"Modern man has a lust for full explanation and habitually considers himself in no way morally bound unless he is in full possession of all the facts."

- J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small
I amaze myself once again

This is what it’s like to be me:

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

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

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

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

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

It’s like being a university professor.

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

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

Unsacred honor

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

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

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

Perhaps none.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me if you think I'm wrong.

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

Simple Plug: Westminster Bookstore

In case you are unaware, here's a simple plug for a good little bookstore.


This one by Ken Sande is a book I need to chew on a while.

German Opera Cancelled Due to Outrage Forecast

Roger Kimball explains:

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

Pork-related thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or worse. The disease is also dangerous to humans.

Maybe kosher is a good idea, after all.

Kathleen Antrim Investigates Senator George Allen

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

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

Insufficiently Old Spice

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

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

I've got a lot of caulking to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want my ships back!

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

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

Contest Reminder: Three Books at Stake

Hey! Did y'all forget about the current contest? See this post for details on how to win all three of Lars' fantasy/sci-fi/historical interest/well-written/fun/inspiring novels. You too can have all of them in time for the Halloween gift-giving season. If you have written a post in response to our contest using our trackback URL and you don't see your post's URL in the comment thread of the announcement post, feel free to leave a comment with the URL to make sure we know about your post. Anything blogged in September loosely or tightly regarding your summer reading will qualify.

Let me know if you need more time to put something together. Perhaps we can extend the contest through the first week in October.

Renewing Our Thinking

From a short article last week, Joseph Stowell passes on this story:

Os Guinness tells a great story about a Russian factory worker in the days when Khrushchev was the prime minister. Because of the enormous economic strain in those days, employees would steal tools and just about anything else they could get their hands on. To stop the thefts, a KGB officer was placed at every factory gate where each worker was carefully searched for contraband. Petrov, a long-time laborer, pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with two large sacks of sawdust out the factory doors every day. Each day the guard searched through the sacks of sawdust but consistently found nothing. Weeks into this routine the frustrated guard finally said, “Hey, Petrov, I promise not to tell anybody. I can’t get what’s going on here. I don’t know why you need all this sawdust. What are you stealing?” Petrov grinned and whispered, “Wheelbarrows.”

Read the rest Joe's article called "Brain Drain."

We Really Don't Ban Books in the States

Sherry of Semicolon has a good post on Banned Books Week, which echoes my thoughts on the subject. She starts with some facts on what's banned in other countries and then states that we don't ban books in America.

I attended library school and heard librarians say, with a straight face, that when they chose to not purchase Nancy Drew books or comic books, the process was called “selection,” but when parents or citizens tried to voice their opinions about what should or should not be purchased by the libraries that they support with their taxes, it was “censorship.” Librarians were an elite group of educated professionals who knew how to “select ” library materials; others were yokels who were out to keep information out of the hands of the people, book-banners. . . . The only difference is that the librarians are assumed to have good motives, to provide as many materials as possible to the lbrary’s patrons, and the public citizens are assumed to have bad motives, to keep materials out of the hands of others.

What's in your wallet?

Well, I'm back. I'm almost disappointed to say I came home unscathed, except for sore muscles and a combination burn/bruise on the inside of my left forearm. That came from shooting my bow. (Ah-ha moment: "That's why archers wear those arm guards!" There was a time when I was younger when I shot with a bow quite a lot. I never needed a guard back then. It must be a function of aging).

It's a six-hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, but I made it there ahead of the other Minnesota participants and checked in to the local motel. (If the original Vikings had had motels, they'd have slept in them too. They might not have paid their bills, but they would have used the nice dry beds).

On Saturday we played with Skjaldborg, the Nebraska Viking group that was hosting us. They set up an interesting exercise that worried me at first, but turned out to be a lot of fun.

The "gauntlet," as it was called, involved first throwing a couple spears at a pile of straw bales. Then the subject grabbed a shield, pulled his sword, and ran (while being shot at with blunt, rubber-tipped arrows) to another man armed with shield and sword, fighting his way past him (for the purposes of this game, the subject never got "killed"). Then he had to fight past a guy with a spear who guarded a narrow, marked-off passage called "the bridge." Finally, he had to fight two guys with shields and swords at once.

