Sunday, December 31, 2006

Polar Bear Festivities


New Year's Day at noon, at North Avenue Beach, a group of us will be taking a ceremonial dip in the waters of Lake Michigan. It's free, so if you're in the neighborhood, feel free to join us. Of course, I may chicken out.

I guess the idea is to start off the year adventurously, thus preparing oneself to tackle the serious problems of the world.

Or maybe it's just a goofy stunt.

We'll dive in boldly
With exuberant howls.

We'll stumble out coldly
Desperate for towels.

UPDATE: The water wasn't too bad. Afterwards I snapped a shot, which you can see above, of a couple of latecomer participants.

Depressing Reading

I was reading the Sunday Trib and I came across a 2 page ad for Cymbalta, which at first I thought was the name of a campfire song.

Someone's crying my Lord, Cymbalta...

"You might feel sad or hopeless. You could have vague aches and pains, or even a backache. Many people wouldn't think of these as symptoms of depression."

Vague aches or pains? Almost everyone my age has those. Especially after exercise!

"There are many paths to take in the treatment of depression, including talk therapy, diet and exercise."

Exercise? But that seems to be the cause of my depressing aches and pains!

Unfortunately, "only your doctor can decide if Cymbalta or other treatments are right for you."

I fear my doc will say no.
I guess I'll just have to go
To some other doc
Who won't keep a lock
On this new antidote to woe.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Artificial Happiness - More, More!

Against my better judgment, I've continued reading Artificial Happiness. The author, Ronald W. Dworkin, MD PhD, is a lively writer who has a lovely way with anecdotes, and a broad range of interests. He is very worried about this A.H. phenomenon which he says has swept the nation:
But imagine an entire class of people who stupefy themselves regularly and constantly, who remain stupefied throughout the day, and who live not on society's fringes but in the mainstream. Suddenly the problem grows more serious - millions of regular people stifling their consciences to live happier lives, thinking, and therefore behaving, in ways they would not otherwise do. Through sheer numbers these people pose a greater threat to the social fabric than murderers, prostitutes, and thieves.

One of his key premises, you will note, is that Artificial Happiness stifles one's conscience. This strikes me as a remarkably strong claim when we are talking about the effects of anti-depressants, alternative medicine, and "obsessive exercise".

Do all these joyous throngs
Lack a sense of right and wrong?

I put those scare quotes around obsessive exercise because I'm not sure what counts as obsessive in his book. Of course, we all know that anything with "obsessive" in front of it must be bad. Our author recognizes that "moderate" exercise is good for you, and from his photo on the book jacket he's in reasonably good shape, himself. What really seems to irk him is a certain sense of accomplishment some people take from exercise. He paints a portrait of a depressed hospital janitor who finds no joy in his mopping, but who discovers a new source of solace:
Instead he finds happiness by working toward fitness goals, which enhance his sense of time. After a workout, Jim ponders his exercise program. He doesn't know how much weight he will lift in the future, but he knows it will be more, which excites him so much since is real life is fixed and predictable...

When he sees overweight doctors climbing up the stairs at the hospital, panting and with little beads of sweat glistening on their sideburns, he swells with pride and thinks he's the better man...
All right. We can laugh at the janitor who thinks he is a "better man" than the doctors just because he's a better stair-climber. But is this guy's weight-lifting program a threat to the "social fabric"?

Real life is chopped into holidays, work goals, and family celebrations. Gym life is chopped into athletic accomplishments. In both cases, people look forward to events and remember them afterward, an experience that imparts weight and depth to the passing hour and helps people feel an expanded sense of being.

This is the passage that set me off the other day. I object to this Real life / Gym life dichotomy. Gyms exist in... real life. And I know lots of people who manage to incorporate work, family, and athletics into one... real life.

I should confess that I sometimes take pleasure in immoderate amounts of exercise. I even, dare I say it, have taken pride in such activities.

To be fair, the book has a lot of interesting information in it, mixed in with the stuff that makes my eyes roll. I think many of my difficulties with this book stem from my opposition to the author's philosophical outlook. In the last chapter, he writes:

The universal goal in life is lasting happiness, yet it is impossible to find lasting happiness. Such happiness might be obtainable if everyone cooperated, but everyone is too busy looking for their own happiness to do so.
Let me just stop right there. I think the opposite. I don't think I would care for a world in which only my happiness mattered. As for happiness itself, is it really just lasting contentment? Or is it experienced even in the midst of the struggle?

No contentment lasts forever
But there's joy in the endeavor
Of pursuing what's worthwhile
In a dedicated style.

UPS Tracking

Here's a story about an Indiana couple who spent Christmas week gathering gifts in an unusual way.

The gifts weren't really theirs. But they had a scheme that involved driving along behind a UPS (United Parcel Santa) truck.
D'Angelo said if the UPS driver left a package on the porch of a recipient who wasn't home, the defendants "would pull up into the driveway, take the package and then catch up to the truck again."
Unfortunately for them, the UPS driver noticed that he was being tailed, and alerted the police.

The couple played The Grinch,
But the coppers made the pinch.

The Mikado

Tonight we took in a performance of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. It's too late for me to make up a rhyme of my own, so I'm going to quote Gilbert, from his song about letting the punishment fit the crime:

The advertising quack who wearies
With tales of countless cures,
His teeth, I've enacted,
Shall all be extracted
By terrified amateurs.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dating Roadkill On Internet Radio

New Years Day, at 10 pm EST, the Dating Roadkill radio talk show will debut on the net. I'm a regular reader of the host's website, FunkyBrownChick, and I expect the show to be down-to-earth and downright funny.

Apparently you don't have to listen to it live... you can just download and eavesdrop later.

"Worst Dating Stories Ever" is the opening topic.

That's a topic I know nothing about.

Wait. Well, on my FIRST DATE with my wife... I was still in college. I had the family station wagon. It was Chicago in February and it was snowing. I THOUGHT the windshield wiper fluid was out, so I wasn't spraying the windshield to clean it. The windshield got all salty and I couldn't see that well and I RAN INTO A 3 FOOT HIGH BUS STOP SIGN IN THE MIDDLE OF STATE STREET... and knocked it over. Then I determined that the windshield wiper fluid was working after all. That was a GREAT first impression.

Keep the windshield clean
On your driving machine.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And Sometimes Wings And Stings

Having made my way through the Inferno, I'm reading a fun historical romance, Jared's Runaway Woman. I did find an amusing blooper:

...and they'd started a bug collection.

"See?" Eddie, who was the same age as Sam, thrust a glass jar at Kinsey proudly displaying the four- and eight-legged critters climbing over a handful of straw stuffed inside.

"Oh my, that's quite a collection." Kinsey managed a smile and forced herself not to reel back.

I scratched my head when I read that. What kind of four-legged critters show up in a bug collection?

I wonder if our author has the same aversion to bugs that her heroine has. If they really give her the creeps, maybe she's never looked at insects long enough to see they have six legs?

From bees to flies to walking sticks,
Once they're grown, they all have six.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Artificially Happy? Oh No!

Today I was looking at a book called Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side Of The New Happy Class.

It's written by a guy who thinks people are overdoing the following things: anti-depressants, alternative therapies, and exercise. These things are making them artificially happy, insulating them from authentic sadness. Sally Satel reviewed the book here and talked about the anti-depressant angle, about which I know little. I don't know much about alternative therapies, either.

But I did want to say something about the exercise angle. The author draws this weird distinction between success in real life and success in meeting one's exercise goals. He says, in effect, that the happiness of running your first 5k is somehow a non-real-world event, because it doesn't directly apply to one's work or one's family life.

Maybe his problem with such activity is that it's devoted to the self. Would it surprise you that this guy also wrote a book called The Rise of the Imperial Self: America's Culture Wars in Augustinian Perspective?

His complaint, I think, is the Puritan one -
People are having too much fun.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Pope Asks

“Is a ’Savior’ still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature’s secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?”

That's from the Pope's Holiday Message. It's a good question.

We need a knowledge of right and wrong, of course.

I try to behave
But I can't say I crave
Being saved.

Born Upon This Day

Is it Isaac Newton's birthday or not?

He was born on December 25, 1642 - as dates were then reckoned in England.

Some years after his death, the calendar system was revised. By this new system he was retroactively born on January 4, 1643.

So I guess we can celebrate his birthday twice.

When calendars are re-reckoned
You get one birthday - and then a second.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Out My Window

The trees are stripped of their leaves,
But the grass has retained its hue.
It's one of the greener Christmas Eves
I've had a chance to view.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Putting the X back in Xmas

This morning, as we were leaving class, our Pilates instructor reeled off the litany: Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza.

(No. I'm not sure how to spell Chanukkah, and apparently no one else is either. See this video or read this post on Shawn Klein's blog.)

The litany of holiday greetings has grown too long. Maybe it's time to put the X back in Xmas - x like in algebra, where it's a variable that could stand for anything.

(Yes, I know that X originally meant Christ, since the CH in CHRIST was originally the Greek letter chi which looks like an X. Evidently this information is unknown by many of the folks who want to "put Christ back in Christmas." So let's keep it our little secret and stick to my theory that X is a mathematical symbol.)

Has your solstice turned prosaic?
How terrible.
Deck your halls with algebraic
Variables.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Problem on 34th Street

Macy's has pulled Sean John jackets from the racks.

The "faux fur" trim is oddly flawed.
The fur's for real - and so it's fraud.

The fur is from some Asian critters called "raccoon dogs." These canines are not domesticated dogs. But there's the word "dog" which brings to mind "Man's Best Friend."

It's what the word "dog" connotes.
If renamed "Chinese coyotes"
They'd be more accepted on coats.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spelunking the Abyss

I've been reading Dante's Inferno for the first time. I admit, I had already read the science fiction version, and found it passable. But I'd never taken the full plunge.

I think Dante's Comedy, like Milton's Paradise Lost, could easily have made it into the Bible - if they hadn't started locking the Bible down around 300 A.D.

Dante and Milton, your poetry's great.
But - get in the Bible? Sorry. Too late!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Baby on Board

A baby went through an X-ray machine at LAX.

The X-ray watcher noticed the unusual shape and pulled the kid out of the scanner.

That's a pretty good trick, kid.
But didn't your body contain too much liquid?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

H.B.F.

In hours my daughter turns 21.
I hope her birthday's fun.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rodent Dreams

I'm not surprised rats dream, but I'm impressed
That someone figured out a way to test
This gnawing question. Paging B.F. Skinner -
Even rats have a world that's inner.

Strange Respite

Shannon Love offers an explanation of how the Iraq economy can appear to be booming - even though i.e.d.s are booming too.

Her argument is that third world governments, while failing to provide a high degree of safety, nonetheless strangle business activity with regulations and corruption. So when a mild case of civil war chaos sets in, parts of the market actually benefit.

The actual security situation may not be that much worse, but all the parasitic government activity disappears. The situation turns into a net gain.

The state begins to unravel,
And goods more freely travel

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Working at Lurking

Betty, the cat, keeps sitting motionless in the hall by the door, intently studying a tiny crack where the floor meets the wall.

Is there a mouse
In the house?

My personal theory leans more toward centipedes. Occasionally I have seen them in that hall.

Tell me, Mr. Centipede,
Is it true you really need
A hundred feet
To feel complete?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Get Well, Vodkapundit

I've always enjoyed reading Stephen Green - a.k.a. Vodkapundit. He writes like a dream, he's funny, he has a gift for surprising observations that ring true after careful review.

But he hasn't been blogging for what seemed like ages. Today Robert Bidinotto let me know that Steve has been seriously ill.

Steve has written a very moving account of his experience so far. It started with massive weight loss and a building rage he found hard to control. It turns out to be a very overactive thyroid causing those symptoms. The good news is - it's treatable, and it sounds like his doctors are working hard to get it under control.

I love so much of what he's penned.
So now I just hope,
He can manage to cope
And stay on the mend.

Septic "Skeptics"

This quote just floors me:
"The number of victims at the Auschwitz concentration camp could be about 2,007,'' Australian Frederick Toben said. ''The railroad to the camp did not have enough capacity to transfer large numbers of Jews."
2,007. I love the faux-precision of that 7 added to the 2000. It makes you look more scientific and certain - if you're ignorant.

2,007. A New York subway car holds 182 passengers at "full capacity". So 2,007 is just about 11 subway cars.

Where do they get such shoddy "scholars"?

Well, we know where they got David Duke.

His face may cause you to heave,
But isn't it nice to see him leave
The U.S.A.?
Duke, please stay away.
In fact, if you possibly can
Invite your whole damn klan
To live with you in Iran.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Curing Diabetic Mice?

Here's some strange news via Instapundit - Canadian scientists have "cured" diabetes in mice - by injecting them in the pancreas with chili pepper extract.

It may not work in people. Lots of mouse-cures aren't people-cures.

The real surprise suggestion from the experiment is that the nervous system is involved in triggering diabetes. There's speculation that this could be true in other autoimmune disorders.

Progress in the healing arts
Proceeds by fits and starts.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dante's Agent

Dante, buddy, here's the freaking deal.
Your Comedy's too grim - it's got no yucks -
What's more, the scenes you paint just seem unreal.

I have suggestions - Virgil in a tux
Might lighten up the atmosphere a bit.
Give him some wisecracks. Sure, I know hell sucks,

But let him show less wisdom and more wit.
As for your own part, what's with all the swooning?
Sure, the inferno's a dizzying sulphurous pit,

But be a man. Also, consider pruning
All this religious stuff - there's way too much.
And triple rhyming? Jeez. That needs fine tuning.

So take a nice long hike. I'll be in touch.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

17th Century Flashback

Tonight at bookclub we did The Courtier and the Heretic. I am filled with admiration for Leibniz, and I am moved by Spinoza, but I found the book wanting. I doubt that Leibniz's philosophy was essentially a response to Spinoza. I doubt that either's metaphysics was politically motivated. And I am surprised we didn't learn, in 300+ pages, more about what these 2 men proposed.

On the other hand, the book sold well, and I may not be the ideal reader, knowing a fair amount about the two, and being somewhat set in my views.

It did make me think
About the links
Between these two
And their quizzical views.

So maybe the book
Is worth a look.

Tannenbaum

This year, Marsha picked the tree
But bedecking it festively
Was mostly up to me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not Soon Enough

The newspapers fawn
But he makes me yawn.
When will Kofi Annan
Be gone?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Abusing Substance Inventors

We live in a golden age of pharmaceuticals that actually work. But people complain about the drug companies more than ever.

Lots of those complainers would probably be dead
If those companies made something else, instead.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oy

A former U.S. president reports on a conversation with the prime minister of Israel:

"...I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government."

That's Jimmy Carter talking.

One more reason why the secular vote shouldn't be automatic
In the direction of Democratic.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It Is What It Is

Identity. It's not just a good idea - it's the Law.

So, based on further discussions and research...

Parmenides was the first to say
Something resembling A is A.

"Never shall this be proved - that things that are not, are."

In the middle ages,
"All a is a" was used by sages.

The monks were using letters as terms in the study of logic, and some of them thought this was a fine premise.

Leibniz still gets the tap
As the guy who put "A is A" on the map.

It was he who made a big deal of "A is A", putting it forth as a catchy statement of the law of identity.

About these conclusions, I'm not too smug.
I may learn some cave man said "Ug is Ug."

Progress Report

The tree's electric lights are strung.
But no ornaments have been hung.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ladies in Red

Usually when you find a bunch of women in the same festive dress, they're bridesmaids.

No one thinks it's bad luck
If several men wear the same tux.

But four women wearing one dress
Is a source of great distress.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Single Delayer System

This video features a Canadian medical services broker, whose niche is helping Canadians buy health care in America. The case explored is an Ontario man with a brain tumor - who was told he would have to wait months for an MRI, and then more months for surgery. The broker helped him out, and now the man is suing Ontario.

The broker doesn't want the U.S. to change to a single payer system.

Why? It's not rocket science.
He needs a place to send his clients.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Repeal Day

In 1933, on this day
Prohibition went away.

That's because the 21st amendment, which undid the 18th amendment, was fully ratified on 12/5/33.

No, I don't actually remember it. But Funky Brown Chick mentioned it.

Prohibition was a horrible idea. Banning such a popular substance led to nothing but trouble. For one thing, Prohibition created gigantic black market opportunities for deadly thugs. I'm glad we'll never do anything like that again.

Oh, wait.

I think
The war on drink,
Which fed money to so many thugs
Was a lot like the war on drugs.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A is A - the Smoking Gun?

For years I've been trying to figure out who Rand was really quoting when she featured "A is A" as battle-cry.

I had some reasons to think it was Leibniz. But years ago Tom Stone sent me an interesting note in which he said that Leonard Peikoff, in his History of Philosophy lecture series, had credited Antonius Andreas from the 12th century.

Here is my new clue. It's auto-translated from French, by Google, so the English is imperfect:

“The identity principle: Wundt says that “the law of identity was expressed for the first time in a pure logical form by Leibniz (Logik, T. II, p. 562)”. In fact, this one in proposed a great number of formulas, among which: “Each thing is what it is”, “A is A, B is B” (New Essays on Human Understanding, IV, 2, ed. Gehrardt, p. 343, sq.)… However Suarez already allotted to Antonius Andreas the following formula: Omne ens est ens, that it rejects besides like useless (Metaph., Disp., sect. III, n° 4).

If this is correct, Leibniz gets credit for "A is A". Antonius Andreas gets credit for "Omne ens est ens." (Which I think in idiomatic English might be close to "Each thing is itself".) Aristotle, it is true, had already touched on the issue.

French here. Google-translation here. It's from a French Scholastic philosophy site.

So, thank you Tom Stone for sending me that note - which I came across today - since I found this reference by Googling for Antonius Andreas and "a est a".

So it looks like Leibnitz was the first to say
A is A.

UPDATE: The Wundt mentioned is Wilhelm Wundt, and the citation seems to be to his book "Logik". The Suarez mentioned is Francisco Suarez, and the citation is to his Metaphysical Disputations.

2nd update: "Omne ens est ens" may be something more like "all being is being," or "whatever is, is". Wish I remembered my high school Latin!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Why Text Is Hexed

The nice thing about a phone
Is that it actually transmit the tone
Of the other person's voice.

In text, too often, you have the choice
Of reading what was written several ways.
Leading to misunderstandings that revolve, unresolved, for days.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Or Maybe Not

Due to global warming
Investment opportunities are forming
In beautiful Antarctica.

It soon will look like a park t'ya.

But I Suspect Leibniz

If Aristotle had said A is A,
It would have been Alpha is Alpha.

If a farmer had said it, he might have used Hay
Or even Alfalfa.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Word Problems

You've probably had prescriptions labeled:

"Take two tablets twice daily."

This confuses people.

"'We were unbelievably startled by this,' said Northwestern University researcher Michael Wolf..."

I'm not surprised. Those instructions sound like something you tell a computer, not something you tell a person.

"Two twice"
Is precise
But not plain
To the brain.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Song of the Talking Heads

Is Iraq in a civil war?

They have nothing resembling the War between the States. But neither do they have Peace.

Is Iraq like Vietnam?

Surely, in some respects, yes. In others, no.

In public discourse these sorts of questions are often treated as All Or Nothing issues in a grand game of Capture the Connotations.

The talking heads rarely reason with each other. They stage arguments for the jury - the viewing audience - to decide.

Whip the jury
Into a fury -

We collide
And they decide.

Quagmire

Our troops have been there for a while, but the place is still a mess. Six people were shot over the weekend.

The local police say they can't handle the violence themselves.

Yes, New Orleans.

Police say they're still queasy
Patrolling the Big Easy.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hutchins Revisited

There are a variety of versions of Night of January 16th that have been performed:

A) the "Woman on Trial" production from L.A.
B) the Broadway production, which Rand modified under the guidance of the producer
C) the amateur version, which someone else edited, and which was repudiated by Rand as not being one of her works
D) the version that came out in the 60's after Rand had edited it, which she said was close to the "Woman on Trial" script
E) the final version, after Rand had edited it for a New York production

I have examined "C", "D", and "E".

"A" must be very rare, since it was produced at only one theater.

"B" might be more findable, since it was widely performed, but I don't think it was ever sold as a book. Professional playscripts, I believe, used to be rented out by the author's theatrical agent to professional productions.

Today I was looking at a book that included a cast of character of version "B". The cast included John Hutchins, who also appears in "D" and "E".

But as you may recall, the amateur "C" version substitutes his wife, Mrs. Hutchins.

So Mrs. H. is probably unique to the amateur version! But why?

So what's the scoop?
Do amateur troops
On the whole
Need more female roles?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Slope of The Sine Function, Revisited

Spent some of this afternoon working with my daughter on differentiating trig functions. I must have forgotten all of this, so it was good to learn some of it again.

So often when you teach, you learn more
Than you knew before.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Picks from Hicks

Stephen Hicks, a highly productive super-teacher, links to 2 good articles I liked.

One is by Kathy Sierra, on putting the Muse on deadline. (Worth it for the opening visual alone.)

I admit my muse is unruly,
And sometimes treats me coolly.

The other is by my wife, on the qualities of a great teacher.

As usual, her story
Includes quotes from Montessori.

Unpretty Poison

So a former Russian spy, who had been critical of the current regime, is dead of polonium 210.

Vladimir Putin declared that the man did not die "a violent death."

Poison may not be violent,
But your victim ends up silent
Just the same,
Which was surely someone's aim.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Binary Love

Suppose you are working in the binary number system. Not on a computer - just for the heck of it. Someone asks you what is 10 binary divided by 11 binary. You can cheat and do it in decimal and you know it is 2/3 or .666666(ad infinitum)

So you can represent 2/3 in binary as 10/11. But what about the .666666? First of all, that point in front of the .666666 - that point is usually called a decimal point. But if we're working in binary, is it a binary point?

Strangely enough, I think 2/3 translated is: .1010101010101010 (ad infinitum) This is really the series: 1/2 + 1/8 + 1/32 + 1/128 + 1/512... which appears to have a limit of 2/3.

It's a weird kind of fun
To stick with zero and one.

Quote of the Day

The Trib ran a story today about John Adams' book collection, now on display at the Boston Public library. This quote from Adams jumped out at me:

"If ever there existed a Wise Fool, a learned Idiot, a profound Dupe then... it was David Hume."

I'm curious as to what evoked this mixture of praise and scorn.

I suspect it is Hume's skeptical streak,
That appeared to Adams as mentally weak.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Trail Run

Through the woods I hurried.
Worried squirrels scurried.

Progress as Product

I'm writing this from a new notebook pc
That darling Marsha bought for me.

It's an early Christmas present. She hadn't planned to give it to me today, but then she decided - what the heck - I'd get another month of use out of it. Also, her notebook has been in and out of the shop for hard drive (and now fan) issues, so she has been using my notebook, so at home I have been using the old Windows 98 desktop, which has issues of its own.

Marsha once said of me that the only physical possessions I really seemed to care about were books and computers. She was being funny, but, there's an element of truth there. She, characteristically, got a good deal on this one - it was a floor model.

The memory is so big -
2 gigs.

As a computer old-timer, who worked with punch cards, I am now and then awestruck by how far we have come.

We live in a society that has made technological and scientific progress an expected thing. But it was never expected before these last 250 years or so. In this respect, we live in a very special time.

So today I thank the long philosophical evolution
That finally led to the scientific revolution.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Last Post On This Topic, I Swear

Be careful when you hand a
Tidbit to a panda.

He may think your thumb
Looks yum.

Don't Turn Your Back On One

Be careful where you wear your jacket.
Some mad panda might attack it.

Better Living Through Training Videos

More cubs are being born
Thanks to panda porn.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving Travels

People race
Across the miles,
Trying to reach a place
Where a plate
And smiles
Await.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Raising Kane on Free Will

When did Robert Kane turn into Oxford Press's favorite philosopher on the topic of free will? Sheesh, you drop a topic for ten years, and these academic philosophers have a whole set of new arguments and refutations! I just finished his introductory book on the subject. He's an incompatibilist libertarian, and his summaries of arguments are great, but his positive theory left me cold.

The idea that internal conflict generates indeterministic noise
which must be effortfully struggled through to taste the joys
of true freedom of the will - that strikes me
As highly unlikely.

Catching My Breath

I'm back from a whirlwind weekend in Boston
Which I somehow managed not to get lost in.

Actually, I was in Cambridge, Mass., as well, bookstore browsing, and jogging along the Charles.

Somehow, it was warmer in Boston than Chicago.

Also, there was no rain.
About which I will not complain.

Marsha was attending a National Association of Scholars conference.

I was just there as a spouse
So I wasn't left pining alone in our house.

Friday, November 17, 2006

One Tough Tabby

Here's an amusing story about a New Jersey cat that scared a bear up a tree.

Though ten years old, and clawless,
His fighting skills were flawless.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Night at the Book Club

We discussed Elie Wiesel's Night at book club tonight. His autobiographical narrator sometimes says his faith is shattered. But I said his faith was still functional at some level, since he was obviously not an atheist. He remains wrapped up in God - God's death, God's injustice, and so on.

I've known a lot of atheists, and this isn't how they think. Of course, like him, atheists can feel that life is not worth living. Perhaps that's the bottom-line issue, shorn of its theological fuzz.

It's a well-written but very bleak book, a carefully constructive narrative that gives you a you-are-there impression of the Nazi camps from the point of view of a 15 year old Jewish boy. This means you never really understand much about the Nazis - you understand they are committing unspeakable evil, but you don't know why.

What was it that released
The beast?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Flu Follies Follow-up

Yesterday I was joking about this year's possible oversupply of flu vaccine, as compared to last year's alleged shortage. I was thinking of writing something today about the obvious cause of these mismatches of supply and demand - the fact that the government controls the supply.

But I find that in 2004 the Washington Post ran an article entitled "Got The Flu? Blame The Free Market" The author's thesis is that shortages are caused by our failure to completely socialize medicine. He doesn't actually say "socialize". He just says that Americans "don't want the government to get too deeply involved in health care."

Sorry. It's already happened. The government is already "too deeply involved in health care."

They're in up to their chin
And sinking further in.

Millions Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest

There's a glut of flu vaccine. At least, that's what U.S. "health officials" are worrying.

The excess "...may lead to millions of doses being thrown out, discouraging manufacturers from making as much in the future."

So be nice
And get your flu shot twice.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Live and in Living Color

Dr. Helen fears that with hi-def news
We'll soon be a nation of total "blues".

But I hate using hues
To describe my views.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Six Hours With Alice

I spent six charming hours today with Alice. I met her because she was running about the same pace as me. We discussed our target times, and they matched up. Running a long way by yourself - especially on a cold day with strong winds - gets old quickly. So we talked and ran and when we came to uphills we walked some. She kept worrying she was slowing me down, but I think the truth is that she kept me going at a sustainable pace. We both finished a little faster than the last time we did this distance. Thank you, Alice!

We saw a man surfing in Lake Michigan at the 57th Street Beach. He had a wetsuit and a surfboard, and the waves looked pretty good. He must have been out in that cold water a long time, because we saw him three times as we ran the loops of the run course.

At the end of our race, wearing our 50k finisher's medals, we talked about how crazy he was. But, really, I suspect he's no more, or no less, insane than we were.

No ifs, ands, or buts,
Both activities are nuts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Museum Musing







Today I visited 2 museums. Any guesses on where these are from?


Have you given up yet?

Okay, if you got either one, even if you guessed,
I'm suitably impressed.

The first is from The Dusable Museum, from their current "Chisel + Stone" exhibit. I like this guy.

The second is from The Oriental Institute. They have 2 of these big scary lions, bagged from Ancient Baghdad.

Someday all museums will be on the internet
In HD 3D. But not yet.

Inquiring Minds

Do polar bears
Like solar flares?
Or do they fear warming
From the sun's storming?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Night

Today I've been reading Night by Eli Wiesel. It's an autobiographical account of a 15 year old Jewish boy's horrible experiences in a succession of Nazi camps. He finds his faith is shattered.

Murderous evil becomes routine.
And God fails to intervene.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Strange Case of Mrs. Hutchins

Those of you who have read or seen Night of January 16th, may recall that an elderly janitor, Mr. Hutchins, is one of the first witnesses. But, in the Bizarro World, it was his wife who testified:

FLINT. Why didn't your husband work that night?

MRS. HUTCHINS. Well, fo' the las' year or two now my husband don't seem to have no mo' gumption; and when he don't, I takes his place.

FLINT. Oh! So on the night of January 16th, your husband was low on gumption.

MRS. HUTCHINS. Yes, sah.

Is it just me, or is that meant as African-American dialect?

This alternate universe is the older, amateur version of the play, which Ayn Rand thoroughly disowned as a vandalized monstrosity.

Who knows, you might still have a chance to see the Mrs. Hutchins version performed. Here's a cast with her in it for a 1998 production.

The differences are sizable.
As for the movie - it's unrecognizable.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Q&A Continued

At first I thought the Leonard Peikoff Q&A on tomorrow's election was a spoken response. On further investigation, it is said to have been a reply to an email.

I was looking at some of his other replies. They're here, but you have to scroll down. I was most fascinated by the one in which he declares that he only reads the front page of the New York Times. If a story continues inside, he does not turn the page. That way, contemporary happenings do not become "too real" for him.

I fear that even one page
Has more than enough to enrage a sage.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tracinski v. Peikoff

Tracinski: "The Democratic plan, if it is enacted, would deliver America into a period of retreat, humiliation, and uncertainty that we haven't seen since the end of the Vietnam War--while giving our enemies a glorious victory that would be seen as a historical vindication of the Islamist cause."

Peikoff: "...the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power." ... "The most urgent political task now is to topple the Republicans from power, if possible in the House and the Senate. This entails voting consistently Democratic, even if the opponent is a 'good' Republican."

They both see us as horribly endangered by proponents of a religion. But Tracinski is more worried about totalitarian Islamicism, and Peikoff is more worried about theocratic Christianity.

As for me... Our two-party system doesn't make for ideological purity within the parties. Nor do party-members in Congress consistently follow their party line. So I think it often makes sense to look at the particular individuals who are running, and try to weigh their pluses and minuses.

The party line
Is not mine.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Exploring the Oomph

"Rand almost never compares an abstraction to a concrete or vice-versa, preferring to compare one concrete to another (the sky is like a huge furnace, smokestacks are fuming matchsticks, pine trees are tall red candles or like columns of dark brick, hotel towers are like the spokes of a fan, flat roofs are like pedals, roof gardens float down like handkerchiefs, stars are like foam)."

That's from Peter Saint-Andre's insightful essay on Rand's descriptive style, which I read some years ago.

You can see it fits that Anthem quote I had where furrowed fields are compared to a fan held by a giant hand.

I've been thinking about that "giant hand" metaphor. Last week, when I read it, I found it very moving, even though on the surface it was just a good visual description. To repeat, it goes like this:

"The fields are black and ploughed, and they lie like a great fan before us, with their furrows gathered in some hand beyond the sky, spreading forth from that hand, opening wide apart as they come toward us, like black pleats that sparkle with thin, green spangles."

I'm thinking that it was dramatically striking in the context of Anthem, because the setting of Anthem is relentlessly drab, a world in which exceptional human ability is a crime. The hero does not enjoy looking around the confines of the City, but he spends a lot of time looking at, and describing, the sky - as if that were his escape from his surroundings.

Now, in this context of oppressive smallness, our hero, just incidentally, imagines a mighty human hand of great power. I think this contrast is what gave the image its emotional oomph for me.

Later, of course, our hero masters the utilization of electricity, and refers to it as the power of the sky.

Our hero projects
His own special effects.

Odd Idiom

Person A: (mumbling) "If I could only remember the quadratic equation."

Person B: "What was that?"

Person A: "Nothing. I was just talking out loud."

I heard a version of this today. I've said it myself. But it's screwy. Of course person A was talking out loud - that's what talking is - it's out loud.

People used to say: "I was just thinking out loud." That made more sense.

Idioms run ahead of words,
Racing past the apparent absurd.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fun with Others' Funds

Bono is moving U2's music publishing business from Ireland to the Netherlands, in a tax-saving move.

There's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, when you look at his political activities:

"Bono, the rock star and campaigner against Third World debt, is asking the Irish government to contribute more to Africa. At the same time, he's reducing tax payments that could help fund that aid."

He's all in favor of laws
To levy taxes for his cause.
But tell me, does Mr. Bono
Like paying taxes? Oh. No.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Belated Halloween Pic

Death walks the halls
And makes its calls.
I'm re-reading Ayn Rand's Anthem, which is structured as a journal kept by the hero.Today I was particularly focused on the visual descriptions offered by the hero. She has a special gift in this area, a cinematic delight in how things actually look. She passes this gift to her hero, but he expressions must be filtered through his society's circumscribed language. Like this:

"The fields are black and ploughed, and they lie like a great fan before us, with their furrows gathered in some hand beyond the sky, spreading forth from that hand, opening wide apart as they come toward us, like black pleats that sparkle with thin, green spangles."

So she starts with a camera-eye view of receding parallel rows, finds a metaphor ("fan held by a giant hand") for that appearance, and describes it as actively happening ("opening"). That's pretty characteristic. Heck, then she turns the dirt into black pleats and the plants into green spangles, just to give a completely metaphorical vivid description.

So, even though her style seems really different in Anthem, you can see that the underlying approach to visual description is still there. It's just adapted.

I've seen people try to parody her descriptive style, but I haven't seen anyone really get this approach right. Partly, I suppose, because it's hard, and it's not the way most of us look at things. Partly, I suspect, because Rand is so strong on ideas that you tend to get distracted from the means by which she conveys the sensory.

She throws off ideas at high speed,
Which makes it hard, while you read,
To really notice the little tricks
She uses to color her virtual pics.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Or Not

If a digital frog
Keeps a binary log,
The location has got
To be BogSpot.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Great Pumpkin

Jack-O'-Lantern, burning yellow -
You're a fine and scary fellow -
Smiling with jagged teeth!

Even though there's nothing beneath
Your head but a plate,
You're feeling great!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Artemis

Artemis, by Michael Newberry. I think she's lovely.

Not work safe,
If your workplace
Is one where nudes
Are viewed
As crude.

The Beef vs. The Wall

In one essay, Rand complains about Rembrandt's painting of a side of beef. She says it's a bad choice of subject, a waste of his skill, and esthetically unjustifiable.

In a later essay, she writes about Capuletti's painting of a wall with peeling paint and cracked plaster. She says the subject would be perfect for the life-is-decay kind of art, but that Capuletti has transformed the subject into an object of beauty. She says she would not have believed it was possible.

So, here is an important qualification of the position taken in the first essay. It is evident she has changed her mind about something. But only the first essay makes it into her book on aesthetics.

Some of her thoughts about art
Were left in scattered parts.

Misdirection

We saw a live performance of lesser-known Cole Porter songs tonight. I loved the songs, but was not in love with the style of the performance.

Porter's innuendoes are sly and subtle.
They shouldn't be blasted off like the shuttle.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rhyme to the Rescue?

Choriamb pointed today to a blog entry by Scott Adams, the guy who invented Dilbert.It seems he was afflicted with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a condition in which you lose your voice - but only in certain contexts. Apparently it's a neurological condition.

"The weirdest part of this phenomenon is that speech is processed in different parts of the brain depending on the context. So people with this problem can often sing but they can’t talk."

You see that sometimes in victims of strokes.

Adams says he recently discovered that he could still speak in rhyme, and began to repeat, over and over:

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

"Somehow, he says, he managed to remap his brain by repeating this rhyme over and over again, and now he is on a path toward recovery - which he says is practically unheard of. The Wikipedia article on the condition sounds skeptical about his cure.

Even though Wikipedia's not so sure,
I'm glad Scott Adams found himself a cure.
So just remember, if there comes a time
When your voice fails... do try a nursery rhyme.

But The Guy Came And Fixed It Already

Our power went out tonight
After a tree branch fell
On alley electrical wire.

I thought I might need to write
This little entry by cell,
And go back to heating by fire.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Recovering

The first pc
Was harddrive-free.
You want a backup copy?
Just make another floppy!

But that's ancient history. Back to the present.

The trouble with laptops
Is their tendency to stop-
So you doubt that the harddrive
Is still alive.

I was up till 4am last night, working with M.'s laptop. I think I've gotten everything off it now. The harddrive is running way too slow, and declines to boot into any form of XP, even safe mode.

But I found I could boot it into Linux using a bootable CD. That let me read the harddrive and copy files out the USB port to solid-state backup.

XP said no way.
But Linux saved the day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

No Tears Here For His Passing

Ohio today executed Jeffrey Lundgren, a self-proclaimed prophet who murdered a family of four because he feared they lacked faith.

Yes, his background was a variety of Mormonism.

Was he sorry?

"I cannot say that I am sorry..."

Why not?

"I did what God commanded me to do..."

I read a book about him and the murders. He was a bad, bad man.

His lawyers tried to stop his execution -
Worried that the chemical solution
Might hurt a little just before he died.
What a shame. Too bad he couldn't be fried.

For Medicinal Purposes Only

Here's more research, claiming that alcohol offers protection from heart attacks, at least for men.

It claims that men are helped by 2 drinks a day. You know what this means?

I'd say it means clearly
That I don't drink nearly
As much as I oughter!
Quick, scotch & water!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Locke v. Rousseau

David Kirby, in today's Chicago Tribune book section, reviewed this book, and made a point of philosophical comparison between the U.S. and France:

"As opposed to the world of John Locke, so beloved of Thomas Jefferson and other members of America's founding generation, this is the world of Henri Rousseau; the American model proposes freedom from the state, and the French one proposes freedom through the state."

Give me "freedom from".
"Freedom through" sounds dumb.

Marathon Madness

The winner of today's Chicago Marathon slipped and fell just as he reached the tape. He had to be driven off in a golfcart. I hope he's okay enough to enjoy his winnings. He just made $125,000.00 in 2 hours and 7 minutes and 35 seconds.

At mile 24 of the marathon, I was feeling fine. That's because I didn't run the race. I just went to watch and cheer.


Mostly I cheered for people who met the following 2 conditions:

1) No headphones
2) Name on shirt

That way I could call their name ("Go Joe!) and they would actually hear me.

Maybe later in the year
Someplace far away from here
I'll run and someone else can cheer.

Odd Occurrence

As I ran across a bridge today
Someone threw a bottle my way.
It broke six feet ahead of me
With a crash and a splash of glass debris.
I'm guessing "scare the runner" was the game.
But I just laughed. What a bad aim!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Muzak to my Ears

I know, from reading Wikipedia, that the Muzak Corporation has changed, and I don't wish to malign its present practices.

But, years ago, I worked at a couple of places with the old fashioned Muzak - which was mostly upbeat instrumental versions of pop standards. It was sold as a kind of emotional programming for a firm's office workers. What I disliked was that the performances sounded oddly lacking in personality. Oh - and I also disliked the fact that the tape looped at least once during an 8 hour shift.

Muzak
Was designed to hack
Positive thoughts inside your soul.
That, at least, was the goal.

I felt it as an attack.
My mind had music already,
In the background, pulsing steady.

And their product drowned
That inner sound.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

But This Is A Family Newspaper!

From the Chicago Sun-Times: "But now that both men and women have begun wearing jewelry in their genitals, it's theoretically possible that two lovers could get stuck."

Apparently there's an episode of Grey's Anatomy tonight that addresses this problem.

I'm going to resist the obvious rhyming possibilities of "stuck."

Be careful of things that jingle
Attached to things that tingle.

Kim Jong Il Plans More Testing

He's trying to set off pandemonium.
Instead, let's dare him to test and test
Until he uses up the rest
Of his plutonium.

(Idea stolen from Glenn Reynolds.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Not Good Bedtime Reading

I was talking today with a young woman who recently read a book about Ted Bundy - a sociopath who eventually confessed to killing over 30 women.

Reading it was scary enough. Then she started having dreams about it.

She'd given her brain material
For nightmares all-too-serial.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Time for President Obama?

Time magazine ran a cover story on potential presidential candidate, the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

He should be very wary of this kind of positive press, particularly since his accomplishments so far are few.

After they puff up your reputation, they have a habit of turning around and puncturing it with a vengeance.

First they build you up,
Then they tear you down
Shredding your rep
All over town.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Looking for Hell in All the Wrong Places

[info]electricia and [info]boffo are in Chicago and staying at our house for a few days.

[info]electricia has actually been to one of those Hell Houses that [info]fuzzbean mentioned. She said it included portrayals of babies being aborted and people dying in car accidents. She said it was Southern Baptists who were especially fond of this form of holiday hellraising.

Well, no wonder we can't find a Hell House in Chicago. We lack a critical mass of Southern Baptists!

We've looked all over - back and forth.
But damn it, Chicago is in the North.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Joy of Networking

Just spent 3 hours or so getting my LinkSys router to talk to my D-Link range extender.

You might think
With so much "Link"
They'd connect in the blink of an eye.

Sigh.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Parking Under the Parks

Today our mayor "sold off" our 4 underground downtown garages. They're all underneath city park land. Technically, he didn't sell them, he just leased them out for 99 years.

I'm all for the basic idea.

But as for the years, what's up with 99?
One thousand would be fine.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eternal Flame

Halloween is a pleasantly goofy pagan holiday, replete with witches and haunted houses.

But I got news today from [info]fuzzbean. Some evangelicals are crashing the party, constructing scary "hell houses" which show how bad hell is. So kids can be frightened into a proper fear of the Lord.

It's sort of like Dante's Inferno... but for kids!

Hey kids - there's no waitin'
For your chance to visit Satan!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Critical Idiom

Why didn't I get the memo?

Today I realized that I was constantly seeing critics use the word "smart" in their reviews as a term of praise.

And then it further dawned on me that I was no longer seeing them use "sly" in this way.

I missed the official start
Of "smart".
And never said goodbye
To "sly".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

300 Million People

Apparently the US population count is coming up on 300 million. Newsweek says people aren't in a mood to celebrate.

Is this about immigrants?

I'll tell you what bothers me about a lot of these immigrants - they work hard. What's up with that?

I probably shouldn't worry.
In a generation or two,
They'll quit with all the hurry,
And slack off like me and you!

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea

Is it the boom of doom?
And if so, for whom?

Fun in Madison

Had a great NIF meeting in lovely Madison, WI, with a presentation by on some of the technical problems with mind-body dualism.

The next morning I saw a strange being roaming the streets, accosting police officers, and generally trying to inspire enthusiasm. Here he is, badgering a policeman.



Yes, Wisconsin has got
A badger for a mascot.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Shakespeare

Along with all those plays
He created many cliches.

Forms of Grace

There was a quote I liked from tonight's Battlestar Gallactica episode. This isn't exact:

"Symbols are important. They're like pieces of your heart you can see."

Branden's visibility theory of love, and Rand's theory of art, both turn on the idea behind this metaphor - the idea of being able to *see* your inner values outside of you.

It's important for Rand. It validates her Romantic streak within her Enlightenment intellectual context. Loved ones and compelling art works are categorized as things needed for survival, because seeing the pieces of your heart is both clarifying and motivating.

How often our minds
Feed on outward signs.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What I Did On My Autumn Vacation

Someone, namely the perspicuous Ergo, pointed out how obliquely I had touched on my trip. So here are the highlights:

Friday evening we flew into Phoenix, were met by our hosts, had dinner at an old ferry-crossing building that is now a steakhouse.

Saturday morning, we went shooting at a range. Our hosts are both shooting enthusiasts. Neither Marsha nor I had shot a gun in 10 years, but we did okay with coaching. Note to self - don't flinch just before the big noisy gun goes bang - it throws your aim off. In the evening we had the Objectivist club meeting.

Sunday noonish we went to the Arizona Biltmore resort, which Frank Lloyd Wright had a hand in designing. It's a big, gorgeous place. We walked the grounds after eating lunch there.

Sunday afternoon we drove to Sedona, AZ, which has big beautiful red rock formations all over the place. We drove around and got good looks at these pretty rocks.

Monday afternoon we drove up to the Grand Canyon's south rim. We ate dinner at a lodge on the rim, and looked at the canyon in the moonlight.

Tuesday morning we paid for a helicopter ride across the Canyon. We were lucky enough to get the front seats. Wow. Awesome, beautiful, forbidding. Our pilot learned flying in the military, and had flown helicopter gunships in Vietnam. He informed us that the canyon was partly formed by plate tectonic activity - earthquakes.

After the helicopter ride we drove into the park and stood by the rim in the daylight at various spots. There are a lot of spots without railing, and when I got near these my stomach would start fluttering with acrophobia. The first step is a doozy - and your last.

Then we headed for Vegas. Marsha thought it was 2 hours, but it was more like 5. We actually drove across the Hoover Dam on our route. This required being looked at by police officers before we were allowed to proceed. I see where they are building a bypass to get around the Dam bottleneck.

We arrived in Vegas as the sun went down. By a strange coincidence, our son was driving from Chicago to L.A., and was scheduled to make Vegas a few hours after us. So he stayed with us that night. It was here that my work started to seriously interfere with my vacation, cutting considerably into my time. So I saw exactly zero Vegas nightlife.

Wednesday we ate breakfast, said goodbye to our son, and drove down the strip before heading to the airport.

As you can see, this is not a case of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." It's a case of nothing happening in Vegas.

I figure the staff must have pegged us
As people who hadn't the vaguest
Idea of enjoying Vegas.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Leaving Las Vegas

I had already finished 2 books on this mini-vacation, so in the Vegas airport I went looking for a 3rd. They had a lot of long books, and only a few short books hidden in among them.

Airport books should be organized by length.

I want a book whose length is right
For my particular flight.

I chose Steve Martin's novel, The Pleasure of My Company, a novel about a guy with OCD. I enjoyed it. Funny and touching.

I also read my first Louis Lamour novel, Kiowa Trail. Liked that too. Thrill-a-minute.

Also I finished off The Baby Inheritance, by Ann Roth. Quite heartwarming.

Maybe my enjoyment of the vacation
Is rubbing off on these evaluations.

More Vacation Report

Stayed up late in Vegas last night...

I was working on my laptop, writing programs to make some files balance properly for a client.

While some were in their slumbers,
And some were having fun
I was crunching numbers
Matching pennies one by one.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Water Cuts Rock

After dinner we walked to our car and looked up at the stars. There were more of them than at home. Then we speculated about where the giant hole in the ground was. We agreed on a direction and walked that way. As we approached the railing, a nearby trashcan began to shake. Something was inside it. I started and Marsha laughed. Probably a racoon.

And there was the hole, a mighty gash in the earth, ghostly in the light of the moon. One mile deep.

That's how it looked at night.
I hear the colors are better in normal light.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not So Holy Foley

So Mark Foley has gone into rehab.

He's the congressman who got in trouble for writing dubious emails to young male pages.

He's also the congressman who sponsored legislation cracking down on people who do things like that.

So he quit the Congress, and now says he has an alcohol problem.

Brilliant.

I have the impression that for celebrities going into rehab is a good way to keep from going to jail. The public furor dies down because now the celebrity is a victim of addiction, rather than simply a bad actor. I'm not saying he's not a drinker. I bet he is.

Boozer or user,
Playing the victimized loser for a while,
Is better than standing trial.

Rhyming Place Name















Near Sedona,
Arizona.

Phoenix

Last night I gave a poetry reading at the Arizona Objectivists in Phoenix. Then, after dinner, Marsha talked about her new-college project. We had a great time, seeing old friends and making some new ones.

I opened with a limerick written for the occasion.

Allergic folks once moved Phoenix
Hoping to need much less Kleenex.
They all planted grass
And, wow, it grew fast.
They're sneezing again... but it's scenic.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Boy Do I Look Beat

The Accenture Chicago Triathlon has a website where you can see any given person finishing the race. I typed in my name and up came a snippet of video.

If you're curious, it's here. I cross at 6:02:05 on the far left side, wearing bib 6062.

In the past, some races would charge you a pretty penny for a "customized video", with only a few snippets of you. I like this way better.

It's perfect for a consumer like me -
I'm glad to watch it for "free".
I know it's built into the overall price,
But I still think it's nice.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Control Theory

When my second youngest brother was about 9, he came to me with a math question.

In school he was doing problems like:

9 + _ = 15

Of course, you're supposed to fill in the blank spot with 6.

He came to me and asked if there was a solution to a problem like this:

_ + _ = 15

I was stunned. I told him, yes, there's a solution, and it's a line.

That was the beginning of teaching him analytic geometry, and some calculus, while he was still in elementary school. I couldn't actually get him interested in the solving algebraic manipulation problems. But he loved graphing the solutions to equations.

He went on to get a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering, specializing in control theory. Oh, and he wrote a textbook on that abstruse but practical topic.

I tutored my own children in math, too. I never got them interested in calculus while they were in elementary school. But my son is taking a professional path eerily similar to my brother - he's an aeronautical engineer publishing research in control theory.

I don't *think* my brother had that big an impact on my son.

What can this mean?
Is there a control theory gene?

Or does it seem
More likely I'm a carrier of the meme?

If Only They Were Just Running For Office

Glenn Reynolds links to a poll showing that the vast majority of Iraqi's don't like Al Qaeda. Who knew?

He suggests that mosque explosions
Haven't stirred up good emotions
Toward Al Qaeda in Iraq.

What a shock.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More Fire

I've worked up a new poetry collection. I haven't put it on Amazon yet. If you're interested, you can download the pdf ("pretty darn frustrating") format free.

Regular readers of this blog, be forewarned, some poems are from this very location. Others are available online somewhere or other.

But I like the look
And feel of a book.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Odd Coincidence

Choriam posted recently about Ted Hughes. He was married to Sylvia Plath who committed suicide. Then he married another poet who committed suicide.

Was it just a bad run of luck?
How did he happen to get stuck
With not one, but two brides
Who were future suicides?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Honoring a Founder

Spent the afternoon at a party honoring my wife for her role in founding - and helping run - Council Oak Montessori school, now in its 16th year.

The current issue of Chicago Magazine has a cover story entitled "The Best Elementary Schools," and Council Oak was listed among them.

The format of the afternoon was kind of a mix between a roast and a toast.

I gave a little talk about her, interspersed with rhyme, ending with this one:

Thank you, Marsha,
For working your butt off,
And helping this school
Make the cut-off.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tracked from the Sky

I went running for the first time with a satellite GPS unit that told me how fast I was going and how far I had gone.

It's a Garmin Forerunner 201. I got it from Amazon for 109.99.

It took a little time at the start to establish the satellite link. Once I was running, it seemed to stay linked up - except when I was running under railroad viaducts. Of course, I was running mostly through Chicago neighborhoods - very flat, amid houses.

It had a few peculiarities. It doesn't really give you instantaneous speed. It gives you an average over a minute or so. So when you change speeds it takes a little while to really register.

It was fun to know
Just how fast, or rather... slow
My feet would go.

Not a Dry Run

Out for a run,
Caught in the rain,
Soaked through and through.

Water in my shoes
But I don't complain.
Sloshing is fun.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Summer's End

Ah, the days of Autumn.
I cannot say I sought them.
But since they're here, I'll take them,
And as leaves fall, I'll rake them.

SNAFU

First the Commerce department loses 1,100 computers, mostly from the Census Bureau.

Then there's John Mark Karr. He's the creep who claimed he killed Jon Benet. But he was also in trouble for having child porn on his computer. The cops confiscated his computer - a few years back - but now they can't find it.

There's a need for remedial lessons, given by tutors,
To explain ways to lessen this strange loss of lots of computers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Have You Heard?

Hearing voices, often taken to be a sign of something wrong in the noggin, occurs in many people who seem to be fine.

The voices in my head?
Don't tell them to be quiet.
They'll stop when I am dead.
Till then, they all run riot.

I don't always pay attention
To what they have to say.
I brush off their dissension
When I've settled on a way.

But frequently, I listen,
Because of what I've heard -
That precious bits of wisdom
Might show up in these words -

And I don't wanna miss 'em
When that finally occurs!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Talk Like A Pirate Day

When a pirate vessel docks,
So the men can shop for socks,
Their preference brings smiles:
Arrrghyles.

I believe I stole the pun from [info]humblepie.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Making Tracks to the Axis of Evil

Don Parrish gave a fabulous account of his trip to North Korea. Very few outsiders ever get in, and Americans are the least welcome. It seems they see us as the Imperialist Power which is the source of all their problems. He went with four other people who are very experienced at traveling to the ends of the earth.

You want to visit North Korea?
Most likely they don't wanna see ya!

I have a friend who saw their capital,
Watched by a soldier who took no crapatall.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tortured Thoughts

A. People who are tortured will usually admit to anything. Such confessions, on their own, are valueless.

B. However, a tortured person may also give you information that can be investigated and verified independently.

C. If the person is innocent, you will have imposed horrible suffering unjustly.

D. Torture is, to say the least, cruel and unusual.

President Bush is harping on point B.

In philosophical circles, point B comes up in the "ticking bomb" dilemma, in which many innocent lives will be lost unless the terrorist is tortured into revealing the location of the ticking bomb. This sort of thing happens constantly to Jack Bauer on "24".

Jack Bauer,
In "24" hours,
must always act with urgency.

Is it an error
To equate the war on terror
With an ethical emergency?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Perilous Papal Pronouncements

How will the Pope
Ever cope?

People of a different faith
Riot over what he saith.

Anyway, he was speaking, in passing, about the "sword verse" vs. the "no compulsion verse" in the Koran, and quoted from a medieval philosophical dialogue:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
He didn't actually say this was the truth. But he did quote it. And he didn't say he disagreed.

The Pope himself came down on the side of "no compulsion" in religion. That's reassuring, since the Church he heads has historically made use of the sword at times.

He also talked about Aquinas, Kant, the scientific worldview, and the proper sphere of rational inquiry. So you can see he covered a lot of ground. (Full text here.)

Now a Turkish government official is comparing him to Mussolini and Hitler.

If this comparison occurred in an online discussion, it might end the argument, since it fulfills Godwin's Law:
There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress.
But this was declared in Real Life, in Turkey, which the Pope plans to visit soon.

I fear that the Pope
May end his life
At the end of a rope
Or the point of a knife.

His safety would be a better bet
If he stuck to appearing on the net,
Thus avoiding any Turks
Who might have chosen to go berserk.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Holiday in Hell

Tomorrow night - Saturday 8 pm at my house - free - Don Parrish will talk about his 2005 trip to North Korea.

Very few Americans get to visit this last gasp Communist outpost which is now arming itself to the teeth.

Don Parrish has circled the globe many times. He has a background in engineering and international business negotiations. A careful student of geopolitcal history, Don can be counted on to provide deep and original insights.

Curious people cherish
Talks by Mr. Parrish.

A liberty lover
Who heads off to discover
What's really going on -
That's Don.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Food Wonderful Food

Hicks linked to this report.
It's progress of a sort:

Experts claims that for the first time ever, there are more overweight people than hungry people in the world.

But I distrust this statistic.

After all, what about people on diets? A lot of them are overweight AND hungry. How did they get counted?

Though you may be overweight,
Though you may be far from sickly,
An under-loaded plate
Produces hunger quickly.

After the Deluge

I've regained my lawn.
Lake Enright is gone.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Last Night

It rained hard enough to make
My yard into a lake.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sadistic Prank

So a guy posts a fake ad on Craig's List. He claims to be a young woman with submissive and masochistic desires, looking for a guy to, um, treat her right. He posts a provocative picture.

The guy doing the prank gets more than a hundred personal replies, including photos - of faces and other things - and lots of real names - and even some real work emails.

Then the guy posts all these replies on the internet, and asks for help in finding out more about the guys who replied.

When replying with work emails,
Be wary of fake females!

Monday, September 11, 2006

City of Big Boxes

Mayor Daley has vetoed the "Big-Box law" that would have hampered large stores by requiring them to pay higher wages than small stores.

He had declared his opposition to the ordinance a while ago, but vetoed it today - the first time he has ever vetoed anything.

He saw the flaw
And blocked the Big Box law.

City of Big Waistlines

Designer beef is gaining market share, particularly in Chicago, which happens to be the "big" city with the highest beef consumption.

It's my belief
That discerning diners
Should only eat beef
From top designers.

As for "cheeseborgers,"
Please make mine
Calvin Klein.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Probably For Their Own Good, Too

The Grand Mosque in Mecca gets crowded when prayer time rolls around. Dangerously crowded.

So Saudi officials are considering a solution: Why not ban women?

You'll have less of a crowd
If "No Girls Are Allowed!"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lincoln & Beaver

I've been seeing cryptic ads, feature Lincoln and a beaver, for a drug called Rozerem. I was guessing it was for depression (Lincoln) or obsessive toothpick chewing (beaver)... but no. It's for insomnia.

Well, I guess the beaver is less bizarre than that glow-in-the-dark moth that lands on your head in the Lunesta ads. If that thing ever showed up on my pillow, my eyes would pop wide open - and stay that way all night.

That moth is just plain creepy
And would never make me sleepy.

As for the beaver, I am
Telling it "go build a dam!"

Wait. Lincoln was famous for splitting logs. Beavers are famous for chewing through them. Could this have something to do with the old slang expression for snoring, i.e. "sawing logs"?!

I may be overthinkin'
With this final burst of linkin'.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Search Enginitis

If you're ill but feeling frugal,
Consult with Dr. Google.
From Scurvy to Halitosis
You'll get a diagnosis
Without the need
For some degreed
M.D. to prod
Your bod.

Fragrance Trance

Gardenia scent hovers
Over young lovers.

Your bridal bouquet -
I breathed it today.

In my mind. Then I flew
To Aruba with you,

And watched while the ocean
Rolled with slow motion,

And felt the new ring
On my finger.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Incumbent Protection Act

As of today, you can't run a broadcast ad criticizing specific members of Congress who are up for re-election. Which is most of them.

Worried about the free speech implications? Don't be! Once they're re-elected, you can buy air-time to criticize them again.

McCain and Feingold - thanks for protecting
All those incumbents who need re-electing!

I hope they feel safer - less troubled by doubt
That people might gang up and throw their butts out.

Thank goodness we've stopped all that partisan strife.
Once you get in - the seat's yours for life!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I Hope The Train Had A/C

So this woman is riding on an Amtrak train with her 80-year old father. He dies in Colorado, in a sleeping cabin. Does she tell the conductor? No.

She waits 23 hours till they arrive in downtown Chicago. After all, he had already paid his fare, and she was short on cash. Why pay more to take him off the train, put him in a box, and ship him in baggage?

He was lying in the sleeper
When he finally met the reaper,
But his daughter let him stay
On the train another day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Limerick Line Lengths

What's the deal with limericks?

When they teach you metric poetry, the vanilla form of a poem is envisioned as one metric line, over and over till it's done. A sonnet is like that - 14 lines in the same meter and length.

But lots of formal poetry is not like that. Including limericks. So why is that? Why does a limerick satisfy the ear? Now it's a standard form we're all familiar with, but why did the limerick get popular in the first place?

To me, the short 2 lines sound like a disrupting change, and the last long line sounds like a restoration of order.

A limerick starts off well-versed
Its pattern precisely rehearsed.
Then things turn hoppy
With lines short and choppy,
But line five's as long as the first.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Wrap Up

The beach has gone ghostly.
Summer's mostly done.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Current Affairs

Kayaking on the Kalamazoo,
We scared some blue heron by coming up too
Close for their comfort to get a good view.

Box turtles basked in the sun on a log.
Motor boats passed us with children and dogs.
That's all I have to report for this blog.

Adrenaline Addiction

Saw Crank. It's not a chick flick. More of a men-behaving-violently movie. But my wife didn't actually hate it. This guy inhabits a hostile world, but copes creatively under dire circumstance. And he does love his girlfriend, that's clear.

It's a film with non-stop action
With the thorough satisfaction
Of seeing the bad guys
Pulverized.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

This Day in Fictional History

September 2nd
Is the day by which time is reckoned
In Atlas Shrugged. I've heard
It's the day she wrote the first word.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Distant Relatives?

Enright is a fairly common Irish name. And in my age bracket, John was the most common male name. All of which is a lead-in to mentioning that there are 2 other John Enrights with poems on the net.

John Enright

John Enright


Both links have photos, so you can see
That they're not me!

Both write with pleasing coherence,
And so I embrace them as brothers,
Along with any others
Who've yet to make an appearance.

The Old New Logic

I've been reading The Old New Logic, a collection of essays. Frank C. Keil, a psycholologist, has an interesting article on the ways that philosophy provides testable hypotheses to research psychologists:

"...although it might seem that work in the philosophy of mind should have the most direct link to psychological research, in fact work in the philosophy of logic, of science, and metaphysics has often had a more fruitful albeit unintended influence."

As examples, he gives Putnam & Kripke's distinction between artifacts and natural kinds, and Fred Sommers' category-tree theory. Both of these provided grist for research that established that children as young as 5 recognized the distinctions and rules they were putting forth.

The point seems to be that philosophers sometimes give very explicit descriptions of deep rules about how the world works. This affords psychologists the chance to test grown-ups and children - to see whether they implicitly observe these rules.

Learning logic is like that too:
Implicitly old, explicitly new.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

New Birds in Town

They're little yellow finches
With a height of just 2 inches.

I saw one hopping around
Downtown.
A lady was trying
To make it stay.
The bird kept flying
Ahead, away.

Perhaps she thought it would make a good pet.
Perhaps it would. But it's wild yet.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Faux-tography

I don't know much about Katie Couric. I don't watch enough TV. But CBS's Photoshop Diet Plan was uncalled for.

She didn't need to lose those pounds.
What's wrong with being a little round?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Senator Santa

A lot of companies have a Secret Santa game. You get gifts and you're not even sure who gave them to you. Eventually, you do find out.

The U.S. has a Secret Senator game. Senators tuck little "earmark" gifts into spending bills, and it seems like it's pretty hard to find out who sponsored what. It almost looks like senators are doing favors for people and keeping it all hush-hush.

There's a bill in the Senate that would render this process more transparent. But it can't be voted on yet. Why? Because it's been put on hold at the request of a senator. Which one? No one knows! It's an official secret!

These secrecy rules
Play us for fools.

Monday, August 28, 2006

All right, now we know. John Karr is not just creepy. He's a big liar too.

They ran his DNA.
He didn't kill JonBenet.

Please, just send him away.
I'm tired of seeing his creepy face
Plastered all over the place!
I did the Chicago Triathlon today.

When swimming in open water, I have a tendency to veer to the right. Having veered one way, I had to veer back the other. Repeatedly.

By the time I'm done, I get the extra benefit of exercising even more than required!

Lake Michigan
Is poorly designed.
Its bottom contains
No clear black lines.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Nominations Requested

Tomorrow morning, quite early, I have to drive downtown and wheel my bicycle and stuff to an aluminum rack on the lakefront. Thousands will be doing the same. Then we all have to leave the heavily-guarded corral by around 6 a.m.

Three hours later, I get to jump in the lake and start my swim.

So the question is, what to I do with those three hours? A nap would be logical. But I fear pre-race jitters will make this difficult.

Perhaps I need a really boring book -
One that will knock me out with just one look.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Needle Nosed Fliers

Good news, amigos!
I'm banning mosquitos.

No longer are they allowed
To form in a bloodsucking cloud.

No more shall they prey upon millions
Of innocent, juicy, civilians.

Begone, I say.
Hey - they're flying my way!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Live from the Harold Washington Library

I work across the street from Chicago's central library, and most days I spend about half of my lunch hour there. It's a "love it or hate it" building, of striking appearance and odd internal organization that baffles the first-time visitor.

From the outside
This library looks scary.
Gargoyle owls
Stare down from their aerie.

When you step inside
You feel confused.
You wonder whether
The architect snoozed.

But once you find
Those lovely books
You grab a few
And settle in a nook.

Your thoughts can fly
On their airy ways.
Be careful, or you'll
Stay all day!

Thanks to Ergo and Stolie for inspiring this post!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Serious Prisoner Abuse

Many years ago I read a book about the Spanish conquest of Mexico by a man who was there - Bernal Diaz del Castillo. In the book he vividly describes the Aztec upper class as eating captured Spanish prisoners.

But some people always figured he was lying, exaggerating, and generally trying to justify the conquistadors' obliteration of Aztec culture.

Hard evidence was lacking, but has now turned up. The hard evidence consists of human bones with knife marks and teeth marks.
"It was a continuous sacrifice over six months. While the prisoners were listening to their companions being sacrificed, the next ones were being selected," Martinez said, standing in his lab amid boxes of bones, some of young children.
It helps explain why the Spanish
Wanted this culture to vanish.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Overwhelmed by the Noumenal Realm

I was glancing into Timothy Steele's book about modern poetry at the library today, and I was struck by this passage:
Here it should be noted that the Kantian division of phenomena from noumena has had the effect of leading many poets to a concern with expressing the inexpressible. Extreme examples of this concern may be seen in the "sound poetry" of the Dadaists... Composition of this type does not refer to the phenomenal world, but is devoted wholly to noumenal essence.
Poems about
the inexpressable

Even when shouted
at high decibels

Tend to come out
"inaccessible."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Business Class To Jail Cell

Everyday
The case of JonBenet
Goes deeper into weird
Than even I had feared.

Perplexing Wanderers

Astronomers appear torn on what to do with the definition of "planet." The issue is raised by the discovery of a lot of little Pluto-like spheres in orbits past Pluto. It seems they must decide between:

a) all these little Pluto-like things are planets, including Pluto, naturally, but also including Pluto's moon, Charon. The number of planets jumps dramatically from 9 to lots more, with more to be discovered shortly.

b) they aren't exactly planets, they're dwarf planets, or "plutons" or something. The number of true planets drops from 9 to 8.

Either way, expect some major textbook revision!

Where shall they draw the line?
When it comes time to define
And everyone has voted
Will Pluto be demoted?

By the way, depending on how they decide, this guy is going to be either very busy, or very embarassed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Busta Rhymes Arrested

Busta Rhymes, noted rapper, has been arrested on assault charges.

No real details are available yet.

But I think it's clear he musta
Decided it was time
To just let loose and busta
Face instead of a rhyme.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

On the Trail

I spent part of my afternoon on a funny bike trail that runs between parallel canals, one defunct, one still in use. What's more, a river also runs parallel to the 2 canals. You can see this odd arrangement here.

The bike path is on the old towpath - where mules once walked alongside the canal, pulling the barges by long ropes.

The little strip has a "land that time forgot" feeling, and you can almost imagine the mules digging their hooves into the ground to heave that barge forward.

A fan of industrial history,
I find it oddly cool
To pedal along a path
Designed for mules.