Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Calpundit links to a rather remarkable Instapundit post.

A REQUEST....Can somebody please give this post of Glenn's the attention it deserves? I've got a houseguest this week and I just don't have the time. Or the energy.

Although I do wonder what he means when he says "It's not clear that they even deserve to keep what they've got." What, exactly, does he think they have?


THE UNITED STATES SHOULD NOT TRY to play a "neutral arbiter" in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. We should, in fact, be doing our best to make the Palestinians suffer, because, to put it bluntly, they are our enemies. Just read this post and follow the links to see how they feel about America.

And read this piece by Amir Taheri on the Iraqi "resistance," which notes Palestinian terror connections by the Iraqi insurgents, and features a Palestinian "journalist" egging them on.

These folks are our enemies, and deserve to be treated as such. They don't deserve a state of their own.


First, who is MEMRI? It hardly seems reasonable to use their translations without asking this. The most balanced answer I have found so far is here:

To be fair, MEMRI's picture of an extreme, militant and delusional Arabic press allows for a few shadings. One recent article notes the efforts of Kuwaiti professor Ahmad Al-Baghdadi to critique Arab Muslims as 'the masters of terrorism towards their citizens.' Another cites a rhetorically deft dismantling of current anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by Saudi columnist Hamad Abd Al-Aziz Al-'Isa. But there are enough stories about extremist kindergartens and calls for jihad to attract criticism from the growing Arab and Islamic lobbies. 'They tend to translate non-representative stories,' says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 'and members of the pro-Israel lobby then use them to club Muslims.'



That MEMRI has a bias against Arab societies can hardly be disputed. Although chairman Yigal Carmon occasionally argues for restraint in Israel's dealings with the Palestinians, he has been fixated on both the failure of the peace process and extremist Arab media for many years. Co-director Wurmser argues at length for blood-and-iron approaches to Israeli nationalism. MEMRI writers stay focused on the Middle Eastern culture of incitement when writing for other publications.

What is not clear is why this is necessarily an unfair representation of the Arabic media. 'They look for the absolute worst, most inflammatory rhetoric they can find in the Arabic press,' says CAIR's Hooper. 'It's kind of like if we translated Franklin Graham's remarks [condemning Islam as a 'wicked' religion], and then went to the Arabic press and said 'See, this is what they're saying in America.''

Well, since Franklin Graham is the son of a prominent U.S. religious leader, and his views are neither unique nor even particularly unusual, it would be quite fair to do just that.


Here's a link to a debate between MEMRI and one of their sharpest Arab critics.

Here is an article from the Guardian and a reply from MEMRI.

Now back to the post itself. Joe Katzman of Winds of Change asks, "Someone remind me again why creating another Talibanesque terror-state in the Middle East is a good idea?", in the article linked to by Glenn Reynolds (above). Well, clearly we don't want a Talibanesque terror-state. Anyone who is truly more concerned about the fate of Isreal than the neocon agenda has to remember the choices which currently face Isreal. From a purely military point of view, they could exterminate the Palestinians - but the vast majority of Isrealis would find that horrifying. It might actually create an effective Arab military alliance against Isreal, and certainly it would guarantee the loss of American support eventually, although I'm not absolutely sure it would happen while this administration was in power. They could not be driven into Jordan without wholesale slaughter, and perhaps war with Jordan. Other than that, the alternatives are some kind of negotiated settlement, acceptance of the status quo of terrorist, or the hope of somehow defeating the Palestinians short of a huge bloodbath in such a way as to actually put an end to terrorism. Some will find the latter attractive, but the historical evidence makes it look at least as difficult as permanent and lasting peace through a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Sometimes the last appears impossible, but a great many Isreali's consider the attempt better than any of the other alternatives, and the primary reason to act as a neutral arbiter is to help THEM achieve that goal. Isreal hasn't even asked us to help make the "Palestinians suffer", and it's far from clear how we might help them if we did.

I think it's important for bloggers to look for and think about stories which might require them to rethink their basic views on things.

At Medgar Evers, where 97 percent of the male students are black, the number of male students has been disproportionately low for more than a decade. Right now, only 22 percent of the students are male. And the men are far less likely to graduate than the women.

The discrepancies are not unique to Medgar Evers. Women outnumber men at most colleges, but the gap is especially large among black students. Nationally, barely a quarter of the 1.9 million black men between 18 and 24 — prime college-going years — were in college in 2000, according to the American Council on Education's most recent report on minorities in higher education. By comparison, 35 percent of black women in the same age group and 36 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in higher education.

And the graduation rate of black men is lower than that of any other group. Only 35 percent of the black men who entered N.C.A.A. Division I colleges in 1996, for example, graduated within six years, compared with 59 percent of the white men, 46 percent of the Hispanic men, 41 percent of the American Indian men and 45 percent of the black women who entered the same year.

"It's the shame of American higher education," said Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University.

Researchers say the obstacles keeping black men from earning college degrees include poor education before college, the low expectations that teachers and others have for them, a lack of black men as role models, their dropout rate from high school and their own low aspirations.

While most of these problems are common to disadvantaged minority students regardless of sex, black men have the special burden of being pigeonholed early in a way that black female students are not. This was among the findings of the African-American Male Initiative, a program set up by the University System of Georgia to research and remove the obstacles to college enrollment and graduation for black men. The system has 17,000 black men among 250,000 students on its 34 campuses.

The downward spiral begins in Head Start classrooms, said Arlethia Perry-Johnson, the chairwoman of the initiative and an associate vice chancellor of the Georgia system. Some black male students are labeled developmentally delayed, funneled into special education and "never get mainstreamed," she said. Shoved off the college prep track, they begin a "cycle of being reprimanded, disciplined and ultimately suspended for negative behavior," she said, leading to expulsion, unemployment and even crime and imprisonment.

Solving the problem is beginning to get more attention at colleges. Nearly three dozen selective liberal arts colleges, including Amherst, Swarthmore and Wesleyan, have united to create a working group on minority achievement issues, including the underrepresentation of black and Latino men in colleges.

Recently, Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., sponsored a symposium on the absence of black men in higher education. Women outnumber men by about 2 to 1 at Howard.


This artictle from The New York Times looks at many different problems. I'm not saying affirmative action won't help directly or indirectly with any of them, but in some cases I'm not sure if it will help or how. One thing is clear though - for everyone who is not a black American to look for excuses to say that this is not our problem because it's someone elses fault would be counterproductive in the extreme. It is much cheaper to find the cause of a problem and solve it than to wait until someone does something illegal and spend a lot of money keeping them in jail.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Steven Den Beste has a great post on Hive minds. I felt disoriented for a moment, because even though politics might well be one of the major concerns of a collective human Hive mind as relating to it's survival, the blogs I follow by people who have shown interest in collective intelligence seem less interested in politics than even random chance would dictate. I'm delighted to find an exception.

There is one thing I felt he could have spoken more about. The colony animals discussed in his post have near converging interests - it is difficult or impossible for an individual to help reproduce the genes it carries except by contributing to the group. Without this there is a strong incentive to 'slant' information to favor your own offspring in some way, or even go off and lay some eggs somewhere instead of foraging for the hive. It appears some female ants besides the queen can lay some eggs, but there are disincentives as well.

In some ways humans may actually have near converging interests. For instance, suppose somewhere in China livestock practices tend to contribute to the emergence of new contagious diseases. It might actually be cheaper to pay part of the costs of changing them than to try to quarrantine China at intervals or deal with the results after they spread to the United States.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Planes with explosives found at Saudi airport

LONDON — Saudi security forces have seized light planes packed with explosives near Riyadh's King Khalid airport, foiling a plot by suicide pilots to blow up a Western airliner on the runway, a British newspaper said today.

Two pilots apparently intended to crash the planes into a Western jet on the tarmac, Patrick Mercer, homeland-security policy chief for Britain's opposition Conservative Party, was quoted as saying in the Mail. British Airways was believed to be the likely target.


In light of this, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that there were terrorists on the French airlines today. It's worth thinking through this tactic before it hits us in the face. The easiest way to stop it would be to refuse to let non American airlines (except maybe for a handful of the securest countries) fly airplanes to United States airports. If they do the same to our airlines, the result could be devastating economically. I sure hope somebody in the Bush administration is up for a quick and tough round of negotiations.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

SEABROOK, N.H., Dec. 23 — Swatting away attacks from all corners in the 10 days since the capture of Saddam Hussein, Howard Dean has returned to the combative posture that propelled his insurgent candidacy to the front of the field this fall. Denunciations of "Washington Democrats" once again dominate his speeches, even as he complains that negativity has taken over the primary campaign.

It is a clear contrast from just two weeks ago when Dr. Dean, buoyed by the backing of several major unions, former Vice President Al Gore and a swelling crowd of elected officials, was beginning to change his style. Smiling more than finger-thrusting, he fancied himself a frontrunner above the fray, experimenting — briefly — with a more moderate tone, as he kept one eye on the general electorate.

But the relentless battering has stymied his effort to look long range, forcing him to hunker down in the final month before the first votes.


This is good news in disguise. I have to admit I was a bit worried as to whether Dean realized how much he would have to move towards the center for the general election, but this makes it clear he does. Actually doing it will still be a challenge, but it would be wrong for him to lose the nomination because he was trying to prematurely ready for the general election.

All the same, all the bloggers who have done great things for Dean need to be ready not merely to accept his swing towards the center but to cheer it on. In particular, he needs to win the votes of at least some of the people who favored the invasion of Iraq. This might not be quite as hard as it seems at first - but merely saying we need to finish what we started isn't enough. He has to give the people who believe in rebuilding Iraq reason to believe he can do it better than Bush. He must speak in language acceptable to those who favored the invasion but are unhappy about subsequent rebuilding efforts. He should talk about how many intelligent people - Democrats as well as Republicans - favored the invasion of Iraq, partly because of misleading information from the Bush administration, and partly because they were lead to believe we were adaquately prepared for the aftermath.

Then he must say that part of the reason Bush can't make the drastic changes needed to succeed in Iraq is because this would involve admitting just how much has been done wrong so far. Bush cannot and will not do this, but Dean can and will. A vote for Dean is a vote for rebuilding Iraq - whether or not you favored the initial invasion.

This is wrong:

Dean says he thought the war was a terrible blunder—a "catastrophic mistake," said Al Gore when endorsing him—but now that we're there, we should stay and see it through. This makes no sense. If the war was a blunder—draining resources and distracting Washington—the smartest thing to do is get out fast. Dean has argued that America must stay in Iraq because it cannot allow the country to become a base for Al Qaeda. But that outcome could easily be avoided by our pulling out and turning the place over to a general or Shiite leader who will also have no interest in having his country become a Qaeda base. Why bother helping in a massive transformation of politics, economics and society in Iraq? In a sense, the most consistent Democrat in the race is not Dean, but Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who says the war was a mistake, so let's leave now.

Some Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman, have criticized the administration for having a worthy goal but doing a good thing badly. And there's much to criticize. The reconstruction has been botched from the start, with too few troops, weak leadership (remember Jay Garner?), self-defeating arrogance and now (at least the appearance of) a cut-and-run transfer of power. It has produced problems that were predictable—indeed were predicted. But to make this critique effectively, the Democrats have to buy into the basic goal of Iraq policy. If Howard Dean has his way, the party of Woodrow Wilson will be decidedly uninterested in the most Wilsonian project in recent history.


OK, maybe the second paragraph is right. But the first paragraph is silly. There is no general or Shiite leader who has the power to prevent Al Qaeda from using Iraq as a base - or even from splintering into bloody civil war. Part of our goal must be damage control - preventing a horrible bloody civil war following our retreat which would put nails in the coffin of US prestige. Those who lead us in there without preparation don't have the calm determination to get us out without leaving such a civil war in our wake. Unfortunately, blindly lashing out without preparation for the consequences is a natural human response to fear and anger - and Bush and his advisors have successfully tapped into that vein. Dean must successfully win the support of those who do not fully realize how they have been lead around, not so much by Bush as by their own emotions, which as far as I know Bush and his advisors sincerely shared.

Pakistani President survives 2nd assassination attempt
ISLAMABAD (Pakistan) -- A massive suicide bomb ripped through a crowded road near the capital on Thursday in a failed attempt to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf, a senior government official said. The President was unhurt, but at least seven passers-by were killed.

It was the second attack this month targeting the military President, and came just a day after he agreed to step down as army chief by the end of 2004.


Could this be Al Qaeda's shortcut to gaining effective control of WMD? If so, we'd better do something fast.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Monday, December 22, 2003


Thousands of Iraqi Kurds gathered in Kirkuk on Monday to demand inclusion of the northern oil centre in a future autonomous Kurdish region.

"Kirkuk, Kirkuk, heart of Kurdistan," they chanted in the city centre. "We demand federalism for Kurdistan".


Well, as Dan Drezner pointed out recently, you shouldn't always take Al Jazeera at face value. Sometimes they report something you don't see elsewhere though.

If true this is a problem for both Turkey and Iraq. Sigh.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

In fact, what I think we're seeing is fear, panic and desperation.

I think those commentators have made the mistake of taking the leftists at their word. For example, Tacitus comments acidly on leftist claims that Saddam's trial would lack "legitimacy" unless it was handled by some sort of international tribunal. But that's only what they say. What they're thinking is that if this is not handled by an international tribunal, then the concepts of "international justice" and "international law" will themselves lose legitimacy.

For a long time now, transnationalists have been working to establish a world government. Their goal is nothing less than world conquest, but since they do not intend violent conquest, their means has been persuasion.


If this 'fear panic and desperation' are to explain the bulk of the 'leftist' response to plans for Saddam's trial, Steven Den Beste can't consider the transnationalists to be a small or medium sized portion of the left. Does he actually think many people on the left or the right have heard the word transnationlism, let alone visited enough dull overly abstact websites to become converted? Or does he consider many who never heard the word to be transnationalist in their hearts despite never having heard of the concept explicitly? The latter is a bit of a stretch given the coordinated and immediate response to Saddam's upcoming trial.

Even those who don't think any of the objections to Saddams trial in Iraq make sense should consider the possibility of reflexive opposition to Bush.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

In this decision, though, I am alarmed – because few of these Muslim supporters address those issues on which these candidates not only stand contrary to Islamic interests, but to the most essential values of sincere humanity: Namely, these candidates, and practically every Democratic candidate, are in favor of many types of abortion and promote some form of gay marriage or recognized homosexual union. In this post, I will focus on the issue of Islam, America and homosexuality, for two reasons:

...

Gay rights are now being promoted as part of human rights. An intentional obfuscation, to confuse the public, to make the average Joe think: “African-Americans deserved equal rights. So why not gays?” But the problem is, a distinction is passed over. African-Americans, women, children, Jews, atheists, and homosexuals, all of them, deserve human rights, because they are human. However, any healthy social system understands that human rights also deal with duties and behaviors. Further, a lifestyle does not necessarily convey rights in and of itself. The campaign on behalf of gay rights in America is trying to make people believe that gays and blacks, lesbians and whites, these are all equivalent (essentially, that is) categories.

Let me clarify: If a person is gay, they still deserve human rights. But they do not deserve gay rights. Homosexuality is, from the Muslim point of view, a great sin. One does not promote or condone rights for sins and transgressions, especially not creating identities based on sins and transgressions. That is to say, an alcoholic has rights, but there are no alcoholics’ rights in Islam. This confusion of the person and his actions, of behavior transmuted into identity and then elevated and incorporated into personality and essentiality, is absolutely wrong-headed.


I wonder if this would give any social conservatives pause for thought if they read it. Nah.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Is there a war going on more important to us than Iraq which we haven't even noticed? I don't mean North Korea.

The things I discussed here are still bothering me. I googled the web to see who would know what was happening. Maybe none of these are anything to worry about, maybe Al Qaeda has antagonized everyone with their bombings in Saudi Arabia, and driven them into the Monarchy's arms. In Iraq though, it seems that even if people don't like bombs they still make the powers that be look bad. In the name of preparing for the worst we have to consider that Al Qaeda knows what they're doing. Sometimes if the enemy is trying very hard to do something that doesn't seem to make sense you worry about it anyway.

Now, whether it's a third generation prince who's going to come along and reform the royal family, reorient its foreign policy, I can't tell you. Or will it be revolution? I mean that's just unknowable right now.

ELEANOR HALL: Either way, it would be a seismic event for the Middle East and indeed for the US, wouldn't it, if the Saudi royal family was to collapse?

ROBERT BAER: It would. You know, I take the worst case possibility and that is that Saudi Arabia takes its oil off the market, either just closes off the taps or sabotages its own facilities. And we're talking, you know, upwards of 11 million barrels a day, which would cause a recession, you know, a deep recession.

ELEANOR HALL: But is it really likely that the Saudis would sabotage their own oil?

ROBERT BAER: Well who would have thought that 15 Saudis would have got onto airplanes and run into US buildings?

ELEANOR HALL: So you're saying it's terrorists inside Saudi Arabia who could actually attack the Saudi oil industry?

ROBERT BAER: They could. I mean, the attitude of a lot of Saudis, they're disenfranchised politically and economically, they're saying, listen, we don't get anything out of the oil, we sell it underpriced to the West, it's only caused corruption and an impure society. If we were to take this oil off the market or a lot of it, we could back to living like the Bedouins, under a pure Islamic utopian society. And if you took all of Saudi Arabia's capacity off for two years, again this is the worst case scenario, you're going to have a serious economic shot, a shock as bad as we saw in 1973.


A good sign. A real worst case scenario would include Saudi involvement in building a nuclear bomb for Al Qaeda, so maybe he's just crazy.

Is there an easy answer? Were you thinking this?

Opposition groups in Saudi - and many of the émigré organisations which operate abroad - are not pursuing a vision of Western democracy, but an even more rigid interpretation of Sunni Sharia and the ousting of those sections of the royal family which they regard as having been corrupted by association with the West. These are not the sort of people with whom Washington - or Western human rights campaigners - will be comfortable doing business.

The real danger is that the latest proposals will be interpreted as yet more evidence that the dynasty founded by Ibn Saud is showing signs of weakness. Rather than strengthening the present royal government, local elections may well prove to be the beginning of the end.

The fundamental dilemma facing the West is the risk that reform of the Saudi political system may eventually produce a much more hardline, anti-Western regime. For many US policy-makers, the ongoing legacy of militant political Islam in Iran - and more recently the rise of Shi'a militancy in Iraq - is causing concern that Saudi Arabia may be on the brink of its own Islamic revolution.


Here's a more recent (Novermber 12) conservative view from the OpinionJournal.

"Is it a revolt?" Louis XVI asked in 1789. "No, sire, it is a revolution," answered one of his courtiers. In Saudi Arabia the ruling family has long been presiding over a denial of reality to match that of the Bourbon monarchy. The bombing this weekend in Riyadh, which killed 17 people and wounded over 100, suggests that the thousands of princes who control the wealth of that country have trouble in store.

This piece from the Asia Times is only slightly more optimistic. If you read the whole thing you'll find nobody there loves us too much.

Prince Abdullah keeps fighting hard for the political survival of the discredited Saud dynasty - which is now regarded as practically a pariah in Washington. His dearest wish would be to witness an American departure from the peninsula, slowly but surely. A few sound minds in Washington may have considered that such a departure would instantly melt away any appeal of bin Laden's Islamic revolution. There is intense speculation in Middle East diplomatic circles that the prince will now try to convince the Americans to fold their bases in exchange for a prominent Saudi role as the guardian of a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel, and as an economic powerhouse benefiting all of the Arab world.

This dream scenario would mean the triumph of Arab nationalism - a la Abdullah - a sort of embryonic democracy that could have its public expression in what Qatar's Al Jazeera television network embodies today. European diplomatic sources believe this semi-democratic Arab world certainly would not be allied to the US - it would rather strike a closer relationship with Japan and Korea, and with the enlarged European Union.


I've found articles about reform in Saudi Arabia. I haven't found one that examines the danger of revolution and concludes it probably won't happen.

Here's some historical perspective from the Asia Times.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are edging closer to political instability and even cataclysmic change. In the case of Iran, the United States prefers a change of regime, but not for Saudi Arabia. However, regime change might be the eventual outcome in both countries for reasons that are essentially similar: the enemies of regimes are inside the borders. But there are also certain important aspects of dissimilarity in both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic revolution occurred in Iran in 1979 as a powerful protest against a highly corrupt and equally ruthless regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlevi. At the risk of oversimplification, it should be stated that the vanguards of that revolution at the very outset made two significant mistakes whose ramifications might bring about its end.


One more link, older than the rest.

Why have Saudi and other Gulf charities sent money to support Islamic fundamentalist schools that are encouraging jihad? And are the Saudis dragging their feet when it comes to assisting U.S. law enforcement agencies that are tracking down terrorists? Whose side are the Saudis on? "The Saudi Time Bomb," airing on PBS Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. EST, explores the fragile alliance with this ultra conservative fundamentalist kingdom upon which the U.S. depends for fifteen percent of the country’s oil needs. The program is a "Frontline" co-production with the New York Times.

CAIRO, December 11 (IslamOnline.net) - The two main Palestinian resistance groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - are operating through a joint political leadership that looks into political positions related to the Palestinian cause and coordinates joint operations against the Israeli occupation.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of Hamas' politburo, told IslamOnline.net the two groups "have been coordinating operations and joint statements for more than five months through a joint leadership in and outside the occupied Palestinian territories."


This can't be good. I haven't seen it in any American papers.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The 7500+ people in this group, and the untold others that didn't
make it to Cloudmakers or Spherewatch or the other groups that wanted
to go it alone...we are all one.

We have made manifest, the idea of an unbelievably intricate
intelligence. We are one mind, one voice...made of 7500+ neurons.
Our thoughts, our actions formed one, guiding the path before us...as
much as it guided us.


Via Jane McGonigal's paper on Collective Detective. Jane McGonigal is an instructor and PhD student at Berkley.

Something about Collective Detective has caught the imaginations of many in the blogosphere. I have several pages bookmarked, including this and these two posts from Seb's Open Research. Like Sebastien Paquet, I'm very interested in asking if this amazing phenomenon can be turned to more lasting purpose. I think there are definitely clues to creating a collective supermind here, but a precautionary note is in order.

The Cloudmakers were a "collective detective" for a *game*. Remember that.
It was scripted. There were clues hidden that were gauged for us. It was
*narrative*. There may well be seven thousand of us. Only a percentage of
those seven thousand were directly involved in the "collective detective".

I have said it before, and I'll say it again:

This is not a game.

The answers to this are not straightforward, nor will they be easy to find.
The members of this group are in NO WAY in possession of the full facts or
even a portion thereof. It is highly unlikely that members of this group
will *ever* be in possession of even half of all the facts.
No one here has access to forensics materials. On the off chance that there
are those who do, there are reasons for not sharing details of those.

Irwin pointed out that the FBI has over 11,000 agents. *EVERY* US Federal
Agency and Body that can be called into service has been. Do not go getting
delusions of grandeur.

Cloudmakers solved a story. This is real life.

