October 20, 2008

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Two stories.

From 17 May 1999, The CRTC will not regulate the Internet.

From four days ago, CRTC to review new media broadcasting in February, and CRTC to examine broadcasting in the new media environment. (Both the same story.)

David Warren responds with Time to Say Goodbye. Sez he,

The CRTC already has powers of regulation over broadcasting content that are offensive to a free people; powers that go far beyond the simple and once-necessary task of apportioning finite broadcasting bandwidth.

Advances in technology have made it less and less necessary to impose rationing on the airwaves. We have got beyond the “rabbit ears” age. Digital technology for cable and satellite have moved far beyond this, and the Internet itself becomes capable of delivering a range of material unimagined only a generation ago. Nor is telephony what it was in past generations. The CRTC is a fossil relic from an antediluvian era.

By all means keep its archives in a museum, so that our children’s children may some day see how charmingly primitive our technology once was — in the “CReTaCeous” period of our national life, when such big blundering bureaucratic behemoths as this superannuated regulator roamed the electronic plains. But it is time now for the CRTC to become extinct.

We must demand this media censor be closed — not downsized, but permanently erased from our public life. If any remaining bandwidth tasks can be identified, they should be transferred to the secretarial pool in some corner of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The problem for the CRTC is that it does seem to frame the Net in terms of broadcast. The FCC here in the U.S. does something similar, only by framing the Net in terms of telecom. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s of the “if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” variety. Both frame the Net in terms of what they know best.

The problem is that the Net is not well defined. Go to Google and look up “The Internet is”. It’s all over the place. In Framing the Net I visited some of the reasons. But we need to go deeper and wider than the FCC or any ideological (or even rhetorical) corner can alone provide.

It’s so early. We’re so far from what the Net will be.

I was thinking this morning that it’s a shame that the term “cyberspace” has become passé. John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace said that we were creating a whole new world with the Net. This seemed true. In any case the essay changed my life. It was one of the documents that convinced me that the Net isn’t just a game-changer for everything it touches, but a subject of transcendent importance, so unique, so unlike anything that preceded it, that it wasn’t like anything. All metaphors are wrong, of course. That’s what makes them metaphors. They’re meaningful, but not accurate. Unlike simile, metaphor doesn’t say this is like that. It says this is that. Time is money. Life is travel. The Net is place. Or space. Or pipes. Or a service. I liked cyberspace because denoted a new kind of space, one with its own nature, its own new rules.

Could it be we’re all both right and wrong about it? If so, wouldn’t it be better not to regulate it as a breed of broadcast, or telecom, or whatever?

Anyway, I’m out of time here. Just wanted to dump this out of my brain while it was rattling around in there.

Steve Lewis writes, Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak! — a deep and wonderful detour from the usual punditry about a candidate’s temperament, informed by Steve’s years working in Indonesia, as well as his exposure to many countries and cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. I hope Steve doesn’t mind my lifting most of his post to repeat here. Dig:

So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority.  And, for, quite a number of Democrats Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are an unsettling suggestion of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular.  I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.

Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not yet fully ripened tropical fruits served with a sauce of sweet thick soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili papers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp.  Roedjak’s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory tastes is more than culinary.  Roedjak restores equilibrium even while exciting the senses.  Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of personal emotional turmoil; domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions to escalate. On the symbolic level, Roedjak embodies all that is positive of the values and social mores of southeast Asia.

Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundementalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the “Indonesian” facet of the Democratic presidential candidate, his formative years on the island of Java, and his being a member of a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan and Kenyan ones.

In Java, outward emotional evenness and display of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages.  Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat.  Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.

On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture.  The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali.  In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.

And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers.  Join me for a mango, anyone?

I dunno if Roedjak explains Obama, but I do like getting an interesting new angle on an exceptional man.

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