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: April 21, 2003

April 21, 2003 Vol. 5, No.17

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Give Me The Child...
  • Joy/Frustration

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Escher Meets Lego


  • Musical Humor
  • Anti-French Joke
  • Anti-George Bush Joke


  • Bend It Like Beckham
  • Phone Booth
  • A Mighty Wind
  • The Good Thief
  • Chaos
  • Bulletproof Monk


  • Coquet, Dvorak, Grobstein, Lyme Disease, Reynolds, Dalton

General News

Give Me The Child

"Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man," the Jesuits said. Michael Apted made a very successful series of documentaries based on this aphorism, the most recent of which followed up a group of British men and women at age 42 who had been followed every seven years since they were seven. 28 Up, a middle entry in the series, encouraged Vicki and I to tape the girls answering questions every five years, a project which has been most satisfying.

I was reminded of all of this during the week by an exchange of email with two college friends. I knew them best when they were just 18. I hate to be so abstract, but I feel I would be violating confidences if I were more specific. Suffice it to say that I was cast into reverie about the nature, personalities and apparent interests and potential of three of the people who lived in the co-op with me when I was an undergraduate. During my time there about 60 people passed through the house, and most of them were ciphers, either because I didn't know them well or couldn't figure them out. But a few of the more colorful characters, to whom I became close, turned out to be fully developed as human beings by the time they arrived at MIT.

Some people have surprised me with the paths their lives have taken since. Some lives are so clearly extensions of their youthful interest that I slap myself in the forehead and say, "what else could they have done?" Most of those paths are filled with joy.

Some paths have been less joyful. A few people have hidden themselves as thoroughly as possible. At least one works hard to escape a stalker she knew from the house. Others have had ill-fortune in the same abundance that I have been blessed with good fortune.

If I knew, or could learn, how to help people follow their bliss and end up on a life path that satisfies them and brings joy to them and those around them who know and love them, I'd help the youngsters soon to be in my charge. Maybe Hollywood is right (see Bend It Like Beckham below); always follow your dream, no matter what. In Hollywood, this always turns out for the best. In real life, of course, the endings aren't so tidy.

Sometimes your dream is wrong for you (some of mine were). Sometimes that person you have to overcome every obstacle to be with turns out not to be your life mate. For some people, it turns out there is no life mate, no mate at all. Sometimes what you think is your bliss isn't. Sometimes you spend the rest of your life grateful that you took a piece of advice that was hard at the time you received it.

Kevin Sullivan got an advance look at these comments, and they reminded him of two stories of child development:

A somewhat officious (two steps removed from pompous and just slightly to the left of an overly exaggerated sense of self-importance) family friend was visiting when our oldest was celebrating her second birthday. This friend waxed eloquently about how our lives were so easy in comparison to others. She then went on to relate how Dr. An Wang of Wang Labs had done so well in life because he had learned early on to overcome the enormous difficulties of his childhood. My response was that I was going to go directly to my daughter's bedroom and grease the bottom of her sneakers!

Although it's easy in hindsight, I wonder if we could look at any child and point to the "essence" of a particular facet of the child which will distill out over the years into the easily identified flavor of adult they become? I was teaching in the Cambridge Public Schools - Academically Talented program in a school within a stone's throw of Harvard Yard. I recall one student, Vanessa, I had as an eighth grader. Pleasant, sociable, toothy, reasonably quick, but not the most academic, an A- student in a sea of As and A+s. Fifteen years later, I met her again on the Aikido practice mat. I was thrown far more by her revelation that she was finishing her post-Doctoral work in Biochemistry than by any of her Aikido technique.


Stories are, to me, one of life's great joys, especially stories told from first-hand experience. One of life's great frustrations is that, for so many reasons, things we do and say have differential impact on others and on ourselves. This is the main reason that, for example, Clark Smith tells such charming stories about me that I am left in awe--as well as wonder, since I have long forgotten many of the incidents he recounts with such charm and wit. The same, of course, goes for him and others in my life. We polish a few anecdotes to gem-like brilliance through repetition (ask any member of my family about that time at Wendy's in Ashland), while we discard most of our memories. If we didn't, we'd go insane.

Which is a long introduction to a charming anecdote recounted this week to a college friend by a college friend, which I repeat here for its value as a life lesson:

Over the years, I have thought of you whenever I used an anecdote from my student days, in talks with my counseling clients. You were taking a weather predicting course at MIT and were joking with the rest of us that your homework was the same every night--to predict the next day's weather. Then, with perfect timing, you smiled hugely, and paused, and said, "It is self-graded, of course." So often, I have used that tale as I try to explain that a client can just try making one or two small changes in their habits or attitude, and then, like you in weather class, self grade their efforts as they watch their lives proceed.

I learned to ease up as a grader during my 18 weeks of student teaching. I think I'll ease up in grading my life as well. I hope I learned the right lesson from the story.

Political Thoughts

I knew there was a reason I worked hard for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential campaign. It was because he spoke truth to power. He's at it again; go read The Reason Why published in the April 21, 2003 issue of The Nation, which contains the single most lucid paragraph written about the Bush presidency so far:

Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation's true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule.

Speaking of The Nation, Craig Reynolds notes this interesting and widely blogged exchange between the Baseball Hall of Fame and Tim Robbins, an actor and regular contributor to the magazine. Regardless of how you feel about the war, I think the hall's petulance is silly and un-American. Does no one respect our God-given right to dissent? Of course, this is just another round in the eternal battle over the question: should we judge art by the politics of the artist? In the end, the hall's president (a former Reagan press aide) apologized, sort of.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Pre-launch drubbing of Palladium: details of Microsoft's attempt at a secure operating system will soon be made public but its underpinnings have been soundly criticized by two leading cryptographers at the RSA Security Conference. One of the critics, Whitfield Diffie said the Microsoft approach "lends itself to market domination, lock out, and not really owning your own computer. That's going to create a fight that dwarfs the debates of the 1990's", the other critic, Ron Rivest (the "R" in RSA) said "You are essentially renting out part of your PC to people you may not trust."

Hacking into meatspace: Byers, Rubin and Kormann published a paper called Defending Against an Internet-based Attack on the Physical World [PDF] about the potential for hijacks and damage in the real world caused by attacks from cyberspace. See commentary at Counterpane and the New York Times.

Doubleplus ungood privacy: at first I was aghast to see the Bush administration's choice for privacy officer in the Department of Homeland Security was from DoubleClick, a company infamous for its abuses of privacy. But it seems that Nuala O'Connor Kelly was brought in by DoubleClick to clean up the abuse after they had begun to settle the lawsuits. ("Doubleplus ungood privacy" was supposed to be a 1984 Newspeak version of the opposite of Phil Zimmermann's promise of "Pretty Good Privacy" (PGP) -- although trying to explain it may have been unclever of me.)

For your inner geometry geek: the Superformula of Johan Gielis offers a fascinating parametrization of a large class of Spirograph-like shapes. See also: the article in American Journal of Botany, Genicap and a SuperShapes tutorial by Paul Bourke.

Incredibly, this commercial ("Honda's New Accord ... Isn't it nice when things just work?") does not use computer graphics, just an incredible amount of patience. The original source is frequently swamped but see this mirror which includes the animation (requires Flash 6) a little discussion and links to news articles: Lights! Camera! Retake! and TAKE 606. Speaking of Hondas, I mentioned a while back that I bought a Civic Hybrid. If I'd been a little more on top of things I would have mentioned TMW: How Far is Too Far? at the same time.

Technobits: cryptowar: Should Saddam have been using PGP? Iraqi crypto broken... --- Technology Review on public surveillance --- I'm sad to see MIT Media Lab (my old haunt) having hard times: The Lab that Fell to Earth --- Anything into Oil "Technological savvy could turn 600 million tons of turkey guts and other waste into 4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year" --- Copy protected CDs lose airplay---Passenger-Carrying Spaceship Makes Desert Debut

Web Site of the Week

Escher Meets Lego

Daniel Dern once again supplies the site of the week, Escher's 'Relativity' in Lego. You have to see it to disbelieve it.


Musical Humor

Listening to a Book on Tape version of Rumpole's Last Case, which includes the line, "Wagner's music isn't as bad as it sounds."

Anti-French Joke

Three guys, an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Welshman are out walking along the beach together one day. They come across a lantern and a genie pops out of it. "I will give you each one wish" says the genie.

The Welshman says, "I am a farmer, my dad was a farmer, and my son will also farm. I want the land to be forever fertile in Wales."

With a blink of the genie's eye, 'FOOM' - the land in Wales was forever made fertile for farming.

