Brandywine Books
Friday, September 30, 2005
Pro forma, nothing post

It was beautiful, just beautiful in the Twin Cities today. The kind of bright, slightly cooler autumn weather I used to miss so much when I sojourned in Florida. It would have been delightful to have taken my after-work walk today. But I didn't, because I'd taken my car to the shop.

I figured, on the basis of sad experience, that my car wouldn't be done when they said it would be, and that I'd spend the afternoon after work waiting in the dealership waiting room.

As it turned out, the car was finished up pretty much on time, and they didn't even find any surprises. When you take your car in for a checkup, you just assume they're going to discover that the catalytic airbag gauge is low on titanium dust, and that fixing it will take a week and cost you $78,000. But no. Everything came out fine.

It was still expensive though, by my antiquated standards.

Well, I got three days' walking in this week, and that's all you strictly need. I'm ready for the weekend.

Lars Walker
 
Journalist Loosed on Unsuspecting Public
This being Free Speech Week, it's appropriate to set a reporter free.

NY Times reporter Judith Miller was released from federal detention yesterday after she promised to testify before a grand jury today. She says, "I am leaving jail today because my source has now voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality regarding our conversations relating to the Wilson-Plame matter." The "voluntarily and personally" part come from her disbelief that the public release of her pledge was coerced. Her NY Times editor says, "At the outset, she had only a generic waiver of this obligation, and she believed she had ample reason to doubt it had been freely given. In recent days, several important things have changed that convinced Judy that she was released from her obligation."

All of this says to me the NY Times figured out how to cover themselves before the grand jury, which in case you forgot, holds confidential hearings. Nothing is known about grand jury testimony unless someone leaks it. This whole investigation is odd, because it started over a media drum-beating for Robert Novak to reveal his source, charging he jeopardized non-secret agent Plame's life by releasing her already released name.

Ms. Malkin quotes from a fistful of articles on this, including The Corner's John Podhoretz:
I hope some day somebody writes all this down, because the whole story is unbelievable. Miller never writes a story about Plamegate, but insists she must keep her sources secret, even though the name of her primary source, Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby, has long since been a matter of public record -- and has publicly released her from her pledge of anonymity. She decides to go to jail to protect the principle of source anonymity, and is only weeks away from being sprung (because the grand jury she was refusing to talk to will go out of business in October) before she abandons her stand on principle and decides to talk. And all this in relation to a matter that may well not have been a crime to begin with. Weird wacko crazy bananas.
It's just as crazy bad that the NY Times is playing the observer in all of this. It's their reporter, and in a sense, their source and credibility. They could clear up matters. Or (as some suggest) would clearing up matters reveal that the confidential source is themselves? - phil
 
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Culture shock ain't always bad

The following story has recently been added to my family's stock of folklore. No endorsement of any kind of any system of government, or of health care delivery, is intended at all.

My Eldest Niece, the older daughter of my brother Moloch, recently went to China to spend two years teaching English. Shortly after her arrival, she experienced stomach pains and went to see a doctor.

The doctor informed her that she had appendicitis and would have to have an appendectomy. "We can do the old-style surgery," he told her, "but it will leave a very large scar.

"On the other hand," he said, "we could do it laproscopically, which will leave much smaller scars. But that will cost twice as much money."

The E.N. swallowed and asked, "How much would it cost?"

"$450.00."

She went with the laproscopy.

Lars Walker
 
Today
Today, a co-worker and I discovered you can't change the shipping address when ordering from one of our favorite technology vendor sites. We were baffled at the time, but we assume there's a good reason to prevent users from shipping an order to anywhere they want. Can't imagine what.

Also today, I work in an office building which has a good-sized pond between it and the four lane access road built to service the Walmart American Dream and Yogurt Emporium next door. We have three recent ducks and regular flock of Canadian geese most of the year. Recently, we have been blessed with 9-10 dozen fuzzy brown ducks. I didn't count, so that could be a high estimate. Earlier today, I saw three children timidly approaching the ducks. Their car was across the parking lot, and they didn't want to get closer than halfway to the pond. The older child, 11 maybe, had bread crumbs. When the ducks flocked towards them--waddling, no wing-flapping occurred--the children freaked. Maybe the new ducks have fangs. Maybe they are just 'wild' animals. But those kids scampered back to their car, screaming "Let me in!"

So, what'd you do today?
 
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Honor system

Here’s something I talk about when I lecture on the Viking sagas. I think it’s relevant to the War On Terror.

Sociologists (or so I’ve read) divide human societies into Shame-based and Guilt-based groups (ours is Guilt-based, in case you were wondering). I haven’t studied much sociology, but I’ve learned a fair amount about Shame-based societies by reading Icelandic sagas and other old books (including the Bible).

You can tell the difference between the two by looking at how the different kinds of societies define what constitutes a good man (or a good person, if you want to be that way).

In a guilt-based society, a man looks into his heart and asks, “Am I a good man? Am I hypocritical? Do my actions match up with my words? Am I harboring secret sins?”

Shame-based societies (the other kind) are in the great majority in human history. In a shame-based society a man doesn’t analyze himself at all. He lets other people decide what he is. If the community considers him an honorable man, then he’s good. If he does something (or even if one of his relatives does something) considered dishonorable, the only thing to do about it is to deny it and kill the people who spread the story.

The thing you must never, ever do in a shame-based society is apologize or confess.

You’ve probably noted that guilt-based societies are generally ones that have internalized the Christian ethic. It would be interesting to learn if there are any guilt-based societies anywhere that don’t have Christian roots. It may be that Christ invented the guilt-based system.

Anyway, the situation is this. We’re a guilt-based culture at war with a shame-based culture. I think this is one of the weaknesses of the peace movement. They believe that if we do a lot of apologizing and confessing, this will impress our opponents. But it doesn’t. It convinces our opponents that we are weak and honorless.

Can a guilt-based culture, fighting with one ethical hand tied behind its back, win a prolonged struggle with a shame-based culture? I guess we’ll see.

Can a guilt-based culture become too guilt-based, and cease to be viable?

I guess we’ll see that too.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Going home


The Washington Post reports that a newscast purporting to come from Al Qaeda has appeared on the internet. In the course of a series of unsurprising diatribes, they include the following commentary on Hurricane Katrina:

"The whole Muslim world was filled with joy" at the disaster, the anchorman said. He went on to say that President Bush was "completely humiliated by his obvious incapacity to face the wrath of God, who battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals."

Now I have listened carefully to the instruction of my left-wing betters, and have learned well the lesson (never very difficult for an Avoidant) that if somebody hates us, we must have done something to deserve it.

So I’m certain the American homosexual community will take some time immediately to sit down and ponder what they have done to force the Muslim world to hate them so much.

On the subject of censorship (mentioned by Phil below) I could say much. Let me say this. It ought to be obvious to anybody without an ax to grind that censorship means a law that says certain books may not be published. In this country that field covers, as far as I am aware, only child pornography and direct threats of violence to the president.

Not buying a book for a library is not censorship. Keeping certain books from children is not censorship (if it is, then drinking age laws are Prohibition). Lots of libraries don't have my books in them. Do I have the right to sue the library boards for censorship?

Sheesh

I went to a funeral today. It was the funeral of a woman I didn’t know well, but she was a well-loved person in our small faith community. I heard the story of her life, and it was worth hearing.

She was raised in wealth and privilege, the daughter of a couple who owned a chain of upscale Twin Cities grocery stores. She intended to go into business, but felt a call from God to the mission field. She married a farm boy who felt the same calling, and they found their way at last to Brazil.

They faced Third World conditions there – lack of electricity and clean water, poor communication, red dust everywhere, biting insects and disease. They faced the standard challenges of missionary work – opposition, official suspicion, a certain amount of danger, separation from family for long periods. They founded churches and helped to build a Bible School, a seminary and an orphanage. They semi-retired just this year after 35 years of service, looking forward to being back in the States and spending time with the grandchildren. Four months ago she learned she had cancer, and it went quickly after that.

A friend of the family told me that just before she slipped into her final coma she had two visions of Heaven, and was so overwhelmed with the beauty and love she saw that she was completely reconciled to her homegoing.

Now the children of this age would probably say she wasted her life. What she should have done, they’d tell her, was to go into business as she planned, make a lot of money and climb the corporate ladder.

I’m sure that would have been a great comfort to her in her last days, preferable to the family and friends in faith who surrounded her hospital bed. And I’m sure she’d have had a vision of Eleanor Smeal or somebody to ease her into the great nothingness she’d have expected.

Lars Walker

 
Adventures in Bad Theology
Challies reviews Invitation to Solitude and Silence with this:
Had I been the editor, I might have suggested [a subtitle] a little more appropriate. Perhaps "A Textbook in Eisogesis" or "Constructing Complex Theology From Non-Supporting Scriptures." And really this book is an adventure in poor use of Scripture and unsupported statements.
 
She's a Witch, Ban Her!
Remember, it's Banned Books Week, so do your part and ban some worthless book today. For just a little bit more on this, turn the page.

A Public Service Announcement (void where prohibited)
 
Where to Find Your Cup of Tea
Looking for a tea room or respectable establishment which offers real tea, not a coffee service's orange pekoe blend? Perhaps, this handy tea map will help. If you're in my part of this beautiful country, stop in at The English Rose for British biscuits and jams with a steaming cup for restoring your tissues. It may be a bit girlie, but think of yourself as Rudyard Kipling away from the jungle and you'll make due. If you want a different atmosphere, go to Greyfriar's on Broad Street, between Lupi's Italian pub and "All Books--Used & Rare Books, Fudge, Yogurt, and more."
 
Monday, September 26, 2005

Meek, waiting to inherit

First of all, I would like to utterly disassociate myself from Phil’s post about publishers below. If any publishers happen onto this website, be assured that the author portion of this collaboration considers publishers princes (and princesses) among men (and women). Publishers are wise, attractive and generous. They walk in the bright sunlight of heavenly glory.

I’m heartily ashamed of the rest of this entry, but it’s all I’ve got in my small mind today. Point to ponder: Is it better to post nothing at all, or to post self-indulgent pap that will only drive your readers away?

I was thinking about waiting one’s turn today. What set it off was the sight of a couple walking together as I drove to work this morning. My place of work is on a picturesque lake, and this couple was walking hand in hand by the lakeside. The woman had a big smile on her face, clearly delighted to be with this particular man. My reflexive, self-absorbed reaction was, “No woman has ever felt like that about me.”

That got me to thinking about waiting one’s turn. I recalled that when I was young I never used to envy anybody. I was rather proud of being immune to at least one sin. “My turn is coming,” I’d say to myself.

But as I grew older I realized that wasn’t necessarily true. Life isn’t set up for “turns”. There’s no teacher on duty under heaven to make sure all the kids stand in line and nobody cuts ahead. The ones who cut ahead, in fact, generally get big rewards, both material and relational.

One of several things it looks like I won’t get a turn at is parenting. Those of you who are parents, how do you deal with teaching kids about this? Some kids are aggressive and you have to teach them to take their turns so they won’t run all over the other kids. But what about the kids like me, the ones Dr. Dobson calls “compliant”, the ones who need to learn that sometimes you have to push ahead in line and grab something away from someone else? How do you hold the aggressive child back and push the compliant one forward while maintaining any semblance of evenhandedness?

Let me attempt to tie these incoherent thoughts together by relating the whole thing to writing. One thing you want to avoid in creating main characters is compliance. The best characters are pushy and inquisitive and irrepressible. The structure of plot calls for the overcoming of repeated setbacks, and compliant people generally give up at some point. Characters who give up (can you say “Thomas Covenant”?) disgust and bore readers.

Kind of like this post.

Lars Walker

 
I'll See Your Meme and Raise You Another
Today, Kevin passed on this meme:
  1. Go into your archive.
  2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
  3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
I don't understand why I posted the way I did two years ago, but the posts confuse me a bit when trying to count them. Here are two candidates for the sentence requested by the puny meme god:
  1. "Milan Kundera once observed, 'The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.'"
  2. "Maybe his book will sell as well as hers."
Which you do you like better, eh?

Now, let me suggest this simple meme?
  1. Find a blog you don't read.
  2. Go to the third post down.
  3. Quote the second sentence from that post along with these instructions and with links to the blog and post.
  4. End your post with "Thanks to Collected Miscellany" with the link.
Here's my submission:

"I didn't get it finished-finished until this morning." from The Crochet Dude.

Thanks to Collected Miscellany.
 
Since You Insist, I'll Fly Out
Here's a second Monday post in light of William Faulkner's birthday, September 25, 1897. A page on the Ole Miss website records this story:
While working for MGM Studios in Oxford, MS, Faulkner received a directive to fly to New Orleans to work on dialogue for a picture called Louisiana Lou, which was being filmed there. As Faulkner says, "I could have got on a train in Oxford and been in New Orleans eight hours later, but I obeyed the studio and went to Memphis, where an airplane occasionally did leave for New Orleans. Three days later one did."
 
Wish Your Publisher a Happy Monday
"It's easy to become a publisher but difficult to remain one." - Michael Joseph

"Publishers are demons, there's no doubt about it." - William James

(from a book of quotations edited by James Charlton)
 
Christian Retailers Coordinating Data
By the end of this week, hundreds of stores in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) will begin submitting their sales information to the CBA's new, free, data service, CROSS:SCAN. CROSS (Christian Retail Official Sales Statistics):SCAN will enable the stores to analyze what is selling throughout the CBA, greatly improving their ability to deal with increasing competition.

"Retailers will not have access to store-specific or group-specific information, but only a fully aggregate picture that will show what products are moving, which will better equip them for inventory decision-making. CROSS:SCAN will identify fast-moving products, and products that have made significant jumps or declines in sales in the previous week," according to the press release.

Will this encourage CBA member store to synchronize their inventories, essentially eliminating variety, or will this give each store the freedom to push select local interests, knowing it has stocked the popular sellers already? And when will these stores begin to herald Brandywine Books as their blog friend for life? I should print bookmarks and distribute them throughout the southeast.

- phil
 
Friday, September 23, 2005
Who Is This Jeeves Guy? They Ask
Armavirumque passes on the news that search engine Ask.com will phase out their leading character, our man Jeeves, citing user confusion. "What's more laughable," Armavirumque asks, "that people aren't acquainted with Jeeves, or that, faced with this debilitating 'confusion,' it doesn't occur to them to use the search engine to investigate?"

So I typed in "Who is Jeeves" in the Ask search engine. Fourth down is an About page from Ask itself. "Our man Jeeves is a dignified and noble fellow, to be sure, but even he lets his, ahem, hair down every now and again." Now, if you think to follow the P.G. Wodehouse link at the foot of most pages, you'll learn that the author created the character and everyone loves him. But if I was totally ignorant of Jeeves identity, know he was a great butler would be enough for me. I'd assume Ask.com created him, and that would be the end of it. What's the confusion? - phil
 

Descent Into Hell, by Charles Williams

My speaking engagement last night went just fine. The crowd was small (why do I always worry about large, hostile crowds? All I generally get is small, friendly ones). I sold almost as many books as I sold on the whole ocean cruise.

As promised, my review of Descent Into Hell:

Charles Williams is a puzzling, difficult author, but well worth the investment of time. As many of you know, he was, for a short period before his death, a close friend of C.S. Lewis, who considered him the “most angelic” of men.

Williams’ novels have been called “spiritual thrillers”. Lewis was attempting to write in the same vein when he wrote That Hideous Strength (which was the model, if it matters, for my own Wolf Time).

But Williams’ writing style is very different from Lewis’, and indeed from any other modern novelist’s I’m aware of. Very large stretches pass without any conversation or overt action. In those passages Williams is doing a thing all authors are warned against, and yet it’s hard to know how else he could have accomplished his purpose. He “tells” rather than “shows”.

Each character in his book appears in a sort of frame, like a jewel in a baroque setting. The baroque setting is Williams’ description of that character’s spiritual life, and his position in the spiritual realm.

It’s hard to explain. Let me show you an excerpt. Here’s a passage about a secondary character, who is dying:

As if in a last communion with the natural terrors of man, Margaret Anstruther endured a recurrent shock of fear. She recalled herself. To tolerate such knowledge with a joyous welcome was meant, as the holy Doctors had taught her, to be the best privilege of man, and so remained. The best maxim towards that knowledge was not the Know thyself of the Greek so much as the Know Love of the Christian, though both in the end were one. It was not possible for man to know himself and the world, except first after some mode of knowledge, some art of discovery. The most perfect, since the most intimate and intelligent, art was pure love. The approach by love was the approach to fact; to love anything but fact was not love. Love was even more mathematical than poetry; it was the pure mathematics of the spirit. It was applied also and active; it was the means as it was the end. The end lived everlastingly in the means; the means eternally in the end.

This is clearly a novel written by a poet, and is best approached as such.

The setting is an English town called Battle Hill, a place where many people have died, a place with many graves. But today new homes stand on the old graves, and the local artistic community is going to do a new play by a very famous poet who lives locally. All the main characters are connected with this play in one way or another.

The title of the book has a double meaning. There are two descents into Hell here. One is a simple damnation, in the case of a person who commits what Williams calls “the sin of Gomorrah” – a greater perversion than the sin of Sodom: singleminded devotion to oneself. The other’s descent is a more messianic one. This character is blessed to enter into another soul’s suffering, to be God’s instrument of salvation.

Lewis fans will remember that Lewis was much intrigued by Williams’ doctrine of Substitution, his belief that it is actually possible for one Christian to assume the pain (physical and spiritual) of another and bear it for them. This novel is one of Williams’ clearest statements of that doctrine. This will please some readers and, no doubt, trouble others.

I love Williams’ books, and always enjoy a re-reading, though it’s not light reading. I recommend Descent Into Hell for serious readers.

Lars Walker

 
Authors Auction Naming Opportunities for Benefit

Several authors are giving eBay users the opportunity to bid on having their names put in upcoming novels. It varies a bit with each author, but that's the gist. The money will go to The First Amendment Project (FAP), a legal defense group which I hope defends all infringements on free speech, free press, free religious exercise and gathering, not just liberal ones. The most recent example I found on FAP's site is a defense of a political artist whose printing company destroyed or rejected a couple offensive compositions regarding Bush and Abu Graib. But maybe FAP defends more than the reprehensible. If you don't care to bid on placement in a book, you can donate $35 to receive an FAP "Generate Degenerate Art" thong.

But back to the authors. Bidding on several authors has already ended. One person won placement in Stephen King's next zombie thriller, Cell, with a donation of $25,100.

Dave Eggers offers: "The winner will be featured in a strange illustrated story I'm working on called The Journey of the Fishes Overland. The winner, or someone of her/his choosing, will be encountered by the traveling fish in question, as they travel over land. It could also be a family, a house, an address, whatever. I get to decide why the fishes see this person/place, and what's said by/to or done by/to the person/place. This story will be finished and published in the fall. The name/s have to be tasteful and be undisruptive to the narrative. I reserve the right to refuse using a name I find offensive."

- phil
 
Did the Lord Teach Us Nothing?
I like this passage from Lars' book, The Year of the Warrior, in which the hero is talking to his blind friend, Helge:
. . . I told Helge about Eyvind Ragnvaldsson. "He says the world is an illusion, subject to shaping by those who've trained themselves in secret truths. It's heresy, of course--buut that knife passed straight through his body. I saw it. It jarred me, friend. I'll say this to you, and to no other living man: Suppose we misunderstood our Lord? Suppose He rose from the dead because He knew that the world of things is but a dream and so was able to impose His will on the dream?"

"That's easier to believe, I think, when you live by sight. For me, who must meet the world by ever barking my shins on it, it's hard to shrug off bodies so lightly."

"But suppose we can't trust any of our senses?"

"Then why believe what you saw Eyvind do? The knife that passed through him cuts both ways."

"You're right, of course. I never thought of it so."

"But it goes further. You must decide what you believe. Do you believe that our Lord spent three years with His disciples, and they learned nothing from Him at all? Absorbed not an inkling of His real teaching? If so, He was the worst teacher ever born. Can you really believe that?"
- phil
 
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Quiz or something
David Bayly (Bai-lee) suggests you are not "cultured" unless you can answer a variety of insipid questions. I'm sorry. They look like good enough questions to me, though there are two on the Beatles and that doesn't seem right. His first question drew me, so I present the opportunity for your to test your "culture" now.
1. Tell, within a dozen, how many books P. G. Wodehouse wrote. Shoot, make it within thirty…
2. Name the song playing on the radio when Duke’s Samoan attorney threw the grapefruit into the bathtub.
3. Fill in the blank, “I love the smell of _____________ in the morning.”
4. Tell what machine Toad fell in love with after being thrown from his caravan.
5. Name the Who’s original drummer.
6. Describe the procedure for trapping a heffalump.
Read on. I can confidently answer eight or so. To give you that edge you need at your next cocktail party or blog discussion, the answer to #1 is 96. I think. What is the story behind #2? I don't know that one. - phil
 
Drive-by blog entry

I am blogging from work, which I never, ever do. But I won't be able to do it tonight.

I hesitate to mention it, considering what others have faced and do face, but we had relatively bad storms last night (high straight-line winds, a couple tornado touchdowns, lives lost I believe) and my power went out sometime around 7:00 p.m., if I remember correctly.

It turned into a rather pleasant evening. I finished reading Charles Williams' Descent Into Hell (review coming) by the light of a couple oil lamps. There was work I could have done if I'd had a working computer, but I didn't, so I just read.

Tonight I'm driving down to my home town to give a PowerPoint talk on the Vikings to the Sons of Norway lodge there. I'll let you know how that goes (a prophet is without honor, etc.).

If you never hear from me again, you may presume they stoned me to death.

Lars Walker
 
I Am The Nameless Simmons
Green dress on white silouette, Tom Wolfe's name, and on the back, reviews. Charlotte Simmons in paperback has no title on its cover. Does this edition say, "Surely you remember this one from talk of the hardback," or does it say, "The girl is the title; do you really need words"?

"We are using Tom Wolfe's name as a brand, rather than the title of the book. He is an icon himself," said Tanya Farrell, publicity director, tells Reuters. - phil
 
Today
Today, I was standing on my front walk examining the health of our impatiens when a hummingbird joined me. It was a bit large and slow for a hummingbird, so I was able to get a good look at its beautiful green breast and needle bill.

What did you do today? - phil
 
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Weather Related
"Thought and beauty, like a hurricane or waves, should not know conventional, delimited forms."

