Monday, December 31, 2007

On The Y Chromosome?

Instapundit reports on shocking news from the UK:
Playing with toy weapons helps the development of young boys, according to new Government advice to nurseries and playgroups.
Pacifist parents who try to ban weapon-like toys
Frequently find that their sons chase forbidden joys
Converting sticks into swords and legos to guns,
Pursuing their own ideas of solid fun.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

That's Beignet To You, Buster

New Orleans: a strange place where
They make their donuts square.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

High Stakes

Deb at Mariposario writes:
I am so afraid that without Bhutto's restraining sobriety, that part of the world will begin (or accelerate, depending on your perspective) a terrible downward spiral. What chance do all of the oppressed women in the Islamic nations have now? (I'm sure many of them are getting the message: Take off the chador, babe, and you'll just SEE what happens to you.)

I want to go back to yesterday.

Rather than persuade you on "the error of your ways"
They terrorize your days.


I see where Benazir Bhutto's 19 year old son, Bilawal, may take over the "leader of the party" role.

That will make three generations of Bhuttos at the head of the Pakistan People's Party. This kid's grandfather was hanged, and his mother was assassinated. So I think it's a gutsy move if he decides to fill their shoes.

Our politics are tame
Compared to that deadly game.

It does seem odd that the same family keeps heading up the party. Or does it? If Hillary's elected we'll be in full alternating Bush-Clinton dynasty mode!

Now I'm inspired to push
To nominate Jenna Bush.

Then we might as well see
What it's like to be governed by Chelsea.

Brunching in New Orleans

I had the opportunity to meet and share a meal with John Landrum today. He's the engaging author of The Jonkheer's Wife.

I reviewed the book for The New Individualist. It's in the latest issue. I hear they did their usual great job with the visual layout, adding photos of Holland to jazz up my prose.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen the issue yet. Probably that's because of my local post office. What I have seen is this scary picture of the cover, featuring a 1970's horror flick version of "The Abominable Dr. Paul". (Compare to original here.)

I was glad to hear John's thinking of writing a sequel,
Even though the original will be tough to equal.

The Slightest Philosophy

I've been reading The Slightest Philosophy, by Quee Nelson. It's a fascinating defense of what she calls "naive realism" in philosophy. In other words, she maintains that when you see an apple, you actually see a real apple that is out in the world. Probably this sounds non-controversial to most of you, but it's certainly controversial in philosophy, and she tackles the issue head-on.

Most of the book takes the form of a dialog between a philosophy professor and a student. As philosophy books go, it's really easy to read. What's more it's witty, and I keep finding myself in agreement with the author.

I found out about the book only because the estimable Stephen Hicks gave it a good review.

I was pleased that Nelson had some kind words for Thomas Reid, the Scottish philosopher of common sense. I've long been a big fan. I think his criticisms of Hume had real merit. But hardly anyone seems to have read him, so I never get a chance to talk about him with anybody!

"I saw an apple."
That's what I said.
Could it have been
A mere patch of red?

I tasted the apple,
I bit through its peel.
Could it be true
That it's not really real?

I tossed the apple
In the sky.
Doubt its existence?
Please tell me why.

UPDATE: After I finished reading the book, I published an extended rave review here on The Atlasphere.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Robot Romance

You've probably seen the prediction that humans will soon be marrying robots:
"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience.
Of course, there's already a scary warning video about dating robots. But warning videos are usually worthless, so I figure robot relationships are practically a done deal.

I just want to know whether it will be a relationship of equals.

If you were a robot
And I was flesh
And our glances met
And our bodies meshed -

Would it be all right?
Could you ever feel
That a beating heart
Was a match for steel?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Spirits of the Season

I miss the ghosts of Christmas past,
The faces long since gone who graced
This festival with their presence.

I shall not name them, but they come,
Marching toward me, one by one,
With memories of fond moments.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Puppy for Christmas

Okay, he wasn't really a puppy. But he was small and frisky. He followed me home. At one in the morning! Well, I was out walking my own dogs, and he seemed to want to play with my dogs.

He was quite cute, but he looked cold. I hadn't seen him around before. So I let him in, and I called the phone number on his heart-shaped tag, hoping someone was awake at his house.

The lady on the phone was quite happy to hear from me. It seems he had escaped when "Santa" arrived at their house several hours before. She drove over to pick him up right away. He was glad to see her. She was even gladder to see him.

Thus ends the wagging tale of a hound
Who once was lost but now is found.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Good Will's Limiting Case

Actor Will Smith is spreading good will toward all, including his belief that Adolf Hitler wasn't completely bad.

Strangely, the "Hitler was a good person" quote never appears in the stories themselves - only in the headlines. So I figure he didn't actually say that in those words. Just like Gerald Ford never actually said "Drop Dead" to New York City.

Headline writers somehow get a pass
To misquote you to sound like an ass.

Here's part of what Smith apparently did say:
"Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'let me do the most evil thing I can do today'," said Will. "I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good'. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.
Some of that's true. But I don't believe that Hitler really thought he was doing good.

Also, he didn't need reprogramming. He needed killing.

Monsters on a psycho path,
Need to be met with righteous wrath.

UPDATE: Smith says the reporter / was a distorter:
"It is an awful and disgusting lie. It speaks to the dangerous power of an ignorant person with a pen. I am incensed and infuriated to have to respond to such ludicrous misinterpretation. Adolph Hitler was a vile, heinous, vicious killer responsible for one of the greatest acts of evil committed on this planet."
To me it sounds like he's not denying the quotation, just the media interpretation that "Hitler was a good person."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Three Days of Partying

Well, the 3 days of family partying has begun. Tonight it was our house, 17 people chowing down on lasagna and ice cream pie.

Tomorrow, at my Dad's, pizza and a liver sausage ball and jam cookies for Christmas Eve. That'll be the really crowded event.

Tomorrow++, roast beef and pumpkin pie, again at my Dad's.

When it's done
I'll weigh a ton.

Holiday Wishes for Suicide Bombers

Msnbc's front page, for the moment, claims to have an "interview with a suicide bomber."

I don't think so. Unless they managed Dante's trick and took the trip to hell.

Sure enough, it's just front-page hype. When you click through it's "would be suicide bomber" in the text.

Oh, fevered nuts,
May you splatter your guts
In a practice gone wrong,

Gathered with friends
Who at last meet their ends
In a blast loud and strong.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taxes in Texas

It's that time of year.

"Brand new laws are coming to town!"

On January 1st, around the nation, statutes galore will deliver new restrictions and collect new taxes.

In Texas, they're taxing strip club visitors, at $5 per visit. To "help rape victims".
"This is an industry that largely employs women, and this gives them an opportunity to raise funds for a crime that affects women," said state Rep. Ellen Cohen, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the legislation.
No, Representative Cohen, you're not GIVING ANYTHING to ANYBODY involved in strip clubs. You're TAKING something from them.

Why must our "Representatives"
So often misrepresent?
Why must they torture language
To hide what their actions meant?

As for rape victims being women, of course that's the case we usually think of and worry about. But there are huge compounds around the country where men are routinely raped. Their cries are not heard. Their assailants are not charged. Authorities look the other way. Some of these rape-infested compounds are actually run by the state of Texas.

Of course, it's only fair.
There's a reason these men are there.
They did something bad.

So any hope they had
Of not being violated
Is vacated.

Friday, December 21, 2007


The Blenderman Video is a riot.

For some reason I had to update my install of QuickTime to get it to play right. At first I had sound but not video.

It must run a little longer than 10 minutes, because my screen saver, which turns on after 10 minutes, wrecked my first attempt to take in the final twist.

Despite all these obstacles, I persisted, and triumphed.

There is no greater splendor than
The spectacle of Blenderman!

I exaggerate? Perhaps I do.
But, really, truly, it's worth a view.

Sudden Substitute

I'd worn running shoes,
Rather than boots.
They looked funny, too,
With my red suit.

Someone got sick today -
That was the cause
Of my having to play
Santa Claus.

(Many pictures were taken with kids on my knee,
But none, so far, have been emailed to me.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Tranquility Myth

The W$J ran an op-ed called The Happiness Myth today.

The author, Steve Salerno, does a nice job ridiculing the "you can have whatever you imagine" way of thinking. But he seems a bit ambivalent about happiness itself. He ends this way:
My father didn't have it all, but I believe he was at peace with himself and the life he led. Shouldn't that be enough for any of us?
The elevation of "peace with yourself" to a supreme attainment is interesting, recalling Stoicism and Buddhism. It's a bit jarring to find in a business newspaper.

