Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Perfect Storm

What destroyed Hillary Clinton's campaign? The obvious answer would be Barack Obama. But the destruction was accomplished through the agency of an Internet storm. Those who remember the rapidity with which a story produced by 60 Minutes under the baton of Dan Rather was destroyed will know just how powerful an Internet storm can be. In that instance, four documents were presented by 60 Minutes on September 8, 2004 -- less than 2 months before the scheduled Presidential election -- alleging that President Bush, who was standing for re-election had "disobeyed orders while in the Guard, and had undue influence exerted on his behalf to improve his record". It was an accusation that was potentially devastating to Bush. On September 8 a reasonable observer would have made the linear projection that Bush's re-election was doomed. But complex systems work in non-linear ways. A confluence of factors explosively combined to generate a memetic storm. Small Internet sites, each insignificant by itself, began to resonate with the word that the 60 Minutes documents were faked. A variety of technical experts, drawn by what was effectively an open-source debugging exercise, found fault after fault with the documents. Within four days not only was the 60 Minutes expose discredited but reversed upon itself. By September 10, CBS News was internally admitting doubts about the 60 Minutes story. By September 11, 2004, the network was beginning to backpedal. Eventually the documents would be shown to be fakes. The scandal would cause the removal of high CBS officials, rip up the 60 Minutes news team which prepared the show and effectively ended the career of anchor Dan Rather. It was the first public demonstration of an Internet storm.

The events that overtook Hillary Clinton during the Iowa primaries were no less dramatic and exhibited many of the same characteristics. Anyone who was watching the memetic indicators closely could see something huge was happening. The News Futures Prediction Market tracked the trades that Hillary would win the 2008 Democratic nomination. She had been favored for months. Her stock actually rose throughout late 2007. And then, all of sudden the bottom fell out. Here's the chart of Hillary's prospects, which fell from 60 to 34% in a few short days.

© NewsFutures

The graph below presents a closer look at the critical days showing the sudden and devastating impact of negative information. Barack Obama started something which resonated and suddenly, critics were piling on. In almost exactly the same amount of time that it took Dan Rather to fall from national icon to laughingstock, Hillary Clinton went from hero to zero, or more literally from 60% to 34%.

© NewsFutures You can see the heavy trades at the end when the situation "tipped".

How did an apparently impregnable position collapse so quickly? How did the trend develop? How did the idea of a Clinton weakness, which was perceived by relatively few people suddenly propagate across the Internet and become the conventional wisdom? Another view of the critical Jan 2-8 period can be found on a Technorati graph as shown below. Technorati tracks the appearance of phrases in the blogosphere which can be roughly correlated with the appearance of certain ideas. The frequency with which the words "Clinton" and "loser" appeared in blog posts is shown in the graph below.  From January 3 onward they peaked drastically; it shows the whisper beginning to spread. Hillary was a loser. But it is the speed with which an Internet storm can propagate which makes it so deadly. The storm can catch those who are accustomed to the statelier pace of broadcast media completely unaware.  Traditional political consultants, whose plans were geared to the timing of newspaper editions, talk shows, prime time newscasts, etc can be rendered as totally useless by the relentless 24x7 pace of the Internet as the troglodytic French Army was by the Blitzkrieg. Before either Dan Rather or Hillary Clinton could even understand what was happening they were buried. And while it is true to say that the Freerepublic's anonymous "Buckhead" first spotted the 60 Minute fakes or that Barack Obama was responsible for clever campaign lines their contribution to the eventual result was more of a starting point than the process entire. They started the avalanche but they were not the avalanche itself. Could it be dodged? In the earlier era of the Old Media neither Rather nor Clinton would have been scathed at all. They were prepared to dodge the old journalistic storms. Against an Internet storm they didn't have a chance.

Internet storms are emergent events which are difficult to predict. They are like rogue waves on the ocean, arising from the complex interaction between many factors, none in themselves particularly threatening. Yet combined they can suddenly throw up a devastating phenomenon, able to sweep all before it. About all people can do to gain a semblance of influence over emergent events is to shorten their reaction times to events. In the jargon of the trade they must increase the speed of their feedback loops to have any hope of evading the avalanche or deflecting it decisively. Because there is no easy way to predict what direction emergent events will take, the prudent manager must do all he can to detect them while they are building up. A number of methodologies exist to do this. But perhaps the most simple consists of an analyst trained to look at prediction markets, aggregators and sentiment analysis software in ways designed to detect the edge of the storm.

I went over the Hillary/Internet storm problem earlier tonight with an analytics specialist and the discussion touched on some of the issues. Some of them were nearly philosophical. What should one look for? What, in fact was an "event"? But in general we concluded that simple analytical tools might make a difference in anticipating a sudden rising of the memes. Politicians might even be interested in using those tools one day. One day. But for Hillary, as for Dan Rather, it may already be too late.


Blogger Peter said...

I beg to differ. The Iowa caucuses were people face-to-face, jabbering about real and imagined likes and dislikes, and who knows what else.

I suppose we could say that the likes and dislikes were engendered from earlier internet sessions but there is no evidence that any single fact or occurrence about Hilary ever dominated the conversation, as it did with the Dan Rather fiasco.

The Clintons have been around almost two decades. Who knows how many separate Hilary impressions we have all been subjected to over the years. Thousands? Tens of thousands? The fact is that people do not like Hilary, do not trust her, and do not want to be subjected to another decade of Clinton celebrity. That's my take anyway.

1/08/2008 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I think there was a defining moment, her evasive answer when questioned about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. It was a glaring reminder that she was a “Clinton”. The Blogshpere made this news item #1 at least where I was reading. The timing of her comments lineup when compared to the Newsfutures chart, by the first week in November she was in free fall.

1/08/2008 06:58:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

There was a video that showed exactly why the font was wrong in the Rather case. I think I found it posted over at Little Green Footballs. I posted that about 100 times over at FreeRepublic on Thursday and Friday. By saturday morning the story had made the leap up to network tv. I'm sure my efforts had little or nothing to do with the propagation of the story. However, it was fun to participate in the process.

When ever you get a chance to be a nail -- take it.

For the want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost;
For the want of a horseshoe a horse was lost;
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For the want of a rider, the message was lost;
For the want of a message, the battle was lost;
For the want of a battle, the war was lost;
For the want of a war, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe's nail.

1/08/2008 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

My job requires me to drive a lot and I heard Rush Limbaugh highlight a story in the Post, I believe, about how Hillary isn't asked the tough questions -- for instance about driver licenses for illegals in NY. Rush did a five minute rift on that -- why don't you guys ask her instead of marveling that she don't get asked?

Well, that night at the debate Tim Russert asked her. I agree with Bob. That started her decline.

My guess is talk radio hammered on this for a week. But that didn't matter as much as the nature of the reply highlighting and confirming suspicions among the voters about the nature of Hillary. And it was surprising that she wasn't prepared to hit a home run when asked. That should be her "core competence."

1/08/2008 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger geoffb said...

My take is that there are often two opposing "opinions" that we have in us. The private one that we actually believe to be true and the public one that we think is what everyone else holds or is the PC one that is correct to express. The public one is molded by the media and those who hold power over our lives. It is what is captured by opinion polls.

The internet allows for the expression of the private opinion without the real world consequences. When enough people see that others believe as they privately do then they will lose the inhibition about expressing that private opinion and the private flips to be the public opinion.

I would put the fall of the Berlin Wall as an early case of this.

This same thing has made for the proliferation of many groupings of people with uncommon interests online. In many ways the entire world now is like a giant city.

1/08/2008 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Buckhead said...

I see thast Geoffb and I think alike.

My take is these internet storms can only occur when there is a large difference between the cultivated image and the reality, analogous to a large potential difference in electricity. The situation is precarious, unstable and ripe for a spark or a leader (in lightning terminology) that will propagate a sudden discharge and restoration of equilibrium. In these internet storms that would be a closer relationship between image and reality.

Hillary's invincibility and inevitability as a candidate has always been pure myth cultivated by the MSM and the Clinton machine. In truth, she has always been a deeply flawed candidate. She is an unappealing, obviously phony, deeply cynical shrewish harridan with the most grating voice in public life besides Gilbert Godfrey. The more she and Bill were in the public eye the more people were reminded why they didn't like them.

In the case of Hillary, Image and reality have become more aligned over the course of a few days.

In both the Hillary and Rather cases what we saw was the rapid collapse of lies.

