Friday, April 25, 2003

Distributed Denial of Service

Via John Naughton, this link to Bruce Schneier's discussion of a fascinating research paper on real world distributed denial of service attacks. The idea is simple. There are a remarkable number of companies out there, that will send free catalogues by snailmail if you fill out forms on the WWW. A simple Google search for these forms will give you over 250,000 hits. With basic Perl or API skills, you can write a script that will fill out hundreds of thousands of forms automatically, in the name of a specific individual, or in the name of all individuals within a specific postal code, or all individuals bearing a specific last name in a postal database, or whatever, and just sit back as the person in question finds themselves deluged beneath torrents and torrents of uninvited junk mail. What's scariest is that you don't need much in the way of programming skills to do it; any script-kiddy with 2 brain cells to rub together can cause havoc. Moreover, as Schneier documents, collective action problems mean that it would be incredibly difficult to come up with a coordinated solution.
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Euro

Brad de Long gives extensive quotes from an article by Martin Feldstein in the FT, telling Britain to stay out of the euro. Feldstein accurately identifies himself as a long time skeptic of European economic and monetary union. He's less forthcoming about the precise nature of his skepticism, which goes (or at the very least used to go) far beyond the standard Optimal Currency Area nostrums that he cites in the FT piece. Feldstein wrote a quite notorious article in Foreign Affairs back in 1997, predicting that even though the EU was supposed to end all wars, the euro would likely lead to "increased conflict" among the EU's member states. What kinds of conflict? Well, "[a]lthough it is impossible to know for certain whether these conflicts would lead to war, it is too real a possibility to ignore in weighing the potential effects of EMU and the European political integration that would follow." Feldstein also ruminates darkly about Germany's aspirations towards European hegemony, citing Helmut Kohl's statement that "Germany is our fatherland, but Europe is our future" as being "not without ambiguity."

Feldstein's 1997 piece is deeply silly in the way that only breezy and over-ambitious articles for foreign policy journals can be silly. The EMU has led to tensions between member states, but not of the sort that Feldstein mutters about; his arguments display a deep and absolute incomprehension of what the EU is. They're interesting, however, as a harbinger of things to come. Their main trope is that there's something shifty about the European Union, which has to do with all the nasty things that went on in continental Europe during the 1930's. This of course has become one of the intellectual givens of US jingoists, who simultaneously see the Europeans as (a) effete tree-hugging peace-loving surrender monkeys, and (b) sinister, anti-Semitic conspirators on the way to recreating a European Reich-by-stealth. Believing both of these things at once is a rather impressive feat of intellectual gymnastics; Feldstein was one of the first people to show - by demonstration - that such gymnastics are possible, if you're sufficiently limber. Glenn Reynolds and the boys owe him a vote of thanks.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Hard boiled fiction

I wrote a post a couple of months back on game theory and Richard Stark's Parker books. I reckoned that these hard boiled crime novels had the same view of human nature as game theory: cooperation is possible, but only where the long term benefits outweigh the long term costs. Parker. And I suggested that it wasn't a coincidence that so many technical terms from game theory (Prisoner's Dilemma, Grim Trigger Strategy, Sucker's Payoff) sound like the titles of 1930's dime-store classics. Well, it looks as though the influence goes the other way as well. I'm now reading the next-to-most recent Parker novel which has a brief discussion of game theory and the Prisoner's Dilemma (although the character talking about it doesn't quite get it right). Richard Stark is, of course, a nom-de-plume of Donald Westlake, who has to be one of the best popular novelists of this century. His Parker books are note-perfect, while the crime caper novels he writes under his own name (most recently, Put a Lid on It) are just as well written, and damn funny too. One of these days, I'd like to teach a course on politics and society through popular fiction. This would feature not only Westlake but Terry Pratchett (see Kieran Healy), Steven Brust and Emma Bull (their Freedom and Necessity is a splendid Trotskyist historical potboiler, vividly recreating Chartist conspiracies in Britain), China Mieville (his New Crobuzon as the Great Wen and Armada as a comment on libertarian utopias). And that's only for starters. Sadly, unlikely that I'll be able to do it for another year or two given my other commitments.
How the Scots destroyed civilization

