Archive for April, 2005

Open the H1B Gates

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Credit (and blame) where due: Kudos to Bill Gates for clearly saying that H-1B caps should be scrapped. Yes, and so should all other restrictions on travel and work across borders.

Gates and others have warned that American companies need foreign engineering talent to stay competitive. I believe that is the case for most businesses, but if there was an exception it should be Microsoft. There should be no advantage to being close to the customer in developing shrink-wrap software, as the customer is everywhere. Why should a shrink-wrap developer care about where engineering talent is located? Why not, e.g., move all Microsoft Office development to Hyderabad? Inertia I suppose. It may be hard to relocate Office development anywhere outside the Seattle area. Surely any wholly new shrink-wrap development teams ought to be located outside the U.S, barring H-1B liberalization.

Via Techdirt.

Manifesto for the Abolition of International Apartheid

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

Today I discovered and now wholly endorse the Manifesto for the Abolition of International Apartheid written in 1997 by Yves Bonnardel and David Olivier. A plain copy without intrusive Lycos France ads is here. Read it.

More forthcoming and previous in my apartheid category.

Update 20120126: Replaced the first link above with the manifesto’s current site; and wayback archive of same missing full document.

Apartheid for Musicians

Monday, April 25th, 2005

David Byrne writes about the denial of visas to foreign performers. His journal does not have permalinks, so look for the April 16 entry. Boing Boing posted a relevant excerpt, but to get a feel for how hard it is to plan a U.S. tour with non-U.S. citizens, read Byrne’s full post.

Byrne chalks it up to “cultural censorship” and writes that “this has less to do with Homeland security and more to do with keeping the American public ignorant and free of foreign influence and inspiration.”

There may be something to that, but the reason musicians and other performers require special hard to obtain visas (P visas and O visas) has more to do with protecting American musicians from competition. In the early 1900s the American Federation of Musicians successfully lobbied to restrict admission of musicians into the US.

Statutory protection of a set of workers determined largely by birth, a familiar story.

Of course the system is ripe for abuse. Cultural censorship is bad result, but there is much worse (I understand that sadly this movie is accurate; eventually I will write a post about it).

End restrictions on the ability to travel, live and work where one pleases. Apartheid is unacceptable within national borders and should be equally unacceptable across national borders.

Evidence-free Policy

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

James Boyle’s Deconstructing Stupidity column in the Financial Times has gotten lots of well-deserved linkage. Unfortunately that linkage is almost completely devoid of analysis, perhaps excepting posts from Karl-Friedrich Lenz and Donna Wentworth.

Too bad, as Boyle makes a couple of interesting claims. The first is that for intellectual property “our policy-process is almost evidence-free.” Or worse, decisions run contrary to available evidence, as Boyle explored in more depth in a column on database rights last November. However, Boyle implies that there is something special about intellectual property policy (emphasis added):

Since only about 4 per cent of copyrighted works more than 20 years old are commercially available, this locks up 96 per cent of 20th century culture to benefit 4 per cent. The harm to the public is huge, the benefit to authors, tiny. In any other field, the officials responsible would be fired. Not here.

I wish IP policymakers were particularly stupid and immune to the consequences of their decisions as compared to policymakers in other fields. Unfortunately the same bad decisions get made again and again, regardless of contrary evidence, in field after field, at least in those where decisions are political. Three examples off the top of my head:

I could make this list very long and I’m sure you can think of many other cases.

What to do about it? The Journal of the American Planning Association paper linked directly above wants malpractice for planners:

The policy implications of our findings are clear. First, the findings show that a major planning and policy problem—namely misinformation—exists for this highly expensive field of public policy. Second, the size and perseverance over time of the problem of misinformation indicate that it will not go away by merely pointing out its existence and appealing to the good will of project promoters and planners to make more accurate forecasts. The problem of misinformation is an issue of power and profit and must be dealt with as such, using the mechanisms of transparency and accountability we commonly use in liberal democracies to mitigate rent-seeking behavior and the misuse of power. To the extent that planners partake in rent-seeking behavior and misuse of power, this may be seen as a violation of their code of ethics—that is, malpractice. Such malpractice should be taken seriously by the responsible institutions.

Failing to do so amounts to not taking the profession of planning seriously.

Many of the authors’ suggestions may improve the situation and some could be applied to other areas of political decisionmaking. I’ll also take the opportunity to flog yet again policy markets. See the last paragraph of this post for more links and explanation.

Another suggestion is to simply reduce the scope of political decisionmaking. However, this is rarely a popular strategy. “Do something” is always the order of the day. Regardless of how ill considered something may be it is always more appealing than doing nothing. In the case of IP (how about Innovation Policy, there’s a non-pejorative repurposing of the acronym we can all agree on–turns out it is already in pretty wide use, though only 123,000 hits on Google versus 70,200,000 for intellectual property) that means extending copyright terms, expanding the scope of patents and of course more draconian enforcement. Who put the government in my bedroomgizmo?

Another interesting claim from Boyle:

To some the answer is obvious: corporate capture of the decision making process. This is a nicely cynical conclusion. But wait. There are economic interests on both sides. The film and music industries are tiny compared the consumer electronics industry. Yet copyright law dances to the tune played by the former, not the latter.

I suspect capture is not a paradoxical explanation of IP. Rights holders have a very concentrated interest in innovation policy decisions, the consumer electronics industry, much less so. A thought experiment demonstrates this: If tomorrow all works older than twenty years fell into the public domain, some rights holders of the freed works (a subset of the 4% available commercially!) would experience sharply reduced income as licensing revenues disappeared and very cheap copies came onto the market. Would you run out and buy more consumer electronics as a result? Eventually you might increase consumption of consumer electronics as a result of the availability of more and cheaper content, but I doubt it is something consumer electronics companies would count on.

Although I suspect capture is an important part of the explanation for the current dreadful state of innovation policy, Boyle does an excellent job of explaining some additional factors, including maximalism, roughly equivalent to the “do something” political imperative, authorial romance, and changes in the composition of those directly affected by IP law.

I believe that like maximalism, various romances (delusions) are at the heart of public acceptance of demonstrably failed policies. Boyle mentions in passing that many delusions are honestly held rather than being the result of corruption. I fear that this only makes positive change via politics more difficult.

Really Offshoring

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Supposedly SeaCode ( site forthcoming) is planning to set up a software development office on a used cruise ship in international waters off the southern California coast and potentially wherever customers are nearby international waters.

I love this idea. Two of the largest hurdles to fully utilizing the world’s talent and achieving equal pay for equal work are geographical and political:

  • Much human capital is located far away from much investment capital, in very different time zones.
  • It can be hard for investment capital to move to where human capital is due to a bad business environment in the latter location (e.g., terrible infrastructure, high corruption).
  • It is hard for human capital to move to where investment capital is due to immigration apartheid laws.

SeaCode could do a nice run around all of these.

However, I’d guess that ships are fairly expensive to maintain. If this practice grows perhaps it will be a good seastead business model.

John Dvorak should be ashamed of himself for promoting apartheid.

Via Boing Boing.

Addendum 20050423: Walt Patrick pointed out on a mailing list the story of offshore gambling ships in the 1930s. Same location offshore Los Angeles. Sounds like a made for film story:

[Earl] Warren rounded up a flotilla of State and Game boats, manned them with deputies and ordered them out to the Rex. Cornero was ready and repelled the invasion with high pressure hoses. The authorities laid siege for nine tense days while Cornero’s men stood guard with sub-machine guns. His attorneys filed suit after suit charging Warren with everything from harassment to piracy.

Individual Rights Central Railroad

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Apparently security good guy Bruce Schneier is behind this:

Today, the rights of individuals are being eroded: by government, by corporations, by society itself. This icon — the Individual-i — represents the rights of the individual.

It represents the right to privacy and anonymity in the information age. It represents the rights to an open government, due process, and equal protection under the law. It represents the right to live surveillance free, and not to be marked as “suspicious” for wanting these other rights.

It recognizes that a free society is a safe society, and that freedom is founded upon individual rights.

The battle for individual rights is just beginning; our side needs a symbol.

We hope to see this symbol displayed proudly wherever individual rights are valued.

The Individual-i symbol is not owned by any organization. There is no platform, no organizational structure, no meetings. This symbol is in the public domain: uncopyrighted, untrademarked, unowned. Anyone can use it for any purpose.

Sounds good to me.

The symbol reminds me of something from my childhood: the Illinois Central Railroad logo used 1967-1972 by the railroad and in the mid-seventies by my father’s model railroad.

I’m not going to suggest remixing other old Illinois Central logos along an individual rights theme.

Imperial Public License

Friday, April 8th, 2005

This is too stupid to blog, but I’m going to go ahead and expose my inability to exercise self restraint on my moron level intelligence.

CNET reports on Sun executive Jonathan Schwartz critisizing the GPL as a tool of U.S. imperialism:

The GPL purports to have freedom at its core, but it imposes on its users “a rather predatory obligation to disgorge all their IP back to the wealthiest nation in the world,” the United States, where the GPL originated, Schwartz said. “If you look at the difference between the license we elected to use and GPL, there are no obligations to economies or universities or manufacturers that take the source code and embed it in (their own) code.”

This has got to be one of the more wrongheaded statements by software executives about free software (though I haven’t followed SCO in a long time).

Should one choose to incorporate GPL’d code in their software, there is an obligation to release the derived software’s code under the GPL. Anyone in the world may use the code under the GPL’s terms. Only in the sense that the U.S. is part of the world is there a requirement to “disgorge” relevant IP (the derived software’s code) to the U.S.

This is predatory and imperialistic in approximately the same manner that trade between people in different nations is considered by some to be predatory and imperialistic — it isn’t, except in the clouded heads of Schwartz and economic neanderthals.

Oh, and the geographic origin of the GPL is completely irrelevant.

Reported in the same story, Schwartz makes another wrongheaded argument. At least this one isn’t a complete non sequitur:

“Economies and nations need intellectual property (IP) to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I’ve talked to developing nations, representatives from academia and manufacturing companies that had begun to incorporate GPL software into their products, then…found they had an obligation to deliver their IP back into the world,” Schwartz said.

To the contrary, ignoring IP has proven a great way to develop quickly. The U.S. did not enforce European claims until the 1890s. More recently all of the Asian tigers have engaged in copycat development. Imitation is simply a great way to quickly close the technology gap with the most advanced economies. IP owners in the U.S. and other advanced economies want governments of developing economies to enforce strong IP — becuase that is in the IP owners’ interest, not because it is a reasonable development strategy.

By the way, ignoring IP can mean ignoring the requirements of the (copyright dependent) GPL as well.

Via Dana Blankenhorn.

Also today, read about Jonathan Schwartz, visionary.