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For your Spectation…

Today I have a piece in The American Spectator Online that expands on my earlier post here, concerning Col. Hans Christian Heg, whose statue in Madison, Wisconsin was destroyed by rioters recently.

One of my ancestors knew Abraham Lincoln. All right, that’s not strictly true. He was a collateral ancestor of mine, half-brother to my great-great grandfather. An early Norwegian settler in Illinois, he was active in the Republican Party. His obituary called him a “friend of Abraham Lincoln.” I take that to mean he was acquainted with Lincoln through party business.

But this story isn’t about him. There was nothing remarkable in an Illinois Norwegian being a Republican. You’d have had to search pretty hard to find one who wasn’t in those days. Antislavery feeling ran high among them, and they were eager volunteers for the Union Army when the war broke out.

Read it all here.

Losing Liberty

When the taste for physical pleasures in such a nation grows more speedily than education or the habit of liberty, a time occurs when men are carried away and lose self-control at the sight of the new possessions they are ready to grasp.

Casey Chalk quotes Tocqueville above in an article on digital minimalism and how we can reclaim our attention and improve our country.

Americans engage in self-congratulatory, pseudo-civic activism on social media simply by clicking the “like” and “share” buttons or changing their profile picture—activities that amount to little. “Men travel faster now,” observes a character in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, “but I do not know if they go to better things.”

Fall of giants

Col. Hans C. Heg

Today’s big news in the Norwegian-American community is sadly something we might have seen coming. The Bolshevik mob in Madison, Wisconsin, in its zeal to judge people by the color of their skin, not the content of their character, has torn down, decapitated, and drowned (in Lake Monona) the memorial statue of Civil War officer and abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg.

Col. Heg was born in Lier, Buskerud, Norway in 1829. He came to America with his parents in 1840, spent time in the California gold fields, and then returned to Wisconsin.

A fervent opponent of slavery (like most Norwegian immigrants), he joined the Free Soil Party, and  the Republicans after that, becoming the Wisconsin state prison commissioner. He was the first Norwegian-American to be elected to state-wide office in that state. As an abolitionist, he joined the Wide-Awakes, an anti-slave-catcher militia. He sheltered fellow Wisconsin abolitionist Sherman Booth, who had incited a jail break to free an arrested escaped slave.

My friend Mari Anne Næsheim Hall, co-author of the book, Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen (Rogalanders in the American Civil War, ©2012), writes of Heg (who was not a Rogalander) (my translation):

Later in the fall several prominent Norwegian immigrants gathered in Madison, resolving then and there to organize a Scandinavian regiment to contribute to the civil war. They recommended to the governor that Hans Heg should be appointed colonel and regimental commander…. Hans Heg was a well-known figure in the immigrant community with many friends, and of course he made use of his influence. “The country which we immigrants have made our homeland has received us with friendship and hospitality. We have the same rights as those who were born here. Let us show ourselves deserving of this, and demonstrate that we are descended from the Norse heroes.” This was part of what he said in his speeches. Hans Heg came originally from Lier in Drammen, and a monument has been raised there in his honor. We find this same impressive monument outside the capitol in Madison. The monument in Lier is actually a copy of the original in Wisconsin.

Further on:

The regiment participated in no less that 27 major battles. Losses were great, and the 15th Wisconsin was one of the units in the northern army to lose the most soldiers. But it was not in battle that the regiment suffered most. Many more actually died of disease than from southern bullets. Officially the regiment lost 33% of its full strength, but a notation attached to the regimental banner in the historical museum in Madison says that the total loss was all of 38%. It states that fully 345 soldiers of the regiment died, either in battle, of illness, or due to accidents. Col. Hans Heg was one of the many who never returned to his Gunhild, his beloved wife. He was killed in the great battle of Chickamauga, together with many other soldiers of the regiment. No fewer than 49 soldiers of the 15th Wisconsin died in the famed Andersonville death camp in Georgia….”

‘Death in the city’

Perhaps you’ve been wondering what I’ve been thinking about the recent tragic events that began in Minneapolis.

I’ve been reluctant to talk about it. Frankly, I’ve just been hunkered down, “sheltering in place,” as the saying goes. I’ve reduced my talk radio listening, because it’s just too sad and depressing. I’ve buried myself in light reading, which is why I’ve been doing so many book reviews lately.

I’ve actually seen none of the rioting. Property destruction was centered in the southern inner city, far from my home. Some damage has been reported in a suburb north of me, but the boarded-up store windows I’ve seen personally have been precautionary.

But the area of main damage in Minneapolis, around the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Lake Street, was my old stomping grounds. I lived in that area for much of my twenties. Not only am I familiar with some of the destroyed businesses, I even remember what businesses were there before them. Spent a lot of time waiting for buses around there, back before I owned a car.

The most famous casualty for readers is of course Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore. Uncle Edgar’s was its twin, serving the mystery market. Uncle Hugo’s was not only a cultural landmark but one of the seedbeds of the whole Fandom movement.

I wasn’t a regular customer at Uncle Hugo’s, but I’d been there a number of times. I participated in a book signing there once (that was where I met Lois McMaster Bujold).

And it was there I had gone way back in 1984, flush with the excitement of my first commercial short story sale, to Amazing Stories. I asked the owner to order me extra copies so I’d have a stock to give away (I wasn’t aware I could order them from the publisher – that’s how green I was). When I went to pick them up, he asked me to sign a couple copies he’d ordered for himself – “So I can show them to people when you’re rich and famous.”

If those copies still existed, they’re ashes now.

Another loss – not burned but trashed – was a local Scandinavian meat market and gift shop. I bought stuff from them every year. I think I won’t provide their name here, since I assume they’re ELCA Lutherans and wouldn’t care to be associated with me. But they’d been on Lake Street since the 1920s, back when the place was thick with Scandinavian immigrants. Over the decades, through multiple population changes, they’d stayed committed to the neighborhood.

No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.

When the George Floyd tape was first released, I was horrified. But I also thought – just for a moment – that this might bring us all together, in common outrage.

Instead it gave a golden opportunity to the neo-Maoists.

Pray for us. Especially for the poor who, as always, pay the highest price for the ideological games of intellectuals.

For your Spectation

I have a new piece up at The American Spectator Online today. I was worried it was a little too personal for the venue, but the editor told me it was “the best piece I’ve read in a long time.” Which is always nice to hear.

Anyway, it’s about the Lockdown and living in fear. Because fear is a subject I know all about.

I hope I’m open-minded enough to listen to experts. However, when an “expert” starts telling me the only way to prevent Gotterdammerung is to increase the size and power of government, I start reaching for my skeptic’s hat. I wear that hat a lot nowadays.

I’m not an epidemiologist, as you’ve probably guessed.

But I do know about fear.

And what troubles me most about our current predicament is that we’re being governed on the basis of fear.

Read it all here.

Happy at Home, staying at Home

Here’s a little Latin you may find useful when you’re working from home, recovering at home, taking refuge at home, or being confined at home.

Domi manere convenit felicibus. — It befits those who are happy at home to remain there.

I hope that’s true for you; it’s not true for too many, because as Ovid says, “Dos est uxoria lites,” that is, strife is a wife’s dowry. May that not be your home, for domus sua cuique tutissimum refugium (every man’s home is his safest place of refuge).

Remember that a friendly house is the best of houses (domus amica domus optima), but remember also that pain compels all things (dolor omnia cogit).

You may find it useful to say to yourself and others:

  • Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you)
  • Dominus providebit (The Lord will provide)
  • Dominus illuminatio mea (The Lord is my light)
  • Deus det [nobis pacem] (May God give [us peace])
  • Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori (God be merciful to me a sinner)

Here are a few others words you may wish to repeat, echoing the wisdom of the ages.

  • Honesty is the poor man’s pork and the rich man’s pudding.
  • Hope is grief’s best music, but help which is long on the road is no help.
  • Keep a thing seven years, and you’ll find a use for it.
  • Little fires burn up much corn.
  • Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.
  • Many a man asks the way he knows full well.

Found in W. Gurney Benham’s A Book of Quotations: Proverbs and Household Words (Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash)

Liberation Day

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, “Victory in Europe Day,” in 1945. It was a bigger commemoration when I was a boy, when those events were still recent history to all the grownups I knew.

In Norway it’s known as Frigjøringsdag, “Liberation Day.” The bit of newsreel footage I’ve posted above provides one of the more amusing moments of that event. A German commander, Oberst Karsch, marches up to British Air Commander Darrell, a big smile on his face, as if hoping to convince him it’s all been a big misunderstanding and to let bygones be bygones. Darrell is not amused, and appears to defer to his Norwegian colleagues.

It’s an important date. Too bad the Norwegians can’t celebrate it properly under current conditions.

‘The Faraway North,’ translated by Ian Cumpstey

And it was then Sigurd Sven,

He rode on under the hills,

And a troll came down from the high fells,

And asked to ride with him.

A troll came down from the high fells,

All dressed in a shirt of silk,

His nose was like a cattleshed,

And his eyes like tarns on the hill.

I have a fondness for old ballads. Mostly I’ve read the British kind (you may have read “Barbara Allen” or “Sir Patrick Spens” in school). They’re voices of the past; sometimes heard indistinctly, sometimes garbled in the hearing, sometimes in the retelling. Often they’re like assemblies of interchangeable parts – you can mix and match them. Or change the hero’s name and you’ve got a ready-made new story. The ballad is often a marvel of narrative simplicity – you may learn what’s happening solely through dialogue (even monologue); you may even have to guess a bit what’s going on.

I’ve had some exposure to Scandinavian ballads in the past; generally they follow the same forms the British ones. The chief difference is that when a hero in a British ballad meets a supernatural being, it’s likely to be some kind of Faery. In the Scandinavian kind, you get trolls most often, then sometimes it’s the Huldre (the Underground Folk, the Scandinavian equivalent of Faery; I mention them in my novels).

Ian Cumpstey is a Swedish-to-English translator, but in his collection, The Faraway North, he has collected examples from Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish ballads, all done over into English. They sound very much like the ones we’re familiar with. They don’t always rhyme, but ours don’t either – I wondered as I read whether the translator’s creativity had failed, but he says in his notes that the originals often don’t rhyme either.

We encounter some famous characters in these verses – St. Olaf and King Harald Hardrada, for instance, or Sigurd (the one in the verses quoted above), better known to us as Siegfried the Dragon-slayer. But many of them are mysteries – if their characters ever lived at all, their stories are preserved only in these songs.

I enjoyed read The Faraway North very much. You might like it too, if you’re fond of antiquities.

For your spectation

I have a new column up at The American Spectator Online today. This one (written before the Plague descended) considers the old TV show, “The Adventures of Jim Bowie” in light of the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”

In fact, America has a long history of self-criticism when it comes to Native American issues. Sticking to popular culture, I can cite a few examples out of my own limited viewing and reading.

Read it all here.

Maundy Thursday, 2020

Today is Maundy Thursday in the church calendar. The word “maundy” is related to the Latin root of the word “mandate,” meaning command. It’s a reference to Christ’s words at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give you, to love one another as I have loved you.”

This is a day for Holy Communion in many churches. Most traditional Lutherans aren’t doing the sacrament until the quarantine is over, though. Because we believe actual physical presence is necessary. (My own church is doing virtual communion online, but we’re kind of outlaws.)

April 9 is a sad day in Norwegian history. 80 years ago today, German troops marched into Oslo. They actually expected to be greeted as saviors, protecting the Norwegians from the British, who’d been violating Norwegian neutrality in various ways. The Norwegian government wasn’t quite sure what to do with them at first — after all, Hitler was (for the moment) allied with Stalin, who was a friend and benefactor to Norway’s ruling Labor Party. When the troops marched in, they got a police escort.

However, on that same day, Norwegian troops at Oscarsborg Fortress on the Oslofjord, under the command of Col. Birger Eriksen, fired on a German battleship. The Blucher was a brand-new ship; many of its crew were raw recruits on their first voyage. But among the personnel on board were Gestapo officers and other personnel whose assignment was to capture the Norwegian royal family and government. Because the ship had refused to respond to warning shots, Col. Eriksen determined that whoever they were (he didn’t know at that point), they were hostile and it was his duty to fire on them. His words were, “Either I will be decorated or I will be court-martialled. Fire!” His guns and ammunition were old, but they performed admirably. Both his battery’s shots hit, and the Blucher began burning. Further shots from secondary batteries caused further damage, and the Blucher sank with the loss of 650-800 soldiers and sailors (1,400 survived). The delay caused by the sinking gave the royal family and the government time to escape the city, and ultimately to flee to exile in England.

The movie The King’s Choice includes a dramatization of the battle:

Aside from Atlantic Crossing, which I’ve told you about, I’ve done some other work having to do with Norway in World War II, which I still can’t tell you about. I hope they’re released eventually. I’m quite proud of them.

“Who was that masked man? I wanted to thank him.”

Years ago, for some reason (perhaps a college assignment I’ve forgotten), I picked up a copy of Boccaccio’s Decameron.

This is not a review of that book.

I started reading the Decameron, for some reason, years later in Florida, when I was sick in bed and looking for reading material. Back before I could summon books magically through the ether with my Amazon Fire.

I didn’t finish it. It’s one of those books I just couldn’t get into.

Anyway, it’s a collection of 100 stories, supposedly told by a group of ladies and gentlemen who’ve fled Florence during the Black Death in the 14th Century.

I tell you all of that just to ease into my real subject – I have a very brief Plague Story of my own today.

Buoyed by the prospect of money coming in from my recent translation job, I decided to throw some patronage at a restaurant I like, but haven’t been to for a while. I called in an order for pick-up.

When I got there, rocking my stylish Black Bart Stagecoach Robber bandana mask, the cashier told me it would be just a minute. I said sure.

