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

June 14, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

June 14, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 23

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Graduation
  • Whining and Bad Mood
  • Ronald Reagan Remembered
  • Marlow from Mongolia
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • None


  • Special To This Column, War Memorial, Switching To Digital Photography, Dan Grobstein File

General News


This was a week for graduations, with one more to go at this writing. First, to Sacramento, for the graduation of my nephew at Highlands High School. He's headed off to UC Davis in the fall, from a school which had a graduating class half the size of its incoming freshman class of four years earlier. The ceremony was mercifully brief and the weather mercifully cool for Sacramento in June. My nephew is a fine young man, and I'm proud of him.

Then next night, 8th grade graduation for Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School, a rather different group of young people than those of Highlands High. Certainly a lot less diverse. I came to honor the 180 students I taught this year, and to surprise one of them with the prize for best history student. She was very surprised to receive it, but I caught up with her and told her that sometimes quiet competence is recognized instead of noisy competence.

Finally, I am filing the column early this week because I'm off to Seattle for my niece's graduation from college. But it's only a day trip, because Sunday I have a concert with the Danville Town Band. I am the MC and the narrator of a circus medley.

Next week, I am planning a complete physical collapse. I've earned it, I deserve it, and I'm going to take it.

Whining and Bad Mood

It has been pointed out to me that, regardless of the stance I have taken in writing in this column, that I have been whining constantly about my job as a teacher. The people who have to live with me (as opposed to those who merely read these words weekly) would like that whining to come to an end--expect it to come to an end with the end of the school year. I could interpret this as "they don't care," but have been told to interpret it as "there's nothing we can do to change it, so please shut up about it." Along the same line, I have been told I've been in a bad mood for months.

There is a certain element of "I Told You So" involved here. My mother and my wife, both former teachers, expressed doubts about the suitability of this line of work; I ignored them, as I ignored all the former PC Week people who warned me away from working there, which I did for 14 months starting in the fall of 1988).

Well, last Friday was the last day of school, so I say, let the healing begin.

Teachers getting fired for telling the truth.

Ronald Reagan Remembered

I like this article at

What Reagan Got Wrong
Liberty is not the absence of government, By William Saletan

Reagan made a lack of compassion acceptable. He came close to destroying the Democratic (not Democrat, but Democratic) Party. How he succeeded in convincing blue collar America that busting unions and giving tax breaks to the rich were the formula for success in America, I'll never know.

He and his cohorts take credit for the death of Communism, which occurred on his watch (and that of his successor, G.H.W. Bush). We can argue all day about who deserves credit (at least I can), but in any case Reagan and Bush managed to fumble the opportunity presented by that collapse (to lend the Soviets a helping hand) because of their blinkered political stubbornness. We invested $3 trillion breaking the USSR, but couldn't be bothered to make the last few billion dollars of investment to buy up their missiles and help them build a real capitalist, democratic society. Instead, as in Iraq, we stood by and watched the country collapse.

I am sorry for Reagan's family, sorry he is gone, and I express my condolences to them and others who mourn his loss.

I sincerely believe that, at the end of the day--say 50 years from now (meaning I won't live to see it)--Reagan will be ranked among the mediocrities who have taken up space as president, including Chester Alan Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, Millard Fillmore and Jimmy Carter. We'll just be embarrassed by the plethora of roads and buildings being named for him as the result of a campaign by the hard right, as most people are embarrassed by the oversupply of Warren G. Harding schools in the U.S.

Objectively, Bill Clinton and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (Harvard) also had a hand in not properly assisting the transition in the former USSR. Clinton in particular could have done more buying of the type advocated by the author of the editorial you graciously sent.

And, of course, one could ask whether national Democrats manifested an elitist attitude not sufficiently respectful of the legitimate social concerns of those referred to as Reagan Democrats.

Also See: Reagan's Dark Legacy in Central America and Paul Krugman tells the truth about Reagan's economic legacy.


From Dan Grobstein:

Reagan blasts Bush
"My father crapped bigger ones than George Bush," says the former president's son, in a flame-throwing conversation about the war and the Bush administration's efforts to lay claim to the Reagan legacy.


