February 23, 2019

.comment: Something Wicked This Way Comes - page 3

Wrong Time, Wrong Place

  • April 11, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

The other day I was thinking about baseball gloves.

This wouldn't matter but for my being left-handed, meaning that the range of baseball gloves available to me in my childhood was limited compared to those that the right-handed majority were offered. It's pretty tough to find a left-handed catcher's mitt or first-baseperson's glove. Yes, left-handed ("sinister" -- look it up) people make lousy catchers and first basepersons, but that's because the circuit around the bases is counter-clockwise. So I grew up realizing that certain opportunities were simply not available to me.

And I mused that it was maybe this experience that led me to a certain contrarian attitude that extended to my choices of operating systems. Looking back over my computing history, I see that I've chosen operating systems that make one get used to hearing "sorry, but we don't support that" from hardware and software vendors. I was already used to that kind of thing.

Which in turn made me wonder where the outcry has been, where the legislation and litigation have been. We left-handed people are certainly an oppressed minority -- evidence of discrimination against us is everywhere. It seems the kind of thing perfectly suited to Congress (an amendment to the civil rights and disabilities acts that would cost companies zillions of dollars to comply) and class-action lawyers (lawsuits that would enrich them and do us no good at all).

But we've never concluded that we are victims and have never gone looking for someone to blame for our plight, and Congresscritters and the carrion pickers of the bar haven't found profit in doing so in our behalf. This is a good thing.

Why? Because there are probably some left-handed people who do have real complaints that ought to be heard, and without the background roar of useless and opportunistic class-action lawsuits there's a chance they will be.

So it would be with these investor lawsuits. It looks as if there might be some merit to some of them, in connection with the irregularities in the IPOs. If individual investors or funds were to bring their actions, there is some chance that justice would be done, that in the term of art they would be "made whole." In the class actions, the issue is a homonymous, with those who get enriched already widely, and in my view justly, thought of as holes of an entirely different kind.

The result will be that the companies will be stripped of money that might be essential to their success, while the investors -- which very likely include the retirement plan where you work -- will recover little if anything. The community will be hurt, because the distributions finance a lot of developers who do things that benefit us all. The investors, already hurt, will remain so, except perhaps for those who bought shares for the right reasons -- that they believe over time the companies will become profitable, so fluctuations in share prices don't really matter to them.

A look at these lawsuits, and the ones to come, reveals two truths: No one is blameless, and to the extent that lawsuits can be justified, class-actions are not the way of doing it.

Not that justice matters. Prepare for the litigious rape of the Linux companies. Willie Sutton famously said that he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." Class-action law firms share exactly that motivation, with exactly that much concern for right and wrong. The rest of us get to pay for it, and it's something the Linux community can ill afford.

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