Tag Archives: United

Oh, the places you won’t go: The politics of Poland

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/05/oh-places-you-wont-go-politics-of-poland.html

This is the second article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.

Growing up in Poland in the 90s, I never cared much for politics. Back then, you wouldn’t want to get overly attached to any political movement anyway: when a country of 38 million emerges from half a century of communist rule, you know there will be some kinks to iron out.

Sitting on the sidelines, I saw the views of others solidified by what seemed like happenstance. My mother, a promising white-collar worker cast aside by the new reality, leaned sharply to the left; she would sometimes wax lyrical about the good old days of socialism. My wife’s father, a one-time Party member turned opposition activist, found himself playing a role for the increasingly polarizing right. My aunt, a mild-mannered professor of ethics, rose to prominence in the liberal Warsaw elites – and became one of the most outspoken voices of feminism and anticlericalism in the country. She had an uneasy but fruitful relationship with the centrist movement.

At the turn of the twentieth century, no matter which side you took, keeping up with the political landscape must have been a full-time job. The bitterly divided communist-era dissident circles splintered into dozens of ephemeral movements, with many familiar faces gravitating toward two camps: the economically liberal centrist party that flirted with the teachings of Margaret Thatcher; and the Christian nationalist movement that somewhat confusingly co-opted the notions of social solidarity with the underprivileged, then served that dish with a side of social conservatism and a hint of distrust toward the EU.

On the other side of the political spectrum, many of the former Party dignitaries joined forces and reinvented themselves as modern-day, pro-European social democrats. Despite the branding, the post-communist camp adopted a set of conservative economic policies seldom distinguishable from the direction taken by the centrist bloc. They brandished secular, progressive social attitudes – but in a deeply-religious country where catechesis has a largely uncontested place in public schools, they never dared to experiment with them to any real extent.

In many ways, I found it easier to pinpoint what these political movements had in common, not what set them apart. Their old-school leaders, by and large raised and educated in the communist era, had little experience with good governance or true statesmanship. Looking back at it, I think that the dissident camp was driven to some extent by an innate sense of entitlement to the spoils of overthrowing the communist rule. Their years at the helm were punctuated by unsportsmanlike cronyism, by shady deals around the sale of state-owned enterprises, and by attempts to cling on to power by entering absurd and ultimately self-destructive alliances with populist agrarian or nationalist movements.

The former communists played a different card. They saw themselves as the qualified, level-headed alternative to the argumentative and erratic right. They nurtured an image of proven leaders, even if their experience amounted to running a dysfunctional Soviet satellite state into the ground and then skillfully changing their views. For many years, they fared well in elections, but eventually, the mainstream left ended with a bang: the boldest of the many political scandals in the 2000s – afera Rywina – exposed an attempt to extort $17M from a newspaper publisher in exchange for striking down an antitrust provision in the proposed Polish media law.

Many stable democracies can afford a period of government dysfunction. For a time, this was certainly true for Poland: every modern-day democratic government to date had enough common sense to keep pushing for the integration with NATO and the European Union, worked to strike down or at least superficially modernize many of the communist-era laws, and never refused a penny of foreign aid. The unstoppable influx of capital did the rest, ushering a period of unprecedented stability and growth. The cracks would show only when you interacted with the state bureaucracy: with many levels of government permeated by centrally-appointed and disinterested ruling-party loyalists, getting a pothole fixed or a stop sign installed could very well prove to be an insurmountable task.

In some ways, that period of insensitivity to bad governance may be coming to an end. Driven away by a decade of stagnant wages coupled with the rapidly growing costs of living, some 2-3 million mostly young Poles decided to leave the country and seek a better life in the UK, in Germany, and in other parts of the EU. This, combined with sub-replacement fertility rates, must have put tremendous strain on the already-inadequate social security system – a safety net where the net retirement benefits hover somewhere around $400 a month.

In the most recent presidential elections in Poland, the centrist incumbent, Bronisław Komorowski, was so sure of his victory that he shunned televised debate. The voters not only turned up in droves to give his conservative opponent a healthy lead, but some 20% of them opted for a fringe anti-establishment candidate – a former punk rock singer with a knack for catchy lyrics but no experience in politics. The future is unknowable, but in the runoff elections, the punk rock aficionados are unlikely to vote for status quo.

Many of the moral authorities in Poland share the same dissident roots with the current president and are sympathetic to Mr. Komorowski’s plight. One professor of political sciences prayed for the “radicalized youth” to leave the country, apparently unaware of how radical and divisive his own words may sound. The incumbent president was quick to note that he always supported the few scattered policy proposals that can be attributed to the anti-establishment candidate. He went on to meet with the voters and rebuked a young person asking how to get by on $550 a month. The president’s answer: get a loan or find a better job.

For the next article in the series, click here.

Oh, the places you won’t go: The politics of Poland

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/05/oh-places-you-wont-go-politics-of-poland.html

This is the second article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.

Growing up in Poland in the 90s, I never cared much for politics. Back then, you wouldn’t want to get overly attached to any political movement anyway: when a country of 38 million emerges from half a century of communist rule, you know there will be some kinks to iron out.

Sitting on the sidelines, I saw the views of others solidified by what seemed like happenstance. My mother, a promising white-collar worker cast aside by the new reality, leaned sharply to the left; she would sometimes wax lyrical about the good old days of socialism. My wife’s father, a one-time Party member turned opposition activist, found himself playing a role for the increasingly polarizing right. My aunt, a mild-mannered professor of ethics, rose to prominence in the liberal Warsaw elites – and became one of the most outspoken voices of feminism and anticlericalism in the country. She had an uneasy but fruitful relationship with the centrist movement.

At the turn of the twentieth century, no matter which side you took, keeping up with the political landscape must have been a full-time job. The bitterly divided communist-era dissident circles splintered into dozens of ephemeral movements, with many familiar faces gravitating toward two camps: the economically liberal centrist party that flirted with the teachings of Margaret Thatcher; and the Christian nationalist movement that somewhat confusingly co-opted the notions of social solidarity with the underprivileged, then served that dish with a side of social conservatism and a hint of distrust toward the EU.

On the other side of the political spectrum, many of the former Party dignitaries joined forces and reinvented themselves as modern-day, pro-European social democrats. Despite the branding, the post-communist camp adopted a set of conservative economic policies seldom distinguishable from the direction taken by the centrist bloc. They brandished secular, progressive social attitudes – but in a deeply-religious country where catechesis has a largely uncontested place in public schools, they never dared to experiment with them to any real extent.

In many ways, I found it easier to pinpoint what these political movements had in common, not what set them apart. Their old-school leaders, by and large raised and educated in the communist era, had little experience with good governance or true statesmanship. Looking back at it, I think that the dissident camp was driven to some extent by an innate sense of entitlement to the spoils of overthrowing the communist rule. Their years at the helm were punctuated by unsportsmanlike cronyism, by shady deals around the sale of state-owned enterprises, and by attempts to cling on to power by entering absurd and ultimately self-destructive alliances with populist agrarian or nationalist movements.

The former communists played a different card. They saw themselves as the qualified, level-headed alternative to the argumentative and erratic right. They nurtured an image of proven leaders, even if their experience amounted to running a dysfunctional Soviet satellite state into the ground and then skillfully changing their views. For many years, they fared well in elections, but eventually, the mainstream left ended with a bang: the boldest of the many political scandals in the 2000s – afera Rywina – exposed an attempt to extort $17M from a newspaper publisher in exchange for striking down an antitrust provision in the proposed Polish media law.

Many stable democracies can afford a period of government dysfunction. For a time, this was certainly true for Poland: every modern-day democratic government to date had enough common sense to keep pushing for the integration with NATO and the European Union, worked to strike down or at least superficially modernize many of the communist-era laws, and never refused a penny of foreign aid. The unstoppable influx of capital did the rest, ushering a period of unprecedented stability and growth. The cracks would show only when you interacted with the state bureaucracy: with many levels of government permeated by centrally-appointed and disinterested ruling-party loyalists, getting a pothole fixed or a stop sign installed could very well prove to be an insurmountable task.

In some ways, that period of insensitivity to bad governance may be coming to an end. Driven away by a decade of stagnant wages coupled with the rapidly growing costs of living, some 2-3 million mostly young Poles decided to leave the country and seek a better life in the UK, in Germany, and in other parts of the EU. This, combined with sub-replacement fertility rates, must have put tremendous strain on the already-inadequate social security system – a safety net where the net retirement benefits hover somewhere around $400 a month.

In the most recent presidential elections in Poland, the centrist incumbent, Bronisław Komorowski, was so sure of his victory that he shunned televised debate. The voters not only turned up in droves to give his conservative opponent a healthy lead, but some 20% of them opted for a fringe anti-establishment candidate – a former punk rock singer with a knack for catchy lyrics but no experience in politics. The future is unknowable, but in the runoff elections, the punk rock aficionados are unlikely to vote for status quo.

Many of the moral authorities in Poland share the same dissident roots with the current president and are sympathetic to Mr. Komorowski’s plight. One professor of political sciences prayed for the “radicalized youth” to leave the country, apparently unaware of how radical and divisive his own words may sound. The incumbent president was quick to note that he always supported the few scattered policy proposals that can be attributed to the anti-establishment candidate. He went on to meet with the voters and rebuked a young person asking how to get by on $550 a month. The president’s answer: get a loan or find a better job.

For the next article in the series, click here.

On journeys

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-journeys.html

– 1 –

Poland is an ancient country whose history is deeply intertwined with that of the western civilization. In its glory days, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth sprawled across vast expanses of land in central Europe, from Black Sea to Baltic Sea. But over the past two centuries, it suffered a series of military defeats and political partitions at the hands of its closest neighbors: Russia, Austria, Prussia, and – later – Germany.

After more than a hundred years of foreign rule, Poland re-emerged as an independent state in 1918, only to face the armies of Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II. With Poland’s European allies reneging on their earlier military guarantees, the fierce fighting left the country in ruins. Some six million people have died within its borders – more than ten times the death toll in France or in the UK. Warsaw was reduced to a sea of rubble, with perhaps one in ten buildings still standing by the end of the war.

With the collapse of the Third Reich, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin sat down in Yalta to decide the new order for war-torn Europe. At Stalin’s behest, Poland and its neighboring countries were placed under Soviet political and military control, forming what has become known as the Eastern Bloc.

Over the next several decades, the Soviet satellite states experienced widespread repression and economic decline. But weakened by the expense of the Cold War, the communist chokehold on the region eventually began to wane. In Poland, the introduction of martial law in 1981 could not put an end to sweeping labor unrest. Narrowly dodging the specter of Soviet intervention, the country regained its independence in 1989 and elected its first democratic government; many other Eastern Bloc countries soon followed suit.

Ever since then, Poland has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and has emerged as one of the more robust capitalist democracies in the region. In just two decades, it shed many of its backwardly, state-run heavy industries and adopted a modern, service-oriented economy. But the effects of the devastating war and the lost decades under communist rule still linger on – whether you look at the country’s infrastructure, at its socrealist cityscapes, at its political traditions, or at the depressingly low median wage.

When thinking about the American involvement in the Cold War, people around the world may recall Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, or the proxy wars fought in the Middle East. But in Poland and many of its neighboring states, the picture you remember the most is the fall of the Berlin Wall.

– 2 –

I was born in Warsaw in the winter of 1981, at the onset of martial law, with armored vehicles rolling onto Polish streets. My mother, like many of her generation, moved to the capital in the sixties as a part of an effort to rebuild and repopulate the war-torn city. My grandma would tell eerie stories of Germans and Soviets marching through their home village somewhere in the west. I liked listening to the stories; almost every family in Poland had some to tell.

I did not get to know my father. I knew his name; he was a noted cinematographer who worked on big-ticket productions back in the day. He left my mother when I was very young and never showed interest in staying in touch. He had a wife and other children, so it might have been that.

Compared to him, mom hasn’t done well for herself. We ended up in social housing in one of the worst parts of the city, on the right bank of the Vistula river. My early memories from school are that of classmates sniffing glue from crumpled grocery bags. I remember my family waiting in lines for rationed toilet paper and meat. As a kid, you don’t think about it much.

The fall of communism came suddenly. I have a memory of grandma listening to broadcasts from Radio Free Europe, but I did not understand what they were all about. I remember my family cheering one afternoon, transfixed to a black-and-white TV screen. I recall my Russian language class morphing into English; I had my first taste of bananas and grapefruits. There is the image of the monument of Feliks Dzierżyński coming down. I remember being able to go to a better school on the other side of Warsaw – and getting mugged many times on the way.

The transformation brought great wealth to some, but many others have struggled to find their place in the fledgling and sometimes ruthless capitalist economy. Well-educated and well read, my mom ended up in the latter pack, at times barely making ends meet. I think she was in part a victim of circumstance, and in part a slave to way of thinking that did not permit the possibility of taking chances or pursuing happiness.

– 3 –

Mother always frowned upon popular culture, seeing it as unworthy of an educated mind. For a time, she insisted that I only listen to classical music. She angrily shunned video games, comic books, and cartoons. I think she perceived technology as trivia; the only field of science she held in high regard was abstract mathematics, perhaps for its detachment from the mundane world. She hoped that I would learn Latin, a language she could read and write; that I would practice drawing and painting; or that I would read more of the classics of modernist literature.

Of course, I did almost none of that. I hid my grunge rock tapes between Tchaikovsky, listened to the radio under the sheets, and watched the reruns of The A-Team while waiting for her to come back from work. I liked electronics and chemistry a lot more than math. And when I laid my hands on my first computer – an 8-bit relic of British engineering from 1982 – I soon knew that these machines, in their incredible complexity and flexibility, were what I wanted to spend my time on.

I suspected I could be a competent programmer, but never had enough faith in my skill. Yet, in learning about computers, I realized that I had a knack for understanding complex systems and poking holes in how they work. With a couple of friends, we joined the nascent information security community in Europe, comparing notes on mailing lists. Before long, we were taking on serious consulting projects for banks and the government – usually on weekends and after school, but sometimes skipping a class or two. Well, sometimes more than that.

All of the sudden, I was facing an odd choice. I could stop, stay in school and try to get a degree – going back every night to a cramped apartment, my mom sleeping on a folding bed in the kitchen, my personal space limited to a bare futon and a tiny desk. Or, I could seize the moment and try to make it on my own, without hoping that one day, my family would be able to give me a head start.

I moved out, dropped out of school, and took on a full-time job. It paid somewhere around $12,000 a year – a pittance anywhere west of the border, but a solid wage in Poland even today. Not much later, I was making two times as much, about the upper end of what one could hope for in this line of work. I promised myself to keep taking courses after hours, but I wasn’t good at sticking to the plan. I moved in with my girlfriend, and at the age of 19, I felt for the first time that things were going to be all right.

– 4 –

Growing up in Europe, you get used to the barrage of low-brow swipes taken at the United States. Your local news will never pass up the opportunity to snicker about the advances of creationism somewhere in Kentucky. You can stay tuned for a panel of experts telling you about the vastly inferior schools, the medieval justice system, and the striking social inequality on the other side of the pond. You don’t doubt their words – but deep down inside, no matter how smug the critics are, or how seemingly convincing their arguments, the American culture still draws you in.

My moment of truth came in the summer of 2000. A company from Boston asked me if I’d like to talk about a position on their research team; I looked at the five-digit figure and could not believe my luck. Moving to the US was an unreasonable risk for a kid who could barely speak English and had no safety net to fall back to. But that did not matter: I knew I had no prospects of financial independence in Poland – and besides, I simply needed to experience the New World through my own eyes.

Of course, even with a job offer in hand, getting into the United States is not an easy task. An engineering degree and a willing employer opens up a straightforward path; it is simple enough that some companies would abuse the process to source cheap labor for menial, low-level jobs. With a visa tied to the petitioning company, such captive employees could not seek better wages or more rewarding work.

But without a degree, the options shrink drastically. For me, the only route would be a seldom-granted visa reserved for extraordinary skill – meant for the recipients of the Nobel Prize and other folks who truly stand out in their field of expertise. The attorneys looked over my publication record, citations, and the supporting letters from other well-known people in the field. Especially given my age, they thought we had a good shot. A few stressful months later, it turned out that they were right.

On the week of my twentieth birthday, I packed two suitcases and boarded a plane to Boston. My girlfriend joined me, miraculously securing a scholarship at a local university to continue her physics degree; her father helped her with some of the costs. We had no idea what we were doing; we had perhaps few hundred bucks on us, enough to get us through the first couple of days. Four thousand miles away from our place of birth, we were starting a brand new life.

– 5 –

The cultural shock gets you, but not in the sense you imagine. You expect big contrasts, a single eye-opening day to remember for the rest of your life. But driving down a highway in the middle of a New England winter, I couldn’t believe how ordinary the world looked: just trees, boxy buildings, and pavements blanketed with dirty snow.

Instead of a moment of awe, you drown in a sea of small, inconsequential things, draining your energy and making you feel helpless and lost. It’s how you turn on the shower; it’s where you can find a grocery store; it’s what they meant by that incessant “paper or plastic” question at the checkout line. It’s how you get a mailbox key, how you make international calls, it’s how you pay your bills with a check. It’s the rules at the roundabout, it’s your social security number, it’s picking the right toll lane, it’s getting your laundry done. It’s setting up a dial-up account and finding the food you like in the sea of unfamiliar brands. It’s doing all this without Google Maps or a Facebook group to connect with other expats nearby.

The other thing you don’t expect is losing touch with your old friends; you can call or e-mail them every day, but your social frames of reference begin to drift apart, leaving less and less to talk about. The acquaintances you make in the office will probably never replace the folks you grew up with. We managed, but we weren’t prepared for that.

– 6 –

In the summer, we had friends from Poland staying over for a couple of weeks. By the end of their trip, they asked to visit New York City one more time; we liked the Big Apple, so we took them on a familiar ride down I-95. One of them went to see the top of World Trade Center; the rest of us just walked around, grabbing something to eat before we all headed back. A few days later, we were all standing in front of a TV, watching September 11 unfold in real time.

We felt horror and outrage. But when we roamed the unsettlingly quiet streets of Boston, greeted by flags and cardboard signs urging American drivers to honk, we understood that we were strangers a long way from home – and that our future in this country hanged in the balance more than we would have thought.

Permanent residency is a status that gives a foreigner the right to live in the US and do almost anything they please – change jobs, start a business, or live off one’s savings all the same. For many immigrants, the pursuit of this privilege can take a decade or more; for some others, it stays forever out of reach, forcing them to abandon the country in a matter of days as their visas expire or companies fold. With my O-1 visa, I always counted myself among the lucky ones. Sure, it tied me to an employer, but I figured that sorting it out wouldn’t be a big deal.

That proved to be a mistake. In the wake of 9/11, an agency known as Immigration and Naturalization Services was being dismantled and replaced by a division within the Department of Homeland Security. My own seemingly straightforward immigration petition ended up somewhere in the bureaucratic vacuum that formed in between the two administrative bodies. I waited patiently, watching the deepening market slump, and seeing my employer’s prospects get dimmer and dimmer every month. I was ready for the inevitable, with other offers in hand, prepared to make my move perhaps the very first moment I could. But the paperwork just would not come through. With the Boston office finally shutting down, we packed our bags and booked flights. We faced the painful admission that for three years, we chased nothing but a pipe dream. The only thing we had to show for it were two adopted cats, now sitting frightened somewhere in the cargo hold.

The now-worthless approval came through two months later; the lawyers, cheerful as ever, were happy to send me a scan. The hollowed-out remnants of my former employer were eventually bought by Symantec – the very place from where I had my backup offer in hand.

– 7 –

In a way, Europe’s obsession with America’s flaws made it easier to come home without ever explaining how the adventure really played out. When asked, I could just wing it: a mention of the death penalty or permissive gun laws would always get you a knowing nod, allowing the conversation to move on.

Playing to other people’s preconceptions takes little effort; lying to yourself calls for more skill. It doesn’t help that when you come back after three years away from home, you notice all the small annoyances that you used to simply tune out. Back then, Warsaw still had a run-down vibe: the dilapidated road from the airport; the drab buildings on the other side of the river; the uneven pavements littered with dog poop; the dirty walls at my mother’s place, with barely any space to turn. You can live with it, of course – but it’s a reminder that you settled for less, and it’s a sensation that follows you every step of the way.

But more than the sights, I couldn’t forgive myself something else: that I was coming back home with just loose change in my pocket. There are some things that a failed communist state won’t teach you, and personal finance is one of them; I always looked at money just as a reward for work, something you get to spend to brighten your day. The indulgences were never extravagant: perhaps I would take the cab more often, or have take-out every day. But no matter how much I made, I kept living paycheck-to-paycheck – the only way I knew, the way our family always did.

– 8 –

With a three-year stint in the US on your resume, you don’t have a hard time finding a job in Poland. You face the music in a different way. I ended up with a salary around a fourth of what I used to make in Massachusetts, but I simply decided not to think about it much. I wanted to settle down, work on interesting projects, marry my girlfriend, have a child. I started doing consulting work whenever I could, setting almost all the proceeds aside.

After four years with T-Mobile in Poland, I had enough saved to get us through a year or so – and in a way, it changed the way I looked at my work. Being able to take on ambitious challenges and learn new things started to matter more than jumping ships for a modest salary bump. Burned by the folly of pursuing riches in a foreign land, I put a premium on boring professional growth.

Comically, all this introspection made me realize that from where I stood, I had almost nowhere left to go. Sure, Poland had telcos, refineries, banks – but they all consumed the technologies developed elsewhere, shipped here in a shrink-wrapped box; as far as their IT went, you could hardly tell the companies apart. To be a part of the cutting edge, you had to pack your bags, book a flight, and take a jump into the unknown. I sure as heck wasn’t ready for that again.

And then, out of the blue, Google swooped in with an offer to work for them from the comfort of my home, dialing in for a videoconference every now and then. The starting pay was about the same, but I had no second thoughts. I didn’t say it out loud, but deep down inside, I already knew what needed to happen next.

– 9 –

We moved back to the US in 2009, two years after taking the job, already on the hook for a good chunk of Google’s product security and with the comfort of knowing where we stood. In a sense, my motive was petty: you could call it a desire to vindicate a failed adolescent dream. But in many other ways, I have grown fond of the country that shunned us once before; and I wanted our children to grow up without ever having to face the tough choices and the uncertain prospects I had to deal with in my earlier years.

This time, we knew exactly what to do: a quick stop at a grocery store on a way from the airport, followed by e-mail to our immigration folks to get the green card paperwork out the door. A bit more than half a decade later, we were standing in a theater in Campbell, reciting the Oath of Allegiance and clinging on to our new certificates of US citizenship.

The ceremony closed a long and interesting chapter in my life. But more importantly, standing in that hall with people from all over the globe made me realize that my story is not extraordinary; many of them had lived through experiences far more harrowing and captivating than mine. If anything, my tale is hard to tell apart from that of countless other immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc. By some estimates, in the US alone, the Polish diaspora is about 9 million strong.

I know that the Poland of today is not the Poland I grew up in. It’s not not even the Poland I came back to in 2003; the gap to Western Europe is shrinking every single year. But I am grateful to now live in a country that welcomes more immigrants than any other place on Earth – and at the end of their journey, makes many of them them feel at home. It also makes me realize how small and misguided must be the conversations we are having about immigration – not just here, but all over the developed world.

To explore other articles in this short series about Poland, click here. You can also directly proceed to the next entry here.

On journeys

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-journeys.html

– 1 –

Poland is an ancient country whose history is deeply intertwined with that of the western civilization. In its glory days, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth sprawled across vast expanses of land in central Europe, from Black Sea to Baltic Sea. But over the past two centuries, it suffered a series of military defeats and political partitions at the hands of its closest neighbors: Russia, Austria, Prussia, and – later – Germany.

After more than a hundred years of foreign rule, Poland re-emerged as an independent state in 1918, only to face the armies of Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II. With Poland’s European allies reneging on their earlier military guarantees, the fierce fighting left the country in ruins. Some six million people have died within its borders – more than ten times the death toll in France or in the UK. Warsaw was reduced to a sea of rubble, with perhaps one in ten buildings still standing by the end of the war.

With the collapse of the Third Reich, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin held a meeting in Yalta to decide the new order for war-torn Europe. At Stalin’s behest, Poland and its neighboring countries were placed under Soviet political and military control, forming what has become known as the Eastern Bloc.

Over the next several decades, the Soviet satellite states experienced widespread repression and economic decline. But weakened by the expense of the Cold War, the communist chokehold on the region eventually began to wane. In Poland, even the introduction of martial law in 1981 could not put an end to sweeping labor unrest. Narrowly dodging the specter of Soviet intervention, the country regained its independence in 1989 and elected its first democratic government; many other Eastern Bloc countries soon followed suit.

Ever since then, Poland has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and has emerged as one of the more robust capitalist democracies in the region. In just two decades, it shed many of its backwardly, state-run heavy industries and adopted a modern, service-oriented economy. But the effects of the devastating war and the lost decades under communist rule still linger on – whether you look at the country’s infrastructure, at its socrealist cityscapes, at its political traditions, or at the depressingly low median wage.

When thinking about the American involvement in the Cold War, people around the world may recall Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, or the proxy wars fought in the Middle East. But in Poland and many of its neighboring states, the picture you remember the most is the fall of the Berlin Wall.

– 2 –

I was born in Warsaw in the winter of 1981, at the onset of martial law, with armored vehicles rolling onto Polish streets. My mother, like many of her generation, moved to the capital in the sixties as a part of an effort to rebuild and repopulate the war-torn city. My grandma would tell eerie stories of Germans and Soviets marching through their home village somewhere in the west. I liked listening to the stories; almost every family in Poland had some to tell.

I did not get to know my father. I knew his name; he was a noted cinematographer who worked on big-ticket productions back in the day. He left my mother when I was very young and never showed interest in staying in touch. He had a wife and other children, so it might have been that.

Compared to him, mom hasn’t done well for herself. We ended up in social housing in one of the worst parts of the city, on the right bank of the Vistula river. My early memories from school are that of classmates sniffing glue from crumpled grocery bags. I remember my family waiting in lines for rationed toilet paper and meat. As a kid, you don’t think about it much.

The fall of communism came suddenly. I have a memory of grandma listening to broadcasts from Radio Free Europe, but I did not understand what they were all about. I remember my family cheering one afternoon, transfixed to a black-and-white TV screen. I recall my Russian language class morphing into English; I had my first taste of bananas and grapefruits. There is the image of the monument of Feliks Dzierżyński coming down. I remember being able to go to a better school on the other side of Warsaw – and getting mugged many times on the way.

The transformation brought great wealth to some, but many others have struggled to find their place in the fledgling and sometimes ruthless capitalist economy. Well-educated and well read, my mom ended up in the latter pack, at times barely making ends meet. I think she was in part a victim of circumstance, and in part a slave to way of thinking that did not permit the possibility of taking chances or pursuing happiness.

– 3 –

Mother always frowned upon popular culture, seeing it as unworthy of an educated mind. For a time, she insisted that I only listen to classical music. She angrily shunned video games, comic books, and cartoons. I think she perceived technology as trivia; the only field of science she held in high regard was abstract mathematics, perhaps for its detachment from the mundane world. She hoped that I would learn Latin, a language she could read and write; that I would practice drawing and painting; or that I would read more of the classics of modernist literature.

Of course, I did almost none of that. I hid my grunge rock tapes between Tchaikovsky, listened to the radio under the sheets, and watched the reruns of The A-Team while waiting for her to come back from work. I liked electronics and chemistry a lot more than math. And when I laid my hands on my first computer – an 8-bit relic of British engineering from 1982 – I soon knew that these machines, in their incredible complexity and flexibility, were what I wanted to spend my time on.

I suspected I could become a competent programmer, but never had enough faith in my skill. Yet, in learning about computers, I realized that I had a knack for understanding complex systems and poking holes in how they work. With a couple of friends, we joined the nascent information security community in Europe, comparing notes on mailing lists. Before long, we were taking on serious consulting projects for banks and the government – usually on weekends and after school, but sometimes skipping a class or two. Well, sometimes more than that.

All of the sudden, I was facing an odd choice. I could stop, stay in school and try to get a degree – going back every night to a cramped apartment, my mom sleeping on a folding bed in the kitchen, my personal space limited to a bare futon and a tiny desk. Or, I could seize the moment and try to make it on my own, without hoping that one day, my family would be able to give me a head start.

I moved out, dropped out of school, and took on a full-time job. It paid somewhere around $12,000 a year – a pittance anywhere west of the border, but a solid wage in Poland even today. Not much later, I was making two times as much, about the upper end of what one could hope for in this line of work. I promised myself to keep taking courses after hours, but I wasn’t good at sticking to the plan. I moved in with my girlfriend, and at the age of 19, I felt for the first time that things were going to be all right.

– 4 –

Growing up in Europe, you get used to the barrage of low-brow swipes taken at the United States. Your local news will never pass up the opportunity to snicker about the advances of creationism somewhere in Kentucky. You can stay tuned for a panel of experts telling you about the vastly inferior schools, the medieval justice system, and the striking social inequality on the other side of the pond. You don’t doubt their words – but deep down inside, no matter how smug the critics are, or how seemingly convincing their arguments, the American culture still draws you in.

My moment of truth came in the summer of 2000. A company from Boston asked me if I’d like to talk about a position on their research team; I looked at the five-digit figure and could not believe my luck. Moving to the US was an unreasonable risk for a kid who could barely speak English and had no safety net to fall back to. But that did not matter: I knew I had no prospects of financial independence in Poland – and besides, I simply needed to experience the New World through my own eyes.

Of course, even with a job offer in hand, getting into the United States is not an easy task. An engineering degree and a willing employer opens up a straightforward path; it is simple enough that some companies would abuse the process to source cheap labor for menial, low-level jobs. With a visa tied to the petitioning company, such captive employees could not seek better wages or more rewarding work.

But without a degree, the options shrink drastically. For me, the only route would be a seldom-granted visa reserved for extraordinary skill – meant for the recipients of the Nobel Prize and other folks who truly stand out in their field of expertise. The attorneys looked over my publication record, citations, and the supporting letters from other well-known people in the field. Especially given my age, they thought we had a good shot. A few stressful months later, it turned out that they were right.

On the week of my twentieth birthday, I packed two suitcases and boarded a plane to Boston. My girlfriend joined me, miraculously securing a scholarship at a local university to continue her physics degree; her father helped her with some of the costs. We had no idea what we were doing; we had perhaps few hundred bucks on us, enough to get us through the first couple of days. Four thousand miles away from our place of birth, we were starting a brand new life.

– 5 –

The cultural shock gets you, but not in the sense you imagine. You expect big contrasts, a single eye-opening day to remember for the rest of your life. But driving down a highway in the middle of a New England winter, I couldn’t believe how ordinary the world looked: just trees, boxy buildings, and pavements blanketed with dirty snow.

Instead of a moment of awe, you drown in a sea of small, inconsequential things, draining your energy and making you feel helpless and lost. It’s how you turn on the shower; it’s where you can find a grocery store; it’s what they meant by that incessant “paper or plastic” question at the checkout line. It’s how you get a mailbox key, how you make international calls, it’s how you pay your bills with a check. It’s the rules at the roundabout, it’s your social security number, it’s picking the right toll lane, it’s getting your laundry done. It’s setting up a dial-up account and finding the food you like in the sea of unfamiliar brands. It’s doing all this without Google Maps or a Facebook group to connect with other expats nearby.

The other thing you don’t expect is losing touch with your old friends; you can call or e-mail them every day, but your social frames of reference begin to drift apart, leaving less and less to talk about. The acquaintances you make in the office will probably never replace the folks you grew up with. We managed, but we weren’t prepared for that.

– 6 –

In the summer, we had friends from Poland staying over for a couple of weeks. By the end of their trip, they asked to visit New York City one more time; we liked the Big Apple, so we took them on a familiar ride down I-95. One of them went to see the top of World Trade Center; the rest of us just walked around, grabbing something to eat before we all headed back. A few days later, we were all standing in front of a TV, watching September 11 unfold in real time.

We felt horror and outrage. But when we roamed the unsettlingly quiet streets of Boston, greeted by flags and cardboard signs urging American drivers to honk, we understood that we were strangers a long way from home – and that our future in this country hanged in the balance more than we would have thought.

Permanent residency is a status that gives a foreigner the right to live in the US and do almost anything they please – change jobs, start a business, or live off one’s savings all the same. For many immigrants, the pursuit of this privilege can take a decade or more; for some others, it stays forever out of reach, forcing them to abandon the country in a matter of days as their visas expire or companies fold. With my O-1 visa, I always counted myself among the lucky ones. Sure, it tied me to an employer, but I figured that sorting it out wouldn’t be a big deal.

That proved to be a mistake. In the wake of 9/11, an agency known as Immigration and Naturalization Services was being dismantled and replaced by a division within the Department of Homeland Security. My own seemingly straightforward immigration petition ended up somewhere in the bureaucratic vacuum that formed in between the two administrative bodies. I waited patiently, watching the deepening market slump, and seeing my employer’s prospects get dimmer and dimmer every month. I was ready for the inevitable, with other offers in hand, prepared to make my move perhaps the very first moment I could. But the paperwork just would not come through. With the Boston office finally shutting down, we packed our bags and booked flights. We faced the painful admission that for three years, we chased nothing but a pipe dream. The only thing we had to show for it were two adopted cats, now sitting frightened somewhere in the cargo hold.

The now-worthless approval came through two months later; the lawyers, cheerful as ever, were happy to send me a scan. The hollowed-out remnants of my former employer were eventually bought by Symantec – the very place from where I had my backup offer in hand.

– 7 –

In a way, Europe’s obsession with America’s flaws made it easier to come home without ever explaining how the adventure really played out. When asked, I could just wing it: a mention of the death penalty or permissive gun laws would always get you a knowing nod, allowing the conversation to move on.

Playing to other people’s preconceptions takes little effort; lying to yourself calls for more skill. It doesn’t help that when you come back after three years away from home, you notice all the small annoyances that you used to simply tune out. Back then, Warsaw still had a run-down vibe: the dilapidated road from the airport; the drab buildings on the other side of the river; the uneven pavements littered with dog poop; the dirty walls at my mother’s place, with barely any space to turn. You can live with it, of course – but it’s a reminder that you settled for less, and it’s a sensation that follows you every step of the way.

But more than the sights, I couldn’t forgive myself something else: that I was coming back home with just loose change in my pocket. There are some things that a failed communist state won’t teach you, and personal finance is one of them; I always looked at money just as a reward for work, something you get to spend to brighten your day. The indulgences were never extravagant: perhaps I would take the cab more often, or have take-out every day. But no matter how much I made, I kept living paycheck-to-paycheck – the only way I knew, the way our family always did.

– 8 –

With a three-year stint in the US on your resume, you don’t have a hard time finding a job in Poland. You face the music in a different way. I ended up with a salary around a fourth of what I used to make in Massachusetts, but I simply decided not to think about it much. I wanted to settle down, work on interesting projects, marry my girlfriend, have a child. I started doing consulting work whenever I could, setting almost all the proceeds aside.

After four years with T-Mobile in Poland, I had enough saved to get us through a year or so – and in a way, it changed the way I looked at my work. Being able to take on ambitious challenges and learn new things started to matter more than jumping ships for a modest salary bump. Burned by the folly of pursuing riches in a foreign land, I put a premium on boring professional growth.

Comically, all this introspection made me realize that from where I stood, I had almost nowhere left to go. Sure, Poland had telcos, refineries, banks – but they all consumed the technologies developed elsewhere, shipped here in a shrink-wrapped box; as far as their IT went, you could hardly tell the companies apart. To be a part of the cutting edge, you had to pack your bags, book a flight, and take a jump into the unknown. I sure as heck wasn’t ready for that again.

And then, out of the blue, Google swooped in with an offer to work for them from the comfort of my home, dialing in for a videoconference every now and then. The starting pay was about the same, but I had no second thoughts. I didn’t say it out loud, but deep down inside, I already knew what needed to happen next.

– 9 –

We moved back to the US in 2009, two years after taking the job, already on the hook for a good chunk of Google’s product security and with the comfort of knowing where we stood. In a sense, my motive was petty: you could call it a desire to vindicate a failed adolescent dream. But in many other ways, I have grown fond of the country that shunned us once before; and I wanted our children to grow up without ever having to face the tough choices and the uncertain prospects I had to deal with in my earlier years.

This time, we knew exactly what to do: a quick stop at a grocery store on a way from the airport, followed by e-mail to our immigration folks to get the green card paperwork out the door. A bit more than half a decade later, we were standing in a theater in Campbell, reciting the Oath of Allegiance and clinging on to our new certificates of US citizenship.

The ceremony closed a long and interesting chapter in my life. But more importantly, standing in that hall with people from all over the globe made me realize that my story is not extraordinary; many of them had lived through experiences far more harrowing and captivating than mine. If anything, my tale is hard to tell apart from that of countless other immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc. By some estimates, in the US alone, the Polish diaspora is about 9 million strong.

I know that the Poland of today is not the Poland I grew up in. It’s not not even the Poland I came back to in 2003; the gap to Western Europe is shrinking every single year. But I am grateful to now live in a country that welcomes more immigrants than any other place on Earth – and at the end of their journey, makes many of them them feel at home. It also makes me realize how small and misguided must be the conversations we are having about immigration – not just here, but all over the developed world.

To explore other articles in this short series about Poland, click here. You can also directly proceed to the next entry here.

Anatomy of a Scam – Secret Shoppers

Post Syndicated from David original http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/DevilsAdvocateSecurity/~3/7r6fHv6xQN0/anatomy-of-scam-secret-shoppers.html

Here’s a recent example of a secret shopper scam. Like many scams, this one attempts to lure people who think that accidentally receiving a secret shopper invitation is a way to free money. In the end, it is merely an attempt at identity theft – though it may also involve a fee scam as well!If the recipient bothers to check who it is from, it purports to come from Dow Chemical, with an email address that is [email protected], with a cc to [email protected] The hsbrv.net domain points back to a Betty Prevo, with an email address listing [email protected] That sounds suspiciously like our david212 address as well. The whois results are below:Administrative Contact: Prevo, Betty [email protected] 1368 X W. Estes Ave Chicago, Illinois 60626 United StatesFor those who are interested, that address points to an apartment building in Chicago. Interestingly, Betty Prevo apparently exists and does live in that area in Chicago, but she’d probably be interested to find out that she’s running various domains. Blumail? Well, it’s a free email service that, “provides global e-mail accounts, educational content, employment needs, entrepreneurship, networking, story / experience sharing, mentoring and volunteering opportunities to youth and others who are coming online in developing countries.” In this case? It’s a great place for a scammer to get free email hosting. It’s also a well known 419 scam domain. Blumail is a legitimate service, unlike the hsbrv.net domain we first looked at.Now, the actual scam letter:Hello there, My Name is David Anderson and I am your group regional Instructor from within the USA.Henceforth you will be working with me on the completion of your Mystery Shopper’s Position application. Like you already know, your weekly per assignment is $300:00 Flat for working with us and will come in payments of $300 each per assignment you complete for the company.Note that the name actually somewhat matches the email address – that’s often a missed detail for our scammers. PAYMENT TERMS: Your payment would be sent ($300) per assignment , Also the company is in charge of providing you with all expense money for the shopping and other expenses incurred during the course of your assignment.All the tools you will needing would be provided to you with details every week you have an assignment. JOB Description : 1} When an assignment is given to you,You would be provided with details to execute the assignment and in a timely fashion. 2} You would be asked to visit a company or store in your area and they are mostly our competitors as a secret shopper and shop with them to know more about their sales and stock , cost sales and more details as provided by the company then report back to us with details of whatever transpired a the store. But anything you buy at the shop belongs to you,all we want is an effective/quick job and reports.Free money, and what sounds like a somewhat reasonable reason why the company would want you to do this. The grammar is even better than most letters of this type. ASSIGNMENT PACKET : Before any assignment we would provide you with the resources needed {cash}Mostly our company would send you a check which you can cash and use for the assignment. Included to the check would be your assignment packet .Then we would be providing you details on here. But you follow every single information given to you as a secret shopper .It starts to fall apart here with lines like “Then we would be providing you details on here”.And now for the meat of the scam: KINDLY RECONFIRM YOUR INFORMATION BELOW TO PROCEED ON FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Full Legal Name : Full Physical Address : City : State : Zip code : Age: Nationality : Home and Cell # : Present Occupation: Email: Thank you for reading. Yours sincerely. Contact Person: David Anderson Time: 24 Hours daily by e-mailAnd that’s the anatomy of a secret shopper scam. A simple way to hook the gullible into providing details for identity theft.

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Anatomy of a Scam – Secret Shoppers

Post Syndicated from David original http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/DevilsAdvocateSecurity/~3/7r6fHv6xQN0/anatomy-of-scam-secret-shoppers.html

Here’s a recent example of a secret shopper scam. Like many scams, this one attempts to lure people who think that accidentally receiving a secret shopper invitation is a way to free money. In the end, it is merely an attempt at identity theft – though it may also involve a fee scam as well!If the recipient bothers to check who it is from, it purports to come from Dow Chemical, with an email address that is [email protected], with a cc to [email protected] The hsbrv.net domain points back to a Betty Prevo, with an email address listing [email protected] That sounds suspiciously like our david212 address as well. The whois results are below:Administrative Contact: Prevo, Betty [email protected] 1368 X W. Estes Ave Chicago, Illinois 60626 United StatesFor those who are interested, that address points to an apartment building in Chicago. Interestingly, Betty Prevo apparently exists and does live in that area in Chicago, but she’d probably be interested to find out that she’s running various domains. Blumail? Well, it’s a free email service that, “provides global e-mail accounts, educational content, employment needs, entrepreneurship, networking, story / experience sharing, mentoring and volunteering opportunities to youth and others who are coming online in developing countries.” In this case? It’s a great place for a scammer to get free email hosting. It’s also a well known 419 scam domain. Blumail is a legitimate service, unlike the hsbrv.net domain we first looked at.Now, the actual scam letter:Hello there, My Name is David Anderson and I am your group regional Instructor from within the USA.Henceforth you will be working with me on the completion of your Mystery Shopper’s Position application. Like you already know, your weekly per assignment is $300:00 Flat for working with us and will come in payments of $300 each per assignment you complete for the company.Note that the name actually somewhat matches the email address – that’s often a missed detail for our scammers. PAYMENT TERMS: Your payment would be sent ($300) per assignment , Also the company is in charge of providing you with all expense money for the shopping and other expenses incurred during the course of your assignment.All the tools you will needing would be provided to you with details every week you have an assignment. JOB Description : 1} When an assignment is given to you,You would be provided with details to execute the assignment and in a timely fashion. 2} You would be asked to visit a company or store in your area and they are mostly our competitors as a secret shopper and shop with them to know more about their sales and stock , cost sales and more details as provided by the company then report back to us with details of whatever transpired a the store. But anything you buy at the shop belongs to you,all we want is an effective/quick job and reports.Free money, and what sounds like a somewhat reasonable reason why the company would want you to do this. The grammar is even better than most letters of this type. ASSIGNMENT PACKET : Before any assignment we would provide you with the resources needed {cash}Mostly our company would send you a check which you can cash and use for the assignment. Included to the check would be your assignment packet .Then we would be providing you details on here. But you follow every single information given to you as a secret shopper .It starts to fall apart here with lines like “Then we would be providing you details on here”.And now for the meat of the scam: KINDLY RECONFIRM YOUR INFORMATION BELOW TO PROCEED ON FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Full Legal Name : Full Physical Address : City : State : Zip code : Age: Nationality : Home and Cell # : Present Occupation: Email: Thank you for reading. Yours sincerely. Contact Person: David Anderson Time: 24 Hours daily by e-mailAnd that’s the anatomy of a secret shopper scam. A simple way to hook the gullible into providing details for identity theft.

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Everyone in USA: Comment against ACTA today!

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2011/02/15/acta.html

In the USA, the deadline for comments on ACTA
is today (Tuesday 15 February 2011) at 17:00 US/Eastern.
It’s absolutely imperative that every USA citizen submit a comment on
this. The Free
Software Foundation has details on how to do so
.

ACTA is a dangerous international agreement that would establish
additional criminal penalties, promulgate DMCA/EUCD-like legislation
around the world, and otherwise extend copyright law into places it
should not go. Copyright law is already much stronger than
anyone needs.

On a meta-point, it’s extremely important that USA citizens participate
in comment processes like this. The reason that things like ACTA can
happen in the USA is because most of the citizens don’t pay attention.
By way of hyperbolic fantasy, imagine if every citizen of the
USA wrote a letter today to Mr. McCoy about ACTA. It’d be a news story
on all the major news networks tonight, and would probably be in the
headlines in print/online news stories tomorrow. Our whole country
would suddenly be debating whether or not we should have criminal
penalties for copying TV shows, and whether breaking a DVD’s DRM should
be illegal.

Obviously, that fantasy won’t happen, but getting from where we are to
that wonderful fantasy is actually linear; each person who
writes to Mr. McCoy today makes a difference! Please take 15 minutes
out of your day today and do so. It’s the least you can do on this
issue.

The Free
Software Foundation has a sample letter you can use
if you don’t
have time to write your own. I wrote my own, giving some of my unique
perspective, which I include below.

The automated
system on regulations.gov
assigned this comment below the tracking
number of 80bef9a1 (cool, it’s in hex! 🙂

Stanford K. McCoy
Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Intellectual Property and Innovation
Office of the United States Trade Representative
600 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20006

Re: ACTA Public Comments (Docket no. USTR-2010-0014)

Dear Mr. McCoy:

I am a USA citizen writing to urge that the USA not sign
ACTA. Copyright law already reaches too far. ACTA would extend
problematic, overly-broad copyright rules around the world and would
increase the already inappropriate criminal penalties for copyright
infringement here in the USA.

Both individually and as an agent of my employer, I am regularly involved
in copyright enforcement efforts to defend the Free Software license
called the GNU General Public License (GPL). I therefore think my
perspective can be uniquely contrasted with other copyright holders who
support ACTA.

Specifically, when engaging in copyright enforcement for the GPL, we treat
it as purely a civil issue, not a criminal one. We have been successful
in defending the rights of software authors in this regard without the
need for criminal penalties for the rampant copyright infringement that we
often encounter.

I realize that many powerful corporate copyright holders wish to see
criminal penalties for copyright infringement expanded. As someone who
has worked in the area of copyright enforcement regularly for 12 years, I
see absolutely no reason that any copyright infringement of any kind ever
should be considered a criminal matter. Copyright holders who believe
their rights have been infringed have the full power of civil law to
defend their rights. Using the power of government to impose criminal
penalties for copyright infringement is an inappropriate use of government
to interfere in civil disputes between its citizens.

Finally, ACTA would introduce new barriers for those of us trying to
change our copyright law here in the USA. The USA should neither impose
its desired copyright regime on other countries, nor should the USA bind
itself in international agreements on an issue where its citizens are in
great disagreement about correct policy.

Thank you for considering my opinion, and please do not allow the USA to
sign ACTA.

Sincerely,
Bradley M. Kuhn

The GNU GPL and the American Dream

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2001/02/21/american-dream.html

[ This essay
was originally
published on gnu.org
. ]

When I was in grade school, right here in the United States of America,
I was taught that our country was the “land of opportunity”. My teachers
told me that my country was special, because anyone with a good idea and a
drive to do good work could make a living, and be successful too. They
called it the “American Dream”.

What was the cornerstone to the “American Dream”? It was
equality — everyone had the same chance in our society to choose
their own way. I could have any career I wanted, and if I worked hard, I
would be successful.

It turned out that I had some talent for working with computers —
in particular, computer software. Indoctrinated with the “American
Dream”, I learned as much as I could about computer software. I
wanted my chance at success.

I quickly discovered though, that in many cases, not all the players in
the field of computer software were equal. By the time I entered the
field, large companies like Microsoft tended to control much of the
technology. And, that technology was available to me under licensing
agreements that forbid me to study and learn from it. I was completely
prohibited from viewing the program source code of the software.

I found out, too, that those with lots of money could negotiate
different licenses. If they paid enough, they could get permission to
study and learn from the source code. Typically, such licenses cost many
thousands of dollars, and being young and relatively poor, I was out of
luck.

After spending my early years in the software business a bit
downtrodden by my inability to learn more, I eventually discovered another
body of software that did allow me to study and learn. This software was
released under a license called the GNU General Public License (GNU
GPL). Instead of restricting my freedom to study and learn from it, this
license was specifically designed to allow me to learn. The license
ensured that no matter what happened to the public versions of the
software, I’d always be able to study its source code.

I quickly built my career around this software. I got lots of work
configuring, installing, administering, and teaching about that
software. Thanks to the GNU GPL, I always knew that I could stay
competitive in my business, because I would always be able to learn easily
about new innovations as soon as they were made. This gave me a unique
ability to innovate myself. I could innovate quickly, and impress my
employers. I was even able to start my own consulting business. My own
business! The pinnacle of the American Dream!

Thus, I was quite surprised last week
when Jim Allchin, a
vice president at
Microsoft hinted
that
the
GNU GPL
contradicted
the
American Way.

The GNU GPL is specifically designed to make sure that all
technological innovators, programmers, and software users are given equal
footing. Each high school student, independent contractor, small business,
and large corporation are given an equal chance to innovate. We all start
the race from the same point. Those people with deep understanding of the
software and an ability to make it work well for others are most likely to
succeed, and they do succeed.

That is exactly what the American Way is about, at least the way I
learned it in grade school. I hope that we won’t let Microsoft and
others change the definition.