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Friday, August 31, 2001
upon inquiry, the search for a metaphysics and the unity of knowledge

The result is confusion -- and confusion was correctly identified by Francis Bacon, four centuries ago, as the direst of errors, which "occurs wherever argument or inference passes from one world of experience to another."

robot wisdom started this gooja thread after reading this newscientist interview with stephen wolfram on what he's been up to (a new kind of science, ETA jan. 2002 -- this page could have been pulled out of distress :) in the thread there's this link to digital physics, i think similar/isomorphic to this discussion by freeman dyson on whether life is analog or digital...

eo wilson's attempt to bridge confusion:

Consilience cannot be proved with logic from first principles or grounded in any definitive set of empirical tests, at least not any yet conceived. Its best support is no more than an extrapolation from the consistent past success of the natural sciences. Its surest test will be its effectiveness in the social sciences and the humanities. The strongest appeal of consilience is in the prospect of intellectual adventure and, if even only modest success is achieved, a better understanding of the human condition.

its precedent:

THE dream of intellectual unity was a product of the Enlightenment, an Icarian flight of the mind that spanned the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A vision of secular knowledge in the service of human rights and human progress, it was the West's greatest contribution to civilization. It launched the modern era for the whole world; we are all its legatees. Then -- astonishingly -- it failed.

i would note that failure is a particularly human concept/conceit :)

Thursday, August 30, 2001

"Hi'uH nirl borgh lwe. borgh Dwe Hi'uH HaDolaH lwe. Hi'uH 'il jam. qilajush ghorv. shiwuS borgh lwe jya? khli riluq tyab. shi'uS borgh lwe jyar? tab pra qush chyarT Dyib. qi'ush borgh lwe chyarT Dyib ghwa li'ukh HuH birgh. vaghep li'uzh niqeqan?"

rapatronic photos (via metafilter)

stateline wind project

The largest single wind-powered renewable energy development in the world, Stateline Wind Project will consist of up to 450 wind turbines with the capacity to produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity. Each year, on average, that's enough energy to power about 70,000 homes or about one-third of the residences in the city of Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2001
the tree of wooden clogs is amazing! if you've ever wondered what it was like to be an italian peasant at the turn of (the last) century.

some fun flash games if you're bored

Tuesday, August 28, 2001
hey, i have an announcement to make. this year i've had some really cool people sign my guestbook, two in the last month!

*david porush, who writes the best essays on cyberpunk and "post-modern fiction" (i put that in quotes because i'm not quite sure what that means, maybe that's the point! but he relates it to prigogine dissipative systems and stuff :) some of my fondest memories of chicago are of riding my bike to the beach in rogers park and reading his stuff, and like it was always awesome. his website's down, but hopefully he'll resurface again somewhere. are you working on a book?

*tony pellum writes cool reviews on epinions. i don't usually visit epinions, but i was surfing around one day and he happened to be the featured reviewer and i pretty much ended up reading all his reviews that day about why this or that band or movie rocked. all very interesting, articulate and insightful. all the things my review about tony pellum's reviews is not, which should tell you why we need people like him to tell us why we like stuff. unfortunately, i don't think he's reviewed anything in awhile. i miss his taste.

*john morton, aka lon cayeway. i think i was searching for stuff on deleuze & guattari and came across "the origin of writing"… or maybe it was the other way around. or maybe it was on the autonomedia message boards, i dunno. oh yeah, it was. i remember he linked to some interview deleuze conducted in alphabetical order. anyway, i was at "the origin of writing" staring at rocks and it rocked :) and it's gotten way better!

they do it so you don't have to :)

Monday, August 27, 2001
couple of wsj articles (aug. 23). annual federal reserve symposium in jackson hole focuses on how "intellectual-property businesses are changing the fundamental dynamics of the market economy." featuring a paper by lawrence summers and j. bradford delong! and an influential japanese novelist ryu murakami. imagine chuck palahniuk doing consulting for lou gerstner and william bennett :)

***
As Businesses Innovate,
Regulators Must Follow Suit
By ALAN MURRAY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

YOU CAN ALMOST feel sorry for Microsoft Corp. Last year, when the company was looking like the techno-has-been of the Internet age, its antitrust problems seemed to be fading. But now, with the upstarts put down -- and with interesting new products on the horizon -- Microsoft's business prospects have been revived. So, too, have its antitrust woes. Antitrust scrutiny seems to be an inevitable byproduct of success.

"I suspect that as long as we keep doing a good job, the level of interest in our business will not go away from competitors nor from appropriate government authorities," complains Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

Much of Microsoft's problem is of its own making. The company's exclusionary contracts and other competitive practices were custom-made to attract the scrutiny of antitrust cops. But much, too, may be an inevitable outgrowth of the kind of business Microsoft is in.

It's increasingly clear that products whose primary value lies in intellectual property -- products such as software, pharmaceuticals, movies, records and any of the other things that drive today's economy-- are fundamentally different from staples of the industrial economy such as autos and steel, or service-economy products such as banking and insurance. And those fundamental differences are wreaking havoc with traditional notions of economics that underlie antitrust laws, patent laws, copyright laws and indeed, the whole public policy underpinnings of today's economy.

Businessmen, economists and policymakers are struggling with the profound implications of those differences. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates took a stab at describing them in a speech he gave during his CEO summit in May.

"With intellectual property, the upfront costs are what it's all about," he explained to the business titans assembled at the Redmond, Wash., campus. "Say a piece of software costs $10 million to create and the marginal costs, because it's going to be distributed electronically, are basically zero." Once the costs of development have been recouped, "every single additional unit is pure profit." But if someone comes along with a significantly superior product, "your demand can literally almost drop to zero." That's different from a manufacturing or service business that's subject to capacity constraints. You either win big -- like Microsoft -- or lose big -- like the pile of dot-com carcasses building up in Nasdaq's wreckage. In these industries, there is no Avis.

THE PROBLEM for policy makers in such a world is that it's not clear you can rely on Adam Smith's invisible hand to look after society's interests. Smith imagined a world in which competition among producers would drive prices down to something close to marginal cost. But Mr. Gates lives in a world where the marginal cost is zero. Smithian competition destroys the business. The only way to make money is to have monopoly power.

The implications in all of this go well beyond antitrust policy. Next week, some of the nation's brightest economic minds will gather at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to grapple with how intellectual-property businesses are changing the fundamental dynamics of the market economy. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, now president of Harvard, will lead off the discussion with a paper co-authored by University of California at Berkeley economist Bradford DeLong. Hal Varian, co-author of the book "Information Rules," will show how these changes lead to higher levels of concentration in many industries. Others will explore the implications for overall economic performance and for the conduct of monetary policy. And Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan will weigh in with his own views on the topic.

THE SAME ISSUES are being fought out in a host of different public-policy settings. The U.S. Congress, the United Nations, and other world policy makers are struggling to balance the interests of pharmaceutical companies, eager to recoup their research costs, against those of consumers, rebelling against the high price tag on drugs that cost little to produce. The courts are trying to balance the rights of songwriters and producers to control distribution of their work against the desire of music lovers to use Napster-like technologies to share their favorite songs. And trade officials are trying to figure out how to retool rules designed for auto makers and insurance companies to fit the peculiar realities of products that travel over fiber-optic lines at the speed of light. In each case, the old rules of economics provide no clear guidance. New rules are being made up as they go along.

In each of these cases, as in the Microsoft antitrust case, there is always the danger that government policymakers and the courts could end up doing more harm than good. But a simple hands-off approach by government won't work. In a world where intellectual property serves as the source of greatest value, antitrust policy, patent rules, copyright rules and successful monetary policy may turn out to be more important than ever before. That means the government and the courts face a greater challenge to get it right.

Write to Alan Murray at capital@wsj.com

***
An Underground Writer Becomes a Hero
As a Changing Japan Looks for Answers
By YUMIKO ONO
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

TOKYO -- His first and most famous novel depicted the debauched adventures of drug addicts getting high at wild parties, having weird sex and vomiting. And for more than two decades since, novelist Ryu Murakami has been a hero of Japan's cultural underground.

But today, the floppy-haired author has become an authority figure for Japan's Establishment. Politicians have discussed his latest novel in Parliament. Economists debate with him on his Web site about what went wrong with the Japanese miracle. NEC Corp., the blue-chip computer maker, recently had him in to lecture executives on how they should adapt to changing times.

"For all these years I never got myself to fit into the mainstream society, and now people in the center of mainstream want to hear what I have to say," says an amused Mr. Murakami (no relation to the novelist Haruki Murakami, who is more widely read in the West). Ryu Murakami's new mainstream adherents are willing to pay well for his wisdom: a cool $1.5 million a year in royalties, speaking and writing fees.

For Mr. Murakami to become a sage is the kind of twist that used to happen only in his imaginings. True, his recent novels have an economic spin that guys in wingtips can relate to. But Mr. Murakami's turn in the limelight has more to do with the evolution of Japan. The country is getting as weird and edgy as his books.

Mr. Murakami's Japan, portrayed in his 40 novels, once seemed a lurid fantasy. Consider some plots. 1980: A tale of two babies, abandoned in coin lockers, who survive to grow up and wreak vengeance on society by unleashing poisonous gas. 1988: Prostitutes who specialize in sadomasochism. 1997: An American serial killer named Frank goes on a murderous spree in Tokyo. 2000: The junior-high-school children of Japan secede, set up a republic and build a successful Internet news service.

And what of the real Japan? 1995: The Aum sect unleashes toxic sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. 1997: A 14-year-old boy decapitates an 11-year-old and leaves the victim's head in front of a school. 1998: Finance Ministry officials are caught hanging out in "no-panties" restaurants, where waitresses wear no underwear. 2001: A man kills eight children at an Osaka elementary school.

As the certainties of postwar Japan -- job security, middle-class lifestyles, public safety -- slowly unravel amid a decade-long economic slump, many Japanese are willing to listen to people like the 49-year-old Mr. Murakami, whose constant message throughout his literary career has been: Who cares about fitting into the system? Think for yourself.

Hence his accolades as a social critic: "Read this book to grasp just what kind of a crisis situation our country has fallen into!" declared an Asahi Shimbun review of the junior-high secession novel.

The son of schoolteachers in the southern prefecture of Nagasaki, Mr. Murakami says he detested Japan's rigid educational system and as a child was constantly scolded for disrupting class. "I couldn't stand the way they told you to comply with the group, even if that meant squashing your individuality," he says.

Hoping to escape the mainstream way of life, Mr. Murakami attended the Musashino Art University to study graphic design. Before dropping out, he wrote his first novel, "Almost Transparent Blue," about the partying druggies. The graphic details of the young addicts' lives, which he says are based loosely on his own experience, shocked Japan's literary world and, in 1976, won him the prestigious Akutagawa literary award, given to promising new writers. The novel has become a staple of modern Japanese literature, selling 3.4 million copies in 25 years.

A few years ago, he started boning up on economics. He became fascinated with how the government had wasted hundreds of billions of dollars in the 1990s in futile "stimulus packages" on roads, dams and irrigation ditches. Why, he wondered, did the Japanese public let the government go on like that without protest? He figured one problem was that the spending was so immense, it all seemed a blur.

Thus, in his 1999 book, "Bubble Fantasy -- What Japan Could Have Bought With That Money," Mr. Murakami rubbed the reader's face in the extent of Japan's waste. He claims, for instance, that the 800 billion yen ($6.69 billion in today's dollars) the government spent in March of '99 to inject public funds into ailing Sakura Bank could have been enough to buy the Washington Post Co. and the Chicago Bulls, sign Tiger Woods to a contract, and have money left over. The book was another bestseller.

Then came "Exodus From Hopeless Japan." The novel -- with 160,000 copies in print since it went on sale a year ago -- portrays a group of renegade schoolchildren who lose hope in Japan's economic future and take matters into their own hands. They provoke the nation's junior-high-school students to drop out, move to northern Japan and go into business. The rest of Japan, in the doldrums, watches helplessly.

"Reading that book gave me sort of a jolt," declared Nobutaka Machimura, a conservative legislator and former education minister, during a session of the Diet earlier this year. Mr. Machimura, who has spent his career championing the very values that Mr. Murakami's characters disdain (discipline, politeness and consideration of others), told fellow lawmakers that there may be some truth to the book's message: Japanese children don't have much to hope for right now.

Mr. Murakami's popularity with the economic elite rose in 1999, when he created Japan Mail Media, which has become a popular Web site specializing in finance and the economy. There, he peppers economists with earnest, numbered questions. No. 203: "When a 10-year-old asks you what economic reform is, what are you supposed to tell him?"

Last year, the state-owned Japan Broadcasting Corp. paid homage to Mr. Murakami by profiling him and his Web site in a documentary. But the ultimate nod of approval came in 2001.

In March, NEC, Japan's largest maker of personal computers, invited him to speak to 100 executives in NEC-group companies on what businesses should do to survive these increasingly competitive times. Sadao Hosaka, a senior manager of an NEC subsidiary that creates internal computer networks, found the speech an eye-opener.

Mr. Murakami says "things that don't usually occur to you," says Mr. Hosaka. The 51-year-old, who until a few years ago thought of Mr. Murakami as someone "who had nothing to do with the economy," took away this message: Employees should try to think of themselves as individual actors contributing to a big company, not just cogs in the wheel.

Currently, Mr. Murakami says, he is trying to determine whether most Japanese are capable of dealing with the fraying of their group mentality. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has warned that his economic-reform plan, calling for a quick cleanup of the nation's banks and privatization of state-run businesses, will be "painful." What that really means, Mr. Murakami argues, is that some people will lose their jobs and have their lives turned upside down, while others may even gain from the reforms. But too many people seem to think the "pain" is something the Japanese will all share only briefly.

"They seem to think it's as though they won't be able to eat anything for three whole days, and then they'll be able to all reap the benefits of an economic upswing," he says. "But that's not the way it's going to be. Japan is no longer going to be such a uniform society."

To get more people thinking about this shift, Mr. Murakami has written yet another novel: "The Final Tale to Be Written About the Family." The book will be published in September and become a TV drama series this fall. It depicts a family of four that is falling apart, he says. The father has lost his job at a small machinery company as a result of the government's economic reform, and he is growing bitter that society doesn't care for the weak anymore. His son has become a recluse, locking himself in his room. And that has added strain on the wife and daughter.

Eventually, the four decide to sell their house and live apart. "They each start over, as individuals," Mr. Murakami says. The book, he adds, "will also have a happy ending."

Write to Yumiko Ono at yumiko.ono@wsj.com

Sunday, August 26, 2001
just be yourself

In the West the individualistic culture means that your mood matters much more than it does in the East. People think they should be living on the edge of joyfulness all the time. You get people who are actually happy, but they think happiness is so important that they strive to be even happier.

We're built to be positive, but not to be stuck in a kind of euphoria. We should be in that mid-range so that when something good happens, we can go up. This desire to be always euphoric is a product of medicine, of standards of living, but also of individualism, where the emphasis is on you individually, your emotions and feeling good.

We believe that people have all kinds of values, and the value of being in a good mood, of having fun and feeling joyful--that's just one value among many. It's not everybody's ultimate value. Now, you might say satisfaction is a higher goal because people would have that if they achieved something they valued.

group context (via aldaily)

Refusing to go limp, my teaching assistant's spine knelt straight up for almost ten full seconds, minus two-thirds of its crown. Then it thrashed as if in moral, or at least electrical, outrage. It stomped on two knees, then one knee, and only fell to the ground because it slipped in a puddle of spit.

But even then, Wei FuLiao did not fall forward, exposing his buttocks and anus in a ritual offering of the penultimate submission, but actually fell backwards into the blast, facing the soldier in bright-red faceless scorn, snagging the smoking muzzle among his ragged membranes, wrenching the rifle from the soldier's hands and thrashing some more until not one, but two, men had to use their bayonets to carve out his cardiopulmonary system.

As it happened, one of the bayonets snapped off between his ribs. It's said that a mysterious female derelict took advantage of the chaos to run up and pluck the broken bayonet out of the carnage. She vanished into the cheering crowd, thirteen centimeters of serrated death, red and bristling with bone slivers, concealed in her crawling rags.

Saturday, August 25, 2001
kevin smith

If there's one thing to know about Kevin Smith, it is that there's nothing, really, to know. Smith got his start with a bunch of buddies from his hometown in Red Bank, New Jersey -- unemployed dudes who hung out in front of the convenience store in Jersey selling pot. The convenience store was a huge hit with the people who hang out there.

"People tend to romanticize this job," said Smith. "I've always intended to live one way or another, and for the last seven years this is what's been going on in my life. While in a way, it hasn't been all that's going on," he said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a message."

sir anthony hopkins

Assistants tiptoe around discreetly, steering him gently from one hushed room to the next. He reaches a state of relaxed detachment in tune with the mellow music of his Welsh voice. "So ...," he says. "Are we done?" He falls silent and appears faintly bored, mildly amused and occasionally testy -- as if about to eat -- then stares with his blue-eyes unblinking into the camera.

um, i was going to do ones for sean penn, shannyn sossamon (who?) and sophie crumb but i decided not to. because i've had it with celebrity fetishism :)

Friday, August 24, 2001
an interview with judd apatow (via dirtynerdluv)

When I was a kid I used to go home every day and my friends would play sports. While they would have football practice, I would watch the Dinah Shore show and the Mike Douglas show and the early “Love Connection,” and I would make a grilled-cheese sandwich and chocolate cake, and I would watch TV straight through until Letterman was over at 1:30 in the morning. In high school! And I did that way too often. And that’s my most personal moment on the show…
“Freaks and Geeks,” we thought if it was pure, people would love it. We thought, like, there would be a backlash against these high school shows, and that if one was more honest, people would run to it in droves, and we were very surprised that we weren’t a gigantic hit. As we shot more and more shows, we realized we wouldn’t survive, so we approached the show like it was an 18-hour miniseries, and we literally didn’t change one frame of film to please anybody at the network or the production company, because we felt like our fate had already been decided so why not make something as good as we can make it?

Thursday, August 23, 2001
poet of the commonplace

Ermanno Olmi (b. 1931) was born in Lombardy in northern Italy into a family of industrial workers. His films reflect this background: "The world of work, people who work. I think I shall never grow tired of this extraordinary theme." He began making short documentaries in the 1950s for a Milanese electric company, Edisonvolta. Early on, he became enamored of the gritty, down-to-earth look of Italian neorealism and this interest, combined with his documentary background, eventually defined his filmmaking style. Avoiding political or sentimental overtones, Olmi portrays the quotidian existence of the "common man," neverfailing to find humor and empathy. . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

abandoned places (via memepool)

Old buildings, abandoned hospitals, industrial palaces overgrown with plants and trees, the remaining walls decorated with graffiti, smashed windows, rain dripping through the roof... These places have become hard to find, difficult (or illegal) to access, dangerous to explore ... great to spend the day !

I am a captain airbus 320 for SABENA, the Belgian airline (picture taken in a B767 as a copilot). Since many years I've been exploring and photographing abandoned factories, hospitals and other interesting places in Belgium. On rainy afternoons I've tried to design some absurd, impossible and intriguing buildings.

Today, the pyramids of the industrial revolution just uselessly stand in the way, they're a scar in the landscape. The deafening noises have been replaced by silence, but if you listen carefully they will tell you their story. . .

Tuesday, August 21, 2001
wsj article (aug. 17 -- below :) about municipalities building out public fiber-optic networks through tax-free bond issues and run like local utilities. it seems people get better service and prices when such networks are implemented. it also forces telecom companies operating in the area to offer better service and prices as well, in short, to compete. but it's also increased companies' lobbying efforts against such municipal activity. it's not hard to see why companies like at&t broadband, charter communications and qwest don't like it.

i think data access can be seen as a public utility and if companies are dragging their feet about providing it, municipalities have the right and responsibility to take it upon themselves to deliver service for their constituents. yeah!

***
Municipal Networks Become Rivals
For Fiber-Optic Telecom Companies
By DAVID ARMSTRONG and DENNIS K. BERMAN
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

TACOMA, Wash. -- The troubled telecommunications industry has yet one more thing to worry about: competition from City Hall.

Spurred by local businesses and consumer dissatisfaction with cable-television, Internet and telephone service, municipal governments across the country are building their own speedy fiber-optic networks to compete with private industry.

Here in Tacoma, Harry Sanders, a 75-year-old retired television repairman, says the cable-TV service he used to get from Tele-Communications Inc. was so bad he could improve the picture by switching off the cable box and using his old-fashioned roof antenna.

So, when Tacoma introduced a municipal fiber-optic network in 1998, Mr. Sanders was among the first to sign up. Now, he raves about his flawless television picture -- and lightning-fast Internet connection.

After Tacoma got into the communications business, TCI upgraded its network to offer high-speed Internet service, better cable reception and additional channels. Now nearly every home and business in the city of 194,000 has access to a variety of the latest telecom services.

Scores of other mostly medium-size and smaller localities -- from Alameda, Calif., to Gainesville, Fla. -- have also challenged their local cable, phone and Internet providers by installing public fiber-optic networks. And dozens more are following suit, installing technology that can transmit Internet, phone and cable data as light beams through hair-width strands of glass. Older networks, such as those that primarily move information in the form of electrons through copper wire, generally offer slower or more limited service.

Funded in many cases by special municipal bonds and in others by cash generated by local utilities, the new municipal networks are the information-age equivalent of improved roads and sewers, city officials say. In some instances, the public networks are providing services to customers passed over by private companies, such as smaller businesses or low-income families. Memphis in June approved plans for a city-owned fiber-optic network that is slated to include housing projects that lack high-speed Internet access.

Struggling Industry

For the telecommunications industry, the new competition comes at a bad time. Regional Bell and cable companies also have poured billions into improving their connections to homes, without yet seeing much return. AT&T Corp., which acquired TCI in 1999, has suffered large losses because the huge investment it made in upgrading its cable network hasn't offset declining long-distance business.

Overall, the industry built capacity too quickly, creating a glut of mostly long-distance data and phone routes connecting major cities. But many communities still lack fast Internet connections because companies have hesitated to complete the arduous and expensive process of extending high-capacity lines into homes and businesses -- known in the industry as going "the last mile."

With only about 9% of households nationwide estimated to have high-speed cable and Internet service, often referred to as broadband, some local governments are responding to demand in their areas. Less concerned about turning profits, these municipalities are more willing to incur heavy last-mile expenses.

Unfair Advantages?

AT&T and some other companies complain that government-built systems often receive unfair advantages: bond financing that is tax-exempt and therefore less expensive, easier access to rights-of-way and licensing by the very entities that own them. "Philosophically, we believe this business should be left to private industry," says Steve Kipp, spokesman for AT&T's broadband unit.

Fighting back, the industry has pressured legislatures in Texas, Missouri and eight other states to pass laws restricting or banning municipal networks from providing telecom services. Companies also are trying to head off proposed municipal networks with aggressive local public-relations campaigns aimed at persuading voters that the systems will lose money, forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab.

The corporate public-relations effort in Alameda included satiric fliers delivered to homeowners, comparing the idea of a government fiber-optic system to a public pizza-delivery service. In Eugene, Ore., corporate opponents suggested that the city's next step could be buying its own satellite. Alameda plowed ahead with its network, while Eugene chose to move more cautiously.

Competition from cities generally has spurred private telecom providers to add new services, cut prices and become more responsive to customers, according to a Federal Communications Commission report issued last year. One instance, said the FCC, was Laurens, Iowa, where voters in 1997 approved a municipal communications authority that has built a public fiber-optic network. The local cable company, TCI of the Heartlands, responded by doubling the number of channels on its basic service and offering higher-quality digital cable-TV.

In Tacoma, the local cable company, now known as AT&T Broadband, not only put in new fiber-optic lines to provide fast Internet service, it also offers cable packages at relatively low prices. Today, AT&T's $25.52 monthly fee for standard cable in Tacoma is still $2 higher than that of the city system, but about 20% below what residents in nearby Seattle pay for the same AT&T service.

When Tacoma's $89.5 million public system began offering a new type of interactive service, combining television and the Internet, AT&T Broadband introduced a similar offering. Tacoma was only the second place in the country AT&T offered this service. "We will not shy away from the fact we are competing" against municipal networks, says Mr. Kipp of AT&T Broadband, the country's largest cable operator.

The public-private competition has become so intense that some communities are crying foul. The small city of Scottsboro, Ala., alleged in a filing with the FCC earlier this month that Charter Communications Inc., the cable company controlled by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, is using illegal "predatory pricing" to try to put Scottsboro's network out of business. Charter has offered $200 rebates to customers who switch from the city service and rates well below those of other communities served by the company, the Scottsboro filing said.

Charter, based in St. Louis, says its pricing reflects legitimate "competition that benefits customers." Scottsboro and the FCC say the city's filing probably won't lead to any further administrative or legal action.

Law Sparks Competition

Some municipalities, primarily those in rural areas, built their own telecommunications networks as far back as the 1960s. But the explosion of activity in this area came after enactment of the major federal telecommunications law in 1996 that encouraged competition in the provision of cable, Internet and telephone service.

Most of the public fiber-optic systems are built by municipally owned electric utilities. The utilities liken their expansion into the telecommunications business to their own creation in the early 1900s, when communities ignored by private power firms arranged for their own electricity. At least 97 public power utilities -- out of the roughly 2,000 that exist nationally -- have built telecom networks, according to the American Public Power Association, a trade group.

But in some states, industry lobbying against the public networks has paid off. Most of the 10 states that have already restricted or banned municipalities from running telecom systems acted after industry pressure.

And the pressure isn't ending. The California Cable Television Association, an industry group, last month used its lobbying skill to insert language it wants into a pending state bill that would speed the creation of municipal utility districts to help deal with the state's power problems. The cable-industry provision has nothing to do with the power crisis but would ban the creation of such municipal authorities for the sole purpose of getting into telecom services.

The state Senate has approved the amended bill, which now awaits action in the Assembly. "Since we had the votes, there wasn't much choice for the [bill's] author and the cities but to accept our amendments," says Dennis Mangers, senior vice president of the cable group.

The author of the underlying legislation, Democratic Sen. Nell Soto, says she might have been able to push her bill through without the amendment. But she didn't want "to get in the way of" the cable industry's business goals and didn't mind including the ban in her bill, she says. Still, "you feel the power of the lobbies," she adds. "They are there every day."

Cable and telephone companies pushed for a law Nebraska enacted in May. It bars municipal networks from offering retail communication services and requires cities and towns to contribute half of any profit they make from the leasing of fiber-optic networks to a state fund to improve Internet access. State Sen. Curt Bromm, the Republican chairman of the Nebraska legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, acknowledges that industry lobbying helped propel the legislation and that the law will favor telecom companies. But overall, he adds, the new statute "fosters competition and cooperation between the private sector and public sector."

Some municipalities have counterattacked, filing lawsuits that contend that the restrictive state laws are invalid because they conflict with the 1996 federal telecommunications act. The federal act forbids states from "prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

In response to a suit filed by the city of Bristol, Va., which is building its own network, a federal judge in that state in May struck down Virginia's law barring municipalities from the telecom business. Virginia's attorney general has said he intends to appeal the ruling.

Battles also are taking place at local polling places. In Eugene, a ballot initiative last year on whether to allow the city's Water and Electric Board to get into the telecommunications business provoked strong opposition from Qwest Communications International Inc. and AT&T Broadband. The companies and their local allies collectively spent nearly $87,000 on fliers and newspaper ads, including the one that warned against giving Eugene so much latitude that "it could even buy an orbiting satellite." The opponents also argued that power customers could unwittingly end up paying for the plan.

Supporters spent only $8,000 on competing ads, but voters approved the initiative. After all the corporate lobbying, though, the city has scaled back an estimated $250 million plan to provide fiber-optic service to every home and business. For now, Eugene will undertake only a $3 million initial project to serve most of its businesses. Debra Wright, who heads the project for the Water and Electric Board, says that corporate pressure didn't influence the decision to move more cautiously.

In Eugene and other communities, the industry has argued that if taxpayers understood the cost and risks of municipal fiber-optic ambitions, most of the plans would be defeated. "By and large, they all lose money," says Ronald Rizzuto, a finance professor at the University of Denver who has conducted industry-funded studies of municipal cable systems.

Moving to Glasgow, Ky.

