Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blog #23 Of Campaigns, Unions, and Sports

At the moment Barack Obama seems to be surging in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. If Hillary Clinton is able to get back on track it will be Texas and Ohio that will propel her. I listened to Obama’s victory speeches, and although he sounds good and he’s pressing all the right buttons, his thinking just doesn’t seem to me to be as well organized as is Hillary Clinton’s. I really would have more confidence in Hillary on Day One than Obama. Besides it is disconcerting to note support for Obama by Repugnant pundits Bill Bennet and Karl Rove, who certainly have no interest in a Democratic success. It is very true that Hillary has a large negative factor, and especially among Republicans, but most of them won’t vote for a Democrat in spite of their discomfort with McCain, no matter what nonsense Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh might prattle. And whereas in hindsight it was unwise and unbecoming for a former president to be his wife’s number one hatchet man, some of Bill Clinton’s points about Obama were well taken, and in the tradition of Tammy Wynette he can be said to have returned a previously extended favor. However, if Obama’s momentum continues and he ends up the eventual Democratic nominee, the party won’t lose an inch of support. And we may even gain some independents.

For this year the line of demarcation has never been clearer. Failure with a capital F is the current legacy of the Republican Party. Their Emblem is an elephant on its knees; the war in Iraq, the economy, you name it, the elephant has flubbed badly. The only thing they have left to run on is (to paraphrase FDR) fear itself; churning up a fear of Al Qaeda among voters, and spreading the fear that the dems will raise taxes. But it was Bush who crippled the war against Al Qaeda by invading Iraq where Al Qaeda WASN’T, rather than honing all of his resources in Afghanistan where Al Qaeda WAS! Of course, once we got bogged down in Iraq like the Wicked Witch of the East Al Qaeda magically appeared. And John McCain’s frequently expressed win-at-any-cost mindset promises years if not decades of more of the same, and you can bet your bottom dollar (if we have one left to bet) that we’ll be in Iraq for an unbelievably long haul. So let’s you and me make a pact NOT to get Swiftboated. No, never again.

And as for taxes, you can also bet that bottom dollar that the dems *will* raise taxes, however they will raise them only on the very wealthy who got an unneeded and completely uncalled for tax break from Bush, who after awarding it went on to invade Iraq, leaving the rest of us (and our children and our children’s children) to pay for his little extravagance. The dems’ Congressional majorities are razor thin but you better believe that once the they regain real power (and especially the White House) the middle and poorer classes will see tax relief and tax fairness will once again be restored to the national agenda. Lesson: the Republicans only care for those wealthy enough to afford their care, the Democrats are there to care for the rest of us. Enough of this running the federal government for the exclusive benefit of the rich already! It’s high time the rest of us got a break!
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Well, as we enter the #23rd week of this blog the writer’s strike is history. At an announcement on February 10, Writer’s Guild bigwigs announced that the striking writers would return to work on Wednesday. ABC’s broadcast of the Academy Awards show has been saved! New episodes of your favorite TV shows will rise like a flock of phoenixes in early spring! Next fall’s TV season has been resuscitated!

Franklin D. Roosevelt had a few skirmishes with labor leaders during the second world war, challenging the railroad unions and the coal miners, but in general he was a friend of the working man. In my opinion the U. S. president who has inflicted the most damage to the union movement in my lifetime was Ronald Reagan, who at an earlier time had himself held the title of president of the Screen Actors Guild. He completely broke the back of the Air Controllers union, had several of its officers carried away in chains, and union leaders in general became very timid after that. In fact, Reagan, still the darling of Republicans and Christian conservatives, was in my opinion the absolute worst president of the 8o year span of my life. During his regime the atmosphere was oppressive, burglaries flourished because the people at the bottom had lost all hope. As an actor he had been an “also ran,” and he played the part of the president as if the U. S. presidency was a black and white Warner Bros movie. And during his regime the Christian Right became a political force in this country, with its relentless attempt at shaping our nation’s morality into their own image.

Like Bush is doing now, Reagan did an end run around Congress, actively supporting oppression in Nicaragua and El Salvador and he got away with it for a long time, earning himself the nickname of the teflon president because nothing negative ever seemed to stick to him. When things finally caught up with him towards the end of his presidency he struggled through investigation after investigation chanting the mantra, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember.” Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House during the first year of his presidency, called him the 3x5 card president, because all of his ideas seemed to fit on that size cards. It was reported that he slept a lot. And as it turned out, he was our nation’s first Alzheimer’s president.

Why do screen and television writers strike every few years? As new channels for their work open up (streaming on the web is the newest outlet for television shows), the writers and actors understandably want to share in the profits their work creates. But the production companies who produce and sell the programs will not voluntarily share in these newly found areas of profit (this is capitalism after all), consequently the only way for writers to achieve their fair share is to withhold their services. In a word Strike! Money has to be pried out of the production companies, a process akin to pulling teeth. The last writer’s strike produced the so-called reality tv shows, which to this day remain with us. The actors are smart. They let the writers lead the way. After the writers have won their right to share in residuals, the producers will quickly settle with actors on equal terms, rightly figuring that the public will not tolerate another break in their entertainment, for another delay will surely drive the public to seek out other forms of entertainment.

Why do the producers eventually give in and agree to share with the writers? Because the writers are the starting point in both movies and television. Without writers you have no program. No comedies, no dramas. Writers give words to the actors, and give shape to the characters. Producers know this, and they know they will eventually give in. Large tv events like the Academy Awards give the studios and producers an incentive to settle, for Hollywood loses in the pocketbook big time if the writers are still striking and actors won’t cross their picket lines at the Academy Awards. The Golden Globes was deciminated by this year’s strike. Hollywood wasn’t about t0 let that happen to their precious Oscars, it is too commercially important to the film industry. So understandably at the exact last minute the producers settled.

It is refreshing after these past seven years of oppressive Republican rule, to see unions begin to find their voices once again. For even though it is true that unions only represent a small percentage of the work force, the larger truth is that their presence influences the pay of non union workers and thereby benefits us all. We used to know this before the Republicans clouded our memory with their incessant sputtering of irrelevant blather.
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Roger Clemens; did he or didn’t he? Is it really anyone’s business? If he did it is his own body he violated, he didn’t hurt anyone else. Sports is such a ridiculously competitive mind set, particularly baseball and football. It’s true these players set an example for our youth, but so long as they don’t advertise what they are taking to get their edge what does it matter? Sure, it would be nice if baseball players earned their home run and pitching honors without the help of chemicals, but as long as chemicals are out there and other players are using them, their competitive nature will not let them not use them.

These Congressmen think these congressional investigations are doing some good for the nation. Wouldn’t it be nice if they would take a lesson from the boy scouts and *share* whatever it is they are smoking? I hate to be the one to break the bad news to them but that’s not the way many Americans are seeing these hearings. Virtually every email respondent to CNN’s Cafferty File on Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room reacted extremely negative. Most deplore that the Congressmen were wasting their’s and our time putting Clemens’ through the ringer when they could and should have been investigating what really matters these troubled times, which is the conduct of the Bush administration about the war in Iraq, waterboarding, the NSA reading the nations’ emails without warrants, well, you name it, they seem to have done it. (And Hooray! The DOJ finally had the nerve to declare that “waterboarding” is illegal.)

Clemens is being backed into a corner. Taking steriods or Human Growth Hormones is not, in itself, illegal. But what is illegal is LYING bout it. And most especially lying to Congress IS illegal and punishable by jail time and a fine. You are supposed to tell the truth to Congress, or for that matter to the FBI. Just ask Martha Stewart, she can tell you all about that. Of course, Martha’s main problem was that she was a Democrat, Republicans would have never sent a fellow Republican to jail for dumping a stock that was going to tank, no matter that they lied about their motives. Now the tide seems to have turned. The Democrats are back in power, and poor Roger Clemens is undoubtedly a Republican in distress. But have no fear Roger Clemens, and move over Scooter Libby, Bush will pardon.
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While we’re talking about professional sports have you ever wondered what the attraction is? Why a fan’s mood can swing from high and feeling no pain, to low with high intensity pain as his team is winning or losing? It’s weird, especially if you’re not a fan yourself, it’s something that seems beyond understanding. I have wondered at it myself many times, and especially when I find the Rockets in a streak of losing games because of careless play, or when they are on an eight game winning streak as they are now, and and my mood definitely swings with the tides of their fortune.

When I was a young man living in the University Settlement House in lower Manhattan we had a fellow named Jack who hung around the house who was a for real, dedicated communist. He could quote Karl Marx through and through, and he lived his talk except for one thing, he was an unmitigated fan of professional baseball, and particularly the New York Yankees. Back then I could not understand how a man of such high principles could forsake them by supporting a team in a sport driven by pure capitalism. A team loaded with players who make more money in a season than Jack will likely make in his lifetime. But as illogical as it sounds Jack was a devoted Yankee fan, no question about it. He knew every player, and would go on and on about minute fluctuations in their records.

