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Scott Shuger seems to have it wrong when he editorializes while reporting on coverage of cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliev’s press conference in “Today’s Papers“: “Imagine a NASA astronaut having the nerve to say such things! You’ll have to, because it’s never happened, even when things went as awry as they did with the Challenger.”

I guess Shuger doesn’t recall John Young taking NASA management to task about flawed decision-making after the Challenger accident. If he’ll refresh his memory, he might recall that Young, speaking as the leader of the entire astronaut corps, said astronauts would refuse to fly until there were significant changes in the decision tree.

I guess we’re so used to our freedoms here that we quickly forget their use.

Jim Andress

We Got NeXT

In “Steven Jobs’ Totalitarian Vision,” James Surowiecki is too hard on Steve Jobs when he notes Apple’s failure to build a business selling system software rather than complete computer systems. The Microsoft business model is an attractive one in hindsight, but before Microsoft, every large company in the industry’s history–IBM, Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard, etc.–had prospered by selling complete systems. In 1984, when the Macintosh was released, Microsoft was dwarfed by both its hardware-selling clients and the vendors of popular applications. It was Bill Gates’ genius to understand that his tiny company could own the link between those two sides of the business, reducing PC manufacturers to commodity box-builders and forcing software developers to compete with Microsoft applications on Microsoft turf. But as successful as the system-software strategy has been for Microsoft, it isn’t a panacea; see IBM’s experience with OS/2 and Jobs’ own experience with NeXTStep for counterexamples.

It is interesting to note what Microsoft gave up in order to pursue a software-only strategy: Today, 13 years later, Microsoft systems still do not approach the tight integration and polish of the original Macintosh. They don’t even know when the user has inserted a floppy disk! Jobs’ hubris was not that he wanted to own the personal computer business, but that he wanted to sell a product that was better than anything the industry could put together piecemeal.

Jim MatthewsHanover, N.H.

DOS and Don’ts

In “Steven Jobs’ Totalitarian Vision,” James Surowiecki gives one of the finest examples of Monday morning quarterbacking I’ve ever seen. He states, “[Jobs] wanted to make the computers and the systems that ran them. … Had Apple allowed Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, perhaps even IBM to build hardware running the Mac OS, it might very well have seen its software become the industry standard.”

Well, yes. We all know that now. But in 1982, it was taken for granted that the manufacturer of the computer also designed the operating system. I didn’t know anyone with a DOS system in the early ‘80s, but I knew plenty of people with Commodore 64s, TI 99-4As, Apple IIs, computers by Tandy, and even Timex–all with distinct and incompatible operating systems. This was the state of the industry when the Mac was born. Bill Gates realized it would be more efficient if all computers, regardless of manufacturer, ran the same system (which is why he’s the richest man in America today). As obvious as this insight seems today, though, it wasn’t in 1983–Steve Jobs didn’t realize it, my computer nerd friends and I didn’t realize it and, I suspect, James Surowiecki didn’t realize it either.

Kim ScarboroughChicago

High Infidelity

The premise of Jacob Weisberg’s “Adultery and Boredom” is simply wrong. The allegations against Mayor Giuliani and President Clinton are not the contemporary equivalent of Gary Hart’s videotaped escapades on the appropriately named Monkey Business. Do you remember the grainy video of Hart–stop motion, circle around Hart, circle around Rice, drinking, fun–that was broadcast for days on local and national news programs? Have you seen any such videos of President Clinton or Rudolph Giuliani? In the court of public opinion there is no parallel between video and a bare allegation–something often forgotten by zealous reporters and columnists. Weisberg’s conclusion that Americans are apathetic about infidelity may be true, but it is totally unsupported by his argument. If anything, the column merely supports the conclusion that the American public is more careful than Weisberg in branding individuals with a scarlet letter.

–Charles Van Cleef Tyler, Texas

Where There’s Smoke There’s Hire

Jacob Weisberg is certainly correct, in “Liberal Tobacco Whores,” to condemn the shameless immorality of liberal ex-politicians who have sold their services to the tobacco companies, but he fails to properly identify why their actions are wrong.

Defending the freedom of people to make dumb decisions is not morally wrong. Whether it is sky diving, eating Big Macs, smoking, or engaging in promiscuous sex, people should be free to take risks with their own lives. Advocates of the nanny state may respond that society bears some of the costs of these behaviors, but that is the fault of the health, welfare, and other government programs that protect people from the consequences of foolish behavior.

No, there is nothing at all wrong with defending tobacco companies. What is immoral, instead, is taking lots of money to lobby for something you do not believe in. This is why Ann Richards, George Mitchell, and all the others deserve the scorn of principled people of all persuasions.

Daniel J. MitchellThe Heritage FoundationWashington

True North

Jodie T. Allen’s “Polar Politics” makes us Alaskans out to be a pretty sorry lot. We would “log, mine, and drill every corner” of the state. We are an odd collection of “adventurers, loners, and losers,” as illustrated by a sex crime described in lurid detail. On top of that, we get huge gobs of money from Uncle Sam but are not sufficiently grateful.

We do have our share of “loners and losers,” but most Alaskans have families and jobs, go to churches or synagogues, and are the same as the rest of America except for having to dress warmer. We have chosen to live in a beautiful place where some of the world’s most scenic areas have been closed to mining and oil development forever. But thanks to advances in mining and petroleum technology, other areas of the state can be safely developed, leaving only a minuscule “footprint” on the environment.

As for federal spending in Alaska, keep in mind that you will get skewed statistics on a per capita basis when you are dealing with a small “capita.” The federal government is the outright owner of most of the land in Alaska and has financial responsibilities the same as any other landlord. Add to that Alaska’s strategic position in a world where the threat comes increasingly from Asia, and you can see that the money spent here on the military is hardly a boondoggle dreamed up by the locals. In addition, the federal government spends a large amount of money on Alaska’s native peoples. It would certainly save money not to deliver mail to scores of isolated native villages that can only be reached by air, but the natives hardly intend to apologize for living in their ancestral communities.

Sensible environmentalism deserves everyone’s support, and gets it up here. Environmentalism as a secular religion, though, is another matter. Alaska and Alaskans will never satisfy those who believe that the only good development is no development. Those with a more rational view, however, have been and will be accommodated.

Herb BerkowitzAnchorage, Alaska

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