Mexico pushing for digital equality

Currently 70% of Mexican citizens don't have access to computers or the internet, but they're looking to close that gap.  Al Jazeera reports: 

Mexico wants to be recognised as a high-tech nation competing against countries like China and India with manufacturing jobs and foreign investment.

Mexico has signed more free-trade agreements than any other country in the world, and its economy is currently out-pacing Brazil, but there is one thing that could threaten its potential - that is the digital divide.

Around 70 percent of Mexicans have no access to either computers or the internet. As Mexico's economy roars towards the future, much of its success will depend on how many people get the skills necessary to participate in the boom.

There's a longer video on the article's page.

Woman assaulted in foreign country; assault publicized; fellow American disparages her to other Americans in the country

Amanda Erickson at Slate wrote an article about her assault in Azerbaijan, and an email she recieved afterwards.  Four Men Assaulted Me, but All I Could Think About Was a Woman's Nasty Email is a weird, slightly disturbing article.  And it's short, so check it out.

When people asked me about what happened, I was too shaken to offer much beyond my standard: “It was weird; I’m fine.” The only anecdote I did share—more times than I’d like to admit—was that in the days after the attack, a fellow American woman had circulated an email to other expats linking what I’d been wearing (listed in explicit detail) to what had happened.

As I tried to recover, the only thing I was coherently, consistently, ragefully angry about was this email. It was strange to me even then that this woman—not the boys who attacked us, the police who mistreated us, the officials who pushed rumors about what had happened—was the epicenter of my rage.

Bitcoins are apparently doing really well in Europe

Charles Arthur has written a post for the Guardian, titled Bitcoin currency value reaches record high of $147 before plunging down, in which he discusses the current success, and possible pitfalls, of the Bitcoin system.

 The price of each Bitcoin began rising abruptly on Tuesday 19 March, going from $47 then to $72 by 23 March. That matches the period of the Cyprus bailout almost exactly: its banks shut on Friday 15 March – and then the Cypriot government announced over the next two days that they required a bailout and that all savers' deposits would be tapped. Though that was later revoked, with only larger deposits being subject to a 10% requisition, savers in other countries with troubled finances had already acted.

Bitcoin's usefulness is its lack of the need for a central bank – and that the peer-to-peer network backing it allows transactions to continue as long as there are people willing to exchange the coins for something of value (or to donate them). For Europeans worried about the possibility that their banks might shut, trapping their savings inside, and not open until some amount had been skimmed from them, that makes Bitcoins suddenly attractive.

[...]

Some suggest that the rapid rise in Bitcoins' value may mean that it will become less useful as a currency, because it becomes more attractive to hoard it than to spend it – because exchanging it for any other item or service risks losing out on the rising value. That is "hyperdeflation",argues Joe Wiesenthal of Business Insider. It is the opposite of "hyperinflation", like that which hit the Weimar Republic in Germany after the first world war, or Zimbabwe more recently, where the currency becomes less and less valuable for transactions. By contrast, Bitcoin is experiencing a period when it is becoming less attractive to spend it – which will make it less useful as a currency for trading.

China's beautiful hypothetical(?) pebble towers

io9 has an article up about the result of a commission for a proposal to do with the city of Shenzhen -- the proposal is a set of six towers that resemble stacked glass pebbles, which would contain agricultural space all the way up.

One of the frustrating things about io9, eco-cities, and China is that it's really hard to tell which things are serious proposals, which things are already in production, and which things are cool concept sketches that aren't really anywhere near happening.

io9 writes,

The Chinese city of Shenzhen recently commissioned the French firm Vincent Callebaut Architects to come up with an innovative and sustainable building solution for the growing metropolis. The result is this: The Shenzhen Asian Cairn Farmscraper project, an initiative consisting of six mix-used towers structured like a pile of rocks. Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, the buildings will provide space for residents, offices, shops, recreation — and as the name would imply, its own food.

See what I mean? The picture up there looks like a sci fi illustration.  But the text says it will provide space... the result is... they've come up with a solution...

