Norm, Norm, and NORML

Lawyer and activist Norm Kent gets around. He made a flash in the news a few weeks ago, when Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle said that he felt most gay people were unhappy — and that he was basing that statement on his friend, Kent, whom he's known for years through political circles. (Not so, Kent tells Tailpipe. He's actually gay and happy.)

Kent made even bigger headlines a month earlier — in Minnesota, where he was shaking up the race for U.S. Senate.

You see, in the late 1960s, Kent attended Hofstra University on Long Island, where he became friends with a campus organizer named Norm Coleman. While Kent moved on to Fort Lauderdale, founded the Express Gay News and later, hosted a radio show, and joined the board of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), his friend Coleman migrated to Minnesota, became a Republican, and lost a hard-fought governor's race to Jesse Ventura. Coleman finally struck it big when he got elected as U.S. senator after Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash.

Though the two friends drifted apart ideologically, they stayed in touch; Kent's name is still on Sen. Coleman's mailing list. Kent recently got a letter in which Coleman stated that he opposed the legalization of marijuana. Such a measure would make schools and workplaces "more dangerous," he said.

Whaaaat? Was this the same guy Kent used to burn with at Hofstra? Kent fired off an open letter calling bullshit on Coleman's hypocrisy.

Kent named names (including Coleman's brother-in-law) and recalled specific incidents: "Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice," he wrote. "We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession."

Once Kent's missive was posted publicly — on — Minnesota newspapers and political blogs jumped on it, cartooning and chastising Coleman. The effect could help Coleman's opponents, including author/Air America radio host/ Saturday Night Live alumnus Al Franken, who has candidly admitted using cocaine, LSD, and pot.

Coleman's camp released a statement: "It is a well known fact that years ago, as a college student, he smoked marijuana. Years later, with the hindsight of maturity, he realizes that it was a dangerous time in his life and could well have had seriously negative consequences on his health and on those around him."

In the end, Kent said, he will always admire what Coleman accomplished as a young leader, and the two remain pals. "Causes are transcendent. Friendships are lasting. I will always be Norm Coleman's friend but will continue to speak out against political positions he's adopted. I have his home number. I can pick up the phone and talk to him. It's political debate and not personal hate." He contrasted that with his take on Jim Naugle: "Jim crossed the line by insulting so many individuals by trespassing into their personal life."

Corporate Sledgehammer

With roughly the same frequency as a full moon, Take a Byte, a tiny shop on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, sells a computer. Over the past three years, shopkeeper Fred Baker guesses he's sold about 35.

So early last year, when a new customer declared he wanted to buy three computers, it was a bona fide bonanza. The man explained that he needed the computers for a small business he was opening down the street. For Baker, it seemed too good to be true — and it was.

In reality, the man worked for Microsoft, and he was setting a trap. On June 27, the corporation filed lawsuits against Take a Byte and seven other Florida shops, alleging they all sold computers containing pirated Microsoft programs. (The defendants say it's standard practice among struggling storefront dealers to load new computers with borrowed Microsoft programs.)

No slap on the wrist here. The complaints demand that independent computer shops pay damages to Microsoft as well as attorney fees. But in his answer to Microsoft's complaint, Baker told the federal court judge that "the cost of [Microsoft's] pleadings easily exceed the entire gross revenue of 'Take A Byte Computers Inc.' "

Indeed, Baker can't even afford his own lawyer, much less the hotshots Microsoft is paying. "If I get a lawyer, it's going to cost me up the yin-yang," Baker says. His only hope is that Microsoft will name a settlement price that he can afford, but that seems unlikely — even to Baker. His legal options boil down to one phrase: Bite the bullet.

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Edmund Newton