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

December 12, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

December 12, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 49

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Quiet Week
  • News from the Netherlands
  • Politics: That's What I Hate About The South, FAM Training and McClellan inconsistency, GOP Culture of Corruption, WaPost Irony, Wesley's Errors, Live-Shot John misses again, Threatening the UN over Clinton

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Naked in Ashes
  • Guest Review: King Kong
  • Guest Review: Rent

Letters

  • Mike Wallace: Still At Large, Sandler Sees Smoots (article), Dan Grobstein File

General News

A Quiet Week

Another quiet week in Lake Woebegone, here in Orinda-not-by-the-sea. Anticipation of the holiday vacation is growing among teachers and students both. If only the year's only two-week vacation did not come three week's after one of the year's two one week vacations. Oh well, that's the calendar for you.

I forgot to mention some technology news. Marlow went Mac more than two years ago; Rae converted to a Macintosh portable when she was home for a week at Thanksgiving, and I had to paddle the boat (i.e.--install all her aps and move all her data). Well, on the upside for me, no more tech support calls from my daughters, because--Vicki's been on it since a friend of mine at Apple gave me a Mac for software reviews. I used it for reviews, Vicki used it for everything.

I know NOTHING of Macs. But as of now, all three women in my house are on the "other" platform.

Here at Chez Schindler, the excitement is also growing about my wife's first trip to India. She takes off on Dec. 13, and until the girls get here on Dec. 20, I will be alone in our home for a week for the first time since we married in 1980. Amma, the guru my wife follows, has chosen to make Vicki's trip interesting by taking an unusual Christmas-time tour of India.

Well, it's off to school to see if I can interest 75 13-year-olds in the history of the U.S. Constitution with Winter Break just seven days away. Wish me luck!

11am

News from the Netherlands

After a long drought of shareable news, Marlow checks in with this:

I got up early and went into the Hague with some of my classmates to see the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia). We actually got to see Slobodan Milosevic defend himself. The trials are open to the public as part of an outreach effort. The trials are also played on TV in the former Yugoslavia. It was a tedious but interesting process. Slobo was interrogating a defense witness about whether or not he'd ever done anything bad, in specific villages on specific dates. Unsurprisingly he couldn't recall most of the incidents in the indictment binders. There were a lot of binders, and translators. There were three judges from three different countries who I couldn't see at all, but I had a clear view of Milosevic, he looked kind of bored with the whole thing, not as arrogant as I've seen him on TV.

Marlow adds a tip for your next trip to The Netherlands:

Anyone can go watch if they're in the Hague and bring their passport. Good to check ahead of time though and see who is being tried, because there's other guys besides Slobodan on the roster.

10:00

Political Notes

That's What I Dislike About The South, FAM Training and McClellan inconsistency, GOP Culture of Corruption, WaPost Irony, Wesley's Errors, Live-Shot John misses again, Threatening the UN over Clinton

Update January 8, 2006: This rant was ignorant and wrong-headed. It would be too Orwellian simply to remove it from the site, so I ask only that, if you read it (which I suggest you don't), you also read my apology.

I have disliked the South ever since I watched coverage of the Civil Rights movement on TV when I was a boy and vowed never to visit Mississippi or Alabama, a promise I have kept to this day. I have developed a more nuanced view of reality as an adult, and am now aware the South was simply playing out overtly feelings that many Northerners played out more subtly. Nevertheless, I disliked Southern politicians when they were Democrats and I was a boy, and I dislike them now that they are Republicans and I am a man. In fact, as a U.S. history teacher, I found myself this morning overwhelmed with a desire to slug Sen. Jeff Sessions R-Ala. as he smugly spewed the right-wing message of the day on Face the Nation. Then I found myself wondering why the hell Lincoln didn't just kiss the South goodbye and spare Democrats 110 years and Republicans 35 years of infection by the Southern contagion. My mother, sound thinker as always, reminded me simply that Lincoln had no choice. If the South had seceded, the West would have been next, then the Midwest, and before you know it, the North American continent would look like Europe and California, for all I know, would be Serbia. Or Bosnia. We did what we had to do, and we have reaped the benefits of living in a unified nation. But let's not pretend that there has not been some cost to our national soul, a cost we paid before the Civil War and one we continue to pay now. There are irresolvable conflicts between the old Confederacy and the rest of America. If you wish to enlighten yourself on this question, check out the last few Presidential electoral maps. Talk about the Solid South! Compare those maps to a map of the slaveholding states. Or compare them to a map of the states that had given women the right to vote before the U.S. Constitution's 19th amendment did, or even a map of the states that approved the 19th amendment. Compare the confederacy to the map of the poorest states, or the worst-educated states, or the unhealthiest states. If only we could map the saddest excuses ever to serve in the U.S. House or Senate, the South would glow with pride of place. I understand for there to be good, there must be evil. For there to be light, there must be darkness. For there to be a United States, there has to be a South.

***

In Re: the FAMs (Federal Air Marshals) one witness told Time he heard no threat (the count is now two passengers who heard no threat.); the witness may have been in less than best position to hear what was said. Had the victimcleared security again after clearing customs? Usually this is what would happen; clear customs, then be thoroughly searched so they knew he was carrying only approved items. A real tragedy; was it unnecessary also? Does it raise training or situational awareness issues, in a program so dumb that its agents all wear suits and buzz cuts? Why not have them wear big green hats that say "I'm a federal air marshal"?

Note from the above the inconsistent and prejudicial conduct of Scott McClellan. Here is a matter before the police and potentially the courts. It amounts to the killing of a U.S. citizen on U.S. territory by agents of the U.S. government acting without a court order --i.e., an execution order issued by a judge after a trial. McClellan is expressing a view on the propriety of the agents' actions. Similarly, in another matter before the courts (the sentence for recently convicted ex-U.S. Rep. Randy ("Duke") Cunningham (Republican-California) one of McClellan's colleagues (George W. Bush) opined publicly that Cunningham should receive serious punishment. But when it comes to commenting on the steps Bush advocates to protect national security with respect to the indicted Scooter Libby and the under investigation Karl Rove, neither Bush nor McClellan will comment on the alleged grounds that the matter is under investigation (Rove) or before the courts (Libby).

***

Celebrating, enabling, and perhaps attempting to rehabilitate the Republican culture of corruption.

  • Here's a link to the Republican National Committee website which has an announcement as an Upcoming Event of the birthday of a recently convicted felon (ex-Representative Duke Cunningham (R.-Cal.) in the lower right hand corner. Wonder if it will be removed by the time you, dear reader, have time to check the website.
  • Bush 2004 campaign official and Republican operative James Tobin is on trial in New Hampshire for deliberately interfering with and jamming Democratic and union phone banks in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002. James Tobin and the sabotage in which he was involved is allegedly the reason John Sununu (R-N.H.) is now in the Senate instead of ex-N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen (D). James Tobin is also former New England Chair of Bush-Cheney '04 and former Northeast field director of the RNC (Republican National Committee) and the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee) 2002.

***

Sometimes you have to hold the paper in your hand to see the irony. Two adjoining side-by-side stories above the fold on the front page of The Washington Post on December 6, 2005, may indicate the news side of the paper is rejoining the world of responsible reality-based journalism as opposed to generally ignoring reality before the invasion of Iraq. The left hand article, "Rice Defends Tactics Used Against Suspects" by Glenn Kessler quotes Rice as saying that the United States always respects the sovereignty of foreign countries when conducting intelligence operations within their borders. By the way, Rice will discuss this outrage and probable violation of U.S law with a foreigner but not with her own fellow citizens. German Man Claims U.S. Tortured Him

The right hand article, "CIA Ruse Is Said to Have Damaged Probe in Milan" by Craig Whitlock is about pending Italian kidnapping charges against 22 alleged CIA operatives whose extradition to Italy is being sought by a prosecutor. The story quotes the lead prosecutor, Armando Spataro, as saying "The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe. In fact, if Abu Omar had not been kidnapped, he would now be in prison, subject to a regular trial, and we would have probably identified his other accomplices."

***

Another candidate who inhaled as demonstrated by Wesley Clark's op-ed piece in The NY Times, on December 6, 2005. In it, he makes useful suggestions which would unravel the compromises already made by elected Iraqi politicians in attempting to form a government. Among his ideas: the Iraqis should amend their Constitution so oil revenues will belong to the central government. Also, an autonomous Shiite region in the south must be banned. After reading it, one might wonder why he failed to add a sentence suggesting the ease with which the Israelis and Palestinians and their neighbors could resolve all of their differences, destroy all of their weapons, and live in peace and harmony starting tomorrow morning. Clark is to be congratulated in his blissful state of mellowness on his observation that the policies advocated by George W. Bush have the effect of benefiting terrorist government of Iran, thus unwittingly making the point that Bush has continued Ronald Reagan's corrupt Republican practice.

***

An example of why Kerry is called "Live Shot" (most dangerous place in Washington is between Kerry and a live camera - don't try standing there) and had a less than successful campaign - he can't focus on the essentials. Kerry wants a new Secretary of Defense to protect the troops fighting in Iraq and a set a quintessentially American standard: no torture. Get with the program John: How about a President and Vice President who did not lie to get us into Iraq, who did not continue on vacation when warned of 9/11 and Katrina, and who have not committed misfeasance if not malfeasance in their conduct of operations in Iraq. Kerry is suggesting treating the symptom and not the cause (no, the arguably stolen 2004 election was not a referendum on Iraq).

***

Grave and deliberate damage has been done by George Bush and Dick Cheney and their co-conspirators to the United States, its principles, and its aspirations. How else to explain that reaction to this article is a combination of "so what else is new?" and "What do you expect from George and Dick?" New York Magazine: Intelligencer: Bush Threatens U.N. Over Clinton Climate Speech

Briefs

Plamegate

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Bad science: it is bad enough that Merck was slow to admit publicly that their arthritis drug Vioxx was increasing the chance of heart attacks and strokes. It was stunning that they choose to suppress internal research which said that would happen.  Now it appears that they (or the researchers hired by Merck) actively engaged in scientific malfeasance: Medical Journal Says Merck Concealed Vioxx Data and Merck deleted Vioxx safety info: Journal.  Predictably this plays right into the hands of those suing Merck over the deaths of loved ones who took Vioxx: Call for Vioxx mistrial filed: report.

DRM drumbeat: last month I quoted Bruce Schneier's Real Story of the Rogue Rootkit, he was aghast that the anti-virus companies had failed to detect the Sony BMG virus attack, and then were incredibly slow to react.  Technology Review blames the inaction on the unintended consequences of the DMCA: The Root of the Problem ("Sony BMG's disastrous use of rootkit software has taught us a valuable lesson: we're too trusting of commercial software") (via). Thickening of the Sony BMG plot: Sony rootkit ripped off anti-DRM code to break into iTunesMusician: DRM screws my fans, so it screws me is Cory's pithy summary of Damien Kulash's NYT editorial: Buy, Play, Trade, Repeat.  MPEG-21: Finding a balance between digital copyright and consumers' rights.  RealNetworks' Rob Glaser rants about Steve Jobs and iPod: Apple slammed for piracy-fuelling iPod.

Synthetic biology: from designer diatoms to Nature gives a lesson in armor designSynthetic biology was also mentioned in Salon's The Big Idea, about my former coworker Tom Knight's BioBricks.

A new mammal?! Red, Catlike Animal May Be a New Species, photo here: New Mammal Discovered in Borneo?.  OK a new species of mammal is big news.  But apparently finding new species on Borneo is old hat, incredibly: Three New Species Found in Borneo Forests Each Month.

Technobits: these two Reuters headlines appeared next to each other one day, they aren't exactly contradictory, but close: Fears over identity theft overblown: US study and Study says 1 in 4 targets of e-mail phishing scams ---sour grapes: World's poorest don't want '$100 laptop': Intel --- Alarm over dramatic weakening of Gulf Stream --- Freakonomics to Oops-onomics --- more on video on demand: as discussed here previously, video on demand has suddenly become hot: NBC teams up with iTunes (press release).  --- Court blocks Illinois video game sales regulation --- flexible displays getting real: see this large image of a display from Plastic Logic (via) --- Cory Doctorow on field programmable gate arrays: Flights of Fancy on Flexible Chips --- A search for the best desk chair: Sit Happens --- another journey through the Uncanny Valley: Monsters of Photorealism ("...And those eyes! My god, they're like two portholes into a soulless howling electric universe...") --- very cool flash games: Orisinal : Morning Sunshine (try Bugs in the upper left corner) --- as a long time Googler (ever since it was google.stanford.edu) I feel compelled to point out that Google users wealthier, more Net savvy.

7:00

Humor

None

6:50

Movies

Naked in Ashes

Regularly readers of this column will suspect, rightfully, that a documentary about India's 13 million holy men, Naked in Ashes would not be my first choice for cinematic entertainment. And they'd be right; I was thinking more along the lines of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which I still haven't seen (and my close soon).

But my wife and her friend were going to Naked and, after briefly considering meeting them and then spending two hours in a different theater, I decided to have my mind stretched. Stretched it was.

Before I go one, if you choose to see the film you may end up wondering, as I did, about the woman who made it, and whether she follows a particular guru or holy man. I didn't find that, but I did find her background:

Paradise Filmworks Producer/Director Paula Fouce became fascinated with Eastern spiritualism at the age of 19, when she traveled to study in Nepal. She trekked through Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Tibet, and also spent several years living in India and Nepal, researching for her 1996 book Shiva (White Orchid Press), a photographic book on the Yogis of India.

And, she's third-generation Hollywood. What she has here is a fascinating 100 minute peak into a world that is gradually ceasing to be. Who knew there were 13 million men who live by the Ganges River in India, wear no clothes, cover themselves in ash (usually the ash remaining after cremation). They meet once a year in a huge guru-fest that has to be one of the most amazing visual experiences I have ever had. The other narrative thread in the film is the initiation of a new holy man, an increasingly rare experience. The film hints, rather broadly, that a life lived naked in the streets has trouble competing with cellphones and television sets for the attention of India's young people.

