Saturday, February 9, 2008

Blog #23: Of End Runs and Kiln Baked Bricks

Well, congratulations to us all. We managed to survive yet another Super Bowl; every moment of the pre-game hype, the not-so-golden oldies half-time show (no chance of a “wardrobe malfunction” on the part of Tom Petty and his one time Heartbreakers, thank a merciful god!), moment after moment of football’s self assured commentators pontificating as if what they were saying really mattered in a world skewered with presidential missteps, and a visual space littered with the most over priced commercials on television. All of this happened last Sunday, and it is now but a faded memory. In the game David defeated Goliath, but how much did it really matter?

We need to be very careful, though, and not get distracted. For the ball we really need to keep our eye on is the one George Bush is carrying to try an end run around Congress and the American people by locking the U. S. into a long term military commitment in Iraq. In Bagdad negotiators are quietly working towards this goal as we speak. It’s all part of Shrubby W’s desire to try and shore up his legacy by attempting to justify what to many of us is unjustifiable, our first actual invasion of a sovereign nation since our ill-fated turn of the century invasions of Cuba and the Philippines.

While the administration these days is not denying the fact that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, it continues in its attempts to justify that completely unnecessary invasion by saying that it was based upon information commonly believed at the time. My Dear Lord, of course the information was commonly believed at the time. From day one George Bush attempted with all his might to blame the 9-11 attacks on Saddam Hussein, and the administration’s propaganda machine went into high gear, planting false information day and night during the entire two year buildup lasting until the moment of the actual invasion.

As we reported in Blog #21 the Center for Public Integrity working with the Fund for Independence in Journalism has noted 935 false statements over a two year period. Bush led the pack with 259 false statements, 231 about Iraq having Weapons of Mass Destruction, and 28 about Iraq's links to al-Qaeda with then Secretary of State Colin Powell next with 244 false statements about Iraq’s WMD and 10 about its al-Qaeda links. And just when the returned inspectors had come close to ascertaining that Hussein did indeed NOT have WMDs, George Bush pulled the inspectors out of Iraq so he could proceed with the invasion.

And let the record show that the American invaders were not greeted by an Iraqi population bearing garlands of roses as promised by Paul Wolfowitz, the man generally perceived to be one of the primary orchestrators of Bush’s propaganda buildup to war, but rather they were met by strategically detonated roadside bombs, bombs which took a painful toll on many of our troops who had been forced to ride in vehicles without proper armor, thanks to Rumsfield's attempt to run the war on the cheap. Whereas it is perfectly true that Saddam Hussein governed through fear, all told his people enjoyed far more peace of mind as to their physical well being under his rule than do the Iraq people today under the regime we allowed to be set up to rule the country.

In their exuberance to justify the initial invasion of Iraq, which stands in full view along with a string of other wartime violations of the human condition such as the torture of certain prisoners and unmitigated home front neglect during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this administration attempts to paint its doubters with the brush of the unpatriotic and the un-American. As if doubters and questioners were the ones tainted. And to a man Republicans are stuck with inheriting George Bush’s war, only Ron Paul has had the courage to call it what is really is, and of course he has not a chance in hell of getting the Republican nomination. A situation for which we can all be thankful, by the way.
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This year’s Super Bowl was followed by a super day of politics called aptly called Super Tuesday. It was the day when a whole slew of states, from sea to shining sea, voted their presidential preferences. War hero and Republican maverick turned number one Iraq war supporter John McCain’s eminent possible capture of the Republican nomination is causing some Republican conservatives acute heartburn. His initial characterization of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy as misguided and unneeded destroyed his boni fides with lapdog GOP conservatives even though at the present time as he feels the nomination within his grasp he is vowing to support continuing these tax cuts into eternity.

Right-wing gurus like Ann Coulter and right-wing radio’s favorite rabble rouser Rush Limbaugh seem to be excreting kiln baked bricks at the very thought of so unprincipled a conservative calling the GOP tune. They are even threatening, horror upon horror, to vote for Hillary Clinton to punish this misguided Republican party. OH, THE DELIGHT OF IT! But no matter who the eventual Republican candidate might be, all but Paul give an enthusiastic nod to the Bush policies on war and tax relief for the wealthy and all promise much more of the same, which certainly gives the country a clear choice come election day. Everybody should note that a Republican vote is a vote for never ending support for George W. Bush’s misguided invasion of Iraq and his uncalled for and unneeded tax relief for corporations and the very wealthy. Whereas Clinton/Obama promise a curt, early exit of the war and a return of the federal government to the business of serving the taxpayers, and especially those of the middle class and the poor.

