PS... A Column
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.
December 19, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 51
Table of Contents:
In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's the sixth rerun of my Christmas message, since Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications). Yes, I know I forgot it last year, but I plead guilty to a two-week vacation in Europe...
Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.
This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.
Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column.
What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.
Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends, the Strykowskis. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: speaking of flow muses, why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky, Jim Mellers and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year.
Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog (or fat-free "Holiday Nog," or the South Beach low-effective carb version) and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to give to the kids only; no adult presents. Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.
It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. Rae coming in from Boston for the holidays and the celebration of her 21st birthday. Marlow coming in from the Netherlands. Vicki on her way to India to follow her guru Amma
Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.
We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big real tree her freshman year at college, so we put a 14-footer in the library in 1999; then Rae asked for one and got it in 2003.
Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I have adult-onset diabetes, but there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control.
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six...
Concert in Seattle
I did something very impetuous last weekend--in fact, that's why this column is late.
Vicki has know Pam Boulding for more than four decades. Pam, along with Philip Boulding, comprise a musical group known as Magical Strings. For more than a quarter century, they have performed public Christmas concerts with their children. Neither Vicki nor I had ever seen one, although we do own the "recorded live" version from a few years back.
Well, Vicki was in India, and neither girl was home yet, and I looked at my calendar and my e-mail inbox on Saturday morning. Thanks to Pam there was a note in me inbox reminding me and all her other friends of the concert. I made a snap decision to fly up for the concert and go home the Sunday morning.
I didn't tell anyone I was coming, and made no arrangements to see my numerous other Seattle area friends because I was arriving an hour before the concert and leaving the next morning early. I didn't even call or email the Bouldings, because I figured they had enough on their hands getting ready for the concert. Both saw my name on the reservation list, but figured I must have been buying the ticket for a Seattle area friend.
I stayed at the Hilton Seattle Airport, which is darn close, but I noticed that the Raddison is even closer. However, for sheer beauty, you can't beat the Sorrento, a downtown boutique hotel Vicki and I stayed in about 15 years ago that I'd like to stay in again. It looks like an explosion from Santa's prop room. I love that level of decoration!
I must say I really enjoy pleasantly surprising people by showing up for distant events at which I am not expected. I have had the good fortune of the time and the money to do this about a half-dozen times in my life. I recommend it. It is a good feeling to be greeted with such unbridled joy, by Pam, as well as by M, another friend of Vicki's from her middle-school years who was in the front row of the concert with K, her husband and J her daughter.
The concert featured Philip on the harp and Pam on the hammer dulcimer (how long does it take to tune a hammer dulcimer? No one knows. But harp players spend half their time tuning and half their time playing out of tune...). It was an absolute delight. Great Irish and Celtic music (including a lot of girls doing Irish dances which left me breathless), sing-along Christmas carols and virtuoso violin by their youngest daughter Brittany (about Marlow's age). All but one of their children came and played beautifully, and the son missing in action was preparing for the birth of his second child. By the way, despite the jokes above, if either instrument was out of tune, I never heard it.
With the death of Vicki's mom, we have been cut loose from LA, a place we have regularly visited all the years of our marriage. The attraction of Seattle is now greater, with Pam, M (friends of Vicki's, now mutual), my niece Stephanie, and assorted friends of mine such as R (I'm going to see your house one of these days!) and B (a DJ with a dual Portland/Seattle existence). I suspect we will be seeing more of the Emerald City, and I know for sure I'm going to try to talk Vicki into going up with me for next year's Yuletide concert.
An Odd Presidential Speech And Its Consequences, Three Explanations Required for NY Times Behavior, Coquet on the South, E-Vote Troubles
Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say
By JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU
Months after 9/11, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without court-approved warrants.
In Speech, Bush Says He Ordered Domestic Spying
By DAVID E. SANGER
President Bush acknowledged that he had ordered the National Security Agency to conduct an electronic eavesdropping program without first obtaining warrants.
On December 17, 2005, George Bush openly admitted that the terrorists won for all time on September 11, 2001, largely because the policies he has advocated since then have been close to a total failure.
The terrorists sought to destroy the U.S. system of government including its Constitution and laws. Before Sept. 11, 2001, that system provided a Constitution and laws all of which were supposed to be obeyed by everyone in the country.
However, after Sept. 11, Bush said the country was "at war" with terrorists and therefore the Constitution and laws were no longer in effect. Fortunately, Bush saying something did not and does not make it so.
The Constitution provides that only Congress may declare war. Congress did not declare war. No one even sought a declaration of war from the Congress. Therefore, there is no war. There may be a fight or a struggle or a campaign but there is no war and there is no permanent state of war (whether or not it supposedly exists for some ill-defined time into the future).
Therefore, any action taken in violation of the Constitution or laws on the spurious grounds that the U.S. is "at war" is not justified by the purported state of "war" because there is no "war." Bush's administration has allowed its minions and assigns to murder people in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq, to kidnap and hold U.S. citizens inside the country without access to the courts, and to engage in the interception of communications of U.S. citizens inside the United States without a judicially issued warrant.
Further, the actions supported by Bush are those sought by the terrorists: destruction of the U.S. system of government and the respect which the U.S. usually enjoyed throughout large portions of the world prior to September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda's goals have been supported every step of the way by George W. Bush.
George W. Bush takes the position that the U.S. is at "war" with terrorists until they are defeated. He then admits such a defeat will never occur under his definitions and that the Constitution and laws are suspended until the "war" is won. Thus, he is admitting that the U.S. system of government (including its Constitution and laws) ended on September 11, 2001 and will never be restored; in other words, the terrorists have won for all time because George W. Bush says so.
In an unusual speech on December 17, 2005, George W. Bush also complained about what he alleged was an unauthorized disclosure of information. The New York Times reported on a secret program of warrantless interception of the communications of U.S. citizens inside the U.S. engaged in by the government in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Bush claimed that revealing "classifed information is illegal" and endangers the U.S.
If that is really what George W. Bush thinks, one wonders why he did not advocate the immediate revocation of the security clearances and removal from office of Richard W. Cheney, I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby, and Karl Rove. After all, regardless of their legal culpability, they have admitted playing a role in the revelation in 2003 of the classified information about the identity of Valerie Plame. Ms. Plame was a government intelligence officer who had operated undercover to prevent the spread of various powerful weapons. The disclosure about Ms. Plame actually did endanger the U.S.
By saying one thing (do not disclose classified information) and doing another (remaining silent when Cheney, Libby, Rove and probably others caused exceptionally grave damage to the U.S. due to their disclosures about Ms. Plame's career) is George W. Bush a hypocrite? Or is he merely trying to conceal his involvement in the disclosure of the classified information about Ms. Plame which disclosures were made solely to protect George W. Bush's political career?
In the unusual speech on December 17, 2005, George W. Bush also sought to play the blame game (something he indicated should be avoided when it was time to talk about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina) and blame the failure to renew the Patriot Act on Democrats. In fact, it is George W. Bush who is being irresponsible and threatening to endanger the lives of U.S. citizens. For some reason, many Republicans in the Congress listen to George W. Bush. But for the failure of George W. Bush to suggest to those Republicans who listen to him, the Patriot Act would already have been extended for three months. During that time, the needed changes (which are needed to protect Constitutional rights and which were envisioned when the Act was initially passed without sufficient review in 2001) to the Patriot Act can be further considered. If the Patriot Act is not extended and it is actually needed to protect the U.S. and if damage should occur due to the failure to extend the Act, one thing is clear. The failure to extend the Act for three months and the resulting damage will be solely the fault of George W. Bush and the Republicans who chose to heed his advice to endanger U.S. national security for partisan political purposes.
The New York Times owes it readers some explanations.
First, it should tell its readers whether the decision to withhold the article about warrantless interception of U.S. citizens' communications inside the U.S. was made before or after the 2004 election. If the decision were before the election, what effort did the Times make before the election to insure the self-serving reasons for withholding the article offered by the government were valid national security concerns and not merely partisan political concerns?
Second, The Times should tell its readers why it withheld the article in late October 2004 (which it has not yet published) which established that George W. Bush was wearing a communications device during a debate with Presidential nominee Senator John F. Kerry (D.-Mass) which device allowed someone off-camera to tell Bush in real-time what to say during the debate. (Bush allegedly procured the debate on the fraudulent misrepresentation that no such device would be used during the debate.)
