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 22, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

August 22, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 33

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Groundhog Day News
  • My Third Year Begins
  • Marlow in China
  • Rae in France
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • Military Recruiting

Movies

  • Junebug
  • The Aristocrats
  • 2046
  • Guest Comment on Nine Lives Meta-Review

Letters

  • Intelligent Falling, Coquet on the Overheard, Malchman and Additives, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Groundhog Day News

As you may recall, I have achieved some notice as the host of the most comprehensive fan site for Danny Rubin's well-crafted script, Harold Rami's top-notch direction and Bill Murray's oustanding performance. I call it Groundhog Day: Best Film Ever.

A recent visitor, John Bednarz wrote:

Did you know that in the Chilmark cemetery on Martha's Vineyard where John Belushi is buried that a gravestone in the name of Ned Ryerson exists. Is there any connection? Murray was on SNL with Belushi. Ramis directed a lot of movies with Ackroyd, Murray etc. Just wondering if you have any knowledge or thoughts on this subject. Could the name of the character have come form this gravestone? Is this really where Belushi is buried rather than the fake stone in the front of the cemetery?

Rather than guessing, I wrote the screenwriter. As it happens, he is generous enough to answer my email. Danny Rubin responded:

That is a very cool theory. Hate to keep anyone from spreading it around, but I can't say it happened that way. I totally completely made the name up in my head. When I wrote it I was picturing Ned Beatty as the obnoxious salesman, so that's where Ned came from. And Ryerson I totally invented because it sounded funny and appropriate in the right kind of way. I remember my mouth moving around making different sounds until the right one came out. I had no idea it was a real name. And I've never been to Martha's Vineyard, but one day I shall go and when I do I will visit the grave of Ned Ryerson.

My Third Year Begins

Wish me luck; I am starting my third year of teaching on Wednesday. Last week, I expressed some of my anxieties. I have since spoken with several other teachers, newbies and veterans, who feel much the same way I do. Kent Peterman, a regular correspondent and long-time teacher, wrote this thoughtful comment:

Ah yes the back to school anxiety. I know it so well. This is the first time in over 50 years that I have not gone back to school. Normally about this time the back to school ads scare me. This year they don't bother me but a part of me still feels that I should go out and buy new clothes and run around maniacally trying to finish up the stuff I'd planned to do and go to all of the places I'd planned to go over the summer. Then I say, "Wait a minute you can keep right on putting these things off all fall." Or not.

I don't' think the anxiety ever lessens. In 40 years of teaching I never slept the night before classes started. I was never not nervous at back to school night. One parent said that she loved my first year teacher enthusiasm combined with the seasoned veteran experience. Maybe so. But I know that I loved it. There is no magic like the magic of seeing a child learn. And when a 30 or 40 year old person comes back and tells you that you made a difference in their lives you have your riches.

I was recently at the wedding of a former second grader. His father thanked me for being the person who made his son the man he is today. You can't put a monetary value on a moment like that.

So go ahead. Have your anxieties. Like a great actor they sharpen you. (And great teaching is much like great acting.) Don't believe that you can't save the world one kid at a time. You can. You've only just begun in this game but you are good. You are what's needed in schools. The rewards aren't in your pay packet, but they will come. Believe me they will come. And sometimes from the least expected source.

A poll found two-thirds of all Americans remember at least one great teacher. The link is from Yahoo News; it's an AP story, and they tend to evaporate, so try the poll itself if you must.

Marlow in China

Marlow is in Shanghai this summer, working and working on her Chinese. She's spending this week in Beijing. A brief report:

I arrived safe and sound. I'm not sure what I'm going to do while I'm here, but it is nice to have friends again. Tonight I watched three plus hours of an American Idol type show. I'm into the contestants now and might even watch the final episode by myself back in Shanghai next Friday.

***

I tried to see Mao today, but it turns out he's only open from 7-12 and I was there at 12:30. Oh well, I bought a bunch of DVDs and some more presents to compensate. I'll try again tomorrow. We had Sichuan food for dinner.

