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 16, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

August 16, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 32

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Where Does The Time Go?
  • The Wisdom Of The Funnies
  • Marlow from China
  • Political Notes
  • Computer Industry News
  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • How to get a few days off...


  • What the #$*! Do We Know!?


  • What's In A Name? Coquet's Mars Note, Dalton Plugs Gillmor

General News

URGENT REQUEST: Marlow comes home this week. I have the final episode of The Sopranos for the season ("With All Due Respect") but not the episode from the week before. Anyone who has this episode on tape and is willing to lend it to me, please drop a line to pes at schindler dot org.

Where Does The Time Go?

It seems like only yesterday that I was saying goodbye to my first classes of 8th graders. And yet, I have to be back in my classroom on August 23. That's the legal requirement. If I'm going to be ready before the students get there, I have to go in every day this week to prepare myself, my classroom and my lesson plans.

I have enjoyed the summer for many reasons. Sleeping in. Spending time with my wife and our daughter Rae. A week's vacation. Transcription of the words and lyrics from the musical tragedy I wrote for my college radio station, Sam Patch. There is some slim chance that Rae's friends at Brandeis will mount an actual production of the play.

I did not lose 30 pounds this summer, as I had hoped. Hope alone, as experienced dieters know, will not do the trick. I am taking the mindfulness course at Kaiser Hospital in an effort to learn how to relax, prioritize, sleep better and be slower to anger. As mentioned her before, I am a cheerful, optimistic and upbeat person. I'd like that person to spend more time in my classroom with my students. I think more learning would take place.

I do understand, in a visceral way (rather than the intellectual way I understood in the past) why teachers need the summer off. It's barely enough.

The Wisdom Of The Funnies

Two comic strips that I read, but are not widely distributed, are "Beyond the Hedge," and "Norm." I am not going to try to explain these strips, or how these ideas were made into jokes, or why I read them, but I was struck on Sunday morning by the fact that both of them were talking to me.

In "Hedge," one of the characters is creating a blog, and trying to explain to another that a blog shouldn't be just what happens to you, it should be your thoughts and feelings about what happens (and what doesn't happen) to you. In "Norm," the observation was made that we star in the "movie" of our own lives. At the same time, we can never know how big a role we play in the movies of the lives of the people around us, nor can we know which ones will be hits (thus inflating the value of even a small role). As a result, Norm is nice to everyone around him, because "you never know." Personally, I find that a great policy--and one I tried to follow even before I saw it in the funnies, but now I will try harder still.

Marlow from China

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

This is my last Sunday in Harbin. Two months really did fly by once I got over that initial hump of only speaking Chinese. I'm not half as mentally and physically exhausted as I was in the beginning.

Last week was our last week of classes. The only one I'm really sorry to see go is the literature class. The one on two was also kind of fun, and the one on one was getting better every week as I started to understand more, and became more accustomed to my teacher's accent, but the literature class was really great, even if all Chinese stories are a little (or a lot) depressing...

After I sent you that email about my paper, that night I spent three hours going over the paper with my roommate, who might be the most patient person in the world. The next morning I spent another three hours recopying the essay with all the suggested grammar and vocabulary changes. That afternoon I gave it to my teacher, who skimmed it in front of me. I was a little nervous about that. Except that he said it looked great, not too short (it ended up being 7 pages with the corrections, or about 2100 characters. That is only a page short of what it was supposed to be, give or take), he also said it looked to be about the quality of a Chinese high school student's paper. That's about the nicest compliment my Chinese has gotten so far. A lot of that credit of course goes to my roommate's editing abilities. But the ideas were all mine. He's reading it for real this weekend and we're going to meet on Monday to discuss whether or not I need to rewrite it, he seemed to indicate that wouldn't be necessary which would be oh so nice, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Friday night we all went out together to celebrate the end of classes. First I went to dinner with a couple of friends at a Szechwan restaurant, although the food we ordered did not end up being that hot. And afterwards half the program and their roommates met to go to Zhongyang Dajie (China-Foreigner big street) to go back to that beer garden place with the black Hapi. It was really fun to have so many people out together, especially because so many roommates decided to come with us.

Political Notes

Mighty fine editorial cartoon in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Craig Reynolds notes: Report Finds Tax Cuts Heavily Favor the Wealthy


Over the weekend of July 30 to Aug. 1, 2004, Newsweek was shockingly and surprisingly allowed to attend and take pictures at a meeting in which classified intelligence information was apparently discussed. It obtained a picture which contained one of the biggest stories of the week and failed to comment on it ("Special Report" by Daniel Klaidman and Evan Thomas, pages 24-25, issue dated Aug. 16, 2004). The story was made even bigger by Tom Ridge's comment (after giving a campaign plug for George W. Bush) that neither he nor George play politics with intelligence and the nation's security. The picture showed advisor Frances Townsend AND KARL ROVE (Bush's chief political advisor and the architect of the successful 2002 campaign to depict Vietnam veteran Sen. Max Cleland, who gave three of his limbs for his country in Vietnam, as a traitor to the U.S.). If politics were not a consideration, what was ROVE doing at the meeting?


George W. Bush's seeks the confirmation of a fox (a covert officer for the CIA who has allegedly cut his ties to the agency by the name of Rep.Porter Goss (R, Fla.)) to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency henhouse. Don Rumsfeld warns against moving too fast to eliminate the barriers to the flow of information among the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies. (The severely controlled and essentially vertical flow of information from an agency to the White House is referred to in spookspeak as a "stovepipe").

Rumsfeld said:" Every time you bust down a stovepipe, you run the risk of information getting compromised." (Bush Picks House Intelligence Chief to Lead C.I.A. by David E. Sanger, The New York Times, August 11, 2004).

Actually, you run the risk of information getting compromised every time Don Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, or Condi Rice speak to Bob Woodward in particular or the press in general. This was tragically proven yet again on August 1 when Condi Rice (demonstrating again that she had risen way above her highest level of competence when she was an assistant in the National Security Council about 20 years ago) or persons acting with her apparent approval released a source's name. She fatally compromised U.S. national security and an on-going intelligence operation in which the U.S. finally managed to have a cooperating person on the inside of a dangerous group of interest.

When stovepipes are eliminated and the information flows horizontally among agencies all lawful recipients have very high level clearances. Rumsfeld's typically ignorant remark is really an attack on the loyalty and patriotism of his subordinates, all of whom know enough to refrain from sharing classified information with journalists even when Don, George, Dick Cheney, and Condi cavalierly and dangerously do otherwise.


Making the rounds on the Internet:

Things You Have To Believe To Vote Republican In 2004

One flip-flop after another.

  1. Jesus loves you and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.
  2. Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.
  3. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.
  4. The United States should get out of the United Nations, but our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.
  5. A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multinational corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.
  6. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.
  7. If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.
  8. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our longtime allies, then demand their cooperation and money.
  9. Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism.
  10. HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.
  11. Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.
  12. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.
  13. Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.
  14. The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.
  15. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime unless you're a conservative talk-show host, in which case it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.
  16. You support states' rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states which local voter initiatives they have the right to adopt.
  17. What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant.


This is getting ridiculous. Terrorists tampering only with drugs imported into the U.S.? Not with the same drugs sold a few feet away in Canada? We've got no evidence, we really don't have a clue as to when, where, or how this could happen and it could just as easily happen domestically but we at the FDA think you should pay about 2 or 3 times what you have to for prescription drugs because why? 9/11, the all-purpose reason for everything.


There was an interesting article ahead of the Venezuelan referendum (scheduled for Aug. 15, 2004) on recalling democratically elected Pres. Hugo Chavez in The New York Times on Aug. 13, 2004 (Venezuela Pushes to Lead Regional Oil Economy by Juan Forero).

The usual suspects (starting with the world famous petroleum expert Rick who held forth at his eponymous cafe in Casablanca) were reportedly absolutely shocked that Chavez would even consider using oil to promote political objectives or foreign policy. For example, would he supply 55,000 barrels a day to a certain cigar producing island about 90 miles from Florida?

The Times has apparently not learned its lesson from its self-admittedly abysmal reporting on the non-WMD and Iraq. It reported on its own authority (two paragraphs after noting Venezuela was trying to sell oil to China which is aggressively seeking oil and has a rapidly growing demand) that Venezuela "will not soon find another big buyer" (other than the U.S.). In July, 2004, Chavez told an international meeting in Caracas that small Caribbean countries are being exploited by transnational oil companies. Friendly note to all PSACOT readers in the insurance business: if Chavez applies for a life, health, or accident insurance policy, refer him to your competition.


A reader writes:

Today's question for reader comment: Is John Kerry running a campaign for President of the United States of America or a graduate seminar in senatorial decision-making and foreign policy? The issue arose when Bush baited Kerry into saying that even if he knew then what he knows now (no WMD in Iraq) he still would have voted for authority to exercise limited war powers against Iraq. Kerry explained that he thought the support of a vote was needed in order to demonstrate the national backing required to resolve the issue of whether there were WMD in Iraq peacefully or, if necessary, by force with meaningful and essentially full international support (e.g., France, Germany, and Canada). The nuances got lost in the shuffle (For Now, Bush's Mocking Drowns Out Kerry's Nuanced Explanation of His War Vote by David E. Sanger, The New York Times, Aug. 12, 2004).

One of Kerry's national security advisors stepped up to the plate and explained Kerry would have handled things differently. The 5 ways: "Rushing to war is one, doing it without enough allies is two, doing it without equipping our troops adequately is three, and doing it without an adequate plan to win the peace is a fourth. If you want to add a fifth, it's going to war without examining the quality of your intelligence [ed. note: nice touch of double meaning]." The next batter (one of Kerry's Congressional colleagues and an adviser (clearly too infrequently)) said: "I wish he had simply said no president in his right mind would ask the Senate to go to war against a country that didn't have weapons that pose an imminent threat." PSACOT will report the results of this reader survey as appropriate.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Technobriefs briefened by SIGGRAPH: Sunday through Thursday I was at SIGGRAPH, the annual computer graphics geek nirvana. (New this year, a SIGGRAPH blog.) It was cutting edge research, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and a really good year for the Computer Animation Festival (see trailers on that page). I saw an amazing short film called Ryan by noted computer animator Chris Landreth. It manages to be both biographical and autobiographical, retrospective and apprehensive. A former NFB animator, now old and down on his luck, is interviewed by Landreth, a young up and coming NFB animator. The visuals are inspired by classic surrealists. I've seen the whole film once and the Electronic Theater excerpt twice. Each time I see more to like.

Big Business Brother: who needs intrusive government surveillance when it can be privatized?: Big Business Becoming Big Brother, based on the ACLU's report The Surveillance-Industrial Complex. Distrust of big corporation is up across the board: America Divided? a recent Joe Klein column in Newsweek notes "for example: 64% of blues and 62% of reds believe corporations have too much power."

High: Companies Approve New High-Capacity Disc Format and Group to Propose New High-Speed Wireless Format.

Technobits: Fahrenheit FBI --- California to explore open source software --- PhotoStamps.


How to get a few days off...

I decided that I needed a few days off and I realized that I ran out of vacation time already. I figured the best way to get the Boss to send me home was to act a little crazy. I figured he'd think I was burning out and give me some time off. I came in to work early the other day and began hanging upside down from the ceiling. Just then one of my co-workers came in and asked me what I was doing. "Shh," I said, "I'm acting crazy to get a few days off. I'm a light bulb."

A second later the Boss walked by and asked me what I was doing. "I'm a light bulb!" I exclaimed. "You're going crazy," he said. "Take a few days off."

With that, I jumped down and started walking out. My co-worker started following me and the Boss asked where she was going. "I can't work in the dark," she said.


What the #$*! Do We Know!?

Before or after this film, you'll also want to check out its web site, which contains references that explain and expand on material in the film. The typographical characters in the title, of course, stand in for the common four-letter Anglo-Saxon synonym for having sex. This is a highly unusual film, half documentary and half fictional story used to illustrate the points of the documentary. The documentary half, in turn, is divided into a documentary on quantum physics and a documentary on personal growth. The story, which stars Marlee Matlin (best known as the hearing-impaired political consultant on West Wing) and my home town, the city of Portland, Oregon, is by turns excruciating, overly sentimental and overdone. It does, however, feature first-class animation that describes the concepts of neural networks and peptides better than I have ever seen them described before; a level of quality I haven't seen in public since the Bell Telephone Hour of my youth. If I were a science teacher, I'd already be making plans to buy the DVD and show the animations to my class.

The personal growth part, which I found utterly fascinating, finally made it clear to me the everday consequences of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The reviews of this film have been decidedly mixed (the LA Times hated it). I can only assume this has to do with people's widely varying views of the human potential movement and with the wildly variable quality (not technical quality; the whole thing looks beautiful) of the film itself. But I liked it and I recommend it.


What's In A Name? Coquet's Mars Note, Dalton Plugs Gillmor

CNN Reports: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ask, What's In A Name? Also at New Scientist and Nature. This is researcher Amy Perfors web page.

Peggy Coquet forwards this astronomical note:

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide.. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.

Richard Dalton notes:

Wired has an interview with San Jose Mercury columnist Dan Gillmor about his new book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. In their intro to the interview, Wired asks: "Are bloggers journalists? Will phonecams kill the video star? Do more voices add up to more truth in media? Can you really trust everything you read on an RSS feed?"

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