Some mostly short notes about conservatism, the Microsoft trial, Web
standards, digital convergence, public relations, online newspapers,
the academic job market, and online civil society.  And some URL's.
Thanks as always to the people who send them to me.

You might have noticed that I've stopped naming the people who send
me stuff.  I've been finding, in some cases the hard way, that most
people don't want to be named.  And running the list as a volunteer,
I usually can't make time to inquire.  But I do appreciate everyone's
contributions, and you should continue to regard these messages as a
collective effort.

As a periodic reminder, you can end your subscription by sending a
message that looks like this:

  Subject: unsubscribe rre

We've had an amazing turnover in the last month, something like ten
people coming and going every day.  I must be doing something right.

By popular demand, I've simplified the -=-=-=-= banner that goes at
the top of most RRE messages.  You won't have to scroll down quite as
far to get the content.

I've received a bunch of comments about the version of "Networking
on the Network" that you were kind enough to publicize.  So I've made
some changes, for example cutting back on American idioms like "out
of left field".  Now I'd like to ask you again to really stretch and
come up with more ways to get "Networking on the Network" into the
hands of every PhD student in the world.  Create a hyperlink to it
from your department's web site.  Recommend it to every PhD student
you know, and every professor.  If you're a graduate student, send
it to your local Graduate Student Association.  Write a blurb about
it for your professional society's publication.  Get it out there so
people can benefit from it.  Its URL, once again is:

You'd be welcome to rework the announcement for NotN that I sent to
the list a couple weeks ago.  Here is a URL for it:

I've put such effort into NotN because networking skills make such a
difference to students' careers and because they usually go untaught.
My goal is not to teach students how to suck up to the powerful
-- that is the most destructive of the stereotypes about networking.
Quite the contrary, I want to ensure that everyone has a fair chance
to succeed on the merits of their work.

A request to RRE readers in Britain.  Has anyone published yet an
intellectual history of the rise of Blairism?  Your prime minister
is not just a politician, it seems to me, but the leader of a shadow
government of quasi-intellectuals.  I've heard about the Demos think
tank and I've read Tony Giddens' "Third Way" book, but I've never
seen the whole story.  The newspapers focus on the easy-to-tell story
of "old" versus "new" within the Labour Party, but that's just the
surface of something much deeper.  I ask partly because of the failed
analogies to the American context: the Clinton administration could
have become as dominant as New Labour if Bill Clinton had been, well,
Tony Blair.  The big picture, it seems to me, is that electorates
worldwide see the inevitability of aligning themselves with the
demands of globalization, but they want the job done without too much
gratuitous brutality.  Thus the worldwide plague of right-wing-center-
left governments that Clinton and Blair vaguely lead.  I'm interested
particularly in the role of the Internet in the Blairite worldview,
whose radicalism, I think, is completely unknown outside the UK.

Are there any high-quality newsletters that I should be publicizing
on this list?  I don't mind publicizing newsletters that cost money
if they're worthwhile on other grounds.  I just need a sample copy
that I can distribute.  Wait for a particularly good issue.

The IEEE statement on UCITA that I circulated (by permission) turned
out to be an unfinished draft that had been released by mistake.
They've asked me to direct your attention to the final version,
whose treatment of intellectual property issues (they tell me) is
more precise: .

How much time has humanity spent thus far waiting for domain name
servers?  It should be possible to calculate at least roughly.

In reading the responses to my recent notes on political subjects,
it has finally dawned on me that many people who regard themselves
as conservatives don't know what conservativism is.  Conservatives
believe in objective truth, and there is an objective truth about
what conservativism is.  Ever since conservatism was given its
definitive articulation by Edmund Burke, conservatives have worked
to build a society of orders and classes, governed by a hereditary
aristocracy, in which tradition and prejudice are good things and
equality and innovation are bad things, in which the lower orders
unquestioningly regard the judgements of authority and institutions
as the absolute truth, and in which everyone presupposes that all
oppression is the fault of the oppressed.  That's what conservatism
is, and what it has always been.

None of this has ever been secret.  You can read it in Burke, who was
writing in reaction to the French revolution.  If Burke's sentences
are too long then you can read about him in Russell Kirk, who was one
of the founders of modern conservatism in the United States.  (See,
for example, his exposition of Burke in chapter 2 of "The Conservative
Mind".)  The problem for the punditry, of course, is that Americans
tend to be revolted when conservatism is defined in plain language.
It sounds like the opposite of what the country stands for, as indeed
it is.  That's why it tends to be framed within the strong emotions
and primitive thought-patterns of the pundits and their jargon.

One more reason for confusion is that conservatism is often usually
compounded with a completely different doctrine, one that used to be
called liberalism.  Whereas conservatism is a normative picture of the
workings of society very broadly, liberalism is a normative picture
specifically about government.  It is usually summarized in terms
of the rule of law, that is, the norm that government should secure
liberty and that the law should be applied the same to everyone.
The idea, originally, was that conservatism consisted of the arbitrary
rule of the aristocracy, and the rule of law was supposed to restrain
their arbitrariness of the aristocrats without actually deposing
them.  Burke could fuse these two pictures because, living in the late
18th century, he had little experience of the thoroughgoing conflict
between a market economy and a traditional social order.  He was a
transitional figure who tried to hold onto a romanticized medieval
view of the world while also embracing the dynamism of the capitalist
world that was taking form around him.

Many of Burke's contemporaries were clear about the conflict between
conservatism and liberalism, and Tom Paine defined the popular
politics of the American revolution savaged conservatism as a thing
of the oppressive past.  Modern-day conservative commentators tend to
emphasize themes of liberty in their public representations, leaving
the medieval themes in soft-focus and promoting them by indirection.
In the conservatives' esoteric writings, however, the medieval themes
come out much more clearly.  See, for example, Russell Kirk, whose
archaic views remain a secret because people on the left would rather
die than read them.  The conflicts between conservatism and liberalism
also come out clearly in the esoteric literature.  See, for example,
mid-20th-century liberal theorist Friedrich Hayek's "Why I Am Not a
Conservative", which was published as an appendix to "The Constitution
of Society".  (For an interesting critical comparison between Hayek
and Burke by a conservative scholar that downplays the tension, see

The relationship between conservatism and liberalism has been confused
throughout American history.  Burke had embraced the conservatives'
rule of arbitrary prejudice in most areas of society, insisting only
that the government conform to the rule of law.  This compromise being
unsuited to American culture, liberals in this country have gone off
in two directions.  One group, now known as libertarians, gave up the
fight against conservatism and allied themselves with the would-be
aristocrats of industry during the fight against communism.  For them,
the rule of law has become an end in itself, indeed the sole end of
politics.  The other group, still known as liberals, still want to end
the domination of people's minds by the aristocracy and its pundits,
and to this end they have engaged in a vast and partially successful
"long march through the institutions".  Libertarians define liberty
solely in relation to the government, and liberals define liberty
in relation to society as a whole: liberty for them is liberation
from of the medieval society of orders and classes that conservatives
seek to restore.  Whereas libertarians believe that coercion is only
practiced by governments, liberals believe that coercion happens in
many ways, and that it starts with the mental chains of ideology, the
wounds of private brutality, and the isolation of an atomized society.

We can sneer at liberals precisely because we have forgotten how
stultifying the world was when the conservatives ran it.  So now the
medieval world of conservatism is coming back, and people can once
again entertain the paternalistic fantasy that everything will be
alright if we just elect a President who comes from the right kind of
family, someone who is wise and just purely by heredity, and who will
take care of us if we just stop thinking.  It doesn't work like that,
of course, and discovering a workable alternative to that kind of
society is the whole reason why our country exists.

The Microsoft trial has probably already achieved its most important
outcome: Judge Jackson's detailed (if not comprehensive) analysis
of Microsoft's wrongdoing will provide a huge body of precedents that
will establish some decent rules of competition in high-technology
industries.  I don't mean "precedents" in the official legal sense,
of course; those won't be available until the appeals go through.
But meanwhile, any time that a company engages in conduct analogous
to that of Microsoft, someone will be able to cite chapter and verse
of Judge Jackson's findings of fact to sketch the outlines of a viable
lawsuit.  We will never know how many abusive practices -- and how
many high-tech market failures -- have been avoided in this manner.

As attention turns to remedies, however, the good that Judge Jackson
has already done is likely to be obscured by the frantic foggery of
the beast.  Much of the fog can be comprehended as follows.  If the
First Law of Cartoon Physics is that nobody falls until they realize
that nothing is holding them up, the First Law of Cyberspace Physics
is that when something new comes along, everything old disappears.
This Law makes it too easy to announce the kind of world-historical
discontinuity that should have gone out of fashion with the Khmer
Rouge.  The increased economic importance of information technology
can be inflated into the New Economy, the increased importance of
industrial networks can be inflated into a claim that hierarchies
are disappearing, the increased importance of "bits" can be inflated
into a repeal of everything we ever knew about "atoms", and so on.
In the case of Microsoft, the op-ed punditry inflates the hypothetical
emergence of new high-tech markets into the dubious claim that poor
old Microsoft, having been left in the dust by the dynamism of the
market, is no longer a threat to society.

This is, first of all, a logical fallacy: monopolistic behavior in
one market is no less illegal when attention is shifted to different
markets.  Personal computers are unlikely to go away, and indeed
the central point of Jackson's analysis is the variety of underhanded
tactics by which Microsoft has worked to prevent the technology
from evolving in directions that it cannot control.  The claim that
Microsoft is obsolescent is, moreover, simply false, as everybody
in Silicon Valley perfectly well knows.  The supposedly courageous
people at Apple or Intel aren't going to make strong public statements
about the need to punish Microsoft for its crimes against them until
such time as the government has weathered Microsoft's zillion-dollar
political blitz and definitively extracted its fangs.

That said, it is certainly possible for the government and the Judge
to mess up the remedy phase.  I do not think it would be useful to
break Microsoft up.  Breaking up Microsoft entails an architectural
judgement, inasmuch as it requires the court to find the correct
dividing line between the operating system and the applications, and
then it requires the court to have an ongoing role in enforcing that
dividing line, inasmuch as the Windows that is marketed by a separate
operating systems company can perfectly well acquire new features
that formerly would have been regarded as applications.  The broken-up
companies, furthermore, would be so deeply bonded to one another by
culture and social networks that the division between them may have no
practical reality.

The correct remedies, therefore, are ones that define administrable
rules of engagement for the whole high tech industry.  The nature
of these rules can be understood in precisely the way I described
at the outset: by reading the findings of fact and saying, simply,
you can't do that.  How one writes these findings into actual rules
is, of course, a complicated matter.  Some good suggestions have been
made, however, none of which is sufficient but which taken together
would make the effort of hauling this incredibly obnoxious company
into court almost worthwhile.

Once upon a time, maybe five years ago, the officially right way to
write a URL looked something like this:


Nowadays one is more likely to see something like this:

One element after another has dropped away, and the reason why is most
instructive.  Let us consider the elements one at a time...

The idea of the  notation is that we were supposed to have
several ways of specifying the locations of Web pages.  Everybody knew
that URL's were a crock, for example because they go bad when a page
is moved somewhere else, and so everybody assumed that we would get
a system of URN's -- uniform resource names -- that were location-
independent; see .  But the problem of
actually supporting such names proved harder than anybody had thought,
so we're stuck with URL's.

Next consider the http: protocol.  There's nothing dramatically wrong
with HTTP, but it's very basic, and everybody assumed that a variety
of other protocols would arise to compete with it and even replace it.
Other protocols do in fact exist, but they are mostly older protocols
-- news: and ftp: -- not newer ones.  So we're stuck with HTTP, and we
have a hard time even moving to new versions of that.

Then the www. part of the domain name.  In the early days, everybody
assumed that you wanted to put your Web server on a separate machine
from the main machine where you did important things like e-mail and
file service.  So the convention arose of calling that machine "www".
Many people have grown up believing that a URL must necessarily begin
with "www.", and several times I've had to persuade fact-checkers for
magazines that my own www-less URL's, first at UCSD and then at UCLA,
were not errors.  Lately, however, advertisers and others have begun
to drop the "www." because it's redundant.  If you say ""
then everybody will know to add a "www." to the front of it, and even
if they don't it's an easy matter to make the www-less version of the
URL redirect to the right place.  What's more, some organizations have
dropped the whole idea of a separate Web server, inasmuch as the Web
is central to their Internet identity.  By now, for example, a majority
of Internet users think of e-mail as something you do on the Web.

Now the .html part.  HTML is a truly primitive language, and it was
not even something that ordinary users were ever supposed to know
about, much less mark up pages with.  Everybody assumed that HTML
would be surpassed by fancier languages with all sorts of dynamic
features.  Well, that never happened.  The little bits of dynamism
that could be added with Javascript embedded in the HTML code turned
out to be adequate for most purposes, and the effort of standardizing
a whole new language never quite came together.  Now, many years
later, we can begin to glimpse the XML era, but XML will be mostly
for industrial applications for a little while.  We're still pretty
much stuck with HTML, so much so that it's redundant to put ".html" at
the end of a URL, especially in a commercial context where it matters
whether people remember the URL, or whether they have to copy it down
from a print advertisement.  So the copy-writers have come up with
the trick of calling their page "snort/index.html", not "snort.html".
That way they can write ".../snort/" and leave out the redundant
file extension.  Of course, users surfing the Web do come across .pdf
files, and .gif, and so on.  But home pages -- the URL's that people
have to pay attention to -- are almost all marked up in HTML.

Finally, ".com".  Way back when, everybody assumed that the Internet
would acquire a batch of top-level domains as ".com" started to
get full.  Some of us can even remember the blood that was spilled
over gTLD's.  Remember the gTLD-MOU?  At the time it seemed like the
Internet's equivalent of the Treaty of Westphalia.  It defined top
level domains like ".biz" and ".firm".  Or maybe it was ".art" and
".porn" -- I can't recall.  (It's still out there: .)
You know what happened: ".com" became hyped as a veritable trademark
of Internet commerce.  Nobody wants to be ".biz" any more, if they
ever did.  So ".com", like "URL:", "http:", "www.", and ".html", is
itself redundant.  We keep it only to signify that the stuff around
it is a URL.

You can see the pattern: technical people take for granted a world of
boundless diversity, but then institutional dynamics drive us to a
world of homogeneity.  And not just any homogeneity, but an iron-clad
path-dependent conservatism whereby the technical people's provisional
guesses become nearly irreversible.  The more successful the Internet
becomes, it seems, the harder it is to fix.  Processors get faster,
storage gets denser, pipes get fatter, but the standards that people
encounter on their desktops stay much the same.  We're still running
1960s-era operating systems on our personal computers, to take another
example, though we might finally shift to 1970s-era operating systems
this year.

This can't last.  Something has to give.  Gigahertz processors will be
common a year from now, and ten gigahertz processors will be common by
2003.  But at the current rate, the services that this fast hardware
supports will be pretty much the same as they are now.  At best we'll
have new functionality layered on top of the old stuff, much the way
that bureaucracies can start new departments but can't get rid of
the old ones.  But another option is available: entirely new platforms
upon which we can build afresh.  The Internet people are certain that
those entirely new platforms will be built on top of IP -- that is, in
fact, the whole point of IP.  But it's not just about the technology.
It's also about the world in which all of the technology is embedded.
Those path-dependent Web standards aren't going away because they are
wedged tightly into a set of social conventions.  They are the objects
of commitments and investments; they are the basis of compatibility
for whole industries; they are propped up by the vast installed base
of services that use them, and they are propagated by the need for new
services to be compatible with the old ones.  By the time the hundred-
gigahertz processors roll around, we may find ourselves wedged into a
small box, unable to make full use of them.

I recently had the misfortune of buying a new cell phone.  This time
around I got a Sprint PCS phone because they have a real national
network.  It's cheaper for traveling, and long distance is included.
Buying it, however, was a real hassle.  Some of the Sprint PCS models,
such as the admirably cheap Qualcomm 1960, have a real data port --
it uses the same connector as the power adapter.  I had visions of
plugging this data port into my Powerbook and reading my e-mail on
the beach.  So I called up Sprint and asked a simple question: will
the data port work with my Macintosh?  Uh oh.  Nobody could give me
a straight answer.  I spoke with perhaps a dozen Sprint people and
several more at retailers, and answers ranged all the way from "yes"
to "no".  The "yes" answers were more numerous but less persuasive.