Rae in France

Rae is in Montpelier in the south of France, working on her French:

I continue to run with the French crowd, and just be virtue of eating dinner with them every night I get invited to their parties. I always accept because why not? At the very least I'll get practice talking to Y on the car ride there and the car ride back.

I did a pretty good job mingling despite my childlike mastery of the language, and even people who were really good at English, agreed to speak French with me. The majority of the time people are really nice about that. It might be because the majority of the people I talk to know how hard it is to learn another language. In their case, English.

I went out for pizza with Y yesterday, and he wanted to pay for both of us. I insisted paying half, and afterwards he told me that this threatened his "galanerie francaise." If an American boy said this to me, I would have laughed at him, even with a French one I had to stifle it. French gallantry? Apparently French boys always pay for their female friends when they go out for a meal. If they don't pay it's a way to distance themselves. I explained to him that if a girl lets a boy pay for her, there are certain expectations of the girl. I paid.

Then later he asked me if I wanted to see his house and meet his parents. When I looked really confused, and asked him why I would want to meet his parents, he didn't understand. He figured it out after a while. He said that when boys bring friends or girlfriends to meet their parents it isn't to gain the parents' approval. It's more of a casual interaction. I couldn't and didn't want to let go of my American ideas on that ritual. So I didn't.

Then I asked him if it was okay if I didn't do the three kisses thing every time I greet him and his friends. It's so ingrained in the culture, that it's impolite not to. If you don't kiss someone, they won't understand; they might even think you think they're dirty. I have to yield to this one, because it's just too basic. Also, my diversion tactics haven't been working. I try to shake their hand, hug them, or just give a simple wave before they get a chance to start the kissing ritual, but alas that doesn't work here.

Political Notes

The Democratic National Committee says Ohio hanky-panky did not affect the last election (see Paul Krugman's What They Did Last Fall ).

Read carefully, the DNC report on Ohio shows the clear possibility (indeed probability) that enough votes were switched from Kerry to change the outcome of the election. However, the conclusions in the text were not stated in that manner. Why not? Call Howard Dean and Donna Brazile and ask them. Further, read carefully, the report admits that it was researched and written (at least in part) by the very people who had the responsibility (for the party and/or the Kerry campaign) to insure that the November 2004 election in Ohio was conducted honestly. Why were these people asked to evaluate their own failures and allowed to conclude (on behalf of the party) that their failures did not change the outcome?

The point about the DNC Ohio fox report on the chicken coop is that it then allows Krugman to quote the DNC report right back to the public supporting the notion that the irregularities in Ohio were not outcome determinative; which then leaves everyone else to say "well if the Dems don't think it happened why should we? If nothing went wrong last time, why should we care whether our votes are on paper or electronic, the votes will be counted honestly, even the Democrats agree.")

***

Bad Idea

  • Bad idea: Paper trails. The politically correct term is "voter verified paper ballot." A trail just means almost indecipherable marks are put on a piece of paper which marks cannot be directly verified by the voter and may in fact never be seen by the voter. There is no guarantee that the marks reflect what was on the screen. A voter verified paper ballot means a printer-like device prints out a ballot; the voter holds it in hand, inspects it, and drops it in a ballot box; the vote is also recorded electronically. In the event of a recount or any question, the official record of the vote is the piece of paper which the voter had in hand. The count which is reported election night is from the machine.

Good ideas

  • Mandatory open-to-all-who-wish-to-watch precinct counting and posting of results. The stops the ability to tamper with the central tabulators without detection. (Check into what is happening now in San Diego in terms of a partial recount of the recent mayoral primary.
  • Open source code on optical scan machines only. Otherwise it's a paper ballot. The results need not take 3 days; but as a wise man said: So what if they do?
  • Open to the public testing (including the right to submit a test deck) of machines paid for by public funds (not by the vendors).

Perhaps voters don't care because most media outlets have not covered the crimes in Ohio during the last election. Readers should not have to go to the garden section and read between the lines to find the political news.

Given the low pay and long hours (training AND election day and night and maybe into the next morning if it's a hand count of paper ballots) it may be difficult to find poll workers unaffiliated with a party. As long as there is a balance and real openness and transparency (and a willingness of the minority party in each location to really watch what is occurring), this is not as big an issue as the machines.

