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High-ranking Vatican official charged with child sex abuse in Australia

Cardinal George Pell, the third-highest ranking Vatican official, was charged with child sex abuse Thursday in his home country of Australia. The alleged assaults happened decades ago, and police did not provide details. Seth Doane reports.
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The Gaza doom loop
Israeli police run after a Palestinian demonstrator at the al-Aqsa Mosque during Israel’s Jerusalem Day on May 10. | Laurent Van Der Stockt/Getty Images What’s happening in Israel and Gaza is the near-inevitable result of a grim status quo. Dozens have already died in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and more will perish if the fighting continues to escalate. But there is little chance that the root cause of all this death — the long-running political status quo in the Israel-Palestinian conflict — will be altered in the slightest. Israeli-Palestinian warfare has become routinized; it follows a familiar script that repeats itself endlessly. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, there have been three full-scale wars and numerous rounds of lower-level fighting. But the basic structure of the conflict — Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank, and Palestinian rule divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — has remained remarkably durable. It would seem as if the current round of violence emerged out of a complex series of events in Jerusalem, most notably heavy-handed actions by Israeli police and aggression by far-right Jewish nationalists. But in reality, these events were merely triggers for escalations made almost inevitable by the way the major parties have chosen to approach the conflict. Mahmoud Illean/AP Israeli police entered the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10. The Jerusalem Day holiday celebrates the unification of the city under Israel’s control following the 1967 Six-Day War, and comes amid protests over the eviction of Palestinian families. Both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have basically accepted the painful political status quo in Gaza, seeing the violence and humanitarian suffering it causes as bad, but basically tolerable as part of an effort to secure their hold on power. Israel’s leadership bears particular responsibility: As the most powerful actor in the conflict, it has the greatest ability to break the pattern. But the current factions in power in Jerusalem have strong ideological and strategic reasons for keeping its Gaza policy in place. As a result, the underlying status quo will likely outlive this conflict, guaranteeing more violence. “It’s like the worst version of Groundhog Day,” says Khaled Elgindy, the director of the program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli affairs at the Middle East Institute. “[Leaders] just put a Band-Aid on it and we go back to the pre-crisis normal.” It’s a horrible equilibrium, one in which “manageable” levels of violence stand in for doing something to actually improve the lives of Israelis or Palestinians. It is also a direct result of the deepest political structure governing the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the iron hand of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza’s border. The Israeli-Palestinian doom loop The current violence began with a series of conflicts in Jerusalem. Israeli police in the city blocked off the Damascus Gate, a popular gathering place for Arabs during Ramadan, sparking protests. An attempt by Jewish settlers to evict longtime Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, inflamed tensions dramatically, leading to violent clashes with Israeli police. Arab youth attacked ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city and Jewish extremists assailed Arab residents. All of this culminated in a violent Israeli police raid on the al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem’s holiest site for Muslims, located on the Temple Mount (the holiest site in the world for Jews). Then Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem. Ostensibly, this was a display of solidarity with the protesters on the ground. But it appears to have been a political calculation — Hamas attempting to capitalize on Palestinian anger over Jerusalem to expand its own influence, especially in the wake of recently canceled Palestinian elections that would likely have strengthened its political position. “This is much more about internal Palestinian politics than it is about what’s been going on in Jerusalem,” says Michael Koplow, the policy director at the Israel Policy Forum. The attacks on Jerusalem crossed what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to as a “red line,” breaking the unspoken rules that limited the pace and range of rocket attacks to limited barrages mostly targeting southern Israel. Israel responded with overwhelming force; massive air strikes