Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Grating Greetings

The Trib today reported on the controversy over which is better to say: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Naturally, lawyers have gotten involved in this biting contemporary controversy.

But is Happy Holidays truly secular? "Based on the English words holy and day... holidays originally represented special days of the Christian Church calendar."

So political officials, take note! Soon you may be sued for saying Happy Holidays!

If you don't want to sound religious
In a land that's grown litigious,
I think it would be most clever
To just say: Happy Whatever!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kidnapping Policies

4 peace activists got kidnapped in Iraq. According to the Corner, their organization's website declares:

"CPT does not advocate the use of violent force to save lives of its workers should they be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation."

I think a better policy is enunciated by law professor Glenn Reynolds who says that his blog supports the use of violent force to save the blog's workers - namely himself.

If I get kidnapped,
I hope my staff feels free
To slap,
Or shoot,
Or electrocute
Whoever kidnapped me.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Before today, I was unfamiliar with the concept of "self-plagiarism." It seems to be an academic term - no surprise there. What it refers to is what I think of as "writing recycling". I assume you can evade a charge of self-plagiarism by carefully citing the earlier version of your work.

Make sure, when you edit
To give yourself credit
For whatever you lifted
From that most gifted
Author on the shelf -

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Extinct Elephants of Illinois

Recently a bunch of mammoth and mastodon remains have been found in Illinois.

An Illinois paleontologist declared: "It almost seemed that mastodons and mammoths were falling out of the trees for a few weeks."

Now there's a scary thought.
Elephants ought
To stay out of trees.
It's hard on their knees -
Ten thousand pounds
Jumping down to the ground.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


My wife's aunt, uncle, and her cousins and their families, just left. It's kind of an Italian whirlwind, boisterous, loud, and all kinds of fun. There are some other ethnicities caught up on the edges of the whirlwind, too, this being the land of the melting pot after all.

One of their standout qualities is the intensity with which they evaluate the food they are eating. I was in several conversations about the excellence of the pork roast Marsha prepared.

So I can boast
The roast
Was most delicious.

Of course, I can only boast by proxy, since I had nothing to do with cooking the darn thing!

Post-Traumatic Growth

It has become a stereotype that infantry combat wrecks a man's psyche. Somehow, after the VietNam conflict, it became the accepted wisdom that everyone who saw serious action came home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I knew this wasn't exactly true. I had known some veterans of that conflict who seemed happy to talk about their experiences there, especially if you expressed some quiet admiration for their efforts. I had also read extensive first-hand accounts of that war, and I knew that some soldiers had actually enjoyed it at several levels.

When I tell this to people, they often look perplexed. But now I can point to the psychological research mentioned in this article from the Washington Post.

"Combat's potential to inflict psychic wounds has been recognized as far back as the ancient Greeks, but so has its ability to exhilarate, intoxicate and instruct those who experience it, experts say."

One of the experts makes the interesting point that being in a battle is not enough to get the positive effect. There's another couple of key steps. First the person mentally goes over the details of what happened. "And then there's a much more abstract process of finding some higher meaning . . . in what has transpired."

War is hell.
But some come out well.

Futile Endeavors

Some people have an evasion
For each and every occasion;
And no amount of persuasion
Can even make a dent.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Black Friday

I am such a shopping ignoramus. I don't even know why today is being called Black Friday. It has something to do with today being the biggest single day for U.S. retailers. But why does that make it black?

UPDATE: Marsha just explained it to me. It's the date when many retail stores first "go into the black", in the accounting sense of having annual income exceed expenses.

When you're in the red, you lack
What you have when you're in the black.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


My children are home for the Great Stuffing Festival.

My son arrived last night at 1 am and started talking about how COLD it was. Well, he is a grad student in Los Angeles, and his body no longer knows what COLD is.

In fact, it was 40F when we picked him up. In our opinion, that was WARM. After all, it's above freezing.

He hasn't woken up yet this morning, but it is 18F here now, below freezing, with 28 mph winds that drop the windchill to 1F. He's not going to like this.

I'm thinking that he needs an acclimation program before he visits. Perhaps he could find an ice cream shop with a walk-in freezer, and ask to spend time inside, a little more each day, until he was ready.

Health clubs have saunas - why don't they have freezers?

Next time he complains, I think I might shout:
Chill out!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Problem in Houston

Spiderman got busted in Houston, TX. On drug charges. Not the real Spiderman. Some French guy who climbs skyscrapers. The drug he got busted for was Xanax, an anti-anxiety med.

Why is a guy who climbs 100-story buildings carrying around anti-anxiety meds?

Do you think he might
Be afraid of heights?

Who's Editing?

EDIT: the Tribune's news story editing problems described in this post have now been fixed.

There was a bad train accident this evening in Elmwood Park, Illinois. The AP story describes this town as being 14 miles northwest of Chicago. I don't think so. It shares a border with Chicago! I can forgive the Associated Press for getting this wrong, but the same misleading info shows up in the Chicago Tribune's version of the story.

I did an experiment. I went to Yahoo Maps, and asked for driving directions from Chicago to Elmwood Park. Yes, it told me the distance was 14 miles. They had me starting from an obscure location - Lumber Street on the South Side - not even from downtown. And the 14 miles consists of the fastest route - not the shortest route.

Send an investigative reporter
To locate the common border!

UPDATE: I emailed them and told them to fix it. Now they have 14 miles northwest of DOWNTOWN Chicago. That's still not quite right, but it's better. I guess I'll email them again. Yes, I did work as a reporter in Chicago one summer. The Sun-Times story does NOT have that erroneous 14. Someone there was paying attention.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Turkey Tale

Unconscious people are trapped in a smoky burning car. What do you do? You smash the car windows in with a frozen Thanksgiving turkey!

At least, that's what Mark Copsy told the Chicago Tribune he did.

Local police say it happened differently. Spoil sports, if you ask me!

It's the first Good Samaritan story I've heard
Involving smashing windows with a bird.

Monday, November 21, 2005


At work there are people I exchange emails with once a month. We're doing it this week, and we're already wishing each other Happy Thanksgiving.

So, today I was thinking of the amazing aspects of life as we live it now. Things like the internet, free speech, modern medicine, and air travel, to name a few. These things are accomplished and maintained by human activity - by people working for them and sometimes fighting for them.

Thanks to all who pulled their weight;
You helped to make this world great.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rome... spoiler if you know no history

We've been watching Rome on HBO. It's a TV series, produced with the BBC, with all British actors and what sounds to me like a British script as well. It's fictionalized history. I recommend it, but be forewarned it's R-rated for violence and sex. If you have a V-chip in your TV, you'd better enter the secret parental code. Tonight was the season finale. This season focused on the career of Julius Caesar, and the season finale was the Caesar finale as well.

The senators' hands are red
And Julius Caesar lies dead.

Imposing Democracy

I see where Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, says that "imposing democracy is an oxymoron." Surely this statement needs to be qualified. What was it that MacArthur did with Japan after World War II?

"He suspended Japanese laws restricting political, civil and religious liberties. He ordered the release of political prisoners and abolished the secret police. He announced a general election to be held in April 1946, only seven months following the surrender. He also called for the Japanese Diet to pass a new election law to provide for free democratic elections, including, for the first time in the history of Japan, the right of women to vote."

Madame Secretary,
I think your theory's very
Dubious and sketchy.
But as a phrase it's catchy!

(Please note, I do not claim to know whether this democracy thing will fly in Iraq, but I hope it will.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Don't Do The Crime

They've done an O.J. on Robert Blake, in the matter of the murder of his wife.

First he was found not guilty in a criminal trial. But today he was found responsible in a civil trial. So he doesn't have to do time, but he owes a lot of money.

He's responsible for killing his wife
But somehow not guilty of taking her life.

14 Lines

In 14 lines, a sonnet tries to catch
A little less than all the world's spread.
It's not a microcosm, it's a sketch
Of one small corner, and whatever's said,
Is said that moment in a certain mood,
Which might not be there when you write tomorrow.
You seek the writer's soul? Do not conclude
Too much from one sad song that speaks of sorrow.

But, on the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong.
If looked at with great empathy and care,
The heart that poured itself into the song
May be revealed - its beating truth laid bare.

I hope not. My poor introverted mind
Would rather have some rhymes to hide behind.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Keats' Sensibility

Keats' sonnet "On Seeing The Elgin Marbles" has never been one of my favorites. Michelle Fram Cohen is giving a talk Saturday night about Cognitive Poetics, and she included this poem in her hand-out under the heading "Malevolent sense of life". I can see why she would think so. Consider some snippets:

"My spirit is too weak...
I must die like a sick eagle looking at the sky...
'Tis a gentle luxury to weep...
Brings round the heart an indescribable feud...
A most dizzy pain..."

More dreary than cheery, you can see. The Elgin Marbles, by the way, are a big collection of sculpture fragments from an ancient Greek temple.

Keats could, however, be perfectly cheery, even when talking about the worldview of the ancient Greeks. In another sonnet, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, he sings the praises of a particular translator who has really brought Homer home to him:

"Much have I travelled in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen...
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold..."

This is Keats in his "benevolent sense of life" mode. Or should I say mood? A mood is a passing thing, a sense of life is a persistent subconscious outlook. As I see it, Keats' sense of life somehow allows for both of these moods.

He was dead at 25.
What more might he have done
If he'd just stayed alive
Till 31?

Crystalline Precipitation Arrives

Snow swirled through the city today, the first snow of the season, not very much of it, not enough to leave a blanket of white, just enough to leave a few white traces on the ground. When I walked the dogs tonight, I began by walking into the west, into the wind, and that wind had some bite.

It was warm so long, it was really hard to remember that it was already November.

But now, at last,
An arctic blast -
To keep us on our toes!

I think mine froze.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Finding a Penny

Today I found a penny. I picked it up and thought of my middle child, Noelle, who is gone. I have a game I play with myself, or perhaps it is a delusion. When I find coins on the ground, I think of her, or, more exactly, I recall to mind my love for her, and hers for me.

The game, or delusion, started years ago, the summer after she left. I was running a long distance in the heat. I was dehydrated and overheated, my judgment clouded. I started finding change on the ground as I ran, perhaps because, shuffling along dazedly, my eyes were on the ground. To make matters odd, I had the illusion that she had left the change there for me. I guess you could think of it as pennies from heaven, even though I didn't actually believe in heaven. I decided there was no harm in playing along with the feeling - the feeling of her presence. In life, she loved finding money, and I think of that acquisitive, treasuring joy she had. I think of her love for life.

On Thursday it will be 12 years that she is gone. I miss her terribly, and wish I could have seen her grow up more. Watching a child grow is a deep, deep pleasure and joy.

Shiny penny, on the ground,
Shiny penny, newly found,
In my hand I hold you tight,
In my heart I feel your light.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lincoln's Words

I've been reading The Eloquent President, by Ronald C. White Jr., for the book club I'm in. I recommend it. It's a close reading of Lincoln's developing writing style, which can seem ornate today, but which was terse by nineteenth century standards. It also sheds some light on the Civil War and its controversial, carnage-laden course.

There are photographs. The one that really struck me showed Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address - with John Wilkes Booth in the background, looking on. Photo is here. Lincoln speaks in the center. According to the book, Booth is above him, hatless, to the right side of the balcony.

Lincoln talked,
Booth stalked.

States of Confusions

I hadn't been to New Hampshire before. I'd been to the other New states - York and Jersey and Mexico, I mean. If we have New states shouldn't we have matching Old states?

On a related issue, in the case of Directional states, the North/South pairs are neatly matched - you know, the Carolinas and the Dakotas. But what is the deal with the Virginias? One is West and one is just... plain Virginia. Can't we rename it East Virginia?

As for Kansases - Ar and Non-Ar,
It's clear the whole thing's gone too far.

And Washington State vs. our national Capital -
Hopeless. Let's just scrap it all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Too Tired To Blog

The Free State Objectivist Club was a fine bunch of people, very smart and lots of fun.

And I've finally seen
The [info]selfishgene.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Radio Marsha

We're here in New Hampshire, visiting our friends, Wayne and Julie Anderson. Wayne runs a discussion club and we'll be there tomorrow night. Marsha will talk about education, and as a bonus feature I'll talk about my novel.

