Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Taxes on the Ballot
Charlie Dooley burns the midnight oil to get a tax increase proposal on the ballot:
    St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley submitted a last-minute request to the County Council on Tuesday to put a proposal for a 1.85 percent tax on out-of-state purchases on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Article goes on to describe all the good things the money would do and how the municipalities in the county want the extra money. No space, as expected, is wasted on all the tax money already collected by the municipalities and the county and what they're spending it on instead of the good, necessary things.

Additionally, Metro is telling us about the coming skyfall if its proposed tax increase does not pass:
    The Metro public transportation system has warned that service would be slashed on the Missouri side of the region without a new source of money.

    Now the transit agency is offering a worst-case scenario: No MetroLink trains after 8 p.m. Bus service in effect nonexistent outside Interstate 270. Twenty-eight of 60 current bus routes disappearing.

    "This is going to be shocking," Metro President Robert Baer said Friday. "We pray that doesn't happen."

    Metro is preparing for the outcome of a Nov. 4 vote in St. Louis County on a half-cent increase in the transit sales tax. If the tax passes, the service cuts would be unnecessary.
As you recall, Dooley moved this particular tax proposal from a spring ballot since that ballot was too close to revelations about Metro spending profligately on a lawsuit against consultants that built or managed its recent extension.

Half of the money would be spent on maintenance:
    County Executive Charlie Dooley has told county residents that if Proposition M passes, half of the $80 million in revenue that is projected to be raised each year would go toward transit operation and maintenance costs, while the other half would go toward a MetroLink expansion from Clayton to Westport Plaza.
Awesome logic no doubt gleaned from public policy courses at the university. You cannot afford to run what you have, so raise taxes and then spend the money to not only run what you have, but to build more. Which you then won't have enough money to run in an ongoing basis. Rinse. Repeat.

Friday, August 22, 2008
Book Report: The Private Dining Room by Ogden Nash (1953)
It took me some time to read this book, because I'm reading poetry volumes aloud these days and although one child cannot flee from the poetry, the other one can, so it has been slow going. Still, they like Ogden Nash. Or perhaps I like reading Ogden Nash to them.

Nash's silly verses are laden with classical education allusions amid the crazy goofing with the language to get a rhyme. Also, a number of the verses are essentially 18 line setups for a pun Nash needed to work in. Still, some of the lines and quips bear repeating and sometimes get it, although most people who quote Nash probably don't know it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I See CB and Raise Him
CB, because some of the people we know in common read this blog daily, thinks I have pull, so he keeps sending me tips like this: As though a mention on this blog will send torrents of readers his way.

Brother, I see your antiobamassiah and raise you Michelle Obama Suicide Watch.

(My link stolen from Ace, who, in his defense, is not my friend.)

Kosovars Cannot Sign Revoke the Games Petition
Over on my Software QA blog,, I once noted that some drop-down lists have not yet recognized Kosovo's independence.

To this list, add the petition to revoke the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Fortunately, Georgia and the Ukraine remain listed for the time being, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not.

(Link seen on Instapundit.)

Government To Hinder Conversation On My Front Porch In 2025
We live next to an interstate highway, and the front yard is pretty loud; you need to speak up to be heard. However, I used to say that in 20 years, we wouldn't hear that highway because the internal combustion engine would be out of style. Fortunately, the government is working to save the endangered Noise Pollution:
    Electric and hybrid vehicles may be better for the environment, but the California Legislature says they're bad for the blind.

    It has passed a bill to ensure that the vehicles make enough noise to be heard by visually impaired people about to cross a street.
Thanks, guys.

(Link seen at Porch Girl's.)

Noggle's In The Driveway Again
Government making life more expensive for us in today's Kirkwood-Webster Journal.

Book Report: Love Sonnets selected by Louis Untermeyer (1964)
This is a small collection of sonnet's greatest hits, sort of. About 25 of them, from Browning to Shakespeare and Petrarch.

Unfortunately, the poems appear in a handwritten font (calligraphy, the credits call it) and they have "illustrations" on the left page of each. The font hurt my eyes, and I ignored the illustrations totally.

Still, I enjoyed some of the poems (again, in many cases, as the major ones are anthologized everywhere else). A couple points:
  • Translated poems, especially those in tight forms like sonnets, probably come through very garbled from the original.

  • Based on these sonnets, I might have been one of the best sonneteers of the late 20th century before I retired. If I could get my two year old to illustrate the book, I could probably match this volume.
Overall, the volume probably isn't worth your time unless you really dig eye-crossing simulated handwriting.

Books mentioned in this review:

Journalist Says Your Bedroom Is Not The Right Place For You
In a story about a home invasion of Noah Herron, running back for the Packers, the journalist gives in to cliche and renders a judgement on whether the bedroom is actually the right place for you to be:
    No, there was no message in this, only the fact that anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For Herron, it was innocently enough in his own bedroom one May evening while two burglars ended up pushing Herron into a corner, giving him no option but to fight back for his own life.
Brothers and sisters, the bedroom in your own home is not the wrong place at the wrong time.

The absolute right place to be in this situation is where your home defense weapon is. Unfortunately for Herron, this ended up being a bedpost, but fortunately it was enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Here's One Negative Impact Of AB-InBev, So I'll Provide Another
James Durbin gives perspective on what the AB-InBev merger means to St. Louis IT in a post entitled The Effect Of The Anheuser-Busch Merger On The St Louis Staffing Market. He takes it from a macro approach, but let me tell you what it means to you, the individual IT drone: There are going to be a lot of former AB contractors chasing a smaller number of IT jobs in St. Louis.

But never mind that, let's talk about the real impact on the rest of us: The commercials are going to suck. I mean, I'm not a fan of Budweiser, having only drunk a single Bud Light in my lifetime and only as part of Mardi Gras in Soulard where that's all that was available from Red, the bartender from the Venice Cafe who was moonlighting on some balcony in Soulard proper. My dislike of the product aside, the commercials were often funny. I mean, almost ten years later, I say, "Willie, it's go time," and that's from a non-campaign spot:

I watch a lot of sports, and this means I watch a lot of Bud and Bud Light commercials.

Have you ever seen a funny European beer commercial? Ever? They're all so earnest at best, at worst they creep me out. Dudes, I have nightmares about this one:

Forget the local economy tanking. This is really where it's going to hurt.

Book Report: Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan (2003)
This book will cost you 1d6 SAN. You have Sherlock Holmes and related characters, the poster children for reason, thrust into the world of Lovecraft, where irrationality and things beyond reason rule. You really cannot reconcile the two; the things that go bump in the cosmos win, and it's ultimately not comforting.

As a collection of short stories written by different authors using the same characters, the different treatments are jarring. In one, Holmes and Watson are action heroes, for crying out loud, having a shootout in the London sewers with a bad guy carrying an unmounted Gatling gun. That would have been kinda heavy, don't you think?

Still, the book is worth a couple of bucks for the concept and the better stories, but ultimately, it's not good Holmes and it's not good Lovecraft.

Books mentioned in this review:

Monday, August 18, 2008
Internet Geekery Lets Me Down
So I did an image search for cylon assimilated borg, and I don't get a picture of an old school centurion with paraphernalia.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, someone would have created an image in 1997 or something that combined the two motifs, back before "cylon" was merely a hot chick in a tight dress or battle uniform. Oh, but no.

I hope you all feel ashamed of yourselves.

Sunday, August 17, 2008
Book Report: Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas (1993)
Porch Girl posted a This Day In History bit about La noche triste, a night where the Aztecs almost wiped out Cortes and his crew. Huh, I though, that's not something I'm familiar with, and it's definitely something begging a historical essay, so I ran right out and grabbed this 600 page academic tome about the conquest of the Mexica.

This is an excellent book on the subject. I mean, the author's completely in the bag for the Aztecs (he saves his most poetic language for describing the glories of the human sacrifice, what he calls the "astonishing, often splendid, and sometimes beautiful barbarities" on p24) and he's as pink as farm raised salmon (his previous books are The Spanish Civil War and The History of the Cuban Revolution, he makes a point of saying that winning wars without fighting are notable goals of Clausewitz and Lenin--but no mention of that Sun Tzu guy, and he muses that the conquistadores must have called each other comrade). But he merely weights things that support his idea; he includes a lot of detail and does not omit things which would counter his bias, so someone not like him--like me--could make other inferences from the data.

Now, onto the story.

Most history books mostly gloss over the conquest of Mexico, turning it into a very simple tale of Spain pillaging the New World again, this time swapping the name Cortes for Columbus or Pizarro. Still, the story is much more than a morality play where the Western power is bad and the natives are blissful.

The Mexica, as Thomas calls them, were a nation built on winning at wars and getting tribute from conquered tribes. They had conquered everything within a reasonable march from their capital excepting those pesky Tarascans who used metal in their weapons (the Aztecs used stone knives and spearpoints). Each leader, elected from a pool of aristocrats, got a bit more lavish with the lifestyle, and by the time Montezuma rolled in, the city of Tenochtitlan was huge and sprawling and, did I mention, totally dependent upon tribute from conquered tribes around them for its lifestyle. I'll be frank, the picture Thomas paints shows me an empire on the edge of collapse, Spanish arrival or not. I think the Aztecs ended up being remember, instead of the Olmecs or the Chichimecs or the Totonacs, because they got conquered by the Aztecs.

And let's not forget the human sacrifices. By the 1520s, the priests were killing ever-increasing number of war captives and people sent to the city as tribute. Maybe the gods were building up a tolerance or something. Thomas tries to tell us how the natives could think of no greater destiny than to die atop a pyramid and to have their bodies cast down the steps and how the subjects of the sacrifices ultimately weren't in pain because they were whacked out on pulque or peyote.

Thomas, of course, points out that the Aztecs didn't own slaves as such, and that all the tribesmen who carried the tribute hundreds of miles over mountains and through deserts were volunteers who just wanted to see Tenochtitlan. And maybe be sacrificed.

So that's the situation when the Spanish show up. Which wasn't sudden, mind you. Ships appeared off of the coast for years and even landed a couple times. By the time Cortes lands, a couple previous expeditions had visited Yucatan and even Aztec areas and had fought battles with the natives. But Montezuma didn't prepare. When Cortes lands, Montezuma, the great Aztec leader, behaves like Hamlet, consulting astrologers, not acting, consulting priests, not acting, weeping because he's doomed, sending gifts to the Spaniards but asking them to stay away from the capital, claiming he cannot meet with Cortes because he's sick, and doing everything but planning to handle the Spanish expedition precisely.

On the other hand, the Spanish are a developed society with conscience decrying the treatment of the natives and legal mechanisms for control. Also, they work the iron. Thomas tries to place the two civilizations on equal footing (as do many historians, I wager). However, featherwork, a good calendar, and pretty colors painted on humans whose hearts are going to be ripped out are not really a match for the wheel and iron.

Contrary to the short shrift Cortes gets in more summary and cursory historical textbooks, the outcome of the expedition was potentially in doubt throughout. Cortes landed with only 300 men, after all, and not only had to contend with millions of natives, but also with courtly politics and the governor of Cuba who wanted to thwart Cortes. Cortes wanted to capture/dominate the city of Tenochtitlan without a battle and without destruction, perhaps introducing the Venice of the West to Christianity and certainly to exploit its riches. However, the initial plan doesn't work, culminating in the death of Montezuma, la noche triste, and the assault on Tenochtitlan. Even then Cortes wanted to capture it intact and only ended up burning much of it as a last resort.

The book was quite the eye-opener and really was well done. As I said, even though Thomas favors the Aztecs a bit, he provides the data that can lead to other interpretations (unlike, say, the Oxford History of Mexico, which devotes only a chapter to the conquest, discards contemporaneous Spanish sources as biased, and uses its authors' own "logic" to suss out the way it really happened almost five hundred years ago). The book lags when it gets into the courtly politics involved and goes into elaborate genealogies of everyone involved. But I cannot but recommend it if you're interested in this event at all.

Also, personally speaking, this book re-energized my cultural chauvinism. The closer cultures are to American culture, the better. I mean, how can you defend a culture that does this?
    What was necessary, in the meantime, was a suitable appeasement of Tlaloc, the rain god. He had to be given food, precious objects, pwople, chlidren (small, like the little Tlalocs who were believed to wait on the chief god of that name), in a series of festivals. The children had to cry, in order to indicate to the god exactly what was required; and to achieve this, their nails were often drawn out and thrown into the lake monster Ahuitzol, who usually lived from the nails of drowned persons. (Thomas 332)
Brothers and sisters, that's a culture that needs to be put down. Heather informs me that, in biblical times, tribes like this were completely obliterated instead of conquered, introduced to superior technologies, and Catholicized. Remember, according to some theories of moral calculus, if it saves one child, it's worth any price! so the conquest of the new world by the old was good.

That being said, one final note: in addition to making me want to read other accounts, including Bernal Diaz de Castillos contemporaneous account, I had the urge to watch Mel Gibson's Apocalypto; since I don't have that handy, I'll have to settle for Firewalker, which, as a man, I must own. Also, the book gave me the urge to play Civilization IV so I could take a turn pasting the Aztecs, which I did.

Books mentioned in this review:

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