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

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


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.


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


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.