Monday, October 27, 1997

Week of 10/27/1997

Target: Microsoft
Anti-trust? Or Anti-Success?
- by David Matthews 2

Some would say Microsoft had it coming.

This week, the Department Of Justice filed suit in federal court that the software giant has violated a 1995 consent decree concerning licensing practices. Specifically, Janet Reno is balking at how Microsoft is requiring PC manufacturers to carry it’s Internet Explorer browser as part of the Windows 95 operating system.

The timing of this action, however, comes within weeks after the debut of Internet Explorer 4.0. Microsoft’s newest browser is not just a stand-alone browser, but integrates itself within the operating system more than any of its earlier versions. The bookmarks, for instance, can be found on the "Start" button instead of having to go to the browser first. Searching the "My Computer" icon can now be done as a web page instead of the classic plain window. Even the desktop can be used to display web pages, stock reports, weather, or even display GIF or JPEG images, in what Microsoft calls an "Active Desktop." All of which the competition (Netscape) can’t provide.

No wonder why the competition is screaming "foul!"

But is it really violating anti-trust laws?

Let’s be brutally honest here. Microsoft’s Windows is the king of PC operating systems. Period. Sure, there’s still IBM’s OS/2 Warp, but how many people are willing to swear their computer by it? Or worse yet, how many programmers would be willing to swear their software by it? No, if you want PC software, it’s either designed for Windows 3.x, Windows 95, or Windows NT.

Naturally Microsoft is playing hardball with the browsers. Bill Gates and Microsoft got caught napping when it came to the Internet, which played off heavily for companies like Netscape and Sun Microsystems. While Microsoft was trying to create its own online service, Netscape created an Internet browser at the start of the Internet fervor. While Microsoft was trying to come up with its own browser, Sun created a programming language called Java that, according to its own PR, was a universal language for the Internet. "Write once, read anywhere." Sound familiar?

Interesting, then, to hear that when Microsoft plays catch-up, the competition screams "MONOPOLY!" Why isn’t the Department of Justice going after Sun for exercising its exclusive control over Java? Or when Netscape was the standard, why wasn’t Janet Reno’s troops going after them? Perhaps the answer lies not in who is engaging in a "monopoly" than who has the fatter wallet.

Microsoft is a success story that puts all others to shame. Who would have guessed that in the span of two decades that the world of computers would turn a college dropout named Bill Gates into a multi-billionaire that would put even old money in second place? And apparently with success like that comes jealousy. Why else would there be the liberal desire for what they call "income redistribution"?

But perhaps there are other reasons behind this suit. After all, Microsoft has told the Clinton Administration to drop dead at least twice. The first time came when Microsoft took part in the lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act. The second came just this month, when Microsoft officially sided against the President’s anti-encryption policy. If the IRS has a questionably partisan sense of timing when it comes to auditing Paula Jones, it doesn’t take too much of an imagination to speculate that the DOJ is suing Microsoft for purely political reasons either.

That’s not to say there may not be clear and credible evidence of anti-trust violations. If the claims by Compaq and others are true, and Microsoft has engaged in essentially corporate bullying tactics, let the facts come out in a court of law, not the court of public opinion.

But enough speculation. Janet Reno says that Microsoft should tell their users they can use any browser they want? NO KIDDING! Maybe Reno should look at who is STILL ruling in the browser department. It isn’t Microsoft! Janet Reno wants Microsoft to tell people how to remove IE if they want to? Guess what? It only takes a couple of mouse clicks to the "Add/Remove Programs" icon to do that!

Perhaps they use nothing but OS/2 Warp at the DOJ? Or worse yet, maybe Apple II and the occasional Tandy TRS-80?

If Janet Reno wants a quick solution, I have one for her. Perhaps Microsoft should add a new program called the "Sheep" feature, where clicking it brings the following message:

"Dear Microsoft Users,

"The United States Department Of Justice is requiring us to inform you of some things you may not be aware of. They believe that you are nothing but sheep, following whatever program we provide for you. We, of course, believe you are more intelligent that that, but they keep taking us to court on that basis. So we have no choice but to send this message to any sheep-like users out there.

"You may not be aware of several programs that come with Windows that you can include or delete at your leisure. We are letting you know now that you can. That is your choice, and we won’t be hurt in the least if you do.

"However, according to the US Department Of Justice, you are unable to do that. Therefore, in all fairness to them and our competition, we will give you the chance right now.

"Click on the button below, and all things Microsoft will go away. Everything we have included that has the name ‘Microsoft’ on it will be removed from your system, save of course, for your core operating system. That way you will be free to install any and all programs you want from our competition without any guilt."

There! A lawyer-like solution to a mess that was created by lawyers!

Monday, October 20, 1997

Week of 10/20/1997

What is Personal Responsibility?
It’s been blown way out of proportion
- by David Matthews 2

I recently heard an annoying radio commercial for an auto repair shop in Atlanta. The announcer was talking like he was the engine of a car, bemoaning the owner to take him for a tune-up and paint-job. Every time he ends his rants by saying "C’mon, show some RESPONSIBILITY in your life!"

I always know when something has been so blown out of proportion when Madison Avenue starts using it for advertising. And why not? After all, by the time the advertisers get hold of it, the very meaning has already been fatally bludgeoned by scriptwriters and spin doctors for their own purposes.

Take, for instance, the concept of "family values." A nice vague term used by conservatives and religious crusaders to campaign for or against anything they want. School prayer, censorship, states rights, cutting the federal government, trying to establish one religious belief over all others, fathers rights, mothers rights, abortion, sex education, adoption, foster care… you name it, they’ll wrap it up and call it "family values." And once those two words got used ad infinitum and ad nausium by the politicians, spin doctors, and crusaders, it became the tool for Madison Avenue to sell everything from detergent to law firms.

Well now the vague term is "personal responsibility." Tobacco companies, for instance, are now told they are to be responsible for the health of their customers, and will have to shell out billions of dollars to federal and state agencies. President Clinton has bastardized "personal responsibility" to mean whatever he wants it to mean, and while he wasn’t the only one to do it, nobody has done it more publicly than he has.

So what really is personal responsibility?

Well, let’s start by saying what personal responsibility is NOT, and that’s blame assessment. Personal responsibility is not about pointing fingers and saying "YOU need to do act this way" or "YOU should have done this." Too many lawyers, politicians, and well meaning but misguided social crusaders have turned personal responsibility into blame assessment, and that’s not what it’s all about.

The best way to describe what personal responsibility is rests with four simple words: "It’s up to me."

If I want a job, it’s up to me to get one. The folks in the Strive program in New York know that. That’s the secret of their success in getting people off welfare and working. If my niece or my young cousins are visiting and I don’t want them to have access to inappropriate materials, it’s up to me to make sure the safeguards are there and to know how to use them. The locks are there on the satellite dish and on my Internet browsers, and I know how to use them.

That’s what personal responsibility is really all about.

Ironically, there are folks who think that this definition is self-centered. They would much rather be contented with finger-pointing and blame assessing. After all, why be responsible for your actions when you can blame someone or something else? Why be responsible for your smoking-related health problems when you can blame it on the "evil tobacco industry"? Never mind the fact that there have been countless warnings about health problems for the past thirty years. Why be responsible for your drinking when you can blame it on the "evil alcohol industry" for advertising their services? You probably didn’t even pay too much attention to the ads, and it likely doesn’t influence your choice to get drunk, but that doesn’t matter, does it?

Saying "it’s up to me" to do something gives us a sense of empowerment, a feeling that we CAN change things. And that’s rather scary for some folks! Think about what would happen if the people en masse said "if I want money, it’s up to me to get a job." Think about the government bureaucracy that would be affected knowing that the unemployment rate would be next to zero. We have people crossing the US borders from Mexico in droves looking for work, and yet we have US citizens who go though job after job simply because they’re carrying an attitude about working. And these are the people who then turn around and blame their lack of work on everything except themselves.

Listen, it’s not always easy to say "it’s up to me" to so something. I should know. But once you realize that it really is just up to you, no excuse in the world will stop you from doing it.

Monday, October 13, 1997

Week of 10/13/1997

New World Order?
We’re supposed to be afraid of.. the world?
- by David Matthews 2

Had an unusual message come through the libertarian newsgroups a couple of weeks ago. It came from someone who objected to the platform statement of the Libertarian Party. Nothing new there, the newsgroups have been taking hits from "trolls" for a while now. It’s a regular occurrence for someone to come in, say that the Libertarian Party is a waste, or that libertarians are idealistic dreamers who have no concept of the real world, and then leave. Sometimes they even stick around just long enough to banter with those who counter their arguments, but only those who respond with knee-jerk reactions or insults.

One of these "troll" messages had an unusual twist to it - the implied threat of some "new world order" coming in and taking over the country. The "new world order" fear is nothing new, but I guess it brought out something that needs to be addressed.

Ten years ago I was asked by the local television station on my thoughts about the anniversary of the United Nations. I told the reporter that I thought it was a good start, but it needed improvement. She asked how, but at the time I didn’t have the answer. Now I do, and it’s the same reason why I’m not afraid of some "new world order" invading us any time soon.

The reason why the United Nations has been somewhat of a failure is that it has been unable to properly govern the nations of the world!

Oh sure, the UN can whip out a humanitarian effort every now and then. But how about some of the more serious cases such as Somalia or Bosnia? Even with their own military forces, the UN has been stymied to actually DO something in cases where military action was needed! Instead they call on good ol’ Uncle Sam to help bail them out.

And we’re supposed to be afraid that these guys will invade US?

Let’s be brutally honest here, we’ve got too many countries that are so ethnocentric that they can’t even consider working with their neighbors never mind trying to be part of some "new world order" so they can take over America. We have countries like France and Canada who are petrified that the French language will be replaced with English that they are suing companies that use only English on the Internet. These countries are actually afraid of US! We have as much chance of these guys invading us as we do seeing Newt Gingrich do the two-step with Barney Frank!

What I am worried about, however, is the influx of AMERICANS who want to subvert everything this country stands for. Forget the mythical black UN helicopters, let’s worry about the politicians who decide that constitutional rights are a myth. Let’s worry about whether or not we will actually balance the federal budget instead of making hay about invaders from other countries who can’t even afford to keep their OWN country in order!

And for those of you who think a "one world government" would be a good thing, you have to remember that having there’s more involved than just getting a bunch of dignitaries together and claiming you’re some international governing body. It takes leadership, it takes determination, and it take commitment to get the job done even if it means stepping on some toes! The next time you’re on an ARMED military escort carrying food and supplies through a war zone, and the local would-be rebel troops tell you that you can’t cross their line, your first order shouldn’t be "call the secretary-general" but rather to "LOCK AND LOAD!" You’re not stepping on toes when the local pissant on a power-binge decides to make life that much harder for you. They’ve already stepped on your toes! Those guns aren’t there for decoration! They’re there so those soldiers can do what they’re trained to do, and that is kick ass and let someone else bury the remains!

In short, it would be nice to think there could be a united world government. However, for now I would throw such sentiments in with other utopian dreams. It’s something nice to think about, but unrealistic to actually implement.

Monday, October 6, 1997

Week of 10/06/1997

Of Binges and Prohibition Boneheads
What those who failed to learn now comes back to haunt them
- by David Matthews 2

Beer, wine, mixed drinks, wine coolers, malt liquor. The nature of alcohol is as intoxicating as the substance. It’s the only place where you can actually ask for "sex on the beach" and not get arrested for indecent exposure. Where commenting on a "fuzzy nipple" won’t result in the waitress slapping you. Where you can "climb the mountains" and go for the "gusto" and actually have a debate between "less filling" and "taste great." And where three frogs, two lizards, and one dog named Spuds have been turned into media icons.

But like anything else in the world, alcohol can lead to excess. Casual drinking can turn into binge drinking. And binge drinking can lead to death.

This past month, two separate universities have had to handle cases where a student literally drank himself to death. Of course, these events have made the national headlines, especially in light of the recent death of Princess Diana and how her driver was five times over the legal limit of intoxication. So the media, in its hypersensitive and hyperactive state, has focused its bloodshot and myopic eyes towards binge drinking and the college students who do that. We’re heard from doctors, administrators, casual alcohol drinkers, and of course today’s Prohibition crusaders who want the world to go dry.

We’ve got the who, the when, the where, and the how.. there’s just one thing missing: WHY people binge drink!

Okay boys and girls, pay close attention now because what I have to say is not only brutally honest, but is important. Like many of today’s Prohibition crusaders, I’ve thought about why college folks drink to get drunk. I couldn’t come up with an answer. I’ve waited tables at the campus pub, I’ve served drinks behind the bar, and I’ve taken alcohol awareness courses from Bartenders Against Drunk Driving. But when it came to why my academic brethren were getting blitzed just for the sake of getting blitzed, I was clueless.

Then I realized something: I was trying to come up with a rational explanation to something that wasn’t at all rational!

Understand that there are two facets of thinking - primal and intellectual. The primal deals with everything that goes on right here and now. What we see, hear, taste, feel, and otherwise sense in the real world right this moment. The intellectual deals with everything that isn’t connected to the here and now. That’s the side that deals with image, dreams, fantasy, ideas, goals, theology, philosophy. These two sides are supposed to work together in a form of balance or equilibrium. Operative words being "supposed to work together." Because the intellectual side of us deals in absolutes and ideal situations, however, it has this tendency to want to take over everything. It can be quite power-hungry.

Sometimes, and in some people, this overbearing facet of our mind will preclude us from enjoying the moment. After all, enjoying the moment or having fun resides in the realm of the primal, and that often conflicts with our intellectual ideas and goals. And since we presume that the intellectual side is superior, it will often ruin any attempt to enjoy the moment.

So we have one of two solutions: either we allow our intellectual mind to ruin our lives for us, or we find a way to suppress it. And that brings us to alcohol.

Alcohol is a depressant, despite the fact that some folks are more rowdy when drunk, because it suppresses certain sections of the brain. Balance, coordination, and dexterity, are all affected, but the number one reason why alcohol appeals to people is because it suppresses the intellectual mind! It puts that overbearing, power-hungry, tyrant of anything concerned with fun to sleep!

And that is why Prohibition crusaders will never learn from their failed lessons, because they don’t realize that the problem is not alcohol, but rather with our fanatic reliance on the notion that every situation is an intellectual one. They deal in unrealistic ideals, which is fine for them because the intellectual mind cannot handle reality! Reality rests solely in the realm of the primal, something these people consider to be inherently evil.

Look, I realize that drinking just to get drunk is stupid. But until we recognize the reason WHY we get drunk, we will never find any sound and effective solutions to the problem. Instead, those same Prohibition crusaders will push for more unrealistic restrictions on an otherwise legal substance for adults, and will never get even remotely close to solving the problem.

Prohibition does not work! It didn’t work in the 1920’s, and it will not work today!