A batch of follow-ups, plus notes on techno hype, the liberal media,
cheap pens, virtual reality, Y2K, morality in popular culture, Emacs
keyboard macros, the American revolution, the nature of evil, and
other miscellaneous topics, and a few URL's.

First, though, administration.  As a periodic reminder, you can end
your subscription to RRE if you send a message that looks like this:

  To: requests@lists.gseis.ucla.edu
  Subject: unsubscribe rre

Note that the formats of e-mailed commands to the RRE server changed
when we moved it to UCLA.  Full details about the list, including some
Web archives of old messages and answers to frequently asked questions,
can be found at:


We've had trouble adjusting to the new server, and several people are
waiting for me to change their subscriptions or remove them from the
list by hand.  We're working on it.

Everybody is once again invited to send me good stuff for the list.
I need things that are in English and shorter than about 60K bytes.
If it is copyrighted then we need to get permission to forward it.
Don't worry whether it's the sort of thing you've seen on the list
before.  If I haven't covered your favorite topic so far, that might
simply be because nobody has sent me any material on that topic
yet.  Don't worry whether RRE's readers will have enough background
or context to understand a given document; my experience is that
people can benefit from documents that they only halfways understand.
Conference papers are good; press releases are not.  Don't worry
about overwhelming me with material; that has never happened.  I try
to acknowledge everything I get, and I find value in 80% of it, even
if my guts advise me to send only 30% of it to the list.  Materials
pertaining to countries other than the United States are particularly
welcome.  I appreciate all of the people who already send me stuff.
The list works because of them.

Our privacy book, "Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape", is
out in paperback from MIT Press.  Our topic is the interaction between
technology, economics, and policy through which privacy issues have
evolved in the last thirty years, and we've tried to provide conceptual
frameworks that will retain their value even as the technology changes.
The introduction knits the chapters together, and excerpts are available
on my home page.  It also has a cool cover.  It's usually on sale for
$13 at online bookstores.  I recommend it.

Some people have asked me to resend my original commentaries on cheap
pens, but I can't find them.  They don't seem to be in the Web-based
archives for the list.  If you still have them, maybe you could send
them back?  Thanks a lot.

So many kind people sent me comments on "Learning How to Write" that
I couldn't reply to everyone.  Most of the comments were supportive,
but taken cumulatively they were devastating.  When I get some fresh
energy for the topic, I'll gather the comments into my notebook and
prepare a new draft.  In the meantime, to answer a frequently asked
question, you are welcome to make hardcopies of the article for your
classes and other limited groups.  I'd prefer if you didn't make Web
pages out of it, though.  I can't really summarize the comments, which
came from all over the place.  I did realize, however, that I failed
to note that my intended audience was graduate students.  The piece
apparently made its way to a mailing list of creative writing people
and heaven knows what it sounded like to them.  One of them got upset
at my semi-endorsement of the old-fashioned bias against Latin-derived
words.  Someone else in Canada told me that the merest suggestion that
the French part of English was less useful than the Anglo-Saxon part
meant that my essay would cause more upset than enlightenment in his
country.  He's probably right.  The hard problem in writing how-to's
on this subject is the tendency of ideas to swing so violently from
one extreme to another: all of the existing how-to's are written in
a deliberately extreme fashion in order to counteract the prevalence
of the opposite extreme.  My purpose is to identify the middle ground,
but that's a lot harder than writing a polemic.

Michael Curry and Mike Hollinshead pointed out a couple of errors
in my brief review of the books about apocalyptic social movements by
Norman Cohn and Christopher Hill.  Gerard Winstanley was the leader of
the Diggers, not the Ranters -- a major faux pas as far as communists
are concerned, not that I care about that.  Also, I conflated Cohn's
book with Hill's a little bit in my memory.  Hill had the hippies in
mind as his contemporary object of comparison, but Cohn was writing
earlier and probably had the Nazis in mind for his own comparison.
Makes a difference.

Mike also suggested that I misused the term antinomianism, which
usually means a rejection of moral rules.  In using the term, I was
going for a slightly larger point, which is the tendency of people
who define themselves against something to simply invert whatever it
is they oppose, rather than actually having a new idea.  Conservatives
and liberals do this to one another all the time.  Each side wants
you to split your conscience, suppressing one half and hyperdeveloping
the other half to the point of distortion.  As a result, both sides
are half right and three-quarters wrong, and in symmetrically related
ways.  Once we recognize this, we recover a moral orientation to
many topics that we had formerly associated with the raving of the
moralists.  But we also get a sense of proportion.

Also on the subject of goof-ups, my conference paper on "The Practical
Logic of Computing" had an editing error toward the beginning -- the
paragraph about the door as an example of an inscription error didn't
make sense.  It was there because of a point that Knoespel was making
about architecture that I didn't end up explaining in the final draft.
An example that would have made sense would be the "triangles" that
children in grade school are instructed to cut from construction paper.
The kids get these blunt, stubby scissors to cut with, and as a result
their "triangles" generally have a minimum of five sides.  And yet the
teachers continue to refer to them as "triangles" because that's the
logical role that they play in the exercise.  Some children "get it"
-- an object is not a triangle because it has three sides, but rather
because it is used to signify something that has three sides.  Such
things are often not explained, however, and other children should
be excused if they don't manage to invent semiotics for themselves at
such a young age.  This is important because those same children then
grow up and start programming computers, which are absolutely full
of five-sided "triangles" and eleven-sided "squares", in the form of
the wildly false assumptions about people and their lives that are
routinely presupposed in the decontextualized talking that goes into
your average software design process.

Things that are good:

Morels -- the world's best food, after burritos.

The Eurailpass.  Americans get to travel first-class all around Europe
for cheap.  It's really not fair, given what the Europeans pay.

Neil Young.

The Rough Guides.  These travel guides issue from the British youth
culture of the 1980's, and they are certainly the best for travel
in industrialized countries.  (For the rest of the world, the Lonely
Planet guides from Australia are the best.)  Their secret is that they
treat the reader as an intelligent grown-up.  Most tourist guides are
written in idiotically bright and cheery prose, like ad copy.  The
writers at the Rought Guides, however, go easy on the purple writing
and hype, and they attend to serious practical matters -- from safety
to the indignities of trying to get in to nightclubs -- with a sense
of proportion.  They also reflect an awareness that travelers include
different sorts of people who are likely to be treated in different
ways by the cultures they are visiting.

My Eddie Bauer Gore-Tex down parka.  I don't get to use it much,
thankfully, but it's so well-designed that it makes travel to cold
climates almost pleasant.  Its secret is that it doesn't pretend
tobe outdoor adventure gear.  For example, it has a pocket inside
one's left hip that is the right size to carry a sheaf of documents.

Emacs keyboard macros.  Just as I cannot imagine life without e-mail,
I also cannot imagine life without Emacs keyboard macros.  I probably
write two dozen of them every day.  I tried to count them once, but
I found that I write them so automatically that it was impossible to
keep a list.  For example, the long bibliographies that I periodically
send to RRE are all processed using Emacs keyboard macros, starting
from library and bookstore records and other stuff.  I use them to
process several-megabyte files of "bouncemail" messages produced by
bad addresses on RRE, extracting the addresses and throwing away the
rest.  I also use them to strip out the MIME markup that frequently
litters the messages that people send me for the list.  I manage my
e-mail with them: I read the mail using a very fast, low-tech Unix
mail reader called mailx, I save the messages that need saving, and
then I use Emacs keyboard macros to sort them, identify the ones that
I need to respond to, reformat the ones that are garbled, and so on.
Eudora is completely useless in contrast, not to mention agonizingly
slow, and so instead of using it I'm now developing alternative means
of reading attachments.  When I was finishing "Computation and Human
Experience", a 300-page book with something like 15 chapters, I used
Emacs keyboard macros to prepare a concordance -- an index of every
single use of the top fifty most important theoretical words -- just
to make sure that I was using all of the words consistently.  (I sure
as heck was not.)  How does anybody get any work done using Word?
It's mysterious.

My 1982 Honda Accord.  It works and works.  It rolled over to 200,000
miles a while back without the slightest hint of a problem beyond the
usual stuff like clutches and timing belts.

Salon.  http://www.salonmagazine.com/

Things that piss me off:

Movie trailers that reveal the ending of the movie.

Cross pens.  Cross makes pens that exist for no reason other than to
be given to people when they graduate from college.  They're terrible
pens, but the people who give them don't have to use them, and the
people who get them are prohibited by etiquette from complaining about
them.  The engineers that I studied with at MIT got really ticked off
about this.  I learned from them the attitude of taking bad design
personally, and Cross pens take the cake.

Signs in most airports.  Whoever does the signage in airports should
be shot.  They always have this very logical scheme of lettering and
numbering, but unless you already comprehend the logic you're lost.
I especially resent the signs in Charles de Gaulle airport.  They have
numbering systems for entrance doors, check-in desks, and gates -- and
each numbering system uses the same sans-serif typeface on the same
yellow rectangular signs!  So if you don't understand the difference
between door 13, desk 13, and gate 13 then tant pis.  And only an
exorcist could understand the facial expression you get if you employ
anglais to ask the designated helpers to explain it.  These signs are
a synecdoche of French society, an oppressively static and stratified
culture which operates on invisible rules that nobody ever explains to
you, and when you break the rules they treat you like a stupid child.

Compulsory TV.  Too many public spaces are festooned with television
sets that seem designed to prevent rational thought.  In some cases,
such as Jerry's Famous Deli next to UCLA, the televisions are put
there deliberately to prevent students from studying.  In other cases,
such as in airports, they're put there to feed advertising to captive
audiences.  I particularly resent the travel-agency infomercials on
the CNN Airport Network.  If you complain about this to CNN, they'll
haul out some dubious statistics about the percentage of waiting areas
that do and don't have the sets.  My experience, however, is that it
takes a mighty Walkman and some obnoxious music to get any thinking
done in, say, O'Hare.

