"Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts, and sighing for a place which they were destined never more to possess?"

- Alexander Hamilton, speaking of ex-presidents
"I'm an artist! I cannot work under these conditions!"

The annual Danish Tivoli Fest in Elk Horn, Iowa is history now. I fear it won't be remembered as one of the best. The combination of a bad economy and rainy weather kept the crowds well down from last year.

As you may guess from this picture (though all the tents aren't shown), our Viking encampment was also smaller. Which isn't to say we didn't have a good time. I'd say we had a very good time. We had a big battle on Saturday, and although I failed to survive any of the skirmishes, I wasn't physically hurt at all, which is a fairly rare thing. The crowd for the fighting was large under the circumstances, and they were enthusiastic.

I didn't sell many books.

Still, I consider it a success because I finished getting the footage I wanted for my Epic Book Trailer. Now I'm in the throes of learning film editing on the job. The big challenge will be sound—lots of wind noise in the outdoor shots, which was most of the shots.

I don't think there's an audio editor in Windows Live Movie Maker, except for music, though I'll have to look again.

If I'm distracted for the next few weeks, it'll be because I'm pondering my challenges as an auteur.

My place in The American Culture

Mike Gray at The American Culture posted pieces about my books not once, but three times, over the Memorial Day weekend.

A review of the Erling books is here.

An interview with me is here.

And a selection of quotations can be found here.

Thanks, Mike. I'm blushing, but not so much that I'd ask you to take them down.

Underground Jerusalem

File this under: Super Cool Old Stuff. Old streets, rooms in medieval buildings, and ancient Roman sewers are being opened under Jerusalem for tourist use adding a new sub-level of antiquity to an already ancient city.

South of the Old City, visitors to Jerusalem can enter a tunnel chipped from the bedrock by a Judean king 2,500 years ago and walk through knee-deep water under the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Beginning this summer, a new passage will be open nearby: a sewer Jewish rebels are thought to have used to flee the Roman legions who destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D.

Memorial Day

To our fallen. I don't say it enough, but I owe you guys.

"O beautiful for heroes prov'd"

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Parade Flags

I took this photo on Saturday during the 1809s Day parade through Ringgold, Georgia.

Not Death. No, Not That Yet

It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down.
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all,
The figures I have seen
Set orderly for burial
Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped
And space stares all around,
Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,
Repeal the beating ground;

But most like chaos, stopless, cool,
Without a chance, or spar,
Or even a report of land
To justify despair.

Emily Dickinson's "It Was Not Death", first published in 1891.

100K to Avoid College for Two Years

Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, has launched a fellowship to award $100,000 to 24 people who will decide not to attend college for two years and spend that time developing business concepts. This, Roger Kimball writes, "is just the latest sign that the edifice of higher education is looking more and more like the House of Usher."

Klavan Reviews Mamet's Secret Knowledge

Andrew Klavan reviews playwright David Mamet's new book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.

In fact, "The Secret Knowledge," written in Mr. Mamet's tough and funny style, is entertainingly informative. But the book only really becomes indispensable when it is personal and specific to Mr. Mamet's experience.

The Search and The Snare

Walker Percy: "The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."

John Flavel: "It may keep one more humble and watchful in prosperity, to consider that among Christians many have been much the worse for it."

Click the links for more from each author.

Live Steel Combat: Tivoli Fest

As Lars said yesterday, he is raiding and pillaging Elk Horn, Iowa, for the rich spoils of the Tivoli Fest. Here's a bit of what he may be doing this weekend.

This video is from last year's Tivoli Fest.

Loose Baggy Monsters

BooksErin O'Connor writes about reading long novels, those works she says Henry James called "Loose Baggy Monsters."

The psychology of feeling that one should, of giving it a go, of wanting it to work, of bogging down, of eventually admitting–if only to oneself–failure, and, finally, at a later date, when the frustration has faded, of doing it all again–that’s a psychology that is, I think, pretty specific to long works of fiction. They demand a lot of your time–and a lot of you. They will color your imagination and dominate your inner dream-scape while you are involved with them. Reading really long works of fiction is more than reading–it’s having a relationship. It’s not surprising that they evoke some commitment anxiety.

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

A moving presentation by Pastor Francis Chan on understanding the mind and motives of God related to justice and mercy.

Have a good weekend

I'm off to Elk Horn, Iowa, as is my wont over Memorial Day weekend, for the Tivoli Fest. If you're in the area (southwest Iowa) and interested in stopping by, it will be hard to miss us. The festival brochure can be downloaded here.

"The Six Pillars of Saga Reliability"

(The following article by Prof. Torgrim Titlestad of the University of Stavanger [pictured above] was published by Saga Bok Publishers on their website here. What follows is my translation, posted here at the request of Saga Bok. lw)

Changes in attitudes toward the sagas

Up until the 1900s, the sagas were regarded as highly reliable, and Norway had several eminent professors in the field, such as Gustav Storm and Alexander Bugge. But in the past century the sagas have been regarded as generally unreliable as historical sources. Instead, they have been described as brilliant romances. Progressive historians like Lauritz Weibull (of Sweden) and Halvdan Koht (of Norway) promoted this view through most of the 20th Century. Nevertheless it appears that, beginning in the 1990s, this trend has begun to change, and Prof. Sverre Bagge of the Univ. of Bergen was the first, in 1995, to publicly point out the damage caused by this "hyper-critical" view of the sagas. "The early middle ages and the Viking Age remain the most neglected fields in medieval history in Norway. This is arguably the result of source difficulties in the wake of the destructive attack on the sagas at the beginning of that century." Prof. Vidar Sigudsson of the Univ. of Oslo renewed this critique in 2010: "The harsh criticism which was directed against the use of the sagas as sources resulted in that aspect of our past being neglected."

The Weibullian and Kohtian view that we must reject the sagas was that, by and large, they are not contemporary records, but were written down about 300 years after the events described. This "modernist" view ruled out any appreciation of the sagas as the product of oral culture: That is, that both Norway and Iceland, as mostly illiterate societies (though runes were used for shorter messages) had developed specialized mnemonic techniques in order to preserve historic events. In this context the unusual skaldic poems must be emphasized. Their unique form ("as if carved in stone") testifies to the historical confidence of the Vikings, and their trust that this technique of oral memorization would permit memories to live on for a long time. (Similar techniques can be found, and continue to be found, in other mostly illiterate cultures.) Read the rest of this entry . . .

Sorry for the Outage

Sorry for the blog outage yesterday. The ever-conspiring Manx (not Manites--don't click that link) succeeded in getting around our defenses and taking us down. We will work ever-harder to keep that from happening again. Aside from that, do you have any issues using this blog, any performance issues, I mean? Feel free to use this space to tell us about it.

(BTW, outage is one of those ugly words that looks like contemporary terminology to me, but it's actually over 100 years old.)

They Want To You Write

Here's some optimistic encouragement to Londoners on writing plays. Write the way you speak is fair advice, but I think many creative writers believe they are writing that way when they aren't. And what if you want a character to sound different than you? What you do then, eh?

(ED: The title for this post reflects my disturbed mindframe.)

In which I play prophet of doom

I've been waiting to see a response from other social conservatives to the recent Gallup Poll which reports that Americans now favor “gay” marriage by a percentage of 53% to 45%.

This year's nine-percentage-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

I haven't seen much yet along those lines, so I'll say something myself. I don't expect to convince anyone of anything (I rarely do), and it goes without saying I'll be compared to a Nazi, but I'll do it anyway, because it's been on my mind.

First of all, I'm not entirely convinced by the figures. My experience is that people with liberal views are generally oversampled in such polls.

But that doesn't alter the fact that, beyond question, acceptance of homosexuality has been growing rapidly among Americans. Among young people, it's barely an issue anymore.

Barring some major critical event, like a movement of the Holy Spirit or a re-make of Rocky Horror Picture Show, it would appear that gender-neutral marriage is in our future. How are we to think about that?

For me, the answer is clear. I shall despair of my country. I do not consider this a minor issue, a cosmetic matter, a sideshow. In my view, even if conservatives sweep all the elections and take all the seats of power for the next century, it will mean nothing if we lose the marriage battle.

It's a matter of fundamental issues. Read the rest of this entry . . .


Over at National Review, Jay Nordlinger has a delightful report on traveling in Norway. I've been on the tour he recommends, "Norway In a Nutshell" twice myself, and it's all he says (the picture above was taken at a stop en route). (Tip: Mark Belanger)

And at I Saw Lightning Fall, Loren Eaton reviews The Windup Girl.

It's a very good review.

Retro, by Loren D. Estleman

With apologies to Dashiell Hammett fans (after all, I am one myself), I think the archetypal hard-boiled private eye will always be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Every hard-boiled shamus to this day—and likely far into the future—has to touch his cap, one way or another, to that tall Californian in the trench coat. Even if “he” is a she, even if the writer updates the concept by giving him computer skilz, endowing him with a regular girlfriend, or moving his office to an airplane cockpit. Even if he doesn't smoke and doesn't drink, has adopted Buddhism, and treats his body like a temple.

Loren D. Estleman bucks that trend. He flatters, sincerely, by imitation. His Detroit P.I., Amos Walker, could be Marlowe's love child, or maybe Marlowe was cryogenically frozen. Amos Walker wears a hat (or did in the early books of the series, though he admits here that he doesn't own a trench coat). He smokes and refuses to worry about it, and drinks with enthusiasm. His office, in a seedy building downtown, is exactly like Marlowe's as far as I can tell, except for the view.

The result makes for a very comfortable read for the hard-boiled fan. Why mess with a formula that works? Read the rest of this entry . . .

Door 43

Last night I attended a cookout for our seminarians and seminary staff, at the dean's home. The food was very good, and of course I ran away as soon as the eating was over and the time for fellowship was to begin, because a) that's the way I am, and b) it was getting chilly and I'd forgotten to bring a jacket (despite the fact that the invitation expressly said to bring one).

Anyway, before the food was served I got into a conversation with one of the students. I asked him what he was doing for the summer. He told me he was working at home, helping to administrate a web project called Door 43.

You can examine it yourself here, but as I understand it, the idea is to provide an open-source, creative commons deposit of ministry and discipleship literature for Christians in the Third World.

His brother, a missionary, got the idea, he said, because he'd noticed that people in the remotest parts of Africa (and other places in the world) may not have running water, or regular internet access, but they have cell phones. He dreamed of providing Christian literature in these people's languages, which they can read on their phones.

He approached various Bible and Christian publishers and found himself stymied by copyright laws. Various individuals told him they hailed his effort, and wished him well, but they were obligated to protect the copyrights on the literary property in their care.

So they decided to create a wiki (in two stages, so that it can't be casually altered like Wikipedia). People who join the process will be able to help build up a library of creative commons material which can be accessed at no cost. They're even working on Bible translations.

I got the impression that if you're interested in this project, and have needed skills (language skills especially), they'd be happy to hear from you. I don't know how far afield from Lutheranism they mean to go. You'd have to inquire about that.

Maybe Apathy Isn't Closing Public Libraries

Caldiero Reads "Howl"I agree that public libraries should have a line item in every city and state budget. Small towns particularly need libraries or cultural centers to draw their folks out of a small town mindset into the larger world, and even though this may be accomplished with private ownership, I'd think public funding or tax leniency would be needed to run a library suitable for a whole town or area of a city.

I get the impression that Charles Simic, writing in the blog for the New York Review of Books, is not reading off the page to which my book is open. He writes, "'The greatest nation on earth,' as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend."

It's more correct to say there isn't the political will to arrest the negligent spending in other areas--areas where new civil rights have been declared--that are squeezing out the funds for good, but unglamorous, services like libraries. Of course, there are competing voices Read the rest of this entry . . .

Spring: Expected, Frivolous, Surprising

Some beautiful poetry by Kay Ryan, our current national poet laureate. Cicadas, loquat leaves, breeze, renewal. I love it.

Busy night

I have something going on tonight, and so will not be able to do a regular blog post.

Except for this. So savor it. Make it last.

Eugenics and Other Evils, by G. K. Chesterton

Despite my tremendous and unfeigned admiration for, and enjoyment of, the writings of G. K. Chesterton, I've raised some people's ire in the past by giving my opinion that, on the basis of my own reading of his work, I consider him an antisemite within a reasonable definition of the term. Perhaps I need to clarify that I don't mean—as many people would—to suggest that he was a Nazi, or sympathetic to Nazism. His antisemitism was of an older and arguably more benign sort—the antisemitism of the Christian peasant who truly believes that the Jews are hoarding all the gold in the realm, and using it to manipulate the rulers.

That Chesterton was not by any stretch of the imagination a Nazi can be demonstrated by a single reading of Eugenics and Other Evils : An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State.

In Chesterton's time, those pre-World War II years that seem comparatively gracious to us today, Eugenics was a massively popular movement. Some of the most eminent social reformers in the world, people of unquestioned philanthropy and integrity, thought it self-evident that the government ought to be given the power to “improve” the race through selective breeding and the sterilization of “inferiors.”

To all of this Chesterton, out of his “medieval” mindset, cried “Infamy!” To deny a basic right like marriage and procreation to any human soul, simply because someone in authority judges him unfit, was to him a denial of basic human dignity—dignity which, he believed, sprang from the image of God, not from some biologist's checklist of desirable traits.

Further, Chesterton was deeply concerned that such a program would place in the hands of the state a power that would destroy liberty—power that no human being deserves or is capable of exercising innocently.

The first half of the book contains a wealth of quotations just as apt for our own time as for Chesterton's:

Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same.

The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen—that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics.

A remarkable element of this book is that Chesterton warns in particular that Germany is likely to be the source of great Eugenic evil.

I liked the second half of the book less than the first, because I'm a reactionary capitalist and less poetic-minded than Chesterton. Chesterton hated Socialism, but he hated Capitalism (I think) more, and in the second section he traces all the evils of Eugenics back to the Capitalists and their presumed plan to organize society in such a way as to produce a more efficient source of labor. I don't know if that's true. It certainly is no longer the case, for today's great Eugenists (Chesterton's name for them) are overwhelmingly Socialists and Leftists.

But the first half made it all worthwhile. I highly recommend Eugenics and Other Evils.

The Secret to Writing in the Internet Age

Author Joseph Finder talks about what he does to keep distraction at bay. He's got a new book coming too, so the YouTube page has a soft sell on that, but it's not in this video.

Reading Milton, Tolstoy Aloud

Professor Erin O'Connor writes, "I’m a huge believer in reading out loud–and in having students read literature out loud, together, in real time. It creates a kind of shared, immediate experience that makes for remarkable class discussion–and it also helps hone reading skills and oral presentation skills in students who, almost universally, badly need them."

Love it.

The Gem Collector, by P. G. Wodehouse

The Gem Collector (also published as The Intrusion of Jimmy and A Gentleman of Leisure) holds particular interest for the fan of its author, P. G. Wodehouse. Originally published as a magazine story in 1909, it captures almost the precise moment in “Plum's” career when he began to discover the formula that would soon make him the most successful author of light fiction in the world. He hasn't quite put the pieces together yet, but the elements are all here, in unfinished form.

The story is of Jimmy Pitt, London millionaire. In his earlier years, being a privately educated young man of high birth but low income, he made his living as a jewel thief in New York City. But now he's inherited his uncle's title and fortune, and he's a reformed character. At least he's pretty sure he is. In the opening scene, he earns the reader's sympathy by observing a young man in visible discomfort across a restaurant dining room, divining that the idiot has taken his two female companions out without enough money in his pockets to pay the bill, and surreptitiously sending along five pounds of the needful, by way of a waiter. This earns him the everlasting gratitude and friendship of Spencer “Spennie” Blunt.

On the same evening, by one of those ridiculous coincidences which the author will learn to depend on not less, but more, in his later career, Jimmy encounters a vagrant on the street. And who does he turn out to be but Spike Mullins, a New York criminal (with a ridiculous accent) with whom Jimmy used to work in the old days? Jimmy, kind soul that he is, does not hesitate to take him home and put him up in his own house.

Soon afterward, Jimmy gets invited by Spennie to a house party at his stepfather's country house. The stepfather turns out to be none other than Pat McEachern, formerly an extremely corrupt New York policeman. McEachern has cashed in on his graft and purchased an English estate. With him has come his daughter Molly, who used to be a friend of Jimmy's until her father forbade her to see him again.

You can predict the general lines of what follows. I need only add that one of the other guests is wearing a remarkable pearl necklace, which sorely tempts Spike, and has even Jimmy working hard to suppress his old sporting instincts.

The later Wodehouse, of course, would learn to exert less effort to keep his stories realistic. He would learn that, although you can make a reformed jewel thief sympathetic if you try, it's much easier (and funnier) to find a blockheaded young man of the upper classes and force him, through the blackmail of a ruthless aunt or the pleas of a desperate friend, to burgle the necklace—or cow creamer, or pig. And instead of having your character cool and in control of things, like Jimmy, make him pretty generally feckless, have him caught dead to rights, and watch him squirm. Then deliver him by a deus ex machina, perhaps a brainy valet.

Still, The Gem Collector clearly shows the elements coming together in Wodehouse's imagination. It's also an amusing story in its own right, written in the inimitable Wodehouse style, and a very enjoyable read. Suitable for all ages, if they're literate.

Syttende Mai

Today is May 17, Norwegian Grunnlovsdag (Constitution Day). On this day in 1814, a Norwegian assembly in the town of Eidsvold drafted the nation's first constitution. Actual independence would have to wait until 1905.

Libraries Are Dead; And Yet ...

There's good and bad in Seth Godin's post on libraries, as Ben Domenech points out (Get Seth's latest book, Poke the Box, here)

Seth throws several ideas together, not all of them fully developed. For example, he says, "Five years from now, readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less than the blades." How old is the iPod now? Is it as cheap as a razor? There's no reason for Amazon to sell Kindles at $10 in five years, and does Seth plan to write new ebooks to sell at $5 or less?

Movie review: Thor

I think it's generally agreed that I'm the conservative blogsphere's go-to guy for all matters Norse, so I felt a sort of civic duty to see the movie Thor this weekend, and to let you know what I thought of it.

Briefly put, it's pretty good. Considered on its own terms, as a fantasy/comic book/special effects actioner, it succeeds extremely well. It doesn't scale the heights of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, but I'd rank it somewhere near the top. Kenneth Branagh's direction elevates the script (not a bad one at all), and the cast is uniformly excellent. Chris Hemsworth, in the title role, will doubtless break many female hearts, and he ought to become a big star if there's any justice in Midgard.

Thor is the son and heir of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the high god of Asgard. Asgard, in this version (more or less based on the Marvel comic books) is explained in S.M.D. (Standard Movie Doubletalk) as one of nine dimensions, or alternate universes, or something. The “gods” are able to travel to the other “worlds” by means of the bridge of Bifrost, explained as a sort of organized wormhole (Bifrost, the rainbow in Norse mythology, is pronounced “Bye-frost” in the movie, although the proper pronunciation is “beef-roast”). Long ago the gods prevented their great enemies, the Jotuns or Frost Giants (who in the movie do not resemble in any way the big, bearded oafs of the myths), from conquering Midgard (Earth). Because of their memories of this war, humans came to regard them as divine beings.

As the story begins, Thor is about to be officially named Odin's heir in a great ceremony in Asgard. In the midst of this, Jotun spies make an incursion into Asgard. Thor, enraged, leads a punitive expedition into Jotunheim, killing a number of the frost giants. Odin, who loves peace, appears to rescue Thor and his friends when they're about to be overwhelmed by numbers. He berates Thor for his impetuousness and banishes him to earth (he lands in New Mexico), also sending his mighty weapon, the hammer Mjolnir, down with him. Read the rest of this entry . . .

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