Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lawn Mower Challenge

We hadn't used our lawn mower for a few years, since we'd had a service cutting the lawn, so my wife thought we should sell it. But first... could we still get it started? Because... how much money can you get for a mower that won't start.

So in Autumn I tried. No.

I got a new spark plug and tried again. No.

A handyman recommended changing the air filter. Marsha obtained one.

So today I went out to the garden shed, pulled out the mower, and put in the new filter. Then I pulled the cord.

Out from the engine leaped a very startled mouse, an arc of brown and white fur, which scampered under a bush.

And, no, the mower didn't start.

I was not knowing
my gizmo for mowing
was also a house
for a mouse.

I wonder whether the reason the engine won't fire
possibly involves some chewed-through wire?

One Party Rule

I attended David Ramsay Steele's "libertarian seminar" discussion group last night. He and Yuri Maltsev were discussing totalitarianism, coming from very different viewpoints about it. Really they didn't even agree on what it is exactly.

David took what I think of as the standard meaning. I think I was influenced a lot on the topic by reading Hannah Arendt's writing on the topic.  David specifically mentioned the phenomenon of one-party rule, which Arendt also dwelt upon quite a bit.

I've always been a bit puzzled by the one-party rule feature. There's something paradoxical about having a political party when there's no competing party. If you, Mr. Dictator, already control the government completely - if your word is law and your elections (if any) are rigged - what is this "party" for exactly?

It seems to have been a 20th century innovation. Dictatorships of the past didn't work like that. But the Communist Party in the Soviet system played a very active ongoing role, as kind of a parallel structure that coexisted with the government and seemed to watch over the ideological purity of citizens and administrators. Of course, the secret police kept an eye on people too.

Anyway, the ideological purity angle reminded me a little bit of the Spanish Inquisition, especially because I was just listening to a discussion of Schiller's scene with the Grand Inquisitor.

Arendt's theory, if I recall, addressed the issue of the totalitarian state sprouting a variety of internally competing agencies of vigilant enforcement. Her view was that they served to keep everyone off balance. No one could feel secure. Top party members had to fear the KGB. Top KGB officials had to fear the party. It's like the American system of checks and balances - but in reverse - in the sense that instead of providing a stable environment for individuals to blossom, as in James Madison's scheme, the Soviet and Nazi schemes provided fearful environments for crushing the individual soul.

The goal is to control
the individual soul.

It never completely works.
Individuals are such jerks!

Human nature
struggles against erasure.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Peikoff on Don Carlos

Now I've listened to Peikoff's lecture on Don Carlos, by Schiller. I think he was not quite right when he said that Don Carlos was longer than any 2 of Shakespeare's plays put together.

Hamlet has 4024 lines. Coriolanus has 3824 lines. That works out to 7848 lines combined. The longest version of Don Carlos is 6282 verse lines.

Glancing at the introduction to the Passage translation, I read that "the drama has the length of almost any two plays of Shakespeare put together". Almost. I'm thinking Peikoff read this same intro, but misplaced the "almost".

What I really loved about Peikoff's lecture was his enthusiasm for the Grand Inquisitor scene - the second-to-last scene. I've always loved that scene too. It was the direct inspiration for Dostoevsky's famous Grand Inquisitor parable in Brother's Karamazov.

Also, I always felt that the first big Emperor / Luke scene owed something to the Grand Inquisitor scene, and now I read this in Wikipedia:

"Jeffrey High has found influences of Schiller's plays on the screenplays for several Hollywood films, and in particular suggests a close correspondence between Don Carlos and the screenplay for Star Wars."

What concerns me is that guy
is known as Jeffrey High.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nonbanality of Evil

I haven't spent much time trying to understand the madman who killed people in Santa Barbara. But I can already tell that he doesn't really fit into our normal stereotypes of people. Crazed murderers usually don't.

Trying to infer what any aspect of American culture is really like, by studying a lunatic manifesto, is poor procedure.

It's better not to leap
to broad conclusions
from studying a creep
and his delusions.

Monday, May 26, 2014

All We Are Saying

I attended our neighborhood Memorial Day parade today, as I do every year. Here's a publicity photo that gives a good idea of the surroundings and scale:


It was bigger this year than last year. But we had some controversy! We had people marching - on the sidewalk - along the route - advertising the fact that their group had not been allowed an official place in the parade.

'Commenting on the controversial decision not to allow the Southsiders for Peace group to participate in the Memorial Day parade this year, Walsh said, “Our focus is on those who served our country and died for our freedoms.”'

The antiwar group has been marching as parade participants for the past several years. I've always found their presence a little jarring. Usually they carried a big banner saying "Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home". Like this:


The above picture is from a July 4th parade in a neighboring suburb, some years back.
Which explains the demand that our soldiers get out of Iraq.

A lot of people agreed with their main message, and they got their fair share of cheers. But, like most proclaimed antiwar groups, they gave off the vibe that their quarrel wasn't with any particular war, it was with the existence of the military. For example, this sign, which reads "Military Out Of The Schools". I guess it's an anti-ROTC message.


I do not think the way to peace
is letting army recruitment cease.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Supreme Oopsies

Adam Liptak has a story at the NY Times about the way Supreme Court justices rewrite portions of their opinions - sometimes years after they are published.

Official decisions
get unannounced revisions.

'Four legal publishers are granted access to “change pages” that show all revisions. Those documents are not made public, and the court refused to provide copies to The New York Times.'

Ann Althouse writes:

'This prominent article should force the Supreme Court to make these "change pages" publicly available. To privilege a few commercial publishers is especially shameful.'

It should be publicly known across their dominion
when a justice edits their opinion.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Quality and Inequality

Tyler Cowen, looking at the problems of Piketty's rickety data, wrote:

'When evaluating debates of this kind, never ever confuse a) is he right? with b) “how much should we raise/lower the relative status of the author as a result of the new exchange”?'

Now, his "b" is written in a roundabout way. He's saying don't confuse "is he right?" with "is he worthwhile?".

Both questions are worth looking at, I suppose. But it's worrisome when you are interested in the first question - is a horrid inequality about to descend upon us - and all of a sudden the press is shifting to discussions of what a great guy the Inequality Prophet is.

We need new legislation, to fix whatever's wrong!
Nothing to see in this data. Move along.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Peikoff on Le Cid

I thought Leonard Peikoff's lecture on Le Cid by Corneille was very interesting. I haven't read the play for a long time. I remember really enjoying it.

I suspect that if I'd read it more recently, I would have more disagreements with the lecture.

My memory is hazy
and I guess I was too lazy
to give the play another read
just to see where he and I disagreed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Privacy Takebacks

Latest ruling from Europa:

"A German court ruled that at the end of a relationship, all intimate material should be destroyed if it is requested by one or both of the parties."

I suppose it's the courteous thing to do. Doesn't mean it will be obeyed, in general, especially because it's hard to enforce... unless someone is such a cad as to spread such material around.

Sadly, some seem to get their kicks
posting their ex's naked pics.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Doggy Dog World

Washington Post breaks huge dog-bites-dog story:

"Dogs often adopt this stance as an invitation to play right before they lunge at another dog; they also bow before they nip (“I’m going to bite you, but I’m just fooling around”) or after some particularly aggressive roughhousing (“Sorry I knocked you over; I didn’t mean it.”). All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it."

What? No one knew - no one had a clue? I don't think so. I think this is one of those things that dog owners always knew - but that scientists couldn't believe.

Well, it's always good when the scientists catch up to common sense.

At last we've got a scientific narrative
about this dog-egorical imperative.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

By The Railroad Tracks

I say
sometimes a weed
is all that you need
to color your day.


Monday, May 19, 2014


I'm tired of headlines like:

See A's Epic Takedown of B

A Schools B About X

A Shames B Over X

A Calls Out B Over X

A Refutes B

Usually this would be more accurate:

A & B


From the Washington Post, some interesting reflections on "academic capture," based on an analogy to the economic concept of "regulatory capture":

"While not all data economists use are proprietary, access to proprietary data provides a unique advantage in a highly competitive academic market. To obtain those data academic economists have to develop a reputation to treat their sources nicely. Hence, their incentives to cater to industry or to the political authority that controls the data are similar to those of the regulators."

The author, a law professor, speculates whether similar pressures might apply in legal academia.

I'm just going to note that the same phenomenon evidently occurs in journalism, where "being nice to sources" is endemic.

In exchange for newsworthy stuff,
reporters write flattering fluff.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Peikoff on Othello

I've now listened to the second of Peikoff's Eight Great Plays lectures. This one concerned Othello, and includes a recounting of a long-ago discussion with Ayn Rand about this particular play.

Rand, in his recounting, sees the key to Shakespeare in the line "What fools these mortals be."

As a side note, this line is mistakenly attributed to Ariel, in The Tempest, in this lecture. It's actually Puck, in Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm not sure whether that's Peikoff's or Rand's error. I'm not sure it matters. Puck is a fairy, and Ariel is a spirit, so I guess neither is a mortal.

Anyway, Rand sees Shakespeare as Olympically detached, and not giving a damn about his characters. She thinks she's a great artist, but she loathes him.

Peikoff, however, clearly does not loathe him. Peikoff sees Othello as a play that will improve your life because it provides such an exquisite experience, even if it will depress you for days.

Shakespeare does sometimes express Olympic detachment, but I wouldn't name it as his basic attitude toward his characters. I think that's unjustified.

And perhaps I should add, it's his characters that sometimes express Olympic detachment. One of the difficulties in interpreting him, is that all of his characters express their ideas so vividly, but it is hard to say which characters speak for him, if any.

Perhaps one could look to his sonnets, where he speaks in the first person, to begin with a basic assessment of what he, himself, really thinks.

He had a way with the striking phrase,
and shifting views can leave you in a daze.

Legal Studies

Jutice Scalia gave a commencement address at a law school. Somehow he wasn't sent packing by protesters.

There have been budget-cutting proposals lately to cut law school from a 3-year program to a 2-year program. Scalia weighed in:

"To say you are a lawyer is to say you are learned in the law, and ... you can't do that in two years,"

But yesterday we looked at a story about the sheer number of federal laws - and how they proved uncountable.

After a mere
three years
I fear
you surely lack
a knowledge of most laws, in fact.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Commencement Correctness

Some are bemoaning the recent rash of student protests forcing commencement speakers to back out of their engagements.

At Newsweek, one writer proposes an amusing solution:

'The solution is simple and impossibly elegant: Let’s ban commencement speakers. Who do they benefit, besides themselves?'

But I don't see this as a market failure. I see this as a golden opportunity.

You've fired your graduation speaker?
Consider someone whose star power is considerably weaker...
Namely me!

I'll be glad to say "good luck, kids" for a very hefty fee.

Laws Beyond Counting

Today in the Wall Street Journal, a historian recounts an old warning:

And then she jumps forward a couple of centuries:

An excess of laws
deserves no applause.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hot Number

A mathematician desired to meet, with a dancer whose movements were sinuous. She asked if he could be discrete. He said he'd prefer continuous. 

Peikoff on Antigone

On advice from a friend, I checked out the pricing of Leonard Peikoff's lecture series: Eight Great Plays. It can now be had for about 8 bucks. It used to cost a lot more. So I bought it, and have been listening to his discussion of Antigone.

What I enjoy most, I have to say, is just his enthusiasm for the character of Antigone. From the first time I read the play, I have been enthralled with her.

I was grimly amused that he found it necessary to lecture the audience that respect for the bodies of the dead is a rational and virtuous concern.

So he explains
that human remains
are more than mere meat
to be left on the street.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Challenge Provisionally Accepted

Urinetown is a horrible idea for a play.

And I just came up with another one. It's not horrible the way Urinetown is horrible. It's not disgusting. It's not nihilistic. It's horrible in the sense that the idea of the play makes me scared of writing it. Which I think means I'm attracted to the idea. Which I think means I'm going to give it a shot.

I've noticed the right kind of fear
is a thing that draws me near.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Identity A Hit

We went to hear a concert tonight where one of the pieces, Identity, was co-written by a composer friend of ours, Michael Shapiro. Mike was in town, from L.A., to hear it, and I thought it sounded great. The Chicago Sinfonietta played it well, and Symphony Center is a great hall for listening to music. It's kind of a concerto for guzheng ("Chinese zither") and orchestra.

Here's a video of the finale, from another performance of the piece, some years back. It features the same soloist, who I would say was even more "on" tonight:

The crowd ate it up.

Another contemporary composer, Illya Levinson, of Columbia College in Chicago, also provided a couple of very enjoyable pieces: Selections From Shtetl Scenes & Klezmer Rhapsody.

It was a great evening of music, and it was heartwarming to be in the audience while my friend got a well-deserved standing ovation.

Michael Shapiro
my compositional hero
deserved a chance to take a pause
and soak up some applause.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Second Sunday In May

I toss aside silly stories
of Congresspersons and Senators.
Today I proclaim the glories
of wondrous female progenitors!


Well, my wife and daughter came to our production of Urinetown, and afterwards complimented my singing, which was a first. I am very pleased about it, since it's something I worked on very hard.

When I was in elementary school, before my voice changed, I could sing. I was in the church choir, sang Mass, sang the main villain in The Pied Piper, etc. But it seemed that after my voice changed I couldn't sing anymore. I never understood this. Still don't. It wasn't tone deafness. I could hear when anyone else was out of tune, trust me. But I had trouble carrying a tune myself.

A couple of years ago, when I was cast in a local production of Sondheim's Into The Woods, I did make an effort to improve my singing, even though I was only a choral singer. I... practiced a lot, to try to keep from dragging the chorus down. And when I was cast in Urinetown, with a brief bit of solo singing in one song, I... practiced more. I guess it worked.

I even found an iPhone app for voice training, Erol Singer's Studio, which, at its beginner level, plays scales and lets you sing into the microphone and shows you whether you are actually hitting the notes you are supposed to hit. I found this very helpful, I must say. It inspired some confidence in me, at least.

And just recently I figured out I wasn't relaxing my throat enough when singing bass. What was kind of weird was that I was relaxing it more when singing falsetto. Don't ask me why.

I you practice to get better, you may do so,
even if you'll never be Caruso.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Drenched But No Complaint

When I left for work this morning, my dog was in the backyard. There was a little bit of rain, but he's a Labrador-type dog, and the rain doesn't usually bother him much.

After I left, it started to really pour, in sheets. My wife didn't realize he was in the backyard, because he didn't bark to get let in - something he is perfectly capable of doing. When she did let him in, he had had a thorough shower.

As a rule, you don't have to train
a Labrador to tolerate rain.


Friday, May 09, 2014

UrineTown Reflections

I've very much enjoyed working as a performer in UrineTown.  Someone commented to me that the show has a malevolent sense of life, that is, a bleak emotional outlook that makes you feel like the Universe is out to get you. There's some truth to this, but I'm not sure how much exactly. 

*Spoiler alert.* 

It's a satirical spoof, designed in part for laughs, which presents a special interpretation question: which elements to take seriously. When are the authors jesting? 

Also, as a couple of the characters say at the end: "It's not a happy musical." "But the music's so happy!"

Politically, taken literally, the show stakes out the position that in the face of a worldwide drought, the "regulating mechanism of cash", even when implemented along fascist lines, would be better for human survival than a socialism in which "everything is free".

Speaking of climate issues, it was a hot day here yesterday, and our theater space has no AC, so it was even hotter on stage under the lights

Speaking as a performer
I like it cooler not warmer. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014


After rehearsing till late in the evening every night since Friday, I'm dragging a little. But tomorrow we open with Urinetown.

Though tonight I'm feeling tired
tomorrow I'll be wired.
Having an audience ignites
energy to new heights.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


I had the mumps when I was a kid. I remember being miserable with them. No vaccine was available at the time.

When I read that Illinois cases had tripled compared to last year, I felt bad for the kids who caught it.

"Authorities don't know what's behind the spike."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the cause is declining vaccination rates.

The mumps are not so hot.
I recommend the shot.


The price of i-gizmos continues to fall. 
But food prices still seem to climb. 
I think that I'll just eat - nothing at all,
And browse Facebook photos full time. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Rehearsal Progress

We finally ran Urinetown: The Musical all the way through, with no scripts on stage, in full costume and makeup. Tonight we have the band coming for the first time. 

I'm wearing a mike for the first quarter of the show, because I have a few lines of solo singing. But I take the mike off by Act II, when I take my big stage fall, so I don't have to worry about jarring the circuitry. 

I wouldn't like
To wreck the mike. 

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Shaped Over Time

I saw a funny video, put together by some conservatives, where a statement about marriage being properly between "a man and a woman" was read to college students. They were asked who they thought had said it. None guessed Hillary Clinton, who actually said it. She said it way back in 2000. Back when that was the majority opinion. When the college students were mostly under age 10.

Fortunately, there seems to be an amnesty in place for former "marriage inequality" supporters, as long as they have officially changed their positions.

If a blue-state politician's views have evolved,
their electability problem is solved.

Late Bloomer

Spring seems reluctant to show her face. Come out, dear girl, and share your grace!

Thursday, May 01, 2014


I listened to the Sterling recording.

My first impression: He's one whiny billionaire, and she's one manipulative lady. 

Hard to listen to. I felt unclean when I was done listening, and I don't plan to listen again.

But... unless I missed it, he didn't sound exactly outright racist in the old fashioned sort of way. Rather, he claims a concern of some kind for appearances, a concern that is never fully explained. I do get the sense that whatever his concern is, he doesn't want to explain it, that he senses a trap. Which does suggest that his concern itself is disgraceful in some way.

He's loaded with money and power.
I feel like taking a shower.


One 14 year old girl reportedly wanted to kill another 14 year old girl.

So her uncle, allegedly, lent her a gun.

"The uncle, paralyzed after being shot in 2010, knew his niece planned to use the .38 Special to confront her onetime friend over a feud about a boy, according to prosecutors."

She had more helpers, too:

"Prosecutors said Tuesday that the gun “malfunctioned” the first time the girl tried to shoot. She then handed the weapon to others in her group who unjammed the weapon."

Then she shot and killed the other girl.

Now, I hear, she's sorry.

Friends don't help friends
pursue murderous ends.

Nurse Practitioners

I'm of 2 minds about nurse practitioners, and the big push to let them diagnose and prescribe. I'm in favor of it, but I fear it's being done partly to cope with the fact that people are going find it harder to spend time with actual physicians, due to the health care law changes.

It may seem a bit unfair,
and to many will come as a shock,
but coverage is not care:
Expect to see less of your doc.