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

September 19, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

September 19, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 37

Table of Contents:

General News


  • The Cop, The Tickets and the Bumper Sticker
  • The Top 16 Ballpark Jumbotron Messages We'd Like to See
  • Test for Dementia


  • Balzac and The Little Seamstress


  • Blogs take over world, Alborz Restaurant, Dan Grobstein File

General News

No Child Left Behind

There's personal stuff after the policy stuff.

There are so many things wrong with the federal No Child Left Standing... sorry, No Child Left Behind act that I scarcely know where to begin. It's never been fully funded, it is mean-spirited, its goals are impossible, it encourages teaching to the test (at a time when our children really ARE being left behind, by China and India and Japan) and, perhaps worst of all, it compares apples to oranges. It is nearly meaningless to compare this year's 8th grade scores to last year's, because this year's 8th graders are not last year's. The act assumes they are comparable because they are identical "student units" whose scores reflect only how well we have taught them. That is the biggest load of malarkey being shoveled on the American public by an administration that sets new records for malarkey every day. Students are individual people, and while how we teach them is an important factor in how much they know, it isn't even the most important factor. Alas, the most important factors are socio-economic class and parental support. Without both, we can spend all day presenting information to the students in brilliant, innovative and entertaining ways--we can, as a fellow teacher puts it, "spit wooden nickels," and nothing will enter or remain in their heads.

For an excellent analogy which describes how stupid the act's goals are, see No Child Left Behind: The Football Version, which I published in March.

More on What's Changed

What put me in mind of the above was the fact that my classroom experience--not as important as the students' experience of course, but important to me--varies widely not only with my experience, but with the nature of the students in my class. In short, the class is different every year because they are different every year. So I can try new things--a cooler classroom, a darker classroom lit only by incandescent lights--and see a change, but it may have nothing to do with the changes I have made.

As noted last week, I am calmer and less angry this year than in previous years, and hope I can stay that way. I've made at least one other small change (if it's not out of Wong and Wong it should be): every day I begin class by saying, "Hello and welcome, and thank you all for being here." I try not to say it too quickly, nor robotically. In short, as difficult as it is to do so, I try to say it every day as if I mean it, because I do. Do my students behave better because of the welcome? Or is this just my best-behaved class ever by coincidence and luck of the draw? Or have I lowered my behavior standards so far that actions which would have resulted in a referral last year or the year before just slide by me? I certainly can't say. But it's a good year so far--12 days in out of 180.

No More Times Op-Ed

Krugman, Dowd, Herbert and Brooks duck behind the iron curtain of paid-only content at The New York Times on Sept. 19, and thus will no longer appear in this column. I sympathize with the people at the Times who feel they must do this to make money and survive. The value they achieve by having blogs like mine point to them must be either be zero or close to zero. At a time when some publications are making their links persistent (or at least more persistent), the Times has decided to drop out of the Internet conversation. I'll miss them. But The San Francisco Chronicle's Jon Carroll is a better writer than Maureen Dowd anyway. Of course eventually, all the mainstream media (MSM) on the net will go this way, and we'll all just be talking to ourselves. The quality of the Internet will go down, and that will be too bad.

Dan Grobstein adds:

I agree with the Americablog [that the Times new policy is bad]. I just signed up for home delivery. I had given up buying the paper because I couldn't deal with all the papers around the house and the recycling. I've recently started buying it sporadically. I missed all the little articles that I'd read while holding the paper in my hand Reading on the web misses them.

[ed. note: in the newspaper business, we used to call this the serendipity factor. It's a thing editors do for you--find and print thinks you wouldn't ask to read because you don't know about them. It is a problem with "roll your own" electronic newspapers.]

If you are a home delivery subscriber you get free access to the premium content. Maybe that's what they're trying to do -- build up the physical subscription base. I guess I fell into the trap.

Otherwise it's just like the recording industry.

From the posting he points to:

And finally, if the Times' idea catches on, this really could be the beginning of the end of the current state of Internet news. Free news online has created an amazing and new dynamic in which people are more informed than ever before. If other news sites start to follow the Times' example, we jeopardize that. Again, I get why the Times wants to make money, they're not a public service, but still, I'm not sure their move will help them influence public debate, and isn't that part of the reason they exist?


Presidents I Have Known

Well, not really known so much as shaken hands with. I worked for Bobby Kennedy in Oregon in 1968, and shook hands with him when he arrived, late on election night, to concede defeat in the first election ever lost by a member of the Kennedy family. I shook hands with Jimmy Carter when he visited Portland while I was a reporter. Both were pretty limp handshakes--I hear the President has to shake that way or appearing in public would destroy his hand. You have to take all your rings off too. My mom, as a Young Democrat, drove a pre-senatorial Teddy Kennedy around Portland during the 1960 campaign.

