aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Snake oil salesmen
The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.
Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.
Under the plans they are considering, all of us--from content providers to individual users--would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing “platinum,” “gold” and “silver” levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.
Significantly, these companies have always been political snake oil salesmen, buying off regulators one by one. This “platinum,” “gold” and “silver” crap is a language we know, cable tiers. Hopefully our long experience of paying more for less - while being told that the per-channel price is dropping - together with our long familiarity with Springsteen’s 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) will have taught us a lesson about what these companies intend to offer us.
Sadly, I end up believing that our fate is at the mercy of a clash of the titans while we citizens helplessly watch from the sidelines. So I want Google to be big and have them be advocates for Net Neutrality. And while the country was focused on the government and Google, I would have liked to shift the conversation to this. This doesn’t have such a splashy hook and this they need to understand. I saw the Google search subpoena as a distraction. I know others see it as two of a kind.
The tale of two t-shirts…
...and my First Amendment preview post.
WaPo looks at a tempest in a t-shirt:
The drama in cotton unfolded when Sheehan, who received a spectator ticket from Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-Calif.), took her seat and unzipped her jacket, revealing her antiwar message. Sheehan’s son, Casey, was a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
A Capitol Police officer spotted the words, pointed to her and yelled, “Protester!” Sheehan said. “He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat, and roughly . . . shoved me up the stairs,” she said, adding that she was handcuffed, taken away, fingerprinted and booked.
That was before the speech.
About 45 minutes into the speech, an officer asked Beverly Young to step outside, where he told her: “We consider you a protester” because of her shirt, she said.
She said she angrily challenged officers to explain what law she had violated, and they threatened arrest.
Both T-shirts were in support of our troops. Both shirts made a political statement of sorts. One woman was arrested, the other was not.
In fact, the other was not even asked to leave until after the speech had already started. After Sheehan had been arrested and after the authorities knew they had a politically sticky situation on their hands. All of which begs the question of whether Mrs. Young would have been asked to leave the chamber at all, had not Sheehan’s arrest occurred previously.
(That promised First Amendment post is still coming. Teaser preview: it’s been bought and paid for by corporate media and, like Fair Use, is effectively out of reach for the individual. How many among us have the deep pockets to fund a First Amendmet fight? Especially since the courts are the culprits who handed over the First Amendment to corporate media in the first place!)
SEE ALSO: The self-correcting blogosphere.
TiVo annd Netflix?
I WANT DOWNLOADABLE MOVIES!
Word is, Netflix does too. From their January 24 conference call:
The third factor I want to touch on is downloading movies. A lot has been said and written about digital distribution in recent months, and so I want to be clear about what we see, and where we stand. We remain absolutely focused on positioning ourselves to lead in this market, as it becomes material at some point down the road. Most importantly, we are building towards 20 million DVD rental subscribers, and continuing to enhance our website, so that when we offer downloading, we will have both a mass audience and the most compelling consumer experience in the market. We are continuing to develop our download technology, and we will invest $5 million to $10 million in this area in 2006. When we offer downloading to our consumers, it will be simply a second delivery option for those consumers who desire it.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Feral robot dogs are more interesting anyway
The world’s first mass-marketed robot, Sony’s Aibo, recognizes its owners’ faces and is programmed for sympathy, like a canine companion. Its eyes light up in red to show anger, green to convey happiness. It even learns its own name.
Aibo owners tend to be fiercely loyal, too. The robots have even been hacked by tinkerers seeking to add their own modifications. But none of that prevented Sony Corp. from announcing last week that it was scrapping the four-legged robot pet as part of the company’s bid to reverse flagging fortunes and cut costs.
I heard about it when All Things Considered talked to a California Aibo collector.
I’m still completely confident that I will have a robot “pet” in 20 years. And that it will have far more features than the primitive “built-in camera so Aibos can serve as home sentinels, and e-mail their owners if something appears to be amiss.”
