On the future of this blog and many other blogs and websites like it

I realize this is somewhat US-centric, but since a lot of internet traffic passes through the US, it does have global implications.

For those of you who missed it, today many sites, like this one and my other blog, SKQ Record Quest are participating in a protest and awareness effort regarding net neutrality. A lot of people don’t realize what net neutrality is, so I will try to explain. To say the least, there is a reason I titled this post the way I did.

Net neutrality is the idea that all sites on the internet, all types of internet traffic, and all types of content are treated equally. If your small blog is on a 10 megabits per second connection, it gets the same treatment that a 10 megabit per second connection to NBC, CBS, The Houston Chronicle, USA Today, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, or Google. It is not throttled just because you don’t have the deep pockets of a large corporation. It also means protocols like Freenet, BitTorrent, and XMPP are not throttled or restricted in favor of proprietary alternatives. It also means software like Tor and I2P is not arbitrarily blocked or censored, and that those unhappy with the likes of Twitter can join something like Mastodon or even start their own node. For that matter, Twitter itself may not have come into being without net neutrality.

(Outside of the US, particularly in countries like China and North Korea where the rights to free speech and expression are not recognized, the government does attempt to censor many of these protocols and networks, with varying degrees of success and failure. This only serves to underscore how important net neutrality is for the rest of us: while some creative citizens have been able to bypass the government’s censorship, they really should not have to,)

Simply put, if the FCC gets rid of the rules protecting net neutrality, there would be nothing stopping Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other ISPs from putting “the rest of the internet” in a separate “box” and either slowing them down to almost nothing, or perhaps even charging extra on top of the “normal” internet access that gives you all the sites you could want to visit that are owned by or have cut deals with your ISP’s parent company. In short, it would take away most of the good things about the internet, and drop everything bad about TV and other mass media in its place.

The last thing I want is for the next generation of bloggers to hear “don’t bother starting a new blog on your own, the only way to get an audience is to land a spot at <insert names of mass media companies here>.” Or for someone trying to read my blog and having to wait forever for it to load, because they are connected to the internet through Time Warner, and Time Warner would rather have my readers reading CNN’s bloggers or even just watching CNN.

If you are in the US, you can (and should) take a minute to make a public comment to the FCC through battleforthenet.com. The comment period is open for a couple of days, and the more public outrage the FCC gets over this issue, the better.

Exploiting a tragedy for all the wrong reasons

Not too long after the fire in Grenfell Tower in London, some sensationalist news articles appeared according to this TorrentFreak story. According to that story, The Sun declared some Kodi boxes to be a fire hazard, implying that a huge number of them failed electrical standards testing. Or, so they would have you believe…

From the article:

On Thursday, however, The Sun took a short break to put out yet another sensationalized story about Kodi. Given the week’s events, it was bound to raise eyebrows.

“HOT GOODS: Kodi boxes are a fire hazard because thousands of IPTV devices nabbed by customs ‘failed UK electrical standards’,” the headline reads.

The story goes on to mention that FACT (the UK’s Federation Against Copyright Theft–note the use of a clearly loaded word in the name of the organization) had somehow found two parcels of 2,000 boxes–a total of 4,000 units–which they would find “failed electrical safety standards.” FACT is not a government organization and does not have the power to seize property the way that, say, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (again, note the loaded words) would be able to.

It should be transparent what FACT is trying to do here. They want people to give into the copyright cartels using any means they have available. That may be getting in the middle of sales of Kodi boxes or similar devices, or trying to convince their users that using questionable means of watching TV shows could cause a fire. Right after a major fire makes the news, of course.

Sure, that’s just a bizarre coincidence, isn’t it? I would think if the Grenfell Tower fire didn’t happen, we’d have never heard about this. All of a sudden, with a major fire making the news, FACT is trying to convince people that a bunch of electronics are a fire hazard. I think if this was a legitimate story, we’d have an actual UK government agency making the report and highlighting the consumer safety angle. This is what we in the computing industry call FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt–and it’s absolutely shameful for the copyright cartel to exploit a tragedy the way FACT has. To say the least, it really burns me up (forgive me for the unfortunate pun).

As TorrentFreak points out:

However, it’s difficult to offer congratulations on the PSA when the story as it appears in The Sun does nothing – absolutely nothing – to help people stay safe.

I couldn’t agree more. Conveniently, not too long after publication, The Sun edited their article according to TorrentFreak. Still, the fact staff at The Sun were all too willing to be FACT’s unpaid PR team speaks volumes, as does FACT’s attempt to “pull one over” on the public. The irony of an organization called FACT stretching the truth is not lost on me.

We can’t just leave drug addicts to die, even after previous overdoses

CW39 NewsFix recently featured a story from Ohio about a quite controversial way to deal with the opioid addiction crisis currently affecting that state. From the article:

Middletown City Council member Dan Picard is proposing to give drug users two chances. Paramedics would respond to an overdose twice, and each time the addict would receive a summons and be required to do community service after being treated.

But if they don’t show up in court, don’t complete the service and then overdose a third time? That’s it. No one will come to help them.

Now, the first part is bad enough. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a medical problem, not a legal problem. This is exactly what is wrong with using criminal laws to combat the drug problem. They are simply the wrong tool for the job.

But the idea of paramedics being told, by law, to refuse to save someone’s life is outrageous. And I mean that literally: the idea should be enough to trigger outrage in the community in question, and beyond. It’s enough to outrage me all the way over here in Houston, Texas. It’s unconscionable, unscrupulous, illogical, and reckless. All in the name of saving the city a few bucks, which makes it that much more infuriating to me.

And it turns out I’m not the only one to feel this way:

Truth Pharm, a national advocacy group focusing on substance addiction and drug policy, wrote an open letter to Picard on the organization’s website criticizing his approach.

“To suggest that you withhold emergency medical response to overdose patients is manslaughter at best and premeditated murder at worse,” the letter read.

I’m with Truth Pharm on this. As of the last time I checked, state law takes precedence over city and other local laws. I would find it hard to imagine a state with any degree of law and order where it does not.

There are logical, humane, and compassionate ways to solve the problem of repeated drug overdoses. This definitely isn’t one of them. I wish Ohioans the best in getting through this, but please remember those suffering from drug addiction are people too.

Skirting the issue: Boys wear skirts to school to protest dubious dress code

According to this recent story in The Guardian, some students at a school in Exeter (Devon, England) were fed up with having to wear trousers to school during a recent summer heat wave. From the story:

As the temperature soared past 30°C [86°F] earlier this week, the teenage boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts. They were told no – shorts weren’t permitted under the school’s uniform policy.

When they protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school – no doubt joking – said the boys were free to wear skirts too if they chose. So on Wednesday, a handful braved the giggles and did so. The scale of the rebellion increased on Thurday, when at least 30 boys opted for the attire.

But it gets even better:

A third, tall boy said he was told his short skirt exposed too much hairy leg. Some of the boys visited a shop on their way to Isca – the name the Romans gave to Exeter – to pick up razors to make sure they did not fall foul of any beauty police.

Down here in Houston, the same temperature is about what we would expect in April or May. By June, we are looking at temperatures in the 95°F range (35°C) most years, and it’s not uncommon to have at least a few days at or above 100°F (38°C). As I remember it, when I was in school we were allowed to change out into shorts for physical education classes, but most of the time we spent indoors in air-conditioned buildings so shorts just weren’t necessary. Apparently things are different up there in Exeter.

And with that, I admire the creativity of this group of boys as well as their willingness to cast aside the somewhat arbitrary gender labels we as a society have placed on a particular item of clothing. To be honest, the only thing more absurd than not allowing boys to wear shorts yet allowing them to wear skirts, is the attachment of such an arbitrary gender label to skirts. The only real difference between shorts and a skirt is the flap down the middle making two separate pant legs. The odd thing is that like many things in fashion, women making the opposite crossover and wearing shorts get little to no ridicule at all.

That said, some progress in this aera of fashion inequality is being made. Utilikilts opened up shop in 2000 and is still in business today. Granted, the least expensive offering is US$200 as of this writing, possibly due to (lack of) economy of scale. While what Utilikilts is doing is admirable, it’s going to take more companies and suppliers entering the game to make some real change.

Thoughts on the Bill Cosby trial

For those that missed it, the first criminal trial of Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial after the jury could not agree on a verdict. If you need to catch up: CW39, CNBC, PennLive, ABC News, Wikipedia. (This is by no means an exhaustive list.)

I haven’t said much about this trial, though I have been following it. It should be noted that the allegations go back to early 2004, and charges weren’t filed until 2015 December 15. That’s only a few weeks short of twelve years after the incident. The DA should have known going in that a mistrial due to a hung jury was at least a definite possibility. I would go as far as to say a mistrial due to a hung jury was more likely than not.

I despise rape, sexual assault, and similar crimes, and those that partake of them. However, I also believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and to their day in court when accused. I think the trial was fair, given what I heard about it. The defense called only one witness who testified very briefly; this kind of manuever usually means that the defense believes the prosecution did not prove its case. And apparently, to at least one of the twelve jurors, it did not.

The problems with a mistrial due to hung jury quite nearly equate to a defeat for both sides. The prosecution has to begin again with a new trial and the associated expense; the defendant hasn’t been exonerated by a verdict of not guilty, is still quite probably guilty in the eyes of some of the public, and worse, will probably have to face another trial on the same charges. The only time the defendant comes out ahead in a mistrial is if the prosecution decides not to proceed with a retrial. And, that most definitely is not what is going to happen here. From the CNBC story:

[District Attorney Kevin] Steele told the judge he intends to retry the case. He elaborated later at a press conference, saying Constand “deserves a verdict” on the charges. He said he was disappointed about the mistrial but insisted he has no doubts about the state’s case and that the trial had meaning for victims of sexual assault everywhere.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it sounds a lot like DA Steele will keep retrying the case after each hung jury, until either Mr. Cosby dies, or public outrage reaches the point where DA Steele has no choice but to throw in the towel. Personally, I think DA Steele is missing a big huge hint from the outcome of this first trial. If the second time around also ends in a hung jury,it’s unlikely any jury is going to agree one way or the other. Also, there’s some possibility that a future jury may issue a “not guilty” verdict purely out of spite for DA Steele wasting courtroom time if this case is tried, say, four or more times. The victims won’t like that, of course, but that could be the way the ball bounces. As a criminal case, it is rife with problems: it is based primarily on civil court depositions from around 2005, with one corroborating witness (the others were disallowed by the judge), and very little if any physical evidence. The credibility of Ms. Constand’s memory regarding the events of over a decade ago is probably going to be questioned by at least one juror, if not all twelve jurors on the panel.

This should also be noted, from the Wikipedia article:

In July 2015, after portions of the sealed deposition were released, Cosby released a statement stating that the “only reason” he settled [the civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand] “was because it would have been embarrassing in those days to put all those women on the stand, and his family had no clue.”

Put another way, Mr. Cosby settled the lawsuit from Ms. Constand to put it behind him and not have to deal with months if not years of negative publicity. We don’t know how much he paid thanks to the confidentiality agreement, but I would imagine it wasn’t cheap. The settlement of a lawsuit in favor of the plaintiff(s) should not necessarily be interpreted as an admission of guilt by the defendant(s). (However, there are exceptions, particularly cases where a bunch of small settlements can be seen as a defendant’s knowledge of wrongdoing and a refusal to change the tortious behavior, such as Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants more commonly known as the “McDonald’s hot coffee” case.) There are similarities here between the lawsuits faced by Mr. Cosby and those faced by the late Michael Jackson.

The main difference between Mr. Jackson’s legal problems and Mr. Cosby’s is that the former’s criminal charges were resolved on the first trial with an acquittal. Mr. Jackson was also much younger and much farther from the expected end of his life at the time of the criminal trial (though he would leave us way too soon only four years later).

Mr. Jackson also faced and settled a civil suit before he would face criminal charges, and at least from my observations at the time (the suit was settled on 1994 January 1) it was seen as an admission of guilt, which I think is an inaccurate characterization. Mr. Jackson had a lot more to lose from letting the trial drag on in the early to mid-1990s than Mr. Cosby did in 2005, so it’s quite likely he settled the suit just to put a cap on the bad PR he was getting.

So it comes down to this: I hope this is the only hung jury for this case. I hope the next trial ends in an actual verdict, either guilty or not guilty. The circumstances as I see them lean towards an acquittal being the more likely of the two outcomes, simply because of the lack of evidence and the length of time that went by between the indictment and the alleged crime. In addition, I really don’t see what good it’s going to do to send Mr. Cosby to prison at this stage in his life. Within 2 to 3 years of the alleged crime, it would have made at least some sense; in a few weeks Mr. Cosby turns 80. At the trial, the court had to make accommodations for Mr. Cosby because he’s now legally blind. A victory is largely symbolic.

After this first trial ended in a hung jury, it sure smells like they are kicking Mr. Cosby while he’s down. And that’s something I can’t just sit by and watch without saying anything. I say this as someone who is not a particularly strong fan of his work. (The only show of Mr. Cosby’s that I really got into was the revival of You Bet Your Life which lasted around a year in 1992-1993. I’ve seen bits and pieces of The Cosby Show and Fat Albert, but not enough to really form an opinion of either.)

I don’t know what’s worse: drug-induced rape, or trying to sell a rape charge to a jury of twelve over a decade after the incident allegedly happened with very little evidence. Ms. Constand filed the civil suit first; if there had been enough for a criminal case then, why wasn’t one pursued then? If there wasn’t enough for a criminal case then, why does DA Steele think there is now?