Here's an interesting post that contrasts the books bought by folks from the Bible Belt with those bought by folks outside the Bible Belt. Take a look; you might be surprised.
Of course, it would be interesting to know the relative size of each "purchase circle" as a percentage of the population in each region....
This is one of Tremayne's Sister Fidelma mysteries; he also writes about the history of the Celts under the name of Peter Berresford Ellis.
Fidelma of Cashel is the sister of the King of Cashel and a highly educated advocate of the Brehon laws in Ireland in the 7th century AD. She speaks three or four languages, can read and write and has studied law for eight years in a bardic school in Tara, the central kingdom of Ireland and domain of the High King. She also is a member of the religious community of the St. Brigid of Kildare. The community that she belongs to is very different from the monasticism that later developed in Europe with celibacy and cloistering as basic tenets. The Irish church had developed separately from Rome during the early part of the millennium and had adapted to the cultural values of the Irish Celtic society. Tremayne, by the way, includes an excellent introduction giving some of the background of tensions between Irish Catholicism and Roman Catholicism that creates a lot of the tension in the book. Fidelma has not taken vows of celibacy, nor has she entered a cloistered community so she is available to lend her assistance as an Advocate of the Courts when a legal issue, such as murder, comes up.
In this book, set in 666 AD, she is called to an Abbey on the far west coast of Ireland to investigate the murder of a young woman. She has been found hung from the well rope in the Abbey's well, naked and beheaded. No one claims to be able to identify the body without the head and no one has reported a woman missing in the near vicinity. Fidelma is called in to investigate and try to figure out who the girl is and who killed and left her in such a ghastly way.
That's the main plot. The subplot involves Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk who adheres to the Roman Catholic tradition and usually acts as Fidelma's sidekick in her investigations, providing a counterpoint to her theological beliefs and the slightest hint of love interest. On the sea voyage to the Abbey, the ship she is on discovers a Gaulish ship floating abandoned at sea, with a missal Fidelma has given to Eadulf in one of the cabins. She had left him in Rome and is beside herself with worry, especially after finding blood on the deck of the ship.
The Sister Fidelma series is generally pretty good. The early ones are a little spotty in the strength of the plot lines and Tremayne has an irritating tendency to explain Fidelma's credentials more than is needed, but essentially they read well and are interesting. The historical detail is fascinating without intruding too much on the action. I'm looking forward to finding a few more of these.
There are some folks who write clean and crisp prose with a snap to it like sheets fresh from the sunshine. And there are some who write melodies that flow from the page into the mind, dancing rhyme and rhythm into a story that lasts and lasts. But the really good writers can do both. Ivan Doig is one of those.
Dancing at the Rascal Fair is the story of two friends, Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill, who emigrate from Scotland in 1889 to become sheep ranchers in the high country of Montana. They are young bucks in a new land believing that a canny mind and hard work will make them successful. They have left behind the poverty and harshness of life in Scotland for the promise and harshness of life homesteading. And in it they find joy. But it takes a hardpan spirit to survive undamaged the brutality of the winters near the mountains and the hard life of a sheep rancher and Angus McCaskill is of softer soil than that. A rift develops between the two friends, widened by Angus' love of a woman he can't have and Rob's inability to accept that his friend is not able to bounce with the same gusto he does. The story of the rift between these two friends who are closer than brothers is what forms the core of the book. The story of Montana and the forests and mountains in the west is the background that it is played against.
This was actually my third time thru the book. I bought it soon after it came out in 1987 on a whim in the bookstore and read it thru once. A few years back I picked it off the bookshelf to see if it was as excellent as I remembered and it was. And lately NPR has featured it on "Chapter a Day" which brought back to me the musical quality of the language that Doig uses to tell his story. It reads aloud incredibly well. At first I thought it was the phrasing that he uses that was so wonderful, almost like a Scots burr rolling off the r's and broadening the vowels with snippets of Bobbie Burns woven in to pick out the colors. But this time thru what I really noticed is that the story plays out almost as if there is a fiddle playing highland music in the background, faintly picking up tempo or going down to the deep notes as the story unfolds. I have rarely read a writer with Doig's facile touch with language. It was a true pleasure.
Since April, 2003, I've been slowly working my way through Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn mysteries in chronological order. The last one I read and reviewed, A Wreathe for Rivera, was an accident; somehow I accidentally skipped over the present novel. I go into this only because Final Curtain occupies a key place in the sequence--Roderick Alleyn spends the years of World War II doing anti-espionage work in New Zealand, and is parted from his wife, the artist Agatha Troy, for the duration. This is the book in which he returns from New Zealand, is reunited with Troy (as he calls her), and takes up his police duties once again.
Consequently, the book is fraught with tension. Alleyn and Troy hadn't been married long when the war broke out, and haven't seen each other in over four years; both are concerned that whatever magic they had for each other has evaporated. And no sooner is Alleyn home than he ends up investigating a murder to which his wife is a prime witness; this is difficult for him, as he first got to know her during an unpleasant murder investigation (in Artists in Crime, and it caused such trouble between them that since then he's been trying to keep his home and work lives compartmentalized. And now all of those mental barriers are necessarily falling.
The quintessence of the English murder mystery is the country house mystery, which, as Marsh seems to delight in avoiding cliche, is probably why this is only her third novel in that sub-genre. And, typically, it's not just a country house mystery; Marsh brings in her beloved theater by making it a country house mystery about actors.
Sir Henry Ancred is a famous Shakespearian actor, now nearing the end of a long and productive and highly emotional life. He's the patriarch of a large dramatic family; not all are actually on the stage, but the only one of his descendants who isn't giving to making scenes and over-dramatizing every little thing is in fact a theater producer. He browbeats Troy, who is eagerly awaiting her husband's return and not much interested in working, into coming to his stately home, Ancreton, and painting his portrait. Thus, Troy becomes our viewpoint character for the first half of the book. While there she meets his unspeakable family and the young starlet they fear he will marry, and when he dies in bed after an overly rich dinner and a fit of rage she has a niggling feeling that perhaps his death wasn't entirely natural.
She and Alleyn discuss it, and are the verge of forgetting the whole thing when the CID receives an anonymous letter claiming that Sir Henry's death was murder. Alleyn must find out whether it was murder, and whodunnit, and reconcile his job with his married state.
All in all, not a bad outing.
This is too funny. And if you browse a bit, you can also see scenes from the Hamster Opera (I like Brunhilde, and also Falstaff), and from the Hamster Ballet.
When did you last play a game of Checkers? I remember playing it a number of times with my older sister when I was small, but I don't believe I ever made a regular thing of it. Some time in elementary school I moved on to Chess, and when I found I hadn't the patience for it I discovered games like Backgammon and Othello. Somehow I never got back to Checkers.
But a couple of years ago, we were given a nice hardwood family game set. The lid has a Checker/Chess board on one side and a Backgammon board on the other, and the box contains all the pieces you need for Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Dominoes, or various card games. My boys have been fascinated with it since we got it, and recently I've been playing Checkers with them.
James, my going-on-five-year-old, enjoys it most. He gets caught up in the moves he wants to make, and forgets to check whether my last move did anything nasty, but he's got a pretty good grasp of the rules. I have to be careful and not win too often, or he gets discouraged.
It's a surprisingly interesting game. One of the rules, which I had completely forgotten until we got back into it, is that if you are in a position to capture one of your opponent's pieces, you have to capture it. You've got no choice. And that makes the game quite a bit richer than I'd realized when I was a boy--you can force your opponent to make moves he doesn't want to make. It's sneaky.
If you're interested, you can find the rules here.
Kevin at Collected Miscellany is asking, "What Kind of Book Person Are You?"
1) What is your favorite type of bookstore? A. A large chain that is well lit, stuffed full of books, and has a café. B. A dark, rather dusty, used bookstore full of mysterious and vaguely organized books. C. A local independent bookstore that has books by local authors and coffee.
A. Although, frankly, I don't care much about the café. And I don't much care whether it's a chain. Mostly it needs to be large, well lit, and stuffed full of books.
2) What would excite you more? A. A brand new book by your favorite author. B. Finding a classic you've been wanting to read. C. Receiving a free book from a friend in the mail.
3) What's your favorite format? A. Novel B. Short story C. Poetry
A, which should come as no surprise to long-time readers of this blog. I'd like to appreciate poetry, but except for light verse I seem to lack the gene.
4) Favorite format, part II. A. Contemporary fiction. B. Classic novels. C. Genre (mystery, espionage, etc.)
C. Need you ask?
5) Favorite format, part III (none of the above) Fiction or non? A. Almost entirely fiction. B. Almost entirely non-fiction. C. A mix of both.
C, though heavier on the fiction.
6) Does the design and condition of the book matter? A. Yes, I love a well designed book and keep mine in mint condition. B. No, the words are what matter. C. Yes and no, I appreciate good design and treat my books with respect but I am not obsessive about it.
Somewhere between A and C. Which is to say that I am obsessive about it. Condition is more important than design, though; the point is that I want to be able to re-read it as many times as I like.
(Note from Jane: in our first years of marriage, while I was learning to put the toilet seat down, she was learning never, ever to crease the spine of a paperback book.)
7) On average how many books do you read a month? A. I am lucky to read one. B. I am dedicated. I read 4 or 5. C. I am a fiend. I read 10 or more!
C, though I don't feel especially fiendish. It was eleven last month,for what it's worth. Not counting The Cat in the Hat and such like books read to the kids at bedtime; I'd be into the seventies if I included those.
8) Do you prefer to own or borrow? A. There is a particular joy in owning a book. I have a large library. B. Why spend money when you can read it for free? I use the public library. C. Different tools for different job. I do both.
A. As I said above, I want to be able to re-read a book as many times as I like. That means that I need to be able to find it again, reliably. And that means, well....
9) Where do you get (the majority) your book news? A. Newspapers. B. Magazines. C. TV D. Blogs.
Hmmph. I don't get book news, I am book news.
But seriously, I don't get book news from any of these sources. I just go to the book store and look to see what's new. Occasionally I'll hit a favorite author's website.
10) Are books a professional obsession? A. Yes, I work in the field (writer, reviewer, publisher, teacher, etc.). B. No, I do it for fun. C. Kinda, I write the occasional review but have a regular job outside of books.
B. You mean they pay people to do this?
Some time ago someone left a rude comment to one of my posts, asking the question (at rather more length) of how an apparently rational person like me can believe in all this Christian nonsense. I was in a bad mood at the time, and merely pointed out his comment as an example of how not to win friends and influence people. Still, it seems to me that he deserves a real answer, not just an ill-tempered grimace.
The short answer is that by the grace of God I cannot do other than believe.
I don't expect any non-believers in my audience to find this answer terribly helpful, but nonetheless it's true.
Here's the long answer.
The first point is that (from an intellectual point of view) Christianity isn't nonsense, but rather a belief-system capable of being rationally defended. Indeed, it was St. Thomas Aquinas' view (so I am given to understand) that the propositions of the Christian faith are susceptible to rigorous logical proof--with the minor problem that the details are so lengthy and intricate that few men or women will ever have the time (or make the effort) to follow them. I mention to this say that this most certainly isn't the way I came to belief in Christ.
However, even without going to such lengths, I still claim that it is rational to believe in Christ. Indeed, what's the basis for claiming that it's irrational? There's only one, and that's materialistic atheism--the claim, in short, that only the natural exists; any belief in the supernatural is nothing more than superstition.
Abler writers than myself have disposed of this; I can recommend C.S. Lewis, especially Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy (Lewis, I may say, is the clearest thinker I've had the pleasure to read.), as well as G.K. Chesterton, particularly Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.
And the point is this: the claim that the supernatural does not and cannot exist is a statement of faith, not a scientific truth. It is, in fact, the statement that nothing contrary to the Laws of Nature has ever been manifest in the universe, from the beginning of time until now. Can you see the flaw? The Laws of Nature are taken as a given, as an immutable fact, when in fact our knowledge of them changes with each advancement of science. As I say, it's a statement of faith; and interestingly, it's a faith that affirms, a priori, that any counter-examples can be discounted without investigation.
On the other hand, just because I accept that supernatural events might in fact occur, and believe that they have occurred in the past, it doesn't necessarily follow that I've jettisoned my critical faculties altogether, or that I'm a credulous fool who believes six impossible things before breakfast. My worldview takes in things that the scientistic (note--not scientific, but scientistic) worldview does not, but I still don't believe things without reason.
So what's my reason? Why do I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the crucified and resurrected and living messiah?
The answer is simple. I've met him. I no more need proofs that Jesus exists than I need proofs that my wife Jane exists.
I grew up Roman Catholic, and so I was first introduced to Jesus at an early age. But you know how it is when you're little and you meet your parent's friends. No matter how often you see them, you never really know them. And then, by the time I was a senior in High School, God had begun to seem like a really bad idea--a nuisance, an inconvenience, a bad excuse for living with everlasting guilt. I decided that I was, if not an outright atheist, at least an agnostic. I didn't want to know God. I didn't want there to be a God. I wanted there not to be a God.
Baldy put, my disbelief had nothing to do with any intellectual or rational process, but only with a desire to avoid the consequences of God's existence. Which is rather pathetic, when you come to think about it.
Anyway, the change came shortly after Christmas during my senior year of high school. I attended a Christian rock concert--a friend, likewise agnostic, had been invited by yet another friend, who was a Christian; the first friend wanted company and invited me. I wasn't especially interested, but I was bored and it was something to do. And during the evening I was asked, as part of the present company, to make a decision for or against Christ.
Really, you can't be too careful. Lack of faith has to be nurtured lovingly, or the incalculable may happen.
For that's when I heard the Lord speaking to me. I don't mean that I heard actual spoken words; it was very much in the stillness of my head. And it didn't really come in the form of words; it was more of an impression. More, as Chesterton would say, of a Presence. But the message came through clearly:
Will, you know perfectly well I'm here. Are you going to acknowledge me, or are you going to live in denial for the rest of your life?
And the plain truth is that that still small voice was correct. Whatever I might tell myself, and whatever the desires of my heart, I did know. And I felt I was really being given a choice--if I elected to live in denial, God would honor that decision. Or I could acknowledge him, and accept the consequences.
I have no way of knowing what would have happened if I had chosen to reject God that night. I expect that I would have persisted in my denial, and I further expect that at best I'd have turned into a mordant, sarcastic, bitter, sorry excuse for a human being. I'm sure that I'd have come to hate Christianity with a passion; that, after all, would be the human thing to do.
God be thanked, I didn't go that way. Instead, I admitted to myself that God exists, and that he is Lord--that is, that he has a claim on me. That his opinion matters. And that was the first step. That was the beginning of my knowledge of God. It was a small step--there was so much I didn't understand--but an essential one.
Since then, my friendship with God has had its share of ups and downs. I've had bleak depressions, and upon occasion I've had "Jordan moments", times when Jesus was so present to me it was as though he were sitting next to me. And now I know him...I won't say "well", but certainly much better than I did on that long ago night. And no matter how bleak my mood or enormous my doubts, there's one thing I've always been sure of. No matter how unlikely it seems at times, I know that God is there. He told me so himself.
He'll tell you the same, if you ask him.
Now this book is a genuine oddity--it's a Jeeves novel without Bertie Wooster. Nor is Bertie's absence the only anomaly.
In general, Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves live in a world on which the passing years leave no mark. This novel, on the other hand, is firmly set in a time after World War II in which, thanks to punitive taxation and other social legislation, the stately country became a larger than usual albatross about the neck of its owners--and in which, consequently, the landed gentry have all had to seek employment. Sir Roderick Carmoyle, for example, is a floorwalker at Harrige's department store, and our hero, Lord Rowcester (pronounced "Roaster"), has embarked on a career as a Silver Ring bookie, taking bets on horses.
This might seem an odd occupation for one of England's younger earls, but it is easily explained. It seems that, thanks to the winds of change blowing so strongly through England's mighty oaks, Bertie has decided that he must learn to fend for himself, just in case, you understand, and so has taken himself off to a boarding school dedicated to teaching upper-class drones how to darn socks and fry an egg. This has left Jeeves at a loose end, and to fill in the time he has taken service with Lord Rowcester. It was at his suggestion that Lord Rowcester has taken up his new trade, having gone through the classified section of the telephone book from A to R without finding anything for which he was suited and then stumbling upon Silver Ring in the S's.
Because Bertie's absent, we don't get his usual first person narration; instead, the book is told in third-person. And if I'm not mistaken, that makes this the only book in which we see Jeeves from a relatively objective point of view, rather than filtered through another's eyes. Jeeves remains himself, of course; yet he seems a little freer with the literary quotations, and perhaps a little more likely to take liberties than when he's with Bertie.
There's one Jeeves and Wooster short story told from Jeeves' point of view, in which it becomes clear that Jeeves' entire aim is to make sure that Bertie never dispenses with him (or marries anyone who would force Bertie to do so); for he'd have the dickens of a time trying to find anyone so easily managed as Bertie. Jeeves comes off as rather cold-blooded, really. And I think something of the same is going on here. I don't think that Jeeves is really working for Lord Rowcester, however much he's paid and however satisfactory his service is. I think he's just having fun seeing how much he can get away with.
Well, anyway, it's a fun book; if perhaps not one of Wodehouse' best, it's still much better than Much Obliged, Jeeves.
When I got home from work today and tried to download my e-mail, I couldn't get through to the e-mail server. Well, I thought, that's interesting.
I think I've figured out the problem.
The protocol used to access the Internet over DSL is something called "PPPoE", or "PPP over Ethernet", whatever that means. The DSL Modem we got from Earthlink has a "PPPoE" light on it; and it tries to do the PPPoE login and connection all by itself. On the other hand, our Airport Base Station also understands PPPoE, and when I configured things on Friday I ended up telling it to do the PPPoE login.
I think what happened today is that the Airport Base Station dropped the connection (why, I don't know) and the DSL Modem picked it up. And since the Base Station was expecting to talk PPPoE to the Modem, and the Modem was expecting normal Internet traffic from the Base Station, nothing worked. At least, the PPPoE light was lit up on the DSL Modem when I checked, and when I told the Base Station just to use normal Ethernet to connect to the Internet everything started working again.
So I've left it that way for the timing being; we'll see how things go.
When I first learned to program, back in those Halcyon days of yore, the language I learned to program in was BASIC -- the Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. The year, if I recall correctly, was 1977, and my dad had built a microcomputer from a kit. It was a big black box with a couple of switches on the front, a dumb terminal, and a paper tape reader/punch for program storage.
BASIC has changed since then; it's acquired fancy control structures and data types and block structure and long variable names and all kinds of stuff, but back then it was a really simple language. And the joy of it, at first, wasn't that we were writing complicated programs; it was that we were writing down our wishes, and the computer was carrying them out! I still remember the thrill I got from writing programs like this:
100 PRINT "THIS IS AN ENDLESS LOOP!" 200 GOTO 100
100 FOR I = 1 to 100 200 PRINT "WILL IS GREAT!" 300 NEXT I
Both programming and programming languages have gotten more complicated since then; most application programming these days involves writing GUI applications, and that's nothing I'd want to try to teach my seven-year-old. On the other hand, programming requires clear, logical thinking, and that's a skill I want to teach my seven-year-old as early as possible. And while I wouldn't want to teach my kid C or Java or even my beloved Tcl, there's always good, old, classic BASIC.
So I did a little web search and found a program called NBASIC that runs on our kid's computer; it emulates the kind of old-fashioned BASIC that used to come built-in to microcomputers like the Apple ][ and the early IBM PCs. I installed it, and then sat Dave down next to me, and started showing him things. You never forget to ride a bicycle, and evidently you never forget your first programming language, either, because in just a little while we'd written a simple program that picks a random letter and then makes you guess it. If you guess the wrong letter, it tells you whether the letter you picked comes before or after the computer's letter in the alphabet, and lets you guess again. And that's it.
And David was as happy as a pig in slop playing this simple little game for about half-an-hour. Old-fashioned BASIC might not have a lot of glamour, but I think it's got a little more mileage left in it.
A couple of folks have responded to my last DSL post with comments about how archaic their communications hardware is; one of them said,
bah, in my day, i had to pick-up a handset, dial a number and utter screeching sounds into it: "psheeeeewwwweeeeeeeschrreeeeeeee bzoooiiiing bzoooiiiiiinnng schreeeeeeeee".
I never had to use an acoustic coupler modem myself, but my first computer came with a 300 bps modem. Three-Zero-Zero, 300.
The computer was a Kaypro 4+88, which cost me $2495 IIRC. It was a Z80-based 8-bit machine which ran CP/M-80. It had dual 5.25" floppy drives, a monitor with green letters, a VT-100 style keyboard (very nice feel to it, as I recall) and it all came in a package the size of a suitcase that you could carry around with you if you didn't mind your arms lengthening by an inch or so each time. It had 64K of memory, plus a daughterboard with an 8088 chip and 256K of memory that you could run MS-DOS on; that was the "+88" in the name. The only MS-DOS software that came with it, though, was dBase II (anybody else remember dBase II?), and this particular version of dBase II was too buggy to use. On the other hand, the 256K of RAM on the daughterboard could be used as a RAM disk (anybody else remember RAM disks?); I used that all the time--I had my WordStar disk set up to copy WordStar and its overlay files to the RAM disk automatically for me, which made WordStar run ever so much faster. (Anybody else remember WordStar? Or overlay files?)
This was back in 1984, and a 300 bps modem was not too quick even then. I shortly went out and spent $750 on a new external modem, and was in heaven. It was a Hayes 1200bps SmartModem, and it was Four Times Faster than the internal modem! Wow!
IIRC, the last time I actually went out and bought a modem it was a 28.8K Zoom modem that cost me less than $100. That was (I'm guessing) about 8 years ago; let's call it 1996.
And the DSL modem I got from Earthlink? It didn't cost me a penny on its own; it's rolled into the monthly service fee, and if I cancel I get to keep it. I'm not sure how much faster it is, but it's a lot.
That's some progression, that is.
This is Pratchett's latest juvenile and his latest Discworld book; it's also the sequel to The Wee Free Men, which I reviewed last month.
I read it aloud to Jane, and we both loved it.
The Wee Free Men introduced us to a young girl named Tiffany Aching. She lives on a sheep farm in the Chalk country, and is in charge of the dairy. She's also a budding witch, which in the Discworld is a sort of combination of country doctor, clinical psychologist, and defender of the neighborhood from evil forces. She first assumes her role as defender of the neighborhood when she clobbers a nasty monster from Faerie with a cast iron skillet, having first staked out her little brother as bait. (Witches are not generally particularly sentimental, but they get the job done.) Later she has to rescue her little brother from the Queen of Faerie, which she does with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men of the title.
The Nac Mac Feegle are fairies of a sort; at least, they lived in Faerie until the Queen cast them out for being drunk and disorderly. They are about six inches tall, are tattooed a vivid blue color, have red hair with a variety of objects plaited into it, and wear kilts. Some call them "pictsies" (a name I wish I'd thought of, darn it! though I doubt I'd have made a quarter as good a use of it if I had). The only thing that makes them happier than drinking is fighting--which, as they are immensely strong and nearly indestructible, they are exceedingly good at. And they are very fond of Tiffany, who they call their "Big wee hag."
At the conclusion of [btitle "The Wee Free Men"] Tiffany meets Granny Weatherwax, one of our favorite Pratchett characters, who is clearly very impressed--not that it's obvious to Tiffany. As there are no other witches in the vicinity, Granny tells her that she'll need to leave home for a while to train, if she's to develop her skills.
[btitle "A Hat Full Of Sky"] begins a couple of years later, just as Tiffany is leaving home. She's going to spend a year apprenticed to a witch named Miss Level, learning what being a witch is all about. Unfortunately, there's a strange creature called a "hiver" that's determined to make things deadly difficult for her....
There's so much about the book that I like. The Feegles are a delightful creation; I particularly enjoyed watching a drunk Feegle get into a brawl with one of Miss Level's ceramic garden gnomes (the Feegle won). We get to see another side of Granny Weatherwax, which is neat. But my favorite part is probably the Witch Trials. You know, the Witch Trials? They hold them every year. All of the witches get together and have a competition to see who can do the neatest stuff. You know, like sheepdog trials.
Anyway, if you've not encountered the Discworld, you've been missing out. And if you're a fan but have not seen these particular books, check out the Young Adult section; they are well worth it. Order them if you have to.
As of thirty minutes ago, we are up and running on our wireless network using Earthlink DSL as our internet connection. I have to say, getting the DSL modem to work with our Airport wireless base station was tough. Really tough. Really, amazingly, incredibly tough.
I had to plug the DSL modem into the wall. The horror!
I had to connect the DSL modem to the phone line. Gosh!
I had to connect the DSL modem to the Airport base station. Oh the humanity!
I had to disconnect the DSL modem from the wrong port on the Airport base station and reconnect it to the right port. Oh the stupidity!
I had to disconnect the DSL modem from the wrong phone line and reconnect it to the right phone line. Oh the absurdity!
I had to tell the Airport base station to connect to the Internet via PPPoE instead of dial up. Oh the pretty interface!
After that, it all just worked. The two mis-steps cost me about five minutes; hiding all of the cables and putting the furniture back where it was before I started took longer.
And it's a lot faster, too.
Set up was pretty easy. I plugged the modem into the wall, connected it to a phone jack, connected it to my laptop using the included ethernet cable, and turned it on. A few minutes later it agreed to talk to me; I told it who I was; it connected up to Earthlink's net; and here I am!
Unfortunately, I can't leave the modem on my desk--got to get it hooked up to my wireless router. But that's a problem for another day.
Well, truthfully, it's later.
My Earthlink DSL installation kit arrived today, and it looks like getting everything installed should be a snap. But I spent the day coding like a fiend, so I'm like, totally wired, y'know? (Did I just say that?) And anyway my boy James is graduating from pre-school tonight. Not a good time to get started with something like this--if it went well, that'd be great, but if it didn't my stress level would go through the roof, to the detriment of any small children in the vicinity. Perhaps after they are all in bed.
But anyway, all of the equipment is here, though I've got to get some more microfilters. They included three, but I need at least six total, and maybe seven. Does Radio Shack carry these?
Having enjoyed Chesterton's The Everlasting Man and Saint Thomas Aquinas, I opened this autobiography of St. Francis eagerly. And I enjoyed it, and I learned quite a bit about St. Francis, but it definitely left me wanting more.
Compared to Thomas, of course, Francis is a saint of a different color. Apparently there's not all that much biographical information available about St. Thomas; not surprisingly, as he spent most of his time thinking and writing. The difficulty in writing about St. Thomas is that to explain why he was and is important you need to get into serious matters of philosophy and theology--and to do that in a book intended for a popular audience without losing them is no mean feat.
The problem of writing about St. Francis is far different. Here there is a vast wealth of material, a plethora, possibly even a superfluity of story and legend from which to draw. At the same time, Francis is a far more popular saint than Thomas; everyone has at least the notion that Francis got on well with birds and suchlike creatures, even if they know nothing else about him. With Thomas, Chesterton didn't need to worry much about people's preconceptions; here he does.
Consequently, Chesterton's avowed intent in this book is to illuminate the saint's character. He tells us, in dribs and drabs, the bare biographical details; he shares with us a handful of anecdotes which illustrate his points. And he spends quite a lot of time telling us, somewhat abstractly, what St. Francis was like, and perhaps more time telling us what he wasn't like. But he doesn't tell us many stories about things Francis actually did, because he's more concerned that we have the proper grounding to appreciate such stories and not misunderstand them.
Unfortunately, this approach means that the narrative is somewhat detached. For example, the early biographies of Francis tell of a number of miracles God worked through him during his life. In the chapter where Chesterton addresses this, he spends most of his time talking about how strange it is that your average historian will read such a biography, discount the miraculous on the ground that it's nonsense and that the author must be lying, credulous, or a simpleton, and yet presume the remainder of the work to contain worthwhile historical detail. Surely, says Chesterton, if the author is unreliable, he's unreliable?
Well, and so, but I'd have liked to hear more about Francis' miracles.
I gather from some comments that Chesterton lets drop that he wrote this book during a period when Saint Francis was quite a popular figure in England, and books containing the kinds of stories Chesterton mostly left out were perhaps all too easy to come by. Chesterton clearly assumed that his audience had already read such books, or that having finished his they might go on to do so, and therefore it was more important to provide something they did not than to simply duplicate them.
I can't argue with that; but it does mean that the book, though valuable, didn't satisfy me, and that I'm probably going to have to find something else to read about St. Francis.
Chesterton, darn him, would undoubtedly be pleased.
I first tried reading this around the time I got out of college. Then, as now, I was a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and especially of his book Mere Christianity, and I'd been led to believe that this was more of the same. And in fact, it was nothing like I expected; I found it disappointing, and heavy going, and I soon abandoned it.
Now, the fact is, I was doomed from the start. Chesterton is not Lewis, and must be enjoyed on his own terms. If they explored some of the same territory, they explored it in completely different styles. Lewis set out with little but surveying instruments of the highest quality; Chesterton set out on elephant back, with Persian rugs and his entire library in jeweled boxes at his side. If sometimes seems that it takes Chesterton a full page to say what Lewis can say in a sentence or two, still, Lewis does not provide us with such a dizzying panoply of examples, illustrations, and allusions in every breath.
Suffice it to say that I appreciated the book much more this time around.
It's difficult to summarize Chesterton, especially at this length, but I'll try. We moderns have gotten used to thinking of Christianity as one religion among many: Christianity in this column, Judaism and Islam just adjacent, with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism just beyond that. That is, we've gotten the notion that all of these labels stand for things that are much the same underneath, when nothing could be further from the truth. In this book, Chesterton has undertaken to show us how different Christianity is from all of these others, and indeed how radically different it was at its inception from the Greco-Roman paganism it replaced--that is, how different Christ, the everlasting man of the title, is from Zeus and all that lot. Along the way he explodes a great many sacred cows of his day, and it's rather surprising to note how many of them have calves roaming our streets even today.
It's a fascinating book, frankly, and as always with Chesterton makes me look at some familiar things in a new way. I'm clearly going to have to re-read it in a year or so, though, just to see what I missed the first time through.
I used to really like Sheri Tepper's stuff; whenever a new book came out, I was all over it. She has a vivid imagination, and she can tell a story. Ultimately, though, her message started to take over, and that's tiresome. And it happens that a good bit of her message is that Women Are Wiser Than Men, and another bit is that Religion Is Bad, and being a male Christian I found that even more tiresome.
Still, I remember her early books fondly; and I was quite surprised to discover, whilst doing a little site maintenance, that I'd only read and reviewed a single one of her books in all the time since I started reviewing books on-line (December of 1996). So it seemed like a good time to re-read some of them, and see how they have held up.
The books listed here are six of the nine books in Tepper's "True Game" series. The first three books are among her earliest, and introduce her world. It's a planet somewhat like our own; mankind's arrival on the planet was long enough ago to be a dim and dusty legend when it's remembered at all. And the part of the planet where our story begins is the land of the True Game.
It seems that after the arrival of men and women on the planet, some of them began developing strange talents. Some could fly, or lift heavy weights with their mind, or teleport, or read minds, or (horrors) raise the dead. Somehow--it's unclear just how, as Tepper changes her story in the course of the series--the notion of the True Game arose. Those who have a power, or Talent, are Gamesmen; those who don't are Pawns. The Gamesmen are the elite, and they spend much of their time gaming (read, fighting) with their peers. Being near such a battle, or grand game, is dangerous; Gamesmen draw energy from the immediate vicinity as they use their Talents, and an unwary pawn can be frozen to death if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the right place at the right time, for what else are pawns for?
It's easy to die in such a game, so children of Gamesmen are usually sent to a boarding school, where they will learn the rules of the True Game and how to play it well, and this is where we meet Peter, our hero. The first three books follow his history as he is first used in a game by a man he trusted, gains his Talent, and takes his revenge. Along the way he explores a goodly bit of the planet, and discovers some truly odd things, including the Gamesmen of Barish. The Gamesmen of Barish resemble chess pieces; there's one for each of the first eleven legendary Gamesmen and women. And Peter discovers that if he takes one of the pieces in hand, he can awaken that legendary invididual and use their talent.
The first three books are OK, in a science-fantasy sort of vein, if flawed. Tepper's writing improves in her later books, and it's clear that her concept of Peter's world evolves considerably from book to book. The series begins with the notion that the True Game is a kind of super-chess played with real pieces; in fact, the metaphor doesn't work out in practice, at least as Tepper tells the story. None of the "games" we actually see resemble what's described in Peter's schooling in the slightest. And certain segments are simply ludicrous; in the middle book, for example, Peter discovers the "Base", which is where the spaceship from Earth first landed. It's a fascinating and baroque place, where the descendants of researchers from the original crew spend their time breeding and studying genetic monsters. The trouble is, their motivation for doing so is too absurd for words; it's one place where I think Tepper's ideological preoccupations got the better of her.
The next three books in the series, which I didn't re-read this time around, involve some adventures of Peter's mother, the famous shapeshifter Mavin Many-Shaped. They are prequels to Peter's part of the story, and contain some background for the concluding three books, but as I may yet re-read them I won't say anything more about them here.
In the third book, Wizard's Eleven, Peter meets an intelligent and resourceful young woman named Jinian, and after saving her life a couple of times not unreasonably falls in love with her. Jinian takes center-stage in the final trio. Jinian Footseer tells of us Jinian's life from her childhood up to the climax of Wizard's Eleven, and here's where the nuisance factor begins to scale up.
Jinian Footseer is a much better book than the first three. The story is more interesting; Tepper's writing has improved; and the world is more deeply and richly described. What's not to like? Two things--first, it almost doesn't seem like the same world; it doesn't quite fit. Second, Tepper's ideology shows up again. Those times when Peter saved Jinian's life? She arranged for it happen, so that he could save her, so that he'd come to love her. Peter's amazing feat at the end of Wizard's Eleven, that saves the day? Most of the work was actually done by Jinian, behind the scenes.
Yes, it's interesting to see the events from two points of view, and it's true that this didn't bother me much when I first read these books. It's the cumulative effect that matters. And then, in the final two books, the series takes on the aspect of a kind of environmentalist parable, including a truly scurrilous slam on the Roman Catholic Church.
Have you ever noticed, while eating something tasty, a bit of an off-note in the flavor? An off-note that gets not louder but more noticeable with each bite, until finally you just can't ignore it any longer? That's how I feel about these books. Well-written; interesting tales, well-told; and an agenda I simply don't buy.
