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

June 27, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

June 27, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 25

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Vacatin'
  • Jon Carroll Cat Column
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • Father of One of My Children

Movies

  • Guest Reviews: Batman Begins

Letters

  • Peterman finds Mannequinism, Malchman on Engineering, Dalton and Grobstein on John Prine, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Vacatin'

Taking a week in the South of France with my entire family. Won't be back until the 3rd, and I play in a band on the 4th of July, so it looks like we won't be meeting here again until July 11. Take care of yourselves, and have a glorious 4th!

Jon Carroll Cat Column

JON CARROLL
(his columns no longer have headlines)
We had always thought, Tracy and I, that our broad king-size bed and our extremely poufy duvet would make a lovely place for cats to spend the evening. It was cozy; it was accessible; it already contained the two people in charge of feeding cats. What could be more attractive?

Archie and Bucket stayed away in droves.

Political Notes

Daily Kos from Taegan at Political Wire from The Economist:

Over the past few weeks, a new expression has entered the Westminster lexicon: dog-whistle politics. It means putting out a message that, like a high-pitched dog-whistle, is only fully audible to those at whom it is directly aimed. The intention is to make potential supporters sit up and take notice while avoiding offending those to whom the message will not appeal.

Kos offers the example of Bush's Dred Scott reference during last year's debates, a coded message to anti-abortion forces that he thinks abortion is as evil as slavery. I've heard several educators speculate that "No Child Left Behind" is a coded reference to the "Left Behind" series about people ascending into Heaven during The Rapture, and the travails of those left behind. We may not have the term in widespread use here, but another three years of Bush should cement it in the political lexicon.

***

Your may not have noticed, but there are about 600 sites on the Internet devoted to the theory that the World Trade Center buildings were not hit by airplanes, but were demolished--perhaps by the government as an excuse to go to war. On one site, this involves theorizing a very impressive 3-D projection of an airplane. None of these sites, as far as I can tell, deals with the disappearance of the passengers on all four downed planes. Frankly, I like the official explanation by an MIT professor. In general, I prefer science rather than faith or conspiracy, when it comes to explaining physical phenomena.

***

New York Times June 16, 2005 Quotation Of The Day: "We have a finite number of troops. But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country." Maj. Chris Kennedy, on American efforts to subdue Tal Afar, Iraq.

Read the review (An Insider's Troubling Account of the U.S. Role in Iraq by Michiko Kakutani) and buy the book he reviewed, Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq by Larry Diamond, 369 pages from Times Books/Henry Holt & Co.

Briefs

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Mother nature of invention: one silver lining of high oil prices: Biofuel increasingly competitive if oil surge lasts. Similarly high fuel prices speed adoption of energy efficient technologies, congratulations to Paul on his new Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I've had my Civic Hybrid for more than two years and I'm quite happy with it. Elsewhere, The Economist ran a survey of biomimetics: Technology that imitates nature. Just published in Nature: very cool research about wake turbulence of hummingbird wings, which shows that they fall squarely between the aerodynamics of (non-humming) birds and flying insects: Ultra-Fast Camera Captures How Hummingbirds Hover and Study Examines Flight of Hummingbirds. How loss of biodiversity has a direct negative impact on pharmaceuticals: Extinction of frogs is catastrophic, scientists say. And for something completely different, consider Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a proposed alternative to Intelligent Design.

Read-only time travel: a staple of science fiction, not to mention science is the Grandfather paradox which casts doubt on the theoretical possibility of time travel. Alternate speculation has proposed that perhaps time travel is possible, but altering the past is the impossible part. That concept got a boost this week from theoretical physics: New model 'permits time travel'.

TB follow up: the BBC's give away of free MP3 recordings of Beethoven performances (as mentioned here two weeks ago) has been well received: Beethoven downloads receive more than 600,000 requests. Symphonies 6 through 9 will be available next week. Last week I mentioned Microsoft's gutless capitulation to repression of free speech in China. Now a strong condemnation of Evil Microsoft from a tech savvy Chinese entrepreneur: Chinese Blogger Slams Microsoft.

Technobits: Rick Boucher continues to be a leading voice for the protections of consumer's right in matters of intellectual property: Lawmaker Revs Up Fair-Use Crusade --- EU software patents: Showdown looms over patenting bill --- Harmless Virus Kills Some Cancers --- Jack Kilby, inventor of integrated circuit, dies --- Truth-Rank and Google Wallet --- Apple faces lawsuit in iTunes patent row --- FT's website impropriety --- Microsoft to add 'black box' to Windows --- VoIP cozies up to cell phones --- Jerky Pictures and Sound Are History. Videoconferencing Is All Grown Up --- Online calendars make a comeback --- robot fighter jets: Is this the future of air combat? --- Sony researchers create 'curious' Aibos --- Inside Applied Minds --- Time's 50 Coolest Websites 2005.

Humor

Father of One of My Children

Thank you do Dan Grobstein for this one:

A man standing in line at a check out counter of a grocery store was very surprised when a very attractive woman behind him said, "Hello!" Her face was beaming.

He gave her that "who are you look," and couldn't remember ever having seen her before. Then, noticing his look, she figured she had made a mistake and apologized.

"Look," she said "I'm really sorry but when I first saw you, I thought you were the father of one of my children," and walked out of the store.

The guy was dumbfounded and thought to himself, "What the hell is the world coming to? Here is an attractive woman who can't keep track of who fathers her children!"

Then he got a little panicky. "I don't remember her," he thought but, MAYBE. . . . during one of the wild parties he had been to when he was in college, perhaps he did father her child!

He ran from the store and caught her in the parking lot and asked, "Are you the girl I met at a party in college and then we got really drunk and had wild crazy sex on the pool table in front of everyone?"

"No", she said with a horrified look on her face. "I'm your son's Second grade teacher!"

Movies

Batman Returns

I was all ready to write a half-assed review of Batman Returns, which I admired, but of which Rae said (parodying an old National Lampoon line): "A walk in the ocean of this movie's psychology would scarcely get your feet wet." I liked it better than that, but just as I sat down to put electrons on phosphor, I got Neal Vitale's full-assed review. He said everything I wanted to say better and more clearly.

The fourth Batman film returns to where the Caped Crusader got his start, and brilliantly revitalizes the franchise in doing so. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento) and writer David Goyer (the Blade trilogy) have created a work that is truly "best of breed" - Batman Begins is the best of all the comic book-based action films (including Spiderman), and leaves you looking forward to the sequel that is set up nicely in its final scene. Every aspect of Batman Begins is close to perfect for its genre. The screenplay is tight and well-paced, reaching back to Bruce Wayne's psychological motivations for becoming Batman and his ninja-like training without ever becoming preachy or ponderous. The look and feel of the film is voluptuously dark and ominous, as we explore the seamiest corners of a Gotham that most closely resembles Ridley Scott's apocalyptic Los Angeles in Blade Runner. The cast is a treat - the quiet intensity and inner fire of Christian Bale (American Psycho) is ideal for Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine is a wonderful Alfred, Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, The Girl With A Pearl Earring) is a bone-chillingly heartless villain, Liam Neeson provides an intriguing counterpoint to his recent Jedi Master turn in Revenge of the Sith as the far less honorable Henri Ducard, and there are nice smaller roles for veteran actors Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Tim Wilkinson (In The Bedroom), Gary Oldman (Immortal Beloved), and Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner). Nolan and Goyer are to be highly commended for revisiting familiar, well-traveled terrain and making a film that is fresh, exciting, and satisfying.

--Neal Vitale

I'm a fanboy at heart (until 1970, literally), so it is with great pleasure that I also present the analysis of the most comics-knowledgeable person I know who is also a normal human being, my friend and former colleague, Tom LaSusa:

Over a decade ago DC comics presented a storyline that ran throughout all their Batman books titled "Knightfall." The plot centered on Batman being savagely beaten by an all-powerful adversary named Bane, who breaks the Dark Detective's back. A few years later in the world of movies, the money-making Batman franchise also suffered its own "Knightfall" at the hands of over-zealous director Joel Schumacher and a slew of merchandise moguls, hell bent on making the character as kid friendly (and therefore as toy accessible) as possible. The result -- massive backlash and the Batman movies were deader than Martha and Thomas Wayne.

Flash forward a few years to talks of getting Batman swooping onto the big screen again. Shumacher was thankfully out of the picture. But who would step into the role as director? And would the film continue down the horrid neon and bat-nippled path it dared to tread? The comic fans screamed "NO!" They wanted a movie that lived up to the somewhat-potential they saw in Burton's original film, ignored the absurdity of Shumacher's stomach churners, and offered a good story.

Thanks to Chris Nolan of Memento fame -- they got exactly what they asked for.

Batman Begins is a reboot -- ignoring everything that happened previously in the other films. No Jack Nicholson Joker. No Pink-haired Jim Carey. Forget Keaton, Kilmer and the much maligned (And undeservedly) George Clooney (See sidebar below). Chris Nolan brings us a tale of the Dark Knight right from the start -- something we actually haven't seen entirely in previous outings.