And I, personally, have no idea how to separate (a.) my belief in the plausibility and value of vertical farming and integrating nature with the cityscape, (b.) my awareness that China is pushing ahead in the cutting edge in a lot of ways America isn't, (c.) my awareness that China is big on censorship and propaganda, and this could all just be puffery, and (d.) my lifelong indoctrination into the implicit belief that all new buildings built from now until forever will be ugly concrete or glass modernist rectangles and everything else is just a silly joke.

Climate Change Denial: an actual conspiracy

One of the funny things about the climate change debate is that, whichever side you're on, you pretty much have to concede that there's a conspiracy.  Either the entire institution of science is cooperating with the liberals to tell a really scary story so that we can cut back on pollution, or high-status, high-influence people are deliberately stoking the fires of climate change denial without regard to the truth of their claims. I mean, obviously, it's the latter.  This article at the Guardian explores the network of donors and think-tanks that are specifically structured to provide resources to climate change deniers.

"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," [Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust, said]. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."

By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.

The Guardian shared this graph, using data from Greenpeace:

 

This shows that the overwhelming majority of the money is coming from Donors Trust -- although that's not to say the Koch Foundations and Exxon Mobil executives aren't involved there:

And it was all done with a guarantee of complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden.

"The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It's also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records.

"These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There is no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them," Davies said.

The Economist on webcomics

(via Boing Boing)

The typical format for a web comic was established a decade or more ago, says Zach Weiner, the writer of “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”, or “SMBC” (below). It has not changed much since. Most cartoonists update on a regular basis—daily, or every other day—and run in sequence. “I think that’s purely because that’s what the old newspapers used to do,” says Mr Weiner. But whereas many newspaper comics tried to appeal to as many people as possible, often with lame, fairly universal jokes, online cartoonists are free to be experimental, in both content and form.

The Economist has published an article about the rise of webcomics, and the transformative effect they have had on the medium of comics.  They call the article "Triumph of the nerds," but I'll give the (unnamed) writer the benefit of the doubt that she or he didn't have any control over the headline.

It features a history of comics in Western journalism, the particular qualities of webcomics as compared to traditional newspaper comics, and the ways in which webcomics are opening up a significant method of free speech in oppressive nations or cultures.

That last section contained the most content that I hadn't heard before -- the Western webcomics artists they discussed were people I'm already familiar with, but I'm only passingly familiar with comics as a form of serious political dialogue.

 In China cartoons distributed across weibo, a collection of Twitter-like social networks, have become a powerful way of criticising the communist regime. Pi San, a cartoonist and animator from Beijing, creates carefully coded cartoons as a way of subverting China’s strict web-censorship regime. His most popular character, Kuang Kuang, is a lazy schoolboy at a prison-like institution where dissent is routinely persecuted. The drawings, full of jagged lines and dark colours, are as edgy as the politics. One recent animation, poking fun at China’s censorship of references to Ai Weiwei, a controversial artist, was viewed by a million people within just a few hours of its being posted online.

I think this might be the cartoon they're referring to:

 

(via Wild Dollop Appeared)

Maple syrup heist gone bad

Sometimes, I'm really glad I follow the World News subreddit.  Today, it was incredibly worth it, because I got to read this headline, and the relevant story:

Thieves arrested for stealing 6 million pounds of maple syrup

This reads a bit like a bad Canada joke.  But no, it really happened.  Four thieves have been arrested, and there are five more suspects the police are currently pursuing.

Quebec police have arrest warrants for four other suspects, the report said.

"We know there are probably more people involved. It's a complex case," said Simon Trepanier, director of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

"At the beginning we knew it had been done by a very organised group because it’s impossible to steal that amount of maple syrup without being organised."

And the Business Standard, the paper reporting on this theft, also wants to clarify:

Maple syrup is often eaten with pancakes, waffles, French toast, or oatmeal and porridge. It is also used as an ingredient in baking, and as a sweetener or flavouring agent.

What were they going to do with it?  Were they going to sell it on the black market?  Is there a black market for syrup?

This is the best news story of the week.

Eff yeah France: free birth control for teenagers

Slate reports:

NPR reports that France is adopting a new regulation making contraception and contraception counseling free to girls 15 to 18, with an added provision that doctors must offer this care without notifying parents. Unlike here in the U.S., the free contraception is covered by the state and not a girl's insurance, giving her a further layer of privacy protections. The government hopes that by protecting young girls' privacy, it can increase contraception use and reduce the teen pregnancy rate.

So: Straightforward, almost boring health care policy story about a government taking sensible, cost-effective measures to curb a public health problem. But the story isn't really about health care policy—the underlying narrative here is that the French are yet again making American politicians look like a bunch of out of touch prudes. (Americans don't need the French to point this out: Just wander into an American abstinence-only classroom to hear sexually active kids being told that anything short of waiting the 15-plus years between puberty and the average age of first marriage to have sex is a ruinous choice that will end with the fornicator unable to feel love or dead from AIDS.)

Everybody sensible knows that American politics can't hold up its current bad decisions and wrong positions.  Eventually all the people who care about them will die, or America will slip below first-world status and we'll have a schism, or the NRA will shoot everyone.  Or we'll elect some sane people soon.  Don't want to rule that out.

It's nice to know that, while we flounder, the rest of the world continues to move forward.

Guns in the US

There was an ad before a YouTube video I watched earlier today,  unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to save the link -- I think it's safe to assume that they would have already paid for the advertising, that they didn't (a.) throw up the ad after hearing about the shooting this morning, or (b.) have the ability to pull it from airing for a respectful period of time.  My point isn't that the ad was in poor taste.  Just that it exists. It was an ad for a company in California, that sells kits to assemble guns at home.  The ad featured (in fact, entirely consisted of) a man explaining that it's not illegal to buy the parts of a gun, even if you can't buy the gun itself, how to machine those parts to create the gun they're parts of, and in what ways you can avoid registering the gun.  Apparently, registration has to happen at the point where the gun is sold, at least in California, so if you make it yourself, nobody has to know that you own it.

It's not hard to qualify for a gun in the United States.  But apparently, that's not enough -- there are also companies whose business is helping people who don't qualify get around the law with loopholes, so they can have guns without letting anyone know.

I'm angry.

I'm angry because I know how many times in the next few weeks I'm going to hear people say that this couldn't have been prevented.  And because I know I'm going to hear that, even if guns were substantially more controlled, this kid would have gotten them anyway.  Or that he would have done just as much damage if he had some other weapon.

After the Aurora, CO shooting, PolitiFact responded to Facebook claims that the United States has the most gun violence in the world:

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, several other countries had more gun homicides than the U.S., and perhaps 17 countries had a higher rate of gun homicides than the U.S. when population is factored in. However, when comparing the U.S. to its most direct equivalents -- affluent nations in Europe and Asia -- the U.S. has far more gun homicides than they do. We rated this one Half True.

Emphasis mine.

So, we have less violence than countries like Somalia.  We're outdone in gun violence per capita by the nation states who are constantly at war with themselves and each other.

And I'm angry that people will say "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."  First of all, because it reduces a complex legislative discussion to all-or-nothing, and secondly, because other developed countries clearly illustrate the reality that more gun control means less gun death.

The UK is widely acknowledged to have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.  Wikipedia has a list of world nations by firearm related death rate.  The United States is twelfth, at 9 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2008-2010).  The UK is sixty-fifth, at 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2009).  That is, eleventh from the bottom of the list.  That is, about 41 times more gun death in the US than the UK.

And to the point about people just finding other ways to kill people, the US rate of murders per 100,000 people is 4.2; the UK's is 1.2.  As for the discrepancy with the numbers, a lot of gun death in America is by suicide.  The American suicide rate per 100,000 annually is 12.  UK; 6.9.

Now, correlation does not prove causation.  But it offers a fracking big hint.  And this correlation absolutely disproves the premise that more gun laws = more gun violence.

Plenty of people will say that we shouldn't make this political.  That it's a tragedy.  That we have to wait a respectful amount of time before we start the argument about gun violence.  They said that after the Aurora shooting.  And the shooting before that.  And the shootings before that.

We didn't ever get around to changing the rules last time.  We won't, this time, either -- if we pretend that gun control legislation is somehow irreverent.  There may not be a sufficiently respectful amount of time after this shooting, before there's another one.

Since (and including) the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in America.  That's close to two and a half per year.

We're over the average so far in 2012, at 3, but there are less than 20 days left this year.  Is that a respectful amount of time?

Mustache transplants: a real thing

(via Boing Boing) Plastic surgeons in Turkey and Paris were both interviewed for an article on KTLA.com, Mustache Transplants on the Rise in the Middle East, to comment on their experience giving people extra hair on their upper lip.

"For some men who look young and junior, they think (a mustache) is a must to look senior ... more professional and wise," [Turkish plastic surgeon Selahattin Tuluany] said. "They think it is prestigious."

Pierre Bouhanna is a Paris-based surgeon who, for the past five years, has been performing increasing numbers of mustache implants. He says the majority of his patients come from the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey, with men traveling to France to have the surgery performed.

"My impression is more and more they want to establish their male aspect," he said. "They want a strong mustache."

Both surgeons use a technique -- follicular unit extraction -- in which groups of hairs are taken from areas of dense hair growth to be implanted in the mustache area.

I'm not totally sure how to process this information.  I mean, I'm already aware how profoundly weird plastic surgery is already[1. Which is not to say that I think there's necessarily something wrong with it, especially when helping a person bring their physical body closer to their self-identity.], but mustaches are a whole new entity of strange that I just wasn't expecting.

For one thing, I didn't know that hair could be transplanted like that.  But for another, I guess facial hair was fixed in my mind as one of those inalienable features of one's own body, a thing one couldn't manipulate in any particular direction.  It literally never occurred to me to think that medical science might some day be capable of altering one's ability to grow facial hair.

China's future garden cities

I often hear Americans whine about climate change, complaining that even if it is real, there's nothing we can do about it, because no matter how hard we try China will never stop polluting so it's all pointless. As a counterpoint, I present the Garden City:

In 1902, a self-taught urban planner named Ebenezer Howardpublished his utopian vision for "Garden Cities"--self-contained circular towns radiating from a central city, connected only by train. Neither town nor country, they were a dense, compact fusion of the two: suburbia without sprawl.

Although Garden Cities never really caught on in the West, the Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture has resurrected the idea with Chinese characteristics: a “prototype city” twice as populous and 20 times as dense, with a tower taller than the Empire State Building at its core. Working with one of China’s largest real estate developers, the firm aims to build them by the score.

The idea is that the small, dense cities, surrounded by "greenbelts," will be built, people will move to the cities, then, when they reach capacity, instead of sprawling out, with new, haphazard construction spreading across the landscape the way it does in American cities, a satellite city will be built nearby, connected only by high-speed rail, to start taking in the new population growth.

It's genius, and it's been around conceptually for over a hundred years.  China has plenty of problems, but it turns out destroying the world with pollution isn't one of them -- or, at least, they're doing more to make it not one of them than America is.  (Cough cough fetishistic individualism is going to kill us all cough cough)

We could use this kind of design in America.  I say we fence in New York, bulldoze the suburbs, and start building satellite cities until we've replaced the necessary housing.  (Not necessarily in that order.)

contraception = human right

First of all: What the alt-219x4, examiner.com?  Audio and video ad with a 5-second wait before I can close it on a text article?  AND ads that start playing sound if my mouse goes fracking near them?  I'm not even linking to your article.  I'm just going to talk about it. Now, to the point:

For the first time in history, the United Nations has acknowledged contraception as a human right.  That is, women have the right to be able to have sex and not get pregnant.  This declaration explicitly doesn't include abortion, but it's still a huge step forward.

Being able to plan whether or not you're going to be pregnant is a prerequisite for pursuing equality, and I think it's obvious that it needs to be protected on an international level.

This also raises one of my favorite philosophical conundrums, what constitutes a human right?

I think that human rights should be defined by the point of meeting between the best possible baseline of life for humans, and the technical ability of humankind to achieve that baseline through cooperation.  For a while now, contraception has been within that range, and it's good to see that the UN is stepping up to it.

A study on beliefs about climate change in Australia revealed some interesting trends: it seems like pretty much everyone underestimates the number of people who believe that climate change is happening, and everyone over-estimates the number of people who believe it isn't. John Timmer at ArsTechnica writes:

The false consensus effect became obvious when the researchers looked at what these people thought that everyone else believed. Here, the false consensus effect was obvious: every single group believed that their opinion represented the plurality view of the population. This was most dramatic among those who don't think that the climate is changing; even though they represent far less than 10 percent of the population, they believed that over 40 percent of Australians shared their views. Those who profess ignorance also believed they had lots of company, estimating that their view was shared by a quarter of the populace.

[...]

But there was also evidence of pluralistic ignorance. Every single group grossly overestimated the number of people who were unsure about climate change or convinced it wasn't occurring. Even those who were convinced that humans were changing the climate put 20 percent of Australians into each of these two groups.

The authors of the study suggest that this could be "a result of the media's tendency to always offer two opposing opinions, even on issues where one is a fringe belief."  (AT)  Hopefully, this research will give new tools to consciousness-raising efforts, so we can get closer to a consensus not just that climate change is happening, but that it's not hopeless to do something about it.

India's nuclear reactors

Thorium fangirls and fanboys, rejoice! (Myself included.)  India is building a Thorium Reactor, a type of nuclear reactor that runs on the common mineral Thorium rather than the rare, dangerous mineral, Uranium. Or, they're hoping to build a serious one within five years.  They're looking into it, quite seriously, because they don't have access to the necessary volume of Uranium to keep up with India's demand.  India is well known for its struggle powering the country, so they're in a great position to switch over to the much more abundant Thorium.

The video on Vice's article quotes Harold F. McFarlane, the former president of the American Nuclear Society:

[... I] expect that this would be the best facility in the world to obtain benchmark data for thorium-powered reactors and it can be a wonderful research tool for training new generations of scientists.

The reactor they've built produces essentially no power.  Instead, it is overwhelmingly well-designed to change the parameters to maximize the quantity and quality of the data they can produce.

From Vice's article:

Thorium is abundant in India (and pretty much everywhere else), and the plant, which itself will largely be used as an experimental facility, will generate 65% of its power from the famed radioactive chemical element. DT notes that the “first AHWR reactor – with thorium for fuel — will be used to test new technologies on safety as well as on thorium fuel cycle … It will be India’s first step to embrace thorium as the nuclear fuel of choice.”

If this reactor's tests are successful, the scientists are looking forward to providing India with sufficient energy for the next 100-250 years.  Here's the video:

I guess bacon isn't actually going away

(via Boing Boing) Slate.com reports that the rumored bacon shortage, coming out of the National Pig Association of the United Kingdom, is (at best) an exaggeration.  What's actually going to happen is prices for most or all meats are going to go up.

Hence, the “bacon shortage”—actually a global increase in meat prices as a slightly delayed downstream consequence of the increase in corn prices.

Such an increase will, of course, be unpleasant for households used to buying as much cheap bacon as their hearts desire, but there shouldn’t be any actual shortages preciselybecause prices will rise. Shortages arise when price controls lead to a situation in which consumers want to buy more of something than actually exists, which can lead to government rationing. In our economy there will still be plenty of bacon on the shelves, just priced high enough to deter some people from eating as much of it as usual.

[...]

So American consumers will be able to adjust to higher prices by shifting to burgers, poultry, and other kinds of pork products—possibly even including the stuff the Brits call “bacon”—rather than breaking into mass panic and bacon riots.

