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 22, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

May 22, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 20

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Rae's Home -- Don't Blink!
  • No More Summer Schedule
  • Thank You To A Teacher
  • What Brings You Here?

Political News

  • Knocking the AP, National Guard Tracking Skills

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Water
  • White Rainbow
  • Over The Hedge

Letters

  • Lasusa Links, Chuch Carroll on Immigration, More Meiers

General News

Rae's Home -- Don't Blink!

She swooped in Monday night, fluttered around buying and testing camping gear, then swooped out. Here but a brief four days, Rae brought with her, as she does on every visit, a flutter of energy and chaos, and a tendency towards midnight snacking that would be endearing in a better designed house. We saw two movies together (see reviews below), both of which were in Hindi and fit with Rae's newly found interest in Indian cinema. In fact, which she clears brush and builds trails at Great Basin National Monument in Nevada this summer, she is hoping to learn to speak and read Hindi.

It's like a drive-by shooting of my heart; share my home with my younger daughter for a few days, then she's gone.

Coming up next: Marlow in June.

11:30am

No More Summer Schedule

Kent Peterman wrote:

How are you? Is school winding down? I've come to the depressing thought that the boards, commissions, and meetings go on and on and on so no summer.

You know, Kent, it's funny you should mention that. I remember when Marlow left home thinking, "Well, that's it. Once Rae is gone, my life will never be a slave to the September-June calendar again, after 42 years on it, man and boy." Then I got laid off, and by the time Rae left, I was on the September-June calendar again, and it affected me in ways I could never have imagined.

First of all, having not worked in an office since 1979, I was shocked (as you'll recall) at the appalling physical toll my first year of full-time teaching took (gained 30 pounds, irregular heartbeat). I am still struggling to get the weight off, I seem to have beaten the irregular heartbeat, and half-time work agrees with me (even if it seems to rub district bureaucracy the wrong way). All of which is by way of saying that I can see now why the school calendar is the way it is; because if there weren't a summer break, either we and the students both would die or would kill each other.

It is a shame the students forget so much over the summer, but by the same token they forget a lot during the course of the school year. I shudder to think what their scores would be if I quizzed them on the things we learned before Thanksgiving. If would be an interesting, albeit scary, experiment to try. I don't think I'm up for it.

So, to specifically answer your questions, school is winding down and it is true what you and everyone else told me: it DOES get easier each year. This is the best I've felt in May since I started teaching. I'm well-rested and only a little snappish with my students, some of whom earned a little snappishness by checking out mentally on Mayday. I am looking forward to the summer, in particular to the now annual rediscovery of the top of my desk by the Fourth of July. As is now my pattern, I have a couple of major projects in mind for the summer. So far, I've accomplished two each summer. I have high hopes for this summer.

11am

Thank You To A Teacher

At first, I was going to post this with the name of the professor, but my daughter Rae convinced me it would be as powerful if it were anonymous. Several years ago, I quoted a teacher friend of mine by name in this column and she was furious. I removed her name from my site and almost learned my lesson. As Rae said, "You don't want to anger someone to whom you are grateful." She is right. So, I have removed the identifying details. But minus a few words, this is the letter I sent last week to an old professor.

Dear Professor

After 30 years as a journalist, I cannot help myself; I have to write this as an inverted pyramid.

Thank you. The brief time I spent as your student was valuable to me and improved my life.

I would be flattered and surprised if you remembered me from your playwriting course... but I sure as heckfire remember you. I felt compelled to write because I am now a teacher, with a fuller realization that, since we're clearly not in it for the money, we must be in it for the psychic rewards. I would like to offer you what I hope will be a small psychic reward--you made my life better.

I am constantly amazed (and sometimes either disappointed or downright shocked) at the things my students remember from my class, so I will tell you what I remember from my time with you. I remember you gave us a reading of your one-act play... It may even have been a work in progress when you read it to us. My vision of the scene is one of rapt attention by the students and a fantastic reading by you. I remember you allowing me to read my execrable play Sam Patch (actually, the book for a musical produced at the MIT radio station, the master tape for which I just rediscovered) to the class. As I recall it, you gently pointed out to me that the play lacked an antagonist, and that an antagonist was a fairly critical element of most plays. My memory tends to be epigrammatic, so I remember the advice you gave about playwriting: "Good versus evil is a comic book. Good versus good makes an interesting play."

I came to MIT intending to become an electrical engineer. Once I arrived, however, I found myself so distracted by non-academic activities that, in the words of my freshman advisor, I was in the "twilight of a mediocre academic career." The best way to decide on a career path, I felt, was to look at my teachers and ask, "Who seems to be enjoying themselves the most?" My science, engineering and math teachers seemed happy enough, for the most part, but I was bowled over by the joie de vivre of only two teachers: my late mentor, former Newsweek senior editor Edwin Diamond--and you. I loved writing Sam Patch and working for The Tech and was utterly disinterested in nearly everything else I was doing. That cinched it for me. I would write for a living.

I only wrote one more piece for public performance, a four-part series of 15-minute (incredibly derivative) radio sketch programs for the MIT student radio station. After that I was a full-time professional journalist for three decades. Every word I wrote was ephemeral, as evanescent as baby's breath, and had the shelf life of fish. In my 50s, I decided to leave a more permanent mark on the world, and that's how I came to teach 8th grade U.S. History. Once more, you were an influence; as I contemplated the career change, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the numerous fine teachers who helped me become the happy and successful person I am. Alas, many of those teachers are no longer with us, but I have thanked as many of them as I can find. I realized at about 4:30 this morning that I had not thanked you. You may be happy to hear that I spent a delightful two hours composing this letter in my mind before I got up. I am particularly proud of the descriptions of the permanence of my journalism.

In addition to mailing you this in care of your agents at William Morris, I am posting it on my blog because I am proud of having been your student. Also, one of the most interesting aspects of the blogosphere is that someone will stumble across this someday (possibly as soon as next week), and be inspired to write to one of their teachers--maybe even me. Let the chain remain unbroken!

Yours truly,
Paul Schindler

10am

What Brings You Here?

Taking a page from Jim Forbes, I hope to at least note, if not expand upon, the subjects which seem to bring strangers here.

A lot of people are interested in state impeachment resolutions, discussed here on May 1. This mechanism is probably the only way we're going to force the American system to work and impeach book. Both of our impeached presidents were railroaded by a partisan House of Representatives. Only Nixon was on his way to bipartisan impeachment, which is why he quit. Why destruction of the fourth amendment by the President is not considered cause for impeachment is a mystery to me.

By the way, when this country was deep in real wars (the Civil War, WWI, WWII) at no time did the president suspend the fourth amendment. Lincoln suspended Habeus Corpus, Roosevelt threw the Japanese in internment camps, but none of them ever felt required, by the demands of a "unitary executive" or anything else, to willfully and publicly declare that they could ignore the parts of the constitution about warrants and judicial oversight when those seemed inconvenient. I teach my eighth graders that we are a government of laws not men. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and we must all obey it--specifically including the President, Congress and the Judiciary. What distinguishes a Constitutional government from a dictatorship is that, under a Constitutional government, the powers of government are limited.

So, as I told you before, the rules of the House, written by Thomas Jefferson and still in force -- readopted every two years at the start of a new Congress--specifically allow state impeachment resolutions as an alternative to a vote by the House. Let's get busy, before there is nothing left of the constitution to defend. This, I tell you, is high crimes and misdemeanors, not lying about sex with an intern. But if you want to consider perjury an impeachable offense, I say impeach Bush for perjury when he swore to protect and defend the Constitution during his inauguration.

Whew. Well, the other thing that apparently brings people here are searches for movie reviews. At first, I thought people were searching for Neal Vitale reviews in particular, because so many of them showed up on the referrers list. Turns out you can actually see the query that brought a reader to your web site, and that Neal's reviews show up more than mine because a) he reviews films earlier than I do and b) he reviews more interesting, less-reviewed films than me. That is, people are not searching for him by name, but for the names of movies.

9:00

Political Notes

Knocking the AP, National Guard Tracking Skills

I used to work for both the Associated Press and United Press International. Frankly, it's all a human being can do to get the report out every day. A wire service is not a place of memos and dark political intrigue... oh wait, it is, but that's all internal as people snipe at each other in writing and backstab their way to the top. Anyway, that apologia doesn't mean the AP is right. Media Matters is right: AP advanced false, misleading claims regarding NSA surveillance, and AP uncritically reported Rove's false claim that Bush's favorability ratings are in the 60s. The typical wire service claim is that they play it down the middle because they have clients (or in the case of the AP, members) on both sides of the political spectrum. That's true up to a point, but in fact, historically both wires (when there were two) and now the AP have a huge built-in bias towards authority. If there's an official U.S. government word, phrase or position, that's the one AP will run without the word "alleged" in front of it or "quotation marks" around it. If there's a strike, AP will take management's side (check out Upton Sinclair's Brass Check for the historic background).

***

In his speech the other night President Bush called for the National Guard to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border. The guard will track down and find illegals. I don't know, that's not really what the guard's job is. They're trained to fight, not track and find people. Lets be honest, the guard couldn't track and find President Bush when he was in the National Guard.

- Jay Leno, The Tonight Show

Which suggests another obvious question the press corps won't ask: Given that the National Guard could not track and find you during your National Guard service, why should you or the American people expect that the National Guard will now be able to track and find illegal immigrants?

 

Briefs

8:00

Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Spammers win, Blue Frog croaks: wow! Someone tried to get tough with spammers and the spammers proved they are tougher. The quasi-vigilante tactics of Blue Security and their Blue Frog tool were considered a bit over the edge by many. Yet spammers are the object of universally loathing. So it was the battle of the Questionable versus the Despicable. Unfortunately the Despicable won, and that is pretty scary. There are forces out there on the web (the Russian mob?) who are currently beyond the reach of vigilantes and law enforcement. Like rogue nations or pirates on the high seas, it will take big guns to knock these guys down: Web attacks end anti-spam effort, Antispam advocate succumbs to spammer and In the Fight Against Spam E-Mail, Goliath Wins Again.

EFF vs. AT&T re. NSA: Wired posted key documents regarding EFF's lawsuit against AT&T for allowing NSA to conduct illegal warrantless wiretaps. AT&T tried and failed to get the judge to suppress the documents. In the aftermath of the USA Today story about massive domestic call tracking the regional phone companies said they never handed over records (BellSouth: No Call Data to NSA), interestingly the "denial" from AT&T was highly nuanced. But aren't these word games off the mark? If the phone companies routed all of our traffic through NSA's spy rooms, there is no need for them to hand over any records, the NSA has already collected all the data itself.

Post-E3 video game stuff: several game-related items.  Discussion of the price of PS3 lead to this comparison: History of Console Prices. Another examination of the zombies that result from almost real synthetic humans: Video game art pushing edge of realism right into the uncanny valley! One E3 preview that got a lot of attention was Eye of Judgement, an upcoming title for PS3. It combines traditional combat card games with computer vision technology to create a mixed reality video space where synthetic monsters materialize above the real cards.  See this video and a still of the camera. More: PlayStation 3 rethinks card games, EyeToy's creator shows off his latest, crazy idea and The coolest card game comes to the PS3!

Blaming everyone but themselves: in the 1980s BPI claimed "Home Taping is Killing Music". They were wrong. In 1982 Jack Valenti told Congress "...the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." He was wrong. Now the major labels claim XM radio is killing music. Give me a break! When will these whiners take some personal responsibility for shooting themselves in the foot by slavishly sticking to outmoded business models?

Satellite formations and (not) docking: two items about positioning satellites relative to each other, one about control: Satellites to try formation flying on space station, and one about mechanism: Lasers could ensure satellites fly in perfect formation. An attempt at autonomous docking gone awry: Spacecraft collision due to catalogue of errors.

Technobits: Gadget firms tackled on usability --- Google Notebook Review --- Analysis: eBay patent ruling gets mixed reviews --- Dolphins whistle their true identity.

7:00

Humor

None

6:40

Movies

Water

4 stars

Rae is a big fan of Indian cinema, so we went to see this at a little art house last week. The cashier had locked himself out of the box office, so we have handwritten tickets. It is part of a trilogy by Deepa Mehta that also included Earth and Fire.

Here's IMDB's description:

Set in the 1930s during the rise of the independence struggles against British colonial rule, the film examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

On the way home, Rae asked me what I was going to say about the film. I found myself trying to explain my star system and what I consider to be art. The stars, I feel, should combine entertainment value (or, if not entertainment value, then thought-provoking value) and artistic quality. I would be shocked if a summer blockbuster ever got more than 3.5 stars from me, because they tend to be pedestrian rather than brilliant in artistic terms. An hysterical comedy or a deeply moving drama, perhaps more, but those don't tend to get released in the summer. Regular readers will recall that I feel art requires ambiguity or thought--multiple viewings or time should allow for multiple interpretations by a single person--which is why Mission Impossible and Poseidon were, in my opinion, no more than three star films.

I once harbored the dream of becoming a movie reviewer, but it is precisely films like Water (plus a lack of proper education and woefully insufficient effort on my part to obtain such a job) that discouraged me from that career field. Several times a year, I walk out of a film unsure of just what I think. Is Water brilliant or pretentious? It is beautiful, well-crafted, ambiguous and it has subtitles. Plus, I feel you should see it--and the religious fanatics in India prefer you not see it. So, that cinched it for me. Four stars. If you can stand two hours of Hindi in service of an important plot with a rare combination of beautiful and hideously ugly people, see it.

6:30

White Rainbow

3 stars

Remarkably, there is another movie in general release on the exact same subject (the plight of Indian widows), set in the present. One the one hand, production values (acting, cinematography, continuity, sets) are clearly much more Indie than the mainstream Mehta film. On the other hand, this movie doesn't try to pretend the problem is one of the past. Which either makes it more direct or more honest or both. Frankly, it's not an issue with which I was previously familiar. Again, India in general and Indian men do not, frankly, look very good as presented in this film. It probably isn't fair (I can imagine what an honest film about any of America's ghettos would look like), but it is thought-provoking. Outside of the SF Bay Area, I find a hard time imagining that you'll ever find it in a theater or on DVD. But if you do, take a look. Its heart is in the right place.

6:15

Over The Hedge

4.5 stars

Just catching up with Neal Vitale's more comprehensive review of Over The Hedge. I agree, this is a 4.5 star movie that achieves the old Warner Brothers standard: sufficient cultural references to amuse the adults, sufficient slapstick to amuse the children. The comic strip does not run in either of my daily papers, the San Francisco Chronicle or the soon-to-be-destroyed-by-cheap-management Contra Costa Times. I discovered it five years ago--I always check out the collected comic strips in book stores. Thanks to the Internet, I get to read Over The Hedge every day anyway. Most days I enjoy it; it is decidedly off-center, in the spirit of my other favorites, Bizarro and The Fusco Brothers. The humor of the strip could not possibly translate to the screen, but the movie consists of characters that are identifiable, by personality, as those in the newspaper. The celebrity voices are swell; Bruce Willis is the most natural. Gary Shandling hollowed out his voice for the role, as did William Shatner; they are barely identifiable. Eugene Levy is... well... Eugene Levy with a cute accent.

5:45

Scary Movie 4

3 stars

The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay. But put Pat Proft and Jim Abrams behind a keyboard David Zucker behind the camera, and parody is here to stay. It may, in fact, close on Saturday night, as the famous show business axiom posits. But the products of this team, including Airplane, Naked Gun, and Hot Shots are classics of comedy that will live as long as people appreciate fart jokes. It took me a while to get around to seeing Scary Movie 4 (by which time it was reduced to the ignominy of one show a day at a suburban multiplex), but it is a funny parody of Saw and War of the Worlds, among others. It was a joy to see Dr. Phil and Shaq make fun of themselves, and Bill Pullman deserves a lifetime achievement Oscar for this performance, along with his work in Spaceballs. And Leslie Nielsen--well, the first line of his obituary better feature his comedy before it features his drama, because I've seen his drama, and he's no Meryl Streep. This one must be close to coming out on DVD, so, as I said, if you like fart jokes, this is the movie for you.

5:40

Letters

Lasusa Links, Chuch Carroll on Immigration, More Meiers

The tenant from hell: When a Utah man moved out of his townhouse, his landlord found quite a collection -- an estimated 70,000 beer cans.

Tom Lasusa, with a little help from his friends, suggests these links: This Week in God... BOO!... Before there was Han, there was Biggs...ChessBoxing...Son of Ronald McDonald... holy crap, they found Xena's Grave!... President Gore addresses Alternate Earth (under new videos)... The great anti-carbon dioxide conspiracy ... "Ten Things I Hate About Commandments" -- a Teen Comedy... An Earth Sandwich... Clever death notice in Swiss newspaper

Chuck Carroll has posted new thoughts on the immigration issue.

Steve Coquet writes:

This is from Slate's Jurisprudence column:

Surely the White House has learned this one thing from the Harriet Miers fiasco: You cannot mollify wary social conservatives with a middle-of-the-road nominee. The last time the Bush administration tried that stunt, they pulled back a charred lump of Harriet.

Am I the only one in America besides Karl Rove and Harriet Meiers that knows she was just a stalking horse? They put her up so she could be shot down. Worked pretty well, too. Then they got their real candidate in without too much trouble.

 

Dan Grobstein File

  • Atrios: Still Not Noteworthy: The current #2 "album" at the iTunes store is the audio of Colbert's WHCA dinner performance. $1.95.
  • Digsby's Blog: Special Republican Edition iPod
  • New York Times MAGAZINE | May 14, 2006
    Scan This Book!
    By KEVIN KELLY
    Despite the opposition of publishers and their lawyers, the world's texts are being electronically copied, digitized, searched and linked.

5:00

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