Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Archive for September, 2008

“Selamat Hari Raya” Indeed!: Eid and Roshashoneh and the Infrastructure of the Internet

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 30, 2008

In a post this morning, Doc Searls pointed to the number-four-ranking thread on Twitter being Selamat Hari Raya.  My comment on Doc’s post:

Selamat Hari Raya, indeed! If my memory serves me well: “A great good morning (dawn?),” somewhat ala have-a-nice-day, but far less banal.* It is nostalgic for me to read Malay/”Indonesian”. Lovely sentiments on a day that is both Eid and Roshashoneh. To Muslim and Jewish friends both, a sweet holiday and healthy year. To Christian friends similar wishes and the hope that they — as peoples of all religious backgrounds — will grow in their knowledge and appreciation of the “others” in their midst.

PS. Bravo for showing this small but important bit of proof that the net and web and social networking are no longer exclusively American or Western.

To add a few more words: Allow me to be possibly the only person on the entire Web to offer appropriate, albeit secularized, Muslim and Jewish holiday wishes to all in the the unlikely combination of Turkish and Yiddish.  Thus, from my heart: “Iyi Bayramlar!” and “Ah Gezunt Yohr!”  (Note: This seemingly odd linguistic mix will make sense to those familiar with the name and subject matter of my alter-ego weblog, Bubkes.Org)

To clarify my above-mentioned nostalgia, Malay and “Bahasa Indonesia” (the language of the Republic of Indonesia) are important to me for several reasons.  When I worked in Israel almost four decades ago, amongst my dearest friends were Dutch Jews with family connections to Surabaya.  During the 1970s, I worked on-and-off in Indonesia and spent months at a time in Jakarta and in rural Sumatra, as well as in Kalimantan (Borneo) and out on the Java Sea.  Most important, my dear step-daughter Floor has roots in Java, her mother having been born and raised in Surabaya.  And, not to forget, Floor’s grandmother and plethora of widowed great-aunts regularly fed me with excellent Javanese home cooking during a number of the years I lived in the The Hague.

The Infrastructure of the Internet

As I frequently mention on this site, Doc Searls and I are involved in a number of initiatives pertaining to “framing” the nature of — and influencing the future of — the infrastructure of the Internet.  As Doc regularly points out, many people confuse the Web with the Internet, the non-physical infrastructure that enables the Web.  The Internet, Doc notes, is an incorporeal aggregation of protocols and agreements and, as such, is fundamentally different from all past forms of infrastructure.  I invariably chime in that the Internet and its ability to host an emergent “giant brain” of information and processes are carried in turn by an underlying infrastructure that is indeed physical and quite traditional.  And, increasingly, this infrastructure is located outside of the US, thus raising issues of security, use, and governance that are not identical with issues faced or perceived by Americans.  For the latest addition to world’s internet/telephony infrastructure see Six Telecom Firms Finish Cable Across the Pacific in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. (Disclaimer: My apologies if the link to this article expires after seven days.  The Wall Street Journal not only charges a substantial fee for subscriptions to its on-line edition, it is also niggardly to the extreme in its provision of permalinks.  As solid and professional as the Journal’s news content may be, its commercial policies reflect the mercenary profit-oriented and conservative stance of its editorial page.)

Footnote: Friends have let me know that my translation is too literal.  In use, Selamat Hari Raya is the traditional salutation used at Eid.

Advertisements

Posted in Food, Infrastructure, Internet, Language, Religion, Telecommunications | Leave a Comment »

Not a Bit Surprised: The Financial Crisis, Reading Beyond the Mainstream, Real(?) Estate, Yankee Stadium, and Impeach Palin Now

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 28, 2008

So far, the current US financial upheavals have not effected me.  I don’t own stocks or real estate and I don’t carry debt. The collapse of the housing market, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and the large insurance and banking houses didn’t even cause my blood pressure to rise.  In fact, they didn’t even come as a surprise.

Reading (and Viewing) Beyond the Mainstream

One reason might be my reading.  In my student years I read Marx.  The effort I put into Marx might have cut into my time at the front lines of the sexual revolution but it paid off by prompting me to see through myths of the efficiency and beneficence of “markets” and realize the myopic inefficiencies of enterprise-based profit motives.  Most important — to my spirit albeit not to my “net worth” — it led me to look for value in the inherent worth of things rather than in their speculative potential.

I’ve also always looked beyond the traditional press.  I cut my political-reading-teeth on the legendary I.F. Stone’s courageous belated “Weekly.”  Since the 1980s, I’ve subscribed to Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer, a little known and erratically published broadsheet that uses economic analysis to see through, rather than justify or exploit, economic news and trends.  Today, in the Internet age, I read Jim Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation which  passionately and knowledgeably explores the relationships between infrastructure and economy and the prices to be paid for urban sprawl and SUV-driving suburbia.  And, in the age of diminishing attention spans, I’ve become a loyal viewer of the short videos of the Internets Celebrities, Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn, producers and presenters of “Bronx Bodega” and “Check Mate” (to view the videos click on the appropriate icons at the top of Celebrities’ site).

Real(?) Estate

Back in July I met Dallas Penn for bagels and lox in a luncheonette near Flatbush Avenue to discuss ideas relevant to the Celebrity’s planned new production “Real(?) Estate.”  The basic idea (without giving away plot or “MacGuffin”): The Celebrities would, in their usual mix of contrived innocence and spot-on insight, hit the streets (and apartment buildings) throughout the city to prod and expose the abstract and illusory nature of urban property ownership, down to the trade in air-rights.

The Internet Celebrities, by the way, are models of fiscal prudence.  Their productions are not financed by loans or “IPO”s and will not be bailed-out if they fail.  Instead, their videos are funded by plain old-fashioned cash donations from ordinary hard-working (or slothful) folks like you and me.  You can play your part by clicking here.   And do it quickly!  Had the Celebrities been able to get “Real(?) Estate” out six months ago, the mortgage crisis and subsequent financial implosion might never have taken place.

Yankee Stadium

During our discussion of the tulip-crisis-like trade in sliced-and-diced three-dimensional urban space, Dallas Penn pointed out that sports stadiums occupy volumes of space that could house thousands or tens of thousands of people or serve as immense urban parks, yet they are used for mere parts of each day for, on average, only 80-some-odd days a year.  This does not mean that stadiums should be done away with but that new stadium projects should be carefully weighed.

The Yankee Stadium project is a case in point.  Last week, Bill Moyers echoed Dallas Penn in a close-of-show editorial exposing the new stadium as a publicly-financed boondoggle benefiting the private sector — a Mae-and-Mac/AIG/WAMU meets the “national pass-time” as it were.  At tremendous public expense and little cost to its private-sector owners, the old stadium is being replaced with a new one that will have a capacity of 5,000 fewer seats but a greater number of corporate “private box” facilities.  The new stadium will occupy a larger footprint of Bronx territory than the old one did but will feed less back into the local economy of (as the Internet Celebrities underscored in “Bronx Bodega”) the poorest urban county in the United States.  Not least, the stadium project sweeps away a cultural if not physical monument — the “House that Babe Built” — the longest lasting of New York’s one-time legendary troika of baseball fields (the other two, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, fell victim to … real estate development).

Footnote: Impeach Palin In Advance and Dallas Penn on the Presidential Debates

Bob Herbert writes about the crisis obscured by the current financial crises, i.e. the apocalyptic crisis that could ensue if Palin would ever accede to the presidency.  Herbert calls on Republicans to dump Palin from their ticket now — abortion for the good of the nation, as it were.  And, voters should think hard about what the Palin nomination tells us about the kind of administration McCain would appoint if elected.

Dallas Penn voices the frustration many of us felt as Obama pulled his punches during the debate, letting McCain off the hook a number of times and compromising his own positions and personality, as well as the stances of his supporters, in a possible attempt to woo centrist and “undecided” voters.  When reading Dallas’s post, however, don’t waste time on the link to the infantile video by Sarah Silverman.  Silverman’s “Uncle Moses-ing” and suburban whine are offensive.  Contrary to Silverman’s view-from-the-suburbs, out here in Brooklyn we have many Jews (this writer included) whose politics are far, far to the LEFT of Obama’s, who do not necessarily define themselves in terms of America’s racial bifurcations, and who have never been to Florida nor even thought of owning a Cadillac (well, one that runs, anyway!).

