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: November 18, 2002

November 18, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 46

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Mid-Term Disaster for America Redux
  • Innovative Teaching
  • More Politics

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Dancing Bush


  • The Top 15 Differences in the New "Harry Potter" Movie


  • I Spy
  • Bowling for Columbine


  • Sorry

General News

Father Harrison West stopped by for a visit this week--my best friend from high school. We recited A Child's Christmas in Wales at least twice in assemblies at Benson High School. I don't remember if it snowed seven days when I was 10 or 10 days when I was seven... In any case, he mentioned a placed he had worked which was "a monument to deferred maintenance." Well, that's what my office looks like--a giant pile of "must-do" projects. So I'm trying to whip out a decent column at top speed. Apologies if it doesn't meet my usual standards. And of course next week is my annual Thanksgiving column...

Romeo and Juliet

Benvolio as you've never seen him before--played by my daughter Rae. She lit up the stage at Miramonte on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, making a star out of a minor player in an excellent high school production of the Shakespeare classic. I'm glad I went. Support your local high school drama production!

The Mid-Term Disaster for America Redux

I took a lot of guff for my political remarks last week. No, I don't really think the GOP is breeding welfare babies as ingredients for Soylent Green. But, as has often happened before when I use my old standby line, "The masses are asses," I got called on it by a cogent political analyst, in this case my fellow MIT alumnus and old friend Joe Edwards:

Your political commentary is full of passion, and of course, your judgments about what's good and what's likely to happen are your own, but the "Masses are asses" quote deserves a response.

I'm a Democrat and a close observer of politics (more local and state than national, I admit) for over 30 years, and I'd say that in the vast majority of cases, the collective judgment of voters is pretty good. When bad choices are made (and that happens fairly often), there usually are some very good reasons.

In the recent federal elections, the people passed judgment on the behavior and marketing of the respective major parties generally and George Bush particularly. Until the election, the general perception was that Bush was effective on and immediately after 9/11, but since then his performance both with the economy and the wars in Afghanistan and against terrorism was less than outstanding. In addition, he was judged not all that bright and advised by people like Ashcroft and Cheney. He was a very vulnerable President who was ripe for a fall. He knew it, or perhaps better, he was told about it. To avoid that fall, he engaged in a great misdirection testing where the Democratic party or any party would allow him to endure. To his great good fortune, his opponents conspired in his victory.

First, the Democratic party opposed the Homeland Security legislation out of loyalty to labor unions. It also opposed the terrorism insurance legislation (not an insurance bailout bill but a bill to underwrite economic security) out of loyal to trial lawyers. Both of these positions were dumb and partisan. The terrorism position was just obstructionist but the security position was almost catastrophic. It showed arrogance, misplaced priorities, and very little sense of the mood of the electorate.

The party went to the people with no economic program. (As Robert Reich said the party had no message and no messenger.) The D's let Bush avoid accountability for the economy, let him wrap himself in the flag as a "wartime president," did not remind people about the importance of judicial appointments, let everyone forget the importance of the safety net, women's and civil rights, gay rights, and health care, and they took their core constituencies for granted.

Elections are won at the margins. Both parties always get at least 35% in ANY election because the true believers always vote for them. The question is where does the middle go. When Clinton was first elected, he alienated the middle with gays in the military and Hillary's effort to reform health care. The result was Gingrich, and he tried to shove the Contract with America down everyone's throat. Bill Clinton's great political insight was "first one to the middle wins." He won elections notwithstanding his personal conduct because he marginalized the Republicans but dominating the middle. Bush is taking a page from his book, and the D's are helping him.

The selection of Pelosi as minority leader shows little sign that the D's are remembering their own success or that they are learning the right lessons from the November 5 debacle. This all looks more like desperation than national political leadership. I'm worried that for the next several years the party becomes the representative of lawyers and unions rather than the liberating force for progress and equality it can be when at its best. What's happening seems to be a reflexive grasp for the distant past rather than an engagement with the future. Leadership requires integrating basic values with changing times to produce an inspirational vision that engages people and builds political strength. I think you're dead wrong in condemning the masses. They had two bad choices, but as usual, they chose the lesser of two evils. They chose the group that had a message, a messenger, and a vision--which in the end is better than smart people who are right about some things but who are aimless, disorganized, and ineffective.

By the way, the D's still might have been able to save something from this election until the Wellstone spectacle. I was traveling around the US during that period, and everywhere people were just furious with the vulgarity of that assembly.

Innovative Teaching

Apropos of my first week of student teaching, Kevin Sullivan wrote:

One of my most successful classes, I taught entirely without speaking. It confused them, which was good. According to Piaget, confusion must precede learning.

I asked for details, which Kevin provided:

It was Algebra 1. We were mid year (the doldrums of January/February/March), and we were doing the relationship between linear equations and graphs. The whole class became very interactive, but was totally silent. I never told anyone not to talk, I never gave them any directions. I just walked into the class and started drawing examples on the board. Eventually I handed the chalk to students and they would go to the board and draw their own examples and fill in the blanks. It was a huge puzzle everyone was trying to figure out, and you'd see the AHAs going off in each individual's eyes.

I would give an immense amount of money (hundreds!) to have had it on film.

And finally, he offered a little analysis:

I considered it one of the high points of my teaching.

Part of the epiphany of teaching was the realization that the teacher had to capture the attention of the student. You needed to be as inventive as a standup comedian doing a show to the same crowd every night. You have to keep it fresh. The other part of the epiphany was that it had to matter. Their time was a valuable to them as our time is to us. If what you're doing doesn't matter to them, their minds are on the way to the beach, even though their bodies are there. Students abhor a vacuum of leadership. If you're not engaging and leading them, they'll mutiny, and they do smell fear and weakness.

It is all about bread crumbs and constructive confusion.

Amen, Kevin, Amen.

More Politics

Some great political analysis came in over the transom this week. Sorry I didn't have time to flesh out the links; if you're interested, most of you know how to use the Internet.

Hey, it was posting this linkless or not at all, so I chose linkless.

First, on that Yemini assasination of an Al-Queda operative:

Given the staunch Republican defense of federal law during the Clinton impeachment proceedings (with such ringing phrases as "We are nation of laws, not men" and "No man is above the law"), some observers were shocked at the lack of Republican response after the possible murder of a United States citizen by persons purporting to act for and with the approval of George W. Bush in Yemen on November 4. The statutes involved include 18 USC sections 1111(murder is unlawful) and 2332 (murder of a U.S. citizen outside the United States is unlawful under conditions apparently existing in Yemen on Nov. 4) (available at It remains to be seen whether the Republicans are merely waiting for majority status in both Senate and House before they insure that a pre-impeachment inquiry occurs into whether these laws were violated and are enforced promptly without fear or favor.

Some thoughts on our intelligence failures:

Knowledgeable observers have been observing for some time that one among the congeries of reasons for the obstruction by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney into intelligence failures prior to 9/11 is that it would be patently obvious that the CIA and FBI are woefully unable to handle both the campaign against terrorism and a war with Iraq (along with a possible war against North Korea). Proof appeared in The Washington Post, on Sunday , 11/17/02, page A26 in an article entitled "CIA Feels Strain Of Iraq and Al Queda; Some Gaps Filled By Shifting Staff."

The indication the FBI could not handle its responsibilities came a few days earlier when a proposal was floated to set up an English MI-5 type organization in the US to handle domestic intelligence affairs previously mishandled or ignored by the FBI. They waited a year and then sent Tom Ridge to London to learn about MI-5. Can you say "junket?"

Some thoughts on the new Homeland Security law:

A new version (about 490 pages) of an act entitled "Immediate Payoff To Republican Campaign Contributors And Corporate Wrongdoers Protection Act of 2002" (aka Homeland Security Bill) was sent to the Senate on about Tuesday, Nov. 12. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia started speaking to bring to the attention of the Senate (and the public) among other things that no Senator had time to read the entire bill, there had been no hearing on the bill, and the bill contained corporate bail-out provisions having nothing to do with domestic security. When the Republicans moved to stop debate, only 29 Senators (mainly Democrats) could be bothered to stand up for the national security by voting against stopping debate.

Notably, prospective presidential candidates John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) voted to stop debate. If they run for higher office, return the favor and vote to stop their campaigns.

Some more general remarks:

Read "Hobbling Into War" by Ralph Peters, USA, ret. on page A33 of The Washington Post of Friday, 11/15/02. Makes many good points although one wonders if an Army bias has affected his analysis.

Read editorial in The Washington Post, page A20, Saturday, 11/16/02 "Total Information Awareness" Recently one of PSACOT's writers referred to the 1984 press conference held by John Ashcroft. They're at it again and this time with a convicted felon (later let off the hook by the Court of Appeals) by the name of retired Rear Admiral John Poindexter (National Security Advisor in the 1980's). Apparently, your government wants to take all available information about everyone (credit card, medical, library books, date at the prom, movies watched, and on and on) to identify "dangerous" people (like all those Republicans and Democrats who want an investigation into the consumer fraud leading to the events of September 11, 2001. (The consumer fraud was taking the current equivalent of about $30 billion per year of your money ever since Pearl Harbor on the false representation that 9/11 wouldn't happen.)

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

I'm working blind, surfing "by hand". My world is crumbling down around me: two of my favorite information power tools are unavailable. Daniel Chan's Daypop, the news and current events search engine, and especially its Daypop Top 40, went missing two weeks ago. It looks at all the URLs mentioned in thousands of blogs, then sorts them by frequency to find each day's 40 most talked-about links. (A similar service, minus the caching and news searching is offered by MIT Media Lab's Blogdex.) Then last week, NEC Research Institute's NewsSeer suddenly announced it was "on hiatus." How the heck am I supposed to maintain my facade of online omniscience without these aggregating filters to prop me up?!

Poindexter's revenge: an Orwellian domestic surveillance and data-mining system is being built by the Pentagon's DARPA's IAO, under the command of Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter. He is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, for which he was convicted of five felony counts. The convictions were later overturned, not because he was found to be innocent, but because he had been given immunity. The new IAO system has been decried by critics ranging from William Safire to the ACLU. See Reuter's Homeland Security Bill Raises Net Privacy Issues.

Tech PAC?: Declan McCullagh suggests high tech's political agenda would be better served by rewarding sympathetic politicians rather than lobbying opponents. See also this reply and a Libertarian analysis based on the prisoner's dilemma.

Tech in court: a lawsuit challenging the DMCA initially filed last April by tiny 321Studios is heading back to court this month. And remember the leaked Microsoft memo regarding their failed anti-Open Source FUD campaign? There is speculation that Microsoft's next weapon will be patent infringement lawsuits against Open Source developers.

The Medieval Mickey story is being played for laughs, but Siggi Neuschitzer of the Malta Tourism Association says they will investigate if this discovery invalidates Disney's international copyright on Mickey Mouse. It would be a beautiful irony if Austria decided to follow the lead of the US Copyright Term Extension Act and retroactively extend medieval copyrights by 700 years.

Technobits: Stanford professors research defending peer-to-peer networks against attacks such as those decriminalized by the Berman "anti-piracy" bill --- Forbes on wiring the physical world --- WSJ: inside the spam industry --- simultaneous solar flares --- Duality is an ambitious short film set in the Star Wars universe, made by a Crew of Two.

Web Site of the Week

Dancing Bush

This is not an obsession with Bush; it is an obsession with "dancing" sites, of which I have posted many in the bast. Dan Grobstein found Dancing Bush, and we are all the richer for his discovery.


The Top 15 Differences in the New "Harry Potter" Movie

November 15, 2002


The new Harry Potter movie is out today, and the young cast is looking a bit older this year. Wonder what changes we might see in the flick?

15> No more training wheels on the dragons.

14> No, that's not a Nimbus 2000, and yes, Harry *is* glad to see Hermione.

13> Flaming facial pustules the result of ordinary hormones rather than illicit spells.

