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.


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Tales of Teaching 2005

June 6, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

June 6, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 22

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Rising Tide
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs : Taking a week off.

Humor

  • That's A Moray
  • Pope John Paul II In Heaven

Movies

  • Madagascar
  • Doing Time, Doing Vipassana
  • Le Grand Voyage
  • Downfall
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

Letters

  • Coquet on Irobot, Wolfe on Graduation, Dan Grobstein File

General News

A Rising Tide

I was in a taxi with a dittohead driver recently. What is it that causes Rush to appeal to people who drive other people around for a living, I'll never know. In any case, he informed me that he does not read a paper, watch TV news (cable or broadcast) or listen to radio news except for Rush. This many honestly believes Rush's daily news summary is all he needs.

OK, let's not even consider how he decides who to vote for in local elections, especially the non-partisan ones. As my mother always told me, the masses are asses.

Anyway, I was being as polite as possible, when he said something about what I thought was wrong with America. And I realized that I'm very clear on this nation's biggest problem: a rising tide does NOT raise all boats.

This is a shibboleth of modern GOP thought, but frankly, a rising tide drowns people in boats with holes in them--holes that used to be plugged by the now shredded social safety net. But hey, as a famous German leader once said, "The people made their decision. Now they must take the consequences."

In general aviation, if you crash into a mountain while you're awake, your plane is OK, the sky is clear and there is no turbulence, you are said to have experienced "controlled flight into terrain." We are experiencing that as a nation, with the Republicans at the wheel.

You want low taxes and free market capitalism, with no unions? Hey, great! Welcome to 1880.

As far as I can tell, what made this country great was a large and vibrant middle class. As Lincoln said, "God must have loved the poor; he made so many of them." Lyndon Johnson declared war on Poverty; Ronald Reagan presided over the surrender in that war, and the current "president" Bush has turned it around and declared war on the poor. Well, at least this one may be easier to win. Or maybe not; thanks to the GOP-beloved NRA, the poor have plenty of weapons. Why they have not risen in revolt and killed everyone in the country who is middle class and up is a question I can't answer. And don't think gated communities are the answer. When I go down, the super-wealthy are going down too.

I know, I know. The poor don't revolt because, in America, everyone believes they can be rich someday. Most of them vote as if they already were. My maternal grandfather, thrown out of work by the Great Depression, employed by several public works programs, voted GOP all his life, because some day he was going to make it, and he wanted American government to be wealth friendly.

In Latin America, most countries have a tiny wealthy class and a vast sea of helpless poverty (often as high as 40% compared with the American figure of 12%). Well, the Republican revolution has heedlessly shredded our greatest protection against becoming like these countries. They have torn down nearly all the ladders into the middle class and replaced them with barbed wire fences. Make sure public education for the poor stinks. Kill off unions. Kill off social programs. That's a formula for armed insurrection in the street. In South Africa, you're not safe if your car doesn't have a flame-thrower in the door to discourage carjackers. Is that what we want here? We are well on our way to being a two-tier society, one in which people dependent on public services get crap, while those who can afford it get everything they want or need. It's here already in health care and education, and it's spreading.

Whatever happened to "We're all in this together?" What ever happened to "he who is the least among you all, he is great," as in Luke 9:48? Christ was a socialist people; that's the only rational reading of the New Testament, no matter what the bible-thumpers tell you.

Forget E Pluribus Unum. The new America motto is, "I Got Mine Jack."

How about this from inequality.org:

CEOs didn't always earn as much as small countries. In 1980, they made 45 times the pay of production and nonsupervisory workers. By 1990, the CEO-worker pay gap had doubled, with CEOs making 96 times as much. By [1999], that ratio had reached 458.

In Japan, the ratio is about 10. I am 100% in favor of a cap on the CEO/nonsupervisory worker ratio. I think 100 is fair. I think 458 is insane, and may even be a sign of the end times.

Political Notes

Dostoyevsky figured that if Jesus came back today, the Roman Catholic church would have to kill him to protect itself.

Along a similar line, those who wonder about the significance of the identification of "Deep Throat" need a better sense of history and current events.

Where is the journalist today with a national audience who would take information about the war crimes (or domestic crimes, e.g. vote fraud) committed by or on behalf of George Bush and report the story? Perhaps Seymour Hersh, who broke both the Abu Ghraib story (in 2004) and the My Lai story (in 1969). He competed for the Watergate story with Woodward and Bernstein), Given the absence of another such journalist where is the government employee who would be willing to be the next "Deep Throat?" We've seen increasing consolidation of national political control and major press outlets in a few corporate hands. Few of them are devoted to the public interest; they are largely divorced from owner-operators who know anything about, let alone support, investigative journalism. Donnie Graham is no Kay Graham, and the Sulzberger with "Punch" left the stage some time ago. Editors at both The Washington Post and The New York Times have grossly betrayed the public trust in recent years. Would the next Deep Throat even be able to get his news before the entire nation? I doubt it...

The criticism by Patrick Buchanan, convicted felon Charles W. (aka "He'd walk over his grandmother Charlie") Colson, and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy of W. Mark Felt is misplaced. Instead of betraying his country, Felt saved it. There is no indication Felt ever released grand jury information to Woodward and Bernstein (which might arguably have been criminal). In fact, the only admitted published mistake in Watergate related reporting by Bob and Carl was with respect to information from someone other than Felt concerning grand jury testimony. The suggestion that Felt may have acted because he was not promoted from number 2 to number 1 at the FBI upon the demise of the prior director is similarly misplaced. Felt had firsthand knowledge of an obstruction of justice being committed by Richard Nixon. Where could Felt turn? Felt's immediate superior was throwing evidence into the Potomac River and otherwise thwarting an investigation at the direction of Nixon. Congressional Republicans (with Gerald Ford who later unconscionably but understandably pardoned Nixon leading the charge) thwarted a Congressional investigation in 1972. Felt further appears to have been privy to Nixon's illegal wiretapping of political opponents and other efforts to misuse the FBI for crassly partisan and illegal political purposes. Felt did nothing to force Nixon to obstruct justice. He didn't force Nixon to force his superior (then FBI Director L. Patrick Gray) to destroy evidence. He didn't force Nixon to order illegal wiretapping, or to force Nixon's Attorney General (the late and later convicted John Mitchell) to propose wholesale illegal violations of civil liberties in the guise of the Gemstone program. The puckish might refer to Felt's conduct as lawful instantaneous compliance with a series of Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those who really want to encourage democracy in the world should fly out to Santa Rosa, California and applaud an award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to W. Mark Felt. In the event George Bush is for some reason asked to speak at the event, he would do well to repeat and heed the words of Richard Nixon (to Mr. Felt upon the occasion of Mr. Felt receiving a pardon for conduct unrelated to his role as Deep Throat) which reportedly were: "Justice ultimately prevails."

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, with the help of John Dean doubts "Deep Throat" was just Mark Felt. Also: Perceptive editorial cartoon on Liddy and Colson.

***

Briefs

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig's taking a week off...

Humor

That's A Moray

Years ago, I heard a great parody of That's Amore, with (besides the obvious moray joke), lines that ended, "That's a moor, eh" and "that's more hay." A discussion of the parody at analogsf.com is the closest I could come on the Internet to what I recalled.

Pope John Paul II In Heaven

My mother always used to say she only knew two things about God: She's black. Well, someone has used part of that for a joke:

Pope John Paul II gets to Heaven.

At the Pearly Gates St. Peter says, "Frankly, you're lucky to be here."

John Paul II says, "Why? What did I do wrong on earth?"

St. Peter replies, "God was very angry with your stance on women becoming priests."

The Pope says, "He's mad about THAT?"

St. Peter: "She's furious!"

Movies

Madagascar

We're beginning to see a sensibility that distinguishes Dreamworks (Shrek) from Pixar (The Incredibles). Dreamworks snags the really big voice talent and works the classic Warner Brothers dichotomy (dumb stuff for the kids, cool references for the parents), with more panache. So far, only Pixar is doing genius level work, but Dreamworks pictures are better than you think, especially if you read the New York Times. Yes, one annoying sidekick (Shrek) has been replaced by four, with no main character, but check out this lineup (from IMDB):

Ben Stiller .... Alex the Lion (voice)
Chris Rock .... Marty the Zebra (voice)
David Schwimmer .... Melman the Giraffe (voice)
Jada Pinkett Smith .... Gloria the Hippo (voice)
Sacha Baron Cohen .... King Julian the Lemur (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer .... Maurice the Lemur (voice)

My daughter Rae, who saw it with me, was overwhelmed by King Julian (Cohen, whose stage name is Ali G), and his song, "I Like To Move It." I hope it wasn't too much of a strain for Chris Rock to give a PG performance. He did nice work. To repeat someone else's observations: Stiller's a surprise, Schwimmer is a natural.

I was distracted trying to figure out who the voice talent was for the lead penguin, Skipper. Perhaps, I thought, it was John Ratzenberger, the postman from Cheers. Well, that guess was wrong, but I wonder if he grew up on the same block as Tom McGrath, the co-director of this movie and a one-time voice artist (on TV's Kablam). After you see it, you tell me if his voice isn't perfect for the role, and also reminiscent of someone else's work.

Oscar-worthy in the animated feature category; we'll see if the Academy agrees with me next year.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Directors Eilona Ariel and Ayelet Menahemi created this moving 1997 video documentary that starts with the horrifying conditions in Indian jails (90% of the prisoners are awaiting trial; a pickpocket can spend five years in jail awaiting a one-year sentence) and how they were ameliorated by teaching the inmates Vipassana. The technique begins with a 10-day regimen of silence. It has been tried to good effect in some US prisons as well. It is amazingly watchable for a movie that is so quiet at the core.

Le Grand Voyage

Written and directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, this touching work of fiction (French and Arabic with subtitles) is described succinctly at IMDB:

Reda, a young French-Moroccan guy and his old father drive from the south of France to Mecca in order for the father to do his pilgrimage. At first distant, they gradually learn to know each other.

Nicolas Cazalé plays Reda. He's supposed to be a high school senior; he appears to be about 25. But he's a good actor. Mohamed Majd as his father is outstanding and Jacky Nercessian as Mustapha (is he a good guy or a bad guy) is fun to watch.

There have been a million road pictures. This is one of them. Maybe I feel it rises above the average because it is French, and I am a sucker for French films. Anyway, there's insight, and character development and a (somewhat predictable) story arc. I enjoyed it.

Downfall

This film is about as entertaining as a root canal, but it is wonderfully written and lavishly filmed. It demonstrates, as if more demonstration were needed, the utter banality of evil as it chronicles Hitler's last week in his bunker under Berlin. The actors selected for Hitler and Goebbels (Bruno Ganz and Ulrich Matthes) are remarkable for their physical resemblance to the originals. I don't know any of the other faces well enough to comment. Albert Speer acts oily, but he is always depicted that way. In fact, having read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich when I was a teenager, I can testify to the accuracy of all these portrayals. I have kept track of new revelations since, but, remarkably, William L. Shirer's account has not been overturned in anything but the most minute of details. Hitler, as a psychopath with an ever-lessening grip on reality, is captured to a "t."

The film makers may have had to add a composite character or two along the way to tell the story, but I was shocked to discover how many people made it out of the bunker. When you consider how close the Russians were, and how angry they were, it is little short of a miracle that any among his hard core loyalists lived past VE Day. Yet many did, and lived into their 80s or 90s. The film is based on book-length accounts written by two of the survivors.

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

Greed. Greed, Greed, Greed (see my first item on boats and rising tides). The Republicans would like you to think Enron is an aberration. It is not. It is the absolute epitome of the influence-based, unregulated free market they dream about when they close their eyes at night. Not only will it happen again, it will happen again and again--until the GOP shuts down the SEC because it "interferes with the operations of the free market," in much the same way that umpires interfere in baseball.

This is an excellent documentary: beautiful to look at, fun to listen to, chock full of contemporary video, buttressed by great and thoughtful interviews, based on an obviously detailed and accurate book, with first-rate narration by Peter Coyote (does anyone besides Coyote and Edward Herrmann narrate anything anymore? They are the Rex Allens of the new century). You'll walk out wishing all these crooks were going to jail, instead of just designated fall-guy Andy Fastow. He's just the "overzealous Republican operative" of Enron, the person on whom all the blame falls, just like the blame for the Terry Schiavo message, or the blame for Jeff in the White House press room, or Abu Gharib. Nobody ever takes responsibility for their own actions or those of their subordinates in Washington, why should anybody do so in corporate America. You watch: Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling both get off scott free next January, or with a slap on the wrist. Alternative scenario: they are the scapegoat, who must "die" for everyone else's sins.

Letters

Coquet on Irobot, Wolfe on Graduation, Dan Grobstein File

Peggy Coquet shares an AP story about an MIT alum: IRobot Co-Founder's Perseverance Pays Off. Although Helen Greiner shares a name with The Tech's first female chairman, Linda Greiner Sprague, they are unrelated, as far as I can tell.

My favorite Yiddish columnist, Marjorie Wolfe, is back with some Yiddish for the Graduation Season. If you like her work, bookmark her new website, currently under construction. And while we're at it, read the best graduation speech Kurt Vonnegut never gave at MIT or anywhere else: a June 1, 1997, Chicago Tribune column by Mary Schmich.

Dan Grobstein File

Blogosphere

  • Brian Flemming: Is California's governor engaged in a bit of product placement for campaign contributors?
  • David Corn : "What's the big deal about Deep Throat?" Bush told his advisers. "I was in her fan club years ago!"
  • Daily Kos: Thomas Paine and the FEC.

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