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

August 1, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

August 1, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 30

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Paul in LA
  • Planning
  • Contacts
  • Marlow in China
  • Rae in France
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs--on vacation

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Hustle and Flow
  • March of the Penguins

Letters

  • Dalton on the Joys of Long, Obscure Movies, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Paul in LA

I chose to spend a few days in Los Angeles last week, investing time in several long-distance friendships I cherish.

Pride of place went, on Tuesday, to a friend of mine who is doing the good work of spreading democracy throughout the world by helping newly emerging capitalist societies build robust stock exchanges. He lives in the Los Feliz district, and was showing me the cool house he's helping his son remodel as well as the cool house he lives in, which I hadn't seen for the better part of a decade. Cool guy, cool neighborhood and (even though his favorite restaurant was closed on Tuesday). We're losing the peace in Iraq; just ask any competent civilian who's been there.

Wednesday began with a journalism professor I know, who runs an associated web site with a few of my articles on it. He has an Ed Diamond vibe, which, believe me, is the highest compliment I am capable of paying, and is really saying something about a guy who is originally from the LA area. Lots of energy, intelligence, excitement, and every time I see him he makes me think I could write another book. All I need is time, ideas and an agent...

Then off to see N and C, friends of long-standing--their daughter was born two days before ours at the same hospital, and N, the husband, had been playing tennis with Vicki in Berkeley for a decade at that point. He's now a professor, she teaches piano, and they are fun, fun, fun to see and talk with.

Thursday, Dr. P, a political scientists and aeronautical engineer of my acquaintance (he knows who he is and the evolving rules of blogging, as I understand them, advise against actually naming him). We talked political sciences with our usual vigor; I'm a yellow-dog Democrat and he's a Liberterian. Whenever he blames a Democratic Party idiocy on me, I shoot back a GOP lapse, and we enjoy the discussion. We agreed to disagree about the 14th and 15th amendments. He also gave me a long, deep reminder of why he loves space and exploration, and why NASA is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We had most of this vacation while walking his dog in the hills behind his house, which form the southern boundary of the San Fernando Valley. A breathtaking walk, in every sense of the word.

Finally, I did something I have been meaning to do for more than a decade, I rode the LA subway. It is a beautiful, clean, modern subway that reminds me of BART in the very early years; under-used because it went from nowhere to nowhere. The red line, an actual subway, is about as interesting as most subways, even to me (a subway fan) which is to say, not very. I got on at North Hollywood, just a few blocks from Dr. P's house, and rode it downtown to LA's 1939 Union Station, usually referred to as "America's last great train station." Since it was refurbished, it has become one of the most spectacular public spaces in the country. No airport will ever look this good.

I transferred to the Gold line, because it goes near Sierra Madre, where my wife's maternal line has its roots. I am SOOO glad I did. It is a streetcar line! As soon as I was halfway along, I was certain it ran on an only Pacific Electric Big Red Car right of way, an assumption I was able to confirm with old maps when I got home. The scenery was spectacular, and the stations were clean and well-kept, as were the streetcars. The many local streets were tidy and, for the most part, composed of LA's usual interesting juxtaposition of architectures. I suppose I should ride the Blue Line one of these days.

One of the thing that killed the Big Red Cars was the growth of traffic, which required slower running speeds to make up for the increased chance of an accident at the lines' numerous grade crossings. You can see that on the Gold Line; there must be a dozen grade crossings, with slow-downs to match. Most of the right-of-way is dedicated. Look, there's nothing I can do or say to make you as excited about this experience as I was.

Planning

Had my first planning meeting (3.5 hours) with F, my friend and the veteran teacher across the hall, and M, the new teacher whose first job is with us this fall. I fell in the middle, as the third-year teacher. We managed to plan up to Oct. 6, which is really as far as you can go, given the uncertainties of life. The most important characteristic of a teacher is to be flexible. That is, you need a plan every day, as well as a long-term plan, and then you need to be able to roll with the punches and pay attention to what's happening as you go along. To paraphrase Gary Trudeau, a good classroom plan is like a good demonstration: meticulously planned but organically executed.

Contacts

I find it hard to believe, but research indicates that I've had contact lenses for two weeks and never mentioned it in the column. Sacre bleu! Well, to be precise, I have a contact lens. You see, my distance vision is 20-10, but I need reading glasses. I have prescription glasses stashed all over the house, since I never throw a pair away and have been getting a new pair every year for about the last six years. I got bifocals for band--glass on top for seeing the conductor, prescription on the bottom for the music. Last school year, I got rimless half glasses. Not only are they delicate (and so take longer to put on and take off), but I had a tendency to misplace them.

There are bifocal contacts, but they sound unwieldy. So, I went with the other solution--the contact equivalent of a monocle. One contact, corrected for reading. The human mind, my friends, is an amazing place; within a few days, I could read (with a fuzzy right eye) and see at a distance (with a fuzzy left eye). No problems with depth perception--and no trouble reading! I am up to 8 hours a day, most days, with the contacts. And the time it takes me to put them in has dropped from 30 minutes to 5--I am told it may drop farther! I can now remove them first time every time. Woo-hoo!

