Friday, September 18, 2020

Restoration of Law & Order: The War-Cry which may help Trump defeat Joe Biden in November 2020

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Vanshita Banuana

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Restoration of Law & Order: The War-Cry which may help Trump defeat Joe Biden in November 2020

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

September 18, 2020

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Donald Trump at a presidential elections rally

Donald Trump at a presidential elections rally | Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

At the peak of the “Black Lives Matter” protest in June 2020, against the brutal killing of George Floyd by the police, the US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities. It is now September, and as Black Lives Matter protests— and the police brutality that ignited them— continue amidst a pandemic leaving over two hundred thousand Americans dead and millions infected, Trump’s fear-mongering distortions of events also continues.

The executive order sets requirements for police “certification and credentialing” of law enforcement agencies, and links the credentials to discretionary funding. It bans chokeholds except where deadly force is allowed by law. A database will be created to share information and track incidents of excessive use of force, terminations or de-certifications of officers, criminal convictions for on-duty conduct, and so on. Additionally, the order asks for surveys and community support programs to address mental health, homelessness and addiction in context of law enforcement’s response to them. Lastly, the order proposes that new legislation be developed to increase funding and resources provided to law enforcement.

While announcing the executive order, Trump called for a “restoration of law and order” and more funding for police at a time when Americans are protesting in cities across the country to reduce police funding and presence in order to combat police brutality. He claimed to want to put a stop to “looting and arson,” further remarking that Americans want law and order even if they “may not say it” or may not “even know that’s what they want”. Additionally, he believed the percentage of bad police officers to be very tiny.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the announcement, and called Trump’s call for “law and order” a racist dog-whistle specifically intended for his voter base in light of the upcoming election, and reiterated the need for lesser police presence. Allocation of discretionary funds, mentioned in the executive order, has been known to lead to increased militarisation of the police. They observed that Trump used the word “race” once and never used the word “racism,” and that he was surrounded by law enforcement officers throughout the announcement and his prepared remarks.

Use of fear-mongering to shore up the support for electoral benefit is not something new which Trump is employing, but a time-tested tool for many leaders in the Republican Party. The phrase “law and order” has a long cultural history in America, even before its use by politicians was popularised, and therefore racialised (if it wasn’t already).  

President Richard Nixon’s TV ads in the 60s showed middle-aged white women walking nervously down city streets at night. Trump’s false claims of Biden wanting to defund the police are complemented by his recent campaign ad that shows an elderly woman at home alone, who calls the police when a burglar breaks in. However, she is told that the police can no longer serve her due to being defunded. Setting aside the misconceptions about what defunding the police would look like, the ad is clearly designed to create panic at the thought of a fantasised future, one that Trump and his family like to call “Biden’s America” every time they post pictures of present-day Trump’s apocalyptic America.

It is definitely not unlike Trump to use racist rhetoric about crime meant to cause fear. It was one of his biggest selling points in the 2016 election as well, promising a border wall and anti-immigration policy to keep out immigrants— mostly Mexicans— who he claimed would bring crime and drugs into America. This year Trump has revived the argument by acting as the saviour of the suburbs, who he claims are under the attack of calls for desegregation. To that extent, at the 2020 Republic National Convention, Trump invited the McCloskeys, the couple who brandished firearms at Black Lives Matters protestors, to speak about “forced rezoning,” which they alleged would make their suburban neighbourhood unsafe. Nixon’s comments about the “city jungle” threatening the suburbs come to mind.

President Trump’s election campaign flag with Confederate flag | Source: Gilbert Mercier via Flickr

Many would notice that the racism in Trump’s statements is often barely covered up by his abstract and vague choice of words. The message, whether in 2016 or 2020, remains unmistakably the same: he is telling rich and middle class white people— painted as the peaceful victims— that he will protect them from violence caused by the ‘other,’ i.e., poor people of colour.

This fear of the ‘other,’ the angry Black American, is the same fear used by Republican Presidential candidate (and later President) Richard Nixon in 1968. The law-and-order rhetoric that evolved during that election period can be connected to 21st century ‘tough-on-crime’ policies, both of which have heavy racial undertones and are weaponized by Republicans as well as Democrats.

Is Donald Trump the new age Richard Nixon? That might seem to be overstretched, but quite a few traits and  similarities can be drawn between 2020 and 1968, perhaps most of all due to the widespread protests and clashes with police that erupted after the assassination of civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. Another major political and cultural event of the time was the Vietnam War, which led to a feeling of disorder that many Americans might be feeling at present as well. Trump is using promises of imposing “law and order” to project a strongman image; the desire to project such an image, however, hypocritically leads Trump to encourage violence where it benefits him.

However, these strategies aren’t as successful as Trump wants them to be— least of all successful enough to cover up his gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the suburbs have not remained as ‘pure’ as they might seem in Trump’s eyes; they have grown in diversity of wealth and race, almost parallel to cities. Trump is out of his depth when forced to reckon with mass unemployment, preventable deaths, and science, and he would do anything to bring the focus back to his comfort zone, which is why it is unsurprising when he uses Black Lives Matter protests and renewed conversation around policing to spread unfounded alarms about increased crime and violence.

According to recent polling data, while neither Trump nor Biden are viewed favourably by any significant margin when it comes to law enforcement, Biden is surely being viewed as more trustworthy when it comes to handling a crisis like the pandemic. Trump’s constant barrage of tweets and other announcements are less appreciated or supported when they cause further confusion in an already extremely chaotic environment. It is hard to imagine trusting a President who tweets “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to remain calm, organised or level-headed in any manner.  

While many may have expected Trump’s voter base to fall for the same old, recycled talking points, the public health crisis and economic meltdown took the conversation away from it. Now President Trump is desperately trying to take control of the narrative and scare voters to back him in November 2020.

There is some method to his apparent madness. The US President is not elected by securing  the majority of the popular vote, they are chosen by securing a majority of votes in the electoral college. There are different modelling of US poll results which predicts that Trump may lose by over five million popular votes but still win the Presidency due to scoring a majority of electoral college votes.

The constant hammering of being the “Law and Order” President and painting Joe Biden’s support for Black Lives Matter protest as the “support for lawlessness” is the only plausible way for Trump to gain a majority of the electoral college vote and retain the US Presidency in November 2020. It is to be seen whether the voters fear the COVID-19 & economic meltdown more than the Law and Order.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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