Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Good Book Hunting: March 27, 2007
This weekend, the Friends of the Webster Groves Library are holding their annual book fair. This year, it's in donated shop space near Crestwood Plaza. Last year, we hit the fair at the Masonic Temple on bag day, so we had better luck this year. By "better luck," I mean, "had less temptation to buy." The crowded space impeded browsing--we couldn't get a stroller in, so we had to take turns, and the tables were cluttered, other patrons got in the way, and boxes full of books languished under the tables. So it wasn't easy going, and when it's not easy, I get going.

Still, I managed to find a number of books:

Webster Groves Book Fair haul

Amid my 12 new books, I got:
  • Several first edition Ed McBains, including Lightning and Lullaby to replace book club editions.
  • An 1882 illustrated collection of Tennyson's works (the big book on the bottom) for only $12!. That's like a dime a year.
  • An autographed collection of Sonnets of Eve written by a local author. Sonnets. Signed. Why not?
I would have gotten more had it not been crowded and sloppy. Who knows what harm I could do to the empty space on my to read shelves on bag day?

Book Report: The Murder Book by Jonathan Kellerman (2002)
I say lots of glowing things about Ed McBain and how his books are immortal, how he uses series business lightly to keep things moving along but never at the expense of pacing or plot, or how his passages are lyrical. His 87th Precinct series stands as an example of how to do things right. This book, on the other hand, shows what happens when you do everything wrong.

This book is part of the Alex Delaware series. I've never read any of the others, so I'm lost and don't give a weevil's willie about the two and a half chapters of series business that starts the book as Alex breaks up, almost, with his long time girlfriend. In the middle of chapter 3, the "action" begins when someone mails a book of crime scene photos to Delaware and he shares them with his police detective compatriot, who recognizes one photo among many as a case he never solved before a sudden transfer pulled him off of it. That's the motivation, the driving factor. To solve a 20 year old cold case, with no threats of immediate repeats or contemporary peril.

Meanwhile, Kellerman writes like the Michael Douglas character in Wonder Boys; there's no detail too miniscule to leave out, no scene worth cutting. When the main characters go to New Mexico to interview someone, we get pages covering the drive from the airport, including getting lost and asking for directions; when the main characters need food, we get paragraphs about what they eat; when one character has nothing better to do, he washes his car, and we get a long paragraph about his car. In lieu of investigation, we get lots of time with the characters talking out what might have happened.

What happened? Ultimately, a bunch of rich kids killed a stoned girl, and their parents covered it up; 20 years later, the rich kids are now rich adults, and they're still covering up. The psychologist of the detective's dead partner sent the book, and he kept Delaware and the detective pointed in the right direction. Except when the Chief of Police was pointing them in the right direction or trying to obstruct them. Finally, we get an absurd climax 360 pages into the novel and some denouement with nothing really gained. Someone, not the protagonists of the novel, kill the bad guys, and they read about the deaths.

Geez, once I started finding flaws with the book, I didn't want to put it down because I wanted to see how bad it could be. Changing POV from first (Delaware) to third (the detective) for apparently no reason? Got it! Actually, it might have been to provide insight into the characters, but I didn't care enough about either of them to want to know more. And hey, who the heck was logging into their computer and downloading Google in 2002. Downloading Google. Lord, love a duck.

Yes, that bad.

Do not buy this book or read it. I will go as far as to not read another Alex Delaware novel. I'm so down on it, if a good series with riveting characters and good pacing came out written by Ed McBain's son Joe Hunt but the series featured Chris Connecticut, I'd stay away just because all characters named after states have been tainted.

But hey, if you don't want to take my word for it, here's the link to buy it on Amazon.

Books mentioned in this review:

Friday, April 27, 2007
AP Uncovers The Facts
A closed society that enslaves women deserves an AP investigation. If it can smear the American military.
    Japan's abhorrent practice of enslaving women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After its surrender -- with tacit approval from the U.S. occupation authorities -- Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for American GIs.

    An Associated Press review of historical documents and records -- some never before translated into English -- shows American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The Americans also had full knowledge by then of Japan's atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered during the war.

    Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to U.S. troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut the brothels down.

    The documents show the brothels were rushed into operation as American forces poured into Japan beginning in August 1945.

    "Sadly, we police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops," recounts the official history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, whose jurisdiction is just northeast of Tokyo. "The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls."

    The orders from the Ministry of the Interior came on August 18, 1945, one day before a Japanese delegation flew to the Philippines to negotiate the terms of their country's surrender and occupation.
To make a short story long, the Japanese government set up these stations in August 1945 and the American military shut them down in Spring of 1946. They ran for under a year, a chaotic period wherein the occupation began. Some of the women were probably indentured or enslaved. But thanks to the AP for capturing it as:



Quick, Give Him Another Medal
George Tenet doesn't go quietly into deserved obscurity:
    A former U.S. spy chief accused President Bush's administration of ruining his reputation by misusing a "slam dunk" comment he made during a White House meeting ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

    Former CIA Director George Tenet told CBS Television's "60 Minutes" that the administration leaked his comment as opposition to the war grew when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

    "You don't do this. You don't throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me," Tenet said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.

