Friday Links

Libraries are still just about the only place in America anyone can go and sit and use a computer and the internet without buying anything. All over the country, library closures during the pandemic have highlighted just how many people have no dependable source of internet on their own.  

According to a Pew survey published last year, less than two-thirds of Americans in rural areas have a broadband internet connection at home. Among Americans with household incomes below $30,000, four out of 10 don’t have a computer, and three out of 10 don’t have a smartphone.

As I’ve written in the recent past, I believe that the current political uprising has a chance at being an enormously positive development. I worry though that it will be limited by the power of political Calvinism.

I know I’ve heard the term used before, though I can’t remember from who. By political Calvinism I mean the tendency within the left to see the structural injustices of the world as inherent and immutable, so baked into the cake of the current context, history, the United States of America, etc., that they will always exist. The stain of injustice can never be rubbed out. This is most obvious when discussing racial dynamics. White people are inherently in possession of white privilege, as many will tell you – most insistently white liberals, in my experience. Well, yes, today all white people enjoy white privilege, though the valence of that advantage varies with other factors in their lives. But the degree and intensity and in fact existence of white privilege is mutable; if we had a real racial awakening and all people worked to end white privilege, it would end. And not only do I not think this is a crazy thing to believe, I think believing it is a necessary precondition to being an agent of positive change!

Eternally unprofitable and burning cash because the name of the game is now consolidation or bust, Uber has made an offer to buy rival food delivery company Postmates as the mobility war intensifies.

As it stands, ride-hailing alone isn’t going to cut it, and investors still seem to not be shying away from a company itself it has admitted may never be profitable.

During the four-way race for President in 1860, the six-year-old Republican Party found support from a new generation of voters who helped push Abraham Lincoln to victory. They were known as the “Wide Awakes,” because of their youth, enthusiasm, and torch-lit nighttime marches. “Now the old men are folding their arms and going to sleep,” said William H. Seward while campaigning for Lincoln, “and the young men are Wide Awake.”

The only polling in 1860 was the actual voting. Turnout was 81.2% of those eligible to vote (a cohort that consisted only of white men). That’s the the second highest turnout in our history, after the election of 1876. The highest turnout of the twenty-first century so far has been 58.2%, in 2008.

And, at least until recently, SROs were hugely popular. In a 2018 poll, Starr writes, 80 percent of parents favored posting armed police officers at their child’s school. That made superintendents like him cautious about airing “even the mildest criticism” of SROs,” he writes. “Privately, though, many district leaders will tell you that if they had a choice, they’d rather not have armed officers in the schools at all.”

Friday Links

US cities vary widely in the number of cops they have relative to their population, as the graph below (drawn from data assembled by Governing magazine). Among big cities, DC, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia top the list, with over 40 officers per 10,000 people. These are well above the national average of just under 28 per 10,000. Cities toward the bottom of the list have 20 or fewer.

But one question has been sitting in the back of my mind since the talk of curve-flattening started.  Does everyone get the coronavirus eventually? It’s an important question. This is a novel virus for which none of us are likely to have any existing immunity. We are ripe for infection and the rate of spread (without social distancing) is rapid. The presence of asymptomatic spread makes the situation even worse.

For COVID-19, we probably have to have 65-70% of the population immune before the thing dies out. I’ll just point out we are nowhere close to that. Even in New York city, American epicenter of the disease, seroprevalence studies only suggest about 25% of the population is immune

“Our whole reason for lobbying for looser gun laws and amassing huge personal arsenals of weapons these past years was so that we could ensure the security of a free state and protect the people from an oppressive government. And then it actually happened, and the whole rising up against a tyrannical government thing just totally slipped our minds, which is a little embarrassing,” a sheepish NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said.

When property damage and theft happens as a side-effect of real mass protest, authorities in a democracy cannot baton, tear gas, or shoot their way to legitimacy. People want social order, but this isn’t like quelling a riot after a sports game. The key issue—as the Governor of Minnesota put it the other day—is that “there are more of them than us”. All the tactical gear in the world isn’t worth a damn, ultimately, if enough of the population ends up in open revolt against civil authority. There are just too many people.

But if the bulk of a city’s population really is directly engaged in mass protest or indirectly supportive of it, and these protests are met with force by the authorities, then violent disorder will start to look less like pockets of disruption disapproved of by all and more like the loss of legitimacy.

In the absence of mass mobilization for protest, imposing “Law and Order” by force is usually a politically successful tactic, at least in the short-run. The demand for order is the most basic demand of political life. But attempting to impose order by force when people are protesting in the streets en masse is much riskier, both for the leader wanting to “dominate” and for political institutions generally.

Friday Links

With a background in indexing, I like to compare the index of a book with the taxonomy-enhanced search capabilities of a website, whereas the table of contents of a book is like the navigation scheme. A table of contents or navigation scheme is a higher-level, pre-defined structure of content, that guides users to the general organization of content and tasks. It helps users understand the scope of the content available, provides guidance on where and what content to find, and aids in exploration. An index or search feature, including faceted search, on the other hand, enables to user to find specific information or content items of interest. A taxonomy, regardless of its display type, serves the function of an index, not the table of contents.

The people we see are, by definition, those who are outdoors and thus who are disproportionately likely to be breaching the lockdown. What Mr Hannan isn’t seeing are the countless thousands of us staying indoors and observing the lockdown.

The social sciences are, as Jon Elster said, fundamentally a collection of mechanisms. But many of these are unseen. It is the role of social science to expose these mechanisms, and to show us that what we see is not all there is. As Marx said: "If there were no difference between essence and appearance, there would be no need for science."

On June 20, 1917, Lucy Burns, co-founder of the National Woman’s Party (NWP), and Dora Lewis gathered with other suffragists in front of the White House. They held a banner criticizing President Wilson’s opposition to women’s suffrage: “We, the Women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy…. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.”

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.

Tags