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: October 6, 2003

October 6, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 40

Table of Contents:

General News

  • An Exciting Saturday
  • News From Marlow
  • News From Rae
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • The Top 15 Signs Your Classmate Is a Stripper
  • Dipsticks
  • Buy This Book


  • Anything Else
  • Once Upon A Time In Mexico


  • Malchman and the Dan Grobstein File

General News

An Exciting Saturday

Vicki is a genius. She planned a day that brought pleasure, exercise, and new experiences to myself and two couples with whom we have been friends for years. It started at 8am, when we all met at the Orinda Bart station. We then carpooled over to the Oakland Ferry dock in Jack London Square, where we caught the 9 am ferry to San Francisco's Pier 41 (next door to the world-famous Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf area). We took a long stroll down Herb Caen Way to the historic and recently restored San Francisco Ferry Building. Along the way, we marveled at the variety of historic F-line streetcars, including an open-topped one that looked like a boat, and had a "bell" to match.

I love great public spaces, and the San Francisco Ferry Building is now a hard one to beat. The city and a developer recently tore out a half-century of "improvements" exposing the building-length skylight and "grand nave," which is now filled with restaurants, food stores and boutiques. (Something similar could have been done to Penn Station had it not been torn down in 1963). Outside, there was a fantastic Saturday farmer's market.

Another brisk walk to Third and Mission and we were at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We went to see the only U.S. exhibition of a very impressive show of the work of Marc Chagall, with pieces from 1913 up to the late 70s (he didn't die until 1985, at the age of 97, and was working until the end of his life). The line stretched around the block. Fortunately, Vicki had the wisdom to buy and maintain a family membership several years ago. We got in free and got two free tickets for one couple (we had to pay $30 for the other couple). We not only waltzed past the huge line, we also had a separate, shorter, much-faster line to wait in once we were inside. Ah, the benefits of membership in a museum. You should try it. Ironically, anyone in the line could have joined on the spot and received the same benefits, but people are so inured to joining culture institutions, they never think of it. We joined the Monterrey Aquarium once, back when the lines were huge there, for much the same reason: the jump the line.

There was a dozen galleries full of Chagall's work. His most famous piece, the man with the head of a goat kissing a woman, was one display. Goats were a recurring theme in many of his paintings throughout his life. So were roosters. He did a lot of works that reflected his Judaism, illustrated bible stories and fables, did costume and set design, and much else. He apparently led a very productive life. I found it fascinating, both to view the originals and to witness his mellowing and maturing as an artist. I wish there had been more of his very late work, but that is a small quibble. He made amazing use of color, and, of course, he used a lot of goats and roosters.

We walked across Yerba Buena Gardens to the still-struggling Sony Metreon. The movie theater there is going great guns, but all the other enterprises in the building (except the basement food court) seem quite tenuous. I don't remember which of my daughters I took once to the second-floor restaurant there, the one with the arts works show on LCD screen, but its not an experience we will ever have again, because the restaurant is bankrupt. The three couples on this excursion ate in the upscale first-floor food court. I had the tri-tip plate (I like me a little beef now and then) along with the sweet broccoli salad from the Buckhorn Grill. One of the women had the Yik Yak salad from the same place. I must remember to try that next time.

We walked back down Market street to the Pier 41 ferry terminal, then wandered around Jack London square a bit before returning to Orinda. Vicki and I went to see the Denzel Washington flick, Out of Time, only I had gotten the showtime wrong and we were either half-hour late or 90 minutes early, depending on how you look at it. Vicki was impatient, so we went to see Antonio Banderas in Once Upon A Time in Mexico. I tried to warn Vicki she'd hate it, but sometimes there is just no stopping her (I liked it; see my review).

We went home to a lovely dinner of crabcakes and heirloom tomatoes with fresh buffalo mozzarella (the latter two purchased at the farmer's market and carried around all day).

Exciting--you bet! And best of all, I gave not a moment's thought all day to school, schoolchildren, or any other aspect of my job. And that was great!

News From Marlow

In Tapei:

Some of the conditions here in restaurants and street-side vendors are definitely below western standards, but I feel like I know what to look for. You just gotta make sure you can watch them cooking and don't get anything that's been standing out. Of course odds are still with me getting sick at some point, but even when/if it does happen I don't think it'll be as bad as I came in expecting it to be. This really isn't China, its kind of China light plus America Jr.

Shi Da is short for Laoshi Daxue or Teacher's College. I am attending classes at the Mandarin Language Training Center at Shi da (lao SHI DA xue). Its common to just use the "da" to mean university and then a one syllable shortening of the university name. Columbia was Ge Da, Taipei University is Tai Da, Beijing U. is Bei Da, etc.


And now for another handful of Taiwan observations.

You have to take your shoes off before you go into some places like people's apartments or the computer lab, but unlike at our house in Orinda, there are ample places for you to store your shoes. There are shoe towers and shoe cabinets all over the place of the kind I've always tried to tell mom to buy if she was serious about us not wearing our shoes upstairs, this way your shoes can stay by the door. It was a little hard to get used to this at first, because in New York you would basically be asking people to steal your shoes or parasol/umbrella if you left them out by your door in your apartment. But here people even leave their shoes on the street in some cases, and no one steals 'em. Go figure.

There seem to be no rules governing where scooters can drive here. Parking is often on the sidewalk and there are often many, many scooters parked on any given sidewalk. I think the etiquette is that you're not supposed to drive onto the sidewalk until your close to your destination or looking for parking, but I think some people just prefer using the sidewalks. And no westerners who have scooters have the proper drivers' licenses.

Bridal photography here is a really big deal. After the Confucian ceremony we happened to walk through the bridal photography district, a lot of businesses here are located by district, and there were several muylti-story bridal photography palaces. Apparently on top of the normal "go different places and pose" thing that you see in the states there are also a variety of backdrops and costume changes needed for a really successful Taiwanese wedding photography extravaganza. It would be fun to see the inside of one of those, but I don't know on what pretense I could get in.

Hotdogs are like corn here in that they represent western cuisine. There are hotdogs everywhere. They are used as a breakfast food and a garnish. Bakeries often have a couple different hot dog/bread choices between the pastries and the garlic bread, and of course the ham and corn bread.

Betty Boop is still really popular here. I think I might have already mentioned this one, but in case I haven't, it's really weird. Its not like they're making new Taiwanese Betty Boop stuff, it seems to mainly be the exact same stuff some American who really loved Betty Boop could get.

Lastly, female students here hold hands all the time. I hadn't considered it too weird, but I've heard a lot of other westerners commenting on it. It isn't uncommon to see college aged girls or older walking hand in hand or arm in arm. And boys also have a different physical relationship. School aged boys through high school and maybe even college well touch each other a lot more here than they do in the states. There's a lot more playful slapping and pinching on the street or standing in the subway, though I haven't seen male classmates holding hands.

News From Rae

This just in from Rae at Brandeis:

I went on that hike with T, a sophomore. Two other people sent me an e-mail saying they were interested in the hike, but they were no-shows. The hiking ground was about a 30 minute drive away. We picked up a map at Blue Hill Reserves HQ and went on one of the "challenging" hikes. It was evident right away why they called this a challenging hike. It wasn't a cleared path. You had to hike over big rocks and several rocks that were big and numerous enough that you were looking more at the rocks and roots under foot than the surrounding forested area. The views were of big hills with a bunch of trees, which was nice, but not spectacular. The highlight view of the entire hike where you could see into Boston was mostly obstructed by clouds.

Political Notes

Richard Dalton found this wonderful counterpoint at Wired to David Kay's report on the absence of WMDs in Iraq.

Chemical Arms Demolition Delayed
A U.S. program for destroying its chemical weapons cache will not meet the deadline set in an international accord. Army sources say it will take at least until 2012 to get rid of the stockpile. By Noah Shachtman.

He also found a site that wants to light a fire under the much-needed investigation of the White Houses' criminal activity in the Plame affair:

* * *

Check out the Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act, which would repeal some of the nastier elements of the "Patriot" Act Congress rushed into law as part of the 9/11 hysteria.

* * *

From one side of their mouth, the top monetary authorities -- the Fed chairman and the Treasury secretary -- insist they support a strong dollar against other currencies.

But from the other side, many of the same officials are pleading and demanding that China, Japan and other Asian nations let their currencies float higher against the dollar.

But they can't have it both ways.

If the financial poobahs really want foreign currencies to appreciate against the dollar, then they've got to step up and admit they are really seeking is a cheaper dollar.

Why? With a cheaper dollar:

    1. they figure they'll make U.S. goods cheaper -- to better compete with cheap foreign goods;
    2. they figure fewer jobs will be moving overseas, and;
    3. they hope they'll have a better chance at beating the Democrats in the presidential election.

What they're not advertising are the other implications of a weaker dollar: foreign investors dumping their dollar assets, driving down U.S. bond prices, hurting U.S. stock prices, even cutting U.S. real estate values. Nor do they realize that this selling from abroad is a potential time bomb.

No matter what, the U.S. authorities decided they'd take their chances. They met with the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders. They decided what to say. And they issued a joint communiqué.

Here's what they said in the communiqué: "We emphasize that more flexibility in exchange rates is desirable for major countries or economic areas to promote smooth and widespread adjustments in the international financial system, based on market mechanisms."

Here's what they really meant: "Japan and China had better let their currencies rise -- and let the U.S. dollar fall against them -- or else."

No wonder the yen surged and the dollar fell to an almost three- year low in the week ended September 26, 2003 -- precisely what the U.S. wanted. What about the Chinese yuan? Did it rise also? No. China pegs the yuan to the dollar at a fixed rate of 8.28 yuan per 1 U.S. dollar. So, when the U.S. dollar falls, so does the value of China's yuan. Result: no matter what happens to the dollar on international markets, as long as that peg stays in place, China's exports will still be just as cheap as they've been all along. Our trade deficit with China remains huge. And the dollar will continue to sink against virtually every other currency.

What would happen if the dollar falls further? Typically, it would bring: rising gold prices, rising energy prices, rising inflation, rising interest rates, falling bond prices, and falling stock prices. If the dollar decline accelerates, the impacts could be far-reaching.

Further signs of economic weakness are around, such as:

    1. Businesses are not investing in new equipment. Durable goods orders sank 0.9% in August versus forecasts for a 0.6% rise.
    2. OPEC announced that its members will cut production by about 900,000 barrels per day because of increasing Iraqi production. But, Iraq's still months, if not years, away from producing 900K bpd. Energy prices may rise as a result of the decrease in supply.
    3. Consumers are figuratively running out of gas. U.S. chain store sales dropped in the most recent report more than they have since last December. Tax-rebate checks appear to be all but spent. In addition, mortgage refinancing can be expected to decrease if interest rates rise.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

E-Voting is suddenly red hot, between the Florida ballot debacle in 2000, the ongoing debacle about the laughably insecure Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine, the upcoming potential debacle if any part of the California recall is close. As a result, Warren Slocum, the "Chief Elections Officer & Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder" of my own sleepy little county of San Mateo (you know its small when one guy hold down four of the county's executive jobs) has become a bit of a 'net celebrity. He has taken a leading role in pushing for verified voting -- which is to say: reliable, secure, non-corrupt e-voting. He has launched a blog and wrote a paper on the topic: Paper Trail for Electronic Ballots: Who Needs It? Go Warren!

Microsoft potpourri after years of blaming the victim ("its not our fault that grandma forgot to load patches") for its own built-in insecurity, Microsoft has at least announced a new approach called securing the perimeter. Too late, the damage to their credibility is already done. And as has been widely predicted, the battle to hold Microsoft accountable for damage facilitated by their poor security has moved into the courtroom: Microsoft Faces Class-Action on Security Breaches and Microsoft Measured for a Brand New Suit. Tiring of the virus infested Windows world, the governments of Massachusetts and Korea have decided to become Microsoft-free zones.

ACLU and Rappers against the RIAA the ACLU is filing suit against the RIAA claiming RIAA's DMCA subpoenas violate due process and consumer's constitutional rights. And Wired quotes dueling rappers on the RIAA's campaign in Rappers in Disharmony on P2P. I enjoyed rapper Chuck D's comments: "...As an artist representing an 80-year period of black musicianship, I never felt that my copyrights were protected anyway...I trust the consumer more than I trust the people who have been at the helm of these companies..."

Technobits: Unicode 4.0 and the alphabetician to all --- The Incredible Shrinking Studio --- my ISP just doubled my speed --- c is for chocolate: Measure The Speed of Light With a Microwave --- Bruce Sterling's Ten Technologies That Deserve to Die (how can any self-respecting science fiction author argue against manned space flight?!) --- see the great short film produced by Greenpeace: Alien Invasion.


The Top 15 Signs Your Classmate Is a Stripper

Tied for 12th.

September 29, 2003


A chain of strip clubs in Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan is offering to pay tuition for co-eds who work as strippers -- as long as they maintain B-or-above averages. Saying it makes for "happier young ladies," the company will pay $1,500 to $2,000 in educational expenses per year to women or men who work in its clubs. The money is on top of the $10 an hour that dancers are paid and the cash they get from tips and private dances.

"But Chris," you ask, "How do I know if I'm taking a class with a stripper?" GREAT question!

15> Her grades aren't the only things that appear to have been inflated.

14> Psychs herself up for tests with quiet self-affirmations of "I'm good enough... I'm smart enough..." -- in gym class.

13> You: Studying for the bar exam. Her: Studying for the pole exam.

12> When it's time to pass out tests, he motions the professor to tuck it into his underwear.

11> In econ class, she's always willing to show her recession-proof models.

10> She asks if you want to buy her a $15 pencil.

9> Turns in a thesis titled "A Study in Microeconomics: Japanese Businessmen Are Sick Bastards, but Tip Huge."

8> A lot of classmates stagger into 8 a.m. classes reeking of booze and cigarettes, but he doesn't belong to a fraternity.

7> Each time you lean sideways to whisper a humorously flirtatious comment to her during class, a jealous Ben Affleck smacks your head from the row behind and asks, "How many Oscars have you won, tough guy?"

6> She just did something with a No. 2 pencil that you never dreamt possible.

5> She gets an A on her midterm, even though it's the professor who did the cramming last night.

4> Her graduation cap has two tassels and she can make them rotate in opposite directions.

3> She always has change for a twenty.

2> When you ask to see her notes from last week's class, she replies, "Only in the VIP room, buster."

and's Number 1 Sign Your Classmate Is a Stripper...

1> It takes her three songs to change for gym class.

[ The Top 5 List ] [ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ] ====================== Selected from 93 submissions from 32 contributors. Today's Top 5 List authors are: -------------------------------- Chun Ho, Honolulu, HI -- 1 (7th #1) Kevin Freels, Walnut Creek, CA -- 12 (Hall of Famer) Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 12 Peg Warner, Exeter, NH -- 12 Mark Weiss, Austin, TX -- 12


Thank you, Dan Grobstein.

There are a lot of folks who can't understand how we came to have an oil shortage here in America.

Well, there's a very simple answer. Nobody bothered to check the oil.

We just didn't know we were getting low. The reason for that is purely geographical.

All our oil is in Alaska, Texas, California, and Oklahoma.

All our dipsticks are in Washington, DC.

Buy This Book

You know those lists I put in the column now and then (when my contribution is used?) Well, the best of them from several years back have been collected between soft covers in The Top Five Guide To Evildoers. Not just the lists with my contributions in them (although there are, ahem, many that do list me as a contributor), but many funny lists that will provide both a walk down memory lane and minute after minute of tickled ribs. Seriously, what else do you have to do with $14. Send me a copy of this book and I'll autograph it. Now that Aspirin Therapy is out of print, it's the only way to get me into your library.


Anything Else

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Since 1971's Bananas (32 years) Woody Allen has written and directed 34 films. He will be 68 on Dec. 1. How much longer will we have him with us? Has there ever been a body of work like this before? Will there ever be one again? Even at its absolute worst (Might Aphrodite, which was my mother's last Woody Allen film and, along with Truly Madly Deeply is the standard against which bad films are judged in my family), Allen's output has still had sparks of intelligence in every film. He, like Steve Martin or Robert Benchley, or S.J. Perleman, is just funny. Period.

I found several moments at which I could laugh out loud in Anything Else. I had an amused smile on my face the rest of the time. It never insulted my intelligence, and it made good use of several excellent actors. Alas, the male lead, Jason Biggs as Jerry Falk, wasn't one of them. As Woody has finally realized he can't be his own leading man any more, he needs a new one, and it can't be Alan Alda either. His search is not yet over. I think he has a few good films left in him, maybe even a great one, but not unless he finds someone to play the comic lead.

As always, the movie distribution industry finds Woody a very refined taste. This film won't show in the deep suburbs where I live; I had to scoot over to Berkeley to see it. It was worth the trip.

Rated R for a scene of drug use and some sexual references. I would have rated it R for Christina Ricci in her underwear alone. There's something strangely appealing about her.

If you love Woody Allen movies, you'll enjoy this one. If you don't love them, don't bother to go.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Antonio Banderas and Richard Rodriguez together again, with an El Mariachi film. So, if you like your violence senseless, vivid and in abundance, this would be the film for you. Brilliantly and innovatively stomach-churning new ways to blow people apart, up, down and sideways. The plot is a dog's breakfast--who cares! Selma Hayek--five minutes of screen time. Who cares! Willem Dafoe being Willem Dafoe. Mickey Rourke for heaven's sake. Johnny Depp as a totally depraved CIA agent. Eva Mendes (didn't know her name, recognized her face) has a lovely small role. Danny Trejo, the owner of the best bad-guy face in motion pictures today (follow the link and see for yourself) gets to play a rather unpleasant gentleman.

It beggars belief and quickly moves beyond description or criticism. If you've seen the other films and like them, you'll consider this 102 minutes well spent. If you intensely dislike screen violence--if you dislike it at all, in fact--run, don't walk, away from Once Upon A Time In Mexico.


Malchman and the Dan Grobstein File

Robert Malchman found a provocative AP story on MSNBC, which suggests that "black sounding names" make you less likely to get hired.

The Dan Grobstein File:

Dan likes this Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper blog

In the Asia Times, an article on problems with the disappearance from view of America's wounded soldiers in Iraq.

In the London Sunday Observer, a biographic profile of Dan Aykroyd promoting his role as Canadian Lord Beaverbrook in an upcoming film.

New York Times:

  • Have you noticed that we've moved from the age of the culture wars to the age of the presidency wars?
  • Millions die of AIDS in Africa. It doesn't have to be that way, says Nicholas Kristof.
  • Paul Krugman warns of the GOP plan for dealing with the Plame affair: slime and defend. I love the way he marshals indisputable facts to make his arguments.

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