So much resignation is ugly to behold,
A bitter fruit that makes the spirit old.

Be wary of false peace
Where all dreams cease.


There's a group home in Massachusetts for troubled teens. Sometimes they get zapped with painful jolts for their trouble-making.

But one night a prank caller got the staff to zap a couple of teens repeatedly for doing... nothing.
The teens were awakened in the middle of the night and given the shock treatments, at times while their legs and arms were bound. One teen received 77 shocks and the other received 29. One boy was treated for two first-degree burns.
Now 7 people are fired for cooperating with the prank caller. It occurs to me that the whole thing is like a repeat of the notorious Milgram Experiment. I've heard that Milgram couldn't run his experiment under current ethical research rules. But pranksters don't worry too much about ethics.

Don't go along
When you know it's wrong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dry Runs in the Wetware

Karl Popper had this idea that life proceeds by trial and error. This includes one-celled organisms and plants. They "try" things and some of them are errors. Some of the errors are fatal.

But if you have a nervous system, you get to do dry-run trials - in the brain itself.

So you get to see ahead
Which choices will leave you dead.

But why call it trial and error?
I think it might be fairer
To call it trial and success.
It can seem slow
With lots of No-No,
But sometimes the answer is Yes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Special Delivery

I had known for a long time that my parents first met at a party. A Christmas party. Given by one of my mother's friends.

What I hadn't known until tonight was how my father got invited.

It turns out that he had a seasonal job with the post office. Delivering mail during the Christmas rush. One mail recipient was a young woman who was giving a party. She asked him if he would like to come.

Now that I have heard this tale
I vow to never again say "snail"
When speaking of the U.S. Mail.

I must admit that I feel retroactively nervous
To think my existence is owed to the Postal Service.

Concrete Bound

There's an ugly Christian Science church near the White House. Attendance is way down, upkeep is expensive, and the congregation would like to tear the monster down.

But, no. The D.C. Historic Preservation Board has decreed that it's a landmark, not to be torn down, nor altered much without permission.

Is this 1971 building a classic of some particular style? Oh yes. "Brutalism."

If someone wants to preserve a building, they should offer to pay for it and maintain it at their own expense. It's just plain brutal to take away the owners' actual property rights, leaving them with a worthless deed and a big white elephant on their hands.

Ugly in the making,
Brutal in the taking.
Forever shall it stand
By the government's demand.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Same Time Next Year

I was watching Same Time Next Year last night, sort of off and on, which was oddly appropriate, since the movie is about an adulterous couple who get together once a year - for many years. It's funny, moving, and a great gimmick.

I think it would be a lot funnier on stage, where it originally appeared, and where it was a huge hit. I kept noting gag lines that I was sure would have gotten a laugh with a New York theater audience. But humor that's hilarious on stage often falls flat on film or on the printed page. It's an interesting phenomenon. I don't quite understand it, although I have some feel for how to write this sort of thing.

Tales of adultery
And passionate cheaters,
Often run sultry,
But this one plays sweeter.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


We got a fair amount of white stuff. I think around 10 inches. I hope all the solstice-celebrators made it home safely.

One solstice-celebrator, who drove down from Wisconsin, just stayed here! Smart move.

I have now dug out 2 corner houses - mine and my father's. I mention the "corner" aspect just to indicate the excess sidewalk yardage.

The arrival of white flakes
Usually makes
It needful to shovel
Around my hovel.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

All Night Long

Students who pull all nighters have slightly worse grades than those who don't.

Look, as one who has been there, there's a reason you pull an all nighter - because you've slacked off the rest of the time!

But another study is needed. For those who have slacked off so far, and have an exam tomorrow, is an all nighter helpful?

And further - do some people have more "all nighter capacity" than others?

If you've procrastinated,
Then getting caffeinated
To cram for the exam
May be your last chance
To enhance and aid
Your grade.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thank You Senator Blutarsky

The Wall St. Journal quoted Animal House in their lead editorial today:

Otter: I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.
Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.

The point of the editorial is to complain that the Democrats in Congress have been engaging in futile gestures - and getting nothing done.

I read it, and grinned, and mumbled in shock:
We've stumbled into gridlock!

Perhaps we've missed out on some good new laws,
But I believe there's adequate cause
To think that most of them would have been bad.
So thanks for the fortunate year we've had!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Difficulties of Faith

In 1998, Huckabee signed a newspaper ad supporting a Baptist statement about marriage, which included this traditional gem:

"A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."

And he recently offered some unique commander-in-chief qualifications:

"These are people that want to kill us. It's a theocratic war. And I don't know if anybody fully understands that. I'm the only guy on that stage with a theology degree."

But despite bragging about that degree, he's refusing to release his old sermons.

The trouble with pulling ahead
Is that everyone starts reviewing
And satirically pooh-poohing
The stupid stuff you've said.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Twisted by Knaves

Old joke:
Girl: Do you like Kipling?
Boy: I don't know. I've never kippled.

But, seriously, thanks to faustin for alerting me to the fact that David Friedman was making some interesting posts about Kipling, right around the same time as I was posting about Kim, his most famous novel.

On the train ride home from book club I was thinking about the peculiar, evasive way that Kipling is usually attacked by critics. And then I saw what Friedman posted earlier today:
Kipling had a very high reputation, especially as a short story writer, early in his career, but fell out of critical favor later, I think mostly for bad reasons. Certainly he had politically unpopular views--but they weren't the views generally attributed to him.
I think that's 100% correct.

Kipling was a live-wire writer, charmingly readable, sharply observant, ready with ridicule for false pieties, equally ready with profound respect for what really works in this world. He wasn't so much an analytical type, but he was tremendously interested in clashes of culture, wherever they occurred. With all his love for other cultures, he repeatedly makes it vivid that Western culture is vastly superior at some things - things like technology and law. And that remains a strangely dangerous idea.

He remains a third rail to the Left,
With a kind of bug-zapper appeal,
For his ridicule leaves you bereft
Of your last multi-culti ideal.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Tomorrow at book club we discuss Kim, by Kipling.

Kim is an Irish orphan, born in India. He transgresses identity boundaries gleefully, pretending to be this or that caste or religion, blending in so well that even the wise are fooled.

Meanwhile, he helps a Tibetan Lama on a spiritual quest, and spies against the Russians for Her Majesty's government.

So, is he a lovable rascal, or a colonialist oppressor of The Other?

I must admit, I took great joy
In this simple complicated boy.

Unsolitary Solstice

Saturday evening we're having a Winter Solstice Party at our house in Chicago's charming Beverly Hills neighborhood.

Bring a cheap gift for the funny donor-guessing game. The gift should express a hidden feature of your own wonderful self.

It's not quite the solstice, Saturday,
But what does that matter, anyway?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who's Driving This Thing?

Uh oh. Some study claims that humans are evolving really fast... right now!

"Selective pressures are still at work; they just happen to be different than those faced by our distant ancestors."

Doesn't this sound... like something that could have unforeseen consequences?

I've got a resolution to adopt:
Human evolution must be stopped!

What is unplanned
Must be banned.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Some Say In Ice

For some reason, Russky climatologists seem to have missed the consensus memo. "They simply state that a new little ice age is imminent."

This is bad news for Chicago. We need all the warmth we can get. That's why I support Global Warming - for the sake of our local economy!

And for once I sympathize with the Russians. One serious ice age, and their country is kaput!

It's like the thermostat wars in office buildings. You can never get the temperature "just right" for everybody.

I decree the thermostat
Cannot change from where it's at.

At least, that's what I will decree
Once it's set to suit me.

(Yes, my icy heading arrives courtesy of Robert Frost.)

Democrats Keeping It Interesting

Obama and Oprah vs. Hillary and Bill!

It's like that Celebrity Death Match show.

Hillary has now brought her mother and daughter into the ring!

Now that we've got all these stars,
I think it's time to give away cars.

Friday, December 07, 2007

More Frosting!

My friend madbard seemed doubtful that Wikipedia was a reliable source for the real scoop on "Snowy Evening" by Frost.

Thus I forsook Wikipedia,
And took a look instead
At dead tree media.

You know, books. Ones that directly cited Frost's own views.

There are some indications the last line gave him trouble. Jay Panini writes: "The whole poem may have come to Frost in a flash, but he had great trouble with the last stanza. It was some time before he thought of solving the problem by simply repeating the last line." (p 209) Jeffrey Cramer says: "on the ending of the poem, Frost confessed that he had written the third line of the last stanza in a way that called for another stanza. Frost didn't want another and then was struck with the idea to repeat the line to close the poem." (p 79)

From Louis Mertins we have this quote about how the poem was composed:
"As I remember it, 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' was written in just about that way, after I had been working all night long on 'New Hampshire.' But I must admit, it was written in a few minutes without any strain.
Critics think I had that sort of all-night struggle before I could write the little poem I'm talking about. They must have heard me say, sometime or other, years back, that I wrote all night, in connection with 'Stopping by Woods.' But the thing I worked on all night had no struggle in it at all. It's in print, called 'New Hampshire.'. . .Then, having finished 'New Hampshire,' I went outdoors, got out sideways and didn't disturb anybody in the house, and about nine or ten o'clock went back in and wrote the piece about the snowy evening and the little horse as if I'd had an hallucination--little hallucination--the one critics write about occasionally. You can't trust these fellows who write what made a poet write what he wrote. We all of us read our pet theories into a poem." (Quoted in full by Cramer, p 77)
Daniel Smythe quotes Frost on complicated interpretations:
This is the one that gets into the anthologies more than any other. The greatest danger is that your mind will get too busy over a poem. You don't have to get busy at all - just let it alone. On the whole, it's kind of fun. You don't go to the circus to make a lot of discussion - you go to gape. There is nothing hard in that poem, but there is a busy-mindedness that makes people want to know about a little thing like that. What is there to know about it? Somebody wants to know what his name was. Will the woods really fill up? That is the way they treat it. They they write, 'Who was that going home that way at night?' Their teacher puts them up to it. (p 57)
Reginald Cooke has a transcription of Frost responding to deathly interpretations:
I believe Ciardi and others have said- some people have said - it's a suicide poem. That's going some. But he thinks it's a death poem. And you can see how you could say: "Life is lovely, dark and deep." See. "But I have promises to keep. I have heaven to go to, you know." Like that. You could do that. That analogy's in it. Many others. You say, just as I could right now: this is a lovely dark and dep situation, but I've got something [else], I ought to teach a class tomorrow, or something like that. Promises to keep. Company of an evening. One o'clock in the morning - two o'clock. An appropriate thing to say - that stanza is lovely, dark and deep, but I've got to be getting along. And it doesn't mean that you're going to do anything bad. Sounds rather good to me. I can see that someone might turn it the other way, like the old saying, "I used to be afraid to go home inthe dark, but now I'm afraid to go home at all." [Laughter] They think it's like that. And all this metaphorical play and all! (p 123)
Of course, this just addresses
The question of what the poet confesses
Consciously about his work.

Maybe hidden meanings lurk
That he won't admit or doesn't know
Deep in the drift of falling snow.

But I've already written too much, I fear,
So I'm "Stopping" here.

Competitive Interpretations

Over at Rational Jenn my name came up in the comments in a discussion about Robert Frost's famous poem, Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening.

One person believes the poem is about death. The other person (a friend of mine) doesn't see that.

I want to say something about that, but first I just want to pause and make an ooh and an ahh about how beautiful this poem is and how great it sounds.

That out of the way, I agree with my friend that the poem isn't obviously about death. It seems to me it's more about: a hard dedicated journey with beauty along the way.

I know that "sleep" is often a metaphor for death, and that "winter" is often a metaphor for dying, and ditto for "night," but I think you have to be careful about assuming that Frost is following that particular strategy. I'm sure you can make a case for it, and English teachers often do, but I think their students often resist this reading for a reason - namely that the poem makes sense without that interpretive overlay.

Frost, himself, for what it's worth, disclaimed the "temptation of death" reading.

Amazingly, Wikipedia reports that the poem was written in a few minutes, and that Frost claimed "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."

O Muse,
I promise that I will not refuse,
Such hallucinations as you choose
To send my way.

Let's see, how about "Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Day"?
Oops. Possible copyright violation. Not okay.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bush Hatred

Joshua Zader wrote an insightful reply recently on Bush Hatred. He tackled it in a kindly, reasonable fashion, for which I admire him.
You are no doubt right that Bush’s stature and power cause him to be hated (or loved) more than we would an ordinary man. And yet, on some level, does our integrity not require that we judge him by the same human considerations that we would judge a relative or neighbor or acquaintance?
I think this can be a hard perspective to maintain, especially when one's hopes and fears are tied up in some politician's performance.

I'm not saying 'do not judge'. Go ahead and judge!

But look at them squarely,
And judge them fairly.

On a somewhat related topic, I recently mentioned somewhere that Republicans tended to disgust me more than Democrats. Someone asked me why that was. The short answer is that I get disgusted when someone like Bush talks up the free market and then passes more entitlement giveaways (like Medicare Part D).

When supposed free marketers go flip flop
I feel my stomach drop.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sean Taylor, Murdered By Burglars

Leonard Pitts, a black columnist, has an article lamenting the murder of Sean Taylor.
And this is how we die. We die in profligate numbers. Just under 15,000 Americans were murdered in 2006. Roughly half of them -- 7,421 -- were black. African-Americans are 12 percent of the nation's population.
It's a terrible problem. As Pitts indicates, it's mostly black-on-black crime. He wonders why we haven't had a government task force on the topic. It's a good question.

Is the topic somehow taboo?
Or does everyone just lack a clue
About what the heck to do?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Planet Splitsville

Divorce causes global warming!

I have a solution: Offsets.

If you divorce, you must foot the bill
For a wedding ceremony in Brazil.

Boiler Trial And Error

Marsha called me at work to say she'd had to turn our steam boiler off, because it didn't have enough water in it. Not good. It's frozen outside.

Our boiler guy told her over the phone to let it cool down and then put some more water in, but she wasn't sure how. The diagram that came with the boiler was cryptic to the amateur.

I figured it out by studying the pipes. There was some trial and error involved. First I OVER filled the boiler. Then I drained it completely. Finally I got it to the desirable half-way mark on the site glass. I turned it on again. So far so good. It's warm in here again.

Hurray, we have heat for the night.
Half empty, half full, just right.

Voting For Elections

Thank you, people of Venezuela, for not giving this guy a guaranteed job as boss-for-life.

Taste, Chavez, this bitter cup.
Now... if you'd only shut up!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

One Down, More To Go

Rome's chief of parking has been fired.

He got photographed using a handicapped sticker that belonged to an 86 year old woman.

It warms my heart,
But it's only a start.

This is just small-time corruption. There are some big-time types, in today's election news, who I hope have it coming someday.

Chavez and Putin
Badly need bootin'.

Currency Paradox

Airbus says its very existence is threatened by the low U.S. dollar.

American airplanes must now look like low-priced bargains on the world market.

The way the dollar's going
Is bad for vacations in France.

But the folks at Boeing
Are doing a victory dance.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

At The North Pole Re-Education Camp

The language police and the weight police are out to reform Santa:
Newspapers abroad have been filled with headlines bemoaning the plight of Australian Santas ordered not to say “ho, ho, ho” for fear of offending women or scaring children, and British Santas sent to boot camp to lose weight.
And our own acting Surgeon General is getting in the act:
“It is really important that the people who kids look up to as role models are in good shape, eating well and getting exercise. It is absolutely critical.”
Is it really critical
Or maybe just political?

Ho Ho Ho
Santa's got to go!

We'll replace him with someone cautious and thin
Who checks out exactly what subgroup you're in
And changes his language to never offend
But when he goes back up the chimney again
He'll leave you no gifts - they're materialistic!
And circling the globe is imperialistic!
So he'll sit at home and just send out emails
Careful to never write "Ho ho!" to females.

Unbearable Insult

This nice British lady, Gillian Gibbons, was teaching school in Sudan. She had a name-the-teddy-bear vote in her classroom. The kids voted to name the bear... Muhammad.

So now she's in jail, serving a 15 day sentence for insulting Islam.

Wait. Can I sentence the judges to jail for insulting my intelligence?
In Sudan on Friday, thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of Gibbons and demanded her execution.
Sudan's top clerics said in a statement Wednesday that the full measure of the law should be applied against Gibbons, calling the incident part of a broader Western "plot" against Islam.
Hatred on the streets!
It must be a plot
To make a religion of peace
Seem like it's not.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Shelley's First Cause

In The New Individualist's latest issue, which is not yet available online, Roger Donway goes after Shelley's knowledge of theology:
His youthful essay The Necessity of Atheism, which got him expelled from Oxford, was simply an outpouring of ignorance. For instance, it presumed that the First Cause argument is designed to prove that the universe had a temporal beginning, which is just a mistake.
I think Donway's wrong about this. You'll note he doesn't actually sketch out the first cause argument, nor does he quote from Shelley's essay.

Well, I went to a Jesuit high school. So I know the first cause argument, a.k.a. the cosmological argument, has a history, and multiple versions.

The legendary first cause
Pops up in Plato's Laws.

Then it takes off full throttle
In two works by Aristotle.

But perhaps it shows its finest
In 4 "proofs" from Thomas Aquinas.

If we only look at these 3 guys, Donway is right. They don't attempt to prove the Universe had a beginning in time. They try to prove that God exists, but they don't try to prove he created everything.

But it was against the Creator that Shelley was actually arguing:
There Is No God. This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.
So Shelley attacks a version of The Argument which tries to prove temporal beginning for the Universe.

Did Shelley create this version ex nihilo? No:
The mutakallimūm, theologians who used reason and argumentation to support their revealed Islamic beliefs, developed the temporal version of the argument from the impossibility of an infinite regress, known as the kalām argument. For example, al-Ghāzāli (1058-1111) argued that everything that begins to exist requires a cause of its beginning. The world is composed of temporal phenomena preceded by other temporally ordered phenomena. Since such a series of temporal phenomena cannot continue to infinity, the world must have had a beginning and a cause of its existence, namely, God (Craig 1979, part 1). This version of the argument enters the Christian tradition through Bonaventure (1221-74) in his Sentences (II Sent. D.1,p.1,a.1,q.2).
Good golly,
They credit al-Ghāzāli.

I'm not saying Shelley read Bonaventure, but it's pretty clear he had been reading Hume, and Hume argues in particular against a temporal version of The Argument:
Add to this, that in tracing an eternal succession of objects, it seems absurd to enquire for a general cause or first author. How can any thing, that exists from eternity, have a cause, since that relation implies a priority in time, and a beginning of existence?
In such a chain, too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. (Dialogues on Natural Religion Section 190)
To those who have followed this far -
What brave fellows you are!

So here, at last, is what Shelley had to say:
It is urged that man knows that whatever is must either have had a beginning, or have existed from all eternity, he also knows that whatever is not eternal must have had a cause. When this reasoning is applied to the universe, it is necessary to prove that it was created: until that is clearly demonstrated we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all eternity.
I conclude that he made no such bonehead mistake.
He refuted one version. So give him a break!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stunning Complaint

The UN "anti-torture committee" doesn't like Tasers. The only thing is... what are the alternatives exactly, when someone is resisting arrest?

Clubbing, tackling, grappling, shooting.

The United Nations may be amazed,
But I'd just as soon be Tased.

Barrelling Along

Is this Stacy Peterson disappearance mystery about to break? The Trib says:
After allegedly helping Drew Peterson haul a large container that was warm to the touch from a bedroom, a male relative of the former Bolingbrook police sergeant told a friend Oct. 28 that he was afraid he had just helped Peterson dispose of the body of his wife, Stacy Peterson, a source close to the investigation said.
But the Sun-Times says:
Prosecutors have not called Morphey to testify before a grand jury examining the 23-year-old woman's disappearance because he has "memory lapses" about loading the barrel into Peterson's GMC Yukon Denali, the source said.
This story just won't let up.

Are these spotty, mysterious memory lapses,
A knotty problem with the man's synapses?

Or is one sometimes better off forgetting -
Avoiding confessing to aiding and abetting?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Left Brain, Right Brain

Suppose you need brain surgery. Not good.

Now suppose the doctors operate on the wrong side of your brain. Double not good.

So if you need brain surgery, be careful about Rhode Island Hospital. They've had 3 operations this year where neurosurgeons got their left and right mixed up.
"We are extremely concerned about this continuing pattern," Director of Health David R. Gifford said in a written statement.
Concerned. Good.

In the mean time, if you opt for brain surgery at this institution, I do have a suggestion:

Write with magic marker on your head,
"Open This Side Only" - or you just might wake up dead.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

From Rioting To Quieting?

There has been a steady stream of new stories, from the Chi-town Trib to the NY Times, about life being better lately in Iraq.

I have no special reason to care about the Iraqis, but I know some young men over there, so I hope the stories are true.

I remain amused by the people who confidently declared that "the surge" couldn't possibly work. I wonder what they will say if we somehow... sorta kinda... win.

I will give them a written excuse if they have actually studied counter-insurgency. Everybody makes mistakes. It's the people with no military knowledge, but who were making military predictions, that I feel bad for.

They gave into the urge
To condemn the hopeless surge,
But might it now emerge
As successful?

How stressful.

Socked by SOX

Congress doesn't want to change the Sarbanes-Oxley law. Folks in London will be glad to hear it.
Financial chiefs in London have pointed to the booming public offering business and the omnipresent construction cranes in the financial district, calling their industry “the house that Sarbanes-Oxley built.”
Sarbanes and Oxley,
Wrote their law foxily
Crippling their target:
The U.S. stock market.

Earning the thanks
Of big London banks.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Pearl Poet

There's a funny old term for alliteration: head rhyme. The Old English poetry relied on head rhyme for it's most striking effect. During the time of Middle English, a transition occurred to "normal" rhyme. There were actually some transitional poems, including "The Pearl," which uses both techniques at once:
Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere,
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
Tolkien rendered it this way:
Pearl of delight that a prince doth please
To grace in gold enclosed so clear
I vow that from over orient seas
Never proved I any in price her peer.
Another transitional poem, probably by the same author, is "Sir Gawain and The Green Knight." Here, the main narrative is head rhyme, but each verse paragraph is ended with a quatrain in end rhyme.

Challenging was this change in chime.
Gallantly, he got along with the game,
Switching from starting the sounds the same
To rendering the rear in rhyme.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What's Hwaet

Saw Beowulf.

As some critic already rhymed about seeing it 3D at the Imax theater, it was: eye-popping and jaw-dropping.

They reworked the story a lot from the original Old English epic. Which was a good idea.

Beowulf boldly bursts through the screen
Landing in your laps while you lap up the action.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Preaching in Place

My wife and daughter attended the Thanksgiving ceremony at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. That's Rockefeller as in John D.

They went to hear the performance of the Chicago Children's Choir. My daughter used to sing with them. Their performance, I'm told, was excellent.

Not so excellent was the chief sermonizer. He advocated moving beyond hybrid cars, and just staying in place and enjoying your community.

Who needs a car?
Just stay where you are!

You'll soon be feeling noble
If you keep yourself immobile.

A small exception can be made
To march in the Earth Day parade.

But here's what I find ironically funny:
That chapel was built with oil money.

Snow Thank You

With yellow leaves still hanging on the maples,
The snow is whirling down with giant flakes.

So beautiful. Who cares what mess it makes?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Paltry Poultry

Gobblin', quackin', and cluckin' -
It takes 3 birds to make a turducken.

Gassing Up

Today I'm feeling especially thankful
For gas at fifty dollars a tankful.

You may think my judgment has blundered,
But in Europe it's easily over a hundred.

Of course, it's their taxes that give the big bump
And drive their prices up at the pump.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Seasonal Affective Disorder Strikes Again

I'm feeling sort of surly -
Why is it dark so early?

Why was this planet built
With its axis on a tilt?

Is there a solid reason
For this constant change of season?

Really, I'm way into summer,
But winter's a bit of a bummer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Descended From Survivors

I'm not a big Giulani fan. But I liked this:
Do we think our parents and our grandparents and our great grandparents didn't live in danger and didn't have difficult problems? Do we think the Second World War was less difficult that our struggle with Islamic terrorism? Do we think that the Great Depression was a less difficult economic struggle for people to face than the struggles we're facing now? Have we entirely lost perspective of the great challenges America has faced in the past and has been able to overcome and overcome brilliantly? I think sometimes we have lost that perspective.
Amen to that.

Don't assume
That current doom
Somehow outdoes
What already was.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Me, Thee, and the UCC

At one point in last night's discussion, I compared state laws about marriage to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).

A friend commented afterward: "how romantic -- JE really knows how to sweet talk!"

Perhaps I should write an ode
To our great Commercial Code.

Of course, people routinely talk about "the marriage contract." And psychologists frequently talk about the need for couples to "negotiate fairly." And Objectivists always talk about romantic relationships being based on "trading value for value."

Whether quirky or Uniform,
Marriage works to keep hearts warm.

