PS... A Column
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.
December 22, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 51
Table of Contents:
During 2003 I wrote 52 columns (up from 50 last year) and rose to a cumulative total of 70,000 pageviews (a consistent 54 pageviews a day, down from 59). did not miss an issue during the year.
In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's the fifth rerun of my Christmas message, based on my Christmas message of Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).
Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.
This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.
Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column.
What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.
Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends, the Strykowskis. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year.
Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog (or fat-free "Holiday Nog") and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to limit gift giving to the kids (that is, adults give gifts to kids, not to each other). Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.
It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. Rae spending two days at Logan Airport in Boston and a day at O'Hare airport in Chicago on her way to Oregon, for example. Or Rae and Vicki flying to LA to be with Vicki's mom at Christmas.
Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.
We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big tree her freshman year at college, and we got a 14-footer. She was impressed. Rae asked for the same and got the same, so there's a big real tree downstairs.
Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I am now diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, but you know what, I'm grateful because there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control.
I still don't remember if it snowed seven days and seven nights when I was 12 or 12 days and 12 nights when I was seven...
Sweetness and light have returned to the family home with the arrival, from the snow-bound East (via Portland, Oregon) of our younger daughter Rae. It is amazing how the presence of a college freshman can change the whole atmosphere and tempo of a house. Not just the trivial things (there's milk in the refrigerator again after a three-month absence), but the important things (a sense of joy, mischief and wonder permeates the place). Plus, she provides the energy for a real Christmas decoration orgy, starting with the 14-foot live tree she requested and got as a "condition" for coming home for Christmas (I think she would have come home anyway).
She came to my concert Sunday (Vicki, coming down with the flu, was unable to attend), and it was a pleasure having her. She enjoyed it, I believe. We dined afterwards at Max's Diner in San Ramon.
I stumbled once or twice during my reading of The Night Before Christmas in an orchestral setting, but overall acquitted myself well and was the recipient of a number of congratulations. I love performing. That's probably why I like teaching as well. If only I could get eight hours a night sleep, all would be well!
Comfort and Beauty
Surrounded as I am by comfort and beauty every day of my life, it is the height of sophistry for me ever to complain about anything. This reinforces my feeling the humility and gratitude are appropriate attitudes for me to adopt to the universe which, this time around, has chosen such a comfy birth for me.
The students from the yearbook asked me for a quote--in the middle of a class. All I could think of was "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," from John Kennedy's inaugural address. However, if I'd had a moment, especially in our well-off suburban school district, I might well have quoted Lyndon Johnson (who was paraphrasing the bible), when he said "Of those to whom much is given, much is expected."
If I lead the second half of my life by these maxims, it will be happy, fulfilling and worthwhile. That's my prediction. And I will prove worthy and deserving of the comfort and beauty which are my lot.
News From Marlow
More details from Marlow's trip to Hong Kong are here.
We took the bus to Ocean Park. Ocean Park is a big Marine World style amusement park on the southern part of the island, right on the water. Its huge. Ginormous. C, like me, likes roller coasters, so we went on all the rides. There was a log ride (a la Santa Cruz beach boardwalk), two roller coasters (one with three upside down loops back to back), one of those rides which is just a big free fall, and some spiny stuff. It was great since the rides were real western quality familiar rides, but the lines were virtually nonexistent. So we were able to run through a bunch of them rather quickly. Also interspersed where animal and educational exhibits. We saw the birdhouse, the butterfly house, the Giant Pandas, seals, sea lions, the gold fish pagoda, etc. The park was very big and very spread out, it basically went up a mountain and then there was a mountain in the way, and then more park. So the first half was tiered with long escalators in between, then you could take a "cable car" (kind of a ski lift) around the mountain to the second half of the park. We had lunch somewhere in the middle and played some of the games, though we won nothing. We spent five or six hours there, and we didn't even see the shark exhibit, or the aquarium and we timed it wrong for all the dolphin, whale, and amazon shows. Oh well, we still saw a lot.
Everyone thought C was Cantonese and tried to speak to her accordingly. She would look at them blankly and then request them to repeat whatever in "putonghua" (common language or Mandarin). Often they'd repeat what they said, and then maybe try and break it down in English if they saw that we were together. I'd just let them go, but C would assure them I'd understood the first time, to which their reaction was normally a gasp or some exclamation of surprise. Everyone had a hard time believing we were both studying Chinese together in Taipei. There were a lot of foreigners in Hong Kong, more so than in Taipei. But for some reason I still got a lot of stares, maybe it was because I was speaking to C in Mandarin. Yet even when we were just walking I still drew attention. I guess it was from other tourists not from Cantonese people, and maybe I just noticed it more because C took delight in pointing it out. Of course when merchants practically throw their wares at you it's hard to miss.
Thank you Slate Magazine:
For a stupendous investigative report on the Bush administration's obsessive campaign to bury the public's business in secrecy, seethis cover story from the Dec. 22 issue of U.S. News & World Report.)
Three good clicks from Craig Reynolds:
Bush on Phantom WMD: "What's The Difference?"
Court's Padilla Decision Shows Legal Backlash to Bush
Just the words you want to hear on NPR in the morning as you get out of the car; "secret legal opinion issued by the Department of Justice." It doesn't even matter what the opinion was about. Since when has our legal system involved secret opinions by the government? The end days are here, my friends, and they have nothing to do with the apocalypse, unless you think John Ashcroft is the antichrist. Hmmm. Anyone seen him in a blue turban?
This from Dan Grobstein:
A very good Howard Deanspeech transcript from Matthew Yglesias' blog.
Before anyone risks barfing one more time due to hearing what a courteous and loyal guy Joe Lieberman was in saying he would not run in 2004 until Al Gore decided whether Gore would run in 2004, one must ask why was Joe so courteous (and so obviously abused (according to Joe) because Joe was too busy to take Al's call announcing the Gore endorsement of Dean)? The answer (rather than blowing in the wind) is that Joe couldn't raise enough money with Al in the race (it turns out he also can't raise enough money with Al out of the race). As it is, Joe managed to lose a lot of financial and electoral support when he joined the cheerleading in the Rose Garden in October 2002 for the celebration of his party's abdication of its constitutional responsibilities with respect to the war power.
The states and colony carried by Gore in 2000 (excluding Florida which was won by Gore) with 260 electoral votes (after the 2000 redistricting) plus Florida (27), Ohio (20), West Virginia (5), NH (4), and Missouri (10) will yield 326 electoral votes for the Dean-Clark ticket with 270 needed to win. Possible additions are South Dakota (3) (2 Democratic Senators and about to have an entirely Democratic House delegation), Wyoming (3) (major amounts of dissatisfaction among lifelong Republicans due to destruction of Front Range aided and abetted by Bush and Cheney for greater glory of oil industry and Halliburton from which Cheney received $150K in 2003 and from which he plans to receive $150K in 2004), Arizona (10), Nevada (5), and Arkansas (6 - Clark's home state) for an additional 27 which gives a total of 353. Note that 326 - 55 (California) = 271.
In the Senate, the Democrats will contest Pa, Ohio, Ky, Ill, and Alaska. Republicans will contest Fla, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia. If the Democrats hold Florida and Lousiana, the 2005 Senate will have 50 Democrats, 1 independent, and 49 Republicans. This is on the assumption that Reid (Nev.) and Feingold (Wis) hold their seats. This is being written in a No Smoking zone with which restriction I am in compliance.
At a recent mass joint press conference, the Democratic Presidential candidates were asked how they could govern with a Republican Congress. The standard reply (with one exception) was along the lines of: "I've got a lot of experience working on a bipartisan basis with Republicans." [in a non-family publication this translates as: "I have a demonstrated ability to BOGU"]. "As President, I intend to work on a bipartisan basis with the Republicans." (translation: "I plan to serve both as a BOGU role model and to help all of my constituents BOGU.")
The one exception was Howard Dean who said approximately: I intend to elect a Democratic House and Senate with me.
I conclude with a note from Richard Dalton:
Is there ever a holiday from war and its costs: human, moral, and financial?
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Holiday music notes: What a Crappy Present mocks the music business in the guise of "CD Gift Advice, Parents and Kids." Wal-Mart got into the online music business, selling songs for 88 cents, undercutting Apple's iTMS price of 99 cents, at which price (as mentioned here last month) Apple makes no profit. It will be interesting to see if the free market continues to drive down the cost of licensed music downloads. It has been suggested that the intrinsic value of a download song is 18 cents as reported here last May. I was pleased to see the RIAA's chestnuts being roasted in two different courtrooms this week. The U.S. Court of Appeals struck a blow for file-sharing when it said the RIAA could not use the loathsome DMCA to compel ISPs to violate their customer's privacy absent a scintilla of proof of wrongdoing. While in Holland, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that it was legal to distribute Kazaa, a widely used file swapping utility. Philips and Sony are pushing Intertrust as a non-proprietary Digital Rights Management system -- sort of an "open closed system".
George Orwell meet George Bush: in his novel 1984, Orwell said "Ignorance is Strength." The Bush administration is once again brushing up on its Newspeak and wiping embarrassing information off the Whitehouse web site. Down the Memory Hole it goes.
New Googlisms: in addition to Google Print which allows searching a small subset of "not otherwise online" books, the ubiquitous search engine has recently introduced Search By Number, Definitions and Travel Conditions.
Behavioral animation anecdote: this article talks about the trials an tribulations of choreographing 200,000 synthetic actors for battle scenes in The Return of the King. (The Lord of the Rings trilogy used the Massive crowd simulation system by Stephen Regelous.) The actors didn't want to stay in the battle scene, they kept trying to bug out. I had a similar experience writing game AI for a football game once. The quarterback would see the defenders coming toward him, turn around and run the wrong way down the field. Seemed sensible to me, but the producer made me fix it.
Technobits: Microsoft unfair--who knew? --- Howard Dean channels Ronald Coase: information cost and politics --- open source as business --- First private rocket ship goes supersonic --- Macintosh is 20 years old --- Sony "running" robot gets both feet off the ground for 40 milliseconds --- geeky EA Now Hiring ad.
The Top 15 Signs You're Not Getting a Bonus This Year
Tied for 13th!
December 15, 2003
15> You've been assigned to bake five dozen Ebenezer Scrooge cookies for the annual holiday party.
14> Your last pickup basketball game with the guys from the office was played "shirts and no-bonuses."
13> Your CEO delivers his annual holiday message via satellite from the Cayman Islands and ends with "So long, suckers!"
12> Heck, your last *paycheck* was scratched out on a lump of coal.
11> You just buzzed the cops through the front gate at Neverland without checking their badges.
10> Every time you walk past the boss' office, he throws another stapler at you.
9> Your boss flew halfway around the world to meet you for Thanksgiving -- then gave you a fake turkey.
8> Your latest job task: Pilfer office supplies from unsuspecting post offices and copy shops.
7> There won't be anything left for a bonus after they pay off those secretaries you groped.
6> Let's just say that this gig as pyrotechnics engineer for Great White hasn't been the career move you envisioned.
5> Holiday party "buffet" nothing but abandoned lunches from the break room fridge.
4> Your shoe company already gave all its excess cash to LeBron.
3> Your new cubicle doubles as a men's room stall.
2> Bonus, schmonus -- in the grand scheme of things, having your boss walk in while you were banging his wife is reward enough.
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Sign You're Not Getting a Bonus This Year..
1> Your cash bonus was confiscated when the U.S. Army captured your boss in a farmhouse outside of Tikrit.
[ The Top 5 Listwww.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]
Selected from 87 submissions from 34 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Andy Krakowski, Alexandria, VA -- 1, 2, 6, Topic (6th #1/Hat Trick)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 13
Michael Sheinbaum, King of Prussia, PA -- 13
The Greatest DVDs Never Made: A Most Wanted List from the New York Times.
Guest Review: Cold Mountain
The adaptation by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) of Charles Frazier's brilliant novel Cold Mountainis a spectacular success. A somewhat implausible love story is given grounding, texture, and richness through the disillusionment, horror, and inhumanity - on and off the battlefield - brought on by the Civil War in the rural South. The film - especially in its early stages - perfectly captures the restraint and sparseness of the book, and is beautifully realized along many dimensions. The impact of the opening battle sequence rivals the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. A sensational cast is led by two of Hollywood's most gorgeous creatures (Jude Law - wonderfully controlled and reserved as Inman - and Nicole Kidman) and augmented by the likes of Renee Zellweger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Baker, Donald Sutherland, and Natalie Portman. T Bone Burnett is again the nexus for period American music and film; Alison Krauss, Sting, Brendan Gleeson, and Jack White (of White Stripes) contribute performances that advance the storyline as well as the mood. John Seale's photography, Ann Roth's costumes, and Dante Ferretti's production design (shot in the Carolinas as well as in their financially-driven stand-in, Romania) are all noteworthy. There are a few negatives - Gabriel Yared's score is a bit sweet and syrupy, some weak CGI work pop ups near the end, and I would call the one significant sex scene - although sensitively executed - gratuitous. But Cold Mountain is a clear Oscar contender in many categories, if not the odds-on favorite at this stage of the race.
Did you catch Bobby Farrelly and his brother Peter Farrelly on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR? They actually sound fairly normal. Which is more than you can say for this film. I mean, I hate to damn it with faint praise, but about the most I can say for it is that it isn't a Farrelly brothers gross-out (well, not completely) and that is better than the extremely low expectations I developed from looking at the previews. Cher does a charming turn parodying herself, and Meryl Streep is cute in a two-scene uncredited cameo, also playing herself. Matt Damon once again plays charming and cute, as does Greg Kinnear. They both do it so well. I don't know how to say this, really, except to just say it: this film is moderately heart-warming. There are still gross parts, and ridiculous stereotypes, but most of the characters--even Cher--turn out to be lovable at heart. I wouldn't take a kid below 18 within 20 miles of it, but adults may enjoy the humor if they're willing to sit through some dumb stuff.
By the way, the Farrellys made an excellent point during their interview. When the Coen brothers (whom the Farrellys sincerely respect), drop someone into a woodchipper, critics treat it as art. When the Farrellys depict someone with his willy caught in a zipper, it's just gross. Clearly, this is a society with a high tolerance for violence and a low tolerance for John Thomas humor.
Everything you've heard about this, the good and the bad, is true. Peter Jackson is a genius. Three and a half hours is 90 minutes too long. There are four endings. I bawled for the last 15 minutes (OK, you didn't read about that, but you've heard/read of others who did). Liv Tyler is beautiful but wasted. Aragon washes his hair before he is crowned king (finally). CGI will never be the same again. Not every single word of the book made it to the screen, and some liberties were taken with the plot. If you loved the books, nothing will stop you from seeing this. If you hated them or never read them, chances are nothing could get you to see it, or enjoy it if you do see it, so nothing I can say will really make any difference. No acting Oscars are likely to rise from this soup, but Jackson could be nominated for directing, and the special effects, sound, and costumes are unsurpassed in this year or any other. George Lucas should, indeed, hang his head.
Cheaper by The Dozen Background
It has Steve Martin in it. I'll be seeing it. In the meantime, Daniel Dern writes:
Speaking of the new movie Cheaper By The Dozen, which appears to be someone related to the original book by that title, there's a number of sequel and related books (not to mention movies and a TV show).
If you ever wondered what happened to theGilbreth mob, you can get the names of some of the books -- what did they do, are any still alive, etc.
English as WalMart, Bush in 30 Seconds, Snow Globe, Vitale on Despair, Post/Times Letter, Dan Grobstein File
Peggy Coquet found this:
AWADmail Issue 105
-Mark Abley, journalist (1955- )
Registration required, but: Richard Dalton likes one of the Bush in 30 Seconds advertisements that Moveon.org is auditioning; attempting to explain Bush's record in a TV sport.
One of my students sent me the URL for this interactive Internet snow globe.
Neal Vitale writes:
I received a mailing from a hysterical company - Despair, Inc. Check outwww.despair.com
I think I already did these folks recently, but they're so funny they're worth plugging twice.
December 14, 2003, was a remarkable day in American history because on that day a letter was apparently written which appeared the next day in the letters to the editor columns of BOTH The Washington Post and The New York Times. The text of the letter reportedly written by Floyd Johnson (allegedly from Peoria, Arizona) follows:
"Congratulations and well done to our armed forces on the capture of Saddam Hussein. But why didn't we apply this same sort of effort toward the capture of Osama bin Laden, the man who started all this bloodshed? If we had done this first, would the Iraq war have been necessary?"
The Dan Grobstein File:
New York Times
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