Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blog #81: Obama’s Impervious Cool

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Ode to a Press Conference

(Loosely to the tune of John Lennon’s A Day in the Life)

They had a press conference, oh boy!

The room was filled with press, with many questions asked,

Inquiring minds do want to know, and all were quite polite

‘Til Henry’s verbal swipe,

He aimed to pierce Presidential cool,

But it was not to be, Obama’s cool was Henry free,

They had a press conference, oh boy

(spoken) Ed Henry uncool, Barack Obama very cool.

The Press and the President

My how times have have changed since my childhood. I grew up during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Newspapers and movie newsreels of the time (there was no television back then) never showed the President in his wheelchair, or being helped to his feet to make a speech, or being helped back in his chair afterwards. And on the personal side no media back then ever hinted that FDR had a live-in mistress through much of his presidency, who would be with him on the day he died.

Fast forward to Gary Hart’s ill-fated run for the presidency. He made the ultimate gaffe; he challenged a tabloid newspaper in Florida to catch him in any hanky panky. And did they ever. They followed him from a distance when he was boating with a paramour, and pictures of the two of them appeared in the next day’s papers, thereby torpedoing Hart’s presidential ambitions. Too bad, too, I think he would have made a good president, sharp as a knife, and basically an honest realist. And he looked the part.

Exposing Hart’s indiscretions served as the crack in the dam, and subsequent years have in retrospect produced stories of dalliances on the part of such presidential legends as Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. But such lapses, if true, in no way seemed to have affected their respective presidencies. Both were probably operating from a position of relative fulfillment, and thereby were alert and stable.

Of course, Republicans had a field day with the Bill Clinton presidency. Their hired gun, Kenneth Starr, dug very deep into every closet in the Clinton past, desperate to find something he could use against the President, and he finally succeeded only in charging Clinton with receiving oral sex from an intern who was of age, and who, by the way, had bragged to a friend before she came to Washington that she intended to earn her Presidential knee pads. So who set up who?

Clinton made the mistake of trying to deny the tryst which enabled Starr and the House Republican leaders to bring charges of impeachment for lying about the affair. Republicans brought the charges in the House, but fortunately for our nation the Senate had a higher mark for impeachment than did the House and Clinton went on to finish his term, leaving office and our economy with a healthy surplus, not a deficit. After slithering into office by way of a Supreme Court fiat, Republican George W. Bush gleefully jumped into the fray, doubling the national debt in his eight year tenure, spending more money in that time than all of the presidents who had preceded him combined.

In the recent presidential campaign Fox News successfully transitioned the spirit of tabloid newspapers to television news, thereby taking the slanting of the news to a new, grander level. In spite of their large audience, thankfully their attempts to color their news reports with their conservative views were not widely successful, as relatively few voters seemed to be converted to their point of view, and President Obama had a comfortable win. However, the Fox malaise seems to be contagious. Ed Henry, covering the President’s news conference for CNN last Tuesday evening, had a Fox News moment as in a completely disjointed way he attempted to cut through President Obama’s aura of cool. Henry:

“Thank you, Mr. President. You spoke again at the top about your anger about AIG. You’ve been saying that for days now. But why is it that it seems Andrew Cuomo seems to be, in New York, getting more actual action on it? And when you and Secretary Geithner first learned about this, 10 days, two weeks ago, you didn’t go public immediately with that outrage. You waited a few days, and then you went public after you realized Secretary Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it.”

The Daily Beast said of that question, “This is a presidency defined by cable news food-fights and Maureen Dowd-style armchair psychoanalysis.” Henry further asked:

”And more broadly — I just want to follow up on Chip [Reid] and Jake [Tapper] — you’ve been very critical of President Bush doubling the national debt. And to be fair, it’s not just Republicans hitting you. Democrat Kent Conrad, as you know, said, quote, “When I look at this budget, I see the debt doubling again.” You keep saying that you’ve inherited a big fiscal mess. Do you worry, though, that your daughters, not to mention the next president, will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control?”

Eric Alterman, a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism wrote a compelling review of Obama’s news conference and Henry’s attempt to ruffle the President’s feathers in Wednesday’s Beast. He is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Important Ideals. Mr. Alterman writes:

Note both Henry’s tone and content. First off, the question has no relationship to substance. Instead it’s about

a) An alleged political horserace between Andrew Cuomo and Obama that, as far as I can tell, does not exist

b) Why Obama “waited a few days” before “go[ing] public with that outrage?”

c) And following up on his bros “Chip and Jake,” he wants to know, why isn’t Obama’s budget enjoying universal praise, as “it’s not just Republicans hitting” him, but a conservative Democrat is as well.