Third, The Times owes its readers an explanation as to what steps it has taken to assure that it does not again get played for a chump by a Republican (or any other) political campaign as it was played about the Plame-Wilson-Novak-Judy Miller-Scooter Libby Affair during the 2004 election . What will happen the next time a political thug tries to use the pages of The Times (as Scooter Libby did) to slime a political opponent while hiding behind a veil of anonymity? What is The Times going to do to make sure anonymity protects the thug against retribution or reasonably expected harm (the only journalistically ethical valid grounds for anonymity) but does not allow the thug to use The Times for political purposes without attribution?
Peggy Coquet had a few words about my anti-South screed from last week, in which I listed some reasons I dislike the region...
I have some serious Southern cred: my great-grandfather Peck and his wife may not have been born in Alabama, although they married and died there. My great-grandfather McKinney was born in Alabama; his wife was probably also born there. My great-grandfather Davis was a Georgia Davis; I don't know about my great-grandfather Jones. My grandparents were all Southerners, born in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Now, I admit that I went to school to lose my southern accent, and was a serious denigrator of the South in my salad days. But to aver that the US would be better off without the South is naive and bigoted.
I could start with a list of names: James Earl Carter, Thomas Jefferson (who set Lewis and Clark off on a Voyage of Discovery), Martin Luther King Jr., William Faulkner, Pat Conroy, Johnny Mercer, etc. Or I could remind you that the South is not a homogenous mass like a potato. Like any other region, it has its princes and despots, its saints and its scatophiles.
The South was not the site of the worst racial integration riots - that distinction goes to Detroit. The South was not the birthplace of this administration's most heinous hacks: Karl Rove is a westerner (Colorado, Utah and Nevada), Dick Cheney also (Nebraska and Wyoming). Scooter Libby was raised in Florida, but born in New York; Wolfowitz grew up in Ithaca, New York.
The South still suffers - and may always suffer - the deleterious effects of the Reconstruction, a period of history most Americans remain blissfully ignorant of. It was quite similar to the occupation of Iraq, now that I think about it - except, of course, it was our own self-righteous countrymen who were doing the raping and pillaging.
I'm not an apologist for the South; there are many reasons we don't still live there, and political atmosphere is certainly one of them. But when we visit there, I'm always charmed by the people we meet, by the everyday courtesy, gentle warmth and genuine interest they show toward strangers. I can't believe the US would be better off without Charleston and New Orleans and Biloxi and Atlanta and St. Augustine. Most Southerners would never again suggest deleting a portion of our great nation (although they do have some reservations about southern California). I sincerely hope you reconsider your stated attitude.
I will certainly reconsider. I am mad at the South as an entity, and at its leadership, but not, of course, its people, who were also quite gracious to me on my visits to Tennessee and North Carolina.
Dan Grobstein was moved to nostalgia by the item--anyone here old enough to remember liberal Republicans?
Regarding your comment on disliking southern politicians, I'm in the same boat. There were still quite a number of liberal northeastern Republicans when I got interested in politics. And I was very open- minded about the Republicans before they were taken over by the dark side. I really liked Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee after watching him during the Watergate hearings. Governor Rockefeller was in the fight in 1968. Unfortunately the Rockefeller drug laws in New York State are killing us. All the politicians are afraid of changing them even though it seems to be agreed that they are much too harsh and aren't doing the job they are meant to do.
Prior to the 2004 election, the federal government knew about and published a warning of the vulnerability in Diebold vote tabulating software which allowed unauthorized remote access to change votes illegally.
In the section on Bugs, Holes, & Patches see the entry under Windows operating systems for: Diebold GEMS Centra Tabulator Vote Database Vote Modification. In the five column matrix for Windows Operating Systems Only, see entries on the row under Vendor and Software Name for Diebold GEMS Central Tabulator 1.17.7, 1.18
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Stem cell clone mess: A year ago Korea's Dr. Hwang Woo Suk was being lauded by Time as one of 2004's People Who Mattered for his research and widely hailed publication in Nature on cloning homologous stem cells for individual patients. Now after months of supporting Hwang, the senior author of the Nature paper, an American professor, is demanding that his name be removed from the paper. (To which Nature responds: Hey is the paper in or out? We don't do per-author retractions.) The controversy grinds on: S.Korean scientist says has proof made stem cells and S.Korea doctor says stem cells contaminated: report. Slate details the investigative process: What Happens to Bad Scientists? Regarding the larger impact on stem cell research: What California can learn from Korean cloning scandal.