Why aren't the Republicans pushing for reforms? Duh!!!!! First one must answer a really difficult question: Why were the foxes opposed to being replaced as guardians of the hen house?

Why aren't the Democrats pushing for reforms? Because almost all of the party leaders are very health conscious. They have all decided to perform continuous full colonoscopies on themselves. They do this by placing their heads directly into the area of interest, rather than using the customary professionally approved inspection mechanisms.

There are some voters who do care and are taking action to assert their rights. It is perhaps only a slight exaggeration to observe that the last time all of these people who do care got together in the Yankees dugout there was plenty of room for the entire team also.

Briefs

  • New York Times, Bob Herbert (stating the obvious): Blood Runs Red, Not Blue
  • You were living under a rock if you didn't see this story last week (please note the GOP is claiming the remark was "a joke"--the lamest excuse in the world:
    Roberts Disparages Women's Rights Effort
    By DAVID ESPO
    WASHINGTON (AP) - Supreme Court nominee John Roberts disparaged state efforts to combat discrimination against women in Reagan-era documents made public Thursday, and wondered whether "encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good.''
  • Judy Miller in Jail
  • Editor and Publisher: Bill Keller of the New York Times rips his own newspaper in print over a terrible review of recent media books by a neanderthal federal judge: NY Times Editor Rips Book Review in Own Paper. Also Papers Increasingly Note Antiwar Views in Covering Funerals of the Fallen. Latest example in Kentucky--among the reddest of the red states.
  • Capitol Hill Blue: This newsletter claims Bush is insane and on anti-depressants. It said the same thing last year. Sounds plausible; the symptoms click with those you can find by doing any research on reformed alcoholics.

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Natural Science: ignoring political spin, there is little scientific evidence disputing the theory of global warming. One piece was recently discovered to be experimental error: Error may have hidden warming. The Cambrian Period was the wild teenage years of the evolution of life on earth. A new weird Cambrian creature does not fit any of the current taxonomical categories: Strange fossil defies grouping. A view from particle physics of the dynamics of interpersonal relations: Physics enlisted to help singles. And following on last week's octopus versus shark video, another view of the strange (and gory) world of predation: Praying Mantis Eats Hummingbird.

Google, etc.: Yahoo! recently boasted that it was indexing significantly more web resources than Google (who begged to differ). Thus are horse races and scientific research born. Experiments done at NCSA are reported in A Comparison of the Size of the Yahoo and Google Indices. Executive summary: regardless of what they are smoking at Yahoo!, Google continues to have the largest index, returning roughly 167% more results than Yahoo! Elsewhere: want to make your own customized maps using Google's API? See Google Maps EZ and specifically this well written tutorial: How to Use Google Maps EZ.

Technobits: S.F. keeps pushing citywide Wi-Fi --- BBC punks Wikipedia in game marketing ploy? and Wikipedia Used For Apparent Viral Marketing Ploy --- What if VisiCalc had been patented? --- Mac Hacks Allow OS X on PCs --- Violent video games do not cause aggression --- Microsoft's Xbox 360 console will sell for $400 fully loaded, or $300 stripped --- Jerk-O-Meter Rates Phone Chatter.

Humor

Military Recruiting

Boudreaux's first military assignment was to a military induction center, and--because he was a good talker they assigned him the duty of advising new recruits about the government benefits, especially the GI insurance to which they were entitled.

Before long the Captain in charge of the induction center began noticing that Boudreaux was getting a 99% sign up for the top GI insurance.

This was odd, because it would cost these poor inductees nearly $30.00 per month more for their higher coverage than what the government was already granting.

The Captain decided that he would not ask Boudreaux about his selling techniques but that he would sit in the back of the room and observe Boudreaux's sales pitch.

Boudreaux stood up before his latest group of inductees and stated, "If you have the normal GI insurance and go to Iraq and get killed, the government pays your beneficiary $6,000. If you take out the supplemental GI insurance (which cost you only $30.00 a month), the government has to pay your beneficiary $200,000.

"NOW," Boudreaux concluded, "which bunch do you think they are gonna send to Iraq first?"

Movies

Junebug

There has been much talk of Amy Adams (Ashley) as a nominee for best supporting actress for her role as the pregnant sister-in-law in this film. She deserves to be touted. One can only hope that the notoriously short-memoried members of the Academy can keep this performance in their minds until voting time.

Incredible indie film. Embeth Davidtz, Madeleine, marries Alessandro Nivola, George, after a whirlwind romance. She doesn't know much about him except that he's from North Carolina. The plot puts them both at George's house, where they interact with his family for a few days.

I haven' spent a lot of time in the South, but I have spent a lot of time with families, mine and others, and this film rings so true it makes my teeth hurt. Amazing writing. Outstanding performances. Funny, clever and touching. Subject to multiple interpretations, which makes it art and not commerce--or, in short, an indie film not a studio product.

Great and clean. Children will hate it, but adults who don't like bad language will find it acceptable and even entertaining. Go see it.

The Aristocrats

A man walks into a booking agent's office and says, "Do I have an act for you." He the proceeds to describe goings on that would curl Hugh Hefner's hair. The act includes every bodily function and liquid or solid produced between the waist and the knees. It throws in a few from the mouth. It is described in lurid detail as part of this "family" act, which also includes activities which, if witnessed by a teacher or policeman, must be reported by law to the authorities. "Wow. So what do you call this act," asks the booking agent? "The Aristocrats." Or, in a slight variation, "The Sophisticates." Or, in another variation, the family reads Shakespeare to each other and the act is called "The M** F***ers."

Phyllis Diller says she fainted the first time she heard the joke. Tommy Smothers claims he's never heard it, as does Eric Idle, who says it isn't told in Britain. But most of the two dozen comedians approached by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette agree either to tell the joke, explain it, or both. George Carlin, the thinking man's comedian, offers the best analysis, although Larry Miller also does a nice turn. Bob Saget, the last man on Earth you would expect, does an especially vile version. Andy Richter tells it to his incomprehending (thank goodness) infant. Dozens, literally, of comedians give it their own twist. Drew Carey is great.

Sarah Silverman owns this movie; she tells the joke as if it actually happened to her.

Only a few comedians actually tell it to an audience, including Gilbert Gottfried, who told it at Hugh Heffner's roast, which was televised (after editing, thank God).

Foul, vile, disgusting. If you do not like hearing the four-letter Anglo-saxon words for every bodily fluid and act, told by both men and women, this is NOT NOT NOT the movie for you. If you are a difficult to shock student of the art of humor, it is a fascinating and hilarious 90 minutes with the dirtiest joke ever told.

2046

Some directors just can't help themselves; they create "obviously directed" films full of trademark touches. Give me 20 minutes and I'll tell you if this film was done by Quentin Tarrantino, the Farrelly "Something about Mary" brothers, the Coen "Fargo" Brothers or John "Face/Off" Woo. I can do Woo in 30 seconds; just show me the "pointing guns at each other" scene.

To this list, now please add Kar Wai Wong, whose 2046 is without question the most "directed" film so far this year. I lost count of the number of times we looked at a closeup in which the character's face took up one-third of the screen left or right, which the rest was filled with a wall or door close to the camera.

I don't mean directed in terms of a direction the audience can decipher; most of the time, you are asking, "When is this? Where is this? Who is that?" Only the scenes on the train to the future are clear, and they're not all that clear.

Which brings me to Schindler's basic definition. If the story telling is linear and there is only one possible interpretation, it is commerce. If there are multiple possible interpretations (and, in most cases, the story telling is non-linear) it is art.

2046 is art. Is it about alienation? Lost chances? One man's inability to love? Illusion? Desire? Hookers? I can't tell you--I can't even tell you what you'll think when you see it. But it is art, it is beautiful, and at 129 minutes it is at least 10 and more like 25 minutes too long. The curse of the indulgent director strikes again. Let someone else edit the film! Someone whose blood isn't on every frame, and who can, thus, tighten it up while leaving the art intact.

