Brandywine Books
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Octavia Butler
Unique Science-Fiction Author Octavia Butler died last Friday. She left a strong readership which may grow with time. One of her remarkable books, Kindred, deals with slavery in a time-travel story. Her last book, Fledgling, focuses on vampires.

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Elephant Walk
I think I heard of Overlook Press' blog, Elephant Walk, before now, but I didn't pay enough attention to that hearing, if indeed I did hear it. So, today I note that Overlook Press, the distinguished company which is republishing P.G. Wodehouse wonderful works, has a blog called . . . oh, you've heard about it already?

In recent entries, they note Ask.com's ousting of Jeeves as their spokesman, Don Knotts' death (in a positive light), and a contest to win signed copies of R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy. They don't link to Brandywine Books, but I'm sure it's an oversight, if not an expression of their superior taste. (Did I mention I'm reading their collector's edition of Leave It to Psmith? Recommended reading.) - phil
 

Benign sociopaths

I learned something about human personality this weekend.

This is a good thing for a novelist.

I’ve always worried about my character construction. People have been kind in their comments about the characters in my books, but I worry that I’m just doing variations on me. It’s often been noted that certain authors (Oscar Wilde, for instance) basically have only one character, whom they dress up in frocks or fake mustaches as the requirements of the stories demand, but who are really the same person.

In a sense you can’t get away from this. Nobody has any real material for character building other than his own personality. The writer asks himself, “What kind of person would I have to be to do the things this character does? What experiences would have turned me into such a person?”

But still I note that I’m very, very different from lots of people, and I wonder how well I’m doing at working out my characters’ feelings and motivations.

So my epiphany over the weekend was welcome. It came, however (as many epiphanies do), through a rather unpleasant experience.

I have a friend I’ll call… Chip. He’s probably the most gregarious person I know. He’s the kind of guy you describe by saying, “He never met a stranger.” He is a diffidence-free zone. When he meets someone he immediately starts peppering them with questions, and soon he knows where they’re from, what they do and who their friends are (chances are they have mutual friends, since Chip already knows most everybody. There are few places in the country where he can’t go and look up a buddy).

So Chip calls me and tells me his brother-in-law has acquired a lot of yard tools in the course of buying a house, and do I need any? I sure do. He also asks me if I want his old entertainment center, which he’s clearing out of his basement family room. I sure do, redux.

He picks me up on Saturday morning and we go and get the yard tools. We have to delay a while, of course, while he has a conversation with his brother-in-law. Then I go with him to pick up some things he needs at a hardware store. He runs into a friend and has to have a long conversation. I wait patiently.

We get back to his place around noon and start to clean out the entertainment center. His wife asks if I’d like to have pizza with them for lunch. I say yes, but I can’t stay too long because I have things I want to do that afternoon. She then goes to pick up their son from some kind of lesson, about a fifteen minute trip.

Chip wants to wait for his son to get back before we move the entertainment center, so we can have his help. I’m OK with that.

Then the phone rings. Chip answers it. It’s a friend from out of state. He starts talking.

And he keeps talking.

His wife comes back. She looks at me, sitting patiently on the floor (the only place available). She mouths to Chip silently, “Tell him you have to hang up and you’ll call him back later.”

Chip pays no attention. He keeps talking.

And he keeps talking.

After he’s talked forty-five minutes, I tell Chip’s wife I have to leave. I get his son to help me load the entertainment center in my Chevy Tracker. While this is going on, Chip finally ends his call. They follow me home so they can help me unload it, but I skip lunch because I don’t feel I have time.

Chip can’t understand why people are upset.

After they’re gone I fume a bit and think about it. That’s when I realize the difference between Chip and me.

Chip is a benign sociopath.

Sociopaths, as you probably know, are people who have no conception of the feelings of others. They do what they please and care nothing about the consequences for other people, so long as they themselves suffer no discomfort or inconvenience. Criminal sociopaths become serial killers. Chip isn’t like that.

But he can’t conceive that anything he does causes anyone else a problem. He’s entirely innocent of that kind of empathy.

I, on the other hand, am obsessive about what other people think. I spend my whole life asking myself, “Am I allowed to do this? Will it cause a problem for someone? Will I get into trouble?”

This is why Chip is gregarious and I’m shy. He never agonizes over whether people will like him, because he doesn’t give a rip. Therefore he meets people, talks to them, and they do like him most of the time.

I hang back from people, afraid I’ll irritate, bore or repulse them. So I don’t meet people, and often they think I’m a snob.

I probably won’t make any improvements in my life because of this insight.

But it may help me construct better characters.

Authors: The mills for which everything is grist.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, February 27, 2006

The Closers by Michael Connelly

Three well-remembered TV actors have died in the past few days. If you’re from my generation, or just watch a lot of old 50’s and 60’s television on Nickelodeon, you won’t have trouble putting faces on the names.

Don Knotts will forever be Barney Fife, deputy of Mayberry. I never really liked The Andy Griffith Show. I never liked any television series about small town life – I hated Petticoat Junction and Green Acres too. Living on a farm, I could discern the writers’ condescension in every scene. I never understood why my neighbors couldn’t see what these Hollywood yahoos were saying about us.

I also hold it against Knotts that he compounded the offense by playing a major part in Pleasantville, a recent movie with a vicious take on traditional American (and Christian) morality.

I won’t miss Don Knotts.

Darren McGavin died too. I liked him. I can vaguely remember him in his stint as an early Mike Hammer, and I was very fond of his series Riverboat. The Night Stalker was pretty good too, although I thought they ran out of monsters pretty early in the game.

Did you know McGavin was the original Hogan in the pilot for Hogan’s Heroes? I wish they hadn’t replaced him with Bob Crane. I never liked the series much (not enough attractive women and – excuse me – jokes about bombing cities just aren’t funny) and Crane’s archness grated on me. McGavin would have made a more humane and grittier Hogan, and I think the show would have been better.

Dennis Weaver as Chester in Gunsmoke was far superior, imho, to his replacement, Festus Hagen. Chester was a genuine character. Festus was a cartoon character (Hollywood writers showcasing their prejudices again).

I remember being surprised, when I first saw Weaver on something other than Gunsmoke, to see that he was a tall man. He’d always looked pretty average next to James Arness, who is gigantic (Arness is from Minneapolis, by the way, and is Norwegian by extraction).

Weaver’s McCloud series was OK, but I mostly watched it to see Terri Garr in her supporting role. Sometime in the 70’s Weaver declared himself a vegetarian. Vegetarian cowboys have always lacked credibility in my eyes (not as much as Brokeback cowboys, but there’s a definite lack there).

A new Michael Connelly in paperback is always a big event in my year. I don’t know what Connelly’s politics are (probably left of mine) or what his religious beliefs are (assuming he has any). But he satisfies my primary requirement in a novelist – he treats his characters with understanding and compassion. An unforgettable example occurred in one of his earlier Harry Bosch novels, where a police lieutenant who had been a foil and a butt of jokes in other books was horribly murdered, and it was Harry’s fault. That’s the kind of moral wake-up call that keeps me coming back to Connelly.

His chief continuing character is Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, a Los Angelespolice detective. Bosch has a mysterious background. He doesn’t know who his father was, and his mother was murdered while he was young, an event that probably steered him into law enforcement. He served in Vietnam as a "tunnel rat" -- soldiers who went into Viet Cong tunnels. Like a figure in one of his namesake’s paintings, Harry does his best to make sense out of a nightmare world.

Connelly had another continuing character, Terry McCaleb, a retired FBI agent whom Clint Eastwood played in the disappointing movie adaptation of Bloodwork. But McCaleb died in the last Bosch book, The Narrows (I don’t think that’s a spoiler since the investigation of his death forms the body of the novel). That mystery’s solution carried profound moral ambiguities, but in the end Harry, who had left the police force, accepted an offer to return.

It’s almost a new Harry in The Closers. He’s doing a job he cares about (investigating old unsolved cases -- he and the others on his squad are known as "Closers") and working for a boss he actually admires and wants to please. He believes the police corruption he’s fought in the past has been cleaned up, and he wants to be part of writing a new chapter.

Harry and his partner Kiz Rider (a black lesbian. I suppose that means something) take as their first unsolved case the 1988 murder of a teenage girl. Someone hid in her home, abducted her, carried her up the hillside behind her house and shot her to death. Not unexpectedly, the event crippled her parents forever. Her mother lives in the same house and keeps her daughter’s room exactly as it was that night. Her father lost his restaurant business, left his wife, and is now living on the streets. When Bosch chases him down he finds him cooking in a soup kitchen, on the wagon and professing faith in Christ.

The immediate suspect is an illiterate white supremacist whose path crossed the girl’s (she was of mixed race). But there are no easy solutions, and things are far more complicated than they first appear.

Also sinister is the reappearance of Bosch’s old boss, Irvin Irving, wily and corrupt. He has been Bosch’s rescuer at times (when it suited him) and has undermined him at other times (when it suited him). He approaches Bosch early in the book and tells him he’s a “retread” – a piece of old, used equipment that will blow out soon. And when Bosch explodes, he promises, he (Irving) will be there to use his failure as a weapon against the new police chief, thus to regain his power.

Grim and humane like all Connelly’s books, full of mortality and regret, The Closers is also a book about hope and second chances. I liked it a lot.

Lars Walker

 
Brown, Blood, Grail, and a Lawsuit
Author Dan Brown was in a London court today, defending himself against a lawsuit by authors of a 1982 non-fiction book who claim "The Da Vinci Code had 'lifted the central theme of the book, '" that theme being that Jesus lived past his crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, and fathered the mighty French royalty (whom I presume ended in ignomy at the guillotine).

If the non-fiction book is legitimate, how can a novel infringe on its copyright? Are researched conclusion intellectual property to the extent that novelists can't run with them?

Of course, maybe the non-fiction is actually fiction. According to the Wikipedia entry on Holy Blood, Holy Grail, one of the authors has said the book is only speculative, a possible explanation for sketchy details, and he didn't believe it was true. Another web page, apparently by a supporter of the vast church history conspiracy, describes the same interview, which broadcast on Channel 4 sometime this month: "[Michael Baigent] admission that there was no hard evidence at all to support the notion that the Magdalene bore Jesus's child was not enough. Tony Robinson had a field day, making Michael look foolish indeed."

The Telegraph records the authors singing a different tune in this article from March 2004.
Michael Baigent said: "Whether our hypothesis is right or wrong is irrelevant. The fact is that this is work that we put together and spent years and years building up. . . . We are being lumped in with Dan Brown's work of fiction and that degrades the historical implication of our material. It makes our work far easier to dismiss as a farrago of nonsense."
 
NEA's David Kipen Interview
The Litblog Co-op has an interesting interview with David Kipen, the director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts and formerly Book Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. From that post, Mark Sarvas asks, "You've gone from being the chief book critic at the San Francisco Chronicle to the head of a sizeable and probably underfunded federal bureaucracy. How do the imperatives differ? Presumably, you're less free to follow your idiosyncratic nose? How are you adjusting?"

Kipen responds:
First of all, don't overestimate how restrictive my government paymasters are -- or underestimate how restrictive my newspaper paymasters used to be. I have all the freedom I need at the NEA. Besides, the two jobs are fundamentally different. My imperative as a book critic was to find interesting books to write about in interesting ways. My marching orders at the NEA are to dragoon smart people into sitting in judgment on literary grant applications. That, and to get America reading again, so that America's few remaining book critics will still have a public to write for.
 
1001 Must-Reads and McCall Smith
The UK Guardian reviews a new book of must-read titles and asks, ". . . in all truth, why would anyone want to read - or read about - no fewer than 11 books by JM Coetzee?" The book with the list is 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall, a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Sussex. Unless one has affection for Dr. Boxall or want to compete with him in the arena of letters, I don't see the importance of his book. I agree with reviewer Alex Clark's statement toward the end of this article: "Reading, as any hard-pressed book reviewer will tell you, generally ad nauseam, is easily spoiled by overdoing it."

Also in the Guardian, Alexander McCall Smith has recorded himself reading the first chapter of his next book, Blue Shoes and Happiness, in mp3.
 
Sunday, February 26, 2006
T.S. Eliot on the Bible's Literary Influence
I could fulminate against the men of letters who have gone into ecstasies over "the Bible as literature," the Bible as "the noblest monument of English prose." Those who talk of the Bible as a "monument of English prose" are merely admiring it as a monument over the grave of Christianity. I must try to avoid the by-paths of my discourse: it is enough to suggest that just as the work of Clarendon, or Gibbon, or Buffon, or Bradley would be of inferior literary value if it were insignificant as history, science, and philosophy respectively, so the Bible has had a literary influence upon English literature not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God. And the fact that men of letters now discuss it as "literature" probably indicates the end of its "literary" influence.
From "Religion and Literature" by T.S. Eliot, 1932, The Christian Imagination
 
Saturday, February 25, 2006
But Deliver Me from Booksellers
In this poem by Eugene Field, he asks the Lord to lead him not into the temptation of buying first editions or other interesting books.
I need protecting care to-day,—
My purse is light, my flesh is weak.
But if that is not the Lord's will for him:
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
They'll wail to know I got it cheap.
Oh, what trials we have in this life.
 
Observed: Another Word A Day
I just noticed this book, Anu Garg's second collection of words, called Another Word A Day. From the book, it "celebrates the English language in all its quirkiness, grandeur, and fun, and features new chapters ranging from 'Words Formed Erroneously' and 'Red-Herring Words' to 'Kangaroo Words,' 'Discover the Theme,' and 'What Does That Company Name Mean?'"

Subscribe to Garg's daily verbage emails at www.wordsmith.org. Could be a dab hand. (Is that the right word?)
 
Friday, February 24, 2006
More ignorance on the ports

Everybody else seems to be commenting on the Dubai-ports flaps, so why should I be different?

I don't understand most of what I read and hear, but so far I'm not overcome with panic.

In the first place, the first I heard about this was when a radio talk show host, who shall remain nameless, informed America that we were turning over all the security in all our ports to an Islamic company. That sounded insane. And indeed it was -- the talk show host was insane. Once I realized this, I was predisposed to be underwhelmed by everything I've heard since.

In the second place, the company the United Arab Emirates are buying used to be English.

You know how many radical Islamists live in England?

If all this is about opening the barn door to foreign terrorists, I think that ship has sailed.

To mix a metaphor.

Lars Walker
 
And Now For Something Completely Different
A Red-eyed Tree Frog - Cheers.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

To strive, to surrender

Today I found the following quotation in a devotional book. It comes from a James Martineau (1805-1900) of whom I knew nothing (a web search reveals him to have been a Unitarian, blast it. But I still agree with this particular sentiment):

No felt evil or defect becomes divine until it is inevitable; and only when
resistance to it is exhausted and hope has fled, does surrender cease to be
premature. The hardness of our task lies here; that we have to strive
against the grievous things of life, while hope remains, as if they were
evil; and then, when the stroke has fallen, to accept them from the hand of
God, and doubt not they are good. But to the loving, trusting heart all
things are possible; and even this instant change, from overstrained will to
sorrowful repose, from fullest resistance to complete surrender, is realized
without convulsion.

This speaks to the drama of the Christian life, a subject that fascinates me. Christianity has sometimes been caricatured as a quiescent religion, like Buddhism. But there’s a big difference. The Buddhist (as far as I understand him) is commanded to desire nothing; to find peace in a sort of cosmic apathy.

The Christian is expected to care very much. It’s perfectly right for a Christian to desire success and love and personal satisfaction, within moral bounds. Yet he is warned to be prepared to be denied and frustrated, and to then lay down his desire and submit to God’s greater will. That will isn’t revealed in advance. Each Christian learns God’s will for his life through trial and error, suffering personal frustration and the denial of his legitimate longings.

Even in love – no, especially in love – this is true. The Christian forgives his brother seventy times seven times, continually hoping where there seems to be no hope. He is the eternal optimist, yet he is eternally prepared to be disappointed. He overcomes pain not by abandoning desire, but by cultivating hope.

I’ve often wondered how Buddhists view stories. Every culture has its stock of stories, but the essential structure of a story (keep trying until you find something that works) seems to me antithetical to the Buddhist view of truth. Perhaps Buddhists have a different idea of happy endings.

Or perhaps they just don’t consider stories important.

Lars Walker

 
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Online Fiction Award
storySouth is accepting nominations for the best online fiction published in 2005. The award, called "Million Writers Award for Fiction," is a $300 grand prize and $50 subscriptions to Spoiled Ink for the top ten. Nominations will be taken through March 1. - phil
 

Washington’s pants

I did some web searches on George Washington today, to try to confirm information I’d picked up over the years. The information seems to be correct.

Washington was a very tall man by the standards of his time. His height is variously given as between 6’ 2” and 6’ 4”. Like other leaders (including Lincoln) he consciously made political use of the gravitas his height lent him (men naturally tend to follow the tallest guy around. It ain’t fair, but it’s how it is. Perhaps it goes back to hunting-gathering times, when the tallest fellow was the one most likely to spot game or an approaching threat first).

He had red hair before it went gray (in the famous Stuart portrait he’s wearing a white wig). He suffered from numerous illnesses during his lifetime, including smallpox (which left him with a seriously scarred face), malaria, quinsy (a dangerous infection of the tonsils) and tuberculosis. Since his wife had borne children by a previous marriage, it’s likely one of his diseases left him sterile. He lost his first tooth in his twenties, and had the last one pulled while he was president. His false teeth were not made of wood but of walrus ivory and lead. They were extremely uncomfortable. When he sat for Stuart’s famous portrait, his cheeks had been stuffed with cotton.

He was vain about his appearance. He usually ordered his suits from a London tailor, but was too proud to provide his exact measurements. He insisted that he was a slender man, although in fact he was quite broad across the bottom (though his shoulders were narrow). This meant that his pants were always too tight.

He cultivated his personal dignity. When a man he knew pretty well placed his hand on Washington’s arm once, Washington just stared at him silently until the hand was removed.

All this sounds ridiculous to us. A man concerned about his appearance, who stands on his dignity, is for us a target for crude jokes. What fodder a president like Washington would provide today, for Jon Stewart or Saturday Night Live!

But we’re wrong. Washington was right.

Washington’s act, his “schtick” wasn’t an attempt to glorify himself. He was purposely providing a model for the citizens of the republic he dreamed of.

Washington consciously tried to emulate the heroes of republican Rome, the farmer-statesmen who left their fields when the state called, did their duties, then laid down their power and went home. Washington himself did just that, when he had the chance to become a dictator. So it wasn’t just a matter of image. The image was one facet of the whole republican citizen, no more or less important than the virtuous deeds.

It’s a sign of our own moral bankruptcy today that we don’t understand this. Because image isn’t everything we insist that it’s nothing. We believe it’s somehow more “authentic” to appear in a tee-shirt and baggy shorts than in a pressed suit. But if that were really true, showing up naked would be yet more authentic, and having your portrait taken sitting on a toilet would be the most authentic thing of all.

Can things get more ridiculous before the pendulum swings back?

I don’t know. I’ve been waiting for that pendulum since 1968.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Poles opposite

The issue of homosexuality (I try not to use the debased term, "gay") has been much in the news recently. Here are some of the things I think of when the subject comes up.

I'm a single man in my fifties, and I almost never date. I know some people wonder about me. Certain men in my situation would compensate by getting involved in extreme sports, or becoming mighty hunters or joining motorcycle gangs. Some would go out and beat up true homosexuals.

I've never had the energy for any of those options, so I've always just allowed people to think what they will. It's not that I don't care what people think. If anything I'm obsessed with what people think. It's just that I despaired long ago of ever being well thought of.

Years ago I worked at the headquarters of the old American Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which no longer exists. It was a denomination born in a Lutheran merger in 1960. The church body I work for now was born at the same time, as a matter of fact, out of a group of congregations that didn't like the smell of that merger.

They were right too.

The American Lutheran Church enshrined the principle of Biblical inerrancy in its constitutional documents, in order to molify conservatives. But in practice, in its schools and seminaries, it laughed at inerrancy. In a similar way, the new Very Large Lutheran Church Body That Shall Remain Nameless, which absorbed the ALC back in the 1980's, declares loyalty to the ecumenical creeds in its constitutional documents, while denying every point of the creeds in its schools and seminaries.

Anyway, I was working in the ALC shipping and mailing department in the 1970's. It was a low paying job, the sort of thing seminary students worked at to make ends meet while they finished their training. I got to know several seminarians there.

One of the more liberal ones had very negative views on homosexuality (that sort of thing still happened back then). "It's disgusting, it's unnatural and it's clearly contrary to the Bible," he said.

It was one of the few things we agreed on, except that he was more extreme than I. I believed that homosexuals merited our compassion. He disagreed. I told him how I had once counseled with a blind homosexual, who'd insisted on holding my hand as we talked, because he couldn't make eye contact.

The seminarian reacted as if I'd told him I had lice. He was physically repelled.

But one day he announced he was going to participate in the University of Minnesota's Human Sexuality Project.

The Human Sexuality Project had a nationwide reputation at the time. It was a program that involved (from what I've read) group discussions and exposure to various kinds of pornography. The purpose was to "raise consciousness" and "broaden minds".

Less well known to the public was the ALC's participation in the program. They sent seminarians like my co-worker to it, and also referred counseling clients. One pastor I know left the ALC after a family in his church complained that a church counselor had sent their teenage son to the program, and now wanted his whole family (including his very young sisters) to go through it as well. When the pastor complained to the bishop he not only got no support, but found the whole weight of the church's bureaucracy arrayed against him when he went public about it.

Anyway, my co-worker went through the program, and he came back a changed man. Homosexuality, he now declared, was a gift of God. It was a thing to be celebrated. Anyone who objected to it was a homophobe.

What interested me was that he jumped from Point A to Point Z, it seemed, without stopping off for gas anywhere in between. Apparently he never even considered my position, the one that said "Love the sinner but hate the sin".

It was like a piece of cardboard with a magnet underneath it, the positive pole up. On the top of the cardboard, above the magnet, is an X marking the biblical position. My co-worker was like a magnet with the positive pole down. He could sit on any point on the cardboard except the Bible spot, the one with the magnet underneath. That spot repelled him. More than homosexuality had repelled him previously.

