Was Honor the Big Reason for the American Revolution?

The Art of Manliness has an audio interview with a history professor who’s written a book that has me repeatedly wondering if he’s right. Craig Bruce Smith is an Assistant Professor of History and the Director of the History Program at William Woods University. He’s written American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era. He says that while taxation, military aggression, and other oppressive treatment from King George and his empire did lead the colonists into a revolutionary war, the impetus behind our leaders’ call to arms was to defend their honor and that this idea matured over the lives of our founders to the point of pledging their sacred honor to the defend their independence.

In this vein, Yale’s Joanne Freeman wrote on the themes applied in the Burr-Hamilton duel. James Bowman reviews Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor.

Among the Founding Fathers, she tells us, “Honour” was used interchangeably with “reputation” but it meant “reputation with a moral dimension and an élite cast”. It was, moreover, “the core of a man’s identity, his sense of self, his manhood”, which is why even in those relatively enlightened times it not infrequently involved men in single, and lethal, combat over real or imagined slights.

Bowman has written a book on the history of honor and its ties to morality and manners.

‘Red Alert,’ by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

Red Alert

In spite of James Patterson’s immense popularity, not to mention rumors that his political views tend conservative, I had only tried one of his novels up to now. And I didn’t finish that one.

But a friend recently recommended the NYPD Red series, so I figured I’d give Patterson another chance with Red Alert.

Alas, he’s just not my cuppatee.

Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald are the New York Police Department’s “Red Squad.” Their job is to handle threats and crimes involving the city’s rich and elite. So they’re on hand the evening a prominent architect is killed by a shaped charge while giving a speech at the elegant Pierre Hotel. At first the reaction is that such a thing was unthinkable. The man was a do-gooder, part of a foundation devoted to helping the less fortunate. But gradually a different picture emerges. He was one of a group of four men, all rich and powerful, who, years before, had gotten into trouble trying to smuggle drugs from Thailand. When another of the four is killed by a similar explosion, the truth becomes obvious – someone has a grudge against the four of them, and is picking them off one by one.

Meanwhile, a female filmmaker is found dead in what appears to be a “strangulation fetish” accident. But it’s not an accident.

The story here is told with the competence one expects from an author of James Patterson’s experience and prolific output. But somehow I had trouble caring. The characters seemed to me to have the depth of cardboard. And the heroes were pretty stereotyped – a solid, sensible male cop partnered with a wild and crazy female cop who likes to beat people up, shoot people, and drive fast. I’ve seen that one too often in the last couple decades.

So my reaction is that the book is adequate light reading, but it failed to provide the vicarious human element I personally crave. Your mileage may (and likely will) vary.

Cautions for language and adult stuff.

‘The Blood Road, by Stuart MacBride

The Blood Road

Hardie rubbed at his face. ‘We’ve got two missing girls; an ex-police-officer who was stabbed to death; an exhumed murder victim no one can identify, a serving police officer who’s been hanged, and now you say the body you dug up in the middle of nowhere wasn’t just murdered, it was tortured first!’ He pressed his palms into his eye sockets and made a muffled screaming noise.

It is my plan not to read any more of Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae novels. I bought this one by accident, as I explained a few reviews ago. But it’s not because they’re bad novels. They’re well-written and exciting, with moments of excellent, witty prose. I just don’t like the world they take me into.

In The Blood Road, our hero, Detective Inspector Logan McRae, has made a move to the Professional Standards police squad in his part of Scotland. His former boss is now his subordinate. Other cops don’t like him much because of his job, but short-handedness means he gets pulled into a murder investigation anyway.

A body is found stabbed to death in a car along a lonely road. When it’s identified, it’s a shock – it’s a former police colleague, who was supposed to be dead years before. Meanwhile there’s been a string of child abductions, and rumors are spreading of a secretive “livestock market” where these children will be auctioned off to pedophiles. Evidence mounts that somehow – it’s almost impossible to believe – this twice-dead policeman was involved with that ring. Continue reading ‘The Blood Road, by Stuart MacBride

Social awkwardness in a Chinese restaurant

One aspect of being a strange person is having strange experiences. Experiences that are strange merely because it’s you involved.

A strange sort of coincidence happened to me yesterday evening. Only weird because I’m weird.

I’m a man of routine. Part of my regular agenda is to go to the gym on Wednesday evenings, and then have Sweet & Sour Chicken at Lee Ann Chin’s (a local Chinese chain) afterward. This I did last night.

I was sitting at a table, eating and reading a book on my Kindle. The table was at the back wall, and I was sitting on a long bench that stretches along that wall and serves three different tables. At the time I was the only one using any of those tables.

I was reading another Logan McRae novel – that series whose quality I admire, but which I just don’t like much. But I bought this book by accident, and I wasn’t about to dump it. Continue reading Social awkwardness in a Chinese restaurant

A Literary History of Sci-Fi

Jules Verne speaking of H.G. Wells: “I go to the moon in a cannonball discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars [sic] in an airship which he constructs of a metal which does away with the law of gravitation. Ça c’est très joli…. But show me this metal. Let him produce it.”

“In this put-down of one of the ‘Fathers of Science Fiction’ by another,” writes Alexi Sargeant, “we see the future of the field.”

Long before anyone coined the terms “hard sci-fi” and “soft sci-fi” or used them as badges of pride or disparaging slurs, long before the “holy war” between old school pulp and the ’60s era New Wave, we have this demand from the cranky old school to the squishy new school: “Show me this metal.” Wells, whose social activism permeated his fiction, would no doubt claim that Verne was rather missing the point. But what becomes clear from a survey of science fiction’s history is that, if there’s one thing these authors love more than cosmic wonder and terror, it’s petty fights about what constitutes “real” science fiction.

(via Prufrock News)

‘Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw,’ by Ian Crockatt

Crimsoning the Eagle's Claw

Complicated stuff, but interesting for Viking buffs. I bought Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw: The Viking Poems of Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney, by Ian Crockatt, on the recommendation of Grim over at the Grim’s Hall blog. He reviewed it here, and makes some insightful comments (he understands the subject, frankly, better than I do):

Scholars who want to understand the poems thus wisely grapple with them first by direct translation, then by seeing if they can translate them poetically as Crockatt does. It is a useful exercise for him for another reason. The poetic form shapes the word, but learning to use the form shapes the mind. Habituating the mind to the creation of poems in just this form is going to alter the way one thinks, slightly but definitely. In learning the compose poems in this strict form, you are learning to think just a bit more like the Viking who is your historical subject.

Kali Kolsson (ca. 1103-1158) adopted the first name Ragnvald in honor of a famous predecessor as earl (jarl) of Orkney. Technically he wasn’t a Viking, having been born after 1066, but it’s hard to deny him the title. He went on a great raid, fighting in Spain and off North Africa (and then doing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and proceeding to Constantinople). And he was a master of the old Norse poetic form; if his poems aren’t Viking poetry, I don’t know what they are.

Ian Crockatt succeeds in producing vigorous poems in the spirit of the originals. Some of his word choices seem strange to me – especially substituting “Eve” for the names of Norse goddesses. But in a project like this you’re going to end up making a lot of subjective choices. I can’t fault him. Oddly, in discussing previous translations, he does not mention Lee Hollander’s efforts along the same lines, which seems to me a strange omission.

Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw is fascinating reading for anyone interested in its esoteric subject. And it’s not long.

Post-Moorhead 2018

Viking Festival Camp 2018
My side of the camp. There was a lot more to it.

I got things a bit out of order yesterday. First day after a Viking expedition, I’m supposed to tell you about that. Book reviews after. But I forgot. How soon I forget. Anyway, fear not. I shall now satisfy your burning curiosity about the Midwest Viking Festival 2018, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota.

This was the first long trip I’ve taken with the new Viking tent strapped to the top of Miss Ingebretsen, my semi-faithful PT Cruiser. I’m happy to report that it traveled well. I’ve developed a philosophy of tie-down straps, and they stayed tight. OK, I had to tighten them a little on the way, but that was because of a miscalculation I made with my anchoring; I learned a lesson from it to guide me in future.

So I got there (this was Thursday), and a couple fellows helped me put my tent up (it’s not something you can do alone). Then I went and checked into the motel. I will not name the place, because I can’t really speak well of it. After I’d gotten settled, I noticed a smear of black grease on my hand. Eventually I figured out it came from a spot on the room door – an area around the latch. In time I worked up the nerve to complain at the desk. The manager told me he could change me to another room, or give me a cloth to clean it up. He didn’t have any staff on at that hour. So I took a cloth and a bottle of degreaser from him, and cleaned the door. Later I found a similar slick on the bathroom door, but by then I was defeated. I just avoided touching that area.

The festival itself was great. The weather was warm, but it could have been worse, and possible rain on Saturday (the second day) did not arrive. We had about 80 reenactors there, demonstrating crafts from cooking to woodcarving to blacksmithing. Plus a group called Telge Glima from Sweden, who do an amusing Viking games show, and the regular cast of fighters (I did not participate in that). Continue reading Post-Moorhead 2018

Min Jin Lee: Writing as Vocation, Not Career

Min Jin Lee, a New Yorker who came to America from South Korea at age 7, has written a couple strong novels and many columns and essays. She spoke with World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky about growing up, overworking herself as a lawyer, being a mother, and writing. She said she thinks “of God as a writer and a publisher,” because of the importance of His Word.

Writing is really hard. Fiction students or earnest fiction writers come to my readings and go, “What do I do? How do I get published?” I say, “Forget that it’s a career. It’s a vocation. It’s really, really difficult. Earn a living somewhere else.” I know very successful writers, and they don’t make money from selling their books. You do it because you love it, but don’t do it because you think it will deliver something in your life. Your book is not redemption. It will not redeem all the pain and suffering in your life. It’s something you feel called to write. If you don’t feel called to write that story, don’t write it. Do something else. Take up golf.

‘In the Cold Dark Ground,’ by Stuart MacBride

In the Cold Dark Ground

“Officer, I swear I didn’t mean to read another Logan McRae novel. I soured on Stuart MacBride’s black comedy cop series a while back. But I confused The Blood Road with part of another series of Scottish police procedurals (I must be following about ten), and I bought one. Then I noticed that I hadn’t read the previous book, so I bought that too. Then I realized I didn’t like the books. But I paid good money for them, so I went ahead and read them. I’m not proud of it.”

That’s my personal rationalization for reading In the Cold Dark Ground. Stuart MacBride is a very good author. He knows how to ramp up a story, and he can get off marvelous ironic lines, like, “When he smiled, it was like small children screaming.” But the darkness of the story and the ugliness of most of the characters wore me down. It’s probably an accurate picture of police work; it just leaves me feeling grim. And I started out grim enough.

Anyway, in this book Sergeant Logan McRae of Banff, Scotland, who’s been an inspector but didn’t like it, is faced with doctors’ recommendations that he turn off respiratory support for someone very dear to him. He also discovers that his mother has lied to him all his life about a pretty important matter. Meanwhile, a local businessman is found brutally murdered, and there is evidence of a secret life and deep debts to organized crime. Speaking of organized crime, a local crime lord is dying. He has taken, for some reason, a liking to Logan, and is threatening to leave him his money and whole organization. This would not look good to the Professional Standards department, but it looks even worse to one of that boss’s underlings, a psychopath who has personal plans for Logan involving slow carving and pig feed. Meanwhile that same Professional Standards department is pressuring Logan to find evidence against his superior, Inspector Steel, a blousy lesbian with a remarkably unpleasant personality, but a friend nonetheless.

So Logan has quite a lot on his plate. Things will get very tense before he finds a way out.

In the Cold Dark Ground is compelling, fast-paced, and well-written. I just don’t enjoy the overall experience of entering that world. Your mileage may vary. Cautions for very crude humor.

And I’ve got one more to read.

Amis: Poetry Stops the Clock

LARB: The authors you write about in your book are mostly novelists. Do you read much poetry, contemporary or otherwise?

Martin Amis: “Yeah, I do. It’s much harder to read poetry when you’re living in a city, in the accelerated atmosphere of history moving at a new rate. Which we all experience up to a point. What poetry does is stop the clock, and examine certain epiphanies, certain revelations — and life might be moving too swiftly for that.

“But I still do read, not so much contemporaries, as the canon. I was reading Milton yesterday, and last week Shakespeare — it’s the basic greats that I read.”

From “The Age of Acceleration: An Interview with Martin Amis” by Scott Timberg for the LA Review of Books

American Poet Donald Hall, 89, Has Died

Poet Donald Hall, 89, has passed away. David Kirby has this in the New York Times obit:

“Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet,” Billy Collins, another American poet laureate, wrote in The Washington Post in April 2006, two months before Mr. Hall himself was given the post.  . . . He was a staggeringly prolific writer who chose freelance work over teaching — a decision, as Mr. Collins put it, “to detach himself from academic life, with its slow but steady intravenous drip of a salary.”

Back in 2001, Hall called for a death to the death of poetry. Here’s how that essay begins.

Some days, when you read the newspaper, it seems clear that the United States is a country devoted to poetry. You can delude yourself reading the sports pages. After finding two references to “poetry in motion,” apropos of figure skating and the Kentucky Derby, you read that a shortstop is the poet of his position and that sailboats raced under blue skies that were sheer poetry. On the funny pages, Zippy praises Zerbina’s outfit: “You’re a poem in polyester.” A funeral director, in an advertisement, muses on the necessity for poetry in our daily lives. It’s hard to figure out just what he’s talking about, but it becomes clear that this poetry has nothing to do with poems. It sounds more like taking naps.

Poetry, then, appears to be:

  1. a vacuous synonym for excellence or unconsciousness. What else is common to the public perception of poetry?

  2. It is universally agreed that no one reads it.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture