All posts by Lars Walker

A day at the races

I know you’ve been losing sleep, waiting to learn how my Christmas bash went. It went just fine.

We were ten in all at the table, three more than Thanksgiving, which seemed pretty crowded at the time. But ten didn’t seem to crowd the place any more. The youngest niece, who was in Tanzania at Thanksgiving, was with us now, and the oldest niece brought her boyfriend (who passed inspection with flying colors) and his adorable little daughter. Large quantities of food were consumed, and many presents were opened.

Deprived of any disaster to agonize over, I am agonizing over the mistakes I must have made which, I’m confident, people must have kept quiet about, to spare my feelings.

I was going to say something more about the flap raised by talk show host Dennis Prager. Prager has stated that he thinks Congressman Keith Ellison (a Muslim and my soon-to-be congressman, as it happens) ought to have a Bible present at his swearing-in, in recognition of the basic values that have shaped our republic. I’ve already said I disagree with him on this. As far as I understand his argument, it seems he considers the Bible (in that context) a symbolic object, like a flag. I find it hard to take that view.

But former New York mayor Ed Koch has publicly labeled Prager a bigot. This is, frankly, infamous. If there’s a public figure in this country who deserves the label of “bigot” less than Dennis Prager, I can’t think of one offhand.

Prager is my favorite talk show host. And that’s odd in a way, because of all the talk shows I listen to, I probably disagree with his most (except for Michael Savage, but I only listen to Savage while getting ready for bed, as an alternative to lonely silence). I disagree with him on theology (he seems to me a Pharisee in the best sense of the word, understood in its historical context). I disagree with him on “gay” civil unions. And I disagree with him on the issue of heredity.

He was onto heredity today. His view seems to be that, aside from genetic diseases, biological heritage means nothing whatever. Perhaps he’s one of those Jewish people who don’t believe they’re actually descended from Abraham. Or maybe he believes he is and just doesn’t care.

It might be a reaction against the racialism that brought about the Holocaust. It’s easy to understand how a Jew might prefer to hear nothing more about race forever.

But, although it’s a fashionable idea in our time, I do wonder in my secret heart whether race is actually nothing.

Classic racism, it need hardly be said (but I guess I’d better), is complete hogwash. To think that one racial group is “better” or “higher” than another is nonsensical as far as I can see. If experience teaches us anything, it’s that nobody is unqualified for anything in the world on the basis of their race.

But is it purely and solely cultural that Asians, given broad opportunities, still tend (generally) to excel at mathematics and music? That black people run marathons faster than anybody else in the world? That Scandinavians are the world’s chief purveyors of suicide-inducing books and movies?

I have an idea that our current ideas on race stem from a belief, held as a dogma by many, that racism is the root cause of all the evil in the world (just as the Communists used to believe—some still do—that greed is the real source of the poison). I think that’s inadequate. Throughout human history, large portions of the world’s population never saw anyone of a different race in their lives. That didn’t stop the Irish from hating the English, or the Bosnians from hating the Serbs.

And I still don’t understand how the brave new world everyone seems to want—the one where all the colors are mixed and everybody looks Brazilian—will be more beautiful and diverse than the one we’ve got, where you can actually fly to a different country and see people who look different from the folks at home.

Of course, I probably only think these things because I’m a racist.

I’ll go and do my penance now.

Random salad

Brother Baal and one of his sons will come in tonight and sleep here. The rest of the kith will gather here tomorrow. I have every confidence that this will be a Christmas that will be remembered long after I’m dead as one of the most disastrous my nieces and nephews ever experienced.

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s my policy to always expect the worst. I figure it’s a way of cheating the malevolent forces of the universe. I like to think there’s a good chance they’ll choose to get their kicks out of disproving my prophecy, and so let the events turn out OK.

This policy hasn’t worked with the predictions in my novels, so I don’t know why I cling to it.

Yes I do. I cling to it because I’m neurotic.

I listened to Michael Medved driving home from work tonight, and heard part of his interview with Chris Gardner, the guy Will Smith plays in the new movie, “Pursuit of Happyness.” I don’t know how the movie will be, but I’ve rarely heard a guy on the radio I just liked so much, so quickly.

Good news via Libertas: Ennio Morricone is finally getting his Academy Award. There’s a vestigial remnant of justice somewhere under heaven after all.

Also, I’ve been informed by way of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America that my old publisher, Baen Books, is making books available to the disabled:

“Baen Books (www.baen.com), a publisher of science fiction, will provide its

books to fans who are blind, paralysed, or dyslexic, or are amputees, in

electronic form free of charge, effective immediately.”

My novel Wolf Time is one of those books in electronic form, unless they’ve dumped it (always a possibility).

Privileged Information by Stephen White

A while back I read an article (in National Review Online, I think) that recommended mystery authors conservatives might like. Among them were Jonathan Kellerman and Stephen White, both writers of books featuring psychologist detectives. I took to Kellerman right off. White delighted me less, but I’ve run through the Kellerman in paperback now, and I’ve decided to move on to White. Privileged Information is the book that kicked off White’s Alan Gregory series. Having completed it, I think I may have underrated him on the first book.

Alan Gregory practices in Boulder, Colorado. He is separated from his wife and lives with his dog. He has a healthy practice and likes to take long bike rides for recreation.

One of his patients, a seductive and sexually troubled woman, commits suicide. Somehow her father, a rich, powerful man, gets his hands on information that leads him to believe that Gregory has violated professional ethics by sleeping with her. He calls for an investigation aimed at getting his license revoked.

Then another recent female patient of Gregory’s is killed in an auto accident.

And another female patient is murdered.

A police detective begins to look closely at the psychologist’s life.

Meanwhile Gregory starts dating a local prosecuting attorney who has intimacy issues. And one of his male patients begins to act in a bizarre, threatening manner.

None of this is coincidence. Someone is working out a plan, and Gregory’s life (along with his girlfriend’s) will depend on his ability to analyze the workings of a very dangerous mind. Because the rules of privileged information prevent him from telling the police about certain things he knows. And the killer knows that and uses it.

I can’t think about Stephen White’s books without comparing them to Jonathan Kellerman’s. And in terms of plain fun, for me there’s no contest.

Kellerman’s world is California bright. I picture his scenes in vivid colors and sharp definition. White’s stories leave me with a darker feeling, evening in an impressionist painting. I have a harder time imagining what his characters look like.

To me, White seems more realistic. Alan Gregory isn’t an optimist like Kellerman’s Alex Delaware. He practices psychology more in the manner I’d practice it if I had gone into the field (which would have been insanely wrongheaded). Gregory has trouble leaving his work at the office. He agonizes over minor failures, the sort that lead patients to leave therapy, to say nothing of the big ones where patients kill themselves.

I think that’s the main reason I enjoy Kellerman’s books more. White’s books are uncomfortably close to home.

I haven’t really discerned the conservative elements the National Review promised me. There was a gratuitious swipe at the Reagans in this book. However, one plot element did satisfy my prejudices. A female character turns out to be wrong about a serious matter, and apologizes at the end. When was the last time you read a book where something like that happened?

So I think I’ll carry on with White. I think Alan Gregory may grow on me.

Linking today

Linking: the last refuge of the uncreative. Got some good ones today though.

Ed Veith at Cranach passes on some information about possible evidence that Jesus may in fact have been born on December 25. Probably too good to be true, but few things would satisfy me more than poking a finger in the collective eye of the Scroogeist Church.

Aitchmark sent me the following link which he describes as a “wonderful, amazing timesink”: How Products Are Made.

And finally, continuing in the comprehensive mode, novelist Michael Z. Williamson alerted me to every guy’s dream knife.

Song of a grumpy dwarf

(I don’t write poetry often. Mostly because mine stinks.)