Posted in Cities, Commentary, Economy, Infrastructure, Links, Marx, Media, Politics | 1 Comment »

New York Women: Self-Vetting, My Aunt Estelle, and Haikus for Sale

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 26, 2008

Yesterday I had lunch with Diane Villani.  Diane and I have been friends for 35 years.  Over the last three decades, Diane married and built a solid reputation as an art dealer and raised a magnificent daughter.  Diane and I both grew up in lower Manhattan, she on the West Side and I on the East.  Despite our disparate ethnic and religious backgrounds and other subtle differences that once distinguished West-Siders and East-Siders, Diane and I have in common our distinctly New York senses of humor and our mutual stubbornly-held convictions that work involves heavy-lifting and adding of value rather than flim-flam, image building, and manipulation.  Indeed, Diane’s father was a railroad worker and the on-and-off father-figure in my own life, my maternal grandfather, was a mallet-swinging, metal-die-wielding leather cutter.  (Diane’s brother, by the way, is a deep sea fisherman and for the last 25 years a well-known retailer at New York City’s green markets.)

Yesterday, Diane was upset and angry about John McCain’s current attempts to duck the first round of presidential debates. And, like many other New York women (and men), she was equally vocal about Sarah Palin.  “People talk about McCain not ‘vetting’ Palin,” said Diane, “what makes me furious is that Palin didn’t have the honesty or integrity or respect for others to ‘vet’ herself.”  Palin’s nomination and sudden vaulting into popularity were, for Diane, just more of the flim-flam, hubris, and self-promotion that has passed for worth in an age when more than 20% of the US economy has consisted of a financial sector focused on creating and exploiting the illusion of value where little if no value exists.

After leaving Diane, I walked uptown through Soho and Greenwich Village.  On my way, I thought of other New York women who I associate with the streets and buildings I passed.  The loft buildings and former sweat-shops of lower Broadway reminded me of Lucy Romero, my grandmother’s neighbor, a seamstress who came to New York in the mass migration of Puerto Ricans into the city during the late-1940s, who raised two sons to be cops. and who watched over my grandmother as her poor eyesight turned to blindness.  Near University Place, I thought of Ida, my grandfather’s Luckies-smoking, caustic-tongued bookkeeper, co-worker, and not-so-secret girlfriend of many decades, who graduated from City College in the early 1930s at a time when few women held degrees and there were even fewer work opportunities for those that did.

At Fourteenth Street, opposite Union Square, I passed the corner where, in the late 1950s, I’d sometimes run into my Aunt Estelle, the wife of Henry, one of my  father’s cab-driver brothers.  Estelle was a short, curvaceous woman with dyed-red hair and a non-stop Brooklyn patter, a working-class Slavo-Semitic Betty Boop of sorts.  Estelle made her living on-and-off as a product “demonstrator” and street-side vendor of arcane kitchen appliances.  Springtimes and autumns, Estelle would set up her table on Fourteenth Street to demonstrate and sell hand-powered, needlessly-complex contraptions for peeling and cutting vegetables  “It slices, it dices,” Estelle would shout in a rhythmic vendor’s chant. Flirting, cajoling, joking, and cursing while cutting cucumbers and shaping radish rosettes, she would artfully attract passersby and quickly sell out her stock.

Yesterday, at almost the exact same spot where Aunt Estelle sold her Rube Goldberg-like kitchen tools a half-century before, I spotted a street vendor’s folding table.  Behind it sat a clear-skinned, clear-eyed young woman with a fashionably cut but studiously tough-looking Mohawk hairdo.  The sign on the table: “Poems for Sale”.  The woman handed me a leaflet headed  “The Short-Order Poet: High, Class Literature at Discount Prices.”  Below, in fine print, was a menu ranging from “Starters” (“Haiku: 2 for $5”) to “Entrees” (“Poetic Letters:$5/paragraph”) and “Deserts” (“Love Poems: $25 BYOB, Bring Your Own Beloved”) and ending with a “Prix Fixe” menu (“Customized Novella: $1,000”).

The woman introduced herself as Tatyana Brown.  I asked her where she had gotten the idea and the ability to be a street-side vendor of words written to order.  She told me that some years before she had read a book, “Writing Down the Bones,” that had inspired her to write reflexively and from within, without hesitation or doubt.  I wanted to ask Tatyana more, not least because the ability and courage to write — if not to act! — spontaneously and quickly is something I have aspired to my entire life.

Union Square has changed over the last decades.  When Aunt Estelle was a vendor passersby were tired workers — Jews, Blacks, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish and Slavs — on their ways to work or home.  Today Fourteenth Street is crowded with students from New York University and the New School shopping or on their ways out for the night, with foreign tourists, and with communications and internet types with offices in the neighborhood.  Just as I was about to ask Tatyana how I could could make writing become a release rather than a time-consuming chore, a determined looking, conservatively dressed young woman cut in front of me.  “Its been a rough day,” she said to Tatyana, “I need a poem.”  I left Tatyana to her work.

