All posts by Lars Walker

Land of 10,000 sore backs

Nice weekend, all in all. The predicted snow came, and for once we got as much as was promised. I think it was about fifteen inches, and this is how my back yard looks today:

Snowdrift

I got a call Saturday night that church would be cancelled. This did not break my heart, because (mea culpa) I go to church out of obligation, not desire. Suffering as I do from a psychological condition clinically known as “being nuts,” I don’t enjoy gathering with other people much. A guilt-free Sunday morning off does not cast down my heart.

I was in the basement Sunday morning when I noticed my neighbor’s wife through the window above, shoveling our shared driveway. This was curious, since my neighbor has a snow blower. He keeps it in my garage, and the deal is that in return for that accommodation he clears my side as well.

I could have pretended I hadn’t noticed, but I decided to pretend to be a responsible adult. I went out and grabbed my shovel. I found my neighbor out there too. He explained that the blower had a flat tire. So I pitched in and we managed to clear adequate paths. This is the kind of work where overweight, middle-aged men tend to fall over with heart attacks, but I dodged the bullet.

The snow in the picture, I can tell you with absolute moral authority, is wet and heavy. This was, in fact, the heaviest snowfall our metropolis has experienced in several years.

I think there’s a sense of satisfaction all over our fair state today, a grin behind the grumbling. With a few hiati, this winter has been pretty easy so far, and that’s bad for our self-image. Minnesotans think of themselves as the hardy folk who thrive in arctic conditions for half the year and like it—yes, like it, by golly! In our secret hearts, we think it makes us better than folks who live in easier climes. Now we’ve earned a little cred back, and we’re swaggering a bit.

I think I’ll swagger over to the thermostat and turn it up.

Last dispatch. Or not.

Sorry for the late posting. My wireless connection chose this evening to forget its way home, and all my blandishments and caresses were of no avail. Now suddenly, having come back upstairs from my shield project (of which more below) I find the necessary light back on again, and I’m able to resume communication with you, the Esteemed Reader.

I wanted to call Earthlink Customer Support about the problem, but I had to leave the phone line open, as a guy had made an appointment to come over and look at the room for rent tonight. Or rather, he was going to call to get directions tonight, and then come over. But so far, no action on that front. I have a suspicion he’s going to stand me up.

Which is only justice, in the greater scheme of things. I remember a couple times I did the very same thing to landlords, in my youth. When I’d decided not to check a place out, I never had the nerve to phone and tell the manager personally. Avoidant stuff.

But I was itching to finish painting my shields tonight, so I finally went down to the basement and worked on that, with the door open so I could hear the phone (haven’t got one down there).

I’d already done the blue base coat. Tonight I put on the decorations, and now they look like this:

Shields2

I’m not entirely happy. I’d like bolder colors—ideally I’d have preferred the bright red and yellow I usually paint my Viking stuff with. But I’m trying to conform to the general standards of the big-time re-enactors, and they prefer muted colors, because bright was hard (and expensive) to do a thousand years ago. So I took somebody’s advice and went to a paint store and looked for “mistints,” which sell cheap. These were the most interesting colors I could find, but the reddish thing is almost pink, and it underwhelms me.

I’ll live with it, though. Better this than have an English re-enactor (should I ever chance to encounter one) get in my face.

The design, by the way, is based on the heraldic device of the island of Karmøy, where my great-grandfather was born.

We’re supposed to get a big snowstorm tonight, which will continue on through Sunday. If you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I starved or froze.

Or because my wireless has gone out again.

Notes of an immune superman

I think I may have had the flu last night.

I’m not really sure. As I was IMing with someone last night, I began to feel tired and physically weak. I told my friend I thought I might be getting sick. Flu maybe.

This morning I got up and felt fine, but later in the morning I had a bout of what I’ll delicately call “intestinal distress.” But when that was done, it was over.

Maybe it was something I “et,” but I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few years. I’ll feel like I’m coming down with something in the evening, but after a good sleep I’m fine.

I’m coming to believe that I’ve developed a superhumanly strong immune system. When I was a kid I got sick a lot. When I grew a little older I got sick less often. Now that I’m entering my golden years, I don’t seem to ever get sick anymore.

I know a guy my age ought to get flu shots, but I’m kind of scared of upsetting this remarkable balance I seem to have achieved.

It’s a strange time in the library these days, for me. I’ve been given a new assistant, and I’m not sure how it’s going to go.

The new assistant is a short-term seminarian from Africa, an elderly pastor so far ahead of me spiritually I can barely make out his silhouette on the distant horizon.

We like to give our foreign students part-time jobs on campus, because they usually don’t have the option of driving. I imagine the Higher Powers decided to send this pastor to the library because they figured the library is a light job.

It’s light in terms of lifting (mostly), true enough. But I fear that this pastor may be finding it pretty heavy in emotional terms.

He has almost no experience with western technology. He’s never used a computer in his life. The control of a mouse is an extremely frustrating exercise for him, much as learning to operate a video game controller would probably be for me. Even the electronic typewriter we type check-out cards with frustrates him.

I hope it’s not keeping him awake at night or anything. I hope I’m a patient trainer.

Culture Shock is my middle name. Or middle names.

Meme break

Another beautiful day, the last for a while. Tomorrow will be colder, and there may be snow over the weekend.

Hope I can finish this and get it posted before I leave for church. I’m reading Scripture tonight, and that’s one of the few things I’ll confess to being good at.

Will Duquette of View From the Foothills sent me the following meme. Memes are easier than thinking of something to write about.

1. What is your occupation? Librarian/Bookstore Manager.

2. What color are your socks right now? Black.

3. What are you listening to right now? Hugh Hewitt on the radio.

4. What was the last thing that you ate? A Banquet turkey TV dinner.

5. Can you drive a stick shift? Yes.

6. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? I’d be tan, but I’d wish I were red.

7. The last person you spoke to on the phone? A woman who’d called about my room to rent for herself and her husband (I told her I thought it would be a little crowded).

8. Do you like the person who sent this to you? So far as I know him online.

9. How old are you today? 56.

10. Favorite drink? Diet Orange Sunkist soda.

11. What is your favorite sport to watch? Live steel combat (participation is better).

12. Pets? None.

13. Allergies? Adhesive bandage tape makes my skin turn red. Other than that, nothing.

14. Favorite foods? Roast turkey, pizza, steak, hamburgers. Chocolate.

15. What was the last movie you watched? Stranger Than Fiction.

16. What do you do to vent anger? I don’t. I stuff it.

17. What was your favorite toy as a child? Toy guns.

18. What is your favorite season fall or spring? Spring.

19. Hugs or kisses? I don’t get either.

20. Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries.

21. Do you want your family and friends to email you back? Does not apply.

22. Who is most likely to respond? DNA.

23. Who is least likely to respond? DNA.

24. Living arrangements? I live in a house by myself, until I get a renter.

25. When was the last time you cried? Don’t recall.

26. What is on the floor of your closet? Shoes. Boxes. Dust.

27. What did you do last night? Walked, blogged, straightened the living room, worked on an opinion piece for Hunter Baker.

28. Favorite smells? The sea. Popcorn. Roasting meat.

29. What inspires you? Sublime music.

30. What are you (most) afraid of? Rejection and humiliation.

31. Favorite dog breed? Not sure. But something large.

32. Number of keys on your key ring? Eight on the main one.

33. Favorite day of the week? Sunday (specifically Sunday afternoons).

34. How many states have you lived in? Five. Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Florida.

35. Favorite holiday? Christmas.

36. Ever driven a motorcycle or heavy machinery? No. I tried a motorcycle once; nearly had an accident. In somebody’s yard.

37. Ever left the country? Yes. Mostly to Norway.

38. Favorite kind of music? British folk music, classical, Ennio Morricone spaghetti scores.

39. Last book you read? The Two Towers.

Freedom of speech, freedom of ostracism

The temperature was up around forty today. In Minnesota, in February, that counts as a beautiful day. The sun shone, and our thin snow cover faded like the new congress’s gravitas.

I even had time for a walk before sundown, though evening shadows were lengthening by the time I finished. As an added bonus, somebody had left a bookcase out in front of their house, with a “Free” sign taped to it. I jumped into Mrs. Hermanson, drove back and snagged it. It’s kind of beat up, granted, but I meant it for the basement. I can never have enough bookcases.

S. T. Karnick has been relentlessly asking hard questions about the Tim Hardaway controversy. I’m not sure I agree entirely with his position, but I’m not sure I entirely agree with my own either. Assuming I have one.

When I was young I came to embrace a passionate, Jeffersonian view of freedom of speech. I believed the American approach was essentially based in a Christian world view. If everybody, regardless of how outrageous his opinion, is permitted to make his case the best he can, the marketplace of ideas will make the truth evident to all, because there’s power in Truth.

However, there’s another way to look at it, also based in a Christian world view. That approach would say that, since human beings are sinful and essentially perverse, they will always choose the answers they find most convenient, flattering and profitable, regardless of the merits of the arguments.

When arguing with people about vulgar music and movies, whenever I’ve been subjected to the inevitable accusation that I’m in favor of censorship, my standard response has been to say, “No, I don’t want censorship. I want public opinion to shame these people into silence. I want to make publishers ashamed to produce this stuff.”

Which is precisely what the left is doing with Hardaway.

So I ought to be OK with that.

But I can’t dismiss Karnick’s argument that it’s pretty hypocritical for people to self-righteously pretend they don’t share Hardaway’s feelings to some extent, and to justify themselves by throwing stones at him.

I’ll let you know if I come to any conclusions.

First in war, with a shield

They tell me that, Dennis Prager’s curmudgeoning to the contrary, today is not legally President’s Day, but Washington’s Birthday. “Presidents Day” is just what the stores call it. I’m not sure why. “Washington’s” is twelve letters, if you count the apostrophe, and “Presidents” is ten letters (eleven if you add an apostrophe, which isn’t strictly necessary), and that’s not going to make much difference to your ad copy column inches costs.

Let’s see, what do I know about Washington that doesn’t call for a lot of research on a holiday that’s mostly already over as I write?

Washington’s ideal—the model that inspired him—was the farmer-statesmen of the Roman republic. Those guys who reluctantly left their fields to shoulder the burden of civic responsibility for a time, then joyfully laid it down again to go back to their real lives. You can see echoes of that pattern everywhere in the great man’s career.

Even the architecture at Mount Vernon was a statement of this ideal. In contrast to the Greek Revival architecture favored by Jefferson and his crowd, Mount Vernon is Roman to the foundations.

He wasn’t a fun guy, Mr. President Washington. He was “on” all the time, playing the role, conscious that he was setting a benchmark by which his successors would be expected to measure themselves.

It definitely helped.

For a while, anyway.

I spent my weekend working on my new Viking shields for live steel.

Here’s how far I got:

Shields: Stage 1

I’ve got three rounds like this now, and I drilled holes in the two bosses (the boss is the bowl-like metal thing there). One round will be a spare, for when one gets shattered (which will definitely happen).

The great challenge was getting a 4×8’ sheet of 3/8” plywood home from Home Depot. First I drove around trying to find an auto parts store that sold clamp-on car top carriers. Turns out nobody carries them anymore.

Then I figured, well, if you take an old blanket to protect Mrs. Hermanson’s roof, you can just buy some tie-downs at the store and strap ‘er on and drive home that way.

Which is what I did, but it took a while. We had a stiff wind (pretty cold too) that wanted to blow the blanket off, so I had to bungee that down first. Then I got the plywood sheet up and discovered that Mrs. Hermanson, being one of those SUV’s built without a top rack, is specially designed for the frou-frou set, having no projections or inlets of any kind to which a conventional tie-down may be attached. I finally got the tie-downs hooked into the window channels, but only in the same way that you can chin yourself up on the molding on your living room wall.

I was also concerned that the front of the panel would get lifted by the wind as I drove. I was just starting to unfasten everything and see if I couldn’t fit the thing inside Mrs. Hermanson, at an angle with a bend, when a Home Depot employee came to help me. The inside-the-vehicle experiment didn’t work, but he helped me load it back up on top, and suggested running a strap down the center in front, hooking it on the hood to hold the leading edge down. Wish I’d thought of that.

Wish I’d thought to tip him too.

Once at home I set to work with a keyhole hand saw (I don’t own an electric saw) and managed to get what you see done by Sunday night.

Next step: painting.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, when there is some more to report.

Because I know it matters to you.

Present company excepted of course…

Jeffrey Lord writes at The American Spectator site today about the Democratic Party and race.

I think he makes a lot of sense.

He particularly reinforced my prejudices in regard to questions of war and peace:

It is striking that Democratic Party history shows a repeated pattern of wanting to declare failure and come home in the Civil War, Vietnam and Iraq or opposed involvement in Grenada, the first Gulf War over Kuwait or stopping the genocide in Rwanda – all wars that involved liberating non-whites.

I’m probably being judgmental, even though I used to be a Democrat myself (never a peace-at-any-price Democrat, but a Democrat).

In any case, this argument certainly does not apply to any Democrat who happens to be reading this.

Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson…

I’m [irony alert] hung over from my excessive Valentine’s celebrations yesterday [end irony alert], so I thought I’d upload another interesting old picture from my scans. Unfortunately I found that the picture I meant to use is in .tif format, which Photobucket is too good to associate with. So I’ll have to make a note to myself to convert that picture, and instead I’ll share this one:

Johnson family

This is one of my favorite family historical pictures. It comes from Mom’s side, the “disreputable” side. It was taken on the family farm, and I believe they were living in Hurley, Wisconsin then. That’s not something most people brag about (Back when I worked at the denominational headquarters, I once told one of my bosses that my grandmother had been born in Hurley. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t tell us that when you interviewed for this job”). I don’t know what year it was taken, but it had to be 1914 or earlier.

Reading from left to right, the fat lady we come to first is Elvira, (we pronounce it “El-VEE-rah” in my family) my great-grandmother. She was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1862. She may be part Sami (that’s Lapplander, but they don’t like to be called that anymore. Never did like it, actually), but I don’t know much about her background (nor her husband’s). She came to America in 1890. She is a devout and faithful Christian, and sometimes organizes Sunday Schools for immigrant children . She will die in 1914, aged 52.

Next to her is my grandmother, Hilda Johnson. She may not be as young as she looks in this picture. She was a very small person. On the other hand, that’s a little girl’s dress, so she’s probably not confirmed yet. She will die in 1959, at the age of 59. I remember her as an old woman with no teeth, but usually kind, and a faithful Christian. She and my Walker grandmother used to bring competing cakes for my and Moloch’s birthdays, which was great as far as we were concerned.

Next is the legendary John B. Johnson, scourge of the seven seas and northern Wisconsin. He was born in 1860. I’ve done some research based on hints my mother remembered, and I believe I’ve identified his birthplace as Grov on Hinnøy, which is almost, but not quite, in the Lofoten Islands. If this is true, he may be the Sami in the family (Grandpa said he thought there was some), since they were more common there than around Trondheim. But Elvira looks more Sami to me.

John B. has lived a colorful life. He worked on the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim in the 1880’s. He was a cook on a whaling ship, and is said to have once escaped a sinking ship, towing two drowning men behind him on a long swim. Blood was gushing from his nose when he made shore. He’s said to have sometimes taken bites out of porcelain plates when he was drunk (which was often). And a woman once appeared at the door of their house, asked for him, then handed him a baby. “This is yours,” she said, and walked away. He didn’t dispute it, and they raised the child as part of the family.

I don’t know when he died, but it was in Saxon, Wisconsin.

Just behind John B. is John A.—John A., my grandfather. He doesn’t even belong in this picture, properly. He isn’t part of the family—yet. Not many years later he will marry the little girl Hilda, who will be only 18 even then. What he was doing at the Johnson place that day, I have no idea. I’ve told you about him before. He will live a life of struggle and poverty until he lands a job with the Milwaukee Road. When he retires on his railroad pension he’ll find himself suddenly making more money than he ever did before in his life. He’ll die in 1976, at 79.

The other two young men are Hilda’s brothers, Jacob and Alfred, about whom I know little.

About the horse I know nothing.

Pictures like this—roomy images that show whole houses rather than just little clumps of people—please me very much. They give me the feeling that I’ve gotten a peek into the people’s lives. I’ve magnified this picture and studied it in detail without discovering any hidden secrets, but I still like to look at it.

Bitter, but not stupid

In case you’re reading this on Thursday or later, the quotation Phil chose for our header on Valentine’s Day was this one:

“That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man, if with his tongue he cannot win a woman.”

– William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Thanks for your support, Phil.

I spent last evening on the phone with Earthlink technical support, always an exercise in character building and cross-cultural enlightenment. I’d used their online chat service the night before to complain that the laptop card they’d sent me for my wireless network had stopped working. I finally convinced them that it wasn’t me, that the card actually had stopped working. The technician told me to call their Sales Support number so I could arrange to have the thing replaced at no cost.

I decided not to call right away, because it was getting late. I’d do it the next day.

Wise choice.

First I talked to Sales (after a long wait on hold, of course). Sales said no, we can’t do that for you. You’ve got to talk to Technical Support. We’ll transfer you.

Hold Music again for about 45 minutes. Finally I reached Tech. Sup.

“We can’t help you with that,” they said. “You’ve got to talk to Sales.”

More Hold Time.

Got to Sales. “You have to arrange this with Technical Support,” they told me. They put me on hold again.

Another wait.

“I don’t understand,” the Tech guy said. “We don’t have a way to do this.”

I explained that I’d been running back and forth between the two departments all night.

“I’ll find out,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ll have to put you on hold again for a while.”

I waited, but while I waited he actually walked over to Sales and asked them about it. He finally talked to a supervisor and found a way to get my card replaced without a charge.

If I had a daughter, I’d want her to marry this guy.

But I’m not so happy with Earthlink.

I’ve read that there’s an anti-Valentine’s Day movement going on in this country.

“Walker’ll get behind that,” you probably think. “He loves cynical stuff like that.”

Wrong. In fact think it’s disgusting.

It’s part of the whole Me First attitude that’s hardening the arteries of the republic. “I don’t believe in God, so everybody else should hide their religion. I’m allergic to dogs, so dogs should be outlawed. I don’t have a Significant Other, so you better shut up about yours.”

Here’s what I say. If you’ve got somebody you love, hold ‘em tight. Treat ‘em like royalty. Let ‘em know how much you need ‘em and appreciate ‘em.

Give ‘em chocolate.

It doesn’t make me feel any warmer, out here in the cold, to be told it’s just as cold inside.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Want some mustard on that Hero?

You know what an “earworm” is, don’t you? One of those tunes that get stuck in your head, and you can’t seem to not hear it.

On the Northern Alliance Radio Network show on Saturday (the second act, featuring Mitch Berg from Shot In the Dark and Captain Ed from Captain’s Quarters), they used up valuable radio time playing Frankie Valli’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” in its entirety. I’m still not sure why. I think it might have been an oblique comment on something Nancy Pelosi said.

In any case, it’s been my off-and-on earworm all week, and it’s a weird one. Strangely fascinating, though repellant, like seeing Mickey Mouse in a Tennessee Williams play, or watching a man dancing the tango in clown shoes.

I wrote the other day about the problem of villains in books (or any storytelling medium). Villains, being villainous, generally wish to dominate the world, and they definitely want to dominate your story.

The thing about villains is that they do stuff. They get out there and mix it up. Unencumbered by concern for the comfort and convenience of others, they disrupt lives and systems and whole nations in order to get the bright shiny things they covet.

Your hero, on the other hand, is probably heavily encumbered. He’s nice. He’s not going to break down anybody’s door to find out what nameless evil is looming in the shadows. He’s got a job (probably). He’s got responsibilities.

To put it bluntly, he’s kind of dull. He might be nice to have as a husband or a friend, but he’s not very interesting to watch.

This, I suspect, is why many popular heroes are a little nuts. Sherlock Holmes, besides his drug problem, is bipolar, antisocial and narcissistic. Hercule Poirot is narcissistic and obsessive-compulsive. James Bond is a charming, psychopathic satyr.

But you can only take that so far. Make your hero too proactive and he becomes a busybody or a bully.

So the usual solution is to get him into trouble. Bring the villain to him, let the villain do something he can’t overlook, then let them mix it up. Make the villain formidable, give the hero lots of failures and set-backs and close misses to overcome, and you’ve got a story.

But the whole thing’s unsatisfactory to me, as a Christian writer. I believe that good is not essentially quiescent (I’m not a Buddhist). My Lord was contemplative when it was appropriate, but could be extremely proactive when faced with evil. He even picked fights (rhetorically), and once used a whip on some guys (or at least their livestock).

When I created my favorite character of my own, Father Ailill, I had the idea of a mad Irishman coming to live among a lot of dull Norwegians. It might have been good if I’d done it that way, but I came to feel that I’d be able to write him better if he were more like me. So I made him an essentially brash and aggressive guy who’s been broken (I know all about being broken). This added a Flashmanesque element of cowardice (although Ailill is less cowardly than he thinks). I believe it worked all right (I’m not fishing for compliments, I’m just telling you how I dealt with the problem).

But I’d like to figure out a way to build more proactive heroes.

Shoot, I’d like to figure out a way to be a little proactive myself.

Lincoln in context

Finally got my first call for my Room To Rent today. Unfortunately, the guy who left the message on my machine spoke low and was kind of mush-mouthed. The call-back number he left (as far as I can figure it out) isn’t in service.

Probably just as well. Don’t want no inarticulate folks in this house.

(You’ll note that my stress level in regard to renting the room has diminished. I got a check back from my insurance company the other day, with a note telling me I’d double-paid. Haven’t worked out how that happened, but it’s a relief).

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I should post things like this the day before, I know, since a lot of you don’t read my posts till the following day, but I’ll be boiled if I’ll post on a Sunday. So, O Reader of the Future, I apologize if this is the first you heard about it. Write it down in your calendar, and you’ll know next year.

I believe I’ve written about this before, but I don’t think Americans today appreciate what a significant figure Lincoln used to be, not only in America but in the world. We’re so used to his story—the birth in a dirt-floored cabin, the sums written in charcoal on the wooden shovel, the miles he walked in winter to return a couple cents overcharged in his store—that they’ve become rote pieces to us. We lose the impact of the story in its time and place.

(By the way, do kids today learn about these things? Or do the teachers just throw in a couple of lines about Lincoln being a racist white, male president and a closeted homosexual, before moving on to cover Notable Crossdressers of the Civil War?)

But the Old Order was very much in the saddle in Europe in Lincoln’s time. Kings and Emperors still ruled, some of them by Divine Right. The idea that royalty and nobility enjoyed their power and privilege because of an inborn, natural superiority was still in play.

And here was this tall, ugly American, born in poverty, who became leader of one of the world’s emerging powers, who wrote brilliant oratory and who managed to keep a fractious country together through the greatest crisis in its history without the brutality one expected in young republics. His very existence was a rebuke to Old Europe.

And Americans didn’t let them forget it. The hagiographical books and pictures, the pious eulogies and songs about Lincoln, they were partly an expression of real respect, but they were also the cock-a-doodle-doo of a brash young country that had found a better way and wasn’t afraid to say so.

Lincoln was not pretty. He was not elegant. He did not sound like Gregory Peck when he gave a speech—he sounded more like Festus Hagin. But he was successful and progressive and smarter than the whole House of Lords put together.

We valued that in America. Once upon a time.

That hideous Hannibal

I took a little vacation time this afternoon. I spent this narrow slice of heaven sitting around the house, waiting for a technician to come and do the periodic inspection on my furnace. As it turned out, he arrived after the four-hour window had closed. I nearly could have worked my usual time and met him when I got back.

Michael Medved was on the radio as I waited, and this was one of those rare Medved shows where the arguing level was low enough so that I could listen in relative comfort.

Medved panned the new movie, “Hannibal Rising,” the prequel telling about Dr. Lector’s early years. After all, aren’t we all yearning to get a good close look at the dynamics that combine to produce cannibalistic psychopaths, especially when we can make it a Valentine’s date?

I used to be a big fan of Thomas Harris, the creator of Hannibal Lector. His books were harrowing, but he treated his characters with compassion and understanding. The villain in Red Dragon, for instance (not Hannibal; he was a secondary character in that one) was horrible and despicable, and you wanted him dead, but you also pitied him. This was (in my opinion) as it should be.

But then came the movie of The Silence of the Lambs, and Anthony Hopkins’ disturbing performance, and suddenly Hannibal became the star.

Then I read the book Harris called Hannibal, and suddenly everything was wrong.

Harris had (it seemed to me) succumbed to the magnetism of Hannibal as incarnated in Hopkins. He may not even realize it, but Harris seems to have started rooting for the cannibal.

So I gave up on him.

Unfortunately, Hollywood hasn’t yet.

The best portrayal of evil I’ve ever seen in fiction remains (for me) C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. It’s certainly one of Lewis’ least popular works, and I have no doubt that many readers have plunged into it, intoxicated with Perelandra, only to find themselves bogged down in the tedium of Edgestow and the Orwellian bureaucracy of N.I.C.E.

But it’s my view that if you slog through those parts, you’ll not only be rewarded, but you’ll finally understand (as in real life) that the hard parts were useful lessons.

Lewis took on the challenge of presenting evil characters without romanticizing them—and any author will tell you that’s one of the great challenges. Villains tend to grow in the telling, and to become lots of fun. Heroes have a way of getting dull and predictable. I think that’s because most of us know a lot more about evil than we do about good, and we tend to equate virtue with passivity.

But Lewis’ villains in T.H.S. are like scoundrels in the real world. They’re not brilliant and charming. They’re not lively and funny. They’re self-absorbed, humorless and devoid of empathy. The reader who works his way through the tough parts of the book will (or at least may) realize that he has spent time in an annex of Hell, and it’s no party down there.

But the community at St. Anne’s—ah, that’s another matter. There we find Lewis’ vision of a Christian fellowship operating as God intended. There we find relationships and laughter and compassion. There we have a glimpse of Heaven, bright as Narnia.

I consider it a tremendous artistic achievement. One that’s never been properly recognized.

The software won’t post without a title, so this is it

Anna Nicole Smith is dead, according to the news. Bloggers all over the country are pausing at their keyboards, pondering whether to meditate on the tragedy/waste-of-life angle or just go with the cheap joke. And having decided, they’re trying to keep the option they chose from bleeding over into the alternative.

I know what to say. I knew a woman once, a relative, who was caring and giving in every way. She hated herself utterly and used various kinds of chemicals to kill the pain. She didn’t die young, but she died long before she had to, as a result of a life-long effort to get this torturous business of living over with, without actually committing the sin of suicide.

I don’t know much about Anna Nicole, but I suspect some of the same dynamics were at work here. So I say rest in peace, and pray she found it in the only place where it’s available.

I feel like I have a cold in my brain. Not in my head, except insofar as my head contains my brain. I’m not physically stuffed up, but my brain feels like it’s congested in a couple layers of cotton batting. I don’t have a headache but my thoughts hurt. I’m not coughing or sneezing, but that little guy with Tourette’s who lives in my skull is doing his Bobcat Goldthwaite imitation a couple clicks louder than usual.

And yet I persevere, because that’s the kind of mug I am.

Here’s a suggestion, for those of you who share my skepticism about Global Warming. Next time you get in a fight with a True Believer, ask them why they’re afraid of change.

“For years you liberals have been telling us that Change Is Good,” you can say. “The only reason anybody could possible resist any kind of change is because they’re bigoted and cowardly. So how come change became a bad thing all of a sudden?”

I offer you this gambit free of charge. Use it as you will, with my blessing.

Not that it will help. The argument will end with your opponent calling you a Nazi, because that’s how these arguments always end.

But at least you’ll have added a little variety to the script.

Unless you thought of this before me, of course.