Some notes on the age of unreason, the opaque nature of institutions,
the hubris of futurology, the dreaded verbs of journalese, and the
fashionable hatred of college professors, plus follow-ups and URL's.


I'm told that some mail-readers lose the two blank lines that I use to
separate successive notes in these messages.  The archive
for the list has the same problem.  So I've introduced a clearer note


RRE's splendid readers have sent me so many interesting cheap pens
that I'll never use them all.  Accordingly, I will send an interesting
cheap pen at my own expense to everyone who sends me a check for US$20
(or equivalent in other currencies) made out to Amnesty International.
Please make sure your name and addressed are on the check.  I'll pass
the checks along to Amnesty.  If you don't want them putting you on
their mailing list, you might want to attach a note to that effect.


Those who are interested in our design work may enjoy a new conference
paper that I've put on the Web:

This is not the more serious account of lessons learned from our design
course that I have promised, but it provides some sense of our motives
and a brief description of a couple of the design studies, with links
to slide presentations about them.  It's not the most profound thing I
ever wrote, but it's alright.  Do let me know if you find any problems
with the writing or the arguments, additional work I ought to cite, etc.


Let us consider another example of the collapse into irrationality
of American political culture.  The point here is not that Americans
in general are becoming irrational, but rather that a very elaborate
jargon has arisen that systematically subverts rational thinking and
replaces it with nonsense.  What's so striking is how well-engineered
this nonsense is.  Nonsense need not be sloppy or random; quite the
contrary, it can be terribly sophisticated.  The people who talk this
nonsense do not necessarily intend to talk nonsense; rather, they
have cultivated a way of thinking and talking that presents itself as
upholding various positive values, but whose real effect is to destroy
their minds, to the point where they mechanically repeat lines that,
if they were rational, they would scornfully reject.

So, for example, you may recall a recent case in which an inmate was
scheduled for execution in Texas even though he had been identified
by only one witness, and even though clear acts of omission by his
ineffective court-appointed attorney had prevented evidence of his
innocence from being presented in court.  The matter attracted more
attention than the average case of a potentially innocent individual
being put to death because the case arose in Texas, whose governor
is running for president.  The case being in Texas was not a complete
accident, of course, given that Texas executes far more prisoners
than any other state (or, to my knowledge, than any jurisdiction in
the world), and given also that Texas has a long-standing reputation
for ineffective court-appointed lawyers.  Here is a letter on the
matter that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (6/26/00, page B12):

  Some years ago the death penalty was put to a statewide vote.
  It passed overwhelmingly.  Some people still don't like the idea.
  Every time someone is put to death, even in another state, these
  people start to cry about the the person being put to death, yet
  they don't shed one tear for the person who is really deserving of
  their tears, the victims.

It is characteristic of the new jargon that a few sentences can pack
an extraordinary amount of sophistry.  Let us consider a few of the
devices that are used here.

(1) The controversy that was current in mid-June did not concern the
justice of the death penalty in general, but rather the possibility
that a man was being put to death for a crime that he did not commit.
The letter does not mention this context, and instead defocuses
the issue to something much broader.  Opponents of the particular
execution are placed against the majority of voters.  But even then,
what is the point?  Is the author saying that the losing side in
any controversy in a democracy must shut up?  It is entirely unclear.

(2) Pay particular attention to the phrase "some people".  It is
very common in the new jargon.  Its effect is to sneak a stereotype
in underneath a near-tautology.  Just to illustrate how this device
works, one could equally well employ it to say something like, "some
people go nuts anytime that anyone except a conservative is found
innocent of a crime", or "some people believe that murder requires
a ritual sacrifice; they don't care who is sacrificed, so long as
it is not one of them" or "some people just want to kill as many
people as they can".  One could then proceed to rail against the
hard-heartedness and bone-headedness of these people, and generally
apply to them every stereotype that had ever been applied to people
of a certain political persuasion.  One would at no point actually
say that people of that political persuasion always and necessarily
believe that everyone who is accused of a crime is guilty.  In fact,
one's argument would be logically empty: if you can define a group
as "people who believe X" without any further specification, then
it follows that everyone in that group has whatever attributes would
follow from a belief in X.

(3) Furthermore, observe that the group is defined in an ambiguous
way.  They are people who "still don't like the idea" -- but which
idea?  The idea of the death penalty?  Or the idea that a majority of
Texas voters supported it?  Might a reader infer that these perverse
people don't like democracy?  No such inference could be refuted
because the precise extension of the group is never defined.  They are
just "some people".  Surely there do exist people in the world who fit
that description.  There could be four of them.  They could represent
1% of death penalty opponents.  We don't know.  And we aren't supposed
to know.

