Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hard = False

The Boston Globe ran a story today titled Easy = True.

The reporter laid out some results from the study of cognitive fluency.
Cognitive fluency is simply a measure of how easy it is to think about something, and it turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard. On the face of it, it’s a rather intuitive idea. But psychologists are only beginning to uncover the surprising extent to which fluency guides our thinking, and in situations where we have no idea it is at work.
One result, one familiar to me, is that rhyming statements are more likely to be seen as true.
McGlone did a study in which he presented subjects with a series of unfamiliar aphorisms either in rhyming or nonrhyming form: “Woes unite foes,” for example, versus “Woes unite enemies.” He found that people tended to see the rhyming ones as more accurate than the nonrhyming ones, despite the fact that, substantively, the two were identical. Phrases that are easier on the ear aren’t just catchy and easy to remember, McGlone argues, they also feel inherently truer. He calls it “the rhyme-as-reason effect.”
My favorite result comes in the form of an apparent paradox:
Couples asked to come up with a short list of good qualities about each other reported higher levels of marital happiness than the other couples in the study - but so did those couples asked to come up with a long list of each other’s bad qualities.
So when your significant other is mad,
ask her to write out ONE HUNDRED bad
things about you. She'll find it hard work,
and conclude that you're not really such a big jerk.

Over the Edge of Darkness

We saw Edge of Darkness, the new movie starring Mel Gibson. It's a paranoid political thriller, but it's more moody than fast paced, and it's kind of a downer.

Oddly enough, the movie features a Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

But no one, not even Republicans, will like him.

I have to say the film was well acted,
but as for the ending - well, that's been redacted.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Less Than Frozen

Our spending freeze will be nuanced and fair,
not even chilly - just full of hot air.

Vein Drain

Some donate blood,
then fall with a thud -
an outcome much to be dreaded.

Luckily, I'm just lightheaded.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Behind the Stage

The city puts on its prettiest face
for tourists,
polishes up the place
and invites them
to see the sights
the dazzling lights
and the dizzying heights
of downtown.

I love that show,
but I like to go
behind the stage to see
how it works.

One of the perks
of living here
is getting to know
where the warehouses are,
where the railroad yards sprawl,
where the people in grittier jobs
gather away from the snobs,
although, truth to tell,
they can be rather snobby as well,
but, of course,
in reverse.

The empty spaces
also call
to me,
flat wasted fields,
where something big once towered
a factory perhaps,
long ago collapsed
and bulldozed away.

I stand,
random rubble at my feet,
bricks, glass, concrete,
and weeds,
mere temporary residents
soaking up the sun
in this bleak and empty lot,
which in twenty years
may be a happening spot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budget Magic

Obama gets tough:
President Barack Obama plans two separate actions to curb salaries and bonuses of the highest- paid executives in the government.
But, wait.

Bonuses? How do they qualify for these bonuses in the first place?

Should the head of the IRS
get extra compensation
for managing to press
more taxes from the nation?

Telephony Phonies

You may remember the fake pimp who got ACORN people to give him some embarrassing advice on secret video.

Well, he and some buddies pulled a new spectacular stunt - in the office of a U.S. Senator. It fell rather flat:
FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes alleges that O'Keefe aided and abetted Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system.
Here's the thing. You can enter an ACORN office under false pretenses, and you probably haven't broken the law yet. But, sure enough, you're not allowed to mess with the Feds like that. There's a law for that!

And tapping anybody's phone? There's a law for that too!

Any publicity is good, some people say.
Well, these guys are stars!

That's something to rethink while they're away -
locked behind bars.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Right vs. Left

Did you ever notice that lots of people get confused about right and left, but hardly anyone gets confused about up and down?

Mirrors are permanently confused about right and left. But they never make a mistake about up and down.

And then there's... English.

Forgive me for complaining,
but, the last time I checked,
left also means remaining
and right also means correct.

Where In The World

I did remember that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were on the same island.

