Friday, December 30, 2011

August: Osage County

I just finished reading "August: Osage County", a 2008 play that won lots of prizes, including the Pulitzer.

I found it funny in places, but mostly depressing. "Darkly comic", as the critics say.

I had read, on some conservative website, that the play had a political message. But it only had one clearly political passage, and here's its key message:
"You know, this country was always pretty much a whorehouse, but at least it used to have some promise. Now it's just a shithole."
There's more, along those lines, less vulgar, but just as vague. Is it backed up by anything else in the play? Not really, except for the fact that the characters in the play all seem deeply lost. With citizens like these, what kind of country could America be?

I suspect the playwright's view of people was caught by this line: "He's not perfect. Just like all the rest of us, down here in the muck."

I felt stuck
in the muck -
it rolled on, unrelenting.

Now I'm free.
Lucky me!
Excuse me for my venting.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Jingle Cycle

Weight gain from holiday cheer?
Resolve to lose it next year!

Ninja Canine

Black dog in the night
provides an invisible bite.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Eastern sky goes pink.
See the sun unsink.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Party Like It's 1996

Matthieu is back, for a surprise visit, and it's Christmas 1996 all over again.

In the school year of 1996-1997, we hosted a foreign exchange student, from France: Matthieu. We have kept in touch, but it has been quite a while since we all actually saw him.

He flew in from Paris on Thursday night and is back in his old room for the holidays.

My son coordinated it, but my wife, my daughter, and I were clueless about it until he showed up at the door.

His presence is a gift
and gave us all a lift.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Lark

Finished reading Jean Anouilh's play, The Lark. It's the third striking play I've read over the years about Joan of Arc, the other 2 being Schiller's Maid of Orleans and Shaw's Saint Joan.

As Wikipedia says, "much of Anouilh's work deals with themes of maintaining integrity in a world of moral compromise." That's true for this play, and I can vouch that it's also true for his Becket and his Antigone.

All three
the powers that be
and die
with integrity.


My daughter missed the fine print and took a bite of these snicker-poodle cookies.

She spit it out with great haste.
The dogs, who do like the taste,
were sad that the treat went to waste.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Survival Supplies

"Empty calories" helped keep her alive:
A U.S. university student said she had nothing to eat but two candy bars while her car was stuck in the snow for 10 days in a remote area of Arizona.
A couple of Forest Service employees on snowmobiles eventually rescued her - after they came across her car while they were checking to see if gates were closed.

Candy, to be candid,
can be handy when you're stranded.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Downtown Today

Young people roll the sidewalks with their going-home suitcases,
miles left to go, but smiles on their faces.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Science of Room for Dessert

Lots of us have had the experience - we're feeling full after a meal, but once we view the dessert options, we're ready for more!

Now, some scientists think they can explain this phenomenon. But it's not that "dessert goes in a different place".
The sugar in sweet foods stimulates a reflex that expands your stomach, writes senior researcher Arnold Berstad and assistant doctor Jørgen Valeur from Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital in the latest issue of The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association.
Food that's sweetly yummy
somehow expands your tummy?

It's your body's evil plot
to make you eat a lot!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Researching the Researchers

Mark Bauerlein has an interesting article that is getting some attention. Called "The Research Bust," it runs some numbers on academic research in English departments. He shows, at least plausibly, that a lot of published research is barely read, even by other professors. He argues that universities shouldn't require so much professorial research - at least in English - and should focus on getting the professors to teach instead.
The unfortunate conclusion is that the overall impact of literary research doesn't come close to justifying the money and effort that goes into it.
I'm curious about how old this argument is. I've been hearing it for decades. Of course, in those decades, the percentage students majoring in English has plummeted.

English should be a popular major.
It may not make you any sager,
but since it's a language you already know,
it ought to be easy to give it a go.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kim Jong Il

He had been ill for a while.
I will not miss his smile.

I was just listening to this talk about the way intellectuals continue to push socialism despite its stupefying body count:

As an idea, it refuses to die.
Kors works hard to say why.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Suppressed Desires

I was reading a book, The End of Comedy: The Sit-Com and the Comedic Tradition. Yes, it's a serious book about comedy. There's something funny about such books, and I tend to enjoy them.

Anyway, somewhat in passing he described Susan Glaspell as the playwright who determined the typical plot formulas for modern short plays, having given usTrifles (1916) as the exemplar of a short serious play, and Suppressed Desires (1915) as the exemplar of a short comic play.

I sat up straight in my chair, because I didn't really know anything about Glaspell, or Trifles, but I was pretty sure from his description of Suppressed Desires that I had stumbled across it, some months ago, in an old volume of short plays. And I had thought it was wonderful, and had mused over the fact that I had never heard of it before.

And here it was, singled out as a landmark, in a book from 1983.

Well, I don't really know theater the way theater majors do. I was an English major. Different worlds, even then. We just read a bunch of the same stuff, but the professors tackled it from different directions.

English professors always want
to set the play in its Age.

Theater professors always want
to put it - now! - on Stage.


A family of five was shot to death in a small town in Illinois yesterday. Police are calling it a murder-suicide, and aren't saying who did the killing, but one of the neighbors saw something bloodcurdling:
She said she saw Sara McMeen in the next yard over hovering over her baby as if she'd dropped her. Fiedler asked McMeen if everything was alright, and "she looked at me and said, 'No, everything is not alright.' "

McMeen fired a shot at the infant, "and then I just ran," said Fiedler, a town trustee.
The stereotype is that it's always the dad,
but mothers, too, can go bad.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Practical Considerations

Client: "How long will I be locked up?"

Lawyer: "Don't worry - it's nothing definite."

Everyone's worried about some new exception to the habeas corpus rule. I just want to know - what's the food like in there?

As long as your prison has a good chef in it,
why worry whether your stay is indefinite?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Can I please go in the yard?
Sitting still is oh-so-hard!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hunter by Bidinotto

Tonight I finished reading Hunter, a first novel by Robert Bidinotto, who I've known a long time. It's a thriller, and while I haven't been reading many of them lately, I enjoyed this one a lot. It's fast-moving, and imbued with a strong sense of right and wrong. I especially enjoyed the Big Dramatic Finish, which I found exhilarating.

He published it independently, and it is moving very well in the Kindle edition. I read it partly on my iPad and mostly on my iPhone, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was struck by the way the Kindle edition has a feature where I can see which passages other people have tended to highlight. The author has some thematic points to make, and those passing sentences in particular seemed to be highlighted the most.

There are people to root in favor of,
and people to root against,
and when the story's over
justice gets dispensed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home Sales Revised Downward

Well, this can't be good news:
Data on sales of previously owned U.S. homes from 2007 through October this year will be revised down next week because of double counting, indicating a much weaker housing market than previously thought.
"Much weaker"?

Why did they have to tell us this? It's going to depress consumer confidence!

If it makes the numbers come out nice,
why shouldn't one sale be counted twice?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Drone Down

I see where we're asking for our drone back,
but my guess is we won't see it again
unless we attack,
and probably not even then,
because they'll first consider
selling it to the highest bidder.


I couldn't figure out the etymology of screwdriver - as in the mixed drink. But the online etymology dictionary has this surmise:
Screwed/screwy had a sense of "drunk" since 19c.
I don't recall hearing that usage, but it's close to a lot of other slang for being drunk. By the way, there is no end of slang about alcohol and drunkenness, and I speculate that's because there has been an ongoing need to speak about it evasively.

When open discussion makes people nervous,
slang is often pressed into service.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Swift's Epitaph

Tonight in the car I flashed on a poem I had long ago admired and memorized. I knew it as "Swift's Epitaph", but I was unsure who had written it. Yeats, I thought... but the timing was wrong for Yeats to be writing an epitaph for Jonathan Swift.

So, I looked on Wikipedia, and now I know. Yeats's poem is a very free translation from the epitaph Swift wrote for himself in Latin.

I'm just going to let Yeats be my honored guest rhymer for this one. Here's his poem:

Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


An Australian news website has fun with an International Red Cross newsletter:
Six hundred million gamers could be war criminals, Red Cross says
If you click through to the newsletter, you get this mealy mouthed pablum (warning - PDF):
While the Movement works vigorously to promote international humanitarian law (IHL) worldwide, there is also an audience of approximately 600 million gamers who may be virtually violating IHL.
Of course, what they're floating is bans on violent video games.

But is banning war games adequate? Can we allow half a billion virtual war criminals to go unpunished?

Let's charge them with something vague
and try them all at the Hague.

Friday, December 09, 2011


The holiday wackiness continues:
A Connecticut woman faces multiple charges after a craft fair incident that allegedly ended with her stabbing another woman with a Christmas ornament.
The woman was observed stealing stuff. When confronted, she stabbed someone with a weapon of good cheer.

When accused of craft fair thieving,
I suggest quickly leaving.

Ornament assault
is a grievous moral fault.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Creating an Opening

Mythbusters Accidentally Shoots Cannonball Through House

"Unfortunate bounces" they say.

The cannonball proved that
contrary to myth
it's still a good thing
to knock stuff down with.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Our former governor was sentenced to 14 years today. He has to serve 85 percent of that, even with good behavior. So he's looking at 12 years in Club Fed.

We elected him twice. Well, I'm not saying I voted for him, so maybe the "we" is misplaced. But the voters of Illinois gave this guy the governor's seat twice.

Giving him the governor's seat
was like giving a baby a hand grenade.

Now the catastrophe is complete,
who's to blame for the mess he made?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

After Visiting The Eye Doctor

My pupils are dilated,
and everything's too bright.

I'm feeling kind of grateful
for winter's early night.

Monday, December 05, 2011


Amusing development of Electronic Counter Measures to the dreaded photo of one's drunken state that someone else posts to Facebook:
Developed with Buenos Aires-based agency Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Photoblocker is -- no joke -- a beer cooler which senses cell phone flashes in its vicinity and flashes its own counteractive light, rendering the photos overexposed and the inebriated subjects unidentifiable.
Amusing video can be found toward the bottom of the link.

Avoid teeth-gnashing
Facebook hell
by counter-flashing
your frenemy's cell.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Logical and disturbing outcome:
Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'
That's because many colleges make it harder to get in if you're an Asian. Asians, as a group, are outperforming other ethnic groups at test-taking. But colleges, while prizing academic excellence, also prize ethnic diversity. So...
Studies show that Asian-Americans... often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission.
When applying to top schools,
don't be among the fools
who admit their race persuasion
leans toward Asian.

Your prospects will be brighter
if you check the box that's whiter.

Friday, December 02, 2011

How Eponymous

Sheriff's new abode
leads to irony overload:
A former Colorado lawman with a record so distinguished he was once honored as the nation's sheriff of the year now finds himself in a jail that was named for him, accused of offering methamphetamine in exchange for sex from a male acquaintance.
He was a drug warrior, of course.

The temptations for corruption for drug warriors are simply horrendous.
And the opportunities for hypocrisy are tremendous.


Researchers find poop-throwing by chimps is a sign of intelligence
Humans throw better than chimps, by the way. Which is why we invented baseball.

And how are humans at throwing poop?
Just watch the media dive for a scoop!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thumbs Up

My wife, close kin to 2 surgeons, says she has heard of this procedure. Great photos at the link, if you don't mind looking at slightly freaky rearranged anatomy.

It all started with a do-it-yourself woodworking project that went wrong.

But surgeons had an ingenious solution, amputating one body part from its original spot, and grafting it onto an analogous location.

He sawed off his thumb,
and was feeling real glum.

So they sewed on a toe,
and he's all good to go.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Art as Bifrost

In Norse Mythology, there's a rainbow bridge between the land of the gods and the land of men. It's called Bifrost, and a few other names as well.

In Schiller and Rand, art is seen as such a bridge, between the the human power of abstraction and the human power of perception, between the human sense of the moral ideal and the human recognition of the difficulties of living morally.

Schiller describes the problem to be bridged as a gulf or opposition. Rand sees it as ultimately a computational challenge, which art is capable of solving, by means of subconscious integration.

I'm sure that somehow this issue can be chased back to Plato.

The rainbow bridge takes you up into the blue.
Forgetting your fear of heights,
charge forward and push till the journey is through,
absorbing the pulsating lights.

Schiller and Rand

Ayn Rand's Romantic Manifesto proposes a very broad outline of the Romantic movement in Western literary aesthetics, but she never names anyone as the chief progenitor of the trend. If you just took her list of notable Romantic authors from her book, it might jump out at you that the earliest figure is Friedrich Schiller, poet, dramatist, aesthetician. He's so early, in fact, that he is frequently not even counted as a Romantic, although his influence on the Romantic drama and fiction is easy to document. I am thinking in particular of his influence on Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I've long been struck by parallels between Schiller's aesthetic theory and Rand's. They are not easy parallels to draw. Their philosophical vocabulary is so alien. And I have not done anything like a thorough study of Schiller's thought, although I have given rather careful study to his plays.

Today, I was looking at The Theatre of Goethe and Schiller, by John Prudhoe, and he writes of Schiller:
He is ultimately responsible for the stress on choice - Free Will - in so many subsequent plays. We detect the inheritance of Schiller's thought in the decision which has to be made by the heroine in The Lady from the Sea; in John Proctor's refusal to put his name to the confession of witchcraft in The Crucible; and in the inability of Williams's heroines to find harmony in themselves.
That is a very sweeping statement, to say the least. It also connects to Rand's attempt to boil the Romantic movement down to one literary premise: an embrace of human volition, i.e., the human power of choice, also known as free will.

Schiller had a complicated, Kantian-influenced, theory of art and free will, which had to do with the power of reason to rise above the sensory world.

For Schiller, the world is lovely, and fills our hearts with awe,
but somewhere high above it, he glimpses Eternal Law.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tenured, Of Course

At Cal State, they have a professor who walks out of class for a week if students haven't brought him snacks.

Better bring him a muffin,
or else he'll teach you nuffin'.

But he wants it understood:
it's for the students' own good!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

J. Edgar

Saw the movie about J. Edgar Hoover, directed by Clint Eastwood. I thought it was slow. The narrative takes place in 3 distinct periods of his life, and switches among them. I could follow along, but I didn't feel the out-of-sequence stuff helped much. The narrative also uses the "unreliable narrator" technique in places, as Hoover dictates his memoirs, which I found annoying. I knew an awful lot of the history, but was unsure where the screenwriters were just making stuff up.

Hoover himself is portrayed as a well-intentioned but flawed man.

A lot of the movie is focused on his gay, but Platonic, relationship with his second-in-command. I don't know how much of this stuff could possibly be verifiable, and although the movie is very well acted as a rule, I never felt there was much romantic chemistry between actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer.

By the way, nobody in the 1930's, gay or not, would have used "fashion forward" as an adjectival phrase to describe a necktie!

I say 2 stars out of 4,
no more.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Little

Chris Matthews of MSNBC Cable said he could argue that the U.S. national media "leans a little to the left".

They lean a little to the left
and do it with substantial heft.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November's Embers

Snow will come soon enough.
For now, enjoy the warm stuff.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pilgrim Lessons

Alex Tabarrok posted today about the lessons of the first Pilgrim thanksgiving. The Pilgrims had tried a system of collectivist farming - with bad results. They then tried a more private-property based approach, with good results. At the time, Governor William Bradford reflected upon the experience. I'm not usually one for long quotations, but the learning of this one impressed me:
[Ending corn collectivism] had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.
Sharing work and product whole
across a big community
is bad for the body, bad for the soul,
and fosters envy, not unity.