Thursday, April 24, 2008

History is driven by what?

One of my favorite college advisers was a professor of English who also taught folklore. Years after I was out of college, I drove from my town to his and had lunch with him. A couple of things have stuck with me from that lunch, most notably his contention that, historically speaking, what actually happens doesn't matter nearly so much (in general) as what people think happened, and how they react. I thought it was just the folklorist in him talking. In other words, I didn't buy it, and wanted to dismiss it. But afterwards I kept my eyes open, and my mind, too, and I finally had to agree he has a point. Some day when I have more time, maybe I'll expand on that, but for now, why don't you chew on what George Wiegel said about what drives history?

Young adults rejecting the brokenness they were raised in

From CitizenLink: 'Millennial' Generation Shows Respect for Traditional Values:

The media portray "millennials" as self-absorbed slackers. But according to a new poll, these twentysomethings show a lot of respect for traditional values.

The survey, by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, found 94 percent respect parenthood and 84 percent have great esteem for marriage. Just a quarter said they respect Hollywood.

Ann Mack, a spokeswoman for the agency, said she was surprised by the findings.

“It could be because they are more idealistic as a generation," she said, "but it could be because they are so young and not yet jaded.”

Mark Johnson works with B2G (better2gether), a ministry of the Navigators for twentysomethings. He believes the younger generation is reacting to something.

“At least half of them that we see have come out of some kind of dysfunctional or broken home," he said. "They are wanting something more or better than what they have come from.”

Steve Watters, director of young adults at Focus on the Family, said he was encouraged by the numbers and is looking for ways to tap into that potential through Focus' Boundless ministry to twentysomethings.

“It’s something we want to encourage as much as possible," he said, "realizing that they are not going to find that kind of support from Hollywood or Madison Avenue."

Now, this article doesn't mention anything about the poll's size, or how it was conducted. For that matter, if you've read here very long you know I don't usually put much stock in polls, even large ones that are well conducted.

On the other hand, for what it's worth, I've noticed young adults putting a premium on marriage, on family, on community, on service, and, in many cases, on military service. There are a surprising number of really wonderful young people these days. You might not know it to look at them (have you had something of a tattoo epidemic in your area?!), but when you stop to talk to them, or look at what they're doing, it can be both impressive and reassuring. A lot of them seem to have thought long and hard about what's important, and are willing to make commitments.

(P.S. Speaking of 'Hollywood,' did you see this over in the annex?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making the internet safer for kids

See ADF Alliance Alert » Kidzui: New Internet browser for kids designed to screen out the bad stuff for info on a service that claims to help parents keep their kids away from bad sites on the internet.

Book note: The Moneyman, by Thomas B. Costain

Of late, I seem to keep stumbling across books that, when read, present me with a problem: do I review them here or not? The Moneyman by Thomas B. Costain is one of that sort. For the most part, it's very good. But it's got just enough graphic or gutter-level content that I can't recommend it without at least some reservations, particularly in this forum. But, then, this is also a place where we discuss history, and this book strikes me as a good jumping off point for learning about the Middle Ages in Europe. And it's no good trying to pretend that the Middle Ages were all sweetness and light, particularly France toward the end of the Hundred Years' War.

So, here goes: For the most part it's a good read, but there are a few places where I found out more than I wanted about torture methods, and other varieties of man's inhumanity to man, and there are some earthy comments here and there (but not very many). One of the main storylines is about providing a king with a new mistress. Another storyline involves the evolution of warfare in that time period, and it's not pretty. However, compared to quite a bit of the more recent fare flung out to us from Hollywood, big publishing houses, television, and other 'cultural leaders,' this book is civil and civilized. Given the subject matter, I think Costain was admirably restrained, in fact. Putting the objections to one side, it has some rip-roaring adventure in it, plus a few good laughs, plus wit and sense and historical insight and info. Overall, a good book. I'd advise parents to read it before deciding whether a teen under their roof should get a look at it, and ladies might want to skip it (I'm kind of glad I read it, but kind of wish I hadn't), but, overall, a good book.

"The Moneyman" is Jacques Coeur, a powerful, influential, innovative man who was born around 1395, and died in 1456. He served Charles VII of France (aka Charles the Well Served), but he also amassed a considerable fortune through trade and retailing. From what I picked up in the novel, and what I've been able to dredge up on the man since, Coeur seems to have been one of those men who can be honestly credited with helping change the course of history.

Costain is kind enough to note in his introduction which of the main characters are wholly fictitious, and where else he happily invented things for the sake of telling his story. (i.e. "... I conceived the duel as necessary to point up the absurdity and the unfairness of the chivalrous practices of the day...") He also admits to fiddling with timelines some. Still, as historical novels go, it seems to be well researched and well presented.

Spoilers follow For those of you interested in military history, Costain presents Coeur as helping bring the Hundred Years' War to an end, both by paying for a renewed French offensive out of his own purse, and by championing the use of bombards (cannon). Getting France to use cannons proved rather difficult, as he tells it, since knights reportedly considered cannons and the men who manned them as beneath contempt, in fact, worthy of extermination. Spoilers end

I notice from the Wikipedia article linked above that Coeur is also credited with helping put an end to the papal schism. That part of his life wasn't mentioned in the book, that I can recall. But, there you go, more evidence the man made a difference in his day, and is worth remembering.

The book is rich with detail, on a wide variety of subjects: clothing, customs, society, university 'experts' of the day, what passed for medicine then, how 'justice' was handed out, and more. Costain even includes turns of phrase that were common in France at the time. We have a friend who is a history teacher and he's told us that Costain is often recommended for history students. I can see why.

This book came out in 1947, and the author seems (not surprisingly, given the horrors of World War II) to have identified with Coeur's vision of a world that would somehow move past war if only merchants could get well enough established, and power could be reckoned in trade instead of warfare, and if the common man had access to enough affordable goods to reach a point he felt comfortable from a material standpoint. Costain strikes me as otherwise being an astute observer of man's capacity for ingratitude, the temptations of power, etc. (And I'll happily meet him halfway on this. Improving the lot of the common man is good in and of itself. It can also reduce strife. I just don't believe widespread material benefits can cure as much as either man seemed to hope.) In fact, despite the author's rare stabs at holding up hope that the world can move beyond war, the book taken as a whole is something of a case study in man's capacity for ingratitude, deceit, doublecrosses, cruelty, pettiness, idiocy, and self-justification.

Oh, I bet that last sentence made you want to run out and grab a copy, just right quick...

Costain himself foresaw the difficulty of his task. From the introduction, "As Valerie Maret and D'Arlay and the Comte and Comtesse de Burey are fictitious characters, it follows that the train of events in which they are depicted as playing parts has been invented to supply a note of lightness and romance in what might otherwise be a grim story."

Well, yeah. The times were rough and tough, and society favored the favored, so to speak. It was not a safe time to not be in the king's good graces. For that matter, it wasn't a safe time to be in a king's good graces. Or a king. (This begs the question: Is it ever? Answer: Probably not, but some times and places certainly seem to be more corrupt and bloody than others.)

Ending on a lighter note, from page 209 in my copy, here's a turn of phrase I have added to my 'phrases I wish I had more use for' catalog (emphasis mine):

Sensing what was coming, the Comte frowned at his companion. "Do you mean," he demanded, "that the toads of doubt are hopping in your head as to the need of carrying out the plan?"
Heh. Every once in a while doubt seems very much like that, doesn't it?

On second thought, let's end with another snippet. From page 383 in my copy:

...When Olivier de Bousse had come into the enclosure, [the prisoner] had said to himself, "That great windbag!" The doctor, in his opinion, represented the least worthy element at the University. He was pedantic and opinionated and yet at the same time servile to all forms of authority; a coddler of the great ladies who came to him for medical attention, a theorist who covered up his lack of experience and judgment with a smother of learned words. The prisoner said to himself now, "It's very clear why this toady has been brought as a witness."
No, wait, I want to share this, from page 404, in answer to a young woman's confusion over why charges had been dropped, but the prisoner wasn't being released:

"The turnkey shook his head gloomily. "It's like a fork, Mademoiselle. If they don't catch him on one prong, they will on another...

In other words, if the powers that be want to get you, they'll keep finding excuses to charge you with something. Sad to say.

I could go on for quite a while like this. I have bookmarks all through the book, at favorite passages. Costain had a knack, no question.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are you planting vegetables this year?

If so, are you replacing most or all of your lawn with food plants? How about taking over several lawns in the neighborhood, and farming all of them? It seems to be something of a trend, according to Green Acres II: When Neighbors Become Farmers by Kelly K. Spors, Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2008. There's a video that goes along with the article.

This isn't just a hobby. Some of these suburban farmers are earning extra cash this way.

A few blocks from where I live, a family that owns a restaurant tore out part of their lawn and put it into garden a few years ago, and have grown crops there ever since. Who knew they were leading a trend?

Book note: The Oregon Trail Cookbook, edited by Leslie J. Whipple

My husband handed me a copy of The Oregon Trail Cookbook as a gift yesterday. Oh, my, I finally had to block out time in the kitchen and make something today. I started with Snickerdoodles, a type of cookie. They came out pretty good, if I do say so myself. Even more fun, when my husband came through and tasted one he exclaimed that his grandma used to make cookies just like that. Sometimes a gal gets lucky. :)

From the back cover copy:

The Oregon Trail Cookbook offers a wealth of information on the various food traditions of the Oregon Country, with a special emphasis on the contributions of the Oregon Trail pioneers who brought their rich heritage as they emigrated from all over the world to seek the "Promised Land" of Oregon. Along with an abundance of pioneer stories and recipes, prominent Northwest chefs have contributed contemporary recipes celebrating the local bounty and the 150-year anniversary of the "Great Migration" over the Oregon Trail.

Organized into food categories both familiar (breads) and unfamiliar (game), using ingredients both commonplace (cornmeal) and exotic (bear renderings and cracklings), the recipes of The Oregon Trail Cookbook will delight the palate and fascinate the mind.

The key to this book, and the real joy of it, is participation. In response to a nationwide call for recipes, descendants of pioneers have sent in their cherished family favorites, along with wonderful family legends and anecdotes of pioneer life...

A plus: many of the recipes appear to be well-suited to frugal households. I am thinking of trying the Poorman's Pecan Pie, for instance. The ingredients are brown sugar, oatmeal, corn syrup, margarine and eggs, in a pie shell. No pecans. (On the other hand, I can't imagine what would persuade me to try Fried Pig's Feet. Just isn't gonna happen short of a prolonged siege, folks. Ugh.)

The book was published in 1992, by Maverick, of Bend, Oregon.

A note: Several of the used copies for sale online have "Thunder Over the Ochoco, Pts. 1 & 2" as part of the title. This must be a database error. Certainly it's not correct.

Another way of looking at it

Mother: I'd like to sink my offspring's boat before he can get any wind in his sails, but I need help.

Abortionist: You've come to the right place. Torpedoing becalmed small craft in naturally safe harbors is what we do.

Book note: The Good Master, by Kate Seredy

I've been having a blast dipping into some old books in the "Classics to Grow On" series put out by Keepworthy Books, a division of Parents' Magazine, New York. The latest has been The Family Treasury of Children's Stories: Fun, Fables & Adventure, compiled by Pauline Rush Evans, c. 1956. One of the selections in it is the opening chapter of The Good Master by Kate Seredy.

In short, ten-year-old Jancsi has been told that his cousin Kate from the city is coming to visit their ranch on the Hungarian plains because she has had the measles and is delicate. Jancsi has no idea what the measles are or what delicate means, but he's sure that all these unknown factors add up to something wonderful, and that she will be like one of the princesses in the fairy stories his mother has told him. Instead he winds up meeting an ordinary looking little girl the railroad guard cannot hand over fast enough, she has been so much trouble.

In the introduction to this story, the editor notes that as time goes on Kate improves under the guidance of "the good master," as Jancsi's father is called. (She has a lot of room for improvement, I might say. I don't want to say more, because I don't want to spoil the surprises.)

If this opening chapter is anything to go by, it's a good read: adventurous, humorous, with details on life in rural Hungary and sharp observations about human nature. The book was originally published in 1935, and as I understand it was based on recollections from the author's childhood. Kate is still a spoiled brat where my excerpt breaks off, but Jancsi is trying to rise to the occasion. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the book.

The author was awarded the Newbery award in 1938 for her book The White Stag.

There's a bit more (not much, but a little) on Seredy at this post at Semicolon. Sherry notes that there was a sequel to The Good Master, called The Singing Tree, which came out in 1940.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I mowed the lawn yesterday...

... for the first time this year. There's a good chance it will get snowed on this week. What a winter and spring we've had!

Our daffodils opened this week. We also got our first dandelions. The lawn is rich with wood violets in bloom. (I hated to mow over them, but now you can see the ones that are left. The tall grass hid most of them, before.) Forsythia bushes are in bloom in nearby yards. On my walks, I stopped to watch bees, and moths, and butterflies, all busy at flowers. The air is thick with birds and birdsong. The tips of the lilac bushes are bright green.

Did I mention that snow is in the forecast for a couple of days this week? Or that I'm sitting here in winter clothes, and I still feel cold?

Teens taking the lead

I went to several sessions of a Christian revival this week. Now, I agree with C.S. Lewis that it's intellectually sloppy - indeed, intellectually indefensible - to confuse "Christians" (individually or collectively, real or pseudo, good or bad) with "Christianity." (See The Screwtape Letters for some good illustrations on this. Or, I'm pretty sure Mere Christianity also covers the same ground.) But let us concede that, unfortunately, people do tend to confuse "Christians" with "Christianity," and that some revivals don't tend to increase the appeal of the faith, and some seem to have tenuous ties to it. This event, happily, wasn't one of those. There were times it was profoundly moving, thought-provoking, focusing, challenging. A revival indeed.

The one night I missed was "Youth Night," with an emphasis on teen youth. This is not because I don't like youth. I do like them. (In general.) There were, in fact, teens in attendance the other nights, behaving every bit as well as the grown-ups, and participating in ways to do credit to anyone who wanted to lay claim to a relationship. I did not attend "Youth Night" because when the pastor announced "Youth Night" he told us to go out and find the teens we knew and say just two words: "Drums. Pizza." That would get the teens in, he said; telling them that there would be drums during the service, and pizza after.

It was not the high point of the several day event for me, let's put it that way. But I had trouble putting my dismay at this approach into words. But then I ran into a post at Brandywine Books, in which Phil shared a 2001 message from Dr. Howard Hendricks, which included this:

...There's a church in our area that has a fantastic group of young people. I love them like crazy. They went to the elders of their church and asked, "Can we open the church on Wednesday mornings to pray?"

"Well, we'll have to take that under consideration."

So, after four or five meetings (typical elders), they finally decided, "No, we can't do that. We don't have anyone who's willing to open the church and take the responsibility." Even some legal aspects to it, which I'm still trying to find out what they are.

So, the kids go down the street to a restaurant operated by a pagan and say to the proprietor, "Could we meet on Wednesday mornings about 6:00 in your restaurant? Promise you we'll take good care of it, won't tear it apart."

This guy is so blown away that he says, "What do you want it for?"

They said, "We want to come and pray."

He said, "What?"


"Would you include me?"


"You got it, and furthermore, I'll provide coffee and doughnuts for you."

And one day one of the elders drops into the restaurant one Wednesday morning and sees this group of kids from his church, which shamed the church elders into opening the church; and church has never been the same since.

I think most of our youth programs are an insult to the intelligence of the kids involved. Young people today, I assure you, are not looking for entertainment, and certainly not the cheap kind they get at a church. They're looking for a challenge; and I'm having the hardest time at my age keeping up with a group of students that are stretching my faith to the breaking point, and I see an increasing number of young people who are very, very serious about their Christian life.

Well, yes. I see that, too. Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Hendricks. That's what bugged me about our call to go out and say "Drums. Pizza." to the teens around here. There's every chance indeed it would have been an insult to their intelligence, not to mention incredibly shallow on our part, unless it could have been passed off as friendly kidding. I wasn't sure I could pull it off, so I posted a flyer in a likely spot, told an adult friend about it ('Be sure and take aspirin before you go!' she called at me as I went out the door), and then I let it drop. To be fair, the rumors I heard the next day were that the preachers pulled it off just fine, and some good messages got worked in between the ear hammering and the chowing down. But, still. It seemed like we were aiming awfully low.

I was talking with a friend about this, and it hit a nerve with him. When he was in a youth group at church back in the 1960s, he and his friends had the hardest time trying to convince the church that they craved a quiet place to meet and talk and learn and just relax. They also had a hard time convincing the church to let them organize field trips to other churches.

They won on the field trips. They'd call ahead and ask permission for a flock of teens to show up at a specific service. They would show up well-groomed, well-behaved, and respectful, just to connect with some of the rest of Christendom and see for themselves what the other churches were like. That cross-church outreach gave him some of the best memories of his youth, and it also helped focus and deepen his faith, but it was something that the kids had to fight for.

Helping lead the charge these days are Brett and Alex Harris, whose book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations is now out. Catherine Claire has a five part interview with them. (I did a pre-pub notice in January.) Learn more about the authors and like-minded teens at The Rebelution.

Rudyard Kipling remembered

Roger Kimball takes a look at Kipling, poetry, civilization, literary figures and liberals in Rudyard Kipling unburdened (The New Criterion, April 2008).

hat tip: Peter Schramm

Rick Monday's great play, on video

I posted a couple of years ago about Rick Monday's great snatch of a lighter-fluid doused flag from a couple of guys with matches, but at that time I only had an audio link. Here's a well-done four-minute video covering the story. My thanks to Julie Ponzi for posting it.

hat tip: Betsy's Page

Helping hands in Hollywood and vicinity

From Big Sunday gets LA volunteering in a big way by Ellie Hidalgo (, April 18, 2008):

Big Sunday has come to mean Big Synergy. The largest citywide community service weekend in the country, Big Sunday is building meaningful community interactions across traditional ethnic, religious and social barriers.

Originally the idea started out as Mitzvah Day at Temple Israel in Hollywood -- a day to engage in good deeds for others. From several hundred volunteers working on 19 projects, the effort now entails more than 50,000 people volunteering for 309 projects throughout Southern California.

"We've gone from community service to community building," said David Levinson, director, who has maintained his relaxed demeanor and no limits spirit despite the project's unprecedented growth. "Big Sunday expands to fill people's talents. We have projects for whatever people's passions are."

This year's May 3-4 Big Sunday weekend --- the 10th annual event --- offers projects like planting a garden at a school, feeding the hungry at a local food bank, and visiting the elderly at a retirement home.

"We have volunteers who are homeless people, and we have volunteers who are movie stars," said Levinson, a writer for television, film, theater and advertising. His wife and three children also join in the effort. "Everyone helps, especially spouses," he quipped.

Full article here. (aka Tidings Online) is a Catholic weekly serving Southern California, which I found through this post at Alliance Alert.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Intelligent introductions (and those that aren't)

In Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: I Confess, Anthony Esolen writes:

...The old presumption regarding literature was that, like the music that Plato recommends in his imaginary Republic, it was meant to form a young person's soul. Yesterday I read a nineteenth century introduction to Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, and was struck by how similar it was, in aesthetic intelligence, to the comments by the savvy users on the movie database, and how very different it was from anything you'll find in a modern introduction. I read it and knew no more about Hawthorne's politics than when I began -- but I was alerted to all kinds of canny ways in which Hawthorne's potent imagination would challenge me. In other words, The Marble Faun was introduced to me as a great book, whose greatness in part was due to its intelligent structure and deft dialogue, and in part due to the attention it gives to truths greater or broader than the temporary concerns of the day. To read the typical introduction to a literary work nowadays is to wonder why anyone would ever struggle through the archaisms of Shakespeare, when the payoff at the end is not exaltation, or even a tear, but a political bumper sticker.
Read his whole post.

I almost never read an introduction before reading a modern book. I've had one too many of them that was rife with spoilers, for one thing. And for another, like he says later in the post, for too many of them "a sense of beauty is not part of [their] repertoire". Or, if it is, they sure aren't trotting it out for the work at hand.

Language fun

English is one of those languages that has some pronunciation traps. Can you get through the whole list without a stumble? I didn't.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hospital history, etc.

See Pennsylvania Hospital History: Stories - Nation's First Hospital for an overview of the founding of the first hospital in the American colonies. And, yes, of course Benjamin Franklin was in on it. It was in Philadelphia, for one thing. And he was big on civic improvement, for another. (via 21st Century Reformation, via link hopping...)

Only semi-related: There's an email that's been making the rounds (for years and years, but I heard it read from a pulpit just recently), about a little girl who had been turned away from an overcrowded Sunday School at Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia, who died with 57 cents saved up to help build a bigger church so more children could go to Sunday School, and how this small gift prompted more, and also was received as payment for land worth thousands. Snopes says that the story contains a kernel of truth, but overall ranks a "false" ranking. They use as their source a chapter from Russell H. Conwell's book Acres of Diamonds. Conwell is the pastor mentioned in the email account.

For the text of a December 1, 1912, sermon by Russell H. Conwell that provides the story, please see "THE HISTORY OF FIFTY-SEVEN CENTS". My thanks to the library at Temple University for making this original source available. (The same sermon is at the Grace Baptist Church of Blue Bell website, I find, after further digging.) At first glance, I think the sermon corresponds more closely with the tale making the rounds of email shotgunners, than the excerpts from the book used by Snopes. But there are still significant differences.

Both sermon links in the preceding paragraph have a picture of Hattie May Wiatt, who undoubtedly had an influence on people on the heels of her death in 1886. The details are in dispute, admittedly, but she was repeatedly held up as a good example, and the Wiatt Mite Society was named in her honor, and went on to do good deeds in her name. And, in our day, her legend has even been used as inspiration on the BBC (BBC Radio Leicester Thought for the Day, © John Denney 15 September 2005). Not a bad legacy, all in all, I'd say.

And, speaking of history and legacy, Conwell's sermon of 1912 has quite a bit of historical reference in it. For instance (ed. note: a few typos fixed):
Who are the really great of this world? Who are the mighty? Is it the king, the emperor, the president, the famous, estimated by the kingdom of heaven and on the books of God? How little we know. Our nation has given credit to Washington, to Jefferson, to Lafayette, to the great Pitt of England, to the great generals and writers, and to great financiers like Morris, but there is one person hardly ever mentioned in our history who had so much influence in our affairs that as a nation we ought to have her picture in every public hall and in every school; yet because she was a young woman she seems to have been lost to the sight of the world. That was the Princess Elizabeth, sister of Louis XVI, of France. That little woman who was a treasure of feminine loveliness, with a heart as pure and bright as any that ever beat in the breast of woman; she who lived in the aristocracy of that time, but who plead for the starving, common people and protested again against Marie Antoinette's use of the public money as she did at Versailles, and spent her life in charity and loving kindness. She laid the foundation for the victory of this nation. Those who read history know that we could not have hoped for freedom if Rochambeau had not come to this country, if the French had not indorsed us, and if the French had not fought England on the waters and lands of Europe while we were trying to fight our battles here. If it had not been for Yorktown and its surrender we could never have hoped to obtain our freedom from what was then the tyrannous king of England. Who sent Rochambeau, who used the influence that brought his coming about? In some of the correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, who represented us at the Court of France, we find that the princess, a lovely young woman, was well acquainted with him and liked to talk with him upon philosophy and upon American ideas. She served as a "go-between" with Franklin and the queen, who used her influence with the king...

Friday fun stuff

This is pure silliness, but they do it so well. :)

YouTube - "Oh Happy Day" By The Cathedrals

Fair warning: It's somewhat contagious. Don't blame me if people go around the house singing bits of it after they watch. You have been warned...

Update: Same group: more good, clean silliness, also a bit contagious...

P.S. If, by any chance, you're busting your brain trying to figure out why the guy on the far right of the quartet seems so familiar, it's Ernie Haase, in pre-Signature Sound days....

Favorite picture books

A Circle of Quiet lists some of the favorite books for preschoolers around their house.

And (via Liberty and Lily, and a link hop or two) here's a fun video of a two year old girl "reading" a favorite book. And doing a very fine job of it, I might add. (Does it amaze you how much a two year old can memorize, and then dramatize? It does me.)

Michael Yon update on Iraq

From Let's 'Surge' Some More - by Michael Yon (Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2008):

It is said that generals always fight the last war. But when David Petraeus came to town it was senators – on both sides of the aisle – who battled over the Iraq war of 2004-2006. That war has little in common with the war we are fighting today.

I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.

Let him explain why he thinks so.

hat tip: Bookworm Room

Expectations and divisions

From On patience: the West vs. Islamicist totalitarianism (neo-neocon, April 11, 2008):

Our post-9/11 unity was fleeting, if not totally illusory. We are now bitterly divided on how to fight the war against Islamicist totalitarianism.

We are divided on whether there is such a war. We are divided on who our most important enemies in that war might be. We are even divided on whether we truly have what we might call enemies, or whether a nice friendly dialogue might not be enough to make us all get along better.

But on reading this article by Clfford D. May in National Review entitled “100 Years of War?”—a reference to Barack Obama’s distortion of John McCain’s remark that we might need to keep troops in Iraq for that long a time, similar to what we’re already doing in Germany and South Korea—it occurred to me that there is another division, and that this division might actually be the heart of the matter.

This split may have begun to occur as early as 9/11 itself, shortly after the towers fell. It has to do with the perception of how long we should expect this fight to take. The division is between those who always assumed it would be long and arduous, and those who did not.

Read the whole thing. It's a thoughtful piece, backed by some history.

I count myself in the "assumed it would be long and arduous" camp.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost. Not lost. Who knows?

A fair number of people who wander into our town are horribly lost, having relied on ill-advised navigational systems instead of standard road maps and signs, not to mention hunches (i.e. I thought about an hour or two ago that something didn't seem right...).

It seems to be an international problem:

Had another episode of fun with the GPS. Firstly the poor thing didn't know about the new stretches of the A1M. "You're driving through ploughed fields !', it kept saying.

Then as I left the A1M at about 3pm it said just 140 miles to go. I thought "What ?!"

As I pulled up outside the Magowans' house it still thought I had over a hundred miles to cover, but that I had reached my "Via point"..

I will take more care in programming it today for the short journey to Darlington.

Which I know is NOT FAR AWAY.

It pays to not let the GPS take over your brain...

Book note: The Fire Engine: An Illustrated History

I am also currently reading The Fire Engine: An Illustrated History, by Simon Goodenough, Chartwell Books, c.1978, reprinted 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989 by the time my copy came out. The pictures are wonderful, but so is the text. I'm learning quite a bit about ways of fighting fires, about technology, about cultures, about history (with an emphasis on English and American history). Oh, also about the basic characteristics of fire. There's a glossary, a listing of manufacturers, and a bibliography.

It's a livelier history than you might suspect. For instance, ancient Romans who relied on slaves to fight fires found them not always too keen on putting out fires, especially those that might harm a harsh or unpopular master, but switching to paid firefighters had its drawbacks, too:

Of course, there was one considerable disadvantage to the Vigiles, in contrast to the Familia Publica: the Vigiles had to be paid out of the public pocket. This needed some persuasion, but on the whole it was seen that it was cheaper to pay out money to the corps than to lose one's entire wealth in a fire; the efficiency of the Vigiles was their own justification. Nonetheless, there were complaints against them, and not only because they were expensive. They had their own affiliations which often interfered with their reliability. Supported by the emperors, who were determined to keep them as their own elite force, they were only too happy to subject themselves to political control and reap the many rewards of loyalty to a powerful master. It has even been suggested that political manipulation of the corps may have been responsible for its failure to control Nero's notorious fire of 64 AD.
Chapters include The Enemy...Fire, The Early Days, Pumping by Hand, The Age of Steam, Motor Power, Fire Engines Today.

Book note: Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb

I'm currently reading Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, as reprinted in the Classics to Grow On series, this volume c. 1942, published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company for Keepworthy Books, a division of The Parents' Institute, publishers of Parents' Magazine.

The first edition of the Tales came out in 1807, and it seems to have been reprinted several times since. There are several editions available online, including multiple copies at Project Gutenberg. If you'd rather have a scanned version of an illustrated book, the University of Florida Digital Collections can oblige you.

In searching for an online preface to link to, I found that minor variations seem to pop up. This version seems close to the one I have, without the typo in the last paragraph that mars mine. I suggest reading the whole thing, but here's the last half, to whet your appetite:

It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly kept this in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task. It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and women in terms familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting what is proper for a young sister's ear) some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgements; - which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older, that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (such a wish will be neither peevish nor irrational). When time and leave of judicious friends shall put them into their hands, they will discover in such of them as are here abridged (not to mention almost as many more, which are left untouched) many surprising events and turns of fortune, which for their infinite variety could not be contained in this little book, besides a world of sprightly and cheerful characters, both men and women, the humour of which it was feared would be lost if it were attempted to reduce the length of them.

What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much more it is the writers' wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years - enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages are full.

Add this to the evidence that we tend to set our sights lower these days. These tales for 'very young readers' are not dumbed down in the least.

And, please note, in the above preface, brothers are expected to watch out for their sisters. If you are a feminist, I'd invite you to stop having a hissy fit long enough to think about the alternatives. Do we really want to encourage boys to not look out for their sisters? I don't think so. Admittedly, loving protectiveness can be overdone, but kept in check it's a wonderful quality, I think.

A side note. In my copy, Shakespeare is spelled Shakspeare.

Links to some earlier 'children and Shakespeare' posts here.

Book note: The Sisters of Holmes County series, by Wanda E. Brunstetter

So, recently a friend handed me the first two books in the Sisters of Holmes County series. And I read them. I had to get used to some style quirks, especially the use of dialog to explain things, and provide settings, and conduct language lessons. Well, like this (p. 135, A Sister's Secret):

"What is it, husband? You look so uffriehrisch."

"I am agitated, and you had better sit down." He motioned to the chair across from him. "What I have to tell you is going to be quite schauderhaft."

She sank into the chair, her eyes full of question. "You're scaring me. Please tell me what is so shocking."

Well, I'm adaptable, and I got used to the style, etc. I found the Amish setting interesting. And the author was layering mystery upon mystery, danger upon grief, and plot twist upon plot twist, which kept things from getting dull (to say the least). But she didn't solve but some of the mysteries by the end of Book Two. The largest questions are left unanswered: an unidentified murderer is running free, an unidentified vandal is on the loose, there's no telling if the vandal is the same person as the murderer, the world is awash in suspects - and Book Three doesn't come out until July, and I don't know if Book Three will wrap things up or just be another chapter along the way.

So, anyway, if you're inclined to read the series, I might suggest you wait until you have the whole series in hand, because they are, for all intents and purposes, segments of the same book, disguised as separate books. And this for what becomes a murder mystery in book two. Sigh.

Another member of the family picked up the books after I'd put them down. During a break in his reading, after he was well into the books, we looked at each other, each afraid to say what we thought. "Soap opera," we said, finally. We are in total agreement on that. I haven't read any other Brunstetter books, as far as I recall, but these qualify as Amish soap opera. Which is an interesting twist on the genre, I must say.

I am not a fan of much of what gets peddled as "Christian fiction" these days, and in my view these books share some of the weaknesses all too common in the category. But they have interesting characters, and situations, and points of view, and plenty of plot twists and subplots. They aren't milquetoast; the other member of the family is inclined to think, in fact, that Brunstetter goes too far the other way, and lays the calamity on a bit too thick. Which, I guess, is why we both think of the books as soap opera in print (with a moral compass attached).

Poem for today

Snow in the City

by Rachel Field

Snow is out of fashion,

But it still comes down,

To whiten all the buildings

In our town;

To dull the noise of traffic;

To dim each glaring light

With star-shaped feathers

Of frosty white.

And not the tallest building

Halfway up the sky;

Or all the trains and busses,

And taxis scudding by;

And not a million people,

Not one of them at all,

Can do a thing about the snow

But let it fall

From The Family Treasury of Children's Stories: Familiar Favorites, compiled by Pauline Rush Evans, published by Doubleday and Company for Keepworthy Books, a division of The Parent's Institute, Inc., New York, as part of the Classics to Grow On series. Copyright 1956 by Nelson Doubleday, Inc. Acknowledgment: Branches Green by Rachel Field, c. 1934, The Macmillan Company. (I presume I'm linking to information on the right Rachel Field. Correct me if I'm wrong. And, by the way, a quick check shows that Branches Green is another of those books you probably don't want to sell at a yard sale for fifty cents, considering that current prices start at ten bucks, and quickly jump from there to $30, $40, $50 and up.)

Technical note: Someday I'm going to figure out how to do indents around here. I typed this poem with indents on every other line, starting with the second line, but the indents went away...

I doubt we'll get enough snow to cover the ground, but it is snowing. Again. The forecast is for springlike weather come the weekend, but for now the main indication that we're not still in winter is that sunrise and sunset aren't right for winter. Thank goodness for that, by the way. I'm as ready for long days as I am ready for warm ones.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tsunami Warning Center map

I see the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has an easy to read world 'event' map, and a table of tsunami messages. There are tabs to take you to regional maps: Pacific Ocean, Hawai'i, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean Sea.

At the top of the page is a box for current warnings, watches and advisories, if any. None are in effect at the moment.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"The Unremembered Dead"

Who, among all the individuals who have called America home, deserves renown? Who (on the other hand) gets listed on the 'ten most famous Americans since the time of Columbus' list as chosen by 2000 high school students? Shouldn't there be significant overlap? Anthony Esolen takes a look. At first glance, the teens seem to be absorbing PC, and are swayed mightily by celebrity, while people of high significance and achievement don't seem to be on their radar screen.

So, perhaps we should be doing more history blogging? I'm game. How about you?

Esolen is collecting top ten lists, if you'd like to pop over and join the conversation. Promise me you'll be civil. Some of the commenters seem to be bordering on testy. (This brings up another reason I generally avoid 'top ten' lists. People will get testy over their favorites in a tight field...)

If you ask your kids to list the top ten famous people from America (or Canada, or wherever you live), and the results aren't too embarrassing (how often do kids know what their parents think they know???), perhaps you'd like to share?

Monday, April 07, 2008

What limited government is - and isn't

From the March 2008 Imprimis: Limited Government: Are the Good Times Really Over?, by Charles Kessler (Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.) :

Utterly missing in this election season is a serious focus on limited or constitutional government. The Democrats, generally speaking, want more government, not less, so their neglect of the issue is to be expected. But the Republican dereliction is more troubling. It represents a falling away from the standards of Ronald Reagan’s conservatism—a decline already reflected in the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush. After 9/11, many prominent conservatives—e.g., George Will, David Brooks, Fred Barnes —pronounced that small government conservatism is dead. That awful reminder of the dangerous world we live in, and of the need to defend ourselves, somehow meant that big government conservatism, as they called it, was now the only game in town. Conservatives would need to make their peace with this idea, they argued, in order to win future elections.

Were Will, Brooks, and Barnes wrong? For the most part, I think they were. To show how and why, I want to talk about seven propositions related to the problem of limited government in our day.
An example (one of the longest, but I think one of the more interesting):

Proposition five: Limited government, in the sense of constitutional government, is opposed to the political assumptions of the modern state, which arose after the New Deal. Those assumptions came largely from the political science of the Progressive era, whose proponents argued that the Founders’ limited government was an 18th century nostrum that was powerless to solve 20th century problems. From this point of view, natural rights were an immature form of genuine right, enshrining egoism and individualism that might have been necessary for frontier farmers but made no sense in an interdependent, industrial society. The Progressives believed that freedom did not come from nature or God, but instead is a product of the state and is realized only in the modern state. Far from being the people’s servant and, therefore, a possible threat to freedom—because servants can be unfaithful—the state is the full ethical expression of a people. The state is the people and the people are the state. This strange use of the term represents the Progressive attempt to translate the German concept of der Staat into American politics. America did not have a state theory of this sort until the Progressive era. Conservative and most libertarian anti-statism arose in opposition to this innovation; but too often, in recent years, hostility to der Staat has been confused with opposition to government per se.

To put the difference more plainly, consider Woodrow Wilson’s insistence that “living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.” In short, it is not the limited Constitution of the Founders, but the living Constitution, which is the ideal of Progressives and of modern liberal theory and practice. A fixed or limited Constitution would make sense if human rights are fixed and unchanging, as the Declaration affirms. But if human rights are essentially historical or evolutionary, then we should want a Constitution that is free to adapt and evolve along with them. In theory, then, no a priori limitations on government power—whether property rights, speech rights, or even religious freedom—can be allowed to impinge on government’s ability to bring about historical liberation. The old or natural rights have to be sacrificed in order to achieve the new rights of self-fulfillment. Thus for the Progressives—as for Barack Obama and many liberals today—political tyranny is no longer the ever-present threat that it was considered to be by James Madison or Alexander Hamilton. In liberal eyes, the real political threat is not tyrannical government or even the tyranny of the majority, but the well-connected capitalists, the “economic royalists” hiding behind the façade of democracy, who manipulate things to their advantage. Liberals ever since the New Deal have argued that limited government must become unlimited, in order to prevent the few from becoming tyrannical.

A new theory of the Constitution corresponded to this new theory of rights. FDR put it memorably in his 1932 Commonwealth Club Address: Government is a contract under which “rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights.” According to this view, we give the rulers power and the rulers give us rights. In other words, rights are no longer natural or God-given, but emerge from a bargain struck with the government. And it is up to liberal statesmen or leaders to keep the bargain current, redefining rights constantly—adding new rights and subtracting some of the old ones—in order to keep the living Constitution in tune with the times. Entitlement rights—rights created and funded by government—replace natural rights. Given this new relationship of people and government, we don’t need to keep a jealous eye on government anymore, because the more power we give it, the more rights and benefits it gives us back—Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug benefits, unemployment insurance, and on and on.
Full article here. Kessler argues that limited government is not a lost cause. He also argues that big government is not doomed to failure. In other words, those of us who want a constitutional government have some work to do.

Kessler argues that limited government is not the same as small government (although the concepts overlap), and that limited government can, and should, be energetic within its purposes. You'll need to read the article if you want the whole picture.

Imprimis home page.

Imprimis archives.

Book market watch: Lady on the Beach, by Norah Berg

Going through a stack of used books I'm getting ready for sale, I stumbled across one called Lady on the Beach by Norah Berg, with Charles Samuels, published by Prentice-Hall, c. 1952. It turns out to be another of those "new life of contentment and adventure far from the civilization they eagerly left behind" books (quote from inside jacket copy). In this case, the author and her husband became beachcombers and clam diggers along the coast of Washington state.

Anyway, to my surprise, when I checked market prices, I found a couple for sale for around $13, but most copies were in the $45 and up range, with a few riding above the $100 mark.

Sigh. The copy that has fallen into my hands is in good, but not very good, condition, and sports a taped and torn dust jacket, and therefore will go out at the lower end of the range.

Anyway, you might want to keep your eyes open for a copy at yard sales, etc. As always, remember that prices might crash at any time (especially if enough of you find copies at yard sales, etc., and put them out for sale at once...).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday funnies

From Jokes - and how to tell them, by Sonny Fox (Young Readers Press, 1965):

Q. What is the kindest animal in the forest?

A. The skunk, because he is happy to give his last (s)cent to his worst enemy.

Another riddle, same source:

Q. What has a mouth but cannot speak, a bed but cannot sleep?

A. A river.

Without feeling

We heard from an old friend this week, one we hadn't heard from in a while. The big news in her family was that her son-in-law had a stroke last year which left him without feeling on, or use of, one side of his body, head to toe. Massive was hardly the word for it.

The doctors issued their usual dire predictions. (Do you suppose they have doom and gloom classes at modern med schools?) He would never walk. He would never this. He would never that.

Three months later, he still had not the least bit of feeling on that side. But he could use it. He can walk. He can, she says, even use a wrench if he watches what he's doing. If he doesn't watch, he can't tell if he's got a grip.

He's enjoying himself, at last report. I guess he goes out fishing more than he used to. (When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade, I guess is the operating principle here.)

We can identify with that sort of thing at our house. When we got married, my husband had no feeling in his legs below the knees. He'd been that way for quite a while before I met him, but had long since figured out how to walk without the feedback the rest of us get. He used a cane for balance, and to help catch himself if he miscalculated, but he booked right along. I have no idea how, all the more so since nerve damage has left his leg muscles atrophied. He doesn't look like he has enough calf muscles to walk. (Think of the legs of someone stuck in a wheelchair. They look like that.)

He couldn't tell when something dropped on his foot unless he saw it. He couldn't tell if he'd stepped on thorns. Etc. So the upside (such as it was) was that he didn't suffer from stubbed toes like the rest of us.

A few years after we got married, he got feeling back in his legs and feet. But it came back on some sort of strange delayed broadcast signal. He could, in other words, feel what he'd walked on a few seconds previously. Or, he could stub his toe or drop something on his foot and have time to anticipate how bad it was going to hurt. This was, as you might guess, even harder than not having any feeling at all, especially the bit about feeling what he'd walked on shortly before. He'd go from a gravel driveway into a house, and his body would want to be adjusting for gravel when it was on carpet. He'd walk through the house, and would be getting carpet signals several steps after he'd moved on to linoleum. Very odd, this was. Very tricky, too. You might not think about it, but you do tend to make minor, probably automatic, adjustments to compensate for slickness, softness, and security underfoot.

The rest of his body was relaying sensations in real time, I might stress. It was only below his knees that the dubbing was off, so to speak. This took some getting used to.

Stairs were especially interesting at first. He'd have a foot relaying that it was firmly on a step and it was time to put weight down, but it was no longer on that step. It took a bit of doing to get used to that sort of thing, and learn to outfox it.

For the longest time, he'd successfully get himself to the top of the stairs only to crash a few steps later. The signals were that he was still climbing, and his body would be trying to put weight on a foot that was a few inches above the floor. We learned to pause at the top of stairs, letting his brain work its way through the recording. Eventually he learned to transition from stairs to flat without mishap, despite the tangle of messed up signals.

Just about the time he was getting really good at navigating using erroneous foot signals - just about the time it got habitual, in fact - his feet and legs switched to real time signals, like the rest of him. And the learning process started over...

You never know the loads you can carry until you get saddled with them, I guess.

Pan-fried waffles

The toaster broke a few weeks ago. When I stopped to think about it, almost all we used it for anymore was heating frozen waffles.

So, rather than running out and buying a new toaster, I tried cooking a waffle in a dry (ungreased), nonstick frypan. I was afraid it might dry out, since I could only brown one side at a time, so I used a glass lid. I browned the waffle lightly on one side, flipped it, browned it on the other. I wish I'd tried this sooner. The browning was more even than with a toaster, and there weren't dry spots and moist spots, either. I've tried it again since then, again with good results.

The downside is that you can't cook several waffles at once, but I don't generally need several waffles at once.

Now I don't have a toaster taking up counter space, and having to be cleaned and cleaned around. But I can still have my waffles. Such a deal. I've been trying to declutter the house. Decluttering by attrition is still decluttering, right?

Slamming the door

My husband was at our gas station/bookstore the other day when a car drove up to the pumps, and a mid-teen boy jumped out of the passenger side, dashed around to the driver's side, and opened the door for the woman inside. My husband was impressed, all the more so because the woman appeared to be the boy's mother.

"Hey, is that your mom in there?" he asked, or something to that effect.

"Yep!" the boy said, pleased to have been asked.

Whereupon the mother launched into a detailed explanation about why no one should be impressed with the kid's apparent good manners because he was only doing it so he could sit in the driver's seat and dream about driving, and he did this as often and for as long as he could, and so she was going to sit there until he got tired of it, because she was tired of how hard it could be to get him out of the seat once he got there and... and on and on, providing highly embarrassing details of previous run-ins, being heedless of the distress she was causing everyone in the vicinity, until the kid, humiliated, slammed the door and went back to the passenger seat.


Let us concede that even the best of children can drive even the best of parents to the snapping point from time to time. But...

Here she was, with a grown man backing her up, a grown man who had pleased the kid by approving his good manners, a grown man who would have happily helped josh the kid out of the driver's seat if it came to that, and... she ruthlessly kept slamming her son until he slammed the door...


Try not to do that sort of thing. OK? Please?