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November 1998

We're Back

And you never thought there'd be a second one. Well, I guess you were wrong, huh?

The slogan at the top of this column, the one about "Some things are impossible to know..." comes from the wall of the Infinite corridor at MIT. For a brief period during 1970-71, to cut down graffiti, white paper was placed on the walls of that hallway. That one caught my eye. It was the slogan of this column in its first incarnation, and it brought some luck that time, so it's back.

Microsoft Opening Statement: Codswallop

This is the kind of thing that makes me nuts.

This is exactly why I started this column up. Because otherwise people would think I was insane for talking back to the newspaper. And I might actually go insane, from reading this kind of ignorant yahoo-ism, and wondering--nay, knowing, that thousands of daily newspaper readers are swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

What else could I mean that the unmitigated load of hooey served up by Microsoft's chief litigator, John Warden, in his opening statement and early cross-examination of Netscape honcho James Barksdale.

I'm not an attorney. I don't even play one on television. But I am a well-informed layman, one who has covered several antitrust trials, and there are a few things I know for a fact:

  • It is not illegal to have a monopoly
  • What is against the law is to maintain a monopoly with illegal activities--and that some activities which are legal if you don't have a monopoly are illegal if you do have one.
  • It is also illegal to use your monopoly to force people to buy, use or distribute your crappy product in order to obtain your good product . In the immortal words of the Loew's case, it is illegal to force a theater to show Getting Gertie's Garter in order to obtain the rights to Gone With The Wind. (Digress Here.)

By the way, even Bill Gates has conceded, in public, on the record, on multiple occasions, that versions 1 and 2 of Internet Explorer were marginal products, at best. In fact crappy wouldn't be too harsh a word. (Digress Here.)

The following quotes are from the San Francisco Chronicle of Oct. 21, 1998, in a front page story entitled Microsoft Disparages U.S. Case: It begins defense in antitrust trial


``Netscape had what the government would consider a monopoly in the market for Internet browsers until the great Satan, Microsoft, came along.''


No one, not even Microsoft, has ever tried to claim that Netscape leveraged some other product to obtain this monopoly or used illegal practices to maintain it. Unlike Microsoft, which had an operating system monopoly to exploit, Netscape started with nothing. Remember, a monopoly is not illegal; it's what you do with it.


Barksdale said Netscape ``learned that Compaq no longer intended to put Navigator on the desktop shortly after Microsoft threatened to cancel Compaq's Windows license.''


If you distribute their product, we'll withhold our vital product, one without which you cannot survive.


Warden also suggested that the government is applying two different rules, one for Microsoft and another for everyone else.


That is exactly what the nation's antitrust laws contemplate, and Warden knows it. This is so disingenuous that it makes my head spin. Microsoft is a monopolist, maintaining that power illegally and using it to leverage an inferior product into new markets, according to unrefuted evidence discovered by the government.

Microsoft To Throw Case? 

I found Jesse Berst's theory fascinating, so I am sharing it with you.


Berst has "come to a shocking conclusion: Microsoft will lose this case -- on purpose." [Expecting to win it on appeal]

Harry Shearer: Funny and Cogent

I love comedian Harry Shearer, whose weekly program, Le Show can be heard on Real Audio at his web site, It is also available on about 50 public radio stations, but probably not one near you (I mean, what are the odds). His books and CDs are great. I own all of them.

He is mentioned here this week because his Oct. 11 program contained a cogent remark about the political treatment of impeachment. The Democrats are looking at the big numbers (64% approval, more than half the people don't want Clinton impeached), while the Republicans are watching the little numbers-- Christian neo-conservatives, Neo-Christian conservatives, Neo-Christian neo-conservatives, hate Clinton and want him gone. Since both sides say "this isn't about the polls," that's the surest sign it is about the polls.

I think this is a virtually complete explanation for the actions of the House Judiciary Committee and the House with regards to the impeachment inquiry.

Of course, the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day. Unless of course, you live in California and can easily vote absentee without lying. At my house, Election Day was Sunday. I'm finished voting for this year. You're probably not. Vote early and often. If you're sick and tired of the whole thing, vote for Democrats. If you want another two years of wallow, vote for Republicans.

Harry Shearer says there's a move afoot to rename Santa Monica (whence his show originates) Santa Monicalewinsky. He's kidding. I think.

You ARE being watched 

This came in from my friend Neal Macklin, a long-time computer industry maven, who has worked for both Amdahl (mainframes) and Apple (PCs). We're fellow MIT alumni. He's got a well-honed sense of humor and has written some of the funniest satire I've ever read.

This time out, he's serious, about an overlooked story:

I'm not sure why this story didn't get wider play. Makes ISP monitoring efforts like Imgis/AdForce pale by comparison:

Imgis just proposed to report on which websites were viewed by a user by installing monitoring SW unbeknownst to you at your ISP and brought down a maelstrom of controversy upon itself.

WebTV is not only doing this, but also reporting on
what channels and shows you watched on TV!

Well, Neal, it's getting wider play now. Not a LOT wider, but still, wider.

My two bits: if you're concerned about privacy, get angry now, because later will be too late.

Probably Apocryphal: Trader's Elbow

According to Jon Carroll, the most common phrase in Internet Mail is "I don't know if this is true, but…

Well, I don't know if this is true, but I liked it so much, I'm reprinting it here.

Trader sends market diving by leaning on keyboard

PARIS (Reuters) - Electronic trading may be cheap, but leaning on the keyboard can be costly.
A mystery plunge in the value of French 10-year bond futures on July 23 was triggered by a bank trader at Salomon Brothers in London who accidentally and repeatedly hit the ``Instant Sell'' button, investigators said Thursday.
A wave of 145 separate sell orders sent the price diving on electronic screens.
``The disputed trades arose as a result of the prolonged, unintentional and inadvertent operation of the 'Instant Sell' key,'' said an investigation by computer software firm Cap Gemini and security group Kroll Associates.
Salomon Brothers declined to comment on any losses.

Web Site of the Week


Top Five List

The best comedy writing takes place in teams. Take my word for it. (Digress Here.). The ultimate expression of this show business truism on the Internet can be found at the Top Five List website.

Caveat: I am one of the lucky handful of people who are contributors to the Top 5 list.

Here's how it works. Every day, hard-working Chris White, the master of the Top 5 list, sends out a topic. Somewhere between 50 and 100 contributors make three contributions each by deadline time. Chris separates the wheat from the chaff and prints the chaff (just kidding Chris...)

The result is some truly funny lists. I will reprint one here, one in which I "made" the list at No. 12. Of course, every contributor hopes and dreams of making number one, or of a "Hat Trick," when Chris accepts all three of your contributions. If you make the list often enough and high enough, you enter the Hall of Fame. Someday, someday...

September 14, 1998

The Top 13 Chapters In Ken Starr's "Clinton Report"

13> Chapter 7 -- "Lewinsky" Becomes a Verb

12> Chapter 51 -- A Few Other Things I Can't Prove but Wish were True, So I Leaked Them

11> Chapter 4 -- Pilferage of Pens, Post-Its, and Other Government Property by the First Family

10> Conclusion -- Why I, Kenneth Starr, Should Be Your New God
2> Appendix -- Links To Other Hot XXX Sites on the Internet

and Top5's Number 1 Chapter In Ken Starr's "Clinton Report"...

1> Chapter 8 -- $40 Million, Same As In Town

[ This list copyright 1998 by Chris White ]
[ The Top 5 List
[email protected] ]
[ To forward or repost, please include this section. ]
[You like to receive credit for your work, and so do we.]

Selected from 81 submissions from 31 contributors.

Here's what one of my recent submissions looked like (and none of these made it. Think how good the winners were!):

Top 5 Changes in the new $20 bill
xxxx>Hold it up to the light you can see Jackson doing the Macarena
xxxx>Front: Andrew Jackson Back: Michael Jackson
xxxx>Write "Impeach Clinton" on the front and the words "I'll Drink To That" appear on the back

I submit a lot of "Macarena" topics, and an occasional "Lambada." They rarely make the list.

So go, have a look, and sign up to receive the Top5 daily. Soon, the list will be on a (low-cost) subscription basis, so you get the top5 for free, and you pay for the rest of the list!

 Firesign Theater Returns


 My friend Neal Vitale (who says he doesn't read this column because he doesn't want to be seen as encouraging vanity publishing on the web) tipped me to the arrival of an all-new Firesign Theater album: Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death. I haven't heard it yet (review will follow later).

Perhaps they were encouraged by the reaction to their 20th anniversary tour a few years back. I took my older daughter, Marlow, whose response was, "I've never seen so many balding middle-age guys with pony tails wearing tie-dye in my life." She was also interested in the smell that filled the theater. "Incense," I said, and changed the subject.

Among the places you can buy the album is my favorite spot for on-line music CDNOW. Don't bother telling them Paul sent you, I don't get a commission.


 I knew I'd get letters eventually. I just didn't expect so many so soon. Thanks, and keep it up.

Harrison Klein, my once and future announcer, writes:

Always nice to read your material. Keep it coming.

One suggestion for us lazy types: show the complete URL in the announcement
so it becomes an active link and you don't have to retype it.

Jeremy Barna of TechWeb had the same complaint. As it turns out, Microsoft Express (which I use for email) turns the URL into a clickable address without the http://, but apparently Macintoshes and Lotus Notes need a little help. In the future I will provide that help.

Neal Macklin, who led off the industry news section above, also had some nice things to say about the column. Neal allows as how he might offer some reader commentary in the future.

I won't run a lot of this kind of thing (although I did receive a lot of it), but Neal was nice enough to write:

Really enjoyed your column--I didn't realize how much I missed reading your stuff until now.

If you can keep it relatively short and in the same easy-to-read format, I'll try to read it every week.

I won't have time for anything but short, Neal. Except maybe down here at the end in the letters column.

Joe Brancatelli of upstate New York, once editor of Information Systems News (the newspaper that became InformationWEEK) didn't ask if I would be carrying reader comment, he just supplied some. Since I'm the columnist, I get the last word, so there are some [bracketed] comments in his analysis. And some cuts...

Well, the Serbia thing is very tough for outsiders. There must be some madness in this region (I mean, the Croats were nazi hacks in WW2... It is very sad. [Joe, they still talk about battles from the 1300s as if they were yesterday. You think the Middle East is tough, try the Balkans]

Now, as for the Clinton thing. I go back and forth on the process, but, still, I believe this:

1) Impeachment and trial is no terrible thing. It's in the constitution. Our founding fathers foresaw the possibility. Why are we so afraid of it. [For the same reason we fear people who use elephant guns to hunt flies. Disproportionality]

2) Everyone agrees Clinton was a jerk and a fool and should be punished in some way. Most say no removal from office. Okay. Then let's go ahead with
impeachment ... let's do the process without fear. We as a nation can handle it. We built the nation to handle it. [We don't need to do it this way... Once you've done the unthinkable twice in 25 years, it becomes thinkable. We'll have an impeachment inquiry every time we have split government from now on. Might as well move to a parliamentary system if we're going to lower the bar this far.]
3) Don't fall for the "reversal of two elections" crap. Regardless of what the Republicans may want, they can't reverse the election...[Motive counts for something. This whole thing is a Clinton-hater production, start to finish. They won't be happy until he's destroyed. I won't be happy until they are thwarted. God it feels good to say that in public.]

4) Finally, you know the American people are gonna decide in this case. If the Dems get buried on Election Day, Clinton is gone. If they hold their own, the Republicans will fold... [You got that right. Vote early and often on election day, and vote your conscience, not your pocketbook.]