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 31, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

July 31, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 29

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Early Column: Seattle

Political News

  • Grobstein on Ricks on the War, Defending the Indefensible

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs: On Hiatus


  • None


  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend
  • Who Killed The Electric Car
  • Through A Scanner Darkly


  • Lasusa Links, Digital Movies, Net Neutrality, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Early Column: Seattle

Vicki and I are headed up to Seattle for the weekend, so I am filing my column on Friday afternoon. Craig Reynolds, meanwhile, is off at Siggraph and won't be filing for a week or two. Thanks for reading, and see you back here next week with all the news that's fit to print from King County Washington.


Political Notes

Grobstein on Ricks on the War, Defending the Indefensible

A recent book:

BOOKS | July 25, 2006
Books of The Times: >From Planning to Warfare to Occupation, How Iraq Went Wrong
Thomas E. Ricks, a reporter for The Washington Post, serves up a devastating portrait of the war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly.

Dan Grobstein went to see the author speak:

I went to see Thomas E. Ricks at the Barnes & Noble on upper Broadway in New York last night. He did an interesting short talk, took questions from the audience, and signed his book, "Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq."

He's reported from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia and he's never seen a situation as bad as Baghdad right now. He feels that the US will be in Iraq for the next 10 or 15 years. He was asked if this was a war for oil. He pointed out that gasoline prices have doubled since the war started. If the Iraq war and/or the Israel-Lebanon war spills over into a wider war in the Middle East, we can expect $10 per gallon gas. Everything outside of the green zone in Baghdad is known as the red zone. All the journalists live in the red zone. The Washington Post has a house (he won't give the exact location). He was there one day working on his notes and the bureau chief came in. He told her that he'd heard 2 explosions and some machine gun fire (dangerous because it goes through walls). She immediately said "quiet day." He feels that Bush and the other officials actually believed their WMD stories.

He's amazed that after we've been at war almost as long as World War II that no generals have been sacked. (George C. Marshall fired 200 generals early in World War II). And there have been no Congressional hearings on the conduct of the war (unlike World War II). Abu Ghraib was not the fault of the lower ranking servicemembers. It is a failure from higher up. Officers are not supposed to speak out on political subjects, but because their commissions are granted by Congress, if Congress asks them a question, they are supposed to answer to the best of their ability.

The people who said that there were no WMDs in Iraq had their facts exactly right. He said he has been briefed by Hans Blix and the briefing could put you to sleep and he was ready to tell him to just mail him the report. He says that Colin Powell was used in the run up to the war. Powell thought that he'd won the argument before 9/11 to continue sanctions against Iraq and that the sanctions would be improved. The speech he was given to give at the UN was all lies.

Some officers had the right idea about dealing with the Iraqi public. He feels that if you deal with them with respect and ask what you should do we would have a better chance of peaceful interaction. Some units did that and had a relatively peaceful area. But then they were rotated out and new units moved in without the same attitude and the area became much more violent. He told the story of one officer who wanted to get the local government people paid. The money was in the local bank. He went to the banker and the banker told him that he couldn't release the money without the permission of the Ministry of Finance. The officer told him that the Ministry of Finance no longer existed. Some people would have gone in and blown up the safe to get the money. This officer asked the banker how he could get the money. The banker said that the officer had the authority so the officer wrote out a document telling the banker that he had permission to release the money. The banker asked where the officer's official seal was so the next day he had a rubber stamp made and stamped all his documents from then on and everyone was happy.

One officer had all detainees interviewed when they were released about how they were treated and how they felt about Americans and what could we do better. He also made sure that all his men were trained and understood that they were to treat the Iraqis they came in contact with with respect. One officer met with insurgent leaders and told them that he understood why they were fighting us and that it was an honorable thing because after all they were defending their homes. When the US came in we were like a blind man and didn't understand the situation. But we did now and would be behaving differently. It was a good way to tell them that if they didn't cooperate they would be fought and it gave them an honorable way to calm things down. It worked, but then the unit was rotated out and a new unit moved in that didn't think that way.

The Iraq situation will be a major problem for the next president.

Also of interest: Back To Iraq: Dispatches from the GWOT GSAVE "Long War"

I don't know about you, but this whole Israeli invasion of Lebanon seems to me to be the complete opposite of what works. I guess they didn't learn anything from Dubya's invasion of Iraq. on the other hand, dubya didn't learn anything from Israel's earlier invasion of Lebanon.

It looks like they're trying to destroy the government of Lebanon. Who else is going to control the country? You have to learn from what the British finally did with the IRA and the Spanish with the Basques.

This whole situation, with the grownups running the US government and not even trying to stop it has me scared to death. Especially after hearing Rick's talk about US government decision-making last night (the government policy: if you disagree, you're not invited to any more meetings).

I usually stay away from commenting on Middle Eastern stuff because it is and has been a such a mess for so long, but this is ridiculous. It used to seem hopeless to me. Now it's worse.

[Editor's Note: The Middle East makes me feel confused and helpless. Always has. When Rae was younger, she told me she never read the paper or listened to news on the radio because it was the same thing every day--Israel does this, the PLO does that. Why read the news if it never changes, she asked.

When I accepted an appointment to the Orinda Planning Commission, my plan was to always do what was obviously right for the community, with maybe a little sympathy for the property owner. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that virtually every issue that came before us had two or more sides, each equally valid, and that all decisions end up being unfair to someone. This business of governing is much trickier than it appears.]


Don't miss a moment of this administration straddle/squirm, which offers the added benefit of making White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten look incompetent (what a surprise--a senior Bush administration official who's incompetent), and makes Rove out to be a blowhard ignoramus. More proof, if more were needed, that this is not a "reality" based administration. The transcript and the analysis are both worth reading. Bolten can't defend the indefensible...Josh Bolten Squirms During Stem Cell Questions... Bolten Defends Rove's False Claims on Stem Cells: Karl 'Knows A Lot of Stuff'... Meet the Press Transcript for July 23 Josh Bolten, Tom Ricks.




On hiatus







My Super Ex-Girlfriend

3.5 stars

First of all, is exactly why no sane moviemaker or songwriter uses a real phone number in a movie or pop tune. Have you noticed how everyone in the movies lives in the part of town with the 555 prefix? This goes back a long way--in pictures from the 40s, you see "Klondike 5" numbers. Same deal. Anyway, Eddie Izzard as Professor Bedlam/Barry mentions his email ID in the movie, and sure enough, the web site is there.

Director Ivan Reitman has made a pretty good movie out of a script by Don Payne, whose previous work was in TV (much of it on The Simpsons), although apparently he gets to write the Fantastic Four sequel.

According to IMDB, the Tagline is "He broke her heart. She broke his everything." The Plot: " When a regular guy (Luke Wilson) dumps a superhero (Uma Thurman) because of her neediness, she uses her powers to make his life a living hell." Well, as is so often the case, that sums it up.

In some ways, this feels like an extended television episode, although I have to say a running time of 95 minutes is nearly perfect for a comedy (90 is the Golden Mean). Lessons are learned. In fact, hugs are exchanged. Where's Larry David when we need him.

Seriously, I wondered where this film was going to go after it established its premise. Unlike so many recent comedies, it didn't just spin its wheels or die out, it went somewhere, and was mildly entertaining as it did so.

Can't go without mentioning Rainn Wilson as Vaughn Haige. You'll recognize Wilson as one of the many weirdos on Six Feet Under, and he seems to be zooming in on a career as an oddball. Well, heck, it's a career.

Not as dumb as you might expect, with cool special effects and occasional outbreaks of acting. I laughed, but then as my daughters note, I'll laugh at anything.


Who Killed The Electric Car

4 stars

Chris Paine wrote and directed (his first major film) and Martin Sheen narrated this gripping documentary. My blood was already boiling about the way the manufacturers muscled the California Air Resources Board, then instantly pulled the plug on their electric models. This supplies the details. It's as if someone had done a documentary in 1955 about how National City Lines (General Motors, Philips Petroleum, Mack Truck, Standard Oil of California, Goodyear) were buying up and closing down the nation's streetcar systems. Then, as now, the documentary would come too late to save the streetcars/electric cars, but at least it would strip the mask and let us know who the villains are. In this case, not consumers (who were allowed to lease but were never allowed to buy the badly advertised cars), but auto companies, oil companies and politicians.

First rate, must-see. Not entertaining, but important and enlightening. Know the facts!


Through A Scanner Darkly

3 stars

Philip K. Dick couldn't catch a break when he was alive, and since his death the corpus of his work has been repeatedly raided by Hollywood, which took an idea or two and cranked out a commercial movie. Well, Richard Linklater has conclusively demonstrated why people use Dick's titles and themes but not his actual work. Scanner Darkly is a faithful adaptation of Dick's work, and it's depressing as heck and hardly anyone will ever see it, despite its beautiful special effects. First of all, the entire film is live-action film rendered as animation (a very old process once known as Rotoscoping). The scramble suit Keanu Reeves wears to disguise himself is totally amazing. Robert Downey an amazing and impressive drug lord, Woody Harrelson is an amazing and impressive drugee, and Winona Ryder is just amazing and impressive.

Still, it is sound a fury signifying nothing. See it for the special effects, but don't expect to be deeply engaged by the plot. I wasn't.



Lasusa Links, Digital Movies, Net Neutrality, Dan Grobstein File

The odd corners of the Internet, lit up by Tom Lasusa and his posse... The Easter Bunny Hates You... The Cursor Kite (A Kite made to look like a computer cursor's arrow)... E=Mc Giggalo... Vintage Comic Book Covers...Back to the Future Ride Closing in Universal Studios Florida...The Life and Death of a Pumpkin... Blinky Productions: These folks have produced some really good fan films based on DC Superheroes. Check out Power Girl in "The Classifieds", Catwoman's "Principles", Blue Beetle (Not Spiderman) and Booster Gold's Anti-Cigarette Campaign... The Media Taking 'End Times' Seriously?... Monopoly replaces play-money with fake credit-cards...Hypocricy of the week: PBS fires kiddie show host forspoof videos she made in 1999: Fires hostess of "Goodnight Show" for her particpation in hysterical "Technical Virgin" videos. Apparently, foul mouthed comedian George Carlin was acceptable as the 'conductor' at "Shining Time Station"... The Yuckiest Site on the Internet (Thanks Kim)... Bobb Ross videos on YouTube (Bless him and his happy little clouds)... Happy SysAdmins Day (July 28th)... Accident produces Water-proof paper.

Regulars will remember my interest in digital film production and projection. No word yet on when theaters will tip, but Panavision says it has no plans to design or build any more film cameras beyond this in stock: Studios Shift to Digital Movies, but Not Without Resistance.

I want to underline a metaphor used by Craig Reynolds last week in Technobriefs; it really resonated for me. Eliminating Net Neutrality is equivalent to this, according to Craig Newmark: "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."

Dan Grobstein File

No sooner does Dan watch the Maltese Falcon during a visit to San Francisco, where much of it was shot, than he discovers Netflix has a series this summer of Rolling Road Shows, movies being shown in the place they were shot.

Here's Dan's account of his tour:

We went over to the spot where Brigid O'Shaughnessy shot Miles Archer. We went to Geary and Leavenworth near where Floyd Thursby lived. We went past 1201 California where Brigid O'Shaughnessy had an apartment. We saw Sam Spade's office building and the Geary theatre where Spade saw Joel Cairo. We also ate at John's Grill where Sam Spade ate before taking a cab to Burlingame on a wild goose chase. I had the same meal (chops, baked potato and tomatoes). It's the only place where the characters ate that is still in existence. (I bought a used guide by Don Herron through Amazon).


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