Brandywine Books
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just call me Fezziwig

Had our first Advent service at church tonight, and as usual in December I was an usher. On the way home it started snowing again. We’re supposed to have enough accumulation to make the morning commute interesting.

But I’m glad Christmas is coming. I don’t know if I’ll get around to putting a tree up this year, but I’m always glad it’s Christmas.

If you’re one of the people who says, “You know, Christmas is really just a pagan holiday dressed up by the medieval church. It’s not actually that important,” you can expect me to… well, I’m not going to argue with you because I can’t handle arguments. But I’ll definitely clam up on you and move to another part of the room.

Because Christmas means a whole lot to me. And I don’t think it’s only because it was the only time of the year, when I was growing up, when my mother really made an effort to have a happy family. It’s also about growing up in the north, and on a farm.

The “who needs Christmas?” people, I suspect (I don’t know for sure) tend to live in southern climates, where they literally don’t need Christmas. The days (unless they live in equatorial areas or the southern hemisphere) may be shorter down there this time of year but they’re relatively warm. Winter is mostly just a section of the calendar for them, not a life-or-death challenge.

This was one of the reasons I never reconciled to life in Florida, much as I hate cold weather.

For us in the north country, even nowadays, winter isn’t just a matter of diminished comfort. December is the midnight of the year, the time when darkness lingers longest, when a combination of bad luck and poor planning can put you in a place where the cold will kill you like a psychopath. For our ancestors it was a time of fears, both superstitious and real. Not only freezing but starvation was a real possibility, and they believed in ghosts.

December is a time of year when we desperately need a celebration in the north. So sure, we borrowed one from the heathens and tacked our own meaning onto it. Why not? What better time to celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation? We took the old heathen holiday and cut out the worst parts, the sacrifices and the bacchanalia (which weren’t nearly as fun as people imagine, especially for the women). We made the food better and the ceremonies better, and we definitely improved the music. We brought fragrant trees into our homes. We lit lights and created a wonder, a magical kingdom before there ever was a Disney. We gave it as a gift to the world.

And now the world is kicking it back in our faces.

But when it’s only us celebrating the holiday again, perhaps in secret, the children of the world will still sneak in to gaze at our lights and listen to our carols.

Lars Walker

 
C.S. Lewis, the Irishman
Yesterday in 1898, C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Perhaps, you think of him in a context of Oxford and Cambridge, England, and that's fine. Just understand that he was native Irish. Belfast is celebrating him next week, and in January, the Linen Hall Library will open an new C.S. Lewis book collection, donated by The C.S Lewis Association as "a long overdue tribute to one of Belfast’s most celebrated sons." Sherry points out this and other notable births on November 29-30.

For balance, John Derbyshire made an interesting statement the other day on his NRO diary. "Lewis, if anyone wants my opinion, was a very odd bird. Not the least odd thing about him was that for all his Anglicanism, tweed jackets, steam trains, nautical obsessions, bossy governesses, horrible schools, neglectful parents, and lack of interest in food and sex, he is more read and admired in the U.S.A. than in England."

Bully for us.
 
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I hate it when the news is good

We got our snow last night. More than I expected. First the ice, then the sleet, then snow, so that in the morning we had a fair covering. The temperature dropped to antarctic levels (or so it seems now; in a month the same will seem fairly mild) and the stuff I scraped off my windshield had the consistency of baked oatmeal. It made a noise coming off that seemed like about 60 decibels.

The wind must have come from the southwest, because my driver’s side door was iced up like Captain Franklin’s death ship. I was reduced to entry from the passenger’s side, with all the joys that entails for a middle-aged, less than limber man. I tried the lock again around noon, in the hope that the wan sunlight filtering through the cloud cover might have loosened it up a little. Progress report: None.

After work I gave blood. Different place this time – a VFW hall. I like the VFW gigs because the vets give you sloppy joes on top of the usual cookies and juice afterwards.

Traditionally one donates a pint of blood, but it must be close to a pint and a half now, if you add in all the blood they draw in little vials in order to test you for AIDS and SARS and (probably) black basement mold. I can’t remember what all they tested for. I can’t complain I was uninformed. I was informed beyond my capacity to outform.

I’ll bet it was a breeze back in WWII. I’ll bet they just welcomed you in, asked you to please leave your bottle of gin at the desk (“Smoking? Sure you can smoke. This is America!”) They didn’t ask you if you’d had sexual relations with anybody from Gambia within the last twelve months. If you’d told them you had, they probably would have congratulated you. “It’s all for the war effort! Is your blood red? Then you’re a red-blooded American. Lay down and stick out your arm.”

Through generous exercise of my car heater on the drive home I finally got my driver’s side door open. It's primed with WD-40 now, to prepare me for the rigors of the coming day.

Great news from Sweden (how often do I say that?). Pastor Åke Green, the Pentecostal minister who was charged with a hate crime for preaching what the Bible says about homosexuality (albeit rather bluntly), was acquitted. The case went all the way to the Swedish Supreme Court. On Friday they set him free.

To my own embarrassment, I’m almost disappointed. This case has been my ace card in arguing about persecution of Christians in the west for several years. Now the Swedes have shown unexpected decency, deciding that free speech does, after all, actually cover unfashionable ideas.

Maybe there’s hope.

Which would be lousy for my writing career.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, November 28, 2005

The value of hats… the evidence mounts

The day after Thanksgiving, snow began to fall on the Twin Cities, a couple inches of thick, fluffy insulation. You could hear 200,000 SUV’s switching into four-wheel-drive all at once. Clearly, this was the end of fall and the beginning of winter, and it couldn’t have come on a more suitable day.

However the temperatures rose over the long weekend, and the snow was pretty much gone by Sunday. Today the thermometer read around 45º. But to our west a big, ugly, sociopathic blizzard is roaring out of Sturgis. That blizzard is expected to reach us tonight about the time it runs out of energy. Some collateral damage is expected though. Apparently we’ll have rain turning to snow, and then the temperatures will drop and we’ll be able to save energy by ice skating to work tomorrow.

So we’ll all need to wear something warm on our heads. All my life I’ve known – and I learned this through hard experience – that if I go out without anything on my head on a winter’s day, I will infallibly get a cold.

Yet well-informed people (including my brother Moloch, who used to be a nurse) persisted in telling me (sometimes in pretty condescending tones) that I had to be wrong. “Science has proved,” they said, “that getting chilled doesn’t give you a cold.”

Well phooey: Read this: Cold Prevention Nothing To Sneeze At.

What it says, in short, is that if you have a mild cold sort of sitting around in your head, not strong enough to get past your immune system, it appears that getting a chill will weaken your defenses and allow that mild cold to realize its full, God-given potential.

I feel the same smug satisfaction as the hypochondriac who had them carve “I told you I was sick” on his tombstone.

All these years I’ve been the obscurantist, the hidebound, credulous believer in old wives’ tales (like the despised Intelligent Design people) just because I believed the evidence of my own experience.

Today I’m on the side of Science. I am a hardheaded realist, grounded in solid data.

And I haven’t moved one inch. I just waited for the Anointed Priesthood to come over to my side.

This has been my lifelong strategy in most areas of thought. I’ll be waiting for you whenever you’re ready, world.

I’ll be the one wearing the hat.

Lars Walker

 
Classic Book Guides
Book recommendations abound. A National Review editor is urging everyone to read Doestoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and the magazine's contributors have compiled a long list to follow that one. For example, Frederica Matthews-Green recommends Pictures and Tears, by James Elkins.
Art historian Elkins "posted inquiries in newspapers and journals, asking for stories from anyone who had responded to a painting with tears." A fascinating analysis of why contemporary viewers steadfastly resist the emotional pull of art. Instead of giving a coffee-table art book, give a book that examines how we respond to art — and why we don't.
On OpinionJournal.com the other day, Court Reporter Catherine Crier has a list of five great crime books. Oh, look--classics. Her fourth pick is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. She says:
Never mind the kitsch Broadway version: Victor Hugo's epic novel of the struggle between Jean Valjean and his nemesis, Inspector Javert, delivers a moving commentary on injustice, oppression and rehabilitation. Valjean is sentenced to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He is released only to commit a second minor crime. Javert vows that the act shall not go unpunished, and the chase is on. This grand drama, much of which is set against the political tumult of the French Revolution, is an exciting read that transcends its time. Hugo's words deliver valuable lessons about the inequities that shape so many lives today and the longing for liberty that we all share.
 
The Virtues of Harry Potter
Author Thomas Hibbs has a column in National Review Online on the good moral education found in two recent movies based on books: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Pride and Prejudice.
One of the great advantages of Austen's fiction is that it gives the lie to our feigned classlessness. In our public morality, we talk endlessly about treating everyone equally and about the unimportance of money and possessions. But we make judgments all the time about money, income, looks, clothes, and possessions — nowhere more so than in our schools. Austin takes these matters seriously, but, since she takes virtue more seriously, she offers what we now lack, namely, a vocabulary for success and character. Despite its Victorian fascination with formality, Austin's world neatly dovetails with the world of contemporary teenagers. As Bohlin comments, "First impressions, battles of pride, the power of prejudice, pervasive gossip, and tensions between the genuine and the disingenuous in both friendship and romance are all quite real to" teenagers.
 
Some Monday Humor
I enjoyed the Thanksgiving holidays. I told my wife that all days in December were holidays, but she still declined to agree to baking quick-n-easy Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. I've been reading the Harry Potter books--in the middle of the second now. Loads of fun. I won't review them, but I may discuss some things sometime.

As for a Monday post, I saw this bit of thinking or grammar from an NYTimes review pointed out on another lit blog earlier this month--don't remember which. I wouldn't have caught it otherwise, because the review is of Nicole Richie's book, The Truth About Diamonds. The reviewer reports, "In this thinly veiled roman à clef, which Ms. Richie said she wrote herself, more than a few characters bear a startling resemblance to people in her real life." In case that slips by you, a roman à clef is essentially a non-fiction story with names and places changed so that it appears to be fiction. They can be more complicated than that, but the idea is that the story comes with a type of note or key from the author in which he says if you know who I mean when I refer to Mr. Green and Mrs. White, then you'll know the truth behind my account. So the reviewer is stating the obvious.

And now that I've explained the joke, it isn't funny. Oh, I should find something else. . . . perhaps, I could direct new readers attention to a parody I wrote in May 2004. I probably should edit it before announcing it again, but--take a look at this suggestion of what a scene from Left Behind might look like if written by P.G. Wodehouse within a Bertie and Jeeves context. Now, this is funny.
 
Friday, November 25, 2005
Bush lied, Klingons died

You can't make this stuff up. My friend Dale sent me this news link.

The great mystery remains -- since it's universally agreed that Bushitler does nothing except in order to steal oil and increase Halliburton profits, why would he go to all this trouble to fortify space?

Ah, but I have an answer. It's also well known that solar power is the energy of the future. Bush's insidious scheme is to seize the sun for Halliburton!

Will the infamy never end?????

Lars Walker
 

The Art of Deception by Ridley Pearson

It’s strange, when I think about it, that I always forget Ridley Pearson when I list my favorite thriller writers. That’s odd, because I always have a good time with his books. I enjoy his characters, and the stories draw me in. He’s even gotten more Christian-friendly in his recent Lou Boldt books, including a story line where Lou’s wife, dying of cancer, dropped her chemotherapy in favor of prayer and a renewed devotion to her Catholic faith. And, to Lou’s amazement, it seems to be working.

Yet the books never leave a lasting impression on me for some reason. I don’t know why. Maybe this book will change that.

The Art of Deception is, in my opinion, the best Pearson book (of those I’ve read) to date. His characters are growing and changing. His hero, Seattle police lieutenant Lou Boldt (reduced to a secondary role in this story) is obsessing on a particular case right now – the abduction and disappearance of two women, one of whom was a personal acquaintance.

But the focus of the story is on Daphne Matthews, police psychologist, another continuing character. What I like about Daphne (deduct points for sexism here) is that she’s not the standard, kick-butt fictional policewoman we’ve grown so accustomed to of late, the one so absolutely interchangeable with her male colleagues that the reader suspects she went through mandatory menopause on graduation from the police academy. Daphne is a feminine woman, well aware that she’s not a physical match for most male cops and most male criminals. Her edge is in her education and empathy, her ability to understand the criminal mind and predict its movements.

Her challenge in The Art of Deception is the case of a young woman who fell from a fire escape and was afterwards run over by a car and dumped off a bridge. Her investigation centers on the woman’s abusive boyfriend and her seriously troubled, homeless brother, a young man who was attached to his sister in an unhealthy way and who begins to transfer that affection to Daphne herself. And he’s not the only guy who’s taken to stalking her. Daphne is weary of this, then wary, and finally pretty scared.

She’s also getting tired of her personal life. She’s been engaged a couple times, but both engagements fell through. Part of the reason for that is that she’s still half in love with Lou Boldt, with whom she had a brief affair years back. They’re both attached to one another because of that, and they both know it’s not good for them (shades of the Bible’s teaching about becoming “one flesh”).

But then there’s John LaMoia, another colleague. LaMoia has been almost a comic figure through this series of books, a constitutional adolescent addicted to one sexual conquest after another. But a serious injury, and a subsequent physical addiction to painkillers which he has managed to beat through hard effort, has matured him. and now he finds himself (somewhat to his own surprise) looking at women as more than trophies. And the more he looks at Daphne Matthews, the more he finds himself thinking about changing his life and settling down – growing up, in short. And Daphne feels drawn to him too, but...

The investigation, in a fascinating manner, moves under the earth just as it moves under the skin, taking us into previously unexplored areas of Seattle’s famous Underground City (something I find fascinating to read about just for its own sake). Mysteries, both physical and emotional, are uncovered and brought to light. Good people come to terms with the consequences of their choices, and bad people resist such wisdom to the point of death and murder.

An excellent book. As usual with thrillers, cautions are in order concerning language, sex and violence, though Pearson is not a major offender in these areas. Some of the crimes, though, are pretty disturbing.

I recommend The Art of Deception.

Lars Walker

 
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Giving Thanks After the Journey to a New Country
Our fathers’ prayers have changed to psalms,
As David’s treasures old
Turned, on the Temple’s giant arms,
To lily-work of gold.
Ho! vanished ships from Yarmouth’s tide,
Ho! ships of Boston Bay,
Your prayers have crossed the centuries wide
To this Thanksgiving Day!
We pray to God with fervent lips,
We praise the Lord to-day,
As prayers arose from Yarmouth ships,
But psalms from Boston Bay.

The end of a Thanksgiving poem by Hezekiah Butterworth. Happy Thanksgiving.
 
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The great man's headgear

Today I got nothin'.

So, continuing in my C.S. Lewis vein, I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite Lewis anecdotes. It concerns a hat, a matter near to my heart.

I was trying to remember where I read this story, and I thought, "No, it's not something Lewis wrote himself. So it won't even be in Goffar's worthless Index."

But the image of the old, one-volume version of The Letters of C.S. Lewis came into my head. "Can't hurt to check it," I thought.

I looked over Warren Lewis' introduction, and lo and behold, there it was. And this is what I read:

His own clothes were a matter of complete indifference to him: he had an extraordinary knack of making a new suit look shabby the second time he wore it. One of his garments has passed into legend. It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early-morning walk round Addison's Walk, after a very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. 'That looks like my hat!' said Jack; then, joyfully, 'It is my hat!' and clapping the sodden mass on to his head, he continued the walk.


Meditate and learn from this. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Lars Walker
 
Books and Words: Linkage
Got any verbage peeves? Are there commonly misused words or overly employed phrases which get your goat? Perhaps I should say grok your goat. (But maybe I shouldn't.) Well, one of those words for me is literally. If that's a word you enjoy laughing at, a new blog may scratch your niche. Literally, the blog.

I just learned through the Waterboro Library's blog (which used to link to here, but rebels must have taken over the template updates) that The Guardian's Tech blog has a top 20 list of geek novels. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World are the top three. Voting may still be open, and commenters have noted that the absence of Ender's Game is, um, un-right.

For those who care what the NYTimes recommends, they have published their list of notable books from this year.

Amazon.com has their lists too, both editors' choice and customer purchases. The editors choose Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, this year's National Book Award winner, for their top pick. Last year, they choose the current Oprah Book Club selection, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. I wonder if Oprah will choose Magical Thinking next year.

Sherry has given us her Top 100 best (unfinished). It's much more classic than Time's list. I wonder if we could get some readers to debate Time editors and Modern Library editors on their top book choices.

Also, there are a couple blog awards up and running, neither of which have a category for lit-blogs. I don't understand that. Evangelical Underground is one. Weblog Awards the other. - phil
 
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Feast of St. Jack

Oh yeah. I should have mentioned nuts yesterday. Nuts are another thing everybody else likes that I can’t stand. The one exception is peanuts. But peanuts (as I’m sure you know) aren’t really nuts at all. They’re a kind of bean.

I know I said I hate beans too. So sue me.

One of the things that brings low pressure fronts into my life is to bite down on something sweet and delectable, like a cookie or a piece of cake or some ice cream, and find a nut waiting there, like a rock or a chunk of wood.

Life is such a trial…

Today is the anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. It was very thoughtful of John F. Kennedy to die on the very same day, so that I could always remember what I was doing the day Lewis died. When I heard about Kennedy I was in an art class in junior high. As a matter of fact it was the very class Mr. Maus asked me about the day I first talked to him, as I related in an earlier post. (That means I was 13 when it happened, and I must have been in 7th Grade. Amazing how I had the information to work that out lying around in my head all this time.)

It was also my brother Baal’s birthday. Happy birthday, Baal, if you’re reading this. Which I know you’re not.

To some people, Sigmund Freud is the most important person to have lived in the 20th Century. For others it’s Churchill, or FDR, or Martin Luther King or Elvis.

For me it’s C.S. Lewis. No contest. I don’t agree with Lewis on everything. His view of Scripture was too low. He believed in Anglican stuff like Purgatory and the veneration of saints. But one of his gifts was the ability to explain to provincial Pietists like me what things are necessary in the faith and which are those on which believers of good will may disagree.

I remember a winter’s day, working in my dad’s barn, shoveling manure out of the gutters. I was thinking about a passage from The Screwtape Letters, which I’d recently read, where the devil Screwtape complains:

“(God is) a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’…. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

I remember how exciting and subversive that passage seemed to me. Growing up among Pietists, I’d picked up the idea (not actually expressed) that pleasure was in itself sinful. Through Lewis I began to understand that pleasure is innocent (all other things being equal) because the body is a good creation of God. And we know the body is good because of the Incarnation. It was the beginning of my personal journey into theology, and Lewis set me on the right path. Perhaps without Lewis I'd have ended by rejecting Pietism altogether, as both my brothers did.

So God’s blessings on you, Jack Lewis, in Heaven or in Purgatory, or wherever you are. I’d have a drink in your memory, but I’m still too much of a Pietist for that.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, November 21, 2005

I don’t get it

I guess the proper, non-slang way to express that thought would be “I don’t comprehend it”. But for a long time people have been looking for a better way to say it, something that would express the fact that not only do they not grasp a thing intellectually, they find it just as hard to grasp it emotionally. They have a difficult time putting themselves in the places of people who do (or think) this (or that). When I was young, people started talking about “digging” and “not digging” things. But it sounded too effete. It smelled too much of beatniks and coffeehouses and the collected works of Allen Ginsberg in paperback.

Then Robert A. Heinlein came out with Stranger In a Strange Land (a book I didn’t like much, except for the sexy parts), and there was a short vogue for the word “grok”. Which more or less meant “dig”. But back then nobody really wanted to admit they read Science Fiction, so the word languished and died.

I guess I’ll just say “I don’t get it”. Herewith, a list of extremely popular things that make no sense to me, that make me feel like E.T., or a Republican candidate in a Minneapolis city election.

The list starts with food items. My relationship with food is conflicted. I love to eat, and my body shows it. But I only love a very short list of selected foods, of which I never tire. The great, diverse spectrum of human culinary art leaves me mostly apathetic. Scientists now know that people’s sense of taste varies greatly from individual to individual. Some people are very sensitive to sweet taste. A spoonful of sugar is plenty for them. They favor vegetables and fruit, and of course they feel morally superior. Others, like me, are oversensitive to bitter. I can eat chocolate until I die and enjoy it all the way, but I choke on lima beans. What is worse, I bit through my tongue once when I was a kid, and I suspect I may have severed a nerve. That’s the only explanation I can figure for why there are so many popular foods I can’t endure.

  1. Cheese. I like it on pizza, and that’s pretty much it. Cheese doesn’t even taste like food to me. From a purely esthetic point of view, I’d as soon eat wallpaper paste as macaroni and cheese.
  2. Tomatoes. Again, good on pizza, if made into a sauce and seasoned (also great in ketchup). But slicing up a tomato and eating it with sugar (or salt), or putting a slice on a sandwich? Why?
  3. Coffee. A bitter drink that people use to wake them up. I understand the waking up part, but people actually talk about certain brands and blends “tasting better” than others. How can one acid taste better than another?
  4. Watermelon. How many times has somebody said to me, “We’re having watermelon!” and been puzzled at the lack of enthusiasm on my face? Insipid taste, and messy to eat.
  5. Mexican food of any kind. Let’s see: Cheese – hate it. Beans – hate them. Hot spices – ditto. If I were deported to Mexico, I’d probably starve.
  6. Rock ‘N Roll music. (Moving away from food here, you may have noticed.) Rock’ N Roll sounds like noise to me. If there’s a rare Rock song that actually appeals to me a bit, I can be sure that Lileks will write about how much it sucks in The Bleat.
  7. Country Music. Sounds like whining to me.
  8. Hip-hop. Take a song. Remove the music. Hip-hop is what’s left.
  9. Sports of any kind. I vaguely remember being interested in baseball when I was a kid. I don’t remember what I saw in it. I have no good memories associated with sports. I went to a professional baseball game once. I took a book.
  10. Hounds. By this I mean, guys who have numerous sexual conquests. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the drive. I even envy them to a certain degree. But I don’t know how the hounds live with themselves afterwards, especially if they know they have kids out there they’re not taking responsibility for.

Maybe I’m just in the wrong species.

Lars Walker

 
Monday Word Comics
I noticed some good word jokes in the funnies this week. If we don't keep up with the same comic strips, then I have something to share.

Last Thursday's "Get Fuzzy" demonstrated how much a dork Rob Wilco is. Still, he had a great name for a Volvo.

A week ago, Pig in "Pearls Before Swine" confronted his old enemy, Annie May. Will their feud come to an end?

And did you hear that the fourth Harry Potter movie was released in the States this weekend? Yeah, it was something like Harry Potter and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Or was it called Harry Potter and the Chocolate Factory? I can't remember now. Harry Potter and the Valerie Plame-Wilson Investigation? Oh, it was Harry Potter and the Final Ultimate Very Terrifying Revenge of the Daleks! Yeah, that will be a good one.
 
Sunday, November 20, 2005
We Need Purpose
"We need not only a purpose in life to give meaning to our existence but also something to give meaning to our suffering. We need as much something to suffer for as something to live for." - Eric Hoffer, philosopher
 
Secularism Won't Build a Healthy Country

No matter what the French do with their government or country, I think of Paris as a literary city. Maybe it has had a primarily negative influence on letters, I don’t know; but when I think of Paris, I remember something of William Faulkner’s visit there, of Gertrude Stein’s hospitality, or Les Miserables and Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel. And Proust, you say? You are thinking that Marcel Proust had a wonderful love for Paris? Yeah, he was there too.

When I first heard of the riots this month, I wondered if I would learn what really caused them. Initially, the reports I read blamed poverty and immigration policy. The latest I’ve read quotes a leader in parliament blaming the immigrants’ polygamy for putting too many unsupervised children in the streets. I can’t or don’t want to work out the politics of the French riots. Look to the poli-bloggers for that. I’m a lit-blogger—unqualified and small-minded, but a lit-blogger nonetheless. So I have only a few cultural thoughts.

How long of the French distained the French culture and history, teaching multi-culturalism instead? I thought the world’s secularists disliked only American culture, so I was surprised to read that the schools in France sterilized their own history. There’s nothing wrong with being French. Loving your heritage and homeland is natural and good. If you are born and raised French, you have many things to be proud of, cultural details in which you can and should rejoice. Cuisine, language, countryside, art—many wonderful and thoroughly French facts and objects. I assume immigrants to France enjoy those things too; but if they don’t they should be encouraged.

That hints at the immigration problem with which France has struggled for years. I heard that the rioters first angry words were about throwing the French authority out of their suburbs. That and praise to Allah. Apparently, French police left these immigrant colonies alone for the most part. The night the riots started, the police entered these forbidden areas on a legitimate mission and their presence provoked two teenagers to hide in an unsafe area and accidentally electrocute themselves.

Can any country govern itself while allowing pockets of foreigners to live within its borders, generally unaccountable to its authority? When a family immigrates, they may sustain their cultural traditions within their homes or communities, but they cannot buck the authority of the host country. They must integrate into the new society. They must learn the language, understand the customs, and respect the law. If they seek employment in this new country, how can they avoid this simple integration? It doesn’t make them less Moroccan or Italian, but it does start to make them French. They live in France now; they should become French.

Tolerance only goes so far. We can tolerate many differences in families and regions within one country, especially from immigrants who can’t be expected to drop the old ways instantly. They need time to adjust, and some old ways don’t need to be dropped. But the law of one country is not based on the foundation of all. No matter how many perspectives we tolerate in polite society, the law of the land should enforce the fundamental philosophy of that land. Of course, if that philosophy is not rooted in true ideas about people, the world, and life, then the country will collapse on itself.

I wonder if this concept is ground zero in America’s cultural war. Reality is not what you make it. The truth exists and can be understood. The law should not be the mere rules of the powerful, but should build up a healthy society which is growing out of known truth: that all men have been created equal, the work of God the Father’s hands, and are designed to glorify and enjoy Him in freedom from the tyranny of other equally created men.

I don’t suppose secular France would recognize that description of reality. If this world is all the life we have, as they believe, then I suppose they would argue that all men exist by chance for the purpose of doing their own thing. I suggest such a philosophy is not what created the great art and culture of history. - phil

 
For the Visible Church
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (from Isaiah 64 ESV)
 
Vonnegut: Terrorists Are Sweet
World's Susan Olasky points out an Austrailian interview with author Kurt Vonnegut in which he says it is "sweet and honourable" to die for your beliefs. The Austrailian's New York correspondent David Nason reports, "One of the greatest living US writers has praised terrorists as 'very brave people' and used drug culture slang to describe the 'amazing high' suicide bombers must feel before blowing themselves up." Vonnegut "made the provocative remarks during an interview in New York for his new book, Man Without a Country, a collection of writings critical of US President George W. Bush. . . . In 2002, he was widely criticised for saying there was too much talk about the 9/11 attacks and not enough about 'the crooks on Wall Street and in big corporations,' whose conduct had been more destructive."

Olasky suggests this kind of language makes Vonnegut "the Pat Robertson of literature."

Speaking of literature, Vonnegut apparently has said that the subject of all great books is "what a bummer it is to be a human being."
 
Saturday, November 19, 2005
The return of Mike Nelson

Michael J. Nelson, late of Mystery Science Theater 3000, doesn't seem to be adapting to this blogging thing very well. His previous post, on the subject of Hank Williams, Jr. and football promotion, did not refer to the current football season but to the previous one (or maybe the one before that. I lose track).

But he has updated his site at last, with a killer review of Eddie Murphy's Doctor Doolittle II. Here it is.

Hollywood has not been kind to Hugh Lofting's beloved character. I read the books with much pleasure when I was a kid. I also remember my righteous indignation when the original movie with Rex Harrison came out. "How," I wondered, "dare they turn Lofting's short, fat doctor into a tall, thin, doctor?" I also thought (and still think) that (although the competition is very keen) "Talk To the Animals" was probably the worst song to ever win an Academy Award.

If only I had known. It wasn't enough for the movie industry to heap these minor indignities on the original books. That wasn't enough destruction to satisfy those overpaid, constitutional two-year-olds. No, they had to turn the fat, Edwardian English doctor into a thin, modern American black doctor played by Eddie Murphy. With a potty mouth.

You know, I'm beginning to think this whole writing books business is just asking for disappointment. "I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?" (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, NIV)


Anyway, Nelson's review is pretty funny, and you'll enjoy it more than you'd enjoy the movie, assuming you're lucky enough not to have seen the movie yet.

I write this as a part of my long-standing, low-energy campagin to ingratiate myself with Mike Nelson. If I could meet him eventually, this would make me terminally cool in the eyes of my nephews and nieces, upon whom I am pretty likely to be economically dependent in my old age.

Lars Walker
 
Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanks, Mr. Maus

It would be a mistake to write about anything as contributing to my “success”, since my limited achievements seem to be rapidly swirling into the sewer at this point, but there were people in my life who did contribute to limiting my less than utter failure.

I don’t honestly remember what year it was. The whole scenario only became clear in my mind much later. But the general outline was unmistakeable.

I was in junior high, I think (it’s hard to say for sure because I can’t peg the memories to architecture. I went to junior high and high school in the same building). Mr. Maus, our Guidance Counselor, called me into his office to ask me if I wanted to take an elective class they were going to be offering. I think that was a pretense. I think he had a pretty good idea that I had a lot of stuff I wanted to talk about, and he was giving me an opening.

I took it. When the conversation paused, I started blurting out the whole ugly story of the abuse that was going on in my home. I went back to his office several times to dump the whole story.

Things were different back then. If a counselor were to hear a story like that from a student nowadays, he’d be legally bound to alert the authorities so that they could investigate and, if necessary, remove the children from the home.

But back then Mr. Maus was limited in his options. He offered to talk to my mother, but I begged him not to. If Mom found out I’d spilled the beans, I was certain, she’d take revenge in a serious way.

But there was one thing Mr. Maus was able to do. As we discussed my school work, I made a comment about how dumb I was.

“Don’t you think you’re smart?” he asked.

I said, “No.”

He went to a filing cabinet and pulled out my personal file. He pulled some forms out of it. “These are your IQ tests,” he said. He explained how IQ’s are scored. “Your IQ is 126. You’re one of the ten smartest kids in your class.”

I was amazed. I had honestly not known this. In fact I’d harbored a suspicion for years that I was borderline retarded, because of the great difficulty I had (and continue to have) with mathematics. All my life people had been telling me, “You’re too smart to do this kind of work,” but I thought that was just a line people used to make me feel guilty. When people called me “dumb”, I believed them. Mr. Maus gave me evidence. It was a priceless gift.

I wasn’t conscious of what happened next, but a look at my academic record later on showed it to be true. My grades went up, almost without my noticing it. I got onto the honor roll, and eventually I went to college.

My life story has hardly been an exemplary one, but I attribute a lot of what success I’ve had to Mr. Maus.

Lars Walker

 
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Today
I left work today telling myself two things. I don't want to complain anymore, and I don't want to live afraid of possibilities. I am the Lord and He is mine. I want to live free.

Andree Seu may have helped me with this. I'd like to meet her someday. - phil
 
Calling things by their right names

Maybe you consider Ann Coulter over the top and shrill. Often she is. But I highly recommend her column today about George Clooney's new Edward R. Murrow movie.

The whole McCarthy business is one of those historical events, like the Scopes trial, which has been dogpiled by the authors, dramatists, filmmakers and other hot-air generators of the Left, to ensure that nobody learns what actually happened. Or at least to ensure that, if somebody does, they will approach the subject with the approved preconceptions.

If you learned your history from Hollywood, you'll believe that the greatest evil in the world in the 1950's was American anti-Communism. Has any major Hollywood studio ever made a single movie about Stalin's victims? This was a guy who murdered ten million people at a bare minimum (more than Hitler), and Hollywood has never heard of him.

But they want to teach us history.

Lars Walker
 
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Self-indulgent post No. 387

Snow on the ground today. Not Christmas In Vermont, knee-high snow, the kind that leaves your trouser legs white at the bottom. More of a powdered-sugar snow that covers the grass while still letting the green shine through. Although it wasn’t actually powdery at all. It was icy, from mixing with last night’s rain. I put Mrs. Hermanson into 4-wheel-drive this morning, and went slowly as I drove to work.

It was a long day. One of my assistants had a personal emergency and had to go home till Thanksgiving. So I stayed until 6:00 p.m., when the late shift assistant came in. We’ll be rearranging schedules, and I’ll probably work ten to six for the next couple days at least.

Had to stop at the grocery store on my way home. Like most pathetic single guys, I generally use the express line for my meager purchases (I always imagine fellow shoppers evaluating my groceries and laughing at me behind their hands. “This guy buys four Banquet Pot Roast dinners at a time. Clearly someone who never gets a date.”). The express lane sat motionless for about half an hour (subjective time) while they looked all over the store for a bag of rock salt that the lady two shoppers ahead of me wanted. Eventually, after a full inventory of all departments, they decided they didn’t have any rock salt.

Leaving the store at last, my purchases mostly melted, I saw a pile of rock salt bags by the door.

Maybe she wanted a different kind. What do I know about rock salt?

Dennis Prager invited calls today about the various come-on lines men use to get sex from women. I listened in amazement, as I would to descriptions of life along the Oronoco River. I realize that these are people of my own species being described, but I understand their lives not at all.

There are dynamics here of which I have no experience. Not only the drive of a man to get sexual pleasure, even if it means telling a lie (I can sort of understand that), but also the drive of a woman that would impel her to fall for such lame arguments, in order to get something or other that she also wants.

I’ve never played this game. My sexual need has never outweighed my (overactive) sense of shame. And no woman has ever felt sufficiently drawn to me, I’m confident, to succumb to my clumsy blandishments, had I blandished them.

My theory (and it seems to be borne out by the testimony of both sexes) is that it’s all about the attraction of Power. Women respond to strength in men. Even relentless feminists (unless they’re lesbians) are subject to it. Something visceral within them recognizes the aggressive alpha male as a good provider and protector. This accounts for the stereotyped situation where the woman rejects the nice guy who adores her in favor of the jerk with excessive body hair who beats her up and cheats on her. The woman would probably be glad to have a strong guy who’s nice, if one happened to be available. But if the only strong guy on offer is a jerk, she’ll opt for him over a pleasant wimp.

I’m not complaining about this. It seems to me a perfectly reasonable way for a woman to choose a mate.

It just makes me sad.

On the bright side, my substandard genes will probably not be passed on.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

There were rumors of snow today, but all it did was rain until evening. As I headed home the precipitation was falling in a transitional state, not sure what it wanted to be. Kind of like a Republican in the Senate.

It was inevitable that I read and review Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Several people have asked me what I thought of it, since it deals with many of the same themes and mythology as my own Wolf Time. Want a novel about the Norse god Odin attempting to revive his power in modern America? Well, you get a choice – Gaiman’s book or mine.

It’s surprising in a way, though, how many similarities there are in two essentially different books. I was particularly interested in the Odin character in each. My Odin is a world-class sophisticate who goes to all the best parties and is seen with all the best people. Gaiman’s is a god fallen on hard times. Like the other pagan gods, he ekes out a marginal living as a con man and grifter, using what powers he retains to cheat the gullible. Yet the two seem to me to be essentially the same character. Odin, as described by the Icelandic saga writer Snorri Sturlusson, is a distinct and vivid personality, clearly recognizable in both books.

Gaiman’s hero is strange, almost rootless man who goes only by the name of Shadow. At the opening of the book he is waiting to be released from prison, keeping his nose clean and aching to be reunited with his wife. He is released early and informed that his wife is dead. On the plane home he finds “Mr. Wednesday” in the seat beside him. Wednesday offers him a job, which he turns down, suspecting (correctly) that it would involve him in activities that would involve lawbreaking.

But Wednesday (Odin) wears him down, and they end up traveling around America, mostly in the Midwest. Wednesday is seeking out various other pagan gods who also live in reduced circumstances, trying to enlist their support in resisting a great danger he insists is on the way.

I enjoyed the trip. Gaiman takes us to a number of off-the-beaten-path American sites that happen to be familiar to me, notably the House On the Rock in Wisconsin, a place of which I have fond memories. The characters, both gods and mortals, are well-drawn and fascinating.

The mystery of “what the heck is going on here anyway?” is compelling too. I’m not sure I understand the final resolution entirely, but it left me mostly satisfied.

The theology of the book is, of course, an important element for the Christian, and it’s hard to say what to report about that. One direct reference is made to Christ where He is called (in rather offensive terms) a “lucky” kid. But the reference comes from a pagan god, who can hardly be expected to be objective.

Gaiman tells us more than once that America is a poor country for gods. I’m not sure how to take that. It could mean just pagan gods, or it could mean religion in general. But that wouldn’t be true. We’re the most religious country in the West. So all in all I guess I’d have to say he leaves Christianity mostly alone. It has no place in his framework.

I enjoyed the book. The morality is mixed, the language mixed, but I’ve read more offensive stories. I definitely think it deserves its success.

But my book’s better.

Lars Walker

 
Adrian Rogers, 1931-2005
[by way of Stacy Harp] Dr. Adrian Rogers, Memphis, TN pastor and author, has gone to glory.

From his ministry website: "Dr. Adrian Rogers, Founder of Love Worth Finding Ministries, Pastor Emeritus of Bellevue Baptist Church and a gifted man of God passed away in to the presence of the Lord early this morning after battling cancer and double pneumonia."

Dr. Albert Mohler blogs, "Dr. Rogers was a lion in our midst -- the man God used to serve as leader and voice for a great resurgence of biblical Christianity. He was a man of tremendous gifts, whose booming voice was matched by a gift for words and a powerful delivery. He dominated the pulpit as few men ever have, preaching the Word and calling sinners to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a modern-day 'Prince of Preachers' whose personal example served to encourage thousands of others to greater faithfulness in preaching the Word of God."
 
Monday, November 14, 2005
Tea in Your Chocolate
In a Fox News feature, I see that chocolate made with tea is big now. Last weekend, New York hosted a chocolate show. One candymaker said, "Tea and chocolate are a very good combination."

The reporter testifies, "And go well together they do, when it's quality chocolate and equally top-notch tea. Payard's Earl Grey dark chocolates are divine, as are the Missouri-based Bissinger's green-tea truffles with lemongrass."

Is that right? If I had the opportunity, I think I would try that Bissinger sweet, but the description, "green-tea truffles with lemongrass," sounds flat nasty. Have you ever swigged down some strong, bitter green tea? Dang. Maybe the chocolate lifts the flavor.
 
On being required reading

Am I feeling better today? I'm not actually sure. I left work at 4:00 (which is technically when I'm done, though I usually hang around until 4:30), feeling tired and headachy. Yesterday I didn't go out at all, but spent a lot of time in bed. I thought my low energy was an extension of my depression, but now I suspect I have transitioned seamlessly from depression to some kind of flu or something. As I've told you before, I can usually head off the flu by going to bed early, and that is my plan for tonight.

By way of Le Sabot Post-Moderne, this tasty new blog, Religion Of Peace? One delightful feature is contrasted boxes, on opposite sides of the page, tallying murders by Muslim extremists vs. murders by Christian extremists. Just to keep the moral equivilencists up to speed.

My friend Dale, who teaches English at a small college which shall remain nameless so as to protect his career and reputation, is using my novel Blood and Judgment as required reading this year. He sent me the quizzes he's using (I'm actually not sure of the answer to one question myself).

Odd to be required reading, but gratifying. The only similar recognition I've gotten up till now was when a Norwegian historian, Torgrim Titlestad (warning: link in Norwegian), included the cover of Erling's Word in his book Norge Blir Et Rike, as an example of English-language Viking fiction. This reference had no effect whatever on my sales, since almost nobody read Titlestad's book outside Norway, but being an academic citation is a kind of immortality. Or so I tell myself.

Lars Walker
 
The Year of the Warrior, by Lars Walker
I hope the fact Lars Walker blogs with me on Brandywine Books does not taint any reviews I write of his works. I don't know him apart of our Internet communication, and he doesn't send me enough money to influence my opinion. I don't care that he's been accused of being the best novelist blogger. My opinions are my own.

Lars' The Year of the Warrior is a good, strong book. The story focuses on the narrator and his lord, both his cultural lord and his spiritual Lord. It follows Ailill, an Irishman who failed his training for the priesthood just before being taken away by marauding Vikings. The Vikings scarred him in complex ways on that day, and he wrestles with God over it for most of the story. He often thinks of himself as a failed priest, and this lack of confidence in himself and his faith deepens the story beyond swords and spells. Ailill is weak, even poor in spirit, but the Lord uses him despite himself.

His cultural lord, Erling Skjalgsson, is a unique Christian ruler in Norway who is still working through the application of biblical teaching to his turn-of-the-first-century society. In an immoral and violent culture of slaves and masters, Erling realizes his responsibility to be faithful to his mistress and sets up a system for emancipating his slaves that allows him and them to continue living relatively safe, stable lives. He relies on Ailill for instruction and guidance. (Did I mention that Ailill is no Charles Spurgeon?)

Norse gods, demons, and their worshippers oppose them as well as other vikings who would like to have Erling's land. These are not shadows on the wall, capable of scaring only children. These are evil, ugly enemies as fully formed as the trolls of Beowulf or the devils of Hawthorne's New England. I don't think Lars crosses the line with description as some modern authors do, so readers interested in historical fantasy but who recoil at the vulgar details in much of modern entertainment should dip into The Year of the Warrior. Still, the flesh and blood battle for justice and peaceful living is not whitewashed.

For all the exciting adventures and interesting people in Lars' Norway, I felt the book lacked an overall suspense. Though many scenes are compelling and many details go unresolved for most of the book, the story arc--if that's the right term--is weak. It can read like the account of an interesting life, a little disconnected. That's a minor weakness, though--essentially my only criticism.
The Year of the Warrior is enjoyable and worth shoving into the hands college students and fantasy or history loving adults. My wife said the characters are authentic and three dimensional, unlike those of the Christian novels she reads. And as you can see, I agree.
 
Monday Quizzery and Happy Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving! It's that warm Thanksgiving season again, isn't it. Seems to come earlier every year. I wouldn't mind reading what menus you anticipate for November 24 or a unique Thanksgiving tradition you have. Feel free to comment on such seasonal topics.

My blogging this week and next will be light. I'm going to give my computer some personal time to reflect and refresh. But for now, I have a couple quizzes to offer as a Monday Post.

How Bookish Are You? [link]

Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia has "posed questions about some classic works of literature to find out just how much you know about these important novels. You may have read some of these books in school, while others are just so well known you may know the answer without even having read the book! Let's find out if you have literature on the brain."

If that's too simple or campy for you, try this one:

Stranger Than Fiction by Amy Leigh Morgan [link]

Encarta describes this animal quiz as "It's often said that fact is stranger than fiction. That's especially true when it comes to the natural world. Take a look at the truths, half-truths, and outright lies listed below and see if you can tell the difference between them."
 
Friday, November 11, 2005
Dispatch from Underland

First of all, thanks to all you veterans. We owe you big, each one of us.

My apologies for the light (and weird) posting. I'm feeling somewhat better today, but you still don't want to read the kind of entry I'd be doing. I hope to be back to subnormal by Monday.

I sometimes think that my purpose in life is to plunge down into deep, painful places, grapple with the monsters there, domesticate them and display them safely for the public in novels. That would assume, though, that I still have a career as a novelist...

Nope. Let's not go there.

Have a good weekend.

Lars Walker
 
Happy Birthday
Sherry has a good post on . . . oh, what's his name?
He was born on this date in 1821. While he was at school, his father was murdered by his own servants at the family’s small country estate. He graduated from engineering school but chose a literary career. He was arrested and charged with subversion because . . . read on

 
Veterans Day
Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

For more well-deserved praise, follow La Shawn Barber's links in this post.

And for anyone irritated at the popular American view of God's role in the world and His attitude for our country, let me say, God Bless Iraq.

Oh, yes. I forgot another great veteran. Thank you, Mr. President, for your good work.
 
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Today
Today at the dinner table, my two-year-old rattled off a string of quoted lines she had apparently heard from the rest of us. She sounded like an electronic pocket game. Repeatedly, her little voice slurred out the words:

"There are peas everywhere! Don't fuss--My tummy hurts--Don't fuss. Awww, yuck."

I need to readjust the chip in her brain. So, what did you do today?
 
Selections for a Book Mobile
I occasionally think about ways bookselling could adapt to our current culture. Sure, a knowledgeable bookseller with a shop in a good location and a reliable, affordable distribution stream will have a good chance to succeed in today's market. But what about selling books out of the back of a truck. A book mobile, you know, like what libraries in rural areas have.

The selection would be limited, but the location may be ideal, reaching into a new market of less-than-affluent readers or would-be readers on the street or at their homes. I don't know how often a truck would drive down the same street, ringing a bell like the Good Humor man. Maybe once a day, up and down each street. Maybe once every other day. Each driver should be able to place special orders from his mobile phone or digital assistance and guarantee delivery of most books the next time he drives by. That part of the service would be essential, even if it isn't used often.

Assuming we could sell books at good prices to folks in their neighborhoods, what titles would we sell them? If you can, pick 5-10 current, classic, or upcoming titles you think we should stock in our book mobile. For a start, I suggest:
  1. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  2. Beverly Lewis' Abrams' Daughter series
  3. Chronicles of Narnia Sets and extra copies of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
  4. Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, by Naomi Moriyama
  5. English Standard Versions of the Bible
  6. At First Sight, by Nicholas Sparks
  7. No Place Like Home, but Mary Higgins Clark
  8. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman
  9. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, by Ravi Zacharias
  10. Trace, by Patricia Cornwell
I avoided political titles because I think I can safely rule them out for this experiment, and I named only one children's series, so there's lots of room for those. What do you think?
 
British Dagger Awards
An Icelandic author won this year's Golden Dagger award from the British Crime Writers Association, according to the Guardian. Arnaldur Indridason, 44, pulls in £3,000 for his book, Silence of the Grave.

Also, the Dagger of Daggers award goes to John Le Carre for The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. It was chosen as the Crime Writers' "top book of the last 50 years."

Only one thing can be said of all this: chilling.
 
Wisdom from P.G. Wodehouse

From the story, "Portrait of a Disciplinarian":
"...Not," he went on, "that life's worth much. An absolute wash-out, that's what life is. However, it will soon be over. And then the silence and peace of the grave. That," said Frederick, "is the thought that sustains me."

Lars Walker
 
Living in Satchmo's House
Terry Teachout is writing a biography on Louis Armstrong, and he has given an interview on it to Jerry Jazz Musician, an interesting jazz website with features and shopping.
What do you think America knows about Louis Armstrong thirty-four years after his death?

TT There's more general awareness of Armstrong than you might expect, probably because of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz, and also because all of his most important recordings have remained available. But our collective sense of Armstrong as a character and as a personality doesn't get much below the surface -- not that his surface isn't a beautiful and wonderful thing, but there's more to him.

In 1944, Leonard Feather wrote, "Americans, unknowingly, live part of every day in the house that 'Satch' built." Can this still be said?

TT Yes, it is still true, although today, people are influenced by people who were influenced by Louis, rather than, for the most part, being influenced by him first-hand. To an extent that most people just don't get, Armstrong created the way that jazz sounds. He didn't invent jazz, of course, but he set the parameters within which it operates, and had an influence on every other kind of American popular music too. The house that we live in, the house that Louis built, is a rhythmic house. Our idea of what it means to swing is, to a great extent, his doing.
 
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Olasky's History Book Recommendations
Marvin Olasky of World Magazine recommends several American history books in response to reader response:
First, the list does not include books written as textbooks. Some books I recommend may be a reach for high-school students, but many would rather read harder stuff by good writers than the dumbed-down texts typically assigned them. . . . Second, I've left out books whose authors assume greater knowledge than we have of why specific events happened in particular ways.
Two or Three.net has prepared the list for links and scanning, which is the kind of thing I might do and now need not. I want to remember to read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington sometime soon.
 
Found: Blogs
I found some new blogs just now.

Arevanye of The Window in the Garden Wall is blogging the collected thoughts of C.S. Lewis. Her quote for today comes from Lewis' essay against pacifism:
I think the meaning of the words was perfectly clear--"Insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back"--even, one would have assumed that insofar as you are a magistrate struck by a private person, a parent struck by a child, a teacher by a scholar, a sane man by a lunatic, or a soldier by the public enemy, your duties may be very different, different because [there] may be then other motives than egoistic retaliation for hitting back.
I also pulled up Aaron's Lewis-styled blog, The Wardrobe Door, which I'm sure I've heard of often, but haven't looked at until now. He is a Mind and Media reviewer, btw.

At Tolkien Geek, Gary is blogging his thoughts on each chapter of The Lord of the Rings. From his 11-8 post, he writes:
And whatever happened to Wormtongue? Well, Tolkien wasn't quite sure when he would have him arrive. According to Christopher Tolkien in The War of The Ring, Theoden's advisor was originally supposed to arrive before the first time that Gandalf got there but his father later changed this to have him show up just after the flooding of Isengard. In the final version, he gets there that same morning that Merry and Pippin were "guarding" the gate. Shocked by what he finds, he tries to flee but Treebeard seizes hold of him. Gandalf had already warned the Ent that this wretch would be arriving soon. He makes Grima wade through the water, which is about up to his neck, and enter the tower of Orthanc. Here Tolkien makes some notes in his original draft. He writes: "Shall Wormtongue actually murder Saruman?" At this point, he is considering what Saruman's fate will be. It is not clear at what point he decided to advance this plot point to the end of the story.
Finally, here's an infrequently updated blog by Tony Darnell who is learning to play the Irish or Uilleann pipes. You may be thinking of the hard Scottish Highland bag pipes; but the Uilleann pipes have a beautiful, mellow sound--still a soft drone, but more versatile than the Highland pipes, though I enjoy them too.
 
A sympathetic audience

I haven't got much for you tonight, folks. I'm not having a very good day. So I'll just share this story from Theatrical Anecdotes by Peter Hay, 1987 by Oxford University Press:
(Sir Henry) Irving used to delight in telling a story of his early days in which he was very much the criticized party. One night when playing Hamlet, he noticed an old lady in the front row of the pit dissolved in tears, and delighted at this apparent appreciation of his acting, he sent round word that he would like to see her after the performance. When she arrived, Irving said, "Madam, I perceived that my acting moved you very much." "Indeed it did," said the old lady. "You see, I've a young son myself play-acting somewhere up in the north, and it broke me up to think that he might be no better at it than you."

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Why Praise Bad Poets
W. B. Yeats wrote this poem under the title, "To a Poet, who would have me Praise certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine."
You say, as I have often given tongue
In praise of what another’s said or sung,
’Twere politic to do the like by these;
But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?
 

Of course you know this doesn’t mean war

Jared at Mysterium Tremendum is looking for a fight. He wants to start a literary feud with somebody in the hope that erudite insults lobbed back and forth will raise reader interest and promote his prospects of publication.

I’m tempted to offer to help, but frankly I just want to sit quietly and think about… nothing. For a while.

My self-esteem, never very robust, took a punch to the kidneys yesterday, and all I want to do is lie down with a good book and eat chocolate until I gain 300 lbs. and contract diabetes.

Don’t worry. I won’t.

One of the many things I admire in Jewish culture is the concept of chutzpah. Chutzpah is the attitude expressed in the words, “It can’t hurt to ask. The worst they can do is say no.”

Heavens, I wish I’d been raised that way. I was taught that to ask and be turned down was a deadly humiliation, a judgment on me that would be noted in my Permanent Record. I suppose half of it’s just my native disposition, my Avoidant Personality Disorder. But I could have used some encouragement, some motivation to chutzpah.

A literary feud would be fun. Gone forever are the days of the classic insult from one educated man to another, delivered in the sure knowledge that a relatively educated public would appreciate such things.

John Wilkes, the British parliamentary reformer (yes, Booth was named after him, I’m pretty sure), is supposed to have once gotten into a shouting match with the Earl of Sandwich (yes, the same one they named the food item after), a noted libertine and glutton. The Earl said, “I predict, sir, that you will die either on the gallows or of the pox.”

To which Wilkes is supposed to have answered, “That, sir, would depend on whether I embraced your principles or your mistress.”

Some early American politician, I forget which one, said something more or less like this about an opponent: “That depraved being, at once so brilliant and so corrupt, who, like a mackerel by moonlight, shined and stank.”

“You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny” isn’t bad, but it’s not the same.

Lars Walker

 
Ancient Christian Church
This is too cool to pass up. If you haven't seen it elsewhere, read about the early Christian church found in Megiddo within or under an Israeli jail. The Telegraph reports, "A large and superbly preserved mosaic with a Greek inscription referring to the "Lord Jesus Christ" and featuring two images of a fish - an early Christian symbol - was discovered during renovation work inside the prison at Megiddo, thought to be the modern name for the biblical site of Armageddon."

Here's another image of the mosaic. And here's a close up of the center. I love it. - phil
 
Monday, November 07, 2005

Try harder, Carter


I crossed one item off my to-do list today. I asked a woman out. Her response was a little complicated, but what it boiled down to was she turned me down.

It’s sad, because, a) I really like and admire her, and b) I only do this about once a decade, so it probably means I’ll be alone at least until I’m around retirement age. I’ve asked out a total of five women in my life, and I’ve gotten two “yeses”. My last attempts have resulted in three strikes in a row. I’m getting worse at this game as time goes on.

That escaped prisoner in Texas is back in custody again. What a disappointment he’s been, from a writer’s point of view. When a hardened criminal makes a bold escape, he’s supposed to vanish into thin air, baffle the authorities and set about a diabolical operation to wreak unspeakable vengeance on everyone who helped to put him away. Instead, this guy was picked up in a telephone booth, roaring drunk. I blame this on our country’s shocking lack of censorship laws. If more authors went to prison, they’d help criminals to learn their true functions in the world.

I’ve been reluctant over the years to strongly criticize ex-President Jimmy Carter, and not just because I voted for him back in my benighted youth. Much as I’ve disagreed with him over the years, I’ve always seen him as a Christian brother who has been pretty consistent in his life and speech.

But he was recently interviewed by Larry King, and some of his comments are so ridiculous, so ear-flappingly moronic, that I have to take issue. Quote:

A fundamentalist though, as I define in this book, in extreme cases has come to the forefront in recent years both in Islam and in some areas of Christianity. A fundamentalist by, almost by definition as I describe is a very strong male religious leader, always a man, who believes that he is completely wedded to God, has a special privilege and relationship to God above others.

And, therefore, since he speaks basically in his opinion for God, anyone who disagrees with him at all is inherently and by definition wrong and therefore inferior. And one of the first things that a male fundamentalist wants to do is to subjugate women to make them subservient and to subjugate others that don't believe as he does.

The other thing they do, and this is the only other thing I'll add, is that they don't believe that it's right to negotiate or to compromise with people who disagree with them because any deviation from their absolute beliefs is a derogation of their own faith. So, those two things, exclusiveness, domination and being very highly biased are the elements of fundamentalism.

Jimmy Carter is a Baptist, a church member and Sunday School teacher. For someone like him to make a statement of this kind is something like a lifelong American citizen saying, “America is governed by a parliamentary system, in which the party winning the majority vote in the general election forms a coalition government with one or more of the seven major parties, and rules until such time as there is a no-confidence vote.” You have to wonder what cellar this person has been locked in, to be so blazingly wrong about his daily environment.

American Christian Fundamentalists are not known for following charismatic leaders. Outsiders imagine we are, because they don’t know how we live, but Jimmy should know better. American Fundamentalists spend time in the Bible and consider their own opinions just as good as anybody else’s, including their pastors’ and those of the leaders of their denominations. Our characteristic activity is not blindly following the dictates of demagogues. It’s splitting, creating factions and new sects. Herding cats. Herding frogs. Baby calisthenics. That’s what it’s like to try to get American Fundamentalists together in anything.

See my post on unity below.

I have spoken.

Lars Walker

 
Men Running, Singing, Drinking
For this week's Monday Post, let me point out a big advertisement. In fact, it's huge. It's the biggest I've ever seen, and if there were contests for such things, I'm sure it would win first prize at the fair.

Observe The Big Ad.

What does this have to do with anything? Well another ad indicates, some things need no explanation.
 
What is News?
Newsman Dan Rather answered that question this year on Larry King. From the transcript:
If you believe as I do, and as many reporters do -- and Woodward and Bernstein, you know, in their core, they believe it -- that news is what somebody, somewhere, doesn't want you to know that the public needs to know. All the rest is just advertising, just to paraphrase what some Canadian press baron said.

Now, look at today, just for a second. How many stories out of Washington do you think are anything but advertising for somebody's point of view? I would say, at least eight out of 10, probably nine out of 10, come out from a handout, conveyer belt. So the question arises, and to ask the question is not to suggest that I know the answer, but the question arises, is the press -- electronic and otherwise -- is it doing its job today or is it cowed? Is it reluctant? If you like it (INAUDIBLE)...
I think many of us would like the press to be more inaudible; but to the point, who is this somebody who doesn't want us to know various news stories? I suspect it's The boredom Maven (She Who Must Be Revered). "Don't listen to that sniveling twit whine about current events! Turn off the TV and play with the children, or I'll crack your head with my shiny stick. Or maybe a banana."
 
Saturday, November 05, 2005
National Written Wirting nightmonth
By posting some writing quotes on Collected Misc., I learned that not only is this National Novel Writing Month, tonight is National Drunken Writers Night. The descriptive post on Abroad-abroad.org is titled "Blogging While Intoxicated," which I'm sure occurs year round, but tonight writers and non-writers are encouraged to scrawl something after downing a few. But for tonight, "No post-editing is allowed," she says. "You can spell-check as you go, backspace and delete, and edit along the way, but there is to be no editing after-the-fact. I want first drunken drafts, people."

This is Zeitgeist, right? - phil
 
Speaking of Boycotts
In light of Lars' recent comment on boycotts, did you hear about the"girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch? Sure, A&F have been an offensive company for several years, encouraging binge drinking and varieties of fornication in their catalogs, but this time around a group of girls in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, have declared what they call a girlcott of the clothing company over some t-shirts. Apparently, messages like "Who needs brains when you have these" on shirts strikes the girls as degrading. "Blondes are adored. Brunettes are ignored" is another one.

Why do I mention this? Because the girlcott has succeeded, reports Keith Plummer of The Christian Mind. A&F has agreed to stop selling the shirts. Plummer asks, "How long do you think it will take for A & F to forget this lesson?"

A few months, maybe a full year. Just a guess.

Newsday.com reports, "Last year, after the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team failed to win a gold medal, [A&F] sold T-shirts with the phrase 'L is for loser' next to a picture of a gymnast on the rings. Those shirts were pulled from the racks after USA Gymnasts called for a boycott."
 
Friday, November 04, 2005

When brothers don’t dwell together in unity

Oops. I got home from work tonight, looked at the clock, and realized I’d left an hour early. I could blame it on the atomic clock I keep on my desk, which for some reason hasn’t gotten the message about the Standard Time change yet (although I set it to do so). But I knew the clock was wrong and started believing it for some reason anyway.

Ah well. I’ve put in quite a bit of extra time recently. I wonder what my student assistant thought, though.

My post the other day about Luther got me thinking on the subject of Christian unity. I have an opinion about it, you’ll be delighted to know.

Basically I’m against unity. At least in the form it’s usually practiced nowadays.

I’m not against spiritual unity. I’m a Lutheran pietist, but I have mainline Lutheran friends and Calvinist friends. I have Catholic and Orthodox friends. I don’t think any of them are going to hell (at least not on the basis of their affiliation).

But I don’t want to be in the same church with them.

Time and again, I hear people intone the old formula, “The divisions of Christendom are a scandal before the world. If only we could reunite – then we could go forth boldly to advance God’s Kingdom on earth!”

You think so, do you? How, exactly?

How is this wonderful, world-wide Church you envision going to operate?

For instance, how will it be governed? Somebody’s got to train the pastors, print the curricula, draft the news releases. So you’ve got to have a church government. Will it be congregational, presbyterian, episcopal?

If it’s episcopal, what will you do with the people who deeply, sincerely believe in local church government?

If it’s congregational, what will you do with the people who are convinced that you can’t have a real church without bishops?

To have one, single, universal church, one group’s going to have to force its will on the other groups, against those groups’ consciences.

Is that how genuine unity is built?

My own church body started as an assembly of congregations that wouldn’t accept a Lutheran merger already approved by the majority of their fellow congregations. They suspected that their distinctives would be subsumed in the big, bright new church. They were absolutely correct. The big, bright new church has since been subsumed into an even larger merged church, and that new church retains no vestige whatever of those old distinctives. As a matter of fact, it retains almost no vestige of Christian theology of any sort.

I’ve seen several Lutheran mergers in my lifetime, and I have noted this consistent result – the new church is always more authoritarian, more liberal, and less devoted to the Scripture and to mission than the previous constituent churches.

When I’m together with my brothers from other communions, we are able to share together and pray together. When we want to worship, we go to different churches and worship in different ways, with one another’s blessings.

I think that’s far to be preferred to jamming us all together in some one-size-fits-all megachurch where most everybody’s unsatisfied.

One of my favorite quotations comes from Martin Luther’s good friend Philip Melanchthon: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

That’s my definition of unity.

Lars Walker

 
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