Saturday, April 08, 2017

Net neutrality under seige in wake of Trump's internet bill

source: The Willits News
 April 7, 2017

Have you ever logged on to a website and been surprised that the ads were targeted to suit your needs? Perhaps the first time you experienced the phenomenon of targeted advertising you wondered how it was the web programmers knew of your predilection for Nike sneakers or your secret love of Grease the musical? You were either horrified at the prospect of your web privacy being invaded or marveled at the technical wizardry behind the technology. Whatever your reaction, get ready for the next phase.

In a recent 50-48 vote, the U.S. Senate approved to do away with Federal Communications Commission rules established last fall blocking internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from selling private communications to advertisers eager to get their hands on consumers’ Google search history without their authorization.

The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets reported earlier this week President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track and sell users’ data.

According to The New York Times, GOP lawmakers and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said privacy rules hampered telecommunications carriers, opening the door for further deregulation and allowing the federal government to strike against net neutrality rules. Net neutrality refers to requirements that broadband providers should enable access to all content and internet applications without playing favorites to specific websites.

As pointed out by Forbes, Wired and other technology and business publications, the future of net neutrality could be jeopardized as regulatory rollbacks that would allow the sale of users’ private data to corporate tech interests become the order of the day. What’s worse, the potential abuse of internet ownership by means of censoring or biasing content for financial gain could be predicted by Trump’s selection of Pai to take over as chairman of the FCC in January. People could read the writing on the smart board.

It’s no secret that Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, has been a vocal critic of net neutrality rules and his views seem to align with an administration which berates the media and has sworn to break up what Trump called “media conglomerate oligopolies” while on the stump last fall.

That’s not to say net neutrality is not an important concept for business, or that business should not play any part in people’s internet usage. As pointed out by the non-partisan Free Press, an organization fighting to save the free internet, the ability of small businesses and startups depends on an open internet to foster economic growth and encourages more diversity and creativity. The internet has always been a marketplace of ideas, although lobbyists have been attempting to impose government regulations to for several years in attempts to maximize the profits of a select few.

Free internet protection advocates argue that the open internet is also important for racial and social justice campaigns. The loss of a free internet could have the damaging effect of demarginalizing people of color by potentially taking away platforms for free expression on the web. We are not there yet and there are those who undoubtedly would categorize these ideas as hyperbole, but the potential is a real concern.

Regardless of their ideological stance, at the very least people should be leery of ISPs having the ability to exploit their browser history, thereby acquiring access to their consumer choices and internet searches. Currently there are malware and malicious programs designed to hijack search engine queries and by now the majority of web users have experienced the frustration of being rerouted to a website or advertising page without their consent. Advertisers will not have to rely solely on these surreptitious tactics and harmful software programs if the federal government moves toward ending what an L.A. Times editorial called “The equal opportunity internet.”

Once we go down the slippery slope of rolling back rules established during the previous administration espousing internet consumer protections in favor of increased profits, we face the real danger of going back to square one when it comes to user privacy and the establishment of a fair and equal internet for everybody.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

six months ago...

I closed the deal with K.C. Meadows, the managing editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal to come to Willits and take over as the city editor for the Willits News.

So I recall giving my landlord notice, packing my 2013 Kia Forte and driving from Espanola New Mexico to Arizona and then to Southern California where I stayed one weekend with my parents before heading out into the unknown: Mendocino County.

I still recall that fall weekend full of promise and hope, after a brief stop in San Francisco, the 100 mile plus drive north on the 101 to Ukiah where I stayed in temporary housing for three weeks while I commuted to Willits on a daily basis.

I remember that first fall weekend with the orange leaves on the sidewalks and downtown Ukiah so picturesque and lovely full of color, charm, almost like that fictional town the Gilmore Girls inhabited on TV.

Basically I took a leap of faith and it paid off.

So much happened since!

The first big story about Board of Supervisor Tom Woodhouse getting arrested the weekend before Halloween. I still remember he came to my office and said hello and gave me his business card, told me to call him. He had been AWOL at Board of Supervisors meetings and resurfaced on the streets on Willits, often disheveled or talking nonsense according to the locals.
Little did I know he was bipolar and his subsequent brush with the law and eventual resignation from the board was the first big story.

Just before the holidays the Bypass project opened, and shortly after that the aftermath of its construction. It appears the local businesses are still feeling its effects.

This morning I was at the local coffee shop for the first of what I hope will be many "meetings with the editor" where I sit and meet readers and discuss whatever is on their mind. This will happen at Rolands Bakery at the Evergreen Shopping Center every Wednesday AM.

This Friday I am taking a well deserved day off.

