Some notes on software patents, the culture of deference, and the
growing irrationality of American politics, several follow-ups on
past topics, and a most excellent batch of URL's.  Thanks to everyone
who contributed.  May you have a thousand children.

Chad Jones is our mailing list guru, and he does a lot of invisible
work to keep RRE running.  You can thank him for his kindly help
by sponsoring him in the 2000 AIDS Marathon to benefit AIDS Project
Los Angeles.  Details at

Have you installed a firewall on your home computer and discovered
amazing things?  I have a reporter who wants to talk to you.  (I
know him.  He's a good guy.)  Send me a note and I'll pass it along.

Now that the government has proposed breaking Microsoft into two
companies, one for operating systems and another for applications, the
op-ed party line is that the proposed punishment is only tangentially
related to the evidence of the case.  I'm not enthusiastic about
the breakup idea myself, but consider what this argument presupposes.
The browser wars are over, and no remedy could reverse Microsoft's
victory.  The demand that the remedy stick close to the particulars
of the case leaves the court with few options that would have any
real consequences.  Monetary damages?  A nice thought, but this is
the government suing Microsoft, not Netscape.  The facts and logic
of the case strongly suggest a pattern, and I hope that the government
follows up with suits in other areas, followed by criminal indictments
for perjury and racketeering.  In the meantime, this case needs to
establish a clear understanding of what constitutes fair dealing in an
industry where economies of scale and network effects are overwhelming,
and in which monopolies can be leveraged from one market to another.
That's the big picture, not the fate of these awful people.

The controversy over's "one-click" patent is a portent
of things to come.  A zillion such patents are in the pipeline,
and nobody will know what's in most of them until they are issued.
At that point, if history is any guide, the players who own the
most valuable patents will form a patent pool and the whole industry
will consolidate into an oligopoly because nobody outside the pool
will be able to play.  Most people sense that something is wrong
with these patents, but the law isn't helping them to explain what
it is.  One approach is to claim that they are obvious, but I gather
(not being a lawyer) that the traditional tests for obviousness may
not apply.  Another approach is to claim that the inventions aren't
new because they simply translate an existing technique into a new
medium; on that approach, however, one must still explain why that's
not an invention.  I'll leave that to the lawyers as well.

Perhaps it would help if we understood where the problem is coming
from.  Despite their revolutionary reputation, computers are mostly a
conservative technology.  The way that you make a computer is to start
with some language and then inscribe that language into the workings
of the hardware and software.  Computer "inventions" usually take the
form of long-familiar language being inscribed into this new medium.
Of course, one can inscribe fancy new language into the medium, but
then the resulting system probably won't fit very well into the world
around it.  Computer technology is conservative because it provides a
vehicle for existing ways of understanding the world to be reified and
made rigid and concrete in the workings of machinery.

Computer technology is also conservative in the historical dynamics
of its development.  New computer inventions typically do not replace
the old ones; instead, they are built on top of them.  Of course,
particular platforms can displace the old ones under very particular
circumstances, but the working principles of those platforms are much
the same.  Computer systems are built in layers, and new technologies
tend to be layered on top of the old ones.  Partly this is because
the old ones are simply the best known answer to a thoroughly studied
question, and partly it is because the new stuff has to coexist with
legacy systems that are too deeply intertwined with everything else
to get rid of.  For this reason, computer architecture in the real
world -- as opposed to the idealized models of some textbooks -- more
resemble geologic strata than the rational devisings of a modern-day
designer.  When progress occurs, it often takes the form of new stuff
being built on new platforms, until the underlying platforms atrophy.
Thus information services are moving wholesale onto the Web.  The Web,
of course, runs on top of personal computers and other archaic stuff.
But once everything useful is running on the Web, we can hope that the
underlying archaic stuff can slowly go away.

The problem with's patent has to do with the dynamics of a
new platform -- in this case the Web.  (I am using the word platform
in a broad sense to include network service layers and other things,
not just hardware platforms such as the IBM PC and the Palm Pilot.)
The whole point of a platform is that it enables designers to build
a great diversity of new stuff on top of it.  Most of that new stuff
will be translated from existing concepts in other domains.  And so
once a new platform becomes established, a kind of Oklahoma Land Rush
commences.  Everyone who has a clue lines up at the starting gates,
and they all race forward to plant their stakes in the ground.  The
winner is not the smart or the brave, but simply the fast, which means
in practice the well-connected individual who comprehends the critical
mass of developers that the new platform will be able to attract.
(A current example would be WAP.  Over the horizon there's W-CDMA.)

This sort of thing is "innovation" in a certain narrow sense, but
it scarcely matches the story we normally tell about the reason
for patents.  Part of the problem, of course, is that the story we
normally tell about patents is wrong.  Many inventions, technological
or otherwise, really are the result of a well-networked individual
noticing which way the wind is blowing.  Jeff Bezos saw the wind
blowing in a certain direction, and he rushed to get there first.
That's productive work too, isn't it?, and it should presumably be
rewarded somehow.  But anyone who moved into that territory first
would have come up with a no-brainer like "one-click shopping".
And so precisely because the economic justification for intellectual
property law is to create the incentives for innovation, we need to
understand just how many incentives are really required.  When you
have an industry like high technology -- and everything that can be
done with high technology -- where network effects and economies of
scale tend to produce monopolies, competition will reward those who
are good at a particularly fast and violent form of land-grabbing in
the early stages, long before most anyone is aware that the market
even exists.  The very dynamics of high-technology markets guarantee
that those people will be thoroughly incented, and it is hard to
imagine that amplifying those already unreasonably high rewards will
materially improve the social benefit of the technologies and business
models that result.

