Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the facts — Quartz

“They dispute each other not on priorities but on objective reality.”

In short, Democrats and Republicans don’t so much disagree about where to take the country, they disagree about which country they would be taking.

To any political scientist, this is not news. Survey data has long shown that factual claims often reflect partisan sympathies more than they do reality.

I think news organizations are missing opportunities. Everyone seems to publish a dozen polls a month highlighting American disagreements over subjective opinions. Why not publish more stories doing the same about factual opinions—and then take pains to describe the actual truth? If the idea is to shock and amaze people, I think factual surveys will likely do the trick.

Source: Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the facts — Quartz

A new study shows how Star Trek jokes and geek culture make women feel unwelcome in computer science — Quartz

Women thrive when classrooms make them feel like they belong.

And as one undergraduate research participant in our lab put it, the current stereotypes of computer scientists is that they are “nerdy guys” who “stay up late coding and drinking energy drinks” and have “no social life.”

This geeky image is at odds with the way that many girls see themselves.

When high school girls see Star Trek posters and video games in a computer science classroom, they opt out of taking the course.

When the classroom is devoid of décor, girls still opt out. It is only when an alternate image of computer science is presented by replacing geeky objects with art and nature posters that girls become as interested as boys.

Source: A new study shows how Star Trek jokes and geek culture make women feel unwelcome in computer science — Quartz

The Milk Industry Lost $420 Million From a Defective Cow Gene – The Atlantic

Farmers have quadrupled how much milk a typical cow can make, but there are hidden downsides.

It started with a bull named Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief, who had a whopping 16,000 daughters. And 500,000 granddaughters and more than 2 million great-granddaughters. Today, in fact, his genes account for 14 percent of all DNA in Holstein cows, the most popular breed in the dairy industry.

The mutation caused some unborn calves to die in the womb. According to a recent estimate, this single mutation ended up causing more than 500,000 spontaneous abortions and costing the dairy industry $420 million in losses.

That’s a crazy number, but here’s an even crazier one: Despite the lethal mutation, using Chief’s sperm instead of an average bull’s still led to $30 billion dollars in increased milk production over the past 35 years. That’s how much a single bull could affect the industry.

Chief embodies the power and the perils of selective breeding

Source: The Milk Industry Lost $420 Million From a Defective Cow Gene – The Atlantic

Dismissing Google Fiber (GOOG) as a failure is the same mistake we made bringing electricity to rural America — Quartz

It’s too expensive. No one wants to buy it. Laying cables is unprofitable. The government is overreaching. Objections to high-speed fiber broadband today sound like those facing rural electrification during the 1900s. History suggests they’ll prove wrong today as well.

Source: Dismissing Google Fiber (GOOG) as a failure is the same mistake we made bringing electricity to rural America — Quartz


Are there still enough people in rural areas?

The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created by executive order as an independent federal bureau in 1935, authorized by the United States Congress in the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, and later in 1939, reorganized as a division of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Rural electrification – Wikipedia


  • 1930 US rural population = 54M, 43.9% of total
  • 1990 US rural population = 61M, 24.8% of total
  • 2010 US rural population = 59M, 19.3% of total

Population: 1790 to 1990 – US Census Bureau
US Census Bureau – Frequently Asked Questions
So although the percentage of the population in rural areas has dropped about in half, the total number is actually about 10% more.


Is rural netification much more expensive than electrification was?

Before the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration the reported cost of rural lines, depending on consumer density and on terrain, ranged from $1,500 to $1,800 a mile. The average total cost of R.E.A.-financed lines is now less than $800 a mile. The average estimated construction cost of these Unes has been declining each year, from $904 in 1936 to $858 in 1937, $768 in 1938, and $583 in 1939.

– “Rural Electrification” by Robert T. Beall, Economist, Rural Electrification Administration – US Department of Agriculture
$1,800 in 1934 = $32,430 in 2016
$583 in 1939 = $10,126 in 2016
CPI Inflation Calculator – US Bureau of Labor Statistics


According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the per-mile costs on all new projects in the United States from over the past 15 years have ranged from $6,800 to as much as $79,000.

– “What is the real cost of fiber networking?” The Firetide Blog


Broadly speaking, the total cost per home ranged from more than $20,000 per location to about $5,000 per location, for densities of up to about 2.5 homes per linear plant mile.

Broadly speaking, when a telco can pass five to 65 locations for every mile of outside plant, the cost per home ranges between $4,000 and $5,000 per location.

– “How Much Does Rural Fiber Really Cost?” Performant Networks Blog
So, actually, 1930s rural electrification and 2016 fiber look to be approximately as expensive after accounting for inflation.

I would hope and expect that a wireless solution (e.g. microwave / WISP internet) should be even cheaper for rural netification (much less digging, much less physical material to produce, move, and place… how could it possibly be significantly worse?). I couldn’t find good numbers though.


Do rural areas even want greater connectivity and the jobs it would enable?

while they’re suspicious of big government, more than three-quarters of the respondents supported a government role in job training, renewable energy, and loans and grants to jumpstart economic development

Only 18 percent of the respondents said they rely on agriculture, farming or ranching for the bulk of their household income.

Nearly 90 percent of the respondents backed job training for the working poor, and loans, tax credits and training to help small businesses and farms prosper.

Seventy-eight percent said they strongly support developing wind, solar and other renewable electric generation in rural areas through tax credits, and investing in new transmission lines.

– “What does rural America want?” Illinois Country Living
. source: The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
. survey: conducted for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs by the bipartisan team of Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group

Living in an Extreme Meritocracy Is Exhausting – The Atlantic

A society that glorifies metrics leaves little room for human imperfections.

it is important to recognize that the word “meritocracy,” coined by the British sociologist Michael Young in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy, originally described not some idealized state of perfect fairness, but a cruel dystopia. The idea was that a society evaluated perfectly and continuously by talent and effort would see democracy and equality unravel, and a new aristocracy emerge, as the talented hoarded resources and the untalented came to see themselves as solely to blame for their low status. Eventually, the masses would cede their political power and rights to the talented tenth—a new boss just as unforgiving as the old one, Young suggested.

The new technology of meritocracy goes hand in hand with the escalating standards for what merit is. To hold down a decent job in today’s economy, it is no longer enough to work hard. Workers need brains, creativity, and initiative. They need salesmanship and the ability to self-promote, and, of course, a college degree. And they need to prove themselves on an ever-expanding list of employer-administered metrics.

Americans also believe—or at least they like to teach their children—that life is not merely a competition. From the days of the Puritans, they have found ways to temper their zeal for meritocracy, self-reliance, and success with values of equality, civic-mindedness, and grace, a surprising harmony of principles that the country’s earliest observers lauded as distinctly American.

To a troubling but oft-ignored extent, one person’s inefficiency is another person’s good job.

Source: Living in an Extreme Meritocracy Is Exhausting – The Atlantic

What we talk about when we talk about cybersecurity: security in internet governance debates | Internet Policy Review

Internet governance bodies agree that improving online security is important, but disagree on what a more secure internet would look like.

The tensions that arise around issues of security among different groups of internet governance stakeholders speak to the many tangled notions of what online security is and whom it is meant to protect that are espoused by the participants in multistakeholder governance forums. What makes these debates significant and unique in the context of internet governance is not that the different stakeholders often disagree (indeed, that is a common occurrence), but rather that they disagree while all using the same vocabulary of security to support their respective stances. Government stakeholders advocate for limitations on WHOIS privacy/proxy services in order to aid law enforcement and protect their citizens from crime and fraud. Civil society stakeholders advocate against those limitations in order to aid activists and minorities and protect those online users from harassment. Both sides would claim that their position promotes a more secure internet and a more secure society—and in a sense, both would be right, except that each promotes a differently secure internet and society, protecting different classes of people and behaviour from different threats.

Source: What we talk about when we talk about cybersecurity: security in internet governance debates | Internet Policy Review

The Right Is Giving Up on Democracy | New Republic

It’s not just Donald Trump and his fans who think the system is rigged.

“Why is the American Right giving up on democracy?”

Public-opinion polling shows that Trump’s low opinion of American elections has practically become Republican Party orthodoxy. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, Republicans have an “unprecedented” level of “concern and mistrust in the system.” Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters believe that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, it’ll be due to fraud. In both this poll and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, only half of Republicans say they’d accept a Clinton victory. (In the latter poll, by contrast, 82 percent of Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory.)

Beyond this election, beyond even the fate of the Republican Party, there is a significant minority of Americans who are giving up on democracy because it doesn’t serve their purpose of upholding a white Christian patriarchy. Trump is merely a symptom of this problem, and even if he fades as a political force after the election, the underlying disease will remain, and indeed will likely spread. The threat to the American system is not an armed revolt after November 8, but the growing number of Americans who are convinced that only “regime change” can save capitalism, Christianity, and America itself.

Source: The Right Is Giving Up on Democracy | New Republic

In a highly indebted world, austerity is a permanent state of affairs — Quartz

The logic behind austerity holds that “the market”—which the public had just bailed out—did not like the debt incurred when states everywhere rescued and recapitalized their banking systems.

Public debt, however, grew, because economies got smaller and grew slower the more they cut.

The reason is simple—and it is surprising anyone thought that anything else would happen. Imagine an economy as a sum, with a numerator and a denominator. Make total debt 100 and stick that on the top (the numerator). Make Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 100 and stick that on the bottom (the denominator) to give us a 100% debt-to-GDP ratio. If you cut total spending by 20% to restore “confidence,” the economy is “balanced” at 100/80. That means the debt-to-GDP ratio of the country just went up to 120%, all without the government issuing a single cent of new debt.

In short, cuts to spending in a recession make the underlying economy contract. After all, government workers have lost jobs or income, and government workers not shopping has the same effect as private sector workers not shopping. So the debt goes up as the economy shrinks further.

As difficult as it can be to make this reality part of the political conversation, public debt is an asset. Even at today’s low rates, it earns interest and retains value. No one is forced to invest in public debt, but every time bonds are issued investors show up and buy them by the truckload. By market criteria, public debt is a great investment.

But who pays for it? That would be the taxpayer.

Source: In a highly indebted world, austerity is a permanent state of affairs — Quartz

As Artificial Intelligence Evolves, So Does Its Criminal Potential – The New York Times

The next generation of online attack tools used by criminals will add machine learning capabilities pioneered by A.I. researchers.

The alarm about malevolent use of advanced artificial intelligence technologies was sounded earlier this year by James R. Clapper, the director of National Intelligence. In his annual review of security, Mr. Clapper underscored the point that while A.I. systems would make some things easier, they would also expand the vulnerabilities of the online world.

“I would argue that companies that offer customer support via chatbots are unwittingly making themselves liable to social engineering,” said Brian Krebs, an investigative reporter who publishes at

Source: As Artificial Intelligence Evolves, So Does Its Criminal Potential – The New York Times