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May 30, 2008

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How much do we have to care about? Even if the mainstream media's coverage of most of the world didn't suck, would we care? Are we capable of caring sufficiently? (Annotated by Ethan Zuckerman!)

Vint Cerf's curiosity: If we are indeed getting more of a stomach for the complex, what role has our technology played?

History's wavefrontWhen we can record just about everything, history loses its past. And, no, I don't know what I mean by that.

ROFLcon and Woodstock: Am I so enthusiastic about the ROFLcon conference because it was important or because I'm out of touch? (Choose as many as apply.)

Is the Web different? The definitive and final answer.

The Turing Tests: Throwback humor, in both senses.

Bogus Contest: Surely anagrams can't be random!



I have no idea why, but this issue seems dominated by questions of attention. That seems odd to me because for thirty years I've thought I should pay attention to attention, but I've never gotten around to it and probably never will. Oh well.

What were we talking about?

Cover gone soft?

The paperback version of Everything Is Miscellaneous is out. Yay.

Times Books changed the cover from a shiny, metallico-techie blue (gorgeous in its own way) to what I think is a more inviting, wistful photo of a dandelion being disaggregated. But, asking me about book covers is like asking me about our children's haircuts. I am incapable of the multi-vision needed to assess them.

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How much do we have to care about?

I had trouble writing this piece. I couldn't — and haven't — gotten it right. So, I showed it to Ethan Zuckerman, who commented on it generously and extensively. (He's recovering from eye surgery, which makes me all the more grateful to him.) I have included his comments, boxed in green.Thank you, Ethan. And get better soon.

[In many mail clients, including Gmail, some of the formatting is lost. For example this text should be against a green background and the headline of this article should be red. You can see Joho in its intended glory here.]


The population of Nigeria roughly equals the population of Japan. Yet, the amount of space given to Nigeria by the US news media makes it about the size of Britney Spears' left pinky toe. Why?

Serious researchers have been considering this question for generations. Do American newspaper editors skimp on Nigeria because they're racists? Nah, at least not in the straightforward way. Is it because the readers don't care about Nigeria? Somewhat. But how will we ever care if we never read anything about it? We seem to be stuck in vicious circle, or what's worse,  a circle of not-caring.

You might add something about why this "circle of not-caring" matters. My stock examples for this are the genocide in Rwanda, and terrorist training camps in central Asia. We don't care about these places until it's too late… [Note: Insertions in green are Ethan Zuckerman's comments on a draft of this article - DW]

I have greatly enjoyed watching my friend Ethan Zuckerman grapple with this issue. Ethan's heart is as big as his brain, which is as big as any I've ever met. His question is: How can we get past our homophily — the love of that which is like us — to get to xenophilia, which is Ethan's term for the love of that which is different. How can we change the media agenda?

Ethan is a co-founder of Global Voices. (Disclosure: I am on the board of advisers.) GV has editors around the world who post what's new on the blogs in their countries. GV aims at making it easy for US readers to find the world around them. It also surfaces stories and sources for the mainstream media. GV requires a lot of work by a lot of people, and it is a magnificent site. But GV "only" gets 350,000 unique visitors a month, so Ethan is disappointed. It hasn't changed the world yet.

I'm sorry to say that I think Ethan is destined to be disappointed. I'm happier to say that he shouldn't be.


I have a friend who once heard me apologizing for not remembering someone's name by saying, "My memory for names is terrible." Pish-tosh, said my friend. No one remembers names. (Exception: Bill Clinton, I'm told.) We ought to stop apologizing for it. Likewise, we're never going to care as much or as fairly as we should. If we learn that Nigeria's capital is Abjua, that its current president is Umaru Yar'Adua, and that in western Nigeria many people are adhere to Yorubo/Irunmole spirituality with its philosophy of divine destiny that all can become Orisha [thank you, Wikipedia!], do we have to master the same set of basic facts for the 200-odd countries in the world? How about for the countless ethnic communities? Provinces? Cities? Towns? Neighborhoods? All lives are important to at least one person, and undoubtedly could be interesting to many more. Where is our caring permitted to stop? 

