Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, December 11, 2004
The Far Reaches of Agriculture

I just browsed the latest Consumer Information Catalog from the GSA Federal Consumer Information Center. Certainly, if you're not a damn kid, you remember the advertisements they used to run for this free catalog, often (it seemed) during Saturday morning cartoons. Well, I picked a copy up at the local library last week and paged through it. A couple things struck me: first, we have a National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases? Second, why do some departments, like Department of Justice and Department of Interior get abbreviated to DOJ and DOI, while Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services get abbreviated to USDA and HHS?

Finally, as I am paging through, I note most of the USDA (Department of Agriculture) publications don't deal with growing things. We have:
  • How to Get a Great Deal on a New Car
  • Nine Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance
  • Guide to Health Insurance
  • Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance
  • How to Buy a Home with a Low Down Payment
  • Am I Covered? (deals with homeowners' insurance
  • Indoor Air Hazards Every Home Owner Should Know About (joint publication with the EPA--although in certain circles, joints are not considered air hazards)
  • The Consumer's Almanac
  • Annuities
Contrast this list with the publications offered by the Department of Agriculture that deal with products of agriculture:
  • Fabulous Fruits...Versatile Vegetables
  • The Food Guide Pyramid
  • How Much Are You Eating?
  • Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Eating
Non-agricultural topics outnumber agricultural topics by more than two to one. I know, you're putting pen to paper right now to ask your congressional representatives how this can be. Are they trying to educate ignorant peasants in the country side to finance? Well, you're not thinking that because I have few leftist coastal readers who would characterize the family farmers out here that way. But I don't expect that these documents where designed to instruct farmers and farm hands or even migrant pickers on the topics they cover.

No, friends, these are budget burners if I ever saw them. Some department within the USDA had some money to spend and understood that if it didn't spend that money, it wouldn't get it next year. So it commissioned a number of booklets on topics which are undoubtedly useful but which should lie outside the scope of the Department of Agriculture. But since the funds were spent in the fiscal years in which the documents were created, undoubtedly future funds must be spent to keep these documents and to supplement the documents with further useful booklets.

Which leads me to guess why the Department of Agriculture goes by USDA instead of DOA. Because when its funding bills come before Congress, perhaps the department recognizes that the legislators don't actually read beyond the title of bills for which they plan to bother showing up to vote, and any funding bill stamped DOA might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although this would be good for the country, it probably wouldn't be good for the USDA and its professional communicators.

Friday, December 10, 2004
Recreating the Miracle of Cable

It looks like government officials in Madison, Wisconsin, want to return to the glory days of the 1980s, where local governments gave cable companies monopolies in exchange for wiring their communities. Instead of cable, though, Madison wants a single company to provide wireless Internet access to its citizens:
    Wireless Internet could be available in downtown Madison and at the Dane County Regional Airport by this spring, said mayoral spokesman George Twigg.

    The state Department of Administration is putting out a request for proposals today seeking vendors interested in building the network, said Twigg and Scott McDonell of the state Department of Administration.


    Twigg said the city is trying to strike a balance between imposing user fees and building the cost of using the network onto the property tax.

    "It's a tradeoff," he said.
Let me project what's going to happen:
  1. Some sucking connected wireless provider will bid low.

  2. As part of the contract, sucking wireless provider will want exclusive rights to downtown Madison and the airport.

  3. The wireless company will run over budget and will come weeping to the government to build finish the network it's contractually obligated to deliver.

  4. Government will spend taxpayer money to finish the network.

  5. Sucking wireless company will use a clause in its contract to increase user fees by up to 20% annually.

  6. Other local governments will think it's a good idea and will follow Madison's lead.

  7. It will become a felony to place a router in your downtown place of business to pay only one user fee for wireless access and connect multiple computers.
You think I am mad? Look at your cable bill and wonder why you're beholden to a single company for service.

(Link seen on Boots and Sabers.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Talking Back to Christmas Carols

Yes, Ms. McGovern, they know it's Christmas. They're kids, for ding-donging out loud.

(Apologies to Jeff Goldstein for stealing his groove. Well, not really.)

The Government is my Firewall

Whenever I read a story like the one I saw on entitled "Bush pressed for more Net security", I immediately start putting the words crony and capitalist together and start leaving laissez-faire alone. For once we get into the details-that is, the first paragraphs-we see what this group wants:
    Computer-security experts, including former government officials, urged the Bush administration on Tuesday to devote more effort to strengthening defenses against viruses, hackers and other online threats.

    The Bush administration should spend more on computer-security research, share threat information with private-sector security vendors, and set up an emergency computer network that would remain functional during Internet blackouts, a computer-security trade group said.
It's a trade group, which represents companies that take money to do computer security services such as researching computer-security, sharing threat information with private sector security vendors (each other), and setting up emergency computer networks to remain functional during Internet blackouts. That is, the trade group wants the government to devote money to pay to the trade group's members. The call is as relevant as any group of potato farmers or mohair ranchers shrieking that the people of the United States need their product to survive.

I am alarmed, however, with the amount of play and seriousness given to the idea that the government should do something to ensure the security of computer networks. As companies have sacrificed security in developing their infrastructures and network capabilities in favor of cost savings, expediency, and convenience, they should not expect a government bailout now. The government undoubtedly should expend public funds to ensure that its capabilities remain intact during an emergency, but it shouldn't retrofit, expensively and bureauwastefully, security for any factory or utility that placed its flow controls online on the Internet for convenience and a chance to lay off people who would have to check those controls in person. I don't want to spend tax money to ensure that my bank is secure nor that my credit card companies can weather an attack, nor to ensure that my power company can continue delivering amperage down my pipes; that's a cost of business, which the businesses often pass on to me through service fees and surcharges so that those costs don't come out of the profit margin and the shareholder's take.

However, since these lobbyists want the best of all worlds: surcharges to charge consumers for the cost of business and the government, and by that I mean us taxpayers, actually paying for the costs of business. Since the customer or taxpayer backlash hasn't arisen, Willie, it's go time.

As a taxpayer and a customer, I don't look forward to the expanding synergy between government security administration and private industry. Let's take an example from recent history: airports. Airlines, leaky boats which the government frequently bails out with buckets of taxpayer cash, and airport authorities, government bureaucracies in their own right in many cases and not very good at for-profit in others, abdicated their obligation to secure their places of business. First, they took government funds to pay for their own surly security employees, and when that wasn't enough, the government stepped in and provided its own employees, surly and unaccountable to the private sector, to grope grandma.

So call it a slippery slope if you will, but private/public partnerships do resemble a water park. If a group of lobbyists paid highly by companies, whether profitable or failing, calls for government aid, they often get more than we customers or taxpayers want or deserve. Imagine a decade hence, when companies have pissed away the government funding on efforts to secure further government funding--which is where most government funding goes, even in the government. The private-public partnership has failed, and some legislator who wants to get on television midwifes the Computer Security Administration (CSA). This new authority dictates that computer owners must install the government flavor of McAfee anti-virus and must allow the government to schedule scans twice a week. Anyone who does not let the government perform its security function, loosely defined by Congress and arbitrarily envisioned by a mid-level Homeland Security manager looking forward to a better appointed position, faces a fine or felony charges just like impudent fliers do now. Our leadership class explains that responsible Internet travellers must accept this sacrifice, and the media will find some AOL user to explain that it's a good idea and doesn't impair his experience at all (it wouldn't). The government gets to scan your hard drive every night for the good of the nation, and if you don't like it, in four years you can vote for a different legislator too timid to agitate for its reversal.

Once the government takes over the security, all customer ill will regarding the inconvenience and the intrusiveness of the practices goes to the government and its employees, and the companies and their trade groups can only shrug their collectivist shoulders and say to their customers, sorry, it's the government running its fingers over your shapely posterior, not us. All responsibility for irresponsibility successfully shirked, the trade groups can turn their attention to the next government handout--and hand over.

Sound crazy? Imagine what you would have thought about current TSA practices in 1994. Or 1987.

To make a short story long, Internet and corporate network security are not the government's business. They're the exclusive burden of companies who choose to participate in networks and of the consortia and standards bodies and organizations, well, organized by private industry. If our "capitalist" industries cede that obligation to the government, they're putting their short term cost savings ahead of the ultimate best interests of their customers and the interests of the citizens of the Republic.

$1,200 We'll Never Have Back

Thanks, Jon Dolan, Missouri State Senator from Lake St. Louis and an alleged "Republican," for cooking up this stupid waste of tax money: "Visitors will know Miss USA is ours":
    Stan Musial hasn't had one. Neither has Chuck Berry. In fact, no St. Louisan has been honored with his or her name posted on a state highway sign leading into Missouri. But that's about to change.

    Starting next year, motorists driving west over the Poplar, Jefferson Barracks and Interstate 270 bridges into Missouri will be greeted with this: "Welcome to Missouri. Home of Shandi Finnessey Miss USA 2004."
Not to put too fine a point of it, but by that time, it will be that Miss USA was ours, once, sometime around the turn of the century, like the World's Fair.

Jumping jesuits, but that's a lot of money to laud a transitory and ultimately unimportant honor. For the love of peat, why?
    "She's a hottie, and she's a smarty," said state Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake Saint Louis, whose idea it was to put up the signs.
Dude, next time you try to impress a woman, how about you expend a little of your own money to send flowers?

Property Rights Leaking

Fresh from triumphs in determining whom restaurant and bar owners whom those business owners can serve on their private property, government officials in Philadelphia now want to determine whom theatre owners can serve by limiting children under the age of 6 from some screenings. By law.

Mainly, I suspect, because although the human condition doesn't change that rapidly, but because legislating is a full time job and computer solitaire can only fill so many hours in the day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Memo to Harry Connick, Junior

Whistles do not belong in Christmas carols, ever. Your rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" is in violation.

Please, just rein it in a little bit, or we'll have to contact Senator John McCain to enact Congressional legislation regulating Christmas Carols to prevent damn kids from destroying the traditional music enjoyed for generations in this great land. Without schnucking whistles.

(McCain's got enough time if he has the leisure to tackle steroids in baseball, speaking of which, who doesn't think that there's enough bipartisan, nationwide sport to just freaking amend the constitution to prohibit steroids and blood doping in all sports?)

Who Needs the European Hockey Leagues?

Apparently not some members of the St. Louis Blues, who are keeping themselves sharp during the NHL lockout by playing on a local recreational league.

It's probably doing more to promote the sport than most NHL owners have done, combined, in the last couple of decades.

Blame the Americans

Apparently, according to several unnamed sources, obese Americans are breaking cruise ships with their weight.

Not obese passengers, but obese Americans.

I've not seen that many unnamed sources since I read a the recap of a leaked story in the New York Times.

Undoubtedly, America is to blame for earwax, belly button lint, and static cling as well.


In 1973, my inlaws lived in Michigan and travelled to Florida on occasion to see my mother-in-law's parents. As they passed through Wisconsin, they boarded a small plane for the final leg of their journey. An icon adored throughout upper Midwest boarded the plane with them: Green Bay Packers legend Bart Starr.

As he passed my mother-in-law, already seated and holding her child in her arms, Bart Starr patted my future wife on the shoulder and said, "Pretty baby."

Proving that he was a prophet as well, for she turned out more than pretty.

Monday, December 06, 2004
Most Dangerous Use of a Comma

From the February 2004 issue of The Writer in a column entitled "Writers in good company" by Benjamin Cheever:
    Why did I choose to be a writer? I was born to the trade. My father was a writer, my mother is, my sister.
Whew, that was close. The fellow was one comma away from saying my mother is my sister. That's demonstrating some faith that your copy editor isn't passive-aggressive.

Unintended Consequences?

Apparently someone in New Hampshire has determined that online sex offender registries are one-stop shopping for his vigilantism: Man defends attacks on sex offenders:
    Lawrence Trant sees himself as a righteous crusader who put muscle behind his boiling outrage against pedophiles.

    The state of New Hampshire sees Trant differently. He is serving a 10- to 30-year sentence in New Hampshire State Prison after pleading guilty to attempting to murder two convicted sex offenders whose names and addresses he found on an Internet registry posted by the state.
Check out the subtitle of the article: Crusader gets jail term.

This attempted murderer, according to the Boston Globe, is a crusader. A veritable insurgent against the prevailing orthodoxy that these people retain a number of citizens' rights to not getting shot arbitrarily by people with nothing better to do. A rebel against the system that thinks that incarceration, forced hospitalization beyond their sentences, and notoriety, and that capital punishment is too much for the crime.

I remember an outcry when a pro-dead-abortion provider Web site listed doctors who terminated pregnancy along with good stalking information for them. I imagine we'll see less uproar over a government-funded registry that provides the same convenience for other Defenders of the Defenseless Children.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1964)

I inherited this book from my grandmother and grandfather indirectly. So I didn't pay anything for it, and the book is worth more than that.

It's a set of lessons and steps to playing well with others. Unlike other self-help tomes, this one's particularly literate. Carnegie draws on Benjamin Franklin, William James, William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and other learned sources to make his points. He wrote this book originally in 1936, and it would testify to how far we've fallen as a culture if Dr. Phil only quotes luminaries such as Oprah in his books. After all, Carnegie must have expected his audience would know who William James was.

At the best of times, this book resembles all self-help books in presenting the philosophy of pragmatism, particularly in dealing with other people. Sometimes it reads like an Elements of Style for courtesy, but at its worst it strikes me as a sort of Becoming Peter Keating. After all, Carnegie would have you win friends and influence people by being pretty yang, by putting other people first and by not contradicting others directly.

I've seen too much of this behaviour from used car salesmen and marketing professionals to swallow the hook, but it's convinced me to try to temper my natural surly nature. For example, I try to keep my net Carnegie Karma positive by not saying harshly critical things about people more than I compliment people. However, some days I still net positive through accounting gimmicks, such as telling another driver that his exceptional amorous ability undoubtedly traces to practice with his matriarch, but I'm working on it.

The book sold millions of copies in an earlier, more civil age, so perhaps there is something in it.

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