Notes on critical thinking, Microsoft, and eBay, along with a bunch of
recommendations and some URL's.  Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Before I start ranting, a calm story.

You may recall that I did my doctoral work in the field of artificial
intelligence.  I got into AI from adolescent motives; if you were a
geek in the 1970s then that's what was cool.  Having committed myself
to a lengthy program of graduate study, however, I started to grow
up.  That's not to say that all AI people are immature, only that my
own interest in the topic was the sort of thing one outgrows.  But
professional training has an incredible power to shape one's identity
and thinking, and it is not easily outgrown.

One way to relate to AI, or to anything really, is the engineering
way: if it can solve engineering problems then it's good.  But that's
not my way.  I want to know if it's true.  And not true in a logical
or scientific sense but intuitively.  I'm not very good at puzzles
and problems.  I don't focus well.  I can chop logic with the best of
them, but I don't like it.  The thing is, logic is not that much of a
constraint.  Ideas can be logical and nonsensical at the same time: it
happens every day.  So while I disapprove of illogic, I don't try to
navigate by logic.  I do big patterns.  And the first big pattern that
I wanted to discern was the underlying structure of AI.  What was it
about AI?  Why did it seem so wrong?  No incremental answer would do;
the innumerable aspects of AI tended to reinforce one another, so that
you couldn't change just one.  You had to rethink the whole thing.
You had to get the whole thing into your head.  And this is what I do:
I try to get the whole world into my head.

I've told aspects of this story before, for example in an intellectual
memoir of my AI years entitled "Toward a critical technical practice"
that you can find on my home page.  Here I want to tell a smaller
story, about how I became (relatively speaking, and in a small way) a
better person through philosophy.

So here I was in the middle of the AI world -- not just hanging out
there but totally dependent on the people if I expected to have a job
once I graduated -- and yet, day by day, AI started to seem insane.
This is also what I do: I get myself trapped inside of things that
seem insane.  Yet AI was all I knew.  I was a math major in college,
so I had never been compelled to learn much that was softer than
electromagnetism.  And I sure didn't have the morbid preoccupation
with theorems that it would take to succeed in math.  So I was on my
own.  Actually, not quite.  Several other AI Lab students had the same
bad attitude about AI and respect for real intellectual stuff that I
did, so we were a club.  That was my first mailing list, in fact.  And
we made contact with some critics of AI, who thought we were strange
but helped us anyway.  Still, there was no getting around it: when
you're in that sort of hole, beyond a certain point you're on your own.

Although the AI Lab has always been capable of great strangeness, I
would conjecture that my dissertation is one of the stranger documents
ever accepted for a PhD at MIT.  If you can print Postscript files you
can still pull it down from the AI Lab publications Web site at:

After years of late nights scrawling endless stream-of-consciousness
theorizing and example-working into my notebook, I wrote half of my
dissertation in the last six weeks.  There being no good reason not
to graduate, I had rented a truck, moved all my belongings into it,
moved out of my place in Boston, started paying rent on a place in
San Francisco, parked the truck out in front of the AI Lab, camped
out in my office, played records by Husker Du and Voivod at high
volume, and wrote the stupid thing.  I didn't even look for a job.
When I got done, I did the paperwork, climbed in the truck, and drove
to San Francisco.  I made one stop along the way: at the gift shop of
the Strategic Air Command museum in Nebraska, where they have these
cool coffee mugs with the SAC logo on them.  Freaked out, I moved
my stuff into my new apartment, headed to the airport, flew to Paris,
drove the most circuitous route I could find from Paris to Geneva to
Lisbon, flew home, and beheld what I had done.

And there I was.  I had no job, no money, and no clue what I wanted
to do next.  I was exhausted; I can't begin to tell you how exhausted
I was.  I would emerge from one layer of exhaustion, only to remember
ten more layers of exhaustion that I hadn't even thought about.  And
I was angry.  Not a good anger, mind you.  Normally when people say,
"I was angry", they mean to imply that they were justified.  But it
wasn't like that.  It was more like, I'd been at war for years, and
most of the war was in my own head.  Only with the physical distance,
and having the dissertation safely in the library, could I even start
to get any perspective on it.  To a rational person it would have
seemed like an impossible situation, and yet somehow I was certain
that I know what I am doing.  I have no idea why.  Yet somehow, as it
always does, the way forward materialized in front of me.  I do not
know how I work this.  And I do not defend it.  It's just what happens.

I borrowed money from my former MIT officemate, who was raking it in
at Microsoft, and I got a consulting job through another friend in
the Valley.  I visited with like-minded people at places like Xerox.
But for the most part I went to a bar -- the Vesuvio in North Beach.
I got a mineral water and lime, I went upstairs where no one would
bother me, and I resumed writing stream-of-consciousness theories
into my notebook, to see what would come out.  I could never explain
all the intermediate steps that brought me to this, but I decided
to try an experiment.  In graduate school I had been taken with the
method of Derrida.  Never mind all of the American literary critics
who have gone to extremes with deconstruction.  I was still basically
an engineer, and to my engineer's mind Derrida's method of applying
the techniques of literary close-reading to philosophical texts made
all kinds of sense.  You don't understand what Derrida's getting at
if all you've read is the comic book or op-ed version of his strange
conclusions.  It's a discipline he's following, a serious one, and
you only understand it if you follow it step by step.  My experiment
was to apply these same techniques to technical texts.

I got out a photocopy of the first chapter of one of the founding
texts of AI, Miller, Galanter, and Pribram's "Plans and the Structure
of Behavior" (1960), and I read the first paragraph.  Just the first
paragraph.  I read it word-by-word, writing endless speculative notes
about the metaphors and rhetoric and prosody and so forth of every
word.  I actually wrote that first paragraph out on a 3-by-5 card
and carried it with me wherever I went.  Analyzing that paragraph
took weeks.  But a picture emerged.  The paragraph, it turned out,
was really about hypnosis.  The paragraph was trying to hypnotize
its reader, and it was trying to merge the authors and reader rather
than establish a dialogue among them.  This was not just one of those
arbitrary just-so stories that bad literary critics tell when they
get going into a high-theory interpretive frenzy.  I hate that stuff.
No: this was a tight, logical argument about the fancy stuff -- the
"economy", as Derrida would say -- that was going on beneath the
surface of the text.  You can read this argument on my Web site:

I was deeply impressed by this.  I figured that I could make a career
out of such readings, and over the next year I wrote a long paper that
interprets the Miller, Galanter, and Pribram text and a few others.
I was concerned with formalization, which is the process by which
mathematizing science and technology fields translate natural language
into mathematics.  What happens to language during that translation
process?  An awful lot, in fact, and with close reading we can watch
language go through characteristic deformations that tell us an awful
lot about why so many technical fields are both dangerous nonsense and
powerful ways of looking at the world.

I never published this long paper, but I drew confidence from it.
Parts of it show up in my subsequent papers about AI, all available
on my Web site, and in my book.  But its most important effect was
inside of me.  I finally comprehended the difference between critical
thinking and its opposite.  Technical people are not dumb, quite the
contrary, but technical curricula rarely include critical thinking in
the sense I have in mind.  Critical thinking means that you can, so to
speak, see your glasses.  You can look at the world, or you can back
up and look at the framework of concepts and assumptions and practices
through which you look at the world.  Every such framework edits the
world in some way; every such framework has its biases.  And no matter
how carefully you think you define your words, most of your framework
of concepts and assumptions and practices for looking at the world
will be inherited from a long disciplinary and cultural tradition.
If you can't see your glasses then you will have tunnel vision your
whole life.  Yet you probably won't even notice, because your ways of
looking at the world also define what counts as success, as progress,
as a research result, and so on.  Not that critical thinking makes
you omniscient: you're still wearing glasses even when you're looking
at your glasses.  This (and not any sort of silly idealism) is what
Derrida means when he says that a text has no outside.  But through
scholarship and analysis you can do a lot better than just stumbling
along with the glasses you got in school.

So I found a way of relating to the technical texts that had struck
me as wrong-headed: they were data, objects of investigation.  I could
read them for all of the baroque stuff that was going on within them.
And let me tell you, there is a lot of baroque stuff going on inside
your average AI text.  That's not because the author of said text is
dishonest or crazy; that person is not trying to be perverse, but has
been socialized into a way of talking and thinking, and has not been
socialized into any critical practice for understanding what's really
going on.  The average AI author is not try to say crazy stuff; it
is more accurate to say that he or she is trying not to say crazy
stuff, but that the inherited discursive forms of AI won't cooperate.
I see the crazy stuff, or some of it, and I thrash myself trying to
figure out how to explain it.  It's like trying to explain the ocean
to a fish; the concept simply makes no sense to someone who lives
inside the thing I am trying to explain.

That's obviously no good.  It doesn't help anyone.  Fortunately,
however, and through no conscious planning on my part, the situation
evolved further.  I somehow no longer experience a strong, dichotomous
opposition between two relations to a text: taking it seriously or
holding it at arm's length as an object of critical analysis.  That
strong distinction, it turns out, is an artefact of my having started
with the worst possible case, the most ambitious of all technical
disciplines, AI.  The great virtue of the interpretive social sciences
is that whole generations of smart people have applied a critical
sensibility to their own work, "reflexively" as they say, so that
whole generations of students have grown up being socialized into a
relatively conscious relation to their own language and assumptions
and practices.  The great Foucauldian revolution of recent years
has destroyed much of this progress, I have to admit, at least in
a broad swathe of social theory, since the followers of Foucault
think that discourses are identical with the real world, as opposed
to being optional and contingent ways of looking at it.  Nonetheless,
the older practices are still there, still very much alive in other
precincts, and despite their reputation for negativity their habit of
self-suspicion can bring a tolerance for the tunnel vision of others.
So it is with me: AI may be sunk to its eyeballs in unexamined
assumptions, but so am I.

The big dogs at Microsoft are the last originals.  Honestly.  These
guys can buy public relations by the truckload, and they do, yet they
keep on saying things that are flatly, obviously, demonstrably false.
They don't say these false things in a sneaky way.  Nuh-uh.  They're
in-your-face about it.  Take, for example, the following passage:

  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.

  Steve Ballmer, in an interview with Steven Levy in Newsweek, 6/19/00

The court was plenty clear as to what signs of untrustworthiness it
saw, but never mind about that.  Ballmer here is making a straight-
out factual assertion: "never has anyone said we're untrustworthy".
This statement is so gigantically, defiantly false that it's like
something out of Ayn Rand.  Microsoft has been called untrustworthy
at high volume almost since the day it was founded.  And a quick
search of Nexis and the Web turns up many examples.  The main
difficulty is disentwining the people that have called Microsoft
untrustworthy from those who have called its products untrustworthy,
or who have remarked upon its products' vulnerability to security
attacks from untrustworthy code.  Microsoft has some trust issues.

Just to be clear about this, let's start with Steve Ballmer's own
hometown newspaper:

  If it hopes to be welcome in the Internet community, Microsoft
  may have to alter its image as a bully and untrustworthy foe to a
  born-again collaborator model.

  Paul Andrews, Internet May Be Microsoft's Achilles' Heel, Seattle
  Times, 25 February 1996, page F1.

Then we can move along to the trade press:

  Netscape is attacking Microsoft's greatest vulnerability: the
  growing perception that Microsoft is untrustworthy.

  Jesse Berst, ZDNet, 8/27/96

  I don't yet know enough about it to make a decision either way,
  but I'm almost surely going to favor Sun over Microsoft every time,
  because Microsoft has proven time and time again to be untrustworthy
  and dishonest.

  reader quoted in Javaworld poll, June 1998

  Microsoft is untrustworthy, and has shown itself to abuse its powers
  in a systematic manner (even to the extent of lying to the court)
  and on that basis should be deprived of its power to cause harm,
  just as a drunk driver gets his licence revoked.

  letter to the editor, EXE Magazine, May 2000

And then, of course, to Microsoft's opponents:

  ... according to the DOJ and others suing Microsoft, lying, stealing
  and cheating is part of their economically rational business plan.
  But even more stupidly, Microsoft is untrustworthy and untrusting.

  Geoff Klestadt, Linux Today, 5/20/99

  Microsoft has a reputation of being untrustworthy, unethical, and

  comment on Slashdot, 10/12/99

Case closed.

It turns out that UCLA still has a few copies of the reader for my
course on "Information and Institutional Change".  The copyright fees
have been paid for, so everything's legit.  If you want a copy, I'd
be happy to get you one and ship it.  The readers are $43 and shipping
costs something, so let's say $50 in North America and $60 elsewhere.
Be warned that the reader is missing the first week and a half of the
readings, and that most of the newspaper articles are not included.

My essay on eBay suggested at some length that eBay's feedback scheme
did not have the right incentives to suppress bad sellers.  Buyers
and sellers have an incentive to exaggerate one another's virtues, and
buyers who provided negative feedback face retaliation, among other
things.  I illustrated some of these points with a seller who (1) sent
me goods that did not fit the description, (2) responded to a very
mild private complaint with belligerent nonsense, (3) then sent eBay
a false accusation that I had not paid, (4) replied to my negative
feedback with a batch of lies, including the false claim that s/he
had offered me money, when in fact s/he had demanded money from me,
and (5) retaliated to my negative feedback with a screaming all-caps
negative feedback that contained more lies.

Well, a few weeks after I wrote my essay, I got a message out of the
blue from another eBay person who was being threatened with legal
action by the same seller.  (I never learned why, and I don't care.)
That person had gone through the seller's negative feedbacks and
written to everyone who had posted them, asking if they had had
similar experiences.  I wrote back to him, explaining how to read
the negative feedback records more carefully and what patterns to
look for.  And as other people's replies trickled in, I found myself
in a conversation among maybe ten such people, all grouching at their
treatment by this seller.  I watched as the offended parties organized
a posse.  The guy who was supposedly being sued opened a case file
with eBay's "safeharbor" office; he provided me with the file number
and invited me to write in with my experiences.  I sent them a brief
letter, not only about my experiences, but also about abuses I had
observed in the seller's dealings with others.  I assume that other
posse members wrote similar letters.

"Safeharbor" is pretty notorious for, let us say, the high standards
of evidence it requires before it takes action against an abusive eBay
community member.  After all, eBay makes quite clear that it is not
a party to the deals that its service facilitates, and to be fair
that is how it keeps transaction costs down.  So imagine my surprise
one evening to receive a message from one of the other aggrieved
buyers, exclaiming that the offending seller was now listed as "Not
a Registered User"!  According to eBay, this can either mean that
the seller voluntarily asked to be de-listed (yeah, right), or else
that the seller had been suspended from the service.  I then asked
the "safeharbor" people to erase the lies that this seller had posted
about me, and to my surprise they actually did so.  Looking at the
eBay terms of service, I saw that the posting of false information in
any eBay public forum, including the feedback forum, was grounds for
being thrown off the service.  And in fact my message to "safeharbor"
had clearly documented just such behavior.  I do not (and probably
cannot) know whether my remonstration caused this abusive seller
to be suspended from the service.  Nor am I persuaded that my overall
skepticism about eBay's feedback mechanisms is mistaken.  The abusive
seller did come back after two weeks, and is still abusing people.
But the retaliation has stopped, and I think we've located an upper
limit to the behavior that the eBay system is willing to tolerate.

My own error, clearly, was focusing exclusively on the mechanical and
rule-bound feedback system as a mechanism for regulating wrongdoers,
and not enough on the "community" aspects of the service.  It is a
strange thing: my "feedback profile" is public information.  Anybody
in the world can see it.  (You just have to know my e-mail address.)
The obvious implication is that I had better trade squarely.  But the
less obvious implication is that subcommunities can form if people are
motivated enough to rake through the feedback forum.  Of course, one
could write a script to harvest e-mail addresses or other information
from the feedback forum; eBay has already taken legal action against
one such firm, and I expect that we will see other such phenomena in
the future.  But the information is still out there for all to see.

I am most struck by the idea that people are growing public personas.
Most people don't have public personas: they don't write articles for
newspapers, don't speak at city council meetings, aren't celebrities,
and so on.  This is unfortunate, given that citizens in democracies
need public personas in order to do the routine work of democratic
life.  EBay obviously isn't democracy, but it is public.  And -- very
important -- it's not just one random forum on the Interet.  If eBay
is a natural monopoly, and if it doesn't throw its monopoly position
away by getting lazy or doing something especially stupid, then the
public personas that ordinary people acquire on eBay will become more
and more significant over time.  Imagine a world in which you cannot
survive without buying things through eBay.  Crazy?  Hardly.  Auctions
exist for good economic reasons -- they create incentives to reveal
just what the goods are worth to you -- and the only reason why most
transactions aren't conducted through auctions is the transaction
costs of organizing them.  If the auction model moves from the garage-
sale realm of current-day eBay into more central features of everyday
life, then eBay personas (or their equivalents in a few other natural-
monopoly auction fora) could become quite consequential in people's
lives: if your eBay persona is spoiled through bad luck or bad actors,
then you would have no way to pull up stakes and establish a new life
somewhere else.

This is the main reason why I am struck by the sense that, as a buyer
or seller on eBay, the other party and I are performing for one
another.  Our transactions are public performances, and it is most
striking to see the various people's ideas of what this performance
should consist of, and what a good performance is like.  One could
make an anthropological study of eBay personas, and it would be a
matter of real concern, as a new culture of public performance evolves
that might end up having real implications.

You may recall that I circulated the URL from an article on the
Chronicle of Higher Education by Murray Sperber, an professor of
English at the University of Indiana who explained why he had a
problem with the record of brutality and abusive behavior on the
part of his university's basketball coach, Bob Knight.  After he
published that article and made similar comments elsewhere in the
press, Murray Sperber received a death threat and a great deal of
other unpleasant correspondence, much of it on the Internet, and
he has now taken an unpaid leave of absence from his teaching job.

Recommended: Diane J. Schiano, Lessons from LambdaMOO: A social,
text-based virtual environment, Presence 8(2), 1999, pages 127-139.
This is a quantitative study of interactions on LambdaMOO that blows
up a lot of hyperbolic claims about virtual worlds.  The hype says
that MOO participants assume fictional personas, navigate vast online
territories, and build complex virtual societies.  In reality, a
strong majority of the LambdaMOO participants that Schiano studied
used their real names, stayed pretty much in one place, and socialized
in small and even exclusive groups.  Quantitative study gets a bad
name because so many survey researchers ask bad questions.  But this
is an example of what you can do by asking the right questions in a
valid way.

Recommended: Communications of the ACM.  When I was a computer science
undergraduate in the 1970's, Communications of the ACM was a geeky
place to learn about the latest nlogn sorting algorithm.  Over the
years it has evolved into something quite different.  Now most issues
focus on a specific topic, and (amazingly) most of the topics are
concerned with human beings: the design process, cooperative work,
multimedia in education, the embedded Internet, enterprise resource
planning, perceptual user interfaces, knowledge discovery, and data
security, plus monthly columns on legal issues, computer risks, and
other topics that normal people care about.  CACM is available by
subscription and at 
to ACM members, and it's a shame that it doesn't reach a much wider

Recommended: Charles H. Ferguson, High Stakes, No Prisoners: A
Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars, Times, 1999.
RRE readers told me how great this book was when it first came out.
But I had work to do.  So when I finally got my classes wrapped up,
I headed for the business library and checked it out.  What a great
book.  Ferguson is an academic analyst turned management consultant
turned entrepreneur who founded Vermeer and sold out to Microsoft for
megabucks, all in the space of a couple of years in the mid-1990s, and
this is his highly opinionated book about the sharp dealing in Silicon
Valley that he encountered along the way.  Its combination of academic
analysis, first-hand experience, and brutal honesty set it apart from
the other books about the computer industry that I have read.  Its
first ten pages contain more honesty than you'll read in a dozen book-
length business cards by consultants.  I'm sure that many academics
will have reasons to disagree with, for example, his conventional
explanation of the downfall of IBM.  And I know that many in the
industry will dispute his observation that the scientific leaders
at ARPA and NSF who founded the Internet are much more intelligent
than your average industry leader.  (This is my own impression as
well.)  But it's hard to match this book for clear-eyed detail on the
way business is actually conducted in Silicon Valley.  The book is
particularly relevant right now, in that its later, more prescriptive
chapters strongly support the government's antitrust suit against
Microsoft.  The book's main weakness is the very thing that makes it
so enjoyable: in Ferguson's world, everyone is either a genius or an
idiot, either an angel or a crook.  Reality is generally in the middle.