Anyway, I was put in mind of this by a question Peggy Coquet asked me this week:

Do you also find yourself nostalgic for Carter, as Steve and I do? My mother (a Dem district committeewoman in Tampa, FL) entertained Rosalyn at a tea while they were campaigning. I always think of that good and gentle man as "my" president (although I saw Kennedy in person, never Carter); and I always remember the shocking changes his years in office wrought on him. In just a few years, this genial handsome man became elderly, frail-looking, with a barely perceptible air of discouragement. It made me hate the office of president, and wonder why any good person would seek it.

Alas, there was nothing unusual about Carter's severe aging. Before and after pictures of Lyndon Johnson (who served just over 5 years) are appalling. Carter, of course, aged terribly. And Clinton entered office a young man and left it an old man. Maybe it's just Democrats, who take the office seriously, who get worn down by it.

In any case, as to the question of "any good person," remember the severe but accurate folk wisdom that anyone willing to do what it takes to become President of the United States is not the kind of person who should be President of the United States.

Political Notes

Score a big one for Bill Maher

His closing bit the other night:

"Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

"Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

"But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

"On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

"So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.' "


From out there in the blogsphere:

In response to harsh criticism over poor coordination of relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, Republican leaders defended President Bush, blaming instead the American voters for putting Bush in charge.

"President Bush may have hired the dismissed head of the Arabian Horse Association to run FEMA, but who hired President Bush?" said House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "It's not like you guys didn't know he was a corrupt idiot."

According to Press Secretary Scott McClellan, the White House briefly considered the idea of blaming former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush for deciding to have children.

However, that idea was struck down in favor of a plan to blame the French for selling Louisiana to us in the first place.

Remember to vote Republican. It's easier than thinking.


To those who say: "Let's not play the blame game," respond: "National security is not a game."

Where is the journalist who will ask: "When did George W. Bush start thinking national security is a game?" or "Did George W. Bush start thinking national security was a game on August 6, 2001, when he received clear warning of the events of the next month and then decided to stay on vacation for the next three weeks?


Gotta Love The Republicans #2495: Blame it on the media: Victor Davis Hanson's Sept. 15 column, Remember all of this about Hurricane Katrina. It appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle that day, and probably a few other U.S. newspapers; Hanson, one of the GOP lap dogs slurping up conservative money at the right-wing Hoover institution, is floating a new trial balloon on Katrina, and it's a doozy.

Best of all, the administration has complete deniability if it doesn't fly, because he's just an academic, not a paid shill for the administration. In the case of the Hoover Institution, this is a distinction without a difference, of course, but never mind. I can save you from reading the 750 words of sophistry he used to make his point: The media did it. There were no problems with Katrina, just "poorly educated journalists, worried not about the truth." and "a frenzied media whose reporters and commentators continually prove as incompetent as they are disingenuous."

He concludes by asking if they couldn't have "at least made sure that the images from their cameras did not refute their own predetermined scripts." That's as close as he came to getting anything right in the whole column, but he missed by a few words. What the cameras showed refuted, not "their own" scripts, but "the Bush administration's" scripts. One picture is worth a thousand words. The pictures from New Orleans spoke a million words about the Bush administration's cronyism, incompetence, arrogance and racism. The media made sure their cameras showed what happen. And the GOP can't stand that. Watch as this "the media made it up" argument spreads like a virus all over the Internet. Talk about disingenuous!


  • Daily Kos: Bush uses firemen as props (thank you Peggy Coquet)
  • How Bush Blew It
    Bureaucratic timidity. Bad phone lines. And a failure of imagination.
    Why the government was so slow to respond to catastrophe. (Thank you, Dan Grobstein)
  • Michael Moore has had quite a bit to say about Lake George and all that has happened before and since.
  • Richard Dalton asks if anyone is surprised: Bush Cronies to Mop Up Katrina
  • Mississippi's Hattiesburg-American: Utility managers in the state said they were called by Vice President Cheney's office and told they needed to get power back to a gas pipeline, stat. "We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down," said one manager. Workers were diverted, and a few hospitals had to stay without power for an extra day.
  • Q: What is Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?
    A: He really doesn't give a shit how people get out of New Orleans.
  • Wednesday, September 14, 2005
    The Storm That Ate The GOP
    Who will pity the soulless Republican Party now that Katrina is mauling their regime?
    By Mark Morford
    San Francisco Chronicle
    Can you hear that? That low scraping moan, that painful scream, that compressed hissing wail like the sound of an angry alligator caught in a vise? Why, it's the GOP, and they're screaming, "No, no it can't be, oh my God, please no, this damnable Katrina thing is just an unstoppable PR disaster for us!" (Thank you, Bob Kaplan)
  • The Nation: He's an artist the White House says is on Bush's Ipod, but he doesn't think much of Bush policies. We Can't Make It Here
  • Chertoff responsible for delay.
  • Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2005 /10 Elul, 5765
    As Big Easy sunk, unprepared, under-staffed government responders rebuffed help from Israeli humanitarian aid delegation
    By Caroline B. Glick

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Google-rama if Google would just stop being so darn innovative and quit pushing out cool new free services for a week or two, I promise I would stop writing about them! The freshest news is the launch of Google Blog Search (read the FAQ and press coverage: Google Launches New Blog Search Tool, Google Launches Industrial Strength Blog Search). But possibly more significant, more paradigm shifty, is Google SMS. (Thanks to Dan Grobstein via Paul for pointing out to me this important story I missed last week.) Grab any cell phone with text messaging (SMS) capability, type in your query, send it to Google's phone number, and in about a minute get your search results by return SMS. See an online demo, read the FAQ, and see Three New Features For Google Mobile Search. Turns out Kai-Fu Lee can work for Google pending the trial related to his Microsoft confidentiality agreement. It might be the end of the world as we know it (yet I feel fine): Google Earth threatens democracy.

Anti-science: (continuing this thread from August 29) the Guardian's series called Bad Science recently carried: Don't dumb me down a discussion of how the media so frequently gets science wrong. While watching The Daily Show's week-long series Evolution Schmevolution, I was reminded of Chris Mooney's insightful book The Republican War on Science.

Biomimetic makeup: biomimicry, the science of technology inspired by nature's designs, gives us butterfly eyelids and echo-locating bat bots.

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess: while scanning down Daypop Top 40 on Friday, I found a link to The Onion, a goofy 2004 parody of Gillette supposedly taking the next step in the razor arms race by introducing one with five blades. OK, yuck, yuck, but why was this old item in 6th place at DPT40? As I read down a little further, I found another item at 20th place from CNN: Gillette unveils 5-bladed razor! Apparently the 2004 parody shot up the charts because lots of bloggers cited it as counterpoint to the equally ludicrous real item. Reading them in the opposite order as I did, it felt like CNN and Gillette were doing a parody of the Onion's parody. Will satire eventually be rendered moot by our increasingly bizarre culture?

Technobits: IP address typo >> false arrest >> lawsuit --- Plan by 13 Nations Urges Open Technology Standards --- TiVo 7.2 OS turns to the DRM dark side --- NYT online subscription service looms --- lead up to DARPA Grand Challenge --- "Six Degrees of Separation" Explained In New Computer Algorithm --- The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security --- Cell phone tracking rejected --- One Find, Two Astronomers: An Ethical Brawl --- more on Titan's likelihood of harboring life: Scientists Reconsider Habitability of Saturn's Moon --- global warming and stronger hurricanes --- just as NKS taught everything you need to know about science, here is all the music you will ever need: WolframTones: An Experiment in a New Kind of Music.


The Cop, The Tickets and the Bumper Sticker

Thank you, Peggy Coquet:

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. I went to the store the other day. I was only in there for about 5 minutes. When I came out, there was a city cop writing a parking ticket.

I went up to him and said, "Come on, buddy, how about giving a senior a break?"

He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a name. He glared at me and wrote another ticket for having worn tires. so, I called him a worse name. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he started writing a third.

This went on for about 20 minutes. The more I abused him, the more tickets he wrote. I didn't care. My car was parked around the corner and the car with all the tickets had a "Bush-Cheney" bumper sticker on it.

I try to have a little fun each day, now that I'm retired ... it's important at my age.

The Top 16 Ballpark Jumbotron Messages We'd Like to See

See esp. No. 7

September 14, 2005

16> "Attention, painted shirtless rainbow-wig guy: Your boss just saw you on TV and you're fired."

15> "Sosa struck out in his first three at bats today -- yet he'll get paid more for this one crappy game than you will for working at your job for the next decade."

14> "Concession stand hamburgers are people! They're people!!!"

13> "Attention, DEA agents: Ricky Williams' locker is third from the left."

12> "To the fan seated in section G, row 17, seat 2: Go back and flush, willya? And dude, lay off the chili dogs."

11> "Ladies, time to break out the rally boobs!!!"

10> "Would the Vikings fan who owns the purple Hummer H2 taking up four spaces please report to stadium security? Your vehicle has been disassembled by a pack of raving Cheeseheads."

9> "Tonight's seventh-inning special: beer on sale for less than a gallon of gasoline!"

8> "Today's Tom Swiftie: 'Whose steroids? MY steroids,' Jose injected."

7> "Answer to today's trivia question: The team owner is both a tightwad AND an idiot."

6> "I'm afraid I can't open the stadium doors, Dave."

5> "Attention, Bob Smith in seat 12, row 38: Your son is in the locker room losing his virginity to Mike Piazza."

4> "Today's Kansas City Royals post-game show brought to you by the Suicide Prevention Hotline!"

3> "Tonight's Massengill Disposable Douche Player of the Game is...."

2> "Neither team could be here tonight, so instead please welcome the comedy stylings of former Vice President Al Gore!"

and's Number 1 Ballpark Jumbotron Message We'd Like to See...

1> "A hearty Safeco Field welcome to Washington's number one sports fan, BILL GATES, whose Microsoft Windows software powers this scoreb%(^*C000021a FATAL SYSTEM ERROR 0xc000003f"
[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2005 by Chris White ]
Selected from 118 submissions from 42 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Larry Hollister, Concord, CA -- 1, 9 (67th #1/Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 7

Test for Dementia

Below are four (4) questions and a bonus question. You have to answer them instantly. You can't take your time, answer all of them immediately. OK? Let's find out just how clever you really are. Ready? GO!!

First Question: You are participating in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you in?

Answer: If you answered that you are first, then you are absolutely wrong! If you overtake the second person and you take his place, you are second! Try not to screw up in the next question. To answer the second question, don't take as much time as you took for the first question.

Second Question: If you overtake the last person, then you are...?

Answer: If you answered that you are second to last, then you are wrong again. Tell me, how can you overtake the LAST Person?

You're not very good at this! Are you?

Third Question: Very tricky math! Note: This must be done in your head only. Do NOT use paper and pencil or a calculator. Try it.

Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000 Now add 10. What is the total?

Did you get 5000? The correct answer is actually 4100.

Don't believe it? Check with your calculator! Today is definitely not your day. Maybe you will get the last question right?

Fourth Question:Mary's father has five daughters: 1. Nana, 2. Nene, 3 Nini, 4. Nono. What is the name of the fifth daughter?

Answer: Nunu?NO! Of course not. Her name is Mary. Read the question again

Bonus round:

There is a mute person who wants to buy a toothbrush. By imitating the action of brushing one's teeth he successfully expresses himself to the shopkeeper and the purchase is done.

Now if there is a blind man who wishes to buy a pair of sunglasses, how should he express himself?

He just has to open his mouth and say, "I'd like to buy a pair of sunglasses, please," so simple.


Balzac and the Little Seamstress

If, as I believe, the distinction between art and commerce is that Art is ambiguous and leaves you something to think about, whereas commerce tells a single story subject to only one or a very few interpretations, then this film is Art. Shot in China by the French, it is about the youthful loss of innocence, the indomitable human spirit and the passionate desire to make music no matter what the circumstances, not to mention the power of literature to change people's lives. It also includes a love triangle. More obviously, it is about Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Red Guards and the inhumane exile of city people sent to the country for "re-education" among the peasants. It is about the changes in the lives of both the peasants and the city people. Plus, as a coda, it shows modern China, where Communism is just a word and satellite dishes have sprouted in the most remote rural villages. It is a tragicomedy that balances its elements skillfully. The actors are good looking, the dialog is clever, and the ending, in keeping with its ambiguity, you're not quite sure how everything and everyone ends up, despite a "20 years later" coda.


Blogs take over world, Alborz Restaurant, Dan Grobstein File

A friend writes:

I think the whole "blogs will change the world" meme is getting a little long in the tooth as technology news, this might be more up your alley: Arianna Learns to Love the Blog (Wired News)

Since I don't really have a restaurant review section, I'll place my mini-review here in the catch-all letters section. Vicki and I were walking around downtown Berkeley looking for someplace we hadn't eaten before. We wanted small, pretty, quiet, white-tablecloth restaurant. We found Alborz Restaurant, at 2142 Center St. near Shattuck. Apparently a branch of a San Rafael restaurant, it met all of out qualifications, plus the prices were reasonable and the food was excellent. As a big duck fan, I can particularly recommend the duck, which is served in an unusual and sumptuous presentation. Perfect for a meal after catching a movie in any of the four nearby theaters.

Dan Grobstein File

Did you know that from Sept. 9 through right now (1 pm Tues Sept. 13) there have been 58 Dept. of Defense news releases and no named casualty reports. That's a very good thing. But maybe they're just staying on message about the "freedom march" and their hurricane Katrina efforts.

Usually there are 6 or 8 or 10 news releases before you get an announcement of a casualty.

Before the 2004 election the casualty reports got very quiet also. They picked up after the election.

There may be some news stories in there with casualties, but no announcements with a name and hometown.

New York Times

  • MAGAZINE | September 11, 2005
    Lost at Tora Bora
    In December 2001, Osama bin Laden was cornered in a mountainous region along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Why wasn't he captured? And why can't he be apprehended now?
  • OPINION | September 12, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: All the President's Friends
    Is FEMA's decline and fall unique, or part of a larger pattern?

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