People started talking about cabin fever the day after their mayor or governor directed them to shelter in place. Maybe they are the folks who rarely stay at home for anything, those who dash off to the store, the crab shack, the boardwalk, the open road–anywhere at the drop of a hat. (For the kids at home, “the drop of a hat” is an expression from the days when adults wore hats daily and dropped them on the sidewalk, taxi seat, or chaise lounge several times a day. At those times certain people would do that thing they would do and, you know.)
Now that most of us are working from home or at least staying at home more than we would have been, we may find ourselves more irritable than normal. We may act and react with emotions we didn’t expect, and because of that, we may not feel okay (insert tangentially related song).
Some of us don’t know what to do with our emotions, dismissing them as temporal fancies that should be reined in at every moment. Or wishing they could be. We take our emotions as improper bursts of energy or simply the way we express ourselves. We see no meaning behind our feelings.
Good will is not enough to safeguard freedom and justice: this delusion leads to the triumph of every demagogue and tyrant, and no amount of transplanted Idealism can compensate for the loss of religious sanctions. Men’s passions are held in check only by the punishments of divine wrath and the tender affections of piety.
This passage from Kirk’s chapter on Orestes Brownson is part of one of many discussions where the place of Christianity – or at least religion in general – is considered. Although most of the notable conservatives in the book are heterodox in some sense, and some are even agnostics or atheists, the importance of religion as such looms large. One exception is Roman Catholicism – several of the great conservatives are Catholics, or at least high Anglicans.
Catholics come off pretty well in this book – which annoys
me a bit, of course. Still, I can’t deny that the Reformation was a
liberalizing force (heck, I’m proud of it. See my post last night). Luther didn’t
abolish the hierarchy of the church (check out the organizations of most
Lutheran churches worldwide), but he affirmed the principle that there’s a
direct line between the believer and Christ, absent the mediation of the
priest. In the context of history, this was a step toward individualism and
what Kirk calls “atomization” – mankind conceived as a mass of unconnected
individuals, all free-floating clients of the state, undistinguished by family,
status, or personal qualities.
It’s interesting for an evangelical to observe that
evangelicals are newbies to the conservative movement. Again, this is something
I already knew – evangelicals were Abolitionists and the Prohibitionists, trying
to re-shape the world through legislation, to change mankind through enlightened
But there were dangers in that
approach, as we can see now. The reformer who wants to save the world from
slavery and Demon Rum, goes on to try to save it from guns and cigarettes and fossil
fuels and transphobia.
And yet I don’t believe in a purely libertarian approach either. I think the government has a role to play in legislating morality – all laws, after all, legislate morality to one extent or another.
OK, folks. I’m back on course. I hope you’re all safe, sheltering in place, avoiding hugs, and keeping well.
As I explained a few inches down the page, I’m reading Russell Kirk’s interesting but interminable The Conservative Mind, and blogging as I go. Parts of the book were kind of a shock to me, though a salutary one.
One thing you learn in reading this book this that it’s not
a canard to say that conservatives are against Democracy. To the contrary,
early conservatives (like Edmund Burke, particular hero of this book),
considered Democracy a positive threat to a decent social order. The American
Founders generally shared that view. When we say “We are not a democracy, we’re
a republic,” it’s true – or was.
Kirk lays that principle down, early in the book, in a list
of conservative principles. Here are his words:
[Conservatives hold a ] Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservative often have been called “the party of order.” If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.
This idea in itself was not a surprise to me – I talk about the same thing in my work with Lutheran Free Church history. But I’ve approached it from the other side. I’ve often told listeners and readers that the Norwegian Lutheran pietists who founded my church body were liberals in their time. That the primary difference between liberals and conservatives in those days was their different ideas about the place of the common people in society. Conservatives wanted hierarchy and ancient privileges preserved. Liberals wanted the common people to participate ever more fully in all public life. Hence universal education, leading to broader voting rights.
To the early conservatives, this was all disastrous. The breakdown of the social classes must inevitably lead to the debasement of moral life. There would be no more great, highly educated men to emulate – everything would be debased to a common level of undistinguished mediocrity.
