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.


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

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


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.