Belated In Memoriam: Lord Callaghan. Like his contemporary Jimmy Carter, he tried, God knows he tried, but the UK and the US were so f*cked-up during their tenures that both countries turned to conservative monsters to offer “solutions” that were more often smoke and mirrors than anything substantive. If Blair’s really calling an election, he’s got to take note of his late Labour colleague and what happened to him, and start providing the substance to go along with the image. And that means not toading to the Junta. Got it, Tony?
In Memoriam: Paul Henning, who taught us that hillbillies can be as annoyingly rich as people born into money.
And a Big Time In Memoriam: Johnnie Cochran. You really can’t say anything about the guy without getting a totally polarizing reaction. You either loved him or loathed him. But you were always entertained by him, and that’s something incredible coming from a lawyer.
You know that I rarely miss a Tuesday. Well, let me lay it out for you. In addition to absolutely zero wrestling news being available (there’s always a drought running up to Wrestlemania, for some reason), on Saturday, after I finished the Short Form, I started to get very, very depressed for no reason. My DVD player conked out on Saturday night, and I wasn’t able to fix it, so I decided to travel the fifty-plus miles to the nearest Best Buy on Sunday, thinking that they wouldn’t close for Easter. Nope, they were closed. That depressed me even more. Spending money at the open Barnes and Noble didn’t even help, and, of course, the Emporia and Topeka Wal-Marts had absolute shit in that category. I then started to get even more depressed when I saw Illinois license plates on the Kansas Turnpike (anything sets me off). By the time Monday morning came around, I was non-functional. So I called into work sick and phoned up my shrink. I couldn’t get in there on an emergency basis on Monday, but they’d set something up for Tuesday. So I called into work again on Tuesday and waited for the phone call to set up the appointment. Luckily, there was a cancellation, and the result of this is that I’m on yet another med for this stuff, and have been advised to take half a K-Dawg before I go into work. Just as long as this shit works, I’ll be pleased. My clinican also said that every single one of her bipolar patients she’s seen for the past week have complained about the same depression that I have. Probably the weather, she thinks.
Hell, I can’t win. I can’t even get into the game. I’ve got a week and a half until I’m in Chicago again for a few days (but those gas prices are causing anxiety; I’m going to be spending over two hundred bucks to drive to Chicago and back just filling up the Damn Vaninator), and I’m hoping to survive until that time. Maybe that’ll tide me over until I’m considered for promotion. All I know is that it didn’t last time.
Well, enough about me and my problems, although a lot of you get off on that. Let’s get on with the news…
THE PIMP SECTION
Only PK can combine wrestling with dolls and still retain his credibility.
Lucard is absolutely right when he says that we maintain integrity and dignity when doing game reviews. And if Activision doesn’t like the fact that I score a game on an average of 5 and thought that Doom 3 deserved a 3.5 on that scale, they can go somewhere that’ll suck up to them like remoras.
I’ll add Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” and Styx’s “Show Me The Way” to Gloomchen‘s list, and for a good reason: the US Army decided to use these songs for propaganda purposes during the Gulf War, and AFN used to play them every thirty f*cking minutes.
Rogers previews the upcoming baseball season, which is upon us again like a yearly flu virus. Yuck.
Nguyen gives props to Pat Summitt.
Toner also touches on women’s prep B-ball.
Urciuolo contemplates the Washington Nationals.
Stevens has the DC side of the aisle covered as usual.
AND WE’RE CLEAR
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan didn’t improperly influence the bidding or selection process for contracts awarded to Cotecna Inspection SA, a Swiss company hired to monitor humanitarian goods for Iraq, a report said.
The report by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said that, while procurement rules weren’t followed in the awarding of UN contracts to Cotecna, Annan didn’t know the company was seeking the work during his son’s employment by the company.
“There is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the secretary-general in the bidding or selection process,” the report said. It said Cotecna was awarded $66 million in contracts to inspect goods coming into Iraq because it was the lowest bidder.
The oil-for-food program was an exemption to UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Created by the UN Security Council and administered by a UN agency, it allowed Iraq to sell $64 billion worth of oil from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Hussein in 2003.
Hussein skimmed more that $17 billion from the program through oil smuggling and graft involving humanitarian goods, U.S. congressional investigators reported in November. Allegations of UN mismanagement and corruption have prompted six separate investigations and calls from about one in seven U.S. House members for Annan to resign.
Annan’s son Kojo “actively participated in efforts by Cotecna to conceal the true nature of its continuing relationship with him,” the report said.
Kojo Annan wasn’t “forthcoming” in interviews with the Volcker panel on the subject of the company accounts through which he was paid in 1999 and 2000, and has refused to answer questions about his financial interests, the report said.
A 1999 inquiry by Kofi Annan’s chief of staff into the possible conflict of interest stemming from Kojo Annan’s employment by Cotecna was “inadequate,” and the matter should have been referred to the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services or the Office of Legal Affairs, the Volcker report said. A proper inquiry would have made it “unlikely” that Cotecna would have been awarded the contracts, the report said.
A Volcker panel report released on Jan. 10 said UN officials ignored early warnings that humanitarian goods shipped to Iraq before the war were given cursory inspections, a condition that U.S. investigators say may have helped Hussein siphon up to $4.4 billion from the program.
Today’s report notes that Annan’s chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, authorized an aide to shred three years’ worth of files related to the oil-for-food program. Riza gave his authorization April 22, the day after the Security Council passed a resolution welcoming Volcker’s investigation, the report said.
The shredding continued through December, seven months after Annan ordered documents related to the humanitarian program be preserved, the report says. The records from Riza’s office covered the years 1997 to 1999.
Riza told investigators he hoped to create more office space by shredding records, was unaware the shredding had continued through December, and that copies were available in the UN’s central files, the report said.
Pressed on this last point, Riza told Volcker’s committee he knew some copies of his shredded documents, called “chron” files, wouldn’t be available.
“Therefore, the Committee does not find persuasive Mr. Riza’s suggestion that his `chron’ files were only duplicates of files maintained elsewhere at the United Nations,” today’s report said.
I’m from Chicago, so I don’t mind the whole nepotism thing, nor do I mind Saddam taking advantage of the whole thing by skimming off the top. But they did violate a principle of Chicago politics that’s worked for over a century: don’t overreach by getting greedy. Keep the graft on a scale that’s realistic and won’t be noticed. So this was a violation of the basics when it comes to that process.
I’m glad to see the UN cleared as much as possible, though. They’re supposed to be above this kind of behavior, especially the Secretary General. I’m not in favor of Norm Coleman and his ilk’s call for Annan to resign; he’s done the best job he can under heavy pressure from the Junta to get him to bless the illegitimate invasion of Iraq. The whole thing seems like a Junta punishment for Annan convincing the UN not to approve of the illegal invasion of another UN member. But there was some kinkiness going on in Annan’s office.
The shredding of documents…well, that brings to mind Ollie North’s behavior during Iran-Contra in order to cover up the crimes of the Reagan Administration. Where there’s shredding, there’s fire, and the committee is going to look into that further. What did Riza shred? We already know when he shredded it, and it was against orders to maintain the documentation. It may have been out of some misguided effort to protect his boss, but it was against the boss’ express orders. Riza is a legitimate scapegoat for this whole controvery. So can his ass and make him take the blame.
I truly believe that Cotecna did submit the lowest bid, but it was in expectation of getting a sweetheart deal from the UN based on the employment of Annan’s son. That’s how this shit works, folks. Trust me. They knew that they could cover the low bid by getting kickbacks and special treatment. It’s just like the Silverado Savings and Loan scandal, where the board felt invulnerable as they stole two billion bucks because Neil Bush happened to be on the board. So they’re responsible for a lot of this crap.
This isn’t a whitewash. The UN is under blame for insufficient monitoring of the situation. They just turned the other way and tried to pimp up the humanitarian aspect of the mission. It was good intentions gone horribly wrong due to criminal behavior on the part of the people involved. That’s something that a Chicagoan can understand. Except that the good intentions rarely went horribly wrong.
MORPHEUS, THE NEW VIAGRA SUBSTITUTE
Many Americans are so sleepy that they are having problems in their marriages, making mistakes at work and even going without sex, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 75 percent of adults frequently have a symptom of a sleep problem such as frequent waking during the night or snoring. But few believe they have a sleep problem and most ignore it.
I know I have a sleep-related problem. But it’s these goddamn drugs. I have to get up to piss in the middle of the night all of the time, I’m becoming dangerously close to being addicted to the K-Dawgs…but I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about here.
“Half of the country sleeps pretty well — the other half has problems,” Foundation chief executive Richard Gelula said in a statement.
What is to blame? The survey of more than 1,500 adults found that 87 percent usually watched TV in the hour before going to bed, 47 percent usually had sex and 64 percent read.
What I want to know is, are these separate activities or are people multitasking? Sex with the TV on, sure, I can see that (although I think a little Barry White on the box is more appropriate than, say, Conan). But reading? I fall asleep by reading, and I usually read if I have the TV on as well (although I don’t have a TV in my bedroom), but I just can’t see combining sex with that. It tends to distract you from a good book. And let’s face it, at my age, a good book provides more satisfaction.
“Only about one-half of respondents are able to say on most nights, ‘I had a good night’s sleep’,” the Foundation, which issues regular reports showing Americans do not get enough sleep, said in a statement.
Nearly a quarter of those in a marriage or relationship said they had sex less often or had lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy.
Damn, that’s a good excuse for being bored by a relationship. “Sorry, honey, I can’t get it up because I need to crash. No, it’s not you, it’s lack of sleep.” Bullshit. You know, if we still lived in an age when prostitution was a tacitly accepted way for married men to get carnal dissatisfaction with their partner out of their system (and if you didn’t catch five different venereal diseases, including the modern Black Plague, by being from within a meter of a prostitute), maybe we wouldn’t have these problems. Shit, you never heard about this stuff in the Seventies, when even married couples were humping around like rabbits with everyone else…well, it’s different these days. Maybe one of these days Modern Medicine can catch up so that we can have that kind of fun again.
Just thinking here…this is a real bitch for people my age and less. The Boomers got all the good drugs in the Sixties, they got all the good sex in the Seventies, and by the time I, who was born a month before the Boom demographically ended, went through puberty, all we had left were AIDS, herpes, blow, and heroin. No wonder my life sucks.
The Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night but the survey found that Americans get an average of 6.9 hours.
I’d kill to get 6.9 hours. Of course, I kill myself on day shift when I’m doing Tuesdays because I have to watch Raw, finish up my column, hopefully get to sleep by, say 10:45 (Central Time Zone, don’t you know), and then be up at four the next morning. The sacrifices that I perform for you, you ungrateful bastards.
Of those surveyed, 60 percent of drivers admitted to having driven drowsy in the past year and 4 percent said they had an accident or near-accident because they were tired or dozing while driving.
Almost 30 percent of employed adults said they had missed work, made errors or missed some activity because of sleep-related issues in the past three months.
Driving, done that. Missed work, done that. Made errors, done that. I’ve even done all of them at the same time.
Most people — 77 percent — complained that their partner has a sleep-related problem, usually snoring.
The unusual part is, I don’t snore. However, I have been known to sing in my sleep. No shit. Maybe I’ll get Gloomchem ove
r and see if we can get a column out of what I vocalize during sleep.
“In my practice, I’ve found when couples are forced to sleep apart because of one partner’s sleep problems, it often has a terrible effect on the relationship,” said Dr. Meir Kryger, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Boniface Hospital Research Center at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and a director of the Foundation.
More than a third of people who described themselves as poor sleepers said their intimate relationships were affected because they are too sleepy, compared to 8 percent of good sleepers.
Well, no shit, Sherlock. This isn’t the Fifties, where couples on television slept in separate beds, or earlier times when men and women slept in separate bedrooms and only united when the man came into the boudoir for a little action for necessities of procreation. We’ve been conditioned to expect that a “happy” couple shares their bedspace and engages in a little rumpy-pumpy on a frequent basis, even when one partner really doesn’t want to. If something disrupts that image, then it’s automatically considered a problem.
You know, why is everyone going on about gay marriage when heterosexual marriage seems to be in big trouble from innocuous things like sleep?
WE’RE THE PHONE COMPANY; WE DON’T HAVE TO CARE
Again from Reuters:
MCI Inc. on Tuesday accepted a sweetened takeover offer of $7.6 billion from Verizon Communications Inc., citing Verizon’s scale and growth prospects in rejecting Qwest Communications larger bid.
MCI said Verizon raised its cash-and-stock offer to $23.50 a share, including $8.75 per MCI share in cash and $14.75 per MCI share in Verizon stock. Of the $8.75, up to $5.60 would be paid to MCI shareholders when they approve the deal, and the bid includes protection for MCI shareholders against a decline in Verizon’s stock price.
Qwest said it would “assess the situation,” but that it still believed its $8.45 billion bid was superior. Many MCI shareholders have urged Qwest to pursue MCI, saying Verizon’s original $6.75 billion offer was too low. Verizon said its revised bid was a “compelling” offer for MCI shareholders.
Qwest had given MCI until April 5 to accept or reject its bid, after weeks of talks in which Qwest increased the amount of available financing for its bid to $5.75 billion.
Qwest Chief Financial Officer Oren Shaffer said in a presentation to investors on Tuesday before MCI’s reply that MCI had made several demands during the negotiations, and the talks had come close to being “disingenuous.”
“Right now, we think the shareholders interest and our interest are aligned,” Shaffer said.
Both companies see MCI as a foothold into the market for selling voice and data services to large businesses. Qwest, the fourth-largest U.S. local telephone company, also saw an MCI deal as its best chance to reduce its $17 billion debt and increase its weak cash flow.
Verizon, the largest U.S. telecommunications company, has said its deal offers more stability to MCI shareholders. It has criticized Qwest’s estimates of financial benefits from an MCI deal, including $14.8 billion in cost savings, as “modern fiction.”
A little history lesson: MCI was the first company to offer long-distance service in competition with the Bell System, and eventually helped trigger the court case that in 1984 broke up Ma Bell. Twenty years later, some of the Baby Bells have consolidated into telecom monoliths, and now two of the Baby Bells entered into massive competition to absorb their former rival, courtesy of MCI getting into major trouble with Bernie Ebbers and all that. We are quickly moving into a situation where we’ll have one telecom company again (most probably SBC if they can close a deal with Verizon/MCI in the future). This isn’t what was intended by the break-up, was it?
Meanwhile, they tried getting into the cable market and failed miserably. AT&T tried to independently offer cable service, and it was such a loss leader that they had to sell to Comcast, whereupon customer service degraded and prices skyrocketed (I went through this back in Chicago). The firewall that was meant to protect against this simply didn’t function, but the market corrected that problem by itself (huzzah for Milton Friedman). The market also seems to be correcting itself on the other major cable “synergy” failure. I’m reading the new book from James Stewart, “Disney War”, where the problems with the Mouse could easily be traced to their purchase of ABC and Fox Family Channel by Andre the Giant. Ever since that, the Mouse started to decay, leading into its current state of absolute chaos, although Bob Iger’s the guy to get them out of it. The same thing could be said about Viacom, though they started in television. Their purchase of Paramount eventually led to the disaster area known as UPN, not to mention Spike, who are about to lose their most popular show (something called Raw) to whence they received it from, USA Networks…
…how did I get off on this tangent? Back to phone service.
A lot of people on the East Coast, where Verizon reigns supreme, have complaints about their various services being pieces of shit, and the complaints seem to be justified. They’ve become too big to care anymore. And this’ll make them even bigger. However, I have to admit that they’re better than Qwest, who I had as an option for my phone service when I was in Nebraska; they sucked so much that I chose Helltel instead. Qwest getting MCI would make them even worse, if that’s possible. I have nothing good to say about Qwest, just like I have nothing good to say about Comcast. And this whining and bitching about this deal shows their true colors.
So, in other words, MCI dodged an artillery shell, but the death is still going to happen, this time by a smaller caliber. It’s really a sad day for telecom, except for the shareholers. 1984 all of a sudden seems like an appropriate year for the break-up.
AND SPEAKING OF MONOPOLIES…
Yet again from Reuters:
Microsoft will implement all of the major changes to its new stripped-down version of Windows requested by the European Commission, the software giant said on Tuesday.
The European Union’s executive had ordered Microsoft to sell a version of the world’s dominant computer operating system without its Windows Media Player program after ruling that the company had abused Windows’ near-monopoly to crush competition and fining it nearly 500 million euros ($650 million).
The Commission’s order is meant to open the market for alternative software to play films and music from RealNetworks, Apple and others, but the two sides disagreed over technical issues.
“Earlier today we contacted the Commission and informed them that we have accepted all the main changes they have requested we make to the version of Windows without Media Player,” said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s top lawyer in Europe.
The modifications include technical changes to “registry settings” and removing references in product documents and packaging that warn that certain products won’t work without Media Player, Gutierrez told Reuters by telephone.
Microsoft also agreed to create a software package allowing consumers to replace the absent media files, he added, which could be downloaded for free from the company’s Web site.
Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan said the EU executive would closely examine Microsoft’s proposals.
“Given that the substance of this letter needs to be examined in-depth, the European Commission is not in a position to comment on its details,” she said in a statement.
On Monday Microsoft said it would adopt the Commission’s suggested name for the operating system, “Windows XP Home Edition N,” after the EU antitrust authority rejected 10 options from Microsoft.
Microsoft is appealing the Commission’s landmark decision. Other disputes are still simmering about a second order to share information with rival makers of servers and the appointment of a trustee to monitor Microsoft’s compliance.
Microsoft may ultimately face fines of up to $5 million a day if the Commission finds it is refusing to comply with its decision.
Microsoft’s technical changes may pacify critics such as RealNetworks, which complained that removing Media Player also took out some multipurpose “registry keys” — something Microsoft tells third-party developers not to do — that can disable other programs.
The Windows registry is the database used to keep track of settings in the operating system and any programs it is running.
Microsoft says the problem arose because Media Player is a core part of Windows, not a stand-alone application.
Let’s face it, Microsoft owns Park Place and Boardwalk, although God knows that I try to stay away from Media Player. I’ve got BSPlayer to do AVIs and MPEGs and PowerDVD to do DVDs (something I had to reinstall over the weekend when the DVD player conked out), not to mention Winamp to do MP3s. Media Player is a complete pain in the ass to operate. Its disconnection from the operating system is a blessing, since it tries to overwrite all settings in the Registry for any other player you might have on your system. Thank you, EU.
My concern is the fact that Real took part in this suit. I don’t mind QuickTime so much; Apple has a good track record on their software in addition to their hardware. Real, though, are even bigger scumbags than anyone in Redmond. They have a track record of installing spyware and tracking cookies that any spyware-related software could only dream of. People have been complaining about Real for years for the same thing that they’re claiming Microsoft is doing: trying to take over all media functions on a system. RealPlayer sucks eggs. Unfortunately, the players that supposedly take over the function of RealPlayer, like RealAlternative, aren’t very good. So it stays on my system, protected against the outside world by my firewall. And I clean out the tracking cookies regularly (although they’re neutered by my firewall to not get through to the Mothership). I also loathe attempting to neuter its preload sequence at bootup, the notorious tkbell, every time I use the damn thing. I don’t use it that often; I don’t need a stub taking precious memory space and CPU time from my system.
So, to summarize, f*ck Real, big kudos to the EU, and minor kudos to Microsoft for actually cooperating for once and removing a piece of shit from Windows that could be a non-mandatory download. Just get an alternative player and a good codec pack, and you’re on your way to Media Player-free Windows for now. It’s still there, it’s just not being used.
AND SPEAKING OF CRIMINAL ACTS WITH COMPUTERS…
Yet again from Reuters:
Supreme Court justices questioned Tuesday whether the recording industry’s attempts to shut down online file-sharing networks would deter inventors from developing new products like Apple’s iPod music player.
But the justices also suggested that peer-to-peer networks could be held accountable for copyright infringement because they attracted users by telling them that they could copy music and movies for free.
Record labels and movie studios have sued to shut down peer-to-peer software makers like Grokster and Morpheus, arguing that the millions of songs and movies copied each day over these networks have cut into sales.
Lower courts have ruled that Grokster and Morpheus can’t be held responsible for the activities of their users because, like a videocassette recorder, their software can be used for legitimate as well as law-breaking purposes.
The Supreme Court seemed sympathetic to that line of reasoning. Justice Steven Breyer noted that other inventions, from the movable-type printing press to the iPod digital-music player, could be used to illegally copy protected works but have proven beneficial to society.
If the court found Grokster liable for the infringing practices of its users, it could have a chilling effect on other inventors, Breyer and several other justices said.
“There’s never evidence at the time when the guy’s sitting in his garage figuring out how to invent the iPod,” said Justice David Souter in open court Tuesday.
But the court also zeroed in on a question that has figured less prominently in previous cases: Whether Grokster and its ilk should be held liable for encouraging, or “inducing,” widespread unauthorized copying.
Grokster attorney Richard Taranto argued in court that the network should be judged by its current behavior, not its actions several years ago when it was initially trying to attract users.
But Souter termed that argument “ridiculous.” Even if Grokster no longer advertises the fact that users can easily find copyright material, it still benefits from its past advertising, he said.
“Sales of a product on Friday are a result of inducing acts on Monday through Thursday,” Souter said.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that a lower court should hold a full trial to investigate whether Grokster was liable for inducement.
Recording-industry attorney Donald Verrilli suggested that Grokster wasn’t entitled to the protection afforded the video cassette recorder because it is mostly used for infringement, not legitimate uses.
“Their massive actual infringement gets a free pass so long as they can speculate that there are non-infringing uses out there,” Verrilli said.
Revenues in the recording industry have plunged by roughly 25 percent since file-sharing networks emerged in 1999, though the industry posted a slight sales increase last year.
Non-infringing uses are now widespread, Taranto said. Hundreds of thousands of songs and millions of video games have been sold through a system called Altnet that allows copyright holders to exert some control over their material, while musicians who don’t want to sell songs and music videos have been able to distribute them for free, he said.
Verrilli said that those figures pale in comparison to the 2.6 billion songs that are reproduced without permission each month.
The Justice Department’s Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the recording industry, suggested that a product should enjoy protection if it was used for infringement less than 50 percent of the time.
Well, it’s finally started. The MPAA and RIAA’s final stand against P2P is being heard by the Supremes. So what exactly is going on here?
It sounds like the Justices are trying to separate the case into two components for independent judgment: 1) Is the software legal because it possesses legitimate uses? and 2) Are the software “companies” liable for their customers’ actions in use? There’s a third case being built by Ginsberg here as well: 3) Is Grokster liable for inducement because they advertised “illegitimate” uses for their software? From preliminary arguments, it sounds like the following decisions may be rendered: #1 is a yes. #2 may be a no. There’s enough prior decisions by lower courts and the Supremes that hold content carriers innocent of actions performed by users. #3 sounds like a deflect to a lower court for activity. So the minimum that the scumbags from RIAA and MPAA will get are a new trial in some appeals court to get Grokster nailed for advertising “copyright infringement”.
Everyone knows that I approve of pirating, so I’ve been watching this carefully. The fate of other P2P networks is at stake. Are the RIAA and MPAA going to haul Bram Cohen into court because he created BitTorrent, a program that he created for legitimate use (like distributing Linux in an easier fashion) and never advertised for illegitimate use? Can they get more ed2k linksites taken down, using the Swiss, German, and Swedish cases as precedent? A decision approving of the **AA’s actions on #1 in the paragraph above leaves all P2P creators open to civil suits. That, as Breyer said, will stifle both creation of P2P programs and investment in them. No one would want to create a new and improved network of P2P users when they’re open to losing everything they have and more to the hogs in the entertainment industry (and they’ve started to play both sides of the field; Dan Glickman, the former secretary of Agriculture, now head of the MPAA, says that online distribution of movies is the wave of the future, and studios can easily profit from it).
In a few months, when there’s a decision rendered in this case, we’re either in the clear or we’re screwed. There’s no further route of appeal to be had. Let’s all hope that it’s the former.
And let’s all hope that I can clear up this depression to do the Short Form this weekend and contribute to the Wrestlemania Round Table. Enjoy yourselves.