Have you noticed that the media are increasingly using the words
"Internet" and "Web" interchangeably?  See, for example, a headline
in the 4/10/00 Wall Street Journal: "AT&T Hopes to Save 'Billions'
by Routing Calls Over the Web".  This confusion of layers is not
an accident or a glitch introduced by the compositor who writes the
headlines: the body of the article says, "Still, AT&T is a few years
away from deploying Web-based phone service, known as voice-over-IP,
on the public Internet".  Yet it also refers to "Net2Phone Inc.'s
Internet-based phone technology" and "Internet phone service".

Let's consider some theories of this phenomenon.  A wide range of
Internet applications are moving onto the Web, including ones that
suffer from the rather narrow range of interfaces that can currently
be built there, and so perhaps the difference between "Internet" and
"Web" is becoming an esoteric, internal matter, sufficiently distant
from the experience of normal people that publications for normal
people need not mention it.  It wouldn't be an implausible theory
in another context, but the readers of the Wall Street Journal will
surely have enough inside understanding to appreciate how senseless
it is to speak of phone calls being routed over the Web.

Here's my theory.  In spoken English, we use the word "net" as an
abbreviation for "Internet", especially in contexts where we are
talking about something in the real world and the Internet is in
the background.  But in written English, we don't say "net".  Why?
Partly because it looks odd: "net" isn't recognizably connected
to "Internet", "Net" looks like a proper name all on its own, and
"'Net", beloved of copyeditors, is just weird.  But "World Wide
Web" has a diminutive form, "Web", and so when we need a short way
of saying "Internet", we can use that instead.  That's my theory.

People keep calling me "Dr. Agre" and "Professor".  Ugh.  Some people
are so intimidated by the concept of a college professor that, having
been asked to call me Phil, they call me "Professor Phil".  I can't
stop this, but I don't like it.  Like most normal Americans, I am
an egalitarian.  Contrary to centuries of artistocratic propaganda,
egalitarianism does not mean that we take rich people's stuff away
so that everyone ends up with a precisely equal share of the loot.
I don't have any real problem with taking rich people's stuff away
in moderate quantities if it's done consistent with rational social
policy and the rule of law, but that's not because I'm egalitarian.

Egalitarianism is a cultural thing.  An egalitarian society is one
that is not organized into a hierarchy of orders and classes in
which the lower orders regard themselves as intrinsically, immutably
inferior to their betters.  That kind of conservative hierarchy is
coming back now in the slightly hidden form of arbitary, selective
judgements that the lower orders are engaged in "victimhood" and
"whining" and "lack of personal responsibility" when they try to
keep their betters from stomping on them.  Conservatism in that sense
is fundamentally a set of mental chains, and the mental chains of
conservatism become manifest in a culture of deference, for example
the idea -- taken seriously on the radio -- that we should bow down
before Bill Gates.  The practice of addressing professors by their
titles is a remnant of this dreadful culture, what bothers me about
being called "Professor" is exactly this sense that someone is bowing
before me, treating me as their social better.  I don't want that.
Professors get their intimidating reputation in various ways.  Some
of them are smarter than the rest of us.  Most of them know more than
the rest of us.  Many of them are accomplished in ways that should
genuinely occasion respect.  But ritual deference is something else,
deeper, less rational than the respect that grown-ups can accord one
another when it's deserved.

Of course, conservatives aren't promoting deference to professors
these days.  That's simply because their grip on the universities
was loosened by the shift toward meritocratic admissions policies in
the elite private schools.  (George W. Bush was just about the last
person who was accepted to Yale under the old system of aristocratic
preference, and he still burns with envy toward the students who were
admitted on merit.  He makes no secret of it.  Conservatives' hatred
for this impertinent generation is frightening to behold, and their
vengeance against it will be terrible.)  As soon as they retake the
institution, the culture of deference will return.  In the meantime,
however, the strange and archaic custom of addressing people by title
can remind us just how stifling, deadening, demeaning, irrational,
and boring life in a conservative world used to be, and how dreadful
it will become once again if people are somehow fooled into clamping
the mental chains of conservativism back on.

The word "entitlement", in fact, originally referred to the attitude
problems of people who inherited aristocratic titles, and it has been
refreshing to see the word correctly applied once or twice to George
W. Bush, who is related to several kings and expects to be elected
president even though he has never had a real job in his life.  It
is a central principle of conservative discourse to systematically
accuse others of what they have been doing themselves (see, for
example, the letter to the editor in the 4/6/00 Wall Street Journal
asserting that, of course, "[b]laming the media is Bill Clinton's
trick"), and if our rational minds were still fully engaged then
we would be laughing ourselves silly at the aristrocats' suggestion
that it is actually the common people -- people on welfare, no less
-- who exhibit an attitude of entitlement.  The intellectual poison
of conservatism corrupts us all in these dark times, and only in the
long term can we hope to better ourselves enough to be rid of it.

