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

May 23, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

May 23, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 20

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Teaching Update
  • Marlow in Leiden
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Guest Review: Kingdom Of Heaven
  • Guest Reviews: Revenge of the Sith

Letters

  • Dern on Sith Apprentice, Sullivan on Sailing, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Teaching Update

Just 13 teaching days left in the school year. Mrs. S (not my wife, the teacher across the hall), Mrs. G and myself are really straining to provide two more good projects for our students this year: a major presentation on the U.S. Constitution (with community judges) and a big research project which can be presented as a paper, a play, a diorama, a video, or a PowerPoint presentation. It has diverted all the energy I would need to pass more units of my on-line health class. Plus, I need to earn my CPR certificate. Whine, whine, whine. Most of the students are holding up pretty well--even the young woman whom I have called by the wrong name four times during the last month of school. I apologized, of course. I wish there was more I could do. And she's not even from one of the two sets of twins in my three classes. Is it my imagination, or are there more twins these days? Somewhere in there, I hope to explain the filibuster crisis.

Marlow in Leiden

Marlow is doing graduate work in Leiden, Netherlands. Her latest report:

I don't know why dad was text messaging me, but soccer went well. I played a tournament on Saturday in Amsterdam, near the Amstel station. I met the team at Leiden Centraal, but then I got to go in one of the cars. Best I can figure, our driver was the boyfriend of a girl on the team who is currently studying abroad. The other driver was another boyfriend too I think. It was the smallest car I've ever been in, but nice not to have to take the train and buy a ticket.

The tournament was four 25 minute games. We tied our first one, 0-0, lost the next two, and then won the final one 1-0. We were there from 10:30 to 7. The weather stayed relatively nice the whole time. Sunny, and just a little bit windy. I didn't get too badly burned though, thanks to a combination of sunblock and the Dutch sun being different from other suns. I played right fullback in most of the games. The final game, the one we won, we didn't even have enough players. There is going to be another tournament this weekend in Delft, but it is Elena's birthday and I have a lot of work, so I'm not sure if I'm going to go, but Delft is really close, so I could always go to some. I talked to most of the girls on the team. Two of them are American, which of course makes it easier. I've started to sort out the Dutch player's names, majors, ages, etc. more and more, but it isn't always easy.

Hey, when it rains it pours. Here's another entry...

I went to the China embassy this morning in The Hague. It wasn't nearly as painful as I thought it would be. I took a cab from the train station to make sure I didn't get lost, but then I only had to fill out one form and wait a little under half an hour. My actual exchange at the counter went very easily, all I needed was the form, my passport, and a picture. I'll have to pay seventy Euro to pick it up after Friday. The consulate is only open between 9-12 which is a little annoying, but not a major problem. I should have a two-month two-entry. I splurged for the extra twenty Euro in case I get a chance to go to Taiwan or Korea or something while I'm there) visa, no problems.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around The Hague, which Rae probably remembers some from the Escher museum visit. I have a class there now, so I tried to get to know the area around the Leiden University building, but I lost my bearings frequently. Oh well, I think I could find my class now on my own if forced to, I just hope it doesn't come to that if time ever matters.

Oh, and I played Boggle the night before last and Scrabble last night. Everyone has a lot of work in the next couple of weeks, but I think everyone is hard up for personal contact as well. It is Pentecost or something, everything was closed on both Sunday and Monday.

Political Notes

Good news! The Ohio Attorney General's resort to the "nuclear option" of sanctions against the attorneys who had the nerve to challenge his state's crooked election has been denied by the Ohio Supreme Court.

***

When did our guy start working with the Chinese? Before or after he allegedly left the government?)

Driving many of the initiatives is a two-man, Asia-based consultancy that acts as the brainpower behind the China Council. Scott Harrison, who once oversaw the entire operations of the Central Intelligence Agency in China, left the agency in 1999 to found his own consultancy that specializes in Chinese business. His partner in China is Zhihai Zhai, who served as a high-ranking military intelligence officer for 22 years for China's People's Liberation Army, where he was an American specialist.

***

Last Wednesday comity and reason in American political discourse were assassinated by Sen. Frist, the majority leader. The slide began with Clarence Thomas and his use of "high tech lynching." That phrase could only be used by a black man in a suit in an air-conditioned room who not only has never been to a lynching (neither have I), but has never thought about the meaning of the act (I have--I teach history). It was accelerated by the "president's" ignorant use of the word crusade to describe the war on terror. Proof positive that ignorance of history can hurt you--unless, of course, it was intentional and cynical when he used the word. Can you graduate from Yale (as a legacy, with a gentleman's C) and Harvard (drinking your way through) and not know what the Crusades were? Well, apparently, yes.

I want to see Frist charged as an accomplice in the next federal judicial murder, or the first murder of a senator. His language about Democrats "assassinating" presidential appointees is way beyond thoughtless. Remember, the getaway car driver is as guilt as the triggerman. The Democrats simple refusal to approve the court-destroying right-wing activist dolts proposed by the "president" to lifetime federal judgeships is not assassination. Nor is it anything new. Frist, of course, appears to have graduated from medical school with no sense of history either. Does Abe Fortas ring a bell? Lyndon Johnson's nominee for Chief Justice, filibustered by. the GOP. The prexy likes slogans; maybe "Don't Forget Abe" can join "Don't Forget Poland." And by Frist's Alice in Wonderland logic, the 10 Neanderthals opposed by Senate Democrats are a million times worse than then 60 Clinton judicial appointees killed in committee. I am only sorry the Dems are backing down on their threat to close down the Senate. We're wimps. It's too bad.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

New business models for the Internet age: Wired ran a very good article about how the hidebound BBC is actually quite innovative in its approach to the online world: The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth It suggests that those who try to hold back the inevitable progress of online culture (for example, most other media corporations) are consigned to the trash bin of history, while those who embrace it will be the winners in the long run. Hyperdistribution is the first installment of a new weekly series called "Piracy is Good? (How Battlestar Galactica Killed Broadcast TV)" at Mindjack by Mark Pesce, it argues convincingly that advertisers should work directly with TV/film producers, leaving the increasingly irrelevant broadcasters out of the loop. Cringely's Inflection Point discusses three recent events in the tech world that he thinks will have huge impact in the future.

Google Map mash-ups du semaine: as mentioned here over the last few weeks, everyone and their uncle is rushing to link existing online sources of geographically-based data with Google's excellent mapping service. This week we saw hacks for Google Mapping cheap gas, movie times and Chicago crime reports. Read more about it: Hey Google, Map This!. (BTW, I don't know any French, but Google Language Tools assures me that "semaine" means "week".)

Clone Wars: Revenge of the Stem: two breakthroughs in cloning technology South Koreans create new stem cell lines by cloning and British researchers clone human embryo. The Korean work is especially important since it opens the possibility of creating therapeutic stem cells which exactly match a patient's DNA.

Waggle dance hypothesis confirmed! since Frisch's work in the 1960s it has been widely accepted that worker honey bees communicate the location of newly discovered food source to their sisters via the waggle dance. Widely accepted except for the occasional nay-sayer and contrarian. Now it has been proven quite convincingly through a series of well-designed experiments recently published in Nature that rely on some very cool technology [large JPEG image]. Here is a PDF file of the paper itself: The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance.

Technobits: Dan Gillmor launches his "Grassroots Media" site Bayosphere --- Who will defend open source? --- patents should be non-obvious --- Fuel-Cell Tanks Buck Convention --- Super Water Kills Bugs Dead --- Congress pushes 911 mandate on VoIP --- Black boxes capture car-crash data, controversy --- Honey monkeys deployed to catch crooked code --- ssh known_hosts hole --- frustrated trying to reach a real person at Customer Service?, try Find-A-Human --- E3 news: New survey shows gaming enjoys broad appeal and Call for radical rethink of games.

Humor

None

Movies

Guest Review: Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott's epic tale of the Crusades in the 12th century Middle East is reasonably well-done yet singularly unengaging. Kingdom of Heaven has the requisite scope and grandeur, full of gruesome desert battles between Christians and Muslims in their quest for Jerusalem. The storyline has enough conspiracy, missed opportunities, errors in judgment, sexual tension, and shifting loyalties to fill a Shakespearean drama. The Christian-Muslim conflict is handled deftly, with more condemnation of the fanatical need to fight in the name of a god than of either side in the conflict. The cast is full of the young and pretty (Orlando Bloom, Eva Green) as well as the old and craggy (Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson). But Kingdom of Heaven goes on and on (for nearly two and a half hours), and little of what happens comes with much surprise or drama. It may be that Bloom in the lead role simply isn't strong enough to carry a film of this scale, but it's more likely that the production values of this spectacle took precedence over a more compelling narrative and more nuanced character development.

--Neal Vitale

[Ed Note: isn't it ever thus? "It's more likely that the production values of this spectacle took precedence over a more compelling narrative and more nuanced character development." Some say that describes Star Wars to a "T."

Revenge of the Sith

This is by my younger daughter Rae:

It was at my father's behest that I went to see the last episode of the Star Wars prequel. I was underwhelmed by the first two, and was ready to write off the third one. The only reason I was willing to see this movie was Anakins' mythic change from good to evil. I already knew what was going to happen, but I wanted to see how it would happen; how the writers and producers would tell the story.

Right off the bat, the story-telling was very different. The fight-scenes were more gripping, both because of pacing and because each fight felt like it really mattered. They acted as a litmus test of evil Anakin was and where he was psychologically. I don't remember if the robots that look like they had vacuum cleaners as heads said "ouch" and said things like "we have to run away" in the other two movies, but they did in this one to great effect. I probably wouldn't have noticed Obi-Wan's green alien-horse squashing that robot extra if he hadn't reacted. It also a nice tension reliever for the otherwise serious tone of the battle scenes.

The best part of this movie revivified the mythic qualities that renowned anthropologist Joseph Campbell's lauded in the original Star Wars trilogy. Revenge of the Sith was very much like a Greek Tragedy. Anakin's fatal flaw was his desire for control, and his reversal of fortunes, was a psychological one instead of a financial one. The use of foreshadowing in the first two movies, the audience's knowledge of the sequel, and the talk of prophecy and destiny make Anakin's descent into darkness the product of fate. In addition, the character's simple dialogue puts the emphasis more on the situation and outside forces than on the characters themselves, making them appear more as archetypes than fully-fleshed out characters which is entirely appropriate for this epic story.

One example of the masterful use of language is Anakin expressing his desire to save his wife. He does this in several different scenes, but this single phrase is not repetitive, instead the audience gleans the new meaning from the preceding events. The story-telling of this movie is amazing because it has a very simple premise, and everyone knows the outcome, but the pacing, emotional intensity, and high stakes make it very gripping.

Important Sidenote: Only one shot of Jar-Jar Binks and he doesn't talk. That alone greatly improved the quality of the movie.

--Rae Schindler

Neal didn't like it as well

One week short of the 28th anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars, George Lucas has wrapped up his six-part saga - at last. In 1977, Star Wars was groundbreaking and a delight - the special effects were dazzling, the storyline was tantalizing and mysterious, the characters were ultra-exotic and brilliantly rendered, and the film was warm, funny, even campy. Much of that magic continued over the next two installments, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi. But by the second trilogy of films - the so-called prequels to the original trio - that began with 1999's Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the excitement had waned. What was astounding two decades earlier was now commonplace. Lucas' special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic - which had been founded to make the original Star Wars - now had scores of other films to its credit. Dozens of splashy intergalactic battles had occurred at other directors' hands, and film viewers had seen the special effects of The Matrix and Independence Day. The intricacies of Lucas' multigenerational storyline were chronicled and dissected throughout the media.

Revenge of the Sith will best be remembered as the story of Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side and transformation into Darth Vader. This film gives insight into his motivations and struggles, and graphically details the near fatal conflict with Obi-Wan Kenobi that immediately precedes his becoming the physical embodiment of evil. The visuals are, of course, stunning, but the "never-seen-before" quality of earlier efforts is missing. Large stretches of dialogue are stilted and stereotypical, with no hint of irony. The acting tends toward the wooden, the plot has virtually no surprises, and there is Lucas' usual batch of somewhat annoying, cartoonlike creatures. All told, the energy and humor of prior installments are in sadly short supply. And so, the legendary Star Wars epic ends with a whimper rather than a bang.

--Neal Vitale

Letters

Dern on Sith Apprentice, Sullivan on Sailing, Dan Grobstein File

With some help from NPR, Daniel Dern stands astride two huge cultural trends: Star Wars and Donald Trump. The Sith Apprentice.

Kevin Sullivan, who has been sailing since MIT that I know of, sent along a link to the Wetass Chronicles, with the subject "Sailing can be fun," and this note:

After reading what happened, click the "here" link at the start of the "Surfin Sailboat (part deux)" section to view the photos. On the page that comes up, there's a picture on the top left, click the "Boat capsizes" link. It'll do a slideshow of all the images.

Dan Grobstein File

Blogosphere

  • Juan Cole: Scientists in South Korea, unhampered by the tradition of anti-intellectualism that still bedevils the United States, have made a major breakthrough in stem cell research. They took eggs from volunteers, snipped out the nuclei, and inserted nuclei from the skin of eleven patients sick with various disorders. They then jump-started cell division, and the resulting cells were as though they came from the 11 patients. Ideally this process could be used to grow organs and regenerate brain and nerve cells, so as to cure a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's.

New York Times

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