It was better than chocolate. Afterwards we did some group fighting, and later the guy from Missouri who'd brought up his Viking boat pulled it out to a nearby reservoir so we could do some sailing. Here's a picture. Look like fun?

null

The boat's a real beauty, built by a craftsman. Light to row and fast under sail.

As we put the boat back on its trailer, the weather began to turn Norwegian, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying authentic Viking cold rain. When I'd enjoyed as much of that as I could stand, I retired to my motel room.

The next day the other Minnesotans left early, but I stayed till around noon. We did the gauntlet again, but this time you had to "earn" your shield by actually getting your spear to stick in the hay pile. I suck as a spear thrower, so I had to do the rest with sword only.

Needless to say, the only way to handle a situation like that is to go on strong offense, attacking the defenders at a full run. I was completely winded and utterly happy when I was done.

Then some more group fighting, and then I packed up and drove home in a warm glow.

I am a mess as a human being. I am constantly hobbled and crippled by fears, neuroses and impacted memories. When I go to a reenactment event and set up my day shade, I remain a mess. I remain a mess while plans are made and instructions given.

But when the battle starts and the steel is in my hand, my complexes become simplex. I'm just a man among other men, with one thing on my mind. "In the zone," "one with my weapon," whatever cliche you like, that's what I become.

It appears I have good instincts. The first time I ran the gauntlet, I faced a man with a spear for the first time in my life. I did what came naturally with my sword, and they told me afterwards it was a "textbook" parry.

It's also play. I've never played much in my life, never done a lot of the rough stuff with other guys. To do it now, and know I'm not bad at it, bucks me up incredibly.

There's a psychological technique called "play therapy," isn't there?

I think there's a doctoral thesis in this, for some perceptive graduate student.

Today I'm wiped out. Tired and achy. Maybe I'm coming down with something. Maybe I caught my death in Saturday night's rain.

Do you get a Viking funeral if you catch pneumonia in an encampment?

If so, I'd call it even.

The legend of the microwave and the bird

I forgot to mention that Libertas recently posted this review of Andrew Klavan's new novel, Damnation Street. As you know, I boost Klavan at every opportunity. I've got to read these newer mysteries. Unfortunately, no store in the Twin Cities seems to carry them in stock. Wouldn't have anything to do with his politics, do you think? Nah, not here.

This will probably be my last post till Monday. I'm driving down to Iowa for the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, and although I'll be staying in a motel room and bringing my laptop, I never count on web access.

Today's interesting anecdote:

I was asked to sit in on what is called a "President's Lunch" at the Bible School today, because a couple who plan to donate a large number of books to our archives were going to be there. When they told me where they came from, I told a story about my one visit to that town. I had been there with my musical group in the early '70s, and my hosts had told me an anecdote about a microwave oven.

The lady laughed. "That was us," she said. "That was our story." They turned out to be the same people we'd met on that first visit. (Not so great a coincidence, considering the size of the town.)

The story goes like this:

This was just when microwave ovens were first entering the consumer market. They were very high tech stuff, and not a little frightening. Some people refused to eat food cooked in the things.

This particular couple had a neighbor who was selling microwaves. He made them a thirty-day offer. "Try it out, see how you like it," he said. "You can cook almost anything with this, in almost no time. You can cook a twelve pound turkey."

The couple told him they were going to take a chance and cook their Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. They told him several times, to make sure he knew how important it was to them.

On Thanksgiving Day, at lunchtime, when everyone was sitting down with their families to eat, they called their neighbor.

"What have we done wrong?" they cried. "Come over here! Look what your microwave oven has done to our twelve-pound turkey!"

The neighbor and his wife left their meal and came over immediately, instruction book in hand.

"Look at this!" said the couple.

There on the turkey platter sat a tiny miniature bird, trussed, browned, but so small....

The dealer and his wife obsessed over the malfunction for some time, until the stifled laughs of the couple's children tipped them off.

The couple had carefully stitched up and cooked a Cornish Game Hen.

...

I've always thought that was a pretty good practical joke.

Thoughts of a bloodthirsty librarian

Today I was processing books for the library, part of a large collection given to us by a minister who passed away recently.

I picked up one book on The Philosophy of John Dewey. I went to the web service we use to find cataloging data. Because the book is fairly old, there were only a few listings there. As always, I searched for a record that included the Library of Congress catalog number, because that's the system we use. Unfortunately, there was none.

