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Thailand Rises 2 Spots In World Press Freedom Rankings

Today, 02:29

Improving on their previous mark of 142, Thailand ranked 140th place out of 180 countries, according to the Reporters without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index, or RSF, published on Wednesday.

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How Zuckerberg's Facebook Is Like Gutenberg's Printing Press - Oh Dear...

30 March 2018 - 19:11

How Zuckerberg's Facebook is like Gutenberg's printing press

Historian fears Cambridge Analytica saga just tip of iceberg, writes James Hohmann.

When historian Niall Ferguson moved from Harvard to Stanford two years ago, he was struck by Silicon Valley's indifference to history. The hubris he saw reminded him of what he encountered on Wall Street as he researched a book about the history of banking during the years before the financial crisis. He became convinced the technology sector was careening toward its own crisis and decided to write about it.

The crisis has finally arrived, thanks to Cambridge Analytica, conveniently timed to coincide with the publication of Ferguson's book on the history of social networks, from the Freemasons to Facebook. The Square and the Tower is a cautionary tale that challenges the conventional wisdom that growing interconnectedness is inherently good for society.

"Our networked world is fundamentally vulnerable, and two-factor authentication won't save us," Ferguson said at the Hoover Institution, where he is a senior fellow.

Since President Donald Trump's victory, much has been written about parallels between the present and the rise of authoritarian leaders in the 1930s. Ferguson thinks that's lazy analysis. For most of the 20th century, communications systems were amenable to central control. This was a fluke of the Industrial Revolution, which produced telegraphs and then telephones. These technologies had an architecture that allowed whoever controlled the hub to dominate the spokes, which led to more hierarchical power structures.

To understand the current era, Ferguson believes we need to look more at what happened after Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press. Like the web, the use of these presses was difficult to centrally control.

"At the beginning of the Reformation 501 years ago, Martin Luther thought naively that if everybody could read the Bible in the vernacular, they'd have a direct relationship with God, it would create 'the priesthood of all believers' and everything would be awesome," Ferguson said.

"We've said the same things about the internet. We think that's obviously a good idea. Except it's not ... any more than it was in the 16th century. Because what the Europeans had was not 'the priesthood of all believers'. They had 130 years of escalating religious conflict ..."

The more he studies that period, the more echoes Ferguson sees in the 21st century.

"What one can see in the 16th and 17th centuries is polarisation, fake news-type stories, the world getting smaller and therefore contagion is capable of spreading much faster.

"These big shifts in network structure led to revolutions against hierarchical institutions," he said.

Ferguson points to recent studies showing that fake news can spread faster and farther than real news when it's especially sensational. "The crazy stuff is more likely to go viral because we're kind of interested in crazy stuff, but this is not surprising historically," he said.

"The idea that witches live amongst us and should be burned went as viral as anything that Martin Luther said ... Indeed, it turned out that witch burning was more likely to happen in places where there were more printing presses."

The author said it affected his sleep when he thought about how some of the dynamics on social media would play out in the future.

"I'm much more worried than a non-historian by what I see because history tells me that the polarisation process keeps going, and it doesn't just stop at verbal violence because at a certain point that's not satisfying," Ferguson said.

Enter Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is worth about US$64 billion ($89b) through creating an addictive social network that capitalised on the desire for connection.

The site had been embattled for allowing the Kremlin to use its platform to sow domestic discord. The Russians were buying political ads to target US voters. Now Zuckerberg is under growing scrutiny for the firm's failure to safeguard data following whistleblower revelations about Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling firm which harvested the personal information of as many as 50 million users and earned US$6 million from Trump's 2016 campaign.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook broke the law or violated a 2011 settlement agreement. A bipartisan chorus in Congress is demanding Zuckerberg testify under oath. His lobbyists are negotiating the details of an appearance. Recognising the political risk, Facebook executives have even begun saying publicly they're receptive to being more heavily regulated.

"I don't think they have thought deeply at all about the historical significance of their predicament, and I blame Mark Zuckerberg for dropping out of Harvard before he took any of my classes," Ferguson quipped.

"If he had taken my course in western civilisation, he'd know that he's become a strange amalgam of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst all at once. They went through a phase of deep unpopularity."

Ferguson, who like Carnegie is a native of Scotland, believes the US Government must move aggressively to rein in the power of such companies. "If we don't act, the next phase of the process will be even uglier than the current Cambridge Analytica phase — which is the tip of the iceberg. Think of how many other people have downloaded the data. The window was open for years."

He believes legislative changes could increase Facebook's liability and make it more accountable for damaging information trafficked on its platforms.

"It is an untenable state of affairs that a few private companies know more about the citizens of a country than the citizens themselves, much less the government. And it is untenable that the companies concerned are ... so easily instrumentalised by hostile foreign governments that as many people saw Russian-originated content in 2016 as voted in the presidential election.

"Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you cannot possibly think this is okay."

Ferguson thinks media coverage of the midterms needs to emphasise how vulnerable the internet remains to manipulation.

"It's as if people who work professionally in politics just want to pretend that it's still pre-2008, whereas the entire system of politics has completely changed. Facebook advertising is the most powerful tool in politics. I don't think we're doing nearly enough to avoid another legitimacy crisis around this."


