Wikipedia’s Usefulness

While the blogosphere is abuzz with argument about whether Wikipedia is the best thing since the Alexandrian Library or a complete trainwreck, I know that I can count on it when I need to find out information that really matters. For example, why is the bad guy in Sega’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” sometimes referred to as “Doctor Robotnik” and sometimes as “Doctor Eggman”? Wikipedia knows.

I think it’s wonderful that there’s a place on the web where I can read the work of people who are nearly fluent in English and mindbogglingly fluent in Sonic the Hedgehog lore. Wikipedia is a wonderful storehouse of fanboy minutiae — why try to be Significant and Encyclopedic when it’s so good at being a storehouse of obsessive pop culture trivia?

There’s such a thing as just doing what you’re good at.

Self-Identified “Moderates” are Liberals

Paul Waldman, “The Liberal Moderates”, The American Prospect Online, Oct 18, 2005

But who is the actual median voter in America? At this moment in history, that voter is pro-choice, wants to increase the minimum wage, favors strong environmental protections, likes gun control, thinks corporations have too much power and that the rich get away with not paying their fair share in taxes, believes the Iraq War was a mistake, wants a foreign policy centered on diplomacy and strong alliances, and favors civil unions for gays and lesbians. Yet despite all this, those voters identify themselves as “moderate.”

In fact, the people who call themselves “moderates” aren’t midway between the two parties. When you examine them as a group, you find that they look much more like liberals than conservatives. In every presidential election since 1988, the Democratic candidate has won more votes among moderates than the Republican candidate. According to National Election Studies (NES), 56 percent of moderates in 2004 associated themselves with the Democratic Party, while only 31 percent leaned Republican.

And it isn’t just party identification; on issue after issue, moderates have opinions almost exactly mirroring those of liberals. In the NES survey, 64 percent of liberals say we should increase spending on Social Security, as do 68 percent of moderates — while only 47 percent of conservatives agree. Eighty-eight percent of liberals and 84 percent of moderates say federal funding on education should be increased, compared to only 58 percent of conservatives. Seventy-three percent of liberals and 66 percent of moderates want more spending for child care — but only 38 percent of conservatives agree. Sixty-two percent of liberals and 57 percent of moderates want to spend more on aid to the poor, compared to only 39 percent of conservatives.

Via Paul Czege. The author goes on to discuss strategies for liberals to win by attacking Conservatism as a whole the way conservatives attack Liberalism as a whole. Don’t know that I find that very helpful. But it’s nice to know that most Americans are what Washington calls “liberal,” though they do not use that label for themselves.

Illiberal Prosecution

Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate:

Opponents of the Bush administration are anticipating vindication on various fronts—justice for their nemesis Karl Rove, repudiation of George W. Bush’s dishonest case for the Iraq war, a comeuppance for Chalabi-loving reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times, and even some payback for the excesses of independent counsels during the Clinton years.

Hold the schadenfreude, blue-staters. Rooting for Rove’s indictment in this case isn’t just unseemly, it’s unthinking and ultimately self-destructive. Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald’s investigation from the start. Claiming a few conservative scalps might be satisfying, but they’ll come at a cost to principles liberals hold dear: the press’s right to find out, the government’s ability to disclose, and the public’s right to know.

At the heart of this misbegotten investigation is a flawed piece of legislation called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. As Jack Shafer has written, this 1982 law is almost impossible to break because it requires that a government official unmask covert agents knowingly and with the intent of causing harm. The law was written narrowly to avoid infringing free speech or becoming an equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act. Under the First Amendment, we have a right to debate what is done in our name, even by secret agents. It may be impossible to criminalize malicious disclosure without hampering essential public debate.

No one disputes that Bush officials negligently and stupidly revealed Valerie Plame’s undercover status. But after two years of digging, no evidence has emerged that anyone who worked for Bush and talked to reporters about Plame—namely Rove or Scooter Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff—knew she was undercover. And as nasty as they might be, it’s not really thinkable that they would have known. You need a pretty low opinion of people in the White House to imagine they would knowingly foster the possible assassination of CIA assets in other countries for the sake of retaliation against someone who wrote an op-ed they didn’t like in the New York Times.

I don’t know that my opinion of people in the White House is too high to imagine that, but it does seem that the law under which this prosecution is taking place is pretty creepy and illiberal, and while there’s a delicious irony in seeing an illiberal, creepy administration taken down by an illiberal, creepy law, that doesn’t make it a good law or a healthy prosecution, or, overall, a good thing for America.

There are much worse things people in the administration have done — horrible knowing lies they’ve told, in comparison to this possibly damaging truth. I’d rather not see them taken down for one of the few times they actually told somebody the truth, no matter what that truth is.