T H E  N E T W O R K  O B S E R V E R

  VOLUME 2, NUMBER 1                                  JANUARY 1995


  This month: Conservative infrastructure
              Libraries and information activism
              Information technology and the workplace
              Mailer errors from hell
              A batch of useful net resources


  Welcome to TNO 2(1).

  This month's issue includes four brief articles by the editor,
  plus the usual departments.  The first article offers some
  thoughts on the incoming Republican majority in the US Congress
  and the shifting political structure that it reflects.  I want to
  assemble some materials toward a more sophisticated understanding
  of the roles of technology in political life.  More on this topic
  in later issues.

  The next two articles are transcripts of contributions to panel
  discussions on the subjects of "the potential dark side of the
  NII for the workplace" and "the NII and the Constitution".  Each
  begins with lengthy demurrals about the assigned topics, followed
  by more positive analysis.  As usual, I suggest that neither
  technology nor law make any real difference in the world unless
  people get together to actively make and use them rather than
  passively predicting their "effects".

  Finally, I offer my top-ten list of the most annoying phenomena
  I encounter as the maintainer of a large mailing list.  The error
  messages produced by Internet mailers are probably the single
  worst bit of user-interface design that the average network user
  encounters, and many of them really are beyond belief.  I was
  once among the people who assert that the Internet brings true
  freedom of the press, given the old saying that "freedom of the
  press is enjoyed by whoever owns one".  But I've realized that
  this isn't really true -- the tools do not exist for any but the
  most fortunate and sophisticated few percent of Internet users to
  maintain their own large mailing lists.  The net will not live up
  to a fraction of its potential until this can change.


  The conservative revolution.

  My liberal friends are virtually all in denial.  They change the
  channel when Rush Limbaugh comes on, they cite low voter turnout
  figures as evidence against the electoral legitimacy of the new
  Republican Congress, they assert as obvious that Republicans and
  Democrats are the same by now anyway, they dismiss Newt Gingrich
  and the editorialists of the Wall Street Journal as nut-cases,
  they speculate that the 1980's provide grounds for predicting
  that the new conservative movement will self-destruct and fade,
  and they act as though they could rebut every last conservative
  argument before breakfast with one hand tied behind their backs.

  Dream on, my friends, because you are in serious trouble.  Little
  analysis of the detailed electoral numbers is required to figure
  out that we're looking at the largest and deepest shift in US
  political institutions since the New Deal.  But the strongest
  evidence goes beyond the numbers.  The conservative movement has
  built an impressive array of institutions, a system of parallel
  structures with serious funding and a genuine mass base.  This
  includes parallel media institutions (the Washington Times, talk
  radio and National Empowerment Television, all of them by-passing
  the mainstream news), parallel public interest organizations (the
  American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) competing head-to-head
  with the ACLU, as well as a batch of other conservative legal
  institutes employing the ACLU model but pressing property rights
  and anti-affirmative action agendas), parallel intellectual
  networks (based for the most part in privately funded think tanks
  like the Heritage Foundation and Manhattan Institute, but also
  in law schools and economics departments), and much else.  One
  reason why liberals can maintain their denial is that they have
  chosen, by and large, to remain uninformed about these alternative
  institutions.  Their world has remained stable for so long that
  they are unable to conceive that changing political conditions
  could simply throw a switch, channeling cultural and financial
  resources to the new institutions and leaving the old ones to
  wither and die.

  Money helps build such institutions, of course, but it's not
  just money.  The last decade has seen the rise of an extremely
  well-organized network of activists who are much more thoroughly
  studied in conservative ideology than the Reaganites of ten and
  fifteen years ago.  They support and recruit young Republican
  activists on college campuses, they get vast amounts of ideology
  distributed to people who can use it, and they sell large numbers
  of books by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and a world of
  other conservative theorists to people who really do read and 
  understand them.  In particular, they have sophisticated ideas
  about the structure of the liberal coalition and its weaknesses,
  and they are exhibiting extraordinary precision and thoroughness
  in applying pressure along the fracture lines.

