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This and That from Paul's Life: In Darfur, Podcasts, Alice, Sandler, Googled

If you have been paying attention, you know that I have an interest in fiction about journalism; I own more than 100 journalism novels, and a dozen journalism plays, including In Darfur by Winter Miller, a former editorial assistant to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof. A female journalist is the central character, and in the play we see her deal seriously with serious journalism issues. If you are interested in either journalism or Darfur, buy a copy of the play.


It's been a long time since I updated Paul's Podcast Page (Nov. 25, 2007 to be exact) Several of the of the programs I loved are now gone (RIP NPR's Day to Day and Bryant Park Project), and I've added some new ones, including the gabfest. Have a look, if you're a fan of new and information or BBC podcasts.


I note in passing that I thought Alice in Wonderland was slightly better than indicated by Neal Vitale's review in this column. Not so much better that I'd write my own review, but a little better.


My best man and good friend Norman Sandler died in June 2007... nearly three years ago. I set up a tribute page. Last week, C-SPAN posted all their video on the Internet in a searchable format. It's a chance to have one last look at Norm, via his nine appearances on that network.


My older daughter Marlow was so impressed with the book Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta that she bought be a copy. I owe her (and perhaps someday, you) a detailed discussion of the book. First of all, let me niggle; there were several passages that were repeated and a few howler typos. The proofreading and editing of books just isn't what it used to be, but in a way that's one of the points. This is a very kind and yet pointed history of a phenomenon that is still in the making. If you weren't afraid of Google before you read it, you will be afterwards. Especially if, like me, you've spent a lot if time with engineers. They're fine men and women who love their mothers, but as a rule they are not the people I'd pick to rule the world. They're just a little short on people skills, as demonstrated by the quote that caught my eye as well as that of Media Bistro: Google Founder to PR Department: You Have Eight Hours of My Time This Year. How's that working out for you, Larry?

St Patrick's Day

I haven't gone out for a drink on St. Patrick's day since 1976, but I vividly remember that last time... Here's an excerpt from my memoirs (why yes, I've written my memoirs; haven't you?)

B was the grossly underpaid correspondent of the Willamantic Daily Chronicle. She knew P and I were both anxious bachelors. So she invited an anxious bachelorette, C, to drive the 40 miles in from Willamantic for the St. Patrick's Day State House Party of March 17 [1976]. It was the first, last and only St. Patrick's day party I have ever attended. They take their Irish saints seriously in Connecticut, a heavily Catholic state with a heavily Catholic legislature. Anyway, P, C, B and I drank and talked. P may have danced with C. I remember there was a band. C and I exchanged phone numbers. A week later, P asked if I had called her--he was often solicitous of my non-existent social life. I hadn't. "If you don't call her, I will," he said. I got the Chronicle phone number from B and called C on the spot. We dated several times.

In April, C agreed we could have dinner in her apartment. One thing led to another; so began our relationship.

She moved to San Francisco in August. I followed in November. We were engaged in January, planning a wedding on August 30, 1977. In April 1977, she postponed the wedding indefinitely, and in November 1977 she asked me to move out of the apartment we shared (the lease was in her name). Thus ended my second engagement.

In January, Vicki and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary; in the end, thank goodness, I married the right girl. Sometimes, I contemplate the fact that this could have been my third marriage, not my first, and I fall down on my knees in gratitude to God for saving me from my errors.

Political Briefs

  • Ugly Face Of A Disturbed Movement

    Wholly unacceptable. "Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) claimed Saturday that healthcare protesters at the Capitol directed racial epithets at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) as he walked outside. Carson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus along with Lewis, told The Hill that protesters called Lewis the N-word [...] Lewis was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King. Jr."

Department of Lousy Finances

  • The country has the word of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Henry Paulson, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke that the valuations elsewhere were not as woefully inadequate as at Lehman.
    Lehman Examiner Punted on Valuation
    While there is an indication in his report to the effect that the Examiner thought others on the Street had proper valuations (or that he had no evidence of impropriety which is a much different statement) it is by no means clear that he had the authority, time, money, experience, or personnel to evaluate each of the security positions at every other major institution and there is no detailed analysis of any such evaluation in the report sufficient to indicate that he made any such detailed evaluation..
  • From a review of the book Freefall: The problem, Stiglitz argues, is that even if the financial system was stabilized, the way it was stabilized has made the recovery "slower and more difficult than need be" and has also helped undermine public confidence in government, exacerbating the dysfunctions of our political system.