Modern Humans Had Sex With Denisovan Cousins Too, Not Just Neanderthals

15 March 2018 - 21:55

It is by now a well-established (but not so well-known) fact that us modern humans, Homo sapiens, spent a lot of time in much the same places that Neanderthals were in, and that the two human species not only intermingled but also interbred. It turns out that modern humans also produced babies with another archaic human species, the Denisovans, at least twice in history.

The existence of Denisovans was announced in 2010, when scientists said that bones fragments found in the Denisova cave in Russia’s Siberia was not from Homo sapiens or Homo neanderthalensis, even though both the species had been known to have inhabited the cave.

In a paper published Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers explained they found “two distinct episodes of Denisovan genetic intermixing, or admixing, between” Homo sapiens and Denisovans, who are sometimes classified as a subspecies of modern humans.

Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, arrived at this conclusion by comparing the whole genome sequences of modern humans against our Denisovan ancestors. They chose populations from present-day East Asia and Oceania regions to make the comparison, since those populations have Denisovan genes.

“What was known already was that Oceanian individuals, notably Papuan individuals, have significant amounts of Denisovan ancestry. The genomes of modern Papuan individuals contain approximately 5 percent Denisovan ancestry,” Sharon Browning from the university and senior author of the study, said in a statement Thursday.

The presence of Denisovan genomes in other parts of Asia was attributed to migration from Oceania......


This graphic below illustrates the DNA migration.

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Long before DNA was easily examined, I'd often thought, that the genetics of modern humans was a mixed bag.

I've seen Scottish Rugby players, that but for their white skin and red hair, could have been family members of Papuan and Fijian blokes I've met.

Westerners Accused Of ‘Singing And Dancing Pornographically’ Could Face A Year In Cambo...

29 January 2018 - 01:17

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Five Britons are among a group of 10 foreigners arrested in Cambodia for “singing and dancing pornographically”, after a raid on a party in Siem Reap near the tourist destination of Angkor Wat.

They face up to a year in prison and could spend six months in detention before the case goes to court, according to reports.

Cambodian police released images online that appeared to show clothed and laughing tourists imitating sexual positions.

Police later posted a group shot of the 10 defendants, but several people in the original images do not appear to be among those arrested, one of the group told the Press Association under condition of anonymity.

They said they did not understand why they were being held, adding that they saw one of the arrested men vomiting in shock.

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Images of tourists released by Cambodian police. Photograph: Cambodia police/AP

“Honestly, it was really confusing. Everyone was confused. They raided, rounded us up – there were about 80 to 100 people at this party. Some of them were tourists. There were about 30 of them [police officers],” the prisoner said.

They said the group believed police were cracking down on foreign tourists and expats wearing bikinis in public, and expat-run pub crawls in Siem Reap.

“We’re innocent,” said the prisoner. “We don’t know why we’ve been arrested, we’re getting different stories from different people.”

They said their families were “worried sick”, adding: “Our parents are doing what they can. It’s really just trying to keep a good vibe until we know the outcome.”

The group said they had been sleeping on the floor of an office at a police station in Siem Reap for several days and stressed that they had been treated well, saying officers were friendly and had brought them pizza.

The arrested individuals confirmed their identities. They include five British men: Vincent Harley Robert Hook, 35, Daniel Richard Leeming Jones, 30, Thomas Alexander Jeffries, 22, Billy Stevens, 21, and Paul Francis Harris, 32.

Job Robertus van der Wel, from the Netherlands, 22, the Canadians Jessica Drolet, 25, of Ottawa, and Eden Koazoleas, 19, of Alberta, were also arrested, along with David Nikolaus Aleksandr Ballovarre, 22, of Oslo, Norway, and Paul Martin Brasch, 32, of New Zealand.

An official Cambodian police statement referenced pornography and dancing in publicising the arrests. Ten suspects had been charged following an investigation by the office combating human trafficking and protection of juveniles, it stated.

Samrith Sokhon, a prosecutor at the court in Siem Reap, said the 10 suspects were being charged with producing “pornographic pictures and materials”, which can carry a sentence of up to 12 months.

Duong Thavry, the head of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department in Siem Reap, said: “We cracked down on them because they committed activities that are against our culture.”

Some of those arrested lived in Cambodia and others were tourists who had been in the country for several months. Officials said dozens more tourists had been released.

The UK Foreign Office said it was in contact with the British nationals arrested in Cambodia. “We are assisting five British men arrested in Cambodia and are providing support to their families,” it said in a statement.

In recent years, authorities in Cambodia have clamped down on visitors posting revealing images of themselves at temple sites. Tourists showing cleavage or wearing skimpy clothes have been banned from the Angkor temple complex since August 2016.

In 2015, several tourists were arrested for taking naked photographs at the complex. They received suspended sentences and were expelled from Cambodia.


I blame the Kiwi bloke, he must have led the others on, 'cause thats all we do down here, grab women's tits and dance pornographically...


28 January 2018 - 05:47

30 years ago on January 26, my grandfather Burnum Burnum planted the Aboriginal flag in England to claim it like they did to us.

He had his own declaration too. It outraged so many people. It was great!

Zachary (@ZedAyySeeKay)

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