Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Book Review: Nightmare in Manhattan by Thomas Walsh (1950)

I can't believe I read the whole thing.

I bought a copy of this book for $2.95 at Downtown Books, and I was in the mood for a good older (pulp, noir) book after watching Call It Murder, a movie I got as part of a Humphrey Bogart movie box set and which Humphrey Bogart gets first billing only because his last name begins with a B. So after watching a poor transfer of a decent play turned into a bad movie, I picked this book up. Nertz. I deserved it, I suppose.

This book won the Edgar Award in 1951 for best first mystery novel. Apparently, the author was a widely-published short story writer, and the back cover explains that he's an expert craftsman who doesn't like a single waste word. Unfortunately, you can flip the book open to any page and find wasted words, impersonal expressions, extraneous adverbs, and everything else.

If this book served as our only artifact, we might assume that 1949 preceded the important invention of dialog. Open this book and just look at the text, and you might think you're looking at a Russian novel or an academic piece of nonfiction. Long paragraphs fill out the pages, with nary a line of spoken dialog between--and when the characters speak, they speak in paragraphs.

These two factors alone would deprive a book of pacing, but that's not all. Walsh apparently conducted his research into the Manhattan train depot, the primary setting of the novel, because he spends pages upon pages describing its environment and its back corridors. Whereas I like glimpses behind the scenes of different business/industrial scenes, Walsh pours these wordy descriptions into even climactic action scenes. The antagonist should run down a corridor. That's all I need to see. I don't need to know what rooms branch from the corridor, or how high the windows in the corridor are, or upon what rooms the other doors open. Just get the antagonist down the corridor.

Walsh also uses a poor device to try to build suspense, wherein he cuts between the cardboard characters, some of whom are lucky enough to be distinguished by their archetypes but others are only different in name, just as an important event is going to happen. Short cuts might prove interesting and suspenseful if the reader could tell the characters apart or cared about the characters. However, when the clock sits at twelve minutes to noon and these cut scenes stretch into paragraphs and dialogless pages of characters reflecting that they're scared/anxious/nervous because the upcoming event is important amid meticulous recounting of the staircases and balconies of the train station, the reader just wants to fast forward those twelve minutes so that over the course of ten pages, something important will happen.

Perhaps I'm a jaded modern reader who doesn't appreciate the important ground broken by this crime novel. But I do know that pulp fiction published at the same time had more at stake than this book. The plot: kidnappers, amusingly spelled kidnapers in this book (obviously, it preceded the common spelling of the crime), kidnape a child and hold him ransom for (pinky to mouth) fifty thousand dollars!. A tough transit cop and his superiors want to find the kidnapers before they kill the child. Russeted onto the story, we have an understated love interest in the secretary of the businessman whose son was kidnaped. Also, we have the train station, which is not personified and doesn't become a character in any sense like Ray Chandler would do to LA or Ed McBain would do to The City.

The plot, really, is secondary to the mind numbing description and language. One cannot escape them, and indeed I didn't so much read this book as rubberneck the wreck it became.

One last thought, and pardon me while I spoil the climax for you. The only mirth I derived from this book I found in the climactic thirty page final chase, wherein the tough cop mortally, or at least seriously, wounds the bad guy with a gunshot to the upper chest, and the villian leaps from a balcony and runs through a door into empty office spaces in the train depot, and falls down some stairs, runs down a corridor, falls down more steps, leaps out of the way of a train when he finds himself in a tunnel, and then almost makes it back to the child to kill him. The legions of law enforcement, meanwhile, cannot find where this fellow went. Because apparently, in 1950, they had not yet invented bleeding profusely.

I don't think it was supposed to be funny, but during those thirty pages of climax, I had a lot of time to enjoy the absurdity.

Friday, August 20, 2004
So-Called Watch

Another alleged "professional" writer deploys the bane of my existence. Eleanor Clift, writing in Newsweek, uses "so-called" to disparage something:
    The fact that Kerry attributed the breakdown in military discipline to the policymakers in Washington is lost on these men, who take Kerry’s words personally. This is not about Kerry’s performance in Vietnam; it’s what he said when he came home. Kerry has never made extravagant claims about his heroism in Vietnam. He never said his wounds were serious, and he never said he didn’t want to get out of Vietnam. After three wounds, under military rules, he was entitled to ship out, which he did after a combat tour of four months and 12 days. Nothing these so-called Veterans for Truth have come up with contradicts what Kerry has said, but that’s not the point.
Come on, Eleanor; so-called makes your prose sound more juvenile than your content does. It's "talk to the hand" or "whatever"; if you say so-called past age 23, your development has arrested.

(Link seen on Outside the Beltway, where James Joyner thoroughly fisks Clift's column.)

Which of the Five Ws Is This?

Here's the beginning of a story on entitled Missing Arkansas girl found dead:
    The body of a 7-year-old girl missing since Sunday was found Thursday night in a northeastern Arkansas field not far from where her shoes and pink bicycle had been recovered days earlier.

    The family's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Chitman, said police searching among corn and soybean fields found the body of Patricia Ann Miles, who disappeared Sunday morning after riding her bike to a grocery store. Television footage showed family members wailing after officers told them about her death.
Can anyone here tell me why the journalist who wrote this piece saw fit to include a detail about television coverage of this story, particularly an invasive convention widely deplored?

Just what do they teach in journalism schools these days?

Litigation Pool

Walter Olson at Overlawyered speculates on upcoming litigation after Hurricane Charley.

This sounds like the perfect opportunity for a pool!

Over 2
Sue Vietnam over continued attacks from Charley.            
Sue Alabama, Georgia for not allowing Florida penninsula to retract northward to safer location.            
Sue Catholic Church for God's wrath impacting the innocent as well as the guilty.            
Sue Chinese entomologists for not controlling their butterflies.    
Brian J.
Sue President Bush, Governor Bush for allowing Illuminati to perpetrate this disaster.            
Sue Chicago; the Windy City and its jealousy are behind this somehow.            
Sue landscapers for putting those dangerous trees in places where they can fall, split, break, or otherwise endanger people or property.  
Brian J.
Sue automakers, except for Hummer, for not making vehicles heavy enough.            
Sue utility companies for piping/transmitting dangerous gases/electricity through residential neighborhoods.            

$5.00 gets you a square. Pick the lawsuit and timeframe in which you think it will be filed.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
Answers to Trivia Questions

Here are the answers to some trivia questions soon to be asked:
  1. Samantha Fox
  2. Bright Lights, Big City
  3. David Hartmann and Joan Lunden
  4. Walter Mondale, Geraldine Ferraro, Lloyd Bentsen, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Joe Liebermann, John Edwards
  5. Teen Wolf Too
  6. Nancy McKeon
  7. The Satanic Verses
  8. Here's Boomer
  9. Yemen
  10. Texas Instruments home computers and Jello gelatin desserts.
Feel free to think up your own and to join me in studying to ensure dominance in trivia nights ten years' hence.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Welfare, Please

I hate it when rich capitalist developers aren't too proud to beg for tax money:
    Schnuck Markets Inc. plans to close its only store in East St. Louis, but the company has extended the store's life for another 30 days while a developer tries to buy the building and negotiate a more favorable lease that would allow the store to remain open.

    Clayton developer Jim Koman has the property at 25th and State streets under contract, but wants financial assistance from East St. Louis and the state of Illinois before closing on the property, which is held in a trust with a Belleville bank.

    "If we don't get some kind of support, it will be difficult for us to make this transition," said Koman, the president of Koman Properties. And, he added: "We don't have an agreement with Schnucks."
So the only thing he's guaranteeing is that he'll take the tax dollars.

It's not even begging, it's extortion, and deals like this give capitalism its slightly darker tint. Unfortunately, city and state officials enable this stupidity when they spend the people's money to ensure that developers with their own millions in liquid cash don't have to risk anything to turn a profit.

Monday, August 16, 2004
Headline of Tomorrow

Germany appeals to United Nations:

Make the Americans occupiers stay in our country.

President Kerry: Our Allies Need Our Troops to Support Humanitarian Missions

Our Military Spending Props Up Important Progressive States

Germany Blindsides France With Another Invasion

Seeks to Cure Unemployment with Military Adventure, Hostile Domestic to Occupation by American Imperialists

Make your own. Here's the starter kit: Germans Wary of U.S. Troop Withdrawal .

Candidates for Me, But None for Thee

Steve Chapman comes out in favor of eliminating the electoral college. Because, I think he argues, it doesn't empower individual states. And:
    Another claim is that this system upholds federalism and decentralization. In fact, no state government would find itself weaker without the Electoral College, because it confers no meaningful authority on state governments.

    Nor does it protect small states, which are granted proportionally more votes than large ones. Residents of Delaware and Idaho have no discernible common interests merely because they happen to live in small states. New York and Texas are both big states but, trust me, they don't feel a deep and special bond because of that. Americans vote on the basis of ideology, religion, race, economic concerns and the personal appeal of the candidates, not on some hazy "state" interest.

    Most small states, in fact, get zero attention. During the 2000 general election campaign, says Edwards, only six of the 17 smallest states were visited by either presidential candidate. Many bigger ones (like Illinois) also got shortchanged--and are getting similar treatment this year.

    Why? Because of the Electoral College. John Kerry will get millions of votes in Texas, but none of its electoral votes. No matter what Kerry does in California, he's almost guaranteed its electoral votes. Neither he nor President Bush has any incentive to waste much time in those places. They focus instead on the few states where the outcome is in doubt. Under a direct election, by contrast, candidates would go where the votes are--giving most Americans actual exposure to the campaign.
The electoral college preserves federalism, and although it doesn't give any small state a lot of power, it does ensure that presidential candidates pay attention to regions comprised of small states. Make no mistake about it, if the candidates only had to pander to the interests of the populous coastal states and not to the Midwest, the plains, and much of the South, they would not--and our government would tip further to a rule by the coastal elite, who don't care if gas taxes go to ten dollars a gallon because they live in small states where if they trip in Maryland, they bang their heads in Delaware, or who think eliminating all guns is noble because they won't be called upon to reason with a bobcat or a bear.

But Steve Chapman lives in Chicago, which would be the lone visit between coasts for candidates, and I guess he wants his exposure to them.

Who Put Miller Park in Athens?

Empty Olympic stadiums set off alarm bells

Games chiefs ready to give away tickets

On the bright side, at least Athens didn't mortgage its future to build an empty stadium. Oh, wait....

Oh, Canada

Police want you to pay for their wire taps:
    Canada's police chiefs propose a surcharge of about 25 cents on monthly telephone and Internet bills to cover the cost of tapping into the communications of terrorists and other criminals.
Swell. So once again, the phone companies get a new surcharge to charge everyone to pay for something that only a few will use. And police want to make it so.

(Link seen on /..)

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