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

January 9, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

January 9, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 2

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Good Read
  • Game of Four

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Neal Vitale's Reviews: Pride and Prejudice, Review of the Year In Music
  • King Kong
  • Match Point

Letters

  • Jon Carroll Cat Column, Letterman Vs. O'Reilly, Peggy Coquet Plugs Theater, Peterman on Selling Pixels, Dan Grobstein File

General News

A Good Read: Forbes Fictional 15 or Tom Delay

I am uncertain as to which of these items gave me more pleasure this week:

The Forbes Fictional 15 - Forbes.com: a listing by Forbes Magazine last November (just brought to my attention by my daughter Marlow a few days ago) of the wealthiest fictional characters--a self-parody, in a way, of the Forbes 400 Riches People listing. I, for one, am sorry Bruce Wayne is now outranked by Lex Luthor, a change from the original list. Fine entertainment.

But, while I do not believe in schadenfreude, I can't help but take note that the hammer has come down on The Hammer, with Tom DeLay deciding not to return to the GOP leadership. Frankly, I wish he had, but he chose to merely retain his seat and his place on the Appropriations Committee. He has been a malign influence on American politics since the day he entered it, which is why I've contributed to his opponent former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson.

11am

Game of Four

Apparently, you're no one in the Blogosphere unless you've "filled in" this survey.

Four jobs you've had in your life: stockboy in a children's wear store, clerk in a coffee shop (one day), ad salesman for fourth-tier AM radio station, telemarketer of circus tickets

Four movies you could watch over and over: Groundhog Day, Deadline USA, Citizen Kane, The Paper.

Four places you've lived: Portland, Ore., Boston, Hartford, Conn., San Francisco

Four TV shows you love to watch: Simpsons, Arrested Development; Family Guy; Boston Legal

Four places you've been on vacation: Santa Catalina Island, Oregon coast, Venice, Paris.

Four websites you visit daily: New York Times, LA Times, e-commerce web sites where I buy stuff--too numerous to mention, so count them as two.

Four of your favorite foods: ham, miracle whip, my mother's meatloaf, hot dogs.

Four places you'd rather be: Paris, Venice, Santa Catalina Island, the Oregon Coast

Four albums you can't live without: I haven't listened to popular music on a regular basis since 1974, so artists not albums: Beatles, Weird Al Yankovic, Firesign Theater and Martin Mull.

Then you're supposed to tag another blogger. Tag Jim, you're it.

10:00

Political Notes

Elevator Story, Culture of Corruption

For years, the GOP has bested us in the elevator pitch (or the description of a show you can write on the back of a Broadway Producer's business card). The Republican elevator pitch has been: We favor low taxes, family values, and a strong military. How about this for the Democratic elevator pitch: We favor investing in America, the Golden Rule, and promoting real national security.

***

A reader who I consider a personal friend and in intelligent person, despite his political leanings, chastised me recently for using "culture of corruption" on the grounds that it was a coinage by the Democratic National Committee. I think it has come into somewhat wider use in the last few weeks, and while no Republican has had the courage to utter it (that I have been able to find), I think if you Google the term you'll find at least 403,000 hits from a variety of viewpoints. I must say, the appearance of Tom DeLay's official website at No. 4 (as of Sunday night) appears to be the result of Google Bombing, since I can't find the phrase there. Of course, this item will help raise the page's rating... oh dear, I guess I'm taking part in the Google Bombing. But for dueling Google Bombing, you can't beat the fact that George Bush's biography is the first listing for "failure," while the second is Michael Moore's web site. Who says the right-wing echo chamber doesn't know how to game the system?

By the way, while we're at it, can we agree that the GOP congressional habit of calling us the "Democrat Party" is tacky, partisan and petty? We don't call them the "crony capitalism party," do we?

Briefs

8:00

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Google Packing: what is the world coming to when Google goes into direct competition with Microsoft by giving away its Google Pack but the headline is Google entering video-on-demand business? More evidence that distributing commercial video may be the web's Killer App. (Similarly Yahoo goes mobile.) Google Pack's software delivery and updating channel may be more significant when it includes free replacements for the Office suite. In Redmond Microsoft Employees Rage As Internet Explorer Ship Sinks while Bill Gates does his best "What, me worry?": Microsoft downplays Google threat. On the other hand, a bump in the road for Google Voice: Patent Firm Sues Google for Voice Services.

Robots: hopping, "rolling", wild, best: an update on plans to explore other worlds with swarms of autonomous hoppers: Microbot Madness: Hopping Toward Planetary Exploration. Back in 2004 I mentioned a tricycle with square wheels using a road shaped like an inverted catenary. Now comes this vehicle that works on flat surfaces: Robots with square wheels? (see video). Not clear if there is any advantage, beyond the indisputable "hack value" as we used to say at school. Teleoperated semi-autonomous robotic cameras for observing wildlife: Robot Cameras in the Wild. Wired posted this idiosyncratic list of The 50 Best Robots Ever.

Coldplay cold-cocks fans: Gee, I used to like Coldplay. I've bought their music in the past but I'll stop now that they have allied themselves with the Forces of Darkness: Coldplay's new CD has rules: No MP3s, no DVD players, no car stereos and ColdPlay CD DRM -- more information. Via Cory Doctorow.

Sony BMG virus endgame: when I first head a deal had been cut (Sony BMG tentatively settles CD software suits) I was stunned by how little the aggrieved parties were going to get.  If McDonalds had been selling poisoned hamburgers for the last six months, does anyone think it would make things right if they offered coupons for a few UNpoisoned burgers to those they made sick?! Some of the victims are not going along: Law student files rootkit small-claim against Sony. In addition to exposing its victims to secondary infections of their compromised PCs, the process of removing the Sony BMG rootkit was complicated, error prone, and sometimes destructive. The settlement certainly did not appear to compensate customers for the time spent fixing their damaged PCs. But as the Beeb explains (Legal fallout from Sony's CD woes) this agreement has a larger purpose: "The settlement seeks to both compensate US consumers for the harm they suffered from the Sony CDs and to place limits on Sony's future use of TPMs."

Other DRM developments: Its Patricia versus Goliath in upstate New York: Mom Fights RIAA Suit Solo. I wish her well. Maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and send her a few bucks. As these cynical anti-consumer lawsuits grind through the courts, more of the music industry slimy tricks come to light: RIAA Accused Of Coaching 15-Year-Old Witness In File Sharing Suit. Smart LA Times op-ed against "plugging analog hole" bill and a cogent open letter to the Reps pushing it. The Guardian on bypassing the music barons: Our tunes.

Wrap-up wrap-up: forward looking: Top 10 Trends for 2006, Congressional Tech Issues in 2006. Backward looking: Best Tech Moments of 2005, Most Important Infotech Stories of '05, 100 things we didn't know this time last year, The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years, 2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks and Top 10 Free Time Wasting Sites on the Net.

Technobits: Study links brain defect to autism --- FCC knocks telcos' secret plan to divide and bill the web --- Data privacy drives CMU expert's work --- Panasonic shows laptop fuel cell --- In L.A., the hybrid is, like, so last year but biodiesel is in --- Digital mapping only begins with the roads --- Consoles herald games revolution --- The Million Dollar Homepage --- Can we bring back a long-extinct animal? Quagga Quest, see particularly slide 5.

7:00

Humor

None

6:50

Movies

Neal Vitale's Reviews: Pride and Prejudice, Review of the Year In Music

Pride & Prejudice - 4 Stars

If you are a fan of classic, period love stories, this latest adaptation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel is for you. At just over two hours, Pride & Prejudice begs for a bit of tightening up, but that complaint is a quibble in a film that is lovely and a joy to watch. All the key roles are handled masterfully - Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) is radiant as Elizabeth Bennet, Matthew MacFayden is her perfectly reserved and rich swain, Jena Malone and Rosamund Pike stand out as two of Bennet's sisters, and Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) give marvelous small performances as her parents.

***

I've divided this year's best CDs into two batches - a "first tier" and "honorable mentions," with the second group not quite living up to the first in terms of quality, inventiveness, and/or distinction.

In alphabetical order by artist:

1. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses
This most prolific of artists released three records in 2005, of which this double disk is strongest, emphasizing his folk/country side.
2. Beck - Guero/Gameboy Variations/Guerolito
Three albums (the second two are sets of remixes of songs from the first) mark Beck as one of the most consistently imaginative artists around, mixing genres with brilliant results (catch the videos, too).
3. Coldplay - X & Y
Success breeds contempt, so it has become fashionable to be "over" Coldplay, but this album is strong, taking the band in a beefier, harder rock direction.
4. Death Cab For Cutie - Plans
The major label (Atlantic) debut for these indie faves takes singer/songwriter's Ben Gibbard's work to new and colorful literary heights.
5. Elbow - Leaders of the Free World
The only artists to land on my top lists two years in a row, Elbow continue to produce majestic music that echoes the grandest of Peter Gabriel and Genesis.
6. The Frames - Burn The Maps
There's more to Irish music than U2.
7. Kaiser Chiefs - Employment
A rousing debut from this British band, built around the great single, "I Predict A Riot."
8. The Kills - No Wow
V V (Alison Mosshart) and Hotel (Jamie Hince) combine PJ Harvey-esque vocals with sinister and bleak electronica for a powerful, haunting combination.
9. Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
The sophomore dose of dirty, propulsive Southern rock from this scruffy band from Tennessee.
10. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Wry, entertaining dance music from New Yorker James Murphy that nicely samples many scenes and stylists.
11. Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation - Mighty Rearranger
Led Zeppelin's aging ex-lead singer finally releasing solo music on a par with that of his old band.
12. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
13. Emiliana Torrini - Fisherman's Woman
14. John Vanderslice - Pixel Revolt
Three records of fragile and quirky beauty by three distinctive and engaging performers.
15. Neil Young - Prairie Wind
In the wake of a near fatal brain aneurism, a captivating musing on life and death.

Honorable Mentions
1. Aqueduct - I Sold Gold
2. The Bees - Free The Bees
3. Brian Eno - Another Day On Earth
4. Petra Haden - The Who Sell Out
5. Heartless Bastards - Stairs and Elevators
6. Bettye LaVette - I've Got My Own Hell To Raise
7. Nouvelle Vague - Nouvelle Vague
8. Sleater-Kinney -The Woods
9. Wilco - Kicking Television
10. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

Songs
1. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - "The Rest Will Follow"
2. All-American Rejects - "Dirty Little Secret"
3. Nic Armstrong & The Thieves - "Down Home Girl"
4. The Magic Numbers - "Mornings Eleven"
5. Paul McCartney - "Fine Line"
6. Oasis - "Lyla"
7. OK Go - "A Million Ways"
8. Cat Power - "The Greatest"
9. Rolling Stones - "Rough Justice"
10. Shout Out Louds - "The Comeback"
11. Spoon - "I Turn My Camera On"
12. Stereophonics - "Superman"
13. Stephen Stills & Neil Young - "Round The Bend"
14. Weezer - "Beverly Hills"
15. White Stripes - "Blue Orchid"

As often happens, there are some records from the prior year that only make their way onto a "best of" list well into the next year. Here are a few from 2004 that I haven't mentioned before.

1. The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
2. Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself
3. The Futureheads - The Futureheads
4. Mark Lanegan - Bubblegum
5. Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me
6. Mercury Rev - The Secret Migration
7. Shivaree - Who's Got Trouble?
8. Wolfmother - Wolfmother (EP)
9. Various Artists - Enjoy Every Sandwich (Tribute to Warren Zevon)

6:00

King Kong

3 stars.

Neal already has his say on King Kong, which I finally got around to seeing, in all its butt-numbing splendor, last week. It is, of course, over-the-top, silly, "parody of the too long movie" problem too long at three hours

Am I the only person who noticed an echo of Jack sinking beneath the waves in Titanic when Kong lets go of the ledge and falls to the ground?

Whatever else you can say about this third version of what is now clearly a classic take, it is the first one in which Kong is a real, feeling, acting participant in the action. The combination of CGI and a guy in a monkey suit is one other film makers may want to emulate.

Speaking of CGI, I need to point out that this film's depiction of 1930s New York is vastly more detailed and evocative that that in the original Kong, when you could shoot 1930s New York street scenes in 1930s New York. Of course, they did virtually everything on the back lot back then... more's the pity.

5:30

Match Point

5 stars

Since I started this whole "stars" thing, I have tried to be sparing with my five-star ratings--so far, issued only to Syriana and Capote. But if Woody Allen doesn't snare at least nominations for best picture, best director and best screenplay, then Oscar is as blind as justice. This is, quite simply, not only one of Allen's best pictures in years, but one of the best pictures in years, period.

POSSIBLE SPOILER

He revisits the issues he first tackled many of the same themes about adultery and criminal culpability in his 1989 Martin Landau vehicle Crimes and Misdemeanors. There will be those, like my wife, who say he did a better job of it the first time, but I disagree. I see Match Point as the mature work of an artist who continues to grow.

END OF SPOILER

I confess to being a Woody Allen fan, and one of those who is able to ignore both his semi-loathsome personal life and some of his offensive clunker films. Yes, I also thought his earlier stuff was funnier. But he has been doing a two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance for years with the idea of making films about relationships and the human condition that, along the way, include a few light hearted moments. In Match Point there are moments of irresistible Allen schtick, but they are embedded in a thoughtful and touching screenplay. As a director, he's known for drawing career-best performances out of some of his actors; Scarlett Johansson may well prove another in a long line of people who never top what they did for Woody (no matter what the Academy says).

The film is not set in New York. There is no Woody Allen surrogate. The humor is sparse and character-based, not jokey. Woody is moving on, and we're lucky. Four Golden Globe nominations already, but this film deserves everything it is going to get in terms of praise.

5:15 

Letters

Jon Carroll Cat Column, Letterman Vs. O'Reilly, Peggy Coquet Plugs Theater, Peterman on Selling Pixels, Dan Grobstein File

America's best daily personal columnist has written another cat column: Rain Drives The Cats Crazy.

Don't miss this teapot-sized tempest; almost as good as Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson. What is this? Only late night comedians dare speak the truth to Right Wing Media Bullies?

Peggy enjoyed her movie-going experience in Vancouver, Wash.: if you're in the neighborhood, why not try it?

Earlier this fall I went to see "Shopgirl" at Cinetopia (http://www.cinetopiatheaters.com/); today I went to see "Brokeback Mountain." Both times I was in a living room theater. The food is pretty good, the wine is exceptional and the sound and video are better than average, at least for this region. (Both prints of the films I saw had minor "pops" in them, "Brokeback" had a major jump early on.

I met the owner, Rudyard Coltman, in the wine-tasting room. He was interesting on the subject of wine. He also said that by the end of next summer he hoped to have all theaters digitized, not just the largest one; and that he hoped to incorporate a new 3-D technology developed by Industrial Light & Magic, for a film to be released later this year. I would've remembered more but I was on my third glass of wine ...

Glad to hear someone is going digital! Two other great living room theaters: Oakland, Calif.'s Parkway and Portland, Ore.'s Kennedy School Theater.

Kent Peterman writes:

Perhaps you are acquainted with this. I wasn't. It's a page done by a person named Alex Tews on which he sells pixels at a buck apiece. A fascinating page if you've never been there before. There is a wide range of links and even a link to Ebay to buy one of the "parcels".

Spooky AOL Ad Says Big Brother Is Watching the Internet: Why is a company that profits from Internet use demonizing the Internet?

 

Dan Grobstein File

  • How we got on the gold standard, and Wizard of Oz as allegory
  • Steve Gilliard/Atrios offers a cogent analysis of the terror threat, and makes a good point about the kid who went to Iraq:

    Take that kid who recently went to Iraq. He was so secure in his Americanism, he thought he could walk around Iraq for a school report and come back home like any other field trip. He wasn't going to be a jihadi or discover the resistance. He wanted to tell a pro-US story.

    Plus the stuff about possible terrorists here and possible terrorists in other places in the world is good. The wingnuts are trying to turn here into there with their various immigration proposals: a) If you are born here to illegal aliens you aren't a citizen, b) illegal immigrants are not included in the population calculations for congressional seats (though non-voting felons in rural area prisons will still be included), c) let's build a big wall and keep all the immigrants out including the educated ones who come here to learn and invent the ideas that are the only things we have left since the only things we build here anymore are houses.
  • Tom Tomorrow: Supporting the troops, Republican style: A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Here's the New York Times story.
  • Anderw Tobias: Old News / New Observations
    In case you missed the current issue of Florida State University's Research in Review, you need to read this interview with Professor Lance deHaven-Smith. The least of it is the old news - immediately to be shouted down by the Tom DeLay staffers who stopped the Florida recount, and Tom DeLay fans everywhere - that, guess what, Al Gore really did win the election:

New York Times

  • NEW YORK REGION | January 6, 2006
    Hold the Mustard, Maybe Forever
    By ANDY NEWMAN
    The Second Avenue Deli seems to have met its match in that implacable beast, the real estate market.

[Ed. Note: Not the 2nd Ave. Deli!]

5:00

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