PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 6

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

February 11, 2002

Oops! A class?

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

  • On Becoming A Teacher
  • Lord and Dukes
  • Third Day Teaching
  • The Worst Journalism Mistake
  • Powerful Enron Indictment
  • Travel: What's The Deal?

Computer Industry News

  • Faster Than Light
  • More Napster News
  • Bill Joy on C#
  • Evolution Breakthrough

Web Site of the Week

  • GoogleWhack


  • The Top 15 Least Talked-About Events in David Letterman's Twenty Years of Hosting Late-Night Television
  • More On The World's Funniest Joke
  • The Top 12 Excerpts from Bad Fantasy Novels


  • In The Bedroom


  • About That NYU Test, Web Sites From Dern, Reynolds, Pournelle, Culbertson, From Private Eye

General News

On Becoming A Teacher

I have not been as articulate as I would have liked in explaining why I am becoming a teacher. I was blessed this week to receive a missive which nicely sums up my own thoughts, and doubles as a really pleasant "welcome aboard," from my long-time friend and frequent contributor (he also made Herb Caen with some regularity) Kent Peterman. I met Kent through the parents of one of his grade school students who had become personal friends. I wish my own children had been blessed with his like. In 16 years of education, I met only a handful of teachers--most importantly Edwin Diamond and Dr. Patricia Swenson, but also Mr. Floyd, Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Carlton Bryson (Oregon's teacher of the year in 1970), Mr. Harold Arendt, Mrs. Elizabeth Gilmore, Mr. Robert Boniwell--who could hold a candle to Kent.

I'm thrilled that you're taking up the noble and honorable profession of teaching. In today's world we are currently punching bags and political footballs. We are accused of being inadequate and inaccurate. We are blamed for society's ills. We are burdened with standards, benchmarks, and myriad forms and meetings.

BUT there is no better profession. Teaching is magic and teachers create the magic. Children are magic and they share that magic with you. There is no feeling in the world like that feeling of seeing understanding in a student's eyes that once were fogged over. When you know you've made a connection. There is nothing to compare with the joy of the spontaneity of youth. With their amazing perceptions. Their depth of thought. In my new position I work with children of all elementary school ages and it has been a delight for me to see that each age group has its own special joys.

Children keep you young. They keep you honest, for children can see through phonies.

Another benefit of teaching is that it teaches you to be concise. Not necessarily in the classroom but in your dealings with other people. For in the course of a 15-minute recess you may have to have conversations with 3 or 4 colleagues, make a phone call, check your box, and go to the bathroom. You learn to cut to the core of the matter in a 2-minute conversation. Another benefit is that you learn to "hold it" for it may be a long stretch between breaks. This skill comes in handy when in places without proper facilities. My friend Irene once went through a whole 7 hour class reunion in a field without using the portapotties. When her sister asked her how she could do it she said, "I'm a teacher."

But the true reward in teaching isn't monetary (I always say that it says something about a society that pays people more to take away its garbage than to educate its youth.) The real reward is intangible. It is in knowing that you've made a difference in a person's life and sometimes having that person come back years later and tell you so. Yesterday we went to the graduation of a former student of mine. During graduation he introduced me and said that what I had given him in second grade helped make it possible for him to be graduating. That my friend is the real bonus of being a teacher. I can't think of any other profession where you truly make a difference in lives every day. Unlike a carpenter you don't always see the progress immediately, but also unlike a carpenter your influence can go on for generations.

Welcome to the profession. You are a welcome and incredibly great addition to it. Lucky the kids who have you.

Lord and Dukes

Early readers of the column last week will have noted a howler: I called the Duke of Wellington "Lord Wellington." Larry King, an expatriate American living in London, quickly riposted:

Lord Wellington? I assume you mean the Duke of Wellington. Dukes rank well above lords. In fact, dukes top the hierarchy of the British aristocracy, which has done so much to disprove the theory that intelligence, talent, personality, physical competence, and mental stability are inherited characteristics.

If this sounds like the first paragraph of another delightful letter from London, you're right. It is. Go read it.

Third Day Teaching

First time I didn't have first period prep, which meant first time I had to be there, at my desk at 7:50 a.m. Mrs. SS knew she was going to be gone, so her lesson plan was meticulous. First period English we did vocabulary and I read them a story. Periods two and four were drama (three was prep). Once again, I found the familiar phenomenon. In period two drama, I had to drag them to the stage. In period four drama, same age group, same improvisational exercise, I had to get out of the way to avoid being trampled. Last three periods were study hall, a not very challenging class. But it was a real chance to teach, and the principal observed me; I hope he'll write me a letter of recommendation later when I need one.

I have been telling the students I was a retired journalist. This impressed them very little. Today I mentioned I had been on four TV game shows. As a result, I spent about 10 minutes per class explaining and answering questions. Naturally the one that impressed them most was Win Ben Stein's Money; several were sure they had seen my show. That doesn't take much; it has been run a half-dozen times at least.

The Worst Mistake

The worst, stupidest, most bush-league, dumbass mistake you can make as a journalist is to misspell someone's name. Particularly twice. Particularly after being corrected inbetween. Because no spell checker will stop you from doing it again and again.

Thank you Dan Gantt. My apologies to Bob Nilsson, whose name I spell correctly here and later in the column. Keep contributing until I get it right, Bob.

Powerful Enron Indictment

Now of course, gadfly Michael Moore's Jan. 29 open letter to President Bush, George W. in the Garden of Gethsemane, isn't likely to get much attention from W. This is the same Michael Moore who essentially said the president was either dyslexic or illiterate during the election campaign. Still, Moore makes about as powerful a populist case as you are likely to see for impeaching Bush over Enrongate. This scandal has legs, folks. Here is just an excerpt:

I hardly ever talk to the guy [Ken Lay], you said. You were like Peter outside the walls of Herod after they grabbed J.C. from the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times he denied he knew Jesus, and three times the cock crowed. But Peter, unlike you, felt shame and wept, and then ran away.

What shame do you feel tonight, George, for the lies you have told? What shame do you feel using the dead of 9-11 as a cover for your actions, hoping that our sorrow for those lost souls and our fear of being killed by terrorists would distract us from what your boys and Kenny Boy were up to during those horrific weeks in September and October?

Travel: What's The Deal?

I have long suspected that the security precautions in places since Sept. 11 were stupid, inconvenient and pointless. Now, I have a professional opinion to back me up. David M. Rowell's Travel Insider column for Feb. 8 was An Unbalanced Response, which concluded:

Whether it be in the form of apparently insufficient oversight, insufficient control, or inappropriate security designed to encourage us to confuse inconvenience with safety, there is always one certain loser. Look around you on your next flight - or in the mirror. It is you, it is us, the traveling public.

Some cynics might suggest that if 'solving a problem' can be done with the only 'cost' being inconvenience to the traveling public, it will be quickly put in place. But if solving a problem involves inconvenience or cost to the airlines - well, don't hold your breath waiting for anything to happen any time soon.....

Computer Industry News

Faster Than Light

Kevin Sullivan says Netsurfer Digest is cool, and that this item proves it. I'll be interested in comments from my more science-minded readers, especially those who read the full original paper. Kevin is a fellow MIT grad, I should mention.

Electromagnetic Pulses Reach Three Times Light Speed

"Set course for 299.5, Warp 6." While such commands won't be occurring on starships anytime soon, researchers using what they call a "coaxial photonic crystal" have managed to send electromagnetic pulses a significant distance at three times the speed of light. They claim that the project, although remarkable, breaks no laws of physics. In essence, they use cavitation at the tail of the pulse to drive the front wave forward, similar in principle to the use of cavitation to drive superfast underwater torpedo systems. Their work appears capable of exerting profound influence upon information networking systems. PhysicsWeb has a brief but still extremely technical discussion and the full paper is available as a PDF.

More Napster News

Developments in the RIAA V. Napster case: Is Judge Turning Tables On Labels, courtesy of Craig Reynolds. Anyone who has more information on this (say, the sealed transcripts) is welcome to forward them here.

Bill Joy on C#

Hardcore geek stuff from Craig Reynolds:

I enjoyed this anti-C# tirade by Sun's Bill Joy:
Microsoft's blind spot

The geeks are debating it over at Slashdot

Evolutionary Breakthrough

At first, I thought this was a joke, but it's real and pretty interesting. Thanks, Craig Reynolds:

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have uncovered the first genetic evidence that explains how large-scale alterations to body plans were accomplished during the early evolution of animals...

First Genetic Evidence Uncovered of How Major Changes in Body Shapes Occurred During Early Animal Evolution

Web Site of the Week


Richard Dalton wrote:

GoogleWhack is something to spend some excess hours on.

He's seldom been more right. It's really complicated, so I won't try to explain it here. Basically, it is a game in which you try to write a query for the Google search engine that has only one match. The rules are quite elaborate. I had to run, screaming, from the page; otherwise I'd spend the rest of my life there. Use this URL with caution.


The Top 15 Least Talked-About Events in David Letterman's Twenty Years of Hosting Late-Night Television

February 5, 2002


Last Friday, our pal Dave celebrated the 20th anniversary of his debut as a nighttime talk show host.

15> Dan Rather in drag -- that dude will do anything for a yuk.

14> The birthdays on which Dave was flashed by Richard Simmons, Regis Philbin and Ernest Borgnine

13> Stupid Plant Tricks not quite the hit the writers expected.

12> To help pay Dave's $14 million salary, CBS decides Top Ten lists will be available by paid subscription only.

11> Dave reveals on-camera that he was only using Connie to get to Maury.

10> Hey, beating Paul with a cane seemed funny at the time.

9> The night Larry "Bud" Melman said "Dave, I am your father!"

8> Frequent guest Howard Stern delights audience with easy-to-assemble potpourri arrangements.

7> The "Suit of Soft-Boiled Eggs"

6> Throughout Dave's first season, Bobby Knight would berate and beat him after bad shows.

5> Stupid Hourly-Rate-Motel Tricks

4> Paul Shaffer shows up drunk, wearing a turtleneck sweater, and does his impression of a bris.

3> The ill-considered Condom Cam

2> The infamous "Lower Dave Into a Vat of Liposuctioned Fat" incident

and's Number 1 Least Talked-About Event in David Letterman's Twenty Years of Hosting Late-Night Television...

1> Chris Elliott's accidental debut of "the guy nailing an intern under the stairs."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 85 submissions from 33 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Larry Hollister, Concord, CA -- 1 (45th #1 / Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 10

More On The World's Funniest Joke

Bob Nilsson had two thoughts on last week's item about the World's Funniest Joke:

  • You didn't point out that computer-generated jokes did reasonably well in the ranking. "One computer gag: "What kind of murderer has morale fibre? A cereal killer," did surprisingly well, ranking higher than a third of all other jokes." The question now becomes, which human quality will be the last to be eclipsed by computers? This is not to imply that any of the more human qualities are actually eclipsed yet, but the day is nearing. Interesting to think of computers getting bylines. They are already writing lengthy fiction.
  • Florida humorist Dave Barry also did a funny sendoff of the project.

The Top 12 Excerpts from Bad Fantasy Novels

February 8, 2002

12> "Thus it came to pass that they left on a Quest, much as they had in the first nine books in the series."

11> "The princess wrinkled her nose and stifled a giggle as she undid her top. She was only a woman, after all, and thus the sight and man-musk of the pudgy comic-book-shop manager left her helpless."

10> "With a fierce cry, Elred spurred his mighty steed towards the battlefield, his unsheathed blade whistling through the chill morning air like a pale, metallic recording of the 'Andy Griffith' theme."

9> "The world became a gray mist, swirling about his head, encompassing him - the past, the future, enemies, friends, all seemed to stand shimmering just beyond his reach, beckoning him towards an uncertain quest. He tried to call out, but they were unmoved by his garbled moans. 'Whoa!' said the elfish princess from somewhere beyond the mystic vision, 'I think you've had quite enough of the Bong of B'Ain'G'Raith for tonight, little man.'"

8> "Her orbs glowed with the magical light of Glastrorphyl, as the faeries of Marnore played their beautiful music. He turned to her and whispered softly, 'I'd hump you if I could just find an orifice.'"

7> "He harked upon a maiden fair, bathing in a sparkling pond. In silence did the wizard stare, as he fondled his magic wand."

6> "Further and further, Dubya, Son of Herbert, fell into the Pit of Deficit. A special sorcery, had he though, and he would climb the pit by lowering taxes, as had worked so well in the legendary time of Reagan the Forgetful."

5> "Eldritch flames smoldered on Xaltuan's fingers, and the last syllables of his incantation still lingered on his foam-flecked lips. Still, the Tercel would not start."

4> "'DFGretwiuszlsiln UUUWq'df_hlsiuei' shouted Wq'df. 'bvmnbckood pwqpwooierjr' hurled back the unseen thief. There were several blasts of laser fire. Wq'df thought he heard a kqzxuclp. Zzxlkuecpasloir was the last thing he heard."

3> "And then young Lothgar looked around and said, 'Dude, where's my sword?'"

2> "And thus spake the King of Enron, 'Shredd'st thou the evil parchment, lest our dabbling in the dark arts be divined!'"

and's Number 1 Excerpt from a Bad Fantasy Novel...

1> "For I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, brother to Arahorn and Araborn, grandson to Aradorn, great-nephew of Aracorn, third cousin twice removed to Arabjorn and Araporn..."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 94 submissions from 31 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Yoram Puius, Bronx, NY -- 1, 2 (13th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 8


In The Bedroom

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

Genius isn't a word I toss around casually. Well, OK, it is. But Todd Field really is a genius. And if there is any justice in this world, Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek (who looks better for her age than Robert Redford does for his), and Maris Tomei should all be in line for Oscars, as should Field, and the producers--for best picture.

Plain and simple, this is the best picture of the year.

It deals with life and death, issues of class, and, of course, revenge. It's like Death Wish, the Charles Bronson film from 1974 that sparked so many progressively stupider sequels, except done with class, grace and subtlety.

I am not going to tell you about the plot, because I knew too much when I saw it, and it reduced my enjoyment of the film. Suffice it to say that it is an adult drama with two scenes of pretty awful violence. Don't take a teenager. Do go see it with another adult.

The New Yorker writer who covered Adolph Eichmann's trial for war crimes in Israel coined the phrase "the banality of evil." This film, among many other things, deals with the banality of grief, in a way, and at a level of detail, that I've never seen in another motion picture.

The cinematography is breathaking. It is an adult film, written by adults, for adults, with adults as actors. How often does that happen? Not often enough, if you ask me.


About That NYU Test, Web Sites From Dern, Reynolds, Pournelle, Culbertson

Last week, I printed a note about a test given 10 students at NYU which showed they were knuckleheads when it came to geography and history. So, of course, I forwarded it to Marlow at Columbia. She assures me she passed it.

I asked if Dick Cheney was a jerk or an idiot. This response doesn't answer the question directly, but does touch on the issue of whether the GAO request for the names of the participants in Cheney's energy policy meetings is an unprecedented request or not:

Re the current regime, they also have freely and quite recently gave Congress (without a lawsuit or even any opposition or talk of preserving the right of this Administration and all future Administrations (if they allow another election) to seek confidential advice from alleged criminals) the internal notes, minutes, and deliberations of the only democratically and lawfully elected Administration which has taken office in the last six years or so.

Lots of web sites in the mail this week:

Daniel Dern found out what would happen If Someone Else Wrote Lord Of The Rings, as well as FedEx Introduces Overnight PeoplePak.

Craig Reynolds found this: Pssst. Wanna See My Blog?

Some weeks, no web site. Some weeks, a plethora. Richard Pournelle says this is an example of internet dating gone too far. Who wouldn't want to marry a girl who bought a billboard to find a husband?

Joy Culbertson checks in with three finds: one about the web, one about getting rid of annoying popup ads, and one from The National Lampoon (I was a charter subscriber; who knew it still existed) about Osama Bin Laden and The One Ring.

I read the British satirical weekly Private Eye, which includes a feature called "Funny Old World," news items so weird that you wonder if they could be true. I checked the English-language web site of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, and although the original page is gone, Google has a cache version which contains the story that begins:

Post offices offer 'gangster service'
Yomiuri Shimbun

Some post offices have provided expedited service to gangsters by sending their mail to other post offices after putting it into special envelopes used for correspondence between post offices, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Saturday.

Executives of post offices in Osaka and Kyoto prefectures said the special postal service was begun to prevent friction with gangsters, who were upset over the possibility their mail would get dirty.

Only in Japan. Or at least, I hope only in Japan.

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