WITTC50?: Courtesy of the red, white and blue? Let's show some at TC50

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flagDay two of TechCrunch 50, and the TC50 Drinking Game is in full swing. So far, we’ve seen jokes made at the expense of Arrington, Jason alluding to his personal wealth and countless “great question”s. But disappointingly there has been no real controversy  either from the panel of experts or the startups.

Thank Calacanis, then, for The American flag.

TechCrunch50 may be organised and sponsored by Americans but one of the best things about it is that it attracts start-ups from around the globe. To my right, there’s a chap speaking in German to his colleague, yesterday an Indian startup – iMo – was the  darling of the day, and half of my friends from London seem to have made the journey across the Atlantic so they don’t miss out on the fun.

Each year there’s the inevitable criticism – even from conference judges like Yossi Vardi – that the event is weighted too heavily towards Silicon Valley. But, by and large, that geographical bias is just a natural result of the fact that Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of potential applicants, and also that it’s easier and cheaper to get the Caltrain from Palo Alto to get to the conference than it is to fly in from London, Lisbon or Bangalore. You could equally say that Le Web has a French bias or that DLD has a German bias.

And yet. And yet…

What kind of message does it send that first thing a non-US entrepreneur sees when they arrive at the conference  is a gigantic American flag on the main stage? Moreover, what does it say to non-US startups who are lucky enough to be pitching that the flag is positioned right next to the judges’ desk?

I mentioned this to Arrington yesterday and he agreed with me, without hesitation. More accurately he said “at least we’re not starting with the national anthem like last year.” Ok, so it took him until the very end of the day for it to be moved from the stage, and that was only after I’d build a site called ‘Istheamericanflagstillthere.com‘ – but at least it had been moved.

This morning, though, the flag was back.

For an hour.

And then it was removed again.

It was only then I realised what was going on. Jason Calacanis kindly came over to explain. “This is America, buddy – the flag stays”. Sure enough, he’d dispatched a poor staffer to replace it.

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

I don’t know what to say, really. I love America. I left my home country to move here so I could visit and write about conferences such as TechCrunch50. Many of the thousands of people in this hall feel the same way. We have no issue with American patriotism, or with the flag being flown in schools, public buildings and private homes. It’s your country, and we don’t have to be here.

But, you know what? It’s just not appropriate to fly the Stars and Stripes on stage at a global conference. It smacks of arrogance, xenophobia and ignorance. The same arrogance, xenophobia and ignorance that lead to right-wing commentators forcing (then) Senator Obama to wear a flag pin, lest he be considered a terrorist sympathiser.

photoIf any American in the hall is so insecure in their patriotism that they need a flag in their line of sight at all times, then I humbly suggest they invest in a flag pin or an ‘America: Love it or leave it’ t-shirt. It’s not like they cost much (thanks China!). Hell, you can even strap a handgun to your thigh and listen to a Toby Keith album on your iPod during the foreign pitches if you like. But please – and I implore you this as someone who loves America so much that I moved here – don’t let your personal politics turn a brilliantly welcoming and positive conference into something else. Something that is starting to resemble a grandstanding game of capture the flag.

Oh! Hey! What’s this?

As I write these words, Arrington has just walked on to the stage, picked up the flag and carried it away. Good. It’s the right call, not for reasons of nationalism or patriotism, but simply as a gesture of openness and respect for those visiting from overseas. Two traits that, since the country’s inception, the majority of Americans have held dear.

And I’m pretty sure the German guy sitting next to me, the Indian guy behind me and, yeah, the majority of Americans in the rest of room would agree with me.

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