KBO akilter: in this week's edition of KBO Watch astronomers are all a-twitter about "2004 XR 190" (aka Buffy) a new KBO with a decidedly cocked orbit. Press coverage: Oddball object circles sun beyond Neptune, Strange new object found at edge of Solar System and Buffy the Kuiper Belt Object. See the scientific announcement (written in the original geek): Discovery of a Large Kuiper belt object with an Unusual Orbit.
del.icio.us, cool, Yahoo!: the collaborative bookmarking site del.icio.us was sold this week to Yahoo!, begging the question: What's so cool about del.icio.us? -- a good discussion of this innovative service that is so archetypically Web 2.0.
Patent common sense: several offers of proof that not all news about patents is bad news: Common Sense Beats Out Lawyers Over Fan Video Game. Similarly the San Francisco NBC11 tech reporter asked "should big corporations really be suing kids for pretending to be super heroes?": Faux Hulks can keep fighting evil online. And this decision sounds about right, they should be able to republish back issues without giving every contributor a new fee, otherwise electronic archives are dead meat: Court won't hear National Geographic CD-ROM case. Finally: Odd Coalition Opposes Criminalizing Patent Violations.
Radio net: Melissa Block did a great piece on NPR last Thursday called Widening the Internet Highway to Rural America profiling West Virginia Broadband. They run a rag-tag ad-hoc rural Wi-Fi ISP and the people involved have a great spirit. Great salt of the earth people talking about building a network for neighbors to hold in trust for the community. (I especially enjoyed a potential customer's pronunciation of "wireless" -- something like "wooorless".) See also this about "cognitive radio" (mentioned here last September): BBN Technologies to Develop Open-Source Radio Software.
Robot reports: Honda's Asimo is up to new tricks: Honda robot serves tea, pushes mail carts and Honda's robot ready for office chores (pictures (and video, perhaps of the previous version?)). Also: Sony's robot finds focus with third eye.
Technobits: regarding the Wikipedia/Seigenthaler flap (see): The academy vs. open source Dana Blankenhorn notes: "authority is no longer all it's cracked up to be" --- NYT Magazine: The 5th Annual Year in Ideas --- Google: Ten Golden Rules --- Mythical Man-Month redux --- The Schizoid Split in Movies - Will digital effects ruin Hollywood? --- Sprint to offer full-length movie downloads --- Xbox 360 one step closer to being opened --- be like Sony BMG: Make Your Own Copy-Protected CD with Passive Protection --- Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't. --- the burdens of motherhood: First images of baby squid care and Females spotted hauling heavy pouches of eggs --- LOC Online Exhibition Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943.
The Monk's Tale
A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to helping the other monks in copying the old canons and laws of the church by hand. He notices, however, that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript. So, the new monk goes to the head abbot to question this, pointing out that if someone made even a small error in the first copy, it would never be picked up. In fact, that error would be continued in all of the subsequent copies.
The head monk, says, "We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son."
So, he goes down into the dark caves underneath the monastery where the original manuscripts are held as archives in a locked vault that hasn't been opened for hundreds of years. Hours go by and nobody sees the old abbot. So, the young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him. He sees him banging his head against the wall, and wailing, "We forgot the "R", we forgot the "R". His forehead is all bloody and bruised and he is crying uncontrollably.
The young monk asks the old abbot, "What's wrong, father?"
With a choking voice, the old abbot replies, "The word was 'celebrate'."
Guest Review: Munich
Steven Spielberg's latest is ostensibly the story of the Black September attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and its aftermath, in which Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir puts into motion a covert plan to find and execute the terrorists responsible for the incident. While an effective - albeit a long (two and a half hours) and exhausting - thriller, the film is more interesting as a meditation on the host of moral conflicts and complexities that stem from operating outside the law, where there are no absolutes, ambiguities and uncertainties abound, and loyalties are at best ephemeral. Munich is an extremely well-made and well-acted film, not surprising given the talent involved - Spielberg as director, Tony Kushner (Angels in America) as screenwriter, and a multinational cast that delivers uniformly fine performances. But it is hard to say why this film was made, and it seems very unlikely that it will attract much of a popular audience.
Guest Review: Brokeback Mountain
Director Ang Lee (Hulk, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility) explores yet another bit of cinematic turf with his rendition of an E. Annie Proulx ( "The Shipping News") short story, via a Larry McMurty ("Lonesome Dove," "Terms of Endearment," "The Last Picture Show") screenplay, shot in the beautiful high country of Wyoming. Brokeback Mountain is the tale of the love that develops between two young cowboys during a summer of working together, and how that relationship affects the rest of their lives. While the bravado performances by two established, straight actors (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) as gay lovers are the focus of much of the film's press, the themes of Brokeback Mountain are broader and transcend sexual preference - the perils of challenging convention, and the direct and collateral damage of deeply sublimated and camouflaged secrets. The film is quite long and often draggy in the early going. But, for me, Ledger's performance as the repressed Ennis Del Mar is near perfection, and his scenes with Gyllenhaal's screen wife and parents are heart-wrenching.
Ice Harvest, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Aoen Flux, The Dying Gaul
With Vicki out of town and the girls not yet home, I took advantage of being alone to get myself up to date on a few obscure art films and one commercial film that were down to a theater or two each and may well have closed on Friday: over two days I saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Ice Harvest at the Parkway in Oakland (of which more anon), and Dying Gaul and Aeon Flux at theaters as undistinguised as the films.
Who knew that watching a scantily dressed Charlize Theron for 90 minutes could turn out NOT to be a fulfilling movie experience? It would certainly have surprised me... in fact, it did surprise me. Aeon Flux is barely passable science fiction; in the 50s it would have looked cheaper and been cheaper and filled in second place on a double bill.
Ice Harvest proves that even the amazing and sainted Harold Ramis (director of Groundhog Day) sometimes has turkey for the holidays. Wasted in this outing were the uniformly great John Cusack, the sometimes great Billy Bob Thornton and the uniformly eccentric Randy Quaid and Oliver Platt. A lot of dark scenes in topless clubs, some spectacular driving on ice stunts, a convoluted plot... in short, much ado about nothing.
The Dying Gaul... what can I say about The Dying Gaul. Hyphenate writer-director Craig Lucas has crawled so far up Hollywood's belly button he could tomorrow's edition of Variety. Some Hollywood insider films are good, some are great. This one is neither. It hinges on the angst of a screenwriter who is offered a million dollars for a script--if only he'll make the main couple heterosexual. Why do screenwriters--indeed all Hollywood insiders--think we care? "Make a movie about something you know," someone once told them. Let's exile that person to Pierre, N.D.--about which they could surely make a more entertaining and/or meaningful film. Of course, it isn't really about the script, its about a menage a tois involving the screenwriter, the studio executive and the executive's wife.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang--reviewed here by Neal Vitale--was the sole satisfying outing amid my movie-watching orgy. It was clever and funny and a shot in the arm for the careers of Shane Black (whom I can take or leave), Val Kilmer (I've never been sure about Val Kilmer) and Robert Downey Jr., whom I am enormously pleased to see working again. Wow! A movie with a narrator. Not a huge commercial success, but the only really entertaining movie I saw last week, and one of the more entertaining films of the year--despite, in a way, being a Hollywood film about Hollywood. I guess, like every rule, it can be broken with success by the competent (Black) and not by the incompetent (Lucas).
By the way, the Parkway in Oakland is near Lake Merritt. It is one of those pub/movie combos. One the upside, you can drink beer and wine and eat decent food at your seat, which is frequently on a cozy couch. On the downside, no kids allowed and second-run movies. But, like the Kennedy in Portland, it can be a lot of fun.
Chronicle in trouble, Coquet finds anti-death-penalty cartoon, Dan Grobstein file, War on Christmas Update
I am surprised no one emailed me this LA Times story: San Francisco Chronicle Struggles as Internet Siphons Readers, Ads: The newspaper's problems are being watched closely in the battle between old and new media.
Steve Coquet found an incisive anti-death-penalty cartoon last week
Richard Dalton says these Nielsen figures on online newspaper usage indicate the journalism world is changing, and how.
War on Christmas update:
Dan Grobstein File
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