Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

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.

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