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.

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P.S. A Column On Things: April 28, 2003

April 28, 2003 Vol. 5, No.18

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Rae's Going To Brandeis!
  • Forgiving The Unforgivable
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Peep Research


  • Mobster Joke


  • None


  • Reynolds On Bird Breath; Dern On Windows, Dogs and Darpa; Wolfe On The Real World; Coquet on Windows, Self-Grading And Happiness; Grobstein On The News

General News

Rae's Going To Brandeis

It was a brutal and difficult college admissions season at our house. Rae was admitted to four University of California campuses, and took a look at Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara before deciding to head east and attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., about 25 minutes west of Boston. Thank goodness that's over with. I think she'll love it there.

Forgiving The Unforgivable

Are there unforgiveable acts? I used to think so. In fact, I experienced at least two during my life. Both, as it turns out, involved public humiliation.

In high school, I was friends, or so I thought, with A, who was a senior when I was a junior. Ours had always been a tenuous friendship; in retrospect it became clear that, mostly, he was using me. During an assembly, he hatched and executed an elaborate scheme to humiliate me in front of the entire student body. While it isn't clear he succeeded, the fact that he tried caused an immediate end to our relationship. I never spoke to him again. In later years, I learned he bad-mouthed me in the audio-visual community of my hometown. Had I stayed in that community, it might have hurt more. A few years ago, I was told, in between a federal fraud conviction and sentencing, he took his own life, leaving a wife and three children. I felt only sadness for those he left behind, albeit no particular sadness at our ruptured friendship. For his humiliation of me was coldly premeditated, and so, I though, malicious.

The second case was much more complex. At MIT, I met a brilliant and eccentric person, very hard to know personally but very kind at heart. I became, I felt, his friend, his colleague, his collaborator and his fellow performer. I believe our friendship inspired him to great acts of public performance; I know it inspired me to some of the best writing I've ever done. This lasted for my first year and a half at school. For complex reasons that, as it turns out, ceased to mean anything decades ago, he dressed me down in front of a group, capping it by saying, "don't come around afterwards and try to patch this up." I was deeply humiliated. We didn't speak again for 30 years. Then, we ran into each other. And I found that all I wanted to do was shake hands and catch up. Neither of us mentioned the rupture; neither of us needed to or wanted to. As is so often the case in these matters, I doubt he remembered it or knew of it. After a few decades of consideration, I feel sure it was honest passion, not a malicious desire to hurt me, that drove my alienation. And in retrospect, a more evolved person would have weighed 18 of the most happy and productive months of my life against a single passionate moment, and made a more proper decision about how to proceed 30 years ago. We have not become good friends again--time and distance militate against that--but I feel sure he'd stop by for a visit should he find himself in my area, and I know I'd do the same if I were to find myself in his neck of the woods. It brings tears to my eyes to think how much I enjoyed his company that day (and that evening) after being deprived of it for so many years.

Thinking of unforgivable acts committed against me, of course, makes me wonder about the unforgivable acts I have committed. I can think of at least four, and in all four cases the sinned against have at least chosen to be civil, if not downright friendly, after a silence of 10-30 years (which, in all cases, might have occurred anyway after the normal process of separation that occurs in adulthood). Three of the four involved sex and love and youth, always a dangerous combination. The one that didn't involve sex I have apologized for, directly and explicitly.

All four acts were, in some sense, acts of betrayal. Two of the four betrayed have communicated with me (one in person, one via email) in recent years. They didn't ask for an apology, I didn't offer one, but I assume forgiveness for my shabby, thoughtless treatment. The other two sinned-against people are good friends who never bring up what was, in my case, actually youthful indiscretion. I like to believe I was forgiven, in part, because of my lack of malice. I didn't undertake these unforgivable acts to deliberately hurt the people in my life; I acted for my own selfish gratification. When the result is indistinguishable, I can't be certain that the motive matters, but I like to think it does: while scarcely noble, my motives were at least not consciously malicious.

But in essence, none of this matters. The important thing is to forgive the unforgivable whenever possible. My friend and classmate Maija Meijers had many cogent thoughts on the subject of forgiveness. Here are two:

From forgiving others comes our own healing, and from our healing comes our return to the awareness of Whole...

I would say that one of the biggest reasons to forgive others is to prevent yourself from wasting years and great energy on something you cannot change. Forgiving it sets you free.

Are there unforgivable acts? Yes. But they have not been committed against me. And with nothing worse than public humiliation on my personal scorecard, I really do need to--and have--let go of the past, lightening the load I carry into the future.

Political Thoughts

American households are living on borrowed time.

The proof is in the Federal Reserve's "Flow of Funds" report that just came out covering all four quarters of last year.

