Saturday, April 30, 2016

Arsenic Initial Coincidences

Arsenic & Old Lace feels like a very well constructed stage comedy to me, but I was reflecting last night on the fact that it starts up with three coincidental events.

Yes, yes, spoiler alert in case you don't want to know!

In one evening:

1) Mortimer proposes to Elaine
2) Mortimer stumbles upon a corpse in his aunts' house
3) Mortimer's murderous brother Jonathan arrives at his aunts' house

Granted, there's a slight connection between 1 and 2. Mortimer has been spending more time at his aunts' house lately because Elaine lives next door. So his interest in Elaine makes it more likely that he will discover what his aunts have been up to. But, basically, 1 & 2 are a big coincidence.

There's also a kind of connection between 2 and 3, in that the play suggests there's a streak of homicidal mania that runs in this family, and the aunts and Jonathan are both afflicted. But, again, basically, 2 & 3 are a big coincidence.

Coincidence is just events coming together without a direct causal connection. There's nothing wrong with them, as such, in a story. The usual advice is to place them early in the story, to make them part of the "intractable problem build-up" and not part of the "surprising-but-logical solution". And that's what's going on here. The 3 events are just piling up to create a state of total humorous crisis for Mortimer, who I would say is the "hero" of the play, even though the "lead characters" are his aunts.

A lot has been written about including coincidences in a story. A storyteller makes a kind of bargain with the audience, a bargain whose terms are specified as the story goes along. The audience commits time and attention to the story, and expects a payoff of some kind at the end.

When the tale's completed
the audience shouldn't feel cheated.


In a nice suburb of Chicago:

"Outraged Naperville residents are demanding that Hassert Boulevard be renamed, mistakenly believing the road honors former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who admitted this week he sexually abused students when he was a Yorkville high school wrestling coach."

Before you start yelling
over the name,
please check the spelling -
it's not the same!

Friday, April 29, 2016

At Target

Octagonal design, sold as "Hex Weight". 
Someone's geometric knowledge is not all that great.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hastert Gets 15 Months

Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the house, more recently a high powered lobbyist, got sentenced to 15 months today, in federal court here in Chicago.

He had pleaded guilty to "structuring" some cash withdrawals - purposely arranging them so that the bank wouldn't be required to report them to the government.

Maybe he would have gotten off on probation, if that was all he had done, but the cash withdrawals had to do with molesting a high school athlete long ago when he was a coach. And, as usual, it hadn't just been one molested athlete. More appeared. And probably a bunch kept quiet.

He got off lightly, although it may be
that many get away scot-free.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Officer Klein

I've found a new career.
Crooks should shake in fear.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Metro Debacle

The mass transit system in Washington D.C. is a nice modern system. It opened 40 years ago. I vaguely remember the news. But they've already run it into the ground, which is kind of a spectacular failure, considering that NYC and Chicago have much older and bigger systems that somehow seem safer.

How could it be?
Ineptitude in DC?

Well, yeah. Apparently it's a multilayer failure. My favorite part was a trust in automation as a way to guarantee safety, resulting in things like this:

"On Jan. 6, 1996, a train under computer control was barreling too fast, at 75 mph, in a blizzard. Unable to decelerate quickly enough on snow-covered rails near the Shady Grove station, the train slammed into a parked, unoccupied train, killing the operator."

It's really unfair to call the victim "the operator", since the train was under control of an operating system, not an operator, apparently. Or... maybe the operator could have thrown a switch and taken control? But the story doesn't mention that.

Anyway, the people in charge neglected maintenance, neglected safety, neglected financial trouble, and somehow thought they could muddle through.

Management that was highly bureaucratic,
hoped the system would run on automatic.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

European Male, Dead 400 Years

Shakespeare padded his plays with famous quotes,
and obsolete words requiring lots of notes.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marathon Cheating

It's hard to get a bib for the Boston Marathon. You have to be fast, or you have to raise a lot of charity money. But suppose you don't want to raise money, and you're kind of slow, but you'd still like to run the race. Well, then there's cheating.

To prove you're fast, you run some other marathon in a fast time. But... what if you take a shortcut? Yes, some people do that. Runner's World had an interesting article about the phenomenon, which included an anonymous interview with a fireman who had cheated this way. The fireman got snagged by the fact that marathon running is a public sport. Results get posted publicly. Photos get posted publicly. And so forth. And some runners have made it their hobby to track down cheaters by looking at numbers that don't add up.

The fireman is not too happy:

He suspects three or four people know that he cut the course, including his sister. One of his coworkers confronted him after the 2013 race, but they have not discussed it since. “It’s what firemen do with bad calls and bad situations; they don’t talk about it.”
His wife, also a runner, does not know. He said he plans on telling her. But he fears if his name gets out, he will have to retire from his job early. “I have a reputation,” he said. “This is very bad.”

Some are feet of fleet
Others simply cheat.

Canine Lassitude at Last

After a day of crazy, 
Labradors get lazy. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

According to Wikipedia

There's a story that Arsenic and Old Lace was originally deadly serious, 
but was reshaped by producers into something more delirious.

Limerick for a Turkey

There once was a sensitive dude
Who got mad when a poet was rude.
The poet's on trial
At least for a while
But still has a bad attitude.

Over at

Introducing ‘The President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition’ – £1000 prize to be won

Somehow a man seems to be on trial in Germany for reciting a rude poem about the president of Turkey. In defiance, I take it, some Brits are holding the above competition, which includes the following sorts of guidance, in case you would like the cash:

"I should like to reiterate that limericks will be excluded from consideration from the top prize if they are (a) not obscene or (b) non-defamatory."

So... not to be posted here.

I try to keep postings here clean
whatever that quaint term may mean.
But this prez of Turkey
is clearly so jerky
his actions themselves are obscene.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Preliminary Chore

Having to memorize lines
is one of the tasks that defines
theater acting as an art,
but in fact it's only the start.

Monday, April 18, 2016


I just heard from an old friend, a friend I graduated 8th grade with, that she had spoken to our 8th grade teacher recently, and that our teacher had asked about me.

It's been fifty years since we have spoken.
Haunting how a link remains unbroken.

Diminishing Returns

When you see it real life
instead of a graph,
the Laffer Curve never
yields much of a laugh.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Primary Complications

I'm a regular reader of Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon.

I'm not a regular reader of his prose, but I've been reading a bit more this election season, since he has emerged as a distinctive voice championing Trump from an intellectual perspective. To be perfectly accurate, Adams' perspective is not exactly intellectual, since he makes such a point of championing anti-intellect, in the sense that he tells his readers that they are "meat-robots" who don't really know what they think they know, etc. In other words, he constantly argues, intellectually, that intellect is ineffectual at grasping the real world.

And many an intellectual
has proven ineffectual
in dealing with reality.

That can be said with finality.

Nonetheless, the great technological civilization in which we live is a triumph of the human intellect. And the idea that we are "meat-robots" is just old fashioned Behaviorism writ ludicrously.

Alas, what can he do?
He's a meat-robot too!
With no choice about belief.

Maybe that's a relief.

Today I saw that he is upset about the way the 2 major parties choose their convention delegates. He compares it to the way Iranian "democracy" works.

"Voters in America recently discovered that they live under an Iranian type of system and didn’t know it. In the primaries, voters participate in some sort of ritualistic placebo voting while party leaders select the candidates. In the general election, the richest and smartest of the elite use money and psychology to brainwash the masses into imagining they have independent opinions and that their votes matter. We call that a republic."

Well, that's a stretch. I suppose that Adams would say he is engaging in counter-brainwashing, making outlandish "big lie" claims that will gnaw into your frontal cortex.

But his description seems starkly ignorant of American political history. What's true of course is that the parties don't select their delegates by a uniform state-by-state plebiscite. Apparently they have reasons not to. And it's never been much of a secret if you've been paying attention, which I guess Trump hasn't.

Adams thinks Trump has finally got it together
and now is ready to weather
the final storm.

My guess is that his campaign is a corpse, dead but still warm.

Friday, April 15, 2016

City Lights

In Chicago at night
I can see the Big Dipper pretty clearly
But the Little one doesn't seem nearly 
As bright. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tightrope Artist

I watched her walk the wire way up high,
As calmly as could be, her step so spry,
As if she had been born to grace the sky.

I watched in worried wonder.
I knew that any blunder
Could put her six feet under.

I met her on the ground and got to know
Her mortal self, who bore an inner woe,
That vanished just in time for every show.

And both, of course, were real:
Taut nerves made out of steel,
Soft heart that made her feel.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Extortion or Not in the Hastert Plot

Here's the Sun-Times headline:

"Feds: Hastert paid to hide sexual abuse, then cried extortion"

"Feds say Hastert molested a 14-year-old boy — the Individual A who sparked the investigation — and then, decades later, gave him hush money. And when feds investigated the payments, Hastert tried to turn the tables on the victim, claiming extortion."

"In two recorded phone conversations, authorities noticed the man on the other line didn’t sound like he was being extorted. The victim spoke of the importance of keeping everything private because it was personal."

I'm not sure what it means that it didn't "sound like" extortion.

The Tribune, similarly, says that the victim "did not come off as an extortionist", mentioning that he did "not issue any threats".

My question, and it is a sincere one, is what are the elements of extortion in a case like this? It must come down to more than a threatening tone.

Let's suppose that the person being paid was a victim, and that Hastert truly was the perpetrator. So the victim has a plausible legal ground (mental suffering) for asking for payment. Is that why the victim has not committed a crime in this case?

A lawyer, some months back, offered this as a reason for why the victim didn't commit extortion:

"I'm willing to bet that what really happened is that a lawyer was hired by individual A and worked out a settlement that included a confidentiality clause and agreement not to sue. In exchange, Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million, but as sometimes happens, agreed to do it over time, or in this case, $50,000.00 a month. That's not extortion, that's a common civil case."

There's no mention of a lawyer in the regular newspapers so far. On the other hand, the presence of a lawyer isn't really important at all. If Individual A could legally cut such a deal using a lawyer, then he could legally cut such a deal without using one either. And, for all we know, Individual A is himself a lawyer.

