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Guest Post - Weekend Longread

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.22.19

Mossy Character writes: This first appeared in the WaPo, so you assholes have probably all read it already, and not a damn one of you thought of the blog. BUT SOME OF US DO.
Bare branches.

Heebie's take: In a nutshell:

Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.
The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labour markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.

I would just like to point out a counterfactual made-up true fact, which is that if the gender proportions were reversed, men would be put on pedestals and treated like a luxury scarce good instead of being consigned to a life with a growing risk of slavery-rape.

In addition, I suspect men are raping other men in increased rates, and it is just underreported.


 

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Guest Post - Privacy as social good

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.21.19

Nick S. writes: This is well put:

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. ...

Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can't drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can't opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not

Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don't have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. Congress has remained silent on the matter, with both parties content to watch Silicon Valley make up its own rules. The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don't really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.

After sending that, I thought about another analogy. The linked article argues that we should think about privacy similar to environmental regulations.

We're at the point where we need a similar shift in perspective in our privacy law. The infrastructure of mass surveillance is too complex, and the tech oligopoly too powerful, to make it meaningful to talk about individual consent. Even experts don't have a full picture of the surveillance economy, in part because its beneficiaries are so secretive, and in part because the whole system is in flux. Telling people that they own their data, and should decide what to do with it, is just another way of disempowering them.

I wonder if a better (though more pessimistic) comparison would be diet. I was talking today with a co-worker who has lost 15 pounds over the last couple of months and congratulating him on his progress. It occurred to me that, for any individual successfully losing weight will have a variety of health and lifestyle benefits. But, as a society, there is enormous waste of time, money, and mental and emotional energy on dieting which is, essentially, working against the broader food and consumer culture.

It would be wrong to say that individuals can't address (their own) weight or food concerns with individual choice. It's also true that, collectively, individual choice is an inefficient solution. The same is probably true of privacy. An individual can benefit by being conscious of the privacy policies of the sites and companies they interact with, and can make choices to protect themselves but, to the extent such concern becomes widespread it will also represent enormous waste of energy.


Via Bruce Schneier.

Heebie's take: I totally agree that this is well-phrased.

To the broader analogy, there are so many domains where we pretend that the best protection agains capitalist wreckage is for individuals to be extremely well-informed. Medical billing and health care (in the US) springs to mind. I remember hearing once, maybe 25 years ago, that medical billing is similar to auto mechanic billing, because they both involve a huge asymmetry of information between the provider and the individual patient/customer. That asymmetry of information is the crux. It is royally dumb to solve problems involving an asymmetry like this by expecting the non-expert to achieve quasi-expert status.

With surveillance and technology, "opt out" is not exactly quasi-expert status, but knowing why and how to do so involves either expertise or paranoia. It's dumb to have expertise and paranoia be prerequisites for navigating society.

There are also so many domains where we pretend that individual virtue will solve a collective action problem. Greenwashing, pinkwashing... what color should surveillance-washing be? matrixwashing?

(An aside: I think it's funny that a lame post, namely mine on Wednesday, serves as a beacon inviting guest posts. You're not wrong to interpret it as so! Several of you correctly did so.)


 

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Creepy Uncle Joe

Posted by Ogged
on 06.19.19

Solid advice then, solid advice a few months ago, even if he wasn't starting with huge disadvantages. The Biden phenomenon is interesting because the Onion character really did become part of his public image, and people loved him for it, forgetting (or not caring, because he wasn't running) that Biden the politician has very little to recommend him, and lots of "Ew."


 

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Multiple Meetups, On Multiple Continents.

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.19.19

Londoners: JennyRobot is going to be staying near Heathrow 6/21-25 -- her plans are flexible. Can you pick a date and place to get together?

New Yorkers, TONIGHT: Barry Freed is home, and I think Ajay is around as well, with the usual other New Yorkers. Anyone who's heard me dither on about Atlantic surfclam drama, there's more. Or, strictly, there isn't more, but it's getting really surprising that there isn't. Wednesday, 6/19 Dive Bar on Amsterdam just south of 96th. Or if someone has an UWS spot they prefer, name it in the comments and talk me into it. (I will not be bringing a llama.)


