Open Thread

There are 10 kinds of people in the world – those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Eat It, Colbert

Stephen Colbert fans, Onion editors take note: Wikipedia is a surprisingly reliable source of information.

Three groups of researchers claim to have untangled the process by which many Wikipedia entries achieve their impressive accuracy (1, 2, 3). They say that the best articles are those that are highly edited by many different contributors.

[…] The main lesson for tapping effectively into the ‘wisdom of crowds’, then, is that the crowd should be diverse. In fact, in 2004 Lu Hong and Scott Page of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor showed that a problem-solving team selected at random from a diverse collection of individuals will usually perform better than a team made up of those who individually perform best — because the latter tend to be too similar, and so draw on too narrow a range of options (5). For crowds, wisdom depends on variety.

The story covers at least five different studies of Wikipedia accuracy and community structure. I’m not about to choose which paragraphs to excerpt and which to leave out, so go read the whole thing. Some studies raised my eyebrows, for example one group’s apparently circular decision to measure the quality of an entry based on the Wiki community’s internal ratings. But overall the article is well worth the time.

To me the most interesting point is the way that Wikipedia turns the old rule that people are smart, crowds are stupid entirely on its head. Wiki entries, which you can think of as a form of extended conversation or debate, only get more accurate the more people jump in, and diversity seems as important as total numbers.

Bloggers ought to pay attention to this. I would even extend the point to say that a diverse commentariat should be a good measure of accurate writing, although it presents a chicken and egg problem in that increasing the number of readers who will howl if you screw up one way or the other often makes writers more careful to get things right, or stick to verifiable facts. In my view that ought to to count strongly in favor of blogs like Obsidian Wings which take considerable care to maintain a multipartisan community.

What distinguishes internet communication from crowd behavior? For collective action like bulk emailings and phone campaigns, not much. People can subsume their will to a collective just as easily online as in a noisy mob. But in Wikipedia as in blogging silent agreement is death. We’re less like a mob than an enormous coffeehouse full of well-read people, or at least well-Googled, arguing with each other. The main effect of technology is to streamline that argument and facilitate communication, cross-referencing and fact-checking on an unprecedented scale.

Testing the converse principle, intellectual monocultures like LGF and the Office of Special Plans ought to, and do, put out unreliable crap. Surprise, filtering out the noisiest critics also shuts down your most enthusiastic fact-checkers.


While we’re talking about Stephen Colbert, note the very next story at Nature News:

South Africa expected to propose elephant cull

Public consultation could suggest killing to control population.

Wikiality, baby.

Great Moments in Celebrity Blogging

I wish I had written this:

Madonna getting upset with her daughter for dressing too slutty is like Mr. T getting upset with his son for pitying too many fools. I think there was a period in Madonna’s life where all she wore was spaghetti pasta and condoms.

I give that two thumbs up.

Problem Solved!

Via the Nitpicker, we see everything has been taken care of at Walter Reed:

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

Punish them for speaking out, then hide them from the media.

And again, this isn’t POWs or unlawful combatants or whatever. These are our wounded guys.

Attention Deficit Warfighting

Matthew Cole, writing for, has a discouraging dispatch from an outpost in the border region between Afghanistan and tribal Pakistan. The article gives a useful sense of the daily grind in America’s “other” war, but take care to read the passages where US troops describe exactly why we are losing and may entirely lose the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

[T]he troops in Nuristan have also suffered from sheer isolation and the topography of the Hindu Kush. At Lybert (altitude 6,500 feet), the 3-71’s Charlie Company had gone 70 days without a hot shower or a hot meal. They have sustained deaths and injuries from hiking and falling. Soldiers who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before said their current living conditions are much worse. “Leadership doesn’t care about us,” said one officer, who requested that his name be withheld to avoid punishment for his comments. “We’ve gone on mission after mission after mission where we’ve gone black [run out] on food and water. They tell us, ‘Pack light, your mission will only be four days tops.’ But then we end up stuck on a mountaintop for two weeks. We didn’t have anything, not even tents. If you can’t get us off a mountain, don’t put us on there.”

Several soldiers and officers I spoke with told me they were unprepared for their mission in the north of Afghanistan. No one, it seems, told them they would have to fight a Vietnam-style war at high altitudes. One officer told me the 10th Mountain’s limited resources and poor planning frustrated him. (He also asked that his name be withheld for fear of retribution.) “Leadership has failed us,” he told me. “They don’t give a shit about us. We’ve been shorted everything we needed. Our training didn’t prepare us for this terrain or this mission. We’re doing the best we can but we’re not getting support.” He said the summer of 2006 had been filled with air-assault missions in which Chinooks delivered 20 to 30 troops to a ridgeline with little food or water, and no plan to pick them up.

[…] Adding to Charlie Company’s frustration, it cannot go on manned patrols in the villages below. Capt. Mike Schmidt, the commanding officer, told me the location of the base and size of his troop limited how much he could do. “We depend a lot on locals walking up from the neighboring villages to give us information,” he said. “We can’t leave the base and do patrols or visit the villages. We don’t have enough soldiers. We’d come back and there would be nothing left — the Afghans would steal everything and the insurgents could take the base.”

Convoys lack air support. Troops guarding the border where al Qaeda and the Taliban have regrouped, and from which they launch increasingly effective incursions into Afghanistan, lack the men to go on regular patrols. Troops endure two or three times the planned mission length because their commanders lack either the resources to resupply them, the helicopters to remove them or the manpower to relieve them. Plainly and unambiguously the effort to stabilize Afghanistan is suffering because we lack the resources to do the job right.

It should be plain to the slowest observer that men and materiel would be available in spades if they were not sunk in Iraq. Nobody, as far as I know, can show now that we absolutely, positively needed to go to war with Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan. Today most will tell you that we didn’t need to invade Iraq at all.

It is only so useful to psychologize why attacking Saddam Hussein so thoroughly captivated this administration before 9/11, immediately after 9/11 and every day since then. Each participant no doubt nurtured his own personal pathology, so there isn’t any single answer to why this group went so disastrously wrong. Maybe there exists a group of Democrats who would have driven America just as thoroughly over the rhetorical cliff. President Lieberman comes to mind. Nonetheless it seems reasonable to wonder where we would be today if we had a leadership with the discipline and the competence to focus on the people who attacked us long enough to finish the job.


An encounter from freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy’s visit to Iraq and Afghanistan sums up the entire problem:

Military commanders in Afghanistan told the Iraq war veteran from Bucks County that they desperately needed more troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban. …Murphy said, “they feel like the redheaded stepchild” – forgotten and ignored – as the original battleground in the war against terrorism.

Red-headed stepchild. This in reference to our war against the people who attacked us on 9/11, and who will undoubtedly attack us again. Incredible.

***Uppdate 2***

Dick Cheney, wrong about everything. This person has been on the wrong side of literally every policy issue since Bush took office.

The Iranian IEDs That Weren’t

Two separate news outlets have revealed the source of those shaped-penetrator super-IEDs that some anonymous official claimed could only come from Iran. Surprise, it wasn’t Iran. The work was done by Iraqis working with material supplied from places in the middle east that don’t lie directly to Iraq’s northeast.

Free advice to anybody who took these reports seriously – when administration officials insist on anonymity for no discernable reason, and when official spokesmen start passing the buck even before the full ridiculousness of the claims comes to light, it means that even they know they are full of shit. Count on it.

Why We Need a Third Party

Watch this video clip of a bunch of citizens attempting to have Patty Murray arrested for war crimes.

Then ask yourself what would be worse as a politician. Being a Democrat and catering to these guys, or being a Republican and dealing with the Jesus creeps?

I really don’t know.

BTW- I loved the guy at the end of the clip telling the other fellow to calm down. That was the most sedate protest I have ever seen. If he calmed down anymore, he would have slipped into a coma.