Want to be baffled? This is the film for you. Almost as confusing as Memento and this one is not told backwards... I don't think.

Guest Comment on Nine Lives Meta-Review

Instead of reviewing Nine Songs, I reviewed the reviews. Neal Vitale reacted:

I arrived home last night after nearly a month of traveling and only intermittent email access. As I was wading through hundreds of emails, I took a detour to enjoy a few PSACOTs and was stopped by a line in the most recent. In your "review of reviews" of Nine Songs, you conclude with "Anyway, I choose not to support this kind of film" - and I feel compelled to respond. I find it extraordinary that you would comment so definitively about a film that you haven't seen. I haven't seen Nine Songs either, though I was also intrigued by it, as much for its subject matter as for its director. Michael Winterbottom is no unknown - certainly not someone who needs to create a sensational film simply for the PR effect - and has several notable works (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People, Jude) to his credit. While it would be impossible to argue that there is not more sex on the screen today than prior to the mid-60s, that sex is not always in lieu of ingenuity, dialogue, or plot. Obviously, you are free to like or dislike anything you want, for whatever reason. But I think you owe it to your readers to at least see what you condemn.

--Neal Vitale

I have to admit, after reading Neal's commentary, I realized I was doing something I hate when prudish religious groups do it, which is condemning a movie I haven't seen. Maybe they rationalize their stupidity the same way I rationalize my careful decision. And, since I review The Aristocrats above, you may well ask yourself, "that one was foul. Why did he see it, and not the other." Well, I guess speech is one thing and explicit sex on the screen is another. I can't be perfectly consistent, I can try to be more thoughtful. After all, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Letters

Intelligent Falling, Coquet on the Overheard, Malchman and Additives, Dan Grobstein File

Instead of gravity, how about "intelligent falling," from The Onion.

Peggy Coquet found this article about a web site composed of overheard conversations:

Robert Malchman found this: US heroin users exposed to dangerous additive -CDC
His comment:

Man, I better cut back on my heroin consumption now that there a DANGEROUS additive in it!

If you're researching this some day as part of his appointment to the Supreme Court, please note: this is a joke. Which is more than I can say for John Roberts' crack about women becoming lawyers. Isn't "I was just kidding" the lamest excuse in the world?

Dan Grobstein File

My meta-review of Nine Lives also triggered some thoughts from Dan:

Regarding your uncomfortableness with your daughters and wife in the movie theatre (mentioned last week), I saw two movies last week that wouldn't be made today: "The First Nudie Musical" and "Storny Weather."

The First Nudie Musical -- Full frontal nudity in a major studio production (Paramount). Ron Howard has a bit part. Cindy Williams (later from Laverne & Shirley) stars. Wouldn't get off the ground nowadays.

Stormy Weather has lots of stuff that would be inappropriate (as it should be) now. An all black cast including Lena Horne, Fats Waller and (the reason I got the film) the Nicholas Brothers. I love Fats Waller (and James P. Johnson and Art Tatum and stride piano). I first saw the Nicholas Brothers in a documentary about Vaudeville (American Experience I think) that I rented from Netflix. Amazing dancers. Would have given Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly a run for their money if they had been white. The film also has an actor playing James Europe, a black bandleader who was stabbed to death by a member of his band. Europe had led a very popular army band in France during WWI. I first learned about him through Ken Burns' Jazz documentary.

I for one would rather have the nudity than the violence. I'm not in your situation (no daughters). I enjoyed Kill Bill and Sin City, because they were so cartoony. But I stay away from bloody, gory films.

I think that it is all related to the current political climate.

The story:

  • Sex and the Cinema
    In the New Hollywood, it's a liability.
    By Edward Jay Epstein
    Posted Monday, Aug. 15, 2005, at 2:25 PM PT

Also these other items:

New York Times

  • NATIONAL | August 16, 2005
    Putting Jesus in Every Mailbox
    By SHAILA DEWAN
    The movie "Jesus" is viewed by many evangelical Christians as a singularly modern tool for spreading the Gospel.

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