(4) Despite the sophisticated vagueness of his letter, the author is
clearly trying to stereotype opponents of the death penalty.  These
opponents are portrayed, for example, as emotional people.  They are
not giving reasons; they are just crying.  Their arguments are not
mentioned; instead, the author insinuates that their reasons extend
nowhere beyond a generalized opposition to the death penalty.  It's
an insinuation, not an assertion, because the author doesn't out and
say so.  And for good reason, because if he had said so then everyone
would have realized straightaway that it was not so.

(5) Opponents of the death penalty are further stereotyped as being
emotionally involved with criminals and emotionally indifferent to
victims.  This is a heinous insult.  It is proven false by many kinds
of evidence.  Take, for example, Tim Robbins' film "Dead Man Walking",
which is clearly a liberal film against the death penalty.  In that
film, a nun treats a convicted murder with sufficient humanity that
she manages to persuade him to admit that he was guilty.  The film is
dedicated to his victims, and ends by crying for them at some length.
If the author had out and stated, "opponents of the death penalty
shed no tears for victims", then one could rebut that assertion with
evidence.  But instead he leaves everything vague enough that rational
responses can find no handhold.

(6) But that's far from the worst of it.  The issue in the case in
June was precisely whether the man being executed was the one who
committed the crime.  The author simply glosses over the question
of whether the right person is being executed.  Observe that he
identifies this person not as "the criminal", or "the murderer", or
even as "the convict" -- each of those characterizations would raise
the question of whether the person was in fact convicted fairly --
but as "the person being put to death".  He then implies, without
quite saying, that "the person being put to death" is not deserving
of tears.  In other words, the author simply presupposes what is at
stake here: whether an innocent man was being executed.  This effect
is quite common: fancy phrases are used to close up the logical space
where the real issue lies.

(7) It's important to be clear exactly how he achieves this effect.
He does not refer to a specific case.  Instead he discerns a pattern.
The crying, he suggests, is independent of the particulars of the
case.  Observe that he does not speak about the whole universe of
people who wanted to halt this particular execution, and focuses
instead on people who oppose the death penalty (and not necessarily
even all of them).  Those people who support the death penalty but
believe that judicial institutions need to be radically reformed
before it can be morally permissible to execute anyone are defined
out of consideration from the start.  The author posits an automatic
connection in the minds of the opponents, from death penalty to
crying, without any intermediate steps.  This is a conceit of the
new jargon: that "their" positions are "knee-jerk" and automatic,
and not motivated by any kind of reasoning.  In fact, another conceit
of the new jargon, part of its thoroughgoing pattern of projection,
is that "they" believe just that about "us".  And the projection goes
further, inasmuch as this author is himself engaged in an irrational
reaction, unsupported by any kind of reasoning, to opponents of the
death penalty.  He is projecting his own irrationality onto others.

People who are abused with specimens of the new jargon often feel
frustrated and confused: they have been presented with something
that seems superficially like a logical argument, and they wants
to respond in kind.  But little or no logic is actually present.
The jargon-laden utterance may make no sense, or it may be logically
empty.  Its real work is done at a subterranean level in the network
of associations and insinuations it assembles, all of which are
indirect enough to be deniable.  In the case at hand, a normal
person will assume that "some people" refers to those parties who
want to halt the particular execution that was in the news right then.
But if pressed with the heinous implications of that assumption, the
author can easily point out that the text as written makes no such
assertion.  Lacking a language to name the varieties of dishonesty
that classical logic does not capture, one can only sputter angrily.
Or give up and let the madness take over.

Faced with any kind of criticism, speakers of the new jargon regularly
try to turn the criticism back against the criticizer.  No supporting
argument is too weak for this maneuver.  It will be argued, for
example, that in writing this piece I have done exactly what I have
accused others of, such as stereotyping people.  Bad arguments like
this one serve a purpose: not only do they create confusion, but they
force rational people to craft their arguments in ways that anticipate
a mind-boggling variety of irrational responses, all of which can
be expressed forcefully and in few words.  The fact is, however,
that I have not stereotyped anyone.  The jargon that I am describing
exists; it is spoken by many people; and it has the properties I say
it has.  I do not assert that all conservatives, for example, speak
this jargon, although in my experience it is only conservatives who
really cultivate it.  It will likewise be argued that I am calling
conservatives irrational, saying that conservatives have destroyed
their minds, and so on.  I do believe that conservativism, being
a profoundly unjust social order, cannot take over in any society
without destroying the minds of a majority of the society's members.
But it does not follow, and is not true, that everyone who advocates
this social order is irrational or cultivates an irrational jargon.


I define my research area as the role of information technology in
institutional change.  I am basically a theorist, which is a hazardous
thing, given the huge potential for talking about things one knows
nothing about.  Fortunately I stand in the currents of a tradition
of research in this area.  People like Ken Laudon, Bill Dutton, and
Rob Kling have been talking in institutional terms about information
technology for many years, for example the organizational politics
that shape the development of software.  And a much wider literature
on the role of information in institutions has been developed in the
fields of sociology, political science, management, economics, and
law, among others.  This is the literature that we surveyed in my
course on "Information and Institutional Change" this past quarter
.  The authors in
this literature are greatly impressed by the capacity of institutions
to persist relatively unchanged for centuries.  This persistence has
its drawbacks, obviously, but it also has its virtues.  It makes the
world predictable and it lets people focus their attention on specific
activities and specific areas of their lives.  Markets would not work
without a stable legal system, and democracy would not work without a
stable constitutional system.  Institutions persist, but they are not
immutable, and a theory of the forces favoring institutional persistence
also helps us by showing how much a theory of institutional change has
to explain.  Ideas like these are a tremendous resource for analyzing
the ways that societies change as they develop and adopt exponentially
more powerful information technologies.

But I am also interested in institutions from the point of view of
social equity.  Universities and professions are institutions, and
most of the jobs that people aspire to are located in institutions as
well.  So it matters whether these institutions are open to everyone.
Partly this is a question of discrimination versus a level playing
field.  Partly it is a matter of people shaking off limiting beliefs
about themselves.  But partly it is also something deeper and harder
and more subtle: a cognitive problem.  Every institution, to start
with, assigns its participants to roles: doctor and patient, teacher
and student, banker and account-holder, librarian and patron, and so
on.  Each of these roles brings with it an identity, and in many cases
these identities have profound effects on people's lives, including
their ways of thinking and seeing the world.  Each role also brings
a set of social relationships, often complex and consuming ones, and
highly evolved ways of thinking together as a community.

The power of a social role such as doctor, patient, college student,
parent, factory worker, or congregant to shape identity and cognition
obviously has its advantages and disadvantages.  It provides a useful
way of thinking and talking about the relevant parts of the world, it
provides a coherent terrain upon which people can pursue their goals,
and it provides a steady supply of information.  On the other hand,
being socialized into an institutional role can narrow thinking and
persuade people to reproduce unjust social arrangements.  Institutions
persist in large part because of their power to shape thinking, and
it is often held that the positive and negative aspects of institutions
go together.  In particular, it is held that the positive aspects of
institutions -- their power to order life in usefully predictable ways
-- require us to accept the negative aspects as givens, because only
if the institutions are taken for granted by nearly everyone can their
benefits be had by anyone.

This kind of pessimism is an easy thing if you happen to like the role
that institutions have assigned you.  But in an affluent and educated
society it is surely too simple.  I am particularly concerned with one
systematic way in which institutions are almost invariably unjust: by
being so opaque that they become cognitively very difficult to enter.
Let me give a couple of examples.  In her 1983 book "Ways With Words",
Shirley Heath reports an ethnographic study of three communities in an
southeastern US state: a middle-class white community, a working-class
white community, and a working-class black community.  She asked why
middle-class white children did so much better in school, and why this
difference seemed to start from the earliest days of school and just
get worse from there.  One answer, she suggests, is that the school
presupposes a large set of cultural practices of decontextualization.
"What letter is that?  An M, that's right" -- pulling the letter out
of context and focusing attention on it for the sole purpose of naming
it.  Middle-class white families played these decontextualization
games as part of their culture, while the others did not.  That is not
to say that the other communities had less culture.  The working-class
black community, for example, had an elaborate tradition of language
games emphasizing linguistic virtuosity, including call-and-response
games and creative insult contests, all of which had deep meanings
in African-American culture.  Both language cultures are equally
valuable, and each could be the basis for a wide range of practices
in school.  But because the teachers came from the middle-class white
culture, the lessons in school presupposed one culture of language and
not another.  Children who arrive in school without extensive practice
in decontextualization games will usually find them confusing, and
lacking some intervention, most of those children will fall further
and further behind as the lessons proceed.  That is Heath's theory.

Let me give another example.  Everyone has had the experience of being
clueless in a new situation, walking into it without knowing what to
say, what vocabulary to use, how to dress, how to act, and so forth.
This kind of experience is understandable.  Every social world evolves
its own language and customs, and this includes the social worlds
that are defined by institutions.  All of the world's doctors are part
of a social world through similar training, extensive social networks,
influential publications, residents transferring from one hospital to
another, and so on.  Much of the language and culture of the doctor-
world is determined by science, of course, and is something that one
should expect to study in school.  But much of it is just convention,
either a matter of historical accident or determined by processes
that go beyond the scientific basis of the practice.  Fortunately,
the medical world has mechanisms for socializing medical students
into the social world of doctors.  These mechanisms are remarkably
dysfunctional from day to day, but they do ensure that every medical
student, no matter how little they might have known about the medical
world before, will fully absorb doctor culture by the time they are
allowed to cut people open and give them drugs.

Many institutions, unfortunately, do not provide these socialization
mechanisms, and instead seal off the social worlds constituted by
different social roles into separate bubbles that do not interact well
enough to give anyone a clear idea of the culture of the others.  In
universities, for example, the graduate students live in a different
world from the professors.  It's not an entirely different world, of
course, but the professors do a lot of consequential work in faculty
meetings and other settings that graduate students are not routinely
included in, both within particular departments and in the other
institutions (professional societies, conferences, etc) that make
teaching and research run.  As a result, graduate students often
suffer from a kind of paranoia.  The missing information about the
faculty's thinking, intentions, policies, careers, and relationships
creates an imaginative vacuum that gets automatically filled in
with all sorts of projections and fantasies that say more about the
students than about the reality.  Not everyone is susceptible to
this sort of paranoia, of course, but graduate students whose parents
were college professors often have an easier time because they have
gotten the habitus of the university into their bones in a way that
others students, for example students whose parents weren't any sort
of professionals at all, probably have not.  Some departments develop
insidious cultures of graduate student paranoia that can persist for

This problem, I hasten to say, is not mostly the students' fault.
It is largely the faculty's fault for not including the students in
things and not explaining the reasons for things.  Even so, graduate
student paranoia is probably not a problem that faculty could solve
with the best of intentions.  Much faculty thinking must remain
confidential for the sake of students' and professors' individual
privacy.  For example, graduate students often suffer from "impostor
syndrome" when they first arrive in graduate school: they are seized
by the delusional idea that they have been accepted to graduate school
by mistake, and that when the mistake is discovered they will be
thrown out.  Faculty cannot explain publicly why particular applicants
for graduate admissions were accepted or rejected, and this creates
the imaginative vacuum that impostor syndrome is happy to fill.

Institutions are opaque for other reasons as well.  Experts inevitably
forget what it was like to be a beginner, and so routinely neglect to
explain things that are not obvious.  The middle-class schoolteachers
who neglect to teach decontextualization games are an example, and
many of the practices that experts neglect to explain have this same
character of routinized, background, taken-for-granted practices for
manipulating printed and spoken representations.  Many other untaught
practices are social in nature: professional networking is an example.
Many practices go untaught because it is taboo even to speak of them.
Most professions, for example, follow the general cultural rule that
one should affect humility in all things, for example by deflecting
praise, and that one should disclaim ambition, for example by giving
nice-sounding reasons for career moves such as organizing conferences.
These institutionalized silences may protect reputations and make
people easier to get along with, but they also hide important career-
making information from anybody who did not grow up in the culture of
professional ambition.  For example, someone who grew up being told,
"Work hard and you will be rewarded", will be utterly clueless in the
average professional environment, where the hardest worker will be
rewarded only to the extent that their accomplishments are publicized,
and to the extent that other organizations are waiting in line with
better job offers.  I suspect that many discrimination claims have
their roots in this kind of misguided cultural advice, together with
the failure of almost all institutions to make their expectations and
internal workings clear enough to their participants.

The good news is that, unlike most institutional pathologies, it is
reasonably clear how to go about solving these particular problems:
explain things and teach the untaught skills.  This may sound simple
enough, and it is if you really want to do it, but it takes a great
deal of cogitive effort.  First of all, somebody has to reflect on
their lives insistently and discerningly enough to actually notice the
taken-for-granted background of culture and practices that nobody ever
explains because nobody from the right social background ever needs
to have them explained.  Second of all, cultural values need to place
importance on explaining the unexplained stuff.  It is not good enough
to say that everyone should be judged by the same standard, because
some people show up at the doorstep with the cultural capital they
will need to work toward that standard, where others will not.  And
third, the unexplained stuff needs to be given a positive value.  It
is not "just politics", or at least it doesn't have to be.  A major
problem, of course, is that the unexplained stuff is often unexplained
for a reason, and talking about it is an act with consequences within
the system.  There was a time, recently enough in history, when many
people placed an open and explicit value on bringing to the surface
all of the stuff that nobody talks about, so that the untalked-about
stuff doesn't hold people back or drive them crazy.  That time may now
be passing.  And before it passes entirely, all of us need to stop and
explain to ourselves one more time why it was a hopeful time, and why
we should hope to bring it back.


This comes from the Washington Post, 4/19/00:

  Page A02

     A secret 1998 memo to Janet Reno by Charles G. Labella, the
  Justice Department's campaign fundraising task force chief, said
  he had determined that President Clinton's waiver for Loral Space &
  Communications to sell a satellite to China had not been corruptly
  influenced by camapign contributions by the company's president,
  Bernard L. Schwartz, to the Democratic Party.  The word "not" was
  omitted in a July 19 article.  In the same story, the name of Caryl
  Clubb was misspelled.

Extremely close readers of the press will recognize this as one of the
most outrageously insubstantial of all the reckless allegations that
the Washington establishment has issued against the President and his
colleagues.  And now the Washington Post, a great newspaper now turned
into a harshly partisan rag, accidentally, ahem, omits the word "not".


In case you haven't noticed, it's the year 2000.  This is a big deal,
because now we can test all of the many predictions for the year 2000
that serious people and prestigious organizations have issued over the
years.  So where are the high-visibility international conferences at
which experts and scholars gather to assess whether those predictions
worked out?  Well, those conferences aren't happening, and the obvious
reason is that the great majority of the predictions have been wildly
false.  I have already mentioned one example of this syndrome: George
Gilder's repeated prediction, as late as 1996, that the telephone and
television industries would have collapsed by now.  Yes, alright, the
economic model of long-distance voice communications is collapsing,
but the march of technology has not slain the dreadful US local phone
monopolies and the television industry is just about untouched.

Since the high-visibility international conferences aren't happening,
we'll have to remember some of those amazing predictions ourselves.
In the October 1967 issue of The Futurist, we read the following:

  Secrecy Surrounds Report

  The World Future Society was permitted to see only a censored
  version of the TRW report.  Sixty-six of the 401 "most likely to
  succeed events" had been deleted.


  (as foreseen by TRW scientists and technologists with the modal year
  predicted for the achievement)

All of the predicted "modal years" are before 2000.  And needless
to say, almost all of these predictions that The Futurist lists are
wildly false.  A few of them might have been true, though I've never
heard of them:

  A major program will be initiated on the development and utilization
  of nonlethal weapons (1972).  [This was surely true.]

  Home facsimile systems (economically feasible through integrated
  circuits) will be in operation providing hard copy of newspaper type
  material (1978).  [I don't know when you could say that fax machines
  achieved nontrivial penetration of the home market.]

A few more could arguably said to have come true by now (though in
some cases you have to be pretty sympathetic), though not by the
predicted date:

  Lightweight armor (made of titanium of composite materials) will
  be available to protect against all infantry weapons except local
  blasts (1974).  [Maybe not all such weapons.]

  A system for the dissemination of technical information from a
  national data center will be in operation: (a) with access by
  company libraries via electronic input-output devices (1971);
  (b) with access by individual scientists through desk top devices
  (1975).  [This is the Web, and some of its precursors may well be
  said to satisfy the 1975 prediction.]

  Automatic personal medical diagnostic and checkout equipment will
  be in common use (1978).  [Medical diagnostic equipment has advanced
  dramatically, but it's not clear you cross the line to "automatic".]

  Coherent light telephone communication systems will replace wire-
  based long-distance telephone system resulting in a large reduction
  in current carry cables and a large increase in communication
  capacity per system (1980).  [This is clearly correct.]

  Educational TV/teaching machine systems will be operational on a
  large scale: ... (b) for advanced societies (1973).  [Not the TV
  part, but distance education on the Web arguably fulfills this.]

In a couple cases the world is making progress toward the predictions
but is nowhere near them:

  Cross-country superhighways of the future will provide: (a) limited
  automatic control with emphasis on vehicle separation (1979); (b)
  automatic lane control operation for specially licensed, certified,
  and equipped vehicles; steering, braking, and speed control will
  be centralized in ground based substations (1990); and (c) complete
  electronic control of the vehicle permitting driver to dial his
  destination after which the "system" will take over (1995).  [Lots
  of work, including real tests on real highways, but nothing that's
  remotely close to being safe in real operation.]

  The first controlled thermonuclear (fusion) power plant will be
  demonstrated (1984).  [Tons of research, glimmers of progress.]

  Low cost, 3-D, color communication service will be available
  reducing the need for business travel (1977).  [I suppose this is
  coming, but not anytime soon at a quality that will markedly reduce
  the need for business travel.]

But in the two dozen other cases, the world is nowhere near achieving
the prediction, is making little or no progress or even attempt at
progress, and does not seem to care.  I will not quote these verbatim
because they are pretty much of a rogues' gallery of 1960s futurist
cliches.  Just a few examples:

  permanent base on the moon (1988)

  solar power plant in space beaming power to earth (1983)

  directed energy beam weapons (1989)

  mass-produced prefabricated housing (1970)

  synthesis of live matter (1980)

  nuclear powered underwater recreation area (1990)

Just to look at this list is to detect the main problem with giant
technical predictions: they say more about the cultural and political
biases of the moment than they say about the reality of technology.
Many of the predictions that seem ridiculous to us now date from the
Cold War era when a huge establishment took for granted large-scale
government high-technology programs, and when Cold War paranoia meant
that absurd ideas had to be taken seriously on the off chance that
the Russians would get them first.  Many of the predictions failed
because of political choices not to pursue the space program.  But
even those countries that still enthusiastically pursue nuclear power
have not chosen to pursue most of the directions that TRW predicted.
Are these political matters or technological matters?  Well, that's
the main problem with the predictions.  They take for granted a very
simplistic theory of the place of technology in society: they identify
a technological limitation and they simply stipulate that it will be
overcome real soon now.  To dissent from such predictions, after all,
is to disparage science, rationality, and progress.  But that's not
how technology works.  Technology evolves through the interaction of
many small innovations from many sources, and through the interaction
between technical matters narrowly speaking and the many-faceted
institutional environment within which they develop.  When the Cold
War environment changed, the Cold Warriors' predictions failed to come

One old-fashioned futurist did have a strikingly successful record of
predictions.  That would be Al Gore, and it's not surprising that a
politician, someone who lives the political context of technology all
day, who got his predictions right.  Maybe I'll return to him another

In any event, I mention all of this because we are so utterly awash
with predictions right now.  One whole genre of predictions concerns
my own line of work in the university, and so I have a personal
interest in the matter.  But the futurists' predictions affect just
about everyone, and many people are making plans for their lives based
on scenarios that seem absurd.  Surely everyone's lives will change as
information and communications technologies continue their exponential
quantitative growth.  But we should beware of the confident people
who have simple stories to tell about the qualitative form that these
changes will take.  Some of them are hoping to create self-fulfilling
prophesies.  Others are naively channeling ancient Western cultural
forms.  But I think it's likely that 33 years from now their texts
will be the same laughingstocks that the predictions of the futurists
of 1967 are now.


In my last set of notes, I quoted Steve Ballmer of Microsoft as follows:

  I think the people we work with say we're tough, aggressive.  They
  even say we come in with our elbows up a bit high.  But never has
  anyone said we're untrustworthy.  And I don't believe that.  It's a
  reflection of the fundamental issue that we have the right and the
  obligation, even, to add value to Windows.  The court disagreed with
  us on that, several times.  Perhaps the court thinks our refusal to
  agree [with it] is some sign of untrustworthiness.

I then claimed that Ballmer's statement was false on the grounds that
many people have called Microsoft untrustworthy.  Some readers were
unimpressed, and insisted that, read in context, the word "anyone"
should refer only to "the people we work with".  Well, alright, so we
need to think of someone who has worked with Microsoft but who never
expects to work with Microsoft again, and so has broken the code
of silence that has prevented so many of the company's victims from
testifying about it.  Such a person is Charles Ferguson, who sold
Vermeer to Microsoft because Microsoft's operating systems and office
applications monopolies had made it impossible for him to expand his
company any further.  I happened to review his book, "High Stakes, No
Prisoners", last time as well, and even though he has some good things
to say about Microsoft, he also says this:

  Microsoft now possesses great power, causes significant economic
  damage, and has demonstrated an almost complete lack of restraint in
  exploiting any advantage at its disposal, fair or unfair, ethical or
  unethical (page 316).

  Netscape, to be sure, played its cards stupidly, but the sheer
  ruthlessness and efficiency of the Microsoft assault has sent a
  chill through the entire technology sector (317).

  Microsoft's style also, I think, further lowers ethical standards
  throughout an already brutally competitive, ruthless industry (317).

  ... Microsoft's competitive behavior often skirts the edge of the
  law and routinely oversteps ethical boundaries (317).

  Microsoft's intellectual property violations, predatory behavior,
  FUD, false dealings, and strategic use of monopoly power are
  integral to its ability to create further monopolies and to deter
  or destroy innovative competitors (318).

I can't find the word "untrustworthy", but I think the concept is
clearly there.  Now, I can imagine someone arguing that "anyone" must
refer only to people who were working with Microsoft at the very time
that they called the company untrustworthy.  But if that's so then the
slickness quotient has redlined and we can go home.


RRE readers have been helping me to refine my list of verbs that often
appear in the newspaper and rarely appear anywhere else...

To start with, I've been persuaded that "beef up" does often appear
outside of newspapers.  I guess I put it on the list because I don't
like it.  I've taken it off.

One reader also put in a good word for "glean", which, he tells me,
plays an important role in Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Gildenstern
Are Dead".  The appeals court was sympathetic, but not sympathetic
enough.  The word is toast.

We've also got a bunch of new verbs for the list: cull, hike, laud,
mull, quell, sideline, stymie, underscore, and voice.  I suppose that
a couple of these have specializes uses in real life: a rancher culls
a flock; a center hikes a football.  But the newspaper versions are
cliches anyway.

Then some borderline cases: ensue, rail, slay, and stave off.

And "tap" in the sense of "choose".

So the list reads as follow: bolster, burgeon, cull, foster, garner,
glean, hamper, hike, laud, mull, quell, revamp, sideline, stem,
stymie, tout, underscore, vie, and voice.  Type any of them into and you'll see what I mean.

Meanwhile, one especially quick-witted reader faxed me the chapter
on "journalese" in Rene J. Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to News
Writing, New York: Prentice Hall, 1991.  It's very funny.  All your
favorite news cliches are there: crucial, ironic, historic, concern,
and speak out.  We have the politicians who "craft" legislation and
continually "vow" instead of, say, "promise".  We have "knife-wielding
assailants" and "escalating confrontations", "posh restaurants" and
"wrenching debates".  "Tempers, tensions, violence all flare. ...
Demonstrators spark angry confrontations."  And so on.  I'll just add
a few of my own: the phrase "up to" and the words "boon", "hopeful"
(as a noun), "linchpin", "lagging", "staunch", and "stalwart".


It is fashionable to hate college professors, and the stereotyping
of college professors is nowhere so developed as in the opinion pages
of the Wall Street Journal.  See, for example, the review by American
Spectator writer Tom Bethell of Jim Powell's book of hagiographies
of prominent conservatives, "The Triumph of Liberty" (Wall Street
Journal, 7/11/00, page A24).  This is a book in which Ronald Reagan
appears in a section entitled "Peace" (I am not making this up), and
so we can't expect too much.  But that's no problem for a hardened
propagandist.  Listen, line by line, to the first paragraph:

  "Liberty has never been a fashionable cause."

Even though conservative media pundits outnumber liberals at least ten
to one, those same pundits can present themselves as the courageous
defiers of fashion.  Why?  Because they know that nobody will call them
on it.  It's the height of dishonesty.

  "Ruling elites have feared it as something that might threaten their
  hold on power."

Here the author plays on a some/all ambiguity.  Some ruling elites
have certainly feared liberty, but have elites to Mr. Bethell's liking
never ruled?  Surely they have.  Not only that, but the opposition
between "liberty" and "elites" is ill-drawn: conservatives are pretty
selective in their support for liberty themselves.

  Today intellectuals, having attained a considerable measure of power
  themselves, are at best ambivalent about it, and for decades they
  have toiled to enlarge and centralize government.

Intellectuals?  Power?  What power would that be?  You must be talking
about Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Phil Graham, all former college
professors.  Following current fashion, the author deniably pretends
that all intellectuals are alike, and doesn't bother counting the
many intellectuals who see things his own way.  In fact, he has just
gotten done quoting a passage describing Milton Friedman, surely an
intellectual, as "the greatest champion of liberty during the 20th

  This would surely have surprised their bookish predecessors, who
  for centuries craved little more than the freedom to publicize their

Notice the subliminal cut on today's intellectuals, who have evidently
left their books behind in their quest for power.  The word "bookish"
works here in a special way.  It's normally a disparaging term, but
Mr. Bethell plainly does not wish to disparage the older intellectuals.
Rather, and quite in line with current fashion, he is putting that
disparagement into the mouths of the supposed power-elite intellectuals.
Vagueness serves this kind of writing well: it allows outrages to
go past in a form that can't be refuted.  For example, can you name
the precise centuries in which intellectuals, to a much greater degree
than today, "craved little more than the freedom to publicize their
opinions"?  I can't.  But because Mr. Bethell leaves his imagined past
utopia in soft-focus, we can't prove that it didn't exist.

Later on he says this:

  "Mr. Powell scoured libraries and out-of-print booksellers,
  interviewed specialists and visited historic sites.  (Very few
  academics these days would bother with such essential legwork.)"

Think of it: this intrepid author went to libraries and booksellers,
interviewed specialists, and even *visited historic sites*!  That's
so impressive.  What's not impressive is Mr. Bethell's calumnious
assertion that few academics would do the same.  What are we to make
of this?  Two possibilities: either Mr. Bethell doesn't read the work
of many contemporary academics, in which case he is guilty of the
same sin that he falsely paints on others, or he does, in which case
he is just talking through his hat.  This is an especially outrageous
example of the systematic stereotyping that corrupts public discourse
in our country today.  It's not right.

Now, I can imagine that many readers have heard little about academics
besides the calumnies of Mr. Bethell and his ilk.  Those readers are
invited to peruse a random sample of the scholarship that is being
published today:

  Ramon A. Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away:
  Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846, Stanford:
  Stanford University Press, 1991.

  Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible
  Belt, New York: Knopf, 1997.

  Herbert Hovenkamp, Enterprise and American Law, 1836-1937,
  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

  Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the
  Making, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

  Joel Kaye, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money,
  Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought, New York:
  Cambridge University Press, 1998.

  Chandra Mukerji, Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of
  Versailles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

  Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in
  Seventeenth-Century England, Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

Despite the fashionable slurs, the truth is that we're living in a
golden age of scholarship.  I don't know if contemporary mores place
a higher value on scholarship than in Mr. Bethell's hazy utopia,
whatever century it might have occurred in.  I do know that today the
Internet and cheap air travel have made scholarship much easier than
ever before, competition for scarce humanities faculty positions has
raised the standards of scholarship to inhuman levels, and archivists
in universities, libraries, and museums maintain a enormous global
infrastructure that connects scholars to endless millions of documents.
Serious scholars have access to a global network of research libraries,
most of them with Internet-accessible catalogs and interlibrary loan
agreements.  And the results of this access to the raw materials of
scholarship show up in complaints by publishers about books that have
a hundred pages or more of scholarly endnotes, every one of which
required the very legwork that Mr. Bethell alleges to be out of fashion.

The real difference here is not between the lovers of liberty and the
intellectuals.  The real difference is between propagandists who write
for magazines underwritten by paranoid billionaires and have childish
ideas about scholarship, and serious people who ignore the propagandists
and write serious books.  The danger is that the propagandists will win.


In my 2/7/00 notes, you may recall, I dumped on the extreme lyrics of
Rage Against the Machine.  In doing so, I was particularly scornful of
the following lines:

  Jesus stripped bare
  And raped the soul he was supposed to nurture

which, aside from being untrue, are hardly the most effective way to
mobilize the oppressed people of Los Angeles, who have a pronounced
tendency to believe that Jesus was a good guy.  Since then, however,
RAtM's fans have been educating me.  That song, it seems, concerned
unspecified abuse that the lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, experienced
as a child from his screwed-up father.  The Jesus thing was a metaphor
of how a father's abuse can look through a child's eyes.  Okay, I can
buy that.  I still don't buy the stuff about Mumia abu Jamal, though,
and I don't like their glorification of violence.  It doesn't work and
it's not right.


It would seem that I mistakenly placed the Sunset Strip in North
Hollywood.  The section that I had in mind is actually along the
northern edge of West Hollywood, at least until the next earthquake.
(North of the Strip you have the Hollywood Hills, which are part
of Los Angeles, at least until the devolution movement succeeds.)
And that no-cruising law just went into effect.  Just don't circle
around the block looking for a parking space in front of Book Soup.


But West Hollywood will get over it.  My real faux pas was to refer
to Indiana University as the University of Indiana.  The U of I, as
everyone knows, refers to Illinois, next door.  I am so sorry.


Some URL's.

Open Source Napster Server

IBM Systems Journal issue on pervasive computing

The New Design Space: Relationship Management

Designing the Space of Flows

The Design Challenge of Pervasive Computing

Doors of Perception Conference

Back to the Future: An Episode of Technological Vision Assessment

Annual Design Awards

PFIR Statement on Internet Policies, Regulations, and Control

Big-Name Players Team for Location-Based Internet,2171,12_422171,00.html

Intellectual Property on the Internet: What's Wrong with Conventional Wisdom?

review of design books by John Chris Jones

Principles of Graphic Design

A New Corporate Wanderlust Puts a Quiet Brake on Salaries

Higher Education in the 21st Century: Global Challenge and National Response

How to Ensure That Privacy Concerns Don't Undermine e-Transport Investments in Settlement With FTC

Texas puts mothers' maiden names on the Web

Virtual Universities: Testing Quality in Australian Higher Education

Connecting Communities

Internet privacy bill in Ireland

Carnivore and Open Source Software

FBI statement on Carnivore