Neal Vitale Reviews: How To Train Your Dragon (in 3D)

5 stars out of 5

[Ed. Note: Opens Friday--get your tickets now!]

Regular readers of PSACOT and my reviews know that I am an unabashed fan of animation - in fact, were it up to me, the Oscars for Best Picture (not just Animated Feature Film) in recent years would have gone to the likes of UpFinding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc.. DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon is another case in point, a film so well-conceived and well-executed that it should be on Top Ten lists galore come year-end. Dragon is the story of Vikings living on the island of Berk, beset by rather canine dragons who eat the Vikings and their sheep, burn their homes, and cause all sorts of related mayhem. It is a clever tale, beautifully-rendered in 3D (possibly the best use of this gimmick that I've seen to date), and wonderfully voiced by Jay Baruchel (Almost Famous, Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder), Gerard Butler (The Ugly Truth, 300, The Phantom Of The Opera)  and Craig Ferguson (of late night TV fame - who knew Vikings came from Scotland?) in the three central roles of youthful protagonist, his father, and his guardian/mentor. Touching, sweet, fun, funny, clever, and exciting - who could ask for more?

Climate Change for Children and Republicans, Hanzel spots real-life spy novel, Cool Chemistry Video, Craig Reynolds Checks In, Dalton's Depressing Media News, Dan Grobstein File

A friend notes: NASA set up this cool website explaining climate change to adults, kids and educators. The kids section has goofy formatting, but the info is good and there's LOTS of it and easy to understand. Check out the bar at the top of the page: arctic sea level, carbon dioxide, etc etc.

My friend John Hanzel notes some people who has trouble with the line between fiction and reality (including, apparently, an ex-journalist):

  • U.S. Defense Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants

    Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

A friend of Daniel Dern's featured this chemistry video on her blog. The video is safe for work, but your reaction might not be -- at minimum, don't be drinking liquid while watching.

Craig Reynolds Checks In:

Richard Dalton has more depressing media news: the Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2010.

Dan Grobstein File

  • A Roger Ebert Twitter: Colbert: Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase "Separation of Church and State." So Texas has coined "Separation of Jefferson and history." [ed. note: in case you missed the story, Twisting Texas History]
  • | March 16, 2010
    Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit
    As research libraries and archives are discovering, "born-digital" materials are much more complicated and costly to preserve than anticipated.
  • Mitch McConnell’s Theory of Stasis
    "Since January of 2009, instead of sticking their fingers in the wind and only opposing unpopular initiatives, Republicans have reduced the popularity of initiatives by opposing them. The blanket opposition makes Obama’s initiatives look "partisan" and then it leads, necessarily, to Democratic infighting that further reduces support. If you don’t care at all about the welfare of human beings, this is a very smart strategy."

Why So Little "Real" Blogging

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have always found this quotation profound (and if the attribution is wrong, please let me know). There is a sameness to life that is hard to resist, describe or escape. Every morning, I thank God for the chance to live another beautiful day, but the days do often run into one another in a way that makes them hard to distinguish, both in prospect and retrospect. That's not news to regular readers, who will recall my own aphorism: "what some people call a rut, I call a comfortable routine."

What generally leads me to this part of the blog (as opposed to the assembly of the links forwarded to me by my clever and far-flung correspondents) is something out of the ordinary, either an epiphany or a vacation. Well, I'm not really going on a vacation this year for Spring Break, although I will be in Portland, Oregon for the Patricia Swenson memorial service late in March. And I've been short of epiphanies of late as well. Plus, once in a while I have a thought that I don't share. This will come as a shock to those who know me and remain convinced that no thought has ever passed through my head without also passing through my lips (or in the case of this medium, my fingers). You'd be surprised.

I will mention that I went to Fort Point yesterday with a dozen of my students. It was built in 1861, and spared from destruction at the time the Golden Gate Bridge was built above it. If you've never been, it is worth a trip. Truly amazing and fascinating. Never fired a shot in anger.

After that, since I was in the neighborhood and had been meaning to go for some time, I stopped by the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco's Presidio. This is, without question, the single coolest multimedia museum I have ever set foot in. Walt is everywhere, in stills, silent film and television footage, and what a life he led. Take a few minutes to ogle his Oscars and awards before they take your ($16) ticket. I spent two hours there; plan on longer. The amount of material presented is gargantuan. If you are interested in any aspect of Disney (with the possible suggestions of his reputed right-wing politics), you'll learn more about it than you imagined from this museum.

Obama (U), Ill. Shocking: Afghan corruption

For what it is worth, the GOP seems to be joined in their faux concern about the deficit by Obama (U (for unknown)- Ill.). The President chose (after getting a woefully inadequate stimulus bill through) to focus (as a way of dealing with, or reducing, future deficits) on changes to the health insurance system. Most of said changes seem to take effect in about 2014. He should have focused relentlessly on jobs now (2009 and 2010).

In the process of turning his full attention to the deficit, he squandered a year and a lot of his so-called "political capital." Apparently his advanced education at one of the nation's best institutions of higher education located within 100 yards or so of Harvard Square enabled him to determine (after extended professorial, governmental, academic, and expert study) that there will be an election on Nov. 2. After making this startling finding, he has lately begun to talk about jobs.

By the way, if Obama were interested in avoiding a second dip in the economy (which his actions, as opposed to his words, indicate he is not interested in avoiding) he would have broken up the big banks as called for editorially by PSACOT in February 2009. The big banks were major (if not the only) contributors to the first recession and seem to be going out of their way to facilitate either a second dip or a depression.


How shocking. Claude Rains would be truly shocked!
Sun still rises in east (see previous reporting in PSACOT on Karzai and his brother from NYT among other places)

Army launches investigation: Corrupt Afghans stealing millions from aid funds

Who could ever have foreseen that Afghans with access to the money would be corrupt?
Who could ever have foreseen that corrupt Afghans with access to the money would steal it?
or, as filed by a PSACOT correspondent in September 2009:
Given the report by Reuters to the effect that a large part of the money (including the recent supplemental appropriation of $50B being sent to Afghanistan while various government supported banks are throwing hundreds of thousands of Americans out of their homes because the homeowners are in arrears a few thousands of dollars apiece per month on their mortgages) the U.S. is spending in Afghanistan is being used (via the drug trade and the Taliban) to kill American soldiers and the report by McClatchy to the effect that many Afghan officials are personally profiting from the U.S. funding (through the drug trade and the Taliban) of the killing of U.S. soldiers, why should the U.S. spend money in Afghanistan for which there are many unmet needs in the United States?

"A third of the costs of supplying the armed forces in Afghanistan is spent on paying protection, bribery and safe passage fees, and everybody is complicit, claim Afghan experts, who spoke under condition of anonymity."

"Trucks pay a "Taliban tax of up to $1,500 each time they venture out from Karachi to Camp Bastion." At 20 trucks a convoy, there is a choice between many convoys a day or educating many college students for a year.

"Up to $600m of aid for reconstruction projects goes on security each year, according to Afghan government sources." Would one rather reconstruct Afghanistan (i.e., fill the Karzai family bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland) or help fund the University of California?

As a well known Republican once said and as no Republican in decades has repeated because they are mainly ignorantly (to be charitable as opposed to using "knowingly") focused on destroying the real national security of the United States: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." - President Dwight David Eisenhower, April 16, 1953.


Neal Vitale Reviews: Green Zone

4 stars out of 5

Director Paul Greengrass has been impressive re-imagining real-life events, in films such as United 93 and Bloody Sunday, as well as producing exciting fictional thrillers like The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. This film is of the first type, tracking US Army soldiers in Iraq on the hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction at the time President George W. Bush was declaring "mission accomplished." Green Zone is every bit as compelling as last year's Best Picture, trading the intimate personal interactions and psychological stresses among the troops in The Hurt Locker for a more action-packed, suspenseful plot. [Interestingly, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd handled both films.] This weekend's box office confirms that Middle East war movies remain a tough sell to US audiences, but Green Zone is fine film-making. It exposes the half-truths and disinformation that led us into Iraq, touches on the bungled opportunities for more permanent and peaceful solutions, and  hints at the conflicting views of the Iraqis on the US presence, all in riveting fashion.

A little Facebook history, Science Songs, Craig Reynolds, The Triangle of Love, Proof Google is God, Dan Grobstein File

A friend notes: In 2004, [Facebook Founder] Mark Zuckerberg Broke Into A Facebook User's Private Email Account.

Department of Science Songs:

Craig Reynolds Checks In:

As you know, Craig follows Google closely, so I'm surprised he was NOT the reader who offered me Google is God.

This came in over the transom: The Triangle of Love


Dan Grobstein File