12> This time, the magic is in the mushrooms.

11> "Chamber of Secrets" is actually where Harry stashes his porn collection.

10> Out: Hocus-Pocus In: Hookus-Upus

9> Behind the bushes, Hermione shows Harry her newest trick: "The disappearing wand."

8> First movie: Hogwarts Second movie: Genital warts

7> Deriding broomsticks as "yesterday's transportation," Harry insists on using his new Swiffer 2002.

6> A hormone-fueled Harry changes his owl into a Hooters waitress.

5> "Polishing the broomstick" has a whole new meaning.

4> Hermione embarrasses Harry by simulating an orgasm in Hogwarts' dining hall.

3> Just ten more dollars in Camel Cash and Harry can get that Joe Camel broomstick he's always wanted.

2> Harry's newest spell: "Romijn Stamos Jpegium!"

and's Number 1 Difference in the New "Harry Potter" Movie...

1> When Harry says he's riding wood, that ain't no broomstick talk.

[ The Top 5 List ] [ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 99 submissions from 38 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Peter Bauer, Rochester, NY -- 1, 6 (24th #1/Hall of Famer)
John Mozena, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI -- 2
Danny Gallagher, Austin, TX -- 3
Chris Urich, Herkimer, NY -- 4, 11
Troy Roberson, Birmingham, AL -- 5
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 5



I Spy

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

Owen Wilson, Eddie Murphy and a spy movie. No way you could go wrong, right? Wrong. It's as bad as you've heard. Don't bother.

Bowling for Columbine (Guest Review)

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

Normally, I don't run other people's reviews. But I've heard good things about this, intend to see it, and got a snappy review from Peggy Coquet, to whom I am turning over the floor:

I wanted to let you know that Steve and I had gone to see "Bowling for Columbine," Michael Moore's award-winning documentary. We also watched the episode of "Oprah" he appeared on - the first time we'd ever watched "Oprah"!

Just as background: Steve and I are far, far apart on gun control. I think that it should be illegal for a private citizen to own a handgun or any automatic weapon. Steve disagrees. Since he will have his own view of the movie, I won't speak for him (but I'm sending him a copy of this).

The movie was both funny and distressing. There were inadvertently humorous moments - as when Timothy McVeigh's brother responded to a question about Ghandi, by saying he "wasn't familiar with him." And there were deliberately humorous moments, such as the three-minute cartoon of America's history of violence. My distress arose from a series of photos and films of dead people, people being shot, etc. I just don't handle that stuff well, thank goodness.

There was a fairly appalling sequence involving two young men (one in a wheelchair) who were shot at Columbine High School. Moore and they decide to return the bullets _still in their bodies_ to the store where they were purchased - camera crew in tow, of course. It was powerful, pathetic and embarrassing all at once. I felt the young men were exploited, but perhaps they didn't think so.

Moore's conclusion seems to be that we shoot each other out of fear, and that much of that fear is racially motivated. I don't agree completely with that conclusion; I think it is far too narrow. It also fails to explain why citizens of other (European) countries don't reach for a gun when they are annoyed by their non-white neighbors.

The statisitics Moore presented in the film for gun deaths were astounding. He compared them by nation, and the other (European, American and Asian) nations listed had numbers such as 39/year, 116/year, etc. (I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but it was brief, and I only saw it once.) The US had over 11,000/year.

I wish I had a coherent reason for our national inclination to answer insult with fatal injury, but I don't. I think outlawing guns is a half-measure; there is truth in saying "guns don't kill people; people kill people." But at the rate we are killing each other, even a half-measure is better than our current practice.

I also wish Michael Moore had made a more cogent movie. His style of confrontational interview, his peripatetic treatment of topics, and his cinematic style of quick cuts was distracting and detracting. This topic deserves more thoughtful treatment. (Of course, no one at all would watch that movie!) But perhaps this movie will at least start people thinking, researching and discussing ways to lower the level of violence in the US.



Thanks to all of you who mailed in great links. I'll try to use a few next week. This week, I just ran out of time.

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