"In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."

- John McCain, in a speech, September 4, 2008

Today is my birthday, and I'll be driving down to a point in southern Minnesota after work, to have dinner with my brother. So probably no posting tonight.

Bonnie & Clyde: Nothing heroes for a nothing world-view

You already know that I keep novelist Stephen Hunter's picture in a locket, close to my heart. He proves (once again) his worthiness of such adoration in this marvelous piece in Commentary about Bonnie and Clyde--both the movie and the actual persons.

I always held pretty much this opinion. I just didn't know enough to say it so well.

Tip: Threedonia.

Four Lost Wodehouse Playlets Found

Four short, satirical plays written by P.G. Wodehouse between 1904-1907 have been discovered and show the great comic author's politics. He wrote them in support of British conservatives and those arguing for tariff reform.

Literary historian Paul Spiring discovered the works. "They are quite powerful," he said, "and show that he was very much a supporter of the Tariff Reform League and pro-Chamberlain. His writing has often given people the impression that he was above politics. But the songs show that he was quite astute."

P G Wodehouse

September 1928: English novelist Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881 - 1975), creator of the characters Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves, at the door of his home at Hunstanton Hall, Norfolk. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)

Catalina's Riddle, by Steven Saylor

I picked up a couple of Steven Saylor’s Rome Sub Rosa novels because James Lileks praises them highly, and I have a high opinion of James’ taste. Unfortunately, I find I can’t share his enthusiasm.

Not to say the two I’ve read have been bad books. Catilina’s Riddle, which I just finished, and The Venus Throw, which I reviewed a while ago, are well-researched and well-written mysteries centered on the political conflicts that convulsed the Roman republic during the ascendancy of Cicero and the rise of Julius Caesar.

This story starts in 63 B.C. Gordianus the Finder, the detective hero of the series, has settled down on a farm in Etruria, some distance north of Rome, which he inherited from a friend. His new farm is entirely surrounded by the properties of his late friend’s siblings, and they (with one exception) do not welcome him. But Gordianus has had his belly full of Rome and its intrigues. The simple life of a gentleman farmer looks very good to him.

Neverthless, his past—in the person of an agent of his old patron, Cicero—intrudes. Cicero has an odd request. He wants Gordianus to play host to (and to spy on) Cicero’s own greatest political enemy, the charismatic young politician Catilina. Gordianus is sick of Cicero, and initially refuses. But he changes his mind after a headless body shows up in one of his barns. He interprets this as a threat, and begins to realize that you can flee Rome, but Rome will always follow you. Thus he gets more and more enmeshed in the plots and counter-plots of Cicero and Catilina. As in The Venus Throw, the actual murder mystery—the question of the headless body, along with two more that follow—turns out to be a footnote to the great events that overtake them all by the end of the story. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Health Care: The Right to Grant is the Right to Deny

Dalrymple on the rights of health care, the role of government, and what tax-funded health care has done in the U.K.:

. . . the right to grant is also the right to deny. And in times of economic stringency, when the first call on public expenditure is the payment of the salaries and pensions of health-care staff, we can rely with absolute confidence on the capacity of government sophists to find good reasons for doing bad things.

. . . After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.
(via Frank Wilson)


One of my co-workers came to see me in my office today. He said he was interested in writing. He was particularly curious, he said, as to how a writer develops a style.

Here’s the answer I gave him. It’s probably not the last word on the matter, but this is how I understand it, based on my own experience.

First, you find an author you’d like to be like. And you try to write like him (or her). This isn’t actually part of the process as such. It’s just where most of us start. You've got to start somewhere, so most of us start as imitators. When I was a kid, I tried to write like Poe, I recall.

This derivative writing is the raw material from which you begin to build your identity as a writer. It’s Square One, nothing more, really.
Thinkstock Single Image Set Read the rest of this entry . . .

A Shining Moment of Chivalry

Sharon Pelletier writes on her experience among chivalrous men. I used to be chivalrous. Perhaps I still am, but I feel like it anymore. Maybe my light is dimming. Maybe when the dragons you fight are within you, that feeling of chivalry gets lost.

How Is a Novelist Like a Gardener?

They both go digging around. Man, that's bad. Gimme a minute to come up with a better answer. In the meantime, Athol Dickson has returned to blogging and talks about the similarities betwixt novel writing and gardening.

hmm, how is a novelist . . . The good ones call a spade a spade?

Government Representatives Ride in Herds

I am told the Congressman John Conyers, seen in this video, has argued in the past that congressman should read the bills they are passing. Through the link, you'll see him making fun of that idea.

