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SportsZone takes one below the belt

CBS SportsLine, which is being pummeled by ESPN SportsZone--at least in terms of hits--has learned to savor the comfort and ease of kicking your opponent when he's down.

"Economics is power, Pop," Vermel told me one day last week as he trudged in from school. The poor kid sported a perfect half-circle shiner where Sven Granular, the playground bully, socked him for refusing to surrender his lunch money.

But taking a few hits can teach you a thing or two. CBS SportsLine, which is being pummeled by ESPN SportsZone--at least in terms of hits--has learned to savor the comfort and ease of kicking your opponent when he's down. When news hit the streets of a hacker swiping credit card info from the ESPN Web site, rival sportsgeeks at CBS SportsLine didn't even bother to call time out. With a song in their hearts and a smirk on their lips, the CBS goons went on the offensive with an email detailing the security of the SportsLine site, which they would have you believe is better protected than a hockey goalie sporting a steel cup.

"CBS SportsLine protects consumers by utilizing a fully encrypted merchant server," the email sneered.

Before you put your thumbs in your ears, wiggle your fingers and stick your tongue out too far, my little network friends, read about the latest JavaScript bug that eats browser encryption for lunch. Pride goeth before a hack, as it says in the good book. And for Pete's sake (whoever he is), never use "utilize" when "use" will do just fine! Didn't you cretins ever read the Elements of Style?

Overall, it wasn't a good week for e-commerce. Yet another shopping site silenced the muzak and shut down the food court--this time it was "online music and video superstore" Entertainment Connection, following in the footsteps of IBM's World Avenue online mall. Now if we could only tear down a few real malls, we could truly make this country beautiful again.

Meanwhile, President Clinton's shiny new global e-commerce white paper, hailed as the great unifier of rapacious worldwide consumerism, met a Luftwaffe of opposition at the EU-sponsored Global Information Networks powwow/technorave in Bonn, Germany. A consensus of European ministers, led by German economics minister Guenther Rexrodt, sipped neurotransmitter-enhancing smart drinks and wondered aloud how the heck the United States would foster e-commerce without strong, unrestricted encryption. You know you're in trouble when a guy named Guenther starts sassing you. It probably didn't help that Commerce Secretary Bill Daley began his remarks to the M-People with an unintentional dis of Bonn, the skinny little girlie-town that will soon give the German capitalship back to muscular, well-oiled Berlin.

Rumors have been flying fast and furious that AOL is about to charge for chat. So thick has the ether been with said innuendo that the service took drastic antirumor measures last week by posting the following message on its front door, according to several Skinnophiles: "We recently have become aware of several confusing and inaccurate rumors that suggest AOL is planning to institute premium pricing for chat...We want to assure our members that these rumors are not true. Last year, AOL responded to members' requests by introducing flat-rate pricing plans for unlimited use of the AOL service. AOL remains committed to these popular flat-rate pricing plans."

The message goes on to speculate on the source of the rumors. Mais non! It wasn't me. I swear! The real culprit, it says here, is AOL's new premium game offering, which at $1.99 an hour--hell, let's just call it $2, shall we?--is confusing the gentle if somewhat simple souls in AOL Land. Now if Case and company can only figure out a way to charge every time someone says "utilize" instead of "use," they'd make a killing. If I had a dollar bill for all the rumors I've read, there'd be a mountain of money up to my earlobes. But I cannot be satiated. Support free trade--send me an earful and I won't pay you a cent.