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

August 9, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

August 9, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 31

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Summer Slowly Draws To An End
  • Marlow from China
  • Prop. 66
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Clock Joke


  • Before Sunset
  • Manchurian Candidate
  • Guest Review: Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle


  • Dark and Stormy Night, I Republican, Urban Myth (Mid-Air Bomb Dept.) MIT Student Heads For Beauty Pageant, Dalton, Coquet And Malchman On Kerry Speech Implications, Dan Grobstein File

General News

The Summer Slowly Draws To An End

Am I a bad person because I am enjoying my summer break so much that I have doubts I want to go back to work? Even half time? An old friend wrote:

Back to school time is approaching. I hope you're facing it with serenity. Do I remember rightly that you're going to be teaching part time? Our old friend... finished her first year as a high school English teacher in Baltimore. She was very close to giving up her new career. It was that tough on her. But she's decided to give it one more semester to see if it's true that the second year is much better. My hats off to both of you. We need good teachers like you guys but it's got to be a hard, hard thing to do.

This note made me feel better than you might imagine. First of all, I believe I am approaching the new year with serenity, if not joy and enthusiasm. I can still sleep at night, something I had trouble doing all during the school year (except during vacations) because I spent all night teaching in my dreams, too. But secondly, I was interested to hear that I'm not the only mid-life first-year teacher to conclude a first year with doubts about the suitability of a career in teaching. I, too, hope that (since what "they" said about the first year of teaching was true) what "they" say about the second year of teaching is true.

In the meantime, I am gradually clearing off my desk of tasks and ideas, some of which have sat on my desk since April. And I am writing this on Friday, not Saturday or Sunday. Much of what I do, I am sure, must seem trivial, but it is important to me and part of the reason I love life; always something new and interesting to do. I teach because it is new and interesting--and does something besides amuse me.

Marlow from China

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

I got up in time to have a very tame lunch before heading out to the activity center. We were there for 3 hours. The first hour we did roller skating, at the sketchiest rollerskating place I've ever seen. The skates were of course old, and the ground not as smooth as an American rink, but then there were also problems such as, it was long and narrow rather than a big sweeping, hockey arena sized rink. People were allowed on the floor without skates, the floor was divided up into two halves by a wall with narrow passageways. One half was poorly lit, the other half barely lit, but with a strobe light, a tiny dance floor in the middle, and couples making out in booths on the side (something Chinese people rarely, rarely do in public). There were people checking themselves out while dancing on the floor in the better lit half which just seemed dumb, but they appeared to be having the time of their lives, at 2 in the afternoon. Weird, and sketchy. Sketch in Chinese is bu san, bu si (not three not four, and I don't know why). There seemed to be a designated skating direction, but not everyone was following it. I'm already not a good skater, so under these circumstances I decided to bow out early and just drink some green tea on the sidelines.

Next we went for bowling. The lanes were again very short, but they also seemed to be slightly slanted down to the left. I still bowled much better than in the US (126 and 106, best on my team the second game), but not nearly as good as that first night. L had an amazing game where every frame but the last was a strike or a spare and had the day's best score of 189, we were all hoping she'd break 200, but no such luck. The Chinese roommates were astoundingly bad at bowling. Line violations were standard and ignored.

Prop. 66

Most Californians haven't given a moment's thought to the propositions on the ballot this fall. One of them Prop. 66, would revise the cruel and unfair three-strikes law. Only California will lock you up for life if your third strike is a non-violent felony. Opponents of the proposition are lying to win says the San Francisco Chronicle. For an impassioned review, I turn to Richard and Linda Dalton:

I think you all know that a friend is serving a "three strikes" sentence in a California prison. He will be incarcerated until 2022. He did, if fact, commit three felonies. All three involved relatively small thefts that generated funds for drug purchases. His last conviction was for the theft of a $90 chain saw that was later returned to its owner. None of his crimes were violent. Our friend's situation makes us very sad, but he's hardly alone. Thousands of other men are languishing in California state prisons because of similar sentencing inequities.

Proposition 66 will amend the three-strikes law to apply only to felonies that are violent and provide for the re-sentencing of thousands of non-violent offenders now serving strike-enhanced sentences for petty crimes. It is estimated that this could save the state more than $750 million a year in prison maintenance costs, and more than $1 billion in new prison construction.

California is the only state in the nation whose three-strikes law applies the same sentences to petty criminals that it does to rapists, robbers and murderers. According to the Department of Corrections, there are now 42,322 strikers, only 15,448 of which have committed violent crimes. The remaining include 10,173 for drug crimes, 12,768 for property crimes, and 3,933 for other non-violent crimes.

More than 700,000 California voters signed the petition that put Prop 66 on November's ballot. A recent Field Poll indicated that 75% of Californians are in favor of this proposition. Unfortunately, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger publicly stated he opposes the proposition. We don't think people should underestimate the potential of this opposition, since it conforms to the desires of the prison guards union, a powerful lobbying voice in Sacramento.

We are asking all our friends to spread the word about the urgent need to VOTE YES ON PROP 66. That could open the opportunity for our son, and thousands of prisoners like him, to have a chance for a new day in court. Our friend would be the first to tell you that he committed crimes that have earned him a prison sentence. He doesn't believe, and neither do we, that his crimes warrant twenty-five years in prison.

Political Notes

From The Onion via Craig Reynolds: CIA Asks Bush To Discontinue Blog. Also, at ABC News he found the story of how Iraqi gunmen are fighting insurgents. And, from a blog: Chart: Bush Ratings vs. Terror Alerts" and "Timeline of Terror Alerts" at the top of this page. This too: Stern's listeners could tip the race, some analysts say.


In the frightening if true category is Bush Using Drugs to Control Depression, Erratic Behavior from a website called CapitalHillBlue:

Bush is taking powerful anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia, Capitol Hill Blue has learned.

The prescription drugs, administered by Col. Richard J. Tubb, [Editor's Note: really exists] the White House physician, can impair the President’s mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and his ability to respond to a crisis, administration aides admit privately.

[This book really exists]George Washington University psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank in his book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President... diagnosed the President as a "paranoid meglomaniac" and "untreated alcoholic" whose "lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad" showcase Bush’s instabilities.

The story doesn't include links to prior stories, but I dug them out; see Bush's Erratic Behavior Worries White House Aides on the same web site. Also, Angry Bush Walks Out On Media, confirmed in the British newspaper The Telegraph. Also: I wonder why the video of the July 8 briefing is missing from C-SPAN. C-SPAN wrote me back once on the issue, asking for more information, and hasn't written again. The official White House transcript shows no Bush appearance or walkout, but we know the White House edits those.


Readers write:

George W. Bush finally got around to admitting what everyone has known for a long time: he spares no effort in trying to figure out new ways to harm the American people. He and his party have long fooled people into voting against their economic interest. Wonder if they'll vote against their interest in continuing to live and elect Bush.


The government had these guys on ice and were saving them for a politcally convenient moment. The moment became politically convenient when the heat from the alert on Aug. 1, 2004, got too high.


We note a few exemplary articles in The Times this week. On August 4, 2004 in New Qaeda Activity Is Said To Be Major Factor in Alert Douglas Jehl and Richard W. Stevenson provide some useful information about the pre 9/11/01 information used to justify the August 1, 2004, alert in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. They also describe the blatantly unconstitutional actions being taken in the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol which was not the subject of the alert. In Signs of a Threat Were 'Probably as Rich as It's Ever Going to Get' David Johnston and Eric Lichtblau provide the White House excuse for its conduct. Said excuse, while intended to portray the government as responsive and responsible actually showed the government delaying notification to the public or any increase in readiness (in the face of what the government alleged was a clear threat) for almost 72 hours.

