"Noble patricians, patrons of my right, defend the justice of my cause with arms; and, countrymen, my loving followers, plead my successive title with your swords."

- Shakespeare, Saturninus in "Titus Andronicus"
Astor: 'Churchill, if I were your wife...'

Perhaps you've heard this story about Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Nancy Astor, who apparently had a famous rivalry. Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons (1919). Her Wikipedia page notes her quick wit and, though they are poorly documented, her trading of insults with Churchill. One rumored exchange says Churchill disliked her being in parliament, saying that having a woman there was like being intruded upon in the bathroom. Astor replied, "You're not handsome enough to have such fears."

A familiar anecdote has the viscountess in a disdainful state of her prime minister. She says, "If I were your wife, I'd poison your coffee." Churchill replies, "If I were your husband, I'd drink it."

Astor's Wikipedia scholars attribute this quote, not to Churchill, but to his marvelously funny friend, Lord Birkenhead. I can't suggest Birkenhead did not have this exchange, but I'm fascinated to learn that the insult is much older than he, Churchill, or Astor. The Quote Investigator, my new favorite website, reports the earliest recording of this joke comes from an 1899 Oswego, New York, newspaper. It was completely anonymous, being passed off as something the reporter overheard on the subway. The account was picked up by many newspapers, so by the time Birkenhead and Astor may have conversed, it would have been an old joke.

What's more amusing is many people have claimed credit for it or given it to others. When Groucho Marx told the joke in 1962, he told it of George B. Shaw insulting a woman in his audience. In 1900, a comic named Pinckney claimed to have invented the dialogue a short time before the interview and that it had already worn itself out by flying around the world.

So if Lady Astor actually told Churchill or Birkenhead that she would poison them if they were married, she had plenty of opportunity to know she was setting herself up for a great joke.

Who is my neighbor? A terrorist, apparently.

Little did I know, when I moved to Robbinsdale, Minnesota, that I was relocating to a seedbed of treason. But so it appears. Not one but two jihadist casualties overseas have been identified as former students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. And it gets closer than that, as I’ll explain.

First, a little orientation. Robbinsdale Cooper High School is not in fact located in Robbinsdale. The historical reasons are convoluted (I don’t actually know them), but enough to say that the school district includes several inner ring suburbs. In any case, it’s close to me.

More than that, early reports (the information seems to have been redacted now; perhaps it was in error) stated that the latest casualty, Douglas McAuthor (sic) McCain, dead in Syria, lived on Oregon Avenue in New Hope.

Before I bought my house, I lived in an apartment building on Oregon Avenue in New Hope. New Hope isn’t that big. Oregon Avenue isn’t that long. We were neighbors. I very likely rubbed shoulders with him at some point.

Even so, I find it hard to generate a lot of sympathy for the young man. He was born in America, and New Hope isn’t a ghetto. He had ample opportunities to respond to the gospel. Instead he joined a death cult to murder infidels and rape women.

Still, after some consideration, I can think of a couple reasons to pity him. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Coffee Week Selections

1. A Colorado coffee shop, located in an housing development for the homeless, is attempting to help the people around them as well as change their community's perspective on the capabilities of homeless people.

"People don't know who's behind the counter when they stop here," Kelly Kelley said. "It could be any one of us in that low-income or homeless category. We want to make a positive experience for people."

2. 10 reason why fair-trade coffee doesn't do what it claims, and plenty of pushback in the comments. "Fairtrade is not a one time, cure-all, it provides a framework. It's a tool and if applied well, producers move up the value chain, negotiate better terms, and strengthen their communities."

I remember a coffee roaster saying he saw little value in fair trade certification, because he knew a farm received certification on only half of its crop because they couldn't afford the price. No difference in the coffee they grew. They just could not afford to pay for the fair trade label for the second half of what they produced.

3. Costa Coffee, United Kingdom's largest coffee chain, has replaced its club card for an app.

4. Starbucks has gone to Colombia, and the Colombian national chain Juan Valdez is expanding in response. "In downtown Miami, a new Juan Valdez cafe feels like a slice of Colombia: traditional floor tiling, warm wood details, woven baskets, fresh arepas, and pictures of Colombia and its coffee. A poster of a smiling coffee farmer hangs near the entrance, greeting customers with the company’s key new message: 'Carlos is one of the 500,000 coffee growers who owns this coffee shop.'" Leaning on their history has proven profitable so far.

5. A young Lauren Bacall with coffee. (I believe this photo would be rated PG-13 because it depicts smoking. Steel yourself.)Read the rest of this entry . . .

Brewing Coffee for Watercolor-style Painting



Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur have been painting with coffee for years. This video introduces them and their artwork. They mention sending their work to the U.S. Embassy to Malawi in the video. Now they are sending three pieces "Drained,” Dabble,” and “Voyage to Valhalla” to our ambassador to Columbia for a three year stay.

Coffee delenda est



Coffee week, huh? That's what I get for being gracious, in a moment of weakness.

Getting into the spirit of the thing, I want to recommend to you Mark Helprin's masterful novel, Memoir From Antproof Case. It's a moving story about a man who goes into violent rages whenever he smells coffee, or sees anyone drinking it. Needless to say, he's a sympathetic character.

I wanted to re-post my review, but it seems to be on the old blog, where I can't search.

Also, on another note, I want to thank Loren Eaton for giving me a mention in his latest review. I have trouble commenting over there, so I'll say it here.

Now get some sleep. Helpful hint: It helps if you lay off the caffeine.

Of Norwegians and coffee



Coffee has been a subject of some uneasiness on this blog from the time I climbed on. There used to be a mission statement around here somewhere that said (I quote from memory), “Book reviews, creative culture, and coffee.” It’s no secret to any fair-minded reader that Phil has discriminated against me constantly because I don’t consume the vile stuff.

My isolation is increased by the importance of coffee in Norwegian-American culture. If I had a nickel for every time somebody has said to me, “What kind of Norwegian are you? You don’t drink coffee!” I’d be able to afford… a cup of coffee, I guess, because they cost a lot of nickels these days. But how did coffee get to be so important to Norwegians? I now know the answer, thanks to a book I’m reading.

I was recently given, as a birthday present, an interesting work by Kathleen Stokker, Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land. It’s mostly about the superstitious – but sometimes scientifically valid – remedies Norwegians have used through history, and the sometimes celebrated, sometimes persecuted, but always feared people who practiced them.

One of the subjects covered is the use of brennevin (distilled spirits), which held an important place in folk medicine. That touches on the subject of the general use of alcoholic beverages in Norwegian history. The Norwegians, like all Europeans, were drinkers from the earliest times. But they mostly drank beer, and often quite weak beer. Later brennevin appeared, but its use was generally restricted to medicine and celebrations. But in 1817 a law was passed giving every Norwegian farmer the right to distill as much liquor as he liked whenever he wanted.

The result was disastrous. Celebrations became drunken brawls, ending in injury and death. Accidents increased. Productivity decreased. More and more individuals became hopeless slaves to drink.

By the mid-19th Century, people were forming temperance and abstention organizations, and the distillery law was repealed. One of the substitutes suggested to people who wanted to kick the brennevin habit was coffee: Read the rest of this entry . . .

Whit Stillman's 'The Cosmopolitans'

Whit Stillman's next work will be on Amazon.com. A TV pilot episode for a potential series, "The Comopolitans," will be available through Amazon Studios on August 28. See a cute preview here.

“This has elements of all three of the first films,” he tells Vanity Fair, referring to his 1990 debut, 1994’s Barcelona and 1998’s The Last Days of Disco. “It’s very much like the fourth film, of those three.” He says one has to earn a living, and TV is where one can do it.

He also says he doesn't watch TV with violence and sex, "so it knocks out almost everything." Others say he only watches TV on airplanes.

These Books Were Most Influential on Tolstoy

"This summer on my way to work," writes The Public Humanist at The Valley Advocate, "I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton . . . a yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping, from April 2, 1978: a list of the books that Tolstoy was most impressed by, organized by the age at which he read them."

The list was written in 1891 and includes selections such as Puskin’s poems: Napoleon, Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect, Rousseau's Confessions, all of Trollope's novels, and all of the Gospels in Greek. (via Open Culture)

Fact-check Your Pastor and Politician

Bob Smietana suggests we may want to fact-check our pastor's sermons, but don't do it during the service.

(Did you know that the father of the inventor of penicillin did not save young Winston Churchill from drowning? The things you learn!

R.I.P. Robin Williams, 1951-2014


Robin Williams greets the troops on a USO tour.

You’ve probably already heard the news that Robin Williams is dead at the age of 63. I sat thinking about which of his movies I’ve seen, and I realized I’ve only seen one – Popeye, a film of which I am, as far as I know, the only fan in the world (it helps to appreciate it if you know about the original comic strip, not the animated cartoons).

But the man had an unquestionable gift. Nobody ever did “off the wall” improvisational, stream of consciousness comedy like he did. He always admired Jonathan Winters, but he was better than Winters. He hit the bullseye more often.

