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: June 16, 2003

June 16, 2003 Vol. 5, No.25

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Rae Graduates/ School Days
  • Journalism Books
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • End Vendor License, Interesting Clock


  • 25 Signs You've Grown Up
  • The Top 20 Worst "Line Extension" Products


  • Hollywood Homicide


  • Brinkley, Carroll, Dalton on WMD, The Grobstein File, Reynolds on Impeachment, Teaching Awards

General News

Rae Graduates/School Days

Rae graduated from high school last week. It was an emotional moment. My mother came from Oregon. Rae's aunt Pamela and her cousins Kim and Kirsten popped through the tunnel from Berkeley for the event. Her godmother Sue was there as well, as was our best friend Fran Strykowski. It isn't quite as stunning and breathtaking a moment as college graduation, but each of these "passage" events takes a little out of me and Vicki. Heavens, I can't imagine what kind of wreck I'm going to be at her graduation from Brandeis, or from her marriage.

Miramonte commencement takes place out on the football field. It is usually very hot and very sunny, with no shade anywhere. They moved it back to 5:30 this year, I presume in the hopes of missing the worst of the sun. They did, sort of. It was 80 degrees farenheit (80 centigrade would melt lead, I think), and it took a while for the breeze to kick in, but it wasn't the most uncomfortable commencement I've ever seen (is it a commencement or a graduation? I always thought the two were synonymous). Anyway, I believe it is almost certainly my last Miramonte commencement--barring my employment there.

Richard Sloven (if you Google this someday--Hi Richard!), a member of the newspaper staff (and so, somewhat familiar to me), gave one of the finest graduation speeches I've ever heard--a variation on the traditional Carpe Diem theme that really held the interest of the students and parents alike. Rae was lustrous.

I substituted for two days the last week of school--got to see the students I student-taught as they took their finals. It was fun; we all managed several laughs. I also administered finals to a class of seniors, half of whom are Rae's friends. It was a hoot. After they had given their oral reports, we watched the movie Zoolander which I had never seen before. It was PG-13, which I thought was darn thoughty of them (I wouldn't have let them show an R--I understand a teacher can catch flack for that).

Two of the sophomores who had me as a student teacher asked me to sign their yearbooks. I was flattered. Another gave me a copy of the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" home game, along with a cover note I will cherish for the rest of my life.

One boy asked me to read his Huck Finn essay and let him know what I thought. I thought it was pretty good, and told him so when I saw him in front of the school after finals.

God, I wish I were going to be in my own classroom next year. Well, as Henry Ford II used to say, never complain, never explain.

Journalism Books

I am not in the habit of plugging my hobby pages in this column. Some on-line columns have a hidden agenda; they're about plugging the author's product. This one has no hidden agenda; what you see is what you get. PSACOT is about sharing what's going on in my life, giving me a place to write for an audience (which fulfills one of my strongest fundamental needs) and preventing me from spamming my friends with "interesting" links and jokes by putting them all here instead of in daily emails. Yes, this column is the only thing that has prevented me from becoming your mother (not my mother, of course; she never sends me bad jokes or urban legends, just love, support, and good advice).

Well, having said all that, here's a plug for my journalism books page. It is the least active of my journalism hobby pages (movies and quotes get updated much more often), but it just underwent and update and an overhaul, so I felt it was time to mention it. I decided it was time for the streaming banner to go, and while I was at it, I added a background color (I really don't like white pages) and to make my graphic (I drew it myself, can you tell?) transparent. I also added new material, which I reproduce here. Click on the link above if you wish to see all the wonders of my collection of journalism fiction and non-fiction.

The Best Journalism Novel Of All Times

For some years, I thought it was Scoop, which I now rank second. I just finished reading Christopher Wren's Hacks, and I must now award it first place. Wren served as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and wrote this hysterical novel of reporting, love and revolution set in a fictional African country. It has supplanted Scoop, in my estimation, because it includes electronic journalists and has a woman in a major role, making it a more realistic depiction of modern journalism. Funny, clever, witty, incisive and well-written. You really feel you're there. I couldn't put it down.

Walter Winchell and Other Topics

My library has particular depth (and, sometimes, some pretty hard-to-find-books) in the categories of Walter Winchell, the New York Times and the New Yorker. Books about the latter two institutions, or by their present and former employees, of course, could fill several groaning library shelves. I've done the best I could with the time and money I had.

Winchell, for those of you who have forgotten or never knew, was the most powerful journalist in American during the 1930s and 1940s, when his syndicated Broadway column (based at the New York Mirror), and his Sunday night radio program (on NBC, then ABC) reached virtually every home in America. He was a very complicated character, and a once-important one.

Let me offer some brief annotations for the Winchell books in my topic index by author:

Neal Gabler's book is the most recent and authoritative biography. Michael "Dispatches" Herr wrote a screenplay for a Winchell biopic that he turned into a very readable novel that comes close to capturing the man's complexity. Herman Klurfield was one of Winchell's many ghost writers, and cranked this book out when WW was way past his peak. New Yorker managing editor St. Clair McKelway, on the other hand, took on America's most powerful and vindictive newspaper columnist when he was at the absolute peak of his powers, in a series of New Yorker articles that was extended and published in book form. Lyle Stuart was famous in the 40s and 50s for hatchet job biographies (kind of the Kitty Kelley of his day). AP Hollywood writer Bob Thomas, on the other hand, had only one pitch: the softball. And Winchell himself, the most un-self-aware man ever to walk the face of the Earth, produced, of course, an autobiography that is a nearly complete waste of time, written when he had hit rock bottom at the end of his life.

As I mentioned, I've also prepared two other topic indices: the New Yorker , the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Political Thoughts

Wonder why the actual data behind the various claims of nominal "intelligence" agencies to have found WMD in Iraq are not being released? Is it perhaps because the data do not support the "intelligence" agencies conclusions? Read Some Analysts Of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use by Judith Miller and William J. Broad of the New York Times for June 7, 2003. It seems that "intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs." An interesting note at the end of the article advises that Ms. Miller agreed to submit her draft of the article to U.S. military censorship; the note alleges that "no changes were made in the review." Which of course raises the question of whether the U.S. military censors made any changes in Ms. Miller's other articles from Iraq.

On the same topic and apparently without military censorship, the Washington Post reported on June 7, 2003, in Bush Certainty On Iraq Arms Went Beyond Analysts' Views by Dana Priest and Walter Pincus that prior to votes on invading Iraq in the fall of 2003 in the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, George Bush "expressed certainty in public that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, even though U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting they had no direct evidence that such weapons existed."

On Monday, June 9, 2003, George Bush changed his story and expressed certainty that Iraq had a weapons program as opposed to actual Weapons of Mass Destruction or the means to produce and use them. And this story will not doubt continue to mutate.

* * *

It's rare for The Washington Post and The New York Times to support each otherf but it happens. As for example on June 10 and 12, 2003.

In The New York Times on June 10, Paul Krugman (Who's Accountable?) reviewed the counterfactual statements made by George W. Bush and colleagues in connection with Iraq. While Colin Powell thinks questions about Bush's prevarications which led over 200 brave American military personnel to their deaths are outrageous, Bush (and Powell) had every reason to know Al Qaeda was not working with Iraq and that Iraq did not have WMD which posed an imminent threat to the United States. What's outrageous is that "nobody is being held accountable."

In The Washington Post on June 12, Walter Pincus (CIA Did Not Share Doubt On Iraq Data; Bush Used Report Of Uranium Bid) came through with more proof. It seems that the CIA (in February 2002) sent a former U.S. ambassador to Niger back to Niger to inquire into the false and forged documents purporting to show an Iraqi attempt to purchase unenriched uranium ore from Niger. The ambassador reported back that the reports were false and the documents were probably forged. According to a "senior intelligence official" who spoke with Walter Pincus, the CIA due to "extremely sloppy" handling of the evidence did not bother to tell Bush over the next year that the reports were false and based on forged documents. Right. Once you've stopped laughing your head off at this latest excuse from the CIA reflect on the facts that there are no reports of anyone being held accountable for the "extremely sloppy" work and that for the roughly $30,000,000,000 of your money the intelligence agencies are taking every year a little attention to detail would be in order. To top it all off in the accountability area, the CIA recently promoted and rewarded the specific CIA employees who knew two of the 9/11 attackers were linked to Al Qaeda and had multiple entry U.S. visas and nevertheless allowed them into the United States without a word to Immigration, Customs, or any domestic law enforcement agency.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Could the SCO v. Linux brouhaha turn into the pot hoisting the kettle black its own petard? Last week there was word that some code in Linux appeared to be copied from Unix System V. Now we hear that code from the Linux kernel was copied into Unix System V. Actually there is nothing wrong with that since Linux is open source, but it is a violation of the GNU General Public License to fail to give rights to the modified code back to the community. SCO may find itself counter-sued for breech of contract, which would be (as the kids say): sweet!! In case you are confused by the various conflicting claims of Unix/Linux ownership, this simple chart should clear it up.

Effective, reliable spam filtering: I started using email around 1976, from then until the mid 1990s reading email was fun. Anything that dropped into my inbox was interesting, or fun, or at least important to me. Imagine if the only items in your postal mail box where letters from friends and associates. Then came spam and reading mail became increasingly painful. I've read that fully 50% of all email today is spam. I'm surprised it is that low, about 97% of my email is spam (but then I have had the same email address for 12 years and it is listed on several web pages). Last weekend I upgraded my Mozilla web/email client to the 1.4(rc1) pre-release on both my Linux desktop and Mac OS X laptop. In addition to many other fine features, it supports Bayesian analysis and classification for spam filtering. This approach was famously described in Paul Graham's A Plan for Spam and it works really, really well. The first two days I dutifully identified each piece of spam that came in and wondered when the magic of Bayes would kick in. On the third day, each piece of spam was automatically marked as spam and moved to a junk mail folder. The next few days I had to point out where it had mistakenly classified real mail as junk. Now it rarely makes a mistake. Reading email is fun again!

The University of Calgary stood its ground and offered a course on writing computer viruses. One possible reaction would be that unpopular speech is the most important to protect and keep free, but a less lofty explanation will suffice: this is a "know your enemy" class for students learning how to write more secure systems for the future.

Marc Raibert, founder of the MIT Leg Lab and Boston Dynamics, is known for audacious concepts like the dynamically balanced one-legged hopping "pogo stick" robot. Now he is contemplating a nb new challenge: BigDog a 15 mile-per-hour robotic hound. Anyone who read Snow Crash knows how heroic and loyal a robotic dog can be.

Technobits: Second Shuttle Threat Turns Up --- Legislators Comments on the State DMCA Legislation --- Apple sued by The Open Group over Unix trademark --- RIAA sues student for his entire life savings: "Basically they agreed that he didn't do anything wrong, but [they're] taking his 12 grand." --- Slammed! ("an inside view of the worm that crashed the Internet in 15 minutes") --- ReplayTV Strips Ad Skipping in New DVR Models but remember that TiVo has it --- Thomas Edison coined the term pirate in regard to music --- how green IS hydrogen?

Web Site of the Week

End Vendor License, Interesting Clock

Slashdot pointed it out to Daniel Dern. Daniel pointed out the End Vendor License Agreement to me. It is funny.

I plugged this interesting clock once, but since Kevin Sullivan pointed it out again, I will too.


25 Signs You've Grown Up

1. Your house plants are alive, and you can't smoke any of them.
2. Having sex in a twin bed is out of the question.
3. You keep more food than beer in the fridge.
4. 6:00 AM is when you get up, not when you go to bed.
5. You hear your favorite song in an elevator (or at the supermarket).
6. You watch the Weather Channel.
7. Your friends marry and divorce instead of hook up and break up.
8. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14.
9. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as "dressed up".
10. You're the one calling the police because those damn kids next door won't turn down the stereo.
11. Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.
12. You don't know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.
13. Your car insurance goes down and your payments go up.
14. You feed your dog Science Diet instead of McDonalds leftovers.
15. Sleeping on the couch makes your back hurt.
16. You no longer take naps from noon to 6 PM.
17. Dinner & a movie is the whole date instead of the beginning of one.
18. Eating a basket of chicken wings at 3 AM would severely upset, rather than settle, your stomach.
19. You go to the drug store for ibuprofen & antacid, not condoms & pregnancy tests.
20. A $4.00 bottle of wine is no longer "pretty good stuff".
21. You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.
22. "I just can't drink the way I used to," replaces, "I'm never going to drink that much again".
23. 90% of the time you spend in front of a computer is for real work.
24. You no longer drink at home to save money before going to a bar.
25. You read this entire list looking desperately for one sign that doesn't apply to you.

The Top 20 Worst "Line Extension" Products

Hanging on at No. 16...

June 13, 2003


The current craze in marketing is "line extensions" -- increasing revenue by varying an existing product. Oreos, for example, has their new "Uh-Oh" cookies, which reverse the chocolate and vanilla parts.

20> Froot Parallelograms

19> Coleslaw Patch Dolls

18> Bacardi's 3 Mile Island Iced Tea

17> Chicken McNougats

16> Kellogg's Salt-Frosted Flakes

15> 3M Post-It Pink Slips

14> Breyers Fish 'N' Chips Ice Cream

13> Chips O'Soy

12> Kleenex Kleer Transparent Tissues

11> Operation: Hannibal Lecter Edition

10> "CSI: Salt Lake City"

9> MoTox -- with 20% more toxins!


7> Dan Rather's Naked News

6> Dr. Scholl's Exercise Thongs

5> Jell-O Pork 'n' Pudding Pops

4> 10-10-911

3> Unlucky Charms ("They're Wiccanly delicious!")

2> Blue Velveeta

and's Number 1 Worst "Line Extension" Product...

1> Swanson's Thirsty Man 80-Ounce Malt Liquor

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]
Selected from 127 submissions from 45 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Mike Levy, Los Angeles, CA -- 1 (3rd #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 16


Hollywood Homicide

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

Harrison Ford: Great. Josh Hartnett: amusing and watchable. The plot: a dog's breakfast. The movie can't make up its mind whether it's a comedy or a drama. Lots of funny stuff and funny bits, some good acting and some good stunts, a fairly typical car chase, but does all this really add up to a movie? I swear, the first 10 minutes of the film are a parody of the "mismatched cop partner" cliché, but I can't tell whether it is intentional and ironic or just badly written. At this point, Ford could segue into a career in comedy, if he could get a script where the laughs are worked out more clearly. Much of the humor here is situational, rather than joke-funny, but it isn't even up to the standards of a top-flight television dramedy like Sports Night. I mean, even Aaron Sorkin, with all his troubles, managed the mix better than Ron Shelton and Robert Souza. A good idea (a yoga instructor young cop teamed with a real estate agent older cop) fails to fulfill either its comedic or its dramatic potential. And why the hell did they arrest that guy at the end?


Brinkley, Carroll, Dalton on WMD, The Grobstein File, Reynolds on Impeachment, Teaching Awards

I am sure you all noticed the death of David Brinkley this week. I am a child of the 60s, and the Huntley-Brinkley report was mother's milk to me. They, along with Richard Ross, will always mean television news to me. Good night David.

San Francisco Chronicle personal columnist Jon Carroll has a vacuum cleaning robot. He also likes Steve Brill's plan for preventing future Jayson Blairs. Every newspaper and magazine should start doing this, today.

Richard Dalton found a site full of Bush Administration quotes on Weapons of Mass Destruction. More like weapons of mass deception.

From the Dan Grobstein File:
* E-Mail Message Blitz Creates What May Be Fastest Fad Ever (New York Times), about the marketing of the Iraqi most-wanted card decks
* Thomas Friedman on Bush's maniacal tax cuts (New York Times) (also noted by Craig Reynolds)
* The stink emitted by Haliburton's Iraq contracts gets stinkier, with or without help from the Vice President (Associated Press via the New York Times)
* Skimping on Homeland Defense (
Eric Alterman on the resignations at the New York Times (The Nation). This is the most intelligent analysis of the subject I've seen anywhere, by anyone.
*Steve Gilliard on McKiernan's dilemma in Iraq: there are no good options (what a surprise)

Craig Reynolds forwards John Dean's excellent question: Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense? (a FindLaw legal commentary). He also notes that San Jose's teacher of the year has been laid off. This brings back memories; when I was an undergraduate at MIT, the administration had an unfortunate habit of denying tenure every year, almost without fail, to the winner of the Killian undergraduate teaching award. I hope that situation has improved since I left in 1974.

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