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: March 3, 2003

March 3, 2003 Vol. 5, No.9

Table of Contents:

General News

  • On Student Teaching
  • Where'd Those 63 People Go?
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction, Smutty Antiwar Site


  • A Canadian Apology


  • Daredevil
  • How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days


  • Links from Dalton, Dern and Reynolds

General News

On Student Teaching

I feel like a football coach running out the clock. I keep calling running plays at school, slogging out the short yardage and desperate for either the end of the quarter or the goal line. I hope I can keep my standards nobler when I start to teach on my own.

My supervisor stopped by today and said my teaching showed "the self-assurance and aplomb of a teacher with 10 years experience." Don't think that didn't feel good, because it did.

In had to be reminded this week that teaching is not about what you know, or showing off what you know, it's about what they learn and lighting their fire. Well, Chapter 11 is all mine, so we'll see how I do. It's Andrew Jackson, mostly. Pitched at 8th graders.

Where'd Those 63 People Go?

During the last half of 2002, I averaged 59 readers a day; in the first two months of 2003, I averaged 50 readers a day. A loss of readership of 63 people per week, or, in percentage terms, around 18%. If I were a newspaper or a magazine, or doing this for a living, I'd be seriously worried.

On the upside, since I only know about 100 of you, these numbers mean that about 250 people a week that I don't know personally and have never met regularly make their way to this column and read some or all of it. I choose to take solace from that statistic. And to feel sorry for the people who run commercial newspapers and magazines and have to sweat bullets when they see numbers like this.

And frankly, the material has been a little weak so far this year. I'm going to try to pep it up a little.

Political Thoughts

Teaching history allows us to see interesting patterns. John Quincy Adams was the one-term president son of a one-term president. JQ lost the popular vote, but won the presidency by playing the House of Representatives like a violin. Substitute "U.S. Supreme Court largely appointed by his dad and his dad's friends," and I think you'll see that history really does repeat itself.

From "Fortress America" by Matthew Brzezinski in The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 23, 2003, page 38: Buried deep in an interesting article is the following: "Even now, for instance, U.S. citizens can be declared "enemy combatants" and be detained without counsel."

The verb should probably be "are being" rather than "can be." The most conservative federal court of appeal did uphold such action with respect to a U.S. citizen found in Afghanistan. A case is pending with respect to a U.S. citizen kidnapped at O'Hare, taken across state lines, and now being held incommunicado on a military base. For some reason the FBI is not on the case. Watch for the appellate ruling and to see what happens when these cases make their way to the Supreme Court.

Back to the verb, "can be" is only correct under U.S. law in the sense that whoever is declaring citizens to be enemy combatants (which is apparently unprecedented) could, for example, declare the Democratic Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees to be enemy combatants and hold them incommunicado permanently beginning a few weeks before the 2004 election.

It seems that a substantial number of Republicans concede the domestic plans to rob the poor in order to give the rich a whopping return on the $200 million or so they poured into the 2000 presidential campaign (and to provide money for the 2004 campaign, unless the whole campaign is declared an "enemy combatant" as, for example, by resurrecting the Republican ordered RAND study of plans to cancel the 1972 election) are dead in the water unless momentum is provided by a resounding victory in Iraq. This view is consistent with the historical inclination of politicians faced with domestic difficulties (usually economic) to fly off on a foreign adventure to take the populace's mind off problems at home. Nixon to tried Cairo. Look for Bush to go to Baghdad... maybe with the same results!

Bush is lying when he says he hasn't decided if he plans to go to war (presumably he'll re-enlist in the Texas Air National Guard). Thus, we have a liar asking others to maintain their credibility and Security Council credibility by doing what the liar requests. While the argument may prevail, it seems to be less than logically compelling.

Finally, the unelected president has proposed cuts to impact aid which reimburses local school districts with high percentages of students whose parents are in the U.S. armed services. He wants to cut the payments roughly in half. That's right, just as Bush is getting ready to ask hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens to put their lives on the line, he has decided to severely cut the money available to educate their children.