We first meet Bruce Wayne as an inmate in a Chinese prison camp. His purpose for being there -- to better understand the criminal element, and to hone his body into a fighting machine. But he's lost direction -- purpose. A visit from a mysterious figure named Henri Ducard changes all that. Ducard offers Wayne the chance to join his ninja-esque league -- an organization that trains individuals to become advocates for the downtrodden.

From this point, Nolan takes his Bruce Wayne (played superbly by Christian Bale) through a Memento-like journey to discover which is the true mask he wears -- the one made of hard rubber with pointed ears, or the one he sees when he looks in the mirror. Jumps back and forth in time help us discover why Bruce blames himself for his parent's deaths, his attempt to avenge them (long before donning a costume), and his flight from Gotham to find the means to accomplish his goals.

Once Bruce regains his focus, he returns to his home. With the aid of his faithful Butler (played with fatherly love by Michael Caine), he begins to put his plan into motion.

Nolan wanted to bring his Batman to as close as reality as possible. Because of this, he makes it a point to offer logical explanations for various parts of the Batman mythos. For instance, Batman "may have wonderful toys", and Bruce can certainly afford them, but in today's world of information technology -- a good superhero would need to avoid paper trails. Some viewers might find these minute details unnecessary. But true Bat fans eat these kinds of details up.

As for the Dark Knight himself -- believe it or not, we don't see hide nor hair (or wing as it were) of the cape and cowl until mid-way through the movie. And that's not a bad thing. It allows us to really get to know the man behind the mask. We get to see Bruce perfect his lackadaisical playboy persona (created to throw people's perspective of him way off). We also get to enjoy Batman getting his ass kicked. That's right. Batman gets slapped around a few times. I mean, let's be serious -- would you honestly expect him to get things right on his first flight, err night?

The rest of the cast offer excellent performances. Gary Oldman's Pre-Commissioner Gordon is a tough but honest cop trying to keep it together while corruption surrounds him (right down to his own partner). He's a far cry from Pat Hingle's outings as the commissioner in previous Batman movies (My friends and I swear he was drunk by the last film). Morgan Freeman portrays Lucius Fox - a Wayne Industries employee who provides Bruce with various technology he needs to fulfill his mission. Liam Neeson's Ducard seems to channel his Phantom Menace Jedi in his training of Bruce, but does so with much more enthusiasm and seems to have a better time here. Cillian Murphy plays the Scarecrow -- one of Batman's comic book enemies, and does a fine job of transitioning the fear-inducing villain to the screen.

Of course there has to be a love interest -- it must be a Warner Bros. mandate -- and the role is played adequately by current Tom Cruise obsession Katie Holmes. Fortunately, she's not completely helpless -- though she does need some rescuing a few times and --

 

SPOILER ALERT (READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANNA KNOW) of course ends up discovering Bruce's alter ego. (Another Warner Brothers order form on high apparently) -- END SPOILER.

 

There are some nitpicks -- the reveal of the movie's Big Bad is cool. And the reasons behind his actions aren't all that unbelievable. It's how he goes about them that don't completely mesh with the movie that Nolan first started showing us. If you're going to try to have Batman fly in 'the real world' -- then presenting us with a 'doomsday device' type scenario almost seems...well, comic-booky.

There's a few lines of dialogue that could have been written better. When asked "Who are you?" I was disappointed to hear Bale reply "I'm Batman." I hated hearing Keaton say that years ago, and didn't like it here either. In my mind, if you're going to don a costume to instill fear -- you shouldn't be a person -- you should be a thing - aka "The Batman."

But ultimately the annoyances are minor in comparison to the payoff Nolan and his ensemble cast delivers. And of course the setup for the sequel turns your stomach into knots when you realize that we're looking at about two to three years before the Batman's shadow falls upon us once more.

Sidebar: In Defense of George

I was so outraged by the events of Batman Forever, I made it a personal commitment not to see Batman and Robin when it was released in the theatres. In fact, I waited almost a year and a half before catching it on video. As I expected, it was utter trash. Joel Shumacher had butchered everything Batman stood for. Batman operates in the shadows. He doesn't go to public events. He didn't wait for photo ops. And he sure as hell didn't have a Batman visa card. That was everything I had come to expect from the classic Adam West Batman show (which, as a comedy, is fine.) But this...this was just wrong. Later on, I recalled hearing about an interview where George Clooney took responsibility for "killing the Batman franchise." I was appalled. Why was this poor guy taking the heat? You could have put anyone into that costume and the movie was going to suck harder than the Penguin on a quail's egg. As a matter of fact, I actually found Clooney to be halfway decent -- particularly in the scenes with an ailing Alfred (the butler was deathly ill in the movie). Clooney portrayed Bruce as being genuinely concerned for his butler cum surrogate father.

So George my man -- rest assured, your part in the destruction of the previous Batman franchise was minor. I actually think with the right script and director, you could have made an excellent Caped Crusader. But alas -- twas not to be.

Now riddle me this -- you couldn't show up in a cameo for Doctor Greene's burial on ER? Dude, Doctor Doug was like his best friend and stuff!!!!

--Tom LaSusa

Letters

Peterman finds Mannequinism, Malchman on Engineering, Dalton and Grobstein on John Prine, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman has a lovely eye for the offbeat:

It's an all too familiar story. There is a young man or woman who is very busy all the time. So busy that he or she has no time to volunteer, stay current on the news, or even vote. Our young specimen is so busy that when it comes to participating in the community, this person is essentially a mannequin. And then it happens: Little by little the person actually turns into a mannequin. How can this be?

Robert Malchman knew there was a reason he didn't major in engineering.

Inspired by Dan Grobstein's mention of John Prine last week, Richard Dalton writes:

We saw John Prine at Boston's Symphony Hall recently. Place was packed. He played "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You in to Heaven Anymore," a Vietnam-era composition that he's appropriately recycling. He also sang "Some Humans Ain't Human," a number from his recent album that includes the line ..."then some cowboy from Texas/ starts his own war in Iraq." Played very well to the combination of aging hippies, cowboy bar rowdies, and the occasional over-dressed matron.

We rediscovered John about 3 years ago. I was trolling one of the music download sites when I bumped into him, grabbed a few titles and fell in love. As an example of how music file-swapping can help artists, especially those unable to get air time, my wife Linda and I were so taken we wound up buying most of his albums.

He remains difficult to find in music stores or on-air, but he has two Web sites: www.ohboy.com for albums and www.johnprine.net for background on the man and his activities. Included in the latter is an interview taped last March where he joined Poet Laureate Ted Kooser as the first singer/songwriter to read/play at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Prine is definitely on a roll.

Inspired by Dalton, Grobstein continued:

The first paragraph was just like my concert. I used to hear him on WNEW FM in NYC, an album rock station on which the DJs seemed to play whatever they wanted to. This was in the mid to late 70s. I checked out the oboy.com site the day after the concert.

The opening act was Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez. Chip wrote Wild Thing and Angel of the Morning, both of which he played at the close of his set.

I was up in the balcony with my binoculars. At the rear of the stage was a table covered in black. Laid out in a neat grid looked to be pictures of John Prine's grandchildren.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Bloomberg: Schiavo Autopsy Shows Condition of U.S. Politics: Ann Woolner. "Beyond medical evaluations of her diminished physical state, Terri Schiavo's autopsy report says a lot about the sad state of American political life."
  • San Francisco Chronicle: Don Asmussen's cartoon take on Pressroomgate. [Ed. note: as a reader of the Chronicle, I see his stuff every time it appears. He came over from the Examiner when the squabbling fourth generation of the Chronicle sold out. He's rude, crude, and not always funny, but always blunt.]

Blogosphere

New York Times

  • OPINION | June 17, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: What's the Matter With Ohio?
    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    The message from Ohio is that long-term dominance by a political machine leads to corruption.
  • Dan Sez: I have no studies to fall back on, but my seat-of-the-pants calculation says that about 1 in 100 home-schooled students get a better education than they can get in any public school in the country. Smart people know that they aren't as smart as they think they are. Stupid people have no idea.

    EDUCATION | June 22, 2005
    Taught at Home, but Seeking to Join Activities at Public Schools
    By JAMES DAO
    Parents are pushing schools to open their extracurricular activities to the nation's more than one million home-educated students.
  • OPINION | June 21, 2005
    Op-Ed Contributor: Guantánamo's Long Shadow
    By ANTHONY LEWIS
    The United States has led the way in fighting for human rights, but mistreating prisoners makes the world see our moral claims as hypocrisy.
  • INTERNATIONIINTERNATIONAL / ASIA PACIFIC | June 20, 2005
    Itoman Journal: Okinawa Suicides and Japan's Army: Burying the Truth?
    By JAMES BROOKE
    An educator is campaigning to delete from schoolbooks statements that soldiers ordered civilians to choose suicide over surrender.

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