Letters

Dear PW,

I found your old letter but misplaced the questionnaire [reader survey]. Assuming Processed World is gravitating toward the marketing pragmatism of the 80's, let me propose some answers and you all conjure up the questions:

1. 1968
2. 35
3. 1984 Volvo
4. 5632,000
5. Tonic Water
6. Once a week
7. McGovern, None, None, Carter, Mondale
8. New York Review of Books
9. Prophylactics
10. More articles on Travel
Hope this boosts your demographics and display ad rates...

Sincerely, L.H. -- New Orleans, LA

Dear P.W.,
Responding to Zoe Noe's response in P.W. #16--not all feminists have problem with sexual imagery, but some dislike violent porn unlike the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce.
F.A.C.T." is a direct response to feminist efforts to make producers and consumers of graphically anti-women material legally liable for whatever mayhem may result from its propagation.
Legislation empowering those hurt by violent porn to sue for reparations has been passed in some cities. F.A.C.T. calls it censorship. [Ed. note: So do many PWers] The woman raped on a pool table in New Bedford after a spread of a pool-table rape appeared in Hustler may feel differently.
Regardless, don't slag anti-porn activists just to defend your choice of graphics.
Sincerely, N.F. -- Middleton, CT

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To the Editors:

I enjoy your magazine immensely as do many of my friends. I like the concept of dealing with the processes of the processed. My single complaint is that it makes my eyes hurt to go from one color to the next as I'm reading. Really, it is hard on them. I know you will think that maybe I need glasses, but I have had my eyes checked several times lately because of the strain of doing word processing at my job, and my opthamologist assures me that my eyes are 15-20, better by one point than what astronauts need. Not that you'll see me on the next shuttle...

I would appreciate it if you would do an expose of the amount of pain caused by VDTs. Everybody wants to avoid this because there are so many profits involved. Nevertheless, I really hate typing on a VDT compared to typing on this little portable electronic typewriter I'm working on right now. Perhaps the biggest trouble with word processors is that they are always getting their operators lost. It seems like hours and hours are spent debugging the things, often a group of fifteen secretaries will be crowded around a single terminal at my office trying to figure out what went wrong. That's something I haven't seen said in print anywhere before.

Well, what can I say? Maintain output.
Sincerely--K.O., Seattle, WA

Ed. Note: We did a pretty thorough piece on computer hazards in PW #14, called ''Unwanted Guests.''

Yo PW!-
I see in issue #16 that the female graphic accompanying my "Road Warrior" piece in #15 and also the nude (ooo! how terrible!) collage caused a silly stir. As noted the graphics were by San Francisco bike messengers, not by me or any of my crew, but still they were fitting (except we're mostly a ten-speed scene with special "messenger bags" around our shoulder). The exaggerated graphic of the tough, big-breasted, ass-kicking road warrior mama underscores what we really are--in that genre of comix one exaggerates proportions. If it were a guy, he would be macho-muscled. Sexism comes out of the context--I don't believe it was there. As for the "sexism" of the nude collage-gimmie a break! Being nude is what we are. By all means correct the imbalance by bringing in penises--I happen to have one and I love it. Come on folks, it's 1986, long ago we should've gotten over dumb hangups. There is a difference between nudity/sex and sexism. Too often uptight leftists mix them up. When this flaming-hetero sees someone that turns me on and my palms sweat, my face flushes, and my heart beats, am I being a "sexist pig" or am I just being sweet and human! Puritanism is (pardon the ageism) infantile.

See you, love, Bob McGlynn, Brooklyn NY

Hi Processed World,

Each issue of your magazine gets better and better. Thanks especially for Tom Athanasiou's piece on NSA's heavy influence peddling in restructuring the DES. However, I think the author overlooked one rather depressing aspect of the subject which tends to make the protests of Whitfield Diffie et. al. look rather pointless.

Let's consider NSA's activities analogous to the OSHA/EPA role in setting workplace safety standards, which would make skeptical cryptologists the equivalent of environmentalists. It's important to remember that whether you're talking benzene levels or DES key sizes, debate over the validity of federal standards takes place in a vacuum that neither bosses nor workers give a damn about.

OSHA can set whatever standards it wants to for workplace safety, but most employers ignore the standards, since they know inspections have been cut back and no one is likely to catch them. Even in a conscientious corporation, workers who have not been given extensive training on the value of safety features (and even some of those who have) are likely to dream up methods of overriding those safety mechanisms if they find them uncomfortable or a hassle (e.g., inhalation masks in closed paint shops--who uses 'em?).

Similarly, NSA's main problem is not to convince the corporations that letting the agency decide communications security standards would be in the companies' best interests, but convincing companies to use encryption methods at all. Indeed, I would argue that Waiter Dealey, Lincoln Faurer, and other past and present members of the Never Say Anything agency have only gone public to talk about communications security because of the poor sales across the board on all data encryption chips and systems, be they based on DES, public-key, or something whose very name NSA has classified. In this context, the reason Athanasiou was looking for to explain NSA's dropping of DES may be that NSA employees attributed slow sales of DES-based systems to a lack of trust in DES among corporations who suspect (with ample reason) that NSA "cooked" the keys.

My own bet is that unless a company is involved in something like funds transfers, executives are going to quickly forget that their communications can be and may be intercepted by NSA, KGB/GRU, or even their nearest competitor. Sure, somebody in purchasing might pick up a data sheet or advertisement on a cryptosystem, when a company is looking at a quarterly bottom line, encryption becomes one of those superfluous frills, like environmental control equipment.

I don't want to downgrade either anti-establishment cryptologists or ankle-biting environmentalists, since somebody has to watchdog the federal agencies responsible for setting standards. Who knows, maybe the influence in standards-setting will become so blatant the watchdogs can send someone up the river a la Rita Lavelle.

But if NSA or its detractors think that your average corporation is the slightest bit interested in either side of the cryptology debate, they're crediting the corporate consciousness with an intelligence it simply does not possess.
And what does this say for the average rank-and-filer--the same blue-collar worker who will remove an uncomfortable safety mask or build an override pipe around the company's multimillion dollar pollution processing system so litho chemicals can be poured straight into the city water system without plugging the sink) Remember, the annals of cryptology are replete with horror stories of codebreakers able to break into an adversary's code system because a grunt worker at the code machine was too lazy to change the key every 24 hours. It's the same with communications security in general. Privacy and freedom of expression become meaningless in a society where they are not valued. Most Americans don't care what they are able to read because they don't read. Most Americans don't pay attention to the argument about the degree Big Brother watches them because they don't care if Big Brother has 24-hour access to their homes, bodies, and thoughts.

Sorry for sounding so pessimistic, but I have to treat arguing over the validity of federal standards, regardless of the agency involved, as quibbling that does not involve 99 percent of either the rulers or the ruled. It's a swell hobby and it keeps your hands busy, but it puts most people to sleep. No more cartoon monoxide,

L.W. -- Burlingame, CA

Dear Processed World,

The California prison world revolves around the ringing bell. Its ring proficiently pokes and prods prisoners to everything from breakfast to sleep.

I'm not talking the ding-dong of an old iron bell, or the ding-ding-a-ling of a come-and-get-it dinner bell. No. I'm talking 1980s, state-of-the-art in electronic circuitry, high pitched, long sustained and loud ringing bell. The kind you continue hearing for a few uncertain seconds after but the actual ringing has stopped; the kind you might expect to hear if you live near a jewelry store uptown, or in a fire station.

Ironically, I've yet to hear the prison bell when fire breaks out, but it rings relentlessly during fire drills.
At Soledad prison, the bell shakes inmates out of bed at 5:30 a.m. It ushers them to and from breakfast, pushes them to their job assignments at 8 a.m. sharp, and later breaks them for lunch. The bell gives notice to resume work, ringing again when the work day is done. It sends convicts to their cages for count; it stands them up to be counted. The bell rings on and off throughout the day every day, denoting the start or end of every convict activity scheduled. It finally gives one long blast at 9:45 p.m., signifying the day's final ringing of the bell and also that it is time for everyone to lock up for the night.

"Bells, bells, bells..." wrote Edgar Alien Poe. You hear these bells so many times a day at Soledad, after awhile you hardly hear them at all.

I have a cellmate named Duke who drew a comparison of the prison bell to Pavlov's bell. It was more accurate than I cared to admit; California's prisons are notoriously antiquated, contributing to its 90 per cent rate of recidivism (almost double the national average), but still, I was reluctant to see my humble home as a turn-of-the-century Russian kennel.
As a joke, and perhaps to drive the message all the way home, Duke began barking like a dog every time he heard the bell--every time, from breakfast to bedtime. And if a bell rang in the distance, say, in another cellblock, he would whine and growl and let out an occasional yelp as if he were being teased.

It was a clever and good imitation. I found myself darting up in the morning not because I heard the bell, but because I heard Duke barking and I was instinctively afraid he would start licking my face if I didn't get out of my rack.
It was absurd enough to be funny, to a point. The barking got old in a hurry, though, like any joke repeatedly told. Soon I began ignoring Duke when he barked, hoping to discourage him. This approach failed, only prompting him to bark more zealously.

Eventually I called him on it. I explained that it just wasn't funny anymore and, in fact, having a roommate who only spoke German Shepherd had become irritating and, worse yet, our neighbors were starting to talk. I threatened to purchase a muzzle through a mail-order dog obedience agency, which settled him down to muffled whimper.
He said he understood, and agreed to abandon his canine ways. We soon learned, however, his barking had become a subconscious habit with him; he was conditioned. Every time the bell would ring, Duke responded like an excited puppy.

He would catch himself almost immediately, a forlorn look of misery sneaking across his face. To this day it is difficult for Duke to refrain from barking when he hears the bell, although regular sessions with the prison shrink seem to be helping.

San Quentin has a similar bell-ringing policy, but the bell there sounds more like a foghorn, and it is usually out of commission. Its sound is so obnoxious that the convicts are continually severing the speaker lines, judiciously rendering the bell incapacitated.

Most of San Quentin's prisoners are long-termers, well-versed in the daily routine. They do not need a foghorn to tell them their breakfast is already cold.

At other prisons not unlike Soledad, the bell system symbolizes a way of life, and it serves its purposes faithfully. It will forever ring a few minutes before the cage doors are unlocked, and since the doors remain unlocked for only a minute, inmates know when they hear the bell they better get washed and dressed and ready to leave the cell. They do become programmed.

Of course prison--especially prison--has its share of nonconformists: that handful of convicts believing they can hold on to the last threads of personal identity by NOT jumping every time the bell sounds. These subversives are easily identified, as well-groomed and neatly conditioned inmates filing out of the cell-block trip over them and their clothes as they hurriedly get dressed on the tier landings.

The bell also serves as an alarm in the event a fistfight breaks out between two prisoners on the recreation yard. The bell alerts all the guards in the world and sends them swarming to the altercation where they promptly quell the disturbance by diving en masse on top of the two combatants, separating them, handcuffing them, then further restraining them by applying head-locks, kidney-punches, groin-kicks, eye-pokes, hair-pulls and a variety of complicated arm-twisting and bending techniques which are top-secret and taught under a strict code of silence at the California Guard Academy.

How would prisons operate without the ringing bell! How do ex-cons function without the bell to direct them!
The California prison system is home to 50,000 criminals, each with a different past, a different attitude, a different dream. Each dances to the song of the bell, and that is the common denominator. Prisoners are made to respond in the same fashion as Wells's Eloi and Pavlov's dogs, and many live two-to-a-cage in cages so small state law forbids the SPCA to shelter one dog in a cage the same size. Man adapts, by virtue of his brain and/or force. The long-term effects are predictable: The prison shrink is certain that once Duke is uncaged and unleashed he will bite somebody.

-- Charles ''E. Z.'' Williams,

a 27-year old "lifer" who has spent the Past eight years at various prisons in the California Department of Corrections, including San Quentin, where he served as editor of the San Quentin News for two years.

Dear Processed World,
My field of maintenance with a major airline is not exempt from computer boondoggles, as you might imagine. In times past flight crews used to record the engine instrument readings on every flight into the aircraft log book. Nowadays each airplane is equipped with data link communications enabling the instrument readings to be instantly transmitted to company headquarters when entered in the cockpit keyboard. Not only does this increase flight crew workload--it's harder to type information than it is to write it down--at a time when the crew complement is being reduced from three to two, it also makes it harder for us mechanics. When an engine develops a problem a complete record of its past performance was there for us to see in the log book, but now this information is buried somewhere in the computerized bureaucracy that not even management levels have gained access to.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours --J.R., San Francisco

Dear Folks,
Something I've missed lately in PW (aside from the smaller size, which in itself was intimate and subversive -- easy to read at work) is commentary on local news and trends, overviews of Big Brother's plans. Such articles aren't just "doomsaying," they're like storm warnings: Batten the hatches, gang. Locally I've noticed continued labor losses. According to an early May issue of the Oakland Tribune, Cost Plus nursery employees have just abandoned their strike, and probably won't get rehired. They went on strike when the employer decided to drop their medical benefits and cut their pay by up to $2/hr. The nursery employees were of course replaced by scabs, and got to watch members of other local unions cross their picket lines without apparent concern (including Muni drivers and even Oakland teachers, who also went on strike recently). They also were threatened (by anonymous goods), and some strikers had their tires slashed. Their savings dwindled, and I've told you the end. Not as dramatic as the Watsonville canning strike, but worth noting. They lost because they had no community support.

Other companies are cutting back wages and/or benefits as well, often instituting a "two-tier" system whereby new hires are paid less for the same work than the present staff(PacBell); or forcing people to take on the duties of employees who quit, without of course lightening their other duties or increasing their salaries (Manufacturers Hanover Trust). The companies save on worker salaries that way, leaving more for management. With rent living expenses rising, 'there goes middle class.

This city is beginning to remind me of Portland economically--sort of a cargo cult, putting up huge buildings on the theory that buildings attract business. Meanwhile, businesses are moving to corporate fiefdoms in San Ramon, Concord and Fremont, so the bosses don't have to drive as far or take PART, and can often pay less for the same work. Temp word processing, which is usually $1-2/hr. more than permanent word processing, pays $6/hr. in Sacramento. Check out Sacramento some time: Concord-style downtown monoliths surrounded by a Deep South shanty-town, still a fit place to film HUCKLEBERRY FINN.

Regarding word processing, SF offices are going PC-happy. The people who make purchasing decisions don't know anything about computers, so they're replacing their and the dedicated word processors with microcomputers running a myriad of klutzy programs--as a temp, I'm finding the machinery changing too fast to keep up with (where do you learn SAMNA and SYNTREX anyhow!), and am tired of spending my time and money learning new programs the agencies are reluctant to give me work in ("lack of experience" is the excuse)-and none of them compare with the dedicated systems for ease of use and productivity.

Have considered "permanent" work, but the salaries for that are going down rapidly and the competition for the low-paying jobs is ridiculous. Why fight over chickenfeed? Word processing is becoming lumped with lower-paid secretarial work (not that secretarial work deserves to be low-paid either; just that one out is being denied to us). And the temp word processing market has slacked off considerably the last few months. It's difficult to get work right now; a few days here and there, where once the average was a couple or more weeks. More companies are overworking their underpaid staff, rather than hiring temps.

In summary, this area is deteriorating rapidly. The grey-garbed devotees of Reaganomics are driving out the people who gave SF a reputation for being radical/creative. Rents are rising much faster than wages; people are becoming homeless simply because they're forced to move and can't afford it. Am thinking of relocating, to someplace where the wage/rent ratio is better (not Sacramento), and ducking for cover. Hard times coming, if the corporations get their way (and our government is letting them).

'Scuse my pessimism. It's just that improving matters depends on the majority, and they're not likely to do anything. They've been brainwashed into identifying with the interests of the rich. Anybody else feel threatened by the rising tide of "patriotism" and red-baiting!

Good luck -- BORED IN THE USA (Oak.)