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 26, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

September 26, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 38

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Sometimes...
  • Your Bill for Iraq
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Grammar Joke


  • Me and You and Everyone We Know
  • The World


  • Calonquey Madness, Coquet: Ethics of Psyops, New Japanese Cars Coming, Dan Grobstein File

General News


Sometimes, I'm just Ed Sullivan (or, more aptly, Herb Caen). I introduce the acts and then get off the stage. As regular readers know, I consider my own life, past and present, to be darned interesting, especially when I present it as good writing, which I always do. But in the great sweep of the years ahead and behind, this week will be filed under "quotidian." On the other hand, I am pleased, honored and proud to present some great items provided by friends and colleagues.

Just to keep you posted, my birthday was last week (stayed at Ocean Beach with Vicki, had dinner at Sunset at the Cliff House, saw two movies); this week Vicki and I present a home concert of Celtic music. I'll let you know how it goes.

Your Bill for Iraq

From Richard Dalton:

Got a letter from American Friends Service Committee that included an "invoice." Here it is:

To: Every American Household




U.S.-led war in Iraq



Reconstruction allocation



Projected additional costs



Iraq reconstruction






Pretty unbelievable, especially in the face of the fat cat tax cuts which congressional Republicans are trying to make permanent.

But there's more.

NASA's administrator, perhaps after smoking something liberating, says we should be spending $104 billion over the next decade, so we can go back to the moon. Didn't we do that?

Yet more.

Bush says we will rebuild New Orleans and reverse poverty in the area. Cost? No way to know the full tab at this point, but everyone agrees it will be in the $100s of billions. And we can do all this without raising taxes or (further) impacting the monster deficit we are accruing, waiting for the economy to generate new- found wealth that will substantially boost tax revenues. Guess that also precludes a raise in the minimum wage, which hasn't been modified in a decade.

Bush says we will pay for the Gulf Coast reconstruction by cutting other programs. Hmmm. Defense? The oil industry subsidies that were recently approved? No wait--there's that nifty new drug program for Medicare recipients that was sold by the Bushies based on a price tag of $400 billion and is now estimated to cost $750 billion. Nobody's received those benefits yet, so they haven't really lost anything, right?

Actually, I agree with John Sidney McCain, that we should dump the Medicare Drug gizmo and substitute a program for seniors living in poverty who often stop taking life-sustaining drugs because they can't afford them. That would eliminate the drug and insurance companies windfall from the drug plan due to start January 1, so Bush will probably oppose this logical approach.

I think the Bush strategy is working. Most people are getting numb to the realities of hundreds of billions being shoved down all the administration's favored rat holes. That's why its important for organizations like ADSC to focus our attention on the individual consequences of "staying the course" of a war which was started fraudulently and continues because Bush can't admit the truth.

Political Notes

Let's take an extreme, but historically accurate view of one aspect of the Roberts nomination:

Is it perfectly acceptable for the dems to take a dive on the nomination of a hyper-intelligent, glib, smooth, clean-shaven right-wing conservative corporate ideologue? Especially one who has engaged in a massive conflict of interest in violation of federal law (28 USC 455(b)(4)) to get the nominations (first to associate, second to chief). One may remember Judge William Byrne who was offered the FBI directorship while presiding at the Ellsberg trial (Byrne met in person briefly with Nixon and then twice with Ehrlichman and said he could not even consider the offer while the case was before him).

Roberts came in for his first interview with A.G. Alberto Gonzalez on April 1, 2005. On April 7, 2005, he was on the panel hearing Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Gonzalez was discussing his promotion to a new federal job. A subordinate of Gonzalez, who discussed the job with Roberts six days earlier, represented the government in the case. The government asked Roberts to reverse a federal judge and find that citizens may be held forever without charge or trial at the command of the President--who, at one point, was a named defendant in the case.

This case was as important to this government as the Ellsberg case was to the Nixon administration. Then on July 15, 2005, Roberts joined in the extraordinary ruling--wiping out the 5th and 6th amendments. Although the decision was nominally 3-0, when the concurrence is read closely it is clear the vote on the key issue was 2-1. If an impartial jurist had been in Roberts' seat and decided the other way it looks like the decision would have been affirmed. On July 19, 2005, Roberts was paid off with the first nomination. What will it take for people to see what's going on? Will Bush have to nominate Ann Coulter (who looks like Groucho's brother Karl by comparison) to make it clear what is happening?


  • We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. - Aesop

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Artsy Techie: the I/O Brush enables "The World as the Palette" picking up colors, textures and animation from the real world, then using them in a computer paint program. The BBC says: 'Magic brush' paints visual world. This project is the research of Kimiko Ryokai of the Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab -- my old stomping grounds. And any MIT grad knows that Dr. Edgerton at MIT was the father of strobe photography. Rarely has it been so artfully applied as at this beautiful site: Liquid Sculpture High-speed and Fine Art Photography of Drops and Splashes. Lastly, see this nice slideshow of astronomical images.

Cognitive Radio: I first ran across the concept of cognitive radio in Cory Doctorow's 2003 short story Liberation spectrum, which might have been inspired by Brent Hurtig's 2002 Wired article Broadband Cowboy. Wikipedia traces the idea back to a 1999 technical paper by Mitola and Maguire. The FCC held a workshop on the topic in 2003: CRTP. I was reminded of all this while paging through Technology Review's TR35 ("35 top technology innovators under age 35") which mentioned the recent work of Haitao Zheng on Cognitive Radio and Networking.

Jobs on greedy music labels: at the Apple Expo Paris, Steve Jobs spoke about pressure from the major labels to change iTunes winning pricing structure: Jobs: Record labels 'getting greedy' and Steve Jobs discusses music labels, iPods and Intel Macs. He said: "The problem is we are still competing with piracy. The labels make more money from selling tracks on iTunes than when they sell a CD. There are no marketing costs for them. We are competing with piracy, so it needs to be a fair price -- if the price goes up people will go back to piracy." I'd like to think that Steve is cribbing his talking points from Technobriefs ("as opposed to the 0% they get from iTunes' P2P competitors"), but I'll settle for the knowledge that great minds think alike.

The G Spot: Wi-Fi to Print: (I'm working hard to avoid yet another section with "Google" in its title!) Its hard to know whether Google Wi-Fi is the beginning of its move to become the preeminent ISP, providing ubiquitous Wi-Fi access to the teeming masses, or just one Google employee's 20% project to make sure he can surf at his local pizza joint and gym: Google Begins Limited Test of Wi-Fi Service. Print: These authors are world class foot-shooters: BBC: Authors sue Google over book plan, NYT: Writers Sue Google, Accusing It of Copyright Violation. To anyone who takes even a cursory look at the Google Print site (search for "moby dick", top result, search in that for "ishmael") it is SO clear that Google went way out of its way to prevent people from using Google Print as a way to read books online for free. It is designed to be a way to search the text of books to find certain passages. For those interested in more, Google goes out of their way to drive interested consumers toward buying the book. Bomb: As Paul mentioned back on September 12, as the result of a Googlebombing campaign a Google search for "failure" brings up President Bush's bio. To counter claims of liberal bias, they felt the need to blog an explanation: Googlebombing 'failure'. Earth: Enthusiast uses Google to reveal Roman ruins.

Microsoft bleeds talent: BusinessWeek tut-tuts about Troubling Exits At Microsoft. Pardon me if I find it the opposite of troubling that talented (if formerly misguided) people are waking up and leaving the sinking ship of Microsoft. Rearranging deck chairs: Microsoft reorganizes--now what?.

Technobits: from the FT: How open source gave power to the people --- changes while we watch: Mars Probe Finds New Gullies, Crater at Red Planet --- Mysterious Stars Surround Andromeda's Black Hole --- The Hundred Greatest Theorems --- BusinessWeek's Best of the Web --- real time Spam Map.


Grammar Joke

From Peggy Coquet

It's one of those jokes that, if you get it, you're almost ashamed to admit it; and you have to think carefully about whom to send it to.


Knock knock. Who's there? Objective case. Objective case who? No, objective case "whom".


Me and You and Everyone We Know

First class work by writer/director/co-star Miranda July. There is one teenage sex scene which led me to believe the film must have been written by a boy, fulfilling an adolescent fantasy, but apparently July either has incredible empathy or enormous imagination. Her work was solidly grounded by the inspired performance of John Hawkes, a veteran not-quite-well-known actor with two score movie and tv credits.

Don't you get tired of mainstream films, which tend to be about the problems of professionals and the upper-middle or upper class? One of the charms of indie films is their willingness to take an unflinching and unsentimental view of the working class--in the vivid words of the economists, those who are "one layoff and one serious illness from homelessness." Hawkes is a divorced father and shoe salesman. It doesn't get much grittier than that.

We loved it. Hardly smiling, happy and upbeat, but a great work of art.

The World

This Chinese film arrived in San Francisco to the thunderous applause of the local newspaper, which makes me wonder about its judgment. Not every Asian film with subtitles is a subtle masterpiece. I will refer to the IMDB summary, because this is how the film views itself: "an exploration on the impact of urbanization and globalization on a traditional culture." A user comment added: "a sad picture of how modernization is the same the whole world over."

Possibly it was both of those things; if I had to guess, I'd say that was the goal of Zhang Ke Jia, the writer and director. But the thing is, I'd have to guess, because it was so mind-boglingly slow, meandering and boring. Perhaps that's because these young people's lives are like that, but it doesn't make for entertainment or art. We walked out after about 130 minutes--I don't believe it probably got better in the 13 minutes we missed. We were looking for the movie the reviewer promised, but I guess they weren't showing it that day.

Maybe it was the subtitles! Says one IMDB reviewer: "I'm sure subtitle-dependent viewers lose a lot of the significance of different accents and regional differences among the employees from all over China." Well, yes, but if that was what carried the whole film, it didn't carry it as far as San Francisco. Ironically, my mother, upon hearing of our plans to see this film, said "That's one I'm sure you dad would want to see." Even if sensitive, subtitled Chinese films were his cup of tea, he wouldn't be interested in this one.


Calonquey Madness, Coquet: Ethics of Psyops, New Japanese Cars Coming, Dan Grobstein File

We saw the Calonque while in the South of France this summer. Rae spotted Calonquey Madness.

Steve Coquet writes:

This is one of the scariest things I've read in a while.Slate: You Can't Handle The Truth. . I always ask myself how anyone at all concerned with ethics can allow himself to work for an outfit like that, whose services will inevitably be used more for illicit purposes. At the risk of sounding both nineteenth century and melodramatic (guilty on one charge!) nefarious purposes. One can infer from the article itself that it has already happened.

Kent Peterman found a virtual font of wisdom at one of those compendium of quotes sites: Doug Larson. Here's a warmup:

Accomplishing the impossible means only that the boss will add it to your regular duties.

Go. Look. Larson is funny and profound.

Richard Dalton sees a new Japanese car on the horizon:

Yeah, the Prius is a great car but it's still much of the same old design-wise. A Japanese colleague knocked my socks off with a concept car he saw at Toyota's exhibit at the World Exposition being held in Aichi, Japan.

It's a slinky-looking single seater that transforms itself from a low-center-of-gravity road vehicle to an upright for local tooling around or storage. It's also said to be made of "plant-based materials such as kenaf." It's powered by electric motors in the rear wheels and uses a lithium ion battery. It weighs only 180 kilograms (a hair under 400 pounds).

After seeing hordes of Mercedes Smart Cars in Europe, I was interested in when they will get equipped to meet US regulations (they seem safe enough for some pretty looney drivers). After seeing the I-unit, maybe I'll wait until Toyota brings a product, based on these principles, to market.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

  • BUSINESS / WORLD BUSINESS | September 19, 2005
    If the Children Can Drink Uncola, What About Unbeer? By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN Kidsbeer, a Japanese soft drink bottled and formulated to look like beer, may soon be available throughout Europe, but watchdogs of underage drinking say they will fight any effort to ship it to the United States.
  • BUSINESS / MEDIA & ADVERTISING | September 19, 2005
    Even a Darling of the Newspaper Industry Is Starting to Sweat a Bit By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE At a time when many newspapers are cutting back and announcing layoffs, McClatchy is building its properties. Still, the trends for newspapers are dismal right now and even McClatchy sees clouds on the horizon.
  • BUSINESS / MEDIA & ADVERTISING | September 19, 2005
    David Carr: More Horrible Than Truth: News Reports Hurricane Katrina brought out the best in the news media, but also the worst, as when lurid rumors were reported as fact.
  • SCIENCE | September 20, 2005
    Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore By NATALIE ANGIER Researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that cursing is a human universal.
  • FOOD | September 21 2005
    Craving Hyphenated Chinese By JULIA MOSKIN Over the past decade, as large communities of people from India, Peru, Korea, Trinidad and Guyana have formed here, New York has had to expand its ideas about what Chinese food can be.

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