In the news analysis titled War and Peace, and Politics, Todd Purdum showed that Secretary Tom Ridge's allegation on Tuesday that "We dont' do politics in the Department of Homeland Security" was clearly false. Consider the way that Ridge went out of his way to praise unnecessarily a garden-variety political candidate (George W. Bush) as Ridge announced the alert on Sunday. In fact Ridge's unsubstantiated praise for Bush did nothing to protect the public, was unnecessary to the institution of the alert, and may have in fact damaged (even if slightly) U.S. national security. The PSACOT double-hatted movie critic/national security and intelligence expert notes that Purdum also wrote: "But Mr. Bush must also take pains not to be seen as letting the political tail wag the terrorism dog."


We provide the links, you decide whether Will Farell is funny as George W. Bush.


AP reports that the Aug. 1, 2004, alert was based on information from a prisoner who has been in U.S. custody since 2003 and who has provided false information in the past. That means the whole thing was based on years old information and another "intelligence stream" from a known liar.


If any more proof were needed that whatever Fox News is doing it's not journalism, here it is. Real journalists do not disclose their sources. Real broadcast journalists do not discuss information from confidential sources which is not broadcast. Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.) gave highly classified signals intelligence to Cameron who did not broadcast the information. Then Cameron lied to The Washington Post by alleging he told the FBI that "What doesn't go on the air I don't discuss, and we don't disclose our sources." ("Investigators Concluded Shelby Leaked Message" by Allan Lengel and Dana Priest, Aug. 5, 2004). The new slogan: Fox Shills, The First Amendment Chills.


Here's a URL to a videoclip of the head of the Bush-Cheney ticket stating they are always thinking about ways to harm the American people.

That a factually challenged bow-tied airhead like Tucker Carlson would mislead his viewers is to be expected. That Glenn Kessler and The Washington Post would do so in its news columns (the editorial page lost contact with reality and started shilling for Bush several years ago) on behalf of George W. Bush is something entirely more dangerous to a free domocracy.


As the 9/11 Commission made clear, it's very difficult for the U.S. to recruit a human source on the inside of Al Qaeda operations. When you get such a source, it is to be vigorously protected. That's what the talismanic "protecting sources and methods" means.So why did George W. Bush, Tom Ridge, and all the others who revealed the existence of a cooperating source (Mr. Khan captured July 13 in Pakistan) do so. Why did George Bush choose to "gut" the intelligence community? Why has John Kerry remained silent about this threat? Why has John Kerry refrained from explaining that he will not blithely, stupidly, uncomprehendingly, and cavalierly reveal valuable cooperating intelligence sources? Why does George W. Bush continue to advocate the employment in senior positions of people who represent a clear and present danger to the U.S? When will a counterintelligence investigation be commenced to find these people (quoted extensively in just about any paper one chose to read last week) and prosecute them? Why have the 9/11 Commissioners been silent about this grave present threat to the U.S. while maintaining their focus on pie-in-the-sky debates about the authority which may or may not be given to a position (National Intelligence Director) which may or may not exist some time in the future? Read all about it in the Dailykos blog.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Biological Basis of Autism: beyond the fact that all of us geeks are probably autistic to some degree, I have a special interest because my son is autistic. Autism is historically described in psychological terms, and its diagnostic criteria are based on subjective observation. There has been recent progress in understanding the physiology of the disorder: Scientists Discover Biological Basis for Autism: "...The new findings led the researchers to propose a new theory of the basis of autism, called underconnectivity theory, which holds that autism is a system-wide brain disorder that limits the coordination and integration among brain areas. This theory helps explain a paradox of autism: Some people with autism have normal or even superior skills in some areas, while many other types of thinking are disordered..." The abstract of the research paper is here and the full paper can be purchased from that site. Perhaps this new insight will lead to better diagnostics, and perhaps eventually to treatments or ways to prevent the condition. There was also recent evidence (PDF) there may in fact BE a connection between thimerosal in childhood vaccines and the onset of autism, despite studies debunking that theory.

