Viewers of the CBS Morning News on May 21 got a special treat. Henry Kissinger was on the air, not to pontificate about the fine mess of world politics, but rather to forecast the nation’s weather. What a relief it was, watching him discuss something about which he could do nothing! His timing was perfect. […]
Viewers of the CBS Morning News on May 21 got a special treat. Henry Kissinger was on the air, not to pontificate about the fine mess of world politics, but rather to forecast the nation’s weather. What a relief it was, watching him discuss something about which he could do nothing! His timing was perfect. Seventeen years ago almost to the day, the only other politically active weathermen in United States history made their last formal appearance. These people were called the Weather Underground, and on May 9 1974, they published Prairie Fire, a manifesto advocating a communist revolution. At the time, Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. Kissinger and the Weather Underground owe their importance to the same quirks of history, particularly the war in Vietnam. During the turbulent 1960s, Kissinger was plucked from academia by Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York and a presidential aspirant.
Kissinger became his foreign policy advisor. Rockefeller’s campaign soon fell by the wayside; Richard Nixon won the Republican party’s nomination and the Presidency. Kissinger became an advisor to Nixon in 1969 and Secretary of State in 1973. During the Nixon years, IBM Corp had a problem. The day before Nixon took office, Lyndon Johnson’s Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, filed an antitrust suit against IBM. Ramsey Clark’s father was Tom Clark, the Attorney General whose 1952 antitrust suit led to the 1956 consent decree that still governs IBM’s activities. The 1969 suit persisted until early 1982, when the Reagan Administration finally dropped it. While Kissinger amassed power and IBM thrashed about in the courts, the war in Vietnam engendered widespread opposition, most of it sweet-tempered and idealistic but some quite militant. At the far fringe was the Weather Underground: bomb-throwing radicals who saw the war as only one manifestation of an evil society and the political turmoil as an opportunity to forment revolution. The Weathermen cleverly addressed every discontented group and individual they could conceivably exploit, including minorities and feminists whose complaints about American society made embarrassingly good sense. The radicals were smart. In Prairie Fire they appealed to prospective supporters using words spoken at a Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, held in 1851: That man says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and a’n’t I a woman? I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me – and a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well – and a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen them most all sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard – and a’n’t I a woman? The speaker was abolitionist Sojourner Truth, a religious woman who probably wouldn’t have cared for the Weather Underground’s communist atheism. The well-researched biography written by Peter Krass points out that Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Van Wagener, a slave, in the 1790s. As a child in Hurley, New York, she spoke only Dutch.
By Hesh Wiener
She always had an accent. Sojourner Truth must have sounded a little like Henry Kissinger. The Weather Underground, like Nelson Rockefeller, came and went. But Kissinger the weatherman is still very much with us. His impish grin and broken body English have a persistent appeal. He is a Faustian nerd prodigy, grown old but not elderly, a short man married to a tall, big-boned woman – a woman built like Sojourner Truth. IBM has aged, too, and, like Kissinger, it knows very well how to cope with changing conditions. The company’s mainframe business has been altered almost beyond recognition from what it was in the Vietnam war era. Where IBM used to sell computers, it now sells pieces of computers. Instead of processors, it sells upgrades. Serial number plates and entire process
ors move from one frame to another as IBM renovates 3090s, making them into ES/9000s. The difference between IBM’s actual behaviour and the way it is apparently viewed by, for instance, lawyers, is striking. The judicial establishment seems to have no more understanding of IBM than the Weather Underground did of the political forces that led to the Reagan era. Supposedly keen observers look at the IBM of today but see the IBM of yesteryear. The proven strategy IBM uses to build its business is as constant as Kissinger’s genius – and necessarily as imperfect. Like Kissinger’s tactics, IBM’s are fair game for thoughtful examination. A clue for outsiders seeking to understand the computer maker can be found in the events that precipitated Kissinger’s entertaining stint as a television weatherman. Several weeks ago, during an interview, Henry Kissinger told a television audience that predicting events in as the Middle East was complicated and that sometimes he would rather forecast the weather, where at least the predictions could be verified. The CBS newsreader immediately invited Kissinger to try his hand at meteorology. Kissinger’s lapse into empiricism suggests a way of looking at IBM that might well help all of us better understand the nature of its industry. Before debating the rights and wrongs of the situation, we should examine the basic facts of the mainframe business as it is now conducted. We could find out, for example, precisely how many mainframe computers are purchased whole and how many are built on the foundations of an older machine. IBM’s mainframes are like land, and the processor components within them like buildings. Any assessment of the property must include both the land and what has been built on it. After all, IBM’s software prices rise when one set of processor circuits is replaced or supplemented by another set.
IBM’s maintenance fees are also based on a mainframe’s innards and not the frames that house them. This sort of analysis has not yet been done by various interested parties, such as leasing companies, that compete with IBM. Instead, they rely on vague and obsolete generalities. These days, when IBM and third-party lessors seem as likely to meet in court as at a customer’s premises, a careful survey of the mainframe landscape is overdue. For want of proper research, the purported analysis of the computer trade presented in court papers resembles the Weather Underground’s book, Prairie Fire, to a disturbing extent. Lawyers for IBM and Comdisco Inc are going at each other with hammer and tongs… but neither side seems to be talking about the simple facts of the underlying business. The litigators’ characterisation of the computer industry is very interesting, but it describes a fictitious world, while we have to live in the real one. All kinds of facts and observations are piled up, dozens of legal cases are referenced, but nowhere is there an indication that anyone has asked the basic questions: Just what is the nature of the mainframe trade? What is legitimate and fair in terms of the actual business and the interested public? What does each party really want? What are they entitled to get and how are they allowed to pursue it?The time is ripe for revelation.
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