All posts by Lars Walker

Bitter? Moi?

Haven’t got much to tell tonight. I’ve delayed coming online in order to keep my phone free so the repairman may call me and tell me my desktop (home of my high-speed connection) is fixed. Of course there’s been no such call.

The only thing I’ve got to report is a call that did come in—at work—from the friend I call Chip (for blogging purposes, not personal conversations).

I don’t think I’ve told you what Chip does for a living. He drives a limousine. It’s a perfect job for him. He likes to drive and he likes to talk to people. When I think of a guy finding his niche, Chip leaps (or rolls) to mind.

Anyway, he called me at my office number and said, “I’m driving a guy named Neil Gaiman around today. You ever heard of him?”

I said yes, I’d read one of his novels.

Chip had to hang up then, because Gaiman and his handlers were at that moment piling back into the limo to be transported from Minnesota Public Radio to some bookstore. Or something.

He called back later to tell me where Gaiman would be speaking and signing books this evening, in case I wanted to come.

I chose not to. I had a computer repair call to wait for. And frankly I’m still somewhat miffed that in a world where there’s probably only room for one big novel about Odin trying to set up shop in modern America, it was Gaiman’s book that found that particular niche and not my own Wolf Time.

If Gaiman wants to meet me, let him ask me to lunch. That’s what I say.

The phone continues silent.

A hypocrite’s pretty much like a prude, right?

Today Gene Edward Veith at Cranach blogged on the point (which I’ve brought up myself here) that in our society today all crimes, however vile, are considered preferable to hypocrisy. In theory the modern American thinks that a man who struggles in the privacy of his soul with a besetting sin like drunkenness is a hypocrite, and therefore far more to be condemned than a mass murderer, providing the mass murderer commits his crime in public, before the eyes of all.

In my comment I referenced a poem of Ogden Nash’s, which seemed to me prophetic. I’ll post the poem here. This version comes from the collection Verses From 1929 On, published by Modern Library.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE IRKSOME PRUDE

Once upon a time there was a young man named Harold Scrutiny.

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Harold had many virtues and practically no vices.

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He smoked, to be sure.

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Also he drank and swore.

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Moreover, he was a pickpocket.

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But, for all that, Harold was no prude.

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I am no prude, Harold often said.

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But Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad is a prude, the old prude, said Harold.

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One day Harold went into the subway to pick some pockets.

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There was a man on the platform penciling a beard on the lady on the toothpaste placard.

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Hey, said Harold.

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Hey who, said the man.

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Hey you, that’s hey who, said Harold.

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Aren’t you going to give her a moustache?

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Sure I’m going to give her a moustache, said the man.

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What do you think I am?

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I think you’re somebody that puts beards on ladies on toothpaste placards before they put on the moustache, said Harold.

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Don’t you know enough to put the moustache on first?

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You put the moustache on first, why then you can turn it up or turn it down, whichever you want, said Harold.

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You try to turn a moustache down after the beard’s on, it runs into the beard, said Harold.

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It don’t look like a moustache, only like a beard grows up and down both.

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Go on, said the man, go on and pick some pockets.

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Harold turned to his work, but his mind was elsewhere.

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Suddenly the lady on the toothpaste placard got off the toothpaste placard and arrested him.

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It was Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad all the time.

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You got a beard grows up and down both, said Harold.

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Detective Guilfoyle searched Harold.

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He certainly was surprised at what he found.

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So was Harold.

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Harold hadn’t picked any pockets at all because his mind was elsewhere.

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He had picked a peck of pickled peppers.

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Detective Guilfoyle wanted to call Harold a name, but he couldn’t because he was a prude.

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Harold picked his pocket and later became the smokingest swearingest, drinkingest Assistant District Attorney the county ever had.

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Don’t be a prude.

Paul by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [in George MacDonald’s Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Chapter XI).

For some years I have told people that there is one author in particular whose sandals I feel myself utterly unworthy to untie. That author is Walter Wangerin. If I could trade my entire past and future literary output for the ability to say that I’d written The Book of the Dun Cow, I’d… well, I’d be strongly tempted. If any work of expressly Christian fiction written in my lifetime is likely to endure, I think it will be that marvelous book. Not only for its outstanding literary quality, but for the Holiness Lewis found in MacDonald and I find in Wangerin.

