Monday, April 30, 2007

Derision and Precision

I came across an interesting list of fallacies today, but I have a question about one: "Misplaced Precision"

The first example I have no quarrel with:
The museum guide says the dinosaur skeleton is 90,000,006 years old - because when he was hired six years ago he was told that it was 90 million years old.
That's pretty funny. Now consider the second example:
The time for the Olympic 30-kilometer relay race, which takes almost an hour and a half to run, is measured to one one-hundredth of a second.
Are these cases really similar? In the case of the dinosaur, we know that paleolithic dating is inherently imprecise, and when we hear a number like 90 million years, we know it has been rounded and has a big margin of error.

But in the case of the 30k, the problem is not imprecise timing systems. We have the technology to measure a race with that kind of precision. And some Olympic races are indeed won by fractions of a second. The hundredths may not matter for most races, but we have them if we need them.

So I ask, quite matter-of-factly,
Where is the falsehood, exactly?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ring Season

We went to a wedding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The bride said there had been cold rainy weather until just before the big day, when a serious case of sun broke out. So she got lucky.

Not that wedding day weather is much of an omen for a marriage. My parents got married in the middle of an unseasonable November blizzard in Chicago. The best man didn't make it. The photographer didn't make it. The marriage worked out anyway.

Despite getting hitched in bad weather,
They seemed rather happy together.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Just So

Infinity needed a sign.
The numeral 8 said "Try mine!
If I lie on my side
I can smoothly provide
A shape you can endlessly twine."

Thursday, April 26, 2007


There's a tendency in the Western world to look elsewhere for societies that are "free and natural" with regard to sex.

But from what I can make out, no such other place really exists. Of course there are plenty of places that don't have our particular customs and prohibitions. But they all have their own.

Most societies ooze
Massive sets of taboos
That seem guaranteed to confuse


A court in India has issued an arrest warrant for Richard Gere.

He publicly kissed a Bollywood actress on the cheek - repeatedly - even bending her over into a deep dip while smooching the side of her face.

Richard Gere,
You are a freak.
Hou could you kiss her
On the cheek?

Get out of here,
And do it quick.
Such behavior's
Simply sick!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One More Thing

"New Storm Bears Down On Chicago Region" reads the Trib headline.

I read it wrong the first time. I thought it was saying:

"New Bears Storm Down On Chicago Region"... which could be even worse.

I visualize a thunderous herd of polars
Chasing after me with flashing molars.


I got a thought-provoking set of comments on yesterday's post. So I wanted to follow-up on this business of broadcasting the arrests of men who arrive in pursuit of sex with imaginary 14-year-olds.

Apparently, what they get charged with is "Attempted Statutory Rape" (or whatever it's called now), since they were never really in touch with an actual 14-year-old, but they were nonetheless attempting to do so.

I watched it just once, and found it thoroughly queasy TV. I lacked sympathy for the guys - but I was also disturbed by the stingers. They seemed overly worked up, in a scary sort of way, and I wondered about their motivations.

Are there really a lot of 14 year old females hooking up with middle aged males on the net? I'm a bit skeptical that this is quite the massive social problem it is made out to be.

When old guys announce their attraction,
Wouldn't "Ewww!!!" be the standard reaction?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jailbait and Switch

Our current Miss America, who is 20 years old, has been going into chat rooms and posing as a 14 year old.

It was for one of those televised sting programs, where the unwitting pervs show up looking for an underage hookup, but instead end up videotaped and handcuffed.

They step in the room - and kaboom - there's the cops.
From hookup to lockup in one hour tops!

Harvard Law of Animal Behavior

Under controlled conditions
Of stimulus and response,
An animal makes its decisions
However the hell it wants.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Killer Colors

Dandelions and violets
Splash across the lawn
Slurping up the sun,
And violating the mellow green
With purple and yellow fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cold Standard

Peggy Noonan wrote in the Journal today about the Virginia Tech case:

The literally white-bearded head of the campus counseling center was on Paula Zahn Wednesday night suggesting the utter incompetence of officials to stop a man who had stalked two women, set a fire in his room, written morbid and violent plays and poems, been expelled from one class, and been declared by a judge to be "mentally ill" was due to the lack of a government "safety net." In a news conference, he decried inadequate "funding for mental health services in the United States." Way to take responsibility. Way to show the kids how to dodge.
I thought the whole piece was packed with insight.

Noonan thinks the people in charge of the school
Come off like learned fools.


The theologians said you can't die well
Unless you have received a watery blessing.
Without it, you go straight to burning hell.
But baby lovers found this point distressing.

How could newborn children be condemned
To suffer for eternity despite
Their doing nothing wrong? The high priests hemmed,
And hawed, and hatched a scheme to set things right.

They said that on the Inferno's farthest edge
There was a pleasant place of fairest form -
Limbo they called it, and they gave a pledge
That children frolicked there, cozy and warm.

They only lacked one thing – they could not see
The One who paroled them to this periphery.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ready for Change

A baby came to stay
At our house for just one day.
Her mom and dad came as well.

I enjoyed the chance to play
But I'm glad mom took her away,
When that diaper began to smell.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's A Gas

Earth Day is April 22.

You may want to plant some algae. Some varieties suck up CO2. But I guess they aren't technically plants anymore.

Whatever you do, don't exercise. Your body produces increased CO2 when you exercise! Just lie still and admire the planet.

In its honor, for what it's worth,
I plan to spend the day on Earth.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sick of Cho Already

I don't want to see
His nasty face.
It's fine with me
If we just erase
Every last trace
Of his being.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First, or Second, Impressions

Tomorrow in book club we're doing Jane Austen's most popular novel. A fellow club member reviews it here, seeing it as a comedy of manners.

I read it more as a romance.

What did the divine Miss Austen really think about those 2 alliterative attitudes she put in the title? I have my own ideas, of course.

Dreadful wretchedness
Comes from Prejudice,
But the joy of Pride

Monday, April 16, 2007

Slow Massacre

What a sorrowful mess at Virginia Tech.

Gun-free zone. Except for the psycho. Great.

And, from the descriptions so far, the police sat outside with rifles - while the guy kept pausing to reload before killing more victims inside the building.

I suspect fewer would have died,
With an early, aggressive, charge inside.

Electronic Running

I bought the wrist GPS to get current speed while running.

But favorite feature, so far, is simple mileage.

Formerly I arranged my long runs so that it was easy to calculate mileage. Now I can run as the spirit moves me and the gizmo will just tell me the distance.

Not bound to any particular route,
I'm free to run till my legs give out.

If I can't take a step to save my life,
I use my cell phone to call my wife.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

With an Edge

Seeing The Unseen, Part 2, is a passionate attack on conspiracy theories.

It opens like this:

Occam’s Razor is the idea that when confronted with competing theories that explain certain data equally well, the simplest one is usually correct. It’s called Occam’s Razor, and not Occam’s Hypothesis, or Occam’s Theorem, or Occam’s Bit of Useful Advice, because it is a razor – it cuts cleanly and with great efficiency.
Occam's bit of useful advice:
Needless complexity isn't nice.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Third Rails

"the Imus remark... didn’t touch merely one third rail of American societal discourse (race) but two third rails (race and gender)."

Put aside the question of how there can be more than one "third rail".

I actually think that neither the race issue, nor the gender issue was key. I get the impression that Imus made a habit of standing on those 2 rails and laughing at the world. I think what he did wrong was to cast those sorts of aspersions on children.

Children are the true third rail of American politics.

Sure, college students are legal adults for most purposes. But they're perceived as not having entered the grown-up world yet.

If you want your career
To hit the skids
Just let folks hear
You're attacking kids.

Bad Words

It's hard to redeem connotation. Rand tried it with selfishness. Some people have tried it with the n-word and even the whore/ho combo. Attempting to reverse negative spin gets people's attention, and will cause some to think, but simply shocks others.

So the safer approach is the coining of new phrases for the old things which you wish people to see in a new light.

Some old words seem
Hopelessly cursed
Hard to redeem
Stuck in reverse.

And though it's much blander
To make a new name
In truth, that's the standard
Way to reframe.

Friday, April 13, 2007


In England, a nappy is a noun meaning diaper. In white American baby talk, a nappy is a brief sleep. But in Black America, nappy is an adjective describing the tightly curled hair characteristic of black people.

Colloquially, it often seems to mean wild or unkempt hair - or hair that needs a trimming. As in:

"My hair is getting nappy."

As jordanzimmerman reminded me, Stevie Wonder sang:

Looking back on when I
Was a little nappy headed boy
Then my only worry
Was for Christmas what would be my toy

There's a children's book called Nappy Hair, written by a black woman. The idea is that "nappy hair" is a perfectly good kind of hair. But a white teacher got in trouble for trying to use the book in the classroom.

So, it means black people's hair, and it's often used negatively, even among black people.

So, if you're white, and want to stay happy
I suggest you best beware
Of daring to use this loaded word "nappy"
About your black friends' hair.
But if you really want to feel crappy
Say it on the air.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Shall no longer slime us.

He wasn't actually sliming me, since I didn't listen to him. But regular listeners are now spared the horror of having to hear his words. And all those important political figures are now spared the necessity of appearing on his show.

He spouted and slandered,
And made lots of trouble.
He broke social standards,
Both single and double.

But now he's departed
Perhaps without knowing
Just how he started
This firestorm blowing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Duke Case Rebuked

I have waited to post about the Duke false accusations of rape case. I thought it smelled funny from the first. The details didn't add up, and the case became way too politicized - from the get go.

Their prosecutor has been declared a rogue prosecutor and will probably be stripped of his law license.

All charges have been dropped, and the state has indicated the players are innocent of all charges.

After surviving this vicious attack,
Where can they go to get their reputations back?

Genographic Chaos

The Genographic project tests your DNA and tells you something about your ancient genetic origins.

If you're a male, it tests the DNA of your Y-chromosome. This is passed straight down the male line of descent.

If you're a female, it tests the DNA of your mitochondria. This is passed straight down the female line of descent.

But somehow my brother-in-law's test came out wacky.

First, they gave him test results for his mitochondrial DNA. He was supposed to get the Y-chromosome test.

Next, his mitochondrial results don't even match those of my wife, who had the same mother he did.

It's a muck-up to make your toes curl.
Unless he was switched at birth and is really a girl.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stem Cells in Brazil

Suppose you treat some type-1 diabetics with their own stem cells.

15 people, some of them teens, were subjected to the risky procedure. 13 seem, at least temporarily, to be cured. The other 2 come through okay but still need insulin shots.

This was done in Brazil. Is Brazilian medicine at the forefront of research? Not exactly. The doctor who designed the protocol was from Northwestern Medical School in Chicago. So... why Brazil?

For some reason no one wanted to do it in America. Is it because of the federal shadow over stem cell research? Or is it just very cautious medical ethicists? The story quotes one of them, from another school, criticizing the experiment for including teens.

But the Brazilian ethics board said to go for it.

There is a risk to avoiding risk.
You accidentally whisk away
The benefits of experiment.
You cannot win unless you play.

Monday, April 09, 2007

On The Injured List

A New York City employee reportedly scammed a Workers Compensation system into writing checks to a made-up name: John Awesome.

Mr. Awesome
Took a romp
With extra checks from Workers Comp!

Tragically, he left a trail.
Now he'll draw some
Time in jail.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter

It's our coldest Easter in a couple of decades. At least it should get above freezing by noon. In April!

Wondering why Easter hops around so much on the calendar? Because it's the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the first day of Spring. Talk about a chaotic formula.

May the bunny's hopping legs
Bring a happy haul of eggs.

And even if it's just another Sunday,
At least I hope it works out as a fun day.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Anti-Doom Pantoum

Maradydd said she wanted to see me try a pantoum, a complicated poetic form with interlocking repeating lines. It's a Malay form that was adapted into French by Victor Hugo - at least, that's what WikiWisdom says. I find it's a bit hypnotic, with a funny free-floating quality.

This Net was not foreseen by science fiction
Central control was pretty much the vision;
Cast a cold eye on futurist prediction:
They had a spotty pattern of precision.

Central control was usually the vision,
Via a giant computer that saw all.
They had a spotty pattern of precision.
Why were they so rarely on the ball?

Via a giant computer that saw all
A technical elite would rule our days -
Why were they so rarely on the ball?
The visions often end in some grim blaze.

A technical elite would rule our days?
Learn not to trust the fortuneteller's word.
The visions often end in some grim blaze.
In real life no dictatorship occurred.

Learn not to trust the fortuneteller's word.
Computers are compatible with freedom;
In real life no dictatorship occurred.
Consumers all say: “More hot spots! We need 'em.”

Computers are compatible with freedom.
Cast a cold eye on futurist prediction.
Consumers all say: “More hot spots! We need 'em.”
This Net was not foreseen by science fiction.

WMD, Improvised

I never liked the WMD acronym. In practice it didn't seem to include ordinary bombs, which are, literally, weapons of mass destruction.

Don't worry Mom.
It's just a bomb.

One of the most fearsome WMD's has finally turned up in Iraq. Gas. Improvised poison gas, I guess you could call it, since the method is to do suicide truck bombings with big tanks of chlorine. And death by chlorine would be horrible, I'm sure.

But does it really matter
If you die of lung corrosion
As opposed to being shattered
By conventional explosion?

Friday, April 06, 2007



All men, together, piled stone on stone,
Meaning to build a tower to the sky.
God frowned to see them stand so near his throne,
And planned a trick to knock their work awry.

So to the tribes he gave distinctive tongues,
Stripping away the power to converse
Except among the group where one belongs.
Wasn't that a fine and clever curse?


Sheer myth. The power is ours. We wield the gift
To make new sounds, new words, new ways of speech.
Living apart, our verbal islands drift
And over time the gap defies our reach.

Just as it's in our blood to dream and build,
Until unheard-of towers scrape the sky,
Our need for play with words must be fulfilled;
Language must grow, or surely it will die.


These very words will someday need translation.
Poetry writes its message in the sand
Of shifting particles, a brief vibration
Of airy waves that whisper something grand.

But humankind goes on, demanding song
To suit the strange new languages they spout.
It's what we do. The drive for jive is strong.
So twist your tongue around and shout it out.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Quizno's New Mascot

I am very sorry to have missed the coyote at Quizno's on Tuesday.

He walked into the downtown sandwich shop and hopped into an open cooler. Eventually Animal Control corralled him and released him on an estate in a posh northern suburb.

I believe this is all a front.
They paid the coyote to do this stunt.
Soon, like Jared, week after week
He'll show up in ads with his lean physique,
Bragging that all he ever eats
Is sandwiches made with Quizno's meat.

When interviewed, the coyote said:
"One roast beef. And hold the bread."

Cubs for Sale

The Chicago Cubs are up for sale.
Everyone assumes that they'll
Stay here. But would it make you too blue
If they moved to Honolulu?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Where's My Umbrella?

Grey cotton candy
The color of dread
The flavor of rain
Drifts overhead.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Chicago's top cop resigned today. We'd had two big news stories involving off-duty police getting in fights in bars, followed by allegations that members of the force had engaged in attempted cover-up.

I just started paying attention to beating number 2. This one starts with a group of off-duty cops at a bar. One of them is crying, reportedly because of the recent death of his father. A businessman allegedly tells the crying cop, "Stop crying, you pussy."

Now, if you want to start a brawl in this town, that's an excellent opener. There are many people here who would take that as license to clobber. As they used to say in Westerns, "Them's fighting words." Our laws, and our police regulations, do not actually approve of this sort of thing, but our laws have also failed to stomp it out.

So when a man is crying
Over his father's dying,
And you feel the strangest urge
To impugn the fellow's courage,
Say something kind, instead,
So he doesn't bash your head.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

First Things

What if what makes the world real
Is just a function of how we feel?

What if truth is best defined
By polling the collective mind?

What if freedom is just a word,
And happiness beyond absurd?

And before your brain cells burst,
What if today is April First?