Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality and What You Can Do to Preserve It

Image of a Network Neutrality icon released into the public domain on WikiepdiaAs far as I can see, the only people arguing to allow ISPs like Verizon and Comcast to start charging for preferential bandwidth and download times are paid shills and free market fanatics. This issue, commonly referred to as “net neutrality,” might seem to be the domain of techies and webbies, but it has real implications for every human being on the planet.

It might be easy to forget in this age of the widening wealth gap, but the promise of  the web wasn’t just Step 3: PROFIT! The promise of the web was the free and democratic sharing of information. This is the promise that made it possible for people to start successful businesses without the massive cash required in the world before the web — businesses that employ people who then have the money to spend on things like food, housing, and maybe even toys for grown-ups. This is the promise that makes information available to from anyone to anyone, all at the same speed — and if you think that’s not important, consider the Arab Spring. This promise makes it possible for a blogger in the Bronx to bypass all the gatekeepers and editors of traditional print media and broadcast a story the editor of the New York Times might not want to run. This promise makes it possible for an engineer with a dream and a dime to build a better widget and sell it out of her garage — that’s how Google started, after all.

As traditional media outlets have moved their news online, as the web development industry has matured, and as more and more people have plugged in, independent voices and businesses have already begun to lose their edge. Little websites get crowded off the front page of search engines in favor of stories in the New York Times and CNN. Independent sellers of all kinds of goods — not just books — watch more and more of their business get sucked into the maw of Amazon. But even while all the carnage (and innovation) of a free-market system happens, Net Neutrality preserves some modicum of a level playing field. That’s because nobody gets to pay Internet Service Providers — the folks who build and maintain the roads of the Information Superhighway — huge amounts of cash to ride down a special high-speed road. LittleWidgets.com arrives at your computer (or phone, or tablet) at the same speed as HumongousWidgetsIncorporated.com. Net Neutrality is what makes that happen.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the government body standing between industry lobbyists and Net Neutrality. And the FCC is once again considering rules changes that would kill Net Neutrality. It’s not too late for you to make your voice heard on the issue:

And if you’re still confused (or need further convincing) I offer you:

 

Open Letter to North Style

Dear NorthStyle folks:

About once or twice a year I receive a catalog from your fine establishment. I’m a big mail-order shopper, so it’s very appropriate that you would send me one. Each time I receive it, I think “hmmmm… stylish, understated, affordable.” I mark off a few items. And then I notice that you insist on a $5 surcharge for me to order your clothes in my size.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but fat ladies all across the world are getting fed up with this kind of treatment. Countless times every day, I get messages — covert and overt — that there’s something wrong with me because of the size of my hips and the number on a label inside my clothes. These messages persist in spite of assurances from my doctor, my boyfriend, and my loved ones that I am healthy, lovable, and actually pretty attractive.

North Style, if you really want my business — and you should, considering what I spent on new clothes last year — then you’ve got to get with the program. I don’t hang out with people who make me feel ugly. And I’m certainly not going to hand over my hard-won dollars for the as-yet-unproven privilege of purchasing your merchandise. Take a number from retailers like Simply Be, Woman Within, and Ulla Popken, who treat me with the same courtesy and respect as a lady who wears a size 10. Then maybe I’ll take the next step and actually place an order with you.

Sincerely,

Me

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The main focus of this website is not fat politics, fashion, or online shopping reviews. Comments on this post have been closed. If you would like to discuss haiku, poetry, spiritual practice, gender, sexuality, or social justice, please feel free to follow me. If you would like to debate the pros and cons of fat acceptance and America’s so-called “obesity epidemic,” please troll someone else’s blog. There are lots of people being wrong on the Internet. You can’t fix them all.

Oh, and for the record, I never ordered from North Style. And I never will. Their parent company sounds like it has a culture of lousy customer service, and not just for fatties. ]

Dear Neighbor I Offended this Saturday While Disposing of My Trash at the Communal Dumpster

When you and your wife/girlfriend/mistress/love slave started yelling at me for putting my plastic bag full of plastic bags into the mostly-empty paper bag that you had deposited at the steps of the mostly-full dumpster near our dwellings, I thought perhaps that you had recycling in it.

So I asked if I had mistakenly mixed my garbage with your recycling. But no, it appears that you were in fact offended by the promiscuous mingling of our household detritus.

I still think this is crazy, which is why I said things like “What’s the big deal? Trash is trash!”

I don’t really know what you started shouting back at me, because I was in fact carrying on a conversation with my mother via cell phone at the same time. Upon reflection, this is probably what really upset you: not my cavalier attitude toward the mingling of household garbage, but the fact that I never stopped to give you my undivided attention. Or maybe you were mad because you thought I expected you to throw my trash into the dumpster with your trash. Or maybe you have some kind of garbage fetish that requires you and your love slave to personally handle all trash before it goes in the dumpster. Like I said, I really wasn’t paying attention.

I’m not sure if you heard me say (and later — as your own voice rose in volume — shout) things like “I’m so sorry for having offended you, sir,” because you were going on about something or another. Like I said, I really wasn’t listening. I could tell you were angry, though, and apparently because of something I had done. In my humble opinion, you and your love slave are both wound a little too tight about how your trash is disposed of.

Do you not understand the concept of trash? Do you not know where trash goes? Have you never been to a dump or a landfill? Did you think the sanitation workers took each little bag of trash and gave it a decent burial, with maybe a headstone and a prayer? Do you think there is a trash embalming center somewhere? Or were you really just offended because I never bothered to put down my cell phone and treat you like a human being instead of an animated speed bump?

I know how annoying multitasking cell-phone users can be. So, for demeaning your inherent worth and dignity by shouting nice things I clearly didn’t mean and walking off before you could explain yourself, I do apologize. Perhaps we’ll meet again at the dumpster and I will have the opportunity to amend my behavior.

In the meantime I suggest you take a deep, cleansing breath, and try not to get too worked up about what happens to your garbage once you put it down in front of the dumpster. It’s only garbage, after all — one thing that we Americans have in abundance.

Sincerely,

Me

Open Letter to Get in Shape for Women

Dear Get In Shape for Women:

Thank you so much for your congratulations on my new house! Nothing says “welcome to the neighborhood” like a postcard from a company that found me via an automated report from the United States Postal Service. I’m also touched and gratified that you care enough about my health to offer me an affordable, convenient option for losing weight so close to home.

Here’s the thing:

I don’t want to lose any weight.

I have no interest in losing any weight.

And if I decided I *did* want to lose some weight or join a gym, your marketing approach has completely ruined any chance of your getting my business. I’ll spare you the diatribe about the way constant media messages and images screw with women’s perceptions of what constitutes a normal, healthy body. I’ll refrain from quoting the statistics that show how much money the weight loss industry collects from women in their vain attempts to lose weight and keep it off.

I will even take a deep breath and avoid getting hot and bothered as I explain to you the way doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and the Surgeon General’s office manufactured the so-called obesity epidemic overnight — simply by changing how obesity is defined. I will not be getting up on my soap box to rail against the arbitrary, sexist, and scientifically questionable charts and indexes that our society uses to define whether a woman is “healthy” or “overweight.” I won’t be sending you to the Flickr photostream that shows photographs of real people alongside their weight definition on the BMI charts.

Nor will I be getting on my high horse to tell you that companies who try to market their products to women by playing on their insecurities should be rounded up and forced to watch MTV and the Fashion Network for 48 hours straight.

I will simply tell you that I am a healthy, active woman with no need or desire to “lose 10-15 pounds in three weeks.” And I will ask you to immediately remove me from you mailing list. If I continue to receive your mailings, you can expect to hear more from me and from the FCC.

Sincerely,

Me

Open Letter to Senator Scott Brown Regarding SOPA

Dear Senator Brown:

I’ve been watching your first term in office with interest. I’ve also been a web developer since the early days of the web. The entire course of my life has been affected by its tides. So I have a personal stake in the passage of the SOPA bill.

This new piece of legislation promoted by powerful industry groups like the RIAA and the MPAA would stifle the free exchange and flow of ideas that has allowed many people — myself included — to change the course of their lives. It is essentially unenforceable and flies in the face of the spirit of collaboration that allowed nerds, geeks, hackers, designers, writers, and artists to make the Internet the thriving, global, decentralized entity that it is today.

There’s a lot of talk in the media these days about how large corporations are using their money to shape policy and legislation to benefit themselves instead of the American people as a whole. In your newsletters, you often talk about bringing jobs to Massachusetts. As you well know, the Boston metro is a hub for innovation in technology. Its residents even helped to develop the technology that made the Internet as we know it today. SOPA would kill the ability for thousands of small companies and individuals to express themselves freely and even make their fortunes on the web — all so that a few greedy corporations could keep even more money for themselves.

I know that you receive a great deal of funding from the lobbying groups promoting this bill. I and people like me — and there are a great many people like me in the state of Massachusetts — will be watching closely to see how you vote on this issue.

Sincerely,

Me

Pepper Spray, Football, and Other Words that Don't Mean What We Think They Mean

Last night, as Army Guy and I sat down for a late dinner at Galway House, tables filled with (mostly) large (mostly) men shouted at the plasma screens as men in tight pants ran around and jumped on each other*. Eating at Galway House is like eating in your uncle’s rec room, if your uncle were Irish and liked Pabst Blue Ribbon and had a lot of boozers for friends — and liked to cook you really tasty food.

This was the first time I’ve been there during Monday Night Football season. Football, cheerleaders, and NASCAR aren’t really my thing, but I do love the Galway, in part because you’re as likely to find a Lesbian Avenger at the booth next to you as you are a member of the IBEW. And as Jamaica Plain follows the same path of gentrification that Cambridge and Somerville have, I find myself more and more drawn to the places I avoided when I was younger and upwardly mobile.

Last night we had to shout to hear one another, though, which was less pleasant. And looking back on the evening, I find the context of our conversation that much more disorienting. Surrounded by middle-class Americans enjoying a quintessential American pastime (drinking beers and watching football), Army Guy proceeded to explain to me the meaning behind the innocuous-sounding headlines I’ve been hearing on the radio. It wasn’t tabasco they were spraying on the faces of those kids who linked arms and sat down at U.C. Davis. It was a chemical compound 15 times as strong as a habanero pepper. And they didn’t just spray it at them. According to U.C. Davis Professor Nathan Brown’s open letter to the school’s Chancellor (which has since become a petition):

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

There’s more. This article in the Atlantic documents use of “less-than-lethal” force against OWS protesters across the country. The Washington Post also reports on “esclating protests”.

Our police are attacking our own citizens — our own children — with chemical weapons and clubs because they linked arms and sat down and refused to move. I turn on the news and I don’t know whether I’m hearing about Cairo or California. History is happening before me, and I’m watching it from the sidelines, more confused than a schoolchild will be in forty years reading about it from a book.

“It’s been fifty years since the 1960s,” I shouted across the table last night as our neighbors drank beer and watched football.

“Yes? And?” he replied.

“I guess it’s time for another round.”

We paused and contemplated the flat-screen TVs, the tinsel snowflakes and shamrocks that dangled from the ceiling.

“All those years ago in the 80s when people were telling me I was born too late while I ran around with a long skirt and a peace sign around my neck… I wasn’t born too late, or too soon. I was born at just the right time.”

I think about language, and how the language we use betrays our beliefs. As the bifurcation of America continues, I wonder how long it will be before we can agree to use any of the same words at all. Nonviolence or nuisance. GLBT or homosexual. ObamaCare or health care reform. Austerity or social injustice. Pepper spray or chemical agent.

And I realize something about myself, something disappointing and also something that makes me settle deeper into a sense of who I am. My days of protesting are over. I won’t be camping out in Dewey Square, although I will donate money and materials to those who do. I’m not brave enough to link arms and sit down in front of men in uniform holding weapons. But I trust that I have a purpose, some bit part in history to play, even if it’s a stack of journals in a dusty attic and a neglected little blog. And I will cheer my team on the plasma screen as I eat my steak at the Galway.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that at least one screen was dedicated to the Bruins (hockey) rather than the Patriots (football). There is no line of sight in the Galway that does not include a plasma screen TV.

Open letter to my representative about the current budget debate in Congress

In case your attention has been elsewhere, there’s been some major drama on Capitol Hill about the Federal Budget. Worst case scenario is worse than the government shutdown of the 1990s. It would actually give the U.S. government the same kind of credit rating I had a year after my layoff back in 2002.

To sum up the debate, Democrats think we should raise taxes and cut some social programs. Republicans think we should just cut social programs. Because, you know, rich people create jobs. It’s magic!

Some background from more objective sources here:
New York Times: Federal Budget 2011 and 2012

Boehner and Obama Nearing Budget Deal, Leaders Told (New York Times, July 21, 2011)

Did Obama Walk out on Republicans? (Gawker)

Income Gap Between Rich, Poor the Widest Ever (CBS)

The Great Overpaid CEO Debate (CNET)

Dear Rep. Markey:

I wanted to thank you for signing the letter from the Progressive Caucus saying you will vote NO on any bill that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

I’ve seen the pie charts of the federal budget and realize that entitlements make up a substantial chunk. I’m more realistic than some folks and doubt that we will be able to get through the current economic crisis without at least some cuts to social programs. But doing so while the richest among us continue to enjoy tax cuts given to them during the Bush administration isn’t just unfair or unjust: it’s downright disgusting.

As a native of Boston, I’m sure you’re familiar with the statues erected in honor of the Irish who suffered through the potato famine of 1847 — you may even have ancestors who arrived on these shores as a result of it. The memorial on the Cambridge Common includes the inscription, “Never again should a people starve in a land of plenty.” Recently I noticed a piece of graffiti written under it saying “and yet they still do.” And it’s true — there are people going hungry right here in the Boston metro area, in spite of our exemplary social programs.

I thank you for standing up to the interests of the large corporations and rich individuals who find it so easy to access our country’s leaders. Your recent speech about the GOP’s “Deficit Attention Disorder” made me particularly proud to have you as my representative in Congress.

Sincerely,

Frances Donovan

Dear Apple

Dear Apple:

Yes, your products are sexy and nicely designed and I lust after them with all my heart, especially after being inundated with ads in which comely young people dance around and smile and socialize with them. But your UI quotient is not as high as you think it is. After one week with a new iPod touch, I’m remembering the other reason I went over to The Dark Side back in 1998. I’ve been walking around for the past 10 years thinking it was because of your major strategy FAIL in forcing people to shell out huge amounts of cash for your platforms and hardware, only to discover that none of the software they needed would work on them.

The other reason, Apple, that I left you for your eveel cousin PC/Windows back in 1998 can be summed up in one work: CLUNKe.

As in, your shit is CLUNKY, Apple. Now that I’ve had a decade or two to appreciate the joys of tweaking settings and whatnot (“fiddling”, as Army Guy would call it), I can see that your sexy, cleanly designed UI isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s clunky because in order for a design to be spare it can’t have as many dials to twiddle and buttons to click. It’s clunky because, unless someone is paying close attention, she can lose $12 worth of apps while updating the OS of their hardware. It’s clunky because it’s resource-intensive and resistant to intermittent fix-ups. It’s clunky because it’s not customizable. And it’s clunky because it doesn’t play nicely with any kind of hardware but yours.

Not everyone in the world can afford to pay through the nose for upgrades every two to three years, Apple. And not everyone has hours and hours to lose on your support forums, or upgrading their entire operating systems.

Once upon a time I thought I was an Apple person. But since then, I’ve learned I’m not an Apple person, a Microsoft person, or a Linux person. I’m a pragmatist. I want what’s inexpensive and easy to use. I suppose I’ll just have to suffer through the indignities of not being the first girl on the block with the new shiny white toy, and wait for the 3G version of your products. Preferably as a Christmas/birthday present from my favorite Silicon Valley techie.

Sincerely,

Me

Dear NOW: This Is Why I'm Not Giving You Any Money

Dear NOW:

I wanted to explain to you why I am not sending a contribution in response to your recent U.S. mail solicitation to me. I have three primary reasons for not wishing to send you my dollars:

1) As a queer woman, I am uneasy about supporting an organization that has a history of marginalizing “the lavendar menace” from the feminist movement.

2) The overt fear-mongering tone of your letter (“Do you want animals and clowns teaching your children about sex?) bore a marked resemblance to the emails I get from the Family Research Council. I believe strongly that hope and compassion conquer fear and loathing. Nixon’s campaign back in the middle of the last century appears to have had far-reaching consequences in the realm of national and local politics. One of the reasons Obama was so refreshing as a candidate, and why people rejoiced in his election, was because he ran on a platform of positive change rather than the fear and paranoia that marked the Bush administration. I expect the organizations I support to deliver the same sort of message.

3) I find that other organizations seem to be doing a better job of working for goals that I care about.

That being said, I am glad to see that you have joined the Web 2.0 revolution (hahaha) and will be following your actions via Facebook, Twitter, and email. I’m open to persuasion. So persuade me that your organization is still relevant and working toward the type of change that is in line with my own values.

Open Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor:

I am writing in response to your recent article in Salon.com criticizing Cambridge, my home church of First Parish Cambridge (Unitarian Universalist), and the Unitarian Universalist faith in general.

I have been a loyal listener of Prairie Home Companion since you first went on the air in the 1970s. I have always loved listening to the News from Lake Wobegon, the gentle and forgiving and open-eyed way that you described the imperfect and well-meaning individuals from a small town in Minnesota that seems to resemble your own. I listen to the Writer’s Almanac every day. In many ways, your soothing voice and gentle words have followed me all the days of my life. I have dwelt in the house of public radio my whole life long. Your work has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me since I was a small child.

That is why your recent article was particularly dismaying and disappointing to me. I am not angry about what you wrote, Mr. Keillor, just very, very hurt.

In one of your stories, you describe a young man who is a dancer in New York City. In this story, you describe how much easier his life would be if he were desperately attracted to the woman who shared his apartment. But he is not attracted to women. You go on to say, “his life would also have been easier if he were a lawyer.” Like that dancer in New York, I discovered some things about myself that have been very hard for me — and many people — to accept. I am a bisexual woman, and I am a witch. Neither of these things did I choose for myself, anymore than I chose to have blue eyes. These labels do not define me, but they are a part of my identity, just as much as my blue eyes and my love for Prairie Home Companion.

After leaving the Catholic Church of my birth, and after many years of practicing my beliefs in private and seeking a spiritual home, I became a member of First Parish Cambridge. I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation because it was the only church that would take a witch as a member. I discovered for the first time in my life a vibrant, organized, active community of people with deeply held beliefs that I shared. These beliefs and their creed may be different than yours, but they are beliefs nonetheless. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as those of mainstream Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam.

UUs care passionately about things like social justice, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Do not mistake our aversion to written dogma for wishy-washiness. Wishy-washy people do not work for the survival of Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany. They do not face criminal charges to keep immigrants from dying of thirst in the desert. They do not face violence and death in their own houses of worship.

You accuse us of having no creed. Our seven principles and six sources are even easier to understand than the Apostles’ Creed.

One of the most hurtful things you said in your article, Mr. Keillor, was that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and that if we don’t like it, we should go off and celebrate another one. Christmas is a part of my cultural heritage, and I refuse to abandon it to bigots and dogmatists. Furthermore, most Christmas traditions have pagan origins, including the Christmas tree, Christmas caroling, the exchange of gifts, and the Yule log. Good Yankee Congregationalists and Calvinists like the Rev. Lyman Beecher even refused to celebrate Christmas.

According to many Biblical scholars, it’s much more likely that Jesus was born in the spring. But there’s already another big Christian festival at that time of year. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Easter (from the German Ostara), a holiday that, like its pagan predecessors, celebrates life, death, and rebirth with the coming of the spring. Easter is also full of traditions that date back to its earlier pagan origins. I, for one, am not going to deny my children the pleasure of an Easter egg hunt in the service of theological purity.

Religion, like all of human experience and culture, is constantly evolving. As a Protestant, you should be well aware of how much your version of Christianity differs from that of Rome. And religious tolerance has always been one of the bedrocks upon which American society has rested. Please don’t fall into the same trap that Rev. Fred Phelps did. As a Christian who celebrates the birth of your Lord Savior Jesus Christ, you are no doubt aware of these words from the Book of Peter:

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.
1 Peter 3:8-9

I will not repay your insult with more insults, but with this wish: that you be treated with the same kindness, tolerance, and forbearance that all beings deserve.