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

October 10, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

October 10, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 40

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Artist Wanted: Shortcut Icon
  • Becoming Madame Mao
  • Department of Cutting Off Your Nose
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • The Wisdom of Children
  • Disorder in the Court

Movies

  • Serenity Redux
  • Stewie Griffith
  • Corpse Bride

Letters

  • Ask for withdrawal, Beat Time Select, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Artist Wanted: Shortcut Icon

The more technically adroit among you will have noticed that, on the address line in your browser (in most browsers, anyway), a little logo now appears to the left of the address of this column. It is called a shortcut icon. I notice that all the classier websites have one. Check out the one at Google for example.

Mine is a stylized rendering of my initials, PES, in black on a red background. It stinks. I tried rendering it in white but conversion to an icon makes it come out black.

My other attempt was to render my picture icon size. It stinks too.

If anyone of an artistic inclination wants to create a 16 pixel by 16 pixel icon (or a 32 by 32 for that matter) that really says "P.S. A Column on Things" in some symbolic way, I would appreciate it. Not pay for it mind you, but appreciate it and give you credit and a link forever.

Becoming Madame Mao

At Vicki's recommendation, I have just completed Anchee Min's novel, "Becoming Madame Mao." Now, I have a taste for history and historical fiction in general, and I have long been fascinated by Mao, Madame Mao, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and the Gang of Four, mostly because most of these events occurred in my lifetime. How could Mao be so insane? He really was the Stalin, or Pol Pot, of the 60s. And his wife was right there with him, despite his belief... well, I don't want to spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say that, while I have never been in China, I now feel I know the Forbidden City, and I am once again convinced that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely (see Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, et. al. And you thought Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski were crooked. You ain't seen nothing yet.)

So, check the book out. Buy it or borrow it. Read it. Not only is the content swell, but the writing style is fascinating.

Department of Cutting Off Your Nose

Cutting off your nose to spite your face? Dan Grobstein (via Romanesko) passed on this item:

Beam has a problem with "Complete New Yorker" on DVD Boston Globe Alex Beam asks: What gives The New Yorker the right to put every article that's ever appeared in the magazine on DVD? "It's not possible that famous New Yorker contributors like Rachel Carson, Robert Benchley, Charles Addams, or even the young John Updike signed over electronic rights to the Tilley gang," he writes. "The answer, as our friend John Roberts might say, is not a matter of settled law.

This ties in with the Authors' Guild suit against Google for scanning in books. Both are ignorant, wrong-headed and misguided and Luddite. Google would actually make all those books accessible; isn't that what the Author's Guild wants? You cannot possibly print a book out from the Google system, but you can find the book you need, cite the author, and improve the author's reputation--maybe buy a book! As for the New Yorker articles, should they only be available in the small handful of libraries with complete back sets of New Yorkers? That's just crazy talk. Nearly everyone cited by Beam is dead. Most of their material has been unread since the week it was published. What's better, arguing about tiny and unlikely amounts of royalties, or keeping the work alive? Of course, we have to keep the writers' alive too, but the issue is very complex, and, speaking as an out-of-print author, I'd rather have a hundred citations on the Internet I could take to a publisher than one 26-year-old out-of-print book. That's how I'd make money.

I mean really, do they want royalties for listings of books in a card catalog? The Google program is the electronic equivalent for many books that aren't in any reasonably accessible card catalog, and makes them accessible in a way no card catalog could possibly do. Does Beam think the authors are getting royalties now, from people who read the back issues in libraries? I don't think so. Whatever happened to public domain? To the commonweal? Is everything really the way Disney says it is when it comes to copyright? Is "fair use," like "torture" a quaint, no-longer relevant idea? Heavens, I hope not.

Political Notes

Mierswatch

Well, the right doesn't like her:

Talking Points Memo suggests following the process at Supreme Court Watch.

By the way, don't let anyone sell you the "never been a judge" argument. Some of our best (Earl Warren) and some of our worst Supreme Court justices saw their first judicial service on the Supreme Court.

  • SF Chronicle: "First we got Ozzie, now we get Harriet" -- San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, on President's Bush's latest nomination to the Supreme Court.

From Robert Malchman:

This time from Time magazine: Time reports that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers said she "supported full civil rights for gays and lesbians and backed AIDS education programs for the city of Dallas," in a 1989 questionnaire. If you click on the PDF link to the questionnaire, though, she also says she opposed repeal of the Texas anti-gay sodomy law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in Lawrence in 2003 (the Texas law did not forbid consensual heterosexual sodomy).

The lede here should be, "Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers gave conflicting answers to a 1989 questionnaire regarding gay rights when she was running for Dallas City Council." (CNN got the lede right) Miers agreed "that gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as non-gay men and women," yet also said she opposed the repeal of a Texas statute that criminalized consensual sodomy between consenting homosexual couples but not between consenting heterosexual couples."

This makes me seriously concerned that Miers is really Clarence Thomas in drag: someone too stupid to understand the implications of her own stated positions (recall that Thomas purported to be a follower of "natural law," while evincing no understanding of what that term meant).

From Dan Grobstein

  • Firedoglake. Harriet Miers has the qualifications of someone who gets appointed to oversee the sale of assets for a local school board or a state agricultural department.
  • Anecdotage. On January 19, 1970, president Richard Nixon nominated G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. While Carswell's nomination was promptly rejected by the Senate, Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska presented a novel argument in his defense:

    "Even if he was mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska declared. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there."

***

Briefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

DRM doings: hoping to become the distribution channel of choice for digital entertainment, Microsoft has fallen all over itself to toady-up to the movie and music moguls. No matter how draconian or anti-consumer the scheme to prop up entertainment industry profits, Microsoft is all for it. In the rush to lick Hollywood's boots, the result of buying Microsoft Vista, a new Trusted Computing PC, new HDTV monitor, and high def DVD is that it may not work at all, or you may get only a fuzzy low-def image: Most Monitors Won't Play New HD Video. On the other hand, there are signs of intelligent life in the digital universe: Rock band shows fans how to crack DRM. Help drive a stake through the heart of the "help Hollywood, screw the consumer" law that wouldn't die: Night of the Living Broadcast Flag!.

GoogleNet: back in August, Om Malik wrote about the far-fetched possibility that Google might try to provide free wi-fi for everyone. Yeah right, as IF! Then back in September came word of Google Wi-Fi, and now: Google Confirms Free San Francisco WiFi Plans, Free national Wi-Fi by Google. Speaking of ubiquitous wi-fi, why can't fancy hotels get a clue? Point, counterpoint about Sun and Google: Sun, Google Deal Much Ado About Nothing and Sun Google deal worth a second look. Since Google Print has gotten such a positive response from authors: In Challenge to Google, Yahoo Will Scan Books. And lastly: Google Search Tips 2005.

Eclipse: like some kind of cosmic pimento in a glowing Spanish olive, the moon and sun formed a beautiful annular eclipse last Monday. See this really cool picture of annular shadows during the eclipse and a video too. Really nice high resolution image of the eclipse and some other eclipse photos from Flickr.

Technobits: Digital music sales surge amid broader decline --- Flock, the New Browser on the Block --- What's Cool Online? Teenagers Render Verdict --- Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005 --- Coding4Fun: Microsoft woos hobbyist, child programmers (somehow woo and child just don't belong in the same sentence). --- bedroom slippers with headlights: Bright Feet.

Humor

The Wisdom of Children

7 reasons not to mess with children. Please assume, as I do, that all these stories are made up.

1. A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.

The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.

The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it w! as physically impossible.

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah".

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"

The little girl replied, "Then you ask him".

2. A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She would occasionally walk around to see each child's work.

As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.

The girl replied, "I'm drawing God."

The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like."

Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl: replied, "They will in a minute."

3. A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds.

After explaining the commandment to "honor" thy Father and thy Mother, she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Without missing a beat one little boy (the oldest of a family) answered, "Thou shall not kill."

4. One day a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her brunette head.

She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, "Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?"

Her mother replied, "Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white."

The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then said, "Momma, how come ALL of grandma's hairs are white?"

5. The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture.

"Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, 'There's Jennifer, she's a lawyer,' or 'That's Michael, He's a doctor.'

A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there's the teacher, she's dead."

6. A teacher was giving a lesson on the circulation of the blood. Trying to make the matter clearer, she said, "Now, class, if I stood on my head, the blood, as you know, would run into it, and I would turn red in the face."

"Yes," the class said.

"Then why is it that while I am standing upright in the ordinary position the blood doesn't run into my feet?"

A little fellow shouted, "Cause your feet ain't empty."

7. The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray:

"Take only ONE. God is watching."

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies.

A child had written a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples.

Disorder in the Court

These are from a book called Disorder in the Court, and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.

Q: What is your date of birth?
A: July 15.
Q: What year?
A: Every year.
______________________________________

Q: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
A: Gucci sweats and Reeboks
______________________________________

Q: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
A: Yes.
Q: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
A: I forget.
Q: You forget? Can you give us an example of something that you've forgotten?
_____________________________________

Q: How old is your son, the one living with you?
A: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which.
Q: How long has he lived with you?
A: Forty-five years.
_____________________________________

Q: What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke up that
morning?
A: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
Q: And why did that upset you?
A: My name is Susan.
______________________________________

Q: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he
doesn't know about it until the next morning?
A: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
___________________________________

Q: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
_____________________________________

Q: Were you present when your picture was taken?
______________________________________

Q: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
A: Yes.
Q: And what were you doing at that time?
______________________________________

Q: She had three children, right?
A: Yes
Q: How many were boys?
A: None.
Q: Were there any girls?
______________________________________

Q: How was your first marriage terminated?
A: By death.
Q: And by whose death was it terminated?
______________________________________

Q: Can you describe the individual?
A: He was about medium height and had a beard.
Q: Was this a male, or a female?
______________________________________

Q: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition
notice which I sent to your attorney?
A: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
______________________________________

Q: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to? A: Oral.
______________________________________

Q: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
A: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
Q: And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time?
A: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy.
___________________________________________________

Q: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse? A:
No.
Q: Did you check for blood pressure?
A: No.
Q: Did you check for breathing?
A: No
Q: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the
autopsy?
A: No.
Q: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
A: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Q: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
A: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law
somewhere.

Movies

Serenity Redux

Kevin Sullivan picks up where my review of Serenity last week leaves off:

Regarding Serenity, I saw it with my oldest daughter, WhitneyKate (age 20, sophomore at UHartford, big "Firefly" fan) when she was home visiting this past weekend. First off, she enjoyed it immensely, but raves that the series is far more enjoyable and sets the stage and character development for the movie. My take was an enjoyable, strong B+ action movie with strong tongue-in-cheek components. I described it as "Buffy meets Star Wars". Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy series as well as Firefly cum Serenity populates a world with remarkable similarities. Note the resemblance of "Buffy" to "River", both of whom are "slayers" with immense (and unexpected) fighting abilities; "Angel" to "Mal"; "Willow" to "Kaylee"; and the general use of disposable fierce, overly aggressive de-humanized evil beings who treat humans as prey (but if you live through their attack you become one of them) "Vampires" to "Reavers". Go see it for the experience and to spend some time with the characters, but don't expect much in the way of originality.

Stewie Griffith: The Untold Story

Well, it isn't really a Family Guy feature-length movie, it is three unaired TV episodes stitched together with some very un-television linking fare at the beginning and end, as Stewie attempts to find his "real" father. It is funny, crude, discursive, sometimes boring and sometimes amazing--like the TV show itself. I had fun with it; if you like the TV show, you may have fun with it as well. Plus, you get to see the future of all the characters!

Corpse Bride

Great Claymation. Wonderful voices. Inspired art direction and cinematography. Danny Elfman writes another fantastic and engaging musical score. All in service of a ho-hum, not all that engaging or entertaining plot. If you're a big fan of stop motion clay animation, or Tim Burton, or even Danny Elfman, by all means see this film. Otherwise, don't. You know the plot is weak when you find yourself thinking, "I wonder how they do that effect with the beer..."

Letters

Ask for withdrawal, Beat Time Select, Dan Grobstein File

If you believe, as I do, that Times Select is a bad idea, check out John Tabin's Never Pay Retail, which points at non-pay locations for the same material.

Weird and wonderful vocabulary from around the world

Richard Dalton writes:

Join Senator Barbara Boxer and me in calling on President Bush to develop a success strategy for Iraq and define a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

Take a minute, right now, to join Senator Boxer and me to make sure President Bush gets the message.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Talking Points Memo: Congressional oversight goes to hell.
  • Juan Cole: [to Bush]: "You aren't waging a global struggle. You are just causing a lot of trouble in Iraq and playing into Bin Laden's hands there.
  • Americablog: I Know NYC Is Safe From Terrorists
    And in any case, may I be the first to let out a loud: Bull****. I don't trust a thing Bush says about terror. Maybe there's a threat, maybe there isn't. And maybe it's one guy in Iraq mouthing off, who has no idea what he's talking about, and the Bushies are using it to detract attention away from the Harriet Miers disaster, Karls' imminent indictment, Tom Delay's indictment, Bill Frist's insider trading investigation, Katrina, and all the other scandals of the last few weeks.

    The point is: This boy president has cried wolf far too many times. He may be right this time, but he has no right for any of us to believe him.

All of Dan's Supreme Court links are up in the Politics section.

[Editor's note: I am a big Murrow fan. I have a copy of the HBO made-for-tv-movie of his life, and have read several of the same biographies Dan has read--Sperber and Kendrick both great in their own ways. I was fortunate to see the McCarthy shows during a conference at Tufts in 1972 which I broadcast for WMBR. The conference was also attended by Eric Severaid, one of "Ed's Boys" who was seriously huge- 6'6" at least, with a hand the size of a meat loaf. I also got to meet Fred Friendly several times during his afterlife as an academic and Ford Foundation honcho]

 

A blog within a blog from Dan:

Here's a neat guided tour of the Complete New Yorker on DVD.

Actually I've only read a few short pieces. My browsing has been mainly advertisements.

Being a big fan of Edward R. Murrow, I'm also looking forward to seeing "Good Night and Good Luck." Right now the only place it is playing in my area is New York City. It's raining cats and dogs here now so maybe I won't run into the city today. I did some googling to find out where it is playing and ran across this commentary on Slate.

PBS, or at least Channel 13 in NY ran a week of rebroadcasts of Murrow TV work in the early '70s I think. I remember seeing the McCarthy program, Milo Radulovich, Annie Lee Moss, Harvest of Shame and the Murrow obituary program from CBS narrated by Eric Sevareid. I've also heard many of his radio broadcasts from my days collecting old time radio shows. The Slate article says that he was late to the party with McCarthy. [Ed. note: a common accusation]. Maybe so, but he brought his stature to the fight and used TV for what it is good for: showing sound and movement and making McCarthy look like the nut that he was. On TV you can't go into the detail that you can in a print piece. You have to use its strengths. I've read the Murrow biographies: Sperber, Kendrick, Bob Edwards, "In Search of Light (broadcasts) and Sevareid's "Not So Wild A Dream" and "The Murrow Boys" and Howard K. Smith's "Events Leading to My Death". And all of William L. Shirer's autobiographical stuff. I have the "See It Now" book published in the '50s and hadn't realized that it didn't include the McCarthy program. I'll have to dig it out -- haven't seen it in years. (I had a cat named Murrow too).

I didn't know about the Murrow DVD set.

Unfortunately I blew the budget at the New Yorker Festival and have to actually read the books that I bought so I did a "save for later."

New York Times

  • INTERNATIONAL / ASIA PACIFIC | October 4, 2005
    Daban Journal: Sentimental or Not, a Steam-Powered Journey Is Ending
    By HOWARD W. FRENCH
    These are the final days of steam on the Jitong railway, a 567-mile line in Mongolia that experts say is the last mainline steam-powered railroad in the world.
  • ECONOMIC VIEW | October 2, 2005
    Emergency Spending as a Way of Life
    By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
    The problem facing Mr. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress is not the cost of Katrina itself. The problem is that, even before Katrina, Congress and the White House had lost their grip on the budget.

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