Thursday, May 31, 2007

Herbivore Incursion

Went for a ride at dusk on my bike. Skirted the nearby woods - county "forest preserve." As I was gliding along the bike path, I saw something beige and four-footed ahead. I slowed down, in case it was a mean dog.

Nope. It was a deer, a very skinny deer, and it watched me warily. After a while it went back to eating the clover.

I've spent a lot of time over the years in this particular woods. I have never seen a deer here before.

Neighbors, start guardin'
Your vegetable gardens!
Tremble in fear.

Voracious deer
Are here.

I only saw one, but the word
Is they come in a herd.

Strange New Respect

Yesterday, appropos of Sunstein's "Libertarian Paternalism," selfishgene commented:
It is interesting that a 'libertarian' label has become sufficiently important, that even socialists wish to use it for propaganda. Maybe it's a small sign of progress.
I think he may be right.

Clarence Page wrote a column this week in which he envisioned a 3rd party run for the presidency - with a ticket of Ron Paul, "the government-shrinking libertarian," and Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat who has called for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney.

To me they seem an unlikely twosome, who don't have much in common besides opposition to the war in Iraq. But Page thinks their outspoken passion will unite them and inspire their supporters:
The Internet crowd loves their red meat, whether it comes from cows or from tofu. That gives a X-tremers like Paul and Kucinich a chance to win Unity '08, if they work out who will be at the top of the ticket.
I don't see it, but I do see support for selfishgene 's theory, since Page thinks the "Unity" Party would gain key support by tapping into libertarian sentiment.

After years of studied neglect,
Along comes a strange new respect.
As the powers-that-be try to cash-in
On this vibrant political passion.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oxymoron Alert

I would have described him as a liberal, rather than a libertarian, but Cass Sunstein and some economist wrote a scholarly paper called:

Libertarian Paternalism Is Not An Oxymoron (warning, PDF!)

Oh my.

I'm wondering what kind of universe is needed to keep those terms from contradicting each other. Well, there's this from the summary:

Equipped with an understanding of behavioral findings of bounded rationality and bounded self-control, libertarian paternalists should attempt to steer people’s choices in welfare-promoting directions without eliminating freedom of choice.
Ah, we are being assigned "bounded rationality and bounded self-control." Here is the deep assault upon two philosophical foundations of liberty: rationality and volition.

Once you've got those tightly bound
No rightful freedom will be found.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Swarming Trend

The seagulls are having a dinner party on my block. And the cicadas are the guests of honor!

Seagulls squawk and flap - and gulp
Beady red-eyed bugs in bulk.

But they barely make a dent
In this Bugs-R-Us event.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Going Off the Air in Venezuela

Hugo Chavez seems to be eliminating independent TV stations in Venezuela. Even his own supporters aren't too happy about it.

It's almost like he can't abide criticism!

Powerful dictators
Pull the plug on debaters.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dictators Debate

Shawn Klein recently wrote an interesting post about "The Evil Competition: Nazis and Communists"

I dreamed the Mr. Evil Competition
Was held in Hades. Hitler won again.
He seems to have a lock on the position.

Stalin complained. "Most evil of all men?
I spit upon you. I killed many more,
Yes, millions more than you. Why do I fail
To win the votes for evil that you score?
My gore-bespattered record makes yours pale."

Then Hitler replied: "It isn't just the count,
It turns out people hate the Master Race
Idea, and that runs up my vote amount.
I'm sorry, Joe, but you won't fall from grace
Completely until socialism's seen
As not just mistaken, but murderous and mean."

The Lives of Others

Tonight we saw The Lives of Others - a German film set in East Germany - before the fall of the Wall.

A secret policeman is assigned to get some dirt on a prominent writer. So he bugs the man's apartment and starts listening. The plot complicates quickly, in surprising but plausible ways, particularly because the policeman starts to feel sympathy for the people he is spying on.

East Germany - which had gone from life under the Nazis to life under the Communists - was particularly known for the thoroughness of their secret police - the Stasi.

It's hard to control
The human soul,
But they spied
And tried.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend

I know a couple of young men who are in Iraq. One of them is flying combat helicopter missions. He emailed recently that his team had been ambushed, and that the copters had taken fire. One of his team members was hit, but the man came through surgery okay.

I notice that the military is making a special effort to wipe out the copter-ambushers. You're vulnerable in those things when you're low and flying slow. And you can't glide them to a graceful landing if the engine goes out. They tumble right down.

Our military deaths are actually low right now. Just not as low as any of us would like them.

Let us honor all the brave,
Whether alive or in the grave,
Who took up force of arms
To face a world of harm.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Chicken in Chicago

I was walking home from the train this evening, when I ran into a neighbor.

She was walking her big poodle, and she told me there was a loose chicken. Her dog had wanted it for dinner.

Her husband was also walking from the train, and she showed us where to look. Yep. A golden-brown hen.

The man of the house came out, and I introduced myself. He said she lays an egg a day - a free range egg, since the hen has the run of the backyard. Periodically she flaps her clipped wings enough to escape. And that's why we saw her tonight.

so much depends

a free range

there by the

scratchin' and

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Working Theory

Shocking news: personality is not set in stone at birth. Apparently the academic nurture/nature pendulum is still swinging.

But this one scientist ran a cool experiment. She gave a bunch of pre-teens a test. She randomly praised half for being so smart, and praised the other half for being such hard workers.

Then she gave them all another test, a harder one. One group did a lot better than the other this time.

Don't rest on your laurels and smirk.
Even the smart need to work.

Quite Contrary

If you are able
To read the label
You know drinking liquor
Makes you die quicker.

Except for all that medical research that says moderate drinking - statistically - adds to longevity.

You've also been told that sunscreen is a vital shield against the deadly solar menace. Except now there's research that says most northerners need more daylight than they're getting.

So stand in the rays
And chug beer for days,
In a blissful tan haze,
At least till the fall
When they may
By the way
Change it all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Gossiping Aloud!

4 women were fired for gossiping. About their boss, and another employee, and a rumored affair.

They're public employees, so I smell a Supreme Court case coming. I was talking to someone who knows a guy who clerks for Justice Scalia, and he said...

Gossip arrives on gossamer wings
Promising knowledge of all secret things -
Things barely heard of - things dark and glistening.
Careful! You might get fired for listening!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Word Wars

When discussing a female human,
You're generally safe saying "woman,"
At least, to my knowledge,
Once she's in college.

Unless a college student is the victim of oppression,
In which case she makes a special regression
To "girl" - in the newspapers - in order to win
Sympathetic connotative spin.

But, of "ladies," steer clear
At least until you hear
Whether the person in question thinks
This L-word stinks.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Killer Ideologies

In passing, Wesley Adamcyzk made the point that unlike the Nazis, the Soviets didn't make a big point of killing children.

I think that comes from their respective notions of The Great Enemies.

The Nazis conceived of their enemies as biological groups which needed to be eliminated. So children - gene carriers - were targeted for murder, too.

The Soviets thought of their enemies as economic groups. They thought re-education at least had a chance of working - particularly with the young.

Their stands on the nature/nurture divide
Led to different sorts of democide.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mathematical Insects

My wife is always asking why prime numbers are such a big deal. I've given her a few answers, but now I'm going to tell her to ask the cicadas.

That's right, Chicagoland is now eagerly awaiting the emergence of 17-year cicadas, a beady-eyed bug which shows up in huge swarms - once every 17 years. There's a similar group with 13 year pattern.

Basically it's an arithmetic trick to starve out predators and parasites:
For example, if the cicada has a life cycle of 17 years and its parasite has a life cycle of 5 years, then they will only meet every (17x 5) = 85 years, which is the least common multiple of the two numbers. This enables the periodical cicada to escape from the natural population control, and this also accounts for the astounding population density of the cicada – it can get as high as 1.5 million cicadas per acre!
Cicadas time their slumbers
To coincide with prime numbers.

With combinatorial math
They carve out a cyclical path
Escaping their enemies' wrath.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I've reached the point in Wesley Adamczyk's book where he finally arrived in Chicago after World War II. Still in his teens, he had lived the majority of his life in exile and in dreadful circumstances - in one country after another. The plight of "displaced persons" after that war was often ugly. But he had family in Chicago who were finally able to claim him in.

I was deeply moved by this passage:
The train slowly came to a stop under a large canopy at Union Station. My heart pounded as I took my first step on American soil. A brief walk along the platform, amid people rushing this way and that, brought me to a huge, beautiful room the likes of which I had never seen before and could never have imagined being a railroad station. Confused, I thought I had walked through the wrong door and was in some other building, perhaps a basilica.
Of course, it was the station.
And it was, indeed, a shrine
Of spectacular design
To the power of transportation.

He had stepped into a nation
Where commerce loves to shine,
And efficient operation
Is almost thought divine.

Impaired Decisions

How the Tribune featured the story this morning:

Sad irony in crash that killed prosecutor

Official's blood-alcohol level was found to be triple the legal limit

The investigation into a crash that took the life of the prosecutor in some of DuPage County's highest-profile cases, including a DUI crash in Aurora that claimed four young lives and led to stiffer sentences for drunken drivers who kill, took a tragic turn Friday with the disclosure that her blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit when she died.

Emphasis mine. I'm trying to figure out why the disclosure itself is supposed to be a tragic turn. Maybe the reporters are thinking in terms of Aristotle's theory of tragedy, which requires a missing-the-mark fatal mistake - in an otherwise admirable heroine.

The head-on crash broke the arms and legs of the other driver.

She did exactly what she prosecuted others for doing. There's another word for that besides irony. It starts with an H.

Drinking heavy?
Don't start up that Chevy!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Free Flight

So you put fruit flies in an all white room, lacking normal sensory cues, and what do they do? They fly around, of course - they're flies.

So a guy did an experiment like this to see what sort of flight path they would take.

He figured that they would take a random path. But they didn't. They followed the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior, and did whatever they wanted in a spontaneous yet non-random way.

"Our results eliminate two alternative explanations of this spontaneous turning behavior that would run counter to free will, namely randomness and pure determinism," he said in an e-mail.
I think this figures, since most animals routinely use whatever awareness they have to navigate alternatives.

Is it such a surprise
That those pesky fruit flies
With all their agility
Show some ability
To turn and to swerve
With spontaneous verve?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Seeing Double

Why is Rena Sofer on both 24 and Heroes as somebody's wife? (Marilyn Bauer vs. Heidi Petrelli)

If they ever have one of those crossed-wires shared episodes, how can this possibly be explained?

Oh... She can make herself into twins...

Of course, I believe all the Bauers
Have latent superpowers.

LAX Security

Los Angeles Airport was evacuated today - for a false alarm - the second day in a row. Security detected something that looked like a pipe bomb in someone's luggage.

The "pipe bomb" turned out to be a piece of sprinkler pipe. The owner of the luggage turned out to be an exec at a sprinkler company.

Are you one of those types
Who pack up their socks
With several lead pipes
And 2 ticking clocks?

Well, stop it already.
These guys need a break
Don't make their palms sweaty
Just lay off the fakes!

When God Looked the Other Way

I've been reading a gripping book - a memoir - about a young boy who was living in Poland when the Germans and Russians each grabbed half of the country.

So far, his father - an army officer - has disappeared, and the rest of his family has been transported to Khazakhstan by the Russian secret police.

The family is sharing a house with an old Russian couple, and the boy befriends the old man, routinely addressing him as "mister." This worries the man:

"I am a sixty-seven-year-old Russian peasant, and nobody ever called me 'mister' except you and your family. Thank you for being nice, but please do not call me 'mister' when other Russians are around because my wife and I could get in trouble."

"But you haven't done anything wrong. How could you be in trouble?"

"It doesn't matter, Veslav," he replied, looking around nervously.

There's a propaganda technique where you tell an obvious untruth, but back it up with a fancy theory, and punish those who express doubt. For instance: "the Communist system is rational and just".

Lies of that size,
Though cloaked
In thick words,
Fall before the child

And his mild
Disbelief in the absurd
Puts fear
In those who hear.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh, Oh - An Olympic No-No.

Chicago wants to host the Olympics in 2016, and has been jumping through hoops to get it. I believe the Olympic Flag shows the last 5 hoops we must jump through.

The latest hoop is that we must ditch our custom symbol for our Host-The-Games campaign. It showed a torch whose flames were our skyline.

This isn't the first time these people have interfered with local institutions.

We have a comedy club here that called itself the Improv Olympic. But they can't call it that anymore. They were reduced to advertising as iO. Their name got sued away by Olympic Lawyers.

Had the club truly infringed?
Or were the lawyers unhinged?

Foie Gras Faux Pas

Less than a year ago, the City of Chicago outlawed the selling of Foie Gras. No, I can't pronounce it. I don't know whether I've ever tasted it. But it seems to be whipped goose liver, as near as I can make out.

Now it seems like our Mayor is going to get the ban repealed. He says it's the silliest ordinance ever.

This is bad news, I fear, for geese. Chicago and its suburbs are infested by Canadian Geese. They're cute, but they poop everywhere.

