Google tracks your movements, like it or not

The Associated Press reports:

Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.

An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.

For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements. [Continue reading…]

Let’s call Islamophobia what it is – mainstream, anti-Muslim racism

Zubaida Haque writes:

Tommy Robinson, lately the cause célèbre of the so-called “alt-right”, isn’t the only person to rally a small band of fundamental libertarians, fruitcakes and closet racists behind him while the public looks on in despair. Who’s the other one? Step forward Boris Johnson. Who else?

This week, even the Prime Minister was moved to call on the ex-foreign secretary to apologise for claiming Muslim women in burqas “look like letter boxes” and comparing them to “bank robbers.” Boxed into a corner, Boris turned freedom of speech into the last refuge of a scoundrel, claiming his critics were trying to shut down debate about “difficult issues”.

If a woman’s right to choose to wear a headscarf or niqab offends our liberal values, maybe those values are suffering an existential crisis. But what happens when that free speech incites Muslim hatred? A figure like Johnson, whatever those on the left think of him, has enough of a popular following that his words can potentially incite Islamophobes to take the law into their own hands, however far from the intention.

The main problem with Johnson’s Telegraph article isn’t just the offence against Muslims, but the fact the bar to racism and bigotry has been lowered that bit further. That creates real problems in the lives in the Muslim community.

In national newspapers, on TV and in politics Muslims have been pathologised, homogenised and stripped of all aspects of their individuality. [Continue reading…]

Community

When I was a Buddhist monk and the Dalai Lama visited us in France, there was a meeting of most of the Western monks and nuns in our community.

At that time, the majority were living in a monastery and neighboring nunnery near Toulouse, but others were visiting from elsewhere in Europe, America, India and Australia. We were about 100 people.

We had the grandiose mission of preserving Tibetan Buddhism so that it could survive in exile and spread across the West. To that end in the early 1980s, we were in the process of establishing monastic communities in cultural contexts where they had never existed before.

One of the older monks, a doctor from Australia with a dry sense of humor, memorably defined community in this way:

“It’s about learning how to live with people most of whom you would never choose as friends.”

I think that’s a good definition that’s applicable to any sustainable community.

A problem with intentional communities is that they identify common purpose as their strongest social glue when, on the contrary, I suspect it may represent an inherent weakness.

Giving primacy to common purpose creates a tension between the individual and the collective. It imposes conditions on community membership and expectations of conformity. Communal acceptance is bound together with the possibility of communal rejection.

A much stronger sense of community comes from maximizing acceptance and minimizing rejection so that the most basic “qualification” for community membership is this simple fact: this is where I live. By virtue of living here, I belong to this community.

It is a community based on physical proximity rather than beliefs, formal agreements, or identity.

On NPR yesterday, I heard about a judge who is guided by his awareness that everyone who appears in his court, whatever they have done and whatever the outcome of the trial, still belongs to the community.

Ultimately, this is perhaps the sole function of human community: that it sustains a sense of belonging. And it does so without question.

The U.S. education system has produced a society of ‘smart fools’

Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg: IQ rose 30 points in the 20th century around the world, and in the U.S., that increase is continuing. That’s huge; that’s two standard deviations, which is like the difference between an average IQ of 100 and a gifted IQ of 130. We should be happy about this, but the question I ask is, If you look at the problems we have in the world today—climate change, income disparities in this country that probably rival or exceed those of the gilded age, pollution, violence, a political situation that many of us never could have imagined—one wonders, What about all those IQ points? Why aren’t they helping?

What I argue is that intelligence that’s not modulated and moderated by creativity, common sense and wisdom is not such a positive thing to have. What it leads to is people who are very good at advancing themselves, often at other people’s expense. We may not just be selecting the wrong people; we may be developing an incomplete set of skills—and we need to look at things that will make the world a better place.

Do we know how to cultivate wisdom?

Yes, we do. A whole bunch of my colleagues and I study wisdom. Wisdom is about using your abilities and knowledge not just for your own selfish ends and for people like you. It’s about using them to help achieve a common good by balancing your own interests with other people’s and with high-order interests through the infusion of positive ethical values.

You know, it’s easy to think of smart people, but it’s really hard to think of wise people. I think a reason is that we don’t try to develop wisdom in our schools. And we don’t test for it, so there’s no incentive for schools to pay attention.

Can we test for wisdom, and can we teach it?