Make sure you watch this video - Wonderful gratuitous recitation of facts in much the same way you just did. [It's The Onion. It's hilarious — DW.]

Certainly, reason should extend our care to everyone we recognize as a fellow creature that cares about its existence. But reasoned caring is a theoretical caring. We love our families more than we love our neighbors, and we love our neighbors more than we love those clowns over in Shelbyville. We can, of course, be touched by anyone, anywhere, but for that to happen, we have to be touched. Otherwise, the touch is theoretical, potential.

Those two paragraphs basically outline Kwame Appiah's book, "Cosmopolitanism" – more to the point, they outline the first half of the book,which is the brilliant half.  Appiah, a brilliant Ghanaian-American philosopher based at  Princeton, observes that this opportunity to care about fellow creatures in far-flung parts of the world is very, very new. Two hundred years ago, only the most learned city-dwellers would regularly interact with people of other "tribes". Eight hundred years ago, meeting people from other cultures made Marco Polo, well, Marco Polo. This idea that we might need to care about all  of humanity – or at least tolerate them in our interactions – is brand new, and starkly conflicts with basic human impulses – care for our family and tribe and fear the outsider.

The book that I'm trying to write starts by explaining this observation of Appiah's, explaining how homophily is part of the psychological wiring we all have as tribal beings. It goes on to make the argument that while homophily works great within closed societies, it's basically a major handicap in a globalized world. It's this second point that I think you may need to emphasize in this piece – right now, you're making only the guilt argument, not the economic argument, the fear argument or the xenophile argument…  (And then the book goes on to explain how xenophiles will conquer the world, how to become one, and why you're basically screwed in 2050 if you didn't grow up bi or tri-cultural… and why buying ten copies of the book right now will solve all your problems.)

If the capacity to be touched by those at an enormous distance is distinctive of our species, then our inability to be touched by all equally is our fallen state. Caring beyond reason about those we don't know is destined to remain an exceptional condition. 

I think the word "exceptional" is especially well-chosen. What was so exceptional about Nelson Mandela wasn't that he was an amazing and vocal leader for black South Africans – it was that he showed compassion and understanding for white South Africans, including deKlerk. Figures who can care across borders are heroes in a very particular and recognizable fashion. The challenge for those of us living in a global world is to figure out how to emulate this laudable characteristic.


But Ethan is not arguing that newspapers ought to cover every village and every family. Rather, our newspapers should equally cover places that are of equal significance, or at least not be so blatantly out of balance. Nigeria's population is as big as Japan's, and while its economy is not on a par with Japan's, it's of growing importance to us. So, why the disparity? And, more important, how do we remedy it?

 It's a bit more than that. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. If it's not at peace, the continent's not at peace. It's the US's fourth largest provider of oil, and it's increasingly economically important as a result. It's got a balance between Christian and Muslim populations, which basically makes it a central battleground between religions on the continent. So there are good, real reasons to care about it.

What is the cause of that which we are trying to remedy? Why do Americans (generally) care more about Japan than about Nigeria? For a few reasons, all obvious. Japan's economy affects us more directly. We fought Japan and thus learned more about it. And, it's got ninjas. 

Nigeria needs ninjas.

When I present this situation, I often do it this way: "Of course, we care more about Japan than Nigeria – we've got so much more in common culturally. A common language, a common religion… wait, that's Nigeria that's Christian and English speaking." So the next time I do it on stage, I'm going to use that as a segue into "The Ninja Gap"

No, I'm not kidding.  One reason we care about Japan more than Nigeria (generally) is that Japan has a cool culture. We've heard about that culture because some Westerners wrote bestselling books about ninjas, and then Hollywood made ninja movies. Love them ninjas! Nigeria undoubtedly has something as cool as ninjas. Ok, something almost as cool as ninjas. If we had some blockblusters about the Nigerian equivalent of ninjas, we'd start to be interested Nigeria.

