Monday, May 29, 2006

Save the Internet, George Plimpton's ghost, and other things

If you need a the video of novelist and comedian Robert Newman's "History of oil" (courtesy of This Space).

As implores us all to mention, watch it while you can. ((Though apparently, after a social weekend, I get all these highfalutin memos a day late.) In any case do save the Internet, dear legion readers in Congress, if you will.)

A (non-Congressional) reader helpfully writes in:
Yeah, it's potentially a big deal. I hope the efforts of the telcos to defeat net neutrality legislation will fail, and the excellent bill in the house to make price discrimination by ISPs an anti-trust violation will pass. But if it goes the other way, the big media giants could one day soon exert the same financial dominance over the net that they do over all other media channels -- TV, radio, music, print,

The problem is that while use of the net is a level playing field to players of all sizes today, it is already perturbed by the advantage giants such as google have in soaking up all the ad revenue, by virtue of their enormous central database, which gives them a huge information advantage. But at least they deliver something of value. Cable and ISP providers are sheer parasites, just trying to muscle in on the gravy.

A big telco and cable providers just use their monopoly control over the last mile to your home (and their collusive control over the cell phone market) to rake in high prices for slow acess that doesn't get faster, because there is no real competition. We could have had fiberoptic cables to the curb, and free nationwide wireless, by now, but they block any efforts to innovate on a large scale that would threaten their business models. They are poison. And make no mistake about it, all the voices on the side against net neutrality are bought and paid for by consortiums of telcos and media giants.

What they want is a precedent that allows them to charge differentially. Like the way United Airlines charges two people different prices for the same seat, based on how much the market will bear. They figure you have to fly tomorrow, you can be made to pay 10 times the price of someone who can wait until nest week. This is simple larceny, because it has no bearing on their cost of producing the service. But it will allow them to decide who prospers (their partners of course) and to skim a huge per centage of the profits from an industry they are actually retarding rather than helping. Rather like the music publishing industry. If we let them get a foothold in the net arena it's very very bad. If we don't they are probably doomed in the long run to technological obsolesence. Hence their desperate measures.

Of course the "we" in question here has, in truth, very little say in the matter, if at all. The ritual self-flattering of the over-informed and powerless "citizen" (assuming our reader is not a millionaire, i.e. effectual citizen) does grow rather stale, and practically by the minute.

But what to expect, really, in a world where activist dynasties increasingly rule the day, and must contend only with businessmen who sometimes acquire politics, like a hobby.

I attended a graduation over the weekend. The speaker was a young, well-meaning, neoliberal Senator, unapologetically, uncritically, and rather solely inspired by the repulsive folk-posturing, fauxnaif pop-wisdom, the tired euphorias and banal soundbites, the simplistic and irresponsible, excusing cocktail fantasies of renowned opportunist pro-war hack, Tom Friedman. Though somewhat more literary than Friedman (a questionable accomplishment) his speech was a tired insult to intelligence and global citizenship, and ideologically repulsive (it probably goes without saying). Forcing one to wonder, yet again, if ever in the history of political life have those in power been so philosophically impoverished.

Well yeah, you say, at least Al Gore, in his sybaritic retirement, has "just discovered" Habermas. ("Why hadn't I heard of him before?" Gore asks. We wonder too.) And if Foucault can make an appearance on President Sheen's bookshelf...then maybe there's hope yet. Not for our politicians to be thinking men, but at least for their children's pop-culture to one day grow out of Baudrillard. Still there has to be a better way. (Until then, it's cardboard platitudes, and if we're very lucky, a dash of Habermas.)

But speaking of The Bill of Far Rights, The New York Review of Books has reprinted Orhan Pamuk's speech.
But to change one's words and package them in a way that will be acceptable to everyone in a repressed culture, and to become skilled in this arena, is a bit like smuggling forbidden goods through customs, and as such, it is shaming and degrading.

I am currently stuck, half-way through The New Life. Which resides on top a half-read This is Not a Novel, atop a half-read Reckoning with Life, atop a mostly re-read Politics of Friendship. Et cetera. (Unnaturally, but essentially, I despise this sort of bland and personal, dare one say habitual confession/lit-blog listing/excuse for a post. As should you. Blogs that become predictable are of little use to the imagination; they remain parasitic on a sick beast (most political/"professional" and literary blogs are so). Well at least it's not an ill-conceived lecture (though fast becoming one).)

Most important, the George Plimpton project has launched a Haiku contest:
Judged by Billy Collins, David Lehman, and Denise Duhamel.

The haiku should be somehow related to or inspired by the life or
work or philosophy of George Plimpton*.

The Grand Prize is $200. (cash!)

The Deadline is September 15, 2006

Submissions should be sent to

Do not be fooled by the seemingly whimsical nature of the contest,
haiku of serious and thoughtful tone will be weighed with the utmost

Submissions should be sent to

*We suggest you investigate his books (Paper Lion, Shadow Box, Out of My League, etc.) his great and legendary publication "The Paris Review" and his minor appearances in TV and Film (Reds, Good Will Hunting, The Simpsons.) You could also wait for the upcoming oral biography of Plimpton, which is scheduled to come out next spring and promises to be an excellent read, but by then the deadline for this contest will have passed. Or, you could simply listen to the winner of The George Plimpton Song Contest, Jonathan Coulton's excellent composition "A Talk With George." Check it out here.

(kind courtesy of Toby Barlow)

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