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July 24, 2007

Gaming Wikipedia
Posted by Patrick at 02:13 PM *

From reliably-levelheaded SF fan and professional Eurodiplomat Nicholas Whyte, more evidence that Wikipedia is being gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas. In this case, a dingbat from New Zealand eager to persecute those he determines to be following “the homosexual agenda.” (Follow Whyte’s links, and the links from those links.)

Whyte’s most searching point, buried in his own comment section, is that the system appears to not only allow people to be banned for alleged sockpuppetry on no good evidence, it also further punishes them for attempting to appeal the ban—the crime of “self-confessed block evasion,” i.e., trying to log in from an unblocked IP in order to protest one’s innocence.

Ironically, Wikipedia itself features a reasonably decent summary of Kafka’s The Castle:

The narrator, K., is a land surveyor summoned to the castle to perform a survey. K. arrives in the village, governed by the castle, under the impression he is to report to a castle authority. He is quickly notified that his castle contact is an official named Klamm, who, in the introductory note, informs K. he will report to the Mayor (also known as the Council Chairman, depending on the translation).

The Mayor informs K. that, through a mixup in communication between the castle and the village, he was requested erroneously. Trying to accommodate K., the Mayor offers him a position in the service of the schoolteacher as a janitor. Meanwhile, K., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy, and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach Klamm, who is not accessible.

The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying, quite elaborately at times, the actions of the officials, even though they do not appear to know what or why the officials do what they do. The villagers simply defend it.

K’s problem, no doubt, is that he failed to master the intricacies of Checkuser. He just wanted to survey land, poor fool.
Comments on Gaming Wikipedia:
#1 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Wikipedia has two mechanisms for appealing a block that do not require you to avoid the block:

* Blocked users are still allowed to edit their user talk pages. There is a "request for unblocking" code you can place on this page that will allow you to make an appeal.

* There is a mailing list of administrators who will listen to requests for unblocking.

I do agree that they are often too quick to block for sockpuppeteering, though. I've seen it happen on occasions when I've been very unsure of the supposed evidence.

#2 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 03:26 PM:

Regarding the plot summary... undoubtedly somebody will soon attempt to have it deleted, as recently happened to the plot summary of Les Misèrables.

#3 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 03:27 PM:

The wikiwienies strike again.

Perhaps some other user can block this person for advocating the homophobic agenda.

#4 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:05 PM:

Perhaps some other user can block this person for advocating the homophobic agenda.

Oh, no. He has external sources for that, so it must be true. That and pictures of his wang, which wikipedia always encourages.

#5 ::: melissa ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Somewhat related... I play on a team in the Stevens Point Trivia contest - question read on the radio, limited time to answer, points per question based on how many teams get it right. This last year, one of the teams started changing pages on Wikipedia to either remove the right answer or add in a wrong answer. (ie, if the question asked for the name of a dog in a movie, either the name would be removed from the page, or a false name would be added)

The data would be changed back pretty quickly, but not within the 6-8 minutes we would have to answer a question.

I've yet to decide if I'm deriding them for this, or admiring the way they found to game the system....

#6 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:41 PM:

"Wikipedia is being gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas"?

What happened to "Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence"?

I'm not saying a bad thing hasn't happened. All I'm saying that sensationalist generalisations about Violence Inherent in the System got old about two years ago.

I'm a Wikipedia admin - I know all too well that we're regrettably humans. And yes, block-happy and sick and tired of the millionth sockpuppet of some random vandal and as a result prone to making mistakes. But note that we can and will listen to reason if the evidence speaks for itself.

Then, a few random thoughts for people who start thinking "oh, but there's this obscure rule that means that you can't be unblocked anyway":

1) Pulling random rules out of the hat is wikilawyering, plain and simple.

2) It doesn't matter if the rules are being obscurely applied. A wrong block is a wrong block. If people agree you got blocked for a valid reason, that's good. If people don't agree you got blocked for a valid reason, it takes a considerable amount (read: too much) of rule-throwing to get out of that.

- User:Wwwwolf

#7 ::: Leva ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:43 PM:

The wikiweenies make decisions that just leave me going, "Bwah?" sometimes. One example I'm personally aware of is when they banned Station 8 (www.s8.org) as a source for citing information about Disney's Gargoyles.

The reason given: link spamming. Essentially, too many links to one source and "members of the community" kept putting the links back when they were edited out.

Station 8 has been around in various incarnations since the dawn ages of the internet. Most of the links in question were to articles and entrees by Greg Weisman, the ***creator*** of the series, who has a very large blog-like section on the site called Ask Greg. Yes, lots of links. Yes, lots of canon, verifiable information there.

Mind, there isn't another source on the Web that anyone can cite or quote that isn't derivative of Station 8. But Station 8 is now blacklisted and can't be used as a source.

#8 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:49 PM:

melissa@5: The data would be changed back pretty quickly, but not within the 6-8 minutes we would have to answer a question.

You could go to an article, immediately go to the history, and then click on whatever version just before the contest started. You could then see the entire article the way it was before anyone gamed your contest.

#9 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 04:53 PM:

#9 - tried appealing? With those exact same reasonings? You know, posting to blogs doesn't help, but we have tons of different channels to appeal. Weird stuff happens. All we can do is to point out the weirdnesses, within the site.

On a contrary example, links to MobyGames were ultimately not considered spam, even when a large bunch of them were added by alleged co-founder of the site. It all comes down to what is useful and how the links are ultimately used...

#10 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:03 PM:

(Egh, I meant to point to #7, sorry) - Oh, it appears the debate has more to do with the fact that spammers used the site as a redirector.

Also, there's the separate issues on whether or not the site can be (at markup level) linked to, and whether it can be used as a source... A lot of material is used as sources even when they're not linkable (or even exist in the web). To me, the correct action would be to retain the links to the site, with the note that the links can't be accessed directly due to the site being in the spam blacklist.

#11 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:06 PM:

WWWWolf, I think the "people with bad agendas" refers to the homophobe who got some admins who were block-happy and sick and tired of the millionth sockpuppet of some random vandal to block a legitimate editor because they couldn't be bothered to look past their nose.

At which point, admins become unthinking block-bots of whatever user submits a request.

In short, some user was a bigot, and some admin failed to do their job as filter between the request for block and the actual block.

As far as "listening", the post explains that trying to protest the block received further punishment for "self confessed block evasion".

Which means yet another admin also failed to do their job as well, and simply acted as a rule-bot. i.e. Oh, this person is blocked, and he tried to post from a different IP, block that IP too.

What is consistently lacking in these wikipedia issues are admins acting with any sort of judgement that distinguishes them from bot scripts that mindlessly apply the rules and refuse to apply common sense.

#12 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:09 PM:

#6:

"Wikipedia is being gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas"?

What happened to "Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence"?

This is silly. I'm obviously not "attributing malice" to Wikipedia. I am arguing that its present rule set acts to disproportionately empower a small number of malicious people. I'm on record as praising the basic ideals and aims of Wikipedia. Its founder is a good friend of one of my best friends.

If you want to argue that there are no malicious people among the thousands who contribute to Wikipedia, do feel free. Alternately, you might consider the possibility that you've deployed the wrong maxim for this particular situation.

"I'm not saying a bad thing hasn't happened. All I'm saying that sensationalist generalisations about Violence Inherent in the System got old about two years ago."

Actually, it's not really clear what you're saying, since you seem to be shifting from sentence to sentence. Certainly nobody here has made any "sensationalist generalisations about Violence Inherent in the System". To point out that a particular set of rules has a bad effect is not to make a "sensationalist" claim, nor is it a claim of inherency. To say nothing of the matter of "violence," which (again) nobody brought up until you did. Do you actually know what words like "inherent" mean, or are you just stringing together cliches of Internet argument and Monty Python quotes in a half-conscious way?

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:18 PM:

As for #9, "tried appealing? -- we've been here before, too. Criticism of Wikipedia--its processes and its results--is not solely the privilege of those who immerse themselves in its procedures.

Ultimately Wikipedia stands and falls on its usefulness and the extent to which the general public respects it. It is indeed useful. It also loses respect points every time behavior like this gets displayed to the wider public. Yes, Wikipedia is run by volunteers, who are human and prone to all the ills to which flesh is heir. That's praiseworthy. It's not a magic amulet against any and all criticism. In particular, when volunteers create and sustain injustice, their status as volunteers is a pretty weak defense. Lynch mobs are also made up of volunteers; that doesn't make their behavior, and its results, into something we ought to admire.

#14 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:35 PM:

OT, but coming from PNH's last link: Live Journal is apparently down, again.

#15 ::: Leva ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:40 PM:

#9 -- I believe the link you posted to demonstrates the point nicely that many decisions made by wikipedia make me go, "Bwah?" The site in question was NOT the source of spam and was apparently banned because of the behavior of a look-alike site scraping content; the site owner was willing to fix the problem (and I believe, may have done so); station 8 is still banned. It is *the* source for canon, accurate information on Gargoyles.

#16 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:43 PM:

And I'm arguing that for the small number of malicious people there are a giant bunch of people who don't want utter sheer insanity to happen.

The rules get changed through consensus - if people aren't aware of bad stuff, nothing gets done about it. The right place to complain about this is within Wikipedia. I've seen altogether too many people complain about stuff in their blogs rather than taking the lead and changing things from within.

Okay, I admit I whine about this stuff in my blog, but at least I try to bring these topics up in Wikipedia too.

I'm sorry for bringing things up without any introductionary words whatsoever - usually not in my habits to present an allegory without making it very clear what I'm commenting on. Anyway...

My point is that in my opinion, blogging about this accomplishes nothing, especially if you're trying to point out that this isolated incident is utterly and definitely part of the larger problem. Wikipedia is a giant big mess of isolated incidents, and trying to generalise something out of it gives somewhat conflicting results.

So with this view, I hope the random Pythonesque peasant seems a bit more in place. There's always someone who cries that Stuff Is Wrong; We know the Stuff Is Wrong. The Stuff is also (simultaneously, in a completely different location) Completely Right. And tomorrow, probably the other way around.

(And here comes another big point of mine:)

All I've seen over the last few years is that people have pronounced Definitive Verdicts on various areas of Wikipedia. Every single time, I have to look at the sweeping allegation for a long time, consider what the most correct response would be, and all I can say is "It's not that simple."

And that's really all I can say about this particular incident, as it relates to the whole giant mess that we have for rules. This is, ultimately, an isolated incident - whether you want to categorise it as one or not. A lot of isolated factors led these people to these situations.

Wikipedia's problem is that we're not consistent, policy-wise. We like to think that we are, but that's not true. Conversely, the big problem of people who complain about Wikipedia is that they make sweeping generalisations about a site that's neither generalisable nor sweeping very well. People who complain about Wikipedia always seem to forget to mention the exact things that lead them to these annoying dilemmas of theirs. Yes, in perfect world, they wouldn't matter - but we're not consistent and knowing the past is very important in order to assess the situation.

And I'm sorry for not being particularly consistent myself - it's past midnight here. I'm really confused today and I hope I made at least some sense.

#17 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:51 PM:

All I've seen over the last few years is that people have pronounced Definitive Verdicts on various areas of Wikipedia.

Here's one of those verdicts: Wikipedia thinks that danah boyd does not know how to spell her own goddamn name.

Go ahead, explain why it's not that simple.

#18 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:55 PM:

"Criticism of Wikipedia--its processes and its results--is not solely the privilege of those who immerse themselves in its procedures."

You appear to believe in this sort of flow of information: 1) make a Big Stink, 2) hope someone notices it, 3) hope the people involved notice the people who noticed the Big Stink, 4) hope the people in charge notice the people involved who noticed the people who noticed the Big Stink, then 5) The whole thing is settled through an administrative fiat from the Very Top of the Command Chain.

In Wikipedia, however, we fix the process this way: 1) Someone tells people that things are wrong. 2) People debate. 3) Things get fixed.

Of course debating about Wikipedia's flaws isn't the sole right of the Wikipedians themselves. The thing that matters is that fixing the process is the responsibility of Wikipedians themselves.

In other words, practical ideas for improvement are much better than exposing the injustices and expecting people to howl in terror.

#19 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:58 PM:

#17 - It's not that simple, because someone forgot to either provide a source or edit the article to remove an obviously incorrect statement.

(After all these years, people forget the correct answer for the question "Why does the article X have the error Y?" is "Because you didn't fix it." =)

#20 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 05:59 PM:

"Being gamed with increasing success" doesn't seem to me to be a sweeping generalization.

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:05 PM:

People who complain about Wikipedia always seem to forget to mention the exact things that lead them to these annoying dilemmas of theirs.

Dude, that's like a sweeping generalization, and after looking into it for a long time, I can only say, it's not that simple.

For instance, this particular post lists the exact things that led to the problem. That this post wasn't made on wikipedia, in the proper form, on the proper page, with the proper carbon copy, hasn't got anythign to do with whether or not the problem exists.

That someone tried to protest the block and got more punishment, seems to justify the need for posting problems off of wikipedia.

That admins like you come here and howl in protest about people making "sweeping generalizations" for criticizing wikipedia about a specific incident makes me wonder what the hell you would do if this had been posted on wikipedia. Deleted the page, deleted its history, and blocked everyone involved for a week?

How about you listen to what is actually being complained about rather than viewing any and all criticism as some global attack or sweeping generalization about wikipedia?

#22 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:05 PM:

#20 - no, but "people with agendas" sounds awful lot like "Someone(tm) is Behind This Thing, and They're Out to Get Us(tm)(r)(c)".

When, in truth, it's either 1) everyone backstabbing everyone else, or 2) someone in charge doesn't understand the policy as well as they should.

#23 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:06 PM:
expecting people to howl in terror

For a guy who's advocating practical approaches to problems, your rhetoric isn't very constructive. Are you attempting to persuade, or just howling, yourself?

#25 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:07 PM:

OT reply to #14: LJ, 6A, and 2nd Life having outages. No power in San Francisco.

#26 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:09 PM:

22: "People with agendas" sure appears, in this context, to mean precisely (and accurately), people with agendas.

#27 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:13 PM:

Actually, you know, that came out a little harsher than necessary, and yet not harsh enough. It takes very little effort to find evidence, over and over, that Wikipedia has decided that contempt for authority is a guiding principle.

It happened when the SFWA just wasn't credible as an information source on American science-fiction and fantasy writers.

It happened when Teresa Nielsen Hayden just wasn't credible as an information source on disemvowling.

And, as I said already, apparently danah boyd doesn't know how to spell her own goddamn name. Which charge you have just agreed is pretty much accurate. I mean, you couldn't have done better to show the point I was trying to make if I'd slipped you twenty bucks and given you explicit instructions on how to reply! She has tried to fix it, and been jerked around because Wikipedia Law says that danah michele boyd is not a sufficiently good source of information on dahan michele boyd.

There are more examples, I'm sure, but I find it interesting that all I needed to do to find those three was to open my front door in the morning. How many more could I find if I actively searched, I wonder.

These are real problems. And every time they come up, there's always someone to complain that the criticism does not count because it is insufficiently genteel, and these barbarians have the gall to make suggestions without even once considering putting their lives on hold to devote themselves to learning the vast unwritten canon that is Wikipedia Law.

If you're trying to build an encyclopedia edited by people who value politeness over correctness, then you're doing a heckuva job.

#28 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:16 PM:

WWWWolf @ 19 - Sorry, but that's not the case. The page in question is now the subject of formal mediation because secondary sources such as the New York Times are being cited as more reliable than primary sources.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_mediation/Danah_Boyd

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Bill @ 25

Thanks - I'll pass the word in other locations. That's got to be making things truly wonderful there.

#30 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:18 PM:

That admins like you come here and howl in protest about people making "sweeping generalizations" for criticizing wikipedia about a specific incident makes me wonder what the hell you would do if this had been posted on wikipedia. Deleted the page, deleted its history, and blocked everyone involved for a week?

Deferred them to the correct place to complain about? You know, like I always try to do?

I guess I missed the noticeboard message where Admins Like Me were told to be vindicative, and I will bring up the issue with them shortly - but if you specifically want me to buy a new pair of jackboots, that can be arranged. I hate them, though - always leave my feet sore. Of course, I can't tell before I've fitted them.

How about you listen to what is actually being complained about rather than viewing any and all criticism as some global attack or sweeping generalization about wikipedia?

Oh, I was just thinking aloud. If no one likes it, I guess I can gladly shut up. I'll just make my own blog post. Obviously, not as world-changing as this one, but since no one reads my blog anyway, it's of no consequence.

And I definitely want to apologise for everyone inconvenienced by a random passer-by who has the chronic inability to shut up.

#31 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:18 PM:

"people with agendas" sounds awful lot like "Someone(tm) is Behind This Thing, and They're Out to Get Us(tm)(r)(c)".

What????

I already explained in #11 that "people with agendas" refers to the guy who requested the block. He is, apparently, some kind of homophobe, and his request to have the user block includes an accusation that the user is following the "homosexual agenda". The homophobe requests the user be blocked for being a sockpuppet, which he isn't.

The homophobe is teh person with the agenda.

He gamed the wikipedia system by getting someone blocked for being a sockpuppet, when the person wasn't a sockpuppet, and the real motivation behind his request for a block is that he is a homophobe, and he viewed the user as in his way.

Have you read any of this thread? Or did you just see a complaint about wikipedia and start thrashing about with your sweeping generalizations.


#32 ::: Barry Freed ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Um, speaking for myself, though I know I'm not alone, I have far better things to do with my time. Hint: Reading comprehension is your friend. And what's with all the hostility, huh? Project much? Sucks to be you, eh? So just have a nice hot mug of STFU and, uh, get a life. 'k? Buh-bye.


Oops, sorry, wrong thread.

#33 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:28 PM:

I was always afraid that this day would come: I've officially lost my marbles, don't know what is going on, and despite my sincere attempt to the contrary, managed to cause much more harm than good.

It's clear that I need a long holiday. This just isn't working.

I'd definitely like to appeal to the readers of this thread to apologise for wasting everyone's time, energy and disk space.

Ban me if you think it does any good. I've deserved it for being a certified 100% genuine idiot.

#34 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:29 PM:

WWWWolf: I guess I missed the noticeboard message where Admins Like Me were told to be vindicative

Funny how vandals don't need a noticeboard to tell them to vandalize wikipedia, and yet they do it in spades.

And yet, when an admin misbehaves, he apparently could only have done so because "Someone is behind this thing and they're out to get us" or because the noticeboard informed all admins to be ijiots.

Hey, I got an idea, how about some admin failed to do his job and no one needed to tell him to do it?

How about an admin failed to exercise judgement and no one needed to give him a memo telling him to do it?

You can try to reframe a specific complaint about a specific case into some sort of nutcase conspiracy theory about wikipedia, but I'll just point out the only one who used those sorts of phrases like "they're out to get us" was you.

Or, to sum up:

Some admins screwed up.

Suck it up.

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:29 PM:

WWWWolf:

The previous thread here on Wiki's policies (or lack thereof):
Grep That Spool

Read it now, before you get any deeper in the hole.

#36 ::: Leva ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:30 PM:

Teresa, I think you have a few new entrees for flamer bingo. ;-)

#38 ::: Barry Freed ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:35 PM:

Aw shit,

Now I feel like Dick Cheney on a canned-pheasant hunt (if Dick Cheney had a conscience).

WWWWolf,

Go to the main page of this blog, about three or so posts down to the one entitled, "Flamer Bingo."

#39 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:40 PM:

xeger, I'd found that article, although not the running tally.

If things don't look up soon I'm going to be forced into actually doing what I'm supposed to be doing, darn it. (Second worst thing about being self employed: the quality of the supervisory staff is just awful. The worst thing is one never gets that grand feeling of release when one comes home from work).

#40 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Anticorium @ 27 "unwritten canon that is Wikipedia Law."
Well, I don't think you can actually fault them for unwritten or unpublished law. Jesuitical hairsplitting over minor arcana, perhaps, but it's all written down. On the other hand, I'm not an admin, so maybe there are esoteric writings to go with all of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:XYZZY .

#41 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:45 PM:

As I mentioned on the last Wikipedia post to ML, my boyfriend and I both got banned on Wikipedia for sockpuppetry. Why? Same IP address. Obviously we must be the same person!

#42 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:53 PM:

WWWWolf...

I'm afraid it isn't *that* simple, either. I don't know anything about the article in question here, but I have seen this happen before:

* Article contains incorrect information, or lacks critical information
* Subject of article publishes information that corrects this oversight on blog or other similar medium
* Somebody adds the information to wikipedia, sourced to the blog
* The change is immediately reverted because "blogs aren't reliable sources".

Yes, I know this isn't supported by policy (among other things, I'm an active editor of WP:V -- I recently managed to get consensus for a change to the definition of allowable self-published sites, from "professional researcher" to "established expert" which seems much more appropriate to me), but it is an attitude that's prevalent, and if somebody isn't prepared to spend hours fighting it, that's where it's likely to stay.

But I do get your point: things will only change in wikipedia if we take the time to make those changes. But I'm not sure I agree that discussing what changes are required *here* isn't productive. The last time we discussed wikipedia here, my attention was drawn to the fact that articles were being deleted inappropriately. Since then, I've spend as much time as I can spare at Articles for Deletion, arguing against deletion in the cases I feel the articles are worth saving. I haven't always been successful, but only last week I managed to save this article from deletion. OK, so I failed with "Wedge-type character" (admittedly somewhat of a lost cause to start with, but I felt it was worth a shot), but it doesn't always work that way.

#43 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 06:59 PM:

Err... my last post was in response to WWWWolf @19. You know, I was *sure* I'd refreshed the thread recently...

#44 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:20 PM:

There's a difference between "Wikipedia doesn't think danah boyd knows how to spell her own name" and "there is debate on Wikipedia over how to represent names with unconventional orthographies". I'd say that the latter seems rather more accurate.

#45 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:20 PM:

I can't stop crying. I promised to shut up, but I have to say that I feel absolutely horrible for failing extremely spectacularly to make things better. It is not often that I have to admit, from the bottom of my heart, that I really wish I hadn't opened my big mouth whence the words of infinite clueless spring forth from.

(Despite of the appearances, I'm most emphatically not being sarcastic this time. I really am dumb and admit it, plain and simple. The unusual word choices are here just to make it easier for me to write this. Sorry if they make me look less sincere.)

I feel it is this spectacular failure for which in particular I have to apologise, much more than I ever have. (And sorry if this doesn't read what I think it should read - my grammar already went to sleep.)

I'm a horrible person. Yes, I really need to learn to read - all over again. I really need to learn to stop talking about things I haven't got the clue about. And leave this "debating" stuff for people with stronger minds.

Once again, sorry and good night.

#46 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Executive summary: one Wikipedia user was a jerk; two admins made mistakes; the first admin went on holiday and the second, on being provided with evidence of the mistake, has since unblocked the user in question. (At least the first, I'm not yet sure about the 77.etc IP address but discussion is ongoing.) I understand the second admin will follow up with the first admin on their return.

Patrick, my impression is that at least the vast majority, of Making Light posts about Wikipedia have been "Look, they've done something stupid *again*" in nature. This tendency creates the impression that no matter how much admiration you have for its ideals, in practice you think that it completely sucks. I honestly can't tell whether or not that's the impression you want to give; if not, you could counter the impression by occasionally posting or commenting about the times Wikipedia gets things right. In which case "Yay for them fixing it but it shouldn't be broken in the first place" would be less effective than "Shame it was broken in the first place but yay for them fixing it."

The other reason I'd encourage this is that if there are a dozen posts about how it's useless trying to fix Wikipedia, it'll convince good people not to try; whereas if there a dozen posts about how trying to fix Wikipedia is productive, it'll convince good people to try -- and on the whole, Wikipedia will work a lot better and be a much better product if good people try to fix it.

#47 ::: Dori ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:39 PM:

For those curious about that LJ post, a cached version can be read here. Unfortunately, all its links are to other LJ sites (i.e., they're unavailable as well), but it may be better than nothing.

#48 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:43 PM:
(After all these years, people forget the correct answer for the question "Why does the article X have the error Y?" is "Because you didn't fix it." =)
And, on the IMDB, the correct answer for the question "Why doesn't it say that X is playing Y?" is "Because you haven't added it."
#49 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:54 PM:

While I'm waiting for LiveJournal to return so I can read up on this thing, I just want to admire this truth: "...In particular, when volunteers create and sustain injustice, their status as volunteers is a pretty weak defense. Lynch mobs are also made up of volunteers...

Frankly, I'm no longer particularly surprised by the depths to which anti-gay-rights types will stoop. Just wait till you get a load of what's coming down the pike as the Matthew Shepherd Act is pressed in Congress. I'm starting to regard this sort of stuff as an untreated infection that will eventually go away once the patient gets off his ass and gets treatment.

But that's just a general comment. As I say, I have not yet been able to read up on this current mess.

#50 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:55 PM:

Which reminds me, some Wikipedian has decided that North Korea has only made forty films, simply because that's the number of North Korean films with entries in the IMDB. Of course, for an obscure field like North Korean cinema the IMDB is entirely dependent on information submitted by users, and North Korean cinema is largely unknown outside the country, so the number of titles listed in the database doesn't prove anything.

#51 ::: Arwel ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:55 PM:

Zeborah @ 46: Yes, I unblocked the 77 IP address myself, about 4 hours ago...

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 08:56 PM:

WWWWolf, everyone has a bad day. No harm done and no offense taken. Still, I do want to note in response to:

"people with agendas" sounds awful lot like "Someone(tm) is Behind This Thing, and They're Out to Get Us(tm)(r)(c)".
--that I wasn't claiming that anyone was "out to get us." I was observing that one of the people calling for the block appeared to be doing so out of frank bigotry--the "bad agenda" to which I referred--and that the Wikipedia system evidently enabled him to, at least for a while, get away with it. Nowhere did I claim that some postulated "they" is "out to get" some hypothesized "us." My argument is that Wikipedia's rule set is operating to disproportionately empower a small number of people of ill will. You're free to argue that I'm wrong about that, but don't attribute to me arguments that I don't believe and didn't make.

As for the idea that "blogging about this accomplishes nothing," obviously I disagree. I'm well aware that there are smart people involved in Wikipedia, trying very hard to make it work. That's important. You know what else is important? The rest of the world. Your public. That would be us--the people who actually use Wikipedia every day. We're your reputation. Raging at us to not have opinions about the spectacular ziggurat you're raising in the middle of our commons is about as sensible as demanding that the ocean be less wet. We're going to have opinions and we're going to express them. You can brush them off as the views of uninformed non-insiders who refuse to master the Wikipedia Science of Mental Health With Key To the Scriptures--or, alternately, maybe you can extract some useful information from them. Like, for instance, when four people tell you you're drunk, lie down. And when Wikipedia increasingly has a reputation among non-insiders as being someplace where you're liable to be treated unjustly, maybe that's useful information to have. I would think.

#53 ::: Arwel ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:07 PM:

Gag@50: So why didn't you take out that line? Until just now that North Korean cinema article had only ever been edited by one person -- which is in itself a reason to treat the articles' accuracy with care. Claiming they'd only ever produced 40 films looks very like "original research" which should never have been allowed to stand anyway, as there were no citations, which was grounds enough for me to take that line out.

#54 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Zeborah #46: How interesting is an article "Wikipedia has a reasonable article about X"? Man bites dog is news.

What you need to worry about is when "Look at this new stupid thing Wikipedia did" is no longer news.

#55 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:18 PM:

Zeborah, #46: "Patrick, my impression is that at least the vast majority, of Making Light posts about Wikipedia have been 'Look, they've done something stupid *again*' in nature."

Zeborah, if you can find a single place in my post atop this thread where I made a generalization about Wikipedia, or "they", having "done something stupid," I will mail you a shiny new dime.

My entire point has been that flaws in Wikipedia's ruleset are empowering a small number of persons of ill will. If you think that amounts to a categorical claim that Wikipedia has overall "done something stupid again," you're mistaken.

You claim that "[I]f there are a dozen posts about how it's useless trying to fix Wikipedia, it'll convince good people not to try; whereas if there a dozen posts about how trying to fix Wikipedia is productive, it'll convince good people to try". In fact what convinces people "not to try" is the fact that practically all of us, at this point, know multiple people who tried to do something reasonable on Wikipedia, were treated with surpassing rudeness or subjected to outright injustice, and simple decided to leave rather than fight it out. Quite possibly, the overwhelming majority of them could have gotten things set-to-rights if they'd stayed, boned up on the complexities of the system, and fought it out. Guess what: most people don't enjoy being kicked around for trying to do something useful, even if the kicking-around does get corrected on appeal. Wikipedia's system is like a miniature implementation of many of the more dubious features of free-market libertarianism: logical in a sense, but impractically hard on actual human organisms in the real world. If you implement a system in which too many things wind up being resolved by a form of trial by combat, you'll wind up with a system full of combative people, which the general public regards with a skeptical eye.

As for the rest of it, I'd probably enjoy having the kind of power you attribute to me, in which the precise balance of my comments about Wikipedia ("Wikipedia stock rose today as PNH's positive comments reached an unprecedented 36%, but insiders warn that more reproofs may come as the hot August days of summer in Brooklyn set in") had a substantial effect on the institution itself. Forgive me for doubting that I do...

#56 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:20 PM:

Arwel@53: I thought it was better to make my argument on the talk page than just to edit it. I'll take it out tomorrow...oh, you've done it.

#57 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:23 PM:

(Also, What Seth Said in #54, with bells on. In his second line is much wisdom.)

#58 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:50 PM:

PNH @ 55: Guess what: most people don't enjoy being kicked around for trying to do something useful, even if the kicking-around does get corrected on appeal.

That's a group dynamic that is particularly painful and harmful and serves to maintain the status quo very effectively. You can always dismiss the problem someone's trying to draw attention to by attacking the person instead (including criticizing how the person brought up the problem). If the person wears out and goes away, no more problem. If the person blows up in frustration first, even better, because that's proof they didn't have a valid point to begin with.

#59 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 09:57 PM:

What you need to worry about is when "Look at this new stupid thing Wikipedia did" is no longer news.

I think we've got to that point. I listen to a lot of presentations on distributed computing in science and humanities research. Mentions of, or quotes from, Wikipedia are common. References to Wikipedia that don't include the near-obligatory amused acknowledgement of its notorious unreliablility are rare.

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 10:01 PM:

WWWWolf, blow your nose, snag one of the comfy chairs, and stick around. Anyone whose first impulse, upon realizing that they've been wrong, is to announce (with every bit as much fervor as they'd previously brought to arguing that they were right) that THEY'VE BEEN WRONG, is displaying Right Attitude.

However, the Fluorosphere Award for Right Attitude goes to Anticorium, who wrote to me this evening to say he'd lost his temper, and could he please be banned for a week?

I have indeed banned him -- but mind, it's only because he asked.


#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Zeborah@46: you could counter the impression by occasionally posting or commenting about the times Wikipedia gets things right.

Look, when a bunch of white, land owning males hammered out the United States Constitution, in secret, and presented it to the states for ratification, a number of people, rightly I would say, went ape shit.

There was nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a representative government. There were, however, seriously fcking problems with a set of rules about how to run a nation, albeit representitively, that didn't also happen to put some lines in the sand and say "this is off limits".

And so they came up with the Bill of Rights. So, while the US constitution contains rules for how politicians are elected, judges are selected, and laws are made, the Bill of Rights says, in effect, that it don't care if you have "consensus", it's nothing more than mob rule if you screw with someone's free speech, or a person's religion or lack thereof, or due process, or torture, and so on.

Do you understand that no one would have wasted their time with the Bill of Rights if they thought the Constitution was shit? By it's very existence, the Bill of Rights confirms the validity of the Consitution, and also fixes some seriously damaging, gaping holes.

Wikipedia is, metaphorically, like the US Constitution. It is an attempt to hammer out a set of rules on how admins are elected, how users may edit, and how disputes are resolved.

Pointing out serious, gaping, bleeding wounds in the set of rules that is Wikipedia, is attempting to address a problem that is fixable.

No one is saying kill wikipedia and start something else. No one is saying chuck it and start with a complete do over. No one is saying "They" are out to get "Us". Implicit in pointing out the problems is the idea that there is something of value that should be saved, should be fixed, and should be made complete.

The problem, however, is that wikipedia is a collection of rules, made in secret, by a bunch of property owning, white, males.

Metaphorically speaking.

Wikipedia has a power structure that rewards people who have made more edits than others, who are admins, and who have managed to accumulate a sufficient number of allies to help them in whatever "consensus" vote they wish to sway. The rest of us are, metaphorically speaking, female, slaves, or "other persons". We have been driven out by the mob, beaten down by the relentless, and given up. What's left are those who've learned the system, gamed it as neccessary, and have influence.

And you folks will either listen and adapt, or ignore the complaints and probably crash in revolution. Because you folks are the ones who have to give up some of the power by taking on the metaphorical equivalent of a Bill of Rights.

If you want wikipedia to last beyond your time in office, if you want it to survive after Jimbo Wales finally leaves for the big server in the sky, you damn well better fix some of the serious problems or it will more than likely collapse in on itself.

It means you'll have to give up some powers because you'll have to implement a seperation of powers. It means being an admin won't be a life time appointment, but something that is up for review every few years or so.

Or something. Something needs to be put in place to address the complete assinine behaviour that occaissionally occurs on wikipedia from those who have power.

If you think there isn't a problem that needs addressing on wikipedia, then it's already over, and we just need to sit back and watch the implosion.

But to look at these issues and complaints and problems and say that it doesn't validate anything that wikipedia has right, is to miss the fricken point.

#62 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 11:03 PM:

I think the place where the system really broke down was not in the initial banning request (people are jerks on the internet) or even the initial banning (overworked admins sometimes make mistaken snap judgments, even [or especially] when they're about to leave for vacation). The turn that made this incident into a farce was the automatic banning in response to a reasoned objection to the initial banning.

I think this turns on a basic piece of how humans process information. When faced with a barrage of information people look for easy ways to sort out what's relevant and what's not. If you're a wikipedia admin you can't do that on the basis of expertise (credentials are easy to make up) so instead obscure wikipedia policies become the credentialing system. If you can quote chapter and verse from the policies, then you've at least spent some time on the site and presumably have its best interests at heart, if not you're at best a hopeless newbie and at worst a drive-by vandal.

And once this tendency starts it becomes self-reinforcing, since the people who rise to the top tend to attract others to emulate them and drive away those who disagree. Before you know it you have a group of policy lawyers who serve as gatekeepers and venerate the policies above all else. People need a way to judge the accuracy of incoming information against known standards. It's a case where a perfectly reasonable heuristic (absent other information, the editor who displays knowledge of wikipedia is probably more reliable on a given topic than the one who doesn't) turns into a pernicious social dynamic (knowing the policies word for word is more important than direct, first-hand knowledge of a subject)

Doesn't mean wikipedia isn't a worthwhile project and a wonderful tool, but there are a few of these pernicious social dynamics that don't seem to be adequately addressed.

#63 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 11:33 PM:

I was using "they" as a bog-generic "some people belonging to Wikipedia"; apologies if that was not clear.

If the only members of Wikipedia you talk about are a) the perpetrators of stupidity/malice/power-mongering/nitpicking and b) the victims thereof, then it gives the impression that the majority of members fall into these camps. No, you never say "the majority"; your shiny dimes are safe. But it's not about what you say nearly as much as about what you don't say.

As to your power of persuasion: you're pretty well respected in the field, Making Light has a lot of readers -- and the whole point of Wikipedia is that every little bit counts.

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2007, 11:46 PM:

Thanks, Zeborah -- but you know, if we mean the majority, that's what we say.

Don't start in with the "it's what you don't say" riff unless you're willing to include in your reading the set of all the things we haven't said.

#65 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:03 AM:

#62 seems to me the smartest thing that's been said in this entire conversation. I wish, I passionately wish, that Zeborah would pay attention to it.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:06 AM:

WWWWolf,

What Teresa said in comment 60. Please stay; you seem like someone that would be a pleasure to have around.

You don't write sonnets, do you, by any chance?

#67 ::: Nicholas ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:05 AM:

Thanks for picking this up and running with it, Patrick; meant that while Livejournal was out there was still somewhere external to the bowels of WikiPedia where things could be discussed. Thanks also to Arwel for his actions, and to various contributors above for their helpful comments. Those who want to read further details on WikiPedia can see them here and here.

I'm going to address the idea that blogging about this achieves nothing. First off, I believe that for the WikiPedia user concerned, it was a last resort, not a first resort. He is a rules man; he attempted to go through the system; the system reacted by banning him again and banning one of hs friends, because it apparently automatically penalises people who make unjust decisions. It is at that point that he reached for livejournal.

I too am a rules man; I too am a WikiPedia editor; I had a good long look at how I might flag this issue up internally in WikiPedia on my friend's behalf; I found I understood even less of it than my friend did, and what I could see was not encouraging; so I too reached for my livejournal.

If your procedures are not user-friendly, and your actions are unfriendly, people will talk.

As for the idea that "blogging achieves nothing"; well, it got this block reversed for a start; and hopefully it will get some WikiPedia folks to look long and hard at how their procedures got them into this mess in the first place, before this incident disappears into the bowels of the archives.

#68 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:08 AM:

That's a group dynamic that is particularly painful and harmful and serves to maintain the status quo very effectively. You can always dismiss the problem someone's trying to draw attention to by attacking the person instead (including criticizing how the person brought up the problem). If the person wears out and goes away, no more problem.

And sometimes the person is less than rational, unwilling to listen to alternate views, and creates a hostile environment. The community as a whole benefits when, as TNH has just demonstrated, the irrational and uncharitable element is excised, as one does with a cancerous growth.

#69 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:40 AM:

My own experience suggests that some Wikipedia administrators are jerks with no social skills.

Worse, they so heavily shorthand references to the Wikipedia rules which justify their actions, that any attempt to track down a specific ruling ends in a maze of twisted policies, all alike.

One solution would be to find a trustworthy group of competent people to go through the policy documents with fire and sword, and edit them as a coherent whole. This is something that the fragmented nature of the Wikipedia editing process makes extremely difficult.

Failing that, it is all too easy to find a phrasing in a policy document which can be abused, and little harder to come up with a misleading description of policy. How many problems, for instance, come from a confusion between "reliability" and "verifiability"?

I've seen several cases, when these arguments explode into public attention, where the admins (well, I think they're admins, but how do you tell as you read the discussion page) only make vague handwaves at policy.

For instance, if information is in a members-only area of a website, I'd understand doubts about using it as a source. I'd also be inclined to accept a site which required free registration, But if you link there, mention the requirement on the Wiki page. But I don't see any attempt to explain.

Still, it's hard to be sure. Are these admins unable to give a clear reference, because of the tangles of policy pages, or do they choose not to?

It's an ugly thought, but the history of Wikipedia policies may become an example of how laws, and lawyers, come into being in a society. So far, all we seem to have are self-appointed Police with little sign of training in the law they enforce.

Think of the sterotype of the incompetent, but still-elected, County Sheriff. And we don't even have the fun of driving the General Lee.

#70 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:55 AM:

#17: "Here's one of those verdicts: Wikipedia thinks that danah boyd does not know how to spell her own goddamn name."

C'mon .. Wikipedia doesn't think that. There's no dispute about the spelling - like any other publication it has a style guide that sometimes gets in the way ... so 'danah boyd' is capitalised as 'Danah Boyd'. Even 'e. e. cummings' gets this treatment !

I can understand why taking the person's word on their personal details may not be the wisest ... I know actresses who have ensured that IMDB has their 'official' age as several years younger than what they really are!

Mac

#71 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:02 AM:

Zeborah @ 46

I'm not an expert on Wikipedia, nor have I been following its detailed operation, but I have been involved with organizations that had systemic organizational problems. There are organizations which cannot be sustained by individual effort and good will, no matter how great the souls, minds, and hearts of the individuals. Not because the organizations are inherently flawed or inherently evil (though there are such), but because their structure is compromised wrt fulfilling the purpose for which they were created, or because their operation is affected by meta-level dynamics from within or without (e.g., gaming, parliamentarianism, co-option, etc.). From what's been said about the admin wars in Wikipedia recently, I suspect that it is in danger of being seriously impeded, if not damaged, by both gaming and parliamentarianism.

I get no satisfaction from this possibility; I use Wikipedia on a daily basis, both for personal and professional purposes. If it were to implode, or even just become less reliable than it is, I would be immensely irritated. But that doesn't mean I'm ready to ignore what appears to be going on, because reliability is not something I can measure all by myself in this case. I need to know how effective and reliable other people have found the site to be. And if the problem with Wikipedia is in fact systemic, it may be that fixing it will require action at the meta-level where the problem is, rather than at the routine level where operational problems are addressed.

IOW, if Wikipedia is to be a Web-wide resource, with Web-class reputation, then you cannot reasonably ask that it not be discussed in the wider world outside the site itself. And such discussions should be from the point of view of onlookers and users, not of admins or of boosters.

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:18 AM:

WWWWolf

abi asked if you write sonnets. I heartily recommend that you give it a try, even if you don't. She dared me to write one a few months back, and I wrote a poem for the first time in more than 40 years. I loved the experience, and I've been writing them pretty regularly since (except for right now, because remodeling my house seems to interfere with my muse).

And echoing Patrick and abi, please stick around. It's incredibly refreshing to hear from someone who cares about the effect of what he or she says on those it's said to.

#73 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:25 AM:

Of course, I neglected to refresh my view of the thread before responding to Zeborah, and basically just underscored what Patrick and others have said.

But I want re-emphasize one point: you cannot fix systemic, meta-level problems using routine, ortho-level actions. Problems at Wikipedia arising from gaming and from the unintended consequences of admin rules have to be fixed by changing the ways in which admins operate. And that won't happen through appeals, or through discussions among admins. It has to come by pressure from the user community to change.

#74 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:44 AM:

E. E. Cummings used capitals to refer to himself.

The iMac is referred to as the iMac, the iPod as the iPod, and so-on. Why should danah boyd be treated differently?

#75 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 06:17 AM:

Dave Bell @ 69

One solution would be to find a trustworthy group of competent people to go through the policy documents with fire and sword, and edit them as a coherent whole.

Unfortunately, the usual response of those present to fire and sword is extinguisher and shield (or parry), and in either case you get something that could be called a firefight. That's why constitutions are so much easier to institute early on, before anyone has a chance to get entrenched enough to be willing to defend an unconstitutional position at all costs.

But you're right: in the long term the rules have to be made at least mostly consistent, and a lot less subject to on-the-fly amendment or reinterpretation for Wikipedia to remain a going and useful concern.

#76 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 08:08 AM:

Mac, #70:

"#17: "Here's one of those verdicts: Wikipedia thinks that danah boyd does not know how to spell her own goddamn name."
C'mon .. Wikipedia doesn't think that. There's no dispute about the spelling - like any other publication it has a style guide that sometimes gets in the way ... so 'danah boyd' is capitalised as 'Danah Boyd'. Even 'e. e. cummings' gets this treatment!"
As Keir points out in #74, this is a specious argument, because in fact Cummings upcased his own name more often than not.
"I can understand why taking the person's word on their personal details may not be the wisest...I know actresses who have ensured that IMDB has their 'official' age as several years younger than what they really are!"
And this is downright offensive. Not being familiar with danah boyd or her work, I didn't weigh in on this before, but your suggestion that someone's chosen and consistent proper name is equivalent to someone else lying about a matter of fact is jawdropping--and epitomizes exactly the kind of autistic parking-lot lawyerism that, for an increasing number of us, is all too common in Wikipedia World.

I've been Patrick Nielsen Hayden since Patrick Hayden married Teresa Nielsen on March 23, 1979. We were married in California under a legal loophole that allowed us to do so without paying $100 for a marriage license--but which also left us with no legal record of our name change. Despite this lack of documentation, in the years between 1979 and 1995, I was Patrick Nielsen Hayden in every respect: on my passport, on my bank account and credit cards, in the eyes of the Social Security Administration, to my employers, as a public figure, and to my family and friends. I only finally got the court order when the US passport office tightened their rules, refusing to accept a name at variance with a birth certificate without a marriage license or a court order.

In your scheme of things, what I was doing from 1979 to 1995 is the moral equivalent of somebody lying about their age. This is meretricious bullshit in a clown suit, and someone who professes it has no business editing a grocery list, much less an encyclopedia meant to be used by millions of people.

#77 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 08:56 AM:

I can understand why taking the person's word on their personal details may not be the wisest...

Patrick, may I submit the following points for your consideration?

1) Understanding why a principle has been applied does not necessarily imply agreeing with the principle or its application in this instance.

2) "May not be" is not the same as "is not".

#78 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:09 AM:

Lisa Spangenberg @ 68: And sometimes the person is less than rational, unwilling to listen to alternate views, and creates a hostile environment. The community as a whole benefits when, as TNH has just demonstrated, the irrational and uncharitable element is excised, as one does with a cancerous growth.

Certainly, that can happen, too. There are always people in any community, online or otherwise, who don't fit. It can be difficult, sometimes, to tell if the problem is with an individual or with the community dynamic. Healthy communities have a sense of the existance of loyal opposition and don't impose penalties for pointing out problems. They also notice when a problem is pointed out by multiple individuals, which lessens the chances that it's just the ravings of an irrational, uncharitable cancerous growth. This makes it possible for problems to be identified and dealt with without the kinds of difficulties PNH mentioned regarding burnout.

Such communities also don't feel the need to make sure anyone they think is making unflattering statements about their own community is punished for speaking out. Ever since I left a particular online community, my character has been attacked by members of that community when I have made statements here about group-dynamic problems. I have no desire to be rude and bring that conflict to this forum, but I also don't intend to spend the rest of my life making sure I never say anything that community might find irritating lest I have my character ripped up both to my face and behind my back.

I do not believe I have, in any of my statements, attacked the character of any individual from that community, and I have certainly never identified it; rather, I have mentioned certain group dynamics that play out there and elsewhere. For the most part, I respect what that forum is trying to do, and I respect most of the people trying to do it. But one of the problems I do have with that community is the way people--not ideas or conclusions--get labelled as defective for various reasons, one of them being saying that anything might be a problem.

As I am quite seriously angry now, I am going away for a few days lest I be tempted to use our hosts' forum to hit back where I've been hit.

#79 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:11 AM:

A followup thought on the name issue. There are two matters under consideration here, closely related but not identical.

One is the question of how much the world is obliged to respect the (sometimes eccentric) choices that individuals make about their proper names. Obviously I'm inclined, based in part on personal experience, to side with the individuals. But I don't actually take an absolutist position. I never felt obliged to refer to Prince by his chosen unpronouncable glyph.

The other is the question of whether it's fair to equate self-naming with lying, as Mac did in #70. No amount of mumbling around the issue with "may not be" and "I can understand why" can redeem this grotesquely thoughtless and inappropriate assertion. People who change their names, however quirky their choices may be, are in no way doing something equivalent to the sin of bearing false witness.

#80 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Patrick @ 79... There are still people who equate lying with using anything other than one's full legal name? That one is never going to be laid to rest, obviously.

#81 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:54 AM:

Dave@69: any attempt to track down a specific ruling ends in a maze of twisted policies, all alike.

Or when you do track it down and find out the admin is wrong, and tell them by citing the actual page that contains the rule, the admin goes and changes the rules page. And changing it back turns into charges of harrassment. (Well, you had never edited that page before, had you? And after this admin edited it, you go and revert. And since admins are never wrong, your revert must be wrong, and must have been maliciously driven.)

Anyone who thinks there aren't seriously fcked up individuals with way too much power in wikipedia, who takes any criticism of individual actions as blanket attacks on wikipedia (their adminship, their edit count, or whatever metric they've decided to use to grant them power), needs a get-a-grip message in the form of a bat in the side of the head, or a boot up their ass.

#82 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:58 AM:

I'm sure Wikipedia would never refer to someone by spelling her name with lower case letters when the links from that article point to a couple of 404 pages, a source that spells it with capital letters, two articles that don't mention her name at all, and a court ruling that also uses capital letters.

(In fact, of all the sources in the article, the only one that uses the lower case spelling is the subject's own biography page on her website.)

But clearly that's different from the danah boyd situation because...um...well, I'm sure it's different, because Wikipedia policies would never be applied arbitrarily. It certainly can't be because the subject herself discusses it on the talk page.

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 10:47 AM:

Patrick @76

autistic parking-lot lawyerism

Please don't blame this on autistics, who aren't necessarily acting with malice. This is more probably pure and simple neurotypical parking-lot lawyerism, chew'd, swallow'd and digested.

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 10:52 AM:

Bruce @72:

They're good sonnets, too.

I always ask this of new people who sound interesting and intelligent; I'm forever trying to get more recruits for the Hono[u]rable Society of Making Light Versifiers and Doggerel-Smiths.

#85 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 11:21 AM:

Bruce @ 71: I agree with all of your points but one. What I take away from WWWWolf's and Zeborah's lament about issues being discussed on blogs is not "Don't talk about it outside of Wikipedia," but "I wish you'd (also) bring this to our attention on the site." There are a lot of blogs, and it's easy to miss potentially good suggestions just because no one who's heavily involved in editing Wikipedia reads those blogs. And that's an impulse I can both understand and sympathize with.

#86 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Stephen [#85], if that's what they mean, why don't they say so?

#87 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 12:56 PM:

Having rummaged around in the Admin talk pages for a bit, especially those related to global warming, it seems to me that one of the problems with the WP culture is that it privileges those who are expert at WP rules and culture over those who are expert in a scientific discipline. Until that kink is rectified, there's always going to be an odor of "toy encyclopedia" floating around WP's reputation.

#88 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:02 PM:

"No amount of mumbling around the issue with "may not be" and "I can understand why" can redeem this grotesquely thoughtless and inappropriate assertion."

On teh intarwebs, Patrick, nobody can hear you mumble.

I agree absolutely. Any assertion that people who use a self-coined name and style are liars would certainly be grotesquely inappropriate and thoughtless.

#89 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:05 PM:

Now, I may be something of a thicky
but this fact is clearer than plainest glass:
any old fool can edit the wiki
and turn a hero into a dumb ass.
Rules when applied distort the simple truth
that any rule will run into a wall
and legislation may lead to more ruth
than if there were no bloody rules at all.
Vandals and liars stalk the Internet
altering pages wherever they can;
it's not enough to edit and to vet
nor can you make truth by veto or ban:
You have to learn the best point to concede,
and use force only when there's a real need.

#90 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:12 PM:

JESR: (wikipedia) privileges those who are expert at WP rules and culture over those who are expert in a scientific discipline

That's it in a nutshell. The problem would be that those who are privileged because they're experts at the rules, have high edit counts, and a posse on call whenever they need "consensus", aren't going to walk away from that privilege just because they don't know anything.

I mean, that's what drew them to wikipedia in the first place, wasn't it?

#92 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:32 PM:

#85: "I wish you'd (also) bring this to our attention on the site."

The links from Patrick's original posting show that those who did bring it to their attention on the site were also banned.

#93 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:45 PM:

At this point in time, it seems that the only way to get around malice or thickheadedness in Wikipedia is to shout about it on your blog or livejournal and get people outraged enough to come to your aid. Clearly, not an ideal situation, but one that has evolved as people have learned that trying to follow the Wikipedia rules are pointless unless you're a fulltime contributor or admin.

We've recently had the James Nicoll kerfuffle, the Steve Gilliard fiasco, the spat between 'pedia and our estimable hosts, the jihad against webcomix.

Each time we've seen ordinary users and editors on Wikipedia, people who actually write and edit articles there, trying to find out why their work is being deleted, or why they're blocked as sockpuppets, trying to work through the Wikipedia rules and finding it's a swamp you cannot find your way through unless you have the kind of lawyery mind that thrives on this.

Worse, often the people on the other side deciding James Nicoll is not worthwhile enough to be in Wikipedia, or who dislike webcomix, often are people who are well versed in Wikipedia policies and politics and who also have the time and energy to immerse themselves in Wikipedia.

It's therefore only when people publicise their plight and get outside help that they stand a chance of reversing an obviously wrong decision such as the one that started this post. Because suddenly there were several other people protesting this decision, the admin in question changed her mind at Nicholas' friend being a sockpuppet.

#94 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 01:53 PM:

Damn, spent so long writing that JESR at #87 said it earlier and better.

One correction to be polite to the original post however: the editor with the "homosexual agenda" fixation was not the one who started the ban in the first place, but a semi-bystander with no real input in this kerfuffle.

#95 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Dave @ 86, John @ 92, I think they are saying "Please also report it on the site," only it's been compressed and shorthanded after a lot of repetition. The result is that what from their side seems like a reasonable request from our side looks like them asking us not to talk about it except on Wikipedia. And it doesn't help that, if you're familiar with Wikipedia, you'll see all of these ways to go about appealing silly decisions or getting around being banned for appealing silly decisions, while from the outside all we see is a mass of pages and procedures that make an IVR's byzantine setup look positively straightforward.

Ideally Wikipedians would come up with rules that don't optimize for cluelessness and unhelpfulness. It's not that Wikipedia doesn't optimize for expertise; it just optimizes for the wrong kind of expertise. And that demonstrably keeps people from helping out, or from helping out more than once. I've looked at pages on subjects that I'm knowledgeable about, thought about editing them, and then backed away slowly.

#96 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:15 PM:

PNH @79: I never felt obliged to refer to Prince by his chosen unpronouncable glyph.

Well, that wasn't so much a sincere name change as a clever social hack to get around an abusive record label contract. When his contract with Warner expired, he went back to being Prince.

#97 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:22 PM:

serge #80 -- The problem is made more baroque by the years of ambiguity in what really was one's legal name -- it's gotten a lot sniffier in the last five-ten years, despite (I am told; IANAL) solid legal precedent that a free citizen can choose her own name for any legal purpose.

The loophole seems to be that we have the right to choose our names, but the gov't doesn't have to put them on any paperwork until humbly plea'd and paid. I think this also points up how much more we need paper than we did twenty years ago.

JESR #87 -- Oh, too true, and I don't know how anyone has time to learn the details of a subject, and the grant game needed to research it, and enough Wiki-clicky to post there about it.

I assume that the first, optimistic impulse of Wikipedia was more like "we can accumulate the bits of expertise everyone has" than "expertise is untrustworthy", but the latter appeals to a deep old strain of USian anti-intellectualism.

#98 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:36 PM:

Abi #83: Good point.

#99 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:37 PM:

#95: On the other hand, I think to the Wikipedia veterans, what PNH is doing here comes across as "I see that you have a problem, but instead of helping you solve it I'm just going to stand over here and bitch at you from a safe distance". It's not surprising that that gets a less than warm reception (especially from people who already know about the problem and are trying to fix it with mixed success).

I think there's a sense that if you're not working to improve WP, you shouldn't claim the right to second-guess the people who are. Is that too confrontational? Maybe, but I do see where they're coming from.

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:46 PM:

clew @ 97...

Which is why one of my friends will still go by her ex's name after the divorce is complete. Which is one reason why, when I became an American citizen, I didn't change my name to something that doesn't sound like a tummy-trouble med.

#101 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 02:59 PM:

To Chris, RE #99:

Of course Patrick is bitching from a safe distance! You must have missed Chapter 37 of Our Story, In Which WP admin Will Beback tried to obliterate all things Nielsen Hayden from the face of the Earth (or at least from the face of Wikipedia), until God Jimbo Himself stepped down from the clouds to put an end to hard feelings and nastiness.

It would not be prudent for a Neilsen Hayden to make remarks in WP itself.

#102 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 03:31 PM:

To follow on Mac @ 70, some organizations do have style guides that call for "normalization" of unusual name capitalization and punctuation in some cases, although they still would preserve unusual spelling.

The online Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, calls for capitalizing names that start with lowercase when the name starts a sentence, but also prefers recasting the sentence to place the name away from the front (in which case the capitalization stays as-is). (8.163).

The Library of Congress also appears to prefer capitalizing personal names in headers; I can't find a rule for this, but they have both "Yronwode, Catherine" and "Hooks, Bell", where Wikipedia, ironically, uses all-lowercase for both of those names. (LC doesn't seem to have any entry for danah boyd, so I can't compare there.) On the other hand, they do seem to get unusual spellings and parsings right, at least when told; as of now, at least, our hosts' names are correctly filed under "Nielsen Hayden..." (rather than "Hayden") in the LC authority files, though the tracings show that it took a note from the publisher or author to get it right.

#103 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Keir @ 74: The iMac is referred to as the iMac, the iPod as the iPod, and so-on. Why should danah boyd be treated differently?

However, adidas is referred to as Adidas, and Wikipedia's stated policy is to capitalize trademarks, even when they are officially uncapitalized. Apple's iProducts appear to be getting an unofficial pass on this.

It seems clear to me that Wikipedia has yet to arrive at a consistent consensus on how to deal with unconventional capitalizations. It isn't surprising that different articles follow different conventions.

#104 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:36 PM:

Avram (96):
Ever since I discovered that "The Artist Formerly Know As Prince" chiseled a new loophole through the granite wall of a recording contract I've wanted to see how the replacement clause reads.

I'm not good enough at lawyerese to fake one here.

#105 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:37 PM:

Patrick #76: In your scheme of things, what I was doing from 1979 to 1995 is the moral equivalent of somebody lying about their age.

Not moral equivalent so much as "had the same kind of credibility". In both cases, it's a person saying something about themselves unsupported by external evidence.

I'd still grant you more credibility on the issue because you'd have less incentive to lie, and because (based on the circumstances you state) there is no availability of proof, but the underlying issue is still the same.

#106 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:38 PM:

-fsKnow$Known$ex$$

#107 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:43 PM:

#101: Actually, none of that stuff left me feeling intimidated from participating in Wikipedia. If I'm disinclined to, it's because it seems far too complicated, not because of the behavior of a lone admin.

#99: "On the other hand, I think to the Wikipedia veterans, what PNH is doing here comes across as 'I see that you have a problem, but instead of helping you solve it I'm just going to stand over here and bitch at you from a safe distance.'"

Yeah, I can see that. I'll live with it if so. From my point of view, I'm talking about a major artifact that's increasingly central to our culture and the way we live; of course I have the right to talk about it, as does everybody else.

I live less than a mile from a big industrial canal. The fact that I don't devote my spare time to efforts to clean polluted waterways doesn't mean I'm not entitled to comment on it when the canal stinks. Or to observe that when government and society take certain decisions a certain way, the result is a degraded environment. The whole idea that you can't criticize unless you're in there pitching is a good way to avoid being broadly criticized, but it has nothing to do with justice.

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Seth 105: Not moral equivalent so much as "had the same kind of credibility". In both cases, it's a person saying something about themselves unsupported by external evidence.

Sorry Seth, but that's nonsense. One of them is something with an objective standard of fact, and the other is something that the person has performative authority over; that is, saying it makes it so.

If I say "I am 23 years old," I am simply lying.

If I say "From now on I wish to be called 'Rehpox'," I may be lying if I don't really feel that way, but since I can call myself whatever I like, if I say that Rehpox is my name, it is.

If I say "My legal name is 'Rehpox'," I'm lying (as it happens), because my legal name at the moment is Christopher [REDACTED UNMENTIONABLE MIDDLE NAME] Hatton.

If I say my name is 'Christopher', not 'Chris', it's simply incorrect to call me the latter, just as it would be to call you Setesh (even though the names are clearly related). My name, unlike my age, is what I say it is.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Xopher,

Your middle name is Voldemort?

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:13 PM:

abi 109: If it were, would I admit it? If it is, is it safe for you to say so?

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:17 PM:

I note that you haven't denied it.

And if you're going to come wreak you revenge on me, or otherwise appear as though summoned, you can help me tidy the flat before I move out tomorrow morning, mmkay?

#113 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:17 PM:

RE Patrick in #107: Indeed, the level of complication in participating is really what is at issue. Not safety.

I fell into the vocabulary of the WP mindset in which editing is a daring and heroic act causing risk to one's personal safety.

Science Fiction Chronicle did used to issue military-style medals to winners of their Best Editor Poll. (We have one around here somewhere.) Maybe someone should revive that practice, and also issue Purple Hearts to editors whose feelings are hurt when their editing is publicly criticized online, in recognition of Wikipedia's revelations about the true nature of editorial practice.

#114 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Patrick #76,#79:

I sure didn't get the sense of claiming equivalence between changing your name and lying in Mac's post #70. It looked like a pretty generic statement that you can't rely on Alice to always give you personal details accurately, using an illustrative example.

#115 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:22 PM:

abi, are you implying that Xopher's middle name is Xtomanci?

#116 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:23 PM:

abi 112: you can help me tidy the flat

There will be tidal flattening involved, but that's as close as you get.

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Xopher... Be careful with the tidal flattening. Amsterdam, the little Dutch boy, that stuff...

#118 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:45 PM:

Xopher #108: There is a difference between stuff I have the ability to make so, and stuff that is so merely because I say it. My name is something I have the ability to change, but that doesn't imply that any claim I make about it is correct. Consider the concepts of forgery or identity theft.

#119 ::: Nuala ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 05:45 PM:

albatross @ 114, I think Patrick and others are objecting to the suggestion that someone's name having changed and they then requesting people use the correct one is in any equivalent to getting personal details wrong.

My father happens to go by a first name which isn't on his birth cert. He was always addressed in the family by the first name he uses, which they meant to have as one of his middle names, but it got dropped. Him using that name isn't getting a personal detail wrong and anyone who insisted on using his birth cert name would just be silly.

(Rules having been more flexible in the past, his passport is in the name in general use. Which makes sense to me, because it's the one everyone except the registrar of births knows.)

(Wandering further off the point, my mother has no middle name. This makes form designers very unhappy.)

#120 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 06:16 PM:

Seth 118: True, but it takes little or no discernment to see a difference between lying about your name and declaring its proper usage. My legal first name is Christopher; many, many people assume that, like many other people of whom this is true, I am called Chris. I say not, and I have absolute authority to dictate that my name is Christopher and not Chris. Anyone who calls me Chris is simply incorrect.

This is quite different from saying that my name is Patrick. However, if I want to USE Patrick, I'm entitled to do that too; the process involves slightly more than just declaring my name to be so.

If, on my website, I always spell my own name with all lower-case letters (and otherwise adhere to normal conventions of capitalization), then the spelling with all lowercase letters is ipso facto correct, and capitalizing it is incorrect.

If I say my name is George Gordon, Lord Byron, that's different.

Reasonable people (like yourself) know the difference. The problem with Wikipedia is that it prefers rules that "can be mechanically applied by semiliterates," as a very wise person once said.

#121 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 07:25 PM:

Xopher has the nuances of the argument about names exactly right.

I actually have some tolerance for the Wikipedia attitude that "you can't be the source on you." Without some such cutout, Wikipedia would be Myspace. The problem is that, in practice, too many of the people administering and adjudicating Wikipedia don't have the common sense to know the difference between (for instance) requiring a source other than the subject for information about the subject's professional achievements, and (for another instance) flatly rejecting information from the source about the preferred spelling of their name. The one is good practice. The other is pointlessly offensive.

Wikipedia's problem isn't that it's not primarily written by credentialed experts. Uncredentialed people know tons of stuff (said the guy without even a high-school diploma). Wikipedia's problem is that too many of the people maintaining it lack basic common sense about dealing with human beings. In all likelihood, the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia administrators are perfectly sensible (i.e., no more crazy or socially inept than the average Making Light front-page poster), but just enough of them seem not to be that there's a growing sense that trying to improve Wikipedia from within is liable to be more draining than it's worth.

#122 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 07:28 PM:

Nuala #119: (Wandering further off the point, my mother has no middle name. This makes form designers very unhappy.)

I either have no middle name, or a middle name that is always used as part of my first name, depending on how you look at it, and on whether there's a space in the middle.

My original name was "Jo Ann LastName" and around the time I graduated from high school, I began to suffer various inconveniences from this. So I began filling out all the forms as "Joann LastName", leaving the middle inital blank. This seemd infinitely preferable to all concerned, and I stopped getting things addressed to "Mr Jo A. LastName". I have yet to meet a form where I can't leave the "M.I." blank.

#123 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 07:54 PM:

Further off the point, my mother has no middle name, but has rarely run into form filling problems*. On the other hand, a university flat mate of mine has the classically Irish surname of O'Brien, which causes fear and confusion to some computerised forms which don't recognise punctuation in names.

* Her given name is Gay, which has occasionally caused a minimal amount of trouble.

#124 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Xopher - If your habit was to always write your name in green, would it be incorrect usage for someone else to fail to do so? What if you always write it in twenty point bold Comic Sans?

I think that there are clearly circumstances when local style can trump a person's preferred orthography for their name.

#125 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 08:50 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 102

Yes, many organizations normalize style for one reason or another. But it makes no sense for an organization to attempt to be normative about entities that come from outside the organization, and over whose form the organization has no control (outside, that is). All that does is guarantee disconnects and misidentification in cases where the original doesn't fit the style guide.

Unless, he said slyly, you're willing to install translators for content going to or from foreign organizations where the style causes these problems? I certainly wouldn't be willing to bite off the task of implementing and managing all the translators and handling their exceptional cases.

#126 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Nuala #119 & Neil Willcox #123: What I find annoying is that form designers in the US make no provision for those of us with three given names (which includes myself and both my sons).

#127 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:25 PM:

"If your habit was to always write your name in green, would it be incorrect usage for someone else to fail to do so?"

This seems like an unecessary reductio ad absurdum. The cases under discussion had to do with people and proper names that used lower-case letters in unusual positions. Wikipedia appears to be fully supplied with lower-case letters, and in fact uses them on a regular basis.

#128 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:29 PM:

Try having a hyphenated last name with an apostrophe thrown in for fun *and* no middle name. It drives a lot of computer forms crazy. While my airline's mileage plan registration accepted the proper punctuation, my company's travel provider's won't, so I can't get express service on rental cars when I book company travel through them, and I have to add my mileage # to my airline tickets at the counter/kiosk when I get to the airport.

For the longest time the phones at my company just ignored everything after the O in my last name because the apostrophe was an illegal character in the call manager software - thus the incoming caller display always showed me as DawnO. That's not the story of how I got my online nick - but it was rather fun that for years at work, folk would say "Hi, Dawno" when they picked up the phone.

That was way off topic, wasn't it.

#129 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 10:12 PM:

To take the argument in #127 further, Wikipedia, and any other website that uses HTML, is also fully supplied with font tags and attributes. So it could, technically, consistently render someone's name in green all-uppercase 48 point font if that's what that someone asked it to do. But it doesn't do that, and I think that's the right choice.

There are some aspects of names where normalization can be reasonably called for, as sources like the Chicago Manual acknowledge. The examples I saw there on a quick look mostly had to do with company names; which makes sense, since I'd imagine there are many sellers who would love to have their full logo used at every mention if they could make it stick. But it would really annoy readers if you had logos all over an article talking about a company.

At issue is where you strike a balance between following someone's preferred naming style out of courtesy to the subject, and following normalized conventions out of courtesy to the readers. There seems to be a general consensus that you should preserve the subject's own name spelling, word divisions, internal punctuation, and parsing, at least when it's all Latin characters and common punctuation like hyphens and apostrophes.

Beyond that, there appears to be less of a consensus. I recall a few years back the group Earth First! clashing with some newspapers about whether they should give their name with the final !. (If I recall correctly, one of the papers at issue was the New York Times; I now see various NYT articles with the final !, so they may well have changed their style somewhere along the way.)

There doesn't seem to be as strong a consensus on capitalization at this point. Hence, the Chicago manual's call to normalize (capitalize) names at the start of a sentence, but leave capitalization alone in the middle. (In contrast, danah boyd appears to leave her name uncapitalized even when it starts a sentence, as seen on her bio page.) I wouldn't consider it unreasonable for Wikipedia to normalize capitalization in some instances, as long as it did so consistently and in a way that followed familiar publication style.

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Patrick 121: Thanks.

Damien 124: That's in the "Prince's stupid glyph" zone. I guess I expect people to have at least a near-neurotypical level of social sense, to ask someone who does, or to leave people's spelling alone.

Please note that I write 'Patrick' and 'Damien' but 'joann' and 'abi'. I practice what I preach.

#131 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 11:32 PM:

The structure of a lot of Wikipedia-related arguments seems familiar to me, and I have a theory which I have never actually researched. The more unnecessarily obscure terminology an enterprise accumulates, the more opening it creates to reward the kind of mind that can master lots of jargon at the expense of ability or desire to set a hierarchy of priorities for overall value. Back in the days when I was interested running a FidoNet node, I remember searching long and hard for answers to questions of the "yes, but what do I put in this dialog?" sort. It turned that answers comprehensible to me were readily available to almost all of these, and that when I got those, a lot of running administrative arguments came into focus as having fairly simple overlooked arguments. Jargon elevates details that should sink down and flattens big-scale features that should stand out, or at least it makes it particularly easy to do that.

Wikipedia discourse carries far more WP:V and such than it should when it comes to dealing with people who do not wish to become part of the Wikipedia-making-and-maintaining culture. Here again I'm reminded of a lot of technical cultures, where it begins with creators who have a hard time imagining or respecting people whose primary interest is not making that thing, but using it to accomplish whatever it is that holds their attention. I'm sometimes inclined to think that the atomizing possibilities in wiki presentation make it harder, too, since there are so few comprehensive overviews available on matters subject to dynamic revision.

#132 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 12:39 AM:

In #129 John Mark Ockerbloom writes:

Beyond that, there appears to be less of a consensus. I recall a few years back the group Earth First! clashing with some newspapers about whether they should give their name with the final !.

Ending, not with a whimper, but with a bang, eh?

#133 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 01:13 AM:

I have observed that some databases were designed by people who clearly didn't do a very good job of counting the number of letters in one of the more common given names in the US (still in the top 10 for 2006!).

These databases almost always think that my (and, should we both be in those databases, Xopher's) first name is "Christophe".

In some cases, I've wound up with "Chris" in that field instead. In my case, I don't particularly mind it; I've used both, and wound up using "Christopher" on a more regular basis due to several years in which my boss's name was the homophonic "Kris".

(In many online venues I am "ckd", and I use that only in lower case even when starting sentences. This applies even to the point of ordering monogrammed clothing with a specific request that all letters be lower case; they got it right.)

#134 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 02:03 AM:

@#76:

"I can understand why taking the person's word on their personal details may not be the wisest...I know actresses who have ensured that IMDB has their 'official' age as several years younger than what they really are!"

And this is downright offensive ... your suggestion that someone's chosen and consistent proper name is equivalent to someone else lying about a matter of fact is jawdropping...

Sorry, I had no idea that it could be read as saying that. It was simply expressing sympathy for the policy about not relying on a person as the source of information. I used the 'age' example because I figured it would be something that others would identify with.

I'm known to most people as 'Mac' .. and have been for decades. I'm introduced to most people as 'Mac' .. even though that's technically not my first name. I'm clearly not going to argue that it constitutes lying!

I wasn't even claim that they've done the correct thing by choosing that method of capitalisation - just that it is a case of bureaucrats arguing about how to implement a style guide .. rather than the earlier statement that Wikipedia believes that 'danah boyd does not know how to spell her own goddamn name'.

(And yes, I was aware that e.e cummings didn't consistantly write his own name in lowercase - I was just using that as an example where it is a universally common 'lowercase-ism' that is still rendered oddly due to the style guide)

Mac

#135 ::: Dylan O'Donnell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 04:00 AM:

PNH @127: Wikipedia appears to be fully supplied with lower-case letters, and in fact uses them on a regular basis.

Not as obvious a case as you might think; technical limitations of the back-end software Wikipedia uses make it awkward for an article title to start with a lower-case letter, and the current hacky workaround to make it possible was only implemented a year or so ago. So, while it shouldn't be an issue any longer, there's a strong legacy influence on style guides and policy.

#136 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 04:34 AM:

To what extent are people entitled to choose their own name? Where I come from, to steal an expression from the Flamer Bingo thread, there are strict rules for how children obtain their names, as well as for when name changes are allowed and what names are acceptable. All of this is enforced by a no-nonsense government agency. Incidentally, under these rules it would not be allowed for Patrick Hayden and Teresa Nielsen to both take Nielsen Hayden as a last name. Are these rules repressive? Do they deny some fundamental freedom or human right? I don't think so. From birth, your name is not what you call yourself but what others call you. There are ways in which you can change your name, basically by asking people to call you something else, but in the end the decision is always made by other people.

To insist that ones name be written without capital letters strikes me as rather silly, comparable to demanding that ones name always be written in a green Helvetica 18 pt bold type font. Even if there is a framework that distinguishes between upper- and lowercase letters and allows all kinds of typesetting, I don't see why there should be an expectation on me to follow the strange whims of an eccentric person rather than show respect to the reader and stick to established language conventions.

By the way, if it is absolutely imperative that Danah Boyd be called danah boyd, shouldn't a person who wanted to be known as 徳川家康 be called that rather than Tokugawa Ieyasu?

#137 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 04:40 AM:

Unless it's changed recently, there are some capitalisation constraints in the underlying Wikipedia software, affecting page names. If I recall correctly, it would have to be "Danah" rather than "danah".

Every so often I come across a page with a capitalised title, and an annotation pointing out that the title has to be that way, and giving the correct form.

Within a page you can use the correct spelling, even showing it as a Wikilink.

So there are reasons for some of this, not that the most frustrating Admins seem able to explain anything.

But the problems that enrage us, I see signs of them in this thread.

Saying one thing, and meaning something quite different. Look, guys, we're all speaking, to a first-order approximation, the same f**king language! Why should it need an Admin to drop in, and then an interpreter to tell us what they really mean?

The vague handwaves (with added jargon) to justify an act. "WP:V" pops in upthread, and my guess is that it's a reference to a policy document on verifiability. It also looks like an attempt to exclude critics, if not actually mislead them.

Oh, and here's the interpreter again, just repeating his explanation. Well, sonny, we don't know you from Adam, and if a Wikipedia Administrator, wearing his cap of Wikiness, says something, we're going to prefer what he says over your version, however idiotic.

And then there are the admins with all the social grace of bull elephants in must, who have heard of a two-for-one at Walmart on extra-large condoms.

If you're a Wikipedia Admin, and you're not like that, great. Carry on. But the people like that are what will wreck Wikipedia, and if the good guys want it to work, they're going to have to sort things out.

#138 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 06:28 AM:

On criticising without getting involved, I quote Daniel Davies:

'In general, for most people and most fields, their opinions about what is wrong with something are more likely to be worth listening to than their ideas about what might be done right. Karl Popper built a whole philosophy on this important point.'

More good stuff to be found here. (Warning - entertainingly sweary).

#139 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 08:29 AM:

Damien @103:

However, adidas is referred to as Adidas, and Wikipedia's stated policy is to capitalize trademarks, even when they are officially uncapitalized. Apple's iProducts appear to be getting an unofficial pass on this.

Actually, they're getting an official pass. Nowadays, the rule in the style manual is to capitalise the first letter of all trademarks unless the trademark contains an internal capital. Not saying it's sensible, but it does seem to be applied with a reasonable degree of consistency at least.

There's also a standing rule that nothing gets a free pass from having the first letter of a sentence capitalised. IPods at the starts of sentences are capitalised like that.

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 10:03 AM:

Toru Ranryu @ 136

And why shouldn't someone be referred to by a personal identifier if that's their wish and it's technically feasible?

There is no one way set of rules for style guides, and there are hundreds of millions of people on the internet, using tens of different orthographies, hundreds of languages and dialects, and thousands (or more) of cultural vocabularies and shared concepts. Should we create a government agency to normalize all that to some standard? Why?

Entities like Wikipedia have a special place in this cacophony: they aspire to be of universal use, by any human with access to the Web. As such, they have an obligation to be as inclusive as possible (again, subject to technical feasibility), and to impose as few arbitrary rules as possible. Bureaucrats, which is what increasingly seems to be the kind of people making the day-to-day decisions at Wikipedia, don't do inclusive well, and excel at arbitrary.

To get back to the government controlling names: why do they need to? My government doesn't care about my name at all; they know me by a unique 9 digit decimal number; while there are several ways to write it*, they are not different in their meaning and use as an identifier. What business does the government have in controlling things that don't affect its operation?

The purpose of style guides is to reduce ambiguity, increase identification, and improve communication and comprehension of intended meaning. If a guide goes beyond this, it's intruding on the ability of the communicants to express themselves, and therefore limiting what meanings they can communicate, which I contend is a bad thing.


* As a nine digit group, as 3 groups of digits and with several choices of group delimiter, etc.

#141 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 10:36 AM:

Toru @ 136: What is it about your judgment on (in this case) orthography that makes you think the rest of us should care where you happen to draw the line between silly and deserving?

It seems to me that the first duty of a project dedicated to reporting and archiving should be to acommodate what others are in fact doing, as much as possible, and to make as few situations as possible in which anyone will end up saying "We can't accurately record your choices, you'll have to fit our mold as best you can." I don't really know just how far I'd take that - I'd have to see real cases to decide - but given that lower-case proper names are a known and non-unique phenomenon (rare but not vanishingly so, and people keep wishing to be identified that way), it seems, well, silly not to be prepared for it. But since I don't think my silly/serious boundary is all that important either, I'll say that not being prepared for it is bad encyclopedia practice.

Software is there to assist the human activity. When it cannot account for what people are actually doing, it should change. People's choices are more important than the software, or should be.

#142 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 10:36 AM:

Can anyone articulate any actual harm that would result from Wikipedia writing danah boyd's name the way she wishes it to be written?

#143 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:00 AM:

Can anyone articulate any actual harm

Sure. Those who have become masters of the rules of wikipedia and used it to gain influence as a wikipedian, and who don't actually know anything else, prefer to view any rule of wikipedia as the word of God that must be translated through them to us common folk.

If the word of God is actually up for negotiation, then we don't need their sorry asses to interpret it for us, because we can base it on common sense, mutual agreement, and so on.

Making the rules easy to operate inside of means that they no longer have a monopoly. And believe me, there are plenty of admins and what not over at wikipedia who would much rather keep their monopoly than to make wikipedia into something were everyone is an equal.

This is the most annoying thing about wikipedia. The software was developed so that "anyone can edit", but the rules mongerers quickly erected the most complicated, assinine, unintuitive, set of rules so that they could master the rules and use them against folks who just want to edit an article because they happen to know something about the topic.

(cue wikipedia admin who is a clueless tool and complains that criticism of any admin is criticising all admins, or that no one talks about what wikipedia got right, or whatever.)

#144 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:29 AM:
To get back to the government controlling names: why do they need to?
Has there ever been a government that, before attempting to control something, asked "why do we need to?"

They control it because they can.

The purpose of style guides is to reduce ambiguity, increase identification, and improve communication and comprehension of intended meaning.
I would say that's only part of the purpose. If I write a style guide recommending that you not write in alternating green and magenta characters or use the blink tag, it doesn't necessarily make it *easier* to read - only more pleasant. Green and magenta text is not ambiguous or uncommunicative (given a suitably contrasting background). Nevertheless, if I ran or maintained any websites, I would probably not honor a request from someone that their name be displayed that way.

If you think that people have a right to have their names written in all lowercase if they want - would you similarly defend a right to have their names written in all uppercase? Using 07h3|2 ch4|24c73|2s in place of letters? In a non-Latin alphabet (or containing some characters not present in Latin alphabets)? If a native speaker of Greek, Russian, Hebrew, etc. insisted on their name appearing only in their native alphabet, not transliterated, would you do it?

You do have to draw lines somewhere (unless you're going to refer to Prince by his glyph), and a decision to draw the line in a different place is not necessarily malicious or even "wrong" in any definable sense.

#145 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:35 AM:

#136:

To what extent are people entitled to choose their own name?

To a great extent.

Where I come from, to steal an expression from the Flamer Bingo thread, there are strict rules for how children obtain their names, as well as for when name changes are allowed and what names are acceptable.

Sorry to hear that.

All of this is enforced by a no-nonsense government agency.

To the contrary, that sounds like an entirely nonsensical government agency. An entire agency devoted to regulating the pressing social problem of inappropriate personal naming? Do you also have a Department of Hangnail Prevention and a National Dryer-Fluff Monitoring Agency?

Incidentally, under these rules it would not be allowed for Patrick Hayden and Teresa Nielsen to both take Nielsen Hayden as a last name.

Good thing we didn't get married there, then.

Are these rules repressive? Do they deny some fundamental freedom or human right?

Yes, certainly.

