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.

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Tales of Teaching 2004
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March 20, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

March 20, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 12

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The End of the American Republic
  • Urban Myth--Not

Political News

  • The FBI in Peace and War, The Roll Call of the Clueless, Briefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

  • None this week


  • To Be Six Again


  • V for Vendetta
  • CSA--Confederate States of America


  • Two from Kent Peterman, Dan Grobstein File

General News

The End of the American Republic

Friday night I went to see V for Vendetta with a pretty big crowd at the Orinda Theater (see review below). In that film, the fascist High Chancellor of Great Britain warns that "all demonstrators will be treated as terrorists." Remarkably, on my way home, listening to the BBC, I heard the president of Belarus say "All demonstrators will be treated as terrorists." The Patriot Act already defines anyone protesting in the vicinity of the President as a terrorist; what's next? Renewal of the Sedition Act?

I saw Alan Shore (James Spader) give a hauntingly accurate summary of the current political state of America on Boston Legal, in which he talked about how he kept expecting the American people to rise up and protest each new indignity heaped upon them. We haven't, so apparently we, as a group, simply don't care.

The current American situation was also well described by Pastor Martin Niemöller describing Germany before the war: "First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." I am a trade unionist, so I guess I will be rounded up in the penultimate roundup. We've already rounded up the Muslims, thousands of them. We have suspended Habeus Corpus for "enemy combatants," defined solely by the president.

I went to a lecture by Walnut Creek native and Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar last week. He gave a rousing description of the history of the U.S. Constitution, reminding me again (although I really needed no reminder) of what a fantastic document it was.

I had always hoped I would not live to see the end of the American Republic. I am afraid, now, that I will live long enough to see America converted into either an empire or a dictatorship. We survived the string of idiots who served as president between Jackson and Lincoln, and between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, because the Presidency was largely a decorative office. We survived the 20th Century presidents, good and bad, because, with the exception of Nixon, they believed in the rule of law.

Amar reminded his listeners that we are a government of laws, not men. When I look back (if I survive) and try to figure out the moment it all went wrong, I suspect it will be during the Bush presidency, some time between 9/11 and Iraq. Nixon, at least, knew enough to be ashamed of what he was doing and so tried to carry it out in the dark. Bush started out that way with warrentless wiretaps, but since his dirty little secret finally leaked out, he has boldly admitted ignoring the Constitution, and says he'll keep right on doing it, whenever he, in his sole discretion, thinks it is right to do that. His is a government of men, not laws.

Will I be able to tell when the moment comes to take to the streets to protest the end of the Republic? I certainly hope so. I hope I love my country enough to die for it, right here in the streets of California, shot by the police or the Army for exercising my first amendment rights, even if that does nothing but demonstrate that a few of us have had enough.

We may become an Empire, but I hope it is not a bloodless conversion. Perhaps, finally, Jefferson was right: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Nixon shredded the Constitution for the ignoble motives of punishing his "enemies" and keeping himself and his appointees out of jail for abuse of power. Bush's primary motive is noble, for he has removed the quotes around "enemies," but his second motivation seems to be a well-founded fear of prosecution--for war crimes (among them torture and rendition). In any case, no matter what the motive, the end result is the same, a shredded constitution.

We are headed for a cancelled election in 2008 (since a fraudulent election is the same as a cancelled one). We already have an Emperor, since we are led by a man whose word is law--only he can decide on the meaning of torture, who is an enemy combatant and when he needs a warrant. Sounds like an Emperor to me. He scarcely pretends to be following the Constitution he swore to uphold, relying on the thin reed of his commander in chief powers (at a time of undeclared war) to trump the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court is supine and stuffed with justices appointed by him or his father; its new motto: "Do Tread On Us."

The court will offer the same level of support for the Emperor's unconstitutional delusions as the lackey attorneys (each and every one of whom should be disbarred for professional misconduct) who wrote the memos that justified the end of the American Republic.


Urban Myth--Not

I subscribe to a newspaper called Funny Times, which consists of editorial cartoons and humor columns. The editor, Raymond Lesser, wrote what I assumed was a Dave Barry-style humor column, featuring two stories that seemed dead certain to be urban myths. I mean, they had all this detail and elaboration, and they were so absurd. Would GM really fire its China manager, who headed an operation that made money and innovated? Were there really Chinese teens sitting in front of screens for hours working role-playing games for "virtual gold" they could then sell? Surely, the world was not that far gone, was it? Well, yes, it was. Both items came from the New York Times. Since they appeared last August, I can't offer you free permanent access. But, if, like me, you've chose to surrender to the Times blackmail and subscribe to Times Select, you can click on the link and view the articles.

  • G.M. Thrives in China With Small, Thrifty Vans
    By KEITH BRADSHER (NYT); Business/Financial Desk
    In this obscure corner of southern China, General Motors seems to have hit on a hot new formula: $5,000 minivans that get 43 miles to the gallon in city driving.
  • Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese
    The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters.


