Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Consume What You Harvest

In line at the hardware store with the artist formerly known as hli, I saw the most saddening thing I have seen in some time: a tennis racket that's electrically configured to zap bugs. Although the thing says it's not a toy, it's designed and packaged to be used as a tennis racket with insects as the ball, and their deaths as the result.

That's right, boys and girls, it's specifically a toy to kill insects. This is ohsovery wrong.

Swatting bugs inside the house or upon you when you're outside is necessity in preventing parasites from using you for lunch or preventing insects from consuming your grain. However, to simply go out of your way to kill them is kind of sick. They used to perjoratively say that a bad seed was the kind of kid to "pull the wings off of flies." Now some bunch of yippie skippy Ron Zapeils come along to make it fun for the whole family.

Some PETA gum flapper might come along and say it's just like huntung, but it's not. Responsible hunters consume what they harvest. I assume these wannabe bug batters are not. If they do, and they're putting moths, beetles, and bumblebees on the table for dinner, I don't have a problem with it. But you're not going to see Ted Nugent kill it and grill it (in one convenient step!) any time soon.

Fortunately, there's not been a craze or anything, which proves either we're in a recession and people cannot afford the finer things in life like a battery-operated taser-set-on-kill toy, or that America's not slid so far into irreverant decadence that mainstream people want to kill something anything, other than virtually through video games, for fun. When I get a warm fuzzy glow after a pitcher of margaritas, I can convince myself it's the latter.

A Guaranteed Business Plan

At the local Casinoport grocery store we attend, a giant green monstrosity sits just beyond the cash register. A Coinstar machine. A machine designed to count coins and dispense almost as much in dollars as you put in in cents.

There's a business plan for you. To build a machine that counts coins for Americans who are too lazy or who cannot count their own coins and takes a 7% vig right off the top.

When I tried the old, "Do you have a quarter for two dimes" trick in elementary school, I couldn't find any takers. I should have, instead of using the "human touch" factor, just built a cold machine to do the same thing. People pay for that sort of convenience.

Survivors Will Be Prosecuted

Authorities in Tennessee have arrested a conflagrant lawbreaker for going into his burning building apartment building to save his dog. 26-year-old Jarrod Martin was led away in shackles after retrieving his year-old pit bull named Bishop from certain doom.

Authorities have charge him with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct for his heroism. They say he put his life at risk, and potentially put at risk the lives of firemen who would have had to drag him out if he were injured in the blaze.

About as funny, and tragically so, as the laws against suicide. The various governments will now tell you what you can or cannot value to the risk of your own life. After all, if you sacrifice or take your life, they only get your death tax, if any, not the recurrent revenue of your income, sales, and excise taxes. You're worth more alive than dead, so you really should only risk your life to save one or more other taxpayers or future taxpayers. Ogre, it should be illegal to charge into a burning building to save a pet or dive into a raging river to try to retrieve a lucky fishing hat that was a gift from your father.

And make no mistake about it, survivors will be prosecuted.

Friday, April 18, 2003
Quick! Name Three Countries Beginning with P!

My wife asked me this question, minus the additional pressure of the "Quick!", earlier this week. I know she works with shipping software, so I didn't know if she knew and was testing my comprehensive knowledge of trivia, or if she had a point.

"Uh," I said, buying time for the beginning of the tour of the mental globe I could conjure. "Papua New Guinea, the Phillipines, Paraguay...." I didn't know if the world only contained three P countries. I knew I couldn't depict Africa in my mind with any accuracy, or the South Pacific, but I thought the three I named were countries, for sure.

She wasn't testing me; she needed the information for her blog. But she piqued my curiosity, and I knew where to go to quickly uncover an alphabetical list of countries. As an IT professional, albeit a technical writer hanger-on, I might be expected to go to Google or some other Internet source to isolate the information I need. Oh, but no.

I have a World Almanac. A micro-Internet on my bookshelf, and its response does not depend upon the traffic between me and my ISP. My World Almanac indicated I had forgotten such obvious selections as Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Portugal, as well as Palua. In addition to the names, my World Almanac provides me detailed information about population, currency, land mass, and other trivia too trivial to mention.

Since they continue to print almanacs, I assume I am not the only one who still gets them (albeit this one was a gift from my lovely wife, who must have thought my trivial overload in any conversation was somewhat lacking in diversity and scope). Before people could wander the Internet to use portals and search engines to pique their interests in new subjects to explore, they had encyclopedias and almanacs. Whereas the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica have pretty much fallen by the wayside, and their online counterparts struggle to keep an online public informed, some hardy publishers keep printing and binding almanacs.

I'd like to take a moment to thank them for the effort, and for the eventual Trivia Night supremacy they're provoking. Although the Internet remains directively informative--you have to really have to make some effort to find factual material--almanacs let you recline in a chair and browse them while a fire hisses from the gas fireplace and swing music whispers from the digital cable stream.

All right, I guess I am in the middle of a shift from the traditional to the digital, but I have the best of both worlds. When almanacs are gone, we'll have one less world of which we can enjoy the best.

Thursday, April 17, 2003
First Surgical Mask Sighting in St. Louis

This afternoon, when I stopped at the local grocery store, I saw my first surgical mask covering the breathing apparatus of one of my fellow Casinoport denizens.

Was she protecting herself from the world-trotting unwashed masses, or was she protecting me from the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of S.A.R.S.? Perhaps I should have coughed at her to fnd out.

Sylllogism from the Sixties Songsters

Lyric Distilled Source
Freedom is just another word for
nothing left to lose
Freedom=Nothing Left to Lose "Me and Bobby McGee"
Janis Joplin
When you've got nothing/
you've got nothing to lose
Nothing=Nothing Left to Lose "Like a Rolling Stone"
Bob Dylan
Therefore Freedom=Nothing

Don't tell me about the fallacy of the undistributed middle, you whelp. I have been distributing middles since you were, well, a pre-whelp. Get offa my lawn!

Don't Mess With Texans More Than One at a Time

I mean, the crime is harrowing enough: two parents strangle and then decapitate their four children, either because they're too poor to afford children, or because the children are possessed by the devil, or because Hollywood called for "Andrea Yates meets Selena." Bad juju, no doubt.

But buried within the story, hidden in the plain sight of the second paragraph, we find this nugget:
    A grand jury indicted Maria Angela Camacho and her common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, on three counts of capital murder, and a fourth count was filed against them Wednesday under a state law allowing an additional charge if two or more people are killed at the same time.
In Texas, it's not only illegal to murder people, but it's even more illegal to kill them more than one at a time. I expect this is a well-formed law, too, with exact standards that describe the cooling off time period you must wait between homicides to not trigger the additional penalty, which I assume is something along the lines of desecrating the body as it's unbuckled from the lethal injection table.

I can only assume this is not what legal experts call a Deceased Equidae Cudgel (DEC) law. The goal of these laws is twofold. First, to rationalize the need for a full-time legislature, or a nine-month-a-year-for-more-than-a-working-man's-salary legislature, legislators need to pass laws. Factories are judged on their productivities, and bicameral representative bodies are, too. Publish or perish, legislate or languish, but show the People they're getting something for the money. As a result, we get more laws upon laws covering the same basic acts.

Secondly, DEC laws give prosecutors a Old Country Buffet from which to choose which felonies go with their appetites when confronted with a given act and criminal. This end run around Double Jeopardy protections ensures that prosecutors have plenty of statutes with which to prosecute for the same misdeed, for a different "crime," until they receive a conviction. Let's see, killing three people with a handgun used illegally in the commission of a felony on a Sunday while washing your horse with a garden hose--a prosecutorial pentathalon. Commit three crimes, get the fourth charge free! Yankee ingenuity overcomes the obstacles of starchy old English common law traditions.

Of course, this law serves not so much a retributive value--Texas executes killers with satisfying regularity--but a deterrent value. Thoughtful and legally-savvy mass murderers will choose less mass-murder-friendly states, like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, when planning getaways to the American South by Southwest.

Here's a motto for license plates in the Lone Star state (with apologies to Rachel Lucas): Ordnance AND Ordinance.

More time for Morrie

I quoth from the book of Albom:
    Instead of going indoors in early May, you can mow the lawn and say, "I can't believe the Wings lost like that."
On an unrelated note, is not the URL for the Detroit Free Press. Don't try this one at work, folks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003
One Man, Alone, With A Compiler and A Dream

Oh, and lest I forget, UltraEdit rocks!

One guy has written this supreme text editor and has refined it over a number of years. And it works. No exception boxes, no blue screens, just text with formatting elements in a different color.

Thanks, Ian D. Mead. You're an inspiration to us all, except you don't own your own fighter jet or 20,000 square foot house on a Pacific bluff. Here's my $35, though; buy yourself a case of Guinness Draught.

Airline Unions Vote for Lingering Death at Taxpayers' Expense

It came right down to the wire today, but the Association of Professional Flight Attendants decided not to garrote itself. Its members decided they could concede some money and benefits to keep American Airlines out of bankruptcy this quarter. I am disappointed. Bankruptcy would save the United States taxpayers a lot of money.

However did air travel ever become the tax pit it has? Taxpayers fund the airports, they pay for the security, and they frequently apply an unsanitary gauze of several billion dollars to staunch a sucking chest wound. What are our billions buying? CEOs and their Aspen homes. God Bless America.

What is it about the romanticism of airplanes that makes the government pour money into the big carriers? Pork for the piglet constituents who work for the airlines? To protect a couple thousand jobs, the government shovels billions of dollars a year into these slot-machine companies, hoping for three cherries of some sort. Here's a radical idea, gov: if you're so damn worried about the little voters who push the drink trays, instead of keeping the dinosaurs that employ them, how about buying 100,000 airline employees an engineering degree at a state university? You could do 100,000 airline employees per pork barrel, or 100,000 a year. They could find better jobs in markets that make money.

I mean, the hub business model doesn't work. In fields that don't use bbbbbbbrrrrrmmm! airplanes, the Move Less Than A Full Container Between Arbitrary Hub Warehouses model didn't work so well for Consolidated Freightways, but the government just let that company collapse. Maybe the terrorists have won now that we cannot ship Less Than Truckload (LTR) shipments nationwide. Or maybe smaller companies that can fill the niche using economically sound principles won. To Keynesians, entrepreneurs and terrorists look a lot alike.

So what happens if the government lets American, United, and their ilk go bankrupt? Air travel becomes more expensive, which is to say the companies have to cover their own costs. Smaller carriers with fewer routes make more money. A lot of cheap used planes come on the market, spurring expansion for these small companies. We the People have to ride AMTRAK, which might stop suckling on my paycheck, or drive. Corporate types who absolutely have to go coast to coast in hours still soak The Company for it, and the celebrities that pass over our Midwestern heads continue to do so just like the invisible celestial bodies they are.

And the United States Federal Government has a couple billion dollars a year to refund to we taxpayers or, more likely, to study the homeland security threat of poison dart frogs.

Adam Sandler Says

Adam Sandler posted a message to the troops on his Web site

Now he's really not going to win an Academy Award.

(My apologies to the blogger who first brought this to my attention. I have forgotten the location, and cannot properly credit you.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Ayn Rand Liked A Green Card...and Branden

Also in the Atlantic Monthly this month, but not online (go check), a cartoonist named Edward Sorel does a page and a half Little-Annie-Fanny rendition of Ayn Rand's life. Great! She married Frank O'Connor, she bopped Nathaniel Branden, then she died.

Of course, this simple rendition doesn't even have the depth and subtlety of Branden's Judgment Day, for crying out loud. There's something wrong with reducing a full and long life into nine panels. Oh, what the hell, let's Fisk it:
  1. Panel 1, Russian emigre, changes name to Ayn Rand. Check.
  2. Panel 2, She marries Frank O'Connor for a green card? I've heard they were in love, but that's a little complicated for one panel of a cartoon.
  3. Panel 3, The Fountainhead published and movie rights bought. That's right, but what's the idea jabbing at Jack Warner, head of the studio who bought the movie rights? Aren't you slamming Ayn Rand here?
  4. Panel 4, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden wed. This accounts for 11% of Ayn Rand's life and accomplishments? Wait a it comes....
  5. Panel 5, The Start of the Affair. Ayn and Nathan, rutting in a bed....
  6. Panel 6, The Affair Part II. Branden feels guilty, and Ayn is a shrew.
  7. Panel 7, Atlas Shrugged published, "A cult is born."
  8. Panel 8, The End of the Affair. Branden has an affair with someone under 65, and Ayn excommunicates him.
  9. Panel 9, Ayn Dies. Alan Greenspan is there, and look how he's effed everything up now.
So a full third of Ayn Rand's contribution to literature and philosophy is that she bopped a second-rate self-esteem motivational speaker? I disbelieve and make a sign of warding here. It's true, she erred, badly, with the whole Branden thing, but that's hardly the sum of rational egoism or the messages within her novels and nonfiction.

Don't get me wrong, I too have been cast from the reasoned land of capital-O Objectivism for thinking Ayn was less than perfect and that maybe Branden made some contributions to the objectivist cause, but to limit her life to nine panels, and her entire obra to an ill-advised affair and other cynical motives is to ignore the content of her work. Of course, maybe that's the goal of modern criticism, or maybe modern critics just can't make it through ~2000 pages of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

But I have. Twice, each. Nyah nyah.

So go watch Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life for the story beyond the cartoon. Beyond, perhaps, the cartoonist's comprehension.

Hitler Liked Dogs....and Books

Robert B. Parker's fond of having his characters in his Spenser novels say, "Hitler liked dogs" as a way of illustrating how even the worst antagonist might have some refined or sympathetic characteristics. This month's Atlantic Monthly also illustrates that Hitler liked books and was somewhat well-read.

As author Timothy Ryback recounts, Hitler gathered a large library beginning after World War I and collected books until his suicide. Ryback discovers a large amount of "dialoging with the text" wherein Hitler makes margin notes and underlines passages. This marginalia provides a sort of insight into his thought's developments. The article's a fascinating read.

Let this be a lesson to sophisticates, academics, and aesthetes who look down their noses at people with less formal education or less widely read in those contemporary "classics" that dictate the intellectually "in." Being well-read differs from being good, or being right.

Techies Salaries Might Fall To Earth In Twenty Years

Doom, doom! they say. CNet News is reporting that United States technical workers are standing in line for the welfare cheese handouts at local churches and have begun selling their collections of new or leased exotic sports cars to keep in their eat-out-six-nights-a-week habits. No, wait. Actually, CNet is reporting that tech salaries are not rising as fast as they used to, they are, or maybe they're really falling. Technical workers should be worried!

All right, first of all, I am not looking up at sour grapes here. Although I am not a real techie--a developer or admin of some sort--I am, even as a hanger-on to the IT industry, earning annually at 31 more than what my father earned at 45 after years of hard labor. So pardon me while I interject into the common IT thought a spot of perspective from here in the Midwest.

The median household income in these United States is $42,228 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All of you techies out there, compare and contrast this figure with what you take home in a year, and remember that this is the household income. Many households have two people working, sometimes more than one job each, to come up with their household income.

Not many Americans buy houses in fashionable neighborhoods at 25 or spend time each morning deciding whether to drive the Porsche or the Miata to work on any given day. An unfortunate number cannot have a spouse stay home with the kids. For some, McDonalds is eating out.

Now, I don't mean to harsh your mellow employment, and I don't want to attack tech workers or the economists who service them. I would prefer a little less hysterics in the media coverage of the economic sector and employment therein. Don't panic, enjoy the high income while it's there, but understand the economics of the situation will even themselves out. The pay goes up when the workers are scarce, and then suddenly everyone wants to do that job, and the pay stabilizes or comes down. Take what the field offers, but don't expect it's entitled to you.

And thank your lucky stars that you don't work a job where your arms can get ripped off by an unforgiving amalgamation of steel and someone else's ingenuity if your attention wanders, or a job that will make you walk slowly and slightly stooped after thirty years of toting and bending and lifting. For $10 an hour. For the rest of your life.

Sunday, April 13, 2003
Does This Cover Power Ballads, Which Are No Longer Popular?

Catholic leaders across the pond have finally banned pop songs from weddings, a step Lutherans seem to have taken already here stateside (at least in the church where I got married).

No word yet whether this includes power ballads, such as Motley Crue's "Without You" or Firehouse's "Love of a Lifetime", music formerly used as filler material on hair rock albums until someone in 1986 discovered this pap would make radio music directors and audiences see a sensitive side to a band where one probably didn't exist.

Also no word on whether this ban will be enforced at Milwaukee's fabled Chapel of the Little Bells, home of the 20-minute-wedding-performed-by-a-guy-with-seventies-hair-flaps-over-the-ears-and-a-shiny-electric-blue-suit.

So I Was Listening to Montgomery Gentry

I bought Montgomery Gentry's My Town this week because I liked the title track. As a matter of fact, after peeling of the cellaphane and stripping off the numerous security annoyances and inserting the CD into the player, I played the song several times in succession. It raises goosebumps upon me as Eddie and T-Roy celebrate their community. Vicariously, through the joy in their rendition of music and lyrics by Steele/Owens/Bates, I can enjoy a sense of belonging in a community group.

As a member of the current urban/suburban class, I moved around a bit when I was young. Although my splintering family didn't adhrere to the rigorous Military Family Bivouacking Schedule (MFBS), I managed to spread my youth across six houses in two states by the time I was eighteen. I don't have a small town from my past to idealize, with its close-knit (sometimes stifling, but sometimes comforting and supportive) social structure.

My current suburban municipality of Casinoport, Missouri, doesn't qualify. Any town incorporated in the last twenty years to protect a tax base from other municipalities whose names were created by land developers automatically lack a cohesiveness into which new residents can fit. The designation of Casinoport as a town or city is a matter of convenience only. The local government exists to spend the loot from the casino taxes on a set of gestures and residential perks designed to show the world they are a Real Nice Place To Live. The residents go to bed here at night and go to work in Clayton, Creve Couer, or St. Louis during the day and go to Bridgeton, Chesterfield, or maybe even stay here in Casinoport. It doesn't matter, because these communities are interchangeable, and you can't really tell where one ends and another begins except for the big signs that say, Now Entering A Different Town That's As Good As The Rest.

Some municipalities in the St. Louis Metroamalgamation, such as Webster Groves or Kirkwood, were real towns when the boundaries of St. Louis reached them. They have an identity for those who want to participate in the community. They have some institutions born before the Reagan presidency. Granted, even these communities suffer from the same centrigugal transience as the newer suburbs, but at least the homecoming fairs have some of the same faces from decade to decade.

I do tend to romanticize the city of my birth, but as a more abstract entity than a community. I appreciate it, when I am there, more platonically than a community member. Perhaps if I return someday, I can fully My-Town-Grok the community or the neighborhood in which I reside. Given my personal history and latent moods, I doubt it.

I realize I am one of the transients that's a part of the problem. I'll spend my requisite seven years in this home and will move onto a bigger home in a different community instead of helping build the traditions and institutions here that others might enjoy in future generations. I prefer to think I am hedging my bets by not wanting to invest in start-up communities, instead preferring to put my capital in something established.

So it's vicariously that I enjoy the celebration of community in song. I respect, and appreciate, the sentiments even though I do not get to participate directly in them.

I Was Just Thinking

If a man were truly a master of all he surveyed, Zogby would rule us all.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."