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It's Christmas!

Like everyone else in America who has the chance, I am taking the week off between Christmas and New Years, so this column will not return until Jan. 4. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column, then leave you to your holiday vacation.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year.

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to limit gift giving to the kids. Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.

It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family.

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. My family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too.

Merry Christmas!

I still don't know if it snowed seven days and nights when I was 12 or 12 days and nights when I was 7...

Is Microsoft Trampling on First Amendment Rights?

[Editor's note: I know Wendy Goldman Rohm. I worked with her when I was at InformationWEEK. She is a top notch journalist, and her sources are impeccable. This column is under submission to some "real" web sites, but in case they don't run it, I wanted to post it here. Give all your friends this URL.

Note that this is the permanent URL for this week's column; the one in your browser may be ephemeral.

By Wendy Goldman Rohm

In three separate legal actions, Microsoft has been using the courts in an attempt to smoke out sources, challenge the first-amendment rights of writers and reporters, and chill press coverage and public disclosure of important information that it prefers remain secret. Two of these cases have been conducted publicly, and one in secret.

In early October, Microsoft subpoenaed the source materials of Dan Goodin, a reporter for the online news organization C/NET, and a hearing on the matter will take place next week. Appealing a lower court decision that denied its demand for source materials, Microsoft is still pursuing access to these materials from the authors of "Competing on Internet Time," Harvard professor David Yoffie and MIT professor Michael Cusomano.

Less known are Microsoft's activities to determine the confidential sources of my articles and my best-selling book The Microsoft File, published in August by Random House, through a bizarre motion filed under seal against Caldera Inc., which has sued the software giant for antitrust violations.

Through these legal pursuits, Microsoft apparently is not seeking to protect trade secrets or sensitive competitive information, as none was betrayed in any of these instances. Instead, the company seems to be engaged in a campaign of intimidation against confidential sources and whistle blowers, who make such reports possible.

With these important issues pending in court in three separate cases, it is in the public interest that the first amendment rights of the press be upheld, and that Microsoft be reprimanded for misusing the courts for its own hunt for whistle blowers in an attempt to prevent the press from doing its job.

It is fascinating to see that Microsoft's statements in court papers in these cases have not jibed with the company's intentions disclosed privately behind the scenes, to lawyers and others privy to each case. In the case of C/NET, reporter Dan Goodin was subpoenaed by Microsoft after quoting from confidential company documents in two articles about the company's legal wrangles with Sun Microsystems, which sued the software giant for breach of contract and antitrust violations.

In court filings, Microsoft claimed that it knew without question that Sun was Goodin's source, despite the fact that the documents in question were in the possession of numerous people at a number of organizations--including the Justice department. "Microsoft has the legal burden to eliminate all possible sources of information before trampling on someone's First Amendment rights," said Kent Raygor, a C/Net attorney representing the Goodin case.

He believes Microsoft is clearly on a hunt for Goodin's confidential sources, a violation of Goodin's privilege as a reporter under California law and protected by the First Amendment.

To prove that Microsoft's intentions were to shake down sources, versus to regain intellectual property, C/Net's Raygor disclosed a private interaction between himself, two others in his office, and a Microsoft lawyer.

According to Raygor, he and his colleagues were told in an informal meeting with a Microsoft attorney, "We're not claiming we own the documents as many people have them, including the DOJ. We're just trying to find the source." When Raygor recounted this in a court document, the Microsoft attorney was removed from the case by Microsoft, Raygor said. Perhaps the oddest of Microsoft's recent court activities is the motion it filed against Caldera Corp..---a motion for contempt filed under seal, although little of any of the information contained in it could be classified as confidential or betraying company secrets.

The history of this parallels the facts collected by C/NET showing that Microsoft appears to be misusing the courts in an effort to put a chill on the press and public debate. Shortly after my book The Microsoft File was published by Random House in late August, I got a call from a Microsoft insider, who said, "Microsoft is vowing to find out your sources." What followed next seemed to be the denouement of Microsoft's campaign to smoke out informants, even through process of elimination.

Shortly after that phone call, in late September, its contempt motion against Caldera was filed, accusing the company of being the source of most of my information in recent articles and in the book. As part of the motion, Microsoft put my entire book "The Microsoft File" into evidence, and stated that the book was filled "throughout" with confidential Microsoft information. Microsoft, however, seemed to be contradicting its own public statements, and because of that, clearly had reason to file the motion so it would not be seen by the public.

Since its publication, Microsoft has aggressively been on a campaign informing the media worldwide that "The Microsoft File" is a work of "fiction." But how could a work of fiction be filled with confidential Microsoft information? The software giant seemed to be talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Going further with its gunshot approach and hunches about sourcing, Microsoft, referring to an article of mine that was broadly picked up by other news organizations, states in its secret motion, "There can be no doubt that Caldera was the direct or indirect source of Ms. Rohm's information, and Caldera's decision to provide information from [a deposition] to Ms. Rohm was in direct violation of the protective order."

That statement is false. Caldera was not the source of deposition information for that article. I would normally have no comment whatsoever on who may or may not have been a source of mine. But in this case I am aware that Microsoft is making allegations that are false, and will result in great injustice if not stopped.

Similar to the Goodin case, Microsoft had made a sweeping judgement without having done the investigation required by the court before filing such motions to show that there were not other possible sources. The accuracy of their accusations did not seem to matter to Microsoft--as the company is accomplishing its goal of forcing reporters to comment on confidential sources, and by process of elimination, target its suspects.

It is important to note that, while using subpoenas and unfounded contempt motions in an attempt to censor leaks it decides are unfavorable to the company, Microsoft has been selectively leaking its own internal documents to reporters, in an effort to fuel positive stories about the company. On November 30, Microsoft's PR department leaked to a number of reporters an internal memo written by Bill Gates in which he pontificates on the significance of the merger between America Online and Netscape, a document that attempts to show that the Justice departments ongoing case against Microsoft is meaningless. It succeeded in having the national and international news media quote from this document.

More embarrassing for Microsoft have been leaks that show that Microsoft--in the words of Microsoft's own senior executives-- has apparently engaged in predatory acts that it has publicly denied. These include its predatory campaigns against Sun Microsystems, illuminated by Goodin's articles, as well as the many instances of predation against a range of companies over the past decade--as detailed in my book and articles.

"Microsoft is attempting to chill public debate regarding its controversial marketing strategies by waging a campaign of intimidation against journalists and academics who write stories or studies it perceives as unfavorable and the confidential sources who make such writing possible," Raygor states in court papers.

Reporter Dan Goodin, in an interview with me, said, "It's an outrageous attempt to control the press. In both Caldera and in my case, Microsoft seems to be making bizarre leaps of judgement. This is a pattern of harassment." Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, Arlington, VA, said Microsoft has misused the legal system and is stepping on the first-amendment rights of reporters.

Finally, Microsoft's efforts at squelching negative information about the company may result in some far more serious charges. Inquiries are now underway into allegations that Microsoft has tampered with the testimony of witnesses. Both the Justice Department and private litigants have been concerned about evidence suggesting such tampering since last summer, and the issue may come up during the DOJ trial as well as in the private cases of Caldera and Sun Microsystems.



Thank you Craig Reynolds. I fixed this Monday morning. He found that I had written of "rapid Republican partisans.

Did you mean "rabid Republican partisans"? My impression was that they had been anything but rapid, trying to stretch this out as long as possible.

I meant rabid.


First of all, let me say I received a lot of heated missives on the impeachment editorial, as well as a few phone calls. I am glad I stirred you. I stirred some of you to disgust, and slightly more of you to applause. I am sorry some of you disagree so strongly. I have heard and read your arguments. I remain unmoved. Which, is, of course, a big part of the problem in this whole mess.

I am going to print Jerry Colonna's brief remarks, because they are brief and laudatory and because is his the only ex-editorial assistant, ex-editor I know who is now a venture capitalist in New York City.

The column on the judiciary committee was brilliant. You've made my day. Count me as a (reformed) writer willing to track 'em down and never let them forget Mary Bono.
(And she's the smart one...)

With readers as sharp as you guys, I really don't have to do much work to assemble this column. Daniel P. Dern writes thoughtfully from Massachusetts again this week.

Given that the amount of stuff online keeps growing but my time does not, it's a rare URL I add to my bookmarks these days with the intention to come back soon to read through a lot of what's there and the expectation to add it to my regular (i.e., more or less weekley) check-in list. (PSACoT's already there, of course!)

Joe Brancatelli's stuff, which I just minutes ago learned about through the hat-tip in this week's PSACoT, got three, count 'em, three, such new entries in my bookmark file.

This also reinforces my belief that the best search engine is your friends telling you about good stuff -- in their messages, in their e-zines, on their sites, in their .sigs -- since it combines OPT (Other Peoples' Time) and judgement you trust regarding topics or writers you might not have previously been aware of, or not previously been interested in.

To test this theory: If you aren't already watching the new TV show Sports Night (ABC, 9:30-10PM Est Tuesdays), try it. Ideally, watch last week's (Dec 8) episode. Give it at least three, if you can. You don't have to know about or care about sports (I don't), or sports coverage (I don't). The show is engaging ensemble work that makes "fast-paced" seem an understatement, with characterization you just don't see elsewhere on the tube.

Of course, if you don't like it, that doesn't disprove my theory; it just shows YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), IMNSHBCO (In My Not So Humble But Correct Opinion).

I wholeheartedly endorse both of Daniel's points. He's right about friends being the best search engines (glad to send you the business Joe), and he's right about Sports Night, of which I am an irregular but highly enthusiastic viewer. By the way, when NBC brings back NewsNight, the Al Franken comedy about a NightLine type program, be sure to watch it as well. Funny show.


Jim Forbes, ex- WINDOWS Magazine, now at IDG running the Demo trade show, adds one more Franson and Associates/NCC note:

At the next-to-last NCC (held in Houston, I believe) one of Franson's people (an account supervisor) had her rented cadillac stolen



Last but not least, there's this from Neal Macklin of Silicon Valley:

Here's a minor point:

When I travel I use Pine and Lynx (a text only browser running on my Unix server) to read mail containing hyperlinks. Your column comes across fine in most cases, though the digressions don't since they rely on a JavaScript tag.

I'm pretty sure that the offline browser in my Pilot (AvantGo) and my Nokia 9000 would have the same problem and wouldn't be able to preload the pages containing digressions.

Now, admittedly, users with these devices form a small subset of your enlightened community, but if possible to do the digressions with just standard HTML, people like me would be more able to see how much you hated Nixon!

It probably isn't too bright to do this at the very bottom of the column, but here's my question: how do you feel about the current format of my digressions, which are launched as Java applets (so they don't cover up the main column). To make this easy, I have made up two mail-to IDs that include your vote in the subject field. You don't have to add comments unless you want to.

Java Digressions Are Fine

Ditch the Java for Straight HTML



Some quick shots of humor.


REDMOND, Wash. (UPI)--Microsoft announced Thursday that the official release date for its new operating system "Windows 2000" will be delayed until the second quarter of 1901.


Other reasons why Santa can't possibly be a man:

  • Men can't pack a bag.
  • Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet.
  • Men would feel their masculinity is threatened...having to be seen with all those elves.
  • Men don't answer their mail.
  • Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described even in jest as anything remotely resembling a "bowlful of jelly."
  • Men aren't interested in stockings unless somebody's wearing them.
  • Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.


It seems that St. Peter met a man who had just passed on at the pearly gates. St. Peter offered him the grand tour, and of course the man accepted.

As they were strolling along, they passed many groups of people laughing and celebrating, praying and studying, and doing all kinds of things. Some were Christians and some were Moslems and some were Jews and some were Pagans. There were even some Atheists, just marveling at the beauty all around them! One of the groups they passed was having a picnic, and there were pink triangles and rainbow flags everywhere.

"Aren't the colors pretty?" St. Peter asked. "They always make me so happy!"

They continued on, and soon they came to a great wall. It was so high that no one could see over it, and so broad that no one could see around it.

"What's in here?" the man asked.

"Oh, I'd like to show you," St. Peter answered, "but I'm afraid we aren't allowed in there."

"What?" the man exclaimed. "Why ever not?"

St. Peter sighed. "Well," he said, "you see that's where we keep the fundamentalists. They're just happier thinking they're the only ones up here."

How angry am I?

How angry am I? I, a creature of habit, have re-arranged the order of this column so that, if you read nothing else, you read my editorial on the impeachment process. I was tempted to make it the whole column, but that would make me just like them, the monomaniacal haters. I considered leaving out the humor this week too, but as Adlai Stevenson said, "I laugh because it hurts too much to cry."

I just wish I knew more about HTML, because I'd like to drape this column in black crepe this week, in honor of the dishonor the rabid Republican partisans on the Judiciary Committee have brought to our country. If you know the coding or own the art to put this column in mourning, let me know.

The Haters Won: Impeachment

The haters have won. Articles of impeachment are on their way to near-certain approval by the House. And not ten times ten thousand honeyed words from the lickspittle Republicans on the committee, from the hypocrite Hyde on down, can change the facts.

The Facts

  • This is not about perjury. It is about sex.
  • These are not impeachable offenses.
  • This is about hatred, about reversing the results of an election the white racist southerner haters who dominate the GOP have never accepted. This is about their intense hatred of Bill Clinton and everything he stands for. They hate me too, even though they've never met me.

