PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
January 31, 2000
What's The Point?
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:
What's The Point Of Work?
There's a great deal of turmoil in my company these days. I'll spare you the details, but for a brief time last week, I contemplated applying to another company for a radio job, since my heart has always been in broadcasting. That's what I consider fun.
In the end, I resisted the temptation for some very practical reasons--I'd undoubtedly take a pay cut, earn less vacation, give up all my seniority, and have to commute into San Francisco five days a week.
But that, in turn, forced me to reconsider the age-old question: what is work for and how should we feel about it? I will never forget the comments of Larry King, my colleague and friend, who once said to me, " There's a reason we have two different words for work and fun."
I know I have been peculiarly blessed over the years with a series of jobs that I also considered to be fun. I know this is not the case for most people.
So, is the point of work to enjoy yourself? To make a living? To improve society? Or, at least, not to hurt anyone else with what you do?
It can't be just making a living. If it was, then the best-paying job would always be the right job, and we know that's not true, at least not for most of us boomers. Job satisfaction ranks high with us.
I’d like to thing I'm improving society, but I lost that illusion years ago. Journalism, at least the business-to-business journalism I practice, is a negligible public service, although a valuable commercial one. We do provide people the information they need to make business decisions. I just don't think those are as important as civic decisions.
Me? I've lowered my sights. If I can just create a positive working environment for the people who report to me, I'll consider I've done enough good in the world.
And despite the fact that I am quite sure loyalty is no longer a two-way street, I've been around this company for more than 20 years, and I can't just cavalierly walk away, even if I do think another job would be more fun, exciting, and challenging. Periodically over these two decades, my employer has managed to cough up interesting, challenging new jobs for me: more than a dozen. Frankly, a couple of times when I was on projects that didn't work out, I was carried for a while. For that alone, I owe the company the benefit of a doubt. So, I'll take the devil I know over the devil I don't know, for now.
But ask me in June if I still feel the same way. Man cannot live on promises alone, and at some point, the pie in the sky in the sweet by and by has to be cooked and served. I've got my napkin tucked in around my neck, and I'm waiting.
What's The Point Of Education?
Carey Perloff, the director of the American Conservatory Theater, also directed their production of The Invention of Love, which seems particularly apt, since she herself was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. The pamphlet, Words on Plays, for sale in the lobby contains a bushel basket of fascinating information, from Tom Stoppard, the play's author, from Perloff, the director, and from the program which accompanied the premier in London.
I was struck, while reading an interview with Perloff in this pamphlet, by her brief discussion of education:
What is education for? It its goal to make you see Platonic human goodness and to understand humanity philosophically, or to equip you to actually do something in the world? An Oxford education equipped you to do nothing, and yet it was your entrée into everything. Proponents of Oxford and Cambridge despised practical education. They still do. They're incredibly arrogant about anything that might have a tinge of practical application.
I think that's why many people in England now avoid that approach, and are going to other universities, because the Oxford system just seems so out of touch. It was particularly disastrous in the sciences; Cambridge eventually realized that and is much better scientifically now. But smart British graduate students tend to go to the United States to study science, whereas those who want to study PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) or classics go to Oxford. Because I have always loved rarified education and knowledge for its own sake, I always thought the Oxford approach was wonderful, but I never did any education that was practically useful anyway.
As most of you know, I attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which, along with Stanford, is designated a "near Ivy" for many purposes, including joint admission and financial aid decisions. But the fact is that many faculty and students at Ivy league schools look at MIT as a "trade school," while many MIT people view Ivy League schools (esp. the one just up the river) as "a waste of time." Certainly, MIT made every effort to give me a practical education.
If I knew then what I know now, I'd have embraced a liberal arts education, and I'm pleased Marlow's getting one at Columbia University and Rae is likely to get one. Since we have no idea what the future will hold, it is probably best to educate our young people to educate themselves, to think critically, and to understand the past as a guide to future. I don't really believe human nature has changed since ancient Greece, do you?
Bottom line: I think the Oxford model is a fine one. We could use more of it in this country.
For a second opinion, I called on my friend Brian Jeffery, an ex-pat Brit of 20 years duration, and a graduate of Saint Catharine's college at Cambridge.
I can't really speak for Oxford, except to say that we always regarded the quality of its thought to be that which one would expect from a university located next to a large car factory (the British Leyland plant - it may be gone now). Not very practical. It would typically require at least five Oxford graduates to screw in a light bulb - four to determine its essence, and one to call the janitor. Assuming, of course, that you could find an Oxford grad who grasped the principles of electric illumination in the first place.
But the comments about Cambridge are unfair. There were always many different cultures among the students. One was as she described. But there were also good faculties for science, engineering, architecture and other more practical pursuits, along with some very good work on mathematics, computer science and economics. Cambridge was, and to my knowledge, still is strong in such areas as theoretical physics and biology.
Graduate students tend to go to the United States because the U.S. faculties are generally much better at applied science, particularly the experimental side. I guess it has something to do with American know-how. Also, American universities have more money to do experiments with, and their technology and computer skills are far superior.
You may consider me biased. I, after all, graduated from a college whose main claims to fame were that it fielded no less than three rugby teams, and had the highest consumption of Newcastle Brown Ale of any institution outside Newcastle. There were other colleges and faculties that dealt with man's higher nature. These included many fine and intelligent people, not all of whom were homosexuals.
Seriously, though, one of the greatest benefits of Cambridge was that you could live in either of these worlds. You could attend lectures, join discussions, whatever, in any discipline. In an average week you could learn about radio astronomy, great feats of bridge-building, 19th century rural demographics, post-existentialist theater, essential themes in pre-Socratic philosophy, and the basic principles of organizing a coup d'etat. (The radio astronomy course was particularly popular, not least because it always started with a lecture awesomely titled "The Universe in General". Also, I am not joking about the coup d'etat course - the army cadets loved it, and would spend many long, happy hours discussing which trades union leaders to arrest first).
You had to do some work on your major from time to time, of course. But in retrospect, it was all of this overlap that made attending Cambridge a worthwhile experience. I don't know if the atmosphere is quite the same in American universities, but somehow I doubt it.
I don't wish to be unkind to Carey Perloff, but her comments about Oxford say a great deal more about the people she cared to associate with than they do about the English education system in general, or Oxford and Cambridge in particular. I am sorry she did not get to meet the other thousands of students and faculty who make up 99% of both.
Bad Suspense Novel Metaphors or Similes
Two hits on the list this week. On Jan. 27, I came in at No. 5:
20> Worn down at the edges like a Times Square hooker, the caretaker's last tooth lay on the floor like a yellow Chiclet.www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2000 by Chris White ]
Selected from 86 submissions from 29 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Bill Muse, Seattle, WA -- 1, 14 (34th #1/Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 5
Dark Moments in Music (Part II)
But hey, I did even better the day before: No. 2, with a bullet!
12> July 16, 1993: Shaquille O'Neal skips free-throw drills to record his first rap album.www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2000 by Chris White ]
Selected from 92 submissions from 34 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Larry G. Hollister, Concord, CA -- 1, 5 (28th #1 / Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 2
Just the facts from the Internet Movie Database.
Directed and Written by Paul Thomas Anderson; Tagline: Things fall down. People look up. And when it rains, it pours; Plot Outline: A mixing and matching of friends in the San Fernando Valley; Tom Cruise: Frank T.J. Mackey ; Philip Baker Hall: Jimmy Gator ; Philip Seymour Hoffman: Phil Parma ; William H. Macy: Donnie Smith; Rated R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence. Runtime: 188.
First, the rant. THREE HOURS AND EIGHT MINUTES. This is an interesting, engaging, multi-layered, well-acted film. But it ain't Lawrence of Arabia, [which only ran 34 minutes longer, at 222 minutes[don't you just love the Internet]] or Gone With The Wind [222 minutes]. What's the only thing anyone remembers about Dance with Wolves? It's 183 minute running time (OK, and six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture). In a decade, that's all that will be left of Magnolia--its running time and its shelf full of Oscars.