A particularly alarming instance of the haughty disdain in which
the conservative elites hold their putative inferiors (yes, that's
what the conservatives accuse liberals of, but that accusation is
part of the larger pattern) can be found on the "leisure and arts"
page of the 1/31/00 Wall Street Journal, in a commentary by the
reliably bewildering Dorothy Rabinowitz.  Reporting on a C-SPAN
political call-in show, she spoke of:

  the remarkable number of people phoning in with bitter accusations,
  dark secrets they had unearthed about one political figure or
  another.  Not to mention conspiracies in which C-SPAN itself is,
  they know, directly involved ...

So far her accusations sound even-handed, and one tends to assume that
callers to the Democrats line must have been just as guilty as those
to the Republicans line.  She then spoke particularly of a "singularly
impassioned" caller:

  She herself was a supporter of George W. Bush, the caller said
  between breaths, but she wanted to know just how these two women
  could sit there and defend Bill Clinton.  That they did so told
  her, moreover, that "your morals are just like his".

  What this enraged caller had heard, and what the guests had said,
  bore no discernable relation to one another -- a common distortion
  growing more common every day.

Reading this, I was alarmed.  Here is a very conservative journalist,
writing for a very conservative arts page, lamenting the delusional
ravings of conservatives.  (She will later refer to them as "psychic
disorders".)  And lamenting them in not especially comprehensible
terms: what exactly is the "distortion" that is "growing more common
every day"?  She doesn't describe any particular distortion, just a
complete disconnection from reality.  What's going on?

  Perhaps, but in their small way, calls of this kind and related
  accusations serve as reminders of a larger matter -- namely, the
  extent to which paranoia has now settled itself into the culture.
  For this we can thank, mainly, the cult of victimology, whose habits
  of mind and way of viewing the world have now spread far beyond all
  offically designated afflicted groups to the general population.

Wow.  It's like a magic trick.  She has somehow blamed conservative
paranoia on the "officially designated afflicted groups" who founded
the "cult of victimology".  The strategic vagueness of conservative
discourse provides her with considerable deniability as to her targets
here, but we all know that she's talking about feminists, the civil
rights movement, the labor movement, and all of the many other social
movements that represent anybody except conservatives.  It's not even
limousine liberals who are to blame, but those whom the liberals have
chosen to designate as afflicted.

The daring of this passage can hardly be overstated.  Its logic, of
course, is preposterous.  Conservative paranoia has a long history
indeed, and robustly predates the cult of victimology that we hear
so much about.  The specific contents of conservative conspiracy
theories often derive word-for-word from Dorothy Rabinowitz' fellow
editorialists at the Wall Street Journal.  And you'd think that
someone who mocks victims would be reticent to blame conservative
psychosis on liberals.  Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
But this author is not blaming her own disorders on someone else.
It is someone else's disorders that she is explaining away.  She wants
to exonerate conservatives, but she does not want to identify herself
with crazy people who call in to call-in shows.  She is above that,
superior to the rank-and-file conservatives whose mental disorders
are a mark of their inferiority.  Once the rank-and-file conservatives
learn their place and deliver the institutions of American society
into the hands of their betters, they'll learn to apply the language
of victimology to themselves.  And the Dark Ages will resume.

In response to the materials from my nouveau "systems analysis and
design" course, a couple of people asked me why I did not mention
issues of values and responsibility.  People designing in the new
medium surely need a moral compass to (for example) prevent them
from enclosing the people who use their devices in an iron cage of
privacy invasion.  Several answers: (1) it's hard to do everything,
(2) we're making huge moral progress just by blowing up the bad old
methods of systems analysis and design with their command-and-control
assumptions, (3) we're also making huge moral progress by including
deep observation of the real-world uses of information as a major
component of the class, and (4) sometimes you can accomplish a lot
more by keeping the overt moral language out of it; conservatives,
after all, hate it when you talk about morality and responsibility
and right and wrong, and we have to be tolerant of their lifestyle.

I'm making a point, of course, with the last of those cracks about
conservatives.  It is a measure of the fury of the conservatives'
ideological assault that they've captured the idea of "conscience"
from the left and persuaded many normal Americans that conscience
is something that dissenters from conservativism have always opposed.
This is a tremendous feat of historical forgetting, given that the
left has emphasized the necessity of conscience in nearly everything
it has done for decades, from the civil rights movement to dozens of
reform movements within the various professions.  Conservatives have
appropriated the idea of conscience through the simple device of
stereotyping -- stereotyping amplified and endlessly repeated, of
course, but nothing especially complicated.  It's easy.  Start by
saying something like "some people say that conscience has gone the
way of the dinosaurs" or "we disagree with some people who say that
conscience is not important", and then juxtapose that blurry "some
people" with equally blurry characterizations of various disfavored
social groups, over and over, until the lizard brain can no longer
associate the concept of conscience with the people who spent so
many decades promoting it.  Bit by bit, our rational minds are being
blurred away as the primitive logic of the lizard brain reasserts
itself on every media wavelength.

Let's consider the logic of the lizard brain in action.  Consider the
following quote from the indispensable Senator Bob Smith (R-NH):

  There was no hesitation on the part of this administration to
  sacrifice innocent lives to achieve their own agenda, and the
  agenda this time was diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro,
  so Elian was expendable (AP 4/23/00).

