Saturday, January 12, 2008

Blog #19 Peace in the World, or the World in Pieces . . .

Lord Have Mercy, did you read what George McGovern, that old peace monger from the Nixon era, proposed. He must have paid a visit to the ghost of fabled monkey glands surgeon Dr. Brinkley for he seems to have grown a set of rejuvenated gonads. This usually quiet spoken minister’s son published an opinion piece in the Outlook section of the Washington Post the other day entitled “Why I Believe Bush-Cheney Must Go. Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse,” in which he respectfully suggested that Bush-Cheney have committed acts far more impeachable than Richard Nixon ever did, and asks why the current Democratic leadership is so opposed to beginning proceedings against them, noting how the Republicans put together proceedings against Bill Clinton during the waning years of his presidency for a lot less than the high crimes and misdemeanors which Bush-Cheney have committed. We could offer a few suggestions off the top of our head, high crimes like misleading the country about weapons of mass destruction, running the war on the cheap resulting in many casualties, the widespread torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in violation of Geneva Conventions, and the list goes merrily on.

Of course it will never happen. Unlike Republicans who seem to love investigations more than sex, and find lies and slander the spice of their lives (look at the harassing of Bill Clinton during both of his terms, and the lies bellowed by Swift Boat Liars for Defamation.com) Democrats are uncomfortable spewing negative vibes. They would much rather get something positive done, but unfortunately their majority is too thin, and on most issues the Republicans have closed ranks. Still the positive thing about McGovern’s suggestion is the joining of both Bush and Cheney in the indictment, it would never do to have Bush impeached alone thereby leaving a fox like Cheney in charge of our national chicken coop. The other interesting possibility should we ever have the audacity to make it happen would be the person to whom the Presidency would be handed. As best we can remember from our high school Civics class the third in line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position presently held by Nancy Pelosi. Wouldn’t that sell one helluva lot of Alka Seltzers to those of a Republican persuasion?
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As our revered leader embarked to the Middle East on his long overdue “so called” peace mission (perhaps “legacy” would be the more descriptive term), reverberations from the intrusion onto some of our Persian Gulf naval fleet by supposed Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels in the Strait of Hormuz were causing ominous threats to spew from said presidential orifice. Iran first dismissed U.S. concerns about the incident, saying it was a routine contact, and then denied doing anything. And lately even the Navy is questioning the authenticity of the bomb threats.

Of course our nation’s eyes are primarily focussed on the race to succeed His Supreme Irrelevancy, for in all honesty those who care about the comings and goings of our country’s last and greatest mistake are few and far between. And just because our Navy has an ongoing history of this kind of trumped up confrontation that is no excuse for Iran claiming this latest confrontation was faked. How many of you out there can remember the Tonkin Bay incident, the fictional naval encounter which Lyndon Johnson used as the excuse to officially interfere militarily in Vietnam, a permission which was later rescinded by the U. S. Congress after belatedly discovering the inherent falsity of the so-called encounter? But of course by then it was too late. Once you get in a war, you play hell getting out again unless one side or the other is vanquished completely.

Is the Iranian “incident” being used by that whitest of houses in a desperate attempt to call attention to our much ignored leader, giving him one last shot at garnering some positive scrutiny while pretending relevance as he attempts to exude strength and purpose? Or is this yet another nail in the coffin leading to a military conflict with Iran? With Tonkin Bay in mind what in the world could possibly make some of us think, “here we go again?” Keep your ears open and if the war drums continue maybe it’s time to seriously consider the McGovern alternative.
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Last Tuesday brought New Hampshire voters to the polls. It was a very surprising day from start to finish. All afternoon CNN was broadcasting polls which showed Barack Obama running ten points ahead of Hilary Clinton in New Hampshire. And time and time again they replayed a video of Bill Clinton berating the news media for going soft on questioning Obama about his stance on the war. If you were for Hillary things looked really bleak. After all, the polls seemed to have been accurate in Iowa, so why wouldn’t they be accurate in New Hampshire? It was more than a little depressing as I tuned away from CNN at six to watch the Houston Rockets win their game 92-84 against the Washington Wizards, and that soon buoyed my spirits. At game’s end I turned back to CNN just in time to find out that John McCain had been declared the winner in the Republican contest, no great surprise there as that had been the prediction for days on end. But there was no winner as yet in the Democratic race, although Hillary was ahead with Obama running second. About an hour later the Associated Press was the first to declare Hillary the winner, then thirty or so minutes later CNN finally declared her the winner.

