Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Book Report: Servant of the Shard by R.A. Salvatore (2000)
I cannot even remember where I got this book. Was it part of one of my brother's document dumps, wherein I got large quantities of comic books and fantasy paperbacks so he wouldn't have to schlep them across the Pacific whenever he was reassigned? Did I buy it inexpensively because I thought I needed more fantasy reading in my diet? Gentle reader, yes, sometimes the origins of my books are lost to the swirling mists that are really dust coming from the to read shelves.

I read the first two books of the Icewind Dale trilogy sometime in the 1990s, so perhaps I have the major point of the super bad artifact upon which the book centers. The Crenishibon, the Crystal Shard. Of course, in the intervening years, perhaps the suspension of my disbelief or my tastes have changed; every time the book called the Shard by its formal name, I thought it sounded like some cross between Richard Crenna and Cinnabon. But that's just me.

As I might have mentioned, I didn't finish the Icewind Dale trilogy. Not because I lost interest, but because I received the first two books as part of a cumulative gift from my brother. He gave me sets of books which comprised individual books from trilogies to two books from trilogies, but never complete trilogies. I've not been into the whole trilogy nor series fantasy thing, so the only complete series I've read are the Dancing Gods series by Jack Chalker and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. So I'm not the best target audience for this, which is the second of a trilogy and probably the only I will read in the three.

The plot: An assassin working with a renegade band drow (dark elves who normally live underground, don't you know?) plots to separate the band's leader and his companion from the sentient and manipulative Crystal Shard. For the most part, that's it, although the book plays heavily upon the intrigue within the band and within the drow empire.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't exceed the fantasy genre like John D. MacDonald or Ed McBain books surpass the crime fiction genre. Salvatore is a slave to the preceding books of the series in a way that McBain must have struggled with; the characters are points on a decades-long line and within individual books might become mere shorthand. Salvatore also must have struggled against the constraints of his paymasters, Wizards of the Coast; each character is very directly mapped to a class from Dungeons and Dragons. The main character's a thief/assassin, there are clerics, monks, wizards, and pscionists. When I was the Dungeon Master (or Game Master when I betrayed TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro and followed E. Gary to Dangerous Journeys), I had the chutzpah to build our campaigns in such a fashion where the story took precedence over the rules. These books, however, always make it easy for the PR (Player Reader) to understand what's happening mechanically. Personally, I'd say it tears one from the fantasy world of the author and drops one into the Second Edition rules (apostasy!). But then again, I'm an occasional fantasy writer without a publication and a former game master without a group.

Despite all this kvetching, I wouldn't dodge a Salvatore novel thrown my way, nor would I shun another book in the series. Eventually, when I caught onto the action in the book and made do with the combination of exposition from previous books' adventures and the shorthand for the subgenre, I enjoyed the book well enough. Which is just as well, since I found another Salvatore book from another trilogy on my to-read shelves.

And no matter what I say, Salvatore stands head and shoulders above hacks in the former TSR stable (Rose Estes's Greyhawk Adventures? Yeah, I read four of them). Unfortunately, the constraints of his bread and butter leave him to standing only a halfling's head and shoulders above the others in the TSR stable.

Books mentioned in this review:

Friday, March 24, 2006
Directionless Cynicism
Today, kids don't have a gossamer-shrouded Age of Innocence; all they have an Age of Being Charged as a Juvenile.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Why Do Senators Charles Schumer, Tom Coburn, and Lindsey Graham Hate Poor People?
These distinguished senators want to raise the cost of low-priced goods by imposing an additional 30% tax on them that people who buy low-priced goods will have to pay (plus, no doubt, an additional sales tax at their local sales tax rates on that 30% tax):
    The U.S. Congress is in no mood to put up with further delays by China on relaxing its currency controls, three U.S. senators visiting Beijing said Tuesday.

    The bipartisan delegation said the Senate is on the cusp of taking up a long-postponed bill that would slap a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese products to compensate for China's pegged exchange rate. Debate could begin as soon as the end of next week.
Fortunately for the senators, this tax increase won't affect the cost of high-priced goods that adorn their homes and offices nor the expensive suits they wear. People who improve their domiciles and wardrobes by buying low-priced import goods? Let them eat cake, provided it was baked stateside.

Crocodile Insurgency Continues
Crocodile kills humanitarian professor:
    A professor at the University of Washington Medical School who moved to Botswana to help alleviate a shortage of doctors there, was killed when a crocodile dragged him from a dugout canoe, his family and colleagues said.
As long as American imperialists continue invading foreign lands to expand the HIV and AIDS free hegemony, brave freedom crocodiles will continue dragging the "private contractors" from their dugout canoes and eating them.

We must learn to accept the crocodile's culture, and leave them to their crocodilicity that celebrates brutality and lowest common denominature. Indeed, the "death roll" can be quite liberating, in an asphyxiation/drowning high sort of way.

Wentzville Does The Right Thing, For The Wrong Reason
After a great outpouring of pageantristic public outcry board of alderman meeting, including the wailing of small business owners, the beating of union breasts, and the normal overreactions and activist theatricism that ensues whenever a certain discount department store tries to serve the public, Wal-Mart can build a super center in Wentzville, Missouri:
    Construction will begin within 30 days to expand a Wal-Mart store to include full-service grocery shopping, a move opposed by union officials and a group critical of the giant retailer.

    After the Board of Aldermen approved the project's site plan Monday night, Phil Fanara, the store's manager, said work will begin as soon as possible.
Fortunately, Wentzville obeyed the letter of the law and allow construction to begin apace, but the mayor captures the real consideration in a nutshell:
    Mayor Paul Lambi said Wal-Mart's site plan conforms to the city's planning and zoning ordinances and that turning it down could have placed the city in legal jeopardy.
This doesn't represent quite the victory for capitalism, growth, private property, or offering consumer/citizens more choices for their retail dollar; no, it's only a recognition by city officials that if they don't follow their own laws, they might get in trouble.

A sad testament that we must see this as one of the few victories against the expanding powers of the State in all its minor fiefdom incarnations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Trivial Existentialism
You know the saying that goes, A smile is just a frown turned upside down?

Doesn't that actually imply that a smile is a defective frown, inadvertantly inverted from mankind's normal countenance, that of suffering, stuggle, and pain, by a fleeting and illusory displacement of normalcy by the shiny objects of transient pleasure and is subject to correction by the harsh, uncaring reality who prefers all its frowns to display correctly?

Monday, March 20, 2006
A Blogst from the Past
Geoffrey Chaucer's blog.

(Link seen on Ace of Spades HQ.)

Mens Rea and Actus Reus Both Optional Now
The first part of this story is disturbing enough:
    Mike Herchenbach was sure he would get a fine. He'd pay a couple hundred dollars, like his roommates, and go on with his life, even though he wasn't at the party that got out of hand at his rental house. After all, his name was on the lease.

    But what he didn't expect, and hardly believed, was what Lancaster County Court Judge Gale Pokorny had in mind as his punishment for maintaining a disorderly house last Oct. 2.

    Herchenbach remembered his attorney from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reaching for a work-release form, which would get him out of jail so he could work while serving his sentence.

    He didn't need it. It's only a weekend, he remembered saying.

    But Pokorny didn't say three days in jail. He said 30.
Thirty days in jail for a disorderly house. That's an interesting application of a law to make an example out of someone for having a wild party.

However, more frightening is the judge's reasoning for the stiff punishment:
    In a 2½ page sentencing order, Pokorny went through, reason by reason, "why courts need to take a harder look at this type of case and Mr. Herchenbach."

    "Reason #1. People can die at these parties," he wrote.
There you go. Herchenbach didn't mean to kill the victim (that is, he lacks mens rea, the guilty mind or intent to kill), and, come to think of it, no one actually died (no actus reus, guilty act or actual freaking crime).

It used to be that laws and the courts required both intent and action to convict; with the advent of strict liability laws, you didn't even have to intend to break the law to actually go to the slam. Now, thanks to Judge Pokorny, you don't even have to break the law to be punished for it.

No, sir; simply because crimes or tragedies can occur, you can be held accountable. Sleep tight, citizen.

(Link submitted to Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam.)

Wherein Brian Fails To Feign Outrage Over Partisan Board Game
Go directly to Guantanamo! It's Patriot Act board game:
    In this send-up of "Monopoly," players don't pass "Go" and they don't go directly to jail -- they go to Guantanamo Bay.

    Instead of losing cash for landing on certain squares, they lose civil liberties. And the "Mr. Monopoly" character at the center of the board is replaced by a scowling former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

    "Patriot Act: The Home Version" pokes fun at "the historic abuse of governmental powers" by the recently renewed anti-terrorism law.
You know, I would feign some sort of indignation at this misrepresentation of government power, but honestly, how can a capitalist like me not enjoy seeing even a person with an opposing viewpoint indulging in free market profit making without the fear that either of us will be dragged from our beds tonight and summarily executed?

Besides, I still have my deck of the Clinton Impeachment card game.

Post-Dispatch Embraces Exceedingly Arbitrary Law
Subdivision's 17 mph speed limit marks life in slow lane:
    Road signs in Heritage of Hawk Ridge make some drivers in the subdivision do a double take, and that's just what developers wanted.

    The posted speed limit in the retirement development is 17 mph.
It's so novel that it warrants a story in the paper even though it's not a legally-enforceable limit. It's as much a novelty sign as the Trumpet Parking Only sign my wife hangs in her office--but the Post-Dispatch writes the story anyway, trying to convey that it's a neat idea and an attention-getter, and the Post-Dispatch has by now gotten the attention of innumerable aldermen, councilmen, and perhaps even a selectman or two.

And why the hell not change the speed limits to some fool off-five number to get attention of motorists, most of whom will continue to drive at speeds on the five s because that's where the line on the speedometer is. Ah, hell, laws and rules of the road are enacted catch as catch can to bolster revenues and to respond to infrequent accidents anyway.

I just wish the Post-Dispatch would be more consistent in lauding creativity in law enforcement that accosts and captures actual felons if they're going to be so happy about things that ensnare normal people.

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