Under the terms of the trade embargo on Iraq it is illegal to supply, among other things, Internet connections to the country's citizens. This provision, put in no doubt by the Americans, is presumably expected to deepen the misery of the Iraqis' plight. The reverse is true. Lack of Internet access can only serve to keep the Iraqis' spirits up, and help them stay mentally and physically fit for the struggle against western imperialism. If American military leaders had any sense, they would send in AOL. Within a few weeks, the Iraqis would be as enfeebled as the average American college student, their brains turned to a soft, useless mush and their buttock muscles so atrophied by sitting in front of a computer as to render them incapable of movement of the lower body, and unlikely to put up much in the way of serious resistance.
The problem is that the Pentagon, like the rest of the US government, is taking advice from American academics, most whom believe that the Internet has educational value and is to be taken seriously. These halitosis-prone former hippies appear not to have noticed the adverse effects prolonged spells in cyberspace are having on the minds and bottoms of their pupils.
Many do not care to notice because they are in the pay of computer companies.
Some, like IBM, which has been pouring money into education for years, manage to combine commercial pragmatism with genuine altruism. Others, like Microsoft, don't. Shabby, see-through and shameless are all suitable adjectives for the low-rent "incentive" schemes tried by Molesoft's arch rival. At one time, Microsoft was said to be helping fund lecture tours by cash-strapped professors with offers of $600 for every mention of a Microsoft product.
Mole always thought this story a little far fetched until last week when someone sent him an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reports that a group of academics were paid $10,000 a year each under the so-called Microsoft Scholars scheme. Quite what they were paid for remains unclear, though Microsoft says the academics were not asked to endorse products but simply to act as a "brains trust" advising on the development of software for the higher education market. The article stops short of saying that Microsoft's pants are on fire, but cannot resist noting that the academics concerned were all prominent speakers on the lecture circuit.
Not content with saving itself money every time a customer books a flight over the Internet, the ludicrous Delta Airlines has decreed that in future customers who opt for more conventional booking methods will have to pay a $2 surcharge for the privilege. This is Ecommerce gone mad, and if it proves to be the start of a trend, Mole will move to somewhere beyond the reach of the Internet - Iraq, perhaps, or the north-west of England.
You don't have to wait until next year to laugh at technology related disasters. They happen every day. Take the case of the German businessman who drove his BMW at high speed into the Havel River. When police fished him out, the man explained that his in-car navigation system had failed to warn him of the need to stop and cross the river by ferry. "This sort of thing can happen when people rely too much on technology," said a police spokesman, braking hard to avoid a collision with the bleeding obvious.
Meanwhile a cautionary tale from the Ukraine, where a businessman set out to buy new year's gifts for his staff. Demonstrating the thoughtfulness for which Ukranian businessmen are renowned the world over, the man settled on 50 pagers. As he drove home with his gifts stowed on the back seat of his car the pagers suddenly went off, alarming him so much that he ran straight into a lamp post. Crawling from the wreckage, he discovered the cause of the accident: the pagers had been set off to deliver the message "congratulations on a successful purchase!"
What was behind Bill Gates' churlish attack on Intel last year? In videotaped evidence to the Department of Justice, Mr Gates answered charges that he had warned Intel to keep its nose out of the software market. "I suggested that it wasn't helpful to any of their goals or our goals to have software that had incompatibilities and was low quality and broke," his Billness said. What is Microsoft, self-styled champion of unfettered competition, afraid of? Surely there is room for more than one vendor of low-quality software. If he insists in having the market to himself, Mr Gates will be laying Microsoft open to further charges of monopolistic behaviour and playing right into the hands of the DoJ.
News has just come in that the Microsoft Scholars have been disbanded, and not because the company fears the scheme will damage its image but because it believes it has served its purpose. Dayton Dillweed Jr, Chief Evangelist at Microsoft Edutainment (Disbursements and Disinformation division), told Mole: "We don't need to pay to get the message across.
Kids today are so stupid they'll buy our products whether we bribe their teachers or not."
Barney the dinosaur, currently under investigation by the CIA on charges of espionage and sexual offences involving minors, was unavailable for comment.
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Prominent academics are invited to ring 0171 316 9068 to apply for the prestigious post of Molesoft Professor of IT Studies at the University of Watford, which is worth #100,000 a year to the successful applicant (subject to hitting minimum product-mention targets).
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