Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blog #28: Iraq War Turns 5, LE turns 82

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 marked the fifth anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq and in commemoration of this (blood soaked) red letter day President Bush and vice president Cheney separately waltzed through the Alice in Wonderland magic looking glass, setting off a distortion field of Steve Jobs proportions. Bush claimed he was lo0king victory in Iraq squarely in the eye, and announced we were on the very cusp of that elusive commodity. And vice-president Cheney when confronted by a reporter with polls that showed two thirds of Americans oppose our presence in Iraq said, “So?” then went on the relate that it doesn’t matter to him whether or not the public supports the continued US presence in Iraq. “I think you cannot be blown off course by fluctuations in opinion polls,” he said, as if the opinions of the people he and Bush were elected to serve meant absolutely nothing to him, which you better believe is correct. Then he went on to liken Bush’s leadership to that of Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. Can you believe that? Damn, I wish he would pass around whatever it is he’s smoking. Fella, true scouts SHARE!

Stephen Colbert took note of Bush's videoconference with U.S. personnel in Afghanistan last week, in which Bush said: "I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks."

Colbert responds with outrage – at the soldiers in Afghanistan: "Soldiers, shame on you for arousing our president's envy. You must stop making multiple tours of duty battling foreign militias in a faraway land look like so much fun. While you're romantically running around dodging roadside bombs and rounding up potential terrorists, the president is stuck in the White House, pushing glazed salmon around his dinner plate and pretending to pay attention while Condi plays the piano. . . .

"Stop enticing the president. We could lose him again. Remember the last time he got excited about a war? He joined the Alabama Air National Guard, and nobody could find him."
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If you would excuse me, I would like to reflect seriously for a few moments on politics, and in particular those as practiced by the Republican Party and the George W. Bush Administration. If you would think back to 2000, George Bush, with the quiet approval of the Republican Party establishment, was running for president. He smiled a lot, ran with the label “compassionate conservative” (although once elected the only taxpayers he was compassionate with were the super rich, which he gave a bye on taxes) and he effused the appearance of being the good ole boy down the street that Joe SixPack would enjoy having a beer with. However after being elected his true colors came out as he invaded Iraq, a war that since he had given the very rich a free pass, he left the rest of us to pay for. And our children, and their children.

Back when he was running for the office of president he claimed that as Texas governor he had worked with the Texas Democratic party, and he promised to do that again with Washington Democrats if he was elected president. He was going to, and I quote, “bring the country together. He was a uniter, not a divider.” He was telling the truth for a change, he did work with Texas Democrats, but only because at the time they controlled the state legislature, he could not have picked his nose without a nod of Democratic approval. But upon being elected president (and in a way that many of us feel was by Supreme Court fiat, not by a fair election victory) did he indeed carry out his solemn pledge to work with Democrats? Well, let us take an unblinking look.

During the first six years when Republicans ruled both houses, he and they not only excluded Democrats from the writing of bills, they excluded them from being present at their creation, as Republicans turned over the drafting of bill after bill to the lobbyists and special interests whom the bills would affect. AND although Republicans had screamed about Hillary Clinton’s secret meetings on health care in the 90’s, Cheney has managed to keep secret the oil industry leaders he met with who he allowed to dictate the Bush/Cheney energy policy, a group that had included the late, disgraced Ken Lay of Enron. Lesson: Democratic secrecy is Bad, Bad, Bad. Republican secrecy is Necessary. It’s none of the public’s damn business who Republicans meet with to formulate policies that will control the price of their gasoline and heating oil. The Cheney, G.O.P. magic formula for a smooth running government: Secret = PTW + CYA translation: (PTW = pull the wool, CYA = cover your ass.)

Bush did not even make the slightest attempt to work with Democrats until they got their razor slim majorities in 2006. In short it took Bush six years before he attempted to live up to his campaign pledge, and then it was only because he had no other choice. If he was to get anything done in during his final two years, he had to work with Democrats. So in your book how would you grade Mr. Bush? A president who gave his word and followed it to the letter? Or, just another president in a long line who said one thing before getting elected, and once in power did quite the opposite.

One way Mr. Bush is attempting to shore up his legacy is by seeking to justify his misguided invasion of Iraq by insuring a long term military presence remains in Iraq. Hillary Clinton among other Democrats is calling attention to his behind the scenes manipulation. The military brass who remain in the military support this attempt, of course. Admirals and generals who did not support the Bush Iraq policy have either retired unexpectedly or been pushed out, and many of them support a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Notice how Mr. Bush appears on television these past few days. Although the meetings he was chairing were on the US rapidly tanking economy, picture a nation of home owners losing their homes and a major banking entity going bellyup, Mr. Bush harbors that silly grin as if he thinks the mess he’s made of the economy is funny. Of course, there is no real glee in that smile, it is triggered by nervousness at the shambles his legacy is becoming, and he is obsessed with leaving a positive legacy in the wake of his presidency. If public skepticism keeps up at the rate it’s going the only entity that will agree to house the Bush Presidential Library will be your local city garbage dump. And hungry circling seagulls will be quite distracting to the handful of scholars perusing his papers as they try to ferret some sense out of his 8 year term of office.

John McCain is many things. A war hero who was captured and abused in Vietnam, a Republican maverick who used to not be afraid of going against the mainstream of the Republican party, that is until he decided to run for president. So after initially criticizing the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy (saying quite logically, that the rich didn’t need them), now he has come full circle vowing that if elected he will make those tax cuts permanent. What is it about running for the presidency that can turn an honest and principled man into a shabby politician? Next can we expect John McBush to come out in favor of the C.I.A.’s waterboarding policy? Despite his own experience with torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese and his previous courageous stand against America engaging in so dangerous and inhumane a practice? Fascist and Communist governments deal freely in torture to keep themselves in power, it is their bread and butter. They were alone with that mentality until Bush/Cheney began clandestine efforts to lead an unwitting America to keep the facists and commies company.
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Ever wonder what your kids are saying when they are texting one another. Even if you can intercept their messages, can you understand them? Laura M. Holson writing in the Bits blog in the N.Y. Times has an amusing overview of the problem, and a place where a solution for your problem can be found. Some of the terms she discusses follow: “Some of the more unique terms – not including the off-color references of which there are many– are: NIFOC (nude in front of computer), OFIS (on floor in stitches), TSDMC (tears streaming down my cheeks) and DITYID (did I tell you I’m distressed). My personal favorite is SAMAGAL (stop annoying me and get a life.)”

The key to you and I understanding their terms may be found in a website called: A curious parent can go there and type in the letters he is curious about, and the answer springs forth. Being really out of things myself (I am perhaps the only person on the planet who didn’t know what lol stood for until a few minute ago) I went to the site and typed in lol. It reported:

LOL - laugh out loud
LOLAROTG - Laughing out loud and rolling on the ground
loli - Lollipop
LOLLZ - Laugh out Loud Literally Zapped
lolol - saying "lol" out loud.
Well now, there’s yet another frontier we just conquered.
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PBS’ Charlie Rose tripped on a NY City pothole on his way to the studio, and fell. He was carrying his newly acquired MacBook Air. Which do you think he protected as he fell, his face or his MacBook Air? If you saw the program that night, and noted the bandaids on his face and forehead, you knew the answer – his MacBook Air.

And speaking of Apple, guess what company’s pc sales snagged 14% of the US market last month? (as opposed to 8% for the year before.) I’ll just bet that with a lead in like that you won’t have a bit of trouble guessing the name of the company? At any rate according to the market research firm NPD as reported on the AppleInsider website, “growth in Apple's personal computer business continued to outpace the industry average last month, with Macs accounting for a 14 percent unit share and 25 percent dollar share of all US-based PC retail sales. The results – first revealed in an investor note from Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves on Monday – represent 60 percent unit growth and 67 percent revenue growth over the same period one year ago. At the same time, overall US PC retail shipments grew just 9 percent on a 5 percent increase in revenues. Apple saw particular strength in notebook systems, which rose 64 percent in units and 67 percent in revenues, suggesting strong sell-through of the company's new MacBook Air, noted Hargreaves.

"Macbook Air sales appear to be additive to total sales, rather than replacing Macbook Pro sales," he said. "We believe a new set of corporate customers make up a meaningful portion of MacBook Air buyers." I guess it would be safe to add Charlie Rose to that list of corporate customers.