TiVo or not TiVo: in a startlingly positive development, the FCC approved TiVo's request to allow its subscribers to share recorded shows across the Internet: TiVo Wins Nod for Users to Share Digital Shows. This is not quite "video Napster" (since the each show can be transfered only a set number of times, controlled by a DRM system) but it is also not the complete prohibition of sharing sought by broadcasters. This represents a refreshing balance of protection for copyright owners and the fair use rights of consumers. After so many rulings that ignored the rights of consumers, it was nice to see a reasonable decision. Before it was made the Washington Post asked: "...Since when do the feds get to vote on product designs? The answer is, since last November, when the FCC voted to require manufacturers to support the "broadcast flag" system by July 1 of next year..."

iPod/iTunes redux: RealNetwork's new music format that plays on Apple's iPod continues to reverberate in the tech world: Apple versus RealNetworks: A lawyer's perspective and Virgin slams Apple over 'anticompetitive' iPod. Better (or worse if you are Apple), it looks like iTunes may come to Linux: Start-up to make iTunes sing on Linux (see this screenshot).

Linux and patents: several developments regarding Linux, patents, and open source: SCO's 'Smoking Gun' Versus IBM, Is Linux at risk from a Microsoft patent blitz?, Group: Linux potentially infringes 283 patents and IBM to donate code to open source community.

More on web registration: The Rise Of Reg-Only Media and What, Me Register?.

Dirty Google bomb: Porn Blogs Manipulate Google and CyberQuest Disavows Porn Blogs.

Technobits: New N. Korean Missiles Said to Threaten U.S. --- JibJabbing for Artists' Rights --- Onion Routing Averts Prying Eyes --- Beowulf is 10 --- how to Google your credit card number without revealing your credit card number. --- Why People Vote Like Their Neighbors --- LA Weekly on IMDB.


The Clock

First it was told about Clinton. Now it is told about Bush.

A man died and went to heaven. As he stood in front of Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him.

He asked, "What are all those clocks?" St. Peter answered, "Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone on earth has a Lie-Clock. Every time you lie the hands on your clock will move."

"Oh," said the man, "whose clock is that?" "That's Nelson Mandela's. The hands have never moved, indicating that he never told a lie." " Incredible," said the man. "And whose clock is that one?"

St. Peter responded, "That's Abraham Lincoln's clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abe told only two lies in his entire life."

"Where's Bush's clock?" asked the man.

"Bush's clock is in Jesus' office. He's using it as a ceiling fan!"


Before Sunset

Richard Linklater has made a truly remarkable film, which makes me want to run out and see Before Sunrise, of which this is the sequel. I love it when filmmakers do that; I wish Linklater had dropped in more than a few seconds of the first film.

Anyway, this is a remarkable, intelligent and thought-provoking film that only occasionally dips into sentimentality and cheesiness. It is almost purely talk; the only reason the characters move around is so they can talk in different places. In a coffee shop, on a garden path, in her apartment. The ending was so right, clever and ambiguous, I had to rub my eyes to convince myself it was an American film.

An adult movie with adult themes. If you're looking for action of any sort, look elsewhere. Language and sexual innuendo won this film and R rating, which is too bad, not that anyone under the age of 30 would sit still for 80 minutes in which so little happens.


You got your lame, and you got your o, and together they make lame-o. It must have seemed so perfect written on the back of director Michael Mann's business card: contract killer and black cab driver spend the night locked in a game of cat and mouse. Timid guy learns life lessons from evil killer. Shame on Stuart "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" Beattie for a screen play that has more holes than the Albert Hall. You'd think with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx attached, the $60 million production could afford a rewrite. But, I guess after paying Tom they decided to shoot the first draft.

To give just one example: the good guy wings the bad guy. Instead of finishing him off, he turns and runs, solely in order to prolong the film. How much sense does that make?

The coincidences are too pat, and so is the dialog. It is a clever film, well acted in places. We can say of Cruise, as May West said of herself, "When he's good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's better." He needs to play more villains. Jamie Foxx has a future on the big screen, that's clear. So far, he's had big roles in small films and small roles in big films, but between this and his upcoming Ray Charles biopic, he may become a 13-year overnight success.

Mildly entertaining, but don't cross the street to see it. Rated R. And, on top of everything else, it's too long at 120 minutes. There's a good 90-minute film struggling to escape here.

Manchurian Candidate

A mere 42 years later, Jonathan Demme, whose whole career had straddled the line between art and commerce, takes on the gargantuan task of remaking an absolute classic. Which raises the question that is always raised in these cases: Why? It is one thing to remake some piece of Hollywood fluff; few of those have ever been made that couldn't be made better--or as a musical. But why remake a film that was perfect the first time out? That would be like remaking Gone With The Wind or Wizard Of Oz.

I'm not saying Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris didn't do a good job of updating the script. They did. I'm not saying Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep don't do well in the roles originated by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury. But when I think of all this talent, and the great original film they could have made, I am saddened by the fact that they were roped into this remake. Now it is true that most Americans would rather dive naked into a big pile of thumb tacks than watch a black and white movie, so most people have probably not seen the 1962 original. But back then, the story played off Cold War paranoia. There's an effort to get the remake to play off paranoia about corporate power, and international criminals, and, in a sense, torture and human experimentation as forms of bioterror. Alas, the muddled plot, constantly violating the "show a gun in the first act, it must go off in the third act" rule of plotting (except in the most literal sense) doesn't really make aNYThing very clear.

Rent the original. It was a better film.

Guest Review: Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle

It probably tells you everything you need to know about Harold and Kumar that the trailers describe the two lead actors as the Asian guy (John Cho) from American Pie and the Indian dude (Kal Penn) from Van Wilder. This film tracks our nerdy heroes' misadventures traveling across New Jersey trying to satisfy their munchies with burgers from the legendary eatery. Doogie Howser's Neil Patrick Harris (as himself) plays a key role in the festivities. Harold and Kumar is wonderfully infantile, full of all types of idiots and intoxicants, and completely politically incorrect, in the same vein as the genre's best - Porky's, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I found much of it very funny - but, hey, I went to MIT.

--Neal Vitale

Hey, I went to MIT too (that's where I met Neal), which is why, I guess, I loved it too, as did my college freshman daughter. A breath of... well, not fresh air, but air anyway. I laughed constantly.


Dark and Stormy Night, I Republican, Urban Myth (Mid-Air Bomb Dept.) MIT Student Heads For Beauty Pageant, Dalton, Coquet And Malchman On Kerry Speech Implications, Dan Grobstein File

Kevin Sullivan found the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest results. I'd seen a few in the paper, but it's worth reading them call. Memorable, and not in a good way.

In honor of I, Robot, check out, I, Republican. Thank you, Daniel Dern. Also, Craig Reynolds notes a resurgence of the false story about terrorists doing a mid-air bomb-making rehearsal. Can't people be bothered to do even a LITTLE research before passing around these hoary falsehoods? Plus he passes on two stories of our alma mater:

Beauty & the Geek: When Stereotypes Collid e
Miss Massachusetts Erika Ebbel '04 has her sights set on the Miss America Pageant
Student has hopes for beauty pageant as well as research
Darren J. Clarke, News Office, February 27, 2002

Thoughtful comment from Richard Dalton on last week's accusation that the Times was getting it wrong in its lead on the Democratic convention story:

Read your stuff on the (continuing) journalistic dereliction of duty by the NY Times. Got me to thinking, though, about the influence the vaunted Times has in today's multivariate "information" universe.

I'm sure there are a lot of stats about information sources, weighing newspapers, magazines, TV, Blogs, etc., but I've never seen any national survey that asks something like, "Do you get MOST of the information that forms your voting decisions from:

NY Times, Washington Post, Contra Costa Times, Time, Newsweek, Wired, Dan Rather, Howard Stern, Tim Russert, Jerry Springer (don't laugh, he was a delegate to the DNC) Google Yahoo PSACOT ... etc."