Sprint has, shall we say, a training issue here: its people are given
to saying "yes" in a tone of voice that says "I don't know".  The best
was a Sprint employee who said "it works with all PCs" in a tone of
voice that said both "yes, of course" and "what's wrong with you?".
Stunned, I cautiously replied, "your answer is perfectly ambiguous;
if 'all PCs' means 'all personal computers' then it's 'yes', but if
'all PCs' means 'all and only IBM-PC compatible computers' then it's
'no'".  She said "oh", and then she said "oh" again, as the enormity
of her cluelessness began to dawn on her.  At long last, having been
forwarded from one number to another through the bowels of Sprint, I
finally spoke to a gentleman of an obviously technical persuasion who
delivered a convincing "no".

Along the way, I decided to amuse myself by asking the same question
at a Macintosh authorized service center.  The gruff proprietor said
"yes, of course" in a tone of voice that said, well, "what's wrong
with you?".  His line of reasoning was that the issue was purely one
of hardware; once one obtained a cable that had the right connectors
at each end, surely the appropriate Mac software would appear for free
on the Internet somewhere.  This made sense when he said it, but the
technical guy at Sprint assured me that it was not true.  I never did
understand why.

In talking to all these people, I was endlessly struck by the chasm
between the telephone world and the computer world.  Everyone in the
telephone world had superficial training and good manners; everyone
in the computer world had deep training and a bracing arrogance.
And with the sole exception of the one technical guy in the bowels
of Sprint, neither side exhibited the slightest comprehension of its
connection to the other.  Hey, everyone: the telephone world and the
computer world are merging!  This merger, it would seem, is not just
a technical matter.

I have been collecting more examples of the characteristic rhetorical
techniques of public relations.  Consider the following quote:

  Defense lawyers "sometimes holler 'DNA' as if it undoes every
  conviction, when DNA tests in many or most cases would not make
  a difference", said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Asplen,
  staff director for the [US National Commission on the Future of
  DNA Evidence] and a former Pennsylvania prosecutor.  (USA Today,

An awful lot is going on in this 22-word quote.  Notice, first of all,
the exaggerated dichotomy between one extreme -- DNA "undoes every
conviction" -- and another -- "in many or most cases would not make
a difference".  Notice the strong emotion: "holler".  And then notice
something sophisticated: even though Mr. Asplen is irresponsibly
arguing in terms of exaggerated dichotomies and strong emotions, he
is projecting responsibility for the dichotomies and emotions onto
defense lawyers.  It is they who "holler", they who exaggerate.
The issue having been framed in such terms, Mr. Asplen then goes ahead
and takes up the opposite extreme: "DNA tests in many or most cases
would not make a difference".

Now, one could determine empirically whether defense lawyers actually
speak in such exaggerated terms, although the "as if" suggests that
Mr. Asplen's interpretation of their meaning is pretty subjective.
We could also inquire whether "DNA tests in many or most cases would
not make a difference" simply means that most cases, statistically
speaking, do not involve any evidence to which DNA tests could be
applied, so that his position is trivially correct.  Whatever the
case, what Mr. Asplen is clearly doing is breaking an association.
This is a very common pattern: he invokes language of strong emotion,
thus framing the issue irrationally while projecting responsibility
for that irrationality into his opponent; he portrays his opponent as
forming an association between DNA tests and overturned convictions;
he inserts a crowbar of vague argument between the two elements; and
he pulls on it, hoping that the audience will then no longer associate
them.  His argument offends against all norms of reason, and it works
(if it works) by shutting down the faculties of reason and replacing
them with more primitive patterns of thought.  Of course, he is
probably not aware that he is doing this; he is most likely copying
rhetorical patterns that he has seen in a thousand places.  But
that doesn't change the fact that he is contributing to a systematic
assault on the rational mind.