You learn wisdom through role modeling. You can start learning that when you are six or seven. But if you start learning what our schools are teaching, which is how to prepare for the next statewide mastery tests, it crowds out of the curriculum the things that used to be essential. If you look at the old McGuffey Readers, they were as much about teaching good values and good ethics and good citizenship as about teaching reading. It’s not so much about teaching what to do but how to reason ethically; to go through an ethical problem and ask, “How do I arrive at the right solution?” [Continue reading…]

Immigrant youth shelters: ‘If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine’

ProPublica reports:

Just five days after he reached the United States, the 15-year-old Honduran boy awoke in his Tucson, Arizona, immigrant shelter one morning in 2015 to find a youth care worker in his room, tickling his chest and stomach.

When he asked the man, who was 46, what he was doing, the man left. But he returned two more times, rubbing the teen’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers. “I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” said the worker, who was later convicted of molestation.

In 2017, a 17-year-old from Honduras was recovering from surgery at the shelter when he woke up to find a male staff member standing by his bed. “You have it very big,” the man said, referring to the teen’s penis. Days later, that same employee brushed the teen with his hand while he was playing video games. When the staff member approached him again, the boy locked himself in a bathroom.

And in January of this year, a security guard at the shelter found notes in a minor’s jacket that suggested an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.

Pulled from police reports, incidents like these at Southwest Key’s Tucson shelter provide a snapshot of what has largely been kept from the public as well as members of Congress — a view, uncolored by politics, of troubling incidents inside the facilities housing immigrant children.

Using state public records laws, ProPublica has obtained police reports and call logs concerning more than 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. While not a comprehensive assessment of the conditions at these shelters, the records challenge the Trump administration’s assertion that the shelters are safe havens for children. The reports document hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children. [Continue reading…]

Loneliness is the common ground of terror and extremism

Nabeelah Jaffer writes:

A few years ago I discovered that my friend Tom was a white supremacist. This put me in a strange position: I am a Muslim and the daughter of immigrants. I am a member of one of the so-called invading groups that Tom fears and resents. He broadcasts his views from his social media accounts, which are a catalogue of aggrieved far-Right anger. One post warns ‘the Muslim invaders to keep their filthy hands off our women’. Another features a montage of black faces above the headline: ‘This is the white race after “diversity”.’ Underpinning this is a desperate resentment of ‘liberal Leftie attempts to control free speech’.

Tom has never mentioned any of these ideas to me; on the contrary, in person he is consistently warm and friendly. He vents his convictions only online, and it seems unlikely that he would ever translate them into violent actions. And yet much the same was once said of Thomas Mair, the 52-year-old from Birstall, a village in northern England, who spent time helping elderly neighbours tend to their gardens, and who in 2016 murdered the pro-immigration MP Jo Cox, while shouting: ‘This is for Britain!’ His actions were found to have been inspired by white supremacist ideology.

James Baldwin was right to say that ideas are dangerous. Ideas force people to confront the gap between their ideals and their manifestation in the world, prompting action. Ideas can prompt change for better or for worse – and often both at the same time. But attempts to create change are always charged with danger: to act in new ways is to erode old limits on our behaviour. In the forging of new territory – and the sense of danger that accompanies it – actions that might once have been deemed excessive can come to seem not merely necessary but normal. [Continue reading…]

George Soros’s embattled cause of an open society

Michael Steinberger writes:

On a clammy Tuesday morning in Paris at the end of May, George Soros, the world’s second-most-vilified New York billionaire (but worth many billions more than the other one), addressed the European Council on Foreign Relations, an organization he helped found a decade ago. Described by the woman who introduced him as a “European at heart,” the Hungarian-born Soros, who made his fortune running a hedge fund and is now a full-time philanthropist, political activist and freelance statesman, was there to share his thoughts on salvaging the European Union.

Wearing a dark suit, tieless and with the collar of his blue shirt outside the lapel of his jacket, Soros took the stage with the determined stride of an 87-year-old who still plays tennis a few times a week. But there were some concessions to age. He gave his speech sitting down and used a desk lamp to illuminate the text. (In fairness, the hotel conference room hosting the event was morosely dark.) He turned the pages with his right hand while keeping his left hand on his left knee, as if propping himself up. There were moments when he seemed on the verge of losing his place, although he never did.

In person, Soros is quite charming, with a wry sense of humor. But his writings — he has published 14 books — and speeches can be a little wooden, and this occasion was no exception. He barely acknowledged the audience, which included the president of Serbia and the prime minister of Albania, except to say, “I think this is the right place to discuss how to save Europe.” But apart from urging the European Union to direct more aid to Africa, which he said would ameliorate the refugee crisis that has led to so much of the recent political upheaval in Europe, his remarks were more descriptive than prescriptive. The European Union, he said, faced an “existential crisis.”

