"There is nothing more awful, insulting, and depressing than banality."

- Anton Chekhov, "The Teacher of Literature"
Not Always the Point

Sure, you found the body of your employer lodged uncomfortably in the copier and a threat to your co-workers smeared on the wall in toner power. It'd make a powerful story, but sometimes a crime novel isn't just about the crime.

Writing to See

Anecdotal Evidence has some good writing quotes from John McGahern. “Writing is an instinct. I’d say that I write to see. I suspect that unless there’s a sense of excitement and discovery for the writer, the reader will not have much sense of excitement or discovery either.”

A parable

Q: What is so rare as a day in June?
A: February 29.

(That’s not my gag. Walt Kelly used it in Pogo about eight or nine leap years ago.)

Today, a parable.

Once upon a time there was a land where only children lived. It was a happy land of flowers and sunshine and gentle, playful animals.

The only problem in all of the happy land was the Mean Boys. There weren’t a lot of mean boys, but everybody was afraid of them. The teased. They pushed ahead in line. If they got really mad, sometimes they beat up the smaller kids.

Some of the children went to Maddy, the Smartest Girl. “What are we going to do about the Mean Boys?” the asked, crying.

Maddy said, “This isn’t as big a problem as you think. The Mean Boys aren’t all that powerful.”

“But they’re big!” said one little boy. “And when you try to stand up for yourself, they just laugh at you and take your stuff.”

“Yes, they’re big,” said Maddy. “But you know what? They may be bigger than you are, but they’re not bigger than all of us are.”

“What does that mean?” asked a girl.

“It means that if we all work together, we can beat them. They aren’t strong enough to fight all of us.”

“You mean we gang up on them?”

“Yes,” said Maddy. “When they get mean, we all have to fight them together. Soon they’ll learn that they can’t beat the power of all of us working together.”

“But we can’t be together all the time,” said the little boy. “What if they catch one of us alone?”

“We have to make sure we’re never alone,” said Maddy. “From now on we all stay in groups all the time. I’ll organize the groups, and you’ll have to stay with your group all day and all night. Never leave the group.”

“Sometimes I like to be alone,” said a Smart Boy (not smarter than Maddy, but pretty smart).

“You want to get beat up?” asked Maddy.

The Smart Boy was about to say something, but then decided not to.

And so it was done. All the children organized into groups, and they stayed together all the time, and whenever the Mean Boys picked on someone, the whole group gathered around them and beat them up.

And after the Mean Boys had stopped beating kids up, Maddy announced that the Mean Boys wouldn’t be allowed to tease anyone anymore either. And the Mean Boys had to go along with it.

And everyone agreed that Maddy should be the queen, because she’d figured out how to make life perfect for everyone. And everybody did what Maddy said.

And Maddy got to have the nicest room, and the nicest toys, and nobody disagreed with her, because all the others would beat them up.

And sometimes Maddy teased the Mean Boys, or even kids who weren’t actually mean or boys, if she didn’t like them. And everybody agreed that that was OK, because Maddy had done so much for all of them.

And sometimes, when Maddy got really angry with somebody, she’d tell the group to beat them up. And of course they did that, too.

But all in all things went very well in the happy land.

Until one day some cars came over the hill.

Teenagers got out of the cars.

And they had guns.

(Now that I’ve written this out, it isn’t as profound as I thought it was. But it’s written, and I’m not going to find another subject tonight. Have a good weekend.)

Jesus Would Have Had a Small Church

Today's Thinklings Quote of the Day lines up with this video post from yesterday. The quote is from A. W. Tozer: "The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are not worthy of Him." In the post, a pastor reveals his struggle with the challenge Jesus lays before us. He said that a year or two ago he was struggling with his role as a pastor and his intimacy with the Lord. He turned to his wife and said, "If Jesus had a church in Simi Valley, I betcha mine would be bigger." Because he didn't challenge his congregation like the Lord challenges us.

What Would You Do?

"Britain's defense chief decided Friday to immediately pull Prince Harry out of Afghanistan after news of his deployment was leaked on the U.S. Web site the Drudge Report," according to this morning's AP report.

The ministry asked the media not to speculate on Harry's location — or how and when he would return — until he was back in Britain. . . . The ministry deplored the leak by "elements of the foreign media."
The ministry knew this was a problem, so they had plans for keeping Harry safe. But if you were a newsman with a strong website or paper like The Drudge Report, would you report the prince's secret location? Do the people have a right to know something like this?

I laughed, I cried

Jared points to the painfully hilarious concept of Jon Arbuckle's life without Garfield. Help us.

