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 23, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

January 23, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 4

Table of Contents:

General News

  • No News Is No News

Political News

  • Dumb Medicare Drugs, Noonan and GOP Values

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Jewish Dog Story


  • Duma
  • Transamerica
  • Vitale/Schindler Oscar Picks
  • Hoodwinked
  • Neal Vitale's Reviews: The Squid and the Whale
  • Pride and Prejudice


  • Great Iraq Commentary, Malchman on Corporate Lawyers, Dan Grobstein File

General News

No News Is No News

I am not sure no news is good news, but it is certainly no news. So, instead of sharing some insight I gained this week playing the game of life, I will share my political and filmic opionions with you, as well as offering you a look at the opinions of some friends of mine.


Political Notes

Dumb Medicare Drugs, Noonan and GOP Values

This from Richard Dalton. I put it under politics because it makes you wonder if the Bush Administration made Medicare drugs stupid on purpose to make the government look bad--a popular theory about the two-cent stamp screwup.

You may recall I sent a polemic a few months back that showed some of the deficiencies and weaknesses of the Medicare Drug Plan(s), aka Medicare Part D.

No one can be unaware by this time, of the crazy choices seniors are being forced to make under the plan and how much turmoil this has caused. But an editorial in the Boston Globe by James Roosevelt Jr. points out the result of all this confusion.

Roosevelt says that a total of 11,6 million have enrolled since the plan started taking enrollments November 15, 2005. That sounds impressive until he adds that 10.6 million of those people were previously covered by Medicaid and were automatically enrolled (they were randomly assigned to plans which may or may not cover their drugs). Only one million non-Medicaid seniors have enrolled themselves in the last two months.

There are widespread reports of pharmacies being unable to fill crucial prescriptions because the insurers have been unable to reliably provide eligibility information. Other people have found that their medications are not covered by their plan's formulary--and each formulary is different. Worse, the plan can change the formulary any time it wants.

I doubt that anyone working for a sane employer has to make choices among 40-plus plans, but seniors have no choice unless they want to use a dart board for selection purposes. And then they still face uncertainty about each drug they need now and in the future, about deductibles, coverage gaps, and variable compensation rates.

Only the congress, the insurers, and the pharmaceutical companies could conspire to create a program that people over 65 desperately need, then make it incomprehensible and largely unusable.


Wall Street Journal: Not a Bad Time to Take Stock: Thoughts on the decline of the liberal media monopoly and the future of the GOP, by Peggy Noonan.

Peggy Noonan offers a veiled tribute to the arrival in Washington 25 years ago of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, of course, said under oath he supplied weapons to the terrorist nation of Iran --which weapons are, for all anyone in the United States knows, now being used to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Reagan also sent money to a group of people the Congress viewed as terrorists in Latin America.

Noonan fails to note the appearance of a corporate monopoly (or oligopoly) of the means of mass communication in the United States. She is, of course, a paragon of virtue and a long-time barker and shill for what she characterizes as "traditional family values." She apparently takes a William Bennett "do as I say, not as I do" approach to the issue, given the way her social conservative brethren feel about single parenthood.

Single mother Noonan fails to note that it is the right-wing media oligopoly which is largely responsible for the Republican culture of corruption. The same concentration of the means of communication in the hands of a few conservatives also explains the failure of the corrupt party to adhere to what Ms. Noonan views as the "traditional" Republican values. Surely she cannot believe that today's GOP is, in any way, promoting limited government, a reduction in the size and power of government and government spending, and a healthy wariness of the military industrial complex.

After all, we were warned about said complex by one of Mother Noonan's Republican heroes, former five-star U.S. Army general and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Given her opposition to just about every policy proposed by George Bush and Dick Cheney one wonders when she will be identified as a "defeatist" by Messrs. Bush and/or Cheney and/or their henchpersons. One might also wonder why the Cheney-Bush enabling editorial page of The Wall Street Journal distributed her column.





Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Jobs report: it looks like Disney has decided that there is only one successful feature animation company they decided to buy it: Disney Board Set to Meet Amid Pixar Merger Talk . The price being bandied about? $6.7 billion dollars. This would make Steve Jobs (of Pixar and Apple) into Disney's largest stockholder and a prime candidate for its board of directors. Talk about a tipping point in the convergence of computers, the Internet and the entertainment industry! Speaking of the Stevester, he had a message for Michael Dell: Apple v. Dell.

Google takes a stand: Privacy experts condemn subpoena of Google, Feds take porn fight to Google and this FAQ. This hare-brained scheme: Putting The Screws To Google make me wonder: even if the "Content Consortium" pulls it off, who would ever find the content if it wasn't indexed by Google? Other Google news: from the "MIT Advertising Lab": Advertising with Google Maps, update on Google Video and sorry to be late with last week's news: Google Earth now available for Mac.

DRM dos and don'ts: from the sublime: Chumbawumba: Why we don't use DRM on our CDs, to the ridiculous: DRM keeps Spielberg's Munich out of award-voters' hands. Lets not to forget our poster child of bad DRM: Sony Snafu Brings DRM to the Fore. For a serious issue like this, we will not stoop to using "plugging the anal hole" jokes here: Congress Takes Aim at 'Analog Hole'. While across the pond: Hollywood's MP caught lying on tape.

Image search, auto-edit: in PCWorld's New Ways to Wrangle Video and Photos one thing that jumped out at me was Pictureal which is apparently a largely automatic process for editing down your home videos.  You give them the raw video from your camcorder, they send you an edited DVD. Also using facial recognition along with text recognition is a new photo search service called Riya. Its currently in alpha test but opening soon: Riya photo search site open to public February. Along these lines AOL bought the video search engine Truveo which claims to find content from visual data.

New medical research: novel therapies and insights: Gene Therapy 'Turns Off' Mutation Linked To Parkinson's Disease, Researchers Find Another Origin for Alzheimer's and Utah Researchers Confirm Chromosome May Harbor Autism Gene.

Technobits: The Softening of a Software Man (Like the robber barons, Bill Gates has moved from trying to take over the world to trying to save it. No wonder no one's afraid of Microsoft anymore) --- Apple to Sell S.N.L. Skits for iPod Use (its a nice idea, and while I like iTunes flat price for all songs, isn't $2 for a single SNL skit a bit steep?) --- Hey, Baby Bells: Information Still Wants to Be Free --- Math Will Rock Your World --- Science's 10 most beautiful experiments --- beautiful Hubble image: Best Orion Nebula Image Ever Taken --- Ants build their own medicine cabinet --- slide rule nostalgia --- Find Music You'll Love: Pandora --- Using Color Codes To Browse the Web --- Reboot your computer, be anonymous --- help analyze comet dust: Stardust@home --- artificial intelligence is 50 years old --- top ten reasons why nobody reads your blog.



Jewish Dog Story

Certified non-offensive by the Jewish friend who sent it to me...

A nice Jewish boy gets a nice Jewish dog. He names the dog Einstein and trains Einstein to do a couple of tricks. He can't wait to show Einstein off to his neighbor. A few weeks later when the neighbor finally comes over, the guy calls Einstein into the house, bragging about how smart he is.

The dog quickly comes running and looks up at his master, tail wagging excitedly, mouth open, tongue hanging out, eyes bright with anticipation. The guy points to the newspaper on the couch and commands "Fetch!" Immediately, the dog climbs onto the couch and sits, his tail wagging furiously. Then all of a sudden, he stops. His doggie smile disappears. He starts to frown and puts on a sour face. Looking up at his master, he whines, "You think this is easy, wagging my tail all the time? Oy vey ... And you think it's easy eating that junk that you call designer dog food? Forget it ... it's too salty and it gives me gas."

The neighbor is absolutely amazed ... stunned. In astonishment, he says, "I can't believe it. Einstein can speak. Your dog actually talks. You asked him to fetch the newspaper and he is sitting on the sofa talking to us."

"I know, I know," says the dog owner. "He's not yet fully trained. He thought I said kvetch."




3 stars

We were in the city Saturday after dropping Marlow off at the airport, headed for the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. The museum is only a few blocks from one of our favorite San Francisco Art Houses, the Balboa, which was showing the movie Duma, described in brief as "a boy and his Cheetah." A talk from the director, Carroll Ballard, was promised after the film.

The brief description was an accurate one. A South African boy adopts a Cheetah cub, raises it, then must return it to the wild before it becomes too domesticated. It is a staggeringly familiar story, made watchable by the incredible acting of Alex Michaeletos as Xan, the boy in question. Two familiar faces, Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, turn in their usual oustanding work as his parents. Eamonn Walker, whose work I don't recall seeing before, deftly handles the "noble savage" role as a mildly larcenous African with a heart of gold.

Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and Xan Hopcraft's book How It Was with Dooms is the basis for the film, which means at least some of it must be true.

The six cheetahs who play Duma are stars in their own right. This is first class nature photography combined with a story that, while riddled with cliché is, at least, not embarrassing to watch. I pay it the highest compliment known to children's films; adults can watch it without squirming.



3.5 stars

I finally got around to seeing Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. It wasn't easy; the film is only showing at one theater in the San Francisco Bay Area, the not-very-conveniently located Bridge Theater (plenty of on-street parking, not) on Geary in San Francisco. There was an actual line at the box office (when was the last time you saw that at a single-screen theater?) for the 1:45 showing on Martin Luther King Day. There were several hundred of us on hand to enjoy the experience.

As it happens, I know two men who have undergone sex-change operations, and much of what is depicted in this film matches my experience with my friends, from the reaction of parents and siblings, to the continual risk of public disclosure and the pain it can cause. It is not an easy transition, yet for some people, making their actual gender match their mental gender is the only way they can go on living. The film portrays this nicely.

Huffman, like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote manages to utterly inhabit her character in a very convincing way. In her case, a male who has almost completed the transition to female when he discovers that he fathered a son the one time in his life he had sex with a woman. They meet, of course. They travel cross-country on back roads, of course. They have adventures and yell at each other, of course. He discovers who she is in the worst possible way, of course, first discovering her transgender status, then her parenthood.

The film drags in places (it did not pass my "never looked at my watch" test), and would have been better had it been about 15 or 20 minutes shorter. On the other hand, I had a real "theater experience," in that I noticed that there was a funny "bit" about every five minutes, to break the tension. The bit was often visual, sometimes character-based, never a "joke" per se. Now that's good writing.

This is a solid 3.5 star movie, and worth seeing, if you can find someplace it is playing.


Vitale/Schindler Oscar Picks

Neal Vitale and I combined forces to predict the Oscar nominees. If there is no letter, Neal and I agree on Oscar-worthiness. Otherwise, (n) is Neal and (p) is Paul. Note: we made these picks before the Golden Globe awards.

Animated Film: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (though perhaps it should be King Kong), Madagascar (p)

Best Film: Constant Gardener, Pride & Prejudice (n), Good Night, and Good Luck, Brokeback Mountain, Syriana, Capote (p)

Best Actor: Hoffman (Capote), Ledger (Brokeback) (n) , Phoenix (Walk) (n), T. Howard, (Hustle & Flow) (n), Fiennes (Gardener), Don Cheadle (Crash) (p), Matt Dillon (Crash) (p), Bill Murray (Broken Flowers) (p), George Clooney (Syriana) (p)

Best Actress: Witherspoon (Walk) (n), Knightley (Pride) (n), Danes (Shopgirl), Joan Allen (Upside of Anger) (n), Huffman (Transamerica), Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) (p)

Best Supporting Actor: Clooney (Syriana), Gyllenhaal (Brokeback) (n), Giamatti (Cinderella Man) (n), Rush (Munich), Watanabe (Memoirs) (n), Clifton Collins Jr. (Capote) (p), Chris Cooper (Capote) (p), Chris Cooper (Syriana) (p)

Best Supporting Actress: Thurman (Producers), Dench (Pride) (n), Weisz (Gardener), Johansson (Match Point), Williams (Brokeback) (n), Amy Adams (Junebug) (p), Catherine Keener (Capote) (p)

Best Director: Spielberg (Munich), Lee (Brokeback), Jackson (KK), Allen (Match Point), Clooney (Good Night), Fernando Meirelles (Gardener), Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) (p), Bennett Miller (Capote) (p), Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) (p)

Best Original Screenplay: Match Point, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, Hustle & Flow, The Squid and the Whale, Syriana (p)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Munich, Pride & Prejudice (n), Brokeback Mountain (n), Memoirs of a Geisha (n), Constant Gardener, Capote (p)

Oscar predictions don't usually include technical Oscars, but in Paul's opinion, the best achievement in sound this year was Rent.



2 stars

Not a total train-wreck disaster, but the fact that this was the top-grossing film in America last weekend either portends the death of taste and judgment in America, or the desperation of parents trying to entertain their children during a three-day weekend. The plot is reasonably clever (the same story told from several perspectives), but the writing is merely adequate and the animation is awful. This is to Pixar what Hannah Barbera was to Warner Brothers--a cheap knock-off, which cuts a dollar of quality for every dime of reduced costs. At least it was short--90 minutes--but that only proves that short is necessary but not sufficient, as we used to say in mathematics. Go only if you are desperate and your charges are 10 or under. At least it (probably) won't scare them.


Neal Vitale's Reviews: The Squid and the Whale

4.5 stars

Brooklyn-born 36-year-old writer/director Noah Baumbach has drawn on his own life to craft a brutally realistic and captivating portrait of a family and marriage that are coming apart at the seams. The Squid and the Whale is set, appropriately, in Park Slope in 1986 and captures writers Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) Berkman as they first separate, then divorce. Their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, as the Noah character) and Frank (Owen Kline, real-life son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), are inevitably drawn into - and become party to - the fray. The script is letter perfect, capturing the anguish and upheaval of divorce through the onslaught of selfish concerns (what happens to the cat? how will I get to school? how do we alternate custody if there is seven days in the week?). The cast is uniformly excellent, including Oscar winner Anna Paquin, Baldwin brother Billy, and Halley (daughter of Jules) Feiffer in small supporting roles.A nicely modulated and witty soundtrack (ranging from Scottish folkie Bert Jansch to Lou Reed, from Loudon Wainwright III to his ex-sister-in-law Anna McGarrigle) underscores the action on screen.The film is often difficult to watch. The pain of the characters is palpable; their behavior - awkward, vindictive, insensitive, callous, duplicitous, naive, or just plain stupid - is supremely discomforting. But great art doesn't always wear a happy face, and The Squid and the Whale is memorable.


Pride and Prejudice

3 stars

Finally caught up with Neal and saw Pride and Prejudice. Friday was a short day at school, so Vicki and I had lunch together and saw a matinee of Pride and Prejudice. I must admit, the film was not on my must see list, but the time and location were good, and don't tell me you've never seen a movie just because it was on at the right time in the right theater. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely better than I expected. Frankly, I could have just stared at Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet for the whole two hours and seven minutes --and, need I say, a nice 20 minute trim would have helped the film enormously. Matthew Macfadyen is simply the best Mr. Darcy I have ever seen. The scenery was breathtaking--my goodness, it made me want to hop the next plane to London. The English country dances were staged with great care; in fact, ever extra and bit of background business reeked of extensive research and aided the films verisimilitude. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.



Great Iraq Commentary, Malchman on Corporate Lawyers, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern found a parody of an adventure text game which comments on Bush and Iraq.

Robert Malchman thinks I may have gone too far last week, when I suggested the Dems could use some help. This is the section he noted: "If the national security of the country is to be preserved, the Democrats in the Senate need experienced, motivated, practicing lawyers without conflicts of interest. That is, they need a staff that is not from the big firms representing big multinational corporate interests more concerned with profits than liberty."

Oh, you mean like Arthur Liman, the Iran-Contra Independent Counsel? Um, for most of his career, he was a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of the top-notch New York corporate law firms.

What, you say you really mean someone like Bob Fiske, the first Whitewater Independent Counsel? Um, for most of his career he was a partner at Davis, Polk & Wardwell, also a top-notch New York corporate firm.

Oh, what you really mean is someone like Leon Jaworski, who finally brought down Richard Nixon? Ever hear of Fulbright & Jaworski, a major Houston corporate law firm? Yup, same Jaworski.

Frankly, most of the top lawyers you long for come from big, corporate law firms -- when you're that good, you can get that kind of job. The Archibald Coxes -- lifelong law school professors -- are the exception, not the rule.

Dan Grobstein File

  • This Modern World: January 20th, 2006, Greg Saunders, Bad Politics
    I'm really, really tired of getting jerked around by Democrats.
  • Hoffmania: The Funniest Thing You'll Read This Week. This is one hell of a catch by our pal Jer. It's an open letter delivered via the Palm Springs Desert Sun written by Jack Abramoff's father. [It attacks George Clooney for joking about Abramoff at the Golden Globes].

New York Times

  • THEATER / NEWS & FEATURES | January 15, 2006
    Stage Acting: It's Nice Work if You Can Afford It.
    For an actor, fame and fortune are never guaranteed. But how about a pension, a living wage and a little respect?
  • Google Resists U.S. Subpoena of Search Data

    Dan's comment: It's probably a fishing expedition and for the precedent, but I can't help wondering why, with all the former Young Republicans working for the government, they can't just put them on the problem. I'm sure that they can identify every child pornography site within a week on their own, just by using Google in the normal way.


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