Who needs wizards or witches? I told them all myself

Back at the start. The story front to back.

Well, not the part about the apple. That

Gave even me a shock.

But in the end

It worked out as I warned them.

Princesses! What matters it to dwarfs

How ladies live or die? No princess ever born

Would spend a sigh on any dwarf that lives. Oh,

She might laugh to see

Us trudging up the street

Or spare a moment’s pity.

But in our sagging cottage? To bring a princess in

Is to shift all. Her beauty makes our home

A donkey’s stall. The brush, the broom, the soap

And paint are not enough.

She calls it good,

But dreams of silk and marble.

You think a princess born would be content to bide

In this rude shed? With seven ugly half-men?

When in her head a thousand ballads cry

To fetch her to her own?

You cannot hold

An eaglet in an anthill.

Oh, you may dream in secret things unspoken;

Dwarfs are Ygg’s worms. Sight is not enough.

We yearn to swarm. We lust to hold and touch

The buttery weight of gold,

The silver star,

Or any other heart-sweet.

And now she’s gone. The tall one came and pinched her

Just as I reckoned. Now our house is vast,

And vastly vacant. Spiders drape in corners.

Dust drifts in cupboards.

Dishes welter.

And washing would remind us.

The Bookman’s Wake by John Dunning

The Bookman’s Wake is the second book in a detective series starring Cliff Janeway. Janeway is a former cop who gave up police work to become a rare book seller. In this story he is approached by a former colleague, another ex-cop who has become a private detective. Janeway neither likes nor trusts the man, but is tempted by his offer—five thousand dollars to arrest a woman who has jumped bail, and bring her back to Denver for trial. Her picture looks nice, the money sounds good, and her case is interesting. She is accused of stealing (twice) a rare book printed by a legendary small publisher named Darryl Grayson, whose books are famous both for being almost perfect and extremely hard to find.

Things go badly very quickly. Janeway approaches her under an assumed identity (her name is—seriously—Eleanor Rigby), and finds they have much in common. She’s a “book scout.” She makes a precarious living prowling used bookstores and thrift shops for underpriced books she can sell to dealers at a profit. Though very young, she can teach Janeway some things about books. He meets her family, printers themselves (her father worked for the famous Grayson) and likes them too. She makes a sexual advance, but he turns her down, partly because of his deception and partly because of her age.

About the time he decides he can’t bear to turn her over to the police, Eleanor gets arrested anyway. Janeway ends up escorting her as originally planned, but then she is kidnapped by a mysterious thug with an agenda of his own. Janeway must pick his way through the intricate maze of an old mystery in order to rescue her.

I liked Dunning’s writing. He uses words with real skill, and his characters are interesting and mostly well drawn. His knowledge of the book trade makes reading his novel educational in itself.

I had a problem with his hero though. Cliff Janeway is supposed to be both a cerebral book lover and a very tough guy. The combination isn’t impossible or even unlikely, but Dunning didn’t make it work for me here. The contrast between Janeway’s normal narration and the action sequences where he becomes deadly and violent struck me as too extreme. It was as if there were two characters, with no connection between them. I’d have liked to have seen some transition, some reflection of each facet in the other. But perhaps I’m just operating from a preconception about book people.

Also, except for the final showdown, I thought Janeway was just too good in a fight. In particular, he comes up against one criminal supposed to be a shadowy, dangerous, deadly killer, but he handles him with ease. It would have increased plot tension and improved believability if Dunning had made the struggle a little harder.

I was also irritated by Dunning’s politics. He’s entitled to them, of course, and I’d defend to the death his right to work them into his novels, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy his books. Conservatives, here, are uniformly either stupid or venal, all television evangelists are evil con men, and any dissent from environmental causes is a sign of moral turpitude.

I was also amazed by one bad word choice that astonished me in a book so well-written. This is the offending sentence:

“But the deal had to be handled with tenterhooks. The woman was extremely nervous”

A guy who knows words as well as Dunning ought to be aware that tenterhooks are not instruments of delicate manipulation. Tenterhooks were tools in the old weaving industry. Lengths of cloth were hung from them for stretching. “Being on tenterhooks” means to be in a state of tension, not caution.

The Bookman’s Wake has much to recommend it, but I don’t think I’ll be patronizing that particular shop again.

Romper Room wonks

Tonight I cooked one of my brother Baal’s purple potatoes for supper. Did you know there are such things as purple potatoes?

It tasted like a potato. No surprises there, thank goodness. But a purple potato is deeply disturbing on a fundamental level. It’s purple inside and out, with thin of sheath of white between the “meat” and the skin. It looks like some kind of unnatural hybrid of potato and beet, and you can’t help thinking that it’s going to taste like something approved by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Visual cues mean a lot to most of us, and by that standard, I just don’t… (ready for this?) dig purple potatoes.

But it was interesting. Definitely interesting. Maybe three-year-olds will like them, if you tell them they’re dinosaur livers.

Rodham Devon, it was cold today. Cold out of a clear cerulean sky, so that if you kept your window shades open you got a nice solar rebate on your fuel oil bill. But the ambient temperatures more than adjusted for that. On a day like today, there’s nothing between us and the interstellar wastes except a little rind of planetary atmosphere. The sunlight drops in and bounces right back where it came from. Minnesota. A nice place to visit, but even sunlight doesn’t want to spend time here in the winter.

Lots of talk about the Iran Study Group report today. From what I hear and read on the web, it seems pretty much like what everybody expected.

I keep flashing back to my childhood. Elementary school. Green chalkboards and linoleum. A “cool” teacher telling the class, “Today we’re going to have a discussion on current events.”

And he would ask our opinions on how we thought various issues in the news ought to be handled.

The answers were always the same.

In domestic affairs, the answer always was, “The government should make a law…”

In international affairs, the answer always was, “We should sit down with other countries and talk about it.”

“That’s very good. Very thoughtful,” the teacher would say.

(Thomas the weird kid, of course, would say something like, “I think we ought to drop an atom bomb on ‘em.” But the teacher would tell him sternly that if he had nothing appropriate to offer, he should just be quiet.)

Fifty years later, it seems like most of us are still trying to impress that teacher.

Maybe it’s because our culture has bought into the myth of the Wisdom of Children (an opinion that seems to gain adherents as the birth rate decreases).

Or maybe it’s because we’re just culturally stuck in an infantile mode, dressing even in middle age like kids in an Our Gang feature, and bragging loudly about the toys we’ve accumulated (like Viking live steel gear, I know).

But I think a lot of us—even the old codgers of the Iraq Study Group—stopped refining our thinking about public affairs back in elementary school, and we haven’t noticed that the world is a little more complex than we knew in fifth grade.

What was your suggestion again, Thomas?

Grave meditations

It’s cold in the Twin Cities now, but we’ve only had light flurries of snow, flurries that left small trace behind. It’s kind of academic anyway, because it’s supposed to get up to about forty on Saturday, and anything we’d gotten, short of a major blizzard, would melt then anyway.

It felt even colder yesterday, out in the cemetery at the committal service. Especially bareheaded as I was. I wore my full winter Sunday regalia to the funeral, including my black homburg hat. I wore the hat in particular so I could take it off at the cemetery. And that’s why I’m taking zinc to fight a head cold today.

I feel that every person has a right to have some man in a black homburg hat at their funeral, to take it off at the appropriate time. In the past such uncoverings were taken for granted, but nowadays you’ve got to find an eccentric like me to give the proceedings that particular classy note.

Perhaps its part of the ancient tradition of human sacrifice at funerals. The Romans, as you may know, held gladiatorial combats to say goodbye to the dead. The Vikings liked to strangle a slave or two to keep King Gunnar company in his funeral mound.

