Monthly Archives: November 2002

Wi-Fi in the park

Steve Johnson’s excellent weblog links to a great story in the NY Times about the free Wi-Fi network in Bryant Park. I remember the park as a gorgeous place to have Sunday brunch and read the papers, but that was before 802.11b. Bryant Park (right behind the NY Public Library if I remember rightly) was once so dangerous and run down it was literally boarded up. Wi-Fi didn’t save the park but it does now enrich the its complex ecology and will probably make its regeneration more robust.

Resource wars

John Gray in the New Statesman says we’re entering the era of ‘resource wars’ and that our starry-eyed faith in technology or in central planning has blinded us to the huge risks:

“The belief that resource scarcity can be transcended by industrialism unites many seemingly antagonistic political standpoints. When neoliberals announced that the collapse of communism meant the end of history, they showed how much they have in common with their Marxist opponents. They assumed that once the struggle of capitalism with central planning had ended, so would geopolitical conflict. In the global free market, as in Marx’s vision of world communism, there would be no shortage of the necessities of life.

It did not occur to these breathless missionaries of the free market that worldwide industrialisation might trigger a new and dangerous kind of conflict. Like Marx, they took it for granted that wars of scarcity are relics of the pre-industrial past.”

Migration Watch UK – not much think, mostly tank

Migration Watch UK is a shabby pressure group masquerading as a think tank. The group’s neutral-sounding name masks its real concern with immigration. The group’s founder, Sir Andrew Green – a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, quoted at BBC News Online – isn’t trying very hard:

“You get on the Tube and you can barely move. London is stuffed with people. Under the present regime the numbers are going to keep going up and up and up.”

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3G auctions revisionism

Paul Klemperer, auction guru and advisor to the Government on the 3G bids, mounts a point-by-point defence of the much criticised 3G spectrum auctions:

“In retrospect, of course, the licences look expensive. But in retrospect, shares or houses sometimes look expensive. Like any other market, an auction simply matches willing buyers and willing sellers – it cannot protect them against their own mistakes.”

He’s right. With hindsight, the damage done to the sector by the huge 3G licence payments looks trivial next to that done by over-capacity, incautious acquisitions, huge borrowings and straightforward venality (or combinations thereof). As Klemperer also points out, encouraging big businesses to write huge cheques payable to ‘HM Treasury’ is an extraordinarily direct and efficient way of funding Government activity. Maybe we should come up with some more resources to auction? Airspace? Ocean? Mineral exploitation rights?

A new library of Alexandria

In the future, there will be statues of Brewster Kahle. I never cease to be humbled by his ambition.

“Technologists have promised the digital library for decades. In 1945, Vannevar Bush, who was technology adviser to several US presidents, wrote an article in The Atlantic magazine outlining how computers might one day augment libraries. Then in 1960, a young graduate called Ted Nelson got sidetracked from his masters degree in sociology at Harvard into writing text?retrieval software. He published his ideas, and coined the term “hypertext” in 1965. So in many ways the digital library is long overdue.”

He’s preserving the web ? all of it ? in parallel libraries of hard disks, one of which is in Alexandria. This is an unconditionally noble project, on a truly grand scale. Any arguments?

By the way, why is it New Scientist that carries interviews like this and not to the Internet press? Come to think of it, is there an Internet press?

I’m just going to say it…

It’s fashionable – compulsory in some circles – to knock Big Brother. In fact, the show is one of a handful of genuinely indigenous forms thrown up by television. It’s important for all sorts of reasons: it wouldn’t be possible in any other medium, it adds much to existing formats, it changes the terms of the relationship between viewer and subject…
The celebrity variant is absolutely compelling stuff. If you’ve been avoiding it because you think it’s lowbrow, get off your high horse and tune in (and while you’re at it, think about how you might integrate a blog with the house… Should the producers add a ‘blog room’?)

Anti brand campaigners need context

Anti-sweatshop campaigners have launched a campaign for a Christmas boycott of The Gap’s stores worldwide.

“Gap is encouraging the exploitation of workers in six countries, the activists say. They presented a New York conference yesterday with documented evidence of “abusive working conditions” collected from interviews with 200 people in more than 40 factories making Gap garments in Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Lesotho, El Salvador and Mexico for the company’s global network of more than 4,000 shops. “

The problem with these attacks is that they come from an intrinsically anti-business perspective. It’s impossible for the critics to see the progress the mega-brands are making and – worse – to imagine the brands ever making a positive contribution to the well-being of workers or economies. None of the press coverage (BBC, Newsday, WNBC NY, Guardian) for this new boycott can supply any context – what would Lesotho’s economy look like without Gap? What is the average hourly wage in Cambodia?

A rational approach to the brands would use their massive economic clout – within the developing economies and in home markets – to effect change. In China, Reebok (after decades of pressure from campaigners, naturally) is actually organising labour against the wishes of the authorities – using market clout to defy a repressive government. Nike, Gap, Levi’s et al have invested millions in monitoring and compliance. Many now work locally to improve conditions by bullying governments and entrenched power. Businesses, unlike some other institutions, are not monolithic – they can and do change.