"An idol is anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone."

- Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Idolatry"
And Now For Something From the Past . . . Maybe

SUFFRAJITSU, the tactics of the women who fought for their rights in Victorian and Edwardian England. Now in comic book form. More on the story of these Amazons here.

Doctor approved

Took half a day off today, because I had an afternoon appointment with my surgeon. Almost one year from the date of my hip replacement, time to zap my groin area with carcinogenic radiation.

But first, stopped at Fat Nat's Eggs, a small local chain that serves only breakfast and lunch, to try their hot beef sandwich. I've become kind of obsessed with hot beef sandwiches since the great one I had in Minot, ND a couple years ago. My review: It was good, especially the mashed potatoes. But I still give the edge to Keys Restaurant, another local chain but a longer drive from my home. Neither is quite up to that Minot place (whose name escapes me for a moment, but it starts with a "K"), though.

Then off to see the sawbones. We both agreed that my new hip and I are getting along fine. She asked me when I want the other one done, and I told her certainly not before my graduate work is done. I don't care to repeat last year's catch-up effort, which in memory is worse than the operation. She's OK with that, knowing that she'll probably get me sooner or later. Though she admitted that the X-rays showed some changes in the "manufacturer's original parts" hip, and not negative ones.

I also congratulated her, having perceived, through my extraordinary writer's powers of observation, that she was about 8 1/2 months pregnant.

How long is a year?

My spring classes began today. I actually started my assigned reading yesterday. The Christmas break (which I'm sure the school calls Winter Break) was nice, though I spent it mostly working at this and that. I think of myself as a lazy man, but I do manage to keep busy.

Before me stretches a year of academics. If I keep on schedule, I'll be done with classes in December, and then there'll only be the final testing (or whatever) to convince them I deserve my degree (a Master's degree, I've learned, entitles you to put the suffix Esq. behind your name. I don't think I'll avail myself of that).

So it's a matter of doing my time, like a convict. Each day I do the designated work, and I'll tick the days off one by one until I come out into the light at the end.

On an unconnected note, I bought my first pair of loafer shoes on Saturday. I suppose you'd call them loafers, though they don't look quite like what I was taught to think of as loafers back in the '50s. They look a little dorky to my eye, but not as dorky as walking around with my shoes untied (I have complained about modern Teflon shoelaces in this space before), and way less dorky than stopping to kneel down on my old man's limbs to re-tie them. These are the small indignities God gives us, in His mercy, so that the Angel of Death, when he appears at last, won't look like such an unwelcome guest after all.

How the Storytelling on CSI Has Changed

CBS is in the fear business. Terror is one of their most reliable profit centers.” (via Mark Bertrand)

Grousing about a TV show

I think I told you that my classes resumed last Monday. I wrote that in good faith, but in fact they start tomorrow. I got another week of freedom I hadn't planned on.

I've used my winter break for a number of different purposes. There was the ordinary Christmas stuff. I did another revision on my translation of a book on Norway in the Viking Age, because the text I delivered to the publisher was a rough draft, and it's been nagging at me. To my surprise, after I delivered the revision, the publisher told me they're probably going to go ahead with it. Most gratifying.

And then there were Christmas cards. And then there was taxes.

But I've loafed a little. Last night I watched a new TV show called "Backstrom." Wikipedia tells me that it's an Americanized adaptation of a series of Swedish detective novels. It stars Rainn Wilson, best known from "The Office."

It was horrible. Or so it seemed to me. I kind of tuned it out after the first 15 minutes or so. Possibly it picked up while I wasn't paying attention.

Comparisons to "House" come to mind. House was a rude and irascible genius. Backstrom is supposed to be the same.

But House had one thing this show lacked -- wit. You couldn't help liking House a little, most of the time. He was funny. He was obviously in physical pain, which made most of us cut him a little slack. And he had people around him -- notably Dr. Wilson -- who put up with his act because they had a history with him and had reasons (often opaque to us) for valuing him.

Backstrom has none of that. He's just a jerk.

Memo to Hollywood: Being a jerk in itself is not the same as being interesting.

Looking at a History of Brilliance

Chris Yokel talks about visiting an art museum. "I was in the Art of the Americas wing, looking at some of my favorite paintings by the early Americans, Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley. Leaning in close, I could see the brushstrokes, still visible after several hundred years. I noticed the cracks seaming the canvas, sometimes even enhancing it."

His creative spirit is wonderfully refreshed.

Photos of Unique Bookstores Around the World

The Guardian has these photos of bookstores described by that fun, book culture author, Jen Campbell, in her book, Books Are My Bag. From that collection: "Fjaerland is one of Norway’s Book Towns near Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe. Old sheds, houses and even a hotel have been converted into bookshops. “During the winter, the bookshop owners have to transport the books from place to place, over the snow, on kick-sleds,” says Campbell."

They also share a photo of this remarkable pile of rare and otherwise books in Detroit. It's Michigan's largest used bookstore.

Auction on Remarkable Bookplates

Many bookplates from a collection formed by the late Brian and Stephanie Schofield are up for bid through the Bookplate Society of England. See the plates and how to participate on their website. The auction dates have yet to be set.

When Books Taste Like Vegetables

“Many struggle to find a good route into being a good reader,” Kathleen Nielson observes in a new roundtable video with Rosaria Butterfield and Gloria Furman. How does ones move past an understanding of the importance of reading to an enjoyment of it? (via ISI)

How Martin Luther King's faith drove his activism

As [Dr. J. Kameron] Carter explains it, white churches that sprang up throughout American history did so in the pattern of the great European cathedrals and denominations from which they were transplanted. Black church, while it is related to those European frameworks, "is in excess of them," says Carter, meaning they "were already doing work beyond what those traditional denominations were doing."

"In the face of a modern condition that told Blacks they were only worthy of their labor power, black churches came along and affirmed that there was a mode of life far beyond the woundings that came along with black existence in America."

This is the tradition that produced King. And it's the same tradition that produced other civil rights leaders, like Rosa Parks and Ella Baker.
Brandon Ambrosino has written a lengthy interview with three scholars on Dr. King and the black experience in America.

Gawking Through Life's Window

Elodie Quetant urges us to serve those around us. "We cheapen life by playing a peeping Tom to its events. Our gadgets have trained us for constant voyeurism, but we’re missing the bigger picture by not engaging friends, coworkers, and our children about monumental shifts in society. Avoiding the uncomfortable conversations is the perfect way for society to remain ignorant and biased."

Paintings Unlike the Others

David Herman writes about seeing the more personal work of his father, the Polish painter Josef Herman. "He belonged to a great tradition of European artists who from the mid-19th century depicted the dignity of labour: from Courbet, Millet and Van Gogh to the Flemish Expressionists and the German artist, Käthe Kollwitz in the early 20th century," he states, describing the way critics and admirers have known him.

But then sketches and paintings of a different nature were discovered.

"Everyone in these newly discovered drawings and paintings was recognizably Jewish. The palette was completely different: dark blue skies, a white crescent moon, pale faces with dark, haunted eyes."

Let's Not Get Cynical Here

"Satire can be dangerous and harmful. It can breed a dehumanizing cynicism which becomes an end in itself," writes Carl Truman, but it is also "vital to healthy democracy. Where it exists, it is a sign that power is being resisted. Where it is permitted, it is a sign of freedom and a gauge of the ability of those in charge to allow criticism."

And from our political desk, we're hearing reports that the administration who said the world doesn't respect the United States enough to stand with us did not respect the world enough to stand with them during yesterday's solidarity march in Paris. The secretary of state said, essentially, "Just because I couldn't attend your ball games or birthday parties doesn't mean I don't love you, son. Why does this always have to be about you?"

Doubt: Your Unwelcomed Companion

Nicci Cloke writes about beginning the year as a new novelist.

This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be — especially for a debut novelist — to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest — there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with.
In the post to which Ms. Cloke links, Ms. King observes, "MOST of us are not the most anticipated. But if your pool of debut authors is limited to you and the ones everyone is shouting about on twitter and in the newspapers it’s very easy to feel like the poor relation."

Wilson's Favorites from 2014

John Wilson of Books and Culture offers his favorite books from last year. Here's one recommendation which may resonate with you.

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. Donald E. Westlake. Edited by Levi Stahl. Because he mostly wrote crime fiction (some of it under the name “Richard Stark”), and—even worse, from the standpoint of the guardians of our literature—a lot of it very funny, Donald Westlake (1933-2008) is almost never mentioned in canonical accounts of contemporary fiction. But that hasn’t prevented countless readers from savoring his sentences. This nonfiction miscellany, lovingly edited by Levi Stahl, will give those readers a clearer sense of the man behind the books while providing a good deal of instruction and delight.

What If We Did Away With a Literary Canon?

"The academy has forsaken the stuffiness of the strictly educated and taken up the twee thoughtlets of the faux hip."

Coming This Year: Books in 2015

The Millions offers this list of anticipated books for 2015.

The Globe and Mail is looking forward to these titles from the first half of this year.

The Historical Novel Society has a long list of books being published this year. Don't talk to me about watching all the Oscar-nominated films for the year. This is the list you need to tackle (not that you actually have to read every page of every book--we have our limits).

Looking for Inspiration on the Orient Express

Two mystery writers board an iconic train, looking for classic inspiration.

The Orient Express only goes as far as Istanbul and makes the trip only once a year. The next journey from Paris to Istanbul is slated for August 28, 2015. "Today, from London, travelers take a train and a bus before boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Calais. Once one of the fastest ways to cross Europe, the Orient Express now requires two days to do the work of a two-hour flight from Heathrow. Leisure has replaced speed as the train’s ultimate luxury."

They collected details about the train and the people who rode it, but would they find the inspiration they sought?

"Over cocktails, the train manager told us that there were too many repeat customers for him to even guess at their number. One woman, he informed us, took the train every month from London to Venice. “And she loathes Venice!” he added."

Orient Express / Battersea Power

What Documentaries to Watch This Month

The 100 Most Necessary Documentaries to Stream on Netflix This January

Image: Karishma Mhapadi

Don't Know? Ask a Librarian, They Once Said.

What did people ask the New York Public Library before they could search the Internet for made-up answers? The librarians have opened their file to reveal all.

When a question couldn't be answered immediately, they would be filed away, because that's what librarians do--they file junk. "Some are amusing ('Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?'), while others are heartbreaking ('Is it proper to go to Reno alone to get a divorce?')."

Other questions include:

  1. Where can I rent a beagle for hunting (1963). We also had requests to rent a guillotine.
  2. Has the gun with which Oswald shot President Kennedy been returned to the family?
  3. Are Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates the same person?
I remember calling my local library to ask if they knew whether Sean Connery had died the day before. Someone in my workplace thought they had seen that, and we couldn't get away with saying that it should be all over the news if it had happened, so since it isn't, it didn't. (via Prufrock)

Great Britain Is Eating Its Greatness

Where is British culture today? Here's a depressing report from Hal G.P. Colebatch.

In August 2004, it was revealed that the National Lottery had raised £16 billion, enough to fund not merely the British but the US space program nearly twice over. The journalist Bruce Anderson commented that many liberals two hundred years ago believed that if mankind could only liberate itself from its worship of gods and its deference to kings, barbarism would inevitably give way to the reign of reason and virtue: “In one respect the liberals have had their way: gods and kings are not what they were. Instead, we have lottery tickets, astrology and pop music.”
Apparently Britons are more sports and pop-culture obsessed than you might imagine, and parts of the church aren't helping.
After the 2008 Olympics, many British commentators wrote as if the fact that British athletes had won a relatively large number of medals was somehow a sign of national recovery and renewal. The preparation of these athletes had largely been paid for by National Lottery money, in other words by a decadent tax levied on the stupid and the desperate.

In 2008 the 1948 London Olympics were estimated to have cost about £20 million in 2008 terms; the 2012 London Olympics were estimated at the same time to be costing £10 billion, that is 500 times as much. This showed an official sense of priorities for which the only term was insanity.[8] Great intellectual or scientific achievers, or moral heroes, were by comparison so ignored that no comparison with the adulation heaped upon sports stars and entertainers was even possible.
In July, 1998, following England’s defeat by Argentina in the World Cup, the Bible Society, with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, called on the nation to forgive David Beckham for having been sent off during the match, as though some vast moral or spiritual issue was involved. Dr David Spriggs, the director of the Bible Society and a Baptist minister, said, in words from which, to quote Peter Simple, satire might slink away ashamed: “What is so important is that David has faced up to his mistake, and asked the forgiveness of his team-mates and the whole nation …” The BBC made a “Where-were-you-when-it-happened?” documentary about this match, as if it had been a great historical event.

New Year, whether we like it or not

Illustration by J. C. Leyendecker

The Walker Christmas was celebrated this past Saturday, at my palatial home of Blithering Heights. This was timely in meteorological terms, since the earth, though appropriately hard as iron (or at least hard as lead), was bare on Christmas day, but plentiful snow fell on Saturday morning, auguring well for our celebration. Even more than the fortune cookies at the Chinese restaurant where we adjourned for lunch, in traditional Norwegian fashion.

And now the New Year approaches, like the Avenger of Blood in the Pentateuch. I feel more at home with the New Year as I grow older, probably because I come more and more to resemble the New Year's baby. My festivities are taking the form of a few days off from work, working instead on a translation project while I have a little time off from grad school. My new year's resolution is to spend less time relaxing. Prospects appear good.

Ah, 2015. God willing, it will be the year I'll complete all my course credits, leaving only the Comprehensive Tests to be gotten through -- some time in early 2016, I suppose. But just finishing class work is enough to give me a future and a hope. All my friends are retiring, it's true, but everyone knows you retire and you drop dead the next day. At this rate I'll live forever.

Have a blessed calendar change.

Revisiting the Closing of the American Mind

R.R. Reno wrote about Allan Bloom's book, Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, on its twentieth anniversary in 2007.

The most important question in peoples lives—that is to say, the question of how they should live—remains largely unconnected to the sophisticated intellectual training that continues to take place in the classroom. I can often get students to “share” their moral “opinions,” and often with a certain warmth of conviction. I can also get students to analyze classical arguments for or against various accounts of the good life. But I find it difficult to induce students to take a passionate and rational interest in fundamental questions.
I am most interested in the students who are wounded and unmoored by the this kind of training or the atmosphere in which it takes place. Some students may be able to withhold their moral convictions in college and keep them intact, but some lose those convictions through a lack of exercise. If they do not actually lose them, they may find them shifted by the many sympathetic voices for immorality among their peers.

Quoting John Paul II, Reno states, "We should beware 'an undifferentiated pluralism,' he writes, for an easy celebration of 'difference' undermines our desire for truth and reduces everything to mere opinion."

Sony Hackers: English You Write Much?

The Language Log is talking about whether the language used in threats issued by the hackers of Sony Pictures reflects a particular native language or is a hoax. "Kevin McCready surmises that the hacker threat was '…written by someone who has strong command of English but is pretending they don't. In particular it would be interesting to see if grammatical errors conform to those a Korean might make.'"

The text of the original threat isn't uniform. Here are the second and third sentences: "Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear."

A commenter claiming to be a native Korean speaker says it looks Korean to him. He writes, "Some people seem to be saying that 'Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made' seems to be too good to have been produced by the same writer of some of the other lines, but this sort of expression ('all the world will see') would not be out of place in Korean either."

Controversial Exhibit of Artwork on Mary Rebuffs Art Snobs

So a straw man walks into a bar. Except he doesn't.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is running what appears to be a fabulous exhibit, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea on view December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015. Terry Mattingly has a video on it and writes about a review in The Baltimore Sun that reports on how some art critics are irritated that this exhibit doesn't shove back the faces of Christians who actually like Mary, the mother of Jesus. "In other words, this exhibit has – among a elite art critics – become controversial because it is not causing controversy among (wait for it) religious believers who are, by definition, opposed to modern art."

Apparently controversy is what exhibit planners want to avoid on a regular basis, but not all controversy is created equal. The only way to avoid the right kind of controversy is to show that your museum is too sophisticated to show respect for anything that isn't the latest in trendy, Ivy League expressions.

"The [Baltimore Sun] story makes it clear, for example, that this astonishingly deep exhibit could not have taken place if its planners had decided to include modern art about Mary that would have offended the very churches and museums that controlled some of these priceless masterpieces." But the straw men these critics hate so much are anywhere to be seen.

Scalzi and Redshirts

"John Scalzi is interesting as someone who has built a writing career in these strange days," Joseph Bottum explains. "He spent a few years writing movie reviews after college before landing, in 1996, a sweet gig at America Online as editor and in-house writer. Laid off in the meltdown of AOL, he took to writing guidebooks for the money and science fiction blog posts for the fame. Or, at least, the dribs of money and the drabs of fame. The blog, called “Whatever,” proved enjoyable for readers—a few years ago, he issued in book form selections entitled Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded—and it successfully established him as a voice to be reckoned with in the field."

Scalzi's most recent novel is called Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas. It's a story about a red-shirted crew that discovers it's dangerous to accompany the senior officers on landing parties.

Hunter Baker on the Ruin of Christian Higher Ed

Dr. Hunter Baker observes, "All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers." He says in his latest book, if Christian colleges try to be like their secular counterparts, they will fail on almost every level, particularly in their stated mission. On the other hand, if they integrate the worship of the Most High with every academic discipline, they will distinguish themselves and accomplish their mission. "Christian colleges can successfully argue that the best education connects with the mind, the body, and the soul."

This Is Abusive

"All abuse, whether laser-tipped irony or bare-knuckle fisticuffs, is best delivered coolly, without huffing and puffing. The best abuse looks effortless, the work of a ninja not a WWF wrestler." Patrick Kurp talks about An Anthology of Invective and Abuse from 1929.

Update: Still alive

I’m half way through.

I’ve finished the fall semester in my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I've completed 18 of the 36 credits I’ll need for graduation, and should have them all this time next year, the Lord willing. It’s all as time-consuming as I expected (no, more – I didn’t anticipate how intensive the work would be), but if I want to qualify for World Domination, sacrifices must be made.

I’ll try to post more often in the free time I’m about to have – the rest of December and most of January. But there are a lot of projects I’ve been putting off, and I find them clamoring for my evening time.

Anyway, thanks for your faithful readership.

Personally, I’m making physical progress. My new, android hip is working fine. The Original Manufacturer Equipment hip (the left one) still gives me some pain, but I’ve joined a health club and exercise it on a stationary bike three times a week. The improvement has been palpable, so I hope that with time I’ll be all better again.

And now, in keeping with the season, a Swedish Christmas song by Sissel:

How (Not) to Be Secular by J.K.A. Smith Wins CT's 2015 Book Awards

Many titles are recommended in today's list of Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards, among them is James K.A. Smith's work on Charles Taylor's How to Be Secular. Smith makes Taylor's work accessible to a broader audience and adds a good bit of commentary himself.

In the fiction category, CT picks Lila by Marilynne Robinson and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

“Robinson slowly unfolds the story of Lila, a woman not quite defeated by a brutal, hardscrabble life, who discovers hope and security as the wife of an elderly pastor. Together, they wrestle with questions of the meaning of existence and the ultimate fate of humanity. Readers who loved Robinson’s earlier novel, Gilead, will discover the same breathtaking writing, beautifully painted scenes, and strong working knowledge of theology.” —Cindy Crosby, author of By Willoway Brook

And on The Invention of Wings:

“Based on the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke and a fictional slave girl, Handful, the novel skillfully joins fiction and history, African American resilience and Southern white hypocrisy, Charlestonian exuberance and Quaker idealism. Kidd reminds us that the foundation of social injustice is ordinary human selfishness.” —Betty Smartt Carter, author of Home Is Always the Place You Just Left

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