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April 12, 2006

Comments

Gary: I've read that Wired piece a number of times over the years, Anarch, but since you cited it, I had to go back to check that, indeed, he says absolutely not one thing about his concern, lack of concern, or anything about the fact that his Law is so endlessly mis-cited. He mentions Cliff Stoll's version that re-states it, and says nothing about the fact that it's the version that's commonly been substituted for, and called, "Godwin's Law."

Mike Godwin, from the link supra, emphasis added:

In time, discussions in the seeded newsgroups and discussions seemed to show a lower incidence of the Nazi-comparison meme. And the counter-meme mutated into even more useful forms... By my (admittedly low) standards, the experiment was a success.

If it's possible to generate effective counter-memes...

While the world of the Net is filled with diverse critical thinkers who are ready to challenge self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing memes, we can't rely on net.culture's diversity and inertia to answer every bad meme... The best way to fight such memes is to craft counter-memes designed to put them in perspective. The time may have come for us to commit ourselves to memetic engineering - crafting good memes to drive out the bad ones.

So he approvingly cites the fact that the meme has been mutating, argues that this is a success by his standards, and that such memetic engineering may be a necessary component of net.interaction in the future... and from this you conclude not only that he apparently expressed no particular opinion on these matters but that it was equally (non)descriptive of his feelings towards his wife? No offense, Gary, but might I recommend you carefully re-read the piece a third damn time?

Well, Anarch, you seem to be going from completely general observations by Godwin about memes to a presumption that he somehow is commenting on the re-substitution in the minds of many that I don't see any support for in the actual text, though I don't know that the negative is incorrect. I just don't see anything specific there about it at all.

Talking about memes and counter-memes in general is something endless numbers of people have done; that's what Mike's article is about. If there's something there to the effect that, say "many people have adopted Cliff Stoll's version as what 'Godwin's Law
is; that's fine by me," I'm still missing it.

But why I'd care how much Mike Godwin cares about it, even if he wrote at length about it, I dunno. Sorry. Still don't see how it would make the factual observation incorrect in the slightest. I dunno how what Mike Godwin thinks about it matters whatever.

Is this really worth going on about? I mean, okay, but I kinda doubt I have more to say, myself.

WRT Pearl Harbor, &c., Gary Farber has covered the topic quite well (no surprise there), so I'm only going to express some of what he said from a different angle.

Everyone knew that Japan was getting ready for war with America. Well, not everyone (it depends on what the meaning of 'everyone' means, I suppose), but anyone who was paying attention in the late 1930s. (The invasion of Manchuria and then China; the expulsion from the League of Nations; the occupation of French Indochina; the US freezing of Japanese assets - these were all pretty obvious clues.) Thus the existence of a particular set of secret memos announcing this general likelihood adds little to our knowledge.

Knowing of such preparation, however, is not equivalent to prediction of an exact attack, much less preparation for defense against it. For about 40 years, during the Cold War, we also "knew" that the Soviet Union was getting ready to attack us. Yet, in the event, they didn't, at least not in a way that would precipitate WWIII. Think of pre-Pearl Harbor America as being an earlier version of Cold War America: conscious of who the enemy was, sure that someday, someplace he would attack - but when? where?

The more serious charges against FDR were not that he was unaware of this general threat, but that he had specific knowledge that the war was going to begin by an attack on Pearl Harbor in the first week of December 1941. If this were true, as his enemies alleged, then he could be said not only to have lied, but to have deliberately sacrificed American lives to bring about the war, a heinous deed in the view of his accusers, and possibly posterity in general.

Investigation of this charge, however, did not lead to conviction anywhere but in the minds of those who had already convicted FDR in their hearts. There were major official (Congressional) investigations at the time (during as well as after the war, I believe) and serious historians have revisited the question periodically since then.

I've read some, but by no means most, of this material, and what I come up with is the following:

1) Among the thousands of messages relaying scraps of information in the weeks and months before Pearl Harbor there were in fact a few which, if they had been recognized as accurate, would have led to our anticipation of the attack when and where it occurred, and presumably a defense against it.

2) There were also thousands of other bits of information, equally plausible at the time, pointing in different directions.

3) There is NO good evidence that FDR (or anyone else alleged to be implicated in the conspiracy) actually recognized the few vital "true" bits of information pointing to the attack, much less put them together correctly. (In fact it's not clear how many of these key bits FDR himself eyeballed.) The most one can say - and I suspect the same is true of 9/11 - is that perhaps a better intelligence-sifting system could have succeeded in sorting out the wheat from the chaff a bit better, so we would not have been so surprised.

Of course, YMMV.

I suspect at the root of our intellectual problem is the general human desire to find patterns, even meaning, in existence, a desire which is unsatisfied by the possibility of happenstance playing too large a role in our fates. This predilection is of course played on by our writers and directors, especially of thrillers, who only introduce extraneous bits of information as deliberate CLUES, not as the miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam that reality actually strews on our shores. (There's an old rule in the theater: If you show a loaded gun in Act I, it must be fired by Act III.)

I've never been an intelligence analyst, but I've been a historian for long enough to know that most of the information on almost any topic is irrelevant, if not downright wrong. The answer to most questions is not to be found in the Missing Document (which everyone knows to be Vital), but in figuring out which of the thousands of documents you already have access to are actually pointing you toward the truth.

If anyone wants to argue that GWB, having commissioned a team of experts to actually study suspected bioweapons mobile labs, and then rejected their unanimous report in favor of others' pre-wrapped conclusions (which led to a desired course of actions), is in the same state of ignorance as FDR in 1941, and therefore no more culpable of misstating the actual situation, they may try - but it won't fly past any real historian, or, for that matter, any reasonable spectator.

WRT Pearl Harbor, &c., Gary Farber has covered the topic quite well (no surprise there), so I'm only going to express some of what he said from a different angle.

Everyone knew that Japan was getting ready for war with America. Well, not everyone (it depends on what the meaning of 'everyone' means, I suppose), but anyone who was paying attention in the late 1930s. (The invasion of Manchuria and then China; the expulsion from the League of Nations; the occupation of French Indochina; the US freezing of Japanese assets - these were all pretty obvious clues.) Thus the existence of a particular set of secret memos announcing this general likelihood adds little to our knowledge.

Knowing of such preparation, however, is not equivalent to prediction of an exact attack, much less preparation for defense against it. For about 40 years, during the Cold War, we also "knew" that the Soviet Union was getting ready to attack us. Yet, in the event, they didn't, at least not in a way that would precipitate WWIII. Think of pre-Pearl Harbor America as being an earlier version of Cold War America: conscious of who the enemy was, sure that someday, someplace he would attack - but when? where?

The more serious charges against FDR were not that he was unaware of this general threat, but that he had specific knowledge that the war was going to begin by an attack on Pearl Harbor in the first week of December 1941. If this were true, as his enemies alleged, then he could be said not only to have lied, but to have deliberately sacrificed American lives to bring about the war, a heinous deed in the view of his accusers, and possibly posterity in general.

Investigation of this charge, however, did not lead to conviction anywhere but in the minds of those who had already convicted FDR in their hearts. There were major official (Congressional) investigations at the time (during as well as after the war, I believe) and serious historians have revisited the question periodically since then.

I've read some, but by no means most, of this material, and what I come up with is the following:

1) Among the thousands of messages relaying scraps of information in the weeks and months before Pearl Harbor there were in fact a few which, if they had been recognized as accurate, would have led to our anticipation of the attack when and where it occurred, and presumably a defense against it.

2) There were also thousands of other bits of information, equally plausible at the time, pointing in different directions.

3) There is NO good evidence that FDR (or anyone else alleged to be implicated in the conspiracy) actually recognized the few vital "true" bits of information pointing to the attack, much less put them together correctly. (In fact it's not clear how many of these key bits FDR himself eyeballed.) The most one can say - and I suspect the same is true of 9/11 - is that perhaps a better intelligence-sifting system could have succeeded in sorting out the wheat from the chaff a bit better, so we would not have been so surprised.

Of course, YMMV.

I suspect at the root of our intellectual problem is the general human desire to find patterns, even meaning, in existence, a desire which is unsatisfied by the possibility of happenstance playing too large a role in our fates. This predilection is of course played on by our writers and directors, especially of thrillers, who only introduce extraneous bits of information as deliberate CLUES, not as the miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam that reality actually strews on our shores. (There's an old rule in the theater: If you show a loaded gun in Act I, it must be fired by Act III.)

I've never been an intelligence analyst, but I've been a historian for long enough to know that most of the information on almost any topic is irrelevant, if not downright wrong. The answer to most questions is not to be found in the Missing Document (which everyone knows to be Vital), but in figuring out which of the thousands of documents you already have access to are actually pointing you toward the truth.

If anyone wants to argue that GWB, having commissioned a team of experts to actually study suspected bioweapons mobile labs, and then rejected their unanimous report in favor of others' pre-wrapped conclusions (which led to a desired course of actions), is in the same state of ignorance as FDR in 1941, and therefore no more culpable of misstating the actual situation, they may try - but it won't fly past any real historian, or, for that matter, any reasonable spectator.

I apologize for the double post, but my browser is playing silly buggers, and showed me only a truncated version of this message after I tried posting the first time. So I tried again, before the draft disappeared down the memory hole ...

Let me also take this opportunity to tweak the timing a little, not that anyone (except maybe Gary and LJ) will care: in referring to "the late 1930s" I should have included 1940 and 1941 (up to December 7) as well.

Returning the wuv, I agree with everything Drngo (Bond villain, or historian?; you decide) said, enough that it's worth saying twice.

