PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 25

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

July 9, 2001

Meaning and Fencing

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.

Some Material in this column comes from anonymous incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Arial (Sans Serif) type font to distinguish it from the original material

Table of Contents:

General News:

  • What's The Point?
  • Summer Nationals
  • Father West
  • A Merry Oldsmobile
  • What's Love Got To Do With It

Computer Industry News:

  • Problems at Palm

Web Site of the Week:

  • Barney is Evil


  • None This Week


  • A.I.
  • Signs and Wonders
  • Under the Sand
  • Lost and Delirious


  • Joe on Weight, Freelancers

General News

What's The Point

I really like Douglas Adams, and I think one of the most profound things he wrote appeared in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when he noted that we appear to have been placed on this planet without the users' manual. I know some would contend that the Bible, the Koran, the Torah or some other holy book is the users' manual, but I respectfully disagree. In terms of organization and clarity, these books can't lay a patch on the transliterated Japlish that fills most computer manuals. None of them has either a top flight table of contents nor an Index, and they aren't organized for "just in time" help to assist us with the big questions that arise as we operate the machinery of life.

One of the biggest of course, is "Why are we here." I have been wondering about that one all my conscious life, certainly since I first realized, at the age of 11 or 12 that I was going to die. I still remember days and weeks of near paralysis (hidden from my parents, family and friends, I think) as I contemplated the certainty of my being snuffed out. Then, because I simply can't maintain a depressed attitude for long, I got over it, as most of us do, and simply went about my business. A faint echo of this occurred in the last few years. I may even have written about it in this column, but I can't find the reference right now.

I was driving down the road when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the fact that it is almost certain I am more than half way through my life. I am closer to my death than I am to my birth. I have already experienced more than half the days I will ever live to see. This hit me so hard I literally had to pull over and breathe deeply for a few minutes.

I don't end up with a lot of time alone, no distractions, for quiet contemplation, but it happened last weekend when I was in Oregon visiting my parents with my daughter Rae. I walked for an hour each morning over at Wilshire Park, a nearby city park in which I whiled away many an hour of my youth. I had no radio, no walkman, because I like to force myself to be alone with myself now and then. Of course, I spent a lot of the time thinking about books and movies and old TV show themes, but eventually I ran out of trivia and thought about myself, my life, my past and my future.

And I came back around to the same old conclusion I've reached every other time I've considered the issue. It's like the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm--in fact, make others happier if possible. The Golden Rule and all that. Secondly, try to enjoy myself. Third, help others. I don't feel badly about trying to extend my time on Earth if I can fulfill all three of these expectations.

I suspect when the final curtain falls, I'll be proud of myself if I can accomplish those three goals, whether the curtain falls this afternoon or in 2052. I'm not just taking up space, I'm making the world a better place, one person at a time.

I wouldn't mind writing a great book, touching millions through a broadcast program, winning a MacArthur Genius Grant, founding a great company, or saving someone's life, but any of that would be icing on the cake. If I leave a happy and loving wife and children and friends and colleagues who celebrate my life and not my death, I will judge myself a success, at the moment when the concept of "myself" ceases to exist.

Summer Nationals

I was amazed at the response to me "the column will be late" message of Monday morning; a half-dozen of you asked for pictures of Rae fencing. Most of you can click on one of these links to see pictures of Rae at Summer Nationals, but those of you who can't should just type in the URL in your browser; I have made it as simple as I can:

This is a portrait shot of Rae:

This is an action shot (she is the fencer on the right, scoring a touch)

This was only Rae's second tournament, and we have had a remarkable streak of luck. The regional qualifying tournament for U.S. Fencing Association Summer Nationals was at Swordplay, her fencing academy in Concord, and Summer Nationals this year were held in Sacramento, Calif., just 90 minutes from our house by car.

To make a long story short, in Division III Women's Épée, Rae ranked in a tie for 18 out of 115 (she ranked 61 of 104 in the more difficult Division II Women's Épée). Her coach, George Platt says this is an excellent result for her first major tournament. She won 4 out of 5 five-touch bouts in the round robin, and made it to the round of 32 in direct elimination on Sunday. Monday, after a lousy night's sleep and with sore knees, she competed in the more difficult Division II and lost four out of five bouts, then was eliminated in the first round of direct elimination. But her every match was hard fought, and she gained a great deal of experience. She is proud, and, in turn, Vicki and I are proud, of her performance.

Vicki points out that Rae is a third-generation fencer, since her grandfather Fred Marlow fenced at West Point and Vicki fenced at Pomona. She also notes that Rae is the most serious fencer of the three. She has been fencing for three years, although she just started competing this spring.

Father West

Randolph Harrison West is like Harrison Klein, in that they have both changed their names over time. Klein was Harry at MIT, then Harrison as an adult. West was Harrison in grade school, Randy at Benson High School, and is now Harrison. For both of them, it makes it easy to tell when a long-lost friend calls just what era to sort them into.

Harrison West is my best friend from high school (1966-1970), and we have stayed in touch over the years. He is an ordained Episcopal priest and associate rector at a parish in Chevy Chase, Md. He is godfather to both my daughters. Until last weekend, we hadn't laid eyes on each other since my 40th birthday party cruise (arranged by my wife just before my 38th birthday. Don't ask). He was in town for some classes he is taking at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley during the six-month sabbatical priests are awarded every so often.

Some people (myself, for example) deteriorate over the years. Harrison (like his namesake Harrison Klein and my college buddy Craig Reynolds) appears exactly the same as he did 30 years ago. I wish I could master that trick.

Harrison is a boon companion and a great conversationalist. Like all friendships, we slipped back into ours within seconds of seeing each other. In fact, I think that's the hallmark of a great friendship; no matter what the separation in time and space, when you see each other again, you're comfortable picking up where you left off.

We discussed a great number of the details of life and a few notes about mutual high school friends (including reminiscing about a joint reading of A Child's Christmas in Wales that Harrison and I gave at Benson). Then we slipped into a lengthy and fascinating discussion of religion, including whether God is impersonal or personal and whether faith requires proof. The sort of thing Vicki, Rae and I really enjoy doing with someone who has given a great deal of thought to the matter, as I think you would have to do if you were a full-time priest.

A Merry Oldsmobile

Because Rae had to have her name stenciled on the leg of her fencing knickers before her first bout at Summer Nationals, we left Orinda for Sacramento at 7:30 a.m. This enabled us to get her knickers done by 11, with registration to follow at 2 p.m. Alas, since we couldn't check into the hotel until noon, we had three hours to kill. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've killed three hours in Sacramento in the summer. Even in the morning, it is hot, hot, hot in this central valley town that serves as the state capitol.

So, we walked to find an open drug store (which we never found), stopping along the way to have breakfast at Hamburger Mary's (described as a distant cousin of the restaurant of the same name in San Francisco--it is less gay than its SF counterpart, but equally wacky in décor).

Along the way a moderately tattered man accosted me, saying, "Look, I need some help. We have to push that woman's car down the alley and we can't get it over the hump in the parking lot."

I looked at the guy, and at the old woman. Now normally, on my own turf, I would have blown right by the guy. Certainly Vicki and Rae, who were with me, thought I was insane. Rae later told me she figured he had a gun and was going to rob us. I guess I was buoyed by the fact that I only had $20 in my pocket and Vicki was carrying no money. But for some reason, just this once, I believed the guy was telling the truth.

Turns out… he was. This car was a broken down wreck that would not start, and the business in whose lot it was parked had threatened to have it towed. So this old guy and I pushed it over the hump, down the alley, and into an on-street parking place (although I can't imagine what that gained her, it was the goal of the enterprise, and we achieved the goal).

Maybe they really had planned to mug me and decided not to when Vicki and Rae walked up to the car with me to watch. Maybe they're both nuts. Maybe, as Vicki proposed, they were stealing the car --although why anyone would steal this particular wreck, with its sun-ruined vinyl and half-broken steering wheel is beyond me. In any case, I did a good deed that winded me and took 15 minutes of my day, and nothing bad happened to me, so maybe the world is a slightly better place than we all think it is--then it is, most of the time.

What's Love Got To Do With It?

The portrait of first love painted by the movie Lost and Delirious that I describe below fascinated me. It shows a first love that passes pretty much beyond understanding and belief, unless you can still remember the first moments of your first major-league love.

I am not so old that I can't remember insane passion. What I have learned with time is that in the case of a white hot passion which burns the candle at both ends the two parties end up as a small pile of white ash. You can't live on Love alone. A balanced life requires other matters take up some--sometimes most of your attention. Not that there is no room for love in a mature life, just that it has to take its proportional place among all the other passions and realities.

There was an article about Love in New York Magazine that appeared around the time (November 1977) I broke up with Carol Ann Franz, my second fiancée and my last girlfriend before Vicki. [Vicki and I will celebrate 22 years of marriage next January]. I carried the paragraph around in wallet for almost two years, until Vicki and I got engaged. It went something like this:

Love is blind and sexual attraction is irrational, otherwise people would never fall in love with sheep and steamer trunks.

It made sense then. I think it still makes sense now.

Computer Industry News

Problems at Palm

I enjoyed this Anchordesk analysis by Dave Courseyof Palm and its problems:

Palm CEO Carl Yankowski gave yesterday's PC Expo keynote sounding oblivious to his company's troubles. But his clothes gave him away--and he didn't even deliver the speech he should have given. Here's what he should have added.

Coursey thinks Palm should get out of the hardware business. Provocative.

Web Site of the Week

Barney Is Evil

Richard Dalton writes:

…A number of crackpot religions have been based on less than this: Barney is Evil, A Mathematical Proof.

And he's right. Cute, short and funny. There was a similar note about Bill Gates III adding up to 666 in ASCII. Interestingly enough, someone went to the trouble of debunking that. As Richard notes, some people have too much time on their hands (and some of those people write online columns about themselves).





You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

The New Yorker was right, this is the first film of 2001 that was clearly made by an artist. But their review was also right, that there is much long with this film.

I'll start by beating an old drum of mine: too long. The Internet Movie Database doesn't list the running time, but I found it in an SF Chronicle review: 2 hours and 25 minutes. That is at least 25 minutes too long. Any of the two or three extra stories tacked onto the end could have been left off. I could cut the movie! Just fade out after David finds the other Davids in boxes.

Haley Joel Osment, previously of Sixth Sense isn't seeing dead people any more, he's just turning in another remarkable performance. Here is one kid I'm really rooting for. I hope he comes out of the other side of adolescence as a major star. He deserves it.

This will sound like an echo of what you've read elsewhere, but it keeps getting repeated because it is really true: this movie is a combination of both the best attributes of Stanley Kubrick (who started it) and Steven Spielberg, who finished it, and their worst attributes as well. It is the Pinocchio story, featuring a robot boy's quest to become real. Kubrick was right, by the way, only Spielberg could handle the technology part of this film and make it seem real.

In the opening scene, a member of the robot-making team asks, "We can make the robot love a person, but what, then, is the person's obligation to the robot?" A movie that tried to answer that question would be interesting and thought provoking. So would a movie about the definition of "real" when applied to humans.

This isn't that movie. I know it is the height of errant pedantry to criticize a film for what it isn't, but I refuse to simply accept this film on its own terms.

If you were to accept it on its own terms, it is certainly technically brilliant, filled with great performances, beautiful to look at and entertaining, albeit overlong. Walk, don't run, to see it. No pre-teens though; too much cartoon violence and implied sex.

One more thing: this film has the best tag line of the year--actually, of the century to date. "His love is real. He is not."