More Fire on Amazon

My recent (since '94) collection, More Fire and Other Poems, is now available on Amazon.

Many of the poems appeared here first. I published through, so I didn't really have to spend any serious money.

And I'm not stuck with giant piles of physical books to unload. I just read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a guy whose garage was packed full of skids of his wife's book. See article and picture here. I cannot afford to be that guy.

I need the garage to keep my car.
There's "No Parking" where we are.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Sacrament of the Last Supper, Sonnetized

There's a big painting by Salvador Dali, called The Sacrament Of The Last Supper, that hangs in the National Gallery in DC. While popular, it has always remained controversial.

My theory: Dali was a big critical hit until he started doing paintings that were properly proportioned and pretty.

Paul Tillich, the famous German theologian, intensely disliked it. Michael Anthony Novak, a theologian from Marquette University, defends it in a pdf here.

I've admired it for a long time. I like a lot of Dali's more realistic-looking paintings, but this is my favorite. I even like it better than his hypercube crucifixion, which I like very much.

I wrote a sonnet years ago about the hypercube crucifixion, and I have tried, in the past, to write one about this last supper painting. But it has tripped me up, perhaps because of its mysterious air. I was unhappy with my results. But, having seen the painting in person again, last month, I have dared a new attempt.

The other heads are bowed, but his is not.
He seems immune to what has humbled them.
Glimpsing the darkness, seeing through the plot,
He beams with light, transparent as a gem.

Behind him, rocks and sea. Before, red wine
And broken bread. He casts a shadow far
Into the future. Some obscure design
Surrounds them; something hovers where they are.

For me it is his face that makes the painting.
He wonders at the beauty of the world.
The petals of his inner rose unfurl.
There will be time enough for fateful straining.

He contemplates beneath a glowing sky.
I search for words and worship with my eye.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Shelley Gets Shellaced

After they were done
Kicking Edgar Allen Poe,
They had a bit of fun
Giving Percy Bysshe a go.

Tiny Dancer

Thanks to the illustrious and industrious Ergo for posting about this fascinating optical illusion of a nude woman spinning.

Clock or counter, whichever -wise!
It's in your brain but not your eyes.

Noodle Power

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is starting to show up on the academic menu.

The Pastafarian cult
Has reason to exult!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marriage, Inc.

kraorh commented that "of course [marriage] should be privatized!"

So I'll take the opposing position.

But before I can do that, we need to define what "privatized" means. I take it to mean that the 50 states would stop licensing marriages. I also take it to mean that we would abolish the category of "common law" marriage - which still exists in some states.

People could still have church wedding ceremonies, or whatever kind of ceremonies they wanted. No one wants to interfere with that.

But couples would just have to agree among themselves what kind of agreement they had with each other. They could just have a verbal agreement, or they could have something formal written up and witnessed.

As far as I can tell, the state gets out of the job of defining who is a spouse and who isn't.

So here are a few problems I propose off the top of my head:

1) The common-law right to not have to testify against a spouse seems to vanish, since spousehood is no longer a state defined category
2) Inheritance rules allocating a percentage to spouses (in the absence of a will) seem to vanish.
3) People who are already legally married, who had relied upon the legal institution, will suddenly find themselves... without a contract
4) There is little to be gained from privatizing, because through the proper use of prenuptial agreements one can already custom-tailor the marital agreement. What's more one can already "go private" with a long-term romantic relationship by formal agreements as to assets, terms, conditions, and penalties.
5) Children - a key "issue" in many marriages - are not parties to the contract, so the state will end up involved in custody disagreements anyway, looking out for the "best interests" of the kids.
6) When a (written or verbal) contract dispute arises, the state - or some arbitration board - will have to get involved anyway.

Privatize marriage? Many say yes.
But might it turn into an unholy mess?

Making Marriage Private?

This Saturday, at NIF, in chilly Chicago, we'll have a discussion on: Should marriage be privatized?

It's my question. I can argue it either way. But I'm not presenting an argument, just hosting an open discussion.

I even have a few subsidiary points and questions:

In our society we speak of marriage as a contract, but most U.S. marriages do not involve a written contract. Are custom pre-nup agreements unromantic? If a couple splits and children are involved, must the state be involved? If we privatize marriage, do we end the acrimonious debate over gay marriage? What are the practicalities, under current law, of not officializing your long term relationship?

Is private matrimony
Without ceremony
Somehow phony?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Making Free Speech Expensive

Indoctrinate U, the funny movie about campus correctness, is in some kind of legal trouble. According to their website:

"Due to threatened legal action from a major taxpayer-funded university, we've temporarily taken down the Indoctrinate U homepage while we assess our options."

If you don't like Indoctrinate U,
I'll tell you exactly what to do:
Just get out the government checkbook - and sue!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Vets Day

For those who've worn the uniform,
Officer or raw recruit,
I offer up a brief but warm
And deeply felt salute.


I chased the firetrucks on my bike.

By the time I left the fire was out. As far as I could tell, no one was hurt, which is good, because at one point the roof was swarming with firefighters while the fire still blazed on the 2nd floor.

Apparently no one was home.

It must be a hard to return to your house,
Only to learn it's been charred and doused.

Can I Have A Vowel?

I was always taught that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet.

Is that where "phonics" comes from? I guess not.

But today I read that the Phoenicians just invented the consonant alphabet. It was the Greeks who added vowels.

Th Grks wr frst rt.
Vwls r grt.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fun With Readability

I used this online test to see how I could make my prose sound more educated. Here is a record of my progress:

5th grade: "Readability tests? Use big words to get high scores."

7th grade: "If you want to get a high readability test score, you should use big words."

14th grade: "If your purpose is the attainment of a high readability score, a strategy of using big words is highly recommended."

Post-doctoral: "To facilitate the appearance of impenetrable readability, utilization of polysyllabic utterance is a manifestly successful strategy."

For reading scores with strength,
And to lose the common herd,
Always go for length -
Long sentences, long words!

Only those with college -
In the humanities -
Will have sufficient knowledge
To detect your inanities.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Elementary, Watson!

cash advance

That's how they rated it anyway. Jeez. I need to use more big words. Er, polysyllabic words that is.

It would have been even cooler
If they rated me pre-schooler.

Lutefisk Research

Somehow at work today the topic of lutefisk came up. It has been in the news here and there because this is the season for eating the stuff.

It's basically air-dried whitefish, prepared with lye. Which sounds not so good. In fact, it made this list of 6 most terrifying foods.

But I promised to ask our weekend house guests about it, since they grew up in Sweden.

The young lady wrinkled her nose and said she had never tried it. The young man said it was the traditional Christmas dinner at his parents' house, and that his mother had talked him into trying it a couple of times, but that he had no intention of trying it again.

So even in Sweden
Not many are eatin'
This scary dish
Of lye-soaked fish.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jimmy Carter, Cat Killer

Yes, the President who was attacked by a rabbit is reportedly also a cat killer.

He just meant to sting it... with a shotgun.

And he buried it with a prayer.

And he offered to get a replacement cat.

The cat belonged to his sister-in-law. No word yet on how she felt about all this.

Please Mr. Carter, stay away.
Let my cats live another day!

Unbearable Whimsicalness of Being

After finishing The Jonkheer's Wife, about the Nazi occupation of Holland, I'm now reading The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, about the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Well, both are about other stuff, too. On the whole I liked Jonkheer's Wife a lot better.

I know Unbearable is a modern classic, and it's keeping my interest, but I just find it depressing. Good thing it has a lot of sex in it. But even the sex is kind of depressing.

I'm sympathetic to Unbearable's whole anti-totalitarian thrust. And the writing is beautiful. But his characters seem so driven by chance and whim, making horrible decisions without giving adequate weight to the alternative futures they face.

Futures turn fearful and dim
When life is steered by whim.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Stretching Words

Had a substitute teacher in yoga class. Different style of yoga. And she was into the mantra thing.

Fortunately, there was still lots of stretching, which is what I show up for.

At the end she said, "Om. Shanti. Namaste."

I knew shanti (peace) and namaste (I bow to you), but it made me wonder what om was doing in the sentence. I thought it was just a special sound for meditating.

Nope. It's that and so much more. It's an overloaded word with more spiritual meaning than you can shake a stick at. Kind of like God and Spirit and Oneness, all rolled together.

Religious words turn blurry
In a hurry.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pack on those Pounds!

We've all been told how being even a little "overweight" is bad for you... Oops.
However, having a little extra weight actually seemed to help people survive some illnesses — results that baffled several leading health researchers.

“This is a very puzzling disconnect,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That is a conundrum.”
Pardon me. There's no real conundrum. There are just trade-offs. For some diseases, you're better off a little heavy. For other diseases, you're better off skinny as a rail.

Nature does not designate
A single optimum weight.

As for me...

I'm looking for a disease
Something from which I might die,
That will let me eat as I please,
Including big helpings of pie.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Self Hate Crimes

A GWU student has reportedly admitted drawing swastikas on her own door. She was caught on hidden camera.

Villains must be hissed;
Victims must be lamented.

Where hate crimes don't exist
They have to be invented.

(Jest stolen from Glenn Reynolds
Who borrowed it from Voltaire.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cabelas Store/Museum/Aquarium

We went to a grand opening of a new Cabelas store in Hammond, Indiana. It's a mega-store, with stunning museum-like features, all focused on hunting and fishing. They have other stores around the country, and they seem to be on an aggressive campaign to open more of them.

I don't hunt or fish, but the store was spectacular. It had an aquarium, a "gun library" of fancy and historical guns, and an endless parade of stuffed and mounted game - including an elephant from Zimbabwe.

My dogs are both part-labrador.
If they could talk, they would surely implore
That I should take them hunting for ducks.
But I don't hunt, so they're out of luck.

Eat the Runt

According to Chris Jones, theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, "Eat the Runt" is "one of the worst titles in the history of American theater."

But we thought "Eat the Runt" sounded like a hilarious title. So off we went. We laughed a lot. It's wild, and it has some major plot twists.

"Eat the Runt"
Features a stunt
Right up front.

The stunt is that the audience, by electronic voting, casts the parts of the script. For each part you assign an actor from the pool. Then you cast the next part from the remaining pool. Eventually one actor is left, with no designated part.

Each actor has to know all the lines, and all the movements, for every part!

The play is written in a unisex style, with unisex names. But the actors play their own genders, and races. So the dynamics of the performance vary widely. It's so novel that it's actually hard to describe.

We were surprised to find Ayn Rand coming under discussion in the play. I'm not really sure if the playwright likes her or not, but some funny pro and con things were said. It's another example of her becoming just another cultural icon that people are presumed to know about, at least in outline.

There was a presidential poll before we cast the actors, to test the electronic voting. We had a 3 way tie between Obama, Giulani, and None of The Above. I was happy to see my choice do so well.

The actual plot, by the way, is about an applicant for a job at a museum, and the intrigue that ensues. Its portrayal of museum management is highly irreverent.

So, to be blunt,
I liked "Eat the Runt".

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Looking Forward

It's "Fall Back" time this weekend. I'm happy with this part of the Daylight Savings Shuffle, because I support sleeping late.

But when "Spring Forward" rolls around again, I will not be so happy. Get up an hour earlier? Surely there's some mistake.

So I have a proposal for next Spring. Let's NOT do the whole one-hour change all at once. Let's ease into it - in 10 minute intervals.

So Saturday night we move the clock forward 10 minutes. Ditto Sunday night. And so on. On Thursday night we'll be done!

I admit that you'll spend more time changing the clock,
But I, for one, will avoid the rude shock
Of having to arise
Before the sleep has left my eyes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Seeking Fulfillment

Great headline from the Washington Post:

Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest

But... how could they fail to find fulfillment?

After years of amassing so many achievements, they struggle to find full-time employment with decent pay and realize they might not get exactly what they set out for.

What? They want decent pay? Does that really sound altruistic to you? Don't they know that there are people much worse off than themselves?

Maybe they should take a break,
And go into business, where they can make
A sizable stash
Of indecent cash.

Sacrifice Complete

My beloved writes:


The "Dan Ryan" is the stretch of Interstate 94 that runs down the spine of Chicago's South Side. For 2 years it has been clogged with renovation work.

No more. And Marsha is right to say "wide" open.

How did the traffic gods get so smart?
They added a lane to the crowdedest part.


At lunch I read the foreword to Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled. It's a delightful how-to book about poetic sound-effects. Very British. I hear it was a surprise bestseller in England.

He thinks people are actually somewhat afraid of learning about poetry:
It seems to many that while there is a clear road to learning music, gardening or watercolours, poetry lies in inaccessible marshland: no pathways, no signposts, just the skeletons of long-dead poets poking through the bog and the unedifying sight of living ones floundering about in apparent confusion and mutual enmity. Behind it all, the dread memory of classrooms swollen into a resentful silence while the English teacher invites us to 'respond' to a poem.
The worst thing about the "respond" request, for me, is that it's so vague. Spew something forth from your deepest soul? What if nothing much comes up?

The teacher says she wants
An honest aesthetic response,
But you know that "I don't care"
Is something you won't dare

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Personal Readings

There's an old 2-line poem I had remembered for years, the author and title forgotten. Past Googling had failed, but today it popped up. The poem was published in 1962. At that date, everyone knew this key piece of information: We sent chimps into space before we sent people.

Dawn of the Space Age, by John Ciardi

First a monkey, then a man,
Just the way the world began.

The poem is mentioned in an essay on poems about space exploration. It's buried deep in this pdf file from Nasa. The author of essay described the emotional tone of this couplet as "wry and cynical humor."

I agree there's humor, but I don't hear wry or cynical here. What I hear is a comparison of space flight with human evolution, and I find it inspiring. That's why I carried the couplet in memory all these years. Perhaps I'm reading more into it than the author intended. But I doubt Ciardi would have minded.

Within the bounds of reason
You make a poem your own,
Polishing the meaning
Like a stolen precious stone.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On Gossamer Wings

Pirates are popular this year among the trick-or-treaters, but not wildly so.

I was most impressed by a black girl who had black gossamer wings and a fuzzy black halo. She was a "black angel," she announced.

According to my metaphorical views,
Angels arrive in full range of hues.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dog Shoots Man

It happened in Iowa - a dog has shot a man. Fortunately, the man was just wounded in the leg.

As with many hunting accidents, it involved climbing a fence.

The man put his loaded-and-ready shotgun down on the ground and started climbing the fence. The dog stepped on the shotgun's trigger.


If you must leave a loaded gun within reach of a dog,
Aim it away from your leg - try a post or a log.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Call Me Crazy

"Because I'm crazy." That was the answer I recently gave a doctor who asked me why I had done a "full distance" triathlon. He was just curious, I think. Or maybe he wanted to make sure I didn't think it was a particularly healthy activity. My answer wasn't really serious. I do these things because I enjoy them, despite the difficulties involved. But that definitely puts me at the far tail of the exercise-distance bell curve.

I'm sure they exist, but I haven't met a doctor who would recommend 31 mile runs or 112 mile bike rides. Doctors tend to recommend much less extreme forms of exercise. They've got lots of studies proving that various levels of exercise are beneficial for various conditions. They figure that anything with the word "extreme" in it should be approached with caution.

Individual results do vary. There are people who live to 100, smoking and drinking and doing hardly any exercise. And there are teenage athletes struck down by heart problems during competition.

I have been involved in at least 4 races where someone died. 2 triathlons, 2 marathons. It's very sobering. They were very big events, which increases the odds, but still!

Earlier today, in a comment, I mentioned that I'm not an advocate of running for others. I'm not an opponent, either. I don't even tell people they should "get into shape" or "exercise more" or anything like that. I figure these are very individual decisions, with lots of factors involved. People have different bodies, different situations, different preferences.

There's a humorous saying: "Exercise. Eat right. Die anyway." This I believe.

I just find satisfaction
In certain forms of action.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What To Ban Next?

John Edwards' presidential campaign
Is currently circling the drain.

Meanwhile he's floating a plan
For a 2-year ban...

Personally, I could be tempted by a 2-year ban on new legislation from Congress. But that's not his target. His target is advertising for new drugs.
With such aggressive and often misleading drug company marketing, it's too easy for advertising — instead of doctors or proven results — to influence families' health decisions.
I like the way it's just "families" he's worried about. No point talking about "individuals' decisions", is there?

But after you get "influenced" (not "informed") by the ads, don't you still have to ask your doctor for a prescription? Doesn't he or she then have a chance to say NO, this drug isn't a good idea for you?

As for "proven results" - don't the drug companies spend billions proving these drugs work to the satisfaction of the FDA?

And isn't there a free speech issue here? Oh, wait, that's just for politicians, selling new laws. It doesn't apply to companies, selling new products!

Just kidding. As ReasonPharm puts it:
The fact is, it's the right of drugmakers to advertise their products using whatever non-fraudulent language they choose, and it's the right of consumers to buy those products if they like, without the control of a nanny state seeking to prevent "overuse" of drugs.
Finally, imagine that you have invented a new product that can save lives. Don't you think you have a right to tell people about it? If it's a life-saving product, wouldn't a 2-year ban mean more lost lives?

Such is the sad
But certain reality:
Moratoriums on drug ads
Cause more mortality.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Number Not A Name

I competed in, and completed, a 50k run today. That works out to 31 miles for those who, like me, are kilometer-challenged.

Actually, it was 3 races in one. A 50 miler. A 50k. And a marathon. You could tell who was who because we had different colored numbers pinned to our bodies.

I'm sore.

I've done this event twice before, and this was my best time so far: 6 hours, and 6 minutes.

It was in the 50s (F) and overcast and windy. Conditions must have been favorable, because a guy set the American record for 50 miles.

Because I'm too tired to come up with my own rhyme, I'll finish with a rhyme that was shouted to me on the course by a spectator. Her words were probably true when she uttered them, at mile 21. At mile 31, the story was different.

She addressed me by my race number:

You're looking great."

I replied, "Hey, that rhymes!", and she laughed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Idealizing Impulse

I was looking at The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller. I'm not wild about Miller, but he was a gifted craftsman, and I think he hit the ball out of the park with his play, The Crucible.

This general comment about drama, which occurs on page 84, jumped out at me:
It is as close to being a total art as the race has invented. It can tell, like science, what is-but more, it can tell what ought to be.
Emphasis mine. Miller is usually thought of as a naturalist, but here you can see his idealistic side coming out. Without that idealistic side, I don't think he would have kept all those theater seats filled all those years.

If you fall to mere reporting
In your play-writer position,
You'll soon see the crowd resorting
To fleeing at intermission.

Heartland Debate

We went to the Heartland Institute's Anniversary Dinner last night. Rather than polling you about what you wanted for dinner, they gave you a plate with beef AND fish AND lots of vegetables. It was a one-like plate smorgasbord.

The rhetorical centerpiece of the evening was a debate about Abraham Lincoln. Was he a friend of liberty, or a foe?

A celebrated Lincoln-basher was flown in to paint him as a slavery-favoring tyrant. But Illinois is the "Land of Lincoln", and it's really hard to get a crowd worked up into a pro-secession mood here. So Joe Morris, who took the "Abe was great" side of the debate, did a bit better with the crowd.

Lincoln had his flaws
And pushed some ugly laws,
But still I'll give him raves
For freeing the slaves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Whose Woods These Are

The Chicago Tribune ran a strange story about the ongoing competition between birders and cruisers.

Both of them congregate in local woodsy areas. One group is looking for birds. The other group is looking for outdoor hook-ups.

They interviewed the president of the Chicago Audubon society:
"Gee, I wouldn't want to be in there doing those things when 100 people are coming by with binoculars and looking into the bushes," Lill said. "But it doesn't seem to bother them."
If authorities are really serious about eliminating this conflict, they should just license both groups - at exorbitant fees - so neither group can afford to walk in the woods!

Once they're both gone, this conflict will cease.
And at last the birds will have some peace!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Jonkheer's Wife

I finished The Jonkheer's Wife today. A jonkheer is an untitled nobleman in Holland. The story opens up with the Nazis rolling into the Netherlands. A German colonel commandeers a Dutch mansion for use as his headquarters. The man of the house is nowhere in sight, but the colonel allows the woman to stay... Tension builds, in the external plot of the war, and the internal struggles of their characters.

As the story rolls,
You stare inside their souls
And hope they live to find
Peace of mind.

Highly recommended!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thieving Ways

When you hear "identity theft" you tend to think of hackers who somehow take over your entire existence. Usually it's more like credit card theft. According to a new Justice Department report:
Identity thieves aren't necessarily using the internet to perpetrate their crimes — in fact, most are sticking to low-tech methods such as stealing letters from traditional mailboxes, according to a new study.
Here in the Windy City, the latest "identity theft" case comes from our local transit agency, the CTA:
The CTA Inspector General investigated after a customer noticed unauthorized activity on a credit card account used for CTA fare. Days later, Chicago Police contacted the CTA regarding a similar complaint and the investigations were combined, the release said.
Uh oh. I have a CTA pass that works like that!

It's a good thing I'm not single. Because I probably wouldn't keep a close watch on my credit card statements. But Marsha does. And when something doesn't look right, she calls it in.

She keeps a sharp eye on the money,
And spots when we "buy" something funny.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sex Offenders in Georgia

What is a sex offender, exactly? A rapist is a sex offender, of course. But what about a 17 year old girl who has oral sex with a boy who is about to turn 16? Is she a sex offender? Should she be required - for the rest of her life - to live 1000 feet away from anywhere children might congregate?

Well, in Georgia, the answer is yes. As Glenn Reynolds writes, "this is just pathetic."

Hysterical fear of teenage sex,
Passed into law, probably wrecks
More lives than the acts themselves.

Welcome to legal definition hell.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Heckler Vetoed - now with link

Bill Maher personally helped eject a heckler from his "Real Time" show last night. The heckler was one of the "9/11 cover-up" set who believe the terrorist attacks were really a government conspiracy.
"Do we have some (expletive) security in this building," Maher yelled, "or do I have to come down there and kick his (expletive)?"
Then, when the guy resisted the guards, Maher personally went into the audience to help push the guy out the door.

The crowd went wild, cheering him on. (Video here at

Pretty funny. Since the 1960's, heckling seems to have been on an upswing. Some people even defend heckling as being grounded in our right to free speech. But usually it's a way of interfering with someone else's free speech - particularly when it's done in someone else's forum.

New Rules,
Heckling fools:
Get lost
Or get tossed!

Friday, October 19, 2007

How You Know

I had an English teacher in high school who was trying to introduce the class to the concept of "intuition." We were about to read some of the New England Transcendentalists, who laid great store on it.

"Mr. Enright," he asked me, "how do you know that Mr. Farina is in the room?"

"I can turn around and see him," I replied. He sat behind me, in alphabetical order.

"How else?" he pressed.

"I could hear him."

"How else?"

"I could smell him." Big laugh from the class. I regretted that. I was just rattling off sensory modalities. I didn't mean to imply that Mr. Farina was smelly.

The teacher went on to propose that perhaps I could logically deduce that Mr. Farina was behind me. (Suppose I saw him enter the room, kept my eyes on the only door, did not see him leave.)

I assented.

Finally, the teacher proposed that I might "just have a feeling - an intuition" that Mr. Farina was in the room.

I resisted this idea.

Just feeling it's so
Doesn't mean you really know.

Intuition Discussion

We'll be discussing "intuition" at our house Saturday evening meeting (10/20/07). We're in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, in case you feel like dropping in.

I think people mean a lot of different things by intuition. It is used to cover everything from wishful thinking to mathematical hunches to the reading of body language. The common thread, to me, is that you've got an idea, and you think there's value in it, but you can't account for just how you got the idea.

Sometimes you find that your mind
Delivers a hunch that is hard to unwind.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who'da Thunk?

A) Why Do You Think You Think, by Floyd Ferris.

B) Do You Think What You Think You Think, by Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom.

C) Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite, by Paul Arden.

I think I am,
Is that a sham?

I thought I was
Well... just because.

Hugo vs. the Tragedy Fans

I was looking at a recent collection of plays by Victor Hugo, and found this in Claude Schumacher's introduction:
W.D. Howarth wrote: "On the whole, Romantic drama often strikes us as lacking the metaphysical dimensions provided by the traditional systems of religious thought, such as had been present in Greek tragedy as well as in Shakespeare's and Racine's."
This has me scratching my head. The Romantics were big on metaphysical speculation. The editor comments:
This lack of a "metaphysical dimension", of tragic grandeur, has been a criticism since the first appearance of Hugo's plays, and his use of chance, coincidence and curses is usually compared unfavourably to the imposing gravitas of the classics (Greek, Elizabethan or Racinian).
It's true that fans of classic tragedy sometimes attack the Romantics this way. But the editor parries and thrusts:
But what is "fate" in Oedipus? An absurd prediction by an oracle that if a lawfully married couple should conceive a child, then that child would kill his father and marry his mother. Why? No reason is given! How does the prediction come about? By a series of improbable coincidences.
Too true.

I wonder if the real problem isn't that Hugo and the other Romantics just aren't gloomy enough. Sure, Hugo kills off a lot of his heroes. But maybe his disposition is a bit too sunny for "real tragedy" somehow.

Cursed from the first - from his mother's womb
Oedipus faces the worst of dooms.

Tragedy fans gladly consume
Plays with the deepest level of gloom.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ingredients of Tragedy

It used to be a literary law
That when you spoke of Shakespeare, you brought up the tragic flaw.

I think his real equation
Is "throw the right man in the wrong situation".

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


There's an old joke for kids:

Q: When is it time to see the dentist?

A: 2:30. (Say it like: "tooth-hurty")

Anyway, it seems to be 2:30 in the U.K.:
Some English people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth because they cannot find — or cannot afford — a dentist, a major study has revealed.

Six percent of those questioned in a survey of 5,000 patients admitted they had resorted to self-treatment using pliers and glue, the UK's Press Association reported.
Well, we knew English dental care was in a precarious state, from looking at photos of their celebrities. Still, how did it come to this?

The English have NHS - the National Health System. Isn't socialized dentistry supposed to take care of things like this?
...more than three-quarters of those polled said they had been forced to pay for private treatment because they had been unable to find an NHS dentist. Almost a fifth said they had refused dental treatment because of the cost.
They tell you that it's free,
It's what dentistry should be!
But then you learn the cost.
It's your freedom that gets lost.

Grave News from Iraq

Yahoo headline, courtesy of Instapundit:

As violence falls in Iraq, cemetery workers feel the pinch

It's almost like an Onion headline. Talk about glass half-empty!

I loved this bit from the story:

The burials aren't expensive, usually $200 or less, but many people draw their income from them.

Italics mine. Maybe they could... change jobs?

The gravediggers miss that incoming crowd!
Every silver lining has a cloud.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I just got done reading Othello again. It's probably the play that horrified me the most when I first read it. Desdemona's plight - pleading her case - without understanding the charges - her testimony totally discounted - is a nightmare.

People say that Shakespeare wrote his plays in blank verse. True - but not the whole truth! As discussed here by a director, good chunks of Othello are in prose, and sometimes there are runs of rhyming lines.

We are left to imagine reasons for this inconsistency, which is characteristic of his plays.

He left lots of quotes
But not a damn note
On why, when immersed
In blankety verse,
He'd switch to compose
Some passage in prose,
Or even, at times,
Bust out the rhymes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Worst Jobs

I see where Forbes is listing "computer programmer" as one of the worst jobs for Americans in the 21st Century.
Despite all the advances--and expected job growth--in the computer industry, expect the number of programmers to increase by about 2% between 2004-2014. Why? Outsourcing. Americans who want a career in this field should find a specialization, like cybersecurity.
2% growth qualifies for worst job prospects?

So sign up for cyber security
Since those in cyber hacking
For all of our futurity
Plan to keep attacking.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The General's Complaint

Lt. Gen. Richardo Sanchez, now retired, but recently in charge in Iraq:
If some of America’s political leaders were in the military they would have been relieved or court-martialed long ago, Sanchez told a conference of military journalists.
He thinks it was a mistake to disband the Iraqi Army, since a lot of them immediately took up arms as guerrillas. I believe we disbanded the police too, with similar results. Granted, the Iraqi army and police had been involved, collectively, in doing some very bad things. But maybe it would have been better to keep them on the payroll - where we could keep more of an eye on them!

In the last paragraph of this particular news story, it turns out that he's critical of other key players in our national debate:
Sanchez also railed on the media during his speech, saying that many people covering the war have political agendas and little concern about collateral damage when their stories are wrong. These members of the media are doing "a tremendous disservice to America," he said.
He's also unhappy with his own career running aground on the Abu Ghraib scandal:
"Is America happy with destroying the careers and the reputations of everyone in the military chain of command involved in Abu Ghraib?"
There's an old analysis of our involvement in Vietnam, by a military man, Harry G. Summers. He argued that our central mistake was assuming that we could not be defeated. From this followed a war fought by half-measures, with too little dedication of resources, lacking full commitment from the American people.

Sanchez's actual complaint seems to be along the same lines.

The military, when on the attack,
Doesn't like being asked to hold back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Igloo Memories - Corrected!

Bush and the Dalai Lama are getting together again next week.

In a new story from a 2001 get-together, it says they met "like old friends".
"I very much appreciate his human warmth," Tibet's exiled spiritual leader told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
These statements call out for a deeper explanation.

In former lives, they were Eskimos
Who cuddled together, so neither froze.

Note: I had originally conflated their past meeting with their upcoming meeting.

I corrected the post, which I admit lacked
Accuracy as to temporal fact.

A Prize for Al, the Climate's Pal

Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. He got it for his save-the-climate campaign. But what does that have to do with peace?

Maybe he has a secret plan
To put in place a legal ban
On thunderstorms - they boom and rattle,
And sound a lot like deadly battle.

If he can get the storms to cease
Perhaps he'll deserve this prize for peace.
Till then, he didn't stop a war -
So why a peace prize for Mr. Gore?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mamet as Director

I just spent an hour watching a 1980 video "David Mamet: The Playwright As Director". It's 27 minutes long. I watched it once in order, once out of order. Mamet coaches Lindsay Crouse and Michael Higgins in scenes from 2 different plays. Crouse was married to Mamet at the time, but they don't breathe a word of that in the video. Mamet also directed her in House of Games.

I find Mamet fascinating when we writes about the theater, but I've noticed that his directing actually irks me, because he seems to flatten the feeling out of his actors. In his favor, he keeps a strong "in the moment" sense of real interaction between the actors. So at least you have something interesting to watch.

In the video, he keeps telling the actors not to "add anything", other than executing the play's actions and reacting to the other actor. He tells the actors that this "mechanical" approach will relieve them of the responsibility of feeling-on-command, which Mamet views as a crazy-making burden.

It's almost as if, as a writer, he doesn't want the actors explicating his cryptic script with all that emotional diversion
Which can leave the audience reeling.
So he resists the incursion
Of another artist's feeling.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Yes, I'm joining the great Happy Birthday Atlas Shrugged Chorus.

I had read a couple of Rand's novels before Atlas. I had been very taken with the stories, but I had thought her deeply mistaken in her philosophical presuppositions. Somehow, with Atlas, she finally convinced me that her industrialized Aristotelianism just might work.

I'd sing Happy Birthday, but it's clear:
A book can speak, but cannot hear.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Some days ago I noticed that I sometimes get an "Endless Swimming Pool" ad as a banner over Instapundit. Basically, you add a strong current to your swimming pool, and then you swim against the current, staying in place. Like they say, it's a treadmill for swimming.

I thought it was a funny thing to advertise on a politically oriented site. But I just realized it's probably targeted.

I had been checking the Chicago Marathon results a few clicks previous. That cookie would still be there.

The gizmo makes the water churn
And you no longer have to turn
Because you never really move.
Sisyphus, would you approve?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Atlas News

The Atlas Shrugged movie still seems to be on - but the script is not yet done. The director, Vadim Perelman, is reworking Randall Wallace's version. The producers want the script to be done by Halloween.

Ed Hudgins announced that he had met with Yaron Brook, of the Ayn Rand Institute, in April. According to my wife's notes, Ed said, "This is the time for Objectivists to move ahead together."

I hope the movie is going well.
I hope that meeting went real swell.
Tell me - is it snowing in hell?

Dali's Last Supper

Yesterday I was able to spend some time with a painting I like a lot: Salvador Dali's Last Supper, painted in 1955. It's tucked away in an elevator bank of the National Gallery of Art. It's a huge painting, and I mostly had it to myself.

I haven't found a good online reproduction, so here is a blurry one. If you scroll down here, there's a pretty good close up of the central figure of Dali's Jesus.

It's religious and spooky, in a Pythagorean way, and it's a radically different take on the legend, especially as compared to Leonardo's.

I can't swear as to what the giant golden dodecahedron is doing, but the Wikipedia entry says this particular 3-d shape was "a symbol of the universe" to the ancient Greeks.

Leonardo's composition seethes.
Dali's serenely breathes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chicago Scorchathon

I know some people who were running the Chicago Marathon today. It got way too hot for marathoning - 88 degrees F. They shut the race down early.

300 runners went to the hospital. One man died.
About 10,000 of the 45,000 registered runners chose to not race in the heat despite more mist stations, cooling buses and water-soaked sponges, while another 10,934 started but didn't finish, officials said.
I've done this race many times, but I am glad I wasn't signed up for today.

By the end I would have felt
Like a pavement-patty-melt.