I wish the New York Times web site would get its act together.  They
have chronic problems with moving from one day's stories to the next.
Pages are often missing.  The date often changes before or after the
articles do.  Most annoyingly of all, they don't put the stories up
until anywhere from fifteen to forty minutes after midnight eastern
time.  The Washington Post is usually ready well before midnight,
though they've been having problems since they switched to their new,
more cumbersome format.  Salon is also inconsistent about what time
they get the new day's stories online.

This complaint is partly a joke, of course.  In the old days we had
the concept of "the morning papers", which I would read over coffee on
my way home from the gym.  Nowadays I find it's common to see a late-
breaking AP story on the New York Times site on a Monday evening, and
then to see the same story on the front page of a print newspaper on
a newsstand on Wednesday afternoon.  It's an odd time-warp sensation,
disorienting, like I've lost track of what day of the week it is.

While I'm at it, the web sites of the British papers really need work.
The New York Times writes little summaries of each article and the
Washington Post automatically quotes the first paragraph, so that you
know what you're getting if you click.  But the Guardian, for example,
just provides a spare list of titles, which is not enough information
to persuade me to click on a transatlantic hyperlink.

When I circulated my how-to of "Advice for Undergraduates Considering
Graduate School", the #1 response came from people who insist that
prospective graduate students be informed of the poor job market for
people with new PhD's.  The idea that graduate school is a ticket
to the breadline has soaked into the culture, and I can only imagine
the harm that it is causing to the research on which progress depends.
The truth, as usual, is more complicated.  The academic job market
was indeed poor during the Bush depression, not least because of some
destructive policies on the part of the NSF.  But it is recovering,
and those who enter graduate school now can expect a strong market
by the time they graduate.  As evidence for this view, I enclose a
few paragraphs from a letter dated 1/14/00 to University of California
faculty by the chair of the UC Academic Council, Lawrence B. Coleman
of UC Davis:

"California's Department of Finance has projected an increase of
60,000 undergraduate and graduate students at UC between now and
the year 2010-11.  Such a jump would equal UC's enrollment growth
over the last 30 years and would result in a student body of about
210,000 students by 2010-11, as opposed to the 152,000 students we
have now.  The University has, of course, been planning on growth
for some time, but California's recent economic boom has brought
not only more migration to the state than was expected, but also
higher levels of enrollment in the state's colleges and universities.
The 60,000-student increase is some 24,000 students more than UC's
campuses have been anticipating in their long-range development plans.
Thus the problem: How is UC going to deal with all these additional
students?  The fledgling UC Merced will provide only limited help, as
it is expected to enroll no more than 5,000 students by 2010.

"Some of the problems stemming from this enrollment boom will be
dealt with primarily by UC administrators and state political leaders.
Among these is the question of funding, and then building, enough
classrooms and labs and residence halls to accommodate not only
additional students, but the additional faculty that will come with
them.  There is another challenge, however, that will have to be
taken on primarily by the UC faculty: that of hiring a huge number of
faculty colleagues over the next 12 years.  A kind of pincers movement
is exacerbating this issue.  On the one hand there is the growth I
have spoken of; on the other, there is the large number of faculty
retirements that will take place in the next decade.  Setting UC San
Francisco aside, to simply accommodate enrollment growth, UC would
have to increase its faculty numbers by 40 percent between now and
2010-11.  When retirements and other 'separations' are factored in,
the upshot is that the University will have to hire more than 7,500
faculty in the next 12 years.  This is more than the 6,400 faculty
the University currently employs.  Recruiting at this level will
mean hiring an average of 628 faculty each year through 2010-11; by
contrast, over the past three years we have hired about 324 faculty
per year.

"Lots of issues will accompany the faculty-hiring problem.  One that
I have been contemplating is how the University will find the money to
fund start-up costs for new-hires.  Relying on a professorial favorite
-- the back-of-the-envelope calculation -- I estimated that UC will
conservatively need $50 million per year in start-up money alone over
the next 12 years.  This does not include the cost of building labs,
offices, studios, and other research space.

"Despite such dilemmas, UC's coming enrollment surge provides a
case-in-point for the assertion that problems are first-cousins to
opportunities.  With the faculty hiring that will take place, an
enormous opportunity has been presented to the UC faculty.  Because of
the length of faculty service, our decisions in selecting colleagues
will shape the University for decades to come.  This means, of course,
that we have the opportunity to shape the University for good or
ill, but I am confident that we can rise to the challenge.  Our tasks
include remaining highly selective in the face of pressing demand;
making progress in hiring more women and minority faculty; choosing
wisely in hiring across existing disciplines; and moving wisely into
new disciplinary areas."

I am aware that structural changes in non-research universities have
depressed the proportion of full-time faculty positions.  My point is
that the picture overall is far from bleak, and that undergraduates
who care about ideas should be encouraged to explore graduate school.

I received a message from Ecuador the other day that illustrated the
gap between promise and reality on the Internet.  You will recall that
the Ecuadorian government announced a plan to tie its currency to the
US dollar, and that this set off massive demonstrations that resulted
in the president being thrown out in favor of the vice president.
At least that's the story you read in the paper.  I first heard about
the demonstrations over the Internet, when an RRE subscriber who first
joined the list after my WTO comments passed me a message from someone
in Ecuador who was broadcasting a global alert on the situation.
The message seemed important to me; to my knowledge, it represented
the first time in 500 years of nonstop oppression that the indigenous
people of any Latin American country had organized such a successful
rebellion against a national government.  And if the message was to be
believed, it was basically a nonviolent rebellion.

But that was just the problem: whether the message was to be believed.
I had no doubt that something was happening; nobody would make such a
thing up from scratch.  But was it an exaggeration?  One problem was
that it was written in the kind of left-wing jargon that in the United
States is a sure sign that the writer has no organized constituency,
but that is essentially the norm among Latin American intellectuals.
Which set of expectations should I go with?  I was stuck.  If the
news was real then I wanted to illustrate the power of the technology
by passing the message along to my mailing list.  To hear about the
events online first would be great, and I had little confidence that
the American media would report them fairly.  But I didn't want to
send out something that would prove to be spurious.  Nor do I have a
lot of time to research the credibility of the items people send me.
If I'm not comfortable with them, I usually just delete them.  But I
figured this one was worth a slight effort, and so I asked the person
who had sent me the message to follow up with whatever authenticating
materials he could find.  He sent some more stuff the next day, but I
still couldn't get comfortable.  A couple of days passed, the American
government applied its pressure, the rebellion dissolved, and a new
guy was put in place to implement the same policies of sucking the
blood of the poor to pay off loans that had mostly benefitted the rich.

What was missing, clearly, was an intermediary.  I can only maintain
my own personal ties to a small number of people and issues, and if
I want to play intermediary on other issues then I need some other
intermediary that I can trust.  I can subscribe to alternative news
services, but they are in the business of processing information and
writing their own copy, not passing along messages from real people.
Activist organizations, for their part, can work most effectively
by aiming their products at the mainstream media, so authenticating
messages by real people isn't not worth their effort either.  This,
then, is the gap between promise and reality.  The promise is that of
unmediated interaction with anyone in the world.  The reality is that
intermediaries serve real functions, and yet intermediaries do not
automatically spring into existence when they are needed.  So what do
we do?  We can invent new models of business, NGO work, and individual
activism.  We can also take a long-term view, building the kinds of
"weak ties" in online correspondence that can provide a basis for
trust when it's needed.  And we can build and articulate an ethic of
service that helps people imagine ways of being useful to the world
through their online activities.

I didn't provide enough directions to Mark Schone's really funny
"This American Life" segment about "Southern accents".  Aim your web
browser's RealPlayer plugin at 
and go to the halfway point, 30 minutes into it.

Some URL's.

The Internet Protocol

What Does Your Phone Number Spell?

Has the "New Economy" Rendered the Productivity Slowdown Obsolete?

NECI Scientific Literature Digital Library

Peter Menzel's photograph of me, Burlingame CA, March 1995

proposed FTC rules on financial privacy

screen snapshots of the Eazel interface for Linux

Human Rights Watch report on Colombian government ties to paramilitaries

Are Corporate Bodies Really Alive? (online conference)

"the weekly high-tech sarcastic update for the uk"

Wireless Application Protocol


Ubiquity magazine

The Daily Howler

Nondisclosure and UCITA

The Many Silver Linings of the Y2K Challenges

Organizers' Collaborative