Burton on the Bay:

Brave New World -

Big Brother Takes on Billionaire Bill

"We're here to help you." Sounds good, but for many citizens, those are among the most feared words spoken.

Especially when they come from the government. In this particular case, it's the United States government vs. Bill Gates, a battle being played out in the daily press as two armies of attorneys prepare their cases for a September court date.

I'm the first to admit I don't know much about computer technology or any aspect of electronics technology. When electronic fish-finders first came out, I was baffled; couldn't interpret what all those flashes meant on the small screen. I stayed with landmarks to position myself over fish.

When The Sun switched fully to computers nearly 20 years ago, I walked out of mandatory instructions, quit and went home in despair. Twenty years of work was about to go down the drain; what was wrong with the old Smith Corona typewriters?

Within the month, no more typewritten copy, was the edict of The Sun. Learn to use a computer. I tried, oh how I tried, but the damned things intimidated me, as had the first of the electronic fish-finders.

Sometime during that restless and sleepless night, I decided I wasn't about to chuck the best job in the country - covering outdoors, expenses paid - because of a computer. I'd go back to the office, learn how to write a column on the blasted thing. Nothing else.

And so it went for a decade and a half more. I wrote a column. Period. No heads, no fancy editing or configuring, no layouts or whatever else the computer geeks do with those intimidating machines.

Now, I have four computers but still one philosophy: just write columns and articles - no spreadsheets, games, or any of the other fancy stuff other than a modem to get the words from the Burton household to various editors, and a printer to make hard copies when needed. Oh yes, there's Spell Check; I've always been an atrocious speller.

I put my only son through college for a degree in computer science - he later got other degrees on his own - but I figure when a problem develops, he owes me essential services either via phone, coming home from Washington to straighten things out or perhaps devising a simple program to make things easier for me.

So here I am banging out a column on a Mac that has - if I want, which I don't - enough bells and whistles to figure my income tax, let me play bridge, send email around the world, lay out a book or do just about anything else other than the laundry.

You get my drift; I'm pretty much computer illiterate. But I know the rudiments of basic business, fairness, and I also know when the government says in so many words "We're here to help you," that it's time to lock the barn door.


Lock the Barn Door

I am in awe as 20-some state attorneys general climb on the bandwagon to join in the suit. Why it's like the tobacco hassle: everyone wants a piece of the action, you know, get some of the dough. It's easier and more palatable than raising taxes. Besides, it's an election year.

With tobacco - which curiously remains heavily subsidized by some of the same governments suing it - there's an undeniable health issue involved.

Many of these same money-grubbing governments are among those piling on Microsoft and Bill Gates, under guise of wanting to help us in an entirely different issue. They see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, not to mention the anticipated acclaim of the citizenry.

Thankfully, there are many Americans who still believe in individual initiative, whether it be by the practically penniless or the world's richest man, Gates. There are many who also believe in fairness and a balance insofar as monopolies are concerned.

There's passive envy like "I wish I had thought of that as Billionaire Bill did," and there's aggressive envy like, "Let's get some more of what he makes, he's got enough." It matters not that he probably shells out in taxes enough to balance the budget in Idaho. "We want more."

Basically the Department of Justice and its tag-along state attorneys general want Microsoft to either remove its Internet "browsing" technology from Windows 98 or include a browser made by rival Netscape, which incidentally is incorporated into my computer.

I lack the technological expertise to bring it on the screen, but I do have one version of Windows, which I have finally mastered to where I find it useful, and I thank Microsoft for making it available.

Hey, here's Big Brother telling Billionaire Bill - who incidentally started from scratch - to put in the competition's version of Internet browser or to remove his own, which incidentally we get in a purchasing package reasonable in price, at no extra charge for the browser. Whew, what's next?

I'm wondering whether what's next might be that with every New Bay Times that goes on the street, my publisher will have to include a copy of The Sun or Capital, or cease and desist from including news in each issue. Or Budweiser will have to include a few Coors with every six-pack put on the shelves.

The point man in all of this is really Big Brother, who fosters the biggest monopoly of all, the U.S. Postal Service, which allows virtually no competition in delivery of its biggest money-maker, first class mail, and which, incidentally, after its most profitable year ever tells us it's gotta raise our postage another penny on said first class mail.

Now that's what I call a monopoly, gouge the public, don't give anything away, get more, make more - and keep on cramming down our throats the useless but money-making junk mail that we can't even refuse - I've personally tried, but was told I couldn't. As a nuisance, junk mail rates close to telephone solicitors who continually pester us, which brings up an appropriate point.


Remember Ma Bell - And Weep

Remember when Big Brother broke up the telephone monopoly with the argument that "We're here to help you?" Look what we've got today: the phone company stacks charges on charges for what was formerly free; it turns solicitors on us like buzzards; it gives us stale weather reports. What's next, charging us for dialing to find the correct time? Thanks Big Brother, and I won't go into butting your nose into airlines, the trucking industry, electric utilities and such.

Perhaps Billionaire Bill should buy the U.S. Postal Service, I thought to myself the other day. He not only could afford it, he would probably run it better. At least we wouldn't have to worry about some time in the future being forced to buy an Indonesian stamp or two with the purchase of a book of the planned 33-cent stamps.

Then fantasies took over within this mind. Why not, Billionaire Bill, buy the entire government? You seem an astute businessman, something currently lacking in our state and nation. You deal in big money, and you turn a profit. Unlike Big Brother and his cohorts, you obviously don't know the definition of "operating loss."

We might passively envy your success, your income, your profit and loss statements, but we know a winner when we see one. Too bad they're so scarce in our aggressive-envious governments.

Enough said ...

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VolumeVI Number 21
April 8-14, 1998
New Bay Times

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