Reports are that he died by his own hand, having struggled with depression and substance abuse for many years. One always suspected that he needed artificial stimulation to maintain that manic comic delivery. But he also seemed to be able to work just fine when he had dried out. Still, we don’t know the pressures he was under. I can speak from experience about the pain of depression. Someone like me can always tell himself that if we achieved this or that we’d feel better. What do you do when you’ve reached the top and still don’t feel good about yourself?

I had always assumed – stereotypically – that Robin Williams was Jewish. But his Wikipedia page says he was raised Episcopalian, and remained a member of that church.

We sacramentalists put great faith in the keeping power of God’s grace in baptism and holy communion. Let us pray that Robin Williams has found his long-sought peace in the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Secularism Isn't Destined to Win

James K.A. Smith sets up the next issue of Comment by asking, "What if secularism is loudest precisely because it is a final cry before it is unveiled as implausible and unsustainable? Doesn't the emperor shout loudest about the beauty of his raiment precisely when he least believes it himself?"

The Vision of St. John by El Greco

From our sports desk

I am given to understand that the Minnesota Vikings pre-season game tonight will feature a new attraction: Viking reenactors in authentic costumes doing... something or other between plays.

These reenactors will in fact be members of my own group, the Viking Age Club and Society of the Sons of Norway. We've been discussing this deal for some time, but I didn't want to announce it before I had definite confirmation.

However hard you look, however, you won't see me. My mobility problems, plus my looming study schedule in the future, make it imprudent.

Still, just so you know, these are my friends. Maybe when they're rich and famous they'll remember me.

Nerds in a Magic Land

Yvonne Zipp says Lev Grossman's The Magician's Land reminds her of Lewis' The Last Battle while remaining original.

“I bet it’s because of heresy like that that the world is ending. Your earthy, irreverent sense of humor has doomed us all,” King Josh tells Queen Janet. (If Peter was “The Magnificent,” and Edmund was “The Just,” in Narnia, Janet of Fillory should just be known as “The Awesome.”)

If that’s not enough of a selling point, The Magician’s Land also features a motto that should be emblazoned on T-shirts, embroidered on pillows, and hung on walls in dorm rooms everywhere: “Give a nerd enough time and a door he can close and he can figure out pretty much anything.”

Does 'Novel' Mean 'Book' Now?

"When Truman Capote called In Cold Blood a 'nonfiction novel,' he meant something very specific: that the book used the techniques of fiction but was completely factual," explains Ben Yagoda, but today many people appear willing to talk of fiction or nonfiction "novels" as if that word means a bound work of any form. In high school, this usage is everywhere, and it's prevalent in college too. Have you ever done it or seen it done? (via Mark Bertrand)

The Trouble with the World

Earlier this morning, I read some a piece on how smart phones and similar tech have banished boredom from our lives and caused the very same problem for us. We don't know how to be bored, or better said, we don't know how to go without entertainment. Some say it comes from having small minds, but more than that, it trains us in small instant pleasures that will not build us up.

Have you ever asked yourselves why no one notice something wrong, perhaps something horrible, happening right under our noses? Whatever the reasons may be, we are polishing up our blind spots so that we will miss even more of those problems with our mobile tech and other distractions.

We don't have to check email while waiting on the cashier. We don't have to give our kids movies while we do errands around the city. It isn't that children shouldn't play when they are essentially waiting on us. It's how we are training them to play--what we're telling them is important.

Patrick Kurp wrote about this last year. He said, "T.S. Eliot claimed most of the trouble in the world was caused by people who want to be important. I would add a corollary: Most of the people in the world who want to be important have convinced themselves they are bored and that life is boring."

These self-important people do not see the value in small things or quietness. They want the exotic orchid, not the difficult research and travel to obtain it. But then, am I any better?

WWI and Tolkien's Fantasy

John Rhys-Davies on how The Lord of the Rings may have been influenced by World War I.

"Tolkien's experience of war left him with 'a deep sympathy and feeling for the "tommy," especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.' He based the character of Samwise Gamgee on common soldiers that he had known during the war, men who kept their courage and stayed cheerful when there was not much reason to hope.

'Calvary' Isn't for Hipsters

World magazine is praising a new Irish movie called Calvary, which depicts a Catholic priest whose life has been threatened by a parishioner who suffered abuse by another priest in the past. Writer and director John Michael McDonagh wanted to talk about serious issues in this film, not smirk like a hipster at anyone who claims to believe something.

The film is not made for ironic hipsters who are slouching through life, never coming up with any emotional or intellectual response for anything. As if that’s too—‘Oh, I don’t want to get into all that, let’s just watch some TV show.’ To me, it’s a film made for those people, who I assume is all of us, who are striving for some kind of philosophical decision about why we’re here. Fox Searchlight probably won’t like me saying this, but it’s a film about death. There’s lots of references to death all the way through, and it’s coming to terms with what’s going to face us at the end of our lives.”

He goes on to describe his love for Flannery O'Connor.

How English Has Changed: Psalm 23

Psalm 23 in English

12 Books on the Bible

Twelve books that present the grand scope of Scripture.

The Cockalorum Boasts of His Importance

Top 10 insulting words you need in your vocabulary.

The Ghostwriter Speaks

"There's an old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Today, perhaps, that conventional wisdom has rarely had more meaning. To a degree that might astonish the reading public, a significant percentage of any current bestseller list will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets."

Andrew Crofts, "one of Britain's most invisible and yet successful writers," has written out his experiences as a ghostwriter for 40 years. Bestselling ghosted works include a lot of "misery memoirs." (via Prufrock)

Reader-friendly Bibles

"Traditionally, reference Bibles look like dictionaries that you look things up in," [Mark] Bertrand said. "Reader-friendly Bibles are more like novels. I think what is happening is that we're lamenting that people don't read their Bibles enough, and now we've realized the design of Bibles has an influence on that."

The acceptance of this new format for Bible reading may come out of our distracted habits of Internet reading, notes Dane Ortlund of Crossway.

Restaurant Complains of Your Bad Review. Pay $2,000.

Phare du Cap FerretA French woman blogs her bad experience at an Italian restaurant in an up-scale French tourist town on the Atlantic, and her review eventually ranks fourth in all Google searches for that restaurant. That was too high and hurt the establishment's reputation, lawyers argued, so a French court has ordered her to change the post's title (she retracted it entirely) and pay $2,000 in damages.

French lawyers say this won't become a precedent at all. Sure.

I won't name the restaurant, in case it adds to the blogger's grief, but the CS Monitor says that while the bad review is offline (though archived by Internet gnomes), many comments are being posted about how this restaurant can't take criticism.

Also in this report: "German politicians are considering a return to using manual typewriters for sensitive documents in the wake of the US surveillance scandal." This is probably a smart move.

Kreeft Talks About 'Till We Have Faces'

Some members of my local C.S. Lewis Society shared this video from the Anglican Way Institute Summer Conference 2014, held earlier this month. Dr. Peter Kreeft spend a session talking about "one of the greatest novel ever written," C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. Kreeft says one of the reasons it is such a good book is Lewis' wife helped him write it.

The Worst 50 + 10

The Intercollegiate Review presents "The Fifty Worst Books of the 20th Century."

Add to this D.G. Myers' list of 10 worst prize-winning American novels of all time.

Impressive Presentation Showing Sen. John Walsh's Plagiarism

It's remarkable when someone does the research to demonstrate extensive plagiarism from a public official or someone of high profile, but the NY Times' presentation of how Senator John Walsh (Democrat-Montana) is elegant. Highlighted sections of this master's thesis pull up comparison copies of their sources, so you can see how closely worded they are. A bit of explanation, like the following, is one thing: "Though a footnote indicates that this information came from a report on a State Department website, the language appeared in a post by Dean Esmay on his Dean’s World blog nearly verbatim." Showing comparisons is step up. (via Hunter Baker)

R.I.P. The Rockford Files (James Garner)



The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn’t know the man, and we very likely wouldn’t have gotten along if we’d met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was “The Americanization of Emily,” an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.

I read Andrew Klavan’s laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick’s more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner’s Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.

For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.

I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as “pusillanimous.” I don’t agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner’s real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn’t fight if he could talk his way out, and he’d run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.

The relationships made the show work. Jim’s father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim’s old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition – a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn’t be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors’ names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I’ve watched the credits).

The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend’s home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.

Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn't seem impossible to do it his way.

I’m not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.

Alton Brown, Media Mogul

At least twice on my current list of regrets is that I have not learn enough from Alton Brown. The man is the mad scientist of culinary delight. Grade school kids should have classes based on Good Eats. Here's a recent morning interview he did that briefly mentions his many media products.

'There Are No Jobs in Academia.'

Ryan Anderson is a grad student in anthropology (not the clothing store). "I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program—and it didn’t help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole 'Great Recession' thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going…in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow 'work out.' I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer."

The bottom line, he says, is this isn't the 1960s and there are no jobs in academia. He points to data showing about 36,000 new PhDs for every 3,000 new positions created. Is this education making 33,000 better people or just dragging them and their families down? (via Anthony Bradley)

An Illustration on Paying Attention

“(And whatever is placed in active and direct Oppugnancy to the Good is, ipso facto, positive Evil.)” Patrick Kurp ties this line by Coleridge to this line by Waugh: “Civilization has no force of its own beyond what is given it from within."

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