PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

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

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS 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.

To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

P.S. A Column On Things: July 22, 2002

July 22, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 29

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Sad Commentary
  • Pig Ignorance Disguised As Commentary
  • Words I Don't Want In My Obituary

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Bad Writing Contest


  • Dumb Joke
  • Diets & Dying
  • Financial Advice


  • None


  • Dern: Dog-Biting Man, Grobstein: Great Bush Bashing

General News

A Sad Commentary

Captain Kirk's chair from the TV Series Star Trek just sold for $304,000, according to TV Guide. Now that's a sad commentary on my generation.

Pig Ignorance Disguised As Commentary

So often, op-ed commentary in the newspaper is pig ignorance disguised as commentary. Seldom has that been truer than in a recent column by Thomas Sowell on teacher training.

Sowell regularly raises my blood pressure. He hangs his hat at the Hoover Institute, a merry band of right-wing scholars huddled on the Stanford campus in an institution named for Herbert Hoover, a Stanford alumnus, brilliant engineer, prolific and praiseworthy philanthropist and utterly failed American president. Ironic, isn't it, that the Institution raised in his name concentrates on politics, the one part of his life that was an acknowledged failure.

In any case, Sowell helps tilt the op-ed pages of America even farther to the right then they tilt of their own accord. Now, I admit that eight weeks ago, I would have applauded and nodded like all the other dittoheads when I read:

A Scary Report
July 11,2002
Thomas Sowell

Most discussions of the problems of American education have an air of utter unreality because they avoid addressing the most fundamental and intractable problem of our public schools -- the low quality of our teachers. There is no point expecting teachers to teach things that they themselves do not know or understand....

The biggest obstacle are the education courses which can take up years of your time and thousands of dollars of your money, but which have no demonstrated benefit on future teaching. Research shows that teachers' actual knowledge of the subject matter is what benefits students....

He characterizes teacher education as useless, notes that teachers come from the bottom of college classes, and repeats a lot of other claptrap.

I realize that attacking this column gives it more currency, but I know his views are widely held--some of my own friends and relatives feel teacher education is a fraud and a waste of time.

That's as may be. But while "teachers' actual knowledge of the subject matter is what benefits students" is undoubtedly a true statement, as we used to say at MIT, it is necessary but not sufficient. There are too many teachers--including a lot of teachers who come in via alternative certification--who know everything about the subject and nothing about how to teach it. Does the world need a flood of really well-qualified subject matter teachers who can't teach their way out of a tissue paper bag? Don't we have enough of those already? I think we do. Let's make sure our teachers know how to teach, shall we?

I am sure Thomas Sowell could, and probably regularly does, lecture college students. That's not teaching. Let's put him in a third grade class and see if the students come out the other end able to add and read. I'm betting against it, based on the attitude he demonstrates in his columns. The sage on the stage is dead. This is the era of the guide on the side, and it takes a lot more training to learn how to do that than "directed teaching."

Words I Don't Want In My Obituary

I read all the way to the bottom of the Modern Humorist email newsletter, and was rewarded with this item:

Words I Hope Will Not Appear In My Obituary
by David Bratton

Young, Potential, Suicide, Lengthy Illness, Freak and/or Farm Accident, Gangland-style, Layabout, Decline, Fall from grace, Accountant, Previous marriage(s), Indictment and/or conviction, Exile, General Equivalency Diploma, Abandoned, Dominick Dunne.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Note: Craig might skip Technobriefs next week or may send in an abbreviated SIGGRAPH edition. In the meantime, here's this week's insights into technology from around the web:

Reuters and Wired report on the announcement at the recent H2K2 hacker conference, by the activist group Hactivismo, of new technology aimed at subverting government censorship of Internet communications. The "Six/Four" protocol will "...allow anyone to create grassroots, anonymous networks where Internet users worldwide could access and share information without a trace..."

Norway jumps ahead of the EU and Peru's Nuñez by deciding not to renew a government contract with Microsoft which was valued at about $30 million last year. Instead they hope to encourage competition and the use of free Open Source software. See AP's Norway Says No Way to Microsoft.

There was a startling case of scientific fraud at LBNL, apparently stemming from falsification of experimental data, in the supposed discovery of elements 118 and 116 two years ago. From AP Lab: Scientist Fabricated Research, and here is the original LBNL release now retracted. Opinion seems to be split on whether the "big picture" is that The Peer Review System Works (albeit slowly) or that fumbling (e.g.: lack of data integrity) by the defrauder's teammates led to an embarrassing scandal for the lab.

Read about the wacky The Time Travel Fund which proposes to use your $10 and the power of compound interest to lure time travelers from the distant future to come pick you up. The basic "compound interest over lots of time" idea reminded me of a story I read in high school: "John Jones' Dollar". (In fact I wrote a FORTRAN program to do the same thing as the Javascript gadget they have on their page.) A Google search reveals that Harry Stephen Keeler's 1915(!) story is available as a free eText on the web!

Technobits: Forbes is running an in-depth special report on Linux. --- Reuters reports floppy TV from someone like Philips or Cambridge Display Technology may only be a few years away from commercial production. --- "Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing" (OFDM) is a new contender for carrying mobile phone data. It has superior speed but would be fighting market lock-in by older, slower technologies. --- More about the anti-Passport Liberty Alliance. --- Zoesis is a CMU spin-off company that does AI for game characters and other applications. They recently posted a free downloadable (Windows only) mini-game called "Pearl Demon" to demonstrate their technology. --- A double dose of This Modern World on corporate corruption: 1 and 2. --- In the effort to eliminate spam, The Onion notes that as usual, it's the little guy who suffers. Also: Fair Use advocates silenced by Big Brother.

Web Site of the Week

Bad Writing Contest

This contest is a favorite of mine every year. Check it out!

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2002 Results

An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory if not the reputation of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) and the phrase, "the pen is mightier than the sword," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."

This year's winner:

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

--Ms. Rephah Berg

Last year she won the Detective Category with the following entry:

The graphic crime-scene photo that stared up at Homicide Inspector Chuck Venturi from the center of his desk was not a pretty picture, though it could have been, Chuck mused, had it only been shot in soft focus with a shutter speed of 1/125 second at f 5.6 or so.


Dumb Joke

Two women go out one Friday night without their husbands.

As they head back home, right before dawn, both of them drunk, they felt the urge to pee. They noticed the only place to stop was a cemetery. Scared and drunk, they stopped and decided to go there anyway.

The first one did not have anything to clean herself with, so she took off her panties and used them to clean herself and discarded them.

The second not finding anything either, thought "I'm not getting rid of my panties..." so she used the ribbon of a flower wreath to clean herself.

The morning after, the two husbands were talking to each other on the phone, and one says to the other: "We have to be on the look-out, it seems that these two were up to no good last night, my wife came home without her panties..."

The other one responded: "You're lucky, mine came home with a card stuck to her ass that read: 'We will never forget you.'"

Diets & Dying

The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Financial Advice

If you bought $1,000.00 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00. And, if you bought $ 1,000.00 worth of Worldcom at $16 dollars a share 1 year ago, it would now be worth $5.63. Forget ENRON as it does not compute. That's a grand total of $54.63. However, if you bought $1,000.00 worth of Budweiser or Miller Lite (the beer, not the stock) @ $11.99 per case one year ago (83.4 cases) and drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the 5 cents per each aluminum can deposit, you would have $100. Therefore, I suggest that it is financially prudent in these troubled times to drink heavily and recycle.




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



Grobstein Finds Great Bush Bashing

You may know that cub reporters are often told, "When a dog bites a man that isn't news. When a man bites a dog, that's news." As you can imagine, newspapers go nuts on those rare occasions when a man really does bite a dog. Even the New York Times.

Dan Grobstein found two great Bush-bashing pieces in the New York Times:

Steps to Wealth
New York Times
July 16, 2002

Why are George W. Bush's business dealings relevant? Given that his aides tout his "character," the public deserves to know that he became wealthy entirely through patronage and connections. But more important, those dealings foreshadow many characteristics of his administration, such as its obsession with secrecy and its intermingling of public policy with private interest....

Then there's the conversion of institutions traditionally insulated from politics into tools for rewarding your friends and reinforcing your political control. Yesterday the University of Texas endowment; today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; tomorrow those Social Security "personal accounts"?

Finally, there's the indifference to conflicts of interest. In Austin, Governor Bush saw nothing wrong with profiting personally from a deal with Tom Hicks; in Washington, he sees nothing wrong with having the Pentagon sign what look like sweetheart deals with Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton.

So the style of a future Bush administration was easily predictable, given Mr. Bush's career history.

And this one:

Bush and the Texas Land Grab
New York Times
July 16, 2002

Democrats and media hounds are baying under the wrong tree. The point in President Bush's business career where he took outrageous shortcuts was not at Harken Energy, but rather when he was grabbing land for a new baseball stadium in Arlington for his Texas Rangers baseball team.

Mr. Bush broke no laws. Neither do the overwhelming majority of corporate executives. The cloud over the business world comes not so much from law-breaking as from avaricious bruising of the public interest.

...In fairness, Mr. Bush was simply being a hard-nosed businessman. He did a great job leading the owners' group, and it's hard to take seriously the caricature of him as unintelligent when he led the Rangers so lucratively. Indeed, his $14 million profit on the Rangers financed his entry into politics.

But it's also a sordid tale of cronyism, of misuse of power, of cozy backroom money-grubbing - a more pressing threat to American business than outright criminality.

Plus he found this eccentric piece:

By Yonder Blessed Moon, Sleuths Decode Life and Art
New York Times
July 16, 2002

With Russell Doescher, a physics lecturer, Dr. Olson conducts a university honors course called "Astronomy in Art, History and Literature." In the last 15 years, he has pinpointed the time and place of the rendering of art masterpieces, given new interpretations of astronomical references in Chaucer and revealed the decisive role of the moon in military and other encounters...

Yet Dr. Olson's greatest satisfaction seems to stem from his interdisciplinary approach to astronomical sleuthing. "I have thought about van Gogh, about Shakespeare and Chaucer," he says, "and that has made my life as a scientist much richer."

I dealt with nutrition here a few weeks ago. Turns out the story Daniel Dern sent me has caused quite a hubbub; it was the cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Dan Grobstein found one counter-story.

A Diet Rich in Partial Truths

New York Times

July 13, 2002


SAUSALITO, Calif. - In Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper," a man wakes up 200 years in the future to find that science has proved deep-fried foods to be healthy. Is the future here already?

By now, many Americans are thoroughly exasperated by the seemingly contradictory information in the press about what a sound diet is. Lately, I hear many people say, "If the doctors can't make up their minds, I'll eat whatever I want and quit worrying."

That would be unfortunate. Science can help people distinguish what sounds good from what's real. Nowhere are the claims more conflicting than in the area of diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, this is an area where misinformation can make a huge difference to an individual's health and well-being....

Science can help us sort out conflicting claims. Researchers now are studying the effects of high-protein diets. It would be wise to wait for these results rather than discouraging people from making dietary changes that have been medically proved to be so beneficial.

Dean Ornish is president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of "Eat More, Weigh Less.''

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