Safe in harbor once again

Late and short tonight, for I have fared through perils and straits that have left me a shadow of my Former’s elf. (I don’t know what that means, but it’s a pun, which counts as humor in some quarters.)

I told you recently about my trip to my tax preparer’s new location, and my problems finding the place in the trackless wilderness of Maple Grove, Minnesota. Tonight I went to pick up the forms (and incidentally to pay for them), and I found the place just fine. Tonight, the problem was the weather.

We got about an inch of snow today. That’s not a big deal, especially for hardy arctic types like we’ve all become by now. But the snow fell at just that temperature, right around freezing, where it does the most effective possible job of turning the road surfaces to Teflon.

I was about half way there when I admitted to myself that it would have been better to wait till tomorrow night. But by then I was (to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Macbeth), in snow stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.

So I made the full trip, carefully making allowances for the limitations of my car (which are many), and I got home safe and sound.

So how shall I think about this? Shall I consider myself a brilliant driver, because I made it home without a fender-bender? Or shall I consider myself an idiot for making the trip at all on a night like this?

Yeah, like I have a choice about that.

Mark Steyn Threatened by Liberals

Liberalism undermines the freedoms which enable it by opposing those truths which should be self-evident. Case in point: Mark Steyn is being challenged before The Canadian Human Rights Commission for an excerpt from his book, America Alone, printed in the Canadian magazine Maclean's. The Canadian Islamic Congress didn't like Steyn's arguments against Islam and have charged him with hate speech.

Here's the excerpt. Steyn points out that many other publications have reprinted portions of his book, labeling them "alarmist." In response, Steyn asks, "So what would it take to alarm you?" If what Steyn has written is over the top, cultural changes or specific acts should rational people be alarmed by?

It's hard to deliver a wake-up call for a civilization so determined to smother the alarm clock in the soft fluffy pillow of multiculturalism and sleep in for another 10 years. The folks who call my book "alarmist" accept that the Western world is growing more Muslim (Canada's Muslim population has doubled in the last 10 years), but they deny that this population trend has any significant societal consequences. Sharia mortgages? Sure. Polygamy? Whatever. Honour killings? Well, okay, but only a few.
(via Cranach)

Handel's Messiah Adapted for Ballet

The Pennsylvania Ballet will be performing The Messiah in dance March 5-9. The ballet has been well-received for several years. "Weiss says Carolina's performances were sold out for five years running, and a 2003 concert in Hungary played to overwhelmingly enthusiastic crowds," reports Susan Lewis.

Incredible

Roger Kimball asks why anyone believes the NY Times about anything. He quotes fellow blogger Bob Owens to summarize:

[T]he bizarre emphasis of the New York Times upon veteran violence without the provision of context can be understood by remembering that Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times, once said during the Vietnam War that if a North Vietnamese soldier ran into an American soldier, he’d rather see the American soldier shot.

William F. Buckley and me

Dale Nelson sent me this link to a London Telegraph list of “50 Crime Writers You Should Read Before You Die.” It’s been linked at other blogs, but I think it belongs here too. Without doing the actual math (which would tire out my brain muscle), I think I’ve read something by about half these authors. I’m not sure I’m all that keen to check out most of the remainder. They seem rather dark and nihilistic and “significant” to me.

In regard to the title of this post, OK, I never actually met William F. Buckley. Or corresponded with him. Or with anybody who ever met him, as far as I know.

I can’t even say he brought me into conservatism. To be honest, although I’ve ready many of his essays, the only books of his I’ve read have been some of his novels. (Which are very good.)

But he was part of my pilgrimage.

I first became aware of him in Green Bay, Wisconsin, one evening around 1970 when I was making a brief visit to the home of a friend. As is my wont, I was checking out the bookshelves, and I saw a book entitled Up From Liberalism, by William F. Buckley.

What a great title, I thought.* So I pulled it off the shelf.

You must understand that I was a Democrat in those days. My dad had always been a Democrat, and a few years of college had managed to convince me that if you were a serious Christian, you had to be a Democrat, because the Democratic Party was the party of compassion (this was before they nudged all the pro-lifers out). So sneaking a peak at a politically conservative book had something of the same shameful thrill as sneaking a look at a copy of Playboy.

I was amazed by the back of the book jacket. You know how most books have a series of quotations from favorable reviews on the back?

For this book, Buckley chose to list a selection of the nastiest things that had been written about his previous books by liberal reviewers.

I realized that I was looking at sheer, unalloyed brilliance.