Leaf blowers.  You've probably heard about the controversy in LA about
gasoline-powered leaf blowers, which creates the most annoying noise
of any machine in the world.  People get used to airplanes faster than
they get used to leaf blowers.  Community groups have organized to
ban the darn things, but they have run up against a state-of-the-art
propaganda and manipulation campaign by the companies that make them;
these companies rightly fear that a ban in LA would set a precedent
for other jurisdictions.  I would provide details of their tactics
in this campaign, but I don't have time for any nuisance lawsuits.
Their number one argument, for which they offer no evidence, is that
the liberal elites who support the ban are actually motivated by racism
against Mexican gardeners.  The LA Times has been complicit with a lot
of this stuff, and has printed articles about these hearings that are
flat-out false.

Bunting's Window.  A series of hyperactive infomercials about boring
computer products that are shown to captive audiences on United
airlines flights.  They process the video in a deliberately jittery
way to make it hard to ignore.

Bears in zoos.  They're miserable.  Let them go.

The word "extreme" in corporate advertisements, the word "matters"
in academic book titles, and the phrase "Let's face it" in business
writing.  The first two are meaningless and the last is invariably
followed by a trite platitude.

Elevators in libraries that loudly POHHNG whenever they arrive at
a floor, especially when open atriums and stairwells permit these
obnoxious noises to be heard on other floors.  The main library at
the University of Toronto wins first prize in this category, but it
is hardly alone.  I realize that these noises exist partly for people
with visual impairments.  But the whole point of architectural design
is that you reconcile all the constraints.

Businesses that make their employees dress in silly costumes on
holidays.  I remember, for example, the sandwich lady in the cafeteria
in the Polaroid building in Cambridge, MA, where I used to work.  Her
husband had recently died.  On Halloween the management made her dress
as a clown.  It was sick.

Highly recommended: Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American
Revolution, Knopf, 1992.  This is the sort of book that makes you say,
"Now that was a book".  It's a social history of the change from a
traditional society of orders and classes to a democratic society of
individual citizens.  I feel like an idiot typing this, but it's true:
every page is filled with stunning insights, drawn from letters and
diaries etc, into the inner changes in sentiments and consciousness,
relationships and habits, that went together with the political
changes of the Revolution.  Although Wood does not say this, his
book makes clear the extent to which modern American conservatives,
who claim that they are rebelling against the 1960's, are actually
rebelling against the 1780's.

You've probably seen my guidelines for "How to help someone use a
computer".  I have continued to watch myself as I've helped people
use computers, and I think I've identified a new principle: explain
your thinking.  Given that I'm a professor and all that, students
who approach me for help with their computer problems often seem to
assume that I automatically know what the problem is.  Now in fact
I do sometimes understand the problem automatically, just having seen
so many problems.

(As an aside, when I was an active programmer, a decade ago by
now, this effect was more intense.  My program would be running
when suddenly the disk would start swapping in a way that indicated
that the program was about to blow up, and in that moment I would
understand immediately and in detail what the problem was.  Somehow
a path of logic that I had been dimly aware of neglecting when I
was writing the code would revive itself in my head, and I would be
able to visualize the precise line where the problem could be found.
But that doesn't work for diagnosing other people's problems.)

Usually, however, I have no idea what problem the student is having.
I may feel an irrational twinge of insecurity about this, and an
impulse to look like I know it all.  So it's helpful, I've realized,
to reply to their question by saying, "I don't know".  I can then say,
for example, "well, it's blowing up here and not here, so I'm thinking
we should look and see whether all of your open brackets have closed
brackets -- that's a good thing to check first".  And then I can
carry on, "okay, so I'm thinking this ..."  and "alright, it's not
this, so I'm wondering if it's maybe that ...", and so on, making my
thinking transparent in plain language.  I also say things like, "hmm,
well, it's obviously now time for that most advanced of all debugging
procedures -- restarting the machine and seeing if the problem goes
away", whereupon I explain that sometimes the problem just disappears
you just never know what had caused it.  Most reasonable people don't
like hearing this, but it's better than posing as Mister Wizard.

All my life I've seen otherwise confident people reduced to blithering
idiocy by computers.  What is it about computers that amplifies the
least vestige of internalized disempowerment?  Little children don't
have this problem, so it must be learned somewhere.  And computers
are not normally covered with spring-loaded razorwire, so it must
be something symbolic, as opposed to an objective and visible feature
of the artifact narrowly construed.  Part of the problem, I think, is
that computers -- by which I mean the artifacts plus the whole depth
of the symbolism around them -- are the pure distilled essence of a
dysfunctional cultural construction of technology: the millenarian
association between information technology and radical, discontinuous
social change.

This phenomenon has many facets.  For example, computers are presented
in all sorts of subtle ways as being outside of history, and therefore
as almost mystically powerful and alien.  Computer system developers,
for example, are taught a language that does incorporate any coherent
concept of historical time.  This is what caused the Y2K disaster:
ten thousand separate groups of software developers each got their
code running once, and so far as they were concerned that implied that
the code would always run.  Mechanical engineers don't make any such
assumption, since their metal parts are going to wear.  But software
engineers have no such concept.

The attempt to design things outside of time is immensely destructive.
Any rational design process, it seems to me, should be informed by a
multidimensional analysis of the lives of the people who will use the
stuff you're designing.  Yet many, many times I have seen computer
people reject any information about their users except for the most
superficial speculations.  Most of these folks are fine human beings
who wouldn't hurt anyone, and who would never knowingly inflict the
suffering that their work does in fact cause.  The root of the problem
is not simple negligence, but rather a set of mental associations:
too many computer people associate the machine they are designing
with the future, and they associate reality of the users' lives with
the past.  They imagine machine to institute an entirely new order
in the users' lives, so that any information about the users' past
and present lives is completely beside the point.  This is a false
idea about how technology is used, but the institutionalized lack
of curiosity about users' lives feeds on itself -- ignorance begets

This is changing in small ways, for example as techniques from
mass marketing are introduced into the software industry by companies
such as Intuit.  But simple stories about market-driven corrections
to such problems don't nearly suffice.  The dysfunctional economics of
software promotes rapid time-to-market and compatibility with existing
misdesigned standards, which together constrain the design process
sufficiently that real information about users has nothing left to
influence.  As a result, the millennialist disconnection in thinking
between past and future goes uncorrected.  This is a basic existential
problem: the millennialist construction of technology discourages
people from paying attention to their own experience -- to the world
that is visible in front of their faces.  Instead, it encourages them
to live in an endless present, in a fantasy of what's going to happen
Real Soon Now -- in short, in a ceaseless condition of millennialist

This situation has grown bad enough that people like Rush Limbaugh and
Pat Robertson have had to caution their audiences against literally
associating the Y2K problem with the promised return to earth of
Jesus Christ.  Is there really no relationship between this phenomenon
and the large numbers of employees in Silicon Valley whose business
cards identify them as "evangelists"?  Information technology
has ceased being engineering and has instead become a bad religion.
The manias that Silicon Valley has generated over each successive
"next big thing" (interactive television, network computers, "push"
technology, etc) are analogous to the waves of religious revivalism
that swept over parts of the United States in the 1830's.  Upstate
New York was popularly called the "Burned-Over District" because years
of constant, intense expectation of the imminent end of the world had
left so many people confused and exhausted.  That's our situation now.
We're the Burned-Over District.  Do you remember the intense states
of expectation in which everybody remotely connected to the Internet
rumor mill was caught up in 1996 and 1997 about "push" technology?
One such state after another, and no sooner does one heavily hyped
technology become a laughingstock that another one takes its place.
That's millennialism.  And it's false religion.  Jesus said that
we could not know when He was going to return -- and for good reason,
I should think, given how easy it is to exploit people by whipping up
that kind of state.

Consider the case of virtual reality, which was perhaps the first
in the current series of millennially hyped information technologies.
The dynamics of virtual reality hype was instructive, and we can
analyze them on a couple of different levels.  First there's the
great cultural resonance of virtual reality, which seems radically
new precisely because it connects to such ancient themes of escaping
the decadent body, taking perfect control over the world, traveling
to alternate realities, and so on.  William Gibson's heros are low-rent

But then there was the split between two sorts of people who
were involved with virtual reality.  There were the technical people
-- the ones who, through long training and building of reputations,
had committed their careers to the development of this particular
technology.  Then there were the promoters and entrepreneurs -- the
ones whose skills and fates were not strongly tied to the technology.
These two groups have different interests.  The technical people
cannot afford excessive hype -- they don't want to be accused of
overpromising because they have noplace else to go.  The promoters
and entrepreneurs, on the other hand, profit greatly by overpromising.
For their purposes, hyperbole translates immediately into venture
capital, media notoriety, and other good things.  And that's what
happened: the publicists and entrepreneurs -- aided, I might add,
by some academics -- hyped virtual reality technology to the skies,
reaped their reward, and moved on, leaving the engineers behind to
suffer the reputation of overpromising and underperforming.

This is a common pattern.  Technological millennialism is not
continually reproduced simply because it resonates to ancient
religious themes.  That's part of it, of course, but on another level
the millennialist hype gets reproduced because it serves somebody's
interest.  Cui bono?  The benefit devolves to the publicists and
entrepreneurs, first of all, but it also devolves to a larger class
of people who want to get ahead in their careers -- people who can
benefit in the short term by being treated as thought leaders but
who do not risk the long-term accountability of having to deliver
on the scenarios.  (For a detailed and devastating description of
this phenomenon, see Robert Jackall's book "Moral Mazes: The World
of Corporate Managers".)  This lack of accountability is one purpose
of the constant shift from one object of millennialist expectation to
the next: the results are always going to be delivered tomorrow, and
tomorrow, and tomorrow.

