Archive for November, 2009

  • Robert Taylor
  • 29
  • Nov
  • 09

The American Family Association, with apparently nothing better to do, has called for the boycott of Gap due to a recent television ad that they are calling “anti-Christmas.”

It certainly is one of the most annoying commercials I’ve seen, but the claim that it somehow represents a threat to Christmas is a bit farfetched.

For a few decades now, religious conservatives and evangelicals have been warning us about the supposed “war on Christmas” that is perpetually threatening the foundations of our civilization. From retailers that don’t paste “Christmas” on their walls to the dangers of Islam-o-fascists, Christianity is on the brink of being suffocated, and with it, the soul of our nation.

Despite these annuals warnings from the Right, a little bit of analysis may throw some wrenches into their paranoid thesis.

For example, Target and Macy’s, two companies that have been targeted by religious groups for being insufficiently Christian, offer hundreds of inexpensive and practical Christmas-themed gifts that are highly beneficial to poor Christians. Many of them also sponsor food drives and toy donations, and there is almost always Salvation Army bells ringing out front receiving donations that exemplify Christian charity.

The freedom of the individual to voluntarily choose a secular or religious version of Christmas to celebrate is not enough for the religious warriors, however. They desire the doctrinal imposition of Christianity by, of course, the iron fist of the state.

But as history has shown, the merger of religion and state has had some very dangerous results.

Ironically, the New England Puritans attempted to ban the Christmas holiday. In the late 17th Century, the Puritans associated the observance of Christmas with Catholicism, and sought to use the government to restrict it wherever they could. This was part of their overall war and personal liberty, and one can see their legacy even today with those awful and stifling Blue Laws.

Coerced morality, as many libertarian Christians have argued, often creates worse results than the sins themselves. Morality, manners, and ethics (fundamental aspects of a free society) are best enforced through voluntary institutions and lose their sanctity when backed up by the use or the threat of government force.

Additionally, these religious conservatives are the same people who have bent over backwards to defend torture, war, the erosion of civil liberties, and the glorification of the military: the worst aspects of state power, in which we all, as taxpayers, are coerced into paying for.

Christianity has survived Roman persecution, imprisonment of Christians for refusing to kill for the state when drafted, and Communist purges; I think it can survive a silly Gap ad as well.

_

For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 29
  • Nov
  • 09

This weekend an athlete celebrity gets in a reasonably serious car accident and our post-modern media machine swang into a frenzy after a slow holiday news cycle.  The news “broke,” in so far as any story does these days, first on Twitter, beating CNN by a full 45 minutes.  The time lag between the story’s publication on the real-time web and on a major media service was then immediately seized upon by new media advocates as indicative of these changing times.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler even judged the example as sufficient evidence upon which to write the obituary for the journalism industry as it was previously known.  He declared Twitter the new “Walter Cronkite;” that the Internet service has replaced the slo-mo traditional journalist as the breaking news voice the 21st century citizen trusts most.

Some will say they don’t mind waiting an extra hour to get just the facts. That’s fine. But that’s not really true. It may be true for a relatively small incident like a minor car crash, but imagine if a national (or worldwide) catastrophe happened. Do you honestly believe that any one of those people would be content to sit back and wait for the 100% fact-checked version of the story?

The claim was the kind of incendiary, far-reaching generalization that has become the hallmark of the post-digital school of journalism: a search engine friendly headline loaded with buzzwords sensationalizing an indefensible op-ed in the shameless pursuit of greater page views.   Siegler’s conclusion was so far-fetched it even compelled his colleague Deven Coldewey to follow with a dissenting, more even-handed interpretation of the story’s portent for the future of the news business.

Source: TechCrunch

Source: TechCrunch

At the center of Siegler’s argument is a press release issued by the Florida Highway Patrol which was first posted on Twitter by the nascent and popular new media wire service BNO News.  The boiler plate release used for car accidents resulting in a hospitalization was issued by the FHP the afternoon after the early morning accident containing the name of a certain A-list golfer.

BNO News posted that they had received a report that the 33-year-old male Eldrick Tiger Woods had been injured seriously.  45 minutes later, CNN reported that the golf star had just been injured.  Siegler concludes from that disparity of timeliness and accuracy of the reporting that the former is clearly the future while the latter suffers under the weight of its own antiquated machinery.

Let’s look at the entire story.  If the only measure of a news source’s quality is how quickly it can regurgitate a press release, in this particular case the old Fourth Estate obviously got scooped.  But in the direct comparison of BNO’s breaking news Twitter “wire” and CNN’s international news network, let’s look at the difference of the organizations’ responsibilities.

BNO’s popular @breakingnews Twitter account has 1.5 million followers.  Even if were were to assume they had the same amount through its other distribution methods like its popular iPhone app, it is dwarfed by the 93 million US households and 212 countries in which CNN is available.  Giving BNO a generous spot with 3 million unique consumers it would put the service barely comparable to CNN’s prime-time audience on a slow night.  In terms of total reach, CNN is over 30 times larger than BNO.  The league in audience easily justifies an extra forty-five minutes of fact checking.

Telling three million people something and telling one hundred million people something are two very different things.  If BNO is wrong, its an honest mistake based on the best information at hand.  If CNN is wrong, its a libel and slander lawsuit liability that makes forty-five minutes of phone call very easy to rationalize.  Given that the release was a boiler-plate produced by the graveyard shift of an overworked state office, CNN’s experience in handling sensitive information may seem needlessly conservative to MG Siegler, but then he will never have to pay eight figures if he jumps the gun.

Beyond the legal obligation is the moral duty of a journalist to get it right before publication.  In the line of work that Tiger Woods is in, his health is his meal ticket.  The public perception of his fitness for the game of golf is directly tied to how much money he makes.  To report inaccurately a serious injury without making sure it wasn’t a late-night clerical error would do material harm to a figure like Woods for whom ability to play is his livelihood.  MG Siegler’s attitude towards an early inaccuracy is “So what? The story is developing.  People should be smart enough to know mistakes happen.”

Siegler acts like there are no consequences for rushing the hard work of journalism, an attitude I hope he finds is rare in his line of work.  Most reporters take the accuracy of their work far more seriously, particularly when it might affect how much food a man puts on his table.

Finally is the business issue.  CNN makes money doing its work – BNO News does not.  CNN pulled in $46.98 billion in revenue in 2008.  BNO is still “in development” as the first news wire startup.  CNN is held by a public company answerable materially to shareholders.  BNO News is a couple dudes in the Netherlands.  If the press release turnaround difference between an organization with two people and a handful of volunteers and a unit in a 86,400-employee company is just over half an hour, any rational measure would describe CNN as efficient.

The stakes are bigger at the level CNN is playing at – the comparison is just naive.

My news to MG Siegler, to TechCrunch, and to all the post-digital journalists out there (of which I am surely one) is that Walter Cronkite is dead.  There is not going to be the next Walter Cronkite.  The thoughtful, disciplined, considered research found in the infancy of broadcast journalism is not going to be a part of our brave new world.

A web service is never going to replace a man; a distribution model is never going to replace a discipline.  And those who think corners can be cut, constraints can be relaxed and words don’t matter are not likely to be a part of it.  The consumer demand Walter Cronkite fulfilled was “the way it is” – the straight delivery of the issues that matter.

“The way it is” is not driven by page views.  The conclusion then is that hacks like MG Siegler and infant services like BNO should make hay while the sun shines.  For the disproportionate value they currently enjoy will eventually be proven false, and the real successor to the fabled 20th century journalist will emerge.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 26
  • Nov
  • 09

Looking down at the first table full of food since their arrival, the Pilgrims who came to the New World had plenty for which to be thankful.  Their asses saved by Native hospitality, these petitioners and summoners and lawyers and doctors of bold political ideas, deep religious convictions and near-zero practical experience living in the wilderness made an American tradition of the good fortune of having generous neighbors.  Back in their homeland, these “pilgrims” were derided as fools on a fool’s errand – religious wackadoos with little idea of just how green the grass was on the other side of the ocean.

Were it not for the sacrifice of the original tenants of Massachusetts and Virginia, the British scoffing would have most certainly been proved true.

Nearly four centuries later, pilgrims continue to give their thanks.  Millions of Muslims are doing their duty this week on hajj, the annual obligation to travel to Mecca and participate in Islam’s fifth pillar.  This year’s spiritual journey is particularly poignant, following widespread economic collapse and the approaching anniversary of the invasion of Gaza.  Such occasions are important on hajj as the pilgrimage is as much an affirmation of solidarity with one’s fellow Muslims as it is a solemn submission to God.  It is as much a dedication to one another as it is a dedication to one’s faith.

It is also a celebration of hospitality, a tradition still prized in a religion formed in a desert.  Saudis and Egyptians open their arms, their wallets and their homes in the embrace of hajji from around the world, a courtesy they – like the Native Americans who saved the colonies that would become the United States – view not as a burden, but as a duty.

They, too, will feast to give thanks for the sacrifice of others.  Celebrating the Eid al-Adha, bread will be broken by those pilgrims to commemorate Abraham -  the fabled father of all Jews, Muslims and Christians – for his willingness to sacrifice his own son at his Lord’s wish.  Indeed the translation means “Festival of Sacrifice,” it is the most biggest meal of the year and one every Muslim strives to share with his or her neighbors.  The tradition obligates every Muslim to do his or her best to see that no impoverished person goes without sharing in the meal.

The traditions of man have a funny way of being similar around the world and, a few years in every lifetime, they even line up on the calendar.  From Medina to Massachusetts this weekend, families will congregate around full tables, each filled from toe to tip with gratitude for the bounty of food and family that lay before them.  They will gorge themselves with an excess that only comes annually, watch a little football, and forgive – if only for a day – the minor trespasses their neighbors as the men who made those traditions did before them.

One can hope after this weekend passes and our stomachs become empty again, some small part of these traditions can carry us into the next decade.  That we can honor one another in the thanks that we give.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 24
  • Nov
  • 09

It was just this time last year that we were cracking open the skulls of the undead over the delicious, acrid sizzle of overheated shotgun barrels with the release of Valve’s Left 4 Dead. While the famed developer’s lightning quick turnaround time on a sequel has been the target of much outrage (even a threatened boycott), the authors of the Half-Life franchise has proved they aren’t a one trick pony.  With the latest installment of the four player co-op zombie apocalypse masterpiece, they’ve finally produced a winning franchise that they didn’t buy first – and cemented that victory in a year’s time.

Source: Valve

Source: Valve

For fans of the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is a much different and much harder game.  Building on the successful formula of the original with a shitload more weapons, some of the finest level design yet produced in a first person shooter, and some real motherfucker new zombies, life after Z-Day isn’t the walk in the park it once was.  The zombies drop slower, run faster and have more ways to clamp their undead pieholes around your tender neck than ever before, making a helpful sequel to our guide to surviving Left 4 Dead a necessity incumbent.

Here’s some helpful tricks to keep your lungs from becoming someone’s lunch.

1) Take A Breather

In Left 4 Dead, the melee shove was the best weapon in the game.  With a couple square yards of effect and no cooldown, if you ever got in a real pinch you could duck into a corner and melee spam until some help came to bail your fat out of the fire.  The sequel nerfs that shit with a four foot wiffle bat.

Rate of fire of your melee attack drops drastically after three or four.  Be sure to pick your melee bursts well and, most importantly, time it with a reload of your weapon.  How you time your melee often decides whether you watch the horde from the deck or from the dirt.

2) Batting Order

You can’t win the World Series with three hot bats, nor can you beat Left 4 Dead 2.  The new melee weaponry are pantloads of fun to play, but only if your squad takes turns.  Nothing turns the panic music to requiem sonata faster than four douchebags all carrying cricket bats.

Keep a good balance of ranged and melee in your secondary slots – one can be helpful, more than two is a liability.

Source: IGN.com

Source: IGN.com

3) The Three S’s

Squat, shove and swat, melee fans – in that order.  Getting the distance right on your melee weapon is next to impossible and usually a waste of health.  To get the maximum effect out of that axe or crowbar, crouch, melee shove, then take a swing.  You hit more zombies per stroke and by ducking, you’ll avoid friendly fire.

Following the three S’s will save a lot of health and heartache.

4) Jockeys Come First

No special zombie is more dangerous than the Jockey.  While the Tank and the Charger can be devastating in the right area, a Jockey can fuck everything in the campaign into a cocked hat anywhere.   Sticking together is way more important in this game than its predecessor and no one splits up a crew as well as the Jockey.  While a player will usually get hung up on a park bench or a rail with a Smoker, a Jockey will ride your ass right off a ledge, right into a Boomer or Witch or even do laps in a pool of Spitter acid.

You hear that giggling bastard and your priority should be evident.  Always shoot the Jockey first.

5) Still No Time Like The Present

The best tip from our last guide was using your disposable items.  Now in addition to Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs, players have access to bile canisters, adrenaline shots and ammo dispensers.  Like before, there is no better time to use the weapon in your hand than right nowLeft 4 Dead 2 sprinkles items far more liberally than the original and you are rarely ever in a situation where “the right moment” for your item will ever come.

Make like Snoop Dogg and drop that shit while it’s hot.

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  • Robert Taylor
  • 23
  • Nov
  • 09

Last Thursday, the House Finance Committee, by a vote of 43-26, voted to approve an amendment to finally audit the Federal Reserve.

As Rob and I discussed in an earlier roundtable podcast, the Paul/Grayson amendment is attempting to audit the Fed, which would mean a public disclosure of all its most recent economic activity, especially what it has done with TARP funds.

Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post sums up the importance of this vote very well.

The measure, cosponsored by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), authorizes the Government Accountability Office to conduct a wide-ranging audit of the Fed’s opaque deals with foreign central banks and major U.S. financial institutions. The Fed has never had a real audit in its history and little is known of what it does with the trillions of dollars at its disposal.

It may seem like a small battle that has been won, but what this vote can possible represent is the slow, but necessary, exposure of the Federal Reserve, which is one of the, if not the most, corrupt government institutions in the US.

Created in 1913, the Federal Reserve is a quasi-private bank with virtually no oversight that has the ability to control the flow of credit (through the manipulation of interest rates). By lowering interest rates, the Fed’s policies create an economy drunk on credit, and many businessess or ventures that would have never been started suddenly start popping up all over the place. When this artificial bubble pops, as it did in 2008 (and in 1929), the painful bust ensues.

This expansion of the monetary supply is essentially inflation, which is a hidden tax, directly harming the poor and middle-class the hardest. In almost 100 years, the Fed-induced inflation has caused our money to lose almost 95% of its value.

The Fed is also a tool of the schemers and central planners that always tend to gravitate towards DC. Without a central bank that can literally create money out of thin air, wars would have to be funded through direct taxation, which might cause many more Americans to grab pitchforks when handed the bill for empire. Welfare, too, becomes much easier to fund when there is no limit to the goodies that can be spread around.

The existence of a centralized bank whose strings are pulled by the government is absolutely incompatible with a free society. Karl Marx once wrote that there are two crucial things to destroying a market based economy: the levying of an income tax and the centralization of credit into state hands. As a firm defender of free markets and the sovereignty of every individual, the very existence of the Fed is an institutionalized evil that I oppose unconditionally.

So it’s no surprise then that all of the influential Beltway types are opposing this amendment. From the war-mongering “conservatives” at the Heritage Foundation to former Wall Street crooks Fed chairmen Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker, the DC establishment is shaking.

The Paul-Grayson bill, with over 300 trans-ideological co-sponsors in the House, will hopefully be the first of the Federal Reserve’s many corrupt bricks to fall.

_

Fore more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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