Monday, November 30, 2009

Perhaps She Was Oblivious With Grief

It might be funny if it was a cartoon, but it's real people:
Police say a Virginia woman was struck and killed while taking flowers to a roadside memorial for her granddaughter who died in a crash at the same spot a week ago.
It's a recent trend,
to mark every public place where someone met their end.

I'm not sure if the markers are there to warn,
or whether they're more of a way to mourn.

This one was surely not
a safe spot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Video Controversies

There are now 2 video controversies involving people allegedly responding inappropriately to Midge Hough.

She's a health care reform activist, and in both videos she recounts the recent death of her uninsured pregnant daughter in law.

She believes that if more affordable care had been available, the young lady would have lived. She says the final medical bill was over 1.5 million dollars.

In the first video, the governor of Illinois looks like he's ready for a nap while she's talking. A political opponent put out the video.

In the second video, she says people are laughing at her at a town hall meeting, although you can't actually hear any laughter while she tells her story. A still photo of one guy smiling is shown. Health care activists put out the video.

In a time of political intrigue,
beware of compassion fatigue!

Otherwise the video editor's art
may paint you as a person without heart.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

International Thankgiving Competition

The Canadians have Thanksgiving in October.

For some reason, we in the U.S. are forced to wait until November.

Is that fair? No.

But I have a compromise in mind
which I hope all will find
perfectly nice:

Let's celebrate twice!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where Did I Put That Carnivore Cookbook?

How much is enough beef jerky
when you need to stuff a turkey?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sad End

Do you remember that poor U.S. Census worker who was imagined to be the victim of right-wing violence?

He was found, naked and dead, in the hills of Kentucky, with a rope around his neck and one word, "fed", written on his chest.

But the police have decided it was staged. By the Census worker. He killed himself.
Sparkman also had recently taken out two accidental life insurance policies totaling $600,000 that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. One policy was taken out in late 2008; the other in May.
In an act of insurance fraud,
with a plan that was slightly flawed,
he tried to hide
the fact of suicide.

TSA and Non-Photo-ID

Our local Fox News crew sent people to fly out of the 2 Chicago airports - and they sent them without picture i.d.

Did they get turned away
by TSA?
On every occasion, these Fox employees were allowed through security without a hitch as long as they showed that the name on their boarding pass matched the name on a couple of credit cards.
This could come in pretty handy here in Illinois, where you often have to surrender your driver's license for a moving traffic violation - which might even occur on your way to the airport! The ability to fall back on a credit card was cool.

Now they'll probably have a "crackdown".

Darn Fox. They had to squeal
and ruin an excellent deal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Shortage

In a massive failure of the free market, there is now a shortage of pumpkin pie filling!

Libby's, which has corenered most of the pumpkin filling market, blames the weather.

It's my opinion that this is a good thing. Pumpkin pie is obviously something most people don't really like - since they only eat it on ceremonial occasions.

This shortage is a wonderful excuse
to cut the pumpkin pie tradition loose.

Common Sense

Merlin Jetton led a very interesting discussion about common sense last night, which began with Aristotle's use of the term.

He meant something different than we mean. Aristotle noticed that despite having separate senses, we nonetheless end up with an integrated experience of the world, that all the data streams, in effect, are tied together.

When we look at a ball and hold it in our hands, we actually perceive its roundness through both sight and touch, but unless we stop to reflect, we usually don't notice that we have 2 grounds for thinking it's round. And if we lean forward and sniff the ball to discover how it smells, we don't usually have to "think" about where the smell is coming from - we "just know" it's the ball.

The modern meaning of common sense is sometimes described as "what everyone can agree about," but I don't think that can be right, since you often hear people say of academics: "they're smart but they lack common sense".

If academics can "lack common sense", then not everyone agrees can agree about it - just "sensible" people agree.

I wonder if the meaning is in fact related to Aristotle's meaning. I wonder if by "common sense" we now mean "judgments that clearly tie back to perception", as opposed to judgments that look like flights of fancy.

Rand didn't always like the way other people used the term, but she often used it herself with a positive meaning. She gave 2 different explanations of what it was:
That which today is called "common sense" is the remnant of an Aristotelian influence, and that was the businessman's only form of philosophy. ("For the New Intellectual", 1961)
Americans are the most reality-oriented people on earth. Their outstanding characteristic is the childhood form of reasoning: common sense. It is their only protection. But common sense is not enough where theoretical knowledge is required: it can make simple, concrete-bound connections—it cannot integrate complex issues, or deal with wide abstractions, or forecast the future. ("Don't Let It Go", 1971)
There may be a way to tie these 2 passing comments into one theory.
But, at the moment, that leaves me feeling leery.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ugly Climate

I've looked a bit at the hacked/leaked snippets from the UK Climate Science place.

I don't want to judge the scientific discussions. Independent scientists with the right training should do that.

But some of these snippets sound too much like petty politicians plotting to suppress their opponents.

I'm not a climate scientist,
but I'm a student of spin.

I wonder whether these people grasp
the sort of mess they're in?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cool House

Our house boiler is not boiling.

The problem seems to be that too much water is coming into it. I think maybe it's just the water valve.

We've got a steam guy coming tomorrow to take a look.

I could try to fix it myself, but I'm going to take a pass.

Boilers must be approached with care.
And duct tape might not work for this repair.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lone Terrorist

I'm seeing an implicit sort of argument lately - that the Fort Hood killer was not a terrorist because he acted alone.

Is that a key part of the definition? Do you need a conspiracy to qualify? Is a 2-person conspiracy - like McVeigh and Nichols - enough?

Also, if you're crazy, is that grounds for disqualification? Because I'm betting a lot of suicide bombers have a nutty streak. I'm hoping they get their own DSM entry soon: Explosive Suicidal Ideation.

Whether there's more than one person to blame,
the goals and the means are the same.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quantum Love Song

Take a glass of water. Empty half of it. Repeat indefinitely.

At some point you get down to a single molecule of water, and the loop stops.

What if time itself is like that?
Quantum time is the analogue of classical continuous time (or ordinary time) yet with the fundamental difference of being discontinuous, having a minimum approximate duration equal to 10-44 seconds, the Planck time.
You can see the possibility for love poetry focusing on this peculiarity:

Does time arrive discretely
in instantaneous blips?

Let me spend it sweetly
in the tasting of your lips.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Town Hall Meeting

I attended my congressman's town hall meeting today.

Most of the talk, and yelling, was about the House health care bill. My congressman, Dan Lipinski, a sort of conservative Democrat, had been against it before he voted for it.

So a lot of tea-party type people felt betrayed. Understandably. The congressman's story was that the bill had changed, and would change again. I wish I found this reassuring.

One audience member, on his way to advocating for "single payer", actually attacked "Objectivists" for being willing to "let people die". He was roundly booed.

I'm not sure this is a case of "all publicity is good publicity".

Objectivists don't actually want to let people die. They want to let people be free - to take care of themselves and those they care about.

All health care systems, at some point, let people die. Medical resources are finite. Health is finite. Government monopoly medicine would also let people die.

But the rhetoric will be different. We will hear about the greatest good for the greatest number. And the lines will be longer. And the waits will be longer. And less money will be "wasted" on "prolonging" life.

And more money will be spent
on bureaucratic government.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Anja Hartleb-Parson brought this story to my attention:
Last week, a jury acquitted Kenneth Herron of a misdemeanor charge stemming from an incident in which he somehow managed to get into the Grizzly Bear Grotto at the San Francisco Zoo. Herron, who has a history of mental illness, ended up within bear-arm's length of two 500-pound grizzlies, one of which walked over and sniffed Herron's foot before police scared it away. Herron was extracted, arrested, and charged with trespassing and "disturbing a dangerous animal."
Apparently the jury spent a lot of time deciding whether the bear was "legally disturbed".

You have to be disturbed
to enter a grizzly's grotto.
But if the bear doesn't stir,
or consume you like a gelato,
then a jury may infer,
and indeed conclusively find,
that your presence barely entered
the grizzly's mind.

Jennifer Cronin's "Grace"

This is a painting which has been part of the Black Duckling Art Exhibit. It's entitled "Grace", and it's by Jennifer Cronin.

I'm not sure why this lass
has hammered the glass,
or why a sewing machine
lurks in the scene,
but her face
bears the trace
of a thought
that's distraught.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I counted. I've now done 18 marathons.

There's an issue about the counting. I've also done 3 50k's, which are 31 miles each; and I've done 2 ironman-distance triathlons, which include a marathon run as *part* of the race.

But I've decided to keep it simple and not mix categories.

I must admit I'm slowing
but so far I'm still going.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Making A Point Of Punctuation

I was amused by this fellow:
Frustrated by living in "St Johns Close", in Turnbridge Wells, Mr Gatward decided to buy a can of black paint and a craft brush before correcting the name to "St John's Close".
Is it to his credit
that he felt compelled to edit?

Let me admit that what he did is something I have often felt like doing.

But the story got me to thinking about the 5 reasons we tack an "s" on the end of a word:

1) to make a noun plural: I dream of dogs.
2) to make a verb third person singular: The dog dreams when it sleeps.
3) to make a noun possessive: I found the dog's toy.
4) to make a noun both plural and possessive: I found the dogs' toy.
5) to form a contraction between a noun and "is": The dog's hungry.

In written language,
the apostrophe helps us to tame
all these confusing "s"s
that pretty much sound the same.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sorry, Mr. President

They said don't jump to conclusions
about whether religious delusions
colored this killer's motivation,
but I'm succumbing to the temptation
of guessing that this baddy
imagined himself a jihadi.


20 years ago, this is what came tumbling down:

From each according to his ability,
to each according to his need,
and if you try to climb over The Wall,
we'll shoot you and laugh while you bleed.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Beware of Post

They put these yellow posts - bollards - on bike trails as a way of keeping cars out.

My hard-earned advice of the day is: don't drive your bike straight into one.

As we came up on this post, a woman cyclist was chastising 3 guilty-looking children about some leaves which had been set on fire on the trail. I apparently paid too much attention to the chastisement, and not enough attention to the steel post.

I'm scraped up a bit, and I expect to be black and blue on my left side in a few places. I was wearing my helmet, but I don't seem to have hit my head. Bike seems fine. iPhone seems fine.

I haven't crashed a bike in years. I suspect the underlying cause was post-marathon daze. I always feel less observant the day after a run of that length.

When a bollard's on the trail,
swerve around, or EPIC FAIL!

What Army Officers Fear

The Fort Hood shooter told a lot of his fellow soldiers that our opponents were the good guys in Iraq and Afghanistan. You might think this would get you in trouble in the Army.

And it could. But it didn't. The AP reports:
His fellow students complained to the faculty about Hasan's "anti-American propaganda," but said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a formal complaint.
The Army is a huge inertial bureaucracy, and fear of seeming biased is today a standard feature of such institutions.

Sometimes, in order to CYA,
you need to look the other way.

Born with an Accent

They don't just kick the insides of their mommies' tummies, they eavesdrop too:
Babies Cry in Accents Heard in the Womb
It's the original version
of learning by immersion.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Ran the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis today. Lovely course. But a bit hillier than the pancake flat Chicago course. Beautiful day. But a bit warmer than is really ideal for running that distance.

Still, I'm not complaining.
I'm so glad it wasn't raining.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Latest word: the homicidal psycho-psychiatrist rumored-possible-jihadi-sympathizing Army Major is alive.

I'd rather he were dead

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Perfected Through Infection

After I got my swine flu shot, I was reading up on viruses, and was shocked to find out that we're all part virus:
Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are retroviruses derived from ancient viral infections of germ cells in humans, mammals and other vertebrates; as such their proviruses are passed on to the next generation and now remain in the genome.
They play a key role in evolution.
So we're not just descended from our "ancestors," we're also descended from some viruses that infected egg cells or sperm cells. And some of the modifications were useful.

Ancestors, I thank you all,
for bringing about my existence,
including those bugs, microscopically small,
who sneaked past your bodies' resistance.

Clan of the Cave Bear

A sad tale of Muslim separatists:
A bear killed two militants after discovering them in its den in Indian-administered Kashmir, police say.
The militants had assault rifles but were taken by surprise - police found the remains of pudding they had made to eat when the bear attacked.

Best to beware
of the homecoming bear.

If he finds you in his cave
the hole becomes your grave.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Paul Hsieh puts it succinctly:
“Coverage” is not the same as actual medical care.
People imagine "having coverage" as having a safety net.

But many universal coverage systems involve waiting lists and rationing. Which means the "safety net" features big gaping holes.

Sometimes when you're on
a real long waiting list,
by the time your turn comes up
you no longer exist.

A+ for Creativity

Police were investigating a report of two would-be burglars with painted faces. Then they arrested a couple of guys who had used permanent marker to disguise themselves.

It worked as a mask,
but they failed to think
about the hard task
of removing the ink.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


For book club we read Paris 1919, a 500 page tome about the peace conference at the end of the first world war.

The topic sounds dry, but the book is lively.

Sitting in headquarters
they re-drew the world's borders,
but the world did not comply
and the new lines went awry
by and by.