The rational mind, if suitably caffeinated, can comprehend this as
an accusation as to the administration's motives in rescuing a Cuban
boy who was being held by conservatives in Miami.  Accusations as to
motive are nothing new in the present climate, and the rational mind
is sufficiently numbed by now that it has forgotten how much evidence
civilized people used to require before they issued such accusations.
But the rational mind will find it hard going to punch through the
strangely exaggerated language.  That's because this particular quote
is much better suited for the lizard brain, which is operating on a
different logic.  To the lizard brain, the key words are "sacrifice
innocent lives" and "expendable".  The rational mind had to struggle
past these words, which first seem to suggest that the administration
had killed somebody -- multiple people, in fact.  But the lizard brain
operates not on reason, much less reality, but on strong emotions and
associations.  And here the emotions -- multiple murders! -- could not
be stronger.  This is a very common pattern in conservative rhetoric:
amping the emotional force of an accusation by stretching a phrase in
a way that cannot be rationally refuted.  It's a metaphor, after all.

Here is another example, an "aside" from the endlessly instructive
Wall Street Journal editorial page (4/28/00), which because of its
short length (147 words) I will quote in full:

  A US Appeals Court ruled this week that the ACLU is right
  that Ohio's motto, "With God all things are possible", is
  unconstitutional.  Now it may go after Arizona's motto, "God
  Enriches".  We also read in yesterday's Journal that China's
  Communist government is cracking down on Falun Dafa, Christians,
  Buddhists and Muslims.  Maybe they should consult with the ACLU.
  And maybe America's believers should consult with the former
  Soviet dissidents who communicated surreptitiously in samizdat.
  Ohio's motto could be, "With Smokey the Bear all things are
  possible".  The US could change the words on the new Sacajawea
  dollar to, "In Ms. or Mr. X We Trust".  All of America's believers
  could declare themselves members of an underground religion, like
  Falun Dafa.  This isn't what the Founders intended, but with so
  few prominent voices raised against the ACLU, it looks like this
  is what we're going to get.

It helps to know a little about the previous day's article that the
editors were referring to.  This article described in graphic detail
the torture and murder by Chinese authorities of an ordinary woman
who would not renounce her belief in Falun Dafa.  Now this editorial
draws an extended analogy between these hideous event and the Appeals
Court's ruling.  You can see the fallacy as well as I can: a failure
to distinguish between government imposing a religion on the people
(which the Journal supports and the ACLU opposes) and the government
imposing a lack of religion on the people (which is what happens in
China).  This is an elementary point, and it would get in the way of
any remotely rational method of discussing the matter.

Fortunately for the Journal editors, however, the English language
provides endless resources for promoting strong emotions and vague
associations.  Consider the simple phrase "go after", which normally
implies physical violence: one "goes after" someone to beat them up.
The rational mind considers and rejects the violent interpretation,
but the lizard brain notices the analogy between this suggestion
of violence and the very real and gruesome violence, still fresh in
mind, to which the editors allude in their next sentence.  In their
trademarked tone of snide exaggeration, the editors then present a
series of suggestions, each of which builds an assocation between
the ACLU and the Chinese Communist Party, and between the US Appeals
Court and the Chinese government, without quite asserting that the
two sides are rationally equivalent.  Rather than say "they're just
the same as", the Journal editors say "maybe they should consult
with".  The ideal reader will start to enter a trance at this point,
so that the odd reference to Smokey the Bear in close juxtaposition
to the mention of samizdat literature will deniably call up images
of burning books.  The editors oppose "the ACLU" to "America's
believers", as if no American believers support the ACLU, and they
throw in a gratuitous suggestion (deniable in rational debate but
perfectly clear to the lizard brain) that feminism is an anti-religion
that leaves a blank where God belongs and raises the status of women
above that of men.

The final sentence is a masterpiece.  Let us consider it slowly:

  This isn't what the Founders intended,

The first word, "this", could refer to several things.  It could
refer to the imputed assault on phrases such as "In God We Trust",
which the Deists who founded the country embraced at a time when
it had different implications than it does now when Deism no longer
exists.  Or it could refer to the business about America's believers
declaring themselves an underground religion -- the idea of an underground
religion is logically unrelated to anything that the ACLU has said or
done, but the lizard brain does not know anything about logic.  Or it
could refer to the whole system of associations that the editorial has
constructed, violence and everything.

  but with so few prominent voices raised against the ACLU,

The rational mind, if it is still conscious at this point, can see
the falsehood of the notion -- presupposed rather than asserted --
of "few prominent voices raised against the ACLU", given that so
many prominent conservatives rail against the ACLU whenever they
want.  For the lizard brain, those conservative political commentators
do not exist as objects of rational discourse; they simply stimulate
strong emotions in the primitive mental space in which individual
human beings are not yet clearly distinguished from one another.  The
conservatives and non-conservatives occupy wholly different realities,
so that the overwhelming glut of conservative political commentators
in the media can easily be reconciled with the idea that the media are
dominated by liberals.

  it looks like this is what we're going to get.

Finally, having created its chain of strong emotions and vague
associations, the editorial brings its reader out of the trance
by asserting at last that the ACLU really will bring about the
repression, torture, and murder of America's religious believers.
That's what it says, right there on the page, but by now the chain
of associations is long enough that the great majority of rational
minds have given up trying to follow them.  Another rhetorical
atrocity slips past the collective narcosis of American political
culture.  Or so they hope.

In my comment on the census flap, I said the following:

  The US Census Bureau claims to be surprised at the degree of
  privacy concern that has arisen lately over its "long form".
  All I can say is that the Census Bureau is run by idiots.

