PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
April 19, 1999
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
Ian Shoales, a lifestyle commentator, once said "Middle-aged men love change about as much as they love heart attacks."
I haven't had a heart attack yet, but the amount of change around here is becoming seriously disorienting.
For months, I have been coping with the realization that, come September, Marlow will move out and go to college. I will go from being the leading man in the sitcom of her life to being a bit player. I'll make a "special guest appearance" each year on the Christmas show. Or, if I'm really lucky, I'll be helming the summer replacement program (anybody here old enough to remember when there were summer replacement TV shows? Or when Johnny Carson had guest hosts and fresh shows?)
For weeks I have been dealing with the fact that my professional home for 19 of the last 20 years, CMP Media Inc., is 'in play" and may very well be sold. I'll make out OK personally, but I'll soon be learning a new corporate culture for only the second time since 1979 (the first time was my 14 months at Ziff Davis in 1988-89). I have been through all the stages of mourning, I think: anger, disbelief, negotiation.... whatever. Now I am at acceptance. I don't know if it is an intelligent acceptance, or merely a numb one, but I don't get excited or worried about events any more. I don't obsess about it. To use a felicitous term once coined by one or our managers, I am past the whining and mourning.
Or at least I thought I was. Last week, one of my best friends and most trusted colleagues, Jeremy Barna (son of Becky Barna, whose kindness in bringing me back to CMP in 1989 can never be repaid and will never be forgotten), finally got an offer he could not refuse from an outside firm. His obvious talent and enthusiasm, combined with his winning personality and scrupulous work habits have made him a recruiting target at the score of firms to which CMP internet people have been dispersing over the last year. He's going to Quokka, the Internet sports site firm that swallowed up CMP's Jen Kaczor earlier this year. Jen's headed for Switzerland for three months to work on the International Olympic Committee official web site.
He'll leave a hole in the CMP China Basin office that will be almost impossible to fill. In conjunction with the dozens of other resignations that began last summer when Becky Barna and Mitch York left, Jeremy's departure makes CMP's San Francisco Internet operation that much more lonely. I've lost the only other audio engineer in the place. I've lost one of the last G2-capable producers. More importantly, I've lost a workplace friend.
On the upside, last week I went to Internet World, and saw Dave Sims. We had a lovely chat in the press room and walked the floor together for a while. My former supervisor, he left at the end of February. The difference is astounding. He is so much more relaxed, confident and happy that it is palpable. I can only wish for the same transformation with Jeremy. (By the way, Dave said I seemed much more at ease and enthusiastic, which he and I attribute to my assignment to the Byte.com project).
In any case, Change Sucks.
OK, you pay me the big bucks to take positions on the tough subjects (OK, you don't pay me anything, except the coin of your attention. Still, that's worth a lot).
I have been avoiding commenting on Kosovo because, frankly, I didn't know where to come down and didn't want to appear two-handed about it.
The question is, how are we to think of Kosovo? Is it Pre-WWI Balkans? Is it Germany on Kristalnacht? Rwanda the day after the Belgians pulled out? Is it Vietnam? Or, worst of all, is it something we have never seen?
There are probably elements of pre-WWI Balkans in the situation. I mean, it's taking place in the same country. The civil war down there has been going on since the 14th century. Like Ireland, it may be intractable.
After the Holocaust, it wasn't just the Jews who said never again. When the scale of the even became clear, the civilized West said it would never again tolerate genocide. Then, because it was convenient, and we were distracted, and the victims were black, we tolerated it in Rwanda. Arguable, we also tolerated it in Bosnia and Croatia.
Thus, we come to Kosovo with our moral authority sapped.
On the face of it, American news coverage makes it crystal-clear that the Serbians are wrong and NATO is right to bomb in order to head off either "ethnic cleansing" or genocide (or both) in Kosovo. Alas, I know from experience that things are never as simple as they are made to appear in American news coverage. If you read the British coverage (most easily done on the Internet), things aren't so black and white. If you want the full-blown Serbian view, in English, check out Truth In Media.
I think we are doing this right. Try diplomacy. Bomb and keep trying diplomacy. And if bombing and diplomacy fail, try ground forces--European with some American backup--only with a clear, limited war goal.
Vietnam was wrong because it was a civil war in which we had no right or reason (other than commercial and political) to participate.
We lost it because there was no support at home for the utterly ridiculous war aims. Why were we there, to stop the Commies before they invaded the West Coast?). And, of course, there was mass revulsion at the draft. This, in turn, stemmed in part from the political decision to keep the military from doing what it would take to win, since no one could define winning.
In Kosovo, things are different. The question is moral: can we stand aside while clearly documented ethnic cleansing and genocide takes place? For a change, we truly have no ulterior motive (we don't need the minerals they have that badly, and they don't have any oil to speak of).
This is where we draw the line in the sand and say "no more genocide."
To keep this from becoming Vietnam is simple. It's a volunteer army now. All we need is clear war aims, and a commitment to achieve them by any non-nuclear means necessary.
Maybe it's the Gulf War, only this time we won't stop until we take the bad guy out.
My mother pointed out that in the 50s, a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a pound of hamburger were all the same price as a gallon of gas. In the half-century since then, these basics have inflated at different rates. But if you average the prices of bread, milk and hamburger today, $2 a gallon isn't so bad.
Firesign and Python
Two of my favorite comedy groups in the world are the Firesign Theater and Monty Python. Firesign is on tour; they played San Francisco last week when I was on vacation in Santa Cruz. I am deeply sorry I missed them. If they're coming to your town, don't miss them if you can. All Hail Marx and Lennon (visual pun). And heavy on the 30-weight. If you've never heard of them... details available on request.
If you don't follow the present-day doings of the Pythons, you may be pleasantly surprised to hear that the remaining cast members (Graham Chapman being dead and all that) are supposedly going to tour in the fall. No dates set yet, no cities settled (although LA and NY seem almost mandatory), but they discuss the prospect on their official web site.
Technically, this is a letter to the editor, but I had two of those, and the subject was, "Have I Mentioned I Don't Like Windows," so here is my classmate, computer graphics whiz Craig Reynolds:
Your PSaCoT access counter is under-reporting visitors to your site. At first I thought it wasn't working, since each time I read your column I saw the same number, then I realized it was being cached by my browser. Doing a reload of the page, even a cache-clearing reload, did not cause it to change. (Whereas, for example, the counter on mypage increments on a reload. I'm not sure what causes the difference.)
It was not until I exited from Netscape (Communicator 4.05) and restarted did I see it change. For your readers who use Windows this is not an issue, the OS forces them to restart apps or reboot the system frequently enough to flush the cache. On my Unix system apps can stay up for months at a time...20,000 Email Messages item, this bug is avoided in the Unix "vacation" program. It keeps a list of the email addresses to which it has sent an autoreply. It does not sent another autoreply until a certain (user definable) interval has past. Unsurprisingly, the Windows implementation is dangerously inadequate. From the Unix online documentation ("man") page on "vacation":
...This feature reduces unnecessary mail traffic for the system and undue irritation for those who send you mail. An interval of "0" means that a reply is sent to each message, and an interval of "infinite" ... will never send more than one reply. The default interval is seven days. Caveat: An interval of "0" is quite dangerous as it allows mailers to get into "I am on vacation" loops...
Stupid Brand-Name Tricks
Among the all-time stupid moves in American corporate history was the decision of Univac to change its name to Unisys, trashing a perfectly good 40-year-old brand name. Corporations do this all the time. But, apparently, they never learn. Craig Reynolds notes that Silicon Graphics Inc. has decided to be, simply, SGI:
This reminds me of when Stanford Research Institute, which was universally known as SRI, changed its name to SRI. Oddly, SGI will continue to use "Silicon Graphics" as one of its sub-brands.
This is either the most brilliant thing I've ever seen or the stupidest. In either case, it is one of the most subversive web sites I have ever run across. Here is just a sampling. A Tip o' the Schindler Chapeau to Richard Dalton, who turned me on to this.
Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations.
The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you've been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.
Dogs have masters, Cats have staff
Journalism humor. Headlines that went awry in 1998:
1. Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
Dangerous Liaisons, The Man Who Knew Too Little
I have every intention of getting out and seeing a movie Sunday; what I don't have is any assurance I will feel like writing it up until next week. So, no fresh movie review this week, but rather a golden oldies pair of selections.
First, this from Diana ben-Aaron in Finland, apropos of my remarks about Dangerous Liaisons here last week:
Dangerous Liaisons exists in a fourth version, a French movie from 1960. It's a modern dress b+w drama starring Jeanne Moreau and a lot of teak Danish modern furniture. Valmont seduces the virtuous whatshername at a ski resort, and Danceny lives in a student flat. It's the best of them all.
While I was in LA for Internet World, I spotted a copy of Bill Murray's rib-ticking comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little at a supermarket checkout stand. Not being a professional reviewer, I have no idea how long it has been out on videotape. But I do know this: despite tepid reviews, it was in fact a clever and funny film which let Murray be Murray. I don't think I need say any more than that. It is well worth owning.
A lot of you are on the same kind of mailing lists I'm on, so you've probably already seen this:
Did you know that Bill Gates' real name is William Henry Gates III? Nowadays, he is known as Bill Gates (III) where III means the order of third.
Hell yes! That's the definition of a coincidence! Besides which, they cheated to count his III as 1, 1,1. To be consistent, it should have been counted as the letter I (ASCII 73) or the numeral 1 (ASCII 49). But as usual, when people make these things up, they twist them for their own purposes. I wonder how long it took to find a variation of his name that added up to 666? Just for another example, he is either William H. Gates III (formal) (but that doesn't add up) or he is Bill Gates (informal), but that doesn't add up either. Find a reference in a mainstream publication, ever, to Bill Gates III. You can't. It doesn't exist.
Or, as my mother put it,
I think it is bull-shit :-)
I don't believe that stuff anymore than I believe the millions of Muslims - or Buddhists or anyone else who thinks they have a direct line to god and are the ONLY ones ! All this 666 stuff has been used with every world figure from Hitler to FDR!!
As I recall, Martin Luther was the first one I remember being the anti-Christ - oh well, it keeps someone real active coming up with all the number manipulation- keeps them off the streets! As usual, you can see that I have a terrible time expressing an opinion
Finally, Joe Brancatelli noted that I was complaining about a lack of letters, so he wrote me one. I'd say it was off the subject, if this column had a subject. But since I wholeheartedly endorse his opinion, I'm printing it here.
If anyone needs proof that The Simpsons is the greatest television show ever created, I give you this week's episode:
Futurama, Matt Groening's other show (Tuesday nights on Fox) is already showing potential to be the equal of The Simpsons. God, what a genius that man is.
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