Friday, October 31, 2014


I was reading a rant by Sarah Hoyt, a rant that's hard to summarize because when she gets going she really gets going, but I came across this:

'...look, “respect” is almost exclusively a liberal word. Usually used in the sense of “respect the office” or “respect me because I have this credential.” When speaking to a blogger or a writer, a conservative/libertarian is more likely to use “I’ve always admired” you.'

I sat upright, puzzling over this, unsure why this might be so, but thinking "Yes, I'm far more likely to write 'admired,' not 'respected,' in that sort of sentence."

So I googled for discussions on the difference shades of meaning, and came across this:

You would have respect for a person in authority- like a policeman, a military officer with a rank above your own, or a teacher, but you may not like that person so you might not admire them.

Isn't there a tendency to respect your adversaries but admire your friends?

There's something rather fussy about a lot of contemporary liberalism, an i-dotting, t-crossing concern with following protocol. You don't really admire someone for being good at following protocol, do you? But you can respect their ability to do so.

And now I will stop attempting to dissect
the difference between admire and respect.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maher vs. Students

Some students at Berkeley are trying to stop Bill Maher from speaking at the Berkeley commencement this year. He has made some pointed statements about what most Muslims believe, statements that have aroused these students' ire.

So far, Berkeley has not rescinded its invitation.

Patrick Popehat writes, perhaps with a trollish spirit:

"If you want to shut down Bill Maher’s hate speech against Muslims, why not invite him to a post-address debate, against your best and brightest? You’re well educated young men and women."

Please. I would pay to watch that.

But hopefully I could see
the whole thing on YouTube for free.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mann and Kaufmann

I'm reading Thomas Mann's long novel, The Magic Mountain, for our reconstituted book club. I got to wondering what my favorite German-American writer, Walter Kaufmann, might have said about Mann.

Kaufmann wrote a lot of appreciation and criticism for 20th century German literature.

But for the life of me I haven't found anything substantial.

Mann did supply a glowing blurb for Kaufmann's book on Nietzsche. And I think they may both have been living in Princeton, New Jersey at one point. It looks like Princeton U. has some of Mann's papers and most of Kaufmann's.

With a bond of culture and speech,
I wonder if they were friends.
But for now I fear I have reached
a research dead end.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Train Meets Truck

Not far from here, today, in Northwest Indiana, a Chicago-bound Amtrak train hit a tractor-trailer rig carrying cement powder.

Great pictures of the truck ripped in two, and the train covered in powder, at the link. Nobody was seriously injured.

The truck driver "told authorities he saw the oncoming train but pulled into its path anyway because he thought he had time to clear the tracks."

If you misjudge the speed of a train,
You may have a lot you need to explain.

Monday, October 27, 2014

No Costume Needed

If you want to be even scarier
this Halloween
tell people you're a carrier
escaped from quarantine.

It might work better yet
if you first work up a sweat.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reflections on Gifts

They said Mozart's talents were merely inherited,
Unfairly come by, and not strictly merited.
They let out an envious wail and bemoaned it.
But Mozart just practiced his gift like he owned it.

Corruption In The Social Sciences

Charles Murray, reflecting after 20 years on the reception accorded to the book he co-wrote about intelligence:

'I’m also thinking of all the other social scientists who have come up to me over the years and told me what a wonderful book “The Bell Curve” is. But they never said it publicly. So corruption is one thing that ails the social sciences. Cowardice is another.'

I've never read the whole book. I've read chunks of it at the library. As he says in this interview, the book doesn't take a strong position on the nature/nurture debate. But he clearly expects that some part of what's going on is biological inheritance. And saying that there's anything on the nature side at all, is hazardous.

I'm not really a big fan of the man. He says: "None of us has earned our IQ." This is said by way of rolling around to justifying redistribution.

None of us has earned our eye color, either. It's not the sort of thing you earn. It's more like a gift. And here's the thing about gifts. You may not have earned them, but once you receive them, you do rightly own them.

What talents you have, do not hide them.
Even if others deride them.

The Mysterious Creation of Jobs

Hillary Clinton, the other day:

"Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs."

So who creates jobs, in point of fact?
Should we say: The Invisible Hand?
Or something abstract
Like Supply and Demand?

No, it's herself:

"I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what, millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were secure."

No one's too sure where those millions of jobs are that she created. They're not in the employment statistics.

Somewhere there's gobs
Of shiny new jobs.
But that isn't here
Or anywhere near.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

R J Hollingdale on Thomas Mann

Today I was reading Hollingdale's book on Thomas Mann, and realized I had no idea what Hollingdale had looked like, or who he was exactly.

Well, here he is:


To summarize from Wikipedia, he left school at 16 (in 1946 or so) to become a journalist, learned German in private lessons, and became an influential scholar of modern German thought. Without a degree.


Hollingdale sees Mann as caught up in God-is-dead nihilism.

"The whole world of Thomas Mann's fiction is erected on this basis of no values. It is because this world has no values that the major novels are so long (no principle of selection); it is because it has no values that its ideological tendency is so uncertain (no instinctive moral judgment); it is because it has no values that its most valuable inhabitant, the artist, is inverted into a decadent and criminal (the identity of the best and the worst); it is because it has no values that it is seen ironically (self-defence against the meaningless); it is because it has no values that it resorts to mythology (an attempt to create value);it is because it has no values that its only reality is physical reality and its only causes physical causes, and when it tries to account for the fact that it has no values it seeks the explanation in physiology. But because the world which this fictional world seeks to mirror really has no values, this fictional world is a true mirror and the image it reflects a true image. The aesthetic faults we have discovered in it, which are true faults, are thus in the long run faults in the subject which it reflects. Or, as the mirror replied to the monster: 'There is nothing wrong with me, it is you who are distorted'."

Rather sweeping, but makes more sense
than lots of what I've seen dispensed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

50 Shades of Worry

I haven't read 50 Shades Of Grey.

I did make a reference to it in a play.

Anyway, I saw gossip today about the movie, which is reportedly due out in 4 months. They're reshooting some of the love scenes.

"A source who works on the set told Us Magazine the original shots weren't passionate and the directors were disappointed by the stars' lack of chemistry.'"

Funny thing about chemistry. You can suspend disbelief about all kinds of practical things. But in a love story you really need to sense some mutual attraction.

If you can't feel the sizzle,
the film is bound to fizzle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Appearance Alteration

As the Daily Mail asks:

What HAS Renee Zellweger done to her face? Bridget actress looks utterly unrecognisable as she steps out with her boyfriend in LA

Rather striking pictures at the link. You can see it's her, more from the side than from the front.

Maybe she's going into Witness Protection,
but it must be strange to stare at your own reflection,
and see a face beyond your recollection.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quatrain on Haiku

Haiku - they're from the Japanese
whose poets used to strive
to write in lines of snappy threes
composed of 5-7-5.

Illness Paradox

I have a cold. It's better now. I had it really bad over the weekend, yet my Sunday was very productive, writing-wise. I finished the first act of my new play and gave it a new title: All Mixed Up.

I've noticed, over the years, that certain types of "feeling miserable" are highly compatible with getting work done, particularly creative-thinking type work, whether it's writing a story or writing a computer program. What seems paradoxical is that I feel very low energy, feel very unmotivated, feel like my concentration is limited... but then I get a lot done in an intense state of focus.

I wonder if part of it is that I'm so much less distractable, so I stay focused and the problem becomes more tractable.

This would include less distraction by the meta-level, the perfectionistic sort of questioning that distracts by constant asking: but is that right?

Instead I plod along
not worrying if I'm wrong.

I guess the difficult trick
is being the right degree of sick.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Left to Right

Back when I was in high school a friend told me that the ancient Greeks, at one point, had written both left to right AND right to left, alternately. You can see where this would be efficient for speed reading. Scholars call it "boustrophedon", which means "ox-turning", as when you plow a field with an ox, and you turn and go back the other way, still plowing.

The individual characters are mirrored, like Leonardo Da Vinci's famous "code". I actually taught myself to do this, also in high school. Maybe I had too much time on my hands in high school!

Recently I read that it was boustrophedon that accounts for the transition from Right-to-Left to Left-to-Right writing! The Semitic languages (such as Hebrew, Arabic, Phoenician) are all Right-to-Left. The Greeks took their alphabet from the Phoenicians.

'Greek was originally written predominantly from right to left, just like Phoenician, but scribes could freely alternate between directions. For a time, a writing style with alternating right-to-left and left-to-right lines (called boustrophedon, literally "ox-turning", after the manner of an ox ploughing a field) was common, until in the classical period the left-to-right writing direction became the norm.'

But... while that explains the ability to shift readily,
it doesn't explain why they chose Left-to-Right steadily.

I think
it was commanded
because Left-to-Right is better when working with ink,
at least for the right-handed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lone Star State of Anxiety

Guess where my wife is this weekend:

"Jenkins said this is a critical weekend for Dallas. Statistically speaking, this weekend is the weekend people would start showing symptoms if they had contracted the virus, he said."

The story mentions that a Dallas bus and train station was briefly closed today on a false alarm. The story says county officials are getting "several calls an hour". May they all prove unfounded.

Come back, my dear,
from the land of fear,
and enjoy
Illinois -
no cases here!

Friday, October 17, 2014


There is nothing like a czar
to bring me peace of mind.
Whatever my worries are,
they all get left behind,

knowing that concentration
of power has taken place,
knowing that this great nation
can look to a single face.

His noble words will inspire us,
no matter how sick we may be.
Who better to fight a virus
than a man with a law degree?

Don't Cry About Us, Venezuela

It's a sad situation in the people's paradise:

"Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday blamed Washington for the slump in global oil prices."

As far as I can tell, Washington had precious little to do with us "flooding the market". The action was in the states and in private enterprise.

Your oil profits are lacking?
Frightfully sorry for fracking!

Thursday, October 16, 2014


At this point you're more likely to get hit by a thunderbolt
than to catch that disease that's so frightening.

But there's zero chance of incompetence causing
a national outbreak of lightning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Praise of Intransigience

I was looking at a new book, In Praise of Intransigience: the perils of flexibility, by Richard H. Weisberg.

First off, let me say, ethical and legal intransigience, which is what he is talking about, is certainly deserving of some praise. Flexibility cannot be an infinite virtue, since at some point it falls prey to some mind-bending recursive questions, such as:

Aren't you being rather inflexible in your idealization of flexibility? Wouldn't true flexibility allow for intransigience, too?

It's an oddly structured book. Much time is spent on the epistles of Paul, the gospel of John, and the Nazi-appeasing governments of Vichy France and the occupied Channel Islands.

He traces flexibility-idealization back to early Christianity and the rhetorical strategies adopted in its divorce from Judaism. This strikes me as novel and misguided, but I haven't taken the time to study his thesis.

Of course, he has a pressing interest in the question: how did the Europeans go along, so flexibly, with the horror of murderous Nazi antisemitism? So you can see where he might be tempted to take this issue back to the early split between the 2 religions.

What house will stand
when built upon sand?


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Emotional Support Animals

The New Yorker has a great story by a reporter who pretended that various animals were her emotional support animals. She showed up with a turtle, a pig, and an alpaca at various institutions - always with a letter saying the animal was an emotional support animal (E.S.A.).

She and her borrowed turtle got into the Frick Museum.

She and a small pig got on a Jet Blue flight.

The pic at the link shows here with an alpaca in a drug store.

Why didn’t anybody do the sensible thing, and tell me and my turtle to get lost? The Americans with Disabilities Act allows you to ask someone with a service animal only two questions: Is the animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Specific questions about a person’s disability are off limits, and, as I mentioned, people are baffled by the distinction between service animals and emotional-support animals.

Take your pig on a plane,
take your turtle among the Vermeers,
just claim it's an E.S.A.,
and you're in the clear, it appears.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chicago Marathon Today

I ran the Chicago Marathon today. My time was 5:01. Here I am in Chinatown, where my brother Mark snapped a shot:


There I am, a happy fellow,
with a cap, canary yellow.

I bought the cap on Friday on the theory its unusual Tweety-Bird color would make it easier for my relatives to spot me during the race. As it happens, I knew where to look for them, and I think I spotted my brother, and my son and son-in-law, before they spotted me.

One of my other brothers, Mike, was in the race, but I didn't see him until afterward. There's 40,000 people or so running, so meet-ups can be kind of hit or miss.

It's a race that features crowds. Fantastic crowd support cheering you on, which I loved, and crowds of runners who break into three-abreast walking so that you have to run around them.

My scheduled start was 45 minutes after the elite start. So, when I first got downtown, rather than going to the start area, I had enough time, due to quirks in the course design, to walk over to near the 2 mile mark, and catch a view of the elite East African runners zipping by. These guys are running sub-5 minute miles, so I still had half an hour to get to the start.

The Kenyans are speedy,

Friday, October 10, 2014

Miss Julie, Directed by Liv Ullmann

I was invited, through the graciousness of a friend, to the opening night of the Chicago International Film Festival. We saw Miss Julie, a new film adaptation of Strindberg's classic play, directed by Liv Ullmann, and starring Colin Farrell. Ullman and Farrell were both there, up on stage, to introduce the film at its U.S. debut.

They were both very charming. I've read a couple of reviews which were rather critical of the film. Here and here if you care.

My personal theory is that what really hurt the movie was a lack of chemistry between the stars. Both the stars seemed passionate, acting up a storm, but I rarely got the vibe that they were passionate for each other.

Maybe it just needed different background music?

Sometimes music in the background makes you feel
that poorly acted passion is real.

Life in the City

We had a strange shooting, midday yesterday, downtown. As a matter of fact, a co-worker of mine happened to encounter people fleeing from this incident:

"Police said Jones used an assault rifle to fire five shots at a moving CTA train as it pulled into the station in the 100-block of West Congress Parkway around 11:20 a.m. Thursday."

He didn't hit any people. Just the train.

I believe that "assault rifle", as used by journalists, is a vague term. But there's a picture at the link, of an officer holding what's supposed to be the weapon. I'm guessing it's some military-looking semi-auto rifle.

Our police commissioner reported that the stock had been cut off the rifle.

The mystery remains
what does he have against trains?

Thursday, October 09, 2014


Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn/Fall. Only the fourth has two names, which makes no sense at all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Ebola in Europe

NY Times:

"Now, with Europe grappling with the first case of Ebola transmitted on its soil after news on Monday that a nurse in Madrid had been infected, European leaders are scrambling to coordinate and ramp up their response to the lethal disease."

Better late than never.

Here in the USA we don't yet have a confirmed case of in-country contagion. But I am not inspired to great confidence by how our Dallas case was handled.

If at first you don't succeed,
try again as you may need
to stop the bug that makes you bleed.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

African Runners And Me

Somehow the Chicago Marathon people are being headlined as saying they are "ready for the Ebola threat".

Not that there's an actual threat
as of yet.

"Champas said runners represent all 50 states and 132 countries but none hail from West Africa, where the most severe outbreak of Ebola has occurred. He said some runners are coming from East Africa."

"Some" runners from East Africa? That's a very offhanded way to refer to the guys who will be out in front of everybody else.

The Kenyans will lead the pack.
I'll be toward the back,
cutting myself some slack.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Great Chicago Fire Festival

We actually drove by this event, in its early stages on Saturday night, before full fizzle had set in. The plan was to set fire to some old-house replicas on barges in the Chicago River, downtown.

It rained most of Saturday, and somehow, the house replicas failed to ignite properly.

A lot of money was poured into the show. A lot of people showed up to see it.

The houses were not ignited.
The crowd was not excited.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Bad Software, Bad!

Inflammatory headline:

The Ebola Patient Was Sent Home Because of Bad Software
The Dallas hospital's debacle highlights the atrociousness of many electronic health records.

Actually, the hospital made an initial claim:

"Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurses. However, we have identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR) interacted in this specific case."

But then, the hospital seemed to take it back:

“We would like to clarify a point made in the statement released earlier in the week. As a standard part of the nursing process, the patient’s travel history was documented and available to the full care team in the electronic health record, including within the physician’s workflow,” the statement said. “There was no flaw in the EHR in the way the physician and nursing portions interacted related to this event.”

There's a lot of careful wording there, as if people were afraid of lawsuits for some reason.

I think the key word here is "available", as in the travel history was "available" to the physician. Probably (wild guess) that means the doc could have clicked a button that he didn't click. Probably in retrospect it would have been nice if the first thing he saw when he brought up the patient's info was a big blinking red banner that said "African! Feverish!".

It turns out that making that happen is one of those things in you configure in the software package:

"As a result of this discovery, Texas Health Dallas has relocated the travel history documentation to a portion of the EHR that is part of both workflows. It also has been modified to specifically reference Ebola-endemic regions in Africa. We have made this change to increase the visibility and documentation of the travel question in order to alert all providers. We feel that this change will improve the early identification of patients who may be at risk for communicable diseases, including Ebola."

You see, the software didn't fail. It just needed to be configured differently.

I'm sure the software did its best.
Calling it "bad" just makes it feel stressed.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Bikini Madness

A personable young man came up to me in the building lobby and asked me if I knew what Tinder is. I said I did. He asked if I'd used it. I said I hadn't.

It's some app where you hook up with people for quick, um, romance.

Then he said he had a young lady's profile up on Tinder, and was trying to figure out what to say to her. I suggested he tell her he liked her look. That's look, singular, not looks.

He said, well, her photo is of her in a bikini. And he showed me such a photo, on his phone, of a shapely young lady in a bikini. And he asked what he could say to her to set himself apart, since every guy would obviously be thinking she looked good.

I have no idea, I said. I've been married too long.

Actually, regardless of how long I've been married, how do you set yourself apart in an environment where all you know about someone is that they look good in a swimsuit?

He pressed me, but you must have a pickup line?

I smiled, sorry, no.

So... What was really going on in this exchange? It felt very stagey, but I still have my wallet, and he never pressed for anything but answers to his silly question. Was it a psychology or sociology experiment? Why on earth would a young man be asking ME for advice on how to use Tinder? Especially because the building lobby was loaded with college-age young men.

They might have a clue
as to how you pursue
the opposite sex
with some minimal text
sufficiently clever
that she won't say: Never!

Thursday, October 02, 2014


While her man
was off to sea
for such a span
of years,

played cunningly
without a show
of tears,

weaving and unweaving
her artful tapestry.

without knowing,
that the object of her yearning
would return.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Countdown Continues

It's a week and a half to the Chicago Marathon. I'm signed up.

I'm better prepared than in some recent years
And thus less afflicted with various fears
But still at odd moments I'll feel my gut grab
With a sudden, panicky stab.