In a conservative. There was a little cognitive dissonance there.

But that impression and that memory remained with me over the succeeding years, as I slowly realized that the Democratic Party was no longer tolerating my beliefs, and that some of my political beliefs were fatheaded anyway.

Rest in peace, Mr. Buckley.

*For those of you who suffer from a contemporary education, and therefore know nothing of American history,
Up From Liberalism was a take-off on Up From Slavery, the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, whom you probably heard about during Black History Month.

More on and by Buckley

Commentary is publishing one of Buckley's last essays, "Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me." Here's the start of it:

In the early months of l962, there was restiveness in certain political quarters of the Right. The concern was primarily the growing strength of the Soviet Union, and the reiteration by its leaders of their designs on the free world. Some of the actors keenly concerned felt that Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was a natural leader in the days ahead.

But it seemed inconceivable that an anti-establishment gadfly like Goldwater could be nominated as the spokesman-head of a political party. And it was embarrassing that the only political organization in town that dared suggest this radical proposal—the GOP’s nominating Goldwater for President—was the John Birch Society.

The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man, who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in America could have conceived. His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled.

Welch refused to divulge the size of the society’s membership, though he suggested it was as high as 100,000 and could reach a million. His method of organization caused general alarm. The society comprised a series of cells, no more than twenty people per cell. It was said that its members were directed to run in secret for local offices and to harass school boards and librarians on the matter of the Communist nature of the textbooks and other materials they used.

The society became a national cause célèbre—so much so, that a few of those anxious to universalize a draft-Goldwater movement aiming at a nomination for President in 1964 thought it best to do a little conspiratorial organizing of their own against it.
Several writers on Commentary's blog, Contentions, are paying tribute to Buckley. Max Boot says, "He managed on a number of occasions to keep the conservative movement as a whole from lurching into loony-land." The above essay is a case in point, I believe.

On Good, Tight Writing

Elizabeth Brown reviews and anecdotes on Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing. I agree with the rule using "said" over any other dialogue verb. There's not much point to using any other word. We say things far more than we affirm, allege, argue, assert, asseverate, aver, avouch, avow, claim, contend, declare, hold, maintain, state, voice, or vocalize.

Dude, what does asseverate mean? "To declare seriously or positively."

William F. Buckley Jr. Has Died

William F. Buckley Jr. died last night. May his tribe continue to increase.

"Happy to pay for a recession in Minnesota"

I’m getting another cold. This winter has been essentially wall-to-wall colds. I don’t recall such a bad string since I was a kid, and had adenoids.

For some reason I woke up this morning when my renter got up (about 5:00 a.m.). I never do that.

Then I checked my alarm clock. In the dark, instead of hitting the light bar, I knocked the thing clear off the bedside table. When I found it again, I discovered that it had decided that the year was 1997 (it’s one of those atomic clocks, with a brain of sorts), and that I wanted to get up at 2:00 a.m. I spent about fifteen minutes getting the thing re-set.

And then I forget to turn the alarm on.

When I got to work (I made it on time), I found that the atomic clock I keep on my desk (love those things. What could be better than having an Unseen Servant automatically re-set your clock every night?) had suddenly decided that it was in a different time zone.

And the cash register neglected to figure sales tax on a purchase.

I think my machines are conspiring against me.

Speaking of the sales tax, our honorable state legislators just voted to raise ours. The governor vetoed it, but they overrode him.

In the last election they regained control of both houses, running on the promise that they'd “give a break to the middle class. Make those rich folks pay their fair share.”

So they raised the sales tax. Because—you know. The middle class doesn’t buy—you know… stuff.

And they raised our vehicle registration fees. Because the middle class doesn’t own cars.

And they raised the gas tax. Because those middle class folks never buy gas.

This will be a wonderful opportunity for the Republicans in Minnesota this fall, if they have any brains.

Which, this being Minnesota, is problematic.

Doing What I Was Crafted to Do

Tony Woodlief writes about writing and vocation.

One of the surest ways to determine if someone who wants to be a writer can, in fact, become a writer is to examine his output. I know more than a few people who want to be writers, but not so much that they actually write. . . . I write because I can’t help it. I write because sometimes, in the midst of it, I feel like I am doing what I was crafted to do.

