For Whom The Tubes Toll

Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens died in a plane crash Monday about 10 miles northwest of the village of Aleknagik, on Bristol Bay in Alaska. Stevens and eight other people were in the midst of a fishing trip, aboard a single-engine DeHavilland DHC-3T, when the plane crashed into a mountainside. Stevens and four other people were killed; four survived.

“Aleknagik” is of the Yupik language, and translates into English as “Wrong Way Home.”

Stevens was 86. To me, there is something quintessentially Mr. Ha-Ha about an 86-year-old man, who has for so long successfully evaded all the many traps and snares of mortality, perishing in a plane crash.

Then again, it could be said that Stevens was gifted with an additional 32 years of life, as he survived the crash of a small private plane in December 1978, a crash which took the life of his wife, Ann, and four other people.

Maybe it’s just me, but death a la Icarus seems a particularly mortifying way to go. Because aloft in the air is not a natural place for human beings; in a crash, there is time to recall that. So too through the millennia have sailors feared most death by drowning, and miners death underground; for neither are human beings created for life in water, or inside the earth.

Stevens was not of my political karass, but I suppose that here in my own fragile corporeal container I will always maintain a small place of fondness for him. Stevens will remain immortal, so long as I am mortal, because it is he who named the Internet “the tubes.”

In 2006 Stevens was down on the Senate floor arguing against “net neutrality,” which is the principle that a website like this one should be as accessible to those surfing the web as, say, the Drudge Report, or the Great Pumpkin.

Stevens, who as a senator worked always in the service of money, opposed such neutrality, preferring a system in which those with money could secure superior access. In Stevens’ world, a site like, oh, the Wall Street Journal, would load instantly, while a site like this one might not fully load until you’d had time to make a pot of coffee, do your income taxes, and clean out all the closets.

Stevens was trying to explain why “net neutrality” was Wrong by explaining the nature of the Internet. Problem is, he really didn’t understand the Internet. And you know what? Neither do I. So I occupy no place from which I can mock him; as I said, I am fond of him for this. Anyway, here is Stevens’ legendary speech, in which he introduced the word “tubes” into the lexicon of the Age of the Internet—or, as it is now called, thanks to Stevens, the Age of the Tubes.

There’s one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house, daily, by delivery service, okay? And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right?

This service is not going to go through the internet, and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet, and you order your movie, and guess what? You can order ten of them delivered to you, and the delivery charge is free, right?

Ten movies streaming across that internet, and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday, and I got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially . . . .

And again, the internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled, and if they’re filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material.

An audio presentation of a more extended Stevens discourse on the tubes is here:

So go well, Ted. There will always be, in me, a tube, for you.

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3 Responses to “For Whom The Tubes Toll”


  1. 1 Julia Rain (the daughter) September 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I too will always be grateful to Stevens for naming “the tubes”. I love that picture of the adorable ferret in his tube. When we babysat three ferrets they traveled through tubes all the time. It was especially entertaining to get a long tube and curl it around itself so that when the ferret exited one end, he’d just have to enter through the other, and continue going round.

    Do you remember that Car Talk episode from when I was about 6 (if not, well, that’s because you’re sane), where the Car Talk men explained to this woman that cars run because they are lots of little hamsters that run on wheels deep inside the car, and when some of the hamsters die, the car stops running as well? Well, maybe that’s how the internet works. Tons of tiny ferrets carry our information through the series of tubes. :)

    • 2 bluenred September 3, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      Is that a ferret? When I found and posted it, I thought it was a mouse. Obviously, I’m losing my vision. ; /

      Yes, I remember the hamsters. My favorite Car Talks were the ones involving animals. I especially liked the one about the horse that ate the steering wheel.

      • 3 Julia Rain (the daughter) September 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm

        Yes, it’s a ferret. But it has many mouse-like qualities. And the rest of its body is hidden in the tubes. You’re not losing your vision – ferrets are just weird looking.

        Poor ferrets. If net neutrality is eliminated they’ll be forced to work for the Rich and Wrong.

        I don’t really recall the steering-wheel-hungry horse episode, but I’m sure it was good.


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