Myself, I always poohpoohed professional sports until the year 1986. My son Joel was spending the summer touring Europe, the Houston Rockets were in the finals, and I promised Joel I would watch the games and send him reports in Europe. I did, the Rockets played well against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, but in spite of their having the Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, they were over matched and lost the series. However, in that month I got hooked and I have been watching the Rockets religiously ever since.

This year has been like a see-saw. They (it’s hard not to use the term “we”) started out the series winning five or so in a row, and our hopes shot sky high. But then reality began to set in, and it was a win here and a loss there, the two wins and three losses, etc. There was a new coach, and of course he was trying out the players to see which combination would work. Well, about ten games ago he began going deep into his bench trying out the rookies, and when he did he got a fire and energy that had not been there before, and suddenly the Rockets began winning.

They have played very well right up to the last game before the All Star weekend break. In that game against the Sacramento Kings they led the entire way and entered the fourth quarter with an 18 point lead, at which time they reverted to their earlier form and suffered a meltdown. Ron Artest, a Sacramento player, had 30 4th quarter points to the Rockets team’s total of 15, and he singlehandedly diminished the Rockets’ lead until with 15 seconds left the Kings had taken a 1 point, 87-86, lead. The Rockets had the ball. Tracy McGrady tried to get it to Yao Ming, who was well covered. Two players were covering Tracy when he flung the ball over his shoulder to reservist Steve Novak, who was standing behind the 3 point line and who had not taken much less made a shot all night. With 2.5 left on the clock, cool as the proverbial cucumber, Steve tossed in the 3 pointer. Nothing but net. At the other end Ron Artest was covered, and Brad Miller was forced to take the shot, and missed. And with that the Rockets won the game 89-87 by the skinny skin skin of their teefy teef teeth, as the saying goes. And the win streak is intact, at least for now.
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Blogrunner is a column in the NY Times Technology section that tracks news from blogs and publications from all over. On Monday it linked the reader to a fascinating story by Tim Bray about the development of XML. It was an article he had written in 1998 but only published now on XML’s 10th anniversary. In it he wrote about Ted (Theodore Holm Nelson, a “what-if?” type person who invented the word hypertext, the h in both HTTP and HTML), Tim Berners-Lee, sometimes abbreviated as TimBL, pronounced to rhyme with thimble, who invented the internet. Jean · Jean Paoli, a citizen of France but really Lebanese, a typical Levantine ethnic cocktail: dark, burly, hirsute, chubby-faced, and many others. “Jean worked at Microsoft and was a charter member of the XML project; the idea that Microsoft would actually pay attention to our dream was more than a little intoxicating.”

Bray originally titled the article “Good Luck and Internet Plumbing,” but now prefers its file title “XML-People.” It is a fascinating narrative which brings alive many of the creators of this internet language. Among other things it has a harsh, but many would say an honest, assessment of Microsoft. To whet your appetite I reprint a part of his assessment of Microsoft.

“Ned and Mick · Some of the people in this story are companies. Ned is Netscape and Mick is Microsoft. Yes, any company, au fond, is just a collection of people. But some companies, at some times, are more than that, and their representatives are both less and more than people. Less, because they perforce speak with a voice not their own, and more, because that voice is the voice of hundreds or thousands (of colleagues), and of millions or billions (of dollars).

“For example, while Jean was just Jean at the beginning of the process, once Microsoft got really interested he stopped being Jean and starting speaking with Mick’s voice. It’s hard to argue with a company, because they make their decision off stage, and their role in a dialogue is then to win their point, not to strive for truth. And as XML became increasingly successful, Jean’s role on our committee was filled by a succession of other Microsoft staffers, whose individual personalities matter little.

“Mick is a domineering, ruthless, greedy, egotistical, self-centered, paranoid bastard. Whether or not he’s actually a crook is, as they say, currently the subject of litigation; but he’s not good company or a good friend. The ruthlessness and greed would not be so irritating (we swim, after all, in late-capitalist waters) were they not accompanied, at all times, by Mick’s claim to speak not in his own interest, but selflessly on behalf of his millions of customers, whose needs only he understands. Thus, anyone who disagrees is conspiring against the interests of the world’s computer users.

“Mick’s other really irritating habit is constant grating prating about “great” products and “innovation.” Certain Microsoft executives are going to spend eternity fleeing around the bolgias of Hell from demons wielding branding irons on which “great software” and “innovation” glow white-hot. A very large majority in the computing trades think the products are mostly pretty poor, and see the company as the single greatest roadblock to innovation in our profession.”

