Unwarranted Snark

The blood is running in the streets of Milwaukee: 4-homicide weekend pushes city to grim point:

Like a runaway freight train, this year’s homicide total in Milwaukee equaled the 88 recorded for all of last year as of early Sunday and gave no signs that religious, civic and governmental efforts to make this a safe summer were slowing the deadly increase.

Snark as follows:

  • Good thing Governor Doyle vetoed concealed carry in Wisconsin, ensuring the safety of its citizens from homicidal predators.
  • Sure, it’s another record, but what’s the count when adjusted to constant 1980 homicides?

Book Report: Caravan to Vaccares by Alistair MacLean (1970)

I bought this book at the library at the same time as I bought Partisans, and for the same price. So pretty soon after I completed Partisans, I cracked open this book.

It, too, presented a quick read with a typical MacLean plot. A caravan of gypsies has come to France, bearing dark doings and dangerous characters. A British layabout and a French Duc, as well as a couple of vacationing British hotties, encounter dark doings and dangerous char–oh, I said that already, didn’t I?

There’s something familiar about MacLean’s works when one has read a number of them, more than once. Since he eschewed series characters and instead worked with similar heroes, the books carry enough difference when looked at as a whole to remain engaging without becoming metronomic. So if you can pick it up for a quarter, I’d recommend this book. Maybe even a buck.

Getcher Urban Legends Here

Panera Bread, parent company of the St. Louis Bread Company and the name by which it conducts business elsewhere, was formed by an Egyptian cult, the Pane of Ra movement. This group believes that the consumption of bread prepares one for the afterlife, and that if one has bagels with hummus or some other concoction of cibatta and cream cheese, one can survive the journey.

Tasers Hurt Cops, Too

Police chief sues maker of Taser gun:

A police chief in Boone County has filed suit against Taser International and two police equipment supply companies, saying he was severely injured when shocked with a Taser weapon during training.

The suit by Jacob “Pete” Herring joins more than 30 others from around the country that claim Tasers caused or contributed to injuries or deaths. More than 7,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide use the devices as a nonlethal alternative to firearms, according to company numbers.

The suit by Herring, chief of police in Hallsville, Mo., says he suffered at least two strokes, loss and impairment of his vision and hearing, neurological damage, a head injury and “significant cardiac damage” after being shocked by a Taser M26 during a class on April 20, 2004. He seeks unspecified financial damages.

Nonlethal, perhaps. But they’re overused in the field, resulting in a number of deaths that could be avoided.

And shocking each other in training, what the heck? Do cops hit each other with batons just so they know how it feels?

What Would Leslie Fish Say?

Angelina Jolie Grabs Monster-Mom Role, Teams with De Niro:

Finally, an Angelina Jolie movie her kids can watch. Jolie has signed on to star in a big-screen adaptation of the epic English poem “Beowulf” to be directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”).

The film, like Zemeckis’ previous movie, “The Polar Express,” will use performance-capture technology to transform live acting into computer animation, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The story of the Scandinavian hero of the sixth century who slays a beast will star Ray Winstone (“Sexy Beast”) as Beowulf, who saves the Danes from Grendel the monster, portrayed by the always creepy Crispin Glover (“Willard,” “Charlie’s Angels”).

Jolie, who played Colin Farrell’s youngish mother in “Alexander,” will again portray a maternal character in the film, taking on the role of Grendel’s mom.

Fortunately, with Zemeckis at the head, it’s unlikely that Grendel will be an allegory for the imperialistic American hegemon and Angelina Jolie will channel Cindy Sheehan, but one never can tell with Hollywood….

Government Officials and Their Toys

Schools spend big on recreation centers:

Bob Lyons remembers – not fondly – the old gym at the University of Missouri at Columbia: It was cramped, had the odor of smelly socks and could get so hot in summer that “you just wanted to die,” said Lyons, a recent graduate.

Contrast that with the new $50 million, jungle-themed recreation center that is nearly twice the size and virtually finished.

“It’s just awe-inspiring,” said Lyons, who helps oversee the center’s 42-foot climbing tower.

