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 24, 2003

March 24, 2003 Vol. 5, No.13

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Marlow's Week Home, Rae's Play
  • Oscars
  • Forget UPS
  • Give War A Chance
  • Teaching Style
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs: On Vacation
  • More Microsoft Analysis

Web Site of the Week

  • Smoots and Signs


  • Bar Humor
  • Short, Hot Love Story


  • Bringing Down The House
  • Laurel Canyon
  • Secret Agent Cody Banks


  • Sandler's Talking Fish, Wolfe's School Skipping Policy, Warnings about Iraqi Aftermath, Grobstein's picks, Rosenbaum's Column, Nilsson finds 101 Dumb Moments In Business

General News

Marlow's Week Home, Rae's Play

The amount of laughter in our home rose precipitously last week as Marlow came home for spring break. She brings joy and laughter with her every time she comes home. She invited her friend Mike to join her, which is good since Vicki and I have work and Rae has to go to school. I'd be willing to take more time off, but Marlow seems to have booked herself and Mike pretty completely.

Our best time together was Sunday. Marlow and Rae sat in our box at the War Memorial Opera House in SF to watch a full-length Don Quixote at San Francisco Ballet. Marlow found the third act pointless. We dined afterwards at one of our favorite Hayes Gulch restaurants, Absinthe, which seems to be surviving the Bush depression. They don't actually serve Absinthe, of course, since it is illegal in this country.

Marlow and I watched The Simpsons, then Vicki and I shared our new joint passion, the HBO series Six Feet Under. Marlow had avoided it because she didn't know who all those people were. We helped her out.

After Marlow and I picked Mike up from the Oakland Airport (how often is a plane an hour early? Not often, I'll wager), we had lunch at Picante over in Berkeley (great soup, chicken molé to die for), then home to watch the Bush declaration of war on Monday night.

After that, she pretty much disappeared with Mike while Vicki and I worked and Rae went to school. They visited Santa Cruz, Berkeley and SF. I visited Mrs. S's classroom, with one day spent across the hall substituting for Mrs. R. On Friday, we did Dim Sum in Oakland (at Jade Villa, the Bay Area's third-best dim sum restaurant) on the way to the airport. Any time with her is better than no time.

Rae has been so busy she's feeling stressed, and that's like to continue until her stint as stage manager for Fiddler on the Roof ended Saturday night. In the meantime, we do what we can, and spread love thickly, like a well-made peanut butter sandwich.


I delayed posting of this week's column so I could say a few words about the Oscars.

First of all, I'm not much of a prognosticator. I tied with 10 other people in a pool of 22 with a 1-5 record, but at least I didn't join the two people who were 0-6. In the major categories, the only one I got right was Nicole Kidman. Note that Best Picture and Number of Oscars are tiebreakers. So much for sentiment. Astounding, two of the 22 people picked Adrien Brody for Best Actor. I didn't think anyone had picked him.

Steve Martin was brilliant and funny, every bit as good as I expected. If Michael Moore were capable of embarrassment, he'd look back on his speech, someday and be embarrassed by it, but since he's not, he won't be. He was classy when has asked all the other documentary film maker nominees to join him on stage, and he deserved to win for Bowling for Columbine, which was a great film. But, sorry Michael, you went on too long and lost your audience--that's what the boos meant.

As a man who has consistently railed against too-long movies, my hat's off to Gil Cates, the director of the Oscars. He did the impossible: he cut out the production numbers, shortened the excerpts from the Best Picture nominees, and got the show over in 3.5-hours, a modern Oscar record. I can't remember the last time the show as that short. He damn near could have done it in three, if not for the gallery of winners. It really is amazing some of those people are alive. Was Peter O'Toole sober? Maybe. He was certainly dignified and brief, for both of which I am thankful. Where's the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award?

Overall, a sober, if not somber evening, of pure entertainment that rewarded me for my annual complete and total attention. I don't even watch sporting events from end to end, but my butt is on the seat in front of the Oscarcast every year from opening monologue to Best Picture (and wasn't it cute when Michael and Kirk Douglas did the award together?) This was the best show Oscar has put on since I was a boy.

Thank you ABC for limiting the war news.

Forget UPS

I was told that UPS has changed its policy, and will no longer leave packages at my door without an in-person signature. I can't even just sign the slip, and I can't leave a permanent "OK to leave without signature" standing order, both of which I have had for years with UPS. I was told by a clerk at the UPS 800 number operations center that this was a national policy; further investigation revealed it was unique to me, as a result of filing a claim for a lost $25 package from last November. It took them until this March to cut me off. One lost package in 22 years. So cutting me off makes sense. Not.

This is a stupid, anti-consumer policy that will result, in the next few days, in orders I have made being returned to the vendor. I am rapidly contacting as many of my vendors as possible and asking them to switch to the Postal Service, Fedex or Airborne. I don't know about you, but I won't sit still for lousy customer service, nor will I rearrange my schedule to suit UPS, or drive 20 miles to their depot.

I say: forget UPS. I intend to do so.

Give War A Chance

A new letter from Larry King, an expatriate American journalist in London lays out the case FOR war with Iraq. Yes, there is such a case.

It begins...

Since you said publicly that I might write something in favor of war with Iraq, I felt compelled to actually write it. It also looks as if I'd better hurry. What I have to say will apply whether the war is imminent or actually underway. Judging by the comments you and your readers have been making, in either case I won't be preaching to the choir.

I'll start with the usual disclaimer that war is horrible and no one sane would ever favor going to war except as a desperate last resort. The disclaimer is both true and meaningless. Slicing into human flesh with a sharp blade is awful, too. When the alternative is letting a tumor grow, most people get over their squeamishness.

Saddam Hussein is a human tumor. His malignancy is a matter of public record. Anyone unfamiliar with the record can consult Amnesty International, which is reasonably objective and not usually considered a hotbed of pro-war sentiment.

Click on over to read the rest.

I invited some reaction. Richard Dalton wrote,

He makes some good points. I disagree with his conclusions.

Freeing the terrorized Iraqis by terrorizing them further with a "shock and awe" war is Orwellian "War is Peace." This isn't a righteous campaign. It's the beginning of an amoral adventure by this administration to impose its views, its morality, and its values on as much of the world as it can intimidate.

Here's a description of what I participated in last night (Sunday March 16), that I sent to a friend. The experience was as far from the belligerent, grandiose speech Bush presented tonight (Monday) as I can imagine.

I was amazed to find that about 150 other Falmouth residents showed up at the village green last night. It was a very quiet, almost sorrowful gathering as we thought about the intransigence of the Bush government and the many, many harmful things that will result from the invasion of Iraq. The Boston Globe had pages of coverage for the sham "summit" held by Bush and his allies from a medium-sized island and half the Iberian Peninsula. Nothing about the 6800 candlelight vigils held in 140 countries that night. Peter Sellers was right. Pogo was right. Gandhi was right.

Richard also found international polling results which, as he put it, demonstrate the international benefits of George Bush as president (NOT).

Teaching Style

Robert Malchman had this comment on one of my items last week about a student with a question.

"[O]ne student said this week, 'Why should we care who is President? Does it make any difference?' Wow. I hardly know where to begin answering that question."
My suggestion: Flip it back on the students and make them answer the question. There are a number of people in this country who honestly believe that who they vote for makes no difference because (a) only the major party candidates have a chance of being elected, and (b) there is no material difference between the major party candidates. Now, of course I don't believe that, but a lot of not-crazy people do. Assign them to discover the different views of the candidates from the last election (or that circus in 1824, when J.Q. Adams won in the House after there was no majority in the E.C., or 1828, when Andrew Jackson finally won). Then compare them to those of the third-party candidates' supporters (particularly Nader, whom I hate for being a selfish, egomaniacal pig and giving the election to Shrub -- the word is NUCLEAR, not NUCULER, you mushmouthed imbecile).
I view most of my job in teaching law students as not answering their questions, but asking them questions to teach them how to ask their own, and then go about answering them for themselves without having to rely on teachers, parents, bosses, politicians, the media, etc. to tell them what to think.
I think your student is on the right track. He asked one HELL of a good question.

Remarkably, we actually were discussing the 1824 and 1828 elections at the very moment the question arose. How is that for a coincidence? I am sure Robert is right. I talk to much and I need to ask more questions. Within reason; he is teaching "cream of the crop" college students, I am teaching somewhat less motivated public-school middle-school students.

Speaking of teaching, Craig Reynolds found a Washington Post story, A Radical Formula for Teaching Science and the Slashdot discussion of it, A New Approach to Teaching Science.

Political Thoughts

Is the unconstitutional invasion of about gaining control of Iraqi oil, or is it an attempt to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and prevent their use against the territory of the United States? If the latter, why was the first U.S. citizen killed by the Iraqis this month attempting to capture an oil rig?

In other news, Dick Cheney and George Bush are planning to give (not competitively award, but give) $25-100 billion or so of your money to their friends at Halliburton (Dick's employer before he left Texas). The giveaway comes in the guise of payment to reconstruct Iraq, But there are even more dubious dealings being engaged in by at least one of the architects of the unconstitutional invasion of Iraq - Richard Perle (The New York Times, Pentagon Advisor Is Also Advising Global Crossing by Stephen Labaton).

The bankrupt Global Crossing wants to sell its fiberoptic network to a company controlled by Singapore and a businessman from Red China. You may recall that the last time the U.S. engaged in military action against North Korea (a charter member of George's axis of evil) U.S. forces were killed en masse by the Red Chinese.

The U.S. government uses the Global Crossing fiberoptic network. Miraculously, the Defense Department and the FBI awoke just long enough to oppose the sale. Enter Richard Perle, Chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and one of the authors of the mid-1990's letter or policy advice which has led to the invasion or Iraq. Perle is to receive from Global Crossing $725,000 and another $600,000 if the U.S. approves the sale. He is dealing with a company controlled by a businessman from an enemy of the United States (there is still no peace treaty ending the Korean conflict). In connection with the deal, Mr. Perle signed an affidavit stating that he was uniquely qualified to advise Global Crossing on the matter because of his job as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. When asked by The Times, Perle alleged he did not read the affidavit before signing it. The affidavit was withdrawn and replaced before filing. What about withdrawing Mr. Perle's security clearance? Why is Don Rumsfeld taking advice from a person with these connections and precious little awareness of the inherent conflict of interest? How difficult do you think it will be for the Red Chinese to tap the fiberoptic line once it is controlled by one of their citizens?

Meanwhile, the second instance of knowing and willful fraud used by George to obtain the resolution on Iraq, was further elaborated in a Washington Post article, CIA Questioning Documents Linking Iraq, Uranium Ore by Dana Priest and Karen De Young.

PSACOT readers will recall that the first instance of fraud occurred when George, Dick, and Colin withheld from the Congress and the public the news (known to them on about October 4, 2002) that North Korea was actively attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. If George and Dick tried to sell securities with similar failures to disclose material information, they would probably have gone to jail.

On Sept. 24, 2002, Britain first alleged Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger. The CIA appears to have known the documents in question were forged as soon as the Brits made the claim. Among other things, one letter dated July 2000 was allegedly signed by the President of Niger except the signature did not look like his and the letter referred to the Niger constitution of 1965 which was replaced in 1999. Another letter dated in 1999 was allegedly signed by the Niger Foreign Minister but the signatory left the job ten years earlier (1989) and the letterhead belonged to a government replaced earlier in 1999. The lies were repeated by the U.S. State Department in a December 2002 "fact" sheet, in the State of the Union address in 2003, and in public remarks by numerous senior officials. U.N. officials revealed the forgery in March 2003.

U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (California) sent George a letter on March 17, 2003. In that letter, he asked George what George knew about the reliability of the evidence linking Iraq to uranium in Africa. He also asked when George knew this, and why George and senior officials presented the "evidence" to the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and the American people without disclosing the doubts of the CIA. This just in: no answer yet.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Wartime GPS degradation?: Space Daily carried an item originally from a German automobile club (?!) worried that the US military would block or degrade the functionality of the civilian side of the Global Positioning System. Presumably the bad guys are using civilian GPS while the US military is using the Good Stuff: the military grade GPS. But the Pentagon pledges 'no global GPS blackout' saying "We would not create a global problem for transport out of spite for Saddam." This makes clear that they COULD, and even leaves open the possibility of a localized degradation. This had been a hot button issue before the current conflict with the US saying everyone should use the US system and the EU saying they need a system under their own control. These links are from a typically voluminous discussion at Slashdot. Thematically related: Pentagon Scrambles for Satellites: Military Buying Access to Commercial Vehicles to Meet War Needs.

Zapped TV ads just as memorable: Ad Age says research shows "consumers who fast-forward through ads with digital personal video recorders such as TiVo still recall those ads at roughly the same rates as people who see them at normal speed". Hence from an advertisers point of view, TiVo-like technology may not be such a threat. However, as a recent TiVo convert (and as is typical, now a zealot) I can testify that this is definitely NOT the case if you avail yourself of Tivo's 30 Second Skip Easter Egg. As more of my TV viewing is TiVo-mediated I see fewer and fewer commercials. Lets not mention this to the folks over at Ad Age.

Web as antidote to TV ads: Don't Buy It is one of the areas at PBS Kids, the website for children's TV on PBS. "Get media smart!" is the tag line of Don't Buy It. To that end they provide sections about Advertising Tricks, Buying Smart and the dirty secrets of Your Entertainment.

Speaking of "Advertising Tricks": the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa forced Microsoft to pull a ad whose claims were deemed "unsubstantiated and misleading" because it said Microsoft software was so carefully designed that it kept "unauthorized people and viruses out".

Crazy Susan: like watching a train wreck (or perhaps a war on CNN) BattleBot contests provide a perverse entertainment. The device pictured here is incredibly scary and strangely beautiful. Both the web site and the device are meticulously crafted. Perhaps the scariest part of this is that my wife forwarded it to me from Local2Me so I know that the builder of Crazy Susan is a neighbor of mine.

Technobits: BBC on the impact of war-related web traffic --- antibodies drive evolution of HIV which may provide a new tactic for a vaccine --- feds endanger SSN privacy, by CNN and NCC --- Wired's Future Fetish, a "wish list for 2013" --- Periodic Table of Haiku

More Microsoft Analysis

If you own any version of Windows, or run any kind of network, or are interested in broadband connectivity, you should be reading the Scot Finnie Newsletter. In particular, this item caught my eye:

You want a real Microsoft eye-opener? This cogent, well researched, and acidly honest analysis of Microsoft and the future of the computer industry by Andrew Grygus called 2003 and Beyond Editorial is filled with excellent and disturbing insights. Although long, it is well worth your time. You'll learn things even if you just scan it.

There's a subsection that contains the Microsoft-specific comments called, The Microsoft 'Road Ahead'. In particular, this piece is what prompted me to make Grygus' article Link of the Week. Taken as a whole this February 23, 2003, editorial is an amazingly thorough snapshot of the IT and computer marketplace.


Web Site of the Week

Smoots and Signs

Mark Heller found everything you could ever want to know about Smoots, the unit of measurement on the Harvard Bridge which connects Boston's Back Bay to Cambridge at MIT.

Dan Grobstein found a site that makes fun of the Department of Homeland Security and its iconic signs. Shooting fish in a barrel, sez I, although there's nothing wrong with that.


Bar Humor

My mom got these two jokes from the Bar Rag, a free paper in Portland, Oregon.

Ever since I gave up sex for food, I can't even get into my own pants.

The newest offering from Pepsi is Pepsi with Viagra; now you can pour yourself a stiff one.

She also heard this one from a friend:

George W. is at the pearly gates.

St. Peter says, "I can't let you in until you prove who you are.

"I was president of the United States," Bush says.

St. Peter retorts, "Hey, Einstein, Mozart and Picasso had to prove who they were."

"Who were they?"

"Right this way George."

Short, Hot Love Story

I shall seek and find you...


I shall take you to bed and control you...


I will make you ache, shake and sweat until you

grunt and groan...


I will make you beg for mercy...


I will exhaust you to the point that you will be relieved

when I leave you...


And you will be weak for days.


All my love,


The Flu


Bringing Down The House

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

What a waste of talent. We know for sure that Steve Martin knows how to be funny, especially in his own material. He wrote and starred in The Jerk (OK, I didn't like it, but a lot of people do), Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains, Roxanne, L.A. Story--one of the best films ever made-- and, after an unforgivable eight-year hiatus, Bowfinger--an unappreciated work of genius. I hope he'll be witty as host of the Oscars--an especial challenge this year. But where was all this genius in Bringing Down The House? Buried by a lousy script and marginal directing.

We know Queen Latifah can be funny; she was great in Chicago. She has a hapless stereotyped role here that would put Steppin Fetchit to shame.

Blame must rest squarely on the not-too-broad shoulders of Adam "The Wedding Planner" Shankman, the director, and screenwriter Jason "No previous credits to speak of" Filardi. When Martin and Latifah were connected to the project, someone obviously uttered the words "no brainer," and green-lighted it. Alas, the description was more apt for the idea and the script than the question of whether to produce it or not. Take it for a long walk after dinner, but don't, for god sake, spent tens of millions of dollars lensing this dud.

Steve Martin is an uptight lawyer who works to hard and is alienated from the ex-wife he loves and the children he loves. Latifah is an escaped con who worms her way into Martin's life and loosens everyone up while shocking and offending his racist friends and colleagues.

It plays as bad as it sounds. There are only three earthly reasons to see this film: you are a HUGE Steve Martin fan and want to see even dreck if he appears in it, you are a fan of on-screen train wrecks, or you just want to leave the house and watch something that isn't coverage of the war. This film ain't so hot, but it beats watching missiles drop on Baghdad.

Laurel Canyon

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

Writer/directory Lisa Cholodenko is a genius. He previous credits include directing for HBO's Six Feet Under and the TV show Homicide: Life On The Streets. Somehow, she got to be almost 40 while hiding her light under a bushel. OK, so this is an art film, which is the Hollywood equivalent of continuing to hide your light under a bushel. But clearly, this woman is a genius, who writes well and elicits brilliant performances from her actors.

Academy-award winner Frances McDormand plays Jane, the record-producer mom; she should expect a visit next year from Oscar for this stunning performance. As her doctor son Sam, Christian Bale is sexy and brilliant. Ditto his MD/Ph.D. fiancée Alex, played by a sultry Kate Beckinsale. Sizzling Sara (Natascha McElhone) and talented Ian (Alessandro Nivola) round out the talented cast. Kate Beckinsale must have one hell of an agent; we see her making love four times, and she's never without a bra or tee-shirt. Admirable restraint. Frances McDormand flashes us briefly, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she's telling the truth when she says she's never had breast implants.

Just when you think you're never going to see another American movie with a funny moment in it, this movie comes along with two hysterical scenes, and both are wordless. Top that Europe!

But basically this is a drama about four people going to hell, each in their own way. The characters are drawn well enough that we care about them. Central to the story is an engaged man who falls in love against his will. I shan't tell you how it turns out, but remember this is an independent product, not a Hollywood vehicle, so anything can happen, and does. For many years, I found this trope so unlikely to be risible, until I remembered that this very thing happened to me, during my first engagement, when I was a junior in college. I don't think it could happen again at my age (and the people in this film are much younger than I am), but realizing I have been through it cuts way down on my hubris, and raises the believability.

