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.
November 22, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 46
Table of Contents:
If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my five previous thanksgiving messages. I missed last year--maybe I was too distracted by teaching. And in previous years, I gave over my whole column to this message. Too much other stuff this year, so I'll be brief.
I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I once again have a great job, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.
Regular readers know I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974.
Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is off at Leiden University, living in The Netherlands, so I don't see her as much.
Rae and I will spend the week in Oregon with my parents and old family friends.
I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.
The years I have spent with my girls are priceless.
Not everyone can work in a home office--chances are my next job will probably involve going to work.
But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.
Give thanks for your family, your friends, and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.
I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.
I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I thank God for the new day, for the wisdom to honor and glorify Him, for the strength to do good works (should the opportunity present itself) and for the health of those I love. Not a bad way to start the day.
I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!
Tales of Teaching
My URL was posted during a "grade alike" session at a teacher training seminar on Saturday. In order to make it easier for my fellow teachers to find my collected musings on the art of teaching, I have posted them as "tales of teaching," and linked to them from the top and bottom of the column. What makes it easier for them also makes it easier for you. Enjoy!
Marlow in The Netherlands
Marlow is in The Netherlands right now, at Leiden University, working on her degree in International Relations. Here's what's new from her: nothing this week. Again. She's busy writing papers, not e-mails. Also, we have live video conferencing on the Internet, which cuts down on her perceived need to write.
You'll be relieved to hear, as I was, that there's only a 99.9% chance that voting machines stole 130,000 votes on behalf of Bush in Florida.
A George Bush speech came to me in my sleep the other night; it was so powerful I had to get up and write it down, or I couldn't get to sleep.
My fellow Americans. We won and you lost. Get used to it. Things are gonna be different around here from now on. That compassionate conservative stuff? A bucket of boo-wha designed to pull the wool over the eyes of you soccer moms. Thanks to all you fillies whose votes put us over the top. Ladies, its time to iron your aprons and get out your pearls, because we're going to march you back the 1950s as fast as we can. Leave it to Beaver here we come.
How, you may ask, are you gonna pull that off? We'll start with Roe V. Wade. Next step--Griswold V. Connecticut. No more birth control, no more escape hatch once you're knocked up. Barefoot and pregnant. That'll keep you out of law school and medical school. Then we'll export all your jobs to China and India. Best of all, we can claim you gave us a mandate to do this, even though we never said a word about it during the campaign. We control the House, the Senate, the White House, the federal judiciary and most governors' mansions. If y'all don't like it, move to Canada.
I'd like to say a few words about myself. I'm tired of explaining it to you guys. I don't 'swagger.' Where I come from, it's called walking.
And that isn't a sneer on my face most of the time--it's a smirk. Because it makes me happy that voters liked Laura better than that crazy Theresa Heinz-whatever woman. Besides, Dick Cheney does all the sneering--least when he's not in the hospital.
You thought I kicked butt with the Eye-racky evildoers? Just watch what I do to the Eye-rainyns!"
Don't you love the way I express myself in short, simple, down-home sentences? Nuance is for wimps and losers. Of course, I combine simplicity with lies. As someone once said, you tell a lie that's big enough, often enough, and eventually people will believe it. I aim to prove Abe Lincoln wrong. I like to quote Abe because he was a Republican. Course neither he nor Teddy Roosevelt could win a primary election for dogcatcher in any state south of the Mason-Dixon line today, but that's another story. We call 'em Rino's--Republicans in name only. Still, lots of folks think Abe was a great president, and in a way he was--he kept the South in the union and provided me and every other Republican for as far as the eye can see with our margin of victory. The South has risen again!
Anyway, what Abe once said is that you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. We aim to prove he's wrong. We've laid in a supply of asbestos pants and a platoon of doctors to handle any nose growth problems. We're gonna lie every day for the next four years, and there's nothing you can do about it. I've fixed it with Rupert to be sure Fox backs us up, and no one cares what the elite media has to say, so there's really nothing to stop us. We proved that in the election campaign when we beat the Democrat party to death with God, Guns and Gays. Or, as Karl likes to say, lies, lies and more lies.
