Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, May 10, 2008
At Least Someone Is Enjoying Himself

Friday, May 09, 2008
Book Report: An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman (1991)
It looks as though it's been four and a half years since I read the first Book of Lists, and what a four years it has been. Punchlines about Iraq and President Bush, written in 1990 about a different set of circumstances, still cause one to do a doubletake.

Like the other book, the best lists are on topics that aren't dated; the ones that are, I can appreciate for the historical/nostalgic value and get some of the humor from them, but they're not going to last long. Of course, you can get these lists on the Internet now, but when has free availability online ever stopped me for spending a buck or less for a paper copy?

Books mentioned in this review:

A Book Listing Meme That Proves, Again, That I Read A Lot
Via Dustbury, I again have an opportunity to list some books and identify what I've read. Apparently, this is some list of books people tend to own just so they look smart.

The schtick is as follows:
    What we have here is the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded. Bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.
Additionally, I have listed in green the ones that I have on my to read shelves to actually read. Additionally, I have posted links to the reports on books that I've finished in the last couple of years so you can see I did read them.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Silmarillion
  • Life of Pi: a novel
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Don Quixote
  • Moby Dick
  • Ulysses
  • Madame Bovary
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Tale of Two Cities
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler's Wife
  • The Iliad
  • Emma
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Kite Runner
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations
  • American Gods
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver
  • Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury Tales
  • The Historian: a novel
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New World
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault's Pendulum
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Once and Future King
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  • 1984
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • Les Misérables
  • The Corrections
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela's Ashes: a memoir
  • The God of Small Things
  • A People's History of the United States: 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neverwhere
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Beloved
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake: a novel
  • Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Confusion
  • Lolita
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • On the Road
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down
  • Gravity's Rainbow
  • The Hobbit (well, the graphic novel, anyway)
  • In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield
  • The Three Musketeers
Sadly, the list is mostly unread, even the books that I actually think are worth reading and not just fluff put on by contemporary reviewers or poseurs.

Thursday, May 08, 2008
The Boilerplate
How often newspapers pose the important question about governmental authorities who might have done wrong based on a single citizen's spurious and often dubious assertion. Here's one such story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Questions arise after girl's day out of school:
    As Milwaukee Public Schools spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin puts it, "A 12-year-old girl, it's not appropriate that she's out without the family knowing where she is."

    As the mother of this particular girl and MPS officials agree, the sixth-grader was out of Burroughs Middle School, 6700 N. 80th St., for a day last week without her family knowing about it.

    Whose fault was that? The school's or the girl's?

    According to St. Aubin, the girl was suspended from school April 22 for misbehaving in class. The mother said the suspension was a result of a verbal argument between the girl and another girl during a class.

    St. Aubin said the girl was told of the suspension and given a letter to take home to her parents, and she was not supposed to come to school the next day. A voice mail message explaining that was left for the girl's mother, St. Aubin said.

    The mother says the girl was not told she was suspended and the mother didn't get the letter or a voice mail.

    The girl went to school the next day.

    The mother said her daughter told her that shortly after she got to school, she was told by an assistant principal that she had to leave and was given a dismissal pass and a bus ticket to go home. Administrators ordered her to go out the door, the mother said. She said her daughter did not know how to take a bus home and went to Noyes Park, several blocks north of the school, where she spent the day without food or shelter.

    The mother showed reporters the girl's suspension notice, an early dismissal slip from the school with a time of 9:20 a.m. that day written on it, and a bus ticket she said was the one given her daughter.
    [Emphasis added.]
Good on the paper for bringing to light this story of a suspended girl who apparently told her mother she didn't know that she was suspended. Mysteriously, the notice that she was suspended appears as evidence that the school did wrong.

As a government entity, the paper holds the school up as an example of government incompetence or malfeasance. At least until the time comes to raise taxes to give more money to those incompetents or miscreants, in which case it will become a moral imperative to support the bureaucracy against the individual tax payers.

You know, that should be only one word, tax payers. Breaking it out into two somehow seems to add a certain emphasis that is lost when it's classified through single word usage.

Things I'm Asked All The Time
Dude, is that you in that picture dressed like a scientist riding on the back of a moped driven by an actor dressed in a suit?

Of course it is. Don't be ridiculous.

Did you really almost get into a wreck on that moped? What would make a mild mannered fellow like you do something like that?

Yes, and I was paid $1 for my role in that commercial. This brings my total revenue from Internet modeling and acting to $2.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Book Report: Alice in Jeopardy by Ed McBain (2004)
Et tu, McBain?

I guess it comes as no surprise. Many of his post-2001 books, particularly the ones after 2003, offer their asides that identify exactly how McBain felt about President Bush. He managed to dodge overt political disapproval for almost 50 years, but the climate and tenor of the times allowed him to unleash his disdain, so this book includes a throw away about how Bush ruined the economy and two references to the Iraq War as a Bush crusade. These sorts of things put me off of writers almost daily; it's only McBain's exemplary career beforehand that keeps me from dismissing him as a leftist hack. Sadly, that's what it's like to be a semi-conservative reader in the early part of the 21st century.

