Monday, February 26, 2007

Encyclopedic Knowledge Part II: You’re an Encyclopedia and You Didn’t Know It!

My previous post was really all I wanted to say about internet encyclopedias. I was supposed to get that off my chest and be able to wash my hands of the matter and get on with my day. I was looking forward to it. Then this happened.

If you are reading my post, you’ve probably read the CapeTownDissenter’s post which mentions the new Conservapedia, a Conservative Christian version of Wikipedia. Now, after having read about how much I hate the original (and utterly useless) Wikipedia, you can probably imagine my disgust when I learned that some lunatics made another one of these things. At first, there was no consoling me. No sooner had I (quite rightly and eloquently) pointed out how ridiculous it is that we even have Wikipedia in the first place (and I did so quite ingeniously, I might add), than the amount of Wikipedias in the world doubles! I mean I was pretty angry. First I considered putting my fist through a wall, but then I remembered that the walls in my apartment are load bearing walls, which means that it was going to hurt me more than it hurt the wall. Next I considered inviting the creators of both Wikipedia and Conservapedia to a cocktail party at my apartment where I would sit them down and, – like a high school football coach who yells at the team after screwing up a big game – after giving all of them the verbal tongue-lashing that they so desperately deserve, I would then stare silently at them for a few minutes, and finally try to give them a motivational speech about how to pick up the pieces of our previous, blissful Wikipedia-free world which they so carelessly smashed to…um, pieces, and try to start anew. Next I considered making pages on both Wikipedia and Conservapedia called “Useless Wastes of My and Your Time” and then explaining (quite systematically and compellingly) exactly why we should all be ashamed of ourselves that we even know that these things exist.

After a couple of deep breaths and one beautiful little ditty by Julieta Venegas (WBUR, you never fail to comfort me during my darkest and most troubled hours) I calmed down. I started to think about it a little bit. First there was Wikipedia, I thought. Well, no, I corrected myself (politely), first there was Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky Button.” Then there was Wikipedia, a shameless rip-off of Google. And, thanks to the CapeTownDissenter who (unforgivably) broke the news to me the other day, now I know about Conservapedia. I was pretty incredulous as to the fact that not only is the original Wikipedia still in existence but that imitations are now springing up, so I went to the site just to see if I wasn’t having a terrifying nightmare (the test is that the internet never functions properly in a dream – it always takes too long to load and every link takes you to the same web site no matter what you are trying to access).

So I visit Conservapedia’s web site and it turns out that Conservapedia is the exact same freaking thing as Wikipedia except they recently started it from scratch whereas Wikipedia is about six years old and about a billion times bigger. I mean they didn’t even try to make it look different, or even change the name (they only changed half the name?! From “Wiki” to “Conserva”?!). Then I realized that Conservapedia means Conservative Wikipedia, which I guess is a Wikipedia for Conservative Christians who want to write these articles instead of whatever bozos are writing them for Wikipedia. Honestly I had no idea that Wikipedia was biased against Conservatives and against Christians (I thought it was just useless), but in any case we now have (an equally useless) one that takes an explicit effort to be biased in favor of these groups.

Now, unlike some of my co-dissentators, I don’t consider myself a member of either of America’s two main political parties, which I guess makes me a (hey voter voter voter voter) swing voter. To give you an idea of my moderateness, I often find myself farther to the right than many of my liberal friends, and I often find myself farther to the left than many of my…actually, wait…I’m not sure if I even have any conservative friends (they don’t call me the BostonDissenter just because I also happen to throw a glorious tea party). So, as a moderate open to all views (except those in favor of these ridiculous web sites existing), even I found this web site over the top. At first I was upset, I thought the “Anti-America bias” of Wikipedia claim was something of a stretch, and that maybe they should call the site “Psychopedia” (even a psycho would admit that name sounds better than Conservapedia (also conservapedia I believe is Spanish for “a whale’s vagina”)).

Then I realized something pretty amazing which totally turned me around on this Conservapedia. I did a little investigating and found out there was like nothing on it. Now, I realize it is just starting up, so this might not be true for much longer, but currently we are living in a golden age where – if we are willing to accept this thing as an encyclopedia – we know more than an encyclopedia. To give you an example of your encyclopedic knowledge, let’s start with a simple one. How about the country Spain. Conservapedia says:

“Country located on the Iberian Penninsula. Borderd by the Alantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean on the east. Portuagal is located on the same penninsuala. Is the same country as was in the medieval times. And known for its famous explorers.”

Now if you already knew all that, you have encyclopedic knowledge: the person searching should have just asked you! You maybe even know more! You maybe even know how to spell the words “peninsula,” “bordered,” “Atlantic,” and “Portugal!” Now I know this thing is supposed to favor America so things like countries, oceans, peninsulas and borders don’t really matter, but if we are supposed to be smarter than people from other countries, we should know more about their country than the know about America, which is hard to do post-Borat. So let’s try another country, Germany:

“A country in central Europe that was blamed for both Wolrd Wars and claimed to be the dominate race of mankind.”

Again, if you knew that too, you are as smart as an encyclopedia! And you probably would have called the “world” a “world” instead of a “wolrd!” I mean what is a wolrd anyway? I tried to look it up, but there wasn’t an entry for it. Then I looked up “world,” no entry for that either. Honestly I looked up “earth” and all the page said was “Mostly harmless.” Again if you know more than that about the earth you have encyclopedic knowledge. Now I know what you’re thinking: Conservapedia is pro-America so it really doesn’t matter whether there are articles about the wolrd or the world or whatever the hell that thing is that you were talking about. Well that’s why I looked up some American stuff as well. Now I know what else you’re thinking, you’re thinking what if you didn’t know as much as Conservapedia? For instance, what if you didn’t already know that Spain “is the same country as was in the medieval times”? Well don’t worry because to persuade you that you really are smarter than an encyclopedia, I have found a bunch of things that have no entry at all in Conservapedia, so if you have heard of even one, you have encyclopedic knowledge and you should start charging people to access your brain instead of those charlatans at Wikipedia and Conservapedia and whatever hell-spawned pedia’s that spring forth next. So those items are:

1. Alan Greenspan
2. Drudge Report
3. Rush Limbaugh
4. Argentina
5. David Brooks
6. John F. Kennedy
7. Supreme Court
8. Iraq
9. Mao Zedong
10. Taepodong
11. Ari Fleischer
12. CNN
13. Rolling Stones
14. Rice
15. Boston
16. Brain
17. Condoleeza Rice
18. Garth Brooks
19. Franklyn D. Roosevelt
20. London
21. World Bank
22. Wal-Mart
23. Jon Stewart
24. Harvard
25. Michael Jordan
26. New York Yankees
27. New York Times
28. Liberty University
29. Wall Street Journal
30. Education
31. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Incidentally, I don’t mean for this to be a contest between which of these two useless web sites is less horrendous, but I did find it noteworthy that while Conservapedia has no entry on the Taepodong, Wikipedia has three different Taepodongs in their encyclopedia.

In closing, I believe I’ve (quite nimbly) proven my point – that you are an encyclopedia and you didn’t know it. If for some reason you still haven’t heard of any of the above items, and you are still on equal footing, knowledge-wise, with Conservapedia, I will tell you something about Argentina. So to be smarter than Conservapedia (no one’s ever accused me of not making my readers smarter (than Conservapedia)), all you need to know about Argentina is that it gave us this.

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