All the records, I found, were catalogued in Dewey Decimal.

I guess there's a cosmic rightness there that overrides my personal convenience.

Also I found a book called Preaching Values, by Halford Luccock. That's a title that surprises no one in our day. Obviously the book is meant to help pastors pass on Christian moral values in their sermons.

But this book was published in 1928. It was about the values, for preachers, of certain modern Bible translatons.

The new translations included Moffat and Goodspeed.

The past, truly, is a different country, my friends.

And yeah, I fantasize about living in that other country. Some days it looks like Heaven, or Norway, to me.

But our plumbing is better here.

I'm about to write about the Pope's comments on Islam, and the Muslim reaction. If you're sick of hearing about it, you can skip the rest of this post.

I saw a button back in the '60s that said, "Support Mental Health Or I'll Kill You."

Any reasonable person would recognize that rioting and murdering people are a self-contradictory means of proclaiming one's peacefulness. And the fact that a large part of the Muslim world fails to get the joke (such as it is) pretty much says it all.

But the Islamic world doesn't care. Because they're not involved in a struggle of ideas, but a struggle of honor.

Honor, and honor cultures, is one of my hobbyhorses. I believe (perhaps wrongly) that my study of Viking sagas has taught me something about the subject.

It's not about making sense, for our enemies. It's about having honor, being what Bin Laden calls "the strong horse."

As long as we continue our policy, all over the West, of playing a game in which the other side's role is to commit outrages and ours is to reward them for it, they will continue to see us as people of no honor. Weak horses. Countries that it would be an act of charity to conquer, so that they might teach us to be men.

The reasonable way to handle this (not in the common sense of the word "reasonable," which for us means something like "inactive," but reasonable in the sense of operating in a way appropriate to the situation) would be to act to defend our honor. Some kind of strong action is required, not necessarily, but probably, violent.

That would go far to restore our honor in their eyes.

It would be a charitable act too, because it might warn them off. They would be less likely to commit the enormity that seems, under present conditions, pretty much inevitable. Because when that enormity happens--when they blow up a bomb in America, or unleash a chemical weapon, we will unite again and take violent action. Probably even if the president is a Democrat. Many more people will die under that scenario.

It won't happen, of course. Bush would be impeached. Someone might even assassinate him under the current climate of opinion (or passion).

I can hear people objecting now, "But defending our honor's not a Christian response!"

Those who say this are generally the same people who've been trying to tell us for thirty years that America is not a Christian nation, and has never been a Christian nation. Christianity, they insist, is more foreign to American tradition than Peruvian painting or Mongolian music.

But I've written about that before. And I don't believe Christian personal ethics apply to governments. "The emperor bears the sword" (Romans 13:4), after all.

And I also think saving lives is a consideration that bears a certain moral weight.

Contest: Summer Reading Blogging

Well, I've been covered up with non-blog activities or time-consumers for a while, and now I'll be away for the rest of the week. So Lars will continue to hold the floor to write as he will. My only suggestion is that we don't pick a fight with BHT boys. Some of them are honorable.

The second blog contest is now underway. At stake, a full set of Lars Walker's novels. None of the translations, just the novels listed on the right. To enter, write on your blog about your summer reading. It's the end of summer, so you may have been planning a post on this already. Here's more motivation as well as an opportunity for networking, cross-linking, or whatever the right Internet word.

To Wynn a Fule Set of Lars' Novels
Blog about your summer reading and trackback to this post or leave a comment with your post URL. Eligible entries are all those blogged in September 2006. Because I don't care to judge the merits of your post, the winner will be randomly selected, but the good posts or those which interest me or Lars may be given attention in other posts. An interesting post will not increase your chances of winning, but it will gain you more attention. I'll announce the winner of all three of Lars' novels on Monday, October 2, after the winner has been contacted.

Talk like an ambivalent pirate

Aaaargh! According to Mr. Hugh Hewitt, it's Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey. And I always believes what Cap'n Hewitt tells me.

Not much to log tonight, shipmates, because I just got me desktop thinkin' engine home again, and I've got me a powerful lot of restorin' to do, by thunder.

But I've got this peculiar story here, from Junk Yard Blog, tellin' us that the things most of us think about New Yorkers are true about ten percent of the time.