Four stars, clever, engaging, entertaining. See it in a theater if you can, on tape someday next year if you have to wait that long.

Rated R for sexuality, language and drug use, and hurray for its tidy, swift 101 minute running time.

Secret Agent Cody Banks

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

You want a really severe case of cognitive whiplash? Go see Agent Cody Banks right after seeing Laurel Canyon. I have truly witnessed the alpha and omega of Hollywood filmmaking. A carefully crafted, sensitive, thought-provoking intelligent art film followed by a piece of noisy, shallow, pointless all-American trash. I leave it to you to guess which one made the top-10 box office list last week. No one associated with this film needs to lay awake at night waiting for a call from Oscar.

I'll say this, Frankie "Malcolm In The Middle" Muniz is one heck of a juvenile actor; here's hoping he's one of the lucky Ron Howard ones and not one of the unlucky Macaulay Culkin ones.

In the meantime, he's made a spy spoof that's not quite as offensive or stupid as it might have been, although I'd cut the 10 most excruciating minutes so that normal people wouldn't have to plug their ears and hum.

Not as bad as you might imagine, if you've nothing else to do. And it does beat watching CNN (my new standard for comparison for the duration). Plus KUDOS! for the 103 minute running time.


Sandler's Talking Fish, Wolfe's School Skipping Policy, Warnings about Iraqi Aftermath, Grobstein's picks, Rosenbaum's Column, Nilsson finds 101 Dumb Moments In Business

In the New York Times Norm Sandler found the story of a talking fish, speaking Hebrew and discussing the Apocalypse, no less.

Marjorie Wolfe's parents agree with mine about removing students from school for family events:

My parents, now octogenarians, felt the same way: There's no harm in taking a child out of school for a "family" day. I still remember my mother taking me out of school to see the B'way show, "Tomorrow The World" and "The Bad Seed." A day spent with one's family can be very educational!

Often more educational than school, that's for sure. As home-schoolers would remind us--every day at home can be more educational than a day at school.

A Warning From History: Don't Expect Democracy In Iraq appeared in the Boston Review, a left-of-center magazine of ideas published at MIT. It says, in part:

The problem is that few if any of the ingredients that made this success possible are present-or would be present-in the case of Iraq. The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned.

Speaking of places where there will be trouble sometime soon, how about Nationalism's Mired Hopes: Partition, Cold War, And The Conflict In Kashmir.

Dan Grobstein liked Nicholas Kristof's New York Times commentary, Cassandra Speaks. Yet more proof that the Greeks knew everything. He found an AP story about Justice Scalia's Ban on Broadcast Coverage (apparently, I must assume, he is ashamed of his opinions), a Molly Ivins column about it being the media's fault that so many American's think (wrongly) that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, and another column of hers about the whole you're either with us or you're a terrorist trope. He also found Star Spangled Ice Cream, and wonders, "What's the world coming to?" I sure don't know either.

Dan Rosenbaum checks in with news of his excellent blog:

Spring is almost sprung in New York, so the Truly Committed have no choice but to hunker down in front of their computers and ignore the crocuses. That's why there are endless new things to marvel over at Over The Edge. Beats getting on a bike, right?

This Week: New Copy of Bill of Right Found -- Do Ashcroft and Scalia Care? Nuts and Bolts of Reporting from a War Zone... Kids' Mischief Makes The Times... Better Cell Service or More Toys? Marriage Doesn't Make You Happier... Emerging Democracy In Action.

Bob Nilsson checks in with this:

You will recognize a number of the gaffs in The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business by Business 2.0. I had missed Mattel's vibrating Nimbus 2000 (#19), but MLB's mess-up at # 78 will live on in every fan's memory. Naturally, Microsoft makes the list many times.

I thought Business 2.0 was one of the ones that folded, but I guess not.

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