Once could perhaps analogize to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet Union. Lies that could no longer be sustained in the face of overwhelmingly contrary reality.

The best defense that could be mounted against these type events is to not allow the large potential difference to accumulate in the first place. Honesty really is the best policy. Second, would be to manage the discharge in an orderly manner before you are overtaken by events. See above re: honesty. Third would be tyrannical oppression, which works for a while depending on ruthlessness. Methods 1 and 2 were not available to Hillary! due to her inherently deceitful nature. Option 3 exists only in despotic regimes.

1/08/2008 07:46:00 AM  
Blogger geoffb said...

I should say there is also the case where privately held beliefs, that may or may not be publicly expressible, turn out to conflict with reality. In this case the internet allows these people to also find each other and to find comfort and comradeship together. However since they are denying reality they can spin farther and farther from reality together. This has to be guarded against by acknowledging that there is a larger world out there that is real and that the internet is in the end only words not flesh.

1/08/2008 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I think the big difference between the Rather and Hilary internet storms is that in the Rather case the internet was the catalyst of the storm while in the case of Hilary the internet was just reacting to events taking place in Iowa.

Certainly the corporate media have for some time been pushing Hilary as inevitable. Even Rupert Murdoch was snuzzling up to her as a possible second Tony Blair-like figure. But anyone who reads the left leaning blogs would know how much Hilary is hated there as a triangulating status quo fox posing in the sheep’s clothes of change (actually Obama was not shown much love either on many sites). So the fact that she did not overwhelm Democratic primary voters is not such a surprise. In fact she probably did as well as planned considering that she was going after primarily the older female vote, a constituency known to actually show up at the polls on primary day. The big surprise in Iowa was the Obama convinced so many young and new voters to show up. We will see if this trend continues in New Hampshire (where my mom lives – much to my great chagrin she is voting for Hilary after refusing to consider my pleas to vote for Huck-a-class-warfare).

But don’t count Hilary out just yet. The wealth-loving corporate media will have several weeks to attack Obama and rebuild Hilary before getting on to the big states.

1/08/2008 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I would hasten to add that the publication of Hilary's political obituary is premature.

Obama has caught the wind but it doesn't take much of a second look to see that the guy has zero experience and zero substance.

The Change Mantra sounds good in the rally phase but even Democrats are not stupid enough to buy nothing but air.

1/08/2008 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger always right said...

The only conclusion one can make from this is that there will be even more political pandering to the extreme ends of "nutroots".

We saw the elevation of Markous "Screw Them" Moulitas and such wielding more and more influence, on a grander scale.

Hopefully, any STORM such means created would be able to self-correct by the mass. I just don't know if it will, in a perfect sense. The so-called 48-hr Rule.

People are becoming more polarized, not "centralized" as everybody claims they are.

As for Hillary's debacle in last year's debate (i.e. driver license question), her performance was not the reason. It was Hillary and her campaign's damage-control days afterwards that started the downfall. People assumed theirs is the most sophisticated machine, the continuous fumblings made people question if we can trust their team to handle crises, large and small.

1/08/2008 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Promethea said...

When are the media going to ask Obama and Edwards the hard questions? It's quite frightening to see the very low quality of candidates running for the Democratic ticket. Somehow the public needs to be made aware of the terrible choices facing them.

I'm a registered Democrat, and I hope that Richardson can survive till primary time in my state. Not because I like Richardson, but at least he seems like a *normal politician,* not a preening demagogue or an empty helium balloon.

A perfect storm of public awareness might help avert a Carteresque-style disaster in 2008. And there could be a President even worse than Carter if Obama or Edwards won. Even horrible Hillary is better than those two.

1/08/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Speaking of strange twists --what would happen if both bloomberg and ron paul. made third and fourth party runs for the presidency.

1/08/2008 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger mike said...

Hmm. This is compelling to a degree. But you will have a hard time ever connecting an individual voter's/blogger's "sentiment" to his/her vote.

Even if they agree Clinton is a loser (in any definition). They still may feel she's the least of all losers given the choices (head over heart).

But this is interesting and as I said, compelling to a point.

