PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 44

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

November 19, 2001

Private Rockets? You Bet!

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 Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material

Family photos 1, 2, 3

Table of Contents:

General News:

    • Eyewitness to History
    • Prop. 13 Background
    • Musing Philosophical on the Image of Journalists
    • Defining Terrorist Victory

Computer Industry News:

    • Microsoft's Total Victory

Web Site of the Week:

    • Fake or Foto


    • The Nun and the Cabby
    • Another Nun Story



    • Joe Brancatelli on Replacing Nathan Lane, Peggy Coquet on the Top 5, Kesey and the Leonids

General News

Eyewitness to History

First I was going to go, then I wasn't, then I decided to go. I drove six hours from Orinda ,to Mojave, California, in the high desert on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The airport there (an eerie parking lot for decommissioned commercial airliners) is also a center of experimental aviation and rocketry. A now-defunct private rocket firm called Rotary Rocket was located there. The company's gone, but the building lives on (how often have you heard that in the last year or so.

I was there at the invitation of Rich Pournelle, whom I met while editing his father, Jerry Pournelle,'s most popular columnist. Jerry, a former aerospace engineer and now a respected computer columnist and science fiction writer, has long been critical of NASA's handling of the space program. I have always been moved by his aphorism, "I knew I'd live to see the first man on the moon, but I never thought I'd live to see the last."

I rode down with Kevin Greene, a civil engineer and Democratic political activist from San Leandro, who told me that the 12 men who have set foot on the moon are known to rocketry aficionados as the Dirty Dozen. Two are dead. He also told me who the last astronaut was and what his last words were before leaving the moon, but I've forgotten.

Anyway, Rich, whose dot-com dot-bombed, is now doing PR for XCOR, the private rocket firm. And doing, I might add, one hell of a job. He got coverage in the LA Times and on KABC in Los Angeles, but most importantly, he got the Associated Press to drive out from LA and cover the first public test flight of XCOR's rocket.

Rocket plane soars over Mojave Desert
(11-12) 14:57 PST MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) -- A rocket-powered plane piloted by famed pilot Dick Rutan soared 9,000 feet over the desert Monday as a fledgling aerospace company took another step toward its goal of making private space flight routine.

Xcor Aerospace's EZ-Rocket, outfitted with twin, 400-pound-thrust rocket engines, streaked off a windy Mojave Airport runway and into a cloudy sky, trailing shimmering hot exhaust during a demonstration flight for about 100 spectators.

One of those spectators was me.

Conditions were terrible. Rain was threatening, and the 30-knot winds from the coming storm were coming from an unusual direction. Instead of taking off from a 14,000-foot runway, Rutan had to get off the ground in 6,000 feet. A million things could have gone wrong. None did. I have seen an historic moment, and am proud to have been there. America will fulfill its destiny and make outer space safe, affordable and reliable. Perhaps I will even live to see it. Weightlessness in low Earth orbit as a tourist--Rich says it could happen while I am still young enough to survive the trip.

The only thing between here and there is money. Lots of it. XCOR needs investors, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the venture capital market is drier than a bone. If you've got some money to invest in mankind's future, I can put you in touch with Rich.

By the way, the difference between a jet and a rocket is that a jet uses the oxygen in the air, since it operates in the atmosphere. A rocket carries its own oxygen, so it can operate in airless space.

Prop 13 Background

A good analysis of a hateful, stupid, unfair law:

23 years later, Prop. 13 still altering California's political landscape
By Dan Walters -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 5:30 AM PST Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

Modern California politics can be divided -- roughly but accurately -- into two distinct epochs: before Proposition 13 and afterward.

The initiative measure, enacted overwhelmingly by California voters in 1978 despite the almost unanimous, bipartisan opposition of the era's political leaders, ostensibly overhauled the financing of local governments and schools by limiting property taxes.

Musing Philosophical on the Image of Journalists

A University of Kentucky journalism student wrote to me and asked some questions about the image of journalists. Here's how I responded (her questions are in bold):

I am never going to have the time to give your questions the answers I feel they deserve, but let me do the best I can with the time I have available.

I would like to know your take on how you feel Journalism is portrayed in film, is it real and authentic to what a journalist can expect throughout his/her career?

Interestingly enough, the answer to your question is yes and no. Yes, some depictions of journalism on film are real and authentic (not, for example, Julia Roberts' wardrobe in "I Love Trouble," or the big red button in "The Paper"), but no they are not what a journalist can expect throughout his/her career.

The key to understanding this conundrum is a bit of wisdom I learned from a script writing class. A movie is always about the most important day in a person's life. A TV episode is always about just another day (because the show has to come back next week). This is why Lou Grant came closer to depicting real journalism than most journalism movies--although even Lou Grant showed all the exciting parts and virtually none of the long, boring city council meetings or short stupid drunk-driving arrest reports from the police station.

The relevance of this observation to your question? A good journalism movie does, indeed, depict much of what it is like to be a reporter, on the most exciting day of a reporter's life. Repunching the Boston-area weather report, taking dictation from a stringer at a college football game, rewriting newspaper stories into radio wire format--the staples of wire service life--are difficult to dramatize and not very interesting to watch, so you'll never see them (except perhaps fleetingly) in a movie. Ditto sitting in the rain waiting for a staged event you can put on your television news program, or waiting in vain for news to return to American commercial radio stations.

In 25 years as a journalist, I have averaged about one amazing working day a year and 249 pedestrian ones. In 18 months at the Oregon Journal, I had one plane crash and one venal corporate executive. In six months at AP, I had Nixon resigning and Boston school busing. In 18 months at UPI, I had one presidential visit to Boston. Of course, my worst day as a journalist was better than my best day as a PR man, or a television station engineer or a book author (although my best day as a talk show host was pretty good, and I like my performance on Win Ben Stein's Money). It is a great field and can be very rewarding.

To summarize, a movie can show you journalism at its best and most exciting, with important decisions being made on the spur of the moment and great issues being hashed out of the best days, but will never show you the mind-bending tediousness, the petty office politics, the repetition and the routine that characterize the average days.

I think you can find much wisdom on the subject of journalism at my quote site. Here are two of my favorites:

With regard to television and newspaper work, I particularly like two quotes: The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.

--Hunter S. Thompson

A newspaper is not the place to go to see people actually earning a living, though journalists like to pretend they never stop sweating over a hot typewriter. It is much more like a brothel - short, rushed bouts of really enjoyable activity interspersed with long lazy stretches of gossip, boasting, flirtation, drinking, telephoning, strolling about the corridors sitting on the corner of desks, planning to start everything tomorrow. Each of the inmates has a little specialty to please the customers. The highest paid ones perform only by appointment; the poorest take on anybody, The editors are like madams - soothing, flattering, disciplining their naughty, temperamental staff, but rarely obliged to satisfy the clients personally between the printed sheets.

--from a UPI Washington Bureau Manager

What movie portrays Journalism best in your opinion?

"The Paper" (1994), with Robert Duvall, Glenn Close and Michael Keaton working for The Sun, a fictional New York tabloid modeled on the NY Post. What's not to like about a film that makes the NY Times look like a bunch of pompous, arrogant, pampered... well, in any case, I think it hits the nail on the head.

Also brilliant is "Deadline USA" (1952), with Humphrey Bogart, a fictionalized version of the death of the NY World.

Paul E. Schindler Jr. AP, UPI, Oregon Journal, Computer Systems News, Information Systems News, InformationWeek, PC Week, WINDOWS Magazine. Contributor to: San Jose Mecury News, NY Daily News.

Defining Terrorist Victory

Many people are using the phrase, "the terrorists will have won if..." The President says the terrorists will have won if we don't fly and spend money. But a lot of sensible people are suggesting the terrorists will have won if we turn ourselves into a rights-free zone in an effort to combat them.

One Washington observer says President Bush's decision to try foreign-citizen terrorists in secret military courts--made without congressional consultation and signed into law as an executive order--is an impeachable offense, a violation of his oath to uphold the constitution.

When I riposted with the Bush administration argument that this is merely reviving a power granted to President Roosevelt by a 1942 Supreme Court decision during World War II, the observer responded, "Roosevelt had a declaration of war. Bush doesn't."

I'm not too happy with the decision to monitor lawyer-client discussions either. I don't want another terrorist attack, and I think the government should have every power it needs to prevent those attacks--and not one power more. If we sign away all our rights, what the hell are we defending?

Here's one Washington Insider's take on an aspect of the President's new war powers:

The executive order is touted as requiring a two-thirds vote to convict (typical federal criminal jury verdicts require unanimity). In fact, after reading the order, one learns that conviction and sentencing could require as little as 2 votes from the typical 5 member military commission.

For conviction and/or sentencing, the order requires a two-thirds vote of those commission members present and further requires that a majority of the members be present at the time of the vote. Thus, with a 5 member commission, 3 commission members must be present to hold a vote on a verdict; 2 of those 3 votes are enough to convict and/or sentence.

Further, given that the commission members will be members of the military (rather than a jury presided over by a federal judge with lifetime tenure), it is conceivable that the Commander in Chief could order 2 of the 5 commission members to be otherwise occupied when a vote is scheduled.

Computer Industry News

Microsoft's Total Victory

Craig Reynolds writes, and I agree...

bin Laden's strike was more successful than he could have imagined. Not only did he knock down the WTC, but we our losing our civil liberties at a frightening pace, and adjudged monopolists are being allowed to rape an pillage the economy, all in the name of homeland security. This passage caught my eye:

...While the appeals court found that in the past Microsoft had installed a browser in Windows to protect its monopoly, Mr. James says that today various Internet features are woven more deeply into Windows, offering consumers such benefits as one-click access to the Internet from e-mail.

"How would consumers be served if we forced Microsoft to remove that code?" he asks...

Interestingly I have that identical feature in Netscape under Mac OS and in Mozilla under Linux. I don't see how that example can help to justify allowing Microsoft bundling more and more services into its OS in order to use its monopoly to leverage into new markets.

Craig also wrote:

I guess everyone will be covering the DOJ's filing with Judge Kollar-Kotelly. Here is Wired's coverage.

Note the 60 day public comment period via this email address:

I liked the way Judge Stanley Sporkin's 1995 comments so closely echo what is being said about the current settlement: "simply telling a defendant to go forth and sin no more does little or nothing to address the unfair advantage it has already gained."

Web Site of the Week

Fake or Foto

Craig Reynolds, a pioneer in computer graphics, checks in with this fascinating site:

Apparently Alias|Wavefront put this together:

Fake or Foto?

Some of them are hard to call; I only got 8 out of 10 correct.

I got 7 of 10 myself, and I don't think it was just luck, but still. You'll never trust a photo again once you see the results. Seeing is no longer believing, in case you didn't know it, a photo is no long worth 1,000 words unless they're all fictional, and I sure as hell hope photographic evidence is never again accepted in an American courtroom.


The Nun and the Cabby

A slightly smutty joke, sent me by a very proper older friend of mine:

A cabby picks up a nun. She gets into the cab, and the cab driver won't stop staring at her. She asks him why he is staring and he replies, "I have a question to ask you but I don't want to offend you." She answers, "My dear son, you cannot offend me. When you're as old as I am and have been a nun a long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about everything. I'm sure that there's nothing you could say or ask that I would find offensive."

"Well, I've always had a fantasy to have a nun kiss me."

She responds, "Well, let's see what we can do about that: #1, you have to be single and #2 you must be Catholic."

The cab driver is very excited and says, "Yes, I am single, and I'm Catholic too!"

The nun says "OK, pull into the next alley." He does and the nun fulfills his fantasy. But when they get back on the road, the cab driver starts crying.

"My dear child," said the nun, "why are you crying?"

"Forgive me sister, but I have sinned. I lied, I must confess; I'm married, and I'm Jewish."

The nun says, "That's OK, my name is Kevin and I'm on my way to a Halloween party."

Another Nun Story

I just can't resist a shaggy dog story that promises smut and delivers... well, you'll see.

A man is driving down a lonely road in northern Nevada he passes a sign:
He thinks it was a figment of his imagination - and drives on. Soon, he sees another sign which says...
Realizing these signs are for real, he drives on, and sure enough, there is a third...
His curiosity gets the best of him, and he pulls into the driveway. On the far side of the parking lot, is a somber stone building with a sign on the door that reads...
He climbs the steps, rings the bell, and the door is answered by a nun in a long black habit, who asks..."What may we do for you my son?"
"I saw your signs along the highway, and was interested in possibly doing some business," he answers.
"Very well, my son. Please follow me," says the nun. He is led through many winding passages, and soon he is very disoriented. The nun stops at a closed door and tells the man,
"Please, knock on this door" and leaves.
The man does as he is told, and this door is opened by another nun in a long black habit, holding a tin cup. This nun instructs: "Please place $50.00 in the cup, then go through the large wooden door at the end of this hallway."
He places the money in this nun's tin cup. He trots eagerly down the hallway, and slips through the door, pulling it shut.
As the door locks behind him, he finds himself back in the parking lot, facing another small sign:
"Go in Peace. You have just been screwed by the Sisters of Mercy."



You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database


Joe Brancatelli on Replacing Nathan Lane, Peggy Coquet on the Top 5, Kesey and the Leonids

There was a reference in the San Francisco Chronicle last week to Digger/actor/author Peter Coyote's 400-name email list, to which he sends bulletins about public affairs. I find him a thoughtful and interesting guy, but after an hour's search on the Internet, I can't find an email ID for him or any other reference to his list. Are any of you on it? Can any of you figure out how to ask to be on it?

Joe Brancatelli writes:

Well, let's start with the obvious. Your mom's wrong (geez, how harsh is that!). Lane isn't out of The Producers [she didn't say that; I edited that error in -- PES]. He took two weeks off to rest the pipes and now isn't doing matinees for a while (and, damn, I have matinee tix for November 28!), but he's back on the boards.

Of course, eventually, he will have to be replaced, which brings us to your worthwhile speculation. Me, I spend most of my time recasting the minor roles in Casablanca (current faves: Daryl "Chill" Mitchell as Sam, Jack Black as Ugarte, Michael Richards as Sacha, and James Galdolfini doing Ferrari), but I can play Producers advocate. The thing to remember is that Producers don't necessarily need a big, big star. Brad Oscar, who fills in now for Lane, might get the role because he gets raves and is cheaper. The other thing to remember is that you CAN think out of the box, beyond a Zero Mostel type, because that's how Brooks got to the stage in the first place. So my choice, if you're going "name" is Billy Crystal. He can sing some, can do the Yiddish shtick, and is Broadway slick. Goodman I love, but he may be too big and he's not much on theatre these days. Short is great, but too manic for this, but is a very interesting thought. And if you're not going name, and I was making the decisions, I'd go for Jim Dale.

Finally, much as I loved the top slogans for Microsoft XP, I thought it missed the obvious one. Microsoft XP...Because We Said So.

I got other mail about that Top 5 list, from Peggy Coquet:

Before I knew it was yours [this was my submission to a Top 5 list], this was my favorite:

13> Does a Little More, Sucks a Little Less

I've been beta testing WinXP, and will install it as my main OS in a week or two. It really is a great OS!

You need to run another obituary - our whole generation lost Ken Kesey yesterday morning. Ken Kesey flew east, I guess.

The meteor shower you mention is scheduled on the morning of Steve's and my 29th anniversary - thank you, Lord! What a spectacular anniversary present! (and I bet you thought it was just a regular meteor shower ...)


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