Category Archives: Uncategorized

News flash: ‘The Great Army’ was actually great

Via Dave Lull: A report from The Guardian on a new exhibition in England, devoted to the Viking Great Army (also known as the Great Heathen Army) which wintered over in England in 872:

A major exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, staged in partnership with the British Museum, draws on new research by the universities of York and Sheffield. According to Professor Dawn Hadley, one of the co-directors of the universities’ project at the site of a Viking winter camp, archeologists and historians had thought that the invading Viking armies numbered in the low hundreds. But archeological work at the camp on the river Trent at Torksey, Lincolnshire, suggested otherwise.

Historians have been inclined to consider contemporary chronicles, which numbered the Great Army in the thousands, as exaggerations, because… because historians always think medieval chroniclers were very gullible and stupid, and exaggerated everything. In general, my impression is that trusting the most contemporary sources is generally a prudent approach.

17 May 2017

Today is Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day (not, as I’m sure you remember from previous years, its Independence Day).

As happened last year (I’m pretty sure) it rained today, so I couldn’t display my Norwegian flag once again. I did wear my Norwegian flag tie, plus a Norwegian flag button, to work, however.

In celebration, I’ll post this video, the most memorable Norwegian thing I’ve seen recently.

It’s not memorable, I think you’ll agree, for its beauty or its music. It’s memorable for featuring an idiot in a man-bun who does things on mountains that no sane person should even think about.

I suppose it’s meant as a reminder of one thing Norwegians all have in common — a death wish.

After all, we’re the country that gave the world the lemming.

Well spoken

An unanticipated good time. That was what I had last night.

Well, a good time by my rather low standards.

The first thing that needs to be understood was that I felt lousy. It’s become my custom to get a very bad cold in the spring, and then again in the fall. These colds invariably plunge into my lungs and there, in the darkness, foment sedition and unrest. In the end I generally have to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Which, of course, mess up my digestion.

I was in the midst of that cycle, having started sniffing and coughing several days ago. Yesterday I took the day off work and went to my doctor for my bread mold prescription.

But I was worried about the Lecture. Months ago I’d agreed to lecture, on May 1, to Fjell Syn Lodge of the Sons of Norway, in Mounds View, Minnesota. My subject would be the Viking Sagas. I’d lectured to them before, a year ago, and they treated me well. I wanted to do right by those good people.

My fear was that I’d cough through the presentation, spread contagion to immune-suppressed attendees, and be so hoarse I’d be unintelligible.

The weather was miserable. It was one of those chill spring evenings when winter is still holding on, and having run out of snowballs to throw at you, just spits. I wore a heavy parka over my Viking costume going to and from the car. All nature seemed to portend failure and miserable death.

Instead, it went quite well. The audience was appreciative, and seemed to understand when I needed to pause now and then for a sip of water. There are times when you just resonate with a crowd – they laugh in all the right places, and longer than you expected. They nod and smile and you know they’re following with interest and pleasure. This was one of those nights. I enjoyed it a lot, and hope they ask me back yet again.

Plus, several of them bought books, which is impressive when you’re dealing with a group you’ve sold books to before.

Thank you, Fjell Syn Lodge!

I even felt better today (went back to work, sort of on a flyer), and I give them the credit.

Happy Friday

For anyone interested, I will be giving my lecture on the Icelandic Sagas on Monday, May 1 for Fjellsyn Lodge, Sons of Norway. They meet 7:00 p.m. (program about 7:30) at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 8211 Red Oak Dr., Moundsview, Minnesota.

Dave Lull sent me this link to a video about something I was unaware of — the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept a hut on the Sognefjord in Norway, and lived there off and on between World War I and his death. The video follows a group of people making a pilgrimage to what’s left of it.

The video is a little over 20 minutes long, which is more time than I’m usually willing to give Wittgenstein. But the Norwegian scenery is lovely. Among the peculiarities of this video, besides the perfervid intonations of the narrator at the beginning, is a reading from Wittgenstein given by a woman wearing what appears to be 17th Century breeches. I haven’t a guess why.