Its greatest appeal to me was the glimpse it offered into a parallel world, side-by-side with ours, that moves on every day without intersecting ours in any way. Of course, you don't have to be in another country for that to happen. Most of our workplaces are separate worlds, with their own cultures, traditions and vocabularies that are arcane and impenetrable to the outside. I've been lucky enough to work in a half-dozen fields, which is just enough to make me wonder about all the others.

So, a great film if you are interested in Yoga, Yogis, India or non-Western spirituality. Otherwise, you should look elsewhere for entertainment, enlightenment or both.

6:00

Guest Review: King Kong

This remake of the classic 1933 film by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is a veritable kitchen sink of a film - it has a lot (maybe too much) of everything in its 187 minutes. It is a thrill ride full of action, adventure, and special effects galore, in a tortuous sea crossing, exploration of the lost land of Skull Island, and Kong's escapades through Manhattan - any one of which could single-handedly sustain a full film. Jackson pays homage to the original King Kong while also invoking Jurassic Park and Titanic. There is romance and there is terror - the inhabitants of Skull Island virtually compete for which is most malevolent and frightening. The casting is surprisingly appropriate, with excellent performances in the four key roles - Naomi Watts as the object of Kong's affections, Jack Black as the conniving movie producer, Adrien Brody as writer Jack Driscoll, and Andy Serkis as Kong. The ape is spectacular - the use of a human actor adds wonderfully nuanced emotions that enrich the bond between beauty and the beast, and make their implausible connection completely believable and compelling. While the length and overstuffed quality of the film make it a bit exhausting, King Kong is a triumph

--Neal Vitale

5:30

Guest Review: Rent

Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter films) has brought Jonathan Larson's Broadway musical to the screen, and it is a virtual photocopy of the original. Rent is a modern version of Puccini's opera "La Boheme," set in the AIDS-ravaged East Village of New York in the late 1980s rather than Paris' Latin Quarter in the late 1800s. Other than tidying up a few plotline weaknesses and one key song deletion (for rating purposes), the film recreates the stage show almost exactly - right down to the same cast. Of the eight central characters, six of the original Broadway performers return for the filmed Rent. The major cast change is Rosario Dawson stepping in for the pregnant-during-filming Daphne Rubin-Vega as the doomed Mimi. But even that swap doesn't have much of an impact - the performances and scenes that ignite the film are the same ones that were incendiary on stage. Dawson is all sultry sexuality in "Light My Candle" and "Out Tonight," Idina Menzel (the original Elpheba in Wicked) enthralls in a "happening" around "Christmas Bells/Over The Moon" and "Take Me Or Leave Me," and Wilson Jermaine Heredia (as the transvestite Angel) rivets with an energetic"Today 4 U." The entire ensemble dazzles in the riotous "La Vie Boheme," and songs like "One Song Glory," "Will I?," and "Seasons of Love" remain showstoppers. By not straying far from an excellent starting point, Columbus has created a captivating, albeit safe, film adaptation of Rent.

--Neal Vitale

5:45

Letters

Mike Wallace: Still At Large, Sandler Sees Smoots (article), Dan Grobstein File

Richard Dalton and Dan Grobstein both forwarded this at the same time:

At 87, Wallace still tells it like it is
By Suzanne C. Ryan, Boston Globe Staff | December 8, 2005

Here's Dalton's summary and quote from the story

About a week ago, Mike Wallace appeared on Emily Rooney's (Andy's daughter) Greater Boston show on WGBH. It was a promo (book tour) for his new tome "Between you and Me," and I thought he sounded a bit loopy. Then again, he is 87.

Based on an interview in the Boston Globe today, I am revising my opinion.

Q. President George W. Bush has declined to be interviewed by you. What would you ask him if you had the chance?

A. What in the world prepared you to be the commander in chief of the largest superpower in the world? In your background, Mr. President, you apparently were incurious. You didn't want to travel. You know very little about the military... The governor of Texas doesn't have the kind of power other governors have... Why do you think they nominated you? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that the country is so [expletive] up?

Sounds like vintage Wallace to me.

Dalton also wrote:

Very intriguing extension of a number WWW trends leading to individualized, universally-generated information from the Museum of Media History. Will seriously impact education, as well (end of schools?).

Normally, I don't put Washington Post stories in the column because they disappear after a week, but this one, spotted by Norm Sandler is too precious. If you read the column early, maybe it will still be there: "The Measure of This Man Is in the Smoot," which appeared in the Dec. 8 issue. A tear of nostalgia for those of us who lived in the Back Bay and attended MIT; the Smoot marks were our daily companion. Actually, I had heard they were drunk, but the living LCA members say they were sober as judges when they laid Mr. Smoot end to end over the Harvard Bridge.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

  • MAGAZINE | December 11, 2005
    Two-Dimensional Food
    By JON FASMAN
    A new concept restaurant in Chicago combines a high-end kitchen with a Kinko's.

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