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 17, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

October 17, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 41

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Seven Years Later
  • Favorite Icon
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Capote
  • Good Night and Good Luck
  • Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Letters

  • Hypocrisy, again, Netsurfer via Sullivan, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Seven Years Later

(A reprint of my annual anniversary item, with small adjustments).

As of Oct. 16, it's been seven years since fury at the Clinton impeachment drove me to write this weekly blog--an impeachment, we now discover, that even Republicans didn't want. It was forced on the nation by Dick "The Hammer" Armey--with whom karma seems to be catching up.

Anyway, I either had to start a column or check into a mental institution. PSACOT gave me a forum in which to express, to an audience (no matter how small) my feelings about that political circus. It has since evolved into a combination of diary for me and my family and bulletin board for my clever friends--in short, a personal column. Like, but not as good as, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara or ongoing columnist Jon Carroll. Or, to take a national example, former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, considered the mother of the personal column concept (even though Stanton Delaplane and Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle actually beat her to it--but of course, if it hasn't happened in New York, it hasn't happened).

PSACOT is also a revival of sorts. I don't believe anyone who reads this column except Peter Peckarsky would remember the original P.S. A Column On Things, which ran in ERGO, MIT's objectivist newspaper from September 1970 to March 1971, and The Tech, MIT's semi-official student newspaper, from March 1971 to May 1971. Those were among my happiest days as a journalist. If I had truly understood the fulfillment a personal column gave me, perhaps I would have fought harder to keep it, or revived it when I became editor-in-chief two years later, or tried to practice the craft (and become the father of the personal column).

Ironically, this column, born in a political circus, celebrates its seventh anniversary during another political circus. I am as passionate about this one as I was the impeachment.

Bush's dubious re-election (Ohio anyone?) and disastrous second term (to date) stand as a monument. Not to courage, or "staying the course," but to the right-wing Republican conspiracy to overturn elections they cannot win fair and square, or to change the rules in the middle of the game. That conspiracy now includes:

  • the 1996 presidential election (impeachment)
  • the 2000 election (fraud and illicit Supreme Court chicanery--federalism HAH!)
  • redistricting in Texas and Colorado without a new census(not the way the game has been played for 230 or so years)
  • the 2002 California Gubernatorial election and, now, the special election in the state
  • the 2004 election, with its accurate exit polls and inaccurate vote counts (viz. Ohio)

The list just gets longer.

Still, I expect you'll read as much or more about Marlow and Rae and their doings, and my classroom, as you will about politics in this forum. Maybe I'm just mellowing with age.

Favorite Icon

I asked if anyone would try their hand at favorite Icons. Reader Richard Sleegers was willing and able:

Now, of course, they don't look quite as good when shrunk to 16 by 16. I rather like the whole "right eye" artsy effect. I like them all; what do you think? I've already psacot4.ico into position; check out the address bar of your browser.

Political Notes

Mierswatch

What, if anything, is wrong with the picture of the Dems defending the choice of an unqualified crony? There is no constitutional requirement for legal training let alone a law degree. So, aside from the sex difference and a name change, would they without discrimination vigorously support Karl Rove for the seat?

How about if he agrees to consider recusing himself from ruling on his prospective conviction? Consider the prevalent namby pamby standard of questioning exhibited recently, so aptly parodied by David Brooks in the New York Times in September? Under that standard, Karl could not commit to a position on the issue because it is one that might come before him on the Court. Of couse, once there, he is the sole determiner of whether he will recuse himself. There is no appeal or review by the other justices. The law should have been changed on or before December 12, 2000. Refrain from holding your breath awaiting passage of this.

***

Briefs

Treasongate

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

iPod, schmiPod: OK sure the introduction of the video-enabled iPod was fine (although not as cool as the iMac G5 that so wants to be your "home media center" that it comes with a freakin' remote control!) but I think the deeper innovation is the fact that you can now buy downloadable TV shows for $2 a pop at iTunes. OK, its only some TV shows, but then you can only buy some songs at iTunes and it has made a hell of an impact. Watching videos on an iPod seems unappealing to me, but universal video on demand would be huge. See Apple cuts the TV out of TV programming, Apple and TV: That's so Jobs and Apple bloggers hot for iMac, not for iPod. Apple describes Creating Video for iPod while others explain: How to Rip DVD Movies To Your iPod. Its not that downloading video over the net is new, its that like iTunes for legal music downloads, Apple is providing a service that is useful to both consumers and producers. The alternative to iTunes and its ilk is underground P2P distribution, from which the producers receive nothing, and feel obliged to play silly games: HBO Attacking BitTorrent. Note by the way the prescient comment under that article by "Juan Aguilar" on October 6 who calculates that the revenue generated per viewer per TV show is about $2.40 -- which tracks pretty closely to the $1.99 price iTunes is charging.

Stanley's Cup: it took two Grand Challenges but a driverless car from Stanford named Stanley (and four others) drove the 130 mile course across the Nevada desert, proving the practicality of autonomous vehicles. See photos from C|Net and Flickr, and these articles: Computers, start your engines, In a Grueling Desert Race, a Winner, but Not a Driver and Robot vehicles conquer U.S. desert terrain race. Here is an interview with one of Stanley's human friends: A "Stanley" for the road: DARPA Grand Challenge hints to the future of driving and Behind robotics, a squadron of bright real people.

Wherefore Wi-Fi: as I mentioned last week the annoyance factor of upscale hotels charging ridiculous amounts for wi-fi access make them appear both clueless and pound-foolish. What's next, special surcharges for running water in your room? Via Glenn Fleishman's wi-fi blog, I learned the NYT's Joe Sharkey followed up If Parks Offer Free Internet, Why Can't Costly Hotels? with Resentment Flares Over Fees for Internet Access at Hotels which includes suggestions on how to get free wi-fi even if your hotel is run by troglodytes. Municipal wi-fi: Don't Let Fear Kill Muni Wi-Fi, Philadelphia selects EarthLink for its Wi-Fi and The Right to Wi-Fi.

Slow Google week: only two cutting edge innovations introduced this week from the GooglePlex: like Bloglines, Google's RSS aggregator and Google tagged bookmarks.

IBM's good deeds: IBM won't use genetic info for hiring, benefits and IBM to Donate Software Process Code?

Gas powered firewall: Here's proof that not all cool technology is made of digital electronics: Firewall. I don't understand how this works, but it sounds pretty amazing.

Technobits: on Danny Hillis: The Mind of an Inventor --- two cool robots --- wireless recharging --- via NPR: a new "people's car" (aka "volkswagen") from Romania selling for $6100(US), the Renault Logan --- Violence in games stimulates brain for aggression --- Build a pinhole camera from Legos --- photomicrography.

Humor

None

Movies

Capote

When the lights went up, my wife Vicki turned to me and uttered a single word, "Oscar." I could not agree more. Despite the fact that it was not a holocaust movie, and that no one had an obvious (unless you count being gay, which I don't) Philip Seymour Hoffman is Truman Capote as I remember him from the Tonight Show and scores of other TV appearances, and is consistent with other biographical material I have seen and read. Catherine Keener (Nelle Harper Lee), Clifton Collins Jr. (murderer Perry Smith) and Chris Cooper (detective Alvin Dewey) turned in Oscar-worthy supporting roles. Director Bennett Miller deserves a gold statue, for direction that is solid but not flashy (like Kansas itself), and screenwriter Dan Futterman is a contender for the great job he did adapting Gerald Clarke's book. In one scene, Capote touches his scarf and says "Bergdorf Goodman;" a moment later a detective touches his hat and says "Sears Roebuck."

This is not a full-scale biopic; it concentrates on the years 1959-1964, when Capote was researching and writing his most important book--and I don't mean Breakfast at Tiffany's. His work, In Cold Blood, changed American fiction, American journalism, and Truman Capote. He never finished another book. As the film notes in its epigraph, he died of alcoholism in 1984. His final unfinished work, Answered Prayers suggested more grief in the world comes from answered prayers than unanswered ones.

By my definition of a journalism film as "a film that consists primarily of depiction of a journalist or journalists actually committing journalism," this is clearly a journalism film.

Excellent film. Well worth seeing.

Good Night and Good Luck

It isn't often I see two good films in one week, but it happened this week, when I dashed over to San Francisco to see the Edward R. Murrow biopic "Good Night and Good Luck."

"We will not walk in fear, one of another" is the movie's apt tagline.

This is a first-class piece of work, with a first-class cast, headed by George Clooney, who directed and co-wrote the film with Grant Heslov. Clooney played Murrow's producer Fred Friendly, Heslov played a very young Don Hewitt (who went on to launch 60 Minutes), and Robert Downey Jr. (imagine the insurance premiums!) played field reporter Joe Wershba. Clooney is certainly one of the few people in Hollywood who could get a film this serious made.

(By the way, thanks to Edwin Diamond, I had the chance to meet and talk with Fred Friendly on several occasions. He never looked as good as George Clooney does).

Technically, this is not a full-fledged biopic, any more than Capote is a full-scale biopic. By a weird coincidence, the two films were released within a week of each other, and both made the same artistic choice; to concentrate on a single event in the person's life. In the case of Murrow, Good Night and Good Luck concentrates on his most famous See It Now broadcast, when he attacked Sen. Joe McCarthy. It is true, as many have noted, that McCarthy was already on his way down when Murrow hit him, and that other journalists had piled on first. Still, the road to McCarthy's censure and early death led directly through CBS Studio 41.

Murrow did not escape unscathed. The broadcasts destroyed his personal relationship with CBS Chairman William Paley, forged in London during World War II. (How deep was the relationship? CBS president Frank Stanton never forgave Paley for inviting Murrow to his wedding but not Stanton). Rather than risk further "stomach aches" (a line in the film that appears in most Murrow biographies), Paley cut See It Now from 39 weekly half hours in Prime Time on Tuesday nights to 5 hourly programs on Sunday afternoons. Murrow still managed to make Harvest Of Shame and other fearless broadcasts, but he knew when he was licked, and accepted President Kennedy's offer to become director of the United States Information Agency. He died in 1965 of lung cancer at the relatively young age of 57. He is virtually unknown to anyone under the age of 50.

The movie is framed by Murrows famous 1958 speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, in which he attacked television for amusing and distracting instead of educating and informing, and which he concluded by noting that, if television was not going to be used properly, it was no more than "wires and lights in a box."

For a less hagiographic view of Murrow, one which criticizes his introduction of advocacy and star power into television journalism, check out this piece from the New York Times:

By my definition of a journalism film as "a film that consists primarily of depiction of a journalist or journalists actually committing journalism," this is clearly a journalism film.

Good film. Worth seeing.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

If you've been a fan of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, your are going to love their first feature-length adventure. Hans Zimmerman, a major force in Hollywood music, has recast the Wallace and Gromit theme in a dozen variations that are quite fetching. Creator Nick Park has taken on a co-director, Steve Box, who has done nothing to reduce the manic fun and creativity of this most durable of clay animation franchises. You'll laugh at the voice characterizations of Ralph Fiennes as Victor Quartermaine and Helena Bonham Carter as Wallace's love interest, Lady Campanula Tottington. It's just like a short, only longer and with more plot. Five stars, great family entertainment, and adults won't flinch either.

Rae informs me (I had forgotten) that at the end of the movie "Madagascar" I turned to her and said, "The penguins should have their own movie." And now they do; a short subject which is being shown with Wallace and Gromit. Get to the theater early; you don't want to miss their little Christmas tale.

Letters

Hypocrisy, again, Netsurfer via Sullivan, Dan Grobstein File

A friend writes:

Speaking of sanctimonious, hypocritical assholes: "The Christian Coalition...opposes abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research..." but apparently not child abuse.

Two from Kevin Sullivan, both from Netsurfer Digest (greatly cut down for reasons of space and respect for intellectual property):

Ebert on "Chaos"
Ebert [writes] a terrific essay about
evil in film. He notes that he does not oppose cruelty and evil in movies, but rather the purposeless nihilistic recording of evil. In other words, Ebert thinks that if you put evil in film, you'd better have a point.

 

The $1 Million Intelligent Design Challenge
The Flying Spaghetti Monster theory of creation, the brainchild of Bob Henderson, who wanted to satirize the Kansas Board of Education's obsession with creationism. ...[one million dollars] to anyone who produces empirical evidence that proves Jesus was not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

NSD 11.25 Boing Boing Flying Spaghetti Monster

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

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