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
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August 7, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

August 7, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 30

Table of Contents:

General News

  • How It Is In Seattle
  • Philosophical Groundhog Day Question

Political News

  • Meanwhile, In The Congo; GWOT Longer Than WWII

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs: On Hiatus


  • None


  • Scoop
  • Neal Vitale Reviews: Monster House
  • Little Miss Sunshine


  • Lasusa Links, Coquet on the Oregon GOP

General News

How It Is In Seattle

Rain in Seattle? Who'd have thought it? Vicki and I headed north last weekend, in time to catch some rain on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. When they break a heat wave up there, they REALY break it. We spent time with two of Vicki's childhood friends and my niece (my brother's daughter).

M and K live in West Seattle with a beautiful view of the water in a lovely home. We caught them on their way to the Oregon Coast, so they took us out to a Lebanese restaurant in the Alki district that made the best humus I have ever eaten, bar none, and the only Baba Ganoush I've ever actually enjoyed (I hate eggplant). We saw their son and daughter, briefly, and basked in the glow of decades of friendship renewed.

Then it was off to scenic Everett, where my niece just bought her first house; well-tended, beautifully decorated and with a lovely yard that includes a--what would you call it? The Spanish used to call it a Ramada--covered eating area out back. S, my niece, is a doll. Alas, we did not get to spend much time with D, as he plays semi-pro football and had a game a long ways off. My parents came up for the day; it was the first time Vicki had seen them in ages. I saw them earlier this summer. Little D is walking and talking up a storm and was fun to play with. We bought him a tent, which he loves. Our girls loved to play in a tent when they were young as well.

Finally, the ferry to Olalla, where P, another childhood friend of Vicki's, lives in a house nestled in the woods. Rustic but welcoming. She made us a salad from veggies she got as part of her buying co-op, and we sat among the pictures and family furniture and talked for a few hours. She is so much fun. We traded "how they met" stories, and heard them for each of her children. Turns out the children ended up married, in several cases, to friends of friends. I love cherries; she has cherry trees that just stopped bearing fruit. We'll have to go up earlier next year...

Summer is drawing to a close; I have six weekdays before our hiking trip in the Sierra, and then its prep on Monday Aug. 21 and Tuesday Aug. 22, followed by the first day of school on Aug. 23, as the rat race begins anew for another nine months.


Philosophical Groundhog Day Question

My friend Harrison Klein wrote from his aerie in Hawaii, with regard to my favorite movie, Groundhog Day:

Last night I did something I've been wanted to for quite a while: watched the DVD of Groundhog Day. I haven't seen it for many years, probably before I knew how highly you regarded it. I'm not sure I would call it GDTGMEMSF [editor's note: a college in-joke, translatable as Groundhog Day, The Greatest Movie Ever Made, So Far] as you do, but both Sharene and I enjoyed it immensely. I also watched it a second time with Harold Ramis' commentary on, and I watched the accompanying short with interviews of Ramis [director], Rubin [screenwriter], et al. I had never heard Ramis out of character, and he seemed a very thoughtful and charming man.

What I want to know is what happened on February 3 to everybody that Phil had some interaction with on Feb 2. Was their reality only what happened on the last Feb 2? Did they only remember the "good Phil" of that day? Did the "bad Phil" on all those intermediate Feb 2s (destroying cars, robbing banks, slugging Ned) have any impact on the innocent bystanders? What if "bad Phil" had started murdering people in Punxatawney? Would there have been no consequences to his actions after 5:59 am the next day? Normally I'd answer those questions with, "It's just a movie!", but since it has a deep philosophical meaning perhaps the philosophers have thought about those questions.

When I asked Harrison for permission to reprint his question, he wrote back:

If you think my questions are worthy of publication, I'm happy to oblige. For all I knew the answers were obvious to those of the philosophical persuasion.

All I can say for sure is the answers are not obvious to me, and I have given more thought to this film than most people have. My immediate response is that the only day remembered by the people of the town is the last one. That seems consistent with the "rules" set out by the film, where everyone wakes up every day not remembering the day before except Phil (Bill Murray). But then, I remember my years-long belief that Clark Kent is Superman in disguise, and how fascinated I was by the recent speculation that, really, Superman is Clark Kent in disguise. That discussion shook my certainty.

I welcome any other speculation on the subject.


Political Notes

Meanwhile, In The Congo; GWOT Longer Than WWII

Richard Dalton wrote me:

New York Times: War's Chaos Steals Congo's Young by the Millions

I don't have any apologies about my strong belief that the US is wrong to continue prosecuting the war in Iraq, but I was stunned by the mortality figures compiled by the International Rescue Committee in the Congo.

According to the IRC, there are 1250 deaths PER DAY attributable to the civil war's fighting and attendant chaos. I had to pull out my calculator and enter the numbers twice before I believed that means more than 450,000 war-related deaths per year. And the war has been officially over for four years! One in four children die of hunger and disease before the age of five, another result of the war.

Do I think that some small part of the $300 billion+ we are spending in Iraq could make a change in the Congo--or even part of the next $50 billion we will sink into the reconstruction of the damage our war has caused in Iraq? It certainly could. Unhappily, the Congo doesn't have vast oil reserves, so they shouldn't count on us to help them out.


Another report from Dalton:

Citing Newsweek's Michael Hirsch, Tom Englehart says the War on Terror has been going on for more than a year longer than it took us to win World War II in the Pacific. Here's the quote:

"We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start (in case anyone's counting, 1,776 days have now passed since 9/11; that is more than a full year longer than the time between Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan, which was 1,347 days). The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it."

That startling comparison is part of the most recent edition of Englehart's Tomgram, Judith Coburn on Flunking Counterinsurgency 101.

Englehart is an amazing resource for anyone fed up with Bush, Iraq, reducing income tax for the wealthy, and the other social ills we seem to be trapped within..




On hiatus








4 stars

Without question, Woody Allen's funniest film in years. Plot and jokes and the usual fantastic performances coaxed from unlikely famous stars. Chracter actor Ian McShane plays Joe Strombel, a journalist whose greatest tip comes while he's crossing the river Styx (you know how it is with Wood Allen and death). His spirit returns to Earth briefly, where he reveals all to Scarlett Johansson (Sondra Pransky) a young journalism student whom Allen (Splendini the magician, aka Sid Waterman) is in the process of "disappearing" during his incompetent magic act. Strombel tells her that Hugh Jackman (Peter Lyman, son of Lord Lyman) is a murderer.

Johansson is Allen's best female lead since Diane Keaton, and she really understands how to put his material across. Thank god Allen has stopped making himself the romantic lead. He has unleashed the nebbish within, to hilarious effect. Allen fully absorbed the most important lesson taught by the Marx Brothers among others in the 1930s and 1940s; your straight man must be absolutely straight if the humor is going to work. Not Leslie Nielsen straight, but Hugh Jackman straight. At 96 minutes, the film is only six minutes too long, which I can forgive. The ending, which I will not give away, sucks. But the film had me laughing out loud, and if you like Allen's style of humor, see it by all means. He even toned down the raunch, winning a PG-13 rating. His R-rated stuff was never really funny.

I feel obliged to mention every time I praise Allen that this is not an endorsement of his off-screen lifestyle and choices. Can we please just judge the man by his art? He's turned 70, and is now producing the best work of his career. Hollywood eats its young and its old both; I hope Allen is the exception who lives to be 90 and is on the set finishing a film when he finishes with this life. And I hope the afterlife is half as interesting as he has depicted it in his films.


Neal Vitale Reviews: Monster House

3.5 stars

This film from executive producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis - masters at frightening us in films as varied as Jaws, The Frighteners, and Gremlins - is remarkably creepy and scary for what is seemingly meant to be kids fare. Done in a hybrid form of animation that is based on the motion-capture technology pioneered in The Polar Express, Monster House is a crisply told story of a sinister building that keeps an assortment of neighborhood kids on edge. There are the requisite celebrity voices (a bit more indie than usual, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Buscemi, and Catherine O'Hara) and a sweetly predictable and moralistic ending, but excellent special effects and entertainment that works for both adults and children make Monster House an appealing summer diversion.
-- Neal Vitale


Little Miss Sunshine

4 stars

Four stars? For a little film like this? Well, yes. Depression and dysfunction never looked so good. When it comes to comedy, I have two main criteria, did I laugh (rather than cringe) and was it too long? Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris showed the good taste and good judgment to bring the film in at 101 minutes, the outer limits of acceptable length for a comedy, but still acceptable. In any case, I laughed out loud, literally, time and again; I laughed until my sides hurt. Literally.

This movie, written by Michael Arndt, had a troubled production history, but I'm glad it made it to the screen after five years. It is the story of a motivational speaker who isn't (Greg Kinnear as Richard), a beauty contestant who isn't beautiful (Abigail Breslin as six-year-old Olive)and a foul-mouthed grandfather whose discussion of sex and use of drugs won the film its R rating (Alan Arkin as Grandpa). The supporting performances were sublime: Paul Dano as the silent son Dwayne, Toni Collette as the not-at-all silent wife Sheryl and Steve Carell as Frank, the suicidal brother who is America's leading Proust scholar. The previews were spot-on; if you liked them, you'll love the movie.

Don't see this film if talk of sex and use of drugs on screen offends you. Do see it if you find motivational speakers a bit over-the-top and are interested in a humorous exploration of the modes of failure in this life.



Lasusa Links, Coquet on the Oregon GOP, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa and his friends, surfing the Internet so you don't have to: "Bad" Video games (Photoshopping fun)... Harry Potter and his Bare bottom... Freedom Fries are French again in Congress Cafeteria...The Skinny of This Season's Summer Movie/Breakfast Cereal Tie in's...Country Fair 'Fun' (First up, unusual finds at country fairs--check out the chicken sandwich on a krispy Kreme donut)...Next, Unusual folks you'll find at said country fairs...Moron(s) alert (Alligator found swimming in Montanna pond, minding its business. Townspeople take it upon themselves to pull it out, shoot it with bow and arrow, slit its throat. Surprisingly, Alligator becomes aggressive)... The Adventures of Chad Vader -- Sueprmarket Dayshift Manager. Also here. Listen for the acoustic version of the Imperial March in opening credits... Amazon now sells groceries online, including Milk. Amazon forgets to disable user comments. Hilarity ensues... Dilbert Creator Scott Adams on his hopes that a Secret society is really running things

Steve Coquet brings to my attention: GOP platform at odds with 14th Amendment -- Denying U.S.-born children citizenship contradicts the Constitution. He adds:

When I moved to Oregon in 1972, even with a Republican governor, it was one of the most liberal states in the union. It probably still is, but it has gone so far right (With the rest of the nation) that a pre-Watergate Richard Nixon couldn't get elected here: he would be too liberal.

[Paul notes: Nixon carried Oregon in 1960 and 1968]

Dan Grobstein File

  • TECHNOLOGY | July 31, 2006
    Camera System Creates Sophisticated 3-D Effects
    Contour is a futuristic camera system that will add photorealistic three-dimensional effects to digital entertainment.
  • These are things I knew nothing about until George W. Bush
  • BUSINESS | July 31, 2006
    Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job
    Millions of men are turning down jobs they think beneath them or cannot find work for which they are qualified.
  • HEALTH | July 30, 2006
    The New Age: So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn't Even Know You
    The past 100 years has seen a change from small, sickly people to humans who are so robust their ancestors are almost unrecognizable.
  • The TV images from the first moonwalk were beamed to a tracking station, displayed on a monitor and re-photographed by a TV camera and then sent out to the networks. NASA is supposed to have the original tape, recorded in much higher resolution and clarity, but nobody knows where it is. [Probably in the same box as the 1-inch black and white tape of my MIT cable newscasts of April and May 1974--Paul]
  • Newsweek: Hamas and Hizbullah should not be confused with Al Qaeda. Bush's insistence on doing so shows his failure to understand his foes.
  • BUSINESS | August 1, 2006
    Tax Cheats Called Out of Control
    A Senate report estimates that cheating on federal income taxes totals as much as $70 billion a year.
  • Did you know that George W. Bush has a few Amazon wish lists? Here's Presidenting is Hard Work.
  • Your tax dollars at work Warning! Fish fry ahead! Indiana homeland security officials have warned Vermillion County to stop using electronic emergency message boards to advertise fish fries, spaghetti dinners and other events. [Paul notes: this is what happens when you distribute Homeland Security money on a political basis, rather than on the basis of need].
  • Another top secret Google Map site.
  • Awesome: An anti-FCC anthem, protesting FCC censorship and supporting Freedom of Speech!
  • Python Terry Jones is back in The Guardian with another amusing but sadly true commentary about Bush's support for Armageddon.
  • INTERNATIONAL / EUROPE | August 5, 2006
    A One-Man Embassy Adjusts to a Smaller Portfolio
    The ambassador-designate of the newly independent Montenegro sends his dispatches from a laptop in his son's bedroom.


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