So it hasn’t been all work: the weather (though it’s tragic today) has cooperated with my calendar on occasion, and I’ve had a few chances to throw the boat on the water. So this begins what I home will become an occasional series on paddling around Switzerland with a sea kayak.
The weekend before last, I decided to try out the Pfäffikersee (“Lake Pfäffikon”, though the lake isn’t really big enough to warrant a translation). At 2500m x 1200m, it’s possible to do a full roundtrip around the lake in about an hour without pushing too hard.
Putting aside the discomfort of being an immigrant in a mildly xenophobic land, and the hypothetical ballistic solution to Switzerland’s _furr’ner_ problem, I’ll add my voice to the growing chorus of confusion and ask what, in reality, just happened. So here, translated into English, is the new Article 121a of the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation:
Article 121a Immigration Control
Switzerland controls immigration independently. The number of residence permits for foreigners in Switzerland is limited by annual quota and a maximum limit. The maximum limit applies to asylum-seekers as well. The right to settlement, family union, and access to social services are subject to limitation. Quotas are to be defined to the advantage of Swiss citizens in the economic interest of Switzerland. Cross-border commuters are covered as well. The application of an employer, level of integration in Swiss society, and financial independence are especially influential criteria [in the decision to grant a residence permit]. No treaty may be signed in opposition to this article. The details are a matter of law. 121(a)2 and 121(a)3 define the high-level framework for immigration control. For countries that do limit immigration, the arrangement here is not particularly controversial. “Limitation of social services” would be a dog-whistle to the right wing, were it not being shouted through a megaphone, and is predicated on the assumption1 that migrants come into the country for the welfare. But otherwise, so far, so good.
In order to outline a more effective defense against Ausländer than the Masseneinwanderungsinitiative can provide, and with a deferential nod to Randall Munroe, I decided to do some back of the napkin estimates of what it would take to make Switzerland a literal island. tl;dr: it’s probably not worth it.
Every time the Rovian Swiss People’s Party (often described as “extreme right” in the English-speaking press, though they’re really more nativist than explicitly fascist) manages to ram one of its populist cries for attention through the initiative process, I wonder why I, as a foreigner, insist on staying in a country sointent on doing silly and dangerous things to its constitution in service of its hate of us. Over time, Switzerland feels less and less welcoming. But self-deportation is exactly what they want me to do, a fact that strengthens my resolve to stay here long enough to become the aged burden to the social-insurance scheme the political discussion here assumes that I am.
Over the past couple of days, this article has been brought to my attention from multiple angles. The basic idea — that the US Postal Service’s collapse and the problem of banking deserts in America’s poorer and more rural neighborhoods are two problems with a single solution — is an intriguing one. As an American emigrant customer of the Swiss post bank, it seems like a good idea, but I’m not sure the history of American and European financial services are similar enough to allow us to predict the success of the former from the latter.
I’ve been reading Tom Standage‘s “Writing on the Wall” of late, which I can heartily recommend. It’s less subtle than “The Victorian Internet“, which counts among my favorite books of all time, but that was written before Twitter, and Twitter’s made us all less subtle, I think. What strikes me about his new book is not his thesis — that the “social media revolution” is nothing really new, just the application of new technology to our apparently instinctive love of gossip — but how well it illustrates that much of the present public policy debate over new media technology is very, very old.
The weather’s finally cold enough that there’s time to pour a cup of glühwein, put the feet up by the fire, and finish blog posts about all the being outside this summer that got in the way of posting stuff about being outside on the blog.
So. My first piece of advice to anyone seeking to cross their home country on muscle power alone: move someplace tiny with a complicated border. Like Switzerland.
Last Thursday, I sat on a panel with Swiss Telecommunications Association President Peter Grütter, Swisscom CEO Carsten Schloter, and Green National Councilor Balthasar Glättli, on the subject of network neutrality, and whether legal protection therefor is necessary in Switzerland. Not surprisingly, the panel was of different opinions on this matter. Swisscom and the telecom industry group support self-regulation, making the very good point that laws change too slowly with respect to Internet technology too quickly to be effective; and Glättli making the equally good point that as several obvious violations of neutrality can already be observed in Switzerland, trusting the industry to regulate itself has so far had dubious results.
Coverage (in German) of the event can be found at computerworld.ch and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and if you’ve got 55 minutes to kill, video of the event itself (also in German) is available at the website of the Parliamentary Group on Digital Sustainability.
The National Council of Switzerland1 is considering the addition of a guarantee of network neutrality into a forthcoming revision of Swiss telecommunications law. This is generally a Good Thing. We all like the Internet. This being Switzerland, we all like neutrality. So network neutrality must be great.
More seriously, the Internet has largely replaced the public switched telephone network and the postal system as the basic communications infrastructure of our society; just as with these systems, the “last mile” is a natural monopoly, so guaranteeing equal access to it is important. However, the results that legislation of network neutrality will lead to may vary widely based on how, precisely, it is defined.
The Internet Society Switzerland Chapter’s inaugural national event was last night at the Käfigturm in Bern; in my talk, “The Open Internet under Threat” (which, as it turns out, was unwittingly inspired in part by a much earlier post on this blog; slides are here), I accomplished what I set out to do, I think — start a conversation about the present state of the Internet, and threats to its openness, to figure out where we ISOC people as politically-interested network geeks can make a difference.