 

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Technological generations

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.19.19

This post is taking issues with how generational cohorts are defined. Eventually she settles on technology:

So back to technology. I think about conversations I've had with my mother, her mother, and her mother's father. He was born in the last decade of the 19th century and lived into the last decade of the 20th. I recall talking with his daughter, my grandmother, about all the technologies he and she witnessed transforming from innovations to everyday essentials within their lifetimes. Among these the telephone, the automobile, the radio, and the television stand out as extremely culturally significant. (You can see the growth of those along with other household technologies in the "Consumption Spreads Faster Today" chart from the New York Times.) If we want to peg a one-third of households tipping point for these as I did for home computers above (starting our cohort three years before it), we might see generational groups as follows: 1918-1929 (tv, electricity, auto, radio); 1930-1948 (the Great Depression and WWII, radio and the refrigerator); 1949-1965 (TV and the clothes washer).

I think there's some merit to this, as a basis for generational cohort, because technology is the kind of thing that might change on a punctuated equilibrium kind of progress.

I don't know that her categories are quite right, though. I like the idea that there's a major impact from cars, telephones, TVs, etc, although I'm not clear on the years. I can't think of what technology unifies the childhoods of Gen Xers, though. I guess I had more channels to choose from than my parents did? The home PC isn't quite as revolutionary as having high speed internet. The smartphone should be its own divide.

These are sounding less and less like generations and more and more just like the acceleration of technology.

I've pretty much given up on the idea that the arc of history bends towards justice. However, there's still an arc, and it still has a direction. More often than not, technology becomes more advanced. More often than not, groups become larger and more interconnected. How's that for a bland general conclusion?

I would ditch this post, but I don't have anything else in the queue nor time to find something.


 

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Underrepresentation

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.18.19

I had no idea this kind of voting system existed anywhere:

In India, a 1993 constitutional amendment reserved 33 percent of village leader positions for women and this reservation system is rotated between elections.

A similar thing exists for castes and tribes. Here's how it was explained to me: there is a lottery which determines whether your district is going to be represented women, or a certain minority group, in the following election. If your districted is selected, then all candidates must be from that group. The first link and this one both say there's substantial evidence that this system helps put policies in place that reflect women's preferences:

The results suggest that reservation affected policy choices. In particular, it affected policy decisions in ways that seem to better reflect women's preferences. In West Bengal, women complained more often than men about drinking water and roads - 31 percent of women's complaints were about drinking water and 31 percent were about road improvement, compared to 17 percent and 25 percent of men's, respectively. These preferences were revealed in the investment decisions of reserved village councils. Village councils reserved for women, on average, invested in 9 more drinking water facilities and improved road conditions by 18 percent.
In Rajasthan, 54 percent of women's complaints were about drinking water and 19 percent were about welfare programs, compared to 43 percent and 3 percent of men's, respectively. Unlike in West Bengal, compared to men, women complained less frequently about roads. Only 13 percent of women's complaints were about roads, compared to 23 percent of men's. This breakdown of preferences was again revealed in the investment decisions of the village councils. Village councils reserved for women invested in 2.62 more drinking water facilities, on average, and made fewer improvements in road conditions, leading to an 8 percent deterioration.

I think this is particularly fascinating, because of a thought I've had with respect to gerrymandering problems in the US. In particular, there's the following phenomenon: Republicans in Massachusetts are 30-40% of the state, but they are so evenly distributed that it is impossible to draw a congressional district in which they are the majority. In the language of "packing and cracking", it's often said that Democrats self-pack in cities. But the converse can also happen: if a group is too evenly dispersed, they self-crack, like the Republicans in Massachusetts.

So the thought I've had is: what's the most evenly distributed, traditionally marginalized group? Women. If drawing district lines is your only method of ensuring fair representation, you're never going to carve out many districts that are built to reliably elect women. Thus I am fascinated by the system implemented in India.

(One side note: if you're talking about drawing district lines as a method of addressing underrepresentation, a handy bit of vocabulary to have is the the Gingles Test, which is that if you want to claim gerrymandering, you need to show that there are enough members of the minority group to elect a representative, and that the community exhibits a high degree of racially polarized voting.)


 

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Guest Post - Antarctic Sea Change

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.17.19

Mossy Character writes: From sea to melting sea.

Heebie's take: helpless rage time!

That's not quite fair. These are the details of the capitalist logistics of the Antarctic, in a time of climate change. It would be fascinating if I didn't find that all news connected to climate change leaves me emotionally flooded and unable to engage with them very easily.

The first link is about all the countries eagerly rubbing their hands together, in anticipation of the fish, oil, and gas that will be accessible as the ice disintegrates. The second link is about the group that schedules tourist ships through the Antarctic, and how that's changing. To be fair, the second link is much less emotionally charged for me than the first.


 

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