Posted in Cities, Commentary | 2 Comments »

The Etymology of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure of the Internet

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 22, 2008

Last week, I received a query from Doc Searls, who was working on an article on the infrastructure of the internet for the Publius Papers, a series of short internet-related think-pieces published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law.

Doc’s question: What did I know about the etymology and history of the word: “infrastructure”?  — a simple matter on the surface but one that cuts to the heart, not only of Doc’s subject, i.e. how the internet functions and what is required to sustain it, but also to the core of how polities enable their economies and serve their citizens, a matter at the crux of the present financial disasters and economic instability in the US.

Dictionary

A quick internet search (Merriam-Webster online) brought this crisp, near-tautological definition plus tantalizing reference to the word’s relatively recent origin:

Pronunciation: \ˈin-frə-ˌstrək-chər, -(ˌ)frä-\ Function: noun. Date:1927

1: the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization)
2: the permanent installations required for military purposes
3: the system of public works of a country, state, or region ; also : the resources (as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity
— in·fra·struc·tur·al -ˌstrək-chə-rəl, -ˌstrək-shrəl\ adjective

Americanism?

A look at my bookshelves brought more surprising results.  “Infrastructure” does not appear in my 1970s Concise Oxford Dictionary and in my Oxford Thesaurus of the same period it is listed only as a synonym for “base.”  But, “infrastructure” is listed in a run-of-the-mill American dictionary of the time (Grollier) which defines it as a “foundation” and as “… the permanent structures of a military organization, esp. those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

The absence of “infrastructure” in the Oxford and its presence in the Grollier suggest that the word had been an Americanism at the time.  But what about the tantalizing reference in Merriam Webster to the 1927 debut of the word?  A trip to the New York Public Library and some rummaging within the microfilm collection of the Library’s business division (located in the magnificent neo-Renaissance pallace-like building on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue that once housed B. Altman’s department store, a mainstay of New York’s 19th- and 20th-century retail sector) began to bring clarity.

From French Railroads to NATO and the Cold War

Infrastructure indeed entered the English language as a loan word from French in which it had been a railroad engineering term.  A 1927 edition of the Oxford indeed mentioned the word in the context of “… the tunnels, bridges, culverts, and ‘infrastructure work’ of the French railroads.”  After World War II, “infrastructure” reemerged as in-house jargon within NATO, this time referring to fixed installations necessary for the operations of armed forces and to capital investments considered necessary to secure the security of Europe.

From Socially-Financed Prerequisites to Ideological Weapon

Within my own memory the use of the word “infrastructure” had spilled into the contexts of urban management and regions national development and into the private sector.  During my stint as a graduate student at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School for Social Research during the early 1970s, “infrastructure” was used to refer to those massive capital investments (water, subways, roads, bridges, tunnels, schools, hospitals, etc.) necessary to city’s economy and the lives of its inhabitants and businesses enterprises but too massive and too critical to be conceived, implemented, and run at a profit or to be trusted to the private sector.

Around the same time, the word had spread to the world of international development agencies where it took on a distinctly cold war ideological slant.  The best way to fight the spread of communism, it was argued, was to ensure local prosperity and economic stability (but, sadly, not the equitable distribution of wealth!) which could most quickly and effectively take place if all underlying necessities (water, power, roads, public transportation, etc.) were put in place through massive capital development projects whether financed by donations or by loans that would ensure the fealty of recipient nations for decades.

From Engineering to Abandonment

By the mid1970s, the word “infrastructure” took yet another turn, this time within the private sector.  From 1974-1982 I worked in Europe and Asia for one of the larger engineering and construction companies of the time.  At the time, in the world of oil refining, petrochemicals, and “process” plants, “infrastructure,” referred to those social or governmental capital investments — roads, sewerage, water sources, electrical power, and other “utilities” — that were necessary for manufacturing but the provision of which did not fall within the scope of a single project, the “battery limits” of an industrial facility, or the commercial “feedstocks” that were are the raw materials for industrial processes.

During the 1990’s, I worked on a number of investment attraction agencies and local projects in the Netherlands in which the provision of infrastructure was used both as a chip and bargaining point in the Dutch government’s and local authorities’ repeatably successful attempts to lure companies to locate their European operations in the country.

In recent years, in the United States at least, infrastructure is a word widely used but an aspect of economic life and social cohesion known more by its collapse and abandonment and raffling off to the private sector than by its implementation, well-functioning, and expansion.

Further Investigation

At the moment, I am involved in research in a number of aspects of what infrastructure is and what its provision entails.

With Doc Searls and Kevin Barron (Institute for Theoritcal Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara), JP Rangaswami (British Telecom) and others, I am investigating what the infrastructure of the internet now is, could/should be, and how to best implement this.

Within the concept of urban studies and the contemporary home ownership and loan flim-flam, defaults, and financial disaster in the US, I am looking at the tension between two historical approaches, i.e. housing as infrastructure and housing as commodity.  As an analogue, I am also looking at the paradigmatic abandonment of socially financed public transport to privately-owned automobiles.

Further afield but surprisingly germane, I am digging into the effects of infrastructural change on the fabric of historical cities (Istanbul specifically) and the means and institutions that enabled the former Ottoman Empire to maintain the infrastructure of cities and trade for the better part of a millennium.

More to follow on each of these subjects …

Posted in Cities, Economy, History, Infrastructure, Internet, Language, Libraries | 3 Comments »

Infrastructure and Orthography: Hawaii/Havaii, A Charlie Parker Tune, a Giant Brain and a Collection of Strands

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 17, 2008

I’ll begin with a 1930s New York joke.  An immigrant couple from New York takes a boat cruise to Hawaii.  They argue: Is Hawaii pronounced “ha-wah-yee” or “ha-vah-yee”?  To settle their dispute, they approach the first passerby they see after docking.  “Is it “hah-way-yee” or “hah-vay-yee,” they ask.  Hah-vay-yee” the passerby tells them.  “Thank you” says the couple.  “You’re velcome!” replies the passerby.

A Charlie Parker Tune and a California town

My own take on choosing pronunciations is to use those appropriate to the language in which I am speaking rather than to the language from which a word or name originates.  Thus, while I indeed say “Par-ee” when speaking French, I say “Paris” in English and “Parijs” when speaking Dutch. This week, I’ve been caught out twice while improperly pronouncing the name of the southern California town Camarillo.  Despite my long-ago near-mastery of Spanish, a maybe because of my Anglophone literalism, I habitually make audible the double-“l” in Camarillo, thus causing offended Californians to firmly interject  “No, it is ‘Camariyo’.”

I am not alone in my offending pronunciation.  Generations of jazz fans know that saxophone great Charlie Parker called the tune he wrote in memory of a stay at a California drug detox facility “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” and not “Relaxing at Camariyo”  I’ve got air check recordings of Parker and the sonorous-voiced 1940s-50s New York radio and club announcer Symphony Sid to prove it.  Also, in Caribbean Spanish as spoken here in New York, Camarillo would be pronounced “Camarijo.”

A Giant Brain and a Collection of Strands

The offended Californians mentioned above are two very pleasant and erudite colleagues: Kevin Barron, communications theorist and IT-director at the Institute of Theoretic Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Arrie Bachrach, Camarillo-based veteran environmental affairs specialist and senior program manager at the enviromental consultancy firm ENSR.  Kevin is a new acquaintance.  He and I are working together — under the lead of Doc Searls of the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and JP Rangaswami of British Telecom — to define and see to establishment an institute for the study ofthe infrastructure of connectivity, this including the infrastructure of the internet.

Kevin Barron sees the internet in part as an emergent decentralized  “giant brain” that grows in infinitismal increments and enables us to think beyond and transcend ourselves, not least in terms of the cultural differences that divide us.  Along with Kevin, I am fascinated by the concept of infinite accumulation and interrelation of knowledge and of the internet as a means for transcending the artificial distinctions goups of human beings erect between themselves and for neutralizing the potential of this for generating carnage, suffering, and material waste.  (In a future post I hope to present a summary of my research these past two years into the origins, artificiality and consequences of national identities, a sub-theme in many of my recent postings).

To fulfill its promise as a “giant brain,” however, the internet is dependant on open, gentlemen’s-agreement”-like nature of the protocols that facilitate it and on the vulnerable physicality of the dispersed servers strands of  fiber and cable that comprise its corporeal infrastructure.  The irony: from the great firewall of China to Russia’s recent cyber attack on the Republic of Georgia, the same divisive forces that the internet has the potential to transcend conspire to compromise the internet’s potential universality and to turn an open Net into closed and carefully controlled national and imperial Nets

Arrie Bachrach is presently working on a number of projects weighing the potentials of decentralized vs. centralized power production.  For the efficiencies of decentralized power to be realized, a “giant brain” must emerge to continuously guage production to need and to facilitate and fine-tune import and export of power amongst an eventual plethora of micro-scale local facilities worldwide.  Such a brain would be dependent on the internet as its infrastructure and thus in turn be dependent on the the elemental physical components that compose the substrructure of the internet.

Footnote: Life as Internet, Coincidence as Infrastructure

Although Kevin Barron and Arrie Bachrach have never met both are connected by a web of coincidences.  At the most obvious level, Arrie’s employer, ENSR, is a corporate sponsor of the Bren School of Environmental Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  On a more tangental level, I know Kevin through Doc Searls, who I met while I was a part-time philosophy undergraduate in Greensboro, NC four decades ago.  My friendship with Arrie dates back to earlier in the 1960s when we were both denizens of the Student Cooperative Housing in the Westwood section of Los Angeles near UCLA, a home to Black, Jewish, and Asian students in the days of “restricted” student fraternities and a poud bastion of anti-surfer-ism and premature support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam as well as premature dope smoking (yes, we inhaled).  The main building of the “Coop” was a sparse Bauhaus-like glass and concrete interwar aparment building designed by the emigre architect Richard Neutra.  In the early 1990s, Doc and Joyce Searls introduced me to one of their friends, Dion Neutra, son of Richard Neutra and an architect in his own right.  In the years that followed, Dion and I managed to get together for architectural walks in New York and in the Netherlands, my one-time European base and the site of a number of works associated with Richard Neutra.

Posted in Architecture, Environment, Infrastructure, Internet, National Identity | Leave a Comment »

The Infrastructure of the Internet and the View Across the Bering Straits

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 15, 2008

For some months this spring and summer, as part of a work-related project, I took part in an email-list “discussion” on issues pertaining to the infrastructure of the Internet.  Participants were mostly from the US with a sprinkling of others from as far away as New Zealand.

As the list took on a life of its own, I noticed a trend.  The more vocal of the US participants held forth rather than discussed and in doing so sounded oddly like the blustering right-wing American radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.  This was not only a matter of their tone and propensity toward ad homonym argument but also of their preoccupations.  Like Limbaugh, they were vituperative about America’s “regulators” and “regulations” and also seemingly blind to the achievements and problems of the rest of the world and the approaches of other countries to the issues they face.

The current economic woes in the US — e.g. the mortgage and housing market collapses, the folding of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the bankruptcy of major banking/investment houses — appear to be functions of inadequate regulation and ineffectual government involvement.  The same goes for the messes that attend to the country’s power grid, transportation infrastructure, and health care and educational systems.  Imaginary “markets” as exalted by the US right-wing are no substitute for responsive and effective governance.  (For an interesting take — by no means identical to my own — on the importance of quality rather than quantity of regulation and the across-the-board failure of regulation under the Bush administration click here)

After the Second World War, the US economy comprised roughly four-fifths of the total world economy — but that was 60 years ago.  Today, the worldviews of many Americans appear stuck in post-WWII self-congratulation. Oddly, despite the phrase “world wide web,” such US-centrism seems to effect many local internet types as well.  But there is more to the internet than the US alone. An item in the Times this August (click here) pointed out that the majority of the physical infrastructure of the internet is now located outside of the US as is most of the net’s traffic.

The Russian invasion of the Republic of Georgia this summer highlighted other issues related to internet infrastructure and the fragmentation and vulnerability of the web.  That Georgia’s internet access ran through Russia made the country vulnerable to cyber-attacks and to potential isolation financially and communications-wise.  A new cable now being strung under the Black Sea will, in the future, route Georgia’s internet traffic via Bulgaria rather than Russia.  But, physical links via the Black Sea are by no means immune from compromise and Bulgaria, although now a member of NATO and of the EU, is a notoriously corrupt country with deep financial ties to Russia’s “black” economy and with absolutely no culture of adherence contractual obligations.

The US is now faced with the chilling possibility that the governor of the state of Alaska — who claims that the physical proximity of her state to Russia and the vistas of Russian as seen from Alaska across the Bering Straits give her requistite background in foreign affaris — has a fair shot at becoming the successor to the US presidency.  I hope my colleagues in future debates on the infrastructure of the internet will take a less myopic view of the rest of the world than the Alaska governor does.

Posted in Infrastructure, Internet, Media | Leave a Comment »

An End to Summer Doldrums

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 14, 2008

As the oppressive heat of July August in New York drops and the doldrums of an urban summer recede, a considered promise that postings on Hak Pak Sak will resume shortly.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »