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 15, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

May 15, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 19

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Cleaning Up Rat Poop In The Guru's Garage
  • Words to Live By/Miracle of the Internet
  • These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Political News

  • Hillary and Murdoch, Agnew/Nixon/Ford: Cheney/Bush/Pelosi? Three Years in Iraq

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • Lucky Number Slevin
  • Poseidon
  • Neal Vitale Reviews: Over The Hedge, United 93


  • Peterman on Reincarnation, Sherry G's Book Recommendation, LaSusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Cleaning Up Rat Poop In The Guru's Garage

Amma is hard to sum up; you can check her web site. She is a Hindu guru, dubbed by Western reporters as the "Hugging Saint." My wife has been a devotee for years. Amma's hugged me a few times, and I am still on the fence about her divinity, but there is no question she does good work in this world, so I have helped out in her soup kitchen for years without hesitation. For the last five years, I have done seva (selfless service) during her visits to the San Ramon ashram near our home. This year, when I asked Vicki what she wanted for Mothers' Day, she said she wanted dinner on Sunday and "five hours of seva on Saturday."

Which is how I came to the lovely hilltop retreat in which Amma will live during her two weeks in Northern California. Tops on the list of seva opportunities on Saturday was the chance to clean out the garage. I wasn't shoveling rat s*** for two reasons: first, I didn't need a shovel, as a broom would do, and secondly, as the cognoscenti know, inside a house they're actually mice, not rats. Anyway, Vicki and I worked together for hours, cleaning, sweeping and re-arranging the physical objects in the space Amma will pass through twice a day during he visit. It was hard and boring work, but not as hard and boring as I expected. I must say I was flattered when the other women volunteering there told Vicki they thought I was funny and sweet. Still, the chances of my choosing this form of seva voluntarily, on a day which isn't the day before Mothers' Day, seems unlikely, at least until I become way more convinced about Amma as opposed to her good works.


Words to Live By/Miracle of the Internet

It started out when I gently corrected an old friend: Richard Nixon wasn't impeached, because he resigned when it became clear he was about to be both impeached and convicted. As a U.S. history teacher, I now feel obliged to offer such small corrections.

He mentioned a foreign leader's ringing defense of freedom of speech; I noted the man was probably consciously (or unconsciously) channeling Voltaire, who first used the line "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

We used to print that quote every day on the Oregon Journal editorial page. Other newspapers prefer Jefferson's "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." But then old Tom Jefferson was (with the exception of the Louisiana Purchase) a closet libertarian, an agrarian romantic/idealist, and an exponent of Tom Paine's idea: "that government governs best which governs least"

God Bless The Internet. 40 years ago you would have had to mimeograph this commentary and mail it around. I would have had to paraphrase the Voltaire and Jefferson quotes, and would have misattributed Paine's idea to Jefferson as well.


These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Apropos of a recent comment here, my friend Ross Snyder (once the voice of HP, now retired):

You opine that much is to be learned from anyone's choice of favorite movie. I'd add work of fiction, drama and musical. See what you make of these:

  • Favorite movie, ever: "Lawrence of Arabia"
  • Favorite work of fiction: split between "The Once and Future King" and the Tolkien "Ring" series.
  • Favorite serious drama: "All My Sons." Comedy: "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
  • Favorite musical: Rodgers & Hammerstein's little-noticed "Me And Juliet."

A game I play (and lose) with a UC Irvine music prof I've known a long time is one he scorns, as impossible to resolve: what are the greatest works of art of Western civilization?

My proposals: "The Night Watch" of Rembrandt, now in The Netherlands. But in music, what you'll think a very peculiar draw: The St. Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach and the Wagner "Ring of the Nibelungs." They could hardly be more different!

My friend wants to know, "what of the classics? How can you ignore, for example, the Parthenon?"

Thank you Ross. What your list says to me is that you are a man of taste, distinction, erudition and education with a wide range of interests.

Of course, it would be the conceit of my generation that the most telling taste is the one in movies. Regular readers will recall that I long said my favorite film was Citizen Kane; then I realized that it was trite, and that I just said that because of Pauline Kael. So, I decided my favorite film was Groundhog Day. Inspired by Ross, and uncertain what this list will add up to, here is my list. I am astounded by the small amount of passion aroused by most of these choices--perhaps the lack of passion contains a message as well. Like Golden Globes, I will separate my movie pick into comedy and drama:

  • Favorite Movies: Groundhog Day and The Paper.
  • Favorite Authors of Fiction: Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett
  • Favorite Playwright/Play: Tom Stoppard, either Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Jumpers. I still marvel that English is not his first language. Don't you?
  • Favorite Musical: Neil Simon and Cy Coleman's Sweet Charity (can't you just hear those first six notes? Dum dum da-dum da-dum), with Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady a close second.
  • Great Works of Art: Pretty much anything by Bach or Mozart, with the Brandenburg Concertos a standout. I don't have much taste/interest in the visual arts, but I know what I like, and Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Make of the list what you will.


Political Notes

Hillary and Murdoch, Agnew/Nixon/Ford: Cheney/Bush/Pelosi? Three Years in Iraq

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch held a fundraiser last week for Hillary Clinton. I like Hillary, because I like smart, self-assured women. I was engaged two two of them and lived with another before I married one. Still, this fundraiser goes way beyond politics making strange bedfellows; the middle of the road moderates to conservative punditocracy might say it represents the culmination of the morphing of the Democratic Leadership Council into the Republican Leadership Council. Comments from others would not be printable in a family newspaper or PSACOT. Perhaps she just needs more money for her Senate campaign - swallow that and we'll put you down for three bridges plus an oceanfront estate in Nebraska.

Financial Times: Hillary Clinton defends link with Murdoch


As is becoming clear from recent events, there are interesting forces (some would refer to them as powerful and hidden or at least as yet undisclosed) at work in a number of areas. It seems the establishment (or what is left of it of what passes for one today) realizes and has decided George is a dangerous mistake on many levels. If that decision had not been made, press coverage (in general) would have continued to cover for Bush. The execrable snap poll by The Post this week just means the pollster and his editors didn't get the memo (Poll: Most Americans Support NSA's Efforts). If speculation about Rove's indictment is correct, Karl can either cooperate or become a guest of the federal government (until after November, when George would, of course, pardon him). The possibility exists that Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor (with Karl's help) will encourage Dick Cheney to continue his career in the private sector. Cheney's level of cooperation will determine whether that return is to his own home or public housing way out of town, say Lompoc.

With or without Dick's cooperation, his premature departure from government service will enable an acceptable replacement for Dick to be named--acceptable in the sense that Jerry Ford was acceptable to the establishment).

Just as in 1974, the installation of the replacement will also make it possible for George W. to continue his career in the private sector (alternatively, installation of the replacement means the replacement and not Nancy Pelosi would pick up the pieces).

The Powers That Be can read the polls, the front page, and the financial pages. The alternative to the retirement of America's CEO and COO is to run the risk that the employers will be a tad assertive this fall. This raises the prospect that George and Dick will be handed gold watches and best wishes at the same time next year. That would clear the way for soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to pick up the pieces (there are some who think Nancy is missing from both the short list and long list of the TPTB.) That outcome would be so irritating for theTPTB that it alone makes it worthwhile to vote Democratic in November. Stick it to the man!


Richard Dalton wrote me about An AP story: A Closer Look at Three Years in Iraq. He saw it on Yahoo, but, alas, AP news on Yahoo is evanescent. He summarized:

People with potable water prewar - 50% 1/06 - 32%

Iraqis with sewerage access prewar - 24% 1/06 - 20%

Amount of electricity produced Prewar est. - 4 million megawatts 1/06 - 3.6 megawatts

Dalton concludes:

There are more, equally depressing, measures of the impact of the ruinous war we started. And none of these measures is nearly as depressing as the tens of thousands of people killed while we continue to push Iraq toward civil war and inspire thousands of insurgents who are now launching an estimated 75 attacks a day.

Well... what did you expect for your $300 billion investment in this shambles?



Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Doonesbury and MIT: In case you have not been following the strip, Mike Doonesbury's daughter Alex was accepted by many (all?) of the colleges she applied to. (I suspect she ends up at Walden College.) Before making a decision, she has been visiting the schools, including MIT. Then a few days later, the other shoe. There has been a lot of discussion about how clever she is, or alternately, how she got it wrong, or what assumptions one has to make for her to be right. I don't know enough about electronics to have a strong opinion, but I suspect Garry Trudeau got this "trick question" from a very authoritative source.

E3, PS3, DVD: after the announcement at E3, the news was Sony to Sell PlayStation 3 for $499 and a version with a bigger hard drive for $599. Turns out there are other significant differences, the lower price version does not include wi-fi, a memory card slot or a HDMI interface: Sony defends PlayStation 3 models. As to the benefits of the Blu-ray drive, cynics began to weigh in: Why the World Doesn't Need Hi-Def DVD's.

BitTorrent: pirate to partner: after years of cynically mischaracterizing the BitTorrent file sharing protocol as a tool intended for piracy, WB did a stunning about-face and embraced BT as a distribution channel: BitTorrent Gets a Seller's Permit. But they seem to be going about it in a ham-fisted fashion which seems doomed to failure. They will charge the same prices for downloads as for physical DVD, and the downloads will have DRM that prevents copying, including burning a DVD. So if you want to see it on your iPod and your home entertainment center, they expect you to pay twice.  More: Warners will use BitTorrent to distribute movies - but what about DRM? and Movie Studios Still Confused About How BitTorrent Works.

Email, not dead yet: via Mark Mason, via Paul: is email dying? Well, yes and no. In the department where I work we use both email and wikis. I'm not sure if that is the best, or worst, of both worlds.

Technobits: 30,000 Internet Censors In China To Be Defeated By 3 Hackers In Canada? --- Q&A with "Mother of the Internet" Radia Perlman --- Don Tennant on Microsoft's Rotten Effort --- Google Shows New Services in Battle of Search Engines --- Welcome to the New Dollhouse --- Mars Spacesuit Prototype Trials Underway in North Dakota --- OLEDs again --- Airlines Try Smarter Boarding --- Plankton blooms linked to quakes --- Tiny tags trace dragonfly paths (remember a similar thing for bees?) --- The Evolution of Cooperation: Hawks, Doves, Ravens and Starlings --- Why high-protein meat may curb appetite (also) --- Autistic brains 'never daydream' --- Women can tell if men like babies by seeing pix of their faces.






Lucky Number Slevin

3 stars

Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman , Ben Kingsley and Stanley Tucci. Can't go wrong territory, right? Paul McGuigan shows a sure hand in directing Jason Smilovic's script, which has twists and turns as good as The Sting or M. Night Shyamalan. [Don't worry, no spoilers here]. Come on, admit it, you were as intrigued by the trailer as I was. It appears to be a taut, mysterious murder mystery wrapped around a case of mistaken identity. And it is. Or is it? Anyway, the reviews were mixed, and it was released at a time of year when the studios release movies they aren't all that proud of. So, I delayed seeing it until the only place it was showing was at Oakland's Parkway pub/theater. (You may have noticed a recent lack of reviews, I've been busy with school and travel the last month, so marginal films aren't being seen). Anyway, I enjoyed parts of this film, and was entertained by parts, but there weren't enough of those parts and they didn't last long enough. The ending was entirely too pat. Satisfying, but pat. Not quite worth a regular admission, but maybe worth renting, just to watch the stars come out and chew the scenery. And what guy would pass up an opportunity to see Lucy Liu?



3 stars

Fuddy-duddy alert. I still remember Irwin Allen, the master of disaster, and I enjoyed his dopey films back in the 60s and 70s. Who would have though you could make a career out of fire and flood. He produced dozens of works (most for television) but would never be forgotten if he had produced just two: Towering Inferno and the original Poseidon Adventure, of which Poseidon is a remake. I saw an interview with director Wolfgang Petersen, in which he dismissed the "forty minutes of back story" formula used in the original. He said he was reluctant to make a third s film at sea after Das Boot and Perfect Storm. Perhaps he should have listened to that small, still voice inside himself.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with his direction, if you're a fan of all-action, no-plot movies. It appears everyone hit their marks (many of them from several stories up), and that Petersen got his wish of never having to go anywhere near the ocean with the helps of gigantic amounts of CGI. And frankly, this is some of the most impressive CGI I have ever seen. And to think, water used to be hard to do. But, with the exception of me and a few other people, is the thrill of a special-effects spectacle really what most people want from their films? Gosh, I hope not.


Neal Vitale Reviews: Over The Hedge, United 93

Over The Hedge--4.5 stars

This DreamWorks Animation (Shrek, Madagascar) film is a delight. Inspired by Michael Fry and T Lewis' comic strip, Over The Hedge is, on the surface, a inspiring but fairly standard story of friendship and family. What energizes and elevates it is a strong narrative and visual undercurrent that lacerates many aspects of current American life - sprawling development, conspicuous consumption, and antiseptic suburbs. A band of animals - voiced by a terrific cast, including Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, and Garry Shandling - go on a food-foraging crusade, and attempt to outwit homeowners and pest control heavies in their quest for sustenance. The results are hilarious - Over The Hedge fully achieves the Holy Grail of appealing to adults as well as to kids. My only complaint is the insipid songs from Ben Folds - including a completely incongruous Clash cover - in the soundtrack. Round One of this year's Animation Derby goes to DreamWorks . But Pixar's much-delayed Cars comes out next month, which should make It an interesting summer.

--Neal Vitale

United 93 - 4.5 stars

Writer/director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday) has created a masterful, wrenching film, capturing the story of the one hijacked jet on September 11 that did not fulfill its mission. I had approached United 93 with trepidation and skepticism. Would it be believable? Sensationalized? Jingoistic? Greengrass has done an extraordinary job of capturing the chaos of that day, tracking events from multiple perspectives - the hijackers, passengers and crew on the plane, flight controllers on the ground, and the military. Confusion, errors, and misinformation abound. Through this maelstrom of activity, United 93 elicits powerful reactions in the viewer - anger, frustration, horror. I came out of the theatre shaken and moved, unlike anything I can remember in my recent filmgoing. Don't miss this film.