    Tenet said his comment did not refer to whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but related to what information could be used to make a public case for the war.

    The "slam-dunk" comment first surfaced in journalist Bob Woodward's 2004 book, "Plan of Attack," which portrayed Tenet as assuring Bush that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a virtual certainty.

    "We can put a better case together for a public case. That's what I meant," Tenet told "60 Minutes."
    [Emphasis added.]
So his comment wasn't about facts, it was about spin. Come on, Tenet, you're not exactly burnishing your what-you-would-call-honorable legacy by implying that your agency was all about building a case instead of uncovering the facts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I Don't Think That Economic Indicator Means What I Think It Means
Kudos to the AP reporter Madlen Read who spun this story according to her own pecadillos: Dow crosses 13,000 for first time ever:
    The Dow Jones industrial average shot past 13,000 for the first time Wednesday as stronger-than-expected earnings reports streamed in, suggesting to investors that corporate America is successfully weathering the cooling economy. [Emphasis added.]
The earnings rising, new homes sales and manufactured goods sales rising, job-creating, cooling economy.

Machine Guns Not Illegal For The More Equal Citizens
In a move certain to bolster respect for law and order amongst the civilian population, we discover that police are apparently allowed to personally own fully automatic weapons:
    Federal prosecutors dropped the criminal case against the last of three Illinois State Police officers accused of federal machine-gun law violations — and signaled Tuesday that charges against a fourth man may soon be addressed.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney James Crowe dismissed a charge of illegal possession of a machine gun against Special Agent John Yard of Collinsville.
Because, you know, they're just better than civilians.

Someone let me know if I'm misreading this.

Fun With Borrowed Slang
I recently renewed my license plates, and to do so, one must have the vehicle's emissions tested at a centralized facility contracted exclusively by the government (you can guess how I feel about centralization and exclusive franchises granted by the government, gentle reader). As the woman put the official sticker onto my windshield, she gave me the certificate I needed to take to the License Office to renew my plates. "Take this to the DMV," she said.

As I stood in line at the License Office, I heard that guy, the one who talks loudly on his cell phone while in a queue, say that he was in line at the DMV. He also called it, on a separate call, the License Bureau.

Now I won't split too many hairs about the fact that the License Fee Office is a franchised to a private company and is not an official bureau at all.

However, I will point out that it's not the DMV, Department of Motor Vehicles. It's an offshoot of the Department of Revenue and only exists to take money. Missouri does have a Department of Transportation, but it deals with highways, not cars.

These people call it the DMV because that's what they call it on television. Somewhere else's bureaucracy again becomes the national buzzword.

Small Setforward For Property Owners In Missouri
A Missouri appellate court has ruled that blight isn't a magic word:
    An appellate court ruled this morning that Centene Plaza Redevelopment Corp. should be barred from using condemnation to acquire properties in the heart of Clayton for its $210-million twin towers, office and retail complex.

    In an unsigned opinion, Judges Clifford H. Ahrens, Mary K. Hoff and Nannette Baker of the Missouri Court of Appeals stopped short of pulling the economic plug on the project and overruling a lower court decision authorizing condemnation.

    Instead, the appeals judges sent the matter to the Missouri Supreme Court "because of the general interest and importance of the issues in this case."

    . . . .

    The appellate court concluded, however, that a study by a planning firm, PGAV, suggesting the area was blighted was insufficient evidence for city aldermen to make the blighting determination.
    [Emphasis Added]
This case will make it to the Missouri Supreme Court, so the matter isn't yet settled, but it's good to see that someone in the system doesn't think blight is a big bucket of paint with which you can coat anything.

More Evidence that MfBJN Paranoia Is Prophecy
Officials: Pet Food Poison May Have Been Intentional:
    For the first time, investigators are saying the chemical that has sickened and killed pets in the United States may have been intentionally added to pet food ingredients by Chinese producers.

    Food and Drug Administration investigators say the Chinese companies may have spiked products with the chemical melamine so that they would appear, in tests, to have more value as protein products.
As you know, gentle reader, your Shidoshi of Paranoia speculated it might have been intentional, but for more nefarious reasons.

(Link seen on Rocket Jones.)

UPDATE: So I'm not the only one: The pet food investigation turns to human food.

Visual Paradox
A job posting on craigslist, viewed in Firefox so the favicon displays, yielded this paradox:

These things do not go together.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Monzas, too.

(Thank goodness for the Internet, where I can footnote my puns.)

That's The Difference A Couple Million Dollars Buys
Art foundation defends properties: Is this Fox Point mansion a multimillion-dollar house or a museum? Some neighbors want it on the tax rolls.
    When is a museum a museum and not just a tax dodge? That's the question raised by residents who want two Fox Point mansions worth at least $3 million restored to the tax rolls.

    The neighbors are calling on the Village Board to re-examine a nearly 20-year-old agreement with the Chipstone Foundation that declared its property overlooking Lake Michigan a museum, granting it tax-exempt status.

    Not many have set foot inside the Georgian-style mansion.
If that property belonged to you or me, gentler reader, the commmunity would have already stripped its blighted eyesore from us and turned it over to a responsible developer who probably has the proper financing for an elegant strip mall.

But with millions of dollars available for defense, the local government must observe some decorum.

Monday, April 23, 2007
Old MacDonald: The Lost Lyric
Old MacDonald had a farm,
And on his farm, he had a thresher,
With an "Ahhhh! My arm!" here
and an "Ahhh! My legs!" there,
Here an "Ahhhh!", there an "Ahhhhh!",
everywhere an "Ahhhhhh!" "Ahhhhh!"
Old MacDonald had a farm,

Out of Our Bedrooms, Into Our Bathrooms
Great thinker Sheryl Crow proposes:
    "Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating.

    "I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting."
Obviously, further development would identify whether this limitation would be enforced by camera or an actual enforcement official in the bathroom with you.

Someone Handled Their Loss to Detroit Badly
First, McLennan does some slashing, then Calgary loses. Then, the rampage: Flames rip through south St. Louis home.

There is too much violence in hockey.

Jamie McLennan: Goalie Goon
NHL Suspends Flames Goalie 5 Games:
    The NHL came down hard Sunday on Calgary, suspending goalie Jamie McLennan for five games and fining coach Jim Playfair $25,000 and the team $100,000 for actions late in Game 5 of the Flames' first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

    McLennan was given a match penalty for slashing Detroit's Johan Franzen in the midsection at 17:01 of the third period, one of four penalties the Flames were assessed for aggressive and illegal use of the stick (slashing or cross-checking) in the closing minutes of the Red Wings' 5-1 victory.
Hometown columnist Jeff Gordon writes:
    Upon further review, former Blues goaltender Jamie "Noodles" McLennan has a nasty temper after all.

    During his 18-second stint in Saturday's Flames-Red Wings game — in relief of Calgary starter Mikka Kiprusoff — Jamie went crazy. Twice McLennan hacked Detroit forward John Franzen in the legs, a la Ron Hextall or Billy Smith.

    Then he really flipped out, chopping Franzen in the midsection, leaving him doubled over on the ice. UFR never saw this side of Noodles when he was here.
Au contraire, Mr. Gordon. In a playoff game against San Jose, I saw Jamie McLennan skate 178 feet to have a go with Nikolai Khabibulin. Now that's joining the gameplay.

In my book, if Jamie McLennan whacks you, you deserved a whacking. Also, not you have been whacked by someone who goes by Jamie. That's harder to live with.

Book Report: Nocturne by Ed McBain (1997)
I am currently reading Ed McBain novels in heavy rotation (see also Fat Ollie's Book and Kiss). I guess that's only three so far this year, so I'm not making much of a dent in the oeuvre that spans fifty years.

This book from the late 1990s deals with an old woman killed in her apartment in an apparent burglary. The old woman, a formerly world-reknowned pianist, leaves $100,000 cash for her granddaughter, a lounge singer who has taken up with two Italian tough guys. Amidst this main plot, three high school seniors from a well-to-do prep school kill a hooker, her pimp, and a smalltime drug dealer. Fat Ollie Weeks handles this subplot.

Because the cops use the same informant in this book as in Fat Ollie's Book, one can easily spot recycled material in the description of the informant. But I find the continued consistently good writing in the novels even though they span 50 years almost incredible. With each book, McBain varies the formula somewhat, alters his narrative slightly, but the characters and the crimes remain fresh and interesting. Some writers hit a certain level of success and just phone it in, but McBain never seemed to reach that level.

Which is why I can read these books over and over again.

Books mentioned in this review:

Sunday, April 22, 2007
Book Report: The Instant Enemy by Ross MacDonald (1968)
At one of the book fairs last year, I bought a number of Ross MacDonald books because, although I have read many of them twice, I don't have many of them on my shelves.

As one might expect if one has read Geherin, MacDonald represents a transitional author in the hard-boiled detective school. He still has his hard knock chops in Lew Archer and the Chandleresque plots, but they have a touch more touchy-feely exploration of intrafamily conflict. This book is no exception as it begins with a disturbed young man kidnapping a wealthy oilman with the help of one of his underling's innocent daughters and then delves into several decades-old murders amid a family tree that intertwines like a oak and poison sumac. I don't even know if those two things intertwine frequently, but the book compells one to try his hand at simile.

This book and others that I'm revisiting on occasion remind me of why I wanted to be a writer, or at least what made me think I could get away with it. Somewhere, though, my voice varied from these pieces, but it's good to come home once in a while.

Books mentioned in this review:

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