A Hiatus Worth Talking About

I’m going to start this blog post with a rare moment of introspection — for Razor Online, that is.

I’m sorry.

“What does Aaron mean by, ‘I’m sorry’? Why preface a blog post with an ambiguous apology?” Usually when people say, “I’m sorry,” there’s a reasonable presumption that the person doing the apologizing committed a deep, intrinsic wrong. That “intrinsic wrong” is so detestable, in the eyes of the public, that an apology is required. Often times, apologies are canned and carefully crafted public relations gimmicks that are intended for the “apologizer” to make amends and repair the brand that they helped tarnish through their words and actions. “I’m sorry for firing that missile and blowing up Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Putin told me, ‘Press the button. Any button!’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I was rebel who has no ties to Russia. He’s the President of Russia. How could I say, ‘Nyet!’ to such gentleman?”

But let’s get to the point. I’m sorry for taking this long to grow up.

On the evening July 26, I found out that I will be the President of the Eco Rotary Club of Morro Bay for the 2015-2016 Rotary year. The Eco Rotary board gave me their vote of confidence. I’ve never been President of anything before. I’ve never been in a substantial position of responsibility before. The club collectively expressed their faith in me: some hot-headed, silver-tongued kid who one day thought, ‘Maybe I should do something meaningful for a change.” Last year, I joined the Eco Rotary Club of Morro Bay, volunteered on a few occasions, attended a couple of meetings, and I met some really wonderful people. I thought, “Wow, this is great! I truly feel like I belong here.” Over time, that sentiment was reciprocated. The club’s response was, “We believe you belong here. We believe in you.”

The Rotary organization is great because it’s apolitical. There’s no visible, palpable line of contention that is drawn, creating sides and tension. Don’t get me wrong. I love politics. It’s invigorating, but I was able to build people’s trust without resorting to it. It’s true that there’s politics in everything, and it would be unrealistic to assume that there won’t be any political obstacles to overcome within Rotary. However, to get to where I am today, I did not need Razor Online.

I started Razor Online because I was angry, opinionated and wanted to go as public with my words and thoughts as possible at the cost of my objectivity. Then I lost myself in the politics. Insult after insult. Barb after barb. I relied on sources who turned out to be unreliable; if I maintained even a sliver of objectivity, I would not have given them attention. Then I decided to retool my approach. I was still pointed, but I consulted local writers who helped me evaluate issues through a more objective, thorough prism. I thought that if I communicated the same message over and over, people will eventually listen and get inspired to take action. Then people started to read me by the thousands every month. My written work was now on the tip of people’s tongues. People expected me to be that fiery political columnist, delivering the same fiery message week after week.

Instead, I ended up in the same predicament that forced me to reevaluate my approach in the first place. I was back as the squeaky political cog in the wheel: keeping the political machine running, but doing absolutely nothing to make my life or my community better. As a writer, there was no further intellectual nourishment that I could obtain. I was staying at one peak when I knew there were taller mountains to climb.

So I tried an experiment. “Okay, let’s see if I can be part of the solution for once, and see how that turns out.” I joined Rotary. The rest was history. No politics breathing down my neck. Just work, results and resolutions. Not once did I need to rest my laurels on a website that thrived on negativity.

I decided to put Razor Online on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

Does this mean I’m going to give up politics and join a monastery? Of course not! Are you kidding? Politics is the opiate of critical thinking. It is my lifeblood. But I would rather engage in a way that yields some benefit or some greater understanding that significantly outweighs any importance of personal gratification. At this time, Razor Online is not a suitable medium for that achievement.

Let’s more forward.

Attack of the Autoplaying Ads

Over the past year, it seems that invasive advertising is on the rise. So what is invasive advertising, anyway?

Invasive advertising is when you’re browsing the Internet, and out of nowhere — it seems — an advertisement starts playing, and there’s no way to disable it. If you want to view the content that the advertisement is obstructing, you have no choice but to let the ad finish. Advertisers see this is a valuable opportunity for consumers to get an up-close look at the product or service that they’re trying to sell. They’ve essentially taken the quintessential pop-up advertisement and made it more interactive. The problem is that the advertising is forced onto the reader, and it becomes a noisy distraction for anyone who is used to browsing the Internet quietly.

Social media platform Facebook has started to roll out autoplaying video ads, which they’re referring to as “Premium Video Ads.” These ads are videos that appear in users’ newsfeeds, and start to play automatically once a user hovers their mouse over them. A Facebook rep told Adweek magazine, in March, that the ads won’t play sound unless you actually click on the video itself. The rep told Adweek that Facebook “wanted to create a captive, but not [an] interruptive experience.”

That’s not exactly the case.

Users are starting to complain about these video ads, which start playing with sound. The good news is that users can actually stop the video. The bad news is that Facebook is turning into a social media platform for advertisers, not users. Users on mobile devices are complaining that these autoplaying video ads are inadvertently consuming their phone data. Most telecommunications carriers have data plans that are capped, and users who exceed the cap are required to pay more for their usage. Users who use lots of data are disproportionately affected by autoplaying ads. Some “captive experience,” right?

I went to online news and entertainment website Salon.com to read an article about autoplaying advertisements and the browser add-ons that are required to combat them. I arrived at the article, but was swiftly greeted by a video advertisement that appeared. The screen went dark. The ad started playing, and I was told — not asked — to wait thirty seconds before I can read the article about autoplaying ads. This is irony in motion. I decided to stop reading Salon.com. Before this instance, I was bombarded with autoplaying ads on the same website at least on five occasions. At this point, I would rather be left with a paywall, requesting that I pay a subscription fee to see content without further obstruction.

But I realize I’m quickly running out of websites to browse without interruption. Popular websites including YouTube, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and ESPN are running autoplay advertisements. Content marketers are smart. They know which sites to target. They know the demographics. They’ve done their research.  They know that websites need revenue. Video advertising is expensive, so publishers are left with little choice but to bring in advertising that has caused 84% of users from age 25 to 34 to abandon them. The 25-34 demographic is too large to dismiss as collateral damage.

If websites want to be less invasive with advertising, they need to bring in video ads that users can enable on their own. If an advertiser’s brand is recognizable and the ad concept has built-in interactivity, users will click on the video. Users shouldn’t have to resort to Google to find anti-autoplay add-ons for their browser. Users shouldn’t be forced to appreciate and engage in a product or service that may or may not relate to their interests. Advertisers need to understand that the best advertising is the kind that is seamlessly interwoven with the content. It’s about relevance, relevance, relevance.

So for the love of Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese that’s now served in conveniently tiny snack bowls, leave us alone!

Avoiding the Madness of Politics

I haven’t been writing lately. It’s true. Nothing personal. I’m doing my best to avoid the politics taking place in San Luis Obispo County. There are several races going on — and I’ve been cordially invited to cover them — but I’ve chosen to stay on the sidelines. However, I was recently forwarded a viewpoint by Laura Mordaunt, a member of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Central Committee and regular speaker at County Board of Supervisors meetings. Not to shy away from controversies like the United Nations taking over individual liberties and property rights, Mordaunt penned a viewpoint called, “Partisanship is not a crime.” It’s not a crime, but feeling compelled to choose a side for the sake of taking sides should be.

“Nonpartisan is a word that has been used as a weapon in the 4th district race,” she wrote. “What is intended is to not predetermine the outcome before you hear all the facts. Lynn Compton is a Republican, and Caren Ray and Mike Byrd are Democrats, period.”

How is the word “nonpartisan” being used as a “weapon”? Begrudging the word “nonpartisan” as a “weapon” is, in itself, a weapon used against non-partisan thinking.

“When has it been a crime to be in a party?” she wrote. “The crime comes when the party is not about your character and honor but about control. When your party, left or right, becomes a progressive effort to move away from what this country was founded upon and expand government, then we have a problem.”

It’s never been a crime to be in a party. Not once. But, wait. I think Mordaunt was asking a rhetorical question, and she has appointed herself the partisan judge, jury and executioner. Mordaunt believes that partisanship becomes a “crime” when “control” is substituted in the place of the virtues of one’s character and honor. Yet Mordaunt is controlling the very essence of the political debate she personally instigated by asserting that progressivism (the ideology surrounding the departure of “what this country was founded upon and expanded government”) is the crime; that progressivism is “control.”

Spare me.

“Nonpartisan should mean you shall uphold your oath to protect our country and county from foreign and domestic enemies,” wrote Mordaunt. “Right now, I am concerned with the domestic enemies of private property rights, the individual and prosperity.”

Actually, nonpartisan means objectivity — not whatever Mordaunt thinks it should mean. Look it up. It’s in the 2014 Random House Dictionary. You know, I think nonpartisan should be defined as a person who writes an irresponsible, poorly constructed and illiterate viewpoint that bathes in the juices of prejudice, but I can’t radically redefine the word to fit my personal agenda. Mordaunt can’t either.

Think about partisanship this way. Being a partisan means you identify with one school of thought or party more than another. In our country, our democracy is dominated by two prevailing parties: Democrats and Republicans. Our political system strongly pushes voters into a corner. The two-party system forces voters to divide themselves in majority and minority political factions — and if you personally hold no loyalty to one faction over another, the partisans perceive you as weak and indecisive. Nationwide election coverage often paints independent, nonpartisan voters as being “on the fence” and “unsure.” People like Mordaunt go one step further, and consider nonpartisanship to be a complete farce with a redefined meaning that strays egregiously far from the original definition.

Why can’t we vote for candidates who have the best ideas? Partisanship merely corrodes the importance of debating ideas.

What is Climate Change and Why Should We Care?

The answer is found in a report that was released on April 13 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report is a warning to all the world governments that we, as a collective body of nations, are not doing enough to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are pumped into our atmosphere. If we don’t reduce greenhouse gases and keep the global mean temperature (no higher than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial level) at a relative standstill for the next 15 years, there may be hope in averting environmental catastrophe in the coming decades. The report admits that world leaders are doing something, but we have to do a lot more than something to save everything.

Climate change is essentially the significant and irreversible changes of average weather patterns on Earth. For example, instead of rain, there are floods. Instead of an average dose of rain, there are droughts resulting in a withered crops and lower-than-usual water reservoirs. Instead of moderate sea levels, there are higher sea levels as a byproduct of melting ice caps in the Arctic. In many respects, the mechanisms powering climate change are natural, including solar radiation, variations in the Earth’s orbit, and continental drifts. But humans have done a lot of damage.

So, where’s the media on this? Most of the basic and extended cable news stations have focused on the latest conspiracies surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, or the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia or a bunch of teenagers sending bomb threats to airlines on Twitter because they think it’s absolutely hilarious. But when all of these stories reach an end of their lifespan, chances are that climate change won’t be covered. The report, which arguably supplies the most definitive data on climate change, will likely receive little to no coverage. This is not unfounded speculation.

In their 1995 and 2001 Assessment Reports, the IPCC determined that the media in the United States portrayed climate change as being a source of controversy more than a large groundswell of consensus among climate scientists.  The IPCC has tracked mass media reporting in the United States for nearly 20 years. The panel would ultimately realize that the media treated climate change with casual indifference or severe pessimism that winds up being dismissed by skeptics as exaggerating the problem.

It’s true. It’s hard to accept the dire consequences alone without presenting the solution. Without a solution, what we get is a lecture — and lectures don’t have guaranteed longevity in the news cycle. As time goes by, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are getting cheaper and more accessible to residents. Using these environmentally friendly solutions on a large scale would reduce the global dependency on fossil fuels, but we have a long way to go before solar panels can be found on every home.  Axiom Capital’s alternative energy analyst Gordon Johnson reviewed the latest cost data furnished by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and determined that solar power is still expensive. The costs are getting better, wrote Johnson.

If the media were to educate people of climate change while showcasing the pros and cons for using alternative energy sources — such as geothermal, hydroelectric and wind energy — it’s possible that we can keep the conversation going.

From that conversation, we need to put words into action. Inaction is not a solution. If we cannot stabilize our global mean temperature, we will experience more hot and dry conditions, which often spurs devastating wildfires; increases in people suffering from heat-related illnesses like heat stoke; extinction of wildlife, which would radically disrupt our ecosystem and the predatory chain; the loss of glaciers will contribute to dramatic sea level rises over the course of the century. With the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, we cannot deny who is largely responsible for the acceleration of our environmental deterioration. We, the human race, are at fault –and why should future generations carry such an unfathomable burden?

Out With It

Once in a while, there’s always someone who doesn’t agree with my opinions or reporting. That’s perfectly normal. I’ve criticized quite a few people, so I expect some pushing back. As a writer, I always want to get the details right so when someone tells me that I’m wrong, I’m interested. Words can cut, especially words that aren’t accurately attributed to the people being scrutinized. Being someone who is sometimes on the receiving end of the scrutiny, I know how important it is to get the story straight. But there are some people who are generally uncooperative. They’re the kind of people that squawk loudly about how slighted they were, but when you ask them to supply corrections, they offer nothing.

Take Los Osos sewer pundit Lynette Tornatzky for instance.

There’s no question that I’ve written about her several times. I didn’t write about her because she supported a sewer that I previously expressed concerns about. I wrote about her because she often ventured past simple disagreement to haunt and repeatedly berate people who had a different viewpoint than her and her husband, which I consider unacceptable behavior. In my opinion, she continues to cross the line of decency by bullying people who she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with regarding the Los Osos sewer project. The sewer is coming. Get over it.

