The Breakfast Table

Go to Your Room, Microsoft

Dear Bill,

You’re a gem of a husband for starting off the “Breakfast Table” while I slept in. My cold is better. My head is clearing. And I was finally able to tackle the big story in the news–the story that I’ve been putting off reading anything about for weeks, months … OK, maybe two years. I was interested in the beginning of the antitrust investigations of Microsoft although also remotely turned off by the Goliath vs. Goliath aspects of it. But this morning, like all of America probably, I made up for lost time.

One of the beautiful things about the news, and the unfolding narratives it produces, is how we can check out for extravagantly long lengths of time–I am thinking about the three months we spent in Japan this winter, just riding around on all those rattling trains oblivious to the coughs and burps of America–and then, when you check back in, the reporters have to do all the work for you, writing stories which assume, once again, absolutely no knowledge about the subject.

The fascinating thing about this Microsoft decision, for me anyway, was being reminded that as far as the courts are concerned, a company is supposed to act like a person. And what happened is that Microsoft refused to be a good human being, and when reprimanded, it refused to feel bad. Or even act like it felt bad. The company remained in the trenches instead of jumping out, dropping to its knees, crawling on the grass before us and begging for leniency.

Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is right up there, for me, with “the end of greatness.” It’s either the most pretentiously pig-headed remark made worse in Latin, or one of those lovely sweeping from-the-mountaintop-of-wisdom statements that appeals to our most noble selves.

All of this has me pondering the James Salter Phenomenon more closely. You make a good point when you ask whether a writer is supposed to reveal everything in his memoirs. Of course not. And looking back, I see that I omitted crucial information in building my little case against Salter.

To be entirely honest, there were other things that bugged me about Burning the Days. How his wives got about a page each, for instance. His children got even less than that. But his experiences at West Point and as a fighter pilot–and his affair with the wife of a friend–go on and on and on (albeit, gorgeously). So do his reminiscences about meals and drinks and days spent in the company of famous people.

So when I said, yesterday, that it was one detail only that turned me against my favorite writer (and I do feel like I’m beginning to sound like that guy who shot John Lennon or something: Why do I care so much?) it was, really, just the thing that sent me over the edge.

Falsus in uno, as Judge Jackson employed it, has the same problem. I love his human approach, but its pretty clear his decision isn’t just about lying about illegal practices. Microsoft didn’t show proper respect for (Judge Jackson’s) authority. He felt that the company had done all kinds of questionable stuff–and when it continued to deny it had done anything wrong, the judge decided the company would never change.

OK, so I’ve argued both sides. But in Sherrill vs. Salter I think the verdict is clear: case dismissed.


Photograph of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson on Slate’s Table of Contents by Larry Downing/Reuters.