Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Book Report: Star Trek 10 by James Blish (1974)
This book represents the last of the Star Trek paperbacks I bought at three for a dollar at Hooked on Books in Springfield, Missouri. I don't have much to say about it that I haven't said with the others (most recently Star Trek 9, oddly enough).

Still, as I read it, I wanted to brag about it. This represents the 67th book I've read this year. Nyah nyah. I read a lot and therefore am better than you, at least in this regard, most likely.

Book Report: Partisans by Alistair MacLean (1983)
I read a large number of Alistair MacLean books in high school. Because we were poor, living in a poor community, my reading was indelibly guided by the reading tastes of the all-volunteer Community Library's volunteers and donors. Ergo, I read a lot of McBain, Parker, and MacLean because the storefront library had a large number of old paperbacks by its donors' favorite authors, some of whom became my favorite authors, too.

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that I bought this book at the Bridgeton Trails branch of the St. Louis County library for a quarter as it sells off its books to make room for more Internet connections. So I happened upon a couple of Alistari MacLean books I'd read before and would like to revisit.

This book, as its title suggests, takes place in the former Yugoslavia during World War II. A Royalist sympathizer helps to smuggle a group of other royalist sympathizers into Yugoslavia from its ally Italy, where they can help the war effort of their friends the Germans and the leaders against the Partisans. One does need a bit of grounding in history, particularly World War II in the middle of Europe, to understand the overarching framework of the novel. Since it's less straightforward than the English versus the Germans, a reader might be forgiven for forgetting which group is the good guys and which group is the bad guys.

Of course, as it's MacLean, the master of the suspenseful switchback, regardless of which group is the good guys and which group is the bad guys, the main character is either not on the side that he starts on, or he is actually on the side he starts on but is pretending to be a double agent to find out the real double agents, or.... Well, it's enough to say that MacLean books are quite romps in which anything can happen.

But this book, with its slightly more obscure setting and almost esoteric historical plotline, doesn't work on all levels because of the unfamiliarity with the macroplayers. It also doesn't present a very clear picture of the problem that the group is supposed to solve at the end of the book. Take down the artillery on a Mediterranean island? Breach an impregnable Alpine fortress? Nah, just get into Yugoslavia. It strikes me more like a Star Trek device: We're traveling through the Adriatic, and something happened. Since it's MacLean, it's something complicated, but nevertheless the reader lacks a compelling goal to draw one along.

Still, it's a pretty good book. Its writing style alone merited my enjoyment. British and mid-century in its character (although written later), it plays with longer sentences and more elaborate phrasing than contemporary suspense fiction. That alone carried me through the substandard (for MacLean) plot and characterization.

Friday, August 19, 2005
Two thoughts that struck me as amusing, but I'll probably be the only one:
  • Upon seeing the vanity license plate MO4 LL:

    We sure thought that "Alice" would make a credible candidate for president....

  • Somehow, I think even Peter Scaffer fans think me crazy when I go to the ballpark and cheer for the Cardinals' lead off hitter by chanting:

Because these things bounce around my disparate thoughts during the course of the day. Instead of a billion dollar idea, I get these.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Perhaps the Goals Are Misunderstood
Work-zone safety blitz still limited: Drivers say that new laws haven't reduced number of violations:
    Motorists complain that speeding, tailgating and aggressive driving are still all the rage in Illinois construction zones, despite tough laws the state passed last year to reduce violations.

    A camera-enforcement program to deploy Illinois State Police troopers in vans was supposed to have started this month, but officials are still finalizing contracts with equipment suppliers, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The program may begin in September, officials said.

    The plan for the pilot project involves taking photographs from inside just two roving vans to capture the faces and license plates of drivers, along with the speed of their vehicles, in work areas on hundreds of miles of Chicago-area expressways and on the Illinois Tollway system. Tickets carrying minimum fines of $375 will be mailed to vehicle owners.
An impersonal ticket arriving in infractors' mail boxes a week in the future will not make the drivers slow down or behave. Nor will signs indicating that this might happen. Troopers pulling over drivers would make them slow down for a couple days and would make other drivers who see the troopers slow down.

Hidden cameras capturing drivers' infractions but distancing the infraction from the sanction? Give me a break.

