Thursday, July 31, 2008

Christian filmgoers ask to consider what (and why) they applaud

Gina Dalfonzo thinks too many evangelicals are a bit too free with their praise for movies like Facing the Giants. I didn't see the movie. If you did, you might want to weigh in on the discussion.

For that matter, the general discussion she's trying to have (if I understand her correctly), is that by not paying enough attention to the sort of quality that can be recognized by the wider culture, some Christians are in danger of feeding the idea that Christians lack taste or smarts. So you might want to weigh in whether you saw the movie or not.

In a semi-related note, in our early days as booksellers, my husband and I cringed at most of the offerings from publishers of Christian fiction.

My, how things have changed. These days, Christian fiction has branched out, deepened, grown up, and a surprising percentage of it has terrific shelf appeal - and impressive sales figures. Over the past few years a lot of people have raised the bar, and it shows. See, for instance, the latest offerings from Bethany House. Or even from Barbour, known in years past for 'bargain books'.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Nancy Ann at Femina looks at the difference between contentment and discontent.

Somewhere along the way I came to pretty much the same conclusions. Thank goodness. I see people who haven't figured it out, and they're not as happy as they might be.

hat tip: PalmTree Pundit

Monday, July 28, 2008

Book note: William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner, by William Hague

Michael Gerson recommends a new biography of William Wilberforce, and he recommends it rather strongly:

Hague's life of Wilberforce should be read by every student of politics, to understand why mere prosperity and mere security will never be sufficient goals of evangelical political involvement. And this book should be read by every politician, to see what feats of honor are possible even in a very political life.
I haven't seen the book yet, but I applaud Gerson's sentiment.

hat tip: Gina Dalfonzo

The makers of 'Facing the Giants' tackle marriage in 'Fireproof'

The maverick moviemakers who made Facing the Giants are coming out with a new movie this fall, which has been getting enthusiastic response in early screenings, according to Michael Foust of Baptist Press. Like Facing the Giants, the movie features a volunteer cast and crew, many of them members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. The movie stars Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea. The official movie site is here. There is a companion website: Opening date for the movie is Sept. 26.

Parents, please note that although the movie addresses adult issues - it's about a marriage that seems to be heading for divorce - the producers have reportedly taken pains to make sure the most sensitive issues go over the heads of most kids. See the Foust article linked above for more information.

Iran buying U.S. wheat

Iran and other parts of the Middle East are having a drought, which is one reason Iran is importing wheat from the United States for the first time since 1981, according to today's Northwest Farm and Ranch Report.

While looking for the USDA original report cited in the report linked above, I stumbled across this: USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, Commodity Intelligence Report (May 9, 2008): IRAN: 2008/09 Wheat Production Declines Due to Drought, which has just all sorts of maps and graphs and other details.

It amazes me what you can find on the internet these days.

Here's a Wheat Letter for July 24, 2008, in which Joe Sowers of the U.S. Wheat Associates, quoted in the Northwest Farm and Ranch Report above, expands on the Iranian wheat situation. (And, yes, I did notice that the wheat expert's last name is Sowers. Some people do have names that fit especially well with their professions...) I guess the Wheat Letter will do as well as the USDA report, at least for me, for now.

Trick training horses

When I had horses, I taught them a few tricks - is there any girl with a horse who doesn't teach it a trick or two or three? :) - but nothing like those shown at

Via Jeff Keane and Susan Allen's July 28, 2008, American Rancher radio report. They also recommend a visit to, (which seems to be still under construction).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday fun

My husband and I have been under the weather this week, and I'm still feverish and aching, so I won't be blogging much more than this today, if at all. But I can't resist sharing these videos featured at Kim Komando's website, that my husband brought to my attention to cheer me up.

I don't think I could stand to watch an acrobatic performance like this in person - I'd spend too much time cringing behind my hands, too afraid to look, too worried I might see somebody slip and kill himself. But, wow. I can't believe people can actually do these things. Never mind the athletic difficulties (as daunting as those are) - how in the world do they find the nerve to try???!!!

Then there's the video of a crow that adopted a kitten, with very happy results. No, really.

And, then, how can you get a whole litter of puppies to fall asleep at once?


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Margaret Thatcher's legacy (and, an art question)

The June 2008 Imprimis features a look at Margaret Thatcher's achievements and legacy, presented by John O'Sullivan, the author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.

An excerpt (reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College):

When Lady Thatcher revived the British economy, she was reviving profound social virtues that the British had once exemplified to the world—the Thatcherite “vigorous virtues” described above. In 1979, they seemed utterly destroyed by 50 years of statism and socialism. In fact, they had merely been driven underground by government over-regulation and intervention.

As James C. Bennett has observed, it took only a few years of Lady Thatcher’s application of free market solutions for these virtues to become vigorous again. Once that happened, it took only a few more years for those revived virtues to transform Britain from the sick man of Europe into the world’s fourth largest economy.

Deep social patterns can rarely be extirpated altogether. Cultural transformations of nations and societies imposed by governments nearly always fail in the long run. The old ways only look dead; in reality, they are merely dormant. They are the resources of our civilization and they can be revived to meet new challenges.

If Lady Thatcher demonstrated that truth in matters economic, she believes today that the resources of the Anglo-American political tradition of ordered liberty are not exhausted either. She believes that the virtues of that tradition—dispersed authority, open debate, popular sovereignty, spontaneous social evolution—are not dead, merely dormant. Indeed, they are flourishing in those new democracies, such as Estonia and Poland, where they have been introduced since 1989 (and where economic success is far more obvious than in countries that have clung to more centralized models). They are flourishing too in the English-speaking world outside Britain—notably in the U.S., Australia, and a reforming India. And they offer the best hope for Third World countries emerging from poverty and backwardness into a world of globalized opportunities.

Ironically, however, these virtues are threatened in Britain by growing statist regulation under New Labour; by the nation’s absorption into a European political structure built upon a very different tradition of constructivist rationalism; and by the failure of many conservatives to see the dangers in a European and global governance that lacks democratic accountability and threatens liberal freedoms.

A side note: the speech from which the article is adapted was given at the dedication of the first statue of Margaret Thatcher to be erected in the United States. It's not the sort of statue I'm used to, for major world leaders. But perhaps the informality will grow on me? Perhaps there will be a trend in seated statues, and it won't seem so strange? It's not that I dislike it, you understand, but I'm not sure that I much like it, either. Give me a while to get used to it, and then I'll decide what I think.

I do like the quote on the plaque with it, as recounted in the article linked just above:

Sculpted by Bruce Wolfe, the statue is over six feet in height and depicts Thatcher sitting in a pensive posture. A plaque on its base includes a quote from a 1990 Thatcher speech:

"The new world of freedom into which the dazzled Socialists have stumbled is not new to us. What to them is uncharted territory is to us familiar and well loved ground. For Britain has returned to those basic truths and principles which made her great—personal liberty, private property and the rule of law, on which democratic freedoms everywhere are based. Ours is a creed which travels and endures. Its truths are written in the human heart."

If anyone can find links to pictures of the other statues made for Hillsdale's Liberty Walk I'd appreciate it. It's nothing more than idle curiosity on my part, but I want to see how George Washington and Winston Churchill are depicted, compared to Thatcher. And I guess there's a Thomas Jefferson statue coming later this year? How's he posed, I wonder?

(Pause while I try googling a few more search phrases...) Semi-success! Here's a picture of the model of the Churchill statue, but I don't know if they really went with this idea. It's not your typical heroic stance, either, but I kind of like it. Sort of. (Again, I think I need some time to adjust to it, or something.)

I don't want to spend any more time on this just now, but if you stumble across links for photos of the other statues, please drop a note in the comments. For that matter, I'd be interested in evidence that this somewhat informal style is (or isn't) a wider trend in public sculptures of famous people. (Certainly the recently unveiled statue of Adam Smith in Edinburgh isn't along those lines.) Thanks.

Good-natured President and press

Someday I'll figure out how to embed videos here (maybe), but for now please hop over to this video of President Kennedy fielding questions from the press. I'll bet you laugh out loud at least once.

hat tip: neo-neocon

Stratospheric proposal

James Pethokoukis, writing at the Capital Commerce column at U.S. News & World Report, has a July 18, 2008, column under the headline, Dissecting Al Gore's $5 Trillion Energy Plan, which begins:
In a speech yesterday here in Washington, Al Gore challenged the United States to "produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun, and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative." (Well, the goal is at least one of those things.) Gore compared the zero-carbon effort to the Apollo program. And the comparison would be economically apt if, rather than putting a man on the moon—which costs about $100 billion in today's dollars—President Kennedy's goal had been to build a massive lunar colony, complete with a casino where the Rat Pack could perform.
Read the rest.

hat tip: Russell Roberts, who notes: "...Pethokoukis gives Al Gore the benefit of the doubt and assumes that the costs are linear. I don't think they would be..."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Congratulations to Jonathan Witt...

... upon having his book translated into Japanese.

That would be a bit mind-bending, I think, to see your book in print, but not in a print anything like that used for your native tongue.

Some history of Zorro

Lars Walker just obtained a DVD of the 1920 silent movie, The Mark of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., which gives him an excuse to expound on silent movies, and on the history of the Zorro character.

For history of the 1950s Zorro television show starring Guy Williams, visit Bill Cotter's website.

Trying to sweep religion under the rug...

... can make you look silly in the long run, if you're a journalist covering a sincere Catholic like Ingrid Betancourt, one of the hostages recently rescued in South America after years in captivity.

Slam repairs

When I was in high school, I was chosen to attend a special summer school for chemistry students, held at The College of Idaho. I was absolutely in awe of the professors and the science labs. At first.

Then one day, after explaining to us how expensive and sensitive the equipment was that he was entrusting to our use, a professor left a gaggle of us with it and went off to another room to work with other students. Soon after that, the machine jammed or otherwise malfunctioned. I can't remember for sure if it was a piece of equipment that used lasers, or what, but I remember we were terrified twice over: first because we weren't sure if we were in mortal danger (it seemed likely), and second because we had just been told what an incredibly sophisticated and expensive machine this was. That we had no idea how we'd broken it didn't help; there is no clueless like the cluelessness of wondering how you messed up a scary bit of technology while being extremely careful and cautious.

Being teens, and terrified, we kicked up a bit of a fuss, as I recall. There were screams, and people running for the professor.

The professor came in, took stock, told us to calm down, and then picked the equipment off the table and slammed it on the floor a couple of times. He set it back on the table, ran a couple of tests on it, declared that it did this all the time and it should be all right now, and then left us, our mouths hanging open in disbelief.

It worked fine after that.

I have since found that a lot of guys 'fix' things this way, sometimes successfully. Or they happily employ "a judicious use of his most basic hardware tool for such things, his fists", as James M. Kushiner puts it.

In the linked post, Kushiner laments that fewer things built these days can be fixed that way. I'm inclined to think he has a point. (Although, to be sure, I've been surprised again and again what can be fixed that way. Not that I recommend it, necessarily, you understand. :)

"Nobody is a nobody"

Via Fr. Neuhaus on When Life Matters by James M. Kushiner at Mere Comments, here's the text of Richard John Neuhaus's closing address at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee held recently in Arlington, Virginia.

I'd file it under "Rousing Calls to Fight the Good Fight."

A snippet:

The contention between the culture of life and the culture of death is not a battle of our own choosing. We are not the ones who imposed upon the nation the lethal logic that human beings have no rights we are bound to respect if they are too small, too weak, too dependent, too burdensome. That lethal logic, backed by the force of law, was imposed by an arrogant elite that for almost forty years has been telling us to get over it, to get used to it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christians taking a stand

Meet Jeff Carr, who is leading anti-gang efforts in LA. When you're over there, I suggest you follow the link to the Steve Lopez column in the July 9, 2008, Los Angeles Times.

