Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Friday, December 24, 2004
Sophistication, Thy Antonym is Noggle

On Wednesday, Richard Roeper identified the worst holiday songs and assigns the worst ribbon to "Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dogs, which leads me to confess: I have this song on a cassette single.

As Roeper mentioned it, I put it in the old cassette deck and clicked the play button. And sang along.

Granted, I am just a suburban schmuck and not a big-city sophisticate (pronounced as Frenchly as possible), but even I have limits. For example, I don't care for the Singing Dogs' rendition of "Oh, Susanna" which is the flip side of the tape.

Book Review: What If? 2 edited by Robert Cowley (2001)

I have always been a big fan of what would become known as counterfactual history; why, to this day, I have a large collection of Marvel What If comic books, wherein Uatu the Watcher examines alternate realities in which pivotal events in the Marvel Universe turned out differently than they did in the actual comic books. This volume, a sequel to a book I haven't read, does the same with actual historical events, where historians and other people who write about history imagine what would have happened if history had gone another direction than it did.

Essays within the book include musings on what would have happened had Socrates died in battle (written by the blogpular Victor Davis Hanson, whose name isn't even on the cover), what if Antony had won, what if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus Christ, what if France had defeated Haiti, what if Lincoln hadn't issued the Emancipation Proclamation, what if the Chinese had discovered the New World, and a number of what ifs revolving around World Wars I and II.

To sum up, in most of the essays not dealing with Socrates or World Wars I and II, the sum result is that the United States wouldn't exist as we know it. Either it would be the eastern part of the Chinese empire, or part if a Caribbean/French empire, or anything but the oppressive regime it is. The book was written before September 11, 2001, and before chimphitler got re-elected, so I am sure that some of these writers have other what ifs in mind to cry into their lattes.

To illustrate how some of the speculation slightly skews anti-American, take the example of the essay "The Chinese Discovery of the New World, 15th Century", wherein Theodore F. Cook, Jr., muses on the possibilities of expansion during the Ming Dynasty. The story centers around eunuch admiral Zheng He, who led several large armadas to Africa, India, and throughout the southwest Pacific, overcoming many youthful difficulties, including:
    Selected for his alertness and courage by the general himself and marked a "candidate of exceptional qualities," after enduring the excruciating agony of castration by knife (which traditionally removed both penis and testicles), the boy was assigned to the retinue of one of the emperor's sons, the Prince of Yu (Zhu Di's ititled during his father's reign), [sic] at the capital of Nanjing.
So the Chinese were painfully emasculating a portion of their population, but on the other hand:
    Might not the worst horrors of the Atlantic slave trade been aborted by a halt to Portuguese expansion along the African coast at this early date?
This author happily trades forced castration for stopping the Portuguese slave trade. To many academics, undoubtedly, it's not a bug, it's a feature.

I found many such idealogical digs and inflammatory throwaway lines to note, but once the book got back to warfare, where apparently the serious historians play, it turned more coldly analytical.

Still, it's a good read and worth your time as each essay explains what happened and how it might have changed, which serves to remind and reinforce one of historical knowledge one might have, or need. Counterfactual history, as the introduction notes, reminds us of the narrative of history instead of the dry dates and campaigns of history. Plus, it makes me feel like Uatu.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, high-priced law firm Bryan Cave gets a loan from the city:
    The law firm still will receive a forgivable loan of $300,000 from the city to offset some of the cost of expanding and renovating its offices.
To those of us outside of the public-private partnership working together to suck money from taxpayers for the betterment of the public-private partners, this sounds an awful like corporate welfare. But it's just a loan, the city insists, waving its hand to implant that thought into the mind of the weak or the inattentive.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Happy Holiday Hiatus

Just to let all six of my readers know, I, too, will take a Christmas hiatus.

I probably won't post between 10pm Christmas Eve and 6am on Christmas morning because I don't want Santa to skip my house because I'm awake.

Posting will resume on its regular irregular schedule at 6:01 Christmas morning.

Thank you, that is all.