I was about to say "Blow me down," but I'm thinkin' it wouldn't be in good taste.

Garrison Keillor to Open Bookstore in St. Paul

By way of Bookshelves of Doom, I see that Garrison Keillor plans to open a bookstore in St. Paul, Minnesota, on November 1. Keillor is quoted saying, "I am fond of independent bookstores, like to walk into them and sit and read in them, and it's time I make some contribution to my neighborhood."

Lars, you'll have to check it out and give them trouble.

Christopher Tolkien to Complete 'Children of Hurin'

Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien and editor of The Silmarillion, has worked for 30 years on "The Children of Hurin," an epic begun by his father in 1918. Now, it is on the docket to be printed next year. Parts of the work have been published before.

The Man Of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

I’m not sophisticated enough to read Montalbán.

All my life I’ve had a reputation for being fairly bright, but I’ve borne this secret shame—there’s lots of modern literature, highly praised by people of greater intellect than mine, that I just don’t comprehend. I read these works through (or did, when I was in school and had to), but they speak to me not at all, and I have to assume it’s my own fault.

But I’m not entirely sure that’s the reason I didn’t like this Spanish novel. I have a suspicion that this one is just plain superficial and dull. Somebody sent it to Phil for review, and he passed it on to me without finishing it. I read the whole thing because I enjoy writing nasty reviews better than he does.

Montalbán’s detective hero, Pepe Carvalho, is advertised as Barcelona’s answer to Philip Marlowe. I suppose that’s true. Just as Marlowe embodied a certain world-weary, mid-twentieth century American cynicism which, being American, retained a reservation of personal integrity and courage, Pepe Carvalho is the perfect postmodern European.

Pepe is, above everything else, cool. He’s too cool to have close personal relationships. There is Charo, his on-and-off girlfriend, a former prostitute. There is Biscuter, a physically unimpressive young man whom Pepe rescued from the streets and made his personal assistant. But Pepe doesn’t open up much to either one. He cares about gourmet cooking, and he likes to start fires in his fireplace with books that have displeased him. I suppose that’s supposed to constitute character development.

Pepe’s too cool to believe in anything, religious or political. This novel puts him in contact with a confusing array of cults, parties and movements, and he analyzes them all with the detachment of a man who has transcended all that. He has been, we are told, both a Communist and a CIA operative in his time (the CIA, of course, taught him to commit soul-destroying cruelties, assuming one has a soul).

The plot involves a young man, son of a powerful capitalist, who has rejected his father’s values to start a satanic cult, “Lucifer’s Witnesses.” He has been accused of murdering his male lover, another leader of the same cult, who happens to be the son of a rival capitalist.

Then the plot, such as it is, begins a confusing wander (or meander, the pace is pretty slow) among groups like neo-Cathars and rival parties of Catalan nationalists. I quickly lost track of them.

And why should I be interested? Pepe himself doesn’t seem very interested. He didn’t seem to me to do much actual detecting in the book. He’d get calls from various people telling him to meet someone at this or that spot, and generally he’d go there and be beaten up or witness a crime. But, after all, he knows that it’s all a put-up job, that the real criminals are multinational, globalist corporations who kill people for profit and have innocent people blamed. Justice, such as it is, is something Pepe will dispense himself in the end, as he has no faith in the corrupt justice system either.

The only point at which Pepe displays anything like human emotion is in connection with “Yes,” a mysterious woman who introduces herself to him first through anonymous faxes, daring him to guess which character from his past she is. She is, he learns at last, a beautiful American-born woman with whom he had a brief affair when he was younger and she was very young. For her he displays real feeling, but he is reluctant to take her away from her husband and children. This is commendable, of course, but one can’t tell whether the refusal springs from any kind of moral scruple, or from a more basic inability to give himself wholly to anyone or anything.

But maybe I misjudge the book. Maybe it’s just too good for me.

I’ll tell you this, though—the translation isn’t. I speak as a man who does bad translations himself when I say that this translation is very, very poor. The dialogue, in particular, has the tinny sound you hear in dubbed Italian westerns. Take this excerpt, from a scene where the suspect young man is being pursued by thugs. A young woman named Margalida sees the baddies (or goodies, one is never sure) pursuing him by motorbike:

Furious, she turned back to Carvalho.

“Your pistol! Why didn’t you get it out?”

“I hardly ever carry one.”

“Some private eye you are! You have to have a gun for this kind of thing. Now they’re going to catch Albert.”

Well, I finished it at last. But if I had a fireplace in my house, I know which book I’d use to start the first fire of the winter.

Win The Thirteenth Tale Limited Edition

I am told that anyone who visits www.thethirteenthtale.com before November 30, 2006, can enter to win a signed, leather-bound, limited-edition copy of The Thirteenth Tale from Simon & Schuster. Tell them you read about the contest on Brandywine Books, and we may win a copy too. Or you could give Mr. Holtsberry credit so he may win it.

This gothic suspense novel looks interest--the secret lives of authors and whatnot--and Amazon.com calls it "a rousing good ghost story." But more than that, Frank Wilson says, "It's maybe the best book I've read this year." That's got to mean something big.

Mediocrity

In his book Practicing Greatness, Reggie McNeal quotes D. Elton Trueblood saying "Deliberate mediocrity is a sin."

Discuss.

Animals Jokes

An ink blotter is like a lazy baby dog in that a blotter is an ink-lined plane, an inclined plane is a slope up, and a slow pup is a lazy dog.

Why do we call it politics? Because poly means many and ticks means blood-sucking parasites.

A couple samples from The Giant Book of Animal Jokes: Beastly Humor for Grownups [by way of AWAD].

Unreliable News: Man Files His Own Wrongful Death Suit

It’s not unheard-of for a citizen to sue the U.S. government for wrongful death. What’s unusual is someone suing the government because he himself expects to die in fifty years or so.

Twenty-five-year-old Ken Weckmeyer of Edina, Minnesota, doesn’t look like a terminal medical case. But he says he’s going to die eventually, and that’s Uncle Sam’s responsibility.

“I know it sounds crazy at first,” Weckmeyer told reporters Wednesday, “but you’ve got to think about an issue like this without preconceptions.

“I was lying in bed one morning about six months ago,” he said, “when it occurred to me that I’m going to die someday. It doesn’t matter what I eat or how much exercise I get or how well I take care of myself generally. I’m still gonna die, through no fault of my own.

“And the first thing that came into my mind was, ‘I’ve got to sue somebody. Somebody’s got to pay for this injustice. The Declaration of Independence states that every American has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But I’m going to be deprived of my right to life. Am I supposed to just sit around and accept this?'”

When asked whether every person in the country isn’t in the same boat, Weckmeyer replied that he is planning a class action suit, with all American citizens as plaintiffs. He said he believes that a million dollar settlement for each plaintiff, minus legal fees, should provide some consolation in the face of such a massive, systemic injustice.

Unreliable News: Source of E. Coli Infestation Sought

Public Health authorities across the nation are warning consumers not to eat fresh spinach packaged in plastic bags, due to an E. coli outbreak that has already killed one and sickened twenty. Officials in twenty states have issued public health warnings in the wake of the news.

A spokesperson from the Food and Drug Administration told reporters today that the source of the contamination has not yet been discovered. However there have been reports of sightings near food processing plants of a suspicious-looking large, fat ugly man “with a black beard and a sailor hat on his head.”

What humble looks like

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:27-28, NIV)

I was thinking about this passage the other day. It’s one of those stretches of the epistles where the Apostle Paul, frankly, has always lost me. I try to follow the argument but just can’t find the thread.

But I think I’ve got it now. What Paul is talking about here is Christian humility.

As C. S. Lewis has explained somewhere, our stereotypical image of humility is deeply warped. We think of a humble person as someone shabby and dusty and hunched over, wringing his hands and apologizing all over the place. But in fact, when we are lucky enough to meet one of the few really humble people who actually live around us, our only response is likely to be, “What a happy person! What a pleasant person to be with!”

The reason for that is what Paul, I think, is explaining in this passage. A mature Christian is humble, not because he’s bowed down under the weight of guilt and shame (the principle of observing the law), but because his attention is directed away from himself toward God (the principle of faith). He’s not thinking about his inferiority. He’s not thinking about himself at all. He’s looking upward, and his face reflects the sunshine of Heaven.

I understand this intellectually, of course. Applying it to my life is another matter altogether.

Jackson to Direct Napoleonic Dragons in Temeraire

Director Peter Jackson appears to have purchased the film rights to a novel series in which dragons are used during the Napoleonic era. Naomi Novik, whose first novel, His Majesty's Dragon, garnered a bit a praise, has written three books in her Temeraire series. I see that Sarah Weinman likes them, and so does Anne McCaffrey.

Friday the 13th done come on a Wednesday this month!

I actually feel pretty good today, considering the fact that all I’ve got to blog about is bad news.

First of all, my desktop computer is having its mail forwarded to the repair shop over in New Hope (or Crystal. It’s often hard to tell in this part of town). Whenever I try to start it, Norton GoBack reboots it and tells me to run ScanDisk. But I can’t get in to run ScanDisk because GoBack keeps rebooting it.

The good news is that I still have my laptop. But the laptop can’t get DSL without talking to the desktop, so I’m back to 1990’s technology. (“Might as well send smoke signals,” he said, as he repaired his eyeglasses with tape.)

(Late update: I'm actually posting this after 10:00 p.m., because I couldn't find my password to get in to use this blog on this computer. Phil and the developer finally rescued me.)

More than a bummer: I live in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. That means that there’s a very good chance that my next Congressman will be Keith Ellison, Nation of Islam member, reputed anti-Semite, radical lefty and scofflaw. Who says we Minnesotans aren’t ahead of the curve?

Finally, Aitchmark sent me this link from National Review’s Corner, about how Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan not only aren’t allowed to fight, they aren’t even allowed to go into the deep end of the pool.

This is utterly unworthy of the descendants of the Vikings.

It appears they’ve reinstituted what I believe was called the Doctrine of the Broken Gun. T. D. O. T. B. G. was Norway’s official defense policy before World War II. It was a shining example of the real-world insanity of cuddly idealism.

The theory was, “The best defense is no defense. If your gun is broken, and everyone knows your gun is broken, nobody will ever attack you, because there’s no honor in beating an unarmed opponent.”

What didn’t occur to the theoreticians is that people sometimes attack you for reasons that have little to do with honor. They’ll attack you because they want your ports, or just because you’re an easy target.

In 1940 they learned just how wrong the doctrine was.

Apparently they need to learn the lesson again.

Hoops & Yoyo: Coffee Jitters

Hoops and Yoyo are animated characters from Hallmark. In this eCard, they have coffee jitters. I love it.

"I need the bean! Give me the bean!"

"I've been a good boy. Give me bean juice!!"

You can give them coffee or not, but they won't stop yelling for it until you do.

Kenyon Review Blog: Give Me My Money Back

Today, I learned The Kenyon Review has a blog. I have a good impression of this literary journal, but still have yet to subscribe. My impression may be unfounded, perhaps being drawn from my good impression of poet Jane Kenyon who doesn't have anything to do with the college.

Anyway, the KR blogger Liz Lopatto is complaining about books for which she'd like a refund. Among them:

Everything Jane Austen has ever written, but especially Persuasion. I’ve never been fond of Austen’s ridiculous style, and while David Lynn has tried unsuccessfully to convince me that she’s really parodying the characters she writes about, she spends so much loving detail describing every second of their boring lives that I can’t believe him. I threw Persuasion across the room several times when I had to read it for my English comprehensive exercise, but especially when our heroine Anne, who has no flaws except that she might be plain (this changes as the book goes on, however; her beauty blooms again!), discovers Captain Wentworth really does love her. I threw the book and stomped on it when her spurned suitor, her cousin, turns out to be a “villain.” Because our Anne couldn’t possibly break the heart of someone who’s decent–oh, no, she’s too good for that. I understand Austen is considered a classic but I still can’t figure out why.
She doesn't like Dickens or Moby Dick either. To each his own.

No, I'm not going to type "to each his or her own," because it's awkward. English speakers should understand that implication and avoid petty language politics.

How a novelist changed eveningwear forever

Memo from my subconscious:

You’ve got nothing today. Why do you persist in blogging, when you know you’ve exhausted your tiny store of things to write worth reading? Why do you persist in this failed strategy? Why don’t you have an exit strategy? It’s a quagmire! Admit it.

When in doubt, borrow. I shall tell you about a fact I learned years ago, which has stayed with me for all the intervening years. I share it with you freely, so that you can bore your friends, just as I do.

Back when I was doing community theater in Florida, I performed in the play, “The Elephant Man.” I played Dr. Gomm, and it wasn’t one of my better performances. Suffice it to say that I didn’t make anyone forget Sir John Gielgud in the movie.

The costume people procured Victorian clothing for us. The moment I saw the tan-colored suit they’d gotten me, I knew that what we had was “A Christmas Carol” costumes, not “The Elephant Man” costumes. Because between the time of Dickens and the time of John Merrick, Englishmen stopped wearing anything but black (or, if they were feeling extremely cheery, a dark gray). I knew this because I had read Frank Muir’s An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything.

(By the way, did you know that Dr. Frederick Treves, whom Anthony Hopkins played in the movie, was an active and influential Christian evangelical? I learned this in Newfoundland, when I visited the Grenville Museum. Treves was one of Dr. Grenville’s [Grenville of Labrador] mentors.)

Anyway, this quote from Muir’s book:
Probably the most prolific novelist and playwright of the nineteenth century, for years the most popular writer of his day, was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (Blogger’s note: Yes, this is the guy the annual award for bad writing is named after), later Baron Lytton, who managed to be a statesman as well….

Bulwer-Lytton made a lot of money from his books, plus a little more from playing whist. He moved easily in fashionable circles and his most popular novel, Pelham, had as its eponymous hero a society dandy who startled London by forsaking the bright colors then worn by gentlemen in the evening to appear in black. This fashion was taken up by society and Britain’s manhood has appeared on formal evening occasions ever since dressed like undertakers.

I note on re-reading that Muir is only talking about evening wear, so I remembered the story wrong. But it’s also a fact that Englishmen eschewed bright colors for all clothing not long thereafter (as a sign of respect for Queen Victoria’s mourning of Prince Albert, I think). I still blame Bulwer-Lytton.

No I don’t. I like black suits.

In Memoriam: Good stuff from Klavan and The Three Ages

Andrew Klavan nails it (again) today in a 9-11 memorial essay over at Libertas. He ponders why contemporary moviemakers aren’t able to handle heroism as filmmakers used to:

…realism is mute when it comes to describing the best of what we can be, of what life can be. And this partially crippled form of communication is the prevailing style of serious cinema. You could almost say that we know a film is serious by how “realistic” it is. Conversely, when we see true faith and true heroism in movies, we feel we’re in the presence of rank sentimentalism, of powderpuff family entertainment. We feel that it must somehow be “unreal.”

I tried to decide what I’d post today, and had a hard time coming up with anything that would add much to the illumination available elsewhere. In the end I decided to repeat myself. A while back I posted my translation of a fable called “The Three Ages,” by the Norwegian writer Johan Borgen. It was first published in 1946, and intended to help his countrymen remember the lessons of the Nazi invasion and occupation.

Needless to say, the Norwegians have already forgotten it pretty much completely. But the lesson of the fable stands.
The Three Ages

The lion and the lamb were grazing side by side one day. The lamb said to the lion:

“What age do we actually live in, Lion?”

“Age?” said the lion. “We are alive, isn’t that enough? Anyway, the age we live in is always our age; otherwise we aren’t alive.”

The lamb thought that over a bit as they went along and nibbled grass in the bottom of a little valley.

“You are wise, Lion,” he said, “and of course you are right in that the age we live in is our age—at least for us. What I meant was that I’ve always heard that there are three ages: a past age, which was beautiful, but cruel; a present age, which is merely cruel; and finally a future age which will be so peaceful that the lion and the lamb will graze side by side. I heard it from a wise old ram, and that was why I believed that this is the future age.

Then the lion bit the lamb’s head off and said:

“Now that you remind me of it, I guess it’s the past age after all.”

Jesus said in Matthew 24:23-27, “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Three he is!’ do not believe it…. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (NIV).

The plain purpose of this passage, of course, is to warn believes about false messiahs who still show up fairly regularly to say, “I’m Christ Himself and I’ve come back in secret.”

But I think there might be a secondary meaning. It’s just plain reckless to imagine that the Kingdom of God has come already, that we have brought it about through our own wisdom and moral progress. We’re still in the present age, our enemies don't just want a hug, and the emperor does not bear the sword in vain.

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