Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Geneva It's A Go

In today's really big news, or rather small news, the Large Hadron Collider finally starting smacking protons together today.
Two beams of protons were sent hurtling in opposite directions toward each other in a 17-mile tunnel below the Swiss-French border — the coldest place in the universe at slightly above absolute zero.
"Coldest place in the universe"? Please. And how would we know that, Mr. Journalist?

This is a 10 billion dollar project. No one's really sure what will come out of it. They will tell you that they are testing hypotheses, and that's true, but what they are mainly doing is setting up a whole new class of high-energy observations.

Every time we smash tiny things together faster, we are hugely surprised by what happens.

Some of the stuff you hear in learned lectures
turns out to be the thinnest of conjectures.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Go Ahead

I'm thinking of organizing the Doormat Party.

Revolted by revolution?
Submission is the solution!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Devil's Pool

Victoria Falls, in Africa, is twice as high as Niagara falls. At the top it, right at the edge, is a swimming hole:
A famous feature is a naturally formed pool known as the Devil's Pool, near the edge of the falls, accessed via Livingstone Island. When the river flow is at a safe level, usually during the months of September and December, people can swim as close as possible to the edge of the falls within the pool without continuing over the edge and falling into the gorge; this is possible due to a natural rock wall just below the water and at the very edge of the falls that stops their progress despite the current.


Great still shots here.

I think I might be too chicken to try this.

It's a great sight,
but - oh - the height!

Have Our Money Ready!

A couple of would-be Connecticut bank robbers decided it was best to call ahead.

So they picked up the phone and told the bank they were on their way - and to have the money ready! Unfortunately, the bank called the cops.

Instead of getting the cash
they had requested,
all their hopes were dashed
and they got arrested.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I didn't see this stone circle personally, but I saw another like it in Ireland. They are feats of stone age engineering.

They piled huge stones upon the hill
and to this day they stand
in perfect circles arranged
mysteriously planned
and minimally changed
since the old days when
those very ancient men
worked their determined will
upon the waiting land.

Wonderful New Product

Picture worth a thousand words:

Yes, it's a back flap for cats & dogs:
Is your pet feeling left in the dirt because of his/her unsightly rear? I’ve got them covered... Rear Gear is handmade in Portland, OR and offers a cheerful solution to be-rid your favorite pet’s un-manicured back side.
We have more than one pet
so I should buy a batch,
however I haven't yet
figured out how they attach.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Serious Monkey Business

Do you have a service monkey?

Not the old-fashioned organ grinder kind...
But don't say, "Listen, flunky,
keep your hands off my monkey!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perelman Refuses

The Fields Medal is the most prestigious prize for work in Mathematics. It is awarded once ever 4 years.

One man won it and refused it: Grigory Perelman, a Russian, who lives with his mom in St. Petersburg.

Now some U.S. institute wants to give him a million bucks.

Again, he refuses.
The mathematician is reported to have said "I have all I want" when contacted by a reporter this week about the Clay Millennium Prize.

According to the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, he was speaking through the closed door of his flat.
Leave him alone!

Just get out of his path,
and let him work on math.

Gigantic Quantum Computer

Latest wildly speculative physics theory:
In Decoding Reality, Vedral argues that we should regard the entire universe as a gigantic quantum computer. Wacky as that may sound, it is backed up by hard science. The laws of physics show that it is not only possible for electrons to store and flip bits: it is mandatory. For more than a decade, quantum-information scientists have been working to determine just how the universe processes information at the most microscopic scale.
As Tim Shell suggested to me, this sounds like Newton's Clockwork Universe theory, with the technology updated.

Jeffrey Small figures he now has an explanation of the Big Bang - it happens when the computer tries to divide something by zero.

Divide zero in the code,
and existence will explode,
creating an infinity
of stuff in the vicinity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cassandra's Chorus

This is who you encounter as you enter Dream Theatre's current show, Agamemnon.

Here's the short video of the preshow.

I've seen it 3 times and I'm going with Marsha the weekend.

Here's a review roundup:

Ian Epstein at Chicago Theatre Blog

Chris Arnold at Steadstyle Chicago

Tony Adler in the Chicago Reader

Me, here

A clever torture, by a god conceived:
she saw the future - but no one believed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Failure Of Our Educational System

A young man bungles a burglary:
Investigators said the 17-year-old logged into his MySpace account while at Bella Office Furniture and that made it easy for them to find him. He also spent time looking at pornography and trying to sell stolen items, all while using the business' computer.
They tracked him down, of course.

Why is no one complaining?
Our burglars need more training!

Party Lines

My congressman was the only Illinois Democrat to vote against the big health bill. Maybe he simply followed his judgment. Maybe he followed the will of his constituents.
"Dan has a tremendous amount of resolve," Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) told me when we talked in the Capitol. "And great desire to vote what he considers to be in his district's interests. He often does not waver in his convictions."
One odd thing about this bill was that those in favor were strictly one-party. But the opposition was two-party.

One party domination
can result in abomination.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Washington Post has an online headline:
The Take: Historic win or not, Democrats could pay a price
To me the only question is how high that price will be. And I get the impression it will be high.

Also, I'm tired of all this "historic" bluster.

Prohibition was historic.
The fate of booze seemed sealed.
But through public anger,
the damn thing was repealed.

Bad Luck Kitty

Here's an odd entrepreneurial idea, a "stress relieving vending machine":
The “Passive Aggressive Anger Release Machine” is a machine that allows you break a dish or two until you feel better. All you have to do is insert a dollar, and a piece of china will slowly move towards you until it falls to the bottom and breaks into a million pieces.

If you track the links back, it seems to be the work of some artists. But I see commercial possibility!

Are you feeling too much stress?
Is your life a steamy mess?
Put some dough in the machine,
smash some china figurines
to smithereens!

Parachuting Pooch

This story features a great photo of a military bomb-sniffing dog jumping out of a plane with his handler:
"They don't perceive height difference the same way humans do, so that doesn't worry them. They're more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we're on the way down, that doesn't matter and they just enjoy the view."
I'm skeptical about the height-perception claim. I think they perceive it just like we do - at normal ranges. You don't see dogs jumping off cliffs to their deaths.

I think the issue is that at 10,000 feet you don't really perceive the distance with your eyes. You just conceive of it mathematically with your mind.

The dog has superior power of smell,
but doesn't do math so well.

Direction Selection

We had a lively discussion tonight, which began with Dagny Taggart (from Atlas Shrugged), and the question of how you make moral judgments about other people, and how you communicate such judgments.

One interesting thing about Dagny is that she is exposed to the full set of striker arguments, but still goes back to the world. The strikers don't think she is evading the facts, they just think she has more to learn. This leads to the question, how did the strikers come to this particular conclusion? (It may help that 2 of the leaders of the strike are in love with her... but we didn't go there.)

Somehow we also ended up talking about, of all people, Barack Obama, and the widely varying views people have about who he really is, and what he really stands for.

Toward the end we were focused on globalization, unemployment, and the things the government has done to make hiring more risky and expensive for companies.

The discussion was wide-ranging.
It seemed like the topic kept changing!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wish I Wasn't Along For The Ride

Half hit the brakes. Half stomp the gas.
Up, ahead, it's Demon Pass.


It's hard being a good dad:
Men involved with child care may hurt women's self-esteem
Should the father be the weak player on the team,
just to boost the mother's self-esteem?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Egri vs. Coward

I've been skimming The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, first published in 1942, and considered a classic in its field.

His 7th chapter is "Why are some bad plays successful?" and he tackles the problem, as he sees it, of Noel Coward's popularity:
A war-weary audience, surfeited with blood and death, gobbled up his farces. The lines seemed witty because they helped the audience to forget the battering the world had taken. Coward, and many like him, came and lulled the shocked audience into numbed relaxation. His reception today would be tepid.
In retrospect, this is funny, since Coward continues to appear on the stage, often to enthusiastic applause. And somehow his lines still "seem witty".

Egri glowered at Coward,
but Coward has not soured.


My dog can look upon a star,
but he will never ask me why
a source of light so incredibly far
can be detected by his eye.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Daring to Compare

German scholars are going to produce a critical study of the text of the Qur'an.
What this means is that the research team is in the process of analysing and transcribing some 12,000 slides of Qur’an mansucripts from the first six centuries of the text’s existence. Once that is complete, the way is open to producing a text that annotates and, presumably, provides some sort of exegesis on the differences found in the early manuscripts.
I'm not sure how much variation there is. I gather there is some. You can see how it might creep in, especially if at first the text was memorized, then written down by different people, and later standardized.

Variations in a sacred text
can leave believers vexed.

Monday, March 15, 2010


This morning I spent a couple of hours talking with elementary school students about poetry. 9-12 year olds. It was great fun.

They had been working on rhyming couplets, so I talked to them about quatrains, close cousins to couplets. We wrote some, too.

Take 2 couplets, and intermix;
a quatrain will come along,
standing like 4 rows of bricks,
symmetrical and strong.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Desiree Rogers, Obama's social secretary, recently tendered her resignation.

She was frequently blamed in the press for letting those people sneak into a White House party.

A lot of people say she was forced out because of it. The White House says that incident was not her fault, and that she's not leaving because of that incident.