The media, in my case CNN, was near apoplectic trying to understand and explain to the rest of us the complete turn around from an afternoon of total Obama dominance to the stark reality check the late evening brought. How could this have happened? one pundit after another mused. I hate to tell them, but maybe they should have all shut up until the polls had closed, after which time they might have some real facts to pass along instead of the ego fed malarkey that passed in lieu of information. Because as we discover time and time again, much of the speculation before the fact is simply ungrounded fantasy. And obviously those highly inaccurate p0lls didn’t do a thing to shape the election in New Hampshire, for if voters there had been listening to CNN and probably the other news channels they would undoubtedly have turned the election in the direction the pundits were predicting, human nature being what it is dictates that most people want to vote for a winner.

It is for this reason that the courts have forbidden announcing election results until all of the polls have closed. The deciding case was from an election in Houston, Texas in the 1940’s. Former Harris County Judge Roy Hoffeinz owned tv station KTRK, channel 13, in Houston. He was very much the politician (He also built, with Harris County assistance, the Astrodome in Houston, the nation’s first domed stadium.) and all day during a local election in which he had an interest, his channel broadcast results from precincts favoring his point of view, and suppressed reporting precincts which didn’t support his position. All in hopes of swaying late voters to support the position he was trying to sell. The other side ended up winning in spite of Hoffeinz’s attempted manipulation, and they brought the case to the courts which ultimately ruled in the favor of the plaintiffs and ended by invoking the rule that prevails to this day, the rule preventing radio and tv stations from announcing any election results until all polling stations have closed. And so these days while the polls are still open all the media can report on are pre election polls and other iffy data, data which obviously can be wrong. And just how non useful this can be was proven last Tuesday as the people of New Hampshire voted.
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And from the wire services comes this: It was such a girlish question, Marianne Pernold Young wasn't sure she should ask it. There she was, within touching distance of a very smart Hillary Rodham Clinton at a little New Hampshire coffee shop where a handful of other very smart women had spent an hour asking very smart questions about immigration and national security — and the only thing she could think to ask, the only thing she really wanted to know, was: How do you do it? So when the microphone came around one last time, she asked the question that helped to steady the listing campaign of the first woman with a real shot at the White House: "As a woman, I know it's hard to get out of the house and get ready. My question is very personal: How do you do it?"

For all the grilling by the news media, Clinton's response to that one girlish question was what the Clinton high command later would call a eureka moment, eliciting a glimpse of humanity from the famously self-controlled senator from New York. It was just one of several factors that led to her close victory, but it already has entered the realm of political legend.

In interviews later, Pernold Young said she admires Clinton and was delighted to have evoked a side of her that could "help her with future press conferences and rallies." But she couldn't help noticing that after the famous question was answered, Clinton "turned to the right and went right into political rhetoric again." Which she went on to explain is why she voted for Barack Obama.
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Charles Gibson who hosted the Friday night debate sponsored by ABC News, Facebook and WMUR, a local tv outlet, for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates did a clever thing. The Republican hopefuls led off and as their debate ended Gibson urged the candidates who were on stage to greet their Democratic rivals who were coming onstage for their debate. There followed a convivial few moments of backslapping as these more or less bitter partisan enemies pretended affection for one another.
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Apple’s chief honcho, Steven P. Jobs, can rest easy and sleep nightmare free these days, for according to a Reuters report quoting retiring Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, the software company that some see as a monopolistic force in the software industry will not try and put out an imitation iPhone, as it has with its iPod “busting” Zune.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Microsoft will not launch a product that competes directly with Apple's iPhone, Chairman Bill Gates said in an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "No, we won't do that. In the so-called smart phone business we will concentrate solely on software with our Windows Mobile program," Gates was quoted as saying in the interview published on Wednesday. "We have partnerships with a lot of device manufacturers from Samsung to Motorola and this variety brings us significantly more than if we would make our own mobile phone," he added.

