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Posted by Cory Doctorow

Adapted by Josh Costello from the novel by Cory Doctorow
September 15, 16, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 2017
Directed by Ryan Whitfield and Jason Green

While skipping school and playing an alternate reality game, San Francisco teenager Marcus Yallow ends up in the middle of a terrorist attack and on the wrong side of the Department of Homeland Security. This play asks “What is the right thing to do when authorities become oppressors?”

Marcus – Jeffrey Oakley
Ange – Kayley Shettles
Jolu – Yusuf Richardson
Daryl – Jack Clay

Severe Haircut – Madison McMichael
Benson/Sutherland – Robert Gatlin
Guard – Essence Robinson
Mom – Isabelle Marchese
Dad – Max Green
Turk/CHP Officer – Braden Hammock
Ms. Galvez – Anais Moore
Charles – Elijah White
Police Officer 1 – Kyndall Jackson
Police Officer 2- Mia Simone Parker
Trudy Doo – Emily Shull
NPR Announcer – Allison Boggs
Concertgoer – Rachel Worthington
Reporter – Hannah Livingston
Fox Commentator – Katie Rasure
BBC Reporter – Olivia Ward
Pirate Queen – Abigail Harris
On stage light/sound/projection tech – Trenton Gorman, Claire Green

$16— Adults
$12— Students & Seniors
Thursday, Friday and Saturday night curtain time is 7:30 pm.
Sunday afternoon curtain time is 2:30 pm.

The Box Office and the theater open one (1) hour prior to curtain.
The House opens 30 minutes prior to curtain.
Please arrive promptly. There will be no late admission.

[syndicated profile] 538_politics_feed

Posted by Dhrumil Mehta

Only days after the end of Ramadan and just before the July Fourth holiday, thousands of people gathered at a Chicago convention center for the 54th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Activists, scholars, religious leaders, booksellers, food vendors, and families of many backgrounds speaking many languages attended panels about topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics, cybersecurity and climate change. Despite their diverse backgrounds, many in attendance had two things in common: They were American, and they were Muslim.

Speaking at a panel on political views after the 2016 election, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, suggested that an upcoming report would put numbers to the diversity that could be observed at the conference. That survey, released Wednesday morning, is the third in a series of Pew surveys of Muslims in the U.S. taken over the past 10 years.1 It is also a window into the changing attitudes of American Muslims — who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population2 — on issues such as politics and homosexuality.3

“The key theme that we see regarding U.S. Muslims is diversity,” Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the report’s release. “Among immigrants, no single ethnic group has a majority. … Among U.S.-born Muslims, no racial group has a majority.”

American Muslims are also ideologically diverse. A plurality identify as moderate, with around 30 percent identifying as liberal and about 20 percent identifying as conservative. However, a large majority of Muslims in the U.S. prefer the Democratic Party, and that hasn’t changed since the 2007 Pew survey of Muslim Americans, the first in this series. In the 2016 presidential election, 78 percent of Muslim American voters said they voted for Hillary Clinton, which is a much lower share than the 92 percent who said they voted for Barack Obama in 2008.4

U.S. Muslims tend to be moderate and prefer the Democrats

Share of respondents by ideology and partisanship

Very conservative 7%
Conservative 14
Moderate 39
Liberal 20
Very liberal 11
Don’t know/refused 9
Republican/lean Republican 13%
Independent/no lean 20
Democrat/lean Democrat 66

Source: Pew research center, 2017

The Republican Party’s reputation among American Muslims seems to have deteriorated in recent years. According to the Pew survey, 59 percent of American Muslims believe the GOP is unfriendly toward Muslims; that’s an increase of more than 10 percentage points since 2011 — when Pew’s second survey in this series was done.5 Nearly three-quarters perceive President Trump to be unfriendly toward Muslim Americans, and 68 percent said he makes them feel worried.

Survey respondents also reported more discrimination. “The data suggests that the number of Muslims who say they’ve experienced a variety of kinds of discrimination is trending upward,” Gregory Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said to reporters on Tuesday. Three in four said there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., and nearly half said they had experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination in the previous 12 months; that’s up from 43 percent in 2011 and 40 percent in 2007. Women said they experience discrimination more than men do.

“It’s worth remembering that the challenges and obstacles that they tell us they face are really nothing new to the Muslim community,” Smith said. Despite concerns about discrimination, more Muslims in the 2017 survey than in the previous one said American people are generally friendly toward Muslim Americans.6 About half said someone had expressed support for them because of their faith, up 12 points from 2011 and 17 percentage points from 2007.

Another notable shift that the 2017 survey found was an increase in the share of American Muslims who say that homosexuality should be accepted by society, reflecting broader trends in the U.S. population as a whole. This change in attitude was present in almost every subgroup of American Muslims, not just the younger generation.

Ani Zonneveld told me that this finding doesn’t surprise her. She is the founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values, a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex inclusion in the Muslim community. “We have seen the shift by way of affirmation of our position of LGBT+ rights from straight Muslims through social media,” Zonneveld said in an email. She said she has seen some mosques framing homosexuality as a human rights issue — but she also criticized Muslim institutions and policy organizations, saying that they haven’t gone far enough in advocacy for LGBT issues. In a July 5 news release, Muslims for Progressive Values said it was asked to dismantle its booth and leave the Islamic Society of North America’s convention because of its beliefs. The Islamic Society of North America declined to comment.

In addition to surveying the attitudes of American Muslims, Pew has asked the public about its perceptions of Islam and of Muslims. Although the new Pew report hints at the idea that the public’s view of Muslims in recent years has improved, Mohamed said that “about half of the public says Islam is not part of mainstream society, so we don’t see full acceptance of the Muslim community by the larger public.” He said Muslims continue to be rated more negatively by the larger public than Catholics, Jews, Hindus and many other religious groups are.7 Surveys have shown that most Americans don’t know a Muslim personally, but those who do speak with Muslims — even occasionally — report having more favorable views.

Media coverage might contribute to the perception problem. A recent study by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that in reports with Muslim protagonists on three major national TV news networks, Muslim voices were rarely heard. It also found that news coverage about Muslims is often about terrorism and war. According to the Pew survey, 60 percent of American Muslims and 53 percent of the public agree that the media covers Islam and Muslims unfairly. Rayyan Najeeb, 26, who attended the Islamic Society of North America convention, said the media frequently failed to distinguish between the views of Muslims who live elsewhere in the world and the views of American Muslims. Najeeb said he appreciated that surveys like Pew’s give American Muslims the opportunity to speak for themselves: “It really counteracts a lot of the terrorist-next-door type of thinking … and a lot of the fear-mongering that has been happening in the news.”

And publicizing those varying views helps remind people that American Muslims aren’t a monolithic group, said Meira Neggaz, executive director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a research organization that recently began polling American Muslims. “When you look at all these data points, I think it really highlights how people are just people, and it’s really difficult to lump everyone together and just say … ‘Muslims do this’ or ‘Muslims do that,’” Neggaz said. That’s why polls like Pew’s are so important, she said: “The crux of polling is to amplify the voices of people. … They may not be doing a 10-minute interview on CNN, but this is at least amplifying the actual real lives of real people.”

luzribeiro: (Holycow)
[personal profile] luzribeiro posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
What other weird specimens could you tell us about, hmmm?

See more... )

Toad update

Jul. 27th, 2017 08:03 pm
la_rainette: (Default)
[personal profile] la_rainette
Karl has eaten four out of the five crickets, or so we hope because at this point we only see one cricket in the bin; it’s currently sitting on Karl’s butt, having the time of its life and enjoying the scenery. 

Whoever thought that a toad would make a good pet should have adopted a rock instead. 

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Posted by David Brin

== He's at it again ==

The Worst Man in America - and among its most relentless traitors - is at it again, blaming the collapse of American conservatism on "vulgarians," rather than a 30 year campaign to hijack and lobotomize the entire movement -- financed by the very same oligarchs to whom George F. Will has given decades of devoted service. This gifted savanarola has concocted rationalizations for sapient Americans to remain loyal to a movement that long ago left them to become a cult, waging open warfare against every fact-using profession, starting with science, journalism, teaching, medicine -- but including now the entire civil service, law professionals, the FBI, the intelligence services and the United States Military Officer Corps... all of them dismissed as "deep state" conspirators against freedom.

Add them to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which barely survived an attempt on July 26 to slash its budget almost in half, abolishing the CBO's Budget Analysis Division,  in revenge for their effrontery -- actually crunching the numbers on GOP proposed legislation.

Throw in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the EPA, NOAA, The Centers for Disease Control and even the National Institutes on Health, on a growing alt-right Enemies List -- fated to join in extinction the long killed Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). All declared to be deep-state, partisan liars, because they dare - now and then - to let experts murmur "that's not really true" at fanatical-delusional manifestos of an American right that George F. Will helped to turn insane.

Oh but Mr. Will only points at the surface symptoms.
"Today, conservatism is soiled by scowling primitives whose irritable gestures lack mental ingredients. America needs a reminder of conservatism before vulgarians hijacked it, and a hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking."

hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking? A hint, sir? I'll give you a "hint,"
 you horrid little hypocrite, George F. Will!   You are the hijacker. The "vulgarians" are your creation. Monster.

Proto-feudalism fever tries periodically to destroy the American experiment. The common thread of his sickness... from 1778's southern tories to Calhoun in 1830, to Jeff Davis in 1861, to the Klan and robber barons, to the 1930s fascists, to today... is one thing. "Give power back to the feudal lords!" That's why they push the never-once-right-ever Laffer-incantations of Supply Side Voodoo which have had three effects, skyrocketing debt, slowed growth and vast enrichment of the aristocracy at our expense.

This round of the recurring cycle - this attempted oligarchic putsch - is a big 'un, guys. They are afroth and will destroy everything if we let them.

== Religious justifications for hate ==

Dominionists preach that those they define as non-Christian are "condemned," and that includes all but a few hundred thousand true-believers. These elect won't just get eternal bliss (while 99% of their neighbors and fellow citizens writhe in endless torment). The latest cult catechism is that in this world - soon - true believers will get everyone else’s stuff. Our homes and property, and cars and TVs and bank accounts. Yippee.

Let's be clear, since no one else seems willing to. Those who prefer the Book of Revelation - over the kind and generous actual words of Jesus - pray not only for their neighbors' damnation, but also for an end to all democracy, freedom, argument, ambition, science, independent human thought… and for an imminent end of the United States of America. 

Now read about the latest anti-Christ (literally) polemic from the mad right… that the poor deserve poverty, yes, including children. Dominionism is core to the GOP wing best represented by Vice President Mike Pence. That's one reason why -- please -- think twice before rushing to impeachment.

Fortunately we have allies. Such as those who can see the obvious... that the bearded, beaded, pacifist-socialist Nazarene would despise “camels” who are obsessed with taking other folks' stuff.  Camels who will never fit through a needle into heaven.

Another ally? Pope Francis, who is assertively taking a stand against Steve Bannon's ilk. This article signed by a Jesuit and a liberal Protestant together is in La Civiltà Cattolica - a very old Jesuit magazine - and it's obvious that the article expresses the views of the pope, criticizing the "Ecumenism of hate" -- the joining together fundamentalist evangelicals and integralist Catholics. There is a careful decryption of "Religion, political Manichaeism and a cult of the apocalypse", not to mention critique of the Dominionists' raving 'prosperity gospel.'

== Swerving to 
Healthcare and the "drained" swamp == 

From The Atlantic: "With Democrats accusing the administration of sabotaging the health law, two GOP committee chairmen urge the president to continue payments to insurers that could shore up the insurance market."  

Having failed to pass their own health care bills, despite having 7 years to prepare, now Trump and his allies are talking about "letting Obamacare explode." But with a problem that Obamacare is only exploding in red states.  It is only failing where the political caste has sabotaged it.

To be clear: (1) All Obamacare needs, in order to work fine, is an upping of the Individual Mandate penalty, encouraging young people to buy health insurance.  All of the insurance companies say that would work, almost overnight. It won't happen.

But the biggest hypocrisy is (2) the GOP won't admit that all major aspects of Obamacare were their OWN DAMN PLAN.  The GOP platform since 1995 and the model for Romneycare and Trump supported the heck out of it... till Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert made it Republican religion to never credit Obama or a democrat with anything, even making their own damn plan come true.

Want irony? All Trump has to do is swivel and declare victory! "We tricked the democrats into supporting our own plan!"  Then make it work and kill that as an issue for 2018. Judo.

For the record? Most dems never liked the ACA! A majority in the DP would prefer Canadian style health. The ACA was an attempt to lure the GOP into negotiating by giving them their own damn plan.  It didn't work. As soon as Obama touched it, their 
own damn plan suddenly had cooooooties.

== Miscellany ==

How the swamp is drained!  Attempting at first to keep it secret, theTrump White House granted more ethics waivers – letting lobbyists jump directly into regulating their own industries – than any three other administrations, combined.

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, he acted in concert with 22 Republican senators, who collectively receive $10,694,284 in contributions from the coal and oil industries.  

== Historical Perspective ==

What Churchill and Orwell had in common: Churchill & Orwell were both savagely critical of the gloom-sayers of their own parties: right and left. "At a time not unlike today — when people were wondering whether democracy was sustainable, when a lot of people thought you needed authoritarian rule, either from the right or the left — Orwell and Churchill, from their very different perspectives, come together on a key point: We don't have to have authoritarian government."

This author shows how the conservative Churchill was deeply critical of oligarchy and the leftist Orwell despised communist fanaticism. Another key point, he says, is that they were "both willing to say, 'No, my side is wrong on this.' "

Both believed - along with Adam Smith and the American Founders and Lincoln and FDR and so on, that moderate, negotiated reform and steady progress could overcome the crises precipitated by insatiable fools at all extremes. And history shows they were right.

Hence the propaganda by  insatiable fools at all extremes, aimed at demolishing moderate, fact-using professions and mature argument. NPR Reporter Steven Inskeep stands up against this campaign, and the 200 year: "agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter."

Why Is Clozapine So Great?

Jul. 27th, 2017 07:34 pm
[syndicated profile] slatestarcodex_feed

Posted by Scott Alexander

[Epistemic status: Very speculative; I don’t fully understand a lot of the studies involved]

Clozapine is an antipsychotic drug sometimes used to treat schizophrenia. Like most antipsychotics, it works by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain. Conventional wisdom among psychiatrists goes that most antipsychotics are about equally good – except for clozapine, which is better.

It’s fun to listen to psychiatrists, usually pretty quick to admit how crappy a lot of the drugs they prescribe are, wax rhapsodic about clozapine. From Joober & Boksa:

Consensus of opinion is rare in psychiatry. Even in the field of clinical trials, where experimentation is tightly controlled and regulatory bodies scrutinize the proof, controversies are frequent and difficult to resolve. One issue for which there is a widespread consensus is the unique place that clozapine occupies in the treatment of severe mental illnesses, particularly refractory schizophrenia. This molecule is distinct because of its effectiveness, numerous and sometimes mysterious pharmacologic characteristics, serious side effects and under use…

Every clinician who has prescribed clozapine can recount a few experiences of seeing patients emerge from their chaotic psychotic experience. This is one of the most rewarding experiences that a psychiatrist can have in his or her professional life, and it is among the most important strikes we have made against one of the most devastating diseases affecting mankind.

Psychiatrists wish they could give clozapine to everyone who needs an antipsychotic. They can’t, because its increased efficacy goes side-by-side with greater side effects. The best known are agranulocytosis, metabolic syndrome, seizures, myocarditis, and eosinophilia, and the list just goes on from there.

This has led a lot of people to wonder: why is clozapine so uniquely great? And can we get a version which is just as good without the side effects?

Recently there’s been increased interest in the glutamate system (especially NMDA receptors) in schizophrenia, and in glutamatergic compounds as possible treatments. Various teams have taken schizophrenic patients already on antipsychotics and added NMDA modulators, especially d-serine, glycine, and sarcosine. Meta-analyses have been guardedly positive (Tiihonen & Walbeck) or explicitly positive (Singh & Singh, Tsai & Lin). There’s a widespread hope that the next generation of antipsychotics will be glutamatergic drugs which are able to attack more symptoms than the dopaminergics we have today.

But what if that next generation were already here?

Both of the recent meta-analyses of glutamatergic augmentation of antipsychotics noted the same exception. From Singh & Singh:

When added to clozapine, none of the drugs demonstrated therapeutic potential

And from Tsai & Lin:

Patients receiving risperidone or olanzapine, but not clozapine, improved.

Why should this be? A couple of recent studies have converged on an exciting possibility: clozapine is a combination antipsychotic + NMDAergic. That is, NMDA glycine site agonists don’t add anything to clozapine because clozapine is already agonizing the glycine site.

This is the suggestion of Schwieler et al, based on their electrophysiology studies in rats. They find that clozapine causes a characteristic change in the firing rates of certain rat neurons, a change which is reversed by the glycine site antagonist kynurenic acid. They conclude (I don’t know enough to confirm) that:

The enhanced response of [ventral tegmental area] [dopaminergic] neurons to clozapine seen following lowered [kynurenic acid] is what should be expected from a partial NMDA/glycine-site agonist.

Javitt et al also work with rats, and find that clozapine “inhibited transport of both glycine and MeAIB, but not other amino acids, at concentrations associated with preferential clinical response”. Other antipsychotics do nothing of the sort. A lot of their biochemistry is a little too in-the-weeds for me, but I think what they’re saying is that clozapine increases natural extracellular glycine levels, and so really is a direct analogue of medicinal glycine administration. They conclude:

This study suggests first that System A transporters, or a subset thereof, may play a critical role in regulation of synaptic glycine levels and by extension of NMDA receptor regulation, and second that System A antagonism may contribute to the differential clinical efficacy of clozapine compared with other typical or atypical antipsychotics.

Jardemark et al find that clozapine facilitates NMDAergic neurotransmission through something called protein kinase C. My head is starting to hurt trying to keep track of all of these different chemicals, and in particular I’m not sure whether all of these people are positing different and incompatible mechanisms or if they can be unified into one big biochemical pathway. But it sure looks like a lot of people have found some kind of interesting NMDAergic effect.

This doesn’t really prove anything. For one thing, a bunch of drugs coincidentally have NMDAergic effects that have nothing to do with their mechanism of action – eg the antibiotic cycloserine treats tuberculosis and happens to be a pretty good NMDA agonist on the side. For another thing, what if all antipsychotics have NMDAergic effects? Blocking dopamine is probably going to do something or other upstream. Right now evidence seems pretty mixed on this, with one study suggesting they do (1) and a couple suggesting they don’t (1, 2, 3).

If this really was the source of clozapine’s special powers, it would be a really important big breakthrough. All through residency, I kept hearing “nobody really knows why clozapine is so great” or “it probably has something to do with its weak D2 binding affinity or something”. If we knew it was just because clozapine was an antipsychotic plus glycine, we could just give people an antipsychotic plus glycine, and avoid the agranulocytosis, metabolic syndrome, seizures, myocarditis, eosinophilia, etc.

This theory isn’t ready for prime time yet; it’s still not really proven that the NMDA agonists work for schizophrenia at all. And it probably never will be – it’s hard to patent these chemicals, meaning that it would take extreme creativity to jump the bureaucratic hurdles necessary to get them into the pharmacopoeia. Until that happens, using these chemicals will remain experimental, and replacing clozapine with them downright irresponsible.

Still, it’ll be hard to watch treatment-refractory schizophrenia patients get their agranulocytosis, metabolic syndrome, seizures, myocarditis, eosinophilia, etc without wondering whether another way is possible.

[syndicated profile] maia_at_feministe_feed

Posted by Caperton

With three early-morning tweets on Wednesday, Trump has declared that thousands of troops who have chosen to risk their lives for their country, who have done what millions of Americans -- including Trump himself -- have never done, won't be allowed to serve because their healthcare is too expensive. And that is an uningnorable factor -- Trump has also established that a group of people can be declared a "tremendous burden" and marginalized and cast out into the cold. This is, of course, bullshit.
la_rainette: (Default)
[personal profile] la_rainette
Karl has not eaten his crickets. RUN KARL RUN. EAT YOUR CRICKETS DAMMIT.

from Tumblr http://ift.tt/2h6enES
la_rainette: (Default)
[personal profile] la_rainette
We are currently toad-sitting for a friend of a friend (long story) and much as I love frogs and all things amphibian, I don’t think I ever want a toad of my own. 

The toad arrived two days ago in a tall lidless plastic container, complete with special blue drops to put in his water and a box of live crickets to feed him (eeeek). We placed the bin in one of the few rooms that can be completely isolated from the cats, i.e. the “plant room”. 

The toad’s name is Karl. Karl is not very bright. 

This morning I found my calico cat, Josephine-the-cranky, sitting in front of the glass door that leads to the plant room and watching intently. Oh no, I thought. But then I thought, of course not, the bin is WAY too tall, she probably just… smelled something. Yes, that’s it: she’s smelling the toad. But then I saw her entire body stiffen and I thought, this can’t be right. So I went to have a look.

Sure enough, Karl was out and about and hoping merrily. Oh no, I thought.

Have you ever tried to catch a panicked toad? Well, let me just tell you that I’ve developed a whole new level of appreciation for Neville Longbottom. It took three people and several tries to get Karl back in his box. It didn’t help that we all ran after the toad but nobody really wanted to touch him. Karl inadvertently hoped onto my foot at some point and I instinctively shrieked and pulled my foot back (listen, he’s a big toad and I thought Froglet had him cornered, I did not expect him to land on my bare foot with a wet splat). 

Eventually, EVENTUALLY, we got Karl back into the bin, where he sat sulking in a corner. We shook a few crickets into the bin to cheer him up, but NOPE, Karl sulked and ignored the crickets. The crickets climbed on him. He remained unfazed. Froglet tried to catch a cricket with tweezers to feed it to Karl, but she only managed to scare it off and it fled straight to Karl, who ignored it. 

Karl’s really not that bright - we’re starting to believe that he’s scared of his own food. 

As a last resort we threw a blanket over the great lidless plastic bin, which now contains one depressed-looking toad and several hyperactive crickets, and we’re hoping for the best. I’ll check in on Karl and the crickets later today. 

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The Worst Internet In America

Jul. 27th, 2017 01:00 pm
[syndicated profile] 538_politics_feed

Posted by Clare Malone

To drive the length and breadth of Saguache County, Colorado, is a dangerous undertaking. The roads, at least in spring, are lonely, clear and straight — “drive 30 miles then take a left” is the gist of most map directions. But the views are what can drive a person to distraction, veering recklessly over dotted yellow lines. There are hayfields drowned in water, blue and glassy so it looks like the sky fell into them, football fields full of black cattle standing stock-still like museum statuary, signs along empty stretches advertising meet and greets with the “Happy Gilmore” alligator, and crop planes that totter and swoop perilously over power lines before misting fields so green you think they might have invented the color.

The beauty of Saguache County can be an inconvenient one, though, particularly in the 21st century: It has some of the worst internet in the country. That’s in part because of the mountains and the isolation they bring. Saguache (sah-WATCH’) is nestled in between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan ranges, a four-hour drive southwest of Denver. Its population of 6,300 is spread across 3,169 square miles 7,800 feet above sea level, but on land that is mostly flat, so you can almost see the full scope of two mountain ranges as you drive the county’s highways: the San Juans, melted into soft brown peaks to the west, and the Sangre de Cristos, sharp, black and snowcapped, thrusting almost violently upward to the east.

FiveThirtyEight analyzed every county’s broadband usage using data from researchers at the University of Iowa and Arizona State University8 and found that Saguache was at the bottom. Only 5.6 percent of adults were estimated to have broadband.

But Saguache isn’t alone in lacking broadband. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans — 23 million people — don’t have access. In Pew surveys, those who live in rural areas were about twice as likely not to use the internet as urban or suburban Americans.

The only stoplight in Center, Colorado.

The FCC now defines broadband internet as the ability to download information at 25 megabits per second and to upload it at 3 megabits per second. This sort of connection enables a person to do the things that most Americans with home internet like to do — watch Netflix, play video games, and browse online without interruption even if a couple of devices are on the same connection. For around $30 a month, New York City internet providers offer basic packages of 100 Mbps service. In Saguache County, such a connection is rare; if a household wants a download speed of 12 Mbps with an upload speed of 2 Mbps, they can expect to pay a whopping $90.

This would be less of an issue if the internet weren’t so central to modern life. But taxes, job applications, payroll operations, banking, newspapers, shopping, college courses and video chats all are ubiquitous online. Saguache County’s students are expected to take their state assessments online even though an administrator at one school that houses K-12 students told me that until last year, the internet often went down for a couple of hours or even all day in the building.

The tide long ago turned from paper to digital in American life, and yet the disparities in access to the internet in parts of the country can be stark. Rural communities often face logistics problems installing fiber-optic cable in sparsely populated areas. In Saguache, internet problems are both logistical and financial; the county is three times the size of Rhode Island, while 30 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Some would argue that the social contract has changed and that fast internet isn’t just a luxury — it’s a right of all 21st-century Americans. If that’s the case, we’re far from ensuring it. Just spend a few days hopping from town to town on Saguache’s long stretches of road.

Many people don’t have good internet Estimated share of adults with typical internet speeds faster than dialup, by county

The U.S. has a long history of trying to bring utility access to all Americans. In the early 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration, 90 percent of American farmers lived without power. Many families could not access running water, heat and light for the home. The cost of running electric lines to the country’s most remote areas was prohibitive for profit-seeking businesses, but the REA found eager partners in rural electric cooperatives that had started to spring up in small communities with an eye toward modernization. The government began providing the co-ops loans to build out their electric networks, and by the end of the 1940s most farms in the country had power.

With clear eyes brought by 80 years of hindsight, it’s obvious that Americans should have access to electricity — the country’s economic and social well-being depends on it. Advocates of universal broadband argue the same could be said of fast internet. Already, the law says that all Americans should have access to internet services, thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which expanded the notion of universal service beyond just the right to telephone service. In 2017, many co-ops see bringing high-speed internet to the most isolated places in the United States as the 21st century’s answer to rural electrification.

Workers erect power lines in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, says rural America should have fast broadband, in part, because it’s good for business.

She touted a 2016 study from the Hudson Institute that found that 66 percent of the economic impact of rural broadband went to urban economies rather than rural ones, given that many of the supplies needed to build these remote networks are sourced from urban areas. The same study estimated that if broadband was as good in rural areas as it is in urban ones, online retail sales would be “at least $1 billion higher.”

But there is also a less-quantifiable social good that fast internet access for all might bring to the country. Larry Downes, project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy and an internet industry analyst, said that by virtue of excluding some, the internet’s value as a network of connection was being diluted. “Any time we add one more person to the internet, we get that many more possible connections of people, so that has greater value.”

More pointedly: “The more you create second-class citizens, the more we just continue to see some of these political divides,” Bloomfield said. The last election was proof of a breaking point. “I think rural America kind of sat back and roared a little bit.”

A view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains that overlook Crestone.

The town of Crestone, Colorado, sits off state Route 17, at the end of a long road that cuts through scrub-filled land at the base of the Sangre de Cristos. When I pulled in one early morning in late May, I didn’t see a soul, so I browsed the local bulletin board — a wood stove for sale, a missing young woman, yoga classes — and passed a lot filled with yurts and something that looked an awful lot like a satellite dish. Crestone has become home to a certain kind of person, eager to live out of the 2017 mainstream, and the town is filled with spiritual retreat centers and transplants from out of state.

It’s also where Colorado Central Telecom has an office. The small operation offers internet and phone plans to residents in Saguache County and neighboring Chaffee County and has tailored its service to the needs of the more isolated internet user. While most urban and suburban providers use fiber cables laid in the ground, rural providers often use something called fixed wireless internet to avoid the installation of miles of expensive cable. When the office opened, a technician named Joshua showed me a back room filled with the same kind of satellite-looking dishes I had seen on the yurt. If a home wants Colorado Central Telecom’s service, the dish is attached to it and pointed in the direction of the nearest fixed wireless tower so that a signal can be beamed to the home. The dishes must be in the line of sight of the tower, which can get tricky if trees or other obstructions are in the way.

Inside the Colorado Central Telecom office in Crestone, Colorado.

Maisie Ramsay, head of business development for Colorado Central Telecom, set out to show me over the course of the morning the kind of path that airborne internet signals must travel around Saguache County. From Crestone’s center we drove to a massive tower in a field just outside the town, then to a school in Moffat, a few minutes to the west, where a dish sat discreetly on the back of the building as kids played out front. The tour ended in the town of Saguache, at the northern end of the county, with Ramsay and I staring up at a tower on Cemetery Hill, a barren mound overlooking the tiny town. A woman named Pat Miller came out to ask if we were lost, and it turned out that she was a Central Telecom customer. “CenturyLink, you’ve probably heard, just was not going to give us the service,” Miller said, referring to the large telecom that services some parts of the San Luis Valley, where Saguache County is situated. “It was horrendous.”

This sort of complaint is common in Saguache County. In 2011, Ralph Abrams, the former mayor of Crestone, founded Colorado Central Telecom in direct response to poor service he said the town was getting from another large provider, Fairpoint. “Originally this started because Fairpoint was not providing more than half a [megabit],” Abrams told me. “Which is unusable,” Ramsay said. According to Abrams, the town was desperate for internet and the company was started because “none of the larger providers care about small rural areas.” Internet is a utility, Abrams said, and “utilities are a right for every person like road and sewer and water and electricity and we will bring it.”

Ralph Abrams, left, the former mayor of Crestone, founded Colorado Central Telecom in direct response to poor service he said the town was getting from another large provider, Fairpoint. At right, one of the fixed wireless towers his company installed.

Saguache County is a particular place. It’s still a bit cowboy-ish, though parts have an off-the-grid hippie feel. Its singularity of spirit means broadband can be a difficult sell to some. As one county commissioner, Tim Lovato, put it to me, “It’s kind of hard to carry a laptop when you’re on a horse.” It’s the sort of attitude that locals can brag about — a place that stands apart from the hustle and bustle of modern life — but one that others worry might hold back Saguache County in the future.

Lovato has lived in Saguache County his whole life. He grew up in a house with a wood stove and now lives in one with 32 big windows looking out on the mountains and a ranch that’s covered in chico, rabbitbrush and currant bushes. He drove me around one afternoon, pointing out his “girls” (cows), houses of people he’d known as a child, and prisoners from the county jail, out for their shackled afternoon constitutional in a residential neighborhood. Lovato, who uses internet only for emails and “maybe a little searching,” acknowledged that getting fast internet is important for keeping the county economically relevant, and yet over and over he expressed trepidation about what he called our “consumable world where everything is throwaway.” The internet seemed part of that to him, an immediate gratification machine.

At one point, I idly marveled that an old sawmill we passed, out of commission for decades, was still standing. “It’s not the internet, it’s not a renewable resource,” Lovato said in reply. The jump from sawmill to the internet took me by surprise, but it was as if Lovato was admonishing me for a mindset he perceived as out with the old, in with the new. Old sawmills, once gone, can never be replaced. A browser page will always refresh. The old things and ways of Saguache, he seemed to intimate, were in danger of being subsumed by a throwaway attitude if not for the vigilance of its residents. According to Pew, of the 13 percent of Americans who say they don’t use the internet, about a third — 34 percent — said that’s because they didn’t see its relevancy to their lives.

Saguache, Colorado, is a little bit cowboy-ish, though parts have an off-the-grid hippie feel. At left, a greenhouse and, at right, a shop owner shows a pin and belt buckle.

Saguache County is a place unlike many in the United States, which is why, for its residents, its particular way of life is so important to preserve. Charged with maintaining a connection to Saguache’s Wild West past is Dorraine Gasseling, director of the county museum and perhaps the country’s most blasé, delightful docent. Gasseling took me on a whirlwind tour of the county’s treasures one afternoon. The San Luis Valley was once a part of Mexico — Lovato and many other multigenerational residents come from Spanish-speaking households — so in the museum there were Spanish lace mantillas and statues of the Virgin Mary, but also prehistoric arrowheads, dueling pistols, playing cards, dinosaur bones and a rock marked “uranium” that made me a little nervous.

The museum’s pièce de résistance was the original county jail, famous for having housed accused cannibal Alfred Packer. “We had a ghost hunter here,” Gasseling told me. “He said we have 17 ghosts.” She made sure to point out that although the graffiti etched by prisoners had lots of girly pic drawings, there were no “nasty words, there’s no ‘G-D,’ no ‘F’s.” Back then, she said, “they had some manners.”

Reverence for the past is not an uncommon feeling in Saguache. Various people over the course of my visit happily said that things were done differently in the county and in the valley as a whole. “We’re in a time warp but in a positive way,” Kevin Wilkins, executive director of the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group, told me. “This is one place that hasn’t been Californicated or Disney-fied.” Joan Mobley, the former town administrator of Center — population 2,000 — said that most people pay their utility bills in cash and in person every month. “They come in here and it’s not just time to pay bills, it’s to socialize.”

Kids in Crestone play with a homemade Ouija board.

But Wilkins worries that Saguache’s lack of broadband could spell a future decline. Rural areas in America as a whole are already having a tough time. They’ve suffered population decline in recent decades, but there was a particularly steep drop-off starting in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and rural areas are older than urban areas or suburbs. Rural America has lower labor force participation rates than the rest of the country because of its aging population. Marijuana grow operations have started to move into Saguache over the last few years, though that’s not the only kind of business that residents want to cultivate. Some people talk about the potential that broadband could bring, enabling small businesses, perhaps tech-based ones run by young people, to move to the valley to operate in a low-cost environment.

There are also more immediate needs to be filled. In health care for instance, Wilkins said, telemedicine consultations could provide residents with more and better health care options, which are crucial in sparsely populated rural America. Twenty-four percent of America’s veterans, a population with a growing need for mental health resources, live in rural areas. But, Wilkins said, “without robust connectivity, you can’t do telemedicine.”

“In order for rural areas to survive they need to overcome this lack of an economy of scale,” Wilkins said. And broadband is “the only way to bring [rural areas] parity to an urban environment.”

Rural electrification was a relatively swift process, spurred by government funds and a national movement to modernize the country’s infrastructure. But bringing sufficient internet to rural areas in the 21st century is slower and more piecemeal; small companies and cooperatives are going it more or less alone, without much help yet from the federal government.

There has been some indication that this could change. President Trump has proposed $200 billion in infrastructure spending, and with his recent statement that the spending plan would “promote and foster, enhance broadband access for rural America,” rural broadband advocates have some reason to be hopeful. But as of yet, there are no concrete plans for the initiative. Downes, who testified about broadband before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May, said that there was “no discussion of when it’s going to happen, what it’s going to look like, where the money is going to come from, whether it’s going to be debt versus direct expenditures, whether it’s going to be government spending versus loans.”

The way the government implements spending and to whom it gives funds matters to smaller telecom companies like the ones in and around Saguache County. Currently, the San Luis Valley’s smaller internet providers that service its most remote areas are mostly frustrated by their interactions with the federal government.

“We applied, I want to say two years ago, for a grant that was broadband related and we did not get it,” Andrea Oaks Jaramillo, who works in economic development for the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and Ciello, its related broadband venture, told me. “CenturyLink did get federal funding, actually, so everyone thought, ‘Oh yay, they’re going to do more things down here in the valley,’ and that has still yet to be seen.”

That frustration — that large companies are rewarded but don’t do the work in the neediest areas — is a common theme in the valley. That has led local companies to think creatively about their own plans. Colorado Central Telecom’s towers are beaming signals to local dishes, and Ciello is using loans from the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and others to lay miles of fiber-optic cable in the hopes that the broadband venture’s fast speeds can be a competitive advantage.

Competition among providers is welcome to people like Mobley, Center’s former town administrator. “We’re trying to invite anyone and everyone,” she told me, “to drive down costs and make [the internet] more available.” Center is home to a large community of agricultural workers, and money is tight in the town.

In an ideal world, though, the government would step in to help implement a broadband plan, opening up possibilities for Saguache County’s towns and the San Luis Valley’s small internet providers.

To Julio Paez, right, a Center native and the Center school district’s information technology director, broadband access and students’ exposure to technical knowledge is crucial to their future.

When I asked Mobley how she hoped the federal government would deploy help on broadband should the Trump infrastructure project be financed, she said that free public Wi-Fi would help residents. There was already a need for it percolating in the community. “We had people sitting in the park after 10 p.m. at night and we were trying to figure out what they were doing — they’re not drinking,” she said. It turns out a company next to the park had recently opened and its Wi-Fi wasn’t password protected. The city told the company to password protect its connection, but it made Mobley think about whether that’s something the town of Center might someday provide to its residents. “There are people here that are looking for that free service.”

When I asked Abrams what he would look for in broadband funding from the federal government, he paused to consider: “Well, if the FCC would give funding to the small local people who know how to do it, I would say for a million bucks we could [provide broadband] in Saguache.”

Asked the same question, Wilkins of the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group said he would want to connect “anchor institutions” — hospitals and schools — throughout the valley, and that, “realistically, pragmatically, if the federal government would put up $10 million that we can leverage with creative financing and private sector investment and loans, that should help us accomplish the goal.” Downes and his research partner Blair Levin, who helped write the National Broadband Plan of 2010, have recommended that $20 billion be set aside nationally for a “one-time rural broadband acceleration program” that would, as Downes put it to me, “make it possible to provide broadband to all the current census tracts where it doesn’t exist at all today.”

Even if broadband funding and access arrive in Saguache County, there still will be cultural hurdles to overcome: the view that certain groups in the San Luis Valley don’t need a connection. Wilkins wondered if all residents needed home broadband, or just some. “You’re looking at Center School — look at the percentage of Latino, look at the percentage of farm worker. What do they need broadband for? To watch Netflix?” I pointed out that the kids in such households might need the internet to complete their schoolwork. Wilkins countered with cost. “If I’m making $20,000, $30,000 a year and I’ve got three kids, $100 a month [for internet] might be whether [or not] I provide dental care for my children.”

Most Center students’ summer jobs, Paez said, involve “back-breaking work” in the fields. Above, two of his student workers help Paez prep for the upcoming school year.

To Julio Paez, though, a Center native and the Center school district’s information technology director, broadband access and students’ exposure to technical knowledge is crucial to their future. Most students’ summer jobs, Paez said, involve doing “back-breaking work” in the fields. “I’m speaking from a personal point of view: It motivates them more to say, ‘I want to do something better, I want to continue my education and get a good career.’” In high school, Paez got a job helping the school IT director, then left Saguache for a few years to go to college. When he came back, Paez said, “I continued the tradition of hiring students.” This summer, there are four helping him prep computers, iPads and other devices for the upcoming school year.

These unforeseen serendipitous opportunities — summer jobs that become careers — are what motivate the county’s small internet providers to continue to pursue broadband as a public good. For now, no one in Saguache County is counting on a deus ex machina of funding from the federal government that turns universal broadband service from fantasy to reality. In real life, the practicalities wear.

“I’m tired,” Abrams told me, “of being the David to everyone else’s Goliath.”

Additional contribution from Daniel Lathrop and Dhrumil Mehta. Development by Justin McCraw.

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

Jul. 27th, 2017 12:33 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Congratulations! Your book was a success! Now do that trick a second time! In discussing Killing is My Business, author Adam Christopher talks about doing the thing that you did so well all over again — but different this time.


You know how it goes, the difficult second album: a band spends years meticulously crafting a collection of songs, polishing them through endless live sets until they shine, and these songs form their incandescent debut album.

Then they need to produce the follow-up and essentially come up with an entirely new repertoire on demand. That second album can be a difficult one indeed.

Now, I didn’t spend years crafting the Ray Electromatic Mysteries – Made to Kill, the first full-length novel after the Tor.com novelette Brisk Money, came out in 2015 and was something like my seventh published novel – but somehow the series has a certain kind of weight, just like that debut album of your favourite band. I think it’s because that original big idea was very big indeed – I was writing Raymond Chandler’s lost science fiction epics, a series about a robot assassin working in Chandler’s near-future Hollywood of 1965. That idea sprang from Chandler’s own letter to his agent in 1953, in which he complained about sci-fi, saying “people pay brisk money for this crap?” Clearly, this was a front, the famed hardboiled author conducting a fishing expedition, seeing if his agent would bite.

Sixty years later, I wrote a story named for Chandler’s letter – Brisk Money. The idea was everything – a whole world was open to me, enough not just for a novelette but for a trilogy of hardboiled novels and another in-between novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity – the title, again, taken from Chandler’s letters.

So far, so good. Made to Kill was a blast to write.

And then came book two.

I wouldn’t call it a sophomore slump. Far from it. The three novels were pitched together, right from the start, so I knew what I was doing and where the books were going. But there was one thing in back of my mind while I was working on what became the second novel, Killing Is My Business.

What would Raymond Chandler do?

That mantra, in essence, became the big idea of the book.

The concept of the Ray Electromatic Mysteries is simple: the robot revolution came and went in the 1950s, and Ray is the last robot left in the world, designed to be a private eye working in Hollywood. The only snag to this is that his supercomputer boss, Ada, was programmed to make a profit – and she quickly figured out you could make more money by killing people than finding them. A little tinkering with Ray’s CPU and Ada turns him into an accomplished hit-robot.

Simple enough, and, importantly, an open-ended concept. You could write a hundred stories about a hitman.

Which was actually the problem – because while I could easily write endless hardboiled, noir-ish stories set in Chandler’s seedy LA underbelly, a world full of wiseguys and dames and crooked cops and the mob, that’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before a thousand times. Hell, that’s basically Chandler’s oeuvre and people have been calling him a genius or a hack for the last seventy-plus years.

No, what I had to do was to write science fiction. There was no point in Ray being a robot if that wasn’t vital to the story. Ray had to be the central player in the trilogy – he’s unique, literally, and that has to drive the story arc that stretches across all three books.

So: what would Raymond Chandler do?

More specifically, what would Raymond Chandler do… with a robot?

In Killing Is My Business, Ray’s unique character is used to rather unsubtle effect when he uses his virtually indestructible chassis to protect a mob boss from a drive-by shooting, literally placing himself between the crime lord and his would-be executioners. This is something that only Ray could do. It’s a key scene, the first piece of the story that I had thought of.

And it was also a scene that I knew had to happen – if Ray is a robot then being a robot is the story. With that thought foremost in mind, I could write book two and I could make sure the series as a whole is more than just a set of pastiche crime novels, it was something original.  

Now, if he only Ray Electromatic knew what I torment I had in store for him in book three…


Killing is My Business: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Chipotle's bio downfall

Jul. 27th, 2017 03:29 pm
fridi: (Default)
[personal profile] fridi posting in [community profile] talkpolitics

Apparently Chipotle Mexican Grill, the popular fast-food chain, cannot stop their own downfall...

It all started when they decided to occupy the niche of fast, but healthy foods. So they started selling GMO-free products that were fresh, raw, without preservatives, hand-made, bio, organic, etc.

Read more... )


Jul. 27th, 2017 08:08 am
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly
In the grand tradition of fucked up "polls" on the internet, I present: The GOP. This is some biased garbage right here. I was positively giddy when I took it, btw - they're gonna define their narrative, but I can put my own little monkeywrench in the works. Bet those doofuses didn't even bother to set cookies so I couldn't take it twice.

Firing a Locked Smart Gun

Jul. 27th, 2017 11:14 am
[syndicated profile] schneiersecurity_feed

Posted by Bruce Schneier

The Armatix IP1 "smart gun" can only be fired by someone who is wearing a special watch. Unfortunately, this security measure is easily hackable.

infryq: Kitchen scene at dawn, post-processed to appear as if painted (Default)
[personal profile] infryq
Yesterday I sewed the curved seams for the main fabric and the lining
(including sewing one of them on backwards and having to redo it). I also
discovered I'd put the zipper in going the wrong direction, but as it
doesn't interfere too much with the operation of the bag I'm going to leave
it that way. I did wind up hand-sewing the narrow bits of the lining seams,
because the top-stitching on the zipper (which I wasn't able to do last
time) made it too difficult to fold the uninvolved fabric out of the way
far enough to get it through the machine. The larger seam allowances are a
huge help regardless.

P went to the garden and brought home beets (with their greens),
rattlesnake beans, and a small carrot.

I got a haircut. As I mentioned on instagram, it's a little bit Ramona
Quimby but I like it.

I've started shopping for future sewing projects. I'm planning some black
twill shorts for P (which is surprisingly sparse online, I would have
thought there'd be dozens of options), and for me, a coat (which will be a
big adventure, but I want a boiled wool in a rich blue plum or red so it's
going to take some shopping around), button-down shirts, and either a
double cloth shift dress for when it gets hot again or a lightweight terry
skirt like my favorite orange one. In my more immediate queue are another
long linen godet skirt in a dusty grape color and a flowy shirt in this
great green linen/elastane crepe.
[syndicated profile] 538_politics_feed

Posted by Andrea Jones-Rooy

When President Trump announced last month that he would re-impose strict limitations on Americans’ travel to Cuba, he said the policy would put pressure on the island nation’s communist government. Many critics, however, said the real victims of the policy would be the Cuban people. The logic of this argument is simple: By cutting off the recent influx of American tourists, who had flocked to the island after President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions during his second term, Trump’s policies could harm the many privately owned small businesses that sprung up to serve them. In turn, these small business owners will be less able to purchase from other businesses on the island, further hurting Cuba’s fledgling private enterprises.

But in reality, the cause and effect may not be so simple. Recent research suggests not only that tourism does not necessarily lead to economic growth, but also that it can in some cases make a country worse off. That suggests that restricting the flow of American tourists might not hurt Cuba — and could even help.

Economists broadly agree that in the short term, tourism brings money into a country that would not otherwise be there. But tourism is not a magic bullet. In other Caribbean nations, for example, there is a clear correlation between tourism and economic growth: Countries with more tourism are wealthier, on average, than those with less. But if tourism alone were enough to turn a weak economy into a strong one, the Caribbean would be far wealthier than it is. In reality, roughly a third of the region’s population lives below the poverty line.

Why hasn’t tourism done more to boost the Caribbean economy? One explanation may be the dominance of all-inclusive resorts and other forms of enclave tourism, which concentrates the industry in small areas of a country. Many tourists never leave the resorts, so their money stays there too. And because the resorts are often financed by expatriates, tourism dollars flow to hotel owners abroad rather than filtering out into the local economy.

The results in the Caribbean run counter to the theory that long dominated economic thinking around tourism, the tourism-led growth hypothesis. The hypothesis posits that revenue from tourism leads to economic growth both directly (by providing jobs and income to locals working in tourism) and indirectly (through improved infrastructure, which is often built to serve tourists but benefits the entire population). Ultimately, the entire economy improves as innovation and competition spread from tourism to other sectors. A rising tide lifts all boats — cruise ships and local fishing vessels alike. For years, empirical evidence from both multi-country and single-country studies, including studies of Spain, Turkey, Taiwan and Malaysia, supported this hypothesis.

But recent research has painted a more complicated picture of tourism’s impact. A study of South Korea found that economic growth led to increased tourism, but the relationship didn’t work the other way around, suggesting we have not fully disentangled cause and effect. A study of Mauritius found that tourism led to growth, but in the context of broader diversification of exports, suggesting there may be more to the story than just the increase in tourism. Finally, more sophisticated statistical work is now finding that the relationship between tourism and growth is not linear: In some cases it can contribute to growth, but not always.

When does tourism lead to growth? A parallel, more robust analysis of export-led growth provides some insight into that question. Like the tourism hypothesis, export-led growth posits that by focusing on exports, a country can generate revenue, which, through linkage to other sectors, will spur development in the entire economy. Japan was an early star in this model, inspiring export-focused policies in the rest of Asia and the world. But as with tourism, exports seem to produce uneven effects: In Vietnam, for example, efforts to replicate the Japanese model haven’t been working. And in China, experts are questioning the sustainability of the model.

Why have some countries thrived by focusing on exports while others haven’t? Research suggests that countries that do well under export-led growth, such as Japan, do so because they manage to create links between the export sector and other sectors so the economy doesn’t wind up depending too much on exports. These countries enact policies to support citizens’ education and skill development and build a robust middle class that creates its own domestic demand. Otherwise, their economies can backslide if demand for their exports diminishes (such as during a recession) or if other countries become more competitive (China is losing out to other southeast Asian countries in manufacturing, for example). Experts argue that much of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic problems are the result of focusing on exports at the expense of other sectors, such as agriculture. The parallels to tourism are clear: Countries such as Spain that have incorporated tourism into a diversified economy have done better than those — such as many Caribbean nations — that have grown dependent on tourism alone.

There are also parallels between tourism and what economists call the “resource curse,” the idea that having an abundance of an exported natural resource can actually be bad for an economy. Nigeria’s oil wealth has made it the largest economy in Africa, yet over half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the most recent information available. Experts attribute this to the government neglecting to implement redistribution policies, failing to develop other sectors and refusing to let its currency float freely. Sudan and many other countries are experiencing similar challenges. This isn’t to say that having resources must backfire: Thanks to policies mandating egalitarian profit-sharing and diversification, Norway has no such curse.

Oil reserves and beautiful beaches may not seem like they have much in common, but they introduce many of the same economic challenges. Like oil, tourism is an industry on which a country can become too reliant, at the expense of other areas. Like oil, tourism is sensitive to outside factors like global recessions, weather and armed conflict. Unlike oil, tourism is also sensitive to disease. Tourism can also use up the public goods and energy of the host country, even destroying the very ecosystem to which tourists are attracted (sort of like running out of oil). And in both oil and tourism, the key to avoiding the resource curse is good governance: policies that encourage economic diversification and invest profits in education and infrastructure.

Returning to Cuba: Is tourism likely to be a blessing or a curse? Data on Cuba is limited, making it hard to reach firm conclusions. But much of the available evidence suggests that Cuba was ill-prepared for a tourism boom. Despite the recent rise in American tourism,9 Cuba experienced negative economic growth in 2016. And it’s likely that the government estimates are inaccurate, which suggests that things are worse than reported. But the most telling data on the Cuban economy is the lack of it. The government does not produce poverty statistics, which is a red flag that the numbers probably aren’t that good. Independent research suggests that the country faces a growing racial and income inequality that has been exacerbated by the increase in tourism. The expansion of the private sector has been increasing the gap between the wealthy and the poor, and the country’s celebrated privately owned restaurants are accessible only to the wealthy.

The period between Obama’s and Trump’s announcements also provides a few clues about how growing tourism has affected the Cuban economy. The rapid influx of Americans was already overloading services and infrastructure, and forecasts predicted even further strains. Cuba is showing few signs of economic diversification: It is already suffering a domestic brain drain, where skilled workers, such as doctors, are switching to more lucrative jobs in hospitality. Market analysts have touted Airbnb as a private business success story, but the only Cubans who can avail themselves of this source of income are those who own homes and can afford to pay the flat-rate taxes. The government also still manages most of the economy, and getting permission to start a business remains difficult. Given the lack of diversification, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and the fact that the government will be tempted to capitalize on the growing tourist trade through state-sponsored hotels, all signs point to tourism becoming a curse.

There may, of course, be other reasons to oppose Trump’s policy on Cuba, not least that many experts think it is unlikely to have its intended effect. But by pressing “pause” on American tourism, Trump may have unintentionally given Cuba a rare opportunity. Usually countries that control in-demand natural resources have to figure out how to get the policy right while concurrently managing exports. But the re-imposition of travel limitations means that the Cuban government does not have to respond to growing demand quite yet. This could give the Cuban economy time to adjust and prepare for a day when Americans’ travel restrictions are once again loosened. And in the meantime, the lost revenue may give Cuba an incentive to develop other economic sectors. If Cuba becomes open to American tourists again in the future, perhaps its entire economy, not just its tourism sector, will be more robust than before.

solarbird: (tracer)
[personal profile] solarbird

Fuck me. What was I thinking? Venom thought, throwing up the throttle on her aircraft. How'd I ever think this could work? Why can't that bastard just stay dead?

A couple of years of therapy and liberal use of the web spread across and through her brain had helped. She didn't wake up screaming any more, at least, not often. But the rage - the rage that still laced through her being like the chronal accelerator which kept her in place in time - hadn't gone anywhere.

I should've known. I shoulda known, she thought, as her craft jumped high towards suborbital space. The old guard had to start showing up. Just bloody had to. And ruin everything.

She'd thought she was okay with Reyes's return. She liked the Angelino, and they needed a strategy expert. Amélie was not exactly thrilled, but then, she wasn't the liaison, and she wasn't going to break the project over it. But this, she thought, this... no. No more. We find him, we kill him, we fix it.

Her thoughts had mostly turned to a stream of comfortingly creative swear words by the time her ship's comms board lit up, with Amélie and Winston both, trying to make contact. She took Amélie's signal at once.

"Cherie, are you..."

"Jack Morrison is alive."

"I've been talking with Winston. I know."

"He doesn't get to stay that way."

The spider hummed a little; Lena could see in her mind the little smile that went with it, and it calmed her just a bit. "I think I agree," the spider said. "Winston does not, yet, but that is not important. Regardless, there are times and places and ways to consider. Please return to base. We should plan."

"Don't worry, sweetie - I'm not flyin' off to Mexico half-cocked. I'm already a third of the way home."

"Good." A moment passed. "I have missed you these last few days."

"I've missed you too, love. How was Calgary?" Calgary, and a minor target. Normally, beneath Talon's radar, but something twigged in the spider's web, and so, off she'd gone.

"Magnificent," replied the spider, warmly. "Not the town, of course, it is provincial in all of the worst ways. But the shot," she continued, voice liquid, "ahh, that was exquisite. I missed you all the more for it."

Venom smiled and relaxed a little more at the tone of her lover's voice. Reunion sex was always good sex, but reunion sex after a kill that made her spider's voice do that? Magnifique, as she would say. "J'ai hâte de t'embrasser encore."

"Très bien, mon bien-aimé," the blue woman replied. "Ton accent s'améliore."

"J'ai étudié beaucoup."

"Ça se voit. C'est merveilleux et je t'aime."

Lena flipped briefly to autopilot, closed her eyes, and breathed. "You're calming me down on purpose, aren't you?"

"Of course. But nothing you've said was wrong. Not even in French."

The younger assassin laughed a little, nodded, then laughed a little more at herself - nods don't make sounds. "Merci." She opened her eyes again, and took the little ship back off automatic. "Love you. Be home soon."

"I'll be waiting. Widowmaker out."

"Venom out."

Winston's hail still blinked on the comms pad. Hoo, do I wanna take this? she asked herself. It took a moment. ...yeh, I need to. She punched the acknowledge signal. "Tracer here. Sorry 'bout that, big guy. Got myself into a bit of a race."

On the other side of the signal, Winston slumped in his chair, relieved. He looked over at Angela and Gabriel though the office window, and motioned for them to come in. "It's okay, Lena."

"Nah, it's really not," replied the pilot. "I should've reined myself in, and I didn't. No excuses here, I've got the tools, I didn't use them, it's my fault. I'll do better next time, promise." Gabriel nodded a small silent approval, hearing that.

"Where are you?" asked the Lunar Ambassador.

"Sorry, luv. But nowhere you'd mind."

Heading home, then, he thought. Good. "Our new friend has some more information for you. I'll put it in the expected place."

"Righto, thanks."

"Talk to me later?"

"Will do. Tracer out."

"Winston out."

"Well," Gabriel said, "at least she owned up to it. That's something."

Winston and Angela both glared at the former Blackwatch lead, but it was Angela who spoke first. "Do. Not. Dare."

Gabriel raised his arms in a shrug. "Hey, I'm not the one who charged out of a staff meeting just because..."

"No," said the doctor. "Do not. This isn't your Overwatch either."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, doc, this isn't a power play..."

"I know you, Gabriel. Yes, it is."

"No, it's... really not," he insisted. "I'm not a senior officer anymore. I'm done with that."

"Then don't act like one," replied Dr. Ziegler. "You are not her CO, and you are not her father."

"She was already on edge about letting the old guard in at all, other than Angela," Winston said, quietly. "She bought in with you, because she likes you, and she respects you - but I'm the one who really wanted you onboard."

"But Winston, she can't do things like that, not in her position. I'm not a senior officer here, but she is."

"Then tell her that, to her face," said Angela. "Not to us, behind hers. You may say she's a senior officer, but you are not acting like you believe it..." She frowned. "This is not the old Overwatch. Do not bring in its baggage."

Gabriel slowly nodded, and his eyes narrowed. "...damn, doc, you're good. This'll take some serious getting used to, won't it?"

Mercy smiled and let herself look a little smug. "At least you owned up to it."

Gabriel laughed, something he rarely let himself do in the old days, and said, "I deserved that," and the tension drained from the room. "My CO is half my age," he said, rubbing his eyes. "I must be getting old."

Angela chuckled. "She's not really your CO."

"No, but you can't take the Army out of a man. Let me think of her like that for a little while, it'll help."

"As long as it's old Army, and not old Overwatch," insisted Ziegler.

"It is," answered Gabriel, chuckling, and shaking out his arms. "I feel like a First Lieutenant again, showing up, screwing up, getting my ass in trouble... Ana would have a field day if she ever heard me say that."

"Let's not bring up any more unpleasant stories right now," said the doctor.

"Agreed," said Winston, bringing the Morrison dossier up on his displays. "We have enough old soldiers to deal with already."

i have an idea…

Jul. 26th, 2017 03:47 pm
[syndicated profile] whatwouldwillwheaton_feed

Posted by wil@wilwheaton.net (Wil Wheaton)

I have this idea to make something as a unique art project. It is either the craziest, dumbest, most impractical thing ever … or it’s a crazy, dumb, impractical thing that will be awesome.

I will need exactly one million people, from anywhere in the world, to make it happen. I wonder if that’s possible.

Feel free to speculate, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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