Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Book Report: Broadway Bound by Neil Simon (1987)
This book rounds out the Brighton Beach trilogy, and although it's been decades since I read Brighton Beach Memoirs, I read Biloxi Blues just this May. Ergo, I am sort of up on the characters and storyline. Bottom line? This play was probably the weakest of the bunch and only made its way onto stage and onto the television screen because Neil Simon was all that. As a stand alone drama, it's a little lacking. You have to be invested in the characters already from the previous works to really care, and the piece doesn't offer an overarching goal/conflict that needs to be resolved; instead, you've got a subplot in the chance Stan and Eugene have to make it as comedy writers, a subplot about the grandmother offstage moving to Florida, and a subplot about the breakdown of the Jerome parents' marriage. Even lumped together, it doesn't stick.

On a side note, I find that the actor who played Eugene Jerome in the movie Brighton Beach Memoirs, Jonathan Silverman, reprised the role for the Broadway debut of the play; however, in the made-for-television treatment (as opposed to the other two plays' movie treatment), Silverman plays Stan Jerome, the older brother. He's lost the part of Eugene to Corey Parker, who played Epstein in the film Biloxi Blues; as you know, Matthew Broderick played Eugene Jerome in both the Broadway and film versions of Biloxi Blues. Both Silverman and Broderick played Eugene Jerome on Broadway in Brighton Beach Memoirs; so when you're watching the movies in order, you get some cast switching in odd ways. Kind of like when Lee Van Cleef was two different characters in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

So it's good to read the play if you need to close out the trilogy, but if it's your only insight into the Jerome mythos, you might want to pass.
Books mentioned in this review:

Friday, September 07, 2007
Book Report: Versus by Ogden Nash (1949)
Ogden Nash didn't take poetry too seriously; the verses are light things with rhymes and runon lines used to comedic effect. I don't know what else to say about it; they were fun to read aloud and amusing, which is what Nash was no doubt going for. He tortures spellings to get rhymes and tacks on couplets with the punchline to long enumerations, but I liked them well enough to read more.

Which is a good thing, since I bought four volumes at once.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Sight Unseen by David Margulies (1992)
I saw this play staged in 1993 or 1994 in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Rep or one of the subsidiary theatre groups that shares the space down on Wells; at the time, I thought it was the best drama I'd ever seen on stage. I still do, but unfortunately I'm not going to the theatre as much as I did when I was a poor college student making $6.60 an hour and paying tuition. I don't know how that happened. So my experience hasn't gotten much broader since the middle 1990s.

This book tells the story of a successful artist, Jonathan Waxman, who visits the home of his collegiate flame in England on the eve before the opening of his first European show. There, he finds a painting from his student period that captures something of his innocence before he became famous and rich and a self-made producer of commodity art. Or maybe it's his meeting Patty again, a woman whom he dumped unceremoniously because she was not Jewish and who's now married to an English archeologist whom she does not love.

The play is told in a series of scenes told non-chronologically and in as varied of places as the English house where Patty and her husband live; Jonathan's boyhood home; the college where they went to school; and the opening itself. When the Milwaukee Rep staged it, I didn't get the correct sense of the scenes between Jonathan and his German interviewer were at the opening, so I lost a bit from it.

But I got a bit out of reading it that I wouldn't have if I hadn't seen it first; perhaps that's the way to do these plays, unlike movies. Watch them live first and read the book after to see what you've missed.

At any rate, I liked the play and I liked the book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: My Poems from the Heart by Pam Puleo (1992)
This book is a chapbook; that is, a small collection of poetry published probably at Kinko's and often sold for a nominal fee. Back in 1994 and 1995, I did a couple of my own, although I forked out for the double-sided printing and the saddle stapling instead of the single-sided tape bound print job evidenced in this book.

Not too long after this book's publication, I met Pam on the open mike circuit in St. Louis, so this represents I suppose the first time I bought a used book from someone I know and reviewed it herein. Ergo, I am going to offer a sunnier, more encouraging review than I'd give to someone I never knew. Be forewarned.

Puleo has a good sense of rhythm and sense for how words sound; I could read these aloud without stumbling or trying to determine the cadence in stride. She's also fair enough with her eye for imagery.

However, this book shows her as an underachiever. She relies on too much repetition that provides little effect and enjambs a lot of lines that could have been better served with line breaks and punctuation.

She's somewhere above Rod McKuen. Maybe tied with Sylvia Plath.

As a bonus, here's a book review I wrote about her in 1995:

Bonus Book Report: St. Louis Jazz by Pam Puleo (1995)

This review first appeared in the Fall 1995 edition of the St. Louis Artesian, a free little pickup literary magazine I published 1994-1996. Puleo gave me a copy of the book, so I reviewed it because, frankly, the hardest part of putting out the magazine was coming up with enough literary stuff to fill it.

Puleo Plays Jazz

Pam Puleo titled her new chapbook St. Louis Jazz, and the title fits her style. Puleo's well-developed voice binds her poetry like a slender thread woven throughout her works. The voice of wisdom, of been-there, done-that, somehow blends into a softer shade of poetry, into a velvet purple by her continued, although muted romanticism.

Puleo packs many songs into this volume, most describing the search for love in a world that is neither cold nor hot, but only room temperature. The poet's brief epiphanies and occasional insights we can share as she grows older, grows wiser, but never grows hard not bitter.

One Well, Many Buckets
Old Building Needs Repairs: Kirkwood Public Library will ask voters for a 12-cent hike in the residential tax rate:
    After November, Kirkwood Public Library Director Wicky Sleight hopes duct tape won't be needed to hold the aging library's heating and air conditioning systems together.

    On Nov. 6, Kirkwood voters will be asked to approve Proposition L, a 12-cent tax increase. The current residential tax rate, approved in August, is 16.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, down from 19 cents in 2006.

    The Kirkwood Public Library Board of Trustees on Aug. 15 voted unanimously to place the tax levy before voters.
Residents Say District To Collect More Taxes Than Needed: School board OKs tax rate for year:
    Despite concerns of some residents that the Kirkwood School District is not exhibiting fair financial practices, the Kirkwood School Board on Aug. 29 approved tax rates for the 2007-08 school year at $3.75 per $100 of assessed valuation.

    In 2005, voters approved an operating tax levy ceiling of $3.85 per $100 of assessed valuation.

    . . . .

    Board Member Ben Clark said the board could be shirking its responsibility by not taking the $3.85 limit set by the voters.
Each of the government's priorities get siloed into independent taxes/tax districts and each of them want more, more, more. When it comes down to a single issue, who could say, "No, don't fix the libraries; no, don't give the police a retirement plan; no, don't put air conditioners in the schools."

Back in the old days, I think they had individual elected officials who made the decisions on the priorities for the town. Now each piece of the town sets its own priorities that never conflict with the priorities of other portions of the government. After all, they can always ask the residents to pay more taxes, even if it's more than the government needs.

Thursday, September 06, 2007
That Says It All
So have you ever gone into iTunes and typed anit because you wanted to listen to Anita Rosamond's CD Timeless and found Ms. Rosamond in some odd company?

Searching for anit

Or am I the only one this happens to?

Book Report: Dear Americans: Letters from the Desk of Ronald Reagan edited by Ralph E. Weber and Ralph A. Weber (2003)
This book collects some of the handwritten letters sent by Ronald Reagan during his presidency to people he knew, government officials, and the general public who wrote him. Apparently, the editors were noodling among the former president's library and uncovered this collection written in his own hand, which they felt gave it a personal touch that would get to the heart of who Reagan was or something. They picked some of the best from each year, add an introduction to each year that details what was going on at that time, and let her rip.

Of course this book reflects the best of what remember from Reagan: his optimism, his faith, and his conservative beliefs. These letters, often written in response to common person critics who wrote to him, do reinforce the man's impression. How cool is the thought, though, that if you had written Ronald Reagan, he might have dashed a couple lines off on his stationery in response. That's fascinating.

I worked on this book for a month or so, which explains my recent acquisitiveness of Reagania.

I've only read two or three books of letters in my life; this, Raymond Chandler's, and maybe Ayn Rand's. This one is the most accessible because I have direct memory of the events to which he refers and because the letters are very brief.


Books mentioned in this review:

Milwaukee, Having No Budgetary Concerns, Moves Into Unsecured Lending
City to fund part of office building repairs:
    The owners of a downtown Milwaukee office building will receive city financing to help with repairs - even though the comptroller's office questions whether the funds are needed, and even as some aldermen fret that their decision could encourage other building owners to ask for cash.

    "We're setting a very dangerous precedent," said Ald. Michael Murphy, one of two aldermen who opposed the financing plan.

    Supporters say the project will make one of downtown's oldest office buildings more competitive, while also breathing new life into an adjacent building that's been empty for several years.
Oh, for Pete's sake. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't these sorts of "initiatives" coming faster and more frequently these days? Are our municipal leaders that eager to hasten the death spiral of their cities finances? Yes, as long as the ultimate crash comes after the municipal leaders have moved onto state or national leadership positions, where they can control bigger economies and initiate bigger five year plans.

Well, It's A Single Standard At Least
Not that it's a good standard, but a black comedian has been censured for using the word nigger:
    A standup routine by black comedian Eddie Griffin was stopped after he repeatedly used the N-word, a magazine's spokesman said Wednesday.

    Griffin, who has appeared in movies such as "Undercover Brother" and "Date Movie" and the TV show "Malcolm & Eddie," was performing at a Black Enterprise magazine event in the Miami suburb of Doral on Friday when he was cut off after using profanities and the N-word, said Andrew Wadium, a spokesman for the publication.
So I guess the whole black people say it and nothing happens canard is done, so everyone who used it instead of saying what's the point in taking offense at a single word so much that it becomes a magic word? ought to feel vindicated. But they won't. And they shouldn't.

Priorities, Priorities
Good to see Missouri has its priorities in order.

1: Funding private development that will turn empty land into empty buildings:
    Of the $387 million construction cost, public aid is projected to account for $116 million, with the state's share at nearly $30 million and the rest coming from the city and special sales tax districts.
2: Critical repairs to infrastructure:
    State highway officials have barred large trucks from a mid-Missouri bridge over the Osage River after an inspection prompted by the fatal Minnesota bridge collapse revealed a badly deteriorating steel beam.

    . . . .

    The entire 1,000-foot bridge is scheduled to be replaced in 2010 at a cost of $9.4 million.

Book Report: Detroit by Dale Fisher (1985)
Well, I'm counting this as a book I read even though it really is a picture book. Aside from an introduction and an acknowledgments section, the book contains photographs, mostly taken by helicopter, of Detroit and its environs. The selections include a number of corporate headquarters (Ford, GM, K-Mart, American Motor Corporation), a couple of old churches, some of the new developments and high-rises constructed to handle the 1980s resurgence of Detroit predicted by Detroit boosters, a couple shots of Tiger Stadium (Home of the 1984 World Champion Detroit TIGERS!), one picture of the Pontiac Silverdome (where a football team and basketball team played, or so I hear), and a several shots of nearby farms/neighborhoods/and so on.

The only thing I'll remember from this book, aside from the obvious lesson in urban "resurgence" promised year after year by urban moneyspenders, is a catch phrase. The book also sports a number of thumbnail photos of collections of vehicles taken from the helicopter which sport the phrase "as art." A bunch of schoolbuses in a parking lot, a number of automobiles outside an automotive plant, a number of train cars in a train yard. The caption is "School buses as art" or "Transport containers as art."

From this day forward, "as art" shall verily apply to any collection of common goods that I want to elevate to the heights of pretentiousness. Think of this blog, for instance, as "English words as art."

A quick look at Amazon shows that the photographer did later editions of this book, perhaps with later photographs. But this is the 1985 edition, worthwhile not because the city of Detroit is worth anything, but because of the hysterical historical significance.

Man, I am glad this guy didn't express his affection for Milwaukee this way; otherwise, I'd have to examine and review the book earnestly.

Books mentioned in this review:

Subscription Rate for Hipness: $100 / month
He's Steve Jobs, bitch!
    "But we want to make the iPhone even more affordable for even more people this holiday season," Jobs continued. "So we're going to do something about that today. We're not going to sell it for $599 anymore."

    Instead, as a giant screen behind him vaporized first the 4GB version of the device, then the price of the 8GB model, he dropped the bomb. "We are going to price the 8GB iPhone at just $399."
For being the first people on the block to have one, you've paid an additional $200. How do you like them Apples?

Book Report: The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1841, ?)
This is actually the first of the Walter J. Black Classics Club/Classic Editions books I have completed; not bad for a fellow who's been accummulating them for a couple of years now. However, the Dickens Classic Editions volumes (with the green stripe on the spine instead of the red for the Classics Club books) are fiction, and I've been tearing through it this year, particularly "classic" literature, so I nabbed this bit.

First, a word on the editions. The printing's cheap, as it's rife with printing mistakes like double impressions, some lightly washed out inks, and whatnot. But these editions aren't fine leatherbound things; they're designed to sell cheaply to the masses from magazine ads, mail order. So why am I collecting them? Because I inherited four from a grandfather, that's why! Not Classic Editions, though; the Dickens works I have are just gravy. Perhaps I'll evolve a rationale for collecting these instead of fine leatherbound editions that centers around defense of the middlebrow and the middle class. Give me some time.

Now, onto the story, which I did not particularly care for.

In his defense, this was Dickens' second work (or so Wikipedia tells me). But the title character is a passive spectator in his own life. In his defense, Oliver is a child; however, if you're going to title the book after someone, it might be more interesting if that character plays a role instead of plays the prop.

A poor orphan falls in with a bad crowd and participates, unwillingly and sometimes unknowingly, in a couple of crimes in between bouts of highbrow people being taken with him and helping him out, keeping him like a pet. Then all the loose threads are tied up. 541 pages later, the end.

Like many of the classical literature things I've read this year, the book really begins to move about 60% of the way through it; in this case, that's somewhere in the 300s. Modern audiences don't tend to have that attention span, I expect; if you're going to have a lot of pages, a clown demon better rip a boy's arms off in the first chapter.

Additionally, I have to wonder about what reading all this classical literature does with my sense of the past. Of the four big ones I've read (Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this) all take place in the past, but the actual centries vary widely. However, as far as I am concerned, the time periods aren't that different; horse and buggy days, the aristocracy and the poor extremely different, and so on and so forth. Has the last century been that radical that its very decades were different epochs akin to the centuries or millenia of old? Or am I just confused by my own life experience, where I can tell the differences easily because I lived them?

That's a bit heavy for a simple book report, but I'd like to see those who hit this post for a Google search for oliver twist book report defend that unread and pasted assertion.

Books mentioned in this review:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Verizon Agrees To Have Its Customers Pay Tax
That's not what the headline says; it says Verizon agrees to pay utility tax. However, we know that's the result; apparently, it began collecting the tax, under protest, on bills a year ago.

But here's the howler of the article:
    Municipal officials contend the companies don't have to make the customer pay.

    "I do think it is confusing," said Tim Fischesser, executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League. "We would prefer if the companies paid it."
Haw haw! And you know what, municipal officials? You don't have to collect the tax money and blow on silly schemes, either. But you do.

Tip of the Ice Cube
Newly released documents indicate WIDESPREAD TROOP ABUSES!!1!! according to the ACLU and its PR firm, AP:
    Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by U.S. soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a troubling pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions.
A troubling pattern of bajillions millions hundreds of thousands tens of thousands thousands hundreds almost dozens of incidents:
    The documents, to be released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 incidents.
The system is at fault because it made the soldiers do it:
    They show repeated examples of soldiers believing they were within the law when they killed local residents.
Believing/insisting. Ah, how the truth is merely felt:
    In the suffocation, soldiers covered the man's head with a sleeping bag, then wrapped his neck with an electrical cord for a "stress position" they insisted was an approved technique.
Defense is gospel, unless of course, it's the military defending itself from a lawsuit designed to....I dunno, make the military look defensive? As a defendant?

I'm glad we live under a system where this sort of thing is possible. I wish we lived in a culture where it was not so pervasive.

Monday, September 03, 2007
The First Mandatory
Jonathan Edwards identifies the first government diktat he would issue with a government-run health plan:
    Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said on Sunday that his universal health care proposal would require that Americans go to the doctor for preventive care.

    "It requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care," he told a crowd sitting in lawn chairs in front of the Cedar County Courthouse. "If you are going to be in the system, you can't choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK."
Prepare yourselves to submit yourself to an annual review by a government bureaucrat of some sort, whether it's a government-paid "doctor" or some paper pusher at the bureau.

Better yet, prepare yourself for the unstated list of government prohibitions that will come when "public health" is funded from the government leaders' pool of available pork money. Probable prohibitions will include:
  • Tobacco.
  • Alcohol.
  • Junk food.
  • Dangerous hobbies.
  • Places in the home where you can fall.
Trending toward the absurd? What is absurd in contemporary American public policy? Certainly not building sports facilities while bridges collapse or school districts are taken over by the state; certainly not people rallying for "single payer health care" or nationalization schemes who have thought out what it means other than fewer health care checks written in their handwriting.

Sunday, September 02, 2007
Beckham Tries To Make It Look Like Hockey
Perhaps David Beckham is building interest in Soccer in America the old-fashioned way: He's making it look dangerous:
    So much for David Beckham's debut season in America. It's all but over now that the 32-year-old English midfielder is out six weeks with a sprained right knee, to go along with his famously injured left ankle.
Wow, he plays like one game and comes out of it with an injury? Here, I thought soccer was a sissy sport, just a bunch of Europeans in shorts slapping at each other and maybe making dour and superior faces at the other team. Apparently not. Beckham hurt his knee in tackle:
    The 32-year-old midfielder sprained his medial collateral ligament in a tackle during the Galaxy's loss to Mexican team Pachuca on Wednesday night. He was expected to be out about six weeks while he rehabilitates behind the scenes.
Maybe I'm mixing my European hooligan sports up. Is soccer the one where they have the one where they give a football-like ball to one guy, and then everyone jumps on him and starts gouging him and whatnot? In that case, I am with Bernie Miklasz: Damn the fiscal responsibility, build a whole new complex in the middle of nowhere, funded with tax dollars, for a soccer team that will fold in a couple months. Because all the soccer teams in St. Louis that have failed in the last decade or so (the Steamers, the Storm, the Ambush, the Steamers again) made one critical mistake: they played their games in population centers, where both fans who wanted to go could easily come to see a game. A publicly-funded soccer stadium deep in Illinois, at the very edges of the St. Louis "Metropolitan" area (which covers pretty much from Indianapolis to Columbia, Missouri, according to boards that want to extend their unelected taxing power over the same). Hell, Bernie, if you build it, they will come. Both St. Louis soccer fans. Me, I'll watch the eye-gouging highlights on the television's promotions for its highlights program when they interrupt a hockey game.

Wait, this just in: Apparently, tackling in soccer is just stealing the ball from another European in shorts who's making dour and superior faces. Jeez, Beckham. Stealing a ball in soccer? How dangerous is that, unless you're using a handgun to do it? Given that you're British, I don't think you know what those two words--hand and gun--mean together.

Rub some dirt on it, Becks.

Dan O'Neill Offers News Analysis In Sports Column
Hey, coach, let's play, too:
    The Rick Ankiel story has put a little life into this otherwise lackluster baseball summer in St. Louis.

    Where the latter topic is concerned, the Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter on opening day and things never have gotten a whole lot better. While the recent "surge" may have been slightly more encouraging than the surge in Iraq, it may not be any more effective.
Considering that the eighteen remaining subscribers to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch only get it for the sports pages, maybe writing the sports pages like the rest of the paper isn't a good idea.

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