The next four years will be a time of good-byes. Goodbye to abortion rights, to birth control, to clear air and clean water, to the estate tax. I just love the fact that Americans think they can become rich enough to pay estate tax someday. I promise you I'll do my best to see that none of you ever make it out of the working class again--and this time I'm not lying. We'll break the last few unions, get rid of overtime, ship every loose job overseas and make sure those of you who are left are in a race to the bottom with the workers of Mexico and China. We'll tax salaries until your take-home pay won't be enough for you to own a refrigerator box. Meantime, we'll cut capital gains taxes to zero, dividend taxes to zero, and remove all taxes from interest payments. If we can manage it--there are some limits to our power, until you give us 60 Republican senators--we'll change the whole country over to a national sales tax. It's called a VAT tax. I like to think it's called that because it leaves every working American in a vat of hurt.
In addition, we'll reveal the full name of our education package, which is really "No Wealthy Child Is Left Behind." We'll trash the public schools--teachers are terrorists you know, my former education secretary said so. We'll insure that colleges adhere to strict policies of alumni preference and that tuition skyrockets. If daddy went to college, you can go. If not, go whistle. What are you going to do, impeach me? I think not.
As for foreign policy, I remember what Teddy Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." I just lop off the "speak softly" part, and I plan to beat any country I don't like with that stick. In fact, I'm looking for a bigger stick, and your grandchildren are going to pay for it, because I'm spending money like there's no tomorrow. Who cares! I'm out of office in 2008, long before the whole thing blows up.
Well that's about it. I plan to do a lot of other things I didn't mention in the campaign. You'll really enjoy what my knuckle-dragging judges will do to the federal court system. You'll get up every morning and enjoy what's in the paper--oh wait, you don't read the paper. That's OK, I don't either! I'm not reality-based, and clearly you're not either.
God Bless America and God Bless P.T. Barnum; he was so right when he said, "There's a sucker born every minute." So long, suckers.
Richard Dalton, one of the two or three most spiritual people I know, wrote:
A friend asked me if I thought evil existed. Trying to avoid a knee-jerk reaction, I wanted to see if I could perceive a difference between "evil" and aberrant human behavior. If there is a Big Evil (instead of say, bad behavior) where do we find this dark reservoir? In a way, I envy Fundamentalist Christians who can say, "Yeah... there's evil. Says so right in the Bible." But I don't find that personally satisfying because so much of the Bible is obvious metaphor and that most of it was written long before Freud.
It also seems like a worthwhile exercise since we are living in a country that has recently justified all manner of unlawful and amoral actions as a necessary response to track down and eliminate the Evildoers. I'd rather be debating evil than marching in lockstep to wage war on an amorphous part of the human race that has been labeled as Evil by our government.
Ross Snyder writes:
Part of an open letter written in some despair, by a woman in NYC, directed to Red State voters, copy to a friend of mine:
"I am lonely. I feel that we, as a nation, have alienated all our friends and further provoked our enemies. I feel unprotected. Most of all I feel alienated from my fellow citizens, because I don't understand what you are thinking. You voted for a man who started a war in Iraq for no reason, against the wishes of the entire world. You voted for a man whose lack of foresight and inability to plan has led to massive insurgencies in Iraq, where weapons are disappearing into the hands of terrorists. You voted for a man who let Osama Bin Laden escape into the hills of Afghanistan so that he could start that war in Iraq. You voted for a man who doesn't want to let people love whom they want to love; doesn't want to let doctors cure their patients; doesn't want to let women rule their destinies. I don't understand why you voted for this man. For me, it is not enough that he is personable; it is not enough that he seems like one of the guys. Why did you vote for him? Why did you elect a man that lied to us in order to convince us to go to war? (Ten years ago you were incensed when our president lied about his sex life; you thought it was an impeachable offense.) Why did you elect a leader who thinks that strength cannot include diplomacy or international cooperaton? Why did you elect a man who did nothing except run away and hide on September 11?"
And today Colin Powell resigned, that good man. I wonder if he shared some of these thoughts.
Yale educations are vastly over-rated.
A 10 year old African American living in a ghetto figured it out. (See The Boondocks for Nov. 20, 2004--note that link expires). "The electronic voting machines were rigged."
As far as the public record is concerned, Sen. John F. Kerry (D.-Mass, Yale '66) has been unable or willing to reach the same conclusion and use some of the $7,000,000 of money contributed by U.S. citizens (that's your money) that he has sitting in a legal and accounting fund to do anything about it. One wonders if the Yale faculty will reconsider its decision to confer a degree. Is he saving it for a 2008 race? News flash!! John Kerry has less chance of winning the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination than does Gov. Jeb Bush (R. - Fla.). If you were inclined to do something, what could you do?
You could place a telephone call to 202-224-2742 during weekday business hours. Ask for your employee John Kerry (if you feel like it refer to him as a Senator but remember omitting the title gets the relationship straight at the start: you pay his salary). Tell him, or leave a message to the effect that, he campaigned by saying: "I've got your back." Being the forgiving sort you're willing to forgive the three week delay in covering your back and getting an honest count as long as by the close of business Monday Kerry announces he's delivering by Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2004, at least $1.5 million each to the active efforts in Ohio and Florida (and $500,000 each to the same efforts in New Mexico and Nevada) to produce enough evidence of fraud to put Kerry in the White House in January. Otherwise, you will be convinced John Kerry is a fraud and will act accordingly (right now and in 2008). Alternatively, Kerry's office fax number is 202-224-8525.
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Back in the saddle again. Whew!
Scholarly Google: this week Google launched a new service aimed at searching academic literature. For more details see About Google Scholar and this article from ResourceShelf. Results from this site are generally citations of academic publications (journals, conferences, theses and the like) often including full text as PDF documents. As Search Engine Watch notes, Google Scholar also searches behind the locked doors of the pay-per-view world of commercial online journal publishing. This is good because most of that content was previously not generally accessible to web search engines, but a search is more likely to lead to a page asking for your credit card number. The previous online favorite for this sort of thing is CiteSeer which started as a research prototype in 1999. Despite limited (nonexistent?) funding, and apparently maintained in researcher's spare time, CiteSeer grew in popularity and size over the years. The team that made CiteSeer (and NewsSeer, a ground-breaking personalized news bot similar to today's Findory) eventually dispersed. As was previously noted in this column, one of the authors (Steve Lawrence) subsequently took a position at Google. I suggested back then that maybe we would see a Google version of NewsSeer, but it turns out a Google analog of CiteSeer is up first.
Copyright, e-Commerce and Advertising: The band Wilco finds they can sell more CDs if they start by giving their music away for free: 'Music Is Not a Loaf of Bread'. Wise words from Cory Doctorow on Digital Rights, but from Hollywood the same old stupidity, bought and paid for in the U.S. Senate: Senate May Ram Copyright Bill and Copyright Cartel Goes for Big Score. The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an in-depth profile of fair-use advocate Siva Vaidhyanathan. Finally two TiVo-related items got lots of attention this week: banner ads during fast forward (TiVo to Sell Your Fast-Forward Button, TiVo Users to Still See Many Ads, TiVo Pauses Fast-Forwarding) and a new software release that implements DRM for pay-per-view shows on your TiVo (you pay for the TV, cable service, TiVo box, TiVo service, and the show itself -- but you still don't have rights to use the show as you want: Has TiVo Forsaken Us?).
Running and Human Evolution: new research suggests Running 'key to human evolution'. As to what cues tell us when to run away: Fearful Body Posture Tells Others: Run! The old concept of a "missing link" between apes and humans is obsolete. We now understand humans didn't evolve from apes, rather we and they both evolved from something else. This week, a new candidate for that "something else": Ancient Ape Discovered--Last Ape-Human Ancestor? and Not all great apes were swingers.
Map your driving habits with GPS: mix a Seattle-area blogger, a GPS-equipped pickup truck, some custom Lisp code, and what do you get? These labeled graphs of his driving habits. Cool! (And very geeky, but that is part of my definition of cool. Speaking of Lisp geeks (like me) there is a draft of a new Lisp book online.)
Technobits: Researchers: Florida Vote Fishy --- World Community Grid: Unused PC Power to Run Grid for Unraveling Disease --- typically clueless Ballmer FUD: Microsoft Warns Asian Governments of Linux Lawsuits --- RSS Edges Into the Bureaucracy --- overtime and burnout in the game industry --- ATRON: A New Shape Shifting Robot --- tie-tying robot --- we're gonna need a bigger crane (via awv).
