Brandywine Books
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

No year's resolutions

This may be my last post before the new year (I’m not sure when I’ll be back from our family Christmas celebration, to be held at Brother Baal’s place somewhere around Hudson’s Bay), so I’ll list my new year’s resolutions tonight.

I read a phrase years ago that impressed me deeply. It was “achievable goals”. I always try to make my new year’s resolutions achievable.

Here’s the achievable list for this year:

  1. I resolve not to appear with Paris Hilton on the cover of The National Enquirer.
  2. I resolve not to buy a Humvee.
  3. I resolve not to be too unreasonable in my demands for artistic control in any movie deals for my novels.
  4. I resolve not to date more than a dozen different women, and that most of them will be over twenty.
  5. I resolve not to bribe a senator.
  6. I resolve not to campaign too hard for the Templeton Prize.
  7. I resolve not to appear on a Reality TV show.
  8. I resolve not to burn a papal bull.
  9. I resolve not to take up extreme sleetboarding.
  10. I resolve not to write as funny as I can, lest I cause man-hour losses to the national economy.

Have a happy and blessed new year, friends.

Lars Walker

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Be a wolf. Shake a spear.

I haven’t said it before, but I’ll say it now: Jared of the Thinklings is the most perceptive observer of novelist blogging we have today.

I was thinking about the Chesterton poem I posted below. I’m no connoisseur of poetry, but I consider that one a very fine thing. It’s a kind of poem that doesn’t get written anymore – a loud clashing of syllables, a Beethoven symphony in words. It goes back in tradition to the poems of old times, songs made to order for chieftains, meant to preserve the memory of battles and heroic deeds.

The old Vikings listed poetry along with fighting and hunting and riding as manly accomplishments. The Icelander Snorri Sturlusson (pictured) wrote the Prose Edda as an instruction book for young men who needed to be able to write poems in the old style as part of their warrior’s education. Richard the Lionhearted wrote poetry, as did Sir Philip Sidney. Nobody thought that strange at the time.

I’m not sure when the change came. I suspect it had to do with the invention of the printing press. Before cheap books became available, poetry was the information storage and retrieval system of the culture. The rules of meter and rhyme (and consonance and alliteration) ensured that the data in the poem was preserved to future generations relatively intact.

Books rendered this function redundant, so poetry became the toy of aesthetes. Their concern wasn’t to memorialize great men or to rouse courage for battle, but to express the deepest longings of their souls in sentiments of great beauty.

And of course there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the old kind of poetry continued to be made for a while. Kipling was probably the last great practitioner of this form. But the sons of Oscar Wilde overcame the sons of Rudyard, and T.S. Elliot pretty much killed what was left of the older tradition by removing the rhyme and obscuring the meter.

I was thinking these melancholy thoughts today when it suddenly occurred to me that there is a field even today in which young men use rhyme and meter to proclaim to the world their warrior status and virility.

It’s called Rap Music.

I don’t know what to make of that. Except, perhaps, that you can’t keep a man down.

Good or bad, I won’t say.

Lars Walker

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Lion, The Witch and the Cinema

As I write, Fox News is interviewing Bruce Feiler, author of the book, Where God Was Born (I won’t link to it). I recall seeing it in stores while shopping. From what I gather, Mr. Feiler spent a decade traveling to the places where the Bible stories happened, and came out of the experience with the astonishing conviction that God’s real message was all the things most Westerners today already think!

What an amazing thing – all previous generations, including the ones that actually produced the original texts, had no clue as to what the Bible really meant. Only we understand its true meaning – tolerance, diversity, pluralism – and we didn’t even have to do the work of thinking it out. We just absorb it from the surrounding culture.

What luck. Salvation by Being Modern.

Finished my shopping today. I shrewdly took advantage of post-Christmas sales, just as I’d planned, with the unfortunate result that the people I bought gifts for earlier will get less valuable gifts than today’s targets. But I won’t say which ones they are, in case one of them actually reads this blog.

The air has been above freezing yesterday and today. Our snow is gradually melting off. However, I confidently predict that there will be more cold weather and more snow before spring.

I celebrated Christmas by going to church, first of all, and then going to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at last.

Short review: I was very pleased.

The child actors were among the best I’ve ever seen, and they looked like kids – not kid models. Lucy in particular was perfect. Since it’s very much her story, this was important.

The special effects were great. Not as big as in the Lord Of the Rings movies, but Narnia is a smaller world than Middle Earth.

Did I cry? You bet. Like a baby. But not always where I expected to.

I get tired of people complaining that movies based on books aren’t just the way they imagined them in the reading. The fact is, movies are different things from books. The pleasures of a movie aren’t the same as the pleasures of a book. I see no reason why they should be.

The experience of this movie is significantly different from the experience of reading the book. Speaking subjectively, the center of the novel TL,TWATW is the resurrection scene, where Lucy and Susan (I trust I’m not spoiling anything here) see Aslan return, and then have a glorious romp with him. To this day I can’t read that chapter without breaking down.

That scene is in the movie, but in an abbreviated form. In the movie, the emotional climax is the final battle.

This doesn’t bother me. I think the battle works better as the climax in a movie. It’s more cinematic. And this means that people who read the book on the basis of enjoying the movie will still have a wonderful surprise in store for them. Nevertheless, the movie was not false to the book in any major way.

So I’m very pleased. I’ll probably see it again, and I’m sure I’ll buy the DVD.

Oh yeah. The beavers were great too.

Lars Walker

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The House of Christmas

(This is my favorite Christmas poem. It's my gift to all of you. Thanks for stopping by, and God Jul.)

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Lars Walker

Friday, December 23, 2005

I'll be clean for Christmas

My thoughts are in Norway tonight.

I received two Christmas e-mails with photo attachments from Norway today, both from relatives. One was from cousin Anne-Grethe on Karmøy island, the other from cousin Trygve in Hardanger, who first located me through this blog.

Maybe I ought to go to Norway for Christmas one of these years. I generally seem to be alone on Christmas Day nowadays, and the air fares can’t be bad in December.

I’d have to buy a lot of presents though.

I bought some lefse at the grocery store today. Lefse is a delightful thin, Norwegian potato pancake. I like mine rolled up with margarine and strawberry jam inside. My brothers scoff at this, insisting that you must use either white or brown sugar, but I was once served lefse with strawberry jam in Norway, so phooey on that.

According to my Norwegian almanac, today is “Tollesmesse”, St. Torlak Torhalsson’s Day. He was bishop of Skalholt in Iceland in the 12th Century.

Today was the traditional Christmas housecleaning day in Norway in old times. Everyone got up early to begin scrubbing the whole house from floor to ceiling. After that the table and benches were scrubbed.

Then it was time for the Christmas bath. A tub was brought in, and the father of the house washed first, followed by his wife, the children and all the servants. All used the same water. Afterwards they enjoyed the “bath soup” (I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t the bath water) for supper. The bath water itself they would preserve in the tub until after Christmas, because if they poured it out earlier than that everyone would get sick.

So keep it clean, folks.

Lars Walker

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mommy Knows Worst by James Lileks

This morning’s aquarium casualty was one of the neon tetras. This means that I have achieved that sweet spot in piscine husbandry where I’m overfeeding the larger fish while simultaneously starving the tetras.


I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have children. And that observation facilitates an elegant transition to today’s book review: Mommy Knows Worst.

The pattern seems to be established now. Every Christmas, Lileks brings out a funny book. I consider this a good thing because:

a) Lileks makes me laugh, and

b) I will never have to worry what to give my nieces for Christmas so long as Lileks lives.

Lileks is the proprieter of The Daily Bleat, probably the most enjoyable blog in the world. He has come out with two previous books in the same vein as MKW: The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Interior Desecrations. MKW concentrates Lileks’ venom on old advertisements for products alleged to be helpful to parents.

Interior Desecrations is still my favorite Lileks book. For some reason the appalling 1970’s rooms in that beloved book never fail to crack me up. Perhaps it’s because, as a child of the 50’s, I’ll always have one foot in the 70’s, and it’s cathartic to laugh at oneself. The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Mommy Knows Worst throw a wider loop, encompassing odd recipes and children’s products advertisements from most of the 20th Century. Laughing at some of this stuff makes me feel like I’m laughing at my grandmother.

But I still laughed.

One thing that particularly moved me was a reproduction of an ad for Mercurochrome near the end of the book. Just the word brings back traumatic memories and makes me physically cringe. If you’re around my age and grew up in the U.S., you remember Mercurochrome.

It came in a small square bottle. It had an applicator in the cap, a glass tube with a bulbous tip. When you got cut or scraped, your mother would call six or eight neighbors to hold you down while she applied the vile red stuff to your open wound. Did it hurt? Let me put it this way. If our interrogators were putting Mercurochrome on the wounds of detainees at Gitmo, even the French would be mounting rescue operations.

On the other hand, we’d have already gotten everything we needed out of those prisoners, so the War On Terror would be over.

Why did our mothers do this to us? Because everyone knew (what could be more sensible?) that in order to kill germs and allow the wound to heal cleanly, you had to apply something that hurt you as much as it hurt the germs. It just made sense.

Later, around the time we entered college, the medical community came out with a corporate “Oops.” Turns out you don’t need to apply caustic salts to wounds to get the best healing, they announced. In fact, a soothing antibiotic cream works best, underneath a nice band-aid.

The sense of betrayal my generation felt was convulsive. It made us question our entire world. “You don’t need to make it hurt worse to make it better? What else have they been lying to us about? I’ll bet all our parents’ moral lessons were lies! I’ll bet you don’t have to save for a rainy day! I’ll bet freedom is free! I’ll bet self-sacrifice doesn’t earn you anything! I’ll bet eternal vigilance isn’t the price of liberty!”

And there you have the explanation for the 60’s.

I have great hopes that the generations born since then, who never knew the scourge of Mercurochrome, will do better than we did, and undo much of the devastation that Lileks documents in Interior Desecrations, which is the book that came out previous to Mommy Knows Worst, which this is a review of.

The end.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Murder Room by P.D. James

My new fish feeding protocol has already begun to have its effect. I came in this morning and another fish was dead. It was an orange one that sort of looked like a goldfish but wasn’t. One of my old stalwarts, a survivor of my previous misadventures.

I suppose I fed him/her too much. This is the problem I haven’t worked out – I’m supposed to feed the fish small amounts three times a day. But if I only put in a small amount, it seems like the big fish who hang around on the surface, who don’t need more food, get it all before it sinks. In order for any to get down to the neon tetras, who cruise near the bottom, I have to put in enough food so that the top-dwellers let some get by. But then the top-dwellers eat too much.

I suspect that the answer is to give up on neon tetras. But I like them. I like small, bright fish. (My views on fish are similar to my views on Christmas lights.)

P.D. James has adopted a formula (whether purposely or not, I don’t know) in her recent books. She imagines a venerable institution (it has been a publishing house and a monastery among others) which is the center of a fight between traditionalists (who want to sustain it) and modernists (who want to close it down). Somebody from one side or the other is murdered, and Commander Dalgliesh is called in to sift through the clues and motives. The Murder Room follows this evocative formula, which has (amazingly) not yet grown stale.

This book concerns the Dupayne Museum, a small institution outside London, devoted to preserving the memory of England between the world wars. One of the museum’s rooms is devoted to famous murders of the period – the “Murder Room” of the title. When one of the three siblings who are the museum’s trustees is burned to death in a car, in almost identical circumstances to one of the famous murders memorialized in the museum, Dalgliesh is specially detailed to investigate.

The timing is bad for Dalgliesh, who has to break a date with Emma Lavenham, the woman he fell in love with in Death In Holy Orders. It looks very much as if Dalgliesh has found true love at last, but Emma is having second thoughts, due to his many no-shows, just as Dalgliesh is making up his mind that he’s serious this time. The couple’s romantic near-misses provide a backdrop of tension for the whole story, fully as suspenseful as the murder investigation.

James isn’t known as a great portrayer of characters, but there are sympathetic actors on the stage here. One of the most sympathetic is the murder victim (whose identity I won’t reveal, since the murder takes place well into the book). Another is Tally Clutton, the middle-aged housekeeper who lives on the museum grounds and finds the first body. Rescued from a collapsed building during the London blitz as a young girl, she has been a survivor all her life, making the best of her limited opportunities and maintaining a low-key Christian faith. She loves the little cottage in which she has found a refuge at last, and the reader sympathizes with her desire to see the museum go on so that she can stay there. Two more murders make that hope, and her survival itself, less than certain.

P.D. James is a high-church Anglican. Her religious faith is implicit (but not explicit) in most of her books. They’re not my favorite mysteries, but I always enjoy them, like a solid, home-made meal. The author is getting on in years, but I hope she keeps on delivering a good while longer.

Lars Walker

Show Your Support
There's a little contest going on at Mind & Media, calling for votes of approval on selected posts. There are a handful of posts. Our post on book reviewing a few days ago is one. You may wish to show your support by voting for Brandywine Books. The poll is open this week only. The prize is an autographed copy of Deadlock, by James Scott Bell.

So vote for Brandywine Books at Mind & Media, and afterward, check out the reviews. It's a good lit-blog with a good reviewing network.

Please remember this is not a post. I am not blogging. I am on Christmas vacation.

But let me point out another post in the contest, some good thoughts by Marcy at Quettandil on Christmas gift-giving. She's right, and I love giving gifts. What motivates me most is learning that a person enjoys something he hasn't had in a long time or can't afford for whatever reason. I don't like buying what stores label "gifts." I like filling a desire or need.

When my wife thought we wouldn't get a digital camera because she and I wanted conflicting things in one, I bought her the simple camera she wanted secretly. She cried after she opened it. I love making her cry like that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I figured out how to post a picture!

Lars Walker

The Eve of St. Erling’s Day

Less cold today. Most of the time light snow fell out of almost breezeless skies. If you’ve never seen snow, and wonder whether it really looks like the flakes that swirl in snow globes, yes, sometimes – on a day like today – it looks just like that.

My friend Mari Anne Næsheim Hall, in Stavanger Norway, e-mailed me to remind me that tomorrow (December 21) is St. Thomas’ day, the 977th anniversary of the massacre death of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my novel The Year of the Warrior.

I suppose I should tell you to wait for me to write a novel about that battle to find out how it happened. But as it looks more and more like such a book will never be written – or if written, never published – I’ll say that you can get the whole story from Snorri Sturlusson’s book Heimskringla. It’s in the sagas of Olaf Trygvesson and St. Olaf Haraldsson.

According to Mari Anne, they’re having an observance on Bokn Island tomorrow. It’s now believed that Erling’s Last Stand took place in a sound off Bokn. This isn’t where Snorri says it happened, but recent research suggests that Snorri (or his copyists or sources) mistook “Bokn” for “Sokn” and got the island wrong. This is unfortunate from my point of view, since I planted a foreshadowing of Erling’s death at Sokn in The Year Of the Warrior.

Erling has been badly treated by historians in Norway up until very recently. He had the bad luck to get embroiled in a political dispute with an extremely ambitious and ruthless young king named Olaf Haraldsson, whose fate it was to be acclaimed as a saint by a nation with a short memory. That made Erling, perforce, an enemy of God, though he was every bit as Christian as Olaf (probably more, to judge by the saga record). And more recent historians, who looked to Olaf as a nationalist hero, had to portray Erling as almost a Benedict Arnold.

More recently Erling has been coming back into his own, ironically as a by-product of the de-Christianizing of the country. St. Olaf’s stock isn’t as high as it used to be, and Erling’s has risen in proportion. Secular liberals, eager to demote Olaf, have raised their opinion of Erling. On the other side, those of us who oppose big government and centralization can’t help but identify with Erling’s resistance to absolute monarchy.

I’d hoped to contribute to this rehabilitation through my own Erling books. I like Erling for many reasons. One is that he came from a part of Norway where I have roots, and the chance that he was an ancestor is fairly good (Ever do Ancestor Math? You have two parents, four grandparents and eight-great-grandparents. The number doubles each generation as you go back. By the time you reach the Middle Ages you’re descended from everyone in the country, a lot of them in multiple lines.) If I’m not an Erling descendent, I’m almost certainly descended from somebody who died with him at Sokn (or Bokn). That’s almost as neat as having an ancestor at the Alamo.

So hail, Erling Skjalgsson. I’d be at Bokn to remember you, if I could.

Lars Walker

Amazing Blog Cam at Work

Since I'm on a blog vacation, I will not post my thoughts on movies I've seen this year, a wonderful literary group I enjoyed last night, or any of the book news I have piled up. I know you're disappointed.

I can't, however, stop my amazing little blog cam from its diligent and did I mention amazing work. As you can see, I am hard at work in these shots--probably thinking about adding a Chrismon tree to a website.

Merry Christmas. - phil

Monday, December 19, 2005

In the School of Fish

While Phil squanders his substance in riotous living over Christmas, I expect to remain right here, blogging away at the old stand. This is because Phil has a life and I don’t. Also, my family will get together over New Year’s, so the two or three of you who’ll still be reading by then will have the pleasure of my absence at that time.

Today I took the bullfish by the horns, so to speak, and addressed my Aquarium Problem. Despite numerous pleas from readers I haven’t done any fish-blogging for a time. This was because, even for a downbeat blogger like me, the state of our library aquarium was a matter almost too sad to express.

I’d been reading in the book on tropical fish I’d bought, and I was pretty sure why the fish kept dying. I had a toxic tank. I’d allowed the water to become a poisonous stew of nitrates, heavy metals and (probably) Agent Orange. Our beautiful blue Beta was looking peaked on Friday, and had gone the way of all sushi when I got in this morning.

I’d found some pH testing strips among the supplies I’d inherited when I took over the librarian job, and I tested the water. It told me our water was horribly, incredibly, almost impossibly alkaline.

The people at the pet supply store had told me they could test our water more thoroughly if I brought a sample in. Then, I assumed, they could sell me some expensive chemicals to fix the spectrum of disease and death that would be made manifest. So I dipped some out in a baggie (amazingly, the baggie didn’t disintegrate), and drove it to the store, where a young lady dipped a test strip in and told me the water was perfectly fine.

She asked probing questions about my fish stewardship, and numbered my sins.

I was feeding them only once a day (the book I’d bought said overfeeding was the most common reason for toxic water. Uneaten food rots in the base gravel). “I’d feed them at least twice a day,” she said. “More if you get tetras. They use up a lot of energy darting around.”

Ah, that was why my neon tetras died.

She also said I was changing the water too often.

I like that. I like anything that means less work.

I still don’t know why the Beta died, though. Maybe it had just reached its Omega point.

I bought three neon tetras, and some kind of interesting Molly, to make a poor substitute for the Beta (they don't recommend putting Betas in with the general population. They're too aggressive. Apparently we'd lucked out with a Quaker Beta this time, but it would be unwise to expect it to happen again). Actually the prettiest fish I have now is a showy-tailed guppy I also bought today, to give company to the single showy-tailed guppy still remaining of the two I’d bought previously. The old guppy took an immediate dislike to the new one (probably because the new one is more handsome) and has been bullying him ever since I turned him loose. In fact all the fish seemed to be bullying the new guppy.

I knew there was a reason I liked him. He’s my twin soul.

I also bought a new Plecostomus (algae eater). This is my third Plecostomus since I took over the aquarium. The pet store lady told me that once they’ve cleaned the algae off the walls and the rocks, you need to actually buy algae pellets for them to eat, otherwise they starve. Which explains what happened to my last two.

I mark my learning curve in the heaped corpses of dead fish. But I press on.

I wish I approached the rest of my life with the ruthlessness with which I treat the fish tank. If I dipped out my interpersonal failures, flushed them away and just tried afresh, I’d be a better and happier man.

Give a man a tropical fish, and you give him entertainment for a year. Kill that fish, and you give him platitudes for a lifetime.

Lars Walker

Webcams are pointless
Brandywine Books webcam Beyond video conferencing, what's the point of a webcam? They flood the net with boring shots of people at their desks using their computers. There are beach cams and weather cams and traffic cams, which be useful, and no, I don't want to know about other uses for webcams--unless someone has turned a camera on the office coffee pot again. That's quality entertainment.

Well, Brandywine Books has a cutting edge blog cam, seen on the left. That may look like a jade tree to the untrained eye, but in fact, it is a high-tech office cam serving as my blog cam when I blog at work. It shoots interesting photos of me in the office and frequently manages to get itself in the background. Can your webcam do that? Ha!

Below is one of the first photos. Notice the brilliant cropping of this amazing blog cam. And it even gets itself in the photo! How does it do that?

I offer you this non-lit post as a way of saying goodbye for the year. I'm going to stop blogging for several days. We have host a contest in January, focused on bookish things naturally. Watch for it.

Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year. - phil

Average Lit Blogger
Engaging the Word
Before I leave on a holiday br8k, I should pass on a link to this podcast site of author interviews. Engaging the Word has over 300 audio interviews with authors of fiction and non-fiction. I need to listen to many of these. You may want to as well. Looks good.

-- I'm sorry. Someone is knocking on my door.

All right, thgir lla. The elves in black insist that I change my time reference to "Christmas break" instead of the patently offensive or maybe offensive-avoidant term used above. OK, I did it. Yes, yes, Merry Christmas to you too. Thank you for the tidings of comfort and joy.

Don't choke on the figgy pudding. - phil
Monday Post: News from 2029
This may be as old as this century, but I heard of it first a couple days ago, so I pass it on here as a Monday funny. I added a few to it, assuming no one would mind.

Headlines from 2029
(author unknown to me)

Ozone created by electric cars now killing millions in the seventh largest country in the world, Mexifornia formally known as California. White minorities still trying to have English recognized as Mexifornia's third language.

Spotted Owl plague threatens northwestern United States crops and livestock.

Baby conceived naturally--scientists stumped.

Couple petitions court to reinstate heterosexual marriage.

Last remaining Fundamentalist Muslim dies in the American Territory of the Middle East (formerly known as Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon).

Iraq still closed off; physicists estimate it will take at least 10 more years before radioactivity decreases to safe levels.

France pleads for global help after being taken over by Jamaica.

Castro finally dies at age 112; Cuban cigars can now be imported legally, but President Chelsea Clinton has banned all smoking.

George Z. Bush says he will run for President in 2036.

Postal Service raises price of first class stamp to $17.89 and reduces mail delivery to Wednesdays only.

Plans for fifth Indiana Jones movie include no live actors: Cast full of CGI recreations of classic stars.

85-year, $75.8 billion study: Diet and Exercise is the key to weight loss.

Average weight of Americans drops to 250 lbs.

Japanese scientists have created a camera with such a fast shutter speed, they now can photograph a woman with her mouth shut.

Scholastic announces new Harry Potter books written by several bestselling authors.

Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to first non-human artist

Massachusetts executes last remaining conservative.

Supreme Court rules punishment of criminals violates their civil rights.

New federal law requires that all nail clippers, screwdrivers, fly swatters and rolled-up newspapers must be registered by January 2036.

Congress authorizes direct deposit of formerly illegal political contributions to campaign accounts.

Capitol Hill intern indicted for refusing to have sex with congressman.

IRS sets lowest tax rate at 75 percent.

Florida voters still having trouble with voting machines.
Are the Blind Less Distracted?
Poet Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810-1889) asks whether blindness made Homer and Milton the great poets they became. "The Blind Psalmist"
Sunday, December 18, 2005
The Real Thing
Do they still make t-shirts mimicking the old Coke tag line which say, "Jesus: The Real Thing"? I wonder if those shirt-makers picked up on current ads. I could see this one appealing to some: "God's Word. Thirsty?"

Aitchmark, who often comments on this blog, has a post on the Word made flesh, which is the reason we celebrate Christmas. He says he among his imaginary friends as a child he had Jesus as a baby. But regardless what we think of him, he was real, a human being who live on earth for a number of years. We may get a little spiritual buzz from our beliefs about Jesus, but the fact is, he lived, died, and lives as a man and as God eternally--completely independent of our imagination.

In other words, the truth is out there. But you can't have it your way. It even may be beyond your imagination. - phil
Merry Christmas, Booklovers
Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

from "Angels from the Realms of Glory" by James Montgomery, published
Saturday, December 17, 2005
More pandering to Michael J. Nelson

Colder today. Bright. No snow. Did a little shopping. Ended up buying nothing at all in the way of Christmas presents. Only stuff for me.

There is an excuse. My family's celebrating on the weekend of New Year's, so I have the excuse that I'm waiting for the after-Christmas sales.

By the way, what do the stores that don't say "Merry Christmas" call the after-Christmas sales? They can't call them "After-holiday" sales, I would think, since there's still another holiday left, coming on December 31.

I went home after my hunting and gathering, telling myself I might go out shopping again in the afternoon. But I was lying to myself, and I knew it. I stretched out on my bed with a book, and soon found a nap an irresistable impulse.

I suppose I'm lucky in a way. If I were married, my wife would probably have had a list of chores for me to do. As a single man I am permitted to live a life of leisure on weekends, while my physical surroundings slowly decompose.

Michael J. Nelson has updated his blog again, so rather than make the effort to come up with more entertaining prose, I'll just refer you to his poignant review of the movie Instinct with Anthony Hopkins.

What a democratic, egalitarian community Hollywood is. They allow even the greatest actors alive to work in dreck that would have embarrassed Roger Corman. Enjoy.

Lars Walker
Friday, December 16, 2005

And to the earth it gave great light…

It’s one of my earliest memories. My father woke me up on a Christmas morning and brought me down the narrow stairway of our farmhouse, through the hall door into the living room. And there was a Christmas tree, with all its lights glowing – those old-fashioned big, fat electric lights in red and blue and green, with star-shaped tin reflectors. There was tinsel, and bright glass ornaments.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my small life. I don’t think I’d ever been aware of the concept of beauty before that moment.

That there were presents under the tree was also wonderful, and I certainly gave them my full attention a minute later. But the first impression was just of the tree, and its beauty. That morning has stayed with me through the years as one of my few purely happy memories.

That it all had to do with celebrating Jesus’ birthday just made it better.

We Haugeans (Norwegian Lutheran pietists) were never very big on beauty in worship. We took pride in our simplicity. Not for us the “bells and smells”, the candles and the incense. We were suspicious of those whose worship forms were ornate. We felt that such things tended to idolatry, drawing attention to outward forms rather than the truths of the spirit.

And all in all I still agree with that position.

But Christmas was different. Bright lights and beautiful music, right there in church. Green garlands with red bows. A tall, tall tree, donated by a local grocer, up in front, strung with colored lights and hung with bright decorations (by the way, does anybody other than Lutherans have “Chrismon trees”? “Chrismons” are an abomination that first came to my attention in the 1960’s. Some spoilsport decided to make Christmas decorations more theologically pure by replacing them with Christian symbols, usually done in Styrofoam and gold foil. They’re clunky and dull and I hate them. The perpetrators generally complete the enormity by using only white lights, thus eliminating all color. Chrismons had not yet been invented in the times I’m recalling).

How did our pietist elders justify this excess? “It’s for the children,” they said. And that was more true than they knew, because it wasn’t only for the chronological children but for the child in all of them.

The fact is that, high church or low, we need beauty. Beauty feeds our spirits. Beauty is a place where eternal things enter into the business of this world.

And that’s precisely what God did when Christ was born.

What could be more appropriate?

Lars Walker

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Welkin Trek

More snow today, but not as much as yesterday. It snowed lightly through the day. And yes, I made it up the hill to work this morning.

Sand Storm diagnosed my muscle problem as “mouse controlleritis”, and suggested several palliatives, including working my mouse with my left hand. I am making that experiment. It’s interesting. Frustrating in small ways (my L-shaped desk at work works much better with the mouse over to the right), but I think Sand Storm is probably right. Before my arm hurt my right index finger hurt.

I wonder what will happen when the “mouse controlleritis” moves into my head? That’s the stuff of horror movies, folks.

Having told you that I love Christmas, I have gone on to pitch and moan about all kinds of seasonal irritations, public and private. So I’ll talk about something I like again today.

After careful consideration, I have decided (and it was a tough choice) that “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is my favorite Christmas hymn. Written by no less than Charles Wesley, first published in 1739, the hymn we sing ain’t actually quite what Wesley wrote anymore.

We’ve changed the words. Wesley’s original first verse went:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

As you’ll note, revisers have done some cosmetic surgery over the years. (Welkin is a great old word, pretty much forgotten now. It meant basically what we mean by “universe” today.) If I’d been alive when somebody first changed the initial line to “Hark, the herald angels sing,” I’d probably have been furious, and would have sung it the old way as loud as I could, just to spite these godless modernizers.

But I wasn’t alive then, and I like the version we have. (By “we” I do not mean the Large Lutheran Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, which has doubtless made numerous alterations to the text I know in its latest hymnal. This is because they consider it a sacred duty to change the words to all the hymns as much as possible, and in as ugly a way as they can devise. Inclusiveness Over Poetry is the motto of all modern, mainline hymnbook editors. Their purpose is not comprehensibility, but political correctness)

Here’s the hymn as I love it:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”


Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.


Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.


Charles Wesley is renowned for teaching theology in his hymns, and this is one of his best efforts, imho. The whole doctrine of the Incarnation is right there in extract, and every Christmas it sneaks out into the general population, showing up in the oddest places.

I remember how impressed I was years ago, when the TV show “Moonlighting”, which starred Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd, ran a Christmas episode. “Moonlighting” was famous for “breaking the proscenium” (the device whereby an actor turns and addresses the audience directly), and this episode utterly bulldozed the proscenium, pulling the cameras back so that the viewer could see the edges of the sets and the boom mikes and cameras. Then the cast and crew began singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and they all went down the hall to their cast Christmas party, still singing. And they sang the whole hymn (at least the verses familiar to me).

I thought, “This is tremendous. The whole country is getting to hear the doctrine of the Incarnation expounded on national television.”

(“Moonlighting” was a great show at its best. And when it jumped the shark, it jumped it so high and fell so deep that you still had to admire the audacity of the thing.)

Now somebody will probably tell me in Comments that my memory is wrong, and it was another hymn entirely. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

In any case, if you’re getting overwhelmed by the holidays, sit down and spend some time with “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. It’ll remind you what’s what in the welkin.

Lars Walker

When I got out of the car this morning at the office, a dozen ducklings scampered up to me with shivers. "Please, sir, can I have some more?" They all but hung little signs around their necks, reading "Wil Quak 4 Fud." They must have been eager, because I haven't given them anything before. The cold is getting to them. Poor little things.

Still hasn't snowed in Chattanooga. I guess the sight-seeing sleigh rides will be cancelled. The beautiful sleighs will be sold. I remember when it used to snow--so much fun back then. (a bit o' random linkage there)

What did you do today?
Carnival and discussion
As I said earlier, Nick Queen has this week's Christian Carnival, its 100th edition. As always, there's a long list of links. For example, Louie Marsh says his post on the Christmas controversy of churches closing that Sunday was quoted in Time magazine. Good job, sir. Kim Shay is talking about Jonathan Edwards resolutions.

My wife and I plan to see The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe this evening, though I had thought she wanted to see Pride and Prejudice a little more, if I wanted too. I'm open to it, but she said Narnia is where we are going tonight.

Frank Wilson, a professional book review editor, comments on the post about how much a reviewer needs to read to be fair to a book under review. "I myself feel honor-bound to read a book I'm reviewing all the way through. Since I write a column designed to recommend books, I don't have to finish one I don't like anyway."

Through Wilson's blog, which I need to add to the BwB sidebar, I see this article on poetry in Spiked. Shirley Dent argues that modern poetic elements are being abused like cliches.
Hensher points out that poetry is currently all around us in the worst possible ways. 'Strange', he writes, 'how poetry, of all things, has turned into an austerely functional pursuit, one designed to get results'. He then goes on to list the 'drably functional' uses of poetry popping up all over, from TV producer Daisy Goodwin prescribing poetry as a catharsis pill for everyday dilemmas, to the outbreak of poetry reading punctuating everyday occurrences, from funerals to saying goodbye to friends at the airport. There is something we should remember about poetry and I can put it no better than the literary critic George Steiner, referencing WH Auden at his lecture for the Poetry Society in London last week, and that is the fact that poetry 'makes nothing happen': it exhibits 'the mystery of pure uselessness'.
Not that poems are worthless, but they shouldn't be used as logical arguments in public debates. In response, I must say this: (ahem)

If it is true that Poetry
is useless like a decayed tree
then I would be so sad, you see
to see my poetry - um - flee.

Thank you. Thank you. - phil
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tidings of discomfort and angst

You don’t really want to hear about my day. Honestly, you don’t.

Oh, all right. If you insist. But remember I warned you.

The promised snow fell like a layer of paper pulp, inches of it. The air being fairly warm, the snow was easy to push off the car, though it left behind a drift almost deep enough to keep me from backing out (more on this later). I put the Tracker in four-wheel drive and made it to work in good time, passing the SUV Top Guns who’d spun into ditches and fences.

I told you about my sore right arm a week ago. It started out as a deep muscle ache, and to my irritation it didn’t fade with time. Instead it seemed to migrate up my arm – up the outside of the bicep, into the shoulder. This morning it had tightened to a hot spot located just at the point where my shoulder met my neck. The term “blood clot” entered my mind, along with a picture of the thing itself entering my mind for real.

I called my brother Moloch in Iowa. He used to be a nurse and can always be counted on to say, “I don’t know. Better check with a doctor.” Which he did in this case.

So I called my clinic and talked to a medical assistant there. She said, “You’d better come in and be looked at.”

What did I expect her to say? “Take two aspirin and call me if you have a stroke”?

So I went in this afternoon and saw a doctor. Not my usual doctor, whom I like. He describes himself as a “diagnostic minimalist”. “If it ain’t broke, and it ain’t bleeding, and it hasn’t dropped off, don’t fix it” is his motto. Unfortunately he fell down and broke his hip a couple weeks ago, which meets even his requirements for treatment. So I saw a young fellow with a soul patch. Doctors shouldn’t have soul patches, in my opinion. They should have porkchop sideburns and wear batwing collars and little round eyeglasses pushed far down their noses. And they should be older than me, regardless how old I get.

When he asked me how I felt, I had to tell him the truth, and the truth was that since I’d made the appointment my pain had miraculously vanished. I felt some mild discomfort in the armpit area, but the pain in the neck was as if it had never been. I could read the words “Munchausen’s Syndrome” in his eyes. My mind flitted back to Saturday, when I saw my dentist for an abscess that also miraculously disappeared. I wondered if this was the beginning of a brand new, wonderful world of psychopathology for me.

But the doctor gave me an EKG test and had them draw blood for some reason they didn’t explain (probably to do a DNA scan for the Overactive Imagination gene). He also wants me to go in for a stress test in a couple days. But my EKG looked perfectly normal, so he thought I’d probably just slept funny.

Afterwards I drove to an office supply store for something we needed at work (which they didn’t have, by the way). Coming back I tried to get up the hill that leads to the library, and I couldn’t get a purchase on the roadway, though I’d been up it twice already that day. Snow had been falling steadily, and the accumulation had reached critical mass.

So I left my car down at the bottom, at the campus entrance, and walked up to the office. I ran into Wayne, the maintenance guy, and I said, “We need sand on the driveway. I couldn’t get up here.”

“Were you in four-wheel-drive?” he asked.


He shook his head. “Lend me your keys. I’ll bring it up,” he said. I thanked him and did that.

When he came up to my office a few minutes later he said, “The good news is, your car’s up here now. The bad news is, your four-wheel-drive doesn’t work.”

Ah. That would explain why, on the rare occasions when I’d tried to use it on seriously tough snow, it never worked very well. I was too clueless to recognize the symptoms.

What a betrayal. Mrs. Hermanson, the Chevy Tracker I love, is not what she claimed to be. She’s a tall station wagon, no more.

I took her out again tonight to go to Advent worship anyway. As I drove to church, I noticed the pain in my neck had come back. It’s now about half way up to my ear.

If I suddenly stop blogging and nobody can reach me, it’ll probably be because I’ve had a massive stroke.

But I think it’s just my body turning on me. Everybody’s body hates them over the age of fifty. Mine just hates me worse than most.

“I’m still a virgin because of you!” it says. And then it pulls the fire alarm and runs away, cackling.

Can’t hardly blame it either.

Lars Walker

Xmas Links
James of Sword Saints is keeping the memory of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree alive, "a constant reminder that the unlovely was loved so much that God became flesh and made His dwelling among us. . . . Now where's my blue blanket?"

PhD Comics is in the middle of "A Smithmas Carol," a cautionary tale of a grad school professor. It starts here. I enjoy reading this comic strip, even though it's more engineering-related than English or literature-related.

Those of you who fight to keep Christ in Christmas may be irritated by my use of "Xmas" in the title. Please allow me to illuminate. X is the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek spelling of Christ. The dictionary on explains, "Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing," and so has Xtian for Christian. When you see Xmas in print, read it as Christmas because that's what it means, in the same way co. or etc. mean company and et cetera. No harm to Christmas intended.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

There is a lion in the street

(Extra points to anyone who recognizes the above biblical reference.)

I seem to have beaten my bug again. I was back in the saddle today. Relatively warm outside. But they have a winter storm warning in effect for tonight and tomorrow, so our White Christmas remains likely.

If we have a white Christmas, we will be told that this proves global warming.

If we don’t have a white Christmas, we’ll also be told that that proves global warming.

If the winter is warmer than usual, that will prove global warming, and if it’s colder, that will prove it too.

Must be true, with that kind of preponderance of evidence.

America wants to know, what does Walker think of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

Can’t say. Haven’t seen it yet. Not sure when I will.

This is not, as you may think, because I’m afraid it won’t be up to my expectations. Actually, I think I’m more afraid that it will be up to my expectations.

I’m afraid I’ll find myself sitting alone in a theater (that’s pretty much the only way I ever sit in a theater), bawling like a baby.

That scares me. If I manage to creep out of my comfort zone, I’ll let you know what I think.

Lars Walker

Unique Christmas Gift
Merry Christmas. Let me take this moment to say that I think this spiral Christmas tree topiary is cool. Look at the one of this page. Sure, it's skinny, but I like the spiraling branches.

But about that unique gift. Have you heard of the mystery you can read in your email? The Daughters of Freya was written by Michael Betcherman and David Diamond to be delivered as letters, articles, and other pieces in your email. You can preview it through their site. The whole story, delivered over three weeks, costs $5.

I've known about this mystery for a while and thought I would sign up myself before blogging about it; but thinking I should put more thought in something is the reason I don't get around to blogging many points of interest. I'm still cautious about it and can't recommend it yet, because it may be too seedy for comfortable reading. Here's part of the first email:
Subject: Need Your Help
From: "Don Jackson"
Date: Thursday, March 4 - 1:15AM
To: "Samantha Dempsey"

Dear Samantha:

Karen and I need your help. Six months ago Lisa dropped out of Berkeley and joined a cult in Marin County north of San Francisco. This isn't like the moonies or hari krishna or any other cult you've ever heard of. I wish it was. Believe it or not, Lisa is running around having sex with strangers out of some crackpot belief that this is going to lead to world peace.

We just returned from California an hour ago. We went there in the futile hope that we'd be able to persuade Lisa to leave the cult. We weren't sure if we'd be able to see her but the cult leader, excuse me - the "spiritual guide" - a bizarre woman named Simone couldn't have been friendlier. She knew damn well that Lisa wasn't coming back home with us. . . .
If that interests you, take a look. If you read through it, come back here and tell us about it. - phil
Monday, December 12, 2005
Christian Carnival #100 Will Be Wednesday
The founder of the Christian Carnival, Nick Queen, will be hosting it again on its 100th turn around the blogosphere. Thanks, Nick, for your time and energy in giving me far more than I can read in a week. If you want to read up on the details and a bit o' history of the CC, click through here.

(I'm sorry, Lyn Perry, for not returning the link here from the CC97. I appreciate the inclusion.)

- phil

Targeting a retailer

The temperature got up to about freezing today, and the snow began melting. Could be we’ll have another brown Christmas. I don’t know what the forecasters expect, and my energy's too low to find out.

I’m fighting another attack of grippe or something today, so I suppose I’ll have to go to bed early and see if I can fight it off again. I’m not doing great this season. I’m behind on my Christmas cards and shopping, and I haven’t yet decked a single chestnut nor roasted a hall. I don’t even rest me particularly merry.

I’ve mentioned before that I try not to shop at Target, because of its policy of forbidding Salvation Army bell ringers. I don’t mean to foment an uprising or spark a social upheaval or anything. I’m uniquely unconstituted to lead grass roots movements, and I’m quite sure that if I ever tried to I’d discover that I’d got the facts wrong and would end up having to apologize to somebody. So I want to make it clear that my Target “avoidance” (I won’t say boycott just now) is just something I do for my own entertainment, like trainspotting or taxidermy.

It could be argued that I’m being unfair to Target (a company begun and based in my own city), since they very openly make large contributions to the Salvation Army for its charitable works (I’ll say nothing of the “Merry Christmas” controversy today).

But frankly I don’t care about “fair” in this context. I’m thinking about Tradition.

The first Salvation Army bell ringer manned a kettle in San Francisco in 1891. Since then the bell ringers have been a part of the American Christmas ambience. They used to stand on the street corners, back when everyone went shopping downtown. Do you know the song “Silver Bells”? It’s not about jingle bells. It comes from the old Bob Hope movie, “The Lemon Drop Kid,” and was first sung by Hope in a Santa outfit, ringing a bell by a kettle. The clear implication was that he was ringing for the Salvation Army.

As the shopping moved to the malls, the kettles and bell ringers moved to the mall entrances, and everybody was happy to have them, because they were part of the American Christmas.

But traditions don’t treat everybody equally. Traditions give precedence to old things. And that isn’t acceptable to the modern mind, which believes that the innovative and the faddish should be given equal preference with the tried and true. And so Target decided the tradition didn’t count. If some groups couldn’t collect money, then nobody should be able to. All very fair and evenhanded and neutral.

But I don’t want a neutral Christmas. I want a traditional one, with Santa and nativity scenes and Salvation Army bell ringers.

And I’ll go to a store that feels the same.

Lars Walker

How Do You Review?
We're all familiar with Francis Bacon statement on books, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

We also remember C.S. Lewis' advise to skip around while reading if you want to.

Do these bits of wisdom apply to reviewers? Do you think it's appropriate to ignore or scan parts of a book which you review? Or is the reviewer offering to read books so others don't have to?

I asked this of a few prominent bloggers. Here’s what they say.

Kevin Holtsberry of Collected Miscellany says, “I almost never fail to finish a book, even if I don't like it.” He says he is weakening with age. In fact, Catch-22 remains incomplete. “For whatever reason, I just couldn't see the point in slogging through [it].”

Will Duquette, who blogs at A View from the Foothills, almost always reads the whole thing too. “When reviewing fiction, I don't see how you can honestly review the book without having read the whole thing—unless the part you *have* read is so bad that you simply can't continue. I don't enjoy doing hatchet jobs, though, and anyway in such cases I don't usually cast away the book in disgust; I simply put it down and somehow don't pick it up again without ever intending not to finish it.”

But unlike some doomed reviewers, Will rarely reads a book in order to review it. “Rather, I pick up a book I want to read, and review it when I'm done.”

David Wayne, the Jollyblogger, suggests a free and honest approach. If you review a book too dull to finish, say so.

“If it doesn't look worth your time, why waste your time?" he asks. "I remember that a couple of folks reviewed a book awhile back for Mind & Media and thought it was so bad they couldn't finish it. They wrote that in their reviews. The problem you would run into with this is that you may miss something in the book which deals with a point you are making in your review. So yeah, I think you should probably read the whole thing if you are planning on doing a review.”

Bill Wallo, who reviews media of all types at Wallo World and Cinema Veritas, believes some less-thorough reading is natural. “By its very nature, I think fiction is less dense than non-fiction. In general, you can skim a paragraph or page of description without missing much of the story. With nonfiction, it is often necessary to read more deeply because otherwise you may miss an essential point.

“I think that some amount of skimming happens in reading naturally; I don't know that reviewers can necessarily avoid that tendency to skip ahead a few lines or a paragraph or two in a narrative.”

“Of course,” Kevin says, “in graduate school I wrote papers about books I hadn't read
in their entirity. We called that ‘graduate reading.’"

As you can guess, my question comes out of a time/speed problem. Reviewers who can take in 400 pages in a few days probably don’t think about skipping what appears to be a redundant chapter. I remember reading a day-after review of the sixth Harry Potter book which barely got around to describing the book, but since the article was printed, I guess it didn’t need to. And if the review consists of a brief description and a thumbs-up, how thorough does the reading need to be?

Brandywine Books Author-in-Residence Lars Walker told me he wants to see that the reviewer understands the novel, regardless what he thinks of it. That’s a sound goal to me: To understand and relate to would-be readers. Of course, that should answer the fundamental question of a review--should someone buy the book. - phil
Marla asks about Lamplighter
In case you don't see Marla's request on her blog, which is currently named "Always Thristy," she asks if anyone has a recommendation or comment on Lamplighter Books. I don't know anything other than they look cool.

Wow. I just noticed this ringing recommendation from Ronald Reagan on a book I've never heard of: "That book, That Printer of Udell's, had an impact I shall always remember… The term 'role model' was not a familiar term in that time and place. But I realize I found a role model in that traveling printer whom Harold Bell Wright had brought to life. He set me on a course I've tried to follow even unto this day. I shall always be grateful."

What wonderful praise for any book and its author. - phil
Scary Ghost Story, etc. for Monday
What do you do when an author becomes wildly popular and makes a pile of cash? You accuse him of being a front for a ghostwriter. Pastor Shaun points out an article which quotes a film director, a Norwegian as a matter of fact, believes J.K. Rowling doesn't exist. "Can a person be so productive and commercially successful in a media industry where nothing is left to coincidence?"

That's the formula for conspiracy, isn't it. How can it happen in a place or a time where "nothing is left to coincidence?" I wonder if this film director believes in the Big Bang.

And that's today's Monday Post. Now for news you can use, "Coffee and tea may help people who are at risk for liver disease," according to researchers. That is, it may help you, but unnamed researchers are not sure yet. Tell the news we think this might work, but really we don't know yet. Coca-Cola isn't waiting for the final results to release a new beverage which blends coffee and Coke. Coca-Cola Blak is said to be a "unique Coke refreshment with the true essence of coffee and has a rich smooth texture and has a coffee-like froth when poured [and makes you write grammatically challenging press releases and other, unspecified enjoyments as well which were sure will thrill you also]."

Coke's VP of Global Core Brands called this "an adult product in a carbonated beverage – and a whole new drinking experience." I thought we already had a adult product like this with rum and Coke.

You know, when I drink Coke and coffee close together I commute to the men's room for the afternoon. I hope they work that little benefit out of their Blak formula. [photo found on a beverage discussion board]
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Thank you. Thank you.
Read Sherry's Semicolon blog for notable literary births, but I must point out two born today as well. Christian author of romance and fantasy George MacDonald was born today in 1824.
We must do the thing we must
Before the thing we may;
We are unfit for any trust
Till we can and do obey.
Great American poet Emily Dickinson was also born on this day in 1830. Sherry has a cutesy Dickinson Christmas poem today. That Emily--what a kidder. From another of her poems, good advice for Christian blogger and author alike:
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
- phil

A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye

I went to the dentist today. Emergency stuff. The old familiar sensitivities, to pressure and heat, had once again tiptoed into the no-man’s-land that is my mouth. (I’ve had four previous root canals.) Usually I wait until you can actually see those little lightning bolts, the ones advertising artists used to draw, radiating from my jaw before calling the dentist, but I thought, “Let’s just do it the easy way this time. Let’s go in earlier rather than later.”

So my dentist made me some time this morning and in I went, bringing along my checkbook and my personal banker. The dentist had prescribed some antibiotics for me, and I’d started taking them yesterday evening. I steeled myself for the inevitable. Somehow in the Monopoly Game of life I’d drawn a whole pile of tickets that said, “You need a root canal. Pay the bank $1500.00.”

But when the dentist asked me to bite down on a stick I got nothing from the nerve that had been complaining like a mugged intellectual the night before. The X-Ray he took showed nothing for certain. So we shook our heads and I left undrilled. Maybe the antibiotics knocked out whatever’d been bothering me.

But I’ll bet it comes back. I’ll keep you posted.

Did some Christmas shopping (the church set-up I wrote about yesterday is scheduled for this evening). On the way home, in Maple Grove, I saw one of those left-wing bumper stickers that showcases the kind of logic that can only be nurtured in a rich soil of marijuana smoke, hallucinogens and fair trade coffee. It said, “If We Were All Blind, Nobody Would Know Who To Hate.”

Even leaving to one side the fact that it should be “Whom To Hate,” this slogan is so simpleminded that I hardly know where to begin deconstructing it.

Are you saying, dear loving leftist, that no blind people are ever bigots?

It’s my impression (and experience) that homosexuals (to take one example), unless they are raving queens, are not generally identifiable by their appearance. Does that mean that you’ll stop calling me a bigot for disagreeing with their agenda?

Somehow I doubt it.

How do you feel about conservative bloggers, dear loving liberal? Have you never felt a moment of hate for, say, the Powerline guys or Bryan Preston, even though you’ve never seen their faces?

Would it be a better world if we surgically removed everybody’s eyes?

I can see it as a science fiction book, actually. A future world where electronic sensing devices have rendered plain old eyesight unnecessary. I can see the future equivalent of the Democratic Party advocating universal eye removal, “for the sake of the children.”

Nobody needs eyes in the modern world, they’d say.

If it saves one life, it will be worth it.

Lars Walker

Happy Christmas Boycott
Thank you, Lars, for pointing out research on the origins of Christmas celebration. I never quite understood why believers would object to celebrating Christ's birth, and they don't really. They just object to how other people celebrate or something the others call Christmas or The Happy HolidayTM. I guess I understand that, but has the flak over "the reason for the season" gotten out of hand this year?

For example, The Evangelical Underground points out a report by PrestoPundit Greg Ransom that Sears says "Merry Christmas," even if The Committee to Save Christmas doesn't buy it yet. The report complains that Bill O'Reilly spreads this news, and the L.A. Times has fallaciously said he has organized a boycott of Sears and other stores. But the point is, Sears already says "Merry Christmas" and allows its employees to say it. Why the ?

The American Family Association is encouraging a boycott of Target for this reason. They spell out their point of contention on their site: "Do you use the term 'Christmas' in your in-store promotions developed by Target (not products you have for sale) and do you include the term 'Christmas' in your retail advertising?" Are we straining at a gnat here? Are we honoring Christ by using legal force to press retailers to use the right words in their advertising?

Let me clarify. I do believe secularists are trying to smooth out Christmas distinctions of all kinds. They are trying to make an all-purpose club of their pet phrase, "separation of church and state." Journalist John Gibson's book The War on Christmas describes it.

In this October interview with National Review Online, Gibson explains that in his book, "I expose how that casual, accepted anti-Christian bias shows up once a year around Christmas when people in positions of petty power, such as school administrators, or municipal-hall managers, will suddenly pop up saying things like 'We can't have that Christmas tree in here because it's too Christian.' I had a long discussion with a city human-resources manager who said precisely that. What I find shocking is that people like that man do not hear the sound of their voices. Substitute any other religion for the word "Christian" and these very people would be up in arms with the cry of prejudice and bias, but if the bias is directed at Christians, it is perfectly acceptable."

So this year we hear about Boston relabeling their white spruce, received as a gift from Nova Scotia, a holiday tree set for a holiday tree lighting. Signage accompanying the Christmas tree was changed at the state or city border. When the man who cut the tree learned of this, he asked for the tree to be returned so he could run it through his chipper. Other outrage sprang up, and Boston rescinded its stupid holiday idea. Perhaps as a result, the town council of Oxford, Nova Scotia, voted to use no word but "Christmas" to describe this season.

Many blogs are pointing out foolishness and weak-kneed decisions, and has a long list of links. And it can happen to the best of us. My governor in Atlanta, Georgia, had an email sent to the media to announce a "holiday tree" lighting at the governor's mansion. Within the hour, he followed up with another email blaming a "politically correct staff brain-freeze" for misnaming the Christmas trees. Here's the corrected announcement.

In Tennessee, a public library which made shelf space available to the community for displays denied a Methodist church the option to put up a full nativity set with their Christmas program announcement. Take out Mary, Joseph, the angel, and the Child Who Must Not Be Named, and the rest can stay. (This is a paramount offense to me, being from a shepherding family, because the livestock and shepherds weren't offensive enough to secularists to be removed from the display. Haven't shepherds suffered enough over the years? We are important people too!!)

The ACLU and like-minded liberals are out to separate faith from all expression in public, and it's ultimately a losing battle. I hope their foolishness is becoming evident to all who are paying attention. As you can see in this NY Times editorial, "Christian displays on public property and Christian prayer in public schools" are not steps toward a theocracy. They are part of the freedom of religion we have in this country.

We don't help defend that freedom by taking Christmas programs out of context. In Milwaukee, a school is doing a program, "The Little Tree's Christmas Gift," in which secular ("different" may be more accurate) words are sung to the tune of "Silent Night." The Liberty Council doesn't like it and is threatening legal action.
"They're discriminating based upon a religious viewpoint,'' Mat Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, said. "It sends a tremendous disconnect to a young person when you're familiar with the song 'Silent Night' and tune and all of sudden you learn the same tune with totally secular words.''
A school administrator explained, "Somebody totally misunderstood and had the belief that one of our teachers took it upon herself to rewrite the words to 'Silent Night.'''

What's wrong with that? Could we fight real battles please?

I urge Christians and sound-minded individuals to celebrate Christmas joyfully everywhere you go. We can say "Happy Holidays" because we are not taking Christ out of Christmas, and we don't need to call for boycotts when advertisers don't print Merry Christmas signs. I suggest the Lord would have us honor the reason for the season by being patient with store workers, helping others while we shop, and taking our strength from the joy of the Lord when everyone else is frazzled.

Rejoice, pray, and be patient. Then wish the world a Merry Christmas, and perhaps the Lord will turn someone's heart to seek Him as the wise men did.
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