Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Backhanded Compliment

Kathleen Parker, a columnist at the Washington Post, has a new theory:
If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.
Ouch. She claims to be saying it "in the nicest possible way." But is there a nice way to say something like this?

Maybe she's using that technique where someone asks: are you a real man or not? You know, to dare the guy into doing something bold.

If so, I think it's a futile gesture on her part. His leadership style is what it is. I don't think he can change it.

Or maybe she finds it professionally advantageous
to increase her page views by writing something outrageous.

Can You Hear Me Now? Ouch!

If you look close at the guy in the middle, there's a little white circle in front of his face.

That's a baseball, bouncing off his head.

You can watch the scary-funny video here of this Yankee fan - on a cellphone - getting bopped.

Even when you're gabbing in the stands,
keep your eye on the game, and be ready with your hands.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kitty Rebellion

Marsha put some topical anti-bug stuff on the cats, and one of them, Stella, was not happy at all. She bolted outside and refused, at least for a while, to come back in.

She stared at us with daggers,
telling us how she felt
about this vile pollution
upon her precious pelt.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ordinance Shot Down

Our ban against the one-hand gun
has been undone.

The mayor is unhappy, and plans to revise our ordinance, with new regulations to protect us.

We'll see what the City Council passes, I guess. Then we'll see what the Federal Courts say about whether the regulations overburden a constitutional right.

Otis McDonald is happy. He's the plaintiff whose name is on the case.
“I was feeling the poor blacks who years ago had their guns taken away from them and were killed as someone wished. That was a long time ago, but I feel their spirit. That's what I was feeling in the courtroom. It was rough on me that way,” McDonald said.

I remember when this law was first passed, in 1982. Jane Byrne was mayor then. I attended a couple of City Council meetings, and wrote letters to my alderman, etc., against it. But it passed. And in Media World, all was joy and happiness.

But, 28 years later, it looks like a failed experiment.

You open people to harm
when you deny them arms.

Symbologist Needed

This painting hangs in a Mexican restaurant. I kind of like it but I find the system of the symbols baffling. Lots of food, but also butterfly wings and a skull and a light bulb. I need that "symbologist" guy from the Da Vinci Code to unravel it for me. Then I'll be able to find the secret treasure.

Visually, I am reminded of Catholic portrayals of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary.

But in this work of art, she's been enchanted.
Instead of a heart, she's got a pomegranate.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Today's Trip

My friend Lynn celebrated her 70th with 2 "Happy 35th" cakes.

The party was in Madison, WI.

We stopped at a tollway oasis, on the way up, and my wife somehow made the acquaintance of a young woman from France, who was sort of stranded there.

She was lugging a huge backpack, and had been in Yellowstone 2 days ago.

French friends had dropped her off at the oasis to catch public transportation to downtown Chicago. Oops.

We detoured and took her to the nearest commuter train station.
I certainly hope she reached her destination.

Student Loans

As a follow-up to my post about Monetizing Emma yesterday, I wanted to mention that I suspect our current federally-sponsored student loan system is already causing some big problems.

I think it's something like what Fannie Mae helped do for the housing market. I think the student loan program has helped to inflate the cost of college, and I suspect it's a bubble waiting to burst.

Kids are graduating under amazing loads of debt, and I wonder whether a lot of them wouldn't be better off just starting work somewhere.

You hear that most jobs now "require" a college degree, but they don't, not really. Many employers are using the possession of a college degree as a proxy for being able to read, write, and do arithmetic.

When colleges start to go under,
everyone will wonder
why no one ever explained
that their price growth couldn't be sustained.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monetizing Emma

I had a good time seeing Monetizing Emma last night, an imaginative near-future play with some surprising plot twists and a heroine out of Jane Austen.

It's a New York play performed in a Chicago theatre by an Indiana theatre company. It was crisply directed by Laura Gouin, and the actors were all lively. I especially liked the performance by Lisa Caskey, who plays a ruthless corporate ladder-climber.

Here's a detailed review from its Manhattan debut last year.

The premise of the play is a new version of student loans for college. Instead of being run through a government program, financiers are setting up vehicles to invest in high-performing high school students. The students, and their families, get lots of cash now. But investors get a chunk of their earnings in the future.

The downside, for our heroine, is that she's not sure she wants to pursue a lucrative career. She's more interested in majoring in English.

Such is the dilemma
facing clever Emma
who does find her way
by the end of the play.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Saving Face

Preserving an old-fashioned brick facade,
with a new steel tower. I thought it looked odd.


A fully functioning Death Eye.
Its power will amaze!
Pity that poor passerby
who stands in the path of its rays.