Beautiful Music Now and Upcoming

My church hosted a great Michael Card concert last Saturday. His music is nothing like the song Lars described yesterday. He even sang my favorite song of his, one he said he wrote "at a professor" who argued for a more rational faith than Card was comfortable with. Card has always favored mystery and paradox, so when his professor argued for a list of concepts which one could assent to and thereby adopt Christian faith, Card bristled. So he wrote a song about Jesus and his clash with our understanding, called "God's Own Fool," which has the chorus

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well
YouTube has a video of it. I sang this song during a Sunday service a few years ago because it tied so well to the sermon. I think the Holy Spirit used it, but now that I say that, I can't point to anything for evidence of that--perhaps, that's not a proper perspective.

I wanted to pass on something Card mentioned during the concert. He is working with several others on The By/For Project, an effort to encourage Christian musicians to write music for the whole church for use in worship services free of restrictions. The site says, "Worship is a gift freely given. By/For projects are licensed under Creative Commons, so churches can freely use the art in worship and other artists can adapt and extend it. Removing profit motives can enrich both art and worship."

The site also wants to remove the natural boundaries between Christians. "By/For believes the local church can strengthen and support fellow worshippers down the street, across town, and over oceans" by using the Internet to distribute recorded music, scores, and lyrics. There's also a visual art angle on this too, which should bend some perspectives a bit.

Starsbucks Closing Today

Your local Starbucks will close at 5:30 today for "barista re-education." Do not panic.

UPDATE: Dunkin' Donuts in Chicago is offering free small lattes today from 1:00 to 10:00 p.m. I believe they are 99 cents in other parts of the country. McDonald's is also trying to win over coffee drinkers during the Starbucks black out.

Numbers as Weapons

Doug Wilson talks numbers in a post today about an ugly part of our modern culture.

Numbers about this kind of thing, taken out of context in this way, are weapons. Consider Kinsey's infamous lie about 10 percent of the population being homosexual, and that figure, apparently immortal now, is routinely used to make the rest of us "face facts," and come to terms with what is obviously a fact of nature. It is in fact lying propaganda. In the same way, the raw fact that American has a 10 billion dollar a year porn problem is used by friends and foes of porn alike, the former to tell us, "resistance is futile, you will be assimilated," and the latter to tell us if we don't get off our keisters now, we are all going to be living in a seedier section of one of the Cities of the Plain in about three weeks.
From my point of view, our problem with this vice has more to do with the free and publicity side than the pay-per-view side. Why shouldn't the current issue of Sports Illustrated and some celebrity gossip mags/pages considered part of this $10 billion industry?

Disiplined Like a Monk

Will Duquette became a Roman Catholic a while back, and now he's uncovering his inner Benedictine monk. Make that oblate, not monk.

Some while ago, Jane had picked up a book, rather on a whim, called Monk Habits for Ordinary People, by a Presbyterian minister named Dennis Okholm. Okholm has, rather surprisingly, for twenty years been an oblate of Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota, and his purpose in writing the book was to make Benedictine spirituality accessible to other Protestants. I’d glanced at it at the time, but no more than that; a couple of days ago Jane reminded me of it, and I more or less devoured it.

Silent Joe, by T. Jefferson Parker

The weekend was beautiful, and so was today. High temperatures around, or above, freezing. We may not really deserve a mild stretch like this, but we feel as if we do.

In church on Sunday, among the praise songs our worship team had chosen for us was a number which contained (I’m not making this up) the following lines:

So much holy
So divine
Yours and so much mine….

Our God reigns
Over the heavens
Over the earth
Our God reigns
Praise His name
All still standing
All that was
All that remains
Our God reigns

I can feel my brain cells atrophying just on account of transcribing those inane lyrics. In what way, I ask, is singing such content-free drivel (over and over, of course) any different from chanting “Om” in a Transcendental Meditation center?

Commenter Aitchmark told me about T. Jefferson Parker’s mystery novel, Silent Joe, and I ordered it out of curiosity. I found it a compelling book. Flawed, but as fascinating as any novel I’ve read in a long time.

Joe Trona, the narrator and hero of the book, is the adopted son of Will Trona, an Orange County (California) supervisor. He works as a jailer, on his way to a police career, but at night he helps Will with “delicate” business—serving as his driver and bodyguard for trips and meetings and exchanges that he doesn’t want publicly known. Joe has no problem with this. He has complete faith that Will is a good man, and any corners he cuts are cut in a good cause.

Joe is tall, strong, a trained martial artist and a crack shot. He’s handsome, except that an act of abuse by his birth father left him with a serious scar on his face. Joe has cultivated good manners in order to be unthreatening, and he generally wears a hat to shade his features, but he’s profoundly self-conscious.

One night he and Will make a mysterious run that involves delivering some money and picking up a little girl. Then they are ambushed. Although Joe manages to kill two of the attackers and get the girl out of the line of fire, he can’t protect Will, who is shot to death. The rest of the book chronicles Joe’s quest to learn who set up the murder, and why it was done.

As a pure mystery, I can’t give Silent Joe the highest marks. Although political affiliations are not explicitly stated, it becomes clear pretty early on who are the Democrats and who are the Republicans. And once you’ve identified the Republicans, you know who’s guilty. Only the details remain to be worked out.

By the way, here’s a tip (but only a minor spoiler) for any liberal mystery novelists who happen by—it’s been about forty years since unmasking a white, male Christian clergyman as a hypocrite and degenerate has had any surprise value. We figured out a long time ago that whenever you introduce a white, male Christian clergyman, he’s going to turn out to be a hypocrite and a degenerate. If you want to actually surprise anyone, try doing something we haven’t seen a thousand times. Show us an ethical clergyman, or a sympathetic Republican, or a Muslim terrorist. Mix it up a little.

Although the mystery was no great shakes, the writing and the characterizations in Silent Joe were absolutely top level. Parker writes prose with great precision and grace. Not a word is misplaced. And although I probably identify more with Joe Trona than most people do, I think everyone will find him a fascinating character, at once tough and vulnerable, dangerous and child-like, smart and innocent.

There’s a particular section where Joe meets a woman, finds her attractive, and works up his nerve to ask her out. I actually had to put down this un-put-downable book a couple times because I had a hard time handling the tension. Those of you who can’t, like me, strongly identify with Joe’s shame issues will still (I think) find it an effective and moving episode.

I generally just drop liberal novels if I find them politically strident or condescending. I never had much trouble with Silent Joe. The story and the characters kept me riveted, and I enjoyed it very much.

Some rough language. Some sex, but not explicit (rather well handled, I thought) and violence. Not a perfect book, but a very, very, good one.

Unlike Drive-ins and Disco, Reading Will Remain

Reading Will Never Die As Long As There Are Stories To Tell

Walker is right. Again. For once. Right, anyway.

I had a vision today. For a moment the veil of the future was swept aside, and I received an impression of things to come.

Bear in mind when I say that that my predictions are pretty much always wrong. If there’s such a thing as Second Sight, I was third in line.

But I had a vision of a possible scenario. Imagine (it isn’t hard to do) that Hillary Clinton doesn’t win the Democratic nomination this year.

I can see her turning on her party. I can see her becoming a Republican, writing nasty books about her years with Bill (whom she will have also dumped by then), and showing up regularly on Rush Limbaugh to comment on Democratic politics from the perspective of a former insider. Kind of the same thing Dick Morris is doing now.

Remember, you read it here first.

Not long ago I made a reference to my interest in Wild Bill Hickok. This led me to glance at my bookshelf, and I noticed that I had a book on Wild Bill there that I hadn’t read yet. More surprisingly, it was a book by Joseph G. Rosa, the foremost Hickok authority today (oddly enough, an Englishman), and a man with whom I once exchanged a couple letters.

So I read Wild Bill Hickok: Gunfighter. It was a good book, as I expected, and Rosa has done his usual yeoman work uncovering obscure sources previously unseen. The copy editing could have been better, but that’s pretty much a universal problem in publishing nowadays.

What particularly interested me was his comments on one of Hickok’s most famous photographs. You can see a small version here. It’s the picture at the top, where he’s standing in a buckskin shirt.

Somewhere, and I think it must have been in his magnum opus, They Called Him Wild Bill (the second edition came out in 1974), Rosa had identified that picture as probably coming from late in Hickok’s life, when he was traveling with the original stage production that Buffalo Bill Cody produced before he went whole hog with his “Wild West” show.

When I wrote a letter of appreciation to Rosa, I said that I thought the picture must be earlier, probably from Hickok’s time as an army scout. I noted, first of all, that Hickok looks quite thin in this picture. Anybody who’s studied the photographs (and Hickok liked getting photographed) knows that he put on weight as he got older.

Secondly, I noted that his mustache looks pretty modest, compared to the flowing affair he sported later on.

And I mentioned that his hair was parted in the middle. In his later pictures, his hair (when he’s bareheaded) is combed straight back.

Rosa replied (I have the letter somewhere, though I can’t put my hand on it right now) that the head-brace Hickok would have worn to hold him still for such a photograph would have stretched out his head and neck, making him look thinner; that the mustache length would probably have varied frequently; and the same would be true with the hair part.

In his comments on this photograph on page 35 of this new book, Rosa now identifies the picture as an early one, and says, “…a close examination of the photograph reveals that he wears his hair parted in the middle, an affectation he had discarded by 1870.”

I don’t claim that it was my argument alone that changed the biographer’s mind. He also notes that identification of the original photographer helps to date the picture. And doubtless I wasn’t the first person to study the picture closely and come to the same conclusion.

But I feel vindicated!

Another comment I made (and Rosa obviously hasn’t yet come around on this) is that I think the pair of Colt pistols Hickok is wearing here are not Navies (.36 caliber) but Armies (.44 caliber). I say that just because I’ve done a lot of shooting with a Navy replica, and they have rather small handles, about right for my hands, which are also pretty small. Hickok was a fairly tall man, and in proportion to his size, those pistol grips just look too large for Navies, to my eyes. The grips on an Army are a little bigger.

The flaw in this theory is that it’s known that Hickok owned at least one matched pair of nickel-plated, ivory-handled Navies. But there’s no record of a similar pair of Armies belonging to him.

But this is my night for bold theories. So make a note that you read this here first, too.

A predictable rant against Subjectivism

First of all, thanks to Dave Lull for sending me a link to this article by Stephen Hunter. If you’re not aware that I consider Hunter one of the truly great thriller writers of our time, you must be new here (in which case, welcome. Our membership fee is reasonable, and may be wired directly to my personal bank account). Apparently Hunter had a heart attack recently. Take care of yourself, Stephen! I still haven’t gotten over losing John D. MacDonald!

Today it got up to +16°
(-9 Centigrade), and it was wonderful. Needless to say, if yesterday had been 25°, it would have been terrible. I’ve said before (why haven’t you quoted me yet?) that there are only two temperatures in the Northern Plains in the winter—colder than yesterday and warmer than yesterday. I don’t approve, but it’s true.

I hate the Subjective. It’s hard to get away from it, though. Modern society has placed the Subjective on the cultural altar where the Bible used to rest, so questioning it has become a sort of contemporary heresy (as Clarence Thomas learned during his Supreme Court confirmation process). Making everything Subjective is easy, because it requires nothing more than experience, and we’ve all got some of that. No thought is necessary. Plus, it’s popular. A hard combination to fight.

Einstein is supposed to have explained his Special Theory of Relativity by saying that time spent sitting on a sofa with a beautiful girl on your lap passes much faster than time spent sitting on a hot stove. Maybe it’s an apocryphal story. If he did say it, I can’t believe he was serious. The watch on my wrist, the instrument which measures whatever time is, doesn’t change its pace based on where I’m sitting. A scientist observing my watch would note that the hands moved at a consistent pace. And that’s how science works, blast it.

So I don’t buy it.

And if you disagree, well, that’s your reality. Don’t you dare impose it on me.

Snow memoir

Here’s a very nice meditation on the TV show “Monk,” (which I haven’t been able to see since I cut my cable, but I remember fondly), by Dean Abbott on S. T. Karnick’s The American Culture blog. I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that a Christian subtext actually exists in the series. I’m sure such a subtext can be found by those who want to find it, but whether the writers intended it seems questionable to me. But Abbott doubtless knows more about the writers than I do. Either way, I think the piece has excellent things to say about life in general.

What to write about today? I haven’t finished reading a book recently (I’m working on a book of history, which goes a little slower than novels. I’ll tell you about it soon. Have to take a break from Koontz now and then).

There’s always the weather. God gave us weather so that human beings would always have something to make conversation about. Which means, I suppose, that He intended Minnesotans to be the most voluble people on earth.

Which isn’t the case, if you’ve ever visited here.

Today the high was about +1° F (that’s in the neighborhood of -20° C). It’s been vile for several days, but tomorrow the temperature’s expected to soar to about 15. And it should keep getting warmer into next week.

I’ve been trying to think back about childhood winter memories. I grew up on a farm, on a gravel road. When the big blizzards came, we’d be cut off from civilization for a short time. Never long. We were never driven to eat the dog. We had cows and pigs and chickens who could have served that purpose if necessary, but it never came close. We might have run out of ice cream or bread for a day (we produced our own milk and eggs. We pasteurized the milk on a burner on the stove. We sold our good eggs and ate the ones that had small cracks in them. It’s odd to think of it now, but we did not refrigerate those eggs. We kept them in a carton by the stove, at room temperature. I suppose I must be immune to salmonella after years of that. We went through those eggs pretty fast, though).

