Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Hoping your coming year brings songs you want to hear!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fitbit Force

I got a "Fitbit Force" as one of my Christmas presents. It functions like a computerized pedometer, really. I don't know how truly accurate it is - I haven't calibrated it yet, but I did some treadmill running today and it seemed to match up with the treadmill mileage pretty well.

Anyway, I've been surprised to see that I'm normally walking about 5 miles a day. I knew that my commute, and my dog walking, etc., had me walking over a mile a day. I would have guessed 2.

But 5 was a surprise.
Could it all be lies?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reading Fills The Mind

From today's Wall St. Journal:

"Rather than bemoaning the frothy and fleeting nature of new words and phrases, however, we can embrace it."

I fear the mixed metaphor is unfortunate.

Embrace the frothy - feel it pop.
Embrace the fleeting - it won't stop.

From The Villager, one of our neighborhood papers:

"Walking or other activities that alternate movement of one side of the body and then the other help to clear our thoughts and improve our moods."

I want to see a controlled study of the mental health of freestyle swimmers - as opposed to breast-stroke swimmers. I bet either stroke will clear your mind as well as the other.

A lot of times
I find
that I can clear my mind
by making silly rhymes.

Missing a Delivery

So the days-late FedEx package got delivered to my front door, according to FedEx, but no one heard the doorbell ring, and the search outside didn't find a thing.

Was it stolen, or misdelivered? We haven't ever had a problem with theft of things left at the front door, so I'm inclined to think this is a rare case of FedEx messing up, but what I'm going to be able to do about it I just don't know.

I'm letting this color my mood way more than it should.
At the moment some cosmic perspective would do me good.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Heat Wave

They're having a Feliz Navidad heat wave in Argentina - where it's our seasonal equivalent of June 25. And the fish are biting! But not in a good way.

"More than 60 swimmers have been injured in a mass piranha attack."

It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And people went in the river to cool off. And those ugly little fish attacked en masse. At least, no one died, and the injuries don't sound too serious - because everybody got out of the water.

In Argentina,
small fish are meana.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Shipping Overload

Delivery delayed:

"An unexpected surge of online orders in the past few weeks appears to have strained the limits of delivery and fulfillment infrastructure at retailers and parcel carriers."

It happened to me, with a gift for my wife. I paid for FedEx standard overnight, and they didn't make it. That's supposed to be a money-back guarantee, so I'll have to see about a refund! Not sure how that works. I paid the retailer, who presumably paid FedEx. So do I need to call the retailer and he has to call FedEx?

The package was in Chicago early in the morning on the 24th. And they kept estimating it would be at my door by 8pm. Until 8pm, when the estimate suddenly changed to "N/A". Hopefully that's computerese for the 26th.

You know, for years I resisted buying stuff online. Online is really convenient, but it doesn't give me the immediate satisfaction of having the goods in my hands.

Absolutely, positively, oops not quite,

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Visions of Plumbers' Bills Danced In My Head

We have a tree on our front lawn,
a Grinch-like tree that I'd like gone.

Its roots have clogged our sewer line,
and in my view that's far from fine!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Playing Santa

I got to dress up in the Santa outfit and hand out gifts to kids at my sister's office party. But the costume's white gloves were missing. 

How, I complained, can I create art, when my costume is flawed from the very start?

Nonetheless, I gave it a go, and had a merry Ho Ho Ho!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Irony Sunk

A British communications executive, before heading to South Africa, tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She has apologized. She has been fired.

I imagine it was meant to sound ironic. I imagine she meant to imply that it is in fact a legacy of racism that AIDS is more of a problem in the nonwhite African population.

Her company threw her under the bus: ""There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core."

I guess she should be grateful
that after calling her hateful
they put some salve on the sore
and called her decent at core.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Tis The Season For Etymology

"Holidays" are "holy days",
in their original meanings.

But nowadays the word and phrase
display divergent leanings.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Asleep at the Switch

I fell down on the job yesterday - there was no Rhyme of the Day! Well, more like I lay down. I fell asleep at eight and didn't get up until seven this morning. I must have been tired.

And while I slept,
Duck Dynasty leapt
on the front page
in a burst of rage.

Althouse wrote: "Like Paglia, I remember the broad 1960s era commitment to free speech. There was a special zeal to protect those who said outrageous things. Today, we're back to the kind of repression that in the 60s seemed to belong to the 1950s. What the hell happened?"

I remember that about the 60s too, but there was another current flowing in the New Left, as represented in Marcuse's "critique of pure tolerance."

Marcuse claimed that right wing thoughts are "repression,"
with no excuse or entitlement to expression.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Controlling the Agenda

If you can believe the Daily Mail, which is always a good question, a bunch of U.S. Tech CEOs had a meeting with the prez at the White House. They thought the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the NSA's super-snoopery.

But the prez thought the purpose of the meeting was to talk about how much better healthcare.gov is working.

Of course, it was the prez who won.

I was amused by these 2 anonymous quotes:

'We really didn't care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal health care tech nightmare.'

'He basically hijacked the meeting,' the executive said. 'We all told the White House that we were only there to talk about what the NSA was up to and how it affects us.'

They gave a lot of money to the guy,
and now they're surprised when he spits in their eye.

Surfing To Learn About Turf

I'm not a huge football fan, but I watch with my father and son-in-law on Monday nights, and I was puzzled tonight by something I saw on TV. The players seemed to be kicking up dust - in an indoor stadium - on artificial turf - but the dust didn't disperse like dust exactly.

I actually wondered if it was some kind of special visual effect - like the yellow "first down" line that they project over the field.

I summoned my Google-fu, successfully.

So, it wasn't electronic trickery, it was physical reality, but of an artificial variety:

"The field is comprised of three basic elements: sand, green plastic fibers that look like grass and crumbled rubber, which resembles tiny rubber BBs. Fans will notice that when a player makes a hard cut or a football bounces hard on the surface, something appearing like dust will briefly arise. It's the rubber pellets."

Players complain that sometimes the tiny rubber BBs get in their mouths when they "hit the dirt."

That happens with real dirt, too,
so I'm not feeling sorry for you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

By Canetti

For book club, we read... well its working title was Kant Catches Fire, its first published title was The Blinding (but in German), its first American title was Tower Of Babel, and its first British title was Auto Da Fe. 

I'm not sure why they couldn't alight on one title that just sounded right.

Fluffy and Cold

Shoveled a fair amount of snow, at my house and my father's.

When it comes to precipitation,
I have more appreciation
for rain.

Because shoveling is a pain!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Thirty starts to feel warm, after a week where twenty's the norm. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Signifying Nothing

At Mandela's funeral, the sign language interpreter was reportedly a fake... I mean, he may have been the official signer for all I know, but he wasn't really signing in any language that anyone can figure out so far.

He gave the appearance of full communication, 
but it was all just empty gesticulation.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


In a piece that struck me as overwritten:

"We must look up from our literary games and see what is almost too big to be seen—the fact of slavery, towering above us like the trees of an immense forest of unfreedom that covered the Roman world."

I'm not sure what is too big to see about this, but there was a lot of slavery in Rome, it's true. It wasn't quite the same thing as American slavery, it wasn't racially based, but it was slavery.

The author is making the point that the apparent sexual freedom of the Romans had a lot to do with their freedom to tell their slaves what to do.

In a fresco, it's not always easy to see
who is the master and who is free.

Failure to Deplane

Not life threatening, more of a humorous annoyance:

"A Louisiana man flying to California woke up on a dark, empty plane parked at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston after sleeping through the call to exit the aircraft, officials said on Monday."

First he called his girlfriend using his cell. Sounds like she didn't believe him. Which made me wonder if he might be a bit of a joker. Did he arrange for this somehow?

Eventually a service crew found him and let him out.

Locked inside.
Was someone inept
or did he hide?

Anyway, I wish he'd escaped on that exit slide.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Outside Looking In

I heard "Spirit In The Sky" on the radio today. It's an old hit song about Christianity, sort of. It has these lines:

"Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus"

When it was a big hit, back in 1969, I kept wondering, what kind of Christian declares that he never sinned?

Well, the lyricist, Norman Greenbaum, was Jewish. He just happened to write a hit song about having a friend in Jesus, and had not grasped something about the Christian attitude toward sin.

Fast forward to David Mamet's recent play, The Anarchist. The title character presents herself as having embraced Christianity, and having found salvation. At a key moment, she prays:

"Lord. (Pause) Who ordains all things. Who took the most depraved of women and bid her to Your side to be the Queen of Heaven."

Okay. Full pause, please. Queen of Heaven is a Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox term for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And Christians do not view her as the most depraved of women - far from it.

It sounds as if Mamet's talking about Mary Magdalene, interpreted as being the fallen woman who was redeemed, and then interpreted as becoming Jesus's wife. There are people who believe something along these lines, but it's wildly divergent from standard Christian doctrine. I don't think this was a purposeful divergence on Mamet's part. I don't think he intended her to be saying something that far off.

Mamet's Jewish too, of course.

I don't really mind that they diverged like this. I wouldn't dream of suggesting they go back and change their words. But I'm struck by how hard it must be to get the other fellow's religious point of view right - even when you grew up in a country where that point of view was prevalent.

You can see where it starts to get hairy,
outside, looking in,
at the number of women named Mary
and the complex concept of sin.

The Bioethicist Explains "You Can Keep Your Doctor"

"The president never said you were going to have unlimited choice of any doctor in the country you want… But look, if you want to pay more for an insurance company that covers your doctor, you can do that. It’s a matter of choice. … The issue isn’t the selective networks… People are going to have a choice of whether they want to pay a certain amount for a selective network, or pay more for a broader network. They get that choice."

That's Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist, architect of the Affordable Care Act, trying to explain what "the president never said".

You can tell a lie by omission,
attaching a secret condition,
but it doesn't make the deceit
smell sweet.

But, he knows all that, right? Wikipedia describes him as a specialist in bioethics - medical ethics.

So this must have been one of those noble lies,
an end-justifies-the means surprise!

Twelve Years A Slave

We saw Twelve Years A Slave.
Tough to watch, but the acting deserves a rave. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Oh, You Mean That Uncle

It seems silly to flunk
a question about whether you ever met your unk,
when you actually crashed at his pad
as a law-school lad.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


This is from a collection of funny wrong-number text exchanges. This is the one that made me laugh really hard, for a long time.


Photo of Dog
plus dialogue
made me laugh
ten times and a half.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Pension Reform Passes in Illinois

What do you know? I guessed right. State pension reform passed in Illinois. Passed in both the state senate and the general assembly. And the gov says he'll sign it. I only hope it proves sufficient. Well, I guess it's a start.

Due to the cold hard fact,
of our crumbling
credit rating,
Illinois lawmakers act,
after grumbling
and debating.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Legal Face Off

Reuters reports: "New York lawsuit seeks 'legal personhood' for chimpanzees"

They're suing to free a chimpanzee,
by writ of habeas corpus.

If they succeed in court,
I hope they try next with a porpoise.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Christmas Carol: (abridged)

I'm not sure if they really needed to append "abridged" to this festive seasonal production. I can guess why they did it. They wanted to alert ticket-buyers that this is not a special-effects thirty-actor extravaganza.

It's something quiet and intimate, less than 90 minutes long, with just 3 actors. One actor plays Scrooge, the other 2 do narration and play a load of other characters.

Every word you hear, every line of dialogue, every bit of narration, is straight from the story penned by Dickens. So this production puts you in touch with the actual language of the text, in a way that the usual versions do not.

We attended with a friend who has a lot of acting experience - whose first acting experience was playing Tiny Tim when she was 5. She has watched many productions over the years, and she just loved this one.

It's the tale of a miser
with ghostly advisers
who ends up gladder and wiser.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Today's the Day

Please don't tell me it's all still a huge half-functional kluge. 

Delivery Man

Saw Delivery Man, in which Vince Vaughn, sperm donor, meets hundreds of his biological children. 

I wasn't a super logical script,
But it staggered along at a decent clip,
A funny and warm emotional trip. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Public Pension Problem

We have an interesting public pension problem here in Illinois. It's so interesting that the state's bond rating seems to be the lowest in the country. What's also interesting is that Democrats firmly control both houses of the legislature, and we have a Democratic governor as well.

And things have gotten so bad that the people in charge are actually sensing the need to fix the problem. And to do it without raising the tax burden on the state, which is also pretty high already, overall. And the only way to solve the problem without raising taxes a lot, is to cut back on pension benefits somehow.

But the public labor unions - one of the big Democratic constituencies - do not want that.

So, yesterday evening, the leaders of the state assembly & senate announced they had reached an agreement. And the governor gave it his blessing. But now they need to get enough votes to pass it. And some of those votes will have to be Democratic votes, which will have to occur over union objections.

My prediction is that they will get lots of Republican votes, and a sizable minority of Democratic votes, and they will pass this "fix". I don't know how solid this fix is. Probably not as solid as I would like it. But probably it's an improvement over the current situation. Details are not yet fully public.

Then the law will go to court. The Illinois constitution has some language protecting public employee pension benefits. I don't think this language has ever really been tested. There's a certain broad vagueness to it. Apparently the law has been written with the constitutional protections in mind. I guess we'll see what the Illinois Supreme Court makes of it. I suspect they'll let it slide by.

So, today I am thankful for the continuing spectacle, here in my home state, of Democratic elected officials fighting with the public employee unions, because they ran out of other people's money.

The specter of Detroit's bankruptcy looms.
Our officials wish to avoid that doom.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Empty Handed

I thought they said "banks giving"
so I visited a bank.

Nope - not even a toaster!
Was it all some kind of prank?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pop Up Paradox

I've noticed that the big Chicago newspaper websites are more festooned with annoying pop-up ads than the local TV news websites.

At first I thought there was something paradoxical about this, because TV news is more annoying to me than newspapers are.

But then I hit upon an explanation. The newspapers are going broke. The TV news operations are not, at least, not as badly.

The entities going bust
are the entities that must
throw up scads
of ads.

Monday, November 25, 2013

People Still Finding Out

NBC News Investigates... and learns:

Large employers cite Obamacare ‘Cadillac’ tax in reducing benefits

This isn't news to me,
just news to NBC!

The Robbers, Twice in 2013

Back in May of this year, I saw a production of Schiller's The Robbers, and I remarked that it was truly rare on the American stage.

Well, tonight I saw another production of it, again here in Chicago, with a lot of exquisite acting.

I mean, what are the odds?

Neither production was exactly "straight". In May, it was an all-women cast, with a framing device of girls playing a game.

Tonight, the framing device was Schiller's writing of the play in a military infirmary... with a beautiful dominatrix-style nurse, played to perfection by Maggie Scrantom, who also turned in a convincingly passionate female lead as Amalia.

Let's continue this Schiller-producing trend.
Put on the plays. I will attend.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Database Disagreement

From the NYT investigation into the Healthcare.gov fiasco:

"Another sore point was the Medicare agency’s decision to use database software, from a company called MarkLogic, that managed the data differently from systems by companies like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. CGI officials argued that it would slow work because it was too unfamiliar. Government officials disagreed, and its configuration remains a serious problem."

Ann Althouse asks: "What the hell is MarkLogic and why did it get this sweet deal that caused so much grief?"

The phrase, "managed the data differently" seems to refer to the fact that instead of being a standard "relational" database, of the kind sold by IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, this was a "NoSQL" database. This sort of database is marketed as superior for Big Data projects, but I don't really know much about it, and apparently neither did the programmers on the project.

My big question a lot like Althouse's question. Why did "government officials" tell the technical team what database software they should be using? Why did "government officials" think that they knew more about databases than the technical team they had hired? Why did they think it was safe to do that?

I suppose they thought they had all the time in the world: Three years to put up a website.

The techies tell you, "we don't know this database." Silly whiners. They've got years to familiarize.

And then the "years" go by
in the blink of a programmer's eye
and you watch your website die.

Philosophical Method of the Americans

Last night at discussion group we chewed over a chapter of de Tocqueville's 1840 classic: Volume Two of Democracy In America. My favorite bit from the reading:

"America is therefore one of the countries where the precepts of Descartes are least studied and are best applied. Nor is this surprising."

Well, it's surprising news to most Americans, even this American, who has read some Descartes.

Our author explains that Americans like to think things through for themselves, discarding received wisdom in order to get a fresh view of a problem.

A philosophy professor, who participated in the discussion, suggested that our author was thinking more of the early Descartes, the author of Discourse on Method, and less of the later Descartes, the author of Meditations on First Philosophy.

Few Americans have ever given a clam
about "I think therefore I am."

But we do think a fresh perspective
can be effective.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Howard Bound

Accustomed to the institutional life:

"An aging ex-con who deliberately got caught robbing a bank so that he could go back to prison should have his wish fulfilled, federal prosecutors say."

This guy, at 73, is walking around with a hip replacement. Who gave him that artificial hip? Was it the prison system? Maybe he's willing to trade his freedom for comprehensive healthcare!

At three-quarters of a century,
he's aiming for the penitentiary.


In Vancouver, Canada, they're banning doorknobs. Well, the old, substandard doorknobs. In their place, there's a mandate for door handles. Which are more accessible. For people with some sort of disability, I imagine. Severe arthritis, perhaps? I don't know. The article doesn't say. Perhaps it's rude to inquire.

"The bylaw is not retroactive, so residents won’t have to get rid of doorknobs they already have in their homes."

If you like your knobs,
they may be grandfathered in.
If that's the case,
just chalk it up as a win!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Just Because

Linguists have been taking an interest in that snarky "because" meme that has become so prevalent on the net. Being linguists, rather than grammarians, they are into description, not prescription. And when they try to describe the new usage of "because", they say it's being used as a preposition instead of a conjunction.

"The construction is more versatile than “because+noun” suggests. Prepositional because can be yoked to verbs (Can’t talk now because cooking), adjectives (making up examples because lazy), interjections (Because yay!), and maybe adverbs too, though in strings like Because honestly., the adverb is functioning more as an exclamation. The resulting phrases are all similarly succinct and expressive."

Is this actually going to stick, or is it just a fad?
I figured it was humorous usage that purposely sounded bad.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Solitude in a Crowd

Downtown, at dusk, he felt alone
in some strange way he hadn't known
in years. He ate a supper made
of childhood food, and though afraid
of plunging into separateness,
breathed in an unsuspected bliss.

And nearing sunset, now and then,
he flashes to that moment when
he gazed beneath the city lights,
at hurried people with their sights
set straight ahead... And feels again
the calm that comes from deep within.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Words for Writing

From a book about a movie:

"'Satire' is the technical word for writing about people as they are. 'Romantic' at the other extreme is writing about people as they are to themselves. Both of these terms are true and mean something, and Lubitsch combined them in most of his films. Only 'Naturalism' is a completely vague term, and Lubitsch had no truck with it."

The author, Peter Barnes, is playing off Aristotle's contrast between comedy and tragedy: “Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.”

He recommends that writers and directors avoid the "deadly language of journalism".

If satire
is truth entire,
the naturalists are left
with nothing of heft.

I think it's kind of funny, because in my play-writing I mostly try to adhere to a kind of formal realism, by which I mean that the events and language, examined piece by piece, all seem plausible. But the whole, because it's more dense and intense than real life, seems suffused with a "romantic" atmosphere.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Science Fiction Films

Saw Gravity last night, in 3D. Really, it should be called Zero Gravity. It has temporarily - for the next few days at least - cured me of the desire to chase around in orbital space. It's a wild survival story set in near-Earth space.

Saw Ender's Game tonight, in 2D. It has some zero gravity scenes too. It's more of a true science fiction film - raising high-level moral questions, dealing with an alien species, projecting alternate social rules, etc,

After all that, I'm eager to have
a chance to float in zero grav.

Alec Baldwin's Big Mouth

Alec Baldwin's in trouble for another anti-gay outburst. Scathingly delivered, of course. Which makes it worse.

Ann Althouse speculates:

"Eagerness to support gay rights may stem from a desire to compensate for strongly felt aversion to gay people. Baldwin's problem is that this compensation cannot stand up to his intense emotionality, and paparazzi who know this have made a game out of provoking him to the point of explosion. It's actually kind of sad. He's a great actor, and since he tends to play villains — wonderfully — he doesn't even need us to think that he's a good person."

This strikes me as plausible. You certainly see this pattern in this country with regard to support for African American causes. Some of the white people I know who express the most righteous indignation about racial bias are white people who live in lily white suburbs and who seem, in fact, uncomfortable around actual black people.

Some praise
the rights of gays
while still disdaining their ways.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Does Their Panic Seem Aristophanic?

Mediaite has a headline, "For Democrats, Obamacare Unfolding Like a Greek Tragedy".

Instapundit says it's more of a comedy, for him. Well, the distinction is often a matter of perspective.

From Mediaite's text: "In a Euripidean twist, it is Democrats, not Republicans, who are meting out potentially fatal blows to the project which had once represented their greatest hopes."

In a Euripidean twist,
Hubris is met by Nemesis.

I'm not actually a big fan of the word hubris, because I worry that its original usage packaged a kind of fatalism - a message to be wary of daring.

Wikipedia says that it means "extreme pride or arrogance", which isolates the issue I worry about.

The real problem isn't "extremeness" as such. Someone can be extremely proud of having accomplished something, and that isn't harmful in and of itself. The problem, to me, is something more like unmerited pride.

Actually, the follow-on sentence of the Wikipedia article captures my view perfectly: "Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power."

Lately, psychologists have been investigating this phenomenon, under a new name:

"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes."

So... if at all possible... before doing something daring... try a test-run in a safe environment. You may learn something vital about yourself and your scheme.

Not truly knowing your level of skill
can kill.

Fanny's First Play

Fanny's First Play is actually a play by Bernard Shaw. I saw it last night and found it quite charming.

The play features a play-within-a-play, a device Shakespeare used several times, most famously in Hamlet.

In Shakespeare, the play-within is a brief presentation within a full length framing play. Not so in this case. Shaw's play-within is actually a full length play, and the framing play is much shorter.

In the frame, a young lady named Fanny has written her first play, and has arranged for it to be performed before a private audience of theater critics. Her play is performed, and then the critics argue about it. One thing they argue about is who actually wrote the play, since they haven't been told.

Of course, Fanny is just a character, and the person who really wrote it all was Shaw himself.

But the original audiences of the play did not know that. Because Shaw, who was already famous, had the play produced as being by that most accomplished author: Anonymous. And, in a dizzying bit of satire, Shaw has his critics decide that the play could not have been written by Shaw, because it has too much heart.

The production is a lot of fun. The dialog is witty, and the acting was solid. Michael Reyes, as Juggins, was a particular straight-faced comic delight.

This dramatic framing device
is occasionally nice
but could be un-concise.

If you keep nesting play within play
like Russian dolls all the way
it might run all night and all day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Parade of Fixes

We went from "ACA is the Law,"
to "Well, it might have a little flaw,"
to "Shred it up like slaw!"

Low Humidity Perhaps

I'm not sure why, but when the weather gets colder, the stars always strike me as brighter and bolder.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alligator on a Train

As you may recall from bizarre Chicago news, a small alligator was found under an escalator at O'Hare airport. Conjecture was, it was abandoned.

Now they've dug up surveillance photos of a woman riding the El in the wee hours of the morning, with what looks like the very same alligator.


I can understand not wanting to keep an alligator as a pet.
Its cuteness may diminish, the bigger it gets, I bet.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Allergies as a Puzzle

They've been puzzling over the apparent rise in allergies for a while now, so this piece is interesting:

"Children born to mothers who work with livestock while pregnant, and who lug their newborns along during chores, seem the most invulnerable to allergic disease later."

If only my mother had milked a cow,
perhaps I wouldn't have allergies now!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo Undercuts the Tale of Cuts

The Chicago Tribune ran a story today about the looming food stamp (SNAP) cutbacks. The apparent purpose of the story was to show us the difficulties faced by people whose allotment was being reduced.

But there, featured on the front page as prime victims, were 2 substantially chubby people.

Couldn't they find some skinny person to pose?
Someone who looks like a skeleton in their clothes?

Facts Are Stubborn Things

My subject heading today comes from a White House Blog Post from August 4, 2009.

"Opponents of health insurance reform may find the truth a little inconvenient, but as our second president famously said, 'facts are stubborn things.'"


"For the record, the President has consistently said that if you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them."


"If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov."

Facts are stubborn things.
In retrospect, that stings.

Ohio Highway

Yesterday while barreling along the highway, my van's gps kept telling me I wasn't "on a digitized road".

Someone needs to reexamine that code!

Friday, November 08, 2013


Mumps and measles are coming back. Vaccine phobia merits the flack.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

In A Hole

After lies,

See if that flies.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Mega Duckmole

National Geographic has an interesting story about the discovery of an ancient but extinct species, the Giant Platypus, (Obdurodon tharalkooschild).

Here's how some artist imagines it, chowing down on a turtle:


So... did they find a fossil skeleton? Not exactly. They found one molar - pictured in the inset, above. Apparently platypus teeth are very distinctive, and this molar was obviously of the platypus design, but it was way too big. So... they extrapolated, and anointed it a species.

Behold the Giant Platypus:
its fur and bill are fabulous.
But how close is the sketch to truth?
It's all based on a single tooth!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Haunting Julia

I finished reading an Alan Ayckbourn play today, Haunting Julia. It's very clever. On stage I think it would be authentically scary, and horribly sad. It's playing in town right now, a Chicago premiere. I haven't seen the production. I'm tempted to go. But reluctant, too.

I usually enjoy reading his plays, but I'm often - not always, just often - unhappy when the play is done.

I am in awe of his craft.
But sometimes I feel like I'm left on a raft
in a sea
of debris.

Not to Worry

It may come as a shock,
when you're losing your doc,
but it's for your own good,
if you just understood.


An embarrassing discovery at Northeastern Illinois University, a state school located in Chicago:



I'm trying to think of what the defense will be.
Maybe it just means "democrat with a small d".

Sunday, November 03, 2013

KISS of Death

The Washington Post has the inside story on the mismanagement of the development of the healthcare.gov website. Because it's a story from insiders, who were fighting with each other over how to manage the project, it's still slanted in favor of the program. But the managerial details ring true to me.

"Inside the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the main agency responsible for the exchanges, there was no single administrator whose full-time job was to manage the project."

Excuse me while I sputter, searching for, and failing to find, the right words to describe such an arrangement.

In 2010, David Cutler, "Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign", wrote a memo to the White House economic team, warning them that the project set-up was falling "far short of what it will take to implement reform successfully." But, his advice was not taken.

The underlying theme of the WaPo story is the triumph of political fears over technological needs... until the needs bit back.

So... why wasn't the bite-back foreseen? After all, this administration has put itself forward as smart, savvy, capable of coordinating markets and bureaucracies with just the right nudges.

I keep scratching my head over this, this phenomenon of self-proclaimed techno-managers who can't manage the tech. Peter Greenfield offers a scornful explanation:

"Our technocracy is detached from competence. It's not the technocracy of engineers, but of 'thinkers' who read Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and watch TED talks and savor the flavor of competence, without ever imbibing its substance. These are the people who love Freakonomics, who enjoy all sorts of mental puzzles, who like to see an idea turned on its head, but who couldn't fix a toaster."

Obviously, this is an outsider's view of what went wrong.

Bright non-coders have a particular affinity, in my experience, for requesting overly complex system designs that aren't really as thought-through as they at first appear. For such situations, the KISS principle is the antidote, but it can be a bitter pill indeed. Keep It Simple Stupid seems so... insulting and limiting. And, really, it's not very precise in its formulation, since very complex systems do get built successfully - after all the details have been truly worked out, so that the lowest level components really are simple. In this case, clearly, that did not happen. Perhaps because it just couldn't happen over the space of mere years.

In support of which thesis, let me mention,
that the law itself, in its two-thousand page glory,
defied comprehension.

And here we pause our story.

Standard Time Returns

While I sleep should I keep one eye open a crack to spy for the moment when time falls back?

Friday, November 01, 2013


It's hard to pet a porcupine,
due to the nature of its design.
But if you must,
first win its trust,
then pet very slowly down its spine.

Actual article on topic.

Also, on a festive note, a video of a very cute porcupine chowing down on one of those mini-pumpkins.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On The Loose


These dogs were loose in the neighborhood today. Apparently they were spotted as early as 3am. Various people were freaking out about them because they're pit bulls. (American Staffordshire Terriers, actually, I think.) But Marsha said they were very nice dogs. For their own protection, Marsha brought them into our yard, and started calling around to see if anyone knew who they belonged to. They were hungry, like they hadn't eaten for a while.

Eventually, a police officer came for them. He was taking them to a nice no-kill shelter. Hopefully they'll scan them, to see if they have microchips. My daughter mentioned to him that they had collars, but no tags. "You know what that means," he said. Actually, we don't, but it makes me wonder if they were purposely abandoned.

I was tempted to think about adoption,
but right now it's not an option.


There's a riddle going around Facebook, and the gimmick is that if you cannot answer correctly you put a giraffe photo for your profile photo. The riddle's pretty easy, as riddles go. But I hear there are a lot of giraffe photos showing.

Chatting with a friend, I happened to remember an old riddle that impressed me as a child.

You are standing on planet Earth. You walk a mile north. You walk a mile west. You walk a mile south. You are right back where you started. Where is that?

The description may sound queer
but there is such a spot on the sphere.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Early Jail Bird

Odd timing:

"Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is now in custody in federal prison in North Carolina Tuesday morning after some initial confusion on Monday when he tried to turn himself in but couldn’t."

He went to prison early, and they told him his room wasn't ready yet. Made him come back the next day, which was still reportedly a few days early.

The judge said no earlier than November.
That sounds easy enough to remember.

Was he just trying to avoid the press,
Or was waiting around causing too much stress?

Investigation and Explanation

NBC has investigated and learned that millions of people will not be able to keep their health plans. Despite the prez saying over and over again that "you will be able to keep your health plan".

And it turns out the prez has known this for some time.

This is easily explained. When he said "you will be able to keep your health plan," he wasn't talking to everybody. He was talking to certain people only.

When he said "you"
his statement was true
for those he was actually speaking to
however few.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

That Word Again

There's that word again:

"Company hosting Obamacare data has technical glitch: U.S. official"

Always with the "glitch" stuff. You know, that's not actually a technical term. At least in the article it mentions "lost connectivity" and "networking component failure". That sounds like something an actual technician might say.

By the way, it's some branch of Verizon, called Terremark, that's having the trouble.

Wasn't Verizon being called in to fix everything? Why, yes!

Fetch some potent elixir
to fix the system's fixer!

Friday, October 25, 2013


I've been amused by the way politicians posture as providers of technical services, promising Government 2.0 and whatever, trying to make their promises sound as shiny as an iPhone, promising "smart" this and "e" that.

This was part of the promise of ObamaCare. Virgina Postrel says it well:

"So why didn’t the administration realize that integrating a bunch of incompatible government databases into a seamless system with an interface just about anyone could understand was a really, really hard problem? Why was even the president seemingly taken by surprise when the system didn’t work like it might in the movies? We have become seduced by computer glamour."

Of course, not everyone was surprised. But I think she's right about the glamour angle. People get hypnotized by the technology, and think it can do anything. Nontechnical people get hornswoggled by fast talking technology gurus, too. I suspect that's what happened here.

Management wonders why
it all went from Win to Lose.

Someone promised blue sky
but only delivered the blues.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sox

The Chicago White Sox took their name from an old name of the Cubs. Yes, the Cubs were, at first, known as the Chicago White Stockings.

Similarly, the Boston Red Sox took their name from an old name of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and eventually Cincinnati dropped the Stockings and just went with Reds.

In both cases, it seems like the new team wanted to draw fans of the older name-holder.

And in both cases, Stockings got shortened to Sox, a "headline friendly" shortening.

So, it seems,
that's how these teams
got named for colored stockings.

Peculiar, yes,
but something less
than shocking.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Audience Annihilated - Gold Star Sticker

I went to see the creepy new Halloween show from Dream Theatre. It's half play, half horror show. If you choose, you get to be one of the characters in the play - the lead character - a little girl addressed as "Princess". You are living among some crude and scary people. Your mother is not the sympathetic type. Your toy bear is not inclined to provide much comfort. And you are having a very bad night.

Prove how brave you are.
Go ahead and earn your gold star.

Just don't let the Clown
get you down.

UPDATE: great review here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We tied the record today for amount of snow. Technically. Because the amount of snow was "a trace" - and that's all that has ever fallen at our official weather station on this date. 

At least it wasn't thick. 
It didn't even stick. 
Just floated by - 
soft crystals from the sky.


I see that Google is informing me that it's the 216th anniversary of the first parachute jump.

I wonder if that's the first successful one or not.

I'm perfectly willing to try
if the only alternative is to die.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trick of Memory

I remember O'Brien & O'Brian as "writing itself", and I remembered it a doing so rather quickly. But just now I reviewed the evidence, and I wrote the play from February 2012 to December 2012. Almost a year.

I've got a pile
of step-by-step files
that clearly show the trail.

My memory of "three months" is a FAIL!

What Is A Glitch

Wikipedia, on computer glitches:

"In public declarations, glitch is used to suggest a minor fault which will soon be rectified and is therefore used as a euphemism for a bug, which is a factual statement that a programming fault is to blame for a system failure."

A glitch is something small,
and easily corrected
once the error is detected.

This isn't that at all.

This is a giant load
of untested code.

Tombstone 5K

Though I gave blood Thursday, and though I ran a marathon last Saturday, I ventured forth and ran a 5K today. I did this because the race was very near my house, on familiar ground, and because the race was so small I thought I would have an excellent chance of winning a medal.

To be specific: last year, there was only one guy in my age range. This year, there were three of us. So each of us was guaranteed to "place" at the start of the race. Not that we knew that. They don't tell you up front that there are only 3 men aged 60-65.

Anyway, I did beat the other 2 guys.

The race, the Tombstone 5K, was entirely on the grounds of a local graveyard, Mount Greenwood Cemetery, and most of us were wearing Halloween costumes.

Here's a guy who ran as PacMan.
I hope he led the pack, man.


I run in this particular cemetery on a somewhat regular basis. My middle child is buried there. It's hard to believe that she's been dead almost 20 years. It's hard to believe that she would have been 30 this coming January. We had a sort of imaginary conversation, when I ran by her grave. I miss her.

As a rule, I stop and kneel.

Time does not completely heal,
but it softens the hurt you feel.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Disparate Impact

I'm fascinated by the I.T. wreck that is Healthcare.gov. Those who know me, know that I have a sick fascination with disasters that seem to have arisen, at first glance, from unbelievable stupidity. "How could they do that?" is always the question in my mind, particularly when the stupidity is committed by people who seem... intelligent.

One of the interesting things about this particular mess, is that the Obama team, by most accounts, ran an absolutely brilliant I.T. operation as part of his last presidential campaign.

So, I wonder, why did he fail at one and succeed at the other?

My first thought was that, "campaigning, not governing, is his gift". And that seems to hold. A lot of people have noted it before me.

You might think that "running a campaign" would be something like "running a country". But the first can lean more on division and illusion, and the second requires more cohesion and delivery of results.

And the delivery of the wrong results has a way of shattering illusions. Which may partly be why the federal government kept delaying decisions and announcements... which meant the delay of technical specs... when time was of the essence.

Of course, it's hard to write specs
when your project's so complex
that no one's quite sure whether
it can ever fit together.

Borrow Tomorrow

I've got a feeling - about the debt ceiling. Let's raise it as high - as the top of the sky. We've just got to get - lots deeper in debt!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Donation Day

I gave a pint of red. In other words, I bled.  Soon, they say, it will go - into some body who's one pint low. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Results May Vary

Tyler Cowen cites a study showing that quality of care, in a given hospital, seems to vary with what kind of insurance a patient has. Patients with private insurance fared better than patients with Medicare, which does not pay as well as private insurance.

This makes intuitive sense, to me. Although, as a probable future-Medicare-enrollee, I don't find it reassuring exactly.

Cowen comments:

"I don’t have a great deal of confidence in our ability to estimate the size of that effect, but keep that difference in mind next time someone tells you that Medicare is so much more efficient than private health insurance in this country."

Paying more often means better service.
Of course, if you're paying less, this can make you nervous.


Government is just a name 
for what we do together.

So, at least, I've heard it claimed.
But, boy, it's hit rough weather.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Night Sky in Autumn

The moon peeks out, her face half-veiled,
between catalpa limbs,
expecting soon to be regaled -
with happy harvest hymns.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Finishing Prairie State

I had tried to run the Prairie State Marathon a few years ago. I remember it was a warm sunny day. And the course has this peculiarity - at mile 18, with 8 miles to go, you run right next to the finish line.

On that day, I was having a bad running day, and the temptation was overwhelming. I felt sure I could finish - but at a very slow pace. And I just wasn't looking forward to it. So I stopped, got back in my car, and drove home.

This time I had steeled myself in advance against the Mile 18 Temptation.

My big worry during the race was a sense, about half way through, that my left quadriceps was working up to a cramp. It happened in a big way right at the end of my 2012 marathon. It came close to happening during my 20-mile training run a few weeks ago. And I didn't want it to happen again.

So... I tried changing how I was running. I lengthened my gait, on the theory that the muscle was more likely to cramp if it was allowed to get tight. And I began to switch between running and walking. This involved running faster than I otherwise would have, in order to average-out to the same speed. To a first approximation, I would walk for half-a-minute every half-mile. Apparently it worked. I never did cramp up.

Nowadays, you see a lot of non-champion marathoners following some kind of run/walk regimen. There's a theory that you can get a better time that way:

"The continuous use of running muscles produces much more fatigue, aches and pains than running at the same pace while taking walk breaks."

Of course, the setters of marathon world records do NOT use this method.

But fearing the Quadriceps Cramp,
I was happy to revamp.

Chicago Marathon

The Chicago Marathon, one of the big international marathons, is going on today. I just finished watching the first place finishes in  the men's and women's race. I hasten to add that I watched on TV. Having run a different marathon yesterday, I didn't really feel like standing on the sidelines on these sore quads.

Conditions were excellent this morning: cool and not too windy, here in the Windy City.

A new course record was set for the men by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya: 2:03:45. He is reported to be raking in 175,000 dollars for the day in prize money and time bonuses.

Rita Jeptoo, also of Kenya, took the women's race at 2:19:59 or so. By coming in just under 2:20, she earned an extra 40,000 dollars, which I think brings her payday to 140,000.

That may sound like a lot of money for a couple of hours work. But there's even bigger money involved in the World Marathon Majors program, of which Chicago is a part. The Majors programs involves winning points by placing well in the world's biggest marathons.

"On January 23, 2006, Boston, Virgin London, BMW Berlin, Bank of America Chicago and ING New York City marathons collectively launched the World Marathon Majors – a new series offering a $1 million prize purse to be split equally between the top male and female marathoners in the world."

It sounds like a grueling schedule. But that kind of money can be very motivating.

Half a million smackers
is a lot of do-re-mi.
It draws elite attackers
to a very high degree.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

20th Marathon

I ran my 20th marathon today. 25th, if you count longer events that involved running 26.2 miles.

Tomorrow is the big local marathon - the Chicago Marathon. Today's event was in the northern suburbs, and had a much smaller crowd of runners.

It was a trail run, along the Desplaines River, all parkland. Here was the view from where I parked my car:


Muted hues, nothing harsh,
as morning rises on the marsh.

Here was the starting line:

I was very happy with my run, which came in at 4:51, which was 6 minutes faster than last year's time. Actually, it's my best marathon time since 2005, by several minutes. Maybe the experiment in carbo-loading worked!

Or maybe I was better rested.
It's hard to know which variable was tested.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Pigeon I Presume

They say it's good luck to be hit by birds-a-crappin'. 
So now I should wait for something great to happen.

Deadline in Quotes

Headline about a deadline:

New 'deadline' for fixing Obamacare glitches seen in mid-November

I suppose it's in quotes because it's not really a deadline at all:

"The U.S. administration has a little over a month to fix the technology problems crippling its online health insurance marketplace, or jeopardize the goal of signing up millions of Americans in time for benefits under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, experts said on Thursday."

A deadline isn't a time when you "jeopardize the goal". A deadline is the time you no longer have any chance at the goal. That's why it's called a DEADline.

I don't think the "glitches" will be fixed by mid-November. They had 3.5 years and couldn't get it working. Was it that they just needed one more month? I doubt it. And - in certain ways it's harder to fix a system once it's gone live. But, I suppose there's little point in speculating. Let's wait and see.

Time will tell:
will it all work well -
or somehow continue
to hiccup like hell?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


I'm running a marathon on Saturday, so I'm carboloading today. I've never done it this formally before, where you lighten up on carbs for 3 days, and then load up on them for another 3.

Newly added to my diet for today: breakfast cereal, apple juice, banana-strawberry smoothie, cinnamon raisin bagel, vending machine pretzels, Orange Crush.

And I haven't had dinner yet!

We'll try if pasta empowers my legs
better than bacon and eggs.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


My daughter and I were talking about Pentecostalism, which we both knew a little about, and then we started wondering about the word Pentecost, which looks, and is, Greek.

I vaguely remembered this from the New Testament: "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."

So, Pentecost turns out to be a form of the ancient Greek word for Fiftieth.

And Fiftieth was the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which was observed on the 50th day after the 1st day of Passover.

Why 50 days? Apparently it was 7 weeks (a "week of weeks") from the 2nd day of Passover, which mathematically works out to be 50 days from the 1st day of Passover.

As for me, I think it's nifty
that Pentecost derives from fifty,
but if you feel it's a useless fact,
toss it away and don't look back!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Death by Dog Leash

It could happen to me:

"Authorities are trying to learn more details about a fatal accident in which a dog's leash got entangled with a bicycle in a Cook County forest preserve, sending a 68-year-old bicyclist crashing to the ground."

He was on a trail, away from cars. He was wearing a helmet. But somehow a dog leash managed to kill him.

The owner of the dog untangled the leash and left the scene of the accident.

You can't really tell from the linked story how he got tangled. Nowadays, some people do have very long - 50 foot for example - retractable dog leashes. Maybe the owner was on one side of the trail and the dog was on the other? Maybe the dog ran across the trail just as the victim pedaled up to the scene of his demise?

Whatever it was, the dog owner should have had the decency to stick around
after entangling an elderly man to the ground.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Amber Alert

You do a search online for amber alert, and you see you're going to amberalert.gov, but then that redirects to an announcement which consists of this jpeg file:

Cough up the funding, and no one gets hurt...
then you can have back your Amber Alert.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

McAfee on ACA

John McAfee, founder of McAfee AntiVirus, has had his wild moments, but I'm worried that this might be one of his lucid insights about the HealthCare.gov website:

"Seriously bad, somebody made a grave error, not in designing the program, but in implementing the web aspect. It for example anybody can put up a... web page and claim to be a broker for this system, there is no central place where I can go, and say, here are all of the legitimate brokers, or examiners for all of the states, and pick and choose one. Instead, any hacker can put a web site up, make it look extremely competitive, and because of the nature of the system, and this is health care after all, they can ask you the most intimate questions, you are freely going to answer them, what’s my social security number? My birth date."

Well, I guess we'll know soon enough
if he's right about this stuff.

ADDED: I found a Slate article, written before the website launch, which specifically denies that the site is "a hacker's dream." Here are the last 2 sentences:

"It’s quite possible that something, somewhere will go wrong on Tuesday, or in the first few weeks that the system is up and running. But a massive, nationwide data breach appears to be, thankfully, unlikely."

Something sure went wrong on Tuesday. I'm not sure you'd actually call the system "up and running" yet. I suppose that if there are to be any massive data breaches, the system will first have to collect some massive data, which it may not have done yet.

Caught in the Web

It's hard to love
healthcare dot gov
when it won't let you sign
on the dotted line.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Lunchtime Haiku

Soft autumn sprinkles.
Vagrants and grime washed away.
Park looks clean, grass green.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Big & Buggy

Not really surprising:

"The pressure is on for the federal government and states running their own health insurance exchanges to get the systems up and running after overloaded websites and jammed phone lines frustrated consumers for a second day as they tried to sign up for coverage using the new marketplaces."

The rumors have been leaking for months that the systems weren't going to be ready. And, they aren't. So, will they be ready soon? I have no inside knowledge. But I will be surprised if this stuff really starts working well anytime soon.

Amazon wasn't built in a day.

I know they're blaming it on "lots of people trying to sign up." That's what people always say when their online systems crash. It's the first stage of grief: denial.

Experience predicts:
no quick fix.

Big buggy projects cannot be turned around on a dime.
They consume precious time.

For this year, the best they can do
is to somehow muddle through.