Steve Ballmer hasn’t been getting much love recently. On Friday, when he announced that he plans to retire as Microsoft’s C.E.O. at some point within the next year, the firm’s stock had its best day in years, rising seven per cent. Since that Bronx cheer from the markets, the critics have been piling on, describing Ballmer as the tech boss who somehow managed to miss search, social networking, and mobile—the three big trends that have revolutionized the industry in the past decade and a half.
Tim Bajarin, the president of the research firm Creative Strategies, told Bloomberg News: ”He stayed too long at Microsoft with a position focused on PCs, and didn’t really anticipate the dramatic impact of mobile computing.” MacDaily News called his thirteen years as C.E.O. “the luckiest dorm assignment in the history of the universe.” (Ballmer met Bill Gates, who eventually appointed him as his successor, when they were both students at Harvard.) My colleague Nick Thompson noted that Ballmer’s “reign has done more to defang Microsoft than the Justice Department could ever have hoped to do.” Even Paul Krugman took a day off from bashing the Republicans to weigh in, comparing Microsoft under Ballmer to a medieval dynasty that was too corrupt and complacent to fight off the barbarians.
The beloved ritual of summer vacation is often said to have begun in agrarian communities, where parents needed their children’s help on the farm during the hot months. In actuality, much of the credit belongs to the nineteenth-century urban élite, who rallied to get their kids out of school so that they could all go on holiday together. Policymakers, intent on standardizing schooling across the country, gifted kids nationwide with summer vacation, and since then those long months of frog-catching and lemonade-sipping have been written into the lore of American childhood.
There’s a bizarre dissonance that comes with watching the first black Attorney General give a speech to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and recognizing that the themes of his speech might have fit well with those given at the original march, in 1963. In an array of speakers at a commemorative event in Washington, D.C., on Saturday that included Medgar Evers’s widow, Myrlie, the N.A.A.C.P. president Ben Jealous, and Congressman John Lewis, the most sustained applause greeted the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. That Eric Holder’s speech made explicit some implied truths—“But for the movement,” he said, “I would not be Attorney General and Barack Obama would not be President”—and nodded toward the humbling tenacity of unnamed thousands is not particularly surprising. That he went on to articulate a demand that the right to vote be protected for every citizen, and that the criminal-justice system be freed of bias, is alternately noteworthy and depressing. The speech was, in that way, a metaphor for the original event and for the circumstances in which it took place. The organizers saw that march as a way to elevate the cause, but their more radical critics wondered if it would really bring about any change. If there were any doubt about history’s verdict on which side of that debate was right, Holder’s speech was clarifying: both were.
The second time a woman appeared out of nowhere, to ululate and shout the praises of Hosni Mubarak in front of television cameras, something started to seem fishy.
She’d first appeared mid-morning on Thursday, walking up to the group of reporters who were camped out at the entrance to Tora Prison, on the southern edge of Cairo, where Mubarak, the dictator who ruled Egypt for thirty years, was expected to be released. Mubarak had been in jail since the uprising that brought him down, but now, with the revolution in a backslide and a friendly military regime in power, a judge had suddenly ruled that he could no longer be held without a conviction in any of the four cases still pending against him.
“We cannot pay for the bullets and then sigh over the victims they kill.” From “Egypt’s Dirty War,” by Jon Lee Anderson.
“It’s like being swallowed alive by a giant thesaurus.” From Anthony Lane’s description of the “veils of verbal blubber” written by the more lauded contemporaries of the author Elmore Leonard, in “The Dutch Accent: Elmore Leonard’s Talk.”
It’s a reasonable guess that anyone following the blockbuster trial of Bo Xilai, the former Chinese Communist Party boss who fell from grace in particularly spectacular fashion last year, is not doing so for its verdict. The guilt of the sixty-four-year-old Bo, who stands accused of graft, bribery, and abuse of power, has been predetermined. All that is left is the show trial, which began on Thursday morning in the eastern capital of Jinan. Unlike other high-profile cases in recent years, which have opened and closed with one-day, pro-forma hearings, the Bo trial is a spectacle.
This case, and the manner in which it is being conducted, is intended in part to show how China has changed, how it is more democratic and transparent now. But it is really a reminder of another trial, from thirty years ago: the televised court drama of the infamous Gang of Four. In 1980, four years after the death of Mao Zedong, his widow, Jiang Qing, along with three confederates and six second-tier co-conspirators, were publicly tried for “crimes against the people.” The aim of the trial was clear: Jiang and her cohorts were to be held responsible for the ten-year nightmare that was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and their punishment would help legitimize the reign of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang’s former rival and a victim of one of her earlier purges.
Last weekend, for nine hours, British police questioned David Miranda, the twenty-eight-year-old partner of Glenn Greenwald, justifying the stop at Heathrow Airport under a U.K. statute that permits such questioning without charges in cases of terrorism. Miranda was apparently carrying some of the documents that Edward Snowden had stolen from the U.S. government. Whether or not Miranda was a journalist, he was certainly acting as an agent of journalists (his airfare was paid for by the British newspaper the Guardian), a fact the British government knew. In response to extensive criticism, the British Home Office defended itself, saying, in a statement, “If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.”
For months, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria, has been suspected of using chemical weapons against the rebels who are trying to remove him, in violation of international treaties and the Obama Administration’s threats. Syrian opposition groups say that Assad has used chemical weapons as many as thirty-five times, often with low concentrations of sarin gas. In each case, the attack appears to have been intended to cause as much panic as death, and without provoking a Western response. The result—carefully calculated by the Assad regime, no doubt—is that the death toll from chemical weapons has been kept low. In June, Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, said that between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people had been killed in all of the gas attacks together. This, in a fratricidal war that has killed more than a hundred thousand people.
Steve Ballmer, the C.E.O. of Microsoft, finally figured out a way to make some money for himself: he quit. This morning, Ballmer announced that he will retire within the next twelve months. The company’s stock surged; Ballmer is now worth about a billion dollars more than he was on Thursday.
Ballmer is roughly the tech industry’s equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev, without the coup and the tanks and Red Square. When he took control, in 2000, Microsoft was one of the most powerful and feared companies in the world. It had a market capitalization of around five hundred billion dollars, the highest of any company on earth. Developers referred to it as an “evil empire.” As he leaves, it’s a sprawling shadow. It still has cash—but that matters little.