Miracle Cure

Headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Woman is off life support after stabbing attack.

Why don't they try that with everyone on life support, then?

Top Mispronunciations of Sarah McLachlan's Name

Like Milla Jovavich, Canadian siren Sarah McLachlan has a name that's difficult to spell or pronounce from memory. Undoubtedly (used here in the sense of "I am making it up"), Ms. McLachlan has endured people addressing her or writing of her with one or more of the following:
  • Sarah Machlachlanahan.

  • Sarah Mchlandlached.

  • O'Sherrie McLachlan (by Steve Perry, of course).

  • Shiraz McLachlan.

  • Sarah McLockedLAN.

  • Natalie Merchant.

Sure, it's a gag that amuses me, but will I think it funny when one of these young ladies mocks me in such a fashion? Probably not; I am thin-skinned and overly sensitive.

A Writing Assignment for Heather

Professor Bainbridge has a writing assignment for Heather:
    Being somewhat of a fan of crossover fan fiction stories (e.g., X-Files/Highlander), I've come up with a solution. I want to read a really good story in which one of my favorite fictional villains crosses over into Anita Blake's world and, well, snuffs her. (Not to put too fine a point on it.)
What's his problem?
    It's not just the gratuitous S&M-tinged sex and violence. It's not just the incredibly formulaic plots (big bad vampire comes to town; Anita's not allowed to kill vampire bad guy due to some contrived rule of vampire politics; after killing and screwing lots of other folks, Anita finally gets to kill the bad guy. Yawn).

    It's simply that the main characters have become so unlikeable. Anita Blake is the worst of the lot. She's a insufferably smug psychopathic bitch who is constantly pissed off at something and whose first reaction to somebody new is either to screw them, kill them, or both. She's also one of the most remarkably self-centered major characters I've ever encountered, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts and (dare I say it?) blue balls wherever she goes. (One of the oddities of the series is that, despite the amount of sex in the books, Blake is always leaving somebody high and dry.)
Well, I think insufferable, smug, psychopathic, and constantly pissed off are rather attractive features in a woman (present beautiful, sufferable, not-smug, well-adjusted, and pleasantly-disposed wife excluded, of course), but I also quit reading the books when Anita Blake set up the whole sleep with the werewolf one night, sleep with the vampire the next night rotation and the books became more of the author's wish fulfillment than this reader's wish list.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
No Exceptions

A special message to the pagans in the audience:

Happy holidays!

Holiday Hint

Having trouble distinguishing between Lou Reed and Lou Rawls? MfBJN offers this handy guide:
  • Lou Rawls is the guy with singing talent.

  • Lou Reed had something to do with Andy Warhol, who was a mid-twentieth-century painter who was famous, briefly, because Americans were bored after World War II.
Don't be fooled by that talking-over-a-bass-line that represents "Wild Side"; that didn't take much talent, and hence it's obviously Lou Reed.

Monday, December 20, 2004
Holiday Safety Reminder

Remember, if you try to do your beautiful wife a good turn by picking up her dry cleaning, which she specifically took to the dry cleaners to remove the scent of cigarette smoke from her new apparel:

Do not leave the dry cleaning in the car with your White Castle lunch while you run into the hardware store for twenty minutes.

Failure to heed this warning will totally negate your good hubby points; in fact, it will probably put you into red, parentheses-surrounded points in your wife's book.

The Post Wherein Brian Finds His Cup Empty and Seems to Support the United Nations, Briefly

I need more coffee anon.

Wish You Were Here

A Monday morning greeting from Tristan:

Wish you were here

I think he's taunting us.

Sunday, December 19, 2004
Happy Holidays

You know, the current kerfuffle of the season (or currfuffle in the lingo of those who need kerfuffles to survive) revolves endlessly about the de-Christianization of Christmas. As every year, groups of aggressive atheists file suits to prevent governments from putting mangers on their properties. Since not everyone can involve themselves in the constitutional litigation and legislation, a lot of common folk have decided that saying "Happy Holidays" is the contemporary equivalent of throwing Christian believers to the lions. Remember the reason for the season, they shout, ignoring the fact that the season occurs because Persephone ate six pomengranate seeds while in the underworld, whereas the anniversary of Christ's birth provides only the reason for one of the holidays in the middle of winter.

I've participated in a holiday program that wished consumers "Happy Holidays" and have seen the instant backlash produced, wherein previously loyal customers threaten to go elsewhere because the company used the inclusive turn of phrase. I've seen reasonable people in the blogosphere sputter their indignation. And when it comes time for my company to send out holiday greetings, I send out something that says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

I use the "Happy Holidays" professionally, as I assume many commercial people do, when I address people whose faith I don't know. I do wish my family and my Christian friends a Merry Christmas because I know what they celebrate, and I don't want to be an oaf and ask them to enjoy a holiday they don't celebrate. I would never say "Happy Independence Day" to a Canadian on July 4. I think the "Happy Holidays" captures the spirit I would like to share with everyone, regardless of creed, during late November and all of December. Come January 2 or 3, though, it's back to curses for everyone.

Some of the commentariat argue that "Happy Holidays" is disingenuous because it doesn't recognize the clean-up batter of the holiday lineup, and that political correctness has run amok. James Lileks, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, says:
    Am I offended that they name the other holidays by name? Of course not -- no more than I'd be offended if a practitioner of those creeds wished me a happy whatever. This is America. Come one, come all. Frankly, I look forward to the day when the Mexican Day of the Dead is a national holiday; having a picnic in honor of departed relations is an improvement on, say, Arbor Day. Fifty years from now, we'll all drive hovercars right up to the grave and grill some steaks. In any case, if someone wished me a Happy Whatever tomorrow, I'd be honored that they cared to include me. Why some companies are terrified of this idea I cannot imagine.
As though those who say "Happy Holidays" avoid the word "Christmas" because they don't want to offend minorities. Instead, I think people who use "Happy Holidays" want to include as many as they can., instead of because they want to include. Two separate sentiments entirely, I say. Virginia Postrel, author and former editor of Reason magazine, says:
    I can't blame Christians, who are the vast majority of Americans and the ones whose religion is celebrated in all those carols at the mall, for wanting their holiday acknowledged in public. I don't get offended when Dallasites assume everyone, of course, celebrates Christmas. (Everyone they know does, after all.) And I hope to have a happy, though not necessarily merry, December 25. But I wish good-hearted folks like Lileks would consider that Christmas greetings don't make everyone feel good.
Once again, she's focusing on the predicate that people don't want to offend instead of the impulse to include. I think they both misunderstand the impulse to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas or Happy Winter Solstice or any particular holiday in this period of increased brotherhood among men and sisterhood among women and consumerhood among consumers.

But what really twists my valve is that the most vehement of the anti-Happy Holidays crowd demonstrate the impulse to exclusion that they project upon everyone else. That if someone wants to wish you well during December, that that person must say, "Merry Christmas" or the sentiment won't stick. Plainly and simply, some Christians won't accept the good tidings of others unless it acknowledges their particular tastes in good tidings, that heathen beneficience is the work of the devil. It stems from the retake-the-holy-land impulse in some strains of Christianity, not the brotherhood-of-man strain, and it's particularly odious given the spirit of the Holidays. I rankle, and I refuse to let others exert their self-imposed authority over my holiday greetings.

So I bid you happy holidays, whether you like it or not.

It's Not That I'm Superstitious

But when I'm watching the game and the Packers are losing at the half time, I change Packers apparel.

Things That Don't Make Me Feel Old (Yet)

The end of the year brings reflection on where you have been, and continued viewing of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century brings reflection on what I haven't done in the last twenty-five years, so I have lit upon a list of things that don't yet make me feel old, but undoubtedly will in the next few years:
  • Remembering the Rewind button.

  • Jokes where the punchline involve Imelda Marcos.
I am sure I had others, but I just cannot seem to remember them right now.

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