Political Notes

The FBI in Peace and War, The Roll Call of the Clueless, Briefs

Richard Dalton writes:

The FBI spent time over a couple of post 9-11 years monitoring the Thomas Merton Center, located in Pittsburgh. An FBI memo, provided under the Freedom of Information Act, described the the Merton Center as, "a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism." Further FBI justification for its spying: "The Thomas Merton Center ... has been determined to be an organization which is opposed to the United States' war with Iraq."

We all suspect this stuff is going on but this is one the most clearly egregious examples of the Bush Administration's violations of private US citizens' civil rights.

By the way, The Thomas Merton Center and its Center for Peace and Justice honor Thomas Merton, a writer, poet and deeply spiritual Trappist monk. Sounds pretty dangerous, huh?


Raw Story: Poll: Americans slightly favor plan to censure

As in 1972-74, the people are way ahead of the elected politicians. This is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The role call of the clueless:

  • elected politicians
  • their consultants (especially those who live or work inside the Washington beltway)
  • the non-elected politicians, staffers, and so-called foreign policy, defense, national security, and intelligence experts (especially the craven nominal Democrats among them) who ignorantly or mendaciously supported the drive to send 2,300 of our fellow citizens to a pointless death in Iraq
  • the punditocracy. They formerly were referred to as journalists but PSACOT will not lower itself to impugn the integrity of real journalists (past and present) by according the pundits the high honor of being referred to as a professional journalist.

All these groups would do well to remember who signs their paychecks. Look for the cognitive dissonance of the clueless to increase when the percentage of Republicans supporting U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat who has represented Detroit for about 40 years, goes over 30% from the current 29%.




Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

None This Week



To Be Six Again

A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, observing his wife turning back and forth, looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off, he asked what she'd like to have for her Birthday.

"I'd like to be six again," she replied, still looking in the mirror.

On the morning of her Birthday, he arose early, made her a nice big bowl of Lucky Charms, and then took her to Six Flags theme park. What a day ! He put her on every ride in the park; the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Monster Roller Coaster... everything there was. Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down.

He then took her to a McDonald's where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a chocolate shake. Then it was off to a movie, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy, M&M's. What a fabulous adventure! Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, "Well Dear, what was it like being six again ??"

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed.

"I meant my Dress Size, you dumb ass !!"

The moral of the story: Even when a man is listening, he is going to get it wrong.



V for Vendetta

4 stars

Guess it was just my week for looking at provocative films, although why this near-documentary work of fiction is controversial is quite beyond me. The clear trend towards fascism in Great Britain and the United States seems to obvious as to be beyond comment. Still, what we have here is, well, let IMDB describe it:

Natalie Portman stars in V for Vendetta, adapted from Alan Moore's graphic novel by the Wachowski brothers (the guys responsible for The Matrix). In a futuristic police state a masked vigilante named "V" (Hugo Weaving) fights against the totalitarian regime, enlisting the young Evey (Portman) to his cause, no matter what the consequences, no matter what the price.

I'll try to add a little value. John Hurt is perfect as the High Chancellor of Britain. God, can the British do menace. Portman speaks here in what I believe is her actual accent; ain't it amazin' how the British can do American and British accents so convincingly? Production value are, as you would expect for a Hollywood blockbuster, amazing. No matter what this thing cost, it is all up there on the screen. Too bad Alan Moore, the original author, has disowned this adaptation. He's clearly a smart guy who handed the filmmakers a truly topical story.

The only reason it isn't five stars is that it isn't art, but it sure is entertainment.


CSA--Confederate States of America

3.5 Stars

Kevin Wilmott wrote and directed this mockumentary, set in the present and ostensibly produced by the British, imagining an America in which the South and its way of life won the Civil War. Of course, any intelligent observer realizes that, in the same way that Japan and Germany won World War II, the South did win the war; just take a gander at who runs the House and the Senate and who sits in the White House. Whose values triumphed? Is modern American more like New York of 1860 or Mississippi of 1860?

This is a low-budget effort. If every penny of V for Vendetta was there on the screen for you to see, every penny that wasn't in the budget of CSA was clearly missing. The format is of a broadcast on a San Francisco station of a network program. The "program" itself is a sober, clever, well-conceived speculation on what a CSA would have looked like from 1865 to the present. Alas, Wilmott allowed bad taste to run away with him in the commercials; it is during that part of the program that he takes his potshots and makes his points with a broad brush. Yes, as the note at the end of the film points out, there's historic precedent for every inane, insulting, demeaning-to-African-Americans item, service, drug or restaurant "advertised" in the film (and, yes, I did notice that the Happy Coon restaurant chain was based in Portland, Ore., my home town).

If you're a history buff, and you can close your eyes during the "commercials," it is an interesting speculation and a fresh take on a relentlessly chewed over piece of historic speculation.



Two from Kent Peterman, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman wants a GM PAD, maybe you will too. Perhaps General Motors is not doomed, if they just start building some of their concept cars... Also from Kent: Extreme Survival Quiz.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times


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