In refusing to turn over documents to the Senate this week, the so-called chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. "Attorney General" John Ashcroft showed contempt for his employers (us) and his oath of office. And while we're on the subject, President Bush telling a British reporter that "I am obeying the law" on torture is meaningless, since he has legal opinions that, for him, as commander-in-chief in wartime, there is no law. Which means he could be authorizing torture and believing it is legal for him to do so, based on a Justice Department memo Ashcroft refused to turn over. "We're not torturing anyone" would have been a more reassuring statement, but it might well have been a lie, and of course we impeach presidents now for lying.

Marlow from Mongolia

Marlow's in Mongolia. Here's what she's up to:

It is quite different here. With me being the only volunteer instead of one of 26 there is a lot less shortage of supplies, like hammers and shovels. I did spend the beginning of the day just watching people install floors, which involved a lot of using a level and piling up bricks under boards, but in a way that required some skill... they let me saw or hammer something when I looked particularly bored, and then I had a small lunch in one house, then the accountant came with my real lunch, then I finally got to do some work helping clean out a second house they were going to start working on the floor of. Then I got invited to a third lunch in one of the already built houses. It is kind of hard to explain I already ate, so I just went along. In the afternoon I worked at a house of guys who were all 23, which is normally the second question after my name. They were digging a hole in the floor for storage and I helped shovel the dirt into a wheelbarrow. There was one nice guy with a bike who really started me working, and I wish I could remember his name, but it is so hard to catch the names here, and harder to remember them.

I also got to ride a horse today, it was a small horse, and I just rode it around the houses, but it was fun. A little black thing with a Mongolian style saddle. No one at the site really spoke English, but it wasn't that different from working in UB where the translator was spread thin and not super anyway. Tomorrow the accountant is going to come work with me, her English seems limited, but will probably improve communications anyway, I get the feeling she mainly wants to practice her English with me.

I'm still very dirty, and I'm typing this from the President of the Darkhan affiliate's office, she is also the president, or some such, of the local Darkhan Science and Technology University. She has a pretty nice office.

Mongolia is pretty run down and not touristy compared with the other places I've been in Asia, but I am enjoying it none the less. It is kind of cool being in a country with no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no Sizzler, etc. There's enough familiar brand names around for me to generally know what's going on, but it is interesting being in a country that is so obviously in transition. I feel like even if I come back in five years this will be a totally different place. Maybe not, maybe its not changing that fast, but I'm glad I'm here now.

The sky seems a lot lower here (Mongolia), like you could actually reach the clouds, which is weird because the greenish/yellow hills actually just look like the Berkeley/Oakland hills (with fewer people, houses, cars, and fences). There is animal shit everywhere. And there is a smell of cigarettes, vodka, and goat/mutton stewing that I am forever going to associate with Mongolia, though I'm not sure I'll ever smell it anywhere else, but even the money smells like it.

Political Notes

These are both poorly sourced and from questionable fringe organizations. On the other hand they are fun reading for knee-jerk Bush haters:

Bush's Erratic Behavior Worries White House Aides

Mole in Our Midst

* * *

This article on Slate endeavors to provide fair and balanced coverage of Ronald Reagan's official actions. But the article fails to mention that the Reagan Administration arranged to give weapons to the terrorist Iranian government in exchange for money used to buy weapons (in violation of U.S. law. Said weapons to be sold to terrorists in Latin America (also in violation of U.S. law). The proceeds of (or actual payment for) the Latin American arms sales were used to import illegal drugs into the United States through at least one U.S. Air Force base (according to a CBS News report at the time). There are also recently reported indications that some of the money involved in Reagan's policy of arming and supporting terrorists was laundered by one or more members of the New York Mafia.


This from Richard Dalton:

In the midst of the deadly serious election process, Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and high bandwidth gadfly is offering a can't-miss July 4 party package through his TurMajority organization .

For the modest investment of $34.50 you get a "Patriots for Regime Change" pack.

Ridicule isn't usually my favorite tactic, but it makes all kinds of sense when faced with an administration as arrogant, self-satisfied, and insular as the Bushies. So what are you doing on the Fourth for our country?

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Thimerosal and autism: there has been a long-standing and widely-held belief among parents of autistic children that a connection exists between childhood vaccinations and the onset of autism. Suspicion has centered on the MMR vaccine and Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines. There is no question that the two events happen at about the same time in a child's life, but most experts in the field have dismissed this as mere coincidence. Yet some families report marked behavioral changes associated with autism starting immediately after the MMR vaccinations. There had been no scientific verification of a link and in fact the most recent comprehensive study, released just last month, concluded that no such link existed. Now that result has been set on its head by a new study published June 8th in Molecular Psychiatry which shows that Thimerosal, Found In Childhood Vaccines, Can Increase The Risk Of Autism-like Damage In Mice. The key, it turns out, is that this result is only found in mice with an inherited susceptibility for autoimmune disease. This fits in well with previous evidence that autism requires both a genetic predisposition and some unknown environmental trigger. (Autism runs in families, but there are cases of identical twins with only one autistic.) The new research paper is available online for free: Neurotoxic effects of postnatal thimerosal are mouse strain dependent.

E-voting: pros and con-men: Declan McCullagh put together an interesting summary of research leading toward reliable and secure electronic voting. Conversely, Diebold (the company who seems to specialize in e-voting machines that are neither reliable nor secure) finally decided that allowing its chairman to be a major Bush fund-raiser might be viewed with suspicion by its customers: Diebold Bans Political Donations.

Apple news: Apple finally fixed the pair of "extremely critical" OS X vulnerabilities first reported by Lixlpixel and then Secunia. The good news is that the fixes are solid and well designed. The bad news is that it took two patches, that the company kept underplaying the severity of the bugs. Happier news for the Apple came in the tiny form of AirPort Express, a portable 802.11g wireless networking base station which also happens to function as an iTunes interface to your stereo, a wi-fi range extender, and more. All for $129 (see lots of geeky details).

Technobits: a critique of Microsoft by a former fan and one-time employee: Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow --- I'm happy to report that SCO Revenue Plummets in Latest Quarter --- EU "mandates" do-not-copy-currency feature in software --- computer use good for kids? --- 63 million domain names --- rover in the hole --- robotic rock-climber --- Satellite images 'show Atlantis' --- birth of a new species? The 50 Coolest Song Parts.






Special To This Column, War Memorial, Switching To Digital Photography, Dan Grobstein File

The New York Times no longer puts "Special To The Times" on 90% of its stories, but here's an explanation of why it did.

This from Richard Dalton:

I liked Ross's reportage of the WWII monument opening in Washington. Made me want to stop there next time I'm in DC.

About the same time, I was in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) looking at the Leningrad Siege Memorial to the more than 1 million residents who died during the unremitting shelling of that city by the Nazis. By the way, residents seem to always describe that enemy as "Nazis," not "Germans."

We have been so privileged in this country to have been involved in so many conflicts and to have suffered so little as a result. I'm not minimizing the death of 400,000 GIs (half a dozen of whom were members of my family) but imagine one MILLION dead in a single city, and these were mostly civilians, dying primarily from cold and hunger during the 900 day siege.

More than one-third of the buildings in Leningrad were destroyed, as well. Cherished historic places, like Peterhof, the palace built by Peter the Great, were destroyed when the Nazis finally retreated. The stoical resistance of the Nazi invasion by the Russian people probably did more than any other action during the European war to end Hitler's adventures (as Napoleon could have told him).

It's estimated that 10 million Russians died during the Second World War. We also saw a memorial to their unknown soldier, an eternal flame just outside the Kremlin walls. While we watched, a constant stream of Russian children picked up flowers from a table and shyly placed them beside the flame, guarded by two Russian soldiers.

Maybe one of these millennia, we can all come to realize that war memorials should be warnings as well as remembrances.

Also, Dalton was once a wet-camera guy, but has switched to digital I found his story fascinating, and so, with his permission, I share it here. His complete set of 35mm lenses, he writes, are "long gone."

I shopped around quite a bit. Settled on a Sony DSC-F717. The lens was the reason--a Carl Zeiss lens with a reach, in 35mm terms, from 38 to 190mm. That's a good range but the best part is the exceptional sharpness of the lens coupled with a well-matched 5 megapixel CCD (sounds like I know what I'm talking about, huh?).

If you get an itch for a digicam, there's excellent information available on the Web. The best I've found is Digital Photography Review, a UK operation. It has camera reviews that just aren't possible in print and they can be read either from an intensely technical viewpoint or as a novice.

I switched to digital because I found that it made a better photographer of me. I can take umpteen shots of the same subject and toss all but the best after carefully reviewing each option, Software that's available lets me do everything I could do to enhance an image in the dark room plus a lot more.

No, digital still doesn't have the depth of color but that's changing very fast. Another 5 years and film photography will be in the same category as vinyl records. Analog's still a more accurate recording medium, but very few people can appreciate the difference and the flexibility of digital is overwhelming.

Dan Grobstein File:

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