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That Whole Trump Thing

To defeat Trump, one must first understand why he wins.

The reason I oppose Trump is the very reason Trump has any headroom to run for office. The people supporting Trump aren’t solely racists, and anybody who thinks it’s just racists should pay more attention. More importantly, racism isn’t some social disease. It arises from very specific conditions, just like Trump himself has.

Those conditions are ones of apparent marginalization of a formerly privileged group. Of apparent loss of income and mobility. And so on. In other words, the undereducated white men that support Trump feel trod upon. Some of them may be racist, but most are just scared of losing out.

That’s why the whole “Stop Trump” movement, facing down a beast of its own creation, sounds a bit out of tune to me. You don’t defeat racism with a fist. You defeat it with a smile and a helping hand (same way you defeat most other social problems). The government has an empathy problem: if you can’t muster lobbyists, the government doesn’t give a damn about you.

So Trump is now lobbying for all those folks, because there’s a loophole in the Constitution: the people, including undereducated white males, elect the government.

Historically, a large share of Trump’s voters would have been helped by the Democrats. That all changed in the 1960s, when the Democrats moved to help black folks in the civil rights movement. The Trump folks all migrated to the Republicans, who continued to not give a damn about their real problems and mainly focused on social issues to win their votes.

The Democrats continued to not do much for the Trumpites. For one thing, they’ve had to struggle to push their agenda against the Republicans, and since Trumpites didn’t vote D, they had no quarter on the D agenda.

But sooner or later such a bloc will tend to foster movement.

To stop Trump, the platform has to be inclusive. The safety net has to be strengthened and lengthened and broadened. Those poor dumb crackers need some help, too.

The Republicans won’t do that, of course. Trump voters by-and-large lack the main attribute the Rs care for: deep pockets. That leaves the Democrats to fight harder to help people who vote against them. Of course, that would eliminate the Trump problem, but would also make the Rs more competitive.

In that, the Democrats have a free-rider problem. The Rs need the Ds to be their welfare sugar daddy, taking their trash out while they sit on the couch and yell about how they want the trash left alone. It is a conundrum.

Main point being, sure, tirade against his racism, pull whatever stop Trump rabbits out of all the hats in world, but for God’s sake, also address the problems that allow a Trump to even exist. Fix the broken employment system. The broken healthcare system. The broken immigration system. Fix it all. Anything less, and you might scare away the Trump, but there will always be another one lurking, ready to try to steal a system that doesn’t give a damn.

Mandatory Voting and Automatic Registration

Looking at some ways to improve voter turnout, and trying to take into account their political feasibility.

Oregon is moving to automatic voter registration, and President Obama has mentioned, in the context of making it easier to vote in the United States, that some countries have compulsory voting (as far as I can tell he didn’t actually call for it here, just for better access to voting).

But we have a host of issues around voting, including candidate ballot access and gerrymandering. How much difference would a 10% increase in turnout across the board make versus some other change like moving to a preferential, ranked-voting system?

Like anything in politics, these issues are complicated. They are complicated to study, and even more complicated when you look at what is politically possible at various levels of government. You basically have to either have a hegemony that favors a better system (i.e., puts the true interest of the system at-large ahead of any naïve self-interest) or an idea that sells so well that it cannot be denied by the powerful.

Ideas abound, but few get sold, and it’s a non-market.

A few things are clear enough. Simply enfranchising a group isn’t sufficient to change politics. Non-land-owners, black people, women, and 18-20-year-olds all got their voting rights late, but it did not significantly change the political system directly. Interesting that the Civil Rights Movement did cause a major political shift, but not from voting. Its mere enactment was the mover.

If everyone did vote, or at least if every demographic voted in proportion to their population, it would change things a lot. But that’s exactly why Republicans fear expanding voter access. Of course, a mere political shift on their part would make them a much more popular party, but they’re afraid it would scare away donors.

Could compulsory voting help? The first bar is its chances of being enacted. They are slim, and even slimmer if such a change would require Constitutional amendment. More likely is a system like Oregon is moving to, and Oregon will give some evidence in the future.

It’s clear that their existing vote-by-mail system does improve turnout, so while expanding their rolls by 10% or so will probably see increased turnout, it is unlikely to raise the percentage of registered voters who vote.

Compulsory voting with fines for failing to vote likely would. A lottery system (where you would be entered to win a monetary prize if you voted) might work, too. But the horizon does not show these coming to America. Right now the best hope for expanding access is vote-by-mail expanding beyond the few states like Oregon who have it or something like it (open absentee processes).

Big Data on Small Computers

To have the benefits of big data without giving up privacy will undoubtedly require distributed systems.

US motto, e pluribus unum, on the back of a dime
Shows US motto (e pluribus unum) on the reverse of a US dime.

One of the great emerging fields of computing is the use of big data and machine learning. This is a process whereby large datasets actually teach computers to do things like translate text, interpret human speech, categorize images, and so on. The problem with this is, so far, it requires large amounts of data and a lot of computing power.

The paradigm is largely opposed to the types of computing people would prefer to do and use. We would rather not send our voice data out to the Internet or have the Internet always listening or watching us to get these benefits of machine learning. But while the advances in technology will allow for us to crunch the data on smaller devices, it will be difficult to have the corpus of data needed for training and use.

It remains to be seen whether smaller datasets or synthesized datasets (where a large dataset is somehow compressed or distilled into the important parts) will emerge. So how do we get big data in our relatively small computers?

It is likely that the problem will provoke the emergence of more distributed systems, something many have wanted and waited for. Distributed systems or collaborative computing allows your computer(s) to participate in computing larger datasets. Projects like the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have used such distributed computing for over a decade.

The main challenge will be finding ways to break up data to send to the distributed system that protect privacy. That is, if you send the whole voice capture to the distributed system (as you do, AFAIK, with cloud services like Apple’s Siri), you risk the same privacy issues as with the cloud model.

Instead, it should be possible to break up inputs (video or audio) and send portions (possibly with some redundancy, depending on e.g., if word breaks can be determined locally) to several systems and let them each return only a partial recognition of the whole.

It also remains to be seen whether this piecemeal approach will be as functional as the whole-system approach in all cases. While this splitting undoubtedly takes place in whole-systems like Siri, the reassembly and final processing surely takes place over the whole input. That final step may not be easily managed over a distributed system, at least not while protecting privacy.

Consider asking, “what is the time in Rome?” which might be processed as slightly off, due to pronunciation, “what is the dime in Rome?” In a whole-system approach it’s likely easier to infer dime → time at some late step, rather than if each hands back a partial result and the final recipient has less knowledge of how it was made. In a question case like that, the final text is likely targeted to a search engine, which will correct (though it could take the question literally and say, “It is the €0.10 coin.”).

For situations where the voice command lends insufficient context for local correction, it could be a greater challenge.

The good news is that it does look like it’s possible for us to have these distributed systems replace proprietary cloud solutions. The questions are when and how they will emerge, and where they might be weaker.