Friday, January 31, 2014

Needing Relief from the Nudger In Chief

Cass Sunstein ran a list of 5 diagnostic criteria for "paranoid" libertarians of the left and right. Yes, he's worried about the left-libertarians, too. Probably he's concerned about left-leaning Snowden-sympathizers who are concerned about incursions into our privacy. Or maybe he's perturbed by the liberal marijuana fans who are suddenly supportive of state sovereignty.

Sunstein's 5th sign of libertarian madness: "passionate enthusiasm for slippery-slope arguments."

Ann Althouse's ironic paraphrase: "Only a nut case would think it proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties."

The words in italics are James Madison's.

Is it always paranoid
when you don't feel overjoyed
or in fact refuse to budge
when you feel that little "nudge"?

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I was looking at an essay by Arnold Kling, Memoirs of a Would-Be Macroeconomist, and came across this:

"If macroeconomics is a science, then the macroeconomic analysis of economists should not be related to their political views. In particular, the question of whether or not an increase in government spending during a recession will reduce unemployment should be an analytical question. On the other hand, the question of whether government spending in general should be high or low is mostly ideological."

As he goes on to say, this condition does not hold true. High-government-spending believers also typically believe in even more government spending during a recession. And low-government-spending believers typically in cutting government expenses during a recession.

"Whatever your views, you want to believe that they are grounded in analytical rigor and that it is the other guy who is blinded by ideology. However, the odds are that you over-estimate your own rigor and over-estimate the extent to which others' views are ideological."

I resist his rigor/ideology distinction here. To me, the 2 questions don't sound all that different, they are both questions about how much money the government should spend. One, the recession question, is just a more constrained case.

The left-leaning economist imagines the brilliant economic elite running government policy, out-thinking the masses and their vulgar markets. Perhaps he imagines himself as one of those elite, steering the nation to prosperity.

The right-leaning economist imagines the vast array of economic actors, all with their specialized local knowledge, out-thinking the experts and their centralized rules. Perhaps he imagines himself as one of those workers or consumers, steering himself to prosperity.

Does the road to prosperity
lead though expense or austerity?

Teacher Slain

The big neighborhood story is the stabbing death of a popular 61 year old Catholic high school teacher, Alan Filan.

Apparently he invited a woman, Alisha Walker, age 20, with a "history of prostitution", to his house. It is said he originally contacted her through "the internet site Backpage," which I gather contains advertisements for that sort of work.

“Walker and Filan argued over money, a struggle ensued, which resulted in Walker stabbing Filan multiple times.”

The school is hosting a private service.
Sometimes publicity makes people nervous.


They're worried that axolotls have gone extinct in the wild. But they've still got some live ones in special axolotl sanctuaries. Here's a pic from Wikipedia:
Reportedly, Mad Magazine published this poem involving axolotls in 1958. It's a parody of Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud," which is a favorite poem of mine. In the original, the poet fondly and frequently recalls some daffodils he once saw. Here, the poet tries to forget some axolotls.

I wandered lonely as a clod,
Just picking up old rags and bottles,
When onward on my way I plod,
I saw a host of axolotls;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
A sight to make a man's blood freeze.

Some had handles, some were plain;
They came in blue, red pink, and green.
A few were orange in the main;
The damndest sight I've ever seen.
The females gave a sprightly glance;
The male ones all wore knee-length pants.

Now oft, when on the couch I lie,
The doctor asks me what I see.
They flash upon my inward eye
And make me laugh in fiendish glee.
I find my solace then in bottles,
And I forget them axolotls.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We're Number One

In this case, being number one isn't really something to brag about.

"The much-discussed government worker pension debt in Chicago now has a price tag: $18,596 for every man, woman and child living in the city.

That per-person figure is the highest among the nation’s 25 largest cities. It’s nearly double that of New York, the city with the second-largest tab."

I assume, though the article doesn't mention,
we somehow forgot to save dough for their pensions.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Weather Report

The boiler fire is roaring,
and my heating bill is soaring,
but this cold has gotten boring,
so I think I'll do some snoring.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Irish Democracy"

No, not democracy as you currently find it in Ireland... something older.

"One need not have an actual conspiracy to achieve the practical effects of a conspiracy. More regimes have been brought, piecemeal, to their knees by what was once called 'Irish Democracy,' the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal, and truculence of millions of ordinary people, than by revolutionary vanguards or rioting mobs."

In the linked article, Glenn Reynolds proposes that this approach, silent resistance, is already playing havoc with both the drug war and the president's health law.

My Irish side is put in mind of an old joke. I heard it something like this:

An tribe of cannibals catches a Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Irishman. They are told they will be cooked and eaten, and their skin will be used to make a canoe. But they are each allowed one last request. The Frenchman asks for a glass of wine. The Englishman asks for a cup of tea. The Irishman asks for a fork. The puzzled cannibals give him the fork, and he begins to stab himself with it, all over his body.

"What are you doing?" they ask.

He replies: "Screw you and your canoe."

When they demand compliance,
some choose sullen defiance.

Photos from Just Testing

Here are 3 photos from my play, "Just Testing", from the 24-hour festival, Theatre of Women 8.

In the first photo, left to right, that's Claire Bauman as Lena, Yazmin Ramos as Miriam, and Shannon Leigh Webber as Glynnis.

Moment of truth.

It's hard to be a pregnant ballerina.

Group hug.

Denise Smolarek directed. I was very happy with the whole production, which the director and actors put up in just 12 hours. In these one-day events, there's a very good reason to keep your script to ten minutes - so that the actors have a shot at memorizing their lines within the 8 hours available.

With a ten minute script, and 3 actresses, that's 3.3 minutes on average per actress. But probably I gave more lines to Miriam. I find it impossible to keep the line distribution perfectly even.

Fun was had.
And I'm glad.

Put to Bed

"Theatre of Women 8" has been put to bed. My play, "Just Testing," seemed to go over well.

I've written for this 24-hour festival 5 times now. Two of my 24-hour plays were later picked up for performance in other festivals, so I'd like to think my work in this format has been decent.

I've puzzled over something: it seems easier to write a decent 10 minute script when you have to get it done in 8 hours, than when you're submitting it to a contest but have a lot of time until the due date. So - is it the deadline that helps? That was my first thought. But a friend suggested that it's the certainty of having your play produced that is the real help. Of course, it could be both.

I don't think this is really about writing, as such. I've seen similar things in the world of computer programming, where amazing things have been coded in very short order because they needed to be. I'm sure people from other lines of work could tell similar stories.

I'm put in mind of the "theory of flow" that's popular in the positive psychology movement. "It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning."

When the work required is immense,
your focus had best be intense.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Festival Entry

I've written a tale of a missing pregnancy test. I think it's best if you guess the rest. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Tomorrow's the writer all-nighter. So I'd better get to bed early. Easier said than done, for me.

Perhaps I have a hidden power
I just haven't learned to tap...
but sometimes I'll try for over an hour
without being able to nap.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Railroad Police

The commuter rail agency here, Metra, has it's own little gun-toting police force. I see them driving around, and I see them standing around, but I've always wondered just how good they are. Well, there's a new report that says they've got their weaknesses. But here's the quotation that has me confused:

“We increased the uniformed covert police presence on trains. Since June of 2013, we’ve ridden over 3,400 trains."

My question: what is a "uniformed covert police presence"?

Isn't "covert" like "secret"? And isn't "uniformed" like "not secret"?

However shall I unravel
the way these fellows travel?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Theatre of Women 8

"THEATRE OF WOMEN (TOW) is Dream Theatre Company’s annual new play festival celebrating the actress consisting of ten minute plays written, rehearsed and performed in a span of 24 hours."

Tickets on sale -
come see if I fail!

Friday night I'm signed up to write a 10-minute play. I'm not sure which actresses, or which director, will be assigned. I can guess that I will get 3 actresses assigned to me, from looking at the number of actresses signed up, and dividing by the number of playwrights.

"We’ll have a brief meeting where we have an intro, discuss theme, and pass out actress photos. Scripts are to be written that night (don’t bring pre-written scripts)."

So... "we'll discuss theme"
in the theatre of dream...

No point doing much advance planning, is there?

It's going to be nerve-wracking. It always is. For me.

We write on Friday - And it "goes up" when?
Saturday night, at eight and ten.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Injury Recovery

Excuse me, non-runners, for a boring post about injury recovery, but it seems like my pulled hamstring is getting better.

O, hamstring,
where is thy sting?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

His Son Again

I'm struck by the way our president likes to talk about the son he never had. His son, we know, would look like Trayvon Martin. And then there's this:

I would not let my son play pro football."

The funny thing about this, is that by the time your son would be capable of playing pro, he would be a grown man. And you wouldn't be able to stop him from doing what he pleased.

The trick would be to plan ahead, and keep him from playing when he's younger.

If you want to nip a football dream,
keep him off his high school team.

Surveilling and Failing

One of the interesting problems with our government surveillance efforts, perhaps a minor interesting problem, is the way it did NOT succeed in stopping:

1) The Benghazi assault
2) The Fort Hood massacre
3) The Boston Marathon bombing
4) The Snowden exposé of the government surveillance efforts

These all seem preventable and detectable in retrospect.

The problem, I think, is that the government is "drinking from the firehose". There's just too much data coming through to make any sense of it.

On the TV show, Person Of Interest, there is an omniscient artificial intelligence that drinks successfully from the firehose to predict these sorts of events. But in real life, that kind of artificial intelligence doesn't exist.

No one really knows
how to tame the firehose.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Canine Force

As I think I mentioned, my son got me this nice computerized pedometer as a Christmas gift, a "Fitbit Force". It comes pre-set with some default goals, the chief one being ten thousands steps a day.

And it turns out that I happened to be coming in at just around ten thousand steps a day with my existing workaday normal activities. On average, a little over. But, some days, a little under - unless I make a point of doing a little extra last-minute walking.

As a result, my trusted canine associate is now averaging just a little farther on his 10 pm walk.

So perhaps the greatest beneficiary of my desire to log
ten thousand steps... is my dog.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Long Day

I slept fitfully, needing to get up rather early to get my dad to the hospital for routine but serious surgery. Fortunately, the procedure went well, and when I visited him this evening he seemed in good condition and even in relatively good spirits, despite being hooked up to various devices, and despite being in an area where machines regularly break into attention-getting chirping.

It's hard to feel serenely at peace
when gizmos seem to beep without cease.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Spent the evening watching people audition. I didn't have any decision making to do, so it was just... watching some people act, mostly doing monologues they already had memorized.

I'm afraid I'm not a super-analytic attender of auditions. I mostly just let the impression wash over me.

I would say that on balance
I mostly enjoy
watching them employ
their talents.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wrong Way To Test

Discouraging news:

"South Shore woman fatally shoots 65-year-old relative during argument about if the gun would fire"

I guess that settles the question,
but pointing it somewhere else would have been my suggestion.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rhymes of the Leisure Class

Today, WSJ's "Notable and Quotable" column featured a thought experiment from econ prof Don Boudreaux. He compared the life of an anti-capitalist poet named Jones to that of an ER physician named Smith:

'While Dr. Smith earns more money than does poet Jones, poet Jones earns more leisure than does Dr. Smith. Do you believe leisure has value to those who possess it? If so, are you disturbed by the inequality of leisure that separates leisure-rich Jones from leisure-poor Smith? Do you advocate policies to "redistribute" leisure from Jones to Smith—say, by forcing Jones to wash Smith's dinner dishes or to chauffeur Smith to and from work? If not, why not?'

You may hear that a poet's career
is leisurely, but, never fear:
most don't just shirk,
they find other work,
to pay for their butter and beer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Unwanted Visitor

I wish I hadn't heard about this:

"A man in Australia had to be rushed to hospital in terrible pain after a large cockroach crawled into his ear as he slept, and an attempt to suck it out with a vacuum cleaner failed."

Having read this story, I must wear ear muffs to bed.
I don't want a cockroach burrowing in my head!


Can one sue about traffic capriciously tangled? If I were stuck in that jam, I'd want those responsible mangled.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Laundering With Soda Pop

Kevin Williamson has an interesting essay on "The White Ghetto". It's about Appalachia, which is a huge span of countryside, which is sort of the opposite of what ghetto usually means. But, you know what he means. And it's a very depressing take, but I was quite struck by an interesting form of food-stamp laundering:

"Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda... Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash..."

Of course, this raises a puzzle: that family of four is still actually going to need some food.

The food stamp launderer must have known:
you cannot live on soda alone.

After Midnight

When you've got a sleepy head, your body starts to ache for bed. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Robot Surgery

An acquaintance had "da Vinci robot surgery". It went well.

Here's what such an O.R. looks like:
That's the surgeon on the left, guiding the machine. That the exposed flesh of the patient on the right, with a couple of medical helpers looking on. I'm sure those people are doing something useful.

"The current system is designed merely to replicate seamlessly the movement of the surgeon's hands with the tips of micro-instruments, not to make decisions or move without the surgeon’s direct input."

Is da Vinci really a bot?
I would say that... it is not.

But it's moving in the direction
of positronic perfection.

Monday, January 06, 2014


News of the polar vortex
has frozen my frontal cortex.

Sunday, January 05, 2014


The fourth amendment says that probable cause,
properly sworn to, under our system of laws,
shall be required, before the government seizes
persons or things. It can't do as it pleases.

A friend read the above lines, which are basically iambic pentameter and requested that I redo it in hexameter. I declined and wrote this instead:

Hexameter is rarely heard in English verse.
In classic Greek, and also French, it was the rage.
But in our mongrel tongue, it seems to fare far worse.
The lines fall limp and gasp for air upon the page.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Shovel At The Ready

Lovely snow is falling again. So beautiful. So sparkling.


We're supposed to get 10 inches. And then, just as the snow is slowing, the temp is supposed to plunge into the minus teens on Sunday night.

I must time my shoveling right,
to avoid the frost's cold bite.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Sloppy Work

So a certain client had an internet upgrade, a speed increase, installed on the morning of New Year's Eve. I get the call from the client, their internet isn't working, incoming phone calls aren't coming through, and the internet service provider says our router needs to be reconfigured to "full duplex 100". I come over, check out the router, determine that the particular model we have cannot be reconfigured to full duplex 100.

I pick up a faster router for them, and a faster switch too, at Office Depot. Nope, internet still doesn't work. The new router complains that it doesn't see a a good internet signal. It sees a signal, but not a good one. The "net" light is yellow, not green.

So, New Year's Day, I come in, try hooking the new internet connection directly to my Windows 7 laptop. Windows 7 doesn't like the internet signal either. Complains that it's not configured properly to supply my laptop with an i.p. address.

The morning of January 2nd, we call the provider again, tell them we think that they did a bad install. No, they don't think so, they think our router and laptop were configured wrong... but they will doublecheck at their end. An hour later, the internet actually starts to work, and we start getting phone calls from the outside. Without us doing anything new. Without them coming into our office.

Something had been wrong at the provider end, after all. They installed it wrong, and clearly never did a clean test while they were at my client doing the install. I mean, they are an internet service provider. Don't they have specialty testing equipment? Couldn't they have tried plugging it into a laptop of their own, one they knew was configured correctly, just to prove the internet was being delivered? It's ridiculous my client had to pay me to investigate this.

I'm not even a real network expert. I can just pass as one, when there aren't any real ones around.

But after all
it was New Year's Eve
so perhaps the guy who did the install
was in a big hurry to leave
and therefore thought it best
to skip a thorough test.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Federalism and Pot

We now have the odd situation where recreational pot use is legal according to Colorado law, while pot usage in general is illegal under federal law with very stiff penalties for being involved in the production and sales end.

I'm curious how this will end. I am not a fan of pot, but I think its prohibition has been a big mistake.

I'm kind of worried about people in Colorado who believe "it's legal here now" who may get in terrible federal trouble.

The current situation is unstable
but sadly, I'm unable
to foretell
whether this will end well.