Actually, it's a giant eyeball, with iris and pupil not yet installed. You know, art. Oops, I mean Art. With a capital A. By which I mean to say, it's something to occupy space, gouged from giant's face.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Not what I would call a shock:
Swinger Shock: Older Age No Defense Against STDs

Those Who Engage in 'Swinging,' Even at an Older Age, Have High STD Risk
According to the article, these older folks are somehow clueless about the risks of condomless coupling with friends of friends.

You can see how something could spread quickly in such a sharing group.

Swingers who neglect to use protection,
can expect an unpleasant infection
circling in their direction.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stormy Weather

I went to yoga class tonight. It was just me and the instructor. Usually the class is packed.

But there were tornado warnings.

The instructor came despite the warnings.

I came in total ignorance of the warnings... although I did think the weather was looking sort of "ark of the covenant".

No tornado arrived,
so I survived -
despite lots of bending
that seemed never-ending.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Retroactive Grade Boost

The NY Times had an article yesterday which discussed Loyola Law School Los Angeles:
The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.
Sounds devilishly clever. But who told those blabbermouths at the Times?

Imagine. There you are, being interviewed by Big Law Firm, and the hiring partner looks at your GPA and says, "Wait. Loyola L.A.? Let me get out my calculator to see what your grade really is!"

Letting people in on the trick
is not so slick.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Our power has been on for 2 whole days again. I'm not quite used to it. I keep thinking "isn't it great to have electricity again!"

There are more storms brewing, they say. A little while ago, I stood in front of the house, and watched distant lightning, which I could not yet hear. It's also lightning bug season here, and they, too, were flashing up a storm.

On our front lawn
the fire flies
winked off and on,
while in the skies
hot lightning flashed
in distant chains.

No thunder crashed,
no pouring rains
came down in a flood
of watery woe
as I calmly stood
and watched the show.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


This is a phone photo of my spectacular surprise gift for father's day AND my upcoming birthday: a big canvas, "Cake", by Jennifer Cronin. It was part of her recent show at the Elephant Room Gallery.

I know I mentioned it before as my favorite of the show, and now I get to see it all the time!

It's funny, isn't it, how you are just struck by a certain artist's work. In Cronin's case, I first saw a couple of her paintings in an art show at Dream Theatre. I noticed I was spending a lot of time staring at her paintings. It wasn't just that they were beautiful, but they made me feel something I had trouble putting a name on. I think when art really speaks to you, the experience is often like that - hard to describe.

Which is why people like to say
that words get in the way.

Personally, I think words CAN get in the way, but I also think that if you wait, and let the words form over time, one by one, as you contemplate the work, you can learn what it is saying to you.

You start off feeling dumb,
but watch; the words will come.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Today, while I was driving to my brother Mark's house - to borrow his generator - I saw an odd vehicle.

It looked a lot like an armored truck that moves money around. But it was painted green. And it had flashing lights and a siren like a police vehicle. It was going somewhere in a hurry. On its side were letters: SSERT

I guessed, correctly: South Suburban Emergency Response Team.

Here was the emergency:
A standoff in Oak Lawn between police and a man upset over losing power because of Friday's storms ended with the man arrested.
An armored vehicle was also on the scene, Graziadei said.
Even though you're without light
and cable and TV
and hot water and A/C
you oughtn't start a fight
with the S.S.E.R.T.!


Power's been out for hours,
but by means of cellphone towers
I post this verse,
admittedly terse.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Disappointing Recovery

I was unhappy to see this headline:
New jobless claims up sharply as layoffs persist, raising concerns about recovery's strength
I don't have firm opinions on the recession's length or the recovery's strength. But to me it looks like the government's attempts to manage the situation have been less than ideal.

I know that in a recovery,
employment may often lag.
But it's a grim discovery
to see it soften and sag.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Earthworm Census Needed

An appeals court has ruled that the Giant Palouse Earthworm is not yet eligible for "endangered species" status.
The giant Palouse earthworm has fascinated scientists for decades after long being written off as an extinct creature that once lived in the Palouse region of the Washington-Idaho border.
Scientists believed these earthworms were vanished from the earth. Then a couple popped up. This year.

They weren't as extinct
as them people thinked;
they were just sliding,
underground hiding!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


That's Winston Churchill, as he's currently pictured at a London museum, missing his trademark cigar.

He was chomping on the cigar in the original photo.

Apparently someone wanted to retroactively cure him of his nicotine habit.

It seems like kind of a joke -
Winston's cigar went up in smoke.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Maybe Earplugs Would Help

 image from Wikipedia article.

If you've watched any of the World Cup, you've probably heard the weird wall of sound that accompanies the game. The noise is from a local South African instrument, a horn called a vuvuzela, churned out cheaply in plastic in large quantities. Apparently it's driving some of the players crazy. But the organizers aren't too sympathetic:
'Vuvuzelas are here to stay and they will never be banned.'
The wail of the horn
somehow sticks
like a thorn
in your mind.

And you find
in the game
that your kick's
lost its aim.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Suicide Defied

An upbeat story from the land down under:
In nearly 50 years Don Ritchie, 84, has saved at least 160 people at The Gap, a rocky cliff at the entrance to Sydney Harbour - and he is still on suicide watch.

Lost souls who stood atop the cliff, wondering whether to jump, say their salvation was a soft voice breaking the sound of the wind and the waves, asking: "Why don't you come and have a cup of tea?"
Have a cup of tea -
and continue to be.

Dirty Shoes

I crossed the open field
as the rain began to plop.

The ground began to yield
turning softer with each drop.

I thought I could outrun
the coming mini-flood.

But just before I'm done
the path turned into mud.

Someone Probably Does Have A Website With A Count

I saw Sex In The City 2, in which the 4 friends visit Abu Dhabi and have trouble with local customs.

I know this will not come as a shock, but it's not really aimed at the male mind.

I wonder if anyone knows
how many times they changed their clothes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gwen and Gwen

I saw a play called "Gwen and Gwen" tonight, in an MPTG production. It's about a woman, just released from a mental institution, who is haunted by an imaginary alter ego. Their conversations make up the bulk of the drama.

Colleen Winters, who plays the flashy alter ego, was a joy to watch, and the other performances were all solid. I think Kevin McSweeney, who directed, really outdid himself. He was joking afterwards, calling it a "feel good" play. I told him the play felt good at the end, but it drags you through hell to get there.

A journey through hell
can end well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chairman of BP, Invited at Last

As the oil spills on, our president has not yet called the BP CEO. The White House press secretary explained:
"Look, the CEO is elected by the board. Anything that the CEO wants to do has to be approved by the board," Gibbs said.
So... our president has called the BP chairman of the board, the true big kahuna, right?

For some reason, no.

But - UPDATE - the president has now requested a meeting, at his house:
President Obama has formally requested a meeting with Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman of the Board of BP, and any other “appropriate officials” from BP next Wednesday, June 16th at the White House.
The way I read this, our president was initially reluctant to "get involved" with the oil mess, because he wanted to "stay above" it.

It's a distraction from his agenda. But now he has been drawn in, by repeated public demands.

I'm not sure what he can actually do
about the spew of ugly goo.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hawks Win

The Chicago Blackhawks have taken the Stanley Cup, for the first time since 1961. Fireworks have been sounding around my house for 10 minutes now. I expect they'll go on for an hour, at least.

It was a great game, tied at the end of regulation time, going into sudden death overtime.

With icy control
and a dose of luck
they stuck the puck
inside the goal.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Barcelona Nights

Rhythmic guitar music heard by chance
brings me back to that delightful hour
when I could watch you whirl in the dance
reveling in your body's living power.

That hour is past. But when the strings are strummed
I feel your heartbeat near, I see your eyes.
And pain that time has mercifully numbed
comes rolling back to me in sharp surprise.

Darling girl, you did not dance so well,
and yet, you loved it so, were so enraptured,
you were a joy to watch. I cannot tell
what I would give to have it all recaptured.

It fades away, the pulsing music gone.
In silence then your magic lingers on.

Kant and Abstract Art

When Rand writes:
...the father of modern art is Immanuel Kant (see his Critique of Judgment).
People snort.

But when Roger Kimball writes:
It is not surprising that the Critique of Judgment became an important theoretical document for those interested in abstract art: in Kant’s view, the purest beauty was also the most formal.
People give him a respectful hearing.

I'm not saying Kant would have enjoyed abstract art.
But some of his ideas may have helped it get a start.

If all that's important is form and the medium,
then representation is truly tedium.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Soccer, Threat or Menace?

Soccer might seem, at first glance, to be a harmless diversion, a silly game. But on closer examination, it stands revealed as a systematic attack upon the use of arms, and hands too.

Doesn't the Bill of Rights protect our use of arms? And aren't hands protected in the penumbra?

America has long been the last best hope of mankind against soccer-mania. But there are signs we are starting to succumb. Listen to the words of one self-described soccer "fanatic":
Soccer has matured in this country over a period of 30 years. What’s interesting to me is that many American soccer fans have come to love the game through participating instead of through the media. This has created an understanding of the game. There’s a stealth wave that the traditional sports media have ignored.
Big surprise - our media chose to ignore a "stealth wave" of fanatics.

Get your heads out of the sand!
It's an evil sport where arm and hand
are systematically banned.

Jeff Win

The "Jeff Awards" are Chicago's theater awards. Tonight some friends of mine have reason to celebrate:
Receiving an award for its first Jeff-eligible production was Dream Theatre Company's "The Black Duckling," which scored for Trevor Watkins' Original Incidental Music.
I know Trevor and everyone else at Dream, and I am very happy for them.

The term "incidental music" doesn't quite cover how important Trevor's score was to this show. The Black Duckling was done in the style of a silent movie - actors performed without voice, while music played fairly continuously in the background.

Trevor performed most of the music too, on piano and flute. It's quite haunting music. I have the CD.

I know that Trevor worked very closely with Jeremy Menekseoglu, the writer/director/visionary of this truly unusual theater piece. Jeremy had some idea of what he wanted the music to convey, and Trevor was able to create that music.

It's a big moment for all concerned, in terms of winning recognition.

Congrats to Dream and Trevor,
for your first Jeff ever!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Troublemakers Park

I ran by a park today, in the town of Calumet Park, Illinois. I don't recall seeing a sign, on site, with the park name. But it's official name is: Troublemakers Park.

Mostly it's wide open space, with a baseball diamond.

When I went by, at 1 pm on a pleasant Sunday, the park was completely empty.

I wonder if reverse psychology at work. The name seems to say: Troublemakers - come here!

Did those who want to rebel
go elsewhere to raise hell?

SpaceX in Orbit

A private company, known as SpaceX, has constructed a rocket, and used it to put a dummy capsule into orbit.

From the NY Times:
The success was a major boon to those supporting President Obama’s proposal to turn the launching of astronauts over to private companies. A spectacular failure would have provided ammunition to opponents who call Mr. Obama’s approach too risky.
It's nice to be able to say, for once: I support our president's program!

Private companies construct our fighter jets. There's no real reason they can't construct our rockets.

Let free competition
supply the ignition.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Sonnet for Ajax

This is a rhymed synopsis of the hero's fate in Sophocles' play about Ajax.

Slaughtering cattle in the mad belief
that they were men of war who had betrayed him,
meaning to bring his fellow Greeks to grief,
he kills dumb beasts. A goddess had waylaid him.

She who stood for wisdom filled his mind
with folly. She protected other men;
but as day breaks, he's left alone to find
his fame lies mired in the livestock pen.

His stolen bride now begs him, “Take a rest.
No need to make decisions in a hurry.
A day of watchful waiting would be best.”
He reassures her, tells her not to worry.

He leaves his tent and marches to the shore.
He falls upon his sword, and speaks no more

Thursday, June 03, 2010


I just finished Ajax, by Sophocles. I was quite startled when he killed himself on stage.

In Greek tragedies, death usually occurs off stage.

After they've gone to glory
a witness gives us the story
with details ghastly and gory.

Laugh Leading

Ann Althouse writes:
When I go to the movies or a play, I find that I myself am a laugh leader. It don't laugh loudly, but I am the first person to laugh at a lot of things, and I get other people laughing. I'm not trying to go first. It's just that a lot of Americans — especially at high-art type movies and plays — are too polite or insecure about laughing.
I think 2 things are going on here: permission and contagion. People need permission to laugh at things that they fear are too serious to laugh at. And laughter is contagious. Most of us have had the experience of laughing along with someone, even when we had no idea why the other person was laughing.

That's why they put laugh tracks on a lot of TV comedies - permission and contagion.

But sometimes laughter brings out anger from others - particularly when they sense that their values are being ridiculed. It's not always true to say "Laugh and the world laughs with you."

I remember a time when I went to see a performance of Mary Stuart, a play I admire.  But it was being performed in a campy style.

The first half got some laughs
But not from me.
As for the second half,
I did not stay to see.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

No Time For Comedy

I finished reading No Time For Comedy, by S. N. Behrman, which is itself a comedy. It concerns a playwright who has been persuaded that he shouldn't write comedy any more.

It turns out, in the end, that he should write a comedy after all, and the action which the audience has been watching turns out to be the source of that new play.

I thought this was quite self-referential for a 1939 play. Deathtrap, by Ira Levin, plays extensively with the same idea.

I hadn't heard of Behrman, or this play, but he was a popular playwright of the time.

The Broadway production featured a young Laurence Oliver as the playwright. It was his first big Broadway role. He wowed the New York crowd.

Periodically they tell you that comedy is dead,
that the world situation is so filled with doom and dread
that there really is no mental room remaining for bright laughter.

But - you can bet - you'll hear a joke, and chortle shortly after.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Easy Come, Easy Go

Let's say you won 9.7 million British pounds in the Lotto. You might think you were set for life. And maybe you would be. But not Michael Carroll:
The 26-year-old, who squandered his multi-million fortune on drugs, gambling and thousands of prostitutes, has since February claimed £42 a week in jobseeker's allowance.

But he is keen to get off the dole and back to earning £200 a week collecting rubbish near his home in Downham Market, Norfolk.
He burned through all his Lotto cash,
and now it's back to hauling trash.

Young Robin

I found this little birdie on my way home from the train.
Why he sat there for this portrait, is what I can't explain.