Don’t Read Newspapers

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Norvell:

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.

Did Jefferson go on to summarize his thoughts by saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed”? The Quote Investigator explains.

The ‘Rivers of London’ series, by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho Whispers Under Ground Broken Homes Foxglove Summer

The rolling news networks loved the idea of a shadowy network of camps. It gave them hours of talking heads and a chance to stick a body from Migration Watch or UKIP up against a government spokesman or, even better, from someone from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in the hope that they would both kill and eat each other live on air.

I reviewed Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot a few inches down the page. I decided to pick up the next book in the Rivers of London Series, and before I knew it I was hopelessly caught up in these infectious books, which aren’t even in my usual line.

The hero and narrator is Peter Grant, a young London police detective. By good (or not) fortune, he has found himself attached to a shadowy unit of the Metropolitan Police whose name keeps changing, but which deals with supernatural crimes. The sole member of this unit, up until Peter’s arrival, was Inspector Nightingale (a somewhat Doctor Whovian character, which is no surprise since author Aaronovitch used to write for that BBC series). Later they are joined by Leslie May, a young female constable who trained with Peter and is his best friend. They operate out of “The Folly,” a large estate in London. Continue reading The ‘Rivers of London’ series, by Ben Aaronovitch

Fred Sanders Can’t Dance the Flow

In his review of Richard Rohr’s new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Fred Sanders explains how it isn’t about the Trinity at all. It’s about the divine flow, a dance within the Godhead that ends up being more important than the Godhead.

The flow is a self-giving exchange of love and life. If you were to ask Rohr whether the flow is primarily something about God, the world, or the human person, he would no doubt answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and his twinkling Franciscan eyes would twinkle Franciscanly. The flow overflows the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It flows from God as God empties Godself; it circulates among creatures and binds them together with each other and the absolute; it flows back to God, enriching and delighting that Holy Source who loves to see finite spirits awaken to their true, divine selves. The flow sounds like a noun, but it’s really a verb. Flow verbs all nouns as they flow with its flowing.

That looks like some good verbal dancing on Sanders’ part, but it isn’t the flow. It’s more like keeping his footing solid while the room shakes, which makes for entertaining reading.

Journal of the plague season

I apologize for my radio silence last night. I was just too run down to do anything but go to bed early. I’m celebrating my annual Cusp of Winter Tradition – the massive bronchial infection. It makes no sense to me that – every year about the same time – I come down with a cold which must inevitably descend into my lungs and take up residence like 1970s hippies, putting shag carpet up on all the walls. But such is the case. Every blinking year.

And every blinking year I imagine that this time my immune system will do what I pay it to do, and kick the deadbeats out. According to what I’ve read, you never get the same strain of cold twice, so it only makes sense that once in a while it would be a cold I could beat. But I never can. So at the point when I’m coughing all over my work and living spaces, infecting everyone I encounter, I finally break down and see the doctor. As I did today.

Actually it was a Physician’s Assistant today. She listened to my lungs, had a good laugh, and prescribed an antibiotic and an inhaler. Plus suggesting an over the counter nostrum.

So I guess I’m not a hypochondriac.

When you’re Norwegian, you can’t go to the doctor just because you feel sick. You need to feel you have something interesting to offer, something they can tell their colleagues about, and write up in a JAMA article.

And now I need to lie down. Titanic powers are at war within me.

Cartoon Movie Trend: Junior Knows Best

Film critic Steven D. Greydanus talks about animated movies in light of Disney’s latest release, Moana. He points to many examples of children following their hearts or a variation thereof in defiance of their parents. “In each case, the child defies the ultimatum — and here’s the crucial bit: In the end, the child’s aspirations are vindicated, leading not only to a paternal change of heart, but to a revolutionary breakthrough in the social status quo.”

Back in 2010, Greydanus identified this trend and labeled it “Junior Knows Best.”

A common note in these stories is parental caution: concern for limits and boundaries which children must break through. The caution nearly always runs the same way; we don’t get stories of parents encouraging cautious children to face their fears. Nor (Cloudy With Meatballs aside) do we get stories in which parental cautions turn out to be warranted. The parents are always the cautious ones — and they’re always wrong.

Lessons in Opening a Bookstore

Ms. Bagnulo said there were two major questions to consider when deciding where to open a bookstore: Which city neighborhoods are in need of one, and which can support one.

“It’s sort of joking, but the rule of thumb is, if the neighborhood can support a farmers market, the neighborhood can support a bookstore,” she said.

Jessica Bagnulo is one of the owners of two bookstores in Brooklyn, New York. They sold 500 books in their opening weekend.

Down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a local publisher is opening a speciality store with rotating literary and local-interest themes.

Nothing in here is set in stone, and that’s why the community curation part of this is so vital,” Easty Lambert-Brown, who owns Borgo Publishing, said of her new store, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers. “If you can provide me a good, rounded set of people that had a major influence on how we think, let me have it! I’m not an expert in all this, and my goal is to learn something here. If I’m not learning from it, I’m just taking up space.”

Limericized Classics

Our friend Ori posted a graphic on Facebook, showing a series of limerick versions of classic poems — “The Raven,” “Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” etc.

I couldn’t find the original source, so I don’t care to republish it here. But I will publish the one I came up with on the spot (well, after a few minutes’ thought). It requires a sloppy but common pronunciation of “Ulysses”:

“The Odyssey”

There once was a Greek named Ulysses,
Who angered a god with his disses.
He paid for his crime,
But got home in time
To wedding-unplan for his missus.

‘Afon,’ by Robert Partridge


He had forgotten, too, the pain of this [writing] – the pain of dragging this thing out of oneself, the birth of a reluctant child that would much rather go on growing inside than be forced out screaming into the light of day and the fear of examination. He had forgotten the monstrous ego that was needed to push the creation out into the world, with all its mess and suffering. He had forgotten.

I’ve been praising Peter Grainger’s DC Smith novels in this space. On noodling around for further information about the author (who seems to wish to be a man of mystery), I discovered that “Peter Grainger” is a pen name. More than that, the author had earlier written (under the name Robert Partridge) some literary novels, one of which – Afon – starred a character named Peter Grainger, who was a novelist.

Messing with our heads, in other words.

So I bought Afon. It’s pretty good. Not my cuppa tea, but a well-written novel.

Peter Grainger is in his 40s. Long ago he wrote a first novel that got a lot of recognition, and then he lost his nerve and wrote no more. Now he’s quit a teaching job, which he hated. He has some money left from a divorce settlement, so he decides to take a lease on a cottage on an estate called Afon, in a remote valley in Wales. He will try and write another novel. If he fails, at least he’ll know he made the attempt.

He meets the elderly landowner and his much younger wife. He learns to fly fish. He makes an enemy of the estate’s brutal gamekeeper, agonizes over his feelings for two different women (both married), and after a struggle produces a new book.

Afon abounds in lovely descriptions of the natural beauty of Wales, and in perceptive dramatizations of the writing process. The ending is kind of ambiguous, the sort of thing you expect in a literary novel – which is one of the reasons I generally avoid literary novels.

But it’s pretty good. Not much obscenity here, though the bonds of marriage take a beating. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing.

The ‘Backbone’ for Terror Is Broken

Armando Valladares spent twenty-two years in Cuban prisons. Last year, Marvin Olasky interviewed him on his thoughts of Castro in the beginning and how he survived imprisonment.

What do you say to those who say, “The United States has had an embargo regarding Cuba for more than 50 years and it hasn’t worked?”The embargo was never intended to remove the government in Cuba. The embargo has worked because it has prevented the Cuban government from receiving millions of dollars from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other banking institutions.

Now that the U.S. government and the pope embrace Raúl Castro, what do you think will happen?The only person who really inspires terror in Cuba is Fidel Castro, even if he’s agonizing in a bed. That’s how it was with Josef Stalin. Raúl Castro is alive because his backbone, Fidel, is alive. The day Fidel Castro dies will probably end the entire process.

For your Spectation

A new column of mine, Letter to a Young Friend, has been published today at The American Spectator Online.

So here we are, post-election, looking at an outcome neither of us expected. I’m not about to do an end zone dance — this election wasn’t exactly a triumph for conservatism. Frankly, I expect the new president will do a lot more that will please you than you expect at this point.

But now seems to me a good time for a thought experiment.

‘Midnight Riot,’ by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot

Urban fantasy is not a genre I generally favor. However, when I saw Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot, an urban fantasy involving police detective work, I thought it was worth a try. I liked what I found. It’s sort of Harry Potter goes to Scotland Yard, as you’d expect, but it has special (outstanding) qualities of its own.

London Probationary Constable Peter Grant is about to receive his first assignment. He dreams of working in CID, solving homicides. His superior, however, thinks he’d be a better fit in the Case Progression Unit, a unit devoted to paperwork. Peter sees a rather dull future ahead of him.

But one cold night he’s assigned to perimeter duty, guarding a crime scene in Covent Garden. The unfortunate victim has had his head knocked clean off. A witness appears and tells Peter how the crime was committed. But there’s a problem. The witness, dressed in Victorian clothes, is (and admits to being) a ghost. When a certain Inspector Thomas Nightingale happens by later, Peter tells him, almost as a joke, that he’s been interrogating a ghost. To his surprise, Nightingale listens to him seriously. The next day, instead of going to CPU, Peter finds himself assigned to assist Nightingale, who is the one-man staff of a special (secret) unit devoted to solving supernatural crimes.

Peter moves into the large manor which is Nightingale’s headquarters and begins his apprenticeship in wizardry. They soon find that they’re not dealing with a single crime, but a spectral serial killing spree, in which some unidentified power is possessing ordinary people, changing their appearances, and using them to kill other innocent people, somehow identified by the murderer (who is apparently quite mad) as his personal enemies.

What takes Midnight Riot above the level of most modern fantasies is the narrating voice of Peter Grant, who is at once naïve, cynical, and witty. I enjoyed the narrative, and had a good time reading a well-told story in which the stakes ratchet up rapidly and fearsomely.

Cautions for language and occult themes. Religious matters are studiously avoided, which is all to the good as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be reading more Peter Grant books, at least until the author decides to offend me (which I expect he’ll do before long).

Netflix Review: ‘Detectorists’


It was suggested to me that I might enjoy the English TV series, “Detectorists.” I think I know why the suggestion was made. In very broad terms, it’s a picture of my life. In spite of that, I found it entertaining.

The series centers on the lives of a pair of friends who belong to a metal “detectorists’” club (it’s pure coincidence that the mystery novel I reviewed last night involved the murder of a detectorist). Lance (Toby Jones) is a small, unprepossessing man who is nevertheless quite intelligent. He works as a forklift operator in a produce warehouse, but his twin passions are his ex-wife, who exploits his affections, and metal detecting in the Essex countryside. His friend Andy (Mackenzie Crook) looks and dresses like a homeless man, but actually is nearly qualified as an archaeologist when the series starts. He lives with a girlfriend, Becky (played, I was delighted to discover, by Rachael Stirling, daughter of Diana Rigg, the great crush of my youth). Andy and Becky dream of going to Africa to do excavations, but Andy drags his feet, crippled by self-doubt. He and Lance spend a lot of time together in the fields with their detectors and in pubs, even to the point of raising mild jealousy in Becky.

They are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, a small, struggling group of moderately obsessed social misfits. Their mortal rivals are the “Antiquisearchers,” a less principled detecting group, suspected of “Nighthawking” (detecting at night so as to take possession of their finds without properly declaring them to the authorities). The DMDC is galvanized in the first season by the appearance of a young woman named Sophie (Amy-Ffion Edwards), who attracts Andy’s attention enough to put a strain on his relationship with Becky.

The first season centers on Lance and Andy detecting on the farm of an affably crazy farmer, who constantly calls out commands to nonexistent dogs, and is suspected of having murdered his wife and buried her somewhere on his property. In the second season, a young German man shows up and asks the group’s help locating the crash site of a plane which had carried his grandfather during World War II.

“Detectorists,” written by Mackenzie Crook himself, is a well-crafted, character-based comedy which treats its cast of characters with affection. We laugh at them but also with them, and they are portrayed with pathos and compassion. Also, the scenery shots are breathtakingly lovely.

I liked it a lot. The only thing that really annoyed me was the final episode, broadcast as a Christmas special, which involved elements of superstition. Cautions for language.

No One Believes in Self-Fulfillment

Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.

Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.

She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.

“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.

Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.

Lars said this earlier this year:

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.

Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.

We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture