Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fed Up

Is it wrong to wish there were shooters
Picking off some of those looters?

Freshman at Tulane

A friend of mine drove her son down to Tulane University in New Orleans to start his freshman year.

She was still there with her car when evacuation time arrived. So she drove him back home again to Oak Park, Illinois.

His life's thrown off a bit,
But I count him fortunate
Next to those who really got hit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Trials? We don't need no stinking trials!

In Illinois we have a law that allows a person to be locked up indefinitely because they are a dangerous sex offender. This law applies even when the person has NOT been convicted of any crime. The guy in the news story has been locked up for 6 years.

Six years is quite a while
To be jailed without a trial.

If this guy were a terrorist, it would be a big deal, I suppose.
But he's just some pervert rapist, so I guess that anything goes.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Horseman, Pass By

[info]madbard says the news media seem disappointed that the New Orleans / Katrina disaster did not play out like the Noah's Ark story.

Another scare story turns to crap.
N'Orleans is still on the map.

EDIT: It's turned out badly, just not as badly as a direct hit would have been.
[info]interdictor is a guy that is in a high building running a diesel generator. Gutsy. (Thanks to [info]aldoushuxley for the link.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sponges On The Road

I did the Accenture Chicago Triathlon today, along with about 7500 other people. We bicycled Lake Shore Drive, which is a bit bumpy in places. Those bumps can jar things off a bike. Today, a lot of those things were yellow sponges.

You see, a certain company makes a water bottle you mount on the front of your bike so you can drink through a straw while you ride. This bottle does not have a normal top. It has a yellow sponge you are supposed to stick in the top. It works fine. Until you hit a good bump. Then the yellow sponge goes flying.

Yes, this happened to me two weeks ago. It didn't happen today because I used some bigger sponges that Marsha bought me. They stayed put.

Note to cyclists: AVOID ALL BUMPS
Or your sponge might get dumped.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Featherless Bi-ped

Plato playfully toyed with the idea of defining Man as a featherless bi-ped.

I thought of this last night while watching some show about Human Origins on the the History Channel. Humans are distinct from apes in many ways, of course. You've seen the list. Walking upright on two feet (bi-pedalism). Opposable thumb. Tool making. Speaking. Reasoning. Concept forming. Bigger brained. Long lived. Etc.

Paleontologists now think that the first of these traits to appear - the first step, as it were, away from apeness, was walking on two feet. It had the immediate advantage of letting us see farther. It had the subsequent advantage of freeing up our hands to use tools. Bigger brains allowed us to make better tools.

At least, that's the story as they see it now.

In days of yore,
The ape that walked
Came way before
The ape that talked.

On a different note, the TV show said that "Lucy", the famous bipedal fossil hominid, was named after the Beatles song, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

To the tune of Lucy In The Sky:

Picture yourself in the past in a world
Where gigantic predators thrive and abound.
Suddenly someone is there in the grass land
The girl with two feet on the ground.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Outside The Box

They're showing people in the London Zoo,
Scantily clad and frolicking on rocks.
I'll grant that it's a funny thing to do.

But the zoo's spokesman says that we're a pox
Upon the planet. I don't know about you,
But I resent being called a plague. He mocks
Our success - mocks the way we grew
In knowledge and power and overcame all blocks.

We've overrun the world. That much is true.
We humans are hard to keep inside a box.
That's why it's funny to see us put on view,
Like wild beasts confined by moats and locks.

Only one species eyes the moon and stars
With plans to visit. That's us. Next stop, Mars.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Have Roddenberry, Will Travel

My wife and I have been watching episodes of Have Gun Will Travel, the classic Western TV drama. The hero is Palladin, a professional gunfighter who rents his talents for pay while following his own code of ethics. The first 2 seasons are available on DVD. Some of the episodes are written by Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. In fact, he served as head writer on the show.

We watched one of the episodes he wrote tonight. In classic Roddenberry fashion, the show began in the middle of the story, had a fair amount of action, and took the moral high ground.

Still, there's no confusing the hero of this show with Roddenberry's later heroes.

Of course
He has a horse,
And arrives
Without warp drive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


The Iraqi Constitution -
Who can find a good solution?

I think the person who could help the most
Would be James Madison's ghost.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Empty Nesters Again

My daughter has flown back to school, off to study Roman Civilization for a year. After her first year at St. John's, I finally had someone in the house (besides me) who had read all 3 of the Oedipus plays. We had some fun conversations.

A lot of things went bad for Oedipus, but at least he never had to appear on the Jerry Springer show.

You know a guy's had a bad surprise
When he cries and rips out his eyes.

Monday, August 22, 2005


It has often been observed that ancient Greek religion might present you with two truly conflicting moral imperatives. In other words, it might be that there is no correct moral choice. You can see how a religion with many gods would help foster such situations. Aphrodite says do A. Hera says do non-A. What's a pious pagan to do?

I think that's part of the appeal of monotheism: One God, one divine will, one correct choice! It may not be easy to find the correct way out of an apparent moral quandary, but a single supreme lawgiver is seen as creating non-contradictory laws, even if he moves in mysterious ways.

What are the odds
That separate gods
Will all agree
On a single decree?

Anyway, I was thinking today that this is tangentially related to the secular question: does your life have a singular purpose or value, or does it just have a set of sometimes contradictory purposes and values? Ayn Rand says your overriding value is your life and your overriding purpose is your happiness. Some complain that you just don't need overriding values or purposes, that you can get by with a variety of goals. But this leads you to the question of how you choose when your various goals have a conflict, which reminds me somehow of the poor pagan Greek with a set of conflicting choices and no way to resolve them.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Can't Stop Running

Running, for some reason, increases your body's endorphin levels. Endorphins are "opiate proteins with pain relieving properties." You saw that word "opiate", didn't you? So the brain responds to running just like it responds to opium!

Stop the running craze!
People have way too much fun finishing 5K's.

And you wouldn't believe the "hard stuff" going on
At your typical marathon.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

You Might As Well Face It, You're Addicted To...

Here's an article proposing that Oreos may be addictive, in some literal sense.

Which leads me to wonder: what then is the literal sense?

If Oreos are "addictive"
I fear the concept's fictive.


Marsha and I went to the Chicago Air and Water Show with [info]purpurachicago, who graciously played hostess and chauffeur.

At the end, the Air Force Thunderbird team of F16Cs started zooming around doing precision drills. They were awesome - they can go faster than 1300 mph. I want one! But they weren't able to do their whole routine because a small piece of one aircraft fell off into the lake. Someone on the radio thought it was a thing on the wing that allows you to attach air-to-air missiles to the plane.

That didn't sound like a very important part. The 6 planes were all still flying fine, as judged by the naked eye from the ground. So why couldn't they just finish the show? Don't they know - the show must go on?

Then again, would you want to do precision drills - flying way too close to other supersonic planes - when you've been shaking parts off your wing? Perhaps not.

You've got a good excuse
When parts start shaking loose.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Here is my graduation speech for high school seniors. Do not pose for a picture with a tiger unless there is some impenetrable or unleapable barrier between you and the tiger. Tigers periodically maul their life-long trainers.

They can kill with just one swipe
But cannot change their stripes.

Translating Poetry

I came across this interesting essay about translating Chinese and Japanese poetry. The cultures are interrelated, and Japanese writing includes much use of Chinese characters. But their spoken languages are unrelated, and their traditional poetic forms do not make use of the same sound effect systems.

Classical Japanese poetry does not rhyme, but classical Chinese poetry does rhyme - consistently. If you only read Chinese poetry in English translation, you could go a long time without finding out that originally it rhymed. I know I did.

My view is that all poetry translation involves trade-offs, and that one is the choice between writing something that sounds like the original, versus something that sounds good in the new language.

Of course, translating the imagery, and the allusions, and the connotations - all that stuff is hard, too.

As for me, I think it's debatable
Whether poetry's really translatable.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Joe Dejan

My friend, Joe Dejan, died last night. He had been ailing a long time. His wife and son were there with him. Marsha and I had visited a little while before to say goodbye. Marsha thinks he heard us. I would like to think so, too.

But I prefer to think of his long and amazing life. Originally a French citizen, he had lived in both North Africa and France before settling in the United States. He was highly accomplished in track and field, gymnastics, and judo.

Apparently he was quite the swimmer as a boy, spending hours swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Africa. Once he was out so long that his distraught parents had search parties looking for him. He didn't realize at first that they were looking for him, so he joined one of the search parties!

He knew Camus and Sartre, he wrote as a critic, painted canvases that sold well, and even designed a typeface that is still in popular use today.

He was charming
And disarming.

And though it was expected,
I'm dejected
That he's gone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Spam I Am

Want to lose weight?
Catch the new low rates!

Turn your career up a degree!
Increased Sperm Count/Motility!

Yes, those are from my current buffer of 50 spam messages.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Free Advice

I just got Free Advice in the mail the other day. One of the authors is someone I know from the TOC Summer Seminar. If you look at the cover, she's the one in the middle, Caroline Johnson.

I had actually looked at this book in the store before. It looked funny, insightful, but aimed at people in the dating marketplace. Then I realized a friend had written it, and I had to have it.

It alternates serious with humorous advice.

"Don't be afraid of the person who calls you ugly, because coming around the next corner will be someone who is convinced that you should be the next Speaker of the House. You cannot predict, much less control, what other people will think of you. Your opinon is the one that really matters."

"The right sheets are very important. Kiddie-cartoon sheets should be left in the crib. No woman wants to make love to a man on top of Tweety-Bird."

Alas, poor Tweety,
Have your heard?
Your wonderful sheets
Are for the birds.

Monday, August 15, 2005


The other night, in our Artistic Nudity discussion, I heard someone ask whether Romance novels are pornographic. I somehow never got to answer, even though I was apparently one of only 2 people at our NIF meeting who had actually read Romance novels.

Some have long drawn out sex scenes. Some have no sex scenes at all, although the protagonists will almost certainly kiss and hug rapturously. The structure of the genre is: man and woman fall in love with each other and overcome obstacles to find lasting commitment with each other. The love involved is always charged with desire, and the novels are always meant to be erotic in that sense. But, unlike "pornography", there is no loveless sex in Romance novels. The protagonists may well experience their initial attraction as pure unbridled lust, but eventually it dawns on them that they have fallen hopelessly in love.

Chemistry may lead the way,
But true love carries the day.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

All Wet

Yesterday I drove up to Lake Zurich, IL, to pick up my triathlon packet for today's race. The packet includes such goodies as a swim cap and a computer chip to strap to my ankle.

A lady working for the race told us that the lake was very warm - 81F - and that consequently it was very unlikely that we would be allowed to wear wetsuits. (Wetsuits make you warmer, and they become dangerous when you swim in very warm water because you can overheat.)

She didn't just say "very unlikely." She said it was "99.99 percent certain" that wetsuits would be banned. That means there would only be a one in ten thousand chance that wetsuits would be permitted.

So I didn't bring my wetsuit with me this morning. And, in an apparent application of Murphy's Law, wetsuits were indeed allowed. And all the other guys my age seemed to have wetsuits.

The result was that I had a poorer swim placement that usual. You see, wetsuits make you faster, too! Oh, well. I still had a fun race.

Unless the ban is absolute
Make sure to bring your suit.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Speaking of Nudity

Tonight at NIF we will be honored with a guest speaker, none other than [info]ljmorris. He's going to talk about philosophical aspects of artistic nudity, if I recall correctly. Originally his wife was also going to speak on the topic, but she is unable to attend, sad to say. It promises to be a lively and popular topic.

I just hope the caucus
Doesn't get raucous.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Scientists have tracked a polar bear going for a nice long swim - 46 miles in one day though icy waters.

That's one swim I don't want to do.
Just thinking about it my body is turning blue.

The Unnamed

I came across this in James Valliant's book: " 1996, [the Blumenthals] severed all association with an organization which had invited Branden to speak."

The organization he is referring to is undoubtedly The Objectivist Center. He just doesn't refer to it by name. Nor does he give a source for his assertion. Curious.

Probably a footnote mentioning its name
Would lend it too much fame.


On this day in '52
The world looked extremely new.
I wasn't used to breathing air
And hadn't brought a thing to wear.
But - lucky for me - my Mom was there!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Two Wives Too Many

An Englishman wakes up from triple bypass surgery. His wife comes to see him. So does his other wife. And his other wife. All at the same time.

Apparently he had never bothered to introduce his wives to one another.

His wives became upset
At this breech of etiquette.

Tie Fabrication

If you look at the cover of James Valliant's book, you will see the bottom of Nathaniel Branden's necktie.

But if you look at the original photo - which is included in the book itself - you will NOT see the bottom of his tie. Instead you will see the backs of other people's heads, blocking our view of Branden's tummy.

On the cover, those heads have been erased, and replaced by extrapolated neckwear.

Why, oh why,
Did they paint in a tie?

Just Wondering

If this is the Homeland,
Are all those other countries our soldiers go to the Roamland?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Juror Furor

A couple of the jurors from the Michael Jackson trial are now recanting, saying they really thought he was guilty but they were bullied by other jurors into finding him not guilty.

Sure, now they tell us!

"Unanimous" jury verdicts do not always represent full agreement among members of the jury. Rather, unanimous verdicts often represent compromises among jurors who are eager to go home. It it weren't for this tendency, there would be a lot more hung juries.

It's worth noting that these particular recanting jurors are talking book deals.

"They bullied me, they pressured me, I had to go along,
But now I've got a book deal so I'll sing a different song!"

Monday, August 08, 2005

Emotional Vibrations

Over on the SoloHQ site, Roger Bissell quoted Rand's statement (in her article, "The Comprachicos") that an infant's chief means of survival was the awareness of emotional vibrations. Roger interpreted her usage to be something along the lines of ESP, as if she thought the emotional vibrations were picked up by senses other than our standard input channels.

I never thought she had anything extrasensory in mind. I always figured she would have said that the baby was picking up sensory cues and integrating them to form an emotional impression at a subconceptual level. Or something like that. After all, if a dog can do it, why not a baby?

What mysterious factor
Allows us to watch an actor
And "get" that he's feeling down
When he frowns?

Rainy Night in Georgia

It was rainy last night in Georgia, but now I'm in North Carolina where it's dry.

Marsha and I were hosted in Georgia by the Fellowship of Reason folks, and had a great time. I rode a jetski for the first time in my life, and I now see how it could rapidly become addictive. The lake house at which we stayed had no phones and no broadband. So rhyme-of-the-day missed a day. I wasn't even able to pick up a wireless signal!

I was wireless-less,
I guess.

This morning, at their big monthly meeting, Marsha spoke to them about her new college project, and I talked about my novel, Unholy Quest, and did a book signing. It was great fun with great people. Mark Berger, Montessorian extraordinaire, then drove us up a couple of states to North Carolina.

Here, lucky me, they have wireless
So I can continue my tireless
But nonetheless terse
Daily verse.

Friday, August 05, 2005


The worst thing about traveling, I find,
Is the part where I leave stuff behind.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Free Money

Nigerians keep sending me offers
To share ill-gotten wealth - to fill my coffers
With somebody's else's inheritance.
These Not-So-Good Samaritans
Intrude upon my existence
With repetitive insistence
That cash in large amounts
Will be wired to my accounts -
But first they need from me
A little fee.

Whatever shall I do?
It's almost too good to be true!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Old Lesson

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade I had a terrible crush on a classmate. Call her Laura. Laura was a very sweet girl, but she was not academically quick. In fact, she was one of the slowest students in the class.

So every time the teacher gave her a hard time - which was freqently enough - it tore my heart.

The teacher would stand her up in the front of the room and ask her the same question over and over again to see if Laura would somehow come up with the right answer. It could be a lesson the teacher just taught, but Laura would stand there like a deer in the headlights, mortified by her own failure to understand, and meekly submit to ridicule. Often enough, the class would be laughing.

And I had to sit there and watch, knowing the correct answer, unable to give it, knowing the teacher was doing Laura no good, feeling sure that I could do a better job of teaching Laura than the teacher was doing.

So that's one very personal reason I like Montessori schools. Because it just wouldn't happen there.

Tormenting the slow
Is no way to go.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Invisible Man Finished

I hadn't read Richard Ellison's Invisible Man before. It's set between the 2 world wars, partly in the South, mostly in Harlem. It's a wild story populated with its share of wild characters. The structure is somewhat episodic, but held together by the lead character, our first person narrator. Ellison creates many dramatic scenes, builds mystery, has comic moments, and then reveals the truth. The process is disillusioning, but finally enlightening for our talented but often hapless and tormented hero, a young black man trying to make his way in the world. The style is largely realistic, but strays into the extravagantly imaginative at times.

The novel's important symbolic truth, to me, is the tendency of whites and blacks alike to treat black people as "representatives of their race" and then assign them all corresponding responsibilities, whether to obey, rebel, succeed, etc. So the individual becomes invisible, masked by his assigned role.

The part of the book I liked best was the long section on the Communist Party, known in this book as "the brotherhood". Our hero joins and becomes a prominent speaker for the party, but ends up very disillusioned indeed as he realizes that the party is just using him, and just using blacks in general, for its own nefarious goals.

It was published in 1952 and was, for a time, a very influential book; I would recommend it for its historical perspective on black and white relations.

Hidden behind assigned roles,
It's hard to find individual souls.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Golden Escape from Alcatraz

There's an annual swimming event in San Francisco. The participants swim 1.2 miles from the island of Alcatraz to the shore. It's "only" 1.2 miles, but the water is cold and choppy.

There were 500 swimmers. One of them was Jake. Jake came in 72nd place.

He swam the whole way in a fur coat.

That's because he's a golden retriever.

I have to say Jake's time
For the 1.2
Is notably faster than mine.
I bet he can outrun me too.
What's a poor human to do?
But here's a fact I like:
I can beat him on the bike.

Shocking Ruling

A Chicago police sergeant Tasered a guy who was high on meth. The guy died.

The Cook County medical examiner ruled that what killed the man was the Taser jolt. The Taser company doesn't like this ruling because they sell Tasers as non-lethal weapons. So it's the wrong kind of publicity.

Their theory is that he wouldn't have died if he weren't high on meth, which already had his heart beating funny.

The medical examiner's theory is that he was already high on meth, and his heart was still beating - until he got Tasered.

Shall we assign complicity
To the jolt of electricity?
Or was it really death
By meth?