Thursday, December 24, 2009

Limerick of the Day #77

Audio

'Midst the holiday paraphenalia,
And the trees trimmed in finest regalia,
Let's try not to be greedy.
Remember the needy.
And have a sublime Saturnalia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Limerick of the Day #76

Audio

Give three cheers for the ol' C.B.O.*
And the things that they just seem to know
Given any draft bill
They can forecast what will
Cost the taxpayers more or less dough.

* Congressional Budget Office

Monday, December 21, 2009

Limerick of the Day #75

So the health care bill may finally pass,
With no thanks to Republican brass.
It survived much abuse
From the huntress of moose,
And more noteworthy pains in the ass.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Limerick of the Day #74

Audio

I bid welcome to those who're new here,
With some culturally-neutral cheer.
Though my posts have abated
Ideas accumulated,
So we'll be back in time for next year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Limerick of the Day #73

Audio


G.O.P. and insurance fat cats
Want a health care bill (if any), that's
Of public plans deprived.
If more patients survived
There's a chance they'd become Democrats.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Theories (again!)

A while ago, I posted a rhyme about the nature of scientific theories. In thinking back, though, I think some of the ideas I was trying to convey don't come across very clearly in rhyme. So I decided to clean up the notes I made while researching and writing that rhyme, and post them here.

It's very tempting to think that science is the best means for understanding physical reality ... what's really going on in the universe. After all, science has given us so many useful by-products. Who can argue with the light bulb, the car, or the computer? But is it really reality we're observing?

Think of the fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each touched a different part of the elephant, and came away with a completely different idea of what an elephant was. The man who touched the trunk thought the elephant was like a snake, but the man who touched the legs thought it was like a tree, and the tail man thought the elephant was like a rope. Each of them drew conclusions based on observations of a very limited part of the whole elephant. Moreover, their ideas of an elephant are shaped by where they came from, as well as by what parts of the elephant they touched. The man from the swamp thought the elephant very dry and rough. The man from the north thought the elephant very bald and unprotected. Our perception of reality is shaped as much by past experiences as by the current observations.

The other point usually overlooked with the blind men and the elephant parable is that each man understood the elephant by likening it to something already familiar ... snakes, trees, rope, etc. Understanding is the process of fitting new knowledge into an established, intuitive framework. For centuries, physics could be understood by thinking of forces acting on particles.

Theories are cognitive inventions which seem to explain the world. But explanations are simply that which leads to understanding, and understanding is a very subjective, human phenomenon. To understand something means to have a model of how it behaves that enables us both to account for past observations and to predict future behavior. So explanation is the process of creating a metaphor ... a mental model which corresponds to the observed world in important ways.

Like the blind men, we only perceive a tiny fraction of all the information available about anything in the universe. Our whole ideas of objects, planets, stars, etc. is just a mental model we've constructed from the scant bits of evidence we've been able to observe. So any conjectures about what these things are like or how they behave is really a stretch.

Viewed in this way, the heliocentric model of the solar system bears the same relationship to the actual solar system as the abstract idea line does to any roughly straight object or edge in reality. It is an abstraction and simplification, to allow us to grasp cognitively what is, in fact, a complex phenomenon.

There is little doubt the earth moves around the sun, but what this actually means is that the mathematics of describing the motion of the planets relative to each other and the sun is simplest when we think of the sun as being at one focus of the elliptical orbits. Both simplicity and mathematics are themselves products of how our brains work. So all we really know is that our brains find it easier to understand and predict the motion of the planets if we think of it as a heliocentric system. This is a far cry from saying "This is real." If someone discovers a simpler or more descriptive mathematical model, than that will become "the way it is," and our present heliocentric model will seem quaint and naive. In fact, as the moon orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun and the sun itself orbits the center of the galaxy, which is itself moving. So there are no neat little elliptical paths as Kepler would have had us believe. The paths could just as (more?) correctly be described as helical.

Imagine an alternate universe in which the sun and planets all revolve around the earth, just as the pre-Copernicans believed. Imagine these orbits are composed of cycles and epicycles, just as the pre-Copernicans supposed. The effect of the combination of cycles and epicycles is that the planets and sun are always in the same positions, relative to each other, as they are in our universe. What, then, is the difference between that universe and ours? None! They are identical in every respect. Planets and stars do not obey laws. The laws are just our attempts to understand and describe their behavior. But understanding and description are cognitive tools, not characteristics of nature.

You can never find a line in real life, because a line is an idea ... an abstraction from actual edges and boundaries we find in reality. In the same way, a scientific explanation is an abstraction that fits the observed facts. The planets don't revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits. They are all just moving bodies (or more accurately, just concentrations of particles) in space, whose distances and orientations change in relation to one another. The ellipse is an idea we invented to make things predictable. If another theory fit all the observations just as well, it would be just as true. Two theories which explain the same phenomena with the same verifiability are equally valid.

When you try out a new piece of computer software, you can find out all about it by watching how it behaves, experimenting with different actions to see what reaction the software has, etc. By doing this, you can come up with a very detailed and complete description of every aspect of the software's behavior. Yet this says nothing about what the software is actually doing internally, or what its developers intended. In fact, this is done often, and is called reverse engineering ... the processing of trying to figure out what something does by controlled experiments to observe its behavior.

NOTE: This does not imply there's any validity to the so-called intelligent design! Currently, it's very difficult to make any critical assessment of science without being regarded as a defender of creationism or the so-called intelligent design theory. Nothing could be further from the truth. But science itself has become an authority, and we should always question authority.

One of the cornerstones of science is the experiment. The scientific method, including the experiment, is often thought of as a foolproof means for ascertaining truth. But there are flaws in this. For one, the experiment proves that a given result is possible ... that it might happen. It doesn't prove that the result will always happen. No matter how many times we demonstrate that oil and water don't mix, we can't prove that they never mix.

Moreover, in the scientific method, the experiment is a hypothesis test. We make a conjecture about some phenomenon, and then experiment to see if the conjecture holds up. But we only do experiments on what we already consider to be plausible ideas. In a sense, we're filtering out things that don't seem scientific, and only experimenting with those things that fit the belief framework. In particular, we assume causality to apply in all situations, since causality is the basis of experimentation. So if there could possibly be phenomena which don't behave causally, they will simply be dismissed as observational errors.

Within a belief framework, the theory seems plausible and valid, and consistent with the rest of the framework. Outside the framework, however, the theory may seem irrational. This is not unlike fantasy fiction. We accept that Frodo may have a ring that makes him invisible because it's within the natural order of the universe Tolkien created for his stories. So saying the ring works by powerful magic is a perfectly sound explanation in that universe. Our own universe is, of course, not completely knowable, so we create stories of how things behave to satisfy our own curiosity. In one set of stories, everything may be purely mechanical. The universe is a giant machine that runs according to definite, if unknown, principles. Another set of stories may have the universe a place of mystery and unpredictability, subject to the whims or moods of some controlling being or beings.

If you happen to believe a supreme being created the earth, than the earth becomes evidence of that being's existence. We can see the circularity of the logic when it's stated this way, but in general, belief systems form a context in which we interpret all experiences, and the experiences themselves then reinforce the context. Each of us lives in a universe that's an ''idea'' we formed from our observations. That's why something that violates our expectations of how the world behaves is so surprising.

But that's pretty much the history of science, isn't it? Violated expectations? We're constantly revising theories and replacing them with new ones. That fact alone should convince us that, as persuasive and practical as our scientific knowledge is, we don't have a lock on reality yet.

Well, now that I've reread that, the rhyme was probably clearer.

There were a number of references, but here are two of the most helpful:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Limerick of the Day #72

In the skies over Lockerbie
Came the end of Pan Am one-oh-three.
But despite the turmoil,
Britain wants Libyan oil,
So the convict is going scot-free.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Limerick of the Day #71

Audio

First we all heard about Bill Gates.
Then Bush appointed Robert Gates.
Repetition, not rhyme
Is what you get this time.
Henry Louis is our latest Gates.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Limerick of the Day #70

Audio

Gates arrived home in broadest daylight,
And he made no attempt to take flight.
But the police knew best
So they made the arrest.
After all, Gates was so impolite.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Limerick of the Day #69

Audio

Health insurers can be so penurious
They deny care, although that's injurious.
But public health insurance
Is beyond endurance
And makes these insurers quite furious.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Limerick of the Day #68

Audio

Four decades ago today,
As envisioned by J.F.K.,
Men walked on the moon
And we all thought that soon
It would be just a stop on the way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Limerick of the Day #67

Audio

Of all styles in the broadcasting biz,
Walter Cronkite's was uniquely his.
Covering turbulent times
With straight talk (no dumb rhymes) ...
And that's the way it is.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Limerick of the Day #66

Audio

As the fanfare blared out on the bugle
Heralding the new O.S. from Google,
All the pundits had spoken:
The Chrome browser's broken
But this will make netbooks more frugal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Limerick of the Day #65

Audio

Today is the start of the G-8,
Where nations pretend they can create
The ideal conditions
For curbing emissions.
To save the earth, they negotiate.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Limerick of the Day #64

Audio

As the crowd overflowed to the street, it
Was chanting the lyrics to "Beat It."
Internet traffic swelled
As the crowd felt compelled
To blog every moment, or tweet it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Limerick of the Day #63

Audio

If the world can get by without Farrah,
And Alaskans can do without Sarah,
Then the Vietnamese
Will pull through with ease
Despite doing without McNamara.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Limerick of the Day #62

Audio

The departure of Sarah Palin
Indicates that the campaign trail in
Alaska's not great
So she needs a new state
To pursue one more job she can fail in.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Limerick of the Day #61

Audio

First for Ed and then Farrah we keen.
Michael Jackson, pop's king (or its queen).
But now topping those guys
Is the tragic demise
Of Billie Mays and, we hope, OxiClean.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Limerick of the Day #60

Audio

In what should not have been hard to guess,
Iran's election ends in a mess.
One side claims voter fraud,
So we all should applaud
How much they have grown like the U.S.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Limerick of the Day #59

To my readers: Dear small, ruly mob,
It's not that I've turned lazy slob.
I'm here. Don't ask "Is he?"
But I've been so busy
Preparing to start a new job.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Limerick of the Day #58

At the judicial branch's top layer,
Hispanics have not had a player.
But she won't be a beacon
Just for Puerto Rican,
But for all looking to Sotomayor.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Limerick of the Day #57

Audio

Dick Cheney, you're clearly a font
Of foul rhetoric people don't want.
So kindly behave.
Take the advice you gave
The senior senator from Vermont.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Limerick of the Day #56

Audio

We're not really sure who to thank. A
revel for the file and the rank. A
Peace may be at hand
Reaching throughout the land
Since the rebels' defeat in Sri Lanka.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Limerick of the Day #55

Audio

Pakistan's now an unstable nation
With it's nuclear proliferation.
With all this, Joe Biden
Should consider hidin'
In a now fully disclosed location.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cannibalism

Audio

Filipe Fernández-Armesto
Says that cannibalism was common.
So try some Italian with pesto,
Or Japanese served over ramen.

Seems our ancestors, not for survival,
But to be more enduring or great,
On the death of some mentor or rival
Would help themselves to a big plate.

The holy communion procedure
Is a symbolic cannibal act.
It's the blood and the body they feed ya,
Though we tend to lose sight of this fact.

So if you throw a banquet or dinner
To acknowledge some award or honor,
Don't be shocked if the herd just gets thinner
When your party is catered by Donner.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Limerick of the Day #54

Audio

If you're someone like Aung San Suu Kyi,
Whom Myanmar's government won't let free,
And if somebody dives
In the lake and arrives
At your door, dripping wet, hide the key.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Limerick of the Day #53

Audio

There's one food that America's youth
Enjoy even before the first tooth.
General Mills should be ashamed
'Cause the health perks they've claimed
For Cheerios are not quite the truth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Limerick of the Day #52

Audio

The Pope, former Cardinal Ratzie,
Didn't waste his youth just playing Yahtzee.
He was part of a group,
Like a young S.S. troop,
That was training him to be a Nazi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Limerick of the Day #51

Audio

If you can't be mistaken for brainy,
And you publicly say things quite zany,
In short, if you're free
Of deep thought, you might be
Republican enough for Dick Cheney.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Motherhood

Audio

"M" is for the many ways to raise offspring.
"O" comes after "N", which stands for nurturing.
"T" is for the teaching of the progeny.
"H" is for that quaint idea, homogeny.
"E" is for effusive maternal affection.
"R" is for the relationship of primal connection.
"H" is for hierarchical family.
"O" is for the Oedipal complexity.
"O" is for the obsolete stereotypes.
"D" is for, well, diapers and some baby wipes.

Put them all together, they spell "Motherhood,"
A word that conveys all the associations of the abstract idea of maternity,
And in addition is sometimes used metanymically to mean "good."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell



Can you hear me now?

( See The Telephone)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Telephone


Play Audio

When you are feeling all alone
And need someone to talk to
You can call on the telephone
Your friends too far to walk to.

Alexander Graham Bell,
With Tom Watson, his staff,
Had built a gadget they could sell:
The acoustic telegraph.

In eighteen seventy-six one day,
Bell's lawyers filed his claim
Just hours after Elisha Gray
Had his lawyers do the same.

Gray's lawyers filed a caveat
Declaring his intention
To build the phone, but he did not,
So it became Bell's invention.

The phone was quite a huge success
Though nobody had yet
Imagined one that's wireless,
Or fax or Internet!

So if your friends all want to get
In touch when far and near,
Just take this small bluetooth headset
And stick it in your ear.

Alexander Graham Bell,
With all of his know-how,
Did not imagine voice mail hell
Or "Can you hear me now?"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Limerick of the Day #50

Beggars, they say, can't be choosers,
And Chrysler is one of the losers.
How'd they come to be at
This point, pwned by Fiat?
Hang on to your old PT Cruisers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Limerick of the Day #49

Most doctors don't know what to do,
And the governments haven't a clue,
But they must stop the spread
Of this thing we all dread,
Which is commonly known as swine flu.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Limerick of the Day #48

Democrats can now finally muster
Enough votes to end a filibuster.
Pennsylvania defector
Senator Specter
Finds the G.O.P. has lost its luster.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Limerick of the Day #47

Some folks muttered an urgent prayer
While other folks fled down the stair.
Thanks to some White House dork
Air Force One buzzed New York
But nobody informed the mayor.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Limerick of the Day #46

If you're looking for skates or a sleigh
Or a bike or new job or bouquet,
These things can not be missed
If you check on Craig's List.
Even murderers look there for prey.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Limerick of the Day #45

It's a day to consider the earth
And its cycles of death and rebirth.
All the flora and fauna
Can't live in a sauna
So let us remember their worth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Limerick of the Day #44

Though we take part in Olympic sport,
We come up, globally, somewhat short.
Other nations don't trust us
'Cause we flout the justice
Of the International Criminal Court.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Limerick of the Day #43

I'm sure CIA folks were clowning,
Trying to wash away prisoners' frowning
Tying them down with cord
To a long wooden board
And making them think they were drowning.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Limerick of the Day #42

Tackling pirates and smugglers of guns,
And those who ship drugs by the tons,
The White House concludes
It can stop evil dudes.
But where are we getting the funds?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Limerick of the Day #41

With all of the trouble in bankin',
And the victims walking pirates' plankin',
Norm Coleman just schemes
To hold on to his dreams.
Get it through your thick head, Norm! It's Franken!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Limerick of the Day #40

In the storm that comes after the calm, a
New round of the piracy drama
And the seizing of ships
Can't completely eclipse
The First Dog, by name one Bo Obama.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Limerick of the Day #39

Phil Spector, a jury has found
Was guilty of firing the round.
Now he'll be incar-
cerated behind bars,
And not just a wall of sound.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Limerick of the Day #38

In a move nobody had expected
Captain Phillips was quite well protected
When U.S. Navy snipers
Picked off the three vipers.
Now Obama can be re-elected.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Limerick of the Day #37

Though the theme park ride was quite deluxe,
And the movies have earned megabucks,
Boarding ships on high seas,
Selling bootleg CDs --
Real life piracy actually sucks.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Limerick of the Day #36

If it's same sex marriage you want,
Or fine butter for your croissant,
For the fresh dairy air
You just have to go there.
(I'm referring, of course, to Vermont.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Limerick of the Day #35

Just forget about declining stocks,
Earthquakes and all other shocks.
Come on out to Fenway
To watch the home team play.
It's the best relief. Go, Red Sox!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Limerick of the Day #34

I try to write limericks to master
The top stories, as cycles grow faster.
But I can't always name
Someone who is to blame.
That's one problem with natural disaster.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Limerick of the Day #33

Some computer types are quite concerned
For the Conficker worm, they have learned
Has just reconnected
All PCs infected.
An upgraded worm has now turned.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Limerick of the Day #32

Through a half dozen decades of NATO,
Guarding from Ireland to Kuwait, O!
They've been ready to act,
Testing the Warsaw Pact
(Not to mention the Institute Cato.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Limerick of the Day #31

The economy's over the worst.
And the Taliban's all been dispersed.
The world's all connected,
The U.S. respected.
By the way, happy April the first.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Limerick of the Day #30

It's the start of the G-20 summit.
As a gesture, the Dow didn't plummet.
The cooperation
Of every nation
Might ease the pain, or at least numb it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Limerick of the Day #29

In the land of the automobile,
All roads lead to a fed bailout deal.
Chrysler got 30 days
To restructure its ways,
And G.M. lost its biggest big wheel.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Egyptian Gods

Audio

Osiris and Anubis.
Ra, the god of golden sun.
Set, the bro of Osiris.
And creator god, Amun.
Bast, the fertile goddess cat.
Nut, the goddess of the sky.
Geb, the earth and all of that.
Which will bring us back to I - I - Isis.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Limerick of the Day #28

The problem with Afghanistan
Was attacking without any plan,
And then the sidetrack
Of Libya, Iraq,
Pakistan, North Korea, Iran.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Limerick of the Day #27

In case you get tired of TV,
There's a monster and alien spree.
Monsters, all on our side,
Joined by one giant bride,
Take on aliens in wide screen 3-D.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Limerick of the Day #26

It was Nicholas Kristof who said it:
We give online news too much credit.
The country's divided,
Our sources one-sided,
'Cause no one will objectively edit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Limerick of the Day #25

The country is in such distress
The president took on the press.
He won't give up his prize,
But he will compromise
Just to help us get out of this mess.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Limerick of the Day #24

If you have been watching "Big Love,"
You'll know just what I'm speaking of
When I say that Bill
Both will not and will
Choose to have all of the above.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Limerick of the Day #23

If you think of the real estate bubble, you
Will see how we got into trouble. You
Will see no signs that
Our future's so bleak at
South by Southwest (or SXSW)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Limerick of the Day #22

The news outlets all want a scoop,
And they want to be kept in the loop.
Not much news to report.
The most popular sport
Is some college kids all shooting hoop.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Limerick of the Day #21

iPhone 3 will provide cut and paste,
Which news users have quickly embraced.
You can cut and reuse
Any text that you chose,
So those pixels will not go to waste.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Limerick of the Day #20

Obama is raising his voice
To protest A.I.G.'s foolish choice
To hand out the green.
It is really obscene,
Almost like something out of James Joyce.

(Sorry, I wanted to get some kind of Irish reference in there for St. Pat's day.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Limerick of the Day #19

So the government took on the onus
Of restricting each A.I.G. bonus,
Lest it could not assuage
All the taxpayer rage
At financial recovery's slowness.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Limerick of the Day #18

Ok, another try:

The Internet universe shook
From the new design shown by Facebook.
This site, once for teens,
Now serves old farts, which means,
It's adopted a scatter-brained look.

Limerick of the Day #17

It's Friday the 13th. I'm tired,
And not feeling very inspired.
This pitiful rhyme
Must suffice for this time.
It's my blog, so I can't be fired.

Sorry.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Limerick of the Day #16

Bernie Madoff admits he's a felon.
For the moment, stocks seem to be sellin'.
If you want to invest
Then buy shares of the best
Of handbaskets we're going to Hell in.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Limerick of the Day #15

After two separate outbursts with guns
The news starts to look like reruns.
Many cultures instill
The impulse to kill.
After all, it worked for the Huns.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Limerick of the Day #14

Maybe Citigroup's quarterly tally
Shows their emergence from the blind alley.
When such news hits the street
Buyers vote with their feet.
That's what triggered today's market rally.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Limerick of the Day #13

Let's keep state separated from church.
Politicians then ought not besmirch
Any scientists dealing
With new ways of healing
Like those based on stem cell research.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Limerick of the Day #12

You may be considered a snob,
Or may just be part of the mob.
But either way
Be thankful today
If you happen to still have a job.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Limerick of the Day #11

For Republicans, life had been lush,
But the party got lost in the brush.
After losing elections
They seek new directions,
But must try avoiding the Rush.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Limerick of the Day #10

As book sales continue to dwindle,
Some say printed books are a swindle.
All you need is a feeder
For your e-book reader,
And books will be used just to (Kk)indle.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Limerick of the Day #9

When I'm feeling lonely and bitter,
And my life's lacking glamor and glitter,
I reach out for fame
Just by posting my name
And my every dumb idea on Twitter.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Limerick of the Day #8

The economy's on the wrong path,
And the stock market's taking a bath.
All these bright Wall Street chaps
Brought about this collapse.
Well, I'm sorry, but hey, do the math!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mathematical Models

Audio

Mathematics lets you take some vague ideas like less or more
And make them more precise, like 7 or 3.14.
Suppose Jill has three marbles and you go take away two.
She'll have just one (unless she grabs the others back from you.)
And that's just why such models may not yield the right amount:
They fail to take human behavior fully in account.
Math deals well with abstractions that conform to certain laws,
But human beings are not so easily modeled with our flaws.
These models often are employed in problems quite substantial,
Like weather forecasts, bridge designs, or transactions financial.
We often use the model to predict the real event,
Which frequently will leave us wondering where the money went.
It's not that math is inexact, or that it's incomplete.
The model may be too abstract, when life is so concrete.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Limerick of the Day #7

Our Commander-in-Chief now, Barack,
Says it's time to pull troops from Iraq.
A transition force
Will stay longer, of course,
But the others will wend their way back.
(Or to Afghanistan.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Limerick of the Day #6

The Gershwin Award went tonight
To Stevie Wonder, visionary without sight.
The Obamas tried greatly
Being cool, but still stately.
The White House doesn't have to be white.

Limerick of the Day #5

News outlets all use the same trick,
Whether broadcast, on-line, pulp or slick.
They just run a sound bite,
Making ideas sound trite,
When they should run a sound limerick.


Suggested by a NYTimes op-ed piece, We’re Not ‘Cowards,’ We’re Just Loud, by Stephen L. Carter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Limerick of the Day #4

Health care, energy, education,
As the President spoke to the nation,
Are goals that he stressed,
Which will put to the test
Whether he can fulfill his oration.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Limerick of the Day #3

Gay marriage, some say, is a sin.
But it's no business law belongs in.
For avoiding confusion
The legal intrusion
Should be just to note next of kin.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Limerick of the Day #2

The celebrity game's so unfair.
Opportunity knocks, so be there.
Some folks struggle for years
Just to reach the top tiers,
Then along comes Slumdog Millionaire.

Limerick of the Day #1

As we watch, our economy tanks,
Taking with it our favorite banks.
We may nationalize,
But we'll rationalize
That at least their execs will say "Thanks."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stimulus Package

Audio

When the banks just aren't lending
And consumers aren't spending
Then we have to stop pretending
That this crisis will be ending
Without governmental mending
Or at least superintending.

So maybe our nation
Just needs stimulation
So this situation
Of fiscal stagnation
And rampant deflation
Will reach its cessation.

This transaction
Fights contraction
But reaction
From one faction
Is distraction
From our action.

If we'd
Succeed
To lead,
May need
And greed
Recede
Indeed.

Lend.
Spend.
Vend.
Mend.
Tend.
The end.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Darwin



Friday, February 13, 2009

Evolution

I meant to post this yesterday, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. However,
  1. I don't put much stock in anniversaries, which simply reflect the repeating cyclical nature of planetary motion, and
  2. I wasn't done yet.
Anyway, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, ...

Audio

Darwin:
My eyes are fully open to The Origin of Species.
That’s the title of my book in which I put forth several theses
On the way that things adapt by means of natural selection,
Which is nature’s mechanism for the species’ own protection.
For it shows how organisms in environments precarious
Can over generations thrive by adaptations various.
And if you still believe in the old story of the garden
With young Adam and his Eve, then I shall have to beg your pardon.
Chorus:
He will have to beg your pardon.
Darwin:
Yes, I’ll have to beg your pardon.
Chorus:
He will have to beg your pardon.
Darwin:
Yes, I’ll have to beg your pardon.
I shall have to beg your pardon.
I shall have to beg your pardon.
I shall have to beg your pardon, pardon, pardon, pardon, pardon.

Darwin:
You really should consider this idea of evolution.
To the question of diversity, it’s quite a good solution.
Though you may think the Galápagos a kind of a nirvana
With the co-existing mockingbird, finch, tortoise and iguana,
It is peaceful on the surface as you’ll note on your arrival
But these species are engaged in brutal struggles for survival,
Which occasionally lead to fights that will the stillness shatter,
Though as nature takes no sides the outcome really doesn’t matter.
Chorus:
No, it really doesn’t matter.
Darwin:
Yes, it really doesn’t matter.
Chorus:
Yes, it really doesn’t matter.
Darwin:
No, it really doesn’t matter.
So it really doesn’t matter.
So it really doesn’t matter.
So it really doesn’t matter, matter, matter, matter, matter.

Darwin:
I stand behind this theory though it isn’t yet quite flawless
And I have to share the credit with young Alfred Russel Wallace.
I don’t condone my cousin’s sort of mental calisthenics
Which have tried to use this theory just to justify eugenics.
I suppose with any breakthrough like this one on evolution
There is bound to be some harm in the ensuing revolution.
So some people keep engaging in selective breeding chatter.
While to others ideas not found in the Bible do not matter.
Chorus:
So these ideas do not matter.
Darwin:
So these ideas do not matter.
Chorus:
So these ideas do not matter.
Darwin:
So these ideas do not matter.
So these ideas do not matter.
So these ideas do not matter.
So these ideas do not matter, matter, matter, matter, matter.
So some people keep engaging in selective breeding chatter.
While to others ideas not found in the Bible do not matter.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ponzi Schemes



Audio

'Round the world, just as throughout this land,
People often have dreams that are grand.
Some may think a great feat
Would be trying to cheat
On the law of supply and demand.

Ponzi thought he had a way around it.
But his fortune? The feds did impound it.
After incarceration
His own declaration:
"I went looking for trouble, and found it."

Investing is always a trade-off,
But not as it's practiced by Madoff.
Those who get in at first
Might just be reimbursed
But the others will never get paid off.

Countless others have tried out such schemes,
Building fraudulent revenue streams.
For those who've been caught
Freedom cannot be bought,
Though a few may be living their dreams.

Ponzi victims all sign up consensually
Hoping fortunes will grow exponentially.
Each new sap in the door
Helps pay those from before
But it always collapses eventually.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another View of History

For yet another view of history, check out Europe Between the Oceans (reviewed here). The author, Sir Barry Cunliffe, takes the view that history is largely determined by geography, a claim that hearkens back at least to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. So maybe history isn't about great people after all. It's about masses ... land masses!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Heroes and Hordes

Audio

Of history, some take the view
It's shaped by what great people do.
But others think the evidence
Shows trends of thought lead to events.

Thomas Carlyle, way back when,
Blamed history on the "great men."
Some others have opposed this view.
(I guess it doesn't matter who.)

It's quite egalitarian
To think that each barbarian
Is just as good as civilized,
But this point's been politicized.

Those who believe some folks are great
Think they deserve more from the state.
But those who see life as more fair
Think everyone deserves a share.

Is it about movements and trends,
Or great folks serving their own ends?
How can we ever solve this riddle?
The answer's somewhere in the middle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oath of Office



In honor of the 44th President of the United States, and the difficulty in getting the Oath of Office administered, I'm reprising this from another blog of mine.

Note that this was written more for PotUS #43.

Audio

Stick your left hand on the book
And the right one in the air,
Then assume a sober look
And say "I do solemnly swear
That I will faithfully execute
The office of President
Of the U.S. and its possessions to boot.
(Heck, you know what I meant.)
I will, to my ability's best,
Preserve, protect and defend
The Constitution of the U.S.
(As long as it serves my end.)"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today, January 20, 2009

For today, more than almost any other day I can think of, I have struggled to create a rhyme suitable to the occasion. But everything I've come up with has been trivial and insignificant in comparison to the moment.

Because today, more than most in history, signals the triumph of an idea. We sometimes think of history as a succession of great people, geopolitical forces, and natural events. But it is ideas that drive the great people, and ideas that stir the geopolitical forces. Even natural events become significant because of the ideas they engender. Truly, ideas are the engine of history.

Yet rarely can we point to such a clear milestone and say "This idea is coming to fruition."

It's been a long and terrible struggle. It gestated during the centuries when Africans were dragged from their homes, packed into ships, and, if they were lucky, brought to the new world to be sold as property. It developed when the United States went to war with itself over the question of whether prosperity should be sacrificed for the cause of freedom.

And this idea began its painful delivery with the marches, the demonstrations, the speeches, the sacrifices, the lynchings, the bombings, and the thousand skirmishes that showed, above all, that this idea was coming no matter what.

Today is not the end of the struggle. There is still much hard work to be done. The message will have to be delivered again and again, all over the country and around the world. People will resist, backslide, and forget.

But today, at least, we can celebrate how far we've come.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Theater

Audio

It seems to be a human trait
That we should act things out.
Some tales demand we imitate
How events came about.

For elders who did want to reach
Their young with cultural training,
The theater was way to teach,
While being entertaining.

We also found that ritual
Could make us feel correct.
The powers-that-be habitual-
ly demanded respect.

We added music, speech and dance
To help these rites evolve
To spectacles that could entrance
As well as problem-solve.

Early Egyptian dramas speak
Of Osiris and Horus.
While Thespis, the first actor Greek,
Mixed dialog with chorus.

In every corner of the globe,
There's some theater tradition.
It offers us a way to probe
Our own human condition.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ideas of 2008

Audio

We bid farewell to two thousand and eight,
A year with many ideas, dumb and great.
One dominant idea was that of change
Though no one knew quite what to rearrange.
Before two thousand seven's ball had dropped
We all wished the campaigning could be stopped.
The candidates, with handshakes and with kissing,
Distracted us from ideas that went missing.
And when you thought things couldn't get much dumber,
The GOP lined up behind a plumber.
Some people even blamed McCain and Palin
For gasoline above 4 bucks a gallon.
But then, despite credulity it strains,
We elected a president with brains.
The choice of White House dog remains a drama --
Not any mutt can serve as Bark Obama.
And 30 Rock is good for Tina Fey,
Who couldn't play Joe Biden anyway.

Then China staged an awesome ceremony.
(We hope the actual games were not so phony.)
Medvedev, who took over from Vlad Putin,
Led Russia against Georgia, with much shootin'.

A disappointing year, we must confide,
For those who had large hadrons to collide.
Just like the future of which some have spoken,
Machines will rule the world, but they'll be broken.

Ignoring every taxpayer who hollers,
We coughed up seven hundred billion dollars
So all the financiers whose banks had failed
Could by the U.S. government get bailed.
It's not like throwing money on the fire --
Their chief execs will use this to retire.
Then auto makers, just to hedge their bets
Flew in to beg for money on their jets.
Though Congress thought that bailout was worth blocking,
Bush promised to put something in their stocking.
So if this year on Wall Street had a theme,
It's typefied by Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

And Rod Blagojevich’s yuletide treat
Was auctioning Obama’s senate seat.
That’s quite unlike New York’s appointment game,
Won by the one with the most famous name.

And thus passes the century's eighth year,
Like most, a mix of gloominess and cheer.
One thing is certain in the year to come:
There'll be no lack of ideas great and dumb.