Not recommended: Chicken Run.  Yes, I know, these are the same guys
who did the transcendent "Wallace and Gromit" stop-action animation
shorts, which you should certainly see if you haven't.  But now the
"Wallace and Gromit" guys are playing by Hollywood rules, and the
result sucks.  Faced with making a feature-length film, they came
up with a concept: they'd put chickens (intrinsically funny animals)
with more lower than upper teeth (so you know it's the same guys)
into a parody of WWII prisoner-of-war movies.  Lots of goofy stuff for
the kids, and lots of reference to half-forgotten and not-especially-
celebrated cinema history for their parents (or, geez, grandparents).
This concept is funny for about the first ten minutes, like when the
head chicken, caught after yet another escape attempt, is thrown into
the coal bin and begins bouncing a Brussels sprout against the wall.
But then the concept starts to dissolve.  The parody gradually falls
away, and one is transitioned insidiously into the most tiresome
bunch of Hollywood cliches.  You do have to admire the labor value of
the film: it must've taken bloody well forever to make, and the facial
expressions of the lead characters are just stunning.  And if you get
your brain good and thoroughly shut down before you enter the theater
then you might have a decent time.  But be warned: despite surface
appearances, this is most emphatically not a film for young children.
It has way too much sex and violence, and one of the chickens gets its
head chopped off -- off-camera, granted, but with a sound effect that
(press reports say) the directors were frantically toning down at the
last minute.  The essential banality of "Chicken Run" didn't come home
to me until just afterward, when we decided to sneak into the second
half of the "Mission Impossible" sequel that was playing in the next-
door theater at the octoplex.  Cripes if they weren't the same movie!
Tom Cruise's body count was slightly higher, but all of the elements
were the same: hero, heroine, villain, henchman, evil scheme, scary
technology, apocalyptic danger, bold plan, daring escape, prolonged
chase, stylized mayhem, huge explosion, climactic showdown, idyllic
scenery, big kiss.  I do realize that the "Wallace and Gromit" films
had mayhem of their own.  But something's different here.  The tone
has changed: more frenetic, more sexualized, less coherent, and more
numbing.  A little mindless excitement is okay, and a lot of mindless
excitement can be okay sometimes too, but I have a problem with the
relentless competition towards ever more amplified mindlessness and
ever more amplified excitement.  It's everywhere, and it's turning us
all into idiots.

Recommended: Joel Kaye, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century:
Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought, New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.  This book does something
remarkable, which is to make fourteenth century European philosophy
fascinating in itself and relevant to the modern day.  Philosophy
during this period, particularly in Oxford and Paris, went through
profound changes that are hard to explain in narrowly intellectual
terms.  The medieval worldview of an ordered universe with everything
resting naturally in its place, which had been elaborated into a
formidable philosophical system with the rediscovery of Aristotle
a few hundred years before, suddenly began to shift.  In its place
there arose a strikingly different picture of a dynamic universe
whose elements order themselves in terms of their relationships to
one another, and not to a fixed and transcendent order.  The older
picture did not disappear completely, of course.  But the shift of
emphasis is nonetheless striking.

Where did this new picture come from?  Kaye provides a very simple
answer: it came from the philosophers' personal experience of
intensified economic activity, and from the economic theories that
they and others had spelled out to explain it.  He observes that
Oxford and Paris were both major market towns during that period,
that contemporary culture had been preoccupied with the newfound
dynamism of the economy, and that the philosophers themselves spent
a large part of their careers involved with the business side of
the university.  All of them in effect ran considerable businesses
themselves.  Even though they never explained their philosophies in
overtly economic terms, the circumstantial case is strong, and many
ideas show up in the philosophy a few decades after they show up in
the economics.

The new dynamic picture of the universe affected the philosophy in
many ways, many of which strike us as odd.  The newfound mania for
mathematization, for example, seems entirely modern until one is
confronted with the list of topics, especially theological topics,
that were treated in all seriousness with mathematical tools.  The new
breed of philosophers were especially taken with the possibilities of
the real numbers, as opposed to the rational numbers with their neat,
geometrical patterns which make so much sense within the medieval
worldview.  The emerging picture of a self-organizing relativistic
universe arose hand-in-hand with an emerging picture of a self-
organizing economy, and Kaye argues that many economic doctrines
that we associate with the eighteenth century, such as the perverse
consequences of government interference in the self-organizing market,
were already clearly visible in the thought of the fourteenth.

Kaye's book is a glowing model of serious history of ideas in their
social context.  It will please followers of Durkheim and Marx who
understand all thought as refractions of an emerging consciousness of
political economy, and it will of course also please those who find
the ideas about markets congenial.  A next step, it seems to me, is
to write the history of the sustained tension between the static and
dynamic views.  For Kaye this is a matter of old versus new, yet the
fact remains that these "old" and "new" views coexist to the present
day.  Burke's conservatism, for example, is an elaborate attempt to
have it both ways by amalgamating a thoroughly medieval view of order
and tradition with a thoroughly modern view of the self-organizing
dynamism of the market.  The same tension is vivid in the work of
Hayek, and it is disheartening to see some of Hayek's contemporary
followers revert to the simplistic oppositions of static : dynamic
:: old : new :: past : future :: government : market :: bad : good.
For all his scholarship, I think that Kaye tends to deepen these
oppositions, rather than describing the coherent and persistent whole
that internally relates the two pictures.

Kaye's story throws light on later developments in other ways.  Philip
Mirowski, particularly in his book "More Heat Than Light" (Cambridge
University Press, 1989) observes that the now-dominant neoclassical
school of economics took its math quite directly from the physics
of the 19th century.  This is unfortunate in two ways: because the
physics theory required conservation principles that have no natural
analogue in the economic domain, and because physics has subsequently
moved along to a much more sophisticated understanding of concepts
like conservation and equilibrium, leaving economics behind.  It
is also unfortunate in that the questionable assumptions that this
history embedded in the standard economic theories are usually
buried or marginalized, and are rarely discussed outside the tracts
of dissident economic philosophers.  Kaye's book suggests that this
traffic between physics and economics goes much further back, well
before physics emerges from philosophy as a distinct discipline.
This probably doesn't lessen the consequences of Mirowski's criticism
of modern-day economics, but it does change the overall picture.

Ten years ago I decided to stop being a computer person and instead
to become a nameless hybrid of technologist and social scientist.
This was not a common thing to do, I had few models to work from, and
I had some major false starts.  All this time, I've been watching the
two sides slowly learn to work together.  The intellectual gap between
them is almost inconceivable, and any number of conferences have
consisted of two distinct groups that, despite the best will in the
world, keep to themselves and talk right past one another.  But the
need for a synthesis, already overwhelming, has only grown over time,
and so lots of smart people have kept at it.  And now it's happening.
A few recent collections provide a rough sense of what it would be
like for people who have serious ideas about people and their lives to
communicate with people who have serious ideas about machines.  Here
they are:

  Susanne Bodker, Morten Kyng, and Kjeld Schmidt, eds, Proceedings
  of the Sixth European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative
  Work, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999.

  Toshiro Wakayama, Srikanth Kannapan, Chan Meng Khoong, Shamkant
  Navanthe, and JoAnne Yates, eds, Information and Process Integration
  in Enterprises: Rethinking Documents, Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1998.

  Toru Ishida, ed, Community Computing and Support Systems: Social
  Interaction in Networked Communities, Berlin: Springer, 1998.

  Norbert A. Streitz, Shin'ichi Konomi, and Heinz-Jurgen Burkhardt,
  eds, Cooperative Buildings: Integrating Information, Organization,
  and Architecture: First International Workshop, Berlin: Springer,

This is hardly a complete list, but it should give an idea.

Here is another half-dozen verbs that often appear in the newspaper
but rarely appear in real life: beef up, burgeon, foster, hamper,
stem, and vie.  Let's get rid of them all.

For those who are keeping score, here is the complete list so far:
beef up, bolster, burgeon, foster, garner, glean, hamper, revamp,
stem, tout, and vie.  If we can't get rid of these verbs, can we at
least get rid of "revamp" as a noun?

Why am I interested in this strange topic?  I'm fascinated by the
difficulty of noticing things.  Most of us read newspapers all the
time, yet it's remarkably difficult to assemble a list like this.
The verbs just go past in the background, and we only notice them if
we're suitably primed.  Social practices form a vast, interconnected
Web, and we live them without ever being more than slightly aware of
them.  We can retrieve a few elements from the great mass if we work
at it, or if they become problematic or controversial, but it is next
to impossible to "see" any large percentage of the whole at one time.

One danger of my detailed analyses of newspaper soundbites is that
maybe the soundbites have been taken out of context.  Most of Al
Gore's widely publicized "exaggerations", for example, are no such
thing.  Here is an example where quotation out of context made the
person look better.  You may remember the Los Angeles Times fiasco
that I wrote about late last year.  The Chandler family had hired
a clueless breakfast cereal executive named Mark Willes to run the
paper, and he brought in an equally clueless publisher named Kathryn
M. Downing.

All this cluelessness caused the paper to enter into an arrangement
with the Staples Center management where the paper published a package
of fawning articles about the Staples Center with a cut of the profits
going to the Staples Center.  This is obviously not a precedent that
any self-respecting newspaper wants to set, and the reporters were
furious.  Also furious was Otis Chandler, who had built the newspaper
from a right-wing rag into a serious world-class operation.  Chandler
made a strong statement about the fiasco, and Downing was quoted in
the paper as responding thus:

  Otis Chandler is angry and bitter and he is doing a great disservice
  to this paper.  And that's too bad because when he was publisher, he
  did wonderful things.

I analyzed this passage at length.  The gist of my analysis was that
Downing was playing on an ambiguity: was he angry and bitter because
losers were ruining his life's work or because he's just an angry and
bitter guy?  This is a common technique.  It turned out, though, that
I was doing Downing a big favor.  When the LA Times published its own
investigation of the fiasco, it included the following:

  Willes, meanwhile, had declined to comment for [Times City/County
  bureau chief Tim] Rutten's story [on Chandler's statement].  But
  Parks had spoken with Downing near their sixth-floor offices and had
  taken notes on her brief response to Chandler's statement.  He typed
  them up and they were passed on to Rutten.  "Otis Chandler is angry
  and bitter", Downing had said, "and he is doing a great disservice
  to this paper.  And that's too bad because when he was publisher, he
  did wonderful things.  It's too bad when some people get old, they
  get bitter."

  Rutten thought the last sentence "seemed to be disparaging someone
  because of his age", which is contrary to Times policy.  He alerted
  his editors to this concern, and it was taken to Parks, who read
  it, thought the concern a valid one and also felt the sentence was
  "redundant to the first sentence".

  "I took my copy pencil and excised it", he said.

  David Shaw, Crossing the Line, LA Times, 12/20/99.  Chapter 10:
  Otis, page V13.

The truth was simpler and nastier than my analysis made out.  The
best news is that Willes and Downing are toast.  The Chandler family
-- which for most practical purposes does not include Otis -- sold
the paper to the Chicago Tribune company, and Willes and Downing were
history the next day.  In retrospect the whole point of them both was
probably to maximize Times Mirror's stock value so that the family
could sell out for the best price.

The sale of the LA Times is part of a big, bad pattern in Los Angeles.
History will record 1999 as the year when Los Angeles became a second-
class city.  The city last its lost major corporate headquarters, its
major newspaper lost its independence, county medical costs produced
a silent budgetary catastrophe, slow-motion crises at the city council
and school board caused power to flow to a strange and pointless
mayor, a secession movement came within inches of breaking the city
in half, the subway project collapsed in disgrace, the murder rate
went back up, and the police department's maniacal resistance to
reform led it into the immediate vicinity of death-squad territory,
the lawsuits from which stand a good chance of bankrupting the
city.  Movie production is moving from Hollywood to the rest of the
planet, even if industry power networking remains here, and despite
predictions the region has not developed a significant digital
industry.  Yet rents are inflating beyond all reason.  The picture
is not entirely negative: the city's art museums have gotten stronger,
and the air is a little cleaner.  But the city feels a lot less like
a city now.

I'm supposed to write something about information technology and
the university in the context of globalization, so I'm trying to put
together a reading list on the subject.  Here is a first installment:

  Nicholas C. Burbules and Carlos Alberto Torres, eds, Globalization
  and Education: Critical Perspectives, Routledge, 2000.

  Jan Currie and Janice Newson, eds, Universities and Globalization:
  Critical Perspectives, Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage, 1998.

  John S. Daniel, Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology
  Strategies for Higher Education, London: Kogan Page, 1996.

  Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff, eds, Universities and the
  Global Knowledge Economy: A Triple Helix of University-Industry-
  Government Relations, Pinter, 1997.

  James J. F. Forest, ed, University Teaching: International
  Perspectives, New York: Garland, 1998.

  Andy Green, Education, Globalization, and the Nation State, New
  York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

  Steven Muller, ed, Universities in the Twenty-First Century,
  Providence, RI: Berghahn, 1996.

  Parker Rossman, The Emerging Worldwide Electronic University:
  Information Age Global Higher Education, Westport, CT: Greenwood
  Press, 1992.

  Peter Scott, ed, The Globalization of Higher Education, Buckingham,
  UK: Open University Press, 1998.

  Nelly P. Stromquist and Karen Monkman, eds, Globalization and
  Education: Integration and Contestation Across Cultures, Rowman and
  Littlefield, 2000.

  Shirley Walters, ed, Globalization, Adult Education and Training:
  Impacts and Issues, London: Zed, 1997.

I'm sure there's more.

"Way beyond, a part of the Osage lived in the sky.  They desired to
know their origin, the source from which they came into existence.
They went to the sun.  He told them that they were his children.
Then they wandered still farther and came to the moon.  She told them
that she gave birth to them, and that the sun was their father.  She
told them that they must leave their present abode and go down to the
earth and dwell there.  They came to the earth, but found it covered
with water.  They could not return to the place they had left, so they
wept, but no answer came to them from anywhere.  They floated about
in the air, seeking in every direction for help from some god; but
they found none.  The animals were with them, and of all these the elk
was the finest and most stately, and inspired all the creatures with
confidence; so they appealed to the elk for help.  He dropped into the
water and began to sink.  Then he called to the winds, and the winds
came from all quarters and blew until the waters went upward as in a

"At first rocks only were exposed, and the people traveled on the
rocky places that produced no plants, and there was nothing to eat.
Then the waters began to go down until the soft earth was exposed.
When this happened, the elk in his joy rolled over and over on the
soft earth, and all his loose hairs clung to the soil.  The hairs
grew, and from them sprang beans, corn, potatoes, and wild turnips,
and then all the grasses and trees."

  From The Omaha Tribe, translated by Alice Fletcher and Francis
  La Flesche, 1905, quoted in Christopher Ricks and William L. Vance,
  eds, The Faber Book of America, London: Faber and Faber, 1992.

I'm at a reception, talking to a famous political scientist.  I tell
him politely that I had seen his Web site.  He tells me that he had
started it in 1995, and then he stops.  I say uh-huh and look at him
blankly.  The conversation grinds to a halt.  I've committed some faux
pas, but what?  Later I realize: the expected answer was, "wow, that's
early, you're a real pioneer".  Having sent my first e-mail in 1977,
started my first mailing list in 1982, started RRE in 1993, and built
my home page with links to my papers in 1994, it didn't even occur
to me to treat 1995 as ancient history.  This keeps happening, but at
least now I notice the problem.

Does that sound like boasting?  It honestly doesn't feel like it.
For me the Internet will always mean 1979, my first year of graduate
school.  Never mind that it wasn't even the Internet yet; the shift
from ARPANET was invisible.  What mattered was that I was a clueless
graduate student being tolerated, barely, by these mighty hackers.
They would let me hack with them on the ninth floor of 545 Technology
Square where the computers were, and sometimes I could even go with
them to International House of Pancakes at 3AM.  But that's about
it.  Computers and e-mail were a given in that world, not a special
badge of any sort, and everyone was measured by their mightiness as
a hacker.  I had been a minor hacker as an undergraduate, but I gave
up hacking when I went to graduate school.  Although this was the
right decision in the long run, it nonetheless put me firmly at the
bottom of the hierarchy, and in my imagination that's where I've been
ever since.  So, no, I experience no ego-trip from having been online
longer than 99.999% of humanity.

Along the Sunset Strip in North Hollywood, there are now signs that
say the following:

  No Cruising Zone

  Motorists passing the traffic control point 2 or more times in
  4 hours are subject to citation

  W.H.M.C. 15.78.010
  C.V.C. 21100(K)

The major intersections all have cameras.  I haven't called the North
Hollywood police to find out if the cameras are used to enforce the No
Cruising policy.  They already enforce the stop lights, so it wouldn't
be hard.  It'd just have to remember the license plates of all the
cars that went by in the last four hours.  Wouldn't that be useful.

Some time ago I asked British subscribers to the list for articles
that explain the philosophy of their then-triumphant prime minister,
Tony Blair.  I had been most impressed, in a scary way, by the hyper-
modern talk about the Internet that I had heard from some Blairites,
and I wanted public documentation of this stuff.  Well, it turns
out that British subscribers to the list unanimously, and regardless
of their political affiliations, regard Tony Blair as the Teflon Man,
a slick tactician who talks a mean jargon but is always just vague
enough that he never actually has to do anything.  They didn't know
about the hypermodernism and didn't want to hear about it.  I must
say that events since that time do tend to confirm their views.  I'm
afraid I've lost most of the URL's they sent me, but here are some of
them, for what it's worth:

Mondeo Man in the Driving Seat

Our Very Own Napoleon at No 10?

On with the Pooling and Merging

There was also a series of articles in the Economist at the very
beginning of the Blair era, from 10/25/97 to 11/15/97, that can
probably still be gotten at the Web site.

You may recall that Zimbabwe had an election recently in which the
country acquired a functioning opposition for the first time.  This
is big news.  It's especially big news because the opposition forces,
lacking access to the government-control media, organized themselves
largely over the Internet.  So says RRE's correspondent in Zimbabwe,
who sends the following directory of opposition-related URL's:


Zimbabwe Information Center (Not Government, putatively independent)

MDC (Main Opposition Party) Homepage

Zimbabwe Democracy Trust

The Peoples Charter

Commercial Farmers Union


Zimbabwe Independent (Independent News)

Daily News (Independent/Online)

Zimbabwe Today (Opposition)
see especially:

Financial Gazette (The Wall Street Journal of Harare)

E-ZIM (Anti Government)


The Farmer


Free Zimbabwe
(see the warning about 2/3 down the page)

The ZIMBABWE Situation

Save Zimbabwe Message Board

Zimbabwe Information Center-Australia

I haven't checked them all out, and I assume that I would disagree
with some of them.

Some URL's.

Is Internet Voting Safe?

DVD Depositions Suggest MPAA Had Little Evidence of "Irreparable Harm"


Now, Companies Can Track Down Their Cyber-Critics

"Carnivore" Eats Your Privacy,1283,37503,00.html,4586,2601502,00.html

Alas: The Coverage to Date

device for testing the "human thermal plume"

European Media, Technology and Everyday Life Network

Publius Censorship Resistant Publishing System

readings on online education

Despots vs. the Internet

Newspaper Positions Itself as Cynical

GAO report on ICANN