Polar Express Redux
Rae and I saw it in 3-D and Imax. Well worth the $15 a ticket. If this format is available in your town, go and see it even if you saw the original. By the way, Neal Vitale was right; this will become a Christmas classic. Hanks is mind-boggling. Five stars--must see. Take the kids.
The Incredibles Redux
I figured this film would be good enough to see twice. It was. Still funny, still clever. The second time you can stare at the background. Five stars--an instant classic.
After the Sunset
Pierce Brosnan and Selma Hayek are easy on the eyes, but the plot was imported from Switzerland, apparently, since it is riddled with as many holes as that Alpine country's eponymous cheese. It is nice to see Woody Harrelson in a (relatively) straight role. We all know you have to suspend disbelief when watching a movie, but this film asks us to do it in extremis. It's like the writers took every caper movie cliché in the world, dropped them all in a blender, and then transcribed the results. Perhaps this film would have been better if they had run the blender longer. Two stars, not a total disaster.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Not as good as you'd hope, not as bad as you'd fear if you read the reviews. It's swiss cheese time in the plot area again; in fact, this is basically a remake of the first Bridget Jones film, with some additional material to cover that fact up. Hugh Grant is a bounder. Colin Firth is unbelievably sweet. How could any sane person be caught between these two without knowing which way to go? It's not as if Firth has been beaten with the ugly stick. Renee Zellwigger turns in another first rate performance. Three stars. Won't make you ill, won't make you want to see it a second time.
Nicole Kidman thinks this 10-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her late husband. Creepy idea, right? Creepy execution too. Weird and sick, actually. What a waste of Lauren Bacall. I wanted to see PS with Topher Grace, but it open and closed in a heaving rush here in the SF market. It also deals with an older woman and a younger man, but it an apparently slightly less bizarre fashion (if the reviews are to be believed). There as some Hitchcock-type moments, and the film actually pauses in its pell-mell rush to mediocrity now and then to allow the actors to react as real people might react if faced with this kind of weirdness. Probably the directing was OK, given what must have been an execrable script. Why can't Hollywood ever remember--it's the script stupid. One star. See it only if you're desperate.
I liked it too, as did Rae. Five stars--must see. Here's Neal's detailed take:
This is a wonderful film. Writer/director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) follows failed author and husband Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti - memorable as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor) as he accompanies his freshman college roommate and minor actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a vinous and libidinous pre-nuptial romp through Southern California's wine country. Sideways works on a number of levels. It is an honest portrayal of men and women dealing with their ghosts and foibles, trying to find what it takes to get out of bed in the morning. As Jack gets tangled in a series of none-too-discreet dalliances, Sideways is hysterical. And if you happen to live in Los Angeles and love wine, the scenery and oenophile lingo are a treat. But what makes Sideways special is how there is never a false move or forced emotion throughout the film. See this film as soon as you can.
London in 1939 is the setting for Annette Benning and a cast of supporting guys (most notably an underused but still dashing Jeremy Irons) in one of those backstage movies that Hollywood never tires of making and America never tires of going to see in small numbers. Older woman, younger man, younger woman, who's using whom. Kind of an All About Eve feel. Being Julia is too long, and looks like a British film made for PBS, but it has a great climax. Benning has a scene at the end of the film to die for, when she shows the younger woman what it's really all about. Whew! What a scorcher. Four stars, a good film.