Still, I haven’t been a big reader of Wangerin’s books. That was partly because I thought he’d gone over the top with his sequel, The Book of Sorrows, a book almost unendurable for me from an emotional point of view. Also he’s a pastor in good standing in the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, and I have to assume that means we have major theological disagreements, particularly in terms of our views of Scripture.

But if Paul is typical of the stuff Wangerin’s been putting out all these years, I’ve got some catching up to do. I can quibble with some of his dramatic choices, but taken all in all this is a fine, spiritually nourishing work of fiction, one that I heartily recommend to all readers.

The book is largely a retelling of the material we are given in the Book of Acts in the Bible. The story of Paul’s life is told from multiple viewpoints—people who knew Paul like Barnabas and Prisca and James the Apostle and Timothy (one exception is the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s tutor, who keeps us posted on events in Rome). Each chapter presents the story from a different point of view, friendly or hostile to Paul. Each narrator is well-defined and believable as a character. Wangerin makes use of historical research to flesh out Scripture’s spare accounts, helping stories and passages we’ve known all our lives take on new vividness.

I can hardly think of a better commentary on Acts and the Epistles than this, as a gift for a new Bible reader.

I wouldn’t have handled some of the material the way Wangerin does. He alters the scriptural account in small ways. For instance, as he tells it here, Barnabas’ break-up with Paul was not a result of a fight over giving John Mark another chance to accompany them, but over the dispute about eating with Gentiles. Dramatically, though, it works better this way, and we all know that it’s possible for two witnesses to remember different causes. Wangerin is also bold enough to add small paragraphs to biblical passages, as if restoring lost sections. I don’t think I’d have the nerve (or the temerity) to add to Scripture that way.

Wangerin also invents some unrecorded incidents (though not many), and one in particular (concerning a prison escape) struck me as kind of far-fetched.

But overall I enjoyed the novel very much, and it improved my comprehension of the New Testament (and I speak as one who’s read the New Testament many times).

I encourage you to read Paul. Drink in the Holiness. Wangerin’s health is bad. We may not have many more books from him.

Belated aaaaaargh!

I promised to review Beowulf & Grendel tonight. Can’t do it, due to the Great Software Conspiracy.

All my software is colluding to frustrate me. First of all, I’ve found it impossible to reinstall Norton System Works on my desktop after getting the hard drive replaced and reinstalling my original manufacturer software. Last night, after the umpteenth online chat with tech support, I admitted defeat. Today I took the computer back to the shop.

And that means that my review, which I wrote on that machine but prudently saved to my jump drive, can’t be posted, because it was written in Microsoft Works and this computer can’t read that (nor does the conversion utility work. All part of the conspiracy).

My cataloging software at work isn’t functioning properly either. It goes without saying that the technical support person who was supposed to call me back never did.

I’m delayed posting because a) I took the computer to the shop, and b) I couldn’t resist taking my evening walk, late as it got to be. Today was a beautiful day–beautiful like a final farewell to a loved one, on a deathbed or at the airport as they go off to war. “You’re not going to get another evening like this,” I said to myself. “Use it or regret it forever.”

Indian Summer evenings, at least, aren’t controlled by software.

I amaze myself once again

This is what it’s like to be me:

I have an e-mail friend out east who had emergency surgery the other day. Today I went into the bookstore I manage for the Bible school, to get her a get-well card (no customer discount, in case you were wondering. Our margins are already pretty low).

The card rang up to two dollars and change. As I was digging my money out, I started thinking, as I always do, about whether to pay exact price or get change.

I like to do exact price because, like everybody else in America, I’ve got too much of my personal assets invested in coins in peanut butter jars. But I often just get the change because I don’t want to keep the clerk (and the people in line behind me) waiting while I fumble in my coin purse.

I was about to do just that today, and then I thought, “I’m the clerk here. I have time to wait for me to count change.”

The utter irrationality of my way of living is a constant amazement to me.

