October 21, 2016

I think it’s time to nationalize the Net

I live in Deep East Texas, a densely rural land that may have the charm of smaller towns for some, but also lacks some amenities levels.

Among them, and arguably not an amenity, but a “need,” is reliable, quality Internet service.

So, the two most recent, frustrating major bouts with Internet access in this area — with smaller mini-bouts in between — has me saying, at a minimum, “We should be seriously considering it,” on the issue I mention in the header.

I had once thought that simply regulating the Internet as a common-carrier type utility would be enough, but now, I don’t think so

Yes, I hear cries of “socialism” in the background from not just conservatives but those not that liberal.

And, you know what? From the early days of our nation, we had socialism — as in corporate socialism government of a business, and not welfare-state benefits socialism — at the heart of the government.

Specifically, before 1971, we did not have a quasi-government, quasi-private United States Postal Service.

We had the United States Post Office. It was a Cabinet agency, with the Postmaster General sitting there with the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary and others.

Indeed, the Constitution even expressly says that insuring delivery of the mails is a requirement of our government.

Specifically, Article 1, Section 8, says: “The Congress shall have Power … To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” And, for nearly 200 years, that was interpreted as the government directly doing all of this through a government-owned post office.

And, to further improve on that, late in the 1800s, Congress adopted Rural Free Delivery, which means that the price of a letter to a county road address is the same as one to Dallas or Houston. Before then, people living on farms or otherwise isolated either had to go to a distant (in pre-automobile days) post office, or else pay a private carrier to bring the mail the rest of the way to them.

Anyway, per that Constitutional requirement? I think a reasonably broad, but certainly not overly broad, interpretation of the mandate for our government to insure delivery of the mail, or more specifically, to “establish … post Roads,” one could argue that the Internet is today’s functional equivalent of the mail — and, the delivery thereof.
Nationalizing the Internet would solve several issues.

First, with an Internet equivalent of Rural Free Delivery, the backwoods of America wouldn’t be poor stepsisters to the big cities in terms of online communication. That applies to both Internet speed and, to get back to the starting point, Internet service and reliability.

Related to that, it might mean that the U.S. has top Internet speeds that at least approach those of other developed nations. (Right now, we don’t, in case you’re wondering.)

Second, this would work around the whole issue of “Net neutrality.” Folks like AT&T would like to put the squeeze on third-party content providers, like, say, Netflix, and make you pay more to get your Netflix movie faster.

Third, with a non-capitalistic focus on short-term profit, the Internet could be really addressed as a long-term infrastructure issue.

Some people might offer counterargument.

The first might be fears of government censorship, government snooping, or other similar problems.

On paper, that sounds like a legitimate worry. In reality?           

Either as the fully public USPO before 1971, or the public/private USPS, this hasn’t happened to the U.S. Mail in any great degree. Second, courtesy of the Patriot Act, if not censoring, the government may be spying on your email and other Internet use as delivered by private businesses even as we speak. (And, no, that’s most definitely not an argument for keeping the Patriot Act around.)

So, that one’s not a game-killer for me.

Others may point to electric deregulation.

First, I’m not sure electric dereg is all its cracked up to be. Second, electric dereg hasn’t addressed rural-urban differences in electric reliability. (Nobody’s paying to bury electric lines underground, safe from wind and ice storms, out in small-town America, for the most part.)

But, I actually have a better idea.

Let’s selectively nationalize the Internet, in a way that addresses most current service concerns, but government control worries at the same time.

Washington takes over the infrastructure. The flip side is that ALL companies get to ride down what used to be AT&T’s wires here, or somebody else’s elsewhere.

One caveat would exist — all Internet companies would have to offer some sort of good-faith equivalent of Rural Free Delivery in the old mail.

But, this system would force that, anyway. This would be what electric dereg was supposed to do, and really didn’t. If A&T had to compete with Verizon, and Suddenlink, and maybe even out of nowhere, Comcast, they’d all reduce prices closer to hose of other modern developed nations. (The feds would have to enforce antitrust legislation on mergers, of course.)

No censorship by the private companies.

Adequate federal regulation (itself perhaps a bit of a pipe dream) addresses the rest of the issues.

A lot more about Net Neutrality, monopoly, quasi-monopoly, privacy and related issues are at this longform piece. This issue is yet another reason we need to look at the idea of at least partial nationalization, I think.

October 20, 2016

You're far more than your genes

Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes workHerding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes work by Kat Arney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throw out what you thought you knew about genes, DNA, etc.

Several great things here.

First, the book explains in good detail things I've already known about how genes can code for proteins for various things, whether in combination with one, two or ten or more other genes.

Second, it explains in good detail what I've known about non-gene "control switch" areas of DNA, including how they usually act more like dimmer switches than on/off straight up/down switches.

Third, it revealed a lot I didn't know.

First, the DNA near the center of the nucleus is generally more "active." Arney talks about this, the relation to histones in positioning segments of DNA and more.

Second, coding areas on DNA evolve much more rapidly than genes themselves and are usually the primary driver of evolutionary change.

Third, epigenetics, while not all wet, probably needs more skepticism than it's gotten at times. She gives some detailed insight into this, and the exceptions to it.

Fourth, after splashing cold water on epigenetics, she brings to a boil something I wasn't aware of — micro-RNA. Apparently this has at least as much effect on inheritance as the biggest touters of epigenetics have claimed for it in the past. For example, sperm cells appear to have micro-RNA, and are NOT, therefore, just a load of DNA and that's it.

Also note that there are multiple different types of micro-RNA.

Fifth, although these discoveries aren't quite "Lamarckianism," nonetheless (and she barely touches on prions, speaking of) they put "genes" in a whole new context.

In short, the Human Genome Project and similar likely won't be in that much better position to tell us that much more about "you" and "me" twenty years from now than it is today.

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October 19, 2016

Is the Big 12 dead?

Per ESPN commenters, I think so.

In football, it was already the weakest Power 5 conference. This only made it look weaker.

And, it makes it look untrustworthy in the future, per the "charade" comment.

Houston would have been the biggest get, while Cincinnati would have provided an Eastern Time partner for West Virginia.

That said, it's clear that, although the final decision against expansion was allegedly unanimous, that this is simply a closing of ranks.

In reality, at least three schools opposed it early on, since 8 votes were needed to expand.

That then said, those three schools went through the whole process in bad faith, if they were against expansion early on.

So, who were the three?

My guesses:
1. Texas. Remember, the Longhorns' greed with the Longhorn Network money wrecked the Big 12 originally. Then, the Pac 12 shoved their greedy faces in the mud.

2. Baylor. I think the university is worried enough about its post-Art Briles strength in football in a 10-team conference.

The third is a toughie.

I can't think that OU would have said no after Boren pushed it. Maybe Oklahoma State feared recruiting would get tougher with another Texas team? (But, A&M was there before.)

So, how long does it have left to live?

Four-five years.

In my opinion, 14-team conferences are unwieldy. Missouri and Arkansas might both be interested in jumping the SEC, but it's harder to picture any Big 10 teams leaving there, though Maryland would pair with WVa if it stayed.

Iowa State has too often been marginal in football and doesn't have Kansas' throw weight in hoops. Baylor's football success has been recent and could be ephemeral.

Let's try:
1. Texas
2. Houston
3. TCU
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma
6. Ok State
7. Kansas
8. Kansas State
9. Mizzou
10. West Virginia
11. Cincinnati
12. Tulane

Sets up some new rivalries, gets into three big cites, extends tentacles into both SEC and Big 10 territory.

October 18, 2016

TX Progressives talk prez race

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn't even know where to begin with the latest allegations in the Presidential race as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff published two interviews designed to help Houston voters make up their minds on the recapture referendum.

Libby Shaw at Daily Kos is delighted to learn that Trumpís scandals could impact down ballot candidates, even in Texas. Texas GOP is Frightened By Trumpís Scandals. Dems could sweep Harris County

Socratic Gadfly looks at Ruth Bader Ginsberg's recent disrespect for the spirit of the First Amendment, including noting how this refutes "oh the SCOTUS" claims of two-party-only voters.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is not surprised that Texas lawmakers want to take more anonymous goodies from donors. They love the rich.

Some pictures and video of Jill Stein's Texas tour this past weekend were posted by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at All People Have Value took his public art sign carrying effort to Atlanta, Georgia. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Joe Lansdale explains why his East Texas neighbors are voting for Trump.

Michael Barajas laments another ridiculous aspect of our state's antiquated beer laws.

Lisa Gray collects local stories of sexual assault in the wake of "grab her by the pussy" and "it was just locker room talk".