  One sign of the ongoing decimation of the liberal coalition
  is its nearly complete lack of rhetorical traction in rebutting
  conservative arguments.  We can see this, for example, in the
  impunity with which conservative rhetors have appropriated words
  like "elites" (a term which no longer includes bankers but does
  include journalists), "bigotry" and "hate" (now used to signify
  opposition to the political program of religious conservatives),
  and "political correctness" (a term which formerly was rarely
  used in seriousness by anyone but sectarian Leninists but which
  now routinely conflates social dissent and political repression).
  We can also see it in the impunity with which these same rhetors
  employ extreme vocabulary in their anti-liberal polemics -- read
  any of P. J. O'Rourke's "enemies lists" in the American Spectator
  for the prototype, but the phenomenon is pervasive.
  Much will happen in the next few years.  The Democratic Party will
  disintegrate.  The corporate funding on which it came increasingly
  to rely as it alienated its mass base by increments since the late
  1970's has now shifted radically toward the Republicans.  (Most of
  the figures you'll see won't seem to prove this, since the radical
  shift only began toward the end of the 1994 campaign.)  Corporate
  money only went to the Democrats in the first place because money
  buys access and the Democrats were the majority party.  Now that
  that's no longer true, this money will seek its natural home and
  the inherent bias toward incumbents in the money-intensive political
  process will lock in with extra strength.  Enough things are
  genuinely messed up in Washington that the new Republican majority
  can be heroes simply by cleaning up the worst of them, starting with
  Congressional rules.  It'll take incredible discipline to balance
  the budget, but they'll probably do it.  If they do actually start
  balancing the budget, though, they'll need to considerably deepen
  the revolution.  If they're smart, they'll take Bill Kristol's
  suggestion and hold "show trials" of failed government programs,
  presumably starting with the Departments of Energy, Transportation,
  and Housing and Urban Development.  Eventually they'll empty out
  the Department of Education, since it's a creature of the Democrats'
  most central constituency, the National Education Association, but
  they don't need to do that immediately.  What the liberal pollsters
  don't understand is that the conservative ideological network
  can back up Republican legislative initiatives with tremendous
  grassroots firepower through talk radio and other media -- the crime
  bill and failed attempts at lobbying reform in the previous Congress
  provide good examples.  What seems politically impossible today
  won't seem so impossible once this machinery gets back in gear in a
  few months.  This effect will be awesome in the 1996 election cycle,
  and Bill Clinton is more likely to be assassinated than he is to be

  The biggest question is whether the new conservative majority has
  enough discipline to prevent a return to the social conditions
  of the 1880's, when a laissez-faire legislative majority and
  legal system permitted the profound social chaos inherent in an
  unregulated market economy to express itself.  Large business
  coalitions are already forming to eviscerate the Securities
  and Exchange Commission and the Food and Drug Administration,
  which regulate perhaps the two most morally hazardous industries.
  Increasingly frequent proposals to means-test Social Security
  benefits will turn Social Security into a form of welfare and
  thus greatly increase its political vulnerability.  Once people
  like Richard Posner and Richard Epstein are appointed to the
  Supreme Court, if not before, look for New Zealand-style changes
  in labor law and the end of affirmative action.  It's a leftist's
  dream, in an unfortunate and twisted way, but it will take place
  against the background of a thoroughgoing conservative hegemony
  that will make leftist arguments nearly unintelligible.

  What does this have to do with networks?  All along, I've pointed
  at something important -- the infrastructure of the conservative
  political movement.  This includes technical infrastructure --
  radio, Newt Gingrich's videos and conference calls, direct mail
  and the databases that back it up, and so forth.  It includes
  institutional infrastructure -- activist training by groups like
  Gopac, networking groups like the Council for National Policy,
  the Free Press, and the whole world of institutions based in
  conservative evangelical churches.  It also includes what we
  might call rhetorical infrastructure -- the discursive forms of
  public relations that provide standard frames and logics for the
  ceaseless circulation and reassembly of bits of fact and argument
  and narrative by conservative pundits and activists.  And it
  includes what we might call ideological infrastructure -- the
  basic framework of abstract ideas that get filled in with this
  rhetorical material in particular settings.

  No one or two of these basic types of infrastructure suffices to
  characterize or explain the material workings of the conservative
  movement.  In particular, technology is an indissociable part
  of the whole picture, but it is just one part.  In another TNO
  article I want to sketch a framework for thinking about the
  communicative metabolism of social movements in general, but for
  the moment I simply want to remark on the specific uses being
  made of communication technology by this one particular movement.
  As I keep saying, the technologies do not in themselves determine
  how they will be used, but their specific workings do matter for
  the workings of the larger social machinery -- the institutional,
  rhetorical, and ideological machinery with which it articulates
  in daily practice.

  Will the conservative movement change its character as (or, I
  suppose we should say, if) access to computer networking becomes
  more widespread?  We cannot be certain.  We can be certain,
  though, that computer networks will not themselves change any
  existing movements or create any new ones.  Rather than wait
  for that to happen, let us become aware of the specific ways in
  which different kinds of social movements take hold of particular
  technologies, and let us keep on imagining the other ways in
  which the technologies might be used.


  The NII and workplaces.

  [This is an edited transcript of my contribution to a panel on
  "The Potential Dark Side of the NII", organized by Stephen Bates
  at the Annenberg Washington Program.]

  My assigned topic here is "The Potential Dark Side of the NII in
  the Workplace", and I want to start out by clearing the ground
  with a series of hedges and qualifications organized around that
  phrase.  There are six of them.

  First of all, the phrase "the NII" tends to presuppose that the
  NII is a unitary system.  This may actually happen if a generic
  bit-transport protocol like Asynchronous Transfer Mode emerges
  the most efficient way to ship all types of content for all
  purposes.  But an equally likely outcome is a great diversity of
  information infrastructures tailored to different purposes.

  Second, to speak of "the Dark Side of the NII" suggest that the
  infrastructure itself produces good or bad social consequences,
  and this is surely far too simple.  The NII is not monolithic or
  inevitable; rather, it will coevolve with a complex and varied
  range of institutions and applications, and it is these things
  that can be spoken of has having light or dark sides.  I also
  want to make sure we don't fall into single-factor explanations;
  as the NII evolves, ten other important trends will be evolving
  as well.

  Third, in focusing on dark sides I'm wary of being typecast as
  a technophobe.  As I hope will become clear, my stance is more
  complex and ambivalent than that, and I am quite enthusiastic
  about the light sides that I do see.

  Fourth, very little is known with any certainty about these
  matters.  The reality is evolving daily, and empirical research
  is having a hard time keeping up.  The argument I'll make here
  rests on an extensive patchwork of different kinds of evidence,
  but it is surely an oversimplification in many ways.

  Fifth, from the point of view of analyzing workplaces, what's
  crucial is not the NII, or National Information Infrastructure,
  but the GII, or Global Information Infrastructure.

  And sixth and finally, it is not at all easy to define what we
  mean by a workplace.  We want to be sure to include places like
  kitchens that have often been neglected for their historical
  associations with women's work, as well as places like commercial
  trucks, airline seats, and hotel rooms that are increasingly
  connected back to a mobile worker's home organization through
  wireless and other forms of modern communications.

  These points having been made, we're in a position to put the
  emerging workplace in some kind of larger context.  I want to
  approach the topic of workplaces stealthily, starting with a
  general consideration of the place of computer networks in the
  global economy.

  What do computer networks do?  Or, more precisely, what do
  computer networks allow people to do?  For one thing, computer
  networks contribute to a generalized decrease in transaction
  costs.  This effect is uneven, of course, being most intense in
  finance and only starting to emerge in areas like legal services.
  At the same time, computer networks also contribute to a
  generalized decrease in coordination costs.  As a result, we can
  expect to observe a very complex pattern of structural changes in
  virtually every industry.

  Generalizations about these things are bound to be flawed,
  particularly given our current state of knowledge, but some
  broad themes are starting to become clear.  As experience grows
  with large-scale technologies of coordination, power shifts
  increasingly to globally coordinated firms that have the capacity
  to orchestrate sharp global competition among their suppliers.
  These firms have a strong incentive to outsource everything
  except their knowledge-intensive core competencies and to
  rationalize and standardize their activities to obtain the
  maximum advantage from their global scope.  Production processes,
  including formerly concentrated activities such as design,
  are broken down into smaller units, which are then distributed
  globally wherever they can find the optimal combinations of
  infrastructure, wages, skills, and political conditions.

  Within organizations, as a general matter, networking facilitates
  two simultaneous trends that in the older regime of Fordist
  assembly-line production would have seemed contradictory,
  namely a decentralization of operational decision-making and a
  centralization of organizational control.

  How does computer networking facilitate these things?  That's
  the question that will let us get the new workplace in focus.
  In particular, it's the question that will let us get the
  potential "dark side" of this new workplace in focus.  In recent
  times concerns in this area have been articulated in terms of
  "workplace privacy", and the metaphors for thinking about these
  concerns have been derived from historical experiences of the
  secret police: the Big Brother boss is watching you, for example
  by reading your e-mail, or listening to you, for example by
  tapping in on the conversations of telemarketing workers and
  phone operators.

  These phenomena are real enough, although their extent and
  significance has been debated.  Yet the underlying metaphors,
  while useful enough up to a point, nonetheless really do not
  allow us to grasp the shifting reality of the workplace in the
  globally coordinated economy.

  Instead, I think, we have to back up to the deep logic of
  computer system design as it is currently taught and practiced.
  This logic seems simple and compelling.  In order to support
  an activity, a computer has to represent it.  And in order
  to represent an activity, a computer has to, as the computer
  people say, "capture" it.  And in order for *this* to happen,
  the activity must be reorganized in a way that permits it to
  be captured by a computer.  A great diversity of technologies
  is rapidly arising to support this process, based on accounting
  software, bar codes, smart cards, radio-frequency tracking
  devices, and much else.  Whereas formerly system design meant
  something closer to one-user-one-machine, now it means the
  overlapping of globally coordinated human activity systems with
  globally distributed computational processes.

  It's not very useful to think of these schemes in Orwellian
  terms, as oppressively detailed surveillance installed for the
  simple purpose of oppression.  Rather it's the playing-out of a
  technical logic within an evolving market structure.

  We can make this concrete in the context of Total Quality
  Management and related schemes, which employ to one degree
  or another what I regard as the two crucial elements of the
  new workplace, namely empowerment and measurement.  Work
  activities can be measured to the extent that they are
  captured, thus ensuring centralized control, and competition
  with other suppliers removes some of the need for old-fashioned
  direct discipline, thus making room for local operational
  decision-making authority and creating pressure for continuous
  local innovation.

  This situation, obviously, is not all bad.  The reduction of
  direct discipline and the creation of space for local initiative
  are raising skill levels and sometimes genuinely improving
  working conditions.  At the same time, the thoroughgoing tracking
  of work activities and the ceaseless competitive pressures
  organized by global coordination can, in very short order,
  introduce severe new pressures and a great deal of additional
  insecurity and instability.  This sort of thing cannot be good
  for anyone's health, much less their family life.

  This, it seems to me, is where we discover the "Dark Side of
  the NII in the Workplace".  What can be done?  To the extent
  that  computer system design imposes detailed tracking on human
  activities out of simple habit, just because that's how the
  design methods *work*, standardization of different design
  methods, for example based on cryptographically enforced
  anonymity, might help.  Yet while these methods may actually
  take hold in some consumer and commerce contexts, employers have
  little incentive to employ them in workplaces, not least given
  the enormous inertia imposed by the existing dominant standards.

  The real solutions will be found, I think, precisely in what
  I think of as the "light side" of the NII, namely its use by
  ordinary people and nonprofit organizations as part of the
  current flowering of global civil society and the rediscovery of
  democracy.  By this I mean democracy in the broadest sense, of
  people coming together to take some control over their own lives.
  Along with the growth of globally coordinated industry, we're
  also witnessing the rise of global coordination among the people
  who work in industry.  As economic growth brings pressures for
  political freedom in countries like China, much of this newly
  released democratic energy will be channeled precisely into
  the use of new-generation communication technologies for global
  solidarity work in the union movement.  All of those people doing
  high-value work for low pay will want the high standard of living
  that we've historically enjoyed in the United States, and they
  are going to figure out how we got it -- through education and
  union organizing.  And over the Internet I bet they'll teach us a
  lot about how to get it back.

  A short reading list:

  Philip E. Agre, Surveillance and capture: Two models of privacy,
  The Information Society 10(2), 1994, 101-127.  (See TNO 1(7).)

  Stephen P. Bradley, Jerry A. Hausman, and Richard L. Nolan,
  eds, Globalization, Technology, and Competition: The Fusion of
  Computers and Telecommunications in the 1990s, Boston: Harvard
  Business School Press, 1993.

  Bennett Harrison, Lean and Mean: The Changing Landscape of
  Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility, New York: Basic Books,
  1994.  (See TNO 1(12).)

  Mike Parker, Inside the Circle: A Union Guide to QWL, Boston:
  South End Press, 1985.  (See TNO 1(6).)


  The Internet meets the Constitution.

  [This is an edited transcript of some remarks I contributed to a
  discussion organized by the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the
  California Library Association at the CLA's recent conference.]

