Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, April 26, 2003
Balancing the Budget on, Backs of Porn Users

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri state government, or certain portions therein, want to add an excise tax on porn and strippers, which a senator somberly, and regretfully, informs us is a growth industry in Missouri. Yeah, I am sure he regrets getting any more money to spend.

More troubling, though, is that the state wants to start seizing assets of outlaws more easily. Sure, it's drug dealers this week, but what happens when the state needs more money? Seizing cars from speeders, sorry, I mean those guilty of "excessive vehicle noise," to support a program to keep people from spreading pathogens on the state grape? A slippery slope's not a fallacy, folks, it's a description of government.

What Do You Expect From a Paper Called The Post-Intelligencer?

The editorial columnist from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an interesting cartoon about the state budget crunches.

Tag line: "We had a pretty fine country going here till some darn fool let all the states go broke."

You know who that fool is, buddy? Each voter who doesn't hold his or her legislators accountable to control spending. All the states are breaking themselves, and they think the Deus Ex Federa's going to pull them out. That's foolish.

I Right Reel Good.

CNN's reporting that a National Commission on Commissioned Writing Professionals, or some such nonsense, reports that kids in school cannot clap together enough ramshackle sentences to impress the academic commissioners. Undoubtedly, though, the students are floating lazily on a tide of their own scholastically-induced self-esteem while trying to use emoticons to describe the sentiment of Julius Caesar when he said, "Et tu, Brute?"

The commission, or some other commission (I get confused since the article apparently refers to three or four different bodies), most heartedly recommends five points:
  • Every state should revisit its education standards to make sure they include a comprehensive writing policy.
    I sincerely hope that in the tablet handed down from the commission, it didn't chisel in a pronoun disagreement between every state and their. Nevertheless, this sounds a lot like each state should chair a statewide commission of its own, or three.

  • Those writing policies should aim to double the time most students spend on writing and insist that writing be taught in all subjects and in all grades. They should also require writing theory in teacher licensing.
    Of course, a national commission would want a national solution, and doubling time spent on writing might be too much in many cases. Unless they propose making the school day fourteen hours, they're asking schools to take that time from other programs--programs with their own national commissions, no doubt.

  • Political leaders should call for a national conference on writing.
    It's a special call, sort of a trilling not unlike a ruby-throated thrush. A clarion call that alerts the flock that it's time to feed on tax dollars scattered among the golden fields. Of course, calling is not action, but perhaps that's best, since the action would be more expensive contemplation by the distinctly non-ascetic wandering wisemen who sit on these committees.

  • Higher education should provide all teachers, no matter what their discipline, with courses in how to teach writing. Writing courses for students should be improved.
    Of course, higher education used to require courses in writing, rhetoric, and other thoughtful disciplines until some committee said it should focus on whatever discipline the student chose to pursue. The courses are available as it is, but when you're twenty, you're more into studying the opposite, or the same, sex. Besides, higher education is part of the system that's churning out students who cannot write, including teachers, I would assume.

  • States and the federal government should provide more money so schools have the time and staff needed to focus on writing.
    Tkaching! Now we're into it. Spend our way out of stupidity, or at the least keep the committees and commissions running so the academic experts don't have to teach students. The old saying intones, "Those who can't do, teach," but apparently there's a corollary that says, "Those who can't teach, administer, lobby, and commiss."
Poor writing isn't a problem in itself; it's a symptom of poor thinking skills. Our culture has shifted from a deliberate, Enlightenment-thinking culture into a quick reflexes culture. From the multi-tasking Business World, to the short attention span leisure of television, newspapers, and laddie magazines, our culture breeds Video-Game-Reactors that can do a lot of quick things simultaneously and who are lost trying to puzzle out a point or an argument, much less put it on paper using the set of words designed to deliver the message concisely.

You want Brian's tips for better writing? Here, have some for $0 in tax revenue:
  • Do it yourself.
    It's okay to take a couple of classes at the college if you want, but it's a starting point. Doing the bare minimum you need to finish the class, whether it's just a couple five page papers or participating in unholy group writing assignments, won't teach you how to write well. They'll teach you to write enough to get by.

  • Read a lot.
    Read cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines (and not just laddie magazines). The exposure to writing styles, words, and turns of phrase will give you fodder for that slot machine in your hand to improve the odds that something you click out on a keyboard will be a jackpot. Although this is not necessarily the case, as the last metaphor proves.

  • Write a lot.
    Write every night. Get a blog and run off at the fingertips as much as you can. Send letters to long-lost friends and family members.

  • Workshops won't teach you how to write.
    Join a workshop if you want, or suffer through an academic one, but understand that the workshoppers can only tell you what they think of what you write. They can't tell you if it's good or not. But if they react the way you want them, whether that's to make them mad or to revulse them, tells you if you're doing it right.

  • Drop the IM and E-Mail habits.
    Current standards, or lack thereof, let you get away with shortcuts, emoticons, and poor diction. They sux.

  • And then read and write some more.

Like playing a musical instrument, you can pick up the mechanics easy enough, but practice and improvisation over a period of time will lead to natural, effective, and purty written communication.

Update:Make a statement, someone will disagree. An opinion in Wired says kids learn how to think from video games. But not necessarily how to write. (Link discovered on TechDirt.

Friday, April 25, 2003
The Wheels of Legislature, Grinding

Since I have started this blog, I have discovered things beyond the ken of normal man. I have researched into the bowels of the Internet, and I have found shocking, eldritch things. Such as what government does daily.

Of course, they put it out there in plain sight, on Web sites of the .gov domain, where no one will see it. How better to hide the time-wasting activities designed to provide legislators with a part-time job to fill the time between fundraisers and elections?

For example, on the Missouri State Senate site, I have learned that our state senate has passed bills for the following just on Thursday (April 24, 2003):
  • Fire department should get water during emergencies wherein, I assume the fire department will be called to put said water on a fire. This bill seems to specify that the fire departments should get water even if they haven't paid their water bills. I have to wonder if this represents an upcoming budgetary cut.

  • Car rental companies cannot charge more in damages than the replacement value of the car. Seems like a good idea, but it doesn't really fit with laissez faire capitalism. Simple publication of the fact that XYZ rental company will charge you $60,000 for a stolen Hyundai Accent would probably impact XYZ enough to make them reconsider. More than a $1,000 fine would. And the fine print type size can be no smaller than 10 point!

  • Made it a class D Felony to photograph or otherwise record an animal research or production facility, and to intentionally and knowingly release a pathogen therein. So Dan Savage can lick Gary Bauer's doorknob in Iowa, but if he coughs in a Tyson chicken plant in Missouri, he's going to jail!

  • Names the official state grape. Okay, I admit, when it comes time for my weekly report at work, I like to finish a bunch of short things to at least have a number of items in my bulleted list of accomplishments. Surely the senators feel the same way, as they approved this one liner of a bill. I won't tell you WHAT the state grape is. You'll have to check it out yourself.

I understand passing these things in the state senate is only a third of the tri-partite bicameral-legislature-and-governor-signature system in place here in Missouri, so they're not laws yet.

But I have to wonder how important a lot of the legislature's business is. Do we really need a state grape? Legislation defining, and reglating, professional ultimate fighting (no throat hitting allowed)? How seriously will my state senator vote on these things? How will he (or she) react to a letter detailing a list of my positions on these issues?

Rightly, I would be labeled a crackpot, but wrongly I expect I would be ignored and/or sent a form letter based on some weird keyword search/merge. But this is what my state representative government does all day, four days a week, all legislative year.

When Driving Calves Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Drive Calves

Why is driving with 5 calves illegal in Arizona?

(From Fark.)

Is That A Challenge?