Marlow in China

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

Well, I have successfully watched almost every episode of Friends. The fifth season didn't work, nor did a big chunk of the final season, but I promised myself that once I got through it I would switch to watching Chinese television, and try and stop using American DVDs as a crutch. Today I actually saw a great show for foreigners who speak Chinese in Shanghai. The topic was do you want to be a housewife? And the discussants were Korean, Japanese, Romanian, and French. The Romanian girl could actually speak the Shanghai dialect as well, which is of course the way to win over the hearts of the Shanghai people. It was uplifting seeing so many foreigners speaking fluent Chinese, even though on a panel of eight only two were white. There was also a section where a white guy named Andy learned how to perform a vaudeville style skit about the sounds animals make. My favorite thing on Chinese TV so far though has to be the Biography style show on Barbara Bush. I saw it again today profiling Pocahontas, but that wasn't nearly as amusing.

Yesterday the daughter of one of my co-workers took me to Zhu Jia Jiao. We were going to go to ZhouZhuang, but the bus tickets were sold out by the time we got there.

Zhu Jia Jiao is one of the old-style cities outside Shanghai, with canals and bridges. I tried to make it remind me of the Netherlands, but it never really did. The city was cute enough, though obviously pretty touristy. Unfortunately the weather was oppressively hot. We wandered through the alleys from temple to botanical garden, took pictures on the bridges, and had a lunch which included the local delicacy, sticky rice, pork and an egg wrapped in some sort of leaf. I don't know that I've ever sweat that much, but I had my umbrella and a fan and I drank water at a dad-like rate, so I got through it fine. When we got back into Shanghai, the sky was a scary looking yellow and there was a lot of loud thunder, and as I pulled my bike into the hotel basement parking lot the skies opened up and it really started to pour. I opted to order in pizza from the local Papa John's rather than brave the elements.

Rae in France

Rae is in Montpellier, France working on her French.

I have planned rendezvous for practicing French which is great, but what was so nice about Friday is that it was totally spontaneous. I was at a café waiting for my laundry to finish drying when this nice Belgian man and French woman started talking to me. Even though the man knew English, he spoke in French for my benefit. It was a satisfying conversation, and I really felt like the relaxed atmosphere was a slice of France.

***

As far as the language immersion goes, I am trying to do everything possible to immerge. I like having friends and everything, but I don't need close bosom buddies: especially ones I will never see again. I try to limit my American social interactions to the minimum.

I plan on watching as many movies as possible in the theater and the video rental store (I figured out how to make my comp play European dvd's). Also I bought a radio... I am asking every single teacher, tutor, and French person I know through the program to prendre un verre (have a coffee).

I also skip classes when I think I could get more out of going about town, but when I do go to classes I pay close attention to how the teachers speak.

I am enjoying myself here. I think that I may come back after college to teach English in the South of France. Mainly I want to do something that would help me meet natives and improve my French. I haven't yet looked into other avenues. I like Paris, but I don't know if I would want to live there. At least at this stage of the game people only have to hear my "bonjour" to launch into English.

I am afraid if I learn really good French then I will hate the French people... So far they are all right. The men seem like they might be sexist- the waiters are the biggest flirts ever, and one can't swing a cat without hitting someone that will give you his number and his address.

***

I tried to look like the French people. When they walk they keep their mouths closed. They don't like to have their lips parted at all. It looks they are in perma-frowny mode. I want none of that. When they smile it doesn't last too long. It fades so fast. I do want to take a leaf from their book as far as being more quiet and not talking so loud or so much in public.

Two employees at the phone store gave me their phone numbers so we could do an English-French exchange. They both were teasing me about my French which probably would have been better if I weren't so over-heated and flustered. I get nervous talking to anyone in French. Talking to males is even harder for me, even when I know they won't hit on me. It's just embarrassing, I don't feel that instant connection and implied forgiveness I do with girls.

Now I have four boys to do English-French exchanges with. Hopefully my French will be halfway decent when I get back.

Political Notes

I enjoyed Larry Johnson's response to the Bush radio address last week as much as anyone, but it does raise a couple of questions.

What statement is made when the Democrats need a registered Republican to speak for them?What statement is made when the national Democrats who have been hearing the same thing from solid Democrats for years, need a registered Republic to speak for them?

Also, I heard a representative last week say they know "more than Senators because we are elected more directly by the people." That just means they are more like a weathervane. It is true: the Senate is the saucer in which the hot cr*p of the House is allowed to cool.

***

Dan Grobstein is reading the Charles Peters book about Wendell Willkie

Peters quotes Will Rogers:

"I really believe that if it came to a vote whether to go to war with
England, France, and Germany combined, or raising the tax rate on
incomes over $100,000, [the Republicans] would vote [for] war."

Quote comes from Richard Ketchum, Will Rogers: His Life and Times.

***

Briefs

  • Garrison Keillor kicks off his new weekly newspaper column with a funny riff on Rove-gate. Thank you Dan Grobstein.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

On vacation this week...

Humor

None

Movies

Hustle and Flow

OK, what did I expect from a movie produced by MTV about a pimp whose only hope of rising above his station in life is to become a rapper? It did remind me, vividly, of the fact that 99% of all commercial American movies are set in upper-middle and upper-class neighborhoods. You don't even see the middle-class depicted all that often. So it comes as one heckuva shock to see lower-middle and lower-class life depicted in such lurid detail. The film has a bucket of foul language and a tablespoon of suggested sex, and, while it has some interesting performances, isn't exactly Oscar material. If you've always wanted to see a kitchen table rapper move from idea to demo tape, this is your film.

March of the Penguins

It was too long, we were warned. Like last year's bird migration movie, it will leave you yawning. Well, that's not what happened. God knows what would have happened had we seen it in the original French, which featured the penguins talking to each other. But Morgan Freeman's touching and well-written narration makes this story of penguin reproduction in the Antarctic come alive and hold your interest for every minute. The film which follows the penguin's exhausting and mind-boggling reproductive cycle through an entire year. Yes, it is more than you ever wanted to know about penguin reproduction, but the cinematography is mind-boggling, and the opportunities for anthropomorphism (the pathetic fallacy, as I recall) are limitless. This G-rated film deserves the large audiences it is drawing. I am glad I went. The local art house showing it is drawing 2,000 patrons a week--twice break-even!

Letters

Dalton on the Joys of Long, Obscure Movies, Dan Grobstein File

I wrote about seeing Best of Youth, an obscure Italian film, out at the lovely 80-year-old Balboa Theater in San Francisco's Richmond district. It brought back memories for Richard Dalton:

Your delight about finding an improbable place in S.F. to view film Best of Youth made me think of a similar experience I had just after I moved to San Francisco.

I was in an arty phase (end of the Beatniks, just before the Hippies) and had wanted to see something by Indian director Satyajit Ray. His monumental three-film story (The Apu Trilogy) of a poor Bengali boy at the turn of last century was done on a tiny budget, often with non-professionals, and with heavy use of location shooting and natural light. The trilogy covers Apu's life from birth to the time he becomes a young man.

The Trilogy showed up at a dumpy little theater just off of Broadway-- back then you had a choice of four or five jazz groups at Broadway venues, rather than four or five sets off chemically-ballooned breasts. I settled into my seat for the six-hour adventure just as a rainstorm arrived. People began shifting seats as leaks appeared in the building's ancient ceiling.

I was unsure of my ability to sit through so much low-key, slice-of- life footage at first. After about an hour, though, I lost track of the "Indianness" of the lives being portrayed and the subtitles began imprinting in my mind rather than being distracting. I gradually found I was living in that very foreign time and place instead of being an observer. I can't think of a greater tribute to a film- maker than this ability to remove the barriers we usually have watching a movie.

At the end of six hours, the trilogy quietly concluded and I found it was quite hard to reorient myself to my usual way of life and (fairly hedonistic) values. There was a kind of purity to the stories of poor Indian people leading simple yet very rich lives.

I'm glad you wrote the piece on Best of Youth. I'm now going to Google around the Internet until I find a place to rent the Apu Trilogy (or the three individual films: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar). I'm anxious to see if 40+ passing years have changed my acceptance of this kind of subtle beauty, or if I may have another, maybe better, reaction.

Dan Grobstein File

Ran out of time this week, so it's all jammed up and most of the NY Times stuff didn't make it.

More Neat Google Mapping, Still More Neat Google Mapping, Revenge of the Sith (and more revenge), Sure glad that the grownups are running the US government (Not). Also, It's OK if you're a Republican, Impeach Bush, Troop Withdrawals could begin next spring, just in time for mid-term elections, Judy Miller, Non-Martyr, Elizabeth Warren: No Bad Deed Goes Unrewarded in This Administration, Spray-on Mud for urban SUV owners.

  • Juan Cole: Why you won't hear Britain's Robin Cook on American TV; he's the one telling the truth.

New York Times

  • OPINION | July 25, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: Toyota, Moving Northward
    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    Ontario attracted a new Toyota assembly plant, proving that treating people decently is sometimes a competitive advantage.
  • MOVIES / MOVIES NEWS AND FEATURES | July 23, 2005
    Lake Wobegon Goes Hollywood (or Is It Vice Versa?), With a Pretty Good Cast
    By DAVID CARR
    The movie version of "A Prairie Home Companion," directed by Robert Altman and written by Garrison Keillor, is a bit of "Nashville" with a side of Powdermilk Biscuits.
  • OPINION | July 24, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: Eight Days in July
    By FRANK RICH
    The agenda of President Bush's rushed Supreme Court nomination - to change the subject in Washington - could not have been more naked. [Among his amusing observations: Bush would have had to nominate Bill Clinton to the court to change the subject off Rove].

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