I felt bad about the "idiots" part.  I even felt somewhat bad about
making details of the meeting public.  I was genuinely mad because
the census, which I regard as an important and good thing if done
correctly, is being threatened in part because the Census Bureau
people didn't listen to me when I lectured them on the dangers.
I'm still mad.  I rechecked the rapporteur's summary of that meeting
and was thoroughly reminded what it was about that meeting that had
gotten me into lecturing mode.  They had plenty of time and plenty
of warning.  But still I don't want to personalize it, given the
double bind Congress has put them in.

In response to my request for Grateful Dead tapes, RRE subscribers
came through.  I got a whole file box of them that one long-time good
person had in his garage, and a few others made copies of their best
shows for me.  One of them even connected me to a guy in Chicago who
has promised to make me a copy of my all-time favorite show, 11/5/79
in Philadelphia, particularly the second set, which I probably spent
whole weeks of my life listening to before my first copy got stolen.
Seven years ago this would have been a heartwarming Internet story
worthy of the newspapers.  Today we take it for granted.

One of the downsides of circulating my "Advice for Undergraduates
Considering Graduate School" is that I periodically get messages
from places like Pakistan asking me whether the University of
Pennsylvania's electrical engineering program requires calculus
as a prerequisite.  I find myself being remarkably tolerant of
these messages.  You and I know that the answers to such questions
vary with the institution and are best answered by looking at the
institution's Web site.  But if you're a kid who stays up late
doing math problems as your most promising ticket out of Karachi,
the whole problem is that you're too far out of the loop to know
such things.

I think about this a lot.  Once you've been inserted into the
workings of an institution, be it the university or the stock
market, you instantly forget how clueless you had been beforehand.
And so you have no way of empathizing with all of the normal people
who stand outside the institution's doors, unclear on what takes
to get in or how to behave once they're there.  This is what's
so obnoxious about Foucault's theory of the subject.  Foucault,
simplistic inverter of received wisdom that he often was, regards
our locations within institutions -- as professor, medical patient,
wage-earner, stamp collector, television viewer, or what-have-you
-- as oppressive, not so much because someone is assaulting us from
the outside, as because we have internalized a whole framework of
symbols and practices that define our actions and our consciousness
alike.  Yeah, okay, that's true to a degree.  But try telling
it to the engineering students in Karachi -- or to children of
Los Angeles' janitors who have been raising heck to get themselves
admitted to the institutions of this country.

In response to my message about SEC surveillance of online stock
discussions, one person with an enviably varied career history wrote
to tell of his days running a very low-circulation newsletter for
investors.  He said that the SEC was definitely interested in his
work, and that it claimed dominion over pretty much the widest range
of things that you could imagine calling "newsletters".  I don't
doubt that, and didn't mean to inquire about what the securities
laws say or pass judgements about what they ought to say.  My point
was a bit larger.  The great flexibility of digital media thoroughly
blurs the distinctions among existing media and genres, so that the
line between (the digital versions of) a "newsletter" and a conference
call among personal friends is no longer as easy to find as it was.

Best theory of the month: the stock market tanked temporarily on
April 14th not because of the inflation numbers but because hordes
of amateur investors, many of them operating on margin, realized
at the last moment that they had to unwind their positions to pay
their capital gains taxes.

RRE readers wrote to scorn Wired News and its false assertion that
Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet.  These readers were
especially scornful of the article's petty conclusion:

  High-visibility events can be prone to embarrassing slip-ups.
  At one recent White House event, Gore introduced Cisco Systems
  CEO John Chambers, who he had met with privately earlier that day.

  Gore told the audience how much he valued Chambers and one of
  the products Cisco produced.  But he mispronounced "routers" as

Paul Hoffman of the Internet Mail Consortium, for example, wrote from
the IETF meeting in Australia to say that:

  I believe that at least 10% of the people in the IETF pronounce
  it as rooter.  That percentage goes up when you talk to people who
  actually develop routing protocols.

This is certainly my experience, and others said much the same.
Besides, it can't be easy to say "rowter" with a Tennessee accent.
Give the man a break, or at least know what you're talking about.

There's also this passage:

  Gore has taken credit for popularizing the term "information
  superhighway" and around 1991 penned related articles for
  publications such as Byte magazine.  But the term "data highway"
  has been used as far back as 1975, before Gore entered Congress.

Notice the sleight of hand.  I'm not sure how one could have been
alive in 1994 and deny that Gore popularized the term "information
superhighway".  But Wired News doesn't actually deny Gore's claim.
Yes, similar phrases were "used" earlier, but by no stretch had
those phrases been popularized.  Here we see a relatively new
pattern: scoffing at a statement that is true, giving the impression
that it is false without actually denying it.

This business about Gore supposedly claiming to have invented the
Internet would be trivial, comparable to the question of whether Dan
Quayle really misspelled the word "potato", if it were not part of
such a pattern.  The media by now has gone through numerous episodes
of echo-chamber hysteria, accusing time Gore of lying, exaggerating,
shading the truth, and even being mentally ill, based on stories
that were simply false.  And not just arguably false or somewhat
false, but just plain factually-not-true false.  You've heard them:
Al Gore falsely claimed to have inspired the novel "Love Story",
the author vehemently denied that what Gore said was true, and Gore
admitted that he had been making it up.  Gore falsely claimed to
have worked on a farm as a child.  Gore claimed to have discovered
Love Canal.  And Gore claimed to have invented the Internet.  These
stories are by far the most common examples adduced in support of
the idea that Gore exaggerates, and they are all false.  Every last
one of them.  Completely wrong.  Yet the pattern goes on and on and
on without anybody but a few nuts on the Internet pointing it out.

And unlike the 1990s fabrications about Bill Clinton that made a
roundabout journey from right-wing chat rooms to the Daily Telegraph
to conservative op-ed columns to Congressional inquiries to the
front pages of serious newspapers, most of these fabrications have
originated with political reporters from the Washington Post, the
New York Times, and other serious publications.  (In this sense,
the Wired News case is an exception -- a throwback to the old model
of scandalizing bottom-feeders.)  Few of these howling falsehoods
has ever been retracted in any serious way -- in contrast, say, to
the time that the New York Times retracted a perfectly true story
about the anti-Semitic sources of Pat Robertson's writing.  And many
of them continue to be repeated with impunity long after they have
been exposed.

Isn't anybody else alarmed at this pattern?  What is perhaps most
disturbed about it is its lizard-brain logic: the media stars who
exaggerate and lie by falsely accusing Al Gore of exaggerating and
lying are not just hypocrites; they are very compactly projecting
their own wrongdoing into the object of their abuse.  This kind of
projection is the most primitive and the most dangerous of lizard-
brain thought processes.  If you stand back and look at it logically
-- something that the strong emotions and cognitive fragmentation
of the lizard brain conspire to make difficult -- then you see
something scary.  The people who issue whole reams of false and
exaggerated accusations against various supposed enemies of society
are in fact everything that they claim the objects of their abuse
to be.  It's not just that they are making a horrible caricature
of their enemies; they are, right before our eyes and yet somehow
almost invisibly, making themselves into something just exactly
that horrible.  In their minds they are confronting the devil, but
in their hearts they are becoming him.

I therefore found it particularly distressing when a small number
of actual readers of this mailing list wrote to explain that, really,
Al Gore did claim to have invented the Internet.  In each case
their reasoning proceeded by taking Gore's words out of context and
saying something like, "'creating' does sort of mean 'inventing',
doesn't it?".  What's distressing is the unhappy sense that I am
not talking to a human being.  Anybody could look at Gore's words
and see perfectly well what they meant.  Their most straightforward
interpretation was not modest, to be sure, but it was entirely true.
The Internet pioneers who spoken on the matter haven't bothered to
play word games about it, but their statements provide considerably
more support for Gore's claim than anything the solitaire-playing
governor of Texas has provided for any of his claimed "reform"

Yet these people, having persuaded themselves that Al Gore is an
exaggerator, claim to be able to discern extra meanings hidden in
his words.  They twist them and bend them and place interpretations
on them that are completely arbitrary, and yet in their minds it is
not they who are twisting language.  Rather, it was Gore who twisted
the language, and they are untwisting it.  This is more projection.
In working themselves around to this position, they have checked
themselves out of the community of normal speakers of English --
the one whose members, regardless of their politics, can listen
to a phrase of the shared language and take for granted a grown-up
agreement on what elements of meaning it does and does not contain.
Their thought processes are out of control: whatever constraint
an ordinary person might feel from the demands of logic or meaning,
these people have liberated themselves from.  Their enemies are
totally evil, they've decided, and capable of anything, and so
their reasoning about those enemies does not require any rational
constraint or scruple either.

But this is not a matter of individual psychopathology.  I don't
know whether these people are clinically disturbed or not.  But I do
know that they are cultivating a dangerous set of thought-patterns
whose origins lie in the black arts of public relations.  Here is
the basic formula, which is repeated innumerable times every day:

(1) Start with a "message", call it M.  (Political people such as
Newt Gingrich use the term "strategy".)  The message has to be vague
enough that small handfuls of facts cannot refute it but forceful
enough that people who don't like it will feel obliged to refute it.
Messages typically take the form of primitive associations, such as
an association between "Gore" and "exaggeration".  It should ideally
be epitomized in a simple adjective-noun phrase such as "tenured
radicals", "environmental wackos", "liberal media", or "Al Gore's
preposterous claims".

(2) Research a set of "facts" that, taken in whatever context you
choose to present them, seem to provide support for M.  "Facts" is
the PR term of art, as in "liberals ignore facts!".  These "facts"
might be examples -- the outrageous left-wing college professor
of the week, the latest wacky proposal from environmentalists, the
latest fragment of news reporting that does not hew closely to the
conservative party line, Gore's latest outrageous story.  It doesn't
matter whether these "facts" are true, or how trivial they might
be, or how representative, or whether any numbers they contain are
based on any rational methodology.  Just have a lot of them.

(3) Start feeding the message through various media outlets.  Talk
radio hosts are always starving for material.  Syndicated columnists
often get their research predigested from interest groups that they
support.  Members of Congress can gain politically by getting out
in front of new issues that are likely to have organized campaigns
behind them.  In each case, the finished product will consist of a
batch of invective that hypergeneralizes from a few facts to support
the chosen message.