But if you had asked me which was which...

At geography, I'm not the best,
and in a quiz, I would have guessed
that Haiti was to the west.

However, given an outline of North Carolina and South Carolina,
I would have done much finah.

Friday, January 22, 2010


My daughter and wife are big on "Great Books".
As for me, I like second-rate books.

Oh, sure I'll break down and read Hume,
but leave me alone in a room
and you'll probably find me gobbling down
authors rather less renowned.

Long Term Parking

For those of you with long memories:

"Happy Guantanamo Closing Day!"

By the way,
there will be a delay.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shimer Class

My wife is co-teaching a class at Shimer College, here in Chicago. The title of the course is "The Morality of Capitalism". The course description reads:
Capitalism has brought more wealth to more people than any other economic system in history, but it works by appealing to self-interest and greed, and it causes huge disparities in wealth. Is it good or evil? Can we determine its moral status? Readings include writings by Plato, Aristotle, Smith, Marx, Veblen, Weber, Mises, and Rawls.
Class started today, with a discussion of part of Plato's Republic. Shimer is a "great books" college, so the students were already familiar with the Republic.

As for Plato, you may be leery,
or think his ideas are the worst,
but when it comes to theory,
he often covered it first.

Air America Up In Smoke

A dream goes belly up:
Air America, the liberal talk-radio network that helped boost the careers of Al Franken and Rachel Maddow, said Thursday that it was declaring bankruptcy and going off the air.
My theory is that NPR
is much preferred in a liberal car.

The voices sound so even-toned
and all the shows are publicly owned.

Air America Up In Smoke

A dream goes belly up:
Air America, the liberal talk-radio network that helped boost the careers of Al Franken and Rachel Maddow, said Thursday that it was declaring bankruptcy and going off the air.
My theory is that NPR
is much preferred in a liberal car.

The voices sound so even-toned
and all the shows are publicly owned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I find a dime on the ground.
It's badly battered,
imperfectly round.
None of that matters to me.

I imagine the coin
is a gift.
Across the rift,
we're joined.

Thank you, I say,
feeling her presence -
hovering, pleasant.

I walk by a pool
where people make wishes,
tossing my ten cents in,
almost sensing her again,
sadly reflecting.

I am a fool in my way,
but the feeling is delicious.

So I go on, coin-collecting,
glimpsing her shining face,
an image that won't erase.

Playing With The "Fourth Wall"

Ayn Rand's play, Night of January the 16th, is known for its jury gimmick.

She was reportedly influenced by another play, The Trial of Mary Dugan, which also had a jury gimmick.

The gimmicks are different, but related.

In Rand's play, the jury is drawn from the audience, and they actually vote to determine the verdict of the play.

In the Trial of Mary Dugan, the audience is addressed AS IF it were the jury. And at the end of the play, an actor planted in the audience pretends to be the jury foreman, and shouts "Not guilty."

There is no wall.
It's space, that's all.

And Now, From Boston Harbor

Brown tea
tastes sweet
to me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hamlet of the Apes

We gave out keyboards to one million monkeys,
and waited for one Hamlet to be typed.

A million keyboards cost a lot of money
but it was worth it, for the time was ripe
to test the claim which “they” were always saying,
that given infinite time these monkeys would
produce a play that wasn't merely good
but rather great! And so we went on praying,
especially since the simians liked to destroy
the keyboards which they were supposed to employ
in typing out “to be or not” etcetera,
somehow emerging from mere random letters.

After a billion years, they had evolved.
“Come now, chaps, this problem's easily solved,
and we don't see what all the fuss is about.
Give us a copy and we'll type it out!”
We had to agree they sounded rather intelligent.
But we refused. Their solution was inelegant.

We somehow didn't have the heart to tell
them that they'd typed it once, but failed to spell
“Ophelia” correctly, which was quite a sorrow.
But, so what, they always had tomorrow!

They beat us in the end, for they invented
a time machine - they went back and attended
the first production of Hamlet at the Globe,
and even corrected our manuscripts, which drove
some Lit. professors into deep despair.

Replicate our experiment if you dare!

Monday, January 18, 2010


When the words are out of reach
and you gaze upon her face
in the hope that parts of speech
will somehow chance to capture
the strange angelic grace
which sweeps your brain to rapture...

Then you're dreaming, silly boy -
for words may catch your feeling
but that distillate of joy,
which is bottled in her self
and leaves you simply reeling
isn't on the reference shelf.

Yeats wrote about Maud Gonne,
and we read today and sigh,
for his words go on and on
and we melt within his heart,
but what the girl was like -
why, he barely makes a start!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Game of Pin the Blame

As many of you have heard, the Democratic Party has run into a bit of trouble in that special senatorial election in Massachusetts. The President was there today, giving a speech to a rally that apparently lacked sizzle.
After Obama Rally, Dems Pin Blame On Bush

January 17, 2010 6:16 PM By Felicia Sonmez

As audience members streamed out of Pres. Obama's rally on behalf of AG Martha Coakley (D) here tonight, the consensus was that the fault for Coakley's now-floundering MA SEN bid lies with one person -- George W. Bush.
Take that pin and give it a push
right in the tush
of that dastardly Bush!

It would cause too much mental trauma
to pin it upon Obama.


Here's a funny cartoon, which turns on the idea that bad excuses, like laziness, become good excuses by adding one word: syndrome.

A syndrome is:
a pattern of symptoms indicative of some disease
You don't need to know which disease necessarily. Just some disease, perhaps yet to be discovered.

Just chill.

I'm lazy
'cause I'm ill.

We're hazy
as to exactly why
but cut me slack
or I might try
a full attack
and almost die.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Blok

This is another Blok poem, Протекли за годами года, roughly Englished by request, based on the requestor's prose translation:

Year after year flew by.
Blindly I lived in what seemed.
And then today I dreamed
That her love for me was a lie.

I was merely a passer-by,
A passer-by, that's clear.
This childish passion died.
She said: Forgive me, dear.

Though love overflows my soul,
Time with others yields bitter dismay.
That song was a bell that tolled
In a dream that I dreamed today.

The Trial of Mary Dugan and The Night of January 16th

Anne Heller's new biography of Ayn Rand says, without elaboration, that Rand's play, The Night of January 16th, was "largely modeled" on a prior hit play, The Trial of Mary Dugan.

The similarities seem to be that each is an intricately plotted courtroom drama, and each features a scandalous woman accused of murdering a millionaire.

Here's a plot summary of Mary Dugan:
A Follies beauty, Mary Dugan, is on trial for the murder of millionaire Edgar Rice. Her defense seems to be faltering until her young brother, Jimmy, a lawyer just beginning his career, insists he himself replace her present lawyer, Edward West. Mary admits to affairs with several men but wins favor with the jury when she reveals that the money she received was used to provide Jimmy's education. After it is determined that Rice was stabbed to death by a powerful, left‐handed man, Jimmy provides the reason for her initially weak defense. Rice, it seems, was murdered by attorney West, who loved Mrs. Rice, so decided to frame Mary. Time remarked that the play “moves more swiftly than the law with all its ruthless directness. Its plot has the fascinating features of a front‐page murder story.”
Here's a plot summary of January 16th:
Bjorn Faulkner has swindled millions of dollars from investors, by investing cash he didn't have in order to control the gold trade. In the wake of a crash, he is facing bankruptcy despite the injection of money by Mr. John Graham Whitfield, a prominent banker whose daughter, Nancy Lee Faulkner, married Faulkner shortly after the loan. On the night of January 16th, Karen Andre, Bjorn Faulkner's mistress of ten years, and Bjorn are in the penthouse at the top of the Faulkner Building in New York when Faulkner falls to his death. The purpose of the play is to decide if it may have been a suicide - or murder.
Rand's play also features a gimmick where an audience jury decides who is found guilty.