I don’t think we’re meant to take all the early
conservatives’ ideas seriously – they mostly distrusted the abolition of
slavery, for instance (wanting it to be delayed and happen naturally). For my
own part, I can’t help being proud of the achievements of (limited) democracy
in America – Abraham Lincoln, as I’ve often said, was a walking reproach to the
class-conscious old conservatives.
On the other hand, the horrors those old conservatives predicted seem to be coming upon us at last.
Possibly the American experiment was a fragile flower, one
that bloomed briefly in a specialized environment in a blessed time and place,
never to be seen again.
If you’ve read any social media for long, you’ve run across the proverbial, possibly deep, possibly pithy statement from someone who wants to drop the truth on the world. When a Christian leader does this on Twitter, that’s called a pastor yoda tweet.
This isn’t the same as tweeting a quotation from a quotable writer, but it may be a statement made by one such quotable writer on his own account. He may even be quoted himself. Tim Keller quotes from his own books in an effort to say something strong that has a context that can been explored. Here are good examples of pastors and leaders who aren’t quoting themselves.
Ronnie Martin: “It has never not been our moment. #thechurchthatjesusbuilds”
Also Ronnie Martin: “A quiet, without a calm. These are times when ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’ is desperately needed for both personal comfort, and public compassion.”
Issac Adams: “A commitment to forbear with someone is a commitment, in no small part, to not pick nits.”
David Paul Tripp: “Today you face war, no, not with the people in your life, but a war of kingdoms, fought in your heart, that will not be fully settled until you’re on the other side.”
But of course there are those who would like to tweet proverbial wisdom and fail.
The Happy Rant guys have talked about good and bad tweeting a few times. Here’s one episode that talks about pastor yoda tweeting and also features a story about John Piper speaking to a crowd that completely misunderstood him. Here’s a recent one in which they worry about too much yoda tweeting.
Earlier this month, Taylor Burgess explained it well, “Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you’ve got to be at least 40 before you drop one of those ‘young pastor, [insert wise proverb]’ tweets. Err’body out here trying to be Yoda when most of us are Attack-of-the-Clones Anakin.”
Pre-Christian pagans – Greeks and Romans and Nordic peoples, or redskins and Asiatic tribes – have usually conceived of the Golden Age as having been some time in the past. The present was hard, and the future was dark and full of menace. When the Christian Church began to speak and taught that God’s kingdom would come, it was in reality challenging people’s innermost convictions.
Inconstant and fickle as I am, I shall now contradict what I told you yesterday about blogging my way through The Conservative Mind. A small writing job came up which required me to bone up on Sigrid Undset, and I decided I needed to read an Undset book I’ve owned for a while but had not yet read – her 1942 war memoir, Return to the Future.
The original manuscript for Viking Legacy included a short passage from Undset, about the ancient piles of stones in Norway which have been cleared from the fields over the centuries. She declares them Norway’s “proudest monuments of antiquity” (my translation). Sadly, that passage (which I adored) was omitted from the final version. I didn’t realize, until I picked up Return to the Future, that it was the opening paragraph of that work.
In April 1940, as the Germans advanced northward in Norway, author Sigrid Undset left her home in Lillehammer in haste. She and her youngest son, Hans, fled with other refugees up to the coast at Molde, where they turned eastward toward the Swedish border, traveling at times on foot or on skis. It was only after their arrival in Sweden that they learned that her oldest son, Anders, an officer in the Norwegian army, had been killed in action. After a short stayover in Sweden, she and Hans took a Russian plane for a connection to the Trans-Siberian railroad.
The trip on the Trans-Siberian forms a large section of the
book, and does not present an appealing picture. Even traveling first class,
they found the accommodations (built under the Czars and badly maintained)
filthy, the food terrible, the compartments stifling (you could not open the
windows because of the soot, which got in anyway), and there was no running
water. What she saw of the country revealed nothing but poverty, filth, and dull,
lifeless faces. In spite of vaunted universal literacy, almost nobody read
anything. The Catholic Undset saw in Russia everything she already suspected
Arriving in Vladivostok, they take a steamer to Japan, and
it’s a whole different world. Though like the rest of the world she is appalled
by reports of Japanese atrocities in China, she can’t help but marvel at the beauty
of the clothing and the architecture, the delicate politeness of the people
(though they insist on ignoring her in favor of Hans, because he’s the male),
and the cleanliness everywhere. Her description of the Japanese leg of her trip
gives her the opportunity to meditate at length on the nature of politics and
power, and how the West has – to some extent – brought the war on itself through
treating non-westerners as if they were as materialistic as we are.
Her voyage ended in the United States, and she crossed our
country by train, finally settling in Brooklyn. But the book ends before her
arrival. One assumes it was brought out fairly quickly, as part of her campaign
to promote the cause of the Norwegian government in exile.
Return to the Future was interesting, both for the first-hand account of Norway under attack, and for Undset’s thoughts about international politics, morality and war. She spends a lot of time on the historical sins of the Germans (she baldly declares Martin Luther a “psychopath,” but I forgive her). The sense of the title, as I understand it, is that the Nazi invasion had plunged Norway back into the dark past, and that in coming to America she was returning to the “future” to which she was accustomed. The implication is that America had an obligation to bring that future back for the victims of the war. I would rate the translation by Henriette C. K. Naeseth as adequate, though I flatter myself that I could have done better.
The public library has always been a boon to the impecunious reader. The utility that permits me to download e-books from my library is a particular blessing (not least in these days when Pestilence stalks the land). My library’s system is a little cumbersome, but less cumbersome than driving to the physical building, so I’ve got no gripe coming.
My main problem with my library’s e-book collection is selection. Mostly I read mysteries for light reading, and when I pull up “mystery” on the library site I always get the very same list of books. I don’t know if they’re arranged by popularity or date of acquisition, or some other criterion. But I have to page through screens and screens of listings before I find one that a) interests me, and b) isn’t being read by somebody else.
Last week I tried a new approach. Instead of looking for
mysteries, I thought, why don’t I try one of those “important” books I’ve
always heard I should read, but have never gotten around to? I’ll bet nobody’s waiting
in line for those.
So, on a whim, I searched for Russell Kirk. Several books were available, and I selected The Conservative Mind.
Brilliant. Masterfully written. Illuminating.
And long. Dear, sweet jasmine tea, it’s a long book. I started it last week, and I’m not half way through yet. I complained a while back about the length of Walter Scott’s The Pirate, but that was an Amazon review compared to this.
The nice part is that my book-buying expenses have plummeted
for the duration.
So… of what shall I blog until I finish this thing?
I think I shall discuss the reading as I go.
The first thing that struck me as potential blogging
material was Mr. Kirk’s assessment of Sir Walter Scott, mentioned above.
In the Waverly novels, Scott makes the conservatism of Burke a living and a tender thing—in Edie Ochiltree, showing how the benefits and dignity of hierarchical society extend even to the beggar; in Balfour of Burley, illustrating the destructive spirit of reforming fanaticism; in Montrose among the clans, “the unbought grace of life”; in Monkbarns or the Baron of Bradwardine, the hamely goodness of the old-fashioned laird…. Delighting in variety like all the Romantics, repelled by the coarsening pleasure-and-pain principle of conduct, Scott clearly saw in Utilitarianism a system which would efface nationality, individuality, and all the beauty of the past. Utilitarianism was the surly apology for a hideous and rapacious industrialism.
Thrillers as a genre are different from mysteries, but there tends to be a lot of overlap. Thrillers concentrate on building tension and unease in the reader, but a mystery element adds to that tension. Me, I’m more of a mystery person than a thriller person, and Rollover, by James Raven, kept me reading, but took me far beyond my comfort zone. Which will have been, of course the point.
Danny Cain is a journalist, partner in a struggling
independent news agency in Southampton, England, with his friend Vince. One evening
he gets a call from Vince – he has to come right over. Vince has won the
national lottery! Their troubles are over!
But when he gets there, Danny finds Vince dead, bludgeoned
to death on the floor. Before he can telephone the police, he gets a call from
his wife’s mobile phone – a strange man’s voice says to get out of there and
wait for further instructions. They have kidnapped Danny’s wife and 6-year-old
daughter; if he doesn’t follow instructions, they will die.
Then begins Danny’s ordeal – once of those situations where
things start impossible and then get worse. He has no resources to call on, and
his enemies seem organized, omniscient, and remorseless. Doing what he’s told might
be impossible, and even if he can, chances of survival are low.
Meanwhile, Hampshire Detective Jeff Temple is called to the
crime scene. Danny Cain looks like the obvious culprit, but Jeff isn’t sure.
Things don’t add up, but he has no idea what awful revelations will come to
light before it’s all over.
Taunt, tense, and remorseless, Rollover is a masterful thriller. It worked so well that I’m scared to continue on with the sequel.
Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany during the 30 Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city, and so a place of refuge, but the number of refugees strained local resources. Rinkart took many into his own home, and had to scavenge for food and supplies. The city was overrun by enemy armies three times.
And then came the plague. Rinkart was left as the only pastor in the city, doing as many as 40 or 50 funerals a day, including that of his wife. He himself did not live to see peace.
Nevertheless, sometime before 1648, he sat down and wrote a poetic table prayer that began, “Nun danket alle Gott,” “Now thank we all our God.” Soon after a tune was composed by Johann Cruger. Our English translation came from Catherine Winkworth in the 19th Century.
Sometimes, as I said when I reviewed the series, “Yancy Derringer” a while back, you can watch a beloved childhood show and be pleasantly surprised. And sometimes the show is just as dumb as you expect. Such is the case with “The Adventures of Jim Bowie,” a two-season series that ran from 1956 to 1958. I streamed it on Amazon Plus.
Simplified and sanitized for a half-hour time period and a
kids’ audience, “The Adventures of Jim Bowie” is sort of Bizarro-Jim. A lot of
what happens is based on actual events – but they’re usually portrayed the
wrong way around.
The very first episode, for instance, explains how Jim designs his knife and gets it made by a blacksmith. His kid-friendly reason for this is given as a need to protect himself from bears. (Wilderness survival tip – this does not work.) In real life, Jim acquired his knife because he’d been in a life-and-death fight with a man and his pistol misfired. Stories vary as to who designed the knife – it may have been his smarter brother Rezin – but it probably wasn’t Jim himself.
Aside from his efforts in the Texan War of Independence, which are genuinely impressive, Jim Bowie’s main accomplishments mostly consisted of criminal activity. He and his friend, the pirate Jean Lafitte (who appears in several episodes), conspired to exploit a loophole in the laws forbidding the importation of slaves. This allowed them to effectively “launder” their human merchandise, and then sell it at a premium. (Look up the details if you’re interested; it’s complicated.) In this series, the issue of the slave trade is generally avoided, except for one episode where Jim risks his life to rescue a slave he has freed from being sold again.
Jim’s biggest scam, though, involved forging old Spanish land grants, which the US government had agreed to honor. Jim created a large number of fake grants (not very skillfully), and managed to tie up quite a lot of land titles for a long time. He eventually lost all his claims in court, but not before many innocent people lost a lot of money. In my memory, there was one episode of the show that dealt with false land grants, but in which Bowie uncovers rather than perpetrates the fraud. However, that must be the one episode that Amazon Prime skips in its rotation, because I didn’t see it here.
The knife that bore the Bowie name, his great trademark, gets flashed a lot in the show, but doesn’t actually get used much for its proper purpose. He throws it often, frequently to disarm other men. But only one opponent gets stabbed as far as I can recall, and that’s pretty much by accident.
A number of historical characters show up – John James
Audubon, Andrew Jackson (whom Bowie didn’t support, contrary to the show), Sam
Houston, Johnny Appleseed, Jefferson Davis. They are often portrayed in fairly
authentic ways (they take particular pains to make Davy Crockett look right.
The Walt Disney series was a recent memory then). You could actually learn some
fair basic history by watching this show, if you discount the main character
Beyond that, the writing is simple and the plots dumb. This
is a garden variety TV western aimed at kids, but without revolving pistols. It’s
OK for mindless entertainment, but your life won’t be impoverished much if you
give it a miss.
A note on the star: Scott Forbes was an English actor who
learned his southern accent from a female voice coach whom he went on to marry.
He plays the party pretty broadly. According to one source, he walked off the
set just before the last episode was filmed, on hearing that the show had been
cancelled. They covered by hiring another actor (not a famous one) to play an
outlaw who gets a pardon for going on a mission to Texas in Bowie’s place.
The last time Vegas shut down was Nov. 23, 1963 out of respect for the death of a president. Yesterday Nevada’s governor said they needed to shut down for thirty days. People had been staying home for a while anyway.
“You see all these massive buildings that are meant to have 10,000 people in them and no one is there,” one interactive gaming exec said.
That means gamblers will have to find other ways to, uh, invest, like, say, the weather. Bookies are taking bets on high temperatures in select cities, rainfall, and events on American Idol. Of course, other countries have sports too, so maybe we’ll see a spike in soccer interest.
Two major movie theater chains have closed until better health prevails. I just learned my local library will be closed until April 1; they are encouraging us to use their digital borrowing service, Hoopla. Perhaps the librarians won’t have to go on unpaid leave, like those of retailer Tattered Cover of Denver, one of the largest independent bookstores in the country.
We’re living in troubling times. I’ve seen more people walking through our neighborhood, but the warm weather could have inspired that. Three of us took that walk after sunset tonight. Dark, empty streets can be nice.
A woman is strangled in an out-of-the way spot in Edinburgh. Detective Inspector Jack Knox is surprised to learn that the case has been taken over by a “more sophisticated” police team from western Scotland. Their leader, however, turns out to be a decent and sensible fellow. He puts Jack in operational command and makes his people available to reinforce the local cops, who know the territory.
Crime scene investigation, witness reports, and CCTV suggest that the killer drove a delivery van, so the team begins a systematic investigation of delivery companies and their drivers. Slowly the noose tightens, but surprises are in store.
That’s how Robert McNeill’s Murder at Flood Tide goes. It’s not a thriller, but a fairly realistic police procedural, like the previous volume in the series, The Innocent and the Dead, which I’ve already reviewed. The drama is mostly low-key, but along with the threat of the serial killer, there is an insubordinate team member to be dealt with.
I like the realistic approach of this series, but I can’t
pretend I find these books compelling. They are entertainment with a moderate
level of dramatic tension; nothing to keep you awake at night.
I used to be a beanpole, just below six foot of skin, muscle and bone, but now, when I showered in the morning, it was like navigating the Yorkshire Dales.
It is a melancholy thing to come to the end of a book series you’re enjoying a lot. I don’t know if Stan Jackson intends to write any more Perry Webster novels – he’s kind of running out of hair colors. Peroxide? Titian? Dishwater?
Anyway, Redhead is the fourth in the series, and perhaps the best, depending on your preferences. Author Jackson gets better as he goes.
At the risk of spoiling it for people who haven’t finished the previous book, I have to tell you that Perry is married now, to Julia Emburey, the headmistress of a prep school. Julia thinks she has no relations, but is startled to learn she has a cousin – in France. Perry and Julia travel to the home of this woman, Gabrielle Dupont (originally Gale Emburey) who is very rich. Julia had known of Gabrielle’s father, her uncle, who was accused of murdering his wife and disappeared with his baby daughter. Now she learns that he went to France, where he changed his identity and had considerable business success.
Gabrielle says that her late father was innocent of the
murder. She would like Perry to investigate the cold case. If he can vindicate
her father, Gabrielle will make a major (and much needed) contribution to Julia’s
Both of them dislike Gabrielle from the start, but the money
is tempting, and what harm could there be in righting an old injustice?
There was another suspect in the case, the “redhead” of the title – a French au pair who also disappeared at the time of the murder. But she had no apparent motive. Perry begins questioning friends and associates from those days, asking questions that most of them find puzzling, but that one of them finds absolutely threatening…
I enjoyed Redhead, as I have enjoyed the whole series. The writing has always been good, and the plotting has improved from book to book.
I’m happy that Perry has found a satisfying marriage, though
I’m not entirely sold on Julia. She’s great most of the time, but occasionally
she exhibits a prickly, feminist humorlessness that puts me off. No doubt
female readers will react differently.
There’s an odd element in this one related to religion. Perry
visits a sort of modern hippie commune, where they teach what seems to be a
rationalized Christianity. “Grace” is their watchword, but without all that
supernatural stuff. No doubt that seems positive to the contemporary English; I
don’t think it holds up in practice. You’ve got to deal with original sin – a
topic which, ironically, gets mentioned in passing.
I should note that at one point author Jackson uses the
phrase “begging the question” correctly. Full marks for that! A rare pleasure
in contemporary books.
Also, there’s a chilling anticlimax.
Good book, and recommended. I’ll read the next, if there is one. Mousy? Bald?
They posted another of my articles at The American Spectator Online on Sunday. It’s called A Message to the Young: Beware the Groove.
It was around 1973, and I was attending a small Midwestern college. This being the ’70s, the school was already busy debriding itself of its past Christian tradition and regenerating as a sort of flyover Dartmouth.
I was in a Christian Ethics class, listening to presentations on the topic of sex. A young woman had already informed us that the Roman Catholic Church saw no value in women except as baby factories — I was kind of pleased with myself for asking her how she accounted for nuns.
Like the raising of the Mary Rose, Suzie’s words, and now Cyl’s, had brought it to the surface and like the Mary Rose, the thought emerged covered in stuff I didn’t want to delve into.
I’ve been calling this series of mysteries by Stan Jackson the “Ste Webster” series, because that’s what everyone’s been calling the character up to now in the books. But in the present volume, Raven, “Ste” and his friends have started referring to him as Perry. Which is also what the series is called on the Amazon pages, so I guess that’s what I ought to be calling him now.
Ste, or Perry, Webster is, as you may recall, a professor of philosophy at the University of York. His fiancée was murdered in the first volume, Blonde, and he managed to identify the killer. This has given him a reputation as a detective, and occasionally people ask him to solve other crimes.
This time out, Perry is approached by a former student, Laura “Raven” Wellbourne. She tells him that as a girl she attended St Barnabas School, a prestigious nearby institution, comparable to an American prep school. During her time there, she tells him, she was blackmailed and serially abused in secret by the headmaster, Dr MacDonald. As an adult, now with an academic degree, she changed her identity and appearance and returned to the school, getting a job as an instructor. Her plan was to somehow find evidence of MacDonald’s true character, and expose him.
But now Dr MacDonald has been murdered, found floating in
the school swimming pool with his head smashed. Raven is the police’s chief
suspect, but she swears she didn’t do it. Since she’s been relieved of duties,
someone is needed to cover her classes. Could Perry fill in for her, on a pretext,
and try to find the real killer?
Perry is so appalled by what she’s been through that he agrees to do it. Before long an audit reveals that Dr MacDonald has been involved in massive misappropriation of school funds, to the extent that its future is jeopardized. This is of great concern to the acting interim headmistress, Julia Emburey, a very attractive woman who has raised an interest in Perry that he hasn’t felt since his fiancée died. But is MacDonald’s embezzlement the motive for the murder?
I’m enjoying this series of novels immensely. Sometimes you
just “hit it off” with a series or a character. I like Perry Webster, and enjoy
spending time in his company. Also, author Jackson has fixed some of the
writing problems I’ve identified in earlier books.
So I recommend Raven, along with the whole series. Mild cautions for adult themes.