I also agree that I don't specifically blame Bush and co. for not anticipating September 11th, although there's plenty of fault to be placed insofar as there's a long list of things, both structurally and specifically, that could and should have been done far better.

But none of them would have guaranteed that the right clues would have led to September 11th having been figured out in time.

New York magazine had a Big Piece the other week on the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and their popularity. That sort of thing makes me sad and angry, and it was in the back of my head when writing my previous caution, though that caution is always in the back of my head. (But, then, I believe in checking everything for myself 3 times; the only times in my life I go wrong is when I fail to follow that principle.)

Yeah, there are real conspiracies sometimes; sure; we could run through a list.

But FDR didn't engage in one regarding Pearl Harbor, and for all that I think George W. Bush has been a horrible President, I don't remotely think that he deliberately let 9/11 happen, let alone caused it to happen. Just to mention.

Now, if we want more controversial historical debate, I can defend the bombing of Dresden as a justifiable military target to prevent counter-attack on the Russians, who were only 90 miles from that rail center....

Gary: But why I'd care how much Mike Godwin cares about it, even if he wrote at length about it, I dunno.

Gary, previously: That a lot of people who think they know what it says don't, in fact, know, really isn't Mike Godwin's fault.

If you don't care what Mike Godwin thinks about Godwin's law, that's fine... but then step up and take responsibility for the finickiness here and stop dumping it off on him. To be more specific, if you want to get pissy about what you perceive to be incorrect invocations of Godwin's law then don't invoke the specter of Mike Godwin as a proxy (especially as some kind of fatuous appeal to authority) when he a) clearly doesn't care and b) seems to have in fact intended some form of memetic mutation (viz the linked article, its apparently woeful lack of overly-pedantic exposition notwithstanding).

And fyi, I've said all I care to on the subject. Should you care, I leave the final response to you.

"To be more specific, if you want to get pissy about what you perceive to be incorrect invocations of Godwin's law then don't invoke the specter of Mike Godwin as a proxy (especially as some kind of fatuous appeal to authority)"

I don't understand your reading, I'm afraid. I said in the first place that people misreading Godwin weren't his fault. I don't know how that invokes him "as a proxy" other than the fact that Godwin's Law is Godwin's Law, and that people mis-cite it all the time isn't his fault.

I take full responsibility for saying this, and thinking it, and repeating it.

Gary, I overreacted and must have been a slightly pissy mood when I did so, but you do come across to me sometimes as being a little pedantic when you know something that others don't, and the way you phrased it (not Mike Godwin's fault) makes it sound like maybe it's the fault of all the ignorant people like me who keep making the mistake. Well, so it is, but it'd be more polite just to correct me (as two others did) and let it go at that.

Anyway, enough of that. You already apologized.

you do come across to me sometimes as being a little pedantic when you know something that others don't, and the way you phrased it

Over a long period of time I have concluded that Gary usually does not mean it the way it sounds to me. I try to read his posts quite literally and without adding any 'tone' to them.

"Over a long period of time I have concluded that Gary usually does not mean it the way it sounds to me. I try to read his posts quite literally and without adding any 'tone' to them."

Thanks. I commend that practice.

Sometimes I definitely say things in overly strong or emphatic ways, and then regret that, and then apologize.

Sometimes I cross the line into outright rude, sometimes in momentary heat, other times utterly unintentionally; again, I regret that, and try to apologize.

Many other times people simply read things into what I wrote that are in their own imagination. I don't know what to do about that.

On occasion, I actually manage to write things that don't piss people off. I call that a good minute-and-a-half.

DJ: "...the way you phrased it (not Mike Godwin's fault) makes it sound like maybe it's the fault of all the ignorant people like me who keep making the mistake."

My only intent was to be slightly arch. Sorry.

Though, to be sure, all the people who mis-state Godwin's Law should suffer horribly and then die a death that would revolt even the most innocent of adorable children, and will be remembered for a thousand generations because it was so terrible.

Did I mention that sometimes I also write in a deadpan way that gets me into trouble?

Though, to be sure, all the people who mis-state Godwin's Law should suffer horribly and then die

You forgot the part where they (and their kids, and kidskids, etc. ) would be labelled 'Donald' to make sure we all would be aware of the kind of perpetrators they are...

I know it bothers you, and rationally I know you do not intend to insult. It still takes effort to apply the rationale when the reflexive irratation strikes, but I work on it ;).

"Though, to be sure, all the people who mis-state Godwin's Law should suffer horribly and then die"


"You forgot the part where they (and their kids, and kidskids, etc. ) would be labelled 'Donald' to make sure we all would be aware of the kind of perpetrators they are..."


Yikes.

"Yikes."

Well, maybe not. I suppose we could just let everyone off with a warning.

"bored now"

evilvampmarbel

"evilvampmarbel"

Best keep an eye out for sharp woodie objects.

But until then: enjoy playing with the kitty!

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