  The topic we've been assigned today is "The Internet Meets the
  Constitution".  As computer networks become a more important part
  of the larger process of getting information to people, a wide
  variety of social choices will be made about the nature of that
  machinery and how the machinery functions as part of society.
  The Internet is an important test case for this process because
  it is simultaneously one of the technical wonders of the world
  and one of the world's greatest spontaneous experiments in
  democracy.  I will explain why I believe it is crucial for
  librarians to take a leadership role in guiding the future
  development of the Internet and information infrastructure
  generally, but first I want to focus for a moment on the more
  specific advertised topic of the Internet and the Constitution.
  I want to make clear that I am not an attorney and that I cannot
  quote chapter and verse of the law in this area.  That's not such
  a great handicap at the moment, though, since there simply *is*
  very little settled law in this area at all.  This is assuredly
  going to change as more social life starts happening on the net
  and more of the conflicts of that life move into the courts.
  Nonetheless, it is my personal belief that librarians can expect
  very little from new Constitutional law for the issues that most
  concern them in the world of computer networks.

  Partly this is due to the growing conservatism of the Supreme
  Court, a trend that will probably continue, steadily if not
  rapidly, for the rest of this decade.  But it is also due to the
  nature of the issues that are arising.  Let me illustrate this
  with a quick tour of five issues that concern librarians, most of
  which arose in the discussions leading to this panel.

  First, equal access to information for everyone.  We're
  all agreed that this is a good thing.  But as information
  increasingly becomes a commodity, equal access to information
  becomes an entitlement.  While a certain amount of due process
  and equal protection might be found here, the courts are unlikely
  to expand any kind of entitlement except through their review,
  interpretation, and enforcement of particular legislation.

  Second, ownership of information.  This is a rapidly evolving
  area, with a great deal of policy action going on in the Clinton
  Administration right now which I urge you to learn more about.
  The resulting proposals may include a variety of affirmative
  requirements for organizations such as libraries to protect
  the information property of others.  The Republican Congress
  is likely to support or even strengthen these proposals, and the
  courts are unlikely to interfere to any significant degree on
  First Amendment grounds or otherwise.

  Third, privacy of communication.  Much of the protection we
  currently enjoy in this area derives from the 1986 Electronic
  Communications Privacy Act.  It has been a long time since
  the Supreme Court has expanded its Constitutional privacy
  jurisprudence, and some of the key precedents in this area are
  built on complex interpolations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and
  Fourteenth Amendments that are highly vulnerable to limitation
  in cases over the next few years.  Privacy torts are in even
  worse condition, and the courts do not seem to be accepting
  academic arguments for an expanded tort law of informational
  privacy, though some test cases may come up concerning
  secondary uses of credit information and the like.  Workplace
  communication is receiving very little protection, not least
  because the management owns the machinery.  Most of the Internet
  is in fact private property, and this fact bodes ill for broad
  Constitutional protection for communication privacy, particularly
  in workplace settings.  Much remains to be seen, though.

  Fourth, access to new technologies.  It is widely held that
  access to new-generation networking technologies is a social
  justice issue.  Historically this interest has been addressed
  not through Constitutional law but through the universal service
  provisions of the 1934 Communications Act.  Attempts to update
  that act failed in the last Congress, largely due to incoming
  Majority Leader Bob Dole's opposition to updated universal
  service and public access set-aside provisions.  It is unlikely
  that such provisions will even get out of committee in the
  next Congress, and just as unlikely that the Supreme Court will
  override the will of the legislature in this area.

  Fifth, freedom of speech, press, and assembly on the net.
  Some useful academic theory is being developed in this area,
  and a number of cases have already been decided in the courts.
  The outlook here is fairly good, but two crucial issues have
  not been subjected to serious Constitutional test, namely the
  scope of who counts as the press in cyberspace and the capacity
  (or indeed, perhaps, the responsibility) of network owners and
  service providers to restrict speech, press, and assembly within
  their own domains.

  The foregoing outline of Constitutional issues has been rapid and
  oversimplified, and once again I do not want to present myself as
  a final authority here.  No doubt the situation is a little more
  complex than I have made out.  Nonetheless I hope you'll at least
  consider the possibility that the future of information access in
  a networked world is going to unfold not through Constitutional
  guarantees but through organizing, action, and education in other

  The main "other area" I want to consider here is what I call
  the "architecture of information access".  This is not just
  the architecture of information machinery, though it certainly
  includes that.  And it is not just the architecture of
  information itself, for example in cataloguing and interfaces,
  though it crucially includes that as well.  Much more generally,
  the architecture of information access includes the whole network
  of social relationships that surrounds and organizes the social
  process of getting and using information.  This includes schools,
  bookstores, war stories told by coworkers, rumors on the street,
  traditions passed from old to young, the press and specialized
  commercial information delivery firms, and much else.  From a
  social justice standpoint, though, perhaps the crucial link in
  the chain is the professional who knows about both people and
  information, and about the hundreds of practical circumstances
  that either connect people to information or else fail to connect

  The rise of information technologies is bringing us many new
  efficiencies and opportunities, but it only makes more complex
  and more crucial the architecture of information access.  Now in
  addition to all of the above we have computer user groups, school
  classes and after-school computer clubs, local computer gurus,
  the whole on-line community, friends and coworkers helping one
  another to get computer-based work done, system and interface
  designers, and much else.  What is the role of information
  professionals in this whole network?  It is a crucial role,
  obviously, because all of the new complexity of information
  access makes it even less inevitable that people will get
  connected to the information they need.  The amount of knowledge
  needed to connect people to information in the new world is
  staggering, and that knowledge only grows through the experience
  of actually doing it and reporting back to the profession on what
  is happening.

  Many technical people are wholly unaware of this phenomenon.
  They are designing the net with little awareness of the complex
  social architecture of information access.  As library automation
  specialist Karen Coyle points out, the Internet as it stands
  is an amateur job.  There's plenty of information, but it's
  largely disorganized, with only the most haphazard provision
  for professional help in connecting people to information.
  This has to change, and it has to change soon before anti-social
  technical standards become entrenched through widespread use and

  What can librarians do about this?  Plenty.  Two things need
  to happen hand-in-hand: experimentation and publicity.  My
  colleague, infrastructure policy expert Francois Bar, emphasizes
  the crucial role of end-user experimentation in defining the
  network architecture of the future.  These experiments can have
  a huge impact on the world through publicity.  This means giving
  presentations and demos to community groups, holding events and
  sending out press releases, and making code and documentation
  available on the net.

  But above all it means organizing: going out in the community
  and building an active constituency for information access
  and intellectual freedom.  Organizing is the only way anything
  has ever changed in the world, and it's the only way we're going
  to ensure that the democratic potentials of new information
  technologies become real in our community and our nation the day
  after tomorrow.


  Bouncemail top ten.

  In running a large mailing list for the past year or so, I
  have become acquainted with a depressing variety of dysfunctional
  mail handling software.  I've gathered here my top ten least
  favorite phenomena in hopes that a Universal Union of Large List
  Maintainers might spring up to force them to get fixed:

    10.  Mailers that give intermittent "user unknown" messages
         for users who perfectly well exist, perhaps because they
         cannot detect transient local network problems well enough
         to postpone delivering mail.

     9.  The confusion over the Errors-To: field, which sure
         seems like a good idea to me but which apparently is not
         part of the standard.  It is supported by most but not
         all mailers.  If it didn't exist then I'd have to run my
         mailing list from a separate account.

     8.  Mailers that generate messages lacking well-formed
         headers, most commonly addresses like "someone@local"
         without proper domain information.

     7.  Mailers that tell me "Press F1 for help with VNM error
         codes" even though my function keys are unlikely to be
         programmed the same way as they are for users at the
         site that generates the bouncemail message.  In general,
         mailers designed on the assumption that all senders and
         recipients of messages would use that same mailer --
         particularly when the mailer in question does not think in
         terms of standard IP domain formats.

     6.  Mailers that complain that a certain message could not be
         delivered but do not specify who in particular the message
         could not be delivered to.  Also, mailers that complain
         that a forwarded message could not be delivered without
         providing any indication of what address(es) the message
         was forwarded from.

     5.  Vacation programs that respond to bulk or mailing-list
         mail or that do not keep track of who they've replied to,
         with the result that I get batches of spurious vacation
         messages (sometimes in German) as each holiday approaches.

     4.  Mailers that generate mail that cannot be replied to.
         Sometimes a message says "From: Fred_Q_Smith@foobar.com",
         even though the user's account is actually called "fqs".
         Sometimes I have no idea why I cannot reply to a message,
         and the mailer offers me no help in figuring it out.
         This is particularly annoying when the sender in question
         starts sending further messages to the effect of, "you
         should reply to my messages, you rude person!"  It is
         even more annoying when the machine that generated the
         bogus message does not have a "postmaster" alias defined.

     3.  Mailers that take a month before giving up on the delivery
         of messages to a missing user, whereupon they initiate
         a monthlong stream of error messages, individually, for
         every one of the messages I've sent in the last month.

