Govt. petition to recognize nonbinary genders on legal documents

Dear everyone who reads my blog: Please go and sign this petition.  It's a really tiny change that's a huge deal to a lot of people, and there's no good reason not to make the change. All the petition asks for is for US legal documents (like similar documents in Australia, New Zealand and the UK) add a check box for "None of the above" in the "Gender" question.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize "male" and "female" as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose, and the UK recognizes 'Mx' (pronounced "Mix") as a gender-neutral title.This petition asks the Obama administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary, and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

Here's the link.  Go sign it.  Now.

Public Knowledge on Free Access petition

I wrote earlier today that I wasn't sure about the nature of the recent White House directive requiring open access to research and development in government organizations.  I was iffy because my source was the White House (who will obviously be biased in their own favor) and Huffington Post (who are not notorious for thorough, accurate journalism). I'm a little less reserved in my optimism now, though, because PublicKnowledge.org has published a write-up about it.  It's a re-post of a Google Plus post by Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project.  In it, he talks about why the directive is good, and how it compares and contrasts to the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), which I didn't know was a thing.

Here's an excerpt:

The two approaches complement one another. FASTR does not make the White House directive unnecessary. FASTR may never be adopted. And if it is adopted, it will be after some time for study, education, lobbying, amendment, negotiation, and debate. By contrast, the White House directive takes effect today. The wheels are already turning. Compared to this executive action, FASTR is slower. (Thanks to Becky Cremona for this good line.)

Similarly, the White House directive does not make FASTR unnecessary. On the contrary, we need legislation to codify federal OA policies. The next president could rescind today's White House directive, but could not rescind legislation. (One lesson: Don't let up on efforts to persuade Congress to pass FASTR.)

So, great news.  Progress for science, freedom of information for America's citizens, and transparency always makes corruption harder, so steps like this almost inevitably improve government.

(Also: I learned about a new thing in Open Access terminology in this article.  Apparently there's two popular standards for access:  Green OA, which means organizations publish directly to their own open access archive; and Gold OA, which means organizations publish their research in Open Access journals.)

Petition granted to make taxpayer-funded research publicly available

According to the Huffington Post, the White House has just granted a petition to "require free access over the internet to scientific journal articles resulting from taxpayer-funded research."  Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, writes:

I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government.

This sounds super-exciting, but I have some questions:

  • Which agencies conduct research for less than $100 million?
  • What constitutes an R&D department?
  • To what extent does this apply to research already done, and currently boxed-up?

I'll be looking over the next few days for criticisms of this response, and I'll report back on whether this is the step forward it looks like, or if it's a shiny but ultimately empty gesture.

How to become president: a guide for sixteen-year-olds

Futility Closet, "an idler's miscellany of compendious amusements," quotes legal scholar Mark V. Tushnet explaining by way of example that there's no element of the constitution, no matter how apparently obvious, that does not require interpretation:

“Suppose that the guru’s supporters sincerely claim that their religion includes among its tenets a belief in reincarnation. Even on the narrowest definition of ‘age,’ they say, their guru is well over thirty-five years old even though the guru emerged from the latest womb sixteen years ago.

“Further, it would have been an establishment of religion for the President of the Senate to reject their definition of ‘age,’ and it would violate their rights under the free exercise clause … for the courts to overturn the decision made by the political branches.”

Institutionalized racism after World War II

Earlier this week on Tumblr, I saw a fantastic metaphorical quote about America's history of institutionalized racism: "If your ancestors cut down all the trees, it’s not your fault, but you still don’t live in a forest." (Sociology professor Pam Oliver.)  Today, on Reddit via DepthHub, I read a comment about a specific example of institutionalized racism I didn't know about:  Apparently, all those great benefits of the GI bill after World War II were only given to the white soldiers.

See after the end of World War II, American G.I.s came home to the Bill - they got access to subsidized loans for houses in the suburbs, and access to college educations. Provided they were white. Colored G.I.s didn't get these benefits. They were, for the most part, shunted aside into menial job training programs or denied benefits altogether. But let's stick with housing.

[...]