Eleven large plasma screens line the wall of the “jungle gym.” The gym features about 100 pieces of cardio equipment, some of which have individual DVD players.

In the “tiger grotto,” there is a swirling vortex, lazy river with waterfall, whirlpool and dry sauna. Towering above it all is a jumbo, Vegas-style display board that blasts music videos on “ZouTv,” an internal station that plays music selections based on weekly Internet polls.

I would dare Mizzou to find a single freaking student that chose the University of Missouri of Columbia over another college because of its swank recreational facilities, but someone at Mizzou could probably trot out some stooge as though a single student or small cadre would justify spending fifty million dollars on such an endeavor.

It’s one thing if an alumnus donates a pile of cash for the privilige of diverting students from their studies, but students, and that’s all students, not just the “health-conscious” students who want “a gathering place to see and be seen,” will have to cough up $150 a year to subsidize a meat market for college students who don’t suffer from a dearth of gathering places to find the next one night stand or starter marriage.

No, friends, this is what happens when our localish government agencies become high school cliques, and when expenditures are driven by the all-the-cool-people-have-them mentality. Suddenly, we’re shelling out money for bike trails, rec plexes, and whatnot because all the other schools/counties/municipalities/states have them.

Not because they’re necessary government services, but because they’re cool.

I wish our leaders would grow up.

Book Report: Star Trek 10 by James Blish (1974)

This book represents the last of the Star Trek paperbacks I bought at three for a dollar at Hooked on Books in Springfield, Missouri. I don’t have much to say about it that I haven’t said with the others (most recently Star Trek 9, oddly enough).

Still, as I read it, I wanted to brag about it. This represents the 67th book I’ve read this year. Nyah nyah. I read a lot and therefore am better than you, at least in this regard, most likely.

Book Report: Partisans by Alistair MacLean (1983)

I read a large number of Alistair MacLean books in high school. Because we were poor, living in a poor community, my reading was indelibly guided by the reading tastes of the all-volunteer Community Library’s volunteers and donors. Ergo, I read a lot of McBain, Parker, and MacLean because the storefront library had a large number of old paperbacks by its donors’ favorite authors, some of whom became my favorite authors, too.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that I bought this book at the Bridgeton Trails branch of the St. Louis County library for a quarter as it sells off its books to make room for more Internet connections. So I happened upon a couple of Alistair MacLean books I’d read before and would like to revisit.

This book, as its title suggests, takes place in the former Yugoslavia during World War II. A Royalist sympathizer helps to smuggle a group of other royalist sympathizers into Yugoslavia from its ally Italy, where they can help the war effort of their friends the Germans and the leaders against the Partisans. One does need a bit of grounding in history, particularly World War II in the middle of Europe, to understand the overarching framework of the novel. Since it’s less straightforward than the English versus the Germans, a reader might be forgiven for forgetting which group is the good guys and which group is the bad guys.

Of course, as it’s MacLean, the master of the suspenseful switchback, regardless of which group is the good guys and which group is the bad guys, the main character is either not on the side that he starts on, or he is actually on the side he starts on but is pretending to be a double agent to find out the real double agents, or…. Well, it’s enough to say that MacLean books are quite romps in which anything can happen.

But this book, with its slightly more obscure setting and almost esoteric historical plotline, doesn’t work on all levels because of the unfamiliarity with the macroplayers. It also doesn’t present a very clear picture of the problem that the group is supposed to solve at the end of the book. Take down the artillery on a Mediterranean island? Breach an impregnable Alpine fortress? Nah, just get into Yugoslavia. It strikes me more like a Star Trek device: We’re traveling through the Adriatic, and something happened. Since it’s MacLean, it’s something complicated, but nevertheless the reader lacks a compelling goal to draw one along.

Still, it’s a pretty good book. Its writing style alone merited my enjoyment. British and mid-century in its character (although written later), it plays with longer sentences and more elaborate phrasing than contemporary suspense fiction. That alone carried me through the substandard (for MacLean) plot and characterization.

Esoterica

Two thoughts that struck me as amusing, but I’ll probably be the only one:

  • Upon seeing the vanity license plate MO4 LL:

    We sure thought that “Alice” would make a credible candidate for president….

  • Somehow, I think even Peter Scaffer fans think me crazy when I go to the ballpark and cheer for the Cardinals’ lead off hitter by chanting:

    Eck….Eck…..Eck….Eckstein.

Because these things bounce around my disparate thoughts during the course of the day. Instead of a billion dollar idea, I get these.

Perhaps the Goals Are Misunderstood

Work-zone safety blitz still limited: Drivers say that new laws haven’t reduced number of violations:

Motorists complain that speeding, tailgating and aggressive driving are still all the rage in Illinois construction zones, despite tough laws the state passed last year to reduce violations.

A camera-enforcement program to deploy Illinois State Police troopers in vans was supposed to have started this month, but officials are still finalizing contracts with equipment suppliers, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The program may begin in September, officials said.

The plan for the pilot project involves taking photographs from inside just two roving vans to capture the faces and license plates of drivers, along with the speed of their vehicles, in work areas on hundreds of miles of Chicago-area expressways and on the Illinois Tollway system. Tickets carrying minimum fines of $375 will be mailed to vehicle owners.

An impersonal ticket arriving in infractors’ mail boxes a week in the future will not make the drivers slow down or behave. Nor will signs indicating that this might happen. Troopers pulling over drivers would make them slow down for a couple days and would make other drivers who see the troopers slow down.

Hidden cameras capturing drivers’ infractions but distancing the infraction from the sanction? Give me a break.

This is a revenue-enhancement program, not a safety program. And this is the reason why I’m going to fly to Milwaukee or travel through scenic Iowa on my way home in the future. Because I fear speeding through more than one of the Illinois “Construction Zones” (that is, the barrel storage technique that intersperses a couple barrels miles apart between construction zone signs) at a time and coming home to a mailbox full of budget-gap-closers from Rod Blagojevich.

Oppressive Bush Regime Dissident Round-Up Misses Virulent Bush Opponent

An author insults one of his readers:

[Mark] Kurlansky said he was surprised to hear that Bush had taken his book to the ranch: “My first reaction was, ‘Oh, he reads books?’ “

The author said he was a “virulent Bush opponent” who had given speeches denouncing the war in Iraq.

“What I find fascinating, and it’s probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don’t seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books,” Kurlansky said.

But now that you’re on record, sir; prepare for the firing squad.

What a humpwit. Not only has he insulted the president based on common, cliché groupthink from the virulent Bush opponents, but he’s risked angering whatever readers and potential book buyers exist in the majority that elected Bush.

A pretty poor marketing decision, but perhaps he’s just standing for his principles, which would seem to include not much beyond mauvais mots.

(Link seen on Ann Althouse.)

Thanks For Checking In

Bobby McFerrin stops in to tell us he’s going on vacation:

For years he’s been telling people, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Now Bobby McFerrin has decided it’s time to take his own advice.

“I’ve got one week left, and then I’m done for a year,” a weary McFerrin told The Associated Press during a weekend visit to UCLA, where he was accepting an award from the Henry Mancini Institute for his contributions to music.

“I haven’t had a sabbatical, I haven’t taken a year off from touring in 15 years at least,” said McFerrin, whose bright and bouncy ditty, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” seemed to put his name on everybody’s lips in 1988 when it won Grammys for song of the year and record of the year.

Some of us might be forgiven in thinking that McFerrin’s been on vacation for about 17 years, give or take.

Wal-Mart Hands Its Critics a Spiked Club, Asks, "Please?"

Insurer wants woman’s crash settlement:

Debbie Shank stocked shelves at a Wal-Mart store in Cape Girardeau, Mo., until five years ago, when her minivan was hit by a tractor-trailer. Her Wal-Mart health insurance paid the medical bills. Proceeds from a lawsuit helped finance her care in a nursing home.

Brain damage forces her to use a wheelchair and limits her upper body movement to one arm and two fingers. It stole her memory and her ability to talk to her husband and three sons.

“She’ll ask about the boys, she’ll ask about the cat,” said her husband, Jim Shank. “Whenever I’m there, she thinks it must be a mealtime. We don’t really hold a conversation.”

Now the Shanks face a new obstacle. Her Wal-Mart health insurance plan wants the lawsuit money to repay its costs.

Unfortunately, some insurance company functionaries lack the imagination for how the general public will perceive a lawsuit against a disabled woman, and how anti-Wal-Mart fanatics will use the incident against Wal-Mart. If those opponents could have their way, they’d make sure that Wal-Mart lived down to their rhetoric and did not provide insurance for its employees (the fact that Wal-Mart medical insurance exists and paid out half a million dollars for this catastrophe, but that Wal-Mart is evil because it doesn’t provide insurance for its employees–the paradox in their rhetoric will never surface).

The paper throws in an obligatory response from a spokesperson:

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the health plan has made no decision on whether to pursue this case; the suit puts a legal foot in the door before the deadline to file it passes. “This is kind of a standard procedure, and it just preserves our options,” Marty Hires said.

The SOPs of the byzantine and, let’s face it, often-suspect insurance and legal industry don’t improve the image of insurance, lawyers, or their clients. I’m sure someone with Wal-Mart could have come up with a better response, but who knows if the papers would publish them, because the current storyline casts Wal-Mart as the villain.

Now that the broken story’s broken, any doing-of-the-right-thing by Wal-Mart–such as not actually pursuing the suit or apologizing, will be reported as cynical damage control. If the papers follow up at all.

Yeah, I’m so cynical, I sometimes don’t even trust my own blog.

Where Angels Fear To Tread

When the free market cannot profitably develop a site, the governments step in:

  1. Government 1: The City

    Plans to turn a troubled site in Overland into a shopping center have been revived after failing for the second time earlier this year.

    Two local developers – Sansone Group and G.J. Grewe Inc. – at separate times tried to build major retail centers on the Page Avenue property. Working with the city, they hoped to draw retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. But both developers pulled the plug when they failed to recruit tenants.

    Two businesses who are in designed to make money couldn’t, even with the city’s help.

    Time to call in reinforcements.

  2. Government 2: The County

    Now, St. Louis County is taking up the effort. The site, county officials say, is more desirable with the addition of a nearby Home Depot store and other recent construction.

    “That area’s gotten a real boost recently and it’s becoming a premier location,” said Denny Coleman, president of the St. Louis County Economic Council. “We know several developers who’ve said they’d bid on it.”

    “they’d” being the operative tense. They would bid on the land if the government would make the conditions right. That is, the deal itself will not be profitable in and of itself in a free market economy, but if the county would sweeten the deal, its preferred developers would happily bid on it. Once the taxpayers guaranteed a profit.

    But that’s contingent upon….

  3. Government 3: The Federal Government

    The county also is coupling the retail project with a plan to prevent the closing of a nearby military facility. The county hopes the retail center will help persuade the military to stay. Or, if the military leaves, its property could be redeveloped, possibly into office space.

    Because the federal government should make its decisions based upon convenient shopping for its employees and visiting dignitaries? WTF? The county is swinging for the fences on this one. Why not couple it with curing schnucking cancer while you’re at it?

It’s a trifecta of government intervention into the free market at the expense of some:

The 40-acre retail project would rise on land that’s now a hodgepodge of houses, small businesses and vacant factories. In 2001, Overland – without county help – launched redevelopment efforts there.

Friends, that means eminent domain. Remember that nasty thing which the Supreme Court just okayed? Greenlit governments to seize livelihoods from citizens to the benefit of developers and, of course, the agnostic and disinterested governments:

“It’s a depressed area that was blighted years ago,” said Robert Dody, Overland’s mayor. “It’s an ideal area to redevelop. … The city and the county would both like to get more tax revenue from it.”

I know the area they’re talking about. It’s five minutes up I-170, a short spur of the Interstate system, from Clayton, one of the hottest areas in the county. Left to the free market, this area would redevelop on its own as its relatively cheap land would grow into suburbs of Clayton. But that’s not good enough for our elected officials, who could not take immediate credit for future growth based on their hands off governance today.

Instead, they spend tax money and tax-salaried time playing businessmen. Meanwhile, look at the land for sale listings on Hilliker Corporation’s Web site. See all of those properties on Woodson Road? Those are about 1/2 mile from the area in question (Google map; note the pin related to the intersection of Page and Woodson, the redevelopment site in question). The land prices and parcels are ripe for an entry-level developer wanna-be to get in and buy one or more for redevelopment or investment. I’ve had my eyes on the area since I lived nearby, for the reasons I’ve listed above. As I reach a time where I have some money for extraneous business ventures, I hoped to invest properties in this area, to help organically elevate Overland.

But forget it. Bob Dody, Mayor, via signage, welcomes me to Overland every time I pass through. But his eagerness to team the government of Overland with large developers certainly doesn’t welcome smaller outside concerns to invest in real estate (that he might later have to reallocate to THF, so sorry, here’s a couple bucks) in his community nor does he welcome small businesses nor certain home owners to remain in their property in his community (although they’re welcome to spend their just compensation on other property elsewhere in Overland, natch, until he or Sansone needs that, too).

I’d like to wrap this up with a snappy, pithy conclusion, but I’m too disgusted.

Book Report: The Best of National Lampoon #3 (1973)

I bought this book at a garage sale or such, probably for a quarter. I’d hoped to turn it into a vast eBay profit back in the day when a small timer could hobbyhorse a bit of profit out of eBay, but those days are gone and the book made up a small part of the 16 boxes of unsold speculative books I had in my closet. I culled through them one final time to find books I might like to read before I get rid of the lot, and this one filtered out.

You know, I’ve always found National Lampoon more amusing than funny. I even had a subscription to it, briefly, in middle school or high school because my mother, funder of all magazine subscriptions at that time, didn’t realize it had the occasional boobies (please don’t tell her now, for it would break her heart to know that she enabled her hormonal teenage boys in any way). I didn’t get a lot of yuks out of it even then, and the boobies were marginal at best.

This book collects pieces from 1971 and 1972. Unfortunately, that means that 50% of the topical humor applies to topics before I was born. A lot of Vietnam humor, which I don’t find particularly amusing, much less funny. I could appreciate some of the non-political humor, such as Chris Miller’s parody of a Mike Hammer story, but I’ve read my share of late sixties pulp to access it.

So this book doesn’t hold up well. Also, no O’Rourke and only a little Beard. Worth a glance or browse if you’ve got nothing else, maybe even worth a quarter if you’re not over sticking it to that lying bastard Nixon. If it’s too funny, you’re too old.

Book Report: Cyber Way by Alan Dean Foster (1990)

Based on my previous experience with Foster, I bought a number of Alan Dean Foster books last May at Downtown Books in Milwaukee (including Codgerspace, The Dig, and Midworld). Like those, I paid $2.95 for this book, and I offer the same criticism: It reads like a stretched out short story.

Foster does have a predilection for prediction though; in this book, written in 1989 or before, future police officers carry PDAs and hook into the Internet frequently. However, as he wrote the books before Netscape opened the World Wide Web, things have different names (mollyspinners and whatnot), but the intervening 15 years have not rendered the futuristic technologies obsolete; instead, life has developed along those lines, making the book very approachable in 2005.

When an art collector is murdered in Tampa, the methodical detective Vernon Moody draws the case. The industrialist collector died in his art display room, and the murderer also destroyed a Navaho sand painting. Early investigations indicate that someone had argued with the collector about the painting on numerous occasions. The department sends the homebody moody to the southwest to determine the Navaho connection. Unfortunately, Moody not only finds a murderer, but a world beyond his imagination where sandpaintings and medicine men can tap into something more powerful than police.

An enjoyable, imaginative short story stretched into a short novel with the addition of a lot of filler talk and speculation. Worth a couple of bucks undoubtedly, particularly if you appreciate Alan Dean Foster.