(4) Keep it up.  Repetition counts.  You haven't succeeded until
you get the media echo-chamber effect going, and that requires your
message to be ingrained in the media discourse.  So produce more
facts in the same series.  Get them out there.  Because about now,
a few questioning voices, having conducted research of their own,
will start pointing out that your "facts" are either misleading or
false.  The correct answer is, "that doesn't matter -- what matters
is M" or "the reason that people find that claim so plausible is M"
or "there's something wrong with you for defending those lowlifes --
given the overwhelming evidence for M, nobody could sanely disagree
with it".  Once you get to this point, you've won.

(5) Start weaving messages together.  Your goal is to ingrain your
message, M, into the mental equipment of everyone in the society,
or at least everyone in your electoral coalition.  You want them
to start seeing the world that way, to notice supporting evidence
for your message (and not to notice contrary evidence), to get snide
or outraged or whatever in each case, and to mock and browbeat your
enemies.  Once your enemies have internalized this abuse, they will
respond with helplessness and despair.  With time, you will be able
to say things that are just completely false, and nobody of any
significance will challenge you.

This strategy obviously requires massive access to the media.  It
does not require that one literally control the media.  But it does
require a professional understanding of the dynamics of the media,
which is why so many former reporters have gone to work -- at higher
salaries -- in the public relations business.  You might think that
it requires that one's opponents not have massive access to the
media, inasmuch as a sufficiently mobilized opponent will be able
to call you on your distortions in real time.  But in recent years
we have seen this whole strategy executed at its pathological worst
to tear down a sitting President, and now a sitting Vice President
and leading presidential candidate.  When the media said something
bad about Newt Gingrich -- instigated in many cases, no doubt
about it, by liberals using these same methods -- Gingrich could
count on massive air cover from the conservative media.  Clinton
and Gore do have a few defenders in the media, but the sheer amount
of slime they have confronted, and the sheer amount of complicity
in the slime that the New York Times especially has displayed, has
routinely overwhelmed the vast media-control resources of the White
House.  If the White House doesn't have a dozen supportive op-ed
columnists shooting down every incoming round, then White House
officials have to do the shooting themselves, and this doesn't work
nearly as well.

At the end of the day, the major victims of these sorts of campaigns
are not the people they denounce.  Yes, a lot of people working for
the Clintons have had their reputations and bank accounts ruined
by reckless accusations, abusive investigations, talk-radio slander,
and all of the rest.  But those people know that they are ultimately
in the right, and they will retain their sanity and get over it.
The real victims are the rank-and-file of the screamers, the people
who go around snidely thanking Al Gore for his fine inventions and
sarcastically chortling, "I guess I'm not being politically correct
here, haw haw haw".  That's right, those people are the real victims.
In the course of abusing others, they cultivate and internalize a
disturbed set of thought-patterns that may or may not be clinical,
but that will certainly condemn them to great oppression one day.
These are the mental chains of conservatism.  These chains are not
pretty things.  They are made of rage and dissociation, projection
and irrationality.  Their ultimate object of abuse is not Al Gore,
or liberals, but rather the healthy and sane parts of the abuser's
own mind, which unless rescued will sink into corruption and terror
so profound that only God can really understand it.

I committed a major faux pas by using the phrases "open source" and
"copyleft" in the same phrase.  You may have heard of the, um, slight
tension between the "open source" and "free software" people.  It's
one of those factional disputes that's like the distance between the
sun and Alpha Centauri: when you're orbiting around one or the other
they seem impossibly far away, but if you live your life in another
galaxy they are indistinguishable.  (Lots of things are like this.)

I don't want to risk trying to characterize the difference between
open source and free software in precise terms, but the following
intuitive explanation may be useful.  Any scheme for the cooperative
production of software must answer two questions: what will motivate
people to contribute their work for free, and what can prevent a
Microsoft from converting an open de facto standard into a proprietary
standard by tactics such as "embrace and extend".  For free software,
the answers are human nature and law, respectively; for open source
they're self-interest and economics.  Free software comes with a
license that makes it illegal to embrace and extend; open source may
nor may not have such a license, but it relies more heavily on the
intrinsic advantages of open development, such as its capacity for
rapid bug fixes.

I also confused some people with my use of the word "distributed".
I'll plead guilty and then defend myself anyway.  Here's the point.
The Web is a distributed application in a narrow sense, but it still
revolves around centralized servers.  We need to get away from that
system for several reasons: it's not democratic, it produces network
traffic jams, it creates the potential for single points of failure,
and it invites censorship.  Thus many people foresee a shift in Internet
applications architecture toward a more symmetric relationship among
users.  It's still hard for most normal people to run a server because
they use dialup connections that have dynamic IP addresses and aren't,
as they say, "always-on".  Normal people also don't have the software
or technical sophistication to run such a site securely.  But Napster
provides a hint as to what a distributed application -- in this more
rhetorical or political sense -- might be like.  Napster is quite a
mess in practice (most of the servers are down, download times can be
upwards of an hour for normal people with dial-ins, a large proportion
of downloads fail, a large proportion of the audio files are defective
in some way, labeling is primitive and inconsistent -- why doesn't
anyone report on this?), but like most things on the Internet we like
it because we simply assume that the problems are temporary glitches.
Of course, Napster may be out of business next month, and I'm not
sure that's a bad thing.  But other models are available, for example
Quake, and we can expect others.  The distinction between "client" and
"server" is very 1990s, and we will surely graduate to a more diverse
and interesting set of distinctions real soon now.

