PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 26

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

July 19, 1999

Weird Al Special Issue

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:

General News

  • Rae Returns
  • New Weird Al CD
  • JFK Jr.

Computer Industry News

  • It's The Pentiums

Web Site of the Week

  • Weird Al: The Saga Begins


  • Top 12 Hidden Hospital Bill Charges
  • News from Yugoslavia


  • American Pie


  • Mari Schindler on Marriage, Ross Snyder and Jerry Pournelle on flag burning. Plus Kudos from Kent Peterman

My passions are few. My family, my work, computers, Monty Python, Firesign Theater--and Weird Al Yankovic. Python might be touring this fall, I already plugged the new Firesign CD, but this week--AL'S BACK. After a three-year hiatus, Al Yankovic is back with a new CD, Running with Scissors. This week's column includes extensive coverage. Starting with the picture of Al in place of my mug this week at the top.

General News

Rae Returns

The most important thing that happened this week was the return of our younger daughter Rae from two weeks in France with her French class. We missed her, and we're happy to have her back. She was up about 28 hours straight, from her 4am wakeup call in Paris to her arrival at 3pm in Orinda. She went to bed about 9 and slept until noon the next day. She had a wonderful time, renewed her friendship with people she already knew and made some new friends from Florida. They say travel is broadening. I think Rae was broadened.

She won't be here for long. A guitar lesson, a flute lesson, a day of fencing on Tuesday, and on Wednesday she heads to Oregon for her traditional summer with my mother. This year they're going to Chataqua (home of the eponymous lectures) for some fun and education. Boy, is Chataqua in the middle of nowhere.

Mark it on your calendars; Marlow's appearance as one of the subjects of a PBS Frontline documentary on the subject of SAT scores and college admissions will take place the week of Oct. 3. Please record it when it appears in your area, in case we miss it. More details as they become available.

Running With Scissors

Oh my my, this here Anakin guy
May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry
And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye
Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"
"Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"

I own all of Al's CDs. I've seen him twice in concert (and curse the fact that he won't be anywhere near SF or San Jose on this tour, except for a stop in Sacramento while I'm in New York). I own all his music videos.

He is a funny man. He has clearly has personal problems with women and weight (he is whippet-thin, double jointed and so flexible that, as a gag during his concert, he sits in the lotus position and puts both legs behind his head). His lyrics are often bizarre and frequently extraordinarily angry. But from anger and pain often come great art. In Al's case, it is great art every time.

By the way, did you know that under ASCAP and BMI rules, you need permission of the copyright holder to do a recorded parody? That's right. And Al, as a courtesy, also checks with filmmakers when he parodies their work.

I could strain to describe the album, but here's the description from one of Al's web sites:

Sometimes it's not easy being Weird Al. Just because he's sold more comedy albums than anyone else on the planet doesn't mean George Lucas would automatically want him to parody Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. But he went ahead and wrote "The Saga Begins" to the tune of "American Pie," set a release date for his album (June 29, 1999), booked the tour, and then sent the filmmaker a copy of the song. "I crossed my fingers," says the pop satirist.

The Star Wars creator loved it, of course, but the situation was typical of "Running With Scissors," perhaps the sharpest and edgiest album of Yankovic's career. "I guess it's a metaphor for not wanting to play it safe, for taking chances and pushing whatever envelopes I can," explains Al. From taking on the cyber community in "It's All About The Pentiums" to the unmitigated chutpah of "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi," from Jerry Springer to Eddie Vedder, from swing to zydeco, "Running With Scissors," his 10th studio album, pierces end-of-the-millennium pop culture with humor and wit.

A few thoughts of my own. The Polka Medley, a standard on every Weird Al album really brought home to me how out of touch I have become. I only recognized two of the 14 songs in it ("Wannabe," which even you would recognize as "Tell me what you want, what you really, really want," and the Hanson's . That it is the exact reverse of the ratio in all previous medleys. I am clearly out of touch. Rae, on the other hand, said she recognized every song.


At this writing it isn't a 100% certainty that John F. Kennedy Jr. is dead, but that's the way it looks.

I am afraid I do not have any profound insight on this occasion. I just wanted to share with you my shock and sadness. It is a tragedy whenever someone dies young in an accident, doubly so when it is someone with the potential for greatness. In Kennedy's case, it was only potential.

That potential, by the way, was a tribute to his mother's wisdom. She kept John and Caroline away from the cousins. I have seen two of the Kennedy cousins in action, and the words "acting out" come immediately to mind. They, too, may go somewhere in politics (at least the five of them who have already held public office), but it won't be far, and their triumphs will be shadowed, if not overshadowed by their messy personal lives.

We'll never know now, what John could have been (any more than we'll know what Joe Jr. could have been, or John or Robert) had he been granted a normal life span.