Of course, your purpose in putting it that way is to maneuver me into getting all hotheaded and claiming that this is a big deal. It's not a big deal. There are many, many causes more worth our serious attention. But since you ask: yes, those rules are repressive, in an silly, farcical, Woody-Allen-in-Bananas sort of way.

I don't think so.

Yes, we get that.

From birth, your name is not what you call yourself but what others call you. There are ways in which you can change your name, basically by asking people to call you something else, but in the end the decision is always made by other people.

This is your best point. Names are of course a transaction; you can decide that your proper name is Elderflower Nathanael Megatron-Twang ("Accent on the 'Twang,' please!"), but if you can't get anyone to take you seriously, you're SOL.

Still, I take the view that by and large, it's basic human courtesy to try to oblige one's fellow human beings on the issue of what they want to be called. That in real life it's not all that hard to figure out what is and isn't reasonable to ask to be called. And that, for an institution that makes claims to global reach, Wikipedia is drawing the line rather too restrictively, for reasons that don't really seem to have any serious functional justification.

#146 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:56 AM:

#144:

"You do have to draw lines somewhere..."

I thoroughly agree.

"...and a decision to draw the line in a different place is not necessarily malicious or even 'wrong' in any definable sense."

Oh, nonsense. This amounts to nothing more than the observation that, since people sometimes disagree, no reasonable conclusions are possible.

In fact, reasonable conclusions are possible, and groups of people manage to come to them all the time. In all kinds of spheres of human activity, we agree that "we have to draw the line somewhere." And then we have the task of figuring out where to draw that line. In pursuit of this we use all kinds of tools: our sense of justice, of proportionality, of practicality and of sheer priority. Often our answers are provisional, but you know something, so is life. The idea that once you decide to "draw the line," there's no "wrong" to drawing it in one place over another is, in its essence, a license for tyranny. It's a claim that once we've acknowledged a need for some rules and some exercise of authority, we have no grounds on which to challenge that authority's unfettered power.

(And I really wonder if some deep-rooted inability to grasp this explains why a certain number of libertarians have become utterly devoted defenders of this administration and this war. But that's a different conversation.)

#147 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:58 AM:

#136 ::: Toru Ranryu wondered:
To insist that ones name be written without capital letters strikes me as rather silly, comparable to demanding that ones name always be written in a green Helvetica 18 pt bold type font. Even if there is a framework that distinguishes between upper- and lowercase letters and allows all kinds of typesetting, I don't see why there should be an expectation on me to follow the strange whims of an eccentric person rather than show respect to the reader and stick to established language conventions.

Language conventions differ - it's actually part of the english language to expect variance.

By the way, if it is absolutely imperative that Danah Boyd be called danah boyd, shouldn't a person who wanted to be known as 徳川家康 be called that rather than Tokugawa Ieyasu?

Certainly - although one could write 徳川家康 as 啄側家楽 which would be generally equivalent to the capitalization question.

#148 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 12:15 PM:

Chris @ 144

Has there ever been a government that, before attempting to control something, asked "why do we need to?"

They control it because they can.

Perfectly true, and a perfectly lousy reason for me to accept such control. I'm not a government, so this argument is relevant for me only in so far as it allows me to understand why my government is trying to do something to me. If I object to that action, why shouldn't I try to prevent or ameliorate it?*


If I write a style guide recommending that you not write in alternating green and magenta characters or use the blink tag, it doesn't necessarily make it *easier* to read - only more pleasant. Green and magenta text is not ambiguous or uncommunicative (given a suitably contrasting background).

That is not correct. That color combination would prevent approximately 5% of the population, those with red-green color blindness, from reading the text. I never said making these decisions was easy, since they often involve considerations of culture, medicine, technology, and cognitive psychology.


You do have to draw lines somewhere (unless you're going to refer to Prince by his glyph), and a decision to draw the line in a different place is not necessarily malicious or even "wrong" in any definable sense.

I'm not disagreeing with this statement, except that I'm not convinced that Prince's glyph is really a reductio ad absurdum, but that's a side issue. The point I've been trying to make is that the more inclusive a community claims to be (and Wikipedia claims universality), the less restrictive its style guides should be, in order to foster that universality.

Moreover, the question of where to draw the lines should not be primarily determined by either technological issues (technology can be upgraded on a timescale short compared to major changes in human societies) or by the convenience of the administrators.** These two concerns are about the mechanisms of the community, not about its purposes or the consequences of its actions, which are the ways in which the community affects its members and the other communities in its world.

Well, so how do you decide what's important and what's frivolous? Case by case, of course, but there are some general rules that help. How about giving serious consideration to any request for exception or change to the style guide, without deciding a priori that some are frivolous? That doesn't mean you have to agree to every one, but it at least makes the decision not arbitrary.




* This is the inverse of the statement Fragano Ledgister made in another thread recently, about the responsibility of a citizen for the actions of his or her polity, that caused so much argumentation. I say here that I have no obligation to further actions of my polity that I consider unethical, immoral, or detrimental to that polity. Actions that are detrimental to me are another matter and another argument, for (please!) another thread, and therefore should be (for optimal effectiveness of the system in furthering its stated goals) the primary concerns in making decisions of this sort.


** What you might call the Bureaucrat's Option.

#149 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Anyone who thinks there's any kind of insoluble wikiproblem with using danah boyd rather than Danah Boyd needs to look at kd lang and bell hooks. As far as I can tell, that should be the end of the discussion. In what way am I wrong?

My concept, perhaps mistaken, of the reason for wikipedia's existence, was that it had the freedom to behave in ways that already-existing encyclopedias couldn't. Extensive articles on aspects of various fandoms, rapidly-updated articles on current events, science articles that are always up to date, and so forth. This is the admirable quality that gives wikipedia the power to even have an article on danah boyd, who surely deserves one and who surely would not have one in, say, the Britannica.

But there seems to be a push against this strength, to say, oh, this article contains trivia, or oh, this is controversial, we can't have anything about it at all, or oh, danah boyd probably isn't really significant in any way and besides her name is Danah Boyd because that's what the New York Times says, so what she says and what all kinds of other citations say doesn't matter. It's a deliberate campaign of blandification, and it's foolish; if these people have their way, what is the point of having wikipedia in addition to all the other frickin' encyclopedias?

The one, the only strength of wikipedia is that anyone who knows something about anything can take part, and there seems to be great internal opposition to people doing just that. How idiotic.

#150 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 12:32 PM:

You know, in my childhood and long before, almost any disagreement could be ended by a well-picked quote from Emerson; this one cries out for "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

What Wikipedia seems to need most to develop is a bullshit detector: what things are worth discussion and what can be taken as given, where fine distinctions need to be made and where they compromise understanding, the difference between speculation and hypothesis, the uses of consensus. It might also be useful for the admins to read, (or possibly to reread) Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and understand what he meant by "paradigm shift" instead of going with the popular assumption that there is no established science which is not ripe to the point of rot and ready to fall.

As it is, the institutional culture at WP seems based on rules to the exclusion of reason, which means it's what's ripe and ready to fall.


#151 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 12:54 PM:

I, when possible, bureaucratically go by my First Initial and Middle Name, since I am called by my middle name. When I was a lad, most forms actually had space for a First Name and a Middle Name, but a few required FN, MI instead.

I figured that in the Shiny Gernsbackian Future where those Fancy Calculating Machines did all the work, forms would always allow FN, MN, and even a way to indicate name preference (and when I programmed those machines I made sure my programs did so). In fact, things have gone the opposite way. Today few forms seem to accept anything but FN, MI.

#99: On the other hand, I think to the Wikipedia veterans, what PNH is doing here comes across as 'I see that you have a problem, but instead of helping you solve it I'm just going to stand over here and bitch at you from a safe distance.'

This is actually a trope worthy of being added to the "Flamer Bingo" thread. It works both ways, too: "If you think [X] is wrong, why aren't you out there [demonstrating/throwing bombs/running for office/etc.] against it?" or "If you support [X], why aren't you out there [in Iraq/running for office/protecting people needing abortions/deterring people from having abortions/etc.]

It's the idea that support or opposition to something is hypocritical or at least devalued if it's purely verbal.

In the Wikipedia case, it misses the point that pointing out flaws is helping to solve it. The first step in solving a problem is to identify it.

#152 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 01:03 PM:

Toru 136: I agree with everything Patrick says in 145. Also, you've added to my list of reasons I'd never be comfortable living in Japan, though I'll probably visit someday, if only to see the Moon from the summit of Mount Fuji (or something).

Patrick 145: An entire agency devoted to regulating the pressing social problem of inappropriate personal naming? Do you also have a Department of Hangnail Prevention and a National Dryer-Fluff Monitoring Agency?

The good news is that they have a non-silly reason for it. The bad news is that the reason is evil instead of just silly. They want to keep their culture homogenous; in particular they want to keep Korean immigrants from coming to Japan and being Korean. I understand that to become a Japanese citizen a Korean immigrant must sign papers agreeing never to speak Korean or eat Korean food, for example.

France has (or until recently had) a list of all the allowable given names, for a similarly oppressive reason. A huge selection of French names is on the list—but no Breton names are (this too may have changed). In France it was illegal to teach the Breton language until the 1960s. This was because some Breton nationalists had collaborated with the Nazis, but they did so because of centuries of French oppression.

I mention this to avoid any impression that I think linguistic fascism is unique to Japan.

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 01:34 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 145

Still, I take the view that by and large, it's basic human courtesy to try to oblige one's fellow human beings on the issue of what they want to be called. That in real life it's not all that hard to figure out what is and isn't reasonable to ask to be called. And that, for an institution that makes claims to global reach, Wikipedia is drawing the line rather too restrictively, for reasons that don't really seem to have any serious functional justification.

I think these are the bottom-line issues, and the things I've been trying to illustrate in my comments. Maybe it's a question of personal style, but my preference, and, I believe, Patrick's, is to control and regulate with a light hand, to be inclusive and not exclusive where feasible, and not to assume that my own preferences are privileged. And my experience with complicated systems, both technical and social, is that this approach works better for creating and maintaining systems that fufil their purposes optimally.

What concerns me the most about the way Wikipedia is going is that it's a grand experiment that will very likely affect the way organizations are built on the web for many years to come. In particular one of its experiments is in automating the routine aspects of organizing and regulating a consensus-driven endeavor, and so far that part of the experiment has been pretty much a failure, as shown by how much energy goes into these "routine" decisions and their aftermath. That's a shame; if we could learn how to do that, it would make creating and operating dynamically-organized work groups much easier and faster, and therefore more common.

#154 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 03:44 PM:

me @ 153

I wanted to expand on that last paragraph, but figured it would be too far off-topic for this thread. So I wrote some more about automating organizations on my blog. Feel free to drop by and take a look.

#155 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 04:17 PM:
"...and a decision to draw the line in a different place is not necessarily malicious or even 'wrong' in any definable sense."

Oh, nonsense. This amounts to nothing more than the observation that, since people sometimes disagree, no reasonable conclusions are possible.


I think you misinterpret what I meant by "not necessarily". I meant to say (and thought I did say) that disagreement is not grounds for accusations of tyranny, malice, bad faith, etc. It may be simply disagreement over where is the most reasonable place for the line.

Even when there is a consensus, disagreeing with it doesn't make you a bad person. (Unless it's the consensus not to murder people or something like that - and even then, you have to act on the disagreement or it's harmless.)

When people do disagree in subjective matters, I do think that conclusions should be reasonably regarded as tentative or personal, not absolute. People who have an opinion different from yours aren't lying, or stupid, or even mistaken; they just have an opinion different from yours. That's what distinguishes a matter of opinion from a matter of fact in the first place.

#156 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 04:34 PM:

This line belongs in Flamer's Bingo, the AOL Medical Debate Folder Edition:

People who have an opinion different from yours aren't lying, or stupid, or even mistaken; they just have an opinion different from yours. That's what distinguishes a matter of opinion from a matter of fact in the first place.

There are opinions which are informed by fact and checked against reality, and opinions which are pulled out of their owners asses, and every possible mix in between. Not all opinions are equally valid, and the majority opinion, where the majority is a random sample of living humans, is not particularly likely to survive the test of comparison to scientific testing or ethical analysis.

#157 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 05:58 PM:

Some people seem to be missing the distinction between opinion and belief.

Beliefs can be checked against reality. Opinions, not so much.

#158 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 06:14 PM:

Excuse me?

I'm not going to play duelling definitions, here, but "belief", in my vocabulary, and in my experience of written and spoken discourse, is the one which is untestable, whereas opinion is not. One professes belief in a divine being, which is by its very nature untestable and beyond discussion, but opinions are individually held working hypotheses.

#159 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 07:05 PM:

I believe I'll get home before 10 tonight. Easily testable.

I believe that my brother is at home right now. Easily testable.

Beliefs are about facts. They might or might not be testable given out abilities, equipment, etc. But they're about facts. Better knowledge and equipment might make some testable that weren't (consider beliefs about the far side of the Moon).

Opinions just are. My opinion is that the building across the street is ugly.

#160 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 07:45 PM:

I believe in one god, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth...

You're using "believe" in a way which seems awkward to me, so we may, once again, be dancing on the edge of dialect. It is true, however, that your definition is often used by people who want to give scientific and unscientific approaches to describing observable reality equal weight, and so I would reject it on that basis alone.

However, in your second example, you are asserting that "ugly" is a word with no generally accepted definition, which is not, in fact, the case. It is not a single, unquestionable concept (so very few things are) but as fuzzy as it is, it would probably be easier to agree on ugliness than, for easily accessible example, the delectibility of cilantro.

#161 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 07:52 PM:

""I can understand why taking the person's word on their personal details may not be the wisest...I know actresses who have ensured that IMDB has their 'official' age as several years younger than what they really are!""

A girl I graduated high school with in 1989 claims on IMDB to have been born in 1976. Not!

#162 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 09:02 PM:

xeger @147: Writing 徳川家康 as 啄側家楽 isn't equivalent to the decision to capitalise or not. Capitalisation is merely a decision to use one symbol representing a sound instead of another; there is no other significance beyond convention. The kanji in the first name represent something totally different to the kanji in the second and would be in fact be a different name to a native reader of Japanese. Kanji don't just represent sounds but things. "Virtuous River House of Health" is a totally different name to "Calligraphic stroke on the Side House of Ease" for all that they sound the same.

#163 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 09:36 PM:

Beliefs can be checked against reality. Opinions, not so much.

I think, in the end, both terms relate to something sourced in the subjective. What the object of the term is, is another thing. Some objects might be verifiable, others not so much.

#164 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 10:00 PM:

There are lots of different uses of the word 'believe'. In fact even 'believe in' isn't specific enough.

There's the sense at play in 'I believe in drinking lots of water.'

There's "You can do it; I believe in you."

There's "I don't believe in unicorns."

The sense of 'believe in X' that means 'think X exists' is quite different from the sense that means 'trust X' and again from 'think X is a good idea'.

Which do people mean when they say they believe in God? They could mean they think God exists, or that they trust God, or both. Or neither. But they don't make a distinction, often.

So don't get started on this whole "beliefs can be checked against reality." Lots of things people mean when they say "I believe" can; lots of others can't. That way lies madness.

#165 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 10:29 PM:

I've watched this debate with interest, but I must confess feeling torn. On the one hand, I believe that people should be able to choose how they present themselves and that includes, obviously their names. On the other hand, contra Xopher, I have long wished I had been born in France or Spain because when I was born the law as it stood in both countries permitted only names in the Calendar of Saints, the Bible, or from classical antiquity. On the other hand, given what my father was like he would probably have decided that my name should be 'Shishak', or 'Belteshazzar' or 'Amenhotep', which would be even worse than the three given names with which he saddled me.

#166 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2007, 11:39 PM:

I didn't say that beliefs can be checked; I said they're about facts, and specifically pointed out that some facts aren't checkable. (Did a particular star a million light-years away go nova last year? Does God exist?) Those are facts (or false), just not checkable.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 12:14 AM:

Seth, not all beliefs are about facts, at least not directly. I believe in drinking lots of water on a daily basis. This is not the same as saying I believe that drinking water is healthy, even though I do and the facts are connected.

#168 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 01:41 AM:

(Sorry for taking so long to reply - weird work hours and the sudden discovery (via info and images on the Danish Wikipedia) that the geometry of an important C16th building in my WIP was different than a map had suggested have taken up all my time.)

Patrick @65: of course I've failed to follow my own advice to make it clear that I agree that what's happened was wrong and in no way disagree that there may be systematic causes behind it. I just don't know enough about how things work to know if there's a way to fix any systematic problems without a) ruining what makes Wikipedia a good thing and b) setting up new systematic problems. (Eg, can one absolutely prevent an unknown A infringing B's rights without infringing the rights of all the people who may or may not be A?) If there is a way, that'd be great and I'd be really interested in hearing what it might be so I can do what I can to support it. (Again, I'm not saying that you're in anyway obliged to come up with one, just that I'd like it if you did in the same way I'd like it if, say, Lois McMaster Bujold wrote another Miles book.) If there isn't a way, then I'm of a philosophical bent that far prefers making the best of a bad situation than talking about how bad it is. Mileage varies. (That phrasing sounds derogatory of different priorities; sorry; if I knew how to frame it more neutrally I would.)

Bruce@71 - I'm not saying "Don't discuss Wikipedia here". Not just "I haven't said it" but "I thought I said not-it". And Stephen@85 - I don't mind, indeed approve of, people raising the issues at Wikipedia as well as here if they want, but again I didn't mean either to say or imply that they should. I'm happy for issues to be raised here so that if I'm capable and someone else hasn't got in first I can go and do something about it.

What I said, and all I meant, is that I'd like for Wikipedia's good points to acknowledged at the same time as the bad points are being discussed. For reasons I've already mentioned, and because it helps delineate where the bathwater stops and the baby begins.

Teresa@64 - I take your point about there being a lot of other things neither you nor Patrick have said. But I think some things-unsaid follow on more naturally from things-said than others; humans make patterns and are quick to pick up on implications; it's possible that I'm being oversensitive in my plaint, but then I'm not the only one to feel put on the defensive and complain accordingly; though I acknowledge too that equally maybe all of us are being oversensitive (or alternatively undersensitive to the rhetorical customs of the ML community). Anyway, the explicit clarification that if PNH had meant it he would have said it helps a great deal, thank you. At this point all I'd say is that if you feel it worth the effort to prevent passersby feeling defensive and posting accordingly, and flamewarrage ensuing (and you may not for any number of good reasons) then being explicit that you do want to keep the baby would help in that regard.

All of the above caveats, aside from making this a mega-long post, are intended to clarify my position, but based on past experience I won't be surprised if they aren't sufficient; if I do appear to have said something uncommonly offensive, please "Assume Good Faith" and believe I didn't intend it.

#169 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 09:28 AM:

#162 ::: NelC wrote:
xeger @147: Writing 徳川家康 as 啄側家楽 isn't equivalent to the decision to capitalise or not. Capitalisation is merely a decision to use one symbol representing a sound instead of another; there is no other significance beyond convention. The kanji in the first name represent something totally different to the kanji in the second and would be in fact be a different name to a native reader of Japanese. Kanji don't just represent sounds but things. "Virtuous River House of Health" is a totally different name to "Calligraphic stroke on the Side House of Ease" for all that they sound the same.

NelC - Japanese is a phonetic language. Under most circumstances, it's the sound that the ideograph represents that's relevant. My surname can be (and frequently is) 'mispelled' in Japanese - specifically, the kanji used to write it are not the ones which we would use. This does not prevent anybody (who reads Japanese, that is) from coming up with the correct pronounciation of my surname.

Are you perhaps thinking of Chinese, where the pronounciation associated with an ideograph is expected to vary, while the meaning remains the same?

#170 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 01:49 PM:

#156-160: Why make up examples when we can use the one we already have? "I believe that Wikipedia should allow people to control how their names are capitalized in WP." (Or more generally, "control aspect X of their name's appearance in WP".)

Please describe which facts can be used to test this opinion for validity, if you believe such a test is possible.

That is what I mean by "not a matter of fact". The technical term is, I believe[*], "normative", as opposed to "empirical". I quite agree that opinions on empirical questions can be wrong, and can be proven wrong.

But not all questions are empirical, and the question of how much control WP "should" allow the named person over the representation of his/her own name falls into the "not empirical" category. (In my opinion. Trying to determine whether that classification itself is empirical or not is deep philosophy.)