I'm sure he's doing very well as a mainline pastor today.

Lars Walker
 
A comment on Jonathan Strange et al
My sister just finished the fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell:
"Filled me with the desire to reach for a red pen." would be my one-line review. In the back of the book (a few pages after the disappointing ending), there was a page that said, "Written by Susanna Clarke. This is her first novel," under which I wrote, "obviously." Not that it was all that bad. In fact, much of it was really good. I was able to get into the world she created and many story lines were compelling and interesting. But even the best story can be ruined by a poor ending. Her wrap-ups were not bad, but they just weren't enough after such a long book. If I hadn't been sick and had a solid couple of days to get into it, I don't know that I ever would have been interested enough to finish it. I don't recommend it if you read slowly or don't have much time.
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Are Bloggers Part of a Healthy Publicity Campaign?
Dan Wickett of Emerging Writers Network points out an article on publicity in the current Poets & Writers magazine, which does not mention blogs as one of the "practical" steps writers can take to tell the world about their books. I guess the magazine hasn't heard of Mind & Media.

Is it a generation gap to ignore blogging in book publicity or could it be that portions of our society do not use the Internet to the same degree those of us, bloggers and blog readers, do?
 
Monday, February 20, 2006
Internet Magazine Stand
I just learned of an online magazine stand which offers samples from 371 magazines for $2.59/each. MagSampler doesn't offer subscriptions or trials, only samples of current or past issues for the $2.59 flat rate plus $2.00 shipping on each order, no matter the size. As you may guess, a site like this offers far more selection than you can get at news stands or bookstores, and it gives you a magazine's best promotional material, the magazine itself. If you've never heard of Art & Antiques, Michigan History for Kids, or Artful Dodge, then picking up an issue is the best way to see if you like it. Georgia Backroads? Film Comment? You get the idea.

Also, I am late to report the literary journal promotion going on at the Emerging Writers Network. Dan has 34 journals participating in a discount offer to multiple subscribers. If you subscribe to three or more journals, you can get one subscription of equal or lesser cost free, which amounts to three for the price of two or four at three's price and so on.
 

If elected I will not serve

And how did Lars Walker spend his President’s Day? He finished his move. He did the final vacuuming and scrubbing and spackling to try to qualify for the return of the security fee on his old apartment. He locked the door behind him, probably for the last time, and wondered how leaving a dwelling he never even liked can be a melancholy experience.

He listened to the local talk radio station for almost eight straight hours. Dennis Prager objects to the whole concept of President’s Day, because it’s too generic. We ought to have a Washington’s Birthday celebration and a Lincoln’s birthday celebration, he contends, and celebrate them on their proper calendar dates, not the closest Monday.

The Corner on National Review, however, noted this morning that according to Federal law the holiday, despite its assignment to a movable Monday, is still officially called Washington’s Birthday.

Prager will probably continue to object to the Monday thing. Which is fine.

I admire Washington, but I was absolutely fascinated with Abraham Lincoln when I was a kid. There were even some friends who used to call me “Abe,” which was appropriate in the same way Curly the Stooge’s name was appropriate. I’m not exactly a Lincolnesque figure, physically.

But I saw Lincoln as a kindred spirit. Like me he lived on a farm and loved books, and was sometimes punished for neglecting his chores to read.

I’ll admit it. I hate work. Especially physical work. Especially cleaning, for reasons which I may tell you someday (but if you’re lucky I won’t).

Gotta learn to make this writing thing pay, I guess. That way I can hire people to clean for me.

But I won’t run for president. Too much work.

Lars Walker

 
Bomb Threats Against Bible Society
Please pray for the people and mission of the Palestine Bible Society in Gaza. They have been notified that unidentified terrorists will destroy their building on February 28. A downpayment on this threat has already destroyed their front doors. - phil
 
Monday: Videos
Before I saw Will's link to the cat herding commercial last Friday, I planned to offer a video link for this week's Monday Post. Funny how that works. Viral video seems to be the trend on the Net this year. While the herding commercial is funny, I enjoyed this IKEA spot on freedom as well. In case the message slips you by, let me explain that the man is leaving work early because he can afford it. Remarkable, isn't it? Is it anti-American to believe that you don't need all the more you can get?

If you want more of the same, watch this older IKEA commercial for instruction in sympathy with inanimate objects. - phil
 
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Reason as a Result of Nature
In today's New York Times Book Review, The New Republic's Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier rakes author Daniel C. Dennett over the coals for his explanation of religion as the offspring of natural selection in Breaking the Spell.
[Dennett] thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason. It portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else. (In this respect, rationalism is closer to mysticism than it is to materialism.) Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.
Also, in light of the current fight over defending evolution from criticism, Wieseltier points out the fascinating fact that philosopher David Hume, with whom the atheist Dennett feels a kinship, said that no serious observer of nature can conclude that it stumbled into existence by chance. "The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author," Hume wrote in his introduction to The Natural History of Relgion. Even if Hume believed he could explain world religions in cultural terms, he could not deny the role of God in creation. - phil

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Friday, February 17, 2006

“Cold enough for you?”

It’s a litany in Minnesota. It’s part of our cultural religion. You run into someone you know only slightly, and as a pleasant social overture you say, “Cold enough for you?” with a smile.

And he smiles back and tries to think of a clever reply, and generally fails. So he answers that yes indeed, it is cold enough for him.

It was cold enough for me today. It was cold enough for Queen Jadis of Narnia. It was cold enough for Oetzi the Ice Man. It was cold enough for a PETA member to wear chinchilla underwear.

The high today was about zero Farenheit. That’s cold by anybody’s standards. I’ve seen weeks in other winters when temperatures like this would be a blessed relief, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t cold. You can say it’s all relative, that an Eskimo around Hudson Bay might consider today pretty mild.

I say hooey. I say that even for the Eskimo this would be just another flavor of cold. It wouldn’t be warm. Warm is something different altogether.

I fully expect to see a news release something like this before long:

HOLLYWOOD – Actor/Director George Clooney announced today his plans to produce and star in a remake of the classic Charlton Heston vehicle, “Khartoum”.

The new version, to be titled “Cartoon”, will be an updated version with Clooney taking on the role of Gen. Charles George “Chinese” Gordon, who in this version will be portrayed as an American officer in the Iraq war, in charge of torturing children and small animals and desecrating the Koran.

Gradually, in the course of a tender gay relationship with a young Muslim named Hassan, Gordon comes to see the error of his ways and joins the insurgents. He travels to Europe where he dies cutting the head off a Danish cartoonist in expiation of his past crimes.

Hollywood insiders are already whispering the word, “Oscar”.

Lars Walker

 
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Got an Open Mind?
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” —G. K. Chesterton

Sherry of Semicolon has a good post on open-mindedness, springing from a post by Anthony Esolen at Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments. In the later, Esolen describes his conversation with a student solicitor for Princeton. Let me quote from Esolen the same lines Sherry quotes because they are graceful.
The purpose of an open mind, says Chesterton, is to shut it on something true. And that shutting the mind upon truth opens us up to possibilities, or to further truths, that we had not suspected before. It is in the quest for knowledge as it is in matters of love: just as no one can wholly love another who keeps an escape hatch open, who considers it possible that not-loving might be a better option, so the relativist or the indifferentist keeps all doors open by neglecting to enter any of them. He prides himself on a radical opennness which is really refusal and timidity. But to him who knocks, it shall be opened. Enter that first room of truth, enter it without the constant glance backwards that keeps your feet fixed close to the door, and you will find that this is a mansion that never ends.
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One World, One Language
Well, not one language yet. A recent study shows 2 billion people speak English, which decreases the edge for United Kingdom natives. The researchers encourage Britons "to learn Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic, 'languages of the future,' if they want to keep up with international competitors." (see on theBookseller.com)
 
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
In which the blogger goes completely ga-ga

OK, following my characteristically humble statement that I'm beginning to think all my opinions and theories may be right, I was challenged to supply some more. I gave one in Comments, but I'll share another tonight.

It's actually an elaboration of my previous confirmed theory, the one about tonsils and adenoids.

If you've been following fat news as closely as I have, you probably saw this story about how obesity has now been linked to a virus. Specifically something called an "adenovirus".

If you're in the medical field maybe you can answer me this: Is the "adeno" in "adenovirus" related to the "adeno" in "adenoid"?

And if so, is it possible that the removal of adenoids, which (I'm assuming) help protect the body from adenoviri, permits that virus to get a foothold, bringing on a "fat infection"?

I know. It's probably ignorance awash in a sea of misinformation.

But consider the source.

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
REVIEW: Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!
Katharine DeBrecht’s funny modern parable about two boys running a lemonade stand in Liberaland covers the basics for American politics. In Liberals Under My Bed, her heroes are honest, God-fearing, and hard working. Her villains are tax-raising, religion-stomping, control freaks. But don’t worry. This is a children’s book. At least, it’s written for young readers, but I don’t know what the full-comprehension age should be. My six and four-year-olds didn’t mind listening to me read it to them the other night. The cartoonish illustrations attracted them, and they don’t know anything about Hillary Clinton, so they weren’t repelled by that. They also don't know anything about the politics of the story, so I doubt they understood why the boys were being persecuted for selling lemonade. Someday, one of them will ask me why the tall-hat liberal replaced the picture of Jesus with one of a toe nail. Of course, I'll say he was a Lutheran, and that will explain it all (just kidding--no, put down that tomato--I was just teasing you).

I can’t say this is my type of book, but it is a good, amusing story of working hard to accomplish your goal. The liberals depicted--the taxing mayor, the religious freedom monitor, the government’s mother superior--ring true to their real life counterparts. And most importantly, the two boys live happily at the end of the book.

I look forward to reading DeBrecht’s next "Help! Mom!" Book, Hollywood’s in My Hamper, and any kook-nut liberal response to these books, like Conservatives in My Closet, which will probably focus on lying, personal stupidity, and being goody two shoes (origin of "goody two shoes"). The two boys in such a story would probably be loafing around, and after being accousted by evil-though-dumb conservatives would plot their humiliation, if not destruction ala Planned Parenthood-style superheros. All in good fun, of course.
 
Too Many Book Reviews
Damian Horner writes at theBookseller.com that there's too much book praise out there, and publishers are suffering for it. Too much praise of everything makes anything appear mediocre. The rave review becomes mere hype. Thus, word of mouth and trustworthy relationships sell books better than anything else. That's a news flash, isn't it.

I agree that there seem to be too many reviews, but there's too much of almost all types of information. It's our current culture. We are media-saturated. But sound reviews stand or fall by their own merit, whereas blurbs probably ride the merit of the name attached.

Do you think blogs like Brandywine Books compound or alleviate this problem? Do you think blogs build trust and can become word-of-mouth book promoters? I do. Not every blog can recommend a book effectively, but some can for some readers. And that's the blogosphere.
 
Paranoid about adenoids

A while back I linked to new research indicating that going out without a hat on and getting a chill does, indeed, contribute to catching a cold (by reducing immune resistance, in case you missed it). This pleased me very much because it validated a view I'd held all my life, despite being lectured countless times by people whose faith in Modern Science trumped even repeated personal experience.

Well, it's happened again. This study suggests that getting one's tonsils and adenoids out can indeed make you fat:

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - After having their tonsils and adenoids out because of obstructed breathing during sleep, some children tend to become overweight. The reason may be a decrease in fidgeting and hyperactivity, according to a new report.


I've known this for almost fifty years. But nobody would believe me.

I was a skinny baby and a skinny kid. That continued until I was eight years old, at which point I got my tonsils and adenoids taken out. Suddenly I ballooned into a fat kid, and I've been fighting my weight ever since.

It always seemed obvious to me that the operation had contributed to the change. This conviction was strengthened by hearing several people, over the years, tell how they too had gotten fat after tonsilectomies. I remember hearing the actor James Coco saying just that on a TV talk show once. Other less famous people told me the same thing.

Now it appears I was right.

I'm starting to be afraid that all my opinions are correct.

Lars Walker
 
Monday, February 13, 2006
Linkage: Jaws, Darwin, and Kiddy Lit
Author, Journalist, and Conservationist Peter Benchley died this weekend at age 65. His novel, Jaws, is probably a pillar in the museum of pop culture along with John Williams theme.

Benchley’s wife, Wendy, told the press, "Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he no more took responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia."

I remember hearing long ago that Benchley’s attitude toward sharks had changed over the years, even to the point of believing sharks to be on the shy side, playful maybe to point of biting you if you look like a seal, but shy enough to run away after they realized their mistake.

Yesterday was the Right Reverend Charles Darwin’s birthday. He was born February 12, 1809, in Shropshire, England.

When I’m in a good mood, I think it’s hilarious that secularists, be they scientists or plebs, have raised such a ruckus over anyone including God in theories on our origins. To suggest God created the universe is filthy religion, they say; but to explain the universe under an assumption that God doesn’t exist is proper science. No more details than these are needed. It isn’t a question of who God is or how he may have created things, either directly or indirectly. It’s only an objection to the Governor of the Universe being named in a scientific statement. Abject silliness.

How can the simple question of whether order can rise from disorder be rejected by educated leaders and commentators who seem to have put all of their trust in those who believe all order can be deconstructed to a predetermined belief of its origin?

I think it's interesting that Darwin says in his autobiography that he tended to believe in God as our First Cause when he wrote Origin of the Species.
Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.
But even this belief whithered over the years. Still, if Darwin entertained the idea, why should it be banned from public schools as the stuff of fools?

In more pleasant news, Melissa Wiley has launched the first Children’s Literature Blog Carnival on his blog, Here in the Bonny Glen. Looks like good material, Melissa.
 
Obligatory Cheny post

All over the mainstream media and the blogosphere, people are asking, "Why did Vice President Cheney wait a full day before notifying the press about his shooting accident?"

I think the explanation is obvious.

Publicizing the incident might have possibly offended someone and inflamed unrest. Under newly revised news guidelines, such things can't be reported.

Lars Walker
 
Monday: Dave Berry
A while back, Gene E. Veith asked readers who or what were always good for a laugh. P.G. Wodehouse and Hugh Laurie's depiction of Bertram Wooster toped the list, but one of the men I've always thought was very funny didn't get much support.

I think Dave Berry is down-right, flat, altogether hilarious, but apparently that is only my opinion. A good example is his unscripted interview with Ed Champion, the roving correspondent for the Bat Segundo podcast. Ed corners Dave in a San Francisco cafe and records his pleas for assistance which are heard by an old school reporter. The interview goes downhill from there.

I should warn you that Ed and Dave digress into vulgar subjects for the part of the podcast before the reporter appears, not too vulgar for me to avoid posting a link, but vulgar enough to caution you as well as the fact that my warning relates to a discussion of warning in the interview, to wit, Dave says that he wrote what he wanted to write in his first book and heard from readers who thought his language was atrocious, which inspired him to place a warning in his second book, but to no avail because readers complained that although they read the warning, they remained offended at his language.

Which leads me to my second point in this post: long sentences are funny. Sometimes.
 
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Eleventy-third house update

I'm actually resident at Blithering Heights now. Yesterday was moving day, and I hope never to spend another such. Moving is stressful enough in itself, but doing it with my brothers is a ramble down the psycho-path to the very Dark Tower of my dysfunction. I take every little criticism as a sign of contempt, and then plunge into black caverns of self-directed anger. I look over all the little jobs undone and I can't find a way to prioritize them, so I poke around at things, panicking because I'm falling farther and farther behind. If a friend from work hadn't been there to speak soothing words to me I'd have probably gone loopy (or rather I'd have tried to go loopy and failed).

But it's mostly done now, which is to say there's still junk in my old apartment that I'll need to pack up and transport, but it's all small stuff I can easily carry in my car. And I'm living out of cartons. Last night I stayed up late trying to find the box my toiletries were packed in, and failing to do so. I retired at last with my teeth unbrushed, to lie awake most of the night obsessing about what will happen to property values if Sharia law is established. (Be comforted. I found the box this morning.)

On the bright side, I'm online again, if only with dial-up. And I assembled my stereo/TV system this afternoon, and it worked on the first try. If you knew my technical aptitude, you'd know that's got to be a sign from Heaven.

I christened the house (and stereo) by playing a recording of Grieg. I played it loud by my standards. I don't believe I've ever played a stereo loud before in my life. These are things you can do when you own your own place.

I'm also discovering the joys of life in a south-facing house. If you live in the southern United States that probably doesn't mean a lot to you. Southern exposures in Florida, as I recall, generally mean keeping the drapes closed and investing in window tinting. But in Minnesota, in the winter, that sunlight flooding your living room windows means more than warmth and light (though they certainly mean that). They mean coziness, a feeling of palpable comfort, as if the house is your extended body and it's getting a hot bath.

Blogging may continue sporadic until I get my DSL restored, but I'll do what I can.

Lars Walker
 
Friday, February 10, 2006
Chantico Chocolate Drink Dropped
Starbucks customers didn't want 6 oz. of rich chocolate as is. They wanted to ruin it with caramel, whipped cream, low fat milk, or whatever they happen to be in the mood for. As a result, Starbucks is dropped the Chantico from their menu after only year of service. Other customizable chocolate drinks may come.

How did people get this way, I'd like to know. Why, when I was growing up, we would have been grateful of a chocolate drink to warm us up. But we didn't have fancy-dancy stuff like that. We had to stir dirt in reheated, leftover coffee and pretend it was chocolate. But we were grateful and we liked it!
 
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Moving meditations

I just packed all my Lewis books into cartons for the Big Move, so I can't look up the exact line, but you must remember the passage in The Last Battle where they talk about a building that's larger on the inside than the outside.

I'm beginning to think the apartment I'm vacating has something of that quality.

Because there's no way all the books I've packed ever fit into this cigar box.

Last night I had to move some of the cartons over in my car, because I'd run out of places to stack them.

On the other hand, the apartment has never shown any sign of largeness in any other regard.

Speaking of Lewis, I just remembered something that happened years ago. I went to visit an old friend and his wife. He wasn't one of my closest buddies, just a guy I was involved in some projects with. His little son, about a year old, was playing on the floor when I came to see them. I couldn't keep my eyes off him.

The child looked just like C.S. Lewis.

And, as Lewis himself would have readily conceded, that's not a compliment.

I saw the boy again a while back, at a get-together event. He's grown now, and he no longer bears the stigma of that famous face.

But someday, when he gets to middle age, he may be able to make a good living doing stage revivals of Shadowlands.

Lars Walker
 
Calvin: Man as God
Today's Calvin and Hobbes on uComics.com demonstrates one of the follies of man appointing himself to the Office of God. (Link will be broken after a few weeks.)
 
Solzhenitsyn's Face on a Billboard
The great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is getting something of his due in Russian notoriety, where he has been a returned exile and an ignored figure from the past. Now, The First Circle has been adapted for a 10-part television series. The NY Times reports, "The show . . . is part of an industry here catering to what seems to be a growing interest in adaptations of the great works of Russian literature, some of them books that were banned in Soviet times."

A publisher who will be publishing a collection of Solzhenitsyn's complete works says Russians are still absorbing the forbidden literature from the doomed Soviet past. - phil
 
Isn't There a 60's Song About This?
Jack Lewis notes that the Danish secularists and Muslim rioters are cut from the same cloth:
Ironically it's the secularist who treat their concept of "freedom" as much like a religion as any other zealot, while the extremist Moslems ignore much of the religion they claim to follow while dragging its name through the mud. No one defames Islam more than extremist Moslems and no one is a greater threat to freedom of speech than profane secularists. Each have become the greatest enemy of the very things they claim they hold higher than anything else.
Isn't there a 60's song about enemies being the same person and why, oh why, can't they just get along?
 
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
For Prayer: Alabama Churches
Nine churches in Alabama have been torched recently. Alabama Governor Bob Riley has said they appear to be related, but investigators have found no evidence for a conspiracy against religion, Baptists, or even skin color. Five of the nine churches had black congregations, the others were white.
Authorities have ruled arson in five Baptist church fires Friday in rural Bibb County just south of Birmingham. Four more fires at Baptist churches on Tuesday in rural west Alabama had similar patterns — doors kicked in, fires set near the altar — as those in Bibb County. -- AP Reporter Jay Reeves
Pastor Bob Little of Galilee Baptist in Panola, AL, told Newsday, "Something like this always puts terror in a community. If you can't feel safe in a church, where can you feel safe? If someone won't respect the house of the Lord, how can they have respect for anything?"

Our prayers are with you, Pastor Little. Do not be afraid.
 
Frogs Jump--What Can I Say?
Tennessee Senator Bill Frist is quoted in the Washington Post, saying, "My job is to herd these Republicans. And if I have too many frogs jumping out of the wheelbarrow as I'm moving down the field, it means I've gotta be putting people back in."

These people, were they put in the hopper to begin with? Is that why they are frogs now?
(by way of Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web")
 
Resentment and Fear
Mark Bertrand remarks on a confession by Lucy Ellman in her review of The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis: "I should declare immediately that I resent and fear Christianity, not only for its sexism and incitement of violence but for its deadening effect on the imagination." Bertrand wonders if the same thing could be said about any other worldview or religion without readers suspecting the reviewer is a fruit basket.

Ellman's confession is ironic in light of current news. After all the attacks and perceived attacks on Christianity from the ACLU and like-minded friends of freedom over the years, did Christians riot or loot and burn offices? Now, a Muslim paper wants to see how tolerant we are when they print anti-Semitic cartoons, since we and the world have complained about some thugs burning embassies over anti-Islamic cartoons which were published several months ago. Of course, the world has already responded, saying, "You mean, like the stuff you've published in the past?"

But seriously, do you want The Christian Response to junk like this? Prayer and worship.

Update: JunkYardBlog notes that "the evidence is pointing at Syrian and Iranian involvement" more than religious outrage for the riots. Some commentators disagree. Heh, heh--I guess that goes without saying.
 
Blindmen in the Dark
"You see," a character named Nathaniel says, "if history has anything to teach us, it's that — despite all our efforts, despite our best (or worst) intentions, despite our touchingly indestructible faith in our own foresight — we poor humans cannot actually think ahead; there are just too many variables. And so, when it comes down to it, it always turns out that no one is in charge of the things that really matter." In fact, Nathaniel thinks, it's a miracle when nothing catastrophic happens at all.
From a NY Times review of Deborah Eisenberg's story collection, Twilight of the Superheros. It could be an interesting book. I wonder if Nathaniel really thinks it's a miracle from God or just remarkable fortune. - phil
 
Unfashionable Ideas
"The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date." from a NY Times editorial regarding a horrible story of abuse, relayed by Shrode on Thinklings.
 
Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Great Dane

I am currently living a science-fictional life, operating in two parallel time-streams. The time stream of my days, when I’m at work, is slow. I look at the calendar and say, “Three more days till Moving Day. Seems like it’ll never come.”

In the evenings, when I’m trying to pack my junk (mostly books) for moving on Saturday, I’m in the fast stream – “Only three more days! That’s not enough! I’ll never get it done! Everybody’ll know I’ve been loafing!”

By the way, I’ve never believed that “proof” of Relatively where the scientist explains that a minute sitting on a hot stove is much longer than a minute spent sitting with a beautiful blonde on your knee. I’ve always known that I experience time in a relative way. I fail to see how that proves that time itself is relative. I learned long ago that I can’t rely on my feelings for objective data.

Full disclosure: I have a dog in the Denmark Cartoon Fight. Not only am I one-quarter Dane, but in all probability I’m part Danish Jew.

My mother’s father was the son of Danish immigrants. He was, frankly, an anti-Semite by contemporary standards (though I’m sure he didn’t think of himself that way). “Jew” was a verb to him, and he used to inform us that the reason the Jews didn’t eat pork was because Christ had driven evil spirits into swine.

But Mom told me a couple times that there was a family tradition that some of our Danish ancestors were originally Russian Jews. This is very easy to believe because any members of Mom’s family could have walked into any synagogue in the world and passed for kosher as long as they kept their mouths shut. They were almost all dark-haired, and although generally blue-eyed they had dark smudges below their eyes that put one more in mind of Asia than Scandinavia.

He was a simple man, my grandfather. He looked kind of like a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Groucho Marx. He had a dry sense of humor that often left people wondering whether to take him seriously (a trait I picked up). He worked most of his life as a line foreman on the Milwaukee Road, but he liked to tell stories about his youth, when he started in the logging camps at twelve years old, lying about his age. He was tall enough to get away with it (a trait I did not pick up).

My favorite memory of Grandpa was when I was in my third year of college. Both I and my brother Moloch (who was in his first year) came home for Thanksgiving with mustaches. Rather poor, whispy mustaches I’ll admit, but we were giving it the old college try. I’ve always been a believer in facial hair. If God had meant for men to have faces like women’s, I figure, He wouldn’t have given us whiskers (not that He was terribly generous with mine, but at least I have a beard now that passes in a dim light).

In any case several of the uncles and aunts gave Moloch and me a pretty hard time. They took the mustaches the same way relatives today respond to tattoos and multiple piercings in the young.

But that all ended when we came home for Christmas the same year.

Grandpa had grown a mustache.

End of discussion.

Lars Walker

 
The stuff of fiction
Since I've been blogging on fiction and non-fiction lately, let me point out this interesting story which is the stuff of science fiction. New species of birds, frogs and other animals have been discovered in a remote island of Indonesia. Look at the beautiful photos from the Associated Press. From the report:

The scientists also took the first known photographs of Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, a bird described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century and named for the wires that extend from its head in place of a crest.

The scientists said they watched in amazement as, just one day after arriving, a male bird performed a courtship dance for an attending female in their camp, shaking the long feathers on its head.

Speaking of fiction, watch this Quicktime video of computer generated water with massive shark from Flowline. The video is completely CG and very realistic. WOW.
 
Monday, February 06, 2006
Monday: Science Fiction
Oppressed citizens in a handful human metropolises (or is it metropoli?) are asking themselves, "Where is Lepos?" Sightings of the 3-foot, black and white alien (and some of his enemies) have occurred on the streets of Toronto, Stockholm, Los Angeles, Prague, and New York.

In other news, some British cell phone users will be able to hear Dr. Who #4 read their text messages. Chosen for his recognizable voice, actor Tom Baker will read messages for BT users over a 3-month period.
 
Sorry about the outages
Blogspot has had trouble lately, and I apologize for the outages you may have witnessed. Blogger techs will be taking things down this evening too, so Brandywine Books and other excellent, must-read blogs may be unavailable. Makes me think about paying for server space somewhere, even switching blogging software. Word Press looks good. Maybe Moveable Type. - phil
 
For You and Your Blog
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love." - from The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
 
Sunday, February 05, 2006
How Truthful Should a Novel Be?
The scandal over James Frey's exaggerated personal history has forced many to ask how factual must a non-fiction story be. Kenneth Harvey reverses that question in this weekend's Times Online, asking how many facts should we allow in a work of fiction. (edited 2/7 12:38 p.m.)
After reading John Banville's Man Booker prize-winning The Sea, a slim volume trumpeted as fiction, I was startled to discover, upon perusing my hefty atlas, that this supposedly fantastical place named Ireland was an actual island. While reading, I thought it sounded familiar, yet I let it slide, not wanting niggling particulars to ruin the experience. . . . But as a page-by-page analysis of The Sea turned up a plethora of verifiable facts, I believe a comprehensive investigation is in order. If the sanctioned percentage of fact (to be determined by James Frey) exceeds the appropriate percentage of fiction, I suggest that it would be prudent for the Booker committee to strip Banville of his award.
Could it be the world has been reading the mostly factual masked as the completely fictitious for centuries without pause? When will the madness end?

In related news (and this is true), James Frey's editor Sean McDonald says he was duped just like everyone else. The NY Times reports that a few months ago, he said he knew Frey's would-be memoir was true "because he had personally checked it out." Apparently, checking it out means did not include validating key records.

While we're on the subject of memoirs, news came last week that Martha Sherrill had intended to write a memoir on her father, Peter Sherrill, but during her research, "a massive skeleton popped right out of the closet," coloring everything her father did. Nothing bad, she says. In fact, it puts a positive spin on him; but the publicity it would have brought was more than she wanted to deal with. So she has held on to the secret and published the book as a novel, not disclosing how much is true and how much is fictitious.
 
Saturday, February 04, 2006
No blast for blasphemy

In all the current furor about the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in Denmark, I've been afflicted with an odd sense of peace.

"Doesn't this whole thing challenge your presuppositions?" my right brain would say to me. "Don't you yourself get all upset when somebody blasphemes Christ, and don't you boycott things all the time?"

Setting aside the fact (which I in my simplicity find rather obvious) that a murder threat is on a very different scale from a boycott, I found my left brain replying, "No. I'ts covered in Our First Principles."

But I couldn't recall at first what First Principles were involved.

Yesterday I remembered.

It goes back to a formula that was once a hallmark of liberalism, and which remains a hallmark of Classical Liberalism (now conservativism) -- "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

In other words, blasphemy is a bad thing, but muzzling the free expression of ideas is (in the civic, not the theological sense) far worse.

The statement is usually attributed to Voltaire, but he doesn't seem to have actually said it in so many words. It comes from a book on Voltaire written by S.G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall), where it is included as a summary of Voltaire's views rather than as a direct quotation.

But I believe it goes back further than that, and to a source that Voltaire didn't greatly appreciate -- the Bible.

It seems to me that the formula is "an emanation of a penumbra" of the Golden Rule. I think it can also be inferred from Christ's teaching in John 7:17: "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (NIV) And in Acts 5:38-39 Paul's teacher Gamaliel says, "Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Whether Gamaliel was "speaking for God" here is arguable, but his words appear to have had Luke's approval.

Secularists will deny any suggestion that Christianity contributed to our tradition of freedom.

They have a right to say that.

Lars Walker
 
Friday, February 03, 2006
The Best of Lit-Blogs Winners
The results from the recent Best of Blogs contest are finally in. For the Book/Literary category:

50 Books ~ Winner

Mental Multivitamin ~Runner Up

Bookworm ~ Co-Third Place

Miss Snark ~ Co-Third Place

Congratulations! May your readership double this year.
 
Flung to the Heedless Winds
A hymn by Martin Luther, translated by John A. Messenger in 1843:
1. Flung to the heedless winds
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs' ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.
And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed
Of witnesses for God.

2. The Father hath received
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan's boast
Of victory in their death.
Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
To many a wakening land
The one availing Name.
 
The Narnia Rap
What in the world? A couple Saturday Night Live guys have done a rap on the day they watched The Chronicles of Narnia on the big screen. It's funny, crazy, and don't click around the YouTube.com site afterwards unless you want to risk finding some pretty ugly stuff.
 
Alcorn's Heaven
In his periodic book column, Marvin Olasky mentions Randy Alcorn's Heaven, which I've heard highly praised by several acquaintances.
That diversity is one of the secondary things that will make heaven enjoyable, and no one makes it more fun than Randy Alcorn in Heaven (Tyndale, 2005). A book jacket for once accurately summarizes contents: "If you've always thought of Heaven as a realm of disembodied spirits, clouds, and eternal harp strumming, you're in for a wonderful surprise. This is a book about real people with real bodies enjoying close relationships with God and each other, eating, drinking, working, playing, traveling, worshiping, and discovering on a New Earth."
Alcorn has a study guide for this book on his website and offers Heaven at 50% off. (The book called "Heaven"--that's what's discounted, not heaven itself. There are no discounts on the real thing, and if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. On the other hand, I hear you buy hell cheap.)
 
Avoid the Chatter, Delight in Wisdom
Blest with sons has been blogging at length on television's place in the Christian life. Does network and cable programming wean us away from better things the Lord has put in our lives? Does the tube massage our minds into numbness, making us trivial thinkers?

BWS has some good thoughts, even thought many of us may disagree on some of the details; but I think her most recent post is one to give the heralds so they can run with it through the kingdom. If you pursue wisdom with passion, "then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you . . ." (Proverbs 2:9-11).

She writes:
The children gone to bed, my husband and I would look at each other and do the whole “Whadya wanna do?” thing. More often than not, the answer would be a light sigh and “Oh, let’s watch something” and on would go our favorite DVD’s. (I’ve listed them before, don’t need to do it again) I could be sick, and tired, and feeling sorry for myself. Solution? Pull out a Jane Austen movie and be comforted. Time for a happy moment? We want to “have some fun”? Best answer… Rent a movie and get some junk food!
We live with high media saturation, and some of us complain that life feels too hectic, that we can't calm down or get away from it all though we can't list what all we want to get away from. Part of the answer is to watch ourselves make the easy choices throughout the day, trying to escape from the most recent stress by turning up the volume or medicating it. It may not be what we would do if we felt up to making the best decision. It's just what we will do to get by for now.

Isn't life too short to spend our days getting by? Do we live in the past or the perceived future and just get by for now?

The other part of the answer is to seek wisdom from its pure fountain. Are we willing to push a bit to gain wisdom? Are we willing to avoid the chatter of 24-hour news, poorly produced sitcoms, vapid music, empty conversations, and the constant noise of junk media? Are we willing to dwell on the Word of God long enough to delight in it, and possibly rediscover the joy of our salvation?
 
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Notes in passing

What would you do if you found your living space really boring? This guy is a man after my own heart.

Except for the part about the hard work.

My friend Mark, who comments as Aitchmark on this board, sent me the following pearl of wisdom. I pass it on to you:

I think I have developed a couple of plans to fix my life.

Plan A: Be ready when some Barbarian Princess (dressed mostly in jeweled
leather straps and gem encrusted bronze) sweeps down from the northlands,
slashes me free of my bonds with her gleaming sword, and carries me off to
her kingdom, where we'll spend our days breeding a race of heroes &
heroines.

Plan B: Win the Lotto.

Plan C: Figure out a few more plans, just in case neither A nor B work out.

Feel free to borrow any of these plans and adapt them to your own
situation.

Lars Walker
 
Why Did Dante Awake in a Forest?
John Mark Reynolds has an interesting post on supervillans and why Dante begins Inferno in the woods:
I realized that the great poet had become the sort of person who could only be saved by torment. Unlike the simple Florentine girl Beatrice who was able to go directly to Paradise, Dante was so lost that he had to go to hell to be saved. He had to received the extended dialog of the damned Virgil in order to have time to chance, turn to Christ, and so be transformed into a soul fit for Paradise.
 
Over the Top
Do you remember talking last year about book titles which used variations of the phrase, "changed the world"? Perhaps, a NY Times header writer has the bug, as shown in the headline: "How Curry, Stirred in India, Became a World Conqueror." Curry is a common spice, you know, and Lizzie Collingham has written about it in Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, published by Oxford University.

Moving, wouldn't you say?

Also over the top, Harrison Scott Key comments on a speechless protestor who was thrown out of the state of the union address the other day. If only she had a voice, he says. Heh, heh.

Speaking of hyperbole, I see that "Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br'er Groundhog." Why do we persist in the silliness of Groundhog Day? Or is asking the question as pointless as the folklore itself?
 
Peretti and Dekker
Frank Peretti's novel about a supernaturally empowered anti-Christ (not The Anti-ChristTM, just a false messiah) has been adapted for film. The Visitation has gone to DVD with the help of Brian Godawa, the great film writer behind To End All Wars.

Coming the April, Peretti has teamed up with Ted Dekker to write a ghost story called House. Fleeing from a killer through a forest, two couples take refuge in a house only to discover the murderer manipulated their flight to end there. He offers them release, if they will kill one of themselves. They have 12 hours to work out the details, and escape may mean going further into the house to mean possibly worse threats.
 
Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A la recherche du maisons perdu

Just a short post about the experience of moving into one’s own house for the first time. Specifically an old house. Specifically my old house, Blithering Heights.

I’ve always liked living in old houses. I remember my mother, years and years ago, lamenting my choices of apartments. She complained that I always preferred an old apartment building to a new one. This had a lot to do with the fact that the older buildings were usually cheaper, but it also involved where I felt comfortable. I like houses with histories, where there are odd holes and painted-over nailheads, and strange structural alterations made for purposes that suited someone generations ago, unintelligible now.

When I stop and sit in one of the rooms in my new house and look around me I get vague flashbacks to my grandfather. He lived in a large old house when I was little and a small old house when I was older. I don’t remember that either house much resembled the one I’ve bought, but something evokes the memory.

Very likely it’s the smell of stale tobacco smoke. The previous owner was a smoker, like Grandpa (who died of emphysema).

I have an ionic air filter running.

But it makes me feel good to think that my nieces and nephews will have a memory of a family house with some vague flavor of my own memories.

Lars Walker

 
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