Category: Free Speech

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Going Postal

Among Americans, few institutions, and the services provided, are as meaningful as the United States Post Office. The Second Continental Congress created the U.S. postal system on July 26, 1775—nearly a year before the Colonies formally declared national independence from Britain—and chose Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general. Living generations, even the youngest among them, share some emotional experience from receiving, or sending, mail. The card from grandma is a tangible expression of her love for you. Delivery of an online-ordered package—and every other one before it—is a moment of anticipation and joy. Feelings about the mail are entrenched, and within our society they are universally shared.

We put faith in the Post Office and its capacity to deliver our mail. But now, Democrat politicians and their supporters assert that our faith is misplaced—that we cannot trust the USPS, because the Trump Administration conspired to  disrupt postal operations to tamper with this year’s Presidential election. The allegations exploded like a supernova—seemingly from invisibility—not long after the President raised concerns that universal mail-in ballot initiatives, like the one here in California, would lead to voter fraud. Trump’s Democrat rivals assert that cost-cutting streamlining of postal operations and recent slowdown of mail processing are evidence of his interference to steal your vote.

It’s non sequitur. One thing has little to do with the other. Donald Trump is a longstanding critic of the USPS as it exists today—way before the brouhaha about mail-in ballots—and there are legitimate concerns that existing postal logistical capabilities and various states’ voting rules will lead to electoral chaos. But as a political maneuver, Democrats have whacked a hornet’s nest of emotional attachment to mail that already stings the President.

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Party-Pooping Politics

The first of two presidential conventions convening this month is underway. The Democrats are meeting, if you rightly can call it that, in Milwaukee, Wisc. Most of the speeches are being given individually, rather than before crowds, from remote locations, because everyone is scared into a tizzy about spreading—or worse—catching SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2); better known as COVID-19. I suppose that it would be bad form for 77-year-old Joe Biden, running mate Kamala Harris, or anyone among the party’s esteemed elite to catch Coronavirus and die. Surely members of the opposing party can hope.

Speaking of the Republicans, their greet-and-not-meet event starts on Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.. Flag-waving, MAGA-hat-wearing supporters can likewise stump for their candidates, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, before televised, remotely-given speeches. Every vote counts, unless your constituents catch COVID-19 and die before Election Day; so it’s better they don’t gather together. Eh?

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The Strong Arms of Defiance

Around the corner from where was the Urban Pumpkin is the local gym, which closed during California Governor Gavin “Gruesome” Newsom’s first state-shuttering order in mid-March 2020 but has since defied the second shutdown, started July 13, that restricts indoor activities at many commercial businesses and institutions (like churches). Four days ago, San Diego County issued an order for the “immediate closure of Boulevard Fitness”; compliance “may be enforced by the San Diego Police Department”.

In meaningless sense of solidarity—the way flabby, beer-gut spectators feel good when watching their favorite sports team compete and win—I have checked daily for more than a month to see if the gym is open, silently cheering that it was. But on a Monday morning, following the “cease and desist” order, would Boulevard Fitness welcome patrons of exercise and good health?

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I Quit Nextdoor AGAIN

For the third time since joining the so-called neighborhood social network in August 2017, I write about leaving. Previously: October 2018 and July 2019. Pandemic, pets (lost ones), police, politics, and protests were all good reasons to make 2020 a grand return. Every week passes like a lifetime this year. Many of us are confined to our residences or street, because of “shelter-in-place” and “social-distancing” orders; fear of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)—also known as COVID-19—infection; work-from-home requirements; job loss; or school closures. Nextdoor was a way to connect and to stay informed.

But, today, I unceremoniously deactivated my account, once more, because the mandatory “Good Neighbor Pledge” offends me. The thing popped up when I opened the News Feed—first time, this morning. To read, or do anything else, means acknowledging “I agree”. I don’t.

