What’s Wiki-able?

From time to time I like to keep tabs on how users of the Internet (especially those in positions of power in the non-virtual world) interact with and manage content on Wikipedia. Obviously a popular site relied upon by many for public knowledge is intriguing enough, lest we forget that anyone with web access can edit it as they see fit.

I noticed today that someone by the alias ‘Aurorapio‘ had gone through and done a substantial amount of editing on the Wikipedia entry for the city of Aurora, Colorado. They were good edits that provided a wider understanding of the city, its neighborhoods, its history and much more. [EDIT: I had a nice chat with Julie Patterson at the city, who confirmed she spent the time adding to the city’s page. I’ll tell you what I told her: Having a photo of Buckley AFB is probably a better representation of Aurora than the decades-old photo of Fitzsimons that previously inhabited that space.]

It was some good housekeeping on what is usually one of the top three search-engine results that pop up when people search for information on Aurora. In fact, it’s good to think someone on the municipal payroll thinks about the city’s online presence beyond the official website. Visitors of the Wiki page will be better off for those edits.

But then there’s the other side of that coin: What’s fair game regarding less-than-flattering information on Wikipedia?

Take, for example, former state Rep. Michael Garcia, who served Colorado’s 42nd House district from 2001 to 2008. His Wikipedia page includes plenty of biographical information about his education and public service, including measures he sponsored and supported during various legislative sessions.

Former Rep. Garcia is also notable for why he left office: Garcia resigned in 2008 following accusations made by a female lobbyist that Garcia had exposed himself to her at a Denver bar. Garcia disputed the media reports at the time but did not deny that the incident happened (in a press release (PDF), Garcia stated “the other party and I engaged in consensual conduct that was inappropriate given my position in the legislature”).

So the question is: Is it pertinent for the online encyclopedia to contain information about Garcia’s exit from the legislature? For the time being, Garcia is a private citizen; whether he decides to return to a public profile on scale with what he once had remains to be seen.

According to Wikipedia user ‘Repgarica,’ the answer is no.

In June 2009 and December 2009, user ‘Repgarcia’ took great care to edit or delete references to the scandal and Garcia’s subsequent resignation.

Lots of people (especially elected officials) are haunted for years by tales of misdeeds, alleged or assured. That’s not necessarily the main issue here. The bigger issue at hand is our general reliance on information like that found on Wikipedia. We can have extremely detailed examinations of the lives of public figures (take the gargantuan Wiki page for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for example) alongside pages for people like Garcia, which you could argue contain a few sins of omission.

In the end, there is still need for independent voices that check facts and vet sources before publishing. Wikipedia would not exist without them (the online encyclopedia’s own guidelines state various standards must be met for a citation to be considered reliable).

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You say you want a revolution…

The Tea Party movement is good for America and democracy worldwide.

I think that statement probably comes as a bit of a shock to some of my acquaintances, but I’d like to think people who have a rudimentary understanding of how my mind works would read this, think for two seconds and slowly begin nodding their heads as they piece together the reasoning.

For those of you not as in tune with my intellectual wrangling, let me explain:

For starters, let’s make a clear distinction between the Tea Party movement as a whole and various sub-sects (such as Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project, which I’ve previously lambasted for co-opting the harrowing imagery of the Sept. 11 terror attacks). Every political cause will have its extremists, demagogues and “bomb-throwers.” For every Tax Day protesters waving an illustration of Barack Obama as a Nazi, there’s undoubtedly someone on the far left who thinks every single last Republican in Congress is a closet member of the Ku Klux Klan.

And I hold out no hope that I’ll ever find a political candidate or group with whom I agree 100 percent; suffice it to say, this is no endorsement of the specific tenets of the Tea Party movement’s platform.

What I wholeheartedly endorse is the sense of personal empowerment that these people have found and how the vast majority of them are operating within the proper channels to bring about real change.

Case in point: Joseph Andrew Stack flew a plane into a building, in part an act of protest. He took the life of an innocent person in the process. That is unjustifiable.

I’ve read his “suicide note.” Within his writing, you hear many of the same frustrations concerning the U.S. government and its tax code from myriad members of groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather not see taxpayer-owned federal buildings go up in a jet-fueled blaze. I’m for peace. I’m for life. As far as I’m concerned, Stack’s actions do constitute a terrorist attack. Stack is no hero for destroying property and taking lives (including his own) toward an ideological end.

I think I already met my quota of “nice things to say about right-wing politics” this year with the first sentence of this post, but I’ll go ahead and get next year’s out of the way with something Sean Hannity would certainly agree with: The United States of America is the greatest experiment in democracy our modern world has seen.

As untenable as reform may be in Washington, D.C., the power of the individual is often forgotten when incumbents, parties, corporations and other interests seem to dictate so much of how our government and our lives are run. We’re a nation where Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for better or worse, can be considered political heavyweights. We’re a nation where Ned Lamont can wreak as much havoc as he can in the political establishment on behalf of the progressive voices of Connecticut. Even you – yes, YOU – can make your case for why you’re the best person for whatever elected office you feel best-suited for (barring residency and age restrictions; no rain checks).

You get the picture.

If you pay any attention to politics or law in this country, you should be angry or frustrated – and that applies to people of every political persuasion. Where you go with those feelings and beliefs is what separates the true agents of change and the terrorists.

So let’s hear what you have to say, whatever it is. I’ll gladly take another Glenn Beck type on TV than another Timothy McVeigh at a Ryder truck rental.

Let’s flood the marketplace of ideas and let the people decide with their ballots, their petitions and, yes, even their pocketbooks. Is there anything more democratic than that?

It may be far too idealistic to be realistic, but as so many of these grassroots movements have proven, doing and saying nothing on your behalf does nothing to achieve your goals – and as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want the Joe Stacks of the world speaking on my behalf.

