"... in fiction, you don't just tell a story. You stage a story. You dramatize a story."

- Lars Walker
Why Star Trek Matters

Steven D. Greydanus writes about the important contribution Star Trek made to American or world culture.

"Star Trek as a whole promoted techno-optimism and wound up instilling countless fans with a love of science, space and technology, not to mention inspiring a number of real-world inventions — but Spock in particular helped make being a scientist, along with being smart and calmly rational, cool for countless Americans."

Asking Honest Racial Questions

When testing the instincts of police officers, subjects in Josh Correll's test revealed that they usually saw young black men as threatening, but they did so much less often than civilians did. “'We’re more likely to shoot a black man with a wallet,' Semien (a former officer) says, 'and we’re less likely to shoot a white man with a gun.'”

With this background, we must ask why we perceive young black men the way we do (and other types of people as well) and how we can make better judgments.

The Myth that Religion and Science Constantly Conflict

"The so-called 'war' between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes."

Justin Taylor explains this quote from historian Timothy Larsen by pointing to the popular work of two men:

  • Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
  • John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.
He says these myth lied about history in order to create the impression that orthodox Christians had always opposed scientific investigations and inventions. Two of the myth they popularized were that the church-dominated medieval world believed in a flat earth and that Christians opposed anesthetics in childbirth based on an interpretation of the Genesis curse.

Leonard Nimoy's Other Roles

The actor best known as Mr. Spock died today. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind many appearances in shows outside the Star Trek universe, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


Mission Impossible, where he played Paris from 1969-1971

On Perry Mason (spoiler) Read the rest of this entry . . .

Which of Marvel's Avengers Is the Best?

Here's a good example of this blog's need for a politics category. Here's a post ranking all the Avengers according to their value to the team. For example, The Wasp comes in at #3. "If Captain America epitomizes the Avengers, Janet Van Dyne is still its heart and soul. She was a founding member, has led the team through some of its most difficult moments, and has the unequivocal respect of gods, robots, and the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Marvel actually put it best when it said if the Avengers were asked to rank themselves, The Wasp would likely be #1."

Are You Ready to Write a Book?

Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck have recorded 29 episodes of their Happy Rant Podcasts, talking about stuff, junk, and things, to be specific. Here they chat about when one is ready to write a book and buying your way onto the bestseller list. They introduce proven schemes to move your book forward and reach readers you wouldn't have reached with the subject or quality of your writing. If your book is mediocre, these guys are willing to take your money and move your book. Some may call this selling out. The Happy Rant crew calls it selling up. The bottomline is giving them your money. I'm sure it works. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it works.

Hollywood Has Never Been Original

Scott Beggs looks at top-grossing films and says originality isn't something Hollywood recently lost. He says it's never been an original thinking place. It's been a money-making place.

He explains, "The most original box office year was 1984 with 8 originals (Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, The Terminator and Romancing the Stone). Note how many of those got sequels or were remade. The least original box office years were (of course) 2011 and 2012, although 1968, 1972, 2007, 2013 and 2014 all only had a single original movie make the top ten."

Why Read This Book on Luther?

Dr. Martin Marty, who has written his own book on Martin Luther, praise a new book from Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman.

"What readers must by the end have found remarkable is the way Dr. Trueman has brought clarity and some sense of system to the often obscure, paradoxical, and anything-but-systematic writings of Luther on the Christian life. I would argue that Trueman has served well by keeping his feet on firm ground as he has stood on an approach to Christian life which he sometimes calls Presbyterian or Reformed or evangelical, often in differing combinations."

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, from the Theologians on the Christian Life series by Crossway, was released this month.

Walton Street: Where Wodehouse Lived

"Once home to the humorist P.G. Wodehouse, Walton Street still emanates an old-school English charm," writes Amiee Farrell. "Though flanked by Harrods and The Conran Shop, it’s an enclave of independent, if occasionally chichi, antiques and interiors shops, and art galleries and boutiques that has — so far — bucked the trend for high-end homogenization."

I thought you'd want to know this. No need to thank me.

And on a loosely related note, Gene Veith talks about Sacramone's list of funniest books, saying Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy should be on the list.

Black Market for Textbooks

In Mauritania, where 60 percent of the country is under age 25, school books are hard to find. Added to what distribution issues publishers may have, thieves are taking books to sell on the black market. Where a book should cost under $1 at a legal bookseller, on the black market it will be sell for $10.

Aldada Weld El-Salem, who is in his thirties, said he was lucky to find six schoolbooks for his daughter for a total of 20,000 Ouguiya ($68.81) on the black market.

“I did not want to risk the future of my daughter so I recently gave in to the prices of the dealers and I paid whatever they asked for,” he said. “I did not want my daughter to be a victim of the indifference of the official authorities toward a current crisis afflicting all of Mauritania’s schools.”
(via The Literary Saloon)

Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Won't Die

Sam Tanenhaus answers the question of To Kill a Mockingbird's endurance.

"For all the merits of the latest criticism of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its appeal never rested on its realistic picture of Southern life. It was anachronistic even in its day (one reason, perhaps, that Lee set the action much earlier). There were sit-ins in Nashville and in Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960, five months before “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published. Within a year the Freedom Rides had challenged Lee’s sorting of humanity into simple categories -- the high-minded Finches and the humble, hard-working African-Americans who look to them for protection, both groups united against the 'ignorant, trashy people' who represent the true danger to the community." (via Books, Inq.)

The Rifleman on DVD

The Rifleman (five seasons from 1958-1963) is now out on DVD. Marvin Olasky writes that it isn't only a great western, but has a unique leading man. "Lucas McCain was also a compassionate conservative, supporting a recovering alcoholic who became a marshal, giving an ex-con a job on his ranch, and helping a man from China open a laundry. In one episode McCain could not believe that an old enemy had changed and become a doctor, but he admitted his mistake after the former adversary helped him in a gunfight."

Two Books at a Time

Seen in Philadelphia, a reader of two good books.

Balance of Imperfection

"The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us," explains Maria Popova. "A full life calls for both — too much control, and we become mummified; too little excitement and pleasurable discombobulation, and we become numb. After all, to be overly bobulated is to be dead inside — to doom oneself to a life devoid of the glorious and ennobling messiness of the human experience."

She rejoices over a book by Anne Lamott on organizing our chaos with hope.

Lincoln Pored Over Shakespeare

Patrick Kurp remarks on the careful prose of Abraham Lincoln, whom he calls one of the greatest prose writers among U.S. presidents. And occasionally quite funny.

"In a letter he wrote from Springfield, Ill., to Mrs. Orville H. Browning on Jan. 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the Illinois General Assembly, tells a tall-tale, purportedly true, worthy of Mark Twain. It involves the matchmaking efforts of another friend on behalf of her sister." Read on.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Happy President's DayEveryone loves a good presidential birthday, don't they? Your social media feeds are loaded with them. Birthday music has been playing non-stop for the whole week. We can get top appliances for 30% off this weekend #stopthemadness!

But let's not limit our focus to Lincoln, once a licensed bartender, whose birthday is today, or to Washington, who had to borrow money to make it to his inauguration and whose birthday is February 22. Let's celebrate presidential birthdays all year long. Come on, ring those bells, citizens. Most of the truthful information in this post comes from randomhistory.com.

February holds two more presidential birthdays. William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. His inaugural address was 100 minutes long, which roughly 0.25% of his entire term in office. He died of pneumonia on his 32nd day as president.

Ronald Reagan was born February 6, 1911. He took up eating jelly beans as a way to stop pipe smoking, and he developed partial hearing loss in one ear one a movie set when a gun was fired next to his ear. Read the rest of this entry . . .

'The unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.'

James K. A. Smith spoke to a collection of writers and editors for small journals on his love of magazines and principles for their development.

I believe in magazines. You could even say my devotion to Stoke ‘zine was a kind of “common grace” expression of believing in the sacramental power of the Word. It’s like I had a inchoate sense of the unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.

All of that to say: I believe in what you are doing, and it’s an honor to think with you about this calling to publish our little journals. To be committed to such endeavors is to believe, as Raymond Carver put it, in “small good things.”

. . .

My colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza, editor of Convivium magazine, recalls a conversation he once had with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of First Things: “‘Raymond,” he said, “if you want to advance an idea, write a book. But if you want to change a culture, you need a magazine. Because magazines are literally periodical, they create an ongoing community—readers, writers, editors, benefactors. And only communities can change cultures.”
He offers a few high altitude principles and some practical tips on getting the work done. (via Justin Taylor)

R.R. Reno on Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking

"When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth."

Watch this lecture from First Things editor R.R. Reno on how critical thinking has become more like criticism as an end to itself.

Magazine plug

Anthony Sacramone is a friend of this blog, proprietor of the Strange Herring blog (where he's posting again, happily), and an editor of the Intercollegiate Review. The IR has just released a new issue, and I thought I'd pass along Anthony's pitch:

The Spring 2015 issue of the Intercollegiate Review has arrived. I don't know how. It's like a miracle.

Live on IRO are essays by Peter Thiel on "The Competition Myth" and Daniel Hannan on "The Privilege of Freedom."

Soon to go live is Mary Eberstadt's takedown of college bullying and its effects on the religious commitments of students ("From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches") and an assessment of JRR Tolkien's politics ("Lord of the Permanent Things").

Also in the lineup is my own "The 12 Funniest Books Ever Written," which, of course, was the only reason to publish this d*mn thing in the first place. There's also an apologia for smoking, one of our counterintuitive reports on longevity, entitled "You've Lived Long Enough Now Please Move Along."

Our friend Michael Medved also wrote the God on the Quad department this issue: "Vital Lessons in Vile Smears."

You can find our entire TOC as well as the digital edition of the IR here.

As we're trying to reach as many young minds as humanly possible in order to undo some of the damage done by their filthy communist atheist nihilist indoctrinators, I would appreciate it if you would share these links with every single person you know. I will be eternally grateful--within strict limits, of course.

I thank you. And America thanks you.


Murder at The Chrysostom

The Chrysostom Society has taken to killing each other.

"That may sound like unseemly behavior for a group of celebrated Christian writers," Jeffrey Overstreet explains, "but you can read all about the murderous conspiracies of The Chrysostom Society in their first collaborative literary effort: Carnage at Christhaven. It’s a serial murder mystery — satirical, smart, and subversive — each grisly chapter contributed by a different society member."

This looks like a marvelous group.

On the air, like a bear

Short notice, but I just found out myself. I'll be interviewed this afternoon, at 4:30 p.m. on the Issues, Etc. radio program. We'll be discussing the story of the new heathen Norse temple in Iceland.

You can listen live at the web site, and I believe you can also listen to an archived version if you miss it.

Well, do ya, punk?

You've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"

Growing interest in long-form storytelling has encouraged Hollywood bloodsuckers to ask more novelists to help them. They want story and backstory for these eight-episode or longer stories the kids like these days.

One agent said, “We are selling more intellectual property to television than ever before. What you’re finding in both television and film now is a recognition that a great storyteller is a great storyteller, regardless of the medium.”

For example, PW points to Gillian Flynn, "who bargained to stay on as the screenwriter of the film adaptation of Gone Girl when it was optioned. Flynn is now signed on to write an adaptation of the British series Utopia for HBO, as well as a planned feature adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train."

Speaking about a screenplay for Strangers on a Train, Raymond Chandler said this:

When you read a story, you accept its implausibilities and extravagances, because they are no more fantastic than the conventions of the medium itself. But when you look at real people, moving against a real background, and hear them speaking real words, your imagination is anaesthetized. You accept what you see and hear, but you do not complement it from the resources of your own imagination. The motion picture is like a picture of a lady in a half-piece bathing suit. If she wore a few more clothes, you might be intrigued. If she wore no clothes at all, you might be shocked. But the way it is, you are occupied with noticing that her knees are too bony and that her toenails are too large. The modern film tries too hard to be real. Its techniques of illusion are so perfect that it requires no contribution from the audience but a mouthful of popcorn.

Of androids

Thoughts thought this week:

Somebody mentioned androids -- those all-but-human robots we see so often in modern science fiction -- on Facebook.

I don't think we're likely ever to see androids.

Not because the technology is too complex (though it may be). But because the technology will probably be unnecessary.

We already have a source of perfect humanoid organisms that we can exploit as servants and slaves.

In time it will probably be possible to alter their brains to render them compliant, and no more intelligent than we want them to be.

The organisms I mean are unborn human beings. Aborted babies.

Legally, they have no standing as persons. So technically, it would not be illegal to enslave them. Is it very unlikely that in a utilitarian future, aborted babies will not be disposed of, as they are now, but recycled, as labor-saving devices?

Seems almost inevitable to me, unless our hearts are changed.

I've thought about working this idea into a story, but it's too Science Fiction for me to handle properly.

Somebody's probably already done it anyway.

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.

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