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
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P.S. A Column On Things: October 20, 2003

October 20, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 41

Table of Contents:

General News

  • An Easy Week
  • New From Marlow
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Marjorie Wolfe on Halloween


  • Kill Bill Vol. 1
  • Intolerable Cruelty


  • Peterman, Malchman, Reynolds and the Dan Grobstein File

General News

An Easy Week

Letting others write most of the column this week...

News From Marlow

In Tapei:

All over Taizhong there was a lot more flashing neon than in Taipei. Taizhong is much more car oriented. There are buses but no subway. You really need a car or a motor-scooter to get around, which was part of why we decided to leave early since we couldn't really do anything in Taizhong proper without LL (Teacher Lin). But a lot of the neon marked Beetle Nut stands. I haven't really gotten a straight answer on what beetlenuts are, but I think they're half way between tobacco and caffeine, a favorite treat with truckers. The little stands where they are sold also sell drinks and cigarettes, and are by and large manned by women not wearing much clothing. G heard the less clothing the more expensive the beetlenuts, and LL informed us that the girls were called Beetle Nut Xi Shis. Xi Shi was a beautiful empress who was also known for her generosity. The "Shi" of her name is the same "Shi" in my name, so by extension, I guess, its all of you other Schindler's name too, should you ever have need of a Chinese name. LL obviously saw it, from her feminist perspective, as a sign of problems in Taiwan's culture, but I was more amused by hearing more about my namesake than anything else. (the curved roofs of temples are called Xi Shi's back)


I spent a bunch of time in the subway today because I also had my go lesson today. Going through Taipei main station is kind of an interesting experience. Sometimes I can definitely look across a sea of black and hennaed hair and see the other one white guy on the subway, but often I feel like the only "waiguo ren" around, and the bizarre looks I get from people confirm this feeling. It is different from being in Central Station in New York because, on top of everyone being Asian, everyone is at worst dressed business casual. Even the kids look at least somewhat sharp since they're all in uniforms. I'm not sure if even the public schools here require uniforms, or if there even are public schools in Taipei, but it seems like every group of kids is wearing the same uniform. I think if I were in middle school here I'd like to go to the pink jogging suit school, and maybe I'd find a nice young man from the teal jogging suit school to date, but I'm sure he'd be more interested in the girls from Sailor Moon Academy, though I'm pretty sure his head wouldn't be turned by the girls in the ugly green prison looking shirts with the pleated skirts, besides they seem to have their own male counterparts with the same prison-style button down shirts and slacks. There's also some kids who just have polo shirts and plaid-pleated skirts, but from early in the morning till 9:30 when cram school gets out, groups of kids are normally groups of uniformity.


We always chat over lunch (we eat what we made in class) and often the Americans just talk in English, the kids from various small Asian countries use Chinese, and the Japanese kids will switch easily between Japanese, Chinese, and English, and the teacher allows it, but she will only speak Chinese, and will be more likely to respond to you if you speak Chinese to her, although I think her English comprehension is probably pretty high. But she was telling this guy from New Jersey in my class about a type of soup she likes. We'd just learned "yu\ tou/" which means tarot, and thats what he thought she was talking about, but she'd actually changed topics and was talking about "yu/ tou/" (fish heads). Hilarity ensued. It was like the setup for a bad joke or a hilarious sitcom mix-up for tone-deaf Chinese speakers.

Political Notes

Check out George Bush's "résumé." Sounds about right to me.

Also, Mike Davis offers a pungent, but, to my eye, accurate analysis of the California Recall which appeared first on the web, then in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle.

If you always suspected that people who watch Fox news are ignorant, the Washington Post says you're right. Both Dan Grobstein and Craig Reynolds sent this me this one.

I though a lot about Arnold Kling's An Open Letter to Paul Krugman which I mentioned last week. Here's what I've decided I think.

Arnold Kling criticizes New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for making too few arguments based upon the consequences of various proposals by George W. Bush and too many arguments based upon the motivations of George W. Bush.

With respect to most proposals by Bush and his (to use a neutral and charitable noun) co-conspirators, the consequences of the proposals are not only intuitively obvious to the most casual observer but also crystal clear to any reasonably educated and moderately intelligent American over the age of fourteen. The only issue worth considering is Bush's motivations which (assuming but not conceding that Bush has not yet irretrievably lost all contact with, and conception of, reality) are not those stated by Bush for all too many proposals. Of course, if Bush has lost all contact with reality, then Bush may actually think that his motivations are the ones he enunciates.

As far as confining oneself to discussions of consequences rather than motivations in an effort to raise the level of political discourse or in order to avoid forcing what Mr. Kling refers to as "the Right" to stoop to Prof. Krugman's level, Mr. Kling has the time sequence confused. Those Mr. Kling refers to as "the Right" (those opposed to the continuation of a free patriotic constitutional democracy which is economically secure, militarily strong, and environmentally conscious) have made their arguments in the gutter for a long time. While there are many examples, one will suffice.

During the elections in the autumn of 2002, George Bush for partisan political advantage essentially accused a brave American war hero (U.S. Senator Max Cleland) of being a traitor. Cleland sacrificed three of his limbs in the service of our country in Vietnam while Bush was AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. What was Cleland's alleged offense? During Senate debate, Cleland raised what Bush deemed to be inconvenient questions about Bush's proposal for an invasion of Iraq.

The consequences of a letter like Mr. Kling's (although surely not of Mr. Kling's letter itself) are that some may think that certain people who read Prof. Krugman's column do not understand the role of a columnist. Prof. Krugman is not given his space in The Times to make advances in theoretical economics or to raise the level of economic thinking among his readers. A columnist's role is to comment on current affairs in a very confined amount of space. Prof. Krugman has courageously, courteously, and bluntly used clear language to draw the public's attention to the unconstitutional, illegal, unnecessary, unpatriotic, treacherous effort by Geoge W. Bush and his colleagues and campaign contributors (for example Ken Lay of Enron) to bankrupt the United States. Also, to destroy the national security of the United States, to degrade the military power of the United States to the point where insufficient fighting forces remain to deal with real threats to the United States, to destroy the physical environment in the United States. And, to place in extreme jeopardy for purely personal and partisan public relations purposes the life of a brave officer of the CIA (and the lives of her sources and her family) all of whom have served the United States (as opposed to going AWOL). Plus he wants to eviscerate the protections of the Bill of Rights. All of this is a reflection of the affairs upon which Prof. Krugman must comment and not of some illusory inability of Prof. Krugman to make a proper argument.

This from Steve Coquet:

I just read the open letter to Paul Krugman by Arnold Kling. Yeah, he does have a point, but I would only give half a point for it. Motivations are not irrelevant in political discussion. That Republican 'reforms' have:

  • exacerbated rather than reduced the gap between rich and poor;
  • decreased the availability to higher education for the general public;
  • created the greatest deficit in history when they had the opportunity to nearly wipe out our national debt, and (one could continue listing for quite a while here).

That they continue to stay the course leads one to at least question their motives: If they don't want these things to happen, then why do they continue to do the things that cause them?

Of course arguments to consequence are more valid than arguments to motivation, but motivation cannot be ignored. Do we need education reform? Sure. Would a fifteen hundred-dollar voucher per child be nice? It wouldn't have allowed me to put my kids into the only private school I would have wanted to; the yearly tuition was ten thousand per year. But for parents whose kids were already there it would have been significant. As far as I can tell, every right wing reform that was supposed to help every one has been the same. It only helped everyone they know, and nearly no one I know.

This brings up the age-old question: If they're so terrible, how do they keep getting elected? It has been suggested that they tell every segment of society that they will screw every other segment to that particular segment's advantage and the public never catches on. It seems to be the case.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

[Off topic announcement: on October 26, I will participate in Walk Now a benefit for Cure Autism Now. Please consider making a donation to support autism research here or anywhere else.]

Broadcast flag in Washington Post's FCC Targets Copying of Digital TV the subtitle "Hollywood Backs Rule That May Irk Viewers" probably understates consumer's reactions once the implications sink in. ("What do you MEAN I can't record the HDTV shows on my new $20K entertainment systems?!") If you want to at least say NO to this stupidity, visit the EFF's action center. CBS has already threatened to take their HDTV marbles and go home if they can't get the Broadcast Flag law.

Open is Good: the Public Library of Science (as mentioned here last December and July) has launched its first Open Journal: PLoS Biology. Like other planned PLoS journals, the full content of PLoS Biology is freely available on the web. Wired says New Science Mag Spikes Tradition and in Open Source Everywhere explores the pre-software roots of the "Open philosophy" and its post-software applications.

Microsoft pot-shot of the week: due to built-in security flaws, the Windows user experience is becoming so painful (Internet Week: Microsoft Dissatisfaction Running High, Users Contemplate Switch) that Microsoft feels the need to announce a new security initiative every week or so. Or is this just a re-branding of the "securing the perimeter" plan from two weeks ago? Anyway, its good to hear that they plan to fix buffer over-run exploits. Lets see, I think Lisp fixed that once and for all in about 1965. As always, the forgetful are condemmed...

File sharing: yet another baseless lawsuit in the RIAA campaign to alienate their customers: Fan to RIAA: It Ain't Me, Babe and Clay Shirky describes how file sharing will evade the RIAA's efforts: File-sharing Goes Social.

Technobits: Patriot Act Curbing Data Retention --- has put together an interesting geography-based web directory.


Marjorie Wolfe on Halloween

Marjorie Wolfe wrote a humorous journal of her Halloween experiences which she shared with me. Now I'm sharing it with you. Go, especially if you have kids of that age.


Kill Bill

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Don't get me wrong. I like Quentin Tarantino. I like his writing. I have liked his other three movies. He is an unquestioned master of every aspect of filmmaking. He makes very "directorly" movies. He uses techniques you haven't seen in a serious movie (other than a Woody Allen film) in years. Narration. Split screens. One character faded in on top of another. Flashbacks. Black and white sequences. Title cards. He does homage (in this case, to Asian martial arts films) like no one else in recent years, except maybe the people who run the Scary Movie franchise. He is in control of every element of his films. The sound, the sound effects, the special effects, the music, the color scheme, the depth of focus, the costumes. Everything is meticulous. Nothing is left to chance. I can easily believe that he, not his martial arts consultants, choreographed every step of every fight. And I accept that his ultraviolence is intended as a parody.

And yet, in the end, it would be so nice if all this intelligence, all this effort, were harnessed in an effort to tell a story. I'm sorry, Quentin, but throwing in a little plot during the last 10 seconds of the movie does not make it a movie. It is a montage, a collection of scenes.

Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Mildly entertaining, if you go in for this sort of thing. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content. 110 minutes, so at least he didn't go wild with the length (apparently, only because he was advised to break the film in two).

I'll go see Part II next spring. But I won't put this film on my Oscar list, and I'll be offended if anyone else does, including the Academy. Kill Bill isn't fit to lick Mystic River's boots--and I haven't seen Mystic River yet (it's still on an exclusive showing in the city; too far to go).

Intolerable Cruelty

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Boy, sometimes you can't beat IMDB for cutting to the chase:

Tagline: A romantic comedy with bite.

Plot Outline: A revenge-seeking gold digger marries a womanizing Beverly Hills lawyer with the intention of making a killing in the divorce.

User Comments: More straight-forward than most Coen Bros., just as good

Boy howdy, that just about sums it up. After a series of (to put it mildly) elliptical, loopy and just downright inaccessible films, Joel and Ethan Coen decided to tell a story this time, with a beginning, a middle and an end. As a bonus, they threw in two charming stars to boot, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who give charming performances in a piece of fluff.

At 100 minutes, it's only 10 minutes too long for a comedy. It's Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence. Frankly, most middle-schoolers would be baffled by the plot. In fact, most high-schoolers would be. Here we have yet another film that only an adult can truly enjoy.

Award-winning? Hardly. Thought-provoking? Not in this lifetime. Entertaining? You betcha. How it got to the Venice Film Festival I can't imagine (except, perhaps, on the Coen's reputation).


Peterman, Malchman, Reynolds and the Dan Grobstein File

My friend Kent Peterman got mentioned in his local paper, identified by his impressive title. Now you know about it too.

Robert Malchman was kind enough to share a copy of the infamous New York Post editorial bemoaning the Yankee loss that never was.

You read it here first: Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor in Ft. Stewart, Georgia. UPI isn't the UPI that I used to work for, but if true, this is quite a story and you can tell your friends you read it here first. Thanks Craig Reynolds!

Dan Grobstein File:

  • Garrison Keillor said last night [Oct. 11] that the new $20 bill had both English and Arabic writing on it since so many were going to be spent in Iraq.
  • A fantastic fantasy of how Rush would spin the drug story if it had happened to Clinton. You must follow this link.


New York Times

  • Bob Herbert notes the NRA's enemies list. Can I be on it too?
  • Free papers full of dumbed down news try to attract young readers, including a new one in New York City. Best line in the article:

Richard Karpel, the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies: "I'm always skeptical of middle-aged executives getting together over marketing studies and focus groups and putting out a newspaper."

Washington Post

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