It's spreading: Google Fiber is coming to Austin, TX

City officials in Austin, TX have announced that they are the next city getting Google Fiber.  I am currently more jealous than I have ever been of Texas.

Google Fiber is a new broadband Internet network that is 100 times faster than anything available in Austin right now.

“You could upload your entire DVD collection in less than a day,” said local tech blogger Stacey Higginbotham. “It's super fast internet, and it's cheap."

Apparently Google hasn't made their official announcement yet, they're expected to do so on Tuesday, but the media buzz surrounding it makes it all sound pretty definite.  Austin, one of the few inland, southern cities I might be willing to ever live, has suddenly become a lot more attractive.

Gun owner on gun control

Former(?) critic of gun control legislation James McMurtry discusses, in his article More Than Just A Tall Order, some ways in which the Sandy Hook shooting has made him rethink some of his former positions.  I like a lot of what he says, and want to post some of what I think are the more important bits, here.

Another aspect of the Clinton Crime Bill that I used to think was silly was its restriction of a firearm's magazine capacity to ten rounds. I didn't see what good such a restriction would do. If we assume, however dubiously, that the shooter abides by the law and only carries legal magazines of the proper capacity, what's to stop him from carrying a satchel full of extra mags with which he can shoot all day? Nothing's to stop him, of course, but he will have to re-load more often, and here is where that silly old gun bill might finally have a practical application due to the evolution of police tactics. [...] If a school shooter is not extremely well trained and has to change magazines under duress, he's out of the fight for a second or two, and the highway patrolman, or the deputy sheriff, or the city constable who just happened to be there will have a second or two to fire at the shooter without risking return fire. If I were any kind of a cop in that situation, I would sure appreciate those seconds. The tragedy would still have happened, but the body count might be lower.

It's nice to see a gun owner admit that small steps that might help a little bit are important, that when it comes to killing, less killing is a change worth making -- it doesn't have to be all the killing or none of it.

If we are to call ourselves a society, we will have to behave as a society. We will have to pass laws and make deals, and none of us are likely to be satisfied at the end of the day. This is a symptom of a condition known as Democracy.

I wish that this were a bigger part of the national dialogue.  Nobody getting their whole way is a lot better than the inability to deal with anything at all that the US currently has to settle for.

The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don't know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we're fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated, as do our individual angers.

I don't like the "It's a mental health issue" argument.  I mean, I'm not unhappy about the added attention, funding, and efforts at de-stigmatization that come out of these debates.  But I don't think it's going to help much with the US's gun violence problem -- because our gun violence problem isn't about individual mental illness, it's about an attitude at the societal level, that when your back is against the wall, killing a whole bunch of people is a good response.

I disagree with McMurtry that America's anger comes from rapid change.  I think it's the same cultural anger that fueled the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, McCarthyism, religious radicals, Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the NRA.  It's anger fueled by entitlement -- the idea that, in America, a small group of people with strong feelings about something are allowed to do whatever they want to try and get their way.

I'm not sure anything good has ever come of that anger.  But it's part of our national character, and I'm not sure that America can change that while staying America.  We'd need a new set of myths, a more civil origin story, a less hyperbolically defensive constitution.  And maybe we'll get the chance -- maybe the gridlock in Congress will push America off the cliff, and out of necessity we'll have to accept the aid of the rest of the industrialized world to get us back on our feet.  Maybe then we could have a cultural narrative of humility and gratitude.

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?

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.

What the hell, Mississippi

(via ThinkProgress) I'm glad that there's news coming out of Mississippi, because it's one of like five states whose names I can spell correctly the first time.  (Connecticut has 3 C's in it.  Seriously.)  I am not, however, at all happy about what the news is.

Mississippi schools are sending students -- mostly who are black or disabled -- to prison. These kids aren't selling heroin or stealing chemicals from the science classroom.  It's not even stuff like getting in fights.  ABC News writes:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has released investigative findings determining that children in predominantly black Meridian, Miss. have had their constitutional rights violated by the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services in what civil rights investigators allege is a school to prison pipeline with even dress code violations resulting in incarceration.

[...]

“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.

The worst part is, this isn't a new thing.  The ACLU has a name for it -- it's called "The school-to-prison pipeline," and they say it's a national trend.

"Zero-tolerance" policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools' overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.

At about 1% of the population, America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Imprisoned Americans are about a quarter of the imprisoned people on Earth -- and some of them are kids, in jail for breaking the dress code.

So, y'know, Live Free or Die and stuff.

SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith taking another shot at the internet

(via Boing Boing) Unlike SOPA, though, this one's a cheap shot.  Part of SOPA's functionality was to appoint "IP attaches," government officers whose job would be to pressure other countries into adopting SOPA-like regulations.  Smith's new bill, called The Intellectual Property Attache Act, seeks to replicate that function on its own.  At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow points out that this method has been used before, in a long-game of changing US regulations:

The new bill, [...] will create a class of political officers who will see to it that all US trade negotiations and discussions advance SOPA-like provisions in foreign law. And as we've seen with other trade deals, one way to get unpopular measures into US law is to impose them on other countries, then agree to "harmonize" at home. (Emphasis mine)

 TechDirt.com points out,

The specifics of the bill appear to go further than the version in SOPA. It is clear that the bill itself is framed from the maximalist perspective. There is nothing about the rights of the public, or ofother countries to design their own IP regimes. It notes that the role of the attaches is:

to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees;

It looks very much like Doctorow and Clay Shirky were right, that SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, beyond not being the first, will certainly not be the last attacks on intellectual freedom on the internet.