Saturday, March 1, 2008

Blog #25 Bush and the Price of Gasoline

Did you see George Bush’s incredible unbelieving expression when he was asked by a reporter about the possibility of ‘surging’ oil prices possibly reaching $4 a gallon? Obviously our soon to be erstwhile leader had not a clue as to the current price of gasoline. Just like his father (who had no clue as to the 1992 price of a quart of milk or a dozen eggs) Bush the son is completely shielded from the predicament of the average American. And from the jovial sneer that lit up his face it was quite evident he is quite happy in his blissful state.
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The Bush/Cheney/McCain triumvirate is making a lot of noise at Barack Obama about cutting and running in Iraq, providing he should get the nomination and then go on to win the presidency. And they are trotting out the so-called retired general experts who echo their “win at all costs” doctrine. Naturally the military can only accept winning, losing is a word not found in the lexicon of the military. But the reality is that even the best armies lose wars. We pulled out and lost Vietnam, had to cut and run, leaving a lot of locals who had helped us in the lurch. We settled the Korean conflict at the very parallel from whence the confrontation had begun. The only war that this country has won in my lifetime was World War II, and we won that one because all of the American people were asked to make sacrifices to help win it. The draft snared most of the male population. Goods that were scarce were rationed. Women worked the assembly line in war plants. Rosie the Welder was a folk legend of the times. And as individuals we actually invested financially in the conflict with the purchase of War Bonds.

McCain does not dare tackle Obama’s charge that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake which we should retreat from poste haste. Most conveniently from the perspective of the war monger McCain says we should look only forward, not backward. “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die. . .” Has a ring to it, doesn’t it? But if this country is going to return to government by reason and sanity, return to a government that truly represents the people it is supposed to serve, we have to examine what got us into that quicksand that is Iraq, and what restrictions we need to put in place to avoid future presidents involving us in adventures like Iraq. For it seems to be human nature that the types who run for president will get all caught up in international relations, which obviously is where the rush of power lies, to the total neglect of our own country.

I’m certainly not worried about either Clinton or Obama involving America into any kind of conflagration, they are both healers, and will work full time attempting to restore this country to where it had been before the disastrous Bush regime pumped the nation up with falsehoods and then invaded a country which had not attacked us. And I really believe that the chances are excellent that either Clinton or Obama will lead this country for the next eight years. But Congress and the Democrats must delve deeply into the details of how we got dragged into this mess, and then adopt such measures as are necessary to prevent future presidents from leading us so astray.

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Little Eddy’s Blog would like to take a moment here to grieve for the Houston Rockets’ basketball team and their loss of All Star center Yao Ming for the rest of the season to an stress fracture ankle injury. Houston had won 12 games in a row, tying a season winning streak that Portland had blazed earlier this year. When the announcement was made to the team that Yao Ming would be out for the remainder of the season the announcment was greeted with stark silence. The Rockets had a game with the Washington Wizards that very night, and they did not show the loss they must have felt, humbling the Wizards 94-69 and winning their 13th game in a row.

Will they be able to continue their streak? The prevailing opinion is probably not, however I really don’t think anyone had predicted their overwhelming victory over Washington Tuesday but it happened. The fact is that rookies like Argentina’s Luis Scola, Carl Landry, and Aaron Brooks along with Shane Battier, Luther Head, Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady are playing the best basketball of their careers, and together they make for a tremendous team, and it will be interesting to see just how far this momentum will carry them. What was doubly ironic about this turn of events was that Yao had been one of the prime factors in challenging the team to be better, and the winning streak had actually begun with McGrady on the bench for the first few wins. The Rockets ended up beating the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night 116 – 95, sending their winning streak to 14 games, a feat which gave them a perfect month of February.
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“If you want to play in our sandbox, you will learn to play nice.” So seems to have been the European Union’s message to the Microsoft Corporation. The EU has done what America’s Judicial system had not the stomach to do, and that is to deliver a decisive blow to Microsoft where it hurts them the most, in the pocketbook. It has sent a clear message, in a language Microsoft cannot fail to understand. According to a report by Matthew Newman published at, the EU has fined Microsoft 899 million euros ($1.35 billion) for failing to comply with a 2004 antitrust order to stop overcharging for using its patents to connect to Windows. “Microsoft was the first company in 50 years of EU competition policy that the commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an antitrust decision,” European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement today in Brussels. “I hope that today's decision closes a dark chapter in Microsoft's record of non-compliance.”

You might remember Tim Brays, one of the original developers of XML who authored the piece telling of some of the people who worked on the project that we reprinted a portion of two weeks ago. His description of Microsoft was right on, and in case you missed it here it is in part again. “Mick (Microsoft) 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 their products are mostly pretty poor, and see the company as the single greatest roadblock to innovation in our profession.”

While today's ruling ends the 2004 antitrust case, for which the company was also fined the previous record 497 million euros, the EU has two new investigations under way over Microsoft's business practices. The fine brings the total penalty to 1.68 billion euros in the case. Microsoft shares fell 7 cents to $28.31 at 10:38 a.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

In a statement, the Redmond, Washington-based software maker said it would review the decision, which found Microsoft overcharged for patent licenses that rivals needed to connect products to the Windows platform.
“These fines are about the past issues that have been resolved,” the company said. “We demonstrated last week our new interoperability principles and specific actions to increase the openness of our products, we are focusing on steps that will improve things for the future.”

Last month, EU regulators opened investigations into whether Microsoft is using its dominance in word processing and spreadsheets to thwart rivals and whether the company illegally tied an Internet browser to Windows. Today's fine isn't related to the new probes. Kroes said at a press conference that the commission would take into consideration “any changes” Microsoft makes to its business practices that are relevant to the two new cases. She said that it's the fifth time that Microsoft has made an announcement about improving interoperability. “Talk is cheap,'' Kroes said. “Let's wait and let's find the reality in this case. They have to deliver and implement.”
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Jesus lived in troubled times
the religious right was on the rise
Oh what could have saved him from his terrible fate?
Separation of church and state.
So let's all sing out praises to
That longhaired radical socialist Jew

Hugh Blumenfeld, Longhaired Radical Socialist Jew (The Gospel Song).

"When an angel woos the clay,
he'll lose his wings at the close of the day."
RAGLAN ROAD, traditional Irish song

"Some people say a man is made outa mud;
but a poor man's made outa muscle and blood;
"Muscle and blood, skin and bone,
a mind that's weak and a back that's strong!"
– Merle Travis, "Sixteen Tons"

"Whiskey won't you come and take my trouble; I can't seem to do it on my own." Trampled by Turtles

"In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand and an aching in my heart and my pockets full of sand." This first line from a Gordon Lightfoot song paints a perfect picture of sad, empty, lonliness.

If Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" counts as a folk song, it has the best line from one: "I'd trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday."

Pete Seeger's song: ...and the big fool said to push on!.... From " waist deep in in the big muddy" Forgive my inaccuracies. It's been forty years ago and it still haunts me. — bwl, New Mexico

Trouble oh it's trouble, a rollin' through my breast,
as long as I'm a livin' boys, they ain't a gonna let me rest.
"Tom Dooley" by Doc Watson

Friday’s NYTimes had an article filled with submissions of favorite folk and bluegrass lines like those above. It reminded me of why I was involved in folk music, promoting and performing in concerts in Houston in the early sixties, and in the mid sixties in NYC when I was managing editor of Sing Out! The Folksong Magazine. Many more of these gems can be found at:
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Religious affiliation these days stands on shifting sands. According to a report by Neela Banerjee in the NYTimes, the statistic that hardly anyone talks about openly these days is the fact that more than a quarter of Americans have left the faith of their childhood. This is according to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The report titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.

In the 1980s, the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center indicated that from 5 percent to 8 percent of the population described itself as unaffiliated with a particular religion.

In the Pew survey 7.3 percent of the adult population said they were unaffiliated with a faith as children. That segment increases to 16.1 percent of the population in adulthood, the survey found. The unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male. “Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women,” the survey said.

Figures like the above would seem to belie the religious right wing’s constant assertions that they are the sole holders of America’s moral compass. With a quarter of the male population not believing, and the rest split among many Christian sects, Christian Right assertions are subject to question. Since it’s only majority is in the loudness of it voice, the question would seem to be, why don’t we challenge those who would attempt to cram their morality down our throats? A question for the times, don’t you think?
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In my past discussions with men who wear the collar I was invariably told that I could only call myself an agnostic, not an atheist, for I could not say for a fact that God does not exist. Of course I was quick to point out that by that way of thinking neither could they label themselves Christians because they could no more prove the existence of their God than could I prove its nonexistence. Faith is a strange commodity, it is obviously something many people need, but it must be taken on faith for it does not stack up to the test of reason. Below are some of my favorite quotes on the subject, from one of my favorite authors.

Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only
animal that has the True Religion – several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his (neighbor’s) throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven .... The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.
– "The Lowest Animal"

The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one's religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one's religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life – hence it is a valuable possession to him.
– Mark Twain, a Biography

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. – Autobiography of Mark Twain

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.
– Mark Twain in Eruption

A religion that comes of thought, and study, and deliberate conviction, sticks best. The revivalized convert who is scared in the direction of heaven because he sees hell yawn suddenly behind him, not only regains confidence when his scare is over, but is ashamed of himself for being scared, and often becomes more hopelessly and malignantly wicked than he was before. – Letter San Francisco Alta California, November 15,1868

We despise all reverences and all the objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our own list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us. – Following the Equator

So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code. – Mark Twain, a Biography

Thus ruminated the inestimable Samuel Langhorne Clements, or as he was known in literary circles, Mark Twain, the man who William Faulkner has called the father of American literature. In between the publication of Tom Sawyer and the beginning of Huckleberry Finn, Twain wrote his attempt at reflecting court manners of Victorian England. "He determined," said Albert Bigelow Paine in 'Mark Twain, A Biography',"to try his hand on an imaginary record of conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the phrase of the period. The result was 'Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen Elizabeth', or as he later called it, '1601'. "It was written as a letter to that robust divine, Rev. Joseph Twichell, who, unlike critic William Dean Howells, had no scruples about Mark's 'Elizabethan breadth of parlance.'"

The Rev. Joseph Twichell was Mark Twain's most intimate friend for over forty years, he was pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church of Hartford, which because of its wealthy parishioners Mark facetiously named the "Church of the Holy Speculators.” Here Mark had first met "Joe" at a social, and their meeting ripened into a glorious, life long friendship. Twichell was a man of about Mark's own age, a profound scholar, a devout Christian, "yet a man with an exuberant sense of humor, and a profound understanding of the frailties of mankind."

The Rev. Mr. Twichell performed the marriage ceremony for Mark Twain and solemnized the births of his children; "Joe," his friend, counseled him on literary as well as personal matters for the remainder of Mark's life. It is important to catch this brief glimpse of the man for whom this masterpiece was written, for without it one can not fully understand the spirit in which 1601 was written, or the keen enjoyment which Mark and "Joe" derived from it.

In addition to his aversion to “manners” Twain was equally disdainful of America’s imperialistic tendencies of the times. It’s a shame that George W. was too busy when he was at Yale to read Twain, for had he it might possibly have made an impression, it might have caused him to take a different direction rather than invading Iraq. Here is what Twain wrote about our turn of the century Philippines adventure:

“I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific ... Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? ... I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves. But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [which ended the Spanish-American War], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
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And there is news in the ongoing Wikileaks vs. Julius Baer Bank and Trust company and its Cayman Islands facility. The owner of the Wikileaks domain name is John Shipton, “a citizen of Australia currently residing in Kenya,” according to a document filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco. In the document, Mr. Shipton’s lawyers endorsed arguments made in briefs filed by various groups — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press — contending that an order from Federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White hindering access to the Wikileaks Web site should be withdrawn and the lawsuit should be thrown out.

The hearing, scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in San Francisco, was supposed to address whether to make permanent a second order that the judge signed, prohibiting “displaying, posting, publishing, distributing, linking to and/or otherwise providing any information for the access or other dissemination of copies of and/or images of” the documents sought by the bank. Now the hearing may cover much more as a result of the many motions raising First Amendment concerns. And late Thursday, Judge White issued a list of questions suggesting he had worries of his own. Among other things, the judge asked whether the bank should be suing Dynadot and Wikileaks at all, whether a “right to privacy trumps the freedom of access to information,” and whether an order extending the prohibition on displaying the bank’s documents could be enforceable.

The judge’s skepticism may be good news for Wikileaks’ case, though Matthew Zimmerman, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was cautious in evaluating their significance. “I’m going to be superstitious here and not do any tea leaf reading,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “There’re questions for both sides here, but he’s asking the right questions. I don’t know that he’s leaning one way or the other.”

Of course, if an assertion in an amicus brief filed by Public Citizen and the California First Amendment Coalition is correct, then many of the judge’s questions may be moot; the two groups argue that the court lacked jurisdiction in the first place.

A reader named Dave Kliman posted the following comment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Just a reminder of what we’re supposed to have in this country. Let’s not forget that.

PostScript: On Friday, February 29, Judge White withdrew his order of Feb. 15 that disabled a website that allows documents to discourage unethical behavior on the part of governments and corporations. In reversing himself, Judge White acknowledged that the bank’s request posed serious First Amendment questions and might constitute unjustified prior restraint. He also appeared visibly frustrated that technology might have outrun the law and that, as a result, the court might not be able to rein in information once it had been disclosed online.

Critics of Judge White’s previous order had said one problem was its breadth: It obstructed access to documents beyond those that the bank said contained confidential information. But he noted that as a practical matter, no ruling might achieve what the bank wanted.
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And so we take our leave of you for another week. We hope to see you again next week, until then have a good one, and if you live in Texas or Ohio, vote on Tuesday. You know how and why.

The Real Little Eddy

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