And up until recently, we had men taking off their black homburgs at our funerals in the dead of winter, so that there was a good chance one of the older ones would contract pneumonia and follow after shortly, along that long, lonesome road.

This by way of Archaeology in Europe: Vatican Archaeologists Unearth St. Paul’s Tomb.

Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul that had been buried beneath Rome’s second largest basilica.

I wonder if they’ll find the skull with the body (Paul is said to have been beheaded, so that part could be missing). I’d like to see a forensic recreation, to learn how close to the traditional description he really was. I have to think the traditional picture is right, because I can’t imagine any reason why anyone would make up such an unattractive image. Paul is said to have been short and bowlegged, with a large, domed head and a prominent nose. He is also supposed to have been bald and to have had thick lips, which would probably be harder to determine working from the bones.

I love skull reconstructions. Somebody find me St. Olaf’s skull, or Chaucer’s. Give me a face to look at. If I can’t have a time machine, I’ll take whatever I can get.

In memoriam: Cousin Amos

I took off work today and drove down to my home town for a funeral.

My dad’s cousin Amos had died, old and full of years. He was probably Dad’s best friend among his cousins. His farm was only about two and a half miles from ours. We went to the same church, and he was one of the small group of farmers, dad among them, who helped one another fill their silos every year (an activity that nearly killed several members one year, when a steel silo collapsed. I wrote about a silo like that in Wolf Time).

Amos was almost an archetypal Norwegian farmer. He didn’t say much, although he liked to joke when he was with family and friends. In the community he was wholly overshadowed by his wife, a formidable woman who ran our church Sunday School like a general and was not afraid to step on toes as a crusading member of the local school board.

But he was loved. Our old church was filled to the rafters today, by people saying goodbye. Amos’ only granddaughter stood up to give a tearful and moving eulogy. She told how, in her last phone call to him, she had thanked him for the wonderful heritage he had left them, and then had felt ridiculous because nobody in her generation ever talks about “heritage.”

The pastor gave a simple, solid gospel sermon, saying that Amos had made his work easy, because he had been sure where he was going. Even my brother Moloch, who drove up from Iowa, was impressed with the sermon.

I was more deeply moved than I expected to be. I think I was mourning more than Cousin Amos. I was mourning my own parents, and a part of my life, and a way of living that is passing forever. The town isn’t the same, and farming isn’t the same. Even Norwegian Lutherans aren’t the same. And we are the poorer for it in many ways.

But I’m grateful for my heritage too. And, if nothing else, I also know where I’m going.

Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead

I spent the bulk of my weekend in Wireless Router Purgatory. I got a little shopping in and went to church and all that, but Saturday and Sunday evenings were pretty much spent on the phone with a series of East Indians, most of whom seemed to be consulting the manual between instructions.

I’d tried wireless networking before, but gave it up after three set-ups because I always had to call Earthlink for a “bridge,” and Earthlink always made it fairly clear that I was cheating by not using equipment rented from them, but they’d stretch a point just this once.

So when I needed high-speed access for my tenant, I figured I’d just bite the projectile and order the fixin’s from Earthlink. All the difficulties I’d had setting up wireless in the past, I was sure, must have been due to the basic incompatibility of open-market equipment with Earthlink’s Own. This time it should be easy.

Ah, to be young again, guileless and starry-eyed.

After several hours with tech support I had everything working Saturday night. It worked right up to the time I signed off the internet on both computers. After that, neither computer had access anymore.

Finally yesterday I got to talk to a supervisor who knew what he was doing. It took 2 ½ hours, but we got it up and running in the end. Except that the laptop still doesn’t have access. He’s sending a new adaptor. For now I’m back to the same access I had before, except that I’m running it through more complicated connections.

Oh yes, I was going to review a book, wasn’t I?

Stephen Lawhead’s Hood is the beginning of a new trilogy. Lawhead has taken on the legend of Robin Hood this time, but of course, being Lawhead, he’s doing it his own way. I was a little wary of his approach, but all in all it worked for me.

Lawhead’s Robin Hood is not the Robin of the movies and television shows, nor even the Robin of the old English ballads. It’s Lawhead’s belief that such a legend could never have risen in the England where it finally established itself, but must in fact have older roots in a different place—Wales in the time of King William Rufus, successor to William the Conqueror.

I don’t generally care for literary relocations. I like my heroes in their proper places. I don’t like stories where Sherlock Holmes goes to New York (or Minnesota), or Philip Marlowe is transplanted to London. I don’t like stories about cowboys in Africa. Nevertheless, Lawhead got over my reservations and won my close attention.

This Robin Hood is Bran ap Brychan, the willful and immature son of a minor Welsh king. When his father is treacherously killed by invading Normans, Bryn first travels to London to appeal to the king’s justice. What he gets is a demand for payment for the restoration of his kingdom. When he returns to Wales he falls afoul of the Normans in possession and becomes a wounded fugitive. Wandering in the forest, he is rescued by someone who heals his body and helps him to discover his destiny.

I found Hood compelling reading. I don’t think Lawhead has ever managed to become the author his early career arc promised, but the story kept me turning the pages, and the characters were sharply drawn and appealing. Bran himself is fascinating—a spoiled, rebellious boy whose instinct is to flee his responsibilities, but who is led by grace to take up his destiny.

One element that worked well for me was an addition to the Robin Hood mythos—Lawhead puts Robin in a disguise. He wears a hooded feathered cloak and mask to resemble a large, supernatural raven (hence the title of the series, The Raven King Trilogy). This might possibly rise from the influence of Russell Thorndike’s Scarecrow of Romney Marsh stories. It worked marvelously well here, I thought.

Lawhead didn’t talk me over, personally, with his historical reasons for moving Robin to Wales. One fact he never mentions seems a weighty one to me—that Hood (or Hode) is a very common family name in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, the area where most of the ballads place the outlaw.

But that said, the book was a great ride and I look forward to the next one. I was also relieved that the reflexive anti-Catholicism of Lawhead’s recent work is nowhere to be seen here. There are good priests and bad priests, but no broad-brushed denunciations of the Roman church. So Catholic readers can relax. I discerned no major moral or theological lessons in the book (except for the importance of maturity and unselfishness), but Lawhead likes to leave that sort of thing for the very end.

Hood is suitable for teens and above. The morality is OK, considering the time and place. Robin Hood is a thief after all (I think we all knew that), but you can justify that on the basis of his being a king carrying on a war.

Pretty good book.

“You’ll have to sleep somewhere else”

Important News Update: I have now finished off my Thanksgiving leftovers.

Further developments will be reported as they occur.

Today was road trip day. Marty, a guy from the maintenance crew at work, and I drove a couple hours to a town in western Minnesota, to pick up thirty cartons of books donated to our archive.

The donor is the same guy I wrote about a while back, the one who perpetrated the classic “shrinking turkey in the microwave” Thanksgiving prank.

His name is Marvin, and he is the son of a pastor of the old Lutheran Free Church, predecessor to my own church body.

He showed me a story he’d written, called “My Father’s Best Sermon.”

I think it’s one of the finest stories I’ve ever read.

I’m going to pass it on to our denominational magazine, but I’ll give you a condensed version.

When Marvin was a young teenager (around the 1930s or early ‘40s, I imagine), he asked his father if he could go with the other kids to some entertainment event (he didn’t say what kind). His father said it wouldn’t be appropriate and told him no. Marvin said he was going anyway, and headed out.

“If you go out without my approval,” his father told him as he reached the door, “this house will be locked when you get home, and you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

Marvin refused to back down. He left. He enjoyed the event.

That, he said, was the short part of the night.

When he got home he found the house dark, the doors locked. Even that window in the basement that the kids could sometimes work loose was locked tight.

Marvin stood in the dark, thinking about his options. It wasn’t winter, but it was fall and the night was getting cold.

He remembered a sort of loft in the chicken coop which his brother and he had appropriated as a “secret place.” It had a sort of a mattress and a ratty quilt.

He went into the chicken coop and climbed up. The “mattress” was there, but the quilt was gone.

Lacking other options, he lay down on the mattress and curled up in a fetal position. The cold wind blew in through the cracks. The coop stank of chicken droppings. There was no way to sleep. He lay there in the darkness hugging himself, shivering. The hours passed slowly. He wondered if he could make it through the night.

Then, at last, he heard a door open. He heard a creaking sound as someone climbed the board ladder to the loft. Someone put a pillow under his head, lay down and held him close, and pulled a quilt over both of them.

In the darkness, he heard his father say, “Marvin, when I said that if you disobeyed me you’d have to find another place to sleep tonight, I didn’t say that I would sleep inside.”

And so that pastor taught his son the true meaning of the Incarnation.

Wish I’d had a dad like that.

Wait. I do.

Losing face

I don’t know whether to take pride in this or feel like the kid not invited to the party.

Oh heck, I guess I’ll go with Number Two. It’s what I know best.

I saw a display from Myheritage.com on somebody’s blog the other day (if it was yours, I apologize. I just can’t remember which blog it was). They’re a genealogy site, but they have a sideline that uses face recognition software to tell people (on the basis of an uploaded picture) what famous people they resemble. They encourage you to post the result on your blog.

I thought, “That’s cool. I’ll probably be matched with somebody really embarrassing and be able to bounce a couple jokes off it.”

So I tried it today.

Nothing.

No matches. Not a single famous person looks at all like me.

This leaves me just where I was before with the eternal question, “Who would I choose to play me in a movie based on my life?”

I’ve agonized over this decision for years. Especially since Michael J. Pollard stopped working.

I’ll have to play me myself.

But who will play The Young Walker?

Maybe Michael J. Pollard has a kid.

Walker has good day. In other news, pigs take up barnstorming

Today is a good day. A day that will live in my yellowed book of memories, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Dave Lull sent me this link, about how it looks like some Norwegians served in the Roman legions.

Archaeological findings have strengthened notions amongst scholars that quite a few Norwegians, from the farthermost north of Europe, in all likelihood served as soldiers in the Roman legions.

You may or may not know that it was the practice of the Romans to station “auxiliaries” (that is, legions made up of “barbarians” from the provinces) in corners of the empire farthest from their original homes, so as to prevent them growing sympathetic to local insurgents. A large number of the soldiers who served in Palestine came from Germany. Assuming that the Norwegians would have been lumped together with the Germans, some of my ancestors (my great-grandfather was born at Avaldsnes) might have been witnesses to the life, death and even resurrection of Christ.

Might have scourged Christ personally, as a matter of fact. Though I prefer to imagine virtuous centurions.

Anyway, the good thing that happened today was that I came home to a package from Norway in the mail (you thought I was writing about your package, weren’t you, Phil? Well, your package was great too. Thanks again). This was from Cousin Trygve in Hardanger, and it was the CD De Beste, by Sissel Kyrkjebø (sorry, no picture there).

As is to be expected in a “Best of” album, a lot of it is stuff I already have (as if I can ever have enough copies of Sissel’s songs). But it includes some cuts from the very beginning of her career, when she was a girl soloist on a Norwegian TV show called “Syng Med Oss” (“Sing With Us”). One of them is a song that was on an album the show’s cast did for the Norwegian National Cancer Foundation, which I once borrowed from a friend and of which I made an illegal copy, one of my treasured possessions to this day. (No, I don’t condone illegal copying, but this was an album absolutely impossible to acquire by legal means. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation.)

