Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005
 
Sex, disease and blogswarms. Michael Jennings writes:
"We are all document experts," says John Weidner:......

I find this web page amusing. It is devoted to pointing out historically inaccurate typography in period movies: link

While on that, I know one or two people who could be described as "typography geeks" myself. These are normally techies who responded to the invention of the laser printer and home typography software that goes with it by becoming amazingly obsessive about getting their fonts and spacing absolutely right. (It's also worth observing that this stuff was pretty much entirely invented at Apple in the 1980s. Possibly the big reason why Macs are popular with creative types to this day is because beautiful typesetting was possible on Macs about a decade before it was on PCs. The commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford recently (link) is interesting in that he tells some of how he became interested in it). The truth is that there are guys out there on the internet with amazing amounts of expertise, who could tell you a document was forged just by looking at it even if the forgers had gone to some trouble to get the fonts historically right, use old paper etc etc, rather than just printing something with Microsoft Word and photocopying it a few times. Even if the forgers of the memos had gone to some trouble, we would still have known conclusively that the documents were forged within hours, and this would have been the case without any conspiracy.

But would we have been able to get the media to accept our conclusive knowledge? Remember that even as things stand, with the crude forgery done in the default setting of a modern word processing program, Mary Mapes got a large advance and some favourable coverage for her book saying that it was all true after all.
This is assuming that they still used a computer. Why they didn't find a 1970s typewriter and use that I don't know.

Or perhaps I do. I suspect that the forgeries were possibly produced by someone who doesn't remember typewriters and believes that fonts were ulways proportionally spaced. This is making me feel old.


Actually, I think the lead pick for forger was old enough to remember. The real mystery is why neither he nor Mr Rather thought of it. My pet theory is, as I said earlier, that the forger published his forgery before it was ready. As for poor Dan, hope distorted his judgement. He was too excited to think, hey, documents just didn't look like that in those days. Or maybe he did think it for a moment then quickly snatched an explanation out of the air: maybe the Air National Guard had specially fancy typewriters because it was part of the military-industrial complex or something like that.

Buckhead could have done what he did with far less knowledge than he had. What all his extra knowledge gave him was confidence to act quickly to raise the initial alarm.

I didn't rehash all this now purely to relive vicarious blogospheric triumphs. I was also thinking about sex.

I was trying out various analogies to see if I could shed a little light on how a blogswarm worked, and it occurred to me that bloggers are like sperm and and breaking a big story is like fertilising the egg. In part it's a matter of luck, but the lucky sperm had to be strong enough to make the journey first.

That analogy isn't quite right. For one thing, the egg doesn't care which sperm connects but we definitely do want to connect a story with the right expert to confirm or deny it. A key part of the blogswarm is our knowledge that the right expertise is out there somewhere, probably in multiple locations. The problem in the past was that one couldn't find the experts quickly, or get them heard, or get them talking to each other. Now the experts find the story. Another way in which the sex analogy does not quite work is that it has no place for cooperation between sperm. Cooperation is a key part of the blogswarm... er, now I think about it the idea of a swarm is, of course, also an analogy. It was just too obvious for me to notice. I sympathise with Mr Rather!

Anyway, my second go at an analogy was that of the antibody. The various wrongnesses of the memo in Mary Mapes' story came into the infosphere like an invading toxin into the body. Lots of antibodies fling themselves at the invader. By chance some of them have the right shape to lock onto it and neutralise it. The body "sees" what works and makes more of the successful type.

That is better. As a good analogy should, this one leads to new thoughts. The body can become too good at making antibodies; becoming over-sensitive to certain harmless or near harmless proteins that would have been better left alone.

Should we be worried by the equivalent possibility in blogging? Nah. As the saying goes, kill 'em all and let God sort them out. It just gave me the excuse to say that blogging is more like having an allergy than sex.