Voting on legislation you have not read is completely immoral! I can understand partial readings and using summaries in part, but more than once congressmen have been surprised by the bills they voted into law, and that must stop. Throw them out, if they can't keep up with things on Capitol Hill, and for the leaders in both parties who encourage herd mentalities with our congressmen, throw them out too or raise the noise make them slow down to represent us, not their party or lobbyists or any special interests other than us.

"Save the World, Save Time for Tea"

John Wofford reviews Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for Patrol. He writes:
"In Smith’s promises that Zombies transforms Austen’s 'masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read,' and press materials that declare Austen 'unavailable for media contact,' Pride and Prejudice and Zombies becomes a calculated twist on our own media-saturated, nothing-as-sacred/everything-as-entertainment approach to … well, everything."

15 Books

(This is a meme from Facebook. I figured I'd cross-post it.)

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

1. The Bible. Obvious, but also true.
2. The Screwtape Letters. The first book that told me that reason was of God, and that God approves of pleasure. Seemed too good to be true at the time.
3. That Hideous Strength. A difficult book that's worth wrestling with. The inspiration for Wolf Time.
4. The Lord of the Rings. I'll never forget my first reading of the Mines of Moria scenes, and the charge of the Riders of Rohan.
5. Heimskringla. The essential text for all my novels.
6. Mere Christianity. It all seems so elementary today, but on my first reading I struggled with every page.
7. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. Almost a perfect book.
8. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. A friend mentioned my name to him personally, recently! I made squealing noises like a teenage girl.
9. Prince Ombra, by Roderick MacLeish. An obscure, but extremely fine, adult fantasy that was very inspirational to me before I got published.
10. The God Who is There, by Francis Schaeffer. Actually, any number of his early works could be mentioned here.
11. Moby Dick. I waited until I was an adult to read it, and so had the privilege of actually enjoying it.
12. Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. The first Shakespeare play I read.
13. Conan the Adventurer, by Robert E. Howard. First gave me the idea that I could write heroic fantasy myself.
14. The Bishop/Weiss trilogy by Andrew Klavan. A hard-boiled detective story on an entirely higher plane.
15. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Who can forget his first Sherlock Holmes?

Speling styll maturs

If you don't think spelling matters, you'd still better watch it when you're programming your GPS. This couple in Italy misspelled "Capri" and ended up driving 400 miles in the wrong direction.

When the World Ends

I'm not sure what all Czeslaw Milosz is thinking about in his poem, "A Song On the End of the World," but the closing seems to speak to those who could take up a higher call, but do not because they are too busy.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
No other end of the world will we anticipate, because we have today's simple worries to occupy us. No high calling is on us than to clothe and feed ourselves. Some of us could be prophets, teachers, leaders, or encouragers, but we aren't because we're too busy or maybe too distracted. Maybe we're blogging too much.

I suppose the first step out of this is prayer.

Back When Everyone Read His Grammar Book

Where are you in the grammar debate/squabble over singular third person pronouns? When anybody is opening a door, should we write that anybody is opening his door, his or her door, or their door? I'll state upfront that using his or her is just a waste of words and speedbump in your sentence. The issue is really whether we should use the singular his or the plural their, becoming comfortable with their being used for one person.

Until today, I thought his was the singular, gender neutral pronoun, and unless you're talking about girls (like I am when I talk about the little people in my home), then you should say things like everyone should use his napkin, not his shirt. This afternoon, I read in an NYT article that they has been used for individuals for centuries, and a grammarian named Anne Fisher changed it.

Fisher’s popular guide, “A New Grammar” (1745), ran to more than 30 editions, making it one of the most successful grammars of its time. More important, it’s believed to be the first to say that the pronoun he should apply to both sexes. . . . Meanwhile, many great writers — Byron, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, Trollope and more — continued to use they and company as singulars, never mind the grammarians.
Well, if Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, et al used it, I'm not going to complain ever again.

How is Reading for 'Escape' a Bad Thing?

Suitcase near antique wooden doorway on beach Travis Prinzi writes about fantasy in literature, leaning on Tolkien's Fairy Stories essay. He asks why do many readers assume authors are just writing for the fun of it, not crafting an artwork to one degree or another.

The real “gnosticism” in this discussion is not the artist who builds a story on an imaginative key, but one who thinks that books provide some “escape” from the “real world,” and that this escape is a good thing. Tolkien wrote,

Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in a prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

For Tolkien, the pejorative use of “escapism” was married to the false belief that current trends define Real Life – the electric street lamp, for example, is nowhere near as permanent as Lightning. But most of us know more about the lamp, because it’s more relevant to our daily existence. The fairy-tale takes us to the lightning, the “more permanent thing.”
More permanent things--that's what I want to write about.

Hobbit Movie In the Rapids

Heirs to the Tolkien Estate say they are owed money on The Lord of the Rings and want to stop the production of The Hobbit. Speaking at Comic-Con, Peter Jackson said The Hobbit has yet to gain funding.

Are there ghost-writers in the sky?

Alisa Harris, at the World Magazine blog, writes about the ethical question of pastors cribbing sermon outlines—sometimes whole homilies—from online sermon caches.

As an aside, she links to an article from bnet, about the use of ghostwriters in Christian publishing.

Such things are common in the industry. When my first novel, Erling’s Word (fair warning—you don’t need to buy that book if you have The Year of the Warrior. TYOTW incorporates it entirely in a double volume) was published by Baen, it came out the same month as the “first novel” by an actor who’d worked in a very famous science fiction TV series. Everybody knew, I think, that this actor hadn’t really written the book. Probably hadn’t even contributed much. A fledgeling author was listed as co-author, but it was understood that she’d done the real work, while the actor had contributed the considerable market value of his name. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Trouble with Forgiveness

Bill quotes a bit from Jared Wilson's new books, Your Jesus Is Too Safe (coming to a blog near you). In short, Jared observes that healing grace burns.

Jars of Clay on Love for Coffee

Charlie Lowell of the band Jars of Clay talks about coffee (shout out to Crema in Nashville) and a little about the band's mission work, Blood:Water.

Q: You guys do a lot of work in Africa with Blood:Water. Do you ever think about how some of the coffees you drink, obviously the ones from Africa, are impacted by the work you do getting clean water wells and HIV medication to a lot of those villages that include coffee farmers?
CL: Yes, that's quite a connection. We watched the documentary "Black Gold" a couple years ago on our bus, and it was crazy how things trickle down- little decisions we make day in and out do affect others around the globe. It is simply amazing to see how village/community life changes with the addition of a clean-water well. Kids are in school instead of fetching dirty water, women can work on micro-finance, and general health is improved greatly.

Twitter on Words

The Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster, Peter Sokolowski, is tweeting on word searches. He notes there have been many requests for the definition of "stupidly," due to President Obama's press conference last week. Do the citizens of the Interweb not know what "stupidly" means? Looking up "nefarious" I can understand and "avuncular" got a boost from talk on W. Cronkite, but "stupidly"?

Who Is Stereotyping Here?

Are you up to speed on the flap over Professor Henry Louis Gates' arrest for disorderly behavior and complaints of racism: I don't blame you if you aren't, but I found this bit of the story too fascinating to pass up. The WSJ observes:

Gates, however, has managed to get tripped up by his own prejudices. Another Gates quote we noted yesterday was this: “If [Crowley] apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling. . . . That’s what I do for a living.”

As it turns out, that’s what Crowley does for a living. The Boston Herald explains: Crowley . . . has taught a racial profiling class at the Lowell Police Academy for five years. His academy class, which he teaches with a black police officer, instructs about 60 police cadets per year . . .

Among the miscellany

At Collected Miscellany, Kevin Holtsberry gives West Oversea a nice review.

Far-flung phenomena on a Friday

Thanks for the nice--nay, flattering--review, Phil. It was so encouraging that I celebrated by making myself a turkey sandwich with two (2) slices of turkey on it for supper.

In the house where I grew up, that qualified as extravagance.

S. T. Karnick,
over at his The American Culture blog, reviews the movie "Public Enemies," and finds it wanting. I think I'll give that one a pass. (And I don't care what anybody says. There's no resemblance whatever between Johnny Depp and John Dillinger.)

Dr. Gene Edward Veith,
at Cranach, links to a post by Matthew Kratz at Sola Fide, in which he shares some information from Mark Noll's book, The New Shape of World Christianity. Dr. Veith himself notes:

In my own tradition, there are lots more Lutherans in Africa (12 million) than there are in America (9 million). The Lutheran church in Madagascar (3.5 million) is bigger than the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (2.5 million).

Madagascar was a chief traditional field of Norwegian Lutherans. Not only Norwegians from the homeland, but young Norwegian-American pioneer churches, spent years and tears and blood in that country. I know several people who grew up in missionary homes there.

West Oversea, by Lars Walker

I’m hesitating a bit on how to review Lars’ latest adventure. You’ve seen several other reviews both light and heavy on details, so a straight-forward review like the last one I wrote isn’t appropriate. It would not advance the storyline, as it were. I’m also tempted to write something very silly such as a long-winded ramble about my daily life, barely touching on the book itself, or a review promising full spoilers and offering none. I don’t care to write either of those.

