The Series Of Tubes Pays Tribute: Ted Stevens 1923-2010

Liz Robbins at NYT:

Former United States Senator Ted Stevens was killed in a plane crash in southwestern Alaska on Monday night. Five of the nine people on board the small plane headed to a remote fishing lodge were killed in the crash, Gov. Sean Parnell of Alaska said.

Mr. Stevens, who had been the longest-serving Republican in the United States Senate while representing Alaska, was 86.

Sean O’Keefe, 54, a former NASA administrator who now is an executive with the European aerospace firm EADS, was also on the plane with his son, but they both survived, according to an official briefed on the crash who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Mr. O’Keefe, the official said, was “badly injured,” and was among three passengers airlifted to an Anchorage hospital. The body of Mr. Stevens was found just after daylight, according to a former aide to Mr. Stevens who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of respect to the family.

“Though small of stature, Ted Stevens seemed larger than life, and anybody who knew him, knew him that way, for he built for Alaska and he stood for Alaska and he fought for Alaskans,” Mr. Parnell said at a news conference in Anchorage. President Obama, in a statement, praised Mr. Stevens on Tuesday afternoon, when word of his death was made official:

“A decorated World War II veteran, Senator Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform. Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Senator Stevens in this terrible accident.”

Ed Morrissey

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Stevens represented the state for seven terms in the U.S. Senate and was revered as a patriarch of Alaska politics; he nearly won reelection in 2008 despite a federal corruption trial that unfolded during the campaign but was defeated by Democrat Mark Begich. The downed plane was owned by IT corporation CGI.

Michael Crowley at Swampland at Time:

Ted Stevens never worried much about making friends in Washington. “I’m a mean, miserable S.O.B.,” he once declared. He wasn’t speaking with contrition; he was bragging. Stevens was a tough character—brusque, short-tempered, and even vindictive. To underscore the point, he sometimes wore an Incredible Hulk necktie when he fought battles on the Senate floor. Those may not sound like winning qualities in a politician, but Stevens—who was killed in a plane crash in southwestern Alaska last night— harnessed them in the service of an epic, combative, and ultimately severely tarnished political career.

In the home stretch of a Senate career that began in 1968, Stevens was a titan in both Washington and Alaska. Over four decades he emerged as part of an old guard of power brokers who mastered the Senate’s arcane rules and gathered enormous institutional power. At the peak of his influence, Stevens chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate that reigned for most of the Bush years, making him one of the most powerful men in Washington.

But Stevens rarely used that power in the service of grand ideology. Though he was a reliable conservative vote, Stevens’s  his true ideology was the promotion of Alaska. Few things animated him more than his ferocious battles to allow oil drilling in the state’s national wildlife reserve, known as ANWR (Stevens once pronounced himself “seriously depressed” about his failure to end the drilling ban). And as appropriations chairman, a job that offered him vast control over the federal budget, he steered billions of dollars in pork spending back home, dollars that he referred to as “Stevens money.” As a supporter of projects like Alaska’s infamous $278 million Bridge to Nowhere, Stevens was second only to the late Senator Robert Byrd as an advocate of projects often indefensible beyond the borders of his home state. (Stevens was a frequent target of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, which calculates that he secured 1,452 projects totaling $3.4 billion from 1995 to 2008.)

Jacob Sullum at Reason:
The Bridge to Nowhere champion, who lost his 2008 re-election bid after being convicted of lying to conceal gifts he was legally required to report, won a post-defeat victory five months later, when the Justice Department withdrew the charges against him, effectively nullifying his convictions, because of prosecutorial misconduct. As I argued after his indictment, Stevens’ real crime was his record of “service” to the people of Alaska, which in any other context would be recognized as theft on a grand scale.

MG Siegler at Tech Crunch:

But around the Internet, Stevens is best known for the meme he helped create: “series of tubes.” I note that the timing of Stevens’ plane crash is odd because that phrase Stevens coined was done so in the context of net neutrality — a subject which is obviously very much in the news today due to the Google/Verizon dealings. Stevens was actually the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee which was debating the issue in 2006. At that time, he gave an 11 minute speech about the topic that compared the Internet to a “series of tubes.” The rest is history.

Stevens’ key quotes (from Wikipedia):

Ten movies streaming across that, 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. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

[…] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. 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 are 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, enormous amounts of material.

Soon we had dance remixes on YouTube, and it became a go-to gag for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Incidentally, Google has even poked fun at the statement a few times — notably, an older version of the Chrome web browser would launch a tubes screen saver or a gray page stating “The Tubes are Clogged” if you entered “about: internets” into the address bar.

Ted Stevens” is currently the top Trending Topic on Twitter, with about half the tweets noting his “series of tubes” comment. The meme will go on.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Stevens’ family in this difficult time. Hopefully they understand that the Internet had a soft spot for the Senator, despite his stance on net neutrality — even Google and Verizon seem to have a hard time understanding it, judging from their actions the past few days.

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