From Thomas Paine to Jack Dorsey

Tonight at dinner, our conversation was driven by President Trump’s expulsion from Twitter. I wanted the kids to understand the significance of the Presidential use of digital media in a post-media world, and what it means that he no longer has access to The Bully Pulpit. I thought I’d bring you into our dinner lesson here at Rivendell Academy (our in-house name for the schooling we do at home).

We began by discussing Thomas Paine. His pamphlet, Common Sense, is responsible for galvanizing colonists into what amounted to a civil war; a war against their fellow Englishmen. Common Sense is as important to the existence of the United States as is the Declaration of Independence.

We talked about Benjamin Franklin and his fellow publishers, who wrote newspapers without much regard to objectivity. We talked about Pulitzer and Hearst and the age of Yellow Journalism (or tabloid journalism, or checkbook journalism). Many historians cite this approach to selling papers as the main cause of the Spanish-American War.

We talked about President Teddy Roosevelt and the way he used the media to govern. As he was speechwriting and composed an especially delicious passage, he is reported to have said something like, “My opponents will accuse me of preaching. But haven’t I got a Bully Pulpit!” (Bully, in this case, was used as an adjective and meant something superlative.) President Roosevelt used the media so deftly that he set a precedent for thought leadership and agenda-setting as one of the most important facets of US presidential leadership.

I explained that in the following decades, a golden age of journalism flourished, driven by specific journalistic ethics (like objectivity) and reinforced by specific practices (like quoting and triangulation of sources). This trustworthiness created by these ethics made the media the eyes and ears of the American people, enabling them to hold their government accountable in an entirely new way. Government corruption was significantly diminished as a result.

We talked about the media’s role as The Fourth Estate, an unelected but necessary piece of the relationship between electors and elected in the United States.

Due partly to squeezed media revenues following the internet’s democratization of publishing, newsrooms have fewer editors than ever before. Those all-important keepers of journalistic ethics have been seeking innovative business models, and they haven’t been as free to groom the next generation of Woodwards and Bernsteins.

Though previous US Presidents have used social media, President Trump actualized the potential of direct communication with the people of the United States (and, indeed, the world). For the first time, no one was mediating the president’s messages. He often governed directly in public, even firing cabinet secretaries and announcing major policy initiatives in full public view.

President Trump’s tweeting has been Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey’s biggest blessing and curse. One the one hand, the president’s choice of platform has kept the company at the very center of relevance for public discourse. On the other hand, as far as anyone can see, President Trump didn’t self-censor much. His use of the platform often took him beyond the bounds of the company’s normal terms of service. He gave new color to President Roosevelt’s term ‘Bully Pulpit’. Dorsey, a thoughtful person, came up with a rationale that kept Twitter from having to ban the leader of the free world. He argued (and his company wrote a new policy stating) that there’s a public interest served by having direct access to the thoughts of national leaders, even if those leaders say things that would normally get others banned from the platform.

Among others, there is a major downside to President Trump emphasis on the importance of public communication relative to the other functions of executive authority. Beyond neglecting the more mundane functions of governance (like whipping votes around a given legislative agenda), it also puts the presidency’s most prominent power in the hands of one unelected person: Jack Dorsey. When Dorsey, feeling pressure from employees and shareholders and probably anticipating future congressional testimony, decided to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account, he was able unilaterally take the bully out of the Bully Pulpit.

Future leaders will have to make some hard decisions about how to communicate and exercise thought leadership. They’ll need to use the power of the internet without becoming beholden to its business models.

Goodbye Maggie

Our dog, Maggie Shinn, died this morning.

Lisa took her to our vet, Dr. Gray, about a week ago because she’d been acting increasingly lethargic, was in pain, and was having trouble walking, sitting and standing. She’d been slowing down for quite a while, but I just assumed that she was depressed because I didn’t spend as much time with her as I used to. Well, I was right on both counts: she was depressed, and I didn’t spend enough time with her. But I was wrong on the diagnosis. She had Addison’s Disease. Also known as chronic adrenal insufficiency, it’s a disease that is both expensive and difficult to treat, and the treatment (steroids, basically) can result in some nasty and unpleasant side-effects in a dog as large as Maggie. In dogs, it usually appears between 4 and 7 years old. Maggie was just over 4.

