Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wikipedia's (Sin)bad

Apparently, people got very excited when the Wikipedia article on Sinbad erroneously reported his death. As reported in the Washington Post's AP story, the story generated hundreds of calls, emails, and other condolences. I'd have made a few more news links, but I realized when looking to do so that it all seems to be just the one Associated Press story with a slightly different headline.

I thought Sinbad's reaction was interesting:

When asked if he was upset about the mix-up, Sinbad, whose real name is David Adkins, just laughed.

"It's gonna be more commonplace as the Internet opens up more and more. It's not that strange," the Los Angeles-based entertainer told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

Level-headed guy. Though I suppose being in the public eye for awhile more or less forces you to take on a sense of humor about these things, I appreciate the leeway he seems to be affording us. The next line in the article, though, caught my attention:
Sinbad, who is currently on the road doing stand up, said he hasn't received an apology from the Internet site.
I have a feeling he was prompted -- they probably asked him specifically if he had or hadn't. My initial reaction was to wonder if Wikipedians as a whole owed him an apology, but I think it's the least we could do. It'd be a bit of a stretch to say we're directly responsible for the mix-up, but if we the editors don't take responsibility for Wikipedia, who will? With that in mind, a belated apology to Mr Adkins -- I can't speak for everyone in the Wikipedia community, but I'll remember this incident, and will do my best to learn from it.

Judging from edit times, the fake death was up for about two hours before being removed; that's an awfully long interim period, and it managed to prompt this whole storm. I'm reminded of a post Kelly Martin made not too long ago, about article rot:
Rot gets in when an article is vandalized twice and the reverting patroller only reverts one of the vandalisms. This is relatively common, and is increasingly more of a problem as vandalism patrol has become even more of a "point and shoot" game for the people who play it: these people have such a sense of urgency combined with a lack of interest in actually reading the articles, that they often don't look to see if they've reverted to a vandalized version (or even look at what they've reverted at all).
And KM's right on that count, I think. I put in a lot of time on recent changes patrol, and I need to remind myself every so often that, while we're pretty good at what we do, we're not as good as we sometimes like to think. I didn't know anything about this affair until a very close friend linked me to a news report on Yahoo; sure, it's a big wiki, but when RC patrol slips up, I feel at least partially to blame.

It may be silly, but it keeps me motivated.

I think, ultimately, the best thing we can do in response to this sort of thing is to educate our readers. This sort of false report is all too common -- just the other day, I reverted the same sort of nonsense at Will Smith's article. So, people need to think critically about what they read, and we need to give them the tools to do so.

So, when you see any suspicious report on Wikipedia:
  1. Remind yourself that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and their changes will be visible immediately.
  2. Check for sourcing. Any report of that nature should be attributed to a reliable source.
  3. Check the history tab. This will show you a list of every change to the article, allowing you to quickly tell who changed what, when they changed it, and what they changed.
And please don't forget to make sure the celebrity's sudden death actually makes sense. For nearly half of the two-hour period mentioned above, the article reported that Sinbad had died on 14 March 2009 -- two years after today's date. That, at least, should throw up a few red flags.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Tila Tequila and feminism?

I'll hesitantly admit that I bought Tila Tequila's recent single, "I Love U". It was featured on the iTunes frontpage and packaged such that the video came free, so I figured, "how bad can it be?" I'm really more of a rock person, by and large, so a few little baby steps outside my usual territory can be interesting. Apparently, being the most popular person on Myspace (which is quite a feat!) doesn't imply you're all too good of a musician. She can certainly wiggle well, as demonstrated in the attached video, but the people have spoken, and here's what one thoughtfulsilence had to say:
She sings that she's got no shame. But I think sometimes, people should have a bit of it, to realize the toleration meter of humans has a limit. This is so over the limit. So embarassing!!
Based on some voting procedure I believe is similar to that of Urban Dictionary, this comment is currently ranked third out of 538 reviews. On reflection, that may be about all there is to say on the matter.

But I'm still listening to the song. As with My Humps -- I couldn't say why, it's a curious thing.

I'm reminded of something I remember reading a few years ago, along the lines of, "Hollywood has embraced pre-feminism, post-feminism, and even post-post-feminism, without ever actually really getting the point of feminism." I could've sworn it was the late Molly Ivins -- not her biggest fan, but I read her stuff, which is more than I could say for her right-wing counterpart (interesting thread on the Least I Could Do blog, by the way), but now that I'm thinking about it, it may have been Ellen Goodman. Woman writes brilliant editorials, in my opinion, but too rarely gets the sort of attention some other columnists manage to bring on through sheer dumb force of quotable controversy.

More to the point, are Cup-o-Noodle instant celebrities like this, cashing in sex appeal for their 15 minutes (or seconds), advancing or hurting the feminist cause? Some people might say she's being taken advantage of by the Evil Capitalist Boys' Club; others might say she's fighting The Man by getting while the getting is good. The point as I see it isn't that Hollywood (or the media) are in favor of or against feminism, but more that they're quite fully aware of these two tenets: (1) sex sells, and (2) they need to make money. Aspiring starlets like Tequila, likewise, crave attention and have figured out a very direct way to get it. They're not thinking about the political or social implications, at least not in the long term -- talk about Smith's invisible hand.

So, the question then becomes: how do we, as a society, look at this? How do we deal with it?

I've long said that, as with racism, feminism should emphatically not be a question of men against women. It's a question of people who want empowered women on equal terms with men, and those who don't, and why they do or don't. The "Battle of the Sexes" metaphor is tired, done, and long overdue for burial. It's not about empowerment for superiority, it's about empowerment for equality and even ground.

Browsing around, I've realized that I consider myself every bit a sex-positive feminist. I don't think all porn is inherently evil and degrading women, or to society. I don't even understand how someone could think that. I don't think sexuality is evil. I don't think everyone has the same wants, and with that in mind, don't see why we should all be expected to make the same choices about what we do or don't enjoy. That's one beauty, there: your sexuality is yours, and it is what you make of it. I, for one, would hope that everyone enjoys it as they please.

So, at what point is a wiggling starlet celebrating her form, and at what point is she being objectified? The line, as far as I can tell, falls here: is she valued for other aspects, the admiration of physical beauty among them, or is a quick peek at her ass the sole value seen? Does she have a character? Do we care what she thinks? Do we know how she thinks, for that matter?

Ten people looking at the same picture will have twelve opinions on it. But I'd like to think that's a workable guideline. We can celebrate sexuality without letting it be the sole aspect of a person. At least, I'd like to think so.

And in the meantime, this brief experiment is over, and I'm back inside my musical shell, listening to some Supertramp.

Monday, March 5, 2007

City of Largo firing transsexual manager?

I first ran across this in my local paper; here's the MSNBC version. In brief, Steven Stanton, Largo's city manager for 14 years, was recently pressed into announcing his intention to undergo a sex change. In the week following that announcement, city hall leapt into action, striking a swift blow for justice and equality by...

...oh, wait, they plan on summarily firing him.

Suddenly hundreds of people emailed, called, and wrote to Largo's City Hall. Around 500 people (in a city of 76,000) attended a meeting and demanded that the city fire Stanton ASAP. According to this story from the St. Petersburg Times, one Baptist Pastor, Ron Sanders said:
"He's not going to be a man, and he's not going to be a female. He's going to be an 'it.' It's going to be the most sorrowful decision he has ever made."
Thank you, sir, but I'd like to ask if this question ever stepped into your mind: is he running the city well? Of this mob, 500-strong, how many of you had ever even heard Stanton's name before? How many of you care that he's dedicated nearly two decades of service to you and your city, 14 of which as its manager? You've trusted him with over 1,000 employees and a million dollars, but the moment he makes a personal decision with no impact on his professional ability, he's to be taken out and fired?

What in the blazing hell does this have to do with Stanton's ability to do his job? Or her job, for that matter?

Thankfully, I managed to find some more rational voices pretty quickly -- Shakespeare's Sister seems to have a pretty good read, from my point of view, even pointing out a survey by the same paper that outed Stantion, where the majority of Largo's citizens believe he's been treated unfairly.

Likewise, this fellow had something to say:
Friends, it really shouldn't matter. The man has been the top administrator for 14 years in the Pinellas County city of 75,000. Noone stays around that long without racking up an excellent record at the job. As long as Stanton continues to do the job he was hired to do, it shouldn't matter if the name if Steven or Susan or if he wears a suit and tie or dresses.
Steven Stanton, soon to be Susan Stanton, is quoted in his interview with MSNBC (linked above) as saying:
The city commissioners [who voted to fire me] said I have no followers. Who the hell has been hugging me all week?
Well, Stanton, count me among your supporters. I think it's appalling and bigoted, that so many people are spitting on your years of service to your community. It's one thing if you're corrupt, it's one thing if you've damaged the city, but I just don't see how this has anything to do with your ability to manage a city well.