Book Report: Journey to Cubeville by Scott Adams (1998)

In the midst of reading a Jane Austen novel triggering an Anna Karenina moment, I read this collection of Dilbert cartoons from a decade ago. Dilbert’s comedy level is pretty good and pretty consistent, and fortunately the corporate world has continued to live down to the comic strip’s estimation.

What more insight into it do you want? It’s Dilbert, for crying out loud.

Books mentioned in this review:

Thank God He’s Not A Country Boy

This weekend, someone posted a bit about how Barack Obama should take note lessons from Hank William, Jr.,’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” to court the rural vote. As someone who listens to Hank Williams, Jr., for pleasure, I’d have to point out that Barack Obama could not actually adhere to the philosophy the song encompasses. Let’s do a line-by-line of the lyrics, shall we?

The preacher man says it’s the end of time
For starters, this line indicates going to church, and many of the Democrat leaders only appear in church around election time. Some of the most faithful Democratics I know in the urbanati are active, enthusiastic atheists. So this line and its millenial, evangelical preacher man don’t conform with many Democrat candidate leanings, much less Obama’s–who has preacher man problems of his own, as those who dwell amongst the blogs know.

And the Mississippi River she’s a goin’ dry
A good environmental millenialism. Democrats already tap into the global warming/environmental disaster meme, but so does McCain (sadly). So Obama has nothing to learn here.

The interest is up and the stock market’s down
Well, this economic malaise millenialism fits a Democrat theme, but it doesn’t hold terribly true according to current metrics. The interest rates are way down, and the stock market is a bit behind, but not far off. The song was originally recorded in 1981, and the economic malaise was inherited from Carter (D) with the conditions. Put that sweater on and shiver in it.

And you only get mugged
If you go downtown

Now, we have a bit of a disconnect. The fear of crime and a strong law-and-order impulse are mostly Republican weighted issues. City cores and the urban rulers and voters trend Democratic, so some suburban types (such as me) see the hellholes in cities and think they’re problems caused by Democratic policies until a Giuliani cleans them up. Banging a drum too loudly about how screwed up cities are might draw attention to how they got that way.

I live back in the woods, you see
A woman and the kids, and the dogs and me

A nuclear family. Sounds good. But who is it that mocks family values? Oh, yeah, the urbanati.

I got a shotgun, rifle, and a 4-wheel drive
Guns and a fuel-consuming sport utility vehicle (with dogs and kids, I’d picture a Chevy Blazer). Any urbanati Democrat candidate that espoused these would look foolish and somewhat hypocritical. Like Obama is doing now.

And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

I don’t think this is what the urbanati care about. All they care is that the rural folks fail to outvote their urban voters, who will probably go Democrat anyway.

I can plow a field all day long
I can catch catfish from dusk till dawn

As Kerry and other urban Democrat candidates know, regaling voters with stories of harvesting grain or being lifelong hunters doesn’t work, since you’re likely to make a gaffe or slip into cornpone accents.

We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
Ain’t too many things these ole boys can’t do

Whereas Obama might appreciate a good homemade smoke, Democrats aren’t terribly interested in unregulated craft manufacturing. None of our government officials are, really; if there’s a lobbying group that wants to keep upstarts out, the government leaders pass certification and licensing laws. Never mind that; what else are we talking about here? Ah, yes, smoking and drinking, the new anathemas to modern urbanati living, which must be banned in as many locations as possible. Which is “all” to some minds.

We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

The song is an anthem to self-reliance. Growing your own food and making your own booze? But Democrat initiatives don’t expect that much of constituents. No, instead, here, have some free money and free cheese. Vote for me, and next time it’s more free money and maybe some chicken. Please don’t spend that money on seeds, or we’ll cut your benefit.

Because you can’t stomp us out
And you can’t make us run
‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotgun

Resilience and tenacity. Put some bombs bursting in air, and you’ve got “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

We say grace and we say Ma’am
And if you ain’t into that we don’t give a damn

This is a libertarian impulse coupled with a traditional conservative respect for others and belief in God. Unfortunately, one does not get the sense that the Democrat party platform is about not giving a damn about other people’s business. Sadly, neither is the Republican party’s in many places. But I doubt Obama’s “Change” involves not freaking out about how tall your neighbor’s lawn is or whether Georgia allows this when Connecticut does not (What! Let’s pass a Federal statute to make it the same everywhere according to the prevailing busybody taste!)

We came from the West Virginia coal mines
And the Rocky Mountains and the western skies

No, the Democrat frontrunners come from the cities and other urbanati enclaves in academic environments. Saying you’re authentic or that you’ve worked for a living won’t make it so, so let’s not just drop a hard hat with a carbide lamp on you for a photo op, okay?

We can skin a buck; we can run a trot line
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

Skinning Bambi? Catching fish? Hurting Mother Gaia’s more important children? Okay, I’m adding urbanati hysterics for fun here, but a lot of urbanati want to limit hunting in myriad ways. I don’t know Obama’s voting record on these issues, but I’d guess they’re either “Present” or not against the limitations.

I had a good friend in New York City
He never called me by my name, just hillbilly

That’s actually probably in line with urbanati conversation, although “redneck” has replaced hillbilly as the appellation for choice for those not fortunate enough to live amid the concrete warrens of the like-minded.

My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
And his taught him to be a businessman
He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
And I’d send him some homemade wine

An exchange of the “service economy” versus people who actually make stuff for a living. A photo for a product. To the urbanati, that’s a good exchange. Perhaps Obama has already tapped into this, offering style instead of substance.

But he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife
For 43 dollars my friend lost his life
Again, the crime in the city. The Ed Koch years. Remember the 1970s and 1980s and the New York City of that era? Yeah, to urbanati of a certain age, living there amid the crime and the crumbling gives them credibility. Unfortunately, Obama’s not that old. Banging the drum of street crime won’t endear him to the urban vote.

I’d love to spit some beechnut into that dude’s eyes
And shoot him with my old .45
Cause a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

What, with a handgun? Citizens cannot be trusted with handguns. Just lock yourself behind a hollow core closet door and call 911. Then your survivors can lose a lawsuit because police do not have a duty to protect any individual.

Cause you can’t stomp us out, and you can’t make us run
‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotgun.
We say grace, and we say Ma’am
And if you ain’t into that we don’t give a damn.

We’re from North California and south Alabam
And little towns all around this land
And we can skin a buck; we can run a trot line
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

I don’t think there’s much in the song for Obama to embrace, authentically and sincerely. The Democratic Party encourages dependency, more than even the other party that encourages dependency upon its largess when in power. Strong libertarian messages coupled with a marked belief in traditional values won’t sound right coming from Obama’s mouth, not if he’s also professing to be the fount of all change and goodness and impending utopia.

(Links courtesy of Outside the Beltway and Instapundit.)

A Positive Spin on a Recession

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page headline on Sunday put a positive spin on any potential recession or economic slowing:

Recessions cause belt-tightening

That is: A recession would have a positive impact on the obesity epidemic in America! I mean, if you’re tightening your belt, you’re losing weight, am I right?

Apparently, the Post-Dispatch thought it over and didn’t want any positive spin on it at all, which is why the story is entitled As the economy slips, consumer face tough choices.

Still, a recession or, even better, a depression, would get Americans back down to sustenance level calories, which would no doubt prepare us for a post-Kyotoesque-treaty economy.

Good Book Hunting: April 5, 2008

So this weekend marked the first really dangerous book fair of the season: The St. John’s United Church of Christ book fair. We went to this one last year, so I knew what to expect: I picked up a box right when I went through the door instead of pretending I was only going to buy one or two things and then picking up a box after I accumulated a dozen books.

In the end, I needed two boxes for my books, not including the books for the other residents here. The stacks:

St. John's 2008 offerings to the Noggle Library
Click for full size

To sum up my acquisitions:

  • 19 volumes of the Time-Life Books series The Great Ages of Man. Okay, it’s apparently 18 volumes (1 duplicate) from the (I know see) 21 volume set. Still, a nice primer on some history stuff. Good idea books, I hope. As I get older, I’m acquiring more and more of these sets so that I or my children will have them to kind of page through in a way you really can’t with Wikipedia.
  • A couple Dell Shannon mysteries. He wrote mysteries in the 1960s where the crimes are all fairly minor. They’re police procedurals, and sort of pastoral police procedurals now.
  • A couple of Mike Shayne paperbacks. Good, short pulp bits that I cut my teeth on when I was a lad.
  • The April Robin Murders, a paperback co-written by Ed McBain?
  • Take the Money and Die, a paperback mystery I bought simply because it was that close to the others I picked up. Seriously. Collateral collectage.
  • No Witnesses by Ridley Pearson, a writer from the next suburb whose work I have yet to read. I own one of his books in Swedish, so it’s nice to have something by him that I can read.
  • A stack of gardening books because I’ve planted some things. Most of them are small, brochurish things from the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Coping in the 80s because I want to see how I managed.
  • Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries.
  • A biography of Robert Burns because I don’t already have one.
  • Dickens’s Hard Times and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row to pile onto my classical material.
  • A couple of Rod McKuen books, Lonesome Cities and And to Each Season, so I can screw up the next childright from birth, too.
  • On Flirtation, a psych book about flirting.
  • A book by Bob Hope from the 1960s. You know, I’ve not read any book by him. He can’t be worse than Sinbad or Judy Tenuta.
  • The Giant Book of Insults because I have a long list of people to insult.
  • Literary St. Louis: A Guide. Ironic, isn’t it, that I’m actively catching up to William Gass (I hope) with one of his books?
  • Godless by Ann Coulter. It’s worth a buck, and she’s not getting any portion of it.
  • Gravity by Tess Gerritsen. At the checkout, my wife said she already owned a copy. However, she is not me. Now I own a copy and will read it, eventually.
  • The World of George Orwell, a picture and sort of bio of Eric Blair. Because (say it with me), I didn’t own one already.

I also got two videocassettes, National Lampoon’s Class Reunion and Pink Floyd at Pompeii. They were $2.00 each; had I known that, I would not have gotten the first. Had I seen it before I bought it, I wouldn’t have spent another dollar on it.

Total spent: $61.75. Total books for me: 48. Total for household: 61.

Looks like I’m going to have to forgo some heavy reading for a bit to clear some of the backlog.

And the Old Trees and Kirkwood library friends, not to mention the Carondolet Y book fair, are still to come this year.

In the Pecking Order, Citizen, It’s Government > You

Here in the great county of St. Louis (no relation any more to the city of St. Louis, ha ha!), the county council has determined that you, citizen, must not only pay for weekly trash removal under penalty of a fine, but you must now also have weekly recycling pickup, too, whether you want it or not. Oh, yeah, you have to pay for it, too, which makes it yet another unfunded mandate from your elected representatives.

One of the good councilmen, John Campisi, is trying to get an exemption for citizens who don’t generate that much. But one of the whiny government officials is afraid of what that would cost the government:

Garry Earls, the county’s chief operating officer, said finding out who would be exempt would be an administrative nightmare. “Somebody would have to pay the cost” of such an effort, he said.

Companies that add a charge for recyclable pickups “are challenging customers to shop around for another hauler,” Earls said. The bidding by hauling companies for the trash collection districts should drive down prices, he said.

Hah, hah! One, Earls is pointing out that it’s okay for the government to force citizens to pick up a tab based on its whims, but the government paying for administration of its own intrusive powers, whoa, Chester!

Also, the fair COO fails to note that in many municipalities and garbage collection districts, your government does not let you choose a waste hauler and/or subsidizes a particular hauler. Because that would distract the reporter and the paper readers with facts, when it’s more important he get a self-serving snarky remark in.

If the Headline Has A Question Mark, The Answer Is No

Funny how newspapers run stories that agree with their unmarked policy positions with headlines that assert truth, but stories that call into question their rah-rahing of government growth or crony capitalism merit question marks. Here’s one in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the new ballpark, Miller Park: Miller Park: Economic promises got it built. Has it paid?

If the experts are questioning or debating, the answer is not an untrammeled “Yes,” is it? It just means some experts could find some metric that was encouraging.

Maybe Milwaukee needs a new, public-funded archery arena in the same neighborhood to really turn on the destination venue tap.

Crestwood Mall To Become Land Boondoggle To Benefit Private Developer At Expense Of Taxpayer Money

Well, the actual headline is Crestwood mall to become open-air lifestyle center, but it looks to be another case of a mechanism to support the risk-free lifestyle large land developers enjoy in the 21st century:

Crestwood Plaza will be at least partially demolished and transformed into an open air lifestyle center, according to one of its new owners, Chicago-based Centrum Properties.

Centrum along with New York investment advisor Angelo, Gordon & Co purchased the 48-acre mall from Australian shopping-mall giant Westfield Group for an undisclosed sum. Westfield bought the mall, built in 1957, for $106.4 million in 1998.

The deal, reported first in the Post-Dispatch by columnist Joe Whittington two months ago, closed on March 26. The mall has been temporarily renamed Crestwood Court.

“It had not been aggressively managed for years,” said Sol Barket, Centrum’s managing partner of retail development. “We saw it as a great opportunity to create an open air lifestyle center.”

A great opportunity to soak the taxpayers of another state, you mean.

“We will also require subsidies from the city of Crestwood,” he said.

Of course.

The sale came as the mall’s future was hanging in doubt. A number of retailers have pulled out of the center, including anchor retailer Dillard’s Inc., which closed in October. Crestwood has two other anchors, Sears and Macy’s.

You know why the future was in the balance and why traffic dwindled and whatnot? Partly, because businesses couldn’t prognosticate what sort of cockamamie plan the city would come up with and get suckered into. Well, there it is.

Money paid to developers, or money not collected from developers. Meanwhile, watch your ballots for incremental tax increases to fund basic services that will suffer from a mysterious problem in lack of funds from existing sources.

Book Report: Rambo: First Blood Part II by David Morrell (1985)

As you might remember, I just read First Blood recently and liked the first part of it, but didn’t like the ending. I’d bought this book, but later bought that book and read it first so I could follow the story. Not that “the kid” from First Blood, who died at the end, and a character played by Sylvester Stallone would have much in common. This book follows the movie from First Blood.

Well, what can I say? It expands a bit on the movie, giving some interior world to the stock characters from the movie, but it also sexualizes the violence a bit, and Morrell must have worked from an incomplete script, because it doesn’t follow the movie exactly. Still, it was 250 pages, and I read it in 3 hours, so it’s not as though I spent weeks on it. It was a good break between outings in pre-Victorian English novels.

The author’s forward provided a bit of a bright spot. In it, the author said, “Yeah, he died in the first book. But here’s where you can buy the cool knife, bow, and arrows from the movie!” Also, another amusing bit occurred when I read about Rambo gearing up for his insertion into Vietnam. I misread a passage, and snorted. “He’s putting .45 rounds into an AK-47,” I told my beautiful wife. “Everyone knows AK-47s take 7.62mm rounds.” “How do you know,” she asked, almost like she challenged me when I mocked Spare Change. I mean, I’m a man, aren’t I?

Books mentioned in this review: