PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS void in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material.


To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

P.S. A Column On Things: March 10, 2003

March 10, 2003 Vol. 5, No.10

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Who Do I Look Like?
  • Report From Class
  • Mom's Idea For Commuters
  • Letter of Resignation
  • Give Peace A Chance
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • None

Humor

  • Canadian Apology Redux

Movies

  • Far From Heaven

Letters

  • Rosenbaum on Music Piracy, Rae on Nerds, Encouragement Of My Teaching, The New HP

General News

Who Do I Look Like?

I heard some students thought I looked like Leontes' brother in the Kenneth Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing. Do I have a twin separated at birth who acts Shakespeare? I asked Rae, my younger daughter, who responded:

I wouldn't agree, but then again you're my dad and I see you everyday so I know your face better than they do.

As long as we're on the subject, all large men with black beards bear a vague resemblance to Luciano Pavarotti, the opera singer. However, although I am large, he is much larger. And also, in my estimation, rounder. Check out my picture at the top of the column (OK, I don't look EXACTLY like that anymore, but it's close) and see if you don't agree. Believe me, Pavarotti hasn't looked as good as his picture in some time either.

Report from Class

It was a quiet week in Orinda, my hometown. I continue to learn and grow every day as a student teacher, picking up practical advice from my master teacher. Like never tell 8th graders to go back and help themselves to cupcakes unless you want someone trampled to death. We made the cupcakes to celebrate 100% completion of homework last week.

We offered extra credit to anyone who would perform Erie Canal in a creative and original way. Two girls did it as a rap in a well-edited, well-shot music video. We were blown away. Sometimes the students will surprise you.

My mother used to love to chaperone the sock hops at Centennial High School in Gresham, Ore., where she worked when I was a child. She said it was her favorite part of the job. When I was in middle school, I used to go with her quite frequently. Those were, of course, much more innocent times. At least I assume they were; I had no idea what she did as a chaperone.

Last week I chaperoned my first dance: a sixth-grade only dance from 2:30-4:30. Not much to do, really. Parents serving soft drinks, and a "trusted" disc jockey who plays the cleaned up versions of songs they send out to radio stations. Dirty dancing doesn't start until 7th or 8th grade. Booze, drugs and sex are generally saved for high school out where I live and work. In fact, dancing doesn't start much before 4 at a 2:30 dance with sixth-graders. No clothing violations, no dancing violations. All in call, a tame introduction to this most essential and important teacher task. Chaperone stories are welcome.

This week, we start Chapter 11, the Jackson era. It is my first time flying total solo. I have two weeks to awaken in my students an interest in this important historical sufficient to get them through the test. We've got an editorial cartoon project, a letter to President Jackson, a quiz show and a couple of movies; one on Jackson, one on the trail of tears. Wish me luck. I gotta go write the chapter test.

Mom's Idea For Commuters

My mother and I were discussing traffic congestion and long commutes. She told me of an idea she's had for years. I think it's a great one, and modern computer technology would make it trivial to implement.

Charge everyone a tax based on how far they live from their job. Offer a rebate if you prove you've taken mass transit--say, for 90% or more of your commute. It should be a big enough tax to hurt. We'd have to take care of the really poor, but many of them are already using mass transit. Believe me, San Francisco, for example, would find a way to have low-cost housing in a hurry if no one could afford to be a dishwasher or waiter in the city any more.

This is a terrific idea. I don't know how much you'd have to charge per mile per day to make it work, but perhaps, in the spirit of our progressive (or should I say formerly progressive) tax system, well-paid people who live far from their jobs should pay even more.

Letter of Resignation

I thought the fine art of resigning as a matter of principle had died out. Then I get an e-mail from Craig Reynolds with a link to an Feb. 27 article in the New York Times. The Letter of Resignation sent by veteran diplomat John Brady Kiesling to the Secretary of State is as important as Robert Byrd's speech (Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences), also plugged here recently. Kiesling's letter is touching, moving and makes me proud to be an American. My older daughter, Marlow, wishes to be a Foreign Service Officer. I hope, if she ever disagrees with her superiors in a fundamental way, that she writes a letter this good.

Give Peace A Chance

Some of you, I know, never follow my links; you should really follow one or both of these. I'd reprint the entire columns, but it violates my ethics to do so. Go read these. They are funny and though provoking.

My friend Richard Dalton forwarded a very amusing column written by Monty Python member Terry Jones to the Observer, a British national newspaper and the sister newspaper of the Guardian.

I'm losing patience with my neighbours, Mr Bush
Terry Jones
Sunday January 26, 2003
The Observer

I'm really excited by George Bush's latest reason for bombing Iraq: he's running out of patience. And so am I!

For some time now I've been really pissed off with Mr Johnson, who lives a couple of doors down the street. Well, him and Mr Patel, who runs the health food shop. They both give me queer looks, and I'm sure Mr Johnson is planning something nasty for me, but so far I haven't been able to discover what. I've been round to his place a few times to see what he's up to, but he's got everything well hidden. That's how devious he is.

...Since I'm the only one in the street with a decent range of automatic firearms, I reckon it's up to me to keep the peace. But until recently that's been a little difficult. Now, however, George W. Bush has made it clear that all I need to do is run out of patience, and then I can wade in and do whatever I want!

Apparently the letter wasn't Terry's only contribution on the subject. In the spirit of Jonathan Swift's "modest proposal" that the solution to the Irish "problem" was to eat them, Jones offers a prescription for the modern Irish "problem" modeled on Bush's plan for Iraq.

OK, George, make with the friendly bombs

Terry Jones
Sunday February 17, 2002
The Observer

To prevent terrorism by dropping bombs on Iraq is such an obvious idea that I can't think why no one has thought of it before. It's so simple. If only the UK had done something similar in Northern Ireland, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today....

Political Thoughts

For the past year the White House spin on the economy was predicated on the notion that we have "a real recovery" in America. But in recent months, the hard data showed nothing of the kind.

So if you're the Federal Reserve Chairman, and you have to testify before Congress about the state of the economy, how do you tell the truth ... AND ... avoid offending the White House at the same time?

Mr. Greenspan and staff must have struggled for hours on this delicate issue. But they finally came up with a "solution": Perpetuate the myth about the recovery. Never mention the "recession" word. Then, coin a new term: soft spot.

We still have a recovery, said Mr. Greenspan, but we're in a soft spot of that recovery.

The whole charade made sense to no one. But it did prove one thing: Newspeak was alive and well in America, and George Orwell would be proud.

Now, though, the soft spot is turning to quicksand:

* Consumers, who until recently had single-handedly propped up the crumbling economy, are now buckling: They are mired in debt. They see their jobs in jeopardy, mega-failures in Corporate America, mega-disasters globally.

As a result, overall consumer confidence just plunged to the lowest level in nine and half years. Consumer expectations for the next six months are at the lowest level in eleven years! And consumer expectations for their future income are at the lowest level since the Conference Board began keeping records in 1967, 36 years ago!

This stunned Chairman Greenspan. He admitted as much in his own words to the Senate Banking Committee: "... the order of magnitude [of the plunge in consumer confidence] is certainly a surprise."

But it comes as no surprise, Jobless claims are up to 417,000 in the latest week reported. Retail sales are stumbling. Auto sales are fading -- down from 16.2 million in January from 18.3 million a month earlier.

Meanwhile ...

* The real estate market is about to go bust. New home sales plunged 15% in January. And the outlook for February looks to be just as bad. Mortgage applications for purchasing homes have dropped 15% in the four weeks from January 31 to February 21, the latest data on record. The home-buying frenzy appears to be on the wane.

* Investors are up in arms! The NASD reported a record number of investor complaints in 2002. 7,704 new arbitration cases were filed in 2002 -- that's 11% higher than 2001 and 39% higher than in 2000. Investors are hopping mad that Wall Street has taken advantage of them for so long, and they're finally beginning to fight back. But this is still the tip of the iceberg ...

* Accounting shenanigans continue. Parades of CEOs in handcuffs still haven't stopped some corporations from fudging their books. The U.S. division of Dutch supermarket conglomerate Ahold, which operates the Giant and Stop & Shop chains, will restate at least $500 million of its earnings.

The SEC is now investigating and S&P has knocked the stock to junk, but where were they back in April 2002? According to the New York Times, that's when the company said that its 2001 earnings, if prepared by GAAP rules, would have been 90% less than they were under Dutch accounting rules. Clearly, something fishy was already going on.

After campaigning as a conservative disinclined to engage in nation building, George has adopted the radical untested notion of preventive war (we attack first when we feel like it). This is what President Dwight Eisenhower said about preventive war in 1953 when presented with plans to engage in preventive war to disarm the Soviet Union under Stalin: "All of us have heard this term 'preventive war' since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time . . . I don't believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing."

