Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Puzzles

I enjoy mysteries, thrillers, and tales of espionage, and especially those from the Golden Age. Today I came across a post about a favorite type of story from that era, "the locked room mystery," that Wikipedia defines as:
...a subgenre of detective fiction in which a crime—almost always murder—is committed under circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime and/or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. The crime in question typically involves...no indication as to how the intruder could have entered or left, i.e., a locked room. Following other conventions of classic detective fiction, the reader is normally presented with the puzzle and all of the clues, and is encouraged to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed....
No secret passages or supernatural solutions allowed.

The master of such stories was certainly John Dickson Carr but many mystery authors wrote them (e.g. Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None). The post I found today from The Guardian in 2014 was "The top 10 locked-room mysteries," among which was an Ellery Queen I possess:
The King Is Dead by Ellery Queen (1951)

King Bendigo, a wealthy munitions magnate, has been threatened by his brother Judah, who announces that he will shoot King at midnight at his private island residence. King locks himself in a hermetically sealed office accompanied only by his wife, Karla. Judah is under Ellery Queen's constant observation. At midnight, Judah lifts an empty gun and pulls the trigger and at the same moment, in the sealed room, King falls back, wounded with a bullet. No gun is found anywhere in the sealed room and the bullet that wounds King came from Judah's gun – which didn't actually fire. Good, huh?....

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Finally it isn’t a matter of reason..."

Fifty years ago this December A Man for All Seasons appeared in theaters. In 1967 it won six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Robert Bolt's Thomas More may have differed significantly from the actual man but his version of the man, played by Paul Scofield (who won Best Actor), was thoroughly admirable. George Weigel:
.... Bolt...gave us a different More in his drama and later in his screenplay—a More who “grasps” his death, not as an existential stalwart, a courageously autonomous “Self,” but as a Catholic willing to die for the truth, which has grasped him as the love of God in Christ. Thus, when More’s intellectually gifted daughter Margaret, having failed to argue him out of his refusal to countenance Henry VIII’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, plays her final card and cries, “But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?,” More replies, haltingly, “Well…finally…it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”

And not love of self, but love of God and love of the truth. For the God who is truth all the way through is also, St. John the Evangelist teaches us, love itself. And to be transformed by that love is to live in the truth—the truth that sets us free in the deepest and noblest meaning of human liberation. ....

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving

For food that stays our hunger,
For rest that brings us ease,
For homes where memories linger,
We give our thanks for these.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Certainty sells

From an article summarizing a new Canadian study of church attendance:
.... The authors, Drs. David Haskell, Kevin Flatt and Stephanie Burgoyne, used five years' data gathered from 2,255 attendees of Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada parishes across the province of Ontario. ....

Approximately half of the authors' subjects belong to growing parishes within these three mainline denominations, the other half to shrinking ones. Their most striking survey result finds churchgoers at shrinking parishes more doctrinally committed than their ministers. Ministers of shrinking churches are the least likely group to profess faith in the resurrection or in the power of prayer:
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb" 93% of growing church pastors agreed, 83% of growing church attendees agreed, 67% of declining church attendees agreed, and just 56% of declining church pastors agreed.

When asked if "God performs miracles in answer to prayer" 100% of the growing church pastors agreed, 90% of the growing church attendees agreed, 80% of the declining church attendees agreed, and just 44% of the declining church pastors agreed.
Preaching what the authors call conservative theology—"Protestant Christian beliefs based on a more literal interpretation of the Bible and greater openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world"—necessarily drives devotion, they find. The rewards of a defined faith keep congregants coming back.

"Conservative Protestant doctrine is strongly linked to personal happiness," they find, citing prior research. "Just as a clear map helps us get where we're going faster, groups with a clear, unified mission or purpose tend to out-compete groups with 'foggy' or wide ranging mission and purpose." In matters of the soul, certainty sells.

If evangelicalism in the form of a friendly smile and a "Hey neighbor, have you heard the good news?" gets them through the door, it's doctrine—more than just a sense community—that keeps them inside..... [more]

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Designing men"

Some "guidance from the original conservative," offered by Daniel S. Wiser, Jr. in "Edmund Burke In the Era of Trump":
.... The first rule was to beware of the "power of bad Men." Ambitious men will often take advantage of the virtues of others to seek political power and serve their own interests, rather than the common good. And their attempts to revolutionize the state can result in extremism and violence.

