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An Interesting Week if Property Matters

  • August 1, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

They say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. I wanted to know what I had, so I got rid of everything. -- Steven Wright

Last week was an interesting one for those to whom the idea of property matters.

First, there was the New England family who returned home from a trip to discover a man and woman had moved into their home, had sold some of its contents, and had used the money to buy paint and other supplies to give the house a makeover. The couple later explained to the police that they did not believe in the idea of personal property. This really happened.

Then came the news of the DSL. Those letters have already sparked considerable noise in the computing world, standing for "digital subscriber line," a heavily-advertised broadband connection that you can get as soon as they develop it, if you happen to live in the actual telephone company building itself, in which case it is guaranteed, though not in writing, to work "sometimes."

But this was a new use of the letters DSL. This one is the Design Science License dreamt up in -- where else? -- San Francisco. The difference between it and the old variety of DSL is that the old one ought to work, at least in theory.

DSL is a plan for progressive redistribution of talent, and as schemes for the progressive redistribution of wealth are backed chiefly by those who have none, the DSL is bound to be a big favorite with the talentless.

It is written in quasi-legalistic, feel-good gibberish, to wit:

"Whereas 'design science' is a strategy for the development of artifacts as a way to reform the environment (not people) and subsequently improve the universal standard of living, this Design Science License was written and deployed as a strategy for promoting the progress of science and art through reform of the environment."

Sounds like a proposal for biodegradable toilet paper with nice patterns printed on it, doesn't it? (It goes on to say that the covered works may be freely altered, which underlines this impression.) But instead, it is supposed to apply to the writings and artwork of those who attach it to their work, which in most cases is neither biodegradable nor festooned with nice patterns.

In fact, the sentence quoted above means absolutely nothing except that its author, Michael Stutz, wants you to know that he's a very important fellow wannabe who knows more than you do. Beyond that nonsense sentence, the words "design science," "environment," and "artifact" appear nowhere else in the document, except for "design science" in its title. Indeed, one suspects and hopes that it is the tipoff to a fairly imaginative joke, but fears that it was cranked out by someone who thought he was writing Great Words.

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