the best ideas can be measured and will win out, if only all the right information is available. Trump’s tax returns and telephone transcripts, we hope, will finally bring him down.

The truth is vital, but it’s not reducible to a set of discrete facts, numbers, or documents. The rise of fact-checking features and Twitter accounts serves to highlight this, as journalists choose to focus only on those parts of political discourse that can be easily measured.

The facts themselves are not what is at issue. There is no shared basis upon which to identify them. What is really at issue are conflicts between political tribes, ideologies, and material interests. Many journalists know this, but on an institutional level some of their employers seem determined not to admit it.

That seems, to me, to be a response to an idea these institutions hold deep down: that politics and society cannot fundamentally change. If the structure of society is not up for debate, there is no place for structural critiques. All that matters is assembling chunks of information that might change the surface appearance, debunk a health plan here, reveal an air strike there. Far too little attention has been paid to what happens next when the discussion is done.

Looking back and looking forward

Long read of the day, especially if you work in a university.

Malcolm Gaskill took early retirement from his UEA Professorship before the pandemic struck. Now he’s written a lovely, reflective essay in the LRB on British academia and his experience of it.

Of course, none of us is lost in space, rounding the lip of a black hole. Higher education will always be worthwhile, if only because for students it provides three unique years removed from family, school and a career. In spite of uncertainty and austerity, versatile and resourceful young people will create their own networks and forums conducive to study and sociability. Academics will carry on doing research that informs their teaching. Learning for its own sake may suffer as courses are honed to a fine utilitarian edge and students evolve into accomplished grade accountants, expert in the work required for a 2.1 – playing the system they themselves finance. But degrees will retain value, and, for those who find graduate entry-level jobs, they will remain value for money. Above all, even allowing for a likely contraction of the HE sector, our universities will still promote social mobility, having already transformed the profile of the typical student, in terms of gender as well as class. There will be no return to sixty years ago when only 4 per cent of 18-year-olds went on to higher education, most of them men. The change is permanent. I’m glad to have played my part in this revolution.

Perhaps this is why I feel uneasy, and why my future feels more suspenseful than exciting. I’ve had dreams in which I’ve strolled across a platonically perfect ivy-clad campus, been enthralled by a perfect seminar, and had engaging discussions with old colleagues, including my Cambridge supervisor and the people I knew when I was doing my PhD, back in the halcyon days when everything had a point and a purpose. There’s guilt there: a sense of loss, of potential squandered and maybe even betrayed. UEA has made me an emeritus professor, which is an honourable discharge and something to cling to, and my wife insists we can live on her salary. But I still can’t decide whether I’ve retired or just resigned, or am in fact redundant and unemployed. I’m undeniably jobless at 53, able-bodied (I hesitate to say ‘fit’), with a full head of hair and most of my teeth, and haunted by St Teresa of Avila’s dictum that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

I keep thinking about a short story we read at school, Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Lotus Eater’. It is the cautionary tale of a bank manager who drives off the toads of work, gives up his comfy pension and goes to live like a peasant on a paradisal Mediterranean island. Needless to say it doesn’t end well: his annuity expires, his mind atrophies, he botches suicide. He sees out his days in a state of bestial wretchedness, demoted in the great chain of being as a punishment for rebelling against nature. I don’t see the story as a prediction, and would always choose industry over idleness, but Maugham’s contempt for someone who dodges life’s challenges – the story satirised an effete acquaintance from Heidelberg – resonates. Still, I couldn’t go back. Goodbye to all that.

The US makes a fuss about TikTok, but what’s happening to the Uyghurs in China is genocide. Why don’t we call it that? And why isn’t it the top story about China?

Great piece in the National Review by Jimmy Quinn.

Chinese Communist Party officials say that the Uyghurs, a Turkic minority in the Xinjiang region, are the “happiest Muslims in the world.” The evidence trickling out of western China tells a different story. In July, U.S. customs officials intercepted a 13-ton shipment of beauty products made out of human hair from the region and a video of blindfolded prisoners being led onto train cars went viral. Over the past couple of years, some have compared the human tragedy unfolding there to North Korean totalitarianism and South African apartheid. More recent evidence has inspired comparisons to the Holocaust. “Genocide” is a word that packs a punch, spurring action by connecting “the solemn commitments of the past and a new atrocity unfolding before the world’s eyes,” as a report by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center put it last year. This word, sadly, is now an apt descriptor for the situation in Xinjiang.

Thanks to the fearless work of researchers, journalists, and victims, it’s now widely known that the CCP in 2017 stepped up its repression of the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities by means of a mass-internment drive and a new, Orwellian surveillance state. When the Uyghurs “graduated” from these “reeducation” and “vocational training” facilities, to borrow the euphemistic terminology of CCP officials, many were forced into slave labor. All told, over a million Uyghurs and other members of Turkic minorities are estimated to have been detained, and a total of 3 million people to have been swept up in various reeducation efforts. Others were charged with bogus crimes and remain imprisoned. Beijing, citing a few terrorist incidents that took place in 2014, claims that it’s stamping out extremism, but its true aim is to solidify Han Chinese dominance over Xinjiang.

For years, experts and activists have called the situation a “cultural genocide.” That label carries a blistering significance and refers to the CCP’s attempts to wipe out Uyghur culture and traditions. The CCP has razed burial sites, closed mosques, and effectively criminalized most expressions of faith. Still, cultural genocide is not recognized as a crime under the U.N.’s 1948 convention on genocide. Invoking cultural genocide rather than simply genocide has been a cautious way to speak out about the situation in Xinjiang without discrediting one’s argument through exaggeration. In light of recent developments, that’s no longer required.

In late June, Adrian Zenz, the German anthropologist who has provided most of the groundbreaking revelations on the Xinjiang mass-detention drive, published a new report detailing a systematic forced-sterilization and birth-control program to lower Uyghur birth rates. Among his findings were that birth rates plummeted 84 percent from 2015 to 2018 in Xinjiang’s two major Uyghur prefectures; that a mass campaign to sterilize 14 to 34 percent of Uyghur women in rural parts of the region was underway; and that the CCP planned to sterilize or implant intrauterine contraceptive devices in 80 percent of childbearing-age women in Xinjiang’s rural southern areas. During the same period, Zenz noted, the state worked successfully to increase the Han Chinese population in Xinjiang. He likens these population-control techniques, which are based on ethnicity, to “opening or closing a faucet.” They are reminiscent of the CCP’s rule over Tibet, where Chen Quanguo, the party official who has presided over the Xinjiang genocide, gained a reputation for ruthless competence.

And so it goes on…

This is much, much more important than Chinese tech or surveillance in China or the Belt & Road Initiative or all the other stuff that appears in Western media about China. And yet it’s always on the bottom of page 26, as it were.

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