PS... A Column
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.
June 30, 2003 Vol. 5, No.27
Table of Contents:
Making The Times
From The Circuits section of the New York Times on June 19:
''Getting linked to a popular blog can help, but ultimately it's the quality and consistency of the blog that will sustain a readership,'' said Paul Schindler, a former journalist now working as a substitute teacher in Orinda, Calif., who has been making weekly postings at his Weblog (www.schindler.org/psacot/index.shtml) since 1998. ''It's like what children of famous Hollywood stars always say: 'My name gets me in the door, but my work keeps me in there afterwards.'''
My Great, Short Vacation
Going from Orinda to the Pacific Coast (25 miles) is a pretty short jaunt, you might say. Staying at the not-particularly-lovely Great Highway Inn--overpriced, clean, minimalist--isn't much of a treat, you might say.
By the way, I find it amazing that, along the whole beautiful, sandy five-mile Pacific Coast beach at San Francisco's Western edge, there are only a half dozen motels, none of them first-class. For the most part, where the city meets the water is a residential neighborhood of undistinguished houses, few of them oriented towards the water. I simply do not understand why there are so few places to stay near the water, and why none of them are very classy. It sure isn't that way in Oregon.
Anyway, this particular weekend getaway, which I have enjoyed several times, is the most appealing way I can imagine spending a weekend. I take breakfast at the second-rate diner next to the motel, walk across the street and read for a few hours on the beach, nap, take the streetcar in for a movie in the evening, then do the same thing again the next day. I leave my window open, despite the noise in the neighborhood, so I can hear the crashing surf and breath the salt air carried in by the ceaseless sea breeze. I sleep like a baby. I do hope we live by the ocean someday.
The Girls In Europe
Marlow and Rae spent last week in London. Marlow sent a few emails from Internet cafés, which I have stitched together here:
We're in a nice area right below Kensington Gardens (Hyde Park)...
We've been all over (Kensington Gardens, St. James' gardens, Somerset House, the Savoy for tea, Buckingham palace, Reduced Shakespeare[The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged by the Reduced Shakespeare Co., of which Rae just directed a production). I took Rae clubbing the other night and we're going to try and hear live music once before we leave....
We had another action packed day today. We took a bus tour of Warwick castle, the Cotswolds, Oxford, and Stratford-upon-avon. I mainly slept on the bus, and Rae read. The tour guide was great, very knowledgeable, and full of British idioms that kept us smiling. We saw a medieval castle, Shakespeare's birthplace and the great hall (where Harry Potter was filmed) at Christ's Church in Oxford. I would have liked to have seen more of the college at Oxford, but I guess students were still living there and it would be hard to tour it without being intrusive since their dorms are connected with their academic buildings.
Yesterday we did our big day o' London sites. We started off with Westminster Abbey, also getting to see Big Ben and the Parliament. Afterwards we took a riverboat cruise down the Thames to the Tower of London. Our tour guide at the Tower of London was also great and full of bloody stories that made one small girl scream and have to be escorted away.
Tomorrow for our last day in London we're going to go see the changing of the guard and then try our hand at shopping in Princess Di's favorite places as well as Harrod's. In the evening, at today's guide's suggestion, we're going to try and get Wimbeldon tickets. Rae really wants to see some women's tennis live.
We've had two random Americans enter our conversation in the last couple of days. Both from Arizona and nice enough people.
Oh, Mamma Mia was awesome. I should have seen it in New York. I might have even gone multiple times. I was impressed with how the songs were incorporated so naturally into the plot... and the setting of a Greek island also spoke to me. The actress who played the mother sounded very much like one of the women from ABBA, though I don't know their names so I don't know which she sounded more like.
We sent our postcards from the tower of London, so hopefully they'll beat us home, and also have a great postmark.
Rae and I are safely in Cork, Ireland. We're going to go into town to do laundry in a bit, and then spend the rest of the day relaxing in our hotel. This is the nicest hotel I've stayed in in Europe. Everything is almost as big as it would be in America, shocking!
The Euro is getting stronger and the American dollar weaker with my every trip here... sigh...
The weather is rainy and overcast, but I guess that's just Ireland. It looks almost identical to Shannon here, and already we're having trouble understanding the locals. I'm glad our tour guides will be American.
If you're like me there are several alternative career paths you could have pursued but didn't, for whatever reason. I wanted to be a disc jockey (not clever enough), then a broadcast newsperson or a talk show host (not willing to move out to a small enough market to gain seasoning). I considered becoming a studio sound engineer (no break, not a good enough ear), a movie reviewer (didn't work hard enough at it), a journalist (oh wait, I was a journalist), or a teacher (oh wait, I am a teacher).
I think, now and then, about the movie review option. The thing is, it isn't enough just loving movies and having gone to a lot of them and having opinions about them (too often positive, I've been told--Barb Moore once asked me, "have you ever seen a movie you didn't like?"). If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to have written one, or studied film, and have something witty and intelligent to say about nearly every film you see.
It is partly the fond hope of someone falling madly in love with my now quite eccentric reviewing style (and hire me to review movies professionally) that I continue to review movies in this column. Alas, there are lots of better reviewers than me, even on the Internet, and none of them are getting jobs either. So mostly my reviews are a way of telling friends, relatives and readers what I think of films, to boost the good ones and warn you away from the turkeys.
The review section is also a way for me to keep track of what I've seen, something I meant to do for years before I started this column. Since I moved to California in 1979, I have seen, on the average, between 40 and 50 movies a year. Put another way, that's about 10 times the number of films seen by the average adult American. A lot of awful films in there. A lot of great, memorable ones. In all, about 1,000 movies.
I first started scratching this itch in college, when I reviewed more than 40 films in three years at The Tech, the main MIT student newspaper. That amounts to about one every three weeks, roughly a third of the rate at which I see films now. I'll say a couple of things about that. This is the number of films I was able to pry out of The Tech's topical index; I think some were missed. If you'd made me guess, I'd have said I saw a film a week while in school. Memory is a funny thing, huh?
Anyway, I was going to add pointers to the reviews, which are almost all available in PDF format online, but the numbering system in the archives is so arcane it takes about 10 minutes to find each page. Guess I'll have to wait until I retire for that one.
Of course, this kind of film love starts even earlier. I am quite sure we saw 15-20 films a year while I was growing up in Portland, Ore. There was 30th Avenue Cinema that showed horror films. We went there a lot. We also saw respectable stuff at the Roseway and Hollywood, neighborhood theaters in the Northeast section of town where we lived, and downtown at the Orpheum, the Music Box, the Broadway and the Fox. When my mother was little, there was a Pantages theater downtown and her dad was the projectionist, so I come by my interest legitimately.
Vicki and I have been going to see Amma, a Hindu guru, during her semi-annual visits to her ashram in nearby San Ramon. She is known as the hugging saint or the Mother of Immortal Bliss. She was born Mata Amritanandamayi and is now known as Amma, which means mother (just as Gandhi was known as Mahatma, which means guru).
My mother was in town to see Rae graduate during the same weekend as Amma's visit this year, so we took her to Darshan. What's that, you say? As defined on Amma's web site:
Darshan is a Sanskrit term describing "audience with a saint or sage". In the ancient tradition, darshan usually consisted of a mere "sighting" of a holy person. In a radical break with custom, Amma's darshan blessing emerged as a long tender healing embrace. She has been doing it this way since she was a young mystic in her native Kerala fishing village located along the south coast of the Arabian Sea.
You stand in line. She hugs you. For some people, it is a transcendental experience. For me, it was a warm embrace from a vaunted spiritual leader.
Actually, I think she probably is a saint, and I feel it is a privilege to watch a saint in action in my lifetime. I volunteered to help people park during her weeklong visit--selfless service, known as Seva. In fact, in a way, it reminded me of my occasional chances (mostly while a student at MIT) to watch a genius in action. I will never be a genius or a saint, but watching them do their work is a moving experience. And one that makes me aspire to be more like them.
In Bush Cites The Cost Of Tax-Cut Repeal" by Mike Allen, in The Washington Post, June 23, 2003 one reads that on June 22, 2003, George Bush "released a highly selective analysis of the cost to families of rolling back scheduled tax cuts." The analysis covered less than 20% of the nation's households. The analysis was prepared at the request of NBC's Meet The Press. Tim Russert used the misleading analysis in questioning Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on June 22, 2003. Russert did not bother to reveal to his audience that the Bush team prepared the analysis at Russert's request to be used in questioning Dean.
If Tim Russert (and NBC News), wishes to retain whatever smidgen of credibility he (and it) still has, Russert should let the audience know that he's serving as a surrogate for Bush. If Tim wants to shill for Bush, that's up to him; he just should let everyone (including NBC) know that's what he is doing. Maybe it's time to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine for news outlets using the airwaves that belong to the entire country under licenses that provide for use only in the public interest.
Alternatively, Tim can do his own independent analysis of the effect of the tax cuts and then ask questions. A disinterested observer might wonder what other questions were effectively planted by Bush on this occasion and others. An interested observer might ask a more direct question.
Tim's service as an arm of the Bush election campaign reminds some observers of other similar instances in the past of ostensibly objective journalists misleading their viewers and readers.
For example, in 1972, Frank Reynolds of ABC told the Democratic Presidential nominee he was using questions proposed by the Republican nominee's press secretary (this was at a time when the Republican nominee was under criminal investigation and not generally available for independent questions from journalists).
In 1980, John Chancellor (also of NBC) misled the entire country by erroneously stating on the network's main evening newscast that it was mathematically impossible for candidate John Anderson to be elected because he was not on the ballot in enough states. In fact, if Andesron had won the states where he was on the ballot, he would have been President.
Also in 1980, George Will (then and now affiliated with ABC) prepared the Republican Presidential nominee for a debate (more accurately, joint press conference) and then participated in the post-debate analysis on ABC without informing the viewers that he was a part of the Republican campaign team.
A Congressional investigation later determined that during the preparation for the debate the Republicans used material stolen (possibly by an active duty military officer) from the Democratic Presidential candidate (who also happened to be the President of the United States). It remains unclear whether Will used the criminally obtained information to prepare the winning Republican candidate for the debate/joint press conference.
* * *
No wonder the federal deficit is running amuck!
According to a new estimate by the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation, federal revenues this year will be between 16.4% and 16.7% of the total economy. That's the lowest revenues have been as a percent of GNP since the Eisenhower Administration.
Reason: Years of sluggish corporate profits and 3 rounds of major tax cuts.
The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that two tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2002 will reduce federal revenues by $126 billion in 2003. The tax cut passed this year will further reduce the 2003 total by an additional $49 billion. Next year, the cuts will likely chop off another $135 billion.
In real dollars, federal revenues in 2003 are actually less than they were in 2002, the third year in a row that government receipts have declined.
Guess when the last time was that our government suffered a three-year decline in receipts: The Reagan years? The 1974-75 recession? World War II? The Great Depression? None of the above. The last time this happened was in the 1920s!
This is serious, and yet no one is talking about it. Wall Street is too busy chasing the latest rally.
If you're responsible, when you cut taxes, you've got to cut spending. And that's not what is happening. In fact, George Bush (after the passage of $350 billion in tax cuts) is now pushing for another $400 billion to overhaul Medicare.
The latest round of tax cuts is supposed to stimulate the economy, and maybe it will for a very short time. But while the federal government is cutting taxes, the state governments are raising taxes -- in big amounts. The net impact will be a wash.
In any case, the bulging federal deficit is extremely dangerous because it could help push interest rates higher even as deflation is driving prices lower. Can you imagine that -- companies would be squeezed by both falling prices for their products and the rising real cost of money.
One possible response: Take advantage of the relatively lower tax environment to sell as many assets as you can and raise cash.
* * *
A swelling trade deficit, falling US dollar, dwindling foreign investment, and the export of US jobs overseas spells deflationary disaster for the US.
Semiconductor equipment orders are falling. Chip equipment orders plunged 0.8% in May -- and are down 32% from a year ago. While Wall Street is busy buying up technology stocks, they're ignoring the fact that business in the technology sector isn't improving.
There are still no signs of recovery in the job market. Manpower's latest survey represents "the weakest job outlook in 12 years," according to the company. A full 74% of the companies surveyed say that they will either not hire or will layoff employees in the third quarter.
There is a safety net created in the 1930's to prevent a repeat of the Depression of the 1920's and 1930's. George Bush appears to be advocating a deliberate destruction of this safety net, either to cause a Depression or because he doesn't understand that what he advocates could lead to that result.
Speaking of politics, one of my correspondents (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent in this musing on Americans' total lack of context, combined with a question about the apparent lack of genetic inheritance of politics.
A friend recounted a conversation she had just had with young two ambulance drivers. They are very happy that Bush is President. If only Clinton hadn't stopped during the Gulf War and had taken out Saddam, we wouldn't have had to invade. My friend reminded them that it was W's father who stopped. They disagreed and said it was definitely Clinton. Besides if Clinton hadn't gutted the army, we would have had an easier time.
I seem to recall that any time Clinton tried to do anything with the army the Republicans were all over him.
Nobody, including the talking heads on the TV have any sense of history.
My cousins are both well off. One told the other that he should be happy that they are going to end the inheritance tax. I can't understand how members of the family who share common grandparents can be that way. I feel that we need to give something back to society. My grandparents had a very hard time during the depression. After my grandfather died my grandmother was on welfare with 3 kids.
The "bad" cousin thinks Reagan was the greatest president. He has a brother who pays the health benefits for his employees (as did his father, and as did I when I had employees [well, most of the time, until they tripled my premium then I let my guys pay part]). How do you get such wide-ranging political views in a family that started from the same roots?
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.
In the coverage of RIAA's clueless plan tosue hundreds of file traders an old falsehood has again been floated by the media barons. I assume we all know they are just blowing smoke, but it bears repeating. The music industry fat cats like to pretend that every song downloaded from the Internet is a lost sale. That if not for "online music piracy" each of those downloaded songs would have been purchased from a music store. This ludicrous notion assumes that the demand for an item is unrelated to its cost. Apparently the music guys don't study economics. There are a few songs I want enough to drive over to a music store and pay $20 for the CD. There are a LOT more songs I would be willing to buy for $1 at Apple's online iTunes Store. I assume that if "Johnnie" wants to download free music, there are gazillions of songs that he might want. But it is crazy to assume that, absent free downloads, he would walk down to the music store and buy those same gazillion CDs. (see also: Are You in RIAA's Cross Hairs?, Grokster Blasts RIAA Anti-Piracy Tactics and EFF's Fred von Lohmann: "It's plain that the dinosaurs of the recording industry have completely lost touch with reality.")
Many libraries will skip grants to avoid using Net filters: despite strong opposition from librarians on First Amendment grounds, the Supreme Court ruled libraries have to install porn filters on public computers if they want to continue to get Federal money. Amusingly, this is not much of a carrot. Federal support for libraries is so pitiful that in some cases it is less than the cost to install the filters. (Besides their other shortcomings, apparently some filters are not very secure.)
Apple announced an OS upgrade and a new processor. The 64 bit G5 may well be the fastest personal computer (I trust the guys at Pixar, although they DO work for Steve) but there was chatter at Slashdot about just how much the G5 benchmarks were cooked. Slate says Linux's new popularity may hurt Apple more than Microsoft.
This synchronicity jumped out at me: I looked at Girls less confident on computers: study then the next page I saw was Toys bridge tech divide for children. The earliest work I know of in this area was Allison Druin's 1987 SIGCHI paper "NOOBIE: The Animal Design Playstation".
Technobits: join the National Do Not Call Registry --- Department of Homeland Security routinely sending illegal faxes? --- power (law) to the people, right on --- The Missing Future --- risks of faulty tech --- GIF patent dead at 20 --- Happy Birthday, Dear DNS --- yet another new form of lightning (the third since 1989) --- whichbook.net a book selection service --- Ralph Waldo Emerson: A God for Bloggers --- I love these "the future isn't what it used to be" items: Victorian Visions of the Year 2000.
(see Missed Careers at the top of the column
The Man On The Train
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
I'd have to go with the IMDB reviewer bluesdoctor on this one:
Watchable, yes. Malarkey, yes. Something to think about, no.
What is it with moviemakers (apparently, not just Hollywood, since this film is French right down to the bad spelling in its subtitles) and the trope about a well-ordered life disrupted by the sudden appearance of a rebel/free spirit? Has this ever actually happened to anyone in real life? It certainly has never happened to anyone I know, and I can't imagine it happening in real life without disastrous consequences. It's like that other hoary trope, the one about the girl dropping her "right" fiancé to run off with the boy (poor, a rebel, a foreigner) who sweeps her off her feet. Every time I see that one, I find myself asking, "which man is going to make a better husband in 20 years?" It is rarely the one dewy-eyed filmmakers select for their female leads.
Also: how did Johnny Hallyday ever get to be a big deal French singer? I mean, this guy makes Lyle Lovett look like Brad Pitt. I know, usually you're listening, not looking, but does he do his concerts with a bag on his head? Just wondering.
Finally, Jean Rochefort is one heck of an actor. I know we don't see much of him because (as I learned from Lost in La Mancha) he doesn't speak English, but he's a great actor. Someone buy him some English lessons; I'd rather watch him than Gerard Depardieu.
Zus and Zo
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
How many films get made in Dutch anyway? Rae and I had wanted to see this one, written and directed by Paula van der Oest, when it showed at the Orinda Film Festival, but customs held it up, so we didn't get to watch it. It's a cute trifle; the gay brother arranges a fake marriage so he can sell Paraíso, the beloved family summer home (also a small hotel) on the Portuguese coast. His three sisters try to stop this marriage of convenience. And then the fun begins. Cute, R-Rated subtitled fluff with a pro-gay message.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
Ok, you've probably heard the term "plot holes," to describe those moments in a movie when something illogical happens that makes no sense in the real world but is required to make the plot move forward. What happens when a movie is all holes and no plot? Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
Now my mother and my wife have both warned me from time to time not to bring unrealistic expectations to the movies I see. My wife, in particular, points out that if you go see 50 movies a year, 20-30 of them are going to have to be taken out for a walk after dinner. Since I am a red-blooded heterosexual American, I can certainly enjoy looking at Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore for 103 minutes (thank God it wasn't any longer!), although only Demi is really my type. I love John Cleese too, in a different way. He has about four minutes of screen time, as Lucy's dad, scattered throughout the movie. It's worth waiting for, if you're stuck watching the film for some reason.
How much more would I have enjoyed the film if there had been a coherent plot, intelligent dialog, or cutting that made it possible to follow what was going on? I'll never know, because the only Charlie's Angles 2 I'll ever see is the one I just saw (barring a Director's Cut).
One star, go see it if there's nothing else around you're interested in. And don't believe the hype; this is so not a girl-power outing.
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
I was there at the beginning. I was reading Marvel comics in the early 1960s, when The Incredible Hulk (as he was then known) was created by Stan Lee (no relation to An Lee, the director) and Jack Kirby. I know the real origin story. This isn't it. The names are the same, but the story has been changed to give Nick Nolte something to do. I've got nothing against Nick Nolte; in fact, I rather like him. But, as the screenwriter noted in a recent interview, there were 15 different attempts to write a script for this movie, and, in his opinion, none worked until they had a breakthrough: me Hulk, you Freud.
Well, it does make for the most textured, layered, talky action-adventure film ever, but is that what we want from an adaptation of a comic book? I mean, we had X-Men, with no plot and character development, and X-Men II, with more plot and character development, and now we have 137 minutes (get an editor Ang!) of angst with an occasional action scene thrown in.
I can take it or leave it. The CGI Hulk is adequate, but not great. The live-action Bruce Banner isn't much better.
It isn't smart enough to be a real drama, and it isn't fun enough to be a real action-adventure film. It is neither fish nor fowl.
I will say this; the split-screens are reminiscent of comic books, and are used to excellent effect--the first integral use of a split screen in a major Hollywood film that I can remember. And the other "artsy" touches (fancy dissolves, a two-second homage to Jurrasic Park) establish that Ang Lee isn't just another hack turning out a comic book adaptation. From a directorial standpoint, these are the most capable hands to adapt a comic book character since Superman I, or Tim Burton's Batman. Too bad Ang Lee didn't have Stan Lee's feel for the character.
A so-so film. If you miss it you won't be missing much. At the showing I saw, the power went out 17 minutes before the end. I am not sure I'm going back for it. That's how uninvolving this movie is.
Wolfe on Harry Potter, Two from Reynolds, the Grobstein File, Another MIT, Best-Ever Carroll cat column, Nillson on Rumsfeld
In a PSACOT exclusive, Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe takes a swing at Harry Potter Mania. Here's a sample:
Craig Reynolds found a story whose headline says it all: Very Richest's Share of Income Grew Even Bigger, Data Show. (New York Times).
Craig also found this: Burning Bush? Our President Claims That He Is Gods Messenger: Bush said: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did" (Moscow Times based on meeting minutes that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz)
The Dan Grobstein File:
America fought Saddam, and the Islamic fundamentalists won, by Nicholas Kristof. (New York Times)
From several fellow alumni, comes word of the opening of Boston's newest university, the Massachusetts Institute of Tauroscatology.
Jon Carroll, America's finest newspaper columnist, has a way with words, as in this recent column:
Nostalgia is just a way of holding a pre-death memorial service.
He also wrote his best cat column ever (and that's saying something), an entire column full of fakeout material followed by a single line:
The cats are sleeping peacefully in the warm sun.
The man is a genius, pure and simple.
Bob Nillson says:
Probably not much truth to this story from Orange County aboutRumsfeld lobbies locals to celebrate the invasion of Iraq. But it is interesting anyway.
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