A compilation of governance tools that
might deserve a programmer’s attention

The Revolution will be Engineered

  1. Assertion Processor – RSS feeds of facts that matter
  2. Constituents’ Issues Assessment and blog archives of comments
  3. Explicit vertical and horizontal linkages among like-minded individuals
  4. A citizen-based Administration elected by a citizen-based campaign
  5. Citizen-based (not faith-based) programs for training, jobs & mutual support
  6. Peer-to-peer vigilance through our personal sensors and shared video archive
    1. of terrorism
    2. polling place coercion
    3. brutality by armed and unarmed bureaucrats

1. Assertion Processor for the Great Centrist Party - Part D

Danny Ayer to the Rescue – The W6 Vocabulary & the QuestionGarland

Ben Hammersley connected the dots between my Assertion Processor plea and Danny Ayers’ brilliant QuestionGarland solution. First, Danny Ayers’ concept:

Think of something. Call it an idea. Draw a circle, and label it with the name of that idea. From that circle draw 6 radial arrows. Label them who, what, where, when, how, why. At the end of those lines write an appropriate label : i.e. for who write the name of a person or group. Etc etc. That’s the Question Garland.

…I reckon if this vocab is used somewhere like a weblog, then you’re halfway to the ‘Assertion Processing’ Ben and Britt have been talking about. E.g. (quoting Britt) “Yesterday he pointed out an important truth: no one’s going to be elected by hating Bush.” In the first part of the sentence there’s a link to a statement – woo-hoo! a URI:

http://doc.weblogs.com/2003/12/14#powerFromThePeople.

In the second part there’s a proper noun, ‘Bush’. So if we already had Dubya in our person table, we could automatically extract the simple statement:

#powerFromThePeople w6:who #Bush

It doesn’t capture the human nuance, what’s actually being asserted, but the basic ‘related’ is there.

Aha! who, what, where, when, how, why! The prime directive(s) of journalism. When Ben and I first discussed the Assertion Processor at the Intermezzo Café in Philly, we too felt that the whowhatwherewhenhowwhy architecture was a guide to the answer, but we were thinking less specifically than Danny, and therefore less usefully, IMHO.

Commenting on Danny’s structure, Ben remarked:

Continuing on with the Assertion Processor idea, I think Danny’s contribution may have cracked it for me with his introduction of the W6 vocabulary.

To recap: Britt wants a system to aggregate assertions about political figures, in order to create a database to, well, in the old phrase, fact-check their asses. I posited the way to do this would in in RDF, naturally, and that there are really three different levels of information we can retrieve from a news story:

1. Data about the story itself, as a separate object. Its author, its date of publication and so on.

This is usually supplied, or could be without fuss, automatically at the point of creation.

2. The Who, Where and When of the story. These are either proper nouns (George Bush, Washington, Republican Party), or are roughly parsable dates (September 11, 03/04/76, Last Tuesday)

These could be retrieved automatically with, among other things, fancy regular expressions. Shouldn’t be too hard, anyway.

3. The Why, What and How of the stories.

Tricky. Why, and How, I would suggest, are too complicated a set of potential actions, with too many ways to express them in natural language, to make their collation worthwhile or efficient. In other words, let’s leave them out and let the reader do some work.

And here we are, back at the beginning again. The complications of our shared frailty causes us to seek truth when there is none (except among the prematurely convinced, but that’s another rant). I agree with Ben that there is no truth to be discerned here, but the utility is lost if we don’t encourage articles to assert the truth or biases they think they’re exposing.

I can’t imagine some grand namespace in the sky that reveals the “truth” to us by showering us with the inconsistencies of our enemies. The point here is that there are no external enemies. As Pogo said so long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It’s an assertion processor! There is no way to mediate in the questionable processes by which biased authors, editors and reviewers populate assertion feeds to sell their biases to the rest of us. Just as there’s still no consensus on Sir TBL‘s dream of a semantic web to deliver us from ignorance (I know I got that wrong, but you get the drift).

Who predicted Google? How about this new Vivisimo‘s results for Assertion Processor, which discovers the themes embedded in results themselves and organizes the results according to that discovered “namespace”? See how it discovers that I’ve been blathering on about assertion processors, leavened by Ben Hammersley’s treatment whereby he applies actual knowledge and perspective to the problem, which has never slowed me down! (Be sure to click Vivisimo’s [preview] link in each result for an instant glimpse of the found page).

The Proof is in the Put-In

So I’m less focused on the establishment of an orderly system than I am on the set of tags to encourage liars to streamline their biases: None of us is to be trusted, my precioussss.

My hopeful cynicism suggests that we embrace and extend Danny Ayers’ QuestionGarland (who, what, where, when, how, why) with some additional tags to let the expositors sell us more efficiently on the outrageousness of
their assertions. What is there about some otherwise lifeless lump of ASCII text that causes it to be worth the author’s effort? Without some animating force, it’s not worth our time either. Those elements of outrage must include the kinds of data that excites people at a cocktail party or sells books: sex and money and intrigue:

  • <moneyPaid>
  • <payor>
  • <payee>
  • <scapegoat>
  • <wretchedExcess>
  • <cynicalGreed>
  • <whiningVictim>
  • <statuteViolated>
  • <wrongedSpouse>
  • <fiduciaryViolation>
  • <rampantConflictOfInterest>

I’m kidding around a little but not a lot. We are drawn to the media based on its power to push our buttons. There is a characteristic to outrage as there is to beauty and grace. Just because they’re hard to describe is no excuse to abandon the quest.

These are the elements that journalists strive for even as they attempt to push their master narrative of omniscience and objectivity–the dominant myths of the press, as Jay Rosen is so masterfully teaching us.

Jay, could you put an oar in here? I’m sure there’s some small set of tags that captures the traditional six Perry White questions included in Danny Ayers’ QuestionGarland but also feeds out the crucial elements of cynicism, greed, Pollyanna optimism and self-victimization that marks our delusional responses to life’s challenges.

12:02:58 AM    

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