Bob Schwartz

Tag: Internet

Do You Use Wikipedia? Donate to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Do you visit Wikipedia once in a while? Once a day? Multiple times a day?

Wikipedia is operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which is funded by donations. Astonishingly but maybe not surprising, only 1% of Wikipedia visitors contribute:

Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world.

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.

When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising banners, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission efficiently.

If everyone reading this donated, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. But not everyone can or will donate. And that’s fine. Each year just enough people decide to give.

This year, please consider making a donation of $5, $20, $50 or whatever you can to protect and sustain Wikipedia.

Thanks,

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder

All of us—me included—have gotten used to being online freeloaders. The truth is, though, that as we wander through the orchard picking free fruit, somebody planted those trees, watered those trees, tended those trees, and helped them grow.

Please donate to the Wikimedia Foundation today, and tell your friends to donate. The next time you visit Wikipedia (probably within the next hour), you will know that you helped.

Winnie the Pooh Censored in China

China President Xi Jinping wants to change the constitution to remain in power beyond the limit of two terms. China Digital Times  explains:

Chinese state media announced on Sunday a list of proposed amendments to China’s constitution, which are expected to be adopted next month at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. Among the 21 proposed amendments, the one with perhaps the deepest potential impact on the future of Chinese politics and society deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would eradicate the current limit of PRC presidents and vice-presidents to two five-year terms. This would effectively set President Xi Jinping up to maintain his seat as president indefinitely….

Following state media’s announcement, censorship authorities began work to limit online discussion.

As part of that censorship, a growing list of terms have been blocked from being posted on the search engine Weibo. Along with seeming innocent phrases that are protest memes and obvious authors such as George Orwell, for a while the list also included the letter “N”:

N — While the letter “N” was temporarily blocked from being posted, as of 14:27 PST on February 26, it was no longer banned. At Language Log, Victor Mair speculates that this term was blocked “probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2.”

Most ridiculous of all is the blocking of Winnie the Pooh:

Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinping since as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China. Weibo users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”

I’ve written before about my high regard for Winnie the Pooh—the books by A.A. Milne, not the Disney version. It is great literature, not least in the character of the sweet, loyal, interesting, but seemingly not very smart bear (as he calls himself, “a bear of very little brain.”) Seemingly, because he may also be a bit of an enigmatic Zen master:

On Monday, when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
“Now is it true, or is it not,”
“That what is which and which is what?”

I have never thought of Pooh as a political subversive. And yet, if you are a supreme ruler aiming to become eternally supreme, enemies are everywhere. Even a letter of the alphabet or a simple and adorable bear.

We Need a Doctor: Who Hasn’t Seen Jennifer Lawrence’s Breasts or Why We Need Social Therapy

Bohemian Paris of Today

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the posting of nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebs, apparently stolen from their cloud storage accounts. The search activity for these photos almost brought the Internet down.

So in the immediate aftermath, with more to be revealed, what might we learn, besides how these beautiful strangers look without their clothes?

We are no closer than ever to figuring out what we think about privacy, or even what privacy means, especially now.

Digital didn’t create the issue, just heightened it exponentially. Inquiring minds have always wanted to know, and see. Celebrities, some though not all, have used degrees of exposure for publicity—or in some cases to put curious fans off the trail of the truth. Now we have an entire industry of programs about the “real” lives of unknowns, used-to-be-knowns, just-a-little-knowns, and soon-to-be-knowns because they are on a reality show.

Then there is the willingness of many people to chronicle everything. Twitter long ago dropped its signature question, but the most important phrase of the century so far may be “What are you doing?”, which was supposed to be answered in 100 characters or less. It turns out that people are more than willing to talk about what they are doing, what they are thinking, how they are looking, and anything else.

This doesn’t mean people don’t deserve privacy, morally and legally. It’s that line-drawing is now so hard for so many, and that goes along with a certain amount of confusion or even hypocrisy. The same people who searched for these photos or others like it in the past would be fuming if anyone stole their private shots and published them. They might try to rationalize the distinction, but it would be pretty feeble. Yet, not to forgive their double-standard, it is not surprising under the circumstances.

When we are confused about anything, and have difficulty drawing a line, sex makes it worse, clouding our judgment and our actions. Private parts are signifiers of sex, and if the private parts of loved ones or of strangers are arousing, the private parts of the quasi-strangers who are celebrities are positively crazy-making. So it is understandable, if not acceptable. People are only human, or so we say. But that doesn’t mean a little help and discussion—about privacy, about the cloud, about celebrity—might not be valuable. Maybe a little social therapy is in order.

We need a doctor, call us a doctor
We need a doctor, doctor to bring us back to life

(apologies to Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Skylar Gray)

Online Gambling and Real Life Guns: It’s About The Children

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A team of highly-paid ex-politico lobbyists are out there arguing against proposed bills in Congress to allow Internet gambling. Under one of these bills, a 12% tax would be shared between the federal and state governments, 4% and 8% respectively. That would be a lot of revenue in these hard times.

Gambling is an American and ancient tradition. Lotteries helped fund the American Revolution, which makes them practically sacred. In this case, the main opponents of digital gaming for money are the wealthy owners of real-world casinos and establishments, most visibly billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who helped bankroll Mitt Romney’s quest for the Presidency. No surprise there. The practice of online gaming, which already goes on with offshore sites, would expand dramatically, leaving bricks, mortar and showgirl spots with a severely reduced market.

Some of the arguments against the bills are, on their own terms, not entirely unpersuasive. Gambling does support hospitality and tourism, and if the already declining dollars drop further, there are going to be folks who lose their jobs in this challenged economy. It’s not clear that the entrepreneurs getting rich off this have the will and creativity to come up with substitute businesses that would replace those jobs. Gambling is also already a social problem, damaging lives and families, and what is bad gets worse with increased volume. The final big argument is, naturally, about “the children.” No matter what we try to do, the online environment is notoriously freewheeling, and there is no question that underage players would find a way to play, just as they get cigarettes and alcohol.

On the tourism question, cultural and social trends have always left some forms of entertainment and diversion behind while other new or more appealing ones prospered. Either you believe overall in the free market or not. People who say that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers shouldn’t be telling the government to pick winners and losers.

Out of control gambling can be pernicious, no doubt about it. But the argument, one actually made, that the poorest in society would be unfairly burdened by the attraction of online gambling is under current realities absurd. First, because it is not clear that all the opponents of online gambling care so very much for the lower tiers of American society. Second, because government already endorses, promotes and profits from easy-access gambling that does weigh on the most vulnerable—the lotteries. With all the strains on government budgets, it is unimaginable what state some states would be in without those gaming dollars.

Then there is the ultimate trump card: the children. That score is easy to answer. On the scale of things kids shouldn’t be allowed to do, alcohol is number 2, tobacco is a close number 3, and then comes gambling. Number 1 is easy. Children should not have guns, should not live in an environment where guns are widely available and acceptable, and where guns are regularly used to shoot, injure and kill innocent people—including children.

So if you happen to see or hear any of those lobbyists shilling for Sheldon Adelson and his ilk, talking about how it is about “the children” and how we must protect them from the evils of playing online poker or placing a digital bet on an NFL game, ask them if guns aren’t a tad more dangerous, and ask them what they’ve done to seriously reduce the ubiquity of those guns and to eliminate the personal and social costs that those guns have inflicted on all of us.

There likely won’t be a good answer, at least not one that isn’t laced with equivocation, hypocrisy and protests of irrelevancy. It is relevant. Ask them to put the two side by side, the harm to children from online gambling and from guns, and tell them that the billionaires are free to make billions more on their casinos—just as soon as the guns get put away.