This is a revenue-enhancement program, not a safety program. And this is the reason why I'm going to fly to Milwaukee or travel through scenic Iowa on my way home in the future. Because I fear speeding through more than one of the Illinois "Construction Zones" (that is, the barrel storage technique that intersperses a couple barrels miles apart between construction zone signs) at a time and coming home to a mailbox full of budget-gap-closers from Rod Blagojevich.

Noggle's Law
Based on the number of Google searches that have lead to this post, I propose Noggle's First Law:

If you post a list of names of Internet users, sooner or later they will all find your post when Googling themselves.

Oppressive Bush Regime Dissident Round-Up Misses Virulent Bush Opponent
An author insults one of his readers:
    [Mark] Kurlansky said he was surprised to hear that Bush had taken his book to the ranch: "My first reaction was, 'Oh, he reads books?' "

    The author said he was a "virulent Bush opponent" who had given speeches denouncing the war in Iraq.

    "What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books," Kurlansky said.
But now that you're on record, sir; prepare for the firing squad.

What a humpwit. Not only has he insulted the president based on common, cliché groupthink from the virulent Bush opponents, but he's risked angering whatever readers and potential book buyers exist in the majority that elected Bush.

A pretty poor marketing decision, but perhaps he's just standing for his principles, which would seem to include not much beyond mauvais mots.

(Link seen on Ann Althouse.)

Thanks For Checking In
Bobby McFerrin stops in to tell us he's going on vacation:
    For years he's been telling people, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Now Bobby McFerrin has decided it's time to take his own advice.

    "I've got one week left, and then I'm done for a year," a weary McFerrin told The Associated Press during a weekend visit to UCLA, where he was accepting an award from the Henry Mancini Institute for his contributions to music.

    "I haven't had a sabbatical, I haven't taken a year off from touring in 15 years at least," said McFerrin, whose bright and bouncy ditty, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," seemed to put his name on everybody's lips in 1988 when it won Grammys for song of the year and record of the year.
Some of us might be forgiven in thinking that McFerrin's been on vacation for about 17 years, give or take.

Wal-Mart Hands Its Critics a Spiked Club, Asks, "Please?"
Insurer wants woman's crash settlement:
    Debbie Shank stocked shelves at a Wal-Mart store in Cape Girardeau, Mo., until five years ago, when her minivan was hit by a tractor-trailer. Her Wal-Mart health insurance paid the medical bills. Proceeds from a lawsuit helped finance her care in a nursing home.

    Brain damage forces her to use a wheelchair and limits her upper body movement to one arm and two fingers. It stole her memory and her ability to talk to her husband and three sons.

    "She'll ask about the boys, she'll ask about the cat," said her husband, Jim Shank. "Whenever I'm there, she thinks it must be a mealtime. We don't really hold a conversation."

    Now the Shanks face a new obstacle. Her Wal-Mart health insurance plan wants the lawsuit money to repay its costs.
Unfortunately, some insurance company functionaries lack the imagination for how the general public will perceive a lawsuit against a disabled woman, and how anti-Wal-Mart fanatics will use the incident against Wal-Mart. If those opponents could have their way, they'd make sure that Wal-Mart lived down to their rhetoric and did not provide insurance for its employees (the fact that Wal-Mart medical insurance exists and paid out half a million dollars for this catastrophe, but that Wal-Mart is evil because it doesn't provide insurance for its employees--the paradox in their rhetoric will never surface).

The paper throws in an obligatory response from a spokesperson:
    A Wal-Mart spokesman said the health plan has made no decision on whether to pursue this case; the suit puts a legal foot in the door before the deadline to file it passes. "This is kind of a standard procedure, and it just preserves our options," Marty Hires said.
The SOPs of the byzantine and, let's face it, often-suspect insurance and legal industry don't improve the image of insurance, lawyers, or their clients. I'm sure someone with Wal-Mart could have come up with a better response, but who knows if the papers would publish them, because the current storyline casts Wal-Mart as the villain.

Now that the broken story's broken, any doing-of-the-right-thing by Wal-Mart--such as not actually pursuing the suit or apologizing, will be reported as cynical damage control. If the papers follow up at all.

Yeah, I'm so cynical, I sometimes don't even trust my own blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2005
Prelude to a Sandwich
Prelude to a Sandwich

Fresh bread and fresh kittenlet.....mmmmm.....

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