Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blog #79:A Titanic of a Tanking

Ode to Nov. 4, 2008!

Graphic found on

This week has been a telling one. The man who has inadvertently put his face upon our nation’s disastrous fiscal situation, Bernard L. Madoff, finally traded his Get Out of Jail card for guilty pleas, and entered the prison system where he will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life. The man who has been operating what is believed to be the largest Ponzi scheme in history, pleaded guilty to all of the charges which had been filed against him. But his case is remarkably in sync with the nation’s economy generally. Imagine a country whose economy is tanking so bad that the bartender who inspired the television show Cheers is being laid off after working there for thirty-five years. Sad but true. Eddie Doyle, the Sam Malone of the real life Boston bar Cheers, he who made a career out of knowing everybody’s name, now finds himself out of a job and a future of not ever having to know a name again.

Doyle recently reminisced about the show. “At the height of the show’s popularity, 3,000 people would pass through the bar daily, and 5,000 on weekends,” he said. The traffic kept him hopping and filled his pockets. But he recalled that many of the regulars who didn’t appreciate the new found crush of people wandered off to new haunts. It didn’t matter much to Doyle, who used the bar’s fame to start a charity auction.

Doyle said he doesn’t know what’s next for him, but added he’s grateful to be at an age where he can take his time and think about things. His boss is paying him until the end of the year, but his last day at Cheers will come at a going-away party later this month.

He’ll be leaving a place best known for the fiction it inspired, perhaps, but he noted that the place was actually a lot like the tv show, despite their sometimes goofy plots. The interactions between characters reminds Doyle of what the real Cheers was: “a bunch of eccentrics that could get together and become friends.”

“When it came down to the end, I said, you know, they actually hit it right on the head.”

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”It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.” Well, so the famous Beatles’ song goes, but what we are celebrating on this March 13 was a little bit bigger than a band, actually. It’s the entire goddamn internet. For it was 20 years ago today, March 13, 1989, that an English gentleman named Tim Berners-Lee authored "Information Management: A proposal," a document which set the technology world on fire?

Back in 1989, Berners-Lee was a software consultant working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside of Geneva, Switzerland. On March 13 of that year, he submitted a plan to management on how to better monitor the flow of research at the labs. People were coming and going at such a clip that an increasingly frustrated Berners-Lee complained that CERN was losing track of valuable project information because of the rapid turnover of personnel. It did not help matters that the place was chockablock with incompatible computers people brought with them to the office.

"When two years is a typical length of stay, information is constantly being lost. The introduction of the new people demands a fair amount of their time and that of others before they have any idea of what goes on. The technical details of past projects are sometimes lost forever, or only recovered after a detective investigation in an emergency. Often, the information has been recorded, it just cannot be found."

And so it was that he submitted the document, which is amazing to read today with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. But it would take Berners-Lee another couple of years before he could demo his idea. And even then, the actual realization of his theory had to wait until the middle of the 1990s when Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen popularized the notion of commercial Web browsing with Netscape, and the world wide web (www) that we know today was born. Happy Birthday World Wide Web! Here is your birth announcement.

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Iconic actress and personality Lauren Bacall, born Betty Joan Perske, was in Houston the other night, for a showing of To Have or Have Not, to be followed by a Q and A session at the River Oaks Theater. Houston Chronicle reporter Maggie Galehouse spoke with the actress. In case you missed the interview we reprint a few relevant excerpts here:

(Bacall on movies) My feeling about the movies is that most of them are terrible. If you don’t have a decent script and a decent director, forget it. That’s why I thought the Benjamin Button movie was so encouraging. … I’ll forgive anybody anything if they have talent. What I find most disconcerting is that people in the profession are not creative but only interested in money, which is what this country is most about. It doesn’t appreciate talent. … For eight years we had a moron in the White House who didn’t even know what art meant.

Q: You mean George W. Bush?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you like Barack Obama?

A: I love him. I think he’s brilliant.

Q: There was a 25-year age gap between you and Humphrey Bogart. When you married, you were 20 to his 45. What was the biggest challenge of that generational difference?

A: My challenge was to keep up with him. He was a man of extreme energy and intelligence. Sentimental. Loving. An extraordinary man. I had to learn his ways. I was so thrilled to meet his friends. Noel Coward! I never would have known those people. I was in awe all the time. He adored me. I’d never had it before, and I’ll never have it again. I was lucky to have it at all.

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It is amazing what can be brought to life these days. Imagine, a robot trained to dance, and to lift glasses filled with water then pouring the liquids from one utensil to another without spilling the contents. A click on the arrow below will prove that seeing is indeed believing.

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What could possibly be more exciting than watching an elegant robot tripping the light fantastic? Why getting to witness the original nerd and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s historic debut on Dancing with the Stars for one thing. From the photo gracing the video it looks like Wozniak has been bitten by the same black turtleneck bug which has bitten Steve Jobs and the rest of the Cupertino campus. "I don't know if it was hilarious or delirious," declared Bruno Tonioli, usually the harshest of the judges. "It was like watching a Teletubbie go mad." Ouch! Len Goodman, another judge, was fascinated by Wozniak's dancing and said that he liked the knee spin, but then put the knife in. "Overall, it was a disaster."

Carrie Ann Inaba, who is the easiest grader, simply applauded Wozniak's effort, telling him you're "definitely going out on a limb" and that "you make us want to cheer for you." Clicking the arrow below will allow you to witness Woz’s historic performance for yourself, thereby undoubtedly bringing to life one of your fondest dreams.

What is it about our species which makes even level headed athletes like former NBA star Clyde Drexler and notable nerds like Steve Wozniak risk public ridicule by appearing on a national television program like Dancing With the Stars? Is there a Fred Astaire gene lying hidden within our dna, just waiting to blossom forth on ABC’s beck and call? We have to admit that in retrospect, seeing Wozniak’s performance was a real experience, possibly even a life changing one. For the better or not though, we haven’t yet decided.

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Patrick Stewart is an English actor who had specialized in doing Shakespeare for Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company over a career of many years, when Gene Roddenberry and the other Star Trek franchise elite selected him to play the leading role of Captain Jean Luc Pickard, commander of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek, The Next Generation, the second iteration of the Star Trek television series. This summer, the 43 year old Star Trek franchise hits the big screen again, and it aims to attract a far wider audience than the usual 'Trekkie' crowd.

Patrick Stewart once said in an interview on Michael Parkinson's TV program that a reporter talked to Roddenberry about the choice of Stewart for the captain's role; the reporter said, "Look, it doesn't make sense. You got a bald actor playing this part. Surely, by the 24th century, they have found the cure for baldness." Roddenberry replied, "By the 24th century, no one will care."

In a conversation with Clive James, Patrick Stewart said he was proud to have walked the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Famous for his portrayal of kings and emperors as a star of the RSC, Stewart took the unusual step of moving to Hollywood to play Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"All those years of working for the Royal Shakespeare Company... sitting in the throne of England, was nothing but a preparation for sitting in the Captain's chair on the Enterprise," he said. Patrick Stewart recalled his Enterprise days in a discussion with Clive James. Unfortunately the video did not exhibit embedding information, but through the magic of html and the infinite wonders of the internet you can see it in its entirety by merely pointing your cursor and clicking here! And as your reward for clicking here, and listening to the brief interview to its end, you will learn which American actor was the only other contender for the part of Captain Pickard. And you might just be surprised.

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According to a report by Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press a new survey of Americans show that these days fewer of us are religious. A wide-ranging study on American religious life has found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.

“No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state,” the study’s authors said. We here at Little Eddy are sure that some of this comes from a few religious zealot’s never-ending quest to incorporate biblical laws into the civil laws of the land. A case in point comes to us from Rio de Janeiro, where a Catholic archbishop recently excommunicated the mother of a nine year old, and her attending doctors, for aborting the child’s babies. The 80 pound nine year old was a victim of rape from her stepfather, and was pregnant with twins.

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Roman Catholic archbishop says the abortion of twins carried by a 9-year-old girl who allegedly was raped by her stepfather means excommunication for the girl’s mother and for her doctors. “Despite the nature of the case, the church had to hold its line against abortion,” Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said in an interview aired last week by Globo television.

“The law of God is higher than any human laws,” he said Thursday. “When a human law — that is, a law enacted by human legislators — is against the law of God, that law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion have incurred excommunication.”

Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao rebuked the archbishop, saying, “I’m shocked by two facts: by what happened to the girl and by the position of the archbishop, who in saying he defends life puts another at risk.”

Abortion is generally illegal in Brazil, but the procedure is allowed when the mother’s life is in danger, when the fetus has no chance of survival or in rape cases where the woman has not passed her 20th week of pregnancy. Doctors said the girl was 15 weeks pregnant when the abortion was performed. Health officials said the life of the girl — who weighs 80 pounds — was in danger.

The problem with theocrats interpreting God’s Law is that they are human, but can be unwavering in their interpretation, since they are not interested in seeing the matter from the human viewpoint, instead ruling on it from a position of absoluteness. From the humanist point of view, the life of the nine-year old would be paramount. To our immutable archbishop, in his eyes it was the life brought about by familial rape of the parent which took clear precedence over the life of the 80 pound nine year old, who was pretty sure to have lost her life if she had been forced to carry the pregnancy to full term. It seems a simple enough question to me, what do you think? You be the judge. And do you find yourself part of the 14.2 percent?

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — What would you think of a canny chimpanzee who calmly collects a stash of rocks and then later hurls them at zoo visitors in fits of rage. Well, among other things it has confirmed the fact that apes can plan ahead just like we humans. Santino the chimpanzee whose anti-social behavior has stunned both visitors and keepers at the Furuvik Zoo, but has fascinated researchers because it was so carefully prepared.

According to a report in the journal Current Biology, the 31-year-old alpha male started building his weapons cache in the morning before the zoo opened, collecting rocks and knocking out disks from concrete boulders inside his enclosure. He waited until around midday before he unleashed a "hailstorm" of rocks against visitors, the study said.

"These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," said the author of the report, Lund University Ph.D. student Mathias Osvath. "It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events."

"Every time you can combine experimental and observational data and you get a consistent result, that is very powerful," said an author of the 2006 study, Joseph Call. "This is an important observation."
He noted that individual differences are big among chimpanzees so the observation might not mean all chimpanzees are capable of the same planning. "It could be that he is a genius, only more research will tell. On the other hand our research showed the same in orangutans and bonobos so he is not alone," Call said.

Osvath said the chimpanzee had also been observed tapping on concrete boulders in the park to identify weak parts and then knocking out a piece. If it was too big for throwing, he broke it into smaller pieces, before adding them to his arsenal. "It is very special that he first realizes that he can make these and then plans on how to use them," Osvath said. "This is more complex than what has been showed before."

The fact that the ape stayed calm while preparing his weapons but when using them became extremely agitated proves that the planning behavior was not based on an immediate emotional drive, Osvath said.

For a while, zoo keepers tried locking Santino up in the morning so he couldn't collect ammunition for his assaults, but he remained aggressive. They ultimately decided to castrate him in the autumn last year, but will have to wait until the summer to see if that helps. The chimpanzees are only kept outdoors between April and October and Santino's special behavior usually occurs in June and July.

"It is normal behavior for alpha males to want to influence their surroundings ... It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing," Osvath said. "It cannot be good to be so furious all the time."

The good news about this story is that the chimpanzee is a lousy shot, and hasn’t as yet hit or injured any of his zoo going targets. The super good news also is that as yet the chimp hasn’t developed the skills of producing incendiary or explosive missiles. But given the degree of his aggressiveness, can nuclear weapons be far behind? We shudder at the thought.

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And while we shudder this way and that, that old tyrant named time has run out on us, and we find ourselves sputtering incoherently down the page. The only known cure: throw in the proverbial towel. Here it is. If you want more come back again next week. Meantime take a moment to take care and spread it around generously. Care is something the world cannot get enough of. Bye now.

The Real Little Eddy

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