[*] This is a good example of one of those beliefs that I actually might be wrong about: technical terms may have well-established standard meanings, and if that's not the correct usage, then that is *not* the technical term for what I meant.

#171 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Xopher #120: Seth 118: True, but it takes little or no discernment to see a difference between lying about your name and declaring its proper usage.

"The proper form of my first name is Christopher, not Chris." By you, that's a reasonable statement about your name. By me, that's a lie. How is a third party who doesn't know us to discern the difference?

#172 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Chris @ 170

You seem to assume that just because there isn't one universal answer to a question that the answer one chooses is arbitrary. There are consequences to the users and the subjects of Wikipedia articles of the rules chosen, and those consequences affect the way and amount that the site is accepted by the user community (which has been stated by many to be potentially anyone with internet access).

Several commenters on this thread have pointed out that there is a question of politeness and civility here; in what way does being polite to people not outweigh the minor benefit, if there is any, of a rule which has already been pointed out not to depend on technical feasibliity?

#173 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Seth Breidbart @ 171

In what way is that statement a lie? You may disagree with it based on your definition of "proper form", but you can only conclude it's a lie if it is deceptive, which I do not believe that it is.

A third party can tell by the way the statement is phrased, and the purpose for which it is used. Xopher has not denied his legal name, nor attempted to use another name for legal purposes. And the statement talks about "proper form", not "true identity".

#174 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:36 PM:

Seth Breidbardt @171, if we are talking about Xopher's name, then for your "it's a lie" to have any chance of trumping Xopher's own assertion, you would have to find a whole lot of public and verifiable sources to contradict his single primary source assertion: that's the way any other tertiary source would go about disproving his pers. comm. (a citation which shows up in print encyclopedias, by the way).

My husband is Franklin, I am Julia. Those are our legal first names, the ones under which we vote, pay taxes, and bank, the ones on our birth certificates and those of our offspring, and on our marriage certificate. Just because some people refer to us as Frank and Julie and have put those names on, say, insurance policies, personel files, press releases, and mailing lists does not make those names equally valid. We have cognomens, but Frank and Julie are not on the list of ways we are referred to by those in our inner circle. Asserting that since our original homeowner's policy names us as "Frank and Julie," then those are our names is about what the "Danah Boyd" advocates are doing.

#175 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:41 PM:

My first suggestion about what Wikipedia should do different is acknowledge that they have a power structure, that they have a system of authority, and that some people's views are taken more seriously than others. Once they've acknowledged that fact and made their system of authority and credentialing explicit, it will be easier for them to talk about whether it's the system they want.

This ought to be a lesson that's familiar to people on this blog, since it's also one of the important lessons in This Dispossessed. Decision-making systems can exist even in a formal anarchy, even in a system that's committed to their absence. The trouble with unwritten laws is that it's hard to argue against them and even harder to change them.

#176 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:43 PM:

Jest #160: However, in your second example, you are asserting that "ugly" is a word with no generally accepted definition, which is not, in fact, the case. It is not a single, unquestionable concept (so very few things are) but as fuzzy as it is, it would probably be easier to agree on ugliness than, for easily accessible example, the delectibility of cilantro.

Tastes differ so much that "ugly" does not have an applicable generally accepted definition. ("Aesthetically unpleasing" isn't applicable, I can't test it.) Consider what some cultures think is attractive; is someone with, say, a lot of tattoos ugly? What about a 400-lb Polynesian?

Xopher #164: I believe that your uses are shorthand.

There's the sense at play in 'I believe in drinking lots of water.'

"I believe that drinking lots of water is good for your health." What else do you mean by that? Do you believe that some people do it? Do you believe that you should do it? (Then we get into the meaning of "should".) Do you believe you are better off for doing it? (OK, that's more general than "good for your health" but still of the same category.)

There's "You can do it; I believe in you."

"I believe that you have the ability to do it.

There's "I don't believe in unicorns."

"I do not believe that unicorns exist."

The sense of 'believe in X' that means 'think X exists' is quite different from the sense that means 'trust X' and again from 'think X is a good idea'.

Yes, because "believe" is shorthand for specific beliefs.

Which do people mean when they say they believe in God? They could mean they think God exists, or that they trust God, or both. Or neither. But they don't make a distinction, often.

You're just questioning which abbreviation they're using.

I'll agree that not all beliefs are testable by a non-omniscient being. But an omniscient being could determine the truth or falsity of any belief.

So don't get started on this whole "beliefs can be checked against reality." Lots of things people mean when they say "I believe" can; lots of others can't. That way lies madness.

The checker has to be omniscient in some cases.

Chris #170: "I believe that Wikipedia should allow people to control how their names are capitalized in WP." (Or more generally, "control aspect X of their name's appearance in WP".)

"I believe that Wikipedia would be better if it . . ." Again, the meaning of "should" is involved.

#177 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 02:44 PM:

I think Seth was saying that if he said, "My name is Christopher," it would be a lie. But it took me at least two tries to read it that way.

#178 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 03:46 PM:

Seth 171: "The proper form of my first name is Christopher, not Chris." By you, that's a reasonable statement about your name. By me, that's a lie. How is a third party who doesn't know us to discern the difference?

At first I thought you'd lost your mind, until I realized what you meant by 'by' (I'm sure you're aware that in some dialects spoken around the NYC area "by me, X" means "In my opinion, X"—so you can understand my confusion).

I'd appeal to context. If your name appears as Seth and you say it should be Christopher...well, actually I still think they should take your word for it. But if someone has been referring to me as Chris and I correct them to Christopher, that's pretty reasonable on the face of it. If they later find out my real name is Seamus O'Flynn, they won't have been any more lied to about the Christopher than they were about the Chris, will they?

Bruce 173: Yes! But see Mary Aileen at 177.

Seth 176: You might be right about 'believe in doing X'. You're absolutely wrong about 'believe in you'. That might be what's going on in some cases, but the trust and faith aspect of that belief statement goes way beyond factual belief.

Perhaps YOU don't believe anything that's not reducible to fact or falsehood. But if you think there are no such beliefs you have not adequately comprehended the minds of many of your fellow humans. Just because you can come up with a statement of fact/falsehood belief (I call those factoidal beliefs, btw) that seems to you to correspond to each of my types does not mean that my belief experience is actually mappable that simply.

Years ago a Hindu coworker caught me singing a little praise-song to Kali, and in the ensuing conversation said "We don't believe in Kali any more; we believe in Durga now." I was taken aback until I realized that she did NOT mean that she and her family had ceased to believe that Kali existed, but only that they now directed their worship and their hopes toward Durga.

I expect you're now thinking "She believes that worshipping Durga is more effective than worshipping Kali. Still sounds like a factoidal belief to me." But you're wrong, and I'm not sure it's really possible for me (with my limited abilities) to communicate the difference. I'll think about it and try again later.

Mary Aileen 177: Me too; in fact I wrote a whole response to Seth on the basis of the easier interpretation ("You're either being disingenous or you've lost your mind") then realized and wrote something else instead.

#179 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 04:07 PM:

Seth,

If Mary Aileen and Xopher are correct about what you meant, I retract my #173, and apologize for what I was thinking and didn't say. I still hold that Xopher's argument about belief not mapping reliably to provable facts puts a hole in your position.

#180 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 04:16 PM:

I should have been clearer, I guess "by me" ("said by me") is a New York idiom. The intended example was me attempting to commit fraud/identity theft by using the same words Xopher did to describe "my" name.

I'm not familiar with the "believe in" meaning that doesn't map to fact (even undeterminable).

Xopher, does the "believe in" map to "should worship"? Then we're back to the meaning of "should" (Hell, I can barely describe the meaning of "SHOULD" and that's in an RFC).

#181 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Seth: I'm not familiar with the "believe in" meaning that doesn't map to fact

How about "I believe in love"?

And I think to try and explain how that isn't talking about a fact is akin to trying to explain a zen koan.

#182 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 08:08 PM:

Re:belief vs. opinions, I sometimes talk about having an opinion vs. having a feeling -- with the former more likely to be supportable by evidence.

#183 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 08:35 PM:

The discussion in this thread of names and naming has sparked a typically-interesting Crooked Timber post from Henry Farrell. Check it out, including the comments.

#184 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2007, 10:28 PM:

[/lurk]

xeger @ 169 wrote: "Are you perhaps thinking of Chinese, where the pronounciation associated with an ideograph is expected to vary, while the meaning remains the same?"

Can you restate that? As written, it doesn't make any sense to me.

[lurk]

#185 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 12:38 AM:

I believe one thing we've learned from this thread is that "believe in" and "believe that" mean different things, and that we should not assume that the word "believe" means the same things in both phrases. Some "believe in" statements can be translated into "believe that" statements without too much loss of meaning, others can't.

#186 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 01:39 AM:

#140 Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers)

When interacting with my government, I prefer to be a name rather than a number. In that way, if they are going to make some decision that concerns me, I'm hoping they might see me as a human being rather than just an automaton with a serial number.

Technical feasibility shouldn't be the only criterion for determining whether to refer to an individual according to their express wishes because it creates opacity. If I was to demand that everyone render my name in Japanese characters then it would certainly be technically feasible to comply, but people who don't speak Japanese might find it difficult to read.

#141 Bruce Baugh

In the case of Wikipedia, I think the problem could be adequately solved by noting in the article that the person prefers to write their own name using lowercase letters, and apply Wikipedias usual style guide when otherwise referring to that person.

#148 Patrick Nielsen Hayden

I couldn't understand from your reply whether you think name laws of any kind are repressive or not. The way I see it the most important purpose of a legal name is interaction with the government, and then it makes sense for the government to specify the proper formatting of those names. If you wish to use a different name in your interactions with other people then that is a matter of negotiation between you and them. Of course I also think that there are instances when name laws can be repressive, for example if the names of certain ethnic groups are forbidden. By the way, I have no wish to manipulate you into saying anything that you don't mean, and I'm sorry if my English ability is not always up to the task of conveying my meaning correctly.

Also, thank you for the pointer to that other site in #183!

#187 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 01:51 AM:

Toru Ranyru @ 186

When interacting with my government, I prefer to be a name rather than a number. In that way, if they are going to make some decision that concerns me, I'm hoping they might see me as a human being rather than just an automaton with a serial number.

I find it difficult to believe that anything will make a government see an individual as a human being. Individual government officials, yes, of course, but not the government as an entity.

You may not like it, but numbers are how most governments identify people for most purposes. If they use other identifiers for some purposes, it often increases the probability of mistakes and mis-identifications.

If I was to demand that everyone render my name in Japanese characters then it would certainly be technically feasible to comply, but people who don't speak Japanese might find it difficult to read.

This is likely to be problem that solves itself. If you insist that people refer to you in a manner that's incovenient for them, they will stop referring to you. If that's a problem for you, you'll allow them to use a more convenient form,, if it's not a problem then you probably like living alone and without communication with other people.

#188 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 01:54 AM:

Matt@175:

"Welcome to Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,
but some people can edit more than others"? :-)

Your suggestion makes sense to me though I'm not sure whether I agree or disagree with it. Random thoughts:

Attempting to implement it would probably bog down in one heck of a debate about what is meant by power structure and authority and 'taken seriously', because the thing is large and non-monolithic and people's experiences vary.

Even aside from that, people may object to writing down, frex, "Administrators tend to be more highly regarded than other users" for fear that the act of writing it down lend authority to the thing, thus turning a regrettable fact into a goal to be maintained.

I think an investigation into the current state of affairs -- all very quantitative -- might work to give the facts needed for a debate about whether the state of affairs is as it should be, while being clearly descriptive rather than prescriptive. But then what sort of questions should such an investigation look at?

#189 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 01:57 AM:

#184 ::: Rachel delurked to wonder:
xeger @ 169 wrote: "Are you perhaps thinking of Chinese, where the pronounciation associated with an ideograph is expected to vary, while the meaning remains the same?"

Can you restate that? As written, it doesn't make any sense to me.

Hm. I'll try...

Basically Chinese[0] can be thought of as a set of common icons shared by a whole host of languages that are mutually incomprehensible -- so you could have an icon that represents "tree", and can be understood to represent tree by anybody who reads Chinese, even though the spoken sounds could be radically different, and not mutually understood (Let's hear it for vast bureaucracies)

... does that make a bit more sense?

[0] Glossing over simplified vs traditional...

#190 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 03:30 AM:

#152 Xopher

At this point perhaps I'd better tell you that I'm not in fact Japanese, and that my handle is a bastardized version of my real name. Oh, the irony of being caught using an assumed name in this particular thread! It has never been my intent to deceive, but I must admit it was interesting to read responses of people making incorrect assumptions about me. My true nationality is Swedish. I'm looking forward to reading your explanation of why the Swedish law is also evil, or maybe that law is merely silly.

By the way, your statements about Koreans in Japan were quite interesting. Perhaps you could point me to some further sources so I can read more about it? I have an acquaintance who is a third-generation Korean and a Japanese citizen, and I'm sure she would be interested too. I must caution her not to tell her parents though, as that would involve speaking Korean and thus breaking the law. And I'll make sure never to take her to any of the ubiquitous Korean restaurants. Do the papers they have to sign also ban watching any of the popular Korean dramas that are constantly running on Japanese television? Strange that the protectionist government hasn't shut down those broadcasts yet.

#187 Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers)

Every action performed by the government is in the end performed by an individual government official, and I prefer it if that government official sees me as a human being. Of course they use a unique identification number as well. Why can't they use both?

I guess this is a good opportunity to ask, because ever since I started lurking here I've always wondered if you would mind terribly if somebody referred to you as Bruce Cohen without the additional (SpeakerToManagers)? Previously I assumed not but from the recent discussion I'm starting to feel unsure.

#191 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 04:05 AM:

Greg #181: When you say "I believe in love" what is the belief you're talking about? Please state that belief as a complete sentence.

Or is there some form of "believe" that doesn't correspond to a belief? That's what I don't get.

#192 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 04:29 AM:

Toru Ranryu #190: I can only speak for myself, but I do not find your tone charming.

#193 ::: Arwel ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 04:35 AM:

Zeborah @ 188 'people may object to writing down, frex, "Administrators tend to be more highly regarded than other users" for fear that the act of writing it down lend authority to the thing, thus turning a regrettable fact into a goal to be maintained'. I agree with you, but it's human nature that administrators will tend to give greater weight to the opinions of other administrators than to ordinary editors, although I have to admit that Wikipedia has become too large for anyone to be familiar with the the editing history and style of the majority of administrators - back when I became an admin in 2003 it was possible to come across all the other admins as they edited and looked after their areas of interest, but it no longer is.

Going back to the block which started off this thread, I've come across the edits of Dmcdevit, the original blocking administrator, for several years and recognise that he's generally a pretty good editor and admin, although like anybody he's only human and capable of making mistakes; I had never previously come across Gerry Lynch until I found the block being discussed in blogs of people I respect, and I decided to look into it. It was apparent that it was likely an error had been made, but I was going to give the blocking admin 24 hours to justify his action, as it's generally considered bad form to just reverse another admins' actions without discussion. When all is said and done, it's important to remember that it's only Wikipedia: nobody will die because they're unable to edit for a few days while a proper investigation is conducted.

#194 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 06:19 AM:

#192 ethan

You're right. I shouldn't have posted that message because I was too upset about #152. I apologize to everyone involved.

#195 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 07:57 AM:

Okay, I try to stay. It's just that I've had terrible time with my debating skills lately; this mess here was the last drop for me that convinced me I need a slight break from any kind of Wikipedia-related advocacy.

So I really try not to say anything any more that I can't back up, and above all, I try not to be Clever and Debatinational (if that is a word). =)

And sorry in advance for a longish post.

#66, #72: I'm really a prosaist (specifically an awful fantasy hobbyist writer) and not a poet, but I guess I'll try - eventually. =)

#69: I'm kind of agreeing here: Wikipedia policies are big and confusing, and regrettably, we're kind of in a swamp with what I call "cargo-cult policy following": People are hugging policies without understanding the spirit of the policies and what caused them to be created in the first place. If someone says we need to clean up, streamline, and clarify policies NOW, I'm all for it - life is too short to learn all of these policies by just opening the policy pages and reading. I also rambled a little bit a while ago (curiously, in my blog =) how Wikipedia would be a much better place if we tried a "civil-law" approach where the policy is what it is, backed by precedents, clarifications and examples; we're now a "common-law" community where everyone's up to interpret the rules however they want as long as they consider what happened before. I was talking about deletion process in particular, but I think it could be extended to other fields as well.

#85: Exactly. When I said something about "blogs not being helpful" I meant the same thing as the locals say when they say "don't whine that you didn't win the lottery if you didn't buy a ticket". =) I see it all that often that people make a big noise out of something that could have been handled in calm and peace if they had contacted the right people. Of course blogging about issues is helpful at some level; however, don't expect any results unless you bring matters up in other channels as well.

#87: Yup, there's one solution to this though: Know the rules, know the procedures, just do what everyone else is doing. For example, there was this one case of an Art Movement whose proponents had a big problem sticking to ordinary rules with their article: They kept using flowery non-neutral language, didn't explain why the subject was notable, and had no idea about article formatting either. Could the article have been saved? Yep - if someone would have written an article according to our rules. Which is why, for most part, we try not to delete things with prejudice. The sad part is, the proponents get frustrated at that point, feel they're wronged, and think that the article has been deleted forever and ever. However, if you are familiar with the rules, it's not uncommon for the article to get restored properly.

#93: Sorry to diverge here, but I don't think there really was a "jihad against webcomics", even when it was categorised as such; it was just that people decided to institute notability criteria. The problem with the notability criteria is that the bar has to be set somewhere, and sites that are kind-of-sort-of notable end up being seriously debated. And as I complained above, with the current common-law approach, the notability criteria are pretty much lines in water, but I sure hope they work at least somehow.

There's an interesting issue about formation of notability criteria: I guess most of them get initiated when someone notices "we have an awful lot of awful articles about things no one cares about", and gets the ball rolling. Of course it's a bad thing if someone (hypotethically speaking) has animosity toward (say) webcomics and decides to get rid of the very worst; however, it still doesn't remove the fact that there should probably be a commonly accepted rule on what's accepted and what's not. So even when someone acts on bad faith, it's sometimes better to just let it go. If bad people do good things, Wikipedia's preference is to let the good things stand, even when done by bad people - while the actions are probably bad, it avoids some red tape and avoids duplicate work.

#97: Reminds me of an old thought of mine: Wikipedia has become successful because it's a wiki. The biggest threat to it is that people don't always realise it's an encyclopaedia, with all that it entails - one of them being that it can't be all-inclusive. One of the biggest weaknesses of Wikipedia is that it's not just a wiki; for most people, it's the wiki. I really hope the wiki concept gets drummed up even farther and people set up their own wikis to cover the minutiae that can't be fit in an encyclopaedia, even arguably so. So, good luck to Wikia et al...

On naming conventions, in general: There's no end in sight! No end! Never! Oh, maybe we can settle this - but I guess the naming issues have to wait until Wikimania 2028 conference, held in Gdanzig. =)

#196 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 08:08 AM:

Arwel: It was apparent that it was likely an error had been made, but I was going to give the blocking admin 24 hours to justify his action, as it's generally considered bad form to just reverse another admins' actions without discussion.

As far as I could tell from the discussion, it would seem that the blocking admin had not followed correct procedure. That being the case, shouldn't removing the block be something that another admin would do automatically, without having to go off and consult the blocking admin? Admins have a responsibility to follow correct procedure, and they should not expect their whims to be indulged if they don't.

Nobody will die if an admin has a decision reversed because they didn't follow procedure, and has to do it over again properly this time. And less harm will come to Wikipedia from that than from perpetuating a culture in which administrators' clubbiness trumps published regulations.

#197 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 09:36 AM:

Seth 180: Sometimes it maps partly to "should worship," but not always and not completely. The belief parents have in their children isn't worshipful, or not usually. I'm still struggling with how to explain it.

Rachel 184: Written Chinese is communicative to both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers (for example), even though they can't understand each other's spoken languages. If a Mandarin speaker reads written text out loud, the Cantonese speaker will not understand.

This is because Chinese makes no attempt to write the sounds of the language(s). What we really have here is a writing system that can be used in common among a group of different, non-mutually intelligible languages, all of which we confusingly call Chinese. I don't know of any other writing system that comes close to accomplishing that.

Toru (the name you're using here, which choice I respect) 190: I was relating what I'd heard from other people who've lived in Japan. Since you've lived in Japan more recently, and have firsthand experience, I will defer to that and simply state that I stand corrected.

I'm back to thinking it's silly.

I know nothing about Swedish naming laws. Why would you assume I had anything to say about them? We haven't discussed them at all.

All that said, if you present yourself with a Japanese name and speak authoritatively on matters of Japanese law and tradition, it's hardly fair to then upbraid us for "assuming" you're Japanese.

re your ct Bruce: I always use people's first names when commenting to them, if I can determine what they are. No one has complained except when I get it wrong, and then I use whatever they tell me their first name is.

Seth 191: "I believe in love" is a complete sentence. In fact I'm pretty sure it's a life sentence with no parole! Joking aside, though, it's interesting that you don't think that's a complete sentence. I think understanding that it is will greatly advance your understanding of what we're talking about when we talk about beliefs that are not reducible to factual statements.

Toru 194: I accept your apology and proffer my own for (albeit unintentionally) libeling the Japanese.

#198 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 09:51 AM:

Xopher @ 197... About Mandarin and Cantonese... One could demonstrate the concept by pointing to numbers. For example, '2' looks the same in English and in French, but, if I say 'deux', you won't understand that to you, it's 'two'. (Well, maybe you would understand, but I was using 'you' as the generic 'you', not the Xopher 'you'.)

#199 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 10:04 AM:

Serge 198: That's a GREAT way of explaining it! Wish I'd thought of that.

#200 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 10:05 AM:

#190 Toru Ranryu

There are lots of people working in the USA who are not legally present here. US immigration law is a hypocritical mess--restaurants and cleaning companies and certain types of manufacturing facilities want the cheap extra-legal labor, because it means they can ignore safety regulations, laws regarding wages and working conditions, etc., because the workers aren't here legally as workers and if they try to complain to authorities face deportation

(for the manufacturing that still exists in the country, compare the cost for a Chinese facotry worker getting $150 a month (pay at the official exchange rate) to a factory worker in the 50 US states (the Marshall Islands is another issue, one that's got commentary elsewhere on Making Light, and has involved "human trafficking," discourtesy of such wonderful (sarcasm) people as Mssrs Abramoff and DeLay) whose salary say is $1500 a month. That is why the US manufacturing sector's slide into oblivions is continuing, when the value is "greatest immediate profit with lowest expenses and maximum earnings," going with the cheapest labor structure and the hell with the consequences is what rules... values of preservation of the ecology, clean air, clean water, social justice,health and well-being, etc., don't apply.

That also promote the presence of extralegal foreign workers--since they aren't officially in the USA, their employment isn't legal, either, and not being officially employed, they don't go to law enforcement to complain about illegal work conditions that include not being paid at least the mimimum wage, not getting employment benefits, unsafe working conditions, etc.

The fact that there are lots of extra-legal workers whose native language is Spanish, has fueled a boom in radio programming in Spanish, in their native foods showing up in grocery stores taking up more and more shelf space, etc., because the bottom line, again, is -profit-, and the stores find it profitable to sell products which the extra-legal workers buy. Oh, also, there is rental housing packed with extra-legal workers, to the extent that a three-apartment house in Boston, which has perhaps 6 bedrooms total, caught fire a couple years ago, and close to 30 adults who apparently had been living in that house, ran out of it... the legal number of adults that ought to be living in such a building is a maximum of 12, assuming 6 bedrooms and two adults per bedroom.

Anyway, legal standing versus what actually happens, are two different things. Extra-legal workers in the USA don't get the legal protection that legal workers can apply for, and get exploited. But they also spend money on rent, on transportation, on goods and services which often involves languages other than English, speak in their native languages to other people who speak the same languages... and slimeball factory managers (there is some manufacturing left in the USA and some of the businesses have been raided, a recent raid in Massachusetts resulted in rounding up and detainment of dozens of people, leaving in cases young children of the extra-legal workers, without parent or guardian present within hundreds of miles, and without any arrangement or consideration on the part of the arresting federal agency, of any such issue of minor children...

Oh, and the instant that a foreign worker family has a child born on US soil, that gives the foreign family a US citizen member of the family which conveys citizen privileges and rights for the child and special consideration for the family of the child due to the child being a US citizen by birth. Theoretically a US citizen is a US citizen, who the parents are is irrelevant.

#201 ::: Tristan ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Although I usually lurk silently, I feel strongly enough about the issue of names to comment. I myself have, for many years, used a name that does not appear on my birth certificate. I did eventually change it legally, so that I now have official proof should anyone dispute my claim. However, there was a period of time where everyone except the DMV managed to use the name I preferred.

There is a difference between names (of persons) and other characteristics (such as age). I'm not trying to claim that names aren't facts, simply that I am the only person who can tell you what my true name is.

Names have a power of their own. (No doubt someone will make the same claim about age, and that one is only as old as one thinks one is, but the year of one's birth is unchangable, unlike the name to which one responds.)

That being said, we live in a world where "last name, first name, middle initial" is a universal staple of bureaucracy. So while I can (and do, and deserve to) mandate how my friends, colleagues, and historians, should I ever be the subject of one, address me, I also accept that the government, banks, and other computer-driven institutions are not going to cooperate with non-standard variations of my name.

I do not, however, get to choose my birthday, age, astrological sign, et cetera. I guess the distinction is obvious to me, but then I felt strongly enough about the issue in the first place to change my name, so I may see this differently than most people.

#202 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 10:49 AM:

WWWWolf, 195: #87: Yup, there's one solution to this though: Know the rules, know the procedures, just do what everyone else is doing.

Yes, but the whole point of this discussion is that EVEN WHEN ordinary users follow the rules, admins break them. Not every admin and not all the time--but there seems to be no way to control the bad admins.

#203 ::: WWWWolf ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 11:43 AM:

#202: Yep, and that's why I would like to see the policies more codified and less subject to interpretation. It'd be easier to point out who made a mistake and where, and probably easier to get get third opinions.

It can be done nowadays; I think the bigger problem is finding the persons who are willing to give the third opinion out of blue. It can sound really bureaucratic in the way it's done these days.

And I'm sorry I don't know what's really going on in the admin world; I'm just trying to do the gruntwork (delete articles that are clearly inappropriate and block newly registered users who are obviously not doing anything else but trolling and vandalising). I believe in discussion and I think any blocks of established editors should be well discussed; I regrettably don't follow the situation all that well to know what's going on in practice. Dispute resolution is such a complex place that I don't even know where to go...

#204 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 11:50 AM:

None of the latest round of defenses of Wikipedia addresses the plain fact that, until people started discussing the events in question on LiveJournals and blogs, people on Wikipedia were being banned for inquiring about the events.

That's not just a "mistake." That's what happens when the administrators of an institution are becoming corrupt.

#205 ::: Matthew B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 01:02 PM:

I don't understand the fuss about danah boyd. There's a lengthy English tradition of uncapitalised names -- think of surnames like ffinch, ffolliott, ffrench, etc.

Xopher @ 197: The main reason for the Japanese restrictions on names is to keep the number of allowable kanji down to two thousand or so. If you allow any name kanji at all then you start getting characters unique to individual families, some with huge numbers of strokes; strangers can't read them, computers can't print them, and you're starting to edge into Prince-glyph territory. There are also rather more intrusive government rules that forbid some common kanji with negative connotations for use in given names.

Since WWII all foreign residents in Japan have been allowed to keep their original names. Since at least the late 1970s, people taking Japanese citizenship have been allowed to keep their original names too (converted to Japanese orthography). But many Koreans did, and to a lesser extent still do, adopt Japanese names to avoid discrimination.

#206 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 02:20 PM:

WWWWolf says: The biggest threat to it is that people don't always realise it's an encyclopaedia, with all that it entails - one of them being that it can't be all-inclusive.

Why not?

That's an honest question - I've never understood why Wikipedia has notability criteria at all. Isn't the advantage of an online resource that it doesn't have size restrictions? I doubt they're going to run out of server space any time soon.

If someone bothers to create an entry on something, that seems like proof that at least one person considers it notable. What's the advantage to deleting it?

#207 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 03:30 PM:

Hey, Patrick? I'm not entirely sure that it's still relevant, but I feel obliged to defend Zeborah on this isolated point:

Zeborah, #46: "Patrick, my impression is that at least the vast majority, of Making Light posts about Wikipedia have been 'Look, they've done something stupid *again*' in nature."

I think there's actually a valid case for Zeborah's so interpreting your post this way. That's exactly how I interpreted it. Here's why:

Original Post: ...more evidence that Wikipedia is being gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas.

The way I read it, "more evidence that..." has very strong "look, they're doing it again" connotations, and the "it" that's being done "again," which is "[letting themselves be] gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas," is rather stupid, or at least incredibly bad policy if the entity being gamed doesn't want a reputation for being an easy tool of bigots.

That "more evidence" was the text of a link, and therefore styled with bold-face, only increases the "look, they're doing it again" implication. "More" gets disproportionate emphasis from being bold-faced.

Now, my response to "Look, Wiki's being dumb again" (whether you intended me to read that into it or not) is to nod my head and go, "Yeah, they are, aren't they? How sad," and then to agree with pretty much everything else you have to say on the subject. So I'm not taking issue with the vast majority of your points here. I just feel like in this one case, Zeborah's interpretation of your post is completely valid.

I'm only talking about this post, though. I know that it's dubious to say anything simple about the "vast majority" of Making Light posts on the subject of Wikipedia; my impression is that the body of opinion posted here on that subject is more complex than "WIKI SUXXORS".


...Of course, having written all that, it now occurs to me that maybe I misinterpreted what part of Zeborah's post you were in fact taking issue with when you issued the Shiny New Dime Challenge. Maybe it wasn't the "look they're doing something stupid again" interpretation that you disagreed with so much as the "Making Light's always picking on Wiki" accusation? Am I just in a weird head space and need more coffee?

#208 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 03:43 PM:

Xeger @169: Not quite.

There are four scripts in common use in Japan. In increasing order of relevance to our discussion, they are: romaji, hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Romaji is the roman alphabet we all know and use. It's popular use in Japan is to add a certain je ne sais quoi to words and phrases used in advertising and other hip media, and often isn't meant to mean anything. It's a bit like the faux latin in Harry Potter's spells. This is often the source of those amusing bits of "Engrish" one sees occasionally. In romaji, one might write the name of the first Shogun of Japan as Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Hiragana is the primary syllabic script of Japan. This is used to write words, grammatical suffixes and other parts of the language that have no connection to Chinese or other foreign languages. One can also see these spelling out the sound of unfamilar kanji in manga and children's books, which use is known as furigana. One might see furigana used to spell out the first Shogun's name in such a context as とくがわいえやす。

Katakana is a secondary syllabic script, used in much the same circumstances as one might use italics in English, for emphasis or foreign words that are not Chinese and the like. The sound effects in most manga are almost exclusively written in katakana, for example. One would not write the first Shogun's name with katakana, except perhaps if you were depicting a foreigner struggling with the Japanese language. It might then appear as トクガワイエヤス。

Kanji is not a syllabic script. It is, in fact, Chinese ideograms. There are about 1800 of the full set of Chinese symbols one is expected to know by the time one leaves high school in Japan. Each symbol represents an idea or thing, and in Japanese most have more than one pronunciation, usually the Mandarin monosyllable and the Japanese word. 山 for example, meaning mountain, can be pronounced as san (Mandarin) and yama (Japanese); hence Mount Fuji can be refered to legitimately as both Fujisan and Fujiyama.

The penetration of Mandarin into Japanese is similar to the penetration of Latin and Greek into English, for much the same reasons. China has dominated the region culturally for millennia, and in ancient times scholars spoke the language and (pre-hiragana and katakana) wrote exclusively in Chinese ideographs. But using the ideographs with Japanese grammar gave a poor fit, and the syllabic scripts evolved from ideographs that were used solely for their sounds.

Whichever way one calls Mount Fuji, it is written in the same way: 富士山。 Each of the symbols means something, and it would cause much confusion if one wrote, say, 府字三 for the mountain, even though they might be pronounced the same way (or not). In the same way, one always writes the name of the first Shogun as 徳川家康。That is his name written down, there is no other way of refering to him in kanji. 啄側家楽 would be someone else entirely (even if that follows Japanese naming conventions, which I wouldn't swear to).

As an aside, western names aren't Japanese ones. To form a Japanese name from a western one, one method is to first pronounce it as a Japanese would. In the case of my nom de net, NelC, this would be Nerushi. One would then look up the various kanji that sound like that and perhaps come up with: 寝流四 (roughly "Dream Flow 4"). I have no idea whether that would be a propitious name, a strange one, or a ludicrous one to a Japanese, so consultation is advisable at that stage. Having chosen that kanji and done whatever legally needs to be done to make it official, that would be my name. Any other set of kanji would be somebody else's name, even if they could be sounded the same way. (Actually, since Japan is one of those countries that has official lists of names, there might not be a way of legally using 寝流四, or any set of kanji conforming to NelC, so it might behoove me to adopt a purely Japanese name that doesn't sound anything like that.)

Caveat: I am not Japanese, nor an expert in the language or history of Japan. I've just done some night classes and read a bit, so I'm willing to be corrected on anything I've written here by someone more knowledgeable. If you are in Yokohama next month, you may marvel at my almost complete inability to understand anything said to me by a Japanese.

#209 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 04:35 PM:

NelC #208: Regardless of your command of Japanese, I have to say that is the most lucid description of the perils of Japanese orthographic systems that I have had the privilege to read.

#210 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 05:05 PM:

Broundy@206: The reasons Wikipedia can't be all-inclusive include:

1) disk space costs money;
2) the more articles you have on Wikipedia, the harder it is to find the article you want. Look at the John Smith page and consider what it would look like if it didn't confine itself only to notable John Smiths;
3) the more articles there are, the harder it is to edit them all to a satisfactory level - whether that level is that it should be something beyond a stub, or that what's there be fully referenced, or even just that slander, copyright violations, and vandalism should be removed - all these take somebody's time, which time is better spent on more useful articles than "Flying Purple Hippo";
4) that thing about referencing - because Wikipedia's goal is to be a dependable encyclopaedia, it wants its claims properly referenced, and the things that constitute a proper reference also (not perfectly but fairly closely) constitute evidence for notability.

Some of these are more important than others, obviously.

#211 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 08:06 PM:

#201, are you Dorothy's Tristran? (If not, you're not the only one to forsake their real name for Tristran.)

#212 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 08:12 PM:

Nicole, what I disagree with is the idea that saying (as I did) that Wikipedia is being "gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas" is tantamount to saying that "Wikipedia's being stupid."

#213 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 09:36 PM:

WWWWolf @195: The problem with the notability criteria is that the bar has to be set somewhere, and sites that are kind-of-sort-of notable end up being seriously debated.

What convinced a lot of people in the webcomics world that Wikipedia had it in for webcomics was that nobody could tell where that notability bar was set. It seemed as if the bar was set much higher for webcomics than for other things. And there's an inherent apples-and-oranges aspect to this. How was it decided that Girly (since restored) was less notable than the APF TV Fun?

#214 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2007, 11:39 PM:

Seth@191: When you say "I believe in love" what is the belief you're talking about? Please state that belief as a complete sentence.

I'm pretty sure it is a complete sentence. It just doesn't use the word "believe" in a way that you might. But I'm pretty sure it is a valid sentence with a valid use of the word "believe". To try and explain it any more would be like trying to explain "What is the sound of one hand clapping" rather than understanding it without explaning it. Sometimes, explanations get in the way of understanding.

#215 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 12:14 AM:

A beleted question: in response to TexAnne@202, observing that

... EVEN WHEN ordinary users follow the rules, admins break them. Not every admin and not all the time--but there seems to be no way to control the bad admins.
WWWWolf@203 proposes
I would like to see the policies more codified and less subject to interpretation. It'd be easier to point out who made a mistake and where, and probably easier to get get third opinions.
I have to wonder, easier for whom? The existing thicket of wikilawyering jargon is already somewhat opaque to outside contributors (who may have no idea what WP:FUBAR is, or in what context to interpret the text of the policy if they know where to find it). If the effect of the change is to make things clearer to insiders, but more opaque to everyone else, that might well make Wiki-contributing less attractive to the outsiders, on net.

The more fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that rogue admins can apparently bend or ignore the rules without penalty. (At most, some particular piece of mischief gets undone, but the miscreant is free to try again). This is a property of the current rules and policies which can't be changed by just describing them more precisely.

Conversely, if --- and I think this is a reasonable hypothesis --- most of the complaints result from the actions of a few bad apples, then a policy of removing admin bits in the face of repeated abuse would take care of a lot of the trouble in not too much time. But that would be a very serious change in policy, not just a clarification.

#216 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 01:04 AM:

It seems to me that one criterion for notability should be whether something is in fact being noted. That's what logs are for. It seems, from what I read, that the underlying problem with the webcomic purge was that one or more editors saw webcomics as innately unworthy of valuable Wikipedia attention, which is precisely the sort of judgment they shouldn't be making in the face of the opposing evidence of sustained interest and use.

#217 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 02:17 AM:

Jimbo Wales gave a keynote address at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland Friday, and they wanted to do a story about it in the paper. Some bright geek at the paper remembered the Wiki technolgy was invented by Ward Cunningham, who has lived in Portland for several decades. So they got the two of them together for an interview with an Oregon Connection. There's some additional discussion, and a link ot hte text of the interview on my blog

It's an interesting interview, but there's one response from Wales that got my attention, because it relates to this thread. Wales saye:

For me, it's kind of evolved into a general philosophy for social software. . . . After seeing things like Wikipedia emerge and be really big, people still tend to start out designing any sort of social software by thinking of all the bad things people might do rather than saying: Let anybody do anything, but make sure you can reverse it. Make sure it's visible what's going on. . .

And I think that kind of deliberate vulnerability kind of raises everybody's ethics a little bit, whereas locking it down then generates this kind of environment of, "Oooh, everything's locked down." So now the game is to try to figure out how to vandalize it, or how to misbehave. Defacing an article on Wikipedia is, like, fun for half a second. It's not that exciting.

But what's happened is that a class of bureaucrats has emerged to prevent the openness that Wales is talking about, and it's not clear that he's aware of it. Which leaves Wikipedia in exactly the place you'd expect to find a naive Libertarian experiment: in the hands of those who can grab power and hold onto it the longest.

#218 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 03:00 AM:

Toru Ranryu @ 190

You can call me Bruce, or Bruce Cohen, or Speaker, or whatever. Just my first name can be ambiguous on this site, since there are several other people named Bruce who post frequently. I use the title "SpeakerToManagers" for 2 reasons: I like it, and it helps disambiguate me from all the other Bruce Cohens in the world. Google "Bruce Cohen" and I don't even appear on the third page of hits, despite the fact that I've been on the Internet far longer than any of the hits you will get. But, google "SpeakerToManagers" and you get several pages of hits on me.

I guess there's some irony that I say I don't care much about what name I use in a thread where I've argued so much for a person's right to be called whatever s/he pleases. But the fact is that while I don't believe myself that my name has a power greater than what I am, I know that some people do, and it seems only polite to respect that belief when feasible.

There's been talk on this thread of how using "false name" is deceptive, but no mention of the fact that all a name gives you is a pointer to an identity; it takes a reputation that's attached to that identity to give any information about what kind of behavior can be expected from the person the name refers to.

#219 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 03:30 AM:

NelC @ 208

Thank you. I never understood the distinction between Hiragana and Katakana before. My interest has been with the coding of the characters, understanding how Unicode works, and being able to code for it and test the code, so the exact use and meaning of a script were never relevant to my work, but I find that sometimes little questions like that can bother your without you even consciously being aware of it.

#220 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 03:49 AM:

Patrick @ 212: Nicole, what I disagree with is the idea that saying (as I did) that Wikipedia is being "gamed with increasing success by people with bad agendas" is tantamount to saying that "Wikipedia's being stupid."

OK, I dig you.

Mind, I think if Wikipedia policy is easily and repeatedly gamed, it would be approaching stupididy if those of Wikiworld, rather than doing something about it, just got all snarky because people were noticing the gaming going on.

#221 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 08:25 AM:

Any suggestions what tweaks I need to make in Firefox (still using 1.5) to see something else other than ???????? in NelC's post @208?

My current character encoding in Firefox is set for Unicode (UTF-8). Under Options → Advanced → Edit Languages I have:

  • English/United State [en-us]
  • English [en]
  • Japanese [ja]

Using WinXP (if it turns out to be relevant).

I probably won't be able to respond to any suggestions (i.e., provide more feedback about current settings, or report results of suggestions) sooner than 12 hours, and more likely 24. Got to get some sleep, do some things, then do some more things.

Still, it's a puzzle (displaying Japanese text properly) I hadn't got to the bottom of, and would like to know the answer to.

#222 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Rob@221: I can see the Kanji on Linux Firefox with the default character encoding at the (stock?) setting of "Western (ISO-8859-1)". It's also conceivable that this is a font problem.

#223 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 11:37 AM:

All I see in that post is a bunch of little boxes, rather than a bunch of question marks, but the effect is the same. I guess it's just as well that I'm never going to try to learn the actual ideograms, anyway.

#224 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 07:17 PM:

I can see them fine, but I'm running the latest Firefox, on XP.

#225 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 07:54 PM:

I can't help, alas, I'm on OSX. It was just a matter of going to the International Preferences and adding 日本語 to the list. Is there a control panel in XP for foreign scripts?

Interestingly, when I went to look at the Wikipedia articles on hiragana and katakana articles just now, I discovered that my default Firefox font seems to be missing the new hiragana character vu ゔ、 though not the katakana version ヴ。

#226 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2007, 10:17 PM:

I was also seeing question marks appear instead of Japanese text. (Firefox 2.0.0.5 on Windows XP SP2). I fixed it by going into the Windows Control Panel, opening the "Regional and Language Options Panel", going to the "Languages" tab, and selecting the tickyboxen for Supplemental Language Support. (One of them is "Complex Script and right-to-left languages (including Thai)" and the other is "East Asian Languages". I took both, just in case.) My computer sat and thought, and installed stuff, and then demanded to be rebooted. But now I can see the Japanese characters. (I didn't change any settings in Firefox.)

#227 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 01:08 AM:

Xeger @ 189: Ah, you meant "vary in space" -- that is, with which kind of Chinese we're talking about -- rather than "vary in time" -- from instance to instance of a given person using it. That makes much more sense.

No need to explain how the Chinese languages work to me -- I make most of my money using Mandarin. I just didn't understand your phrasing, Xeger. Thanks for restating.

By the way, there's good reason not to call Chinese characters "ideographs".

Xopher @ 197 wrote: "This is because Chinese makes no attempt to write the sounds of the language(s)." I would state this much more weakly. The majority of Chinese characters have a phonetic basis, so much so that I can usually guess the pronunciation of a given character to about 50% accuracy. Better to say that Chinese characters do not reliably give their own pronunciation.

#228 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 01:35 AM:

Rachel 227: Can you guess the Cantonese pronunciation as well as the Mandarin?

#229 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 01:56 AM:

A bit, but only because I've taken Chinese historical phonology.

#230 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 06:08 AM:

Serge's example @198 is interesting to me because it parallels one I'd come up with on my own, to illustrate a problem in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books.

He has a Red-Mars movement called ⽕⾵, which is given the Japanese reading of "Kakaze". The problem with this, is that Japanese has, in general, two kinds of readings of characters -- ones that are derived from Chinese, and ones that are native to Japanese -- and in compound words one (usually) doesn't mix them. ⽕⾵ would need to be either "hikaze" or "kafuu"; either way, Robinson wouldn't get the repeated "ka" sound he wanted. (Secondary problem: there's a rule of dissimilation in compound words that I'm pretty sure would turn "kakaze" into "kagaze" anyway.)

I mentioned this problem to him one time when I met him, but had difficulty putting it across. It occurred to me afterwards that it was like knowing that 2 is read "two" and therefore pronouncing "2nd" as "toond".

#231 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 06:50 AM:

Betsey Langan @226: Thank you, that was the answer.

#232 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 09:18 AM:

Rachel @227: As a layman, I'm not sure that that's a good reason not to use the word "ideograph". DeFrancis' article looks like scholastic hair-splitting to me. Since he admits that a perfectly ideographic set of characters could not exist, then we may as well continue to use the term in its corrupted sense. Any confusion caused by misunderstanding the word is quickly dispelled when one comes to study "ideographic" scripts, surely?

#233 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 11:09 AM:

I am absolutely loving this language neep. Thank you, everyone who knows something the rest of us don't and is willing to share it in such a useful, fun way.

#234 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 12:59 PM:

Rachel 229: That being the case, wouldn't they be more-or-less non-sound symbols to the average Cantonese naïve speaker? And even for Mandarin, would naïve speakers (that is, ones who have not been taught anything about the language or its history, but who are fluent and literate) be able to make those same sound-guesses?

This is not at all to say that I'm not completely gobsmacked by the information that the characters were originally derived from phonetic representations. I did not know that. Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to learn something new and cool!

Also, I must admit to being tempted sometimes to ask my friend Henry (a Scot and a very softspoken person) to write down what he's just said to me 4 times without my being able to make out a word. Of course, this has more to do with my own progressive langfordization than the difference in our dialects. I should either get a hearing aid or carry a blackboard and chalk everywhere.

#235 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Xopher @ 234

My minimal knowledge of Chinese says that the sound is related to the radical as the meaning is related to the radical: there's a connection, but it isn't always close.
Also, ISTR that the tones are what's left of the very ancient multi-syllable words.

#236 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Nel@232: Well, if you want to call them "ideographs" even though they don't represent ideas (except in a very few exceptions), go ahead. I can't stop you. Chinese is an area in which I'm a pedant, and in which I want a high degree of accuracy in my language. Not everyone wants that, though.

Xopher@234: I think any native speaker who has studied characters enough to be literate will be able to make those guesses about characters they've never seen. Doesn't matter which Chinese language they're a native speaker of, they should be able to guess. For example, if I see a 九 as the phonetic component of a character, I can guess that its pronunciation will be something near to jiu. A Cantonese speaker could guess that it's something close to gau. Any time the Mandarin component is jiu, the Cantonese component will almost certainly be gau. The languages all derive consistently from a common root*, so you'd expect that.

Tones are more difficult, especially because I know Mandarin which collapses a lot of the old tones into only four categories.

Switching from one Chinese language to another is probably not possible for most Chinese speakers, because (at least in my experience) very few of them have studied enough historical phonology to derive one language's pronunciations from another's. Figuring out the phonetics for a character that they've never seen, in their own language, is definitely possible, though.

Be careful about saying "the characters were originally derived from phonetic representations", though. That's true in a large number of cases, probably a majority, but not all. And that doesn't mean that a native speaker can read a text in characters they've never seen before with 100% accuracy. I'd be surprised if it was more than 30%, due to all the guesswork involved.

And: You're welcome.

PJ @ 235:

The sound component of a phonetically-derived character is not contained in the radical, unless you're using radical to mean "any given component of a Chinese character". The sound component is contained in the part of the character that isn't the radical. For example, in, let's say, 過, the radical is the squiggle in the left and bottom of the character. This means "movement", basically. The rest of the character is pronounced huo4 all by itself in modern Mandarin. The thing on the left and bottom is the radical; the rest is the phonetic component. (The character itself, by the way, is read guo4.) Almost all phonetically-derived characters are like that, with a radical that gives a hint as to meaning and a phonetic component that gives a hint as to sound.

At least as I've heard it, tones are derived not from multi-syllabic characters (which I don't think have ever existed), but from much more phonetically complex single syllables. Look up Bernard Karlgren if you want more about this. (And ask me if you want a debunking of some of his theories.)

* Or so the accepted scholarly theory goes.

#237 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 02:36 PM:

Re Chinese - the best (and also most readable and fun) explanation I've ever seen is at Mark Rosenfelder's Zompist site, If English was written like Chinese.

Cantonese sounds are related to Mandarin ones on a regular correspondence; I worked out a bundle of the simpler relations for a class. IIRC the opening consonant of each syllable had the most regular changes, the vowels were a bit odder, and the closing consonant (if any) was pretty regular but as Cantonese has several more possibilities there than Mandarin, you couldn't really guess the Cantonese if you knew the Mandarin.

I never learnt Cantonese to know if it was possible to guess pronunciation based on character, but I never learnt enough Mandarin to be able to do that either, except for a very few very obvious ones. I'm useless at memorisation; of all languages in the world, Chinese was not the ideal fit for me.

Incidentally, the problem I see with words like 'ideograph' is that it reinforces the mythology that every character in Chinese has its own meaning and that every word in the language(s) is a single syllable. I dislike mythology about the Exotic Other on principle, and 'character' has always been sufficient for my needs.

#238 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Rachel:

Mind slippage. I was getting something cross-wired there in my memory. You're right, of course. (Somewhen back, I had a big fat book on Chinese language and grammar. Don't think it's still around, unless it's in one of the Magic Boxes. It was interesting reading, if a bit heavy.)

#239 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 06:27 PM:

Zeborah @237 & Rachel @236: I find "character" to be a little too general for continuous use. In my first post above, I would have to qualify it as "Chinese character" in every case where I use "ideograph", which strikes me as a little clunky.

I'm going to copy that post into my blog, with a bit of editing. I might replace "ideograph" with "logograph" which I have at least seen before, though DeFrancis gets snippy about replacing one for the other. OTOH, his half-hearted suggestion of "morphosyllable" is simply horrible – has he no ear for English? – and he gives no other alternative.

#240 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 07:46 PM:

Replacing ideograph with logograph is just about as inaccurate. Neither suffices.

Look, in Chinese studies, people do in fact call them "characters". "Chinese characters", if the context requires, but it rarely does. "How many characters should a first-year student be able to write?" "Approximately X% of characters are phonetically derived." "I've never seen a character with so many strokes!" It may not make sense to you, because you don't study Chinese. And I don't blame you. Lots of people refer to that big beige rectangular prism with all the wires coming out of it as a "computer", even though a lot of tech geeks would call it a "box". To those in the field, though, it's perfectly consistent and easy to use. To those outside, however, it can be cumbersome.

I wouldn't, however, change his wording in your blog post, if you post what he wrote verbatim. Changing authors' words without acknowledgment is problematic, to say the least. (That's what it sounded like you're planning on doing; maybe I'm misreading.)

#241 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 09:12 PM:

Rachel @240: I was refering to my original post, #208. I'm not thinking of quoting DeFrancis, and wouldn't alter his words if I were. What do you think I am, some kind of barabarian?

Now, you may think me dense or obtuse, but I'd like a word that describes what sets hanzi and kanji characters apart from mere phonetic and syllabic scripts, especially when I'm talking about multiple types of characters. Since there doesn't seem to be such a word – "morphosyllable", yech – that meets with your and DeFrancis' approval, I'm going to have to stick with "ideograph" which, debased coinage though it may be, is at least in circulation.

#242 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 09:15 PM:

NelC @241: "Barbarian". I'm not one of those either.

#243 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2007, 10:54 PM:

NelC @ 241: Hmm, re-reading your post above, I don't see anywhere where "Chinese character" or "character" wouldn't do. Also, because you are trying to be correct to a scholarly degree, I'd encourage you to use the word "character" because, as I've pointed out, that is in fact what Sinologists say.

Also, I'd be careful about referring specifically to "Mandarin" pronunciations of Japanese words. That tends to indicate they are of very recent derivation, at least to my ears (since Mandarin is a relatively recent thing), and more importantly, completely ignores go-on (as opposed to kan-on) pronunciations. Ongaku's pronunciation is derived from Chinese, but not from Mandarin, for example.

#244 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 01:42 AM:

NelC #208 :

Not quite... that simple. (I think. I started forgetting Japanese (after four years of study) c. 1957, and seem to have made substantial progress each year since then.)

Originally, of course, the Japanese language had no written form. Then there was an influx of Chinese culture -- mostly Buddhist missionaries, IIRC -- and the two forms of kana were developed from greatly-simplifed writing of Chinese characters with sounds approximating the Japanese phonemes/syllables. (Actually, hiragna was develped first -- katakana (the more angular one) might be as recent as the Meiji era, as a first step towards universal literacy.) Scholars, early-on, also used Chinese characters to represent Japanese ideas/words, sometimes giving them a Chinese-derived pronunciation. General rule-of-thumb seems to be that if a character stands alone, it usually (or very often) has the old Japanese language pronunciation, but characters in compound words (which are very common) usually have the Chinese-derived pronunciations.

A few centuries later, there was another surge of Chinese cultural influence -- from another era and area, and thus a different (spoken) Chinese language. So, many kanji have one "Japanese" pronunciation and two "Chinese" ones. There _might_ be Rules for which to use in given situations, but "It sounds better this way" seems to be one of them.

And the Japanese seem to take a perverse delight in puns and assigning an arcane pronunciation to a common kanji, or using an arcane kanji to write a common word, especially when they're naming a business or store.

Not to mention little things like: numbers, written with Chinese characters, are normally given a "Chinese" pronunciation when they're cardinals, and the older Japanese one when they're ordinals -- except for "four" (written as a square with small squares in the upper two corners) which many people always use in the Japanese form because the "Chinese" pronunciation ("shi") is a homonym for the word "die/death" and is considered rude or inauspicious.

It's sometimes said (especially by perplexed beginning students) that "Translating Chinese is 20% perspiration and 80% inspiration". Japanese seemed to me to be about the same -- and perhaps worse when the ornamental calligraphy "grass script" enters the equation.

Better you shouldn't ask how kanji/Chinese character dictionaries are arranged.

#245 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 03:35 AM:

Rachel, I have in mind a plot that, in a minor way, relies on a Chinese scholar - a man of great learning - writing a message in such a way that an ordinary reader cannot understand it properly. That is, he would use characters that are not generally known, and/or make literary allusions only comprehensible to a similar academician. Is this feasible?

#246 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 04:10 AM:

Dave, I think it's possible, but it would be very hard to do. There are a lot of variant characters out there -- the Kangxi Zidian (Dictionary of the Kangxi Emperor) has buckets and buckets of obscure variants, for example. But they're easy enough to look up, given the right materials. It might be better to just have the scholar write it in, say, Shang-era Classical Chinese, which, in combination with obscure word-choices, can make something almost completely incomprehensible to the average modern-day reader. Almost -- there's little Chinese that couldn't be cracked with an education in Classical and Literary and a good dictionary or two.

Literary allusion might be a better method to use. These can be much more obscure, because your scholar can just allude to a book that only a handful of people have ever read. "On March 13th, I want you to do what Lord of Hongguang did on page 1349 on the line equal to your birthdates added together." Only the writer and the audience know which book they're referring to, and even then, maybe the two of them have the only copies of the book in existence. Hard to be sure, though... And that's almost just using a code book rather than using literary allusion. Nonetheless, there was a large canon that Chinese literati were expected to know and which the masses usually did not, so actual literary allusion could work well between scholars, as long as the works are sufficiently obscure and the masses are sufficiently ignorant.

There are probably lots of cyphers that only work in Chinese. I don't know enough about that to say anything useful, though.

#247 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 04:27 AM:

Thank you, Rachel. The essence of the problem is that my scholar must write a message that only another scholar can read, but without a formal code or cypher. If that is possible, given literary allusion within the canon of literature available - and your example is excellent - then the story is possible.

#248 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 09:37 AM:

Dave, you're welcome. Any chance you can tell me more about the story?

By the way, you might want to check out my Chinese names page.

#249 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Rachel, it's one of a series of short stories, something I've been noodling around with for a long time. He's a sort of detective, exiled to an alternate Australia that was colonised by the Chinese rather than Europeans, and he doesn't like being here. A sort of anti-Mary Sue, if you see what I mean.

#250 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 11:22 PM:

Hm, sounds interesting!

#251 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 11:58 PM:

Rachel, I should have figured this out before, but I didn't realize "Rachel" was you until you listed your Chinese Names page.

#252 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Well, I was mostly lurking, after all... :)

#253 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Rachel @243: But I am not a sinologist, nor am I pretending to be one. If I'm pretending to be anything, it's a... nipponologist (?). It's said that fish don't see water, and I guess a sinologist has no need for a word that distinguishes Chinese characters from everything else; those few occasions when one refers to another character, they can add "Chinese" or possibly "Japanese" or "High Martian" or whatever other nationality uses similar scripts. But I was writing about another language and three different kinds of script, and, yes, in my judgement as the actual author of that short piece, I do need to use at least once a word that fences off the "ideographic" scripts from everything else. An English word, and look, there it is: "ideographic". That it doesn't mean quite what it should is not a barrier to use, nor much of one for understanding; it's not as if the meaning of a word in English – or any language – has never changed before.

Point taken about the use of "Mandarin", though. I was going to use "Chinese" but then I thought that some pedant would point out that Chinese has myriad dialects, so strictly speaking I shouldn't use that word....

Don @244: Not quite that simple, no. But a close enough approximation.

As far as kanji dictionaries go, mine is O'Neill's Essential Kanji. I think the order is more-or-less as they are taught in school: he starts with the numbers up to ten, days of the week, common verbs and gradually works through the basic kyouiku kanji and touyou kanji, then adds a bunch of name kanji and others to round out the list to 2000 characters.

There are two indices: one lists the characters by sound (roman alphabetical order), both on and kun; the other lists the kanji by number of strokes. These days I need strong light to be able to read kanji set in 9 pt, but they're basically straight-forward to follow, once you get the hang of it. On the other hand, I've picked up and looked at the popular Kodansha dictionary in the local bookshop from time to time and been utterly mystified by its arrangement.

#254 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2007, 12:35 AM:

Dumb Wikipedia question: some time ago I stumbled into a page there that listed various appearances of the Jabberwalk/Bandersnatch in various mediums. There was no mention of the appearance in Dan O'Neil's Odd Bodkins so I dug up the ISBN number of the book collection and the original run dates for the strips in the San Francisco Chronicle. Soon after that I started reading all the accounts of entries being changed, and I got discouraged and never looked it up again since it took awhile to post. Is it still there, or has it been deleted?

#255 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Via BoingBoing: a color coding reputation system thingie is being developed that appears to rate an editor as more reliable the longer his edits stand untouched by other editors. Unless I'm reading the article wrong, which is always possible.

That strikes me as highly gameable. I mean, all you have to do to sabotage someone's reliability ranking is to edit their stuff. Right?

I must be misreading this. It can't be as silly as I'm making it sound.

#256 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2007, 08:10 PM:

NelC @ #253:
By complete coincidence, I use that same kanji dictionary plus a 2000-sided die to generate random story elements for games.

#257 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2007, 05:37 AM:

#197 Xopher

I stayed out of this thread for a while because I got too upset. I hate when that happens. Thank you for accepting my apology, and I will gladly accept yours. Any misunderstandings due to my alias are entirely my fault.

#218 Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers)

Thank you for your response. You answered the questions I should have been more polite in asking.

#258 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:08 PM:

PAGING PEDANTS INTERESTED IN ARGUING ABOUT HUGO RULES: The following exchange from a fellow who wants to claim I was never a Hugo nominee:

Is User:SWATJester interested in a discussion of Hugo Award rules or does he dispute that Locus is an authority on them, especially in the Semiprozine category? Does he claim any knowledge in ths subject area? My impression from User:SWATJester's talk page is that he claims no special knowledge in this subject matter and further is unfamiliar with the source cited.
Does he dispute Locus's claim that Charles N. Brown has been nominted for the Hugo 41 times? I suspect not.
Why then the revert? --Pleasantville 01:48, 13 August 2007 (UTC) aka Kathryn Cramer

I do not object that Locus is an authority. I object that the link is being misquoted. LOCUS was nominated for the hugo. Not Charles N. Brown. ⇒ SWATJester Denny Crane. 01:55, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

I should further note that one does not need to be a subject matter expert to edit anything on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit. ⇒ SWATJester Denny Crane. 01:56, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

The quote you delete is from Locus citing Charles N. Brown as having 41 Hugo nominations. Do you have any idea what for? (Semiprozine.) Certainly anyone can edit, but you are an admin and so you aren't just anyone, and you are interning for WM . . .

Locus, as cited, gived credit to individuals listed on the ballot. Do you have another source? --Pleasantville 02:00, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

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