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

September 5, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

September 5, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 35

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Journalistic Felony
  • From the mouths of Babes
  • Medicare Mishigosh
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • Duck Hunting
  • New Disease

Movies

  • Constant Gardener
  • Sound of Thunder
  • Transporter II
  • Guest Review: TV Movie: The Girl In The Cafe
  • Guest Review: DVD: Layer Cake

Letters

  • Dalton Finds Honest Websites, Steve Vs. Factoid, Malchman on coining words and Broken Flowers, Fake Locerkbie, Dalton on Katrina, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Journalistic Felony

Any news organization which compares a dollar figure from one year to another without inflation adjustment is committing a journalistic felony. The longer the time span, the greater the felony. Remarkably, I heard CNN reporting figures right and wrong, numerous times on the same day. Whenever they compared Katrina to Andrew, they inflation adjusted Andrew's damage figures. Good on them. But all day long they spoke of the "record price for crude oil." Not true. The record price inflation adjusted was $96.31 in December 1979. We're a ways--I won't even say a long ways, but a ways--from that. Let me know if you ever hear anyone doing it right.

From the mouths of Babes

Last week, I mentioned how much trouble I was having learning student names. I have 75, and I know perhaps 40% of them by name. The usual suspects; the brash, the loud, the very fast and the ver slow. "Normal" students don't make enough impression, at first. I cherish them all, and I wish I knew their names. My daughter Rae wrote me after last week to say,

Why don't you require the students to make name plates and put them in front
of them every day?

I did. It really helped. Thank you Rae! Wisdom from the mouth of a non-ed school graduate...

Medicare Mishigosh

If it doesn't affect you, it will. And it probably already affects your parents. From my friend Richard Dalton:

Hey, Medicare-eligibles (and soon to be eligibles), let's take a closer look at the Medicare Drug Program, the one the AARP lobbied for and pronounced the result to be, "Better than nothing."

Most of us have received a comic book brochure from the Feds showing jolly seniors holding hands with relieved looks on their faces. Since I was interested in more than feel-good politics, I went to www.medicare.gov. The only thing I could find was "Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage - Partner Outreach Material." This was apparently designed for insurance companies but it did contain some pertinent info.

Maybe you've seen the benefit structure. It's usually explained this way:

"After you pay the $250 yearly deductible, here's how the costs work.

* You pay 25% of your yearly drug costs from $250 to $2,250 and your plan pays the other 75% of these costs, then * You pay 100% of your next $2,850 in drug costs, then * You pay 5% of your drug costs for the rest of the calendar year. Your plan pays the rest."

This benefit structure could only have been dreamed up by actuaries working for the Federal government.

What's it mean to the person at the drug store's cash register? It means that you will receive $1,500 out of the first $5,100 worth of drugs you buy each year! If you are "lucky enough" to have more than $5,100/year, you get a pretty good deal but remember, you go back to paying $3,600 of the first $5,100 next January 1st.

And yes, there's more. Premiums for this coverage are expected to be $37 a month ($444 a year). Next, here will be a fair number of drugs that the plan won't cover or may pay a reduced amount for.

For those with catastrophic illness requiring horrifically expensive drugs (AIDS and certain cancer drugs, for example) the coverage will be a God-send. In fact, this is catastrophic coverage, not a plan for the average old fart such as myself. But it's being sold as a plan for everyman/woman. In fact, Medicare is already urging everyone to sign up so they won't just have to pay for the high ticket folks.

Don't you wonder how Canada, England, Sweden and most industrialized nations are able to provide comprehensive care for everyone?

Political Notes

Wow! If my readership is anything to go by, all of you are finding hundreds of threads and dozens of articles about New Orleans, and you're all mad as hell! I have never seen such an outflowing of anger.

The British did better at Dunkirk in 1941. America did better in the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and in the tsunami last year. But when it came to our own fellow citizens--albeit citizens of both poverty and color--there was scarcely anything done for four long days.

I'll spare you the trouble of reading all the coverage about President Too-Little Too-Late. It is true. The President's response has been sluggish. It is also true (no matter what Corps of Engineers officials say at "gunpoint") that federal budget cuts reduced New Orleans' preparedness. The cuts were made to pay for the president's ill-advised tax cuts (does anyone remember that taxes are the price we pay for civilization?) and his ill-advised foray into Muslim terrorist creation (AKA the Iraq War). You can look it up.

The local paper, the Times-Picayune, showing remarkable initiative for a Newhouse newspaper, actually won a Pulitzer last year for warning about exactly what happened--and pointing out that it was short-sighted federal policies that were dooming New Orleans. Is Bush personally responsible? Well, leaving aside the fact that the President acts like he is responsible for nothing that has ever taken place during his life or either of his terms as president, he is responsible. He sets policy for the federal government. And no matter what he thinks, Truman didn't say "The buck passes here," he said "the buck stops here."

To my astonishment, the attack poodles of the media are beginning to rise from their traditional supine position. While wallowing in the usual disaster tropes, they are also starting to ask the two questions that (Scott McClellan to the contrary notwithstanding) need to be asked and asked now: did federal policy impede preparedness efforts, and was the response too little and too late? Yes, Bush did cut his vacation short by two days--exactly the number of days he stayed on vacation after Katrina hit. Good grief, even TV anchors cut their vacations short when disaster strikes. But not George Bush.

I leave you with this thought, especially those of you who live in California: be more prepared. Traditionally, government agencies in California have told us to have food and water for three days, because that is how long it will take relief to arrive. If Katrina has done nothing else, it should have taught us that today's lean, mean (emphasis on mean) is incapable of mounting a large-scale relief effort in three days. Personally, I am kicking up my food and water supply to a week. You should do the same. And keep your bicycle in good shape, so you can get out that way if you have to.

Every time someone says "We should not politicize the New Orleans disaster" the response is "True, politics should not protect those who failed us." or if you have a captive audience: "You're absolutely right, national security requires that to protect the entire country against a similar lackadaisical ineffective response when faced with the next terrorist or natural disaster we must immediately and fearlessly with bipartisan support remove from a position of authority and punish any person regardless of party who did less than they could for New Orleans."

One gets the clear impression that the coastal wetlands were allowed to erode and be degraded so oil could be taken from the offshore rigs and the oil industry and the politicians who cover for it thought no one would notice. It is real difficult to miss 20 feet of water roaming loose in the middle of a big city.

Also, please, check out New Orleans: Geopolitical Prize from the Stratfor global intelligence organization. New Orleans is the "pivot of the American economy," and has the nation's largest port--which can't function without a city around it.

***

Roberts is continuing to look more and more like a racist. New York Times: Old Memo From Roberts the Young Lawyer Shows a Caustic Side.

The response to Katrina was racially discriminatory in effect if not in design. Americans of color should be able to have confidence that they will at least get a fair and impartial hearing at the Supreme Court. That will not be the case with John Roberts. That will not be the case if a Rehnquist clone replaces Rehnquist because Rehnquist was well known for intimidating African Americans at the polls and attempting to deny them the right to vote in Arizona before he came to Washington. That will not be the case if a replacement for Rehnquist is selected by Bush. Bush, who was willing to let about 42,000 of his fellow citizens who were largely people of color starve and go without water for four or five days of squalor in New Orleans.

Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell found the words:

This is not mere incompetence, but dereliction of duty. The press should call it by its proper name.

Others came close:

Pat Buchanan - Sept 2, 2005: "George Bush LOST NEW ORLEANS!"
Ed Koch - Sept 1, 2005: "It's fair game for the Democrats to attack the president at this time

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana's press secretary (Sept. 4, 2005): "We wanted soldiers, helicopters, food and water. They [FEMA] wanted to negotiate an organizational chart."

Briefs -- just a tiny sampling of those made available to me

  • Leonard Pitts Jr. writes about a group called, "Repent America", who claim that the Katrina was God's way of canceling a gay festival that was to have taken place in New Orleans this week. Pitts continues, "It's as tiresome as it is predictable. American disunion being what it is these days, some of us look at even a natural disaster through the distorted prism of bigotry, rancor and fear.

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

On the web, grab more by letting go: the short history of online commerce is littered with defunct dotcoms that had a scheme for making lots of money by controlling the behavior of web surfers. Conversely many successful companies learned to retain customers by simply providing what users want. Read Peter Merholz's How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Relinquish Control (via Web 2.0).

Katrina and the waves: part of the hand wringing after the horrible effects of Katrina was "why weren't we prepared?" Certainly it was not from lack of technical information: Models predicted New Orleans disaster, experts say. The fictitious "Hurricane Pam" exercise a year ago gave officials a stark look at what would happen. Four years ago Scientific American ran an article called Drowning New Orleans In fact, New Orleans was not asleep at the switch, they lobbied Congress who appropriated funding, the Army Corps of Engineers designed levee upgrades and began to construct them. Then the Bush administration reallocated funding to invading countries that hadn't attacked us.

Jobs report: for an industry that produces mostly overpriced crap, while regularly suing its customers, it is surprising that the major labels want to mess with one of their few success stories. Yet they are not satisfied with the 70% cut they get for iTunes -- as opposed to the 0% they get from iTunes' P2P competitors -- and want to strong-arm Apple into changing the winning pricing strategy that made iTunes so successful: Apple and the major labels headed for a showdown over iTMS pricing and Tough Times Ahead For Steve Jobs. Speaking of the Stevester, it surprised me to realize that it has been 10 years since Pixar's first hit film: Pixar tells story behind 'Toy Story'.

MA vs MS: remember the Nixon-era bumper sticker "don't blame me I'm from Massachusetts"? Once again the Bay State is taking a bold if lonely move: Lights out in Massachusetts for Microsoft, MA proposal puts Microsoft on defensive and Massachusetts to adopt 'open' desktop.

Google Maps fad begets blog: for many weeks I was doing my best to flog the Google Maps meme. Once people figured out the API (later published by Google) it was open season on mashups combining Google Maps with all sorts of geographically oriented data. Now the concept has settled into adolescence, making the transition from hot new meme to (what else?) a blog dedicated to the topic: Google Maps Mania.

Technobits: don't you dare reverse-engineer, no matter how lame our servers or inept our encryption Blizzard wins lawsuit on video game hacking --- on the open standard mentioned here last week: Google Talk gives boost to XMPP --- Cops have to pay $41k for stopping man from videoing them --- more on anti-science by Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker: Mired --- Scientists reignite open access debate --- Giant water plume spews from Saturn's moon Enceladus, source of the E ring?: Saturn moon delights and baffles (better picture) --- Green tea may benefit some more than others --- I love this "animal culture" stuff: Clever Whale Uses Fish to Catch Seagulls --- minimalist vacuum tube amplifiers --- A Concert Tradition in a New Light.

Humor

Quoted in Wonkette: Rehnquist has been dead for four days. FEMA just found him.

Duck Hunting

A big city lawyer went duck hunting in rural South Dakota. He shot and dropped a bird, but it fell into a farmer's field on the other side of a fence.

As the lawyer climbed over the fence, an elderly farmer drove up on his tractor and asked him what he was doing. The litigator responded, "I shot a duck and it fell in this field, and now I'm going to retrieve it".

The old farmer replied, "This is my property, and you are not coming

over here."

The indignant lawyer said, "I am one of the best trial attorneys in the United States and, if you don't let me get that duck, I'll sue you and take everything you own.

The old farmer smiled and said, "Apparently, you don't know how we settle disputes in South Dakota. We settle small disagreements like

this with the Coyote "Three Kick Rule." The lawyer asked, "What is the Coyote Three Kick Rule?" The Farmer replied, "Well, because the dispute occurs on my land, first I kick you three times and then you

kick me three times and so on back and forth until someone gives up."

The attorney quickly thought about the proposed contest and decided that he could easily take the old codger. He agreed to abide by the local custom.

The old farmer slowly climbed down from the tractor and walked up to

the attorney. His first kick planted the toe of his heavy steel toed

work boot into the lawyer's groin and dropped him to his knees. His second kick to the midriff sent the lawyer's last meal gushing from his mouth. The lawyer was on all fours when the farmer's third kick to his rear end sent him face-first into a fresh cow pie.

The lawyer summoned every bit of his will and managed to get to his feet. Wiping his face with the arm of his jacket, he said, "Okay, you old coot. Now it's my turn."

The old farmer smiled and said, "Naw, I give up. You can have the duck.

New Disease

THE CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL has issued a no-nonsense warning about a new, highly virulent strain of sexually transmitted disease.

This disease is contracted through dangerous and high risk behavior. The disease is called Gonorrhea Lectim (pronounced "gonna re-elect him").

Many victims have contracted it after having been screwed for the past 4 years, in spite of having taken measures to protect themselves from this especially troublesome disease.

Cognitive sequellae of individuals infected with Gonorrhea Lectim include, but are not limited to, anti-social personality disorder traits; delusions of grandeur with a distinct messianic flavor; chronic mangling of the English language; extreme cognitive dissonance; inability to incorporate new information; pronounced xenophobia and homophobia; inability to accept responsibility for actions; exceptional cowardice masked by acts of misplaced bravado; uncontrolled facial smirking; total ignorance of geography and history; tendencies toward creating evangelical theocracies; and a strong propensity for categorical, all-or-nothing behavior.

The disease is sweeping Washington. Naturalists and epidemiologists are amazed and baffled that this malignant disease originated only a few years ago in a Texas bush.

Movies

The Constant Gardener

The Oscar season is well and truly begun in earnest with first-class John Le Carré that really makes you think. What a jaundiced view the man has of British governmental agencies and their minions and leaders. Although his target this time is the foreign service, it could just as easily be M.I. 5 (British Secret Service, or, in Le Carré parlance, The Circus).

Would that I had more time to tell you about this delightful and fiendishly complicated plot involving Kenya and rapacious international pharmaceutical companies being secretly supported by the British in nefarious deeds. If you like plot, there's plenty of it. And while I have never been to the third world, the tricks used by director Fernando "City of God" Meirelles (bright colors, loud constant noise) make me feel as though I have. His cinematic trick of doing the England scenes in a washed out gray is also very directorly, as is his use of flashback. As for the performances of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz --well, I am once again writing this late on Sunday, so suffice it to say if I were them I wouldn't make other plans for January 31, 2006 (Oscar nominations) or March 5, 2006 (awards night). They, along with Meirelles and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine can start working on acceptance speeches now.

Sound of Thunder

How far can you go wrong when you start with a Ray Bradbury short story? Not very. This is an enjoyable little jaunt. The central trope--a tiny change in the past can destroy the present--is now so deeply ingrained in the society that it's been done on the Simpsons' Halloween Special. And of course, by Ashton Kutcher.

Despite being a pastiche of all the oldest time travel and quest films tropes you've ever seen (the associates get picked off one by one, the owner of the time-travel technology is a money-first corner-cutter), and despite the cheesiest special effects since King Kong, it is a not-unpleasant little entertainment.

Transporter II

Your pulse pounds the whole time. The music roars. Bang-Bang. Things explode. Impossible martial arts moves are made. The love story is a 30-second afterthought. Miami never looked prettier or deadlier. A derascinated sequel, minus all the things that made the first one a charming and different action film. This is just an action film. If you like explosions, car chases and crashes and a droll, dead-pan protagonist (don't call him a hero), plus you can't get enough Luc Besson, go for it. Otherwise, forgeddaboutit.

Guest Review: TV Movie: The Girl In The Cafe

The Girl In The Cafe

HBO's The Girl In The Cafe is a product of the talented New Zealand writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, both Bridget Jones films, and British television comedy series such as "Mr. Bean" and "Blackadder"). While this film (which premiered in late June) is only a marginally engaging work whose storyline parallels Live 8 in its efforts to influence the G8 to work for the elimination of worldwide poverty, The Girl In The Cafe should been seen for the brilliant performance of Bill Nighy. Nighy (currently being seen in The Constant Gardener) is a veteran actor who may be best remembered as the wonderfully dissolute rock star Billy Mack in Love Actually. In The Girl In The Cafe, Nighy plays an emotionally-repressed, milquetoasty, workaholic aide to Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his understated, subtle acting is perfection. He is a bundle of nervous tics, averted glances, and mumbled apologies; he is almost uncomfortable to watch, as his character is so completely formed and realistic. Set the TiVo or wait for the video release, but don't miss Nighy in The Girl In The Cafe.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: DVD: Layer Cake

With only $2.4 million in domestic box office, odds are that Layer Cake was not seen by many in its theatrical release. Now out on DVD, this film is a taut, arresting tale of gangsters and drug-dealing, and should not be missed - though it's been a year of generally lousy films, this is one of the best I've seen. The cast is first rate, led by three excellent though low-celebrity actors, Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, and Michael Gambon. There are plot twists and double-crosses aplenty, right up to the final shot, and a nice mix of music, familiar (Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker) and less so (The Cult, Starsailor), helps propel the film. This genre is difficult to make feel fresh, but Matthew Vaughn (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) manages to make Layer Cake exciting and engaging.

--Neal Vitale

Letters

Dalton Finds Honest Websites, Steve Vs. Factoid, Malchman on coining words and Broken Flowers, Fake Locerkbie, Dalton on Katrina, Dan Grobstein File

This just in: Police chief- Lockerbie evidence was faked

Richard Dalton sends along two great web sites for those interested in the truth: The Nation Institute and TomDispatch.

Somewhere in last week's column, I or one of my correspondents used the word factoid. Steve Coquet objects:

I just started reading this week's column, and this is a pure nitpick. Discard it if you wish, or say terrible things about its author. He is a supercilious snob, etc.

My freshman English prof in college said if he put the notation "WW" on any paper we handed in it would be an automatic F. "WW" means "Wrong Word." He gave various examples. Factoid did not exist back then (1968). If it did, it would have been on the list. The word makes me nuts.Something is either a fact or it isn't. It might be opinion or a lie or simply BS.

Your writing is generally a joy to read. In spite of this. Maybe I'm drinking too much coffee.

Robert Malchman has coined Quagmiraq. Remember you saw it here first. Also, he felt I had not thought through my remarks about the ending of Broken Flowers in last week's column.

"Frankly, I found the ending unfulfilling . . . ." I'm surprised. I'd have thought you'd have been a top supporter of resisting the Hollywood ending. I think the ending is actually more powerful than if he had found his son (or vice versa). The movie is about a man defending himself from the pain, or risk of pain, of human interaction by keeping his distance emotionally from the women in his life. He finally takes this risk of trying to connect -- first we see his initial, stumbling attempts with the women, but he actually succeeds in reaching out to the boy he thinks might be his son, only to be hurt and rejected. But it's a positive, powerful conclusion because he has reached out, and I think the last image of the second kid in the car, who looks like him, too, suggests a realization that he could be connected to anyone, and that he must continue to reach out to humanity to experience being human (with all its risks and pain) himself.

I thought about it. He's right. I was wrong.

Richard Dalton on Katrina:

Feeling the pinch at the gas pump? Talk to farmers, truckers, or airline companies and all will tell you that crazily escalating gas prices are hurting almost every segment of the economy--with one notable exception. If you guessed the oil companies, then you agree with Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson.

He calls our attention to the record profits made last year by ExxonMobile ($23.5 billion) and by ExxonMobile, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and Chevron: $72.8 billion combined, making them four of the top seven most profitable companies in the world. Somehow it's hard to reconcile those profits with claims that supply vs. demand and weather disruptions are the key factors driving up prices.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Drowning New Orleans
    October 2001 Scientific American
    By Mark Fischetti
    A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city
  • James Wolcott: Parallels between New Orleans and Iraq.

***

Dan's Katrina commentary:

I emailed the other day and said that I liked that the bloggers were calling the flooded area "Lake George". I did a google search just now to see where it came from and how widespread this is and on the second page of Google results (all after beautiful Lake George, NY) we get Wonkette on toxic Lake George, LA. (Several more pages of Lake George, NY stuff follows the google entry).

Wonkette had some interesting information about the site of the levee break that I hadn't seen before. The email sounds technical enough to have come from someone in the EPA.

OK. The infrastructure in the US of A has been neglected for years by both parties. But with the tax cuts, deficit spending as far as the eye can see and irresponsibility at home and abroad, Dubya has put us all in more danger from outside and inside than ever before. There is absolutely no excuse for the poor response to this disaster. This is what really [irritates] me...
The Bush administration is not willing to spend money on anything unless it directly benefits one of their friends. Look at the recent highway bill. Even Ronald Reagan would have vetoed it.

Because of the tax cuts, it is all borrowed money that is paying for this.
The destruction of New Orleans has been constantly mentioned as one of the top disaster scenarios that FEMA was planning for. And FEMA was folded into the Dept. of Homeland Security which should have meant that they would have been able to respond in a timely and expeditious manner. After all what is so different between a natural disaster and the aftermath of a terrorist attack other than you have more warning before most natural disasters.
Government exists for the Republicans as a means to get money to their friends. Loyalty to Dubya is more important than competence. Billions and billions spent since 9/11 on the Dept. of Homeland Security and all they can do is make lines in airports while they make you take off your shoes.
But the base has been paid off because the formula makes sure that the rural areas get homeland security money way out of proportion to their population or likelihood of terrorist attack.
Look at port security.
Bush announces that he's doing something, but either cuts the funds or never asks for the appropriation.
Oh, and the other thing Homeland Security can do is put out warnings and leak top secret information before elections to help the Republicans win. Amazing how safe we've been since November 2004. I don't remember any change in the threat level since then.
Harry Truman became nationally known because during World War II he headed the Truman Committee of the Senate, which investigated fraud and waste in military contracting. Who is going to step up to the plate?

New York Times

  • NATIONAL / NATIONAL SPECIAL | September 3, 2005
    Eyes on America: Across U.S., Outrage at Response
    By TODD S. PURDUM
    There was a deep collective national disbelief that the world's sole remaining superpower could not respond more forcefully to the disaster.

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