Takes your breath away, it does.

Signs and Wonders

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

I have always been a big Charlotte Rampling fan, so when the newspaper said there were two films of hers in town at once, I arranged to see them back to back. It was an interesting experience. First of all, this film was shot on digital video, and despite the advances in both digital video and video to film transfer, I resented the digital artifacts (don't do a pan, ever, in DV guys, especially not in front of a complicated background). It took me about half the 100 minute running time to stop being distracted by the technology.

Stellan Skarsgård, as the San Francisco Chronicle noted, was a poor choice for the protagonist, since, like Christopher Walken, he just doesn't register as "one of us," making empathy difficult. Of course, in this film, where he portrays one of the all-time creeps, it would be difficult anyway, since he leaves his wife and two children twice.

I am as pleased as any other 48-year-old guy to see 56-year-old Charlotte Rampling having naked sex on screen and enjoying it--which she does in this film and the next. But frankly, if I were her, I'd consider doing a film or two with her clothes on, just to remind directors that it is possible. She is a terrific actress, clothed or unclothed, in English (as in this film) or in French (as in Under The Sand).

In the film, her taste improves, but only slightly, as she takes up with an anti-American journalist who is obsessed with the U.S.-backed Greek military government of the 1970s. Lots of nasty plot twists, several surprises and all-in-all, almost no one you can like or feel sorry for.

Sexy and violent (although the violence is not as explicit as the sex).

Under the Sand

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Love. Again. Whereas the next film shows the crazy nature of young love, this film, which also stars Charlotte Rampling, shows the crazy nature of mature love. She simply can't accept the drowning death of her husband, so she acts as if he were still alive, still living with her. She sees him and talks to him, although no one else does. When she's presented with incontrovertible evidence of his death, she still disputes it.

On screen sex, of course, and confusion, and tenderness. Like all good screen actresses, you see it all going on in her face. This film, shot on film, is a better bet if you can only find time for one Charlotte Rampling film this year.

Lost and Delirious

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

After all the references to this film, you'd think I wouldn't have a whole lot to say. You'd be right. On the surface, it is two lesbians and their innocent roommate working through the tragic end of an affair, each in their own way. The most powerful scene of the movie shows the jilted lover saying, "Lesbians? We're not Lesbians. She's Tory (Victoria), I'm Pauli (Pauline). We're in love with each other." And they were, or are, until Tory decides she has to end the affair, under threat of being outed. She takes a boyfriend and has semi-public sex with him up against a tree trunk. Solves her problem, but leaves Pauli, already an unhappy rebel, with a passel of new problems.

Sensitive and emotional, although I wish they'd just go ahead and cut the 90 seconds or so of Lesbian sex. They could still make the exact same emotional points. It is not rated (presumably because it is Canadian), but at least it could be a soft R (because of subject matter) rather than a hard R (because of explicit sex) if it were rated.

Piper Perabo, Jessica Paré and Mischa Barton do a terrific job in this 100-minute film, directed by Léa Pool (who has directed 12 French-language features you've never heard of).



Joe on Weight, Freelancers

Joe Brancatelli writes:

Weight loss? I'm trying a mostly vegetarian thing now (I say mostly because, in a restaurant, if I can't I can't...) and it seems to be working well. And, surprisingly, I ain't missing meat. Years ago, I mostly gave up beef, so. Yes, like Homer Simpson, I occasionally crave pork chops, but otherwise okay.
Freelancer rights? Like you, I work both sides of the fence, but I tell you this: If publishers are so desperate to keep their archives in tact, then pay. If they don't want to keep things in tact, then don't pay. That's all. Period. And, as a freelancer, same deal. If publishers pay, I get money. And if I am so desperate to have my stuff available on line, I'll build a website. This is American capitalism at work.
Happy Fourth! And, as Irving Berlin said, "Just say it with firecrackers...

Me? Lost 8 pounds, and keeping them off so far.

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