Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "UNbelievable," June 17, 2000

Microsoft micromanaged
Get ready for the Baby Bills. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson on June 7 ordered Microsoft split in two because the company "proved untrustworthy in the past." One company gets the Windows operating system and another gets everything else-and Bill Gates and crew have four months to figure out how to pull off the divorce. Mr. Jackson ruled in April that the world's most powerful software company violated antitrust laws by using illegal methods to protect its monopoly in computer operating systems. Most notably it bundled its Web browser into Windows to kill off once-mighty competitor Netscape. Former Netscape chief executive James Barksdale was thrilled with the decision. "Microsoft has crossed the line, and I think this is the only type of remedy that would keep them from doing it again," he said. Mr. Gates isn't sorry and plans to fight on. The ruling shows "the government can take away what you have created if it proves to be too popular," he said, vowing an appeal. Mr. Jackson claimed Microsoft brought the split upon itself when it failed to settle the case-even after the court named a mediator. "Microsoft, as it is presently organized and led, is unwilling to accept the notion that it broke the law or accede to an order amending its conduct," the judge said, explaining why he believed the breakup was necessary. Many in the industry believe Microsoft is already on a downhill slide, since operating systems are not as important in the high-tech tools of the future. The action is in getting the Net into cars, cell phones, and even home appliances, not just PCs. Some say the decision could hurt the entire U.S. computer industry, opening the door for overseas firms to fill the vacuum in power. "There's likely to be a great deal of disarray, and we're creating an opportunity for foreign companies to accelerate their efforts, step in, and deploy the technologies that people want to buy," said Rob Enderle of Giga Information Group. Ups & Downs of the Week
The Web economy: A study released last week found that twice as many Americans (2.5 million) worked in Internet-related jobs last year than in 1998. The study from the Center for Research on Electronic Commerce at the University of Texas-Austin also reported that industry revenues last year jumped 62 percent to $524 billion. The largest share of the increase came in the field of e-commerce, as retailers such as Sears, Roebuck embraced Internet sales and more companies began buying goods online. American productivity: U.S. workers continue to produce more at work. The government reported last week that the amount of output per hour worked increased at a 2.4 percent annual rate from January through March. The increase was much slower than the final three months of 1999, which saw productivity jump at a 6.9 percent annual rate. But "it's still very good and it's still two-and-a-half times better than the average from 1970 to 1994," said economist Richard Yamarone of the Argus Research Corp. Economists credit business investment in computers and other productivity-enhancing equipment for the surge in output. American tennis: For the first time in more than 30 years, no American male or female tennis player made it to the semifinals of the French Open. Third-seeded Monica Seles, fourth-seeded Venus Williams, and unseeded Chanda Rubin all lost in the women's quarterfinals last week, with Ms. Rubin falling to top-seeded Martina Hingis. Michael Chang, the last American in the men's tournament, lost the week before. The No-Comment Zone

  • A suicide bomber last week assassinated Sri Lankan government minister Clement V. Gooneratne in the capital, Colombo. Twenty others died in the bombing, which signaled new fighting between the Sinhalese majority, who are Buddhists, and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are Hindu. Last year a Tiger attack wounded Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and many analysts believe the Tigers assassinated President Premadasa in 1993 and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi in 1991.
  • The Atlanta Braves last week sent loose-cannon relief pitcher John Rocker to the minors, supposedly to work on his mechanics. His comments to a Sports Illustrated reporter earlier this year on foreigners, homosexuals, and minorities have made him a tackling dummy for the politically correct, but the Atlanta Braves organization claims this had nothing to do with the reassignment. Richmond farm club manager Randy Ingle called a pre-game team meeting after the announcement and told the players to stay focused on baseball no matter what distractions Mr. Rocker's arrival brings. He also told them "to be careful about what you say" about the situation.
  • Planned Parenthood is claiming that proposed Food and Drug Administration rules could restrict access to the early-abortion pill, RU-486. The organization's biggest concern is a requirement that physicians allowed to administer the drug mifepristone must be part of a registry. Planned Parenthood also opposes the long-term health tracking of RU-486 recipients.
  • Telecommunications giant WorldCom last week agreed to pay $3.5 million to the U.S. Treasury to settle federal regulators' charges that the company engaged in "slamming," or switching customers' long-distance carriers without their permission. WorldCom also created a new 200-member team to focus on customer-service issues. The Federal Communications Commission said it received 2,900 slamming complaints against WorldCom last year.
  • Former Indiana University assistant basketball coach Ron Felling announced last week that he is suing the university and head coach Bob Knight over an alleged physical attack. Mr. Felling, an assistant to Mr. Knight at Indiana for 15 years, was fired in December, reportedly after a verbal clash between the two. A report by CNN/SI said Mr. Knight later allegedly struck Mr. Felling in the chest with two closed fists at the University's Assembly Hall. Last month, Indiana suspended and fined Mr. Knight following an investigation into allegations that he choked a player in 1997. PUTIN USES CLINTON'S WORDS AGAINST HIM
    Outflanked on the ABM
    President Clinton met for the first time with newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow summit that was the focal point of Mr. Clinton's eight-day trip to Portugal, Germany, Russia, and the Ukraine, which ended last week. Mr. Putin pressed the president to acknowledge that the controversial Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is the "cornerstone" (Mr. Clinton's word) of U.S.-Russian relations, a remark that drew fire from many corners of Capitol Hill. U.S. senators widely agree that the ABM treaty ceased to be in effect when the Soviet Union, which signed it, ceased to exist in 1991. Lawmakers point out that only the U.S. Senate, which has constitutional authority to ratify treaties, could renew the accord with the newly reconstituted Russia. Mr. Putin chastised Mr. Clinton for a planned U.S. missile defense system, which he said could ignite another arms race. But only days after waving good-bye to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Putin presented a missile defense plan of his own to European neighbors. At a meeting in Rome, he proposed a shield that would offer missile protection from Lisbon to Vladivostok. It would require cooperation (and funding) from Russia, the European Union, and U.S.-backed NATO. The proposal shocked U.S. officials as well as European counterparts, who were not sure if it was a genuine move or an attempt to isolate the United States for its singular missile defense posture. But the Clinton administration tried to pull victory out of defeat: Defense Secretary William Cohen called the Putin proposal a "step forward" because it meant Russia now recognizes a missile threat. Although Mr. Clinton's trip did not seem particularly successful, it allowed him to increase his record for foreign travel by a president. He is now up to 234 days abroad during his two terms. Ronald Reagan, who logged 120 days abroad, held the previous record. Tenant says Gore threatened eviction over repairs
    White House 'slumlord'
    Tracy Mayberry says the vice president of the United States is a "slumlord." She rents a home on Al Gore's property in Carthage, Tenn., and claims Mr. Gore's property managers gave her an eviction notice when she asked for long-needed repairs. Mrs. Mayberry and her family pay $400 a month for a four-bedroom house near the Gore family's estate. When the toilets in the house broke down, Mr. Gore's men told the Mayberrys, who rent month-to-month, to get out. But when the situation threatened to become a campaign issue, Mr. Gore said he "had a very nice conversation" with the woman and offered to put up the family in a motel while time-consuming repairs are made. "I heard there was a problem," he said. "I took action to make sure that it will be solved and it will be." Mr. Gore's tenant, however, doesn't like the idea of moving into a motel. "I don't have much money," she told the New York Post. "I can't be taking my kids out to restaurants each night. I need a house where I can cook." She claims that someone she thought was Mr. Gore called her a second time, telling her to stop "bad-mouthing him." The likely Democratic nominee for president denied making such a call. Meanwhile, she says she is putting her furniture in storage and sending her children to live with relatives. She and her diabetic husband may live in her truck: "It ain't worth the aggravation." The hubbub brought sneers from Colorado housing developer Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican Party. "Left to his own devices, these are the decisions Al Gore seems to always end up making," he said, pointing out that "in 1998, Gore gave a measly $353 to charity." ± Faces
  • Homeschoolers emerged as the nation's top spellers this month, sweeping the National Spelling Bee championships in Washington, D.C. (see page 32). After a tense two-day competition, first place went to 12-year-old George Abraham Thampy, who attends homeschool in Maryland Heights, Mo., with six brothers and sisters. The seventh-grader clinched his victory with the word demarche (a step or maneuver), garnering $10,000 and an encyclopedia set. Homeschoolers Sean Conley and Alison Miller took second and third place. The victory was especially sweet for Mr. Thampy, who just one week before won second place at the National Geography Bee and a $15,000 scholarship. "I told God before the contest that I'd do my best," he told reporters, crediting his home education, since "spelling is not a subject taught in schools." Of the 248 spelling bee participants, 27 were homeschoolers, up from the 19 homeschoolers in last year's competition. "I can't wait until homeschoolers are winning Oscars and the presidency," said Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association. DECALOGUE-DISPLAYING JUDGE HEADED FOR STATE HIGH COURT?
    The judge & higher law
    Alabama Circuit Judge Roy Moore, famous for his 1995 fight with the ACLU to keep the Ten Commandments posted in his courtroom, last week defeated three other candidates for the Republican nomination for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The 53-year-old jurist, who will face Democratic nominee Sharon Yates in November's general election, won 55 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. Five years ago, the ACLU sued Mr. Moore for his display of the decalogue and for having Christian pastors open court sessions with prayer. A federal judge threw out the suit, and Mr. Moore has pledged to take the Ten Commandments with him to the State Judicial Building if he wins Alabama's top judicial seat. "I don't know where I'll put them, but they'll go with me," he said. Meanwhile, school district officials in Tulsa last week ordered an elementary school principal to stop displaying the Ten Commandments at her school. Park Elementary School Principal Cindi Hemm complied, removing from the school's trophy case a six-inch square marble plaque that Red Fork Church of God gave the school in December. Interim Tulsa Schools Superintendent La Verne Ford Wimberly also told four other schools not to display plaques of the Ten Commandments given to them. Controversy over the plaque began when several parents complained about it to Martin Belsky, dean of the University of Tulsa law school. Mr. Belsky called Ms. Wimberly, who quickly ordered the plaque removed. Ms. Hemm said parents never complained to her about the display. "I never had a comment other than very positive comments," she said. high court sides with mother in dispute with grandparents
    Parents supreme?
    The Supreme Court last week struck down a Washington state grandparent-visitation law, arguing that parents have a "fundamental right" to raise their families free from government interference. The decision left Gary and Jenifer Troxel of Anacortes, Wash., with no legal right to see their two granddaughters. The couple had won in state court the right to spend more time with the two girls, who are the daughters of their dead son. But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in the high court's main opinion, said the state had gone too far: "So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children ... there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children." Both conservatives and liberals hailed the ruling, which still leaves many other visitation issues unresolved. The American Civil Liberties Union's Michael Adams called the decision "a serious blow to outside interference in family matters." Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice praised the ruling as well, calling the now-overturned state law a "sweeping intrusion into the family realm." MAN KNOWS NOT HIS TIME
    Ex-government official, philanthropist dies
    William E. Simon, a Wall Street multimillionaire, former government official, and philanthropist, died June 3 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis. Mr. Simon served as the Nixon administration's "energy czar" during the 1970s oil crisis. He was secretary of the treasury for President Gerald Ford, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee during the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, and president of the John M. Olin Foundation, one of the nation's largest donors to conservative and libertarian think tanks. Mr. Simon gave away $80 million of what he earned to various causes and two years ago announced his intention to give away his entire $350 million fortune. He was 72 years old when he died. QuickTakes
  • U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth last week ordered the White House to retrieve e-mail messages from President Clinton, the first lady, and 31 political aides as part of a lawsuit that claims the administration has attacked political opponents using confidential material. Judicial Watch, a conservative group, claims the White House routinely misused for political gain material protected by the Privacy Act. Messages demanded by the order concern FBI files, Linda Tripp, and Kathleen Willey, who accused President Clinton of sexual harassment. Mr. Lamberth said he will deal later with the problem that 100,000 or more e-mails were not archived and must be reconstructed from computer back-up tapes.
  • A study in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics suggests that the number of U.S. youngsters with emotional and behavioral problems is soaring. Visits to the doctor for such problems as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and learning disabilities more than doubled from 1979 to 1996.
  • The Air Force Academy is revamping the way it enforces its honor code after the Pentagon cleared a cadet of allegations that he violated the traditional pledge. Senior cadet Juan Nieves had been expelled for poor grades. He said his performance slipped because he had to defend himself against a professor's charge of honor code violations. An Air Force report released last week found that the cadet-run honor system failed to give Mr. Nieves a fair appeal and questioned the influence professors have in the system. Mr. Nieves won a rare reinstatement to the academy from Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters. The academy's code states: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate anyone who does." comic book industry hits hard times
    Holy bankruptcy, Batman!
    This looks like a job for Superman! The comic book industry is in sad shape. Sales are way down as kids focus their attention on competitors for time: TV, the Internet, and video games. The comic book world we know today may not survive the decade. The biggest gloomy sign for the industry is Marvel Enterprises' increasing moves away from being a comic book publisher to a "character-based entertainment" company that owns and licenses "3,500 proprietary characters." The company clawed out of bankruptcy in the 1990s and is trying to diversify. As the competition has increased, comics have become harder to find, moving from newsstands to specialized comic book dealers. This means that the only people who see most comics are the declining ranks of die-hard fans. The product itself has lost its way. Reading a comic book today is like watching a soap opera for the first time. Everything is campy and seems to run together. Marvel and DC have tried to make things easier by constantly restarting their characters with updated histories. DC abolished the classic Superman, for example, in 1986 and replaced him with a completely revised version. This only confused longtime fans and drew yawns from everyone else. One attempted fix-long-form "graphic novels," dark and brooding, designed to attract GenXers-created a new legion of cult fans. They helped make Batman an icon again, but didn't salvage the industry. What the comics publishers forgot is that their medium was intended as light entertainment. Comics worked best with good guys, bad guys, and larger-than-life interaction that gave readers an "Oh, wow" feeling. What exists now is an endless collection of self-referential stories than appeal only to the already committed. -Chris Stamper Will blimps carry bridges?
    Beyond ads
    On June 3, 1925, what became one of the world's longest running PR campaigns took to the skies over Ohio for the first time. Since then, the Goodyear Blimps and their imitators have flown over every Big Event imaginable. Goodyear spends about a million dollars per year just keeping each of these airborne billboards afloat. Fuji, Budweiser, MetLife, and Sea World all have blimps that compete with Goodyear's for attention. Now a German company, CargoLifter, wants to begin using dirigibles to move heavy things like turbines, preconstructed bridges, and oil rigs from country to country. Company chairman Carl-Heinrich von Gablenz plans to have 50 blimps stationed around the world by 2013. His workers are building a factory on an abandoned East German airstrip, allowing the construction of two blimps at once. He admits that his venture is risky, but argues that there's a place for blimps even in the digital age. "You can't transfer everything in bits and bytes," he said. Indentifying clusters
    E pluribus pluriba
    Are you a member of the Gray collars or the Urban Achievers? The Boomtown Singles or the Rustic Elders? The Young Literati or the Family Scramble? These are just some of the 62 different categories that demography guru Michael J. Weiss discusses in his book, The Clustered World (Little Brown). Mr. Weiss argues that a person's subcultural status is more integral to his identity (and buying decisions) than his age, ethnicity, or level of wealth. Kiss the melting pot goodbye, says Mr. Weiss. Today we live in E pluribus pluriba: "Out of many, many." The cluster mindset identifies who we are by the products we use. Each of the 62 groups has unique interests, tastes, and wants. Instead of a union of states, we have dozens of clustered micro-cultures that act in their own interests. This type of analysis is not new, but it raises questions that Mr. Weiss doesn't begin to answer: What does it mean to be an American? Does that question have any meaning now? And why, since we have all this diversity, do our media, political, and pop cultures all seem monotonal in content?

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