[Baypiggies] Chompapps Position - from Issue 31

Alex Martelli aleax at google.com
Tue Oct 27 04:22:42 CET 2009

On Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 7:54 PM, Paul McNett <p at ulmcnett.com> wrote:
> Jeremy Fishman wrote:
>> Not sure how that might/might not apply to you, but I would be more
>> careful.  It's also just plain insulting to some.
> Indeed. I was insulted by the "young" and put off by the "aggressive". What
> happens when you put several aggressive types in a pit together? Aggression
> is to be avoided or circumvented at all costs, in my book!
> Good luck finding young aggressive python coders that are also smart.

Taking age into consideration for hiring is illegal in the US; taking
smartness and aggressiveness into consideration is perfectly legal
(whether positively or negatively); whether wise or not, well, that,
fortunately, is something that the startup's success or lack thereof
will pronounce upon, not your call nor mine.

Note that I believe that, if they were looking for business partners
(or spouses) rather than employees, it's still legal under US law to
take into consideration age, gender, religion, and other things that
are illegal to consider for employees.  You can surely legally look
for a spouse who's (e.g.) a Mormon, a Wiccan, a Sikh, or whatever; one
who's of a specified gender (indeed a majority of California voters
appears to believe you MUST take that into consideration); one who is
for example within a certain number of years from your own age (indeed
most Americans appear to consider it distasteful, although it still
remains just as legal, when a 20-something marries a 60-something).

Paul Graham's latest essay, among other issues confronting startups,
points out that the relationship between startup co-founders is just
about as intimate (except for the physical parts) as that between
spouses.  And throughout history members of persecuted religious
minorities have preferred to do business with co-religionaries, whom
they felt they could trust more than gentiles.  I am aware of no US
court precedents, but if a startup that's forming is making all
co-workers also co-founders (vesting ownership in the firm), I wonder
what criterion would apply -- could I legally refuse to become a
business partner with somebody I distrust for whatever reason I
personally choose to trust or distrust people, or will the long arm of
the law force me to trust (ha!) people I am diffident about because of
their legally-protected aspect X? Was Jack Weinberg (now close to 70)
inciting now-illegal behavior when, back in his Berkeley days in the
'60s, he spoke about "trust nobody over 30"?-)

Out of the huge variety of business and personal relationship, the law
(depending on jurisdiction: it's different in Europe in several
respects, though overall similar on guiding principles) has singled
out a very few (employer/employee, landlord/tenant) to force the issue
of what criteria you're allowed to choose by, presumably based on the
assumption of highly-skewed power gradients (i.e., unspoken
assumptions about landlords with vast parks of properties to rent vs
tenants desperate for a place to live, as opposed to the rental
vacancy rates over 20% observed today in Richmond, Va, where the
desperate ones are presumably the landlords;-).

But I believe that the "partnership as co-founders" relationship is
still free of such legal constraints in the US as well as in Europe,
as well as the buyer-seller relationship (you're legally entitled to
pick what store, chain, or other supplier you choose to buy from,
based on whatever criteria you like -- sabotage Walmart because
they're in favor of health care reform, sabotage Apple because they're
in favor of cap-and-trade carbon regulations, or whatever!),
presumably also in the market for services as well as that for
products.  So (IANAL, but this is my personal interpretation) what I'm
legally allowed to take into consideration to pick a consultant is
broader than what I'm allowed to consider for an employee, for


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