"You will be told, that if a measure is good, what have you [to] do with the Character and views of those who bring it forward," Burke wrote. "But designing Men never separate their Plans from their Interests; and if You assist them in their Schemes, You will find the pretended good in the end thrown aside or perverted, and the interested object alone compassed, and that perhaps thro' Your means." He continued, "All I recommend is, that whenever the sacrifice of any subordinate point of Morality, or of honour, or even of common liberal sentiment and feeling is called for, one ought to be tolerably sure, that the object is worth it. Nothing is good, but in proportion, and with Reference." ....

Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 10 that, "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." Political movements and leaders come and go. But conservative principles are woven into the fabric of nature; they will endure throughout the vicissitudes of politics and history. As Burke put it,
The principles that guide us in publick and in private, which as they are not of our devising but moulded into the nature and essence of things, will endure with the Sun and Moon, long very long after Whig and Tory, Stuart and Brunswick, and all such miserable Bubbles and playthings of the Hour are vanished from existence, and from memory. My friends and myself may sink into Errors and even into considerable faults; but I trust that these principles will buoy us up again, so that we shall have something to set against our imperfections, and stand with the world at least not as the worst Men or worst Citizens of our day. .... [more]
Edmund Burke In the Era of Trump | The Weekly Standard

Friday, November 18, 2016

"We here highly resolve..."

Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Avalon Project - Gettysburg Address

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A mind awake

I've been browsing through A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis (1968). The anthologizer was Clyde S. Kilby, an early Lewis scholar and founder of the Wade Center at Wheaton College. I have several collections of CSL quotations. This one was fairly early and is very good. A few selections from the last section of the book, "The Post-Christian World":
We must get rid of our arrogant assumption that it is the masses who can be led by the nose. As far as I can make out, the shoe is on the other foot. The only people who are really the dupes of their favourite newspapers are the intelligentsia. "Private Bates," The Spectator (29 December 1944)

The whole modern estimate of primitive man is based upon that idolatry of artefacts which is a great corporate sin of our own civilisation. We forget that our prehistoric ancestors made all the most useful discoveries, except that of chloroform, which have ever been made. To them we owe language, the family, clothing, the use of fire, the domestication of animals, the wheel, the ship, poetry and agriculture. The Problem of Pain, ch. 5

[Owen Barfield] made short work of what I have called my 'chronological snobbery', the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realisation that our own age is also 'a period', and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those wide-spread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them. Surprised by Joy, ch. 13

One of the most dangerous errors instilled into us by nineteenth-century progressive optimism is the idea that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of our planet is salt water. Rehabilitations, ch. 4

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dark little hearts

I've learned a lot from Alan Jacobs' books, essays, and posts, and always find what he writes interesting. From "lessons learned":
...[W]hen...academic leftists preached that race and gender were the determinative categories of social analysis, members of the future alt-right were slouching in the back rows of their classrooms, baseball caps pulled down over their eyes, making no external motions but in their dark little hearts twitching with fervent agreement.

Back when people thought that Andrew Ross mattered, I participated in many conversations at Wheaton College about postmodernism, and had to hear many colleagues chortle that things were going to be better for Christians now because “we have a level playing field.” No longer did we have to fear being brought before the bar of Rational Evidence, that hanging judge of the Enlightenment who had sent so many believers to the gallows! You have your constructs and we have our constructs, and who’s to say which are better, right? O brave new world that hath such a sociology of knowledge in it!

To which my reply was always: “Now when they reject you and your work they don't have to defend their decision with an argument.” I knew because I was shopping a book around then, and heard from one peer reviewer that it was well-research and well-written but was also characterized by “underlying evangelical theological propositions.” Rejected without further explanation. As Brian rightly says in his post, "An America where we are all entitled to our own facts is a country where the only difference between cruelty and justice is branding."

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. It seems that we’ve all now learned the lessons that the academic left taught, and how’s that working out for us? The alt-right/Trumpistas are Caliban to the academic left’s Prospero: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.” ....

Friday, November 11, 2016

November 11


From James D. Hornfischer's reflections on interviewing veterans of World War II:
.... About 1.8 million World War II veterans remain alive today. That's less than half the number of 2003. When these voices go silent, those of us who write about the war will lose the benefit of living engagement. We will work as our Civil War colleagues do: from documents and recordings and nothing else. What will be gone when these are the sole primary sources is not the facts themselves but the spark that can bring them to life. Diaries and oral history transcripts can let us know a man's thoughts and deeds. But truth is also revealed through tone, emotion and context—and it can be plumbed responsively in real time to discover what was most important.

For those of us who have never served in uniform, it's easy to see World War II as a grand, sweeping drama, featuring actors large and small driven by a sense of overriding mission, all sins and failings vindicated by victory. Yet for the veterans I meet, the war is often about something else entirely. Any talk of it brings them back to a single, pervasive memory sequence: a moment of impossible decision or helplessness when, through their action or inaction, they believe, a comrade paid the eternal price. They can't talk about the war without reliving their powerlessness to influence its predations, without revealing how it changed them. ....

Those veterans who stand away from the crowd or shun the opportunity to speak are of special interest to me. The distance in their eyes shows that they're still in the grip of what they've seen. While talking to them can be like trying to squeeze water from a stone, if you stay with it you can tap something deeply revealing. "The thing that comes out of it is, if you survive, there's a purpose," Bud Comet told me. "You see why you survived. I feel like maybe God had other purposes for me." There was nothing trite in the manner of his expression. This was the considered conclusion of years, the product of the horror of survival at sea. .... [more]
From the preface of Bruce Catton's The Army of the Potomac (1962):
...[O]nce, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much—they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago.

.... A generation grew up in the shadow of a war which, because of its distance, somehow had lost all resemblance to everyday reality. To a generation which knew the war only by hearsay, it seemed that these aged veterans had been privileged to know the greatest experience a man could have. We saw the Civil War, in other words, through the distorting haze of endless Decoration Day reminiscences; to us it was a romantic business because all we ever got a look at was the legend built up through fifty years of peace.

We do learn as we grow older, and eventually I realized that this picture was somewhat out of focus. War, obviously, is the least romantic of all of man's activities, and it contains elements which the veterans do not describe to children.  ....

Yet, in an odd way, the old veterans did leave one correct impression: the notion that as young men they had been caught up by something ever so much larger than themselves and that the war in which they fought did settle something for us—or, incredibly, started something which we ourselves have got to finish. It was not only the biggest experience in their own lives; it was in a way the biggest experience in our life as a nation, and it deserves all of the study it is getting. ....
A Memorial Day Look at the World War II Generation - WSJ.com, Bruce Catton, Mr. Lincoln's Army, 1962.

Chivalry

"The Necessity of Chivalry" by C.S. Lewis was "published on the 17th August 1940 during the heat and roar of the Battle of Britain - five days after 'Eagleday' (13 August 1940) – the Nazi Luftwaffe’s operation to destroy the Royal Air Force. It was also just three days before Churchill’s famous “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” speech (20 August 1940) concerning heroic British fighter pilots (some 500+ young fighter pilots had been killed in action up to that point)."


I found this today at Brandywine Books. The essay appears in Present Concerns.

The Necessity of Chivalry by C.S. Lewis Doodle

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Finished


Bibliotheca: Finished from Bibliotheca on Vimeo.

This was a Kickstarter project that fell well behind the planned schedule, but it is finished, the books are printed, and the sets will ship in December, i.e. next month. There is still the ability to order a set. A complete set, five volumes, including the Old Testament Apocrypha, in a case, costs $109.00 until November 12. After that the cost will rise. There are options to buy just the New Testament, or only the Old, or to omit the Apocrypha. I assume that this printing will be the only one.

The recent Christianity Today article about the project: "Kickstarter’s Million-Dollar Bible Is Finally Finished."

Poirot

  • Evil never goes unpunished. But the punishment is sometimes secret. (Peril at End House)
  • Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory — let the theory go.  (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
  • Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely. (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
  • The past is the father of the present. (Hallowe'en Party)
  • I have made it a rule never to argue with very positive ladies. You comprehend, it is a waste of time. (The Under Dog)
  • Stupidity — it is the sin that is never forgiven and always punished. (Cards on the Table)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Good intentions are not enough

Via Rod Dreher, news of an important victory for religious liberty in Canada. From the National Post:
The Appeal Court of B.C. released a decision in favour of Trinity Western University on Tuesday, describing efforts by B.C.’s law society to deny accreditation to the school’s future lawyers as “unreasonable.”

The legal dispute centres around the university’s community covenant that bans its students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges said the negative impact on Trinity Western’s religious freedoms would be severe and far outweigh the minimal effect accreditation would have on gay and lesbian rights.
From the decision:
A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal.

This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do"

"I do not deal in Absolute Evil... I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil." The line between good and evil "is not just external, between the white chess pieces and the black, but within every single piece on the board." 
(J.R.R. Tolkien as quoted in the Afterward of Proverbs of Middle-earth)

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago)