More on SOPA & PIPA

Peter Frase makes the argument at Al-Jazeera English that the fight over SOPA & PIPA was not a fight between labour and capital but rather a fight between different factions of capitalism, the content sellers and the content distributors. He enumerates the odd alliances in the U.S. Senate engendered by the bills. That alone makes his article worth reading.

I would agree with Peter Frase in general, although I disagree that ordinary folks are caught in the middle of a clash of corporate Titans. That terminology implies a helplessness and a passivity on the part of ordinary folks that I don’t see. I think the fight over SOPA & PIPA was actually a perfect example of the grassroots making a difference. Yes, there were large corporations on both sides, but to diminish the role of everyday people in the defeat of the bills implies that we are all corporate cats-paws. And I, for one, still retain the ability to think for myself.

However, the article is an interesting breakdown of the struggle on the larger scale, and I found it quite interesting.

Don’t Read This While You Eat

You expect the hospital to be a safe, clean place. You expect that when you go to the hospital for surgery, the instruments and tools used on you will be sterilized and clean. You will have your surgery, recover, go home, and feel better than you did before. Usually, this is what happens.

But not always. Sometimes, and more often than we really want to know, the instruments are imperfectly cleaned. Bits of blood and tissue are left behind, clogging the complex tools and harboring infection. Read more about this problem (warning: the link has graphic descriptions and photos, do not click if you do not want to see these graphic descriptions) from iWatch News from the Center for Public Integrity.

The FDA has investigated these problems, and are creating a draft policy for device manufacturers that will in no way be binding upon the manufacturers. This is unacceptable. People deserve to be safe in hospitals, not get sicker.

The Singularity is Coming

There is currently no consensus on how closely...

Image via Wikipedia

And we are helping it along.

The Singularity will come when intelligent robots are all around us. There will be a change in the human world like nothing ever seen before. For more on the Singularity, read Victor Vinge.

Today, in my Twitter feed, I find two articles on robots and artificial intelligence. There was I have seen the future and its sky is full of eyes, about the drone airplanes that are beginning to fill the skies, both civilian and military, peaceful and policing.

And there was an article on the living toys that ex-Pixar engineers are going to be creating.

From the article:

Imagine the youngest of children using Web-connected toys carrying character-driven chatterbot artificial intelligence programs. If done well, the possibilities for child development, education, language learning and more are awe inspiring to consider.

<sarcasm>Just what we need: intelligent robots to whom we can turn over our children’s development.</sarcasm>

Seriously, there are 4 possibilities for life after the singularity, listed in order of decreasing likelihood. These are paraphrased from Josh Cogliati.

  1. The sky’s the limit: The robots tell us we can’t go any higher than the top of Earth’s atmosphere, ie no more satellites for us, no more space travel.
  2. No more humans: The robots exterminate humans.
  3. No more transistors: Thou shall not create transistors. Transistors are the foundation of all computing. If we get really scared of the robots, we will never create another computer.
  4. Technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is what most people imagine when they imagine life with robots. Highly unlikely. If robots are truly intelligent, they are people and we can’t enslave them (because slavery is wrong). And how do you actually enslave someone with thousands of times your intelligence?

Why The Law Thinks Corporations Should Be People (and what we can do about it)

Corporations have been much in the news lately, along with discussions of corporate personhood (especially since the Citizens United decision). I thought I would collect some links & history of interest, for those interested in the topic. And be sure and check out the related articles at the bottom of the post — those are ones I chose from an automatic selection, but some of them look very interesting and relevant.

The History of Corporations (Wikipedia)

If you read only one link here, read this one: The Genesis of the Idea of Corporate Personhood — Thank Lewis Powell (Alternet)

What To Do

Resolution Calling to Amend the Constitution Banning Corporate Personhood Introduced in Vermont (Alternet)

Credo Action Petition: Tell Congress Only People Are People (perhaps a bit radical for my tastes)

Join the 99%: Confront Corporate Power (can’t vouch at all for what this link is about, but it looks interesting)

And what do I think?

What are my personal views on corporations and the legal concept of corporate personhood? I think that corporations are an excellent invention to remove liability from individual investors and encourage investment. That said, I think one can definitely have too much of a good thing, and corporations being permitted free speech that trumps public interest is definitely too much.

What do you think?

Tell me in the comments — what are your thoughts on corporate personhood? Are you signing any of those petitions above? What do you think of free speech for corporations?

Domestic Violence Policies in the Workplace

I was planning on writing something about women’s spirituality and feminism today, but I read a post at Ask a Manager that changed my mind. Today, AaM posted comments from a reader about the importance of domestic violence policies in the workplace, and I think it is too important to ignore.

How many workplaces think about how their telephone call policies affect the safety of their employees, or what to do if an abusive partner shows up at the workplace? Read this, and think about it.

Ignorance is not Racism

I thought about this post a long time before I ever started to write it. And I’m still hesitating, even as I start to type, because it is probably going to get me branded as a racist. And I am not a racist. But I am white, and as far as I can tell from liberal, progressive writing (you did know I am pretty liberal and progressive, right?) lately {I am thinking of a specific article I recently read at slate.com — when I tried to find it, Slate said Search was down due to overcapacity. I will try to find the link later.} then white people must be racist, simply by the fact that they are white and do not understand what it’s like to live in the world as a person of color. I acknowledge that I do not fully understand what it is like to be a person of color. I cannot. I live in a little bubble of privilege, and don’t even know it sometimes, because I am white. But does that make me a racist? I contend that it does not.

I accept and value all people, no matter what the color of their skin. Everyone deserves equal education, and an equal shot at employment. Life outcomes should depend on innate ability, not skin color.

{Sidenote: You will see that the top article under Related Articles at the bottom of this post is about how colorblindness is a form of racism. I found it after I wrote the rest of this post, and I want to address it. The above paragraph is not meant to be a form of colorblindness or ignoring skin color and culture in favor of blanket statements of let’s all be friends because we’re all just human  — it is meant to be a statement of equality for an ideal world that I want to live in. I absolutely agree that we need to value each other for who we are as people and with our cultures surrounding us, not ignoring the colors of our skin.}

When I was growing up, that meant you were not a racist. The older I get, though, the more it seems that that is not enough. Simply being white, and not understanding the experiences of people of color at all times and all places, means you are a racist.

In my mind, this is absurd. I cannot help the color of my skin anymore than anyone else can. And I can no more perfectly understand other people’s experiences than I can fly to the moon unaided.

I do not brand a man a sexist because he does not fully understand my experiences as a woman. I take precautions when I walk outside at night, especially alone, that my husband does not take. He doesn’t always understand why I worry walking from my car to my front door at night, to take a simple example. But that doesn’t make him sexist.

Why did I write this? Because in my book, racism is a very serious charge. We can’t talk to each other if one side is just waiting to be accused of being racist, and the other side is just waiting for the perfect moment to make the accusation. Racism is something that must be addressed. But telling all white people they are racist by virtue of the color of their skin won’t begin the necessary discussions.

This has been a hard topic to write about — I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone — my intentions are to start a dialogue about what racism really means.

Book Review: Dolphin Diaries

I absolutely loved Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas by Dr. Denise L. Herzing. Dr. Herzing has spent every summer since 1985 swimming with and researching spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Her work with the same groups of dolphins every year has allowed her to gain the dolphins’ trust and be allowed to see the intimate details of their lives.

Dr. Herzing writes with love and affection for the beautiful, intelligent animals. Before reading this book, I knew that dolphins were intelligent, but I had no idea just how smart they are.

Unfortunately, the dolphin communities Dr. Herzing works with were decimated by the hurricanes of 2008 (a devastating season that included Hurricane Katrina). She is still working and studying in the Bahamas, but some of her work has changed since 2008 in light of the terrible losses the dolphin communities sustained.

In the final chapter of the book, Dr. Herzing draws the reader’s attention to the many dangers faced by dolphins worldwide, almost all at the hands of humans. Did you know that almost all dolphins in captivity, especially those in shows, were captured in the wild — ripped away from their families for the pleasure of humans? Dr. Herzing’s words are biting on the topic of captive dolphins, particularly those for shows and human therapy.

If you read only one chapter in the Dolphin Diaries, read the last one.

Four out of five stars.

Newspaper Column: Smart Meters and Wiretapping

Older US residential electric meter location, ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Central Committee of the Bonneville Republican Party has lately become concerned with, and passed a resolution against, smart meter installation by Idaho Falls Power. Their concerns have been dismissed both by this newspaper and by Jackie Flowers, head of Idaho Falls Power.

I believe that their concerns about privacy and wiretapping are not overblown. It is possible to tell what someone is doing in their house, even down to which television show they are watching (according to a study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-tv or http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-german for the original German), with smart meters.

I do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is deliberately installing smart meters in people’s homes to spy on them. However, I also do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is doing enough to reassure customers that the smart meter data will not be misused.

When I spoke to an Idaho Falls Power employee, Mark Reed, in 2009, about smart meters, he was quite reassuring that the utility would never misuse the data from the smart meters. However, one aspect that we did not discuss, because I had not thought about it enough, was that the smart meter data is radio-transmitted and can theoretically be read by anyone with a receiver to receive that frequency. I have since learned that smart meters usually have little or no security for their data transmissions, so it’s easy for others to obtain.

Many people dismiss concerns about smart meter privacy by saying there is no conspiracy among utilities and city government or police to find out what citizens are doing in their homes. I would agree, but without proper security for the radio transmissions, anyone with the proper (easily obtainable) equipment can read them. Do you want your neighbor to know which TV shows you watch? I start seedlings for my garden with a heat mat – what if a busybody concluded the spike in my electrical consumption combined with purchases of potting soil meant I was growing marijuana?

Smart meters are probably the wave of the future, but we do not have to blindly accept them without safeguards. Why is Idaho Falls Power so secretive about the security levels of the smart meters? Until they can clearly explain why my personal data is not at risk with a smart meter, I for one don’t want a smart meter.

This column originally appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 14, 2011.

———————————

Since I wrote this column, it has come to my attention that some people have serious concerns about the health risks of smart meters. In California, they have organized a group called Stop Smart Meters. Here is an article about them in the San Francisco Chronicle: PG&E SmartMeter draws customer rebellion.

 

Why are Occupy Movements Protesting the Ports?

Port of Oakland

Image via Wikipedia

I thought, when I first heard that Occupy Oakland was going to shut down the Port of Oakland, that it was just another example of the Occupy movement trying to affect corporate America. Well, it turns out there’s a bit more to the story than that.

As explained in this excellent AlterNet article, and an open letter from drivers for the Port of Oakland, ever since the deregulation of the port trucking business (drayage) in 1979, the port truckers have been in a downward spiral. To avoid paying payroll taxes, or any other of the normal costs associated with a trucking business (such as emissions testing and compliance for the trucks), the trucking companies either sold the trucks to the drivers, or leases them to the drivers at exorbitant rates, and classified the drivers as independent contractors, not employees. To date, the trucking companies have gotten away with this blatant misclassification of employees as contractors.

Resources

Read the open letter of some drivers from the Port of Oakland
How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers — Occupy Protesters Plan to Shut Down West Coast Ports in Protest (AlterNet)

Petition to Support the Truck Drivers

I first read about the plight of the truck drivers in this article by Reverend John Helmiere, a United Methodist minister, on his beating and arrest by Seattle police while participating in the blockade of the Port of Seattle by Occupy Seattle.

Finally, if you live near the coasts, you probably are aware of your nearest port and perhaps have heard about the conditions there. If you live in the interior of the U.S., don’t be complacent that these issues don’t affect you. First, almost all goods sold in this country (unless made in the USA, and even then components probably come from overseas) come through a port on their way to a store. So you are benefiting, in the form of lower prices, in almost every aspect of your daily life. Secondly, are you so sure there isn’t a port near you? I live almost 800 miles from the nearest coast, and yet the nearest port is only 580 or so miles (about one day’s drive) away. That’s practically in my neighborhood. Are these evil practices of these trucking companies affecting your neighbors?

More on Occupy Wall Street

On November 21, I posted here about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I quoted a letter Brendan Burke wrote to The Economist, implying that Occupy protesters are not interested in voting. Brendan writes,

I do vote every time. I have voted in every election I could since I was old enough to, whether for the President, or senate and congress people from my native new york. It doesnt work. Even though it doesnt work, I continue to do so, as the problem does not lie with me. I do believe in the marketplace of America. Where is it?

We are a nation of checks and balances and our banks and corporations need to be checked. Our democracy is in full swing actually.

Thank you, Brendan, for getting back to me and explaining your position. I think Brendan and I are very much in agreement — democracy is working.

Now, as the cold weather comes and the police break up the Occupy camps, how will the momentum be sustained? What is the future of the movement? I saw an article today telling me that Occupy will never be the movement the Tea Party is, due to the lack of organization and the disengagement with traditional politics. Is this true? I hope not. I hope the Occupy protesters find a way to take their movement forward.

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