Odds,ends from the editors desk — Nov. 19, 2014

Well, election season is, for the most part, in the books, and I think we call all breathe a sigh of relief and get back to what we think our traditional roles in politics should be: complaining.

Well, election season is, for the most part, in the books, and I think we call all breathe a sigh of relief and get back to what we think our traditional roles in politics should be: complaining.

The old adage is, of course, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” cleverly matched with the bumper sticker, “Hey, I voted for the other guy” bumper sticker. And the there’s George Carlin’s take: “I don’t think we should be governing ourselves. What we need is a king, and every now and then if the king’s not doing a good job, we kill him.”

We sure saw plenty of change in the 2014 midterms on election day. Republicans locked down their largest congressional majority since World War II. CNN noted that Nov. 4 brought some other historic firsts: Tim Scott became the first African-American from the South elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. Mia Love became the first black Republican woman elected to Congress — ever. Tom Cotton from Arkansas’ 4th District became the first Iraq war and the first Afghanistan war veteran to be elected to the Senate. Shelley Moore Capito became the first woman elected to the Senate from West Virginia while Joni Ernst became the first woman to represent Iowa in either house of Congress — and the first female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

The number of women in Congress will reach 100 for the first time in U.S. history.

Despite making history, just 36.3 percent of Americans cast ballots in the midterm election — the worst turnout in 72 years. In Washington, voters were a little less lethargic. The estimated 53.8 percent voter participation in our state was its lowest since 1978 — similarly an election in which no statewide public office was on the ballot.

Clallam voters (I’m proud to say) made their voices heard a bit better, to the tune of 61.8 percent. Know how many counties in our state with at least 40,000 registered voters had that kind of turnout? One.: Island County, 62.75 percent. And Jefferson County saw more than 70 percent of its 22,000 residents get out the vote. Nice job, North Olympic Peninsula.

I’m not sure we could get everyone in the nation (or our state, our county, or anything for that matter) to agree on any one thing, but we probably can agree that we can do better at getting our ballots to the elections centers, right? Even if it’s as hard as, say, mailing it in?

Speaking of voter initiatives …

Washington gave a thumbs-up to Initiative 594, a measure that would require criminal background checks for those purchasing firearms at gun shows and online. The vote — which passed 59-41, inspired a gun rights group called Resolute for Arms and Liberty, organized by two Central Washington men, to declare they will openly violate “in every way possible” the initiative at a Dec. 13 demonstration on the State Capitol steps. So that should be exciting …

Speaking of guns …

Back in 2012, I wrote an editorial about our glorification of a culture of violence, coming on the heels of a pair of double-homicides in Clallam County and a series of rather ugly, uber-violent incidents.

I revisited the column again in recent days as further details emerged about two more ghastly events: the Oct. 24 shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School that left five people dead, a slaying in Port Orchard in which a suspect killed a woman and posted pictures on social media.

“We are a culture that doesn’t explicitly abhor and shame the idea that violence is an appropriate response to problems,” I wrote then. “Tougher gun laws may help, but only to an extent. Would mass murderers, who seem to be in the news every other week, think twice about killing if they couldn’t use a gun? Sure, absolutely. But tougher access to guns likely won’t stop homicidal persons from killing. It would only curtail for some time the desire to take the life of another. And that’s the issue. The problem isn’t access to guns; it’s the desire to shoot someone and use the gun on one’s self … The greater, underlying issue is the culture of violence we embrace.”

I guess we haven’t changed much. Measures like I-594 are well-meaning, I suppose, but we’re still really good at being two-faced about violence in our culture.

It gets even more convoluted when we embrace a culture of celebrity. For some, it isn’t enough to end their own life, a tragedy at the outset. But it seems they are more than willing to take others along with them — such as Jaylen Fryberg at Marysville-Pilchuck — or try to elevate to some sort of celebrity status — as in the case of David Kalac, the key suspect in the Port Orchard slaying.

So what do we do? Surely there is no proverbial silver bullet, but perhaps we can take a lesson from what Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book “The Tipping Point” as the “Power of Context.” Gladwell writes, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” His prime example is efforts to combat minor crimes like vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in violent crimes citywide. Simply cleaning up graffiti and fixing broken windows led to a change in attitudes toward minor crimes in the culture and that led to bigger change.

Net neutrality

Water, phone service, electricity … the Internet. The basic staples of life?

Last week, President Obama called for the government to aggressively regulate Internet service providers Verizon and Comcast and the like, in essence treating broadband like a public utility.

Obama is calling for the FCC to adopt stricter rules for ensuring so-called net neutrality, a principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The FCC would have substantial power prohibiting carriers from blocking Web traffic or favoring some services over others. “I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online,” President Obama said in a statement.

Understandably, cable and telecom firms are up in arms regarding the President’s comments. A statement sent out by Verizon noted the move would “threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation. That course will likely also face strong legal challenges and would likely not stand up in court.”

Here’s a bit of irony in the whole mess: the U.S. has some of the highest basic broadband costs and among the slowest Internet speeds in the world. The price of basic broadband, TV and phone packages is much higher in American cities than elsewhere and the higher-speed connections run nearly three times as much as in the U.K. and France, and more than five times as much as in South Korea. Although there are several national companies, local markets tend to be dominated by just one or two main providers, reports USA Today.

Susan Crawford, a former special assistant to Obama on science, technology and innovation policy, told the newspaper that two-thirds of American customers get their broadband via their television cables because the DSL (digital subscriber line) service provided by phone companies over copper lines can’t compete with cable speeds, while wireless and satellite services are subject to low usage caps.

And, while most of Europe and Asia invest in high-speed, high-capacity networks, the U.S.’s substandard Internet infrastructure makes connectivity not only slower but contributes to higher prices for subscribers. Two recent international studies (one by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and another by the metrics service Ookla) put the U.S. at 23rd and 31st internationally, in measuring price-per-second of downloaded content. Globally, Ookla finds, the U.S. ranks 42nd with an average upload speed of 6.31 Mbps, behind such technological stalwarts as Lesotho, Belarus and Slovenia.

Crawford told the BBC this: “We deregulated high-speed Internet access 10 years ago and since then we’ve seen enormous consolidation and monopolies … Left to their own devices, companies that supply Internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight.”

Expect net neutrality to be just the first in a series of attempts to re-regulate the Internet industry.

Space rocks

I guess it’s every child’s dream to look up at the moon, to gaze upon the stars … and think, “I wonder if I’ll ever get a chance drill into one of those passing hunks of dirt and ice that kind of flies around? Someday?”

Well, that “someday” is now. In deploying a so-called Rosetta Spacecraft, European Space Agency scientists recently have managed to land a Philae probe on a comet — named 67P for those of you scoring at home — marking the the first-ever landing on a comet (see blogs.esa.int/rosetta).

“Rosetta is trying to answer the very big questions about the history of our solar system,” Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist, said in the article on ESA’s website. “What were the conditions like at its infancy and how did it evolve? What role did comets play in this evolution? How do comets work?”

The probe, named Philae, is equipped with an array of experiments to photograph and test the surface of the comet as well as to find out what happens when the “roasting” effect of the sun drives off gas and dust.

Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, said, “Apart from the amazing scientific results, the sheer challenge and ambition of such a mission is outstanding and illustrates how our space exploration of the solar system has become more advanced and successful. It gives us much to hope for in future missions.”

Said David Black, president and CEO at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence SETI) institute, “The modern-day creators of the Rosetta mission hope its exploration will unlock comets — ancient nuclei of rock and ices that are keys to understanding the formation of our solar system. Scientists also hope the mission will provide an insight into Earth’s earliest years. Comets bombarded the young Earth. Did they bring with them much of the water that still exists on our home planet, as well as the organic molecules that life needed in order to arise on Earth?”

For those unimpressed with the significance of the Rosetta effort, Black asks you to consider future generations. “These things — engaging science teachers, iconic images of manned space missions on TV — inspire young people to thirst for knowledge of the universe around us and to enter into scientific fields of research and study.

“ I believe that not only will the Rosetta mission help us understand where we come from and what our history is, but also help in inspiring a new generation to follow in the footsteps of Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.”

 

Reach Sequim Gazette editor Michael Dashiell at editor@sequimgazette.com.

 

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