  1. Firstly, ethnic neighborhood divisions aren't "natural" in America. They aren't the result of people organically choosing to live next to those who look like them. Racial segregation in America's neighborhoods is the result of a process that discriminated against minorities. The reason minorities tend to live in certain areas is because they had nowhere else to go. This discrimination was designed to create a poor urban underclass of menial workers. Back then, minorities weren't seen as capable of doing much more than thoughtless, thankless jobs. This wasn't malice - governments felt like they were being actually helpful.
  2. Secondly it blows away the myth that the white middle class got their by the strength of their own bootstrapping. There was an incredible amount of government help that went to white Americans. This kind of affirmative action/government help went only to whites for decades. There have always been poor white folks in America and these New Deal and post-New Deal programs were actually designed with them in mind. But when these same programs are extended to minorities, America has a collective crisis of conscience about government handouts and starts wringing her hands about white poverty.

(Emphasis from the original comment)

The whole comment is awesome, and there are citations and additional reading at the bottom.

No state Pokemon

After the recent response to the We The People petition that the government build a Death Star ("The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon."), BetaBeat.com reports that the White House has pulled a petition to establish State Pokémon for every state, arguing that it violated the site's Terms of Participation. Jessica R

oy of BetaBeat writes,

Though there are some worthwhile petitions on We the People, many Internet users have glommed on to the tool as an act of trolling. [...]

To be fair, the White House hasn’t exactly discouraged this sort of behavior. Last week, the administration released a hilarious response to a petition to build a Death Star which, while absolutely delightful, was probably not the best use of government time?

I have to say, I strongly disagree.

Granted, it's not directly productive for the government to employ pop culture experts to craft amusing refusals to any joke that over 25,000 people want to hear.  But anything that gets people to the website gets people to an environment that might point them towards issues they care about, that do deserve the government's attention.

Furthermore, the Death Star response was interesting and informative, even if it was silly.  The administration took that opportunity to illustrate parallels between the fictional geekyness of Star Wars and the real-world geekyness of the International Space Station.  They also pointed out what kinds of issues the government cares about, and in what ways they categorize those issues, and what kinds of considerations go into making financial decisions on a governmental scale.  And it's a fair bet that that more people read the Death Star response than any other White House response, even for petitions they responded favorably to.

It's a way in, is what I'm saying.  And it's a cheap-as-hell one.  I consider it an outright poor decision to pull the Pokémon petition.  Instead, they could talk about the importance of national symbol making, the American entertainment industry versus that of our foreign allies, and the interrelationship between government and pop culture.

Or they could have assigned the states official Pokémon.  I mean, seriously, why not?

Conclusions of yesterday's Congress Drama

The House of Representatives eventually got around to passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  According to Wikipedia, as of right now it's not been signed:

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress on January 1, 2013, and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Late last night, I remembered hearing somewhere (regrettably I can't remember the source) that it was reasonable to expect that congress would pass the bill at the last second.  The reason is that while no congressperson had anything to gain by passing it (a recession isn't good for anyone, and everyone agreed that's what would happen), it was also true that no congressperson had anything to gain by compromising in advance.

In the video I posted by John Green yesterday, he points out that, due to gerrymandering, the only real competition most congresspeople face is from other members of their own party, who present themselves as more extreme, and therefore more loyal, in their adherence to party dogma.  So congresspeople who hope to keep their careers need to seem as uncooperative as possible, and congresspeople who also want to do their jobs have to walk a fine line, avoiding ever appearing to compromise while actually compromising as much as possible (compromise being the essential function of a smooth-running democratic process).

This all reminds me of the second paragraph of George Orwell's essay, Politics and the English Language:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

I quote it, even though it's not quite as much about politics as it is about language, because Orwell expresses very clearly the point: that the American people have become polarized and unsophisticated, and the United States government has become polarized and unsophisticated.  The reason this has happened is complicated, and it can't be pinned down to one or the other group failing in their responsibility -- and there are other players, as well, including the failure of the media, of the courts, of academics, and so on.

But a polarized populace elects a polarized government, and a polarized government encourages a polarized populace.

But, as Orwell says, the point is that the process is reversible.  It really, honestly, comes down to a number of bad habits, which, when applied every day by every citizen and every politician to every decision, creates and perpetuates a failing state.