Also another woman on the hike (a fairly rugged one) is wearing flip-flops. The Norwegians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” They might have added, “There are no painful hikes, only painful footwear.”

Have a good weekend.

Watching ‘Bosch’

Bosch

I’ve been watching the third season of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video. In one episode, I noticed a detail that intrigued me.

Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) lives in a house partly supported by stilts, on a hillside in the Hollywood Hills, just as in the books. In one shot I noticed a framed poster on a wall.

It was a poster for a movie or a novel (I couldn’t tell) called The Black Echo.

The Black Echo is one of the novels this season of the show is based on.

So even if you imagined that a book had been written or a movie made about Bosch’s adventures (such a made-for-TV movie is in fact a plot element), and called The Black Echo, there’s no way either one could have been done about an adventure that isn’t even over yet.

The poster is a wink at the viewer from the production team. A very subtle breaking of the proscenium.

I expect that sort of thing happens more in movies and TV than I’m aware of.

Scene from my youth

Somebody mentioned on the radio today that it’s been fifty years since the 1967 Israeli Six-Day War.

I remember that summer well. The live telecasts of UN meetings, the speeches. Abba Eban addressing the General Assembly.

But mostly I remember my summer job.

I didn’t generally have summer jobs as a kid. I lived on a farm. That was my summer job. Hoeing thistles and pulling mustard weeds, fence repair; there was pretty much always something to do.

But that summer I was an orderly. For my mother.

Mom had broken her leg. She’d stood on the kitchen table to clean an overhead hot air register, and the table collapsed. The break was bad, and she came home with a big cast on her leg.

The folks asked me to take care of her for the summer. They’d pay me for it. So I jockeyed bed pans down to our basement bathroom for three months.

One day I was given some job or other to do up in the hay loft above the barn. I forget what I was doing – probably just re-stacking the hay bales. Sometimes that had to be done. I don’t know where my dad and brothers were that day. Mom didn’t need me for a while; I’d left her with the TV on and a book to read.

I heard a car pulling into the driveway.

I stuck my head out the hatch, looking out over the top of the ladder I’d climbed to get up there. Our guest was our pastor. Continue reading Scene from my youth

‘The Viking Battalion’

Viking Battalion

Last week I was contacted on Facebook by a fellow who’s involved in a Viking commemoration a tad different from the kind I’m used to. But I was honored to be asked to assist him, and I want to publicize his effort. He’s the president of a group devoted to memorializing a remarkable World War II US Army unit.

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), also known as the Viking Battalion, was organized in 1942 at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. Its purpose was (originally) a specific, specialized one (that’s what the word “Separate” means). It was intended for the invasion of Norway – an option for the European invasion that remained under consideration long into the war. The bulk of its manpower came from Norwegian merchant sailors who’d been stranded overseas by the German invasion in 1940, plus Norwegian-American young men, many of whom had grown up speaking Norwegian. They trained for mountain warfare in Colorado, and later as commandos in Scotland.

As it worked out, of course, the invasion happened in Normandy. The 99th participated in that action and its aftermath, and fought with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge. Finally they were sent to Norway after the surrender, in order to help establish order and evacuate the German occupation troops in an orderly manner.

There’s going to be a special commemoration event on Saturday, August 12, at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota. I’ve been asked to be there in Viking costume (just to confuse the visitors, I imagine) and I may bring some other Vikings along. If you’re interested in the event, let me know in comments, or just watch this space. I’ll be keeping you posted.

Linkage

Marcus Selmer photograph

The wonderful Mirabilis.ca shares a link to information on the Dano-Norwegian photographer Marcus Selmer, who left remarkable images of 19th Century Norwegian peasants.

And Dave Lull passes on news about a planned TV series based on Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis books.

I expect they’ll ruin it by making Milo a militant gay, but the news is interesting anyway.

Lars’ Labors Lost

What a weird night last night was.

It was as if God was playing a practical joke on me (which, in my theology, is not entirely inconceivable).

I told you in my last installment how I accidentally scheduled myself for two appointments at nearly the same time yesterday. First, at 6:00, a meeting at a restaurant with an elderly man who wanted translation help. Then, at 6:30, my annual meeting with my tax preparer.

I didn’t have the elderly man’s phone number, so I decided to be at the restaurant, catch him going in, apologize for having to leave right away, and reschedule.

I arrived ten minutes early. I stood (couldn’t sit in my car because the nearest spot was behind a big van) in a pretty chilly wind for 25 minutes, waiting for the man. Nobody of his description showed up. At 6:05 I went inside to see if he’d beaten me there and was waiting. The only old guy present told me (rather alarmed at my Ancient Mariner aspect, I think) that he wasn’t the guy I wanted. I don’t think he actually said, “Don’t hurt me,” but he looked like he wanted to.

So I went to my tax appointment. (I later got a call from the elderly guy. He’d been detained, and will call again to reschedule).

When I walked in to the tax place, the receptionist said, “We’ve been trying to reach you.” Turned out they wanted to reschedule, and had left a message on my home answering machine. Which I never got to hear, because I’d been waiting at the restaurant.

As it was, somebody was there to help me, so I got the ordeal over with.

The final score is that, of the two overlapping appointments I so worried about, neither one was actually operative. I could have skipped out on one or both without a problem.

But I had no way of knowing that. So I kept my promises.

Sometimes that’s the best you can do in this life.

Thus endeth the lesson.

The Ethereal Artist Hercules Segers

Even in his most representational works, like a wonderfully detailed View Through the Window of his spacious house in Amsterdam, Segers introduced fanciful elements—a line of trees in the distance, for example, when the actual view consisted of houses and other buildings. He let accidents dictate content. Cutting up a printing-plate he had used for a large ship, he turned the fragments into landscapes instead, with the rigging and mast morphing into tree branches. In a fascinating related development, the steps of which are documented in the exhibition, Rembrandt took a plate that Segers had etched of the biblical subject of Tobias dragging a big fish, made some adjustments, and transformed it into Joseph leading a donkey, with Mary aboard, on the Flight to Egypt. But whether Rembrandt was inspired by Segers’s own experiments with recycled images or thought he could improve on Segers’s figures, is unknown.

(via Prufrock News)

Slave to the calendar

When you’re me (I’ll agree the odds of that are fairly low), one thing you should never have to worry about is non-job-related schedule conflicts. When you have half a dozen appointments per month (at most) during your own time, the odds are against lightning striking twice on the same day, let alone the same hour.

Yet here I am, with a conflict that’s not only inconvenient, but embarrassing.

Of course, pretty much everything embarrasses me.

Sunday morning I was getting ready for church when I got a call. It was from an elderly gentleman who’d gotten my name and number somehow. He had some documents in Norwegian, related to his family, that he wanted translated. He’s from my town, and he wanted to meet at a restaurant. I told him, off the top of my head, that we could meet Tuesday evening at 6:00.

After we ended the call, I checked my pocket calendar. What do you know – my annual appointment with my tax preparer is Tuesday at 6:30. There isn’t time for both things.

What was worse, I hadn’t thought to get his phone number (my land line doesn’t remember these things). And I could only remember his last name.

So I tried to find all the locals with that name in the phone directory. Of course I don’t have an actual phone book in my house. I used to be able to find numbers easily online.

Have you tried to find a number online recently? Most of the sites won’t refine the search in greater granularity (“granularity” is a great word – I learned it in library school) than the entire metropolitan area. The rest of them are trying to sell you people-finding software.

Then I checked my calendar again and heaved a sigh of relief. The “TAXES” note I’d made in there didn’t indicate the actual appointment, but was just a reminder to make sure my records were in order the week before. Dodged the bullet, I thought.

Only today I checked again. I was looking at the wrong week. It’s tomorrow I have the tax appointment, all right. So I’m double-booked after all.

If I can’t find this guy’s number to get a rain check, I figure I’ll show up at the restaurant and apologize, and reschedule then.

What I need is people. Handlers. A retinue!

I’m an artist. I can’t work under these conditions.

Clearing up another ‘fine’ mess

The San Francisco Examiner reports on a recent fine amnesty carried out by the San Francisco Public Library. Nearly 700,000 books were returned, valued at $236,000.

