Saturday, March 31, 2007

Back to the Bike Shop Tomorrow

I fixed the flat I got last week, but the rear wheel was still screwed up.

I think I've figured it out. (A big rubber band called a rim wrap got loose and wrapped really tight behind my rear sprocket.)

I can't fix it on my own. I'm not even sure how to reassemble it properly.

But there's no need to panic.
I'll just find a good mechanic.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Tiny Triumphs

Finally, tonight, I beat the freeware chess game at the "difficult" level.

For some reason, whenever I "come back" to chess, I have trouble really concentrating on the game.

But I've been doing heads-down coding all week, so I figured I was fired up to focus.

When I was in elementary school, my father taught me how to play. I was fascinated by the game, and started playing him often - one night after another. I lost every single time. For years.

Until one night I cornered his king -

Such a small thing,
But great.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Standard Sizes, Revisited

Ergo Sum offers his own insights on the Lego Lessons in Collectivism, including this sobering comment about life in his native India:

I shudder to imagine a world where all structures are the same standard size, where there is no private ownership and no personal accountability, and where every decision has to be arrived at by a consensus among a bureaucratic group or committee. In fact, I am witness to such a spectacle quite regularly in the socialist style of housing quarters and housing societies in Mumbai, for example, the Bank of India housing society, the Air India quarters, etc.

When building turns bureaucratic,
Designs are dead and static.

Give Me A Double... Standard That Is

Certain people honor "dissent,"
But hedge a bit on what is meant.

When it's their sacred cow that's gored,
You won't be receiving a special award.

Thus is "dissent" renamed "denial"
And thereby converted from value to vile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Risk Everywhere

Environmentally-conscious people have been making a big deal about the new compact fluorescent energy saving light bulbs!

So surely it's jaundiced jerkery,
To point out they're made with mercury.

Let My Legos Go

From Christopher's Objective I learned about the School That Banned Legos.

Basically, the kids at this private school had some huge "Legotown" project going on - building and building - and the kids got competitive and possessive about it.
Into their coffee shops and houses, the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.
The school resides in a church building. According to the teachers, some kids from the church "accidentally demolished" Legotown one weekend. The school kids were upset, weeping and wailing. So the teachers used this opportunity to ban Legos.
Taking the Legos out of the classroom was both a commitment and a risk. We expected that looking frankly at the issues of power and inequity that had shaped Legotown would hold conflict and discomfort for us all.
Months later, after much re-education of the children, the Legos were re-legalized - but with a new set of rules.
All structures are public structures. Everyone can use all the Lego structures. But only the builder or people who have her or his permission are allowed to change a structure.
Lego people can be saved only by a "team" of kids, not by individuals.
All structures will be standard sizes.
I see a little Howard Roark,
Banned from building his own New York,
Held back from letting his towers rise -
All must be a standard size!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ars Paradoxica

I was thinking about MacLeish's poem, Ars Poetica.

It opens up:

"A poem should be palpable and mute
Like a globed fruit."

So he's proceeding by paradox, since no poem is either palpable or mute.

It ends like this:

"A poem should not mean
but be."

Another paradox, since words are born to carry meaning.

However, he's also stating a version of a major movement in modern poetry, Imagism, in which poetry properly presents images, rather than making statements or music.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that John Cage, who wrote the silent piano piece, reportedly liked this poem:
"Ars Poetica," John Cage suggests, is the best piece of propaganda the imagist movement ever had. It is not an imagist poem, he says, because, first, it is almost impossible to write one, and second, it is too didactic; there is too strong a message.
I like MacLeish's poem as well.

But at the top of my lungs I yell
That poets must be allowed to tell
Meaning aloud.

Life of Pie

We watched the Penn & Teller "Obesity" episode of their Bullshit! show.

I think they're right that this issue has been blown completely out of proportion. They zeroed in on the misleading use of the word "epidemic," which headline writers love, and which suggests a widespread contagious disease. They went into the misleading use of the BMI to determine whether one is overweight. And they kept asking "Where is the pie?"

I liked their suggestion that this issue will look different decades from now. For example, suppose a medicine is developed that safely regulates weight - a pill that lets you eat what you want but stay thin.

The diet book business would suddenly die,
And I would be asking, "Where is the pie?"

Monday, March 26, 2007


New Jersey may ban texting while driving.
Then how will I let my friends know I'm arriving?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Abrams Reads Kipling

Linda Tania Abrams did a reading of Kipling poetry at our house tonight.

Linda researches her subjects carefully, and her reading was informed by a knowledge of the author's world and his place in it.

