"Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools."

- J.K. Rowling, 2008 Harvard Commencement Address
'The Casablanca Tango,' by James Lileks


City Hall is a full block of rough stone with a thick finger pointing up at God. It’s like something that was left standing after wind and water wore away the weaker stone. Used to be purple, but it wears a coat of coal dust like most of the buildings downtown. A thing of glory when it went up, but forty years of cops and politicians will rub the polish off the nicest cuspidor.

That’s Minneapolis City Hall. I know it well – I used to work about two blocks away, but about 25 years after 1947, the time of this novel.

James Lileks, who’s rather popular in these parts (speaking both culturally and geographically) is producing a series of mystery novels set in Minneapolis over a period of decades. They’re not coming out in chronological order, for reasons which will doubtless be made clear in the fullness of time. The first book, Graveyard Special, which I reviewed here, was amusing but perhaps not entirely successful. The new one is Casablanca Tango, and I think it’s even better, though not perfect.

The Casablanca, to which the title alludes, is a bar across the street from the Citizen-Herald, the newspaper where the narrator works. The narrator is John Crosley, a photographer, who plays Watson to the Holmes of Harold Holman, ace reporter. They’re both veterans recently back from WWII. They’re the first on the scene when several men and a girl are murdered in the Casablanca one day. Three lines have been drawn with blood on the girl’s forehead. Soon after, another girl is murdered, with four red lines drawn on her body, and soon the police are on the hunt for a serial killer. But Harold and John are curious about mob ties and a political plan to raze the Gateway District, a run-down downtown neighborhood.

The greatest pleasure of The Casablanca Tango is the immense amount of research Mr. Lileks has put in to recreating a city only barely recognizable today (the clearing of the Gateway District here was just the start). Even if you don’t know Minneapolis, you’ll feel like you visited it. He mentions more than one restaurant I ate in myself, decades later but before the concrete wave of redevelopment obliterated them.

The writing and dialogue are good, and there’s an authentic hard-boiled flavor to them ("I've seen flies land on eyes that had more life than hers"). Unfortunately the author seems to lose sight of the forest for the trees sometimes – he has a disconcerting way of losing track of his characters’ hair color, for instance (he describes one woman in a single sentence as being a blonde with black hair). He introduces a peripheral character named “Cecil,” who is obviously standing in for Cedric Adams, a newspaper columnist and broadcaster who pretty much owned the town in those days (I remember him). Then, about half-way through the book he drops the pseudonym and Cecil openly becomes Cedric. He also identifies Hawthorne as the poet of the “Song of Hiawatha.” He really needed an editor, or at least a better one.

I'll say this though -- the culprit was not who I expected, and not who most writers would have fingered.

On balance I give The Casablanca Tango four stars. It’s as good a voyage through time as you’re going to get for $3.99

Lecrae: 'Christian is my faith, not my genre.'

Musican Lecrae has some good thoughts on Christians as makers of culture in this interview with Eric Geiger from last year. He says he doesn't want to be labeled Christian by his claims of faith, but by his practice of faith. The interview is 20 minutes long. For an hour long take on music and Lecrae in particular, see this post with Ed Stetzer.

Reading Uninterrupted

Shut off your devices and read a while. "Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize." (via Loren Eaton)

For something of a contrast, here's a brief article from a subway photographer. "If I worked from inside the subway car instead of from the platform, I discovered, I could come closer to my subjects, allowing the viewer to appreciate the intimate relationship between reader and book. While shooting Wall Street Stop, however, I found that the printed book was rapidly losing ground to iPhones, tablets, and e-readers."

Talk Ye Like a Pirate, Me Hearties!

“If it comes to a swinging, swing all, say I.”

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and my little family plans to catch a dozen free doughnuts at Krispy Kreme. If you talk like Long John Silver, they'll give you a doughnut. If you dress like Blackbeard, you'll get a dozen. That's our mark, matey. Other establishments may have deals in your are, but Talk Like a Pirate Day is really about the office watercooler.

“Dead men don't bite," you might say to your shipmate who won't throw you overboard. "Heaven, you fool? Did you ever year of any pirates going thither? Give me hell, it's a merrier place: I'll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance." This is an especially good line for those who have a Roberts on board.

If you're looking for inspiration like some of what I've quoted here, search for quotes from Treasure Island and records of historic quotations.

"In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." Thus spake Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts, according to the scribe, and who can argue with him?

What's more? Here be a boon of quotes for ye, nancy-pants!

Update: In the spirit of authenticity, here's a page with history of some piratey words.

It's Not About Winning, But Win Anyway.



Jeffrey Overstreet talks about sports-and-faith movies in relation to the recent film When the Game Stands Tall. He says movies of this type usually reinforce bad ideas and behaviors.

"It’s a simple formula," he says. "Show that winning and losing is fraught with trouble if the game is played for the wrong reasons (for glory, for money, for self-gratification). Then show the athletes learning some Sunday school lessons about humility and teamwork. And once they’ve learned those lessons, then give the audience the satisfaction of seeing those who are In The Right achieve personal victories (reconciling the family, winning the virtuous but skeptical girl, overcoming the bullies)… and, usually, scoreboard victories as well."

The story easily preaches that good guys or the faithful will win, and God will win it for you, supporting the common belief that a good life with earn good rewards. There's truth there, but when life gets hard or unjust, then we will crumble if our faith is in this formula, not the living God. I think the church in America needs the backbone that would come from knowing God is faithful even when we don't win.

Jeff offers a good list of ideas he would like to see challenged in a movie about sports:

  • "how the commercialization of sports ends up encouraging lifestyles that are the antithesis of teamwork, health, and wholeness;
  • how money corrupts the whole enterprise, from outrageous salaries to the excesses of the circuses that tend to surround professional sports events;
  • how sports culture glorifies youth, and finds little of value in the experience of aging, so that athletes vanish from the national stage once they are too old to dominate the stage (unless they have enough charisma to become part of the youth-worshipping media machine);
  • how “fan spirit” usually devolves into tribalism."


That's only half of his list. Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? If you like, share your thoughts on other sports-themed movies.

Many New Bestseller Lists

For years, the New York Times has curated the most coveted bestseller lists of our day. Now they are building on that strength by adding such topics as Travel, Humor, Family, Relationships, Animals, Politics, Manga, and many more, each list bound to occupy literary banterers and book ballyhoo-ers for an hour or so. These won't be published every week. Some will rotate through the month.

Melville House has dug up even more lists to be introduced by everyone's friends at the New York Times Book Review. Here are some of the lists you will want to keep on eye on.

Most Fully Realized: Every week, The New York Times Book Review describes dozens of books as being “fully realized.” This lists ranks the top ten fully realized books from “Most Fully Realized” to “Least Most Fully Realized.”

Bestselling Young Adult (Cancer): The most successful books for teenagers that include cancer as a major or minor subplot.

James Patterson: The 10 bestselling James Patterson books released this month. (BTW, Patterson has outsold every other living author and holds a Guinness record for most books on the NY Times Bestseller List.)

Bestselling Non-Sellers: Amazon gives lots of books away for free. The “Best Non-Sellers List” will rank the top books downloaded by Amazon users for $0.00.

Literature: No genre fiction. Unless, of course, genre is employed ironically.

A Wee Bit More from Caledonia

"There must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill,
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet;
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet
Beneath each birken shade, on mead or hill.
There each trim lass that skims the milky store
To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots;
By night they sip it round the cottage-door,
While airy minstrels warble jocund notes."

From Wiliam Collins, "An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry"

100 Best Scottish Novels

The Herald of Scotland is culling a list of the 100 best Scottish novels from their readers. They have 30 so far, including The Death of Men by Allan Massie, The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown, and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott.

Readers might take this recent list of crime fiction into consideration. They say Scotland can have an sobering, perhaps despairing, effect on people. Writer Helen Fitzgerald appears to disagree.

“My mum said 20 years living in the grey, murder capital of Western Europe, has made me write about darkness, despair, and deviance. She suggested I come home to Australia to write something with hope and joy in it. Taking her advice, I headed downunder in December, sat at an outside table in a cheerful, sunny beach-side cafe, and started writing. The story I started writing is about a dysfunctional Australian couple who accidentally overdose, kill and bury their baby whilst a raging bushfire burns folk to a crisp in the distance. Sorry Mum, it’s not Glasgow. It’s me.”

What Privileges Come From Being White?

Sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter: Tallahassee, FloridaPeople have begun to publically worry that the world is forgetting what happened in Ferguson, Missouri over a month ago. I haven’t forgotten. I was praying for the families there this morning.

I could say many things about the Michael Brown shooting, how the police have handled it, how the community has handled it, the demonstrations, and the militarization of civil police forces. My perspective on these things has been stretched, and I don’t want ignore it. So let’s talk about “white privilege.”

You can see it in videos like this, showing a social experiment. A white guy tries to break into a car for thirty minutes, alarm blaring, without being questioned or stopped. A black guy does the same for less than five minutes before police show up. You have to assume witnesses believed the white guy had lost his keys (or something legit), but the black guy was obviously committing a crime. (Here’s a man’s reaction to the video, blaming blacks for legitimizing the stereotype they dislike.) I’m told the same kind of experiment has been tried with two men and a woman, each pushing a car up a street. Witnesses ignore the white man, question (or call police on) the black man, and offer to help the white woman.

In these cases, white privilege—no matter what the term may imply when pundits and professors use it—means being able to get on with your life without harassment, even when your car has broken down. Dr. Jarvis Williams describes other ways the term applies: getting a job or promotion, hailing a cab, or walking around a department store on your own merits, not being judged by the color of your skin. As a white man, I have never thought I could look suspicious while browsing a store, but that has been the experience of many respectable people who are judged regularly by their skin color. The absence of that public suspicion is what “white privilege” means.
Read the rest of this entry . . .

'Wolf Time' now available as an e-book!



My novel Wolf Time, so long out of print, is now available as an e-book! Kindle version available here.

Authors Donating to Iraqi Christians

A Facebook community of authors are donating September's royalties to Iraqi Christians through Voice of the Martyrs. They call themselves Authors in Solidarity. We've reviewed a few of books featured in this community. Lars is donating his royalties from Hailstone Mountain (The Erling Skjalgsson Saga Book 4). There's New Found Dream: Book Two of "A Healer's Tale", The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, Bid the Gods Arise (The Wells of the Worlds) (Volume 1), and many more. Let us know if you join this effort to help Christians in Iraq.

Following Your Heart Will Lead to Death

"Dante shows us that you can just as easily go to Hell by loving good things in the wrong way as you can by loving the wrong things," Rod Dreher explains. He has been reading The Divine Comedy for the first time and is working on a book about it.

All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.

This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good. For contemporary readers, especially young adults, Dante’s encounter with Francesca da Rimini, one of the first personages he meets in Hell, is deeply confounding. Francesca is doomed to spend eternity in the circle of the Lustful, inextricably bound in a tempest with her lover, Paolo, whose brother—Francesca’s husband—found them out and murdered them both.
She says romantic poetry taught her of Love's power and held her entralled to her heart's passion. "Can love be selective?" she might ask. Can anyone control their passions?

"We know, however, that it is really lust," Dreher says, "and that her grandiose language in praise of romantic passion is all a gaudy rationalization." Dante is overcome at the end of his encounter with Francesca, but not perhaps by her fate at a seemingly small thing. He may be overcome by the idea that his own poetry encouraged her to follow her heart into death.

Shut Out Chatterbox

Aaron Armstrong reviews Stephen Furtick's Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God's Voice Above All Others, saying it has plenty of good advice but fails to connect it to the gospel. "Instead, we get this advice: 'The gospel says that those who do not forget the past are condemned to repeat it,'" Armstrong reports.

Are Books More Fact-Checked Than Other Media?

Craig Silverman, the author of many words on media accuracy, said people generally believe books are more reliable than magazines or newspapers. "A lot of readers have the perception that when something arrives as a book, it’s gone through a more rigorous fact-checking process than a magazine or a newspaper or a website, and that’s simply not that case," he said.

Why don't publishing houses spend time and money making sure they aren't publishing the next fabricated memoir? Kate Newman suggests they don't pay enough in repercussions when an author slips them a phony victim story.

“Maybe there should be a warning, like on a pack of cigarettes,” said another author. “‘This book has not been fact-checked at all.’ Because when I realized that basically everything I had read until that point had not been verified, I felt a little bit lied to.”

Of course, I should warn you that I didn't verify any facts stated in Newman's article. No, I did verify one, but that's it. Who knows if they rest is true?

Tolkien's Passion Heard in Beowulf

Oräddbror - the fearless brother - notesTolkien's Beowulf gives us the sound of the Dark Ages we lost when it was consumed by Middle Earth.

"Tolkien reproduces the syntax of the Old English poetry almost exactly. The word order of 'His sword had already the good king drawn' is garbled, but in just the way that the Old English sounds when translated word for word. Square brackets mark where present day English has forced Tolkien’s reluctant hand to emend the original."

Why Are Writers Great at Procrastinating?

headstandMegan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View, attempts to explain why writers are great procrastinators. She suggests many, perhaps most, writers haven't failed enough. They have rested on their natural talent for too long and believe that the talent is all they have to offer. They don't see their talent as a muscle that will grow with exercise; rather they see it as a solid that can be tested for purity. If the world discovers they aren't as good as they sometimes appear to be, they will be certifiably, undeniably doomed.

"This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you 'really' are," McArdle writes, "is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable."

When faced with this fear, people may choose to hamper their own performance. She quotes Alain de Botton, saying, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” "For people with an extremely fixed mind-set," she continues, "that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes." (via Lore Ferguson)

Interview with Whit Stillman

Whit Stillman on speaking French: "I wasn’t one of these people that love Paris and always talks about it. In fact all my friends were dropping out and taking a year off or semester off and going to France and I was the one who didn’t want to go to France. I went to Mexico because I was so intimidated by my experience in French class. I’d done so poorly in French class that I went to Mexico and learned Spanish first. To this day I’m mocked by French friends who say I speak French like Zorro."

On American cliches: "One of the bad things America has done is that in trying to be popular it’s relied on certain formulas and gone back to the pump again and again and again and with the same formula. It’s flattering the lowest common denominator and it’s this underdog thing, and it’s very seductive, it’s in all the templates in our brain. But it’s a wrong view of the world."

How Can You Say That?!

When you leave 50 replies to a negative review of your interactive ebook, you're doing it wrong.

Maybe you need more creativity. But then, "how did we come to care so much about creativity? The language surrounding it, of unleashing, unlocking, awakening, developing, flowing, and so on, makes it sound like an organic and primordial part of ourselves which we must set free—something with which it’s natural to be preoccupied. But it wasn’t always so . . ." (both via Prufrock)

Podcast: C.S. Lewis vs. The New Atheists



C.S. Lewis grew up among some well-known atheists and may have believed the same things argued today by speakers labeled "New Atheists." Peter S. Williams has written a book on the subject, and this podcast introduces a series of discussions on that book, C S Lewis vs the New Atheists, with an overview. You can get a brief review and chapter list here.

'Death's Doors' reviewed at 'I Saw Lightning Fall'



Our friend Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall,reviews Death's Doors:

Imagine a blender. Chuck in Atwood's aforementioned novel, Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and Walker's own West Oversea. Add a generous pinch of profanity, a scoop of Christian church history, and several comment sections plucked at random from various Huffington Post articles. Now pulse for two or three seconds. Voila! That's Death's Doors. Yes, it's just as lumpy as it sounds. But it's also works.

Song of the Sea Movie

In case you didn't see this at the beginning of summer, here's the teaser trailer for the next animation from the people who brought us The Secret of Kells.



"SONG OF THE SEA tells the story of Ben and his little sister Saoirse -- the last Seal-child -- who embark on a fantastic journey across a fading world of ancient legend and magic in an attempt to return to their home by the sea. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land. SONG OF THE SEA features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lisa Hannigan, Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny, Lucy O'Connell, Liam Hourican and Kevin Swierszsz. Music is by composer Bruno Coulais and Irish band Kíla, both of whom previously collaborated on The Secret of Kells."

Andrew Klavan To Write Kermit Gosnell Movie Script

The movie project about America's worst serial killer is moving forward with the announcement that Andrew Klavan will write the script. He says the challenge will be writing a movie that people will want to see, because the base story is almost too repulsive. He tells NRO what's most important about the Gosnell story:

I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.
(via ISI)

Challenges in Higher Education

Many families and individuals are weighed down with graduate or under-grad debt while national theorists continue to recommend higher education as the solution to boosting the economy. These growing concerns have lead two authors to ask whether students are expecting too much from a college degree. One of two story trends that emerge from the research is seen in this student called Nathan.

His sputtering progress after college was foreshadowed by his choices during it, Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa write. Nathan coasted, focusing more on socializing than on academics. He studied mostly with his friends, doing so alone for just five hours a week. When asked to name a significant academic experience, he at first couldn’t think of one. Still, Nathan graduated with a 3.9 grade-point average.
If he had received a 2.1 grade-point average, would he have changed his trajectory and tried to raise it, or would his final record simply reflect his work accurately? (He was given a Business degree, by the way.) Is it the college's fault in even a small way that he has trouble finding a good job within a few years of graduating?

On another topic in higher education, Gregory Thornbury of The King's College in New York City, says we must continue to cast a vision for the next generation to run with.
I think we’re guilty of assuming that young people have signed up for the evangelical project or that they’ve signed up for democratic capitalism. We definitely get students who have signed up for that, who come from homeschooling backgrounds and so forth. They’re all charged up and ready to go. But there are also many who have never heard the case for the truthfulness of Christianity, for the things that caused flourishing in Western civilization. When people ask me, “What’s your personal mission?” I often say to them, it’s to re-enchant this generation with the animating ideals that made Western civilization in general and America in particular great. We are legatees of a great intellectual inheritance, and we have to make that case again.

No, the Vikings weren't gender-neutral

Had to post about this, before there's further confusion.

This article from Tor. com has been making the rounds.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided to revamp the way they studied Viking remains. Previously, researchers had misidentified skeletons as male simply because they were buried with their swords and shields. (Female remains were identified by their oval brooches, and not much else.) By studying osteological signs of gender within the bones themselves, researchers discovered that approximately half of the remains were actually female warriors, given a proper burial with their weapons

It didn't take long for a rebuttal to come from what looks like a somewhat more credible source, Stuff You Missed in History.
But, this paper essentially uses the presence of six female migrants and seven male as evidence that women and children most likely accompanied the Norse armies with the intent of settling the land once it was conquered, rather than migrating in a second wave once the fighting was over. It is, sadly, not at all about female Viking warriors, and not some Earth-shattering evidence that Norse armies were evenly split among women and men.

They'll still have to prove to me that there were any female Viking warriors at all, but the point is made. The Tor article drew unwarranted and exaggerated conclusions from a study that examined a mere 13 graves.

Hey, Tor Books rejected my novel Wolf Time (soon to be re-released in e-book form) with disparaging comments, about 30 years ago. That should tell you all you need to know about them.

Reviewing 'Herzog' after 50 Years

Jack Hanson writes about Saul Bellow and his 50-year-old novel, Herzog, a story about a professor who can't handle his life after losing his wife to divorce. Bellow, who died in 2005, said the story is something of a joke about how education can ruin you, but many are not convinced that's all there is to his National Book Award winner.

"It may be hard to imagine what the neurosis of a restless, mid-century academic have to do with Ferguson, militant jihad, or any of our other woes," Hanson states. "But if the book has a single theme, it is that we are dominated more than anything else by ideas, and it is only when we confront ideas and our allegiance to them that we might be able to set our house back in order. Life will never be an easy affair, but it may become, at times, manageable. Herzog is not a morality tale, in the sense of being didactic, but it is highly moral, while being forward-looking."

Tribalism, Corporation, and Reading the Bible

Politics...Anthony Bradley argues that most Christians today simply defend their political tribe using biblical language or proof-texts. They don't hold to any confession of faith, but they believe their view of the Bible is right and other views are wrong or dangerous. "Progressive evangelicals, like their liberal mainline cousins, have simply traded off, in many cases, the tools in the Christian social thought tradition for the analytical tools of the social sciences and the humanities (critical race theory, feminist theory, etc.). For progressive evangelicals, the social sciences are authoritative and are often above critique."

If we would fall back on sound theological confessions or a biblically developed history of Christian social consciousness, we could discuss issues like believers should and find common ground aren't finding now. As Dr. Bradley concludes, "A lively discourse about the right application of Christian principles within the Christian tradition is far more fruitful and interesting to me than engaging in a tribal war that tries to prove whose tribe best represents Jesus."

Speaking of a topic on which progressive Christians fail to think, Andy Crouch writes about the shrinking legal window on corporate identity: "In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups 'use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission. The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg's view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon."

Read the rest of this entry . . .

Rite of fall

It just occurred to me that Autumn/Fall is the only season with two names. Perhaps because it's so depressing they figured they'd divide it up into two bundles to make it easier to carry.

Oh yes, buy my book: Death's Doors.



So. Fall. This means that my blog posting, never regular even during summer break, will diminish materially. It's back-to-school time. I'm in my second year of graduate school already. How time does fly!

No it doesn't. I feel like I've been at this for a decade, and have about 30 years left to go.

I had a gratifying moment on Saturday. It's my ancient custom to go out for lunch somewhere on Saturday noon, and then go to the local Dairy Queen for a Dilly Bar.

As I approached the window, the manager said, "I always like to see you coming. You remind me of better times." Read the rest of this entry . . .

Do You Drink Coffee to Avoid Naps? Try Both.

Researchers in multiple studies are finding that drinking coffee just before a short nap is better for your alertness than napping or coffee-drinking alone. The idea is that caffeine takes about 20 minutes to digest, so if you drink a cup quickly then snooze off for about 20 minutes, you will use up the sleepiness in your brain before you receive the perkiness you just consumed. For a more scientific explanation, see the article.

sleepy

Astor: 'Churchill, if I were your wife...'

Perhaps you've heard this story about Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Nancy Astor, who apparently had a famous rivalry. Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons (1919). Her Wikipedia page notes her quick wit and, though they are poorly documented, her trading of insults with Churchill. One rumored exchange says Churchill disliked her being in parliament, saying that having a woman there was like being intruded upon in the bathroom. Astor replied, "You're not handsome enough to have such fears."

A familiar anecdote has the viscountess in a disdainful state of her prime minister. She says, "If I were your wife, I'd poison your coffee." Churchill replies, "If I were your husband, I'd drink it."

Astor's Wikipedia scholars attribute this quote, not to Churchill, but to his marvelously funny friend, Lord Birkenhead. I can't suggest Birkenhead did not have this exchange, but I'm fascinated to learn that the insult is much older than he, Churchill, or Astor. The Quote Investigator, my new favorite website, reports the earliest recording of this joke comes from an 1899 Oswego, New York, newspaper. It was completely anonymous, being passed off as something the reporter overheard on the subway. The account was picked up by many newspapers, so by the time Birkenhead and Astor may have conversed, it would have been an old joke.

What's more amusing is many people have claimed credit for it or given it to others. When Groucho Marx told the joke in 1962, he told it of George B. Shaw insulting a woman in his audience. In 1900, a comic named Pinckney claimed to have invented the dialogue a short time before the interview and that it had already worn itself out by flying around the world.

So if Lady Astor actually told Churchill or Birkenhead that she would poison them if they were married, she had plenty of opportunity to know she was setting herself up for a great joke.

Who is my neighbor? A terrorist, apparently.

Little did I know, when I moved to Robbinsdale, Minnesota, that I was relocating to a seedbed of treason. But so it appears. Not one but two jihadist casualties overseas have been identified as former students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. And it gets closer than that, as I’ll explain.

First, a little orientation. Robbinsdale Cooper High School is not in fact located in Robbinsdale. The historical reasons are convoluted (I don’t actually know them), but enough to say that the school district includes several inner ring suburbs. In any case, it’s close to me.

More than that, early reports (the information seems to have been redacted now; perhaps it was in error) stated that the latest casualty, Douglas McAuthor (sic) McCain, dead in Syria, lived on Oregon Avenue in New Hope.

Before I bought my house, I lived in an apartment building on Oregon Avenue in New Hope. New Hope isn’t that big. Oregon Avenue isn’t that long. We were neighbors. I very likely rubbed shoulders with him at some point.

Even so, I find it hard to generate a lot of sympathy for the young man. He was born in America, and New Hope isn’t a ghetto. He had ample opportunities to respond to the gospel. Instead he joined a death cult to murder infidels and rape women.

Still, after some consideration, I can think of a couple reasons to pity him. Read the rest of this entry . . .

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