These occasional notes are a special treat, where you get to see what
strange things are going through his head. Don't miss the great panda
joke at the end.
-- Daniel Kohn <email@example.com> Teledesic Corporation +1-206-602-6222 (voice) 602-0001 (fax) http://www.teledesic.com
-----Original Message----- From: Phil Agre [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 1997 1:34 PM To: email@example.com Subject: notes
More notes, including some morbid humor and an awful lot of useful URL's. Plus: spam, child abuse, the VRML standard, media concentration, war games, the CIA, and the historic Bob's Big Boy in downtown Burbank, California.
As a periodic reminder, you can unsubscribe from RRE by sending a message that looks like this: To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: unsubscribe
Another way to read RRE is by putting http://www.utopia.com/mailings/rre/ in the hotlist of your Web browser. That's the URL for the chronological RRE archive that Kee Hinckley and company maintain. But, hey, getting it by e-mail is "push" technology, which is more up-to-date-that is, more like television-than boring old "pull" on the boring old Web. We were all wrong, it seems, back in 1994: interactive is tired, passive is wired. Where it's really all at, it seems, is total immersion-in advertising! It's official now, but you heard it here first. At the risk of sounding like a guy who's boring his grandchildren with stories of his youth, I can still remember those glorious days of 1994 when we exulted that the Internet is not like television. Not only that, but the Internet's political virtues were held to inhere in the technology itself, and the technology was supposed to reshape the whole world in its image. Some people-notably Mitch Kapor-knew that technologies are continually shaped by institutions and that directions of technological development are not inevitable but are human choices. But hardly anybody understood what they were talking about. Now the whole Internet hype agenda is being set by the needs of advertisers, and respected leaders of the computer industry are unashamed to announce in public that the Internet needs to be more like television. Amidst the hyperbole, I hardly even hear the important social questions about "push" technology being asked: Will everyone be able to push their own materials? What are the start-up costs involved in operating a "push" channel? Will it be equally easy for users to receive "pushed" materials from all suppliers, no latter how lowly? Will badly designed security prevent users from accepting pushed material from any but the largest and most prominent suppliers? Will advertiser support lead to routine surveillance of "push" recipients' viewing habits? Will advertiser sponsorship exert the same insidious influence on online news content that it already does in newspapers? (See, for example, C. Edwin Baker, Advertising and a Democratic Press, Princeton University Press, 1994.)
Right now I'm sitting at a Macintosh in a coffee house, reading my e-mail etc while my car is being fixed. I had both Netscape Navigator and NCSA Telnet open, so it occurred to me to start up CNET (www.news.com) in both Lynx and Navigator. So far in Lynx I've browsed a few pages and followed most of the hyperlinks; I've also read several of the articles and paused to type this paragraph. Meanwhile, Navigator is still busily loading the multitude of graphics on the CNET home page. Ho hum, back to Lynx...
It seems like the spam quotient on the Internet has really accelerated in the last few weeks. Most of the spam seems to consist of advertisements for services for sending out spam; I don't know whether this is a good sign or a bad sign. Spammers are scum. They seem to be the contemporary vanguard of that corrupt morality of the marketplace which holds that everything that isn't illegal is okay. Just yesterday I read news of one particularly vile spammer who claims he will soon release a program called Hypocrite that automatically returns any flame directed against a spammer to the sender's postmaster. I resolved, therefore, to seek more creative measures to express my views on unsolicited commercial e-mail. Perhaps I could direct the RRE Skunk Works to deploy our new program, Scumbag, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sending advertisements to known spammers with the headers forged to make them look like they were sent by other spammers. Nah, I thought, too violent. I need something more poetic. Just then, quite fortuitously, I received a message from a gentleman who asked me to imagine the convenience of having dirty pictures arrive in my mailbox. He invited responses by voice mail, so I called his number and sat the phone in front of a stereo speaker from which Diamanda Galas' classic "How Shall Our Judgement Be Carried Out Upon the Wicked" (from her "Plague Mass", about AIDS dementia) was screeching insanely away. Since then I've been trying to think of other suitable tunes, such as "Return to Sender", "Positively Fourth Street", and (one hopes) "I Fought the Law and the Law Won". And, oh yeah, Neil Young's hysterical "Piece of Crap". This is entertaining, but obviously it doesn't provide a permanent answer. Much of the spam, I gather, is generated by people exploiting a loophole in SMTP that permits them to send out their mail from someone else's site. This can be fixed. The interesting question here is, what's the exact combination of technical fixes and laws that can stop this scourge? It's easy to pass a law that outlaws the wrong things, particularly when technology changes in unanticipated ways. It's also easy to pass a law that imposes authentication requirements that go beyond the minimum that's necessary to avoid systematic abuse of the technology. On the other hand, it's also easy simply to point at possible technologies that would solve the problem in theory, but that are entirely unrealistic to expect 50,000,000 Internet users to be able to adopt in practice. One particularly fatuous suggestion that I've heard since the beginning of time is that new mail filters will automatically recognize advertisements and other messages that the recipient does not want. I've even heard it suggested, in surely one of history's most extravagant cases of market panglossianism, that the nonexistence of such mail filters implies that people don't want them. I think surely an answer can be found between the extremes. I doubt if it's possible to outlaw spam as such, but it's possible to shut down the various schemes by which spammers shield themselves from having the same costs imposed upon them that they impose upon others. Perhaps one might make it illegal to forge headers that appear to come from another site without the site owner's permission. In that case one could filter out mail that does not come from a registered site. On the legal aspects of spam see http://www.imc.org/imc-spam/
Want a chip implanted in your body so your doctor can monitor your vital signs in real time and administer medication remotely? It's real. http://techweb.cmp.com/eet/news/97/940news/chipimplant.html http://techweb.cmp.com/eet/news/97/941news/chipimplants.html In my capacity as a person who parades himself as a privacy expert, I sometimes get calls from people who are concerned that microchips have been planted in their heads, that their television set is monitoring their conversations, that someone is tracking their car, and so on. Most often their fears are technically impossible. A couple years from now, though, that will no longer be true.
The Internet Society has prepared a new and badly needed history of the Internet. It's on the Web at http://www.isoc.org/internet-history/
The Internet Outreach Program of the Soros-funded Open Society Institute is on the Web at http://www.soros.org/inetpages/ioppage.html
The International Telecommunications Union's World Telecommunication Development Report, official and stuffy but informative in its own way, is at http://www.itu.ch/WTDR95/index.html
For an interesting article on the Republicans' discovery of child abuse, see http://www.slate.com/StrangeBedfellow/97-03-22/StrangeBedfellow.asp On the subject of the role of child abuse in reproducing authoritarian culture, I recommend a powerful and slightly odd book, Michael A. Milburn and Sheree D. Conrad, The Politics of Denial, MIT Press, 1996, and Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983. Miller in particular has had a positive impact on Western culture in my opinion, particularly in Europe where corporal punishment has been largely outlawed. It does seem to me that she's still carrying a lot of unresolved anger that interferes with her philosophy from time to time. Still, it's a positive sign that such things can be gotten out into the open at all, even if they are always immediately mocked.
Following up on my rant about interface accessibility issues, here are some relevant URL's: http://www.trace.wisc.edu/text/guidelns/htmlgide/htmlgide.html http://www.boston.com/wgbh/pages/ncam/symbolwinner.html http://product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q1/961210. pr.rel.curbcuts.html http://www.microsoft.com/enable Some will be upset by the idea that Microsoft belongs on this list at all. I have heard all these arguments, and I encourage you to take them up with Microsoft.
The 3/17/97 issue of The Nation reviews increasing concentration in the publishing industry, complete with a handy chart. I'm bothered, though, by the authors' seeming presupposition that books are better than other media, and their assumption that it's necessarily a bad thing for works to be released in multiple media. And I'm also bothered by the off-handedly nasty comments about Oprah Winfrey, who I think is, on balance, a force for good in American culture, especially recently. Nonetheless, I do take the problem of media concentration seriously. It is not a healthy thing for a democracy when the means of publication are held in so few hands. Many people assume that the Internet will change all this, but I have yet to see the evidence beyond experiments and anecdotes.
The March 1997 issue of IEEE Spectrum has several articles under the heading "Sharing Virtual Worlds: Avatars, Agents, and Social Computing", which a focus on emerging standards in that area. It's particularly interesting to see the convergence between the military and entertainment worlds. It seems that wargames will increasingly be conducted on similar platforms, whether live ammunition is being fired or not. On this general subject, see Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Little, Brown, 1995. It's a book by a soldier on the methods by which the military breaks down soldiers' resistance to killing people. He argues that these methods have grown all too successful.
Geoffrey Moore's columns in Upside (two of them so far) are smart. http://www.upside.com/texis/columns/chasm
The web pages for Colin Bennett's course on "The Politics of Information" can be found at http://www.cous.uvic.ca/poli/456/456.htm
Anne Lamott has a beautiful essay about church in the February issue of Salon: http://www.salonmagazine.com/feb97/columnists/lamott.html
I encourage everyone to stay up-to-date on the issues surrounding the Church of Scientology, particularly and its conflicts with its former members and the Internet community. Here are some relevant URL's: http://www.superlink.net/~mgarde/new.htm http://www.tiac.net/users/modemac/nots/ http://home.sol.no/heldal/CoS/index2.html http://www.primenet.com/~cultxpt/cos.htm http://www.primenet.com/~cultxpt/lisa.htm
The New York Times also had a long first-page article in their 3/9/97 issue (I think it was) about Scientology's long campaign for approval of tax-exempt status by the IRS. It has transpired that this article relied on internal Scientology publications for some of its factual claims-not the soundest journalistic method, I have to say. But the material in the article from other sources is the most interesting.
The Winter 1997 issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly is a special issue that's entitled "Traditional Music in Community: Aspects of Performance, Recordings, and Preservation", edited by the very cool Anthony Seeger of the Smithsonian. CSQ is available at larger newsstands (cover price $5). I assume you can also get it from Cultural Survival, 96 Mount Auburn St, 2nd floor, Cambridge MA 02138, USA; +1 (617) 441-5400; email@example.com.
The Preservation Institute's directory of Transportation and Development Politics is a good example of a simple Web application for building links between people working on issues that are local in nature but pretty much analogous wherever they arise. http://www.preservenet.com/TransDev.html
I get the most appalling things in the mail. Here, for example, I have a letter from Richard Viguerie-the same Richard Viguerie who is famous for having pioneered direct-mail political fund-raising in the 1980's- advertising his new publication, The New Media Report. The letter itself presumably distills everything he has learned; it is framed as a fake memo to someone named Janis Tabor of the "Council for Chemican [sic] Research". I'm sure he has some psychological explanation for the typo. In any case, The New Media Report promises to inform organizations what is being said about them in the "new media", which includes "direct mail, phone banks, fax broadcasting, newsletters and Internet sites of hundreds of activist public policy organizations". He claims that his staff is "following thousands of talk radio shows, cable news shows, public policy newsletters, trade shows, conventions, lectures, independent book stores, videos, religious broadcasts, campus publications, ethnic and political publications and meetings", as well as "the activities of hundreds of state and national labor unions". He says, "We've hired people who are computer junkies and who love the idea that we pay them to surf hundreds of organization sites on the Internet. They do it every day except now they get paid for it." Also, "We subscribe to and read hundreds of newsletters and desktop published magazines dealing with public policy issues, current events, including trade, taxes, possible new state ballot initiatives, attacks on business, ideas for new government regulations, and much, much more." Not only that, "We call independent book stores to learn what the non-elite middle class is reading." And so on. It appears weekly and costs $347 a year by paper mail, fax, or e-mail. Viguerie's