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

July 24, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

July 24, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 28

Table of Contents:

General News

  • My Apologies, Week in Review
  • Catching Up With The Week of July 10

Political News

  • Iraqi Civilian Deaths, Lost Faith

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs:

Humor

  • The Top 20 Plagiarized Ann Coulter Quotes

Movies

  • Neal Vitale Reviews: Prairie Home Companion, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Libertine

Letters

  • Lasusa Links, Carroll on the Muslim Mexican Connection, The Other Al Gore Documentary

General News

My Apologies, Week in Review

This summer is definitely slipping away from me. All of my travel last week kept me away from the column, and for that I apologize. Some briefs from this week:

  • I almost didn't make it this week. The excuse was that I was working on my mother-in-law's memoirs. In her 80s, she wrote out the story of the first 50 years of her life. I am sorry she never got around to the final three decades, because the first five were lulus! Of course, being me, one thing led to another. I felt I had to Google the famous people she met along the way (including Salvador Dali), run a family tree, and then scan in some pictures, then edit them and size them and correct some errors in the family tree (I just cannot spell Berkeley right). Is it just me or do things like this happen to other people as well?
  • Vicki, Marlow and I will be hiking between the seven lodges in Tuolomne Meadows at Yosemite National Park on August 14. My hiking shoes (last worn in 1991) literally fell apart when I tried to break them in, so they needed replacing. We also don't own sleep sacks, or unbreakable water bottles, or zip up fleece... you get the idea. Financially, a good day for REI, not as good a day for us. It's a pretty good hike: no tents, sleeping bags or food needs to be taken along. Now I just have to wear hiking shoes everywhere for a month.
  • Tuesday was Vicki's birthday. We've developed a habit of taking a two-hour bike ride before a dinner out; we'd planned to do that in Walnut Creek. It was still 90 at 6pm, so we drove into the city and biked The Great Highway and Golden Gate Park for 90 minutes, then ate at one of the outdoor tables at Pinocchio's (not to be mistaken for Finnochio's) in North Beach.
  • You might think the triple-digit heat of the past week would distract me, but it didn't, except on Wednesday, when I insisted on making a long-planned trip into the city to spend a few hours reading at the beach. I got a late start, and it was 80 at Ocean Beach in San Francisco by the time I got there (80! Can you beat that?)
  • My notice of non-column writing, sent out last week, asked for information on biodiesel. Bob Nilsson pointed me at a discussion of the subject on the website of the TV show Mythbusters. I found out there is a difference between biodiesel and just plain vegetable oil, and it appears biodiesel is, well, legal, while plain vegetable oil is, well, not. Apparently, a vegetable oil car is complicated to run, according to the story in Sunday's New York Times Grease Is the Word: Fill It Up With Fry Oil. You can also look at a biodiesel FAQ (aimed at fleet managers, but still interesting and intelligible and a used car dealer in Petaluma, CA that specializes in diesel passenger cars.

11:00

Catching Up With The Week of July 10

Here's what you would have read about, probably in more detail, had I been able to get it together and do a column last week:

  • I went to LA for four days to catch up with friends. Sunday it was JF, a buddy of mine from the computer journalism days, now ensconced and retired in the suburbs of San Diego. He allowed me to shoot his .22 at a target; the first time I have ever fired a weapon of any kind. Then, when he found out I had never ridden at ATV or been to a Wal-Mart, he made sure I did both with him. JS, a professor friend of mine from USC, was kind enough to invite me to his home in Palos Verdes. We walked 90 minutes together and ate dinner in town, and promised to ship each other a bunch of stuff later. JP, another friend from my journalism days, welcomed me to his home in Studio City on Tuesday, where we spoke of old times. That walk was too short, as was the visit, because I had an unrealistic expectation of finding a Prius for my daughter Marlow. The car didn't show up, and I left JP too soon. Politically, we don't agree on much, but he is the finest conversationalist I have ever met, and his manners are impeccable. Finally, Neal Vitale (I can use his name; he's a regular in this column) met me at his house in Pacific Palisades before taking me out to a delightful dinner at a trendy place in Santa Monica whose name I have forgotten. Always a joy to spend time with Neal; our friendship goes back to MIT days. This is the second year I've made a four-day sojourn to LA in the summer; maybe I should try a three-day weekend in the fall. And I didn't even get around to seeing BG or NU and AU (the night I was free they were at the Hollywood Bowl).
  • We celebrated Vicki's birthday with a trip to the Osmosis Spa in Freestone and a stay at the finest B&B we've ever been in. If only it were five miles closer to the coast... Wish the dinner on Occidental had been as good, but at least it was nice out...
  • Magical Strings, which consists of Vicki's childhood friend Pam Boulding and her lovely and handsome husband Philip, performed at Sonoma State. They were nice enough to snare me a seat and a dinner for the concert, which was fantastic, as are all their concerts (and, for that matter, their CDs). It was 90 minutes up and 90 minutes back, but worth every minute of it.
  • Marlow moved into her first-ever apartment, in San Francisco. What, you say? What about New York, and Harbin, China and Taipei, Taiwan, and Leiden, The Netherlands. There were apartments, yes, but they were furnished and functioned more or less as dorm rooms. This is Marlow's apartment, and she loved shopping for the furniture at Sleep Train, Scandinavian Design and, yes, of course, Ikea. I bought her electronics with her at Circuit City. Vicki and I joined her for an eight-hour spree of electronics set up and furniture assembly, after which she had a flat-screen TV (with DVD, cable and home theater sound), a working landline portable telephone and a working DSL wireless setup. Furniture: a butcher block on wheels in the kitchen, a bookshelf, a dining room table and chairs, and a chest of drawers in the bedroom closet. That's a lot of Ikea. But, in the end, very satisfying.

10:00

Political Notes

Iraqi Civilian Deaths, Lost Faith

Please note: I am just too baffled by the whole Middle East thing to make an intelligent comment on either Iraq or Israel-Lebanon

Richard Dalton notes:

This pretty shocking--the result of our $300 billion investment in Iraqi democracy.

Over 3,000 Iraqi Civilians Killed in June, U.N. Reports

By KIRK SEMPLE BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 18 - An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today...

In the first six months of this year, the civilian death toll jumped more than 77 percent, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June, the organization said...

In its report, the United Nations said that 14,338 civilians had died violently in Iraq in the first six months of the year....

According to the United Nations' tallies, 1,778 civilians were killed in January, 2,165 in February, 2,378 in March, 2,284 in April, 2,669 in May and 3,149 in June....

The totals represent an enormous increase over figures published by media organizations and by non-governmental organizations that track these trends.

The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an independent Web site that uses news reports to do its tallies, reported that at least 840 Iraqi civilians died in June, compared with an all-time high of 1,100 the previous month.

***

Bush's base (the right wing) continues to bail out. [Thank you Dan Grobstein] Andrew Sullivan:

In the last few years, I have gone from lionizing this president's courage and fortitude to being dismayed at his incompetence and now to being resigned to mistrusting every word he speaks. I have never hated him. But now I can see, at least, that he is a liar on some of the gravest issues before the country. He doesn't trust us with the truth. Some lies, to be sure, are inevitable - even necessary - in wartime. But when you're lying not to keep the enemy off-balance, but to maximize your own political fortunes at home, you forfeit the respect of people who would otherwise support you - and the important battle you have been tasked to wage.

Pat Buchanan: Israeli-Lebanon conflict "Not Our War." Generally speaking, if Pat Buchanan told me he loved his mother, I'd check it out. But he was certainly spot-on here, especially when he says, "But these neoconservatives care no more about the Constitution than they cared about the truth when they lied into war in Iraq."

Briefs

Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Stem cell out: I listened to President Bush veto federal funding for the promising biomedical technology of stem cells. He said he did it to avoid crossing a "moral boundary." I seethed thinking about the prolonged suffering of victims of diseases that will eventually be treated or cured by treatments based on stem cells. I wondered how he could care so much about a blastocyte but so little about the young Americans he sends to war, let alone the Iraqi victims of the war. Yeah, it would have been a good rant for Technobriefs if they hadn't done it better the next night on the Daily Show (the relevant bit starts about 3 minutes in). The previous show ("milking the zygotes" indeed sir!) featured a speech by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. He noted that today it is OK to destroy a frozen embryo but illegal to destroy an eagle's egg. Sam thinks this is ironic because he apparently believes that like eagles, humans are an endangered species. The ban on federal funding is more pervasive that it may first seem, privately funded research cannot happen in labs even partially funded by the feds. Two governors quickly stepped in to provide alternate funding for stem cell research, $100 million in Illinois and $150 million in California (a bridge loan while the voter approved state funding is held up in court). Some good news: Stem Cells Help Repair Rats' Paralysis and Scientists Coax Nerve Fibers To Regrow After Spinal Cord Injury.

Net neutrality goes mainstream: as political maneuvering and lobbying pressure builds in Congress over net neutrality, the issue has become the stuff of popular culture: John Hodgman explains net neutrality. Particularly so after Senator Ted Stevens stuck his foot in his tube.  Jon Stewart had picked on Stevens, although this Merc story says he is getting bad rap: Senator spoofed for lapse in lingo. Note Craig Newmark's analogy near the bottom: "Imagine you call Joe's Pizza and the first thing you hear is a recording saying your call will be connected in a minute or two, or you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That's what proponents of net neutrality say telephone and cable companies want to do to the Internet."

Blue blue O'Riley: late last Sunday we stumbled upon a PBS pledge drive cross-promoting Blue Man Group's upcoming How To Be A Megastar Tour 2.0. They were showing selections from the DVD of BMG's The Complex Rock Tour from 2003. One song really grabbed me, the unblinking blue boys collaborated with singer Tracy Bonham (with whom I was unfamiliar) on The Who's classic Baba O'Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland, released on Who's Next, originally written by Townshend for a rock opera meant to follow Tommy). Performing the song with BMG's wacky melodic percussion certainly gave it a unique sound. But it was Bonham's haunting vocals that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. She followed that up with an energetic performance on electric violin during the klezmer-ish coda to the song.  I was hooked, the first one had been free, but I had to hear that song again. The next day I tried iTunes but no luck. They had songs from The Complex CD, but the Bonham O'Riley was not on it.  What?! Which bone-headed A&R man made that call?! I knew the song was on the DVD, so I ordered it from $10 from Amazon (who seem to be offering 3 months of free express shipping -- just mark your calendar to decline the expensive enrollment after 2.9 months). It arrived the next day and I got to watch that number until I was sated. Yet my goal had been to have the song in my music collection in iTunes on my Mac laptop. After a fair amount of web research, I was able to determine that a free, open source application called HandBrake would allow me to extract the DVD chapter to a movie file on my computer. Apparently HandBrake is frequently used to convert DVD movies to view on Video iPods. Sensible people (that is, everyone except the legal departments of big media companies) agree that both the iPod use and mine fall within the doctrine of fair use. Once I had the video clip as an .mp4 file on my desktop, I used QuickTime to extract an AIFF soundtrack, then iTunes to compress the file to acc (or mAC3dec to make an mp3). Et viola!

Digital annotation for the real world: while RFID allows attaching tags (short data streams) to physical objects, new technology will enable objects to carry significant quantities of data: H.P. to Unveil Radio Chips to Store Data and Tiny wireless memory chip debuts. There are a lot of great uses for this (e.g. Radio wand to reduce dangerous patient stitch-ups) but RFID has already sparked many privacy concerns that will dog this new technology.

Technobits: Amnesty accuses US firms over China web censorship --- Threats prompt Mac switch advice --- computer model better than human managers?: Maybe We Should Leave That Up to the Computer --- Plastic planes 'set to rule sky' --- really wonky graphics political news (this one's here just for Google): Khronos and OpenGL ARB merge --- Sony aims high with new camcorders --- blogs, user reviews, photo-sharing - the peer production era has arrived: People Power --- Think Secret rumor: Apple to announce iTunes movie rentals --- durable biodegradable Cutlery made out of potato starch: Wegware and their FAQ --- The smallest gold-diggers in the world: Bacteria found in Australian mines help gold grains to form --- axion discovered? Magnet Experiment Appears to Drain Life From Stars (see technical slides).

7:00

Humor

The Top 20 Plagiarized Ann Coulter Quotes

July 13, 2006

NOTE FROM CHRIS:

Fiery pundit Ann Coulter is on the hot seat due to allegations that some of her newspaper columns contained material lifted from other sources.

20> "Honor thy mother and thy father -- and not thy two mothers nor thy two fathers."

19> "To all you liberals who are thinking about breeding: Don't sire when you see the whites of her thighs."

18> "Two wrongs don't make a right -- they make running mates for the left."

17> "Veni, vidi, venom."

16> "My excellence in broadcasting stems from talent on loan from God and-- what? Viagra?!? That's not mine!"

15> "Mama always said, 'Liberals are like a box of chocolates; all soft and gooey on the inside.'"

14> "I know what you're thinking. 'Did she insult six different ethnic groups or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself."

13> "I did not have sexual relations with that man, Bill Maher."

12> "I care not what course others may take; give me liberty or give me a seven-figure income and to hell with liberty."

11> "Only Nixon could go to my vagina."

10> "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses... you know, the Democratic National Party."

9> "I regret that I have but one life to gi-- er, live for my country."

8> "Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens. Goodnight Socks and goodnight Clintons. Goodnight comb and goodnight brush. Goodnight liberal brains turned to mush. And goodnight to the old lady whispering, 'Bush.'"

7> "Franken, my dear, I don't give a damn!"

6> "Ask not what conservatism has done for this country -- ask what books by Ann Coulter you can buy."

5> "You had me at 'Hello, you heartless bitch.'"

4> "Give me liberty or give me death -- Bill Clinton's death."

3> "Liberal terrorists are crafty masters of deceit. We must trust no one and expose everyone in this war on treason. Come on people, now -- spy on your brother! Everybody get together, try to Rove one another right now!"

2> "Less is more -- less Michael Moore, to be precise."

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Plagiarized Ann Coulter Quote...

1> "I think gays should be allowed to marry, everyone deserves to have state-financed healthcare, oil companies are gouging the American consum-- whoa! Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffin' glue!"

[ The Top 5 List www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2006 by Chris White ]
==========================
Selected from 102 submissions from 38 contributors. Today's Top 5 List authors are:
---------------------------------------
Andy Grosser, Boston, MA -- 1 (Woohoo!/1st #1!/Rookie!)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 12

6:40

Movies

Neal Vitale Reviews: Prairie Home Companion, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Libertine

[A brief note; in my review of The Devil Wears Prada two weeks ago, I should have referenced Neal's earlier review. We do actually read each others' work. My brain must have been on a temporary vacation.

--Paul Schindler]

Prairie Home Companion

4 stars

Paul and I get to the same place on Prairie Home Companion, but via different routes. I am not a radio listener, so - as shocking as it may be - I had never heard Garrison Keillor and knew virtually nothing about his National Public Radio show before seeing this film. Yet I was enchanted and enthralled by director's Robert Altman's loving evocation of a style of entertainment that seems light years away from 2006. PHC has the earmarks of a classic Altman effort - a large and talented cast with no obvious "lead" character(s), carefully intertwined storylines and dialogue, impeccable period details and craftsmanship - plus an intriguing quasi-spiritual angle. I differ with Paul's earlier review only in that I think this work is eminently appealing to anyone looking for a unique and original film - no prior knowledge required!

--Neal Vitale

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

2 stars

Part 2 of Pirates of the Caribbean is pure air-headed summer escapism - lots of action and special effects, bits of amusing dialogue, and a gaggle of wonderfully horrific undead sea-bottom escapees. Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow, carrying his stagger and swagger to truly over-the-top levels. But there's not much of a story in this brutally long (two and a half hours) film, and many of the effects struck me as cheesy (think Japanese 60s sci-fi like Mothra). The main goal of Dead Man's Chest (beyond killer box office) seems to be to set up next year's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I, for one, can wait.

--Neal Vitale

DVD Review

The Libertine

2.5 stars

I guess that this has been my week for Johnny Depp, though the results haven't exactly been captivating. The Libertine is the story of John Wilmot, a louche 17th century English poet. The film is dark and murky, generally tough-going as we wallow along with Wilmot through various sorts of debauchery. Were it not for the acting, The Libertine would probably not deserve comment. But Depp is superb throughout, creating a conflicted, complicated Wilmot. In smaller roles, fine actors John Malkovich and Samantha Morton also stand out. The Libertine is not for anyone easily offended by sexual references and vulgarity. But, if you're interested in seeing stagger and swagger of a different sort than in Pirates, Depp is sensational.

--Neal Vitale

6:35

Letters

Lasusa Links, Carroll on the Muslim Mexican Connection, The Other Al Gore Documentary

Tom Lasusa and his friends continue to suck the weird out of the Internet so you don't have to: Underwater image competition, impressive images and videos of some strange oceanic inhabitants...It's about time! Fmr. CIA officer sues Cheney, Libby, Rove over leak... Bye Bye Buttons. Comedian dies at 87... Snakes (really) on a plane... The Religious LEFT is Out to Remind you that Jesus was NOT a Republican... RIP Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett... Virginia Gov Pardons Witch -- 300 Years after she died... Plot To Steal Coca-Cola secret Fizzles, Thanks to Pepsi... Cruel Trick: Concrete Filled Soccer Balls... The Six Most Feared -- but Least Likely -- Causes of Death... Richard Simmons on Who's Line is it Anyway... Wiccan Killed in Iraq combat still denied Pentacle for memorial stone... Its a Done Deal. One Red Paperclip for a House (as an aside Who would have known actor Corbin Bernsen likes snowglobes?)... Own your Own Horse Head Pillow ala the Godfather.

My friend Chuck Carroll is at it again with the Mexican Muslim Conncetion. I don't always--or even often--agree with Chuck, but I find his commentaries thoughtful and provocative. Boy, first Patrick Buchanan and now Chuck Carroll. Well, the definition of liberal, to me, is to be open-minded.

Check out Spike Jonze's 2002 Al Gore documentary

This is a little long, but it was a letter to the editor of the Valley Times Herald written by my friend and regular contributor Kent Peterman. It touched me, so I wanted to share it in full:

Stop the violence

Angel was our gardener. He was from El Salvador. He redefined the American work ethic. Our founders would have been impressed by this young man who worked hard, diligently, and for long hours. He was honest and kind.

He was such an incredible gardener that word of his excellent work spread quickly throughout our neighborhood, and he had a large number of loyal, very satisfied clients.

He was living the American dream. His truck was almost paid off, he planned to buy a house, get married, and have children.

Recently, his dream ended. He was going from a convenience store in his neighborhood to his home. He was accosted, shot, and killed by two would-be robbers.

It is a tragedy not only for his family and friends but to society as a whole. It is time to stop violence.

It is time to support organizations that support people and help them to become productive citizens and in many instances turn their lives around. Organizations such as: Fighting Back Partnership, Christian Help Center, and Continental of Omega Boys and Girls Club - to name but three of the many groups in our city that do so much good.

We, as a society, must become involved in organizations like those, in our schools, and in any way we can. We must turn the tide and end the violence. We must help our citizens to walk with pride and live without fear.

We have lost a friend. He was an incredible person. An acquaintance of mine said to me, "Well what do you expect? He probably lived in a bad neighborhood"

What do I expect? That someone, no matter what neighborhood he or she lives in, can walk from his or her house to the corner store and back without harm. I don't think that's too much to expect. We must work to make that expectation a reality.

Dan Grobstein File

Dan's been out of town...

5:00

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