Facebook for Android and Why Zuckerberg Now Owns Your Ass

Danny Brown:

The Calendar I’d seen on previous Permissions, and the Calls (while annoying) I’m pretty sure had been there too. But check out the exact wording of the SMS/MMS Permission, and that of the Contacts one.
 Doesn’t that alarm you as a user? Read that wording again, especially this statement:
 This allows the app to read all SMS messages, regardless of content or confidentiality.
 Wow. Just… wow. Not even my wife gets access to my SMS messages (and no, Jacki, I have nothing to hide!). What honest and useful reason can Facebook have to get access to my texts? Seemingly they’re running with the “It will help us target better” message.

The Financial Vulnerability of Americans

Atif Mian & Amir Sufi::

Excessive household debt was crucial in explaining the severity of the Great Recession. So where are we now? Have households strengthened their financial position since 2009? Are household balance sheets strong enough to prevent another massive pull back in spending if there are significant job losses?
 To answer to these questions, we look at evidence from the 2012 National Financial Capability Study by FINRA. (We are grateful to Annamaria Lusardi, an expert on financial literacy, for pointing us to the data used in this post.) This survey is a representative sample of 25,000 individuals who were asked mostly qualitative questions about their finances. The survey was put into the field three years after the worst of the Great Recession.
 The survey responses are shocking, and should put fear into all of us about the financial vulnerability of U.S. households.

A messy legacy: Lawrence in Arabia

William Dalryample:

Lawrence of Arabia is one of those figures, like Mahatma Gandhi, who tends to generate biographies more or less every year. With the centenary of the First World War already upon us – and with the anniversary of Lawrence’s Arab Revolt in 2016 – Scott Anderson’s gripping new study, subtitled War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, is only the forerunner of what is likely to be a very long caravan of new Lawrence books to come lolloping over the desert horizon over the next couple of years. Anderson’s version of the story is a brilliantly pulled-off piece of narrative history that demonstrates both why Lawrence continues to grip our imagination and why he can be a deeply problematic lens through which to examine the tensions of the Middle East.
 At the time, Lawrence’s dashingly cinematic raids on the Hejaz railway and his camel-borne attacks on Wejd and Aqaba during the First World War were regarded, as Lawrence wrote, as “the sideshow of a sideshow”. All eyes were on Ypres and the trenches of the Somme, where half the youth of Europe were being slaughtered on the Western Front. But the desert campaigns have become as iconic as they are because Lawrence provides a familiar face with which historians and biographers can tell one of the most complex and important stories of the war: the tale of the break-up of the Ottoman empire and the creation of the ongoing political train crash that is the modern Middle East.
 For it is Lawrence’s eastern theatre that has left by far the more important and messy legacy of that war. It is a legacy that we are still trying to contain today as Egypt undergoes its multiple revolutions and counter-revolutions, as Syria burns, as Israel remorselessly settles Palestinian land and as the Palestinians displaced in 1948 continue to rot in refugee camps.

Istanbul Is What Every Arab City Should Aspire To Be

Aboud Dandachi:

As a Syrian in Istanbul, watching the campaigning for the recently concluded 2014 Turkish local elections made me feel like a kid looking into a sumptuous candy store. For the first time in my life, I experienced first-hand the end-result and ideals the Syrian revolution was supposed to have bought to my own country; the democratic process in all its glory.
 Multiple political parties and candidates with banners and posters filling every area. The campaign offices with tables overflowing with electioneering pamphlets, staffed by volunteers sporting their respective party’s distinct colors. And roving vans blaring out campaign music. I loved hearing those vans in my neighborhood. They exemplified the very essence of a civilized society, one that resolves its differences not through guns, but at the ballot box. To a refugee who had left his own country in the midst of a devastating war, those campaign vans represented a veritable miracle; a functioning pluralistic, democratic society in the Middle East.
 Having lived my adult life in no less than fourteen cities in the Gulf and Levant, I moved to Istanbul in September 2013. After six months, I can unequivocally say that this metropolis is the standard by which Arab countries should be measuring themselves. Without a doubt, Istanbul is the city all Arab cities should have aspired to be.

Thank You for Shopping: Customer Loyalty Programs

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano:

Yesterday, I was informed that I’d “unlocked” the “VIB Level” of Sephora’s customer reward program. What this means in Sephoraspeak is that by “earning” 350 “points” at the store, I will receive seasonal VIB-only gifts—presumably along the lines of the free lip gloss I received whilst shopping during my birthday month, back when I was merely a Sephora “Beauty Insider”—that I will have advance access to sales, and that I get “dibs” on new products, so that I will be the first lady on the block to have NARS’s newest nail polish in Quivering Otter, or whatever the color of the season is.
 What this means in you-and-me-speak is that I have spent more than $350 at Sephora—not, as the company would put it, “earned” more than 350 “points” at Sephora—since this time last year.
 It was a shock to realize that I’d spent $350 at Sephora in the past 12 months, to be sure, but my financial navel-gazing is another post altogether. What “unlocking” this “VIB Level” made me think about was customer reward programs, and what we’re supposed to get out of them. With many customer loyalty programs, you actually save money. You might do this immediately/directly, as in my drugstore’s practice of advertising “specials” that are only “specials” if you are literally a card-carrying member of the drugstore’s loyalty program, or it might be savings down the line, as with frequent-flier miles. But the point is: You save money, as in cash, as in you have a compelling financial interest to use the loyalty program (which, of course, means that to some degree you’re loyal to the vendor, though of course consumers can belong to multiple loyalty programs, making them not loyal at all).

A 3D-printed house is being built right now in Amsterdam

Adi Robertson:

Architects in Amsterdam have begun construction on what they’re calling the first full-sized 3D-printed house. Using what’s essentially a large-scale version of a desktop 3D printer, Dus Architects is building what will eventually be a 13-room Dutch canal house made of interlocking plastic parts. The project was announced earlier this year — part proof of concept, part art project. After about three weeks of work, The Guardian reports, one three-meter-high corner segment has been produced. The interior and facade are printed as part of the same brick, and spaces are left for wiring and pipes; for now, the walls are later filled with concrete for insulation and reinforcement. The entire process of printing and assembling the house is slated to take three years.
 The 3D Print Canal House, as it’s called, is conceived as an improvement to current architectural practice on several levels. Designers at Dus say that by printing series of blocks instead of building with conventional materials, they can eliminate waste and reduce transportation costs; the plastic itself can be made with recycled materials. Individual rooms and design elements could be remixed and reordered by non-architects, allowing people to design their own ideal home and then hire a printing contractor to build it. And the rooms themselves can “fairly easy be disconnected” to move the house. The pieces are made with an oversized printer called the KamerMaker (or “room builder”), designed specially for Dus. The site itself is open to tourists, who can visit on most weekdays; President Barack Obama paid a visit earlier this month.

America’s democracy is fit for the 1 per cent

Edward Luce:

America was forged in opposition to the aristocratic corruption of Europe. Today, inherited wealth is more entrenched in the US than it is in almost every corner of the old world. So too are legacy places at Ivy League universities that were once such wellsprings of US meritocracy.

Today, inherited wealth is more entrenched in the US than it is in almost every corner of the old world

In politics too, dynasty has rarely been more entrenched. It would be little surprise were the 2016 election to turn into a contest between Hillary Clinton and Mr Bush. Seven of the past nine presidential elections have featured a member of the Bush or Clinton families. Next time could make it eight out of 10.

Both families benefit hugely from the networks of donors they have cultivated over the decades. It goes without saying that their donors have done pretty well too. The story continues. George P Bush, Jeb’s son, is running for land commissioner in Texas. Many believe Mrs Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, is preparing the ground for her own future in US politics.

Of course, dynasty is not only about money. In a celebrity-driven age it also brings valuable name recognition. Moreover, money is not enough on its own to change election outcomes. The infamous Koch brothers, Charles and David, who own the second-largest private corporation in the US, spent tens of millions on the 2012 presidential without avail – as did Mr Adelson. And US democracy is still capable of extraordinary upsets, notably Mr Obama’s emergence from nowhere to dislodge Mrs Clinton in 2008.

TV Circa 2014

An “awesome” photo of our time by Kate Zellmer. Students watching the NCAA tournament thriller: Arizona vs. Wisconsin via their iPhones.

Ben Thompson reflects on how TV has changed over the years.

“Only 12% of 18-29 year olds said TV would be hard to give up: view the internet, cellphones as essential” – Pew Research.

“Broadcast Audience Older Than Ever Ratings hold up while viewers continue to age out of the demo” – Anthony Crupi.

Centuries of European border changes

Flowing Data:

The Centennia Historical Atlas is a program that shows you border changes in Europe and the Middle East, from the 11th century to the present. It’s meant as an educational tool. The video below is the animated map from the program set to climactic music from the movie Inception.

Commercial break: the first American trade mission to China

Stuart Heaver:

Next Saturday marks the 230th anniversary of a small ship setting sail from New York. It was the 52nd birthday of George Washington, the man who five years later would become the first president of the United States, and as that little ship set off down the East River, past a 13-gun salute, it set in motion a commercial relationship that is now the most critical in the global economy.

The Empress of China was bound for Canton (Guangzhou) and the first direct contact between America and China. She was to spark a frenzy of maritime trade between the two nations.

These days, every nuance that might represent a commercial or geopolitical change in the relationship between the US and China is eagerly reported by the world’s media, though on that chilly Sunday morning in 1784, there was no relationship at all. And over the course of more than two centuries, while the scale of US-China trade has burgeoned beyond any 18th-century imagination – the total trade in goods and services between the US and China stood at US$539 billion in 2011 – the legacies from those early days remain and some of the characteristics are surprisingly similar.

This historic voyage was not inspired by diplomacy or naval prowess, however, but by Americans’ love of tea.