Marching For Science

Posted by TechyDad on April 28, 2017 under Politics, Science

One of the many scary moves that the current administration has taken has been a disregard for science. Whether it’s declaring climate change a “hoax” or candidate Trump insisting that vaccines cause Autism or massive cuts to the EPA, the Trump administration has taken action after action against science. Scientists, as well as people who are in favor of supporting science wanted their voices heard. Thus, the March For Science was born.

Like the Women’s March before it, the March for Science was a series of marches that took place all around the world. Our local March for Science differed from our local Woman’s March in many ways, though. While the Women’s March involved a march first followed by speakers, the March for Science began with science demonstrations by local colleges and companies. It was hard to get to some of these tables due to the sheer number of people around them – especially kids. I’m not going to fault the march for this, though. If anything, it showed how many people love science.

After the demonstrations, there were a series of speakers. Our local Women’s March suffered here with the sound system not being good enough. (A consequence of there being way more people than they projected – so it was a good problem to have in some ways.) I’ll admit that I couldn’t hear much from the speakers, but then again, we weren’t positioned well. We behind the stage and to the side so the sounds of cars and people around us drowned out much of the speakers.

While the speakers were talking, we spent much of the time looking at the amazing signs that people had made. Since the march coincided with Earth Day, many of the signs carried pro-environmental protection messages. A few were anti-Trump specifically, but many supported science without directly referencing the President.

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I had made my sign earlier in the week and was very proud of it:

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JSL one-upped me, though. While brainstorming ideas for him to make into a sign, I heard NHL watching Pokemon and joked “Science, I choose you!” As soon as I jokingly said it, though, our eyes went wide and we knew that had to be his sign. He sketched it out and made the sign himself. (The only help I provided was holding the poster board still so it didn’t move as he traced the lines.) JSL’s sign had plenty of admirers and a lot of people asking to take photos of him with it.

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Soon, it was time for the walk to begin. This walk was around a block in Albany – about four tenths of a mile. We walked down the street, cars honking as they passed by. At one point, some women behind us started an inspired chant: Stand up for Truth, stand up for reason, science and facts are always in season! (NHL got annoyed at me when I joined in. Teenagers!)

The sidewalk was jam packed and, at one point, we stopped entirely. Science can’t be held up too long, though, so the march continued. When we finished, there were some after events, but we had been there awhile and knew the kids would be fried so we took our leave.

Still, the March for Science had one more surprise. As we rounded the corner to walk to where we were going to be picked up, we spotted the end of the March for Science. Yes, we had finished the march, but the tail end of it had barely begun! I suggested we join the tail end and march again, but I was over-ruled. (Spoil-sports!)

As we left, as with the Women’s March, I felt buoyed by the turnout. The administration might not be a supporter of science, but there were plenty of people in our local area and at marches around the world that do. We’ll keep fighting, keep resisting, and keep demanding that science be unrestrained from political interference and listened to when crafting policies.

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Marching For What We Believe In

Posted by TechyDad on January 24, 2017 under Politics

On Saturday, we met up with a friend and headed down to downtown Albany. We were going there to join up with our local Woman’s March. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Albany isn’t the biggest city around so I knew we wouldn’t come close to Washington D.C. or New York City’s numbers.  I guess I figured a few hundred people would show up, we’d march down the sidewalk for a bit, and that would be it. What actually happened both surprised and inspired me.

First, we arrived. We got off our bus (we weren’t going to try to park downtown) and followed a light crowd to where the meeting place was. We were about 45 minutes early, but there was already a pretty large crowd gathering. They weren’t done arriving, though. More and more people came up behind us. Eventually, I couldn’t see the start or end of the crowd. We were in a sea of people waiting to start our march.

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At around 4pm, the street was closed off so we could march down it. Thank goodness, because there was no way we’d all be able to march on the sidewalk with traffic going by. You know how I said I thought there would be a few hundred people? The organizers actually thought there would be about 2,000 people. There were easily over 7,000 people and possibly close to 10,000! We marched slowly down the street to the Capital building. There, we all gathered and listened to a few speakers. Though, I’ll admit I couldn’t hear much. My one criticism was that the sound system wasn’t up to par. Then again, they had planned for about a quarter of the attendance so I guess that was the one downside to the very good upside of great attendance.

Now, you might wonder how a man feels marching in a Women’s March. First of all, I wasn’t the only man there. There were plenty of men just like there were people of all races, religions, ages, sexual orientations, etc. I realize that women’s issues don’t just affect women. If women get access to better health care, better protections over their own bodies, and more freedom from sexual aggression or discrimination, it actually helps men also. If something happened to my wife, it wouldn’t just impact her and leave my sons and I unaffected. We’d be hurt as well. If my niece or my sister had something happen, we’d be affected.

