Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rielle Explains to Oprah

Oprah interviewed Rielle Hunter, John Edwards' inamorata.
[She] told Oprah Winfrey in a program broadcast on Thursday that John Edwards had a secret affair with her because “he wanted to live a life of truth,”
I don't watch Oprah much, but she does get people to say the darnedest things.

He wanted a truthful life
so he had to lie to his wife
and the public as well,
but hey - what the hell -
he was "keeping it real" with Rielle.

Concrete Evidence

The life of this leaf
was brief,
but there's no question:
it left an impression.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blank Out

"Focusing", when used about mental attention, is a metaphor, taken from the way lenses work.

Camera lenses are "out of focus" only in the context of something you want to photograph. Lenses always focused on some spot in space. There may not be anything at that spot. But if you put something there, that's what the camera is focused on.

But what would "blank out" refer to in regards to a camera? I guess to the shutting of the aperture. The apparent correspondence, as regards mental attention, is becoming unconscious. This isn't something you have direct control over, as many an insomniac has learned.

I think that when people refuse to attend to an unwelcome fact, they don't do it by truly shutting down their consciousness. Rather, they do it by shifting their consciousness to something more immediately acceptable.

If you're telling somebody something unpleasant,
and they cover their ears and chant "Om",
in fact they're aware that you are still present
they're just hoping that you will go home.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Right To Assemble Happily

Only non-angry protests should be allowed!

Think of how much more pleasant that would make the evening news,
encouraging the populace to take a soothing snooze.


Behold the power:
As women around the world bared their cleavage Monday in an event dubbed ‘Boobquake,’ a strong earthquake measuring 6.9 struck southeast of Taiwan.

That’s exactly what Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi warned would happen, when he recently blamed earthquakes on immodest female clothing.
I tried to observe this holiday. Observe, not participate. But downtown Chicago didn't seem to be involved in this celebration.

Women made a show of cleavage,
and the earth performed some heavage.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


One of the problems with the preservationist movement is that it can sometimes threaten the economic health of the area.

Tyler Cowen quotes Ed Glaeser on New York's historic districts:
It’s hard to fault the Landmarks Preservation Commission for stopping development in historic districts. That’s its job: to “safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage,” as the city’s administrative code puts it. The real question is whether these vast districts should ever have been created and whether they should remain protected ground in the years ahead. No living city’s future should become a prisoner to its past.
You don't want your city preserved in formaldehyde,
like something that died.

Understanding Irrationality

We had a lively discussion tonight on the topic of Understanding Irrationality. I talked for 10 minutes or so, and then we opened it to group discussion.

There's a technical philosophy book on the subject that I like, by Alfred Mele: Irrationality: an essay on akrasia, self-deception, self-control. 

But it's very dry. Akrasia, by the way, is an ancient Greek term, translated as  "lack self-control" or "weakness of will".

I think understanding irrationality is easy in some ways. But understanding irrational people is hard - partly because they don't understand themselves very well - and partly because they resist giving you the means to understand them.

Of course, no one is irrational all the time. At least, not for long.

If the laws of aeronautics are something you deny
and you jump off a cliff, hoping to fly
you die.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Saw some German dude, Christian Tetzlaff, play a violin concerto by some other German dude named Brahms.

He played that fiddle
like grease on a griddle
slick and hot.

So how did he build all that talent he's got?
I pondered that as a riddle.

Just Say No To Helium

I'm wondering how well this judge did in chemistry:
A recent case reported by the New York Law Journal upholds charges against helium balloon sellers for "unlawfully possessing or selling noxious material" on the grounds that helium is a "noxious substance." Apparently, the arresting police saw two men filling balloons and selling them to customers who then inhaled the gas.
You were a "noble gas",
but someone took a huff.

Now, in New York, alas,
you're known as noxious stuff.

I'm Recycling Electrons

Earth day is just about over.

We should really work through ALL the planets in order. We don't want the other planets to be jealous.

Tomorrow we celebrate Mars!
I'm breaking out the Snickers bars.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hawthorne's Style

From Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne:
Assuredly, Zenobia could not have intended it;-the fault must have been entirely in my imagination. But these last words, together with something in her manner, irresistibly brought up a picture of that fine, perfectly developed figure, in Eve's earliest garment.
By these delicate phrases, the narrator says he couldn't help thinking of Zenobia naked. And that she was hot.

And the word "assuredly" seems likely to be ironic in context. The careful reader will suspect that Zenobia did intend for him to picture her without clothing.

Hawthorne had skill enough,
but in those days it was tough,
due to bare-skin-phobia
to write of buxom Zenobia
imagined in the buff.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catastrophic Testing

The other day I wrote about this train accident where a crew had accidentally turned off the warning signals.

I wondered why they hadn't tested it.

Well, they WERE testing it, when the accident occurred.

Their final test was to let a train come through at 79 mph, and see if the signals worked okay.

Test result: Signals failed. Woman killed.

So the fatal mistake was not a failure to test. It was a failure to build extra safety features into the test - like having someone standing by the track to manually signal people to stop, just in case the signals failed.

There was a crew. Didn't any of them imagine what would happen if the test failed? Isn't there some kind of standard procedure for this sort of thing?

They didn't plan ahead.
Katie Lunn is dead.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Car Care Bill

I'm proposing a Car Care bill. Everyone has a right to transportation.

Under my bill, you will be required to purchase a GM or Chrysler car, which you won't get for a few years.

I stay up nights
protecting your rights.

Why doesn't your attitude
show me more gratitude?

Did The Earth Move Because Of You?

An alert friend found this:
Muslim cleric joins Rev. Pat Robertson blaming quakes on sinners
I immediately wondered if I could find a rabbi with a similar theory. Sure enough:
Most clerics would disagree, of course,
but are you a sinner, without remorse?
Then you may be blamed as the true causal source
for why God unleashed his tectonic force.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dear Lord

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has the TEA-somethings mad at him.

Borderline sedition!

No, wait, it was TEA-CHERS, not TEA-PARTIERS,
so it was just our free speech tradition.


On Friday an Amtrak train, traveling at 79 mph, killed a 26 year old woman in the Chicago area. The train plowed into her car.

There was no crossing signal. Crews had been working on the signal equipment, and messed it up:
Canadian National crews tried to resolve the problem and thought they had remedied it, officials said. But the workers actually deactivated the warning system, creating an unprotected crossing that provided motorists no indication of oncoming trains, officials said.
They thought they had remedied it. Okay. But did they test it?

To be sure of saving lives
before the train arrives
a test
is best.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Infiltrate to Eliminate Paranoia

Cass Sunstein, the United States' "regulatory czar", co-authored a paper in 2008 entitled "Conspiracy Theories":That's from the abstract. From the body:
We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.
If your epistemology
seems crippled
your federal facebook friends
will be tripled!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Repressive Tolerance

Some people champion tolerance, loudly, as a major virtue, but then do everything they can to stifle others with whom they disagree.

It seems gigantically hypocritical. Because it is.

However, it's worth noting that there's a philosopher who offered a defense of this approach, namely Herbert Marcuse, in his influential 1965 essay, Repressive Tolerance.

He's against the old-fashioned ideal of tolerance. He says it's repressive. But he's in favor of a more advanced kind of tolerance, that is liberating:
You may choose
to block opposite views.

But this is liberation
from toleration.


The young woman above was a counter-protester at the Chicago tea party festivities at Daley plaza the other day. In the photo it appears she is pleading her case to a couple of skeptics.

The ICE referred to in her sign is Immigration and Customs Enforcement - the people who round up illegal immigrants.

I'm sympathetic to her cause. Most of these people came here to work. It's true they broke some laws doing so. But I see most of them as refugees, fleeing from economically oppressive regimes.

If they came here to work,
not shirk,
letting them in
is win-win.

Friday, April 16, 2010

All Natural

WHO says this volcano in Iceland may cause health hazards:
The agency said that people with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema or bronchitis may be more susceptible to irritation if ash is in the lower atmosphere in high concentrations.
Not to be a bureaucratic fuddy-duddy,
but did Gaia file an environmental impact study
before this distribution
of pollution?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Vikram Karve writes:
In the absence of conflicting opinions, harmonious tranquil work groups are prone to becoming static, apathetic and unresponsive to pressures for change and innovation. They also risk the danger of becoming so self-satisfied, that dissenting views – which may offer important alternative information – are totally shut out. In short, they fall victims to a syndrome called “GROUPTHINK”
Of course, glorifying dissent is not the solution, either. The trick is for the leaders to listen judiciously. Which, in a way, is what they get paid to do.

Sometimes someone else can spot
something you did not.

Scheie on Shunning

Eric Scheie recently wrote about the way that "Social Shunning Promotes Self-Censorship". He describes an incident that happened when he was 8, when a neighbor woman issued an ultimatum to his mother:
She laid down the law with my mom, and told her that she should get rid of the toy guns (my toy guns!), and that until she did, she would not allow her son to come over to our house and play with me!
His mother was intimidated, but his father was dismissive. So little Eric kept his toy guns but lost his playmate.
I remember how stressed my mom was. She was a people-pleaser, and feared social disapproval. Hardly an irrational fear, for social disapproval can have consequences. Not only might you not get invited to the "in" parties, but you might not get to join that country club to which you aspire, and in some cases, you might not get that promotion!
When someone shuns
should you bend to their will
or stick to your guns
and put up with the chill?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Water's burbling in the pool,
and people sitting near it,
swear that they can hear it
whisper: "Just skip school."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


New York magazine ran a big investigation about the sort of woman that Tiger Woods was hanging out with in the VIP areas:
Most of his mistresses lived in a nebulous in-between world. Not prostitutes, no, but just about halfway there. As surely as he has changed the game of golf, so too has Woods exposed the grazing ground of the halfway-hooker, and her natural habitat, the nightclub.
Tracy Quan doesn't think it's really news:
Ever since the first self-important cavedude boasted that he "never pays for it," there have been "lite-hooks," "models," party wenches and so on who "don't charge for sex." But sex does happen, the rent gets paid -- and 21st-century bottle clubs are part of an ancient tradition.
I guess I would say that the transaction is ancient, but that the social customs surrounding it are always changing. That why I enjoyed the New York magazine piece, even though it was less than appetizing - it filled me in on a social scene I didn't know about.

There's supply, and demands,
and gifts changing hands,
but no prices are heard.
That line is left blurred.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Who Needs More Hospitals, Anyway?

The new Health Care law singles out a particular kind of hospital to punish:
While the new health reform law may seem threatening to many Americans, it is pure poison for physician-owned hospitals, which are being forced to drop plans for new hospitals and immediately halt expansion projects.
Provisions of the law "virtually destroy many of the hospitals that are currently under development, and leave little room for the future growth of the industry," Ms. Sandvig said.
I wonder if the non-profit hospitals were behind this. I wouldn't be surprised. "They have an unfair advantage," would be the story. "We need to level the playing field," would be the mantra.

They say they want to "level the playing field."
But they take up the law as the handiest weapon to wield
to crush competition while keeping their motives concealed.

They Didn't Start Out As Nonprofits

News-gathering businesses are in terrible financial shape in the U.S., and I've seen speculation that a Federal bailout may be in the works.

Some say it might take the form of NPR-izing everything - making all these news agencies into nonprofits with government funding. Like National Public Radio! Or the Public Broadcasting Service!

Why not have an American Newspaper Bureau?

But in a recent survey, news executives are not yet biting at the bait:
The survey found that 75 percent of all news executives, and 88 percent of newspaper executives, have “serious reservations” about direct government subsidies. Nearly half (46 percent) are even concerned with the idea of tax credits for news organizations, and only 19 percent support that idea despite ongoing industry woes.
My favorite quote from the story:
“If the government becomes the ‘money bags’ for journalism, journalism will become the ‘bag man’ for the government,” wrote a member of RTDNA. “This would be an assault to the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Subsidies are a fine way to finesse
freedom of the press.

You only pay for acceptable views,
and you get less offensive news.

Nothing is actually banned
but it all turns terribly bland.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Polish Tragedy

Reportedly it was an experienced pair of pilots who crashed that plane with the Polish president and cabinet:
Both Captain Protasiuk and his second officer, Major Robert Grzywna, were experienced pilots with more than 5,000 hours of flying experience between them.
I did hear someone express the opinion that experienced pilots were more likely to attempt risky landings.

I suppose that makes sense. They feel more in control. They have survived previous dangerous situations.

Thinking you are danger's master
sometimes leads to disaster.

Can of Worms

Autoimmune diseases, such as asthma and allergies, present many puzzles.

But how about this for creepy:
...people infected with parasitic worms suffer less from allergies and other immune diseases,
Must we re-invite
the parasite?

Or can we please invent a med with a fancy name
that works the same?

Friday, April 09, 2010

But Are They Illegal?

They walk among us:
One in five adults believe aliens are on earth, disguised as humans...

The poll questioned 23,000 adults in 22 countries and found that more than 40 per cent of people from India and China believe that alien life exists with a human facade on this planet.
I must say I find it spooky,
that here on this planet we share
theories incredibly kooky
are simply everywhere.

Somewhere Over The Foodchain

Zebricorns gallop on black and white rainbows
whinnying high in the African sky
laughing at lions who gaze up with longing
hungry for mouthfuls of zebricorn pie.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Why was he able
to draw the sword from the stone?
It was sort of a knack
or something like luck.

At any rate, it came unstuck,
and he stood alone,
no going back,
holding a blade,
knowing some men would bow
and others attack.

So he had to figure out how
these warring knights could be made
to let the feuding cease
so they could sit in peace
around a table.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Knife Man

We read The Knife Man, by Wendy Moore, for book club. Good review by Jim Henderson here. It's about John Hunter (1728-1793), who is considered the father of modern surgery.

It's not often you read a book where a body snatcher proves to be a true hero.

Of course, dissecting the dead is still a key feature of medical education.

To know where to cut
you need to know what
is under the skin
your patient is in.

John Lennon Would Be Larfing

Strange days indeed:
Two women tried to board an easyJet flight with a dead relative strapped into a wheelchair, saying that he was disabled, frail and “always likes to sleep like that”.

The widow and stepdaughter of Curt Willi Jarant, 91, insist that he was moving and breathing on the way to Liverpool John Lennon airport. But staff called a medical team after noticing that he was cold and motionless.
It was a flight to Germany, where the three were from. Maybe they meant to bury him there. But there are rules:
Bodies being repatriated across international boundaries are required to have the necessary paperwork and be contained inside hermetically sealed, zinc-lined coffins in the cargo hold.
Sounds like that would be costly, in time and money.

It's extra expensive to travel when dead.
It's cheaper to be a "sleeper", instead.

But though he had a valid ticket,
authorities said it wasn't cricket.

Quake Quack

Deepak Chopra has accepted responsibility for creating that earthquake the other day:
"Had a powerful meditation just now -- caused an earthquake in Southern California," Chopra wrote to his nearly 179,000 Twitter followers shortly after the quake.

And then, to clarify: "Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake," he tweeted. "Sorry about that."
Please, everybody, as a public service, if you're in California, lay off the Shiva mantra!

He meditates,
and tectonic plates
begin to shake,
and soon a quake
disturbs the earth.

So he says, for what it's worth.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Birth Trend

American births are down. It's the recession!

But births to women in their early 40s... are up.

Is it because they have more cash
to pay for the cost of an OB doc?

Or are they simply making a dash
to beat the biological clock?

Sex Guru

India - it's a lot like America!
A Hindu holy man with thousands of followers across India resigned as head of a religious organization on Tuesday after police began investigating his role in a sex scandal, officials said.
He says the tapes are fake,
but is going to take a break.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Hoppy Easter

The Easter Bunny's legs
are surely extra fast,
hiding all those eggs
before the night is past.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

7.7 Miles

My seasonal running habits, a sonnet:

Because I run one marathon a year,
some people think I must run every day.
Not true. And in the colder months, I fear
it's more like once a week - the treadmill way.

But then I'll say "I do run to the train,"
and people smile, thinking that's just a joke,
although, in fact, I've spoken true and plain.
In the morning I often go for broke,

galloping at high speed to catch the choo-choo,
taking the quarter mile at high speed.
Perhaps such running's something you would pooh-pooh;
it does, however, fill a functional need.

Today - warm weekend weather! So I ran
more than I have since all that snow began.

Amusements of Catdom

When I came home from work yesterday, my wife told me that one of the cats was missing, for a couple of hours already

When last seen, the cat had been out with Marsha in the yard when she was gardening. Had she wandered away?

I volunteered to go on a cat-hunt by bicycle. But when I opened the garden shed to get my bike, out came the cat!

Silly cat, don't go sneaking in the shed
when your mistress turns her head!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Orpheus Unplugged

The legend, redone for fun:

Orpheus was a god who strummed
the ancient lyre, and he was bummed.

The woman he loved above all ladies
got bit by a snake and sent to Hades.

Therefore he chased her down to hell
and played a concert there so well,
they said she could follow him home, if he
never looked over his shoulder to see
just where she was.

                    But sad to say,
he did look back, and she *poofed* away.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Day of the Fool

We come to the end of April Fool.
I hope the pranks you played weren't cruel.

Humor can heal
or sting like steel.

Primate Pioneers

As you may know, there are 2 kinds of monkeys: "Old World" (Africa and Asia) and "New World" (Central & South America).

Scientists think that monkeys originated in the Old World, and then rode rafts to the New World.

All the other monkeys laughed
when I said: Look at my raft!

I ignored them, and, what a thrill,
I'm cruising to Brazil!

Okay, that's not the theory. The theory is that they were sitting on big coastal masses of vegetation, on the shores of the Paleo-Atlantic. Then the vegetation broke away.

The voyage occurred by error,
and they floated away in terror.

But the Atlantic wasn't so wide
and they reached the other side.