Frequent reader willr points out a story about a teenager who was dumped at a Kansas hospital after a party with a blood alcohol content of .425, which is five times the legal driving limit and 42 times the limit that MADD is undoubtedly going to try to mandate at the Federal level, tying some highway funding into it in that neat manner in which republics learn to subvert themselves.

According to the story:
    KCTV5 News used an Internet calculator to determine how much a 160-pound man would have to drink in an hour to have that much alcohol in his system.

    Drinking 5 percent beer, he would have to drink 14 and a half beers or almost eleven glasses of wine or 18 shots of 96-proof alcohol.
Fourteen and a half beers? Obviously, he drank an Anheuser-Busch product. No one would even want to down that many delicious Beer Smoothies, also known as Guinness Draughts, without savoring them. But I could understand the impulse to down a Bud Light in one swallow to minimize the damage to my taste buds and esophagus.

Perhaps They Don't Know The Meaning of "Smaller"

Drudge is linking to a story in the Boston Globe about how the Federal Government, that is to say the White House, wants to make it a Federal Crime to assault a pregnant woman if you hurt the fetus. That's not only icing the schnucking cake, that's putting some cool little candy roses on it.

This represents another example of the drive to give prosecutors a bigger buffet from which to choose how to prosecute someone for a crime. Already, the options rival the Biggie menu at Wendy's. So now they want to add a new venue as well as crime. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't assaulting a woman already a state or local crime? In many cases, it's already a state or local crime to harm a fetus. But in some, it's not, and so the Federal Government wants to step in and supersede the local will.

Contrast this with the commentary provided by one Senator Santorum (link found with help from Andrew Sullivan) who argues for sodomy laws at the state level precisely because it cannot be allowed at the Federal level.

Okay: So if you can outlaw it at the Federal level to make an end-run around pesky states who might feel differently than the party in power on the national level, do so; if you cannot, it's okay for the individual states to make up their own minds as long as they're outlawing the right things.

No wonder I am not returning Marc Racicot's letters any more.

Families Want Perpetual Roadside Memorials for Accident Victims

Meanwhile, north of Milwaukee, families of car accident victims and their sympathizers have restored the spontaneous pile-up of crosses, flowers, and other memorabilia at the site of the accident that claimed their loved ones. The headline of the coverage says "Dispute over crosses for crash victims continues." Dispute? Do litterbugs have disputes with the people on the people who adopt highways and impede the litterbugs' rights to free expression of casting of the detritus of our consumer culture and metaphorically despoil the countryside as the fast food restaurants are culturally despoiling the nation?

The insensitive Department of Transportation gave these roadside memorials six months after the accident and then cleaned them up. The DOT argued, probably rightly, that these memorials provide a distraction to drivers. Undeterred, the crosses and whatnot have sprouted again like mushrooms after a cool spring.

I understand grieving for your loved ones, and I understand marking their passage, but is it really appropriate to stick a gaudy plastic cross on the expressway? Couldn't you afford a real headstone where your family member is interred? Is that truly the sum of that person's life, that he or she became a statistic, probably while driving sixty miles an hour while eating a McBreakfast and changing CDs in the fog? If so, I doubly pity you and your unimaginitive lifestyle, redeemed only in your public display of suffering.

I know, I know, I just don't understand how you feel. Let's just leave that sentiment in high school were it belongs, okay, and make that frightening journey from adolescence into adulthood, where we can grieve without gratuitous displays and without nailgunning ourselved to the gaudy vinyl cross of outrage that the cold government is infringing our rights to clutter the public square with bulletins of our passing.

What Did She Mean, Anyway?

Good day. I notice a lot of traffic dropping by from IMAO, and I wanted to clarify what my esteemed spouse said in the comment to Frank J's props for Michael Moore.

Hey, I say The Big One when it ran at the artsy Tivoli theatre here in St. Louis back in the 1990s. I liked it well enough. After all, corporate power abusers are the same fun targets for drive-by rantings as governmental ones, ainna? So when I spent my four bucks to join the Quality Paperback Club, I selected Stupid White Men. I knew the basic plot, so it's not like I was getting something I wasn't expecting.

It became a boon that I bought it in paperback. I could more vigorously "dialog with the text" without damaging the furniture or walls of my home. Highlighting? Marginalia? How about a schnucking drop-kick when Moore pillories the new attorney general for disposing of gun background checks as the law says he should--which Moore calls ILLEGAL! How about a backhand expulsion of the tome the eighty-second time Moore describes Bush as illegitimate? I forget at what point I spiked the book to the floor and stomped on it, but I made it all the way through.

I'd recommend the practice of paperbacks when reading books with which you disagree. It's not always the case that you'll feel such vitriol that you'll need to physically abuse a book, but when lies, quarter-truths, and whatnot cover most of the material between the title page and the "About the Author" section, it's best to be safe from gouging drywall, concussing cats, or hurting yourself.

Thank you, that is all.

Thursday, April 24, 2003
Sinead O'Connor Apparently Still Alive

Billboard reports that Sinead O'Connor is going to retire in July of 2003 so that she can pursue another career.

I thought the industry had made that decision for her some years ago.

(Thanks, Drudge. You're my hero. But I had a hat first.)

Governor Pataki Just Says No

Although it seemed a good idea to those legislators that like to bump up on additional tax revenue, New York Governor says no to a tax "surcharge" that the state would have applied to people making more than $100,000 a year.

Good to see an executive pushing himself away from the table.

Tenure For Teachers Getting Easier

Steve Chapman in today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) discusses the means by which teachers in Illinois will soon have tenure in three years instead of four.

While the rest of us out here in the real world have to worry about at-will employment, it's good to see our teachers are safe from the economy and, in some cases, their own incompetence.

Next step: inherited tenure. Primogenitenure!

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Eminent Domain vs. Imminent Domain

See? I am not the only one who thinks Eminent Domain, as it's currently interpreted, sucks.

Am Not!

In my defense, life with me is not as surreal as it's presented.

Thank you, that is croissant.

Anti-Stutter Bias at all Time Highs

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch loves its crusades, particularly its crusades for simplistic issues and individual concerns. This morning it reported a shocking case of PREJUDICE against a man with a disablility. A man with a stutter alleges that a nationally-syndicated radio show refused to play his request because he stutters. The Post-Dispatch, with its characteristic fervor, describes the travails of this guy who cannot get his bit on the air because of his disability.

The crusading story describes how the man tells them the producer or call screener slurred his stuttering nature and uses that allegation as its reason d'outrage. Of course, the article also mentions that the protagonist of the "story" has repeatedly called the program and has made on-air dedications before. Further, this dedication is another one for the man's ex-wife and the man himself is a repeat criminal offender. In the Post-Dispatch's eyes, he is the Little Man to cast against the Big Media Empire.

Now, I wasn't there, and unless the gummint powers-that-record release the tapes of the conversation, we'll never know whether the screener told the guy to buzz off because of his speech, or because he was a weepy repeat caller who wanted to send his estranged ex-wife a different song every hour. However, based on the information in the story, I cannot judge in favor of the alleged stutterer. As a matter of fact, I would have to trust someone who has a reputation and an audience to protect.

As a result of this micro-crusade, though, the local radio station that carried the national show has stopped carrying the show based on this outrage. Well, no, they were going to drop it next month (i.e., in seven days) anyway, but they'll pay a DJ for a week to cover the extra week of dead air. Message: They care about their individual listeners.

Everyone wins! The stutterer gets his revenge, although I suspect the revenge he wanted remains to be decided by a civil court. The paper wins because its crusade on behalf of the little guy has gotten results. The radio station wins because it sacrifices little to Support the Wronged Little Man.

Of course, producers of the radio station and skeptical readers everywhere are saying "WTS (What the Schnuck)?" and wondering if something in the water stripped from the Missouri River and lightly chlorinated makes St. Louisians this whacky.

The secret's in the psychadelic Iowan sewage. Who needs shrooms?

Paging Senator Proxmire

Forbes has coverage of an annual report by a group called Citizens Against Government Waste that outlines some of the more distinctively foolish government programs upon which the government lavishes money. The late Senator William Proxmire did a more limited run of this sort of thing with his Golden Fleece Award, but apparently takes more detailed view of the complete budget.

This sort of thing would make an excellent checklist for a line-item veto, ainna?

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Think You're Priceless? Think Again

A new ad campaign has been launched in seven states to "inform" public opinion on the pitfalls of capping malpractice lawsuit lottos.

Here's a bit from the article describing the plight of one set of parents:
    One of the new ads features the mother and father of a 2-year-old boy who died of dehydration. The child is shown in an oversized cowboy hat, drinking from his baby bottle while his parents mourn their loss.

    "All he needed was an IV ... It's unheard of in the United States. You don't lose children to dehydration," says the child's mother, Shawnna Gardner.

    "They lose one of their sons or daughters to medical malpractice, they won't be concerned about putting caps on damages," says the boy's father, Vern Gardner, referring to the bill's critics.

Message: Little Billy was priceless, but we'll take two million for him.

Get a clue, people. Sometimes accidents and oversights happen, and money should not alleviate your suffering. An accident calls of this sort calls for a thorough inquiry and perhaps a warning to the attendants if they were not grossly derelict or malicious, but not a chingchingching payout for the bereaved at the expense of everyone else left paying into the system.

I mean, get a load of this ad:
    In the third commercial, a young boy buying a candy bar is told the cost is $14.03. "But it's only a candy bar," he says. "Yeah, but my investments lost a lot of money. So, I'm gouging my customers," the store owner replies.

What the store owner needs to say is, "Yeah, but little schnucking Charlie on the next block put a whole schnucking chocolate bar into his mouth before riding his bike down the embankment from a freeway overpass and ramming head on into an electrical utility pole whereupon he choked on the candy bar. So now I have to pay malcandy insurance because I can't be sure you're not part of the same chocolate-choking death cult, kid, take it or leave it."

But I guess that runs longer than thirty seconds.

St. Louis Is Now As Sensitive as Washington, D.C.

A St. Louis judge will be asked to resign for using a word that someone who heard it doesn't understand. Because niggardly sounds like nigger, someone wants the skirt to resign.

So now in the game of Sensitivity Charades, even Sounds Like is thought to be grounds for an excommunication from public life, even when committed by another minority persecuted through the ages.

A wonderful addition to my quiver of insensitivity quarrels! So now phonetics, elision, and the book-learned-vocabulary mispronunciation that I call my "Wisconsin Accent" can now get me in trouble when the random collection of syllable tumblers click into a combination that sounds naughty to a random listener. I call that alignment of the forces against me a hostile universe environment, but nobody's listening unless I howl, Lee.

I better be careful the next time the St. Louis Blues play the Nashville Predators. My position as Doc-U-Matic 3000 would be in jeopardy were I to appreciate the goalie's play. Tom Vokoun is a twofer.

What To Get The Linux Lover Who Has Everything

I think I'm going to name mine Billy Gates.

Turnabout Is Fore Play

Shocking! Apparently, Saddam Hussein was paying off at least one person in the west that opposed the war against his regime.

You mean they bought off members of the opposition so they wouldn't fight? Whereever did he learn that trick?

(Story discovered via Little Green Footballs and Den Beste.)

Monday, April 21, 2003
It's A Good Law If It Doesn't Affect Me

In Coral Gables, Florida, you cannot park your pick-up truck on the street or in your driveway between 7 pm and 7 am lest you be mistaken for someone who actually has to work for a living. The city enacted the law in the 1970s to preserve its sense of uniquely fake Mediterranean decorum, to keep property values and tax assessments suitably elevated, or simply to thrash property rights whereever it can, and most of Coral Gables was fine with it until recently.

The pick-up owners have rebelled. Now that pick-ups have evolved from utilitarian cargo haulers to 250 XXL Buses-With-Lidless-Trunks-For-Beds, the pick-up owners think their trucks are no different than SUVs, so the SUVs should be banned from driveways and streets at night. And the powers that fill the city's coffers with ticket revenue agreed. Dadgum, SUVs are trucks!

So now the fifty percent of the city who violate the new interpretation of the law decide they want the law changed, or at least clarified so only the minority who own unsightly, disgraceful pick-up trucks are punished for their combined choice of vehicle and residence. After all, the obvious intent of the law was not to infringe upon their property rights, but upon the property rights of others. So until the law was interpreted to affect them, it was okay.

All righty, then. They used to call this sort of thing fascism before they devalued the word.

A Protest Song 30 Years Too Late

In the song "Big Yellow Taxi", the Counting Crows and Adam Duritz take on the burning issue of DDT usage in agriculture with the following verse, delivered as usual in Duritz's thoughtful soul-voice:
    Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
    I don't care about spots on my apples,
    Leave me the birds and the bees
Wow. Talk about a timely protest lyric. About thirty years late since the EPA banned DDT for most uses in 1972.

So the fact that you cannot find spots on your apples, Adam, represents the fact that the apples in the produce section of the grocery store are sorted by their physical appeal, and the spotted apples end up in your canned apples and applesauce.

As a side benefit of your happy spotted apples, the world's population explosion is being alleviated as malaria enjoys a resurgence.

In other news, I too will take a courageous stand. I am working on my protest song that tackles the controversial matter of burning witches at stake.

Sunday, April 20, 2003
Se Habla Un Poquito Del Espanol

I took four years of El Espanol en la....I mean, in high school, and then a year and a half in college. I got to use the language in a real world situation this weekend when I scrawled a "Felices Cumpleanos" on a birthday card for a friend whose party was at a Mexican restaurant. It's a good thing that the party wasn't held in Mexico proper; "Felices Cumpleanos" is about the extent of the extant vocabulary within my Spanish repertoire. But although the Spanish vocabulary and much of the advance conjugation and syntax have passed into the memory cells waiting to be recycled for Pink lyrics, I still retain some of what I picked up in Spanish classes. No, I met the lovely and talented Heather elsewhere. I meant I learned something in Spanish class.

Of course, early in my educational career I knew I was an English Nerd (Geek would have paid better). After all, I graduated from high school with ten credits of English, the equivalent of ten years of English classes, and I accumulated almost enough English credits in college to render me ineligible for an English degree. Although the typical high school grammar-indoctrination courses were geared to beat the rules of English grammar and syntax into my head, I didn't really grok the point until I started fumbling phonics in another language.

Trying to speak another language helped to abstract the principles of written, and to a lesser extent oral, communication. For example, take the simple question "Could you run to the store?" Although common enough in the common vernacular, the content of this simple sentence relies upon a number of peculiarites of the idiom. To whit:
  • "Could" represents the conditional tense, which means that a condition must be satisfied for the statement, much like in computer programming. I could, if that damn pit bull hadn't gnawed my leg of at the shin--bad Otis!
  • "run" is the English equivalent of "go" and can stand in for run, walk, drive, or whatever means of locomotion is appropriate.
The roles of the different parts of speech, and the different verb tenses (past or subjunctive? conditional or future?), stopped being the goofy impositions of the great grammarian overlords, the honorable William Safire presiding. Instead, they became the Legos brand toy building blocks used to build sentences, paragraphs, and communication between two or more people. Not immutable laws, but they've got their uses.

Of course, I came away with this insight only because my natural predilections normally predilecked toward the uses of languages. I'm not so sure the others who similar classes came away with a similar appreciation for the subtle art of speaking and writing clearly. Most of them still like to mix the red blocks with the blue blocks when making a tree, but they've had every opportunity to know which pieces are green.

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