It's a horrible messy case,
and Hastert should hide his face.

The Circus Departs

The circus has to leave the town,
The nose comes off of every clown,
The tents and high wires all come down,
And sorrow rules the day. 

The elephants with trunks that blare,
The tigers with uneasy stare,
The women swinging through the air,
Line up to roll away. 

The locomotive slowly chugs,
There's no time left for goodbye hugs,
But in my heart, a small hope tugs,
That they'll come back to stay. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Another 50k

ran a 50k yesterday. I'm kind of on a roll with them, having also run one in November and one in December and having dropped out of one in January because my toes were getting dangerously cold.

It had a 7 hour time limit. Actually, you could finish later than 7 hours and they would still give you a medal and list you in the results as a finisher, but they don't publish your finishing time, which is an odd way of doing things, but what can I say?

It's a 3 out-and-back loop course. Basically you run north, from 63rd St. beach up to just short of McCormick Place, and then back to 63rd St. beach, along the Lakefront Trail, which has great views of the city and the lake, zero vehicular traffic, and lots of wind when it's windy, which it was yesterday.

Going north was going into the wind, and it was cold and rough all day. Going south was very pleasant by comparison, with the wind at your back. You definitely picked up speed.

It has snowed/rained/blown overnight, and the race began with a bumpy covering of ice on a lot of the asphalt trail. Fortunately, I had brought along a pair of running shoes with machine screws screwed into the soles, so that the hex heads stuck out and gave me traction. I only wore them on the first loop of the course. As the sun rose in the sky, it started melting the ice, and on the second loop I switched shoes.

I had signed up sort of last minute, and I wasn't sure I was going to run the whole course. With these loop courses, you can drop out very conveniently. I thought maybe I would drop out after 2 loops, which would be about 21 miles of running, which would be a good training run, since I hadn't run that distance since December. I decided to wait and see how I felt after 2 loops. Would I really feel like doing a third?

I took breaks between the loops, potty breaks, go to the car and warm up and drink Pedialyte breaks, which ran to about 10 minutes each. But I decided that I was going to go for the 3rd loop. As is frequently the case, my math abilities were not functioning well after running a long time, and I actually thought I had more time than I really did, if I wanted to come in under the 7 hour mark.

At the final turnaround, sipping Gatorade and chewing on a corn chip, I struck up a conversation with another runner who had been running about the same speed as me. We had been taking turns over who was in the lead, since at this point we were both alternating running and some walking too. He said he wasn't going to make the 7 hour cutoff. But I told him I though we would. And we did. We crossed the finish line together. I don't have the exact time at the moment, but somewhere around 6:49, I think.

And that's the peculiar tale
of how we soldiered on and did not fail.

Update: Well, his name is Mun Kang, and he is 6 years older than I am, and we both finished at 6:52:58. 

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Whither the Weather

Snowiest April that I can remember. 
Feels like the same as last year's December.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Arsenic and Rewriting

Have I mentioned I'm playing Officer Klein in Arsenic and Old Lace? I have read that the author originally intended the play as a grim study, but that some Broadway producers convinced him to turn it into a comedy.

It's very well structured as a comedy. I wonder what it looked like as a drama.

It's certainly got all the trauma
you need for a drama.

Could it be that all the laughter
was added after?

Burglary Ring

Things went wrong:

"A suspected burglar needed surgery to remove a stolen ring that he reportedly swallowed while fleeing police in a chase that included crashing his car into a BART fence last week, police said Tuesday."

The burglar had bad luck.
He swallowed a stolen ring... which then got stuck.
The owner, I would bet, said: Yuk-yuk yuck.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Olive and the Mouse Spider King at Dream Theatre

Suppose you like horrid dreams because you like waking up from them. And then suppose that on the night of your 16th birthday, your favorite dream comes true.

And you can't wake up this night.
You have to stand and fight.

In this play, Olive is the 16 year old girl who must fight the Mouse Spider King. She is aided in her quest by the Blue Haired Girl and by General C.C. Possum, who is, in fact, a talking possum given to noble sentiments and daring exploits.

The play is set in a novel imaginary world, overflowing with detail. I plan to see it a second time, partly just to let the world gel a bit more in my mind, and partly to experience the quest again.

The staging of the play is accomplished with a combination of live actors, imaginative puppetry, and electronic visual and audio effects, all accomplished with surprising simplicity, all inviting you to use that imagination of yours.

The Mouse Spider King
is a rather ghastly thing
but Olive Bean Hester
is a most determined quester.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

At The Science Museum

Took a selfie thermally. 
Heat escapes epidermally. 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Calendar Flip

If you're gullible like me today's the worst. Believe no major announcements on April First.


There's a scene in the play I'm in where I'm being choked, and my fellow cop comes to my rescue. Anyway, I "fell" to my knees tonight during the "choking", worrying the actor doing the "choking" but pleasing the director who liked the look of it. 

I got confident at falls long ago, taking judo classes. 

I didn't master the martial art
But did okay at the falling part.