A libertarian screamer wrote with several objections to the message
that contained Lauren Weinstein's report on the privacy invasion
plans of Predictive Networks, which wants to collaborate with ISP's
to capture the finest details of their customers' Internet use.
It would seem that I had successfully baited him with my trawl of a
reference to "libertarian elites who think they know what's best for
the rest of us" -- the conservatives endlessly turn around phrases
that are applied to them, and so I want them to feel for themselves
how obnoxious this practice is.

This guy's message was striking, first of all, in its tendency to
see calls for regulation whether they existed or not.  He took Lauren
to be calling for regulation, for example, even though he was not.
And he claimed to be unsurprised to see the New York Times calling for
regulation.  This latter notion is striking on several counts.  First,
the bit that I paraphrased from the New York Times did not call for
regulation; it only reported a poll reporting that online Americans
are calling for regulation.  Second, it really would be surprising
if the New York Times had been calling for regulation, given that
mainstream reporters are well to the right of the average citizen on
economic issues.  (It's only on cultural issues that they are somewhat
to the left.)  Third, and most striking of all, is the pattern of
dissociating inconvenient facts by blaming the media for reporting
them.  This sort of thing can only go so far before the rational mind
begins to succumb.

Yet there was more.  He then proceeded to label liberals as an elite
who were trying to impose their wills on everyone else, even though
the polls clearly show that it's the libertarians who are a very
small, if heavily resourced and highly vocal, minority on this issue.
It can be hard to keep track of this stuff sometimes.  And he even
argued that the most experienced Web users, who happen to be the
most opposed to regulation, are the best-suited to make the decision.
I figured I could rest my case right there, but then I decided I
should at least explain what's wrong with the suggestion that these
most-experienced individuals are the best able to evaluate proposals
for regulation.  First, those individuals are likely to be more
educated and technically sophisticated than the average person, and
thus more capable of fend for themselves under the law of the jungle
that they endorse.  Second, those individuals are more likely to
be members of the industry that privacy regulations would regulate,
and thus hardly impartial in their judgements.  Third, experts
forget what it's like to be beginners, and are thus not necessarily
capable of judging the situation that non-experts face when they try
to navigate the privacy minefield of the net.  Fourth, the Europeans
live under these laws, and they're doing just fine.  Their Internet
penetration doesn't match ours, though it's coming along, but that's
largely because cell phones match their way of life much better.

His other objections were more rational, if not any more defensible.
He dragged out the capture theory, which simplistically contends that
regulatory agencies are inevitably taken over by the industries they
regulate.  Why this is an argument for giving in to those industries'
demands has always been unclear to me.  If the people decide to
protect themselves against the information traffickers then of course
the traffickers will try to subvert the democratic process.  When
the Washington state legislature recently introduced a modest privacy
bill, for example, the traffickers fielded no fewer than 118 lobbyists
against it (Wall Street Journal 4/21/00).  That just means that we
need more democracy, not less.

He next argued that regulation would help larger firms at the expense
of smaller ones.  But this is a non sequitur.  If it's wrong then
it's wrong for everyone, big or small.  Laws against theft punish the
little guy too.  It's true that compliance with government regulations
often involves economies of scale, which tend to bring concentrated
industry structures.  But the economies of scale in information-based
businesses are already so great that it's hard to tell whether privacy
regulation materially adds to them, and regulatory economies of scale
can often be mitigated through outsourcing.

Finally, he argued that the market would resolve any privacy threat
from Predictive Networks and its plans.  Those who don't want their
privacy taken away, for example, will move to another ISP.  This kind
of objection presupposes a false model of privacy regulation, whose
main point is to cause this sort of market solution to work correctly,
for example by requiring clear notification of what information will
be collected and what will be done with it, and not to replace it.
The real question is whether privacy regulation is enough to make
the market solution work.  So long as the ISP market is competitive,
hope remains.  The degree of competition in the ISP market is often
overestimated by the blurring of the different services that ISP's
provide to different market segments.  But even if we ignore that
factor, the natural economies of scale in Internet service, and the
increasing network effects in enhanced Internet services, may well be
driving the ISP business toward the same kind of extreme concentration
that characterizes most of the other segments of high tech industry.
And once service providers acquire significant market power, the free
market argument no longer applies, and the democratic process becomes
a perfectly reasonable way for people to defend their interests.

Some URL's.

MI5 Builds New Centre to Read E-Mails on the Net


What I Learned at the World Economic Crisis

NATO targeting decisions in Yugoslavia

a relatively skeptical article on Echelon

Independent WAP/WML FAQ

Growing the Wired World

Automakers, Parts Suppliers Spar over Net Marketplaces

government's proposed remedy in the Microsoft case

academics' statements supporting the government's proposed remedy

economists' amicus brief arguing for Microsoft penalties

petition to stop AOL-Time Warner merger and require open access

San Diego State's Senate Creates a Detailed Policy for Distance Courses

"Relationship Software" May Be Key to Colleges' Success

Internet Political Economy Forum

The Effects of Electronic Commerce on the Structure of Intermediation

archived video of Doug Englebart's seminar at Stanford

article on IDEO

Hardware Is an Outdated Idea

Library of Congress educational site

Museum Computer Network

Ars Electronica

Museums and the Web

CORE Industrial Design Network

Developing a Product

Designing a More Usable World

Industrial Designers Society of America

Design Management Journal

art, design, architecture and media information gateway

The End of the End-to-End Argument?