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: September 23, 2002

September 23, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 38

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Best Birthday Ever
  • Jewish Superheroes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Classic Movies


  • Bush Joke
  • Office Buzzwords


  • Enlightenment Guaranteed, Moments, Happy


  • Dern's Snow White Find, The Gift of Journalism, Levin: Dot Bombs, Grobstein: Punishing Higher Standards, Pournelle: Plagiarism And Spies, Reynolds: Feisty Judge

General News

The Best Birthday Ever

My 50th birthday was, without a doubt, my most exciting and pleasant since my 18th. For those of you who weren't here in 1970, my 18th birthday took place in Cambridge, Mass. and New York City. I was a freshman at MIT. My roommate had worked for the Batelle Memorial Institute the previous summer and was enrolled in MIT's film class, which gave him access to 16MM sound cameras and a Nagra film/sound recorder.

Batelle called one day during the second week of school and asked him to fly to New York to shoot some footage at Cooper Union, a private college in Greenwich Village. "Tell them you need an assistant," I hissed while he was on the phone.

He did, they went for it, and on Sept. 17, 1970, I saw NYC for the first time in person.

There is much to tell about that day, and I may reprint the story from my freshman journal someday, but for now, suffice it to say the drinking age was 18 and I had my first legal drink in a Greenwich Village bar that night. I would have thought that was impossible to top. I was wrong. A month ago, Vicki told me to keep Sunday and Monday clear for a birthday surprise. As the day got closer, she offered to tell me where we were going and what we were doing, but I declined; I was taking pleasure in the mystery. "A little too much pleasure," she said, as I told someone for the umpteenth time, "I don't know where I'll be Sunday. It's a birthday surprise."

Because I was going to be out of town on Tuesday, Sept. 17, my actual birthday, I opened my presents and cards on Sunday. Ever since I was laid off last October, I have cut back on my book buying as part of a general effort to keep our costs under control in the face of reduced income. So, I count on getting books for my birthday and Christmas.

My family went nuts with my wish list, and I couldn't be happier! I got a half-dozen books I was very interested in both reading and owning, including Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, which is both funny and thought provoking, like his best-known movie, Roger and Me.

We had breakfast with the Unraus at the Claremont (we were too early for the buffet-too bad!) and enjoyed both a great view and great company. But at 11, Vicki said we had to get going to be "there" in "time." After about an hour of driving, it became clear we were going to Monterrey and I finally learned our destination: the Monterey Plaza on Cannery Row. My favorite hotel! We had reservations for a massage, and plans to eat in the outdoor "over the water" restaurant. We had a wonderful bay-view room, and were so engrossed in our books (and other activities) that we didn't notice until quite late that the TV was out of order. I was in heaven. We walked along the miles-long bike/pedestrian trail Monday morning, past the aquarium and the outlet stores. Vicki stopped and got herself some tennis shoes and me some very stylish polo shirts. We decided it had been too long since we had been there, two long since we'd had a couple of days to ourselves to relax, and that we had to do this more often. We may not be having enough fun.

It was hard to go back to class for my teaching credential on Monday night, but Vicki had a client, so we got home in time for both. Besides, I am already going to miss one class when I take off for Chicago with Rae in October, so I couldn't afford to miss another.

This mean short sleep rations, because in order to catch a 6am flight at Oakland Airport, I had to be up at 4:30 a.m. I was, and I did. I pride myself on being a morning person. The lady who checked my ID at the gate wished me a happy birthday. This is not rocket science, but it was a nice touch. I got to LAX on time at 7:30, rented a car, and was off to North Hollywood for Paul's exciting birthday. Along the way, I got more incoming cellphone calls than I had received in an average week during the last year. The whole family called, one by one, to wish me a happy birthday, including my daughters, my niece, my brother and my mom (well, OK, I called mom).

The UCLA Film and Television Archives are in the Television Center building at Romaine and Cahuenga, in the heart of the historic center of Hollywood. No one in the building knew anything about it, except that it was built in 1922. An hour or two on the Internet turned up the fact that it was built as the Buster Keaton studios, and served as the Metro studios before the merger with Goldwyn and Mayer. Now its just a few soundstages run by a photographer named Ben Kitnay and a variety of offices for service firms in the movie business--and the UCLA Archive. I had applied some months before for permission to view Power of the Press, a 1928 Frank Capra silent film that was described eloquently in Joe Saltzman's book, Frank Capra and the Image of the Journalist in American Film.

I built my trip to LA around my viewing. This astounded many people, including my daughter Marlow who said, "Only you would fly to LA to view a silent film, dad." Technically, that isn't true: people fly in from around the world to view films at the archive, which, in many cases, is the only place in the world to seem some older films that have never been transferred to videotape or DVD. I was expecting a Movieola, like the editing tables you see in older movies, with a tiny screen. Instead, I got a very modern editing table (of course, I was only using it for viewing), with a screen the size of a portable television set.

The reel of film was on my left, the take-up reel was on the right. The film was originally distributed on eight 1000-foot reels of nitrate film, but I was looking at a 35mm safety copy, so the 70-minute film took up three 20-minute, 2000-foot reels and part of a fourth. My "viewing assistant" handled threading and rewinding. It was mildly unsettling to have a break every 20 minutes, but that's what it would be like if we didn't have projectionists in movie theaters--if they didn't splice modern films together into a single reel.

Anyway, it was a terrific and interesting film that I will write up in more detail someday soon. Suffice it to say, a great start to a great day.

Next up was my friend and former colleague Jerry Pournelle. I drove through the Caheunga pass to get to his nearby house. Along the way, I saw the railroad right of way down the middle of Chandler in Studio City. When I got back to my mother-in-law's house that night, I looked up pictures of both the streetcars on Chandler and the line that used to run through the pass. I enjoyed the research and the results.

And, of course, I enjoyed visiting with Jerry, who is living proof that there is such a thing as Southern charm. My mother and my daughter Rae think he is the coolest person from my old business I have ever introduced them to. That's because he IS the coolest person. A combination of intelligence, wit and charm--along with a curious mix of libertarianism and "real" conservatism makes for a volatile and intellectually challenging mix when we get together--at least it is challenging for me.

After a brief bit of Clinton-bashing in Jerry's office--he calls it Chaos Manor in his magazine columns, and while it is chaotic it is also one of my favorite rooms on the planet, lined, as it is, with hundreds of books--we headed out for lunch. I suggested the rib place. Jerry, who has met and dined with my mother, noted that she'd prefer it if we ate at the Good Earth health food restaurant, that she'd hold him responsible if we ate ribs, and besides he preferred the Good Earth as well.

We ate at Good Earth, Mom. I had the scampi and shrimp. Jerry had a Caesar salad. A good middle for a good day.

Then it was back over the hills to LA proper, Pacific Palisades to be precise, where I got a chance to visit the home of Neal Vitale, an MIT and The Tech classmate I have been re-acquainted with for the last decade. We sat in the delightful garden of his home, next to his pool, and talked for two hours about cabbages and kings.

I also had a chance to see his wife and daughter (briefly) and his dogs (at some length). Actually, we discussed some things I think he'd rather I didn't broadcast, as well as some things I'd rather not repeat, even in this exceedingly self-revelatory medium. I will say this: Neal is proof that earning a Harvard MBA does not necessarily dull your wit or lower your intelligence. He's as sharp, and sharp-tongued as he was when he edited my arts copy in 1973 at MIT. (I've been worried about the effects of a Harvard MBA ever since I learned "President" Bush has one. His Yale undergraduate degree never surprised me).

Finally, to top the day off, I went to the Palisades home of my mother-in-law Lynne, whose beautiful home has an ocean view, ocean breezes, a spectacular garden, and company that was as enjoyable as any other I experienced on this, one of the nicest days of my life.

Frankly, the only thing that kept this from being the best day of my life, bar none, was the fact that neither my wife nor my children were with me. The worst day with my family is, well, if not better than the best day without them, certainly the near-equivalent. The next morning at 7, I hit the Will Rogers State beach. I stuffed my driver's license and a business card in the pocket of my sweats for ID and drove down to West Channel.

The tideline in that stretch of beach (north of the Chataqua pedestrian underpass beneath the Pacific Coast Highway) is getting steeper every time I visit, so I can't walk on wet sand by the water as I prefer. Instead, I walked along the way-cool bike trail. On the one hand, cement. On the other hand, ocean nearby, sand on both sides, no cross streets or traffic and cool people-watching. If I lived in LA, by the way, I'd never get anything done, because I'd spend all day every day reading the LA Times, especially the calendar section. I am such an entertainment business wannabe.

Every silver lining has a cloud; my sole Wednesday appointment, with a professor/friend of mine at USC, was scrubbed by a failure to communicate; he didn't have it on his schedule and wasn't there. Still, I got to read the Vanity Fair article on Saturday Night Live and finish "Stupid White Men" while I waited. A large black student laughed out loud when he walked by and saw the title.

Kafka famously said you should never show the audience a gun in the first act unless it was going to go off in the third act. Did you notice me stuffing my driver's license in my sweat pants? If you had to guess, where do you think it was when I got to the airport--in my wallet or in Lynne's washing machine? Luckily, I am so paranoid that I leave enough time at the airport for a roundtrip to the Palisades and I could still check in my rental and make my plane with no sweat. Well, OK, a little sweat.

Jewish Superheroes

I was fascinated to learn that Benjamin Jacob "The Thing" Grimm from Marvel's Fantastic Four comic book is Jewish. He came out in a the comic book, and his revelation was covered in The Forward by Max Gross, in the article, It's a Jewish Thing: Comic Hero Comes Out of a Cultural Closet. The Thing's creators, Stan "Stanley Lieber" Lee and Jack "Jacob Kurtzburg" Kirby did what many Jewish people were forced to do in the entertainment business at the time--adopt goyishe names to avoid attention. And for 41 years, Ben Grimm laid low too. But in the story "Remembrance of Things Past," he says he's Jewish, but that he never felt it was important to mention it before.

Apparently, there is similar speculation about Superman (created by Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and Joe Shuster (1914-1992), two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland), including an essay on the topic in the book Superman at 50: The Persistence of A Legend, of which I don't have a copy, and in Harry Brod's Internet article, "Did You Know Superman is Jewish?", once located at (The site is down and Google doesn't have a cached copy. I couldn't find the article after a vigorous search; if you can find a working URL, let me know).

Lori Hope Lefkovitz of Ohio State University offers a similar brief analysis in Passing As a Man: Narratives of Jewish Gender Performance:

Invented by two Jewish boys during the depression, Superman and Clark Kent (Esau and Jacob?) are one man. Actually, Superman, the resident alien, is the real person; Clark Kent the disguise. Lois Lane loves Superman. Clark Kent loves Lois Lane. But there is a gap in the narrative logic: If Superman is Clark Kent then Lois Lane and Clark Kent love each other. But they don't. And why does Superman (presumably the real self) require Lois to love the Clark Kent (the Jacob or the Jewish) persona?

See also Blair Kramer's article on Superman at

What strikes me most about several of these analyses is that they point out that these superheroes are the living embodiment of many of the finest aspects of Jewish teaching. Of course, they are also incredibly assimilated and seemingly disinterested in discussing their heritage. While these are ridiculous terms to use in conjunction with fictional characters, they highlight one of the ongoing difficulties of Judaism in American popular culture: there is much to respect and admire about the faith and its adherents, if only they were less reticent about their accomplishments. Or, to put it more briefly: who knew?

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

Linux viruses and worms are unusual enough that it was hot news this week when Linux.Slapper.Worm infected a lot of servers running the Apache web server with SSL (see early coverage by and Wired) the infection seems to have peaked after infecting about 7000 servers. For comparison, Code Red infected 400,000 servers at its peak.

This week the Bush administration was scheduled to release its cybersecurity strategy. There was much discussion of the early drafts floating around (including for example that the administration seems to be soft on national security threats, if they come from Microsoft) but when the report was released last Wednesday, its length had been cut by an order of magnitude and it lacked both details and mandates for concrete action.

CODeDOC an online exhibit of the Whitney Museum of American Art features the source code of the software which implements the artworks. In fact the exhibit requires you to scroll through the source code to get to the button which launches the artwork. Read coverage by the NYT. See also this "software as art" item from June 2001. A very early instance of this was the exhibition at the SIGGRAPH 81 Art Gallery of the source code of realtime computer generated artwork by Tom Duff (then of Lucasfilm, now at Pixar). No installation (think "mainframe"), no video, just the source code. Two years later, the same program was used to generate the force shield around the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

Copyright roundup: National Journal's Digital Divide on the "history and import of the battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley." USA Today's Rights issue rocks the music world about the mounting rebellion of musicians against the record companies, such as in SFGate's Jimmy Buffett rocks the major-label boat. The NYT describes Epic's use of glue as anti-copy mechanism (so I suppose solvent is now illegal under the DMCA). On the bright side Bon Jovi is looking at novel ways to boost CD sales rather than bribing congressmen to criminalize consumers' fair use rights (more at Slashdot). A pro-technology, pro-consumer speech by Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.

Technobits: publicly available satellite imagery of suspicious sites in Iraq --- site to oppose Berman's anti-P2P bill --- Lawrence Lessig's upcoming Supreme Court case --- a pro-Linux NYT editorial and this rebuttal --- a parody of a piece featured in PSACOT last week --- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to become a movie? --- LED flashlights for the masses.

Web Site of the Week

Classic Movies

If you share my interest in classic movies (as demonstrated by my lovingly maintained movies page) you may wish to surf over to's Classic Movies Guide, and not just because I was selected recently as one of its best new sites. "New" here is defined as "New to the guide on this subject," since my page was first posted in 1996.


Bush Joke

A tip of the PSACOT hat to Dan Grobstein for this one:

President Bush calls in the head of the CIA and asks "How come the Jews know everything before we do?" The CIA chief says "it's simple. The Jews have an expression: "Nu, Vus Tutzuch." (English translation: What's Happening) They just ask each other and that's how they find out everything."

Impressed, Bush says he personally wants to go undercover to see how this system works. He gets disguised (the hat, beard, long sideburns,etc.) as a Hassidic Jew, and is secretly flown in an unmarked plane to New York, where he is secretly picked up in an unmarked car and secretly dropped off in Crown Heights, one of Brooklyn's most Jewish neighborhoods. As he stands quietly on a busy street corner, a little old Jewish man comes shuffling along. Bush approaches him and whispers "Nu,Vus Tutzuch?" The old guy whispers back, "Did you hear that putz Bush is in Brooklyn?"

Office Buzzwords

I have seen most of these one place or another, but it doesn't mean they're not still funny.

NEW WORDS FOR 2002 - Essential Additions For The Workplace Vocabulary:

BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything and then leaves.

ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.

SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

SITCOMs: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiney.

SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.

IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them. The O.J. trials were a prime example.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

404: Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message"404 Not Found," meaning that the requested document could not be located.

GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, subdivisions. OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

WOOFYS: Well Off Older Folks.

CROP DUSTING: Surreptitiously farting while passing through a cube farm, then enjoying the sounds of dismay and disgust; leads to PRAIRIE DOGGING.


Enlightenment Guaranteed, Moments, Happy

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

I did something unusual this week, something I promised myself I would rarely, if ever do. I am writing about films you almost certainly can't see. These are films by Doris Dörrie, a German filmmaker, and all were shown at REAL to REAL: Buddhism and Film, a film festival held last week at San Francisco's Castro Theater under the auspices of the San Francisco Zen Center. Don't say you weren't warned; I posted information about this festival, in part because I was one of the volunteers who worked on it.

Anyway, Enlightenment Guaranteed is both funny and serious and explicitly Buddhist, since it involves two German brothers and their comic adventures in getting into and out of Japan's Monzen Buddhist monastery. It is much better than the slam review given on the IMDB site, but you'll be unlikely to find out for yourself, since the only format in which it has been released is German DVD (and you can't play a European DVD on a U.S. player). If you ever do see it, your enjoyment may be enhanced, as mine was, if you know the actors actually had to live the monastery life during the shooting: for two weeks they and the crew never left the Monzen grounds!

Moments (Augenblick --literally the blink of an eye--in the original German) is, well, as I wrote in the program:

Ms. Dörrie deals with her feelings following her husband's death in this Buddhist themed television documentary which combines the serious and the whimsical. Includes talks by Sogyal Rimpoche and Thich Nhat Hanh and music by Van Morrison.

It was touching and clever. The third film I saw at the festival was the North American premiere of Happy (originally titled Nackt (Naked) but renamed just before release last week in Germany), in which:

three couples gather for a dinner party that takes an unusual turn, forcing them to examine their identities, relationships, and desires.

Dörrie, who flew in for the festival, explained that the plot structure of the film was based both on the heart sutra and Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, which she recently directed (having never seen an opera before). A sutra, according to is "a scriptural narrative, especially a text traditionally regarded as a discourse of the Buddha." I would attempt to summarize this teaching, but let me say instead that an 84-year-old Buddhist master lectured on it for nine days without fully explaining it, so it may not be susceptible to precis. You can read the heart sutra here, or an annotated heart sutra here.

By the way, Dörrie received an award from the festival. It was a rock. She said she was looking forward to explaining it to German customs. I wish I could be there when she does. Her English was excellent and she told clever, funny and endearing stories. She had also bleached her hair blonde. She looks much happier today, five years after the death of her husband/cinematographer, than she did in the documentary. Life really does go on.

Kudos to festival organizer Michael Wenger, the Dean of Buddhist Studies at the center. Shame on you if you missed the festival this year. Come next year if it happens again. The combination of a great theater, great films and a great subject make this a must-see event.


Dern's Snow White Find, The Gift of Journalism, Levin: Dot Bombs, Grobstein: Punishing Higher Standards, Pournelle: Plagiarism And Spies, Reynolds: Feisty Judge

Daniel Dern found this story of the live-action Snow White martial arts film coming from Disney. Truth is stranger than fiction.

If you've got a lot of money and you enjoy journalism, try this gift from the FAO Schwarz Christmas Catalog.

Without comment, Rich Levin notes: A Fifth of Dot-Com Era Startups Failed.

Dan Grobstein found this:

How U.S. Punishes States With Higher Standards

New York Times, September 18, 2002 By RICHARD ROTHSTEIN

One result of busing children from failing schools is the federal government punishing states for having higher standards.

Two from Jerry Pournelle, apropos of our recent discussions (see first item)

Cheatin', Writin' &; 'Rithmetic

By Brigid Schulte, Washington Post

[Teachers have] become nearly obsessed with how easy the Internet makes it for students to cheat and get away with it. "It's like an arms race," says Joe Howley, a student in an elite Montgomery County magnet program last year who says he watched widespread cheating from the sidelines. "And teachers are always playing catch-up."

This also from Jerry, after I suggested that maybe Sen. Joe McCarthy didn't really have a list of 250 known Communists in the State Department (scroll down to Sept. 16):

Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History, a new book by Jerrold and Leona Schecter, documents that Soviet espionage in the US was even more widespread than believed, and had serious effects on the US. The book rejects, disproves, and destroys the revision theories of the 80s and 90s that Soviet espionage was minor and irrelevant and that most of those accused of spying were in fact innocent.

The book is almost certainly more sure of itself that I would be (after all, it is hard to prove a negative).

One of the best parts about being a reporter was getting to read the original language used by federal judges in their cases. I'll never forget Judge Orrick's line (and I paraphrase here): "The question before us is, if Data General's operating system is Gone with the Wind, then is Data Generals' hardware Getting Gerties Garter?" (This is probably funnier if you are familiar with the Loew's antitrust case which ended the Hollywood studio system). The DG case also had a deposition filed in which a DG official reportedly told a customer, "I don't care what you do with the processors. Use them as boat anchors or door stops!" Alas, the deposition and the deponent were not allowed into the trial.

Here's what Craig Reynolds noted about a more recent federal decision:

I love feisty judges:

Interior Secretary Norton Ruled in Contempt

Quotes from Judge Lamberth:

"In February of 1999, at the end of the first contempt trial in this matter, I stated that 'I have never seen more egregious misconduct by the federal government,"' Lamberth wrote. "Now at the conclusion of the second contempt trial in this action, I stand corrected. The Department of Interior has truly outdone itself this time." ... "This court need not sit supinely by waiting, hoping that the Department of Interior complies with the orders of this court and the fiduciary obligations mandated by Congress," he wrote. "To do so would be futile. I may have life tenure, but at the rate the Department of Interior is progressing that is not a long enough appointment."

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