#NetNeutrality Needs to Be Done The Right Way

I wrote some random thoughts about net neutrality last week, and now my commentary for the National Catholic Register is online. Here’s how it begins:

Net neutrality is the foundation of a free and open Internet, yet implementing it correctly and legally has been a serious challenge.

The idea of net neutrality is simple: An Internet service provider (ISP) has to treat all data equally, neither boosting the performance of some streams nor degrading the speed of others. They can’t create tiers of service in which some sites perform better than others, nor can they block non-criminal sites or discriminate against specific hardware or applications.

Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario: Microsoft buys Comcast. They slow or even block access to Google in order to encourage customers to use Bing. They degrade their users’ experience of Netflix in order to boost their own video-on-demand service. Finally, they begin filtering sites that criticize Microsoft or Comcast in any way.

We are not there yet. We are not even really on our way there. We are, however, feeling some early rumblings about what the Internet could be like without commonsense protections in place, and we need to start looking to a future in which the open Internet is protected.

Read the whole thing.

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Should We Be Panicking Over #NetNeutrality Rules?

No. Stop that already! We’re panicking entirely too quickly and too much about everything. Just relax, pour yourself a bourbon, watch some Rockford Files on Netflix, and chill the heck out.ball-419199_640

I wrote an analysis piece for the National Catholic Register about the FCC’s move to implement net neutrality rules which can be read here, before the FCC rules were made public. You can read those rules here if ambien isn’t doing the trick for you.

I’ve done a quick scan of the report and there were no real surprises. There’s going to be a lot of noise about “4oo pages of rules.” Wrong. It’s 8 pages of rules, 80 pages of conservative dissent (some I agree with, some I don’t), and the rest is history, precedent, justification, and the like.

The rules are simple: no paid prioritization, no blocking, no throttling.

I have no problem with any of that in theory. Libertarian-leaning conservatives who say there’s no danger to open internet, and thus no need for net neutrality, are all wet. The providers are functional monopolies for most consumers. The market alone cannot ensure the open internet. Anyone saying it can is engaging in a kind of quasi-religious free market fundamentalism, not rational thought.

However, the seizure of regulatory authority by the FCC, in particular the way they’re going about it, bothers me a lot. I’m far more worried about the ever-expanding power of the alphabet agencies than I am about having to wait for “Archer” to buffer.

For this reason, I have to oppose these regulations, even though I support the general goals of net neutrality. They are doing the right thing in the wrong way. And the way a thing is done matters.

Here’s an excerpt from my Register piece:

There is a line between what is desirable and what is possible within the limits of our government. Where legislators are failing, the FCC is attempting to step in, and in doing so they certainly appear to be exceeding their authority.

The current problem is “paid prioritization.” The internet service providers—represented in the public imagination by widely hated companies such as Comcast and Verizon—want to create tiers of service. This allows them to “throttle” internet speeds for high-bandwidth users. Throttling slows down the flow of data between a service and a user. In order to remove those limits so the data can flow at the highest possible speed, the service would have to pay.

The most obvious is example is Netflix. The popular video streaming service consumes approximately 34% of all internet bandwidth in North America. By comparison, superstore Amazon (which also streams music and movies) accounts for less than 3% of all bandwidth.

Last year, customers who watched Netflix through ISPs such as Comcast or Verizon saw their internet speeds throttled, leading to downgraded video quality, buffering delays, and interrupted service.

Read the whole thing. 

Ars compiled this selection of replies from opponents, which is notable most for 1) wingnuttery, 2) lies, 3) idiocy.

Everything in this statement from US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is utter nonsense:

“Ironically, this order will likely do nothing to address the fairness issues raised by Democrats and Internet activists. Rather, under the guise of keeping the Internet ‘free and open’, they simply advocated for an approach that allows Big Brother to step into the shoes of service providers. The government will regulate rates, create its own fast lanes, control the placement of content, and raise fees and taxes. If you like your service plan, you will not be able to keep it. The age of ObamaNet is upon us and I hope the government proves better at running a network than a website, but logic would seem to dictate that I not hold my breath.”

I have very real problems with what the FCC is doing, but we won’t address it by engaging in this kind of soundbite-driven, fear-mongering stupidity. Nothing in the rules would allow the government to “regulate rates, create its own fast lanes, control the placement of content, and raise fees and taxes.” The providers would need to be reclassified as utilities for those things to happen, and I can’t see how that could be done short of Congressional action.

The Democrats are attempting a power grab. The Republicans are responding like howling lunatics. Neither side represents the will of the people.

Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.

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Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.

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Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.

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Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.

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Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.

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G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

Please Don’t Reply To Stupid Facebook Memes

Let’s try this again.

Everything I asked people not to do in the initial post, they did when the post was shared on social media, which is just so much fail I don’t know where to start.

What is WRONG with you people?! Do you even know how to Facebook!?

What is WRONG with you people?! Do you even know how to Facebook!?

So, I’ve deleted the text of the original post and the picture, and now I’m just telling you:

There are Facebook memes that ask you to combine two things like “What was the name of your childhood pet?” and  “What is your favorite food?” to get your hooker name or porn star name or superhero name or whatever. Then they encourage you to publish it to social media.

DON’T DO THIS!

 

Those answers are commonly used for password security questions. The memes are potentially password fishing.

They’re also dumb and offensive.

And here’s something else not to do on Facebook.

Really, you should probably just get off Facebook and read a book-book.

Seriously, don’t make me come over there.

Facebook Offers Something Useful

I didn’t put “for a change” in the headline, but it’s implied.

After a disaster, phone lines can be stressed to breaking by people checking on loved ones.

Now, Facebook offers Safety Check, so people can alert loved ones to how they’re doing following a disaster, and others can check on the status of friends in afflicted areas:

When the tool is activated after a natural disaster and if you’re in the affected area, you’ll receive a Facebook notification asking if you’re safe.hero_phone_1x-screen1-eng

We’ll determine your location by looking at the city you have listed in your profile, your last location if you’ve opted in to the Nearby Friends product, and the city where you are using the internet.

If we get your location wrong, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area.

If you’re safe, you can select “I’m Safe” and a notification and News Feed story will be generated with your update. Your friends can also mark you as safe.

If you have friends in the area of a natural disaster and the tool has been activated, you will receive a notification about those friends that have marked themselves as safe. Clicking on this notification will take you to the Safety Check bookmark that will show you a list of their updates.

If you’re ever in a situation that would require you to use Safety Check, we hope it’s a tool that helps you stay connected to those you care about, and gives you the comfort of knowing your loved ones are safe.

The Synod on The Family and Technology

The issue of communion for the divorced and remarried has occupied so much attention in the run-up to the Synod on the Family that the many other topics addressed in the working document are being largely ignored.

One issue was how technology effects the family, and I addressed it in two pieces:

Tech Addiction: Technology & The Synod on the Family

Electronic gadgets have a powerful gravitational pull. The quick look at Facebook becomes an endless spiral of links, memes, cute videos, and listicles. A session of World of Warcraft doesn’t end until five hours later. There’s a growing unease when five minutes pass without checking a smartphone.

What do all these behaviors have in common other than the general medium of “new technology?” What do they provide that makes them so appealing and hard to resist?

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

The concern expressed in the Synod working document is that “television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology.”

This is an image of the atomized home, with each person disappearing to their own electronic bubble, thus isolating individuals in the family.
Some of this is essential in modern life. I could not work without it. My children learn and play and create using many of the same tools singled out for criticism. My son is studying college-level biology this summer in an online course. My daughter is writing a book and painting on her iPad. These solitary moments are not necessarily an evil, any more than someone sitting alone sewing, reading, or studying would be.

The problem is that the atomization is spreading to more and more parts of ordinary life. The smartphones are at the dinner table. The time spent gaming or online is growing. The escape into a boundless electronic world of instant gratification and stimulation can mean a retreat from the comparatively mundane world of the family.

Being Catholic Online

Internet Catholicism has been a true boon for me. As someone who works at home, it plugs me into a network of people who share my faith and help me figure it out and build it up. It will take years to understand its true impact as an evangelization tool, but I think it’s an important one, if only because it allows people to witness to their faith in a public way.pope-francis

And that’s also the problem. When we project ourselves into this online space we are, for some, the only witness to Catholicism people will have. That doesn’t mean we have to be sunshine and puppydogs, but it does mean that what we say and how we say it matters.

Even good people get drawn into the anger, anxiety, and factionalism that occurs whenever two or three are gathered in just about anybody’s name. Factionalism dominates the Catholic news sites, blogs, and social media, and it’s an ugly and unproductive thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out my place here as a blogging Catholic, and it hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I just put up something I find interesting or amusing, and those posts usually find their audience.

I can tell you from experience that poring time and work into good, noncontroversial pieces about things you love will usually yield far fewer clicks than rancor, controversy, and attacks. For all we may complain about negativity in the media, we are draw to it like moths to flame. Or, more accurately, like flies to crap.

The reason isn’t that hard to figure out. Controversy provides a jolt of emotion and allows us to situate ourselves on a moral spectrum. It draws the circle around “us” and lets us recognize “them.” That’s simple tribalism, and we’re hard-wired for it.

The latest controversy to blow up the Cathonet is the appointment of Bishop Cupich to Chicago, which comes right on the heels of Cardinal Dolan’s Big Gay Parade controversy.

Cupich is being hailed as the second coming of Bernardin, and for those outside of the Commonweal/America/National “Catholic” Reporter tribe, that’s a bad thing.

Choose one, but remember: the Holy Spirit did not descend as a hawk.

Choose a side, but remember: the Holy Spirit did not descend as a hawk.

Bernardin was the prototype squishop, and the only appropriate thing about his elevation was that his hat could finally match his politics. He is the saint of the Catholic left, which never gets tired of being wrong about almost everything.

The appointment of a bishop to a major see is not a small thing. Squishops steered the American church into a ditch after Vatican II. Whether or not Cupich is one of them remains to be seen. His past behavior is certainly troubling. His bizarre and strident opposition to the pro-life movement* don’t leave me feeling very hopeful for Chicago.

But even if we assume that Cupich is a nightmare, and that by extension this indicates that Francis is shaping the church in ways that may reverse progress made under St. John Paul and Benedict (and let’s not forget that Mahony and Bernardin were both elevated by John Paul), what exactly do the most vocal and hostile critics think they can do about it?

When you do something, you should have some achievable result in mind. Sometimes, being human, our “result” is mere venting of emotion. I get that. I do it too. Sometimes it’s extremely therapeutic.

Bitching about inside baseball in the church or, worse, in the very tiny world of online Catholics, is pretty small beer. No matter how much people bloviate about the important issues at hand, there’s no escaping this sense of an internet populated mostly by 8th grade girls gossiping around their lockers.

When we’re Being Catholic in this space, we need to check ourselves and ask hard questions. How exactly does it all contribute to our spiritual welfare and growth? How does it build up ourselves, our families, our community, and our church? Am I preaching truth in charity, or just blowing a gasket? Am I spreading hope, or fear?

As I never get tired of saying, the internet is an amplifier. It doesn’t just distribute information: it amplifies it, often making small things seem more important than they really are.

Does that mean we don’t speak hard truths, even if they involve criticism of our leaders right up to the pope himself?

Of course not. It’s our duty to speak clearly about our faith, particularly when our leadership seems to be drifting off course. I’ve made my reservations about Pope Francis’s leadership pretty clear, but I don’t think any of those issues come even close to the serious, schism-provoking levels we’re hearing from his more hysterical critics.

You know what does provoke schism, however? Constantly talking about it!

As someone steeped in church history, I’m aware that we’ve already been through the worst of times. Despite this, we still have a tendency to dramatize our own times as somehow uniquely filled with dangers to the church.

Understand this: every age is full of dangers to the church–both from inside and out–and always as been, every single year, for 2000 years. Among the first bishops, one out of twelve was a traitor, and eleven out of twelve were cowards.

When we survey this whole vast history and ask ourselves “Are our times/leaders uniquely bad/dangerous?” the answer is obviously no. Even the horrible persecutions in the middle east are of a type we’ve seen before and will see again. All is as it was foretold: “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is doing the work of God.”

We were promised a couple things:

First: the gates of hell will not prevail against our Mother, the Church.

Second: a cross.

These people who sneer about “The Church of Nice” always make me wonder, “You’d prefer a Church of Total Bastards?” They haven’t understood Benedict at all. The idea of affirmative orthodoxy has flown right over their heads.

Yes, we have to criticize, and some people won’t like that at all.

Yes, we have to stand up and make our voices heard when leaders attempt to distort or weaken the unchangeable teachings of the church, or fail to lead as they did in the abuse scandals.

But we have to do more than that. We have to be a witness to the true happiness and fullness of life that is only found in Christ and the One True Church.

And lately, all I’m seeing when I log into Facebook or check some of my blogs is a Litany of Despair offered not by people attempting to speak a hard truth, but by people who are afraid, and fear breeds fear.

All this inside baseball is, as practical matter, of no interest whatsoever to 99% of Catholics, and all of this doomsaying does nothing–not a damn thing–to help the church. It is, in fact, poison. No one in leadership is paying attention to a bunch of internet denizens kvetching on Facebook. There is no Blogosterium. There are only everyday ordinary people, and those people are in need of solid faith formation and guidance in their lives.

The only thing we can do online to change the church is to teach and be.

Teach the truth, hard as it is, always and everywhere, even when our leaders don’t, and even when they need to be corrected in charity.

Be people of hope and joy, as much as we can, always and everywhere.

Everything else is just sound and fury.

Related: Catholics Coming Unglued

Update: Abbey Roads has similar thoughts.

*After posting this, I cut a reference to some personal knowledge I have which, on further thought, I don’t feel I have the right to share.

Google Tip Leads to Pedophile Arrest

skillernLast year, Google committed to reducing the flow of child porn through their services, adding 200 full-time staff to the task of building complex algorithms to scan for certain images and slashing pedophile sites from their search engine. Although Google is particularly diligent in their efforts, they are also just following the law designating ISPs as mandated reporters who have to report images of child sexual abuse to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

What’s surprising in this case is that the tip came from a scan of images sent over Gmail, Google’s free mail service:

A 41-year-old Houston man was arrested on suspicion of child pornography charges in an investigation founded on a tip that Google sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “They got a tip, basically Gmail,” detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force told a local news broadcast last week. The defendant, John Skillern, was being held on $200,000 bond and is a registered sex offender connected to a 20-year-old sexual assault on a young boy.

Naturally, getting a vile pervert off the streets is a good thing. Subjecting email to scans, however, goes beyond the limits of the law and is already causing concern in other areas. Google is accused of scanning keywords in emails in order to profile users and customize advertising, which runs afoul of various state and federal wiretapping laws.

“Medical Journal” Hoax Links Aspergers & Murder

A “humor” website (I’m not linking and please don’t give them traffic by searching) has headlined an article “New Study Shows 92% Of Convicted Murderers Suffer From Aspergers Syndrome,” citing a nonexistent “study” set to appear in The American Journal of Medicine (AJM). They claimed the results of new research concluded “that roughly 92 percent of murderers fell somewhere within the high-functioning autism spectrum.”

The story, of course, is false, but nothing indicated it was a spoof. It even concluded by soliciting media interviews for the “doctor” behind the “research.” It is already being circulated as fact.

The journal reacted with outrage, saying no such article existed, and they were already being contacted by real media outlets asking about the study:

We felt the need to quickly clarify that this story was false, since the journal’s editorial office had been contacted about the fake research by news media and Asperger’s supporters, and the hoax article has been quoted on the Internet as factual. No such article was ever submitted to the journal, and as far we know, the blog post is meant to be a spoof. To get the word out, AJM posted a story on the journal’s blog, tweeted the blog post, and alerted the journal’s Facebook fans.

This is a complete hoax and fraudulent,” said AJM Editor-in-Chief Dr. Joseph S. Alpert. “In the first place, this topic has nothing to do with internal medicine, and we would never publish something on this topic.”

This hits home on two fronts: I have a child with ASD, and my wife was editor of both The American Journal of Medicine and The American Journal of Surgery many years ago. She alerted me to the story when it came across her Elsevier feed this morning.

The kind of hit-trolling, low-intellect sadist who thinks it’s funny to demonize an already misunderstood population, while also dragging a revered journal’s name through the mud, is all too common on the internet. This isn’t humor. This is wicked little people pulling the wings off flies for their own amusement.