Uzbek border guards stopped an Iranian truck bound for Pakistan and seized its mysterious cargo, packed in 10 lead containers. Commenting on the cargo, a senior State Department official said, "We're not prepared to say it is or it isn't. We just don't know. We're trying to find out." Is or isn't what?
Send your answer by noon ET Thursday to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday's Question (No. 410)—"Breaking Up Is Hard To Do":
Having ruled that Microsoft violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson must now decide on a remedy. One alternative is to regulate the company's "conduct"; the other is to impose harsh "structural" sanctions. How will life be different if Jackson breaks up Microsoft?
"Ladies and Gentlemen: Nathan Myhrvold and Wings!"—Tim Carvell
"My Web browser, spreadsheet, word processor, and operating system will all crash independently of each other."—Charlie Glassenberg (Steven Davis had a similar answer.)
"All monologue jokes about rapacious rich stiffs will go back to being about Oprah."—Chris Kelly
"Mimicking the AT&T breakup, the smaller companies will be called 'Baby Softs,' which, by the way, would be a perfect name for a skin cream."—Tim Olevsky
"Not a problem. Lazaro González has convinced the citizens of Miami to surround Redmond and prevent the federal government from removing any of Microsoft's subsidiaries."—Charles Star (similarly, Matt Sullivan)
Click for more answers.
A hint to life after a reorganized Microsoft may be found in the breakup of John D. Rockefeller's mammoth Standard Oil into the "Seven Sisters," perhaps the finest women's universities our nation has ever known, although those Smith girls can be a bit snooty.
Reining in this mighty giant once seemed impossible. From 1870 to 1882, for example, Rockefeller and his cronies bought virtually all the refineries in Cleveland, Ohio, something that today would be a lackluster prank on yet another revamped edition of Candid Camera. Back then, Cleveland wasn't nearly as funny, while today it is Candid Camera that isn't funny. (Parenthetically—hence the parentheses—that Adam Sandler isn't so bad, and the kids seem to enjoy him.) Despite growing criticism of both Candid Camera and Adam Sandler, by 1879, Standard Oil controlled somewhere between 90 percent and 98 percent of the nation's refining capacity.
Anticipating government attempts to curtail its power, Standard Oil transformed itself into a holding company through the invention of the Trust, a legal device that should be discussed at another time, when we've all had a chance to calm down, have a glass, and get to know one another a little better. Despite this maneuver, government action in 1906 and 1911 under the Sherman Antitrust Act (a law seldom invoked before the invention of the Trust, which I really could explain; don't think I couldn't) broke the giant into seven or perhaps 34 separate companies.
No longer would a commodity essential to our industrial society be controlled by a small group of Americans who cared only about their own profits; instead oil would eventually be controlled by a small group of foreigners who cared only about their own profits. And some guys from Texas. Thus it was that the courts broke the grip of the oil giant on our transit systems, liberating us from our crippling dependency on the automobile, and ushering in the swift, efficient, and inexpensive rail lines that connect our great cities and the silent, nonpolluting unigyros that dot our urban skyways.
Combination in Restraint of Trade Answer
Joel Klein, chief of the Justice Department's antitrust section, believes that whatever remedy is applied, life will improve—"opening doors to competition, increased innovation and increased consumer choice in the software industry."
At Tuesday's Enterprise 2000, an Internet business conference, 46 percent of those voting favored breaking up Microsoft; 30 percent favored fining the company $1 billion. Not on the ballot: Taking Mr. Gates out behind the barn and giving him a sound thrashing, then having him offer a firm handshake and sincere apology to every computer owner in America and then forgetting the whole thing.
Andy Aaron's Real-Estate Epistemology Extra
From yesterday's New York Times, Page A14:
"The whole northern end of Santa Barbara County, a spectacular stretch of valleys and oak-dotted ranches popular with celebrities including Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson, is in an uproar."
How would anyone know what is popular with Ronald Reagan?
John Leary's Valiant Effort Extra
"For 410 News Quizzes now, I've been struggling to answer every computer question by drawing a humorous parallel between Linux and Charles Schulz's Linus. I give up. There ain't no funny there."
O'Grady's Content Extra
Too much humor has jaded the quiz participants. To restore your sense of proportion about the news, read this from the March 31 Staten Island Advance, a daily in the Newhouse chain.—Jim O'Grady
Frank Williams is a little quirkier than most of us. Don't be surprised if you see him whistling a happy tune along Hylan Boulevard. Or skipping stones at Great Kills Park. Why, he's even been known to hug a perfect stranger on the checkout line at Waldbaum's. That's because Frank Williams is The Good News Guy. Frank is one of those people who think we all spend too much time dwelling on the negative and overlooking the positive. Too often, Frank says, the news is dominated by murder, mayhem and mishaps. He wants to see more good news, more happy news, more positive news. We hear you, Frank. Beginning tomorrow and continuing every Saturday on the front page of the Advance, we're giving Frank a chance to share his optimistic outlook with all of us. His column will feature tales of good deeds and brighter horizons—real-life tales sent in by readers from all over the Island. So don't miss Frank Williams, the Good News Guy, Saturdays in the Advance. And give him a big hug next time you see him on the checkout line.
(William Buckley, same deal.—Ed.)
Cynical, albeit charming, belief that this entire judicial effort, if not life itself, is an exercise in futility.