Iain Coleman blogs an essay claiming that Scotch-Irish immigrants to the South are responsible for the strong streak of xenophobia and intolerance that runs through US society today. It's a refreshing read, if only as a partial antidote to its polar opposite: the ethnic chest-thumping literature that is propagating like kudzu vine along the non-fiction shelves of our bookshops. This worrying trend began with the Irish of course; Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization was a sleeper hit a few years back. Cahill can't be blamed for his success, but his huge sale figures have had rather unfortunate consequences. Now we have umpteen volumes making similar claims for other nationalities; e.g. Sprezzatura: 50 Ways That Italian Genius Shaped the World, and the rather remarkably titled, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It,, available in umpteen copies on the display table in the local bookstore. It's a variant of Gresham's Law: ever more inflated claims, on behalf of this or that putative cradle of civilization, are driving out anything resembling normal debate. Which is why the odd mean-spirited essay warms my heart; it deflates the debate a little. Of course, a book about how the Scots (or Irish or Italians) had screwed up civilization could never actually find a mainstream publisher in the US - that sort of vitriol is reserved for liberals.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Hero of the pop-charts

Jaysus. We're No. 2 on Technorati's Interesting Newcomers list.

Update: or were at least, for sixteen hours or so. Sic transit gloria mundi.
A likely lad. That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist

I used to subscribe to the London Review of Books for the spleen and invective: rude opinions, vigorously expressed, especially on the Letters page. I'll never forget, for example, somebody's description of Terry Eagleton as a writer of "Ladybird primers in critical theory." I'm tempted to renew my subscription after reading this rather splendid character assassination of Christopher Hitchens, published back in January. It's all the more effective for its politeness and restraint; apparently meandering a little as it gathers a critical mass of similes and metaphors, which are then aimed like a killer punch to Hitchen's solar plexus in the final paragraph. And the punch is right on target. Of course, Hitchens is no mean hand himself at the killer book review. His late 1990's piece for the LRB on the Cruiser's "On the Eve of the Millenium," collected in Unacknowledged Legislations is a masterful hatchet-job in its own right. It's a pity what's happened to him since. Speaking of which, bonus marks to anyone who gets the rather obscure reference in the title of this post, without resort to Google.

Update: From The Onion's "It Never Rains But It Pours Dept," more thoughts on Mr. Hitchens' intellectual trajectory. And check out their utterly wonderful piece on Fox and the Iraqi transition while you're at it.
Austrians count the cost of data retention

Good news via Cedric Laurant of EPIC.

The Austrian Federal Constitutional Court ruled on February 27, 2003 that the Austrian statute which compels telecommunication service providers to implement wiretapping measures at their own expense is unconstitutional. From now on, the Austrian government will have to bear wiretapping implementation expenses
unless it can show that fobbing off expenses on the private sector can be justified for exceptional reasons.

See EPIC's outline and comments.

This is a positive development. It is notable that a number of communication service providers (CSPs) took this constitutional case, despite the Austrian government's assertion last autumn that industry was co-operating with plans to impose data retention. Perhaps the deal is not yet fully sewn up. Further, while the Court found that it was lawful to compel communications service providers to develop surveillance systems, it said that the CSPs should not have to meet these obligations at their own expense. Having to fund both the capital and running expenses of a massive data retention obligation may slow law enforcement's gallop to a canter. Law enforcement hasn't been been reluctant to ride rough shod over human rights in its quest for data retention; money may be a rather more effective deterrent.

Poacher turned poacher
The new chief privacy officer at the US Dept. of Homeland Security is Nuala O'Connor Kelly, who's just left DoubleClick, a company that's well-known for its "respect" for individual privacy. I'm reserving judgement for the moment, but I have my doubts. Let's face it, DoubleClick's great idea in life was to link up and commercially exploit disparate databases of personal information to provide a picture of individuals' lives far richer than the sum of the parts. Finessing public concern and activists' outcry at this sort of thing is certainly a skill the DHS in in sore need of (and also makes me nostalgic for the days when DoubleClick and its ilk seemed the most egregious privacy invaders.)

Fair is fair though. O'Connor Kelly's time at DoubleClick does date from their efforts to (be seen to) clean up their privacy act. And she is originally from Belfast. Belfast women are known for dressing nicely, speaking softly, smiling plenty, and ruling with a rod of iron. Good luck to her.

Monday, April 21, 2003

For this is hell, nor are we out of it

See Invisible Adjunct on grading hell. Invisible Adjunct is a great blog by the way, smart, witty, and melancholic in turns. Coincidentally, I've just finished reading a novel, James Hynes' The Lecturer's Tale, which portrays adjunct teaching as a lesser-known corner of Dante's hell, but somehow manages to make it funny. Hynes' hero is a much put-upon adjunct lecturer, about to lose his job, whose finger is severed in an accident; when it's surgically reattached, he finds that it now has the power to compel others to do his will. Bits of David Lodge (literary theory superstars under fairly transparent pseudonyms), but also reminiscent in places of Fritz Leiber's academic horror story, "Conjure Wife." Michael Dirda of the Post describes it as the most devastating portrait of contemporary academic life that he's ever read. I'm not sure it's that good; Randall Jarrell's "Pictures from an Institution" is much more subtle (though maybe not as contemporary), but it certainly should give you a pretty good idea of what it is that Invisible Adjunct gets upset about.
The castle of crossed destinies

And it begins. John Holbo, a recent addition to our scholastic list, emails to inform me that his blogroll next-door-neighbor, Michael Green, is an old grad school buddy who he's fallen out of touch with. This chance juxtaposition has inspired Professor Holbo to email Professor Green, so as to re-establish contact. I confidently predict that this is only the first in a series of intriguing human relationships to be facilitated by Farrellblogger's ever-evolving index of scholar-bloggers. Star-crossed lovers reunited, clandestine assignments consumnated, sinister conspiracies abetted, age-old emnities rekindled; the possibilities are endless.
Evolution's Darling

N.Z. Bear's Blogging Ecosystem has switched to a percentage based ranking system, which, inter alia means that Farrellblogger has ascended from Insignificant Microbe to Slithery Reptile in the course of an afternoon. Don't laugh: it took the dinosaurs a couple of billion years to pull the same trick. My comments on how ridiculous this all is still apply; but I have to admit that there is a certain je ne sais quoi to our newfound position in the pecking order, however silly or arbitrary that order may be.
Spies r us

I'm half way through The Company, a novel of the CIA by Robert Littell, and I'm starting to flag a little. He's been called the US answer to John le Carre, but his characters are too wooden (except for Torriti) and their moral dilemmas too pat to make me really care or think about them too much. I also know who the mole is, so there's no surprise waiting at the end for me.

To keep up my interest, I've started reading it in tandem with Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes; the short 20th century. (Either that, or it's Marxist Historian Week chez moi.) Predictably enough, Hobsbawm and Littell differ in two fundamental ways.

Littell's novel portrays portrays the Cold War as a fight to the death, and the CIA's struggle with the KGB (and their respective client states/agencies) as having decided historic outcomes. I don't know this period well enough to judge the first assumption, but I don't really buy the second. For example, Littell ignores how America's reaction to the uprising in East Germany must have made the Kremlin pretty confident that the US would not intervene militarily to support the Hungarian revolution that took place three years later, in 1956. In Littell's account, Khruschev decides to send in the tanks at the last minute when his spy master bursts into a meeting and relates Eisenhower's own words. Fair enough, the man's writing a novel and it's a great little set piece. But you didn't need to be a spy master to figure that the US would calculate that 'rolling back communism' in Hungary wasn't worth World War III.

Hobsbawm has a fairly convincing (though heavily anti-US) argument that the Cold War was just a phoney war, and intelligence agencies' manouevrings merely shadow play. He does allow that it's had a positive spin-off: the genre of espionage and assassination literature typified by le Carre and Ian Fleming which allowed Britain to wistfully, if fictionally, re-assert its dominance in world events. Except in some of the 3rd world client states, Hobsbawm says, the intelligence agencies' operations were "trivial in terms of real power politics", however flashy. When it comes down to it, the various manouevrings between agencies in Central and Eastern Europe really only counted if the nuclear threat was credible. But as any really significant threat to either party would bring about mutually assured destruction, nothing the CIA did was ever going to have a real effect behind the Iron Curtain. Except, of course, for the people left high and dry when revolutions were fomented by the agency and cursorily abandoned.

All of which is having the opposite effect to the one I'd hoped for: it's making me even more impatient with this novel. Sigh. Only 500 pages to go.
Let God Sort Them Out?

I said I was going to shut up for a couple of days, I know, but I have to point to this post by Chris Bertram, about a nasty little piece by Martin Sieff at UPI. Sieff argues that the kind of collusion between state and paramilitaries that was uncovered by the Stevens' Enquiry is justifiable. His argument is a simple one, if you strip away the bullshit sophistries about bleak realities etc: he thinks that the torture and murder of innocents is justifiable, as long as it protects society. Chris, quite rightly, is revolted. This kind of realism comes cheap to Sieff and his ilk; they're rather unlikely to be at the receiving end of the abuses that they so blithely prescribe. It's others who pay the cost. Sieff's logic is identical to that of Lord Denning's famous dictum on the Birmingham Six (see Kieran Healy for further details): better that innocents should suffer than that the System change its ways. What this means, in the end, that the weakest members of a given society are at risk of death or grievous injury at the hands of the state apparatus that purports to protect them. Expect more of this sort of squalid pseudo-argument as the "war on terrorism" starts to heat up again.
Relative values
I only got around to reading this week's Economist this morning. Starting backwards from the non-exec jobs pages (natch), I read a review of Why do men barbecue? by Richard Shweder which irritated me. The book is a collection of papers about how people respond to differences in other cultures. Shweder, the Economist says, regards female genital mutilation as a key test of whether people can really accept cultural differences. I can't comment on Shweder - haven't read his book and don't really plan to (far too dear). What struck me was the Economist's assertion about encouraging developing countries to acknowledge that women have the same human rights as men:

"So people in the West, like 19th century missionaries, are tempted to impose their cultural assumptions on other countries, convinced that West is best."

Harumph. Well, so far so predictable. I suppose I shouldn't be envious of people whose thinking is so advanced as to have gone straight from conservative to reactionary, and skipped right over the whole identity politics thing.

Moving backwards through the magazine (and why do they insist on calling it a 'paper'? It's glossy, with colour pictures, a centre binding and it's about A4 size. In my book, that's a magazine, just like Time and Newsweek. ;-) ), I came across a piece about India, India's Missing Girls. This article drew attention to the widespread aborting of female foetuses made possible by ultrasound technology. Ticking off the predictable problems this phenomenon causes; shortage of potential wives, higher crime by frustrated young men, and more domestic violence, the article noted that criminalising female foeticide had had no effect and that "it may already be too late to avoid serious social trauma."

The first article was irritating but predictable, the second infuriating when read in tandem. It seems, to the Economist at least, that its perfectly fine to deny human rights to women as long as the costs are born by the women and not by society as a whole. After all, these are just cultural differences and we should all be sophisticated and grown up enough to accept that. If it's your custom, you can mutilate women and deny them all sorts of basic human rights as long as you don't create negative externalities that rebound back on everyone else, i.e. men, or even, heaven forfend, the economy. Clearly, all those lily-livered liberals and sheltered Western feminists have a lot to learn from the urbane and worldly wisdom that the Economist so frequently dispenses.

Another paper might defend itself by saying that different writers express different opinions. How can you expect consistency between book reviews and reporting on Asia? But the Economist is different. A great deal of its authority rests on the consistency of the author's voice. Each article reads with the same authority / smug assuredness, giving the impression of a single, omniscient eye, surveying all and issuing cool, dispassionate judgements. It's impressive but rather hard to maintain.

Or perhaps there's more to this than a simple problem of editorial consistency. Others are more qualified in the relevant isms than I, but it seems to me that these articles raise a problem with the whole laissez-faire approach to life, or at least that propounded by the Economist. The classic liberal tenet of 'do what you like as long as it doesn't harm others' seems to have fallen by the wayside, and been replaced by an implicitly utilitarian calculation of the public consequences of harm done to individuals. The problem is not treating women as second class citizens, it's what happens when this brings negative consequences to society as a whole. Once the principle of equal rights for all has been abandoned as naive, the debate on intervention or non-intervention simply turns on expediency.

Embracing pragmatism is one thing, but what is the formula for analysing costs? Do they just not count if they are born by people in no position to spread the pain around? For example, if female genital mutilation was shown to significantly lower fertility, would it count then? Would that be a "serious social trauma"?

Which brings me back to editorial consistency. If, as the last 18 months have shown, the editorial line is determined not by principle but by expediency, these little quirks and are bound to pop up, and will keep on popping up. At least it keeps the readers on their toes.

p.s. apols, the links are to premium content pages. Shortage of girls article on p. 48 of Euro print edition, review on page 69.
on doit ressusciter

It was a week or two before my finals in history that Henry told me to read 'theses on the philosophy of history'.

In the Irish university system, you do a single set of exams at the end of your three or four years, and that's the mark you get for your degree. The History department then had a tradition that was old-fashioned enough to be very enlightened. Although you only did three courses in final year, you sat four exams. The fourth was a general exam with 20 questions that could be on any topic covered in any course over the entire degree. It had obscure questions about obscure figures and then ones like 'discuss the political uses of the colour red in the French Revolution'. There was no point studying for it, and no sure topics. It was a chance to perform.

Anyway, by the time I was doing it, the student population was less Zuleika Dobson than mincemeat fed through the Murder Machine. So, we were gathered into an auditorium to have the exam explained and our nerves soothed. The head of the department went through a sample paper, suggested ways students might let go of their text books and use their imaginations, and then came to a few tricky sounding questions at the end. These mentioned a word most of us hadn't come across before; 'historiography'. A hand went up. Response (paraphrasing); 'If you haven't come across this conceptalready, don't worry about it. There are 17 more questions you can choose from.'

You know that feeling you get when you think someone is trying to pull a fast one but you're onto it, if you could only figure out what exactly it is? Back at Oakley Road, I asked Henry about this historiography thing and he immediately prescribed a course of reading which included 'theses' and the annalistes. Feeling like I was studying history for the first time, I charged through the lot. It was truly a revelation. I remember crying when Benjamin, explained that history is "a process of empathy whose origin is the indolence of the heart, acedia, which despairs of grasping and holding the genuine historical image as it flares up briefly". He quoted Flaubert;

'Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu etre triste pour ressusciter Carthage.'

or; 'Few will be able to guess how sad one had to be in order to resuscitate Carthage.'

I'm sorry to say that my understanding of Benjamin has turned out to be equally as fleeting. I glimpsed but couldn't grasp, though I've always kept him close. Reading him again now, I could almost remember what it was to be 21 and reading history for the first time. But I'm afraid the storm of progress has long since blown me away.

And the exam? I can't remember which question I answered in the end. But it did have 'historiography' in it. I took the entire three hours allotted to scribble a 20 page diatribe about the importance of the ideas behind history, the failure of a department that had never taught them, and that my three years of course work had (with one very notable exception) been a waste of time. They gave me a first for the essay and sent me on my way.

Am swamped with grading student papers - expect a loud silence from my half of this blog over the next couple of days.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

On doit oublier

Jacob Levy has a post that talks about Renan's famous dictum that "in order to be French, it is necessary to forget St. Bartolemy" (or words to that effect). The best account that I've read of this gnomic phrase is in the second edition of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities (which is where I suspect most political scientists and theorists first encounter Renan). Anderson points out that Renan's argument is extraordinary precisely because it assumes that nobody in France -has- forgotten the St. Bartholemew's day massacre; Renan tosses the reference into his argument, with no further explanation, because no further explanation is needed. But, as Anderson goes on to argue, even if everybody remembers what the St. Bartholemew's massacre is, they have "forgotten" it in a more profound sense: it is no longer a source of bitter political division, but rather has become part of the French national myth. I haven't read Anderson in years, but also owe my first encounter with Walter Benjamin's wonderful "Theses on the Philosophy of History," to him, as well as my decision to do postgraduate work in political science. I'm not sure whether to thank him or blame him for the latter; Imagined Communities gave me a rather inaccurate impression of what it is that political scientists do (lots of reading interesting novels and historical texts, not so much statistics; in other words the precise opposite of what the discipline actually entails).

Update: Hubert Butler, whom I suspect nobody in the blogosphere except for me, Mrs. Tilton, and most likely Kieran Healy, has heard of, has a very fine essay on Renan, collected, as far as I recall, in his volume, "The Children of Drancy."
anonymity and community

After a couple of posts by Amitai Etzioni which left me feeling pretty disgruntled, I'm glad to see a post which seems to hold out the promise of an interesting debate, even if I don't agree with it. Etzioni argues that anonymity is anti-communitarian, and that this is an especial problem of the online world. While he acknowledges some virtues to anonymity, he feels that they are clearly outweighed by the costs: "poorer conversations, meager relationships and impoverished communities." His point seems unassailable: it chimes with the experience of anyone who's had to wade through unmoderated discussions in search of the odd interesting post submerged beneath the garbage. All the same, I'm not entirely convinced. Timothy Burke, for example, talks about the disadvantages of closed online communities where anonymity is impossible; after a while they become stifling. In Burke's words, "eventually everyone knows what everyone else thinks, and the more you know about how some people think, the less you want to talk to them." Moreover, Burke finds that rules of good conduct in closed communities don't really get rid of trolls; they merely oblige them to express their annoying opinions in a more polite (but distinctly passive-aggressive) fashion.

Is there an alternative to the closed community, in which everyone knows everyone, and anonymity is unobtainable? Richard Sennett's extraordinary (if meandering and labyrinthine) book, "The Fall of Public Man" holds out a possible ideal. Sennett has a specifically non-communitarian vision of the left, which celebrates the city as a social space where people can interact meaningfully, without being constrained either by thick community bonds, or by the (to Sennett) stifling constraints of family and personal life. His model of sociability is the eighteenth century coffee house in London or Paris, where individuals (typically men, admittedly) could come together anonymously, and discuss the issues of the day, without much regard as to who they were in private life. According to Sennett, this allowed people to escape their private lives, to try out new identities, new ideas, without being called to account for them (Etzioni, for his part, allows that anonymity permits this kind of play). It thus provided for a richness of social interaction that would otherwise have been impossible. There's something that I find deeply attractive about this idea of sociability - it's all about creating a space for the celebration of diversity and fluidity, an idea that Iris Marion Young (who's influenced by Sennett) develops further in "Justice and the Politics of Difference."

Is there an equivalent to this ideal in the online world? I reckon so, and it's blogging. Not to say that there aren't faults (pace Burke, the sometime incestuous nature of the blogworld; good bloggers who don't receive notice through no fault of their own), but blogging seems to me to be rather closer to Sennett's ideal than to Etzioni's. It's quite possible for a blogger to remain anonymous, and to get linked to, as long as she produces opinions and arguments that interest people. Atrios is the obvious example (although at this stage it's not hard to guess who he is); there are many, many others. The reason why anonymity doesn't erode dialogue in this instance is that blogging is an open-ended universe. In contrast to an unmoderated listserv (where I have to wade through every rubbishy post that some troll has seen fit to inflict), I can read Atrios, or not read Atrios, as I like; I can link to him if I like what he 's saying, while I can remove my links if he offends me. Atrios' -real- identity is of no concern to me, as long as I'm interested in what he has to say. The key point is that I don't have to endure him. I can create my own "community" from the individuals whom I find interesting; I don't need to know who people "really" are, so as to hold them accountable for their behavior, as I can simply up and leave if I don't like what they're saying.

The consequence is a sphere of discussion which does often clump into communities, but relatively open ended ones. They're communities of interest - sometimes long term (where people share a deeper set of concerns that they want to discuss), sometimes short term (where people briefly converge on an issue - such as for example, the recent discussion starting from Jacob Levy's post on political theory and political philosophy). Indeed, perhaps they're better described as conversations than as communities, at least if you're using the term "community," as communitarians use it. You can enter them, and exit them at will. But Etzioni, I'm sure, still has a different take on these issues ...

Update: Matthew Yglesias is a little perturbed by Etzioni's post, while the mysterious Insurgent unsurprisingly thinks that anonymity is quite a good thing, thank you very much. By strange coincidence, Liz Lawley posts today on blogging and authenticity, talking about how her husband used to create multiple personalities in virtual communities.

Update 2: Had an interesting email discussion with Matthew, who suggested (correctly) that I didn't distinguish clearly enough between pseudonymity and anonymity in my original post. I reckon that the two are functionally equivalent for the purpose of this argument: lightly edited highlights of my email below.

I think that it's not just simple pseudonymity with a single identity. We can chop and change between different identities if we want to, something which Etzioni would find deeply worrying. His basic premise is that the possibility of anonymity means that we can't hold people accountable for their actions. This is just as true in a context where (a) pseudonymity is possible, and (b) where you can jump from one pseudonomynous identity to another at will. Both are clearly true of blogging in principle: there's nothing to stop me from setting up five or six blogger accounts, and jumping between them. According to Etzioni, this should radically undermine the possibility of community, of rich relationships, and of good conversation. It clearly does the former to some extent - I don't think blogging (or "clumps" of bloggers) has the features of community that Etzioni identifies. It probably isn't all that compatible with deep relationships either; there are a bunch of bloggers who I feel I would like a lot if I knew them personally, but I don't "know" them except insofar as they represent themselves online. But it is compatible - and eminently conducive towards - good conversations, with an open ended quality that just ain't possible in thick, tightly knit communities. And it's this I'm trying to get at. Etzioni claims that community is the corner stone of good dialogue; I disagree. And I'm trying to articulate why blogging supports my arguments rather than Etzioni's.

Update 3: Julian Sanchez defends anonymity from a libertarian viewpoint