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The Death of Patience

A Subtle Attack on a Human Virtue: How Bill Gates will take over the world ... with the game "Solitaire"! Published in the The Canberra Times, 20 May 1996, p.18

I write to alert you, the reader of this fine publication, of a grave threat to Western Civilisation -- nay, to the world! The threat is subtle -- oh, so subtle. But it is a fundament of Australian society that is threatened, a great virtue without which a great society cannot hope to survive.

It is a threat I had hoped to avoid confronting. I had thought that I need only wait, that another year might see it pass; that I would not be bound to place my mortal body and reputation between it and the Australia I love. But the threat has not passed: it has been reinforced. Now I must act!

The virtue so appallingly threatened is the virtue of patience.

The threat to this fine virtue is Patience -- known to Americans as Solitaire -- the 'game' that infests all our computers!

Think of patience (the virtue, not the game). Without patience, we would be impatient. From impatience it is but a small step to mayhem, anarchy, the end of life as we know it.

We all know that as we follow our long and tortuously winding paths through life, our patience is often sorely tested. Why at times we all lose it -- even me, I must confess in an ingratiating way designed to assist you to identify with me, thereby increasing your interest in this article and, consequently, increasing the probability of the publisher accepting it. Please understand, though, that it is not for the financial reward that I seek publication, even though I do have a hefty mortgage and four children to feed and clothe and put through expensive private school. Oh no! I seek publication only to warn you BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!!!

I digress. Most of us are -- at least adequately -- patient. You stand in line at McDonalds, stomach rumbling, the aroma of Big Macs and Quarter Pounders with Cheese and Fillets of Fish and all the other delicacies wafting over you, knowing that it will be SEVEN MINUTES before you get to the counter, knowing that at the very second you arrive the last McChicken Burger of your craving will be handed to some sod in the drive-through, knowing that the child on the other side of the counter will inform you with ersatz warmth that 'there will be a three minute wait for that sir', and knowing that the wait will be more like ten!

Pant, pant. Give me a moment to calm down there, that's better.

Now what carries us through this travail without resort to the axe or machine gun? Why patience of course! It is upon patience that civil society is built. Patience permits democracy to function. Patience is the essence of Capitalism. And only the extraordinary patience of the Russian people permitted Communism to survive as long as it did -- think of the example above multiplied by ten to the seventh power, and factor in the sad object of the queue: an elderly Polish sausage, a rust-bitten potato, a blunt razor blade created with customary Soviet slovenliness. Without the people's patience the Iron Curtain would have been cast down by them over Stalin's grave even before the fumes of its freshly turned sods had dissipated.

Ah, but the threat, so subtle, so malignant, like a foul tumour casting its poison through the lymphatic system of the body societal.

Patience! Or Solitaire!

I am not exposing that innocent game that one plays with the traditional Queen's Slipper decks that inhabit everyone's homes. I am bringing into the light the computer game of Solitaire that forms part of the Windows operating system. ('Bundling', the techno-wreckers call it.) I first noticed the game in Windows 3.0, watched with mounting horror as it was retained in Windows 3.1, then 3.11.

No longer could I hold my tongue (nor fingers) when it was distributed with Windows 95 (full version ERP $300, upgrade from Windows 3.1 or 3.11 ERP $159, available from leading software resellers).

The game of Patience that you and I loved as children and teenagers was played, you will recall, in the days before the ubiquitous computer, with playing cards. Patience is exciting! Remember when at last the black Queen was exposed from the pile so that it joined the red King and Jack, allowing at last the six card stack under the Jack to be exposed? The thrill, the anticipatory delight as one prepared to reveal this new source of treasure! The dejection, when all that was shown was another bloody red Jack!

All this excitement took time. The cards had to be shuffled. Then dealt out. Then, if you are tidy like me, aligned neatly in the little piles, just so.

Do you recall the tactile pleasure of flicking through the cards? Do you recall manipulative skills learned by moving a run of Queen through Two onto a King? Do you remember the self control learned when, in front of your equally adolescent friends, the slippery surfaces of a new deck of Queen's Slippers betrayed you and the cards inadvertently sprayed forth during a showy shuffle?

Traditional manual Patience takes time. For the great goal of winning, patience and perseverance were required. Why it could easily take six or eight hours to achieve victory!

This was invaluable training for today's generation of middle managers and shop assistants. We were imbued with the ethos of patience and perseverance. We knew the value of -- the moral imperative for -- persistence in the face of failure. It was through playing Patience as children and youths that we learned the endurance that enables us to survive today's miserable jobs.

But Patience in its new, digital guise teaches no lessons. Dealing is performed with a click of the mouse button, shuffling not at all, and tidying cards is impossible!

The most complicated movement of cards can be mastered by a four-year-old. Gliding one's fingers over the cathode ray tube bears no resemblance to -- and carries none of the pleasure of -- handling real pieces of wax-coated cardboard. And no matter how hard one tries, the 'cards' resolutely refuse to fall all over the place. The most one can manage is to accidentally delete the Solitaire icon.

But worst, worst by far, is the fact that one can win in only ten or fifteen minutes of play. How can that possibly imbue the younger generation with patience?

Many times it has been claimed that Bill Gates hopes to dominate the world. Usually it is hypothesised that by building the richest multinational corporation and personally controlling all software on every computer, his monopoly power will permit him economic dominance. But surely for him THIS IS NOT ENOUGH.

There is a whole generation failing to learn, while playing Patience, the value of patience. The ensuing anarchy will allow Gates to move in with his armoured legions and obtain MILITARY dominance. Do YOU want Bill Gates to be the WORLD DICTATOR? Gates (who, although only one year older than myself, has the gall to be a multi-billionaire) MUST BE STOPPED.

There is only one thing for it. Australia must lead the world in nipping this threat in the bud. We must IMMEDIATELY prohibit the bundling of the evil 'game' Solitaire in Windows. All games of Patience installed on computers MUST BE PURGED to end the corruption of our children. The Foreign Minister must IMMEDIATELY convene an international panel of eminent persons to develop a world-wide strategy to combat -- no, OBLITERATE! -- this incipient terror. All right-minded Australians must join with me in demanding at least this from our leaders!


And now, I think I've got enough time for twelve or fifteen quick games of Patience to settle my nerves before bed.

© 1996 - Stephen Dawson