Another reminder, as if another reminder was needed, of why it is critically urgent to live each day as if it might be your last--because it might be.

Computer Industry News

It's The Pentiums

Did I mention that there is a new Weird Al album entitled Running with Scissors? And that one of the cuts on it, "It's All About The Pentiums," a parody of Sean Puffy Combs "It's All About The Benjamins," with a little "I Did It For Love" thrown in?

Among the lyrics:

In a 32-bit world you're a two-bit loser
You've got your own newsgroup
Play me online? Well you know I'll beat you
If we ever meet I'll control-alt-delete you.

Web Site of the Week

Weird Al: The Saga Beings

This site is completely devoted to the opening cut on Al's new CD, Running With Scissors. It includes a link so you can buy the CD. It has the complete lyrics, the video, a behind-the-scenes look a the making of the video, capsule biographies of the band and cast. It also includes a link to the more general Official Weird Al Website which includes things like his tour schedule and a shop where you can buy CDs and tee-shirts.


Top 12 Hidden Hospital Bill Charges

I made the Top 5 again. This is getting to be a regular occurrence. I rather like it. Even if Chris White didn't pick a Macarena submission.

July 13, 1999

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 1999 by Chris White ]

12> I.V. bottle deposit in OR, VT, and MA: $3

11> Bill preparation and printing: $30

10> Polysyllabic Obfuscation Redisintermediation: $275

9> Three-second smirk from George Clooney: $8000

8> Bedpan Refrigeration: $48.00

7> Unspecified Aroma: $83

6> Upgrade to hourly sponge baths: $197/day

5> Wheelchair Damage Collision Insurance: $39.25

4> Surgeon's Daughter's Preparatory School Tuition, Kaplan SAT
Course, and DKNY Wardrobe Surcharge: $2500

3> Psychologist's fees for nursing staff after you put your
gown on backwards and went "visiting": $400

2> Donation to the Fund to Rehire Mandy Patinkin: $3000

and's Number 1 Hidden Hospital Bill Charge...

1> Lost forceps: $35.00
Knowing where the surgeon lost the forceps: Priceless

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 1999 by Chris White ]

Selected from 95 submissions from 36 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Kevin Freels, Burbank, CA -- 1 (10th #1)
Kevin Wickart, Normal, IL -- 2, 3
Dave Wesley, Pleasant Hill, CA -- 4 (Hall of Famer)
Bill Muse, Seattle, WA -- 5, 12 (Hall of Famer)
Michael Wolf, Brookline, MA -- 6
Greg Pettit, Houston, TX -- 7
Dave Henry, Slidell, LA -- 8
Randy Wohl, Ma'ale Adumim, Israel -- 9
Paul Schlinder, Orinda, CA -- 10
Jaime McCarley, Houston, TX -- 11
Wade Kwon, Birmingham, AL -- Topic
Tristan Fabriani, Passaic, NJ -- Banner Tag
Jeffrey Anbinder, Ithaca, NY -- List moderator, RU/HM names
Chris White, New York, NY -- List owner/editor
Phish, Burlington, VT -- Ambience
[ T H E T O P F I V E L I S T ]
[ Copyright 1999 by Chris White All rights reserved. ]
[ Do not forward, publish, broadcast, or use in any manner ]
[ without crediting "The Top 5 List at" ]

News from Yugoslavia

I know I promised to run only one humor item per week, but I cannot resist a masterful shaggy dog story (underage gulls across staid lions for immortal porpoises--that sort of thing). This is one such story.

Message text written by Freda Remmers

PRILEP, Yugoslavia (AP) - Outside a small Macedonian village close to the border between Greece and strife-torn Yugoslavia, a lone Catholic nun keeps a quiet watch over a silent convent. She is the last caretaker of the site of significant historical developments spanning more than 2,000 years. When Sister Maria Cyrilla of the Order of the Perpetual Watch dies, the convent of St. Elias will be closed by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Macedonia.

However, that isn't likely to happen soon as Sister Maria, 53, enjoys excellent health. By her own estimate, she walks 10 miles daily about the grounds of the convent, which once served as a base for the army of Attila the Hun. In more ancient times, a Greek temple to Eros, the god of love, occupied the hilltop site.

Historians say that Attila took over the old temple in 439 A.D. and used it as a base for his marauding army. The Huns are believed to have first collected and then destroyed a large gathering of Greek legal writs at the site. It is believed that Attila wanted to study the Greek legal system and had the writs and other documents brought to the temple. Scholars differ on why he had the valuable documents destroyed - either because he was barely literate and couldn't read them, or because they provided evidence of democratic government that did not square with his own notion of rule by an all-powerful tyrant.

When the Greek church took over the site in the 15th Century and the convent was built, church leaders ordered the pagan statue of Eros destroyed, so another ancient Greek treasure was lost. Today, there is only the lone sister, watching over the old Hun base, amidst the strife of war torn Yugoslavia, and when she goes, that will be it.

Thus, that's how it ends, with No Huns, no writs, no Eros, and nun left on base.


Big Daddy

Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).

Director: Paul Weitz; Writer: Adam Herz; Tagline: There's something about your first piece; Plot Outline: Four teenage boys enter a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. Jason Biggs: Jim; Shannon Elizabeth: Nadia; Alyson Hannigan: Michelle; Chris Klein: Oz; Natasha Lyonne: Jessica; Thomas Ian Nicholas: Kevin; Tara Reid: Vicky; Mena Suvari: Heather; Eddie Kaye Thomas: Finch; Eugene Levy: Jim's Dad; Jennifer Coolidge: Stifler's Mom; Rated: R for strong sexuality, crude sexual dialogue, language and drinking, all involving teens; Runtime: 95 minutes.

Well, I just saw the film, and there are a few things I need to say about it. As it turns out, they are almost exactly the same things I said about Big Daddy last week.

  • It isn't as crude as I thought it was based on the reviews. What color was the sun on the world where the critics saw this film? Were they reviewing the trailer
  • Speaking of which, and I have sounded off on this subject in this space before: what an incredibly deceptive trailer. The trailer makes this movie look like a sex farce. It actually turns out to be a moderately sensitive, very funny teenage relationship movie. Not since audiences came to Big Daddy expecting an achingly stupid Adam Sandler movie have audiences been so deceived.
  • And speaking of subjects I have sounded off on before (some of them at great length): the length of this movie was just right. A little under 90 minutes. My God, people, even Adam Sandler understands a comedy should only be 90 minutes. What's wrong with the rest of Hollywood?

Ok, we've got a long letters' section, so I'll be terse. Adam Herz has a wonderful ear for dialog; expect to see more good things from him. This is the way real people talk.

Of course this film teaches poor values; it basically posits that losing your virginity before you graduate from high school is the most important thing you can do. I didn't, and my high school career worked out fine thanks. I know the same is true for several of you.

I went to see it on a Saturday afternoon in a suburban multiplex. At the ticket counter, they were kicking ass and taking names. No way my daughter and her friend were getting in without me--or without my signature and a check of my ID. R means no one under 16 admitted, especially when it is a raunchy, sex-based R like this film.

But I was surprised at the crowd once the lights went down. A few boys, but mostly 14-16 year-old girls. That's right. Despite the crappy trailer and the lousy reviews, word-of-mouth had gotten around that this was actually a relationship movie in which they only boys who ended up having sex were the ones who showed they were sensitive and paid attention to the girls.

The path to sex runs through the woman's mind! Radical! In fact, one boy wins his girl by going to the trouble of finding out how to provide her pleasure after she gets him off.

Despite the frat-boy humor, the girls had a good time. If they came away with the true message, they did all right.

Another unbelievable comic turn in a small supporting role for Eugene Levy, well on his way to becoming the Franklin X. Pangborn or Andy Devine of our generation. Eddie Kaye Thomas was unusually suave and showed a lot of potential here. And Jennifer Coolidge definitely wins the Ann Baxter Smouldering Older Woman award.


Marriage and Flag Burning

First, my mother checks in on marriage:

Having been married for 47 years to the same man, my entire adult life as a matter of fact, and having seen many marriages come and go and stay besides my own, I have formed many opinions about the institution, and as usual, am not shy about expressing my opinions. ( wonder where Paul got this quality?)
The main thing I have learned about marriage is that it seems to rotate through three cycles, many times. The first is the cycle when both partners are truly there in the relationship, working on it and in it, happily or unhappily. The second occurs when one of the partners is nor there, mentally and/or emotionally, and the third is when both partners have simply left the relationship mentally and emotionally, and it is during this cycle that marriages dissolve if they are going to. At least half of the time, the marriage does not dissolve, it simply goes into another cycle and continues on.
The most painful cycle is obviously the one in which only one of the partners has taken a leave of absence, and this seems to be the cycle which hits the most often-the mystery of why some couples make it and others don't seems to me to be in the fact that the partners somehow realize that the cycles don't last and that life does go on and change, and sometimes for the better !
Also, I have to say that from my own experience I have come to believe that it is all a matter of trade offs, what are you willing to give for what you hope to get? What are you getting that makes up for what you are not? Balance, ah yes, there is the mystery - how do we keep our lives in balance, keep our marriages in balance - juggling the cycles and hoping the together one will last for longer and longer periods as we grow old together - - or not !

Thanks mom. It's worked for me. That, and making sure to always know that you can't live a shared life with a series of 1-1 ties, so one of you gets a tiebreaker vote in each aspect of the marriage (home, child-rearing, finances, television, vacations). The process is informal and shifting, but as long as you give up some tiebreakers and your spouse gives up others, things will work out.

Kent Peterman, a regular and thoughtful correspondent, checked in with some thoughts on being alone:

Enjoyable column, as usual. thought provoking, poignant, funny. Who could ask for anything more. I liked your insight about being alone. Being alone with one's self is an interesting time. I've never minded being alone. I used to travel alone, eat out alone, etc. Now that I'm married I've learned to share space and to appreciate the sound, sight, presence and touch of another. When my wife travels I miss her. During summer when she works and I'm off the time alone doesn't seem quite as rife with joy. Yet I still treasure alone times, for without them I could never fully appreciate the joy of the together times. Anyway when you're alone there's no one else to blame for leaving the cupboard doors open, etc.

Of course, we all knew there'd be fireworks about the flag-burning item last week. I'll start with the smaller display, from my most dependably liberal reader, Ross Snyder:

Another delusion, that defacement of the symbol equals damage to what it stands for. We do it all the time -- a verbal insult often leaves us as humiliated as a blow. Although the Republic suffers not at all from harm to its symbol, polls seem to show some large part of the citizenry rank this triviality with treason.

More simply, what I should have said is, ANYTHING in the Constitution can be changed by amendment, including the Bill of Rights, and it might, the way too many folks are currently thinking. The triumph of trivia over reason.

From the other side came a blast from Jerry Pournelle. I enjoy Jerry. At present, we're colleagues. I hope someday we'll be friends. He is a veteran of Korea, a famed science fiction writer and the finest computer columnist writing today. I was pleasantly surprised to find he reads my column (perhaps attracted by my provocative weekly e-mail).

It turns out we agree, but he doesn't care for my reasoning or logic. And, by the way, he caught me in a major error. Clinton has nothing to do with the constitutional amendment process. The House and Senate decide whether an amendment goes to the states. The President has nothing to do with it (except of course, for the bully pulpit). Here's what Jerry had to say:

It is nothing like the first time in history that we restricted free "expression" as opposed to speech.

The First Amendment says CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW, etc. It says little to nothing about the states, but leave that. Both Federal and State laws restricting "expression" have been made and upheld for a long time, and it is only quite recently that anyone conceived of a notion of "expression" as an extension of speech. Speech meant speech. Written and spoken opinions and thoughts. Acting them out by pouring blood on records, urinating on court houses and graves, spray painting "ideas" on public buildings, and I could go into a long list, weren't even contemplated as protected until very recently. Now I agree that the flag burning amendment is a bad idea. It isn't going to be enacted anyway. But the arguments against it are terrifying in that they imply some kind of unrestricted right to do damn near anything so long as it is "expression". Defecating in public. This is "expression". It's also the end of any notion of civilization and polite society, but we've probably got rid of those anyway.

But I am astonished that you will buy bad arguments in what is a reasonable cause.

Here are some of my responses:

The First Amendment says CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW, etc. It says little to nothing about the states, but leave that.
OK, this is what we fought the Civil War over --states rights versus federal power. We established that states don't have the right to secede. And ever since the passage of the 14th amendment, federal law takes precedence over state law. The 5-4 rulings at the end of the most recent session of the Supreme court notwithstanding; I don't really think we're going to overturn 130 years of precedent on a permanent and wide-ranging basis. That is, for example, no state will be able to take away the right of women to vote, for example, much as Utah, I am sure, would like to.

Both Federal and State laws restricting "expression" have been made and upheld for a long time,
I know that. You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

It is only quite recently that anyone conceived of a notion of "expression" as an extension of speech.
I agree with you completely. I was speaking of symbolic gestures, not physical damage of public or private property. If you burn a flag that belongs to someone else, you have committed a crime that has nothing to do with free speech, and you can be prosecuted for it. If you burn your own, on a day when fire regulations do not prevent outdoor burning, your act is strictly symbolic.

Urine or blood on records, and graffiti, involve damage to someone's property. Crimes against property are still crimes, and should remain crimes. Even trespassing!

Defecating in public.
Your examples take us to an interesting line. I find these offensive, and I believe they violate laws against public lewd behavior. They may well be a form of expression, but I believe you should be arrested and removed from an airliner if you defecate on the food cart, no matter what your reason.

It's also the end of any notion of civilization and polite society, but we've probably got rid of those anyway.
I believe Gandhi, when asked, "What do you think of Western Civilization," once said, "They should try it."

This led us into a discussion of state's rights and the Civil War and imperial government, but I decided this week's column is long enough, so tune in next week to see what Jerry had to say on the inevitability of imperial government.

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