Reuters Uses the Word “Terrorist”

An interesting language point from Opinion Journal:

[In a Reuters story]:

An Iranian woman now living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, was once a leader in a terrorist group based in Iraq trying to overthrow the Tehran government, federal authorities said in court documents on Monday.

A what group? Isn’t one man’s terrorist another’s freedom fighter? Where are the scare quotes?

Oh wait, she was trying to overthrow the Iranian government, not just wantonly murdering civilians. That’s very different.

Bravo, Mr. Taranto.

Paul by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [in George MacDonald’s Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Chapter XI).

For some years I have told people that there is one author in particular whose sandals I feel myself utterly unworthy to untie. That author is Walter Wangerin. If I could trade my entire past and future literary output for the ability to say that I’d written The Book of the Dun Cow, I’d… well, I’d be strongly tempted. If any work of expressly Christian fiction written in my lifetime is likely to endure, I think it will be that marvelous book. Not only for its outstanding literary quality, but for the Holiness Lewis found in MacDonald and I find in Wangerin.

Still, I haven’t been a big reader of Wangerin’s books. That was partly because I thought he’d gone over the top with his sequel, The Book of Sorrows, a book almost unendurable for me from an emotional point of view. Also he’s a pastor in good standing in the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, and I have to assume that means we have major theological disagreements, particularly in terms of our views of Scripture.

But if Paul is typical of the stuff Wangerin’s been putting out all these years, I’ve got some catching up to do. I can quibble with some of his dramatic choices, but taken all in all this is a fine, spiritually nourishing work of fiction, one that I heartily recommend to all readers.

The book is largely a retelling of the material we are given in the Book of Acts in the Bible. The story of Paul’s life is told from multiple viewpoints—people who knew Paul like Barnabas and Prisca and James the Apostle and Timothy (one exception is the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s tutor, who keeps us posted on events in Rome). Each chapter presents the story from a different point of view, friendly or hostile to Paul. Each narrator is well-defined and believable as a character. Wangerin makes use of historical research to flesh out Scripture’s spare accounts, helping stories and passages we’ve known all our lives take on new vividness.

I can hardly think of a better commentary on Acts and the Epistles than this, as a gift for a new Bible reader.

I wouldn’t have handled some of the material the way Wangerin does. He alters the scriptural account in small ways. For instance, as he tells it here, Barnabas’ break-up with Paul was not a result of a fight over giving John Mark another chance to accompany them, but over the dispute about eating with Gentiles. Dramatically, though, it works better this way, and we all know that it’s possible for two witnesses to remember different causes. Wangerin is also bold enough to add small paragraphs to biblical passages, as if restoring lost sections. I don’t think I’d have the nerve (or the temerity) to add to Scripture that way.

Wangerin also invents some unrecorded incidents (though not many), and one in particular (concerning a prison escape) struck me as kind of far-fetched.

But overall I enjoyed the novel very much, and it improved my comprehension of the New Testament (and I speak as one who’s read the New Testament many times).

I encourage you to read Paul. Drink in the Holiness. Wangerin’s health is bad. We may not have many more books from him.

If English Is Good Enough for Me . . .

Forgive me for not blogging on this last week. In the Nashville, Tennessee area, some residents don’t want non-English books in their library. “At a meeting of the Marshall County Memorial Library board, an eighth grade social studies teacher said if one penny has been spent on Spanish language books, it’s too much,” reports WKRN-TV. Since this little flair up, the library has received many offers for funding.

This reminds me of a complaint the six-year-old Calvin had about studying foreign languages in school. If I remember correctly, he said, “If English is good enough for me, it’s good enough for the rest of the world!”

Belated aaaaaargh!

I promised to review Beowulf & Grendel tonight. Can’t do it, due to the Great Software Conspiracy.

All my software is colluding to frustrate me. First of all, I’ve found it impossible to reinstall Norton System Works on my desktop after getting the hard drive replaced and reinstalling my original manufacturer software. Last night, after the umpteenth online chat with tech support, I admitted defeat. Today I took the computer back to the shop.

And that means that my review, which I wrote on that machine but prudently saved to my jump drive, can’t be posted, because it was written in Microsoft Works and this computer can’t read that (nor does the conversion utility work. All part of the conspiracy).

My cataloging software at work isn’t functioning properly either. It goes without saying that the technical support person who was supposed to call me back never did.

I’m delayed posting because a) I took the computer to the shop, and b) I couldn’t resist taking my evening walk, late as it got to be. Today was a beautiful day–beautiful like a final farewell to a loved one, on a deathbed or at the airport as they go off to war. “You’re not going to get another evening like this,” I said to myself. “Use it or regret it forever.”

Indian Summer evenings, at least, aren’t controlled by software.

13th Tale: A Deeply Moving Novel

Frank Wilson has a glowing review of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is #5 on USA Today’s best-selling list though I didn’t see it on the American Booksellers Association list. Mr. Wilson writes, “One thing is certain: Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they’ve been shortchanged.”

The publisher praises independent booksellers for The Thirteenth Tale‘s success, saying it reminds readers “of the kinds of books, such as Jane Eyre, that they read as a child.”

Congratulations to Anne, the PalmTree Pundit

Congratulations for Anne, the PalmTree Pundit, for winning our second blog contest. Her winning post begins: “This summer I had grand plans to get way ahead of my children in reading for Omnibus I, our literature, theology, and history curriculum. I even took part in a summer reading challenge, envisioning myself day after day on the beach, reading the Great Books plus some breezier writing, and recovering from homeschool burnout. As usual, my plans weren’t God’s plans. Yes, I did read many books, but most of them weren’t on my reading list.”

That bit about the beach comes from the fact that she lives in a coastal state. Hawaii is a coastal state, isn’t it?

Thank you for everyone who participated.

I amaze myself once again

This is what it’s like to be me:

I have an e-mail friend out east who had emergency surgery the other day. Today I went into the bookstore I manage for the Bible school, to get her a get-well card (no customer discount, in case you were wondering. Our margins are already pretty low).

The card rang up to two dollars and change. As I was digging my money out, I started thinking, as I always do, about whether to pay exact price or get change.

I like to do exact price because, like everybody else in America, I’ve got too much of my personal assets invested in coins in peanut butter jars. But I often just get the change because I don’t want to keep the clerk (and the people in line behind me) waiting while I fumble in my coin purse.

I was about to do just that today, and then I thought, “I’m the clerk here. I have time to wait for me to count change.”

The utter irrationality of my way of living is a constant amazement to me.

It’s like being a university professor.

I declare tonight Movie Night in my domicile! The new Beowulf and Grendel movie, which played for about three hours in six widely separated theaters (none of them around here) has just come out on DVD. Some of my Viking contacts say it doesn’t s*ck, which is pretty high praise by Viking movie standards. I dusted the cobwebs off my Blockbuster card and rented it this afternoon.

I’ll let you know what I think. Monday, maybe.

Unsacred honor

We experienced a spike in site hits yesterday, thanks to Hunter Baker of Southern Appeal, who kindly linked to my recent post on dealing with honor cultures. I followed the link and participated in a comment discussion over there (plus a smaller one here). Some people raised legitimate questions about my views, and I hope I answered them ably. I also learned some things (even at my age).

I’m always a little alarmed to find myself taken seriously. When I’m over here at Brandywine Books, I feel like I’m more or less among friends, as if I were kicking back with buddies. When I give an opinion, I expect to be treated with some respect, but I take it for granted that the audience knows my weaknesses and humors me a bit. Facing strangers who seriously examine my arguments as if I’d spoken with some kind of authority makes me feel like an imposter in a Wodehouse story. “Did I pull it off? Apparently so. Jolly good! Now to the public house to restore the tissues!”

I’m not an expert, of course, except in a minor, amateur way in the area of Viking history and life. One might reasonably ask, “What right does that give you to spout off about Islamic culture?”

Perhaps none.

But I see a pattern here which I’ve rarely seen mentioned. When I look at the warrior culture I actually know about (the Norse) and compare it to my spotty knowledge about warrior cultures around the world, the similarities appear to me to outweigh the differences.

Whether you look at the Samurai in Japan with his bushido code, or the American Plains Indian with his warrior code, or the Zulu in Africa or the Mongol on the steppes, they exhibit highly similar behaviors. They do not tolerate insults. They do not apologize or forgive. When accused of crime or weakness, they deny or blame others. Rather than live with shame, they will willingly throw their lives away to kill the ones who wronged them. If they can’t manage that, they’ll commit suicide.

There are minor differences from culture to culture, of course, but the broad pattern seems to hold true wherever men are warriors.

Many people, no doubt (if they agreed with my observations), would attribute these similarities to basic human instinct, behaviors developed through evolution to permit the community to survive.

I attribute it to Original Sin. Because it’s really all about pride.

Which is not to say I despise the Men of Honor. I’m a Viking geek, after all. I see much to admire in honor cultures.

And there are kinds of cultures worse than the ones based on honor.

But honor and shame is a stage in cultural development that needs to be gotten past. It’s better to believe in compassion and forgiveness.

Unless you take it to the extent of national suicide, as I think some in this country would like to do.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong.

I’m not a Man of Honor, so I won’t kill you for it.

German Opera Cancelled Due to Outrage Forecast

Roger Kimball explains:

About the only thing less pleasing than having to sit through Hans Neuenfels’s production of Mozart’s 1781 opera “Idomeneo” is the news that Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, citing an “incalculable” security risk from enraged Muslims, has decided to cancel its scheduled showing of the piece.

. . .

Mr. Neuenfels’s version is Modern German–i.e., gratuitously offensive. It is more Neuenfels than Mozart. Instead of appearing as the harbinger of peace, Idomeneo ends the opera parading the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. How do you spell “anachronistic balderdash”?

. . .

There is a certain irony in all this. Our avant-gardist artistic establishment preens itself on being “transgressive,” “challenging,” “provocative,” etc. But it prefers to exercise its anti-bourgeois animus within the coddled purlieus of bourgeois security. It has discovered that there is a big difference between exhibiting photographs of Christ on the cross in a bottle of urine or Madonna having herself “crucified” on her current concert tour and poking fun at Muhammad.

Read the whole thing. You may want to open a dictionary in another window.

The solution here, of course, is a renewal of the art world so that productions like this will never leave the producers’ minds. Nothing is above criticism, but can we return to life, beauty, and community in our artwork? Can we leave behind the tired idea that artists’ must always challenge what they preceive to be the ideas held in the public mind?

Pork-related thoughts

I’m late, late, late posting tonight. I needed to order replacement software from Hewlett-Packard after my computer crashed, and I got it today. I immediately set to work installing it after work, and needless to say it took longer than I expected. All I really wanted was to use Microsoft Word to compose this post in.

So, needless to say, everything in MS Office is working now, except for that. I’m using the MS Works processor instead.

Big news in Minneapolis tonight. We got the 2008 Republican convention.

My personal theory is that the Democratic city administration planned this, for nefarious purposes. They know that, considering the current crime rate in their city, it’s likely that a large part of the Republican leadership will end up on slabs in the morgue.

A side benefit will be that they’ll be able to use it as proof that taxes aren’t high enough.

Speaking of Silly Cities, Luther At the Movies pours scorn today on the city of New York for proposing a ban on transfats here. I fear for the fate of those politicos, now that they’ve been anathematized by the Mighty Doctor.

Speaking of pork fat (no, I don’t mean Dr. Luther), I was talking to a guy down in Iowa at the Viking Meet this weekend.

He said he used to work for the Department of Agriculture.

If he were a gambling man, he said, he’d go into raising hogs.

Right now, he said, you can keep a certain number of hogs in an enclosed setting without violating environmental rules. If you feed that number of hogs, you can make good money. Not from the meat, but from the manure, which is much in demand with fertilizer companies.

The problem–the gamble–is that there’s a disease going around among hogs. It’s related to the Chronic Wasting Disease that affects deer. It’s in every country that raises hogs, so there’s no guaranteed safe source of stock. And if one of your hogs has it, you’re flat out of luck. Bankrupt.

Or worse. The disease is also dangerous to humans.

Maybe kosher is a good idea, after all.

Kathleen Antrim Investigates Senator George Allen

Columnist Kathleen Antrim is coming forward with information in her yet-to-be-released book on Virginia Senator George Allen, currently titled, Actions Speak Louder than Words. Her publicist, Kristen Schremp of KAS Publicity, reports Antrim has had “unlimited access to the Senator, his wife, children, family, close friends, staff and colleagues for the past 17 months.”

In short, the recent charges of Sen. Allen’s racism are ridiculous. For more on this, watch for Kathleen Antrim’s next book.

Insufficiently Old Spice

Via Libertas: Andrew Klavan (whom I want to be when I grow up… or down…) takes former President Clinton to pieces, discards the polystyrene filler, and finds about a microgram of substance left today, in this LA Times opinion piece.

Today was a turning day in Minnesota weather. Yesterday was nice, and today was nice until the afternoon (coincidentally just about the time I took my walk). The skies clouded up and rain began spattering. Tomorrow promises to be heavy jacket weather, with more chance of rain. The trees are beginning to slip into their clown outfits.

I’ve got a lot of caulking to do.

I bought a new bottle of Old Spice aftershave today. I’ve been off it for a while, for reasons I’ll explain (I know you won’t sleep if I don’t tell you), but I realized it’s really my favorite inexpensive brand. Nothing else measures up. So I re-stocked.

My main reason for not buying it was typically substantive, for me. I was angry about the packaging.

Remember the old Old Spice bottles? They had historical sailing ships on them, “etched” in blue to look like scrimshaw. They even noted the ships’ names. I loved those bottles. I loved to have them lined up in my medicine cabinet.

Then Procter & Gamble acquired them, and some hotshot went in to shake things up. “Old Spice is dull,” he probably said. “Old Spice is an old man’s brand. Old Spice is the Oldsmobile of shaving products.”

So he zipped it up. Gone were the proud old clippers, as if in a hurricane. In their place we found a yuppie sailboat, something designed to please Ted Turner.

I don’t want hip aftershave. I don’t want aftershave that promises to turn me into a 23-year-old, cocaine-thin male model with collagened lips and face stubble. I want aftershave with a sense of history.

I want my ships back!

What do I get instead? A new picture on the bottle. It features a small red and blue banner with a teeny-weeny little sailboat on top of it. The whole thing is lost in a vast expanse of blank, off-white bottle.

I’ll bet their next project is to paint the bottle green and shape it like a human sexual organ.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture