Thursday, January 31, 2013

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

Well, I found this article from Slate interesting. Hard to know exactly how true it is, but it rings truer to me than lots of the stuff I've read about waterboarding, etc:
EITs were used to break the will to resist, not to extract information directly. Hayden acknowledged that prisoners might say anything to stop their suffering. (Like the other panelists, he insisted EITs weren't torture.) That’s why “we never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to, while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment.”
There's torture, and then there's torture of course. This was the clever stuff.

They figured they were smarter
than the ordinary martyr,
leaving no marks behind,
but shattering the mind.

Kindergarten Weapons Violation

Expelled for bringing clear plastic toy gun to school:
Naomi McKinney, a kindergarten student, is such a threat that she’s not allowed at all on school grounds, her parents say. The Sumter County School District says it has a zero-tolerance policy against guns in schools, and would require the Board of Trustees to review the case if she's to return.
Massive media exposure followed... and then:
Expulsion reversed for kindergartner who brought toy gun to school for 'show and tell'
Cute kid. Photogenic. Maybe she's a holy terror, but it's not obvious on the outside. And it was a serious error to think this sort of expulsion was justified.

Rules are rules!
(And fools are fools.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Speculation Mode On

Reportedly, scientists are on a hunt for the utilization of quantum effects in everyday biology.
"There are definitely three areas that have turned out to be manifestly quantum," Dr Turin told the BBC. "These three things... have dispelled the idea that quantum mechanics had nothing to say about biology."
Three possible quantum manifestations discussed in the article are:
  1. photosynthesis
  2. smell
  3. the ability of birds to navigate by magnetic fields.
I feel oddly vindicated. For years, I've heard people say that quantum effects all "net out" in ordinary life. And yet, humans have the ability to utilize quantum effects in significant technological devices. So - why shouldn't nature have done the same thing?

I'm reminded of the human heart. I've read that no one knew what it was for - until humans invented the pump. Then someone said oh, nature invented one first.

For hundreds of thousands of years,
we heard it going lub-dump
but until we invented the thing
we had no idea we were hearing a pump.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wacky Weather

It soared into the 60s today in Chicago, and then tonight we had a January thunderstorm downpour on my walk to the train. My shoes were soaked.

But they're forecasting 8 degrees again, very soon.

I'm ready for Spring,
it would be very nice,
but tomorrow will bring
more ice.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Belle Isle

South of the United States, and North of Canada, lies Belle Isle. belleislemap
Well, it's not really South of the United States, since it's part of Michigan. But one developer wants to change all that and turn Belle Isle into a charter city, a "free market utopia". belleisleproject
Somehow I don't think this will happen:
Private investors buy the island from a near-bankrupt Detroit for $1 billion. It then would secede from Michigan to become a semi-independent commonwealth like Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
I don't think it could "secede". But... I believe Michigan could "cede" the island to the Federal government. Yes, states in the past have ceded land to the Federal government.

It's an island dream
and a wild scheme
and it doesn't seem
very likely.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flare Path by Rattigan

flarepath Last  night we saw an old play by Terence Rattigan, Flare Path.

Rattigan was a tail gunner for the RAF at the start of World War II, and the play is set in that world - not in the planes, but on the ground, at a small hotel with a view of the air station's landing strip.

The play had a successful revival in London in 2011, so I suppose that's why i showed up in Chicago in 2013, courtesy of Griffin Theatre.

I liked it, and the audience liked it too. I was struck by some similarities t Casablanca. It's a drama about an emotional love triangle in the midst of war - and about how the sense of wartime duty affects the fabric of relationships.

As usual with Rattigan, you get a lot of British understatement, but there is a fabulously emotional scene at the core of the play, where a brave fighter confesses to his fear to his wife.

When the fear runs through their brains
and pulses through their veins
like a mad distorting drum,
even heroes
can feel like zeroes,
but they somehow overcome.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Google Cars Will Be Good For Bars

The more the merrier, except... the more drunk drivers the scarier.


One of my nieces was in London when it snowed recently - snowed a lot for London apparently. And she showed the locals how to make a snowman. They didn't know about rolling a small ball into a big ball in wet "packing" snow.

It made me reflect on the idiomatic verb, snowball:
Increase rapidly in size, intensity, or importance - the campaign was snowballing
The visual is of a snowball rolling along getting bigger and bigger.

But if you live somewhere warm
and have never seen a giant snowball form...
the metaphor will be lame,
its impact not the same.

On a tangent, the collected Calvin & Hobbes Snowman Strips.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Phones in Overtones

I was reading an old play, Overtones, by Alice Gerstenberg, and I came across a funny detail in the printed text: the word "phone" appeared with an apostrophe in front of it: 'phone

Evidently this was to indicate that the word "phone" was a contraction.

It occurred twice in the printed text, each time with the apostrophe:
HETTY [The telephone rings] There she is now.
[Hetty hurries to 'phone but Harriet regains her supremacy.]
HARRIET [Authoritatively] Wait! I can't let the telephone girl down there hear my real self. It isn't proper. [At the 'phone.] Show Mrs. Caldwell up.
Now, of course, that short word "phone"
very often shows up alone,
feeling, for sure, no need to be
accompanied by an apostrophe.

David Coleman Headley

A Chicago man involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack got 35 years from a judge. His name surprised me:
David Coleman Headley's meticulous scouting missions facilitated the assault by 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group, which killed 160 people -- including children.
What surprised me was that his name sounded so English. But there's a backstory:
Daood [Sayed] Gilani was born in Washington, D.C., where his father, Sayed Salim Gilani, worked for the Voice of America. His father was also a diplomat who worked in the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C. for some time. His Maryland-born American mother, (Alice) Serrill Headley (1939–2008), worked as a secretary at the Pakistani embassy in Washington at the time of his birth.
His name change let him slip into India more easily.
Headley's U.S. passport, his new Western and English sounding name, and the fact that the passport and his visa application made no mention of his prior name or his father's nationality, made it easy for him to obtain an Indian visa from the Indian consulate in Chicago. He falsely stated on his visa application that his father's name was William Headley and that his own name at birth was "Headley", a claim that was difficult to refute since the U.S. passport, unlike the Indian one, does not provide the father's name, and does not require endorsements on name changes by the passport holder.
He hid his vile game
behind his new name.

Shovel Unready

We've barely had snow in Chicago this season. Just dustings. A friend is hoping we finally get some. He wants to cross country ski in the local woods.

As for me
I'm not eager to ski.
I'll do just fine
With more sunshine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Union Trouble

The UK only seemed to be 3/4 of the way into the EU in the first place. By which I mean mostly that they weren't using the the Euro as currency. Which in hindsight, at the moment, looks like genius. But now...
Anti-Europe sentiment in the U.K. is at some of its highest levels since the early 1980s. And, frustrations with the EU are more pronounced among Conservatives, with opinion polls having shown support shifting away from the Tories to the U.K. Independence Party, whose main goal is Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
So there's talk of having a national referendum - to decide whether to stay in the European Union or not.

I have no idea how that will go.

But I want to relate some anecdotal data. I was talking to an acquaintance, an ex-pat Englishman who lives here, and he was talking about "Americans" and I referred to him as a "European"... and he politely corrected me on the usage.

I suppose it's too late
to talk them into becoming our 51st state.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ham Sandwich Nation

Glenn Reynolds, law prof and blogger, has a short essay online, under the title: Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime.

The titular sandwich refers to a saying among lawyers: "A good prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich."

It seems to me that doing so would make him a bad prosecutor, actually.

Ham sandwiches are not meant
to be charged with bad intent.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stop Her Before...

A woman writing in the NY Times wants her right to own a gun taken away. Why? Because she suffers from depression.
You’d look at me and never know that sometimes my fight against the urge to die is so tough the only way I get through it is second by second; I live by the second hand.
Well, there are already laws restricting the gun-buying rights of the mentally ill. Perhaps she doesn't meet the technical criteria of being banned from such purchases.

I guess we could set up a national database where the depression-prone could voluntarily register as a danger to self and others.

But, if what we're trying to prevent is this woman's suicide, I suspect this approach would not help much. There are so many ways to kill yourself. And, thinking about the particular situation of this woman, people of her gender don't tend to favor guns for the job.

The preferred female way of ending up dead
is an overdose of a med.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

50 Degrees, 9 Miles

Weather was warmly unseasonable,
making a long run seem reasonable.

Full Use

Ann Althouse:
This is getting strangely close to the argument that used to be made for discriminating against women in law school admissions (or for excluding them altogether): Since women are less likely to fully use their legal education, we shouldn't give what could be a man's seat to a woman.
It seems to be true that women are "less likely to fully use their legal education", at least by some measures of "full use".

You can say it's because "women seek more balance in life". That's an acceptable way of noting a statistical gender difference. Of course, it's not true for all women. Generalizations about humans always come with asterisks about the exceptions.

But... I also don't think men deserve all the seats just because they are more likely to be hard-driving full-time long-career lawyers. I mean, do law schools have to decide who to admit strictly on a "what's good for society" basis? I doubt very much that they are in a position to do so.

Actually, I imagine that, in an open market, law schools would want to admit students who can bring in money and a good reputation for the school. This is going to include women, and lots of them, since right now a lot of smart young women want to be lawyers.

Must it be the responsibility of a college,
when allocating a seat,
to judge by the most complete
use of its faculty's knowledge?

Scanners Vanish

I'm going to miss putting my hands over my head for my glamour shot:
The Transportation Security Administration confirmed Friday that it will pull the plug on "nude" airport scanners that produce a full body image of the traveler, replacing a technology that has sparked national controversy over privacy and safety.
The article doesn't quite say why this plug is being pulled. Well, the TSA sometimes works in mysterious ways.

My main complaint was that they never sent me a copy of my photo.

I also think the whole "consent of the governed" angle was not working in favor of these machines. People were not becoming accustomed to them.

I suspect the agency was getting rated
as "most hated".

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lights Out, Everybody

I went to see Lights Out, Everybody: A Tribute In Horror To Arch Oboler at Dream Theatre. I would highly recommend it as an evening of entertaining theater. Unless, that is, horror stories are just not your cup of tea.

I should admit that, even though he was born here in Chicago, I hadn't really been aware of Arch Oboler, a writer whose career included radio dramas, TV shows, and film work too.

The show at Dream is an adaptation, by Jeremy Menekseoglu, of three Oboler tales: Momma, It Happened In Paris, and Murder Castle.

In the photo, you can see Hasket Morris as the lead character in Murder Castle, which is based on the true story that is also told in The Devil In The White City. Morris is marvelously creepy.

Denise Smolarek shows up in all 3 tales, with a different accent and personality each time - once as a nightmare mother-in-law, once as a subterranean necklace-maker, and once as a rather well-intentioned but ill-fated housekeeper.

The show moves along briskly under Giau Truong's direction. The six actors are all strong, and those with multiple roles create distinct personalities for each.

It's a scary ride
with a slippery slide
or two
into goo.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Tonight, on her birthday, we ate grilled cheese,
a ceremony to evoke
basking briefly in memories
of what she liked, of how she spoke.

Maybe It's The Captions

Dogs may be better friends, and may give better licks, but on the World Wide Web, the cats have funnier pics.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Literature Qua Therapy

Researchers find:
reading Dickens
somehow quickens
the sluggish mind.

Thirty Million

Another item for Chicago's city budget:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office is seeking to settle two notorious cases of alleged police misconduct for more than $30 million, according to an agenda prepared for City Council consideration this week.
I'm guessing the city wants to settle because they might have to pay even more if the cases go to trial.

Defeat is often inglorious
when cases are known as notorious.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Part of Buchanan's Legacy

Tyler Cowen, speaking of economist James M. Buchanan, who died the other day:
Along with Harsanyi, he formulated aspects of the “original position” before Rawls did and he was a major influence on Rawls. By the way, I have seen Buchanan numerous times with top professional philosophers, and he has no problem holding his own or better.
Interesting. I had no idea. I haven't really read Buchanan or Rawls much, but I'm always running into this "original position" business among those interested in contemporary political philosophy.

The original position is a thought experiment
which, rather than leading to mirth and merriment,
leads to heated discussions and personal attacks
about whether to choose the min or the max.

[Error fixed - I had "Scott Buchanan" originally. Thank you, Merlin Jetton, for catching that.]

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Avis M. Brick

Back in the NBI days of the Objectivist world, there was a writer named Avis M. Brick. She wrote for a little magazine called Persuasion, and also wrote a piece or two for The Objectivist. When NBI imploded, in 1968, she, like many others, departed from the scene.

I never met her. I didn't have any active interest in those ideas until 1969. And I was in Chicago, not New York, the then-center of Rand fandom.

Last night I found out that Avis M. Brick was from Chicago originally, and had quite a story before her involvement in Objectivism.

Originally Avis Melander, she had married Phillip Brick, the owner of a Chicago bookstore. But he turned out to be an escaped German POW, whose real name was Reinhold Pabel. He got caught, but his case turned out to be legally complicated.
Pabel was accused of entering the USA illegally, but in fact he had entered it legally as a POW! The law was on Pabel’s side, but the Feds weren’t willing to let an escaped POW get away with it. They settled on a compromise: Pabel went back to Germany for six months to go through the formality of the waiting period, then was permitted to re-enter the USA legally.
In 1958, Avi published a science fiction short story under the name Avis Pabel.

Anyway, as of 7 years ago, one of her children was trying to find her.
My parents split in the United States way back in February 1960. My mother went to New York, we children (one boy and two girls aged 7,6,5) stayed back in the Chicago vicinity with my father and his bookstore. Years later we moved to Germany and as I grew up I took up searching for our mom, who never had left my mind.
The children would be about my age. Avis must be about 80, assuming she's still alive.

I never heard this story before.
Not even as local Chicago lore.

Of course, I was just a baby in 1953 when "Phillip Brick" got exposed by the FBI.

Maybe if I ask my father about it, he'll remember it. It had to be one of those big human interest stories at the time in Chi-town. And it has enough legal twists that he might have paid it some attention.

Now... how did Avis M. Brick
pull off her vanishing trick?

Friday, January 11, 2013

David Gregory's Long Legal Nightmare Is Over

Thank goodness. David Gregory, famed NBC talking head, will not be prosecuted for possessing a high-capacity ammo clip in Washington, DC. Other people, mind you, have indeed been prosecuted for exactly this crime.
D.C. attorney general confirms that law is for the little people.
It's hard to hold the law
in awe
when VIPs
can do as they please.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Chicago, Two Chicago

On Facebook a friend linked to an article about New Chicago, California, a town near San Jose that was promoted by real estate developers in the 1890, but never actually built:
The question remains to this day whether there were ever any real plans to build a town or if it was all a big hoax. According to Curtis, "It's impossible to determine."
However, there was also another New Chicago, CA, farther inland, a former mining town, now a ghost town.
New Chicago was a mining camp of the 1850s, built up near the Gover Mine. It had about twenty houses.
"New Chicago Road" still exists, and still intersects with "Chicago Mine Road" in Sutter Creek, CA.

But despite these loads
of "Chicago" roads,
there's no sign of State Street
that great street.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Species of Doom

A Slate article spins some reverse sensationalism, pooh-poohing the formerly scary population boom, instead predicting the just-centuries-from-now extinction of humanity due to a sharply declining world population total:
By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. ... Extend the trend line, and within a few dozen generations you’re talking about a global population small enough to fit in a nursing home.
As one type of panic begins to fade,
the opposite fear starts up a parade.

Cable News

I spent an hour and a half tonight at a school trying to figure out why the network was down in a couple of classrooms. I did succeed.

In the end, it was just an unplugged cable
fallen behind a radiator underneath a table.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Comma Controversy

There's a punctuation controversy that pertains to commas, and the question is, which of these is better:
I ate bread, cheese, and grapes.

I ate bread, cheese and grapes.
I probably vary between the 2 patterns, myself. In elementary school I learned the first pattern. In high school I learned the second. And now I kind of think the elementary school pattern was better.

But, the whole thing is illogical. After all, the real question is why does English mix commas and "ands" when constructing lists?

Either of these would be more consistent:
I ate bread, cheese, grapes.
I ate bread and cheese and grapes.
But the odds of a natural language being perfectly consistent
are distant.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Kwanzaa Principles

By the way, I don't mind another holiday celebration, but the "7 principles" of Kwanzaa involve an anti-individualist streak, at least as they are officially pushed.

On some of the principles you have to read past the first heading. At first glance, you might think that "Self Determination" sounds individualistic. But here's the description of what that means:
Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.
Every one of the 7 principles is given a community spin, including Faith, Purpose, and Creativity.

I suppose there was never any question about the collectivist drift of these 3: Unity, Cooperative Economics, Collective Work and Responsibility.

Of course, humans are association-forming animals.

But, a man is not a bee.
He is more likely to thrive
when he is allowed to break free
from the mind of the hive.

Donation Liability

One of the oddities of contemporary law is that we have simultaneously pushed 2 paradigms:

1) If a man impregnates a woman by having sex with her, and she keeps the baby, regardless of the state of their union, regardless of agreements between them as to who will support the child, the state will gladly garnish his paycheck for the support of the child. This is particularly true if the woman or child begins to receive some kind of expensive assistance from the state. After all, someone needs to come up with the money for the assistance.

2) Sperm donation is held forth as a perfectly acceptable model for reproduction. In this model, the man has no responsibility for the support of the child.

Now and then, someone falls in a grey area between 1 and 2. A case in the news involves Kansas, a lesbian couple, and a married man who gave the couple a donation. It was done privately, with no lawyers or doctors involved. Which made it a lot cheaper - in the short run.

But then the lesbian couple broke up. And the biological mother hit hard times and applied for aid from the bountiful state of Kansas. And Kansas wanted to know who the father was so they could make him pay. And it turned out the sperm donation had not complied with the requirements of Kansas law, particularly because no doctor was involved.

The other lesbian parent turned out not to be a legal parent at all, under Kansas law, so she's not on the hook for support. (She is reportedly "co-parenting". That presumably involves shelling out some dough, not to mention time, effort, and heart. But she's not legally obligated to do so.)

If only Oprah were still on the air, this story would be perfect.

Procedure not done by a doc.
Bio-mom goes on state aid.
Donor receives a rude shock.
Kansas wants to get paid!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Non Redemption

Almost disappointing:
The second inmate who made a daring escape last month from a high-rise federal jail in the South Loop was captured today in South Suburban Palos Hills, according to FBI officials.

Palos Hills is a Chicago suburb. The other inmate was actually caught within the city limits. Note to self: if you ever break out of jail, don't hang around the general vicinity.

They broke out of jail from the 15th floor,
boldly rappelling down.

Did they head to a beach in Ecuador?
No, they stayed here, and got caught in town.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Evidence Based

You hear a lot about "evidence based" medicine nowadays, but it obviously means something more than just "medicine based on some evidence." I imagine all medicine is based on SOME evidence.

Note that "evidence based" doesn't quite mean proven.

So it was with great interest that I read an article by Erika Ramsdale, MD, and William Dale, MD, "Evidence-Based Guidelines and Quality Measures in the Care of Older Adults".

I'm no physician, but the article had some interesting points, including these:
In many cases, clinical trials fail to enroll subjects representative of patients seen in practice.
Furthermore, there is no definitive evidence that using EBM clinical guidelines as quality measures improves outcomes.
Algorithmic guidelines sufficiently flexible to account for the wide heterogeneity of older adults are unlikely to be created.
Sometimes the evidence-base
may have little to do
with the case you now face.

On Thin Ice

Wrong way to take a swim.
It starts with a guy on a sled.
His friends fall in after him.
Luckily, no one's dead.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Not Euthanasia, Of Course Not

Remind me not to be old and terminally ill in England, where they've worked out a protocol for letting patients die in 29 hours. You sedate them, withhold fluids, and let them die of dehydration.

I mean, it might not be the worst way to go, but I'd like some choice in the matter, and they aren't always too careful about telling patients or family members when a patient is being put on this "Liverpool Pathway".

Unsurprisingly, there are financial incentives for putting patients on the protocol.
Under figures gained from a 2012 freedom of information request by The Daily Telegraph, 85 per cent of NHS trusts were revealed to have adopted the Liverpool Care Pathway. Just over half of the total of NHS trusts have received or are due to receive financial rewards for doing so.
I'm sure it's all done through appropriate channels,
with any use of those scary "death panels".

Morning at the Beach

It was sunny morning at the beach.
A beautiful day, deserving of song.
But at 17 degrees,
nobody stayed in the water too long.

For some reason, in America, there's a minor tradition of jumping in cold water on New Years Day. In Chicago, the water of choice is Lake Michigan, and the favored spot is North Avenue Beach.

Why? I think it's something to do with those major New Years themes: resolution and starting afresh. I heard a man saying to a woman, "Once you've done this, you can do anything!"

That's not a literal truth, of course. There are always things you simply cannot do. But I suspect it's true that most people seriously under-challenge themselves in life.

This year, I signed up to do it with Freezin' for a Reason, a charitable effort which raises money to rescue retired racing greyhounds. After all, I like dogs, and I like silly rhymes.

So raising money, for runners with paws,
seemed like a fun and worthy cause.