According to Reuters, Apple's iPhone, which also plays music and lets users browse the internet, has been a big hit. Recent reports indicate that in only one quarter, the iPhone already owns 27% of the smart phone market, far ahead of the combined offerings Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Palm, and second only to the Blackberries of Research In Motion. And for a most incisive story on the birth and development of the iPhone, go here: http://www.wired.com/gadgets/wireless/magazine/16-02/ff_iphone
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Shades of Abbie Hoffman, a movie called Steal This Film 2 produced by a group calling itself The League of Noble Peers, is already a huge success, with over 150,000 downloads in 4 days. But what is most intriguing, is that people are being very generous and the movie has raised over $5,000 in its first 4 days. When Steal This Film 1 was released the Nobles asked each down loader to donate $1 and most did just that. However, this time around the majority have donated $15 or more. Why is that, you might well ask? Well Torrent Freak says it could be the that down loaders have been motivated by a mystery gift that was offered if they donated $15 or more.

On his blog Jamie King, the producer of the film says, “Over 90% of people donating are deciding to go over the artificial $15 threshold we set. But I don’t think people literally ‘want that gift’; I think they want an excuse to be generous!” I guess we could label this tactic “radioheading.” It’s a shame that Radiohead, the band, elected to keep the figures that their fans voluntarily paid for downloading their latest album a secret. If the record companies could get a clear picture of the tactic’s effectiveness maybe they would try it themselves, since nothing else they are doing these days seems to be working worth a damn. However, on second thought I’m pretty sure they don’t have the faith in their customers to exercise such genuine trust. Obviously they feel more comfortable suing the lovers of their music.
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Imagine buying a video recorder with this message accompanying it: “HACKERS, welcome! Here are detailed circuit diagrams of our products — modify them as you wish.” Most of us think of the word hack in terms of illegality, combining the web and the term hack convey thoughts of criminality to most of us. However that’s exactly what the manufacturers of a new device, the Neuros OSD want you to do. While most electronic gadget manufacturers tend to keep information about the innards of their products as secret as they can, Neuros Technology International, creator of the new afore mentioned video recorder, has decided to take matters in a different direction.

The company, based in Chicago, is providing full documentation of the hardware platform for its recorder, the Neuros OSD (stands for open source device), so that skilled users can customize or “hack” the device — and then pass along the improvements to others. The OSD is a versatile recorder. Using a memory card or a U.S.B. storage device, it saves copies of DVDs, VHS tapes and television programs from satellite receivers, cable boxes, TVs and any other device with standard video output. Because the OSD saves the recordings in the popular compressed video format MPEG-4 (pronounced EM-peg), the programs can be watched on a host of devices, including iPods and smart phones. The OSD is for sale at Fry’s, Micro Center, J&R Electronics and other locations for about $230.

The OSD not only has open hardware, but also has open software: it is based on the Linux operating system. Neuros Technology encourages hacking of the device; and has contests with cash rewards for new applications for the OSD. One winner, for instance, designed a program that lets people use it to watch YouTube on their televisions. The OSD’s capabilities will grow to suit changing times, said Joe Born, founder and chief executive of the company. “Digital video is a fast-moving space,” he said, “and many consumers don’t want to buy a new piece of hardware every time a media company comes out with a new way to watch its shows. The best way to address this problem was to make the product open source, allowing our smartest developers and users to modify it.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/business/06novel.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
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In a blog called A VC, Musings of a VC in NYC, the author muses over a chart showing the usage of various media, which inspired him to begin studying the way his own teenagers were using the media. In doing so he came up an interesting observation. “When they walk into a DVD store, they rarely walk out with a movie. It’s almost always the first season of a TV show they’ve heard is good. They’ll go see a movie in the theater but don’t really enjoy watching movies at home or on their computers. They feel that TV shows are better written and more interesting. And the entertainment value is certainly more compelling. For roughly $40 they got something like 25 episodes of Brothers and Sisters. That's almost 17 hours of entertainment for $40. That's hard to beat. And they get the bonus of being able to start watching the show on TV once they've caught up. It makes me wonder where this is headed. I don’t know enough about the economics of TV shows versus films, but it may be that digital technology is changing the way the younger generation will consume filmed entertainment in some important ways. Something to think about. And maybe why the writers are striking.”