     2.  Mail-reading programs that automatically generate a little
         message to the effect of "so-and-so read your message
         about "routine administrative notes" on December 3rd at
         08:41" -- even when the message was sent to a mailing list
         and not directly to the person reading it.  The people
         whose mail readers generate these messages are usually not
         aware of them, and their site maintainers usually do not
         know how to shut them off.

     1.  The astoundingly baroque and uninformative error messages
         that I have gotten from the Novell mailer.

  Of course errors happen.  The basic point here is that the error
  messages are so incomprehensible, so incomplete, so inconsistent,
  and so difficult to adjust or control.  The right way to do this,
  in my view, would be for mailers to be talking to one another and
  maintaining updated status tables for the process of delivering
  (or not delivering) each message.  A reasonable amount of useful
  information could travel over these lines of communication, and
  my mailer could consequently provide me with some significantly
  more useful functionalities.  Imagine a GUI interface with a
  window showing the messages that got bounced, deferred, and so
  forth.  And imagine that I could just click on each one to say,
  in one nice clean operation, "okay, let's just take this person
  off the mailing list, send them a nice explanatory note in case
  they're magically back on-line, and expunge from the system all
  remaining traces of existing messages from me to them or error
  messages from these mailers about them".


  This month's recommendations.

  Campaigns and Elections.  You must go read the December/January
  1995 issue of the US magazine "Campaigns and Elections" ("The
  Magazine for Political Professionals").  It's a special issue on
  "grassroots lobbying", the practice of mobilizing and organizing
  constituencies of "ordinary people" to pressure legislators on
  specific issues, or issues affecting specific interest groups.
  Of course, people have mobilized and organized themselves and
  one another since the Stone Age.  What's different now is the
  rise of professionalized commercial firms that go out and create
  grassroots movements for paying customers.  Numerous such firms
  have advertisements in this issue of C&E, and the issue would
  be worth the $4.50 cover price for the ads alone.  The issue even
  includes a four-page "Grassroots Lobbying Buyer's Guide" listing
  well over a hundred companies.  In short, C&E is the cheapest and
  easiest window onto the extraordinary distortion of democracy in
  modern times, so check it out.  (Ten issues a year, $29.95, 1511
  K Street NW #1020, Washington DC 20077-1720.)

  Kevin Phillips, The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the
  American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, New York: Random
  House, 1990.  My car apparently having blown a gasket in its
  exhaust manifold on Christmas, I spent Boxing Day at home reading
  Kevin Phillips and Friedrich von Hayek in alternating chapters
  with Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought to Be", seeking
  some clue as to the nature of the vacuum currently being filled
  in American political culture by the sophistry, mendacity, and
  cruelty of the latter's muddled declamations.  More about Hayek
  another time, but I must say that the experience expanded my
  already awestruck respect for Phillips, who is the foremost
  student of American electoral politics.  (Everyone who reads
  Campaigns and Elections reads Phillips as well.)  Despite his
  being a Republican, he is merciless in his dissection of the
  unfortunate structural changes in American society during the
  1980's, and acute in his historical comparisons to the 1880's
  and 1920's, among other relevant decades -- and not just in
  generalities, but region by region and sector by sector.  So now
  I guess I'll have to get his new book, whose title is "Arrogant
  Capital" -- the word "capital", I gather, referring to economic
  and political elites equally.

  Bob Scher, The Fear of Cooking, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
  Not a cookbook but a book about how to cook.  This is the book
  that got me past following recipes to being awake and aware in
  the kitchen, able to cook without a recipe and able to diverge
  confidently from recipes when the situation demands.  Its motto
  is "it's right in front of you".  Charmingly eccentric and well
  observed, its lessons about tastes, smells, rules, messes, fears,
  failures, and learning are all written from the standpoint of
  experience -- a mortal person getting along in a real kitchen.
  This book has gone out of print for some weird reason, but if
  you pester the publisher and talk to the best used book store in
  town, you might be able to track one down.


  Company of the month.

  This month's company is:

  1600 Peachtree Street NW
  Atlanta, Georgia  30309

  phone: (404) 885-8231

  You've probably heard of Equifax -- they're one of the largest
  companies collecting and distributing credit information on
  consumers.  They are also the most sophisticated among such
  companies in terms of their public relations.  They invest real
  money in activities like publishing annual surveys of public
  opinion about privacy issues.  You might have seen, for example,
  a recent Equifax press release revealing that a majority of
  the American public would be willing to create a database of
  residents for purposes of regulating illegal immigration.  This
  is no doubt accurate, at least assuming that the public is not
  yet fully informed about the downside of such a proposal, but
  the fact that they selected *this* number as the lead on their
  press release provides some idea of the subtle game they play.