[Editor's note: I try not to second-guess Neal's reviews, and since I haven't seen this film, I really can't second-guess it. I just want to say, speaking only for myself and based on the previews, I really don't think I can watch this film yet. Maybe when it comes out on DVD. But it appears to me to be a too-intense experience. --Paul]

-Neal Vitale




Peterman on Reincarnation, Sherry G's Book Recommendation, LaSusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman checks in with: Find out what you'll be in your next life at The Reincarnation Station... (he will be a chimp, his wife a lion). I will be an owl. The site reeks of Karma.

Tom Lasusa, with a little help from his friends, suggests these links: Superman is a Dick (and oldie but goodie)...The Skeletor Show...'This administration may be over'... Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires -- the Fire Chief's too Busy Starting them... Would NOT want to be this guy's Prison Bunk Mate...George Lucas Wants The Shirt off Your Back -- so he can sell you this one... The Kids in the Hall present "Dr. Suess' Bible"...Palpatine Gets a Collect Call... Bubba Beats Bush in Survey.

Speaking of smart, self-assured women I was once engaged to (as mentioned above), Sherry Grobstein (Dan's sister) writes:

I just finished Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. My jaw is still dropped. It describes how the World Bank, big oil and construction companies are maintaining the status quo in the world and making the rich richer and poor poorer. Looking back at the history we've lived through (Panama invasion, oil embargoes, etc) things are becoming clearer.


Grobstein File

Dan reports from a public seminar on intelligence

Just back from this talk at the NY Public Library.

Adm. Inman says that General Hayden is Negroponte's man. Hayden is not Rumsfeld's man because he had a major disagreement with Rumsfeld so in the style of the Bush people you get pushed away. I think it was Keefe who said that you can always get the legal opinion that you want when the man at the top sends a request for an opinion so that they can do something, there will always be an underling who will figure out a way to grant the wish. If the underling does not grant it, then they are pushed aside and stop getting cc'd. Reisen was asked how he felt when his story was not published before the 2004 elections (the questioner said that if it had then Dubya would have lost). Reisen said that he felt that the public was not ready for the story and that it got a lot more attention for being published when it was and actually he was very surprised about the amount of attention that it did get.

Adm. Inman said that he felt that the CIA was broken 10 years ago and needed to be reformed. He feels that the analysis and the field operations are too close and that the analysts try too hard to support the field people. I got the impression that they all think that it is a bad thing for the Defense Department to control intelligence gathering. They feel that the courts should have oversight over eavesdropping. Congress could change the law if they wanted to. A lot of the warrantless eavesdropping was data mining rather than specific eavesdropping on individuals and it is hard to go the the court to get the warrants because the numbers are so large, but the president should be following the law. Right after 9/11 they feel that he would have had support for the data mining but more time has passed between 9/11 and now than between Pearl Harbor and VJ Day. The time has come to rethink this stuff (hopefully in a good way).

Adm. Inman says that American citizens (and Green Card holders who are in the same category) get monitored accidentally and that names and identifying details are normally redacted in the reports. John Bolton routinely asked who the redacted person was when he was reading the reports and he was told. Admiral Inman said that he would have put a stop to it after the 2nd or 3rd instance. Admiral Inman said that the president's brother came up in one of his surveillance operations when he was at NSA (I assume it was Billy Carter and the Libyans) and he went to the Attorney General for advice.

The Admiral commented on the story that the FBI was overwhelmed by "leads" from the surveillance and they thought that the leads were worthless. He says that the FBI is good at crime things, (evidence, capturing criminals), but that they had no experience in putting together the little pieces of data to figure out what is going to happen like military intelligence and CIA analysts. He knows that lives were saved when he was at NSA because of surveillance.

The Admiral did most of the talking. He says when he was in the NSA he failed to predict all this digital stuff that is now going on. The panel was asked about encryption and they said that there is a mining program that looks for encryption, but that many times the people don't use it, but rather talk around the subject. They get a lot of information from that. Also even though codes are broken, and they are known to be broken they continue to be used. The story of Ahmed Chalabi telling the Iranians that the CIA was reading their coded messages came up. The Iranians are still using the codes. Possibly they don't believe the US media. Adm. Inman said that he released the Japanese codes from World War II, but did not release the KGB codes that were used (and broken) when they captured the Rosenbergs. The reason is that until recently, the KGB was still using the code. He says that they continued to use it because they didn't necessarily trust the agent and didn't want to give him their latest and greatest code and also it is possible that with all the white noise of messages it would be missed. They no longer use it and the intercepts have been released which gives a lot more information on the Rosenberg case.


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