Reading that piece I couldn’t help agreeing with that man’s teenagers. I recently bought a DVD of the first 25 episodes of Mary Hartman-Mary Hartman (Sony Pictures, $18 from Amazon.com). I found this a wonderful value. The 25 episodes are on three separate disks, and together they hold 564 commercial free minutes. It was wonderful getting a chance to see MH-2 once again, I had been curious to know if it would be as habit forming in 2008 as it had been when I first saw the series in 1976-77. And it probably won’t come to you as a surprise that I did find it to be every bit as addictive this time around, with the added bonus that the images appear sharp and clear on my lcd computer screen, not filled with the tv ghosts that marred the original broadcast image. The discs had a catalogue of other available Sony TV shows accompanying them, but none of the other shows appealed to me. My only regret is that Sony hasn’t made the next 25 episodes available. And the ones after that. To me MH-2 was truly one of a kind. Since receiving it I have seen the first 25 episodes two times through and am in the middle of my third go around. I’ll know more after I’ve seen a few more episodes, but after just watching episode one again, I think I have a clue as to the why of its addictive qualities.

I attribute MH-2's addictive qualities to the fact that it was the first television program to honestly portray a truly dysfunctional American family to a television audience of dysfunctional families. (Aren’t we all dysfunctional in one way or another?) Mary was sexually frustrated, husband Tom was impotent, at least as far as Mary was concerned, although he managed to get it up with Mae Olson from the plant before he began wallowing in guilt over it. Mary’s sister slept with a different boy each week. Her neighbor Loretta Haggars was a would-be country singer who turned the neighborhood murder of the Lombardy family of five and two goats and six chickens into a weird tear jerking country song, and then there was Mary’s grandpa Larkin, who liked to exhibit his god given endowments for the Fernwood female population to admire and in so doing earned himself the title Fernw0od Flasher. One of the most indelible characterizations was Dody Goodman’s portrayal of Martha Shumway as Mary’s mother, who lived constantly in a cloud of confusion always on the edge of fainting as she desperately tried comprehending the actions of her family, and for compensation she had long conversations with her plants.

The show was a parody of the real daytime soaps, the main difference being that instead of its character’s quirks being labeled in euphemisms, the show called a spade a spade. Norman Lear explained that Mary Hartman Mary Hartman appeared twice because everything it soap operas was repeated twice. Appearing five days a week and using close ups and other filming techniques characteristic of the real soaps, the program soon crept into the heart of its audience. The characters were very human and although quirky they were plainly lovable, who could not help but get caught up in such epic drama?

The writing staff consisted of Gail Parent, Ann Marcus, Jerry Adelman, and Daniel Gregory Browne, Marcus being also known for her work on the daytime soap Search for Tomorrow. The opening episode told of the mass murder of a neighborhood family, the Lombardy family, it soon turned out that Mary’s daughter Heather (didn’t you just know that Mary Hartman would have a daughter named Heather?) had seen the murderer of the Lombardy family, and would be followed by the him. It was also in that first episode that we learned that Mary’s grandpa Larkin had a fondness for going trouserless, opening his raincoat at strategic moments. Meantime the Psychiatric Social worker assigned by the courts to counsel grandpa Larkin proceeds to fall in love with him. Now I realize that such a plot line sounds a bit thin when stated so baldly, but if you stop and think about it most any plot line will sound thin when distilled into so few words. What made the show come alive for many of us was the skill of the actors, and the intimate way they were photographed.

As unique as MH2 was in it’s casting and structure, the way the show was presented to the world was equally one of a kind. The networks, or course, wouldn’t get anywhere near such a bundle of outspoken honesty, there was no cable back then, so as a result the show was sold in syndication to independent stations throughout the country. They were presented with five episodes a week. Fearful of its outspokenness some stations would not air the show until after the late evening news. However a few stations, since they had nothing else of such interest, would play the entire week’s episodes, one after the other, every night of the week.

