All posts by Lars Walker

I’m doing fine

Today the glories of spring returned, after several days of rain. We needed the rain, and now it’s time for some sunshine. This Global Warming thing is working out pretty well so far, if you ask me. I mowed the lawn tonight. I’m definitely convinced it’s just a tad less goshawful than it was this time last year.

I had an interesting encounter at work today. I shall, needless to say, draw a Moral Lesson from it, for the edification of all.

We have a foreign student at the school who was running up a pretty large library fine. He’d kept some books overdue, and one book he’d lost completely. His fines accumulated as they remained unpaid, and I was worried about it getting out of hand.

I spoke to the instructor in his program one day a while back, and said I thought we’d have to come to some kind of settlement, to get him out from under. But the instructor said no. “We have to teach our students responsibility.” At least that’s what I understood him to say. So I stepped back and allowed the totals to mount up.

Last week the student came in, along with an American friend. He offered me some money (not the whole amount). I told him I could take it and reduce the fine, but that he’d still have to pay off the total. At that point his friend became quite upset, and they left. The friend said he’d come back with cash and pay the whole amount himself, and that this was not demonstrating the love of Christ.

After that I went back to the instructor and told him what had happened. The instructor said we probably needed to make some kind of settlement. I said I wanted to, but I wasn’t allowed to.

“Who told you that?” he asked.

“You did,” I said.

He became very apologetic then. Somewhere we had miscommunicated. I’m not sure how it happened, but he hadn’t meant it the way I took it.

Anyway, it got worked out. I accepted the smaller amount the student himself was able to pay, and it’s all settled. Relief reigns among the stacks.

Today the American friend came in and apologized. I told him I understood completely, and that I’d probably have reacted the same way.

It was a very godly act on his part, but when you get down to it, I did handle it wrong. Instead of simply doing what I was told, I should have questioned a decision I considered unreasonable. If I’d done that, the whole thing would have been worked out weeks ago, and much unpleasantness avoided.

It’s one of my besetting sins, this passivity. It’s the Nuremburg Defense: “I was only obeying orders.” God expects more from us. We’re Christians, not Buddhists. Quietude is not an unalloyed virtue in our moral scheme. God expects us to make a fuss now and then.

Gotta work on that.

The Last Detective, by Robert Crais

Thought, thought (for no particular reason) during a visit to the grocery store:



I do not want to see your toes.



Your mother may have told you they were adorable. Your Significant Other may tell you they’re sexy. You probably feel that traditional shoes are confining, especially in the warmer months.

But I, for one, don’t enjoy looking at other people’s toes.

The only toes I have any interest at all in are my own. And I’d just as soon not look at them much either.

This is a purely personal judgment, and I don’t expect anyone to pay any attention to it.

But I feel better now that I’ve shared.

I read one of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole novels before, at the urging of Aitchmark, who’s a fan. I think I made a poor choice. It was one (probably Voodoo River) where Cole, a Los Angeles P.I., leaves his natural habitat to do a job in New Orleans. It didn’t work for me and I didn’t have any desire to go back to the franchise.

But I picked up The Last Detective last week and underwent an attitude alteration.

For one thing, the book explains how the hero got the name “Elvis,” an element of his persona that repelled me from the start. I can forgive it now.

At the beginning of the story, Elvis Cole is looking after Ben, the teenaged son of his girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, while she’s out of town. Lucy was a character in the New Orleans novel. She fell in love with Cole and followed him to L.A.

But one afternoon, Ben goes outside to play on the hillside (Cole lives in the Hollywood Hills, not far from Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch, who makes an uncredited cameo appearance) and just disappears. A phone call a short time later confirms his worst fears—the boy has been kidnapped.

Examining the site of the abduction, Cole realizes a frightening fact—this snatch was a professional operation, and the kidnappers are military trained. Better than he is, and he was an Army Ranger.

It all goes back to the military, because the kidnapper claims the boy was taken in revenge for something Cole did in Vietnam, on a day of horror when he lost his best friends, but knows he did nothing wrong.

The quest for answers leads him to stir up buried memories, about his own childhood and his wartime experiences. These flashbacks (honestly) feature some of the most affecting writing I’ve ever encountered in a mystery novel. Deeply moving, and emotionally true as a laser sight.