  I recommend that everyone learn about the rhetoric and methods
  of public relations around privacy issues, and an easy way to
  get started is by obtaining and carefully studying Equifax's
  materials on the subject.  You'll find, of course, that they do
  in fact have some valid arguments and that they do engage in some
  responsible practices.  The subtle thing is how privacy issues
  are framed in the first place, and this is a matter best studied
  through careful, repeated readings of the text, without having
  to determine right away whether the facts and arguments being
  offered are correct.

  Try to defamiliarize the text in as many ways as you can.
  Ask, how do the facts and arguments *work*?  What is it like
  to read them?  With Buddha-like detachment, take note when you
  find yourself adopting their questions as your own or thinking
  "gee, I never thought of it that way".  Read the text out loud
  to some writers and artists and solicit their instant reactions.
  Look up the etymologies of the words in a dictionary.  Notice
  the metaphors (fluids, conduits, forces, measurement, vision,
  etc) and extrapolate them.  How else might they have written it?
  What implicit ideas do they have about ordinary people and their
  beliefs and concerns about privacy?  What implicit ideas do they
  convey about the nature and structure of the personal information
  industry?  Gather a batch of reactions to the text based on such
  questions -- it helps a lot to write them down as you go along.
  Then sleep on it and send some relevant Internet discussion group
  a message reporting what you've discovered.

  (Of course, you can do all of these things with my own writing
  as well, or the writing of anyone else expressing concerns about
  privacy issues.  It's just that theirs is much more interesting.)

  Do not, however, harass the people at Equifax -- only request
  their position statements on privacy issues if you genuinely wish
  to read them.  Thanks very much.



  A couple of people from the Washington public interest community
  responded to my discussion of Issue Dynamics Inc in TNO 1(12).
  They pointed out that the founder of IDI, Sam Simon, far from
  being a corporate PR person, is a long-time associate of Ralph
  Nader, and they were particularly pained by my having mentioned
  IDI in the same breath as Newt Gingrich.  I didn't mean to
  equate the two.  The fact is, though, that IDI talks and acts
  like a fairly sophisticated public relations firm operating
  on the Internet, and my main goal was to educate net people
  on the nature of PR work so that they can make their own fully
  informed judgements about it.  At the same time, these folks
  correctly point out that IDI has associated itself with a number
  of good causes, such as the Brock Meeks defense fund.  I'm not
  saying that it's a simple picture; I just want everyone to have
  the facts to evaluate the picture for themselves.

  As a footnote, one of my correspondents suggested that IDI's site
  is called idi.net because IDI considers itself an Internet access
  provider, and many access providers use the .net.  I must admit
  I had not thought of that.  At the same time, it doesn't explain

  The Chronicle of Higher Education is now on the Internet at

  The first bona fide web artwork that I've seen and liked is "Life
  With Father" by Joseph Squier.  Its URL (which I've broken over
  two lines because it's long) is:
  It'll work better if you have a Macintosh with a large screen and
  a fair amount of memory.

  The EFF archive includes a nice concise how-to on lobbying.
  Look in this directory, which has some other useful stuff too:
  The lobbying file is called lobby_techniques.faq

  The folks at LLNL have an extensive set of telecom net resources
  indexed at http://www-atp.llnl.gov/atp/telecom.html
  Plus more random stuff at http://www-atp.llnl.gov/atp/link.html

  David Chaum's Scientific American article on digital cash is
  available at http://digicash.support.nl/publish/sciam.html

  Al Whaley <al.whaley@sunnyside.com>, who runs the CPSR gopher
  and web pages, has been accumulating the messages to the Red Rock
  Eater on-line.  The URL is  http://www.cpsr.org/cpsr/lists/rre

  The Supercomputing '95 conference is going to be in San Diego
  in December, chaired by Sid Karin of the San Diego Supercomputer
  Center.  They want to have a thoroughly wired conference, which
  should be interesting.  Check out their web pages at this URL:

  In case anyone is interested, I've made web pages out of my
  thirty-odd contributions to Risks this year.  The URL is:


  Phil Agre, editor                                pagre@ucla.edu
  Department of Information Studies
  University of California, Los Angeles         +1 (310) 825-7154
  Los Angeles, California  90095-1520                FAX 206-4460
  Copyright 1995 by the editor.  You may forward this issue of The
  Network Observer electronically to anyone for any non-commercial
  purpose.  Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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