From the "If they don't support democracy here, how do they expect to build one in Iraq department": On Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki estimated that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq after a war. On Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, Paul D. Wolfowitz who works for the Defense Department said the Shinseki estmate was "wildly off the mark" and also refused to provide the legtimately elected representatives of the people (the House Budget Committee) with an estimate of the cost of war with Iraq. Wolfowitz rejected recent news reports that the cost estimate (provided to George Bush on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003) was $60 to $95 billion. Then Wolfowitz conceded the cost could be anywhere from $10 to $100 billion. Don Rumsfeld, when asked whether he would release the range of cost estimates to allow a useful public debate on the subject: "I've already decided that. It's not useful."

Why is George ignoring what he claims is a clear and present danger to the United States from North Korea (i.e., they have one or more nuclear weapons and a missile with enough payload capacity to get the weapon to the West Coast of the United States)?

Every once in a great while it may be useful to step back and consider the big picture. The big picture as far as the United States is concerned is that someone invested about $200 million in the Bush 2000 campaign. They want a return on their investment. George wants to give them a return because he is about to ask for $250 million for 2004. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the longer George and Dick and Colin ignore North Korea the more likely it is that North Korea will build more intercontinental ballistic missiles and the nuclear warheads to go with them. Then George can say: "Now we really need an Anti Ballistic Missile system." Then he can argue for not just $9 billion or so for the limited system (which the responsible Defense Department official has just stated will NOT work when it is deployed starting in 2004) but for $50 or $100 billion or so for a nationwide system (which also will not work reliably (i.e., 100% of the time) when deployed). So George will spend the $100 billion, the people will get nothing, and George's backers will get the $100 billion (for an investment of maybe a million dollars). Multiply this example by 200 or so and you get some idea of what George and Dick are really doing.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

DMCA the monopoly-maker: As mentioned here Feb. 10, printer maker Lexmark has been trying to block competition in the market for toner cartridges. They created a monopoly by using the DMCA to block reverse-engineering of a copyrighted chip. Unfortunately the court has upheld this anti-competitive practice. It was apparently King Gillette who said "give away the razor--sell the blades". Lexmark has taken this concept to heart, to the detriment of customer value and a competitive marketplace. But a free razor buys no brand loyalty: if Gillette happens to piss me off, I just get a new free razor from Schick. I'll make sure I don't buy Lexmark printers in the future.

Creation Myths: by Douglas Clement in Reason (and The Region) asks "Does innovation require intellectual property rights?" It is based on the work of Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine who are writing a book called "The Case Against Intellectual Monopoly". Boldrin says "Historically, people have been inventing and writing books and music when copyright did not exist... Some of the most innovative industries today -- software, computers and semiconductors -- have historically had weak patent protection and have experienced rapid imitation of their products." Clement says: "U.S. court decisions in the 1980s that strengthened patent protection for software led to less innovation."

Hollywood and Whine: in Washington Monthly, Brendan I. Koerner asks "Why are Democrats helping the entertainment industry stamp out new technologies that fuel economic growth?" Yeah! Just when did the Democratic Party become the boot-licking toadies of the media barons? Koerner says with the Republicans receiving the lion's share of corporate campaign contributions, Democrats are left with fewer deep pockets in their camp. "As a matter of simple survival, then, Democrats would seem to have no choice but to carry Hollywood's water."

Googlemania: after the Pyra acquisition, suddenly everyone is writing about (NYT: Deal May Freshen Up Google's Links Wired: Why Did Google Want Blogger?) if not picking on (Is Google too powerful? Google deserves your nomination for Big Brother of the Year) our favorite search engine. While writing this I wondered if I'd missed other recent Google news, so I Googled for "Google" at Google News and found 950 headlines. I won't list them here...

New blogging tools: Dan Chan's Daypop introduced Daypop Top Word Bursts (tracks words that suddenly become more frequent in recent blogging) and Daypop Top Weblogs. Last week I mentioned Top 100 Interesting Newcomers by Technorati, who also provide Top 50 Interesting Recent Blogs With Context.

Emergent Democracy is a fascinating new essay by Joi Ito about direct democracy, emergence, and weblogs. Each of these topics have absorbed me at various times in my life. He also cites the recent Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Dan Gillmor called it Human Ants Creating Something Huge. The references to Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs reminded me of this How the Protesters Mobilized

Turing or not Turing?: I've often described the work I do (creating life-like behavior in artificial characters) as "not so much artificial intelligence, as avoiding the appearance of artificial stupidity" so I was immediately drawn in by the title of Salon's Artificial stupidity which is actually about Hugh Loebner's controversial cash prize for an AI which can pass the Turing test (Turing actually called it the "imitation game").

Technobits: Public Asks Copyright Office to Allow Common CD/DVD Uses --- FCC ConsidersBroadcast Flag for Digital Television --- plans for a cybercafe at Everest base camp --- quantum computation via spacetime knot theory?

Web Site of the Week

Weapons of Mass Destruction, Smutty Antiwar Site

Peggy Coquet found a very well-written and amusingly crafted web site on the subject of weapons of mass destruction. Don't let the formatting fool you; be sure to read it carefully. Try clicking the links!

She also found a smutty antiwar site.


A Canadian Apology

My usual web search turned up nothing. I would welcome information on the authorship of this very funny email.

UPDATE: It comes from the Canadian political comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes and was performed by Colin Mochrie and written by the writing staff.

On behalf of Canadians everywhere I'd like to offer an apology to the United States of America. We haven't been getting along very well recently and for that, I am truly sorry.

I'm sorry we called George Bush a moron. He is a moron but it wasn't nice of us to point it out. If it's any consolation, the fact that he's a moron shouldn't reflect poorly on the people of America. After all it's not like you actually elected him.

I'm sorry about our softwood lumber. Just because we have more trees than you, doesn't give us the right to sell you lumber that's cheaper and better than your own.

I'm sorry we beat you in Olympic hockey. In our defense I guess our excuse would be that our team was much, much, much, much better than yours.

I'm sorry we burnt down your White House during the war of 1812. I notice you've rebuilt it. It's Very Nice.

I'm sorry about your beer. I know we had nothing to do with your beer but, we feel your pain.

I'm sorry about our waffling on Iraq. I mean, when you're going up against a crazed dictator, you want to have your friends by your side. I realize it took more than two years before you guys pitched in against Hitler, but that was different. Everyone knew he had weapons.

And finally on behalf of all Canadians, I'm sorry that we're constantly apologizing for things in a passive-aggressive way that is really a thinly veiled criticism. I sincerely hope that you're not upset over this. We've seen what you do to countries you get upset with.




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

I like Ben Affleck as much as the next guy, but a comic-book superhero, he isn't. I mean, I even believed in him, a little, as Jack Ryan in The Sum Of All Fears. But I just could not accept him as Daredevil, the man without fear. Actually, with his college-boy smirk, he'd make a great George W. Bush. Perhaps the movie One Termer, which should start shooting (I hope) in 2004, would be a good vehicle.

This is an OK action adventure vehicle, but I wouldn't walk across the street to see it.

How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days

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

Kate Hudson is Andie A. Matthew McConaughey is Ben B. When both lead characters have alliterative names, you know you're in a comic book, and the usual rules don't apply. But it was this or Kevin Spacey in The Life of David Gale, and Rae was definitely in the mood for something light and frothy. Watching this film was like having a Cappucino without the coffee.

On the up side, it is a pleasure to see a naturally endowed woman in a starring role without any surgery done on her breasts. You go Kate! If only her mother, Goldie Hawn, had shown as much restraint.

This is not a very deept film. It is clever funny and cute with good supporting performances. Ben bets he can make anyone fall in love with him. Andie promises her editor she can drive a man away with common dating errors in 10 days. Of course, they fall in love for real, then find out in a climactic scene that each has been lying. Isn't this a remake of about 100 other Hollywood films? And if you can't write the ending yourself, turn in your popcorn.

So light weight it is amazing it stays in theaters and doesn't just float away. But not too bad, either.


Links from Dalton, Dern and Reynolds

Richard Dalton passes along a thoughtful essay, Of Gods and Mortals and Empire, by William Rivers Pitt, a New York Times bestselling author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in May 2003. He teaches high school in Boston, MA.

Daniel Dern found Brad "founder of" Templeton's musings on the federal TIPS program. He also sends along this quite ornate Dutch telemarketing counterscript (have I plugged this one before? Maybe.

Craig Reynolds checks in with some non-technical links:

The Bush credibility gap has morphed into blaming the Republican Congress: White House Concedes That Counterterror Budget Is Meager. (I found that at the This Modern World blog. I liked his artful use of "d'oh!", see also his Groening homage here.

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