December 2007 Archives

I'm disinclined to trust Mr. Weigel, largely because of his position on Iraq which I interpret to be "a just war is any war that I decide is just." But that evaluation in itself may be unjust. In his new book, Mr. Weigel continues to maintain that the Iraq war is a just war. He provides no evidence for this in the book, but then, that's not the book's purpose. So I start my review by saying that I was skeptical upon taking up the book and constantly challenging propositions as I read it. Nevertheless, I found myself persuaded to at least consider the points being made in greater detail. The book won me over and encouraged me to look again at what I held to be true.

The purpose of the book is to expose some thoughts about the present world situation and who the "enemy" is. The arguments made are clear, succinct, and compelling--reasonable articulations of the state and nature of "this present darkness." In fact, I found his arguments so compelling and so instructive that any interest I may have had in Mr. Paul as a candidate was driven out of my head. Not that Ron Paul is wrong on everything, but his pseudo-Washingtonian isolationism is deeply troubling. I would liken his policy to those of Neville Chamberlain--not exactly because Mr. Chamberlain was into appeasement, Mr. Paul seems to be heavily dedicated to capitulation. But I suppose that is an argument for another time.

In fifteen short articles, Mr. Weigel lays out a clear sense of what the present battle is about, how it must be fought, and how much depends upon winning and winning in the right way. An image that lingers with me from the book is the Churchill Poster with bulldog finger pointing at the viewer and the bald statement, "Deserve to Win." And, regardless of what the detractors and apologists for the left have to say, we do deserve to win--what we value and what we cherish are deeply human and humane values (when we're not busy supporting waterboarding and other atrocities). In fact, one of the points I took away from the book is related to this and encapsulated below.

from Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism
George Weigel

If, for example, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and agnostics ( as well as HIndus, Buddhists, and adherents of other religions) could agree that there are certain moral truths "built into" the world, built into us, and built into the dynamics of human striving--moral truths that we can know, by careful reflection to be true--then we would have the first build blocks of a philosophical foundation on which to construct, together, free and just societies that respect religious conviction. We would have, in other words, a rational, interreligious "grammar" and vocabulary with which to engage each other on questions of what is, in fact, the meaning of freedom, justice, and other aspects of the good.

This is a profound articulation of a primary truth, one that I've been trying to share with a very good friend for a very long time. We understand it as natural law--Mr. Weigel does not so call it here, and I think he does well not to do so, the term seems to confuse those not familiar with its technical meaning in philosophy.

The book is filled with small insights like this. Nothing radical, nothing monumental in each moment, but building to a strong sense of moral integrity. While I might take Mr. Weigel on his views regarding Iraq, by virtue of the thoughtfulness of this book, I find that I may need to spend more time with what he has to say about the matter and really evaluate it and understand it.

One other observation that is most welcome at this time is Mr. Weigel's unstinting support for research into and development of alternative energy resources particularly for transportation. When I first learned about Wahhabism and its centrality to Saudi Islam, and coupled that with the fact that we continually finance our own destruction through the energy dollars we pour into that nation, I concluded that something needed to be done. It's good to have the support of someone who is more thoughtful and less reactive that I tend to be.

In sum, the book is short, the thoughts are large, the writing is clear and well done, and the reader is amply rewarded for the investment of an hour or two with the book. Highly recommended, even if one stands in the camp opposite that of Mr. Weigel. His heavy reliance on Bernard Lewis helped to clinch the value of this work for me. That and his reasonable, moderated, equable tone go a long way toward making the arguments at least palatable enough to consider in greater detail. A nice, short introductory handbook to the nature of our present crisis.

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Sam's Accomplishments

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I'm glad I waited to tell this story because it is ever so much better because of something I learned after the initial "newsbreak."

Yesterday we received two certificates in the mail for Samuel. Back in May, Sam participated in a nationwide evaluation conducted by the Royal Academy of music. The evaulation consisted of playing two different pieces of music, playing pentascales in three keys, playing from hearing alone a brief melody based on a pentascale in one key, clapping out a rhythm that had just been played on piano, and several other points. The certificates were for best in his division for the testing center, and, better yet, best in his division in the entire state. I can't tell you how proud and pleased I am.

His teachers have, all along, told us how talented he is. Naturally teachers, especially in a subject in which parent are willingly shoveling over money, have a vested interest in making you think your child is the next Van Cliburn or Rick Wakeman. Additionally teachers are often genuinely fond of their charges and their perceptions may not be particularly accurate in this regard. To have a complete stranger evaluate him entirely on performance and have this result is deeply gratifying and strangely frightening. Frightening because such talent entails enormous responsibility on our part to nurture and cultivate it, and, of course, I haven't the foggiest notion of how to go about that. So we'll trust God.

That said, we now come to Sam's reaction. Linda was calling all and sundry and weeping copious tears of joy into their ears as she was telling them about this. I'm sure Sam asked her why she was crying and she tried to explain how proud she was. His response, "I don't see what you're so excited about. When they build me a life-size statue--that will be something for my ego!"

Yep--that's Sam.

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Sam News


I have some great news for later, when I have time to write it out. But I was reminded while telling someone about him of an incident in the car the other day.

Sam had done something, what exactly slips my mind. I said to him, "Child, have you no restraint."

His response: "Of course I do, I just don't choose to exercise it."

Linda and I were practically rolling on the floor.

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One More Step Down

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In the course of a presentation yesterday, I discovered I had been demoted. Where once I was a member of that class of entities known as "human resources," my new masters and virtual owners have determined that what once was a resource is now "human capital."

I can't tell you how appalled I was by this terminology. It was bad enough to be a resource, but to so baldly state that I am here to be spent and discarded as capital is flushed through an economic system. . . ah, long live unbridled, unhindered, uninhibited capitalism, which gives us such gems as these. (As opposed to a cog in the worker's machine on the other side. Isn't it wonderful how economic systems manage to make those involved feel so human, so needed, so absolutely imbued with the dignity of a child of God?)

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More Classics


Mentioning Henry James caused me to look at and take up one of the shorter stories, and, alas for you, inflict a portion of it on you as well.

from "Brooksmith"
Henry James

I put down my tea-cup for Brooksmith, lingering an instant to gather it up as if he were plucking a flower. Mrs Offord's drawing-room was indeed Brooksmith's garden, his pruned and tended human parterre and if we all flourished there and grew well in our places it was largely owing to his supervision.

One rarely thinks of James and humor in the same thought/sentence/paragraph/dissertation/universe. But as with Hawthorne, humor is there is rich supply if one only gives it a chance to come through. Perhaps not is all works, but certainly in enough that it makes reading James a delight that somehow I could not relish as I was going through my college years.

Add to that, this piquant observation from the same story,

"The dear man had indeed been capable of one of those sacrifices to which women are deemed peculiarly apt; he had recognized (under the influence, in some degree, it is true, of physical infirmity), that if you wished people to find you at home you must manage not to be out."

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Violent in His Pacifism


from Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner

[Referring to Ellen and Rosa's Father, Sutpen's father-in-law] He had closed his store permanently and was at home all day now. He and Miss Rosa lived in the back of the house, with the front door locked and the front shutters closed and fastened, and where, so the neighbors said, he spent the day behind one of the slightly opened blinds like a picquet on post, armed not with a musket but with the big family bible in which his and his sister's birth and his marriage and Ellen's birth and marriage and the birth of his two grandchildren and of Miss Rosa, and his wife's death (but not the marriage of the aunt; it was Miss Rosa who entered that, along with Ellen's death, on the day when she entered Mr. Coldfield's own and Charles Bon's and eve Sutpen's) had been duly entered in his neat clerk's hand, until a detachment of troops would pass: whereupon he would open the bible and declaim in a harsh voice even above the sound of the tramping feet, the passages of the old violent vindictive mysticism which he had already marked as the actual picquet would have ranged his row of cartridges along the window sill. Then one morning he learned that his store had been broken into and looted, doubtless by a company of strange troops bivouacked on the edge of town and doubtless abetted, if only vocally, by his own fellow citizens. That night he mounted to the attic with his hammer and his handful of nails and nailed the door behind him and threw the hammer out the window. He was not a coward. He was a man of uncompromising moral strength, coming into a new country with a small stock o goods and supporting five people out of it in comfort and security at least. He did it by close trading, to be sure: he could not have done it save by close trading or dishonesty; and as your grandfather said, a man who, in a country such a Mississippi was then, would restrict dishonesty to the selling of straw hates and hame strings and salt meat would have been already locked up by his own family as a kleptomaniac. But he was not a coward, even though his conscience may have objected, as your grandfather said, no so much to the idea of pouring out human blood and life, but at the idea of waste: of wearing out and eating up and shooting away material in any cause whatever.

What spoke to me here is the idea of extremism. Any view held in extremis as it were, results in the same end--the person holding it nails himself away in his own attic, there to starve to death. As with Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner deals in grotesques--people who have become so distorted through the choices they've made and the circumstances of the time that they stand out. The grotesques of Winesburg, Ohio ( a lovely little burg if one every has the chance to wander through--though not to be found on the banks of the Ohio as implied in several of the stories) differ from Faulkner's groteques only in the way the North differs from the South (and I'll leave that to the gentle reader to determine).

What is more interesting in this passage--spoken by Quentin Compson's father to Quentin, is the way that it subtly alters information given earlier in the narrative when we are asked to see Mr. Coldfield in a light not quite so flattering--there was something a little suspicious in Mr. Coldfield's initial dealings with Mr. Sutpen. Something sufficiently suspicious that Mr. Coldfield found himself going out of his way to make it up.

The strength of this narrative is its characters. The prose is often tortured, self-interrupting, convoluted, involved. And as with the prose of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is worth a reader's time to take a moment, sit with it and let it unravel so that the literal meaning becomes clear, because underneath that literal meaning there are any number of levels of implication, recrimination, and rock solid understanding of the things that drive people to do what they do. Faulkner is not an author for the young. A young reader of Faulkner often carries away nothing more than the sense of the grotesque and absurd, none of the humor and deep humanity that marks Faulkner's work.

Once again, put aside that romance, those mysteries, that latest science fiction novel, a take up a Faulkner, a James (particularly at this season--"The Turn of the Screw" or "The Altar of the Dead"--and liven up an already rich literary life with a seasoning of the long-tried classics. It's more difficult work than much of what I read, but it is infinitely more rewarding than the vast majority of it as well.

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Prayer Requests

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Mr. Core, late of blogging fame, requests our prayers and thoughts as he moves through what must be a difficult, frightening, and trying time in his career.

I request prayers for me and for all those with whom I work as we also move through some tumultuous times as we move toward a transformation of our company.

Thank you.

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20th Century Ghosts


Excited by my recent discovery of Joe Hill's novel Heart-Shaped Box, I took up his book of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts. The collection leads off with what is probably the weakest piece, and even this did not disappoint in the slightest. What a superb collection of stories and what a tremendous range the author exhibits!

Stories range from the ghastly (such as the lead-off tale "Best New Horror," to the sublime, "20th Century Ghosts," "Better than Home," "The Widow's Breakfast," and "Pop Art." In between are all shades of eerie and horrifying--from the Bradburyesque "Last Breaths" to the Kafkaesque story of Francis, the boy transmuted into a Locust.

There isn't a bad story in the collection, but I'll detail a few of my favorites. "Pop Art," is the unlikely tale of an unfortunate boy born with a genetic defect that skips generations--he's inflatable. "My Father's Mask," is a wild, creepy, eerie, unforgettable tale in the line of Harvest Home and Bethany's Sin with a big dollop of "The Lottery" mixed in. The imagery and trajectory of the story are utterly unexpected and entirely predictable at the same time and the mix sends the reader completely off-balance at every turn. "20th Century Ghosts" refers to the ghosts of the silver screen and a theater, haunted by one particular ghost, whose gift is the gift of a life related to cinema. Beautiful. "Voluntary Commital" tells the tale of a young boy who is gifted with the ability to build, and build he does--out of cardboard boxes he builds a bridge to otherwhere. This story has a distinctly Lovecraftian flavor, and for those well versed in the lore even makes mention of one of those famous lovecraftian locations. But it is also so well handled that it isn't simply one more Lovecraft pastiche. The authors knows the lore and uses it deftly.

While many of the pieces fall in the realm of supernatural fiction, some are surreal, such as the tale of Francis who wakes up to find himself tranmorgrified into a locust, "Pop Art," and "My Father's Mask." In addition there is straight fiction--"Better than Home," is the story of a boy and his relationship with his father. "The Widow's Breakfast" is about riding the rails in the depression, loss and a subtle kind of redemption offered on both sides of the exchange. And there is a tale of high-school sweethearts meeting on the set of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead--both poignant and sweet.

Joe Hill has talent and remarkable control over his material. While Heart-Shaped Box may be strong material to start with, 20th Century Ghosts allows an entrée into his oeuvre that may be more pleasing and have wider general appeal.

This story collection is highly recommended to those interested in supernatural fiction, baseball (which seems to obsess Mr. Hill as much as it does his father), or just plain good writing. I hope that Mr. Hill follows the great start made in these books with a great many more both "straight" and "genre." I know I am eagerly looking forward to the next.

Next stop: Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon's self-styled "Jews with Swords" tribute to the "Sword and Sorcery" genre. Although I rather suspect it may be lacking in the Sorcery realm.

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How the Greats Are Great

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from Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner

That's all Miss Rosa knew. She could have known no more about it than the town knew because the ones who did know (Sutpen or Judith: not Ellen, who would have been told nothing in the first place and would have forgot, failed to assimilate, it if she had been--Ellen the butterfly, from beneath whom without warning the very sunbouyed air had been withdrawn, leaving her now with the plump hands folded on the coverlet in the darkened room and the eyes above them probably not even suffering but merely filled with baffled incomprehension) would not have told her anymore than they would have told anyone in Jeffeson or anywhere else.

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Heart-Shaped Box--Joe Hill


Who is Joe Hill and does it matter?

Rumor has it (and I consider wikipedia a source that is only a step above rumor) that Joe Hill is Joseph Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King. Joe Hill is the name he has taken in order to thrive on his own as a writer--something that was bound to fall through at one time or another. I admire a person who has the courage to engage in writing in the face of the enormous opus and craft of a parent's or a sibling's writing. In this case, Mr. Hill faces both Stephen and Tabitha King and has a brother, Owen King who is also a writer. With odds like these, it would be a hard thing to make one's own way in the world of fiction/literature. The attempt to do so can only be admired.

Synopsis--Or, at Least, as Much as I'm Going to Tell You Here

What is there to say about Mr. Hill's first novel Heart-Shaped Box? A difficult question indeed. The novel centers around an interesting concept--an aging death-metal rocker hears about a ghost for sale on one of the many E-bay clone sites. Given his collections of materials related to the occult and supernatural, he naturally needs to possess this item. Problem is, the person selling it already knows about the Rock Star's interest and is using that interest for purposes that must remain undisclosed. The story evolves out of the purchase of the dead-man's suit which arrives in the heart-shaped box of the title. Ah, but it isn't the only heart-shaped box in the novel and it is the interplay of these heart-shaped boxes that makes for some of the interesting possibility of the novel.

The theme, ultimately, is redemption through love. The love is not divine love (as many people have pointed out is also true for Harry Potter novels); however, all true, unselfish love, even broken human love for another, is a sign of divine love. (As St. John tells us, if we cannot love what we can see and hold, how do we begin to think that we can love what we cannot see and hold.) It is also a novel about learning how to love in the face of the vast indifference and sometimes active hostility of the world at large.

Supernatural Fiction v. Horror Fiction

I suppose Mr. Hill's novel is marketed as "horror." And to some extent that is a real shame. While there are horrific elements to the story, most of these are centered squarely in the realm of the human heart. Yes, there is a vengeful, vindictive, and almost unstoppable ghost out to destroy for his own purposes. But far more frightening are the human agents behind the havoc that the ghost ends up wreaking.

Ghost stories fall into a curious "between-land" of fiction. While the effect of some of them may be horrific, there are a great many in which the element of horror is secondary to the purpose of the story. Most famous among them is that seasonal gem, the literary jewel in the crown of our current festive season. There is nothing particularly horrific in the apparitions or activities of any of the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. So too with Turn of the Screw in which there may or may not be ghosts. And even so with The Haunting of HIll House. While the ghost story may enter the realm of horror at will, it isn't always, nor even necessarily frequently about horror. More often the ghost story is about connections--human connections. The ghost story is supernatural fiction that can touch on strains of true faith and religion. The themes of the ghost story allow one to examine the communion of saints and what that means as well as other aspects of faith, belief, and the supernatural world.

Supernatural fiction, fiction that focuses more on human themes--love, redemption, etc.--is in a sense a superior brand of horror fiction because it has purpose beyond entertainment or shock. There is an end toward which the entertainment pushes. And Mr. Hill's book succeeds on this level admirably.

While there are a number of distressing elements in the book--coarse language (but from coarse characters living a rough life), abuse, and other unpleasant realities that shape some lives, Mr. Hill uses them to good effect. What was most remarkable about the story is that I cared at all for the main character Jude Coyne, who, as we meet him seems nothing more that a superficial, self-obsessed aging death-metal rocker. In the course of the story we discover much about him and learn to like and even love and care about him and the other characters in the novel.

The core of the story is centered around the redemption of Jude Coyne. In some sense, there are parallels to A Christmas Carol in which the visitation of the ghost brings about a deep change in character. Now, the ghost in this novel is considerably more vindictive and destructive than any encountered in A Christmas Carol, but its purpose in the novel and in the life of the character is similar. In the presence of this ghost, Jude comes to realize what love is and how much he has experienced of it and taken it for granted.

While there is no overt mention of God, nor any strong indication of any religious theme, and while one cannot really interpret in any reasonable way the intentions of an author, there is a moment within the book at which one of the characters says that she is not afraid to die because now she knows that it is not the end, that there is something that comes after.

20th Century Ghosts

While Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill's first novel, and a compulsively readable one at that, it is not his first fiction. Most of what came before was a series of short stories, some of which are collected in the book 20th Century Ghosts. I've read only the first two stories in this collection, but they show the same aplomb, the same control, the same desire to explore important themes that the novel shows. While following in his father's footsteps, Mr. Hill steps out in ways unique to himself, and the promise of these stories and this first novel make me hope that we can expect a great many more from Mr. Hill.


For those who like ghost stories, malevolent ghosts, and plain, good writing, Mr. Hill has provided a superb novel. The language more controlled than some of his Father's middle works (seems that the elder Mr. King is gradually regaining control over his work that was patently missing from works such as The Tommyknockers). Joe Hill is a person of interest in the field of supernatural fiction.

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Karlheinz Stockhausen R.I.P.

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I had posted this some days ago, only to discover that for whatever reason it did not take, so I will repost.

Karlheinz Stockhausen died in his home in Germany on 5 December. While I do not think that he is a great composer, or for that matter much of a composer at all, I do think that his work was enormously influential, giving rise to entire strains of electronic and ambient music. Moreover, he did have an effect on the Classical World, in both directions. He inspired those inclined to experimental music to go forth and experiment and he provoked a strong reaction against the atonalism and structural chaos of the post-modern school of composers.

I know Erik would disagree with me in this evaluation, and I welcome the retort, but maintain the stand. Stockhausen is a divisive figure. However, whatever he may be in the realm of the art himself, he was an essential catalyst and a genius of sorts. His influences has permanently shaped that face of music. Much of what comes after him (in the classical realm) will be in some way influenced by him, either by reaction or inspiration. When the art world loses such a figure, it is always a great loss.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2007 is the previous archive.

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