PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 3 No. 46

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

December 18, 2000

Merry Christmas/Happy New Year

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

  • Christmas Message
  • Wolfe on Wiesner Redux
  • Paul Harvey on his 82nd Birthday
  • Jerry Pournelle On Guns

Computer Industry News

  • MIT/Cal Tech Promise Better Ballot

Web Site of the Week

  • Dave's Web of Lies


  • Judicial Pun
  • Graphical Ballot Joke
  • The Call


  • Unbreakable
  • The Emperor's New Groove


  • More Apple Blossoms

General News

Christmas Message

First, a bit of housekeeping: no column next week or the week after, since I'll be on vacation in Oregon with no PC. I hope you'll still be around to welcome the column back on Jan. 8, 2001, as we begin the new century.

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's my Christmas message, based on my Christmas message of Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column, then leave you to your holiday vacation.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year. {This year, Norm was out sick, but I'm sure he'll be back).

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to limit gift giving to the kids (that is, adults give gifts to kids, not to each other). Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.

It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. Marlow flying in from New York, for example. Or all of us flying to Oregon, where my parents live, during Oregon's ice storm season.

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. My family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.

We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big tree last year, her first at college, and we got a 14-footer. She was impressed. We're back to artificial trees this year, but I think there are more tall real trees in our future.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I am now diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, but you know what, I'm grateful because there are lots of worse diseases in the world.

Merry Christmas!

I still don't know if it snowed seven days and nights when I was 12 or 12 days and nights when I was 7...

Wolfe on Wiesner Redux

I felt both Jerry Wiesner and MIT had been libeled mildly by Tom Wolfe in his new collection of essays (see my last column) in which he says MIT was behind the curve in solid state electronics and Wiesner was a speed bump in the Apollo Program's rush to glory.

Jim Forbes responded:

Wolf's observations are, to the best of knowledge (as a kid who grew up next to a major rocket factory glorying in being tutored and living next to rocket scientists) pretty true. Cal, CalTech, the U of Arizona are some of the better known schools affiliated with the space age. MIT and Northwestern as well as the U of Chicago produced some of the math, but many of the by god rocket men… came from small Midwestern and Western schools.

I wrote an old squash partner of mine who is on the MIT faculty, sending him the passage in question, and got this response:

I'd not seen the Wolfe piece, but do have some comments. However no definitive answer to the central question.
I doubt his arguments about Shockley and Noyce. Shockley ('36) was here in the early thirties, 20 years before the advent of solid-state electronics. And he didn't leave Bell Labs until well after the invention of the transistor. Bob Noyce ('53) graduated before the transistor was in common use, and I'd eat my hat if Grinnell had a mention of it in their curriculum when he was there. It was, in my experience in the early '50s here, established in the graduate curriculum, and a curiosity in the undergraduate program.
As for the space program, Wolfe should distinguish between the engineers who created the vehicles and the astronauts who manned them. This distinction is not often made. And when it is made, the designers and creators of all the spacecraft from the first sub-orbital flights through Apollo to the shuttle and the space station are seldom properly identified as ENGINEERS, not scientists. As you know, there is a difference!
The original astronauts, about whom Wolfe wrote, may well have come from "the boondocks", but it was the engineers at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, led by Doc Draper (MIT'26), who designed and built the inertial guidance systems for the space programs (and who jury-rigged the system to bring the Apollo 13 crew back after the explosion), and the engineers at Grumman, led by Joe Gavin (MIT'41), who designed and built the lunar lander. Engineers from many organizations and from many locations made it possible for astronauts - highly trained as they were - to do all that they did. The distinction between the machines and the operators is important, and Wolfe fuzzes it up. And it is also worth noting that a very significant fraction of the astronaut community graduated from MIT.
While I do not know what Jerry Weisner's view about the space program was in the early days of his service as science advisor to President Kennedy, Wolfe is off the mark at least in the dates. Jerry had been an informal advisor to JFK before the election of '60, was designated as science advisor before the inauguration in January '61. He certainly was not "brought straighten out the space program...".
Whatever Jerry's views on manned vs. unmanned space exploration might have been, he should be given credit for persuading the president that the limited nuclear test ban treaty was essential to stop polluting the atmosphere - not to mention this nation's supply of milk - with radioactive poisons. I do believe that history will recognize that this treaty was the beginning of the turnaround in the nuclear standoff.
The Kennedy archives may shed some light on JBW's views on space exploration.

I knew Dr. Wiesner (JBW) had played a major role in East-West relations through his work with the Pugwash conference, but I didn't know he was point man on the Test Ban Treaty. I have to say this description of him is more consistent with the man I knew than Wolfe's. Well, that's journalism for you.

Paul Harvey On His 82md Birthday

I haven't had time to double-check the provenance of this, so I hope it isn't another "Kurt Vonnegut at the MIT Commencement" situation. (If it is, it's the biggest fraud ever. Couldn't find any authoritative site that reproduced this essay, but I'm joining scores of other bloggers in reprinting it). Normally I don't care for Paul Harvey's over-mannered style or his Genghis Khan politics. But her was sure spot-on with this one, and since it comes from a correspondent I trust, I reprint it here.

Paul Harvey on 82nd birthday.
We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I'd like better. I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would. I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated. I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen. It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep.
I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in, I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it's all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you, let him.
When you want to see a movie and your little brother wants to tag along, I hope you'll let him. I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely. On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don't ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with someone as uncool as your Mom.
If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you earn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head. I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like.
May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole. I don't care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend. I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays.
I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor's window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.
These things I wish for you-tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, its the only way to appreciate life. Send this to all of your friends who mean the most to you.
We secure our friends not by accepting favors but by doing them.
Paul Harvey...GOOD DAY

Jerry Pournelle on Guns

Jerry Pournelle and I rarely see eye to eye on politics. But he is among the most thoughtful and well-educated people I know, and thus I bend my rule against further election commentary (it was en election article which spawned this response) to reprint his remarks to me, contained in an e-mail, on gun control. I don't agree, but I respect his argument.

There is a very strong negative correlation between gun ownership and crime rates. This is well established and well known, despite all the propaganda of Handgun Control and other organizations of that type. Why this should be so is a matter for some speculation, but it is certainly true.
Given the strong official positions of the candidates on gun control, the voting pattern is not surprising either.
Either you entrust the safety of the nation to the entire citizenry -- which means an armed citizenry -- or you entrust it to an elite who will tell you who can and cannot be armed. Me, I prefer the good sense of my neighbors to that of officials elected or otherwise, and I certainly believe I and my neighbors are safer armed than if we rely on the police to respond, and our police in the Valley are pretty good. But they aren't HERE. Given the option I prefer the police, but if someone is breaking my door down I may not have the option.
Yes, of course there are more shooting accidents where there are guns than were there are not; but that is obvious.
The real question is one of citizens of a republic or subjects of an empire. I prefer citizenship.

Computer Industry News

MIT/CalTech Promise Better Ballot

Well, someone's trying to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem:

Building a Better Ballot Box
Wired News Report
11:00 a.m. Dec. 14, 2000 PST

Two of the largest technology research universities in the United States are linking up to develop voting machines they hope will render error-prone punch cards and optically scanned ballots obsolete.

Or read the Cal Tech/MIT Press Release.

Thanks, Craig Reynolds, for spotting this. By the way, in case you've forgotten or don't now, I am an MIT alumnus, was admitted to CalTech, and CalTech was founded by MIT alumni.

Web Site of the Week

Dave's Web of Lies

Kevin Sullivan sent along this British website, along with the description in the NetSurfer Digest:

To some, the online phrase "web of lies" might seem redundant, and that's just the point at Dave's Web of Lies, where truth is merely a matter of opinion and they pass the savings on to you. Contributors include common wastrels along with celebrities - well, one celebrity, actor/author/aluminum siding salesman Stephen Fry, who posits that "Welshmen are allergic to pajamas" and apparently has nothing better to do. Other lies include "Pope John Paul II was formerly the lead singer of a Polish death-metal band" - which, frankly, we've always suspected. The searchable lie archive is said to contain more than 3,400 lies, but since we haven't the stamina to actually count, for all we know that may be a lie too. As the disclaimer says, "we cannot guarantee that our lies are not, in fact, true." Or the opposite.


Judicial Pun

Amazing bit of judicial repartee, apparently, in the midst of a discussion of the possibility of ballot counters manipulating chad. David Boies was demonstrating, physically, how difficult it would be to secret a handful of chad in his cheek.
Apparently that didn't sit well with Scalia, who'd himself apparently encountered chad when he was an election worker in the 1950s, and who believed that the consistency of this chad differed from those he'd seen himself. And according to the tapes, Scalia asked:
"Pardon me, Boies, is that the chad I knew that you chew?"

The 70's were marred by many of these "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" jokes; the NY Times Sunday Magazine printed a whole page of them on its back page during the 1970s, although I have never been able to find the reference.

Graphical Ballot Joke

Jerry Pournelle sent along this Florida Election Recount graphic. It was so good, it overcame my reluctance to include more election material (except to say, like Al Gore, that I disagree with the Supreme Court but accept its decision).

Count and total Black Dots for Al Gore and White Dots for George Bush. Recount to confirm.

The Call

There are several men sitting around in the locker room of a private club after exercising. Suddenly a cell phone on one of the benches rings. One of the men picks it up, and the following conversation


"Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"


"Great! I am at the mall two blocks from where you are. I just saw a beautiful mink coat. It's absolutely gorgeous!! Can I buy it?"

"What's the price?"

"Only $11,000.00."

"Well, OK, go ahead and get it, if you like it that much ... "

"Ahhh, and I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the 2001 models. I saw one I really liked. I spoke with the salesman, and he gave me a really good price ... and since we need to exchange the BMW that we bought last year ... "

"What price did he quote you?"

"Only $60,000 ... "

"OK, but for that price I want it with all the options."

"Great! But before we hang up, something else ... "


"It might look like a lot, but I was reconciling your bank account and . I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and saw the house we had looked at last year. It's on sale!! Remember? The one with a pool, English Garden, acre of park area, beachfront property ... "

"How much are they asking?"

"Only $450,000 - a magnificent price...and I see that we have that much in the bank to cover ... "

"Well, then go ahead and buy it, but just bid $420,000. OK?"

"OK, sweetie ... Thanks! I'll see you later!! I love you!!!"

"Bye ... I do too ... "

The man hangs up, closes the phone's flap, and raises his hand while holding the phone and asks to all those present: "Does anyone know who this phone belongs to?"



You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

M. Night Shyamalan wrote, directed and produced Unbreakable, so he has to take almost total credit (along with his posessory credit: "A film by M. Night Shyamalan") for what's on the screen (including himself in a cameo role as the drug dealer).

His much-anticipated follow-up to last year's sleeper hit Sixth Sense (1999's No. 2 box office hit, after Star Wars) could not help but disappoint; how many masterpieces does one person have in them? This film has grossed $77 million so far, while costing $75 million to make (including $10 million to Shyamalan: $5 million to write and $5 million to direct), compared to $293 million on a $55 million budget for Sense.

Of course, it shouldn't be about the budget, it should be about the movie: the plot and the movie making.

It's cool to see a film set in Philadelphia, again. And there is no doubt Shyamalan knows how to write dialog, and set up a spooky atmosphere. Plus, Spencer Treat Clark gets a killer role as the young kid. So, a lot of similarities to Sixth Sense. And there's a surprise ending I refuse to give away.

The problem is, it isn't as good a surprise as the other film. Several people told me they saw it coming in Unbreakable, I surely didn't.

What this film did, without question, is remove any tiny remaining shred of doubt I had about Bruce Willis as an actor. He turns in a first rate performance here that was little short of brilliant as a security guard whose life is turned upside down when he is the sole survivor of a very nasty train crash. Samuel L. Jackson, shown here in eccentric costume and oddball hairstyle, does the turning in a well-played supporting role.

Oscar-worthy? I don't thing so. But it's 106 minutes of PG-13 rated fare that holds your attention and doesn't tax credulity as much as you might think, given the premise.

Walk, don't run, to see it, if it's showing at a theater convenient to you.

The Emperor's New Groove

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

Let's dispense with the plot. According to the Internet Movie Database:

Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by his ex-administrator Yzma, and must now regain his throne with the help of Pacha, the gentle llama herder.

OK. You probably figured that much out from the trailer. But you can't really tell that David Spade is perfect as the emperor, John Goodman is pretty good as Pacha, and that Patrick "Putty from Seinfeld" Warburton steals the show as Yzma/Eartha Kitt's somewhat fey assistant.

Industry scuttlebutt is that this started out as a musical and was converted, during production, into the light comedy we see before us. All I know is, it has the fingerprints of classic Disney all over it, along with a prototype amusement park ride so obvious it must be a joke by the animators. Also, there is a scene with Yzma that is clearly an homage to classic Warner Brothers/Roadrunner animation. The five-year-olds in the theater loved it (interesting, since that's not the usual demographic for Spade and Warburton), but so did the two teenagers I was with. And most of the adults had a good time too. It's no Little Mermaid, but its surely better than the recent run of Disney animated features. Highly recommended.


More Apple Blossoms. Word From Manhattan

Boy, am I weak; three political items in a week when I've supposedly given up politics. From my anonymous correspondent, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision:

Word just in this morning from a building in the capital of the world's oldest democracy dedicated to the rule of law, the proposition that government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that every person's vote must count and be counted is that the democracy survives and continues. Further word from the same location is that just outside the same building it is cold this morning in Moscow.

Carole Leita wrote my about my search for "When It's Apple Blossom Time In Orange, New Jersey, we'll make a peach of a pair," which first came up in an October column and was the subject of a query last week. Although she got the wrong song, she notes two interesting web sites.

Official lyrics from digitized song sheets - Duke University - (found by searching for "lyrics" as a subject in the Librarians' Index to the Internet).
Searched there for - apple blossom time
Unofficial Web page with midi version (found from Fast) - searched on - "I'll be with you in apple blossom time".

John Frankel, who first asked about the song after seeing that I had mentioned it, found the same citation I did, by using a web search engine (attributed to Mike (its on the tip of my tongue) Biel

..."The Lobby Number" from "Up in Arms" by Danny Kaye (1944). It was reissued on many of Kaye's Decca LPs in two parts. The original (with slightly altered lyrics) was issued on Sountrak's soundtrack of the film...

There are also several references to the suspiciously similarly named I Found A Peach In Orange New Jersey (In Apple Blossom Time). Given the way even a good musician can misremember a song title (my friend Clark Smith, for example, comes close but gets no cigar for his version of the title, I've Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back In My Bed As I Cry Over You.

The search continues. Does anyone own one of these records? I don't use Napster. Do you? Is it there?

This just in: Daniel Dern found the Danny Kaye song on an album called Laugh Laugh Laugh at Tower Records. I've listened, and it's Cherry Blossom Time, not Apple Blossom time. I've ordered the album (the online sample fades out on the lyric, "I know we cantaloupe…"), so I'll let you know more about the lyrics soon.

Great news from Marlow, but I'll let you tell her yourself, as we once again print… a letter from Manhattan:

And the new president of the Columbia University Women's Rugby Football Club is.... Marlow Lynne Schindler.
Despite my telling them I may not be there in the fall I still got elected.... hmmmm go figure. It makes me feel loved.
My last day of classes went reasonably well. Um except that I slept through half of my Anthro class and then when I got back to my room I spent four straight hours writing a seven page paper for CC. (A lovely piece comparing Hobbes and Machiavelli's theories of state development, available upon request) At least we got pizza in CC, and apparently most of what I missed in Anthro was class businness and review from the last session, which I fully attended.
Last weekend was fun though. Since I spent the weekend before in my room focusing on those two monster papers from hell I basically gave myself last weekend off from all work, except CC reading and an anthro assignment.
…I also talked to … Brad. … He's very into comp sci stuff but we also talked about political science, and I gave my best defense ever for why I'm studying it. I wish I could remember exactly what I said because I impressed me. Anyone, I was going to take off when a skinny, blonde boy started engaging me in conversation. His name is David. He's from New Zealand. I made him talk about rugby even though he didn't much want to. He also told me the rules for cricket and tried to explain why a unicameral government and sovereignty under the Queen really weren't so bad. He's quite liberal in his political views, but he's obviously got some national pride. He's on his summer break from some university in Auckland where he's a poli sci major. He's spending his break as a ski instructor in Vermont….
The next day I went to the Museum of Natural History with my friends Tom and Shannon. Tom I know from marching band, Shannon I had art hum and both sections of anthro with. We did pretty well at the museum. The packet really wasn't that difficult and we got done in about two hours. I'm glad I did it with people so it went faster and was more entertaining.
Member initiation was Friday night at ADP. Blah, blah, blah secret ceremonies. It was fun. I got to read during one of the ceremonies. Everyone dresses nicely. There's another party afterwards, but this time just for members. Then Saturday I did what reading I had to do, but for the most part I slept in anticipation of rugby banquet. Like I already said, I got elected president. I gave the forward award which I received last semester to Kate Audage, a rookie this year from Californian. It was really fun to give it to her because she's a good player but also just a really nice girl. She's kind of like the ideal rookie, she's great at communicating with the rookies and vets alike. She always carries a cell phone. She's super considerate. She's going to be treasurer next year….
Sunday I slept until 3 and then went to an emergency meeting of the marching band. They're thinking about not letting us have Orgo night in Butler (the library) this year. They want us to have it in Lerner (the student center) instead. That's just wrong. The point of orgo night is disrupting studying in the reading room the night before the first Organic Chemistry final. That meeting took about two hours, I won't go over everything we discussed, but we should know the verdict by tomorrow evening so I'll keep you guys posted.

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