This patterned conflict of interest -- the interest in reproducing and
intensifying a gross distortion of human experience and suppressing
any realistic sense of the continuity of history -- is endemic.  It is
a serious problem.  The people who succumb to the conflict of interest
form a highly organized subculture with its own language, symbols,
and narrative forms.  It is a dangerous subculture, too, because of
its tendency to scapegoat the people who get in its way.  Just as the
Burned-Over District gave rise to Antimasonism, likewise you've heard
the indignant stereotyping of people who are "backward", who need to
be hauled kicking and screaming into the future or else simply left
behind, who "resist".  If the assumptions underlying the technology
don't correspond to reality, in other words, you can always blame
the problem on saboteurs.  I'm not saying that anybody consciously
understands that they're doing this -- the subculture of technology
hypesters is so organized, so routinized, so entrenched, so developed
and diversified and self-reproducing and self-reinforcing, that nobody
needs to understand it.  One is simply socialized into its jargon,
inducted into its institutions, entrained in its habits of mind,
and fortified inwardly with its glorious sense of world-historical

Am I saying that technology is all a hoax, and that nothing ever
changes?  Of course not.  The twin evils here are the usual ones:
a boneheaded conservatism that dismisses all novelty as hype and a
boneheaded revolutionism that consigns common sense to the dustbin
in the name of a totally new tomorrow.  Those extreme positions are
attractive because they require no thought.  What's harder to think
about is the middle ground: discovering the previously invisible fault
lines in the world that we've known, and thereby understanding what's
changing and what is not.  We probably don't have names for those
fault lines, for the simple reason that we have never needed them.
The great thing about technology, however, is that if it doesn't work
then it doesn't work.  And that's what's happening with the concepts
and assumptions that have informed the development and deployment of
technologies associated with the Internet.  Some of those concepts
and assumptions are working out fine, but most of them are not.
Indeed, most of them have turned out to be 180 degrees out of whack.
A world without intermediaries?  A world without monopolies?  A world
of decentralized power?  Get real.  Those things may still happen, but
they are not happening now, and the technology is not going to make
them happen all by itself.

So what should we do about it?  Well, the first and overwhelming task
is to cleanse our minds of the layers upon layers of bad habits that
we have all acquired through our enculturation into the technological-
millenarian worldview.  We have to start from scratch here, learning
how to pay attention to our own experiences of using computers, and
to others' experiences, and to the actual dynamics of work and play,
and of family and community life, both with computers and without
them.  And we have to become intellectuals.  Intellectuals are
people who work with concepts, and we need concepts.  Intellectuals
don't know that much more than the rest of us, but they do know the
many ways in which unarticulated assumptions get handed down from
generations of bad philosophy and misplaced cultural forms to shape
our thinking in the present day.

We shouldn't go around forcibly rinsing anybody's minds, of course:
that kind of cult-like dissociation is what the millenarian split
between an obsolete past and a radically novel future is all about.
But we shouldn't have to rinse people's minds.  If any hope remains
for the world, it's because we can change the world by talking sense.
Point out the fallacies.  Give voice to the experience of using
computers that are rarely validated in public discourse.  Speak to
pain.  Speak to reasonable and practicable hopes, rather than to
totalistic futurisms.  Teach network economics.  Point out the bad
religion of techno hype and distinguish it clearly from good religion.
And redefine technology in positive terms -- in terms that are are
located in society in history, and that admit human choice.

In the aftermath of the recent US mid-term elections, we are all
enjoying the Great Self-Flagellation of the Pundits.  In the middle
of the hysteria this year about Bill Clinton and his problems, poll-
takers remarked on the gulf that had opened up on this issue between
Washington insider elites and ordinary working, voting Americans.
This remarking upon gulfs, however, has gone only so far.  The
fact is, for most of this year, Americans have been doused by the
thundering of several scores of pundits, the overwhelming majority
of them presenting the Republican party's position on the nature and
consequences of the President's affair.  It was astounding -- all
pundits all the time.  We had big pundits, small pundits, bombastic
pundits, reasonable-sounding pundits, professorial pundits, lawyerly
pundits, black pundits, white pundits, old pundits, young pundits.
We had pundits on the television, pundits on the radio, pundits in
the newspapers, pundits upon pundits upon pundits, many of whom I had
never heard of before despite their obviously very expensive media
training, and virtually all of them were endlessly saying the very
same thing.  Then finally, when the elections came around, when the
great majority of Americans had an actual chance to express an opinion
on the matter, and all of the pundits were proven utterly wrong,
who did Rush Limbaugh then blame for the Republicans' repudiation?
Someone else, of course -- the liberal media.

Rush Limbaugh is the ultimate relativist: he just makes stuff up
and then calls it "truth" -- and then he blames the postmodernists
for advocating relativism, when in fact the serious ones are simply
observing that the concept of truth has disintegrated in the hands of
people like him.  Just once, I would like to see someone rant about
conservatives in the same tones of hysterical exaggeration that now
pour forth from every medium, 24 hours a day, in excoriation of the
real and imagined perfidy of liberals.  What would this sound like?
Let me offer an example, just to give you a sense of how unfamiliar
it would seem...

You may recall that the liberal bias of the media has been proven
once and for all by the media's refusal to identify Theodore Kaczynski,
the convicted Unabomber, as the liberal he supposedly was.  Never
mind that even the prosecution's psychiatrists decided that he was
schizophrenic -- conservatives don't believe in that old dodge.  And
never mind that the Unabomber's manifesto bitterly denounced leftists
along with everyone else -- those people are dogmatic factionalists
anyway.  So I say, fine, let us stipulate that Theodore Kaczynski,
the Unabomber, was a liberal.  Because once we do so, it becomes
time to confront the fact that the United States is under siege from
a wave of conservative terrorism.  Consider, for example, the adherent
of Newt Gingrich's limited-government philosophy who shot up the
Capitol, killing two security guards.  He was diagnosed as mentally
ill, of course, but conservatives don't believe in that old dodge.
Or consider the conservative activist who is wanted in the bombings
of the Olympics, a women's clinic, and a lesbian bar in Georgia.
Nor should we forget the conservative death squad that killed 168
people in the Oklahoma City Federal Building.  When armed gangs of
conservatives expressed sympathy with their colleagues' motives, Newt
Gingrich, the architect of the modern Republican party, concurred,
claiming that Americans fear the government.

Conservatives' goal is to kill as many people as they can.  They
are determined, for example, that anybody accused of a capital crime
should be put to death.  It does not matter, in their view, whether
the defendant's court-appointed attorney is awake, whether the
prosecution manufactures or suppresses evidence, whether the police
have openly admitted framing scores of other suspects in similar
cases in the same jurisdiction, whether the victim's family wants the
sentence commuted, whether the defendant is mentally ill, or indeed
whether the defendant is even innocent.  Indeed, neglect of these
sorts of excuses is, for conservatives, the definition of justice.
If they accuse you, you're dead.

Further evidence of conservative bloodlust is all around us.  They
now observe Veteran's Day, for example, by assassinating physicians.
In Wyoming they expressed their opposition to the liberal assault on
traditional moral values by crucifying a man because he was gay, and
in Texas they expressed their growing concern over the despotism of
political correctness by dragging a man behind their truck until his
body disintegrated; that particular gentleman presumably aroused the
conservatives' indignation by playing the race card.  A Republican
politician in Kentucky, disturbed by the growing tax burden facing
ordinary Americans, allegedly shot his Democratic opponent to death
and then continued his campaign from prison.

Conservatives' violence and intimidation have become so habitual, so
pervasive, that it often passes with little comment.  Conservative
opponents of environmental regulation, for example, have issued death
threats against numerous government employees.  California Republicans
sent uniformed guards to polling places on election day to scare off
Latino voters.  A conservative columnist advocated in the Los Angeles
Times that liberals who suggest that conservatives want to put poor
people on the streets should be punched in the face.  Conservative
radio hosts have advocated killing government employees and have
openly wished for the death of the President.  The pattern is clear:
America and its values are under relentless attack by conservative
murderers, conservative arsonists, and conservative thugs of all
sorts.  Why does nobody frame the issues in this way?  Because, of
course, of the conservatives' near-absolute control of the media, the
foremost proof of which is the virtual absence of dissent from media
accusations -- as ceaseless as they are self-refuting -- that the
media are actually controlled by liberals.

Is Theodore Kaczynski a liberal?  You decide.

Okay, so that's what it would sound like.  Actually it would sound
a lot worse than that if thousands of highly trained people had full-
time jobs just coming up with nasty things to say about conservatives,
but you get the idea.  Notice the rhetorical technique, pervasive
in conservative polemics, of twisting language to equivocate between
"some" and "all".  Using this technique, the actions of one person,
no matter how sick, can be blown into a representative pattern so long
as they can be fitted to a stereotype.  New stereotypes are minted
by the hundred precisely for this purpose.  It sounds strange when it
is done to conservatives, but this technique has become cultivated and
routinized in the conservative polemics against non-conservatives that
crowd the media.

