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Distributed intelligence

An awesome glimpse at the potential for distributed intelligence is occurring right now in the blogosphere. A series of ‘newly discovered’ memos purporting to show that George W Bush failed to fulfill his national guard duties has, in the matter of a few hours, been subjected to the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere, and have been pretty conclusively shown to be forgeries, as far as I can tell.

The speed and apparent quality of the analysis of these memos is stunning, as the blogs allow the assembly of the observations, recollections, and thinking of dozens of people in real time. The mainstream media must feel the Polish horse cavalry trying to stop the blitzkrieg in WWII.

Warning: Powerline is getting buried with hits from a Drudge link right now, but keep trying.

Update: Just to reinforce the point, commenter Dave Sheridan points out that its not just distributed intelligence, it is actually a glimpse of the face of the true god of liberty, spontaneous order.

36 comments to Distributed intelligence

  • John Ellis

    I had a quick look at Powerline. Not exactly a disinterested middle of the road site is it?

    No comment on the forgeries yet…

  • I see no evidence that the claims are forgeries. In fact, I’d say that the claims are pretty believable.

    Bush could only have gotten in to the guard with connections — anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam era knows that. Bush also is known, from the official military records, to have missed physicals etc. Most of the claims here are pretty tame and at this point documented via multiple sources.

    Why do you want to defend Bush anyway? He’s a slimebag. We’re libertarians, not Republicans. Or are you, in fact, a Republican, not a libertarian?

  • R C Dean

    Perry, I am not defending Bush. I am pointing out that a very impressive display of distributed intelligence is going on right now.

    The fact that Bush is involved is purely incidental. Whether he in fact did what he was supposed to in the National Guard is irrelevant. Whether the documents add to the record is somewhat beside the point (although certain mainstream media outlets certainly tried to claim that they were newsworthy; maybe you also have a beef with 60 Minutes and the Boston Globe).

    What is interesting is the speed with which the blogosphere has shown that a major media outlet was suckered with pretty crude forgeries. If a series of documents purporting to show that John Kerry’s wartime record was fraudulent was getting the same treatment, I would have put up exactly the same post.

  • Shawn

    ” We’re libertarians, not Republicans. Or are you, in fact, a Republican, not a libertarian?”

    For a start they are not mutually exclusive terms.

    Also, the Samizdata community is made up of people with a variety of political philosophies, including like myself, proud Republicans.

  • Shawn

    Ditto.

    It does look like the documents from CBS were forged and the son of the Lieutenant Colonel who supposed wrote them denies that the family kept any secret files.

    I think the dems are getting desperate.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Perry:

    Bush could only have gotten in to the guard with connections — anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam era knows that.

    My good friend Ken Morely flew Air Guard F-102s during the same years as Bush. He had no connections, he simply applied, was accepted, and passed his training. Why is it impossible that Bush could have done the same?

  • They’re definitely forgeries. I was able to make very credible copies of the memos using the standard settings with Word 97. As far as I know, Times New Roman was not a standard font on 1972 IBM Selectrics.

  • Harry

    Indeed. If Perry doesn’t “see any evidence” that the documents are forgeries he’s either blind or hasn’t RTFA. Or any of the dozens of others posted at this hour.

    What a lovely black eye for CBS. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

    And “RC” is absolutely right — the most impressive thing is the earthshaking wattage of the distributed intelligence at work here. Even with all their advantages, the big media outlets are hard-pressed to keep up their pernicious game these days.

  • Rebecca

    The real question to come is: exactly who distributed the memos?

    It’s going to be very embarrassing for them, isn’t it? As in, a complete destruction of credibility?

  • Doug Collins

    I agree with Rebecca- The next important question is “Who forged these documents?” I can’t think of any criminal offense involved here -as presumably no money changed hands, so I don’t expect any FBI or other police investigation. Nonetheless, it would be great if the roaches who did this could be exposed to the light of publicity before they can scuttle back to their holes.

    If the blogosphere can identify the forgers as well as recognize the forgery, I will be astounded.

  • Why is it impossible that Bush could have done the same?

    Yeah, why is it unbelievable that someone with a mass of connections would apply for something – anything – like a regular old prole. Non-sarcastic version: I doubt anyone who’s superrich or superconnected ever does anything that doesn’t involve some greasing of the wheels.

    As for the blogosphere angle, it’s certainly impressive. However, it would be nice if they could turn their attention to something that actually matters.

    We’ve got less than 60 days left, and most of the talk is about trivialities from three decades ago.

  • This posting puts me in mind of an idea quite famous in software development circles. It comes from Eric S Raymond’s excellent essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar and it is:

    Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow – Linus’s Law’

  • Lonewacko writes:

    As for the blogosphere angle, it’s certainly impressive. However, it would be nice if they could turn their attention to something that actually matters.

    A major media outlet, exposed in fabricating evidence in a “news” story (I use the scare quotes for what was really an editorial) doesn’t matter? That the bogus story attempted to influence a presidential election in wartime doesn’t matter?

    A partisan press is one thing. A partisan press that boldly, shamelessly fabricates news is another.

    The Washington Post seems to think this matters- the story will be carried on its front page tomorrow. No honor among theives, I suppose…

  • Robert is right — Love or hate Bush, it’s been an amazing thing to watch. It’s not just distributed intelligence, its an example of spontaneous order, where a bunch of heretofore unrelated and largely unknown (to each other) people begin sharing information and analysis. Not just that. Ask yourself why Power Line (and a few others) are the ones getting swamped? Because a tacit consensus developed about who should be the clearinghouses on this particular issue. No one voted. No committee meetings. I’ve been watching the same thing happen around the Swift Boat Vets issue. Another thing — people in that case are being brought into the conversation who didn’t even know a controversy existed. The process of challenging analyses has been pretty neat too. In a system where absolutely any flake on the planet is free to contribute, the critical path of the discovery and winnowing continued, and has been pretty able to disregard extraneous inputs along the way. By the time a bit of fact rises through the informal (yet tough) filtering process, a coherent set of hypotheses has begun to emerge. That’s not to say the conclusions are going to be proved correct, or that the process won’t get better with experience, but these two incidents could be graduate school case studies.

    Which gets to Doug’s comment. We may be seeing a situation where egregious media malpractice is colliding with that massively parallel system. It’s not just Drudge, or a few of our talk radio guys, out there by themselves. Our press desperately wanted to crush the Swift Boat thing. It got away from them, the candidate panicked and suddenly our network TV and major papers are playing catch-up. This is a bigger deal than just a bunch off weblog hobbyists trading conspiracy theories.

  • ian

    What’s new here? Bush probably fiddled his National Guard record, Kerry probably overstated his war record (but he does have one!) These are US presidential candidates – you were expecting polite rationality?

  • llamas

    How quickly this story has developed. All sorts of highly-credible independent experts, and several family members of the officer from whose personal files these memos are alleged to have come, are now casting doubt on both the memos themselves (for technical reasons) and their source. The source of the memos is obscure – to say the very least – and their provenance is now in doubt.

    CBS News, which reported them as real, is stonewalling any suggestion that they might be fakes. That, in itself, is highly suggestive.

    As to why they are important – Google ‘Zinoviev letter’, and figure it out. We are less than 60 days from a Presidential election. The Kerry campaign is floundering on a long series of ghastly missteps, and its lickspittles in the mass media are serially overreporting any stories critical of President Bush, and serially underreporting any stories which reflect poorly on Senator Kerry. In this climate, there is great opportunity for

    a) a Kerry partisan to forge the documents and pass them off on a media that wants to believe they are true.

    b) a mere opportunist to forge the documents with an eye to making money from someone.

    I just read that the death-blow has been struck. One of the memos, dated 1973, purports to report an interaction with a senior TANG officer named Staudt. This officer retired from active duty in 1972.

    Senator Kerry has already had his hat handed to him, multiple times, by the ‘distributed intelligence’ of the blogosphere. Christmas in Cambodia, policy inconsistencies, misstatements about how he voted on this issue or that , the list is endless. If he, or his campaign, were smart, they would come out strongly, right now, and repudiate these memos in the plainest of terms. But, of course, he won’t.

