TCS Daily

Naw'lins, Windows XP, and Our Anthrax Hysteria

By James K. Glassman - October 26, 2001 12:00 AM

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Last night, Galatoire's was packed. I'm here in the Crescent City alone and, after two and a half dozen oysters at Felix's (the record, says a plaque on the wall, is 33 dozen), I was feeling full and went back to my hotel to rest. Silly thing to do in New Orleans, so soon I was off to my favorite restaurant in the city where I ran a newspaper in the 1970s, where my kids were born and where I still feel more comfortable than anyplace else.

Maybe that's because it never changes. Galatoire's is the kind of restaurant where, when the waiters come out to coax you into "Happy Birthday," you sing along robustly because you - and everyone else in the place - know the guy. So it was shrimp remoulade and pompano on a beautiful clear night.

I was in New Orleans two weeks after 9/11, and the town was eerily empty. Conventions cancelled, locals curled up in front of the TV. The governor - a wonderful guy named Foster who, unfortunately, doesn't travel well - was telling everyone to get out and go to a restaurant. It will help the economy, and you'll feel better, he said.

Well, the tourists are back, and the locals are indeed crowding the restaurants - or, at least, the good ones. There was a line this morning at Mother's for a breakfast of grits and debris, biscuits and the best coffee in the world.

Yesterday may have marked an important economic turning point. Microsoft started selling its new operating system, Windows XP, which will certainly be a catalyst for sales of hardware (you need a powerful PC to run it) and software (applications developers can take advantage of a better platform).

Windows XP was in doubt until only a few weeks ago. At some point, Microsoft 's competitors will realize that the way to fight the company is in the marketplace, not in the courts or state houses or Congress. As for attorneys general like Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, my own state: they have nothing to lose in attacking Microsoft. Unless, of course, consumers get sick of their antics. And that may be happening.

Final thought: I have been spending too much time in hotel rooms lately, which means I watch CNN and other continuous-news networks. These "crawlers" at the bottom of the screen are obnoxious. Frequently they report old news, and they serve only to increase the fear level. Is the anthrax coverage, in its hysteria, playing into the hands of terrorists? No doubt it is - though, clearly, there is an important story here. And the fact that the current attack is relatively small but scary means that authorities are setting up decent systems to protect against the next one, which, if it comes, may be larger.

But how about some perspective? The Wall Street Journal this morning on page B1 has a story headlined, "In This Corner of Texas, Skin Anthrax Is No Big Deal." Animals get it from the soil, and they pass it on to humans, who have learned to live with it. "To people here, anthrax is just business as usual," says a veterinarian. "I bet you a dollar that if I had a nasal swab we'd find anthrax spores, but here I am."

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