Monthly Archives: August 2019

E Pluribus Unum?

The Fight Over Identity Politics
By Stacey Y. Abrams; John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck; Jennifer A. Richeson; and Francis Fukuyama – Recent political upheavals have reinvigorated a long-running debate about the role of identity in American politics—and especially American elections. Electoral politics have long been a lagging indicator of social change. For hundreds of years, the electorate was limited by laws that explicitly deprived women, African Americans, and other groups of the right to vote. (Efforts to deny voting rights and suppress voter turnout continue today, in less overt forms but with the same ill intent.)

When marginalized groups finally gained access to the ballot, it took time for them to organize around opposition to the specific forms of discrimination and mistreatment that continued to plague them—and longer still for political parties and candidates to respond to such activism.

In recent decades, however, rapid demographic and technological changes have accelerated this process, bolstering demands for inclusion and raising expectations in communities that had long been conditioned to accept a slow pace of change. In the past decade, the U.S. electorate has become younger and more ethnically diverse. Meanwhile, social media has changed the political landscape.

The marginalized did not create identity politics: their identities have been forced on them by dominant groups, and politics is the most effective method of revolt.

To seek redress and inclusion, the first step is to identify the barriers to entry: an array of laws and informal rules to proscribe, diminish, and isolate the marginalized.

The specific methods by which the United States has excluded women, Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community from property ownership, educational achievement, and political enfranchisement have differed; so, too, have the most successful methods of fighting for inclusion—hence the need for a politics that respects and reflects the complicated nature of these identities and the ways in which they intersect.

The basis for sustainable progress is legal protections grounded in an awareness of how identity has been used to deny opportunity. more>

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Anatomy of an oversight investigation: White House security clearances

By Isabella Gelfand and Jackson Gode – Since regaining the majority in January, House Democrats have been conducting oversight of the Trump administration on issues ranging from family separation at the border to the rollback of environmental regulations. While the policy areas addressed by these investigations are diverse, House committees often apply the same tools to perform oversight. As Congress attempts to exert influence on the White House in hopes of obtaining information, Trump administration officials continue to utilize several tactics of their own to stall the process.

As part of its mandate to conduct oversight of “the operation of Government activities at all levels,” the House Oversight and Reform Committee is frequently engaged in conflicts with the executive branch over information access. One such clash during the 116th Congress has involved the White House security clearance process, which came under fire when media reports indicated that the administration allowed individuals to operate under interim security clearances for extended periods and ignored concerns raised by intelligence officials. Here, we outline the ongoing security clearance investigation and use it to highlight a set of common steps in the oversight process.

When conducting oversight, members of Congress have several tools at their disposal. Most notably, they can request documents, call witnesses to testify, issue subpoenas, and hold individuals in contempt of Congress for noncompliance. Oversight investigations are often initiated by an official request for information, usually in the form of a letter written by a committee chair to an executive branch official. The chair uses this correspondence to ask for documents and/or to invite a witness to give testimony before the committee. more>

Updates from ITU

Meet your virtual avatar: the future of personalized healthcare
ITU News – Tingly? Sharp? Electric? Dull? Pulsing?

Trying to describe a pain you feel to your doctor can be a difficult task. But soon, you won’t have to: a computer avatar is expected to tell your doctor everything they need to know.

The CompBioMed Centre of Excellence, an international consortium of universities and industries, is developing a program that creates a hyper-personalized avatar or ‘virtual human’ using a supercomputer-generated simulation of an individual’s physical and biomedical information for clinical diagnostics.

There is a rapid and growing need for this kind of technology-enabled healthcare. 12 million people who seek outpatient medical care in the U.S. experience some form of diagnostic error. Additionally, the World Health Organization estimates that there will be a global shortage of 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035.

Greater access to technology-enabled healthcare will allow doctors to make better and faster diagnoses – and provide the tools to collect the necessary data.

The Virtual Human project combines different kinds of patient data that are routinely generated as part of the current healthcare system, such as x-rays, CAT scans or MRIs to create a personalized virtual avatar. more>

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Do you live in a ‘soft city’? Here’s why you probably want to

By Eillie Anzilotti – Imagine yourself sitting in your home. What’s right outside your front door, and what’s within a 10-minute walk of it? Can you make it to a grocery store or a café on foot, or do you have to drive? Is there a shared space nearby, a park or a patio, where you can mingle with the people who live around you? Do you often see people out and about, or do your neighbors mostly stay inside? What about the street: Is it filled with only cars, or do you see people biking and taking transit? Do you feel safe walking on the sidewalk that lines your front door (if there even is a sidewalk)? Are there places to sit along it?

It’s just a sample of the kinds of questions that preoccupy David Sim, creative director and partner at Gehl. Based in Copenhagen, Gehl has long pioneered the idea of human-centered urban design. Rather than thinking about cities as a collection of buildings and impressive developments, designers like Sim thinks about them as a series of relationships: between people and place, people and planet, and people and other people. “The starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible,” he says.

Good cities, from Sim’s perspective, are ones that make these connections possible. They can look different and exist in different contexts, but they share an overarching and essential quality, which Sim calls “softness”—a stark contrast to the rhetoric of “grind” and “harshness” that’s often applied to urban life. more>

Exporting digital authoritarianism

By Alina Polyakova and Chris Meserole – Digital authoritarianism — the use of digital information technology by authoritarian regimes to surveil, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations — is reshaping the power balance between democracies and autocracies.

At the forefront of this phenomenon, China and Russia have developed and exported distinct technology-driven playbooks for authoritarian rule. Beijing’s experience using digital tools for domestic censorship and surveillance has made it the supplier of choice for illiberal regimes looking to deploy their own surveillance systems, while Moscow’s lower-cost digital disinformation tools have proven effective in repressing potential opposition at home and undermining democracies abroad.

This policy brief examines the development and export of both the Chinese and Russian models.

China pioneered digital age censorship with its “Great Firewall” of a state-controlled Internet and unprecedented high-tech repression deployed in Xinjiang in recent years, and has exported surveillance and monitoring systems to at least 18 countries.

Russia relies less on filtering information and more on a repressive legal regime and intimidation of key companies and civil society, a lower-cost ad hoc model more easily transferable to most countries. The Russian government has made recent legal and technical moves which further tighten control, including legislation passed this year to establish a “sovereign Russian internet.”

The authors recommend that the United States and other democracies should tighten export controls on technologies that advance digital authoritarianism, sanction regimes engaging in digital authoritarianism and firms that supply them, develop a competitive democratic model of digital governance with a code of conduct, and increase public awareness around information manipulation, including funding educational programs to build digital critical thinking skills among youth. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Three strategy lessons from GE’s decline
By James E. Schrager -It may be too early to write an obituary for General Electric, but only just. In the past few years, the company has gone from iconic American corporate titan and darling of Wall Street to a humbled, awkward, oversized giant. In June 2018, GE was kicked out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the blue-chip club of the United States’ largest public companies. It had been a member since the stock gauge was launched in 1896. Some analysts have GE on bankruptcy watch.

To those who have been paying attention, this has been a long, slow decline. In fact, GE never had much of a chance once Jack Welch retired as chairman and CEO in 2001. That wasn’t because of bad luck or lackluster management. Instead, Welch’s perfectly brilliant growth strategy had simply run its course.

Welch’s great mistake was to fail to plan for the “end of history”—what happens when the golden goose stops laying. The story is worth revisiting not just because it explains the deterioration of GE. It also holds three powerful lessons about corporate strategy:

  1. All growth from any single market or technology will end. Companies that endure are those that plan for this reality.
  2. If you are successful, many will copy your success. Companies that continue to prosper update and adapt their strategies.
  3. Smart corporate strategies are flexible and nimble, enabling action rather than constraining it.

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Updates from Ciena

Dissecting a submarine network trial announcement
With network infrastructure as critical as submarine cables, we’re constantly seeing new cables being announced and new technological milestones being achieved – but what’s real?

Learn the difference between a hero trial, real-world trial, and how you can read between the lines to help separate hype from reality.
By Brian Lavallée – 2019 has and will continue to be a very busy year in the submarine network industry, with several new cables announced, deployed, and already put into the Ready for Service (RFS) state.

Why does the industry need so many new submarine cables?

To maintain pace with our ever-growing affinity and utter addiction to Internet-based content, which continues to drive the 40% CAGR in intercontinental bandwidth demand, according to industry analysts at TeleGeography, along the submerged information superhighways that interconnect continental landmasses.

As submarine networks are rightfully considered critical infrastructure, deploying new and modern cables will improve the overall reliability of the global network that erases distance and borders to close the digital divide.

When new submarine cable performance milestones are achieved in trials, they’re actively promoted through blogs, press releases, tweets, and webinars to celebrate, and why not?

These new submerged wet plant and modem technology advancements are truly astonishing and deserve this fanfare – but the context of these achievements must be fully understood to determine what’s actually deployable for live customer traffic in the real-world. more>

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Against cheerfulness

By Mariana Alessandri – I once ended up at a Boy Scout ceremony in the northeast United States, where I inhaled the American spirit unfiltered. The boys’ uniforms had Stars-and-Stripes patches sewn on next to their badges. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance in front of an oversize US flag, and we prayed to America’s vague God, giving thanks for this and that, and asking for some strength or protection. The boys recited their Scout Law: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and… cheerful.

As a philosopher influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, I’d always imagined cheerfulness was a sickly child, born nine months after a Tinder date between Stoicism and Christianity. But that night I learned that cheerfulness was a British orphan smuggled into the US in the early 20th century, and was now making a living spreading itself all over contemporary American kitsch: throw pillows, coffee mugs and slippers. Cheerfulness has planted deep roots in US soil, and the poor Boy Scouts are made to believe she’s a virtue.

The Ancient Greeks named four virtues: temperance, wisdom, courage and justice. Aristotle added more, but cheerfulness wasn’t one of them. The Greek philosophers didn’t seem to care about how we felt compared with how we acted.

The Roman Stoics inched closer to prescribing cheerfulness when they decided that we should pay attention to our feelings. They believed that we could control our attitudes.

To the Stoic list of virtues, the Christians added faith, hope and love. These are a gift from God, unlike patience and justice, which can be achieved on our own. Faith is the belief that with God all things are possible; hope is risking that belief in real time; and love is willing to be wrong about it. These three add an undeniably emotional element to the mix of virtues, but even Jesus didn’t ask for cheer.

It’s no surprise that cheerfulness was embraced not only by Boy Scouts but by the greater American culture too: the US is a melting pot of Christianity, Stoicism, cognitive behavioral therapy, capitalism and Buddhism, all of which hold, to varying degrees, that we are responsible for our attitudes and, ultimately, for our happiness. more>

No, Productivity Does Not Explain Income

Marginal productivity is a thought virus that is sabotaging the scientific study of income.
By Blair Fix – Did you hear the joke about the economists who tested their theory by defining it to be true? Oh, I forgot. It’s not a joke. It’s standard practice among mainstream economists. They propose that productivity explains income. And then they ‘test’ this idea by defining productivity in terms of income.

The marginal productivity theory of income distribution was born a little over a century ago. Its principle creator, John Bates Clark, was explicit that his theory was about ideology and not science. Clark wanted show that in capitalist societies, everyone got what they produced, and hence all was fair.

Clark was also explicit about why his theory was needed. The stability of the capitalist order was at stake!

Clark created marginal productivity theory to explain class-based income — the income split between laborers and capitalists. But his theory was soon used to explain income differences between workers.

In the mid 20th century, neoclassical economists invented a new form of capital. Workers, the economists claimed, owned ‘human capital’ — a stock of skills and knowledge. This human capital made skilled workers more productive, and hence, made them earn more money. So not only did productivity explain class-based income, it now explained personal income.

Given the problems with comparing the productivity of workers with different outputs, you’d think that marginal productivity theory would have died long ago. After all, a theory that can’t be tested is scientifically useless.

Fortunately (for themselves), neoclassical economists don’t play by the normal rules of science. If you browse the economics literature, you’ll find an endless stream of studies claiming that wages are proportional to productivity. Under the hood of these studies is a trick that allows productivity to be universally compared. And even better, it guarantees that income will be proportional to productivity. more>

Universe in a bubble

Maybe we don’t have to speculate about what life is like inside a bubble. It might be the only cosmic reality we know.
By J Richard Gott – The explanation for the accelerating cosmic expansion, surprising as it was at first, was readily available from the theoretical toolbox of physicists. It traced back to an idea from Albert Einstein, called the cosmological constant. Einstein invented it in 1917, as part of a failed attempt to produce a static Universe based on his general theory of relativity. At that time, the data seemed to support such a model.

In 1922, the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann showed that relativity in its simplest form, without the cosmological constant, seemed to imply an expanding or contracting Universe. When Hubble’s observations showed conclusively that the Universe was expanding, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, but the possibility that it existed never went away.

Then the Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître showed that the cosmological constant could be interpreted in a physical way as the vacuum of empty space possessing a finite energy density accompanied by a negative pressure. That idea might sound rather bizarre at first. We are accustomed, after all, to thinking that the vacuum of empty space should have a zero energy density, since it has no matter in it. But suppose empty space had a finite but small energy density – there’s no inherent reason why such a thing could not be possible.

Negative pressure has a repulsive gravitational effect, but at the same time the energy itself has an attractive gravitational effect, since energy is equivalent to mass. (This is the relationship described by E=mc2, another implication of special relativity.) Operating in three directions – left-right, front-back, and up-down – the negative pressure creates repulsive effects three times as potent as the attractive effects of the vacuum energy, making the overall effect repulsive. We call this vacuum energy dark energy, because it produces no light. Dark energy is the widely accepted explanation for why the expansion rate of the Universe is speeding up.

Distant galaxies will flee from us because of the stretching of space between us and them. After a sufficient number of doublings, the space between them and us will be stretching so fast that their light will no longer be able to cross this ever-widening gap to reach us. Distant galaxies will fade from view and we will find ourselves seemingly alone in the visible Universe. more>