Though NHL declined to go (combination teenager and Asperger’s/not doing well with crowds), JSL came with us. I want my boys growing up knowing that women aren’t objects to be used, but human beings who deserve to be treated just as well as any other human. I’m doing my part to forever shatter the old “a woman’s place is in the home” saying. Let that be something that our kids and grandkids study in history books in disbelief that this was ever the case. I’m teaching my boys that a woman’s place is where ever she wants to be. That might be the home or a boardroom. It might be as a doctor, a scientist, in the army, or any political office.

Oh, and JSL and I proudly wore our pussy hats.

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My one regret with the march was that we didn’t make signs beforehand. Some of the signs that people had were incredibly creative. I’ll end with some photos of the rally and the signs we saw.

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Post-Election Day Questions

Posted by TechyDad on November 9, 2016 under Politics

Today I’m in shock. Despite all odds and polls, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. I began watching the election results expecting Hillary Clinton blowout and instead Donald Trump is our new President.
So where do we go from here? Well, right now, I have a ton of questions and no answers. It actually all depends on what Donald Trump says and how he acts over the next few days and weeks.

During campaigns, candidates can promise many different things. It’s easy to say we’re going to build a wall, but it’s much harder to actually build it. It’s easy to say we’re going to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, but it’s harder to actually do it. It’s easy to say you’re going to send your political opponent to jail, but actually doing it is another matter entirely.

The big questions swirling in my mind (in no particular order):

Will Trump and the Republican Congress with to repeal marriage equality?

What does this mean for healthcare? I’m guessing they’ll finally repeal Obamacare, but what will it get replaced with? What will be covered? What won’t be covered anymore?

During his victory speech, Trump said that he wants to work with all Americans. Is this the case or will he enact policies/push for laws that favor Christians over other religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc), whites over minorities, and men over women?

How will President Trump handle world affairs? Will Trump act in a manner that will make our traditional allies pull away from us?

What does this mean for clean energy and climate change research? Will get harder to combat climate change? Will climate change scientists actually find themselves prosecuted for their statements?

What does this mean for libel laws? Trump said he wants to open them up to go after people who printed not-so-nice things about him. Will he actually try to do this? Even if not, will he work to “get revenge” in other ways? (Shades of Nixon’s enemies list.)

Will future Presidential candidates feel the need to release their tax returns? After all, Trump didn’t and was elected President.

How much will this embolden the racist/sexist/anti-Semitic portion of Trump supporters? I’m not saying that everyone who voted Trump was like this. That’s be ridiculous. However, these people were very vocal and he often retweeted their posts. His election will make them think they have more political power. Will they really?

On a related topic, will this turn into Tea Party 2.0 – where Republicans who aren’t extreme right enough get kicked out of office? Will this result in more policies that are bad for anyone who isn’t a white, Christian male?
There are many more questions I have, but they are all kind of swirling together. My take on the future? I’m trying to be hopeful that President Trump isn’t a disaster. As much as it might be tempting to hope this so I can say “I told you so”, it would mean dark days for the next four years. Instead, I hope Trump surprises me and is a decent President. I’ll admit that it’s a struggle to be optimistic, but I’m making an effort to hold on to optimism because dispair doesn’t solve anything.

Note: The White House image above is a public domain image available from Wikipedia Commons.

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Playing The Think Of The Children Card

Posted by TechyDad on January 5, 2015 under Education, Politics

Cuomo_QuestionRecently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defended tying high stakes tests to teachers jobs. Instead of talking about any actual issues students and teachers face, Cuomo said: "We have teachers that have been found guilty of sexually abusing students who we can’t get out of the classroom."  Yes, Governor Cuomo was claiming that, somehow, high stakes tests would expose teachers wrongdoings. I could talk about the inability of tests to measure teacher performance or how high stakes tests just lead to teaching to the test. I’ll address how high stakes don’t reveal inappropriate sexual relationships later in this post. Instead, right now, I’d like to address the root cause of this statement.

Politics is a process where people of different opinions come together and work out a compromise. In an ideal world, that is.  In the real world, politics can often be the art of hiding your true intentions and scaring your opponents into submission.  When it comes to this, there are two phrases that can work to a politicians’ advantage: "Think of the Children" and "Terrorism!"  These are designed to silence opposition and bolster support.  Anyone who asks any uncomfortable questions or voices their opposition a little too loudly is branded as a traitor who either wants to see kids hurt or wants to see terrorists attack America.  People don’t want to be seen in this way – especially not other politicians – so some people will think twice before confronting someone using these phrases.

Before anybody thinks "this post is pro-Party A or pro-Party B", both parties engage in this behavior.  I’m taking all politicians who use this to task no matter what politician party they belong to.  In addition, this isn’t a new phenomenon.  There is a long political history of this, though the phrases have changed.  Back in the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy, opposing him and questioning his list could get you branded as a "Communist."  People didn’t want that label slapped on them so they stayed quiet.  A lot of people’s lives were ruined before McCarthy and his list were exposed as frauds.

The problem with these phrases is the same as their strength.  They silence opposition.  They stifle debate on the subject.  The promote advancing an agenda based on fear of reprisal as opposed to an honest discussion of viewpoints.  In addition, they cheapen the very things they claim to protect against.  Yes, there are times when children’s lives are on the line.  In those instances, it might be appropriate to say "think of the children."  However, when it is used in every third speech, it becomes the political equivalent of crying wolf.  Everyone gets so used to cries that kids will be harmed and/or that terrorists will attack that any actual threats are treated as political rhetoric.

When a politician declares that we must do X to "protect children" or to "prevent terrorism", you should always stop and question the politician’s motives, examine the course of action’s effects, and demand proof for everything.  In the case of high stakes tests tied to teacher jobs, Andrew Cuomo has demonstrated time and again that he is anti-public-school-teacher.  He wants to open more charter schools and would love to shutter as many public schools as possible.  They might not all be able to be shuttered since charter schools tend to only accept certain students, i.e. kids without special needs.  So he might to keep some underfunded public schools around to shove the special needs kids in.  As a bonus, he can point to how those schools are failing (since resources are going to charter schools and they need to spend more of their limited resources on special services) as reason to open even more charter schools.

Additionally, the teacher’s union refused to endorse Andrew Cuomo in the election.  They didn’t go so far as to endorse his opponent, but politics is often a game of "make a public show of supporting me… or else!"  Had Governor Cuomo harbored any thoughts of working with teachers, those were ditched once they didn’t support him.  Their lack of support needed to be punished so he’s ready to paint all public school teachers as lazy sexual offenders who are failing our kids.  That’ll show the union that next time they’d better fall in line.

With the motive in place, we need to look at the action’s effects.  Suppose Governor Cuomo goes forward and institutes high stakes tests tied to teacher jobs.  We’ll also assume (for the moment) that he’s right that there are a lot of teachers committing sexual abuse of students.  Governor Cuomo is insinuating that these tests will somehow root these teachers out and let us fire them.  The problem is that tests can’t possibly measure whether or not a teacher is having an inappropriate relationship with his or her students.  There’s not going to be a "fill in the bubble on where your teacher touched you" question.  (At least, I hope not, but I probably shouldn’t put it past Pearson.)  At best, you might be able to tell that a specific teacher’s class doesn’t meet the state-set standard.  This doesn’t mean that they haven’t learned the material and instead were having classroom orgies, however.  Instead, it could be due to various factors like kids who don’t test well (possibly special needs), a poorly designed test, or perhaps even a teacher who taught his kids well – but just didn’t spend a lot of time trying to teach to the test.  (So the kids learned a lot but just not what was on that specific test.)

Finally, we get to evidence.  Governor Cuomo claimed that there are teachers who have been found of sexually abusing students who can’t be fired.  I demand proof of this.  The merest allegation of sexual wrongdoing is usually enough to ruin a teacher’s local career.  Teachers who face this, might need to move districts – especially if the media was involved.  No matter how certain a jury finds a teacher innocent of all charges, some people will be convinced that the teacher whose face was plastered on the cover of the paper with the headline "LOCAL TEACHER ARRESTED FOR SLEEPING WITH STUDENTS" was guilty.  If the teacher was proven guilty, they can easily be fired and teachers have been.

I’m not going to claim that all teachers are angelic creatures only devoted to helping their kids learn.  In any profession, there are rotten eggs and teaching is no exception.  Look at enough teachers and you’ll eventually find one who did something bad to his/her kids.  However, finding this one exception does not mean that you get to declare him/her the rule and paint all teachers with that brush.  If he wants to play this game, we can certainly find plenty of corrupt politicians – does this mean that Andrew Cuomo is corrupt?  Perhaps he should take a high stakes test to determine whether he’s fit to keep his position.

Remember, real-world politics is (sadly) a game of "silence your opposition and push your agenda through by any means necessary."  Dirty tricks and smear tactics are a politicians’ conventional weapons of choice.  Don’t be fooled though.  Always question what they say and why they are saying it.  Perhaps if we "test" enough of their statements, the stakes will be raised high enough on them to weed out the bad politicians.

NOTE: The image above is a combination of a photo of Governor Andrew Cuomo taken by Diana Robinson and released under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license and "Simple Question Sign" which was posted by boobaloo on OpenClipArt.org.

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Network Neutrality Shouldn’t Be A Political Issue

Posted by TechyDad on November 12, 2014 under Internet, Politics

On Monday, President Barack Obama expressed his support for strong Network Neutrality protections in the form of classifying ISPs under Title II.  Soon after this, Senator Ted Cruz – a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet – tweeted the following:

This for me upset for many reasons.  Mostly because it seemed like Senator Cruz was opposing Network Neutrality simply because President Obama supported it.  In other words, he is basing his stance on political spite, not on actual understanding of the issues at hand.  One of the problems is that the definition of Network Neutrality has gotten muddied with other gripes against cable ISPs and by repeated statements by opponents misstating the intent of Network Neutrality.  Let’s first look at what Network Neutrality really means.

What Network Neutrality Is

In short, Network Neutrality means that two data requests of the same type will be treated the same.  So if I request a video from YouTube, a second video from Netflix, and a third video from an online VOD service that my ISP runs, all three videos should download at the same speeds.  Yes, there might be some variance due to the speeds of the originating server or whether a router along the way is slowing traffic down, but my ISP won’t intentionally make one service’s speed faster than another service of the same type.

This History of Network Neutrality

This is nothing new.  In fact, this is how the Internet has been run since its inception.  Recently, however, a few big ISPs decided that this needed to change.  One impetus was that the ISPs saw that Internet companies were making a lot of money in a method that utilized the ISPs’ connections without directly paying the ISPs.  One of the first to publicly state this was the then-CEO of AT&T, Ed Whitacre.  He said that companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Vonage shouldn’t "use the pipes for free."  Of course, this ignored that Internet companies pay their own ISPs for bandwidth.  Those ISPs, in turn, either pay upstream ISPs or – if they are top-level ISPs – have peering agreements with other ISPs regarding payment for traffic flow.  On the other side of the equation, customers pay the ISPs for access.  The ISPs then either have peering agreements or pay upstream ISPs who do.  Nobody is getting a free ride.

Ed Whitacre, wasn’t dissuaded, though.  He wanted Internet companies to pay AT&T for the right to access AT&T’s customers while collecting money from their customers for the right to access the Internet companies’ websites.  In other words, AT&T would get paid twice for the same traffic.  This made as much sense as AT&T trying to charge a pizzeria for making money when AT&T customers phoned in orders because the pizzeria got their phone service from Verizon and not AT&T.

There was a second reason for this desire to get paid by Internet companies, though.  As Internet video services such as Netflix began to take off, the ISPs – many of whom also provided cable TV service – felt threatened.  If people could get all of their video entertainment from Netflix, YouTube, etc., why would they need to subscribe to cable?  Some people figured this out and blazed a trail as cord cutters.  The ISPs responded by calling for there to be a fast lane – for people who would pay for extra-special priority access – and a slow lane for everyone else.  Internet video companies would need to pay this extra money or find their service unusable.  Of course, this would raise the price of the service and thus would help to make the cable ISPs’ TV offerings seem better by comparison.  In addition, the ISPs instituted service caps and overage fees.  This was to keep people from being able to download too much video without needing to pay more.  Again, using Internet video too much would make your bill go up so (they hoped) people would stop watching Internet video as "too expensive" and would go back to cable TV which didn’t have these restrictions.

What Network Neutrality Isn’t

Caps and overages are a bit of a detour, however.  While a case might be made that applying them to one service (Internet video) while not applying them to another service that financially benefits the ISP (cable TV) is a neutrality issue, this isn’t the biggest complaint.  That is reserved for the fast lanes – prioritizing one service over another based on payment.

But isn’t prioritization just good network management?  Should ISPs be required by law to give an e-mail message the same priority as a video conference?  Of course not.  ISPs would be free to allow e-mail packets to slow down a bit while the video conferencing packets whizzed by.  What the ISPs couldn’t do is make packets from one e-mail service slower than packets from another e-mail service or make one video conferencing service slower than another one.  In other words, they couldn’t form fast lanes with toll access.

Another complaint is that Network Neutrality would legislate away the ISPs offering speed tiers.  Currently, you can pay one amount for normal speed Internet access and pay more to get faster speeds.  Wouldn’t Network Neutrality do away with this?  Again, the answer is no.  Remember, we aren’t measuring the speed of Netflix to me versus Netflix to you.  We are measuring the speed of Netflix to you versus the speed of a competing video service to you.  If I pay for faster speeds than you have, I’ll get Netflix faster than you would, but we would both get it at the same speeds as we would get any other video service (again, at least as far as the ISP can control).

Getting back to Senator Ted Cruz, is Network Neutrality Obamacare for the Internet.  Well, I don’t want to get into a huge debate over Obamacare – its pros and cons, whether it should be kept as is, improved, or repealed entirely.  So let’s just look at what Senator Cruz meant by his statement.  For those opposed to Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act represented a government takeover of health care coverage.  What was once decided by free market insurance companies, they contend, is now decided by big government agencies.  Thus, Mr. Cruz is envisioning Network Neutrality as the government forcing ISPs into a course of action instead of letting the free market dictate what action they took.

There are two problems with this.  First of all, there is no free market.  Most places in the United States have only one or two wired broadband ISPs available to them.  I only have one by me.  If I don’t like this ISP’s actions or prices or caps, my options are to 1) stay with the ISP or 2) go without Internet.  If I didn’t like my health care coverage, I could jump to a different insurer.  Yes, you could argue about details like coverage levels and pricing, but insurance companies have competition in their marketplace.  ISPs do not.  Even Comcast’s CEO stated that they don’t compete with Time Warner Cable (who they want to merge with).  At most, a cable ISP and a phone company ISP will share some territory.  There is no true free market – only monopolies and duopolies.  Under these conditions, the ISPs know they can do whatever they want without fear of punishment from their customers fleeing to the competition.

Secondly, Network Neutrality isn’t a government takeover of the ISPs.  It is simply the government saying "you can’t play favorites and destroy the Internet just to make a bigger profit."  We have regulations for a lot of things.  Many of these regulations have good reasons behind them.  We prevent food companies from just tossing whatever they want in their food (regardless of how edible it is) and claiming different ingredients on the label.  We keep toy companies from marketing unsafe products.  We prevent companies from marketing products as cures when there is no proof that it is one.  In none of these cases is the government taking over the business and telling it what to do.  The government is simply setting the boundaries.  "You can market anything you want, but if you call your product a Cure For The Common Cold, be ready to back it up with hard data."

What Would Title II Do?

If the FCC classified ISPs under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, it would give them the legal authority to stop ISPs from slowing down competing services or from giving priority to services that pay the ISP extra.  It is true that Title II usually comes with rate regulation components, but the government can exempt the ISPs from this portion while still holding them accountable for the rest.

Is Government Mandated Network Neutrality Ideal?

I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of government mandated Network Neutrality.  I do fear giving the government extra powers which might get twisted and abused later on.  However, the ISPs refuse to "play nice" online and have repeatedly shown that they will do anything to wring more money from anyone and everyone they can – even if it means destroying the open playing field of the Internet to do so.  We can’t count on the companies to police themselves and we can’t count on a "free market" to keep the companies in line.  Customers can’t sue the ISPs to keep them in line since the ISPs’ legal departments would crush any individual with legal fees (or would just settle quietly to prevent a legal precedent from being set).  The only entity capable of keeping the ISPs from abusing their monopoly/duopoly positions is the government.  The government has a history of taking on monopolies to keep them from abusing their powers and hurting consumers.

Why Network Neutrality Shouldn’t Be Political

I get it.  Small government advocates don’t want the government to expand.  They don’t trust that the government won’t abuse any new powers they are given.  I’m completely in agreement with this on many issues.  (For example, allowing the NSA to spy on everyone with no warrant or oversight.)  Unfortunately, the alternative of allowing the big ISPs to dictate exactly how the Internet is used isn’t a viable option either.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle should recognize that this isn’t an issue of government attempting to seize scary new powers.  It is an issue of the government trying to stop a monopoly (the ISPs) from trying to use their monopoly position (wired broadband Internet access) to boost the sales of another product with competition (cable TV).  It is also a case of the monopoly (the ISPs) trying to interfere with their competition (Internet Video) by requiring said competition to pay the monopoly (fast lane access) or find their service unusable (slow lanes).  Both parties should be in favor of protecting consumers – if only to try to attract more voters from the 3.9 million people who submitted comments in favor of Network Neutrality.

If checks and balances need to be enacted to prevent government overreach, so be it.  However, don’t torpedo all Network Neutrality efforts simply because "the other party is in favor of it and so it must be icky."

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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