Some what earlier, the official United States position (as set forth by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson acting as the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials in his opening statement to the war crimes tribunal) was: "Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions."

After Gregory Mankiw (who previously wrote a college textbook which referred to Reagan's profligate and spendthrift ways (and supply side economics in general as the work of charlatans) decided to come to Washington per George's request, Paul Krugman wrote an excellent column (No Relief In Sight) which made the interesting point that when the political apparatchiks who make all current decisions want Mr. Mankiw's opinion, they'll tell Mr. Mankiw what it is.

Some subversive radicals in Washington (John Ashcroft and George Bush) are trying (so they say) for democracy abroad (mainly in Iraq, although one suspects right about now they'd like a little less democracy in Turkey) while fomenting a storm trooper arrangement at home. The Center for Public Integrity has posted on its website (www.publicintegrity.org) an article, special report, and draft of the Ashcroft-sponsored follow-on to the Trash The Constitution Act of 2001 (otherwise known as the Patriot Act). This draft legislation is called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) (sometimes Patriot Act II). It proposes, among other things, to throw out the 14th Amendment. The reader will recall that the original Patriot Act managed to wipe out the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments. Meanwhile, Ashcroft preserved the 2nd Amendment and what in Ashcroft's view (judging by his actions) is the right of well-armed terrorists to either form their own militia or join the National Guard).

The article is called "Even in Wartime, Stealth and Democracy Do Not Mix" by Charles Lewis, founder and executive director of the CPI and a former investigative reporter. The special report is "Justice Dept. Drafts Sweeping Expansion of Anti-Terrorism Act," by Charles Lewis and Adam Mayle. The draft bill appears to run about 12 MB.

The proposed bill may fit neatly into plans for the 2004 election. The proposal (even before amendments which could make it worse) would allow the Attorney General without judicial review to declare an organization to be a terrorist organization, to strip a native born American citizen supporting the lawful activities of the organization of her citizenship, and to deport her. The proposal seems well-suited to an October surprise. Under the proposal, Ashcroft could declare any political party other than the Republican Party to be a terrorist organization engaged in hostilities against the United States, declare all those registered as non-Republican voters or those who ever voted in a non-Republican primary to be non-citizens, and deport them. This would likely eliminate the prospect of a close election while allowing for every vote to be counted. It remains to be seen whether, following full implementation of the proposal, George Bush will be able to get 99% of the vote. If so, he'll duplicate the electoral success of another leader who, in the 1980's under the guidance of Don Rumsfeld and others allegedly serving our government today, was encouraged to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds DOESN'T surf the net for you. He writes:

I've been at the Game Developers Conference for the past few days. I considered trying to whip something up quickly right now (Friday is usually my last chance since my weekends are pretty hectic) but looking over my notes, it all looks like just odds and ends (eg "Why I'm the Coolest Stud at MIT". No theme, no hook, no subtle interconnections to weave together -- or perhaps I'm just a bit burned out and uninspired right now. I'll plan to be back next week.

Web Site of the Week

None

Humor

Canadian Apology Redux

Those of you with long memories will recall a very funny Canadian Apology that ran in this space last week. I could not find it on the Internet. Paul Mather, a Canadian Comedian who writes for the show (why he was reading my column I do not know), informed me it comes from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which, you no doubt knew, appears on CBC-TV Tuesdays at 8, offering its own Canadian brand of political humor.

Thanks to Mather, I now have an official transcript of the Canadian Apology, meaning my version is more accurate than the one you've read elsewhere. And, in my opinion, funnier.

Hello. I'm Anthony St. George and on behalf of all Canadians I would like to offer the United States an apology. We haven't been getting along very well recently, and for that I am truly sorry.

I'm sorry we called George Bush a moron. He is a moron, but it wasn't nice of us to point it out. If it's any consolation, the fact that he's a moron doesn't reflect poorly on the people of the United States. After all, it's not like you actually elected him.

I'm sorry about our softwood lumber. Just because we have more trees than you do doesn't give us the right to sell you lumber that's cheaper and better than your own. Imagine if you had, say, ten times the television audience we did and you flooded our market with great shows, cheaper than we could produce. I know you would never do that.

I'm sorry that we beat you at Olympic hockey. I guess in our defense our excuse would be that our players are much much better than yours. By way of apology, please accept all our Canadian NHL teams, which one by one are going out of business and moving to your fine country.

I'm sorry about our waffling on Iraq. I mean, when you're faced with a crazed dictator, you want your friends to stand by you. I know it was more than two years before you guys pitched in against Hitler. But that was different. Everybody knew he had weapons.

I'm sorry we burned down the White House in the War of 1812. I see you've rebuilt it. It's very nice.

I'm sorry for Alan Thicke, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Howie Mandel, Due South, Loverboy, that song from Sheriff with the high pitched long note at the end, your beerů I know we have nothing to do with your beer, but we feel your pain.

And finally, on behalf of all Canadians, I'm sorry that we're constantly apologizing for things in a passive aggressive way that's actually a thinly-veiled criticism. We sincerely hope you're not upset about that. Because we've seen what happens to countries you get upset with.

For 22 minutes, I'm Anthony St. George and I'm sorry.

Movies

Far From Heaven

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

I love art when I see it in a movie. I came late to the film, just in time for a scene lit first all in green, then only with overhead lights. Dennis Quaid was made for cigarettes, hats, short hair, a suit and a skinny tie. He kept reminding me of Joe Friday. I am sure it was no coincidence. He plays a father of two who is a closet homosexual. His wife is a liberal who thinks it is OK to speak to Negroes. The only problem is that the movie is set in Hartford, Conn. in late 1957 and early 1958, and for a white woman to be seen on the street with a black man was a scandal.

This is, in fact, a two-hour homage to the issue movies that used to be made in black and white back in the 1950s. I don't think I've seen a real issue movie since Guess Who's Coming To Dinner with Sidney Poitier back in the 1960s. By the way, Dennis "Major League" Haysbert does an incredible job as the black gardener with a college degree struggling to get by in a subtly prejudiced world. Kudos to Todd Haynes, whose seven previous films were arty indies. He's shown here he can handle a big budget and big stars.

Julianne Moore unquestionably deserves her best actress Oscar nomination. She turns in an outstanding and restrained performance as a woman who proves that no good deed goes unpunished, and is a living demonstration of Murphy's Law as her world goes quietly to hell.

I loved the period detail, the moody lighting (which earned a Best Cinematography Oscar nomination), the Elmer Bernstein score (also Oscar-nominated) which is so evocative of the 1950s. His scoring under the final scene, which accompanies an up-and-back crane shot, is so 50s it brought a catch to my throat. Not surprising really; Bernstein, 80, started scoring films in Britain in 1951, and has scored 244 of them since. He can do 1950s music because he did 1950s movie music, back in the 1950s. By the way, he's no relation to Leonard, which surprised me.

Rated PG-13. I can't imagine anyone under 30 sitting still for it. An adult film, in the non-porno sense of adult. Serious, thought-provoking, well-acted and well shot. No wonder it isn't showing in my suburban county (I had to drive into Berkeley to see it). You'll probably have to drive to see it too. It's worth the drive.

Letters

Rosenbaum on Music Piracy, Rae on Nerds, Encouragement Of My Teaching, The New HP

Dan Rosenbaum no longer sends out reminder to people to go read his Over The Edge blog, but while running through it last week, I discovered an excellent item: Who Gets Hurt When You Pirate Music. Check it for details, but bottom line is this:

So for every $16.98 album you rip, you're costing a performing artist about 34 cents, and the lawyers, producers and labels about $16.64.

Are they still called albums? Just checking...

My daughter Rae found an essay on Why Nerds are Unpopular, of which she says, "This essay is very true."

Several very encouraging emails came in this week about the nature of teaching. One was so personal I don't feel able to share it, but you know who you are, and I want to give you a public thank you on top of the private one I've already sent. I am lucky indeed to be headed into a field which offers so much opportunity for my own personal growth as well as the encouragement of the personal growth of the tender souls placed in my charge.

A friend recommends a new business book:

Especially if you know Peter Burrows, you'll be much interested in his new book, "Backfire," a history of the Walter Hewlett - Fiorina contest. Burrows is described as "a technology journalist for Business Week, the principal chronicler of Fiorina's tenure at Hewlett-Packard."

Burrows identifies one Allison Johnson as possibly the source of the company's behavior under Fiorina toward Business Week in particular, but all the media in general. At one point in his main text, Burrows recounts a declaration forbidding, for a time, any contact with BW by any HP manager, saying Fiorina was not to be further subjected to disrespectful inquiries from the press!

In his "Note about Sourcing," Burrows reports "Since the shareholder vote on March 19, 2002, the author has had no further access to HP executives. HP warned me this would occur as I was preparing an article that appeared on Business Week's Web Site on March 18, citing concerns some insiders had about the long-term prospects for the merger."

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