The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

November 19, 2009

From Mike Gurstein...

I had some correspondence with Agre, and was on his list for the longest 
time - he's absolutely brilliant and totally critial for understanding the 
social development of the Net. This is really, unbelievably, sad.

love Alan


From: Michael Gurstein <>

This is incredibly sad... I really hope that things will work out well for

When the Real (Intellectual) History of the Net is written among the names
with special reference will be Phil Agre (along with Ted Byfield and the and Nettime crew and not incidentally our stuff-it friend and
colleague Alan Sondheim...


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of t byfield
Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 9:49 AM
To: Nettime-l
Subject: <nettime> Phil Agre's gone missing

Very sad. And very strange that he's been missing since "2008/2009":

On another list, someone pointed out this writing of Agre's, which
he described as a cri de coeur, from late '98:

      I don't normally get emotional about political issues.  I don't
      know why, but I don't.  Nonetheless, in October 1997 I heard
      something that I found so disturbing that I haven't been able to
      write about it until now.  At the Telecommunications Policy
      Research Conference, the conference organizers put together a
      plenary panel presentation about so-called cyber war.  The
      presenters were all US military guys, both officers and military
      academy intellectuals, who have developed what is apparently an
      entirely new US military doctrine for the cyber world.  I judged
      these guys to be honest about their reasoning, and I was hardly
      alone in finding everything they said to be astonishing.


      That's bad enough, but it's just the start.  In the new world,
      the military guys said, warfare is no longer conducted along
      borders and boundaries, with front lines and supply lines and all
      of that. Warfare, in fact, can no longer be comprehended in
      spatial terms. To the contrary, in a world where communications
      infrastructure is everywhere and every element of communications
      infrastructure is a sensitive military target, war has no spatial
      limits.  And when terrorists can use public communications
      networks to conduct endless low-level attacks anywhere in the
      world from anywhere else in the world, war has no temporal limits
      -- they actually used the phrase "permanent war".

And more:

      War, on these guys' conception, is now conducted in every aspect
      of society.  Foreign manipulation of the content of American news
      media, for example, is "cultural war".  Taken all together, the
      result is -- and this is their term -- "total war". You might
      have thought that the Soviet Union had fallen, that the United
      States was by far the greatest military power on earth, that the
      heavy cloud of the Cold War had lifted, and that it was time for
      the United States to stand down from its total mobilization,
      disband the national security state, end the culture of secrecy,
      reshape the military in some reasonable proportion to its
      plausible adversaries, and get to work on the rest of society's
      problems.  You might think all of that, but you would be wrong.
      In the world of the Internet, it would seem, things have only
      gotten worse.  We are now in a world of permanent, total,
      omnipresent, pervasive war.  Cold War plus plus: all war, all the
      time.  They said this.

      The military guys' view of the emerging nature of war has
      numerous consequences, and they spelled some of them out.  They
      stated, for example, that in the event of war it would create no
      precedent for the government to take control of facilities that
      are sensitive from a military perspective.  But they asserted
      that war is no longer an event but a permanent state, and they
      had also asserted that virtually the entire productive
      infrastructure of the country was relevant to war as it is now
      defined.  During the question period, therefore, I asked them
      where the boundary between military and non-military facilities
      could be found, and they answered, with seemingly genuine
      distress, that the boundary does not exist.  The consequence,
      which they did not spell out, is that the emerging economics of
      information infrastructure have required the United States
      government to adopt as official policy an authoritarian variety
      of communism.

The whole thing's well worth reading, as is just about everything Agre

And that was eleven years ago. For context, it's also worth a glance of what
was afoot on this list at the time:

Naturally, my eye was drawn to the two messages I sent:

As Vuk used to say: bingo.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between individual
biographies and the mood of the broad trends and discourses that people
recognize and articulate. I hope that Agre doesn't turn out to be a victim
of his own formidable intelligence; he wouldn't be the first, and he
certainly won't be the last in the coming years.

Not cheers,

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i would love to live in this world of pastel beauty
unsolid, translucent, the promise of comfort within
sublime and exalted, i would curl up, sleeping forever
so soft the music, my body cleared of sin

and nowhere to go and nowhere the dismal slaughter
of others, there are none, of others, no language
temperate climes and just the right amount of dreaming
no ticketing, no tracks, procedures, and no baggage

and all the time to curl and smile gently and alone
and look and say in pure color softly leaving
color leaving and returning in softest waves of tones
and nothing harsh, and loving, never grieving

softly now, my arms embrace the softly smiling world
and softly all my forms embrace me, softly furled

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