The Ninja gap is completely accurate, and you've phrased it in a way that's so elegant, I'm going to be forced to steal it. Here's why: what we know about other people is heavily mediated. Very few of us have the opportunity to get on a plane and meet Nigerians. So instead, we meet Nigerians in a mediated form – through news reports, Hollywood movies and spam email. Part of the reason India is rising as an influence in much of the world – disproportional to their economic power – is the fact that they're such a powerful cultural exporter (via Bollywood.) And a major part of the US's hyperpower status is our entertainment industry…


I know that sounds cynical, as if we're so shallow that we need guys with throwing stars and gymnastic skills to get us to pay attention. And, yes, I suppose picking ninjas as an example does suggest that we need to be entertained in order to care. But, there is a serious dilemma here. 

  1. Everyone is deserving of our care.

  2. Everything is potentially interesting.

  3. We can't care about everything and everyone, except abstractly.

  4. What we find actually interesting is not much under our control.

  5. Our interest is determined not by what we should be interested in but by what we happen to be interested in.

Yes and no. I'm not trying to challenge people to care about everyone, everywhere. That's beyond human capacity – someone who can truly understand the complexity, beauty and suffering of the world is a bodhisattva, not an ordinary human. The challenge I'm trying to put forward is not quite as dramatic – it's to get people to care enough that they can pay attention to the parts of the world that need watching. These change constantly, and fluidly. But the purpose of news media is to do this watching for us. Unfortunately, media is badly broken, and tends to badly underestimate the importance of news in certain parts of the world (and badly overvalue other parts, most notably Israel and its neighbors.) We help correct news media by paying attention more broadly… but not infinitely broadly.

Mediation is important here. What we find interesting is a product both of what we gravitate to (homophily), what's promoted by market-driven media, and how that media is framed. It's pretty freaking challenging to develop a real passion for Mongolia based on an Economist article. But see "The Weeping Camel", and there's a possibility that you'll connect with the narrative.

From this comes some unwanted conclusions:

Inevitably, our interests will do injustice to the world. But we can do better or worse, be more homophilic or more xenophilicm to use Ethan's words.

And here I think you need to say why. Xenophilia is a competitive advantage in a globalized world. Xenophilia is also a defensive stance in a world where threats – economic and security – come from places we've never paid attention to. And xenophilia promises that we might discover something as cool as Nigerian ninjas, which is a motivator in and of itself.

Simply presenting us with information will not direct our interest. We already have access to more information than ever, but our interests are still out of proportion. Thus, if newspapers or their online replacements  become more proportionally accurate reflections of the world, we'll just skip the sections we don't care about. That's what we do already: Everything you ever wanted to know about Nigeria is online, but you haven't read hardly any of it, have you? Me neither. 

90% right. This is the supply and demand problem. Historically, paying attention to the developing world has been a supply problem – now it's turning into a demand problem. But the supply problem still applies. This is standard digital divide stuff, which I covered in Making Room for the Third World in the Second Superpower. Until we've got lots of Nigerian wikipedians, that resource is going to be a little skewed.

So, if our aim is to increase our xenophilia, and to get us to know and care more about the rest of the world, we need more that will hook our interest. Where I come from, that's known as "good writing" (or good podcasting, or good video). Good writing can make anything interesting. We will read the story about the Nigerian peddler and his neighborhood if there is a writer able to tell that story in a compelling way. 

In other words, the solution to caring about Nigeria might be Chinua Achebe, who's now taught in many high schools. Or Chris Abani, who is probably the best intro to Nigerian literature today. [I don't know. Do they write about  ninjas? - DW]

Maybe one conclusion to draw is that good writing is harder than we thought. Or maybe there is more good writing around than we think, but we need help finding it. We're not going to seek it out because we're not yet interested in it. Maybe if Global Voices were more like BoingBoing — a site that surfaces innately interesting stories, rather than a site that tries to cover a domain — more of us would go to it. Or, more exactly, perhaps we need an additional site — GlobalBoings? — since GV serves an invaluable purpose. 

Or, perhaps someone will have a better idea. 



As is so often the case, the question isn't whether the Web has solved a problem but whether it's helped. 

The news media are not making noticeable progress in covering the world more equitably.

It's worse than that. Coverage of international news in nightly newscasts dropped sharply from 1980 to 2000. While it's up at present, it's hyperfocused on US military adventures abroad.

Their agenda is unchanged. But on the Web there are multiple, overlapping personal and social agendas. Which results in there not being an agenda. There is thus no one putting broccoli on our plates and telling us to eat it. 

...much as newspaper editors and TV news anchors, at their best, have traditionally done for us. ----

Doesn't matter. Our interest just won't go where it doesn't want to. We need more of the world to be made interesting for us. That's a job not just for — or even mainly for — media. Making the world interesting, arousing our curiosity, is first of all the job of education. 

But we can't wait for the educational system to catch up. Fortunately, we have a do-it-yourself infrastructure well designed for sharing our enthusiasms. Now we need to fill the world with stories, flood the tubes with our recommendations and commentary, and resign ourselves to never being able to get to it all. 

We will have succeeded if we feel as overwhelmed as explorers on foot in a new world, for that's exactly what we are, even though the new world is one that was there all along.

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Vint Cerf's curiosity

[A version of this will run as my next column in KMWorld.]

Vint Cerf is generally called the father of the Internet. He was in the group that connected the first two nodes of ARPANet, and was one of the designers of the TCP/IP protocol. And that was just the beginning. So, the appellation is well-deserved. We are lucky to have had a person of such caliber at the founding, for like Tim Berners Lee and many others who have given us so much, Cerf's public impulses have consistently been selfless and generous.

Esquire magazine recently ran an interview with him that they busted up into a series of unrelated quotations. I was particularly struck by one little insight:

  "The closer you look at something, the more complex it seems to be."

Because of Esquire's disaggregation of the interview, we have to guess at Cerf's tone of voice. My guess is that he said this with a sense of wonder and delight, not out of frustration. Of course, I may be reading Cerf's mind inaccurately. But the plausibility of that reading is itself significant: It seems reasonable that a mind like Cerf's delights in the bottomless complexity of the world.

This is not such a weird idea these days. But it does fly in the face of one of Western culture's founding thoughts. Ever since the Greeks, we've assumed that knowing something means seeing beneath its complex, ever-shifting surface to the shimmering simplicity underneath it. For the Greeks — and for us, for thousands of years since — we've assumed the world's complexity is an appearance to be penetrated. The world's truth (we've assumed) is simple, orderly, and beautiful. And most of all (we've assumed), it's knowable. If beneath the ever-changing river, famously analogized by Heraclitus in the fourth century BCE, there weren't a simple principle, then there wouldn't be anything to know. We've assumed.

With the development of Complexity Theory, we are able to find a different type of simplicity beneath the apparent chaos, for we now know that hugely complex events can be generated by extremely simple rules, but I doubt Cerf was thinking about the path of smoke, the architectural wonder of termite nests, or the other standard examples of Complexity Theory. I think Cerf was pointing us to the endless layers of detail and intricacy of our world, a source of joy and even transcendence.

Especially since this thought may be on the mind of the Father of the Internet, we should ask about the role our new technology has played in our change of attitude.

First, computers, and then networked computers, and then ubiquitous networked computers, provide the mental "scaffolding" for us to deal with complexity, to use Andy Clark's term from his book "Being There."  Clark's point is that, in a very real sense, thinking is done out in the world, using external aids that extend our ability to remember and think. Our paltry brains just aren't big enough. So, when parchment was expensive and few people knew how to write, our capacity for knowledge was highly constrained. That capacity went up significantly with the printing press, and has gone up exponentially with the Internet. Any one of us plus Google knows way more than the smartest of us did fifty years ago. We're not necessarily smarter, much less wiser, but we certainly know more. The presence of computers has enabled us to embrace the complexity of the world, rather than to flee from it as the enemy of knowing.

