Special Offer for 20th Century Fox: First Clue Free

As I settled down to watch The Keys of the Kingdom, 20th Century Fox presented me with this particular guitar-driven, almost-a-music-video reminder that I should not pillage:

As a matter of fact, 20th Century Fox sees fit to entertain me with this little bit of nagging every time I put the disc in or start the DVD player. Since I stop and start these old timey movies often, that means I see the PSA over and over and over again.

But here’s a little clueflash for you, 20th Century Fox: The people who buy black and white movies from 1944 for $7 from Sam’s Club are not the people who download the latest Vin Diesel flick from BitTorrent. We’re the committed consumers, right? We’re shelling out cash for your deep catalog stuff. So punishing us by hectoring us not to do something we don’t do annoys us.

Annoyed people don’t make impulse purchases of old, forgotten Academy Award Winners just so they can sound smart or to stock up on trivia.

And, since you asked, the movie was okay. I got a little aggravated when I got halfway through and suspected that the movie was presenting Chicom revolutionaries as heroes and the target of assistance of the Roman Catholic priest (since they were freeing the peasants from the imperialists). In 1944, Hollywood was rooting for the other side there, too. But then I calmed down and remembered that the film, made in 1944, was set some decades prior (during the Taiping Rebellion?). So I suspended my politics and got back into the story. Then Anne Revere made a brief appearance, and I realized the Chinese revolutionaries were probably actually supposed to represent the communists.

Oh, and Gregory Peck is heavily made up as an old man in the framing of the story, and they warbled his voice somehow on the audiotrack. That must have been something in 1944.

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The Gift Schtick

Around gift-giving holidays and birthdays, a certain stress accumulates like northern plains snow, centered upon what others will think of our individual capacity to proffer the pretense of caring for people to whom we do not speak for the majority of the year. Did we send our high school guidance counselor a Christmas card this year? She surely sent one to us last year, proving she’s not yet dead. Did we get Janey’s son Bobby something suitably expensive for his birthday, more than we would spend on a real nephew, but not so much to indenture Janey for our birthday?

Internally, we process the possibilities like Christmas calculus and crunch the metrics of what we know about the gift recipient. We dredge memories for shared moments, hobbies, or insights into that person’s soul and spirit. We surf the intrapersonalnet, seeking the faintest rumors of needed household goods. When all else fails, we know that gift certificates offer the remote-controlled reminder of our relationship, but recognize that a gift certificate really emphasizes the obligation and not the emotion of gift giving. Gift certificates say, “We know we should get you something, but we don’t know you well enough to know what you want.”

Fortunately, amid the crush and bustle of the Christmas shopping season or the interspersion of gift-giving into our regular lives, we can honestly rely upon the honored tradition of the Gift Shtick to provide a default value for the drop-down lists of gift-giving.

The Gift Shtick represents a certain convenient gifting theme for a person that makes gift giving easy and gift reception safe. A person’s Gift Shtick offers a single collectible motif, a single hobby, decorative fetish, or offhand comment, that friends, family, and acquaintances can seize upon with infrequent fervor to provide semiannual gifts. A good Gift Shtick offers almost infinite variation, providing the potential for almost thoughtless thoughtfulness.

The Gift Shtick can be sports memorabilia. For my wife, my relatives and I have found safe haven in buying St. Louis Blues apparel or paraphernalia. Although her interest in hockey is beginning to wane, and although she can almost dress in Blues jerseys and sweatshirts every day of the week, she can look forward to more of the same. For anyone in the state of Wisconsin, Green Bay Packers dinner china makes a handsome and thoughtful gift.

My friend Brian likes Elvis Presley, a Gift Shtick you can easily satisfy. You can walk into any mall in America and find something Elvish. Whether I find a wall hanging, poster, or CD of Elvis’s first conversations recorded when he was three, I can give him something that says, “Dude, I didn’t think you had this important piece of trivial tangential material in your collection.”

