Brandywine Books
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Sometimes, I Love Bad Writing
[by way of World Magazine's blog] Dan McKay of Fargo, ND, has won the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with this sentence: "As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburettors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual."

Okay, that's a little embarrassing to quote, but the contest judge explains why this one beat the competition in a report from CNN. "We want writers with a little talent, but no taste," San Jose State English Professor Scott Rice said. "And Dan's entry was just ludicrous."

But you say I should get enough bad writing by reading my own blog? Ha! You're too funny. This one from Mitsy Rae of Danbury, NE was the contest runner-up: "When Detective Riggs was called to investigate the theft of a trainload of Native American fish broth concentrate bound for market, he solved the case almost immediately, being that the trail of clues led straight to the trainmaster, who had both the locomotive and the Hopi tuna tea."

And one more from the long list on the awards page. This comes from Ken Aclin of Shreveport, LA: "India, which hangs like a wet washcloth from the towel rack of Asia, presented itself to Tex as he landed in Delhi (or was it Bombay?), as if it mattered because Tex finally had an idea to make his mark and fortune and that idea was a chain of steak houses to serve the millions and he wondered, as he deplaned down the steep, shiny, steel steps, why no one had thought of it before."
Will Write 4 Food
Mr. Holtsberry has a good post on the economics of book buying in response to posts on Booksquare. I commented there, but besides that all I have to say is phooey on taxing book sales and the bureaucracy managing those taxes in an effort to reward authors for used books. Lars, what do you think?

And while I'm linking to Collected Misc., let me point out a review which I had intended to point out before. The Traveler has gotten some good publicity and discussion of that publicity over the past several weeks. Mr. Holtsberry reviews it, writing, "I didn't find the writing particularly bad but neither did I find it particularly good either. The point was the plot not the language itself. . . . If you like socio-political action adventure, with a does of science fiction perhaps, then you will like The Traveler." - phil
Friday, July 29, 2005
What Ever Happened to Miller's?
Here's a non-literary question for you. What department store or franchise company would you care the least to see go the way of the world? In my area, Kroger's grocery stores couldn't compete (or had some kind of trouble), so they pulled out. I didn't care. Later, Red Food was bought by Bi-Lo, and I cared because Red Food was my store. Bi-Lo had a bad name and high prices. I've warmed to them since. Miller's is gone. Service Merchandise closed. Sears bought K-mart recently.
What store would not care to see go? What store would it surprise you to close its doors?

The Printed Word
I had a brilliant post/review for last night, but the my area had a black out. I don't think of my area generally as Rural America, but with the trouble we have with power and phone service, Rural America is probably an appropriate label. With Lars gone, I don't want you to think BwB will be silent until Monday, so here's something to start your day.

Walter Isaacson of The Aspen Insititute says, "The printed word will be the most important technology for sharing ideas during the next century, just as it has been for the five centuries since Gutenberg. If for the past 500 years we had been getting information electronically and someone found a way to put it on paper and deliver it to our homes, we would marvel at the new print technology and proclaim that it would soon replace the Internet and cable."

I agree that written words will carry us generation after generation into the starry future, but if Isaacson is saying this about words printed in ink on paper vs. words displayed, protected, or digitized in some way, then I disagree. I doubt we will become an oral culture where no one cares to write things down, primarily because when things are written they are distributed accurately and quickly; but I won't be surprised if many businesses in my lifetime stop printing, say, paper newspapers. In the future, a broadsheet may be something quaint found in antique stores down the aisle from hand-crank coffee grinders.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Thick man, thin man

(This’ll be my last post for the week, I’m afraid. I’m going down to Decorah, Iowa tomorrow evening for the Nordic Fest. Stop by if you’re in the area. I’ll be in the Viking encampment.)

Olaf Haraldsson, king of Norway from 1015 to 1028, was known as St. Olaf after his death. He had a coarser nickname in life. They called him “Olaf Digre”, which is usually translated “Olaf the Stout”.

The word “Digre” turns up as a nickname than once in the sagas. It’s etymologically related to our word “thick”, and that’s its basic meaning. But as a nickname it had a double implication. It meant stout or fat, but it also implied pride and stubbornness. A “thick” man was a man who thought much of himself and generally got his own way.

The idea of pride in being fat is hard to understand nowadays. But in the past (in most cultures, in fact), being fat has been considered an accomplishment. In times when most people had to eat all kinds of awful offal just to make it through the winter, having a sizeable gut was a sign of wealth and status. Women found fat men sexy. “He can afford to feed himself well. Chances are he can feed me and our children too.”

I tell you all this as preface to a post about my own weight. Most bloggers get around to this subject in time, and it’s not generally a topic that builds readership. But I think my own story is unique enough to have some interest, and could possibly even be useful.

I started out thin. I was born slightly premature and underweight. For the first eight years of my life my parents tried hard to get me to put on weight. Thin children weren’t considered healthy back then.

When I was eight the world fell in and my family went nuts. I also had my tonsils out (I’ve heard several people in my lifetime say that they got fat after having their tonsils out. I have yet to be convinced that the things don’t play a part in controlling appetite). As I was recovering, I got praise and positive feedback for eating, and I learned to enjoy feeding my face. My doom was sealed.

I became a “husky” boy, one who had to dress in special sizes. I’d always been slow and weak compared to other kids in my grade, now I was fat as well. If my mother had dressed me in frilly dresses I couldn’t have sunk much lower.

In my teenage years I stretched out a bit and didn’t look bad, judging from pictures. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of it. I was still fat in my mind, and people still teased me, so how was I to know?

Through my twenties I put on more and more weight, until I got up to 225 lbs., a mass my frame wasn’t designed to carry.

In my early thirties I tried a career in radio (I’ve written about that before). Only one good thing came out of that experiment – I discovered a way to lose weight. My job had me working evenings, the time of day when I was most prone to pigging out. So it took me out of the way of temptation. I set about counting calories (1,350 a day). I also made what I think was a very wise choice. I decided I could eat anything in the world I wanted, as long as I didn’t pass the calorie limit. I ate pizza (very small portions). I ate ice cream. I made it a point to have chocolate every day, because as long as I knew I’d get chocolate, I found I could endure.

I called it “The Ho-Ho Diet” (120 calories in one of those babies, if you buy the boxed kind).

I lost sixty pounds. I kept it off a long time.

I took up jogging, until I ruined a knee.

All was well until my early forties, when I found myself having trouble maintaining my discipline. I tried and tried, again and again, and I couldn’t stay on the diet. I got so hungry I couldn’t stand it, and I’d load up on chocolate.

The weight came back.

The weight came back and more. I reached 250 lbs. I was miserable and terrified. I thought I’d eat myself to death. I thought I’d become one of those pathetic people who can’t leave their houses because they can’t get through the doors.

My rescue came when I sat down and analyzed what I actually felt when I had my “hunger pangs”. I realized I was feeling a burning sensation under the sternum.

I talked to my doctor about it. He diagnosed acid reflux. He treated it with medications at first, but finally I went in for surgery to get my hiatal hernia repaired.

And lo and behold, when I’d recovered from that I found I could diet again. My “hunger pangs” had been acid burning my esophagus.

Things didn’t turn around right away. Personal matters and the pressures of my old job made it difficult for me to stay on my diet. I was down to about 230, but I wanted more than that.

This spring, when I went to work in the new library job, I found that the library was a very congenial environment in which to keep my eating under control. I went back on my calorie-counting regime, giving myself a more generous 1,500 a day. I’m now just a hair over 210 lbs., fully clothed.

There’s a long way to go, but I feel better and look better.

I don’t know what Olaf Digre would say, but I’m pretty pleased.

Lars Walker

The Hot Dot Look or Where's Pac-Man When You Need Him?
I like some Retro design, but some things need to be left for the history books. Click here to see "the big, bold polka dots" of the Hot Dot decor collection.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Somethin’ funny, bub?

I see there’s a new comedy film coming out, called “Forty-Year-Old Virgin”.

I don’t see anything funny about that.

I realized something about humor years back. The family (Mom’s side) was gathered at our place for Christmas. The Carol Burnett Show (a show I never really warmed to – not enough attractive females) came on. A sketch began in which Carol played an extremely shy and introverted character. The jokes revolved around this character’s inability to stand up for herself.

One of my aunts started saying, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to watch this.”

Finally somebody got up and changed the channel, lest she explode.

That was when I realized that you can learn a lot about people by noticing what they don’t find funny. Because that character was very much like that aunt. It wasn’t funny for her because it was too much like her life.

What don’t I find funny? Well, I don’t like fat jokes. I don’t like Abbot and Costello (Abbot bullies Costello too. I’m not comfortable with that either). I’m informed by people whose judgment I respect that Laurel and Hardy were brilliant, but I just can’t enjoy their stuff much. One fat comedian I do like is W.C. Fields, but he never made fat much of an issue.

What do I find funny?

In the movies, Groucho Marx is king of my world. I relish watching a character who’s extremely verbal and never at a loss for a comeback.

I love Buster Keaton. He did everything deadpan, which is my shtick too.

I think John Cleese is the funniest man alive, and Fawlty Towers his best work. Ordinarily stories about abrasive people who yell a lot make me itchy (too much like my childhood), but somehow this works for me.

In books, nobody comes close to P.G. Wodehouse. His characters live as I will never live, and do stupid things I would never do. Both safe. And the humor is mostly verbal.

Mark Twain (before he got dark) wrote some stuff that also made me laugh out loud. I used to do a Hal Holbrook thing for friends, reciting Twain’s “Political Economy,” which I still consider one of the funniest pieces ever written.

Robert Benchley. Benchley seems to have been a lot like me, except that he wasn’t a you-know-what at forty.

Lars Walker

Monday, July 25, 2005
The Subtitle: How One Line Changed the World
[by way of] A non-fiction book will draw more attention and sales if its subtitle uses a version of the phrase "changed the world," according to Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe.
One book is widely credited with popularizing it, Mark Kurlansky's 1997 bestseller, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. The success of that book caught the attention of authors and publishers.
Maybe the success of this phrase comes from that secret-to-success desire we all have or a strong belief in our individual natures and the uniqueness of the stuff around us. If we could just find that one thing that will change our lives or even the world. Cue the Superman theme.

The subject may have saved, seduced, or rocked the world, but somehow, whatever it did was big. What were some of these things? Hold on to your seat:
And many more. Watch for them at a bookstore or supermarket near you.

A few minutes later: It seems the Globe is well behind the curve with this article. I just uncovered a Guardian article on the same subject from April 6. In it, Richard Adams goes off on this industry excess.
In 2006 the august Princeton University Press promises to publish The Box: how the shipping container changed the world. Oh dear. Some of these titles are plainly overblown. Sugar: the grass that changed the world? The Beatles' 1964 Tour That Changed the World? Nasdaq: a history of the market that changed the world? Oh, come on.

The silliest claim of the lot, though, is a close-run thing between The Spreadsheet at 25: 25 amazing Excel examples that evolved from the invention that changed the world; or A Look Back at Radio in Canada and How it Changed the World.
- phil, one of the two brilliant bloggers who changed the world.
(Maybe that should be "impacted the world." I love the word
impacted. It could be positive or negative while remaining chillingly violent.)

Lileks, the sordid facts

I think it’s clear by now that James Lileks is reading this blog and cribbing my material.

Today in the Bleat he talks about the fallacy of the formula, “Change is good.” I said that a few days ago.

And in today’s Screedblog he talks about the importance of dressing like a grownup.

Sound familiar?

But I don’t begrudge him. My only concern is that my immortal thoughts be disseminated to the largest possible public. I care not who gets the credit for them, even if it’s already-rich writers who can afford houses in really nice neighborhoods.

It’s just like the dog. Did I mention that Jasper was originally my dog? Sadly, it’s true. I could hardly believe it when James enticed him away with a Slim Jim. I considered calling the police, but then I thought, “You know, James can give him a better home than I can. It would be selfish for me to put my own need for companionship above the good of the dog.”

Because that’s the kind of guy I am.

Found something in the library today that surprised me.

We’re in the midst of barcoding our books, a project that ought to be finished some time after my retirement if it keeps going at its present pace, and I found a book that had no card or card pocket.

It’s an old book. It looks as if it’s been there for a long time. And in that time nobody has tried to take the book out and realized there was no card in it.

I know just how that book feels.

Lars Walker

Bye Bye Bertie, by Rick Dewhurst
Joe LaFlam is insane. A thirty-something self-declared private detective, whose biggest case is the one he gave himself probably more than a decade ago, that of finding a wife. Of course, if the Lord wills, he would follow the call to become an itinerate preacher so that he wouldn’t have to work anymore. Until then, he’s a P.I. by day, reluctant taxi driver by night, and despondently single.

Of course, the single part may change if his latest client-babe can be persuaded into casting her lot with a fruit loop who is constantly running down mental tangents silently voiced with 1940s detective lingo, probably in a Bogart accent. "Things are never so bad they can't be made worse."

Which may be the reason I wanted to slap Joe a few times while reading Rick Dewhurst’s hilarious account of about one week of his life. Joe is a Christian. I don’t doubt his sincerity; but every time someone asks if he is Joe LaFlam, he replies, “In the flesh,” and that’s how operates throughout the book. “I had the money. I would get the girl.” Unless the conspirators get him first.

Bye Bye Bertie, published in 2005 by Broadman and Holman, is far more comedy than mystery, loaded with Christian living observations which call for a grain of salt. I enjoyed it and look forward to Dewhurst’s next book. If it’s another Joe LaFlam mystery, I hope it includes Joe getting a strong kick in the pants—the rod of correction applied with the boot of common sense. (But then, if Joe was more rational, the book may not be as funny.)

- phil

Does Selling Books at the Supermarket Harm Literature?
Collected Miscellany is embroiled in a pot-boiling discussion of the health of good literature when certain books are sold on Aisle 8 between snacks foods and paper towels. Take a look at what's been said so far and join in. Is it true that "if the more profitable way to go is toward mass sales at supermarkets then more of the budget is going to go toward producing and selling those type of books. This means less money toward literary fiction"? What do you think?
Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hoax, by Robert K. Tanenbaum

I’ve mentioned my admiration for Robert K. Tanenbaum’s legal/action thrillers before. I had a wonderful moment at the grocery store a couple weeks back, when I passed the book rack and saw new paperback releases by both Tanenbaum and John Sandford. That’s about my definition of a good day. I’ve finished Hoax now, and my review follows.

If I only knew of Tanenbaum second-hand, I’d probably avoid his books, frankly. A Jewish author who often deals with religious subjects and appears to be closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican would not be one of my first choices. But having spent time reading Tanenbaum, I know him to be one of the most empathetic and fair-minded authors at work today.

And he knows how to tell a story.

The series involves a continuing cast of heroes: the married couple “Butch” Karp and Marlene Ciampi. As the book opens, Butch is the acting District Attorney of New York City, having been appointed to fill out the term of his predecessor, who has become a federal judge. Butch is weighing whether to run in the next election to keep the job. He’d like to have the power to run the office the way he thinks it ought to be run – tough on major crimes, with a lot less plea bargaining – but he’s no politician and he knows it. Can a really honest man get elected nowadays without selling his soul? He isn’t sure.

Meanwhile his wife Marlene, who has been a prosecutor, a bodyguard (she’s a natural markswoman), a guard dog trainer and a millionaire, is taking some personal time in Taos, New Mexico, trying to launder her memories. She wonders whether she’s losing her mind; whether she’s killed too many people (she seems to attract violence). She’s saved her children’s lives more than once, but she’s also brought her children into danger, and the pressure and guilt are getting to be more than she can bear. She hopes an art therapy center in Taos will give her a way to figure things out.

Her daughter Lucy, who is getting to be an important character in the series, has come along with her. Lucy is a language prodigy and a Catholic mystic. She hopes to add the Taos Indian language to her repertoire.

But Marlene and Lucy are not the only New Yorkers visiting Taos. There’s a mental institution there, and one of its residents is a serial pedophile rapist and murderer, a demented priest named Hans Lichner. The archdiocese of New York has sent him there to keep him out of trouble and to keep him secret.

And this is the center of the action in Hoax.

Because there’s a conspiracy going on. The churchmen who are part of the conspiracy don’t know what it’s really about. The cops involved don’t know what it’s about. The only one who knows what it’s about is its mastermind, a New York lawyer named Andrew Kane. Kane controls a large part of the police force because he helped to cover up some of its excesses and knows where the bodies are buried. He controls the archdiocese because he’s helped to cover up cases of priestly child abuse, and has gotten his own man installed as the archbishop’s personal assistant.

Kane plans to be the mayor of New York.

And to destroy the Catholic church.

In the hands of a less fair-minded author, this book could have become an anti-Catholic, even an anti-Christian, tract. But Tanenbaum clearly understands the difference between the institution and the religion. There is a marvelous scene where Marlene (a lapsed Catholic) urges Karp to hold off pursuing the clerical corruption, because it’s likely to be damaging to many people’s faith. He replies by explaining to her for the first time his reason for being the kind of prosecutor he is – why he can never compromise with evil. It’s a moving scene, and one that should make the heart of anyone who believes in moral absolutes sing.

A new character introduced is the Taos Indian policeman, John Jojola. Jojola is a problematic character for the Christian reader. Like many Native Americans, Jojola mixes his Catholicism with animistic mysticism, and I was uncomfortable with these elements. Still, if a Jewish writer is going to be fair to Christians, it’s hard to expect him not to be sympathetic to other religious believers too.

One disappointment in the book for me was that the reader learns (though the characters do not) that Tran Do Vinh, the Vietnamese crime lord who is also Lucy’s recurring protector, is an old enemy of John Jojola’s from the time of his service in Vietnam. I was waiting for a moment of confrontation, and Tanenbaum seemed to promise one, but maybe he’s saving it for a later book.

A major element in the story is the case of Alejandro Garcia, a Hispanic rapper who’s smart and decent and is trying to make something of his life (starting by cleaning up his lyrics). He gets caught as a pawn in Kane’s conspiracy, and is framed for the murder of another rapper. He has a weapon of his own to use against Kane, but he needs Karp to use it effectively, and Karp has to prove his integrity to win the boy’s trust.

Parental guidance is called for, for there's plenty of violence, sex talk and rough language, as in all Tanenbaum's books.

Hoax is about action and danger and hair’s-breadth rescues, just as you would expect. But it’s also about integrity and decency. And that’s why I loved it. Highly recommended.

Lars Walker

Friday, July 22, 2005

The unbearable rightness of being me

By way of Junkyard Blog, this story from Canada: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is reported to have aired a commentary from an engineer named Bob Ferguson. Ferguson, a practical-minded man, made a Modest Proposal to (in his view) help guarantee religious liberty in the 21st Century. His plan: Regulate religious organizations. (Freedom equals regulation! Wouldn't Orwell be proud?)

I do it because I am worried that the separation between church and state is under threat. Religion is important in our lives, but it can become a danger to society when people claim that the unalterable will of God is the basis for their opinions and actions. Yes religion can be a comfort and a guide, but we cannot take rules from our holy books and apply them to the modern world without democratic debate and due regard for the law.

Ferguson suggests that all “religious practitioners” be licensed, like engineers. Professional standards must be enforced. Practitioners should not be permitted to discriminate against women in the clergy, for instance. They must not be allowed to make any claims to exclusive truth.

I could not fail to note that Feguson’s suggestions are nearly identical to a law called the Definition of Religion Act (DRA), which forms a major part of the background noise in my novel Wolf Time.

Sometimes I hate being right.

Of course it should be noted that Feguson is not a legislator. We don’t know how acceptable his suggestions are to the average Canadian citizen.

But still, I feel as if I’d written a book where the world is overrun by pink basilisks, and then read a report that a single pink basilisk has been sighted in South America. Doesn’t prove I’m right, but it sure sends a shiver up my spine.

In any case, my credentials as a prophet seem to have gone up an eighth of a click. In my capacity as probationary prophet, then, I repeat this admonition:

Tell the kids there’ll be a price to pay for following Jesus.

It’s true in any case, and it’ll clarify the issues.

Lars Walker

Man Camp: Is Your Man Under the Feminist Thumb?
[by way of Mere Comments] Last week, a classical music DJ told a story about opening the car door for a date at the outset of their first date. She slammed the door and told him she could get the door herself. He said that was fine, hopped in the driver's seat, and drove home without her. His point was that he wanted to treat his dates politely, as a gentleman would. If she refused a simple courtesy as opening the car door, she wouldn't have wanted to spend an evening with him. I thought if he had been more polite, he would have made his point more strongly, but I sympathize with him. He was an old-school Yankee trying to charm a modern feminist (modern being two or three decades ago when this event took place). The Frozen North is filled with impolite people. Rudeness is everywhere, not like here in the South where only the tourists wonder why you're being nice to them without a profit motive. My! This broad-brush is getting heavy. Let me return to my point.

So what happens with societal pressures produce men who are less than manly? What do you do when you find yourself discussing which of your girlfriends has the girliest boyfriend? That's what happened to author Adrienne Brodeur who has written a humorous novel on the inadequacies of metrosexuals and the manliness of dairy farmers. Sort of. Man Camp was released by Random House this week. Be sure to watch the trailer on the book's site for more on the motive for writing it.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
That popular fantasy
The Jollyblogger has some good thoughts, both here and linked from here, on Harry Potter.

This Sunday's NYTimes Book Review has a piece on the Half-Blood Prince, which is quoted here.

And in case you have missed it, feel free to comment on this old thread.

Now, I leave you. Have a good night or day, and remember to strive to do what is right, not merely what is easy.

But first, I should mention Aitchmark's post on the rule of law within Harry's world of wizardry. Good thinking, sir.
In talking over the book with my daughter, it becomes clear that the problem with the entire wizard world is that it lacks anything like the rule of law. From the beginning of the books it has been clear that power is the driving principle of the Wizarding world. The extent and nature of this was less clear in the earlier books of the series, but has become clearer in each new volume.
- phil

Walking short

Dennis Prager talked about men’s height today – how being short affects a man. Most of the male callers I heard who identified themselves as short said they never even thought about it.

Every one I heard, however, also answered “Yes” to Prager’s question, “Would you take a pill to grow six inches if such a pill were available?”

I’m a little under average height myself – 5’ 8”. I wanted to be taller. I practiced a lot of positive thinking when I was a teen, trying to stimulate my body to produce growth hormone. Most of my family’s fairly short, but one of my grandfathers was six feet. I hoped I’d get his height. Didn’t work out for me.

Does it bother me? Yeah, it does. I suppose part of it is that a number of my friends have been tall, and I always felt inferior. But (as you’ve probably noticed) everything makes me feel inferior. If I’d grown tall I’d probably have felt inferior about that.

Prager made reference to Napoleon’s being short. My ears always prick up when I hear that, because I happen to know it’s not true.

My source is a book called Napoleon’s Glands and Other Ventures In Biohistory, by Arno Karlen (1984, Little, Brown & Co.). I bought it years back and still have my copy. It’s about how diseases have affected human history in various times and places, but the Napoleonic revelation is the thing that sticks.

According to Karlen (somebody correct me if recent scholarship has disproved this), when Napoleon died on St. Helena, he was in English custody but the autopsy was done by French doctors. Their autopsy (written in French) was translated into English, but the translators failed to translate the measurements. These gave the former emperor’s height as 5’ 2”, but this was in French feet (pieds de roi). French feet were longer than English feet. If the proper conversions had been made, his height would have come out as 5’ 6”, which was about average for a Frenchman in that generation.

The English newspapers, of course, were delighted to think of Napoleon as a shrimp, and made much of his supposed size, securing his comic image for future generations.

So all the armchair psychology about the Napoleonic complex and compensation are wrong when it comes to the man himself.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Or not.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Where many have gone before

Montgomery Scott is dead, as I’m sure you’ve already heard.

I’ve felt a totally groundless sense of kinship with James Doohan ever since 1997, when my first novel Erling’s Word was released by Baen in the very same monthly batch with Doohan’s (ghost-written, of course) first novel.

Neither of us made publishing history.

I guess I’ll go public today. I am officially house-hunting. I talked to a real estate agent who goes to my church, and he referred me to a loan officer. I was pre-approved for a loan yesterday, and today I set the real estate guy on the quest for a two-bedroom house that I can afford.

They get cheaper as you move out from the metropolitan area.

I may be commuting from McVille, North Dakota.

That’s an exaggeration.

But my present apartment is wholly inadequate to my needs, and I. Must. Get. Out.

Updates will be issued.

Lars Walker

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Got any change, buddy?

Today while taking my after-work walk I was listening to one of my regular rotation of cassettes, a collection of songs by the Norwegian singer and song-writer Alf Prøysen. There's no reason why you should know who I’m talking about. Prøysen was famous in Norway as an entertainer after World II, but is almost unknown anywhere else.

His songs tend to be light and amusing, at least in this collection, but they make me sad. I’m listening to a man who’s dead, singing to an audience also mostly dead now. His topical references (most of which go over my head) refer to a world and a cultural situation that is as past and gone as he and his audience.

He reminds me of a Norway I never knew, one that was one culture, with one religion. We’ve all learned since then that that’s a bad thing. Not bad everywhere, of course. Nobody objects to African or Asian countries being homogeneous. But it can’t be allowed for Europeans, or cultures derived from Europe. Nobody explains why Europeans are so uniquely evil that they can’t be allowed to have cultures of their own, but so it appears to be.

I hate change. This surprises no one, I’m sure. I’ll admit it’s not one of my stellar qualities. C.S. Lewis, in Perelandra, speaks memorably of the fact that the conservative instinct can be a root of sin: “Yes, and it was true too that he, Ransom, was a timid creature, a man who shrank back from the new and the strange.”

We hear it all the time: “You conservatives are just scared of change. Change is good. Change means progress and a better future.”

It’s partly true.

But it’s not entirely true.

And any number can play at that game.

Try this some time, when they hit you with the “fear of change” accusation. Bring up some changes the other side doesn’t like.

“You don’t like global warming? Global warming is change! Are you afraid of change?”

“You’re upset because some animal’s going extinct? Extinction is change, and change is good! Think what wonderful new species will take over this one’s niche! OK, maybe it’ll upset the balance of nature for a while, but that’s change too!”

“A conservative majority on the Supreme Court would be such a change! Let's all embrace it!”

Lars Walker

How Dark Is the Harry Potter Series?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince begins in war and many Hogwarts students are under a lot of extra-curricular stress. I suppose that’s why many reviewers refer the latest in the Potter series as ‘dark.’ How dark it is may depend on what the reader takes to the story. Certainly we are told the story is more intense, but what else about the series is dark?

Gina Burkart, author of A Parent's Guide to Harry Potter, is quoted in The Christian Post on finding truths within the fantasy.

"One of the most powerful connections my son made was when he was in the fourth grade," Burkart said. "He told me that when Harry drives the serpent's tooth through Tom Riddle's journal in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, that reminded him of how Christ destroyed Satan's book of lies when they drove the nails through Christ's hands and feet.”

That’s a good one. Couldn’t get that out of The Amber Spyglass.

Elizabeth Bennett of The American Thinker believes the series is “life-affirming.”

“There is a basic difference between reading a Harry Potter book and invoking the dark forces. Casting actual spells is one thing. Reading about them while engrossed in a struggle between good and evil on the magical plane of childrens’ literature is quite another. Magic has become a literary convention of imaginative literature, positing forces for evil and forces for good, from ancient myth to the stories of today.”

Sounds good to me. With 6.9 million books sold in the first few days, I certainly hope it’s life-affirming. Of course, some people hope the books will drive parts of our culture too. Say, if Potter’s friend Hermione Granger went into computer science, young girls may want to follow her lead.

Cultural influence is the very thing some critics don’t want at all. Doesn’t a boy hero studying wizardry promote witchcraft? I suppose it could, but the magic of fantasy doesn’t draw close to the rule of modern day witches. As I understand them, witchcraft is a perverted distaste for life and binds its followers with superstition. If you want to live in fear, join a coven.

I don’t have much personal experience with the Potter series, but I saw the first movie last weekend. It was fun. I hope past of it weren’t too close the book though. That is, when four students are given detention for roaming the grounds at night, they are punished by, ahem, being sent into a forbidden area at night. And then, at least in the movie, two students are sent alone into one part of this area which is forbidden because of all the nasty monsters there. What the heck? Is the threat of death part of detention? But why read complaints from me when you can get more than you could ever want at

And if you’re looking for good fantasy outside of Hogwarts, pick up one of The Binding of the Blade series. No boy wizards, but magical adventure in an epic quest. - phil

Monday, July 18, 2005

Please rain on my parade

The weather broke at last. Today the high was only about 80º, and it was breezy. The air is dryer too. I’m sitting here with my windows open, and that’s a good thing, because my apartment air conditioner has gotten anemic, and I suspect the management company will probably bring somebody in to work on it around November.

Today was the kind of day most people probably imagine for a Minnesota summer. Such people are mistaken. Our summers are a notch better than Missouri’s, but only a notch.

The weather change actually came on Sunday afternoon, and I was a witness to it since I spent much of it, uncharacteristically, out of doors.

It was another of my famous Viking Age Club outings. This time we’d been invited to be part of the Sons of Norway color guard at the opening ceremonies of the Schwan’s USA Cup youth soccer event. (Sons of Norway was the original sponsor of the event, back when it was small enough for Sons of Norway to bankroll.) The day’s events all started unpropitiously, with the parking passes we’d been given being declared invalid by the parking attendant. This resulted in our all getting separated. But eventually we found out where we were supposed to be and gathered.

I had announced earlier that I planned to wear my mail shirt, but I changed my mind due to the 90+ heat and high humidity. (I might mention here that I have the baddest mail shirt in the group, since it’s actually battle-quality riveted mail rather than just look-good butted mail.) On arrival I discovered that every other guy in the group was wearing mail and I was the only unarmored one. Still, if I’d worn the mail I’d have worn my gambeson (padded undershirt) beneath it, and I might have passed out. I did have helmet, sword, shield and spear though, so I wasn’t a total wimp.

As it happened, the new weather, promising rain, started rolling in just then, and I probably could have worn the shirt anyway.

But lack of mail doesn’t matter. I’m a minor hero in the group right now. I noticed a listing on E-bay for an authentic, full-sized wooden Viking boat replica, being sold by a guy in St. Paul. Because of my heads-up we were able to put in the highest bid, and we are now its proud owners.

I’m not accustomed to being effectual. I’m accustomed to making well-meaning suggestions that get passed over by more knowledgeable people. Feels kind of weird, but kind of good.

You know what else feels good? Marching in armor with other guys. We made a pretty big hit too. Lots of the kids, from several countries, wanted their pictures taken with us, and one group wanted to high-five us for luck.

I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s good luck charm before either.

Lars Walker

Sunday, July 17, 2005
Elsewhere on Answers in Christian Fiction

Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian left this comment on a post at Coffee Swirls which asks where Christian sci-fi writer have gone.

Is it possible that our problem is that we must have the answers? The blogger who raised this question originally asked why Christian fiction is formulaic, and it seems to me we’ve defined our role in proclaiming the glory of God narrowly. We think of it as evangelism only; and a narrow slice of evangelism at that, the part that has to do with the moment of decision when a person’s life changes. Evangelism involves more than that moment of decision, and God’s glory involves far more than non-Christians deciding for Him (important though that is).

Christian fiction writers need to be given, and to accept, the permission to leave questions unanswered–to show the complexity of life we all experience, even those of us who follow Christ.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Lars’ guide to elegant living

It was a hot day in Minneapolis. Panting dog hot. Sauna hot. Hot enough to soften the floorboards in an icehouse.

Actually it’s about 94º as I write. I’ve seen worse. When I lived in Florida, on the breezy east coast, I used to tell people that I’d seen several 100º days in Minnesota, and had never seen one there.

I’ve been too generous with my opinions lately, I think. It’s high time I blogged about writing again, which is probably why you read my posts in the first place.

Today’s rule of good writing is, “Cut out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.”

It’s not an absolute rule, of course. Adjectives and adverbs (respectively, words that describe things and words that describe actions) have their place. But under the rules of current literary fashion, you should learn to nurture a prejudice against them. Force each one to justify its existence. Ask yourself, “Is there a better word I could have used? Do I need a modifier here at all?”


Weak sentence: “John was a very tall man.”

Strong (though clichéd) sentence: “John was a giant.” (Note that we’ve taken two vague words away and replaced them with one vivid one.)

Weak sentence: “John walked away slowly.”

Strong sentence: “John trudged away.”

Once you internalize this principle, you start finding new ways to say most anything, and that’s generally a good thing.

Look how Raymond Chandler describes a millionaire’s mansion in Farewell, My Lovely:

“The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building.”

Imagine if he’d written, “It was a very large house, almost as big as a palace, gray in color, with many, many windows.”

Nobody’d be reading Chandler today if he’d written like that.

It’s my custom at this point to draw a theological or moral lesson. Fear not. My stock of preachiness is yet unexhausted.

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:37 (NIV): “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Christ is calling us here to speak in what I’d call an elegant manner.

I’m using the word “elegant” in its scientific sense. An elegant solution to a problem is the least complicated one. Elegant writing uses the fewest and strongest words. The man who piles on oaths, Jesus observed, reveals the essential worthlessness of his word. It’s a principle we see again and again in life. The bravest men are not usually the greatest boasters. The most beautiful women generally don’t dress in the most revealing clothes. People with old money don’t buy the flashiest houses and cars.

And the best writers don’t use the most words.

Of course it’s also possible that this style was only promoted by magazine editors because they were paying writers by the word.

Lars Walker

Canadian Court Says Don't Read Harry Potter
Thank you, Julana, for pointing out this post on Touchstone's Mere Comments. Fourteen copies of the Half-Blood Prince were sold a week early in British Columbia, but a judge on that province's supreme court says they'd better return it.
Justice Kristi Gill last Saturday ordered customers not to talk about the book, copy it, sell it or even read it before it is officially released at 12:01 a.m. July 16. The order also compels them to return the novel to the publisher, Raincoast Book Distribution Ltd., until the official release. At that time it will be returned to them.
Mere Comments poster James Kushiner asks good questions about how the law will enforce this temporary censor, concluding that his glad this kind of thing doesn't happen in the States. "I am so glad I live in the United States. Now I just can't imagine any American judge doing something like this. Not in my wildest dreams." Yes, he's being sarcastic. Given enough time and the right circumstances, some of our judges will make this kind of statement, revealing that they really do think of themselves as gods who condescend to shepherd us, their little flock.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
No, I Won't Share Harry with You
Erica Noonan of the Boston Globe describes the reason she and her husband plan to buy two copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince instead of sharing one. "We both really, really want to read the book. Now."
Trying to share one copy of the book is an invitation to serious domestic unrest. . . . One of us tries to read while the other loiters around, periodically begging for a paragraph or two to be read aloud. When the reader tries to take a quick bathroom or snack break, the noncustodial spouse grabs the book and darts into a locked room. The rightful reader is forced to disassemble the door, wrestle the book back, and reclaim his or her space on the couch. The Potter-less spouse continues to pester and whine and is finally ordered to take a walk, watch a movie, or, for Pete's sake, just go somewhere, anywhere, else and leave the other alone.
HP and the HBP – TS*
USA Today and maybe dozens of other newspapers this week have some articles on Harry Potter #6, due to be unleased on the world Saturday or maybe Friday depending on which company took your pre-order. Who is the half-blood prince and what in the world will happen to Harry? I must confess that I haven’t read but a few pages from this 717,020 word series (not counting the Half-Blood Prince), and I would probably annoy serious fans by pronouncing Harry’s name with a Scottish accent (rolling the r’s and making pot into poot). I can barely help myself.

So, who is this prince? Some think it’s Godric Gryffindor, founder of Gryffindor house. In a poll at, 9% choose that name, but most fans believe it will be a heretofore unknown character.

What does the cover art tell us about the story? Well, Prof. Dumbledore appears to be protecting Harry and himself on the UK cover. Looks exciting. The US cover is much quieter. Harry may as well be Hansel going to the Gingerbread house.

But why bother with clues from the cover when you can drop by your favorite downtown Indianapolis bookstore and buy the book early. That is, you could have on Monday of this week, when an unnamed store put HP#6 on display too soon.

A couple guys got hold of it before the store realized their mistake. Reader Tim Meyer, 33, said he was up to chapter 18 by Wednesday and found the latest book “pretty shocking considering the last five books.”

“I'm not sure what I'm supposed to believe," he said.

What if I said I believe he is the result of creative promoting by the Corrupt Big Book Industry? Sure, it’s shocking, Tim. What were the sales for the fifth book in Indianapolis? Disappointingly low? Did they need a little honest, coincidental promotion, hmmm?

* that is, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—This Saturday

- phil
Bestsellers in Christian Fiction
Among the bestsellers in Christian Fiction this month are three books by Beverly Lewis. The Revelation, the last book in five book romantic series on an Amish family in Lancaster County, Penn, tops the list. Her two other books in the top ten are also set in Lancaster County: The Shunning (first in the Heritage of Lancaster County Series) and The Covenant (first in the Abrams Daughters series). Apparently, B. Lewis has a strong audience these light romances, because her books have sold a few million.

Frank Peretti's Monster is second place, a story of wooly beasts and a kidnapping. Publishers Weekly notes 400,000 copies produced in the first printing. Karen Kingsbury's name sticks out on the list with five books in the top 20, though none in the top ten. Are there bonuses for volume like this? Of course, the question remains just how many books where sold by each of these titles. Did The Revelation sell ten more than Monster? Do the numbers sharply decline anywhere on the list, say between spots 5 and 6 the number of books sold drops 800? I ask, but I get no answers. I am but a humble bloggers typing in the wasteland. - phil

Village idiots

Phil brought up Sen. Clinton’s dustup with Sen. Santorum over that left-wing article of faith, “It Takes A Village.” I commented on his post, but I want to rave a little more about why this whole issue irritates me like a beetle in my BVD’s.

What we’re dealing with here is the familiar phenomenon of liberal romanticism. Liberals have always been romantics, for good and ill. Their best accomplishments have sprung from their beautiful dreams. Their worst failures and crimes have sprung from similar dreams. Their fine dreams of social mobility and racial equality did much good. Their questionable dreams of enforced economic equality and the Noble Savage have caused great suffering and millions of deaths.

I know about villages. I grew up in a small town of 1,600 (OK, I lived on a farm outside of town, but I was close enough to know what was going on).

It is true that villages offer many, many forms of social support not available in the modern urban environment. But those social supports are precisely the ones that the Left wants eradicated from the face of the earth.

Villages raise children well because there is no privacy in a village. The idea of a constitutional right to privacy would not only not have occurred to the Founding Fathers, they would have laughed at it, because most of them were village dwellers. They were accustomed to all their neighbors knowing their business – who their parents were, where they went to church, how they made their livings. If a couple was having sexual problems, their neighbors probably had a guess about that. This was a large part of what made children safe.

“Johnny Anderson! What are you doing out here? I happen to know your parents think you’re in Sunday School right now! You run to the church this moment or your parents will hear about it from me!”

Villages were made up of homogeneous groups of people (No diversity!) with generally shared religious beliefs (Intolerance!) and definite views about what kind of sexual liaisons were acceptable and what kind were not (Judgmentalism! Homophobia!).

Real villages are all about everything the Left hates.

So what does Hillary mean when she says, “It takes a village”?

What she means is a New Kind of Village. An audioanimatronic Disney Village that looks like something from the Good Olde Days but is actually operated by radio commands and miniature hydraulic pumps. A village that cannot operate without central planning and expensive subsidies, capable of dealing with only those problems that fall within preprogrammed parameters.

A bureaucracy, in other words.

And, I’ll wager, one that in the end will be more intrusive (though less understanding) than the pre-industrial village.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The saga of Boris

Lileks gives us a little parable today:

As noted on this page long ago, the relationship between man and dog is a dim reflection of the relationship between man and God, inasmuch as we don’t know what we don’t know, but intuit there is a Rule, an Order that hovers above us. The difference is that God never leans over from the kitchen table and grants permission to eat the Pop-Tart. In so many words, anyway.

Then he goes on to remember one of his old college roommates.

That put me in mind of my own college roommate. I actually had several of course, like everybody else who ever went to college, but this one was definitely the eight-point-buck in the group. I’ll call him Boris, because he told me once he’d written erotic poetry for some magazine I’d never heard of, under the name of Boris Bane.

Boris was an original. Big and broad and bearded, he could talk with authority about almost any book in the public eye at the moment. He bought most of those books (our apartment might have qualified as a branch library). It was only gradually that I realized that Boris was an almost total quack. He bought the books, but read very few of them. He’d open them up, sniff their fragrance, skim over the tables of contents, riffle the pages, and then put the books on the shelf where they would remain until his next move. I think he believed he could absorb the contents of the books by just sitting in the same room with them.

He had a great rapport with cats (though he didn’t own one), and mistrusted women. He bathed rarely in summer, and never in winter (nor did he launder his sheets or underwear). He believed that he didn’t sweat in winter, and therefore did not need to wash. He wasn’t dogmatic about it. If I told him, “Hey, you smell. Take a shower,” he’d do it. But I had to ask.

He told the following story of events that happened when he was sixteen:

He’d decided to run away from home. He’d made contact with a man in New York who promised to get him work somewhere overseas (a thing he recognized later to be extremely dangerous). He took a bus to the Big Apple to meet the man. He spent the first night in a cheap hotel, then checked his funds and moved to the YMCA.

The next morning he decided to go see the United Nations. He got up early and took a bus there. He was dressed as he usually dressed when out of town, in a dark suit and overcoat. He’d always looked older than his age.

As he approached the entrance he was met by a harried lady with a name tag. “Oh, thank God you’re here!” she said. “Come along. We’re almost ready to start.”

He then found himself in a group of some sort, getting a special tour of the U.N. They saw all the agency offices. They sat in the seats in the General Assembly. They went through the No Admittance doors. They met U Thant.

Finally they were treated to a luncheon. Boris found that the group included representatives from all over the world. He decided he shouldn’t say he was an American, so when asked where he came from he said Fort Francis, Ontario (a town he knew from his Minnesota north woods experience). When people mentioned they’d never seen him before he told them he was an alternate.

Finally they conducted them out to the entrance and said, “Your limousines are here.” Someone asked him where he was staying and he said, “The Hilton.”

He rode back to the Hilton, chatting with the others in the limo, turning down their invitations to join them for a drink.

When they reached the Hilton he went inside, found the Men’s Room, threw up in a toilet, and then got a bus back to the Y.

There’s a sequel.

He changed his mind about leaving the country, and bussed home.

Once he was back, his parents pondered how he should be punished.

They decided they would put his pet cats to sleep.

He was a weird guy, but he came by it honestly.

Today he’s an Orthodox monk.

Lars Walker

So Does It Take a Village or What?
[From World's blog] Rick Santorum, senator from Pennsylvania, has written It Takes a Family: Conversatism and the Common Good. I think the title has gotten under New York Senator Hillary Clinton's skin. The AP reports Clinton and Santorum passed each other in the Capitol building's basement. "
"It takes a village, Rick, don't forget that," Clinton called out.

"It takes a family," he countered.

"Of course, a family is part of a village!" she replied.
Heh, heh. Did Santorum come up with that title? I love it. The cover design looks like church window art and reminds me of a cross. I wonder if the designer intended a religious tone.
New Blog Design
So, um, what do you think of the new look?
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Of gifts

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before that I’m seeing a Christian psychological therapist. The fact that I have use for such services will probably surprise no one.

In any case I experienced what looks like something of a breakthrough last week, and I want to talk about it here. I won’t go into the details of the stuff I’m dealing with (you already know some of it if you’ve been following my posts). I want to talk about general principles.

I’ve always had trouble with the concept of self-image. I can see that an extremely low self-image violates (in a sort of upside-down way) Paul’s exhortation “to think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3, NIV). But I’ve always found calls to raise my self-esteem difficult to accept (and impossible to put into practice). The bulk of scriptural teaching, it seems to me, falls on the side of humility.

I stated it to myself this way: “My problem is that I can’t think of myself as a gift. Other people clearly do. They walk up to strangers and strike up conversations, for instance, confident that those strangers will enjoy spending time with them. In other words, they see themselves as gifts to others.”

I couldn’t do that, and still can’t.

But it occurred to me that I can look at it a different way. I may not be able to see myself as a gift, but I can accept the thought that I have gifts. Scripture is clear (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, for instance), that each of us has been given at least one gift, and that those gifts are given to us for the benefit of others.

So I can say to myself, “I may not be a gift to this person, but I do have gifts for this person.”

It seems to help a little with the shyness problem.

Lars Walker

Ian McEwan on the London Attack

From a special report in The Guardian last week, novelist Ian McEwan, who wrote about the war on terror in his most recent novel, Saturday, wrote this: "On a pub TV the breaking news services were having trouble finding the images to match the awfulness of the event. But this was not, or not yet, a public spectacle like New York or Madrid. The nightmare was happening far below our feet. . . .

"In Auden's famous poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, the tragedy of Icarus falling from the sky is accompanied by life simply refusing to be disrupted. A ploughman goes about his work, a ship "sailed calmly on", dogs keep on with "their doggy business". In London yesterday, where crowds fumbling with mobile phones tried to find unimpeded ways across the city, there was much evidence of the truth of Auden's insight. While rescue workers searched for survivors and the dead in the smoke-filled blackness below, at pavement level men were loading lorries, a woman sold umbrellas in her usual patch, the lunchtime sandwich makers were hard at work."

Monday, July 11, 2005
Quotes from Some of the Bigs
From an article on the BookExpo last month:
Novelist Nick Hornby noted that he used to be a high school teacher "and I hated every moment of it. I don't want to go back there."

Umberto Eco on inspiration: "I don't listen to people when they are talking to me," he said. "I muse. I'm thinking about something else."

He noted that once in conversation, a friend "used a word, I forget which one. I started musing. My friend said, 'Umberto, you are not listening to me,' and I said, 'I'm sorry, I was writing my new novel.'

"He was so excited he inspired my new novel, he bought me a second martini!"

Michael Cunningham: "I do this every morning. I walk up six flights of stairs in the West Village . . . I sit there by myself all day, like a figment of my own imagination, like Rapunzel, though I don't have nearly as much hair. It seems like a frail and tiny act to find the next sentence . . . and I just can't tell you what a thrill it is to be in this dauntingly large room and be reminded there's a huge body of us doing all of this together."
I wonder just how many of that "huge body" do something close to his "every morning" schedule. - phil
Odds on Becoming a Successful Author
Here's a column with some cheery news. The odds of one of us making enough to live off the income from our original books are 380 to 1.

That figure comes from Greg Slominski, who is trying to market his novel, Princess and The Bean, which appears to be self-published. Being an engineer, he worked the numbers based on 195,000 books in 2004 and 5% of authors who make a living off their books alone. Read the column for more details.

Despite my inexperience in publishing, I don't trust those numbers.

Were 195,000 books really published last year? Industry researcher R.R. Bowker is supposed to be the source for that number. Their site lists a preliminary 182,000. I know that may not be the most current, but the number does includes every book published. For fiction only, 25,184 are counted. Literature, 4,671. How many of the 195k are reprints, new editions, coloring books, textbooks, or workbook companions?

The 5% figure comes from publicist Rick Frishman. He says it isn't a hard percentage; just one to get people thinking. Ok, but how many published authors want to make a living off their books, by which I do not mean living exclusively but significantly so? What is the percentage of those who succeed in relation to all who try? More like 15%?

Many books are written by teachers, scholars, executives, and ministry leaders. Most literature seems to be written by professors, which I think is a good system; but far too often for my taste, I hear that the author of a Christian book has a ministry on the same topic or is a pastor. Where are the regular guys? Where are the artists?

Maybe they are the ones outside that 5%. - phil
Whine, song and women

One of my annual activities is to thank God each summer that I no longer live in Florida. While I lived there (suicidally in a mobile home) I used to lie awake at night worrying about hurricanes. After I moved away I worried for years about my dad's place. But Dad is gone and the house sold now, so I no longer have a personal stake in Florida weather.

For all you outraged Floridians who are reading, my apologies. I just never felt at home in the state. I'm a Yankee Norwegian, and don't belong anywhere else. Whether that's a tribute to my intelligence or my stupidity, you may decide for yourselves.

I did get hit by a hurricane one year, by the way. It was 1994, I think. I forget the name of the storm. Fortunately I was up north on vacation at the time, but I went home to find that my screen porch had been neatly excised from the side of my mobile home. Which was God's providence, as it happened. I lost my job and lived off the insurance money, until I got the job in Minnesota that just ended.

On Saturday I drove down to Owatonna (about an hour south of here) to meet my brother Moloch and his youngest daughter. They had driven my sister-in-law up for a social event and wanted to fill the time. I gave myself an hour and a half for the trip, and it wasn't enough.

I think I've figured out the master plan of the highway planners of the Twin Cities. They have determined that there should be nowhere you can drive in our metropolitan area where you do not hit a detour. When you take an alternate route the next time to avoid the detour, you will find another detour waiting there.

The equal distribution of misery. That's what Minnesota's all about.

I gave my niece my old guitar, which I haven't touched in years.

I tried to learn to play. I swear I tried. I have a nice voice (or used to) and wanted very badly to be able to accompany myself. Besides that, I just love the folk guitar. I worked systematically at it, which is my way with things, for three years. I was finally forced to admit that I simply have no music in my fingers.

May your fortunes be better, Youngest Niece. Maybe you have some musician's genes from your mother's side.

On Sunday I joined the Viking Age Club for the annual Norway Day festival at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. It was a hot day, but I found it remarkably pleasant in the shady spot that our leader had shrewdly selected. I worked on my leather crafting, and sold the occasional copy of The Year Of the Warrior to unsuspecting Scandinavians (who are famously easy to fool).

I think a woman flirted with me. I'm never sure of these things, but she acted and spoke very strangely with me, and I noted similar behavior once before in a woman who turned out to be vamping me. It's so hard for me to believe that any woman is actually interested in me that my response tends to be, "What's she been smoking?"

So far women interested in me have been consistently women who did not interest me in return, so my chastity remains in no danger.

Lars Walker
Collected Miscellany Story Contest Winner
The short story contest held at Collected Misc. last month has ended, and today the winner has been announced. Cowtown Pattie of the blog Texas Trifles submitted "Beer Magic and Goat Philosophy," which you can read at Collected Misc. Congratulations, Pattie. "Beer Magic and Goat Philosophy" is an enjoyable story about an old man who raised goats and had a faithful dog. "Surrounded by craggy piles of cast-off junk, the little fly-speck shanty he called home appeared even more tenuous than its occupant. His only visible means of support was the occasional sale of a piece of his landscape and whose resulting vacant spot among the rubble was quickly filled twice-over."

Kevin will post two more contest submissions this week. Feel free to comment.
Violence and Poetry
From the Washington Post in a review of James Lee Burke's Crusader's Cross: "Throughout the novel, and all of Burke's writing, lyrical moments alternate with terrible violence. One wonders what impact this fierce juxtaposition has had on Burke's popularity. Readers who love beautiful prose do not always enjoy violence, and those who relish violence may grow impatient with Burke's poetry. But if you believe, as he does, that beauty and horror go hand in hand in this life, he can touch you in ways few writers can."
Friday, July 08, 2005

Bloody-minded thoughts

Today I gave blood after work. It’s something I like to do as often as I can. Donating blood is my kind of good deed – a quick, minor pain, then lie back, think of England (we all did, today) and it’s done. And assuming a pint’s a pound, it’s a quick way to drop some weight.

The blood drive was in a new location – a large church not far from where I live. I know this church from long since. The first summer I traveled on a team for the parachurch youth ministry with which I spent about a decade, my group (most of whom were my friends from college) spent two full weeks there. We talked to the kids about Christ, played games, laughed and sang, and prayed hard together. I broke my little finger playing volleyball in the very gym where I bled today.

My three best friends in the group all later turned their backs on the kind of faith we were preaching then. One rejected Christ altogether. The other two went over to the Dark Side, becoming liberal pastors who labor today to squelch the kind of fundamentalist, born-again Lutheranism that bound us together that summer.

As it happens, I ran into one of them just two weekends ago, at the festival in Moorhead. He was demonstrating a craft and selling his products. I’d seen his wife walking through our encampment the day before. Didn’t speak to her. But when I saw him himself, I thought, “You can either run away from this or face it.” So I went and said hello.

It was very pleasant. We didn’t discuss our differences. He bought a copy of The Year of the Warrior, and told me the next day that he’d read a third of it that night. We joshed with each other, talked about getting old.

So it was OK.

But I’m still bitter. I see his defection as a betrayal, not just of me but of the Truth. Of course he’s changed his mind about what the Truth is. But I don’t believe anybody ever abandons a better position for a worse one for good reasons.

I’m glad I faced him, anyway. I run away from too many things. And too many people.

There was a new question today in the ever-thickening book you have to read before they let you give blood. This one asked if you’d ever had a gamma globulin shot after exposure to hepatitis. I had to say yes, I had one once, back around 1974, after a friend who’d had me over to her place for supper came down with the disease a few days later.

The assistants had to do a computer search to find out whether I was qualified to donate. Eventually they learned that all they care about is if you’ve had a g.g. shot in the past twelve months.

They might have said that in the question.

You know, it’s getting harder and harder to do a good deed in this country. You want to give blood, you have to bring in certified copies of all your doctor’s records. You want to help someone along the side of the road, you risk a lawsuit. Pat a child on the head, you’re likely to be arrested as a molester.

It seems to me, in my characteristically shallow way of thinking, that we’re turning society upside down. I'm beginning to think that the job of government is to be hard and strict – to come down heavy on malefactors, put them away and show no mercy. You need money for the kids? Not our problem.

Deeds of mercy, those should be the domain of private individuals and private organizations. The Good Samaritan stops to help the man by the side of the road. The bishop gives his candlesticks to Jean Valjean. I remember once when I was a kid, my dad got sick. All the neighbor farmers took turns doing his chores until he was on his feet again. Nobody thought they were heroes. That was just what neighbors did.

Nowadays, I think, people go to the government expecting compassion, and assume that neighbors will be cold and unfeeling.

After all it’s a dangerous world. Lots of crazies out there.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Lars Walker

John Calvin Played Golf
I spent some time today discussing Scripture and Calvin's teaching on today, and lo, Kevin blogs on Calvinism and golf. For an article in the current Books and Culture, Mark Galli writes, "It appears that golfers don't give a rip whether golf can teach them something about life." They just want to play the game well, which is too bad, because "golf is Protestantism on steroids."
For example, it seems patently clear that golf is a living apologetic for hard-core Calvinism. You hit a near-perfect iron to the green, so accurate it strikes the flag stick—and then ricochets off and ends up in a sand trap. So much for your perfect iron. On the next hole, you wickedly slice a drive into a thick cluster of trees, hear a frightening thud—and see your ball magically bounce out into the middle of the fairway. This sort of thing happens in every round. There is no sense shaking one's fist heavenward or cursing the ways of this inscrutable god. If one wants to get on in the life of golf, the best posture is to humbly accept this god's complete sovereignty and prepare for the next shot.

. . .

Catholic theologian (also, as I recall, an NFL coach) Vince Lombardi put it most Christianly: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." This does not mean that anything goes, for as Huizinga notes play "proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner." But it is not play unless it is engaged "intensely and utterly." I'm not sure how golf can be played if you don't keep score, and you don't strive to keep that score low. It is these limitations and passions that are golf's genius, at the very core of its freedom and joy.
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