The Republican and Democratic character traits can be roughly defined by two words, the individual and the community. And both of these are characteristics are within each and every one of us. Myself, I am a loner, always have been. I identify with a hero of my youth, The Lone Ranger (although I have always eschewed wearing a mask in public). And yet my beliefs in politics lean toward the community, for they were shaped by the presidency I grew up within, that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The two presidents that preceded him, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, both talked a great line of prosperity, “a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot” was Hoover’s slogan, but neither president had the imagination or intention to use his powers to do anything to promote the prosperity they gave so much lip service to, thereby allowing the country to slide into deep economic depression.

Roosevelt came to power during what was probably the worst depression in the nation’s history. Unemployment was widespread, banks were closing due to runs on them, investors were jumping out of buildings right and left, and many ordinary people were depending on food dished out by charitable organizations. Roosevelt responded by closing the banks while he set up a safety net for banking institutions, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. His administration also created jobs in the public area with the Works Project Administration, which even employed writers and photographers to document the period in words and photographs.

In short, although hated by the wealthy class, Roosevelt is generally perceived by historians as having saved American capitalism from either turning fascist or communist, as so much of the world was turning during the depression years. And while he was at it Roosevelt created the greatest safety net of them all for us old geezers, the Social Security Administration.
Roosevelt was rewarded for his efforts in saving the country from fascism and leading it in wartime by winning four presidential terms, although he died before completing his fourth term. His popularity caused Republicans to institute a national presidential term limit after the war, one which restricts the current president to just two terms. Thankfully “W” comes under such a limit, and his father was restricted even further by losing his reelection bid to Bill Clinton. And from all indications either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be our next president, and our ship of state will do a sharp tack leeward towards waters of reasonableness and responsibility.

One thing to keep in mind as the political season surges on. The Republicans have virtually no successes to run on. The war, the economy, the Federal Government’s ineptness after Hurricane Katrina, especially as regards the city of New Orleans, a string of accomplishments that consist of one miserable failure after another. In order to have a chance they will have to rely on the only remaining arrow in their quiver, the Swift-boating of the Democratic candidates. May I remind all of P. T. Barnum’s dictum that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool us all of the people all of the time. Enough people fell for that bull dung in 2004 to cost Kerry the election; for sanity’s and our country’s sake let’s not let it happen again.

If you are interested in Hillary Clinton’s win Tuesday in California, we would direct you to a very thorough story in the Washington Post. It concerns four California Clinton supporters, film director Rob Reiner, Amy Rao, a Silicon Valley businesswoman adept at fund raising, Antonio Villaraigosa, the dynamic mayor of Los Angeles; and Dolores Huerta, a labor activist beloved in the dusty San Joaquin Valley, who had formed the Farm Workers Union with Caesar Chavez. It is a well written, fascinating account which gives the reader the feeling of having been there. It can be found and enjoyed at:
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The battle between the IFPI (the European version of the RIAA) and the Pirate Bay bit torrent website churns merrily along. A Danish court ruled in favor of the IFPI, ordering the Danish ISP “Tele2 to block all access to the popular BitTorrent tracker.” The Pirate Bay, currently ranked 28th in the list of most visited sites in Denmark, is working on countermeasures.

The court case was initiated by the IFPI - the infamous anti-piracy organization that represents the recording industry - and plans to force other ISPs to do the same. However, the TorrentFreak website reports that The Pirate Bay is determined to fight back, as usual.

The Pirate Bay team has already asked other BitTorrent admins to stand up against the IFPI lobby, and arranged a meeting with Tele2 to discuss the current events. Pirate Bay co-founder Brokep told TorrentFreak in a response: “I hope the torrent community understands what this will do to Danish people. It will also act as a very bad precedent for the European Union, and I hope everybody will fight this.” At the moment, The Pirate Bay team is registering new (Danish) domains, to make sure people can still download .torrent files from the Bay when the ban is activated later today or tomorrow. In addition the Pirate Bay will launch a campaign website, together with the Danish pro-piracy lobby “Piratgruppen”.

“It’s very frightening that IFPI can get through the courts with something like this. In Turkey and China its the state that decides what information the people can access and what should be censored. In Denmark its apparently the record industry,” a spokesman for Piratgruppen added.
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And on the other side of the Atlantic, in New York City, A New York judge is being asked to decide whether a company that gathers evidence on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in illegal file-sharing cases should be required to have a private investigator's license in order to do so. The issue, which has come up in the past, is being raised again in a case involving Rolando Amurao, who has been charged by Lava Records LLC and other music recording labels with illegally distributing 528 copyrighted music files over the Limewire peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network. The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

A motion filed by Amurao's attorney, Richard Altman, on Jan. 28 asked the court to exclude evidence and testimony against Amurao that was gathered by Belcamp, Md. based Media Sentry Inc. In his motion, Altman said that Media Sentry had illegally collected information about his client because it did not have a private investigator's license, as required by state law. "Plaintiffs proceed in these copyright infringement cases based upon evidence of file-sharing or distribution derived from investigations conducted by Safenet, Inc., a private company operating under the name of Media Sentry," Altman's motion stated.

Basically, Media Sentry searches file-sharing networks looking for individuals sharing music files and identifying the IP addresses associated with the activity, Altman said. Internet service providers are then asked via a court subpoena to identify the individual to whom the IP address is assigned to. "That person then becomes the putative defendant and is sued, on the assumption that he or she is responsible for all activity occurring with that IP address, and that any music files which are available on the computer are infringing copies," Altman said.

“The work performed by Media Sentry and SafeNet on behalf of the recording labels requires a private investigator's license in the state of New York,” Altman said. “Doing such work without such a license constitutes a misdemeanor subject to criminal penalties,” he noted. "Accordingly, their testimony and evidence, being obtained in violation of New York law, should be excluded," he said. Altman said further that under New York law, a private investigator is someone whose activities can include checking out an individual's identity, habits and movements or collecting evidence to be used in a court. That work requires a license, unless it's being done by the police and, under certain conditions, those working for lawyers he said. "This is a private company. So I've asked their evidence be excluded," he said.
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Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC? This compelling question was asked in Monday’s N.Y. Times by Noem Cohen. Mr. Cohen notes that according to design experts, the candidates have left a clear blueprint of their personal style — perhaps even a window into their souls — through the Web sites they have created to raise money, recruit volunteers and generally meet-and-greet online.

On one thing, the experts seem to agree. The differences between and can be summed up this way: Barack Obama is a Mac, and Hillary Clinton is a PC. That is, Mr. Obama’s site is more harmonious, with plenty of white space and a soft blue palette. Its task bar is reminiscent of the one used at Apple’s iTunes site. It signals in myriad ways that it was designed with a younger, more tech-savvy audience in mind — using branding techniques similar to the ones that have made the iPod so popular.

“With Obama’s site, all the features and elements are seamlessly integrated, just like the experience of using a program on a Macintosh computer,” said Alice Twemlow, chairwoman of the M.F.A. program in design criticism at the School of Visual Arts (who is a Mac user). It is designed, she said, even down to the playful logos that illustrate choices like, Volunteer or Register to Vote. She likened those touches to the elaborate, painstaking packaging Apple uses to woo its customers.

The linking of Mr. Obama with Mac and Mrs. Clinton with PCs has already become something of a theme during the primary. Early in the campaign, a popular YouTube parody of Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl ad made Mrs. Clinton the face of oppression. This week on The Huffington Post, Douglas T. Kendall, the founder of the Community Rights Counsel, a public interest law firm, made the connection more explicit. But the designers believe the comparisons — but not perhaps the Orwellian overtones — are apt. In contrast to, Mrs. Clinton’s site uses a more traditional color scheme of dark blue, has sharper lines dividing content and employs cookie-cutter icons next to its buttons for volunteering, and the like.

“Hillary’s is way more hectic, it’s got all these, what look like parody ads,” said Ms. Twemlow, who is not a citizen and cannot vote in the election. Jason Santa Maria, creative director of Happy Cog Studios, which designs Web sites, detected a basic breach of netiquette. “Hillary’s text is all caps, like shouting,” he said. There are “many messages vying for attention,” he said, adding, “Candidates are building a brand and it should be consistent.”

But Emily Chang, the cofounder of Ideacodes, a Web designing and consulting firm, detected consistent messages, and summed them up: “His site is more youthful and hers more regal.” Mr. Obama’s site is almost universally praised. Even Martin Avila, the general manager of the company responsible for the Republican Ron Paul’s Web site, said simply, “Barack’s site is amazing.”

But the compliments are clearly double-edged. While Apple’s ad campaign maligns the PC by using its personification an annoying man in a plain suit, it is not clear that aligning with the trendy Mac aesthetic is good politics. The iPod may be a dominant music player, but the Mac is still a niche computer. PC, no doubt, would win the Electoral College by historic proportions (with Mac perhaps carrying Vermont).

While Mr. Santa Maria praised for having “this welcoming quality,” he added that it was “ethereal, vaporous and some one could construe it as nebulous.” He said there was a bit of the “Lifetime channel effect, you know, vasoline on the lens” to create a softer effect on the viewer. The “hectic” site that the Clinton campaign is offering could actually be quite strategic, exactly in step with her branding. After all, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly emphasizes how hard she will work for the average American “starting on Day 1.” If she comes across as energetic online, that may simply be her intention. If she shouts a bit more, typographically speaking, that may be the better to be heard.

On the big Internet issues like copyright, Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor who is supporting Mr. Obama, said there was “not a big difference on paper” between the two Democrats. Both tend to favor the users of the Internet over those who “own the pipes.” He is impressed by Mr. Obama’s proposal to “make all public government data available to everybody to use as they wish.” In the long run, however, Mr. Lessig believes that it is the ability to motivate the electorate that matters, not simple matters of style. And he’s a Mac user from way back.
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Speaking of Apple, the online entity the other day exposed the origins of Apple Computer’s sleek designs. Noting in a recent article that the year 2008 marks the 10th Anniversary of the iMac, the computer that changed everything at Apple, and hailed a new design era spearheaded by design genius Jonathan Ive. What most people don't know, Gizmodo pointed out, is that there's another man whose products are at the heart of Ive's design philosophy, an influence that permeates every single product at Apple, from hardware to user-interface design. That man is Dieter Rams, and his designs for Braun during the '50s and '60s hold all the clues not only for past and present Apple products, but their future as well:

When you look at the Braun products by Dieter Rams — many of them are on exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art — and compare them to Ive's work at Apple, you can clearly see similarities in their philosophies way beyond the sparse use of color, the selection of materials and how the products are shaped around the function with no artificial design, keeping the design "honest." This passion for "simplicity" and "honest design" that is always declared by Ive whenever he's interviewed or appears in a promo video, is at the core of Dieter Rams' 10 principles for good design:

• Good design is innovative.
• Good design makes a product useful.
• Good design is aesthetic.
• Good design helps us to understand a product.
• Good design is unobtrusive.
• Good design is honest.
• Good design is durable.
• Good design is consequent to the last detail.
• Good design is concerned with the environment.
• Good design is as little design as possible.

Ive's inspiration on Rams' design principles goes beyond the philosophy and gets straight into a direct homage to real products created decades ago. Amazing pieces of industrial design that still today remain fresh, true classics that have survived the test of time. The similarities between products from Braun and Apple are sometimes uncanny, others more subtle, but there's always a common root that provides the new Apple objects not only with a beautiful simplicity but also with a close familiarity. The article linked below has many photographs of products of the two companies placed side by side for visual comparison.
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From TechCrunch comes word that three ex-Google-ites are starting up a website dealing in instructional videos. The three founders — Jason Liebman, Daniel Blackman and Sanjay Raman — are ex-Google employees who worked on Google Video and YouTube before they left eight months ago. They actually are going for a little more polish than YouTube, trying to bring some production values to the world of Web video.

Howcast is also announcing an $8 million series A financing, led by Tudor Investment Corp. In addition to their own site, they already have a Youtube channel (where they split advertising revenues with their former employer). The Howcast team also has signed distribution deals with Myspace, Verizon for its Vcast phones and FiOS TV, Joost, and ROO. JetBlue is the launch advertiser. Howcast faces competition from Expert Village, 5min, and Instructables (even though the latter uses step-by-step images more than video). The site is launching with professionally-shot instructional videos on everything from “How to Paint a Wall” and “How to Groom Your Cat” to “How to Get Laid.”

We anxiously await their video How to fashion a Podcast with Apple’s GarageBand. We could use all the help we can get.
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And so passes another exciting week. With the Democratic presidential race heating up, and the Houston Rockets riding a road winning streak home by decisively defeating LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the Toyota Center, each day is bringing just about all of the excitement that this old body can stand. And although we feel that Hillary or Barack would also stack up famously against Huckleby, we wish all the luck in the world to John McCain in his campaign to aggravate the likes of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the fruitcakes of right-wing talk radio. See you next week.

The Real Little Eddy

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