Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Poetry Hint
If, in your sonnet to your immortal and incomparable beloved, you find yourself rhyming truest suitor with Bruce Sutter, you should probably just copy something from a greeting card.

Laziness Is The Mother Of Perspective
Laziness is the mother of perspective. I've been taking the Wall Street Journal for some months now, receiving the well-rolled and well-wrapped papers in my driveway every morning. I threw them onto the passenger seat of my truck as I began my commute, but I soon forsook the pretense and pretentiousness of carrying the paper under my arm into my office for the cachet. Too frequently, the papers return home unread and accumulate on one end of the love seat. With a paper as expensive as the Wall Street Journal, you don't throw it into the recycling bin or use it as fireplace kindling when you're out of twenty-dollar bills without glancing at least at the section headlines.

Some weekends, though, I make a point of, at minimum, paging through the accumulated wisdom, and these blocs of skimming have instilled in me a greater understanding of history, or at least the relative insignificance in history of chatter, speculation, and sports-like spectator-ism that makes up ninety percent of the news coming from Washington and all other government seats.

Every day, I get my share of the chatter; I get headlines and news from the Internet, and I participate in the great diablog that occurs amongst like-minded individuals with Web logs. In the 2004 elections, I followed all of the barnstorming commentary at the speed of broadband. So I participate in the cheerleading and heckling that represents in-depth participation in politics in the 21st century. But October's Wall Street Journals cured that when I read them in November.

Every night in October of some past year, I hoped to set aside twenty minutes or a half hour each evening to read the paper, knowing full well that I would have seen the storylines play out on The Drudge Report, the blogs,, and the local paper's Web site before I got to the print speculation. Still, I hoped for detailed analysis I didn't get from the quick scans of headlines when the boss wasn't looking. But life, chores, and computer games often interrupted my plan. Sometime in late October or early November, I allocated an afternoon to catch up and remove the papers that were beginning to tip the furniture. I had a reverse chronology of the preceding month's triumphs and follies for America and for the party. But by reading the papers in reverse order, I inadvertently received the perspective of history.

That is, I knew how the early October tribulations resolved before I read the articles outlining the strategies and the pitfalls. In the Internet real-time world, the rhetoric fires up the base and counts individual ticks on the scorecard of history, but the almanacs only carry the name of the winner. So Harriet something-or-other isn't a Supreme Court justice and some guy with a placid smile is. Ultimately, the individual plays, the calls from the opponents' cheap seats, and the shouts of the pretty boys and girls through their cones didn't impact the lives of most Americans. Sure, nine placid smiles on the Supreme Court will make America one way, as would six placid smiles and three earnest frowns or six earnest frowns and three placid smiles. However, the great events that lead to that court and that change the country occur infrequently enough that one doesn't have to arrest all normalcy to fight the good fight, or merely the fight (the difference lies in your position on the fight, of course).

Instead, I went about my business throughout October spending my immediacy on the things that directly impacted me (my job, household maintenance, my marriage, and too little exercise). Only when I read the preceding weeks' papers did I realize the peril to our way of life, but by that time, with the solid knowledge of the continued progress of history, I wasn't worried. It reminded me of watching a movie I'd seen before.

I once bought a box of Newsweek magazines from 1966-67 at an estate sale; I'd spent two dollars to purchase the year-long subscription in hopes of turning it into eBay wealth. As I searched individual issues for keywords to drive up the bidding, I found similar tropes: Viet Nam, Viet Nam, Lyndon Johnson, the decline of the west, and more Viet Nam. In 1967, it was an ongoing concern, dribbed and drabbed out nightly or weekly as needed by the media of the time to support their corporate habits. By the time I was born, Viet Nam was a conflagration unimagined within those archived magazines. In the thirty-five years before I bought the magazines, the living memory of the year faded to romantic youth for that generation. Within only a matter of decades, that year and its live-or-die will fade to simple line items in history books or full treatises among which historians can dig in libraries.

The politics, too, of our age will fade like this. Remember distinctly the congressional shutdown of 1995? I remember it, although it's fading to a mere sentence and sense of what it meant. The immediacy and its attendant vehemence for that bastard who caused it—well, I can summon them in name only. So this years' nominees, secretaries, and Congressional leaders might someday earn themselves trivia questions, but most won't merit that. Between the now and that then, though, life will go on, regardless of what partisan emergencies erupt and, quite probably, how history's sweep brushes aside our grave concerns.

Friday, January 26, 2007
With Grating Power Comes Grab For More Grating Power
Greendale wants a say in Southridge's future:
    Greendale officials want to influence the changes in store for Southridge Mall - the village's biggest taxpayer - as it comes under new ownership.

    The village is seeking proposals from two planning firms - HNTB Corp. and R.A. Smith and Associates Inc. - to develop its own vision for the mall's future, Village Manager Joseph Murray said.

    Conversations have focused on whether the 110-acre complex, the largest shopping mall in the state, could support mixed-use development, whether housing could be part of that mix, and costs associated with various redevelopment plans, Village President John Hermes said. Talks have been in progress for several months.
How come newspapers never ask the big question, by what right does the government think it should exert influence in private business transactions?

Maybe it's just as well; the answer would be Might, perhaps followed by a little inquisition against those who would challenge the ever-increasing authority.

Don't think we can? No permits for you.
Think we're sliding totalitarian? So, is this your car parked eighteen inches from the curb? I think we'll have to boot it.

And so on, and so on.

Orchestra Doesn't Think Of Itself As Entertaining
Beethoven's Fifth + 5%: Seeking a refund, orchestra says concerts are educational and shouldn't be subject to sales tax:
    Are performances by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra entertainment or education?

    Think carefully about the answer. Millions of dollars depend on it.

    According to the state, orchestra concerts are entertainment, and therefore sales tax must be paid on tickets.

    For years, the orchestra has been paying the state sales tax on the face value of each ticket sold, and it continues to do so. The money is paid out of general orchestra funds. Now the orchestra wants a refund.
The local sports teams cannot wait to explain that they're big phys ed classes.

California Regulators Nostalgic For Rolling Blackouts
Remember rolling blackouts in California in 2001? Apparently, so do the power utility regulators, and the Public Utility Commission misses them:
    California regulators on Thursday banned the three companies that supply most of the state's power from buying electricity from high-polluting sources, including most coal-burning plants.

    The rules are aimed at reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. While there are almost no coal-fired plants in California, about 20 percent of the state's electricity comes from coal plants in other Western states.

    "It represents a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to address the challenge of climate change," said Michael Peevey, president of the Public Utilities Commission.
Not to mention a significant milestone in ongoing efforts to throttle supply while demand continues to rise. No doubt, though, when the unforeseen consequences (unforeseen by the blinkered green government officials, but obvious to anyone with any insight into economics above the grade school level), the Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission (in California, they need 2 bureaucracies to cover it) will find some corporation that's to blame for people getting trapped in elevators, for server farms crashing, and for elderly people dying from heat.

But rest assured, the costs to the economy and the citizens of California are worth it for some negligible, unproven impact on the Mother Gaea.

Book Report: Dirty Work by Stuart Woods (2003)
I inherited this book from my aunt who died in 2005. She was probably not a big Stuart Woods fan, but rather a purchaser of books at yard sales who hoped to make money on them on eBay. Which is good, because this book then doesn't reflect poorly upon her tastes.

The book centers on a series character, Stone Barrington, a lawyer who doesn't work in the courtroom but rather as a fixer. He hires an inept camera man to photograph a husband in flagrante delecto, but the photographer falls through the skylight and lands on the husband, who has been murdered by a superstar assassin. What's more, he's taken the only photo of her known to exist. But Barrington is in trouble for his lackey's presumed killing of the husband.

Well, then we get British Intelligence involved and the New York Police Department (Barrington, former NYPD himself, has a friend on the force who accompanies him through much of the novel). Barrington jets to the Caribbean to retrieve the bail-jumping photog and arranges a face-to-face meeting with the assassin, and re-beds a member of British Intelligence. It's clear we're not dealing with a depth of characterization here, but really a plot that moves along quickly and provides a nice read.

I even pointed out to some people while reading this book that you can shelve some characterization when you've got a well-paced plot that drives action forward. It's forgiveable, I said. It's light reading.


200 some pages into the book and the story could have concluded. But no, the events had to hinge upon a random event in the Caribbean. Not a coincidence, but a it's sick cousin the contrivance. With this contrivance, the story continued and eventually denouementated in a rather unsatisfying fashion.

I was with it for about 2/3 of the book, and the remainder was painful.

I won't go out of my way to pick up any new Stuart Woods, but I'm afraid I might have another of Woods's work in the pile here. I mean, I am not angry, merely sad, and perhaps another book that handles its plot better would revive my interest. But if you've got a plot-driven book and the plot makes the reader say, "Oh, come on," you're in trouble.

But hey, you can buy it in paperback here:
Books mentioned in this review:

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Brian Dump
You might notice, in the next couple of days (as you might notice today and yesterday), a number of longer-than-normal pieces on the old blog here. I've got a hard disk drive full of essays and whatnot that I didn't place in printed publications, so I'm foisting them on you, gentle reader, one by one.

Because I don't want to overwhelm you with my eloquence. At least, not more than once a day.

Hourly Radio Stock Market Updates
Whenever I catch the midday hourly news on the radio, I can't wait to hear the stock report. Typically, I hear it on my way to lunch or back from lunch. My commute coincides with the final minute allocated to local news on the jazz, country, or greatest hits of the 60s-70s-80s-90s-and-today radio station. I'm always eager to hear the instant analysis of a bored local brokerage functionary or the economic epiphany suffered by the newsreader.

"The stock market is down at this hour..." the deep FM voice narrates. Quite frankly, the day traders who inflated the stock market bubble at the end of the last century didn't rely on radio to make decisions. The Internet allows people to check the instant progress of their individual portfolios. The day traders who are still trading, instead of flipping burgers or bagging groceries, have access to mystical Level-2 quotes, which are somehow better than simple quotes everyone can get on Yahoo! So FM Man is talking to himself, and me, alone in my truck at a stoplight.

" investors react to the latest White House pronouncement / War on Terror speculation / forgettable Reality TV Show decision...." The professionally-trained or university-radio-station-warm-body intones. I'm unclear on what authority the newsreader makes this prognostication or diagnosis, but it's probably right. Short-term reactions in the marketplace include short-term investors who react to the slightest jostle in the world marketplace by shrieking that someone has picked their pockets. Employment has dropped to 94.2 percent? SELL SELL SELL! The guy on the radio says the market's down? SELL SELL SELL!

Of course, those who sell on whatever macroeconomic metrics arrive from political, pop cultural, or sociological sources don't consider the nature of their individual investments. They lose sight of the long-term prospects of the companies of which they have become a part and in whose long-term direction they, as investors, can exert some small amount of control. Instead, they try to be the head cows in the stampede into or out of a bull run on Wall Street or Main Street, or wherever investors huddle. These short-sighted investors react to the lemming clarion call of astrological percentages and to the deep, comforting voice on our radios that makes it into a daily catechism.

"The Dow Jones is down 56.75 points and the NASDAQ is down just under 10," the fickle fate of Frequency Modulation reports. These numbers represent a selective representation of how certain big name firms, selected especially for their big names, traded that day. Personally, I don't own anything indexed by Dow Jones or the NASDAQ exchange, so their numbers don't tell me whether I can retire in 40.2 years or 45.9; instead, they tell me something else, of what I am not certain, but the helpful newsreader and his or her friendly analysts will color the results for me, Joe-Six-Pack-of-Guinness, to understand.

That simple hourly report, crammed into five seconds, fails to capture the state of the United States or world economy. Instead, it only represents the latest sports score in the never-ending playoff between the Bulls and the Bears, played on the limited field of the indices. I can chuckle, or cluck, at the purported performance, but I know the current, somber market report has little impact on my ragtag fugitive fleet of bonds, equities, and mutual funds. By the time the announcer breaks for the updated weather forecast, his prognostication for financial well-being will be as irrelevant as it is forgotten.

Highly Paid Flack Paid To Defend Restaurant Industry Defends Restaurant Industry From Raging Chihuahua
U.S. restaurants blast Kevin Federline TV ad:
    A leading restaurant association has called for the cancellation of a TV commercial featuring Britney Spears' estranged husband, Kevin Federline, as a failed rap star working in a fast-food eatery.

    In a 30-second ad for Nationwide Insurance, Federline is shown dreaming he is a rap star but then snaps out of it to face reality -- he's working at a burger restaurant.

    The commercial is due to be aired during the National Football League's Super Bowl championship on Sunday, February 4, advertising's biggest televised sporting event of the year. Last year's Super Bowl drew more than 90 million viewers.

    But the National Restaurant Association's Chief Executive Steven Anderson has written to Nationwide saying the ad leaves the impression that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant and asking the commercial to be dumped.

    "An ad such as this would be a strong and a direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry," wrote Anderson, head of the association that represents 935,000 U.S. restaurants.
What a stuffed shirt.

Because no one working in a restaurant dreams of a better life; no, says this comfortably office bound and expense-account bearing gentleman, who could dream of something better or who could recognize humor in their situation when working in a restaurant? Not the mindless automatons in the industry.

But his press release got into the paper, didn't it?

And you, consumer, do you think more highly of the restaurant (owners and franchisers) of America that they have chosen this stalwart Dun Quixote to stand up for them (but not their workers)?

I Forgot, Which Is Bad, Perpetuating Or Mocking Stereotypes?
MLK Party Causes Uproar on Texas Campus:
    Authorities at Tarleton State University said they plan to investigate a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party that mocked black stereotypes by featuring fried chicken, malt liquor and faux gang apparel.

    "I feel like there is no excuse for this type of ignorance," said Donald Ray Elder, president of the Stephenville school's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
So mocking stereotypes is as offensive and ignorant as actually believing them?

Ah, who cares, let's call the attorneys. Certainly having a sense of humor should be worth some punitive damages to those who do not.

Unfortunately, The Cognac Didn't Make It
Brandy involved, uninjured in fatal crash

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Celebrating Diversity
It is a celebration of my people.

Wallets: A Personal Evolution
Every boy must choose to either embrace the traditions of his father or to throw them off; this dilemma represents the passage to manhood throughout the adolescence that extends into the thirties of American males today. Hence, it's not uncommon for a man in his thirties, like me, to reflect upon the lessons passed on from the paterfamilias and to determine whether to continue abiding by the wisdom of the predecessors or to strike out in a new direction in search of one’s fortune and moral balance. Thus it was in my thirty-second year that I decided that I would no longer carry a trifold wallet, as my sire had before me; nay, I would embrace the bifold wallet.

My father worked as a carpenter and hunted small game on the city streets of Milwaukee to feed his family for years, and then he stacked food on a pallet in a warehouse to feed his new family. Throughout, carried a worn leather trifold wallet. I don't remember what sort of wallet my grandfather carried, but I'd bet trifold. The trifold is shaped for the back pocket, for comfortable carrying by men who bend and lift and nail things for a living.

I got my first trifold in high school, a cheap fabric and Velcro piece of swag or garage sale splendor so that I could carry my student ID and the dollar or so I scrounged from my mother for lunch. It nestled the money tightly and comfortably with the extra security of the Velcro strip, its announcement of money spending rarely heard, for I skipped the cafeteria to gather those dollar bills where I could. I carried the wallet until a Christmas gift certificate let me purchase a real leather trifold wallet.

I wore that wallet and its two replacements throughout college and through the first ten years of my working life, when I acted as a retail clerk, as a shipping receiving clerk, and as a printer to pay for student loans and to keep a cheap car mostly running. I even carried them as my career arc accelerated into the information technology field, I got married, and we mortgaged a house.

The trifold signifies a certain protectiveness about the contents, particularly the money within it. The two flaps envelop the contents to guard and protect the funds from the callous outside world and the temptations it offered. Funds were scarce when I was growing up. One's wallet needed a certain difficulty of access, also, to dissuade one from whipping out gas money or worse, a credit card, to spend frivolously. The trifold represented not only a style of wallet, but a way of life.

However, my life has changed since those hardscrabble days since my life became less hard and more Scrabble; I lucked into a position in the IT industry and became, according to all expectations of my youth, rich. Not only can I pay the student loans, the mortgage, and car maintenance, but I can do it without credit cards. I can get a twenty dollar bill whenever I want, and I can spend it.

The relative affluence combined with a new wardrobe imperative. Instead of worrying about comfort while lifting and toting, I had to worry about the fit of slacks, which meant to avoid an unsightly bulge in trousers. I began carrying my wallet in my front pocket in the world of business casual, and the trifold folded thickly around the security keys, collection of dollar bills, credit cards, insurance cards, and other assorted memorabilia that would somehow not include a picture of my beautiful wife. I wanted something slimmer and thought of the bifold wallet.

Of course, I initially rebelled at the thought, since we have always carried trifold wallets, but the thought returned until I considered it seriously. I liked the idea of a slimmer profile in the wallet, the easier fit into the front pocket of slacks and even jeans. So I found myself looking for just the right wallet in the department store, and in a moment of trepidation and emancipation rebelled against my upbringing and bought the bifold wallet.

The bifold wallet indicates higher class; it's the top hat of men's accessories. Barring the cape, monocle, and walking stick, it adds the élan and aplomb that people who stay or dine at the Ritz afford. Instead of guarding money, the bifold flips open easily, like a Star Trek communicator, so its bearer can effectively commune with the natives and so its bearer can access the lubricant of commerce and acquisition easily. I now bear the power and irresponsibility of relative upper middle class, outer-suburb but not over the-river affluence. When my beautiful wife lets me get that extra twenty dollar bill.

Book Report: Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman (1967)
As I mentioned in my review for Assassin of Gor, I bought this book at Patten Books to round out my collection of early Gor paperbacks. I paid $3.95 for it, which indicates how much I enjoy the fantasy series so far.

It's fitting, I suppose, that I read this the most immediately after Assassin of Gor, as this book is the prequel. In it, Earthman is grabbed while camping by a spaceship and taken to a castle-like home of his father, another Earthman taken to Gor. He's trained to be a Gorean warrior and is sent to the city of Ar to steal its home stone and to reduce its strength in the eyes of the other city-states on Gor before it becomes the dominant nation.

The book is shorter than the later ones in the series, and it reads almost as a tentative dip into the fantasy milieu. At the end, Tarl Cabot is returned to Earth and wonders if he'll ever see Gor again. Of course, with forty years since the first novel in the series and twenty some years and twenty some novels gone by, we know he will. Still, I found it interesting to see the first try. And I've got number 2 around here somewhere; I know Ko-Ro-Ba, Cabot's home city, will fall and Talena, his love, will be taken somewhere on Gor, but I don't know how. Which is worth finding out.

The new (!) editions below are expensive; if you look around, you can find these books for a couple dollars each in used bookstores (in different editions). Yes, they're paperbacks, but take it from your gentle author Brian J. that there are few authors for whom he'll spend green on the paper. Norman is proving to be one. John D. MacDonald is the other.

Books mentioned in this review:


Billboard Draws Fire; Headline Alluding to Violence, Not So Much
Billboard where Ladue student was slain draws fire:
    A billboard advertising the apartment complex where a Clemson University student from Ladue, Mo., was strangled with a bikini top is drawing criticism for its sexually suggestive images. It shows a young woman in a spaghetti strap shirt smiling, with the word "Reserved" below her. A second photo shows a woman sporting a tattoo on her lower back, accompanied by a pair of fuzzy dice. It reads: "Not so Reserved."
Yes, the billboard is tacky, but really, does the apartment complex have to avoid any mention of sex or bikinis for the rest of its existence to avoid offending the employees of charity where the woman in the murder worked? That's a little too sensitive even for my bleeding little heart.

Meanwhile, AP headlines this story with a cliché based on a metaphor for actual firearm usage with the intent to kill. Do you think they were being clever, tacky, or merely clueless?

Clarification for Darbo and the Show Me Institute
Compatriot Darbo and I were recently talking about the privilege of working in the city, wherein I get to contribute a percentage of my income to the city's varied featherbedding commissions, initiatives, and giveaways to developers. Darbo thought the payout was .5%, but I maintained it was 1%. I didn't have a pay stub immediately handy to offer irrefutable proof, so we tabled the discussion.

Today's column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by David Nicklaus proves us both right:
    Unable to think of a better way of raising $130 million a year, St. Louis leaders have treated the earnings tax as a necessary evil. They listen sympathetically to businesspeople's complaints, and then they draw up another annual budget that depends critically on collecting 1 percent of each worker's earnings and 0.5 percent of each employer's payroll.
So Darbo was thinking like an employer, and I was thinking like an employee. Typical.

Nicklaus is talking about some new study that would replace the earnings tax with a tax on land to replace the property tax:
    Haslag's study recommends phasing out the earnings tax, and phasing in the land tax, over 10 years.

    His model suggests a 10 percent tax on land value, in addition to the current 1.44 percent tax on land and buildings, but Haslag says a lower rate might produce enough revenue to replace the earnings tax.

    Over time, Haslag says, the new tax regime would do wonders for the city's economy. The number of jobs in the city would double, and wages and property values would rise.
Wow, coming up with these ideas while on the public dime (the author is a professor at a state university). That's like a whole other sort of featherbedding, but I digress.

Maybe the concept makes sense in the ethereal world of his projections versus the city's projections, but it would never work in the real world, nor will it get implemented. Because face it, it shifts the tax burden from the poor proles who go to work every day and onto the landed barons for whom the city continues to suspend tax obligations and cosign loans.

No, the city of St. Louis will continue to fatten its coffers with the money from the powerless and redistribute it to the powerful. Except for its vigorish, necessary to keep the commissions and development initiatives going and to keep landowners and developers happy.

Of course, I'm just fermenting sour grapes here because I'm one of those faceless workers who comes in from the suburbs, gets a small portion of my fleece snipped, and goes home to a functional municipal government and public school system with actual attending students. Someone who has had the opportunity, or at least the offer, or maybe just the thought offered to buy land in the city, but who vowed to never do so, so I'm out of the running for a good city government rub down.

Monday, January 22, 2007
A Dozen Of Dimes
For not particular reason, I started thinking of songs that mention dimes. Including:
  • "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen
    I was eight years old, running with a dime in my hand....

  • "Downtown Train" by Rod Stewart
    I'm shining like a new dime....

  • "Operator" by Jim Croce
    You can keep the dime.

  • "Raspberry Beret" by Prince
    I was working part time at the five and dime...

Okay, that's not a dozen, but I do have comments enabled here. You help me round out the list, okay?

Sunday, January 21, 2007
George Orwell Smiles Knowingly at the Concept of Space Missile For Peace
The Chinese know how to sound all the right notes: China tries to reassure the world on space missile 'aimed at peace':
    China signalled yesterday that its first missile strike against an orbiting satellite was intended to force the US into talks aimed at abolishing weapons in space.

    As it faced an international chorus of protest against its test — the first such launch for 20 years — its officials insisted that they wanted space to be free of weapons.

    "As the Chinese Government, our principle stand is to promote the peaceful use of space," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "We oppose the militarisation of space. In the past, in the present and in the future, we are opposed to any arms race in space. Of this everyone can be confident."
Obviously, the Chinese have been paying attention. Blowing stuff up as a precursor to peace plays well to the International Community of media and those who would be easily cowed.

Senator Durbin and Representative Biggert Support Barrier to Nothern Migration
Undocumented carp:
    Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Judy Biggert have introduced legislation that would approve funding for a barrier to stop the spead of the Asian Carp.
    The carp have no natural predators in the area and threaten Great Lakes species by competing with local fish for food and habitat.

    The legislation would authorize the Army Corp of Engineers to finish building a permanent barrier in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal and study options to stop the fish.
Asian Carp: They just eat the grubs that American carp won't. I know, some of you will point out that the nation's carp are all immigrant carp, but that's not important.

What is important is that the Democrats in Congress recognize the danger of unchecked influx from the south.

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