Monday, May 18, 1998

Microsoft vs Megahard

OK, the US gummint is going after Microsoft in a Sherman Act trustbusting court case. The cause: bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, which stomps the competition -- Netscape and friends. Why did Gates do that in the first place? What's he up to?

This has been said before, but let me boil it down for the record.

Gates has foreseen (like SF writers 15 years ago) that the PC is going to evolve from a home number-cruncher for writing letters and doing taxes. It's going to turn into a media platform, connected to the pipeline of the Internet the way your tube is connected to coaxial cable (and Comcast and other monopoly mofos pumping in content and charging what the traffic will bear). Once a fiberoptic network gets put in place, bandwidth will shoot through the roof. This bandwidth will allow bigass sound and video files to zip into your CPU with ease. Granted Moore's law, the box of the future will have a shitload of processing power. People will watch TV and movies -- and possibly create their own TV and movies -- on their PCs. Like Colossus and his commie AI counterpart, TV and PC will probably merge.

I'm not exactly sure who owns -- or is going to own -- the emerging fiberoptic spiderweb. The phone companies? Comcast? The government? Is it a public utility? Is it subject to common carrier laws? Don't ask me.

But I'm pretty sure Bill Gates is not going to own it.

So, if you can't own the road -- own the toll booths. Own the portal at the end of the web where all the content pumps into the user's PC. In other words, own the Internet Browser.

That's his strategy. Gates has seen that the PC will become a media platform -- and the receiving end of a media pipeline connected to a media market. I.e.: content for sale. It's a safe bet that he'll be selling. Like Sony -- he's also going to go into the content creation and distribution business. Probably buy a TV network and a recording company or two, maybe a movie studio. Or build Gates Studios in Seattle from scratch. Or create a virtual studio, networked together from content creators all over the country. But he'll be selling.

That's what makes this important. It ain't the monopoly of today Gates is interested in. It's the monopoly of tomorrow.

Bundling IE lets him get a leg up on the competition of future content providers. If he pulls it off, Gates will potentially have a record store, a video store, a movieplex -- and who knows what else -- inside your computer. Gates will be in the position of the old Hollywood Studios, who owned both the production end and the distribution end -- the movie palaces where audiences paid to watch their content. This will not be an official monopoly, but he'll dominate the market. It'll just be easier to go to the Bill Gates jukebox and click the tune you want. If he gets his infrastructure in place ahead of the competition, that is.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I hate monopolies. On the other hand, monopolies get things done -- especially in terms of massive, infrastructural networks. Like railroads, electricity, telephone, etc.

This sorta thing works on a feedback loop. If the network's in place, folks buy more stuff which prompts the network builders to expand and upgrade the network allowing the sale of more stuff; hence creating another feedback loop jump starting the creation of more content for this new market; and another feedback loop energizing smarter and better PCs with more and more processing power.

We could easily wind up with the giant, flatscreen, voice-operated, high definition computer/TVs as seen in Back to the Future II by 2005. If the government busts Microsoft cyberspace landgrab -- or even slows it down -- this quantum leap of tech could take another ten years or so. The tech firms and venture capitalists gambling on this wave of business opportunity could wind up on their collective ass. Silicon Valley could turn into Death Valley. That's probably pessimistic. But it's probably realistic to think a Microsoft antitrust bust will put the future on hold.

I hate monopolies.

But I want my flatscreen, voice-operated MTV.

It's a dilemma, ain't it?

Friday, May 1, 1998

Scalia Redux

Mayday! Mayday!

Sorry if this isn't funny, goddamnit, but now that I'm thinking about this shit I can't stop...

And it's not funny.

The Clinton witchhunt is a symptom of a larger, well-orchestrated attempt to destroy American civil liberties -- an attempt very much along the lines of the earlier attempt by Reagan's crew to undermine the social and economic structures of the New Deal and Great Society that well, uh, essentially, how shall I put this...worked.

I.e.: they've axed entitlements -- and now they're chopping away at rights.

Because the people behind this investigation -- in terms of their basic philosophical worldview -- don't believe in rights. They believe you have the right to do the right thing at all times. And if you don't...

The state has the right to do whatever it has to do to find you out -- even if that happens to be, well, sorta, kinda illegal, and even if the target happens to be the President. 

Which is what's happening now...

It's a Holy Crusade, so holy it feels entitled to bend the rules in its zeal to stick the sacred spear where the spear must be stuck. And it's the Crusade that bothers me, not what Willy does with Little Willy.

But Jack...what he did was wrong. He put her hand on his dick...

Yeah, well, I'm worried about these knights on horses with swords in their hands.

But what if he did something really bad? That's not just sexual harrassment, that's sexual assault.

Sorry, I'm more worried about that guy on fire over there...

But what he did was wrong. Don't you care?

Look. Whether Clinton did something wrong -- even wrong, not just in the eyes of somebody's system of morality but in the eyes of the law -- is irrelevent. The key issue is the fact that the investigation into Clinton's private life is illegal, unconstitutional and unjustified, no matter what dirt it uncovers. 

Illegal? Yep.

What we're really talking about is a constitutional revolution by stealth, a revolution striking at the heart of "government of laws, not of men," and the foundation of that government -- namely the separation of powers.

(Much of this stealth revolution was funded and fought for our friends at Christianity Inc. with all the money and mindless followers that represents -- though it's pretty damn obvious that behind the Religion of Money there is ultimately the Money of Money, which is the true Godhead source of the Plastic Jesus who walks the earth today in His quest to cast liberals and leftists everywhere into hell and make the earth safe for corporations. But I digress...)

The shape of this revolution is a blurring of the distinction between judiciary and legislature as anything other than one fighting force on a crusade to enact the will of the Right which, at the moment, seems to be for Bill's head (big or little remaining to be seen) on a plate...


The moral, godfearing reason: he has broken the commandments and must be punished.

The amoral, realpolitik reason: the executive branch, inconveniently, has still not been entirely absorbed in the Republican fighting amoeba. 

Which is the ultimate end of the stealth-revolution.

The foundation for this stealth-revolution was laid via the court-stacking in the Reagan revolution. Watch and learn how your government works!

The effect of an increasingly right-wing judiciary and a Republican supermajority in Congress was the defacto elimination of the separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch. This was expressed via a series of rotten legal decisions whose rottenness was revealed by their lack of basis in any consistent judicial philosophy -- but only the immediate needs of political expediancy.

Not: from this legal principle that legal conclusion follows.
But: it's in our interest to axe this agency, gut this law, punish this maverick, therefore we'll change the law and the principle behind it to get what we want.
Our agenda now=the law now.
For now.

Faux-conservative judicial activism, in other words. A government of men, not of laws.

Which began as a stealth-revolution very soon was not so stealthy. It all came out in the open with three bad Supreme Court decisions: one stripping away the right to privacy and against self-incrimination in regards to private diaries and notes and minutes concerning Presidential staff meetings and legal counsel not deemed specifically relevent to his executive duties (what's that mean? us the notes and we'll decide); another decision opening up the Presidency to attack from civil law suits; another, back in 1988, establishing the authority of an Independent Counsel to examine abuses by the executive branch.

More than anything else, it was that decision which led to the erosion of the separation of powers and the rule of law -- 

For the reason for that, consider Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion...

as an illegal right wing conspiracy has blurred the distinction between judiciary and legislature, merging the two together into one efficient fighting force to enact the will of the extreme right wing of the Republican party and the money for which they stand. 

A conservative justice worthy of the name because, whether I agree with his principles or not, the man at least has them.
Clinton may have compromised, but not enough, baby...

And what's the point of having a Death Star if you can't show what it can do?

that people are people, as opposed to some being born to rule and some being born to serve; I believe that governments exist for people, not the other way around; I believe that people give their governments the right to exist, not the other way around; I believe that rights adhere to the individual, as opposed to being granted to the individual by the state; I believe that it's the job of government to keep some people from taking away the rights of other people; aside from basic respect for the law, I don't believe the people owe any sort of active duty to the state -- especially when it comes to a state-sponsored prescription for somebody's notion of morality. 

This sphere of freedom, paradoxically, includes the freedom to give up your freedom -- consensually -- whether through contract, bondage and discipline, or the claims of religion. I support your freedom of self-enslavement, whether by wearing tennis shoes and drinking cyanide to join the great Mother Ship in the sky or wearing brown shoes and joining the Promise Keepers. The Kingdom of God, as blowdried pulpit demagogues are fond of bellowing, is not a democracy. Jesus is the head of the church; the body of Christ is knit together by obediance; each part performs its rightful function -- the janitor, in his rusted Volvo, being the janitor, the Senior Pastor, with his leased Lexus, being the Senior Pastor, all being servants, really -- children should obey their parents, wives should obey their husbands, everyone should obey the state, because all authority is ordained of God and the centurion does not bear the sword in vain -- and, at least in theory, there is no right to Christian revolution, only the right to turn cheeks, walk extra miles and (following David's example) not grumble against the King, no matter how big an asshole he is. Up to you.

It's called freedom of religion just so long as it's up to you.
It's called fascism the minute it becomes ordained by the state.

(All this goes back to the covenential/governmental theology of St. Augustine who held that the Church, the "City of God," was properly God's literal kingdom, establishing dominion on earth and replacing the forfeited convenant of those disobediant, Christ-killing Jews. Protestants have held a schizoid view along these lines ever since the split, some (particularly Lutherans and Calvinists) holding that it's the duty of the Church -- us that is, not those rotten Papists -- to take over the kingdoms of the world for Jesus, others (particularly any denomination with roots in the Anabaptist movement) holding that the world and its governments are essentially corrupt, and that it is the duty of Christians to stay separate from all that shit.)

(Speaking of which, I may think this kinda thing is the pursuit of happiness in a different form, you may think it's a disease. Even so -- )
fags, communists, drug dealers, pornographers, prostitutes 

You as a Christian of course know that people are rotten with the disease of sin -- especially all those other people. You should know that any 

The cure is worse than the disease -- and none of the Government's business.

which is why we've had slavery, the slaughter of native Americans and Japanese internment camps on the one hand, 

I am, essentially, a turncoat libertarian, having turned my coat after I discovered that corporations and the power of money are just as capable of abusing human freedom as the gummint. That being said, my opinions don't fall into neat liberal/conservative categories. I'm a liberal in the original sense. I am someone who believes that freedom is a good thing.

Sounds cracker-barrel obvious, even, well, self-evident, don't it?
What "believing in freedom" means is: I believe in the tenets of Liberalsm -- namely, 

Chopping away at rights? "GORRSHHH!" as Goofy might say. "Who'd wanna go and do a thing like that?!?" Well, you see, Goofy, not everyone thinks that human rights are a good thing -- or even exist. "But...we're talking about freedom! Doesn't everybody think that freedom's a good thing?"

Our seemingly cracker-barrel (if not self-evident) notions of freedom and human rights goes back to original recipe 18th century enlightement Liberalism -- which held that it's the right of the state (and the proper sphere of law) to tell people not to do wrong. This displaced earlier authoritarian notions -- divine right of kings, chain of being and all that -- which were grounded -- surprise surprise! -- in Christianity. 

The old view: the King is the head of the state, the people the body. The people derive all "rights" from the King's good pleasure, rights which the King can revoke, however arbitrarily, at any time. The King is answerable to no man but only to God -- before Whom he will have to give an account on the last day. Duty, on the part of the King's subjects, is active. Life is, properly, one sustained act of Christian service and devotion to God, performed under submission to the authority of God's servant, the King, authority which flows through the King's ministers, submission to which properly includes tithing, religious service, speech not tending to blasphemy and profanity and respectful to the rightfully ordained Authorities along with, of course, what you do with your naughty bits.

The new view: rights are inherent to individuals, the protection of which is conferred to the state by individuals, which is why the state has a right to exist. The state can't take away your freedom because your rights, ultimately, are inalienable. The people, however, have the right of revolution when the state no longer serves them. The state's sphere of authority is negative -- meaning you're free to pursue happiness as you see fit, just so long as you don't violate someone else's rights. The state can tell you not to do wrong. The state can't tell you to do the right thing. That's none of the state's goddamn business.

In theory.

Since history is messy (and people hypocritical) the new view never exactly replaced the old one. The two existed side by side, jumbled up, and there has always been a contingent in the West that never really quite believed in this "unalienable rights" crap. 

So, you see Goofy, not everyone was actually enlightened in the Enlightenment in the West. And some of those people have been fighting the theory and practice of original-recipe Liberalism since day one.

Namely the extreme right wing -- by whatever name they've chosen to call themselves over the years...

In our century, this point of view has been represented in the West by fascists (who now like to call themselves "authoritarians") and religious extremists, usually Christians, who feel that the state should be subsumed into the Kingdom of God. What these two groups have in common... 

Fascism (sometimes harkening to various divine revelations, sometimes survival-of-the-fittest pseudo science, sometimes both) holds, as does the political expression of radical Christianity, that freedom is the freedom to do what's right -- at all times.

Just like it was back in them there "divine right of King" days.

The notion, usually screamed with great outrage, "NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO DO WRONG!" is, of course, the standard excuse for violating civil liberties. Dirty Harry grinds his bootheel on the raw hamburger bullethole wound in Scorpio's leg as Scorpio screams like a pig because, goddamnit, Dirty Harry has to find out where Scorpio has buried alive the girl he kidnapped in time to save her. We'll break into your house or tap your phone illegally -- because we know you're a drug dealer. We'll beat a confession out of you, because we know you did it. We'll send Dreyfuss to rot on Devil's Island because we know he's not a patriot -- he's a Jew. We, the righteous death squad, will beat the nuns, rape them and kill them because we know they're not nuns -- they're communists.

And we'll feel like righteous, avenging angels every step of the way.

This contingent has always been around: in France, in England, in Italy, in Germany, in the United States. And sometimes they take over.

My problem with this crowd and their agenda is that is I'm an unreconstructed, authority-hating hippyfreak addicted to the Satanic messages I hear when I play my Frank Zappa albums backwards. Ustinjay's problem, as a righteous True Believer, should be with the possibility of the cruel shoe winding up on the other foot one day, especially considering that (at least according to the press releases) he comes from a religion whose founder was killed in an "illegal trial." 

In the interest of forcing people to do good, and rooting out all the nasty hidden wrongs...the True Believers are giving another class of people, namely the forcers and the rooters, an immeasureable, ungovernable, unaccountable power. They may uncover and punish a few dirty deeds -- but at the cost of stripping away civil liberties and the right to privacy.

Is it worth it? 

A network of finks, wiretaps and hidden surveillance cameras could eliminate all kinds of abuses from kidnapping to copyright fraud -- and why stop there? Come to think of it, a  small elite contingent of Waffen SS paratroopers could, very quickly, find all the bad people in a given community and kill them, after which the new Christian State would establish the Kingdom of God on earth, as people would, once again, be compelled by law to Do the Right Thing under the whiphand of somebody.

Abortion could be eliminated, cultists, from Hindoo to Pagan, made to endure the fate of the Mideanites; pornography and obscenity banned; divorce made illegal; the right to beat wives and children restored to male heads of Christian households; profanity, blasphemy and disrespect for authority driven out of TV and movies; drinking and Sabbath-breaking made illegal on Sundays; smut removed from libraries and prayer restored to the schools. 

The True Believers' idea of heaven on earth is close to my idea of hell on earth. On the bright side? Well...

If they ever really did get what they prayed for...

...instructed by barbed wire, cattleprod and truncheon, they would soon find their brave new Jesus State to be no peaceable Kingdom. 

So the cure is worse than the disease in any case.

The reason being: going back to the Enlightenment, there have always been a few people who didn't buy into this "inalienable rights" crap. People we lovingly refer to as the extreme rightwing.

An original-recipe Liberal is concerned, more than anything else, with preventing the State from applying its cures for human rottenness.

Which is why we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights -- documents which are more concerned with checking the abuse of power than compelling people to do good.

All this may sound extreme in connection with Clinton. We're not talking barbed wire and concentration camps...we're talking an investigation into whether he's kept his willy where it's supposed to be.

But it's still, primarily, DotheRightThingGate. It's all about "character," after all, not a specific incident or allegation. Certain people with large sums of money just knew he was a rotten fellow -- and got an investigation going (in press and judiciary) which culminated in the current urethra probings of the absolutely unaccountable Independent Counsel -- all the better to find something, anything, on this rotten guy.

And maybe they did. But at what cost and what motivation?