The moral bottom-line of the series is this: it's evil to punish those who can't learn to do better. And those who can't learn to do better should be killed. I am not, as they say, making this up. Tepper refers many times to a particular Talent, that of the Midwives. The Midwives are able to see the future in a particular way--that is, when they deliver a child, they can tell whether the child will ever develop what Tepper calls a soul and I'd call a moral compass. And if not, they kill the child then and there. The child will never be able to learn better, so punishing it for wrong-doing is evil, and letting it harm others is equally evil; better kill it.
Now, at first glance it appears that there's something to this: the prominent Gaming families eschew the use of midwives, and we certainly run into a number of sociopaths among their number. Arguably, Peter and Jinian's world would have been a better place if these conscienceless men and women had been strangled at birth. And then it becomes clear that Tepper extends her principle not just to sociopaths, but to any human being that is incapable of learning--the severely retarded, for example. Or those in a persistent vegetative state. In one book we encounter two of the genetic monsters bred at the Base: a fat man with no legs, and a pair of Siamese Twins with only one pair of legs between them. As they are described to us, they are clearly sociopaths--but later on, Tepper makes it clear that their shapes are of themselves evil, and that children with such monstrous shapes should have been killed at birth. Yes, she really says that.
It's always dangerous to presume that an author believes the things her characters avow, or that a book's clear message necessarily represents the author's own views; Swift didn't really think that selling Irish babies at the meat-market is a good idea. But I don't see any sign of satire, here, and it's a thread that runs right through the six books. And frankly, it's repulsive.
A few years ago I put an Amazon Honor System box on my main webpage as a tipjar. Almost immediately I got word that a long-time reader of Ex Libris Reviews had made a donation. After that, nothing. The way it works is, donated money accumulates until there's a balance of more than $50; then they deposit the money in your bank account.
And in fact, that has never happened...until today. I'd almost forgotten that I'd set it up, and I'd long since stopped bothering to look at it. And today I received word that Amazon was going to be depositing $50 (less a small fee) to our checking account.
Now the thing is, when someone sends me money through my Amazon paybox there's a "Send Info" button. If you click it, then I receive e-mail saying who you are and how much you donated. If you don't press it, then I won't even know you made the payment until Amazon deposits the money.
So what I'm saying is, I don't know who donated the money, or how many people there were, but I'd like to say thank you: collectively, you've paid for my webhosting for the next five months. I really wasn't expecting it, so it's come as quite a pleasant surprise, and I'm truly grateful.
In addition, I've added the tipjar to this weblog as well, something I've been intending to do for ages, only it seemed rather pointless. It's over there on the right; if you should feel so moved, I'd be glad to be grateful to you, too!
I'm not sure, but I think Mr. Smith is slacking off.
I mean to say, I read the book in part of an afternoon, and it isn't like I didn't do anything else. Plus, for a mystery novel about a private detective agency there wasn't much detection in, or much that was mysterious either. Granted, that's never been a big part of the series anyway, but the lack is more pronounced this time around. I've always said that I like mystery series with strong continuing characters, but there should be more to a mystery novel than the continuing soap opera of the sleuth and her loved ones.
I enjoyed, it I guess; but had this been the first in the series, I doubt I'd have gone on to the second.
No, I've not seen the new Harry Potter movie yet, though I intend to do so in the next week or two.
But this morning a correspondent wrote to recommend Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog, and when I went there what did I find but amazing story on Michael Berube's blog. Mr. Berube's son Jamie has Down's syndrome--and the Harry Potter books have opened a whole new world of narrative for him.
I've always believed in the power of tales well-told, and here's the proof.
It's only fair to say that I was under the influence of a lingering sinus infection when I read this book, and this might have jaundiced my view, but for once Wodehouse has failed to impress me. The book was published in 1971, just a few years before Wodehouse' death, and frankly it feels tired. Here's the plot: Bertie goes to visit his Aunt Dahlia, and sits idly for the rest of the book. While he's sitting, doing not much, a variety of complications appear, take their turn on the stage, and then evaporate. He's briefly engaged to marry Madeline Bassett; and then suddenly he's not. He's briefly engaged to marry Florence Craye; and then he's not. He's briefly in danger of being arrested for stealing an article of silver from one of his aunt's guests (an accusation which, for once, he is innocent of, even if the article is found in his possession), and then suddenly he is not. He's briefly in danger of being seriously embarassed by publication of the Junior Ganymede club book, and then he isn't. In fact, (and this is the crowning glory, if glory is the word I'm looking for, which it isn't) at the conclusion Jeeves agrees to destroy all of the pages in the club book which refer to Bertie--and this for no particular reason.
Even Jove nods, they say, and I fear this time he nodded right off. The plot has lots of elements but no complexity; with the exception of Bertie, Jeeves, and Aunt Dahlia the continuing characters (Madeline, Florence, Spode) are but shadows of themselves.
I dunno. It's possible that my mood affected my reading, but I think it more likely that this one's just a stinker.
I continue my Chesterton streak with this slim biography of St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas was a Dominican priest; and though you may not of heard of him he was also one of the world's most influential philosophers; indeed, his writings still provide the theological foundation for Roman Catholic doctrine.
A little history. You all remember the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. St. Paul, St. Augustine, and many of the other early church fathers were greatly influenced by what's called neo-platonism; they identified Jesus Christ, the Word of God, with the neo-platonic "logos". Because of neo-platonism's emphasis on the ideal, there was a tendency in the Christian followers of Plato to emphasize the goodness of the spirit and the wickedness of the flesh, sometimes to the extent of saying that the flesh and the material world are altogether evil.
Now, this is part of the Manichean heresy, and has never been acceptable Christian doctrine--after all, God created the world and then said that it was good. Jesus Christ, so the early church councils decided (and so we believe today) was fully divine and fully human--and if fully human, then partially material, ergo, the material world cannot be evil.
As Thomas approached adulthood, the work of Aristotle was becoming known in Europe once again, mostly through the work of a muslim named Averroes, and because Averroes had added some decidely problematic ideas of his own, Aristotle was acquiring a bad name among churchmen. It was Thomas, reading Aristotle afresh, who "baptized" his work and in so doing slew the dragon of Manicheanism.
In my Intro to Philosophy class in college we didn't study either Aristotle or St. Thomas; we skipped straight from Plato to Descartes, and then on to David Hume. And looking back on it, I'm very sorry we did so, for I'm acquiring a taste for Aquinas, mostly because everybody since has gotten it all wrong. Let's look at David Hume to see why.
David Hume was an empiricist. Following Locke and Barclay, he believed that we can only know what we perceive with our senses--a seemingly reasonable starting point, but coupled with the notion that Hume wasn't sure he could trust his senses it led, in the end, to solipsism--the idea that we can't be sure that anything exists but ourselves.
In my view, this is utter nonsense. Reality bites, as they say; I've long thought that any philosophy that doesn't take the existence of objective reality as axiomatic is looney-tunes. The difficulty for me, then, is that the only prominent philosophy I'd been familiar with that takes the existence of objective reality is axiomatic is materialism, the notion that natural world alone exists. As a Christian, materialism really isn't my cup of tea either.
And then I picked up Chesterton's book on St. Thomas, and lo and behold--unlike those who follow him, St. Thomas doesn't attempt to prove everything from a miniscule set of first principles. Not for him the foolish game of pretending to know less than we do. Instead, with common sense not shown by philosophers as a class, he accepts God's creation--the universe we live in--as a given.
Imagine--all this time I've been a Thomist, and I didn't even know it.
Anyway, I liked the book a whole lot. And I'm clearly going to have to spend some quality time with St. Thomas.
This sequel to Legacies continues the story of Alucius, nightsheep herder and horse trooper, as the political situation develops and he learns more about his world. He's now married, and (thanks to his exploits in the previous book) is a captain in the Iron Valley Militia. All he really wants to do is complete his term of service and return to his life as a herder. But there are two obstacles to that dream: his skill, and his Talent. He's too good a commander to be allowed to leave the service, and though he's worked hard to keep his Talent a secret, he didn't reckon with the Lord-Protector of Lanachrona.
It seems that in the dim distant past, the entire continent of Corea, of which the Iron Valleys are a very small part, was ruled by a government called the Duarchy. It was a golden age, so the legends go, in which Talent and technology were combined, though it had some nasty flaws that led in the end to a complete societal collapse all across the continent. Few of the Duarchy's artifacts remain in Alucius' day; the most obvious is a road network of imperishable stone. But the Lord-Protector of Lanachrona has a wondrous device, the last remaining Table of the Recorder. A person with sufficient Talent and the proper training can use the Table of the Recorder to see events anywhere in the world, at the present moment or any moment in the recent past. The Table of the Recorder has an interesting blind spot, however--whether unavoidably or by design, highly Talented individuals are invisible to it. Their surroundings, however, are not.
The absence of a person in the table where interesting things are going on is therefore interesting information. The absence of a person in the table where your spies indicate that a person should be is therefore interesting information. As the book progresses, the Lord-Protector has a shrewd notion that Alucius is very talented indeed. And as it has long been the Lord-Protector's dream to annex the Iron Valleys, you know that Alucius isn't going to have a quiet time between now and retirement.
Meanwhile, in a vault deep in the grass-lands of Illegea, a nomad warchief is given access to weapons of the Duarchy that have lain in suspended animation for a thousand years: twenty pteridons and sky lances of the Myrmidons of the Duarchy. With himself and nineteen of his fighters awing on pteridon back, and all of the clans of Illegea united under him, Edyss thinks it's a fine time to take on the decadent city-dwellers.
On the whole, this is a rather more satisfactory read than its predecessor; there's plenty of action, and we actually get some interesting (and surprising) answers about the history of Alucius' world. However, I'm quite curious to see where Modesitt takes this next--the next step isn't at all obvious.
Some while ago, Ian Hamet wrote a lengthy post about one of the great comics of the early days of the silver screen, Buster Keaton. And so when I was at Fry's Electronics the other day, and found a DVD of Keaton's The General on sale for the whopping sum of $4.95 (eat your heart out, Ian) I nabbed it, and tonight we watched it.
In this flick, Keaton is a train engineer with two loves--his girl, and his locomotive. And then the Civil War breaks out, and honor--and his girl's family--demands that he join the army. He can't, of course, because he's more useful to the South as an engineer, but his girl doesn't buy it. Snub, snub.
And then some Union soldiers make the mistake of stealing his locomotive, the "General". Keaton grabs the next locomotive, and they're off!
Let me tell you, this is some seriously funny stuff--it's like a live-action Warner Bros. cartoon. There are train chases, misfiring cannons, a damsel in distress, slapstick aplenty, plus lots of dangerous stunts--and then you realize that Keaton did all his own stunts. So did Daffy Duck, but somehow it's more impressive when Keaton does it.
The film quality was pretty good, considering; the low price shows up mostly in the soundtrack. It's a silent film, of course, so the folks who produced the DVD added a soundtrack of classical music standards played seemingly at random. There's a battle scene near the end with cannons and rifles going off, and big bursts of smoke drifting across the valley, all to the pleasant, peaceful strains of the Blue Danube waltz. For a moment I thought I was watching Dr. Strangelove.
It's not the funniest movie I've ever seen; the pacing is a little too slow for that. But it was definitely $4.95 well-spent.
I like this book, and I'm not entirely sure why. I liked it the first time I read it, and I wasn't sure why that time either. In fact, I liked it better this time than that time. It's a long, slow book, but something about it grabs me. The longer Anthony Trollope novels grab some people that way, and I imagine it's the same kind of effect.
Anyway, this is the story of a farm boy named Alucius. His father went off to fight a border war when he was a baby and never came back; consequently, he's been raised by his grandparents and his mother. I called him a farm boy; in fact, he's what's called a "herder", and he helps his grandfather raise and herd nightsheep, large, tolerably fierce sheep that grow a special kind of wool--properly processed, it becomes a pressure-sensitive fabric called nightsilk. Nightsilk undergarments, if properly cut to your body, will stop a bullet.
Of course, tending nightsheep is a lot of work, and it takes a particular kind of Talent to do it well. The Talent lets you control the nightsheep, and can also help you detect sandwolves and sanders before they attack. All herders have a touch of the Talent, some more than others; if they didn't, they wouldn't be herders. Townsfolk with herder forebears sometimes have it as well.
The early part of Alucius' life is what you'd expect...working with the nightsheep, learning how to card the wool and process the nightsilk, a variety of chores, the occasional trip into town, the occasional daylong party at someone's stead. But then he comes of age, and is drafted into the militia; Alucius' small country is under attack, and he's needed to defend it. Fortunately, thanks to the Talent is that he's a first-class shot.
The book follows his career in the militia as a horse-trooper and scout, his eventual capture, and his subsequent career until his return home. Along the way he learns a lot more about his Talent and about his world, as do we, and a variety of interesting things happen.
And when you get to the end of the book, you say, "Well, that was interesting...I wonder what the point was."
And yet, for some reason I was happy to read it again. Weird.
So Anne, my two-year-old, and James, my four-year-old, are sitting next to me, and I witness this exchange.
Anne: I'm very pretty.
James: Yes, Anne, you're very pretty.
Anne: (looking at James) You're very smart!
On June 3rd and 4th I attended the Plano-West conference in Long Beach, California; I seem to have been almost the only blogger present, as I've not seen any in-person reports anywhere on the 'net. For the benefit, then, of my fellow orthodox Episcopalians here's a report of what went on. If you're one of my regular readers feel free to skip this, as I won't be providing a whole lot of context.
First, before you read this you should probably read this article which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and this post about the Plano-West Statement which appeared on Kendall Harmon's blog. You might also wish to look at the Plano-West web page.
A comment about the L.A. Times article I linked to above--it might give the impression that Bishop Bruno came to Long Beach to give an address, and was barred from entering the convention hall. This is not the case; the matter had been settled weeks earlier. The crux was the Bishop's unwillingness to sign the required Statement of Faith, which runs as follows:
I confess Jesus as the Lord to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given by the Father. I believe all Scripture is God's Holy Word. I believe in and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and that He is the only way into the heavenly kingdom. I uphold the sanctity of life. I believe God set aside marriage to be between one man and one woman, and that all Christians are called to chastity -- husbands and wives by exclusive sexual fidelity to one another and single persons by abstinence from sexual activity. I believe God intends and enables all people to live within these boundaries, with the help -- and in the fellowship -- of the church.
It was clear at the outset that Bishop Bruno would be unable to sign this statement, as he is a supporter of same-sex unions. I was distressed to discover that the sticking point, for him, came earlier--that he rejects Jesus' words, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." I will say this for Bishop Bruno--he is honest and plain-spoken, and I honor him for that.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Next, a bit of history, to put what follows in perspective. Last August, Gene Robinson was elected to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is openly gay, and lives with his partner. This was a wake-up call for many people, not so much because of the event itself, but because of what was revealed in the aftermath. The division in the Episcopal Church isn't merely a disagreement about sexual morality or Biblical interpretation; rather, it's a division that goes directly to the foundations of the faith. When we orthodox attempted to discuss it with our revisionist brothers and sisters, we discovered that we had no ground in common--not even enough to have a rational argument.
In October, a meeting was called at a church in Plano, Texas to discuss the situation. Intended originally to be a meeting of about fifty people, it swelled until there were well over a thousand, and the meeting had to be moved to Dallas. This was another eye-opener; the general reaction can be paraphrased as, "Good grief, there are more of us than I thought!"
In January, a similar conference, Plano-East, was held in Virginia. The major product of Plano-East was the Anglican Communion Network, a network of orthodox dioceses and parishes in the Episcopal Church. Having discovered each other at Plano, the orthodox began getting organized.
PLANO-WEST: A SUMMARY
Fittingly, then, the focus of Plano-West was the Great Commission: Jesus' parting command to his disciples to go forth and make disciples of all nations. Here is Plano-West in a nutshell: It's true that we must stand firm against those who would distort or modify the Gospel of Christ; that's what the Plano-West Statement is about. And at present we must wait on the Lord, as the Eames Commission does its work. But our focus as we wait must always be, not our doctrinal opponents, but the crucified and risen and living Christ. And Christ has already given us our marching orders in the form of the Great Commission. That's our call now as at any other time. The ecclesiastical matters will be sorted out over time; in the meantime, we must get on with the Lord's work.
The joyful and glorious thing about this is that it no longer matters what the revisionists do--we know what we must do. The revisionists have legislated themselves into irrelevance. They will no doubt cause us pain and inconvenience--but that's what happens when you pick up the Cross of Christ. As Biblically orthodox Christians, we've no right to complain about that; we were warned.
OPENING ADDRESS: Rev. Dr. Ron Jackson
The first session began with music; then, Jim Dale, the Plano-West Program Consultant, said a few words and introduced Ron Jackson, the rector of St. Luke's of the Mountains in La Crescenta (my home church). Here's a summary, based on my notes:
He began by saying that the Christian life is filled with paradoxes which we must embrace. He listed several; the main one was that to overcome fear, we must walk in faith. Of course, walking in faith means stepping out into the unknown, which of course engenders fear.
The dominant image of the conference was the ship. Ships are made to sail deep waters and stormy seas, and so are we. What kind of ship is Jesus trying to build in ECUSA? One directed by the Holy Spirit. (During seven years of oppression during which church services were illegal, the size of the Anglican Church in Mozambique doubled.)
We must learn how to sail in rough water; and, more, we must put our faith in Christ and step out of the boat, as Peter did, and join Him in walking on water. As we do so, we must expect problems; they shouldn't surprise us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus at all times. We must remember that there's no security in the boat. We must accept fear; it's the price of growth. We must see failure as an opportunity to grow. The alternative is boredom and spiritual stagnation.
At one point, he compared ECUSA with the Queen Mary, which is anchored in plain sight from the conference center entrance. It's a beautiful ship, but you can't sail anywhere on it anymore; in fact, it's not even really afloat. Although it sits in the water, it's effectively resting in dry dock.
Finally, he gave us a few numbers. In attendance at Plano-West were men and women from 76 Californian churches as well as those from churches in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Hawaii, and Alaska. In addition, we had with us two bishops, Bishop Beckwith of the Diocese of Springfield, and Bishop Wasonga, who is from Kenya.
THE LIFESTYLE OF THOSE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD: Rev. Canon Dr. Michael Green.
Green was the principle speaker at the conference; he gave a series of talks based on the Acts of the Apostles, and a time when the Church growth was shockingly rapid. In this talk, he described the hallmarks of the lifestyle of the Christians of Acts.
He began with the image of ECUSA as the Queen Mary--as an ocean liner, it had a small crew (the professional clergy) and many, many passengers. A much better model for us is a submarine--where there no passengers at all, because every one on board, lay and clergy alike, is a member of the crew.
The lifestyle of the first Christians had these characteristics:
-- Dedication to the Gospel at any cost, including martyrdom.
-- Joy. St. Stephen sang praise even as he was being stoned.
-- Faith -- the conviction that if the Gospel is preached, people will come to the lord.
-- Endurance in the face of persecution. The early Christians didn't church-shop; once settled in a place, they remained until they were forcibly ejected.
-- Holiness. Even those chosen to serve at the common table were required to be of good repute, and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. (Only this kind of holiness forestalls murmuring.) (The best answer to the question of legalism vs. license is the question, "What would Jesus want me to do in this situation?"
-- Spiritual Power. Real spiritual power. The apostles healed people and raised them from the dead as Jesus had.
-- And constant Prayer.
KINGDOM MOMENT: Fr. Russell Martin, President of AAC's San Diego chapter.
Martin spoke of the blessings and the challenges in the San Diego diocese, and encouraged us to remember that ECUSA is God's church, not Frank Griswold's. It's in Christ's hands, and though decaying and leaky, it is being rebuilt.
GREETINGS: Peter Beckwith, Bp. of Springfield and AAC vice president.
Interestingly, Beckwith was a Navy chaplain, and currently holds the rank of Read Admiral in the US Navy Reserve. He had a number of things to say:
-- God is using the AAC and the Anglican Communion Network.
-- God takes the cross, the sign of death, and makes it a sign of life.
-- God can use General Convention 2003 (and General Synod 2004) for his own purposes.
-- We must not think that God is on our side. Rather, we must be assured that we are on His side.
-- We are sails; it's God that fills us. We are not the wind; if we try to be the wind, all we get is hot air (and he alluded to the House of Bishops).
-- The church is always in crisis.
-- We are instruments of salvation. We mustn't wait.
-- We should give thanks for the current difficulties. He quoted a man who said, many years ago, "There's nothing wrong with this church that a little persecution won't help."
-- The worst place a ship can be during a hurricane is in the harbor--when storms approach Norfolk, all the ships go out to see and put their bow into the wind.
-- When all else fails, we should read the Manual, i.e., the Bible. And when we do so, we shouldn't listen to the naysayers.
ANGLICAN ESSENTIALS: Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon.
This is the same talk Harmon gave at the earlier Plano conferences, so I understand, so I won't go into great detail. It was outstanding, though; Harmon is a gifted speaker and teacher. I very much wish I had had the opportunity to meet him, but alas it didn't happen. (If you're reading this, Dr. Harmon, please accept my thanks.)
He began by saying that ECUSA is under judgement; we dropped the ball, seriously. Judgement results in pain, confusion (as Mark Shea says, sin makes you stupid), and ultimately in clarification and cleansing as we shed penultimate things.
So what are the essentials of Anglicanism?
-- Traditionally, we are catholic (small "C") Christians; we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
-- Traditionally, we are charismatic--we must recover a sense of God as Great and Awesome.
-- Traditionally, we are canonical -- we recognize the authority of the Bible. He suggested we think of the Bible as a personal letter from God, stained with His own blood.
And our focus as Anglican Christians must be on:
-- The cross -- Christ as a full, perfect sacrifice for the whole world.
-- Conversion -- bringing people to Christ. As someone famously said, the church is the only organization that exists to serve those who don't belong to it.
KINGDOM MOMENT: Bishop Joseph Wasonga, of Kenya.
I'm afraid I didn't take any notes of what Bishop Wasonga said.
THE MESSAGE OF THOSE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD: Michael Green
The aim of the apostles was full and complete conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nothing less. This was unprecedented in the ancient world; new gods were no big deal back then, but asking someone to renounce their old gods was almost unheard of. The Jewish synagogue did attract a few proselytes, or "God-fearers", but elsewhere it simply didn't happen.
The disciples had a deep assurance of the truth of the Gospel, and knew that it was needed by those around them.
Green describes the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul):
-- Saul's conversion touched his conscience: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
-- It illumined his mind, so that he knew that Jesus is Lord (this was the earliest creed).
-- His will was touched--he surrendered his life to Christ.
-- And his subsequent life showed all of these things.
The apostle's approach was to listen to people, find out who they were and what their needs were, and then to preach the gospel accordingly. They were astonishingly flexible in their presentation of the unchanging Gospel. However, the focus was always on Jesus, as Lord and Christ, and as God and Man. They spoke as needed of the Jesus who can still a troubled conscience and bring peace, who can fill an empty life, who can heal the paralytic, who can free the captives.
They spoke of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
They were seriously, passionately consumed by the Gospel.
They refused to allow any syncretism or relativism to creep into the Gospel.
They joyfully challenged all they met, and their witness centered on Jesus.
WORKSHOP ON THE ANGLICAN CRISIS: Kendall Harmon
Harmon asked, and then answered, the question, "Why is the election of Gene Robinson a serious crisis?" He had six answers, six reasons, which he compared to an iceberg. Only the most obvious, least important answer is visible at the top. He started at the top, and worked down.
First, the consecration of Robinson is about sacraments. It has always been understood that a bishop when consecrated is consecrated for the whole church. That consecration is an example of the sacrament of Holy Orders. And a sacrament always has two parts: a form, and an intent. (Think of a wedding rehearsal. They go through the form in detail, but the couple isn't married because there was no intent.) Part of the intent of a bishop's consecration, traditionally and theologically, is that the new bishop is consecrated as a bishop for the whole of Christ's church. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who participated in the consecration, has said multiple times that he was surprised at all the fuss the consecration raised, as he thought it was a purely local affair. Was the necessary sacramental intent present?
Second, it's about theological anthropology. There's no such thing as a "person"; there are only men and women. We've lost that in our public discourse. This has led us into confusion. He pointed out here that Biblically, same-sex behavior is in fact part of God's judgement on a particular sin, that of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. Our American insistence on acting out our sexuality and on good sex at all costs is idolatrous in the extreme.
Third, it's about marriage. Marriage, in classic Anglican/catholic theology, has four purposes: Communion, the sharing of burdens and joys; Union, the couple become one flesh (and this is most clearly seen in the long-married); Procreation, per the command to be fruitful and multiply; and Prevention of sin--not just sexual sin, but sin in general. Learning to live with your spouse requires it. Your spouse rescues you from yourself.
Same-sex unions are, by contrast, neither unitive nor procreative in the way marriage is.
Harmon noted at this point that the supporters of same-sex unions take one of three positions. Some say that our theological understanding of marriage has to be overhauled; but they don't provide such a new theology. Some say that same-sex unions are a new thing, a new state of Christian life; classical theology has an understanding only of two such states, married and single. Again, no new theology is presented to support this. And then there are those who say, "God is moving us in this direction; let's see what God's grace will do."
Fourth, it's about authority in the Church. Anglicans believe in giving authority to councils. Richard Hooker said that the authority of a council depends on its adherence to scripture, it adherence to the teachings of past councils, and a wide acceptance of the council's decisions after the fact. In fact, the actions of General Convention 2003 are inconsistent with scripture, and with past decisions of General Convention, and have been widely rejected.
Fifth, it's about scripture, about Biblical authority and interpretation. ECUSA has been trying to conform the Bible to its will and desires; but that's precisely backwards.
Sixth, and most important, it's about the Gospel itself. From the time of Christ, the church has preached a Gospel of Salvation and Transformation, in which Christ meets us where we are and brings us to holiness. ECUSA has replaced this with a Gospel of Affirmation, in which Christ meets us where we are and tells us how wonderful we are.
Harmon ended by saying that the Anglican Communion Network is a United Anglican Missionary Protest Movement. It's "United", in that the orthodox Anglican diaspora in North America is gathering together. It's "Missionary" in that it's about evangelism. It's "Protest", in that we must not only teach the truth, we must refute error. And it's a "Movement", in that as we wait on the Lord we must be busy at His work.
The evening began with praise music by the Justin Fox Band, which was too loud and did nothing for me--which is OK. It's not all about me, you know.
A young man from St. James, Newport Beach, spoke of how although he had been raised at St. James he had never been told he could know Christ. He had fallen into a period of five years of drugs and self-hatred, and had only recently escaped from it, thanks to someone from St. James who reached out to him in Christ's name.
FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION: Fr. Chuck Reischman
Then, Fr. Reischman spoke. Fr. Reischman is a young priest who is dedicated to planting churches and to youth ministry; he is currently involved in planting a church in Littleton, Colorado, a few blocks from Columbine High School.
I didn't take detailed notes on Reischman's talk; his point was that just as we must go evangelize the nations, so we must also evangelize our youth. And today's youth are hungry for the meat of the Gospel of Transformation, not the airy nothingness of the Gospel of Affirmation. They want the straight dope. He repeatedly called on those of us who are over thirty to remember the words we say at every baptism--that we will do all in our power to see that the newly baptized grow in the knowledge and love of Christ.
Apropos of nothing, he mentioned a bumper sticker a friend of his got after he became a Christian. It says, "I was dead once. I didn't like it."
The evening ended with a time of prayer. A great many young people had come for the evening, and Fr. Reischman had them break up into prayer teams of two. Then he directed those of us who were sick, those of us who were clergy, and those of us who influence the next generation to go up and get prayed for, the sick for healing, and the rest of us that we'd influence them properly, with God's help. (I went gladly--I've got four kids.)
MISSION FIELDS ARE RIPE FOR HARVEST: Rev. Alison Barfoot[UPDATE: Rev. Barfoot's complete talk is available on-line here.]
The second day began with Morning Prayer and a sermon, on which I took no notes. The first talk was by Rev. Alison Barfoot, who is moving to Uganda to work for Archbishop Henry Orombi.
She began by asking us what our personal vision is for fulfilling the Great Commission. She noted that fulfilling it is our mission, not fighting the Gay Agenda or revisionist theology.
-- We can't be fully orthodox without a commitment to the Great Commission.
-- God's goal is to find out how many people will fit in front of his throne, and the more the merrier. She described this image as the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box; it makes putting the puzzle together much easier.
-- We are God's only plan for fulfilling the Great Commission.
She stated six essentials of an orthodox church:
1. All authority has been given to Jesus; the church must submit to it and act upon it.
2. The church must be a sending church. There are around 8,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel (1/5 of the world's population).
3. The church must disciple its members and raise up leaders.
4. It must baptize; theology (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is at the heart of missions.
5. It must be an obedient church, and lead its members to obedience in Christ. We must be obedient to God in the power of the Holy Spirit, not on our own power. Disobedience most often shows itself in the areas of money, sex, power, and speech. She notes that the message of obedience is only Good News if the gospel is a gospel of transformation. Small wonder that the gospel of affirmation has small use for it (and small evidence of it).
6. It must be an expectant church. It must expect that Jesus is alive and active.
Barfoot told her a wonderful story; apparently, this happened just recently. It seems that in the Middle East somewhere (she said where, but I've forgotten) there's a group of people called the Kashkai, who are muslims. During a Koran-study one week, a group of them came upon a passage which mentioned Jesus frequently and praised him highly. (Jesus is mentioned quite a lot in the Koran, evidently.) They decided that if Jesus was such a good man, they wanted to know more about him, but didn't know what to do. A few nights later, one of them had a dream that if he went to a particular bridge in the vicinity, he would be given information about Jesus.
Well, some missionaries had gone to a nearby city to do some evangelism; they had brought with them a quantity of literature in the local language--and nobody was interested. Disheartened, they drove away...and their jeep stopped running as they were crossing a bridge. They couldn't get it to start again. And as they were puzzling, a man came running up and said, "Where is the information about Jesus?" They handed over the literature, he ran off, and when they tried to start the jeep it started right up.
KINGDOM MOMENT: Rev. Alice Markham
Markham was the associate rector at a church in Chicago. After GC2003, she preached a sermon about "Telling the Truth". The congregation loved it, with a few significant exceptions (including the junior and senior wardens). Emboldened, she kept preaching in like manner. And when the budget crunch hit, even though her contract had a year left to run, the wardens told her she was being let go. The parishioners pledged to raise the money to allow her to stay--and were told by the vestry that it was no go. Markham wasn't sacked for budgetary reasons, she was sacked, over the objections of the majority of the congregation, because she was telling the truth.
She called upon us to be careful who we elect to parish office.
THE APPROACH OF THOSE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD: Michael Green.
Practically speaking, how did the Apostles do it?
1. They worked outward from a hot center. Evangelism requires a hot, dynamic, passionate church.
2. In the early church, every Christian was a minister and evangelist. Most of the growth was due to the informal efforts of common Christians.
3. They worked with the fringe of the synagogue--the "God fearers".
4. Joyful worship.
5. Since large-scale public preaching was difficult in the Roman world, they met in houses. Folks will come to your house when they'd never enter a church. It is important to use neutral ground!
6. Missionary Journies.
7. Personal Evangelism (and this is the most effective kind.)
NETWORK CONVOCATION REPORT: Rev. Bill Thompson, Dean of the Western Convocation
(And a really great guy; I love Fr. Bill.)
First, Rev. Larry Bausch, Rector of Holy Trinity, Ocean Beach, presented the history of the Anglican Communion, and details about the ACN.
Then, Bill Thompson spoke about the inaugural meeting of the Western Convocation, which took place in the days just before Plano-West, and about his plans.
-- His only ministry as Dean is Christ and him crucified.
-- There will be team leaders, one clergy and one lay, in each diocese in the convocation.
-- There will be an annual convocation meeting--with as little legislation as possible.
-- There will be an emphasis on church planting--both planting new churches, and replanting remnant churches.
-- There will be an emphasis on training young, Biblically orthodox clergy.
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ISSUES -- Canon David Anderson, AAC President.
This was an important talk, but it was all about politics, and I didn't take notes.
PANEL, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
A panel of clergy answered questions submitted during the conference. Again, I didn't take notes, but just listened. My favorite question and answer: someone asked Michael Green, "How can I engage in evangelism in my parish if my priest won't support me." He replied (I quote from memory) "Forget the priest; get on with it!" That was the complete answer; he did not elaborate, and I honor him for it.
The second day ended with a festival eucharist at which Michael Green gave the sermon; I probably should have taken notes but instead I just settled in and enjoyed it. It was a glorious, wonderful time, and I especially liked the recessional--it was probably the first time in ages that "Onward Christian Soldiers" has been sung, unapologetically and with intent, at any Anglican gathering of any size in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
This little number is the second Wodehouse novel I ever read. The first was The Code of the Woosters, which I fear I did not appreciate as I should have. I kept asking inconvenient questions of myself, like "Why is Bertie willing to risk being arrested just so that he can keep eating the food prepared by his Aunt Dahlia's cook Anatole? He must be an idiot!" The unwritten rules that govern Bertie and his fellow Drones weren't yet clear to me, and it was some years before I attempted Wodehouse again.
When I did, it was in the guise of that admirable collection, The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, which is still in print, and which I highly recommend as an introduction to Plum and his creations. It consists mostly of short stories, including the inestimable "Uncle Fred Flits By", and one novel, to wit, Quick Service. I read the novel, and then I almost immediately read it aloud to Jane, the first of many Wodehouse novels so read. And then I didn't read it again until just now, in the new "Collector's Wodehouse" edition, when I enjoyed it just as much as before.
It's all familiar territory by now, of course. There's the aspiring socialite who controls the purse strings, and her henpecked husband. There's the pretty young girl. There's the young upper-class twit she thinks she wants to marry. There's the curmudgeonly, misanthropic, dyspeptic, fat, middle-aged businessman who controls the upper-class twit's inheritance.
And then there's Joss Weatherby. Among all of Wodehouse's leading men, Joss Weatherby stands alone. He is creative, resourceful, capable, courageous, forthright, eccentric in speech and manner, ardent in love, and above all, determined, and very, very, funny. The only character I can compare him to is Psmith, except that he's like Psmith with the volume turned up three or for notches--if such a thing is possible. Watching Joss work--well, it's a treat.
You should try it some time.
Uncle Fred, the Earl of Ickenham, the bane of Pongo Twistleton, congenital imposter, is perhaps my favorite Wodehouse character. And being a congenital imposter, it was inevitable, I suppose, that he would eventually come to Blandings Castle. But I really wish that Wodehouse hadn't done it. Uncle Fred may be a natural visitor to Blandings, but that's rather the point--it's Uncle Fred's job to be as thoroughly and completely outrageous in his imposture as possible, and it's difficult to that in a place like Blandings where imposters are a dime a dozen.
Ah, well. It's still a fun read.