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: September 29, 2003

September 29, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 39

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Laid Off: Second Anniversary
  • Farewell to Will and the SF Ballet
  • Taiwan News
  • A Mighty Wind--Live!
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Advice From A Retired Husband
  • Funny Essay By A Temp


  • Lost in Translation Redux
  • Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Matchstick Men
  • The Countdown


  • The Grobstein File

General News

Laid Off: Second Anniversary

I described my layoff on Oct. 2, 2001, in lurid detail at the time it happened. I wrote a belated first anniversary note that talked about my hopes of becoming a teacher. Well, here I am, a teacher!

I thought long and hard about this item. I could write some bitter things about events, people and institutions. But, as it happens, I saw Under The Tuscan Sun, which I liked a lot. In it, Frederico Fellini is credited with saying, "No regrets. Regrets mire us in the past." The movie concludes with a line about "Amazing things can happen, even late in the game."

I believe in both of those aphorisms. Unlike, say, Gerry Leeds, I am unlikely to found a billion-dollar company at my age. But I think I might just turn out to be a wonderful teacher. And as a wise friend of mine reminded me recently, if you work towards happiness without defining exactly what that would look like, your chances of achieving it are much greater.

I am prepared to go with the flow.

Farewell to Will and the SF Ballet

Vicki and I have had tickets to the Berkeley Shakespeare Company and its successor, California Shakespeare, since before we were married. We started going to Hinkle Park in the summer of 1978, and moved with the troupe to its new home at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. But after 25 years, while my appetite for Shakespeare has barely been whetted, Vicki's has been sated. We will not be renewing. Instead, we'll try to see different plays by different companies on an ad hoc basis--and maybe even a Cal Shakes play or two, depending on the reviews. For me, this was an extension of my childhood travelling to Ashland (Stay Four Days, See Four Plays) Oregon with my family, so I've been doing Shakespeare almost every summer since 1962 (minus a break between 1970 and 1978). Maybe it is time to give the Bard a rest.

Similarly, Vicki and I have been San Francisco Ballet subscribers since 1978. I've enjoyed almost every minute of it, and we worked out way up to center box seats. But the price is steep, and we've seen a lot of ballet in 25 years. Next season will be our last; after that, we'll take that time and invest it in other plays as well.

We've already begun to branch out, buying a season's subscription to the American Conservatory Theater in downtown SF for next year.

Will I miss Willy Shakes, my old friend, and Helgi, the director of the SF Ballet? Sure I will. But times change, life changes, and there comes a time to move on. This is that time.

Taiwan News

This (large) report from Marlow:

I've taken notes on a couple more differences between America and Taipei. In general I don't feel like its so weird being here, but I want to continue to note the differences even though they're small because as the months go by I may notice them even less so I'll feel less inclined to write about them, and you guys may find some of them interesting, plus it'll be good for me to read through this later.

The lunch hour here is very precise. Lunch is from 12 to 1. If you go to a noodle shop at 11:55 they'll let you sit down and order, but they'll look at you weird, and they're not going to start preparing your food till noon when everyone else starts to flood in. And if you don't manage to get around to lunch until after 1 you're going to find your options limited. A lot of the carts that serve food on the street will be closing up and all the buffet restaurants will be well picked over, and again the wait-staff is going to look at you as if you're requests are extremely odd, if they're willing to help you at all, because although almost everyone in Taipei eats lunch from noon to one, the waiters and waitresses eat from 1:30 on. I guess this isn't necessarily a unique Taipei thing, a lot of European cities also run on a more precise definition of lunch, but its definitely different from San Francisco or New York.

I already mentioned that a lot of people here ride scooters. Often you'll see a couple and a small child or two on one scooter, but I think the more amusing sight is what I have to assume is mom's doing carpool duty on scooters. What would take a suburban to accomplish in the states is done here on two wheels, a mom and three kids of all the same age scooting by with backpacks hanging off all over the place is not a rare sight in the evening, not in the afternoon mind you, but rather when kids get out of cram school. All the kids here have to go to cram school either to learn English, prepare for standardized tests, or just stay competitive with all the other kids being forced into 20 extra hours of school a week. There are herds of middle-school kids on the streets at 10 PM sometimes when I'm coming back from the pool at night. Insane.

Corn here is like THE western starch. You can tell a place is supposed to be hip and western if it has corn, like Pizza Hut or the "careperie" behind school. There is even corn-filled, mayonnaise and ham laced sushi at the Sushi Express near my apartment. There's also cashew nut sushi though, so who knows what they're going for exactly.

People are very frank about money here. It is not uncommon to be asked how much you paid for something and then occasionally to get an approving nod, or more likely a "you paid too much," speech. My apartment and my cell-phone are both very reasonably priced for Taipei so I actually get more approving nods than I've seen doled out on average, but its a little hard to get used to all the same.

There are a lot of store-front temples here. It is hard to identify their affiliation, at least for me. I think they're mostly a combination of Taoist, Confuciust, and Buddhist, with little overt distinction. They have decorative pots out front for burning incense, places for fruit and food products being offered to the dead, and normally a pot for burning "money" (yellow paper that can be obtained in the temples) for use by dead relatives in the afterlife. Everyday day and night there are normally plenty of people around burning incense and money. The temples also have a lot of red color in decoration and a couple big and small statues and maybe pads on the floor for kneeling.

Honey tastes different here. Different bees. Different flowers. Probably both.

There are a lot more stray cats and dogs than I've ever seen in any city. A lot of the stray dogs don't look so healthy necessarily, but no one seems to really avoid them or even shoo them away from their businesses. I'm wondering if maybe they don't have rabies here like they didn't have it in Ireland, since Taiwan too is an island. The stray cats look healthier, though often skinny and didn't bother me until some of 'em started having nightly brawls somewhere in the neighborhood, or maybe they're not brawls... but they're definitely loud...

Whenever you walk into a 7-11 here they say "guanyin guangling" (literally something like "welcome your bright coming", colloquially my teacher back in the states it runs something more like "welcome your wallet/money", but it is actually a fairly formal welcome), and after you've made your purchase they hand you your change and receipt always with two hands, also a formal sign of respect.

Like I said in the beginning, these are just little things I've noticed. Nothing earth-shattering on the culture-shock scale.


Today (Sunday) is Confucius' birthday. I guess I was off, it's more like his 4,500 than his 5000 birthday. G and D and I shared a cab to the temple at 5:15 to be there by 5:40 am. The sun had not risen when we caught the cab. We met the other Shi Da kids outside the temple and then, because we're extra cool, we got to go in the backdoor and cut the line of people who had been waiting there since god knows what hour. There were actually a huge number of westerners there, westerners and the press, and not that many Taiwanese people relatively speaking, a lot of them where out in the courtyard sitting on folding chairs watching the even on a big TV, but I'm not sure why they reserved so much room inside for outsiders...

A Mighty Wind Live!

I am so jealous of you people in Boston and Washington; you can see the cast of A Mighty Wind performing LIVE! As you'll recall, I loved the film. Here's a report from Dan Grobstein:

Saw Mighty Wind Live Saturday night at Town Hall in NYC. They sang all the songs from the CD and did their patter from the movie. Jonathan Steinbloom came out and introduced the acts. Luckily he didn't get electrocuted by all the wires on the stage. He must have said something about the props hanging on the back of the stage (in the movie) because they didn't have them this time. Mark Shubb was cute in her blonde hair, lipstick and nail polish. Michael Moore was sitting several rows in front of me. My son and his friends saw Steve Martin in the audience (who was in town for the New Yorker comedy writers thing on Sunday for which I wasn't able to get tickets). I was surprised that Mitch and Mickey actually played their instruments. Luckily they were able to find Mitch in time because he came out on stage when he was supposed to, though he did wander around a bit on stage. They did kiss at the end. The New Main Street Singers had their yellow and blue outfits on and they explained the significance of the colors for us. Very enjoyable.

Political Notes

Few things in life make me happier than when a cynical political move actually backfires. It appears to have happened to "President" Bush; he sucked up the steelworker vote with tariffs that violated his every "principle;" the result, according to the Washington Post (thank you Craig Reynolds): Move to Aid Mills and Gain Votes in 2 States Is Called Political and Economic Mistake.

A lot about Wesley Clark this week. Ross Snyder checks in:

Several weeks ago Wesley Clark told Aaron Brown that he, WC, would accept a Demo nomination for POTUS if it came to him.

I rejoiced then and continue to do so. I'm sure it will be a matter of much substance and great joy for you so to hear...

Paul, I think he just might have what we need to win. Not a New England highbrow voice, but a faint Arkansas twang (with Oxford modifications, like someone else we could quickly name), not a trace of superciliousness, instead a warm smile and obvious willingness to listen. And, I read in a review in The Economist of his new book, a savage, though entirely rational critique of the Bush (lack of) strategy in both military and international affairs.

And barely hours after his announcement, # 1 in the Democratic polls and, before any campaigning, only 2 or 3 % below the cheerleader! As Michael Moore (bless him) says, Bush can never Dukakasize Clark!

I'm sending money. "They" say he's so late announcing, he'll have trouble collecting enough, soon enough.

Col. Hackworth likes Clark as well (thank you, Dan Grobstein).

In the Schadenfreude department:

In GOP, Concern Over Iraq Price Tag: Some Doubt Need For $20.3 Billion For Rebuilding

Bush Administration Is Focus of Inquiry: CIA Agent's Identity Was Leaked to Media

(Thank you Dan and Craig). Gosh, I hope someone goes to jail (like Karl Rove) for the leak.


Interesting full page ad on p. A13 of The Washington Post of Sept. 23, 2003, on the occasion of Bush's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The ad asked whether Bush was aware:

1. . . . that under President Putin the independence of the democratic institutions in Russia has been systematically undermined? That the Russian Parliament, courts and media have been brought under the virtual control of the Kremlin, and elections have turned into a farce? That the constitution of 1993 that established the democratic foundations of Russia has effectively been destroyed?

2. . . . that the Putin government is responsible for war crimes and genocide in Chechnya?

3. . . . that there are many indications that Russian secret services were complicit in the blowing up of the residential houses in Russia in September 1999, when 249 innocent civilians perished? That these terrorist acts became the justification for the war in Chechnya? That the Kremlin has suppressed any parliamentary inquiry into the attacks and classified all the information?

4. . . . that in October 2002, during the hostage crisis in a Moscow theater, the secret services used deadly nerve gas which killed 129 innocent civilians?

5. . . . that antisemitism and xenophobia are being exploited by the secret services for demonizing big business and creating militaristic hysteria similar to Germany under the early Nazi regime?

6. . . . that under the Putin government more than 50% of the most important government posts are occupied by people who came from the former KGB special services?

7. . . . that the judiciary is used for political purposes to fabricate criminal cases and to involve the international community in suppressing political opposition through the extradition process? That Russian society is gripped by fear, and opposition politicians and journalists become victims of unsolved murders?

Note that before leaving for the U.S., Putin gave an interview to The New York Times (and others) in which he alleged that the October 2002 theater deaths were not caused by nerve gas.

The ad was placed by Boris Berezovsky (Deputy Head of Pres. Yeltsin's National Security Council), Elena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov), Vladiir Bukovsky (ex political prisoner), Ruslan Khasbulativ (1st Chairman of the Russian Parliament), and Ivan Rybkin (head of Russian NSC under Pres. Yeltsin and leader of the opposition political party Liberal Russia). It is possible that Berezovsky is now in London fighting extradition by the Putin regime.


In a front page story in The Washington Post of Sept. 25, 2003, Walter Pincus and Dana Priest reported that in Feb. 2001, Colin Powell stated in a speech that the Iraqis did not have WMD. That evening CBS managed to find and broadcast a videotape of Dick Cheney saying more or less the same thing on about Sept. 22, 2001 (n.b. after 9/11/2001).

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Microsoft dominance endangers national security: that was one of the conclusions of a report by a group of computer security experts published by an anti-Microsoft lobbying group (see also). One day earlier there was a timely example of the problem. So what do you get if you help write a honest report warning of national security vulnerabilities? In Dan Geer's case: you get fired.

Bind v. Verisign: last week Paul posted the item I "phoned in" about Verisign's abuse of its monopoly on the Domain Name Service (DNS) to turn typos into advertising opportunities. It just got better all week: Thanks, VeriSign, for breaking the Internet, Verisign sued over Site Finder, ICANN asks VeriSign to suspend controversial service, Verisign to ICANN: We'll Do What We Please.

Diebold's crooked voting machines: Gaffe casts doubts on electronic voting, An open invitation to election fraud and see this transcript from The Cryptography Mailing List.

JetBlue privacy fiasco: JetBlue privacy--under federal wings? and Army Admits Using JetBlue Data. The ACLU urges you to see if you have been compromised.

Too busy suing to make music: 18 record labels sue iMesh while in an amusing bit of man bites dog legal showmanship Kazaa sues the record labels for copyright infringement. The RIAA says Kazaa's "newfound admiration for the importance of copyright law" is "ironic" and "self-serving" -- I wonder which of those will be its defense in court? (We can't be guilty of copyright infringement your Honor--that would be, like, too ironic.) Meanwhile, the RIAA was forced to withdraw one of it anti-sharing lawsuits because it was completely without merit. The good news is that the more dirt-poor 12-year-olds, grandfathers, and innocent sculptors that the RIAA tries to persecute, the more it will be obvious that the DMCA's provision allowing these dickheads to proceed without a court hearing is an abuse of due process.

Technobits: California's strong anti-spam law --- Virginia Tech's supercomputer: a mondo PowerMac G5 Cluster (pictures) --- Google Search by Location --- The Fastest Man on Earth (Why Everything You Know About Murphy's Law is Wrong) --- Geek Eye for the Luddite Guys. U.S. Court Blocks Anti-Telemarketing List



Advice From A Retired Husband

Too long to reprint in full here; this Advice from A Retired Husband appears on at least 243 websites. Make that 244.

I usually get home from fishing or hunting about the same time she gets home from work. Although she knows how hungry I am, she almost always says that she has to rest for half an hour or so before she starts supper. I try not to yell at her when this happens. Instead, I tell her to take her time. I understand that she is not as young as she used to be. I just tell her to wake me when she finally does get supper on the table.

Funny Essay by a Temp

Rae found this funny essay by a temp who worked for the California Teachers' Association.

It begins:

Today is my last day at the California Teacher's Association, a two-week temp job that has proven to me both the value of a good education, and that teachers are absolutely retarded and evil.


Lost in Translation Redux

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Apparently, this film is drawing some real passion. Two long notes. First, Neal Vitale:

Minor quibbles on Lost In Translation. First, Suntory makes whisky (scotch), not whiskey (Irish). [Ed: I fixed this one] Second, you need to reflect on why you would ever want Lost in Translation to be G-rated (and don't forget cutting out the smoking and drinking, as well as the sexuality, to get there). Third, to me the most stunning thing about the film (besides the terrific acting) is the wonderful way in captures what the New York Times (I think) said was the merging of jet lag, insomnia, and a hangover, endemic to travels to places like Tokyo. Also, the bland, modernistic hotel, the perky staff - all perfect! And how could you not mention karaoke - Elvis Costello, Roxy Music? And the beauty of Bill Murray watching SNL on Japanese TV. You didn't remember Scarlett Johansson from the creepy Ghost World? (Neither did I.) (And don't miss today's NY Times, for the full translation of the dialogue in the filming of the commercial.) All that being said, I thought it was very good, not great. I found it sweet but a little ephemeral.

Have you seen Matchstick Men? Wonderful acting from Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman (White Oleander). Also, another film to rent if you haven't seen is Identity. Might make the bottom of my Top 10 this year.

You shouldn't ghetto-ize Finding Nemo - I think it holds its own versus the live action films (as did Shrek last year).

Finally, I saw Matchstick Men as a digital projection, and was actually troubled by the grain in the screen at times - gave the appearance of fine striping in the image. A little bothersome. Nice and bright, but not as rich as film. Hard to be definitive, though, as you'd really need to see the two versions next to each other. (BTW, same Roxy song in both LIT and MM!)

I may rethink my categorization of Nemo. And, I must add, I have experienced jet lag in Tokyo (twice), and this film is the finest depiction of that phenomenon I have ever seen. So I heartily second Neal on that point.

In the meantime, I also heard from Robert Malchman.

I also thought it was a terrifically acted and directed film (and also was disappointed at the gratuitous nudity that got it the R -- I cynically wonder if they did that to make guys think they'd see Scarlett Johannson naked).

Two criticisms, both about the writing, one I've seen several places, one not. In order: 1) Coppola really did a number on the Japanese, making them and their culture seem inane. It would be one thing to have this be Murray's idiosyncratic view, but the audience I was among was laughing at the stupid Japanese antics. It's like if a Japanese film taking place in America showed only the Super Bowl halftime show and the people at tractor pulls. Coppola did give us a little balance during Scarlett's visit to Kyoto, but it was too little, too late

2) I also didn't believe the premise behind Scarlett's character. She's a 23-year-old Yale philosophy grad with free time in Tokyo while her husband is working, and she's bored out of her mind????? I've never met a Yalie who lacked intellectual curiosity. A real person with that background would spend all her time in museums, in temples, on tours, on day trips (she finally goes on one to Kyoto near the end, but only after being "awakened" by her relationship with Murray), on walks through the city with her mouth hanging open. Contrast her character's behavior with Marlow's in Taiwan -- Scarlett's behavior is just not credible. Moreover, as a result, I had little sympathy for Scarlett's character. She's been handed this marvelous opportunity to learn and explore, and she's wasting it on self-indulgent mopery and flirtations with a married, has-been actor. Murray's character was completely believable, by contrast. I guess it's a tribute to the actors and director that I enjoyed a film about two such pathetic, unlikable characters.

The thing I liked most about the movie was that I had no idea how it was going to end until it did -- so many films have utterly predictable resolutions.

Amen, Robert.

This movie has produced more thoughtfulness than usually appears in this section of the column, for sure.

Under the Tuscan Sun

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

A cute, lovely, lightweight film that Vicki and I really enjoyed. Something of a chick flick, but I have no problem with that. I haven't read the book, but I think Audrey Wells wrote a swell script and did a good job as director.

The divorce section of the film is brief, bitter and heartfelt. Tuscany never looked so good--and while I've seen this film criticized as a plotless National Geographic documentary, I think that's unfair and incorrect. It is about love, and life, and getting what you want but in unexpected ways. They even attenuated (somewhat) the obvious Hollywood ending. Diane Lane turned in an Oscar-worthy performance. Once again, an "adult" film in the sense of dealing intelligently with adults and their concerns, rather than teenagers.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Only adults would be interested in this film anyway. At 1:53, a tad on the long side, but at least it didn't slop over two hours.

See it. As a couple.

Matchstick Men

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Ridley Scott has directed Nicolas Cage in some of his best work yet. Since the Academy loves a performance full of tics, I strongly believe Oscar will be coming to call. This is a first-class caper film, one with enough plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, along with a lovely, sentimental Hollywood coda. The movie itself hasn't got a chance for best picture (Hollywood doesn't often place caper films in that category), but it is good entertainment, put together in a workmanlike way. If you want to think, skip it. If you want to enjoy yourself, see it.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language. At 116 minutes, I honestly believe it is a minimum of 16 minutes longer than it needs to be.

The Countdown

Adding Cage and Lane

Best Picture:
Seabiscuit, Lost in Translation

Best Animated Film:
Finding Nemo

Best Director:
Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)

Best Actress:
Diane Lane (Under The Tuscan Sun)

Best Actor:
Bill Murray (Lost in Translation)
Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men)

In other categories, my favorite films so far this year are:

Indie Film:
Whale Rider, The Hard Word

Spellbound, Winged Migration, Lost in La Mancha, Gigantic

Narration by a dead person:

Bend it like Beckham

A Mighty Wind


The Grobstein File

The Grobstein File:

From the New York Times:

From the Washington Post:

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