"The peculiar quality of "joy" in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality of truth."

- J.R.R. Tolkien
Happy All Saints Day (or something)

I’ve had better days than today.

I took a half vacation day, because I’d made an appointment with a plumber to look at a water pressure problem in my shower. His diagnosis was that I need my entire pipe system rebuilt.

That wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I’ll put that one off. For years, God willing.

As I left work to meet the plumber, I exchanged a few words with a co-worker. As he turned away from me to go inside, he walked straight into a column in the entryway and gave himself a bloody nose.

I know in my heart it was my fault.

I also noticed a couple deaths in the news. One was Robert Goulet. Goulet has become a sort of a joke in recent decades, but when I was a kid I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. I wanted to grow up to look like him and sing like him. I also wanted to be married to Carol Lawrence, his wife at the time. (They were slim, dark-haired people. When I was a kid I never understood all the excitement about blondes. I lived in one of the most Norwegian towns in America. Blondes were a dime a dozen in Kenyon. Dark-haired people were exotic and beautiful in my eyes.)

I did not succeed in growing up to be Goulet, but I’ve learned to live with it.

Also Hank Reinhardt died Tuesday. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he was the founder of Museum Replicas, Ltd., one of the foremost purveyors of replica swords to reenactors like me. I have several pieces of equipment from his company. He was also, as it happened, married to a senior editor at Baen Books, who is now Managing Editor, so I had one degree of separation from his acquaintance.

But there is one piece of good news.
Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, the egregious “God Hates Fags” people, lost a big case in federal court (thanks to Blue Crab Boulevard). They’ll have to pay the family of an Iraq War veteran whose funeral they disrupted.

I can imagine ways in which this judgment might lead to bad precedents, but if anybody has it coming it’s the WBC crowd.

God hates ‘em.

Today in History

Martin Luther posted these comments: "This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult for learned men to guard the respect due to the pope against false accusations, or at least from the keen criticisms of the laity.

They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter's church, a very minor purpose." Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Two Minute Rule by Robert Crais

First of all, I have to thank our reader and occasional commenter Aitchmark. I chat with him on AIM now and then, and the other night he tentatively diagnosed (sight unseen) the malady that’s been bugging me for weeks. I’d been fading in the afternoons, just feeling leaden. He asked me if I’d been breathing anything that might be bad, and it suddenly occurred to me that the moldy old books I’ve been cataloging for the archive might not be the best thing for me. I took an antihistamine, bought some paper breathing masks, and I feel better already.

The title of Robert Crais’ The Two Minute Rule refers to a guideline well known to both policemen and bank robbers—if you want to knock off a bank, you need to be in and out in two minutes, or you’re likely to be caught.

Which was what happened to Max Holman ten years ago. Back then he was an alcoholic and a drug addict, addicted to the thrill of danger. In his time in prison he’s dried out, and he intends to make a genuine effort to live a straight life now that he’s being released. He also wants to make amends to his former girlfriend, and to the son they had together, whom he neglected even before his arrest.

But on the day of his release, he gets bad news. His son (who had become a policeman) has been murdered, along with three other officers.

Even the cops treat him with consideration at first, in spite of his ex-con status. But Holman is puzzled by the official story of the ambush that killed his son. The attack happened in the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River. How did anyone sneak up on them in such an open location? And why, when he visits his son’s widow, does he find a police file on a desk, concerning a recent series of robberies by two now-dead felons? What business was that case of a uniformed policeman’s? Was his son a corrupt cop? If so, was that Holman’s own fault?

When he asks more questions, the police become hostile, and finally they threaten him. That’s when Holman turns for help to the only law enforcement figure he knows he can trust.

Katherine Pollard, the FBI agent who put him away ten years ago.

Pollard is out of the agency now, trying to make it as a single mother. She joins Holman in investigating the matter mostly because she’s bored and misses police work. But as the questions get harder, and the violence escalates, she begins to alternate between frustration with the police, anger at Holman, and… other feelings for Holman. She begins to fear that she’s “going Indian”—getting too closely involved with a criminal and his world.

The Two Minute Rule
is notable for a remarkable risk (for popular fiction) taken by the author. He doesn’t make his main characters look like movie stars. Holman, we’re told, has put on weight in prison. He’s flabby and pale. Katherine too has put on weight since she left the FBI. She’s always worrying about the size of her bottom. This is a nice touch of realism that (for me) made the whole thing ring much truer.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it involves a genuine concern for maturity and responsibility that’s been sadly lacking, I believe, in books and movies for a long time. I was very pleased with the ending, and recommend The Two Minute Rule to most readers. The usual cautions about language and violence that generally go with mainstream novels nowadays apply here, it goes without saying.

I like the direction Robert Crais (author of the Elvis Cole books, in which the main character is also maturing) is taking in his novels. Kudos to him.

Keep Praying for Rain

The docks are on dry land in Lake Lanier. Why does God withhold the rain? Why does he send the wildfire? It's for the same reason my car doesn't start sometimes. The Lord calls us to trust him.

Sure, there are responsible things we can do to help sometimes. I don't know what we could do about the drought other than conserve water now that we're in the middle of it, but proper forest management can cut back on wildfires, and if a mechanic could discern my car trouble, we could fix that too. But in all trouble, especially the natural disaster type, God's message is to trust him.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God. (Psalm 84:3 ESV)

So have no fear . . .
How often does the Lord tell his people not to fear, and how much fear do we, Christians in America, struggle with? I speak for myself here. Why am I afraid of nothing? And here I claim to trust the Lord with my life.

No Place for an Intern

Mitt Romney in an interview with Sean Hannity tonight:

But I fundamentally think the people will not vote based upon someone’s gender or their race, or their religion, for that matter. I think they’re going to look at what their vision is for the future of the country, where they would take it, and whether they had the experience and skills to actually lead a nation of our scale in such a critical time.

And I think the greatest drawback beyond the direction [Mrs. Clinton would] take us is that she’s never run anything. She’s never had the occasion of being in the private sector, running a business, or, for that matter, running a state or a city. She hasn’t run anything, and the government of the United States is not a place for a president to be an intern. You need to have experience actually leading and running things.

Giveaway: Paris Review Interview Collections

Maud Newton is giving away both volumes of the Paris Review writer interview today.

Where Are the Alternatives on Amazon.com?

Outsiders are calling on Amazon.com (which has a nice, new design) to make a category for alternative literature. You can see the categories on the side of their Literature & Fiction section now. What do you think? Do you care about Indie Lit? Have you read anything good there?

Post in haste, repent at leisure

I'm late, and this post will be short, assuming I get it posted at all.

I've been in Wireless Router Purgatory all evening, and Earthlink phone support is down due to "technical problems" (no doubt they're on hold with their own phone support). Then, after a couple hours, my connection light came on again all on its own. And then off again. And now it's on again. So I'm hoping I can get this posted before it falls off the wagon once more.

Blue Crab Boulevard provides this post about the world's oldest clam--we're talking a 400-year-old mollusk here. Found in one of my favorite places, no less. Iceland.

What the article doesn't tell is whether it was found in a month with an "R" in it.

And Theodore Dalrymple (himself not a believer) makes some excellent arguments against recent atheist books in City Journal. (Hat tip to Freedom Dogs.)

Colbert On Being Normal

Speaking of Colbert and H.S. Key, the latter points out an interview with the former in Vanity Fair. "His getup," says Seth Mnookin in the article, "combined with the swagger he affects onstage, made him seem like Clark Kent, if Clark Kent acted more like Superman in his everyday life." As I suspected, Colbert appears to be a normal, admirable man. I'm going to have to read his book now.

Frowning on Colbert for President

I know the law is the law, but the FEC needs to lighten up on Stephen Colbert's "presidential" run. He's not really running for the White House. He can't, because he is America. As can be seen on one of his websites (for the moment), 27% of supporters believe he should be his own running mate. So, I'm going to be disappointed if some lawyer or federal gook roughs him up over this. Now, if he gets his name on the general ballot, he has probably going to far, but until then--he is America, and I can too!

Coffee Quiz

Ok, Denise, how do you score on this coffee quiz? I got 10/10! Of course, I used the hints extensively, but I had a good idea before I clicked on most questions.

You're No Fun Anymore

Harrison Scott Key complains that novels are boring and short stories are worse. He says, "My general claim is that fiction is in the dumps because fiction isn’t fun like it used to be. Somewhere after Cervantes, novelists forgot that it was okay to be funny." Woody Allen on the other hand . . .

'Not At All Cute'

Frank Wilson reviews Charles Williams' All Hallows' Eve, written in 1945. He says it focuses on real, cosmic evil in the streets of London. "In Williams' vision of Halloween," he says, "we are our own goblins - and not at all cute."

Gaza's Only Christian Bookstore Owner Killed

Earlier this month, Rami Khader Ayyad, 32, was abducted and murdered in Gaza City. He ran The Teacher's Bookshop, the only Christian bookstore in Gaza and part of ministry of the Holy Bible Society. May the Lord deliver the Palestinian people from the hands of murderers.

Quotables from Books, Inq.

Frank Wilson has some good thoughts in these two posts on his blog, Books, Inq.

First, on being Catholic: "One of the benefits of having been raised and educated a Catholic - at least I regard it as a benefit - is the constant awareness of my eventual death that it bestowed upon me and that I have lived with all my life."

Second, on certain writers: "Most writers and intellectuals hang with other writers and intellectuals and project their parochial outlook onto the rest of society. That explains why so much that is written is such a bummer." Which means you can drop your New Yorker subscription and pick up some good, non-parochial writing like Relief Journal.

The usefulness of ghosts

After doing my TV review last night, an odd fact occurred to me. My three favorite TV shows just now are “House,” which stars Hugh Laurie (an Englishman doing an American accent), “Pushing Daisies,” which stars Anna Friel (an Englishwoman doing an American accent) and “Chuck,” starring Yvonne Strahovski (an Australian doing an American accent).

I see no significance whatever in this concatenation. But it seems odd.

Speaking of Halloween,
I’ve been seeing web posts here and there about ghosts.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but that’s not a disbelief I hold to with the same fervor as I do to the great doctrines of the faith. The only appearance of a ghost in Scripture is in 1 Samuel 28 (the witch of Endor), which has been variously interpreted as a special dispensation from God or a demonic manifestation under God’s control. One way or the other, contacting the dead is unquestionably a forbidden activity.

But I’ve employed ghosts in stories several times. They’re just so darn useful as a plot device. They combine the elements of fear, grief and moral judgment. Shakespeare liked them too, and I’m not sure if he believed in them either.

Anyway, don’t take their use in my books as a statement of belief. I’ve never seen a ghost, or an ancient god, or an elf. I’ve only seen one physical miracle, in fact, and I can explain that one away if I want to. In general I believe in the supernatural in principle, but am skeptical of reported supernatural phenomena in particular cases.

Just for the record.

Great Costume

I'm conflicted about Halloween, probably because I often think of it in these adult terms, but this Japanese skirt looks like a great costume. Of course, some people may ask for candy from you instead of the other way round, but maybe they will offer money in exchange.

Cranach moves

Gene Edward Veith's Cranach blog has moved out from the World Magazine umbrella, into its own domain, here.

Update your bookmarks.

The Meek, Brown Eyed Maiden

We've been talking about women a bit this week, so I submit this Longfellow poem to cap things off. Here's a portion:

MAIDEN! with the meek, brown eyes,
In whose orbs a shadow lies
Like the dusk in evening skies!

Thou whose locks outshine the sun,
Golden tresses, wreathed in one,
As the braided streamlets run!

...

Bear a lily in thy hand;
Gates of brass cannot withstand
One touch of that magic wand.

from "Maidenhood"

My Top Two for fall

My eyes have been opened to the criminal denial of resources to southern California, caused by George Bush and the war in Iraq.

But why stop there? Washington isn’t the only city wasting precious supplies and manpower that might have helped the impoverished denizens of southern California.

How about Hollywood?

Think of all the people who could have been evacuated in the limousines used by studio executives and movie stars.

Think of the refugees who might have been fed by the catering companies.

Think of the coffee and donuts the gofers could have fetched for the firefighters.

And all those lawyers writing contracts? They could be suing somebody or other for the mental suffering of the homeless.

Dear Heavens, when will the infamy cease?

Speaking of Hollywood,
S. T. Karnick at The American Mind tells a story today of a movie actor who seems to have a conscience not dictated by the hive mind of his peers.

Television is also part of Hollywood,
and tonight I’d like to give you a list of the Top Two of my favorite new network shows.

My list is restricted to two because I’ve only found two I enjoy. But they’re pretty good, I think.

My favorite is “Pushing Daisies.” You know those Walgreens commercials about “A Town Called Perfect?” The whole show is done in that style, like a children’s book. They even use (apparently) the same narrator.

The main character is Ned (Lee Pace), a pie maker with a supernatural gift. When anything dies, he can bring it back to life by touching it. The drawback is that he has to touch them again and send them back within a minute, or they’ll stay alive and some equivalent life form nearby will drop dead in their place. He makes a side income by helping his friend Emerson (Chi McBride), a private detective. He brings murdered people back to life to name their murderers, and he and Emerson split the reward money.

The complication that produces the show’s drama comes when the girl Ned loves, “Chuck” (Anna Friel, who’s just a delight to watch) is murdered, and Ned brings her back and keeps her alive (a larcenous undertaker drops dead). While Ned is delighted to have Chuck back, he can never touch her, or she’ll die again.

This wonderful plot device permits the writers to give this show an element that has almost disappeared from contemporary drama—romance. Ned and Chuck manage to kiss (through cellophane) and dance (in beekeepers’ suits), but there’s no question of their jumping into bed together. That means you have actual sexual tension here, and a relationship that isn’t consummated in the first episode. This imparts to the whole enterprise an innocence that chimes perfectly with the fairy tale staging. I love this show.

I worry though. I note from Wikipedia that Anna Friel became famous in large part for lesbian scenes and nudity on British television. A supporting character is Kristin Chenoweth, an avowed “liberal” Christian who has a Lisa Minelli-like following in the homosexual community. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they blindside me with a “gay” story one of these weeks.

But until then I’m enchanted.

Speaking of people called Chuck, there’s also a new series called “Chuck.” The concept here isn’t quite as fresh as that of “Pushing Daisies,” but it’s not bad.

Are you old enough to remember “The Avengers?” Remember how intriguing and appealing Mrs. Peel was? Not only gorgeous, but completely capable of taking care of herself when attacked by the vilest enemy spies (as a sexist I should have hated that, but somehow I didn’t when she did it)?

Well, in “Chuck” you’ve got a Mrs. Peel character, a CIA operative, teamed up with an ordinary computer nerd, the titular Chuck. Chuck (Zachary Levi) got a hard drive-full of top secret security information uploaded into his brain (don’t you hate it when that happens?), and Mrs. Peel, er, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski, She's not Diana Rigg, but she'll do) is assigned to babysit him while he continues his ordinary life as a computer tech at a big box store called Buy More.

Of course there’s sparks between Chuck and Sarah, and the romantic tension here comes from his realistic understanding that he is way, way out of his league with her. But there are hints that she’s warming to him, and he’s growing through the dangers he experiences every week.

Great escapist stuff. And about time, too. It's been a while since there’s been anything this fresh, or this innocent, on TV.

A Lighter Side of the Fire

You've seen photos of horrible fires in California, but here's one a little removed from the flames.

Unnatural Light

Girls, Girls, Girls

A review of modern culture and modesty. "If he’s pressuring you for sex, he probably doesn’t love you," no matter what last nights TV show taught you. I hope that become common wisdom soon.

This book looks like a good one. From the review:

Shalit’s book [Girls Gone Mild] has been attacked by one feminist critic for suggesting that the sex act “should have an everlasting warranty of love attached to it.” To the contrary, writes Nona Willis-Aronowitz in the Nation, all girls should realize that sex "is the ultimate risk, a risk that makes human relationships complicated, intoxicating, and wonderful. It is a risk that women are finally allowed to take without being chastised for it."

Or, as Shalit herself quotes a feminist lawyer barking: “I am very suspicious of telling girls they need to be morally good—that’s sexism right there!”
That's right, girl. Tell the next generation to follow their hearts, regardless of what's in their hearts. And kill the offspring so they won't get in the way. What is life but today's comfort?

What’s Your Chocolate IQ?

How much do you know about chocolate? Here's a chocolate quiz. My wife and I got 5/10, so we have plenty to learn.

A Simple Way to Pray

This October 31 is the 490th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed a few minor concerns about the Catholic Church to a cathedral door. For that reason, I offer this link to quotes from Luther's guide to prayer.

I have wanted to be a man of prayer for a long time, but it is one of the hardest things I try.

Oh, My! She Fainted.

Vivienne Parry asks why wet feet brings on putrid fever or the like in many literary heroines. "For, I confess," she writes, "part of me has always longed to grab them and say: 'You only got your slippers wet. For heaven's sake, girl, just get a grip!'" (via Books, Inq.)

This isn't a post. This is an excuse for not posting.

Ack. I'm worthless tonight. I'm in the grip of some kind of vague, unlocalized malaise, probably psychosomatic. Had to slug my way through work. My body seems to be saying to me, "Take it easy and feed me protein," and that's what I'm doing.

All in all, I'm glad I live in Minneapolis, and not southern California. All the world wants to live in S. Cal, but we Norwegians (at least the ones who haven't absconded to Mission Viejo) sit here and say, "Yeah, the weather might be nice most of the time, but you gotcher earthquakes. You gotcher wildfires. Better to stay home where the disasters are usually less catastrophic, and generally come on a scheduled basis."

It's a particularly Norwegian point of view, I think--"I won't ask much, but in return I expect very few bad surprises." Comes from generations of explaining to our children why we continued to live in a place where the sun didn't even rise half the year.

Same goes for living in Minnesota, more or less.

I was sent a quotation once. Forget who said it. Somebody commented on Charles Lindbergh's not having much of a sense of humor, and the quotee replied, "Did you ever try to tell a joke in Minneapolis?"

To which my reply is, "Remember Lou Grant? Remember how funny his life was on the Mary Tyler Moore show, set in Minneapolis? Then he spun off to Los Angeles and his own show, and the yucks stopped cold."

I think that settles that.

In closing, here's a YouTube link from Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost. The kind of counselor all of us neurotics dream of (played by Bob Newhart, no less). He's just as effective as all the others, and charges you less.

Lieu to you too

Another beautiful day. Bright sun, and it got up to about 70 in the afternoon, I think, though it was much cooler by the time I took my afternoon walk, which has suddenly become an evening walk.

The wind’s blustery, which is too bad, because it means the trees that turn their leaves early are shedding them now. So when the great crescendo of the visual chorus that is autumn arrives at last, they’ll have no “voices” left. The perfect weather for fall is still and dry for a couple months.

Not that I’ve got any business complaining about high winds, considering what’s going on in southern California.

Today I want to strike a blow for precision in language. I want to smash, and smash vengefully, a common error that seems to be growing more and more common.

How often these days do we read a sentence like this: “In lieu of the senator’s statement, advocacy groups organized a massive letter-writing campaign”?

This is bad. Don’t do this anymore.

What the writer meant to say was, “In view of the senator’s statement…”

“In lieu of”
and “in view of” are not the same thing.

The phrase, “In lieu of” is defined by Merriam-Webster this way: “in the place of; instead of.”

If someone says, “During the war, we ate margarine in lieu of butter,” he’s using the words properly.

Why do people make this mistake?

Because they’re trying to use a fancy, frenchified word in lieu of a perfectly good, easily understood English one.

When in doubt, use the simple word. When not in doubt, the simple word is still usually the best bet.

Now read this post again. Read it over and over until you understand it.

The world will be happier for it.

Or at least I will.

Writin' Ain't a Manly Persuit

Writing is No Longer Manly with the Possible Exception of Australian Travel Writers, reports David Thayer.

Tim Keller Writes on "Belief in an Age of Skepticism"

Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer PCA in New York City apologetically announces his new books, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. He wants to avoid the appearance of hype, but now that the news has hit the blogosphere there's no stopping the hype. It will take on a life of its own, ha, ha. Really, it looks like a good book. He says, "Ever since I got to New York nearly two decades ago I've wished I had a volume to give people that not only answered objections to Christianity (what has been called 'apologetics') but also positively presented the basics of the gospel in an accessible yet substantial way." Only Mere Christianity does that, he says, and it doesn't address some issues pertinent today. So Keller has written the dual purpose book himself, not to replace Mere Christianity, but to add to the modern intellectual debate on God.

Writing Contest for Elmore Leonard Book

Contest: The Rap Sheet will "give a copy of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing to the person who can send us the cleverest Leonard-related five-line limerick." See The Rap Sheet for details.

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