Pluralistic: 22 Feb 2021

Today's links

What Democrats need to do (permalink)

Although a significant majority of Americans support "progressive" policies, the US electoral equilibrium is forever balanced on a knife-edge between GOP and Democratic victories. That's not merely a result of gerrymandering and voter-suppression, either.

US elections are decided by mobilizing habitual nonvoters, who primarily stay home because they don't believe change is possible.

That's not an unreasonable position in a country where the minimum wage and care deductions have been frozen since the 80s.

The Democrats control the White House, the Congress and the Senate. They have an opportunity not seen since 2008 – when Obama threw away this hard-won opportunity, on the eve of a grave economic crisis created and exacerbated by ignoring progressive values and policies.

Time is short. US state-houses are dominated by GOP lawmakers who owe their seat to grotendous gerrymandering. This summer, they'll get to use the census to lock in that advantage permanently at the federal level when those state-houses do their redistricting.

Unless, that is, the Democrats in Congress, the Senate and the WH take decisive action to prohibit gerrymandering.

Preventing another generation-long cycle of disenfranchisement is only for starters. Once that's done, they have to fight for the House and Senate in 2022.

That's tough sledding. The president's party usually gets creamed in midterms. The exception? Midterms where the president faces a crisis with decisive, bold action to materially improve peoples' lives.

Lucky for Biden, Trump bequeathed him a hell of a crisis to face.

Today, The American Prospect published a massive package on the collapse of left community organizing. While the right mobilizes its base with gun clubs and evangelical churches, the left focuses on "analytic activism," which is powerful, but incomplete.

Community organizing is a longitudinal, relationship-based, face-to-face project that creates durable political force. It's the kind of project that we celebrate Stacey Abrams for: a decade-long, unglamorous, project aimed at structural change.

The Prospect's package is full of uplifting and sobering reports from the field, postmortems on projects like Indivisible, and an account of the challenge ahead of us.

"Progressives need well-developed voter contact plans for voters of color, suburban voters, young voters, and union members/supporters in six states that will likely determine which party controls the Senate in 2023: AZ, GA, NC, OH, PA, and WI."

"We must start organizing in those seven states now. And when I say now, I mean yesterday…We need to fund organizations that have a connection to the voters they are organizing…We must help nourish the indigenous organizations that grew out of the Trump resistance."

And: "Organizing solely around Trump is not a strategy to win."

That's so important. The Dems can't solely campaign against Trumpism – they need to campaign for something. A vision and a plan. A track-record. Material improvements to the lives of people in crisis.

They have just over a year to accumulate accomplishments to run on. And the progressive wing of the party has shovel-ready proposals that can pass now, and create massive changes in the lives of everyday Americans.

The only single mom in Congress, Katie Porter, has the Family Savings for Kids and Seniors Act, which indexes savings allowances for care (daycare, senior care, afterschool care) to inflation. The $5k currently permitted hasn't budged since 1986.

And Bernie Sanders is confident that we can get a $15/h minimum wage right now through the Senate budget reconciliation process. The minimum wage was last raised in 2009. It has lost ground against inflation since 1968. It should be $24/h.

It's no use nurturing an army of grassroots organizers unless they've got something to campaign against. US elections are won by convincing stay-at-home voters that their vote matters – that change is possible.

There is no better way to make that point than by actually changing things – by making material improvements to the lives of crisis-tormented Americans by using the mandate represented by control over the Senate, Congress and the White House.

Just fucking do it already.

Automated functional drone manufacture (permalink)

Automated manufacturing is a dream as old as the Shoemaker and the Elves, a nightmare as old as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. But the (delightful) science fiction dreams about automated manufacturing so often fall short of the reality.

Not always, though! MIT CSAIL researchers' "Laserfactory" demo at this year's CHI is a marvel straight out of a novel I wish I'd written:

The demo uses a modified laser-cutter to print, assemble and finish a working drone that then flies off the build plate, with only the tiniest human interventions.

It uses a multifunction add-on that bolts onto the laser-cutter's head, and uses an accelerometer to locate itself in space over the build-plate. The add-on can dispense conductive silver paste and perform pick-and-place operations with a suction cup.

The control system integrates the laser with the special head: it tidies up the silver paste traces into sub-millimetre traces, thermally cures the paste to solder components together.

The money-shot is that robotically assembled drone taking off on its own, (almost) untouched by human hands.


Privacy Without Monopoly Pt 2 (permalink)

This week on my podcast, part two of the spoken-word version of "Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and Interoperability," a major new white-paper that Bennett Cyphers and I co-authored for EFF.

It’s a paper that tries to resolve the tension between demanding that tech platforms gather, retain and mine less of our data, and the demand that platforms allow alternatives (nonprofits, co-ops, tinkerers, startups) to connect with their services.

I read the second portion of it this week – about 30 minutes' worth – and I'll finish it next week. If you don't want to wait, you can dive in with the written version straightaway:

You can subscribe to my podcast feed here:

Here's a direct link to the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive; they'll host your stuff for free, forever, too!):

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Using corn-rows to teach fractals

#15yrsago Why kids are on MySpace

#15yrsago Transport for London censors anagram Tube map

#10yrsago Egyptian orders a pizza for the Wisconsin demonstrators

#5yrsago Citing copyright, Army blocks Chelsea Manning from receiving printouts from EFF’s website

#1yrago Wells Fargo will pay $3b for 2 million acts of fraud

#1yrago ICANN should demand to see the secret financial docs in the .ORG selloff

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Hackaday (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 601 words (113076 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Friday's progress: 258 words (6467 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and Interoperability (Part 1)
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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla