Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making Faces

Here are faces I was making a couple of weekends ago, exerting myself on the bike, and wrapping up the run:
Memory is funny. If you'd asked me how my bike ride went, I would have said it was a breeze, but my cycling-photo expression makes it look like I was in a state of serious discomfort.

I really don't recall
feeling miserable at all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

At Least It Had The Right Number Of Stripes

An elementary school in a Chicago suburb has been using a 48-star flag for decades. Guess who finally pointed out the problem?
It was not until last year when members of Cub Scout Pack 78 marched with Old Glory in a Memorial Day Parade that someone noticed that something about the flag’s symmetrical rows of stars looked odd.
It was back in 1959 that Alaska and Hawaii came into the Union. And not both at once. There was an 8 month period where a 49-star flag flew on government buildings. It was kind of a stimulus program for flag-manufacturers! But I don't think too many regular people actually invested in the 49-star version.

As I recall, my family waited. If they weren't just being thrifty, then fifty years seems long
for not a single teacher to notice the count was wrong.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Canine Frustration

My hounds hunt for hares
with sniffs and studious stares
but never seem to catch them unawares.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who Picks These Names?

Ironically, Irene means "peace",
not "rain and wind that will not cease".

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Super Sprint Tri

I did the Fleet Feet Super Sprint Triathlon this morning at Foster Avenue Beach in Chicago. It was a very pleasant experience. Well organized. Lots of people who had never done a tri before. It's actually kind of set up for getting your toes wet in the sport. It's associated with the massively attended Chicago Triathlon, but it's the day before, and it takes place on a much smaller scale. Also, you can sign up for less than half of the price of tomorrow's event. And I parked for free - something that would not happen in the downtown venue.

Now and then someone asks me how many triathlons I've done, and I say I've lost count. But I do keep a list and today I reviewed that list. 52 triathlons. I started in 1992, so I haven't hit my 20th anniversary yet. I remember what a challenge it seemed like when I started, just to finish one. My youngest sister and one of my younger brothers had both done a triathlon at that time, so I figured if they could do it, I could do it. Somehow I was the one who really caught the bug and stayed involved in it.

And... why? I needed more exercise, and I found that races were very motivating. If I had a race coming up, I would consistently do more exercise than if I didn't.

But why triathlons in particular? I like the childishness of the sport. Swim, bike, run. It's like a child's summer day. And for some reason I like the mental overload of the sport - the way it feels like you have too much to think about.

You swim, you bike, you run,
and finally you're done!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hasket Morris

Hasket played the male lead, Jason, the hero if you will, of my play, and he played him charmingly and disarmingly. The challenge of the character is that he is odd, but on the edge of normal, and must be sympathetic despite being an unusually persistent suitor. Hasket figured out how to do all of that, including how to deliver the "bad jokes" I had put in the script for his character to say.

The character must also come across as rather bright and quite goodhearted, and Hasket had no trouble figuring out how to do either of those things. I think they just came naturally.

Jason loved to study engineering.
Hasket made sure we found that fact endearing.

Gypsy Kings

We saw the Gypsy Kings at Ravinia. I was quite impressed with their musicianship.

A gypsy king
is born to sing.
And a glittering guitar
is bound to take him far.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Denise Smolarek

I'm not done praising the people who worked on my recently staged play. Today is Denise Smolarek's turn.

I first met her when we were doing Little Women together. I was playing the father of the 4 girls. She was playing their aunt. She had great presence on stage, and a clear gift for comedy.

I made a point of inviting her to audition for the role of Yuliana, and I am very glad I did. The role requires a certain dashing glamor, combined with a very real motherliness, and Denise supplied both - all with a Russian accent that had many audience members wondering whether she really was Russian!

And somehow, despite the fact that her character's methods were more than a little manipulative, she always won the sympathy of the audience when she finally confessed to her main motivation.

Mother and glamorous spy,
her plight made the audience sigh.

We Do What We Can

I walked into yoga tonight, I saw our instructor had cut her hair, and almost everyone noticed as well, complimenting her on her new "do".

Then, as class opened, she told us she had donated her hair to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. Because a childhood friend - who now has stage 3 melanoma - had asked her to do so.

Someday I pray all cancer will be cured.
But for now this fact must be endured:
cells growing out of control
enact a hellish toll.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


My daughter lives in Virginia, so I was awfully glad this quake didn't do much damage.

The ground trembled
but no buildings disassembled.

A roof that decides to fall
is worse than no roof at all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Can Do A 3 Hour Triathlon Without Injury, But...

Today, on my way to work, I was running for a green light, on the sidewalk, when my toe caught the lip where a manhole cover was inset. It looked something like this one:

Anyway, my toe caught, and I went horizontal, landing on toes, knees, and hands.

My knees are scraped
my wrists are sore.

I need to lift
my feet up more!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I'm not too clear on who's replacing him,
but I'm glad to see somebody erasing him.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saugatuck MI

I'm at a house I've been coming to for 58 years.

Visiting in Michigan
Makes me feel like a kid again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back on Stage

I've been cast as Mr. Bennet, the father of all those daughters, in a local production of Pride and Prejudice.

It's funny because I also played the father in Little Women, also a father with a lot of daughters. But in Little Women, the father is very earnest.

In Austen's chronicle,
the father is more ironical.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unhelpful Advice

A farmer in Illinois was worried about some new regulations he had heard about. So he asked Obama about it. On Obama's mega-bus listening tour. Obama said he should just call the USDA.
“Talk to them directly. Find out what it is that you’re concerned about,” Obama told the man. “My suspicion is, a lot of times, they’re going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.”
The president's suspicion - that the USDA could answer - turned out to be mistaken.

An enterprising reporter, MJ Lee, called up the USDA and proceeded to get the run-around - through multiple agencies and organizations. It all culminated with this CYA email from the PR department at USDA:
“Secretary Vilsack continues to work closely with members of the Cabinet to help them engage with the agricultural community to ensure that we are separating fact from fiction on regulations because the administration is committed to providing greater certainty for farmers and ranchers. Because the question that was posed did not fall within USDA jurisdiction, it does not provide a fair representation of USDA’s robust efforts to get the right information to our producers throughout the country.”
So - no answer on whether the farmer's fears were well-founded.
But you have to admit the run-around was well-rounded.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plain, Honest Men

Tonight at book club we discussed a book by historian Richard Beeman - Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. It is a very readable account of the Constitutional Convention, which includes recent research on the topic.

I learned a lot, and felt the author was evenhanded on controversial topics, letting the story tell itself, making the characters come alive while clearly explaining the points of disagreement and compromise. The author plainly admires these men and their accomplishment. I felt he was particularly good at recreating the sense of uncertain outcome of the American experiment in self-government.

From a contemporary perspective, one of the most striking things about the convention was the way that an assembly of politicians were actually able to keep their proceedings secret for months.

Today there'd be a leak
within a week.

within a day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Auditioning for Mr. Bennet

Tonight I auditioned for a local production of Pride and Prejudice. I read for Mr. Bennet, the heroine's father. I like the character. I hope I get the part. I think he's one of Austen's more interesting men. Not quite as interesting as Mr. Darcy, of course.

One of his problems is that he has 5 daughters and no son.

He has trouble asserting his will
in a house where the voices run shrill.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Inequality Blues

In the Wall St. Journal today, Bryan Caplan gave a mixed review of a book called The Happiness Equation, which delves into the strange world of "happiness research", which I often find puzzling to read about - so puzzling it makes me unhappy - so I don't read about happiness research much.

Nonetheless, Caplan zooms in on the author's point that "income comparison" makes people unhappy. You know, the idea is that I'm unhappy because you make more money than I do. And it turns out, that if you look around, it's almost always true that somebody makes more money that you do.

Caplan then makes the point that the solution to such unhappiness doesn't have to be redistribution of income.
Yes, you could fight inequality of income. But you could just as easily fight comparison of income. Instead of praising those who "raise awareness" about inequality, perhaps we should shame them, like the office gossip, for spreading envy and discontent.
Purveyors of alleged awareness
are always seeking out unfairness -
real or imagined, it doesn't matter,
as long as it leads to envious chatter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bangs Lake

Did the Bangs Lake Triathlon today, in beautiful Wauconda, Illinois. It was great racing weather - mostly cloudy, and unseasonably cool. On the swim, the water was warmer than the air. I hoped for a time of 3:20 and came in at 3:16, so I was pleased.

As with other challenging races,
it left me sore in various places.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Polite "No, Thank You" Would Have Sufficed

What the...
A woman is in the hospital after her son on Thursday allegedly stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife when she offered to make him a sandwich.
No word on motivation. One suspects a history of craziness is forthcoming.

Be wary of offering food
to a scary crazy dude.

UPDATE: Okay, reading between the lines here in this other version of the story:
Authorities said Georg's mother brought him home Thursday from Edward Hospital's Linden Oaks behavioral health facility in Naperville, where he had been a patient since July 31. At Georg's bond court appearance, Assistant State's Attorney Deb Brewer did not disclose the nature of Georg's hospitalization, and the hospital would not comment.
So maybe he was in the hospital for a severe life-threatening allergy to peanuts. And maybe his mom offered him a PBJ. So maybe he can claim it was self-defense.

He can say she was trying to take his life
and he had no choice but to go for the knife.


Just what the prez needs - a new problem:
"When you ask about the economic team, it's kind of like, 'What economic team?'" said Edward Mills, a financial policy analyst with FBR Capital Markets. "They are very thin at a very critical time."
Only Timothy Geithner remains of his original all-star team. For some reason the others have left, and suitable replacements have not yet been installed.

Of course the original all-star team failed to deliver the promised robust recovery. So a lot of ordinary citizens now see the original all-star team as a bunch of losers.

But when you think of them, don't curse.
They'll tell you: If not for their smarts
and money-printing arts,
the whole disaster could have been much worse.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Very Terrible Father, by Jeremy Menekseoglu

A Very Terrible Father takes you into the world of a man who is dying, a man who has his regrets, a man who needs to see his discarded daughter before he dies. It is set in the contemporary world, in Germany and America, and is elegantly presented on a simple set with a backlit screen that serves as a changing backdrop as scene follows scene.

We have both German and English speaking characters, with exquisitely rendered scenes of misunderstanding. But somehow, even though all the actors are really speaking English, the audience never becomes confused about who is speaking what language. In one of the play's haunting scenes, our protagonist tries to explain things to his daughter, in words she cannot understand.

Key parts of the play are set in a certain Florida theme park, you know the one, a place that is portrayed with obvious affection. Because of my personal history with this park, because we took our middle child to this park when she was dying, I found this setting almost unbearably sad. But I think the setting works quite well in the play, emphasizing the special beauty that is life.

Jeremy Menekseoglu turns in a tour-de-force portrayal of Matthias, the dying man who is forced to confront the truth about his own history. Mishelle Apalategui is captivating as Lilli, the girlfriend he met at a support group for the dying. Courtney Blomquist simmers and finally explodes as Zita, the mother of his daughter. Natalie Breitmeyer is perfect as the young woman herself, every inch an uncomfortable and uncomprehending American 12 year old. Last but not least, Chad Sheveland embodies the character you love to hate – Bill, the well-meaning American adoptive father, who thinks that most of life's tragedies can be resolved by drinking the right sort of organic smoothie.

Menekseoglu often writes plays involving legends and fantasies. But in this play he has stuck very close to life, and death, as we know it. The result is a play with the look and feel of ordinary reality, but the power and force of myth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What a Riot

Over the year, in various ways, the UK has moved away from allowing people to defend themselves.

Now they are paying the price.

When looters
meet shooters
they stop
or get dropped.

Was His Signature Wobbly?

A mayor in New Mexico thinks his city should have an "out" from some contracts he signed.
"The day I signed, I had way too much to drink. It was after 5 p.m. and I signed it and I didn't know what I was signing," the Sunland Park mayor wrote in response to questions from lawyers for the architectural design firm Synthesis+.
Was he out of his mind
when he signed?
Or is the booze
a lame excuse?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Nearly Free in NYC

Had to happen:
Some busy Starbucks coffee shops in New York City have started blocking electrical outlets to discourage laptop users from hogging space, and to free up seats for other customers.
No doubt there were people who sat there for 4 hours, after buying one small cup of coffee, enjoying the Wifi and the electricity.

Look at it from the New Yorker's point of view.
This rich corporation says I can sit here all day on one cup of coffee, in this nice comfy chair, with a better view than my apartment, while working on my laptop. Who am I to say no? If they want me to leave, they can tell me so!
But, no. Starbucks isn't telling them to leave. It's just cutting off the power.

Starbucks may think that this is sufficiently strict,
but I will go out on a limb and predict
that some New Yorkers will reply
by buying bigger batteries that take even longer to die.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Careful What You Communicate

Peggy Noonan, who wrote some speeches for Ronald Reagan, writes of him:
He thought speaking was a big part of leadership, but only part, and in his farewell address he went out of his way to say he never thought of himself as a great communicator. He thought he simply communicated great things—essentially, the vision of the Founders as applied to current circumstances.
Her theory is that his opponents drew the wrong conclusion from the success of his speeches. They didn't think what he communicated was great. It was conservative poppycock. So somehow his sheer oratorical gifts had sold that stuff to the American people.

Part of the Democrats' current problem, she writes, is that they thought they had their own Reagan in our current president.

They hoped his oratorical gifts could sell his stuff.
But as it turns out, that wasn't enough.

The More Things Change

Sometimes you hear that most of the human genome is constant, and only certain variable parts of it are where the mutations take place. That appears not to be the case.
Indeed, far from most of the genome being effectively constant, it can be estimated that every position in the genome has been mutated many, many times over in the human population. And each of us carries hundreds of new mutations that arose during generation of the sperm and egg cells that fused to form us.
The author says this is why, so far, things have not been going well in the search for genetic causes of diseases. We're all mutants.

You may remember that great progress was expected immediately when the human genome was decoded. Pundits envisioned a medical revolution that hasn't really occurred so far. That's partly because the biology is a lot more complicated than they contemplated.

You peel a layer back,
and what do you get?

New problems to attack.
No end in sight yet!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Grand Bargains

Tyler Cowen, an economist, contemplates the possible S&P downgrade of U.S. debit and opines:
The Republican Party made a big, big mistake passing up a chance for a “grand bargain” with Obama. It’s time to be a realist about revenue increases, rather than signaling ideological purity.
I'm unclear
on his logic here.

Of course the Republican Party is not a monolith. There were elements in the party who seemed willing to be "realists" and raise taxes. It was the newer reps, the tea party people, who were dead set against it - partly on principle, and maybe partly because they want to get re-elected.

At this point, the numbers look bad for the Democrats in 2012. It's early, of course. But perhaps the Republicans were wise to hold off on a grand solution. In a year and a half they could be in a much stronger bargaining position.

I'll vote yes
for "spend less".

UPDATE: The S&P downgrade has occurred.

Naked Simulated Truth

Better living through graphics software:
In her upcoming movie "The Change-Up," actress Olivia Wilde opted to wear pasties for her big nude scene with Ryan Reynolds. After the final shots came out, it was obvious that Wilde wasn't completely nude, so producers gave the actress several CGI nipples to choose from to complete her big sex scene.
Why reshoot
when you can recompute?

Stock Shock

Central bank wizards are stunned and uncertain.
Were snake oil salesmen behind the green curtain?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Costing Who Exactly?

I was amused by this MSNBC headline:
FAA dispute costing millions more than it would save
But if you read it, it turns out that it's costing the government millions of dollars it would have collected in taxes

The situation is screwing up FAA workers' finances, and stalling construction projects. But the fact remains that for now it is actually saving money for the flying public.

You might want to fly today
before Congress acts
to bring back the tax
and re-fund the FAA.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fair Folk Short On Shekels

More bad economic news - children are getting less money under their pillows for losing their teeth.
Getting the Tooth Fairy to pony up in this sagging economy has been like pulling teeth.

A recent survey found that the national going rate has seen a 40-cent decline this year: From $3 to $2.60.
Yes, it's the scary truth:
even the Fairy is paying less per tooth.

More Genealogy Info

I just heard from a distant Irish cousin. How distant? We're both descendants of a pair of my great-great-great grandparents. That's pretty distant!

Bear in mind, you have 2 sets of grandparents, 4 sets of great-grandparents, 8 sets of great-great grandparents, and 16 sets of great-great-great grandparents - unless you've got some cousin marriages in the family tree, and the math suggests we all do, somewhere back up the line.

Of course, if you trace it back, we're all related,
but figuring out just how is complicated.