Monday, October 31, 2011

Lyric Poems Vs. Song Lyrics

I've pondered this topic in print, but today Julia Keller at the Chicago Tribune had a thoughtful column on the odd cultural divide between song lyrics and poetry. Her launching pad is Stephen Sondheim, who doesn't like having his lyrics referred to as poetry.
Poems and songs weren't always on opposite sides of a chasm. Centuries ago, poems and songs were regarded as the same thing. Scholars of antiquity believe that early poetry was chanted or sung rather than recited, and most people listened to poems in crowds instead of reading the poems by themselves in private.
Well, the shift from an oral to a literate culture had a lot do do with that.

I suspect the public's lack of interest was also helped along by modern poetry's stylistic shifts.

Poets rushed off to find
new ways of writing.

But the public, left behind,
found it uninviting.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lemon Squares

I did something new today. I baked something.

I don't mean I never put anything in the oven before. No doubt I have. I have assisted others in various steps of the baking process.

But I never, on my own, followed a recipe to make "baked goods".

Today I made lemon squares. I found an easy-sounding recipe, and followed it. I didn't make the crust from scratch. I used a roll of cookie dough for that. But I made the filling from scratch - grating and squeezing the lemons, whisking it in with the other ingredients, etc.

Somehow it they came out pretty good. Tomorrow, at the work Halloween party, I will urge my co-workers to sample my wares.

I will put on boastful airs
about baking lemon squares.

Just one thing will grieve me -
no one will believe me!

Reporters Without Borders

Chicago Tribune reporters are somehow more efficient than law enforcement - when it comes to finding fugitives who have fled south of the border.
The reporters determined the precise whereabouts of eight of the nine fugitives. Two agreed to on-camera interviews, while the other six declined to comment through their wives or other close relatives.
I wish I could say I was shocked, but I'm not. It's clear that it's still quite possible for many people to flee to Mexico in order to escape U.S. law enforcement.

My hat is off to the reporters involved, who did some hard work.
Over 18 days, reporters logged more than 3,000 miles in the area seeking nine fugitives. The region is dominated by a low-intensity drug war; reports of assassinations and kidnappings appear daily in local newspapers.
In case I ever need to flee,
I should brush up on my Spanish - ¡Sí!

Friday, October 28, 2011

If You Can Fake It Here

I had read about this a while back, but it has now been blown wide open.
The Long Island Rail Road disability pension scam busted Thursday was so breathtakingly huge that calling it a massive fraud scheme is a gross understatement.
This sort of thing is why, when people tell me Chicago is more corrupt than New York, I simply roll my eyes.

A billion bucks worth of bogus bad backs -
funded by some federal tax!

I love a good disability fraud,
but this one leaves me over-awed.

UPDATE: The quotation above was from the NY Daily News, but they have pulled the story from the web, so a commenter graciously provided parallel links from the NY Post - here and the NY Times - here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Snowdrift

There's an occupy thingie in Boston. And they may get their first snowfall this weekend. A similar situation obtains in Denver. What will the occupiers do?

Where owners or authorities will let them, the occupiers like to put up tents. Also, sometimes they sleep elsewhere and return in the morning. I mean, who is to know whether the tents are occupied?

Well,in London someone ran an infrared camera on the tents.
Just one in 10 of the tents at the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp which has closed St Paul’s Cathedral are occupied at night, it can be revealed.
I'm not sure what'll happen here in the Windy City. They are occupying some small stretches of the sidewalk on Lasalle St., across from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. But it's just a sliver of space really, and I haven't seen tents there yet. They are campaigning to acquire camping rights in Grant Park - in about the same spot as the famous 1968 Democratic Convention protest / police-head-bashing-fest. So far our mayor has been letting them set up tents in Grant Park during the day, but arrests those who won't leave the park after it "closes" at 11 pm. So far the arrests have been fairly friendly, according to the press.

If you're seriously going to occupy the worst sort of northern city weather, you're going to want a heat source other than your own bodies. You're going to want fire or electric.

Otherwise you will get froze
from your head to your toes.

UPDATE days later:
In New York City, which could see its first snow on Saturday, the fire department confiscated six generators and about a dozen cans of fuel at the Occupy site in Zuccotti Park. The generators had been powering heat, computers and a kitchen that activists set up six weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deathtrap Revisited

I've been rereading Deathtrap, the play by Ira Levin. It is an elegant piece, very spare in its style, which helps make the mind-boggling self-referencing plot slide along smoothly.

Somehow it comes across as not trying to dazzle you, but dazzling you anyway.

It's an air of modest charm
in a room that's set to harm.

UPDATE: Photo, bring back memories for me, of 3 members of the original Broadway cast, John Wood, Marian Seldes, Clifford Anderson:


It happened in the Ural Mountains, because one of the dads noticed his kid looked nothing like him:
A pair of 12-year-old girls who discovered they were accidentally switched at birth want to stay with the mothers who have been raising them rather than go to their real parents.
They were used to the trade,
and so they stayed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Corrugated Crisis

I first started noticing corrugated cardboard signs in the hands of Chicago's beggars.

The signs were rendered with black marker scrawled on brown cardboard - telling tales of woe about how the panhandler was stranded in Chicago and needed money to buy a bus ticket out of town... or whatever. The usual stories.

I noticed it here after the City Council passed a law against aggressive panhandling.

I guess it's supposed to look like you're really down and out - you can't even afford poster board to get your message across.

Now the corrugated cardboard look has moved to political demonstrations - of the "Occupy - But Why?" variety. I've seen it here, I've seen it in photos from around the country.

I don't like the look. The signs are hard to read.

I'm thinking of starting a charity to provide
better signs to wave while they stand outside.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sam Rosenthal at State Street Gallery

That's Sam Rosenthal, above, doing what he loves, namely painting, and painting on location - to really get the look of things right. He doesn't like to work from photographs because they look so flat, and the light colors look too white and the dark colors look too black. So he likes to look at the scene with his own eyes and devise a way to balance the colors so that it looks - to your eyes - like it really looks. The result is canvases with with a marvelous sense of depth and vibrant color compositions.

He has a big show going on at the Robert Morris University's State Street Gallery. When I say big, I mean both that he has a lot of paintings, and that a lot of them are huge canvases. Most of them are for sale, and the artist, who is outgoing and talkative, can often be found there.

His website is here. He writes:
People often go through their daily routines without noticing the beauty around them. Through my work, I share what I have seen, what I have sensed, and what I have felt to enhance their perception of all that surrounds them. Beyond the physical, I seek to convey the drama, mystery, and complexity of nature and humanity.
A few of his paintings reminded me of some of my mother's work in her 50's, which was kind of eerie. Partly it was the similarity of subject matter, partly some overlap of sensibility. This painting in particular struck me on both counts:

I didn't mention this to him, but I actually think I may have seen him painting this one. I recognize the corner - Clark and Van Buren - and I walk by it twice a day. I recall seeing a guy painting in that exact spot one evening.

And, I must say, that corner looks prettier in the painting than it usually looks to me!

Even things you see every day,
look different when the painter has his way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Women Only Train

I went to see Women Only Train.
It's a show that's of hard to explain.

Well, I don't want to put any spoilers up here, because it's partly a horror play for the Halloween season.

As an audience member, you can choose to be part of the action - as a matter of fact, you can choose to be the lead character. You go on stage where there's no fourth wall at all:

You're an innocent on a journey
who may end up on a gurney.

I did it, of course. A friend of mine, who also did it, commented that it reminded him a bit of one of those point-of-view video games.

If you're easily scared,
be warned and prepared.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Next Tuesday

I'll have to check on the state of my checking account:
$10K asking price for photo with Michelle Obama at fundraiser
Seems high.
I think I'll wait.
By and by
It may deflate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boom Bust

I've been trying to figure out where the anti-boomer sentiment is coming from. A fair chunk of it is numerically inaccurate, in the sense of citing non-boomers as evidence of boomer failings.

But I think I've got it.

Our kids have grown up and are mad at us. Well, not my kids so much, but a lot of my fellow-boomers' kids are angry about the messy world they've inherited and they know it must be our fault. No doubt, in aggregate, some of it really is "our" fault. A few things are even "my" fault in particular. For instance, I have made some really awful puns in my life - puns for which I haven't yet been punished.

I think we're being unfairly picked on as a group. But I've decided it's pointless to defend ourselves. After all - who knows us better than our children?

Rather than trying to reason,
I'm simply committing treason,
denouncing my own generation,
in a spirit of self-flagellation:

The baby boom
is the cause of doom -
it has sucked all the oxygen out of the room!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rodent Envy

Squirrel on the power line,
I think your balance skills are fine.

If I could balance as you do,
I'd hop on that high wire too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Character Judgment

Last night we had an interesting discussion centered around the way heroic characters in Ayn Rand's novels deal with errors of judgment and moral failings. The interesting thing is that they don't demonstrate a quick inclination to moral condemnation, the way her later essays often do.

Is it the case that her attitude altered
towards those who faltered?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pondering Uganda

We're sending troops to Uganda. Because some crazy rebels are killing people there.
Heading a movement based on a mix of religion and brutality, Kony a self-styled mystic and religious prophet, claims to be fighting on divine orders to establish theocratic rule based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.
An American general is quoted in the story. He's the head of "U.S. Africa Command". I didn't know we even had such a thing.

Which reminds me, one of the great thing about talking to foreigners, is you always learn about odd things the U.S. government is doing to their countries. It's always something the foreigner doesn't like - and usually something that you, as an American, have never even heard of.

It could be military,
it could be financial,
it could be imaginary,
or even quite substantial.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dennis Ritchie, 1941-2011

Dennis Ritchie died October 8. Like Steve Jobs, he was a pioneer of modern computing. But he wasn't a brilliant visionary marketing guy. He was a brilliant visionary coding guy.
Ritchie was best known as the creator of the C programming language and a key developer of the Unix operating system, and as co-author of the definitive book on C, The C Programming Language, commonly referred to as K&R (in reference to the authors Kernighan and Ritchie).

Ritchie's invention of C and his role in the development of UNIX alongside Ken Thompson has placed him as an important pioneer of modern computing.
Underneath the hood
of the MacBook Pro
is OS X,
and Unix makes it go.


Modern political debates are so rarely debate-like. And that goes double for intra-party presidential debates!

It's hard to be really critical in a debate
when you don't know
which current foe
will end up as your running mate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marathon Mystery Death

A firefighter, a veteran marathoner, died Sunday while not-quite-finished running the Chicago Marathon.
An autopsy on the 35-year-old North Carolina firefighter Monday did not provide them with answers; the autopsy was inconclusive, authorities said.
If this were that TV show - CSI,
by now we'd know what made him die.

But, it's real life, and we don't. He collapsed very near the medical tent. There wasn't much delay about getting him help. But to no avail.

This sort of thing happens, but it's extremely rare, which is part of the reason, I suppose, that they don't understand what happens some of the time.

So far, my luck has been good.
Knock on wood.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rhetoric of Nod

John Ralston Saul, a Canadian writer who is currently the head of International PEN, an association of writers:
Many political leaders think that it is dangerous to speak well. In fact, they are looking to bore people – and we feel that. As a result, when we stand up and say real things, people are quite shocked.
Their content may be nearly null
but if they can only lull
their audience into the proper trance,
their agenda may advance.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

TSA Gives An Inch

The TSA has belatedly realized that little children are not likely to be shoe bombers.
So in a welcome step for little feet and parents, children 12 and younger are no longer required to remove their shoes every time they go through airport security.
I'm never going to be 12 again. But I hope that by the time I'm 65 there will be a senior citizen exemption as well!

I'm tired of putting my shoes
into that grey plastic box.

Next flight, I may even choose
to travel only in socks.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


The WSJ ran an article today by Andy Crouch who claims Steve Jobs was a prophet in a secular-but-religious sense. Crouch sees Apple's bitten-apple symbol as the biblical fruit of the tree of knowledge, and he's not too happy about this newfangled technology cult. Crouch riffs on ideas from a Heideggerian:
The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—"cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence.
So technology is defiance of divine will?
What swill.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Impossible Crystals

You hear sometimes that modern science is no longer an individual effort. That it's a team sport. Then someone like Daniel Shechtman wins the Nobel prize for Chemistry.

In 1982 he discovered a kind of crystal that was thought to be a mathematical impossibility - a crystal with "five-fold symmetry"...
...that is, the atoms in it formed a pattern that appeared essentially the same when rotated by a fifth of a turn, or 72 degrees
But the science, unfortunately, was already settled.
When he finally told colleagues about his discovery, he was met with dismissal and ridicule. His claims caused such embarrassment that his boss asked him to leave the research group. The results drew a similar hostile response when he finally published them in Physical Review Letters in November 1984.
Eventually, science re-settled. Shechtman was right.

And It turned out other researchers had even seen the same telltale diffraction pattern which he had spotted. But they had dismissed it.

He believed what was before his eyes.
For that he wins a Nobel Prize.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


What Street

The press seems to love these Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. And I heard we had a branch in Chicago. But I haven't seen them. And I'm wondering if it's because we lack the requisite environment - namely:

We don't have a street named Wall.
Not a lane, not a boulevard, nothing at all!

But some of the surrounding towns do. Maybe they headed out past the city limits?

Perhaps in some quiet burb
they can find a Wall Street to disturb!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Cool Again

Some weeks back, Virginia Postrel published an essay on "How Steve Jobs Made Business Cool Again".

There's a streak of hyperbole in that. Lots of people still don't think business is cool. "Corporations" remain the great bogey-man of the left.

But perhaps she is correct that a corner was turned with the excitement that burst out of Silicon Valley.
Nobody ever asked why Steve Jobs kept working after he was rich. Everyone understood.
Everyone understood.
He loved his work and found it good.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I Love Them, But...

Shikha Dalmia explains why intellectuals are so good at messing things up:
Ordinary mortals don’t engage in fancy mental gymnastics to reach conclusions that defy common sense.
Beware of drastic
mental gymnastics
that start with a flash
but end in a crash.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Imperfect Timing

Nobel winner dies
before hearing of prize.

They didn't know he was already dead when they announced he had won. As a rule, they don't award to the dead. But since they announced it already, they decided to cut some slack, and let the prize money go to his family. Sounds like they'll get about 300,000 Euros.

The Nobel Peace prize winner is due to be announced Friday.

Can you win the peace prize twice?
I giving it to our president again would be nice.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fogged Judgment

Maybe he just always wanted a ride in an ambulance:
A 36-year-old intoxicated man stole an ambulance from Norwegian-American Hospital early Sunday before crashing and needing treatment from another ambulance for his injuries, according to Chicago police.
His method seems slightly insane
and also simply not right,
but in the end he did obtain
2 ambulance rides in one night.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Problem

I really liked Peggy Noonan's column today. She detects a jump in patriotism among American's professional classes. Which sounds like a good thing to me. And she lashes out at the political class's obsession with crafting narratives and telling stories:
Here's the problem: There is no story. At the end of the day, there is only reality. Things work or they don't. When they work, people notice, and say it.
Yes, that's the problem.

At the end of the day,
that which is real
washes away
the spin and spiel.