Frankly, I think this is a shame.  I also hope that it doesn't affect my earlier points, that global climate change is going to drive off the ability of Western society to keep farming animals on the irresponsibly massive scale we do. It does imply that people will eat less bacon, though.

Pork: the first unsustainable meat?

(via Reddit) The idea that the amount of meat humans produce being problematic isn't a new one.  It was one of my major motivations for becoming a weekday vegetarian -- around half of the plant food humans grow is used to feed livestock, which raises questions about the ethics of global food shortage.

Unfortunately, the majority of Westerners are unlikely to give up their bacon willingly.  Fortunately, it looks like the forces of economics might make them.  The NPA ("the voice of the British pig industry") report that, next year, a global shortage of pork and bacon is unavoidable.

The Huffington Post point out that increased droughts in North America and Russia caused grain crops to fail, increasing the price for grain produced.  They add, half of the country's counties have been labeled natural disaster areas by the Department of Agriculture.

I suppose it's a little grim of me to hope that this foreshadows a global-scale collapse of industrial livestock, forcing us onto more sustainable, less environmentally damaging food sources.  Then again, I can go grimmer:  If the world governments' responses to the failing Entertainment industry are representative of their future approach to other luxuries, America might face its ultimate collapse in a mad struggle to fund steak and bacon until they've sold off everything else and have to stop trying.

What I'd like to see, I think, is a polarization.  I'd like to see most people resign themselves to the reality that meat will have become a sometimes food, and either shift totally into vegetarianism or only occasionally seek out meat. Then, the super-macho pseudo-darwinist food chain fanboys that think the consumption of weaker animals is what defines humanity can all learn to hunt, and go live on the edge of the woods and get all their meals shooting things themselves.

Silencing wildlife

Bernie Krause, a musician and naturalist, has for the last 40 years been leaving microphones in various habitats, making recordings of the wildlife.  He's recently released a book, The Great Animal Orchestra, quoted in the Guardian:

"A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening," he writes in a new book, The Great Animal Orchestra. "Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.

"If you listen to a damaged soundscape … the community [of life] has been altered, and organisms have been destroyed, lost their habitat or been left to re-establish their places in the spectrum. As a result, some voices are gone entirely, while others aggressively compete to establish a new place in the increasingly disjointed chorus."

The article is fascinating, and sad.  I'm not a huge fan of nature, personally, but this approach -- showing, tangibly, the holes in the soundscape that human intervention leaves -- makes it easy to relate to preservation activists.  It's genuinely tragic to hear the world losing its songs.

I'd also like to add that this is yet another argument in favor of retreating, as a species, into massive supercities, and letting the rest of the world return to wilderness.

Irish Internet

You know those empty threats that thousands of Americans make around elections every four years?  "If [opposition candidate wins] I'm going to move to Canada."  I've said it.  I mean, it would be awesome to live somewhere with healthcare coverage that actually paid for the things it's supposed to cover. But this year, if I get frustrated enough to make that empty threat, I'm saying Ireland. Sure, they aren't going to want me there, and the American government probably wouldn't let me leave, and I don't have the money to move down the street, never mind across the ocean.  But if I could, Ireland is looking pretty attractive right now.

The reason is that the communications minister, Pat Rabbitte, recently announced that the Irish government plans to get everywhere in Ireland up to an internet speed of 30Mbps by 2016 -- in pursuit of getting urban centers up to 100.

America's internet, by comparison, is awful.  The FCC reports that 94% of the country has broadband, which it defines as 4Mbps, but 60% of that 94% only get 768kbps, which (I'm spelling it out because I had to look it up) is less than 1Mbps.

The article I got that information from is called "America's Internet Speed Problem:  Half The Country Can Barely Stream Netflix."  It shed new perspective on the article I read earlier today, "Potluck for the Eyeballs: Amazon's Streaming Service," which features this fact:

Still, this service has become hugely popular; Netflix’s army of 27 million streaming-video subscribers dwarfs its 9 million DVD-by-mail members. Incredibly, Netflix video streams make up one-quarter of all Internet data transmitted in North America.

(emphasis mine.)

No matter what happens, I'm unlikely to leave the country when the next presidential term begins.  But if I had the option, right now Ireland looks very good.

TPP

(via Boing Boing) It's weird that various international governments will try, over and over again, to pass the same or similar legislation, when it keeps failing due to massive public outcry.  I mean, it isn't hard to figure out why.  The entertainment industry is pushing for these irresponsible copyright laws to try to protect their business model, and they dump money into lawmakers' pockets to do whatever they can to stay afloat without having to change.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership on Intellectual Property, TPP, is a darker-and-edgier remake of SOPA and ACTA.  A copy of its current version was recently leaked to the public -- and there's a major warning sign, it had to be leaked.  These negotiations aren't happening in public, on the record.  They're not happening in public, on the record, because every time governments around the world have tried to pass these kinds of laws even remotely on-record, there have been massive protest movements to shut them down.

The EFF has a summary of the problems with TPP, they've also created an Infographic.  I want to talk about just some of those problems.

TPP would encourage or institute three-strikes laws for accusations of piracy.  If an ISP gets three infringement claims about a particular user, they'd have to cut them off the internet.  Notice I said claims, not convictions.  This isn't "You broke the law over and over again and now you're facing the consequences."  This is "Click your heels together and say someone's name three times and you can get them kicked off the internet."  It's like summoning Betelgeuse, or Bloody Mary.  It turns cutting people off from their access to the world network into a conjuring trick.

It risks shutting down sites like YouTube, and will certainly kill any attempts to start up new user-based websites:

Private ISP enforcement of copyright poses a serious threat to free speech on the Internet, because it makes offering open platforms for user-generated content economically untenable. For example, on an ad-supported site, the costs of reviewing each post will generally exceed the pennies of revenue one might get from ads. Even obvious fair uses could become too risky to host, leading to an Internet with only cautious and conservative content.

The TPP and laws like it also fundamentally undermine the idea of free speech on the internet, and since the internet is the main worldwide forum for communication, it means shutting down free speech for all views and parties except the ones that both the government and the corporations approve of.

We've had bad internet policy before.  America's DMCA has been on the books since 1998.  But that one, we can fairly characterize as a mistake.  The government tried something, and while we could reasonably have predicted its failure, we couldn't totally fault the people trying.  But now we know this stuff doesn't work, in theory or in practice.  SOPA, PIPA and ACTA weren't well-intentioned missteps, they were attacks on the internet, directed by a rightly terrified industry that can't adjust to the changing times.  TPP is another attack, and this time it's not just in opposition to the world community's interests, it's in direct contradiction of our explicitly stated preference.

A lot of activists, following the SOPA battle, warned that more of this was coming.  They were right -- it looks like the world's governments, insofar as they are influenced by corporations, are going to keep fighting until they win, until they unequivocally lose, or until the relevant corporations go belly-up.

There used to be Olympic art

Here's something we should bring back:

The Olympics used to have art.  Well, they still do.  Apparently, the Olympics have an art exhibition every year, which is all that remains of what was once the Olympic art categories of Architecture, Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture.

These events were ended because the artists were considered 'too professional' to compete, because apparently the Olympics is for amateurs.  You know, those amateurs who go to college on scholarships for their amateur sport, the ones who spend their whole lives training to be the best in the world at that one thing they're amateurs at.

There are several reasons why Olympic art events would be great:

  • It would broaden our understanding and appreciation of other cultures worldwide, promoting unity around the world.
  • It would help raise the public assumption of legitimacy of art, the way Olympic sport events raise the public assumption of the legitimacy of sports.
  • Can you imagine some of the awesome new events we could have?
    • The 24-hour comics event
    • The photoshop event
    • Literature categories for poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novellas
    • The architecture section could involve designing parts of the stadium

According to Wikipedia's article, attempts to reinstate the Art categories have been unsuccessful.  The Olympics (while distinctly European in a lot of ways) is one of the few attempts we have going for a world culture, and its rejection of art says unpleasant things about that world culture.