I have an aunt who has a goose motif in her kitchen. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been in her kitchen to know whether she has adequate goose salt and pepper shaker sets to serve a dozen diners, all eating from goose china. My mother, bless her, provides twin bird shticks: she decorates her living room with bald eagles and her kitchen with owls. The eagle shtick has been so successful in the past years that I am going to buy her a new wall for Christmas just so she can display them all.

I let my family and friends down because I don’t provide an easy Gift Shtick for them to employ. Each gift holiday, they must ask me what I want, and I am often at a loss. I rattle off a list of accoutrements that I don’t need or a whim that I can conjure instantly. Instead, I need to create a theme for my home office décor or take up a particular hobby that comes with a lot of optional paraphernalia. That way, when it comes to paper-tearing time, I can be assured a surprise, albeit a safe surprise well within a set of established parameters and limits.

It’s better to give than receive, everyone says, but it’s certainly not easier. Anyone who’s spent the last minute buying gifts from the end caps at Target knows the flutter of fear, of panic, and of an imminent gift certificate purchase. Whereas the Gift Shtick might not help the giver avoid a reluctant “Thenk yew” when the recipient opens the umpteenth throw blanket depicting a Bengal tiger, giving according to established or imagined predilections and peer pressure will allow you to escape the holidays with your sanity, and maybe even your inheritance, intact.

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The Sweepstakes Bodhisattva Speaks

I won’t start off by telling you that I’ve never won anything; no, I’ve had my small share of victories in various minor games of chance. In my youth, I won a couple of “Guess How Many x Are In The Jar” things for a number of trinkets and toylets. In my adulthood, I’ve won enough free tickets in state lotteries to merely lament wasting $999s of dollars instead of thousands of dollars. I even win a gift every year in the company’s gift swap. But I’ve never made the big score: the television, the car, the big decorative check.

I’ve completed sweepstakes forms. I’ve listened to the advice of innumerable bottle caps and have tried again. Five years later, I still visit iWon.com for my daily chances to win. I continue spending a latte’s worth of my salary every week on my futile bid for state-sponsored number-running millions. My current strategy relies upon repetition of normal behavior: I go to the same Web site, I go to the same courtesy counter every week and buy the same set of numbers (the random ones), or I fill out the enclosed form and mail it off. So I’ve decided to alter my methodology.

With a flash of neo-Buddhist insight, I realized that my sweepstakes and contest entries have all sought to win prizes that I actually want for my own personal gratification. Money, new home theaters, and new cars would enrich my personal life. I would use their fruits in my daily pursuit of physical and materialist ease and pleasure. As such, of course Fortune does not favor me with these presents. Instead, I need to seek those prizes which I could neither use nor enjoy; only then could I grow spiritually through the gifts of random chance.

For example, I don’t travel much; I’m a little edgy leaving the warmth and comfort of the Midwest. For me, a good vacation is a long weekend in Springfield, Missouri, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin—familiar cities where I have relatives and where I know the coffee shops in which to read. So when Clausthaler offered me the chance to win a trip to a golf resort, I filled out my vitals and spent a stamp to send off the entry. A trip thousands of miles to play a sport I’ve only tried once, badly, in my youth. Certainly, the Fates can frown on me with this grand prize.

To keep with the reluctant traveler motif, I’ve recently entered a sweepstakes for an African Safari, which includes hunting on the savannah. I’ve not been hunting since my youth, when I spent several scattered days in cold marshes at dawn to bond with my father. I’ve never actually hunted by carrying a gun. I don’t have a passport, my immunizations are not up to date, and I’m not eager to leave the country for the continent that inspired Heart of Darkness and Anaconda. The prize would actually inconvenience me. No doubt Nike—the goddess and not the company—is signing the appropriate forms on Olympus even now.

Aside from those big, and travelsome, prizes, I’ve started looking closer to home for smaller scores. When local restaurants offer fishbowls in which customers can drop their business cards for the chance at a free meal, I only drop my business card in if it comes with strings attached, such as an hour’s consultation with a financial consultant whose first lesson is There is no such thing as a free lunch. Certainly, I have a shot at that grand prize.

I’ll continue entering sweepstakes, including the Publishers’ Clearinghouse and Readers’ Digest contests. By not purchasing, I’m not hurting my chances to win, but I’m really hoping that by not wanting, I’ll bolster my chances. Ergo, when given the choice between the sports car and the minivan, I’m licking the minivan stamp every time. Someday in the future, should you find me tooling around in a Dodge Caravan, know that I am not only a winner, but I am learning a lesson in self-deprecation.

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There’s Natural Laws, And Then There’s….

What goes up must come down? How quaint.

“Our townhouse in Wauwatosa, on the market for eight months, was reassessed at $391,000 last summer,” Boyce said. “Our asking price, after being lowered twice, is now $349,900 and still we have not received any legitimate offers. Assessments are completely out of whack with values.”

Government law trumps natural law, the laws of economics, and every other law it wants when it comes to getting its paws on tax money.

Don’t expect your property tax assessments to fall with the market. Expect, at best, they’ll hold steady until inflation or the government’s own meddling force real estate prices up again.

If you object too strenously, citizen, perhaps you’d prefer to see your house as a couple of parking spaces and a light standard for the new stadium/mall/mixed use complex, eh?

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Galt Protests

Here at the Noggle household, we’ve moved pretty much to LCD monitors for our various workstations, and the transition is not without its victims:

Galt atop the eMac

The cats used to love to climb atop the nice warm CRT monitors to nap. Now, this eMac is the last remaining CRT system in the house, and Galt vows to defend it.

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Savor the Experience: Tips on Making Simple Household Projects Last All Day

Like many men, I try to demonstrate power tool prowess from time to time. The “to” interval represents something like a quarter, so each “time” follows the preceding “time” by about three months. I’ve derived many of the following tips the hard way; that is, I have learned much of what I know from the thin prose and disconnected photographs in tool pornography magazines such as Handy and The Family Handyman. I haven’t actually completed many useful household projects, since I get my satisfaction from flipping through the magazines and dreaming. I am the son and grandson of remodeling contractors whose talents have apparently skipped a generation, but I have, up to four times annually, applied myself and my vast knowledge to improving my household. Ergo, I proffer advice appropriately to help you, too, turn a simple household project into an all-day affair.

Perhaps you’ve decided to put up surround-sound speakers for your home entertainment system. You just need to add a stereo outlet behind your entertainment center and run stereo wire through the walls to outlets for the rear speakers behind your sofa. It sounds fairly simple. Cut a couple holes in the paneling, run some wire between them. You could do it in an hour, right? Follow these tips, and your simple project will change into a life-transforming, all-day event.

  1. Always take shortcuts which don’t, in fact, save time.
    Some people, such as those who excelled in shop class in middle school, might tell you to begin your work by measuring, diagramming, or at least thinking ahead about what you’re going to do to your den before you start. Balderdash! Planning wastes valuable time that you could better spend admiring your handy work and accepting the accolades of your family and friends. You’ve probably procrastinated this particular chore long enough for it to work its way into an Andy Rooney parable. Haste prevents wasted time, and once more make a breach, dear friends, once more.

    Besides, you only need a couple of holes and some speaker wire.

  2. Don’t worry about having the right tools; use whatever you have at hand.
    Civilization developed from Neanderthals who bound rocks to sticks as tools. Millennia later, we have screwdrivers and hammers. Either has innumerable uses, and combined they represent all possible combinations of tools. If you’re going to add a sunroom to your home, you only need a hammer, a screwdriver, and maybe a pocket knife. You waste money when you buy custom tools that you’ll only use once. You’ll then store them forever, or at least until a visitor to your estate sale tries to convince your disinterested heirs that your heirlooms aren’t worth two dollars each.

    You can drill through the paneling in your den like a manic mosquito with a ½ inch with 3/8 inch reduced shank proboscis until you’ve got big enough bits to pass the wire through. You can fish in the hole with a bent coat hanger or a string to pull the cable. You’re set. Drill! Drill!

    Except your drill holes don’t give you much room; you can’t fit a finger in to feel for a coat hanger or a string. Since you will cover the speaker outlet with a faceplate, you could cut a bigger hole. You need a special saw to cut into the wall. What do they call that again? Oh, yeah, a drywall saw.

