All posts by Lars Walker

Back from the wars

I made it back from Iowa all right, thanks for asking. I came home physically beat, not only due to insomnia caused by sleeping in a strange bed (how strange I’ll explain further on), but because I’d slept badly all week leading up to the trip. So I figure I’m still about three nights in the red, even though I slept nine hours straight when I got back to my own mattress Sunday night (the first time I’ve slept that long at a stretch since… roughly 1995). I have massive swellings, like goggles (visible in my peripheral vision) around my eyes, making me resemble the British actor Michael Gambon even more than I usually do.

The weekend went fine. For those of you joining us for the first time, I made a six-hour trip to Elk Horn, Iowa for the Tivoli Danish Festival this past weekend. A Viking encampment has been part of the festivities for several years now, and I and a couple others from the Viking Age Society of the Sons of Norway joined a much larger group from Omaha in adding to the ambience by wearing our Viking outfits and whacking each other with blunt swords.

This year’s festival was more successful than last year’s. Saturday morning was rainy, but things cleared up and in the afternoon we had a creditable encampment going, and got some fighting in. In fact, I believe it may have been the largest Viking encampment they’ve ever assembled for that event. We were able to field two “armies” of eight men each for the group fights. That’s certainly the largest I’ve ever been involved in.

The good citizens of Elk Horn have allocated funds, (public and private, I believe) for the construction of a Viking house, next to the genuine Danish windmill they imported from the Old Country a few years back. Here’s how it looks right now:

Viking house

It’s not completed inside, and that makes this the embarrassing stage, since a lot of cheating has gone into the construction. When it’s done it ought to look authentic, but a truly authentic house, aside from being expensive and time-consuming to construct, has a short life expectancy (they rot). The Danes of Elk Horn want a house that’ll last a while, and so concrete footings and plastic moisture barriers and plywood are much in evidence now. Here’s the interior:

Interior

That’s Sam from Missouri, who brought his Viking boat again and set up a crucible to cast commemorate pewter coins, which he sold for the benefit of the house project. He’s working on the casting in the picture. I expect he wouldn’t be delighted to be featured on a Christian blog, but on the other hand he’ll probably never know.

On the tallish bench behind him, in the space between the upright posts, was where I made my bed, by permission of John, the project honcho. That’s how Vikings generally slept—on fixed benches along the walls of their houses (although I’ve always thought of the benches as somewhat lower than this). My inflatable mattress fit almost perfectly in the space, as it happened.

We had fireworks on Saturday night, and they were impressive. According to what I was told, the spectacle wasn’t orchestrated by professionals but by the local pharmacist, who does it as a hobby. Perhaps he benefited by having explosives stored up, since the fireworks were cancelled due to weather last year. In any case he did not fall prey to the mistake many pyrotechnicians make, of shooting up a fancy rocket that does something nobody’s seen before, and then pausing to give the audience time to appreciate it and applaud. That slows everything down. This guy didn’t spare himself. He kept it moving and had the bombs bursting in air pretty much constantly. I’ve seen far less impressive spectacles done by much larger towns, and I don’t recall being more impressed even at Disney World.

We got some good fighting in. I felt extremely diffident the first day, observing how much better our hosts were than we were (they practice pretty much every weekend; our practices and our demonstrations are generally the same things). Also a couple guys from Canada were there to demonstrate their somewhat different system, which permits much nastier blows (but uses anachronistic plate armor protection). The second day felt better, although I never overcame my deepest sin as a warrior—I forget my discipline when the armies engage and break out of the shield wall. This, if you know your Viking history, is a capital mistake that caused big defeats at Stamford Bridge and Hastings, among other battles.

I have a nasty purple bruise on my left shoulder, and my neck is sore from falling over backwards on top of another warrior with my torso on the ground but my head on his stomach. All that’s OK. I like going away a little hurt.

Thanks to the people of Elk Horn, and to the Skjaldborg group, for a memorable and successful long weekend.

Viking blood

Gave blood after work tonight. The venue was the VFW post in Golden Valley, where they’re broadminded enough to accept slightly-less-red blood from non-veterans like me. They also serve sloppy joes (although the sandwiches are smaller now than they used to be. On the other hand, they’re free).

They were busy tonight, so it took longer than I’m used to. Also my draining was delayed when a lady got poked wrong, and they had to summon all hands to apply pressure, cauterize, mop up blood spill, lie to the press, etc.

