PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 3 No. 2

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

January 10, 2000

Don't sweat the petty stuff and
don't pet the sweaty stuff

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

  • A Busy Family Weekend
  • The LA Times Says Its Really Sorry
  • One Last Y2K Story

Computer Industry News

  • Shipping: The Soft Underbelly Of E-Commerce

Web Site of the Week

  • Hungersite


  • Muttonheads: Steve Martin Humor
  • American Management


  • Sweet and Lowdown
  • Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo


  • Nope

General News

A Busy Family Weekend

As I write these callow descriptions of the detritus of my life (I mean, it's not even as if I were President Polk writing his diary), I wonder what standard I should be setting for myself. Should I be trying to draw larger lessons? Should I attempt dazzling wordplay? Or is it enough to write the moral equivalent of a fifth grader's essay on "what I did with my weekend," only with better grammar and spelling? Well, after much soul-searching, I've decided that, while the writing in these little essays may not dazzle you, it may amuse and enlighten you. Especially those of you who are different stages of life --either past the ago of children or still heading into it. And of course, writing up my life serves the minimal function of making sure my family knows what I've been doing and how I feel about it. I have to say thought, I am flattered and astonished by how many people begin conversations with, "Yes, I already know about that. I read it in your column." As I said (here? Last week?), this should enable me to listen more and talk less, which, in my case, is always a good thing.

Vicki, Rae, Marlow and I spent the weekend at Capitola-by-the-sea, a small town just south of Santa Cruz on the Monterey Bay. The guidebooks will tell you that there is a nude beach north of the pier, but don't you believe it. I've never seen anyone nude there any time of year, but particularly not in January with highs in the low 60s and a brisk wind. You'd have to be pretty dedicated to nudism to strip down under those circumstances.

We stay at a lovely little place (which I highly recommend--ask for room 131) called the Capitola Ventian. It is built directly on the beach, in a way which the California Coastal Commission will insure never happens again. Our room was 50 feet from the sand, and just a few hundred yards from Capitola's precious tourist-oriented downtown. No place to buy food, but lots of tchotchkes; in fact, there are a dozen stores that have signs that say "unique gifts." Rarely have I been surrounded by so much uniqueness.

Saturday, we all slept in late, and by late, I mean 10:30 a.m. for the adults and noon for the girls. Vicki and I walked for an hour. I then took the girls to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk while Vicki shopped and relaxed. If you've never been to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and you're the leas bit curious about what boardwalks were like in their heyday, then come and have a look. A retro blend of rides, games of skill, food, a roller coaster and a Ferris Wheel (which I can almost never get the girls to join me on). A day at the boardwalk is like time travel. We must have taken the girls to Capitola/Santa Cruz a dozen times, in addition to a few trips on our own.

Another tradition is brunch at Shadowbrook, the only restaurant in America which can be entered through an inclined elevator (don't call it a funicular or a tram) that carries you down the 27 degree slope in comfort. It is right on the banks of the Capitola River, and is nestled in among the trees, several of which go up through the restaurant and through its roof. Feeding the ducks from the deck is a kick.

Thence to San Francisco, where we ran the homeless gauntlet between the Mason/O'Farrell Garage and the Cable Car Theater for a performance of Tony and Tina's wedding. You may have heard of this "interactive theater experience." Cast members seat you in the congregational church around the corner where Father Michael performs the ceremony between Anthony Annunzio Jr. and Betina Vitale. Then you walk back around to the theater, where a wedding band plays, people (audience members and cast mixed together), dance, and everyone has a buffet dinner at the reception.

Vicki and I found it quite amusing, and reminiscent of some weddings we have been to, albeit exaggerated. Marlow and Rae haven't been to that many weddings, so they were visibly less amused. There were a lot of stereotypes, about Italians Catholics and gays mostly, but hey, it was all in good fun.

To top off our evening, we had a piece of pie and a chat by the fire at the home of Pamela Drake, Vicki's sister, who lives in Kensington (in the hills overlooking Berkeley). She has a three-bridge view from her living room, where we sat chatting with her, her daughters Kimberly (shortly to graduate law school), Kirsten (starting this week at the Cal sports information bureau) and Pamela's friend Blake (looking to move to California from NYC). A piece of lemon meringue pie and good conversation. Does it get any better than this?

