Hey, Ralph! Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Hey, Ralph! Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Hey, Ralph! Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Policy made plain.
Oct. 19 1997 3:30 AM

Hey, Ralph! Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Hey, Ralph! Where do you want to go today?

Hey, Ralph! Where Do You Want To Go Today?

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Ralph Nader, the legendary consumer advocate, recently announced plans for a conference called "Appraising Microsoft and Its Global Strategies." In response, Microsoft's Office of Special Services has asked Slate to extend a public invitation to Nader to visit the corporate campus here in Redmond. The OSS specializes in making people who want to appraise Microsoft's global strategies feel loved. Our initial response was that we didn't wish to be used in that manner. But the OSS internal liaison officer reasoned, "Look, bud, do you know who you're dealing with here?" And we took that to be a fair point.

Plans are well advanced to make Nader's day at Microsoft a delight. It will start with a magnificent rainstorm, which will hit just as Ralph emerges from the airport terminal. (He never carries an umbrella. "Do you know how many microbes there are on the typical umbrella handle?") As the Microsoft host team will explain to Nader, the company has acquired El Niño in an all-cash offer. Other weather patterns may be acquired in the future. No "global strategy" involved! The sole purpose is to provide weather users with a more consistent meteorological interface. A wide variety of weather will continue to be offered free of charge--to all registered users--because, well, that's just the kind of company we are. Certain select weather patterns (e.g., sunshine) will be fee-based, although eight days of balmy weather will come bundled with Office 2000.

Nader will be met and driven from the airport to campus in the company Corvair. A gala luncheon in his honor at the company cafeteria will feature Microsoft Food Service's justly famous high-nitrite hot dogs and unlimited seconds at the Additives Bar. After lunch, Nader will be given a sneak preview of Windows 98, to be made out of safety glass. Then, Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold will give a demonstration of Microsoft Air BagTM, experimental software to protect users from physical harm when their computers crash. (Every year, hundreds of computer users develop hernias or serious back problems from attempting to lift up their machines and fling them across the room. Microsoft Air BagTM is an instantly inflating balloon that will pin the user to his or her seat until the computer can safely reboot.) Nader already has called for the government to make air bags mandatory on all new computers.

But the undoubted highlight of the day will be an audience with Microsoft's CEO, which is scheduled to take place in the Throne Room of his new house. The original plan called for Nader to enter on his knees, fall prostrate, and apologize profusely for impugning the company's motives. He would then be taken off and melted into software. But all this changed when we told the CEO about Nader's mandatory-air-bags-for-computers idea. "Mandatory?" he said. "Require people to buy software? What a marketing concept! It fits in perfectly with our global stra ... er, our vision for humanity. I like the way this man thinks!"

You see? Why can't we all just get along?

--Michael Kinsley

Michael Kinsley is a columnist, and the founding editor of Slate.