Members of the CM community live in Manhattan, in areas being evacuated
_now_. I had friends who were in the WTC the day before Tuesday and as
_soon_ as I heard the news, I was on the phone.

Use the CM community for messages of support. Talk about what's happened.
But I will *NOT* tolerate conspiracy theories or rumour mongering here. Let
the properly appointed people do their jobs and do some *real* help.

Regards,

Dan Hon (co-moderator)
Andrhia Phillips (co-moderator)
Adrian Hon (co-moderator)
Bronwen Liggitt (co-moderator)
Brian Seitz (co-moderator)


It's worthwhile thinking about what real life situations this group might well be suited for - and which are least likely. Anything requiring secrecy is at the bottom of the list - Cloudmaker and Collective Detective would be very different if extensive security checks were required to join! Criminals and terrorists cannot be tipped off about being under investigation. In general, anything where a single mistake might cause disaster is problematic - many discoveries are by trial and error.

This brings us to political discussion. So far many of the projects they are engaged in seem worthy but idiosyncratic, as in this Collective Detective Think Tank effort. While wishing these twins the best, I believe preventing the spread of HIV should be a higher priority - and I didn't actually see that in the discussion list.

Great leaps are necessary to stretch the limits of global thought. People often seem more emotionally involved with their political opinions than the pieces of a puzzle - and usually some of the most knowledgeble people in any political question have strong vested interests. It would be interesting to see a puzzle requiring members to deal with these two problems, though I don't see how at the moment. Also, perhaps a puzzle with many parts, some of which cannot be solved, and which must be abandoned in favor of other priorities to avoid utter failure.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The typophile experiment of Kevin Davis of Kevan.org has been going on for a couple of years now, and the animations provide a great way to get a quick overview. The link takes you a random letter, which will help me think big rather than getting bogged down in detail.

When you push the start button for the animations for most letters, it's a little eerie at first. Out of random chaos a letter emerges. Unfortunately there seems to be a certain equilibrium point of, for instance, a-ness. We don't get closer and closer to an ideal, we get to a point where random static keeps us in the same place, or randomly progressing and regressing in small degrees.

You have to wonder about those little black squares that appear in what is obviously 'supposed' to be white space. Was somebody so click happy that they didn't read the superlatively simple directions? Did they have an entirely different letter in mind than the one present, and decide to singlehandedly redirect the group effort? Did someone want to make a visible impact at any price? Of course sometimes they get corrected, but a few errors seem to be part of the steady state.

It's a wonderful portait of a certain kind of group effort. Perhaps the biggest difference between this and Collective Detective is that the system doesn't permit moderators to emerge. Nobody is elected or appointed to filter out the noise - and the noise generators.

The competetive spirit may play a role too. Collective Detective isn't exactly playing 'against' anyone necessarily, but there is a sense of individual and collective accomplishment when a puzzle is cracked, and the efforts of contributors are probably known to most of the active participants. Contrast the anonymity and lack of an endstate of typophile - plus the mere fact of having helped a large group make something look vaguely like a letter is too easy to make people work at it once the novelty has worn off.

As somebody who wants to participate in evolving a hive mind, this experiment definitely gives me a lot to think about. I'm not quite sure what the next step is, but I suspect there are several before we try to form ourselves into a prototype of a godmind. I've been thinking about what sort of game I would write if I was a good programmer, based on what I've learned looking at this experiment.

I Low entry barrier, so many people would play. That is, the rules are easy to learn and don't feel intimidating. Maybe some kind of bonus for beginners.

II Individual games or rounds would be comparatively short, so the results of different organizing strategies would become apparent and evolve.

III There would be some kind of scoring system for individuals, allowing scores to vary as teams shifted and reformed.

IV It would be impossible to appoint the most experienced player team captain and have everyone give them all available information and let them make all the decisions. This wouldn't really be self organizing behaviour, except so far as the organization was absolute dictatorship. Maybe the pace of play would be too fast, maybe there would be advanatges to keeping certain things secret. Maybe many different skills would be required.