Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reviewing Peer Review

In recent years, the practice of "peer review" seems to have been elevated to a higher status than ever in public discussion of scientific results - particularly in climate science. The pro-human-caused-warming people always ballyhooed the peer-reviewed status of their articles.

But today I came across an article claiming that actual studies of "peer review", in medicine, have found that it doesn't work as hoped:
If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,' says Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the Journal Of the American Medical Association and intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989. Peer review would not get onto the market because we have no convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws.

Yet, to my continuing surprise, almost no scientists know anything about the evidence on peer review. It is a process that is central to science - deciding which grant proposals will be funded, which papers will be published, who will be promoted, and who will receive a Nobel prize. We might thus expect that scientists, people who are trained to believe nothing until presented with evidence, would want to know all the evidence available on this important process. Yet not only do scientists know little about the evidence on peer review but most continue to believe in peer review, thinking it essential for the progress of science. Ironically, a faith based rather than an evidence based process lies at the heart of science.

Exactly how central is peer review is to science? Couldn't you do science if you were the last human alive? You wouldn't be able to check with your colleagues, but you could still run experiments and check your theory against the evidence.

Peer review
appears to do
quite a bit less
than most might guess.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ridge Run 2011

Ran the Ridge Run, a local Memorial Day 10k that I've run all but 1 year since 1983. I've been lucky, so far, with my knees. A lot of my contemporaries, who used to run it, cannot do so anymore.

It feels good to get out
and hear my neighbors shout
"You're almost there!" and "Looking good!"
(Both are lies. That's understood.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Auditions went well. A lot of talented people showed up. We were actually casting for 2 shows at once, one by me and one by Jeremy Menekseoglu. Sometimes a given actor would read for both shows.

My show should be finished casting by Wednesday, if not sooner.

I feel like I've gotten a little better at being an "auditor". Auditions are often an uncomfortable situation. On the performer's side, it's the whole "being judged for hard to define attributes" thing. If you listen to actors talk about auditioning, it's often a very nerve-wracking or ego-crushing process.

On the judging side, you hate to hurt the feelings of dedicated performers, especially when it's a bit of a guessing game to watch a performer for 3 minutes and decide whether they are right for your show and whether you want to work with them for weeks and weeks.

My director and co-directors are the main judges, so I suppose I haven't experienced the True Pressure.

After everyone's tried and tried,
someone has to decide.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Police Dogs

I saw a couple of cops sitting at a table in the building where I work. Each had a well-behaved dog with him.

On had a smallish black Lab. The other had a biggish German Shepherd.

I figured the dogs were chosen for 2 different functions.

One to smell.
One to give hell.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Visualization Technique Research

You may have heard of positive visualization techniques, where you basically try to imagine obtaining what you really want, as a way to help you get it. Now some spoil-sport researchers say this is counter-productive.
"Instead of promoting achievement, positive fantasies will sap job-seekers of the energy to pound the pavement, and drain the lovelorn of the energy to approach the one they like," they write. "Fantasies that are less positive - that question whether an ideal future can be achieved, and that depict obstacles, problems and setbacks - should be more beneficial for mustering the energy needed to obtain success."
At work, visualize setbacks!
So you advance and don't get lax.

In love, imagine struggle!
That's your best chance to snuggle.

Can this all be true?
I leave that up to you.

John Delaney

A man named John Delaney died recently climbing Everest. The current expected survival rate for Everest climbs is 94%. Out of 20 people, 1 is likely to die.

While he was climbing his wife gave birth.That's a bit bizarre, to go risking your life unnecessarily while your wife has a good chance of being in labor.

How do people die? Falling? Usually not. It's the altitude itself mostly kills them. It's not well understood exactly how. But they are not getting enough oxygen. And they can only carry so much oxygen. And the atmospheric pressure is low. Not to mention they're trying to go uphill on a slippery surface in extreme cold. Most deaths are caused by lungs or brains swelling.

Delaney's body is still up there. Most of the dead are still up there. It's too dangerous, they say, to bring them down.

Does the challenge make your pulse quicken?
Not me. Cluck, cluck. I'm chicken!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christmas Gift In May

Today, at last, my wife tried out one of the Christmas presents I got her: a flying lesson out of Midway Airport, which is the airport nearest our house.

She had been in small planes a couple of times before, but she had never gotten behind the wheel, or joystick, before.

She said she was nervous taking off and landing, but apparently she did fine, and she had some great views, especially because it was a sunny day.

Only one lesson was booked.
But she said she could get hooked.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Calm Before Frenzy

In days we're going to hold auditions for my new play, and hopefully cast the piece, because we need to start rehearsing right away to open July 2nd.

We're starting rehearsals a little later than I would have liked. I originally had lined up a different director, but through no fault of his own a scheduling problem arose. I've been worrying over what to do about that. But now that's solved. I'm very happy with the new directorial crew. And I've got a few days of calm.

Then my life is going to get very busy.
What's left of my hair may even turn frizzy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lincoln and Happiness

At our discussion group we had a very presentation about Lincoln. Our presenter is very impressed with Lincoln, seeing him as a model for certain kinds of virtues, even while disagreeing with some of his decisions. In some ways, certainly, Lincoln had an unhappy life. But he seemed to retain a kind of serenity.

So the question comes up, even if you're not a Lincoln fan: assuming people should try to be happy, what sort of happiness should they strive for?

Many people derive enjoyment
from very difficult forms of employment.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


The Chicago Tribune has an interesting story on consumers growing "skeptical" about purported eco-friendly products.
"Sometimes, I wonder if any of it's really green or if it's all a marketing scheme," Meadows said.
Someone has made up a term, "greenwashing", which is supposed to mean something like "whitewashing". The idea is that a product is advertised as "more green than it really is".

Well, if ecology were a solid science full of provable conclusions, maybe there'd be ways of measuring such a thing.

And, half the time, things pushed very heavily by environmentalists, like the ugly new light bulbs, turn out to be toxic in their own right.

What does "green"
even mean?

To my inquiring mind,
it's vague and undefined.

How can you check the veracity
of claims with such opacity?

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Maid of Orleans

We saw a production of The Maid of Orleans, Friedrich Schiller's play, in a production by Strangeloop Theatre.

I'm a Schiller fan, having studied and read all his plays more than once, but I hardly ever get to see them on stage. I've seen his Mary Stuart on stage 3 times, but other than that, nothing - until tonight. His plays don't get performed much in this country. Well, they survive in America mostly as adapted for opera.

In Germany it's different. I spoke with one of the actresses from tonight's performance, the charming Geraldine Dulex, who hails from Switzerland, and she assured me that in Germany The Maid of Orleans is produced regularly.

So you may be wondering - is this a play about a maid who comes to clean the house? No. It's a play about Joan of Arc. It's actually the work that revived her reputation in Europe. And it is the source of the great quotation, "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."

The play very much depends upon the quality of the actress playing Joan, who must convincingly project inspiring charisma. Letitia Guillaud did a great job at that. The production overall was done inexpensively, but was creatively directed and well acted all around. The spirit of the piece shone through. The plot zips along, with high conflict, soaring poetry, and tender moments.

Schiller was on Ayn Rand's short list of top Romantic dramatists, and that quality is on display here. His Joan is a highly romanticized character, a strong and dedicated heroine pursuing her values, struggling to overcome the odds, struggling to overcome her own internal conflicts, and even when she faces her end she is emotionally victorious.

Joan had a brilliant vision
of militant collision
and chased the English out
in a most embarrassing rout.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Balancing Act

I think I saw a movie like this once:
A son fathered by Arnold Schwarzenegger with his housekeeper was born less than a week after Maria Shriver gave birth to another Schwarzenegger son, according to birth records obtained Wednesday by CNN.
But, as I recall, in the movie the 2 moms were in labor at the same time in the same hospital, so the poor two-timing dad had to run from delivery room to delivery room, trying to keep from being found out.

There's a bright side, of course -
even after the divorce -
he can buy two gifts at one store

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who Foresaw?

I've just read another novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, set in Stalinist Russia.

I've been struck by the thought that few foresaw how oppressive and murderous a regime the communists would install. Partly because people didn't think the Bolsheviks would dare to implement their unrealistic ideas.

Ideas mattered.
Blood splattered.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hey Little Apple

The other day I was reading Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, which is set in Moscow during the time of Lenin's New Economic Program. At one point, in the translation, a character is described as singing "hey little apple".

Well, I had heard of this song, because bits of it are quoted, more than once, in Ayn Rand's We The Living, which is let in St. Petersburg during the same period.

I had always wondered if it was a real song, or if she had made it up. But finding it in Bulgakov convinced me she was just quoting a popular song, and using it for a thematic device.
Hey little apple, where are you going?
Which to me suggested the uncertainty of life in revolutionary Russian.

Here it is without words on accordion on YouTube.

And there is a Wikipedia article on it - in the Russian version of Wikipedia. I hit the "translate" button but the results are cryptic in places.
After the October Revolution, the most widely used in oral poetry was represented (exactly) ditty. The simplicity of this form leads to greater ease of processing, in which, by replacing one or two words is achieved by a fundamental change in political direction throughout the whole work.
Well that clears everything up!

Russia, little apple, was seized by big red boss,
and beaten, promptly, into apple sauce.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life Is A Dream

After seeing Menekseoglu's Ismene a couple of times earlier in the week, tonight I saw another play about prophecy - Calderon's Life Is A Dream, in a relatively new English version which had a Shakespearean air, but without the real difficulty in understanding what is being said that Shakespeare's plays often present.
In the play, the king of Poland has had his son Segismundo imprisoned all of his life because it has been prophesied that the son will bring disaster to the country.
I'll tell you what the plot isn't:
he simply stays imprisoned.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Althouse Down

Blogspot crashed earlier today. I'm up, but Ann Althouse is still down. If you go to her blog, you get the helpful message:
Sorry, the blog at althouse.blogspot.com has been removed.
The helper she contacted gave a list of the kinds of blogs that Google might want to delete:
- Large blogs with multiple, unfocused / unrelated subjects.
It's kind of amusing / infuriating to read her attempts to communicate with the helper, nitecruzr. They are so not on the same page.

I do wonder if her blog might qualify under that description. She blogs about all kinds of stuff. And gets giant piles of comments. She has kind of a comment community going. I think a lot of regulars go there just to talk to each other.

It did set me to thinking about whether THIS blog was unfocused. I tend to write about anything that strikes my fancy.

On the other hand, almost every time,
I have a rhyme.

Does poetic hocus-pocus
qualify as focus?

UPDATE: She's up again. The exchange between her and nitecruzr has been edited so a lot of the fun and fury is gone. It was a technical glitch all along, which somehow lured me into unfocused thoughts about whether my blog is focused!

At Cosme Park

I saw a crow
chasing a hawk.
She made him go
with a squawk - squawk - squawk.

The hawk was bigger
but I have to guess
the crow showed vigor
protecting a nest.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ismene, 2011

I saw the opening of Ismene tonight at Dream Theatre, put on as part of the Ismene Project, in which 8 theatre companies in 3 countries all produced this play starting today.

The purpose of the project is to raise money for breast cancer support organizations. A main theme of the play is the idea that you do not need to succumb to prophesy - that you should insist on living your own life as you choose.
Based on a new chapter in the stories of lesser-known heroines in Greek Theater and Mythology, Ismene is the tale of a young woman who is sent away to a School for Arktoi (unruly children) in the wake of great tragedy. Fate comes knocking in the form of a deadly Chorus, and Ismene is trapped inside the school with four other fierce women. Will they fight their fate or give in to their tragedies once and for all?
I first saw this play some years ago. I had forgotten so much, and it has been rewritten a bit, but it retains its primal power, with lots to engage your emotions and your mind.

You might think that people no longer live their lives according to prophecies about their fates, but I think, in a way, many still do. They are told by others how their lives must go, and often these prophecies are not good. They are told they are stupid. They are told they are losers. And they live out these prophecies. Unnecessarily.

The cast is stunning. Jeremy Menekseoglu as Te, the weird messenger, is hypnotically fascinating. Anna Menekseoglu, is a complicated and sympathetic Ismene, haunted by her family's endless tragedies, but determined to live her life her way. Mishelle Apalategui, Annelise Lawson, Alicia Reese, and Rachel Martindale, the other residents of the School for Arktoi, are all strong performers who stand out sharply as individuals. This is not a short play, but you leave wishing you knew more about these roundly imagined characters.

The show begins, by the way, before the show begins, with Chad Shreveland and Natalie Breitmeyer artfully engaging your attention in the lobby. It may seem like the merest nonsense at first, but it ends up providing some serious foreshadowing.

Don't fall prey to others' grim predictions.
Wave them off and live your convictions.

Monday, May 09, 2011

He Goes By "Common"

The NH Journal has a great headline:
Acolyte of Rev. Wright to complicate Obama poetry night?
It rhymes, all on its own.

So, they're having a poetry night at the White House? I didn't get my invite, but I bet it's a blast.
Some of Common’s poetry could also raise some eyebrows among those who might find cop-killing and racially-tinged or misogynist language beneath the Office of the Presidency.
Give the man a break, he's just trying to rap.
You gotta talk rough if you want folks to clap.
You act like a gangster, it's part of the game
of trying to obtain some fortune and fame.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Landlords Shrugged

San Francisco is a hard city in which to find an apartment. Yet 1 in 12 rental units are vacant.

Why? Well, there's rent control, and there are laws that make it hard to be a landlord, and there is a powerful Tenant's Union.

Even some progressives are noticing the problem:
“Vacancy rates are going up because owners have decided to take their units off the market,” said Ross Mirkarimi, a progressive member of the Board of Supervisors. He attributes that response to “peaking frustrations in dealing with the range of laws that protect tenants in San Francisco that make it difficult for small property owners to thrive.”
When you make it hazardous to provide a service,
the supply goes down as providers get nervous.

Second Sunday in May

Lots of animal mothers care for their young,
but there's a reason human motherhood is sung
above every other form.

Lots of animal mothers keep their children warm,
stop predators from reaching them,
and even spend time teaching them.

But human mothers alone care for their babies so long.
So to them, on this day, I dedicate this song.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Produce The Body

They're saying they have a DNA match - between the person we shot and Osama Bin Laden.

Fools. DNA matches are inherently faulty - because identical twins have the exact same DNA.

I believe that in a tragic mistake we killed Osama's long lost good twin - Walter Bin Laden.

DNA's not always unique.
If it's solid proof you seek,
a method tried and true,
only fingerprints will do.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Three Little Words

Asking the tough questions about who breaks down and says "I love you" first:
A study appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found that two-thirds of men in heterosexual relationships said those three little words first, often a full six weeks before the woman.
By a statistical trick, I can extrapolate to non-heterosexual relationships:

1) In lesbian relationships, it was always a woman who said "I love you" first.
2) In gay male relationships, it was always a man.

The article speculates that straight men's declarations of love may sometimes be imperfectly sincere.

Some of what they say
may not be true. Instead,
some of it could be a way
to talk a woman into bed.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Join My Conspiracy

I'm pushing the theory that Bin Laden was not shot in the head,
and is not in fact dead.

Instead, he's being tortured by Hillary with a ship's propeller
somewhere down in the White House cellar.

Is He Famous?

Here's an amusing / dismaying screen capture of young adults wondering who the heck this Bin Laden guy was...

On the one hand, it points to a dismal knowledge of world affairs and recent history.

On the other hand, it points to the fact that Bin Laden had ceased being the great public mouthpiece of jihad. Even if he was still pulling strings behind the scene, he no longer loomed quite as large in the public imagination. Despite all that bluster about "loving death," he was hiding in a safe house from those who wanted him dead.

When he was fighting, he might have "died a martyr."
But after all this hiding, that's a non-starter.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Raccoon Paradise Lost

The Chicago Tribune has a story headlined: Livin' is easy for raccoons along lakefront

It turns out they have moved into our lakefront park areas in a big way. And living was easy. Except that the parks agency hired someone to trap the raccoons, because raccoons can carry a roundworm that can be deadly to humans.

And here's the really bad news for raccoons:
Under state law, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources requires that raccoons be euthanized...
Bold and masked,
they came unasked,
but they picked the wrong spot
to trot.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden Killed

It's being reported that the U.S. has Osama Bin Laden's body.
CNN and Reuters reported that the al-Qaida leader was killed in a mansion outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
He will make holy war
no more.


It took ten years
but we gunned him down.
Let us shed no tears
for this unholy clown
with his evil glee
and his murderous ways.
I rejoice to see
the end of his days.

Sartre Wars

Here's a funny Existentialist Star Wars youtube clip. The humor is all in the English subtitles. If you speak French, you will hear a straight translation of the original movie. If you rely on the English subtitles, the bleak French philosophy leaps out at you.

Said Sartre one day to Camus,
I have caught Existentialist flu.
In the face of the void
I am sick and annoyed.
But since there's no hope, let us DO!

Visual Storytelling in the Atlas Shrugged Movie

I've seen the Atlas Shrugged movie several times now. I still like it. Of course, I'm a big fan of the book, but not all fans of the book like the movie. As a technical matter, I've been thinking about the problem of boiling 350 pages of small print into a 90 minute film. The screenplay of a movie usually runs about 90 pages of big type, with lots of white space. That's a scary problem from a writer's point of view. One way it gets done is by visual storytelling. The old proverb says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that's your only hope of translating a book to the screen.

So all the description of the characters and their internal thoughts and feelings goes away, and you have the actors instead, in the moment, trying to convey those characters by their presence and actions. Just like a play.

But unlike a play, you can do a lot with the camera. And the film does use this technique. I'm not really very conscious about how the camera does its job most of the time, but there's one shot in the film that still shocks me with its beauty, every time I see it. It's maybe half or a third of the way through the film. Most of the film up to this point has been dark - lots of night shots - lots of office shots - lots of depressing run-down city shots. And then, suddenly, as the plot shifts to building the John Galt line, the camera cuts away to an aerial shot over a beautiful sunny forest in Colorado, and lovingly lingers over the stunning natural beauty of the American west, with all its natural suggestion of the open possibilities of unfettered freedom, with inspiring chords rising in the background.

As the music swells
the camera tells
vast herds
of stampeding words.