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Two Towns

Week of September 16, 2003

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

This is a tale of Two Towns. It is also a tale of Power.

The Arm of Power stretches out and exerts an influence in mysterious ways. On the one hand, it seeks to crush and to dominate and to increase its hold; on the other, it wants to be loved, and will therefore do the most contradictory things to achieve that goal.

When the Arm of Power came to the First Town, it looked around and regarded the status quo with mirth and amusement. This First Town was a really nice town, with a laid back people concentrating on the subtle joys of life. It was in most ways an almost perfect town - the only thing wrong was that it was not paying tribute to the Arm of Power. The Arm of Power was now on location to change all that.

Underhanded meetings, subtle bribes, sweet talk - and above all singling out the most intellectually disenfranchised - all do their wonders. The First Town was a part of the greater international community, making its due contribution and enjoying, in its own way, the fruits of this cooperation and well-being. Part of a country where legacy technology has a hard time dying out, the First Town possessed artefacts of yesterday's era along side the latest and the greatest, and no one suffered. Everything 'just worked'.

But now the Arm of Power was in town. Moving inexorably to the congenitally stupid in the area, the Arm of Power made its pitch. The First Town was an official part of the Bellsouth Internet backbone, running robust Unix servers with Apache on top, and things just worked. The Arm of Power set about changing all that. Putting visions of sugar plums in the heads of the most easily swayed, the Arm of Power got the town to seriously consider dismantling a system which just worked, which had absolutely nothing wrong with it, in favour of a flaky, leaky, non-scaleable system which would wait only for its first best opportunity to crash and leave the entire area - and the Bellsouth backbone - in complete havoc.

Heads were nodded, signatures put at the bottom of secret documents, money changed hands. The Arm of Power felt victory approaching. In a deft move the purpose of which escaped everyone, the Arm of Power succeeded in convincing the local village idiots to provide streaming video for a football game on equipment that hardly had the capacity to send text-only email, and the mayor of the First Town was forced to appear on the evening news and apologise for the incident. The students at the local university found themselves incapable of completing their assignments without the use of the Internet, and Bellsouth bellowed in anger, its customers taken irrevocably offline.

Not everyone was taken in by the Arm of Power and the sweet deals put on the tables in the very secret meetings. Some intuitively understood the idiocy of it all and tried to fight it. And yet, despite the streaming video scandal, the idiots felt convinced they were right and strove to silence the protests.

The Internet worms hit. ILOVEYOU caused irreparable damage, as did AnnaK, Code Red, Nimda, SoBig, MS Blaster, and the rest. For long periods, the university and the backbone were out of commission - and yet no one could force the Arm of Power out of town. And as time went on, the Arm of Power pushed harder, ever greedy to get more money, to make the town more dependent, and the coffers of the privileged were soon close to empty.

Not far away lay the Second Town in all its innocence. The Arm of Power had never cast its evil eye in that direction. But as things finally deteriorated to a satisfactory degree in the First Town, the Arm of Power sought out the Second. Envoys were sent to woo the locals in the Second Town, and speak of indescribable benefits about to come their way.

The public service buildings - the libraries, the community centres, et al - were all equipped with the latest computer hardware, given super-fast T-1 connections for Internet access - and of course relegated to running the software provided by the Arm of Power. And all in all, it was a costly donation.

So what was the net result of this foray into the hinterland of the planet? For the Arm of Power, and speaking in pure economic terms, it was about plus/minus zero. For the people of the Second Town, it was an improvement with severe limitations. For the First Town, it was an unqualified disaster.

The Arm of Power giveth, and it taketh away.

Ay! Louder, Vengeance, much louder, and still she will scarcely hear thee. Louder yet, Vengeance, with a little oath or so added, and yet it will hardly bring her. Send other women up and down to seek her, lingering somewhere; and yet, although the messengers have done dread deeds, it is questionable whether of their own wills they will go far enough to find her.

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