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

July 11, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

July 11, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 27

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Thoughts on the Bombing
  • Homeschooling one more time
  • Marlow in China
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • Tax Humor

Movies

  • Guest Review: War Of The Worlds
  • Ladies in Lavender

Letters

  • Malchman on Harry Potter, Grobstein on Liberal Media

General News

Thoughts on the Bombing

My London-based journalist friend Larry King checked in Friday:

As Joseph Conrad said: Exterminate the brutes. I will expand on that when I get some rest.

I agree wholeheartedly. I know that Rush and the other bloviators of the right would have you believe that liberals embrace Al Queda. Quite the contrary; we simply believe that if your house is under attack by elephants, when you take out your shotgun, you shouldn't spend your time shooting mosquitoes, or, worse yet, send two people over to the next county, blow up the county seat, kill or fire all the police and firefighters, and then tell your family you're taking effective action against the elephants. You should find out where elephants breed and wipe that area out. Then slowly, quietly, without any unnecessary fanfare, you separate the elephants (because they are more dangerous than a herd), then wipe out their sources of food and water. They'll die--and you don't even have to shoot the elephants. This analogy is subject to your own interpretation of elephants, mosquitoes, the county seat, separation, and food and water.

Larry expanded greatly on Sunday.

I also heard from my friend Richard Dalton:

We returned from a three-week trip to England and Wales at the end of May. Our last week was spent in London, where we stayed in a hotel half a block away from Edgware Road. The Edgware Road tube station, where seven people died in Thursday's horrific bombings, was less than a quarter of a mile away.

We hadn't stayed in that part of London before. It's often referred to as Marble Arch, for the giant arch at the western edge of Hyde Park. It's an ethnically diverse area heavily populated with people of mostly Middle Eastern backgrounds. It was a cultural education: Lebanese restauranteurs, Halal meat butchers, hijab-covered muslim women, and turbaned Sikhs far outnumbered the Anglos. There was nothing threatening about the area, but it had a more "foreign" atmosphere than we usually see in London.

England has had a liberal immigration policy for years. This policy has received mixed reactions, officially supported but often resisted by typically blue collar citizens in low income areas where many of the immigrants have been relocated. We had a chance to see the peaceful integration of disparate cultures in London. It will be tragic if these bombings give rise to further harassment of or worse, violence toward these people.

We also need to think about the same issues as we balance security concerns against the personal liberties of all U.S. citizens, whether they immigrated thousands of years ago over the Bering Straits land bridge, aboard the Mayflower, or from the Middle East in the last decade.

Homeschooling: One More Time

Why guess about the results of home schooling? We have, at hand, one person's experiences.A fellow MIT graduate weighs in on home schooling:

I did home-school my children, but I wasn't upset by Dan's remark--just curious.

Your comment about the 1:1 ratio was spot on and probably the primary reason I kept the kids home. I'm a product of the public schools, and I love them as only an alumnus could, but as one of the better students, I spent a HUGE percentage of my 12 years bored to tears because the teachers (bless every one of them) couldn't keep me supplied with new, challenging material given the enormous demands of handling entire classes.

I vowed my kids wouldn't suffer the same fate and then discovered how wonderful it is to have them home, to not be tied to the school calendar and schedule, to escape the effects of some of the poor teachers/environments in the schools, to not have them caught up in the sometimes weird environment of kids blocked in with just their own age group year after year, to have them truly love learning and have it be responsive to their needs, and to get to be a teacher myself (a wonderful experience most of the time). I could go on for days, but I'll spare you.

As for socialization, my son took a course each year at the high school beginning when he was about 8 years old. (I think he was the #2 kid in the senior physics course when he was 11--not because he was any brighter at that point but because he wasn't held back by the normal grade progession, and he loved physics.) I also led the effort to get a law enacted in my state that requires public schools to allow home-schoolers to participate in athletics and extra-curriculars, so he did some of that, but we also own the local neighborhood hangout--a huge barn with a basketball court, whiffle ball field, weight room, and playhouse (that's across the road from the beach), so the place was always full of kids.

By the way, my model for education was MIT. I provided the kids guidance and materials and then encouraged them to study for themselves. Once they knew the stuff, we moved on, so that's how he got to physics at a tender age. He's home from his freshman year at MIT where he's now doing what he's always done in a more structured setting.

My daughter is more ethereal and loves history, languages, and reading. She eschewed the high school as just too structured and slow, and she also declined to take standardized tests or prepare a resume for college. She'll start at Pitt this fall where they are delighted to have her and gave her sophomore standing.

Home-schooling is not for everyone. It does take some qualities of patience, vision, and determination that not every parent might have over 12 years, and the majority of home-school parents here are religiously motivated and are sometimes trying to keep their kids from getting certain aspects of an education. Nonetheless, I believe it is possible to give kids a very high quality academic experience with some specific advantages and relatively few disadvantages in a small fraction of the time spent in public schools. The most important rewards from my perspective were the relationships I developed with the kids by having them home and really spending time with them and the enormous freedom we all had throughout childhood.

My friend puts his finger on two main points: the gifted are, inevitably, bored; as he was, so was I, except in accelerated classes in high school--but tracking is prohibited by modern educational theory. There are strategies for challenging students, but in a classoom setting such methods make them look like "geeks," so they aren't interested. It is possible to teach exactly the same material, in much less time, if you are teaching it at exactly the pace a student can handle. Also, teaching is moving from "sage on the stage" to "guide at the side," a model he describes precisely.

Marlow in China

Marlow is in Shanghai this summer, working and working on her Chinese.

I am staying at the Shanghai Ganghong Hotel, on the penthouse (28th) in a corner room. I have no kitchen, but I have two windows and a king size bed, which although overly firm, is probably better than my futon in Leiden, and definitely bigger, with more pillows, and a maid service. I'm going to take a look at some apartments down the street later this week, but it is going to be hard to argue with the elevator commute I have available here. I probably don't really need a kitchen. I haven't been to the restaurant here in the building yet, as I slept through breakfast today, and so far have only managed to change money and get online, also all in my hotel.

The drive in from the airport was over an hour and traffic-ful, but we got to the hotel/office. I napped for three hours, and then went on a cell phone buying odyssey. I found a phone I liked plenty, it even had an English/Chinese dictionary, but it turns out the boss at my company has a spare phone, so we ended up returning the one I bought and I'm going to get a loaner.

It ate in a huge Chinese restaurant where each guest party gets its own room and one dedicated waitress. In traditional Chinese banquet style, more food than could be eaten was ordered, and we were one guest down, since my other co-worker is taking some college classes and had a final that night. I got my eggplant and ma-la fish so it was a nice welcome back.

I had some fabulous Beijing duck (kao ya) tonight; Dad, you would have loved it. Though I think I ate too much of the other food before we even got it.

Ah well, I'm in China.

Political Notes

Briefs

  • What is happening to public discourse and rational thought in this country? Check out Deep Throat between hard covers: How today's media screw with Watergate history, by Mark Jurkowitz in the Boston Phoenix alternative newspaper:

So how, in 2005, did "Deep Throat" become a non-heroic, perhaps even traitorous figure? Blame it on today's poisonous Crossfire culture -- driven by talk radio and the non-stop cable news talkers -- which mandates that every subject, every revelation be debated and rehashed along partisan lines.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Google runneth over: more on Google's excellent adventure. Google Launches Online Video Playback it supports pay-per-view and is currently Windows-only. (See also BBC's Motion Gallery, a Gold Mine of Moving Images.) Google Earth: Drawing arbitrary GIS data on Google Maps. Applications: Google Maps Wifi hotspots Google Maps Transparencies Google Maps walking distances Google Maps weather (and web cams).

GarageBand loop marketplace: suing musicians for sampling and remixing published music is one approach. Encouraging it, and even selling musical components is another: Apple music loops becoming big business and Nine Inch Nails offers 'Only' as GarageBand project. Thus "Only" joins NIN's previous venture into GarageBand-based releases: "The Hand That Feeds" as mentioned here in April.

Complexification art: Linux comes with a standard screen saver/locker. It is a framework for which programmers can make plug-ins. A lot exist but are pretty forgettable. My newest distribution came with two very nice ones called Substrate and Intersection Momentary. Curious, I tracked them down and found that they were ports of Java-based procedural art pieces from the Complexification online gallery some of which were original conceived as art installations.

Wooden art: I've always been a sucker for high tech objects made from wood, like this beautiful wooden iPod. Of course there are wooden keyboards and wooden mice. My all time favorite was the Wooden Mirror.

Technobits: Rethinking the File-Swap Morass --- Mad Hot Ballroom v. copyright cartel --- Web Content by and for the Masses --- How the Web changes your reading habits --- The $100 computer is the key to India's tech fortunes --- from Science magazine: 125 questions: What Don't We Know? --- New calculator makes solving tricky sums easy --- hydrogen-powered family car --- Ten years later, the story of Suck.com, the first great website: The Big Fish (not to be confused with the big catfish).

Humor

Tax Humor

Department of the Treasury
Washington, DC 20001
My Tax Remittance for 2004

Enclosed is my 2004 Form 1040, together with payment. Please take note of the attached article from "USA Today" archives. In the article, you will note that the Pentagon paid $171.50 each for hammers and NASA paid $600.00 each for toilet seats.

Please find enclosed in this package four toilet seats (value $2,400.00) and six hammers (value $1,029.00). This is in payment for my total tax due of $3,429.00.

Out of a sense of patriotic duty, and to assist in the political purification of our government, I am also enclosing a 1.5 inch Phillips head screw, for which HUD duly recorded and approved a purchase value of $2200, as my contribution to fulfill the Presidential Election Fund option on Form 1040.

It has been a pleasure to pay my taxes this year, and I look forward to paying them again next year in accordance with officially established government values.

Sincerely,

Another satisfied American taxpayer

Movies

Guest Review: War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg has returned to what he does so well - creating tense, taut thrillers, in the mold of his early Duel, 1975's Jaws, and Jurassic Park - and created a mesmerizing War of the Worlds. This film is ideal escapist summer entertainment, completely captivating science fiction replete with spectacular special effects. In 2005, it's hard to watch War of the Worlds without it conjuring up terrorist themes unimagined in H.G. Wells' original book, but the pace of the film never lets you ponder those issues for very long. You could have dusted my wife's arm for my fingerprints on our way out of the theatre!

--Neal Vitale

I saw it too. Scared the daylights out of me. The usual large percentage of stupid behavior on everyone's part, especially Tom Cruise. But without stupid behavior, how could you have suspense? Well, OK, Hitchcock used to do it...

Ladies in Lavender

Well, it took Vicki and me four tries, but we finally got to Ladies in Lavender, the British film with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith that the two veteran actresses did so much to promote. It hangs on in a small theater at the Shattuck in Berkeley, which we attended after Vicki bought fabric at Poppy's. We stopped at a new restaurant three blocks from the theater (and around the corner from the Berkeley Rep) called Downtown. Dinner for two with two glasses of wine was $64, so it's a bit pricey. It was California/Continental/Nouvelle cuisine with attentive young waitrons and very nice food, prepared quickly and well. The sorbet is to die for.

Oh yes, the movie. It was another of those lovely British countryside films, filled with excellent actors, amusing comic relief, more stereotypes than you could shake a stick at, fascinating dialog, and a pace which "slow" barely begins to describe. Unlike some films in the genre, something actually does happen in this film, but the important aspect is the people and the relationships, not the "plot." Pretty good; if it is still hanging on where you live, it may not be worth a special trip, but it is worth seeing.

Letters

Malchman on Harry Potter, Grobstein on Liberal Media

Robert Malchman spotted Harry Potter In The Classroom.

Dan Grobstein: Denver Post: Another Liberal Column, Right?

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