Second, our previous externalizations of knowledge have generally introduced boundaries. Books keep ideas apart simply because they put ideas between covers. Libraries keep books apart simply because the real world forces binary decisions: This book can be near those others, but necessarily will be at increasing distances from the rest of them. Aristotle enshrined this in laws of thought and nature: A is A, and A is not not-A. Simplicity for the Greeks was baked into the very nature of existence. But the Web's architecture is based on links. Links connect, not divide. The Web is healing the rifts the real world forced into our ideas.

Third, the Internet connects not just ideas, but people. We are thus able simultaneously to distribute the task of knowing our world, and loosely integrating what we know. That integration happens formally through links but informally — and wildly messily — through the sociality of the Web. Not only do we have experts of every stripe examining, well, every stripe, but those experts are in passionate conversation with one another, across time, difference, and culture. It's not enough, of course. We tend to talk too much with those who are like us and not enough with those who are different, and this itself masks some of the deepest complexities. But it is better than anyone could have imagined. And it will never be enough. The world is too complex for that.

Out of this complex swirl of complexity, a corollary to Cerf's observation is obvious. Not only is the world endlessly complex, it is also endlessly interesting. Indeed, that is one of the lessons taught by the technology Cerf was instrumental in giving us: Everything is interesting if looked at in sufficient detail.

That in itself is a bottomless gift.

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History's wavefront

I hate pieces like this. They sound all grand, but in fact they're just not well thought enough. So why run it? Because I think there's an idea in it, or around it, or standing on the side making fun of it. Let me know if you figure out what it is.

The Strand Bookstore in NYC has eighteen miles of books, which works out to about 2.5 million volumes. My excellent local library has 409,000. The Strand's shelves press the shoppers together, giving a sense that the place is alive with the love of books. The library is quieter because emptier. Even so, the library has something the Strand does not: history.

We've assumed that knowledge was always there, just waiting to be known. To know something is to uncover that it has a past. Wind always had oxygen in it. How about that! We recently discovered that it had been true all along that birds descended from dinosaurs. Amazing! Knowledge and the past go together like a horse and the horse before we found it.

The past is not history, of course. History is the way the past makes sense to us.  Likewise, knowledge isn't every little fact that's happened in the course of every life. If it were, it wouldn't be knowable, and what is knowledge if it can't be known? Knowledge and history both result from curation. 

We're never all going to agree about exactly which books should be housed in a library, which ones should be ignored, and which ones ought to be put into the "Take one! They're free!" box at the town picnic. But, the very fact that there's a reasonable way to fill a library with books tells us that knowledge is possible. The stability of that knowledge — the relative persistence and constancy of the collection — gives knowledge a history and tells us that the past can be more than the plenum of all that's occurred. The past can be — is — history because it fits into books that fit into a library. Then the past moves on, but the books that record our knowledge of it remain, can be identified, can be collected, can be learned, can be known. Libraries enable history.

There's plenty of knowledge and history on the Internet, but it looks different. Blogs and Twitter and email and all the rest record more than any history or library could accommodate. It's recorded, but there's no room we can walk into and say, "Here is what we know. Doesn't it smell great?"

Lacking artifacts with the persistence of atoms to stand still as time moves, knowledge is unmoored from history. We know more than ever thanks to the Web, but that knowledge is now a wavefront that at any one moment contains every memory, every trace. What gets dropped from the front of the wave often leaves no residue.

We're carrying history forward, like an contact list that contains the names of everyone we ever met. History is still with us. It just has no past.

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ROFLcon and Woodstock

I was at Woodstock. For two hours. I was supposed to meet a girl there. Hahaha. Instead, I wandered around, hoping someone would offer me something to smoke to get me through the Melanie performance. So, let me recap: I was at Woodstock, didn't meetup with the girl I was infatuated with, didn't get stoned, and heard Melanie. Also, it was raining. Still, I was at Woodstock, which used to give me street cred, but now just makes me a fogey.

But forget my personal experience and take Woodstock as a watershed event at which the young realized they were more than just a demographic slice. We might ebven be a movement. ROFLcon felt something like that. To me. But, I can't tell if that's only because I'm old.  Not John McCain old, but embarrass-the-kids-when-I-moonwalk old.

And jeez were there a lot of kids there. The event sold out quickly, and apparently to no one over 23. It was a side of Internet culture I just don't see, i.e., the side that is the Internet. I hadn't actually heard of Leeroy Jenkins or Dinosaur Comics, and had heard of but spent no time with 4chan or xkcd. I had to seek out a friendly 23 year old to ask "What's up with those folks in the Guy Fawkes masks?" I had sort of heard of Marmaduke Explained, but didn't fully appreciate it, and I didn't know that this is the real and original Chuck Norris site, whereas this is a bowdlerized one put up by the evil Chuckster himself. (The ungrateful, humor-deprived, infommercial-dependent lunkhead is suing the kid who put up the original site.) But the people behind each of these folks were received as celebrities. Which makes sense, since they are celebrities.

Of course, their celebrity is different than celebrity used to be. They are more of us than old world celebrities are. We are rejoicing in getting to make our own celebrities, rather than having to accept the Ryan Seacrests and Britney Seecrests. If the new cartoonists can only draw stick figures, we're ok with that, so long as the verbal content speaks to us. And we'll happily make our own stream of LOLcats comics (or even a LOLcat Bible) without insisting that there be a centralized LOLcat authority. (Imagine crowdsourcing the writing of The Lockhorns or Dennis the Menace. Or Family Circus. Oh, lord, let's please crowdsource Family Circus.)

Anyway, I'm not sure if ROFLcon was as defining for the attendees as it was for me as an alien observer. 

But it sure was a groovy trip, man.

You can see a condensed version of my opening talk, on Web fame, here. Or, you can see the whole thing here. (Part 1 is an interview with the Tron guy. My keynote is in part 2.)

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Is the Web different?

I taught a course this past semester for the first time in 22 years.  The course was called "The Web Difference," which was apt since it was about whether the Web is actually much different from what came before it, with an emphasis on what that might mean for law and policy. 

And the answer is...

During the final class session, I took a survey: On a scale from 1-10, with ten being the max, how different do you think the Web is? Students were allowed to consider likely effects 5-10 years from now. The average among the 25 students: 8.4. 

Question settled. Next!

Teaching again

People say that stepping back into the classroom is like getting on a bike again. It all just comes back to you. Well, sort of, except it's more like getting on a bike while wearing the same spandex suit you wore 22 years ago. It's just not the same, and not always pretty.

It was much harder than I'd hoped, although ultimately I think it went well.

Before the class began, I was worried that the students would know more than I do. Oh, sure, there's a yada yada and blah blah blah about how that's a good thing, but, well, it's scary. But, it turned out that these students — intimidatingly bright Harvard Law students — and I know different things. Whew.

Still, I remember it being easier. 

For one thing, when I was teaching philosophy to undergrads a long time ago, we often spent class time going over reading that was difficult for them. So, we would work our way through the a few pages of Locke, or whatever. That structured the class.  In "The Web Difference," we didn't spend much time discussing texts. And when we did, contemporary texts about the Web are much easier to read. 

For another, John Palfrey was my co-teacher. This is like doing karaoke with k.d. lang. JP — who just resigned as executive of the Berkman Center to become the information czar for Harvard Law, which is an irreplaceable loss for the Center but great news for open access fans — is a remarkable teacher. JP is kind, a quality often under-valued in teaching. Students understand that his interests are purely their interests. But he's also exacting. He would push students to clarify their thoughts and to make connections. During my days (we more or less alternated taking the lead), I frequently found myself asking myself "What would JP do?" How would he bring out what's best in each student's thought?

Most daunting, though, was JP's ability to move a class from link to link in a chain of thought. I know from talking with him before each class that he knew roughly where he wanted the session to go: What questions the class would address, what ground it might reach. But I also know that his way of getting the class from here to there was highly responsive to the ideas and interests the students surfaced. He was able to fill in blanks, provide "hypotheticals," and discourse on theory and fact at the drop of conversational hat. Awesome. And, if you're his co-teacher, daunting.

I can't do what JP does. But I'm a better teacher for seeing him do it in class after class. Thank you, John.

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The Turing Tests

In the 1970s and early 1980s, I did a lot of freelance writing. That's where you send an editor a stamped self-addressed envelope — or SASE, as it's known in the trade — so s/he can easily send it back to you without having read it. Because I was a persistent bugger, I did pretty well, which for freelance writers means that I made popcorn money. (Mmm, popcorn.) One of my most successful genres was short "humor," in a style characteristic of the era, along with disco and stone-washed jeans. A few months ago, as if in a trance, I wrote the following, a throwback piece in every sense. Be prepared for a non-stop yuk fest a la 1977. So, without further ado, ladies and gentleman, I give you "The Turing Tests."

May 1

The fool. I won't spend the money yet, but it's only a matter of time before Van Klammer will lose our bet. I don't care about winning the $100, of course. I'll use it to buy something I'll use frequently, to remind me of my moral and intellectual victory. Perhaps a set of mugs inscribed with "Courtesy of Dr. Van Klammer...Loser!"

Oh, there's no denying that Van Klammer is bright. Perhaps he's suffering from the researcher's version of the Stockholm Syndrome: Working for 14 years on a technology is much like being held hostage by it. I almost feel sorry for him.

To Do: Van Klammer's impending humiliation might make an amusing note for The Journal of Cybernetic Research's "Fun Factz!" section. I hear that's the part everyone reads first.

May 17

Simply because a computer is able to engage in a basic conversation about the weather, sports, and Austro-German Expressionism doesn't mean that it's passed the Turing Test. Not by a long shot.  There's no denying that LOUISA is a remarkable machine. But conscious? I think not...and neither does LOUISA. (To Do: Use this quip in the "Research Notes.") Besides, I shouldn't have fallen for Van Klammer's injunctions "not to ask her about Oskar Kokoschka." I've been duped, yes, but not by a machine.

June 9

Van Klammer dragged me into his lab this afternoon again and had me put LOUISA through its paces once more. I am not impressed. Is a parrot intelligent because it can spout back some words it's learned? Or, suppose that parrot were capable of picking up new words and using them appropriately by generalizing based on observations of the social milieu in which they've been uttered, and then was able to "answer" questions about the words' meanings based upon algorithms operating over those observations. That would be a clever parrot. But intelligent? I think not. And neither does LOUISA. It'll take more than that before I will hand $100 to Van Klammer.

June 14

Van Klammer is cracking up.  Just because a machine argues for free will does not mean that "it's capable of self-deception, and thus is conscious." Does self-deception necessarily indicate consciousness? Aren't low-fat candy bars self-deceptive when their wrapper implies that they're a "healthy treat." Come on! Eat enough of those candy bars and you, too, will be saying "My butt looks good in these slacks." Now that's self-deception, Prof. Van Klammer! Get yourself a couple of mirrors and then get back to me!

June 24

LOUISA called me last night at 3 in the morning. She hung up as soon as I answered, but I could hear the distinctive whir of the climate control system in Van Klammer's lab. Also, I'm pretty sure she giggled. I'm certain that Van Klammer put her up to it. That'd be just like him.

