~ Archive for July 22, 2003 ~

The Polar Bears of St. Louis

2

Email from a reader in St. Louis:


“I enjoyed seeing [the photos of Alex] particularly today as yesterday there was a polar bear scare in the neighborhood around our Zoo. Seems several independent observers called the cops to report a loose polar bear wandering their neighborhood. Yup, you guessed it: turned out to be a lost Samoyed.”

Americans no longer welcome at IBM?

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In the July 22 New York Times, “IBM Explores Shift of White-Collar Jobs Overseas” talks about how upset people are that IBM wants to stop hiring Americans and move jobs to India.  An interesting question, though, is whether the people working at IBM right now are Americans in any true sense.


An American has a First Amendment right to free speech.  A corporate slave, however, generally forfeits his right to write about things that happen in his workplace as a condition of his employment and as a condition of receiving serverance pay after he is fired.  Because the typical corporate slave spends 60 hours per week commuting and working effectively this means that he has no right to write about anything that happens to him for most of his waking hours.  If the slave wants to get promoted he probably is wisest not writing or saying anything too controversial even if it does not regard work.


Americans are supposed to be a creative individualistic people.  See how long someone like that can hold a job in a big company.


An American has a constitutional right to equal treatment without regard to race or sex, unlike in Third World countries where ethnic group and sex determine one’s opportunities.  A corporate slave will be judged by the color of his or her skin and the presence of XX versus XY chromosomes in promotions under various affirmative action schemes.


America as traditionally conceived is a place of middle class opportunity and reasonably equal wealth distribution, unlike Third World countries in which a ruling elite collects all of the cookies.  A corporate slave will take home, on average, 1/500th the pay of his top managers.


Should we be worried therefore that big companies are moving jobs to the Third World?  Perhaps it is not a big a change as it would appear.  In some sense the Fortune 500 have already brought many aspects of the Third World into their cubicle farms on U.S. soil.


[See the book IBM and the Holocaust to learn just how committed IBM was to American-style values leading up to and during World War II.]

SCO versus the Linux world

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Most people don’t care about computer operating systems anymore; they’re happy to run Microsoft Windows and pay Bill Gates an occasional tax.  However, for engineers that build 5000-machine server farms or cheap consumer electronics products it is often essential to have an operating system whose source code can be modified and/or that is free.  That’s the role of Unix, whose most popular current variant is known as “GNU/Linux”.


Unix was developed in 1970 at Bell Labs primarily by Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, and Brian Kernighan.  It was substantially improved by University of California Berkeley in the late 1970s.  Richard Stallman and his collaborators in the free software movement, starting in the 1980s, further improved the system and freed Unix from AT&T’s cumbersome licensing restrictions.  Linus Torvalds contributed a free kernel that completed the job started by Stallman.


Through most of its life Unix has represented old ideas, old technology, and an inferior set of features compared to the research and commercial state of the art.  Nonetheless because it was cheap and easy to install on a wide variety of hardware, Unix buried all of its competition except for IBM’s mainframe operating systems and Microsoft Windows.


Under the original 14-year copyright period enacted by the U.S. Congress, SCO’s recent legal attacks against IBM and other Linux users would be impossible.  You couldn’t go to court and say “I want to sit on my butt and collect dividends from this thing that someone else did 32 years ago.”  But copyright today for corporate works has been graciously extended to 100 years, mostly thanks to some Congressmen on the Disney payroll (they didn’t want Mickey Mouse to become a public domain character).  Tim O’Reilly seems to be the only person in the U.S. adhering to the original 14-year term.


Effectively infinite copyright terms are good for Disney’s top managers (and would be good for Disney’s shareholders if the managers didn’t take all of the profits home as salary).  But are they good for American industry?  Microsoft can sit in Redmond making minor improvements to Windows NT/2000/XP/2003, a fairly modern operating system when introduced in the early 1990s but showing its age now, and collect 30% profit on its revenue (one sure sign of its monopoly power; Exxon/Mobil earns about 7% profit by comparison and Toyota earns 5%).    Companies can often make more money by asserting Congressionally-created intellectual property rights in ancient computer programs than they could by building something new and useful.  Being an American corporate manager, swaddled in government-guaranteed rights that never expire, is sort of like growing up in a very rich family.  You could make more money if you tried to work a bit but why strain yourself when you can be quite comfortable without working at all?


(If you want to follow the SCO saga as it unfolds, http://slashdot.org/ is probably the best place for news.)

Split up Afghanistan, Iraq, and California?

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The July 28 Newsweek contains an article on how much difficulty the citizens of California are having in governing themselves.  If you live in New Hampshire you are forced to deal with one enormous unresponsive and remote government (the Federales) but your state and local governments are reasonably comprehensive and tractable.  California, however, has an economy bigger than France’s, a population of around 36 million (see this study, which notes that population growth in California every year adds the equivalent of the state of Vermont), and a geographic area larger than Japan’s.  What interests does a rancher on the barren plains of NE California have in common with a recent Vietnamese immigrant in central San Diego?  How is the average citizen of California supposed to be able to comprehend a $38 billion state budget deficit?  ($38 billion is enough to purchase the U.S. Navy’s entire fleet of 8 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.)


Wouldn’t Californians be happier if they were broken up into the following states:


1) San Diego and its exurbs


2) Los Angeles and its exurbs, including Santa Barbara


3) Palm Springs and the surrounding desert


4) Central (the Big Sur coast all the way inland)


5) San Francisco/Sacramento and their exurbs


6) Northern California, capital at Chico or Santa Rosa (redwoods, ranches, etc.)


Now we have six reasonable size states in which citizens are usually within a 2-hour drive from their state government officials and never more than a 5-hour drive from their state capitol.


Comments from California readers?

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