On the other hand, I got the cute young female tech. I gave her a piece of advice, as an old veteran blood donor—“Bear down with that Betadine swab. When you use pressure, it doesn’t tickle.”

She did not thank me. On the other hand, she didn’t allow me to bleed to death, so it all works out.

Something has been changed every time I give blood. This time they gave us brightly colored plastic balls to roll in our hands to promote blood flow, instead of the pieces of plastic tubing they used to use. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement or not. I’ll have to ponder the positives and negatives before I come to a final conclusion. By which time they’ll have switched to Beanie Babies or something.

No post from me tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’m driving down to Elk Horn, Iowa, again, for the Tivoli Festival. The Danes of Elk Horn have invested in building a genuine Viking house next to their landmark windmill, and I’ve been granted the privilege of sleeping in it.

Also I’ll get to bash and be bashed, which is usually good for my mental health.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ve probably guessed I could use some bashing.

I’ll give a full report when I get back. Assuming I do. Maybe pictures too.

It’s not raining wisdom

We’ve been having a dry spell, but that broke today, in the sense that Scotch Highland bulls break china in shops and politicians break promises not to raise taxes.

It had been cloudy for a couple days, but showers had been spotty. So today didn’t look like much of a change. As the day wore on, though, the sky darkened and lowered (that’s not “lowered” as in “got lower,” but “lowered” as in Longfellow’s “…when night is beginning to lower.” It rhymes with “flower”). The darker it got, the more you expected it to be raining when you checked out the window, and the more you were surprised that it wasn’t yet. Obviously a lot of potential energy was building up. You began to expect a plague of frogs or something.

Then the rain came all at once, gusting in on a billow of wind. It rained hard, and then it hailed for a while. The hail stopped but the rain went on.

My African library assistant seemed frightened by the whole thing. I’d had the idea that they get pretty severe weather back where he comes from, but it all seemed new to him.

Which doesn’t have anything at all to do with my subject for today’s post.

I was thinking about being young, and trying to be wise (I know I’m far removed from being young, but I can remember that far back. Also I’m remarkably immature. And I didn’t say “being wise.” I said “trying to be wise”).

I often wonder about the value of sharing wisdom with young people. We all try to do it. It seems a waste to go through all the hard learning experiences we’ve had, if we can’t pass that experience on to the young.

The problem, it seems to me, is that wisdom is a thing you can’t really share.

You heard your elders give you the same advice you want to pass on now, didn’t you, once long ago? Did it help?

Of course not. Because the maxims and bromides and proverbs and aphorisms never mean anything until you’ve bumped up against life and gotten some bruises. Touched a few hot stoves and gotten burned.

It’s only then—only after a few bruises and burns have been collected, that the sayings of your elders suddenly start to make sense.

When I was a kid I made a conscious effort to follow the advice I heard from old people. I did this because I was more cowardly than most people my age, and I wanted any excuse I could wangle to avoid taking risks.

And it didn’t work. I had the words right, but the music was wrong. Wisdom only operates, it seems, in those who are inclined to act foolishly in the first place. For the cautious and prudent, like me, the rules turn out to be kind of counterproductive.

The moral? Go ahead. Tell the kids not to play in the street.

But be prepared to see them get hit by cars anyway.

The consolation is that the survivors will probably listen.

Irony defined

I can’t find a reference in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III right now, but in a couple of the letters Lewis expresses his deep dislike for the “modern” fashion of printing book titles sideways on book spines, so that you have to tilt your head to read them on the shelves.

He likes his titles printed so they’ll read horizontally, straight across.

The current volume of this series features a spine over 2 ½ inches wide. If they’d called the book The Collected and Edited Letters of the Immortal Clive Staples Lewis, Copiously Annotated and Furnished With Supplements Containing Previously Unknown Letters As Well As the Entire Body of the “Great War” Correspondence With His Friend Owen Barfield, they still could have almost fit that title in one line across such a massive spine.

But they print the title sideways, so you have to tilt your head to read it on the shelf.

“There’s glory for you,” as Humpty Dumpty would say. Even if you’re C. S. Lewis, world renowned and up on a pedestal only a little below St. Paul’s level in the eyes of many Christians, you still can’t get a publisher to print your covers the way you want them to.

It seems so simple when I explain it to me that way!

I continue live-blogging my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

Just went through the year (1960) when Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, dies. One of the most poignant things about this part of the book is the fact that Lewis keeps up his mountainous correspondence almost without a break.

It makes you wonder about the people who wrote to him (especially Mary Willis Shelburne, the “American Lady” of Letters to an American Lady, the quality of whose letters you can only guess based on his replies. But she apparently thought of him as her personal unpaid counselor, a man with nothing in the world to do but advise her on how to pay her bills and get along with her daughter). One thinks of that poor man, himself in bad health, who had for years considered his personal correspondence a sort of hairshirt that he bore for the love of Christ, pushing his arthritic hand across the paper just as he always had, even with his heart broken.

If I’d been in his place, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “I deserve some personal freedom just now.” I’d have sent form letters to all but my real friends, and I’d have assumed that the real friends would understand a period of silence.

The first letter in the book after Joy’s funeral is one to a lady in Fairbanks, Alaska (not Mrs. Shelburne). She has asked about something Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about God’s compassion. She apparently has some trouble reconciling the doctrine of God’s impassivity (the fact that he has no emotions in the human sense) with the biblical picture of God as being loving, angry, jealous, etc.

Lewis’ answer is somewhat philosophical, talking about how God is essentially a Mystery, whom we can never comprehend.

This is true. But I’m going to make so bold as to offer a (partial) explanation. Needless to say, if it’s true someone has doubtless said it before, and you’re free to tell me about it. If it’s original, I’m probably wrong.

But here’s how I see it.

We’re handicapped in thinking about God by the fact that we are singular beings who live in time, while He is a Trinitarian Being who dwells in eternity.

In other words, it seems to me, we can’t understand how someone can be unchanging and yet have emotions, because for us emotions always involve change.

But God is capable of being both loving and angry at the same time. (And when I say “at the same time, I’m obviously speaking from our point of view. From God’s point of view the statement is meaningless.) He has always been loving, and He has always been angry (at the perversion of His creation we call evil; in fact His anger is just a facet of His love). He doesn’t have to switch from one to another. It’s all eternally present with Him.

So now I’ve settled it for you.

You may thank me by buying my books.

I’ll even answer letters, in moderation.

American Pietist

It’s been an interesting week. Special thanks to everyone who commented (and so civilly) on my post about divorce. I learned some things I hadn’t known, which I’d like to list and examine, as an exercise in humility.

On the basis of my upbringing, and everything I’d heard in my own contacts within my church body, I’d gotten the impression that our official position is “No remarriage after divorce, for any reason.”

I should have known better. First of all, we’re (organizationally) a congregational church body. We try to keep our central mandates to an absolute minimum. Every congregation has the right to make its own decisions on such matters as whom they will marry, and this issue is no different. Some of our churches (and pastors) will marry divorced people, some won’t.

I also hadn’t known (though I think Dale told me before, and I should have) that the Lutheran tradition has held almost universally that remarriage is permitted for innocent parties. The tradition where I grew up, which held a view closer to the Catholic one, is not mainstream but fringe.

I looked some things up, and talked to a couple knowledgeable people, and nobody seems to know where the tradition I’m familiar with first entered the Lutheran stream. I suspect that it may have come with Pietism, which in its purest form insists that any matter that might possibly be considered sin is indeed sin, and must be rejected. That’s why we Pietists have our famous rules against drinking and dancing, rules not actually found in Scripture.

On the other hand, somebody told me he thought the Missouri Synod also had an anti-remarriage tradition, and the Missourians are far from being Pietists. Maybe someone who knows more about that can give me more information.

But the Pietist thing is thorny. I consider myself a Pietist, and I’m proud of it. It’s easy for us, today, to look down on the Pietists and condemn them as loveless rule-jockeys. And there’s plenty of justification for that.

But if you know history, there are reasons for what they did. My own people, the Norwegians, had a reputation you wouldn’t recognize when they first arrived on U.S. shores. They were considered drunken, brawling reprobates, and they deserved it.

I wrote about my great-grandfather John B. Johnson a while back. He was a colorful character, but he was also a genuine monster. When he was drunk, which was often, he was capable of anything. He came home one night (so the story goes), with a friend in tow. He loudly announced he had “sold” his daughter (my grandmother, then a little girl) to his friend for the night. My great-grandmother took a broom to the both of them, fortunately, and nothing came of that.

But are you surprised if she wanted to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and wipe out saloons?

In the Pietist revivals, hundreds, even thousands, knelt at the altar and received salvation, and then were expected to live a Pietist life. No drinking. No gambling. No dancing (which was likely to put you in situations where you’d be pressured to drink and gamble). Living like that tends to concentrate you, and it also saves money. It greatly assists your upward mobility. Is it any wonder that Pietist immigrant groups tended to assimilate faster and do better in America than other groups? As Wesley is supposed to have said about his converts, “I just can’t keep them poor!”

And yet, as Joe Carter notes in this post at Evangelical Oupost, it’s unquestionably hubristic to try to be “more ethical than Jesus.”

I’ve long felt that the proper rule is, “I will determine in my heart, relying on Scripture and good counsel, how I believe God wants me to live. But I will not try to impose on anyone else any rule not plainly taught in Scripture.”

Which makes me a wishy-washy Pietist, I guess.

Now I wonder if I should start asking out divorced women. I could open myself up to whole new worlds of rejection.

Ah, well. I’m too poor to date right now anyway.

Syttende Mai, 2007

You may not be aware of this, reserved as I’ve been on the subject, but most of my ancestral roots are Norwegian.

And on this day of days, May 17, I’m bound to write something about Norway. America is my mother, but Norway is my grandmother. And grandmothers are special.

Today’s not Norwegian Independence Day, as many suppose. It’s Constitution Day. The Norwegians drafted their constitution in 1814, when the European powers, flush with victory over Napoleon, wrested Norway from Bonaparte’s ally, Denmark, and awarded it to Sweden. The Norwegians thought this would be a good time to declare independence, and they wrote the constitution as a first step. The king of Sweden responded by marching in troops and killing a few people, then graciously allowed the Norwegians to keep their constitution, but under the Swedish crown.

For the next 90 years, the Norwegians celebrated their Constitution Day annually, as part of a calculated effort to press for independence. At last, in 1905, they got it. But Constitution Day was such a beloved tradition by then that it remains the most revered national holiday, beating Independence Day (June 7) like an egg. There are large parades all over the country on May 17. An important part of the celebrations is children’s parades, with hundreds of small children (where they can assemble hundreds; not easy nowadays in Norway) marching and waving blue, white and red flags, many wearing miniature versions of the national costumes.

Here’s a picture from Norway.

Borgund

This is the Borgund stave church, a national treasure that’s about 1200 years old. The first stave churches were built in Viking times, but all of those rotted eventually, since the supporting pillars were set in earth. Later they learned to set the pillars in stone sills, and the churches (coated in pitch) became almost immortal, barring lightning strikes, candle accidents and arson. At one time there were hundreds around the country. Today there are a couple dozen. What really did them in was a well-meaning law requiring all parishes to have church buildings capable of holding a minimum number of worshipers. Most congregations had to build new churches, and many of them stopped maintaining the old ones, or even dismantled them. The Borgund church, here, is considered the jewel of the survivors, the best preserved of them all.

I took the picture in 2003, during my first lecture cruise. It was a perfect picture-taking day, as they were having a drought in Norway that year.

I shall close with the traditional Ole joke.

Mrs. Ole called the newspaper. “I vant yoo ta print an announcement for me,” she said. “Print, ‘Ole died.’”

“That’s it?” the newspaper man asked. “Just ‘Ole died’?”

“Ja. Dat’s all anybody needs ta know.”

“But you know, our newspaper gives you five words free for an announcement. Do you want to waste three words? Surely there’s something more you want to say about your late husband.”

Mrs. Ole thought for a moment.

“Print, ‘Ole died. Boat for sale,’” she said.

This one ought to bring in some comments

Took another half day off work today, to welcome another air conditioner tech into the bosom of my home. He looked my late, lamented unit over for the household warranty company, called in his findings (he concurred with the previous diagnosis) and told me the company would get back to me. I’m now waiting for that call.

The possibilities are two. One is that they’ll just replace the dead condenser. This will be good in the sense of saving me money just now, when money’s tight. Less good long-range. The other possibility is that they’ll offer some kind of deal on replacement of the whole shebang, which will raise the problem of how much that may cost, and how I’ll cover it.

Actually there’s a third possibility. They may just deny coverage, which the tech casually remarked they did on the last unit he inspected for them.

A number of decisions about what I’ll be doing this summer await that final verdict.

Learned something new from Vol. III of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis today.

It had always seemed a little… squishy to me, the way Lewis maintained (as he does in a couple letters in this volume) that there can be no Christian remarriage after divorce, right up until the time he fell in love with a divorced woman and wanted to marry her. (The original BBC version of Shadowlands deals with this dilemma, by the way, while the later theatrical version ignores it.) One understands the power of love, of course, not to mention his heroic willingness to take on married life (and step-fatherhood) with a woman he expected to die very soon. But it seemed a little self-serving, in view of his previously expressed views.

But Hooper notes here, between letters written in March, 1957:

About the time Joy was admitted to hospital with cancer, Lewis discovered that William Gresham had been legally married before his marriage to Joy, and that his first wife had been alive at the time of this second marriage. Lewis took the view of the Catholic Church that his second marriage was therefore invalid, leaving Joy free to marry again.

I’m aware that the No Remarriage rule doesn’t have many Protestant (probably not even many Catholic) adherents these days, but that passage comforted me.

And when I say that, I want to make it very, very clear that I don’t want to start a debate on the subject. My own church body holds to the old, hard rule, and I personally agree with it, which is one of many reasons I’m still single (Let’s face it—the best single women in my age group are almost always divorced).

You should see the angry e-mails I got a few years back, when I took out an ad on a Christian singles website and tried to explain—really, really gently—that I couldn’t consider marriage to a divorced woman. A couple writers accused me of saying “everybody who’s divorced is going to Hell.”

What I say is, let everyone be convinced in their own consciences, and I’m happy to leave the judgment to God.

(By the way, I went through a self-serving period myself, when I lived in Florida. I attended an excellent singles group down there, and it included a number of admirable and very attractive divorced women. I found myself unaccountably persuaded, for a while, that remarriage was permissible. But I never got a date anyway.)

Now let the flaming begin.

When Scourby last with his great voice boom’d

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

O powerful western fallen star!

O shades of night — O moody, tearful night!

O great star disappear’d — O the black murk that hides the star!

O cruel hands that hold me powerless — O helpless soul of me!

O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,

With every leaf a miracle — and from this bush in the dooryard,

With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

A sprig with its flower I break.

That’s from the poem “When Lilacs Last In the Dooryard Bloom’d,” by Walt Whitman. I thought of it tonight during my evening walk, a little late, which is typical for me. The lilacs are disappearing now. Too bad. Lilacs have always meant a lot to me. We had some big lilac bushes in the front yard on the farm where I grew up (I understand my Uncle Orvis, who reads this blog, planted them originally). They looked pretty, and they smelled good, and they weren’t any trouble to take care of. And if you pulled the little flower out of its stem (my brothers and I learned) and sucked on its narrow base, there was a tiny little drop of sweetness you could taste.

It also brings memories of a reading of Whitman by the actor Alexander Scourby (famous for his Bible recordings) which I heard in college. I was working as a library assistant, and the librarian was in charge of booking cultural events for the school. When I heard that Scourby was coming I went ape (well, actually I allowed some emotion to cross my face. Pretty excessive for me) because I’d grown up listening to a record my folks had bought for educational purposes, featuring Scourby’s voice reading poetry. It was from Scourby I learned “Gunga Din.”

Shortly before the date of the event, the librarian asked me if I’d like to be one of the students having dinner with Scourby before the reading. Naturally I said, yes, please.

But as the day approached, the librarian said no more about it.

A reasonable person would have asked a question. I’m not a reasonable person, of course. In the environment where I grew up, asking about something a second time was a guaranteed way to make sure you’d be turned down. Just to teach you not to bother people.

So I said nothing, and waited for information to be given. None came. I never got the chance to meet Scourby, and never mentioned it to the librarian again. The reading was wonderful, and I remember that Scourby wore the most beautiful gray suit I’d ever seen.

The librarian did give me a publicity photo of the man, which I think I still have somewhere. And I remember each spring, when I smell the lilacs.

Hooper slam-dunks it

I have a new disaster to report.

I had my semiannual visit from the AC/Heating guy today. He discovered that my 1984-model air conditioner is down for the count. Dead. Defunct. Gone to join the Choir Invisible. “It had a heart attack,” the service guy said. In technicalese, the condenser blew and it’s not worth replacing in such an old unit.

So now I have to go through the hassle and expense of replacing the thing, through my homeowner’s warranty company. Much mirth to follow, I’m confident.

If you were worried about my Mock Bløtkake last Friday, I’m almost sorry to have to report that it went pretty well. The Cool Whip didn’t slide off the sides of the cake, downward into oblivion like my writing career. It was pretty much a success. So where’s the humor in that?

I noticed something interesting in my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Hooper includes biographical sketches of a number of Lewis’ most important or prolific correspondents. Among them is the late Kathryn Lindskoog, who spent much of the later part of her life accusing Hooper of creating fraudulent Lewis stories, which he then passed off as Lewis’ own work.

In the sketch about Kathryn Lindskoog, Hooper says nothing at all of that aspect of her career.

However, in the sketch on scholar Alistair Fowler, he details how Fowler has given personal testimony that Lewis showed him the Dark Tower fragment “as far back as 1962.” The Dark Tower is the document that Lindskoog particularly singled out for attack.

But again here, Hooper is silent about that side of the matter.

I consider this very classy on Hooper’s part. If I’d taken the heat he’s taken, I fear I would have found some way to make the connection explicit, to do a little victory dance.

But I’m a small vindictive man, who relishes petty vengeances.

Hooper has earned even more of my respect.

A Bløt on the escutcheon

Those refreshments I thought I had to prepare for the Viking Age Society last week? Tonight’s the proper night. I just put together a concoction which will doubtless go down in song and story as one of the great tragedies of our time.

The thing is, May 17 is coming up. That’s Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day. Syttende Mai is the really big national holiday in Norway. Much bigger than their Independence Day, for historical reasons I won’t bore you with now (I’ll bore you with them later).

Anyway, last month when I got roped into providing refreshments, people made it known that they’d really like to have a bløtkake for the May meeting. The bløtkake (cream cake) is a wonderful Norwegian dessert made of sponge cake, cream and fruit.

I did some research and discovered that there doesn’t seem to be anyplace in this area (Tell it not in Gath!) that sells bløtkaker. I looked up recipes, and decided the real thing is beyond my baking skills.

So I’m faking it. No deception is involved. I’ll announce it as “Mock Bløtkake.”

I’m using a (store-bought) angel food cake and Cool Whip. The fruit, at least, is real (strawberries and blueberries). I assembled the thing and now have it keeping cool in a cooler. No doubt the cream will have slid down the sides by the time it’s time to serve it, and I’ll go home covered with shame.

In other news, my former agent, now defunct, e-mailed me the other day to ask if I was all set up with the new agent to whom he’d referred me a few months back.

I replied that I’d gotten no reply at all from the new agent.

He says I should e-mail them again, and then call them.

I think I can work up the nerve to send a second e-mail. The call, I think, is not on.

I’ve heard recordings of me on the phone. It’s not a euphonious phenomenon.

Which is odd, because I’m a good actor, and I can read copy for radio with the best of them. But when I get on the phone, talking to someone whose body language I can’t read, I go all paranoid defensive, and it shows in my voice.

I’ll keep you posted as further milestones are marked on the downward slide of my writing career.

No cohesion here

It’s a black dog day today, for me. Lovely spring outside, but it is winter (in Spitzbergen) in my soul. My blood is reducing to the consistency of a slurry, and a bar graph has appeared on my right thumbnail, along with the flashing message, “Low Signal.” So what I’ve got is a couple links for you tonight, and then I’ll curl up to watch an Ingmar Bergman film. Something in black and white. In the original Swedish. In slow motion.

Libertas blog put up this post the other day, featuring a photo of Fred Thompson and his wife.

I make so bold as to prognosticate that no guy Fred’s age with an arm accessory that looks like that is ever going to be elected president.

My friend “Mad Mike” Williamson, author of Freehold, showed me this site.

Now that’s my idea of aliens. They don’t come in peace. They aren’t here to teach us some mystical secret that will end all human conflict and repair the environment. They come with a technique for kicking cosmic butt. And watch for the picture of the Master. You’d just have to cast Arnold to play him in the movie, right?

Arnold Toynbee, that is.

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.