One example Mr. Rizzuto cites is the city of Glasgow, Ky. But William J. Ray, superintendent of Glasgow's Electric Plant Board, says the industry analysis ignores the economic benefits of municipal networks. Franchino Mold & Engineering Co. opened a new facility in Glasgow three years ago, in part, because the city's fiber-optic network allowed for an easy exchange of data with engineers at the company's Lansing, Mich., headquarters, a company official says.

The 12-year-old Glasgow fiber-optic system, one of the first of its kind, provides relatively inexpensive cable and high-speed Internet services to 8,000 homes and businesses, or two-thirds of the local market. It has broken even for the past four years, Mr. Ray says.

In an attempt to damp enthusiasm in other communities considering construction of government networks, AT&T Broadband has attacked the finances of Tacoma's system, known as Click!Network.

The AT&T unit has asserted in local newspapers that Click!Network has lost $15.7 million in three years -- and that city taxpayers ultimately will foot the bill. Tacoma Power, the utility that built the network, says the loss is $7.8 million and largely related to start-up costs. AT&T Broadband's Mr. Kipp won't comment on whether his company's system in the area is in the red or the black.

Tacoma Power funded Click!Network from a $100 million surplus generated from power sales to California and other states. More recently, a drought has reduced the utility's hydro-plant production and forced it to buy electricity in the expensive wholesale market. If Tacoma Power hadn't spent heavily on a fiber-optic network, it might not have had to make recent sharp increases in residential power rates, AT&T Broadband maintains.

Proponents of Click!Network respond that the new services -- and the competition -- are worth the investment.

---
City Hall as Rival

A sampling of municipalities that have built their own fiber-optic networks:

  • Alameda, Calif.
  • Ashland, Ore.
  • Braintree, Mass.
  • Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Coldwater, Mich.
  • Gainesville, Fla.
  • Harlan, Iowa
  • LaGrange, Ga.
  • Tacoma, Wash.
  • Wadsworth, Ohio

---
Write to David Armstrong at david.armstrong@wsj.com and Dennis K. Berman at dennis.berman@wsj.com

Monday, August 20, 2001
logitech cordless mouseman optical and ifeel mouseman by jade

Hugo Gernsback, the original publisher of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, is rightly credited as creating not only the title Science Fiction, but the evocative response that an example of such a work should produce in the reader, that being a sense of wonder. Although the field of Science Fiction now encompasses a number of sub-disciplines, the most recent being Cyberpunk, the most notable example, a new testament of SF, if you will, Neuromancer, the original commentary by H. Gernsback remains as the defining essence of the genre in toto. In the same manner, a sense of wonder might be applied to technology enthusiasts, the etymology of technology derived from the Greek, technés, the study of that which is made by human hand, when confronted with some artifact that represents a titular accomplishment in the making by hand, be it human, or robotic, and thus, I feel secure in declaring:

1 h4Ve 4 pH@53r! PHE4R M3, LO53r5!

Sunday, August 19, 2001
The Backdoor Skullfuck: A Tale Of Acquisition (thing)

I am uglier than you imagine (idea)

Saturday, August 18, 2001
non-monotonic logic! (via 5k metatalk)

A logic is monotonic if the truth of a proposition does not change when new information (axioms) are added to the system. In contrast, a logic is non-monotonic if the truth of a proposition may change when new information (axioms) is added to or old information is deleted from the system.

philip gourevitch promotes his new book :) (via idea of the day)

One of the things that was interesting and attractive to me about the story from the beginning was the extent to which the people involved were fully aware of themselves as characters. They are all strong personalities. I like self-dramatizing characters. The extent to which they all think of themselves as belonging to a world that's fading—the old school—there's some truth to that. What one sees in them is how people are molded by the culture of their time. I mean, anybody who wonders whether movies influence people need only look at the way that Koehler was obsessed with Jimmy Cagney or the way that Rosenzweig was obsessed with Gary Cooper in High Noon. (And curiously, Murray Richman told me that his favorite movie is Casablanca because, he said, "it's all about life's ambiguities.")

Friday, August 17, 2001
in search of giant squid!

cool pic of surma stickfighting

Thursday, August 16, 2001

more stuff on the ainu and the surma

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