targeting Hamas emplacements in densely populated Gaza. This prompted more rocket attacks from Hamas and, in turn, more bombings from Israel. As a result, at least seven Israelis and dozens of Palestinians are dead — with no end in sight. Heidi Levine/AP Israeli firefighters respond to damage created by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Holon, near Tel Aviv, on May 11. Oded Balilty/AP Palestinians evacuate a protester wounded by Israeli police at the Lions Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10. But while the events that led to this point are unique, the broader pattern of events is not. This week’s violence is part of a recurring pattern determined by structural factors in the conflict. If the events in Jerusalem hadn’t prompted Hamas rocket fire and Israeli escalation, something else almost certainly would have. “The most likely scenario is unfortunately the one we’ve been in for the past 15 years,” says Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Goldenberg coauthored a report in 2018 documenting what he terms “the cycle of violence” between Israel and Hamas. It documents the ways in which the political status quo is arranged in a way that makes frequent violent flare-ups all but inevitable. The stage is set, Goldenberg and his coauthors say, by the policy approaches of both sides. Israel aims to minimize the threat posed by Hamas and other militant factions, imposing a harsh blockade on Gaza that limits the flow of goods and people into the territory. Hamas aims to cement its hold on power and expand its influence relative to its Palestinian rivals, seeing violence against Israel as a key tool in this struggle. This creates an underlying reality in which fighting breaks out again and again. “Eventually, humanitarian and economic pressure builds inside Gaza, and Hamas escalates its use of violence both to generate domestic political support and to pressure Israel to ease the economic situation,” they write. “Israel responds with its own escalation, including military strikes inside Gaza and punitive economic measures that further choke the Strip.” Once the fighting starts, it’s not clear how much it’ll escalate. Sometimes it ends swiftly and with minimal loss of life. Other times — as in 2008 to 2009, 2012, and 2014 — it turns into an all-out war, with hundreds of (mostly Palestinian) casualties. The current fighting is rapidly moving in that direction, with Israeli leaders pledging to continue the bombardment of Gaza indefinitely. “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will continue to strike and bring complete silence for the long term,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on May 12. Adel Hana/AP A damaged building in Gaza City that was hit by an Israeli airstrike on May 12. Ultimately, the warring parties either unilaterally decide to stop bombing, or else agree to an internationally brokered settlement that does little to change the fundamental dynamics. This is the nature of current conflict: Many people die, and many more suffer, without any real prospect for change. “The question isn’t why this keeps happening,” Elgindy says. “It’s why anyone isn’t doing anything to prevent it from [continuing to] happen.” The doom loop has deep roots in Israeli politics It’s clear that that this status quo produces horrors. The problem, though, is that these terrible costs are seen as basically tolerable by the political leadership of all the major parties. Hamas continues to be able to rule Gaza and reaps the political benefits from being the party of armed resistance to Israeli occupation. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas appears cowed by Hamas’s power — most analysts believe he canceled the Palestinian election because he thought he would lose — and so is content to let Israel keep his rivals contained in Gaza. Israel is the most powerful actor of the three: It controls access to the Gaza Strip and operates a military occupation in the West Bank. If the Israeli leadership wanted to take actions to short-circuit the cycle of violence, like easing the blockade of Gaza, it could. But despite the persistent rocket threat, the leadership isn’t willing to try something new. Why? The last time I was in Israel, on a reporting trip in November 2019, I spoke with Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, a group that helps Israeli soldiers tell their stories about service in the Palestinian territories. He told me that the traditional categories used to describe politics — left, right, and center — are fundamentally inadequate when it comes to explaining what happens in Israel. These days, he argues, most of Israel’s leadership falls into what he terms the “annexation” camp or the “control” camp. The annexationists are Jewish extremists, who want to formally seize large chunks of Palestinian land while either expelling its residents or denying them political rights — ethnic cleansing or apartheid. The “control” camp, which includes current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sees things primarily through the lens of military and physical security: how the Palestinians are ruled is less important than minimizing the threat they pose to Israeli lives. “The driving principle [of the control camp] is a national security idea,” Shaul explains. “We are in a zero sum game: between the river and the sea, there is room for one sovereign power. It’s either us or the Palestinians.” The status quo in Gaza serves both groups. From the annexationist view, keeping the Palestinians weak and divided allows Israeli settlements to keep expanding and the seizure of both the West Bank and East Jerusalem to continue apace. Lifting the blockade on Gaza, and working to promote some kind of renewed peace process involving both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, jeopardizes the agenda of “Greater Israel.” “It is Israeli policy to fragment Palestinians politically and geographically, to isolate them into these different areas. It’s classic colonial strategy of divide and conquer,” Elgindy says. Majdi Mohammed/AP Palestinians mourn Rasheed Abu Arra, who was killed while confronting Israeli forces in Aqqaba near the West Bank town of Tubas, on May 12. Majdi Mohammed/AP Rasheed Abu Arra’s mother lays hands over her son. Meanwhile, the “control” camp sees this as the least bad option. Any easing of the Gaza blockade would risk Hamas breaking containment and expanding its presence in the West Bank, which would be far more dangerous than the rockets — a threat heavily mitigated by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. In this analysis, periodic flare-ups are a price that has to be paid to minimize the threat to Israeli lives — with heavy escalations like this one required to restore a basically tolerable status quo. I witnessed one of these flare-ups on the same trip where I met Shaul, reporting from Israel and the West Bank as Israel and Hamas exchanged fire. After a few days of mayhem and air raid sirens, life just went back to normal in Israel — as if nothing had happened, as if dozens of Palestinian lives had not just been snuffed out (there were no Israeli deaths in that round). “A lot of the Israeli security and political establishment has sort of internalized this idea that ... there’s a sort of stable equilibrium,” says Koplow. “You get occasional rockets, and Israel will respond with a few missile strikes on Gaza, but it happens very occasionally and things immediately quiet down.” For much of Israeli history, a third camp — which Shaul calls the “equality” camp — presented a different vision for achieving Israel’s security needs. Epitomized by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government formed in 1992, it believed that Palestinians deserved a political voice as a matter of principle — either in a single state or, more typically, through a two-state arrangement. Such an agreement would sap Palestinian support for violent groups like Hamas by taking away the population’s underlying grievance: the lack of a state to call their own. Yet the equality camp practically collapsed after the failure of the peace process and the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Its political vehicles among Israeli Jews, the Labor and Meretz parties, make up a little more than 10 percent of Israel’s current Knesset (parliament). The result is indefinite occupation with no end in sight; no fundamental rethinking of the approach to either Gaza or the West Bank. “As a society, the view is that the risks necessary to solve [the conflict with the Palestinians] are not worth it and it won’t work,” Goldenberg says. “So all we can deal with is the problem in front of us today, without really thinking long-term. We’ll deal with the other problems tomorrow — that’s basically the Israeli attitude.” None of this excuses Hamas from its role in escalating the current conflict, or makes the deep divisions between Palestinians themselves less significant. The status quo is not only Israel’s fault. But the Israeli government sets the terms for how Israelis and Palestinians interact, the underlying policy architecture that shapes the options available to the various different sides. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images An image of the Dome of the Rock constructed with rubber bullets and stun grenades fired by Israeli police against Palestinians in Jerusalem on May 10. So long as the annexation and control camps are in the driver’s seat in Israel, it will pursue policies that aim to maintain control over Palestinian land while simultaneously minimizing the security threats intrinsic to the enterprise of military rule over a hostile population. The Gaza situation is an outgrowth of this reality, the sort of policy that one pursues in a world where a more fundamental revision is ideologically foreclosed. Barring some international intervention, it’s hard to see how things get much better — and easy to see how the same terrible things keep happening, over and over again.
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Open for a surprise: The endearing results of Twitter’s new image crop
Twitter Twitter users rarely agree on anything. When they do, it’s an opportunity for community building. Twitter recently made a small but striking change to its interface: It changed the aspect ratio of cropped images on users’ mobile feeds, meaning many photos that would usually be cropped can now be displayed in their entirety. The sudden shift — one among a slew of changes Twitter began testing in March — gave many people the impression that the social media site had done away with automatic image cropping overnight. (In actuality, the old cropping ratio is still in effect on desktop browsers, and cropping is still happening on mobile but in a different ratio.) Once users started noticing, celebrations ensued, with an outpouring of art-sharing, meme-making, and gentle ribbing. The response provides an interesting lesson in how we use social media and why such unexpected changes often become opportunities for vital community building. Welcome to the vertical art party! Two of the fundamental truths about modern social media is that every platform has its own quirks, and that different communities of users evolve and transform these characteristics in a way that makes each platform unique. Whether they’re well-liked, core features (such as Twitter’s overall brevity) or inconveniences users must work around (like Twitter’s lack of an edit button), it’s how a platform’s users respond to and incorporate these traits into their daily lives that matters. On Tumblr, for example, users evolved the “gifset,” a bundle of interlocking animated images that tell a story and could really only exist as a creative entity on Tumblr. On Vine, the fact a video could only be six seconds long became the linchpin of the entire platform, spawning a new medium of microvideos that continue to shape internet culture. One of TikTok’s defining qualities is the ability to reuse audio from someone else’s videos; while lots of sites enable remixes, TikTok users, building off earlier apps such as (which merged with TikTok in 2018), routinely utilize each other’s original art as the basis for glorious strings of duets, virtual choirs, and other vocal creations. Less popular features and quirks can reliably unite an entire community in complaining. On Twitter, users have spent years lobbying for an image crop that works correctly. Twitter began to crop photos around 2014, when it introduced different default aspect ratios for users to apply to their own photos during uploading. At one point in 2015, it announced it would completely do away with image cropping; it later reneged on that decision, and by 2018 it was using AI image detection to automatically crop the images people added to their tweets, much to their chagrin. Until this recent change, the auto-crop feature typically forced all images, regardless of size and original framing, into a landscape orientation, often trimming photos in unpredictable and sometimes nonsensical ways. The desire to circumvent the Twitter crop grew so strong that elaborate tutorials emerged explaining exactly how to crop and display images so they’d show in their entirety without being placed on the algorithmic chopping block. Another way Twitter users evolved and adapted to the crop is the “open for a surprise!” meme, where they strategically post photos (knowing Twitter will crop out the best parts) and invite others to click on the full version for a “surprise.” For example: Twitter Clicking into the photo reveals a bevy of kittens — surprise! With the Twitter crop thoroughly established as a source of both endless hilarity and petty annoyance, the change in aspect ratios quickly became cause for celebration. While some users understandably mourned the hit to the “open for a surprise!” meme, conversation about the new image crop spread across the platform, with trends like “RIP Twitter crop” and #VerticalArtParty gaining traction. RIP Twitter crop!Here is a favorite that I took recently in NYC— Rishi (@rishi_kara) May 5, 2021 It’s time for a #VerticalArtParty ! Post your vertical art that got slaughtered by twitter crop!This one is an old pencil piece of mine. I misspelled my last name on it because I finished it after an all nighter.— Karla Ortiz (@kortizart) May 5, 2021 To be clear, the site hasn’t actually done away with the crop; it’s merely changed the aspect ratio, meaning awkward crops can still happen. Twitter Or maybe, depending on your point of view, it’s still a fun gift: "open for a surprise" still works if you try hard enough— vy ️ (@vyxnilla) May 6, 2021 And because the new crop ratio still applies only to mobile and not laptop browsers right now, the issue of presentation is still a source of frustration for many artists. For example: desktop really said yes crop behead unicorn...