The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Making ride-shares pay for roads

CityLab has an interesting suggestion to manage the externalities of Uber and Lyft:

The policy journey of São Paulo, Brazil, a vast metropolitan region of 20 million people, has been telling. The city council initially banned all ride-hailing services via apps, spurred on by allies of the taxi industry. Other parties, recognizing the inevitable popularity of Uber as well as two more homegrown companies, 99 and Easy Taxi, pushed back. The compromise allows the companies to operate, but charges them for the use of streets per mile. A sliding scale was established—more if in the city center during peak hours with only one passenger; less for more passengers, cars in underserved areas, electric vehicles, women drivers, and accessible vehicles. A standing committee meets regularly on whether the charge needs to be modified. In the process, the city gets some raw data that can help with mobility policy.

The charges—for the privilege of using a public asset, the roadways, for commercial purposes—are estimated to bring in $50 million per year. Nearly a year after the policy was set, the experiment is going well, said Ciro Biderman, who recently left his position as chief innovation officer for São Paulo, where he led the design and rollout of the charges on transportation network companies.

Imagine, charging private companies a fee to use public assets.

The Red Atlas

A new book by an English retiree compiles still classified Soviet maps of British and American cities:

On a business trip to Riga, Latvia’s capital, in the early 2000s, [John Davies] hit the mother lode. Davies happened upon a shop that held bundles of Cold War-era maps of British cities, created by the Soviet military. The maps were so detailed that they included such elements as the products factories made and bridges’ load-bearing capacity. “I was just amazed,” Davies said.  

Each time Davies went to Riga, he would bring back another armload of the maps. And it turned out the Soviet military hadn’t just made maps of British cities: Davies discovered similarly intricate maps of U.S. cities, as well as areas across the globe. He and Alexander Kent, a professor of cartography at Canterbury Christ Church University, worked together to figure out how the maps were made. Their research can be found in a new book, The Red Atlas.

It's published in the US on my home-town imprint, the University of Chicago Press—and is at this writing out of stock on Amazon. (And of course I just ordered it.)

It doesn't work like that!

Jimmy Carter captained nuclear missile submarines. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. Barack Obama was a Constitutional Law professor at one of the top-5 law schools in the country.

Donald Trump thinks...well, I'll let Japan Times explain:

Trump said ‘samurai’ Japan should have shot down overflying North Korean missiles

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country before landing in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, diplomatic sources have said, despite the difficulties and potential ramifications of doing so.

The revelation came ahead of Trump’s arrival in Japan on Sunday at the start of his five-nation trip to Asia. Threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs were set to be high on the agenda in his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.

Trump questioned Japan’s decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea, the sources said.

[T]he Self-Defense Forces did not try to intercept the missiles, with the government saying the SDF had monitored the rockets from launch and judged they would not land on Japanese territory.

But the altitude and speed of the missiles would have made it very difficult to destroy them in flight, while failure would have been embarrassing for Japan and encouraging to North Korea.

Defense Ministry officials confirmed this view and said there were also legal issues to clear.

Reagan thought we could call back nuclear missiles. Trump thinks we can shoot them down. And the Republican rank-and-file think we who want competent leadership are elitists.

We might be doomed.

Russia is screwing with everyone

Following up on my post this morning, here is the New Republic's analysis of Russian cyber-warfare tactics and strategy:

Western democracies are uniquely susceptible to this form of attack. The key insight of autocratic governments like Russia’s may be the recognition that democracies have a weakness: They are open societies committed to free speech and expression. That characteristic is and continues to be exploited. What’s more, other countries are already aping these techniques in their own struggles. Russia is the world’s most open cyberwarfare aggressor—but it’s far from the only one. IranIsraelNorth Korea, and the United States, and perhaps other countries, are all active. These conflicts often play out between familiar rivals: Russia and the United States, Iran and Israel, North and South Korea. It may be that information warfare simply reinforces old rivalries. But at the same time, it will likely have a deep and lasting impact on the fabric of the societies that come under attack. When social media and information itself are weaponized, the bonds of trust in society and within institutions are undermined, and the task of assuring information integrity becomes a matter of national security.

The question is how the West can maintain the core values of freedom of speech and the free flow of information while protecting itself from the constant presence of malevolent geopolitical actors. For centuries, Eastern European countries such as Estonia relied on walls, watchtowers, and fortresses to keep out invaders. The United States became the world’s most powerful country in part because it was insulatedfrom foreign threats by vast oceans on two sides. In the internet age, those traditional borders are less effective. To survive in the era of information warfare, the West will have to create new, safer borders capable of withstanding cyberattacks. Blockchain technology, the underlying protocol of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, might, for example, function as a sort of digital fortress protecting the secure exchange of information online. Whatever form these defenses take, democratic countries will have to focus more resources on finding and spreading potent and reliable technologies, whether in partnership with private companies, or in government cyber labs in Estonia or the United States. But we will also have to accept the sobering reality that these attacks, like guerrilla warfare and suicide bombings, aren’t going away. They are the new costs of living in a connected world.

Freedom is expensive. But it's better than any alternative.

How Russia is screwing with us

That the President hasn't condemned Russian interference in American politics demonstrates how unfit for office he and his associates are. Because Russian interference has real consequences. Via TPM, the Russians have had extraordinary success dividing Americans through social media:

Last year, two Russian Facebook pages organized dueling rallies in front of the Islamic Da’wah Center of Houston, according to information released by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

Heart of Texas, a Russian-controlled Facebook group that promoted Texas secession, leaned into an image of the state as a land of guns and barbecue and amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. One of their ads on Facebook announced a noon rally on May 21, 2016 to “Stop Islamification of Texas.”

A separate Russian-sponsored group, United Muslims of America, advertised a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally for the same place and time.

On that day, protesters organized by the two groups showed up on Travis Street in downtown Houston, a scene that appeared on its face to be a protest and a counterprotest. Interactions between the two groups eventually escalated into confrontation and verbal attacks.

Burr, the committee's chairman, unveiled the ads at a hearing Wednesday morning and said Russians managed to pit Texans against each other for the bargain price of $200.

Russia wants to render the US unable to defend its own interests in the world. The President, and by extension Republicans in Congress who are letting him off the hook, don't care.

Let me be clear: It is in the interests of Russia and China, but not in the interests of the United States, for us to be debilitated by internal divisions. Trump may not care, because he wants wealth and power for himself, not for the country. But the rest of us should care deeply.

Russia has been trying to do this since just after World War II. Now, they're getting so good at it, Americans can't even come together to say it's a hostile act by a foreign power, let alone fix the problems it's caused.

Our other national calamity

James Fallows eloquently sums up the worst bits of American culture, in the wake of Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas:

I am an optimist about most aspects of America’s resilience and adaptability, but not about reversing America’s implicit decision to let these killings go on.

Decision? Yes. Other advanced societies have outbreaks of mass-shooting gun violence. Scotland, in 1996. Australia, in 1996 as well. Norway in 2011. But only in the United States do they come again and again and again.

No other society allows the massacres to keep happening. Everyone around the world knows this about the United States. It is the worst aspect of the American national identity.

...

The identity of the shooter doesn’t affect how many people are dead or how grievously their families and communities are wounded. But we know that everything about the news coverage and political response would be different, depending on whether the killer turns out to be “merely” a white American man with a non-immigrant-sounding name.

These people are indeed deranged and angry and disturbed, and the full story of today’s killer is not yet known. It is possible that he will prove to have motives or connections beyond whatever was happening in his own mind (as Graeme Wood explains). But we know that if the killers were other than whites with “normal” names, the responsibility for their crime would not be assigned solely to themselves and their tortured psyches.

I've just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay "The First White President." Combined with Trump's performance today in Puerto Rico, and our inability as a polity to slow—let alone stop—gun violence, makes me despair for my country.

What does Tinder know about you?

Via Bruce Schneier, a British reporter requested her data dossier from Tinder. As with so many other things in life, she was shocked, but not surprised:

The dating app has 800 pages of information on me, and probably on you too if you are also one of its 50 million users. In March I asked Tinder to grant me access to my personal data. Every European citizen is allowed to do so under EU data protection law, yet very few actually do, according to Tinder.

With the help of privacy activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye from personaldata.io and human rights lawyer Ravi Naik, I emailed Tinder requesting my personal data and got back way more than I bargained for.

Some 800 pages came back containing information such as my Facebook “likes”, my photos from Instagram (even after I deleted the associated account), my education, the age-rank of men I was interested in, how many times I connected, when and where every online conversation with every single one of my matches happened … the list goes on.

What will happen if this treasure trove of data gets hacked, is made public or simply bought by another company? I can almost feel the shame I would experience. The thought that, before sending me these 800 pages, someone at Tinder might have read them already makes me cringe.

Tinder’s privacy policy clearly states: “you should not expect that your personal information, chats, or other communications will always remain secure”. As a few minutes with a perfectly clear tutorial on GitHub called Tinder Scraper that can “collect information on users in order to draw insights that may serve the public” shows, Tinder is only being honest.

But as Schneier points out, "It's not [just] Tinder. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. Everyone does this."

Pirates may be to blame for the U.S. not being Metric

The Système International d'unités, also known as the Metric System, is the most widely-used system of measuring things in the known universe. Of the 7.57 billion people in the world, somewhere around 7.2 billion use SI. The laggards are almost all here in the United States.

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post Science Alert today, blames English privateers:

In 1793, botanist and aristocrat Joseph Dombey set sail from Paris with two standards for the new "metric system": a rod that measured exactly a metre, and a copper cylinder called a "grave" that weighed precisely one kilogram.

He was journeying all the way across the Atlantic to meet Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson - a fellow fan of base-ten systems who, Dombey hoped, would help persuade Congress to go metric.

Then a storm rolled in, knocking Dombey's ship off course. The unlucky academic was washed into the Caribbean - and straight into the clutches of British pirates.

The brigands took Dombey hostage and looted his equipment. The luckless scientist died in prison shortly after his capture; his belongings were auctioned off to the highest bidders.

France sent a second emissary to promote the metric system. But by the time the replacement arrived, America had a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph, who apparently didn't care much for measurement.

As the person who sent me this article said, perhaps the pirates just preferred saying "yarrrrd?"

But really, I put this into the same category of "American exceptionalism" that keeps us executing criminals, not getting passports, and thinking that we're somehow #1.

Maria hits Vieques head-on; Puerto Rico now getting full storm

Hurricane Maria's eye passed directly over Vieques earlier this morning and has now struck Puerto Rico proper:

Hurricane Maria roared ashore Wednesday as the strongest storm to strike Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, knocking out power to nearly the entire island and leaving frightened people huddled in buildings hoping to ride out withstand powerhouse winds that have already left death and devastation across the Caribbean.

The storm first slammed the coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 250 km/h winds — the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 160-km-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.

In an unfortunate twist, some residents of Vieques had stocked up on critical supplies in advance of Irma only to donate what they had left to harder-hit areas such as Tortola and St. Thomas. Residents rushed to restock before deliveries to the island stopped and the power flickered off yet again.

There isn't much news coming out of Vieques yet, but having been there less than a year ago, I can't imagine that much of it remains standing. The shops and restaurants on Calle Flamboyan are (were?) less than 50 m from the beach, and barely 3 m above the Caribbean. I hope everyone got out OK.