"“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” “Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” "

- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Still Looking for a Resolution?

Here's an introduction to falconry. Be the first on your block to master this skill.

On Combat, by Grossman and Christensen

It's considered prudent of late to announce it when the book you're reviewing is one you've gotten for free. I'll not only admit, but brag, that I got Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's and Loren W. Christensen's On Combat as a gift. Col. Grossman (whose Two-Space War books I've reviewed here and here) sent it to me in response to a question I asked him about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A book like this will be of no interest to some of you, and I think the authors would be the first to admit that if you're one of them, it very likely speaks well of you. But for those involved with violence, whether as soldiers or police officers, or those who love them, or just armchair storytellers like me, this study is both valuable and fascinating.

The art of war has been studied since before history was written. Societies have learned, and passed on, the training and coping techniques necessary to help the warrior to conquer and survive. It's only recently, as technology has altered the face of warfare in ways unimaginable to our ancestors, that it has become possible—and necessary—to figure out precisely what happens to people in a deadly fight, and what can be done to help them overcome one of the most traumatic experiences of life. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Straight from the shoulder

Over at the mighty Powerline blog, Scott Johnson publishes an exclusive statement from the great Stephen Hunter. Hunter writes about his latest Bob Lee Swagger novel, I, Sniper, and about what it was like to be a conservative journalist at liberal newspapers. Well worth reading.

I know you follow my health with passionate interest,
so I'll mention that I saw the doctor again yesterday. She told me that (contrary to my own views) I'm recovering from my bronchitis. It's just taking a while.

I also asked her about the sore shoulder I've been enduring for some months, in the Norwegian manner—“No point spending money on medical advice. It'll probably get better by itself. If it actually starts to turn blue and the fingernails fall out, then I'll have it looked at.” I figured it was probably bursitis.

To my delight, she informed me it's not bursitis, but tendonitis. This was gratifying, because in my mind bursitis is something old people get, while tendonitis is something that happens to young athletes. It appears I'm not doomed to feel like this for the rest of my life, but will be permitted to continue to delude myself that my gray hair is premature.

Oddities from 2009

I'm not back to full speed on my blogging--whatever that means--but I want to direct your attention today to news and items which are probably not worth your attention, but they will make for some darn interesting conversation with the certain people, maybe those people you'd like to avoid.

First, The Very Short List points out Abebooks' Wierd Titles, a collection of books you may have seen at the used bookstore and wonder how the fruit something like that got published. Pratical titles like Help! A Bear Is Eating Me! and impractical ones like The Teach Your Chicken to Fly Training Manual. Of course, there are several of unsavory titles, and I don't mean Critter Cuisine, the guide to dishes made from your backyard. Be forewarned.

Second, Obit Magazine has a feature story on bizarre deaths from this year. For example, "in Vienna, Austria, Gunter Link, a devout Catholic, grabbed a pillar at church as he gave thanks for being rescued from a stuck elevator." Somehow the pillar supported a 860lb. stone monument and was unstable enough to topple and crush him. Worshippers attending Mass the next day discovered the body.

"The Post-Ironic Age"

The Monty Python Gang
I think I ensured my immortality today, and I want to publicize it here, just to make sure I get full credit.

“Trzupr” over at Threedonia, posted this interesting piece today, about the irony of Disney building a “Tree of Life” in its Animal Kingdom, to teach the sacred value of natural things, and actually building the object out of man-made materials, on the frame of an oil rig.

I pointed out in comments that this was similar to using the most technology-heavy movie in history to preach the evils of technology. And then I wrote, “We have reached the Post-Ironic Age.”

The more I think about it, the more I like that phrase. Read the rest of this entry . . .

A couple Christmas carols

I have another Sissel clip for you tonight! Amazing! What are the odds?

I used to do this one myself, as a solo, back when I sang. It always meant a lot to me.

I think I saw Sissel in this dress the first time I heard her live in Minot. So this is probably the same year. And the hair looks right.

As is my wont,
I'll give you a Christmas poem by G. K. Chesterton. (It's odd, but I've never found any poet, no matter how great, who did Christmas better than he.)

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

A blessed Christmas to you and yours.

Christmas Eve Ghost Story

An illuminated window on a dark night
Clock face is blinking. All is not calm, despite acceptable profits, contract bonuses—some unavoidable layoffs. Year end in the black as starless night, silent night, without bells or winds. On Christmas Eve, only sleepless, blinking red numbers.

But who's on the lawn below? Hollow-eyed, ashen children are kicking cans, and are they singing? I throw up the sash. “Born to raise the sons of earth . . .” they rattle.

I start to yell, but a rag-wrapped child grabs my hand. “I would have been seven this Christmas.”

I jerk back, and they're gone, leaving my hand chilled.

-- -- --
I wrote this in response to Loren Eaton's group solicitation for 100-word advent ghost stories. Read more such stories by way of his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall.

"Silent Night" from Sissel, plus some nonsense

First of all, to set you up for the insult, I've got this clip (I think from the same concert as last night's song), where the Divine Sissel, along with a guy named Odd Nordstoga (I'm guessing he's Swedish, but can't say for sure; no relation to Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas) do the Norwegian version of "Silent Night." For some reason, instead of mentioning the silence of the night, as the German and English versions do, the Norwegian translation just says, "Glade jul, hellige jul," which means, "Merry Christmas, holy Christmas." In any case, I think it's a very nice arrangement. The country-sounding fiddle the guy in back is playing is actually the famous, double-strung Hardanger fiddle.
Read the rest of this entry . . .

"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"

As we near the Christmas holiday, the weather forecast calls for increasing snow up to Christmas day, when we expect a blizzard.

Just about a classic Minnesota December.

Somewhere, I suspect there's a climatologist desperately drafting a news release that will say, "The unsettling normality of this winter's weather is a sure sign of catastrophic climate change."

As a treat, because you've been good (except for Roy Jacobsen), I'll share this video, only about a month old, of the Divine Sissel, singing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" in a concert in Oslo.

Garrison Keillor's secret celebration

One of our readers, Pastor Karl Anderson, alerted me to this recent column by Garrison Keillor, of whom I imagine you've heard.

It's a very odd column, from someone who (I'm told) is a very odd man. The most interesting part is here:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own d*mn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

This remarkable passage is notable for being at once gratifying and infuriating. It does my heart good to know that Mr. Keillor cares about the truths of Christianity, the uniqueness of Christ, the importance of the Incarnation, all that culturally inconvenient stuff that makes the difference between true belief and mere sentiment. Good on him for that.

But then he goes on to insult Jewish songwriters (like Johnny Marks, whom Mark Steyn has been eulogizing this season) who write perfectly pleasant, seasonal songs loved by millions, as if propagating some kind of low dose Blood Libel. It's the sort of out-of-left-field change of argument one expects from a stubborn spouse (or so I've heard) who's in a bad mood and just wants a fight.

I have a theory on what Keillor's really thinking here. Like most theories (most especially mine) it's probably wrong, but I'll wheel it out and let you tell me what you think. Bear in mind that I can claim some insight into Keillor's mind because, like him, I'm a) a small town Minnesotan by upbringing, b) pathologically shy (though I've never figured out how somebody as diffident as he claims to be has managed to be married so many times. Wish I knew where to shop for that kind of shyness), and c) closely associated with Lutheranism. Read the rest of this entry . . .

"Walkin' in my Vinter Undervear"

Here's a winter's blast from my childhood. This original clip comes from a retrospective (done some years ago now) about the old "Lunch with Casey" kids' show, which ran on Channel 11 here in the Twin Cities. The late Roger Awsumb (the name's right; not sure of the spelling) played Casey Jones the railroad engineer. But for this spot, he donned a union suit and lip-synched a song from one of our indigenous Scandinavian-dialect parodists. I'm pretty sure it was either Yogi Yorgeson or Stan Boreson.

You may be surprised (or not) to learn that there was some controversy about this very popular bit. A number of older people complained that underwear humor was unsuited to children's entertainment.

It was a more innocent time...

Wish YouTube had a clip of the fractured "A Night Before Christmas" from the "Axel and His Dog" show. I may post the text here this week, anyway.

