[Air-l] Back in the Temple of Uruk ...

Ken Friedman ken.friedman at bi.no
Wed Jan 9 10:03:00 PST 2002

Dear Colleagues,

Joining Eszter Hargittai, I also request that members of this list do 
not carelessly repost earlier messages. Careful editing will make the 
Internet a better place to live.

After general spam and porn spam, the third great email irritation is 
careless posting to lists that are better served by selective 
editorial attention.

In the old days, when we wrote on paper or pressed cuneiform wedges 
into clay, we used a technology called "quoting."

A quote was a selective passage taken from a relevant text and 
applied to the topic or theme at hand.

Back in the Temple of Uruk, the head scribe instructed us on how to 
do this. We were taught to take a passage of text, surrounding it 
with the little double-wedge signs of quotation, to write carefully, 
"so that my name should be established for distant days and never 
fall into oblivion, so that my praise should be spread throughout the 
Land, and my glory should be proclaimed in the foreign lands."

Then we would bake the tablet and hand it to a runner who would take 
it on the post-road that served as a pre-electronic Internet located 
in the linked highway nodes, river routes, oases, and cities of our 
physical world. (The physical world involved a kind of reality that 
existed before virtual reality.)

In the AIR world, all these functions happen using electrons to 
transfer messages at the speed of light. Nevertheless, the habits 
once instilled by the temple scribes and carried forward into the 
eras of papyrus and parchment would do well here.

We are still close to the era when Thomas Sprat of the Royal Society 
wrote that good scientific and scholarly communication required, "a 
close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear 
senses; a native easiness."

Needless clutter defeats the plain language and clarity we ought to encourage.

Those who write carefully are more widely read and far more useful 
than those who litter notes with carelessly repeated headers, 
footers, forwarding arrows, and nested passages of clutter.

Those who write carefully will join the great Sumerian who 
proclaimed, "Wherever I look to, there I go; wherever my heart 
desires, I reach. By the life of my father holy Lugalbanda, and Nanna 
the king of heaven and earth, I swear that the words written on my 
tablet are true!"

Best regards,

Ken Friedman

The Sumerians also had careless forwards and reposts. This is my 
favorites, found in level 3 of the Suen excavations,

>  I entered the E-kic-nujal like a mountain
>  kid hurrying to its habitation, when Utu spreads
>  broad daylight over the countryside. I filled
>  with abundance the temple of Suen, a cow-pen
>  which yields plenty of fat. I had oxen slaughtered
>  there; I had sheep lavishly butchered there. I had
>  cem and ala drums resound there and caused tigi
>  drums play there sweetly. I, Culgi, who makes
>  everything abundant, presented food-offerings there
>  and, like a lion, spreading fearsomeness from the royal
>  offering-place, I bent down and bathed in flowing water;
>  I knelt down and feasted in the E-gal-mah of Ninegal.

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