The Frenchman was amazed, so he said, "I want a wall around France, so that no one can come into our precious country. Again, with a blink of the Genie's eye,'POOF' - there was a huge wall around France.

The Englishman asks, "I'm very curious. Please tell me more about this wall.

The Genie explains, "Well, it's about 150 feet high, 50 feet thick and nothing can get in or out."

The Englishman says, "Fill it up with water."

Anti George Bush Joke

What kind of mind do they have?

Galileo: great mind

Einstein: genius mind

Newton: extraordinary mind

Bill Gates: brilliant mind

Bush: never mind


Bend It Like Beckham

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

Hollywood, or Britain, even when it is Indian-influenced, has a few well-worn tropes it likes to trot out over and over. One of them is that you should follow your dream, no matter what obstacles are placed in your path, because this way lies happiness. For most of us, that is true. That's what makes this a charming little Indian-influenced entertainment, a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours. An Indian girl worships British soccer player Beckham. Her conservative parents would rather she didn't play soccer. She plays it any way, sneaking out to do so. She is scouted and offered a scholarship and a chance to play professionally. Would that life were so tidy. But of course, one of the reasons we tell stories, in print or in movies, is so that we can make the ending come out right. As Woody Allen says in Annie Hall, "You know how you're always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it's real difficult in life".

Three stars. Not worth a special trip, but better than 90% of the American tripe out there.

Phone Booth

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

Sometimes, you just have to trust the reviewers in the newspaper. I was going to give Phone Booth a pass because I've never been impressed with Colin Farrell, the lead actor, or Joel Schumacher, the director. I should have remembered that first a movie has to be written. Larry Cohen, who started out as a TV writer and has written 53 films, has written himself a doozy this time. What changed my mind about seeing it was the San Francisco Chronicle's decision to include it in a list of three "must-see" movies for this weekend. They used the adjective "Hitchcockian," and, I must say, it did smack of the old master. On paper, this film should have been the most un-filmic concept possible: 82 minutes of a guy in a phone booth. As it turns out, when acted and photographed well, this is gripping in the extreme. By the way, my hat's off to the filmmakers: an 82-minute movie! Well done!

Rated R for constant use of the F word and some violence, this is a taut thriller, well-done, well-shot and well-acted. Farrell is good, Forest Whitaker is a kick in the pants, and let me save you the trouble of trying to figure it out: that's Kiefer Sutherland on the telephone.

Don't watch this one just before bed--it will have your pulse racing. It won't make you think, it won't teach you anything, it won't improve your life. It will just entertain you. Adults only.

A Mighty Wind

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

Hmmm. From the looks of all these reviews, you'd think Vicki and Rae were out of town. You'd be right.

I just had a way-more-than-satisfying moviegoing experience. I have been anxiously awaiting A Mighty Wind since I saw the first preview, and unlike most films, it turned out that every good moment in the film was not in the trailer. I am sorry the LA Times couldn't appreciate the film, but the SF Chronicle raved. Not only that, but last Friday, the film was listed as one of three "Must-see" films for the weekend. The crowd at the early show on Friday was pretty good sized.

I sat all the way through the credits, both to hear the songs (my next move is to order the soundtrack), and to check the writing credits. I was pleased, but not the least bit surprised, to find that you had written several of the tunes.

Just because I loved the New Christy Minstrels and the Kingston Trio as a boy doesn't mean I can't enjoy watching them be sent-up with such love and care. I found myself laughing out loud, over and over, something I haven't done at an American comedy in years.

Christopher Guest, master of the mockumentary, has done it again. Great writing, mind-boggling performances, and laughs, laughs, laughs.

Five Stars. As they say at Michelin, worth a special trip. See it by all means. Take all your friends. Rated a family-friend PG 13, but I doubt most teens would enjoy it. You have to have some idea what folk music was to get a kick out of this film.

The Good Thief

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

Nick Nolte. Phew. Oscar should come calling (but he won't). In case you haven't heard, this is the film where ol' Nick finally lets it all hang out. He plays a gambler and a heroin addict, and unlike, say, Michael Douglas or Sean Connery, he never sleeps with the girl. That, alone, would make the film worth going to. But then there's Nick Nolte. A great actor with a voice like a bone caught in a garbage disposal. It's all set in France, and it's a heist movie. There are other actors (Ralph Fiennes in an uncredited cameo, for example), but you hardly notice them when Nick's on the screen. By the way, is Tchéky Karyo about to become the new Gérard Depardieu--that is to say, the single French actor who shows up in every American movie that calls for a Frenchman? Anyway, this film is a drastically revised remake of a French film called Bob le flambeur (Bob the gambler), and is director Neal Jordan's best work since Mona Lisa and Crying Game. He deserves an Oscar too. He won't get one (April films don't get Oscars), but he deserves one. This is an entertaining and enthralling film, and it passes the watch test, which is to say, not once during two hours did I find myself looking at my watch.

I feel so lucky to have finally seen several good films in one week. I recommend this film without reservation, if you're lucky enough to have it playing near you.


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

I guess the French have to shoot their films on digital now in order to afford to keep making movies. It's too bad, because this isn't high-tech, indistinguishable from film video, like an American film would be, it's "an artifact every 10 minutes" digital film-making which is both cheap and looks cheap. That's too bad, because what the cheap film technology is distracting us from is a moderately interesting and well-told story.

Frenchwoman Coline Serreau (daughter of an actor and a writer) wrote and directed this heavily feminist woman-power fable (every many in this film is a bastard), and, like most of the few French films that make it over here any more, it is stylized and a bit weird. A middle-class couple fails to help a hooker in trouble. The wife feels guilty, and helps nurse the hooker back to health, ignoring her philandering husband, her philandering son and her job. It's all very French, including bumbling police and a hooker with a heart of gold. Adult language, adult situations (and who but an adult will watch a subtitled movie anymore?) and a satisfying, complex plot that is unwound in an entertaining way. This one probably won't show up very far outside of the largest cities, but it is worth a look if you get a chance.

Bulletproof Monk

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

Regular readers are familiar with my watch rule; if I don't get so bored I'm looking at my watch, the film must be good. Well, I have another, less frequently used rule. If I am so involved in the film that I forget to blink and my eyes start to water, either a) it is very interesting or b) I have been manipulated beyond belief. This film made my eyes water.

The funny thing is, with this film I can't tell why. The most I can say about it is that it is not quite as awful as I was expecting. Watching this film's humorless, Matrix-like fight scenes made me yearn for the martial arts humor of Jackie Chan. Everything is so serious with these guys. The plot was a dog's breakfast, tossed in to keep the fight scenes from bumping together. A few visually interesting moments, some wit, now and then, plus long stretches of--what? Maybe if I'd read the underground comic on which the film is based...

Mildly amusing, somewhat entertaining. That's the most I can say for it.


Coquet, Dvorak, Grobstein, Lyme Disease, Reynolds, Dalton

Peggy Coquet forwards Judge Extends Ban on Book By Tax Opponent from the Associated Press by way of the Washington Post and asks, "Does the U.S. do a lot of book banning?" Here's a longer AP story in the Las Vegas Sun (shame on them for not staffing a story in their own home town). I won't clutter up my site with a whole bunch of links, but if you run this Google search you'll get an eyeful.

John Dvorak found the senior Iraqi official trading cards published by the U.S. government.

If you've always thought that jaunty presidential military salute was creepy, John Lukacs, writing in the New York Times agrees with you and explains why in A Senseless Salute. Thank you Dan Grobstein. He also found the Washington Post story about Republicans attacking Republicans. Always a pleasure to see some of that venom directed inside of their own party. The GOP becomes more like the Democrats every year.

Dan and I (and now you) know why the special prosecutor act was not renewed. Can you say abuse of authority?

Lawyer has spent nine years and nearly $19 million investigating former HUD secretary
By David G. Savage
Times Staff Writer

April 11 2003

WASHINGTON -- The independent counsel who spent $9 million to get a misdemeanor plea from former Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros nearly four years ago is still in business -- although he has promised to bring his now nearly $19-million probe to a close soon.

Lyme disease (mentioned last week) isn't just for people: Pets get it too.

Camels were very important during WWII, and now they've shown up in Gulf War II, but this time it isn't the cigarette, it's the animal; link courtesy of Craig Reynolds.

Richard Dalton got the link to Of God, and Man, in the Oval Office from a friend. This Washington Post op-ed piece notes the lack of support for Bush's war policy among mainline protestant denominations. It isn't Christianity, that much seems sure. He also advises we "Sign up now, before they run out of Presidential Prayer Team mouse pads. And they say you can't smell sanctimony on the Internet.

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