Subject: Re: Who needs another Lisp _standard_? (Was: Re: islisp)
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1998/09/02
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Kent M Pitman <>
| That you two can see negatives does not surprise me and does not
| disappoint me.  The negatives are there to be seen.  That you fail to
| understand that some did see positives doesn't surprise me either, but
| does make me sad.

  I appreciate your point of view, Kent, but sometimes, whether something
  gets classified as "negative purpose" or "positive purpose" depends a
  little bit on one's political point of view.  for one person, stopping an
  enemy or competitor is perceived as a positive purpose and a value.  for
  others, it is a negative purpose despite any positive consequences.
  fighting an enemy is always cost-only, although it can be cost-effective
  compared to caving in, and it thus can (and should) be defended, but that
  doesn't make it a _positive_ purpose per se.

  as I have a few years of ISO work under my belt mysefl, I'll relate a
  story from ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 18 when ISO 8879 SGML was fighting ISO 8613
  ODA for dominance in features and who could satisfy the most users and/or
  needs.  (since they satisfy completely different markets, this is really
  silly, but most wars aren't over reasonable points of disagreement.)  at
  one point, the ODA feature to represent both a formatted and a logical
  structure in the same document annoyed the SGML people enough to invent a
  feature they called CONCUR, for concurrent document types.  it's a real
  kludge, it's dramatically under-specified and introduces a huge number of
  problems in processing a document that was not intended to be processed
  with CONCUR (quite unlike the ODA feature, which was truly orthogonal).
  knowing the people who were attending the dinner over which this feature
  was born, I know for a fact that it _had_ no positive purposes.  it was a
  political move intended only to reduce the perceived "lead" that ODA had
  in the European Community at the time, but it had no other use, and has,
  to my knowledge, never even been _attempted_ implemented anywhere.  when
  I implemented my own SGML system, I was also actively discouraged from
  implementing it by the same people who got it in there to begin with.
  (various misguided users proclaim a "need" for an implementation every
  now and then, failing to understand what it could and could not do, and
  abandon their request as soon as they do.)

  "I value X" is not sufficient to know whether somebody is constructive or
  destructive.  sometimes, it has "to the exclusion of all competition"
  tacked onto it, and is thus a destructive attitude, one which creates
  enemies and factions that _have_ to fight each other.  (I think I see
  that you also argue against this attitude, but not in the context of
  statement of what people value, only in how they react to others' values,
  real of purported.  I think it pertains to the values, and not primarily
  to other people's reactions to them.)  sometimes, such "values" _are_
  needed, especially when stupid people do stupid things that really hurt
  other people.  (I cling to the belief that smart people who do stupid
  things will eventually stop doing them, and will not keep doing them just
  to keep from losing face or prestige or somesuch.)  some people will make
  choices based not on what they _really_ want, only on what they don't
  want.  getting just _one_ such person into a standards committee is
  enough to undermine the whole standards process.  some companies (or
  countries) put people like that on standards committees on purpose just
  to keep from losing their position in the market.

  ideally, such petty wars should not occur at the working group level in
  ISO, only at the subcommittee (SC) or technical committee (TC) level,
  such that wars are fought over complete standards with technical merit,
  but those who want to fight dirty seldom respect others enough to keep
  this separation clean.

| In my upcoming book ``Everything I need to know in life I learned by
| working on the design of Common Lisp'', I discuss the fact that the very
| essence of all civilized behavior in any domain is about learning not to
| debate the statement "I find value in x." and to simply accept it.

  apart from having learned a _lot_ from working within ISO working groups
  for a few years that I hope never to get any use out of, I think there's
  a difference between positive and negative values of X.  "I find value in
  X being dead" is still debatable in my probably naive political view, yet
  I seem to see such "values" a lot in the political landscapes.

| Usually, I find, the failure of well-placed, powerful, or comfortable
| people to acknowledge and respect the fact that others are often not as
| well-placed, powerful, or comfortable leads to the second set of people
| being a perpetual underclass because those who are most in the position
| to do something that is merely "kind" don't see the point, since they are
| in need of no kindness themselves.

  my view is that some people who perceive themselves to be members of the
  underclass grow bitter well before their time and seek no other values
  but to replace whoever they believe are in power with a view to being in
  position to run over _their_ enemies, and if they are doing technical
  work in ISO, they are probably very smart folks to begin with, so won't
  necessarily make their real purposes overt.  not being overly political
  (at least not at the time), I saw right through these folks, but also
  learned that countering them openly could not work.  to fight a covert
  agenda takes _better_ covert agendas.  occasionally, a good and useful
  International Standard rises from this despicable mess.  the really good
  and useful International Standards, however, come from committees where
  nobody sees themselves as members of any underclass.  that usually comes
  about when nobody in the committee has to fight anybody else, because all
  the folks have real values, not ersatz values and hidden agenda.

  I have a problem respecting people who know that their "values" are not
  going to be approved, so they fight for apparently reasonable ersatz
  values that they can tail-coat their real values on before anybody wises
  up to their game.  I think the question "what do you want?" is legitimate
  of people who say "I value X", and if they cannot answer (honestly), then
  there's no need to believe them.  the diplomatic thing do with people who
  lie to your face is to ignore their lies in such a way as to expose them.
  however, this probably takes solid experience with getting away with lies
  on your own before you can succeed.  somehow, I didn't value this part of
  the work in ISO.  I'm sure some committees are less permeated by this
  political climate than others, though, and I'm allowing for optimism to
  be true, cautious though I may be.

  something makes me feel like a disillusioned lawyer.  ick.

-- is about my spam protection scheme and how
  to guarantee that you reach me.  in brief: if you reply to a news article
  of mine, be sure to include an In-Reply-To or References header with the
  message-ID of that message in it.  otherwise, you need to read that page.