There was another guy there, sitting on a bench. A middle-aged guy (which makes him younger than me, I shudder to think) who seemed to be waiting for a large order.

“Sure never thought I’d see times like this in America,” he said to me, keeping his distance as the law prescribes.

I agreed, pretty much echoing the same sentiment back to him. “I feel bad for the small business owners,” I added. “A lot of those people don’t have a lot of margin to fall back on.”

He told me he was a small businessman himself. He owned two neighborhood bars. “I’m doing OK,” he said. “But I feel bad for my employees. Some of them are in real bad shape.”

We went on to talk about various theories about the Coronavirus thing. He’d heard that people get immunity from sunlight exposure in summer. I said I’d heard it was temperatures over 80 degrees and humidity.

“If it’s heat and humidity,” he asked, “how come it doesn’t die on your body? What’s warmer and humider than your body?”

I admitted he had a point.

Then the cashier came out with my food. As I stepped toward the counter, the guy said, “Hey, Mister, forget it. It’s on me. It was a pleasure to talk to somebody new after all these days at home.”

I’ll share a little-known personal secret with you – I almost never turn down free stuff. I thanked him and gave the cashier a big tip. We were all happy for a moment.

As I left he asked my name, and gave me his. Which, of course, I’ve forgotten already.

I should have asked the names of his bars, so I could recommend them to any locals who may read this – after they re-open on VC day. But I didn’t think of that. And I don’t drink myself.

Well, fortunately he’ll never be able reproach me for my ingratitude. He never saw my face without a mask.

A weekend of extreme translation

By Hesse1309 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The picture above isn’t one of mine. It’s in Norway, though. I think I may have seen this sign on one of my journeys; I know I saw one like it. We take our trolls seriously, we Norwegians. If they kidnap a princess or two, well, that’s the price of living in the most beautiful place in the world.

It was quite a weekend, friends. I was intensely engaged with the Norwegian language. I will not tell you what translation project I was working on, and I’ll not tell you whom it was for. It was a script. You can guess the medium for yourself.

But I had a lot of work to do, and a deadline to meet. I was a little insecure about meeting it, but it turned out I’d underestimated myself. The work went faster than I’d looked for.  The thing didn’t get delivered as soon as I hoped, due to a glitch that appeared and wiped away a whole lot of work that had to be done all over again. But I got up early and worked late, and delivered everything well before I’d estimated.

It’s a little disconcerting that I haven’t heard anything back from the client (checking again to see that my email with the files actually went out; yes, it did). But if my product had been awful, I suspect somebody would have said something. I take comfort in that thought.

After all these months, it was sweet to open up the First Draft app and do that voodoo that I do so adequately. It was fun, in the same sense that being a rodeo rider or a cage fighter is fun. It takes its toll, but you come out stimulated. While all around me people were going batty with cabin fever, I was in my element, growing as a craftsman. It was, frankly, the best weekend I’ve had in quite a long time.

Dispatch from the translation front

I’ve become a little cautious about discussing translation work. So suffice it to say that I snagged a nice one, and there’s a deadline coming on, and I can’t really spend much time on a blog post.

But rejoice with me that I’ve found work, when better men are filing for unemployment. Whatever my project is, it’s interesting. Have a good weekend. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do (that ought to keep you pretty safe).

“Aerial America” on YouTube

Smithsonian Channel has also begun to roll out entire episodes on YouTube, and weekly online “watch parties” are planned to make the “Aerial America” viewing experience interactive despite social distancing. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. EST, Smithsonian Channel’s Facebook page will host state-specific trivia while showing an episode. Each episode will simultaneously drop on YouTube.”

It may not be Epcot’s Soarin’ ride, but it’s close and much longer. There are currently four episodes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, and Arkansas.

What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is

People started talking about cabin fever the day after their mayor or governor directed them to shelter in place. Maybe they are the folks who rarely stay at home for anything, those who dash off to the store, the crab shack, the boardwalk, the open road–anywhere at the drop of a hat. (For the kids at home, “the drop of a hat” is an expression from the days when adults wore hats daily and dropped them on the sidewalk, taxi seat, or chaise lounge several times a day. At those times certain people would do that thing they would do and, you know.)

Now that most of us are working from home or at least staying at home more than we would have been, we may find ourselves more irritable than normal. We may act and react with emotions we didn’t expect, and because of that, we may not feel okay (insert tangentially related song).

Some of us don’t know what to do with our emotions, dismissing them as temporal fancies that should be reined in at every moment. Or wishing they could be. We take our emotions as improper bursts of energy or simply the way we express ourselves. We see no meaning behind our feelings.

Continue reading What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is