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Archive for June, 2012

From Not Exactly Innocent:

When he was done giving Jarvis more authority and duties than originally planned, MacAvoy turned his attention back to Cookson. “All right. The Marines are deployed and you cannot use them as an excuse. And before it begins to worry you, we’re fully aware that the United States military isn’t supposed to do domestic law enforcement work. They aren’t doing law enforcement work. They’re training people on my team, not to mention an unwieldy number of folks who were shipped in for the seminar. As soon as they’ve got us civilians up to speed, they’re out of here. The Constitution wobbles from time to time, but I think it’s still standing, more or less, at least on my watch. Do you know why I moved to America?”

She was surprised at the sudden change of direction. She shook her head.

“Lots of reasons,” he said, “not the least being that Scotland didn’t have much lined up in the way of opportunity at the time. But one of the main reasons, silly as it sounds, is a letter I got when I was twelve years old, from my grandfather who moved to West Virginia when he was fifty and never came back.”

“What took him to West Virginia?”

“Doesn’t strike you as a hotbed of economic activity, does it? Or a cultural magnet, either? In his case it was following a widow he’d met in Glasgow after he became a widower. He loved West Virginia once he got there, by the way. Nice place. You ever been there?”

She shook her head.

“Nice folks,” MacAvoy said. “Overall, anyway. But, to what I was saying, this letter got under my skin. Or one part of it did. He said America was a place where people learned from history, but didn’t live by it. It’s true, you know, as far as it goes. The American ideal is to grab the best from every culture on the planet, while dumping the unwanted baggage your ancestors try to foist on you.”

“I don’t usually hear it said that way,” Cookson said, sporting a small grin despite herself.

“Most Americans haven’t a clue what’s great about this place,” he said. “They take it for granted, or refuse to admit that there’s an authentic American culture, that makes it different from the rest of the world. This is not to mention that power hungry slobs try mightily to make them forget the ‘no ancestral grudges’ part of the dream – even though the ‘everybody starting fresh’ part is the fun bit about American life. Also one of the best bits.” Having planted his seed, he let the silence build.

Cookson avoided his eye, and fiddled with a loose thread on the car seat. “It’s what he said about the fingers and the villages,” she said, all vestiges of a smile gone. “Rochester, I mean. And about the families, and the family dog.”

MacAvoy kept his mouth shut and waited.

“I mean, in the rest of the world, it’s not uncommon for people to punish families as a way of keeping people in line,” Cookson said. “Governments, I mean. Not people. Over here, crooks do that, but not the government.”

MacAvoy made encouraging noises.

Cookson went on, “It’s easy to pretend that the rest of the world is civilized, only in its own way.”

“Some of it is, Cecelia.”

“But not all of it. What I’m trying to say is that Rochester pushed home the idea that civilization doesn’t just happen. I guess that sounds stupid coming from a cop?”

MacAvoy shrugged. “Crime happens everywhere. Civilization’s a different concept altogether. Civilization is where people fight for what’s right, and wholesome, and healthy, and moral, and even for what’s beautiful. It doesn’t give anybody any immunities – just a little room to grow in, if they’re lucky. But speaking of governments, my adopted one is going to have my hide if I don’t get cracking.” He grinned, but his eyes were serious. “If you’re okay now?” he added.

She nodded but stared at her hand, which finally was resting on the door handle. “I’m not sure I did the right thing, giving you his name.”

“In this country, individuals rise or fall by their own choices. You’re not responsible for your relatives. Any of them. And, besides, maybe your uncle said something suspicious, but is innocent. We won’t know unless we check. Maybe you’ve been miserably wondering what to do about him for nothing. You’ve been a cop a while. You know that people sometimes are worried over misunderstandings instead of fact. More often than not, actually. Yes? Let’s hope that’s what this is.”

Cookson nodded and got out. MacAvoy bee-lined for his office. En route it occurred to him that no one had briefed him recently about what to do about any stray (not to mention probably treasonous) Russian who unexpectedly got talkative. He wondered if this was going to be something else that was going to be different in this administration, versus the one before it. He sighed. Every year the rulebooks got larger and more contradictory; the laws more like minefields than guidelines. Every federal election, he got new nudges from higher-ups. Enforce this more earnestly, they’d say. Let that slide for now, they’d say. It could drive a man half nuts, especially if he had to drop a case midstream.

On the other hand, overreaching and conflicting regulations were a day-to-day mess, something he fought when he could and ignored when he had to. What else could a man do, when there was no longer any way to abide by some rules without breaking others?

He’d been reading Scottish news on the internet. It didn’t sound much better back there. MacAvoy shook his head. He loved both countries, homeland and adopted. He’d risk his neck fighting for either. But there was no doubt that the cultures in general, and the governments in particular, were suffering some corrosions, and he wished America and Scotland would make better efforts at cleaning up their acts. Being a Scots-American was like living with teenagers, he thought – or at least what he imagined it would be like living with two over-energized, hormone-addled teenagers. The love was there, but it was sorely tested from time to time, no question. (His brother Robert, back in Scotland, liked to say that both countries were perilously close to replacing Lex Rex with Choose Your Gang – that is, law could no longer be king in a country where crime versus non-crime was based on who had power. He had his suspicions that Robert was at least somewhat right.)

He hoped their little chat had made Cecelia Cookson feel better. For his part, he was feeling sorely outclassed by a gutsy fellow from Russia.

What he thought of Russia itself at the moment – clamping down ruthlessly on those people who’d happily mind their own business if left alone, but letting loose somebody like Vadim Koriokin – was unprintable.

On the other hand, Russia being unspeakable was hardly new, and so far there was nothing about this mess to warrant fresh distaste or distrust.

Yet he felt grumpy and discontented.

He decided that the main reason he was grumpy was because he was scared that the world was up against a madman with impressive weaponry skills and resources, backed up by a death wish. You had to assume Koriokin had a death wish. Men who grew up working for Moscow didn’t taunt the Russian government while entertaining hopes of living very long. It didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen.

It also scared him that Cookson had been scared. That she’d chosen right then to finally report her uncle made MacAvoy think that she’d been really scared, as the Russian’s story had sunk in. What was the fancy name for it? Transference? Something like that, in any case. Cookson was very nearly unflappable. Usually. But she was also smarter than the average person. She could connect the dots.

Despite what he’d said about being sure of winning the war (which he was), MacAvoy was no fool about the losses that could be sustained from even just one big, ugly weapon, if it got unleashed on people not safely hidden in super-duper underground bunkers. With some of the weapons available, of course, even the bunkers didn’t provide any guarantees. His stomach lurched.

Rebecca came unbidden into his mind. He tried to shove thoughts of her away – there was work to be done! – but she kept coming back, beautiful and precious, operating courtesy of a heart that could be stopped. Life was so fragile.

He wondered how men with families survived the worries that went along with being the head of a family. He’d had no idea that love could reach so deep.

In his office, he used a special phone he hadn’t used in a long time. It was answered midway through the first ring. “I need an expert on Russia, who can tell me whether I’ve got a big problem or a little one,” he heard himself saying. (Which wasn’t quite what he thought he’d planned to say.) From there on out, he chose his words more carefully. He didn’t want a dead informant, much less a flattened Russian village, on his conscience.

After the call, he forced himself to review other cases. Just because one case suddenly got bigger didn’t mean the others didn’t matter anymore. For instance, a couple of kids had just been kidnapped from Spokane, Washington, a brother and sister. Kidnappings got top billing. It was the least you could do. Even if you were afraid the world was about to blow up, you had to look out for the kids who would be around to inherit the place if – by some happy miracle – you were wrong.

Not Exactly Innocent is the second book in the MI5 1/2 series. It’s available in trade paperback, large print, and for Kindle and Nook. It’s also found in The MI5 1/2 Omnibus, which is available for Kindle and Nook. The first book in the series is Not Exactly Dead. The third book is Not Exactly Allies.

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Eric Metaxas has a few book recommendations for summer reading. It’s an interesting mix of old and new, fiction and nonfiction. At the end of the article are links to other summer reading lists.

(Shameless self-promotion warning.) Of course, I wouldn’t mind if you slipped one of my books into the mix this summer.  The MI5 1/2 books are lightweight and humorous – except where they’re not. The Smolder, likewise.  Why We Raise Belgian Horses was written as a winter read (much of the action takes place around Christmas), but it’s been my most popular book…

But that’s enough self-promotion for now. We will now return to our regular programming…

I think the Metaxas list is worth a look. So here’s the link again.

