Hard News by Russell Brown

Back in town

Clearly, I am not indispensable. I'm away for a couple of days at a conference and the much-anticipated World of Warcraft open beta becomes available. My 10 year-old leaps on it but discovers that the transfer of the leviathan 2.4GB file will be considerably enhanced if a certain port is enabled in the MacOS X firewall.

So he dives into MacOS X Help, finds out how to enable the relevant port and does the job. My obsolescence as technical gatekeeper beckons. Anyway, the download is almost done as I write, and I must say I'm impressed with the custom BitTorrent client that Blizzard has built to deliver the beta.

My computer has been busily exchanging bits and pieces of the file with who-knows-how-many other nodes across the Internet. Data in and data out are almost exactly symmetrical, as the BitTorrent protocol dictates - which is also something of a testament to the performance of my Ihug Connect wireless Internet service.

This in turn is germane to the conference I've been at: the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand's Broadband Reloaded event, which aimed to envisage a true broadband future for New Zealand and plot some ways to get there. The tendency of Tuanz events to turn into marathons was exaggerated by the fact that the conference venue was the opera house in Hastings, while the hotels were all in Napier. So unless you had private transport, you were on the bus to the venue at 7am sharp, jawing until 6pm, and not getting back from drinks, dinner and networking until 11pm. Tired? I was bloody knackered.

Without wishing to get too deeply into the Napier-Hastings thing, the two towns, both apparently quite prosperous, are remarkably different. While Napier is clustered at its beachfront, Hastings appears to be a town planned with too much space to hand. It is not unattractive, but everything is spread out, and the vast retail spaces operated by K-Mart, Briscoes and Rebel Sport make it seem like a town of silos.

Still, it was a useful affair. The Aucklanders present looked agog at the cluster of officials from the Royal Court of Helengrad, who calculated the respective influence of their acronyms - MCH, MED, NZTE, MORST - and swapped gossip. Telecom was present as joint lead sponsor and unofficial 800lb gorilla, warily eyed up by members of the geek establishment. But two of the most interesting people I met were Maori: Garry Nicholas, the general manager of Toi Maori Aotearoa, who struck me as a man of real vision, and Roimata Rameka, Hone Harawira's livewire PA at Te Hiku o Te Hika, which runs radio stations in the far north. She will presumably be part of the Ngapuhi invasion of Wellington if and when the Maori Party wins a few seats next year.

I'll blog at greater length tomorrow about the big underlying issue at the conference - the ever-so-political Advanced Network proposal - but for now I should acknowledge at least a bit of the intelligence and insightful post-US election comments that have flowed in from readers.

No economists ventured to shed light on the question I asked about the relative economic contributions of the red and blue states, but a physicist did. Richard Easther of Cornell University directed me to this comparison table, which fairly clearly indicates who's paying the bills in America in terms of contribution to the tax base on one hand and federal spending on the other: basically, it's the Kerry-voting blue states around the edges that keep the show on the road. Norm pointed me to a blog by economist Angry Bear, who elaborates on a similar theme.

On the other hand, Michael Beggs sent a lengthy and well-argued email to say that this is not a proper way of looking at things, noting that California's bountiful tech industry was largely (I think you could argue about how much) spawned from federal military spending, and that the heartland manufacturing industries have been badly hurt by the "monetarist shock" and the actions of the edge-state-based financial sector:

I don't mean to suggest it was a case of demonic financiers setting out to gut perfectly healthy industry. American manufacturing was burdened with overcapacity and being out-competed by lower-cost higher-tech European and Japanese manufacturing. But the financiers should not be glorified either. They have not replaced manufacturing decline with anything sustainable. The 1990s boom Democrats like to give Clinton credit for a sucess that was based on a financial bubble. Companies originating in America are doing very well on a world scale, exporting capital around the globe, but the American economy itself is deeply in debt …

Anyway - my point is that it's unfair to credit the wealth of the East and West coasts to their enlightenment and hipness. (Texas is actually an interesting counterpoint - Houston and Dallas emerging as important financial and technology centres - but this is already a long enough rant.) The re-centring of the US economy into finance, insurance and real estate was not the fault of citizens of the red states, though it probably contributed to their resentment of 'East Coast liberals' and Hollywood, etc. Thomas Frank has written insightful stuff on this. The Democrats have not presented any solution to the country's real economic problems - including severe poverty in urban cores as well as the de-industrialised heartland, and a chronic reliance on an unstable pyramid of debt.

I think if I was a New York Democrat I'd still have something along the lines of "no taxation without representation" running around my head.

I do think that, however therapeutic is might be in the short term, the red-versus-blue states meme will have to be set aside, if only because it doesn't allow for the real diversity on the ground. Whatever their fellow citizens do, the good folk of Austin, Texas, will still be Keeping Austin Weird.

Anyway, gotta run. Some stuff on creationism's gathering assault on American public education tomorrow. But for now, yet another map, courtesy Josh Marshall. This one depicts the American electoral map adjusted for population size. It looks kind of funky.