-- Chekhov
 
Joke, by me

The thing I planned to blog on today didn't work out, so I thought I'd present a sort of graphic joke I came up with. Unfortunately the format of Blogger software doesn't permit me to do the spacing I need to do to make it work.

Phooey.

Looks like it's going to rain tonight, so my theory about bad hurricanes bringing nice weather to the Midwest doesn't seem to be working out.

I pray God will spare everyone in the path of this one.

I'm making some progress on my new novel. After a long dry spell, it's kind of surprising to get up in bed, turn on the light, and write down an idea that just occurred to me, again. Maybe I'm not dead yet after all.

Message ends.

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Next they'll be telling us haggis isn't kosher

This article tells us that the ancient Stone of Scone, traditional coronation seat of the Scottish kings and (according to legend) originally the very stone on which Jacob slept the night he saw a "ladder" into Heaven, is in fact made of stone from Perthshire, not Palestine.

Well, I always thought it was a little large to make a decent pillow.

But if I were Scottish, I wouldn't let this trouble me. I'd say, "Think what a great miracle it is, that God first transported the stone from Perthshire to Israel, then back to Scotland just for our sakes."

Puts me in mind of an old Scottish prayer I read somewhere once: "Oh Lord, grant that I may always be right, for Thou knowest I am hard to turn."

Lars Walker
 
Monday, September 19, 2005

Talk Like A Pirate, did ya say?

“You’re a smart lad, Jack Hawkins. Smart as paint, I saw that right off.” A line quoted by memory from Treasure Island.

Actually it’s not quoted from the book as such (I haven’t read it for many years), but from the marvelous television movie starring Charlton Heston, presented on the Turner Network some years back. It’s the only version that ever really satisfied me. The Robert Newton film, and most of the other versions, got Long John Silver wrong. They played him as an avuncular old scamp, basically good at heart. Heston knew better. Silver is a villain and a murderer. He may have genuine affection for you, but that won’t prevent him slipping a knife into you if it’s for his profit.

I never liked pirates when I was a kid. The image of piracy that always stayed with me was of the torture of bound prisoners. I don’t like people who act that way. I’m on the side of the King’s navy every time.

Another quotation, from William Goldman's The Princess Bride (this time the book, not the movie):

The Dread Pirate Roberts says: “I’ll tell you the truth, Westley… I feel genuinely sorry about this, but if I make an exception in your case, news will get out that the Dread Pirate Roberts has gone soft and that will mark the beginning of my downfall, for once they stop fearing you, piracy becomes nothing but work, work, work all the time, and I am far too old for such a life.”

Now if you think back to the book (or the movie, for that matter), you’ll recall that what the D.P.R. is talking about is killing Westley, as part of his ongoing policy of killing all his prisoners.

We know further (spoiler here, in the unlikely event you’ve not yet read the book or seen the movie) that Westley goes on to take over as the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. And he carries on the same policy.

That means our hero is the murderer of hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

But nobody cares. Do we hear Amnesty International complaining about the violation of Geneva Convention rights? Do we see Jane Fonda picketing outside the theaters? No we do not.

Amazing what we novelists can get away with once we’ve got your sympathies, isn’t it?

Lars Walker

 
Samuel Johnson
Speaking of Shakespeare, note Sherry's post on the second most-quoted author in the English language, Samuel Johnson, whose birthday of September 18, 1709. She lists some details of his life and several quotes, though I think her first quote on wine could easily apply to blogging. Johnson said, "One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts." I'll say the blogosphere has the same effect on some of us. More thought, fewer words, as my Gaffer always says.

Another one I though Mark Twain had said. "I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read." Maybe they both said it.
 
First Thing Monday: Kill Lawyers
They mentioned Shakespeare in the judicial confirmation hearings before the Senate last week, so I offer you some Monday humor from Shakespeare's The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, in which common men yield forth on noble matters. This quotation is taken from The Oxford Shakespeare on Bartleby.com.
George Bevis. "I tell thee, Jack Cade the clothier means to dress the commonwealth, and turn it, and set a new nap upon it. "

John Holland.
"So he had need, for ’tis threadbare. Well, I say it was never merry world in England since gentlemen came up. "

George.
"O miserable age! Virtue is not regarded in handicrafts-men."

John. "The nobility think scorn to go in leather aprons."

George. "Nay, more; the king’s council are no good workmen."

John. "True; and yet it is said, ‘Labour in thy vocation:’ which is as much to say as, let the magistrates be labouring men; and therefore should we be magistrates."

George. "Thou hast hit it; for there’s no better sign of a brave mind than a hard hand."

. . . [John Cade, Dick the butcher, Smith the weaver, and others enter. Cade, a talor, delivers a message to the crowd, presenting himself as a noble captain who will take the throne of England.]

Cade. ". . . Therefore am I of an honourable house."

Dick. [Aside.] "Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable; and there was he born, under a hedge; for his father had never a house but the cage."

Cade. "Valiant I am."

Smith. [Aside.] "A’ must needs, for beggary is valiant."

Cade. "I am able to endure much."

Dick. [Aside.] "No question of that, for I have seen him whipped three market-days together."

. . .

Cade. "Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king--as king I will be--"

All. "God save your majesty!"

Cade. "I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord."

Dick. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

Cade. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax, for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.
 
Saturday, September 17, 2005
A bad smell

I watch Antiques Road Show sometimes, when there's nothing else on TV that catches my interest. It's an oddly compelling show, with so many small human stories revealed in connection with the antiques people bring in. I was watching it a few minutes ago. A Public Television promo came on during the break, one that's raised my ire before. I think I'll rant about it now.

This promo shows a shadow on the walls of a pleasant suburban house. The shadow looks like that of a cat. As it passes, the various family members look at it, then look away, to show that it's nothing unusual.

The animal finally ends up with the father, who is napping in an upstairs bedroom. As he senses its presence in his sleep he reaches out and strokes it. At that point we see that it's not a cat, but a skunk.

The closing screen shows the message: "Be more openminded".

Now I'll grant that it's possible to have a domesticated skunk as a pet. It would be important to make sure it got its shots, and was surgically altered to remove its scent-producing glands (which, by the way, would render it vulnerable to predators).

But to suggest that a skunk is just like a cat, and just as suitable as a pet for those who are really openminded, is just bunk.

And if the skunk is not to be understood as a pet, but as a wild animal which has wandered into an unusually openminded house where they don't discriminate on the basis of species, well that family is in danger. Because skunks that aren't afraid of people are very likely to be rabid.

I think this serves as a pretty fair metaphor for the whole philosophical orientation of Public Television, and what's wrong with it.

Lars Walker
 
Friday, September 16, 2005
Do You Buy Through Blog Ads?
Some blogs have a advertising on them, and many of the ads I see are for books. Have you ever purchased a book through one of these ads? Have you ever bought a book because you saw one of these ads though not by clicking through it?

- phil
 
If we had a second typewriter, we could make stereotypes

Today I had to show one of my library assistants how to type a checkout card.

She had never used a typewriter before in her life.

Does that make me feel old?

How would I know? I'm too senile to tell.

Was it really so long ago that an electronic typewriter with automatic correction seemed like a marvel of technology? (My assistant was amazed to see it work, by the way. You don't see computers doing that.)

Amazing what those ancient civilizations were capable of accomplishing, operating only with flint tools and a rudimentary knowledge of the lunar calendar. Think what we could learn if only we could interpret their hieroglyphics!

Lars Walker
 
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Horror: When Evil Comes
Were we talking about Christians writing horror stories the other day? Looks as if Melanie Wells is following that line of thought with her book, When the Day of Evil Comes. Watch the trailer through that link and hear of "a special gift for you." Amazon's uber-reviewer Harriet Klausner calls it "very scary." - phil
 
Which Cover Is Approved?
Forward, a book design blog, points out a change to the cover art on After You've Blown It, a book on restoring one's relationships with God and others after sin. This is the original cover from Parable.com. Here is the revised cover on Amazon. Some say the original cover has sexual overtones. Others think that's a stretch. Get the details on Forward's blog. And please forgive me if this is below the excellent tenor of subject matter published here at BwB. At least, I have avoided discussing certain books. - phil

* I have now learned that the publisher sent the offending cover art to a few vendors before it was fully approved. It was corrected or improved before release, so it was never the cover on the printed book. Apparently, the vendors use that first cover art submission for their sites and don't check for corrections or changes when they get the books.
 
Today
Today, I heard the rain falling beyond my window when the storm stopped by my neighborhood for a couple minutes this evening. I love the sound of rain, and I wanted to open the window to listen; but I didn't. What did I have to do more important? I don't remember now.

What did you do today? - phil
 
Am I a Jeremiah?

A federal judge has ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional again, because it mentions God.

It seems clear to me that, if this decisions stands, the next logical step is to forbid the display of the Declaration of Independence, with its insensitive mention of "Nature's God".

And that's something I predicted in Wolf Time.

This is what's so great about being a Prophet of Doom. If you're right, you have the pleasure of saying, "I told you so."

And if you're wrong, things turn out better than you expected. You win either way.

After a manner of speaking.

Lars Walker
 
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Cultural deathwatch, part 462

An utterly perfect day today. The high was about 75, with very low humidity.

Winter is like a heroin dealer. She comes to you with an offer of weather. “The first time is free.”

And it’s so beautiful, so lovely, that you come back for more.

But the longer you buy Winter’s weather, the less satisfying it becomes, until at last your life is a perfect purgatory, and you find yourself shivering uncontrollably on a street corner one day.

But the nice weather does not raise my spirits. My heart is down, my head is turning around.

The liberals won in Norway.

I’m sure you’ve all been following the Norwegian parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democratic Party conceded yesterday that he’d lost his majority to a Red-Green Coalition (that’s Socialists and environmentalists, by the way, not Canadian rube comics).

Part of the reason seems to have been a division among conservatives. The growing Progress Party, which opposes immigration, had helped Bondevik win the last election, but the Christian Democrats had refused to appoint any Progress members to government offices. Still that doesn’t change the fact that Labor gained votes over their last showing.

I felt a certain affinity with Bondevik, not only because he’s an evangelical Lutheran layman but because he has a home in the same apartment complex near Oslo as a distant cousin of mine and his wife. I could see his back porch from their apartment.

Being the impartial, impassive observer I am, I see this as pretty much the end of the world. You may all stop what you’re doing now, go home and wait for the apocalypse.

Message ends.

Lars Walker

 
Poetry's Butthead and How to Cure It
Arma Virumque is praising the new direction of Poetry magazine. In this light, I'm considering a subscription. I should read it online for a bit first probably.

This month's editorial describes the process for reviewing poetry books. Readers, or at least those who write the editors, are a little irritated at some of the recent reviews. One letter-writer says, "In their own spirit, I need to say that [the reviews] seem like the work of cheeky young narcissists who elect negativity at the expense of informed analysis, substituting shallowness for depth, attitude for understanding." The editors say they have a few reviewing rules which culminate in a clearly expressed opinion. They believe there has been some pretty sad poetry reviewing going on, so established these rules a couple years ago.

"Not only was there a great deal of obvious logrolling going on (friends reviewing friends, teachers promoting students, young poets writing strategic reviews of older poets in power), but the writing was just so polite, professional, and dull."

No more descriptions without judgment. Bring in reviewers who believe readers may want to read good poetry in their free time. Positive and negative reviews "not only give some ballast and context to the critical praise, [they] also [are] a gesture toward treating poetry as a public art in the same way that films or novels are, both of which are routinely and fiercely argued over in the mainstream media. . . a service to serious readers."
Of course, this reviewing policy causes us great conflicts and disappointment at times. Anyone who has followed the magazine over the past two years can't help but recognize that we are often in the position of printing negative reviews of poets whose work we have published extensively. . . .

Omnibus reviewers are the most difficult reviewers to find and the most difficult to keep. This is mostly due to the climate of the times, in which established poets almost never say what they think about a range of new books and often lower the boom on younger poets who do. Still, we believe it's a fight worth fighting. Poetry is not served by protecting it like some endangered species; quite the opposite, in fact. There are all kinds of signs that a much larger audience for poetry exists in this country, and there are also signs that poetry itself is, to paraphrase D.H. Tracy's (positive!) review of Glyn Maxwell's latest book, trying to pull its head out of its behind. Here at Poetry, we're doing everything we can to encourage both of these developments.
 
New Memoir on the Writing Life
Jonathan Yardley praises Lynn Freed's new memoir which deals mostly with the writing life, saying it's on par with O'Connor's and Welty's books on writing--essential. The review is inspiring; the memoir probably is too. Here are some quotes:
Freed knows, contrary to what the writing gurus would have their acolytes believe, that not everyone can be a writer, that writing is hard, that talent is necessary, not to mention "long years of practice and a ruthless determination to succeed."

She discovered that too many writing students, aided and abetted by their professors, knew little about "the literary canon" and instead were steeped in "contemporary fiction, particularly that which has emerged from writing programs like [their] own."

Talent is the naked emperor of writing programs.

Nothing seems to make a writer stupider than thinking. Rational intelligence has little bearing on fictional intelligence; it can make one forget the contradictions inherent in life, the constancy only of surprise.
Go read the rest.
 
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Should Christians Make Horror Films or Books?
I missed this post before, but it came to my attention after Lars' recommendation of Emily Rose yesterday. Warren Kelly, blogging on World's Cinema Veritas, asks ,"Why aren't there more Christians making horror movies?" He suggests the genre is honest about the spiritual world and would allow boldly Christian themes. Why do Christians avoid it? Because it's unpleasant and doesn't work with feel-good stories.

Warren quotes from an interview with the director of Emily Rose. Here's another part of that interview:
. . . there was a line in [Walker Percy's] Lancelot that said, "'Evil' is surely the clue to this age, the only quest appropriate to the age. For everything and everyone's either wonderful or sick and nothing is evil Â? God may be absent, but what if someone should find the Devil?"

It really started to resonate with me, that this was the genre where a Christian could connect with mainstream culture, and there was potential there to not preach to the choirÂ?not even preach to the culture, but connect with the culture. And that is certainly what I have been trying to do with a lot of my work. And in the case of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I was very committed to not making a movie that was intended to give spiritual or religious or metaphysical answers to the audience. I really just wanted to make a film that was going to provoke the mainstream audience to ask themselves what they believe, and cause them to come away from the film provoked to think about and discuss spiritual matters and spiritual issues that I think are profoundly important.

The interviewer asks, "How do you avoid what some might consider a fascination with evil?" The director answers that he tries to maintain a balance between eating too much and eating too little scary material.

So, are horror movies a great Christian film genre as the director and the blogger suggest? I don't think so. I know the genre can be broadly defined. While growing up, I thoroughly enjoyed a BBC series which I learned afterward was sci-fi/horror. So I have no problem with broadly defined horror, and I probably wouldn't mind, if not actually appreciate, Emily Rose. (The Sixth Sense, edited for tv, wasn't bad.) But Hellraiser or Elm Street? The violence and gore of horror films is what is so repelling. Even with an intelligent story, like perhaps Silence of the Lambs has, many of us would dislike it without seeing it. Could heinously violent film carry a redeeming message of hope? Sure it could. You may even be able to see how it could be done in terms of existing stories like Se7en or Saw. But did you see To End All Wars? What a powerful story! If Christian filmmakers are to be encouraged to focus a bit on evil to draw in a secular audience, I vote for the tangible evil in stories like this over the sensationalized spirits in horror stories.

But really this subject is a step beyond most Christian films. We aren't sitting on dozens of strong Christian movies, asking why more of them aren't horror stories. We're still wondered where the strong Christian movies are.
 
Feeling their pain

I see that the owners of a nursing home near New Orleans where 34 people died are being charged with negligent homicide for failing to evacuate the residents.

My gift of prophecy tells me there will be a TV movie about this.

It tells me further that the residents won't be presented as the real victims.

Lars Walker
 
Monday, September 12, 2005
Love in the Afternoon
In mind for a brief love story afternoon reading that horror movie review? Look into "Midafternoon Apocalypse" by J. Mark Bertrand at The New Pantagruel. I just read it and enjoyed it. Here's a line I loved:

Stella's lips invited comparison to the texture of fruit, split open, veined, wet. When she smiled, you always took it as an invitation, though it mostly wasn't. She granted my theory a smile so inviting that my head dipped forward to meet it, but she turned away.
Bravo, Mr. Bertrand. May the Lord continue to bless you. - phil
 

Movie Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

“Never Mind” moment: The store had my bread again today. All is well.

Am I ashamed of myself for making a stink about a problem that didn’t exist? Not at all. In my world, it’s better to have a snit and not need it, than to have cause for a snit and not take advantage of it.

Trust me. You don’t want to live in my world.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a superior horror film. The shivers in this production do not arise from spurting blood and dismembered bodies, as in so many shockers today. The horror here is the terror of madness, the fear that one’s life might be out of control, that one might be the plaything of malevolent forces too powerful to resist.

The story (loosely based on actual events in Germany in the 1970’s) concerns a young student named Emily Rose. Emily is played by an actress named Jennifer Carpenter who has an interesting, slightly asymmetrical beauty that lends itself well to a part that calls for alternating innocence and diabolism. A devout Catholic country girl gone off to college in the city, Emily begins to suffer night terrors and what she perceives to be physical manifestations of demons.

The movie opens after Emily’s death, when Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), the exorcist, is arrested for criminal neglect. In prison he tells the lawyer retained by the diocese that he doesn’t care whether he's found guilty or innocent. All that matters is to “tell Emily’s story”.

The lawyer is played by Laura Linney, an actress whose beauty turns my knees to automatic transmission fluid, but who rarely does any projects I’m at all interested in seeing. Here she plays a lawyer who recently made a name for herself by getting a monstrous murderer acquitted, and in her own words she only took this case to earn a partnership in her firm. She is an agnostic, but her world view is shaken by the things she experiences as spiritual warfare begins to rage about her.

The prosecutor, played by Campbell Scott, is (we are told) a devout, practicing Methodist, a Bible student. Nevertheless he holds back nothing in presenting Father Moore as a negligent priest who withheld needed antipsychotic medicines from Emily, thus bringing about her needless death.

The film’s resolution is ambivalent. Evangelical Christians will be troubled by the prominence of devotion to the Virgin Mary in both the story and its denouement, and perhaps even more by the lesson of the story as suggested by Father Moore. This lesson has implications for the whole question of theodicy (the existence of evil in a universe created by a good God), and will provide plenty of material for discussion. I suggest seeing it with friends, then going somewhere to discuss it afterwards.

Highly recommended.

Lars Walker

 
I Dedicate This Book to Merlot Who Stayed With Me to the End
Here's a Monday thought from the book Electronic Principles, by Albert Paul Malvino. The dedication, according to this site, reads:
To Joanna,

My brilliant and beautiful wife without whom I would be nothing. She always comforts and consoles, never complains or interferes, asks nothing and endures all, and writes my dedications.
 
Book News
Read up on some brief book news over at Collected Misc. I'm trying to blog chatty news posts on news that more author oriented, gossipy in a way. This week's turned out to be thriller/mystery themed. Last week's was mostly philanthropy themed.

What do you think of the style of these posts? Is the chatty voice good or does it sound weird? - phil
 
Saturday, September 10, 2005
A productive day

I'm actually getting some novel writing done today. Amazing.

This new book has a major character who suffers from Avoidant Personality Disorder. As far as I know, nobody's ever written a novel about an APD before. So maybe I'm breaking new ground. Maybe I'll do for APD what "Monk" has done for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Or not.

Lars Walker
 
Comparing Heros
Mark Olson has an idea for bloggers to write on the similarities and differences of David and Achilles. He says:
For example, for next week I was thinking we could write on the openings. To compare and contrast the Iliad’s immortal opening cadences to the more subtle (tender?) vignette of Hannah giving up of Samuel, her firstborn, to the Temple.
I don't think I can join in, but perhaps you would like to. - phil
 
Friday, September 09, 2005
Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It
Books on marriage ought to be short and practical. I believe there is much need to explain why a person should want a happy marriage. Every married person wants a happy marriage; but he chafes at the selflessness needed to accomplish it. If he reads a marriage book, he should find sound advice on opening himself up, creative ideas for daily love, and Biblical rationale for honoring God by honoring his marriage vows.

Hedges fits this bill to a degree. It takes a few chapters on the need for hedges; but because this is a different angle on marriage than many enrichment books take, the explanation is probably warranted.

We live in an oversexed, immodest culture. Many of us may believe God made us to live with a certain percentage of lust, that the female figure should be demystified for our better health. I say vive la mystère. In part one of Hedges, Jenkins tells several stories of adultery and how small, perhaps innocent, words and touches can break down healthy barriers between men and women. He explains how flirting works, regardless of person’s intent, and how powerfully we can deceive ourselves. Understanding self-deception is Jenkins’ most valuable message here.

In part two, he describes the barriers he has used for years to avoid lust and the appearance of it. He doesn’t argue that every reader should follow his example to the letter, but he urges us to plant the hedges which, according to our personalities and weaknesses, will accomplish the same goal—to hold your heart to the love you committed on your wedding day.

This updated edition of Hedges includes a study guide for group discussion and a DVD of Jerry Jenkins addressing this topic. - phil
 

Hubris update

It’s good to be the boss. That seems to be the lesson of this day.

My three elves came in for training again today, and I set them to various tasks. They went to work with a will, and stuff got done.

This is splendid. I don’t know why I’ve never tried this being the boss racket before. You find a job you don’t want to do yourself, and you ask one of your oppressed minions to do it for you, and they do it. The work gets done and you get to do what you want to do.

My career advice for the youth of today is: Be the boss.

I've even heard that it pays better.

Lars Walker

 
Bodum Vacuum Coffee Maker
I hear that home coffee brewers all a flutter over the coffee offerings at Cooking.com. It could be marketing hype, but if you're exited about coffee, take a look at Bodum's Santos Electric Vacuum Coffee Maker which sucks the heated water up from the pot into a vacuum container to steep in your coffee grounds then releases it back to the pot. You can watch a demonstration on this page.
 
Thursday, September 08, 2005

Life in retail

Today was better than yesterday. Shorter lines in the bookstore, and my student assistants came in to be trained in the afternoon. I was surprised that it took such a short time to run them through the basics of the job. I think it took me a lot longer to catch on when I started. The effects of arteriosclerosis, I suppose. They were fast learners anyway, and in the end I was reduced to setting them to dusting and vacuuming (services not provided by the school. Needless to say I’ve neglected them). Tomorrow we’ll try to rough out a work schedule, and hopefully I'll be able to start neglecting the administrative work I haven’t had time to put off yet.

Went to the grocery store after work and went to pick up my regular bread.

It wasn’t there.

There’s an open space where the bread is usually found, but I noted with dread that there doesn’t seem to be a shelf label for that particular variety anymore.

I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before. It usually ends in but one way – the product I loved, the one I’d come to depend on, is no longer being stocked.

Do you ever get the feeling that business executives routinely do polling to discover which of their products people really, really like, and then order those products discontinued? “People like this thing. We must be doing something wrong; spending too much money on ingredients or something.”

Heretical thoughts from a business-friendly right-winger, I know. But I’m bitter.

Ever feel like publishers do the same thing – drop authors just at the moment people are starting to really like them?

Not thinking of any author in particular, of course.

Lars Walker

 
Today
I dressed my two-year-old while she slurred out the theme to Winnie the Pooh--basic melody and a few of the vocables.

(Actually, I did this Sunday morning, but memorable observations don't always come to me on Thursdays.)

I also learned that I had put the ice cream I made this weekend in the refrigerator instead of the freezer--a shame because it doesn't taste the same once it's melted.

So, what did you do?
 
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Survivor's report


Today was the first day of Bible School. It was one of the busiest days of the year, and the intrepid bookstore manager/librarian manned the cash register all by his lonesome. I sold about 1.6 tons of books to students, and had a very frightening moment when I rang up a sale several thousand dollars too large and didn’t know how to fix it. Figured it out at last, but it gave me a scare. Numbers frighten me. People who work with books shouldn’t have to deal with numbers, I say.

I did get to meet two of my prospective student assistants today though. I’ll have three in all, all of them females. It’s flattering in a way to know that the powers that be consider me a safe person to whom to entrust three young women.

In another way it’s pretty sad.

But let’s face it. They’re right. The girls couldn’t be any safer in a Spanish convent.

Wish one of them had cash register experience though. A situation where I’m the resident expert on retail management is one that fills me with a nameless dread.

Got to thinking about Robert Benchley today, for some reason. If you’ve never read Benchley (Peter Benchley’s his grandson, but their material has nothing in common) you’re in for a treat. Benchley wrote the way every personal blogger wishes he wrote – he adopted the faultless persona of a man of inaction, a clueless observer of life’s oddities, the oddest of which is himself.

I can’t seem to locate the particular piece of Benchleyan whimsy I meant to share with you. I was sure it was in one of the books I own, but it seems my memory has, once again, played me false. Either that or the elves rebound the books in the night, which I wouldn’t put past them.

But here’s a passage lifted, more or less at random, from an essay called “Writers – Right Or Wrong!” in the collection Chips Off the Old Benchley.

For quite some time now I have been worried about (among other things) my lethargy in the face of the important fiction of the day. I begin a novel by some new master of English prose, then turn ahead to find out how many pages there are going to be, and, when I start reading again, imagine my surprise to find that I have already skipped half the book! By then it is time to get up and go across the room for something, and the book gets lost.

I had been attributing this haphazard method of reading to some one of the six prominent flaws in my kidneys (which I have arranged in alphabetical order for the benefit of students on the subject) until the other night when I pulled Hugh Walpole’s “Fortitude” out of the book-case and started re-reading it. I have just finished, and now I know that I am all right again. All that I needed was a good book.

Benchley was a Christian, or at least started out in our camp. In his youth he was a devout church-goer and a stalwart Prohibitionist. But after he moved to New York City and became famous and successful, he learned the pleasures of alcohol and adultery and let his observance slide. Still, according to a biography I read some time back, whenever his Algonquin Round Table buddies let their humor drift into the realm of blasphemy, he quietly let it be known that he didn’t enjoy that sort of thing.

Not for me to judge him. I hope grace was sufficient in his case. He'd be a treat to meet in Heaven.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Hedges: A 3s Review
I think JMR on World's Zeitgeist blog said blog reviews ought to be three sentences long. He may have a point, so in this post I wish to present my 3s review of Jerry Jenkins' Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It. It's good.

No, that can't be my review. I need three sentences on the book itself. Though I wonder if I could inspire bloggers to unite in a full blogging day of three sentence posts, posts on anything of course but no more than three sentences, which would be hard for anyone, requiring more thought for the post than actual blogging unless the cute among us resort to stringing phrases and clauses together into something somewhat like a sentence and I have no doubt some would try.

But enough silliness. Here's my 3s review.

I would recommend Jenkins' easy-to-read Hedges for any small group discussion on marriage enrichment. It has sound advice on avoiding temptation and guarding your first love which many couples should consider in this oversexed world filled with broken families. The study guide and DVD make this material all the more practical for your schedule.

I'll give you another, traditional review soon. How do you like the 3s review concept? Shall I keep it around? I think I'll write one on The Next Place in a week or so.
 

The worst place

The title of this post doesn’t refer to my brother Moloch’s home in Iowa, where I spent most of the weekend, but to a book I saw there. All will be revealed in a couple paragraphs.

I went down to observe my youngest niece’s 21st birthday with the family. Happy birthday, youngest niece! You may stop growing older now.

We took a little time and went to a thresher’s reunion. I was interested to look at the equipment because I wrote a novel (one of the as-yet-unpublished ones) that opened with a threshing scene. I didn’t see anything that told me I’d made any major mistakes, but then I’d had the text vetted by a couple knowledgeable guys, one of them my dad.

Thresher’s reunions, I think, aren’t what they used to be. They used to be opportunities for old threshermen to get together and talk shop and display their skills in separating the wheat from the chaff by means of steam power. But there aren’t that many real old threshermen around anymore. Nowadays the exhibition of old tractors is gaining importance, the small tractor being about as obsolete as the steam engine. We saw a couple orange Allis Chalmers WD's, very like the ones we grew up with.

Someone had given Moloch a book to look at. It had given comfort to a relative of theirs, they said, after the death of a spouse. It was called The Next Place (no link provided, for reasons soon to be clear).

Moloch was appalled. He showed it to me and asked what I thought.

The book was pure New Age drivel. “In the next place I go,” the author mused, “I will be neither a boy nor a girl. I will have no body at all.” And it went on to rhapsodize about being one with the universe and being surrounded with love and light.

“You ought to write an antidote book,” Moloch said to me. “You should write a book about Hell. Call it The Worst Place.” (An odd sentiment, coming from a minister in the Large Lutheran Denomination Which Shall Remain Nameless, but Moloch hasn’t been entirely domesticated.)

I thought of a subtitle: Everything you never wanted to know about Hell and will be sorry you asked.

I think I’ll incorporate the idea into my new book, which I started writing down there (Iowa, not Hell). It’s not the book I’d planned to write, but it seems to be beginning to assemble itself in my mind.

It’s about two brothers, one of whom has Avoidant Personality Disorder, who travel to Norway together.

Where do I get these creative ideas?

Lars Walker

 
Cyan World's Myst Series Teaches Reading
The best-selling PC game ever and my long-time favorite is Myst by Cyan Worlds. (If you've ever wondered, my Yahoo! email address, dnifriend at yahoo.com, is based on the games' culture.) Now I've learned that a British teacher has been using Myst to teach his kids to read and think creatively for the past six years. After playing the game in class with teacher, he "asks them to write about, describe, and explore through words, what they encounter and what they might mean."

The BBC reports the teacher discovered the games during a personal trial:
Tim's first exposure to the peaceful worlds of Myst came after he was diagnosed with a central nervous system condition. Hence the walking stick he uses which doubles as a flute. He used to be extremely active and missed walking until a friend recommended having a stroll through the virtual landscapes of Myst.

The children now create their own videos, against backdrops of the games' landscapes, complete with soundtracks they compose on real instruments as well as computer-generated sounds.
His results are top-notch, increasing his students' achievement rates to 93-100%.
 
Overturned: Big Idea Acted Properly in Distribution Case
Last month, an appeals court overturned a ruling against Big Idea Productions, makers of VeggieTales and 3-2-1 Penguins, which forced the company into bankruptcy last year. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Big Idea lawyers' original argument in a lawsuit brought by its former distributor, Lyrick Studios. You can read the full, inside story here. In short, the court ruled that Big Idea and Lyrick were still negotiating a contract and were working together without obligation, either party able to leave at will. Lyrick's lawyers argued that their communications constituted a binding agreement and sued Big Idea for $11 million over breaking that agreement when they began to distribute through Warner Music. Under the first judge, Big Idea and its creditors lost and eventually the company was sold to Classic Media. The creditors appeals and won a reversal.

Big Idea founder Phil Vischer said, "What really hurt about the bankruptcy was that the guilty verdict reached by the lower court made it appear that we had done something wrong, that Big Idea's collapse was a moral or ethical failing. The fact that a higher court threw out that conclusion took a big weight off our shoulders."

"To have a judge acknowledge that we did, in fact, act with integrity in our business dealings with Lyrick feels pretty darn good," he said.
 
Monday, September 05, 2005
Remind Me What Real Life Is Again
Since I get my most substantial news from the funnies, I learned this morning about a video game simulation, "Nintendogs." If you are new to this game too, you can watch a glowing review with footage on Gamespot.com. It's a pet-ownership simulation. You choose a puppy to love on, train, and take to dog contests. I don't think you have to leave it on all day, because the reviewer says it favors short gameplay; but if you don't want a live dog in your house, you can know have a pretty realistic looking simulation on your TV screen.

Have you ever felt bad about reading, thinking you should do something real or that you are putting off real life by reading? Put them away. Has anyone accused you of this? Never again. "Nintendogs" is what putting off real life is all about. Growing plants in your window sill better than this. Listening to difficult orchestral music, calling or visiting friends, making or learning to make good food perhaps in order to share with friends and family is better than pretending to pet a cute puppy on your TV. Of course, these things may be better than reading certain books too. Even better than blogging. Sometimes.

But "Nintendogs" is probably an easy target, and I'm sure there's a place for it just as there may be a place for thoughtful, active people to watch "The Bachelor." I don't know that there is; I'm just guessing. - phil
 
Read, Talk, Act, Repeat as needed
Here are some Monday morning thoughts from Mason Cooley.

"Reading about ethics is about as likely to improve one's behavior as reading about sports is to make one into an athlete."

"Families in which nothing is ever discussed usually have a lot not to discuss."

"Readers transform a library from a mausoleum into many theaters."

"Unlike life, when books become meaningless, they are making a point."
 
Bearing the Light
World's September 3rd cover story is on Christians in Hollywood. In a place which seems to be so hostile to Christian thinking, can a God-fearing believer do a good job as a production assistant, writer, actor, or associate producer? Yes, in fact they can even pull-off a profile on Hugh Hefner. Not that the assignment was easily accepted at first:

As a Christian who opposed everything Mr. Hefner stood for, Ms. Covell was appalled. "When I complained to Jim [her husband] about the assignment, he reminded me that working with Hugh Hefner is exactly why we are here. He suggested that we start praying and that I talk to my producer, Rick, to see if we could approach the project from a different perspective."

To her surprise, she discovered that Rick too was a Christian who did not want to do this story and had talked to his pastor about it. "His pastor told him he couldn't turn down this assignment," Ms. Covell said. "Someone was going to do the story, the pastor had said, and if Rick turned it down, it would likely be done as a standard puff piece. This was an opportunity to really dig deeper into why Hugh Hefner became the man he is."

The story delved into Mr. Hefner's early life and spiritual background. It culminated with an interview in which the icon of sexual promiscuity told about being raised by harsh, distant parents who never told him they loved him. "His mother never hugged or kissed him, he said, because of her fear of germs." In the opulent Playboy Mansion, surrounded by Playboy bunnies, the interviewers brought Mr. Hefner, clad in his black pajamas, to confess that "he's still just a little boy trying to find love." They exposed his futile attempt to substitute sex for love and the pain behind the Playboy facade, the God-shaped vacuum in Mr. Hefner's heart.

Read the full article here. - phil
 
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Does God Have Explaining to Do?
John Piper released an article yesterday which scolds NPR's Daniel Schorr for natural myopia. On August 31, Schorr argued that if God did create the world, then what is his reason for horrible storms like Katrina. "The designer has something to answer for," Schorr said.

"No, Mr. Schorr," Piper writes, "you have something to answer for, not God. God answers to no man. Come, Daniel Schorr, take your place with Job and answer your Maker: 'The Lord answered Job [and Daniel Schorr] out of the whirlwind and said: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. . . . Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed"?' (Job 38:1-3, 8-11)."

Piper's full article is here, but let me quote a bit more. It's good stuff.

Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who deserve it--all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans neither we nor they deserve.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ's suffering is owing to how deeply we deserve Katrina--all of us.

Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not that we can't see the intelligence in God's design, but that we can't see arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those who think they've never committed any.

 
Friday, September 02, 2005

The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy

Wanted to go to a meeting tonight, but I’m waiting for a phone call that hasn’t come, so I’ll make my blog entry instead.

And the nation rejoices.

I thought it would be good to write about a book related to New Orleans. John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces comes to mind, but frankly I hated that book. I didn’t find it more than minimally amusing, and there wasn’t a single character in it I liked at all. No doubt that brands me as a philistine.

Walker Percy (no relation) – ah, that’s better. He was a Louisianan. I’ve read several of Percy’s books, and even understood parts of them. The Thanatos Syndrome is his most approachable book, apparently written with the express purpose of capping his critically acclaimed career with a popular blockbuster. Percy was a Catholic (why are most of the best Christian authors Catholic?) and in The Thanatos Syndrome he gave us one of the best pro-life novels ever.

This post is more of a memoir than a review, as it’s been a few years since I read the book. TTS is a near-future novel, kind of like my own Wolf Time, except it’s better and there’s no fantasy in it.

The protagonist/narrator is Dr. Tom More, a psychiatrist recently released from prison. He was convicted of selling illegal stimulants to truck drivers. He returns to his home of Feliciana, Louisiana and resumes his practice (he’s able to do so for technical legal reasons I don’t quite understand). He begins to notice that several of his patients have improved remarkably – in a sense – in his absence. They (and others in the community) seem to have lost their personal inhibitions, to be more relaxed. But they are also more bland in personality, less idiosyncratic. Some of them develop remarkable new skills – the ability to recall obscure facts or figure the date of Easter in their heads, for instance. Even More’s wife has changed. She’s more sexually adventurous and has become a champion bridge player. She is spending a lot of time away from home, at tournaments.

More begins to suspect that these personality changes are related to a medical facility nearby which may be drugging the water supply. He is assisted in his investigation by his cousin Lucy, a medical doctor, with whom he has an affair (unlike the affair in the book I revealed yesterday, this one is not justified. It just happens). The dramatic conclusion brings a confrontation that reveals the dark underside of modern medical science and the nature of human happiness.

Definitely worth reading. Highly recommended.

Lars Walker

 
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