PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
February 22, 1999
The Personal IS Personal
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
I hate the way italic type looks on the screen. It is ugly and hard to read. So I try to use bold for book, movie and magazine titles--whenever I remember.
And Now For Something Completely Different: Around The House
There comes a time in every columnist's life when you have to jot down a few words about the rest of your life. The non-public policy part. The personal part. It makes you seem human. George Will writes about baseball. William Safire writes about words. Ellen Goodman writes about her vacations.
I'm going to write about my cats. We had a black domestic shorthair in Casa Schindler for eight years. Her name was Minuit. She was the second-smallest cat in the litter. We had a number of adventures with her and loved her as a member of the family. When she was about four, the vet told us only one of her kidneys worked and that she had a year to live. We fed her a special diet, took good care of her, and gave her four good years. She never weighed over seven pounds. Last summer, she began to fade. She was hospitalized twice and died on Labor Day, just three days before we were going to have her put to sleep.
After a suitable period of mourning, we went to the Oakland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals late in January, determined to adopt two kittens (We'd decided Minuit had probably hated being alone). The SPCA doesn't get many kittens. It does get adult cats, though. Remarkably, there was a pair of brothers named Oscar and Nerber, orange domestic shorthairs whose previous owners said they were two years old--and who asked that they be adopted together. They'd come in last Fall, been adopted and returned and had been in a cage since Christmas.
I don't know if you've been to the SPCA lately, but it can break your heart. Here are a bunch of people who really care, in the nicest facility they can afford, facing the absolute certainty of having to kill a majority of their residents for lack of space. They do a wonderful job under terrible circumstances.
Despite their being rather older and heavier (14 pounds--twice the heaviest cat we'd ever had) than what we were looking for, we quickly bonded with these two cats. The SPCA had already neutered them and given them their shots and tests. We know for sure we got a couple of healthy guys this time.
Collectively, we call them the boys. Individually, they have been renamed Champagne and Jagermeister (a vile green German liqueur; don't ask). I have trouble telling them apart if I can't see their collars (Cham is red, Jager is blue). Both have spent much of their first two weeks here hiding under Rae's bed. Champagne comes out much more often that Jagermeister.
If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say Champagne is going to be a fine companion and Jagermeister is going to be that other cat we never see, but who keeps Champagne company. They are really cute together.
As they go through life, doing interesting, amusing and brilliant (or stupid) things, I will chronicle their adventures here. In the meantime, if you have the time, money, love and lack of allergies, adopt a companion animal. It beats the hell out of their alternative.
Coming up: applying to college and girls' high school basketball.
All That Phil Gramm Mail
In the last newsletter, I made some disparaging remarks about Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who single-handedly prevented passage of censure in the Senate. I impugned his motives, as well as his intelligence. I was surprised when to ordinarily rational and thoughtful correspondents rose to his defense. Harrison Klein of California and Hawaii had this to say:
Opposing the censure resolution was one of the few things Phil Gramm has done that I agreed with. Seems to me the Constitution is pretty clear: impeach and remove from office or don't. And besides the questionable constitutionality of a censure resolution, it seems totally inconsequential. "You're a bad boy!" What possible impact would that have on anybody? Your friend Jon Carroll wrote recently on the irrelevance of censure; he argued so eloquently that I could only offer a poor paraphrase.
Well, I wish I could say Jon Carroll is a friend. I interviewed him once for TechWeb Internet. I think he is a brilliant columnist--probably the best daily newspaper columnist in America today, bar none. I have recommended him before and will recommend him again.
Let me quote a few words from the column in question, which, I am sorry to say, I missed when it first appeared in the newspaper:
You've Been A Bad Boy
By Jon Carroll
... Is this man going to be brought lower by a censure resolution? Is he going to be upset because Dianne Feinstein and a few other finger-waggers want to say what a bad, bad boy he's been? It is to laugh. He has to have dinner with Hillary every night; is the disapproval of Arlen Specter really going to destroy his slumbers?...
This column also has some cheap shots at DiFi, whom I happen to like, but Jon Carroll is so clever it is easy to forgive his occasional lapses of political taste.
Anyway, without Harrison, I would not have seen this column. Since I am not in politics, I am legally allowed to change my opinion. So I've changed it. Maybe Phil Gramm isn't a totally venal idiot, and maybe censure wasn't such a hot idea.
