Saturday, December 29, 2007

CB Handles

What's In A Name? - Steven Heller

Heller makes a compelling argument for the use of real names in blogging and blog-commenting. It's often the case that one who uses a pseudonym feels more free to make comments they would otherwise temper if their identity were known. The blogosphere has allowed the masses to express their opinions and interests in rather highly public forms and the comment sections of blog post allow the same freedom for a blog's readers. Yet, as Heller point out, how trustworthy is a blogger or commentator when they hide behind a handle versus their own name. For whistleblowers or those who might otherwise put them and their families at risk by exposing their name, a pseudonym is understandable. But the vast majority of bloggers and blog-readers do not run such a risk. The only risk they run is having less than politel comments associated with their names and reputations.
This issue of pseudonym versus real name has gone beyond the message boards where flame wars, trolls and other kinds of rabblerousing exists. Many bloggers desire the same reputability as other journalists and thus want to make their blogs as accurate and open to criticism as possible. Even so, criticism that comes without attribution is less valuable than criticism that someone is willing to put their name behind. For a lot of critics, particularly of the troll variety, the pseudonym is a way of saying things without consideration or thought, without care for the veracity of their comments and without concern for lively and productive debate. They often do not play the role of devil's advocate or add anything of real value to the conversation. And when called upon it, many bloggers and commentors launch the accusation of 'fascist' to those who dare question their versimilitude. The existence of "Godwin's Law" since the mid-1990s is proof of the continuing existence of trolls and other commentors who would rather derail a conversation and focus on themselves than engage in a real debate.
The idea of requiring commentors and bloggers to use their real names is not meant to stifle conversation but to keep it civil. Let the pundits on tv embarass themselves with stupid and inane commentary. We the masses deserve better and one way to receive better is to call for an end of pseudonym usage in the blogosphere.

Orb Reporting

Without Correspondents In Pakistan, TV Networks Rely on Producers and Part-Timers - NYT Blog

I've heard for several years now on the problem of U.S. global media coverage and the downsizing or outright closing of foreign offices. This was first noticed after 9/11 when correspondents were sent to all sorts of places almost at random since no media organization had a clear idea of where the next media event would happen. With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, it was only ABC and CNN who were among the U.S. media companies on location when the assassination happened. Every other news organization had to rely on freelance correspondents or simple wire reports. The BBC does maintain a large global operation but for Americans this doesn't really help the situation any. When I first heard of the assassination I immediately when to the Washington Post, the NY Times, the BBC and the Guardian Online (another British, leftist paper) and got a series of conflicting reports. Some of the basic information was the same while others differed significantly, particularly on the matter of whether it was a single sniper/suicide bomber or two men operating in tandem. This kind of confusion of reporting is unsurprising now since out of the four only the BBC had a correspondent on hand in Pakistan.
With the constant questioning of media bias, the issue of global coverage is essential when events in other nations can have a serious impact on our national and economic security. Yes, we can read local papers but often we have less of an idea of their biases than we do of our own media organizations. When and how information is presented plays an critical role in how the narrative of an event is crafted. For those who rely on only one or two sources of news, one can see how the lack of on-scene global coverage becomes a problem. Who is doing the writing, the editing and the presentation (anchor or correspondent) are questions left unanswered and are difficult to answer.
This age of globalized information requires a constant skepticism of whether the reporting is accurate or whether a spin has been placed on the event. The use of multiple news sources does mitigate this problem but only slightly so when those multiple sources rely on wire reports or a single nexus of information. So let this post be a reminder to always seek alternative sources of information, to check the biases of the reporting and to always question how the reporting is presented.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Gold Standard

Dollar's Fall is Felt Around the Globe - Anthony Faiola @ WaPo

The dramatic rise in precious metals in recent years is another element often overlooked with the weakening dollar. Three years ago gold was holding steady (as it had for the past decade) at around $400 per troy ounce with platinum following suit at $700 an ounce. But today's prices continue to astound me. Not since the early 80s has gold been priced so high ($800 a troy ounce and platinum at nearly $1,500). As a jeweler I can't ignore the doubling of material costs and have to pass that on to customers. In addition I've begun fielding lots of questions over how best to sell one's gold only to give a customer the unfortunate news that they will, at best, receive an under-wholesale value. It does work well for us when we have our filings and bench sweeps refined but one cannot run a business like that. When you depend on repairs like retipping prongs, sizing rings and custom work, higher material costs, while giving us a larger profit margin, cut into the amount of work done. What was once a $25 sizing job suddenly becomes a $45 job. Most of the effects of a weak dollar aren't so directly felt but in the world of jewelry a doubling of costs is quickly reflected. It's not heartening to say, but when the dollar starts to weaken people start to buy into fixed commodities like gold and that causes a lot of ripples.