Heckuva Sample, Brownie

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is trumpeting a survey on its Web site’s front page: Over half of St. Louis small businesses plan to hire in early ‘10.

Really, over half of all St. Louis small businesses?

No, turns out that it’s from a smaller sample size than that:

A poll released this week by the St. Louis branch of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) reveals that over half of small business owners in the area intend to add payroll in the first three months of this year.

Of the 46 companies responding to the survey, 57 percent said they expect to add employees between now and March. The local EO branch has approximately 100 members.

That’s about 57% of 46%, or 26%, of the members of a single networking group in St. Louis. How rosy is that?

Two Paragraphs of a Book Report: The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri by Stephen C. LeSueur (1986)

The first two paragraphs of the book:

Twenty-five hundred Missouri troops surrounded the Mormon town of Far West on the night of 31 October 1838. Nearly eight hundred Mormon defenders waited silently behind their makeshift barricade of wagons, house logs, and floor planks, which extended three-quarters of a mile across the southern edge of town. Gen. Samuel D. Lucas, commander of the militia, warned Mormon leaders that he would destroy the town if they refused to surrender and leave the state. The Mormons prepared for attack. “We knew their determination was to exterminate us & [we] made up our determination to defend the City until the last man should fall to the ground,” wrote a sleepless Mormon soldier tbat night. “…we have the promise that but little blood would be shed at this time. But God only knows how we are to be delivered.”

The confrontations between the Mormons and their Missouri neighbors vividly illustrate the powerful cultural forces that have fostered a tradition of extralegal violence in America. Since colonial times, when impassioned citizens tarred and feathered tax collectors, dumped English tea into Boston harbor, and declared their independence from Great Britain, Americans have claimed the right to take the law into their own hands to enforce justice. Such violence has generally been conservative in purpose, and thus supported or tolerated by a large portion of the population. Vigilante organizations, often led by members of the local elite, acted to preserve established customs and practices against persons and groups that were perceived as a threat to society. “One is impressed that most American violence…had been initiated with a ‘conservative’ bias,” writes historian Richard Hofstadter. “It has been unleashed against abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labor organizers, Negroes, Orientals, and other ethnic or racial or ideological minorities, and has been used ostensibly to protect the American, the Southern, the white Protestant, or simply the established middle-class way of life and morals.” Another historian of American violence, Richard M. Brown, similarly concludes, “American opinion generally supported vigilantism; extralegal activity by a provoked populace was deemed to be the rightful action of good citizens.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Two paragraphs into a purported history, and the author is pointing the finger at conservatives. This is a current political term that the author and the historian he cites apply retroactively to the bad guys in their narratives. Maybe he’ll go on to mention the extralegal violence perpetrated by those seeking to overturn the political and cultural order or to “advance the cause” of the aggrieved populations listed in Hofstader’s litany.

Somehow I doubt it.

I made it almost two paragraphs into the book, but I’m not eager to rush into a “history” book that wears its bias and narrative on its sleeve. Hugh Thomas cheerleading human sacrifice, I can take. But not this.

The fact that this book is still in print probably indicates that it’s a textbook somewhere, at the very least at the University of Missouri. Joy.

I made it further into The Ruins, but that makes two books this year I have opened but won’t finish. I am such a quitter.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Heat Lightning by John Sandford (2008)

I borrowed this book from the library because Springfield’s book fair season is far shorter than St. Louis’s. Well, that’s not the real reason. While I was at the library last week looking for some beading books to browse and review, I saw this book on the hot books shelf, so I got it (along with Night and Day. The end result is that I’ve read a pile of library books this year, which is not helping me move the books from the To-Read shelves to the Read shelves here at Nogglestead.

This book is one of Sandford’s departures from the Davenport series, although Lucas appears as a supporting character and speaks with a voice that ultimately isn’t true to the Davenport character. But that’s not important, since this is a spin-off series. Instead, all the investigation is done by Virgil Flowers.

The Flowers character isn’t as much a leader/chieftan sort of detective as Davenport has become. Although the politics of the other series plays a part, Flowers gets to go and do more low-level shoe leather detecting. So it’s a throwback. Someday, though, Flowers might get promoted up into the bureaucracy to suffer the same fate as Davenport.

Onto this book’s plot: Flowers investigates the murder of a couple of men who are positioned ritually (in a Sandford novel? Say it ain’t so!). He discovers that the plot leads back to the war in Viet-fucking-Nam, man! A team of Vietnamese intelligence agents are killing guys involved in a construction equipment heist. Flowers has to discover this but finds himself embroiled a little too deeply when he falls for the Vietnamese daughter of a purported 60s radical but possible CIA agent. Did I mention the conspiracy goes to the highest levels of the current administration just as the Republican convention comes to Minneapolis?

The moral universe is ambivalent. The Vietnamese killers are seeking vengeance, so they sort of get a pass at the end. I don’t really get the ritualistic slaughter thing. Seriously, that’s warning the others in the circle of Those Who Need Killing According to The Vietnamese Government Officials to put extra security in place. I wonder if it’s added for tabloidic interest. I can think of reasons to put it in, but those reasons don’t come out in the book, and they require some thought on my part. Ultimately, if I were a crack Vietnamese Intelligence team, I would have just tossed the victims off of different bridges without drawing police attention or the remaining victims’ intention. All other explanations require too much predicting that the plot would unfold as it did and that unknown police investigators would react just so to let the plot go on.

Another thing: this book weighs in at almost 400 pages. Do you, gentle reader, remember when Steven King’s huge volumes weighed in at this? When 400 pages was the mark of an Important Work, not just genre fiction? The contemporary page inflation of thrillers will, mark my words, lead to a revised interest in the classics, where a Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy novel seems light by comparison.

Books mentioned in this review:

Pop Culture Prediction/Suggestion

Now that Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol, they need someone to fill his seat.

What is Anne Robinson doing?

After all, before Simon, she was the tart-tongued British dominatrix of American television. She’s probably available. And she’ll fill the minimum quota of one snarky British person dressed in black sucking up all the tabloids’ attention and television ratings that the United States offered as reparations for beating the UK in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

Every Election Is A New Day

The city of Branson, Missouri, has a novel idea: its new elected officials don’t like a contract signed by the previous elected officials, so they’ll just say that contract is unconstitutional:

Nearly four years after the city of Branson agreed to pay a privately-operated airport $8.24 for every out-of-town passenger it brings in, new municipal officials are questioning if such a contract is constitutional.

“The bottom line is our concern that it can be construed as a taxpayers’ subsidy of a private business,” said Branson City Administrator Dean Kruithof.

Get your banana republic on! Let’s tear up all agreements every two to four years. Because we’re a nation of men, not laws, now.

A Sound in the Darkness

One of the most evocative things about living in the country, at least for a guy who was pretty much a city boy up until the end of September 2009, are the animal sounds you hear in the nighttime that you cannot identify.

I recognize the sounds of the horses, cattle, chickens, and donkeys from the barns and fields. I know a number of bird cries from crows to hawks to whatever it is that seems to call Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy. But sometimes I hear things I don’t recognize, and most of the time I hear them at night.

The first night I spent in the house, I reached it after watching the movers load the truck in St. Louis and an afternoon drive down to Springfield. I led my wife to it so she could see it a second time–she’d seen it just once, when we initially looked at it, and I was the one present for all inspections thereafter. So we walked through the empty house together so she could see what we’d wrought, and as I walked her into the near-complete blackness to her truck, I heard something just outside the circle of the porch light.

I’d like to describe it for you, but I find it hard to characterize it. Given the height, it was coming from the trees, so I expect it was a nocturnal bird, perhaps one of those screeching birds. But it might have been a vacationing Jersey Devil for all I know. I didn’t, and that’s what made me uncomfortable.

Then, Saturday morning at 4am, my wife and I were awakened by a high, canine packish sound from outside. Sometimes, the wind whistling around our skylight can make sounds like low children moans or whistle like a maelstrom. The sound didn’t come from the skylight. I looked out a couple windows to try to catch sight of the source, to see if it was a pack of wild dogs or, heaven forfend, actual wolves.

As an aside, when I lived in Jefferson County, we had a pack of wild dogs that roamed the valley in which we lived. They were lost and abandoned pet dogs, so there was a mixture of mutts, none of which topped 80 pounds. It’s hard to be scared of a bunch of feral Yorkies, but one could be in a bit of trouble if a bunch of 80 pound and smaller dogs take you on.

I didn’t see what was wandering outside our house on Saturday morning. I’m uncomfortable in my ignorance. And believe you me, I sweep my eyes from side to side as I drag my garbage cart forty yards down my driveway into the blackness and wonder what lies out there that I don’t know about.

Imagination and ignorance makes life exciting!

An Unfortunate Reflection

I resemble this remark:


Lockhorns January 13, 2010

You know all those fine editions I purchase? Cheeto prints throughout.

Sadly, I don’t think it will matter, because I think I will be the last person to read them. At best, some sixty years hence, my aged children will come across them and think they represent a small personal touch of their dear old sloppy dad.

Book Report: Night and Day by Robert B. Parker (2009)

I checked this book out the day Mr. Parker died. Checked out. From a library. Because I’ve given up on buying the books with an arbitrary moral universe, where the hero’s code is right because it’s the hero’s code. For example, in this book, a group of swingers plays a part as Jesse Stone investigates them as part of one of the interconnected plotlines. I say one of the, because there are like two subplots aside from the normal Jesse-Jenn and Jesse-therapy and Jesse-all-the-hot-chicks-too thing that pads the books out. One of the subplots is connected to the main plot and features the swingers. The other subplot does not actually connect to the main plot but does tie into the other subplot tangentally.

Throughout the book, Jesse teases Molly Crane for her infidelity that really rankled me in Stranger in Paradise. It’s a joke, banter, and when they really talk about it, they hit upon that they don’t feel bad because sex is good. Infidelity is wrong, but there’s no guilt. Huh. But when Crane and Stone talk about swingers, the moral opprobrium falls upon the willing, if off-kilter, participants of that particular pecadillo.

So swinging: bad, infidelity: okay. Right. Because….

Aw, because Jesse says so.

So aside from the moral torpitude of the universe and the protagonists, we can skip over the plot. It’s an enough story. The book moves along, with its unnecessary asides. The good guys get the bad guys.

But as with all the later Parker books, the psychoanalysis and soul-searching overwhelm it. Funny, in 1991 or so, I saw RBP on the Today Show, and Bryant Gumbel said that some critics thought that Spenser had gotten away from the clue-sniffing sleuth and more into pairing wines with dinner. Oh, for those halycon days where that was perceived as the problem.

Books mentioned in this review:

Don’t Turn Around

What kind of name for a car is that?

Der Kompressor

Seriously, the Kompressor? Was someone’s German/American dictionary off by a little bit when this was brainstormed (in the German, brundsturmcht, I believe)? Or were they trying to come up with a noun that indicated this particular Mercedes would crush the competition?

Regardless, you know what song I’d use in the commercials, don’t you?

Altered slightly, as you can guess.

Things That Made You Go, “Hmmm,” In 1985 Now Make You Go, “WTF?”

So I pull into a regular gas station of mine, swipe my new American Express Card, start filling the SUV full of boys with 87 ‘tane, and start washing salt off of the windows. Why the windows are salty here in Springfield, where most places didn’t treat nor plow the 6 inches of snow we got around Christmas, I don’t grok. But that’s not the head scratcher.

After I finish with the back window and then the front window, less of a priority because it has better internal salt removal systems, I figure that the half tank’s worth of pumping should be done. The pump is not actively forcing fuel into my vehicle, and its internal mechanisms have shut it off at five cents’ worth of gas. .021 gallons, if you’re wondering.

I figure the seal between the pump nozzle and the tank has triggered. My pickup truck has a faulty seal here so that I have to pump gas by hand at slower than the lowest automatic notch or it will trigger the nozzle shut off. So I’m familiar with the vagaries of these systems. But when I depress the nozzle trigger, it does not pump at all.

So I wonder, is the gas station’s tank empty? Or has it stopped because that’s all my credit card authorized me? I push the help button that should intercom to the cashier inside to ask him what was going on.

No response. I’d have gone in, but that would have required unloading a pair of boisterons (the physics term for energetic male children) to ask a 30 second question or to leave them for 30 seconds unattended in a car, which is felony child endangerment in 21st century America.

So I instead replace the nozzle, take my receipt for five cents, and swipe my credit card again. This time, the pump says that it cannot accommodate credit card swipes at this time. The gas station attendant hasn’t replied yet, so I take my nickel of gasoline and leave.

Wondering, of course, what happened. Credit card problem? Computer problem? Or some problem with my newish credit card, perhaps a fraud alert. Maybe there’s an APB out for me in Battlefield, Missouri, even as we speak as they search for the three desperadoes in a vehicle that’s safely hidden in a garage.

Whatever else it is, it give me something to think about and to ruminate upon all afternoon.

Book Report: Beaded Jewelry with Found Objects by Carole Rodgers (2004)

This was my second book on beading, and where the first focused on sparse arrangements of beads, this book focused on more elaborate pieces.

The book talks about using found objects for beading, including but not limited to beach glass, stones, Christmas tree light bulbs, springs, Scrabble pieces, and a host of other things. For the most part, the projects involve drilling holes in the found objects to string them, almost completely wrapping them in strands of beads, or gluing them to leather and then creating a woven bezel around them.

Considering how much trouble I’m having with getting a simple weave stitch down, it will be a while before I’m ready for these projects. But the beginning of the book spends a lot of time on bead-weaving, as one would expect given the nature of the projects, so its basic educational material is very strong and it does provide one with an idea of the different things you can make into jewelry.

An excellent book. Lots of diagrams and pretty pictures.

Books mentioned in this review:

But Let’s Not Make Him President Yet

Congratulations to Scott Brown for winning the Senate seat in Massachusetts.

He seems likeable enough; Bookworm calls him a rising star. He’s plugged into how to work the Internet, he can make the skies rain money, and he’s pretty and speaks well.

Let’s not run him for President in 2012.

Because we know that the career path of State Senator -> Senator for less than a term does not yield a good President, even if he’s on our side.

Also, I’m still a Palinsky.

Book Report: Branson Humor by Richard Gunter (2008)

I saw this book on the shelf at the local Price Cutter and was intrigued. A small press book, local, and it was a collection of jokes and cartoons. What was not to love?

Well, it’s a collection of common jokes, not particularly Branson-y or Ozark-y. Additionally, they are old jokes, coming from the days before Orben’s Current Comedy. I recognized many of them, thought maybe one was worthy of tweeting, and generally was disappointed with the collection.

Still, I admire the pluck and the drive to get the book out there.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Hero, Lost

‘Spenser’ novelist Robert Parker dies at age 77:

Robert B. Parker, the blunt and beloved crime novelist who helped revive and modernize the hard-boiled genre and branded a tough guy of his own through his “Spenser” series, has died. He was 77.

I’ve savaged his recent books in my book reports, but Parker remained a sort of estranged hero of mine from my boyhood. I’m saddened by his departure, and the world is something less without him in it.

(See my essay “Meeting Robert B. Parker” at bullets-and-beer.com.)

UPDATE: Marko also mourns.

A Little Love Note To Strange Workbenches

When I’m turning left like a bouncy-strided NASCAR driver on the track in the local YMCA, I’m not one to steal a glimpse of the women in their workout clothes. Not that I would admit on a blog my wife reads from time to time, anyway. One thing turns my head every time, though: a metal door marked YMCA Staff Only opened to reveal the workshop within.

Beyond that door lies more than a janitorial closet, although certain supplies are stashed within for easy access on the second floor. In addition to those supplies, the shelves contain various and sundry implements to perform the most basic of repairs throughout the facility and upon some of the machines within. Then my long limbs carry me beyond the doorway.

There’s something about a professional workshop that triggers a certain wistfulness within me. Upon each professional’s bench, implements and tools relevant to the job at hand lie within reach according to a logic and preference to the guy doing the job. He’s got the screwdrivers arranged as he uses them and the lead mallet on a shelf where he can grab it on his way to the end of the printing press to pound the empty paper roll from its roller. When I see the workspace, I can almost see myself doing the job, and in that moment, I slightly transcend myself.

I don’t get that sense in an office environment. If you’ve seen one cubicle, you’ve seen them all. Most of the customization from one job to another involves a different desktop wallpaper and set of applications installed upon a computer. A different set of binders on the bookshelf, if any. A different set of photographs or cutesy individual touches.

But workbenches, they have different tools and different things. I’ve worked enough different non-office environments that my different workspaces had a variety of implements. My produce back room had machete-like blades for splitting watermelon, knives for trimming ears of corn, Styrofoam trays for packaging product, and a toolbox containing numbers and signs for pricing. My art store shipping and receiving station had a tape gun for closing boxes, sundry pens for counting products, and trays for packing lists. My print shop workbench contained two bottles of highly caustic cleaners, numerous cans of differently colored soy-based ink, screwdrivers for adjusting wheels and for unlocking plates, and the aforementioned lead mallet along with a poem hanging on the file cabinet for me to memorize for my open mic nights.

Maybe my fascination with workbenches stems from my desire for a lost youth where I worked these jobs and marched ever higher in positions and placements until I broke the barrier into business casual and a career. Maybe I long for those olden days when I made something or moved some physical things every day.

Or, just maybe, they continue to trip my imagination in ways that office-based careers and their environments cannot.