By the way, Joe Brancatelli also chided me for knocking Phil and suggested he might have had honest motives.
Computer Industry News
Joe Brancatelli's Microsoft Analysis
This week, I complimented Joe Brancatelli on his online column, The Brancatelli File. He complimented me back, adding a postscript:
And, besides, you can't compare what I'm writing FOR MY JOB, to what you're writing for LOVE. Different world, man.
Wow! I wrote back:
I laughed out loud when I read your note. Finally, I understand why people accept the venality of my industry, falling prices! Kind of the same reason they accept Clinton (not-rising prices)
Joe had the last word:
Yeah, I think you're right. I like to think Nixon would have been gone regardless of the state of the economy, but you never know. Clinton remains popular because, well, things are good. Gates isn't seen as a threat because things are good and prices are falling.
You're right, Joe. Maybe if we're lucky there will be federal antitrust relief before there's Windows 2000. That's sure the way things are headed in the courtroom.
David Strom's Microsoft Analysis
If you aren't getting Web Informant, you should consider subscribing. This comes from Issue 142. I don't agree with all of his analysis, and I certainly don't think Microsoft should be let off the hook. In fact, I think they should be broken up. Still, this is one of the most cogent explanations I have seen of the trial dynamic.
Microsoft is on trial not because they are a desktop operating system monopolist. They aren't on trial because they bundle a browser with Windows and that prevents competition. And they aren't on trial because their business practices are putting a squeeze on consumers. Even though these things are certainly true, that isn't why we are continuing the trial.
No, Microsoft is on trial now because they are hard negotiators and have Attitude. And the punishment for such hubris is simple: public humiliation. All that remains is to decided whether the latest missteps over the videotaped demos these past few weeks is enough humiliation.
Below is a quote from the previous issue, 141, leading off an essay on spoof sites and the question of authenticity on the net:
There is a growing crisis of confidence with today's web-based information. One of the hardest things about using the web is to know when something is really coming from its intended source, and whether what you read is the truth.
I am in the Internet business, and I worry about this question every day. Of course, as Jon Carroll, among others, has noted, how do you know the information in a book you check out from the library is accurate? Or the newspaper on your porch or the magazine you buy in the airport? After all, some of the most long-lived misinformation in American history began life as a "fake" newspaper story--for example. H.L, Mencken's history of the bathtub. The Internet is just like life, only it's virtual. All the problems of the real world are going to appear there in some form or another. Alas, we'll just have to get used to it.
During last week's web site of the week, I mentioned in passing that Alta Vista is my favorite search engine. I have written about it several times and interviewed its product manager. It started out as a kind of show-off project for Digital Equipment Corp. hardware; "look, we can create a computer network so big that it can search the Internet every night and index the whole thing."
Now I realize that most people on the net long ago made up their mind which search engine they were going to use, and nothing much, short of an act of God, will dislodge that preference. All I ask is that you give Alta Vista a try. I mean, Yahoo is OK, and has the guiding intelligence of the several hundred people who index sites for it. It also has structure.
And I'm not going to deny it, it is difficult to write an Alta Vista query that doesn't return about 80 percent stupid hits. But it has search-refining mechanisms. And it offers English/German and English/French automatic translation. And it is comprehensive.
And I had an English teacher in fourth grade once who told me never to start a sentence with and, something I have done at every opportunity since, just to show I can. Sorry, Miss Ringle.
Try Alta Vista. When it comes to search engines, it is simply the best.
Only one piece of humor made the cut this week, and it isn't really funny, but as a boomer and a one-time Jeopardy contestant, I couldn't resist it. I scored a 94, which I consider to be an "A" in anyone's book. I remember the tunes for 14 and 15, I just can't remember the exact words. But I answered all the other questions. Can you?
All-Time Great Putdowns
Sometime in the early 1970s, about 1972 or 1973, long-time NY Times critic Clive Barnes wrote a reveiw of Futz, a musical that opened at the McAlpin Rooftop Theater in New York. If anyone can find the review, please send me a copy. I carried it around in my wallet for years, because it was such a beautiful example of the well-crafted smart-Alec put-down. It began something like this:
Other than the acting, directing, script, lighting, staging, cast, location and theater, all of which I hated, the thing I disliked most about Futz was...
As an aspiring reviewer, it was my lodestone. Well, despite reviewing hundreds of films for The Tech while a student at MIT, I have never been able to land another reviewing gig--until now. In the meantime, of course, I read Preview magazine, as well as the reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker (God, I miss Pauline Kael). In the 27 or so years since Barnes shot Futz through the head, I haven't seen another line that struck me as equally brilliant, until this week. This is an excerpt (with a pointer to the full article). Mick buried his lead three grafs down, but that doesn't make it any less of a classic.
...It's so low it scrapes through the barrel and deep into the earth's core. It's the lowest piece of garbage to hit screens in months.
If for some reason that sounds perversely appealing, let me hasten to add that it's also dull and ultimately pointless and lacks the courage of its own nonexistent convictions. It pretends to a morality that it neither understands nor believes -- and the result is as bland as it is distasteful...
I hope someday to have the opportunity to describe a movie as being "so bland it is distasteful."
Message In A Bottle
Message in a Bottle is Kevin Costner's first post-Postman outing. I continue to think our boy Kevin would be better off in lighter vehicles, but I'm not managing his career. This movie has received mixed (at best) reviews. This is another mixed review. First of all, it was too long. I'm sorry, it simply didn't take 2 hours and 10 minutes to tell this story. It failed the "look at my watch and see if it is over" test. It wasn't a bad story; in fact, it was kind of cute. Man writes letter to dead wife, places it in bottle, throws it in ocean. Divorced Chicago reporter finds sweet letter, tracks down man, falls in love. He finds out she has the letter and didn't tell him. They reconcile. Then...
Put another way, Girl Finds Boy, Girl Gets Boy, Girl Loses Boy, Girl Gets Boy Back. The oldest story in the world, but substantially enlivened by a damn well-done Paul Newman cameo. Also, Rae, my daughter wants to see it, because Robin Wright Penn, to her, will always be Buttercup from Princess Bride, and Rae wants to see what's happened to her. What happened to her is that she was cast in another romantic film that can't hold a candle to her debut.
Costner was not bad. There was just too much of him. And everybody else. Except Newman, and Robbie Coltrane, the British comedian, who does a quite nice American accent in his cameo.
The reviewer's code forbids me from telling you the ending, but I can tell you I hated it. I don't care if this is the book ending, or a reverse on the book ending. I disliked it thoroughly. If you're going to do an overlong Hollywood movie, give me a Hollywood ending.
Movies Are Too Long
The major studios have apparently dropped all pretense of discipline. An average movie seems to run about 120 minutes now. That is absurd. With the possible, and I mean possible exception of Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia, there isn't a story in the world that can't be told in 100 minutes. I can see the fluff in these films. If I can see it, the editors can too. We don't demand more movie for our $7.50 (soon to be $8). What we do demand is better movies for our money. And better is almost always shorter, tighter and more entertaining.
I'd like to find out what a full page costs in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, then I'd like to raise that much money, form the Committee for Discipline In Moviemaking and write an open letter to the industry pleading for some restraint. Maybe there could be a postscript that asked for trailers that bore a vague resemblance to the actual film.
A fella can dream, can't he?
From John Kavazanjian, way up in the snowbelt of upstate New York and from way high up at Xerox comes this note:
I'm halfway through Titan-The Biography of John D. Rockefeller. The parallels to Microsoft are eerie! Here's a case of where business conditions and technology outran the ability of the government to legislatively protect other businesses and the consumer from a very smart, very aggressive, market dominating company which kept spreading out vertically and eating up all of its competition.
John, I'm all the way through that book, and I couldn't agree more. I don't know why I haven't plugged it before. I actually read it before it was released and interviewed the author for TechWeb Internet. In fact, we have a brief sound bite from him in our pre-trial "How We Got Here" program. The parallels are indeed, uncanny, and Titan is a terrific and well-written biography, very compelling. Buy it and support the author. Of rent it as a book on tape, or take it out of the library. But don't ask me, I don't lend books.
Speaking of the parallels between the turns of this century and the turn of the last, a consultant friend of mine, former Labor party worker and now expatriate Brian Jeffrey, wrote about the Standard Oil case while he was a student at Cambridge. In the 1980s, he used to talk and write about the uncanny parallels between Standard Oil and IBM. At that time, he said, corporate structure had outrun the government's ability to control or regulate it, but with the victory in the Standard Oil case, the government re-asserted its authority. In the case of IBM, after 13 years of a trial gone mad, the government caved in and settled. It looks like the outcome will be different this time.
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