The song was Sissel doing the Japanese international hit “Sukiyaki.” I know it sounds ridiculous—a Japanese song sung in Norwegian by a Norwegian. But it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Sissel was born to sing that song. According to the liner notes, I’m not the only person who’s been dreaming of a re-release of that cut. They’ve been getting requests from all over the world (Sissel is actually very big in Japan). And now it’s here. And I have it.

If I never post again, it’ll because I’ve died of joy. Life can only go downhill from here.

Update: In case anyone should be thinking of ordering the De Beste album (and I do recommend it), I should give one warning. What I’ve heard so far has been almost uniformly great, with some wonderful surprises, but one big disappointment. One of the cuts on the second disk is Sissel’s “duet” with the rapper Warren G, over the music to Borodin’s “Prince Igor.” It’s a very odd mix, with Borodin’s lovely music and Sissel’s transcendent voice backing up Warren G’s hostile and frankly dirty rap lyrics. There’s a lot of profanity in it, and it sits like a cowpie in the middle of a cathedral. I understand the song did well commercially, but I wish Sissel had turned it down. So be warned.

Pay no attention to me. I’m delirious today.

Still feeling punk. Left work early again, as soon as an assistant was in to watch the library.

I put my (artificial) Christmas tree up over the weekend. It’s in front of one of the big windows at the front of my house, so that you can see it from outside, and it gives the interior a warm glow.

I don’t belong to the “Welcome to St. Nick’s Casino” school of Christmas lighting. I prefer my lights to say, “This is a home full of love” (that mine isn’t a home full of love is beside the point.).

When people pass by I want them to say, “It looks warm and cozy in there. I’d like to be in that house.”

But of course they can’t come in. It’s my house. Mine, mine, mine!

And after all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Talk show hosts Michael Medved and Dennis Prager disagree today on whether freshman congressman Keith Ellison should be permitted to be sworn in on the Koran. Medved says yes, Prager says no.

Since I’m going to be one of Mr. Ellison’s constituents (for my sins), I’ll break the tie.

Medved is right.

There is no religious test for public office in America. If that puts the Koran into an American ceremony, well, I may not like it but I’ll have to live with it.

No, I don’t mean all rules are conditional

This will be short, if I have anything to say about it. I’m not feeling very well. One swollen gland (on the left side of my jaw, in case you’re making a diagram), and feeling run down. I chickened out of work a little early today, and hope to spend the evening on my back.

My renter has moved in, and so far he has made himself almost invisible. That’s how we like our renters around here. He’s even found a couple things in the house he thinks he can upgrade for me.

Of course that’s how it would start, wouldn’t it, if this were a slasher movie? The quiet, helpful tenant moves in and proceeds to gradually take over the house, and then my life, until the moment when he finally reveals his horrid, unspeakable plans for me…

However, I’ve noticed that real life generally resembles horror movies only in this regard, that if you feel under your seat you’ll find dried gum.

Dennis Prager had a guest on the other day who’d written a book on grammar. One subject they brought up was the common “John and I” mistake, where the person says, “He delivered the pizza to John and I.”

In fact it ought to be “John and me” in this sentence. You can figure out what to do by simply dropping John (and believe me, honey, you should have dropped the bum long ago) and seeing how the sentence goes without him. “He delivered the pizza to me” is obviously correct. Adding John to the mix does not change the matter.

But I know where the problem comes from. It comes from overextended rule-following. I remember even today my mother hearing me say, “Moloch and me went out into the grove,” and she corrected me. “It’s ‘Moloch and I went out to the grove.’”

She failed to add (and I probably wouldn’t have understood it if she had, at that age) that this only applied to the objects of sentences, not the subjects. (Or is it subjects, not objects? I always get them confused. Look it up? I’m sick, you sadist!)

Anyway, many people never get past that lesson and believe that “X and I” is correct in all situations.

Thus do we try to apply as absolutes rules which are only conditional. No doubt there are many such situations, in grammar and life.

But I’m too tired to think about it.