It’s like being a university professor.

I declare tonight Movie Night in my domicile! The new Beowulf and Grendel movie, which played for about three hours in six widely separated theaters (none of them around here) has just come out on DVD. Some of my Viking contacts say it doesn’t s*ck, which is pretty high praise by Viking movie standards. I dusted the cobwebs off my Blockbuster card and rented it this afternoon.

I’ll let you know what I think. Monday, maybe.

Unsacred honor

We experienced a spike in site hits yesterday, thanks to Hunter Baker of Southern Appeal, who kindly linked to my recent post on dealing with honor cultures. I followed the link and participated in a comment discussion over there (plus a smaller one here). Some people raised legitimate questions about my views, and I hope I answered them ably. I also learned some things (even at my age).

I’m always a little alarmed to find myself taken seriously. When I’m over here at Brandywine Books, I feel like I’m more or less among friends, as if I were kicking back with buddies. When I give an opinion, I expect to be treated with some respect, but I take it for granted that the audience knows my weaknesses and humors me a bit. Facing strangers who seriously examine my arguments as if I’d spoken with some kind of authority makes me feel like an imposter in a Wodehouse story. “Did I pull it off? Apparently so. Jolly good! Now to the public house to restore the tissues!”

I’m not an expert, of course, except in a minor, amateur way in the area of Viking history and life. One might reasonably ask, “What right does that give you to spout off about Islamic culture?”

Perhaps none.

But I see a pattern here which I’ve rarely seen mentioned. When I look at the warrior culture I actually know about (the Norse) and compare it to my spotty knowledge about warrior cultures around the world, the similarities appear to me to outweigh the differences.

Whether you look at the Samurai in Japan with his bushido code, or the American Plains Indian with his warrior code, or the Zulu in Africa or the Mongol on the steppes, they exhibit highly similar behaviors. They do not tolerate insults. They do not apologize or forgive. When accused of crime or weakness, they deny or blame others. Rather than live with shame, they will willingly throw their lives away to kill the ones who wronged them. If they can’t manage that, they’ll commit suicide.

There are minor differences from culture to culture, of course, but the broad pattern seems to hold true wherever men are warriors.

Many people, no doubt (if they agreed with my observations), would attribute these similarities to basic human instinct, behaviors developed through evolution to permit the community to survive.

I attribute it to Original Sin. Because it’s really all about pride.

Which is not to say I despise the Men of Honor. I’m a Viking geek, after all. I see much to admire in honor cultures.

And there are kinds of cultures worse than the ones based on honor.

But honor and shame is a stage in cultural development that needs to be gotten past. It’s better to believe in compassion and forgiveness.

Unless you take it to the extent of national suicide, as I think some in this country would like to do.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong.

I’m not a Man of Honor, so I won’t kill you for it.

Pork-related thoughts

I’m late, late, late posting tonight. I needed to order replacement software from Hewlett-Packard after my computer crashed, and I got it today. I immediately set to work installing it after work, and needless to say it took longer than I expected. All I really wanted was to use Microsoft Word to compose this post in.

So, needless to say, everything in MS Office is working now, except for that. I’m using the MS Works processor instead.

Big news in Minneapolis tonight. We got the 2008 Republican convention.

My personal theory is that the Democratic city administration planned this, for nefarious purposes. They know that, considering the current crime rate in their city, it’s likely that a large part of the Republican leadership will end up on slabs in the morgue.

A side benefit will be that they’ll be able to use it as proof that taxes aren’t high enough.

Speaking of Silly Cities, Luther At the Movies pours scorn today on the city of New York for proposing a ban on transfats here. I fear for the fate of those politicos, now that they’ve been anathematized by the Mighty Doctor.

Speaking of pork fat (no, I don’t mean Dr. Luther), I was talking to a guy down in Iowa at the Viking Meet this weekend.

He said he used to work for the Department of Agriculture.

If he were a gambling man, he said, he’d go into raising hogs.

Right now, he said, you can keep a certain number of hogs in an enclosed setting without violating environmental rules. If you feed that number of hogs, you can make good money. Not from the meat, but from the manure, which is much in demand with fertilizer companies.

The problem–the gamble–is that there’s a disease going around among hogs. It’s related to the Chronic Wasting Disease that affects deer. It’s in every country that raises hogs, so there’s no guaranteed safe source of stock. And if one of your hogs has it, you’re flat out of luck. Bankrupt.

Or worse. The disease is also dangerous to humans.

Maybe kosher is a good idea, after all.

Insufficiently Old Spice

Via Libertas: Andrew Klavan (whom I want to be when I grow up… or down…) takes former President Clinton to pieces, discards the polystyrene filler, and finds about a microgram of substance left today, in this LA Times opinion piece.

Today was a turning day in Minnesota weather. Yesterday was nice, and today was nice until the afternoon (coincidentally just about the time I took my walk). The skies clouded up and rain began spattering. Tomorrow promises to be heavy jacket weather, with more chance of rain. The trees are beginning to slip into their clown outfits.

I’ve got a lot of caulking to do.

I bought a new bottle of Old Spice aftershave today. I’ve been off it for a while, for reasons I’ll explain (I know you won’t sleep if I don’t tell you), but I realized it’s really my favorite inexpensive brand. Nothing else measures up. So I re-stocked.

My main reason for not buying it was typically substantive, for me. I was angry about the packaging.

Remember the old Old Spice bottles? They had historical sailing ships on them, “etched” in blue to look like scrimshaw. They even noted the ships’ names. I loved those bottles. I loved to have them lined up in my medicine cabinet.

Then Procter & Gamble acquired them, and some hotshot went in to shake things up. “Old Spice is dull,” he probably said. “Old Spice is an old man’s brand. Old Spice is the Oldsmobile of shaving products.”

So he zipped it up. Gone were the proud old clippers, as if in a hurricane. In their place we found a yuppie sailboat, something designed to please Ted Turner.

I don’t want hip aftershave. I don’t want aftershave that promises to turn me into a 23-year-old, cocaine-thin male model with collagened lips and face stubble. I want aftershave with a sense of history.

I want my ships back!

What do I get instead? A new picture on the bottle. It features a small red and blue banner with a teeny-weeny little sailboat on top of it. The whole thing is lost in a vast expanse of blank, off-white bottle.

I’ll bet their next project is to paint the bottle green and shape it like a human sexual organ.

What’s in your wallet?

Well, I’m back. I’m almost disappointed to say I came home unscathed, except for sore muscles and a combination burn/bruise on the inside of my left forearm. That came from shooting my bow. (Ah-ha moment: “That’s why archers wear those arm guards!” There was a time when I was younger when I shot with a bow quite a lot. I never needed a guard back then. It must be a function of aging).

It’s a six-hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, but I made it there ahead of the other Minnesota participants and checked in to the local motel. (If the original Vikings had had motels, they’d have slept in them too. They might not have paid their bills, but they would have used the nice dry beds).

On Saturday we played with Skjaldborg, the Nebraska Viking group that was hosting us. They set up an interesting exercise that worried me at first, but turned out to be a lot of fun.

The “gauntlet,” as it was called, involved first throwing a couple spears at a pile of straw bales. Then the subject grabbed a shield, pulled his sword, and ran (while being shot at with blunt, rubber-tipped arrows) to another man armed with shield and sword, fighting his way past him (for the purposes of this game, the subject never got “killed”). Then he had to fight past a guy with a spear who guarded a narrow, marked-off passage called “the bridge.” Finally, he had to fight two guys with shields and swords at once.

It was better than chocolate. Afterwards we did some group fighting, and later the guy from Missouri who’d brought up his Viking boat pulled it out to a nearby reservoir so we could do some sailing. Here’s a picture. Look like fun?

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The boat’s a real beauty, built by a craftsman. Light to row and fast under sail.

As we put the boat back on its trailer, the weather began to turn Norwegian, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying authentic Viking cold rain. When I’d enjoyed as much of that as I could stand, I retired to my motel room.

The next day the other Minnesotans left early, but I stayed till around noon. We did the gauntlet again, but this time you had to “earn” your shield by actually getting your spear to stick in the hay pile. I suck as a spear thrower, so I had to do the rest with sword only.

Needless to say, the only way to handle a situation like that is to go on strong offense, attacking the defenders at a full run. I was completely winded and utterly happy when I was done.

Then some more group fighting, and then I packed up and drove home in a warm glow.

I am a mess as a human being. I am constantly hobbled and crippled by fears, neuroses and impacted memories. When I go to a reenactment event and set up my day shade, I remain a mess. I remain a mess while plans are made and instructions given.

But when the battle starts and the steel is in my hand, my complexes become simplex. I’m just a man among other men, with one thing on my mind. “In the zone,” “one with my weapon,” whatever cliche you like, that’s what I become.

It appears I have good instincts. The first time I ran the gauntlet, I faced a man with a spear for the first time in my life. I did what came naturally with my sword, and they told me afterwards it was a “textbook” parry.

It’s also play. I’ve never played much in my life, never done a lot of the rough stuff with other guys. To do it now, and know I’m not bad at it, bucks me up incredibly.

There’s a psychological technique called “play therapy,” isn’t there?

I think there’s a doctoral thesis in this, for some perceptive graduate student.

Today I’m wiped out. Tired and achy. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I caught my death in Saturday night’s rain.

Do you get a Viking funeral if you catch pneumonia in an encampment?

If so, I’d call it even.

The legend of the microwave and the bird

I forgot to mention that Libertas recently posted this review of Andrew Klavan’s new novel, Damnation Street. As you know, I boost Klavan at every opportunity. I’ve got to read these newer mysteries. Unfortunately, no store in the Twin Cities seems to carry them in stock. Wouldn’t have anything to do with his politics, do you think? Nah, not here.

This will probably be my last post till Monday. I’m driving down to Iowa for the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, and although I’ll be staying in a motel room and bringing my laptop, I never count on web access.

Today’s interesting anecdote:

I was asked to sit in on what is called a “President’s Lunch” at the Bible School today, because a couple who plan to donate a large number of books to our archives were going to be there. When they told me where they came from, I told a story about my one visit to that town. I had been there with my musical group in the early ’70s, and my hosts had told me an anecdote about a microwave oven.

The lady laughed. “That was us,” she said. “That was our story.” They turned out to be the same people we’d met on that first visit. (Not so great a coincidence, considering the size of the town.)

The story goes like this:

This was just when microwave ovens were first entering the consumer market. They were very high tech stuff, and not a little frightening. Some people refused to eat food cooked in the things.

This particular couple had a neighbor who was selling microwaves. He made them a thirty-day offer. “Try it out, see how you like it,” he said. “You can cook almost anything with this, in almost no time. You can cook a twelve pound turkey.”

The couple told him they were going to take a chance and cook their Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. They told him several times, to make sure he knew how important it was to them.

On Thanksgiving Day, at lunchtime, when everyone was sitting down with their families to eat, they called their neighbor.

“What have we done wrong?” they cried. “Come over here! Look what your microwave oven has done to our twelve-pound turkey!”

The neighbor and his wife left their meal and came over immediately, instruction book in hand.

“Look at this!” said the couple.

There on the turkey platter sat a tiny miniature bird, trussed, browned, but so small….

The dealer and his wife obsessed over the malfunction for some time, until the stifled laughs of the couple’s children tipped them off.

The couple had carefully stitched up and cooked a Cornish Game Hen.

I’ve always thought that was a pretty good practical joke.

Thoughts of a bloodthirsty librarian

Today I was processing books for the library, part of a large collection given to us by a minister who passed away recently.

I picked up one book on The Philosophy of John Dewey. I went to the web service we use to find cataloging data. Because the book is fairly old, there were only a few listings there. As always, I searched for a record that included the Library of Congress catalog number, because that’s the system we use. Unfortunately, there was none.

All the records, I found, were catalogued in Dewey Decimal.

I guess there’s a cosmic rightness there that overrides my personal convenience.

Also I found a book called Preaching Values, by Halford Luccock. That’s a title that surprises no one in our day. Obviously the book is meant to help pastors pass on Christian moral values in their sermons.

