More about the intriguingly small country of Luxembourg, where ICANN is currently holding its latest meeting. The euro nearly ruined it. Previously the financial powerhouse of central Europe thanks to its liberal banking laws, in pre-euro days huge quantities of French, Belgians and Germans popped into the country to deal in money. Taking their cut, the Luxembourgers did very well.
But that all went with the euro and so the government has been forced to liberalise other laws to attract big companies - and it’s worked. Right by the airport are big shiny new offices for KPMG, Ernst & Young and the like. Plus, apparently, AOL and Amazon now have their European headquarters here. Skype too.
There’s more: there are more Portugese living in Luxembourg than Luxembourgers. God knows why, but there are. Over 40 per cent of the population apparently.
I know all this because, ironically, this tiny country’s shift from tax-haven to tax-break-heaven means the only casino in the country is on the French border rather than in the centre of the capital. As a result, the ICANN Gala dinner this evening was not, as I had presumed, in a central casino no more than 10 minutes away. Instead it was a 25-minute, 57-euro taxi drive away. But, of course, I did get a free history course thrown into the bargain.
It wasn’t the only error of judgement today. Twice, I plonked myself in a spot close to a power point to keep the laptop alive while I wrote a story. The main hall at lunchtime was completely empty save some passed-out staffer. But ICANN thinks of everything - the dreadful elevator jazz pumped over the loudspeakers started sapping my will to live.
That combined with the fact that the conference centre is little more than a giant truck stuck in a massive car park in the full sun, except with carpets, doors and partition walls. Asylum seekers have died in such circumstances. We chose to meet up and discuss the future of the internet. Anyone that can find an analogy between those two, feel free to email it over.
From the frying pan into the fire, as I then set up in the back of the Business Constituency meeting. The only power point was at the back of the room. And since it was a tiny meeting this unfortunately gave the air of a reporter sneaking in at the back and spying on events. The indomitable Marilyn Cade soon saw that I was put in my place. And her lead was followed as I found myself in the surreal situation of being discussed in the third person in a Q&A session for my benefit.
It led me to reflect on what is going to happen when/if ICANN comes out of the UN process and suddenly the world’s media starts paying attention to this body that runs the internet. What is surprising with ICANN is that despite all the argument and discussion, the Machiavellian nastiness found in most big organisations is still pretty much contained and people do talk fairly openly with each other face to face.
But then I’ve seen the British press pack in action a fair few times and if they decide to descend on ICANN, it is going to be one horrendous clash of cultures.
But back to the Casino and the Gala Dinner. We had been promised something special as entertainment and by God we got it.
George Christian (I think that was his name) appeared on stage with a Monty Python Austrian accent and proceeded to tell us he would recreate “many of the records I have broken for the Guinness Book”. Scarily our table had already predicted that some kind of famous Luxembourger strongman would be the special guest and here he was.
George then proceeded to bend nails, blow up hot-water bottles and carry round ICANN staff in his teeth. Tragically this wasn’t at the same time as the other world-beating entertainment - the master musician who was able to play the sax and the piano fairly badly but both at the same time. He seemed to be getting increasingly annoyed that people weren't appreciating his genius, which cheered us up no end. It made you wonder how the rest of Luxembourg was getting on without them.
Hot hot hot
The ICANN Board, bless em, had a pretty hard day yesterday. Travelling from meeting to meeting to answer questions, they found themselves at the end of some pretty aggressive and pointed questioning.
.Net, VeriSign, WGIG, Budgets, Strategic Plan were all sticking points and, of course, .xxx. The governmental advisory committee was particularly upset that the .xxx domain had been approved by the Board without their explicit approval. Amid much gnashing of teeth, most of it from Brasil, one country asked whether there was in fact any material on this domain on the ICANN website. You could see the Board look at each other trying to gauge whether this was an ironic joke - the whole process has been pretty clearly flagged on the front page for over a year now.
But no, it would seem that either this was a stunningly disingenuous question or the government representative to ICANN had never actually checked out the website of the internet overseeing organisation. Something's gone wrong somewhere.
Speaking of stunning, the Denmark representative was also aggrieved about .xxx, saying the governments should have been consulted and it was a slap in the face. Which, as the new owner of .xxx itself, Mr Stuart Lawley, told me later was particularly odd since Denmark it seems is one of only a very small handful of countries where bestiality is legal. Nothing’s ever as simple as it seems on the internet.