The cast, and particularly Louise Lasser, were under a serious strain, having to rehearse the next day’s episode in the morning, and then tape that day’s episode in the afternoon. Every day, five days a week. As a result of the strain of the schedule Mary Hartman had a nationally televised nervous breakdown on The David Susskind Show at the end of the first season. Mary then opened the second season in a psychiatric ward, and she was delighted to be part of their selected Nielsen Ratings “family.” By its second season many Americans were thoroughly addicted to MH2, and this group included the author Gore Vidal, who was enamored with it enough that he appeared as himself in it’s later days. Among the actors who were propelled to greater heights were Dabney Coleman who played the somewhat devious mayor of Fernwood, and Martin Mull who played two characters on the program, one the wife beater Garth Gimble who committed suicide, and the other, his brother who was talk show host Barth Gimble. Mull also emceed the program’s summer replacement, a pseudo talk show called Fernwood 2Night (which very likely was the first instance of the number 2 being used as a substitute for the prefix to, a process common these days, especially on the web. p2p, etc.) When Louise Lasser exited the show by running off with her policeman boyfriend, the show continued for a time as Forever Fernwood, following the trials and tribulations of Mary's family and friends. The series finally ended in 1978, after only 26 weeks on the air, along with the talk show parody spin-off Fernwood 2-Night. A total of 130 half-hour episodes were produced.

As a postscript Mary Kay Place was nominated for a Grammy award on the strength of the album Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggars on which she sang as her MH2 character. One of the songs Place wrote for the album, “Baby Boy,” climbed to the Top 60 on Billboard's Pop Charts, and #3 on the country charts, in 1976. Place also won an Emmy for her performance on the show. The show's writers realized Loretta Haggars' newfound fame made it harder to keep her character in Fernwood, so they devised a story line wherein the country and western star makes an anti-semitic, career-shattering remark on the Dinah Shore talk show.

According to the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman Wikipedia page the series was again syndicated on local stations briefly in 1982, and enjoyed some short-lived air time on the television channel TV Land in 2002. Aside from the two-volume videocassette issued in the 1980s and bootlegged videos, the show has been difficult to find on any format. With the exception of the first 25 episodes which are available on DVD, many fans have been unable to watch most of the episodes from this series.

In the year 2000 many of the original cast appeared on a panel for a Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman retrospective at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills, CA. The panel discussion was taped for the museum's archives. It is the wish of MH2 fans the world over, and most especially this one, that this discussion be either aired on the channel’s website (if it has one), or at the very least be issued on DVD. Also many of us plead for as many as possible of MH2’s other 105 episodes be issued on DVD. And a note to Sony: If some enterprising entity would put the entire series on blue-ray disks I know at least one person who would take the plunge and buy a player just to be able to watch the series in its entirety.
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And here’s a tale of bureaucratic incompetence to brighten your day. Would you believe? The FBI routinely failed to pay telecom companies promptly for providing phone and internet lines to the FBI's impressive domestic surveillance architecture – resulting in at least one phone company cutting off a foreign intelligence wiretap until the FBI paid up. Damn, those greedy phone companies want to get paid for their wires.

Former FBI agent and now ACLU national security policy counsel Mike German directed his ire at the telecoms who happily played along with the government's warrant free spying and let the FBI illegally get customer records following requests to get surveillance today with false promises to pay with a court order tomorrow. "To put it bluntly it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when FBI says warrant is in the mail but not when they say the check is in the mail," German said.
http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/01/fbi-wiretap-cut.html
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And finally, mydamnchannel.com has begun enabling the embedding of its videos onto other websites, and so we tried in vain to offer you the video of Harry Shearer rendering his well known ode to the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, “Waterboarding U.S.A.” However, it didn't work, nothing appeared as we opened the page in view mode, and so like in old time in order to enable you to see it we are forced to reprint the URL. Enjoy.
http://www.mydamnchannel.com/channel.aspx?episode=163

Keep America number one indeed! May we invite you to join us again next week, same spot in your browser’s window, sporting our woefully misspelled web address, with its double t’s, double l’s, double e’s, and double d’s. When you put all together it will take you to: http://littlleeddy.blogspot.com where we hope to meet you once again next week. We post on Saturdays. Bye bye!

The Real Little Eddy