It was a small get together, with an intimate tone. Linda loves much of Kipling's poetry, as do I, and that feeling came across very clearly.

You couldn't ask for a warmer
Or more intelligent performer.


Beautiful day. Took down storms windows, put up screens. Went for a bike ride. Got a flat. Tried to fix it with a can of that Fix-a-Flat stuff. Failed ingloriously, but was picked up, quite gloriously, by my wife.

While I waited in a park for her to arrive, I watched a child flying a fancy kite with help from dad and granddad.

The kite swooped and hovered,
Brilliantly colored,
And life was extremely

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Iranians holding hostages!

It's like the 70's all over again.

I don't suppose I should bother to mention
That hostage-taking violates the Geneva Convention.


There was an article in the WSJ today, praising John Cage's "4:33", which consists of a guy sitting on stage and NOT playing the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

The article mentions the "apparent vacuity" of the composition. I would say that beneath the apparent vacuity, lies a deeper vacuity.

One thing positive I'll say:
It's a piece that I can play!

Friday, March 23, 2007

He Didn't Work For Me - And Now He's Fired

I think Obama's doing a good job handling the controversy about the Hillary-as-Big-Brother video.

He keeps saying he had nothing to do with it. He also keeps refusing to denounce it. He says the ad has "captured the public's imagination."

He's got plausible denial,
But I bet it makes him smile.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Went to the wake of a work-friend's husband. She's a very strong individual, and I believe she will get through this, but it was tough seeing her hurting so much.

Wakes are miserable affairs,
Made tolerable by sympathy and care.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ugly Moment

Here is an off-duty Chicago cop on surveillance video, beating a petite female bartender.

I think his fists of fury
Will sink him with a jury.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Learning from Lions

I keep thinking about these people who say it's wrong to ever help wild animals.

When we help them, I gather, we strip them of their wildness.

"Give them wildness, or give them death!" seems to be the position.

But interspecies sympathy and assistance is a natural phenomenon, periodically seen in birds and mammals, often involving a baby animal on one side of the equation. Like this wacky story about a lion adopting an antelope.

If even lions engage in cross-species adoption,
Shouldn't humans beings have the option?

Unbearably Polarizing

There's a cute little polar bear that's being bottle fed because its mom abandoned it. Some green types say it's unnatural and wrong for us to feed the cub.

Robert Bidinotto has the story, cute pics, and a rhyme on the subject: "Better Dead Than Fed."

I imagine the cub would find it odd
To be starved to death for the great green god.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


300 shows some Rand influence, I think, since it sets up an explicit contrast between "reason and freedom" and "tyranny and mysticism."

On the other hand, a Spartan's highest goal is to die fighting for his State,
Which she wouldn't have thought was quite so great.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Heads U.S., Tails Australia

A certain John J. Enright got into a bit of trouble in the 90's - the 1890's - and was forced to leave Ireland.

He flipped a coin to choose between
Two far countries he'd never seen.

Today, in his honor, I'll wear the green.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Case of the Sinister Minister

A Baptist Army chaplain was "stripped of his rank and sentenced to five months in military prison after pleading guilty to adultery and threatening to kill his mistress when she wanted to end their relationship, Fort Drum officials said Friday."

I guess even Baptists
Sometimes have lapses.
Perhaps his synapses
Weren't wired too well.

He's not on the loose now.
He's locked in the hoosegow,
And cries "What's the use now"
Inside of his cell.

If Volunteer Firefighters Have Hoses...

A gunman who killed two unarmed volunteer police officers... was shot dead by full-time police officers.

As my friend says, "duh?"

Why were these poor men put out there - in police uniforms - but without guns?

Wait. I forgot. They were safer without guns, right?

Across the millennia, being disarmed
Too often ends in bodily harm.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I learned something about Gandhi today:
During World War II, Gandhi penned an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis.
Ah, pacifism.

Was this in his movie biography?

If we and the British had been this "noble",
Perhaps the Nazis would have gone global.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Needed: Flux Capacitor

In today's Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page takes a close look at a story told by Barack Obama at the recent civil rights commemoration in Selma:
"There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama," he preached, "because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So [my parents] got together, and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama."
It was such a spellbinding story that I almost didn't want to wonder how the 1965 march could have led to the senator's birth, which happened four years earlier. We might call it a story too good to allow the facts to get in the way were he not a presidential candidate.
Thus does a tale of time travel
Begin to unravel.

The More Things Change

I've been reading Sontag on photography. I've been reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey at the same time.

I found a point of overlap.

Sontag makes much of the idea that photography teaches us a new way to see.

Austen, more humorously, makes the same point - about drawing:

They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing -- nothing of taste: -- and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day.

Often enough,
A truth of note
Can be backed up
With an Austen quote.

Tax Quandary

In the future, when there's a market for body parts, what will the tax consequences be?

Say you sell your kidney for 200 big ones. Is that 200,000 of income? What about the loss - namely your kidney? Maybe it's just a wash for tax purposes?

There's one sort-of-comparable situation right now, but I don't know the answer to this question:

When women get paid for donating eggs,
Does the IRS take an arm and a leg?

Monday, March 12, 2007

I May Regret This Yet

There's an Ironman-distance race in Illinois this September. About 3 hours from my house.

I just signed up.

There is fear in my gut.

I've only done one of these before.

I was limping when I was done.

I finished in a state
Of hurt.
I hope, this time, to skirt
That fate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Competitive Rankings

This Sun Times story implies that my home state has a problem with political corruption:

Larry J. Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia, is a kind of all-purpose political commentator. He told me, "The unholy trinity of politically corrupt states are New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana."

I asked former Gov. Jim Thompson what he thought about Sabato's Top Three. "Illinois can't hold a candle to New Jersey and Louisiana," he said indignantly. "We're poor country cousins compared to those states."

However as this other Sun Times story reveals, we truly NUMBER ONE in another category of calamity:

In Chicago, mail delivery has gotten so bad that in-town, overnight delivery ranks the worst in the nation, according to Chicago postmaster Gloria E. Tyson.

You know what this means.

When you need to get a bribe
To a leader of the tribe
And you can't afford to fail,
Don't ever use the mail.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

So Much Light

There is a giant fusion reaction visible outside in the sky. It's literally blinding to look at. It's giving off so much electromagnetic radiation that it's rapidly raising the ambient temperature.

The sun is in the sky today.
It's almost like Spring is on it's way.


Reuters says:

"In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is apt to be more successful in white women than in Asian women, a study suggests."

Well, that's mysterious. Because according to Wikipedia:

"Most biological and social scientists regard the concept of race primarily as a social construct..."

Why didn't anyone explain this to the women?

Wikipedia, goes on to say that scientists "prefer to conceptualize and analyze human genotypic and phenotypic variation in terms of populations and clines instead."

Ah, that clear things up.

I'm not so in love with the concept of race
But throw it away and you soon see the face
Of something much like it, taking its place.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sontag on Photography

I'm reading Susan Sontag's On Photography for book club.

So far, she's not too happy with photography. The camera aggressively "appropriates" an image, and metaphorically "rapes" its subject. How's that for a Marxist / Freudian critique of picture-taking?

She seems at pains to fight off a certain idea, namely that a picture is worth a thousand words. You can see where that relative valuation might not appeal to a writer.

She keeps emphasizing that ethics and politics, in words, are irreplaceable by photos. That's true. But her ethics and politics keep sounding like radical chic to me.

Oddly enough, there were always a lot of striking photographs of her floating around.

For someone who thought it was not so hot.
She sure got "shot" a lot.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Quirk of the Day

I don't really like it when poetry that rhymes and scans is called formal.
That sounds like being stuck at a stuffy party. But to me it's just normal.

Hillary's Accent

I've been listening to Hillary Clinton lately. Mostly to hear her accent. I'm not talking about her church performance with a strange version of Southern. Just her regular speech.

She's from the Chicago area. I can hear it. But there's other stuff mixed in too. That figures, since she also went to Wellesley, went to Yale, was the first lady of Arkansas, and is now the junior senator from New York.

She has lived around the nation,
But those flat Midwestern vowels
Refuse to throw in the towel.
To me they sound great, and I howl
In admiration

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lack of Trust

A little mistake was made at the Mint
On those new dollar coins with the yellowish tint.

A few of them came out a little bit odd -
They don't say a thing about trusting in God.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Redeemer from Puerto Rico

purpurachicago told me to watch tonight's ABC PrimeTime story about a Puerto Rican cult leader.

This guy claims to be the second coming of Jesus.

He also claims to be the Antichrist.

Such a dialectical approach!

Jesus plus the Antichrist?
No matter how that's sliced and diced,
It's logic that gets sacrificed.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Old Time Religion

I've heard it argued that voting Democratic is smart and ethical because the real danger to the country is from Religious Republicans.

What did our Democratic governor do yesterday? He went to church, declared "We are all God's children," and said he was following a "moral imperative" in announcing his new forced health insurance program.

Both parties hit religious notes
When calling for our votes.

Not A Lot Like Love

Marsha and I were watching A Lot Like Love last night. As the story starts up, Amanda Peet follows Ashton Kutcher into an airline lavatory for a mile high hookup.

Eventually, they fall in love and live happily ever after.

Something similar happened recently with Ralph Fiennes and a Qantas flight attendant.

Sadly, there's little chance of a fairy tale ending. After their exploit became public knowledge, there were allegations floating that Mr. Fiennes had forced himself upon the flight attendant. Then the woman got fired.

This morning I learned from W.C. Varones that Fiennes is feeling victimized as well.

His PR person declares "This woman seduced him on a plane. She was the sexual aggressor."

Such are the risks of being a movie star.
Watch out for aggressors, no matter where you are.
They'll follow you into the loo
And do the nasty with you,
And spread your name in the papers near and far.

Reeding the News

Do you think the federal government can manage health care? Look at the job they've done with the Veterans Administration hospital system.

If I live to see
The federal government take over this giant slice of the economy,
I hope to hell
I'm always well.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Music and Lyrics

Saw Music and Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant.

It's a romantic comedy, but it's very concerned with word-endings, a bit like Eminem's 8 Mile.

A Yank and a Limey
Get lovey and rhymey.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lucky No Windows Were Broken

This is across the street from me.
Mr. Wind, meet Mr. Tree.

Grumbling Over Statistical Stumbling

From Glenn Reynolds, here's a fascinating Economist story about statistical bumbling in medical studies. It's provocactively subtitled "Why so much medical research is rot."

He's talking about those studies where they hunt through medical databases, searching for correlations between conditions. Apparently the researchers have trouble with rules of statistical inference when testing multiple hypotheses.

Hey, I would have trouble too. Probability and statistics can be counter-intuitive. It helps to have a real guru handy.

Could this explain why medical recommendations about what to eat keep changing so much?

When searching for natural laws
Beware of correlation without cause.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Global Warming - Not Just For Earth Anymore

Global warming on Mars? Apparently so.

A Russian astronomer, Habibullo Abdussamatov, blames fluctuations in solar radiation. He thinks that's why Earth got warmer, too.

Other scientists dismiss his views. They say Earth and Mars are warming up for separate reasons.

They say that warming here is due
To human production of CO2.

On Mars, they say the rotational fact is
That warming is due to a wobbly axis.

Perhaps this theory is the cleanest,
But I'd like to see some stats for Venus.

Great First Sentence

"A dominatrix was arrested on prostitution charges at a suburban estate that she leased from the rabbinical school next door..."

Perhaps they should have asked whether
It was wise to rent the place
To someone wearing black leather
Everywhere but her face.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Leviathan on the Right

Went to hear Michael Tanner talk about his new book: Leviathan on the Right which is about the spread of "big government conservatism."

It's a sobering topic, but he was an entertaining speaker - and there was free beer and pizza! Thank you, Cato and Heartland Institutes!

He distinguished 5 types of big government conservatives:

1) neocons, former Marxists who still think the welfare state is great
2) "national greatness" conservatives who believe we need a great national purpose because individual purposes are unworthy
3) religious right, who are want to impose their values
4) supply siders, who think if you keep the economy going strong, then you can afford a nice big welfare state
5) technophiles, who want to use computers to control behavior

At one point, he said something I've heard before: "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

That's not always true, but it's true often enough. The thing is, freedom lovers really do care. We know that freedom is the best system for generating human happiness. But we do get sick of all the fake syrupy "caring and sharing" stuff that is always being trumpeted about by political cynics.

faustin left an insightful comment the other day that ended:

You and I know well the need for independence and the benefits of independence. But the environment and survival conditions which shaped us give us all sorts of challenges, and there are compelling reasons why we've strong tendencies to turn towards each other and help each other in times of suffering. It doesn't change the metaphysics of the individual, the need for independence in cognition and the unarguable power of self-reliance, of course.
I think that's right.

Leviathan declares
It cares
And then creates a giant lair
Where caring is rare.

You Mite As Well Face It, You're Allergic To Dust

People who are "allergic to dust" are typically just allergic to dust mite poop. These things are ugly, once you find them in the microscope. And they live by eating your dead skin.

First they eat
Then they excrete.
They do this all night while you sleep on your sheet.

So there's a new study that says:

Maybe you shouldn't make up your bed,
Since light and air leave dust mites dead.

kirinqueen suggests an Asian style of bed making: "with the blankets, sheets and pillows folded together, and the bed mostly uncovered."

This sounds promising, but it also sounds like more work in the morning!