Bad music and full mouths
Muddling through in Morocco
ICANN Marrakech "Cause baby, I feel wonderful tonight..." The man singing this is lying. He doesn't feel wonderful at all. He feels like a musician who has been reduced to playing old-favourites to a small bunch of indifferent tourists, sat tapping away behind two sythesisers, only one of which he ever plays, but both of which are bathed in bright pink light. Welcome to Marrakech.
Following ICANN around the globe, you get used to being in out-of-season hotels and grow oddly drawn to the peculiar mix of depression and relaxation that this brings. There is nothing quite like the bad service you get at times like these. It's because all the staff know that one day very soon they are going to be called into the office and will soon after have to find another badly paid job. The chef left off three weeks ago, so it's Paco, a kitchen helper who is expected to have learnt cooking by osmosis in charge of the kitchen.
But, hang on, this isn't out of season. It's the end of June. And where are all the ICANN delegates?
Well, the ICANN people have been here at least one night (unlike me) and having tasted Paco's delights have all, disappeared into central Morocco to sample the real stuff. I, meanwhile, stayed behind in the conference venue late, got to the hotel, took a shower, did a spot of work and then realised it was 9pm and everyone was already in town eating.
I bet the bastards are eating cous-cous as well. Paco only knows Western fare: pasta, hamburger, pizza, pie. All cooked beyond repair. I go for the "fancy" veal escalope, which was beautifully cooked, or it has been in April. Since then it's been in and out of a fridge, freezer and oven, through a traumatic break-up and divorce, and eventually ended up cold and lonely on the Marrakech mean streets before finally being rescued and presented to some mug tourist.
I asked for salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. It might help get the food into my gullet. The waitress took pity on me and brought tabasco, vinegar, mustard and ketchup.
If there is a man greater in spirit and richer in life than president and CEO of the Public Internet Registry (PIR) Edward Viltz then please keep him away because I couldn't bear to see him shown up. Whenever Ed's around, I feel ashamed for spending so much of my time being a grumpy sod. Not that this joie de vivre came free. Mr Viltz, like most of the PIR team, has lived the tough corporate life, being slowly eaten away until each suddenly realised what life was all about and set about making it just that little bit easier for people with fewer choices.
PIR is selling dot-org domains for $1 to the poorest countries in the world and it is telling them how they can use that $1 investment to communicate with the rest of the world. They just moved this programme to Ecuador and everyone went crazy for it. The local media attention meant that the message reached one million Ecuadoreans, Ed tells me with a delight that makes you want to move there just to take the offer up.
Unravelling the veil
There are two big, weighty issues - at least in terms of ICANN's existence and influence - at this conference. First, the "enhanced co-operation" deal. This is the mechanism by which the world's governments agree what role they will play and how they will communicate within ICANN. And secondly, the looming renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the IANA contract with the US government in September.
The enhanced co-operation will be largely agreed to in two days. And the USG contracts will be decided sometime between 26 July and 30 September (although you suspect 99 per cent of it is already decided). And yet, not a single soul is willing to talk about either process, except to confirm that they are happening.
This is insane. I have personally asked 15 people for information on either topic. I asked ICANN staff, governmental staff, three chairmen, two diplomats and a waiter and none were able to provide solid information on these two vital issues. If I hadn't sat through I don't know how many meetings covering the exact same topics, only dressed differently, I would have concluded some kind of general conspiracy was afoot.
The truth is far more worrying: no one can talk about it because there's nothing to talk about. When you are in a situation that just goes round and round so many times, you simply can't be bothered to explain to anyone else what has happened. Mostly because nothing has happened really.
Well, that's the case with the enhanced co-operation. Faced with a brick wall of inconsequence, there is only one conclusion to draw: that discussion is entrenched in old and familiar patterns that can only ever be broken by intense, impending deadlines. This, it seems, is how governments work when trying to reach agreement. What does this mean in terms of "enhanced co-operation"?
Brazil scores own goooooooooal!
It means that Brazil is being incredibly stubborn and insisting on its fantasy view of the internet. It means the United States is being incredibly stubborn and refusing to budge an inch because it knows it doesn't have to. It means the EU is constantly trying to broker a deal but keeps getting caught up arguing with itself. It means China will occasionally speak up to warn people if they get too close to its red-lines. And it means it will be down to Pakistan or Singapore to save the day. The finished result will be that the US gets more power than it deserves and the Brazilians will move to the next on the list to attack the US with.
As for the MoU: well, that's a whole different story. The ties between ICANN and the DoC (and both with VeriSign) have been drawn so tight for so long that their discussions are almost impenetrable. The only evidence we have is what has been pulled out by ICM Registry through a FOIA request. And even that has no details of what we know are fairly regular one-to-one meetings between ICANN's CEO and/or chairman and DoC top brass.
What is going on with the MoU? No one knows. As insane as that sounds, there are only maybe five people in the world that know what they are planning to do with the internet. Twomey is one of them. And he's feeling very pleased with himself for some reason. What that means is that his worst fears haven't been realised, he can see the road ahead, and that much-needed reform of ICANN is going to be lost again.
Hang the DJ, shoot the pianist
I was pondering this sad state of affairs when I suddenly realised what the solution was. Only to have the thought cruelly dragged out of mind at the vital moment of resolution by the musician continuing to torture well-known tunes. He can't play. He simply can't play.
My sister has Grade 4 piano. She got it when she was 15 but almost immediately afterwards stopped playing. She is now 29, and every Xmas, as a joke, we force her to play one of the tunes in her ever-diminshing repertoire, on a piano that hasn't been tuned since 1989. Yet the dreadful plunk-plonk that is emitted - which never fails to cause fits of hysterics - is *still* better that aural excrement being heaped upon on my already suffering slice of veal.
Just when I thought it could get no worse, it ended, and the people on the table to the left of me started clapping. Not a slow clap either. The kind of clap that says "nice job - I'd like to hear more". And so, to my horror, that's exactly what happens. It slowly dawns on me that I have unwittingly entered a dark and dangerous world of the beige tourist. I pay the bill quickly and leave before the whole hotel is sucked into the depths of hell.
And, you know what? There was not a single ICANN conference attendee in sight. The devil must still have need of these people. ®