newsletter is, I suppose, the next level of a phenomenon that has been accelerating in recent years: the systematic surveillance of popular political activity by the interests who have something to fear from it. The demand for such information is created in large part by the concomitant rise of techniques for preventing new issues from being established in the public sphere. Sometimes the motivation for this type of action is reasonable, for example when plainly false rumors begin to circulate. Many other times, however, the motivation is much more problematic. This has been well-documented (see, for example, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, "Toxic Sludge is Good for You", Common Courage Press). Having gotten early warning of the publication of an unfriendly book, for example, an organization or its public relations firm can mysteriously get hold of page proofs, round up its friendly experts, and approach relevant reporters with disparaging previews so that the book is less likely to be reviewed. Bookstores might then receive phone calls purporting to cancel an author's scheduled book-signing appearances. Or, having gotten early warning of a potential issue campaign by a political group, the affected organizations can prepare lobbying materials and inoculate all of the relevant politicians with attacks on the group's credibility before they even show up in the politicians' offices. These practices, as I say, are already routine, and The New Media Report will permit them to become even more routine and even more efficient. Public debate will be smothered before it even begins, and society will drift into oblivion and formless rage. For a while there, nando.net had a story online about PR firms monitoring the Internet. It seems to be gone now, but the URL for the story was http://www.nando.net/newsroom/ntn/info/021397/info4_16115.html
After I sent out the RRE message on East Timor the other day, John Batali sent me a batch of URL's for Web pages on the issue: http://www.peg.apc.org/~etchrmel/ The East Timor Human Rights Centre in Melbourne, Australia http://www.chch.planet.co.nz/green/peace/etimor.html A brief description of the situation in East Timor http://amadeus.inesc.pt/%7Ejota/Timor/ East Timor Information Pages http://amadeus.inesc.pt:80/~jota/Timor/articles/AI_ET_FactFiction.html
Amnesty International's Report about East Timor http://www.ci.uc.pt/Timor/TimorNet.html Links and information from the University of Coimbra, Portugal
An interesting OECD paper on money laundering paper "FATF-VIII Money Laundering Typologies Exercise Public Report", 5 February 1997, is at: http://jya.com/fatf8.htm (Text 94K; 4 images 78K)
The other day I hopped off a train in Burbank a little early for a 2PM appointment, so I wandered into a friendly-looking taco shop to get lunch. After ordering a chicken burrito and pausing to take in my surroundings, I became aware that everyone was glued to a black-and-white television set mounted on the wall. From the announcers' tones of voice, I gathered that they were engaged in real-time coverage of a crime story. They were deep into the details, however, so I could not tell where the crime was taking place. Momentarily they began rolling video footage of AK-47 fire, lots of it, and mentioning street names, and it began to dawn on me that I had been assuming all along that it was happening right there in the neighborhood. Sure enough, I was three miles due east of the heavy-duty North Hollywood bank robbery and the subsequent shootout; the second suspect had been driving straight toward me when the cops caught up to him. You've read the story in the newspaper, and you no doubt noticed the part about the cops barging into a gun store and swiping all the heavy weapons they could get, being outgunned as they were by these guys with machine guns and industrial-strength body armor. Now there's a metaphor. As I was standing there trying to figure out where all this was happening, I was reflecting on electronic media. I watch little enough television, having quit pretty much cold turkey almost twenty years ago, that I still find it strange. I remember switching on a TV set in a room I was renting in Paris a couple of years ago, seeing a volcano erupting in New Zealand on CNN, and saying to myself something like "wow, you can actually see a volcano erupting in New Zealand". I screen out the CNN Airport Network as well as I can, primarily by traveling with a Walkman and expensive studio headphones and listening to Nirvana's "In Utero" and Oasis' "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" in tight rotation while reading a stack of business magazines and keeping my back to as many of the friggingly ubiquitous TV screens as possible. Thus, watching the bank-robbery coverage in the taco shop, I found myself straining for language to describe the weirdness of it. It's tempting to describe it in terms of physics, as if distance had collapsed and every point in the earth was connected to every other one, as if space had grown another dimension that makes us all effectively omnipresent. But that's not right, because it leaves out the social mechanisms that determine what images show up on the box. We're not *everywhere* at once; we're all somewhere in particular at once, and we have little choice about where. Another way to look at it is that the entire species has been plugged into machines that maintain us in maximum emotional stress by staying connected to the most unpleasant events on the entire face of the earth. Those poor cops getting hosed down with AK-47 fire were three miles away, but they could equally well have been three thousand miles away. But that's not right either, since people get slaughtered in their thousands in Colombia all the time without it becoming news. The key was clearly eluding me. Having spent the whole evening working in much more abstract realms, I was looking forward to reading the LA Times the next morning. I wandered into downtown Burbank and, a block past the NBC and Disney Channel buildings, I came upon a splendid Bob's Big Boy, designated a "Point of Historical Interest" by the State of California for its transitional status in the emergence of 1950s' coffee-shop architecture. After feeding my quarters into the newspaper vending machine, I stopped to watch a young family from India who were walking in from the parking lot; their two-year-old daughter was fascinated and overwhelmed by the huge, disturbing statue of Bob outside the restaurant, just as I can still vividly recall being overwhelmed by such a statue somewhere in Maryland sometime around 1963. I found the sight oddly comforting. Now for the really weird part. Inside the restaurant, it turns out, is another historical plaque, this one more discreet, marking the particular booth where Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino shot a scene ("on location", we are informed) for the movie "Heat". Now, of course, as the LA Times pointed out, that's the very same movie in which a guy in full body armor robs a bank and hoses down a bunch of cops with AK-47 fire. What does this mean? Did the guys from the North Hollywood bank robbery plan their crime while sitting in that specific booth of the Bob's Big Boy? Have the movies and the news completely collapsed into one another? After all, newspaper articles about historical places routinely remind us of the movies that have been made about them; such articles frequently appear just after the movies have been released. Russian mobsters are said to watch American gangster films to find out how to be gangsters. To my mind, the scariest part is that the guys in North Hollywood didn't manage to kill anybody, reinforcing the cartoon fantasy that people can get shot with machine guns and not die. Speaking of which ... Robert Young Pelton, Coskun Aral, and Wink Dulles, The World's Most Dangerous Places, second edition, Redondo Beach, CA: Fielding Worldwide, 1997. This utterly gonzo thousand-page guide to the dangers of various countries is every last kind of incorrect. What it lacks in copyediting (which is a lot), it makes up in attitude. It revels, for example, in assigning stars to the countries' danger levels-the countries that win five stars are Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Colombia, and Somalia. (The United States gets one star, mostly for heavily armed nutcases.) It's the only travel book I've ever seen that includes a capitalized disclaimer like: THE AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS ASSUME NO LIABILITY NOR DO THEY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO, SEE, VISIT OR TRY ANY OF THE ACTIVITIES OR ACTIONS DISCUSSED IN THIS BOOK. Along the way, it provides reasonably convincing accounts of the world's major recent civil wars, along with detailed advice on matters such as bogus cops, kidnapping, land mines, diseases, and fundamentalist religion. Something to offend everyone. And very practical. Need phone numbers for the Taliban? They're right here on page 82: +92 42 669087 if you speak Dari and +93 81 822422 if you speak Pushtu. On this general subject, the following message arrived from a friend in medical school... My roommate subscribes to Entrepreneur Magazine which I read over breakfast. A recent issue listed 45 young millionaires. On that list is Ray Barnes. Quoting: "Ray Barnes' life changed the moment he arrived at the scene of his grandfather's suicide. 'I saw blood and brain matter on the grass,' says Barnes. 'And I had to decide to do one of two things: turn and walk away or get rid of the mess so my mother and grandmother wouldn't have to see it.'" So Barnes and his wife, Louise, founded "Crime Scene Clean-Up" (Fallston, Maryland). There's a nice photo of Ray and Louise wearing red jumpsuits, standing in front of their red truck, Louise holding a mop, and Ray with the nozzle of a wet-vac. And finally... A panda walks into a bar, sits down and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter dead. As the panda stands up to go, the bartender shouts, "Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich! The panda yells back at the bartender, "Hey man, I'm a PANDA! Look it up!" The bartender opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: "A tree dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, distinguished by prominent black and white coloring. Eats shoots and leaves."
According to Wired News, the IETF has released a draft standard RFC2109 governing end-user control and monitoring of cookie transactions. Wired story: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/story/2196.html IETF specification: http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc1209.txt
I somehow sent out a bad URL for the Internet Resouces archive of online publications. The correct URL is http://www.hw.ac.uk/libWWW/irn/az.html
One of the originators of VRML, Mark Pesce, has an instructive if somewhat murky article on the strange politics of VRML standards in Feed. The URL for the article is http://www.feedmag.com/97.02pesce/97.02pesce.html One RRE reader offered it as proof that Microsoft is not the only company that behaves badly with regard to standards. I wholly agree, and I want to make clear that my arguments "against" Microsoft are really aimed at a deeper phenomenon. The problem is not that Microsoft people are uniquely bad, or even that they are bad at all. The problem is that systematic pathologies of complex, standards-based markets practically compel many companies to engage in questionable practices. If anything, Microsoft's dominance produces incentives for all of the other large players to play things relatively straight, that being the best strategy of self-defense in the situation. But that's just a rough approximation; the details in practice are endlessly complicated and need to be analyzed case-by-case. It's particularly striking that Pesce's story involves voting-at one point in the store, Microsoft actually lost a vote. Some economist needs to explain this marvelous new economics that includes voting. I like it.
On the Cyperpunks list, John Young mentioned that he has put the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's 135Kbyte report on its activities from 4 January 1995 to 3 October 1996 online at http://jya.com/sr105-1.htm Here is the table of contents: I. Introduction II. Legislation Intelligence Budget S. 922 Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 S. 1718 Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 Intelligence Renewal and Reform Act of 1996 The National Imagery and Mapping Agency III. Arms Control Chemical Weapons Convention START II Treaty
IV. Counterintelligence The Aldrich Ames Espionage Case French Flap Economic Espionage Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
V. Counterterrorism Terrorism Threat Overview Khubar Towers and OPM-SANG Bombings
VI. Counterproliferation Non-Proliferation North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs Long-Range Missile Threat VII. Oversight Activities National Security Threats to the United States Intelligence Support to U.S. Efforts in Bosnia Inquiry into U.S. Actions Regarding Iranian and Other Arms Transfers to the Bosnian Army Congressional Notification of Foreign Policy Decisions Persian Gulf Syndrome Zona Rosa Vietnamese Commandos CIA/Contra/Cocaine Link CIA Use of Journalists, Clergy, and Peace Corps Volunteers in Intelligence Operations Guatemala Intelligence Support to Law Enforcement Congressional Notifications of Intelligence Activities Airborne Reconnaissance National Reconnaissance Office Carry Forward Small Satellites Covert Action Encryption Export Policy Security of the U.S. Information Infrastructure Jane Doe Thompson Case Oversight of the Intelligence Community Inspectors General Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union Program Review and Audit Staff
VIII.Foreign Intelligence North Korea Iraq Russia China Mexico Economic Espionage Environmental and Demographic Intelligence Intelligence Sharing with the United Nations
IX. Confirmations DCI John M. Deutch DDCI George J. Tenet
X. Committee Internal Reforms and Enhancements End of the Designee System Term Limits PolicyNet
Appendix Summary of Committee Activities Number of Meetings Bills and Resolutions Originated by the Committee Bills Referred to the Committee Committee Publications Memorandum of Agreement Regarding TIARA and JMIP