Am I advocating that dissidents from conservatism adopt these same
tactics?  No.  Evil likes nothing better than the extreme, constant,
hyperbolic projection of one's own negative impulses into someone
else.  The more that conservatives twist language to justify their
rage, the more their rage infects them and reduces them to the very
evil that they claim to identify in others.  This, in the aftermath
of the elections, is the fix in which Republicans now find themselves:
they have stocked the House Judiciary Committee, among other places,
with certifiable nut-cases whose behavior they have no clear way of
reining in.  Unless they do something quickly, the positive feedback
loops of self-amplifying irrationality that conservatives have set in
motion will rebound to consume them.

An exciting development in the area of cheap pens...  Stephan Somogyi
has sent me a 1.2mm Pilot Super-GP ballpoint pen from a place that I
am now dying to visit: the Kinokuniya store inside the Japan Center in
San Francisco.  (It's across from the Kinokuniya bookstore.)  Stephan
tells me that they have almost every disposable pen imaginable, and
all their pens are imported from Japan.  The Super-GP ballpoint pen
that he sent me must be tried to be believed.  It's a ballpoint, but
it feels completely different.  The ink flow is both hypersmooth and
somehow rubbery in a good way -- similar to the gel pens but better
in my opinion.  It has a rubber grip for your fingers, the cap clicks
shut persuasively, and it has some cool Japanese writing on it.  It
does demand to be oriented almost vertical to the paper; it becomes
scratchy at a steeper angle than most pens.  (Stephan points out that
this is inevitable given the 1.2mm ball size.)  But that's alright
for most purposes when you're sitting with good posture and writing on
a horizontal surface.  If anybody else gets a chance to pass through
the Kinokuniya store, do tell me about anything else you find there.

Recommended: David Buckingham, Moving Images: Understanding Children's
Emotional Responses to Television, Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1996.  With a new round of combat looming on the issues raised
by the Communications Decency Act, we should pause for some actual
serious empirical research on children's emotional responses to media.
This particular book, by a British ethnographer, is about children's
emotional responses to television, and its conclusions are clearly
stated and clearly motivated by evidence.  Not surprisingly given
the mass of existing research, no evidence is found for a connection
between exposure to violence in the media and violent tendencies in
later life.  Children are found to be pretty sophisticated in their
understanding of what they watch, and their emotional responses are
found to be complex.  While they might be upset by something they see,
they are not permanently damaged by it.

My primary complaint about this kind of study is its relative lack
of attention to children who are growing up in disturbed environments,
either suffering neglect or being socialized into abusive patterns
of relationship.  Those children's basic problems are caused by
their families and not by the media, but they (and their families)
do nonetheless draw on the media for intellectual justifications and
symbolic forms for their emotional defenses and ways of acting out.
This is clear in studies of men who have engaged in domestic violence
(see Donald G. Dutton's "The Batterer: A Psychological Profile").
If it is hard to establish an epidemiological connection here,
that's because the control group -- which has not spent a lifetime
been inundated by unhealthy messages -- doesn't exist.  I oppose
censorship, but I am also critical of much popular culture, mass-
mediated and otherwise, and I think it is important to maintain the
tension between cultural criticism and civil libertarianism, neither
letting the authoritarians corner the market on morality nor letting
the libertarians corner the market on freedom.

What most bothers me about my country's public foes of iniquity is
not the idea of morality in culture, which I support, but the idea
that immorality is easy to identify.  Many friends of free speech, it
seems to me, have lost control of their arguments; they used to defend
particular works against obscenity charges on the grounds that they
were actually serious art, but now the simple likelihood of obscenity
charges suffices to certify a work as "transgressive" or some such
nonsense.  I think we ought to be able to identify cultural poison
without thereby abetting censorship.  But how?

The frequent difficulty of identifying immorality has been on my mind
as I've listened to Steve Earle's fabulous newish record of white-boy
blues, "I Feel Alright" (Warner).  The problems posed by his record
are already well posed by the work of Robert Johnson.  In one song
he sings the praises of heroin, explaining in harrowing terms that
"cocaine cannot kill my pain".  The thing is, we the listeners know
that this is not a political statement that's intended to enter into
any kind of dialogical relation with the War on Drugs; nor do we
even understand it to endorse heroin, the way that the Grateful Dead
made a faux sacrament of LSD.  Instead it is more closely allied with
Metallica's "Master of Puppets", in which heroin sings in the first
person about its intentions -- a perfectly moral song that only a fool
would take literally.  Earle's song simply conforms to a taken-for-
granted genre convention of the blues that one sings from within that
space of emotional pain, linking it to the great chain of metaphor
that leads back to the monotonous picking songs of the slaves in the
cotton fields.  Steve's a sinner, but he's not positioning himself as
an advertisement for sin.

If that's so, however, what should we think when he proceeds to sing,
just as traditionally, just as fully within the long-standing genre,
a "love" song like "More Than I Can Do", whose chorus goes "I'm never
gonna let you go no matter what you do"?  The whole song is sung
in the language of of domestic violence, of guys who return in large
numbers to kill their ex-wives and -girlfriends.  In the heroin
song we get a dark atmosphere to ease any doubts about his intended
meaning, but "More Than I Can Do" is an upbeat number with a harmonica
riff to keep things moving along.  The guy he's portraying in this
song is clearly sick, but Steve's clearly not a well man himself.
Where's the line here between critique and lament, between cautionary
tale and naturalizing myth, in the vast continuum between a song like
Melissa Etheridge's "Crazy for Me", which is obviously a joke, to the
Beatles' "Run For Your Life", which obviously is not?  The question
matters, since people ingest this stuff as the air they breathe, and
nobody has any clear idea when and how it comes back out.

During the era of the OJ trial, I recall, I was on the road a great
deal, and I spent a lot of time listening to Christian stations
on the radio.  Domestic violence was actually a prominent topic of
public conversation for a little while there, and I remember my great
anticipation as I came across a program in which a respected church
woman, who was treated with great deference by everyone involved,
was interviewed on the subject.  After a little while I was shocked
to realize that she had no idea what she was talking about.  She
did vaguely comprehend the connection between domestic violence and
patterns of control, but her only real complaint was that this pattern
sometimes keeps women from coming to church.  Later I heard a discussion
on "Focus on the Family" between James Dobson and two women who had
written a book for Christian women whose husbands are not Christians.
These women were clearly caught in an impossible spot of explaining
their way past the church's insistence that women submit to the
direction of their husbands.  After ten minutes they were reduced to
speechlessness as Dobson spun webs of pseudo-Biblical sophistry around
the subject.  I doubt if Jesus would have enjoyed listening to this.

I have seen men overcome their violence and addiction by opening
their hearts to Jesus and allowing themselves at last to feel their
childhood pain.  I've also seen them accomplish similar ends through
other means.  Given the way that men are socialized in my culture,
however, women need to be able to escape when the pain takes over and
starts acting out.  In the place I grew up, as a broad generalization,
women were taught to stuff their anger and men were taught to stuff
their fear and sadness.  As the pain got stuffed away, unhealthy
defenses proliferated and the culture rationalized them.

Cultural products are immoral, in my opinion, when they contribute
to the reproduction of these patterns: when they naturalize -- and
I don't mean "depict" but "naturalize", that is, treat as normal or
inevitable -- unhealthy ways of life, most particularly addiction and
codependence.  That's a much more difficult criterion to discern than
the keyword-search style of criticism that gives spuriously concrete
form to so many current campaigns for public morality.  But that's
alright.  What we need isn't a basis for legislation but a basic for
public discourse.  And, it seems to me, such a basis already exists
in a highly developed form below the radar screens of the mainstream
media.  I believe, for example, that John Bradshaw had an positive
impact on American culture some time ago through his popularizations
of psychological ideas in a spiritual context.  His therapeutic
methods are nothing special, but his ideas are very good, and all
of the ridicule they've provoked are simply one manifestation of
the patriarchal patterns that he confronts.

(Radio matriarch Laura Schlessinger, by contrast, is frightening.
Much of what she says about right and wrong is true, but she corrupts
it by mixing it into a great deal of illogical and dangerous nonsense
about subjects such as the difference between thoughts and feelings.
She also exemplifies the authoritarian's habit of making harsh snap
judgements by applying moral principles that might well demand to
be applied differently if more facts were known.  The fallacy here
is insidious: those fair-minded people who wish to explore the real
complexity of a situation before thundering judgement are accused of
denying the rock-solid truth of the principles that had been applied
to the partial information at hand.  By calling this "situational
ethics", the authoritarians arrogate to themselves what amounts to
absolute power: the power to define right and wrong by decree.)

Although I agree with people like Larry Kramer that the gay community
is in denial about some stuff, I also sometimes think that homophobia
is the foundation of everything that is disturbed in our social order,
inasmuch as it enables men to be controlled by their fear of being
called sissies or queers whenever they feel anything.  (This is the
bright side that I see in the Promise Keepers: they've found their
own roundabout way to do much of the stuff that women want them to
do.  The Promise Keepers do represent a rebellion against feminism,
but they also represent the victory of feminism: whenever the feminists
criticize them, they immediately change their message.)  Be that as
it may, I think that we can only grow up and become whole people when
we reclaim the deep connection between democracy and emotional health,
and the equally deep connection between society's collective public
morality and everyone's private struggles to be a good person.  That
is why I believe that democracy must have a spiritual basis, and why I
resent those people who use religion as a pretext for authoritarianism
and patriarchy.

"At the Speed of Thought: Pursuing Non-Commercial Alternatives to
Scholarly Communication" by Mike Sosteric.

Meta-Certificate Group -- interesting articles about identification

Center for Digital Storytelling

USIP Virtual Diplomacy Conference

Article on rural Internet policy issues in Canada

The CIA Writes the Next Chapter

First International Conference on Rural Telecommunications
National Telephone Cooperative Association

Privacy Journal

second part of the CIA's public report on Contra drug trafficking