Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Book Report: Breaking Legs by Tom Dulack (1992)
Now this is a funny play.

A staid Irish-American professor approaches the family of one of his former students, one of his former hot students, for money to produce his play about a murder. The family? Oh, yeah, the Family.

It's a two act bit, of course, because none of these new kids have the stamina for a five act play, but it has structure, it has wit, and it worked for me.

Books mentioned in this review:

Yeah, I Noticed, Too
That is David Axelrod's wife and kid on the cover of Parade magazine this week.

For Your Review: Gallery of Bad Band Photos
That's not what Rock and Roll Confidential calls it, but it is here.

New Floor Established
Congress has passed the new, $787 billion dollar stimulus bill.

Anyone else remember how, in the ancient history of a half decade, a $250 billion dollar transportation bill was a big deal?

Then came TARP at $700 billion (essentially, a number the then-Treasury Secretary made up. Now we have $787 billion.

Thus, the new floor is set. Next time, Congress will have to pass something even bigger. Which they probably will. And anything less than $787 billion dollars will seem as though Congress isn't trying harder.

(At least one of these links seen on The Anchoress, where she's gloomier than I am.)

Also read this for a summary of some of the things in the bill. At 1000 pages, nobody really knows what all is in it. Some lobbyists no doubt know the parts they wrote, but no one knows what is in the whole thing.

Friday, February 13, 2009
In Unrelated News (I Hope)
The two most e-mailed stories yesterday from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Unrelated news, I hope
Click for full size
  1. St. Louis Zoo elephant has deadly herpes strain
  2. St. Louis keeps No. 1 for two STDs

Good and Bad to Start 2009 in Missouri
Good: Bad:
  • Bill to allow students who don't graduate chance to participate in graduation if they're disabled. The disabled have more legal rights than the enabled, do they not? As a bonus, this bill has a girl's name attached to it. A MfBJN rule of thumb: if a bill has a child's name on it, it is a bad law rushed into the books for sentimental reasons.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It Probably Says Something
Has anyone else noticed that free rein now appears more and more in print as free reign?

I'm not sure if this means more and more people are using it in reference to the growth of government and are consciously making a pun (I doubt it) or if educational standards or cultural references have obscured the horsemanship origin of the phrase.

Monday, February 09, 2009
Ace Embraces The MfBJN Lifestyle
To add variety to Valu-Rite Vodka and hobo-killin', Ace embraces the MfBJN lifestyle:
    Allah, the technojunkie, is swooning over the new improved Kindle. I'm not, and I don't think most will.

    For one thing it costs $360. Quite an investment.

    For another thing, books are not precisely difficult to carry around, especially on the places where you'd read a book outside your home -- subway, airport, Starbucks, park. The Kindle is a bit thinner and lighter, but who's sweating the weight of a book?

    For yet another thing, books are intrinsically pleasurable as objects. People like books -- the feel of paper, the smell of them. Kindle is not going to replace that attractiveness anytime soon.

    But here's the big reason Kindle will never catch on, as a friend explained to me:

    "How do you know what to read?"

    By which he meant -- without the pleasant ritual of going to a book-store, browsing the stacks, picking up a book and reading its back cover and first few pages -- how the hell do you know what you want to read in the first place?
You know, modern Americans read 36 books a year and buy 84 books. Because I bring the average up that much, baby! (see also this and this.)

Book Reading 2008 Wrap
You know, every year I provide a handy little boast list of how much I've read in one place. Because of the hiatus, I didn't get that list out.

Until now.

Read it and weep (for my lack of a life outside the pages):

  1. Friday by Robert Heinlein
  2. Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan by Vonda N. McIntyre
  3. Star Trek III The Search for Spock by Vonda N. McIntyre
  4. Heat by Ed McBain
  5. The Fred Factor by Steve Gill
  6. The Return by William Shatner
  7. The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology by David Plotz (ed.)
  8. Kill Him Twice by Richard S. Prather
  9. Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon
  10. Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook by Scott Adams
  11. April Evil by John D. MacDonald
  12. Ranting Again by Dennis Miller
  13. Playgrounds of the Mind by Larry Niven
  14. Infinite Possibilities by Robert Heinlein
  15. Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker
  16. Secret Prey by John Sandford
  17. Paris Kill-Ground by Joseph C. Rosenberger
  18. The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
  19. John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy by William Caferro
  20. The Forge of God by Greg Bear
  21. First Blood by David Morrell
  22. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  23. Mischief by Ed McBain
  24. Rambo: First Blood Part II by David Morrell
  25. Journey to Cubeville by Scott Adams
  26. Mad as Hell byMike Lupica
  27. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  28. Man O' War by William Shatner
  29. The Running Man by Stephen King
  30. The Case of the Horrified Heirs by Erle Stanley Gardner
  31. Strange But True: Mysterious and Bizarre People by Thomas Slemen
  32. Top Ten of Everything 2008 byRussell Ash
  33. Michelangelo: His Life and Works byDonatello de Ninno
  34. Solved Selected by Richard Glyn Jones
  35. Pogo: We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us by Walt Kelly
  36. How to Break Web Software by Mike Andrews and James A. Whittaker
  37. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  38. An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman
  39. Alice in Jeopardy by Ed McBain
  40. Space Wars: Worlds and Weapons by Stephen Eisler
  41. The Book of Tomatoes by National Gardening Magazine
  42. Rooster Cogburn by Martin Julien
  43. The Braille Woods by Ann Townsend
  44. Lonesome Cities by Rod McKuen
  45. Best Home Plans by Sunset Books
  46. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales by Washington Irving
  47. And To Each Season by Rod McKuen
  48. The Job by Douglas Kennedy
  49. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  50. Red Zone by Mike Lupica
  51. Sweer Savage Heathcliff by George Gately
  52. Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  53. Bread by Ed McBain
  54. Paradise Alley by Sylvester Stallone
  55. Contrary Pleasure by John D. MacDonald
  56. Clash of the Titans by Alan Dean Foster
  57. A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
  58. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  59. No Witnesses by Ridley Pearson
  60. Phantom Prey by John Sandford
  61. Conquest by Hugh Thomas
  62. Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan
  63. Love Sonnets edited by Louis Untermeyer
  64. The End of the Night by John D. MacDonald
  65. The Private Dining Room by Ogden Nash
  66. Nobody's Safe by Richard Steinberg
  67. The Careless Corpse by Brett Halliday
  68. The Case of the Mischeivous Doll by Erle Stanley Gardner
  69. The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice and Ed McBain
  70. The Fruminious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
  71. Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov
  72. I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore by Clarissa Start
  73. Murder Spins The Wheel by Brett Halliday
  74. From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
  75. Many Long Years Ago by Ogden Nash
  76. Reflections on Our Friendship by American Greetings Corporation
  77. The Pope of Greenwich Village by Vincent Patrick
  78. The Lost City of Zork by Robin W. Bailey
  79. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot
  80. Chasing Darkness by Richard Crais
  81. Resolution by Robert B. Parker
  82. Do As I Say (Not As I Do) by Peter Schweizer
  83. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
  84. The Man With The Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
  85. A Friend Forever Edited by Susan Polis Schutz
  86. Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel
  87. The Silencers by Donald Hamilton
  88. Invisible Prey by John Sandford
  89. The First Immortal by James L. Halperin
  90. True Grit by Charles Portis
  91. Crossword Poems Volume One by ed by Robert Norton
  92. 50 Great Horror Stories edited by John Canning
  93. Event Horizon by Steven E. McDonald
  94. 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley
  95. Smarter by the Dozen by Dahlin/Tipple
  96. Back to the Future by George Gipe
  97. Elm Ave by Save the Heart of Webster, Inc.
  98. Indians of North America: The Aztecs by Frances F. Berdan
  99. The Explainer by edited by Bryan Curtis
  100. Rough Weather by Robert B. Parker
  101. TV Theme Song Trivia Book by Vincent Terrace
  102. The Three Musketeers (abridged) by Alexandre Dumas
  103. Heat by Michael Lupica
  104. The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre
  105. The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald
  106. Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life by Dave Stern
  107. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  108. One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko by Mike Royko
  109. Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell
  110. Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner
  111. The Moment She Was Gone by Evan Hunter
  112. The Great Lakes: A Photographic Journey by Ann McCarthy
  113. Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter
What's odd is how sometimes you can remember what you were doing when you were reading the books. The first of the books I read while painting my new office space and preparing for the transition to newborn fatherhood. Later, I read a stack of books rather quickly in the waiting room outside an ICU.

Also, I remember something of most the books I read, but the compilations are harder.

So what did you read last year?

Book Report: Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon (1995)
I don't know why I am such a sucker for Neil Simon plays. They're short, as are all modern plays, and they're often amusing, but frankly they tend to lack a proper story arc in the two acts. I Ought To Be In Pictures and Chapter Two are pretty good, but Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound just kind of drop a couple of scenes out of Simon's life, fictionalized, onto the stage. I guess Lost in Yonkers is somewhere in between. However, the lesson I've learned is the closer the story tracks to Simon's life, the less interesting it will be.

