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.

Atlas at 50

I spent the day at a 50th birthday party for a novel: Atlas Shrugged. Attendance was higher than expected - around 300. Some members of the press dropped in. CSPAN videotaped a lot of it and plans to air it on Oct 13.

The program was lively. I suppose the biggest buzz concerned the Hollywood people who are working on the movie. I enjoyed Anne Heller's tantalizing preview of her forthcoming biography of Rand. She has a lot of new material, and has clearly enjoyed her work.

I also want to mention Mimi Gladstein's talk about the role of film technique in Rand's prose style, which fleshed out something I had was more vaguely aware of. The material, and more, will appear in this new collections of essays on Atlas. In conversation afterward, she mentioned that lasting literature usually "works on multiple levels" (as we English majors like to say).

She writes of steel and trains,
And disappearing brains
In cinematic prose
That fairly glows.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rude Rudy?

Rudy Giulani has an odd habit. He regularly takes phone calls from his wife while he is on the podium giving speeches. This is experienced, by the audience, as a form of rudeness. Why does he do this?

Dr. Helen Smith proposes one explanation:
First and foremost, it could be that Mr. Giuliani is afraid not to take calls from his wife. He jokingly said at a meeting once that he had to take calls from his wife as “I’ve been married three times.” He then explained, “I can’t afford to lose another one…..”
When you hear your pocket phone
Start to ring her special tone
In the middle of your speech
Just resist the urge to reach.

Hey, Rudy, leave that phone alone!

Flag Pin Mania

There's a news story that Obama has stopped wearing a flag pin.

He used to wear one. But he decided flag pins were substitutes for true patriotism - which consists in speaking out about important national security issues.

Admittedly, he speaks with scrambled syntax:
“The truth is that right after 9/11 I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security.”
My question: is he saying that "speaking out on issues" is the main measure of true patriotism?

Given his "never say die"
Delight in speaking out
He might be the most patriotic guy
You'll ever hear about!

The funny thing is, I don't care if he wears the pin. I don't wear a pin. But his explanation bothers me. I suppose this is a recurring theme at this blog - me scratching my head over other people's explanations!

Prismatic Legends

In Gilgamesh, after the gods get reckless
And flood the world, they hang a necklace.

The Bible tells a similar story:
Killer rains, then a sign of God's glory.

The Norse say it's a bridge which men may stride
To visit the lands where the gods reside.

Mere foolishness! Let the truth be told:
It's where the leprechauns hide their gold!

When I Was Five

Picture an earth circled only by rock.
Sputnik shot up. Imagine the shock.

Fifty years later, I have a wrist device that picks up satellite signals and figures out how fast I'm running.

Perhaps our progress is slow. But still, isn't it stunning?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Secondary Colors

On an island, far from home,
I saw a double-rainbow once,
Ribboning across the sky.

I stood, stunned,
Wondering why
One had colors reversed
And vaguely dispersed.

"One reflects the other!"
So I thought at first.

Anyway, today a saw a blurry rainbow, and I remembered that double rainbow in Hawaii. So I looked it up. I'm a little sketchy on the optics, but it's not really true that one rainbow is a reflection of the other. Rather, individual rain drops emit reflected light at 2 different angles, creating the 2 separate bows.

2 different angles, 2 different bows.
That's really how the double rainbow goes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Welfare for Everyone

Hillary Clinton wants every U.S. baby to be given a $5000 savings account for future college and home expenses!
The New York senator did not offer an estimate of the total cost of such a program or how she would pay for it. About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.
Okay. I can multiply. So I will estimate the cost. 4 million babies times 5000 dollars. 20 billion! But don't forget we will need a Bureau of Baby Bonds to manage this boondoggle. So double my estimate and bring it to 40 billion. Hmm. How can we pay for it? I know - a tax on babies!

Welcome to the world, kid.
We've put you on the dole!
Five thousand is the going bid
To buy your newborn soul.