I will post my opinion on the Net Neutrality issue from Friday's paper late tomorrow once it goes live on our site.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Man About Willits: It's Your Move

source: The Willits News March 2, 2017

I have been a gamer all my life. From board games to card games to video games to role playing, I love all kinds, every kind of game, and I probably have tried most at one point or another from “Risk” to “Dungeons and Dragons” to “Magic The Gathering,” but there is one game that has had a hold on me for years and has been a constant throughout my life: the venerable game of chess. I often drive the rain soaked streets in Mendocino County looking for a game.

Ever since my dad taught me how the pieces move when I was 10, I have been enthralled by the complexities of the royal game, although I didn’t always play it. I took a long break from the game, not because I wanted to but because life got in the way, but I rediscovered it in college and have played it on and off ever since.

The beauty of chess, apart from the fact it offers many intellectual rewards, is also that you can play it anywhere and everywhere. In Russia and most European countries, the game is almost like a religion, I have read people play it on trains, in the park, and kids partake of it at school as part of their curriculum. Nowadays you can play over the board face to face against your opponent or on the internet and even on a smartphone through an app.

Most people who do not partake of the hobby don’t realize that chess has its own language. Actually, it has many languages, although there are two types of notation, the descriptive and the algebraic. The former was replaced by the latter for ease of use. This notation works by naming the squares where the pieces move on the 64 square board.

It is chess notation that allowed people to play “postal” chess for years prior to the advent of the internet. In postal or correspondence chess, a person will mail their move to another player and wait to receive the other player’s response. A game could take months or even years this way, but the advantage is you did not have to be next to the other player. It also allowed players to enjoy centuries old games and to play over historic matches by replaying the moves of their favorite recorded games printed in books and in newspapers and magazines.

The rise of the world wide web in the 1990s changed a lot in the global society and chess was no different. All of a sudden more people could instantly face each other in fierce battles over the web, internet clubs sprang up as did forums and websites dedicated to strategy and preserving the history of the game. Software which helped with instruction became popular and tournaments, which had once been exclusive to over-the-board play suddenly were also happening online.
I play chess occasionally with my college buddy Michael Chen, even though he resides 536 miles away in Southern California. We play using correspondence through Facebook and he routinely beats me.

Throughout history many famous people have played chess and the chess world has produced its share of celebrated characters and players. Benjamin Franklin was said to have loved the game. He famously said once, “We learn from chess the greatest maxim in life - that even when everything seems to be going badly, we should not lose heart, but always hope for a change for the better.”Another temperamental player, after losing an intense match is said to have grabbed his opponent’s king, hurled it across the room and shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

When I was growing up I was fascinated and read about the great chess champions of all time. There was Jose Raul Capablanca, the great Cuban master who was also ambassador for Cuba during his lifetime and a world champion in 1920. There was the U.S. champion Bobby Fischer who took on the Russian monopoly of the game and won the world title in 1972 in Reykjavic Iceland in dramatic fashion against the best Russian master Boris Spassky. The celebrated match was like a heavy weight boxing fight to chess lovers, and a microcosm of the Cold War.

In 1996 in Philadelphia, another historical chess match enthralled the world. This one featured chess champion Gary Kasparov playing against a super IBM computer dubbed “Deep Blue.” It marked the first time a chess playing computer defeated a world champion in a classical game under tournament regulations. The match captured the attention of millions and brought a renewed interest in the ancient game.

No one knows who invented it, but the game has been played for centuries by aristocrats, by diplomats and by scholars. I personally travelled by bus for several hours once to Santa Monica beach where there is a section of benches and old Russian masters who play on a daily basis. On another occasion, I was in New York City in the famous Washington Square Park, killing time while waiting on a flight back home. I thought it was a good idea to play one of the old guys in the park, perhaps I could give them a good game?

I don’t recommend it. Fastest $5 I ever lost.
Chess players are sometimes stereotyped as uber geeks, but in my experience this is a misconception as I have met chess players of every age, creed and walk of life during my lifetime. Chess players have a sense of humor. One player told me this joke: A man and a dog were seen playing chess together in a park. One person remarked, “Wow, that’s a clever dog.” The man retorted, “He’s not so clever, I beat him three out of four games.”
I try to find a chess club or gaming store everywhere I go. Ukiah has one and so does Willits. The Willits gaming store has almost every role playing, card and board game available and there are games happening on week nights and on the weekend. I have not seen chess players there.

I am still searching for over-the-board opponents to play during my free time. Come on Willits, it’s your move.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The facebook Journalism project: Do we really need it?

Approximately two weeks ago, Facebook kicked off their first Facebook event with local media in Dallas. According to their site page, the Facebook team hosted nearly 70 attendees, representing newspapers, TV and radio stations from across Texas and surrounding areas.

The social media giant called it "an opportunity for newsroom leaders, social media editors and journalists to learn more about using Facebook and Instagram for news" and for them to learn more about local news organizations on these platforms. Additionally, Facebook said local news is important to people and that they admire their local news partners that bring communities together around issues that are closest to home.

 Facebook invited users to take a look at some of the standout moments local publishers shared over the past few weeks. They say they are launching a new monthly feature on their Media Blog called "Spotlight on Local," where they will showcase storytelling from local news publishers on Facebook and Instagram. The Facebook team said over the coming months their news partnerships team will also be hosting more regional news on Facebook events for local publishers across the country.

The problem with "fake news" found on social media has also been addressed of late. I think the problem is exacerbated by a president and an administration that labels news report they find critical or they disagree with as fake. Just because a politician does not like the way he or she is portrayed in an article, that does not necessarily invalidate the information anymore than President Trump hearing somewhere that he garnered the greatest number of electoral votes in history (not true) make that fact a true statement.

Personally I don't think there really is a need for a Facebook journalism project. The latest version of the Associated Press stylebook has an entire chapter dedicated on how to deal with many of the issues journalists face with the emergence of social media. Mostly I use Facebook and Twitter to post links to my work, and so do a lot of other media organizations that I am aware of.

Certainly there needs to be more education about social media and how it benefits the industry, but other than that, it does not seem this type of elaborate project is needed because media professionals have already incorporated the web and social media to supplement and enhance their reporting and have been doing it successfully for quite some time now.

 I also dare to say that social media, Facebook in particular, has not always been good for journalism and has had the opposite effect in many cases. One unwanted byproduct of social media integration has been the notable rise in the fake news trends. Because anyone can post on the web and links containing information that isn't vetted, often the spread of misinformation via links to sites of questionable legitimacy with questionable facts and content was a byproduct of the rise of social media, memes and the internet culture.

Another detrimental result is that people have become accustomed to getting their news from social media and have become lazy and less critical. A large demographic and segment of the population does not even read newspapers or magazines and the lack of in-depth reporting in other media outlets has eroded people's ability to exercise critical thinking and judgement. That may not all be attributed directly to social media, but it sure has not helped.

Another problem has been news outlets, particularly on the broadcasting spectrum, becoming less impartial and espousing ideology such as Fox News for conservatives and MSNBC on the liberal spectrum.

I think it is laudable for Facebook to try to mitigate the problem with fakes news now, but it seems more like a reactionary end result to the criticism it faced over the controversy, more than anything else. I hope that the collaboration between Facebook and news professionals turns out to be good for the industry. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Man about Willits: Why I love books

Man about Willits: Source: The Willits News 1/19/2017

 I love books. I especially love older volumes and the musty, used variety. Back in 1981, Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and famous media mogul, was quoted saying newspapers would be gone in 10 years. I am guessing his assessment was probably based on the emergence of new technologies at the time, and on the rising popularity of cable television. Now, cable TV is all but dead, replaced by streaming services and other technologies.

 I am a newspaper print guy and I realize that compared to the younger generation, I could be equated with a dying breed, the traditionalist who prefers the printed page to the shiny new gadget, tablet or e-reader.

The last few months have been pretty busy professionally for me, I am still getting acclimated to Mendocino County and to Willits specifically. There has been no shortage of significant events to cover since my arrival in the fall, but in the wake of last week’s storms and before this week’s ongoing precipitation, there was a lull in the weather. I stepped out of my office to stroll down Main Street, take in the sliver of sunlight and to walk to a favorite new destination: The used bookstore. After a filling lunch at the Mexican restaurant near my bank, I popped into the bookstore to briefly disappear into the stacks for the balance of my lunch break. It was the perfect respite from the deadlines, interviews, emails and the other responsibilities of the typical work day.

Whenever I find a new bookstore I always make it a point to scope out the section on games looking for tomes on chess. Willits is pretty well stocked when it comes to the books I enjoy reading.

I have heard it said that there are more books printed on chess strategy, history, tactics and tournaments than any other topic, except perhaps religion and the Bible. I probably read that bit of trivia somewhere.

 When I visit a library, I always head to the section labeled .794 under the Dewey Decimal system first, because I know that is where all the chess books are hidden, like rare gems in a buccaneer’s treasure chest. I also love biographies and screen writing books. Maybe my movie script will be completed in 2017. Sadly, bookstores have been going the way of the dinosaurs, brick and mortar stores and mom and pop businesses replaced by Amazon, Google gadgets and technology. According to the illiteracy statistics compiled by the Static Brain Research Institute, based on research undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy last year, there are still 32,000 adults in our country who cannot read; 14 percent can’t read above a basic level.

A staggering 44 percent of U.S. adults can only read at an intermediate level of proficiency and studies have shown close to 20 percent of high school graduates are illiterate. I remember sitting in my high school French class reading “The Little Prince” in its original French and in my A.P. English class pouring through the works of Shakespeare, Orwell and other classics. I cannot fathom being in a classroom without the ability to understand the printed page.

 I have always believed there is something irrefutably sad about a society where anyone can tell you the latest exploits of the Kardashians, but are at a loss when asked who wrote “Moby Dick” or to recite a line from Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet without pulling out their iPhone or asking the all-mighty Google.

Then again, I am “old school.” I sat in a freshman high school class learning to type the “home row” keys and just yesterday was having a conversation with a co-worker about the days when we needed a landline to be able to use the Internet.

 I love books, the tactile nature of their texture and feel, and I even love the way an old book smells. The fictional librarian in the old Buffy show Rupert Giles said “books smell like knowledge.” He said the problem with computers is they don’t smell. I think he was absolutely right. Conversely, I think my college journalism teacher was wrong when she adopted the mantra “print is dead.” Print and newspapers are alive and well in Willits, California and in Lake Jackson, Texas where I worked as a reporter two years ago and they are also still viable in Northern New Mexico where they are sold on street corners, much like they were a century ago. It looks like books and newspapers have some life in them yet. Ted Turner was dead wrong as a prognosticator, fortunately for us old souls who still love curling in a corner with a favorite book.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Man about Willits

Here is a link to my first column for TWN: Man about Willits

source: The Willits News, January 6, 2017

It must have come as a surprise to some of their members when I walked into the North County Women in Business Network’s latest meeting at the Willits Center for the Arts upstairs gallery Wednesday morning.

As I clutched my trusty battered briefcase and Canon digital camera and signed the attendance sheet, I overheard one of the ladies say in a concurrently bemused and astonished tone, “It’s a man.”

As a reporter and city editor working in the community of Willits, I have gotten to know a few of those in attendance, like former Mayor and City Council Member Holly Madrigal and Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Epstein, but the bulk were still new faces. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to accomplish other than networking and listening in to the group’s plans for the new year. It was perhaps just a good opportunity to attach faces to some of the names making their way into my inbox on a periodic basis.

On the agenda was a discussion of best practices and goals for businesses in 2017. The network’s Co-Chairwoman Jenny Senter, owner of Celtic Heritage Destinations travel agency, and Patricia Baumann, former network chairwoman, acted as facilitators. Senter asked the members what they were looking to leave behind from the previous year in 2017 by way of an introductory ice breaker, and each took turns around a circle providing various responses.

One member told me in jest that I should come back to a subsequent meeting wearing a dress. Others half-jokingly pointed out they were wearing pants or business attire. If my camera and notepad had not given away my profession, if not my intentions, a brief introduction took care of any uncertainty or potential awkwardness. There was little I could do about my gender.

Denise Rose, Brooktrails Township general manager, said she hoped to leave behind a playground, a project she has been working on for some time. Baumann, design principal at Design Cafe, said she was looking forward to having more time for herself in the new year and volunteering less.

Introductions were followed by break out sessions consisting of three or more members sharing ideas about best practices and how to improve themselves personally and professionally. These women in business forced me to think about what I wanted to leave behind in 2017, and after a brief period of reflection, I came up with this: I want people to shed their misconceptions, prejudices or preconceived notions about those in our community.

In addition to being more visible by stepping away from my desk and from behind the computer, whenever deadlines allow, it is one of my goals to shed any ignorance of the various groups operating in our coverage area, to better inform and serve the members of the community, while walking the line between informing and ferreting out corruption or waste.

Others in the group said 2016 taught them huge lessons, such as not worrying about disappointing people in business or as a volunteers. Saprina Rodriguez, newly-elected city council member and president of Willits Youth Soccer, said she underwent major surgery for a spinal injury recently, which slowed her down a bit. Rodriguez said she used her recovery time to gain perspective, and she feels excited about the tasks she is taking on in 2017.

Some of the best practices shared by members include taking time to plan, doing things one enjoys, networking, learning to be better listeners, learning more about online marketing, continuing with education, and not being afraid to ask for help.

These are challenging times for the local business community and property owners. In addition to the untimely death of former Chamber of Commerce Director Lynn Kennelly, city officials are in the midst of making the transition to new city council members, while coping with the reality of the post-bypass era. Most of the members embraced the notion that, as a collective, they were up to the task of dealing with their individual concerns.

A number of members have ambitious goals for the new year. Madrigal for example, has expressed desire in taking over the post recently vacated by former Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, in order to advocate for Willits and Mendocino County. Others set more modest personal goals such as swimming and getting fit or meditating regularly.

I was invited to come to another meeting to visit with the group in the near future, with one caveat: I don’t anticipate wearing a dress.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The government's dangerous legacy of stifling a free press

I think this NY Times report got it right. Donald Trump's administration's disregard for the Constitution and the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press has dangerous precedents, notably under the Obama and Bush administration.