PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 30

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

August 16, 1999

Coming Up: A Week Off!

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

  • Taking A Week Off
  • Second Thoughts On A Last Laugh
  • Another Great Cat Column
  • The Pinot Story

Computer Industry News

  • Cellphone Rage
  • The Truth About Bill Gates

Web Site of the Week

  • The Perfect Joke


  • Reality Check: Rules for Living
  • Shaggy Dog Story


  • None this week


  • Larry King writes from England.

General News

Taking A Week Off

Well, this is the moment I have been preparing for for almost two decades. Not CMP's last summer conference/editorial awards banquet--that's this week. Next week, on Thursday, August 26, Vicki, Rae and I will help Marlow move into her Columbia dormitory room. As a result, I won't be here to do this column next week. I know you'll find some other way to while away your time.

Second Thoughts On A Last Laugh

I had three "last laugh" political items here last week, and my friend and colleague Jerry Pournelle took exception to almost all of them. I knew, but had forgotten, that he's been a personal friend of notes.

I think it would be salutary for all political commentators to be reminded from time to time that these are not abstractions we are writing about, these are living, breathing, fallible human beings, with friends, relatives and feelings. I feel rather certain that, after all his time in public life, Newt Gingrich has developed a thick hide. It is apparent his friends have not.

Jerry Writes:

Newt Gingrich was my friend for 20 years, and while I don't defend everything he has done, surely he deserves that the truth be told about him, not endless repetition of stories spun up by political enemies.
In particular: Newt married his teacher, a woman older than he, and for whatever reasons it didn't work. Divorce proceedings began. It was then found she had cancer. There were discussions of divorce papers while she was in hospital, but that was by prior arrangement: they had papers that had to be signed, and there wasn't any other place to talk about them.
I'm no great fan of divorce, and I grew up in a time when it was considered impossible for a divorced man to become President. I wasn't unhappy with that tradition.
But it happens, and sometimes it gets ugly; and some people do things in particularly cruel ways. Had Newt actually waited until his first wife was in hospital, then served her with papers as she lay there unaware, perhaps he would deserve the contempt you hold for him. Perhaps, although I do not agree at all, he deserves contempt (as against opposition) for other reasons. But he doesn't for that reason because it didn't happen that way.
I saw more of Mary Ann than Newt after he became Speaker - he was soon surrounded by a palace guard and the only way I could see him was to go to Washington and sit in his office until he arrived - and they are both friends, and I am sorry to see them part. I know nothing of that situation, but I doubt you know a great deal more, and since Mr. Gingrich resigned as Speaker and has left the Congress, I am not sure it is very much your business any more.
Are you implying that "once a politician always a politician": that politics like Herpes is forever? If so, you will find yourself with a much worse brand of politician than we have now, if such is possible. The problem with politics is that most of the people who thirst for political office ought not have it, and most of those who ought to have it very much want to stay out of politics, or get out once they got in. George Washington with his "Eight years of splendid misery" comes to mind. When I was a lad it was traditional for some of the leading people of the city to serve a term or two in one or another city office, including perhaps City Council, then get out and never go back to political office. Women served on the City Beautiful Commission (which had some real power, despite the colorful name) without pay, which generally meant they were wealthy, but they didn't make a career of it.
It seems to me you are saying that one makes a career of politics, and can never leave once embarked: like aristocrats or royalty. I hope that doesn't happen to America. We could use more, not fewer, amateurs in government; indeed, were it left to me, I'd look for ways to get government out of the hands of the lifers and back into the hands of people too busy with real lives to make a career of governing other people.
Mr. Gingrich may not be perfect in his personal life, but then neither are many of those who really are career politicos. Senator Kennedy comes to mind, but one might think of others in both parties. Surely you are not proposing that the next election, like Clinton's first, be fought out on "sleaze factor" lines? I think the Republican National Committee would like nothing better.
As to your animus toward Kenneth Starr, you reduce a rather complicated subject to a simple situation of personalities, and I doubt that's a correct view of the world. Consider only one incident: Whether or not making a hundred grand out of a thousand dollar investment involved criminal activity, surely major investigations have been launched on far less spectacular grounds? And for all that one might want to believe in the Clintons, they did put Webster Hubbell in as the acting Attorney General of the United States, and I cannot think anyone would be proud of that achievement.
In any event, Newt Gingrich, for all his personal faults, has put forth a fairly consistent set of views about America and the nature of government. It may be right, it may be wrong; but surely his thoughts are more interesting than the details of his marriages? Particularly since you have at least one of your major stories flat wrong.

Most of Jerry's points are excellent, and I can't quibble with them. I wish only to append two remarks of my own. It was not my decision, nor is it my delusion, that Newt has chosen to continue in a political life, by giving partisan political speeches and maintaining a PAC that could easily be converted into a vehicle for a run for the presidency.

And while I agree he has put forth a fairly consistent set of views about America and the nature of government, I think Jerry would also agree that Newt has been a hardball political fighter. As a matter of political choice, he slandered some very good Democrats, individually and collectively, by flat-out calling me and every other Democrat in this country "anti-family." Not just once, but time and again. That's not fair, it's not right and it isn't true. His two divorces would be his own business, if he hadn't spent his whole term in the House trying to make the personal into the political, climaxing with an impeachment which was, at its core, about sex. It wasn't about lying, it was about sex. And just as Henry Hyde's sanctimony makes his six-year "youthful indiscretion" (committed when he wasn't much younger than Clinton is now) fair game, so Newt's constant attacks on Democratic "family values" make his family values a fair matter for comment. His decision to continue to fight the war of politics by other means makes him a fair target.

All of which said, Jerry knows more about Newt and his first divorce than I do, and while the fundaments of the story remain the same (the divorce couldn't wait until she got out of the hospital?). I stand corrected and chastened. By the way, the fact that his first wife filed court papers claiming Newt was not meeting his child support obligations still stands.

I will stand by what I said about Kenneth Starr. My examination of his public acts indicates that personal animus is the only reasonable explanation. Why else would he mistreat Monica Lewinsky (refusing her counsel), file the flimsiest federal cases brought in this century (against the advice of his staff) and advocate impeachment before Congress (against the advice of his ethics advisor). He knew better. But Clinton offended him, and that set him off on a crusade. Well, Clinton offends me too, but not as much as Starr offends me.

He will slink from the public stage with a batting average that would get him kicked off the country's worst AA baseball team. Thank goodness the American conservative movement will arrange a cushy job somewhere to support him comfortably while he licks his wounds and writes books attacking the Clintons until he is old and gray. Or maybe George W. can appoint him to the Supreme Court.

Another Great Cat Column

Jon Carroll, the world's greatest writer of cat columns, has graced the readers of the San Francisco Chronicle with yet another classic. Click on the headline for the full text; this is just an excerpt.

Bucket's Role In the Universe
JON CARROLL Monday, August 9, 1999
TRACY SAID TO ME last night: ``What we really need is a second cat.''
We have two cats, of course. For the benefit of all the Chronicle editors who hate every single cat column and make funny puffing noises with their cheeks when they see another one coming along, let me remind these cynical naysayers that my cats are named Archie and Bucket.
Let me say that the People want more cat columns. ``Enough with the political crapola already,'' they remark. Some people bookmark my column on the Web, thinking it's going to be a feline laffathon, and they are ever so irritated when Orrin Hatch and Barney Frank wander through the doors.
Thus: another fine circulation-building cat column.
We have two cats, but we need a second cat. Bucket, we have come to realize, is a third cat. Bucket is a fringe performer. Bucket lives on the edges. She does not come when called. Her domestic pleasures consist almost entirely of finding ever more obscure hiding places in which to nap away the warmer hours of the day.
Bucket has these weird sporadic surges of affection for her humans. She'll go for weeks merely nodding as she passes, and then all of a sudden she's in your lap purring like a steam engine, rolling kittenishly, demanding major hands-on attention. And just as you get a good rub going, she hears a distant bell -- the elves, the elves are calling! -- and she sprints away, not to be seen again for 14 hours.
Classic third cat behavior.
ARCHIE IS A first cat. Archie is the alpha cat. Archie would like to be the only cat. It's impossible to talk to Bucket in a cat-appropriate voice. ``There's the Bucket, the Bucket-boo, there's the Bucket,'' a human might say, and all of a sudden Archie is underfoot.
``Here's the Archie, here's the Archie-whatever, here I am now,'' he insists.
So, on the rare occasions when we interact with her, we have to speak to Bucket as though she were a visiting clergyman. ``Fine weather we're having to be sure and would you like a scone?'' we say in adult tones while scritching her under the neck. Archie, in another room, does not catch on.
SO WE HAVE a first cat and a third cat, and we need a numero two-o. We need a cat that can fulfill the duties of the first cat if for any reason he is unable to serve. We need a cat that appears to recognize us when we walk in the room and takes pleasure from the recognition…

The Pinot Story

There's a story about Pinot Noir at dinner up in the Mother Lode that I was waiting for Marlow to tell. But she got too busy in her last full week at home to write it down. I'm sure she could tell it better.

She's motivated, I'm not. Frankly, it's not a story I am anxious to tell, but as both Vicki and Marlow pointed out, if you're going to write a weekly personal column on the web, it isn't really fair to your readers--no matter how few they are--to leave out the good stuff.

So we're having dinner at the Columbia City Hotel in Columbia, California, in a state park in the heart of the Mother Lode in the Sierra Foothills of California. I decide to order a pinot noir wine. There are two on the menu that look good, a Dehlinger at $48 and another… I forget, let's call it a Husch… at $28. Both come from 1995. Vicki says "We'll never taste the difference, buy the less expensive one." I say, "These prices are based on winemaking style. Let's splurge on the better one."

She responded, "That's pointless." It was, at the point, that I made a mistake I haven't made since my mother won a doubled-up bet at the moment that Sandy Koufax took the mound against the Orioles in the 4th game of the 1964 World Series. I had the Dodgers, who were down three games to none. Mom was betting on the Orioles. Sandy would save the day, I said. "Double the bet?" my mother asked. "Sure," I said. The Orioles blasted Koufax off the mound and swept the series in four games. It was the last time I made a bet of any kind outside of Roulette and Blackjack in Vegas. No sports bets, no pools, no around the house bets.

I succumbed to Vicki's taunting at dinner, however, and bet her the cost of both wines that I could tell the expensive one from the less-expensive one (neither was what you would call cheap). The waiter cooperated, bringing two glasses for each of us, subtly marked. Although the bet did not require Vicki to guess, she played along anyway.

I held both up to the light. Both were perfectly crimson-hued, with not a trace of green around the edges. Both had marvelous pinot noses. I began to sweat a little. I tried the first one. Very simple and clear, a pleasant fruity aftertaste. I tried the second one. It tasted more complex. Well, says I, complexity means more work in the winemaking, right? More time in a better barrel?

Wrongo. But then you saw the punchline coming, didn't you? The waiter said, "The Dehlinger is on your right," Vicki whooped with glee, Marlow laughed hysterically, and if it had been a TV sitcom, we'd have just faded out there. Alas, it was real life, and I had to live with the story for the rest of the weekend, and now, a week later, I've been shamed into preserving it for posterity.

Such is the lot of the Dad.

Computer Industry News

Cellphone Rage

We all knew it would happen, but who knew it would happen in Germany. According to the Telegraph of London, someone has finally been shot and killed for inappropriate public use of a cellular telephone.

Mobile phone rage victim dies

The Truth About Bill

The best Bill Gates profile I have ever read is in the August 16, 1999 issue of The New Yorker (a mostly white cover with a statue of a bottle of vin rouge). Ken Auletta is given 27 pages--hooray! Tina Brown is gone and her tiny-article fixation left with her!--to discuss the Microsoft antitrust case. Frankly, it looks like he's writing a book, and this is either a sample chapter or his narrative outline. In any case, his opening anecdote nails Gates better than any book length treatment I have ever seen (with the possible exception of The Plot To Get Bill Gates).

The part that rings most true is when Auleta asks Gates at a news conference about Microsoft arrogance. Gates confronts him and says "What do you mean `arrogant. ' "

Gates has made similar statements to me. Since I'm not as fast as Auleta, I wasn't ready with a response. Auleta was (or he's doctored the anecdote to make it appear he was) and describes Gates as chastened by his "people have the right to ask questions" response.

A few paragraphs later, a Department of Justice official describes Gates growing "angry, condescending, snide and petulant." It doesn't take much growth for Gates to make that leap; he's on the edge of all of those emotions every time I've ever seen him offstage. So much so that a colleague, offended by Gates' angry rejoinder to an intended piece of small talk, told him to "Take a chill pill." OK, fine, the man hates small talk. He doesn't have to get het up about it. And since small talk is a normal part of social intercourse, maybe he should get over it. But since there's no one to say no to Bill, his boorish behavior will never improve.

When you get your chance to spend a little time with the great man, turn it down. Spend it instead with Jobs or even Sculley. If you insist on a Microsoftie, spend it with Ballmer or Nathan Myhrvold. At least they're human (especially Myhrvold).

And run, don't walk, to the newsstand for your copy of the current issue of the New Yorker. No, they don't post content on their web site.

Web Site of the Week

The Perfect Joke

A cute joke, cutely presented. When you see it, you'll see why I couldn't just cut it and paste it in here.


Reality Check

This seems appropriate as Marlow goes off to college.

For you parents (and grandparents): Charles Sykes is the author of Dumbing Down Our Kids. He volunteered high school and college graduates a list of eleven things they did not learn in school. In his book, he talks about how the feel good, politically-correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and set them up for failure in the real world.
You may want to share this list with them.
Rule 1: Life is not fair; get used to it.
Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you
to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave
the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Great Shaggy Dog Story

Barry Surman figured I'd like this story. He was right!

Two members of a small monastery decided to open a small florist shop. The idea of buying beautiful flowers from gentle friars appealed to a lot of people in the town, and soon they were flocking to the shop.

Meanwhile, the florist across town saw his business virtually disappear when all his customers began buying flowers from the monks. He thought the monks had an unfair advantage, so he visited them and asked them to return to the monastery and leave business to businessmen. They politely declined.

So he visited the monastery and asked the abbot to persuade the monks to abandon the business. He declined as well. Next the florist sent his mother, his parish priest and his children to visit the monks, asking them to cease their business so the original florist could make a living. It didn't work.

Finally, in desperation, the florist hired the town thug, Hugh McNasty, to use personal persuasion. Hugh showed up one night with a cudgel, shattered the windows of the monks' shop, tossed their flowers out into the street, and gave the monks black eyes, promising them he'd be back unless they closed their business. Terrified, the monks shut their store and returned to the monastery.

Proving, of course, that ....only Hugh can prevent florist friars.


No Movies This Week

If there were facts, they would be here, (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).

 Didn't have time to see any movies this week.


And Now A Word From England

Larry King, American expatriate in London, and a friend and colleague of mine from two stints at InformationWEEK, dropped me a note:

I'm actually on holiday and have been since the day before you wrote this, so I'm just now picking up e-mail at my mother's house, since the first thing she wanted me to do was go with her to buy a new computer -- Compaq, Pentium II, color printer.
She debated with herself over a scanner before deciding that learning Windows 98 was enough to keep her busy. I gave her my computer when I moved to London and created a monster.
So I'm trying to figure out how I feel about CMP. Mostly sorry for the people who work there, I suppose. A friend of mine got bounced out of Ziff after it went public and watched its stock dive. Why can't techie publishers understand either the Internet or the stock market? Ziff put tons of money into its web activity and its television channel, which swallowed it all without so much as burping. I gather CMP was having trouble figuring out how to make money on, or what to do with, other media as well.
So given the complete confusion in the executive suite over what the hell we're doing for a living, of course you want to go public, so you can share your confusion with Wall Street. Nothing a securities analyst likes hearing more than hesitation and confusion in an executive's voice when he's explaining just what it is the company hopes to make money doing. The analyst is going to run right out and recommend that stock to all his brokers and traders. What he's going to recommend is they sell it till their ears bleed.
By the way, when are you people going to learn that if you let nuts have guns, occasionally one of them will go nuts with a gun?

I did point out to him that he hasn't, that I know of, formally become a British citizen yet, so perhaps the use of "you people" here may be a bit hyperbolic.

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