Monday, February 28, 2011

John V. Cody

I was sorry to learn today that John V. Cody passed away a few years ago. When my wife was an undergrad at Northwestern, he was a nontenured classics professor there. She took a class from him on Rand's novels, analyzed from a classicist's perspective. He was particularly keen on her classical allusions and her use, as he saw it, of literary ring structure. Some of his perspective ended up in his article, "Ayn Rand's Promethean Heroes", which appeared in Reason Magazine, in the November 1973 issue. She also took an independent study class with him on Aristotle's Metaphysics.

He was indirectly responsible for my marriage. In 1973 he arranged a showing of the film version of the Fountainhead at Northwestern. I was an undergrad at U of I Chicago, but took the "L" up to Evanston. I met Marsha at the open discussion afterwards in the cafeteria.

He had to leave Northwestern when they cut back their classics department. He worked at Cato for a while, then left, at which point we lost contact with him. But I see from the memorial article that he also went on to teach at University of San Francisco.

I offer his spirit continuing gratitude
for helping me meet this girl with attitude.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prometheus, Authorship Unknown

I was re-reading an ancient Greek play, Prometheus Bound, traditionally attributed to Aeschylus. Afterwards, on Wikipedia, I found that its authorship is now in dispute.

I hadn't kept up. I didn't even know there was a controversy!

I've never really cared for it as a play - it seems incredibly slow-moving. It's more interesting for the ideas it puts forth - including the brazen defiance which Prometheus offers to Zeus.

It turns out this impiety is one of the reasons that some scholars doubt that Aeschylus really wrote it. In other plays, Aeschylus exhibited a pious attitude toward Zeus. Well, that's one reason, and there are perceived stylistic differences, and finally I take it that we have no contemporaneous attribution to Aeschylus.

Scholars have reconstructed an outline of the trilogy which this play began. The trilogy has a sort of happy ending for the much-punished Prometheus.

Prometheus is bound,
but eventually cut loose,
once it's finally found
that his help is needed by Zeus.

Do More People Own Ferrets Than Watch Fox News?

David Brooks, NYT columnist, on TV:
"We now have — here’s a fact from Morris Fiorina, Stanford political scientist: More people own ferrets than watch Fox News.”
Can that be true? Do more people own ferrets than watch Fox news?

Awakened from my slumbers,
I wondered about the numbers.

Ferrets are estimated to reside in 505,000 American households.

Of course, that's households. How many owners in a household? The average American household size is 2.59. Is that also true for ferret-owning households? Anyway, assuming every man, woman, and child in the house is an "owner", this gives us an estimate of about 1,313,000 ferret owners.

Onto Fox news. For February 24, Nielsen lists them as having 1,360,000 viewers over aged 12.

It's close, but it looks like Fox news technically wins.

I hate to say it, Mr. Brooks,
but give that data a second look.

UPDATE: Speaking of second looks, that Nielsen number I quoted isn't actually a peak viewers number. The same page lists O'Reilly's evening show as pulling in 3 million people. That's easily twice the ferret-owner count.

UPDATE 2: The blogger known as General Patterico has tracked down the source Brooks cited, and it turns out Brooks has mis-remembered what was being said in the first place.

Peabody's Place

We saw Blithe Spirit at the Peabody Estate. The play was well-done and quite funny.

Mr. Peabody made vast sums in coal, and his estate was voluminous:
Although Peabody always maintained various residences in Chicago, it was in the western suburbs that he chose to build his retirement home. Peabody purchased over 800 acres from several landowners in DuPage County, near Hinsdale. He selected the prominent Chicago architectural firm of Marshall & Fox to design a magnificent 39-room Tudor Revival mansion costing $750,000. It took two years to build and was completed in 1921.
When you visit, you see remnants of church stuff:
Following their acquisition of Mayslake, the Franciscans spent the next year converting the 39-room Tudor Revival mansion into a retreat house. The spacious living room was converted to a chapel, and its doors and eight windows were fitted with stained glass.
Preservationists intervened when the church people wanted to sell to developers:
A massive campaign to save the site resulted in passage of a referendum that enabled the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to acquire the site for $17.5 million in 1992.
Thus did the businessman's bounty
come into the hands of the county.

Friday, February 25, 2011

2 Meanings of Dramatic Climax

In Freytag's theory of dramatic structure, the "climax" is the "turning point" which occurs in the middle of the play. A lot of people are taught this chart in school:

But this isn't actually how the word is used nowadays. Nowadays a "climax" comes right before the end - it's the "final showdown". The visual diagram for a 2-act play is drawn more like this:

Partly, this is semantics. Partly, it's a different idea of what is important in analyzing a story. I had a professor in college who was very keen on finding the middle-of-the-story turning point, where events subtly began to change direction.

I'm not sure how you apply Freytag's diagram to a standard contemporary 2-act play, because it seems like it would land around the end of Act I or beginning of Act II.

Trying to agree on terms
can be like herding worms.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Untragic Tragedy

I've been reading Ion, by Euripides, one of the ancient Greek tragedies that has a happy ending. 

You might wonder how it can be called a tragedy. The Greeks meant something a bit different than we mean by tragedy.

Here's Aristotle's definition with bolding from me:
Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.
So... serious, evoking pity and fear... but possibly having a happy ending.

To us it's not "tragedy" at all,
if it lacks a final fall.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Has It Coming

I have no confidence about what will happen to Libya if Gaddafi is unseated.

But if they hang him by his ears
I'll shed no tears.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Election Results

We have a new mayor, although he won't be sworn in for a while. A lot of my Republican friends are wondering how he could have been elected. Well, remember, this is a Democratic town, and the people running were ALL Democrats. This was a "non-partisan election", but the GOP didn't even bother fielding anyone. Also, I think it's true that the winner came off as the smartest of the candidates. None of the leading candidates was super specific about their proposals, but all gave speeches about hard choices ahead. I think it's fair to say that the winner was perceived as taking the toughest line with the city unions, particularly in regard to increasing employee pension contributions. The city's business leaders backed him, the city's unions were not so enthusiastic.

Thus ends my note
about today's vote.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wild Weekend

I had today off for George Washington's birthday. I spent this long weekend, starting Friday night, rewriting my play, especially the last 15 pages, the final scene where the pace and impact seemed to flag during our public reading. My wife has been out of town, so I had plenty of time to myself to write. I also took a yoga class each morning. I find it helps settle my mind for writing.

That's a photo from the discussion after the reading, with the actors, me, and the director, 6 days ago.

A number of people I trust thought the final scene alone was weak. But some people were not bothered by it at all. One very analytical friend actually thought the final scene was great, and listed the reasons she liked it, particularly the fact that it explained everything so clearly. So I decided to find what was weak and keep what was strong.

I tore the scene up into sub-scenes, considered reordering them, wrote a lot of new lines, sharpened a lot of existing lines, and got a better sense of what was motivating the 2 characters in the scene.

I think I've done it. It has the same basic skeleton, but I think it has a driving sense of purpose and clash of wills now. And it certainly has a more startling and bold way of achieving resolution. Startling but sufficiently prepared for, I believe.

There's a David Mamet dictum to the effect that the play isn't over till the Truth comes out - then it's over. I think I've done a better job of meeting that standard.

I'm hoping this is the last MAJOR surgery before production. Well we'll see. It's been through a lot. It's had 15 serious revisions since I first wrote "end of play" in the script back in July 2010. As with my first play, the last scene has proved to be the most re-worked.

Bringing out the truth is hard,
leaves me feeling battle-scarred.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

String Theory of Romantic Comedy

I saw No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy, tonight.

The premise is that medical-resident Natalie Portman is looking for a bed-buddies-only relationship with TV production assistant Ashton Kutcher.

Of course, the strings attach
to make a match.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Speeding to Conviction

A guy in a BMW was zooming down an Oregon interstate. The police clocked him at 118 mph. So a cop pulled him over, and found that the driver was videorecording the whole thing.
When Postlewait asked why he was videotaping, Bakanov said he was filming his speedometer, and his arrest, to post on Youtube. The video later revealed that Bakanov had attained speeds in excess of 140 mph.
Unfortunately, the police confiscated the video, so we can't see the look on the cop's face when all this is explained to him.

Think twice before making a vid
of things that are better off hid.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mad City

The situation north of here - in Madison, WI - is impressive. Ann Althouse has been all over it lately.

The Republicans are trying to curb the state unions, and the unions are having none of it. The school teachers called in sick in huge numbers and joined massive, messy, but peaceful protests at the state capitol. The state had to close down a lot of public schools because of the teacher sick-in.

Meanwhile, the senate Democrats fled the state - in order to deprive the state senate of a quorum, apparently.

They came down here, to Illinois,
hoping their absence would annoy
and maybe delay
reckoning day.


As I mentioned, I felt I had some changes to make in my play, especially in the last 10 minutes or so. I think I've got it. I mulled over a lot of the comments, and a dictum of David Mamet's, and something new emerged. Sorry to be so cryptic.

Sometimes ideas come in a flood
midst the roaring of the blood.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Boycott Wal-Mart

Not for the usual reasons. And I don't shop there much, anyway - mostly because I hardly shop anywhere!
Four Wal-Mart employees have been fired after management said they violated company policy by disarming an alleged shoplifter who had pulled a gun inside the store.
That lead paragraph actually understates the reported danger posed by the suspect, a man named Longton.
Longton then allegedly grabbed Stewart and shoved the gun into his back.
Why would a big corporation like Wal-Mart fire a bunch of heroes?
I bet they're worried about liability awards with lots of trailing zeroes.

But there's got to be a way to avoid
making these guys unemployed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


For book club we read Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome. It's a book of Stoic rumination on right behavior, addressed to himself, apparently intended for his eyes only.

I didn't really like the book. It emphasizes thinking about death a lot, so one can face it calmly when it comes. To me it sounds like self-inducing depression so you can face death without caring.

It doesn't make sense
to live your days under a cloud
just to suppress
your fear of the funeral shroud.

Reading Can Be Fun

We had the reading of my new play, Wild Flowers. It went very well. There are some things I want to change, but they are of the non-catastrophic variety, and the audience seemed to have a great time, so I'm very happy. We identified a stretch that dragged a bit. I want to clarify some motivation a bit, too.

Thank you to the cast: Amanda June Bracklein as Maggie, Linus Lee as Jason, Bil Gaines as Trent, and Rachel Martindale as Yuliana. Thank you to Lance Brett Hall for casting 3 of those actors, and for facilitating the discussion afterward. Thank you to Dream Theatre Company for hosting the event and for participating in it!

There's this funny psychological effect, I find, of listening to a play - and listening to it with an audience. It's not ESP, of course, but there's a natural awareness of the audience that somehow tells you a lot - even before they speak a word afterwards.

I don't know how, but it's real:
you sense what they feel.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On A Proposal To Wipe Out V Day

Over on Livejournal, they asked: If you had the power, would you permanently eliminate Valentine's Day?

I think it would be phenomenally stupid
to try to eliminate Cupid.

Even if at first I seemed to achieve success,
before long I'd face the return of the repressed.

People would be sneaking cards and flowers
in defiance of my dictatorial powers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Green Meets Snow

Nice photo at the link:
A roof used to display innovative landscaping techniques collapsed over a parking area at Aquascape Corporation in St. Charles on Monday.
Yes, they were growing stuff on the roof over a parking lot. From the photo, they had dirt and grass and snow on the roof. They suspect the accident had something to do with snow melting and refreezing to form an "ice dam".

There are bugs in lots of the green
technology I've seen.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spoiler Alert at Second City

Tonight we went to see the current Second City show:
Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies
It was very funny sketch comedy without an overarching theme.

As usual, some of the humor was local. The show attracts tourists, but I always wonder what they make of the local stuff, such as tonight's very funny skit about the Cubs/Sox rivalry - as viewed through the lens of the racial divide.

I especially enjoyed the part where the north sider is trying to explain that he has never gone to the south side because he doesn't know how to get there.

The only thing I don't like about Second City is the lack of leg room. You get scrunched in that place!

There's not a lot of room,
but the comedy goes boom!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Atlas Trailer Already Controversial

A couple of bloggers I read regularly don't like the Atlas Shrugged Part 1 Trailer.

Tyler Cowen:
Hank Rearden's line about only wanting to earn money comes across as either a parody of Gordon Gecko or as something worthy of Gecko's parody. To be properly post-Wall Street, Rearden must somehow contain and yet leapfrog over Oliver Stone's vision; a pretty boy look will not suffice.
Ann Althouse:
People are supposed to put up with more than one movie full of that stuff?! It was all I could do to look at 2 and a half minutes of that sloshy melodrama.

Is that opus really the rich repository of conservative values it purports to be? Quite aside from the flabby aesthetics, we're supposed to get all righteous about — of all things — building railroads?
Prof. Cowen has read the novel, and has some sympathy with its import. He has his own idea about the right way to film it. He wants it in black and white, to start with. I think he has in mind to do it as an alternate history piece about the 1950's, which might be an aesthetic success, although I fear it would be more costly and less likely to draw an audience.

Prof. Althouse has not read the novel. The idea that the novel purports to be conservative is a confession of ignorance. It certainly defends some key traditional values of Western civilization, but by no means all of them, and the defense is pro-reason, not pro-tradition.

Althouse is all about nuance in her art appreciation. Rand could display considerable nuance, but it was in the details, not in the outline. In the outline she went for epic.

I wasn't surprised they didn't like it. But I liked it well enough that I'm looking forward to seeing it on its ironic opening day: April 15.

Will it be perfect? Of course not. It's a low-budget quickly-produced indie film! On the other hand, they've actually succeeded - after decades of failure - at putting the story on the screen.

The trailer seems to be aimed at fans of the novel, not at people unfamiliar with the material. As with Lord of the Rings, there's a big fan base. I'm guessing the marketing strategy is to get the fans into the theater seats, in hopes they will generate enough positive buzz to get other people to come see it.

As with the Serenity movie, I'm too much of a pre-existing fan to judge how other movie-goers might like it. They've obviously kept it politically controversial, so I'm sure some people will just hate it.

I certainly plan to watch it.
I hope they didn't botch it.

Privileged Haunts

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Higher education has no special immunity from the angri-culture. On the contrary, it is a privileged haunt for those who delight in scorn, derision, and wrathful dislike of mainstream American culture. We cite academic freedom as guaranteeing our right to be vitriolic.
It's from an article about the Beck vs. Cloward controversy.

The academic left prizes anger as a sign of caring about the oppressed.
But when anger comes at them, they are oh-so-deeply distressed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

National Department of Confusion

You might think that a group called "The Muslim Brotherhood" has a religious intent.

But, no...
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a secular organization.
Then again, yes:
The Obama administration took the rare step Thursday of correcting its own intelligence chief after the official claimed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is "largely secular."
Get your ducks in a row
before you go
and talk like a rube
on the tube.

Back on the Calendar

We've finally got my play reading rescheduled - for this coming Tuesday.

We had to switch actors for 2 of the 4 roles, due to the date change. Actors tend to be busy people, with day jobs, readings, rehearsals, performances, classes, and, oh yes, having lives.

I suppose I will have something to rewrite after the reading. Probably some character's actions will appear inconsistent, in a way that requires either revision or explication. Hopefully I won't have any major logical blunders in the story line.

I'm technically on something like 27 rewrites already.

Lucky me, I find rewriting

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


My old XP laptop started misbehaving all of a sudden by presenting me with blank screens and blue screens of death and what not.

I couldn't figure it out. The symptoms seemed so random. Then I ran a memory test from a self-booting utility CD. Looks like one of the chips went kablooie. Which explains a lot.

When your memory chip is no good,
nothing works quite like it should.

Monday, February 07, 2011

127 Hours

We saw 127 Hours at the theater. It's the movie about the climber who had a boulder fall on his hand in the middle of Nowhere, Utah - and who had to cut off his hand and most of his forearm to free himself before he died of dehydration.

It's not the most comfortable movie to sit through. If you happen to have any claustrophobia, it's not easy watching this guy stay wedged in one spot in a crevice for 5 days while he tries to survive. Also, if you're squeamish about self-executed dismemberment, you might be tempted to look away at a certain point.

With those little caveats, let me add that it is beautifully filmed, and quite inspirational.

In a choice between life and limb,
it all came down to him.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


I just found out that contortionists are classified as "front-benders" or "back-benders"
Relatively few performers are equally adept at bending both frontwards and backwards.
When it comes to extremes of flex,
people run concave or convex.

Maybe Should Buy Some Snowshoes

For a couple of months I've been running a loop that goes through the forest preserve nearby. I've been running along the snowy paths.

I tried it today.

Well, there is all the difference in the world between running on 3 inches of snow and running on 12-18 inches of snow.

A lot more OOF is required.
I feel tired.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Cultural Interplay

I saw Downward Facing again, and mused on the fact that Mishelle's play, and my upcoming play, both grapple a bit with yoga's spiritual message.

The yoga-influenced woman in her play is focused on the redemptive experience of being filled with light and goodness. She is paired with a person who makes fun of this goody-two-shoes attitude.

The yoga-influenced woman in my play is focused on limiting attachment as a way of achieving serenity. She is paired with a person who believes that attachments must be treasured.

Neither of these ideas is really particularly East Indian. And the way yoga is influencing American culture is extremely "watered down" compared to born-and-bred caste-based Hinduism. Of course, American culture has long displayed an ability to extract desirable features from other cultures. Right now, we seem to be going through a major and prolonged "encounter" of this sort with Asian culture. I don't mean to overestimate its role, but it's real enough.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, globalization does not really present us with full homogenization of culture, but it does present us with exposure to more cultures. Which gives you choices. You can attempt to sift through some of what the other cultures present, seeing if there is anything you would like. Or you can just refuse to do so.

The upheavals in the Muslim world seem to be partly a virulent reaction to this experience. Western and East Asian cultures, piped in by TV and the Net and cheap air travel, present ways of being that are very different than traditional Muslim ways of being. Some of our ways, in point of fact, work better than their ways. Ironically, those who wish to assert Muslim superiority often themselves adopt doctrines from the West. You see this with the adoption of Marxist rhetoric, or fascist rhetoric, or democratic rhetoric, for example.

What curious things there are
in the cultural bazaar.

Friday, February 04, 2011


I drove around the city a bit tonight. On the expressways there are no shoulders anymore. What formerly were shoulders are now massive snow walls. So when a car stalls - and I saw at least 4 of them stalled - it ends up blocking much of a lane.

On the city streets, parking remains messy. A lot of cars are still "snowed in" as we say. Many of those are "plowed in", because when the plow came by and pushed the snow away from the center of the street, the snow went onto the parked cars.

Some of the people who have dug out are using the "dibs" system. That's where you claim temporary ownership of the space you dug out. You put a plastic lawn chair or something in your "spot" that you have "dibs on". If anyone else parks in that spot, bad things may happen to their car. It's street justice of a cold variety.

This system creates increased incentive to dig your car out. The city tolerates it. Up to a point. One day the mayor will announce "no more dibs," and the garbage trucks will start hauling away any remaining plastic chairs. As a sort of property right that expires, I suppose this resembles patents and copyrights.

But unlike patent law,
dibs disappear with the thaw.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Great Stagnation

Tyler Cowen, blogger, columnist at the NY Times, and professor of economics at George Mason, has written a little e-book called: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better.

His thesis is that economic progress is slowing down, and that this is bad. Kelly Evans, at the Wall St. Journal, writes:
Part of this, Mr. Cowen observes, stems from well-meaning efforts to do more with education, government, and health care that instead seem to have backfired and left us with noncompetitive institutions closer to failing us than to serving us well.
I'm not at all sure he's right that we've eaten "all the low-hanging fruit". That sounds a bit exaggerated - purposely provocative. But I'm sure he's correct that a massive welfare state is no way to encourage deep research or entrepreneurial risk taking.

The lovely peach at the top of the tree -
just out of reach - looks tasty to me.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

One Advantage of Owning a Red Car

One of my sisters emailed this story about her husband's blizzard adventure:
He got caught in a white-out driving home from work last night at 6:30p on Route 52. He ended up on the wrong side of the road nose down in a deep ditch. Had to abandon his car or else freeze to death! They ended up closing that road and so his car lay buried until 4p today.The tow truck driver found it because it is bright red. A few scratches, but otherwise okay! When he called work to tell them he could not come in this morning because his car was buried on a closed road they told him they could not put that in as a "reason".
All too often, real-life wild stories
don't fit well in standard categories.

Snowmageddon Day Two

Spent the day shoveling snow, including assisting my dad with his driveway. What a great whole-body endurance workout!

I think that yoga actually helps with snow-shoveling. My lower back isn't sore yet the way it would have been years ago.

If only I had bought a snow blower! But I was reliably informed by a scientific consensus that that snowfall would be a thing of the past, that the world was going to get nothing but warmer, that the Windy City would become a tropical paradise!

Alas, the facts have destroyed
a theory I truly enjoyed.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Snowmageddon Day One

It's not the most snow I've ever seen here, so far, but it seems like the most sustained wind/snow combination. Apparently the wind/snow combo is what defines a blizzard. Even though we're called the windy city, we don't normally have true blizzards. It's kind of fun to watch from inside the house. I've got a great view of it out the window as I write.

I'll be fine,
calm and collected,
as long as our power line
stays connected.