I know the percentages for individual sources would probably peak at about 1%, but that's significant in itself. Many of us may worry about sources like the NYT too much.

The counter is that the NYT influences a lot of other news disseminators. But all disseminators gather their material from a variety of direct and indirect sources, so it becomes a question, in my mind, of who do you trust to sift through the dreck and present the most honest and realistic information.

Another question is "Are your personal political opinions so strongly embedded that you actively seek out only news that agrees with your views?" But that's another, very big question. I vividly remember an under-30 Julian Bond speaking to a group of Northern California liberals. He was asked, "What news papers do you read?" He answered, "I always read conservative papers. I already know the opinions of those who agree with me."

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that all the people listed above read The New York Times, which sets the national news agenda for all other print and broadcast media. Its power in this country is inordinate.

Before we get back to the issue of NYT coverage of Kerry's speech to the convention, here's a note from Kevin Sullivan, via Netsurfer Digest, about the Times and its visibility on the net:

Visibility of The New York Times on the Web
The New York Times is a heavyweight newspaper, widely quoted and with an enviable international reputation. On the Internet, however, it is practically invisible. Wired looks at why. Run a Web search of just about any hot news topic you can think of and you'll find the few Times articles way down the list behind a host of rival news outlets, blogs, and advocacy sites. One reason for this is that the Times, like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, requires readers to register, which foils search-engine spiders. As well, the Times shifts items older than a week into a commercial archive, primarily to avoid competing with full-text access to the paper through professional online databases such as LexisNexis which brings in some $20 million annually. Regardless, these policies restrict search spiders from indexing the Times' content. Since the newspaper aspires to be a big deal online as well as off, its poor showing on the Web must concern its publishers. If the Times wants to be an online newspaper of record, something will have to change.

Steve Coquet's comment on the issue of the Times story on Kerry's speech:

In Kerry's speech, the implication is utterly clear: Bush did mislead the country into war and he has pursued policies which many of us percieve as "a threat to the economy, the Constitution and the nation's standing in the world." So if he didn't exactly say it, would you have us believe he doesn't mean it? I hope he does mean it, otherwise why would he run or I vote for him? Yes, I wish he had added the words " as George W. Bush has done and continues to do," to to his speech.

And Robert Malchman also chimed in:

Let's look at Kerry's quote again: "I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war." Implication: Bush mislead us into war. "I will appoint an attorney general who upholds the Constitution of the United States." Implication: Bush appointed an AG (Ashcroft) who does not uphold the Constitution. If you don't read those implications into Kerry's speech and instead just think that he's reciting a laundry list of things he won't do in a vacuum unrelated to Bush, then you're sticking your head in the sand. Within the quote there are also references to Cheney's secret meetings with polluters, which everyone knows happened. The context demonstrates that Kerry is contrasting what he would not do that Bush has done. Think about it: If your reading were correct, why then wouldn't he list things he wouldn't do that Bush obviously hasn't done? Like, "I won't start a nuclear war," or "I won't sodomize puppies on the White House lawn"?

OK, I admit I was being a tad disingenuous to say Adam Nagourney got it wrong. Anyone could read between the lines. But is that, in fact, the role of a journalist? Well, yes, probably.

Dan Grobstein File:

  • From CNN, news of three bank robberies in Davenport, Iowa when Bush and Kerry were there at the same time. Sounds like the plot of a bad movie.
  • The American Prospect: Negative Energy: John Kerry's accomplishments may show the limits of positive thinking.
  • In the New York Times Bob Herbert asks: Does the administration have any real sense of what motivates the nation's enemies? Does it understand the ways in which American policies are empowering its enemies? Does it grasp the crucial importance of international alliances and coordinated intelligence activity in fighting terror? And is it even beginning to think seriously about lessening our debilitating dependence on Middle Eastern oil?

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