    And the public will contrast that with the President’s handling of the questions surrounding Senator Kerry’s service – which has been stunning for its complete lack of any negative interpretation whatever – and they will form a judgement about which of the two is behaving more honourably. Old-fashioned as that may seem, the American public looks for honourable behaviour in its Presidents – they prefer a ‘mensch’. Senator Kerry is burning up his ‘mensch’ credentials at a rapid pace. He will burn up this opportunity to do the honourable thing, as well. And it will cost him.

    llater,

    llamas

  • syn

    The Watchtower elite is being watched by the common person blog.

    Note to the Big Brother’s at CBS: Checkmate.

  • dc

    They look about as genuine as a Daily Mirror photo exclusive. But will CBS air a “Sorry, We Were Hoaxed” programme?

  • Remember the CNN ‘Tailwind’ story, about the supposed gassing of US deserters in Laos. This has all the making of one of those. Dan Rather could go the way of Peter Arnett.

  • I’m reluctant to go with the forgery story, simply because a bright 12-year-old would know not to forge typewritten historical documents using a proportional-spaced font and ‘smart quotes’.

    Mark Kleiman has some more thoughts on this, pointing out that government agencies did have PS typewriters from 1971 onwards, and that the documents look like they’ve been impact printed rather than inkjet/laser printed.

  • ian

    Without any comment on the documents themselves, I had work produced on PS machines in the UK in 1971 – something called I think a ‘Variwriter’.

  • llamas

    john b wrote

    ‘a bright 12-year-old would know not to forge typewritten historical documents using a proportional-spaced font and ‘smart quotes’.’

    Resisting the urge to an obvious retort – these documents may well have been prepared by a dumb 12-year-old. Or a dumb 18-year-old.

    As to whether or not they are forgeries, may I suggest that you visit Hugh Hewitt’s website (www.hughhewitt.com) where he has posted his transcript of a radio interview he had with an identified and highly-qualified questioned-document examiner. Couple that with the quotation (in one of the memos) from General Staudt, who retired from the service a year before the date on the memo, and I think that the balance of probabilities is tipped.

    llater,

    llamas

  • BigFire

    Re: llammas

    When the Watergate broke, there are quite a few enemies of Nixon who’s certaint that Nixon White House and RNC won’t be dumb enough to pull a 2nd rate B’n’E. As it turns out, RNC was dumb enough to do that.

  • llamas

    BigFire – your point is well-taken. Just as a nit, I think that the prime movers in the 2nd-rate B&E were actually the well-named Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) rather than the RNC, but in the dark, all cats are grey.

    If this is a similar case of dirty-tricks – and it’s still an if – then it may have any one of a number of purposes – as described above by various posters. The source may be entirely unconnected with any party – a mere opportunist, who has taken the money and run regardless, and who cares little whether the hoax is exposed. Or it may be a device to bolster the flagging spirits of the party faithful. Or any one of a hundred other strategies.

    As I said, what counts now is how Senator Kerry and his campaign react. I see that leading Democrats are already nailing their colours to the mast by referring to these documents as though their veracity is unquestioned. Senator Kerry and his campaign have botched their response to the SBVFT ads and their fallout. Perhaps his reshuffled organization will deal with this better. If these documents turn out to be fakes – and it surely is looking that way – then the glee of Terry McAuliffe and his ilk may cost the Senator dearly.

    llater,

    llamas

  • cornetofhorse

    “Bush could only have gotten in to the guard with connections — anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam era knows that.”

    Perry,

    my dad was an Army Reservist during the Vietnam era, and I can assure you, as the son of a mechanic and a maid, he did not receive any special treatment to get his post there. No one wants to serve as a clerk-typist in the Army Reserves.

  • A major media outlet, exposed in fabricating evidence in a “news” story (I use the scare quotes for what was really an editorial) doesn’t matter?

    Yeah, that part matters. However, I do some of that myself, frequently “fisking” (as we bloggers say) the LAT, NYT, etc.

    However, the underlying bit about who served where doing what really doesn’t matter. It’s all a distraction from the issues.

    Maybe Kerry went to Cambodia for Xmas. Maybe Bush didn’t show up for his 4/5/69 2pm dentist appointment.

    Really, who gives a flying fsck?

    If you want to get upset about something, read up on the chatter about terrorists trying to infiltrate the U.S. That’s something that really matters. I see neither CBS nor almost all other bloggers even giving that issue the time of day.

  • Eugene Volokh, over at Volokh Conspiracy, says at least two states have laws that make forging documents with the intent of influence votes in an election actionable. And at least one of those has been tested.

    Because it’s a national election, my understanding of what he says is that whoever did this (and probably anyone who knowingly participated in perpetuating it) could be tried in either of those two states (assuming they could be gotten to them).

    That was a result of a quick check, he said.

    Forgery is a lot easier to pursue than libel under U.S. law, especially with a public figure involved.

  • Jack Kramer

    The internet is really spreading its wings with this story – it’s not a partisan Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian thing, it’s a freedom of information thing. No longer is there a filter controlled by a few in Manhattan and D.C. This is really a watershed time for us all, some may think this story is getting overplayed – but it really is worth all the fuss. This is Dan Rather and CBS getting callled out…and they’ve had it coming.

    The amazing breadth of this story is that it’s spread to all corners of the net, from Norway to even poker blogs!

    I thought Dave over at Big Slick News had perhaps the most humorous rendition of “Clippy” today (he brings a Libertarian point of view to his non-political site, btw):

    Clippy in action.

  • Merovance

    When all of this comes out in the wash. And the blogosphere can get a crack at whose fingerprints are on the documents, perhaps even more interesting things can be learned.

  • 13times

    the Blogoshere

    Vis viva [L.] (Mech.), living force; the force of a body moving against resistance, or doing work. The kinetic energy of a moving body; the capacity of a moving body to do work by reason of its being in motion.

    The Formula

    Principle of Vis Viva, the principle that the difference between the aggregate work of the accelerating forces of a system and that of the retarding forces is equal to one half the vis viva accumulated or lost in the system while the work is being done.

    This works for me

  • 13times

    Dan Rather

    Vis mortua [L.] (Mech.), dead force; force doing no active work, but only producing pressure.

  • Chris

    It’s amazing how a Lt. Col in the TANG had time (and the foresight) to center his typewritten memo EXACTLY how Microsoft Word currently centers text. No wonder he was pissed off at Bush for not showing up for his physical. I imagine he thinking was somewhat along the line of “If I have time to use special characters in my typing and get this text perfectly centered in this document, then Bush better show up for his physical.”

  • RetiredHogDriver

    Let a former Guard squadron commander pitch into this fight. First, The rule on flight physicals is that a rated aviator has to have an annual flight physical by the last day of his birth month. Bush was born in July. No one could (or would) “order” him to get a flight physical in May. I’d get upset with a pilot if he hadn’t gotten his physical by about mid month of his birth month, but that would result in an ass chewing and not a letter, and I wouldn’t even consider mentioning it 70+ days out. Second, the letter re the physical uses 2 different date types – “04 May 1972″ &”14 May, 1972″ . Real military types would use “4 May 72″ or at most “4 May 1972″ and would never insert a comma. Finally, no squadron commander would ever use “F.I.S.” for Fighter Interceptor Squadron, he’d use “FIS”, especially if he was a real “Lt Col”, not a “Lt. Colonel”. But I wouldn’t expect Dan Rather to know any of this.

  • I just wanted to retract my earlier remark — it appears pretty obvious now that I’ve re-examined the evidence that the documents in question were indeed forged. The speed with which the net resulted in the discovery that the documents were not legitimate is also, indeed, an interesting story.

  • It seems that the F-102A, was withdrawn from service in 1973. Does anybody know what month it happened in? Was there any point in keeping an F-102 qualified 1st lieutenant around whose obligation was almost over? Were they going to retrain him to swab decks or whatever the ANG equivilent is?

  • The internet is really spreading its wings with this story – it’s not a partisan Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian thing, it’s a freedom of information thing. No longer is there a filter controlled by a few in Manhattan and D.C. This is really a watershed time for us all, some may think this story is getting overplayed – but it really is worth all the fuss. This is Dan Rather and CBS getting callled out…and they’ve had it coming.

    The amazing breadth of this story is that it’s spread to all corners of the net, from Norway to even poker blogs!