PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 39

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

November 8, 1999

A Night At The Opera

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

  • Marlow Goes To The Opera
  • When In-Laws Collide

Computer Industry News

  • Microsoft Will Never Settle

Web Site of the Week

  • Mahir: A Cautionary Tale of Our Time


  • Synonyms for Dumb
  • Writing Rules


  • None


  • Non-compete clauses

General News

Marlow Goes to the Opera

I am so proud of Marlow. She is such a great writer. Here's a paper she wrote for Music Humanities on her first visit to the opera. I don't know if her professor will like the chatty tone, but I can tell you I sure did, and I think you will too:

This was my first operatic experience. My friend Peter invited me to come with him and five of his other friends. We saw Georges Bizet's Carmen at the New York State Theater in the Lincoln Center Plaza on Friday, November 5th. We arrived early because the Metropolitan Opera was putting on a production premiere of Mefistofele, and we wanted to gawk at the elite in their evening finery. We sat by the fountain and admired the tuxedos and gowns before entering our own theater. The theater was amazing. We were high up in the Fourth Ring, but I almost felt fortunate to be up so high and have such a good view of the theater. The chandelier was reminiscent of a ball of diamonds, and the balconies looked like they were held up by diamond studded ribbons of gold. The opulence was timeless and complete. However, the opera did not start on the most positive note. In our programs we found an announcement that the main role of Don Jose would be played by understudy Carl Tanner. And before the lights dimmed a second disappointment was revealed in the guise of a man in a tuxedo making the unfortunate declaration that Emily Golden, our Carmen, was currently indisposed but would be singing anyway. In other words in my first opera, I was painfully aware that the male and female leads would be sub-par.
Even the regular cast members were not everything they should have been. The part of the heroic toreador, Escamillo, was Franco Pomponi's debut role. Instead of exuding the machismo of a championship bullfighter, he radiated an air of effeminacy. His actions were more those of a showy, spoilt rock star then the virile man capable of stealing Carmen's affections. Peter lent me his copy of the 1963 Carmen soundtrack on which the baritone Robert Merrill sings the part of Escamillo. The contrasts between Merrill and Pomponi are most obvious in Escamillo's theme song, the Toreador song. When Pomponi took the stage triumphantly with his entourage and began to sing everyone leaned forward, not in anticipation or to get a more suitable look but because they were craning to hear. The orchestra had not gotten louder, Pomponi simply could not match the power of the other singers, and thus, he sounded muted. On the recording, Merrill's booming voice leaves no doubt that he is the focus of the song, superior to, not merely equal to, the instrumentation. In the chorus of "Toreador, en garde! Toreador! Toreador! etc," Pomponi gave a sense of merely going through the motions of a recognizable tune that could stand on its own. Merrill's more passionate rendering makes the listener more aware of the bullfighter's appropriate self-warning. In the section where Escamillo sets the scene in the arena, Merrill sounds like he's bragging where Pomponi simply sounded as if he were setting the scene for another man's accomplishments. Finally, the exchange of the phrase "l'amour" between Carmen and Escamillo that ends the song in the performance was weakened by the dispassionate voices of both singers. In the 1963 version, despite not being able to see the actors, one can feel the heat and suppressed longing between the soon to be lovers in the controlled tremble of the voices.
In the same theme of disparity between characterization and presentation by the singers, Carmen had some inconsistencies. The role of Carmen is obviously meant to be powerful and abrasive. She is a feminist ahead of her times; she spurns lovers with almost as much frequency and tact as a female Don Giovanni. The choreography in the performance implied all the strength that the libretto suggests. Carmen suggestively shows her legs to on-lookers, allowing them to put their arms around her waist until she tires of them. She aggressively attacks another "cigarette girl" with a knife. She dances seductively for Don Jose. However, due to the singer's weakened or "indisposed" state, her voice did not live up to the promise of her actions and her famous exotic revolutionary reputation. I could not place exactly what it was that sounded incorrect, but at the intermission Peter informed me that the quality I found intangible was simply Carmen singing terribly flat. There is an ongoing debate about the proper presentation of the recitative in Carmen. In some productions they are sung; in this production, however, the recitatives were all spoken. The language of the opera is French despite the setting in Seville. I've been taking French for six years, and I personally would have preferred if the whole production had been sung. The spoken breaks tended to break up the flow of the performance, and the actors obviously do not speak French well. While singing, subtle mispronunciation for the sake of melody is forgivable, but while speaking, it is just grating.
Despite its shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed Carmen. After the opera, five of us went out for dinner, dessert, and coffee. We ended up staying out past one discussing the opera and other lofty, intellectual things. It had been quite a while since I'd taken the time to do something that required dressing up and acting civilized. I would have gone regardless of this paper for the experience. Evenings like this one make me glad I'm going to college in New York City.

When In-Laws Collide

My mother and my mother-in-law are fast becoming good friends. As far as I know, this is quite rare. They first met at our wedding, and hit it off rather well even then. Last year, my mother,. Mari, and I visited Lynne Marlow, my wife's mother, who lives in Los Angeles. Mom was hesitant to go without me.

This time Mari had to fly solo, however, at least on arrival. I had to stay in San Francisco to anchor a three-hour webcast covering the Microsoft ruling. Both mom and I were concerned, because LA taxi drivers generally have a hard time finding the two-block street Lynne lives on in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood. I hired a limo service to meet her at the airport--first time she had been so met. She took quite a liking to the driver.

I arrived Saturday and spent a wonderful day and a half with the two of them. Mom and I also dined at the Good Earth in Studio City with Jerry Pournelle, the extraordinarily charming columnist and world-famed science fiction writer. Sunday, we called for a limo to the airport and made sure we got the same driver. He is a very ambitious young man, whose real job is training horses. I think you'll be hearing about Kevin Hanks someday. That kind of talent and charm usually find their way to the top.

Anyway, I am thoroughly enjoying the budding friendship of my mother, English teacher and wife of a milkman, and my mother-in-law, artist and widow of a real estate developer. They agree on everything, and it's fun to watch.

Computer Industry News

Microsoft Will Never Settle

I wrote a major analysis of the Microsoft antitrust case, but frankly it was a toned-down, cleaned-up, somewhat inflated version of a quick message I dashed off to Craig Reynolds this weekend:

If I were a betting man, I would bet against Microsoft settling. Gates is that arrogant, and his lawyers are telling him he is winning. As an American commentator once noted, "The Supreme Court can read election results." They can also read polls. Bill lost the PR battle for the hearts and minds of the American public last year, and he doesn't know it. He may well win at the Appeals Court level, but DOJ will take it to the Supremes, unless we elect George W., in which case his new AG will settle the case 20 minutes after taking office by handing Microsoft the keys to the American economy.

That's my unvarnished opinion, and you'll note I shy away from the merits of the case, the findings of fact and the forthcoming findings of law. I simply assert, based on my reading of Gates, that he'll never settle on terms the Department of Justice will accept.

Web Site of the Week


This is one of those "only on the Internet" stories; the rapid rise and fall of a cutting-edge site. I got this from a friend on Nov. 5:

For reasons known only to Al Gore, inventor of the Internet, a swift and powerful buzz has built up regarding the website of Mahir, the Turkish Stud, who is God's gift to women the world over. I heard about this on Wednesday, took a look at the site, and nearly ruptured a testicle laughing. At this point, I've received dozens of messages from people telling me to check out his website.

Three days later, I got this:

Mahir himself posted a very long, serious message on his website which details the entire story of how he became an overnight internet phenomenon, and it involves a good deal of trickery on the part of other parties. He claims the website in question was not entirely his doing. The story is at: This guy's website received over 10 million hits in a 1-week span. Those in the internet community have been talking about it, and it's been written up in Salon Magazine (a big internet mag).

But because of the deception, he's not longer cutting-edge cool. And so it goes on Internet Time.

Editor's Note:

Rich Buck, a new reader, suggested I solicit reader nominations for the web site of the week. I have his, and I have a .exe file sent to me by a colleague at work called Microgerbil, which I'll post next week. Your nominations are welcome.


Synonyms for Dumb

Chris White ( says these are cliches. I think they're still funny.

A few clowns short of a circus.
A few fries short of a Happy Meal.
An experiment in Artificial Stupidity.
A few beers short of a six-pack.
Dumber than a box of hair.
A few peas short of a casserole.
Doesn't have all his cornflakes in one box.
The wheel's spinning, but the hamster's dead.
One Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl.
One taco short of a combination plate.
A few feathers short of a whole duck.
All foam, no beer.
The cheese slid off his cracker.
Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel.
Has an IQ of 2, but it takes 3 to grunt.
Warning: Objects in mirror are dumber than they appear.
Couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel.
He fell out of the Stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.
An intellect rivaled only by garden tools.
As smart as bait.
Chimney's clogged.
Doesn't have all his dogs on one leash.
Doesn't know much but leads the league in nostril hair.
Elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor.
Forgot to pay his brain bill.
Her sewing machine's out of thread.
His antenna doesn't pick up all the channels.
His belt doesn't go through all the loops.
If he had another brain, it would be lonely.
Missing a few buttons on his remote control.
No grain in the silo.
Proof that evolution CAN go in reverse.
Receiver is off the hook.
Several nuts short of a full pouch.
Skylight leaks a little.
Slinky's kinked.
Surfing in Nebraska.
Too much yardage between the goal posts

Writing Rules

Obvious gimmick. Doesn't mean its not still funny.

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however
should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a big word when substituting a diminutive one would suffice.
23. Kill all exclamation points!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
27. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist
hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
32. Who needs rhetorical questions?
33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
34. Avoid "buzz-words"; such integrated transitional scenarios complicate simplistic 35. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.



Facts courtesy of Internet Movie Database, if there were any.

No movies this week, but I'm going out to see Being John Malkovich tonight after I post my column.


Non-Compete Clauses

One of my correspondents, who wishes to remain anonymous, had this to say about non-compete clauses in contracts, which came up in last week's column:

Regarding non-compete contract clauses you say "...go ahead and sign one. It's almost not worth the paper it's written on..." Of course, knuckling under to corporate lawyers only encourages them to put more stupid, abusive, unfair clauses into such contracts. When someone hands you a boilerplate contract, you can be sure there is nothing in it that will benefit/protect you. I have a general policy of never signing a proffered contract without making some modification to it. Why make it easy for them? I didn't ask to sign an abusive contract.
It is so easy for a corporate legal department to write in a list of a hundred concessions for you to make and rights for you to give up. If you just haggle over a relatively insignificant point it can tie up a lawyer for weeks. I see this as a "shot across their bow", a warning that it is not without cost to put legal burdens on their partners/employees. Of course, this game also requires a certain self-destructive willingness to walk away from a job offer or contract in order to make a point. Call me reckless.

Not so reckless as to sign his name, however.

Daniel Dern could not help noting this quote from last week:

As Kurt Vonnegut puts it, "This too will pass." That applies to the good as well as the bad.

He riposted:

And to kidney stones.

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