Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Book Report: America on Six Rubles a Day by Yakov Smirnoff (1987, 1993)
I enjoyed Yakov Smirnoff's humor back in the old days (those 1980s again) when his America vs. the USSR and incredulous immigrant schtick brought a unique perspective to being an American. This book recreates a bunch of those moments, and since I can remember what that was like, I can still laugh with it. Since I'm seeing the USA of today turn into that USSR of his humor, it's not humor without sadness.

I know Mr. Smirnoff has continued to work the comedy thing, so I have to wonder how much I'll enjoy the contemporary Yakov. Since I'm in Springfield, where Professor Smirnoff teaches at MSU and near where he has a theater at Branson, I'll find out, certainly. I might even run into him on the street someday.

So consider this review a preliminary suck-up.

Books mentioned in this review:

Warm and Fuzzy To The Right (Left) Mindset
It didn't sound like the sort of film I'd see since I'm not dating/married to a girl who would want to see it, but this review of the film Amreeka doesn't make it sound like it delivers warm and fuzzies to people of a certain mindset:
    The two arrive at the Illinois home of her sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass of "The Visitor") shortly after the start of the war in Iraq, as anti-Arab paranoia runs high.
Was anti-Arab paranoia peaking in 2003? I would have put whatever anti-Arab paranoia at its peak in 2001 or 2002. Also, I'd like to wonder who diagnosed suspicion of Middle Eastern people after an attack by Middle Eastern people on Americans as clinical paranoia.

A film reviewer, no doubt.

Friday, November 20, 2009
Book Report: Millennium by Ben Bova (1976)
This isn't the book for the Kris Kristofferson film of the same name or for the Lance Henrikson television show of the same name. Instead, it's a book written in 1996 about the state of the world and a close call for a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR except for a lunar rebellion that takes control of the warring sides' incomplete ABM satellite networks.

It's a pretty good read, and a strange extrapolation about the turn of the century from 1976. Space travel has really gone well, with waystation space platforms and lunar colonies in place for over a decade by the book's setting. However, no great push to correct software written about the time of the book. Also, the Soviet Union remains a strong force in the world and the UN is a force for good.

A good science fiction book if you can put yourself into the now alternate-universe where it takes place.
Books mentioned in this review:

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Book Report: Scipio Africanus: Greater than Napoleon by B.H. Liddell Hart (1926, 1994)
When I read the selected works of Cicero earlier this year, Cicero kept telling me about the Roman age of heroes and of Scipio. So when my beautiful wife and I were killing some time in Patten Books a couple months back, I found this volume for $6. That alone should tell you how far gone I am into my current Roman history sort of phase (for me, 4 books in a couple of months is a pretty determined phase). SIX DOLLARS I spent on this book. And enjoyed it.

So if you're like me and don't really know who Scipio was, he's the guy who beat Hannibal. In Carthage.

Now, if you remember your trivia, Hannibal took elephants over the Alps. Of course, since you remember the Roman empire and not the Carthaginian empire, you probably think it went badly for Hannibal. Not so. He trashed the Romans and then moved into Italy and maintained an army near Rome for 15 years. He might have stayed for another 15 or worked toward actually attacking Rome if it hadn't been for that meddling kid, Scipio.

Scipio, like Hannibal, was the son of a commander who died in Spain. After some bravery and heroics, he got himself named commander of the Roman forces in Spain and then managed to throw the Romans out of Spain, cross into Africa, and march on Carthage. It was at this point Carthage withdrew Hannibal from Italy and the two met in the Battle of Zama. Wherein Scipio beat the master strategist and earned the title Africanus.

Without Scipio, the author argues, there would have been no later Roman republic and Roman empire. However, he's forgotten in popular memory now because he didn't bring bears across the Strait of Gibraltar or some other novelty.

With a subtitle like "Greater than Napoleon" (added to the new edition), you can tell that the author writes approvingly of the subject. Personally, I approve of that narrative type. I'd rather read some swashbuckling account of the person under study than a well-footnoted smug bit where you get as much of the professor's disdain as anything else.

So the book is a good read and a very good bit of military history, back in an age where men were men, usually from the age of 13 to their deaths at 30.

Books mentioned in this review:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Book Report: The Treason Game by Nick Carter (1982)
I read this book pretty soon after Missouri Deathwatch, so it posed stark relief. The professional wordsmith who cranked out this entry kept it pretty fresh and quick moving.

In this book, Nick Carter goes against AXE itself when a Soviet spymaster comes to town and shoots Nick. In the hospital, another attempt is made on Nick after his boss visits. Why does AXE want the Killmaster dead? Nick delves into it, discovering that the Soviet is part of a plot to infiltrate American nuclear facilities as part of a nuclear arms treaty mission. And more. With the help of a sexy reporter, Nick goes against the cops, against AXE, and against the President's orders to discover the truth and save America. Even if he has to commit treason to do it.

It's quality paperback pulp from the 1980s with only a couple of repeated stock descriptions of Carter's arsenal. This series is worth revisiting when I get around to it and after I hit the Friends of the Christian County book fair again. That place is lousy with the pulp.

Books mentioned in this review:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Book Report: Jinx by Susan Shank (2008)
At first, I thought this book was going to be a mash-up between a pulp paperback thriller and a romance novel. The cover looks violent. The back mentions the title character was trained in a mercenary camp. The first chapter features her infiltrating rebel-held territory for the second night to make a deal with a rebel leader and ends up in a mixed martial arts fight with a couple of mercenaries.

But then it turns completely on that and becomes a bit more of a romance novel. The character changes into a photojournalist at the mercy of her feminine nature and under the protection of the males in the book, even going so far as striking out on her own a couple times to ill effect and the merciful rescue of the handsome mercenary she's trying to resist.

Also, it ends abruptly.

Maybe it's a good romance adventure or something, but that genre ain't my bag, baby, and I was disappointed. In my defense, I picked up the book because Shank (which sounds like the pseudonym on a pulp thriller, so understand one of the reasons I bought a romance novel) lives in the area. The book is a little amateur, or maybe that's just because I'm not familiar with romance, but on the plus side, it's not hack work like some of the pulp series books I've read recently. Keeping the main character tough as she's pitched would have made for a better book, but perhaps not one fitting the genre.

Now I better read some Ray Chandler or Andrew Sugar to rinse.

Books mentioned in this review:

It Takes A Democrat To Appoint a Non-Ogre
Sotomayor is not a reactionary ogre like Scalia or Roberts. She's a glamorous celebrity!
    Apparently, no one told Sonia Sotomayor that Supreme Court justices are supposed to be circumspect, emerging from their marble palace mainly to dispense legal wisdom to law schools, judges’ conferences and lawyers’ meetings.

    Since becoming the first Hispanic justice, Sotomayor has mamboed with movie stars, exchanged smooches with musicians at the White House and thrown out the first pitch for her beloved New York Yankees. A famous jazz composer even wrote a song about her: “Wise Latina Woman.”

    In short, Sotomayor has become a celebrity — all without having made a single major decision at the nation’s highest court.

    It’s not that other justices don’t have their own particular glamour.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — both opera lovers — recently had roles in the opening performance of “Ariadne auf Naxos” for the Washington National Opera. Other justices have done tours to promote their books.

    But that kind of fame rarely reaches the man on the street.
Remember, man on the street means peasant. Do you feel touched, peasant?

I especially like this bit:
    In short, Sotomayor has become a celebrity — all without having made a single major decision at the nation’s highest court.
Celebrity and powerful position without any actual accomplishment. Does it sound like anyone else we know?

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