Some notes and recommendations.

The Republicans are the demon spawn of Joseph McCarthy and Wile E. Coyote.
'nuff said.

Let's talk about books.  Anti-intellectuals carry on about the dark age
of nihilism that has supposedly settled upon us.  Yes, of course there
are nihilists, as there have always been.  But don't be fooled by the
selective use of evidence.  The fact is that we are living in a golden
age of scholarship.  I have pointed this out before, and now I'm back
with further evidence.

Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal
Tradition, Harvard University Press, 1983.  Much social and political
theory has been concerned with the idea of revolution -- the idea
that society can go through a total transformation that affects every
aspect of life in profound and coherently interrelated ways.  Arguments
rage about whether revolutions can be a good thing, and about whether
they can happen at all.  Without wishing to take a strong stand on the
general question, Harold Berman points out that the clearest possible
case of a social revolution is also a case that nobody, including
Marx, had ever noticed before: the great wave of economic growth and
institution-building that swept over Europe in the period from 1050
to 1200.  Berman's focus is on legal institutions.  He argues that
there exists something called the Western legal tradition, as opposed
to individual national traditions, and that this tradition arose in
a definite place and time through the secularization of canon law
across this 150-year period.  Although I am terribly interested in the
so-called secularization thesis and its seeming consequences for the
processes of desecularization in our own day, I had resisted reading
Berman's book because I had associated legal history with the dry and
turgid writing of a Blackstone or a Holmes.  Not so.  This, remarkably,
is legal history as bedtime reading -- not the minutiae of rules, but
the social and institutional setting within which those rules took
form.  I have always believed that we moderns continue to live out the
inheritances of history unawares, but rarely have I seen the case for
this idea made so compellingly as here.

Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians
and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised edition, Oxford
University Press, 1970.  As we struggle to throw off the tedious
millennialism of the "cyberspace" ideology, it is useful to revisit
the historical origins of such thinking -- the idea that tomorrow will
be discontinuously different from today.  Cohn's book is a celebrated
and influential account of the strange sects such as the Ranters, the
Anabaptists, the Free Spirit, and the flagellants that were the radical
movements of their day.  Writing in 1970, Cohn obviously had in mind
the hippies, who were indeed related to these movements through their
antinomianism -- their desire to overturn, or literally to invert, every
aspect of constituted society.  The hypothesis, in other words, is that
these medieval sects were the counterculture of their day.  Although we
tend to romanticize these sects for their exotic, rebellious character,
Cohn argues that they were in fact movements of desperate and marginal
people, led by marginal and uncompelling intellectuals.  It is most
instructive to compare Cohn's account of these sections, and especially
the Ranters, with the equally fascinating account of them in "The World
Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution", by
the British communist intellectual Christopher Hill.  Hill was most
impressed by one Gerard Winstanley, the leader of the Ranters, who he
portrayed as a communist avant la lettre for his opposition to religion
and private property and his advocacy of free love.  In the end it was
Cohn's argument that persuaded me.

(I read Hill's book last summer on a terrifying overnight bus ride from
Ljubljana to Sarajevo, 12 hours spent on gutted mountain roads through
a moonscape of bombed-out villages and militia roadblocks.  I was the
only outsider on the bus, and I didn't understand what was happening
most of the time.  "Just keep ten marks in your pocket and bribe them
if they hassle you", my host in Ljubljana said.  So there I was with my
ten marks.  The whole time this is going on, a VCR on the bus is showing
a series of terrible, extraordinarily violent Sylvester Stallone movies.
So here I am at this Serbian checkpoint, nasty men with serious guns all
over the place, hand-painted signs, this guy is scowling at my passport,
and Sylvester Stallone is up on the video screen killing dozens of men.
For a while there, Hill's book made perfect sense.  Sarajevo, by the
way, is a fabulous place, and you should go there before they ruin it.)

Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of
Intellectual Change, Harvard University Press, 1998.  If you haven't
been reading enough thousand-page histories of world philosophy lately,
you might want to pick up this astonishing book, which describes both
the substance and the institutional dynamics of every single school
of philosophy -- indeed, every single philosopher -- in Greek, Indian,
Chinese, Japanese, and European history from ancient times until
the early part of this century.  But it's not just a catalog.  Quite
the contrary, as its title promises, it is a systematic theory of the
conditions of intellectual change.  Collins observes, for example, the
just-about-universal regularity that a society that has any philosophy
at all will have only about three to five schools of philosophy at any
given time.  If it has fewer schools, one or more of them will break
into competing camps.  If it has more schools, some of those schools
will die and others will coalesce.  This sounds hokey in the abstract,
but it actually explains a great deal about many, many particular
episodes in intellectual history.  He also argues that philosophical
creativity has special institutional conditions.  A society needs to be
organized in such a way that philosophers can be organized in the first
place, obviously, but then it is also necessary for the philosophers
to be organized into competing schools.  A philosophical school that
operates without sophisticated competition, in other words, will fail
to produce creative work.  It is frustrating to try to explain Collins'
book in abstract terms because his own philosophy is nothing special.
His own abstract theory, which occupies the first eighty pages of
the book, makes it seem much too easy to draw analogies and generalize
across cultures and historical periods.  Nonetheless, his theory is
theory enough to elucidate an incredible amount of material.  And he
does escape the most obvious kinds of reductionism: although he does
give the economic and political context a role in shaping philosophy,
he does not reduce philosophy to a mere ideological expression of that
context.  I'm about 40% of the way through the book, just wrapping up
the discussion of Japan before moving to Europe, and the most striking
thing so far is the effect of putting all of those Asian philosophies
in historical context.  California is full of romanticized versions of
those philosophies, for example the selective appropriation of Zen by
the Beats and a whole subsequent subculture, and it so it is striking
to read Collins' theory that Ch'an Buddhism -- the Chinese version of
Buddhism from which Zen was drawn -- was itself very much an expression
of the later states of collapse and decay of Buddhism in China.  That
does not lessen the philosophical accomplishments of Zen founders such
as Dogen, who was a tremendously sophisticated phenomenologist whose
views clearly anticipated and probably influenced those of Heidegger and
Merleau-Ponty, but it does help us understand these thinkers as people
just like us, and not as the idealized myth-figures of New Age religion.

Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic
Performance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.  Douglass
North is by far the most interesting of a vast school of conservative
economists and lawyers who have been trying to implement the deceptively
simple intellectual program that Ronald Coase laid out in two papers,
"The nature of the firm" and "The problem of social cost".  It is
often observed that reality fails to correspond to classical economics,
and Coase suggests that these very failures can be used as explanatory
principles: if the world fails to correspond to the conclusions of the
classical theory, for example by not allocating resources efficiently,
then the world must also fail to correspond to the assumptions of the
classical theory, for example by not circulating market information to
everybody who needs it; and if the world changes so that it corresponds
better to the assumptions, then we can predict that it will also change
so that it corresponds better to the conclusions.  North turns these
forms of argument into a conceptual basis for economic history, as well
as the comparative study of modern economies.  He focuses particularly
on institutions, which he has influentially defined as the "rules of the
game" -- the "rules" that define the most basic relationships in social
life, and particularly economic relationships.  Institutions can include
the family firm, capital markets, the credit system, the legal system,
standard contracts, relationships between firms and the government, and
so on.  Implicit in North's theory is a normative, teleological view
of history: all history is a march toward the English ideal of liberal
individualism, impersonal market dealings, the rule of law, and laissez-
faire economic policy -- in short, to Adam Smith's market -- and we
can ask about the conditions under which this march moves, and in what
direction.  This literature is at its most persuasive when studying the
fine details of particular institutions, such as slavery or particular
regimes of property rights.  It is least persuasive when explaining
shifts from one institutional scheme to another.  But whereas most
authors in this literature have stuck with a superficial, rationalistic
view of the matter, North has explored increasingly daring -- from the
standpoint of the academic field of economics -- integrations between
economics and cognitive science.  The point is not that any particular
theory of cognition is the last word, but that forms of cognition are
now taken to be (as economists say) endogenous -- that is, historically
variable, affecting other features of the system and affects by other
features of the system.  This broadening of the scope of economics
has made it conceivable that the undeniably powerful modes of economic
reasoning can be integrated with other fields that do not share the
narrowness of most economic theorizing.

Not recommended: Isaiah Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology
of Essays, edited by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer, London: Chatto and
Windus, 1997.  The late Isaiah Berlin is famous in the United States for
the lucid essays he wrote introducing various European social thinkers
to the English-speaking world.  His terrific book on Vico and Herder,
for example, can be recommended to anybody who is wondering where the
controversy about multiculturalism came from.  In Britain, by contrast,
Berlin seems to be celebrated largely for his legendary sophistication
at dinner-table conversation, which the culture of Oxford and Cambridge
often seems to value ahead of profound scholarly achievement.  Perhaps
for this reason, Berlin never bothered to publish most of his writing,
and we know his work primarily because the editors of this new volume,
Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer, went to a great deal of work to edit
it.  When Berlin died, the big question was whether Berlin was a genuine
social thinker in his own right, or whether he was just a dinner-table
conversationalist who wrote some particularly clear secondary sources
on the work of other thinkers.  Hardy and Hausheer understandably want
Berlin to be remembered in the former of these ways, and this book is
their brief.  I am sorry to say that they have failed.  Berlin's essays
on European social thinkers are as vivid as they ever were.  But the
editors have placed their primary emphasis, and the bulk of their page
count, on the essays in which Berlin elaborates his own philosophy.
The contrast, sad to say, could not be more stark.  Berlin's own essays
feel tentative, murky, meandering, trivial, and ultimately pointless.
Most of all they feel unfinished.  Perhaps they were useful to him
as thought experiments while writing his essays on the work of others.
But they should have stayed experiments.  The editors would have been
much better advised to bring out the philosophy that Berlin was surely
developing between the lines in his writing about the others.  That
task, however, will have to be left for better scholars to pursue.

Some URL's.

Microsoft strategy memo on Linux and other open-source software

Clinton, Conspiracism, and Civil Society, by Chip Berlet

Internet Mail Consortium

G7 Government On-Line

Report on the NSA's Echelon surveillance system

Law Enforcement Can Track Cellular Users

Getty Conference on technology in museums

Early Computer Security Papers

"Institutionalized Resistance To Asynchronous Learning Networks"
by David Jaffee
(a good example of the standard story about resistance to technology)

Simson Garfinkel's article on the W3C

new report on technologies of political control

Arts and Letters Daily

OECD Ottawa conference on electronic stuff

Critical Infrastructure: The Path Ahead

CIA's Drug Confession

Legal Journals on the Web

Simson Garfinkel's book on privacy

CAUSE98, "The Networked Academy", 8-11 December 1998, Seattle

Reinventing Assessment: Speculations on the Future of Large-Scale
Educational Testing, by the Educational Testing Service

Index of distance education resources

The Household Cyclopedia of General Information

Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea? by Charles C. Mann

Resources for Facilitators and Moderators of Online Discussion