I wrote about her recently because her husband applied for a seat vacated on the Los Osos Community Services District. It was relevant, and the op-ed wasn’t entirely about him. Referring to my previous article as a “hit piece” that contained “non-provable, inaccurate statements,” Tornatzky wrote on the Facebook page, CalCoastFraud that she “could make a list [of all the inaccuracies],” but she rather “ask any readers here to read what is written by Aaron for yourselves in the link above.”

But she didn’t want readers “to go back and see the other 16 articles written on me or my husband as that was prior to Aaron turning over a new leaf.” In other words: Don’t bother clicking on the link embedded in the comment she was offended by. You never know. Maybe the proof, that she claims I don’t have, is available in the link provided.

Instead of documenting anything that she said she could make a list for, she linked to an article she wrote on her blog in November 2012 that rebutted — or at least tried to rebut — one of my articles. I can’t help but shake my head.

Tornatzky has written to me several times over the past five years. She’s accused me of lying about articles I’ve written about the Los Osos sewer and articles that mention her. I asked publicly and privately for her to document what I got wrong. She never followed through. Not once. The conversation has always died after I asked for more clarity, and neither of us had any desire to resuscitate the matter. Then I would hear from her again some time later, and again, and again. Same result, different day. Each time I attempted to have a dialogue with her, which she’s preferred to have in a public place — which is fine with me — she never wanted to indulge in a conversation on specifically what details were false and why the details were false. She would simply disappear, having been satisfied with laying out her accusations of me having integrity issues.

Recently, Tornatzky took exception to the comment I wrote in my last article that the she and her husband “were complicit in creating many of those rifts through cyber-harassment and stalking of residents who were outspoken in their opposition to the current wastewater project.”

That particular statement she isolated in her recent comments included a link to several articles with citations to comments she’s penned under her own name; comments that justify what I wrote. It’s a little hard to deny something that you’ve written — something that you’ve admittedly written and put on the Internet for everyone to see. Trust me. In many cases when people are defending themselves from articles that are critical of them, there’s a lack of self-accountability — and they don’t like someone else pointing out their flaws. They just don’t like being caught or they don’t like the conclusion that’s been issued.

But writers make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we get information wrong, but it’s up to the reader to reach out to us with corrections or a notice of retraction. That’s the nature of the business. Show your documentation. Be thorough. Tell me what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and the remedy you’re looking for. Let’s have that discussion. But if you don’t want to have that discussion, the onus is on you to assume responsibility for what you were criticized for, and move on.

Put up or move on, Mrs. Tornatzky.

It’s Not Just Crazy. It’s Morro Bay Crazy

Here’s this story coming out of Morro Bay that is extremely unusual. The story goes something like this: local business owners are stepping forward with allegations that the City is preventing them from competing with businesses owned by City Council members. I’m quite familiar with these allegations because the two sources behind them — Jim Davis and Rick Holliday — reached out to me to look into them. Ultimately, nothing came to fruition because these individuals dropped out of contact and gave me information that was unsubstantiated hearsay. The communication took place while I attended some of their events at what Davis called “The Speak-Easy,” located in the Sun Bulletin building in Morro Bay.

Continue reading It’s Not Just Crazy. It’s Morro Bay Crazy

The Insanity of CalCoastNews


This is a screenshot taken from the Facebook page “Team Adam Hill Watch,” which was created by the Knights Templar. Remember those guys? You know, the guys that just so happen to exclusively share CalCoastNews coverage and uploaded a video that was produced and shared by the son of the site’s co-founder? They’re back, and they’ve expanded their guerilla, quasi-anonymous social media marketing campaign. Suffice to say, it’s quite disturbing. Continue reading The Insanity of CalCoastNews

Get Ready for SLO County Stupid Bowl XLVIII

Let’s skip the formalities. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. The Denver Broncos faced off against the Seattle Seahawks. The best offense in the league will be playing against the best defensive team. 80,000 football fans attended the concussion festival at New Jersey’s Met Life Stadium, and millions of people at home tuned in to witness sports history in the making. But it was the Seahawks that took home the Vince Lombardi trophy after a stunning 43-8 win against a team that many believed would keep the score close and competitive.

But there are some in San Luis Obispo County who are more interested in other things, namely District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. Yet somehow, the Super Bowl managed to find its way into the right-wing obsession with County Board of Supervisors meetings. Continue reading Get Ready for SLO County Stupid Bowl XLVIII