Who to believe?

A well known Chicago columnist has a different and much more gossipy explanation:
Is the real reason White House social secretary Desiree Rogers was stripped of her power and "pushed" to resign that she was stealing the thunder of first lady Michelle Obama and first friend Valerie Jarrett?

You bet.
I can't vouch for the theory, but it paints quite a picture.

You hear it said that men are more competitive than women.

Perhaps it's statistically true.
But women can be competitive too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


An article in The Weekly Standard begins by quoting the Speaker of the House:
"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."
I guess we need free housing and food, too. Because those needs also force artists into day jobs. But leave that be. What really disturbs me is this comment by the article's author, Mary Katherine Hamm:
If liberal Boomers such as Nancy Pelosi insist on creating government incentives for a generation of people to be unemployed artists who nonetheless have their health care paid for by productive members of society, there will be fewer productive members of society.
Back it up right there. Nancy Pelosi turns 70 this month. She was born in 1940.
A baby boomer is one of the 76 million Americans born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom.
In 1940 World War II wasn't over. For Americans, it hadn't even started yet.

Pelosi may be a late bloomer,
but she's no baby boomer.

Oak Forest 5k

A pleasant run in the woods in the rain,
with an Irish theme and medals to gain.

I have often bicycled this route, but running it was new, and I was quited surprised, when we passed the wetland area, to see clear evidence of beaver construction activity. I had never noticed it when zooming by on my bike.

They've built a dam and flooded land - where it was merely muddy.
But did these rodents file their environmental study?

Self Exam

Some thinkers say there is no self.
To me it's clearly there.

Still, when you try to look at it,
it slips away from your stare.

Relax and let it shyly come
to stand before you bare.

Friday, March 12, 2010


A rhetorical flourish
sounds swell,
as well it ought,
but does not nourish
like careful thought.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I was blown away tonight. I didn't expect to be. I expected to enjoy a night of theater, in the form of an intimate 2-person play. I expected to be given lots to feel and think about. I had attended a reading of the play, and remembered the high points of the plot.

But I was blown away. The play is Agamemnon, by Jeremy Menekseoglu, which is not much like Agamemnon by Aeschylus. This play is about the relationship between Agamemnon and Cassandra, the prophetess no one ever believes.

I'm not even sure exactly why I was blown away, except that the story is harrowing, the performances were stunning, the set was spectacular, and so on and so on. Everyone who contributed outdid themselves.

The whole play takes place on a ship at sea. Agamemnon, having led the Greeks to victory at Troy, is sailing home with the captive Cassandra. As the story opens, he wants her to be grateful to him, but she is not, and she fears the worst, and she is right to do so, since this is a tragedy. But like some of the great Greek tragedies, the doomed characters transition to a higher plane of understanding, particularly about themselves. That is the actual gift which they give to each other.

Courtney Arnett plays Cassandra with a down-to-earth manner, but she makes Cassandra mysterious nonetheless. You believe she has been touched with a special power. Jeremy Menekseoglu plays Agamemnon, a dangerous and commanding man, with profound restraint. You feel the vulnerability under the bristling ego.

I don't want to call it a love story. That would be wrong. It's a love-hate story. With magnetic performers.

Before the play begins, by the way, you must deal with Cassandra's Chorus, in the lobby and in the aisle. They, too, have lines written by the playwright, so listen to them. Anna Weiler, Alicia Reese, and Molly Gray guide you to your seat for the journey. They tell you that this is Cassandra's play, not Agamemnon's.

I think they have a point.

After all the deeds are done, and all the words are spoken,
hers is the spirit that truly remains unbroken.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Evolutionary Ecology

At book club we discussed The Mind of the Market by Michael Shermer.

He makes the case that our recent evolutionary past as "hunter-gatherers, living in small bands", "created a psychology not always well equipped to understand or life in the modern world."

He is not calling for a return to nature. He just thinks we should understand our own minds better. I liked the book. He makes an interesting attempt to integrate recent psychology research with free market thinking.

Of course, some do call for a complete return to nature:
Anarcho-primitivists advocate a return to non-"civilized" ways of life through deindustrialisation, abolition of the division of labour or specialization, and abandonment of large-scale organization technologies.
We do not live
as we evolved.
Nor would I want to!
We have solved
the limits of
the tribal way
and stepped into
this global day.

If you prefer
to hunt and gather,
be my guest!
But I would rather
keep the gifts
of trade and science
while you starve
in blind defiance.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010

Oh Deer

It's fairly rare to hear
of an airplane hitting a deer.