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This address by Hunter Baker is one of the best I’ve seen for explaining why the HHS mandate, and other recent policies put forth by the federal government in the United States, are rightly seen as an assault on freedom in general, and religious liberty in particular.

It also packs a surprising amount of historical information into a short space.

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Did Thomas Jefferson disdain Christianity, as some people claim? It sure doesn’t look like it.

I like being able to access documents online, don’t you?

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Food for thought:

…John Senior remarks that students need to read the thousand good books before they read the hundred great books. Otherwise in college such students may turn into well-read nihilists, excited by intellectual inquiry (without end or purpose), and contemptuous of moral good, very much aware of their own cleverness and insensitive to the presence of moral virtue in others and its absence in themselves.

Read the whole thing.

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to ebooks in a big way.

 

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From Not Exactly Allies, two old friends in the spy business have some rare time off, and get philosophical. Durand is French and Catholic. Richard is British and something of a skeptic.:

“He had me fooled, I tell you.”

“He wasn’t quite as advertised. I’ll give him that,” Richard conceded.

“But who is?” Durand sounded philosophical and resigned.

Richard laughed. “We’d be out of business if everyone was exactly who they appeared to be.”

“I could live with that.”

Richard almost agreed, but stopped. And considered. “No, you couldn’t. At least I couldn’t.” he said.

“Would you not agree it would be better?”

“Better, possibly. But boring.”

“I have come to appreciate boredom in my old age,” Durand said.

“Stop it with the old age business. I’ve got that birthday breathing down my neck. Fifty. Half a century. It shouldn’t matter, but it’s making me crazy thinking that there must be some sort of symbolism in it, some sort of reckoning. It’s funny, but I’m not the least worried about being 51. Just 50 itself. Stupid, that.”

“You always were superstitious.”

“I’m not as bad as I used to be. Emma seems to have cured me of that.”

Durand pretended not to see Richard nervously crossing his fingers then hiding the offending hand after saying such a fate-tempting thing.

“Wives cure many ills,” Durand said. “At least your Emma does not set out to cure you of non-existent diseases. Many wives seek perfection in their mates. It is foolish, that.”

“Thank you. You’ve reminded me that I was trying to say something but that you got me sidetracked.”

“I’m sure it was all my fault,” Durand said, with false haughtiness.

“Mostly your fault, I’m sure. Now shut up a minute. You’re getting me sidetracked again. It’s something to do with that perfection business. Give me a minute.”

Durand began to hum a tune, as if to fill time for a minute. A sharp glance from Richard cut him off. Durand sat quietly for about twenty seconds, and then broke back in. “If you are going to say that just about the only thing wrong with communism is that it is impossible because it requires men to give up being whole men, while at the same time demands of them that they be better than they would be if they were whole, I welcome you to the world of civilized and truly educated mankind.”

“Something like that, I guess,” Richard said. “I’ve been thinking about it, trying to figure out why otherwise intelligent people get sucked into it.”

“Ach! That is easy. There are not enough properly trained Christians.”

“Well, obviously, being religious does tend to inoculate one against an anti-religious movement.”

“No, my friend. No. You do not understand me at all. You should read more unrevised history or something. Most historians are dupes, of course, but there are a few good ones from whom a person can learn what happens in societies that morally maim their citizens as a matter of policy. Then you would know, for instance, that communism counts on worship of the state and of its theories du jour. I will lend you some good books. I would lend you my copies of The Gulag Archipelago, but they are in French. I know you read French, but you cannot possibly know it well enough to tackle such a work, with such nuances in it.”

“Emma has copies, in English. All three volumes.”

“Of course she does. She is not afraid of facing what we are up against. I know she also has several books by G.K. Chesterton. You should read those, all of them. His ability to predict the problems of our day is uncanny, and he is humorous, too, which you should appreciate. But you have derailed me again.”

“You said there weren’t enough properly trained Christians.”

“You should go to a proper church, one that has not married the age instead of the truth. Then you would understand what I am talking about.”

“Does this really answer what I was asking, about why otherwise intelligent people get sucked into communism? Or socialism, for that matter? They tend to slide into each other, somehow.”

“Of course they do. Once people fall into grasping for power or dreaming of a spotless group identity or a perfectly functioning society, and one -ism fails them, they quite naturally grab at another -ism, hoping a different tool will do the trick.”

“But why do people fall for any of it?”

“Is it so difficult to see? The attractive element to communism is that it would truly be heaven on earth if it were true. But it is, of course, not true. It is built on lies tangled up with theories based on a false view of human nature. People who are not trained to understand that there is true and untrue are fools waiting to be plucked by the people who preach newness and happiness, and who tout their pretty philosophies as strong or inevitable or courageous, although they are nothing of the sort. ‘Join us and be somebody,’ they cheer. ‘Sacrifice for us and be a hero!’ And, except for mature Christians, people want to feel important, and to look important in the eyes of other men, and so they are doomed. It is as simple as that.”

“Exactly what I was going to say,” Richard said.

“Bah,” Durand said.

They both understood that doomed was not exactly the right word. It suggested that people couldn’t discover their mistake and correct it, given enough time and observation of the universe in general, and the human animal in particular, not to mention the grace of God. The world was awash with people who had been led astray in one way or another, but did not stay astray. Stolemaker, for example. But ‘Bah!’ seemed a good way to end the conversation, at least for the moment. It was a nice day, and it was pleasant just to play cards, now that they had agreed upon the variation of rummy they would play. It was not a pure game, if you were the sort of person who insisted upon using a book of standardized rules, picking just one game, and sticking with it. Instead, they had chosen the elements of play that they liked best from several different types of rum, and mixed them with aspects of an obscure and ancient form of poker. It was pleasant, inventing your own card game and having someone who would play it with you.

After a few minutes of companionable silence, Durand sat up straighter. “By the way, I am sure that I have a better nose, at least, than Voltaire, if the insufferable Voltaire is your man of the ogre-imp statue. With a better nose he is not so bad looking.”

“I rather like the man’s nose. Distinctive, you know,” Richard said.

“Bah.”

Having let loose that succinct bit of commentary, Durand grinned and leaned back into his best reclining philosopher’s position.

“Uh, oh,” Richard said.

Durand smiled. “It seems to me that we were rudely interrupted before I could explain to you the importance of thinking in alloys. Somehow we have never found our way back to the subject.”

“I forget the context,” Richard said.

“We were sitting in Orchard’s flat, and it went boom.”

“That part I remember. What I forgot was what we were talking about.”

“Marriage.”

“Oh, that’s right. The beneficial aspects of marriage. The basis for good marriages. Love. Hope. Art. Natural law. The importance of thinking in alloys,” Richard said.

Durand broke into gales of laughter. “You must be more careful, my friend. Men who admit to good memories acquire reputations that cause them much trouble.”

“Have you ever seen me admit to a superior memory in front of anyone besides your humble and good-natured self?”

“I am not laughing at you. I am just laughing. I hope you know that.”

“Alloys?”

“It is very simple. Gold by itself is too soft for most of the purposes to which gold is put. So something must be added. An alloy, no? For another example, for brass you must have both copper and zinc, no? Neither of which can behave like brass, you understand. For bronze, you start with copper but you must add tin. Nothing against either copper or tin, mind you – but by themselves they can only be copper or tin, and nothing else. Steel? You cannot make steel with just iron. You must add carbon to it. Furthermore, you must add just the right amount of carbon, in just the right way. Do you remember what some people say about the Titanic?”

“Excuse me?”

“Some people say that what doomed the Titanic was not so much the iceberg, but that they were using a new type of steel, one that was supposed to be new and improved, but was not tried and true, and turned out to be brittle. When the ship hit the iceberg, the metal shattered instead of bending under the force of the blow. I do not know whether that story is true, but for my purposes let us say that it is true because it illustrates the point I wish to make so beautifully.”

“In other words, to have a good marriage, you must introduce just the right elements, and join them in just the right way, or you fall short of what marriage should be and/or the resulting combination is not strong enough to hold up.”

“A very good assessment. Almost too good. I think perhaps that you knew what I was going to say before I said it.”

“I mentioned what you said earlier to Emma, and she asked Perrine, and Perrine explained it to Emma, who kindly explained it to me.”

“Hah! So your curiosity got the better of you after all!”

“It’s your turn, I think.”

“Excuse me?”

“Cards. The game we’re playing? It’s your turn, I think. I know it’s no fun to lose, but-”

“I haven’t lost yet.”

“Care to bet on the outcome?”

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