Sunday, July 26, 2020

Suppressing the Minority Voting: An effective discrimination tactic of the US Conservatives

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Nikhita Gautam

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Suppressing the Minority Voting: An effective discrimination tactic of the US Conservatives


Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 26, 2020


Protester at George Floyd protest in USA

Protester at  George Floyd protest in USA | Source: Clay Banks via Unsplash

The recent protests over George Floyd’s death and reactions of the conservatives against the protest laid bare the systemic injustice and oppression faced by the people of color in the USA.

The other, albeit invisible form of discrimination perpetuated by the conservative political establishment in the USA is “Minority Voter Suppression”.

Though it may seem improbable that long after the Jim Crow laws are junked and Civil Right Laws are in place, the effort to disenfranchise the Black people is still going on.

The major piece of legislation which protected minorities from electoral exploitation was the Voter Registration Act which underpins the basic ideal of a universal adult franchise by specifically addressing and combating voting discrimination.

To ensure the representation to minority communities, this act mandated that “At-Large Elections”, where the whole of the jurisdiction elects all of the city council, were replaced by the single member districts in which each community selects a person to represent them in the city council.

It was also prohibited to draw the voting district in such a way that  minorities could be clubbed in only a few of the districts. It was also made mandatory for those states which have a history of discrimination to get pre-clearance from the justice department before changing their voting laws.

This law, however, lost its power in a process which began in 1980. In 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that at-large elections were not unconstitutional, on their own. In 1995, the Court began restricting the construction of majority minority districts on grounds that it segregates people on the basis of race.

In 2008, the court ruled that a photo voter ID law in Indiana was constitutional and was in state interest to protect against voter fraud (research shows that photo voter IDs provide disincentive to vote for people of color). The voter ID law requires the voters to have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

In 2013, the Supreme Court scrapped the part of the law which stated that some states (which had an alleged history of discrimination) needed federal preclearance in any changes of their voting laws, meaning that the state laws would need approval from the federal government before being put into practice. This was done so citing that the methods which determined discriminatory states were invalid.

All of these slowly chipped away at the laws, and especially the 2013 Shelby County vs Holder case which led to a host of issues whVoter Suppression is Still One of the Greatest Obstacles to a More Just Americaich directly/indirectly keep a significant proportion of minorities from voting. Few of such actions are closure or relocation of precincts in majority black areas, purge of minority voters from the voter lists, and elimination of Sunday early voting days which are preferred by black voters.

There have been attempts to restrict registration drives in Tennessee on the basis that many of the forms were incomplete.

There have also been laws enacted which needed people to participate regularly in elections to keep their voting rights and reply to a letter sent to their residence, which makes it difficult for Black and Hispanics due to obscure areas and the fact that they’re half as likely than other people to get a day off work to vote.

The governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, has been accused of using intimidation tactics to scare minority communities.

In Texas, the acting secretary of state said that he had a list of 95,000 non-citizens who were registered for voting in the state, and 58,000 of them had already cast a vote. That claim was proven untrue when it was noted that there were tens of thousands of people who were naturalized citizens.

In many states, felons are not allowed to vote even after they have served their sentence, and in Florida felons are allowed to vote only if they have paid an array of fees after serving their sentence, which sets an economic bar on their ability to vote.

This is evident that forces working against the equal rights for the minority communities are still working at full force to reverse the gains of civil right movements. The fight for the unhindered voting rights for the minority communities in the USA at the social, political, and judicial front will continue in the foreseeable future.

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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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