Gifts for the Christ Child

Health Food Junk Food
I read a Christmas story the other night to my oldest daughter and finished it misty eyed. It was “The Christmas Apple” by Ruth Sawyer, first published in the book This Way to Christmas in 1944. A poor, very skilled clockmaker labors for years over a beautiful, nativity-themed clock in order to present it to the Holy Mother and Child during the annual church procession of gifts. The entire village attends the procession to worship the Lord on Christmas Eve, and many believe that the statue of the Christ Child will reach out to receive an especially prized gift, should one ever be offered. No one still living had ever seen this miracle.

When Christmas Eve arrives, a long-time friend of his tells him with tears that her father has fallen sick and all of their Christmas money was spent on the hospital bill. The clockmaker tells her not to worry, that he would sell a clock, and give them the money for their tree, treats, and decorations. He goes door to door, trying to sell his best clock, but he cannot sell it to anyone. He finally goes to the richest man in the village, and that man says he will buy a clock, but not the one being offering. The rich man wants to buy the fabulous nativity-themed clock which has been in the clockmaker's shop window. Of course, the clockmaker does not want to sell it, but in the end, he does, taking less than one percent of the offered price.

Once again without anything to give during the Christmas procession, the clockmaker starts to go to church, Read the rest of this entry . . .

Some links for your Christmas stocking

First of all, our friend Roy Jacobsen of Writing, Clear and Simple discusses the all-important matter of "crappy first drafts." I've said this before myself, but Roy marshals the awesome authority of Ernest Hemingway in support. And he's even got an official "Crappy First Draft License" in .pdf format, which you can print out to post in your writing space.

I found this fascinating post by Christine at Mirabilis. She links to an article from The New Scientist which proposes what looks to me like a very strong argument as to what the "real meaning" of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is. It all goes back to the author's being a mathematician. Although I'm hopeless with numbers, the gist of the thing makes sense as far as I can tell.

And finally, from the redoubtable Dr. Gene Edward Veith at Cranach, a link to an article from the Biblical Archaeology Review, giving further support to an argument we've noted here before--that there's actually not a lot of evidence for the oft-repeated claim that "Christians celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th just because they took the holiday over from Roman pagans." Share this with that irritating guy in your church who tells you you're going to hell because you have a Christmas tree.

Avatar: "Narrow-minded," "Pulpit-pounding"

Jeffrey Overstreet reviews that sci-fi movie you've been hearing about:

The masterstroke of the original Star Wars' trilogy was its bold third-act subversion of audience hopes and expectations. Lucas made the villain we loved to hate into a redeemable human being, one who could be saved by grace. Avatar has nothing so bold or redeeming as that, nothing to discomfort audiences with the wild truth.

What begins as mythmaking devolves into political pulpit-pounding, a narrow-minded “war-for-oil” critique of recent and present-day American military interventions in the Middle East that sounds oh-so-2004.

That old heart/mind thing again

"Bronchitis," my doctor says. I'm on antibiotics as of an hour ago, and suddenly I feel very weary. Which is pretty much how I've felt for the last three weeks, so it's really not a change.

I'd like to direct your attention to the Grim's Hall blog, one of my favorites. They don't seem to have any mechanism for cutting individual posts out of the herd there, so in order to get to the post I want you to look at, you'll have to scroll down past Grim's mention of Joel Leggett's review of my book. With characteristic modesty, I shall say nothing at all about that.

But down below is a (to me) fascinating post on "The Force of History." It springboards off a discussion of the very problematic question of Swiss restrictions on minarets, and on to the whole question of how we argue from history, and how people use proofs in their actual, real-life thinking.

Grim says:

These [reasons] are likely to be emotional, not logical: as with our discussions on Aristotle, it is normally the non-rational part of the soul that determines ends. The rational part determines means. All he will learn from your argument is that he needs a different means to his ends.

This strikes me as an important point to understand. Most people don't reason forward from logic. They reason backward from conclusions that please their feelings, finding proofs to support them.

This is even true of Christian arguments. I'll go further. It's probably true of mine as well. I have a vision--an image that ravished my soul when I was a boy--and I've chosen chains of reasoning that suit that vision. To betray the vision would be like betraying a woman I love.

I don't mean to denigrate reason. Reason stands. It is valid. We should work, and work hard, to refine and maintain our logic.

But human beings are not computers. We operate by head and heart, and if we wish to win souls, we must not forget that. C.S. Lewis experienced what could well be described as an intellectual conversion. He was "talked around" by Tolkien and Dyson. But the "bait" in God's "trap" was Lewis' fascination with myth. When he saw that myth could be fact as well, Lewis discovered the heart of his own passion, in Jesus Christ.

Stories. Stories are so important. We serve a Lord who was a famous storyteller, and whose life is a famous story.

Guessing Game: Movie Edition

Illustrator Paul Rogers has a series of sketches based on well known movies. If you think you know your movies, then eyeball six sketches from each film, presented in order and without star actor's faces, and see if you can name it. I was pleased to recognize "39 Steps," but I most of these I've never seen.

Brief post, by an invalid

"I struck the board, and said, 'No more!'"

"That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!"

It's the last straw, the one that gave the camel hay fever.

Tomorrow I see the doctor. It takes a lot to drive me to such an extremity, but I've had my fill of this cold, or grippe, or malaise, or whatever you call it.

No Christmas cards got finished last night. Tonight, God willing.

Thanks to Joel Leggett at Southern Appeal, for this glowing review of West Oversea. I appreciate it very much, as does my publisher.

You really need to buy it as a Christmas gift, by the way. Seriously.

King of the north?

Oh, joy. My cold is creeping back up on me, just when I thought I was beginning to get better. What I actually think is happening is that I'm getting rolling colds--my weakened resistance picks up a new one whenever the last one's begun to weaken. Think of a wave pattern, like a sleep cycle.

I spent this afternoon learning CPR and AED (Automatic Electrical Defibrillator). They're installing AEDs at work, and want as many employees as possible to know how to use the things.

I actually think I'm more likely to need the device than to help anyone with it, but I took the training. Oddly disquieting. If you don't know how to help someone, you have a sort of built-in, guilty justification for doing nothing. If you do know how, there's a moral obligation to help. Helping is great if you're sure you'll succeed and everyone will look up to you as a hero. It's not so great if you do your best and fail. It's not great at all if you make a mistake and actually do harm.

My default mode has always been passivity. "Nothing ventured, nothing lost" is my motto.

But that's profoundly un-Christian. I'm convinced that that's a large part of what Jesus meant by the business of taking up your cross and following Him. You do right, you do what He would do, and accept the possibility you'll fail or be misunderstood (He was certainly misunderstood). "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell." (Matthew 10:28, NIV)

I have no natural leaning toward heroic living.

Speaking of people with no leaning toward the heroic, this article from France says that Mel Gibson plans to film a Viking movie next year (hurrah!). He plans to star Leonardo DiCaprio in it (wha...?).

That slapping sound you hear is me palming my face repeatedly.

10 Blogging Mistakes

Michael Hyatt writes about mistakes many people make on their blogs, like posting too much or too little, poor headlines, bad first paragraphs, and other stuff.

He also links to a free e-book called What Matters Now by Seth Godin and several others.

Creeps Preying on Novice Writers

Why self-publishing does not work (via How Publishing Really Works)

Lucy in the morning with candles

Yesterday was St. Lucy's Day. Not a big deal for the average American (even, I think, for the average American Catholic). But—oddly enough—for Scandinavian Lutherans “Luciadag” has traditionally been an important part of the Advent observation.

On the morning of December 13, all over Scandinavia (but especially in Sweden), you used to be able to see the eldest daughter of the household (at least back when they had multiple children) rise early, don a crown of lingonberry leaves with seven burning candles in it, and lead a procession of her sisters and brothers, all clad in white and singing. She served the family a ritual breakfast of coffee and special “Lucia buns.” Since the 1920s, the processional song has been this version of the old Sicilian (correction: Neapolitan) favorite:
Read the rest of this entry . . .

Giving Real Gifts at Christmas

For the Man Who Hated Christmas, a white envelope.

Turner Prize Goes to Beautiful Art

Is it beautiful or is carefully marketed? James Bowman writes: "To the shock, then, that the work should be unashamedly pretty we may add the shock that it should not be shocking as well as the additional and perhaps greatest shock of all, namely the suspicion that it is a bit of glorified interior decorating."

Discussion in Deep Weeds

The debate on the trustworthiness of climate science is into the deep weeds on this post on Change.org. I doubt I can keep up.

Winter: The official announcement

(My dad in the snow, sometime in the 1940s.)

Winter has arrived in earnest. The snow, like a snowy quilt, covers the snow-covered landscape like a quilt of snow. And it's cold as... cold as a quilt is not. I note this for the record; I'm not sure what else to say about it. I knew about winter when I enlisted. Could have stayed in Florida if I'd wanted to take the coward's way out.

I should spend more time being grateful. Unlike my dad long since, I don't have to go out twice a day to milk cows, and throw hay down from the loft, and shovel manure out of the barn. If I get really sick, I'll be able to just call in and tell the folks, “Carry on—somehow—without me.” I won't have to drag myself out of bed, wrap up in three layers, and do the danged chores anyway, finding something to lean on when I get lightheaded, because you can't let the animals starve.

It's beginning to look a lot like Hannukah (or Channukah). Best wishes to our Jewish friends (or friend).

sent me this link to a review from The Wall Street Journal, of the book Last Exit to Utopia, written by, of all things, a Frenchman. Looks excellent.

Have a good weekend. Stay warm. Or cold, if you prefer.

Author Allegedly Abused by Border Police

Canadian Author Peter Watts apparently put the wrong foot forward with U.S. border police in Port Huron, Michigan, because while on his way home, he says he was punched, pepper-sprayed, kicked, and jailed for three hours. He is considering a lawsuit, and some are raising money for him.

Author David Nickle says Mr. Watts is "effectively going up against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and he needs the best legal help that he can get."

Good Sledding in Norway

Gamlehaugen: Winter at the Norwegian Royal Family's home in Bergen, Norway

This is from outside the Bergen home of Norway's royal family. Here's another beautiful photo of this mansion in wintertime.

Kirkus Reviews Also Folds

Nielsen Business Media, which is closing down Editor & Publisher magazine, is also stopping production of Kirkus Reviews, which was known for it's honest, even blunt, book reviews. “There was no sense of any financial distress within the Kirkus brand," the editor said.

Editor & Publisher Magazine Folds

Editor & Publisher, a magazine which has covered the newspaper industry for 125 years, is closing down this month. The editor, Greg Mitchell, says it wasn't a complete surprised, but it kinda was.

Describing E&P, Mitchell states, "I don’t think there are too many trade publications that were as independent and critical as we are, and we made some people angry because of that. We were calling for more Web focus way before it was fashionable; we were critical of many moves the industry was making and not making . . ."

"They Oslo serve who only stand and wait"

Apparently the Norwegians haven't been bowled over by Pres. Obama's charm in Oslo, as he stopped off for a half an hour to pick up his award and buy some postcards in the VIP lounge in Gardermoen Airport. He stood up King Haakon, who'd invited him to dinner, skipped the Viking Ships Museum tour, and—and this really stung—failed to pose for the traditional “Edvard Munch's 'Scream'” photo.

I don't suppose today's speech, in which he stunned the civilized world by suggesting that sometimes it's actually necessary to wage war, helped him much. The Norwegians are still trying to live down the eternal shame of having carried on a resistance to the German invaders in World War II. Lives lost, infrastructure ruined, the economy smashed, ski holidays missed, and for what? Freedom. Independence. What an embarrassment. If the Nazis were still in charge, think how efficiently they'd be implementing Green policies today!

But in fact, insult has been the Democratic Party's stance toward Norway for years now. I remember my last visit to family over there, when my relatives were discussing a presidential visit by Bill Clinton. The big thing they remembered was that Clinton had sipped from a water glass while somebody was giving a speech. That's not done in Norway, apparently. (This bothered me a little, as I'd done the very same thing during a wedding reception I'd attended in Haugesund a few days earlier. But then I don't have a protocol office to advise me. On the other hand, Pres. Obama doesn't seem to have one either.)

I recalled an article I'd read some time before in a Norwegian paper, about how (the divine) Sissel Kyrkjebø had sung for a gathering in Washington, and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore had talked loudly all through her song.

Despite all this, Norway loves the Clintons.

Because that's the way to a Norwegian's heart. Kick him in the sardines.

The Germans should have tried that.

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