Obama tried to explain the relationship between the priorities of his budget and the recovery he predicts, as well as the eventual reduction in the deficit he both inherited and will be increasing. But because Obama, unlike George W. Bush, decided to allow follow-up questions, which vastly reduces the ability to dodge questions he does not like, Henry was able to focus again, laser-like, on the president’s refusal to act out about AIG as quickly as Henry would have liked, and again raised the so-far nonexistent Cuomo vs. Obama contest:

“So on AIG, why did you wait — why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?” and goading him again, into a contest with Cuomo by using that most favored of journalistic weasel words, “seems.” (As Hamlet should have taught us, the word “seems” is a license to make shit up. “Seems madam?” he says to his lying mother, “Nay it is. I know not seems.”)

“It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we’re outraged. Why did it take so long?”

President Obama’s answer: “Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Touchè! CNN would like to think of itself as the News Channel of Record, much as the NY Times is looked upon as the newspaper of record. However, it is my feeling that Ed Henry’s grandstanding attempt to ruffle the President’s feathers and thereby establish himself as a player in the reportorial world of Washington correspondents, does not reflect well on CNN’s ambitions to be that channel of record. Reporters are supposed to report the news, not make it. If his questions had been rapier sharp, and right on the point, that might have been one thing. However his questions seemed disjointed, and were delivered self-consciously, as if a part of him was having well deserved second thoughts.

One wonders what his true motivation was, does he really hold that much animosity towards the President. If so he should ask for a change of assignment, because somehow I think his days of getting very much real news out of the White House have passed. If his motive was to project himself as a tough questioning journalist in the Sam Donaldson, Tim Russert mold, then I hate to disillusion Mr. Henry but he’s no Tim Russert. To many of us his questions seemed like a cheap shot, more typical of a Fox News correspondent than one from the News Channel of Record. Mr. Alterman’s full piece may be found here!

And for those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the presidential news conference, and Ed Henry’s attempt to fluster the President’s cool, you’re in for a real treat. Thanks to The Daily Beast, we can offer you a video of Henry’s moment in the sun. Just click on the arrow below and you can judge it for yourself.

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Our Truly Remarkable Age

What a remarkable age this is to live in. Time is finally under our control. At least in terms of time shifting many television programs. Thanks to the inventions first of the VHS, then the invention and evolvement of TiVo, and now the internet, suddenly we have been freed from the tyranny of the television clock. What I mean is that we are free to miss an important tv program that we really ought to see as we can either record it or catch it later via the internet. I have in mind the interview with President Obama that 60 Minutes aired last Sunday. You know me, I was probably watching NBA basketball and/or trolling for graphics instead of dutifully turning my television on to catch 60 Minutes last Sunday evening. Who keeps track of television programs these days, anyway?

Never you mind. I’ll google the speech. Which I did, and I found the interview in its entirety. It was the complete program, including a second story on a very talented mentally ill musician who was living on the streets of Los Angeles. The interview with the President was an extremely interesting one, I felt. Nothing world shaking in it, but President Obama is a pleasure to see and listen to. And the best thing about the entire experience is that CBS allows you to embed the video which you can then place on your blog. Which means that if you dear reader did not get a chance to watch the interview when it first came around, or if you wish to partake of it again (and it would be well worth your time to do so), it is right here for your viewing:

Watch CBS Videos Online
Watch CBS Videos Online

While we’re in our Obama phase we thought you might enjoy seeing this photograph of the real Obama Girls. All three of them.

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Pirates to the Rescue

How about them Swedes. Movies are big business and the Hollywood studios are putting all kind of pressure on governments and ISP’s throughout the U.S. and Europe to sniff out and punish file sharers. But like those Saturday morning movies we used to go to as kids, trumpets are sounding and pirates are riding to the rescue. Pirates? Riding to the rescue? Yes, it’s absolutely true, riding their galleons to our rescue would be the pirates of The Pirate Bay.

One of the really unique qualities of the web is how it tends to bring out the inborn collector in us all. Just about everything you could possibly wish to see or hear is out there somewhere just waiting for you to download and add to your collection. And thanks to the magic of search engines and bit torrent, obtaining a movie, record album, or book is as easy as pointing and clicking. It costs you nothing but the ISP fee you’re paying anyway.

It does take a certain amount of patience however, some things like a season of television’s longest running program, Saturday Night Live, may take a week or more to download, but when it happens you have an entire season of programs on your hard drive, and the downloading takes place entirely in the background. You can use your computer for other tasks without any appreciable slowdown or sluggishness. Movies might take several days. But now that my provider Comcast is no longer messing around with torrent streams, the average music album downloads in hours rather than days.

However, the paid content guys are trying their damndest to catch us. The music industry has finally given up its insane program of suing college students, and has joined with the movie industry in trying to persuade governments and ISP’s to sniff out file sharers and punish them. In Sweden, the home of the pirates of the bay, comes news of a new law meant to curb file sharing. From TorrentFreak:

For those who like to share files, one country set to introduce an extremely unpalatable law is Sweden. Due to come into force in just over a week, the controversial Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) legislation will make it easier for copyright holders to get their hands on the personal details of suspected illicit file-sharers.

But not if the crew of The Pirate Bay has anything to do with it.

Timed to coincide with the introduction of IPRED on April 1st 2009, a brand new service designed to neutralize the effects of the law will be launched. Dubbed ‘IPREDATOR’, this brand new anonymity service from the Pirate Bay promises to make subscribers “more anonymous” than when using traditional VPN services.

Peter Sunde, aka brokep, told TorrentFreak that the service is currently in beta and will be slowly opened to around 500 users. When those users are experiencing the service bug-free, it will be opened up to everyone.

Let’s hear it for them pirates. Here is how the process worked for me this week. I was on The Daily Beast, viewing some videos of Japanese commercials that Hollywood personalities had filmed. One of them featured Brad Pitt dressed in an all yellow outfit, and playing out a scene taken directly from Jacques Tati’s incomparable French comedy, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

That got my blood churning, this black and white movie of the 1950’s was in direct line of the Classic silent movies of Charlie Chaplin. There was sound in the movie, but dialogue was sparse and inconsequential, the movie was one of the most visual of comedies I have ever seen. In my mind M. Hulot’s Holiday was pure comedy in its essence, and it puts its filmaker, star, Jacques Tati, in the exalted company of the masters, Chaplin and Ernie Kovacs, who developed visual comedy for black and white television. To me Mr. Hulot’s Holiday was the funniest single film I have ever seen. I saw it many times myself, and took my sons to see it as well.

Well, I reflected for not much over a minute before I opened Camino, which along with Safari is my web browser of choice, and went to Mininova, where I did a search for Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. One torrent came up. Score! I immediately started downloading it. I believe I have the movie somewhere on VHS, but who watches VHS tapes anymore. Anyway there are 6(26) seeds and 2(48) peers. (The more seeds the better, I’m told.) The film is 1.08 gigabyte in length.

Hollywood studios go ballistic over the thought of people downloading their precious movies over bit torrent. But listen, most people will buy a DVD if one is available, and if it is reasonably priced. And in the case of Mr. Hulot, I decided to google Tati, and came up with some interesting information on his Wikipedia page. From Wikipedia:

Tati films have little audible dialogue, but instead are built around elaborate, tightly-choreographed visual gags and carefully integrated sound effects. In all but his very last film, Tati plays the lead character, who - with the exception of his first and last films - is the gauche and socially inept Monsieur Hulot. With his trademark raincoat, umbrella and pipe, Hulot is among the most memorable comic characters in cinema. There exist several recurrent themes in Tati's comedic work, most notably in Mon Oncle, Playtime and Trafic: they include Western society's obsession with material goods, particularly American-style consumerism, the pressure-cooker environment of modern society, the superficiality of relationships among France's various social classes, and the cold and often impractical nature of space-age technology and design.

His second film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, was released in 1953. Les Vacances introduced the character of M. Hulot and follows his adventures in France during the mandatory August vacation at a beach resort, lampooning several hidebound elements of French political and social classes along the way. The film was widely praised by critics, and earned Tati an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay which was shared with Henri Marquet.

Tati was born October 9 1907 and sadly left us November 5 1982. So my downloading Mr. Hulot has not deprived the man of any money, unlike if I had downloaded some current hit. However even downloads of current movies does not necessarily deprive film makers of money if the downloader wasn’t going to buy the DVD anyway. (Take that you packet sniffing studio dogs!)

An hour after my download began only 1.8% of it has come down (only 98.2% to go), which means it’s patience time, I’m probably a week away from having the movie in my drive. Speaking of drive, when it’s complete I’ll move it off of my iMac, and onto my 500 gigabyte extra drive. And when it finally gets here, reconnecting with that film will surely make my day. UPDATE: The magic words “Download Complete” rang out from my computer late Thursday evening. I’m going to view it first thing Saturday after I upload this blog.

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Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Who would you say was the luckiest man in the world? We would cast our vote for the Japenese gentleman pictured above. He is 93 years old, his name is Tsutomu Yamaguchi, and his accomplishment: surviving both atomic bomb detonations, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Story from the Guardian Co., UK:

A 93-year-old Japanese man has become the first person to be certified as a survivor of both US atomic bombings at the end of the second world war, officials said today.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi had already been a certified "hibakusha," or radiation survivor, of the 9 August 1945 atomic bombing in Nagasaki. Now it has been confirmed that he also survived the attack on Hiroshima three days earlier.

Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on 6 August 1945 when a US B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city. He suffered serious burns to his upper body and spent the night in the city. He then returned to his hometown of Nagasaki.

"As far as we know, he is the first one to be officially recognised as a survivor of atomic bombings in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki," said Nagasaki city official Toshiro Miyamoto. "It's such an unfortunate case, but it is possible that there are more people like him.

It is difficult to imagine anyone surviving one atomic blast, much less two. As we googled Hiroshima we came across a description of the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima which is posted on a site hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

On the ground moments before the blast it was a calm and sunny Monday morning. An air raid alert from earlier that morning had been called off after only a solitary aircraft was seen (the weather plane), and by 8:15 the city was alive with activity – soldiers doing their morning calisthenics, commuters on foot or on bicycles, groups of women and children working outside to clear firebreaks. Those closest to the explosion died instantly, victims of atomic attack with the pattern of her clothing burned into her back. their bodies turned to black char. Nearby birds burst into flames in mid-air, and dry, combustible materials such as paper instantly ignited as far away as 6,400 feet from ground zero. The white light acted as a giant flashbulb, burning the dark patterns of clothing onto skin (right) and the shadows of bodies onto walls. Survivors outdoors close to the blast generally describe a literally blinding light combined with a sudden and overwhelming wave of heat. (The effects of radiation are usually not immediately apparent.) The blast wave followed almost instantly for those close-in, often knocking them from their feet. Those that were indoors were usually spared the flash burns, but flying glass from broken windows filled most rooms, and all but the very strongest structures collapsed. One boy was blown through the windows of his house and across the street as the house collapsed behind him. Within minutes 9 out of 10 people half a mile or less from ground zero were dead.

The above excerpt of the Enola Gay’s day is from a piece called The Manhattan Project, An Interactive History. Reading it will make indelibly clear that if it is possible to put one Genie back into the bottle, this would be the one to put back in. The paper makes a fascinating read, and may be found here!

It is a grisly account to be sure, but the fact remains that it was the United States which set that bomb off not once, but twice, and according to data later uncovered the Japanese were on the verge of surrendering after the fire bombings of Tokyo’s factories, and DOD had to rush the atomic tests forward as it would be the only opportunity to actually test the effects of this new, untried weapon under field conditions. To try to justify our use of the bomb to our own people President Truman used the excuse of trying to end the war sooner. OSS members who spoke Japanese (OSS was the precursor of the CIA) were brought near to Japan so they could be rushed in after the bombings and gauge their effectiveness.

In closing, the world has known only two atomic bomb explosions, and we, the United States, dropped both of them. Albert Einstein, upon whose theory the bomb was created, and who was among a number of scientists urging its development because it was believed Germany might have been working on one, at one point realized the terrible possibility of the bomb’s misuse by politicians and military, and he spent his later years fervently campaigning against its use, and for his concern he was vilified far and wide as a leftist pinko. Fortunately for the human race, to date only the U.S has used the bomb.

This is a test. This is only a test.”

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On that somber note we have calmly run this week’s blog aground. As our parting shot let us sling an arrow at the food fighting Creationists in Austin, Tx., trying to monkey with scientific education by casting aspersions on Darwin’s theory of evolution. Knuckleheads, if we weren’t related to other species of animals then testing drugs on them would be a colossal waste of time. However the real imposition is these people of so-called faith trying to force their unprovable beliefs on the school children of Texas. Separation of church and state – it’s in the constitution folks. Down creationists!

We expect the good ship EddyBlog to regain floatation at next Saturday morning’s high tide, at which time we’ll once again take pokes at all of our favorite straw men. We hope you’ll come back for the party. Meantime, thanks for coming by this week. Bye now.

The Real Little Eddy