This play has two acts about a young writer working for a comedy/variety show in 1953. We get two acts of the writers who work there ripping on each other and making jokes as fast as they can. Their mercurial boss, the head of the show, makes an appearance. The HUAC is at work, and the network wants to cut the show. Then, in act 2, we get more of the same and the show ends.

This is the weakest of the plays of Simon that I've read, and it also tracks autobiographical, perhaps proving the my theory. On page, it's less funny than a public domain episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show which has a similar vibe vis-a-vis the working environment without the benefits of wacky situations and an hot young Mary Tyler Moore.

As a side note, I always read the original cast list that appears in the front of the book and see whom I recognize. In this case, it's Nathan Lane as the show host. I also recognized Mark Linn-Baker's name, although if you would have asked me, "He played the American cousin on the television sitcom Perfect Strangers," I would have been at a loss. But give me the name, and I recognize his most famous role. A note of amusement is that he played the guy without the accent in that show, but in this play he portrays a Russian immigrant, so he's the only one with an accent. Huh.

So it's a quick hour's worth of reading, more worth it if you're doing a paper on Neil Simon's works than if not.

Books mentioned in this review:

Sunday, February 08, 2009
Book Report: Every Little Crook and Nanny by Evan Hunter (1972)
Even though in later years, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain got a little onto the bash Bush wagon, the bulk of his work occurred before he went nuts, and I read most of it so far before that, so I cut him more slack than I do someone like John Sandford. So I don't think anything of picking up a new Hunter novel, especially since it looks like Last Summer was an outlier in its pathology.

This book details a kidnapping of a crime world figure's son while he's vacationing in Capri. The Nanny, with whom the Ganooch had left the urchin in the states, calls one of the lesser men in the underworld circle to help her figure out what to do. He employs various methods and criminal plans to try to raise the ransom money before the Ganooch comes home or worse.... if anything could be worse.

Hunter names the chapters after characters who appear in them, often for the first time, and on the page facing each chapter we get a photograph of those people, apparently taken of not only Hunter and some family members, but other people he knew. An addendum tells who the photographs really are and makes reference to some of the other material in the book so you know he wasn't making things up. The photograph gimmick was amusing and worked for me.

I get the sense that Evan Hunter liked to write. Most writers, you don't get that sense or worse. But he liked doing novel things with his novels.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Secret Revealed
Instapundit links to a post on the Atlantic Monthly site and asks:
    WAS THE MELTDOWN CAUSED by Texas Hold 'em?
I can answer in a word: No.

I caused the financial meltdown.

You see, for years I've been taking all the credit card offers I received in the mail and sent the post-paid envelope back with only the terms and the conditions of the offer enclosed. I did this up to 20 times a week when the credit was easy, when I got several offers a day, often from the same promotion but with the picture on my new card-to-be changed from my university to other universities people I know attended.

I thought it might teach them a lesson, perhaps drive the price of new customer acquisition up to the point that it was less worthwhile to carpetbomb the country with the offers. Also, I'm often juvenile.

Little did I know that the cumulative effect not only ate into the cash flow of the organizations in question, but because they borrowed money for short term expenditures, the nominative predicative delta accelerated as the time participular refluxion elapsed. To put it succinctly:


I should have thought of that before the first time I scissored out the little faux customer locator code from the back of one of those envelopes.

Of course, I just made this whole business up out of whole cloth, including vocabulary and formulas. Kind of like the smartest people in the country who still work for the major banking companies and the government offices that service the financial industry, hey? I could have a career in one or the other, except it would be too hard for me to play it "straight" there and not snicker from time to time when I'm building the fables that are modern instruments of policy and banking.

Book Report: The Deal by Peter Lefcourt (1991)
This is a quick little comic, almost-heist of a novel set in the movie industry. A washed-up marginal producer about to commit suicide gets one more chance when his nephew from New Jersey shows up with a script about Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Smelling his last chance, the producer sort of misleads a hot but impressionable action star into wanting it and then gets a budget and an office at a studio. Once he's set, he only has to completely have it rewritten into an action flick and shoot it in Hungary. When that falls apart, he can always go with unplanned B: attaching major Oscar talent to it and shooting it as an actual period piece.

An amusing read. I was saddened that the author hadn't written many books between now and then and wonder what to think now that its sequel is coming out fifteen years later.

Books mentioned in this review:

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