A truly fascinating story for all with any interest in the web and its languages. It can be found in its entirety at the following URL:
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There’s a l0t of talk these days about Twitter, the service where you communicate, telling your story in a very few words. Many of the people who are into it find it quite addictive. The more long winded among us, like me, are skeptical, and wonder at having to express your thoughts in so slip shod a fashion. Silicon Alley Insider Tuesday published the Twitter Diary of a young man laid off from Yahoo. We reprint a part of it here while posing this question to you, should this new form of literature be called twitterature?

Y! layoffs today, I'm "impacted". I'm heading into work to pack my desk, get my severance paperwork and hand in my badge ... more to come. about 10 hours ago

On the plus side, my commute just got a lot shorter. about 10 hours ago.

Ironic that I just got my PC repaired yesterday. Won't be needing that anymore. about 9 hours ago.

Walking around saying good bye to some great people and good friends. about 9 hours ago

Waiting for the call from HR so I can go pick up my paperwork .... C'mon, c'mon! I'm busy here! Let's get this over with. about 8 hours ago

This is a serious downer. Trying to drown it in free lattes. Which I will miss. about 8 hours ago

Thanks to everyone sending the positive tweets. I've got plenty of free time now so just let me know if you want to meet up for lunch. about 8 hours ago

Ugh. I have a 1GB flash drive and 2GB files to back up. That is teh suck. about 7 hours ago

Heading into my HR meeting. The room is called Lucy. Cute, eh? about 7 hours ago

Finishing meeting with HR. Need to go clear out desk now. about 6 hours ago

Dammit. I was hoping to hook up the free Flickr Pro account before I got canned. Major fail. about 6 hours ago

Taking my last walk through URLs. Remember that time we sat in that booth to review ad yields? That was great ... about 6 hours ago

Lots of whispered conversations. Like people are afraid to ask who's gone. about 4 hours ago

Dear Blackberry, What great times we had. I'll miss you. At least until tonight when I stop on my way home and buy an iPhone. Love, Me about 4 hours ago

Oh ... and my badge. He's going to take that too. Will I be able to get a latte for the road still? about 4 hours ago

I'm going dark in a few minutes. The HR guy is on his way over to confiscate my laptop. about 4 hours ago

Last free triple non-fat latte from Beantrees. Sniff. about 3 hours ago

Signing off from Yahoo!. Fade to black ... about 3 hours ago

More of Ryan’s story is at:

And here’s an amusing story of one mother’s attempt to twitter her family:
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Our newest department here on the Little Eddy blog is called the Pipe Dream Least Likely to Fly Department, or please pass around whatever it is that you are smoking! Microsoft is our first winner with the announcement that a survey it has taken has determined that teens are less likely to download illegal files when they learn the law. Thus the Microsoft Genuine Advantage program will burst forth with an advertising campaign to educate the poor, the teenaged, the uninformed.
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My son Joel is doing his residency as a doctor in Phoenix, Arizona and in his spare time is busy pursuing his real passion, the acquisition of music processing tools by way of the internet before actually processing music for real. We were talking by phone the other night, and I was telling him how I was going to try and repair the blip in the copy of Tama, the song from TONTO’s Expanding Headband that I use as the theme for my radio program Nightsong which I am in the process of reviving as a podcast. He googled “ Tonto’s Expanding Headband bit torrent ” , and nine links down damned if he didn’t come across his own name. It was a link to the very first Little Eddy blog and had the words, “Thanks to Joel I went to Safari and opened that incomparable bit torrent search .... my old Nightsong theme song, Tama, from Tonto's Expanding Headband. ...” Imagine googling Tonto and seeing your own name come up? We both had a laugh at that. Ain’t search engines grand? What would the internet be without them?
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Speaking of Nightsong, my first podcast is finished. Well, almost. It is 54 minutes and thirty five seconds from start to finish. I was on a thirty minute call to Apple tech support today, to determine how to finish the thing so I could send it to iTunes where I can do things with it that are needed to share it with others. After repeated listening I have determined that the three vocal tracks are a bit loud, causing a slight clipping, but otherwise it is AOK. I will do them over again after I post this morning, then hopefully it will be a wrap.

It has been thirty-odd years since I have done Nightsong, and this one required learning a computer program to execute it as I have neither records nor tape machines these days. But I have listened to it three times all the way through and except for the three vocal tracks I swear it sounds just as good as did the original programs. And the technology is such these days that there is none of the scratch, hiss and distortion that you used to get with analog records and tapes back the the good old days. Nothing but perfect copies of the performances no matter that they have been copied and combined with others. More as I figure out how to distribute it.
By bye for now.

The Real Little Eddy

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