We got home early, so Rae could finish her homework and Marlow could call all her friends and make plans for Monday. Me? Instead of finishing this column on time, I vegged out in front of the second half of the newly revived 21 game show on NBC. Very entertaining in my estimation, with a great set and Maury Povich a much better host than I had expected. On the other hand, my mother wrote:

Wasn't terribly impressed - I think the idea of having the audience vote on the next contestant is stupid, thought Maury acted like a little kid, thought the questions were far too easy, but loved the idea of their shoveling out the money!!

Gee, I liked Maury's enthusiasm. Well, I'll tell you this: if they don't call me to be a contestant at the next taping, I'm headed over for Dick Clark's Winning Lines. I may not like being 1 of 49 contestants, but it beats not being a contestant at all. I can't wait to see what the ratings were.

The LA Times Says Its Really Sorry

You know, I'll bet a lot of you haven't even heard about this story, but it's the biggest thing to hit journalism since sliced bread and night baseball. Some professional journalists think it’s a sign that the LA Times has fallen on evil times. Others, including the hardest-working, most ethical journalist I know, Jim Forbes, tell me it is a tempest in the teapot. On the several occasions we have spoken of this brouhaha, Jim has asked me, "Where's the foul here? What ethical line did the Times cross."

Like the Supreme Court justice who couldn't define pornography, but knew it when he saw it, I can't define "too far," but I know it when I see it. And I agree with former publisher Otis Chandler. This deal went too far.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior managers of the Los Angeles Times acknowledged in a front page note to readers the newspaper's journalistic integrity had come under suspicion after a recent breach in the firewall between its news and business operations, and pledged not to repeat that mistake.

``In October, we published an issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine devoted to the opening of the Staples Center. As our stories noted, The Times is a founding sponsor of Staples, but we did not disclose to our newsroom or to you, our readers, that we shared the profits on the issue of the magazine with Staples. That was a mistake,'' Publisher Kathryn M. Downing and Editor Michael Parks wrote in a note published on Sunday.

The newspaper published a special edition of its Sunday magazine on Oct. 10 devoted entirely to Staples Center, a new sports and entertainment complex in Los Angeles. Without disclosing the arrangement to readers or editorial staff, it had agreed to split roughly $2 million in advertising revenue from the special edition
with owners of the complex.

In response that that lapse, they wrote, the paper is undertaking three initiatives, starting with a statement of journalistic principles which appeared below that note.

The second initiative is a ``full and independent examination'' of the Staples incident and a ``handful of (other) situations (at the Times) that are not consistent with journalistic independence,'' Downing and Parks wrote. This report, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning media reporter David Shaw, will be published on Monday, they said.

``We believe we must be able to shine as bright a light on ourselves as we do on others,'' said Downing and Parks.

The third initiative involves developing guidelines for implementing the principles outlined below their remarks, they wrote, ``and insure that our actions are governed each day by our commitment to editorial independence and integrity.''

Among the principles articulated in the Times on Sunday were ``honesty, accuracy, fairness and courage. By seeking truth and sharing understanding, we will strive for the improvement of society.''

``Our newsroom will operate free of influence from public and private institutions, political officials and advertisers,'' the newspaper, owned by the Times Mirror Co., pledged in its statement
of principles.

``We hold that journalistic excellence is the soundest foundation for our success and that the editorial integrity of the Los Angeles Times is its most precious asset,'' it said.

``We will remain free of associations or activities that might compromise our integrity or damage our credibility. We will avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.''

Significantly, it pledged further that ``if the editorial mission and the commercial interests of The Times conflict, editorial integrity will always come first.''

While the vast majority of U.S. media organizations adhere to a similar set of principles, a public statement of this kind is unusual among established mainstream media organizations.

Shaw's story ran 14 pages in the Monday LA Times that week. Downing, the publisher of The Times doesn't know a damn thing about newspapers, nor does her boss, the chairman of Times Mirror. But boy, they've done wonders for the stock price and that's all the current generation of Chandlers (the family that owns the paper) care about. In the airline business, this kind of management has a name: controlled flight into terrain.

One Last Y2K Story

A tip o' the Schindler hat to Daniel Dern, who spotted this BBC story:

Colombia rebels Y2K compliant

Colombian Marxist rebels have announced they are Y2K ready, unlike the Colombian government which is scrambling to beat the end of year deadline.

The 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which control almost 40% of the country, have pronounced themselves ready for the turn of the millennium.

According to Juan, the FARC systems manager, based in the massive guerrilla safe haven granted by the government for peace talks, the rebel's computers have been upgraded with Windows 2000 and will slip into the new millennium without a hitch.

Hi-tech rebels

This is no idle boast for a guerrilla organisation that earns over $600m annually, according to official US estimates.

As well as managing a massive financial portfolio, the guerrillas have complex intelligence databases and information on kidnappings, according to military sources.

With satellite telephones connected to laptop computers, guerrillas are able to maintain internet access even in the most remote jungle camps.

Computer Industry News

Shipping: The Soft Underbelly of E-Commerce

David Strom, editor of the Web Informant hit the nail on the head in issue 181 of his e-mail newsletter:

…shoppers are acutely aware of how long it takes to get their goods delivered. And nothing exposes the soft underbelly of eCommerce more than how a storefront manages the entire shipping process. Some stores don't tell you about what the shipping costs are until you are at the final checkout page. Shopping bots that scour the net for the best prices are woefully inadequate when reporting on these costs. And some vendors provide misleading information about where your stuff is, or just outright lie.

For the rest of the story, head on over to his site.

While you're there, you might also want to look at #176, "It's Hard Work Protecting Your Family's PCs." I turned off Windows Scripting Hosting based on David's suggestion. He has several very specific, very clear and easy to follow suggestions for protecting yourself against some of the nastier viruses going around.

Web Site of the Week


Although both Richard Dalton and Kevin Sullivan sent me this nomination, I think Richard said it best:

If you ever get tired of Internet hype, and this is the season for it, take heart.

I ran across this in the SF Chronicle and checked it out. This site donates an amount that buys more than 2 cups of food to the UN's World Food Program each time you click. As the site reminds us, someone dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds and three-fourths of those deaths are children under 5.

You don't have to do much, just click the "donate food" button, get transported to one page with a dozen or so sponsors (who fund the donations), then go on about your life. There goes a couple more cups of food. You can donate once a day. Worth bookmarking.


Muttonheads: Steve Martin Humor

I loved this when I first read it in The New Yorker, but I lacked the drive to key it in. The magazine, of course, does not have a content web site. Well, a friend of a friend keyed in the whole essay, and since it is hysterical, I am presenting it here, for your private non-commercial use.

By the way, remember last week, when I named my favorite writers of narrative humor? I left out two: Steve Martin and Woody Allen. The world lost a great narrative humorist when Allen stopped writing occasional pieces for The New Yorker (I feel the same way, by the way, about Fran Lebowitz--God, I wish she'd write some more).

Anyway, here's Martin's essay:


The following definition was discovered in the 1999 edition of the Random House dictionary. The crafting of this definition was the final assignment of Mr. Del Delhuey, who had been dismissed after thirty-two
years with the company.

Mutton (mut'n), n. [Middle English, from Old French mouton, moton, from Medieval Latin multo, multon-, of Celtic origin.] 1.The flesh of fully grown sheep 2. A glove with four fingers. 3. Two discharged muons. 4. Seven English tons. 5. One who mutinies. 6. To wear a dog. 7. A fastening device on a mshirt or mblouse. 8. Fuzzy underwear for ladies. 9. A bacteria-resistant amoeba with an attractive do. 10. To throw a boomerang weakly. 11. Any kind of lump in the pants. (slang) 12. A hundred mittens. 13. An earthling who has been taken over by an alien. 14. The smallest whole particle in the universe, so small you can hardly see it. 15. A big, nasty cut on the hand. 16. The rantings of a flibbertigibbet. 17. My wife never supported me. 18. It was as though I worked my whole life and it wasn't enough for her. 19. My children think I'm a nerd. 20. In architecture, a bad idea. 21. Define this, you nitwits. 22. To blubber one's finger over the lips while saying, 'bluh.' 23. I would like to take a trip to the seaside, where no one knows me. 24. I would like to be walking on the beach when a beautiful woman passes by. 25. She would stop me and ask me what I did for a living. 26. I would tell her I am a lexicographer. 27. She would say, "Oh, you wild boy." Exactly that, not one word different. 28. Then she would ask me to define our relationship, which at that point would be one minute old. I would demur. But she would say, "Oh please define this second for me right now." 29. I would look at her and say, "mutton." 30. She would swoon. Because I would say it in a slight Spanish accent, at which I am very good. 31. I would take her hand and she would notice me feeling her wedding ring. I would ask her whom she is married to. She would say, "A big cheese at Random House." 32. I would take her to my motel room, and teach her the meaning of love. 33. I would use the American Heritage, out of spite, and read all the definitions. 34. Then I would read out of the Random House some of my favorites among those that I worked on: "the" (just try it); "blue" (give it a shot, and don't use the word 'nanometer'). 35. I would
make love to her according to the O.E.D., sixth definition. 36. We would call room service and order tagliolini without looking it up. 37. I would return her to the beach, and we would say goodbye. 38. Gibberish in E-mail. 39. A reading lamp with a lousy fifteen-watt bulb, like they have in Europe. Also: a.muttonchops: slicing sheep meat with the face. b. muttsam: sheep floating in the sea. c. muttonheads: the Random House people.

American Management

I grew up in a labor household. My father was a Teamster, and I made quite a study of American labor history. This, and the stories my father brought home from work, gave me a particularly jaundiced view of the quality and intelligence of most managers. Every year for 20 years, Dad would come home from the Christmas meeting at the dairy bearing the news that they had lost money and were headed out of business. Then one year, lo and behold, they actually did go out of business! Anyway, the people who ran the dairy were never the sharpest tools in the shed. The wheel was turning, but the hamster had died.

It is in this spirit that I present a very old shaggy dog story that I have loved since the first time I heard it because of the high level of essential truth it contains:

Once upon a time, an American automobile company and a Japanese auto company decided to have a competitive boat race on the Detroit River. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance.
On the big day, they were as ready as they could be. The Japanese team won by a mile.

Afterwards, the American team became discouraged by the loss and their morale sagged. Corporate management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found. A Continuous Measurable Improvement Team of "Executives" was set up to investigate the problem and to recommend appropriate corrective action.

Their conclusion: the problem was that the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, whereas the American team had 1 person rowing and 8 people steering. The American Corporate Steering Committee immediately hired a consulting firm to do a study on the management structure.

After some time and billions of dollars, the consulting firm concluded that "too many people were steering and not enough rowing." To prevent losing to the Japanese again next year, the management structure was changed to "4 Steering Managers, 3 Area Steering Managers, and 1 Staff Steering Manager" and a new performance system for the person rowing the boat to give more incentive to work harder and become a six sigma performer. "We must give him empowerment and enrichment." That ought to do it.

The next year the Japanese team won by two miles.

The American Corporation laid off the rower for poor performance, sold the paddle, canceled all capital investments for new equipment, halted development of a new canoe, awarded high performance awards to the consulting firm, and distributed the money saved as bonuses to the senior executives.


Sweet and Lowdown

Written and directed by Woody Allen, this film breaks out of the cycle of near-porn the legendary director was cranking out, which peaked (or troughed) with Mighty Aphrodite, a 1995 film I had to walk out of with my children during an on-screen conversation about oral sex. This film is strongly reminiscent of Allen's Broadway Danny Rose, in that it is a fictionalized version of a classic showbiz genre, the documentary/biopic. The laughs are more like smirks, and Sean Penn turns in another stunning yet eccentric performance as the world's second-greatest jazz guitarist during the 1930s (don't worry, if you see the film, you'll be beaten to death with the joke).

It is his best work in years, well worth seeing. Pre-teens would be bored out of their minds unless they are big-time jazz fans.

By the way, if someone says to you, "Let's go down to the dump and shoot rats," or "Let's go watch trains," the phrases come from this movie. They are already enjoying a certain vogue at Columbia University.

Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo

Marlow and I decided to go see this film despite its mind-bogglingly awful reviews. It was stupid, infantile and gross. And yet, in a way, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Sure the stereotypes were terrible, the dialog banal, the plotting simple-minded. But it wasn't Problem Child 2" awful. It wasn't even as bad as the last of the Superman movies (my two personal touchstones for true movie awfulness). It has some amusing moments, and it showed flashes of heart (although I am sure a more hard-bitten critic would call them moments of sappy sentimentality). Does this, in fact, mean that there is no picture I will truly loathe? No, just that, somehow, I manage to avoid attending most films that would be bad enough to gross me out completely. But let me make this clear, you'd have to be some kind of total Rob Schneider fanatic, or really, really, bored before you'd go to see this film.


Closing Thought

Let me close with this thought: the worst week with Marlow home is better than the best week when she's at school.

How To Rob A Snowman

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