Some highlights:

  • U.S. households lost a whopping $2.3 trillion in household financial assets such as stocks, bonds, and other deposits -- the worst annual plunge since the Great Depression!
  • The households are saving only 15% of GDP -- the lowest savings rate since the 1940s and the lowest of all industrialized countries.
  • They are piling up a mountain of debt. In 2002, homeowners borrowed nearly $800 billion against the equity in their homes -- the largest annual increase in home mortgage borrowings on record! That works out to 65 cents borrowed for every $1 that real estate values increased in 2002. No wonder home foreclosures are at a record high!

If this were the 1990s when nearly every sector of the economy was still going strong, the huge financial losses, the horrendous savings rate and the big surge in mortgage borrowing might not be so alarming. But the reality is that ...

  1. Jobless claims continue to surge. 442,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That's the ninth week in a row that jobless claims have been over the 400,000 mark -- a level indicating a stagnant job market.
  2. Real estate is shakier than ever. Yes, housing starts increased 8.3% in March, but permits fell 7% and mortgage applications tanked 8.9%. With the fewer applicants and building permits in March, this bubble is getting ready to pop.
  3. Factories are slashing production. Capacity utilization is down to 74.8% -- that means more than a quarter of all factories are sitting idle. With factories operating at less than three- quarters of capacity, it's little wonder why employment keeps shrinking. It also shows that businesses don't believe the demand from consumers will last forever, either.
  4. Inventories keep creeping up. Goods are piling up on store shelves, in warehouses, and in showrooms. In response, retailers are giving deep discounts, car dealers are offering more incentives, and factories have slashed production. Prices are plunging and (in the absence of cost-cutting which means more unemployed) so will profits.

The solution is obvious. Have the government give $90,000 a year for the next 10 years to anyone with a job who earned more than $1,000,000 in the prior year. Have the government give nothing to anyone without a job or a job that pays less than $1,000,000 per year.

I suggest everyone check out George Bush's résumé, forwarded to me by Phil Gill. It begins like this (and continues in this vein for some time):

George W. Bush Resume
Past work experience:

    • Ran for congress and lost.
    • Produced a Hollywood slasher B movie.
    • Bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas, company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
    • Bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money. Biggest move: Traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox.
    • With father's help (and his name) was elected Governor of Texas.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Its a DMCA roundup: it was bad enough that the media barons bought off enough unscrupulous politicians to pass the original Digital Millennium Copyright Act back in 1998. We are stuck with this turkey for the foreseeable future. Now there is a move afoot to hatch a whole litter of Mini-(some call them Super-)DMCAs at the state level in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. For more information see this EFF archive, Edward W. Felten's Status of State Super-DMCA Bills and his blog entry Use a Firewall, Go to Jail. See also DMCA critics decry state-level proposals and this previously mentioned EFF whitepaper Unintended Consequences: Four Years under the DMCA. There is also a particular concern that the federal DMCA will damage a copyright accord intended to benefit universities in the development of online courses: College Media Group Cautions That 2 Copyright Laws Could Collide and TEACH vs. DMCA Showdown Looming.

On the P2P front there is good news and bad news: on the one hand individual file traders are now assumed to be guilty until proven innocent: Verizon was ordered to violate their customer's privacy based on RIAA's whim. On the other hand, given the depressing progress of Big Media's power-grabbing campaign of copyright abuse, Friday's ruling by L.A. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson was surprisingly sensible. He said that peer-to-peer file sharing systems could not be held liable for any alleged copyright infringement on the part of their users. Judge Wilson wrote: "Grokster and Streamcast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights."

Sorry to be running behind, but I wanted to mention two analysis pieces written after the Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference held earlier this month: Declan McCullagh's Fretting about the future, lost liberty and Dan Gillmor's Why we may never regain the liberties that we've lost.

Technobits: oh, this wacky world: anti-antispammer lawsuit --- part two of Technology Review's series Surveillance Nation --- social engineering: Office workers give away passwords for a cheap pen.

Web Site of the Week

Peep Research

Once again (mainly because the rest of you aren't submitting really weird web sites) Daniel Dern supplies the site of the week: Peep Research:

Although scientific and health research has been conducted on Peeps, most notably that appearing on the Peep Research website, we have noted an absence of research focusing on the ability of Peeps themselves to actually do research. To address this lack, we invited a small group of Peeps to visit Staley Library at Millikin University (Decatur, Il.) during the week of March 17-21, 2003 so that we could more closely observe their research practices. This was determined to be an ideal week for the Peeps to visit the library, as Millikin University students were on spring break. The research that follows documents their visit to the library and provides some evaluative commentary on our assessment of Peeps and library usage.


Mobster joke

The mobster bursts into the office of his former accountant, who is a deaf mute. The mobster starts yelling at the accountant, "Where the hell is the 3 million bucks you embezzled from me?"

The accountant does not answer. The accountant's secretary rushes in and reminds the mobster that her boss is a deaf mute and cannot understand him, but she can interpret for him.

The mobster says, "Well ask him where my damn money is!"

The secretary, using sign language, asks the accountant where's the 3
million dollars. The accountant signs back, "I don't know what you're
talking about."

The secretary interprets to the mobster, "He doesn't know what you are talking about.

The mobster pulls out a 9 millimeter pistol, cocks it, and puts it to the
accountant's temple, and says, "Ask him again... where's my damn money!"

The secretary signs to the accountant, "He wants to know where it is!"

The accountant signs back, "OK! OK! OK! The money is hidden in a brown suitcase behind the shed in my backyard!"

The mobster says, "Well... what did he say?" The secretary interprets to the mobster, "He says go to hell, and that you don't have the balls to pull the trigger."



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


Reynolds On Bird Breath; Dern On Windows, Dogs and Darpa; Wolfe On The Real World; Coquet on Windows, Self-Grading And Happiness; Grobstein On The News

Craig Reynolds found a beautiful art/news shot of a bird's visible breath on a cold day in Maine.

Daniel Dern passed along Brian Livingston's warning to beware of Windows XP SP1, as well as the link to a silly man barks at dog story from the San Jose Mercury, and this Darpa project:

DARPA intends to conduct a challenge of autonomous ground vehicles between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in March of 2004. A cash award of $1 million will be granted to the team that fields the first vehicle to complete the designated route within a specified time limit.

Regular contributor Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe of Syosset, N.Y. has written a funny, seasonally appropriate essay entitled Welcome To The Real World, which begins like this, and is worth reading. I am happy to host it!

In May my neighbor, Jonathan, will be graduated from the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University. No, he didn't enroll in September and pay full tuition; he waited 30 days and was given a discount. His major: master's in haggling. Just kidding!

Peggy Coquet found a company selling a Windows/Linux combination that looks good. She also had some thoughts about self-grading and youthful enthusiasms:

Your anecdote about self grading reminded me of a wonderful statement I read recently in the Heroic Stories mail list, Hero Talk. Someone was commenting about intentions: "In a Rosh Hashanah sermon I once heard, the rabbi suggested that G_d judges our good acts by intent. You get credit for the good intentions even if things don't work out. But our bad deeds only by the result--if your car stalled, preventing you from robbing the bank, you're not a crook."

The writer went on to suggest that we should be as generous to each other and to ourselves. Maybe that helps with self-grading, hmmm?

I also was struck by your comments on following a dream. When I was 15, I asked my mother if I could have a hysterectomy. My plan was to write the Great American Novel and/or become a world famous journalist. I had no desire for children, and couldn't imagine myself enslaved to some man and a passel of squalling brats. It was possible I would be a Lesbian, or a nun, or a woman-about-town, sampling many men but giving my heart to none. Since I was a virgin who had never had a date, I wasn't sure. But I was positive that children were right out of the picture.

Mom was wiser than I, thank goodness, and advised me to wait a few years. It was less than 3 years later that I met Steve and asked him if we could have a baby. He was also wiser; it was another 13 years before our daughter was born.

Looking back on that unhappy 15-year-old, I want to pat her hand and say, "There, there - it will all be okay." (She wouldn't, of course, listen.) Thirty-seven years later, my children and the man who enslaved me are my greatest delights. The Great American Novel is still germinating; who knows when it, too, might bloom?

I have always believed that people are fundamentally happy or fundamentally unhappy, and that what happens in your life actually doesn't make all that much difference. Turns out there is now research that backs up my belief! This also came from Peggy:

A Washington Post article entitled Does a ring bring happiness, or vice versa?

The conclusion (as I read it) is that you're as happy as you decide to be. Some level of happiness is apparently fixed for each of us, and we tend to stabilize at that level. Circumstance - from winning the lottery to spinal cord injury - seems to make only a temporary difference.

The article concludes by saying:

[David] Lykken[, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota,] had a warning: Fearfulness and irritability are among the "thieves of happiness."

Isn't it lovely when you find research that bears out your prejudices? <g>

I do wonder about the implications for people who have struggled with episodes of depression. Also, there has been research suggesting that our national level of fear and irritability is going up. This would certainly explain why the world seems sadder, grumpier and a lot less 1960s-rainbows-and-flowers lately.

Dan Grobstein discovered from a Reuters story in the New York Times that a German firm may lose its contract to paint the Pentagon because of Germany's opposition to the Iraq War. Then, Eric Alterman tipped him to a Roll Call story reporting that Newt's political committees have regained their tax exempt status. Also, the IRS plans to spend a lot of time and money harassing poor people about the Earned Income Tax Credit, while it continues to ignore $55 billion a year in corporate tax fraud. Apparently, the Bush Administration a) truly has no shame and b) in the case of the tax credit, is too damn dumb to recall Willie Sutton's advice to rob banks because "that's where the money is." Hey George, why not invest IRS enforcement resources where the money is? It would be nice to think that the Army secretary's resignation stems from his service at Enron, but as Dan points out, it appears to be because of a fight with Rumsfeld over the Crusader artillery system.

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