Goose on the loose - it's time for you to shiver,
Gourmets are coming - hungry for your liver!
Swim away quickly - escape up the river.

(No, of course, you're not really allowed to hunt them inside the city limits. Not even at Christmas.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


It's been a long day. I'm too tired to rhyme.
Maybe next time.

Is that like cheating? Does that sound lame?
Well, all the same...

What else can I do?
Good night to you!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

El Día De Las Madres

Went for a long run. Saw a huge fire from a distance, and like a little kid, took off for it. Turned out to be a lumberyard on fire - and it was still burning out of control when I got there. I was told the fire started in the store's collection of propane tanks.

The police, annoyingly, blocked off street access. But I was able to get right across the street from the blaze by approaching through a cemetery.

I jogged through 3 other cemeteries, too, and actually visited a couple of relatives' graves, including my mother's. It was a busy day in the cemeteries - Mother's Day's visitations, I'm sure. I noticed that Mexicans, in particular, came out in big family groups to the cemeteries today.

To mothers everywhere, I say
I hope you had an excellent day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

No Boat Rocking, Please

Shocking news arrives via Instapundit: Democrats in the House have stopped crusading against the culture of corruption.

They promised us laws to reform the corruption,
But now they're in charge, that's a needless disruption.

They've got bigger tasks -
What they are, please don't ask.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Will Liposuction Work On This?

From the endless stream of new things to worry about: Thin People Can Be Fat On The Inside.

Even people with normal Body Mass Index scores — a standard obesity measure that divides your weight by the square of your height — can have surprising levels of fat deposits inside.

That Body Mass Index number
Is looking dumber and dumber.

End of the Road

They've found some bacteria that eat asphalt.

You know what this means.

We need antibiotics for our nation's highways -
Otherwise we'll be reduced to bicycling on byways.

Prescription Privacy - Or Not

Consider this: the DOJ offers the 50 states money to monitor prescriptions of controlled substances. This does include identifying info for individual patients, and this data is sometimes used when investigating whether some doctor is "over prescribing" or some patient is "abusing" drugs like pain meds. Like Rush Limbaugh got in trouble for doing.

Yes, Illinois has such a program. So do 32 other states.

And the DEA would like to mandate for the other 17.

Read all about it - here's an FAQ straight from the Department of Justice.

"We're watching how you medicate."
Signed, your pal, the Nanny State.


The Illinois House voted 107-0 today against the governor's new gross receipts tax.

From my point of view,
Almost too good to be true.

Well, it turns out that our governor, once he realized he was going to lose the vote, asked his supporters to vote against the bill anyway. I don't quite understand that part. Maybe he was doing them a favor, sparing them the voters' wrath.

"It's like Kryptonite," said Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston), who had considered voting for the governor's tax plan.
What a lovely, bright green sight:
A bad bill turned to Kryptonite.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Widowers' Houses

We went to see Shaw's first play, Widowers' Houses, this weekend. It was a crisply-executed production that didn't try to change the play's meaning.

The basic setup (minor spoiler alert) is that a man has become rich as a slumlord, and is now trying to marry his only daughter into society. What is his moral standing? Should decent people even associate with him?

Shaw delights in turning conventional moral judgments on their heads, and he has a lot of fun with it here. Although a socialist himself, Shaw understands capitalist economics much better than the average playwright.

For me, the stunning thing about Shaw is his ability to write plays of ideas - with lots of abstract discussion - that stay firmly tied to the important practical conflicts that drive the play.

He writes about ideas, but rather than being a ranter,
He spins his concepts into sparkling banter.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Letters to the Editor

Recently the Chicago Tribune ran an editorial in favor of our new statewide place-of-business smoking ban.

My wife got a letter published today, disagreeing with the editorial. There was another letter on a very similar theme, from someone at the Ayn Rand Institute. (Both can be seen here.)

I will be a temporary beneficiary of this ban. I routinely avoid smoky places - including bars with live musical performances. So I'll probably go to more of those.

But, long term, I will be the victim of the ongoing parade of nanny-state laws.

What do we gain if we clear the air
But lose individual rights?
Health benefits mask the tyrant's snare
But in the end it bites.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Very Gross Receipts Tax

The Governor of Illinois wants to start up a new "gross receipts" tax. To the tune of - literally - billions and billions of dollars. Not to worry, it's not a tax on people - just businesses!

I wish I felt reassured.

In this case, I can only agree with our Mayor:

“Business people are not fat cats…To describe every major CEO in Illinois as fat cats is a mistake…..They don’t have to be here. They can go to Wisconsin. They can go Indiana. They can go to India. They can go to China. So, if you want to beat up businesses, go beat `em up and when they leave, just wave to `em and they’re going to wave back to you,” Daley said.
I hope that Illinois avoids the fate
Of our two-doors-over state -
Poor Michigan, who taxed and spent
Till businesses got up and went.

What Religion Would You Believe?

A friend mentioned the sort of Zen that would be his religion... if he had one.

I don't think it was a religion he was brought up in, and left. That would be a different category. For me, of course, that religion-of-origin would be Catholic.

I might like to be a Druid,
And wear an air of mystery.
Their beliefs appear quite fluid,
And mostly lost to history.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Samurai Theologian

I've got a friend who rates world religions by their testosterone levels. He thinks Buddhism has the lowest level - i.e., is the most peaceful and calming.

But I've been thinking about the Samurai, who seemed plenty macho to me. Weren't they mostly Zen Buddhists?

Sometimes a state of calm
Explodes like a bomb.

One moment, peace.
Then the beast is released.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pedal Peril

Cyclists often ride with clip-in (also called clipless) pedals. You un-clip by twisting your heel away from the bike, which is not intuitive.

I know of 2 main advantages:

1) The ball of your foot is right over the pedal, all the time, the way it's supposed to be.

2) You can actively pull upwards on the pedaling upstroke.

There's one big disadvantage - falling over on your side.

I saw a young lady do it today. She was in front of me on a bike trail. As we came to a stop for a road, she unclipped her left foot, and shifted her weight to her right foot. Her bike tipped to the right she went down.

I stayed to make sure she was okay. She was.

It's easy to slip in
To clip-ins.

They keep your foot from sliding
While you're riding.

But when you stop,
Unclip - don't flop!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cold Hard Reality Show

Hilton gets 45 days for probation violations.

The heiress
Is in a bad scrape.

It's jail
Without bail
And no hope of escape.

It'll sell
Very well
If it's videotaped.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Name the Polar Bear Cub

Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago is running a contest to name a polar bear cub. I should mention it's a boy.

Follow the link
If you think
You have a name
That might win the game.

By the way, if you "reverse the polarity" around this cub, does he turn into a grizzly?

Banned from the Chicago Stage

Chicago has decided that actors will no longer be allowed to light up onstage.

Instead of exempting actors, [Alderman] Smith advised producers to modify the lines of the play to strike references to smoking and smoke-filled rooms.

The N.Y. Times discusses this dramatic legal trend, starting with a great example:

"Hand me a cigarette ..., lover,” Martha says to her conquest Nick in the second act of Edward Albee's “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The stage directions then read: “He lights it for her. As he does, she slips her hand between his legs.”
You can see the problem here. The playwright has used smoking as a way to further the physical action of the play. I suppose we can do it like this:
"Hand me a stick of Nicorette ..., lover."
Hmm. I think it loses something in the translation.

I really don't care for smoke,
But this sort of law makes me choke.

Bonehead Misunderstanding

The cops were all over this young man's apartment, just because he had some human skulls on hand.

It was a false alarm. The guy makes a living importing things - including skulls - and selling them on eBay.

My wife happens to have met him, and says he comes across as a perfectly reasonable person.

Though at first they didn't trust him,
In the end, they couldn't bust him.

But they're holding the skulls to make sure they came through Customs.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


In the U.S. we offer asylum to "political refugees," but not to "economic refugees."

Both are victims of unfreedom.

If a tyrant says you can't have that opinion,
We welcome you into our own dominion.

But if he screws things up so there's no work,
We tell you "Hey, get out of here, you jerk!"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Does it Stick to the Roofs of their Maws?

Polar bears dine chiefly on aquatic mammals, but Central Park zookeepers have found they crave another flavor:

"A very special treat is peanut butter. The bears must hunt out the peanut butter from rock crevices…encouraging their natural instincts and entertaining them as well."

How would you feel - if every one of your meals
For hundreds of days - consisted of slow-moving seals?

No wonder, then, that jars of peanut-butter
Set the hearts of polar bears a-flutter.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lines of Descent

Modern humans came out of Africa.

Neanderthals were indigenous to Europe.

When modern humans finally arrived in Europe... they may have slept with the natives.

This raises the possibility that people of European descent are not "modern humans", but rather hybrids.

The idea's a little scary
But explains why I'm so hairy.