[Fwd: IP: Fact Sheet on Export Controls on High Performance Computers]

Bob Drzyzgula bob at drzyzgula.org
Fri Jan 12 14:52:38 EST 2001


(Please hit the delete button now if you're sick of this.)

Though y'all are probably sick to death of this thing
already, I'll toss out one more opinion. Please don't
hit me. This is in response to a private email, but
but I think that it adds to the discussion. The
coresspondant gave me permission to include some of
his words in this post but not his name.

> ...though the pawn shop comment begs to be commented on.
> I wouldn't walk into a jail simply because "you heard that 
> ...

Yeah, you're right about this, my example here was
profoundly lame. It was late, I needed to finish it
and get to bed. :-) It appears, however, to have
at least gotten my point across...

> What about a research example?  No, there are regulations
> within the scientific community that form a kind of self 
> regulation as well as infrastructures that keep scientists
> in check.

Ah, this is a good starting point. To my knowledge
this self-regulation is typically rooted in a very
well-developed base of ethics; with the study of ethics
being influenced by philosophy and sometimes theology to a
much greater extent (we hope, anyway) than politics. To
the extent that politics clashes with or goes further
than would ethical considerations, I would expect that
most scientists would prefer to leave the debate over
politically-motivated regulation to the political arena
so as to avoid the possible corruption or polution of the
ethical debate. Further, to the extent that debate over
political regulation *does* enter the ethical debate,
it is likely to do so in the form of a question over
the extent to which ethics dictate scientists' (a)
submission to and (b) participation in the formation of
the political regulation.  Someone correct me if I'm being
disappointingly idealistic and/or naieve here.

Beyond this, there are certainly mechanisms through
which scientific research is influenced by politics
and peer opinion, although these most often come into
play when money -- or at least the allocation thereof
-- enters the equation.  The selection of papers for
publication in journals, the hiring of scientists at
research institutions, and the awarding of research grants
all have this character. But (a) in many, if not most,
areas of study there are a wide variety of sources for
such funding or publication bandwidth, all of which have
to compete with one another at some level, even if it
is simply for "respect", (b) ethical considerations will
usually (hopefully) form part of the foundation upon which
these decisions are made, and (c) these processes take
place within the same context of political regulation as do
the efforts of individual, unbeholden scientists, in the
odd case that such a creature exists. For these reasons,
I don't really see the funding and peer-review process as
a regulatory function, or at least an additional layer
of regulation, in the same way as are the study of
ethics or the machinery of politics. In some relatively
narrow fields of study it could work out to have the same
effect, so if nothing else this would then create another
detail for the ethicists, at least, to consider.

Thus, I suppose that what the question comes down to is
one of the "ethics of open source development", and the
extent to which this ethical base should be influenced
by political climate within which it exists. Put in
these terms, this is, I think, a very excellent topic
for discussion, although one which (a) sadly, I don't
particularly have the time for, and (b) probably should
take place somewhere other than this list, if only because
cluster-mongers such as ourselves form much too narrow a
cross-section of open source developers for the discussion
here to hold much sway.

> How about music industry example? No, because there is 
> DEFFINATELY an infrastructure in place in industry at every
> turn.

I certainly hope that the music industry is never, ever,
used as a model for anything except -- and this only because
we really don't have any other choice -- the music industry.
<shudder>

> Give me an example where gov has not played some part in 
> regulation -- sometimes not always obvious, but still there.

Not a chance; I would expect that they've even gotten
around to dealing with, say, "wandering around in the
wilderness". The absence of regulation only happens, I
would expect, when something so totally new comes along
that no existing regulations can possibly be interpreted
to apply. But even then, it is only a matter of time...

> Does any of this mean that gov can't impose laws? No. 
> I do think that enforcing the laws is a matter of how much of
> a threat government sees in the issue.

Personally, I think that the selective and/or inconsistant
enforcement of laws is a very bad thing in the sense
that it erodes the seriousness with which politicians
view their work. Certainly I've heard of laws being
passed only to "make a point", with every expectation
that the law would not be enforced, either because (a)
the law was unenforceable for technical reasons, (b) no
funds would be forthcoming to support enforcement, (c)
the agency responsible for enforcement saw things quite
differently than the politicians, or (d) the law was just
plain unconstitutional. The net result of this kind of
reckless grandstanding is that we wind up with piles of
obscure laws that can be trotted out when convenient; this
can give the non-legislative parts of government too much
power, IMHO. Even if these laws are eventually invalidated,
they are powerful tools for harrassment.

This is also the kind of thing that happens especially
easily when the electorate pays far too little attention
-- or applies far too little critical analysis -- to the
nonsense that spews forth from the people they elect.
Sadly, such an electorate is greatly encouraged by school
systems in which critical, independant thought is seen
as a direct threat to the personal interests of the
educators. One of the saddest realizations I've had as
a parent is the implications of sending children off to
be schooled in their teachers' workplace. If you don't
know what I mean by this, here's a direct quote from a
first-grade teacher: "I can't have students asking me
"why" all the time, that's not how the world works. My
principal asks me all the time to do things that don't
make any sense, and I don't ask "why", I just do it!"
<sigh> What are we teaching our children?

--Bob Drzyzgula
bob at drzyzgula.org

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