Marsha was actually interviewed on radio today on a local station, WNTK. She was on the Gardner Goldsmith show for half an hour, talking about her plan to found a college. She'd never been on radio before, but Goldsmith was a friendly host, and she's good at impromptu speaking. It was all done over the phone - she didn't have to go into the studio. In fact, she did it sitting in a rental car in the hotel parking lot, using her cell phone.

She sounded good,
As I thought she would.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Invertebrate Alert

Robert Bidinotto has a great rant against the Republicans for being too much like the Democrats. My favorite sentence for sheer color:

"Blaming a politician for being morally spineless is akin to blaming a jellyfish for having been born an invertebrate: they are both products of their respective DNA, one cultural, one genetic."

Jellyfish are spineless things,
Floating along, but armed with stings.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Confusing Times of Judith Miller

She went to jail to protect a guy
Who then said "Never mind."

She went to court to testify,
And now has been forced to resign.

Amazing how fast, starting from "martyr"
She got to persona non grata.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

France Copes With Riots

"France Copes With Riots" read the link on's front page. I thought it was an odd choice of words.

The first sentence of the linked story reads: "Rioters on Wednesday ignored extraordinary security measures implemented by President Jacques Chirac the day before, looting and burning two superstores, setting fire to a newspaper office and paralyzing France’s second largest city’s subway system with a gasoline bomb in a continuation of the worst unrest since the student uprisings of 1968."

Does that sound like the French are COPING?
It sounds like they're just hoping
That somehow things will improve.
I'd be tempted to move.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Donating Blood

I told them to mark my blood "for good people only." I don't want to be responsible if they give it to a bad person and it saves his life and then he goes on to murder seven people.

Being bled
Makes me light in the head.

I wish they paid you for it, as they did in days gone by,
But giving blood is still the cheapest high.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sacrifice Bunts, Not Chickens

I was expecting an American Voodoo boom due to the Katrina diaspora. But according to today's Tribune, Voodoo's cousin, Santeria, has already been gaining in popularity for some time.

As a matter of fact, Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the World-Series-winning White Sox, is an avowed devotee and pays for animals to be sacrificed for good causes.

Sport is a hotbed of superstition,
So I expect some competition.
I'm sure somewhere there's a Yankees booster
Who's already sacrificed a rooster.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Joining the Pod People

Oh, God
I have succumbed to the POD.
Yes, on this sorry occasion,
I have fallen victim to the nano-invasion,
And I'm busy robotically copying CDs
Which took me a while to figure out, but now it's a breeze.

Troubling Reassurances

Kofi Annan, the scandal-plagued head of the UN, has published a statement in the Washington Post, trying to reassure us about the UN's desire to stick its nose into the business of running the Internet. The headline on the piece reads:

"The U.N. Isn't a Threat
to the Net"

I'd say it is.
Get out of our biz!

At the bottom of the piece is an italicized statement: The writer is secretary general of the United Nations. My question is - is that literally true? Did he really write this thing himself?

Politicians mostly
Get writing help that's ghostly.


We went to hear Steven Levitt speak.
He's the guy who put the freak
In economics.

He's more geeky than freaky, but he gives a good talk to a lay audience, without a single visual aid.

No utility curves were in sight.
That's good. They give me a fright.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Legal Lottery

Merck won a big victory today in court. They were being sued over their arthritis drug, Vioxx. A guy taking the drug had a heart attack. Merck's defense was that they thought the drug was safe, based on a lot of testing. They convinced a jury.

Can they keep convincing juries? I have no idea.

There's a theory that a lot of lawsuits are like lotteries. Most of the people who've been hurt get little or nothing. A few of the people get huge punitive awards.

Most of the people get squat,
But the lucky ones win a lot;
They - or their heirs -
Become millionaires.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Self Coaching

Weeks after I do a marathon, I'm still a slug.
Deep laziness sets in. I fail to lug
Myself into the gym, feeling totally uninspired.

But it's ridiculous. Tired?
I should just get my butt in gear!

Maybe tomorrow.
Then again,
Maybe next year.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Voodoo Diaspora

According to this article, 15% of New Orleans residents practice Voodoo.

Voodoo practitioners did a "go away hurricane ritual" in July. It was less than successful, but now that practioners have been dispersed around the country, I expect to see a major boom in this religion at a national level.

Hollywood stars will jump at the chance
To dance in a possessed-by-spirits trance.