I encourage you to read Politics and the English Language, because lazy and ambiguous use of language is one of the bad habits that politicians, journalists, and people are particularly prone.  Read it, and think about words like terrorism, socialism, liberal, conservative, corrupt, and so on.  Here's the link again

Some of the other bad habits:  binary thinking, over-simplified economics, failure to engage with local politics, and  a fatalistic attitude towards large problems.  The biggest bad habit, though, is the attitude that politeness and compromise are forms of hypocrisy, which leads us to choose, frequently, worst-case scenarios over bad-but-not-awful scenarios.  I often see people argue in against any given system because they call it inefficient, or insufficient, or impractical.  Those criticisms are usually true.  But when the alternative is something even more inefficient, insufficient, and impractical, those criticisms are also entirely missing the point.

Hopefully, the next batch of congress we get will be a lot better at doing their goddamn jobs, but we can help by making an effort to be more reasonable and less extremist.

It would also really help if we could redraw the district borders for non-political divisions.

So I guess we're all doomed

In all the celebration last night, I forgot that one of the major features of the transition between 2012 and 2013 was the resolution -- or not -- of the issue of the Fiscal Cliff.  Fortunately, John Green reminded me in his Vlogbrothers video today.  The video was, tellingly, titled, Why Does Congress Suck?

I've been trying, for the last half hour or so, to figure out what's going on with our government right now.  It appears, according to an article on Politico updated at 7:08pm today, that the House of Representatives has failed to vote in the deal that the Senate passed last night, 89-8, meaning that -- right now -- we've gone over the fiscal cliff.

Er, update (not that I posted this before getting here) -- as of 7:37, according to businessinsider.com, the House Republicans have proposed an amendment, but they don't think they have the votes to get it through, and "Republican members are now saying that it looks like the ... bill will pass on an up-down vote."

I'll be keeping this window open tonight, because it's a live-blog, so I will hopefully get better information here than I'm getting frantically googling.  I'm going to post this now, but will continue updating.

UPDATE 7:53 in a super-exciting turn of events, Businessinsider quotes a GOP House aide arguing that the Senate bill will be passed:  "Members seem tired and ready to go home."  I know this isn't serious commentary, but I'm annoyed and feel like being pissy:  does it bother anyone else that the (at least short-term) fate of this country is hinging on a bunch of old people feeling tired?  I think the federal government should be required to stay up late sometimes if it's necessary to stop America from collapsing into a new depression.

UPDATE 8:03 I have a tweet!  This means I get to try out embedding a tweet!  It's via Dana Bash, who is a CNN reporter.  So it's pretty credible, I guess.

https://twitter.com/DanaBashCNN/status/286275958120529920

UPDATE 8:13 Loads of people are complaining about the fact that Hollywood gets tax incentives on Twitter.  I am frustrated by this.  Not that the government doesn't have a problematic relationship with Hollywood, but governments subsidize industries.  They do that.  All the time.  Subsidizing American entertainment means we get to sell our entertainment overseas, we get to influence the worldwide narrative, we get to pump ourselves up as a destination for tourism and economics.  Like most other industries, a healthy entertainment industry is good for America, so it makes sense to stabilize it against the clumsiness of the free market.

UPDATE 8:27 I've seen this link about 20 times on Twitter in the last half hour, so I'm going to talk about it.

STUNNING GRAPHIC SHOWS POSSIBLE REASON THE HOUSE GOP IS BALKING AT THE SENATE'S FISCAL CLIFF BILL

Did you look?  Pictured is a comically oversized graph showing the massive difference between the tax increases that the current bill suggests and the 2011 budget deficit.

a. The 2011 budget deficit isn't on the table.  It will never be on the table.  There is no way to negotiate out the current deal in such a way as will change how much money we spent in 2011.  Maybe it had something to do with the amount it went down this past year.  Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that there are spending cuts in the deal, too, meaning the deficit will be going down again.

b. I've mentioned this before, I think, but it's okay for a government to have a deficit.  It's practically required during a recession, because we need money to stimulate our economy, and (by definition) we don't have a lot of money.  Borrowing money is how you solve those problems.  Furthermore, most of our deficit is money borrowed from the American people, or other parts of the US government -- it's not the kind of debt you tend to think 'debt' means.  Finally, having loads of debt is, in my opinion, a good thing -- especially since other countries also owe us loads of money.  Being financially entangled puts us in the fantastic position of making it really inconvenient to go to war.  The more our economies are intertwined around the world, the more we have to get along with each other.  If you think that's bad, I think you are centuries out of date, politically.

UPDATE 5:34 businessinsider -- the vote is expected for around 9:30.

The minutiae of politics

The first time that we set out to collect data on this and associate it with political or moral beliefs, we found a general pattern -- this is with the psychologists Yoel Inbar and Paul Bloom -- that in fact, across three studies we kept finding that people who reported that they were easily disgusted also reported that they were more politically conservative. Another way to say this, though, is that people who are very liberal are very hard to disgust.

It's getting very close to the election, and I wanted to do a post about politics.  I had a long conversation with my father earlier about immigration and poverty (which was fun...) and I've been trying to stay on top of the issues, but all that I keep coming back to focusing on is how ridiculously big a deal an election is, and how trivial we make it.

This popped up on Reddit earlier today:

The TED talk above is about how stuff like being near a sign reminding you to wash your hands makes you answer questions more conservatively.  I wonder if that means a biological outbreak is good for a conservative candidate?  Did swine flu sway an election?

Not that I can come up with anything better.  I often paraphrase Winston Churchill (who was himself paraphrasing someone or other): Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the other ones we've tried.  I'm terrified of the consequences of next Tuesday's election, because it seems ridiculous to put the future of the country in the hands of the people of that country.  I'm just more terrified of everyone else we could give the power of that decision.

Here's an idea we could try:  Let's swap it around -- rather than Americans electing the American president, everyone in every other country should vote for it.  Same standards: has to be an American, at least 35, and so on and so on, but everybody in a Democratic nation gets to vote for America's new president, except Americans.

We could do the same thing in reverse:  all the other countries' presidents and prime ministers could be elected by the rest of the world around them.  It would force everyone to start paying attention to world politics, and being nicer to other countries -- I think.  If your only way to improve your own country is by putting other countries in a position to do better by yours, I imagine a lot of people would do a better job of looking out for the rest of the world.

But maybe that would backfire horribly.

Oh well.  I'm voting for Obama on Tuesday, and I hope everyone reading this does, too.  Or at least votes.  Please at least get out and vote, if you're allowed.  There's nothing better to do.

SourceFed's awesome party histories

Today, SourceFed posted a video of Elliott Morgan explaining the history of the Democratic Party.  It's a tie-in with their live coverage of the Democratic National Convention, coming this week, and with their previous video on the history of the Republican Party, which coincided with their coverage of the Republican National Convention. Here's the Democratic Party history:

And here's the Republican Party history:

These videos have a lot of the same kinds of problems that show up in most of America's political discourse (and political discourse everywhere, forever, to varying degrees) including, especially, equivocation and vague terms.

Equivocation is hard to deal with in political discourse, and in a pair of three minute videos it's hard to fault them -- though, I don't find it too difficult to imagine them fitting in a three second "Click here to explore this issue further" link.  Basically, while it's true to say "Both parties have corruption," and "Both parties contain good and bad people," it's an incomplete characterization, and while it dodges the "My party is fantastic and your party is evil" error, it leads straight into the "All the parties are the same, why even bother?"  error.

Vague terms include "Democrats believe in a progressive government," and a dichotomy that showed up in both videos: Ethics vs. Morals.  Democrats, apparently, support ethics, not morals, and Republicans support morals, not ethics.

Those terms have some weak connotations setting them apart, but they don't really mean much.  In most cases, they can basically be used interchangeably, and they're not particularly useful for parsing out the difference between two sets of views.

I'm not sure, exactly, what Elliott was getting at when he said that Republicans believe in morals and Democrats believe in Ethics.  But as best I can guess, that characterization is going to lead less towards a reasoned understanding, and more towards a bias based on the individual listener's gut sense of what those words might imply.

Still, these videos' coverage is better than pretty much any other media I've seen on the topic.

Displays more 3D than ever before

It feels a little weird that I'm the one reporting this, not Mike, but the US military is basically inventing the 3D technology from Star Wars.  Their goal is to create 3D displays that can be viewed by any number of people, from any angle, without any special eyewear.

That SourceFed video, embedded above, is packed with more information about 3D technology than I knew could exist.  Apparently, a system of laser imaging called LIDAR already produces 3D image files that could be projected with this kind of technology.  There's even a name for the resolution of a 3D image, "Hogels," analogous to 2D pixels.

I really shouldn't be this surprised that there's such a well-developed language around 3D display technology.  But, to be honest, I didn't think this was going to happen.  Real 3D displays is one of the Sci Fi staples that I sort of assumed were always going to be Sci Fi.

The weird relationship between advancing technology and the realm of science fantasy is just going to get weirder and weirder, isn't it?  I think we might be pretty much past the point, as a species, where we can reliably say that anything outright proven impossible, isn't possible.  And, even that impossible stuff, we might figure out a work-around.

Internet tax

(Via SlashDot) The FCC is pursuing the possibility of taxing internet broadband access.  The reason for doing this would be to put resources in the hands of the Connect America Fund, whose goal is to give as much of America access to broadband internet as possible.

Prominent tech companies, including Google, support the move, and I can't entirely say that I'm opposed to it.  In principle.

I definitely think that American tax dollars should go towards ensuring that as much of America as possible is connected to the best internet access we can give them.  As far as I'm concerned, internet access should be considered a human right.

On the other hand, taxing broadband access is a regressive tax -- it would cut deeper into the budgets of poor people than rich people, if the ISPs pass the cost on to the consumer.  Which they would.  Obviously.

Much like there ought to be for health insurance, I think there should be a national option for internet access.  It should provide good internet, and it should not presume to extract full cost value for every customer.  It might turn a profit in a major city, but it would still have to run a line out to the middle of the American Wilderness if someone out there has a cabin they want wired.

Right now, the FCC is just talking about this tax, they haven't actually put in a formal proposal.  If they do, they still have to deal with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which was passed in 1998 and requires that the government not tax the internet.  According to the FCC, this wouldn't be a tax -- it would be a fee, that the ISPs could use to justify price increases.  Which they would.  Obviously.

I'm not totally certain how I feel about all this.  The FCC isn't the first group I want to get in the corner for, and I don't want to support a new regressive tax.  But Americans need better internet access.

Car Troubles Redux

Previously:

Despite living in a town with a high enough population to justify public transportation, there are no such options — unless I want to get into Boston, in which case the nearest form of public transportation is a bus that’s a twenty minute drive from my house.  I could be angry at the hyper-conservative segment of US politics that resists public transportation because “America ain’t Europe, Dammit.”

Today, I finally got confirmation that, yes, the car is completely busted.  I don't have anything remotely resembling the amount of money necessary to get a new car.  So, I'm going to have to drop my classes this semester.  I have no idea how I'm going to look for a job, so I'm probably not going to get the money.

Sometimes it feels like I ought to be able to see the future.  It's what happens when something I took for granted goes away -- like a car.  I think it's because I had previously been able to plan, and what I'm seeing in that brainspace now is a big 404 where there used to be content.

I'm still really, really pissed that there isn't public transportation around here.  I still hate that I need a car around here.

Terrible American Laws

(via Upworthy) I've long been aware that a lot of our governmental protocols in the United States are based on measurements like how long it takes to get from the farthest colony to the Capitol by horse.  And I've long felt that these measurements are incredibly stupid.

Here's a great example of that stupidity, in the form of a TED Ed talk:

This is the kind of thing that pisses me off about the American legal system.  We've got hundreds of years of crap clogging our legal arteries, and we still expect the country to run like a well-oiled machine.

I advocate scrapping the majority of existing US laws, and coming up with new replacements for each of them as the needs arise -- but actually replacing them, not just repealing all the laws and assuming everything will work out, the way the Tea Party wants to do.

We should do this every fifty years, or as needed.  If the singularity hits, we might have to do it every two months.

DNS Malware -- Potential Internet Mini-Apocalypse

[important]I'm pretty sure this is a big deal.[/important]

(via Mental_Floss)

An Estonian band of hackers have spread a virus which, according to the FBI, has infected more than 277,000 computers worldwide.  There are apparently about 64,000 computers still infected in the US.  Computers still infected at 12:01am EDT, July 9, will lose their ability to go online.

Once again, for emphasis:  Computers still infected at 12:01am EDT, July 9 (Next MONDAY) will LOSE THEIR ABILITY TO GO ONLINE.

According to AP,

The problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of more than 570,000 infected computers around the world. When the FBI went in to take down the hackers late last year, agents realized that if they turned off the malicious servers being used to control the computers, all the victims would lose their Internet service.

In a highly unusual move, the FBI set up a safety net. They brought in a private company to install two clean Internet servers to take over for the malicious servers so that people would not suddenly lose their Internet.

Social networks have apparently been reaching out to their users, to alert them if their computer is infected.  and there are websites you can go to to confirm that your computer is clean.  Google and Facebook should let you know, but if they didn't, you might still want to check out DCWG, the company that is running the safety net.

If you're in the US, this link will take you to a check-up site.

Vacuum Travel. Eff. Yeah.

I'm glad I started following SourceFed on YouTube.  In one of today's videos, they explore the proposal and possibility of Pneumatic tubes to build super-fast trains connecting distant locations.  Like, NY to LA in 45 min. The trains would travel at over 4000 mph, and would be an awesome alternative to plane travel.  I mean, imagine building an above-ground vactrain, and putting solar panels along the top of the tube all the way across to power it.

I want this to happen.  I want this to happen to the point that I would consider voting for Romney if a promise to build this within four years was part of his stated policy.  (And congress explicitly had his back.)

My thoughts on CISPA

Here's another article on the problems with CISPA (Uproxx):

It’s called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, although it’s not actually a law, but rather something tacked onto a security law passed in the ’40s. It’s designed to deal with what amounts to the new Cold War: American, Chinese, and Russian security agencies are currently busy hacking the crap out of each other, so this law is designed to make it easier to track and penalize, say, somebody stealing the plans of a new widget.

The big problem is, the way the bill is written, it supersedes all other wiretapping and intelligence laws, although a corporation does not have to comply with any request under the current language.

And another (Huffington Post):

CISPA demolishes existing barriers between the government and the private sector -- and between government agencies, including the military -- that restrict casual data sharing. It would effectively allow information about Americans' use of the Internet to slosh back and forth uninhibited.

So, I'm officially worried.*

I wrote a while ago that privacy is an important and complicated ethical issue, and in that article I tried to stress that there are a variety of considerations in the issue of privacy that pull my conclusion from both directions, and that you can't simplify the debate down to a few slogans without fatally oversimplifying it.

And I do think that, eventually, we're going to need some smart, complicated legislation that deals with the issue of gathering information on the internet in a rational, considered way that obligates companies to protect the privacy of their customers while still allowing the government to guard against the real and serious risks of cyber terrorism**.

The thing I don't like about CISPA is the point that the Huffington Post article makes -- it would allow a lot of inter-organization information sharing.  And I'm against that, especially when it comes to the government.

I think branches of the government, and organizations that deal with the care or wellbeing of human beings (which I think the internet does) should be intrinsically separate, and only overlap in extreme circumstances.

For example, I don't want people to do heroin.  But I also don't want people overdosing on heroin to refuse to go to the hospital, because they know there'll be handcuffs waiting for them on the other side.  And I don't want people who use heroin to refuse to go to the hospital for other illnesses (which, I cannot stress this enough, they might be spreading†) because if a blood test comes back with heroin in it they'll go to jail.

People sometimes need to talk about things that are illegal.  The world is messy and unpleasant, and it doesn't get better by pretending it isn't.  It gets better by embracing those complexities and offering compassion.

We need legislation to protect us from the dangers of the internet.  But CISPA doesn't sound like that.  It sounds like another reactionary, SOPA-like bill designed to make old people feel better about the monster behind their monitor.  It seems like it has less teeth than SOPA did, but it's not good enough.

And if we keep pushing, maybe three or four bills down the road, we'll get some legislation that doesn't suck.

*Yes, there's an 'official' and 'non-official' worrying category set.  Formal worrying requires that the concern pass an advisory board, that I've slept on it, used the bathroom before considering it and properly hydrated.  I can't become formally worried if I've had a headache for the entire space of time I've been considering it, and I can't become formally worried if my data set contains only secondhand reports from people I personally know.

**Cyber Terrorism (n.) The scary internet monsters coming to take away your children and replace them with sophisticated Furbies. Seriously, though.  I accept that cyber terrorists are a real thing, and I would also like to stress that they are, apart from that, used as a scare tactic to push irresponsible, reactionary legislation -- just like real terrorists.

†One of my firmest opinions about drug policy is that it's not okay to reject individuals' health on the basis that they deserve it for doing drugs.  Healthcare doesn't happen in a bubble, and the less institutional help addicts have access to, the more the consequences of their decline spill over into the lives of everyone else.  As it happens, I have a lot of sympathy for addicts.  But even if you don't, it's counterproductive not to try to help them -- not out of concern for the addicts themselves, but for the benefit of everyone else who has to live in a society where addiction is a thing that sometimes happens.

 

CISPA: Apparently the new SOPA

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act is, according to a lot of the sources I follow for news, the new SOPA.  And to be honest, I haven't had the energy to get informed about it yet. Right now, as I write this, I'm watching SourceFed's video on it (link here, embed below).

The government seems to have some rationales for it, but they had their rationales for SOPA, too.

I know I need to learn about this.  It's my responsibility as a citizen of the internet.  (Netizen? World Wide Webbite?  Blaggodude?)  But I just haven't had the energy to bother.

And that makes me worry a little.  Will a persistent effort to create net-regulating bill just wear down on the base of people otherwise willing to stand up to it?  Or have I just been having a bad couple weeks for research?

I'll blog more about this tomorrow, at which point I will try to have become a little more informed.  For now, if any of my readers know of good sources about it, let me know.

Canada got rid of their penny

CGPGrey has already done a great video about this, so I'm not going to try to put it together as a news story.  Here's his video:

I am in favor of this, and hope it happens in America.  But I honestly don't think it's very likely, because every time I bring the issue up with people not already familiar with it, I get the same, boring, paranoid response:  it'll cause prices to go up.

Maybe that was the case in Canada.  Maybe there are a lot of paranoid Canadians freaking out about the government stealing their money... in the future... for other people.

But in America, it seems like a lot of people hold the private belief that they are secretly economists.  (I've noticed a lot of Americans seem to also believe they're doctors, comedians, singers, carpenters and foreign policy experts.)

I think that if America hasn't gotten rid of their penny by the time I'm ready to have kids, I'll try to move and raise them somewhere that has.

The concept of money

I'm not a communist.  I swear. I like money, as a concept.  I think it's useful.  I even think the free market is good for a lot of things. I am technically a socialist, in that I think there are a lot of things for which the free market is a very bad solution.  But that's not what I want to talk about.

I think that as an abstract premise, money is quite a good thing.  But I also think that the concept of money can be corrupted, and that's what we see a lot of in the version of capitalism we have in the United States.

I saw a commercial a lot like this one earlier tonight.  (I couldn't find a clip of the actual commercial I saw.)  It's for a gas card, and points out all the money you can save if you just spend enough at the right places.

It's common wisdom that "You can't get something for nothing."  The philosophical validity of that claim aside,* in our culture we're encouraged to try to get things for nothing.  The atmosphere presented by stock markets, gas cards, rewards programs, IRAs, and mortgages pressures us towards a view of money that suggests we should be trying to game the system -- that financial success means being good enough at 'money' to avoid providing full value in money for the goods or services we're asking for.

The fact that this is basically a description of the simplified version of an "economic bubble" we heard so much about in the 2000's is troubling.  But that said, this all does work out quite well for people who really are good at money.  There's a mind-bogglingly elaborate system that invites you to try to exploit it, and the more complicated a system, the easier it is to find an exploit.

For the rest of us, though, what's left is a culture that encourages us not to develop a coherent philosophy of money that suits our needs.  We're expected to want more than we can afford, and told that if we work hard enough in the right ways, we really can turn our low-income jobs into high-income lifestyles.

I don't think this is the only problem with the American economy or with American culture, but it's a significant one.  It's the same sort of problem as the cult-of-thin beauty expectations that encourage us all to look photoshopped.

I don't have an easy answer for this problem.  I don't have any sort of answer at all, really.  But, like I've been saying a lot lately, I think a big part of the solution to the problem is just understanding.  Exploring the issues with our systems and understanding that they're not the only option is ultimately all it really takes to make change happen.  Spreading that understanding is a whole task unto itself, and ultimately it's going to be someone's job to act on that understanding.  But that doesn't mean that, for the individual, understanding isn't something huge you can do.

Personally, I'm going to be trying to develop a more coherent philosophy of money.  Best wishes, talk to you tomorrow.

*I think that it's not so much a right or wrong statement as it is a close-to-useless, non-communicative statement that contains too much ill-defined presumption to convey a coherent point.