PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 40

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

October 22, 2001

Down With Proposition 13!

I no longer have a day job, so every word of this is my opinion, and if you don't like it, lump it. This offer is NOT void in Wisconsin.

Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Arial (Sans Serif) type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material

Family photos 1, 2, 3

Table of Contents:

General News:

    • Down With Proposition 13
    • The Mood Here
    • A Blatant Kirchner Plug
    • The World's First Private Rocket Airplane.
    • A New Marshall Plan

Computer Industry News:

Web Site of the Week:

    • Photo Gallery


    • The Top 15 New Encroachments on Our Civil Liberties



    • Nothing To Write With


General News

Down With Proposition 13

After thinking about it for a long time, my wife and I have concluded that Proposition 13 is stupid and wrong headed and needs to be reformed. If we can possibly do it, we're going to launch an initiative campaign to reform it. There is nothing like this presently underway. State Sen. Steve Peace briefly proposed modifications two years ago, but Prop. 13 is the third rail of California politics. No politician dares to touch it and risk the wrath of the Jarvis-Gann people. I'm not afraid of them; they have nothing to lose and nothing on me or my wife.

Clearly, we need some legal and financial advice. Unlike some recent initiatives, we can't fund it ourselves (although, despite my recent layoff, I think we can afford to seed the campaign). What we lack in money we hope to make up in time and passion. This is the right cause at the right time.

So, if you know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, who consults in this area, I'd love to pay for some of their time.

Some of the arguments I intend to use:

1) It has shifted the tax burden from business to residential property. Prior to 1978, business paid half of all property tax. Now it pays 30 percent.

2) It imposes an unfair burden on new business, which often pays several times the property tax of existing business

3) It is unfair to homeowners. Why should I pay four times the property tax of my neighbor, when our houses are worth exactly the same amount? Does society really wish to reward his decision to not move for a decade that grossly?

4) It has moved power from local government to Sacramento. Let's bring it back!

5) No supermajority. Why give 1/3 plus 1 of the voters veto power over new bonds? It isn't fair, it isn't right, and we think it should be changed.

The Mood Here

Larry King wrote:

I'm intensely curious about the mood in the U.S. these days. How are people reacting? The newspapers here talk about a ``nation on the verge of panic,'' which I am reasonably sure is the usual U.K. newspaper nonsense. But what is the general feeling, if there is one?

I responded:

For the most part, people who are not in the "chattering classes" are going about their business. There is nervous laughter, and most people who don't have to travel are not travelling. But Vicki has been to LA once already to see her mother, and I am planning a trip to New York to visit Marlow, and am taking my mother and daughter. Vicki is a little worried, but not too worried, about our flight. During the five working days of this week, three times as many people will die in automobile accidents as died on board the airplanes hijacked on Sept. 11. It will take us 50 days to equal the carnage at the World Trade Center, and then, of course, we'll equal it six more times between now and next Sept. 11. Is death by car accident any less senseless?

In short, for the rationally minded, while the terrorism was an awful, awful tragedy, and a senseless waste of life, it would make much more sense for me to never step foot in an automobile again than for me to avoid skyscrapers, New York, or air travel. And I have a substantially better chance of being hit by lightning than contracting Anthrax, but apparently only I look at it that way.

With your usual gift for the well-turned phrase, I think you hit the nail on the head with "usual U.K. newspaper nonsense" as a description of the coverage. Alas, that pretty well sums up the coverage here as well. It is not a pretty sight. This is an all-too-common phenomenon, which seems to recur with greater frequency as I get older. I was known to participate in this form of journalism myself in my younger days, but I'd like to think I wouldn't practice it if ordered to, now that I'm a mature, sentient adult, pray god my resolve is never tested. For want of a better phrase, I think of the current media rondelay as prod-the-public journalism. "Prod. Are you angry/upset/panicked/outraged yet? No? How about now? Prod. Now? Prod." Story after story, news cycle after news cycle. Clinton. Condit. Terrorism. Now Anthrax. Noble when harnessed in pursuit of a worthy objective, like removing Richard Nixon from office. But ignoble when used to whip up gratuitous fear.

And this methodology is perfect for the media. Because you can either manufacture signs of panic (hoarding antibiotics! buying gas masks!) or you can write stories about how, amazingly, the panic is not spreading. Of course, a headline a day for a week about "spreading panic" has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Context and a sense of proportion, always in short supply in the American news media, have now been, for the most part, jettisoned completely, with expectable results in the print and electronic media. The nut cases who are mailing around envelopes of talcum powder are not helping matters. Atty. Gen. Ashcroft today publicly threatened one hoaxer with five years in prison and a $3 million fine. I hope, if convicted, he gets both, and the fact is widely publicized. Perhaps that will dissuade the next dumbass from phoning in a threat so he can go fishing or attend a Poison concert. In fact, I think we should treat Anthrax hoaxes like forest fires. Figure out how much it cost the victim company and the public agencies that investigated it, then bill the instigator.

As I said, the general mood here is one of nervous laughter, a few dumb jokes, a slightly higher level of tension. People are jittery, but not scared. Outside of the chattering classes, people are going about their business. Some are having trouble focusing on their jobs--that can't be good for the economy. Most of the unemployed professionals I know (and I know a lot) are having trouble focusing on their job hunts because of the multitude of distractions offered by the circus that has taken up permanent residence in our national "town." Several spend too much time watching CNN, or, worse, Fox News Channel.

We are surely headed for a mental health crisis of staggering and unprecedented proportions; when people are on edge for long periods of time like this it is quite corrosive. As the common metaphor has it, "you can only lean forward in your saddle so long before you fall over." But I have been advised, both by my therapist and by the guru at the local Hindu temple, to just turn off the TV and spend my time chanting for peace. Seems like a better expenditure of my time. I always start the newspaper at the back, with the funnies and the columnists, and now I find myself lingering there. A quick scan of the headlines is enough to give me all the war news I need in order to conduct my daily life. Again, this is just me, of course.

I think we all have to concede that there will be more terror. I have never lived in Israel, nor Northern Ireland (nor London during IRA bombing attacks, for that matter), but I understand you get used to it, and it becomes part of the background noise of life, as the realization dawns on you that terrorism has taken its place among the risks of life in an industrial society, well below car accidents and above plane accidents and slipping in the bathtub. Yes, I know there is a difference. Auto accidents are accidents, usually without malice, if you consider drunk driving to be malice-free, which I don't, actually. Many of the other risks are acts of nature, which terrorism definitely is not. We probably can't stamp out auto accidents. We might be able to stamp out terrorism, but I doubt it.

Still, terrorism is one more nasty fact of life in a nasty universe. Take rational precautions and all, it probably coarsens life a bit further, but what's one more insult after the cavalcade of life coarsening that was the 20th century? Heck, you probably think the utter prohibition of indoor smoking in the U.S. coarsened life. We'd disagree about that one, we'd agree about terrorism--heck, we'd agree about most of the things that have coarsened life during the post-war era--but we've survived them all. We'll survive this one, I feel.

A Blatant Kirchner Plug

I don't even know if Jake's daughter Lauren remembers the trip to San Francisco on which I served as her tour guide, but she's grown up now, a student at Wesleyan, and a summer intern at this web site. She's also credited as one of the authors of the book, and thus the plug:

We at Modern Humorist prize education above all else, which is why we're proud to "school" you with the following facts.
Did you know that...
...Woodstock was initially proposed as "Three Days of Peace, Music, and Monster Trucks"
...Before settling on "The Cat in the Hat," Dr. Seuss considered "The Manatee Who Uses Profanity," "The Horse Going Through a Painful Divorce" and "The Three-Toed Sloth Who Writes Under the Pseudonym 'Philip Roth'"
...James Bond's famous self-introduction was originally, "Bond. James Bond. James Susan Bond." He drank "Old Milwaukee, in a can. Shaken. And warm."
Learn the secret history of popular culture in Modern Humorist's "Rough Draft: Pop Culture the Way It Almost Was." Our new book hits stores this week, and we've put bonus materials online for your enjoyment. Check out excerpts, e-cards and audio files.

The World's First Private Rocket Airplane

Wondering where to put your energy now that the dot-com boom is over? Try this! It's where Rich Pournelle put his efforts:

First Phase of Flight Test Program Completed.
Mojave, CA October 3, 2001: XCOR Aerospace today announced that it has successfully completed the first phase of its flight test program for the EZ-Rocket. The EZ-Rocket is the world's first privately built rocket powered airplane.
At 0900 hours today the EZ-Rocket took off from the Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center to an altitude of 6,200 feet before gliding back to Runway 30. The EZ-Rocket is powered by twin 400 pound thrust rocket engines designed and built by XCOR Aerospace. The flight test program passed its first milestone by flying with both engines for an engine run time of 96 seconds and total flight time of five minutes and twenty seconds.
The official roll-out and flight demonstration of the EZ-Rocket will take place this November at Mojave airport. Check the XCOR web site in the next few days for details on the event.

I'm going down to Mojave for that flight in November. You should be there too. It will be epochal. At last, the real space age begins.

A New Marshall Plan

Richard Dalton noted this important proposal. You should go and read it.

09 October 2001
A New Marshall Plan?
Advancing Human Security and Controlling Terrorism

Rich countries need to approach the appalling inequities of the world with the same boldness and determination that the United States brought to bear in Europe under the Marshall Plan.

Computer Industry News


Web Site of the Week

Photo Gallery

This just in: It appears this picture has been taken down, probably because of too much traffic. I am leaving the link here in case it goes back up.

Kevin Mostyn says:

This is the best picture I've seen yet of the mess.

It is a very dramatic aerial view of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I love Craig Reynolds' topic line on this message, "meme cross-products."

OK, you've seen the "bert Laden" posters, and you've seen the "Tourist of Death" follow-ons, but have you seen "the 'Tourist of Death' replaces Bert at the right hand of bin Laden?"

All I can say is: Photoshop has made the world a more interesting place.


The Top 15 New Encroachments on Our Civil Liberties

That's me, there at No. 11. With a tip of the hat to Rae, who pointed that part of the Constitution out when she studied it recently.

October 16, 2001
These days, many Americans are concerned that in order to ensure our safety, some of our precious civil liberties will be trampled on. TopFive has discovered that it's ALREADY happening...
15> Cab drivers now have the right to frisk you, and to make you frisk them.
14> Constitution re-worded to say, ", liberty and the pursuit of mild temporary contentment."
13> New mandatory 7-day waiting period to buy nerve gas.
12> Public library computer users now allowed to pleasure themselves only to images from federally-approved porn sites.
11> Slaves will now be counted as whole people instead of 3/5 of a person.
10> Formerly-free speech now runs 99 cents for the first 60 minutes, 35 cents for each additional minute.
9> Your email can be intercepted at--NO IT CAN'T. IGNORE THIS MAN.--any time.
8> "Pants" added to shirt and shoe requirements for service.
7> Terms of "Reasonable Search and Seizure" expanded to law enforcement officers to perform "unauthorized silicone frisks" on really hot chicks.
6> After special act of Congress, "Zestfully Clean" now 20% less zestful.
5> Successfully ordering Denny's "All-American Breakfast" now requires a grueling written exam.
4> Single-trip salad bar at Shoney's now enforced by tazer-wielding guard.
3> Garth Brooks poised to come out of retirement.
2> "Bag of Anthrax Spores with Small Explosive Device #3" removed from the Museum of Modern Art.
and's Number 1 New Encroachment on Our Civil Liberties...
1> No longer allowed to scream "Oh, the humanity!" every time you see a blimp.
[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2001 by Chris White ]
Selected from 116 submissions from 44 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Craig Stacey, Romeoville, IL -- 1, 8 (10th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 11



You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database


Nothing To Write With

From the Fusco Brothers comic strip of Oct. 18:

I have nothing to write with.
You mean a pencil?
I mean a point of view.

Is it any wonder this is my favorite comic strip?

Jim Forbes sends this, under the heading "Great technical writing and garage science combined-- a scream"

Check this link out. It's a howl. Call it the home made turbine powered beer chiller.

Apropos of my question of whether it is true the Greeks didn't write obituaries (and with some recommendations), Daniel Dern writes:

Did they have newspapers? All the news that's fit to carve?
BTW, Dern recommends Hearts in Atlantis (movie good. Book good too). [Steven] King's book On Writing great.


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