The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

24Aug/110

Big Government, Little Government, Taxes, and Death

I was listening to a conservative political Christian radio show yesterday and the segment was about taxes and the size of government. The host pointed out that in Jesus' time the tax rate was 1% of income (raised temporarily to 3% during war), and how everyone from that era would revolt if they were transported to modern times with our 20-40% effective income tax rates. And the host also pointed out that the American Revolution was fought over a tea tax of about 2-3%, and how surely if the founding fathers were here today they'd be leading a new revolt. It must be "fun" to be a rabble rouser, to have a national audience of like-minded people who are happy to nod along as you erect straw man arguments which you then knock down with self-evident, self-congratulatory arguments. What I really wanted was for someone to call in and make the far more reasonable, truthful argument that tax rate alone is a useless measure of societal success or failure, happiness or misery, good politics or bad. The conservative movement's universal position is that low taxes are good, high taxes are bad, without seeming willing to engage in much discussion about the cummulative or general benefit of all the gradually tacked on social programs which only taxes can effectively fund. The real measure of our success is measured by the overall as well as individual condition of taxable citizens, not merely at what rate their money was being taken from their paychecks.

Taking apart this host's specific references to the past is easy. What were the lives like for the average and individual people in Nazareth or Capernaum around 1 A.D.? They may have been able to keep 99% of their income, but what was the revenue-influenced portion of their life like? Did the average citizen then have a comfortable life: was he only required to work reasonable hours, with reasonable working conditions, with reasonable lifespan, with reasonable lives for the children, etc. My best guess would be absolutely not. I would bet the vast majority of people back then worked long hours, worked jobs which involved considerable risk, had little but survival to show for their life of work, and died early, often after seeing their own children die early. Those citizens being able to retain 99% of their income didn't mean they were able to enjoy that 99%; all of it went to what was often subsistance living.

Our improved lives today are not the result of technological improvement so much as they are the result of the ordered world we've built, the infrastructure our society has maintained through the pooled resources of its citizens organized and implemented by our governments. Strip away our many public programs such as a universally accessible education system, cihldhood vaccinations, emergency medical services, police, fire, social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, worker safety laws, etc. and even with our heritage of modern technology we'd be left in miserable shape, arguably no better off than people 2,000 years ago. And while the comparison between life in 1776 and today wouldn't be as stark, I find it hard to imagine the founding fathers would not have accepted the bulk of the compromise we've had to make with the size of government in order to achieve the more comfortable America in which we live: without their reliance on slavery, on child labor exploitation, on the later exploitation of effectively endentured workers (e.g., Coolies), without the average citizen working until he died, etc.

There is ample room to debate the efficiencies of government, the merits of various programs funded by taxes, the injustice and economic impact of various methods of calculating corporate and individual tax, the possibility of privatizing all that can reasonably be privatized, but to make statements that suggest our system is currently completely broke, that we can or would want to return to a world in which government needed only 1% to assist in improving our world, is brutally helpful.

25Jun/1110

How to Earn Badges Super Fast on the Huffington Post

As part of some ongoing research into social media I devised a strategy for earning badges quickly on the social news site the Huffington Post. Here are the results of my month long investigation.

The badges displayed with your comments are the following:

  • Networker (Level 1 and Level 2)
  • Superuser (Level 1 and Level 2)
  • Moderator (Level 1 and Level 2)
  • Politics Pundit

There are a couple additional badges which can be earned and displayed on your profile, but I won't be discussing those.

Becoming a Networker

You become a Networker by having lots of friends and followers.  As a Networker the comments you make will be given added visibility by being featured with a red background, the higher the level the more colored it will be.  Having more visible comments is good because it means more people see your comments to fan you and favorite them.

Level 1

To achieve Level 1 all you need to do is gain 150 or so friends (the exact value I don't recall, but it's somewhere in this range).

While you can and should try to gain friends and fans by posting comments that people will favorite (which is vital for the Politics Pundit badge) the more expedient approach is to exploit the psychological "norm of reciprocity".     If you fan other comment authors many of them will fan you back, just as a reflex. The Huffington Post encourages this behavior by having prominent "follow back" buttons integrated in your browsing of their site.  So, getting 150 or so friends and your Level 1 is as easy as fanning a lot of people.  Obviously if all you do is fan people your experience of the site will be grim, so please do contribute meaningful, useful, authentic comments!

Level 2

To reach level 2 you MUST have a social media account (e.g., Facebook or Twitter) linked to your Huffington Post account! You'll never get to Level 2 without that.  Once you do link one of these accounts all you need to do is add some more friends and cross over the Level 2 threshold, which I suspect is dependent on a combination of friends/fans.  In my case I was surprised that the requirement wasn't that much higher than for Level 1.  I achieved Level 2 at about 300-400 friends/fans.

Becoming a Super User

A super user is one who posts a lot of comments and shares a lot of links.  Earn these badges and your comments will be featured in purple.

Level 1

Commenting isn't hard to do, but just remember you won't be rewarded for your overly long and overly reasoned comments!  Comments should be meaningful, but make them quick and keep them short!  I got my Level 1 badge with around 200 comments.  A viable strategy to getting your comment count up is to mix genuinely insightful (but still short) comments with comments supportive of other positions/posters.  People routinely compliment other people's comments and say things like, "Fanned and faved" or "F + F".  While slightly odious, the reality is nobody with 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 comments did so by really taking time and care with their every comment.  And if you genuinely think they made a good point, why not?  We do the same in real life social situations, pat a guy on the back and tell him some generic, "Good job!"  This approach will certainly massively boost your post count.

And for anyone that's interested, in my site wanderings the highest number of comments made by a single author that I've seen was 57,000!  And those were all made in about 2.5 years, meaning his daily average was over 60 comments every day!  I saw a few others at 40,000+, but he's the record holder so far as I know.

Level 2

As with the Networker Level 2, you must have a linked social media account to earn this Superuser Level 2.  With that in place all you need to do is make some more comments and promote Huffington Post by using their Facebook, Twitter, etc. sharing tools.  All I had to do was have about 300-400 comments and 75 or so shares to get Level 2.  The easiest way to share is just to use the "Your Timeline" Twitter tool in the right hand column as you are browsing stories.  The text of the tweet is already filled out, all you need to do is click the "Tweet" button; the "Share This Story" widget in the left hand column requires an extra click, pops up a window, and is slower to use.  Using the easy "Your Timeline" tool it's easy to earn this badge upgrade.

Moderator

Moderators help the Huffington Post community police itself by letting users who have good track records identifying abusive/spam-y comments have even more authority in getting rid of the garbage.

Level 1

To earn level 1 you need to have flagged 20 comments that ultimately are deleted.  You also need your flagging decisions to align with the majority on the site, go around flagging comments no one else does and you'll never be a moderator, even if you happened to have 20 comments everyone agreed were bad.  Once you become a Level 1 Moderator every time you flag something it will be counted as though five people had flagged it!

Here are some important secrets to becoming a moderator.  By the time you see a comment it's already passed through an automated filter and likely been seen by dozens or hundreds/thousands of people, some of whom are moderators.  It is therefore somewhat difficult to become a moderator, because what you see has already been moderated, to some significant degree.  Becoming a moderator, therefore, requires a strategy.  Here is one that worked for me:

  • Bad words rarely become or stay visible, so don't expect to flag for bad words.
  • Most content that is abusive/spam/etc. is by new users, either real users or spam bots.  Look for comments made by users with few fans, especially those with less than 10.
  • The easiest thing to spot is comment spam.  These are comments that contain a link (URL), often using a short url service like bit.ly, wp.me, that ultimately has nothing to do with the topic at hand, and is meant to promote some product, infect the user's computer, etc.  The comment that precedes the link is usually related to the topic, so it can be impossible to know just by looking at one comment if what you are seeing is comment spam.  The trick is to click on the user's list of comments in their profile.  If it is comment spam you will typically see that all their comments include a URL, and often the same URL.  The real trick is that since you have discovered they are a comment spammer and you are viewing their list of comments you now have multiple comments you can flag!  Finding one item of comment spam thus often turns into an ability to flag 6-20 comments.
  • Be warned that if you flag a comment which others do not flag it will be viewed as if you made an error, even if your judgment was right!  I was one of the only people realizing some comments were definitively spam and thus the comments were left on the site, so my flagging was not credited to me on those, effectively making me seem wrong.  It took me flagging over 100 items before I was recognized as having properly flagged a mere 20 comments!  So be warned, if you're going to flag comment spam it'll help if you only flag the comment spam you find in popular articles, where others will see it and ultimately flag it, too!
  • To work around the problem mentioned in the previous item, adding a reply to the comment you are flagging warning other people of the comment does two things, 1) it saves other people from possibly getting scammed or getting a virus, 2) it lets other people know they should flag the item, too, which means you are more likely to get credit for that flagging.
  • You can also notify the site about abusive profiles by clicking on the link on that user's profile.  You are then required to tell them why you think the account was abusive.  I have done this numerous times with spammers, but have never received any notification after the fact or seemingly any benefit in terms of credits for comments deleted as a result of my letting them know about the profile.  Thus, help out the site by doing so, but don't expect any reward.
  • Abusive treatment of fellow comment authors is one of the big reasons to flag comments, but it's also one of the hardest to detect and one of the most subjective.  I tend to do it only when it is so blatant that no one could rationally argue it wasn't abusive, otherwise you'll likely take a hit and have your good/bad flag ratio suffer.
  • Shy away from flagging users who have been active on the site more than you have.  People with lots of fans probably know what is likely to be flagged better than you do, so why risk your flagging reputation?  Obviously if they are in a drunken rage abusing someone, sure, but if it's a gray area, stay away!

Getting the moderator badge was one of the hardest because it really was so subjective, and the opportunities to flag obviously bad comments were so rare.

Level 2

If you mastered flagging enough to reach Level 1 just repeat that enough to have caused 100 comments to be deleted and you'll get Level 2 status, and the ability to directly delete abusive comments!

Politics Pundit

Having not earned it and not seen a technical description of it, my best guess is that the Politics Pundit is a badge awarded based on how many times your comments are favorited.  Post plenty of comments that other people really like and eventually you may earn this badge.

Assuming my belief about how you earn this badge is true, a strategy for earning it would include intentionally saying things you believe are more likely to get a positive response out of people.  Obviously I'm not encouraging you to lie or hide your own feelings, merely to also express what you believe in catchy ways, as well as more thoughtful ways.  The comments most likely to be favorited are short, highly opinionated, funny, and/or more commonly have a liberal bias.

Conclusion

Getting to the top of the online social ladder isn't easy, but with a little strategy what can seem impossible becomes achievable.  I wish you all the best!  Feel free to fan me, too. 🙂

^ Quinxy