Cole is assisted, as he usually is, by his Psycho Killer Friend®, Joe Pike. (I’ve commented before on how detectives nowadays tend to have PKF’s. That’s probably an unfair description. Pike isn’t a psycho, just an obsessive, a man who’s stripped his life down to warrior efficiency, his friendship for Cole, and nothing else. The kind of man a Scandinavian Modern chair would be, if it were human.) But Pike isn’t 100% right now, due to a gunshot wound suffered in the previous installment.

I liked The Last Detective very much and intend to read more. Aside from the good, tight writing and the perfect emotional pitch, I particularly liked the way the military was treated. There are bad former soldiers in the book, but there’s no hint of the moral condescension you find in so many stories dealing with veterans (especially Vietnam veterans). Cole doesn’t beat a drum about his service (rather the opposite), but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of and he isn’t ashamed. Even a particular minor character, a shadowy former officer who now brokers mercenary deals, is portrayed as a man of honor.

I highly recommend The Last Detective.

One small squawk of defiance

I’m in a rantin’ mood today, buckaroos. There shall be links. There shall be outrage. There shall be metaphors strained like gnats and camels. There shall be depressive, hopeless prognostications about how the world is going by hand to a h*llbasket.

But stay with me. I plan to end on a positive note. If I survive.

First of all, why should I be the only Minnesotan with (or in) a blog who isn’t writing about the decision of the Minneapolis Star & Tribune (better known locally as “the Strib,” or “the Star & Sickle,” or “the Red Star”) to cancel James Lilek’s daily column and move him to a reporting gig.

This is the kind of innovative, forward-looking thinking that’s got the paper buying more barrels of red ink than black these days. At the rate the Stars & Garters is devaluing, I’m saving up my own spare change against the day when I’ll be able to buy it myself.

I can’t cancel my subscription, because I haven’t subscribed in decades. The last time I bought a copy of the paper, shortly after I returned to God’s Country from Florida, I read the following in the newspaper ombudsman’s column (quoted from memory):

Q: Why didn’t you ever refer to the Unabomber as a “left-wing radical,” since you regularly call abortion clinic bombers “right-wing radicals?”

A: It would be inaccurate to call the Unabomber a left-winger. He criticized the Democrats as much as he criticized the Republicans.

Me: And we all know abortion clinic bombers never criticize Republicans.

It’s bad enough reading people who can’t reason any better than that. It’s insufferable to be lectured to by people who can’t reason any better than that.

But Lileks’ll do OK. He’s already bigger than the Strib. He’ll be able to write his own ticket.

And it’ll be a funny one.

So, the pro-American won the election in France. This is a good thing, but I’m cautious.

It seems to me the real solution to France’s problem is the mass deportation of millions of unassimilated immigrants. And that ain’t gonna happen.

My uncle Orvis alerted me to this excellent article from Brussels Journal: The Rape of Europe by Paul Belien.

The German author Henryk M. Broder recently told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (12 October) that young Europeans who love freedom, better emigrate. Europe as we know it will no longer exist 20 years from now. Whilst sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Broder pointed to the other customers and the passers-by and said melancholically: “We are watching the world of yesterday.” Europe is turning Muslim.

As Broder is sixty years old he is not going to emigrate himself. “I am too old,” he said. However, he urged young people to get out and “move to Australia or New Zealand. That is the only option they have if they want to avoid the plagues that will turn the old continent uninhabitable.”

Hal G. P. Colebatch posted a great piece today at The American Spectator, (the best darn conservative journal in the whole durn world, after all), about the lack of seriousness with which our present war is being conducted:

In 1940, during the most desperate part of World War II, amid an avalanche of disasters, a British ship named the Lancastria was bombed and sunk as it was evacuating British troops from the collapse of France. It is thought that more than 3,000 soldiers died aboard this one ship — the equivalent of an entire brigade gone at a stroke.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill, not knowing how many more disasters Britain could take, at once ordered that the story be suppressed. Nothing was said about it in Britain during the war, and it has remained little known to this day.

Very insightful, as Colebatch’s stuff always is. I’m proud to say that he’s a friend of mine, at least by e-mail. He’s a fellow Baen author as well as a fellow Spectator columnist.

I just worked up the courage to start reading The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. (I think this volume has reached the actual physical size limit for a book that a man can be expected to actually carry around and read on the bus or in a coffee shop. It may be above the maximum for most women. It’s 1,810 pages.) Lewis is a congenial spirit for me, not least because he’s constitutionally pessimistic, always expecting some kind of disaster to knock at the door. One of the first letters in this collection [covering 1950-1963] is to his friend Cecil Harwood, on the news that Harwood’s wife has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Still love to both: I wish it were of better quality—I am a hard, cold, black man inside and in my life have not wept enough.” That problem would be remedied.

It’s interesting to note the things Lewis worries about, writing in the early ’50s. He worries about China, in relation to the Korean War. He also worries about Persia, the place we now call Iran, interestingly enough, but he’s worried about the Communists operating there, not radical Muslims.

There’s comfort in this, I think. One obvious lesson is, as Roseanne Rosanadana used to say, “It’s always something.” The halcyon days we look back to, when the world was safe and secure, never really existed.

But there’s another lesson, I think. And that’s that Lewis, for all his obsessive worry, didn’t know what was going to happen. The things he feared never took place. The Russians didn’t roll over Europe. Communism, in fact, was doomed. No one could guess it back then. The challenge we face today is arguably worse, but it’s a different challenge from the ones Lewis and everyone else expected.

We don’t know the future. Unexpected disaster may be on its way, but it’s equally likely that rescue may be coming from a direction we never guessed.

And you know what? If we just mope around (as I tend to do) and say, “It’s over. It’s done. Europe’s lost. America’s going. Prepare for the end,” we’re doing precisely what I’ve criticized the Democrats in Congress for doing—telling the enemy they’ve won.

They’ve only won if we let them. The only war they’re winning is the morale war. The wonderful thing about a morale war is that all you have to do to win is decide to win.

Dead Watch by John Sandford

You remember all that stuff I wrote last night, about how I had so much to do tonight and might not get to post?

Never mind.

Turned out I forgot the Viking Age Society meeting was postponed this month.

And the project at work got finished up on time, pretty much. Essentially. Except for one small loose end over which I had no control. So I should be breathing a big sigh of relief.

I’ve noticed an odd phenomenon overtaking me in the last few years. I seem to have lost all capacity for taking any pleasure in completed tasks, even challenging ones. When I was young I’d mentally pump a fist in the air and allow myself a minute or two of satisfaction before finding a new subject to worry about.

Nowadays it’s just ho-hum. My primary emotional response to “Mission Accomplished” is to wonder idly what I’ve forgotten that’ll come back to bite me.

Maybe it’s a side effect of something I hesitate to call “success,” because I’m far from successful. But I’ve accomplished a number of the things I dreamed of when I was a kid. That raises the bar on everything, apparently. When you’ve reached the point when finishing the writing of a book is no big deal, most other accomplishments mean even less.

The moral: “Squelch your dreams,” I guess.

John Sandford, Minnesotan author of the Lucas Davenport Prey novels, which I like very much, has come out with a new book, Dead Watch, now out in paperback. He’s trying out a new hero in this one, and (oddly) the book isn’t set in Minnesota, but in Washington D.C. and Virginia (as if anybody’d ever want to read about those places).

Jacob Winter is the new hero. He’s a Washington insider, an established expert on what a friend calls “Forensic Bureaucracy.” Supposedly he’s the go-to guy for government problems that nobody else knows how to fix. But, suitably for the hero of a Sandford novel, he’s also a veteran of Afghanistan, a trained fighter who is only slowed down by a bad hip, the result of a combat wound.

The party who needs Jake’s help this time is the president of the United States, by way of his chief of staff. A Republican former senator, Lincoln Bowe, has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and his wife has been threatened. The president, a Democrat, is worried that somebody in his own party has gotten out of hand, and that there’ll be political blow-back. Jake’s job is to investigate and clean things up.

One of his first visits is to the senator’s wife, Madison Bowe. Madison is a small, spunky blonde, and Jake likes small, spunky blondes, and you’ve already guessed where that leads.

The book is apparently set in the near future, and seems to also be set in an alternate universe—one where socially conservative Democratic senators aren’t a surprise, and most of the homosexuals in the story are Republicans. This is a little disorienting, but a clever tactic on Sandford’s part, allowing him to write a political thriller without alienating elements of our increasingly polarized electorate. I had trouble keeping my bearings from time to time, but I was never insulted, which earns the book a few notches on my tally stick. The fighting and killing part of Jake’s résumé turns out to be more useful than the forensic bureaucracy part in ultimately solving the problem.

I didn’t like it as much as the Lucas Davenport stories, but I have more history with L. D. I recommend it as light summer reading. There’s violence and sex, but they’re not excessive by contemporary standards. Not bad.

Save the Viking!

Hm. The blog seems to be up again. Which I means I’ll have to post something.

I’m late to the job tonight. Busy at work—I’m finishing up a project. And I mowed the lawn for my exercise, because the lawn needs must be mowed soon, or else I must acquire me a goat.

If I don’t post tomorrow night, please be compassionate. I’m signed up to provide refreshments at the Viking Age Society meeting, and there may not be time to do that and blog too. If I miss Friday, I may do a penance post on Saturday. Or not.

Depending on how guilt-ridden I am.

Got the following by e-mail this morning:

Wednesday 2 April 2007

Dear Lars,

I write to you concerning the 1892 Norwegian-built replica of the Gokstad in Chicago. I have been observing its situation for so long and would like to see this ship, with its World heritage values, restored and in a good home.

How is our Viking ship? Has her fate been worked out yet? I’d be pleased to know what you think of my suggestions to saving the Viking. Could you help?

I have undertaken research into the story of Viking and included this in my article, along with a few suggests to help Save the Viking >< (({(o>

http://web.mac.com/kim.peart/iWeb/Site/Save_the_Viking.html

I have been wondering if there would be scope for a living aspect to the home of the Viking, such as the building of a new Gokstad Viking ship, to the standard now set at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark. The new Viking ship could then be sailed on the Lakes. Perhaps this might be the key to saving the Viking, making it a more exciting project overall. What do you think?

This link is a recent news film-clip of the Viking ><(({(o>

http://cbs2chicago.com/video/?id=30441@wbbm.dayport.com&cid=48

I am now making a monster outreach, to find out what is happening with the ship and see who in the World would also like to see the Viking restored and in a good home. Many good-hearted efforts have, amazingly, come to naught to date and the decay clock on the timbers of the ship are ticking away in Chicago’s severe weather. Perhaps everything is wrapped up now and if this is the case, great, but I feel we should not take any more chances with the fate of this important ship with World heritage values.

I have $10 sitting in my model of the Gokstad. If a million people would also put $10 on the table, this will be the swiftest way to restore the ship, ensure that it is in a good home and provide funds for interpretation and education, which could include Viking culture and Scandinavian traditions. If a million people are prepared to speak up for the Viking, such numbers will ensure that the ship is safe.

Could this work?

I will be looking for an appropriate organisation that will put up a dedicated web site for the campaign to Save the Viking, which can receive donations, including my $10.

I have included a few simple thoughts for the campaign in the article and have many more to offer should a campaign get up and running. If there is a need to and the support is there, I would be prepared to go to Chicago to help drive the campaign.

It would be great to hear your views on the matter and what you think should and can be done. I hope you can help to Save the Viking!

Yours sincerely,

Kim Peart ~ Tasmania

I’d like to help this guy, but it sounds like a job for somebody good at promotion. And think I’ve demonstrated to the satisfaction of all that I’m the worst promoter in the world. Maybe one of our readers wants to pick up this worthy project. I’ll also talk it up to my fellow Vikings. As far as my personal limitations permit.

I close with a link to a wonderful quotation from Wittingshire. Thanks to Kathryn at Suitable For Mixed Company for the link.

“The Shack-up License”

Would it be horrible chauvinism to say that it’s hard to imagine anywhere in the world where May is nicer than right here in Minnesota? We pay for this weather, sure. Winter is a six-month spinal tap, and it gets hotter in the summer than it does in parts of Florida (I know because I’ve lived in both places).

But May. May has the long, cool, gentle fingers of a lovely woman. She caresses you with them. She strokes your hair, kisses your cheek and asks you if you want her to get you anything from the kitchen. She’s a good girl, May. I’d marry her if she’d have me, and if she’d just stay put.

Which brings up the subject of marriage. To your amazement, I’m not going to gripe about my own single blessedness, not tonight anyway. I want to talk about marriage in the abstract.

This month’s Smithsonian Magazine includes a section called “Destination America,” in which they showcase some interesting regions in the country they consider worth visiting. One of them is The Berkshires in Massachusetts.

The article includes a photograph that’s a real grabber. It was taken at The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. In the background is one of Rockwell’s classic paintings, Marriage License. It’s a charming depiction of a young couple, he in a suit, she in a dress (it was painted in 1955), making out their license application. The desk in the little municipal office is high. The young woman is standing on tiptoe, carefully filling out the form. The young man, much taller, is stooping down over her shoulder, watching closely.

But in the foreground of the Smithsonian photo is a contemporary couple. They’re dressed in Goth clothing. They’re both generously pierced, and she has an extensive, serpentine tattoo on one bare arm. He’s hugging her from behind.

The photographer clearly meant to be provocative with this one. And he provoked me.

Is there anyone who really, in their heart of hearts, believes we’ve made progress in going from the couple in the painting to the couple in the photograph?

Oh, I know there’ll be the ideologues who’ll lecture us about how Rockwell depicted an oppressive, patriarchal social structure, and how it’s glorious that these young people now feel free to express themselves any way they choose, unfettered by the stuffy conventions of the Eisenhower age.

But do they really believe it? In their hearts of hearts, would they really prefer to have their children grow up to be like the Goth couple than like the Rockwell kids?

I can hear someone saying, “It’s academic. Rockwell’s world never existed. It was a fantasy Americans created to flatter themselves.”

Yeah, well, Quentin Tarantino’s world doesn’t exist either, but it doesn’t keep people from using his films as a cultural reference.

If Rockwell didn’t mirror something, in our hearts if not in our lives, his work wouldn’t be iconic.

Let me reduce my thesis to this statement: Killing beauty is never a good thing.

Economic crimes and hate crimes

I have sinned. Economically.

The used book store where I’ve been shopping for the last few years was doing fine, as far as I could tell, last January, the last time I was there. Then I lost my renter, things got tight, and I chose to re-read The Lord of the Rings. Then Dave Alpern sent me some books to read (Got to return those. Looking for the right box). So what with one thing and another, I didn’t buy any books for a while.

Today I dropped by the store after work, since I have a renter again and he just gave me his May payment.

They’re closed up. Empty. Dark and bare. Not a flyleaf left behind.

It’s my fault. I, personally, am solely responsible. I have no doubt that the owners lost their home and are now living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters, all for lack of my business.

I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.

Have you heard of HR 1592? It’s a bill now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

Its purpose is to expand Hate Crimes legislation. That’s bad enough, in my opinion, because the very concept of the “hate crime” amounts to punishing people for their thoughts. If a jihadist cuts off my head, I want him prosecuted for killing me, not for killing me for Islam. The motivation should be irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

But this bill expands the definition of Hate Crime in such a way that, in conjunction with Title 18 of the U.S. code, merely expressing religious opposition to homosexuality would be a prosecutable offense, in the case that some moron should draw the wrong conclusion and go out and commit a “hate crime.” Understand that? A pastor who simply repeats what the Bible says on the subject could be prosecuted and imprisoned, based on the reaction of one of his listeners.

Hat tip: Vision America.

This is what happened to the Revolution, kids. I always knew the hippies were lying when they talked about free speech. When they said “free speech,” they meant their own freedom from other people’s speech. When Paul McCartney sang, “Power to the people, right on!” he meant “Power to the people who are right on.” That is, people who agreed with him.

I don’t think a nation can survive without some kind of shared value system. It’s not enough to share a few symbolics, if the symbolics mean entirely different things to different groups. In America today, we can’t even agree on what the definition of “is” is. We’re so far apart we don’t even understand each other’s words.

I see a train wreck down the line. I wrote about this stuff in Wolf Time.

Right again, blast it.

Beyond Recognition

*Stand by for your Minneapolis weather report.*

Nice weather today. A little over seventy. But we could use some rain.

*This has been your Minneapolis weather report.*

I probably should have passed this story over to Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard. It’s his beat.

But I couldn’t resist linking to it here.

Thousands of people have been ‘fleeced’ into buying neatly coiffured lambs they thought were poodles.

Entire flocks of lambs were shipped over from the UK and Australia to Japan by an internet company and marketed as the latest ‘must have’ accessory.

We farm kids love that kind of story.

I found myself without a book to read last week, on the day of the week my usual used bookstore is closed. So I picked up a book that had been among my late Aunt Jean’s things, Beyond Recognition by Ridley Pearson. I’d taken it away from her house when we were closing it up after her death, not sure if I’d read it before. I find that I have read it; in fact I think Aunt Jean probably got this copy from me. But it was so long ago I’ve forgotten the main points.

I came to this passage today, and thought it worth sharing. Sgt. Boldt, the hero, is investigating a string of vicious arson killings. He drops in at a jazz club run by a friend, “Bear” Berenson, and starts talking with him, trying to unwind. They’re discussing how you see horrific crimes nowadays that you never saw in the past.

“I think it’s God,” Boldt said immediately, because he’d been thinking about this for a long time and Bear was the kind of friend he could say this to. “Or, more to the point, the lack thereof. I was raised with church. Sunday school, that sort of thing. You?”

Bear nodded. “Temple.”

Boldt continued, “Yeah, and in all those stories, all those lessons, you had good and evil, God and the Devil—no matter what significance you put in either—but they were there, and you had faith, some sense of faith, some belief in something larger than yourself, no matter how small or on what level. Maybe you look at the night sky a little differently or maybe you go to church twice a week, but it’s there, it’s in you. And without it, without that sense of God, there’s no flip side, there’s nothing to fear, and as much as I hate to say it, maybe fear is a good thing in this case. A sense of God—whatever you choose to call it—gives you a soul; without a soul, you’re left with unfocused eyes and sense that you’re at the top of the food chain and anything goes. And that’s what you see in a killer’s eyes: no humanity, no consciousness, no thought or concern for their fellowman. Some kid blows away his best friend over a pair of sneakers—so what? I’m telling you, it’s no act. They have no soul. I interrogate these guys, I look them right in the eye, and I’m telling you they’re beyond recognition. They aren’t human. I don’t know what they are.”

And on that happy note, I wish you a pleasant and psycho-free weekend.

Update: I should have given Aitchmark credit for tipping me off to the poodle story.

Writer’s Digest 101 Best

Hugh Hewitt just reported that a bomb has been found at an abortion clinic. I think it was in Austin, Texas (I can’t find the story online yet).

I know I speak for 99% of pro-lifers when I condemn all such acts of terrorism. If you’re a clinic bomber, tell me all about it. I’ll go straight to the police.

Well, it should have been a good day. Getting a column up at The American Spectator usually bucks me up a bit. Today, somehow, it didn’t work. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the weather–cool and overcast. Spring without enthusiasm. Around noon the Sickness Unto Tedious Self-Absorption began to metastasize in me, and pretty much everything I did after that was like swimming in a chocolate milk shake, only less tasty.

But I still dragged myself out for my evening walk, so I have a small glow of self-righteousness within to warm me. Tomorrow will probably be better.

Writer’s Digest published its annual list of “101 Best Websites For Writers” this month. Here are a few that might be of interest. Or not.

www.thinkbabynames.com lists the most popular baby names for every decade since 1900. Great for finding names for characters for your historical novel, or for finding a name for your baby that’ll get him/her laughed at for the rest of his/her life. On the other hand, the name might come back into style when the kid’s 18, and… well, he/she still won’t ever forgive you, but it might help get him/her onto whatever Reality Show is popular by then.

www.agentquery.com is a free site that lists established literary agents seeking writers. Also offers tips for approaching them.

Another agent resource is www.writers.net/agents.html. “…allows you to search for agents by name, location or topic.”

www.armchairinterviews.com is a site where you can access recorded author interviews. If reading me hasn’t soured you forever on authors already.

That’s all I’ve got. Go now and read my Spectator post again.

If already depressed, skip this post

Reader Aitchmark forwarded me this link to a perceptive column Tony Blankley wrote for the Washington Times. I agree with him that it nails the precise conceptual difference between the Left and the Right on the war (no doubt there are people who oppose the war for better reasons, but I think the view Blankley analyzes probably motivates the Democrats in power).

…the great divide is between those, such as me, who believe that the rise of radical Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilization; and those who believe it is a nuisance, if episodically a very dangerous nuisance.

Those who believe in nothing higher than “personal spirituality,” I think, are incapable (without some kind of psychic “whack upside the head”) of understanding that there are people out there who really believe in things outside themselves. To them, Christians must be either incredibly stupid or they’re running a confidence game when they speak of doctrines and absolute moral truths. And Muslims… well, they’re inscrutable. But in their hearts they must be just like us. If they do… regrettable things, they must have been driven crazy by some evil force. Like Republicans.

I’d like to say that good Christian fiction—not preachy CBA fiction that preaches to the choir, but gutsy, smart, well-crafted Christian books like Andrew Klavan’s Damnation Alley, are one way to open people’s minds and fight back against the darkness. And books like that can’t hurt. Maybe I’ll find a publisher myself again someday.

But I think good Christian movies and TV would probably have more impact. Unfortunately, though some progress has been made recently, that’s still a major challenge and I suspect progress, if it happens, will occur slowly.

The bottom line is, I wonder if the remnant of Christendom can be saved. I wonder if the West has declined too far. Perhaps we’re entering a new period of worldwide tribulation. Maybe that’s God’s plan for the Last Days.

It’s all in His hands, of course. Our brothers and sisters have suffered persecution throughout history, and they still suffer today. There’s no reason we should think of ourselves as exempt. In fact, we are instructed to rejoice in it.

Promise Me by Harlan Coben

I don’t often laugh out loud (for those of you under 20, that’s an antique term for “lol”) at anything I read online, but Lileks cracked me up today with his deconstruction of a set of postcards from China in the days of the Cultural Revolution, describing an opera called “The Red Detachment of Women.”

I’m always looking for new favorite thriller writers. Klavan, Connelly, Tanenbaum, Kellerman and Lehane can only put out so much product per annum. So when I saw Harlan Coben’s new novel, Promise Me, in a grocery store rack, I figured I’d give him a try.

It was close, but he didn’t make the cut.

Not that the book’s bad. I enjoyed it and read it with interest. But… well, let me lay out the particulars.

The main character is Myron Bolitar (full points for audacity in choosing a character name), a sports and entertainment agent who divides his time between New York City and his suburban home town. Bolitar, it appears, was the hero of a series of earlier Coben novels, though he hasn’t appeared in a new book in about seven years. During those years, we are told, Bolitar has been concentrating on his business. Never married, he has recently begun dating a local widow.

One evening, during a party, he overhears his girlfriend’s daughter talking to a friend (Aimee, a girl he has known all her life, the daughter of friends of his own). They mention parties and drinking. Bolitar decides to talk to them. He gives each of them his card, asking them to promise him that if they ever find themselves in a situation where they’re faced with driving drunk, or riding with a drunk driver, they will call him. He promises to drive anywhere and pick them up, no questions asked.

It’s an admirable act, but the results aren’t what he planned on. He gets a call one night from Aimee. She’s in Manhattan and needs a ride. When he shows up, she’s not drunk at all, only troubled. She directs him to a residential address in the suburbs, then goes to a dark house that she says is a friend’s. Her friend will let her in, she says.

After that she disappears.

Myron is the last person to see her, and his story sounds thin. Also another girl from the same town has disappeared in similar fashion. Her father is desperate to find her, and not particular how he gets the information. He’s also a gangster.

Fortunately Myron has his own resources. He has a good record with the police. He also has a friend named Win Lockwood.

Many of today’s mystery heroes have psycho killer friends—scary, dangerous guys devoted to the hero for some reason, who are useful in the situations of extreme violence such stories tend to involve. We don’t like our heroes to be killing machines, I suppose, so we need the psycho killer friend to keep the hero alive.

I found Win Lockwood a kind of unconvincing PKF. He’s supposed to be the scion of very old money. As a boy, after a serious incident of bullying, he devoted his life to learning all the killing arts. Now, apparently, he just enjoys his wealth and watches Bolitar’s back for fun.

I think I was supposed to like him. Maybe I would have if I’d read the earlier novels. But in this book I found him sort of a flat, amoral deus ex machina.

I liked the book a lot in some ways. The theme overall is how much parents love their children, and the lengths to which they’ll go to protect them.

I wasn’t sure, though, whether Coben was willing to make moral distinctions. He seemed to conclude (I may have misunderstood him) that there is no real difference in kind between any child-protective acts, even including murder.

And the ending was troubling for any Christian conservative.

So I don’t think I’ll go back to Coben. Too bad. There was much to commend the book.

Nothing tough about this one

Andrew Klavan has this essay up over at City Journal today.

That high-pitched noise you hear in the distance is me, screaming, “I wish I’d written that!”

Michael at The Euphemist has come out of hibernation long enough to tag Phil and me with a “Six Weird Things About Me” meme.

Now there’s a challenge.

If he’d asked for six normal things about me, I might have had some trouble.

OK, where do we start?

I have heterochromia iridis. This is not a rare, debilitating genetic disease. It’s the condition where a person has bi-colored eyes. A famous instance is the rocker David Bowie, who has one blue eye and one brown. My H. I. comes in a different form, where the two colors are mixed in the eyes, in a pinto pony combination of brown and gray (or blue, depending on the light and who’s looking).

I like folk music.

I don’t like cheese of any kind, except in pizza.

I actually much preferred the second Conan movie to the first one.

I have no good memories associated with any sport (except for live steel combat).

I can read Norwegian in the old, Gothic Fraktur typeface.

I shall now take my hat and cane and go.

It’s Friday. All you get is scraps

Will Duquette of View From the Foothills is another favorite blogger of mine whose posting has regrettably decreased. But he put up an entertaining poem about Smeagol this week, and I wanted to wave you in that direction.

Guy Stewart shares this butt-kick for discouraged Christian Science Fiction writers.

Have you heard the recording of Alec Baldwin chewing out his daughter on voice mail? What’s your take on that? I know that even the best parents can be pushed past the limit sometimes and say things they regret, with no harm done in the larger scheme of things. But I grew up in a situation where this kind of tirade was pretty much daily fare, and so it’s hard for me to judge where the limits are. Do you parents out there respond to the recording by saying, “Wow, I’m glad there wasn’t a recorder on the last time I cut loose on the kids,” or do you say, “That was definitely over the line”? I’m just curious. I honestly don’t have a gauge for this, and I’m not a parent myself.

Not a writer

I don’t want to know anything more about the VT monster. (I won’t write his name. He’s not worth the effort to learn how to spell it. I will repeat the name of Prof. Liviu Livrescu, again and again. May he live forever in honored memory. Yad vashem.)

As a writer, I suppose I should be fascinated by the dynamics that led the VTm to write a B-movie ending to his life’s story. I was bullied plenty as a child. I can sympathize with moody loners better than most.

But he lost me when he did what he did. He ceased to be interesting at that point.

I’ve blogged before about the banality of evil. In fiction we like to think up fascinating, multilayered antagonists, urbane Bond villains and Hannibal Lectors, accomplished and witty and charming, who are the kinds of people you suspect you’d like if you knew them. What we think we’d be like if we took up the practice of evil.

Yet so often, in real life, the bad guys turn out to be walking stereotypes. Abused or neglected as children. Poor social adjustment. Shy. Alienated from the peer group. Fascinated with violent games and movies.

Until the moment they set out to orchestrate their Big Moments, they have my sympathy. I think I could have been like that. I had a fair number of the same issues in my own life. Still do. I hope they get help. I hope they find somebody to love them. I hope they confess their self-centered, obsessive sin and find grace at the foot of the Cross.

But that ends when they strap on the guns (or bombs) and go out to hurt innocent people. When they do that, they are not only committing evil. They are becoming clichés. A smaller matter, it goes without saying, but if you want my attention, don’t do a Cagney imitation.

There was a time when the Charles Manson story fascinated me. Right up until I saw David Frost interview him, years back. Watching and listening to him, I realized there was nothing special about him. He was just like any number of stoners I met back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Manson wasn’t some Satanic mastermind. He was a narcissist with a messiah complex who eroded his inhibitions with drugs.

Boring.

There was a time when I was fascinated by the Jack the Ripper mystery. I’m still sort of interested in it, not so much in the criminal himself as in the story and the setting. And the enduring mystery. The fact that the crimes are unsolved prevents us from learning how banal the killer probably actually was. If (as I suspect is true) Sir Robert Anderson’s contention is correct, that the killer was a man later committed to an insane asylum, well, QED.

I suppose there are exceptions. Ted Bundy, they say, was charming and “played well with others.” But I haven’t studied his story closely, and it appears to me to be a rare exception.

The VTm thought he was a creative writer. He wasn’t.

Creative writers have to be able to come up with original endings.