Sunday, July 27, 2008

The alleged perception problem of Microsoft

There is an interesting PC World article by Nancy Gohring entitled "Microsoft: Stodgy or Innovative? It's All About Perception" which repeats the common belief that Microsoft has a "perception" problem. Overall it is a decent article and does highlight that Microsoft is doing a lot of good work, but it repeats the somewhat-untrue but common belief that:

... Microsoft needs to address the perception problem, which runs deep and could have repercussions on sales of future products if the company doesn't manage to fix it.

The article also claims that:

The perception problem stretches into the online services market, where Microsoft has struggled to attract users.

While it is true that Microsoft is working very hard to drive deeper into the online services market, have they really done that badly? If we consult the Alexa ranking for the Top 100 Web sites we find that Yahoo is #1, Google has #2 ( and #3 (, but then Microsoft has #4 ( and #5 ( and #14 ( That is actually not that bad at all, being the #3 player in the online space and having two of the Top 5 sites. Sure Microsoft wants to be better (witness their recent interest it acquiring Yahoo), but to label the #3 player as suffering from a perception problem is rather misleading and outright ingenuous.

The problem Microsoft has is twofold: 1) An army of naysayers and opponents of the company in Silicon Valley, and 2) An army of biased critics in the media and on Wall Street. These are hard-core bias issues, not "perception" per se. No amount of effort by the company is going to reduce the incessant naysaying of company opponents in Silicon Valley. Ditto for bias in the media and on Wall Street.

What is the source of all of this bias? Simple: Microsoft has been too successful and does not owe any of its success to the chattering classes in Silicon Valley, the media, or on Wall Street. Microsoft has focused on producing economical and "good enough" products for "the masses", bypassing the need to be "blessed" by "The Elite" in Silicon Valley, the media, and on Wall Street. Microsoft has been successful at commoditizing its image. Almost everybody, even those who shop at Wal-Mart out of economic necessity, can now afford to have a PC in their home and office. Sure, the PC hardware vendors and software developers and other members of the "PC ecosystem" have helped in that effort, but it is Microsoft that led the way on the operating system and office productivity software fronts. A lot of people in Silicon Valley and the media and Wall Street are intensely jealous of that success, and show it. That is the root cause of the so-called "perception" problem, the elephant standing in the middle of the room that the media and company critics refuse to acknowledge. That is an issue that Microsoft has to cope with on a daily basis, but it is certainly not the kind of "image" or "perception" problem that Microsoft can do anything about other than to quietly tolerate it and keep on pumping out economical and "good enough" products for "the masses."

Sure, Apple and Google and many other companies are very successful, and even more successful than Microsoft in some niches, but Microsoft is still wildly successful overall by any measure.

How successful? For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, Microsoft recorded revenue of $60.4 billion and net income of $17.7 billion. Google? Net income of $4.2 billion. Apple? Net income of $3.5 billion. Nobody is even close to Microsoft.

And just how bad is the "perception" problem on "drag" from Vista and Microsoft's online investments? A year ago, revenue was $51.1 billion and net income was $14.1 billion. That is a revenue increase of 18% and a net income gain of 26% on the back of so-called "disasters" on the Vista and online services fronts. So much for "disasters." Given its size, Microsoft's growth is absolutely phenomenal.

For the record, the trailing P/E ratio for Microsoft is 14.0, well below the rate that net income grew over the past year even with the perceived "disasters" of Vista and Microsoft's online services efforts (with their #4 and #5 Web sites.)

The "facts" about Microsoft, as a company, as an organization, its products, its services, its financial results, and even many of its future plans are readily available in the Web and well-known to many people in Silicon Valley, the media, and Wall Street. These people know exactly what is going on with Microsoft and it is not an "image" or "perception" problem. It is called bias, and a lot of it is outright malicious in nature. Microsoft is doing the right thing and simply ignoring it and pushing on and focusing on developing and delivering products and services for its customers and not catering to the chattering "elite" of Silicon Valley, the media, and Wall Street.

I would just like to see people be a bit more honest and talk about their own bias problem rather than the so-called "perception" problem.


Disclosure: I do own Microsoft stock and continue to purchase it, most recently two weeks ago.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, July 25, 2008

Virus warning: Greetings, how are you doing? Give we shall meet!

There is a new virus going around via email that I had never seen before. My McAfee anti-virus software did manage to catch it, but not immediately. After viewing the innocuous-looking simple text email, McAfee automatically shutdown Outlook Express and  popped up a message saying that it had detected a buffer overflow, which is a favored way to load malicious code into your system for execution.

The message subject was "Give we shall meet!" and the message body wasy simply "Greetings, how are you doing? Give we shall meet!"

I examined the source text of the message and it clearly had JavaScript code that was trying to execute code.

So, if your see that subject line, "Give we shall meet!", DO NOT view the message. Simply delete it. But, hopefully your AV software will detect the attempted buffer overflow first.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ford shift to small cars

I heartily applaud Ford's decision to shift to production  of more small cars. This may appear to be an overdue decision to do the "obvious", and the cynics will protest that it is "too little, late" and that Americans will reject Detroit small cars in favor of "foreign" cars, but I strongly suspect that the move will be far more successful than the naysayers are currently giving Ford credit for. If Ford builds a better car, people will buy it.

Now, what I really want to see is the plans for making most of those new cars hybrids and all-electric ASAP.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Microsoft to give online services equal billing with Windows in reorg

Although I have mixed feelings about Kevin Johnson leaving Microsoft, I am absolutely thrilled that the company will be splitting the Online Services business unit away from the Windows platform division to stand separately and report directly to Steve Ballmer. The press release did not explicitly say that Online Services would be a standalone division with its own president, but I am guessing that is where they are headed. In fact, I always assumed that Online Services would end up as a separate, top-level divsion if the Yahoo acquisition had ever come to fruition.

This is a very positive move, and shows that Online Services has grown significantly in the past few years.

I do wish that Kevin could have continued at the company, but everybody needs to move on at some point.

Knowing a little bit about how the company works, I am guessing that there was probably an extreme level of internal tension over how sloppily the whole Yahoo deal was proceeding. It was Kevin's job to make it work, and... he really didn't pull it off in a way that anyone would say is "outstanding."

This is the time of year when performance reviews, promotions, raises, and bonuses are being finalized, and I cannot imagine that the handling of the Yahoo deal was much of a feather in Kevin's cap. Personally, I wouldn't have objected if Kevin were fired for the combination of the sloppy handling of Vista and Yahoo.

That said, I really am pleased that Online Services will be getting some standalone attention rather than being stuffed away under "Windows." That never really made any sense.

-- Jack Krupansky

The Joker stole the show

As I had suspected, The Joker was the true center of attention and literally stole the show in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Sure the rest of the cast was great and the movie itself was great, but Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker was simply off the charts. It was right up there as one of the all-time "best" villains. He was simply exquisitely evil, with all the right mannerisms and facial expressions, tone of voice, snappy one-liners, and bizarre clothing. He was able to get under everybody's skin in the way that only a purely evil villain ever could. I am actually not a Heath Ledger fan per se or even a Batman fan (well, maybe a little), but from the first time I saw the trailer or even the poster, I could tell that this Joker was really and truly sick.

I did not know that Heath Ledger was the actor when I first saw the trailer and never would have guessed in a million years. That is a sign of truly great acting, the kind that deserves an Oscar.

The Joker would certainly have my vote for "Best Actor."

And, I will probably go see the movie again, maybe in IMAX this time. Of course, it is sold out here in Manhattan for some time, except maybe for 2:00 a.m. late night shows.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The so-called rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Just a quick follow-up to my post about the so-called "rescue" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...

I read in an article in The New York Times by David Herszenhorn entitled "Cost of Loan Bailout, if Needed, Could Be $25 Billion" that the most likely scenario is that Fannie and Freddie will not need any bailout at all, and then even an unlikely bailout would be modest and not likely to be about the order of $25 billion, and only in the most extreme (and very unlikely) scenario would the cost be upwards of $100 billion, which is still a rather modest amount considering the scale of the overall financial system. As The Times reports about comment from the Congressional Budget Office:

The budget office said there was a better than even chance that the rescue package would not be needed before the end of 2009 and would not cost taxpayers any money.

The article continues:

But the office also estimated a 5 percent chance that the mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could lose $100 billion, which would cost taxpayers far more than $25 billion.

Sure, all sorts of people on Wall Street will gleefully trumpet the great risk of a 1-in-20 event, but that is a rather low-probability event compared to a lot of risks we in the real world take in stride.

The article also says:

According to the estimate, which was delivered in the form of a letter to the House Budget Committee chairman, Representative John M. Spratt Jr., Democrat of South Carolina, the director of the budget office, Peter R. Orszag, predicted that "a significant chance, probably better than 50 percent, that the proposed new Treasury authority would not be used before it expired at the end of December 2009."

Mr. Orszag, at a briefing with reporters, acknowledged that pinpointing the eventual cost of the package was impossible. "There is very significant uncertainty involved here," he said.

The uncertainty runs in both directions, with some government officials and market analysts suggesting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are fundamentally sound and will perform well over the long-term. Others, including some private equity managers, are pessimistic and predict heavy losses.

Ahhh... so-called "private equity managers"... otherwise known as hedge fund speculators, the kind who are shorting the stock of Fannie and Freddie. Sure, they're going to give you an "objective" appraisal of the outlook for Fannie and Freddie... NOT!

The bottom line here is that there is no actual financial "rescue" going to be taking place in the near future. The whole package being pushed and dragged through Congress is simply a contingency backup plan and a tool to try to frighten off the Wall Street "private equity managers" and others who: a) are opposed to the existence to the GSEs at all, and b) are actively and maliciously attempting to push down and talk down the stock price of Fannie and Freddie in order to profit from short positions or to get a lower price when Fannie and Freddie seek to raise equity capital in the near future.

The real bottom line here is the the U.S. Treasury and Congress are signalling the grossly irresponsible scumbags on Wall Street very loudly and very clearly to back off and cease and desist from maliciously attacking Fannie and Freddie on a basis that is completely out of proportion to the actual fundamentals and actual risks of these companies and their assets. And, if the fundamentals do happen to unexpectedly deteriorate and if the risks do unexpectedly happen to rise, then YES, the U.S. government is standing by to fully back Fannie and Freddie in much the manner as investors have always presumed is the case. The idea that the U.S. government might step in and financially support Fannie and Freddie is not new or novel. I myself have known about this implied guarantee for about ten years now.

-- Jack Krupansky

What needs to be done about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

There has been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the financial health of the so-called housing GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the supposed "threat" they allegedly pose to the U.S. economy, but I do believe that most of the criticism and anxiety and anger is either misplaced or ingenuous. A lot of "players" on Wall Street are shorting the stock of Fannie, Freddie, and banks and financial companies in general, so a lot of their complaints are really more in the line of "talking their book" (promoting the stories that serve to benefit their own trading positions) to incite others to put further downwards pressure on the stocks of these companies.

Even before the current (quickly becoming past) housing "bubble", quite a number of Wall Street firms were opposed to the housing GSEs since Wall Street wanted a cut of the action and managed to con Congress into putting constraints on Fannie and Freddie back in the 2003 timeframe, just before the housing "bubble" really started to expand. Fannie and Freddie, by definition, have only dealt in "conforming" mortgages, which by definition are not subprime. Fannie and Freddie are not in any way responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis and do not have any significant exposure to subprime mortgages and related foreclosures.

It is in fact those Wall Street firms that lobbied for shackling Fannie and Freddie over five years ago, and it is those same Wall Street firms that over-inflated the housing bubble with a misguided focus on non-conforming (subprime) mortgages, since they yield (or, rather, once yielded) much higher fees for the Wall Street firms. In fact, one aspect of the scandal is that firms conned consumers into accepting higher-fee subprime mortgages even though those consumers could have afforded cheaper, safer conforming mortgages that Fannie and Freddie dealt in. Wall Street did not directly mislead consumers on mortgages, but they put such an extreme premium on high-risk, high-fee subprime mortgages that they became irresistible to average mortgage sales personnel. Wall Street indirectly enabled this fraud, and the resulting debacle. Wall Street is clearly to blame for the whole subprime mortgage "crisis", but not one iota of blame can be laid at the feet and Fannie and Freddie.

The "crisis" for Fannie and Freddie is simply: 1) too many people are predicting a much higher level of foreclosures of conforming mortgages than is reasonably likely, and 2) too many Wall Street firms have been actively and maliciously attacking the stock of Fannie and Freddie, making it more difficult and more expensive for them to raise capital. The situation has gotten so out of hand on Wall Street that the SEC has proposed special short-sale rules to try to deal with rampant abuse such as naked short-selling, which is already illegal, but nobody on Wall Street has the moral values to prevent it.

The combined market cap of Fannie and Freddie is now only about $19 billion. The U.S. Treasury should simply start to silently buy up the stock, effectively putting a floor on the price as well as a ceiling for buying the two GSEs should the remaining shareholders continue to lose faith and dump their shares. That would probably be the best $20 billion ever spent or invested by the U.S. government and likely achieve a spectacular rate of return, even if the rate of housing foreclosures were to rise significantly further.

Even if it were to cost $25 billion to "rescue" Fannie and Freddie (literally from the short-sellers on Wall Street and their attacks on the stock), which is one estimate I saw today, that is mere peanuts or "chump change" compared to the amount of capital that the Federal Reserve has put at risk to rescue Wall Street itself, to date. For Wall Street to "blame" Fannie and Freddie for the current "crisis" is the height of hypocrisy.

Fannie and Freddie truly are two of the strongest pillars of the U.S. financial system, second only to the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System. Even the so-called "best" firms on Wall Street are a very distant third-place. Fannie and Freddie have done nothing wrong, save that they became a target for an unscrupulous Wall Street.

At this point, I think that the Treasury should simply loan Fannie and Freddie as much cash as they need to siliently buy back their own stock from all willing sellers. If their stocks stabilize and rise significantly, that process can cease, otherwise the process should continue until the GSEs are fully privatized. Wall Street does not deserve to have these two financial companies be at the mercy of shameless short-sellers. Who knows, maybe the next generation on Wall Street will have some sense of moral decency and maybe in another five years Fannie and Freddie can once more become publically-traded companies.

In my book, Fannie and Freddie are the true angels, fighting on the side of good and economic and financial justice, while Wall Street is now nothing more than thieves without honor. Actually, even that pejorative does not convey enough negativity about the dishonorable behavior of Wall Street.

If you hear anybody saying anything negative about Fannie and Freddie, almost certainly one of three things are true: 1) they are lying, 2) they simply have not done their homework, or 3) they oppose the concept of the GSEs and are simply using the "crisis" as an excuse to promote their opinion. A lot of people actually do not know much at all about the housing GSEs and should do some homework, but so many people on Wall Street could not care less about what the truth really is.

In short, technically nothing needs to be done to "fix" Fannie and Freddie that they cannot do themselves, if only major Wall Street firms were not attacking the stocks of the companies. But given the current situation, the U.S. Treasury should loan the GSEs the cash to either simply boost their stock price or to fully privatize the companies.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guaranteed affordable health care plan

I have come to the conclusion that American society needs to shift to a national policy of guaranteed affordable health care. It is simply too easy for a person to lose their job and too easy to stumble into a major health event (e.g., cancer, a car accident, birth defect, etc.) and even reasonablly well-off middle class consumers can hit the wall and be completely unable to handle the financial costs and face bankruptcy, foreclosure, and every manner of financial disaster. Even if a person has a strong sense of personal responsibility and has substantial life savings, a single health event can completely wipe out all of their savings and more. Quite literally, there is absolutely nothing that any of us mere mortals can do to protect ourselves from the financial disaster of a major health event, other than to be lucky. If you do still have a job and your employer's health plan does cover the health event, fine, you are set. But, increasingly we are seeing that health plans are not covering all costs of all events. There are simply too many "cracks" that your health and health care can disappear into for any mere mortal to be fully prepared. My conclusion is that we need guaranteed health care and it has to be affordable. I think that most people would mostly agree with that assertion, but how to get there is a back-hole question.

I have a modest proposition:

  1. The federal government would be the ultimate guarantor of health care financing.
  2. Health care delivery would remain roughly as it is today with a mixture or public, private, non-profit and for-profit health care providers.
  3. People could go to any health care provider for health care. No provider would have any financial interest to deny care.
  4. Health care would be provided at no charge to anyone who requested it, with only your normal ID and social security number required.
  5. The federal government would ultimately be responsible for paying all health care bills, which the consumer would never see, but the reality is that the federal government would simply be the guarantor of last resort.
  6. Funding for this plan would be a payroll tax, with a back-stop of general government funding, ultimately backstopped by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. As economic times and demographics shift, there may be changes in priorities as to whether to raise or lower the payroll tax and fund health care either from general revenues or even issuance of debt securities.
  7. Consumers could choose their health care insurer. You could choose a private company, a non-profit, the federal government, your state government, or any other organization that chooses to be a health care insurer. Probably best handled at a state level, private insurers could petition each state to be one of a pool of round-robin chosen insurers when consumers make no explicit choice.
  8. Each health care insurer would set its own payroll tax rate based on expenses and added services that they provide. Obviously people wish to minimize this tax, but some people might prefer to pay extra for the right to a private hospital room or a choice of hospital or a choice of doctor.
  9. Each health care insurer would get the bulk of the payroll tax for consumers who have chosen them, but a portion of the payroll tax would still go the the federal government for coverage of major health events that the individual health care insurers are not covering.
  10. Health care insurers would normally be responsible for directly reimbursing health care providers for "normal" levels of health care, but not for major health events, such as cancer, severe birth problems, severe and chronic health conditions, severe accidents, etc.
  11. The federal government, through a separate agency, would cover reimbursement for all major health events. This would be done transparently, so that the consumer would not even know when or how payment is being made.
  12. The federal agency would in turn farm out both normal and major health event insurance underwriting to private companies which would bid for such business.
  13. The federal government would ultimately be responsible for the final (and largest) bills, but would never "take" business away from private insurance companies who are willing to bid for the business. The federal government's role is simply: 1) to guaranteee that people will be covered in all events, 2) to guarantee insurance when no private business is interested in the insurance (e.g., someone born with a birth defect or involved in a severe accident that affects them for life, open-ended experimental treatments, etc.), and 3) to assure that the government will not be involved in the insurance business when private business is fully willing to provide coverage competitive with the government's rate that is politically chosen to be "affordable" to consumers. Private insurers would either have to offer a lower rate or some added value to attract consumers away from the government.
  14. The government would not build and maintain a massive, national health insurance or health care bureaucracy. The role of the federal governmen is simply: 1) to assure that there are no gaps by guaranteeing funding, and 2) assure that health care providers have no financial excuse not to provide great service to all consumers at all times.
  15. The federal agency would oversee (as a regulator) an open market for insuring non-normal health care events. The government would ultimately foot the total bill (i.e., excess over collected payroll tax), but private insurers would finance well-defined slices of "super-cat" (catastrophe) coverage. A private company could bid a rate for a designated slice or payment coverage with some upper limit to payment liability. That would earn the company the right to a slice of the payroll tax. The company would then be liable for payment of bills for that slice of coverage. The federal agency would then assign bills for that slice to the private insurer as they came in. The private insurer would still nominally be resposible for reimbursing 100% of the cost to the health care provider, but the federal agency would then reimburse the super-cat insurer for costs above the threshold that the insurer is committed to. The goal is to achieve transparency for payments and to keep the involvement of the government to the minimum. In fact, maybe the insurers would directly deal with super-cat providers and only get the government involved when their limits are exceeded. Or, maybe that would be the insurer's choice.
  16. Most insurance payments would flow almost directly from employers to the designated insurer, thus keeping the day-to-day role of the federal agency minimized to the exceptions rather than the vast bulk of the "average", normal cases.
  17. The federal government would provide health care investment grants and loans to assure that health care providers have the facilities that they need. Actually, the grants and loans would come from any financial or health care institution that wishes to provide them, and those institutions would either get the funds from the federal government or simply apply for a federal guarantee for funds obtained from a private source. The goal is not to have the federal government to fund all investment, but to be the backstop, lender of last resort, and to assure that the investment money flows even if private interest dries up.

In short, this plan has three key components:

  1. A federal government guarantee that health care will always be available and affordable at no cost to consumers beyond a modest payroll tax.
  2. Most insurance and services will be provided by the private sector.
  3. The federal government simply acts as the enabler and back-stop and financer of last resort should the private sector not be able or interested in providing insurance coverage.

-- Jack Krupansky

Whiner Nation

Rats... I missed my chance. Some time ago (a year ago?) I made a note to myself to write a blog post called "Whiner Nation", to opine on the degree to which we have become a nation of whiners. I never followed through on that note. Now, Phil Gramm has "stolen" my (undisclosed) idea and achieved a level of infamy with it. Who knows, maybe he did me a favor.

Just as a matter of disclosure, I have to admit that I myself happen to be a whiner. And proud of it! There is nothing wrong with being a whiner, unless you are in denial and refuse to accept and publically acknowledge it.

To be clear, blogging is a symptom and strong indicator that someone is a whiner.

I have been known to whine about many things and many people, but there is one person who I have never whined about... Phil Gramm. The guy really makes me laugh. I have attended a number of congressional hearings when he has spoken and he invariably comes out of left field with some zinger. He is a true, all-American character. Maybe you find his brand of humor funny and maybe you do not, but we adults are supposed to be adult enough to see through superficial facades and style of personality and focus on real meaning rather than style of presentation. At least that is the theory. So much for theory.

All Phil was really saying is that people need to take more responsibility for their own lives and their own decisions and that the media and political opportunists do in fact tend to blow things up out of propertion to the reality. Phil is right on one point, that too many people are in a "mental recession" inspired by the media and opportunistic politicians. Sure, some percentage of people are in some level of trouble and some degree of pain, but all Phil is saying is that the percentage is small relative to the overall economy and that the overall economy still has not deteriorated to the level where even the experts agree that it is a true "recession."

Yes, we truly are a nation of whiners, but we do need to get over it and move on. Enough singing of "somebody done somebody wrong" songs.

As far as Phil Gramm, the reaction from McCain suggests that the Republicans are really running scared. Really scared. Personally, I though Gramm's commenary was rather innocuous and neither here nor there when it comes to the real "meat" and big picture of politics. Maybe the reaction simply hints at how thin-skinned politics has become this year.

Metal note to myself: Write a post to whine about people who whine about people who whine about whiners and bad-mough whining. Hmmm... I wonder if there is a market for "Whining for Dummies"? Or maybe a tome even more basic: "Whining for Bloggers"?

Please feel free to whine in my comment section.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Microsoft and AOL?

I read a blog post on Fortune by Michal Lev-Ram entitled "Report: Talks between Microsoft and AOL heat up" that once again has me hoping that Microsoft will finally see the wisdom of spinning off its MSN online "content" business, possibly to be combined with other media "content" operations such as Yahoo and AOL. My ideal transaction would be a standalone company combining the content operations of MSN, Yahoo, and AOL, with Microsoft and others as significant "joint" owners and with the combined content business utilizing Microsoft's online platform infrastructure for data centers, "cloud" computing, Web services, support for mobile devices, and "search." Whether such a combination will ever come to fruition remains to be seen. I am not particularly interested in Microsoft becoming even more of a "content" business by acquiring the "content" operations of either Yahoo or AOL.

Microsoft  should focus on the platform and infrastructure aspects of the Internet. Of course, this is only my own opinion.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Joker

I am really looking forward to the new batman movie. I almost have trouble remembering the actual name of the movie (okay, it is The Dark Knight), but it might as well be called The Joker. Sure, the movie has a bunch of great actors, but the performance by Heath Ledger is what this movie is really all about. I have seen a couple of trailers a bunch of times, and there is no question that his Joker is a truly world-class performance. Even if he had not recently died, his performance would stand out. Even if the scenes in the trailers are all of his best scenes, the movie will still be him as its central focus.

I am actually not a Heath Ledger fan per se or even a Batman fan (well, maybe a little), but I continue to be blown away by his performance every time I see the trailer... "Why so sad?"... "Here's my card"... "Kill 'the bat man""...

I don't imagine that The Joker will survive the movie with a "happy ending", but there is nothing like an outrageous villain, provided, of course, that "justice" prevails in the end.

My only question is whether his role is considered a "leading" role so that he can be in the running for "Best Actor."

-- Jack Krupansky