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

May 8, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 18

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Must-See TV
  • Crisis and Civil War in the Comics

Political News

  • Newt's Motives

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • Boston Joke

Movies

  • Mission Impossible III

Letters

  • Dern and Chaucer, Future of Journalism Redux, Windows Tips, LaSusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Must-See TV

I think your favorite movie says a lot about you. So does your choice of television. I shudder to think what my current choices (Gray's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Medium, My Name Is Earl, The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, American Dad) say about me. Two others drop off my list in a few weeks: West Wing and That 70s Show.

Over the years, Daniel Dern has periodically advised me to add a television show to my personal list of "must-see" TV. The first of these was Aaron Sorkin's SportsNight; my only regret was that it died so soon. I loved everyone on that show, and many of them have done very well on television since. The next two were as different as they could possibly be: West Wing (Sorkin's next effort) and That 70s Show. I assume Daniel suggested the latter because we both became adults during the 70s and would find it familiar. Also, it featured a nerd who gets to have teenage sex with the beautiful girl. Speaking only for myself as a one-time nerd: now that's wish fulfillment. Alas, the show has slid downhill in the last few years, especially since Topher Grace left; his shoes have proven impossible to fill. It's lovely that the secondary characters got some time in the sun, but there's a reason they were secondary characters. Knowing when to quit is the essential trick of life, isn't it, in such public fields as sports or entertainment? To stay long enough so that you give the public all the joy you can without staying so long they feel sorry for you. I guess the "magic moment" (known in television as "jumping the shark" after an episode of Happy Days) is only rarely visible to the subject. Arrested Development may have been wise to stop when it did. Some people say The Simpsons is over the hill. I don't think so. Sometimes you hear that Desperate Houswives collapsed this season, ala Twin Peaks. But That 70s Show clearly "jumped the shark" some time in the last year or two. Despite criticism of the show since Sorkin left, I don't think West Wing ever did.

Daniel offered to say goodbye to West Wing for both of us.

 

11am

Crisis and Civil War in the Comics

I was a comics fanboy when I was young; I bought Fantastic Four No. 1 in 1963, and every other comic Marvel introduced until I went to college in 1970. I dabbled in Superman DC comics, but my heary belonged to Stan Lee. I have been back to comics since then only when attracted by a stunt (Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Death of Superman)

Anyway, last week I I caught the tale-end of an interview with two Marvel editors about a "Civil War" series that apparently involves Thor, among others. Sounded a bit like "Crisis on Infinite Earths." I asked Daniel Dern and Tom LaSusa to enlighten me (and you). By the way, I always figured both Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic for being a bit fascistic, a bit too willing to go along with whatever the government wanted. Iron Man is defense contractor Tony Stark for heaven's sake.

Daniel Dern:

I've only got limited knowledge of 'Civil War' -- I've been reading or browsing some of the issues (we're only in the early stages), and haven't read much of the articles in the two comic trade mags I follow or on Usenet.

DC's current Infinite Crisis I have been following... I assume that's what you mean/meant, not the 1985 DC classic "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (ed: I meant the 1985 one).

I'm ambivalent about some of the preliminaries to DC's Infinite Crisis; in particular, I feel that they let the Identify Crisis stuff go a bit too yucky. But DC has, IMHO, tied most of what seemed to be way unconnected stuff together, and the miniseries proper has been a rowser, mostly. The final issue is due out within the next week or three.

Anyway, back to your question. Marvel's Civil War... here's quotes excerpted from for what's probably a good description at Wikipedia:

- will center upon a newly enacted Super-human Registration Act, an act which splits notable superheroes within the Marvel Universe. This will result in two super-powered factions forming, and will build to the titular Civil War,

- ...this event crystallizes a government movement to register all super-powered beings as living weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent Registration Act will divide the heroes into two camps,

- ... During the Civil War, Marvel will unveil its version of Guantnamo Bay, enemy combatants, embedded reporters and more. The question at the heart of the series is a fundamental one: 'Would you give up your civil liberties to feel safer in the world?

There's arguably some similarities between this and some shorter (Civil War spills over like 150 issues of sundry titles, I think) story arcs and cross-overs by DC and by Marvel over the past ten or twenty years. HUAC and cry, if you will. The Justice Society had some of this "heroes must register" themes at times, and there was one, maybe two DC Elseworlds issues/mini-series expanding on this.

But Civil War takes place within the current Marvel universe as is (following after the resolution of the "House of M" stuff which I mostly ignored). I.e., there's no aggregation or duking it out of realities, multiple existances, etc. So, short answer, No. (Not conceptually similar to any of DC's Crises.)

Other than, as a very thin argument, "Both feature the near-full hero casts, often duking it out with each other." That's way too general, like saying, "tights and fights."

DC's Crises, in general, are on-stage efforts to clean things up... reduce overly complex and often replicated casts of characters, too much power, or the problems of reconciling the passage of time versus character's apparent ages. The first Crisis did that. So, sort of, did Zero Hour.

Or sometimes they'rejust big bust-em-up events, e.g. Armegeddon, Darkest Night (or whatever the "sun-eater" one was called), semi-yawn.

Some of the intents of the current DC "Crisis," if I understand correctly, include:

- an on-stage way to back off from excessive grim and gritty. This looks like it will work.

- providing a 'level reading field' for new readers and those of us who have been following DC continuity for way too long. I think they're accomplishing it, but not the way they mean too... I think we'll all be equally confused, which is not the same thing. And us alumni will know what we're confused about.

- "Re-booting" some existing characters with revised origins. Ho hum. Big deal.

- Clean out some excessive characters. Except you know most of them won't really go away.

- Introduce some new characters. 3/4s of which won't last, and with good reason.

- Put _some_ new faces into existing roles, e.g. a new Flash, I think. Fair enough, in some cases.

Generally, DC has had some dynamite stuff this past five or ten years. So has Marvel. And lots of so-so same-old. And some real turkeys.

Tom LaSusa:

Dan's pretty much spot on (isn't Wikipedia a godsend?)

The idea is to have friends, team-mates and even couples (such as Reed and Sue Richards) be on opposing sides of this issue.

Wikipedia offers a rough idea who is on which team.

The one monkeywrench in all this is going to be Spiderman, from what I understand. He recently joined the Avengers and Tony Stark also took Peter on as a protege' of sorts. Before all this stuff started, he asked Peter to 'trust him implicitly and back him up' no matter what, and Peter agreed, not knowing that this whole registration act thing was coming up. So Peter will be torn between his loyalty to Tony, and his personal desires to keep his identity a secret.

The whole thing is going to be sparked by a fight between some badguy and a second string team called the New Warriors. During the reckless battle, a school is destroyed, resulting in serious casualties, maybe deaths. This gives the gov't the ammo it needs to push for the act.

Dan's right, alot of these themes have been rehashed over the last couple of years. DC's kingdom come for instance started off with a 'reckless team' fighting a bad guy which resulted in the entire state of Kansas being destroyed -- this prompted Superman and his team to put out this "shape up or get put in the Gulag" plan, while Batman and his team opposed Supes' totalitarian behavior.

And, I'm getting awfully tired of these "Massive storylines" that carry over several dozen titles, PLUS the actual main title. Half the time, the other books had little or nothing to add to the plotline.

10am

 

Political Notes

Newt's Motives

Last week, Dan Grobstein (and by implication, myself) gave Newt Gingrich props for taking a principled stand on reapportionment. Here's a more cynical view that came in:

Gingrich is not (now and never was) ethical, he merely sees a Dem wave coming and wants to reduce their ability to control things over the next reapportionment cycle or two (say until 2022 or 2032).

His comment is of a piece with all those who backed HAVA in 2002 as a response to Florida 2000. They did so without realizing, or accepting the advice given at the time, that HAVA merely was a means to put Republican owned and controlled voting machine companies using "proprietary" software (for what is supposed to a public and transparent process) in charge of eventually counting almost all the ballots. The wonks won just the way they did when the know-it-alls convinced (i.e., gave campaign contributions to) a number of state legislatures to de-regulate electricity generation in the 1990's. The legislatures caved despite advice that de-regulation was a really bad policy. It only cost California a few billion large portions of which went to those fine folks at Enron.

Briefs

  • Proposed 2006 slogans for the Demos: 1. Had Enough? 2. Why does Rove still have a security clearance?
  • From Talking Points Memo: Mark Schmitt is pointing our attention exactly where it should be: Be warned. The White House is now telling us that engineering a confrontation with Iran is a key part of their plan to resuscitate the president's dismal approval ratings in time to survive election day. Here's what he wrote:

Time last week got the scoop on Josh Bolten's Five-Point Plan to protect the Bush administration from that which it fears the most -- subpoena power - through the familiar strategy of firing up their base. All of them seem lame or craven, or grotesque, not least the promise to ratchet up tensions with Iran for political reasons. "In the face of the Iranian menace, the Democrats will lose," says a source described as "a Republican frequently consulted by the White House."

  • As things stand now, this nation may finally have one of the worst epitaphs in history: They lost their liberty -- and they didn't even know it. posted by Arthur Silber.
  • This just in: Regarding the "illegal" immigrants in the United States: Where and when do all 290 or 295 million of you expect to go? After all, the treaties with the Indians were clearly procured by fraud and thus won't help. Without the treaties, the immigration starting about 1620 was illegal. Send a postcard when you get there. By the way, thanks for the new housing stock.
  • If someone sends you an e-mail entitled "Enron works The President," claiming by implication that Clinton was as close to "Kenny Boy" Lay as Bush, you should know it's a piece of trash. Check it out at Snopes.com.

8:00

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Beware the Blue Frog: the Israeli firm Blue Security was already somewhat controversial, since their Blue Frog anti-spam utility was effectively launching denial-of-service attacks against spammer sites. Not that anyone is more deserving of such abuse, but such vigilantism is both improper and illegal. However it was apparently surprisingly effective since several major spammers had capitulated and "scrubbed" Blue Security's clients from their spam lists. But at least one mounted a major campaign to super-spam the clients, and staged a DOS attack against the Blue website. See Retaliation for Antispam Success?, Spammers turn on antispam vigilantes and Blue Security attack linked to blog crashes. (BTW, off topic, but I can't help pontificating about a topic I've studied: blue frogs are a type of poison dart frog whose aposematic coloring is meant to be a conspicuous warning, to predators or spammers. It is the polar opposite of camouflage.)

Descent onto Titan: when the Huygens probe made its soft landing on Saturn's Moon Titan in January 2005 we saw some of the raw images showing an amazing landscape of valleys apparently eroded by "rivers" flowing into large flat "seas".  New analysis shows these flat areas are composed of a granular sandy material and look a lot like terrestrial deserts: Saharan Sand Dunes Found on Saturn's Moon Titan. Those raw images have now been stitched together, and using the technique known as image based rendering, have been used to create gorgeous visual simulations of what it would have looked like to ride on Huygens, watching out the window during the descent. This 156MB WMV file Huygens descent with narration will take a while to download, but I thought it was well worth the wait. For extra geekiness points see this visualization/sonification explaining how and when the data was collected (plus a written description).

Apple pickings: apparently when it comes to online music sales, Steve Jobs wields more clout than the major labels. He prevailed with the flat 99 cent per song price at iTunes over their plans to move to "more flexible", which is to say "higher", prices: Apple sets tune for pricing of song downloads, Apple renews flat-rate iTunes music contracts. Apple is losing some of its reputation for being an inherently more secure platform as potentially dangerous bugs pile up SANS notes sharp increase in Mac OS X flaws. Invention: Apple's all-seeing screen Apple has filed a patent on a design for a display screen with built-in micro-cameras. Among other advantages, this allows teleconferencing where the participants always look directly at the camera, instead of always appearing to be looking down as when the camera is located above the screen. Not quite the bee's knees, but see this related development: Insect eye inspires future vision.

Video games, key to jihad and DVD formats: from the war on terrorism to DVD format wars, video games are on the front lines: Islamists using U.S. video games in youth appeal and Video games a key battlefield in high-def DVD war. In the former, al Qaeda and others have joined the mod community, reverse engineering commercial video games, then creating custom content to replace the games original "art assets". The effect here is to take a game (Battlefield 2) where the player is one of the US soldiers shooting at terrorists in middle eastern garb, and to reverse the identities so now the player is a mujahadin shooting at the US infidels. A little back-story and voice over and presto! its a boffo recruitment tool. The connection with DVD formats is that Sony is using it upcoming PS3 console as the "nose of the camel" to get Blu-ray players into the home. Conversely Microsoft has teamed with Toshiba and will offer an external player for Xbox to support the rival HD DVD format.

Technobits: "state secrets privilege" EFF v. AT&T re. NSA: DOA?: Feds Go All Out to Kill Spy Suit --- Cries to change patent law --- Wikipedia Proves Fertile Ground for Political Shenanigans --- more on facial/emotional recognition: "Shrug-detecting" software recognizes your disinterest and Tokyo train station gets facial scan payment systems --- a third DARPA Grand Challenge for robot vehicles, this time its downtown driving --- new species from CMarZ: Rich Gallery of Deep-Sea Life Discovered in Bermuda Triangle see images --- Salvage prospect for 'junk' DNA --- 'Autistic' mice offer gene clue --- my wife and I are long time fans of the artist Andy Goldsworthy who make improbable transient artworks from natural materials, she sent me this video of something similar, with a twist: Balancing Point.

7:00

Humor

Boston Joke

Two boys in Boston were playing baseball when one of them was attacked by a rabid Rottweiler. Thinking quickly, the other boy ripped a board off of a nearby fence, wedged it into the dog's collar and twisted it, breaking the dog's neck. A newspaper reporter from the Boston Herald witnessed the incident and rushed over to interview the boy. The reporter began entering data into his laptop, beginning with the headline, "Brave Young Red Sox Fan Saves Friend From Jaws Of Vicious Animal" "But I'm not a Red Sox fan," the little hero interjected. "Sorry" replied the reporter. "But since we're in Boston, Mass, I just assumed you were." Hitting the delete key the reporter began, "John Kerry Fan Rescues Friend From Horrific Dog Attack" "But I'm not a Kerry fan either," the boy responds. The reporter says, "I assumed everybody in this state was either for the Red Sox or Kerry or Kennedy. What team or person do you like? " "I'm a Texas Ranger fan, and I really like George W. Bush," the boy says. Hitting the delete key the reporter begins again, "Arrogant Little Conservative Bastard Kills Beloved Family Pet"

6:40

Movies

Mission Impossible III

4 stars

They had me at the theme song. I was a huge fan of the original television series, with all of its absurdities and implausabilities. I felt like I was doing a stretching exercise each week, suspending that much of my disbelief. I always rooted for Mr. Phelps to pick someone new for his team, but he rarely did. Who knew there were so many eastern European countries? It's amazing Communism lasted that long. And, of course, you knew any show that didn't start with the standard opening was going to appear to be a failure.

There are absurdities and implausablities aplenty in this movie version, and you're required to check your disbelief at the door.

I give it four stars almost entirely for the small but memorable part of the massively sociopathic villain, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH

If you know that Cruise is... what, 5'6"--while Hoffman is 6'2", you might wonder why none of Hoffman's colleagues notice the eight inches in height he lost while he was in the mens' room.

END SPOILER

Speaking of Tom Cruise, a lot of observers have asked if it is now possible to view him on the screen without thinking of what a weirdo he has become. I can't speak for everyone, but I found it easy. On the other hand, to calibrate me, I also still find it possible to laugh at Woody Allen movies. I have always felt the we should separate the actor from the role, the life from the art. I never want to be one of those people who used to ask Robert Young or Richard Chamberlain for medical advice. If they turn in a good performance, that's all I want.

It's a silly film, but well crafted and not too intellectually insulting.

630

Letters

Dern and Chaucer, Future of Journalism Redux, Windows Tips, LaSusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern checks in with Chaucer's Blog.

Interested in the future of newspapers, editors, journalism, free society? Last week, I advised you to take a look at former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll's speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. This week, I offer an opposing view--or at least an orthogonal one.

Apropos of last week's listing of the Top 10 Windows XP Tips, one wag wrote: " Methinks the top Windows XP tip is: Buy an Apple."

It's not often a good friend can make you question his taste and his sanity simultaneously... like these links gathered by Tom Lasusa with a little help from his friends... Thank You Steven Colbert... Dead Ringers is a UK radio and television comedy impressions show.. Christmas with Doctor Who... (ed: I always loved Dr. Who) Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Brooch...Sons skip dad's election -- which ends in a tie... Llisten to a slew of celebrities curse up a storm... Badger Badger Badger -- Mushroom! Puppy Whirl... First Drink of the Day... Tron Guy.

Dan Grobstein File

  • LA Times: Words of Wisdom: Let It Be: A commercial-free FM station has an eclectic playlist and avid fans whose curiosity is spooking the reclusive man behind the music.

5:00

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