Month: May 2000

ETS! Farmers’ Almanac

Bull, Run!

For some reason, people like to name cows after flowers–maybe because people often use cow shit to fertilize their flower beds. That’s just a guess. There could be other reasons, I suppose.

Maybe it has to do with the cutesy cartoon ideal of what a cow is supposed to be … fat, sweet, big-eyed, with a flower or two hanging out of her mouth. Sort of like a hippie who’s just eaten a whole pan of marijuana brownies. When we think of cows, we think “placid,” “maternal,” and a little stupid, of course.

But cows are smarter than we think; indeed, most animals are smarter than we give them credit for. People often assume that because a dog or cat can’t talk, they can’t understand what we say to or about them. Yet pets can feel shame, humiliation, or depression when they’re ridiculed as easily as any person … and so do cows.

Take, for example, Buttercup the Bull. It shames me to use his name; who could have dreamed up the name “Buttercup” for a bull? Some human idiot, of course–perhaps the same jerk who was trying to ride Buttercup like a horse at a recent bull-riding contest in Spokane County.

Buttercup, seeing his opportunity to get revenge, bucked the rider off his back. Instead of just running around inside the arena, like most of the other bulls, Buttercup had other ideas. He saw his chance and went for it. Buttercup jumped clean over a high railing, shoved his way through a fence, and made his escape from the rodeo ring. He headed directly for the road and never looked back.

Buttercup is no lightweight: 2,000 pounds of bovine muscle on strong, fast legs, with a neck and head like a bulldozer. And remember that Buttercup had been humiliated past all reason: given a stupid name, taunted and teased to make him angry so he’d buck harder, forced to wear a cinch around his chest and belly, shoved into a squeeze chute, and then forced to bear a 200 pound man on his back. If it was me, I’d be so angry I could spit … and so was Buttercup.

He ran and ran. The road was hard, but it felt good to be free. Whenever a person saw him coming down the road, they screamed and ran, and Buttercup would toss his head and snort to make them run faster. Buttercup was enjoying himself; it felt good to see people panic at the sight of a bull not tied up with a rope or tethered to a chain or fenced in. Cars slammed on their brakes and turned aside. Buttercup could stop traffic–no, Buttercup could clear traffic.

Soon police cars were following him, but Buttercup couldn’t tell the difference between a cop cruiser or a Nissan Sentra. He only knew that he had his own escort, like a herd. He made a turn and ran up a long, curving hill towards a bigger herd of cars. Soon Buttercup merged onto Interstate 90.

Traffic slowed. What in the hell was a bull doing on the highway? Cars honked and tried to pass Buttercup; he lowered his massive head and did permanent damage to a couple of cars. Each loud crunch was a satisfying sound.

Police cruisers wove through traffic, set up barricades, rerouted cars off I-90. How in the hell do you get a one-ton bull off the freeway?

Buttercup was starting to get tired, he slowed to a trot, then a walk. Finally, he stood in the middle of I-90 and stared back at the police cruisers, his sides heaving, his nostrils flared so wide a man could slide his fist inside one of them–if Buttercup would let him. Fat chance.

Buttercup’s owner tried to sidle up to the bull, but Buttercup lowered his head, pawed the ground, and let loose a deep, reverberating bellow. His owner dove into a police car and slammed the door.

After a radio confab, the cruisers slowly inched towards the bull. The plan was to surround the bull and escort him towards a nearby off-ramp. Buttercup, however, knew what it meant to be surrounded by metal–the slats of a pen, the bars of a squeeze chute–and he wasn’t having any of it. The bull tossed his head and crunch! One cop car down, a few more to go.

The cruisers backed off. Buttercup was tired, but he had won this round. It was time to find a good place to eat and rest. He spotted a wooded area not far away. That would keep the cars away. Buttercup wheeled around and was off, running across I-90 and into the brush to lose himself happily in the woods, to be surrounded by living trees and not dead fence posts and barbed wire.

Buttercup sojourned in the woods for a while and did what all cows (and bulls) do in the wilderness. He trampled through a trout stream and left a lot of his drool in the water as he drank. He ripped up a couple of endangered species of plants for dinner. He broke several lower branches off a couple of pine trees while trying to scratch an itch on his enormous back. And everywhere he walked, his cloven hooves tore up tender vegetation and sent tiny ground-burrowing creatures scurrying in every direction. In short, he had a great time, and did less damage than a Ford Bronco would have.

The next day, a person spotted Buttercup in the woods, and the police came back. This time they brought a trailer with a bale of hay inside. They thought he was hungry.

Buttercup put his ears back. The trailer smelled like slavery. He turned his back and went in search of the trout stream, so he could cool his hooves.

Later in the day, the police came back with another trailer. Inside was a bale of hay and two, sexy cows with their heads down, munching the hay, and their tails twitching lazily. Buttercup lifted his nose and sniffed the air. The cows smelled good. He called to them: come and join me! The cows turned their heads to gaze longingly at him. He could see that they were tied to the inside of the trailer. Buttercup snorted and stamped, tossing his head in anger. He retreated again into the woods, looking for a tree on which to sharpen his horns.

On the third day of Buttercup’s sojourn, a veterinarian arrived with a dart gun. Buttercup had no defense against the tranquilizer they shot into his shoulder. Within minutes, he was a prisoner again, a rope around his neck. They pulled and shoved him up a steel ramp and into a trailer. Poor Buttercup, head spinning, staggered into the trailer and collapsed into sleep.

Will Buttercup get more respect after his taste of freedom? Will his owner and the people who paid to see him be humiliated in the rodeo ring learn a lesson from all this? It’s not likely, but we can always hope so.

Wright Runstad Logs PacMed Site

Two neighborhood events occurred on Saturday, May 20: one a creative neighborhood improvement project, and the other a nightmarish scenario of outside developers destroying a public resource.

First the good news: a number of activists from the Displacement Coalition and other groups challenged Seattle’s no-sitting ordinance by placing benches on the sidewalk outside of various businesses in Belltown and Capitol Hill and inviting people to sit on them. The benches, unlike the cramped, cold, expensive monuments in the bus tunnel, are wide planks of wood on top of concrete bases–perfect for laying down. I promptly tried one out, and could even curl up on my side with comfort.

For those folks who want to find and sit (or take a nap) on these benches, they are located in front of: Green Cat Café, Portage Bay Goods, Utrecht Art Supply, Toys in Babeland, the Hi-Score arcade, Aurifice Coffee, Illy’s and Tony Jones Jewelry, and “F” on Capitol Hill, and at Bethel Temple, the Vain Company, Phil Hodges Gallery, the Speakeasy, and Sports Specialty on 2nd Avenue in Belltown.

The 30 or so people who built and painted the benches support the notion that small things on a human scale are what make neighborhoods livable. It increases foot traffic, decreases alienating and dangerous vehicular traffic, encourages a sense of community, and helps to support small, unique neighborhood businesses.

… The very antithesis of what large mega-stores like Amazon.com and large developers like Wright Runstad stand for.

At least one of the bench builders didn’t show up on Saturday to help put them out on the sidewalk. Bob Kubiniec and another person were arrested earlier that morning on the grounds of the former Pac Med Building on Beacon Hill.

For those folks who don’t remember: the old PacMed building used to be a public hospital managed by a city PDA (Public Development Association). A couple of years ago, the city closed down the medical clinic and, instead of going through a public process to decide what to do with the property, the city went through a secret negotiation process and signed PacMed away in a 100-year lease to developers Wright Runstad for a pittance. (Notably, WR’s lead man in the deal, Joel Horn, is a close friend of Mayor Paul Schell.)

Wright Runstad then turned around and released the historic building and beautifully wooded grounds to Amazon.com for a whopping profit. In the meantime, a handful of neighbors launched a fight against WR’s plans to cut trees on the property and expand the parking lot to accommodate all those new dot-com employees. But the historic designation of the site and the PDA prohibits altering the grounds in any way. The suit is still in appeal, but that hasn’t stopped WR from doing just what they want with the property anyway.

Back to Bob, who lives two doors away from the PacMed building. On Saturday, Bob came home to find that WR had erected two temporary fences on the PacMed grounds, with signs that read: “Private Property–Wright Runstad.” Standing behind each barrier was a security guard. Bob also noticed a police car lurking nearby. The sound of chainsaws and the sight of trees lying on the ground sent Bob running for his camera.

Aghast, Bob walked around the perimeter of the grounds, photographing the destruction of various large birch and Douglas fir trees. During his tour, he ran into another neighbor and told her what was going on. Appalled, they both decided to cross one of the barriers and ask who had authorized logging on public property.

They were speedily arrested by the lurking police unit (which raises interesting questions about how and why the city assigned Wright Runstad its own police car on a busy Saturday afternoon, especially with the U-District Street Fair in full swing). Bob was astonished to see Joel Horn pacing nervously around the grounds, directing the security guards and the police, and obviously expecting more neighbors to show up. Clearly Horn new that what WR was doing was wrong, and he had every expectation of public protest.

Both Bob and his friendly neighbor were taken to the South Precinct and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass. In the meantime, a logging truck has hauled away most of the evidence, including trees that were at least six feet in diameter. The formerly wooded north end of parking lot is now clearly visible from the street.

This whole business stinks of favors handed out by the mayor, with greased palms at city hall and the police department. Joel Horn, aside from being Paul Schell’s buddy, was one of the lead backers of the Seattle Commons project. Clearly, he’s learned that putting his plans before the people for a vote will lead to defeat (and for good reason). Instead, he and Wright Runstad have resorted to breaking the law, thinking that they’ll never be prosecuted as long as they have friends in high places. It’s time for the City Council to step in on this, and for a few activists to make sure the issue doesn’t die along with the trees Wright Runstad sawed up and sold off.

Microshift

Lately the news has been full of talk about the impending breakup of Microsoft. Newspaper articles, TV ads featuring Bill Gates’ pasty face, letters to the editor, folks calling in to radio talk shows–everyone wants to know the answer to a host of questions. Will it help or hurt competition? Will it be a boon or a burden for computer users? Will shareholders get burned? What about my stock options? What will it mean for the Puget Sound economy? Will it kill the stock market? Etc., etc. ad nauseam.

Anyone who’s been following the case knows that the only real question is: will it ever happen?

The answer: probably not.

Sure, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has ruled that Microsoft is in violation of anti-trust laws and is a functional monopoly. The case is currently in the penalty phase, and Justice Department prosecutors are asking for the company to be cut in two, with one company responsible for Operating Systems (i.e., Windows 2000, NT, and CE) and the other company in control of all the applications software (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer, etc.). This is exactly what I predicted a year and a half ago when the first arguments were being heard in the case.

This so-called “remedy” is no different from the agreement Microsoft signed with the Justice Department to head off an anti-trust investigation over a decade ago. In that agreement, Microsoft was supposed to keep a wall between its operating systems software unit and its applications software unit. Never happened. The company never undertook any separation of its software development units. It has proven impossible for the government to enforce the agreement, just as it will ultimately prove nearly impossible for the government to pursue a breakup. Here’s why.

Even as you read this, Microsoft’s lawyers are aggressively pursuing an appeals process that has every chance of overturning Judge Jackson’s ruling. The appeals court has already shown that it clearly favors Microsoft and is willing to reverse Jackson’s ruling.

The company is in for the long haul. Microsoft is not only appealing the ruling, it wants to subpoena all the documents Jackson used to make his decision. Then Microsoft lawyers want to cross-examine all of the expert witnesses. Then they want to appeal the penalty. This will take months, if not years. It’s already been nearly seven years since the Justice Department began its investigation of Microsoft; it could be another two or three or four years before the appeals process is finished.

Or it could end sooner, if George Bush, Jr. gets elected in November. Shrub has been heavily lobbied by Microsoft, he has a Microsoft lobbyist on his campaign staff, he’s taken Microsoft campaign contributions, and he’s condemned the anti-trust case. Gore, too, could alter the landscape at the DOJ; he’s also been the beneficiary of Microsoft largesse. A new administration in the White House may spell the end of the anti-trust case against Microsoft.

But let’s give the alarmists a little credence. What would happen if, against all odds, Jackson’s ruling stands and Microsoft is broken into two separate companies that can’t merge together for at least ten years?

Well, not much. The main goal of breaking up a monopoly is to create space for smaller–or at least different–companies to compete in the marketplace. This proposed split of Microsoft into two gargantuan companies will create–yes, you guessed it–two monopolies. So what if they can’t merge for ten years? They won’t be competing against each other; they’ll be cooperating–just biding their time, collecting market share, waiting for favorable conditions for a merger. In the meantime, there’s plenty of small fish out there for each of the them to swallow. The Microsoft applications software unit has always played second fiddle to the operating systems unit, because Bill Gates has always assumed that control of the operating systems market would lead to total dominance of the software industry. Once free of Windows, a new applications software company would be free to gobble up Oracle, Corel, Ariba, or even Commerce One. There’s nothing in the Justice Department’s “remedy” that would prevent this from happening.

Likewise, the split would have little or no impact on computer users. The software will still be expensive and full of bugs, just as it is today. Most programmers will still write their applications software to run on Windows, the dominant operating system. Hopefully, Linux would gain a few more fans. But could it ever overtake the Windows behemoth? It’s not likely.

Finally, for those business people who complain that the DOJ case against Microsoft is hurting the stock markets–don’t believe them. It’s the stupidity of short-term investors (which make up the bulk of investors today) that has driven the stratospheric rise and recent catastrophic falls in the NASDAQ and the Dow. Not every dot-com that sells frisbees on the Internet is going to make money, and some of those businesses are just now beginning to fail. That is what is driving the current market plunges, not Microsoft’s legal woes.

We can’t rely on the government to police Microsoft or come up with some solution that will increase competition–or quality–in the software market. It will have to be informed consumers who will make the difference. If enough people decide to desert the ranks of Microsoft users and select Linux or some other efficient and elegant new program, we may see a positive change. Until then, don’t expect any big changes in the status quo.

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