Now, this book is a Florida book. Because I've not read a Matthew Hope book for a while, it's easy for me to forget that McBain did his dabbling in the world of MacDonald (mentioned by name in this book) and Hiaasen. It seems like he's trying to emulate the latter a bit here, with a cast of odd characters weaving in and out.

The titular Alice is a recent widow whose husband drowned in the Gulf of Mexico. She's running out of money, waiting for the insurance company to finally pay up, and trying to keep it together. When someone kidnaps her children, the various law enforcement agencies move in with little success and Alice herself has to do something.

The book falls short of the Hiaasen standard and doesn't move quickly enough to fit into the MacDonald mold. Ultimately, it's a lesser book in the McBain canon (politics aside), but it's not a bad book on its own. If someone writes the incomplete Becca in Jeopardy, I might read it. But it's not an 87th Precinct novel, that's for sure.

Books mentioned in this review:

Enjoy Your Popcorn, Conservatives
You know, a lot of conservative sorts of political observers have had a lot of fun watching Obama make a series of gaffes and get caught up in ill-considered personal relationships.

However, as long as these things are coming out in the primaries, they'll be old news by election time, and if Obama ends up the nominee, I think a long, bruising primary battle will have given him some inkling of what he'll face in a real election, so he'll be better equipped for the real election than if the Democrats had just crowned him early.

The bruising fight between Obama and Hillary might be fun for some conservatives to watch, but ultimately it might strengthen Obama just enough for November.

I Voted
An advertisement from Fortune magazine, complete with my official vote added:

I choose nothing

You know what's sadder than wasting money in a national publication to encourage people to visit a freaking Web site to fight global warming?

That Fortune magazine of all things dedicates a large number of pages each issue in the service of the Holy Gaia Empire. I mean, the design magazines are rife with it, the homemaker magazines are full of it (take these frugal steps not to save your money, but to serve the Earth Mother through your own self-sacrifice and denial), and the news magazines are affixed to the leg of the fundaenvironmentalist church, but a magazine for the capitalists? That is the sign that our civilization is rotting to the core.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Book Report: Space Wars: Worlds & Weapons by Steven Eisler (1979)
In retrospect, Tamara K. was not recommending this book at all. She mistook it for something else. This is not a Stewart Cowley book, this is a Steven Eisler book. I didn't expect Tam would remember fondly a book that called Robert A. Heinlein a fascist.

Okay, here's what we have: a book of unrelated space paintings with essays about the evolution of science fiction stories. Within these texts, we discuss how some science fiction is juvenile (that is, the right-winged stuff). Also, the first half of the Fantasy chapter is about sex, not, you know, fantasy fiction. It's hard to square elitist academic posturing with space paintings, but even demigeeks can get tenure, I guess.

Then, within the captions, we have the schtick that this is some historical document from millenia hence with a history of mankind's space travel. Each disparate painting is worked into this timeline, including the images from obvious fantasy novels.

It was meh. Coffeetable art book for science fiction geeks from the 1970s. Even though I've read some of the novels the book refers to (mostly in a derogatory light, since if they were enjoyable, they were right-winged Power-Is-Truth stuff, unlike Solaris which was mind-broadening, man).

But it counts as a book that I've read this year, and I did it during a baseball game. Woo.

Books mentioned in this review:

Point of Order
In this piece about Obamalove in the media, the professional journalist/writer fumbles:
    If the wellborn New England Wasp George W. Bush (Andover '64, Yale '68, Harvard '75) could be successfully refashioned as a down-home rustic, why shouldn’t Hillary Clinton (Wellesley '69, Yale '73) be talkin' guns and drinkin' Crown Royal shots and droppin' all the g's from her gerunds whenever she speaks extemporaneously these days? [Emphasis added]
The examples cited, as you well know, gentle reader, are not gerunds at all, but rather are examples of the present progressive tense (often with the form of to be omitted).

Unless, of course, the author truly means that Hillary becomes talkin' with guns and drinkin' Crown Royal and that these gerunds are supposed to be used in the predicate nominative sense. However, that does not appear to be the case. But I just wanted to throw in another esoteric grammar term to show that I know what a gerund is.

But we cannot expect our snobbish elites to know their grammar, can we?

(Link seen on Instapundit.)

Book Report: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854, 1995)
I liked this book the most out of the Dickens I've read recently (notably, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations). Within it, adults do things, and there's something at stake. This book tells a number of stories: A daughter of a Utilitarian, raised on Facts, marries a wealthy capitalist; the brother of said woman escapes his Utilitarian upbringing by becoming a ne'er-do-well; a worker refuses to join the union and is accused of a bank robbery; and a circusman abandons his daughter, who will be raised by the Utilitarian.

In short, it's not about waifs, which is a boon.

The book is short and has some messaging going on, but it's not a straight ahead book bespeaking the glory of the masses. Instead, it's more of an individualist/Romantic bit, so I didn't find the themes odious. However, the shortness makes some of the storylines truncated, and it seems like Dickens was making it up as he went without an idea of how he was going to resolve things. So when the book came time to end, so did some of the storylines in offhand ways. Also, one of the more speechifying characters, who reveals a lot of the message and philosophy book, speaks with a lisp which was very distracting.

But Dickens was Hemingway to Austen's Faulkner, relatively speaking, and I'd rather pick up another Dickens than an Austen at this point.

Books mentioned in this review:

Good Book Hunting: May 3, 2008
Even after our run on the Friends of the Old Trees Library book sale on Thursday, we decided to go out on Saturday to a couple of yard sales even though my beautiful wife used the "I'm going to have a baby any minute" excuse to limit our excursion. I mean, come on, how else will you know if the fifty cent baby clothes are going to fit?

So we only went to four garage sales, and I bought only two books at fifty cents each (since we didn't discover if the baby clothes would fit).

A couple books from a garage sale
Click for full size

This includes:
  • Master and Commander, the historical novel by Patrick O'Brian.

  • Dot Calm, a book about relaxing in the modern world, I guess. Want my hint? Quit your job and work in your yard more often. That's what I did, and so far so good.
Amount spent: $1.00. Number of books: 2.

It marks a rare Saturday where I bought fewer books than I read over the course of the week.

Possibility Exists That She Is Just Sleeping Very Soundly
Young woman apparently killed in hit-and-run in city

Great Moments in the Command Economy
Let me know if you've heard this before: Government meddles in free market because it can. Prices rise. Government investigates price gouging:
    St. Louis County officials plan to ask the state attorney general to investigate whether some trash haulers have gouged residents by drastically raising rates in recent weeks.

    The county's chief operating officer, Garry Earls, said some residents in the county's unincorporated areas have received bills that are almost double their previous rates.

    "This price gouging is tantamount to unscrupulous contractors ripping people off after a major storm," he said.

    The county is moving ahead with plans to divide its unincorporated areas into eight trash collection districts. Through competitive bidding, it would hire a single hauler for each district, except in subdivisions that opt out of the program.
The government's action leads to a rise in prices that justifies, in the government's mind, more government action.

Monday, May 05, 2008
Missouri State Legislature Would Eliminate Middle Man, Pass Savings On To Voters
The commanders of the economy are at it again:
    A bill before the Missouri House would prohibit doctors from marking up the cost of certain anatomical laboratory work — such as skin biopsies and Pap tests — that are performed by outside laboratories.

    The bill, which has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting floor debate in the House, would prohibit what's known as "pass-through" billing.

    That's when a doctor sends a patient's test sample to an outside laboratory for analysis. The lab charges the doctor a discounted price for the work, but the doctor bills the patient's insurance or the patient a higher amount.
No word on whether the Missouri state legislature will go after mechanics, computer repair shops, construction people, and every other business that uses subcontracting. It's doubtful, though, because these people are not the current boogeyman that the medical industry is.

However, once that particular Gulliver is bound to earth, watch out.

UPDATE: Legislator corrected to legislature in title and body. Now that someone's reading it, I suppose I should make it correcter.

Sunday, May 04, 2008
Who Wants To Be The Last Memorialized For A Mistake?
A "memorial" park in Lake St. Louis is surprised by criticism that its memorial plaques include sections on "mistakes" and "consequences" of the wars in which the dead fought:
    Plaques citing "mistakes" in U.S.-fought wars have been removed from a new Veterans Memorial Park after veterans complained.

    Ralph Barrale, head of the veterans group behind the park, said he's sorry if the plaques upset anyone.

    "We don't want to disgrace the city or anyone else," he said. "If we offended anyone, I am personally sorry."

    At issue is information on small metal plaques that had been glued atop stone pedestals. The plaques summarized the nation's wars, with the information divided into sections, including "mistakes" and "consequences."
In another story, Barrale is quoted as saying:
    World War II veteran Ralph Barrale, who is 84, says it upsets him that some in his St. Louis suburb don't want to read "the good and the bad" of America's wars. He says they are historically accurate.
However, here's some of the meat on the plaques:
    For example, the "mistakes" portion of the plaque titled "Global War on Terror, 1997-Present" read, in part: "As of 2007, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars failed to enable viable governments leading to continued guerrilla fighting. The Iraqi Army was quickly crushed but the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi Army and removed civilian government employees belonging to the ruling political party leaving no one to help maintain security or run the country, which was contrary to policy used after WWII in Germany and Japan."

    Under "consequences," it stated: "U.S. was accused of a Crusade against Muslims which caused riots all over the Muslim world. Pakistan became an opportunistic ally of the U.S. in its Afghanistan war. U.S. lost prestige around the world."
That's not historically accurate, that's historical interpretation. The sort of thing that's up for discussion and controversy. If Mr. Barrale wants to put those interpretation into government-sanctioned metal in a park, he wants them to be known as fact instead of what he and his other elegy composers think.

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