Talk like an ambivalent pirate

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

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

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

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

The Man Of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

I’m not sophisticated enough to read Montalbán.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furious, she turned back to Carvalho.

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

“I hardly ever carry one.”

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

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

Win The Thirteenth Tale Limited Edition

I am told that anyone who visits www.thethirteenthtale.com before November 30, 2006, can enter to win a signed, leather-bound, limited-edition copy of The Thirteenth Tale from Simon & Schuster. Tell them you read about the contest on Brandywine Books, and we may win a copy too. Or you could give Mr. Holtsberry credit so he may win it.

This gothic suspense novel looks interest–the secret lives of authors and whatnot–and Amazon.com calls it “a rousing good ghost story.” But more than that, Frank Wilson says, “It’s maybe the best book I’ve read this year.” That’s got to mean something big.

Unreliable News: Man Files His Own Wrongful Death Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unreliable News: Source of E. Coli Infestation Sought

Public Health authorities across the nation are warning consumers not to eat fresh spinach packaged in plastic bags, due to an E. coli outbreak that has already killed one and sickened twenty. Officials in twenty states have issued public health warnings in the wake of the news.

A spokesperson from the Food and Drug Administration told reporters today that the source of the contamination has not yet been discovered. However there have been reports of sightings near food processing plants of a suspicious-looking large, fat ugly man “with a black beard and a sailor hat on his head.”

What humble looks like

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:27-28, NIV)

I was thinking about this passage the other day. It’s one of those stretches of the epistles where the Apostle Paul, frankly, has always lost me. I try to follow the argument but just can’t find the thread.

But I think I’ve got it now. What Paul is talking about here is Christian humility.

As C. S. Lewis has explained somewhere, our stereotypical image of humility is deeply warped. We think of a humble person as someone shabby and dusty and hunched over, wringing his hands and apologizing all over the place. But in fact, when we are lucky enough to meet one of the few really humble people who actually live around us, our only response is likely to be, “What a happy person! What a pleasant person to be with!”

The reason for that is what Paul, I think, is explaining in this passage. A mature Christian is humble, not because he’s bowed down under the weight of guilt and shame (the principle of observing the law), but because his attention is directed away from himself toward God (the principle of faith). He’s not thinking about his inferiority. He’s not thinking about himself at all. He’s looking upward, and his face reflects the sunshine of Heaven.

I understand this intellectually, of course. Applying it to my life is another matter altogether.

Friday the 13th done come on a Wednesday this month!

I actually feel pretty good today, considering the fact that all I’ve got to blog about is bad news.

First of all, my desktop computer is having its mail forwarded to the repair shop over in New Hope (or Crystal. It’s often hard to tell in this part of town). Whenever I try to start it, Norton GoBack reboots it and tells me to run ScanDisk. But I can’t get in to run ScanDisk because GoBack keeps rebooting it.

The good news is that I still have my laptop. But the laptop can’t get DSL without talking to the desktop, so I’m back to 1990’s technology. (“Might as well send smoke signals,” he said, as he repaired his eyeglasses with tape.)

(Late update: I’m actually posting this after 10:00 p.m., because I couldn’t find my password to get in to use this blog on this computer. Phil and the developer finally rescued me.)

More than a bummer: I live in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. That means that there’s a very good chance that my next Congressman will be Keith Ellison, Nation of Islam member, reputed anti-Semite, radical lefty and scofflaw. Who says we Minnesotans aren’t ahead of the curve?

Finally, Aitchmark sent me this link from National Review’s Corner, about how Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan not only aren’t allowed to fight, they aren’t even allowed to go into the deep end of the pool.

This is utterly unworthy of the descendants of the Vikings.

It appears they’ve reinstituted what I believe was called the Doctrine of the Broken Gun. T. D. O. T. B. G. was Norway’s official defense policy before World War II. It was a shining example of the real-world insanity of cuddly idealism.

The theory was, “The best defense is no defense. If your gun is broken, and everyone knows your gun is broken, nobody will ever attack you, because there’s no honor in beating an unarmed opponent.”

What didn’t occur to the theoreticians is that people sometimes attack you for reasons that have little to do with honor. They’ll attack you because they want your ports, or just because you’re an easy target.

In 1940 they learned just how wrong the doctrine was.

Apparently they need to learn the lesson again.

Kenyon Review Blog: Give Me My Money Back

Today, I learned The Kenyon Review has a blog. I have a good impression of this literary journal, but still have yet to subscribe. My impression may be unfounded, perhaps being drawn from my good impression of poet Jane Kenyon who doesn’t have anything to do with the college.

Anyway, the KR blogger Liz Lopatto is complaining about books for which she’d like a refund. Among them:

Everything Jane Austen has ever written, but especially Persuasion. I’ve never been fond of Austen’s ridiculous style, and while David Lynn has tried unsuccessfully to convince me that she’s really parodying the characters she writes about, she spends so much loving detail describing every second of their boring lives that I can’t believe him. I threw Persuasion across the room several times when I had to read it for my English comprehensive exercise, but especially when our heroine Anne, who has no flaws except that she might be plain (this changes as the book goes on, however; her beauty blooms again!), discovers Captain Wentworth really does love her. I threw the book and stomped on it when her spurned suitor, her cousin, turns out to be a “villain.” Because our Anne couldn’t possibly break the heart of someone who’s decent–oh, no, she’s too good for that. I understand Austen is considered a classic but I still can’t figure out why.

She doesn’t like Dickens or Moby Dick either. To each his own.

No, I’m not going to type “to each his or her own,” because it’s awkward. English speakers should understand that implication and avoid petty language politics.

How a novelist changed eveningwear forever

Memo from my subconscious:


You’ve got nothing today. Why do you persist in blogging, when you know you’ve exhausted your tiny store of things to write worth reading? Why do you persist in this failed strategy? Why don’t you have an exit strategy? It’s a quagmire! Admit it.

When in doubt, borrow. I shall tell you about a fact I learned years ago, which has stayed with me for all the intervening years. I share it with you freely, so that you can bore your friends, just as I do.

Back when I was doing community theater in Florida, I performed in the play, “The Elephant Man.” I played Dr. Gomm, and it wasn’t one of my better performances. Suffice it to say that I didn’t make anyone forget Sir John Gielgud in the movie.

The costume people procured Victorian clothing for us. The moment I saw the tan-colored suit they’d gotten me, I knew that what we had was “A Christmas Carol” costumes, not “The Elephant Man” costumes. Because between the time of Dickens and the time of John Merrick, Englishmen stopped wearing anything but black (or, if they were feeling extremely cheery, a dark gray). I knew this because I had read Frank Muir’s An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything.

(By the way, did you know that Dr. Frederick Treves, whom Anthony Hopkins played in the movie, was an active and influential Christian evangelical? I learned this in Newfoundland, when I visited the Grenville Museum. Treves was one of Dr. Grenville’s [Grenville of Labrador] mentors.)

Anyway, this quote from Muir’s book:

Probably the most prolific novelist and playwright of the nineteenth century, for years the most popular writer of his day, was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (Blogger’s note: Yes, this is the guy the annual award for bad writing is named after), later Baron Lytton, who managed to be a statesman as well….

Bulwer-Lytton made a lot of money from his books, plus a little more from playing whist. He moved easily in fashionable circles and his most popular novel, Pelham, had as its eponymous hero a society dandy who startled London by forsaking the bright colors then worn by gentlemen in the evening to appear in black. This fashion was taken up by society and Britain’s manhood has appeared on formal evening occasions ever since dressed like undertakers.

I note on re-reading that Muir is only talking about evening wear, so I remembered the story wrong. But it’s also a fact that Englishmen eschewed bright colors for all clothing not long thereafter (as a sign of respect for Queen Victoria’s mourning of Prince Albert, I think). I still blame Bulwer-Lytton.

No I don’t. I like black suits.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture