social justice

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AOL Censors Free Speech

AOL Censors Free Speech

I was trying to tell a friend about http://www.BushIn30Seconds.org, a site airing commercials summarizing what the filmmakers think is wrong with current administration policies. My message to my friend at AOL bounced with the message:

    (reason: 554 TRANSACTION FAILED:  (HVU:B1) The URL contained in your email to AOL members has generated a high volume of complaints.??)

In this particular case, it’s hard to imagine who would complain about it other than people trying to get the page banned because it doesn’t agree with their political views.

This means that if a group wants to suppress access to and discussion about web sites that present opposing points of view, they need only complain to AOL and AOL will no longer deliver messages to any AOL subscriber that contain a mention of that web site.

This may be motivated by a desire to cut down on spam, but it’s doing it in a way that can be used to censor a site, and then make discussion about that censorship impossible!

I suspect if we complain to AOL management, they’ll simply say, “We didn’t intend to censor the site. It was just our spam filtering.” So rather than complaining to AOL about their policy, complain about CNN.COM, NYTIMES.COM, and MICROSOFT.COM. Once enough complaints get registered, those sites will be added to the blackout lists and maybe AOL will rethink their policy.


“We make change for customers only…” Bad business … bad society?

“We make change for customers only…” Bad business … bad society?

I had to take the light rail today from Newton Center back into Boston. Newton Center’s small subway depot has since become a chain coffee store. Although this subway stop requires an unusually large amount of change for a single trip ($2.50), the cash register proudly proclaims, “No change for subway customers.”

I guess I just don’t understand the business rationale. Most retail businesses would kill for an entire community’s worth of foot traffic each day. You want change for the subway? Sure! Just wait by our warm, delicious impulse-buy products and we’ll make change once you’re at the register.

Maybe the store is afraid it will be hard to supply the change. How hard is it, really? They get change regularly from the bank for their register. Next time, just stock up on quarters. It really isn’t that much additional trouble. Two additional customers a day (at gourmet-coffee prices) would pay for a part-time employee whose sole job is to do the subway change run every morning.

But to me, there’s a deeper issue: it’s one of community and friendliness. When a store only gives change to purchasers, neighborhood residents and regular travelers won’t stop in. That means they won’t interact, and that much more community gets lost in the race to make Economic Decisions the Be-all and End-all of our existence.

Why not give change because it’s a nice thing to do? Because it’s the only way for your clerks, who must work 60 hours a week to pay their rent, to meet other people from the neighborhood face-to-face.

It’s the little courtesies, the little interactions, and the smiles as we join each other in our daily business that tie us together as a community. Between our walkmans, net connections, and other “time saving” devices, we’ve eliminated much of the casual communing people once enjoyed. Rather than hanging signs rejecting our community members if they won’t buy from us, why not seek to build a community where people like each other so much they want to do business?

Just a thought…

Political correctness gets silly in Ben Franklin’s America

Political correctness gets silly

Political correctness in Ben Franklin’s America. … say what?

I was watching an excellent documentary on Ben Franklin’s life last night. At one point, an academic expert was talking about why Franklin become a slavery opponent late in life. It seems in France, he saw black children being schooled with white children and realized that “these African-American children” were every bit as smart as the caucasians.

Um, excuse me, but that would be “African-French children.” American didn’t really exist at that point.

(Let’s not even start on why “African-American” is a silly term to start with. My Jamaican friend Robert has black skin, but comes from Jamaica. And my white-skinned friend Matthew is from Africa and is an American.)