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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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You’ve Been Misled About Fake News

I am ashamed and embarrassed to be a journalist. This past week’s coordinated attacks on so-called fake news sites—largely orchestrated by the mainstream media and supported by Internet gatekeepers like Google and social media consorts such as Facebook or Twitter—is nothing less than an assault on free speech by organizations that should protect it.

They blame so-called fake news sites for influencing the 2016 Presidential election in favor of real-estate mogul Donald Trump and seek to extinguish them. But the Fourth Estate really responds to a perceived threat that looks to upend the mainstream media status quo. More appalling is the rampant advocacy journalism wrapped in cloak of objectivity from news orgs like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Meaning: Anti-Trump editorial policy and reporting slants are as biased as the labeled fakers. Worst of all: Many, if not most, media outlets fail to acknowledge, if even see, how they failed the American public during the campaign. Their accusations should point inwardly, not outwardly to other information disseminators.

So there is no misunderstanding: I am not a rabid Trump supporter, but a journalist who separates personal sentiments from my ethical responsibilities. More of my peers should do likewise.

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CNET Expunged My Byline–and I Don’t Feel Fine

I made a rather startling discovery yesterday while looking for one of my old CNET News stories: My byline has been removed and changed to Staff. Not on just the one, but all. That ends any historical record reporting for the early tech website—from 1999-2003. While others sites I wrote for during 2003-2009 have vanished, CNET remained and my name as author of record on thousands of stories. It was a repository I could rely on. No longer.

The discovery came while searching for “Mac Cube: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?” The analysis sought to answer a question I had as a G4 Cube owner—as did others, many of whom were regular readers. The dek captures the story’s spirit: “Apple Computer is fending off criticism its stylish Power Mac G4 Cube is marred by cracks. But are the hair-thin lines the defects they appear to be?” 

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I’m Mad! Some Dude is using My Gmail to open Dating and Deal Site Accounts!

Question: “When is stupidity fraud?” I ask because someone is using my gmail address to sign up for a humungous number of newsletters and websites. At first, I presumed someone trolled me. But that no longer appears to be the case. This guy, presumably living in North Carolina, either uses my address randomly to hide his identity, or he mistypes one that is similar. Given many of the services are for an unidentified widower looking for love, I assume the latter.

Behind my question are real concerns about identity and privacy that do not just apply to me. The email address gives me the ability to change the passwords and even cancel accounts—both of which I have done, treating his misuse of my email address as identity theft and violations of my privacy; after years of careful cultivation that reduced spam, crap is on the rise as this misuse spreads my gmail identity across dating and discount sites and sex webcams. Who knows on what mailing lists it will appear next. But over the past 24 hours, the amount of spam offers, like being paid to take surveys, exploded. The email address may be permanently ruined for personal and professional purposes. 

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What Would You Add?

Walking through San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood earlier this evening, I spotted something new—or at least to me. The “Before I Die…” wall has been there since June 2012. Clearly, I don’t get to that side of University Ave. often enough.

There’s something morbid about the giant chalkboard compared to aspirational “The Courage Wall”, which was my Flickr-a-Day-231 selection last year. Both fixtures provide space for passersby to express something longed to do; one is about overcoming something to achieve something more, while the other is wished for far less earnestly. Compare the aspirations to see the differences. 

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Litigation Censorship, Gawker, and the End of the Free Press

I am super grumpy today. Angry. No—thoroughly pissed off at billionaire bully Peter Thiel’s vendetta litigation financing that resulted in today’s bankruptcy filing by new media journo Gawker Media. Thiel plunked down, admittedly, at least $10 million to back Hulk Hogan’s breach-of-privacy lawsuit, which resulted in a $140 million jury judgement against the blog network for releasing the former faux wrestler’s sex tape.

Gawker had asked the presiding judge to set aside damages during the appeals process. Denied. The amount due exceeds the company’s assets, precipitating the Chapter 11 filing that will effectively end the media company as we know it now. Gawker is on the auction block, where Ziff Davis already has an offer.