Now I know from my email, published and unpublished, that some of you believe impeachment is the right thing to do, and I respect your motives. I don't respect the motives of a single member of the committee. If there was a scintilla (to borrow a word Henry Hyde was amused by) of evidence of a crime that rose to the level of treason or bribery, at least one Democrat would have voted for one of the articles of impeachment. Nixon's impeachment was bi-partisan. This is a witch-hunt and we'll be feeling the pain of it for generations to come. Thank you Newt.

How We Got Here

For you see it was Newt who advanced the modern idea of criminalization of political disputes. It wasn't his idea; he just improved on it. The Democrats tried it first with Reagan. Interesting, isn't it, that the Democrats had a prima facie case of blatant, deliberate anti-constitutional behavior against Ronald Reagan in the Iran/Contra affair. Congress said no money for the Contras. It is an undisputed fact that Reagan decided to support them anyway. It doesn't get more unconstitutional than that.

The Democrats controlled Congress. They didn't impeach Reagan because he only had two years left in his second term and was very popular with the American people. Sound familiar? Thanks to the suicidal GOP actions of the last few weeks, Ronald Reagan will go down in history--as the last American president to miss out on the thrill of being impeached by a Congress in the hands of the other party.

Presidential Hatred

The modern GOP didn't invent hatred of presidents either. They just refined it to an art. Roosevelt was so hated that capitalists toasted his death. Kennedy haters abounded. Even I joined in when it came to hating Nixon, although I like to think I had good cause. (By the way, one of you regular readers once told me a Jerry Vorhees anecdote. If you mail it to me, I'll add it to this column).

But none of the hatred in my lifetime has matched the Rush Limbaugh-fueled Get Clinton crowd, funded by Scaife interests and other conservative people and foundations with more money than brains and more time on their hands than good sense.

Hating the president, while corrosive, as least was an historical fact of American life. Impeachment is something new, and it is now too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube. There are good reasons that we've only impeached two presidents before now. All of those reasons have been trampled into the dust in the GOP rush to fulfill their hate.

The Future

Here's what's going to happen:

  • We're in for a run of lackluster American presidents. Just as Andrew Johnson's party-line impeachment led us to the string of nonentities who occupied the White House from Grant through McKinley, so this impeachment could well produce a generation or two of presidential impotence. {Note that Nixon's bi-partisan impeachment didn't have the exact same effect)
  • On the plus side, wait until 2000. Apparently the Republicans didn't get the message of the 1998 mid-term elections. The people will speak louder next time.
  • We move a step closer to parliamentary government. Even if the House doesn't vote to impeach (an unknown at this point), we no longer have co-equal government branches, we have Congress in a raw, naked power grab that has been successful and unopposed.
  • You thought the bitter partisan wrangling was bad before? Wait until you get a load of it from now on, if the vote to impeach in the House is strictly on party lines, or very close to it. Remember, not a single Democrat on the committee voted for a single article of impeachment.
  • I meant what I said about Reagan before. The precedent has been set. Regardless of what happens with the Special Prosecutor law, from now on, no American president who faces a House controlled by the opposition party will escape unimpeached. Either for actual crimes (like Nixon and Reagan) or imagined, trumped-up ones (like Clinton).

The Best Quote Of The Debate

After days and days of facts, opinion and Republican bloviating, I found one quotation that summed up the whole matter for me. There have been many references to this passage. Still, it took me almost two hours (way longer than it should have) to find it on the Internet. I wasn't sure of the date, the professor's name, and I thought he said "hunt down" instead of track down. The Republicans, with the same kind of attention to factual accuracy as they have shown throughout the hearings, quoted him as saying hunt.

I am including the hard-to-find URL here (and by the way, when it comes to free, well-indexed general news, I recommend CNN hands down), in case you want to read the whole statement of Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz, But I think this really says it all:

If you believe [the charges] do rise to that level, you will vote for impeachment and take your risks at going down in history with the zealots and the fanatics.

If you understand that the charges do not rise to the level of impeachment, or if you are at all unsure, and yet you vote in favor of impeachment anyway for some other reason, history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.

Guess what? I am younger than most of the GOP zealots and fanatics on the Judiciary Committee, and I am smarter than all of them put together--even if you count Mary Bono twice. Plus, I am a writer, so I get to help draft history. I have a long memory.

I promise everyone who reads this that I will take care of myself so that I live long enough to hunt down and destroy the reputation of every craven GOP lackey, on and off the committee, who inflicted this inexcusable damage on our system of government. Writers always get the last word. Professor Wilentz, I accept your challenge. I will track them down and condemn them before history for their cravenness. I now have one more thing to live for.