Included in the recent returns were a collection of short stories titled 40 Minutes Late, which was 100 years past due, and Brass, a Novel of a Marriage by Charles Norris with a due date stamp of 1937, making the item 80 years past due. In both cases, the books were originally checked out by the returners’ great grandparents.

Read it all here.

More and more libraries are in fact abolishing fines altogether. They’ve given up the pretense of any control. They just want somebody to come and use their facilities so the cities don’t close them down.

Future shock… or present shock, anyway

Tonight I am wracked with existential angst. I am contemplating changing my very way of life; of crossing a cultural divide and becoming, after long resistance, One of Them.

I’ve decided to get a smart phone.

Not a really smart phone, of course. An Android, first of all, because I refuse to be roped into the religion of the iPhone. That would be like joining a mainline Protestant church.

OK, not really. It just feels that way, when you’re an old men being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Or the end of the 20th Century, depending on how old a phone version I decide on. Can’t get the latest one. That would be like buying a new car – sudden and irrevocable depreciation being the wages of the sin of purchasing a time share in Vanity Fair (the town in Pilgrim’s Progress, not the magazine). Last year’s model was good enough for last year’s people, and is probably twenty years better than what I need.

What happened was I developed brake problems on Miss Ingebretsen, my PT Cruiser. Knowing I’d be without internal combustion capability tomorrow, I asked someone at work about getting a ride. He graciously agreed to do it, but mentioned Uber and Lyft. I answered, shame-faced, that I have no smart phone, and so am reduced to begging rides, like we used to do in the old days, long before he was born.

“Enough,” I said to myself. “It’s time you got some kind of smart phone. Preferably one that’s slow and prone to locking up. Like your knees.”

I tried calling my (cheap) provider after work tonight, but they said it would be a 15 minute wait, so I hung up. Who do they think they are, making me wait for 15 minutes?

I insist on at least 20. If I wanted convenience and speed, I’d get an iPhone.

“Library hand”

Library joined hand

A character I had to read a lot about in the previous couple years was Melvil Dewey (a spelling reformer, he reformed his own first name), the father of modern librarianship and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. He was a crank generally, but he left his mark.

Atlas Obscura today has an article about another of Dewey’s projects — he didn’t invent it, but he promoted it heavily. “Library hand” was a form of handwriting librarians were expected to master before typewriters became ubiquitous.

Influenced by Edison and honed via experimenting on patient, hand-sore librarians, library hand focused on uniformity rather than beauty. “The handwriting of the old-fashioned writing master is quite as illegible as that of the most illiterate boor,” read a New York State Library School handbook. “Take great pains to have all writing uniform in size, blackness of lines, slant, spacing and forms of letters,” wrote Dewey in 1887. And if librarians thought they could get away with just any black ink, they could think again real fast. “Inks called black vary much in color,” scoffed the New York State Library School handwriting guide.

My MLIS training was deficient. They didn’t teach us a thing about this.

Killing Cupid

I haven’t written for The American Spectator much recently, because – frankly – I’m having trouble finding anything to say. Mere anarchy, it seems to me, has been unleashed upon the world, and it’s hard to find a side to defend.

But Robert Stacy McCain is a braver man than I, and he wrote a piece for Valentine’s Day that I wish I’d written. Instead, I linked to it on Facebook. I quoted the following passage there:

Of course, even if a young woman today did want Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet, he might be afraid to attempt it. If he admired Cinderella’s beauty, feminists would condemn Prince Charming for objectifying her with the “male gaze.” If a man talks to a woman, whatever he says is denounced by feminists as “mansplaining.” Any man who attempts to initiate a romantic relationship with a woman is guilty of “harassment,” according to feminism, and any expectation that a woman might enjoy sexual activity with a man is “rape culture.”

This excerpt may have been poorly chosen by me. A number of the people who commented on the link assumed I’d chosen it primarily to complain about the fact that I can’t get a date. I can understand the mistake – my almost magically pathetic love life is of course one of the most noticeable things about me.

Maybe I should have quoted the following paragraph, which I almost chose instead: Continue reading Killing Cupid