I like Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights); he's a clever writer and director, and someday he could be another Robert Altman. He's a wizard with a camera. The film is chuckablock with "film director moments" that remind you you're watching a very clever simulation of reality. Unusual lighting. Odd camera angles. The whole Orson Welles "look at me" bag of tricks. I mean, you won't mistake this film for a TV movie of the week. And not just because of the length.
But man on man, someone has to show this guy how to tell a story. This is another in a spate of films that are enthralling without being either engaging or entertaining. I did come to care about a few of the characters, but I think I'd have been more interested if something coherent had happened to them.
I won't give away the fantastic event that ties all the disparate stories together, except to say that if it had happened in the first hour instead of the second, this would be a better film.
Magnolia is on all the critics' lists. It's likely to be up for a few Oscars. William H. Macy (Fargo) has a small but juicy part as a washed up quiz-show contestant. I don't ever remember seeing Philip Baker Hall before, but his turn as the clapped-out quiz show host is a remarkable piece of film acting, accentuated by a barrel of camera tricks that just won't stop. And what are the odds of two single-L Philips turning in great performances in a single film? Well, I guess if the film is long enough, there's also room for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the male nurse for a dying Jason Robards. No need for me to mention Tom Cruise's star turn, since everyone else has.
What do we go to a movie for? To be entertained or enlightened, typically. For me, being enthralled isn't really enough, so I left this film feeling unsatisfied. Definitely a flick that would only appeal to adult film fanatics who can't stand to miss a best picture nominee.
Just the facts from the Internet Movie Database.
Directed and written by Mike Leigh; Tagline: Gilbert & Sullivan & So Much More; Plot Outline: A view into the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan, and into the development of their operettas; Jim Broadbent: William Schwenk Gilbert; Allan Corduner: Arthur Sullivan; Rated R for a scene of risque nudity; Runtime: 160 minutes.
TWO HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES! Didn't I once hear Hollywood defined as 10,000 people who can say no and seven people who can say yes? Why didn't someone say, "Great movie, Mike. Now finish editing it!" As my first editor said to me, no one cares how hard you worked to get the story. The correct length is equal to the public's level of interest in the subject. You worked on it a week and it's only worth six inches? Too bad.
Clearly, Mike Leigh worked on this for months and months. And it's all up there on the screen. All of it. Ad nauseum. Look, I kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan, and I didn't know the Mikado all that well, so I loved the rehearsal scenes and the performance scenes. They were all well performed and properly lit, and there was a plot and motion and resolution and three acts and all the things a movie should have. But too much is too much.
As I noted in the review above, a movie should entertain and/or enlighten. This did both. I think now, and from now on, I will be able to remember which was Gilbert and which Sullivan, which wrote the words (Gilbert) and which the music, what their first names were (William and Arthur). I will even be able to tell you some of the songs from the Mikado. I came away with renewed respect for the talents of both men--something which they often lacked themselves.
But I have to confess that, apparently, response to this movie is going to vary quite widely. The New York Film Critics Circle picked it as the best movie of the year. That's rather extreme, I think, even considering the competition. American Beauty for example, is much more deserving of that honor.
I liked Topsy-Turvey a lot, and would recommend it. The single sex scene is brief and relatively discreet, and the rest of the film is family fare with the exception of about 30 seconds of screen time.
On the other hand, my wife, Vicki, found it only mildly entertaining. At the other extreme, Rae and her friend Tiffany walked out and spent the second half of the film in the lobby working on their joint project for public speaking class. How's that for a range of response?
I'd say you need to be an adult, a film buff, and a Gilbert and Sullivan fan. But at least it's not as inaccessible as Magnolia.
My New Car
Mercedes 320 SL Sports Utility Vehicle
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