It happened at a small Illinois airport - which has no fence around it. John Olson was in a private plane, ferrying 5 family members, including 2 grandchildren. He was coming in for a landing when 3 deer sprinted across the runway.

One deer fell to the ground in his path.
He pulled up and, for a second, thought he had cleared the animal. Then he felt a bump. His daughter saw the back wheel wobble. And he noticed oil on the wing.

"That's when I said this is definitely going to be a problem," Olson said.
He had lost his left landing gear. 

So he flew to a bigger airport nearby, and managed to land safely on one wheel.

Maybe they could put up a warning sign?

You may receive a lovely funeral benison,
if you make the mistake of colliding with venison.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


"Subtext", as we use it today, started out as a method acting term.

The actor, in his role, says one thing while thinking another. As real life people often do.

Mistakes were made,
but not by me.

(I'm afraid
of responsibility.)

Friday, March 05, 2010


A lot of people we call "bad parents" are people who wound their children's minds. Then there are people like this:
A computer-addicted couple let their real life baby starve to death while they raised a virtual daughter online, police said today.
It happened in South Korea. They were spending their nights - 12 hours at a stretch - at computer cafes. Playing a simulation game.

Where were the grandparents? Well, they made an effort:
Worried about their addiction to the games, Kim's parents had been taking care of the baby - but, tragically, had returned her to her mother and father just two weeks before she died.
Why didn't someone call Child Protective Services? I did come across a study:
Korea has recently begun social intervention in cases of child abuse, but faces many difficulties resulting from cultural dilemmas. In particular, Korean society has the value of corporal punishment and negative attitudes toward social intervention into family issues.
But I'm sure this behavior is revolting by South Korean standards too.

It's five kinds of wrong
served extra strong.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


You can lobby against domestic violence by day, but you can practice it by night.

She is a registered lobbyist for an anti-domestic-violence outfit. She is charged with killing her husband. She is 45, he was 26.
Witnesses told police that Bridges was wearing a nightgown and a shower cap as she argued with Rankins on the sidewalk on North Avenue near West Peachtree Street around 10:45 p.m. Monday.

And moments later, witnesses said, they heard shots. They said she then "calmly walked away."
They had been married 5 days.

You know the honeymoon's over
when she leaves you pushing up clover.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Jolting Forward

Toyota is getting raked over the coals by the owners of GM and Chrysler.

Their cars "suddenly accelerate" sometimes. I know one way to make that happen. You stomp on the gas pedal.
...anyone who's looked at the problem knows that the vast majority of cases of sudden unintended acceleration are the fault of the driver applying the gas pedal when s/he thinks s/he's pressing the brakes.
Well, that's just a law professor talking. But I suspect he's right.

Why are those 2 pedals next to each other on the floor?

I'm used to that system, so I'm not eager to change it. But when you're driving, you can't actually see what your feet are doing. It seems ripe for error.

And those manual transmissions,
stick another pedal into position,
known as "the clutch".

Isn't that a bit much?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

System X

Take the statement, "Social System X is good for everybody."

If true, it's a compelling endorsement for quite different ethical viewpoints.

Egoists will say "I want X because it helps me."

Altruists will say "I want X because it helps others."

Utilitarians will say "I want X because it helps produce the greatest good for the greatest number."

Hardly anyone thinks you should
oppose a universal good.

Nihilists maybe could dissent
and find a reason to lament.


The Chairman of the House Ways And Means Committee has stepped down, at least temporarily.

Ways And Means is where new federal tax legislation starts in the U.S. system.

Every corporation that wants a tax break wants a chance to whisper in the Chairman's ear.

And then, oddly enough, some corporations helped pay for him to go traveling in the Caribbean.

Charlie Rangel
got caught in a tangle -
taking trips
with corporate sponsorships.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Act One

I just finished Act One, a partial autobiography by Moss Hart, who wrote a lot of hit plays in the thirties, forties, and fifties.

It starts off with him living very poor, with his family, in a New York tenement apartment.

It has a lot of quotable excerpts. Like this:
It is always best if one is about to embark on a wild or reckless venture not to discuss it with anybody beforehand; talk will rob the scheme of its fire and make what seemed...daring merely foolhardy. Present it as an accomplished fact, turn a deaf ear to argument, and go ahead with it.
It ends with his first big Broadway success, Once In A Lifetime, a comedy about Hollywood during its panicky switch from silent movies to "talkies".

Autobiographies often proceed at a pace that's somewhat sickly.
But this one zips along quickly.

Prague Spring

"Prague Spring" was a real historical event:
...a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and members of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country to halt the reforms.
As metaphor, a Prague Spring is any temporary thaw in a regime of icy oppression.

Liberty broke through the ranks,
until the Soviets sent in tanks.