• Robert Taylor
  • 03
  • Jan
  • 10

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how the outlets of the mainstream press in the US are rapidly losing readers and relevancy. These rags of wasted ink and paper, these “news” programs with screaming talk heads, are not “liberal” or “conservative.” They are nothing more than mouthpieces for the centralized whims of the DC war machine.

This theme was echoing through my mind as I witnessed the coverage of the latest events unfolding in the US military’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.

Last week, the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a US base that is directing deadly drone strikes over the skies of Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing a handful of CIA agents in the process.

The mainstream press jumped all over the story, warning Americans about the “dangerous instability” in those Central Asian mountains. They noted that the female station chief at the US base who was killed was “a mother of three children.” The prescription of course, is more killing.

This story is definitely news worth reporting, but contrast the coverage of this Taliban bombing with the attention given to another significant story, and the media’s bias is revealed.

In a horrific incident, US troops dragged innocent children out of their bed during a raid, handcuffed them, and shot them, execution style (including an 11-year old girl!). Here is an eyewitness testimony from The London Times (a non-American news outlet, of course):

In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster [of the local school] said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. “Seven students were in one room,” said Rahman Jan Ehsas. “A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building.

“First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed.”

A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. “I saw their school books covered in blood,” he said.

The investigation found that eight of the victims were aged from 11 to 17. The guest was a shepherd boy, 12, called Samar Gul, the headmaster said. He said that six of the students were at high school and two were at primary school. He said that all the students were his nephews.

For some reason, Afghans don't like being occupied (Ahmad Masood/Reuters).

As dlindorff notes in his excellent blog, there was only one report about this war crime in the US. The New York Times mentioned it once, and only about how those pesky civilian killings are getting in the way of the war effort.

The report of this massacre has sparked outrage all over Afghanistan, and more and more Afghans are protesting the US occupation (with its daily dose of bombings and raids) and demanding that Obama stop the bloodshed.

If only Obama were listening. Unfortunately, our chickenhawk-emperor just deployed an extra 30,000+ American troops and is telling us that the US will continue to be killing Afghans indefinitely because of the supposed “threat” the Taliban poses to the US.

Yes, the Taliban are basically Nazis with turbans, but they have no desire to harm the continental US. As attacks like the recent bombings show, they want nothing more than US and NATO troops out of their country. The Taliban are simply responding as most people tend to do when foreign soldiers build bases all over their country, kick in doors pointing machine-guns, and rain down bombs.

The US media could end this trillion dollar war in a heartbeat if it truly valued honest journalism and reporting. They could simply show the countless pictures of maimed Afghans and Marines, or report cowardly bombings from 10,000 feet and the CIA’s soulless drone strikes (Obama’s favorite imperial tool).

Thankfully, information-starved Americans are starting to flock to the free and mostly unregulated Internet for their news as CNN, FOX, NBC and mainstream “news”papers are on life support.

Good riddance.

_

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

  • Rob Spectre
  • 23
  • Dec
  • 09

Of the many institutions that failed us during this decade of American decline, none took the face-first diver into a freshly laid steamer like journalism.  The once critical Fourth Estate has not suffered post-modernity well, and its decay only accelerated as humanity turned the corner of another millennium of civilization.  The sensationalism and spectacle for which it was derided during the celebrity trials and presidential impeachment of the Nineties became the only way to sell newspapers and 30 second spots.  The news business became one OJ trial after another where headlines read like car dealership billboards, stories bloated with corporate spin and the street-savvy, careful  insight of the American journalist was replaced by the doe-eyed, photogenics of the beauty-pageant runnerup communications major fresh from community college.

How the media handled the medium can bear much of the blame.  Information technology made the business of distributing information so cheap and easy, the role of the international conglomerate as gatekeeper became obsolete.  A middling deal attorney could become a tech business kingmaker with a ten dollar hosting plan, open source blogging software and a clever domain name.  Two Dutch kids with a Twitter account developed the “news wire service  for the 21st century” out of their dorm.  Even your humble author was able to cobble together a few friends, sneak some work out of a graphic designer and get a platform reaching tens of thousands for less than $500.  Where the audiences flocked in the Nineties to websites that generated compelling content, more came after the turn of the century to those that served as platforms for users to create their own.  The concept of the “broadcast network” – a medium that delivered content to audiences numbering in million -  now applied to several hundred companies instead of a dozen.  Anyone could “go viral” with a piece of reporting and reach millions and expect to get picked up by one of the traditional outlets within a few days. While information distribution became effortless, verifying it became an impossible game of whack-a-mole.

With the lower barrier of entry came competition, generating a demand entirely new to the consumers of news: flavor.  Discussions around water coolers and dinner tables was less about what the news was than where those in the discussion had received.  “Oh, I heard that on NPR/CNN/MSNBC/Fox and Friends/Hannity/Olbermann/Beck/Maddow/HuffPo/TPM/RCP” became the standard response to the news scoop of the day.  Running on half the budget of the pioneer of 24-hour news, the success of Fox News at the beginning of the decade spawned the overt marketing of bias in the reporting of news.  The taglines read “fair and balanced” and “a fuller spectrum,” but the marketing message always spoke differently.  Suddenly it was less about being the leading news source and more being the leading news source with a particular demographic.  This decade marked the final victory of advertising over the newsroom; where the stories were all the same, but all packaged differently.

Accessibility was not the only culprit of journalism’s decline.  The technology for traditional broadcasting was changing as well.  High definition television, followed quickly by full high definition, completely changed the appearance of news anchors.  Looking good enough for television went from a twenty minute session with a skilled makeup artist to a two hundred grand investment in a leading plastic surgeon.  Walter Cronkite would not survive the age of HD – old, experience reporters were out, and young, telegenic talking heads were in.  Kelly O’Donnell could no longer hide her pack-a-day habit with foundation and Andrea Mitchell only looks slightly less decayed than her ancient husband.  The Dan Rathers gave way to the Katie Courics – the harsh realities of broadcasting at near-real resolution made faces more important than the brains behind them.

And once bias became a selling point and the finest minds took a backseat to the fairest skinned, the product began to show it.  We opened the decade with the colossal failure of the 2000 election, where premature announcements plunged the entire country into unprecedented month-long uncertainty over whom its next leader would be.  The next year those same Americans would spend the fretful morning hearing the conspiracy theories of every two-star crackpot in every producer’s rolodex while watching planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over and over – no more informed than at the beginning of the crisis but a shitload more scared.

The breaking news rush to speculation became such an expected consequence of this new era of journalism that an entirely new class of celebrity was born.  “Famous for being famous” was now something one could be in America.  No longer did an American have to produce a record or write a book or win a championship or campaign for public office or land an airplane in a river to become famous.  Now all one who wanted to be famous had to do was do something really stupid.

Celebrity was now attainable through news coverage alone.  One could now have another eight kids without the ability to care for them and get a reality show development deal.  One could hide his son in the attic, launch a balloon, call the TV station and become a Top Ten story of the year.  Even just getting naked on your MySpace page could get one at least to the C-list in this new America.  And if one was just hot and rich, one could get an invitation to the Oscars every year.

For the enormous advances of technology and process that made news something you found out about in minutes instead of days, American journalism retreated to its yellow beginnings.  The news business, where it still remained, became less about the story and more about the lead-in.

This decade will not be written in history as the one where American journalism died, but it will be marked as were it started dying – the twilight of the most important instrument of democracy.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 16
  • Dec
  • 09

We greeted this century as a screaming bastard greets the doctor there to catch him as he is unceremoniously ejected from a diseased womb.  Disoriented, ungrateful and angry without cause, we shrieked at it as it embraced us, blinking like we were using our eyes for the first time.  Going hoarse after only a few minutes of sucking oxygen, we may have slowly cried ourselves out of the panic of those first few moments, but we never stopped being shit scared.

We entered this decade afraid.  Fearful that the magnificent machines we had made would fail us once the clock struck midnight.  Fearful that the strange, evil, brown men with the funny beards would detonate our liberty statues and our golden gates.  Fearful our gods were going to ride down from our heavens on their pale horses and judge us before we were ready.  But, perhaps most of all, fearful that this date which had so permeated our cultures high and popular, that had wormed its way into the titles of our song and film, the plots of our stories and plays, had been the end all and be all of the nebulously forecast thing we called future might not be.earth

We had done our level best not to get this far.  We spent so much of the first half of the century trying to kill one another off, we spent all of the last half quite nearly assured we would.  For every revolting way we devised to kill ourselves in greater number, we’d devise an equally despicable mechanic for justifying it.  Inhuman philosophy was synchronously developed with inhuman technology, insulating the consciences of staring at the buttons that could kill us all with game theories and defense conditions and survival scenarios.  We not only made the machine gun, we invented the mass production to spit one out for every man, woman and child.  We not only made the tank, we cleared the schools and rectories to get enough hands to build them.  We not only made the nuclear bomb, we devised the nationalism that could justify their use.

It was for good reason we feared the year 2000.  We never, ever expected to get there.

But whether through disaster or design, civilization survived a century at war, living to see the date that had served for decades as the setting for the post-apocalypse fictions we wrote and read to try to grapple with the gravity of our age.  By then, we each had stacks of bad films and worse comic books with “2000″ in big block letters on the front.  It was the milestone that meant cars could fly and men could travel through time.  It was the milestone that either meant global peace or complete catastrophe.  It was the milestone that promised lasers and jetpacks, warp speeds and teleporters, a single world government and a colony on the moon.

It was supposed to be the future.  The future we were never supposed to see.

Is it little wonder then that we have completely fucked up the 21st century so far?  Though scared fuck stupid and directionless, we were riding a relative period of calm and prosperity.  The industrialized nations were generating unprecedented wealth.  Their governments were shockingly running well and mostly in the black.  The developing nations to which those governments sent their checks were between genocides at the moment, suffering as all the poor do but quietly and without mass graves.  Humans were coming around to the idea that they were destroying the planet they were living on and were beginning to stop doing it so much.

Socially, economically, politically – we were set up for success.  We in America in particular had all the grounds for another grand decade.  It was like we had just figured post-modernity out. Like we found the rhythm that could make our complex machine go.

Having our shit figured out was so 20th century.  We entered this decade afraid and now after failing for ten straight years we are leaving it near-petrified.  In this (d)N0t series, I’ll be exploring this decade of fail, ten long years of humanity screwing the pooch in every conceivable way.  From blowing our fortune to shit-canning our health to sacrificing our privacy to obliterating our security to surrendering our liberty and finally acquiescing our sanity, these next two weeks will be a gonzo exploration of these past years and how we fucked every single one of them up.

And if we’re not all reaching for the nighty-night Kool-aid by the end, we’ll talk about the next ten and how we pull civilization back from the brink in front of us and fight this future of which we are so afraid.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Nov
  • 09

It’s been a while since the Democratic Party tasted win.  Outplayed since March by a small, but clever Republican opposition, the only tangible political victory the Obama-led Dems has been the gimme-election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.  That contest – more a product of GOP self-destruction than strong Democratic campaigning – still leaves the landslide Democratic government rapidly closing out its first year solidly in the red, scuttled more by their own dissension than their opponent’s unity.

But in the clutch vote for cloture for Obama’s number one legislative priority, Harry Reid’s supposed supermajority Senate is coming through.  Securing the last vote mere hours before the roll call, Reid disproved the smart money that he could deliver the votes when it really mattered.  Undoubtedly, the votes of Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu, the last holdouts over the cloture motion, came at some significant cost to the more liberal elements of healthcare reform, but early indications suggest the store was not sold to bring healthcare to the floor.

For the more jaded observers among us, that cloture was ever in doubt is further evidence of our decline.  In the incomprehensibly meta game of the modern American legislative process, just getting to talk about a bill is a landmark victory.  Just getting a bill to a floor debate has, for a decade through the disruptive work of both sides of the aisle, become dental work; a thoroughly unpleasant grind that barely staves off the inevitable loss of its subject.

It is unlikely the modern model of passing law is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.  Passing laws should be this difficult, debating them should not particularly with a electoral mandate this large.  That a supermajority has to perform this many roots canal in order to get its primary objective accomplished suggests a procedural perversion of the original intent of the Constitution.  It’s a status quo for which both political parties should be rightly blamed; a condition where writing law is like making a Hollywood blockbuster – one phone call can kill everything.

But if tonight’s roll call reflects today’s dealmaking, it would seem that a supermajority is worth something after all, if it is an advantage that can only be leveraged once a year.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 24
  • Oct
  • 09

“Two hundred dollars. Are you shitting me?” I asked the clerk.

“$199.99 plus tax,” the timid man corrected, undoubtedly wishing by now that he could crawl under the counter and hide.

“I can buy a netbook with Windows 7 on it for $200.”

“Would you like to look at a netbook?”

“No. Give me the damn box.”

Anything off a shelf is more expensive than free, so after blissfully converting to an open source household years ago, the idea of paying for an upgrade has become alien. If that seemed unusual, the idea of paying serious money for what is, in effect, a patch for a previous failure seems batshit fucking loco. With the right contractor, $200 would supply the purchase and installation of a Toto bidet and would likely result in less shit on my hands than Windows 7.

Source: Silicon Alley Insider

Source: Silicon Alley Insider

After a morning of intense retail struggle, I at last had the product in my hands in front of its intended recipient. For me, Windows 7 was a performance upgrade. I had heard from a number of friends who jumped in during the beta that the overall responsiveness of the operating system had dramatically increased. Being a tablet user, this was crucial as the laptop had sacrificed horsepower for light form factor. Even with four gigabytes of RAM, Vista takes an eternity to boot and frequently slowed to a crawl for even basic web operations.

Stoked to see the performance boost for myself I plinked the entirely too goddamned expensive DVD into the tray and got going with an in-place upgrade. To cut to the big reveal, I never made it past the compatibility screen.

My laptop is the Lenovo X60 tablet, very popular in the tablet PC scene if a couple years old.  Made by a major manufacturer and Microsoft partner, I would have expected the upgrade to run smoothly.  I made it exactly one screen past the license agreement before hitting my hard stop.  During the compatibility check, it told me to uninstall a program that came installed by the laptop manufacturer.

The hitch?  No such program is listed in Add/Remove Programs.  Windows 7 was telling me to get rid of a program that Windows Vista said didn’t exist.

After three hours of repeated attempts and uninstalling a shitload of the manufactuer-loaded software, I found in a forum that I needed to rename a system file in order to clear the false incompatibility message that prevented my upgrade.

In Linux or OSX, this would be simple enough.   Open a command terminal, gain superuser privileges, and rename the file with one command. Definitely not something the average fuck-stupid user would consider appropriate for an OS upgrade, but for my nerdly patience an acceptable obstacle to navigate for a better performing laptop.

In Vista, however, renaming a system file is fucking impossible. Because of the revamped, short-bus security model in Vista, two commands are required to just get the permissions to change a system file – even as the most privileged user on the machine. However, once those permissions are gained, one still can’t rename the file if its in use, even if it is non-critical to the system running. According to the research I did in that three hour timesink, the only other option for me is to do a fresh install which I’m not going to do.

This is not 1999. Operating systems are not some mystic, ethereal projects only one company can manage any more.   The entire Internet can be searched in seconds.  The human genome can be sequenced in a week.  After nearly two decades of development, Windows should be able to just fucking work.

For Mac and Linux users, in-place operating upgrades are ordinary.  My Ubuntu desktop has retained all my installed applications and preferences since Breezy Badger, which was released four years and seven upgrades ago.  The hassle of reinstalling and reconfiguring my OS is just not acceptable any more.

So my review of Windows 7?  Well, the box looks great, but I wouldn’t pay $200 for it.