But this book was published in 1928. It was about the values, for preachers, of certain modern Bible translatons.

The new translations included Moffat and Goodspeed.

The past, truly, is a different country, my friends.

And yeah, I fantasize about living in that other country. Some days it looks like Heaven, or Norway, to me.

But our plumbing is better here.

I’m about to write about the Pope’s comments on Islam, and the Muslim reaction. If you’re sick of hearing about it, you can skip the rest of this post.

I saw a button back in the ’60s that said, “Support Mental Health Or I’ll Kill You.”

Any reasonable person would recognize that rioting and murdering people are a self-contradictory means of proclaiming one’s peacefulness. And the fact that a large part of the Muslim world fails to get the joke (such as it is) pretty much says it all.

But the Islamic world doesn’t care. Because they’re not involved in a struggle of ideas, but a struggle of honor.

Honor, and honor cultures, is one of my hobbyhorses. I believe (perhaps wrongly) that my study of Viking sagas has taught me something about the subject.

It’s not about making sense, for our enemies. It’s about having honor, being what Bin Laden calls “the strong horse.”

As long as we continue our policy, all over the West, of playing a game in which the other side’s role is to commit outrages and ours is to reward them for it, they will continue to see us as people of no honor. Weak horses. Countries that it would be an act of charity to conquer, so that they might teach us to be men.

The reasonable way to handle this (not in the common sense of the word “reasonable,” which for us means something like “inactive,” but reasonable in the sense of operating in a way appropriate to the situation) would be to act to defend our honor. Some kind of strong action is required, not necessarily, but probably, violent.

That would go far to restore our honor in their eyes.

It would be a charitable act too, because it might warn them off. They would be less likely to commit the enormity that seems, under present conditions, pretty much inevitable. Because when that enormity happens–when they blow up a bomb in America, or unleash a chemical weapon, we will unite again and take violent action. Probably even if the president is a Democrat. Many more people will die under that scenario.

It won’t happen, of course. Bush would be impeached. Someone might even assassinate him under the current climate of opinion (or passion).

I can hear people objecting now, “But defending our honor’s not a Christian response!”

Those who say this are generally the same people who’ve been trying to tell us for thirty years that America is not a Christian nation, and has never been a Christian nation. Christianity, they insist, is more foreign to American tradition than Peruvian painting or Mongolian music.

But I’ve written about that before. And I don’t believe Christian personal ethics apply to governments. “The emperor bears the sword” (Romans 13:4), after all.

And I also think saving lives is a consideration that bears a certain moral weight.

Talk like an ambivalent pirate

Aaaargh! According to Mr. Hugh Hewitt, it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey. And I always believes what Cap’n Hewitt tells me.

Not much to log tonight, shipmates, because I just got me desktop thinkin’ engine home again, and I’ve got me a powerful lot of restorin’ to do, by thunder.

But I’ve got this peculiar story here, from Junk Yard Blog, tellin’ us that the things most of us think about New Yorkers are true about ten percent of the time.

I was about to say “Blow me down,” but I’m thinkin’ it wouldn’t be in good taste.

The Man Of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

I’m not sophisticated enough to read Montalbán.

All my life I’ve had a reputation for being fairly bright, but I’ve borne this secret shame—there’s lots of modern literature, highly praised by people of greater intellect than mine, that I just don’t comprehend. I read these works through (or did, when I was in school and had to), but they speak to me not at all, and I have to assume it’s my own fault.

But I’m not entirely sure that’s the reason I didn’t like this Spanish novel. I have a suspicion that this one is just plain superficial and dull. Somebody sent it to Phil for review, and he passed it on to me without finishing it. I read the whole thing because I enjoy writing nasty reviews better than he does.

Montalbán’s detective hero, Pepe Carvalho, is advertised as Barcelona’s answer to Philip Marlowe. I suppose that’s true. Just as Marlowe embodied a certain world-weary, mid-twentieth century American cynicism which, being American, retained a reservation of personal integrity and courage, Pepe Carvalho is the perfect postmodern European.

Pepe is, above everything else, cool. He’s too cool to have close personal relationships. There is Charo, his on-and-off girlfriend, a former prostitute. There is Biscuter, a physically unimpressive young man whom Pepe rescued from the streets and made his personal assistant. But Pepe doesn’t open up much to either one. He cares about gourmet cooking, and he likes to start fires in his fireplace with books that have displeased him. I suppose that’s supposed to constitute character development.

Pepe’s too cool to believe in anything, religious or political. This novel puts him in contact with a confusing array of cults, parties and movements, and he analyzes them all with the detachment of a man who has transcended all that. He has been, we are told, both a Communist and a CIA operative in his time (the CIA, of course, taught him to commit soul-destroying cruelties, assuming one has a soul).

The plot involves a young man, son of a powerful capitalist, who has rejected his father’s values to start a satanic cult, “Lucifer’s Witnesses.” He has been accused of murdering his male lover, another leader of the same cult, who happens to be the son of a rival capitalist.

Then the plot, such as it is, begins a confusing wander (or meander, the pace is pretty slow) among groups like neo-Cathars and rival parties of Catalan nationalists. I quickly lost track of them.

And why should I be interested? Pepe himself doesn’t seem very interested. He didn’t seem to me to do much actual detecting in the book. He’d get calls from various people telling him to meet someone at this or that spot, and generally he’d go there and be beaten up or witness a crime. But, after all, he knows that it’s all a put-up job, that the real criminals are multinational, globalist corporations who kill people for profit and have innocent people blamed. Justice, such as it is, is something Pepe will dispense himself in the end, as he has no faith in the corrupt justice system either.

The only point at which Pepe displays anything like human emotion is in connection with “Yes,” a mysterious woman who introduces herself to him first through anonymous faxes, daring him to guess which character from his past she is. She is, he learns at last, a beautiful American-born woman with whom he had a brief affair when he was younger and she was very young. For her he displays real feeling, but he is reluctant to take her away from her husband and children. This is commendable, of course, but one can’t tell whether the refusal springs from any kind of moral scruple, or from a more basic inability to give himself wholly to anyone or anything.

But maybe I misjudge the book. Maybe it’s just too good for me.

I’ll tell you this, though—the translation isn’t. I speak as a man who does bad translations himself when I say that this translation is very, very poor. The dialogue, in particular, has the tinny sound you hear in dubbed Italian westerns. Take this excerpt, from a scene where the suspect young man is being pursued by thugs. A young woman named Margalida sees the baddies (or goodies, one is never sure) pursuing him by motorbike:

Furious, she turned back to Carvalho.

“Your pistol! Why didn’t you get it out?”

“I hardly ever carry one.”

“Some private eye you are! You have to have a gun for this kind of thing. Now they’re going to catch Albert.”

Well, I finished it at last. But if I had a fireplace in my house, I know which book I’d use to start the first fire of the winter.

Unreliable News: Man Files His Own Wrongful Death Suit

It’s not unheard-of for a citizen to sue the U.S. government for wrongful death. What’s unusual is someone suing the government because he himself expects to die in fifty years or so.

Twenty-five-year-old Ken Weckmeyer of Edina, Minnesota, doesn’t look like a terminal medical case. But he says he’s going to die eventually, and that’s Uncle Sam’s responsibility.

“I know it sounds crazy at first,” Weckmeyer told reporters Wednesday, “but you’ve got to think about an issue like this without preconceptions.

“I was lying in bed one morning about six months ago,” he said, “when it occurred to me that I’m going to die someday. It doesn’t matter what I eat or how much exercise I get or how well I take care of myself generally. I’m still gonna die, through no fault of my own.

“And the first thing that came into my mind was, ‘I’ve got to sue somebody. Somebody’s got to pay for this injustice. The Declaration of Independence states that every American has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But I’m going to be deprived of my right to life. Am I supposed to just sit around and accept this?’”

When asked whether every person in the country isn’t in the same boat, Weckmeyer replied that he is planning a class action suit, with all American citizens as plaintiffs. He said he believes that a million dollar settlement for each plaintiff, minus legal fees, should provide some consolation in the face of such a massive, systemic injustice.