I wasn’t a die-hard Aibo fan anyway. I was much more interested in the open source Feral Robot Project discussed by Natalie Jeremijenko in the ITConversation podcast Social Robotics, Smocial Robotics:
Feral robots are roving packs of adapted open source robot dogs that are released to investigate contaminated urban sites. The members of these packs begin as commercially available robotic dog toys. Jeremijenko exploits the markets of scale and the corporate distribution power of the toy companies by using robot dogs, the least expensive and most widely distributed robotic platform. The behavior of the dogs is modified with new abilities allowing them to sense an environmental toxin, to follow concentration gradients of that toxin and to display information with their movement. Using the movements of the dogs to visualize information makes them accessible to a wider audience, even very young children. The pack releases also create mediagenic events that draw attention to the contaminated sites.
I would have posted on this months ago, but I was never able to find more information. Evidently there haven’t been any recent “mediagenic events.”
The Tyranny of Choice III
Today there is no better example to illustrate the problem than the Medicare Drug plan debacle. Yesterday Fresh Air did the most amazing program examining the confused policies of Medicare’s drug plan.
As you might imagine, it addressed the issue of choice:
Dr. OBERLANDER: This program is really a test of consumer-driven health care, which is something that the president wants to pursue more broadly. And the idea of consumer-driven health care is we need to make medical care more like every other product that consumers go out and they shop for and they look carefully at the benefits and the costs and they select, just like they would a computer, the health insurance plan they want the most. And I think the lesson--we’re early on here--but the lesson so far is you can have too much choice and it can be too confusing. You know, this is really--this program is an economist’s dream to have all these Medicare beneficiaries making these decisions, making these choices. But in many respects, it’s a patient’s nightmare. In--where I am in North Carolina, there are 53 different plans that beneficiaries can choose from, and it’s a very, very complicated choice that requires not just a lot of patience, but a lot of computer skills. And I think what you have is a theory in search of a population, that theory being consumer-driven health care, and they found the wrong population. And so far, only three and a half million Medicare beneficiaries have signed up voluntarily for this program, which really augurs for big trouble down the road. And that is, in large part, because they are paralyzed by too much choice.
That was Jonathan Oberlander. He teaches about the politics of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is co-editor of The Social Medicine Reader, Volume III: Health Policy, Markets and Medicine (2005), he also wrote The Political Life of Medicare (2003).
Also on the program, Dr. Christine Cassel, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the former dean of the school of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore and editor of the textbook Geriatric Medicine. She also addressed choice:
Dr. CHRISTINE CASSEL: Everyone is confused. Everyone wishes there weren’t so many choices. It’s interesting, you know, many of the advertisements that you hear about health care in general are about choice, and people have come to think that choice equals quality in health care, but in fact, there is such a thing as too many choices, particularly when they aren’t that really relevant to what it is that you need.
GROSS: What about from your perspective as a physician, what is--how is the new plan functioning?
Dr. CASSEL: It worries me, because I’m afraid that people who need it the most are going to have the most trouble getting it. That is to say people of low income, people who are confused or don’t have good cognitive function, people who have major mental health needs, for example, and those are the people for whom this model of choice doesn’t really make any sense. So they’ll get arbitrarily assigned to some plan and, as I’m sure you’ve heard, many of them are falling between the cracks, the computer glitches haven’t quite worked, etc. The other thing that is likely to really be a problem for people with any serious chronic illness, and particularly the Medicare patients who I am familiar with, who have multiple chronic illnesses, is the complexity of this doughnut hole arrangement, the fact that you--a certain amount is covered up to a certain amount, and you get to that 2200 amount and then you get no coverage, and then when you get to 5,000 you get more coverage. Very confusing. It’s going to operate like that year after year, the way it’s currently designed. So there isn’t a sort of a logical, stable approach that people can expect.
I urge you to listen to this program. I promise you this won’t be my last post from it.
Malcolm Gladwell in the Times Book Review this weekend
Gladwell, a self-described “right-winger” as a kid - he had a poster of Ronald Reagan on his wall during college - notes that his politics have changed over the years. When he was growing up, Canada was “essentially a socialist country” so “being a conservative was the kind of fun, radical thing to do,” he said. “You couldn’t outflank the orthodoxy on the left the way that people traditionally did when they wanted to be rebels. There was only room on the right.” Now, he plays the flip side: “I hate to be this reductive, but an awful lot of my ideology, it’s just Canadian. Canadians like small, modest things, right? We don’t believe in boasting. We think the world is basically a good place. We’re pretty optimistic. We think we ought to take care of each other,” he said. “And it so happens that to be a Canadian in America is to seem quite radical.” [MP3 audio clip]
On his Web site, Gladwell offers an apologia pro vita sua: “If I could vote (and I can’t because I’m Canadian) I would vote Democrat. I am pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage. I believe in God. I think the war in Iraq is a terrible mistake. I am a big believer in free trade. I think, on balance, taxes in America - particularly for rich people - ought to be higher, not lower. I think smoking is a terrible problem and that cigarette manufacturers ought to be subjected to every possible social and political sanction. But I think that filing product liability lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers is absurd. I am opposed to the death penalty. I hate S.U.V.’s. I think many C.E.O.’s are overpaid. I think there is too much sex and violence on television.”
When Time magazine and other media outlets declared an attention-deficit hyperactivity epidemic in America, Gladwell argued that people were no more distracted than they’d ever been, but that Ritalin had replaced nicotine as a socially acceptable focusing stimulant. While others were vilifying the pharmaceutical companies over the cost of prescription drugs, Gladwell’s New Yorker article on the topic mapped out a broader codependency. “It is only by the most spectacular feat of cynicism that our political system’s moral negligence has become the fault of the pharmaceutical industry,” he wrote. And in an article on intelligence reform published when the country was in a furor over the failings leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Gladwell proposed that free-market-style competition between the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. might actually be good for intelligence gathering. Lately he’s been investigating racial profiling. At first, “I had a reasonably benign attitude toward it. I felt that under certain circumstances it was justifiable - like looking for terrorists. But now I think that’s wrong,” he said. “I think it’s never justifiable. And not on ethical grounds but on pragmatic grounds. I just don’t think it works.”
While his views may be conventionally liberal, Gladwell takes an unconventional tack in reporting. Omnivorous in his interests and brilliantly attuned to every level of today’s conversation, Gladwell is one of the most inventive journalists now writing. In articles on everything from personality tests to ketchup, he doesn’t offer a sweeping theory, but rather a counterintuitive way of looking at things.
Watch for it; it’s terrific!
Shock treatment for depression is making a comeback, and it no longer resembles a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Electroshock therapy, or ECT (the acronym stands for electroconvulsive therapy) has been used to treat severe depression for decades, but the serious side effects of the procedure, including short- and long-term memory loss, have long relegated it to last-resort status.
Widely used in the 1940s as an improvement on frontal lobotomy, ECT took a back seat to drug therapy with the advent of Thorazine in the ‘50s. Now, decades later, a Pennsylvania startup called Neuronetics is completing the first full-scale clinical trials of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.
RELATED: If you missed My Lobotomy from All Things Considered last November, listen now. It is an important moving story, beautifully told.
Will & Katha on abortion
Katha Pollit replied in an article in The Nation, Prochoice Puritans, “that ‘anti-abortion moralism’ would hurt women and abortion rights.”
Today Will answers Katha:
You doubt that the pro-life movement will support a campaign to reduce abortions through birth control, since so many pro-life activists oppose birth control. I agree. I’m not trying to form a coalition with the pro-life movement. I’m trying to form a coalition with the public. Any pro-lifer who wants to join us is welcome. Anyone who doesn’t will learn that preaching against birth control is a lot lonelier than preaching against abortion.
Both of us are pro-choice. Morally, it’s clear from your writing that abortion troubles me more than it troubles you. I don’t think I can change your mind about that. But politically, I’d like to persuade you and other pro-choicers that the path I’m recommending will serve women and their health better than the path you’re defending.
Anyone who cares about the abortion debate should read the whole exchange.
RELATED: I see my support of Will’s position as similar to and consistent with my support for teaching the Bible in the public schools.