Briefly touching on Europe’s economic outlook, he said, “We may be heading for another major financial crisis.” Partly in response to his warning, the Dow fell nearly 400 points that day. Soros is generally considered the greatest speculator Wall Street has known, and though he stopped managing other people’s money years ago, the reaction was a real-time display of his continued ability to move markets. The attention given to that comment also underscored, in a subtle way, an enduring frustration of his life: His financial thoughts still tend to carry more weight than his political reflections.

Yet the political realm is where Soros has made his most audacious wager. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, he poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the former Soviet-bloc countries to promote civil society and liberal democracy. It was a one-man Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, a private initiative without historical precedent. It was also a gamble that a part of the world that had mostly known tyranny would embrace ideas like government accountability and ethnic tolerance. In London in the 1950s, Soros was a student of the expatriated Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, who championed the notion of an “open society,” in which individual liberty, pluralism and free inquiry prevailed. Popper’s concept became Soros’s cause.

It is an embattled cause these days. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has reverted to autocracy, and Poland and Hungary are moving in the same direction. With the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, where Soros is a major donor to Democratic candidates and progressive groups, and the growing strength of right-wing populist parties in Western Europe, Soros’s vision of liberal democracy is under threat in its longtime strongholds. Nationalism and tribalism are resurgent, barriers are being raised and borders reinforced and Soros is confronting the possibility that the goal to which he has devoted most of his wealth and the last chapter of his life will end in failure. Not only that: He also finds himself in the unsettling position of being the designated villain of this anti-globalization backlash, his Judaism and career in finance rendering him a made-to-order phantasm for reactionaries worldwide. “I’m standing for principles whether I win or lose,” Soros told me this spring. But, he went on, “unfortunately, I’m losing too much in too many places right now.” [Continue reading…]

Trump’s War on the Poor has just begun

William J. Barber II and Karen Dolan write:

Mission accomplished in the “War on Poverty.” So declares the White House, which in a white paper released last week from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers claims that the war is “largely over and a success” and that it is time for more stringent work requirements for public assistance.

Never mind all the decades President Trump’s party has spent trashing anti-poverty programs to justify shredding them: The new narrative states that these programs have worked so well that U.S. poverty has been all but eradicated.

The programs stemming from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 initiative have indeed improved the lives of millions of Americans. A Columbia University study found that poverty would be much worse today had it not been for food assistance, the earned income tax credit, Medicaid and the expansion of Social Security benefits.

But the scourge of poverty isn’t over in the world’s wealthiest nation. The Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure shows that more than 45 million people (14 percent of us) were impoverished in 2016. The rates are even higher for children under age 18 and seniors.

But that’s only the beginning. Almost 100 million more live at 200 percent of the poverty line, a more accurate indicator of a family’s ability to make ends meet.

All told, around 43 percent of us are poor or low-income, a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Poor People’s Campaign found. And nearly half of all U.S. citizens would be unable to afford a $400 emergency, as per a 2016 Federal Reserve study. Disproportionately affected are people of color, Native Americans, people with disabilities, single mothers, children and transgender people. [Continue reading…]

Kids, separated from their parents, are not even allowed to comfort one another

The New York Times reports:

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case.

Lights out by 9 p.m. and lights on at dawn, after which make your bed according to the step-by-step instructions posted on the wall. Wash and mop the bathroom, scrubbing the sinks and toilets. Then it is time to form a line for the walk to breakfast.

“You had to get in line for everything,” recalled Leticia, a girl from Guatemala.

Small, slight and with long black hair, Leticia was separated from her mother after they illegally crossed the border in late May. She was sent to a shelter in South Texas — one of more than 100 government-contracted detention facilities for migrant children around the country that are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup. They are reserved for the likes of Leticia, 12, and her brother, Walter, 10.

The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister.

Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But “they told me I couldn’t touch him,” she recalled. [Continue reading…]

Inside China’s dystopian dreams: AI, shame and lots of cameras

Paul Mozur writes:

In the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, a police officer wearing facial recognition glasses spotted a heroin smuggler at a train station.

In Qingdao, a city famous for its German colonial heritage, cameras powered by artificial intelligence helped the police snatch two dozen criminal suspects in the midst of a big annual beer festival.

In Wuhu, a fugitive murder suspect was identified by a camera as he bought food from a street vendor.

With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.

“In the past, it was all about instinct,” said Shan Jun, the deputy chief of the police at the railway station in Zhengzhou, where the heroin smuggler was caught. “If you missed something, you missed it.”

China is reversing the commonly held vision of technology as a great democratizer, bringing people more freedom and connecting them to the world. In China, it has brought control. [Continue reading…]