The Breakfast Table

Another Day, Another Diatribe


You make a compelling case to keep Social Security in our sights and out of the private sector, and your statistics on payments to elderly women are chilling. According to a study done in 1997, girls aged 13 to 15 had an average of $45.10 a week at their disposal ($23.60 contributed by allowances). That adds up to $2,345.20 a year, 36 percent of the average Social Security income you just cited for women over 65.

I turned to the Wall Street Journal for more info on Social Security–but you’re right, it’s a dead issue. Instead I found an item that AOL sought a temporary restraining order against AT&T to prevent the phone company from using the phrases “You’ve Got Mail” and “You Have Mail” for its WorldNet customers, while filing for trademark protection of those pathetically mundane little words that wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, even if they were wearing party hats. AOL wants to claim “Buddy List,” as its own, too, which means that the president’s dog will be at least 50 percent in violation. AOL argues that the words are indelibly linked to them now, pointing out that the movie “You’ve Got Mail” sought permission to use the name. But shouldn’t that twerpy singsong voice have to be part of the deal? And why does it use the contraction when the printed words on the screen say “You HAVE Mail”? (Please don’t tell me that Wired has dedicated a hundred articles to this question. I still don’t know the answer.) A professor of USC’s Annenberg School for Communications said, “You can’t start claiming that the English language is your trademark.” I agree, but where has he been? Life is trademarked. Time is trademarked. A judge denied the motion for the restraining order, but I tremble for phrases like “mail read” and “mail sent” and that ever-popular “keyword.”

Another fine hissy fit from your friend,