Shari Biediger eulogizes longtime San Antonio Democratic activist Choco Meza.

Lone Star Ma encourages Rep. Blake Farenthold's constituents to give him some feedback on his defense of rape culture.

The Texas Election Law Blog reports on the recent hearing on voter ID and the Republicans' refusal to give up on the "election fraud" myth.

Trump and mudsills part 2

OK, so my original blog post on how the word "mudsill" is, in my opinion, fairly explanatory of stereotypical core Trump support drew strong disagreement from closer friends.

That's OK.

Using some of the update material I added, and going beyond it, I'm going to do a follow-up.

My dad was a racist. Most of my siblings, with one exception, would refuse to admit that. But he was. He wasn't the worst racist, but ... he was one.

And, to some degree, the family history fits the bill.

Germans aren't Scotch-Irish, tis true. But, otherwise, my dad's one grandfather could have been.

He grew up in southern Indiana. Appalachia extended.

He then moved to northeast Texas. Appalachia extended. (One could argue for the Ozarks, with Arkansas and Missouri both being slave states before the Civil War, being a second Appalachia, too, and great-grandpa lived less than 50 miles from Arkansas and less than 35 from Oklahoma.)

He then moved to northwest Texas ... a bit more outside the mold, but maybe not totally.

He then moved to Oklahoma, specifically, eastern Oklahoma, where the five "civilized tribes" had been slave Indian nations before the Civil War. Then on to Missouri, where my dad was born and raised — and great-grandpa moved in with his one son, my dad's dad, for a while.

In short, the word from the original wasn't used lightly.

My dad probably would have publicly objected to Trump's sexism as well as racism — and privately condoned both. It's not fun thinking about this (my mom surely would have backed Cruz), but, it's reality.

Update: In places like Johnstown, Pennsylvania, heartland of the northern end of Appalachia, Trump is like crack cocaine. They feed on his anger at "others" — who are often racial "others." And, per the Atlantic, even non-mudsills (by economic class) among white give every appearance of being more racist than Joe Biden would like to admit.

And now, July 2018, we have multiple racists and affirmed neo-Nazis who are GOP general election candidates. When Ted Cruz tells Illionoisians to vote Dem if they don't have a write-in, it's serious.

October 17, 2016

A definite disappointment from Terry Tempest Williams

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National ParksThe Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read some of Williams' shorter writings before, and while not actually a fan, didn't really dislike her.

But, this book somewhat predisposed me against Williams from the first page of the "Note to the Reader."

While some cairns in the desert are necessary guides, like when a trail crosses hundreds of yards of slickrock, or takes a turn out of or into an arroyo, most — especially in national parks — are not. I got the feeling that Williams probably likes cairns in general, including all the unnecessary ones. Some of those were stacked for "I was here" reasons; others, even worse, especially if not right along the trail, are New Agey ones. I suspect Williams likes all three types, and very much the third type.

Per a recent piece in "High Country News," I'm a cairn-kicker when I see unnecessary cairns.

On to the meat of the book.

First, if I'm wanting to seriously read "sweeping" nonfiction about the modern West, I want something like Reisner's "Cadillac Desert," Worster's "Rivers of Empire" or Powell's "Dead Pool." This book is not it.

Second, I wasn't really looking to read a book of family mini-memoirs as part of reflections on NPS units.

Third, I REALLY wasn't looking to read a book with name-dropping of Mormon relatives.

Fourth, the piece allegedly about Canyonlands barely touches the park.

Fifth, there are factual errors.
1. We are NOT "evolving faster than Darwin could have imagined." This nonsense's major error confuses biological and cultural evolution. As far as biological evolution, Darwin, having seen his famous finches, knew how fast biological evolution could work. (282)
2. John Wesley Powell didn't resign from USGS, he was pushed out. (286)
3. John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s younger life was NOT an age of "civility" versus "garish" modernity just because it was still primarily a horse-driving world. (89, 92)

Sixth, this book is otherwise puffery. There's no critical take on the NPS' poor record in recruiting minorities, for example. JDR, per the above, is extensively puffed. Even vis-a-vis topography, there's no critical analysis of the NPS taking over the desert National Recreation Areas caused by BuRec's dammed dams. There's no mention of NPS's commercialization of its centennial, even though the Canyonlands piece includes a copy of a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

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