Category: Commentary

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Spanning most of my career, whether working as analyst or journalist, I have repeatedly railed against how U.S. law treats businesses—essentially as people. Reason: Moral dichotomy, where the ethical priorities of publicly-traded companies vastly differ from—and often contradict with—values of the people founding, running, or working for them. Keyword is value, where one usage refers to beliefs and another to money; meaning stock price and proceeds returned to shareholders.

My first, best articulation of this concept came during an April 2006 radio interview—I believe for NPR marketplace—when discussing major U.S. search providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo censoring results in China, at the government’s insistence. Behind the action there loomed censorship’s morality, such as restricting search terms like “democracy”. I expressed that there is no moral high ground in business. The high ground is quagmire, because all public companies share a single, moral objective: Make profits for stockholders. Plain, pure, and simple. Sadly, that moral agenda explains why United Airline’s PR week from Hell is Heaven for shareholders. Overbooking means the carrier fills seats; operations are lean and mean (quite literally, the latter). 

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Praise Be Citizen Journalists

On this Easter, like others, I think about resurrection—but this day, strangely, how it should apply to the news media. Three years ago, I wrote largely-overlooked ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers. The concept germinated from my June 2009 essay “Iran and the Internet Democracy“, following protests in the country that citizens documented on social media/self-publishing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which at the time were little more than three years old (with respect to availability to the public). I predicted that these nascent services would disrupt editorial monopolies on news and other information, which has occurred in varying degrees during the nearly eight years since.

By March 2010, a troubling trend lead me to write what would become the other genesis for the book: “The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“. Too many news gatherers single-source blog and socially-shared posts, without independently confirming their accuracy. As I have told my reporters over the years, when working as an editor: Write only what you know to be true. If you haven’t communicated directly with the source, then you don’t know what’s true. But I am more disturbed by social media activity that mainstream media presents as news, such as stories that turn trending topics, or simply single tweets, into clickable headlines. Often they’re unconfirmed filler for driving pageviews. 

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Boo Hoo, Yahoo!

My oldest Internet ID, three letters, is vintage 1996. Yahoo’s impending demise, which could be to Verizon, almost certainly will mark the end of our long relationship. We mutually will abandon one another. I’m sorry that it comes to this.

Yahoo sealed its fate when cutting the deal to outsource search to Microsoft during summer 2009. The disaster I predicted then will soon end the iconic brand, what little remains of it. Many people will blame CEO Marissa Mayer, but she was but steward of the sinking ship. Doom was a certainty after Yahoo surrendered crown jewel search. That the company limped along for another 7 years is testimony to the brand and to the services infrastructure built around it.

That said, the decision to sell off Yahoo assets is far greater surrender; one from which Mayer supposedly will profit handsomely. She deserves no financial benefit for abandoning—suiciding—what salvageable remains. For example, Flickr and Tumblr, both acquisitions, are among the many Yahoo assets that could be sustainable, even profitable. 

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Bill Gates’ Backdoor Policy

I see something disingenuous about Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates supporting the government’s demands that Apple selectively unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif. shooters. The former CEO turned philanthropist spoke to the Financial times in an interview posted today. The implications for Microsoft cannot be overstated, and the company’s current chief executive should state corporate policy.

Gates’ position aligns with the government’s: That this case is specific, and isolated, and that the demand would merely provide “access to information”. Here’s the thing: The interviewer asks Gates if he supports tech companies providing backdoors to their smartphones. The technologist deflects: “Nobody’s talking about a backdoor”. Media consultants teach publicly-facing officials to offer non-answers exactly like this one. The answer defines the narrative, not the interviewer’s question. 

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Tim Cook’s Defining Moment

Some documents are historically significant. They mark moments, comment on them, in manner demanding future citation and even use in courts or classrooms. That’s how I read Apple CEO Tim Cook’s “Open Letter to Our Customers“, about breaking iPhone encryption  His exposition spotlights seminal moment in the United States of America: Government’s further expansion of powers encroaching indiviuals’ rights to privacy and one company standing up and saying “No”.

Some people will scoff at my comparison, but it truly is what I see. Cook is like Rosa Parks, refusing to take a seat at the back of the bus—or in this instance behind one court judge and the FBI. Cook and Apple stand up for us all. I applaud law enforcement’s efforts to protect us from terrorism but tyranny shouldn’t be the means; taking away Constitutionally-given freedoms to protect them. Tim Cook is right. 

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If You Can Vote for American Idol on Smartphones, Why Not Presidents?

Over the weekend, my 94 year-old father-in-law asked what I would do to assure that every American who could vote would do so. That was an unexpected question, but one I addressed gingerly. This post is my answer restated for a public venue.

Simple answer: Smartphone. According to PewResearchCenter, nearly 70 percent of Americans own one of the devices, but the number among voting age adults tops 80 percent, according to other estimates. Surely a program could be in place by the 2020 Presidential race, and if lawmakers were truly serious about universal suffrage, a Manhattan-like project could make it happen by the next Mid-terms. 

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Where No Values Have Gone Before

For more than two weeks I have kept open in a browser tab essay “How Star Trek Explains the Decline of Liberalism” by Timothy Sandefur. Someone shared the story in one of my social feeds in mid-September—and apologies for not recalling whom. I don’t agree with the title, set against the writing, but I do largely agree with the analysis about Star Trek’s reflection of our society over the course of 50 years.

I loved the original series, which aired in 1966. Much as I liked, and even imitated Spock, Kirk’s bravado and moralism rapt my attention. He acted rather than hesitated. Meanwhile, series creator Gene Roddenberry and his producers, directors, and writers used the storytelling as metaphors and allegories commenting on American society and its values. I aspired to be like James Tiberius Kirk: Do the right thing, for the greater good of all, regardless the risk. 

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Use Drones to Fight Ebola

The world is at war. Ebola is the enemy. Not Islamic State. Not Russia, Israel, Palestine, the United States, or any other nation or peoples you would like to insert here. No country—pardon the word choice—is immune to Ebola. The disease doesn’t care about cultural, political, racial, or religious differences that divide people. The disease indiscriminately attacks everyone.

Ebola should unite us—a global community rallying against a common enemy. But the disease can, already does, divide us. Fear, not infection, is Ebola’s great weapon of mass destruction. In parts of West Africa, farmers abandon crops for fear of infection; yesterday, I heard a BBC radio report claiming as many as 40 percent of farms in some countries. Fear. Fear of infection will divide us unless we unite first. 

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The Day HBO GO is Stand-alone Subscription, I’m Done with Cable

Against the background noise of ridiculous Apple rumors, television ambitions are constant. Apple wants to be a TV network, will build a flat-screen industry-changer, or soon will release stunning new set-top box. Sources are vague; days, months, and years pass devoid of the next big thing.

Today, Aaron Pressman (@ampressman) tweets story: “Apple’s Promised TV Revolution Will Be More Of The Same Crap, Thanks To Terrified Cable & Broadcast Executives” by Karl Bode for TechDirt. My reply: “They should be scared. The day HBO GO is stand-alone subscription, I’m done with cable forever”.

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Better (RED) Than Dead

Super Bowl XLVIII is a real snoozer, with Seattle’s huge lead, and the adverts aren’t much more interesting. Among the few catching my attention: U2 song “Invisible” free on iTunes, with Bank of America donating a buck to (Product) RED. The promotion/donation ends 11:59 p.m. EST February 3.

On Sept. 29, 2006, I posted a quick analysis about (RED), which was then freshly started, to my JupiterResearch blog. The site is long gone, but I have the posts archived. What follows is the original text, complete with the original links, including to MySpace. Facebook was just a wisp seven-and-a-half-years ago. What that brief introduction…