Our vet advised that we may think about alternatives to treating Maggie. He said that most people aren’t able to afford to treat a dog with Addison’s, and the medication and care quotes supported that. We sought another opinion, and found out that treatment is uncertain, in-depth, and lifelong. We decided not to seek a treatment we couldn’t afford for an outcome that would entail serious quality-of-life compromises for our dog.

So we had a great weekend with Maggie. Brando, Tim and Rachel’s dog and one of her two best dog-friends, came over to play and say goodbye. I cooked bacon for her (her favorite) and even gave her the grease when we were done. We made sure we spent the entire weekend at the house, and that we were around and available for her for as much of that time as possible. I sat on the couch last night and let her sit with me while I read. When we were finished, we took one last late night walk. She enjoyed walking on her leash with me, despite her inability to walk well or very far. She slept in the house all weekend, on her favorite quilt by the back door.

This morning after breakfast and a visit with Shadow (Brad and Mary’s dog and her lifelong dog-friend), we drove to the studio and took some last family pictures with Maggie. She was pretty sick, and didn’t look great. But taking pictures is one of the ways we make sense of life, so we did it anyway. Then we took her to the vet and said our last goodbyes. Maggie died this morning at about 10:30 am of a lethal dose of an anesthetic. It was very peaceful; she just laid down and went to sleep.

We’ve told Liam that Maggie went to be with Jesus. A lot of people believe that God takes care of animals, and that they have enduring souls like humans. I don’t have any way of knowing whether this is true, but I desperately want it to be. We picked Maggie up 4 years ago this week as a little puppy. Over the last four years, she’s become a very important part of our lives and our family. Liam doesn’t remember a time when we didn’t have her.

I have a lot of regrets, mostly surrounding the lack of time I’ve spent with her over the last year as our business has grown, and I’ve been working and trying to be a father to two (other) children. Maggie’s place in my life moved from somewhere near the center to a position closer to the periphery. I can’t go back and change that now, but I know that I did all I could to make her last weekend as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.

Thanks, Maggie, for a very special four years.

ed. note – pictures added to this post Tues., Nov. 24.

Clara pictures 2 – Update!

Here are a few more pictures of little Clara Marie! Many people have asked to see Liam and Clara together, and as they’re two of the brightest lights in my world, I’m happy to comply. Thank you all so much for your expressions of love, support and help. Pies are never turned down! Enjoy the photos!

Shinns in the news

Hey, Friends,

I’d like to turn the spotlight toward my Dad, Larry Shinn, who’s recently been featured in the Tracy Press (from Tracy, CA) for his volunteer work with kids and airplanes.  The top two photos in this news story feature either him or his plane, N2426D (nicknamed Delta by Liam).  Leave a comment on this post to let him know how proud you are of him!

Congrats, Dad,


Truck Rollover

Last night, an 18-wheeler with a full load of grape bins rolled over at the corner of I Street and Manning Avenue in Reedley, Calif. I assume the driver was hurt, but I’m sure I would have heard if he had been killed. The truck was successfully righted by local towing companies and the Reedley Fire Department. Thanks to the good men and women of Reedley Fire for their good work tonight and cooperation as I took these photos.

Photoshop: Also good for making international relations just a little bit scarier

Here’s an interesting story from the New York Times: Iran’s state news agency apparently Photoshopped an extra missle into a threatening-looking picture they released of a recent missle launch.  There were four missles, but only three of them fired.  What a horrible dillemma!  What a PR failure!  Iran’s answer: just use Photoshop.  Never trust anything you see, folks!

Photoshop for free – online!

Okay, this is a little geeky for, but I had to put it out there. Many of you know that I love Photoshop, and I know that many of you don’t.  There are two reasons people don’t use Photoshop:

  1. It’s hard.
  2. It’s expensive.   Most people don’t want to shell out 600 Big Ones just to try software that’s probably too complicated, anyway.

Well, with Adobe’s new announcement of Photoshop Express, a whole new world of free, super-easy photo editing and sharing is available for the masses. And that includes you. There’s nothing at stake, you should try it. You should try it now. Just click here!