- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Crime rules
"For a series with a psychological difficulty at its center, 'Monk' is mercifully, and surprisingly, free of psychologizing, which is for me the absolute bane of modern mystery fiction. A mystery is a romance, after all, and the essential appeal of a romance is located in the story, not the characters (as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis both pointed out on numerous occasions). And because the story is paramount, the one thing a romance cannot bear is psychology, which is what makes so many modern mysteries so tedious: The incessant probing into the psychology of the various characters is fundamentally impertinent.
"It is impertinent because what makes the mystery important to a reader is the various possible motives behind the crime: what might have caused a person to commit a heinous act. And the motives, to be relevant and impart any useful knowledge, must be ones that the reader can correctly imagine most people entertaining, or the crime is irrational and hence can teach us little of importance about human nature as we are likely to experience it.
"That is why most good mysteries are based on simple motives derived fairly directly from one or more of the Seven Deadly Sins."
S. T. Karnick, writing on "Monk's No Fruitcake" on Monday in National Review Online

Iraqi barbeque
"Members of Pomona College's Conservative Union dished up a rebuttal this month to what they called the 'dirty hippies' who were fasting as part of a 56-hour anti-war protest. While the ascetics questioned American foreign policy, the conservatives asked only one thing: War, what is it good with?
"Potato salad, for one. And 'all-American beverages' like Coronas and Heinekens, according to union members. Those were just some of the vittles available, along with hot dogs and 'warburgers' at a Barbeque for a Free Iraq held as a counterprotest and 'parody' of the fast .
"The event was not explicitly pro-war, according to a campus-wide e-mail announcement, but just a chance for 'people who think ousting Saddam is a good idea' to meet.
"Anti-war protesters, in the waning hours of their fast, did show up at the barbeque. They came not to eat, but to draw peace signs on the American flags that were being distributed."
Richard Morgan in "What's Eating Them" in the Nov. 29 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

A Jewish Christmas
"Had Irving Berlin dreamed of the white Christmases he actually used to know, his classic carol would have pined for the frozen Siberian village, plagued by Russian raids and religious persecution, that his family fled in 1893. But it was sleigh bells and glistening treetops that made his 1941 'White Christmas' the top-selling and most frequently recorded song in history.
"In the new book 'White Christmas: The Story of an American Song' (Scribner), author Jody Rosen explores how a Jewish immigrant named Israel Baline came to write the consummate American Christmas song. 'Christmas to him was quintessentially Yankee Doodle,' Rosen says. When asked in 1954 how 'a member of the Jewish faith' could write 'White Christmas,' Berlin replied, 'I know how. I wrote it as an American.'
"In a sense, says Rosen, Jews made Christmastime what it is today. Fitting in was a top priority for many early 20th-century immigrant Jews in the United States, and Christmas served as a symbol of their adopted country's greatness. Whether in Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, or Hollywood, Jews helped manufacture and market an idealized, secular version of holiday cheer. But Rosen believes there's a uniquely Jewish element to the melancholy of 'White Christmas.' 'It's a face-pressed-up-to-the-glass thing, something he couldn't be a part of,' he says."
Vicky Hallett in "Without Irving Berlin, Christmas would be a silent night" in the Dec. 2 issue of the U.S. News & World Report

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