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My Nephew Paul

My brother Steve has a 13-year-old son named Paul Stephan Schindler. For a variety of reasons, neither of us saw Paul for the first 12 years of his life.

Paul lives about 50 miles from here, in Sacramento. This weekend, he came for his first visit to our house in Orinda (he's been to Steve's house in Oak Harbor and our parents' house in Portland, Oregon).

There might have been some confusion, with two Pauls in the house, but Vicki calls me honey and Rae calls me Dad, so we got past that. We met Paul at the Martinez train station, took him to breakfast in Martinez, then drove through SF to the Golden Gate Bridge. After a few minutes at the lookout. There I pointed out Bank of America World Headquarters, whose irregular setbacks are reminiscent of the craggy peaks of the Sierra Nevada--really, I used to work at the bank and that's what they told us to say. We then drove back to California and Polk. We took the cable car to Chinatown, had dim sum for lunch, then took the cable car back to Van Ness, where we walked down to the AMC 1000 for the 2:05 showing of Pitch Black. (I didn't review it; nothing really to review. A bunch of unknowns, mostly being killed in the dark by monsters) It appears to be a great film for 13-year-old boys (actually, Rae, a 15-year-old girl, liked it as well). A driving tour of Golden Gate Park took us past the buffalo and the Queen Wilhelmina tulip garden. We drove along Ocean Beach (what a great name, huh? Kind of like Mt. Mountain).

Spaghetti at home for dinner. Brunch at Café Terzetto in Moraga on Sunday, followed by a tour of Berkeley, and 90 minutes spent watching Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Rae played the board game Life with Paul, then we had dinner at the Hungry Hunter steakhouse. Finally, back to the train station in Martinez, where the train was only 15 minutes late.

If I were Adair Lara, Jon Carroll, Joyce Maynard or even the late Art Hoppe, I'd find a way to express all the complex emotions I feel on getting to know my nephew at this relatively late point in his life. I'd even fill in some of the back story, but I can't think of any way to do it that wouldn't hurt or upset one or more of the people whom I know that regularly read this column.

I guess that's just one more reason I'll never make the big time as a personal columnist--I am unwilling to let it all really hang out. Or not clever enough to figure out how to do it in a way that is simultaneously entertaining, revealing, cathartic and acceptable to the persons named. Well, OK, Joyce Maynard really irritated J.D. Salinger, and Adair Lara admits her kids often hated being in her column. But you know what I mean, I think. I'm doing the best I can with my limited palate.

The Treasons Of The Clerks

Jerry Pournelle, a friend and colleague of mine, made a unique and idiosyncratic choice when asked by to pick the most important event of the century. I was intrigued as soon as he mentioned it to me, but it's taken me a while to look it up and read it in full. I quote only a paragraph of it here; if you're looking to be provoked, click on the link and read the whole thing.

The Treasons of the Clerks
by Dr. Jerry Pournelle
Thursday, December 23, 1999
I think, however, that the most important event of the century is only marginally connected with technology. I refer to it as the treason of the clerks -- the abandonment of Western civilization by the intellectual class and intellectual institutions. For good or ill, the West must face a future in which every individual has enormously increased power for good or ill without any coherent support from the intellectuals: from those supposed to be our intellectual betters, the best and the brightest among us.

The phrase "The Treason Of The Clerks" apparently comes from a book by Julien Benda, first published in the 1920s, entitled The Treason of the Intellectuals, or, in the original French, La Trahison Des Clercs. Those French; equating intellectuals with clerks.

Wrote one favorable reviewer at "This prescient warning of what was to come as the intellectuals abandoned their disinterested critique for service to power bears rereading."

Wrote another, "Intellectuals who abandon their calling to guide and instruct the masses according to the principles of the siecle de lumiere to become apologists for nationalist, irrationalist thoughts and deeds. Everybody who is active in shaping public discourse (politician, writers, especially professors) should head this book's warning and think twice before abdicating his or her responsibility towards society."

Appreciating Things

Sing Ho For the Sump Pump!
San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 16, 2000

Jon Carroll has done it again. While writing a column of praise for the simple sump pump, he has also brought a ray of Zen advice into the lives of his readers--a group that now includes you. I recommend the whole column wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, here are the two grafs that are, for me, the essence of the message:

WE TAKE TOO many things for granted. The speed- dialing function -- what a thing that is. Frozen potstickers -- where would we be without them? Cheap watches, superior insoles, over-the-counter cortisone cream, pedal steel guitars, ribbed condoms, cashmere anything, fresh orange juice, turkey vultures, eastern Oregon, Hinduism, the planet Saturn -- amazing.

And this one

…pick a new thing to be grateful for. The next object, natural or man- made, useful or ornamental, that causes you deep pleasure; celebrate it.

A Fish Story

 A couple went on vacation to a fishing resort up north. The husband liked to fish at the crack of dawn; the wife preferred to read.

One morning the husband returned after several hours of fishing and decided to take a short nap. The wife decided to take the boat out. She was not familiar with the lake so she rowed out, anchored the boat, and started reading her book. Along comes the sheriff in his boat, pulls up alongside and says, "Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?"

"Reading my book," she replies as she thinks to herself, "is this guy blind or what?"

"You're in a restricted fishing area," he informs her.

"But, Officer, I'm not fishing. Can't you see that?"

"But you have all this equipment, Ma'am. I'll have to take you in and write you up."

"If you do that I will charge you with rape," snaps the irate woman.

"I didn't even touch you," grouses the sheriff.

"Yes, that's true ... but you have all the equipment ..."

The End Of The Affair

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

Graham Greene wrote the novel. Neil Jordan wrote the screenplay and directed the darn thing. It's British. It has Ralph Fienes and Stephen Rea. Julianne Moore is up for best actress and the film has been nominated for best cinematography--the academy is always a collective sucker for a lavish recreation of England (or, really, anywhere where they weren't actually fighting) during the Second World War.

Julianne Moore is an unfaithful wife who makes the beast with two backs with Ralph. For several years. Then dies of a severe cough that leaves her looking pretty good, albeit sans makeup, right until the end.

I'll handicap the Oscars later, but I mainly went to see the film (against Vicki's advice) because of Moore's nomination, and because I strive to see all nominated films and acting performances each year. It's OK, not great. Worth seeing if you like to be ready and knowledgeable about Oscar-nominated performances, so you can say "she didn't really deserve it" with some authority on Oscar night. Too much sex for the kids.

Oh well, at least it was only 1:50 minutes long--under two hours! Some discipline at last! But it sure would have been more snappy and less sappy at 90 minutes. I know just what I'd cut…

Joe on Movies, Larry on Peter

Joe Brancatelli took keyboard to hand upon relearning of my predilection for Groundhog Day:

Groundhog Day is your favorite movie? Now I don't feel so bad saying mine is King Ralph and that I think it's the third greatest movie ever made after Casablanca and Citizen Kane!

That was the film with John Goodman as an accidental King of England, assisted by the perennially soused yet always talented Peter O'Toole.

Larry King wrote, beginning with some personal material and noting he was about to receive a document he had written 15 years ago. I start here because I share his feelings about things that happened 15 years ago(it seems such a long time):

God help us all. I still feel that when I use a phrase like ``15 years ago'' ago I must be referring to junior high school. Although come to think of it the difference between junior high school and CMP is not obvious.
As for Peter Peckarsky, I bow to his superior knowledge of Los Angeles and its politics, particularly since in doing so I simply confirm my own observation that left-wing governments run better public transport than right wingers. As for his invitation to gain deeper insight into LaLa politics by walking along the Los Angeles River instead of the Seine ... er, thanks awfully, that's very kind and I certainly will make every effort to do no such thing.
Concerning the computer he alleges was tested for a Y2K bug before Y2K, or before any expensive anti-bug measures, I'm afraid I'll need some evidence -- the site of the computer, who arranged to flip the clock forward, what happened -- something that can be independently confirmed. Otherwise this falls into the urban-legend category -- my cousin heard this from a guy whose barber was right there the day after his sister-in-law heard about it first hand.
And as for his remarks concerning the efforts of the President and the Y2K office, I'm glad to see someone can practice law in Washington D.C. and still maintain a healthy sense of humour.

By the way, for the record, I tested my PC that way a week before the turn of the calendar. Nothing happened.