West Oversea by Lars Walker If you are not already convinced by reading it yourself, Lars has written a darn good story in “Westward Ho” (see, I can barely stop myself). It begins strong; the conflict which prompts Erling Skjalgsson to sail west comes upfront. New problems emerge along the way, both small and large, and just when you start to wonder if the heroes will ever return home, the battle flames hot again. But this is what you already know. Let me write about other things, making this a review supplemental (though you already got some of that in the Q&A we posted before).

West Oversea is written within a beautifully rich framework. It is like an actor who does not break his character, even when everyone else goes off-script. Several decisions the characters make are not fully explained to the modern reader, making the story more believable and less of a teaching tool. So many Christian works of fiction seem to want to teach more than tell stories, but if they were to follow Shakespeare’s example, much as West Oversea does, their stories would be better and their readers may have more to talk about. I’m thinking of how Hamlet dies at the end of his play, not because it’s more dramatic for him to bite it along with the others, but for the sake of justice. He had murdered Polonius, therefore his life was justly forfeit—a life for a life unjustly taken, the essence of capital punishment. Does Shakespeare ever spell that out to us? No. Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Friday Fight: In Great Need

Medieval Woman Defending Her Castle

"And the dagger is to defend yourself at great need. For you also are not to be in the battle."

"Why, sir? I think--I don't know--but I think I could be brave enough."

"That is not the point. But battles are ugly when women fight."

Of course, the dialogue is from Narnia, but I don't know what this public doman image is meant to represent. Do you know if this is meant to show a specific woman in a story or battle?

Educational post

I’ve joined a Kvalavåg group on Facebook. Kvalavåg (as I’ve probably told you already) is a farm (more of a rural community today) on Karmøy Island, Norway. My great-grandfather was born there, and if it weren’t for the xenophobia of a naturalization judge who asked my great-granduncle, “Why don’t you call yourself by an American name?” my last name would probably be Kvalavåg today. Or Qualevaag, in the spirit of the orthography of the age. (Norwayphilia aside, I’m not sure I’d really care to have to spell my name for people six times a day.)

Anyway, somebody in the group linked to an Ikkepedia page for Kvalavåg. (Ikkepedia is related to the English language Uncyclopedia. It’s a good pun because “ikke” means “not” in Norwegian.) Having nothing amusing of my own to tell you tonight, I thought I’d translate the entry for you below. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Personal, Public Character Made America

Bret Stephens:

It’s a safe bet that 100 years from now most half-way educated people will know about Neil Armstrong. It’s also a safe bet that in a century the name Michael Jackson will be familiar only to five or six cultural anthropologists and, possibly, a medical historian. So what does it say about the United States in 2009 that the late moon-walker is a household name but the living one is not? . . . much of what made the Apollo missions such a tribute to America was the character of the astronauts: their clipped exchanges between Houston and the spacemen; or Lovell, Anders and Borman reading from Genesis on Apollo 8; or the unflappable Flight Director Gene Kranz working the problems of Apollo 13 to triumph.
He contrasts these thoughts with what is promoted in celebrity culture. (HT: Big Hollywood)

How abortion oppresses women

Chad the Elder, over at Fraters Libertas, links to a (subscription only) story at First Things, about how the availability of abortion made unplanned pregnancies entirely "the woman's problem," and encouraged irresponsibility in men.

But once continuing a pregnancy to birth is the result neither of passion nor of luck but only of her deliberate choice, sympathy weakens. After all, the pregnant woman can avoid all her problems by choosing abortion. So if she decides to take those difficulties on, she must think she can handle them.

Birth itself may be followed by blame rather than support. Since only the mother has the right to decide whether to let the child be born, the father may easily conclude that she bears sole responsibility for caring for the child. The baby is her fault.

Monkey Meme

Here's a simple meme. 1. Post a monkey picture with these rules. 2. Link to the post which inspired you to post the meme. I post this photo in honor The Thinklings.

Smiling Chimp

[This, of course, is an ape, not a monkey.]

Of windows and work

I had a couple guys come out today to do some work on my basement windows. I’d found dry rot in some of them a while back, and they replaced some wood and covered over the healthy stuff with aluminum. For a reasonable price.

Afterwards, when the main guy came in and I was writing him a check, he looked at a picture of Jesus on my wall and asked, “Are you a believer?” I said, “Yes, I am.”

This pleases me immensely. I liked him right off when he came out to do his estimate (though I must admit I made my decision based on the sizes of the bids), and I like to imagine I recognized a brother in Christ through my remarkable powers of spiritual discernment.

In other news, I’ve been noodling with a new book recently, but wasn’t sure where I was going with the thing. As is so often the case, I had a character and a setting, but no plot to speak of.

Today, in the course of my regular work, I stumbled on an idea I think may be intriguing, and fairly fresh. It has to do with quantum physics and time and theology, subjects on which I am (needless to say) an acknowledged expert.

Or at least the low bidder.

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