Archive for the ‘free speech’ Category

Score One for the First Amendment

September 27, 2007

Last night I shirked my responsibility as New York Knights bloggerI was too tired and chessed out from King’s Gambit activities the evening beforeand, instead of going to the Marshall Chess Club, went with my friend Chris for an out-of-borough dining experience.

We set out to find Greek food and ended up in Queens (Astoria, to be specific) at Agnanti, a comfortable, country-style restaurant on a residential stretch of Ditmars Boulevard. The food was all fresh, unpretentious, and expertly seasoned. The menu is long, and we took our server’s recommendations of eggplant dip, meat-stuffed tomatoes, salt-cod cakes, and a salad with feta and huge brown-bread croutons.

But the real fun of the meal was when Chris checked his iPhone and discovered that Mobile Commons, the company he co-founded, had made the New York Times Web site (and, subsequently, the front page of the paper itself) over a first-amendment dispute with Verizon. Mobile Commons provides mass-text-messaging technology to progressive organizations that want to mobilize their memberships. One of these organizations is Naral Pro-Choice America, and Verizon had refused to let Naral bulk-text its members with pro-abortion messages.

Now I’ve had my own share of free-speech problems, and at one time I wanted to be an ACLU lawyer, and so I was delighted and proud that my friend was on the right (left?) side of the issueand on the front page of the Times, no less! It made the salt cod even tastier.

By this morning. Verizon had reversed itself.

Annals of Corporate Chill

May 30, 2007

As a red diaper baby, and son of a social activist, I grew up watching my father and his bohemian friends have various run-ins with the law, as the government tried to interfere with their right to free speech. I had problems, too, starting when I was as young as seven or eight.

My family were atheists—there is no religion recorded on my birth certificate—and this did not sit well in elementary school.  During the pledge of allegiance in first or second grade, the teacher noticed that I quietly skipped the words “under God.”  She ordered me to say them.  When I didn’t comply, she banished me daily to the hall during the pledge. The teacher stopped punishing me only after my father visited the principal and threatened to involve the ACLU and sue the school.   (I write about my family’s unconventional religious and political beliefs in King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.)

Thus it irks me to read on Mig Greengard’s “Daily Dirt” blog—he writes the most interesting chess blog on the Web—about the heavy-handed efforts of a Canadian company called MonRoi to quash statements and comments that it didn’t like on his Web site. MonRoi manufactures a handheld device on which tournament players can record their moves (instead of writing them on a score sheet);  the moves can then be immediately uploaded to the excellent MonRoi Web site so that chess fans around the world can follow the progress of the games in real time.   

There were difficulties at points during the recent U.S. Championship with the transmission of the moves to the Web—I, for one, was disappointed that at key moments in the games of Irina Krush, who was a star on my fantasy chess team, I could no longer receive new moves—and MonRoi came under some criticism by Mig and others who posted to his site. The company apparently demanded that critical comments be removed from the site and made noises about defamation.  Maybe some of the criticism was unfair—the transmission problems may not have been MonRoi’s fault—but that doesn’t justify the company’s hardball tactics. 

And I think MonRoi has made a business blunder: Chess players, by and large, are civil libertarians, and they are flocking to post comments on Mig’s site and offering to contribute to his legal defense fund, should he need one.


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