  3. Make many trips to the hardware store.
    Sometimes, I hate to admit, the trifecta of fom toolery listed above won’t serve your needs. If you’ve followed tip number 1, you’ll discover this when you have removed a number of panels and have disconnected power to the entire house (just in case). You’ll need an Allen wrench, one of the more exotic drivers, or a special tool for cutting wallboard or sheet metal—oddly enough, no tool cuts both well, not even that Swiss machinist knife you just sharpened.

    You’ll need to trek to your local hardware store or home improvement supercenter. Personally, I find nothing compares to the self-assured manliness I enjoy in the hardware store when I know exactly what I need to perform a specific task. The experience puts me in touch with my ancestors and bonds me as an equal to burly men who even today have to work for a living by doing useful things.

    Remember, both the cavernous superstore and the local, struggling family hardware store offer a particular time-wasting strength. The cavernous superstore makes the search for a particular grommet exceedingly difficult as you forage through acres of eight-foot high shelving for a couple dollars’ worth of plastic and metal. Even if you ask for help, the second-year high-school sophomore will need a manager, who has already committed to help another customer unlucky enough to find a teenage wonder-aboutkund.

    If the family hardware store remains open for business when faced with the competition of the national super lumberyard-and-hot-dog-stand, it has only a sixty percent chance of stocking your grommet. Fortunately, though, a drywall saw is a fairly common grommet, so the family hardware store probably has one. Just one, though, so hurry before another reader gets there to buy it.

    Whichever you choose, you face at least a half hour in your car and in the checkout line. When you get home, after you have carefully unwrapped the product from its box or blister wrap and have studiously ignored and lost the instructions, you will discover its power source requires charging or inconveniently-sized batteries.

  4. Innovate, adapt, or just try something different.
    A true handyman is handy, and can adapt and jerry rig to obtain the desired result. Some might say that this displays a great degree of synthetic thought, where one applies experience and inductive reasoning together, but anyone who uses terms like “synthetic thought” and “inductive reasoning” probably hires a professional for his or her home upgrades.

    In our project, we might discover that our new drywall saw doesn’t pierce wood paneling. You’re supposed to punch it against drywall and saw, but the tip bends on paneling. Still, you’ve got the drill; you can easily drill a large hole in each corner of the square you want to cut and connect the dots with the saw. However, trying this leads to a time-consuming process which yields a jagged, unpredictable cut. A jigsaw would speed the process, but that would require another trip to the hardware store and further expenditure.

    On the other hand, you still have the hammer and screwdriver in reserve. Perhaps you don’t need the jigsaw. You can adapt your technique to the tools at hand. You can use the screwdriver to pry the paneling from the wall and run the wire that way. Like Hannibal Smith and MacGyver rolled into one, you love it when an innovation comes together.

  5. Throw at least one, preferably more, tantrum that sets you back.
    It’s not uncommon to feel a little twinge of frustration after hours of futility in performing a simple task that you know a professional could accomplish in twenty minutes while intoxicated. Carefully devised shortcuts have failed. Innovations prove as troublesome as replaced, obsolete methodologies. Also, it doesn’t help that you’ve opened a gash in your finger that bleeds enough to make you want to save the blood in a can in case the hospital needs to put it back.

    You’ve bent screwdrivers because you didn’t have a crowbar handy. You’ve gone back to the hardware store to purchase your brand new crowbar. When you pry with your new, label-yet-affixed crowbar, the wood panel doesn’t appreciate your deft, gentle, and soothing touch and splits. We, and by “we” I mean “at least I did, and I hope I am not alone,” might feel a little rage. Not murderous, but a pure rage worthy of expression.

    Curse and tug with a final, gamma ray burst of strength. Revel in your own destructive capability as the paneling not only splits, but pulls free from the wall, tearing out the light switch faceplate, the light switch, and the telephone jack. The picture you didn’t remove (to save time, of course), crashes to the floor and sprays glass nuggets onto the carpet and into the chair in which you’d expected to nap. The thrill of proving your point instantaneously transforms into remorse; the speed of the transition creates a thunderclap, or perhaps that’s just further cursing. Also, don’t touch that sparking wire.

  6. Do what the professionals do.
    At this point in my projects, when my cursing reaches other rooms and sweat obscures the tunnel of my vision, my wife appears to ask if there’s anything she can do, or perhaps to see what she can save. As she’s seen me in this state before, she knows what to ask. “What would a professional do?”

    “Quit and get a retail job,” you might want to respond, as I often do, but the question has its merit. Take a step back from your current situation, reflect upon what you’re trying to do, and assess it coldly in the terms of dollars and sense. Imagine you were a kid fresh out of high school, a pierced-and-tattooed fellow with no military or college prospects who got a job and has to get up at six in the morning no matter how late the concert ended last night. Now imagine how his foreman would look at the situation.

    A professional would only do as much work as needed to achieve the result required. To place surround sound speakers, the professional would understand that opening the walls would run the cost of the project up intolerably. He would simply staple the wires along the baseboard or crown molding and in the room’s corners to the speakers. Incidentally, a professional already owns the staple gun and would not have to make another trip to the Ace Hardware.

    A professional moves confidently, partly because he’s done this at least once before. He won’t move with the heightened timidity from which we suffer, the gingerliness that leads to the sudden explosion of frustration. No, the professional is one cool customer. His calmness stems from the certainty that if he errs, he can fix the error, or at least cover it up cheaply. He can patch the unnecessary holes and somehow disguise the splintered break in the paneling, no problem. Smug bastard.

With that final insight, and with thirty minutes of draping wire like Christmas garland, you have successfully, relatively, completed a project for which you no longer feel any pride. Night has fallen, and clean-up operations remain, which include rearranging the room to mask any extra holes in the walls.

You have learned a valuable lesson from the experience, though. If you’re like me, you’ll remember how inadept you are at this sort of thing for at least two months. Fortunately, this schedule will minimize the damage you can do to your home and the number of times you must call contractors for catastrophic repairs. It certainly helps me.

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Laziness Is The Mother Of Perspective

Laziness is the mother of perspective. I’ve been taking the Wall Street Journal for some months now, receiving the well-rolled and well-wrapped papers in my driveway every morning. I threw them onto the passenger seat of my truck as I began my commute, but I soon forsook the pretense and pretentiousness of carrying the paper under my arm into my office for the cachet. Too frequently, the papers return home unread and accumulate on one end of the love seat. With a paper as expensive as the Wall Street Journal, you don’t throw it into the recycling bin or use it as fireplace kindling when you’re out of twenty-dollar bills without glancing at least at the section headlines.

Some weekends, though, I make a point of, at minimum, paging through the accumulated wisdom, and these blocs of skimming have instilled in me a greater understanding of history, or at least the relative insignificance in history of chatter, speculation, and sports-like spectator-ism that makes up ninety percent of the news coming from Washington and all other government seats.

Every day, I get my share of the chatter; I get headlines and news from the Internet, and I participate in the great diablog that occurs amongst like-minded individuals with Web logs. In the 2004 elections, I followed all of the barnstorming commentary at the speed of broadband. So I participate in the cheerleading and heckling that represents in-depth participation in politics in the 21st century. But October’s Wall Street Journals cured that when I read them in November.

Every night in October of some past year, I hoped to set aside twenty minutes or a half hour each evening to read the paper, knowing full well that I would have seen the storylines play out on The Drudge Report, the blogs, CNN.com, and the local paper’s Web site before I got to the print speculation. Still, I hoped for detailed analysis I didn’t get from the quick scans of headlines when the boss wasn’t looking. But life, chores, and computer games often interrupted my plan. Sometime in late October or early November, I allocated an afternoon to catch up and remove the papers that were beginning to tip the furniture. I had a reverse chronology of the preceding month’s triumphs and follies for America and for the party. But by reading the papers in reverse order, I inadvertently received the perspective of history.

That is, I knew how the early October tribulations resolved before I read the articles outlining the strategies and the pitfalls. In the Internet real-time world, the rhetoric fires up the base and counts individual ticks on the scorecard of history, but the almanacs only carry the name of the winner. So Harriet something-or-other isn’t a Supreme Court justice and some guy with a placid smile is. Ultimately, the individual plays, the calls from the opponents’ cheap seats, and the shouts of the pretty boys and girls through their cones didn’t impact the lives of most Americans.
Sure, nine placid smiles on the Supreme Court will make America one way, as would six placid smiles and three earnest frowns or six earnest frowns and three placid smiles. However, the great events that lead to that court and that change the country occur infrequently enough that one doesn’t have to arrest all normalcy to fight the good fight, or merely the fight (the difference lies in your position on the fight, of course).

Instead, I went about my business throughout October spending my immediacy on the things that directly impacted me (my job, household maintenance, my marriage, and too little exercise). Only when I read the preceding weeks’ papers did I realize the peril to our way of life, but by that time, with the solid knowledge of the continued progress of history, I wasn’t worried. It reminded me of watching a movie I’d seen before.

I once bought a box of Newsweek magazines from 1966-67 at an estate sale; I’d spent two dollars to purchase the year-long subscription in hopes of turning it into eBay wealth. As I searched individual issues for keywords to drive up the bidding, I found similar tropes: Viet Nam, Viet Nam, Lyndon Johnson, the decline of the west, and more Viet Nam. In 1967, it was an ongoing concern, dribbed and drabbed out nightly or weekly as needed by the media of the time to support their corporate habits. By the time I was born, Viet Nam was a conflagration unimagined within those archived magazines. In the thirty-five years before I bought the magazines, the living memory of the year faded to romantic youth for that generation. Within only a matter of decades, that year and its live-or-die will fade to simple line items in history books or full treatises among which historians can dig in libraries.

The politics, too, of our age will fade like this. Remember distinctly the congressional shutdown of 1995? I remember it, although it’s fading to a mere sentence and sense of what it meant. The immediacy and its attendant vehemence for that bastard who caused it—well, I can summon them in name only. So this years’ nominees, secretaries, and Congressional leaders might someday earn themselves trivia questions, but most won’t merit that. Between the now and that then, though, life will go on, regardless of what partisan emergencies erupt and, quite probably, how history’s sweep brushes aside our grave concerns.

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With Grating Power Comes Grab For More Grating Power

Greendale wants a say in Southridge’s future:

Greendale officials want to influence the changes in store for Southridge Mall – the village’s biggest taxpayer – as it comes under new ownership.

The village is seeking proposals from two planning firms – HNTB Corp. and R.A. Smith and Associates Inc. – to develop its own vision for the mall’s future, Village Manager Joseph Murray said.

Conversations have focused on whether the 110-acre complex, the largest shopping mall in the state, could support mixed-use development, whether housing could be part of that mix, and costs associated with various redevelopment plans, Village President John Hermes said. Talks have been in progress for several months.

How come newspapers never ask the big question, by what right does the government think it should exert influence in private business transactions?

Maybe it’s just as well; the answer would be Might, perhaps followed by a little inquisition against those who would challenge the ever-increasing authority.

Don’t think we can? No permits for you.
Think we’re sliding totalitarian? So, is this your car parked eighteen inches from the curb? I think we’ll have to boot it.

And so on, and so on.

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Orchestra Doesn’t Think Of Itself As Entertaining

Beethoven’s Fifth + 5%:
Seeking a refund, orchestra says concerts are educational and shouldn’t be subject to sales tax

Are performances by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra entertainment or education?

Think carefully about the answer. Millions of dollars depend on it.

According to the state, orchestra concerts are entertainment, and therefore sales tax must be paid on tickets.

For years, the orchestra has been paying the state sales tax on the face value of each ticket sold, and it continues to do so. The money is paid out of general orchestra funds. Now the orchestra wants a refund.

The local sports teams cannot wait to explain that they’re big phys ed classes.

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California Regulators Nostalgic For Rolling Blackouts

Remember rolling blackouts in California in 2001? Apparently, so do the power utility regulators, and the Public Utility Commission misses them:

California regulators on Thursday banned the three companies that supply most of the state’s power from buying electricity from high-polluting sources, including most coal-burning plants.

The rules are aimed at reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. While there are almost no coal-fired plants in California, about 20 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal plants in other Western states.

“It represents a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to address the challenge of climate change,” said Michael Peevey, president of the Public Utilities Commission.

Not to mention a significant milestone in ongoing efforts to throttle supply while demand continues to rise. No doubt, though, when the unforeseen consequences (unforeseen by the blinkered green government officials, but obvious to anyone with any insight into economics above the grade school level), the Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission (in California, they need 2 bureaucracies to cover it) will find some corporation that’s to blame for people getting trapped in elevators, for server farms crashing, and for elderly people dying from heat.

But rest assured, the costs to the economy and the citizens of California are worth it for some negligible, unproven impact on the Mother Gaea.

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Book Report: Dirty Work by Stuart Woods (2003)

I inherited this book from my aunt who died in 2005. She was probably not a big Stuart Woods fan, but rather a purchaser of books at yard sales who hoped to make money on them on eBay. Which is good, because this book then doesn’t reflect poorly upon her tastes.

The book centers on a series character, Stone Barrington, a lawyer who doesn’t work in the courtroom but rather as a fixer. He hires an inept camera man to photograph a husband in flagrante delecto, but the photographer falls through the skylight and lands on the husband, who has been murdered by a superstar assassin. What’s more, he’s taken the only photo of her known to exist. But Barrington is in trouble for his lackey’s presumed killing of the husband.

Well, then we get British Intelligence involved and the New York Police Department (Barrington, former NYPD himself, has a friend on the force who accompanies him through much of the novel). Barrington jets to the Caribbean to retrieve the bail-jumping photog and arranges a face-to-face meeting with the assassin, and re-beds a member of British Intelligence. It’s clear we’re not dealing with a depth of characterization here, but really a plot that moves along quickly and provides a nice read.

I even pointed out to some people while reading this book that you can shelve some characterization when you’ve got a well-paced plot that drives action forward. It’s forgiveable, I said. It’s light reading.


200 some pages into the book and the story could have concluded. But no, the events had to hinge upon a random event in the Caribbean. Not a coincidence, but a it’s sick cousin the contrivance. With this contrivance, the story continued and eventually denouementated in a rather unsatisfying fashion.

I was with it for about 2/3 of the book, and the remainder was painful.

I won’t go out of my way to pick up any new Stuart Woods, but I’m afraid I might have another of Woods’s work in the pile here. I mean, I am not angry, merely sad, and perhaps another book that handles its plot better would revive my interest. But if you’ve got a plot-driven book and the plot makes the reader say, “Oh, come on,” you’re in trouble.

But hey, you can buy it in paperback here:

Books mentioned in this review:

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Brian Dump

You might notice, in the next couple of days (as you might notice today and yesterday), a number of longer-than-normal pieces on the old blog here. I’ve got a hard disk drive full of essays and whatnot that I didn’t place in printed publications, so I’m foisting them on you, gentle reader, one by one.

Because I don’t want to overwhelm you with my eloquence. At least, not more than once a day.

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Hourly Radio Stock Market Updates

Whenever I catch the midday hourly news on the radio, I can’t wait to hear the stock report. Typically, I hear it on my way to lunch or back from lunch. My commute coincides with the final minute allocated to local news on the jazz, country, or greatest hits of the 60s-70s-80s-90s-and-today radio station. I’m always eager to hear the instant analysis of a bored local brokerage functionary or the economic epiphany suffered by the newsreader.

The stock market is down at this hour…” the deep FM voice narrates. Quite frankly, the day traders who inflated the stock market bubble at the end of the last century didn’t rely on radio to make decisions. The Internet allows people to check the instant progress of their individual portfolios. The day traders who are still trading, instead of flipping burgers or bagging groceries, have access to mystical Level-2 quotes, which are somehow better than simple quotes everyone can get on Yahoo! So FM Man is talking to himself, and me, alone in my truck at a stoplight.

…as investors react to the latest White House pronouncement / War on Terror speculation / forgettable Reality TV Show decision….” The professionally-trained or university-radio-station-warm-body intones. I’m unclear on what authority the newsreader makes this prognostication or diagnosis, but it’s probably right. Short-term reactions in the marketplace include short-term investors who react to the slightest jostle in the world marketplace by shrieking that someone has picked their pockets. Employment has dropped to 94.2 percent? SELL SELL SELL! The guy on the radio says the market’s down? SELL SELL SELL!

Of course, those who sell on whatever macroeconomic metrics arrive from political, pop cultural, or sociological sources don’t consider the nature of their individual investments. They lose sight of the long-term prospects of the companies of which they have become a part and in whose long-term direction they, as investors, can exert some small amount of control. Instead, they try to be the head cows in the stampede into or out of a bull run on Wall Street or Main Street, or wherever investors huddle. These short-sighted investors react to the lemming clarion call of astrological percentages and to the deep, comforting voice on our radios that makes it into a daily catechism.

The Dow Jones is down 56.75 points and the NASDAQ is down just under 10,” the fickle fate of Frequency Modulation reports. These numbers represent a selective representation of how certain big name firms, selected especially for their big names, traded that day. Personally, I don’t own anything indexed by Dow Jones or the NASDAQ exchange, so their numbers don’t tell me whether I can retire in 40.2 years or 45.9; instead, they tell me something else, of what I am not certain, but the helpful newsreader and his or her friendly analysts will color the results for me, Joe-Six-Pack-of-Guinness, to understand.

That simple hourly report, crammed into five seconds, fails to capture the state of the United States or world economy. Instead, it only represents the latest sports score in the never-ending playoff between the Bulls and the Bears, played on the limited field of the indices. I can chuckle, or cluck, at the purported performance, but I know the current, somber market report has little impact on my ragtag fugitive fleet of bonds, equities, and mutual funds. By the time the announcer breaks for the updated weather forecast, his prognostication for financial well-being will be as irrelevant as it is forgotten.

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Highly Paid Flack Paid To Defend Restaurant Industry Defends Restaurant Industry From Raging Chihuahua

U.S. restaurants blast Kevin Federline TV ad:

A leading restaurant association has called for the cancellation of a TV commercial featuring Britney Spears’ estranged husband, Kevin Federline, as a failed rap star working in a fast-food eatery.

In a 30-second ad for Nationwide Insurance, Federline is shown dreaming he is a rap star but then snaps out of it to face reality — he’s working at a burger restaurant.

The commercial is due to be aired during the National Football League’s Super Bowl championship on Sunday, February 4, advertising’s biggest televised sporting event of the year. Last year’s Super Bowl drew more than 90 million viewers.

But the National Restaurant Association’s Chief Executive Steven Anderson has written to Nationwide saying the ad leaves the impression that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant and asking the commercial to be dumped.

“An ad such as this would be a strong and a direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry,” wrote Anderson, head of the association that represents 935,000 U.S. restaurants.

What a stuffed shirt.

Because no one working in a restaurant dreams of a better life; no, says this comfortably office bound and expense-account bearing gentleman, who could dream of something better or who could recognize humor in their situation when working in a restaurant? Not the mindless automatons in the industry.

But his press release got into the paper, didn’t it?

And you, consumer, do you think more highly of the restaurant (owners and franchisers) of America that they have chosen this stalwart Dun Quixote to stand up for them (but not their workers)?

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I Forgot, Which Is Bad, Perpetuating Or Mocking Stereotypes?

MLK Party Causes Uproar on Texas Campus:

Authorities at Tarleton State University said they plan to investigate a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party that mocked black stereotypes by featuring fried chicken, malt liquor and faux gang apparel.

“I feel like there is no excuse for this type of ignorance,” said Donald Ray Elder, president of the Stephenville school’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

So mocking stereotypes is as offensive and ignorant as actually believing them?

Ah, who cares, let’s call the attorneys. Certainly having a sense of humor should be worth some punitive damages to those who do not.

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