Prisoners in Paradise
I've seen a few holocaust documentaries in my time, but this one is the best. Long for a documentary (about 2 hours), it succeeds by focusing on one person, pre-war Germany’s most famous actors and directors, Kurt Gerron, who was forced to direct a propoganda film for the Nazis. Nothing I could say about this film would be a moving, as detailed, or as worth reading as The Theatre of Documentary by Robert Enright
Guest Review: Finding Neverland
Finding Neverlandtells of how Scottish writer James Matthew Barrie came to create the play "Peter Pan." This film by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) is a spectacular achievement along all dimensions. The story, set in London in the early 1900s, is captivating. Barrie befriends the recently-widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young boys after a chance encounter in a park. Even as his marriage and career founder, Barrie takes inspiration for his writing from the fantasies he creates to entertain the Davies children. The acting is superb - Johnny Depp as Barrie, Radha Mitchell as his wife Mary, Kate Winslet as Ms. Davies, Julie Christie as her domineering mother, and Dustin Hoffman in a tiny gem of a performance as producer Charles Frohman. The young actors who play the Davies boys - notably 12-year-old Freddie Highmore as Peter - are flawless. The film deals deftly with complicated emotions of desire, dominance, betrayal, failure, regret, and loss, never once striking a false or forced note. Perhaps most remarkable of all is how Finding Neverland shows an adult how wonder is created in the mind of a child - and then in their own heart as well. It's only early November, but this film is the year's Best Picture to date.
[only November? There may have been a film or two in the first 11 months of the year worthy of that designation. I know, I know, Hollywood back-end loads the schedule and Oscar offers some fantastic percentage of his recognition to films from the last two months of the year. Still, must we all suffer from amnesia?]
Guest Review: Kinsey
This film is an inspiring portrait of sex-researcher Alfred Kinsey, who is deftly played by Liam Neeson with a fine balance of scientific zeal and clinical dispassion that keepsKinsey from veering into the prurient. As with many successful film storylines, Kinsey's is one that focuses on a succession of personal struggles - against a priggish father (John Lithgow), with his own sexuality, to explore dangerous emotional terrain within the context of a marriage, for financial support of highly controversial work, and, perhaps greatest of all, to open the eyes of the American public to a new definition of "normal" sexual activity at a time of repressive and puritanical social mores and misinformation. My complaints are very few - some of the talented supporting cast (Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry) are wasted on minimally-developed characters, and the film does feature a few standard-issue biopic dialogue clichés ("He's working himself to death!"). But both Laura Linney (as Kinsey's wife) and Peter Sarsgaard (as Kinsey's chief researcher and occasional lover) give impressive performances in smaller roles, and there are moments of transcendent joy - Kinsey as a youthful biologist witnessing nature in the woods - and heartbreak - Kinsey taking his father's sexual history and learning far more than he expected. Kinsey is an impressive and brave film, with particular resonance in an emerging era of "cultural conservativism."
Guest Review:Enduring Love
Roger Michell (The Mother, Changing Lanes, Notting Hill) has created a film both confused and confusing. Enduring Love starts with a riveting opening sequence. A couple start a picnic in a pastoral field, only to be interrupted by the silent incursion of a hot-air balloon - carrying a terrified young boy - that has been blown free of its moorings. A group of bystanders comes together to try to stop the balloon, only to be taken aloft when the wind gusts. As the balloon rises, the men drop away - except for one who stays, only to fall to his death from a greater height moments later. But from there the film devolves, and an attempt at creating a psychological thriller a la Fatal Attraction splinters into a jumble of fragmented storylines about the meaning of love, fidelity and betrayal, and homosexual obsession. After 100 minutes of this mishmash, I had no idea what I was intended to take away from Enduring Love beyond irritation and boredom.
Commercial Space Flight, Tech Review, Two from Dern, A Parable, The Dan Grobstein File
We're a step closer to commercial space flight. Thank you, Jerry Pournelle for the head's up.
Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam says MIT's Technology Review is a money-losing white elephant with an overpaid president. So what else is new?
Daniel Dern found a Houston Chronicle article about dress as the opposite sex day in Texas. Parent protests like this killed the idea:
"It's like experimenting with drugs, [...] "You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary. ... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"
Dern also forwards this, an apparently official filing in West Virginia on behalf of the Squirrel Party.
An excellent question, and one for which this parent and I probably have different answers.
My mother sends a long a fine old parable. I am sure I have already run it once in this column, but it is so good it deserves repeating. Anyone know the source? I will run it in my column, and revise this week's column, if someone knows or can find out how wrote this, frequently titled The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 cups of coffee...
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee...
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.
The golf balls are the important things-your God, family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions -- things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car.
The sand is everything else -- the small stuff.
"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal."
Take care of the golf balls first -- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."
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