1/08/2008 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

The storm can catch those who are accustomed to the statelier pace of broadcast media completely unaware. Traditional political consultants, whose plans were geared to the timing of newspaper editions, talk shows, prime time newscasts, etc can be rendered as totally useless by the relentless 24x7 pace of the Internet as the troglodytic French Army was by the Blitzkrieg. Before either Dan Rather or Hillary Clinton could even understand what was happening they were buried.

The MSM started to abandon the Clinton machine some time ago and they never developed the tools to react to react to negative press once they achieved power. They thought they could control it the way they used to. They can't control things the way the Kennedy's do.

Don't miss the devastating WaPo video from Dana Milbank 'All Fired Up and Ready to Bore'

The crash of both Dan Rather and now Hillary Clinton are failures of observation and awareness. Dan was not aware that he could be exposed easily by thousands of amateur experts in days and Hillary isn't Bill and has no entertaining slick surface to her true nature.

This is again a good time to remind those not paying attention to the power of John Boyd's OODA Loop

Military, business or political success has always gone to the best strategists. Those in power tend to miss the technological advances that will one day destroy their power. Remember how big the Internet was when Bill got elected in 1992? The first graphical browser was released in 1993!

When you are in power and busy enjoying it, paradigm shifts are likely to sneak up on you. When Dan and Hillary expect the kind of power and control they used to command to continue they will naturally resist underlings screaming "It's over!! It's over!!"

1/08/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

What a great blog this is! I think geoffb's "public-private" thinking & Buckhead's "lightning analogy" deserve the "Insight of the Day awards. I also think Peter is right about counting out Hillary Clinton. The Empire has every intention to Strike Back, and will have nothing to lose and much to use. Politics is a tumultuous game. Recall Walter Mondale's devastating "Where's the beef?" comeback against Gary Hart's vacuous "New Ideas" campaign in 1984. Obama is a house of cards, more smooth, attractive & likable than the '84 Hart, but just as empty.

Love this blog!

1/08/2008 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Reno Sepulveda said...

I think "destroyed" is a bit premature. As Larry Gatlin sang "It don't matter at all where you've played before California's a brand new game." All signs are encouraging though.

But is it really all that complicated? And how much does the new media really come into play here? Hillary is just plain unlikeable and Limbaugh has been predicting this from the start.

1/08/2008 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Wretchard, very nicely done. Here are some thoughts that spring to mind while reading.

An 'event' is a 'spark', a deviation.

Sparking-frequency during campaign season is high. It's helpful to use the forest-fire analogy, where each human mind is a local node in the forest with its own burn-potential (a value spectrum between 'dry and flammable' to 'wet and retardant'), and the forest itself is the (instantaneous) notional phase-state of the system.

In a real forest, local 'flammables' can only be connected to each other in three-dimensional space. The more intricate the connections, the more likely a spark will turn into a fire. The more intricately each local cluster is connected to another local cluster, the greater the scale of any subsequent fire.

A 'fire' is defined as phase-change, and phase-change is defined as the evolution of a system from one equilibrium to another.

To wit: The attractor representing an equilibrium position is unique and describes a time-independent situation. This gives a phase space point towards which all possible histories converge monotonically. The state of equilibrium is therefore a universal point attractor. The goal of self-organisation is thus the search for new attractors that arise when a system is driven away from its state of equilibrium.

(Hillary Wins) was the previous phase of the system. It was our initial forest, with all the properties described above. We know some event happened which burned down this forest. So what can we say about that?

Unlike a real forest, the same "spark" in a virtual forest can alight spatially-separated regions simultaneously, should these separate regions be plugged into the same channel. Also, if these regions are connected to each other -- clustered -- the resulting fire can amplify just like a wave of light subject to interference, rapidly pushing this localized phase across a threshold and into a new basin of attraction (e.g., "I'm through with Hillary.").

It's interesting to note that in your Dan Rather example, the dry nodes were the conservative nodes. Something else interesting came from an on-the-ground report I read at the National Review about Iowa. This report concluded that Obama won the Iowa caucus because Hillary was nobody's second choice. The forest in which "Hillary Wins" was dry from the start -- it was well-prepared to light up -- just like the conservative blogosphere in the time of Memogate (pro-Bush scrutiny, Media cynicism, and emergent blogger self-awareness, to name the prominent factors).

The internet is all about complexity and simultaneous connection. Before, fires came from two places: Big Media, and personal encounters with candidates. It was like the forest existed on two levels, the top level which caught the big sparks (MSM), and the bottom level where the rest of us resided. Flames caught the kindling of the hoi polloi only if Big Media was first set ablaze, or if the politician worked the "lower spaces" himself, locally, with all the spatial limitations of a real forest.

More: The system becomes critical in the sense that all of the members of the entire system influence each other.

A signal will be able to evolve through the system as long as it is able to find a connected path of above-threshold regions.

Referencing Stuart Kauffman, the internet seems to keep our system right on the edge of criticality. In the blink of an eye, any node -- Buckhead, e.g. -- can catch fire and influence the evolution of the whole system. (Above-threshold regions are another way of saying 'flammable.')

As in real forest fires, once the blaze reaches a certain intensity on the internet, it can "jump the spark gap" to the MSM. Thus, in the Rather example, even the relatively wet MSM was ultimately dried and burned by the evidence. And once MSM nodes starting catching fire, it was all over.

And finally, because I've taken too much space already, I'll end with this:

Tuning can be seen as a directive way for the macrosystem to attempt to influence the behaviour of the microsystem. A controlling intelligence is deemed to be necessary in order to guide the system towards a particular goal. Varying the tuning parameter (the sparking frequency) of the forest fire model represents intervention from outside the system in order to ensure that it heads towards a particular goal.

One goal in a campaign is to make sure your opponent suffers high sparking frequency, so that individual supporters (trees) don't collect into an Opponent-Wins forest.

The second objective is 1) to make your own trees as wet -- and the forest as large -- as possible, 2) to minimize the sparking-frequency of the environment, and, 3) to competently and quickly put out the inevitable fires before criticality is reached.

The communication age, of course, makes goal number one easier (Swift Boat Vets, advertising), and goal number two exponentially harder, for the exact same reasons: information control, and information access, have been given to everyone.

1/08/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/08/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

1/08/2008 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

There was a basic difference between what happened to Hillary and what happened to Rather. Rather’s downfall was the result of the unruly intrusion of objective reality. It was the equivalent of taking a magic marker, putting a big black “X” on the emperor’s behind, and then asking why his great new clothes had not protected his arse. There was only one answer to that. And the next logical step never occurred. The tailor got fired but no one ever seemed to ask what kind of mental condition the emperor and his aides suffered from that enabled them to see something that was not there. In other words, CBS News was wounded but still exists and goes on with it’s pretense of objectivity – i.e., they decided to look for a new tailor, not fire the idiots who hired him and put the emperor in a mental institution. We never got to the next step, described by Bernie Goldberg, where they turn the CBS News headquarters building into a parking garage.

In the case of Hillary, Obama merely tapped into a huge reservoir of anti-Clintonism in the Democratic Party. It was there but was not manifest because there was no alternative. Obama presented an alternative and made no huge mistakes by the simple expedient of not doing much of anything at all except talking in generalities that even Nostrdamous would consider to be too poorly defined to be useful. The Internet merely pointed out that most people were not especially enamoured of her and helped to amplify her flubs. And the Clinton attacks on Obama were part of a well-recognized pattern and were recognized as such.

It was not a “Storm” that sunk her – it was verification that the reports of unusually high humidity in the lower decks of the Hillary Titanic were not only true but somewhat understated. But the Internet was not an iceberg; it did not make the hole.

1/08/2008 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

It would be interesting if somehow the internet stats mentioning Hillary and "loser" could be broken out into leftist sites like Daily Kos and everyone else. An "internet storm" describes one big hurricane, but did Kos and his Kidz throw Hillary under the bus at exactly the same time as everyone else?

What I'm wondering is whether Hillary's inevitability took a hit from the rabid fringes of the Left, or if everyone just simultaneously got sick of her, Left included. If the Kos Left *did* initiate her sudden decline, then that says something about future Dem's having a serious line to toe.

For months, people have been saying that Hillary was pandering to the rabid left - telling them what they wanted to hear - but when push comes to shove (i.e., leaving Iraq) she'd settle back into sanity and ignore them. Maybe they beat her to the punch and decided to ignore her vacillations before she could ignore them and their hyena pack.

I also question whether something is a fait accompli just because it's acknowledged to be a truth on the internet. Most of the normal people I know don't spend nearly as much time on-line as I do and it would probably be a surprise to them to be told that Hillary's goose is cooked to perfection and done for.

If CBS, the NY Times AND Instapundit (or Belmont Club) all agree on something, then that triangulation probably means it's true. But if it's just "the internet" (and which part of the internet, specifically) saying something, then that's usually just a first step towards universal acceptance.

1/08/2008 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

The WSJ has an article entitled Political Markets Foresee Turning Point which raises all the issues of "dry tinder", cascading opinions and why seemingly small events can affect the expectation of the final outcome:

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, pundits are already asking whether Tuesday's vote will ring the death knell for certain candidates. Trading in prediction markets, both real-money betting sites and "play" money markets such as the WSJ Political Marketplace says that it could be.

New Hampshire yields fewer than one percent of the national delegates to the nominating convention. And as Hillary Clinton's travelling press secretary Jay Carson noted of last week's caucuses, "Iowa is so small, it's like a mayor's race in a medium-sized city."

But the polls, prediction markets and pundits all agree this time around that early votes – even in small and unrepresentatively white and rural states – are important for determining the final nominee.

Why are primaries in "small and unrepresentatively white and rural states ... important for determining the final nominee?"

Academic researchers have long been interested in understanding the sources of these momentum effects. One possibility is simply that voters like voting for winners, and so quickly jump on an electoral bandwagon. But recent research by Professor Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff of Brown University suggests that there may be more to it than that.

Looking back to the 2004 primary race, Messrs. Knight and Schiff write in their study that John Kerry's strong performance in Iowa led voters to revise not only their voting intentions, but also their assessments about his likeability, trustworthiness, strength and ability to inspire. The authors suggest that in these small states the voters actually get to know the candidates much more intimately than the rest of us, and so we give their opinions greater weight.

The importance of understanding what I've termed the "storm" mechanism is that it can rise up and pummel Barack Obama -- or anyone for that matter -- too. The WSJ article continues:

Even so, it is hard for Mr. Obama to gain further momentum, as he is widely expected to win easily in New Hampshire, and is better than a nine-in-ten chance of winning this primary. Mrs. Clinton has retained a small lead in national polls, and at this stage, competing forecasts appear to be driven by the extent to which her lead will persist in the face of these early disappointments. Her campaign remains competitive in all of the larger states.

Just as Hillary was vulnerable to the the amplification of the intimate event so is Barack. Some small thing which he might not even be aware of can build up and hit practically overnight. Hillary is not the only one sitting on a pile of dry tinder. My guess is that many candidates are.

1/08/2008 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

What destroyed Hillary Clinton's campaign?

Quite possibly the fact that she possesses all the appeal and charisma of a well-soiled diaper.

buckhead: My take is these internet storms can only occur when there is a large difference between the cultivated image and the reality, analogous to a large potential difference in electricity. The situation is precarious, unstable and ripe for a spark or a leader (in lightning terminology) that will propagate a sudden discharge and restoration of equilibrium. In these internet storms that would be a closer relationship between image and reality.

Great analogy and good overall post. When the disparity between projected and actual reality becomes too great there is a collapse in credibility that few individuals can subsequently overcome. The Internet serves to constantly narrow that gap, much to the discomfort of politicians and other liars.

Curious, is it not, how a machine that has only two binary states can play such a pivotal role in exposing right and wrong?

peter: Obama has caught the wind but it doesn't take much of a second look to see that the guy has zero experience and zero substance.

To paraphrase Deteriorata:

Be assured that a walk through the ocean his soul would scarcely get your feet wet.

always right: People are becoming more polarized, not "centralized" as everybody claims they are.

Is that really a big surprise after SIXTEEN years of Clinton and Bush?

rwe: Rather’s downfall was the result of the unruly intrusion of objective reality.

That may well be the kindest description I've ever seen in print of Rather's self-immolation.

Obama presented an alternative and made no huge mistakes by the simple expedient of not doing much of anything at all except talking in generalities that even Nostrdamous would consider to be too poorly defined to be useful.

It was not a “Storm” that sunk her – it was verification that the reports of unusually high humidity in the lower decks of the Hillary Titanic were not only true but somewhat understated.

That's some very tasty political snarking there, rwe!

1/08/2008 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

These shifts in value-judgment are very common in psychology.

It's helpful to think of communicated value judgments as instances of 'output.'

There are two ways to change 'output': modify the input, or change the algorithm.

Somehow, information about how others process information is enough to change our algorithm and reorient us toward the environment.

1/08/2008 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

And it is our algorithm-state which is wet or dry tender.

1/08/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodriver said...

"The Change Mantra sounds good in the rally phase but even Democrats are not stupid enough to buy nothing but air."

But who among the leading Democrats is not "nothing but air"? Whoever gets nominated from that party will fit that description.

1/08/2008 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard/Buckhead/Kevin --

I don't think this was an Internet storm.

Rather, people just don't like Hillary. She's too much Leona Helmsly and it shows.

But her bigger problem and that of the Democratic Party as a whole is the huge gap between what ordinary people want (the "middle") and what the Party Activists want (the "base"). Which is illustrated by her Driver's License muddling.

In EVERY state where Democrats have granted Drivers Licenses to illegals, it has been disastrous for Dems and deeply unpopular and an issue that can lead to electoral defeat. But the Dem base wants open borders, amnesty, and as many Mexicans in the US as they can encourage. Granting Drivers Licenses to illegals and eroding the idea of citizenship and America itself is goal #1 for Democrat primary voters.

Hillary attempted to straddle the goals of the base, and that of the general electorate, and failed.

Simply put what Democrats WANT to do is deeply unpopular: surrender in Iraq (after we've nearly won). Hug thugs in Tehran and open another Embassy there for more hostages. Surrender in Pakistan. Replace American workers with Mexican ones. Replace America as a nation and culture with meaningless Multiculturalism. And so on.

Hillary having a brain cell or two understood that in the General Election, these positions even with mainstream media support are the Maginot Line of politics. The base has rejected this for decisive defeat in November.

Obama's crowds are filled with young people. He appeals to them deeply. The 2000 Census reveals about 14% of the population 17-26. Another 14% too young to vote (under 17). Everyone else amounts to 72% or so. People with jobs, families, and houses will find Obama's actual positions deeply threatening, unless they are quite wealthy.

Democrats, though they don't know it, are not looking at JFK. Since this is not 1960. They are looking at Walter Mondale or George McGovern.

There is also the racial issue which cuts both ways. Obama has in his own words in his own autobiography reported his hatred of whites. His dislike of white culture and cutting people out of his family who like white culture. His love of Islam. His nutty Black supremacist church and pastor. His stated desire to reduce the amount of black criminals in prison.

For white voters vulnerable to crime (those unable to hire bodyguards or live in gated communities, which is most of them) Obama presents an existential threat domestically.

Ron Paul is done. His racist/conspiracist past has been exposed and he's now in David Duke territory. Bloomberg will simply be the reverse Ross Perot, but with $500 million to spend attacking Republicans I guess.

1/08/2008 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Lever said...

I like Buckhead's idea that

"internet storms can only occur when there is a large difference between the cultivated image and the reality, analogous to a large potential difference in electricity."

When broadcast "spin" was the predominant form of speech in the election cycle, the cultivated image could be manufactured and maintained. The narrowcast, but multiple expressions of individuals' opinions on the internet will make defending these sandcastles of image very difficult.

Another very interesting area where the internet may speed up public opinion may be the U.S. housing market.

As background, a very useful website www.thebubblebuster.com shows the inflation adjusted price of houses in about 30 metropolitan areas from 1975 to 2006.

Looking at the Los Angeles chart, the 1986 - 1989 housing bubble (the blue line), fueled by reckless lending (the pink line) burst in 1989 and took seven years to reach bottom in 1996 (at approximately the same real price as before the bubble).

Many interests did their best to keep that correction from happening, but the spin was, of course, to no avail.

I am interested to see if the 2006 bubble takes seven years to bottom out, or if broader sharing of prior market behavior will accelerate the correction.

The faster correction would be quite a public service, booting out reckless borrowers two or three years earlier, handing reckless lenders their losses sooner rather than later, but best of all allowing the prudent homebuyer (the real victims of the bubble) to buy within their means and enjoy their homes with their families two or three years earlier.

1/08/2008 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Another very interesting area where the internet may speed up public opinion may be the U.S. housing market.

I think the predominant place we will see the lighting effect -- or whatever you wish to call the rapid diffusion of private opinion -- will be in markets. The political market simply provided a dramatic example.

It will be interesting to track these rapid-diffusion events. Some will probably be so small or refer to markets so obscure that the general public won't notice. But others will be giant storms which will have very visible effects.

1/08/2008 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Are these perfect storms only happening in America, or is there evidence of them elsewhere, too?

I'm thinking the change-over in leadership in Canada might have been the result of a storm over their bribery scandal.

I don't see, for example Musharref being thrown out in Pakistan by the same sort of forces although he probably should be. If the phenomena is America-centric, why is that? What is required to overthrow a Hillary or a Dan Rather in the space of a few weeks?

1/08/2008 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...


The US has two things which most Third World countries lack: relatively free political markets and an incomparable communications infrastructure.

The medium to watch for in the Third World and which plays a pivotal role is the cell phone. Cell phones text messaging and word of mouth create their equivalent of the information wave.

1/08/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Wretchard: Are you familiar with what occurred relative to SPAM-driven prices of penny stocks?

For months I was receiving spam of the type that said “Amalgamated Buggy Whips is about to make big move!” These literally were nickel, dime and penny stocks, companies that no one had ever heard of, and I could not figure out why anyone was sending out such spam. I even tracked one of those stocks for a while to see what would happen.

It turned out that spammers were buying up those stocks and then sending out spam saying they were going to jump in price. And then some of them did – because some people heeded the spam advice. And then as soon as that happened, the spammers sold the stock, making a penny or two on each share.

When the SEC figured out what was going on they simply delisted any and all stocks that were “advertised” that way. And the spam e-mails stopped.

As for the housing market, from my perspective the driver was speculators, mostly little guys acting on word of mouth. Back in the heyday of the boom, in 2005, where I live fully 30% of the loans made were to people that had no plans to ever live in the properties. Then there were those who bought places to live in but planned to sell them in a year or so and make a fast buck. I don’t know how these tales of making $20K for signing up for a house you did not want nor could afford affected the creation of the housing bubble, but I think it was the major influence.

Was it Adam Smith that said that market economies depend on access to information? The Internet has helped this incredibly. But it has also created some real problems in that area.

1/08/2008 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...


In that context this post on China's information warfare capabilities may be interesting. The next step to understanding how this process works will probably be "how can they be manipulated?"

1/08/2008 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Also, this Hillary group is allegedly on a mission to destroy Obama. If true it will be interesting to watch how the Clinton Divine Wind squad tries to do it -- and how emergent forces react to their efforts.

1/08/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

On a macro-scale of time, the internet as a corrective system reconciling misinformation to reality may be seen as analog to avaiation's "fly-by-wire" systems.

In this simile the Political and Cultural Leadership would be the ponderous human "pilot" --- intelligent but doomed by reflexes slower than refrigerated peanut butter --- trying to maneuver an aircraft that is evolving in mid-flight to an increasingly unstable configuration... forward swept wings, multi-vector thrusters, asymmetric empennage, variable-friction turbulence inducing panels.

The Internet blogosphere is an evolving system capable of resolving (a) the buffeting forces acting on the aircraft ("reality") with (b) the flight control signals coming from the "pilot" and (c) the increasing instability of the airframe. Essentially, it is a non-partisan system, to the extent that truth and facts are non-partisan. The Caveat then is for anyone diddling with truth or facts to beware that sooner or later his misbehavior is going to get him "hoist on his own petard," whatever a petard is.

The analogy sorta falls down when you consider that the "fly-by-wire" system in an F-22 raptor rarely decides it wants to take a side trip to Sam's Club when the alleged pilot thought the vector was for a warm beach in the Bahamas.

Dang. I used to could spreek Engrish.

1/08/2008 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Straight 8 said...

I think Hillary's hysterical emphasis on experience, particularly her won, as the most important qualification for a candidate points to an almost sinister call for a ruling class with priestly powers.

There's no question experience and proven leadership are necessary for the job, and desired in candidates.

However, the histrionic flapping of her C.V., padded with Bill's credentials, alarmed the herd, and the herd moved (as herds will upon being pressured by a perceived threat.)

Just a thought from someone admittedly unqualified to post to this highly esteemed forum.

1/08/2008 07:15:00 PM  

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