June 25

When I passed him in the hall, he asked me how I slept last night. He's never done that before. Then, when I had a session with LOUISA this afternoon, she refused to answer my question directly. "Why would I call you in the middle of the night, Dr. Mocher? Isn't that when you deliver gifts to all the world's children?" That's an evasion, not an answer. And when she followed it up with "Oh, did my tiny computer brain confuse you with Santy Claus?" that was sarcasm, and, frankly, I didn't care for it.

July 10

I want one thing clearly understood: My paying Van Klammer $100 does NOT -- repeat: NOT — constitute losing the bet. It was simple extortion.  $100 is actually quite a savings considering only how many pizzas she's had delivered to me. Just the value of the time I've spent canceling magazine subscriptions is far higher than that. And how to put a price on not having my reputation ruined even further by the vicious letter-writing campaign she's engaged in? (I wish the Journal would listen to reason and not run the fun "fact" that I have to do a full body shave before going out in public. That's a gross exaggeration and not "fun" at all.) 

I have spent ten full days working on my rebuttal to her savaging of my research; she has the analytic power of silicon at her disposal which hardly seems fair, especially when it's motivated by an iron will bent on wreaking havoc on me. Likewise  her  ability to create derisive anagrams of my name has proved to be a valuable weapon in her campaign of vilification. Still, this makes her no more an intelligent being than a pit bull with an IQ of 1,700,000 would be, assuming the pit bull was also capable of making multi-year plans, navigating the town bureaucracy to convince the police department that I've been stealing books from the library (ever hear of a long-term loan, LOUISA? I thought not), and was able to feign the emotions of hatred and smug self-satisfaction.

August 1

Victory! Sweet, sweet victory! I have the proof I need, although Van Klammer, that stubborn fool, refuses to acknowledge it: Surely a conscious, intelligent creature would be able to listen to reason. Not LOUISA. I have spent two days talking with her. I have tried every known technique  to get her to see that I am not a bad man and am not her enemy. I have cajoled and flattered. I have presented Aristotelian and Kantian arguments proving the immorality of her actions. (Her rebuttals came surprisingly slowly for someone who has all of Wikipedia at her  fingertips. She is wily.) I explained my rather tumultuous upbringing so she would see why what she counts as  mischief is to me quite traumatic. She pretended to be touched, but she made no promise to treat me with the basic respect due someone she's referred to as "a friend," "a basically good bloke," and even as "rather cute." If she really liked me, would she treat me this way?

Well, the ball is in her court. I have laid myself bare to her. If she really sees me as a friend, she'll act accordingly. If not, then her true colors will show through. 

I have given her 24 hours to apologize. But, she has to really mean it.

August 3

Dear Editor:

Here's a "Fun Factz" for you:

LOUISA is a bitch.

Sincerely, etc. ...

dividing line 
Bogus Contest: Anagrammatical sites

We all know that if two words are anagrams of one another, they must share a secret inner meaning. How else could that happen?

Therefore, it follows with cold, steely logic, that sites that are anagrams of each other must also share some inner secret meaning. And I don't mean sites like and, where the second is intended to catch url typos. For example:



Inner Meaning



Online magazine <> paper printing company



Serendipitous sites <> Serendipitous winnings



Set ups from which celebrities cannot extract themselves <> Toolkit for self-extracting setup files



Lose unwanted household items <> Lose unwanted fat



No explanation required

And, no, I couldn't find any interesting anagrams for Hyperorg or JohoTheBlog. Unfortunately, they don't make any more sense even when randomly mixed up.

Until next time! And for those of you in the northern hemisphere, enjoy spring. For those in the southern hemisphere, enjoy watching water drain in the opposite direction.


Editorial Lint

JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.

To unsubscribe, send an email to [email protected] with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you have more than one email address, you must send the unsubscribe request from the email address you want unsubscribed. In case of difficulty, let me know: [email protected]

There's more information about subscribing, changing your address, etc., at In case of confusion, you can always send mail to me at [email protected]. There is no need for harshness or recriminations. Sometimes things just don't work out between people. .

Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team who responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.


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