Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Commuter Train

Just the idea of laying steel track,
Evenly spaced, there and back,
Boggles the brain.

But then - to build a train?
That makes the laying
Of track... seem like mere playing.

Harnessing explosive forces
To outpull a thousand horses...
How exactly is that done?

I wonder whether I'm the only one
Who's awestruck, as we glide along the rails,
At just how rarely this thunder beast fails.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Living Cheaply

Now and then, friends tell me they would like to retire to another country, where they could live more cheaply. Mexico, for instance. Do you know what I always think?

As you get older, you tend to get sick.
Sooner or later you need a doc quick.
But the healthcare there
Gives me a scare.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tap Jamboree

My daughter and I attended a tap performance this afternoon.  We just watched the first half, when the professional dancers performed.  We didn't stay for the tip-top tap-school performances.

The pros were all excellent.  But... I wish they had danced to music more often.  There was a perfectly good jazz trio on stage, ready to play any standard on request.  But contemporary tap dancers seem to be in love with just dancing to their own percussion. 

I don't mind this in the middle of a performance, where they dance for a while on their own, then the music starts up again.  That has the effect of a drum solo, and I like it fine.

Tap without music is amazingly athletic
But strays from the aesthetic.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Symbolic Term Logic

I'm most of the way through George Englebretsen's Something to Reckon With: The Logic of Terms.  I hadn't read a book on logic for a while, but, sure enough, it has me thinking.

It's largely about Fred Sommers' system of symbolizing Aristotelian logic, in which "Some dogs are black" is represented as:


And "all dogs are mammals" gets transcribed as:


You can then arrange this into a symbolic syllogism:


Yes indeed, some mammals are black.

It's actually a somewhat complicated system.  Well, any worthwhile system of logic has to be somewhat complicated.  I've read 2 books that went into it before.  One was Fred Sommers' original Logic and Natural Language.  That's out of print.  The other book was David Kelley's old version of The Art of Reasoning: Expanded Version with Symbolic Logic.  The current version, while an excellent book, no longer includes this positive and minus letters stuff.

Anyway, I think I've almost gotten it, finally.  I found it useful to refer back to David's discussion.  His is nicely compact.  He defines a "canonical form" for the method, and also includes helpful practice quizzes - with answers in the back!

The form that still has me thinking is the one for disjunction.  "All dogs are good or bad" becomes:


Kelley, at least, concedes this is a bit unwieldy.

While searching Amazon for the above links, I just found out there is a new (2005) book on the subject, an anthology, The Old New Logic, from MIT Press.  Very exciting.  I may understand this stuff yet.

All dogs certainly should
Be good.

But every dog I've had,
Was sometimes bad.

I won't try to turn this into abstract letters.
I'll just tell my dogs: Act better!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Laptop Happiness

My laptop has been fixed by some young men from the northwest corner of China. They now have a shop on the south side of Chicago, about a block from my house.

They figured out the memory had gone bad.

Immigrants may make some frown,
But I'm glad to live in a melting-pot town.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Dogs, outside in the dark,
Enthusiastically bark
At some mystery passerby
Indiscernible to my eye.

Rally for Danes in Pain

There's a rally tomorrow (Friday 2/24) in DC for a certain beleagured Nordic country.

It's strange that satirical pen marks
Made so much trouble for Denmark.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Causal Conundrum

A friend of ours from New York is in town for technical training, so we had him over for dinner. Afterwards we were talking about one of the paradoxes of Buddhism. On the one hand, Buddhism stresses individual experience. On the other hand, it holds that there is no real self.

So how do you get individual experience if there's no real self?

It's like getting milk from a cow
That's not really there anyhow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Still Getting Ready

If you happen to be in the Chicago area, the staged reading of my comedy-drama, Ready Or Not, is set for Sunday, March 5, 3:00 pm, at the Beverly Art Center, which is at 111th and Western, in Chicago.  There's no charge for admission.

On first nights, the author is traditionally drunk.  But at developmental staged readings, the author is supposed to be sober and studious, learning from the way the action plays and the way the audience reacts.

One tip I've read about the audience is this:  If they're quiet, that's a good thing - they're hanging on every word.  

On the other hand, if they rustling about restlessly, opening candy wrappers and clearing their throats, you've lost them.

For a comedies, of course, what's very much sought after
Is uproarious laughter.

Monday, February 20, 2006

President's Day

He was brave, bold, but supremely practical.  He was dignified and conscious of his own worth, but he did not reach for the trappings of kingly power, even when they were within his reach.  He was no great theoretician, but he loved liberty, and he did a great deal to insure its continuation in the 13 breakaway colonies of North America.  He was a slaveholder, but in the end he freed them.

In my calendar, it still says 
This is a day for only one:
The original Prez,
George Washington.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Marty Lewinter

Marty Lewinter, math professor, musician, poet and punster, gave a spellbinding rapidfire talk on the history of mathematics at our house last night.

He's the co-author of a The Saga of Mathematics: A Brief History.  One of the amazon.com reader reviews says "I finally understand math," which is amazing praise.  I haven't read the book yet, but Marty seems like the kind of math teacher everyone should have - enthusiastic and able to relate difficult mathematical concepts back to the real world and perceptual understanding.

Math can seem a cold, hard path,
Alien and aloof.

But when you grasp a proof,
The  numbers and the lines
Transform to something warm 
And glowing.

There's nothing more divine
Than really knowing.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

King Lear

I've read King Lear a couple of times, but I'd never seen it played before.  Last night I went to a community theater production.  

Stacy Schneider, who I know from work, had the villainous role of Goneril.

As you probably know, poor Lear has 3 daughters.  Two of them, Goneril and Regan, are toadying but bad.  The remaining daughter, Cordelia, is stiff-necked but good.  Lear's tragedy begins when he gives up his kingdom to the bad daughters, letting each of them have half.

When I've read the play, I've often have trouble distinguishing the 2 bad sisters.  But Stacy Schneider did a great job of individualizing her role.  Her Goneril was sure of herself, thoughtful, serious, and smooth.  She contrasted nicely with Allyson Kennis's flippant and trashy Regan.

Lies Lear.

Falsely flattered,
Rudely battered,
In the end, 
Shattered to bits.

So use your wits -
Don't give away all your stuff!
Keep enough to live.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Baring False Witness

An Orange County woman complains she has been raped at gunpoint by a gang of men.  The state gives her eighteen hundred dollars from a fund for rape victims.

Six men are charged.  But one of the men gives the police a videotape - which makes it abundantly clear that no coercion was involved in the encounter. 

Now the woman is being prosecuted.

If you're doing something consensual
But are worried about an eventual
False charge of rape...
Keep the tape.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Inside Job

We had an interesting jail break last week.  A guard let some prisoners stage an escape.  

Why?  Allegedly to embarass our county sheriff.

Why?  Allegedly to affect the upcoming sheriff's election.

I know there's dirty tricks
In politics,
But letting bad guys make a break
Takes the cake.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


We read Fontamara, Ignazio Silone's first novel, for our book club. What I liked about the book is the from-the-inside portrayal of Italian peasantry struggling to come to grips with the Fascist takeover of their country.

Silone himself came from such a background, and this was his first novel. His early relationship to socialism and fascism was "complicated." He was deeply involved in socialist politics, but was also secretly informing the fascists about socialist doings.

Anyway, it's not thrilling, but it's short, and somehow charmed me with peasants I probably wouldn't want be eager to spend time with in real life.

They were simple-minded,
But strangely shrewd.
Under the Fascists
Their world came unglued.


For our Valentine's date,
We ate rather late
At a place in The Heart of Italy.

Doesn't that neighborhood name work out prettily?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Notebook Transplant

My Dell notebook is still on the critical list. I'm pretty sure the motherboard is cracked back by the power jack. I can run it for a little while - on battery power only - and I have to be careful to keep the motherboard stable.

Not a good set-up for backing the data off the thing!

Fortunately, today I was able to take my hard drive out of my notebook, and stick it in another same-model notebook. This same-model notebook started up just fine with my hard drive in it, and I was able to back up my data to a USB hard drive.

One program noticed the transplant activity and complained. That was Norton Antivirus. It wanted to be reactivated across the internet or else it was going to refuse to work at all. So I turned it off for the duration of the transplant. Presumably this was some kind of anti-piracy feature.

One trouble with piracy is that it leads to all these pain-in-the-behind anti-piracy features!

The pirates are singing and drinking rum,
While I'm coping with features that leave me numb.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Thoughts on the Cartoon Controversy

In some ways this is a manufactured controversy, but the principle of the right to a free press is the most important thing at stake. This includes freedom from both government and vigilante assault.

Outraged Muslims ought not to kill, nor threaten to kill, moviemakers, novelists, and cartoonists. They should feel free to boycott the newspapers that publish the cartoons, to hold peaceful protests, and to write angry letters to editors.

If you don't want to get people mad, you have to be careful about making fun of their beliefs. If you do want to get people mad, it's pretty easy, because most people believe some pretty incredible things.

I want to say a word in favor of Muslims. I have known a fair number of them, and they seem to be largely reasonable people. Let it be said, they were American Muslims. They were committed to classic American values of free speech and civilized discussion. I recognize that the world's religions are not exactly equivalent, but Islam and Christianity and Judaism are all close relatives theologically. I don't think there is a special difficulty concerning Muslim beliefs.

I think the union of religion and state is an unholy marriage. Unfortunately, in most "Muslim countries" there is exactly such a union, with the state taking the form of a dictatorship, and with the established religion taking a fanatical bent. I would say there is something about such set-ups that seems to encourage religious fanaticism. Part of it might be that when your material opportunities are stifled, your thoughts may turn to mystical fantasies and dreams of revenge against enemies real or imagined.

It would certainly be great
If some of these places could separate
Mosque and state.

What Is Democracy?

Yaron Brook has written a letter to the editor (found on Noodlefood) which begins:

"President Bush has staked America's security on his policy of spreading 'democracy'--i.e., unlimited majority rule--throughout the Middle East."

Bush definitely has a lot riding on the spread of democracy. But is democracy truly "unlimited majority rule"?

It's the "unlimited" part that makes me wary.
Government without limits gets scary.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Ready Or Not Reading

It looks like we will do a staged reading of my play, "Ready Or Not," on the afternoon of Sunday, March 5, at the Beverly Art Center in Chicago. It's a free event, although there will be a cash bar. We've got a director, Joe Collins, and he's casting now.

I'm quite excited.
All readers of this blog are invited.

In a staged reading, the actors have the scripts in their hands, but they move around the stage act out most of the action. Typically they are not in costume, and they don't have a full set or properties. And the actors haven't polished their interpretations of the characters. So to enjoy a staged reading takes less imagination than just reading a play, but it still takes more imagination that seeing a finished production. We're doing this staged reading to see how the play "plays" and also to see how an audience reacts. There will be a discussion after the reading so audience members who want to can say what's on their minds.

Here's a spoiler-lite summary of the play:

"Ready Or Not" is a full-length romantic comedy played on a single set – a suburban living room. The cast features two women and three men.

The play explores loyalty and betrayal, in business and in love, and the particular difficulty of finding your bearings when your world goes into a spin. Ed, a thirty-something businessman, returns home after a year in a Mexican jail, on charges of bribing a public official. Ed looks forward to a warm welcome from his wife and his company. Accompanying him on the trip back is a younger Mexican woman with an agenda of her own. He finds, to his shock, that his wife means to leave him for one of his co-workers who has introduced her to the pleasures of opera. On top of that, Ed’s boss has no intention of letting Ed return to work. But Ed has a secret, and once it comes out a cascade of confrontation and revelation follow.

Ed, earnest and glad to be out of jail
Susan, his wife, not so glad to see him
Kyle, his coworker and not-so-good friend
Norma, a young woman from Mexico
Mr. Thompson, a boss who is all business

La Bella Vita

Tonight I saw La Bella Vita, a comedic play set entirely in the backroom of a fancy Italian restaurant. The story focused on the characters, lives, and somewhat flitting loves of the 20-something waitstaff.

There's much rushing about as the characters philosophize about love and sex and life. The title, Italian for "The Beautiful Life," is obviously ironic, since these are rather messy lives. But the characters were young and energetic and the play ends on a hopeful note.

But it's not clear whether
They'll get their acts together.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I saw the announcement on a bulletin board.

At Northwestern University, there was to be a showing of The Fountainhead, a movie I had never seen.

On the appointed February night, I rode the "L" out to Evanston and found the right building.

After the film, I went to the discussion in the cafeteria.

There was a particular girl there who caught my attention. I thought she was intelligent and attractive, and I felt there was "something about her."

33 years ago, upon this date,
I met my mate.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Someone Squealed

It has been widely reported that three of the most insulting cartoons inflaming the mobs were not really in the Danish newspaper. They were mysteriously added to the collection that the mob leaders were passing around.

One of them purportedly showed the Prophet as a pig.

Now it appears, this particular "cartoon" wasn't even a cartoon! It was a photo of some guy from a French pig-squealing contest!

If a French guy wants to dress up like a pig and squeal,
It's no big deal!

Who Needs to Concede?

Does conceding keep mobs at bay?
I've noticed it has a way
Of stirring up more
Wrath at your door.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm posting this from my old Win98 desktop because my XP notebook is on the fritz. I'm pretty sure I know what the problem is - something called the power jack that is soldered to the motherboard. But I hate taking portables apart since they're so delicate, and from what I've read you have to take everything apart to get to this piece, and it's not like I'm handy with a soldering iron anyway.

On my wife's advice I looked up the warranty. Yep, 3 year warranty, expired in November 2005.

Hopefully someone else can revive
This beast once I backup the drive.

Monday, February 06, 2006

McCain Flames Obama

That's the Trib headline, anyway.

Here's the 2nd paragraph: 'In a flaming letter, McCain accuses Obama of “disingenuousness” for allegedly backing out of a commitment he made to McCain to participate in a bipartisan effort at lobbying reform.'


Maybe this counts as a flame attack in the Senate, and if you read McCain's whole letter it's definitely angry and sarcastic. But is this truly a flame?

It got kind of bitter
And snarky,
But never mentioned Hitler
Or his friends the Nazi party.

Qua flame,
It's lame.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cartoons Heard Round The World

We face once again the conflict between freedom of speech and the alleged right not to be offended.

There is an easy way, actually, not to be offended, and that is: Don't look at the offending material. That is the way freedom of speech works. I'm free to draw a cartoon, and you're free not to look at it!

But... no. There is a certain joy many people find in being offended. Righteous anger is often an enjoyable emotion, particularly for miserable people, particularly when experienced as part of a group that shares your rage.

Your lives on earth are hell?
Well, wave your knives and yell!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Gulag Drama

This afternoon I attended a reading of a play by Bill Rumbler. It was set mostly in a Siberian gulag prison in 1938.

The central character is a woman convicted of political crimes in one of the big Stalinist purges. She keeps telling herself, and anyone who will listen, that the charges against her were all a big mistake, and that soon she will be freed.

Then she hears a rumor that women who give birth in the gulag will be pardoned. From that rumor springs the central action of the play, which shows how people form relationships to fight dehumanization.

It was interesting seeing a play about the Soviets now, when the Soviet threat is no more. It felt a lot like seeing a play about the Nazis - like that play about Heidegger's love affair with Hannah Arendt. You see the sheer human suffering and self-delusion involved in living under totalitarianism.

I feel no regret
That the red sun has set
On the Soviet threat.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Teatro Luna

I went to see Teatro Luna's show: S-E-X-Oh!

That's a bilingual pun. Sex in Spanish is sexo. The performers claim that the Spanish version of the word sounds dirtier than the English version. What a difference an "o" makes!

The show was mostly English, with some Spanish here and there.

I heard
A few new words
I bet
I should forget.

It's an all-Latina ensemble. It's not a play, it's more like sketches based partly on the performers' real life histories in the area of sex, touching on topics like abortion, pregnancy, coming of age, etc. It's often quite funny. But it's sometimes sad or upsetting, too. The performances were vibrant and the audience ate it up.

Is an excellent show.

Waste Not

You know the vegans.
Now meet the freegans.
They dumpster dive for dumplings and dim-sum
Not because they're bums
But because they don't want to waste
Stuff that still has an okay taste.

If invited, I'll decline
To dine.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Inner Selves

The other day at work my friend said: "I think you have a very active inner teenager."

I replied: "Inner teenagers have very active inner two year olds."

I don't really buy this model of the psyche. But if you have inner selves of all ages, it must get awfully crowded in there.

To simplify the model we could assume a full system back-up is done every birthday.

Imagine - 53
Of me!
It's hard to believe my brain contains
Such wonderful redundancy.