Letters to the editor

The geeks weigh in on Melissa; don't blame Clinton for the Balkans' woes.

Published April 13, 1999 4:03PM (EDT)

The ecology of computer viruses



Jamais Cascio makes some very valid points about the spread of the Melissa virus, especially when drawing comparisons between corporate monocultures and biology. Any system that is not sufficiently diverse is subject to crippling attacks from a predator who takes the time to learn the system.

However, Cascio seems to blame the software developers for the wildfire growth of Melissa, rather than the users themselves. In my office, I use Word & Outlook on my Windows machine. I received a copy of the Melissa virus before I had heard anything about it.

I opened up the attachment, and since I had configured my Word application to warn me about potential macros, I elected to disable macros while opening the document. When I saw the document, I checked the "to" line of the e-mail (since I didn't think it likely that someone I worked with would send me a list of porn sites). The mail was addressed to everyone in the company.

This is a very basic and common-sense approach to opening anyWord document that you didn't create yourself. Unless you know you're going to need the macros in the document, and you know what they are, disable them. Although I hate to pass up a chance to bash Microsoft, this is a clear case of simple user error, and not lack of security features.

Blaming Microsoft for the interoperability of their products is like suing Master Lock because you failed to lock the door and were robbed blind. There are plenty of things that people can blame Microsoft for. The Melissa virus is not one of them.

-- Michael Santora

The author posits that: "an all-Macintosh or all-Unix environment would be nearly as vulnerable to monoculture attacks as an all-Windows office."

This is most emphatically not the case. UNIX, unlike Windows and the Macintosh, is designed to be a multi-user system. Because of this, it is far more resistant to viruses than Windows and Macintosh. Note that Windows NT, because of its poor setting of default file permissions, is in the same boat as Windows '9x.

Ultimately, the big difference is that, in a UNIX environment, a virus can only infect a single user directly and cannot do serious damage to the whole machine. On Windows and the Mac, the virus is free to run amok.

-- J. Patrick Narkinsky

Rebirth of the cool


The only "prescription for the torpor that seems to ail" jazz is to recognize the inventive and exciting avant-garde jazz music being played today by musicians such as Dave Douglas, Don Byron and John Zorn. The giants of the '50s and '60s made wonderful music, but that cultural moment is over and no amount of effort will resurrect it.

-- Aaron Hertzmann

New York

The bleak gets bleaker



I agree with the author's rather dour outlook for the Balkan region, but I am unpersuaded by his criticism of the Clinton administration. He suggests that humanitarian aid should have been sent to countries bordering Kosovo instead of Kosovo itself in the time prior to the current deportation policy Serbia is pursuing. I find this an absurd argument. If humanitarian aid intended for Kosovars was sent to neighboring countries, it would have precipitated Serbia's expelling them to those countries and their aid, if anything. Certainly hindsight is 20/20 here, but as far as I can tell an approach similar to this one, albeit more limited militarily, led to the Dayton accords and at least a tentative peace in Bosnia. There appears to be no good way to pacify the Balkans, but that is not this administration's doing. Personally I will take Clinton's foreign policy against any Republican in 20 years.

-- Scott Raybern

In their discussions of this Kosovo-Belgrade crisis, many commentators are missing the point when they hold that Milosevic is achieving his aim as a Serbian nationalist in ex-Yugoslavia.

The reality is that as a "Greater Serbia" nationalist, he is a dismal failure. When he became the president of Yugoslavia a decade ago, he was president of a Yugoslavia that comprised Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia, with the Serbs as the dominant ethnic group.

In the last eight to nine years, due to his ethnic chauvinism, his "Yugoslavia" and Serbian hegemony in the Balkans has shrunk steadily. Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia have left the federation; Serbian hegemony in Bosnia-Hercegovina is certainly a shadow of what it was before that conflict. Now, NATO firepower is contesting Serbian hegemony in Kosovo, and raining fire down on Belgrade, bringing war to the Serbian heartland.

The good reputation enjoyed by the Yugoslav federation and the Serbs before the civil war(s) has been ruined. Yugoslavia, what is left of it, is an international pariah besieged by sanctions. Commentators have failed to see the big picture in this regard. Milosevic by his own "standards" of Serbian nationalism is an utter failure.

-- Joel Abrahamsohn

Story love


Hats off to Jean Hanff Korelitz for her essay on the merits of good, old-fashioned storytelling. She's right, the problem with the current literary landscape is that great works like the "Odessa File" and "Presumed Innocent" are too often crowded off the shelf by all these so-called artists that publishers insist on shepherding into print. What this country needs now is less art and more entertainment! See, folks like me and Jean are so busy that we barely got time to think, much less read, and you gotta be out of your mind if you think we're gonna do both at the same time. I mean, come on. Don't we already got enough to worry about? I can't wait to check out Jean's new book at Barnes & Noble as soon as I get a chance ... Or maybe, me being so busy and all, I'll just wait for the movie.

-- Benjamin Alsup

Guitar refugees


It's always interesting to see what racial and cultural slurs are still acceptable, as in David Bowman's passing knock "the notorious Frog poet Paul Verlaine" in his article about Tom Verlaine. Later in the piece he says that T. Verlaine seemed to him "more like a haunted male Sylvia Plath than any fancy French poet," which suggests that plain French poets are unknown to him, or that he has a big, big sense of cultural inferiority to the French. It wouldn't surprise me. After all, Yanks often do.

-- Kate McDonnell


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