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Someone or something has been busy lately on alt.religion.scientology, the Usenet newsgroup that carries the escalating flamewar on the Internet between the Church of Scientology and its critics. Over the past few weeks, dozens of messages — some of which contained documents the church considers secret and sacred — have mysteriously disappeared. Dennis Erlich, a former Scientology minister, accuses the church of unleashing a "robot canceler" that deleted his messages. A spokesperson calls his charges "baseless." Erlich says he will repost the material as soon as he figures out why his phone line suddenly went dead.


With a rhetorical flourish and the click of a mouse, Newt Gingrich last week unveiled "Thomas" (for Thomas Jefferson), perhaps the world's most long- ! winded Web site. Intended to put ordinary citizens on the same footing as professional lobbyists, it will be the definitive repository for legislative information on the Internet — including, eventually, every bill introduced and every speech uttered on the floor of the House. And how will the modem impaired reach it? In what he acknowledged might be a "nutty idea," Gingrich suggested "a tax credit for the poorest Americans to buy a laptop."


Just before New Year's, somebody played a cruel prank on former Democratic speechwriter Peter Tauber: they posted his America Online address on the Internet, telling everybody that it was Rush Limbaugh's secret E-mail account — "the one he uses personally ... as opposed to the accounts that are answered by his flunkies." For a day or so, Tauber was inundated with messages intended for the conservative talk-show host. "It gave me a certain empathy for him," says Tauber. "People were extraordinarily rude."