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Reality and revelry

Late last week I decided that I would finally start catching up on the year in film 2009. I didn’t actually see a single film in a theater the entire year, and I’m not proud of that fact — not one bit.
However, I do take heart in the fact that I managed to see two great films in the comfort of my home via Redbox at a cost of $2 and change. (On a side note, I have little sympathy for the closing Blockbuster brick-and-mortar locations; in the few times I was a patron, the most-popular titles were always sold out, and the harder-to-find titles were very rarely found.)
I started with “The Hurt Locker.” In retrospect, this probably should have come later in my schedule of screenings. I’m pretty sure the bar has been set tremendously high for all films that follow.
What struck me the most about “The Hurt Locker” was the complete and utter lack of pretense. While there is manufactured drama and other thematics in any work of fiction, the dialogue and its delivery reminds us that this story comes from a very real place. There are a number of good documentaries on the Iraq war (including Michael Tucker’s excellent “Gunner Palace”), and this film — more so than any other fictionalized accounting of the soldier’s mission in Iraq — reminds me of them in the sense that the quiet scenes and booming action sequences alike draw me into the moment and never feel like I’m witnessing the product of a scripted, financed Hollywood spectacle.
Too many modern films about the military are too quick to concoct an emotional breakdown to serve the purpose of humanizing the trained killers we see on screen (Count the 2005 Sam Mendes film “Jarhead” among them, despite the absolute brilliance and reality in Swofford’s published memoir). In nearly any other film, Staff Sgt. James’ showering with his armor on would seem contrived or cliché. For such a powerful character to react in such a way — the only other time he unravels to such a level is his off-base excursion to find those responsible for the DVD-hocking “base rat” Beckham — is incredibly telling. We know that no person’s resolve can be so steely that it never breaks; we know James is troubled on some levels. We know it will be shown in some way — but the way it comes across to the audience is not so much subtle and nuanced as it is logical, reasoned and seemingly real.
But as the opening quote and closing scene remind us, the conflict between the quiet intensity of defusing bombs and the violent outbursts both within and beyond the characters’ minds and mouths is not the issue here. “War is a drug,” as journalist Chris Hedges put it. James isn’t so much surviving each day in Bravo Company to return home to his family; he knows that “one thing” that he loves.
As the greatest film critic of our times, Roger Ebert, pointed out: This film is not about action; it is about suspense. I’m hard-pressed to think of another film focusing on the military that includes so much suspense. The levels to which it rises in “The Hurt Locker” are top-notch. Think Gene Hackman’s best works (“The Conversation,” “The French Connection”). Think Alfred Hitchcock.
I’m not sure if “The Hurt Locker” is the best film of 2009; I’m not in a position of authority on the matter having seen only two films released since January 2009. But the part of my life that’s been spent enjoying cinema is better for this film.
On a much lighter note, I followed the critically acclaimed “Hurt Locker” with a film that engendered equal amounts of praise for vastly different reasons: “The Hangover.”
I’ve always found it very difficult to put good comedy into words. Good comedy is far too nuanced to try and explain with an alphabet. It’s the indescribable look on John Belushi’s face as he tries to smooth things over with the vengeful Carrie Fisher while on his knees in the last hour of “Blues Brothers.” It’s the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove grappling with his diagnostic apraxia, trying to maintain some decorum while his uncontrollable hand tries to salute the Führer.
“The Hangover” isn’t as good as those classic comedic moments, but it executes so many jokes so well, it gets a tip of my hat, even as I admonish myself for a guffaw over a poor, innocent baby being it by the door of a police car.
Both of these films have flaws, to be sure. “The Hurt Locker” could have done without the slow-motion shot (I tried to understand what purpose it served; I still haven’t found it). The superfluous pop music throughout “The Hangover” will certainly be very dated in four years’ time (Look back to Todd Phillips’ “Old School” for a better score and use of a soundtrack — “Master of Puppets” and “Dust in the Wind” are now forever linked, in my mind, to that film instead of the respective albums they appear on).
I know I’ve seen better films in the last decade, and I’ve been privy to a decent amount of press screenings in my time, but I’m pretty sure the $2 I spent to rent these films on DVD gave me the best entertainment value I can remember in quite some time.

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Power to the petition

There must be something wrong when a United States Senator, who has the power to vote on a piece of legislation to address an issue, turns to the Internet and asks constituents to sign an online petition urging action on the very issue at hand in the legislation.

Thanks, Mark Udall

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Damn Yankees

I really tried to not hate the Yankees this year.
That task seems to run counter to the inclinations of most American sports fans born and raised outside the Empire State… but I truly gave it my best effort.
Somewhere around the top of the eighth inning, as Mariano Rivera trotted out to the mound and there was absolutely no question that New York would secure its 27th championship, something happened.
I wouldn’t call it anger or rage; I’ve seen enough of that from other sports fans (and heck, even just people who instinctively know they’re *supposed* to hate the Yankees).
I went as far as to call out my fellow fans for laying on the hate a little too thick on the Bronx Bombers; I somehow rationalized that being a Yankees fan could be a contrarian’s delight, almost punk in a way.
No, when my better beliefs kicked back in, I didn’t hate the Yankees again out of anger — the sight of the 2009 New York Yankees winning it all brought with me a profound sense of sadness.
Despite despising anything in pinstripes for much of my sports-conscious existence (and before you ask, the only thing in baseball I hate more than the Yankees are the Red Sox), it still seems so wrong that the old Yankees Stadium is not the home of the New York Yankees. To me, the old Monument Park seemed like the most hallowed ground in the holiest site in all of sport; I can’t imagine how much reverence the true Yankee diehards have for it.
They’re demolishing The House That Ruth Built; it seems so wrong, but the prospect sits a little easier in the hearts and minds of those who care now that the highest-paid team in all of professional sport has christened its inaugural season in the new stadium with a championship.
I’d be a little less bitter if they had to wait for it; to work and play in a place with no history for another season or two before they inevitably got the formula perfect and conquered the Fall Classic.
This was too perfect.
They already held onto the “core four” of Posada, Pettite, Jeter and Rivera. The hip didn’t hold A-Rod back. They added A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to this stacked lineup.
Was this fate’s way of making up the loss to Arizona back in 2001? The 37-year-old Pettitte getting the victory in the new stadium as Rivera closes out yet another big game?
The only way it could have been better would be the presence of one George Steinbrenner; at least then we would not be subject to player after player after player repeating the talking point: “We won this for the boss.”
As Ozzie Guillen would say, “Pssh, please.”
Every last person in the Yankee organization who wears a jersey to work can rest a little easier this offseason knowing they can point to this championship as proof (legitimate or not) they earned their paychecks.
Maybe they’re a little afraid that the big paychecks will stop once “the boss” is out of the picture, but for now there’s no indication that Steinbrenner the Younger will deviate at all from the style and method of ownership set forward by Steinbrenner the Elder.
No…. A-Rod, Jeter and the other veterans who have been on the roster for a few years have to be happy they finally went out and secured a title despite having the best team on paper for the better part of a decade.
And let me be clear: This has nothing to do with Yankee fans. Many others will deride the New York fan (be they Yankees, Mets, Ranger, Giants, Jets, Knicks or otherwise), but they’re OK in my book. At the very least, the New York fan is the most entertaining of all. At least they’re not Sox fans (Can you honestly say you hate the “Evil Empire” more than the myriad idiots who lay claim to citizenship in “Red Sox Nation” these days now that the “lovable losers” have two World Series titles in the past five years?).
No, my beef is with the sense of history lost in all of this and how easy it will be for so many to forget the way things were. And until the game institutes a salary cap, nothing will stop the insane spending that allows this all-too-perfect scenario from happening. The Yankees don’t need anymore storybook endings; 26 world championship trophies in the bag is plenty. I know 27 was inevitable, but damn it, I wanted them to have to wait for it and remember they were playing in a place with no soul and no history for a year or two before they started chanting Sinatra in the streets while drunk on victory.
The only solace I find now consists of the following:
• There’s always next year.
• The best team on paper still can’t guarantee a championship year in, year out.
• I can quickly put all thoughts of baseball away for the next three or four months and go back to hating the Raiders on a full-time basis.

UPDATE: One of my favorite sportswriters, Joe Posnanski, says there’s no way to define what happened other than “it was just their year.”

UPDATE #2: Notice how I didn’t pick on Joe Girardi. That’s because he’s a good guy.

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The phrase of the day

It’s “empty suit.”
A colleague of mine used it before I could get around to spitting it out today.
I think it’s a very underrated phrase, although it can be overused.
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Fighting Over Peace

At this point, I think most people have developed an opinion on the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Barack Obama. I’ve got my own, but I don’t think that’s what important to mention.
Whether he deserved the award or not (as many have argued), that’s inconsequential.
What does matter is how individuals have used their power within the media or their own political circles to bash the president for this turn of events.
Now, if it turns out President Obama lobbied as hard for this award as he did for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, there’d be plenty of criticism to levy at his feet. But that has yet to be proven, nor is there any indication as to whether there’s an ounce of truth to that suggestion.
I’m much more concerned about the bashing of Obama because a committee of foreign interests deciding that he should receive this honor. Let’s turn the focus to the Nobel committee if we must, but even then it’s widely known that they have made some dubious choices for their peace laureates over the years.
I’m all for debating the job Obama has done as President thus far, but it seems a bit ridiculous to use “He doesn’t deserve a Nobel Peace Prize” as an indictment of his work overall; only two other sitting U.S. presidents (Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and only one other person to serve as President (Jimmy Carter) has received the honor outside of his time in office.
And since you’ve stayed with me to this point, I’ll let you know how I feel: Obama is making the right decision to donate the prize money to charity. It might have been an even better decision to decline the honor outright, as there are MANY deserving people in the world (like Hu Jia).

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