You can see the similarities
and also the disparities.

Sunday - Painting

This is a painting, "Sunday", by Jennifer Cronin. Here's a bigger version.

A young woman is standing in her bathroom painting flowers in the air, and the flowers are coming alive.

She explains:
...with Sunday, I was really interested in moments where the illusion of paintings fall apart and where characters within the painting realize that they are just painted. So, the character in this painting is using the decorative technique of one-stroke flower painting (as seen on PBS) to decorate the surface of the painting that she is in. It also speaks a lot to the roles of women within art history as the hobby artist (or the sunday painter), relegated to what has been considered lower generas of painting, such as flower painting.
And here I thought it was just a magical moment! But I found her point about relegation rang true. The art world is full of secondary competition - not just competition of talent and production, but fierce competition in criticism and gate-keeping.

It ain't
just what you paint
that wins you fame
and acclaim.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Midwinter Thaw

I have a question for you to ponder - you don't need to answer but I am interested if you feel like answering.

Snow shrivels away to a sickly shade of gray, vanishing quickly.
Snow shrivels away
to a sickly shade of gray,
vanishing quickly.
Snow shrivels away
to a sickly
shade of gray,
vanishing quickly.
Everything's the same but the line breaks. Which is best?

Unhappy Returns

The budget chief of the USA has an explanation:
The public is getting a bad return on its tax dollars because government workers are operating with outdated technologies, Orszag said in a statement that kicked off a summit between Obama and dozens of corporate CEOs.
Interesting that he admits we're getting a bad return.

But, in my professional opinion, it's not the technology. You can make very good use of old crummy equipment. And you can muck things up with brand new equipment.

They've got a plan, and it's a beaut.
Sad to say, it won't compute.

Here's a truth that's often told:
garbage never turns to gold.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tiny Houses

A 9.5 foot wide house sold in Greenwich Village for more than 2 million bucks recently. Edna St. Vincent Millay, the great poet, once lived there.

Chicago has a rather similar house in the heart of downtown. It apparently used to be a stable. It's set back in its own little alley, nestled among some good-sized buildings. You can see it here.

I'm not sure either place
has a lot of closet space


Here's an American guy in Haiti, who drove 100 miles to find his wife:
He says he saw his wife's hand from under the rubble and heard her tell him to keep it together and just get her out. He describes it as terrifying.
I'm visualizing this. She's the one buried under the concrete. But he's the one freaking out.

Honey, don't scream and shout -
just dig me out.


Censors? We don't need no stinking censors!

Google gets righteous and stands
up to the rulers' demands.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Steppenwolf by Hesse

We read Steppenwolf for book club.

A man in a midlife crisis
indulges in various vices
and ends with a drugged out trip.
Wow, this book is hip!

Actually, I like the "middle" of the book, which is about the protagonist's relationship with a mysterious woman. It had a romantic edge. He is desperate and suicidal, but she throws him a mocking lifeline, and he agrees to submit to her will.

I cared much less for the angst ridden treatise at the start and the hallucinatory dream at the end.

The lone wolf seeks
spiritual peaks
by secret meditation techniques.

And by hopping in beds
and popping some meds.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Loved You Once, By Pushkin

I know no Russian, this is just for fun. A Russian speaking friend passed the original to me. See more about the original poem here and here.

I loved you once. My love is not yet dead,
But lingers like a spark within my heart.
Perhaps that truth is better left unsaid.
I wish no tinge of sorrow on your part.

I loved you without words and without hope,
My tongue was tied, my brain insanely jealous,
Sincere and tender, too caught up to cope.
God grant you find another love so zealous!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Standing With A Sign

I attended an anti-Obamacare protest outside my congressman's office today. Brrr. Stood in the cold for 2 hours.

My sign said, "Hands Off". We had a good time.

Hands off our rights.
We mean to live by our own lights.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Not A Translation

This is just for fun, a very free take-off on a Pushkin poem. But I speak no Russian, and have only looked at 2 English translations to get the vaguest of ideas...

If life has cheated you badly,
Don't be blue and don't turn red.
Though gloom glowers, smile instead.
Face the future, face it gladly.
Let your heart live in next year.
Though the weather's far from sunny,
Soon enough it will be clear
And these troubles will seem funny.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Preferring Gitmo To Illinois

Here's a report that the Gitmo residents do not want to follow the President's plan and move to a "supermax" prison in Illinois.

Why would that be?

Climate might enter into it. But the big thing is "supermax". That's a miserable prison experience. Basically you're locked up in solitary for 23 hours a day, last time I checked.

That much solitary
doesn't make men merry.

Bold Girls

I went to see Bold Girls, tonight. It's an Irish play by Rona Munro, about 4 women. There are no men in the play. Why is that? Because the relevant men have been jailed, or killed, by the Brits.

The play is set in Belfast, during The Troubles, a grim time indeed. The director was joking that the situation was so depressing that Prozac would be handed out at the end of the play.

I liked it a lot. The storyline kept you guessing with secrets, and action, and revelation. The dialog was quite clever, in characteristic Irish ways. And the central character, played by Linda Novak, perceived by others as a long-suffering saint, deftly unfolded her true nature to us.

Jaimey Kennedy and Grace O'Neill
made Nora and Deirdre real,

and Colleen Winters was sexy and sassy
as Cassie.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Even Now, I Almost Believe Him

This video (also here) took me back to the good old days, when promises flowed freely.

Candidate Yes-We-Can
kept saying the health care plan
would be designed on C-Span.

But the deals were cut out of sight,
away from the TV lights 
like something wasn't quite right.

Monday, January 04, 2010

"Might And Ought To Be" Mystery Solved

Ayn Rand repeatedly, in The Romantic Manifesto, misquoted a phrase from Aristotle's Poetics. Chapter 5 opens:
The most important principle of the esthetics of literature was formulated by Aristotle, who said that fiction is of greater philosophical importance than history, because "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be."
In fact, Aristotle's account left out the "and ought to be". I and others had wondered, for some time, how she had gotten that quotation wrong. Had she read something misleading, or had her memory played a trick on her? Some even suggested she was purposely misquoting.

Jennifer Burns, in her new book on Rand, tracked down the original source of the error:
It appears that Rand drew this concept not from Aristotle, but from Albert Jay Nock. In Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943), 191, Nock writes, ‘History, Aristotle says, represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be.’ In her copy of the book, Rand marked this passage with six vertical lines.
Note that Rand's Aristotle "quotation" actually comes word-for-word from the description Nock gives of Aristotle's position. She merely drops the "only".

So Burns has solved the mystery
of Rand's misquotation
of Aristotle's explanation
of why fiction is deeper than history!

UPDATE: Stephen Boydstun, in the comments, writes: "Robert Mayhew spoke of the Nock source in connection with his paper at the 2005 meeting of the Ayn Rand Society." Which would pre-date Burns, I guess!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Opening Tomorrow In Dubai

The world's tallest building - by far - opens tomorrow in Dubai:

It was designed by "Chicago architect Adrian Smith and his former colleagues at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill".

I like the way it looks.

I suspect the elevator ride to the top
will seem to never stop.

It's taller than two Empire State Buildings combined.
which this brings this possibility to mind:

If they ever remake King Kong in Dubai
that poor ape will have to climb twice as high.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Tug of War with a Child

Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller through artificial insemination in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.
Jenkins was given visitation rights. Miller refused to cooperate.

Jenkins was then given custody. Miller now seems to have disappeared with the child.

You're not happy that your ex
happens to be same sex?

Tough beans. It's still mean to forbid
visitation with the kid!