Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Sunday, January 03, 2010
New Decade, New Domain
I'm taking this party over to

Everyone update your bookmarks and blogrolls. And by "everyone," I mean you, Charles.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Book Report: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Classics Club Edition)
This book collects a large number of Marcus Aurelius' thoughts about life as a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius, for those of you who don't know, was Roman Emperor in the middle portion of the Empire. He might sound a little familiar because Joaquin Phoenix killed him in Gladiator.

The book reads like a set of Stoic tweets or fortune cookies. There is no flow to them, really, aside from a couple that seem to follow stream of consciousness style. When my children removed my bookmark from the book, I was quite in a spot, since you really cannot remember where you were based on context, because many of the things are repetitive and restate the same things only slightly differently. So this book took me a while to slog through.

I'm not a fan of Aurelius' Stoicism; it is a philosophy of emperors and slaves (Aurelius' mentor, Epicetus, was a slave, and I have his collection to get through sometime but not soon). It urges you to bear up under your life, as its course is determined outside of you, and to do right and live according to the tenets of Stoicism, which seems to include noticing that you're not in control of your life and it really doesn't mean much anyway since you will be forgotten.

As this is a Classics Club edition, it also includes other material, including:
  • Several chapters of a novel entitled Marius the Epicurean which imagines and presents a fictional but descriptive portrait of Aurelius in his times (and a Christian ceremony at the time).
  • Two satires by Lucian that make fun of Stoicism.
  • A couple of pieces by Justin, including a dialog discussing his conversion to Christianity and an apology for Christianity (not an "I'm Sorry" kind of apology, but more an explanation of it) written with Aurelius in mind. These bits are very interesting in their own right (and rite) in that they very seriously compare the mysteries of Jesus Christ with various elements and deities in the Roman pantheon, saying these guys you worship did this, why is it so seditious that we believe Christ did this.
Overall, the most I derive out of this book is that I can say I read it. The philosophy within did not inspire me to something more, nor did it add anything to my credos. The pieces by Justin were interesting and helped provide me with some insight into early Christianity. The whole of it helped fill some historical gaps in my knowledge, I suppose, but I prefer Cicero to Marcus Aurelius when it comes to talking about Stoicism. This sort of Stoicism offers me no comfort since I prefer to believe in Free Will.

Books mentioned in this review:

Monday, December 28, 2009
Book Report: Jem by Frederik Pohl (1979)
This is not a book about the action figure. Unfortunately.

It's a 1979 dark novel about power politics and national and bloc-level conflict. However, in this future, although people are still flying Trans World Airlines, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are part of a larger bloc called the Food Bloc which squares off against oil-producing countries (including Great Britain) and the populous countries (such as China and Pakistan). When astronomers discover a habitable planet with three sentient species on it, the three blocs send expeditions and the international tensions continue to rise until a shooting war breaks out on Earth and on the planet Jem.

The book spends about eighty percent of the book introducing a number of characters of the different blocs and the different species, then about fifteen percent of the book killing those characters pretty offhandedly, and then ends with a small epilogue from some six generations later when the survivors on Jem have evolved into a new civilization that incorporates the species from the planet and a whole lot of proto-Gaiaist loving of Mother Jem.

A pretty grim book, and unsatisfying. I think I'll have to cleanse my science-fiction reading palate with some rocket-jockeying Heinlein.

Books mentioned in this review:

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Book Report: The Darwin Awards II by Wendy Northcutt (2000)
It's been five years since I read the next volume in the series (The Darwin Awards 3, wherein the numbering went Arabic instead of Roman. You know, what I said about that book also applies to this book, really. It's a digest of Web site postings. The essays that introduce each chapter still annoyed me.

But five years later, I'm less amused by the anecdotes of creative deaths. Maybe I'm getting older, maybe I'm moping through the first holiday season without my mother, but I'm just not as into the concept as I had been five years ago or when I first sat in my TALXware training session in 1998 and read the site after finishing up an easy exercise in writing an IVR script.

But, to say something nice about it, it's as good as any other in the series as I've read. There's some faint praise for it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: "One Moment, Sir!" Cartoons from the Saturday Evening Post selected by Marione R. Nickles (1957)
Well, I've read another book of cartoons to make my annual total more impressive. Also, it's a handy book to read when you're watching a football game, as you can read a cartoon or two between plays. So that explains why I spent some time on a fifty year old book of cartoons designated for the sophisticate reading a magazine founded by Ben Franklin. Back in the 50s, it was more a general interest magazine; now, it's a medical-themed magazine angled for the oldsters who still subscribe to it. And to me, since I subscribe to it.

For the most part, the cartoons are more clever than what you get from Heathcliff or Family Circus, but they don't have to work in a cat or a series character and they don't have the crutch of hitting common series tropes. On the other hand, the merchandising money is far less. So it's a slightly better read than a book in those series, but it's also less likely to connect you nostalgically with things you read when you were younger.

Unless, I guess, you're about 30 years older than I am and your parents subscribed to this magazine.

Books mentioned in this review:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
How Will That Play To The Tea Party Crowd?
You know the tea party people, the ones who take off of work to travel to Washington, D.C., to protest? The ones who skip lunches to march in front of their Congressional representatives offices? The ones who show up on Saturday because they don't like health control reform?

How do you think they'll like it that the Senate Republican leadership gave in a little early so everyone could go home early for Christmas?

    The Senate will still be in session Christmas Eve day, but Democrats and Republicans have agreed to give health care reform a final vote starting at 8 a.m. — 11 hours earlier than originally scheduled. Majority Leader Harry's Reid's announcement means that the Senate will be able to finish its business in time for many senators and staffers to get home for the Christmas holiday.
Do you think that will endear the GOP leaders who like their jobs and their perks and their chances to go home early with people who want to fight this thing tooth and nail, all the way?

I think not.

More at Ace of Spades HQ.

The GOP leadership better start thinking about how to show the tea party people that they, too, are serious about principles.

A Is A: The Law of Identity
Things act according to their natures. The scorpion and the frog. Anyone familiar with these could have foreseen this:
    One of the biggest challenges to ending the foreclosure crisis is this: A surprising number of homeowners who get their monthly payments reduced fall behind again within a year.

    When borrowers get into financial trouble, lenders have several ways to help. They can offer grace periods, longer repayment schedules, lower interest rates or reduced balances.
Sadly, the problem does not seem to be merely a 20% difference in loan amounts.

Unless the people and their circumstances change, too, the problem of not having enough to pay the mortgage will continue.

Monday, December 21, 2009
Book Report: When's Later, Daddy? by Bil Keane (1974)
Yes, I did read another book of 1960s and 1970s cartoons to make my annual quota of 100 books. Well, what would you do?

I guess some Family Circus cartoons are amusing. I certainly empathize with them now that I have Jeffy and PJ of my own. But they do seem to be relics of a bygone era of straight nuclear family cartoons. Although the pages of this paperback are yellowed with age, in my mind's eye they were all printed on green paper as part of the Milwaukee Journal's Green Sheet.

I guess it's worth your time if you're a fan of these sorts of books, as I seem to be, or you need to make quota, which I often need to do. A good, quick, mindless short evening's reading.

Books mentioned in this review:

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Book Report: TV Babylon by Jeff Rovin (1984)
Consider this book to be the antidote to the little elementary school books about 1980s television stars that I've read before (TV Superstars '82, TV Superstars '83, TV Close-ups). In it, the author recounts suicides, crimes, breakdowns, scandals, and all sorts of shenanigans that take place in Hollywood to television stars.

Oddly enough, the book covers some of the same stars as the books mentioned above, including Freddie Prinze, John Schneider, Tom Wopat, and Gary Burghoff.

So it's a bit of a quick tabloid read that's only relevant if you were alive and sentient prior to the publication date. You might learn something or learn some stories you weren't familiar with before, such as the Jack Paar/Johnny Carson spat and who Ernie Kovacs was. However, you probably won't come out of it like Tobey Maguire's character from Wonder Boys. Mostly because James Leer dealt with movie stars.

Books mentioned in this review:

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