Patrick O’Brian on Unsuccessful Interior Design

Lord Clonfert had the cabin of his sloop-of-war decorated in the Eastern style; now he has been promoted to a post-ship, and has brought his belongings with him:When he led Stephen to his cabin he showed its furnishings with a somewhat tiresome exultation, though insisting that this arrangement was merely temporary: ‘not quite the thing for a post-captain – passable in a sloop, but a trifle shabby in a frigate.’ The cabin, like most of those in rated ships, was a strikingly beautiful room: in … [Read more...]

Brandon Watson on being a Competent Critic

Brandon Watson is always worth reading; here he gives an extended meditation on what is required of a competent literary critic.Increasingly, however, I have come to think that one of the common characteristics, and perhaps the distinguishing feature, of incompetent criticism is not recognizing that skill is skill, that craft has the structure of craft. All skill or craft has goals in view; the whole point of skill is that it appropriately applies means to achieve goals and does so … [Read more...]

Review: The Mauritius Command, by Patrick O’Brian


The Mauritius Command is the fourth of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, following after H.M.S. Surprise. In form it is similar to its predecessor; Captain Jack Aubrey, newly-married with twin baby girls, is given a long mission to Indian Ocean. In this case he is given command of a large frigate, the Boadicea, and also is named commodore of a small squadron. (In the Royal Navy of Aubrey's day, "commodore" was not a permanent rank, but a temporary rank given to a senior captain to … [Read more...]

Giving Aristotle His Due

Elaborate Bacon

My fellow Patheos blogger Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote an excellent article last week entitled "How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything." I liked it very much, and generally agree with what he says; but I thought a little more could be said about Aristotle's role in the whole thing. PEG says,A little history: The first proto-scientist was the Greek intellectual Aristotle, who wrote many manuals of his observations of the natural world and who also was the first person to … [Read more...]

How Can You Love the Siblings You Haven’t Seen If You Don’t Love the Siblings You Have?

It's been said that home is where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in; and there's a great truth to this. Our families, the parents and siblings and children of our own blood, have a claim on us that we cannot ignore. We didn't choose them; we might not always like them; and yet we somehow have to get along with them.That's a dynamic that's in some amount of trouble in our modern American society. We all know families that are broken; and the younger adults in American are … [Read more...]

Truth, Beauty, and…Software?

Castle in the Air

The three natural roads to God are truth, goodness, and beauty. That's because even though we can perceive and understand them on a natural level, they still speak to us of some aspect of God who is, per St. Thomas Aquinas, Truth itself, Goodness itelf, Beauty itself. We can (sometimes) know that a statement is true or false; we can know (sometimes) that an act is good or evil; we can know (sometimes) that an object is beautiful or ugly. These are human-scale concepts, and yet the true, the … [Read more...]

Jerry Reed Gives Us The Bird

So the other day I discovered that my wife Jane, the country music fan in the family, had nevertheless never heard Jerry Reed's song "The Bird"; and it occurred to me that you might not have either. While sitting in a bar, a fellow meets a guy with a bird that sings like Willie Nelson...and it goes on from there. Here it is, with Reed's trademark guitar fireworks and goofy lyrics. Even if you're not a country fan, you ought to give it a listen. … [Read more...]

Patrick O’Brian on Having Your Cake

Jack Aubrey sometimes misspeaks, and Stephen Maturin is always ready to help. Here, all hands are needed to get the Surprise ready for sea, and so Jack Aubrey has stopped all shore leave:‘May you not find the men grow wilful and discontented? May they not, with a united mind, rush violently from the ship?’‘They will not be pleased. But they know we must catch the monsoon with a well-found ship; and they know they are in the Navy – they have chosen their cake, and must lie on it.’ … [Read more...]

Should Luke Trust His Feelings?

I was watching Star Wars with my kids during our vacation last summer, and repeatedly heard Obi-Wan tell Luke to trust his feelings. I usually dismiss this as New Age claptrap; but this time I pondered it for a while: what does it mean, to trust your feelings? And is there a sense in which Luke truly ought to trust his feelings?It seems to me that the word "feelings" has at least three distinct meanings: emotions (which is what people usually mean, I think), sensory perceptions, and acts … [Read more...]