Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blog # 82: Vaporware, a Sinking Ship, etc.

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Did Your Computer Catch Conficker?

The much touted threat of Conficker worm’s causing millions of computers to emulate et and phone home for instructions on April Fool’s Day, turned out to be so much vaporware, or as old Will might have put it, “much ado about nothing.” Last Sunday on 60 Minutes Leslie Stahl gave an excellent report on the worm and its possible effects on infected computers, but there was one very important fact she just happened to leave out. The Conficker worm only infects Windows computers. Macintosh and Linux are completely threat free. So for worm and virus free computing next time get a Mac.

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If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Buy ‘em!

The website Torrent Freak reported Thursday that, gosh, geewillerkers, Warner Bros, which failed to beat The Pirate Bay in the Swedish Courts, has, gulp, gulp, bought the company. Torrent Freak puts it in a more newsworthy style.

After years of hostility, lawsuits, police raids and heated invective between the two groups, the Pirate Bay today announced they have settled their differences with US media conglomerate Warner Bros. The largest BitTorrent tracker has sold out to Hollywood and the two have agreed a deal.

The deal, worth over $13 billion (10 billion euros) came about after the recent performance at The Pirate Bay trial gave strong indications that the judgment would go against Warner Bros. For the Hollywood movie studio, it seems that acquiring The Pirate Bay was the only option left.

In the press release, both groups gave a positive outlook to the deal. “The Pirate Bay team has built an exciting and powerful media platform that complements Warner Bros’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” said Jim Kjeyzer, Chief Executive Officer of Warner Bros.”

Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm was similarly forward looking saying “Our community has played a vital role in changing the way that people consume media, creating a new hip culture. By joining forces with Warner Bros, we can benefit from its global reach and technology leadership to deliver a more comprehensive entertainment experience for our users and to create new opportunities for our partners.”

Will wonders never cease? and other clichès of a similar vent. For the complete story point your cursor and click here!

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The Simpsons

Would you believe?

How’s about this bit of news? A chunk of genuine counter culture is about to go mainstream. As mainstream as you can get. It’s going Postal as a matter of fact. Postal, as in stamps.

Honest injun, we kid thee not. Reuters reports that the U.S. Postal Service plans to issue stamps featuring the Simpsons later this year. The 44-cent first-class mail stamps will feature the nuclear family — Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie — and will be designed by the show’s creator and executive producer, Matt Groening. The Simpsons is currently primetime’s longest-running comedy and will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. The stamps will be unveiled on April 9. Odd, this British news service getting a story about Simpson stamps out before the AP.

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Let’s Hear It for Hair!

Speaking of the counter culture, Hair the Musical is in revival on Broadway and all’s well again in the world of the 60’s. In fact, according the review in the N.Y. Times the kids are getting along splendidly. Here are a few words from the Times review:

You’ll be happy to hear that the kids are all right. Quite a bit more than all right. Having moved indoors to Broadway from the Delacorte Theater in Central Park — where last summer they lighted up the night skies, howled at the moon and had ticket seekers lining up at dawn — the young cast members of Diane Paulus’s thrilling revival of “Hair” show no signs of becoming domesticated.

On the contrary, they’re tearing down the house in the production that opened on Tuesday night at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. And any theatergoer with a pulse will find it hard to resist their invitation to join the demolition crew. This emotionally rich revival of “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” from 1967 delivers what Broadway otherwise hasn’t felt this season: the intense, unadulterated joy and anguish of that bi-polar state called youth.

For the complete review of the new production of Hair go here!

When I was living in New York I saw Hair twice during it’s original Broadway run. It was a searing experience, with great songs, and a billowing spirit. Even the nudity, which comes during the simulated “Be-in” at the end of the first act, seemed appropriate for the times. Or should I have said especially, for let’s face it, nude young people make delightful eye candy. Incidentally, I don’t know about now but if memory serves back then a cast member got paid extra for every time he or she participated in the nude scene. I seem to remember the amount being in the neighborhood of $40, and if so an extra $280 a week on top of their regular salary would have made a rather nice bonus for abandoning ones inhibitions for a few minutes at the end of act one.

The second time I saw Hair the head of New York’s Transit Authority happened to be in attendance. Both his driver and bodyguard had asked if they could watch the show from the wings, thereby alerting the cast of the man’s presence in the audience. At the end of each performance the cast members would leave the stage en masse and exit by way of the aisles and the audience, and that night they roamed up and down the aisles until they found MTA head, whereupon they gathered around the hapless man and proceeded to assail him with pleas to not raise subway fares. I’m not sure how much good it did, I seem to remember the price of tokens going up shortly thereafter, but it made for a lively finish for that night’s performance. It even made the next morning’s papers.

Six Examples of Cool

graphic from

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The Great Texas Child Grab – One Year Later

If you read a news story about 460+ children being swept up in a raid on a religious compound, and being forcibly removed and put into foster care by the state, children of all ages, even nursing infants (although the court later softened its stance by allowing nursing mothers to remain with their infants), where would you think such a monstrous incursion of human and familial rights might have taken place? In the former Soviet Union? Communist China? Iran? Perhaps a modern day dictatorship the likes of Myanmar? Would you believe Texas? As in deep in the heart of.

I wrote the above in a blog in April, 2008. It is one year ago Friday that the State of Texas pulled off the most massive child kidnapping case in the history of the Republic and you’ll be happy to learn that according to a high official in the Texas Child Protective Services, “the dramatic removal of 439 children a year ago from a polygamist settlement was a sound decision and the state would not hesitate to respond the same way again.” On April 3, 2008 Officers of the CPS entered the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, guns drawn, and seized all 439 children living in the polygamist community, including toddlers and babies. CPS claimed that this was done for the “protection” of the children, that the girls were being groomed for early marriages to older men, and the boys were being groomed as future perpetrators.

The fiasco cost more than $12 million in taxpayer dollars on everything from foster care and genetic testing to security, hotels, transportation, and overtime pay for hundreds of state workers. When the dust had settled, the Appeals Court determined the seizure had been illegal and ordered the judge to return the children, a ruling that was concurred in by the State Supreme Court a few days later. And when all was finally settled CPS workers determined that only 12 teen girls among the 439 children had been sexually abused by marrying adult members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

Sect members had access to better-than-average legal counsel and the church had assets once valued at $100 million, which put them in a better position to fight the state agency than most parents investigated. Despite their hold on 19th century dress, members of the cult were quick to use cameras and cable news television and the Web to plead their case.

“They were trying to pull another Waco. They didn’t bring in all those guns for looks,” said Willie Jessop, the spokesman for the 800 or so living at the compound when CPS and law enforcement took the children, an act that would spark around-the-clock media attention for months. “When there weren’t any guns, they changed their story to ‘The belief was the problem.’ ”

The number of children involved, their unusual lifestyle — one where even processed modern food made them physically ill — and their difficulty in identifying which family they belonged to, defied any Texas legal playbook. “I don’t think anyone’s seen a case like this or ever will see a case like this again,” said Randy Stout, a San Angelo attorney.

The state’s unique reasoning for taking all of the children — that the sect’s polygamist structure and unique communal living arrangements put all of the children at risk — was quickly defeated by attorneys for the children’s parents which appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. “Removal of the children was not warranted,” the Appeals Court said in its five-page ruling last May 29. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling a few days later.

In assessing blame for this debacle you would do well to go beyond Judge Walther and the nameless officials of the Texas Child Protective Services, and include the Republican Governor of the State of Texas, Rick Perry, or Mr. Good Hair as the late Molly Ivins used to call him. His office was supportive of the raid, and it is unthinkable that CPS would have pulled off so massive an operation without first getting the Governor’s okay. But after the verdicts came down favoring the parents the governor’s office clammed up. The statement at the top of this article is from Anne Heiligenstein, commissioner of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, leaves no doubt in one’s mind that the Texas CPS has learned nothing about the rights of parents and the due process of the law. If you disagree with this policy of disregarding due process we suggest that you keep this in mind when the next governor’s election rolls around.

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Monsieur Hulot a True Classic

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about downloading a film called Mr. Hulot’s Holiday via bit torrent. Well, it arrived a week ago Friday, and I snuck a peek at it because I couldn’t wait. But the view was rushed, I had last week’s blog on my mind, and I didn’t open myself entirely to the movie. On Monday night with no posting deadline hanging over me, I took a leisurely step back in time (the 1950’s) and gave the film the attention it deserves. Jacques Tati, Monsieur Hulot’s creator, is a very funny man, and the film is filled with funny happenings at a seaside resort during France’s traditional vacation period.

Seeing the film reminded me of the other two great comedians in Jacques Tati’s corner, a corner where visual comedy rules. The greatest (although he didn’t invent the art he certainly brought it to its highest level) was Charlie Chaplin. When I was nine years old I got a little movie projector, and with it came a reel containing the escalator scene from Modern Times. I used to view it incessantly, marveling at Chaplin’s skills in his footwork, easily the equal of the most talented of ballet dancers.

In his autobiography Chaplin remembers the creation of his little tramp character. He wrote: "I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter [in Making a Living]. However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."

In Gene Fowler’s biography of the legendary actor John Barrymore, Goodnight, Sweet Prince, he tells of Barrymore seeing Chaplin’s Modern Times in a movie theatre. A few seats down from him sat W.C. Fields, no slight a comedian in his own right. When Chaplin began the escalator scene, trying to go up on a down escalator, his footwork a marvel in frustration, Barrymore reported that Fields was getting ever more agitated. Finally he could stand it no more and he stood and shook his fist at the screen and roared, “you son of a bitch.” The ultimate complement from the ultimate competitor.

Chaplin was part mime, although his later films added sound and dialogue. His humor was primarily visual, which was not surprising since he honed his art during the days of silent movies. He created a character which even though it differed greatly from most people, it was one with which they could identify with. In short Chaplin created a level of humor in his movies which was untouched at the time.

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the United Artists film distribution company with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, all of whom were seeking to escape the growing power consolidation of film distributors and financiers in the developing Hollywood studio system. This move, along with complete control of his film production through his studio, assured Chaplin's independence as a film-maker. He served on the board of UA until the early 1950s

Chaplin was a liberal. He thought of himself as an international citizen, and therefore never sought US citizenship, although he made his home in Hollywood from the mid teens to the 1940’s. Unfortunately for him, the country was going through an hysterical right wing phase after World War II and when Chaplin had taken a brief trip to London for the premier of his film Limelight, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made arrangements with the Immigration department to keep Chaplin from reentering the country. Afterwards Chaplin wrote: ".....Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States."

Chaplin lived out his life in Switzerland, sending his wife Oona O’Neal Chaplin to Hollywood when business needs called. Chaplin entered the country one more time, in 1972, coming out of his exile to accept an Academy Award for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century." As he accepted it he received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full five minutes.

Back track with us to the 1950’s. It was a Sunday afternoon. My memory is hazy as to what network it was on, I keep thinking CBS, but it might well have been NBC. On the DVD upon which his work survives, his friend Jack Lemon remarked that Ernie Kovacs bounced around all of the networks.

In the 1950’s television was black and white. That Sunday much hoopla was made over a half hour comedy program featuring Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, and all of the other characters in Warner Bros. cartoons. The program generated a giggle or two, mainly from fans of his cartoons. But it was pretty flat if you were seriously into humor. Then there came on the strangest half hour I had seen on television. There was no audience, no canned laughter. Neither was there any dialogue for the entire half hour. It was Ernie Kovacs creating a new kind of television comedy, one that was in a direct line to that of Charlie Chaplin. It had been a visual half hour, like nothing television had seen before.

At one point on the program Kovacs was in an oh so haughty private club, one he very much didn’t belong in. He kept making the noise of one passing gas. Old men would look on him with stares that could kill. He decides to eat his lunch. He opens his lunch pail and takes the top off of his thermos. He pours his milk, the milk falls to his left splashing on the table, missing his cup completely. He does it again and again, trying to compensate, but it was not to be. (The table was sitting on a platform slanted at an angle. The camera was tilted at the same angle. And so the milk sailed past the glass to puddle on the table.)

The only sound in the entire half hour, other than that of occasional crepitating and other appropriate sound effects, came from the Nairobi Trio, three men garbed in monkey costumes, the one on the right playing xylophone, the one on the left standing and handing something to the one in the middle, Kovacs. All of them were moving in a jerky, mechanical manner, as though they were wind up dolls. Kovacs at one point knocks what the one on the left is handing him out of his hand, and they both look distressed. At the end of the song the one on the left strikes Kovacs on the head with a hammer. It was hilarious, especially in the context of that completely silent half hour.

Kovacs final shows were on ABC, and after his death his wife, Edie Adams, checked with the network and was assured that the tapes would be kept intact. Later on she got a tip that ABC was overwriting the tapes for local weather reports. She sued the network, and got possession of the tapes, which were made into a PBS series, and presently reside on a two-DVD set issued by White Star at: www.whitestarvideo. com

American comedies were peppered with plots, usually translucent and predictable. In earlier times one of the Marx Brothers, Harpo, used visual humor along with grunts and honks, but Groucho and Chico used fast moving dialogue. And the comedies of Danny Kaye and Bob Hope were always done to a strict formula, involving Kaye or Hope in a plot line, frequently casting them as spies, in plots that were hardly believable, but which Hollywood seemed to think were necessary.

It was these same 1950’s that Kovacs had flourished in. I was very much into foreign movies back then because they seem to have a greater impact on me as I had not identified the actors with previous roles. I was particularly impressed with the films of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and I enjoyed the French comedies of Fernandel. Then I happened to see a French film with the American title: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. It blew me away.

Mr. Hulot had no plot, other than several weeks at a French beach resort. There was character development, a great deal of it. An elderly couple who continually roamed the beach, the woman leading, the man several steps behind. The woman would pick up a seashell, admire it and hand it to the man, who would toss it without giving it a glance. A little boy almost a toddler buys two ice cream cones, and manages to not spill either as he has to reach high to open a door with a cone in the hand. The gruff proprietor looking darkly at the footprints Monsieur Hulot has just laid on the floor, the inevitable good looking young lady, and of course monsieur Hulot himself, an exceeding tall and awkward individual, always trying his damndest to do what was right and usually failing miserably. Only in tennis does he find fulfillment, as he serves so hard he drives his partners to distraction.

Wikipedia describes Tati’s films thusly: “His 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.”

I saw one other Tati film, “Mon Oncle,” but it was filmed in color and it did not have the impact on me that Monsieur Hulot had had. I later concluded that Mr. Hulot, like two other classic films in different genres, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” and The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” gained from being in black and white. Shades of gray rather than color gave all three films an spartan quality that each in its own way required. In Hulot’s case, it allowed one’s attention to be focused on the comedy at hand giving it all the more impact, as the eye did not get soothed or softened by a spectrum of colors.

From the website Films of comes this description of Tati, and his alter ego, Monsieur Hulot:

In 1952, Tati released his second full length film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot. The film proved to be a huge success, particularly in the United States, and it earned Tati an international following. It was this film which saw the first appearance of Monsieur Hulot, Tati’s alter ego who would feature in four of his six full-length films.

The names Tati and Hulot are now virtually synonymous, and it is interesting to speculate how much of Tati’s persona is revealed in his portrayal of Hulot. Like Chaplin’s tramp, Monsieur Hulot is a brilliant cinematic creation. An inoffensive, ordinary-looking middle-aged man, he unwittingly sets off a series of disasters wherever he goes and then saunters away, totally oblivious to the mayhem he has caused. A silent loner who attracts neither malice nor glory, Hulot is an adorable yet elusive character who could scarcely be a more fitting self-portrait of Tati himself – but with at least one obvious difference. Whereas Hulot appears to be a bumbling accident-prone good-for-nothing, Tati, as a director, was the opposite – a creative genius who was an obsessive perfectionist.

All in all, watching Mr. Hulot on my computer screen was like taking a step back in time to an earlier, less harried age. It was certainly worth every moment of my time. And like my collections of Saturday Night Live’s first three years, going back in time is something I’ll be doing again and again.

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Before we wear out our welcome we would like to thank you for visiting Little Eddy’s blog, and suggest that if you return next week, we’ll be here with a brand new effort. We promise. Meantime, bye now, and how was that we used to sign off with during World War II? Bye now, and buy bonds.

The Real Little Eddy