— isadora zeferino (@imzeferino) May 5, 2021 People have already started updating their image guidelines, which are very important to visual artists who use Twitter, to accommodate the new crop ratio. It is unclear whether the recent change is permanent, whether more changes are forthcoming, or when, if ever, the new ratio will be applied to desktop browsers. Still, there’s another crucial reason to celebrate the change. The new crop ratio may help combat racist tendencies in Twitter’s AI Twitter’s automatic image-crop function is supposed to algorithmically detect the subject of a photo before cropping it. But its AI’s judgment is often revealing. Sometime the results are funny. Consider this photo of Untamed star Xiao Zhan walking away from the camera, which the algorithm cropped very pointedly: Twitter But as some users have periodically pointed out, there are very serious biases at work in the autofocus algorithm Twitter uses: Like many other algorithms, it has a tendency to be racist. People began noticing and testing how it worked in September 2020, and they repeatedly demonstrated that the algorithm defaulted to showing white people over Black people. The tweet below shows Twitter’s algorithm automatically cropped two images to display the lighter-skinned person, each time in instances where they’re displayed at opposite ends of a photo shot in portrait orientation: Trying a horrible experiment...Which will the Twitter algorithm pick: Mitch McConnell or Barack Obama?— Tony “Abolish ICE” Arcieri (@bascule) September 19, 2020 Here are the original, uncropped images from that tweet: Twitter automatically focused on the lighter-skinned man in both photos. In response to tweets calling out these examples of racial bias, a Twitter spokesperson apologized and promised the site would keep hacking away at the algorithm, noting, “It’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do.” The newly revised crop ratio seems to be a direct result of Twitter’s promise to work on finding a solution, as many users were quick to speculate. Hey, do you think twitter removing crop was because it took them 6 months to try fixing the old crop's racism problem and finally went "fuck it, can't crop out Black faces if you don't crop in the first place"— Anosognosiogenesis (@pookleblinky) May 7, 2021 It’s unclear whether the new crop ratio has actually addressed the issue of automatic detection bias. Different users are reportedly seeing different results when uploading older images meant to test the algorithm. What we’re left with, then, is a platform that’s flawed but also in flux — and it’s when Twitter is in flux that we get glimpses of what really knits an internet community together. The updated image crop gave many Twitter users a moment of connection I didn’t realize the “twitter crop” was a point of contention for so many people.— Kelechi (@heykelechi) May 6, 2021 It’s not really surprising that so many people care so deeply about the Twitter crop, if you think about the platform not as a bunch of code but as a village. The inhabitants of that village all have their specific gripes about village life — but sharing those gripes and occasional joys with their neighbors is part of what makes the village feel like home. You don’t have to be an artist or a photographer to appreciate that when thousands of artists flood Twitter’s virtual streets with outpourings of creativity, all in response to a relatively banal code change, it’s not really about a couple of extra pixels. Sure, it’s partly about the satisfaction of being able to post tall images, but it’s also about everyone experiencing the same change and having something to celebrate together. No more crop??— Izz. (@izzakko) May 5, 2021 This shared collectivity undergirds much of the internet. For better or worse, the desire to do what everyone else is doing is a key motivating factor behind the spread of memes: You see someone making a meme, you want to make a version of the meme, and the meme spreads. This principle usually doesn’t apply to coding changes on a social media platform, but perhaps it should. As I said above, internet communities build themselves around each platform’s individual quirks and uniqueness. So when those things change, the community enters a moment of flux where it can choose how to react. Will it respond with backlash, a flurry of complaints, a mass exodus? Or will the community adjust and adapt? In the case of Twitter’s new crop ratio on mobile, people found an opportunity for communion, a rare event in an era of increasingly polarized social media discourse. More pixels showing up on people’s phone screens became a way to find connection — and to showcase gorgeous art, of course. Twitter is an ephemeral platform, with continuity and consensus sustained by retweets, hashtags, and memes. While not typically a repository of nuanced cultural debate, the site frequently yields great beauty, whether through viral pet videos, stunning photography, or mesmerizing artwork. It’s significant that many Twitter users rallied around an updated image crop as an example of positive change: Even when the site’s community can’t agree on anything else, it can generally agree that more art and creativity is a good thing. The new ability to better showcase that art and creativity is an unexpected win for us all.
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