the last word (tm)
16/No. 7 - 440th issue - July
firstname.lastname@example.org - http://members.iglou.com/bandit - Bellevue, Kentucky
Blog blogga blogs at http://bandit73.pitas.com and http://www.myspace.com/bandit41073
WIKIPEDIA WAFFLES AND WAVERS
July 31 - Wikipedia is a revolutionary concept. In case you've been living under a toilet, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that peoples the Internet. It was designed so anyone - including you - could edit the entries. Errors were to be sufficiently self-correcting, for any false information could ostensibly be remedied instantly by other users.
The website, which was founded in 2001, is now run by the Wikimedia Foundation, an IRS-approved nonprofit organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Its revenues in the fiscal year 2005-06 topped $1,500,000, much of which was raised through donations that help keep the project afloat.
Wikipedia has information that $500 encyclopedias won't touch with a 10-foot-tall Big Boy statue. And it's provided free of charge. That's right, free...of...charge (as the "Don't Waste Your Money" guy on Channel 9 would say)! Wikipedia has versions in almost 300 languages, including Klingon.
Lately, however, conservatives have put the wi in Wikipedia.
Right-wing abuse of the Wiki concept boiled over when conservative activist Andrew Schlafly sponsored a new website called Conservapedia, for he felt Wikipedia's ostensibly fact-based approach was biased against conservative views. (Funny how facts always get in the way of right-wing politics.) Conservapedia is basically a knock-off of Wikipedia, except all edits are supposed to reflect conservatism's propagandistic orthodoxy. Thanks to this policy, Conservapedia is pretty much a self-parody.
But in recent months it's become obvious that there already was a conservative version of Wikipedia. It's called...Wikipedia!
Infiltrated by rightists
Conservatives worm their way through Wikipedia's ranks to become powerful volunteers and administrators, providing much of Wikipedia's enforcement arm. At the snap of a finger, these volunteers can forever bar users from editing Wikipedia. Furthermore, any right-wing activist (not just a high-ranking volunteer) can edit entries or revert legitimate edits by other users, calling them "vandalism."
Sometimes real vandalism gets reverted. For instance, if someone replaces the entire contents of an entry with the words "OMG A PENIS!!!!!", that's vandalism. If somebody edits the entry about a certain Iran-Contra convict by adding, "Although Mr. Abrams's first name is Elliott, he does not have a friend named E.T.", that's not truly vandalism, but you can argue that it should still be reverted. In the entry about bubble gum, somebody (not us) changed most instances of the phrase "bubble gum" to "bubble poo." As comical as this is, this is still vandalism, because it makes the article less useful.
But what's often called "vandalism" isn't vandalism at all. One entry falsely claimed that the Bill of Rights is not supposed to apply in Washington, D.C., because the nation's capital is not part of any state. We calmly corrected this misstatement. Later our correction was reverted by some wingnut who accused us of "vandalism." Another entry incorrectly claimed Hitler was a populist, and we corrected that by simply deleting that sentence. Again, our correction was reverted. A serious correction we made to yet another article was repeatedly reverted, and the user who reverted these revisions was known for adding comments like "Liberals hate Jesus" to Christianity-related entries.
A legitimate update we made to an entry about a school district (in another state) known for its authoritarian policies was reverted because it was "nonsense." About all we had done was point out the fact that the school district uses corporal punishment. Even though our edit merely stated a fact, it was reverted within only one minute!
Still another serious update we made to yet another article was deleted because it was a "noncompliant edit." "Noncompliant" with what? Nobody had told us not to edit it. This is like the guards at CPH (when they weren't kneeing kids in the spine) babbling about inmates being "noncompliant" because they had books in their room. More worrisomely, this evokes memories of Usenet right before the Great War of the late '90s when a small group of right-wing big shots canceled entire newsgroups because they alone judged the groups to be "without merit."
Dialup users shut out
Lately the situation has bubbled over as never before. A couple months ago, we discovered that an entire block of IP numbers that go through PacWest was barred from editing Wikipedia. A lot of independent dialup ISP's are routed through WhackPest - and yes, that includes our ISP. (PacWest has also been periodically blocking access to Wikipedia, but that problem is of PacWest's making.) It turned out the person who blocked it was some right-wing whack-a-doo who didn't want dialup users editing Wikipeepeea. Besides the PacWest block, this clod had also blocked other sets of IP numbers used by dialup ISP's. That's another similarity with the Usenet travails of old: Just as a few powerful Usenetters had a vendetta against ISP's catering to us lowly commoners, such is the case now with a few Wikipedia mucketymucks.
The ban of ISP's that go through PacWest expired, only to be followed in June by another blanket block against WhackPest - issued by another reactionary weirdo who had cozied up to Wikipedia. This ban is not scheduled to expire until 2010. (We're reminded of that Planet P song.) Unless they're logged on under an account, users of these ISP's who try to edit Wikipedia are confronted by a diatribe telling them to get an account if they don't have one. But then, if they try this, they're told they can't create an account, because their ISP is blocked! (We already had an account, but it's the principle that matters.)
So we tried using a proxy server. As Wikipedia is blocked by the Chinese government, it's been recommended that folks in China use a proxy in order to enjoy Wikipedia. But it turns out Wikipedia blocks proxies from editing or creating new accounts too!
Nice to know that an American-based nonprofit educational project like Wikipedia has opted to appease China's authoritarian regime Pat Robertson-like.
If you want your ISP unbanned, Wikipedia's "User is blocked" harangue tells you to paste a standardized request form into your user talk page. The Chinese citizenry is again out of luck, because users of proxies are blocked from editing their own talk pages. But here in the Americas, we're also pretty much screwed. Several times a day, we added this request form to our talk pages. Usually a Wikipedia admin followed it up with a standard woebegone excuse to justify keeping the ban - namely, that someone from that block of IP numbers had "vandalized" entries months earlier. Occasionally, however, these geniuses would deny that our ISP was even blocked at all. And at least once, we were told, "Please create an account to avoid this issue." Um, not being able to create one was what we were complaining about, dummy. They were telling us to create an account just to be able to...create an account.
We finally had our fill of this horseshit the other day. As usual, we posted our request form - with no embellishments at all. We were following the exact procedure outlined by the forces of Wikidom. Then, the same asshat who had cut off our ISP just deleted our request without comment - which they're never supposed to do. We then reposted our unembellished request that this lifeless moron deleted. Only a minute later, yet another admin came along and deleted our form. Then this admin had the nerve to accuse us on our talk page of deleting content from that page, even though we never deleted anything! How is adding a request form deleting something (especially since the page was blank before we added our request)?
They sound like that liar Bush: Up is down! War is peace! Adding is deleting!
Weird how all these legitimate edits we made were reverted instantly, while it took twice as long for them to clean up the mess when someone replaced an entire entry about a certain children's TV show with just the words "Sesame Street is gay." Juvenile one-liners like this are the type of real vandalism that makes Wikipedia harder for all to use.
Using Wikipedia for such blatantly political uses as blocking dialup ISP's because dialup users make accurate edits (which offends conservatives) runs afoul of Wikipedia's educational mission. It misleads Wikipedia's donors and supporters. And it jeopardizes Wikipedia's tax-exempt status. (Right now your taxes are funding conservatives' abuse.)
It's not too late for Wikipedia to end this charade. They should adopt a policy against long-term bans of large blocks of IP numbers.
In the meantime, we're going to use the account we got before the PacWest ban to aggressively police Wikipedia and correct right-wing misinformation, such as conservatives' libelous efforts to link populism with the worst dictator in modern history. The forces of reaction own Conservapedia, countless GOP-funded blogs, and much of the corporate media, so we need to preserve Wikipedia as an objective source.
FLYING THE EXPENSIVE SKIES!
July 31 - We at The Last Word are humble peasants, and we've never been on a commercial aircraft flight. There's a number of reasons why this situation is unlikely to ever change. One reason is that we dislike financing the many preposterous irritants the airline racket is responsible for - grievances that threaten to make the entire trip an unforgettably bitter experience. Another is that we can't: Fares are too expensive, and getting costlier.
For at least 20 years, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has ranked near the top - if not at the top - of the ranking of the most expensive U.S. airports to fly from. The reason is clear - if you understand the concept of monopoly. Delta Airlines (together with Comair, which Delta owns) has long had a near-monopoly on flights from Cincinnati.
But in BushAmerica, when there's little competition, there's even less regulation. (Hell, look at the electric industry.) Sounds backwards, but it's true.
Over a quarter-century ago, fares became completely deregulated. The old regulation scheme was too favorable to larger airlines - but it was replaced by no regulations at all. This has been followed since the '80s by less and less government oversight of airline safety and general operation of air transport. Because of the deregulatory ambiance that took hold in the '80s, the number of fatal crashes on U.S. commercial airlines jumped from zero in 1984 to 11 in 1989, say NTSB statistics.
(Another forbidding statistic: Based on figures from 1995 to 2004 posted on PlaneCrashInfo.com, modern aviation is less safe than we thought. According to these numbers, the odds of being killed on a single trip are 7,600,000 to 1 by car but 581,395 to 1 by commuter plane - a figure that sounds low but is actually quite risky in comparison.)
The Cincinnati Post of July 4 reports that nearly one-fourth of all flights landing or departing at Cincinnati's airport are late. The percentage of late flights has doubled just in the past year. These flights aren't just late. These are late late. This problem isn't limited to Cincinnati, for the lateness rate for major carriers nationwide is just as bad. Because only 39% of these late flights were delayed by weather, we wonder what the excuse is for the other 61%. (Gum on the runway? Unruly passengers? Being on pause too long while the pilot searches for the latest Bartlesville, Oklahoma, scenery on the Internet? Wait, that's Flight Simulator, not real life.)
Luggage mishandling is also reported at an alarmingly high - and increasing - rate nationally.
But where monopoly talks (and the people are forced to listen) is in Cincinnati's continuing rise in air fares. According to the July 26 Post, a U.S. Department of Transportation study finds that not only did the Cincinnati airport already have the most expensive fares among the nation's 100 biggest airports, but it also has the biggest increase in fares, even after having high fares to begin with. Now the average fare in Cincinnati is 40% higher than the national norm.
Observers think the only way this will stop is if Delta has more competition. We'll agree that it's one way to get it to stop. But what if the powerful Delta behemoth doesn't get more competition? We think the government should have reintroduced fare regulation years ago. This time, however, the rules should be designed not to favor the largest companies.
If the federal government doesn't act, Kentucky is allowed to. (Ooh, an Allowed Cloud!) That's because Kentucky's a state, ya know, not just a line on a map. Not like we expect things to be any better at the state level. Kentucky is less interested in regulating monopolistic corporations than in cracking down on small restaurants serving alcohol in outdoor eating areas (even in cities that explicitly permit this practice). (The state even threatened to cite customers of these eateries for drinking in public.)
Maybe someday, the airline industry will straighten up its act (or have it straightened up for them). But someday is all too distant. Until then, it's unlikely we'll fly.
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