We’d turn on WCCO radio from the Twin Cities on the morning of a blizzard, to learn whether school was closed. They’d read the names of all the closed schools in their large listening area. The Faribault station would probably have a shorter list, but we didn’t really trust the Faribault station. WCCO’s school closing announcements had the weight of social authority.

If we got a real dandy storm, a white-out, the roads would drift over and there’d be no going anywhere until the snow plow came through, which could be a while. A day off from school didn’t mean a day of leisure, of course. Aside from the usual chores, we’d have to dig out our driveway once the snow stopped. The fact that we had a short driveway wasn’t an advantage in that regard, because if we’d had a long driveway Dad would probably have bought a snowplow for his tractor and done it that way. Since he had two (later three) sons, he saw no reason to spend money to do a job we could do for free. Once Moloch and I went away to college, he bought the plow.

I didn’t hate shoveling snow as much as I hated most farm jobs. It was clean, for one thing, and it was warm once you’d gotten into the rhythm of the thing. And it was a simple job with a clear goal. You knew how much progress you’d made, and you knew when you were done.

That didn’t stop me from griping. I knew, by way of television, that lots of people lived in a state called California, where it never snowed and (apparently) nobody had any chores, but spent their free time at the beach.

I seem to recall a blizzard where our TV went out. That was tough. In that case there was nothing to do but sit around with the family, listening to the house creaking. I suppose we must have talked, but I can’t imagine what about.

I probably read a book.

Intense Irony

In our last episode, I was saying how charming I found the English actress Heather Angel, who played Bulldog Drummond’s fiancée in five films and went on to a fairly successful career, working with Hitchcock among other directors.

I note from her Wikipedia entry that she married a television director named Robert B. Sinclair. In 1970, their home was invaded. Her husband tried to protect her, and was killed by the burglar.

On top of the shock and grief of such a traumatic experience, I can’t help thinking that the irony must have been agonizing. How many times had she done movie scenes where there was a fight over a gun, and the hero saved her life? But when it came to real life, it didn’t work out like in the movies.

Irony, in its more drastic forms, is a pretty cruel thing. I recall that shortly after “The Rockford Files” series ended, James Garner got into a road rage incident with another driver, and the other driver cleaned his clock and left him badly injured. Granted, Jim Rockford wasn’t the most two-fisted of TV detectives, but he usually figured out a way to sucker-punch his opponent and run away.

Then there’s the “Superman Curse.” I still remember what a shock it was when George Reeves shot himself. An early moment of cognitive dissonance. “Wait—how can Superman shoot himself? Bullets bounce off him.”

Ditto when Christopher Reeve fell of a horse and broke his neck. How can the most powerful being in the physical universe be paralyzed?

So if you hear one day that I’ve been smashed to jelly by the hammer of Thor, you’ll know that Irony has struck again.

What notable incidents of Irony you can think of?

Bulldog and Barrymore

Today was, by common consensus, a particularly nasty winter day. It was far from the coldest we’ve had this year, and far from the windiest or snowiest. But the elements so mixed within it as to create a sort of ideal balance in which each contributed optimally to human discomfort.

Tomorrow looks to be about the same.

And yet, over the weekend—particularly on Saturday—you could feel that we’ve swung closer to the sun now. Those sunbeams had some punch. Patience is all we need. Time is on our side. Puff and blow all you like, Winter—the cavalry is on the way!

On Sunday I watched four old English Bulldog Drummond movies. My renter has a bargain collection of old mystery movies, and he lent it to me. I was interested to see the Drummond flicks because I’d read something S. T. Karnick wrote about the author of the stories, H. C. “Sapper” McNeile. I believe I may have read a Bulldog Drummond story once, but I have no memory of it. I don’t know how well the movies retained the spirit of the stories.

Although the character of Bulldog Drummond was first played in a sound movie by Ronald Colman, most of these films star an adequate actor named John Howard. One odd exception is “Bulldog Drummond Escapes,” which stars a very young Ray Milland. Although Milland was a good actor with a distinguished career ahead of him, he’s absolutely awful in this role. Drummond, at least in the movies, is a sort of Peter Pan type, a grown man with a boyish enthusiasm for adventure and danger. He also talks a lot of piffle, kind of in the style of Lord Peter Wimsey. Milland doesn’t seem to understand that you have to handle piffle lightly. He seems to take his piffle seriously, which makes him just appear nuts.

The father figure who balances the boyish Drummond is Col. Nielsen, a Scotland Yard inspector who tries to gently restrain his excesses. Nielsen is played by various actors in the series, most interestingly by John Barrymore. Being Barrymore, he gets top billing in the films in which he appears, and takes a more active part in the story. Instead of an aged, sedentary figure, Barrymore’s Nielsen is a mature daredevil in his own right, mixing personally in the main action. I have no doubt that Barrymore insisted on this, and that the scripts were rewritten to make him a more romantic figure. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t originally demand the part of Drummond.

It’s fascinating to watch Barrymore at work. His style of acting was entirely different from the sort of thing we have today. He represented an older thespian tradition that centered on conveying the beauty of the text, rather than baring the soul of the character. Very often, in this blog, when I compare the things of the past to the things of the present, I’m advocating for the old stuff. I don’t feel that way about acting. The old style of acting may have had its beauties, but I like the new way of doing things better.

I did a play with a guy in Florida, when I was in community theatre, who belonged to the old Barrymore school. He didn’t so much speak his lines as utter them. He struck attitudes on stage, and presented his profile for the admiration of the audience. He had a hundred pointless stories about his days in theatre in New York City—all the plays he did that failed, all the big plays he almost did, and all the famous people he exchanged a couple words with at parties. (The character of Sean in Blood and Judgment is based on him, to some extent.) He was an older man than I, but not so old that he wouldn’t have been a contemporary of Marlon Brando and all the actors of the Method school. I can only assume he made a conscious decision to reject Stanislavsky. If so, he made a bad choice. Then again, based on my acquaintance with him, I’m not sure he possessed the minimum intelligence necessary to practice the Method. All in all he was an ass, and nasty to the techies and stagehands, which is always the mark of a coxcomb.

I did appreciate the opportunity to observe a dinosaur in action, though.

(One final observation: the actress Heather Angel, who often played Drummond's fiancee in the films, was absolutely adorable.)

Coffee Roaster Cited on Odor Ordinance

Are you reading this with your afternoon coffee? How's it smell? How's your co-worker smell? Wait, I'm digressing.

In Rockland, Maine, the owners of the Rock City Coffee Roasters must deal with neighborhood complaints that it gives off an unpleasant aroma. One man said, "It's not the same odor you get when you walk by the coffee grinder at a supermarket. That's pleasant, but this was not." But some others disagree, like the 1,200 folks who sign the "Save Our Smell" petition.

The End is Near: Students Drink Tea

I took up drinking tea in college (strong and bitter)and that debauchery quickly led to coffee drinking. I did use a strainer or infuser, which is one up on a couple of my friends who just put the tea leaves into their mugs and tried to drink it up before it grew too bitter. Their last swallow was always the worst. Anyway, I'm sure my grades suffered for my vices, but I'm not ashamed of my past. I'm looking ahead.

It's with a heavy heart that I notice tea-drinking is on the rise at the University of South Florida and apparently other college campuses as well. There are tea lounges with student artwork and occasional Halo competitions. But the worst of it is Bubble Tea.

Bubble tea comes in a variety of forms and flavors. Choices range from more familiar tastes such as green milk tea to more exotic ones such as taro - a tropical vegetable - milk tea. Essentially, it is tea with milk or creamer.

The drinks can be ordered with or without boba - sweet, chewy tapioca pearls that sink to the bottom of the cup. The pearls look like bubbles, giving the tea its name. Though the gummy-bear consistency is strange at first, the little pearls are oddly likeable.

"Almond vanilla milk tea is the most popular," Nguye said. He said he also recommends mango and peach-flavored slushies.
Taro milk tea, eh? And I sold my soul to Earl Grey.

East is east and west is west, unless I'm following a map

Made my annual trip to the tax preparer after work tonight. I ended up a victim of Urban Sprawl, as the business had moved way the heck out to the northwest (where the buffalo still roam and men are men, I trust). I had their directions with me, but as I followed the road eastward, (apparently) past all development, and found myself surrounded by gravel pits, I figured I must have gone the wrong way (I often get turned around, reading maps. I think I have an internal compass, but I also have an internal distorting magnet). So I turned back west, and that was no better. Finally I broke down and used my cell phone to call them (costs me money, since mine is designed for emergencies only. Which this was), and the lady explained that I’d been right the first time. I’d just lost confidence.

There’s a lesson here, I suppose. Something about putting your hand to the plow and not looking back, or Lot's wife, or something. You can be wrong because you went the wrong way, or you can be wrong because you went the right way, but insufficiently.

In my heart, though, I believe that if I’d stubbornly kept on east on my first try, the space-time continuum would have spiraled, the earth’s crust would have shifted, and my goal would have turned out to be west after all.

Have a good weekend.

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