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 23, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

August 23, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 33

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Mindfulness
  • Consistent Position/Treason
  • Marlow's Travels
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • The Top 16 Excuses Given by the USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team


  • Guest Review: The Door in the Floor
  • Guest Review: Garden State
  • Guest Review: Collateral


  • Carroll Cat Column, Klein on Mars, Dalton on Guns, Dan Grobstein File

General News


Here in Contra Costa County, the Kaiser hospitals offer a course in mindfulness. Its all about using relaxation techniques, yoga and Tai Chi to relax and reduce symptoms from various conditions. Many of the people in the class have amazing stories of pain and sacrifice; I'm just there to lower my stress in general, and to see if mindfulness can help me lose weight and enjoy my teaching job more. So far, it's been interesting.

In the meantime, Monday and Tuesday are prep and the students return Wednesday. I believe I am ready for them, and that both they and I will have a better experience this year than last year.

Consistent Position/Treason

On Jan. 1, 2002, in this column, I asked about the provenance of the maxim, "If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you'll eventually be accused of treason." I assumed it was Churchill or Shaw, but could find no proof of that. Last week, I sat down with Google to try again. Imagine my surprise to find that the oldest reference to it was... written by me! In the summer issue of The Tech, the MIT student newspaper, Aug. 3, 1973, I cited it without attribution in reference to MIT's Draper Laboratories. Then I found that Angus King, Maine's former governor, always cites Mort Sahl as the originator. This makes sense; my mother owned the album "Mort Sahl at the Hungry I" which I must have listened to several hundred times as a boy. You can find several more references on Google.

Marlow's Travels

Marlow's back from China! My head is spinning. She's spending a mere 10 days home before she takes of for The Netherlands, where she will attend Leiden University for two years while earning an MA (in English) in International Affairs. We've had a lot of fun, and I've frankly punted a lot of school prep to spend more time with her (I'll make up for it Monday and Tuesday, I promise).

Political Notes

The FBI is out trying to intimidate potential GOP protestors. That's how I see it; that's also how Jon Carroll sees it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sure the Department of Homeland Election Security under Tom Ridge doesn't play politics, they can be trusted to develop and maintain an absolutely accurate no fly list and a new passenger database and tracking system. As a direct predecessor of John Ashcroft (convicted felon and Republican Attorney General John Mitchell) said: "Watch what we do, not what we say." And if it was this hard for Ted Kennedy to get the list fixed, just how hard will it be for you?


Great political cartoon on the economy from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.


For proof of British good sense, check out Rounding Up Qaeda Suspects: New Cooperation, New Tensions, New Questions by Amy Waldman and Eric Lipton, Aug. 17, 2004. As usual, The Times put the essence of the information at the end of the article. Frances Fragos Townsend is the alleged Bush domestic security and counterterrorism advisor. Newsweek caught her on film meeting with political advisor Karl Rove last week about intelligence issues. She was blabbing away on Fox News with information whose release severely (and perhaps irretrievably) damaged U.S. national security. At the same time, British Home Secretary David Blunkett wrote the following in The Observer in Britain: "I could have appeared a dozen times last week on radio and television, but I turned down the offers. I would have merely added to the speculation, to the hype, to the desire for something to say for its own sake. In other words, to feed the news frenzy in a slack news period. Is that really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counterterrorism? To feed the media? To increase concern? To have something to say, whatever it is, in order to satisfy the insatiable desire to hear somebody saying something? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense." I particularly like his use of the word errant.

I am tickled to say that I got my old friend, expatriate American journalist in London Larry King to comment on Blunkett's remarks. You can read his whole essay, which I strongly suggest (I am a big fan of his writing), but here's how it starts out:

The passage you quote from the Observer has more to do with British politics than anything else. David Blunkett... the Observer piece shortly after thirteen men were arrested in and around London on suspicion of terrorist activity. His Tory counterpart had criticized him for not being more forthcoming about what, exactly, they might have been up to. Coincidentally, the government had just issued its long-awaited instructions to the public on what to do in the case of a major terrorist attack. They came in a 22-page pamphlet mailed to every household. The advice boiled down to: go home, stay there, and listen to the wireless for instructions.


Rep. Doug Bereuter (R. -Neb.), vice-chair of House Intelligence Committee, voted to authorize use of force against Iraq. Now he thinks the invasion was a bad idea.


One wonders how the Republicans will enjoy the great Manhattan parties they'll be directed to by friendly New Yorkers at such fine locations after each night's convention activities as 145th Street and Broadway or 5th Avenue and 125th Street or the ever popular Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.


We received further re-confirmation of recent PSACOT reports that Condi Rice was way above her highest level of competence when she worked on the National Security Council staff about 20 years ago. Former chief weapons inspector Dr. David Kay testified to the Senate intelligence committee on Aug. 18, 2004 (Former Iraq Arms Inspector Faults Prewar Intelligence by Phillip Shenon in The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2004). Dr. Kay suggested that Rice failed to perform her current job and also provided less than the whole truth to George W. Bush and Colin Powell. Dr. Kay faulted the performance of the NSC under Condi Rice with respect to the false information about the non-WMD which were not in Iraq. He appeared to question why those responsible for these intelligence failures have not been identified by name to the public and held personally accountable.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

P2P is OK: a federal appeals court reaffirms that Morpheus and Grokster are legal. Peer-to-peer is not a crime! Nor is it a crime to notice that the music industry's business model is broken. Wired quotes StreamCast CEO Michael Weiss saying: "Not only is today's ruling a victory for Morpheus ... this is a victory for our fellow P2P developers, a victory for American innovation and, perhaps more importantly, history will prove this to be a bigger win for the entertainment industry. Hopefully they will now embrace new technologies, like Morpheus, to seek new opportunities for artists and creators in the digital domain rather then spend their time and money trying to stifle progress."

Real v Apple: first Real tweaked the DRM on their music files to let them play on Apple's iPod, then they started offering songs for half price. I'm interested to see if the price of downloaded song files gets down to the 18 cents level predicted in May 2003. But EFF warns not to see Real, any more than Apple, as the true friend of the music consumer: Hypocrite, Thy Name Is Real. Meanwhile "DVD John" cracks the encryption used to lock-in owners of Apple AirPort Express to using iTunes: Hacker takes bite out of Apple's iTunes.

E-vote troubles: was the surprise re-election of Venezuela's Chávez the result of pre-election tampering with the touch screen voting machines? Evidence of an electoral fraud is growing. (For a contrasting view see: Venezuela opposition refuses to admit defeat.) Meanwhile back in the US, Sequoia Voting Systems has a bad day: Wrong Time for an E-Vote Glitch and Texas Secretary of State Backs Down.

Disdain for Microsoft going mainstream: I've been a hardcore Microsoft hater since the mid 1980s, back then it was a pretty esoteric calling. Now it seems to be getting more mainstream every day. The NYT tells us that even grandmotherly admins are switching to Firefox. AP notes that the sleaze-balls of Hollywood don't trust the sleaze-balls of Redmond, talk about pot calling kettle! But at least Windows machines are reliable: Unpatched PCs down to 20min "survival time". Yet despite it all, some people can't seem to remember that Microsoft has been found guilty of repeatedly violating the anti-trust laws: How History Gets Twisted.

Transport tech from personal size (Future Flyers: Pushing Forward for Personal Aircraft) to mini (Epson's 12 Gram Flying Robot) to micro (Pixelito) to nano (Teleportation goes long distance).

New moons: Cassini Spies Two Little Saturn Moons and Five new moons for planet Neptune.

Technobits: PCtvt, a $250 wirelessly networked personal computer: Trying to Take Technology to the Masses --- gaming the region coding of Olympic webcasts: Let the Web Games Begin --- Cannabis extract shrinks brain tumors --- Google and crossref search --- Evolvable hardware: When machines breed --- hot random numbers --- Robosapien Roundup.


The Top 16 Excuses Given by the USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team

We're No. 11!

August 20, 2004


The U.S. Olympic basketball "Dream Team" recently had their asses handed to them by fearsome Puerto Rico. The 19-point loss was the first since they started using NBA players, and speculation for their poor play is rampant.

16> Still weak from blood lost during last week's round of paternity tests.

15> The circumference of the basketball used for Olympic play is actually 1.5 centimeters smaller than the average NBA star's head.

14> Americans were cleverly saving their strength for the tough upcoming match against Burkina Faso.

13> They were all exhausted from competing in last month's Wilt Chamberlympics.

12> Kept getting tricked into doing dance numbers from "West Side Story."

11> Opponents lack of English skills negated a brilliant U.S. trash-talking effort.

10> Just trying to deflect attention away from Michael Phelps' abysmal, shameful and utterly humiliating failure to win eight gold medals.

9> *You* try dribbling in metric, Chestrios!

8> The other team wore their shorts above the buttocks, allowing them greater mobility.

7> Secret, Greek-inspired game plan: Let the other teams think you're out of the running, then hide in a wooden horse.

6> Turns out shouting "Don't you know who I am, chump?!?" at opposition is not as effective as scoring.

5> Distracted by constant cell-phone calls from their defense lawyers.

4> Still a little winded from last week's triple-overtime exhibition against those pesky Washington Generals.

3> When that Puerto Rican point guard, Ricky Martin, shakes his bon-bon, well, who can keep their eyes on the ball?!?

2> "Who can concentrate in the presence of so much hizzistory?"

and's Number 1 Excuse Given by the USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team...

1> Ouzo, Boozer. Boozer, ouzo.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
'Selected from 145 submissions from 52 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors include
David Hyatt, New York, NY -- 1, 9, Topic (10th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 11


Guest Review: The Door in the Floor

I have rarely seen a film which better captures the essence of the book upon which it was based than The Door In The Floor. Taken from the first portion of John Irving’s superb "A Widow For One Year," this film stars Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges as a married couple struggling to stay together after the death of their two sons in a car crash. The Door is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, as a typically Irving-esque array of unusual characters confront and wrestle with their needs and emotions, often with disastrous results. No one emerges unscathed or unchanged. The cast is perfect, especially Bridges (as womanizing children’s-book-writer Ted Cole) and Elle Fanning (as the Coles’ precocious post-accident child). The Door In The Floor is a brilliant bit of grown-up filmmaking.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: Garden State

Garden State is a delightfully funny and off-beat love story. It is directed by and stars Zach Braff (perhaps best known for his role on NBC’s "Scrubs"), who is enormously appealing as the quiet, gangly Andrew "Large" Largeman. The story revolves around Andrew’s returning (after nine years away!) to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, reconnecting with the locals (notably the dissolute Mark, played by Shattered Glass’s Peter Sarsgaard) in some unusual contexts, falling in love with a beautiful and wacky girl (Natalie Portman in a nice change-of-pace role for her) who lives with her mother and black brother amidst a plethora of guinea pigs, and wrestling with resolving his strained relationships with his mother and father (Ian Holm). Garden State is a very warm, engaging film, and features two scenes of the most inappropriate canine activity that I can remember.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: Collateral

I reviewed Collateral recently, opening with "You got your lame, and you got your o, and together they make lame-o." The rest of the review continued in that vein. Neal disagrees, and I defer, when possible, to the man who was once my Arts editor.

In this column, Paul and I have talked about films where the acting is the focal point, films which are all about the narrative, films that grab you emotionally, films that appeal to the intellect, and the rare films that combine many or all of these attributes. Collateral is a different animal - it is all about look and feel, style and attitude, sound and texture. Coming from director Michael Mann (Ali, Heat, The Insider), Collateral in many ways is like a longer episode of his television hit "Miami Vice." The film is shot in Los Angeles (where I live), virtually all at night (and all digitally), and creates a remarkable portrait of the city. Aerial views of the shimmering downtown skyline vividly contrast with the working class neighborhoods and taxi dispatch locations only blocks away; images reflect in slick surfaces, colors are electric, music and voices weave a polyglot tapestry of nationalities and classes; the digital camera work adds an exotic flavor of foreign television. In an excellent cast, it’s clear that Jamie Foxx will be a major star, and Tom Cruise is scary and convincing as a hit man. The resulting mixture is heady and powerful, and helped me not to dwell on improbabilities in the storyline. The theme of men at work - whether a cabbie or a hired killer, doing what they have to do - adds an interesting nobility to the film. I found Collateral very watchable and exciting entertainment.

--Neal Vitale


Carroll Cat Column, Klein on Mars, Dalton on Guns, Dan Grobstein File

Another damn fine cat column by Jon Carroll:

It's time once again for the tedious yet interesting Adventures of Archie and Bucket. This episode: the Food Bowls, Part 56.

Harrison Klein is one of the reasons I am proud to call myself an MIT graduate:

Re: Peggy Coquet's Mars information (in last week's column)

It's deja vu all over again! It was just last year when we also heard that Mars would be the closest to Earth in recorded history. See

.We also heard things like NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN. I guess that must mean "until at least next year".

Peggy's source says that Mars will come within 34,649,589 miles of Earth. According to the article, last year Mars was within 34,646,418 miles of Earth. I saw Mars last August, and indeed it was very bright and impressive. But the hyperbole about how big a deal this is seems a bit much, since the same article points out that Mars gets almost this close to Earth every 15-17 years. In 1988 it was 36.5 million miles away, and that distance is going to look pretty much the same as this year or last year.

Richard Dalton is 100% right about this:

In March of 2000, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson agreed to strict new rules for dealers to resolve a bunch of pending government lawsuits. S&W dealers would be required to keep computerized records of each sale and to store all guns in a vault. Further, customers would be limited to purchasing no more than one gun each two weeks. Pretty draconian, huh?

Guess what? Under extreme pressure from the NRA and other gun makers, S&W's sales collapsed, the CEO resigned and the company was sold for pennies on the dollar to new owners who disavowed these rules and rejoined the ranks of the anything-goes gun industry.

About three weeks from now, the assault weapons ban will expire. This will mean that street gangs, drug dealers and assorted nut cases will again be able to legally arm themselves with AK-47s, Uzis and handy little TEC-9s. This increased firepower can't help but increase the number of gun-related fatalities. The Center for Disease Control says that 30,708 people in the United States died from firearm-related causes in 1998.

The very least we can do is prevent the assault weapons ban from expiring. Then perhaps, there will be enough breathing room to formulate sane gun sales and ownership laws that reduce the appalling number of deaths and injuries caused by guns each year in this country. But first--let's make sure that automatic weapons aren't made legally available again. We only have until September 13 to make our voices heard over the membership of the NRA and the gun lobbyists.

He also notes: "Here's a clever or sleazy advertising idea, dependent on one's viewpoint."

A thin Dan Grobstein File:

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