Sunday, October 31, 2004

Infoqual on the road

Scott Carter kindly took the blog on the road to CMU last week. This week I'm taking it further afield, blogging in from Europe, where I'll be for the election and next week's class, taking the topic of quality to Denmark. I'm sorry, of course, to miss both, but in terms of the election, it's a relief to get outside the bubble in which American elections live. In my jet-lagged state, I caught the middle of a familiar tv news story about the critical election, divided populace, bitterly fought campaign, dirty tricks by the incumbent party, and partisan interventions by the press. I was about to turn off, feeling that you cannot escape America anywhere, when they cut away to some recorded footage, and I realised this story was about the Ukraine. (The cheap grey suits and cheap grey haircuts gave it away at a glance--but cheap though these suits where, nobody looked as though they had a rectangular box between the shoulder blades.) Hands up those who knew there was a critical election going on in the Ukraine.

Denmark, you will no doubt remember, is part of that plucky Coalition of the Willing , though quite how willing is not absolutely clear. The first materiel contribution Denmark made to the invasion is said to have been half-a-dozen snow ploughs. Some suggest that this was a sign of incompetence, but as the Danish are not usually known for this (though I suppose all armies are--I vaguely recall a consignment of tens of thousands of boots, but only left boots, being sent to the Crimea), others suggested it was a sign of unwillingness. Coalition membership gives the Danes a particular interest in the outcome of the US election--but all European countries are looking on with predictable amazement at the way we run our politics. Stories about voting irregularities and suspect voting machines in particular receive a lot of attention. They run under a layer of smug tut-tutting typical that typifies how both old and new world talk about each other.

Despite the belief that old world (or at least old Europe) and the new are profoundly different, there was another eerie echo in the stories about Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's nominee to be European commissioner of justice. Buttiglione is a sort of fundamentalist Catholic with an impressive record of abusive comments about homosexuals, women, and single mothers. The parliament decided they didn't want their own John Ashcroft in charge of justice and, in a poltically significant act, refused to confirm the Commission unless Buttiglione was dropped.

To bring this discussion back to the matter of our course, the parliament seems to be showing similar if surprising backbone in the matter of software patents. A decision is set for latter this month. The Council of Ministers favours patents, the parliament opposes--or at least wants restrictions on what can be patented. The European Information and Communication Technology Association (EICTA) is lobbying for the patents. The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) (which clearly wanted an acronym to chime with the EFF, but couldn't bring itself to put the Barlow-esque frontier in its name), is fighting against it.

I say this by way of background for our class on Intellectual Property and Quality in a couple of weeks (which I hope can focus on the question of what part IP plays in suggesting quality, and not just IP in general). I'll post some notes here during the week about the reading.

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