And now, inevitable news of the iPhone: “85 percent of iPhone users browse the mobile Web; iPhone is top device for news and information accessed on mobile browsers.” These headlines are from M:Metrics Press and the story follows:

“SEATTLE and LONDON — March 18, 2008 — Six months after the iPhone’s U.S. launch, has the device changed the mobile landscape? According to M:Metrics, the mobile media authority, the answer is yes. Today, the measurement firm reports that the iPhone is already the most popular device for accessing news and information on the mobile Web, with 85 percent of iPhone users accessing news and information in the month of January.

Mark Donovan, an analyst at M:Metrics, says a major factor in the iPhone’s success as a media platform can be credited to AT&T and its unlimited data plan for iPhone users. “Once you take away the uncertainty of data charging, you really incentivize people to use the device,” he said. But then he gushes about the iPhone, sounding a lot like another dyed-in-the-wool iPhone convert (which, he concedes, he is.) “Apple really made a device that is Internet-centric and really fits the kind of digital lifestyle that a lot of people who are jacked into the Internet all the time are used to,” he said. “They did a great job of cruising some of the sweet spots of mobile Internet usage.” There Steve Ballmer, another spoon of sugar for the tea of your nightmares.

And finally the Windows World has been up in arms about Apple’s audacity in it’s attempt to use it’s Windows iTunes updater to push the new Safari 3.1 for Windows. As if America’s favorite computer Monopoly hasn’t be strong arming Windows users for years thrusting Internet Explorer at them without mercy, among other things. At least Apple gave users a choice, if you don’t want Safari simply uncheck the box. Windows has been known to arbitrarily push it’s updates onto you at its convenience whether or not you wanted them.
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The Houston Rockets, the professional basketball team which we here at Little Eddy’s Blog been known to mention from time to time, made NBA history recently with a winning streak which reached 22 games, the second longest in NBA history, with their defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday afternoon, in a game broadcast on national television on ABC. The streak ended Tuesday night with a 94-74 loss to the Boston Celtics, the team with the best overall record in the NBA. A trip to New Orleans to play the Hornets the next night found them tied at the end of three quarters, but losing the game 90-69, bringing their brand new losing streak to two. Friday night they finally broke their two game losing streak with a 109-106 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Keep your fingers crossed as tonight (Saturday) they go to Phoenix to play the Suns.

Meantime it turns out that a most interesting part of the Rockets story of the streak concerns not the players so much as the new general manager. Our story comes to us by way of the Toronto Star’s online website, in a story signed by Dave Feschuk. According to the story, Daryl Morey is 35, and this year assumed the general managership after serving an apprenticeship under former GM Carrol Dawson. He holds a a computer science degree from Northwestern University, and an MBA from M.I.T.

“But Morey is the first NBA GM to be heralded as a disciple of what's been termed the "Moneyball" approach to sports management. He's a self-professed stats geek who has studied the work of both Bill James, the baseball-versed pioneer of sports statistical analysis, and Billy Beane, the Oakland A's GM who famously (and successfully) applied some of James's principles to his team architecture.

“Now that the Rockets have become one of the great stories of the season – with an 83-75 victory over the Lakers on Sunday they were two games past the Milwaukee Bucks for the second-longest win streak in NBA history at 22 games – Morey's approach is likely to get a lot more attention. The skeptics have been waiting for Yao Ming's out-for-the-season absence to finally derail the juggernaut (although only the first 12 games of streak came before the Chinese center was felled by a stress fracture in his foot).

“They've been waiting for Rafer Alston to implode (although Alston has been an efficient stalwart as Houston's starting point man). They've been waiting for Tracy McGrady's usual injury problems, which already kept him out of 15 games before the streak, to sideline him again. And they're waiting for the Rockets to revert to the form that saw them open the season 15-17.

“As they wait, Morey has been heralded for fleshing out this season's supporting cast, most notably by acquiring starting power forward Luis Scola from the Spurs in the summer. It's far too early to tell not only how serious a championship threat the Rockets can be, but how influential Morey's stat-engrossed approach can become. He has said the Rockets have invested millions in everything from the massive computer servers required to store the hours and hours of digital video from which statistical trends are mined, to the analysts who do the prospecting. And if Morey has hit on something revolutionary, nobody is expecting him to share the wealth of proprietary data.

“What's en vogue all comes down to winning, of course. When the Rockets got off to their slow start this season after last year's first-round playoff flameout, there were those lamenting how, a couple of summers before, the Rockets had traded the rights to a lottery pick named Rudy Gay, among other assets, to Memphis for Shane Battier. But Battier, who has averaged about 10 points and five rebounds a game as an NBAer, may well be the quintessential Morey-type player, a performer whose value to the team goes far deeper than the conventional numbers. He is, in the vernacular, a glue guy. And Morey presumably has the esoteric numbers to prove it.

“Traditionalists will argue that you don't need an exhaustive database to make that kind of beyond-the-boxscore observation, which is why Battier was a sixth-overall pick in the NBA draft. Traditionalists will also understand that if the Rockets roll in the playoffs the way they've been succeeding in the past six weeks, exhaustive databases compiled by Morey clones are likely to quickly become a very fine idea in the minds of NBA CEOs.”
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Arthur C. Clarke, the scientist and science fiction author died on March 19, 2008 at the age of 90. We would like to honor his work by reprinting some quotations from the Wikipedia page of his writings.

* I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the emissaries are coming. If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have set off the fire alarm and have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long
o The Sentinel" (1948), original titled "Sentinel of Eternity" this is the short story which later provided the fundamental ideas for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) written by Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.

* We stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind us is a past to which we can never return ... The coming of the rocket brought to an end a million years of isolation ... the childhood of our race was over and history as we know it began.
o Exploration of Space (1952)

* It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.
o The Exploration of Space (1951), p. 187

* All explorers are seeking something they have lost. It is seldom that they find it, and more seldom still that the attainment brings them greater happiness than the quest.
o The City and the Stars (1956)

* Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal.
o "Maelstrom II" (1965)

* Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets. No one ever demonstrated, so far as I am aware, the non-existence of Zeus or Thor — but they have few followers now.
o Across the Sea of Stars (1959), p. 262

* As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying.
o Voices from the Sky: Previews of the Coming Space Age (1967)

* Behind every man now alive stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.
o 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) "Foreword"

* One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind. Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories. Two-thirds of 2001 is realistic — hardware and technology — to establish background for the metaphysical, philosophical, and religious meanings later.
o As quoted in The Making of Kubrick's 2001 (1970) by Jerome Agel, p. 300

* Perhaps our role on this planet is not to worship God — but to create Him.
o "The Mind of the Machine" in Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations (1972)
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If you read here regularly you know of our uncompromising view of Cary Sherman and his RIAA as RICO violators, shamelessly threatening to sue mostly college students who offer content to file sharing sites, unless they agree to make a $3000 settlement. Well, with the worm seeming to be turning, one state has even countersued the RIAA in court for trying to blackmail a university to turn over the names of its students, Nate Anderson reports on the ars technica website of a new idea floating around:

“With P2P file-swapping still proceeding almost unchecked and CD sales swirling down the toilet, music labels have shown an increased willingness to consider new business models over the last couple of years, even going so far as to drop their once-ubiquitous DRM. One intriguing idea that has been bandied about is levies: pay your ISP, say, five bucks a month,and you can legally listen to all the music you can find. Though such an arrangement raises plenty of questions (should the levy be compulsory, or can people opt out of it?), stakeholders across North America are at least open to the idea.

“Wired has a piece up on Jim Griffin, a proponent of the $5 ISP model, who appeared on a panel last week at SXSW in Austin to continue flogging his idea in public. P2P would suddenly become legal (for those who paid, anyway), with the cash doled out to labels and artists based on the number of times each artists' work was traded each month. Such a system sounds wide open to gaming, of course, but if that problem could be solved, the music industry at least has a good chance at converting millions of file-swappers into paying customers.

“Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page told Ars last year that he supported such a plan. "Not everyone's an artist," Page said, "but people can now express themselves like artists do, by sharing something that means something to them. If we had a system of compulsory licenses, they don't have to worry about going and getting a license to do it, or circumventing the system."
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And so another rant/rage blog winds down. We post weekly, on Saturday mornings, and hope you’ll come and visit us again any time next week. Meantime thanks for coming.

The Real Little Eddy

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