Meet Megan and Mandy Chapman, who were targeted by the ACLU, but didn't back down.

An 'average' wildfire year, so far, sort of

Having been a bit too close to a few, I know there is nothing "average" or otherwise all that statistically interesting about a wildfire if you're close to it. But...

Having said that, what with the rash of fires in California this year, I was surprised to see at the National Interagency Fire Center website that as of July 12 (the page updates daily), this year is actually just slightly below the five-year average in acres burned in the United States. This year: 3,024,762 acres. Five-year average for this date: 3,164,599 acres.

When you look at the ten-year average for acres to date on July 12, though, it's another story: 2,564,126 acres. (There were some really good early fire seasons in there, which skewed the average down quite a bit, like 1,031,086 acres through July 12 in 2003, and 1,254,208 acres through July 12 in 2001.)

Another website with official wildfire news and information is InciWeb.

(P.S. The National Interagency Fire Center is commonly called Nif-see, from its initials: NIFC.)

Tony Snow, dead at 53

Tony Snow, a class act in the worlds of journalism and public service, has died. My condolences to his family and friends.

There are tributes all over today, and rightfully so. To get you started: A Good and Impressive Man by Fred Barnes.

The power of a personal letter

Sometimes it's really nice to get a letter that's written especially for you.

Exhibit A: f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Amy Krouse Rosenthal Is Wonderful (make sure you check out the photo).

Related: Here's my thank you note to another writer, for what a letter from her did for some kids in my hometown.

The Saturday Review of Books...

... is up and growing at Semicolon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Book note: Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris

I finished reading Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations today.

Is it too early to start nominating books for Best Book of 2008 honors?

The book was written by Christian teens primarily for Christian teens, but I think it has broader appeal, and application, than that. The Rebelution is a culture changing movement that appears to be catching on around the world, inspiring young people to crawl out of the cultural swamps of today and to live better, fuller, healthier, more meaningful lives than society in general expects them to. This book is about The Rebelution, and its principles, and about some of the kids who have launched themselves into life as Rebelutionaries. It's a well-written, entertaining book that's full of food for thought and great true stories.

See also: The Rebelution blog.

Book note: Death of an Ambassador, by Manning Coles

Manning Coles wrote some of my favorite spy novels (along with a few less worthy ones, such as Without Lawful Authority, which I wouldn't recommend even though it has its moments).

Recently, somebody traded in one I hadn't seen before: Death of an Ambassador, copyright 1957. So of course I read it before setting it out for sale. I rank it toward the top of the Tommy Hambledon novels. My husband, who read it after I did, ranks it near the middle, but on the bottom end. But we both enjoyed it overall.

Much of the action takes place in Paris, with Hambledon trying to keep up with the energetic Letord of the Sûreté, and vice versa (the two of them make quite a team). There is action aplenty, and the inventive plot twists for which Coles is famous, but what I really enjoyed were the sly observations of life in the thinly veneered world of diplomacy, and commentary on international relations and on society and human beings in general. Like many of the early books - particularly the World War II books - in the Hambledon series, I thought this one hoped to leave the reader perhaps slightly less gullible, as well as entertained. But mostly it's a rollicking adventure story.

Manning Coles is a pseudonym for the team of Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891-1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899-1965). Death of an Ambassador came out about the same time they were turning out ghost story novels under the Francis Gaite pseudonym which are also long on observations about life and society. The ghost novels have also been published under the Manning Coles byline.

Previous related post: Good Book: No Entry, by Manning Coles

Rumor control


Our bricks and mortar bookstore is inside a gas station, which we lease. Until a few days ago, the gas station had a very tall sign upon which the prices were displayed. It was an old sign. It didn't look good. And it was horribly difficult to keep up to date. To change the prices, someone had to use an insanely long rod with a suction cup at one end, and, one by one by one etc., remove and replace numbers. It took rather a lot of strength and coordination to get the job done. I couldn't do it. My husband couldn't do it. Most of our employees couldn't do it, either. The ones that could do it sometimes hated to do it, and I can't blame them. In good weather it was hard. In bad weather, particularly very cold weather, it was the sort of job that could reduce a grown man to tears and/or animosity toward the universe. In all weather conditions, it was hard to not lose grip on the numbers at the wrong time - i.e. before they got delicately maneuvered into place. The numbers were prone to breaking even without falling horrendous distances to the ground. It was not a happiness-promoting system.

So, the other day, the parent company had the sign taken down. I don't have proof to show you that some of us danced jigs of joy to have it gone, but I assure you, we were happy. Very happy. We don't know what they're going to do eventually about replacing it, but we have petitioned, wholeheartedly, for them to save their money and let us just use the reader boards or put up a short sign, or something like that. Anything, you understand, that doesn't require us to go back to the insanely long rods with suction cups, which only a few people can master, and nobody likes.

So, today my husband told me that of the responses he's gotten so far to the sign being gone, about half are people saying how much better it looks around there now, and the other half are asking if we're going out of business.

No, folks. We got rid of an eyesore that cost us grief and money to keep up. That's it.

If you hear any rumor to the contrary, will you please squash it? Thank you.

In the meantime, I think I'll go and polish the windows and otherwise do whatever I can think of to make it clear that we're a going concern. We are even considering getting fresh, colorful banners. We've never had banners, but the sort that you see at car lots are pretty cheap. And they'd look new. Which might take people's minds off the old sign. Maybe.

If you can successfully anticipate the wild leaps of logic to which people are prone, you are way ahead of me. It never occurred to me, not once, that people might think we were going out of business because we're taking steps to improve and update the appearance of the place.

Silly me.

Author celebrations at Semicolon

Semicolon has recently launched a new series that will celebrate authors on their birthday, with an informational post and with links to posts elsewhere. Like The Saturday Review of Books, bloggers are invited to auto-link appropriate posts.

The current author is John Calvin, the theologian, who was born July 10, 1509.

The next author in the spotlight is Isaac Watts, born July 17, 1674.

Coming soon:

July 24: Alexandre Dumas, pere, b.1802.

August 7: Betsy Byars, b.1928.

August 28: Tasha Tudor, b.1915, d.2008.

Link likes: On the Square, at First Things

The bloggers over at the On The Square blog are turning out some thoughtful and thought-provoking posts, on the whole. (They usually do, in my experience.)

For instance: The Red Planet, by Joseph Bottom, which manages to combine discussions of science fiction and biotechnology, but not in a way you'd probably assume. It comes with a good dash of philosophy, too, and some history. For those of you in the pro-life movement who are concerned about the human rights abuses of some branches of biotech, you might want to consider his statement: "We make a mistake, I think, when we call the worst claims of modern biotechnology a revivified form of the old eugenics." Follow the link if you want to know why he says that, and what he thinks we should call it instead.

For instance: Stork Economics, by James Kerian, in which zero-sum economics is likened to the idea many children have that storks bring babies. It's a cute way of taking on the idea that wealth isn't created, but can only be transferred. It has some practical applications, too, I think.

For instance: The Giving Society, by Michael Novak, in which it is argued that many of the obvious differences between the United States and Europe aren't due to Americans being "Individualists" quite as much as to the fact that Americans are far more prone to give of their time and their money to personally help others.

For instance: The Human Experience, by Amanda Shaw, which tells of a soon-to-released documentary which focuses on the strength of spirit of physically, mentally, and spiritually battered individuals. It's a heart-rending read, but inspiring, too.

For instance: Understanding the Third Reich and Other Great Evils, by Richard John Neuhaus, which happens to be the post I was going back to reread when I got sidetracked by the others linked above... He uses some books on the Holocaust as a jumping off place, and has some interesting observations. Jumping in midstream, and leaving off before the end, there's this:

During the Third Reich, ordinary Germans “had many more things on their minds.” That’s a chilling phrase. We might easily say, and many do all too easily say, that during the era of slavery or during current horrors such as the genocide in Sudan or the daily killing of thousands of unborn children in the abortuaries around the country, most ordinary Americans “had many more things on their minds.” That’s a moralistic cheap shot. The truth is that we all have many more things on our minds, and necessarily so. Such as families, jobs, dealing with sickness, and warding off despair. Not to mention, for many, the distinctly unnecessary hours every day spent surfing and chatting on the blogosphere.

The Third Reich is rightly viewed as an icon of evil. This does not mean, as Ian Kershaw reminds us, that the ordinary Germans of the time are the icon of moral indifference or complicity in great evil. Then it was the Jews, the Slavs, and the gypsies. At other times, it is another class of human beings. Given the requisite mix of circumstances, which is not beyond imagination, it is an idle conceit to think that ordinary Americans would behave more nobly than did the Germans of Hitler’s day. Among any people of any time, moral courage is the exception and not the rule. There are heroes and heroines who contend against the great evils of their time, but even they must be selective. You may be devoting your life to helping the people of Sudan, but what are you doing to help prisoners of conscience in China, or to stop international sex trafficking, or to feed the hungry of Zimbabwe, or to relieve the loneliness of old people in the nursing home within an easy drive from your home? The list goes on and on.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Oh, good, I'm not the only one...

(Updated: The first link was bad. It should be fixed now. Sorry about the mix-up.)

... unhappy and concerned about assaults on the liberty of association.

I'm going to have to give this statement from the post some thought:

...such associations -- and in particular, such brotherhoods -- are what build civil society to begin with; not the family, as I've argued before, and as a glance at any pre-civil culture will verify...

And this one:

We conservative Christians are apt to uphold fatherhood and the family, without considering that fatherhood is a truncated thing without brotherhood. A soldier alone is not a soldier; a father alone may make a passable father for his family, but his scope of activity is severely limited. In his capacity as a brother -- as a man who naturally wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with other men, to get things done -- he is denied the battlefield...
Full post here.

The post is by Anthony Esolen. In it, he notes that he'll be expanding on the theme in a presentation Friday at the Eagle Forum Convention in Washington, D.C, to be aired by C-Span.

Super summer snacks

Danielle Bean and her readers are discussing their favorite easy, nutritious, and inexpensive snacks.

I hate to admit this, but I'd forgotten you can freeze grapes. I hate to think how many grapes I've thrown out in the past few years because we just didn't get through the bag fast enough.

With some children...

"...the person they ought to be is fast disappearing...", TheHeadGirl says.

I more or less have to agree with her.

Parents, the ball's in your court.

Rich men

There are different types of riches.

You probably knew that already, but I think most of us sometimes need a reminder.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The history of freedom

Kevin Schmiesing of the Acton Institute makes a case for the claim that "The development of human freedom, in theory and in practice, is in large measure the story of Christianity."

I was taught more or less an opposite view when I was young, but the more I read history, the more I read books from earlier centuries, the more I look around at people and societies today, and the more I find out about Christianity (as opposed to the odd mythological and erroneous 'Christianity' bandied about as a bogeyman by the atheists who took it upon themselves to instruct me), the more I'm convinced that people like Dr. Schmiesing are right.

hat tip: Rob Holmes

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Book note: Touching History, by Lynn Spencer

On June 25, 2008, Dennis Prager interviewed Lynn Spencer, author of Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11.

Spencer is an airline pilot, and also a member of the National Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association. She has some interesting observations, I think.

"The church"

The Cruciform Life: When The Church Is Really Parachurch discusses churches in relationship to the body of Christ. I don't know about you, but I can think of a few pastors (among others) I wish would read this.

hat tip: Phil at Brandywine Books

Update: On the other hand, and just to make for a more-rounded discussion, here are Theodore Roosevelt's Nine Reasons Why a Man Should Go to Church.

hat tip: The sidebar at Expat Yank