Category Archives: Uncategorized

The deadly dream airport

Photo credit: Digby Cheung@dbyche1016

I remember a dream I had last night, which is a rarity for me. I remember it because it disturbed me enough to wake me up.

I was in an airport. A ticket agent (or somebody) had just directed me toward the gate I needed, and I had to hurry. So I rushed along the walkway, toward a descending stairway ahead of me.

But as I approached the stairway, I had the sudden conviction that this wasn’t a stairway. It was an edge. Beyond that edge there was just open space.

I suddenly dropped on my face, and peered over the edge. Sure enough, I was at the end of a sort of mezzanine floor without a guard rail – a dangerous arrangement no real-life airport would contemplate.

But as I looked down, I suddenly heard someone (a young person, male or female, I’m not sure) running up behind me. They were going very fast, and I had no time to warn them before they shot over the edge and plunged to the floor below. Not necessarily a fatal fall, but surely injurious.

Then I woke up.

I have theories about what that dream meant, but I’ll let you speculate.

I applied for a job today. I won’t tell you what it is, except that it involves editing. But it seemed (in some ways) ideal for my skills and personality, so I took a chance.

I was half way through the application when I saw that they wanted me to link to a Google Doc of some of my editing work. And I thought, “Forget this. I don’t have Google Docs.”

And my brain replied, “Wait, haven’t you used Google Docs before? You have an account. Check it out.

I checked, and behold, I do have a Google Docs account. I created the link.

I’m rather proud of myself for not chickening out (for once). But boy, I make this hard for myself.

Language comparison: The Lord’s Prayer

Today I am distracted, or at least I’m pretending to be. Did two high-stress things — saw the dentist to repair the wisdom tooth I broke on Sunday evening (popcorn, if you must know), and then I paid my Minnesota sales tax online.

That, I figure, ought to give me an excuse to be lazy. (In fact, both worked out better than I feared.) Back when I was a school kid, there were days when the teacher would roll a projector into the room and show us some educational film, usually a generation old. Innocent that I was, I figured this was part of some highly strategized educational plan. Nowadays, I’m given to understand that it often meant the teacher wasn’t feeling up to it, and just needed to coast.

In the same way, when I post a YouTube video, it’s not unlikely that I’m loafing.

Last night, in my book review, I referred to Old Norse (Viking) words that have made their way into English. I thought there must be a video or two on that subject.

The selections weren’t as good as I hoped. There were a few, but they were either very short, or hosted by annoying young hipsters whom I hated on sight (or both). Jackson Crawford, who can usually be counted on for interesting stuff on Old Norse, had nothing.

But there is this, posted above. The Lord’s Prayer in Modern English, Old English, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic.

Pay attention. This will be on the test.

Friday Night Fight: Macbeth vs. Macduff

We used to have a tradition of posting “Friday Night Fights” here, showing videos of Viking reenactors going at it with blunt blades. Some of them were friends of mine; occasionally I was involved. We haven’t done that for a while, but I’ve decided to share this clip I found. It involves two fighters doing Macbeth’s death scene from Shakespeare’s play, while fighting with period swords and armor.

It’s not as good as I’d like it to be, and not only because the acting sucks. Macbeth wears a mixture of mail and lamellar (small plates) armor, and lamellar is not generally approved by serious reenactment groups nowadays. Macduff wears some kind of pelt, which is pretty much a Hollywood costuming thing, and they both wear greaves, which are also a faux pas among reenactors.

The fight isn’t bad – it’s quite good in places, certainly better than what you’ll see in movies. Though I’m not sure what it’s about when they both lose their shields and then reclaim them. Still, it’s interesting from a combat point of view.

Why this video? Well, I’ve had Macbeth on my mind lately. I’m strongly inclined to include him in my next Erling book. He was about 17 at the time the story starts, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have been in Norway then. His Scottish Highland home was definitely part of Erling’s world. I have an idea that throwing him into the story might enhance some of the themes I’m developing.

But I haven’t decided yet how to portray him – as a budding villain, as Shakespeare paints him, or as a virtuous and pious young man, which the actual historical record would indicate.

We’ll see. The story will tell me how it wants me to treat him.

Retro movie review: ‘5 Card Stud’

Hard as it might be to believe, I’m still lacking a finished book to review tonight. I’m finding my current read a little slow, I guess – though it’s gaining interest as I proceed. It’ll probably be ready tomorrow.

What else to talk about? Today lacked the pulse-pounding social interactions of yesterday. I watched the last half of a movie I’m fond of last night, though. I can gas about that.

5 Card Stud (1968) is not a great movie, but I find it endlessly entertaining, and generally watch it whenever it shows up. Its attractions are many.

Dean Martin in the lead. Dino was the archetypal Italian-American and seems an odd choice as a western star. But he loved westerns, and excelled in roles where he could play breezy, wisecracking types. By all accounts he was a nice guy too, and faithful to his wife, at least for a long time. Similarly, he joked about drinking a lot, but didn’t actually… until the time came when he did. Here he plays Van Morgan, a gambler who tries to stop fellow card players from lynching a cheater, but fails. Later the participants in the game start being murdered, one by one.

Robert Mitchum plays Rev. Jonathan Rudd, a mysterious preacher who comes to town and starts tweaking the surviving players’ consciences. Mitchum, I was interested to learn a while back, was half Norwegian. His mother was Norwegian.

It’s odd when I think back, but I can recall as a young boy thinking that Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum were the same guy. I guess tall, dark guys like that weren’t very common in my world and they all looked alike to me.

But the big draw in 5 Card Stud is Inger Stevens, who plays a prostitute named Lily Langford. It has been my contention for many years that Inger was the most beautiful woman to show up on the public scene in my lifetime. (My friend Mark Goldblatt calls her the “ultimate shiksa.”) She was a Swedish immigrant, but had assimilated to the extent that she had to re-learn her accent when she got the title role in the TV series, The Farmer’s Daughter. An unhappy woman, they say, a little like Marilyn Monroe in forever searching for fulfillment in a man’s love and never finding it. She would die just two years later, in 1970, probably a suicide.

But what beauty! At once regal and impish.

Sadly, most of the films she did that show up on TV from time to time are ones I don’t want to watch. Not even Hang ‘em High, with Clint Eastwood, which is pretty good for the most part, but includes a multiple hanging scene that I, wimp that I am, just can’t handle.

Anyway, 5 Card Stud is a mystery without much actual mystery, and the acting is sometimes over the top. The dialogue can be weak too, though the script was written by Marguerite Roberts, who would write the great True Grit a few years down the line. (However, it should be noted that True Grit follows Charles Portis’s novel very closely, so not a lot of creativity was required. Anyway, Roberts was a Commie.)

But it’s a treat to watch Martin, Mitchum, and Stevens go through their paces. And Dean sings the title song.

Self-promotion for passive-aggressives

Photo credit: Maarten van den Heuvel @ mvdheuvel

Nothing to review today. My reading has slowed in the last couple days, which is not all bad. I’m trying to reduce my book spending, due to the current cutbacks.

Which will be exacerbated by the plumber’s appointment I had today. My kitchen faucet succumbed to the corrosive water we enjoy in Robbinsdale, and had to be replaced. I got the cheapest model they offered, but still… ouch.

Then out into the wide world and chill air, for a breathless visit to the drug store and the grocery store. Had my prescription filled at CVS. Later in the day, a somewhat pathetic e-mail showed up. Would I take a minute to fill out a form for them? Specifically, to indicate on a scale of one to ten how likely I am to recommend their enterprise to friends and family?

I don’t really want to fill it out. Because the truth would be cruel. I am somewhere between zero and one on that scale. Not because I dislike their stores. But because I can’t recall ever discussing drug store choices with any friend or family member. For some reason it just doesn’t come up. Maybe we’re atypical.

And in the back of my mind, the constant nagging voice of my inner publicist whispers: “This is what you should be doing, kid. If a big industry like CVS can send out plaintive appeals for affirmation, you can occasionally bug your fans about plugging your books and posting reviews on Amazon.”

Shut up, Nagging Publicist Voice. In these parts, we consider fishing for compliments a mark of weakness.

Then off to the grocery store. At checkout, the lady in front of me in line noticed I’d bought a Marie Callender Honey-Roasted Turkey meal. “Is that good?” she asked. “My husband and I eat a lot of that kind of meals, but we’re looking for something less bland than what we’ve been having.”

I told her I like it quite a bit, and don’t find it bland at all. (“Of course I’m Norwegian,” I should have added.)

Oddly enough, I had a similar conversation some years ago, at the same store, with a guy who told me how much he enjoyed that very same frozen meal. I agreed with him, and we shared a moment of social harmony, then went our separate ways.

In my world, that’s how promotion ought to be done. Not by intrusive tub-thumping, but by people just recommending things they like to each other, in the natural course of things. Even, unlikely as it seems, drug stores.

So when you plug my books, pretend it’s just natural. Thank you.

Thursday thoughts, including Inspector Thursday

I need to write something extra-good tonight, because there’s a good chance I’ll be absent tomorrow. Being retired, I can usually figure on my schedule being pretty open, but tomorrow I have two long meetings . (Both, alas, meetings unconnected with the earning of money.)

But I’m short on subject matter. I drained my brain last night; I’m fresh out of profound thoughts.

Fended off a Facebook con artist this morning. Got a friend request from a young woman in another state, suspiciously attractive judging by her picture. But we had a mutual friend, and she had the right kind of links posted on her home page, so I gave it a shot. It was but the work of a moment for her to message me and tell me she was looking for a boyfriend. I did give her a fair chance, telling her politely that I was much too old for her. When she told me she didn’t care about that, I severed our association. I may be a fool, as Lord Peter Wimsey once said, “but I’m not a bloody fool.”

I guess I can be proud I’m still sharp enough not to fall for such things.

I’m also a little sad that I’m old enough to have lost all illusion in the area.

The sixth season of Endeavour is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Six seasons already? How did that happen?

I keep waiting for Shaun Evans to acquire that mark on his temple that his older self has.

I liked the original Morse series very much, but I’m strongly tempted to like this prequel even better. It’s a good recreation of the era when I came of age (though Morse was a little older than me) and it’s more character-driven, I think. The Morse series concentrated mostly on the interplay between Morse and Lewis – and that was excellent. But Endeavour has a larger continuing cast, characters about whom we have come to care. For my part, I particularly like Inspector Bright, who reminds me of a number of older men I’ve known in church work. He came in pretty unsympathetic, but we’ve come to see his finer qualities since then.

The first episode had a character I immediately marked as the Culprit, simply on the basis of established contemporary TV stereotypes. I was delighted to be wrong.

Maybe things will work out all right in the world.

Anti-intellectual thoughts

How shall I put this delicately?

I’m going to start by talking about a very private bodily function… in the vaguest possible terms. Because I’m a sensitive soul. Then I’ll go on to make a vapid point.

I clicked on an article that showed up on the Book Full of Faces a little while back.

It was about the aforementioned Private Bodily Function. This is a function performed frequently by every person, saint or sinner, male, female, or delusional. The headline informed me that I was finishing up this function “THE WRONG WAY!”

Out of curiosity, I read the article. When I was finished, I thought, “It appears that the author of this article has never actually performed this bodily function.”

Which I find somewhat unlikely.

Then I noticed who published it. When I saw that the article was aimed at college students, all became clear. An academic wrote it. And academics, as you’ve probably noticed, literally don’t know… many things.

It takes an academic to analyze a commonplace physical act and declare that all mankind has been doing it wrong from time immemorial. The whole scam of modern higher education is based on taking what is known and understood, deconstructing it, and rendering it mysterious and in need of expert intervention.

There was a time in history when the purpose of education was to learn the higher mysteries, the beauty and wisdom concealed behind the commonplace.

That changed (I think) some time around the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment decided there were no higher mysteries, and turned its energies to deconstruction and demythologizing. Instead of learning what we’d never known, the modern student is meant to unlearn what everybody already knows.

I was reminded of the first line of Alan Bloom’s book, Love and Friendship (quoting from memory because I can’t locate my copy at the moment). Describing Rousseau, he writes, “A Swiss told the French they were bad lovers, and the French believed him.”

That was just the beginning.

In a Perfect World, We Would Ruin Everything

Here’s a thought for the new year: Take away all your trouble, all the hardship in your life, and you’d invent new trouble on your own.

Eden was a perfect garden. It lacked no plant that was “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9), and then man came along to ruin it.

When Abram told Lot they should separate their clans, Lot looked at the well hydrated Jordan Valley, “like the garden of the Lord,” and took his people into it (Gen 13:10). In that beautiful valley nestled Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you’re inclined to blame your environment over the coming year for your indiscretion, peevishness, overaction, or pride, remember the environment in which sin first entered the world and remember you brought it with you when you came in.

Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash

‘Look For the Silver Lining’

In case you missed the memo, today is the last day of 2019. That doesn’t make it the end of the Teens Decade (even though Dennis Prager says it does), but that’s not a fight I want to have right now. In any case I’m more than ready to ashcan this one.

2019 was a year in which I hoped for much, and (mostly due to my own mistakes) ended up with my teeth scattered in the gravel. On top of that, we suffered a tragedy in my extended family – which I’ll not discuss right now – last weekend, just to wrap it all up in an ugly, asymmetrical bow.

I’m bemused by the memes going around pointing out that we’re about to enter the new Roaring Twenties. I kind of like that. Both my parents were born around 1920, and I grew up among people to whom that year was recent history – because it was. So I’m more comfortable with the Jazz Age than with whatever Age we’re shambling into now.

I looked for songs that became hits in the year 1920, and here’s one: “Look For the Silver Lining.” From the musical “Sally,” which debuted that year. Music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey and book by Guy Bolton, who was P. G. Wodehouse’s regular collaborator. There’s are a couple songs with Wodehouse lyrics in the play, “Joan of Arc” and “The Church Around the Corner,” recycled from earlier flop shows. “Sally” was a big hit, and made a star of its female lead, Ziegfield Girl Marilyn Miller.

It’s not a bad message to start a year with, even a century later.

Christmas Blogging

Pastor and author Ronnie (Kringle) Martin asked for five favorite Christmas songs that are not hymns. I offered these:

  1. Christmas Waltz (Bonus French version)
  2. One Cold and Blessed Winter (O Bambino)
  3. Christmastime Is Here
  4. White Christmas
  5. Gloria, by Charlie Peacock

And that got me thinking about Christmas things.

How many Christmas songs do we play that don’t have anything to do with Christmas? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a new cute video from Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé) is a winter song, not a Christmas song, but then “Silver Bells” is a Christmas song, and it has very little to do with it.

“My Favorite Things,” “It’s a Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman”? Not Christmas songs. How did “My Favorite Things” get on the seasonal playlist anyway?

Maybe the same way a movie set in December with Christmas trees, perhaps with a Christmas party, gets labeled as a Christmas movie. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or a movie set near Christmas? Is Home Alone one? (BTW, the score from Home Alone has good Christmas music. “Star of Bethlehem” is marvelous.)

Dixie-Ann Bell writes, “5 Reasons Little Women is a Great Christmas Movie” She enthuses over the theme, and oh my word! I tucked the main theme from this Thomas Newman score into my head years ago and forgot where I’d heard it. I don’t remember where I thought it was from; I think I ruled out Emma and Sense and Sensibility.

Continue reading Christmas Blogging

For your Spectation

I have a new column (as of Sunday) at The American Spectator Online. It’s the article on Hans Nielsen Hauge I’ve been warning you about.

I had the chance to meet a scholar recently, a woman from Norway. I went to hear her talk about a historical figure I’ve written about on this site before — Hans Nielsen Hauge (pronounced “HOW-geh”), the early 19th-century Norwegian lay revivalist.

In conversation after the lecture, someone brought up an undocumented but well-attested story — that it was a tradition at a nearby liberal seminary for some of the students to celebrate the anniversary of Hauge’s death with a drinking party where they would make fun of him.

The speaker said this surprised her. “In Norway,” she said, “Hauge is a hero to both sides. The conservatives admire him for his religious activities. The liberals admire him for being one of the founders of their movement.”

The Tale of Erling and Eindridi

A knarr, such as Eindridi would have sailed.

No book to review tonight. No great thoughts bubbling in my mind. What shall I post about?

Well, I’ve been reading the Flatey Book in the Norwegian translation, and I came on a little-known story about Erling Skjalgsson (it wasn’t new to me; I’d seen it before). To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only surviving story about Erling not also told in Heimskringla. I’ll be working it into a novel eventually, but there’s no harm telling it to you now. No doubt I’ll fiddle with it in my version, as is my wont.

It involves a young man named Eindridi, who was the son of Einar Tambarskjelvar (Gut-Shaker). Einar was a great chieftain in the Trondelag. If you’ve read The Elder King, you may recall him as a character in that timeless work. In TEK, he and Erling are good friends. In The Tale of Erling and Eindridi, things get a little touchy.

Erling had a daughter named Sigrid, whom he’d fostered out to the steward at Avaldsnes, the royal farm on Karmøy Island.

When (Saint) Olaf Haraldsson came in and started reorganizing the country, he took that stewardship away from Erling’s friend and gave it to a freedman named Tore the Seal (they also appear in TEK). He demoted Erling’s friend and sent him up to a less important farm further north. Sigrid went along with him, but chafed at being separated so far from her family.

One day a merchant ship docked near their farm, on its way south. Sigrid went to chat with the crew, and found that it was the ship of Eindridi, son of Einar Gut-Shaker. She asked him if she could hitch a ride south to her home at Sola. Eindridi was preoccupied, and let her join them without really registering whose daughter she was. Once they were under way, he realized he’d made a mistake (because she was supposed to be in her foster-father’s care, I think). But they had a fair wind, and there was nothing to do about it.

On the way south a storm blew up, and they had to run into an island, taking shelter in a fishermen’s shack. It was cold and wet, and the girl slept beside Eindridi, though they had no contact beyond a kiss. (At least that was their story.)

When they finally arrived at Sola, Erling was not at home. Eindridi was given a loft room to sleep in, and Sigrid came to join him, but he sent her away. Just then Erling Skjalgsson burst in, accusing Eindridi of dishonoring his daughter.

Eindridi fiercely denied touching the girl (beyond that kiss), and offered to go through the iron ordeal to prove his honor. Erling agreed to this, and Eindridi passed the trial with flying colors, carrying the glowing iron nine steps, and then having his burns examined after three days. Verdict: innocent. Erling then wished to be reconciled and offered him gifts, but Eindridi was deeply offended and prepared to sail home.

Erling’s son Skjalg went to him and told him he needed to make peace with Eindridi, because they couldn’t do without his father Einar’s support in their political struggle with Olaf. “What can I do?” Erling asked. “I’ve offered him gifts.”

“You need to offer a greater gift,” said Skjalg. “You need to offer him Sigrid as a wife.”

Erling hesitated at this. “A man of my rank,” he said, “does not offer his daughter to other men. Other men come and bid for his daughter.”

“And that’s why Eindridi will agree,” Skjalg answered. He did not say that it would be interpreted as an apology, something Erling couldn’t make in so many words. And – perhaps – he’d noticed that the two young people liked each other.

Erling sent Skjalg to make that offer, and Einar – realizing its significance – happily agreed. He was indeed taken with Sigrid, and she with him.

Sailing home, Eindridi met his father, who’d gotten word of events and was prepared to challenge Erling for his son’s honor. But when Eindridi explained the marriage offer, Einar immediately understood, and was pleased.

So Eindridi and Sigrid were married. (Though other sources name a different woman as Eindridi’s wife, so it’s not unlikely she died young.)

Not an exciting Viking story. But it is interesting in that it illustrates the kind of social limitations honor culture placed on even powerful men, and how they were able find ways of working around them.

The power of paper

Photo credit: Annie Spratt @ anniesprat

Okay, I’ve got another thing to write about Hans Nielsen Hauge (look a few inches down for my first post on him. It’s the one with the Sissel song), the Norwegian lay revivalist of the early 19th Century. (I’m doing my article for the Spectator too, but this is extra.) As was noted by the lecturer I talked to last week, Hauge is a hero both to the right and to the left in Norway – to the right for his religious influence, and to the left for being one of the founders of their movement.

Because in those days of yore, liberalism had little or nothing to do with socialism. It had nothing to do with sexual practices or the size of government.

Liberalism was about whether the common people should be allowed to participate fully in society. To move out of the social classes they were born into, and aspire to higher ambitions. Even to politics.

One thing our speaker mentioned that I hadn’t appreciated before was Hauge’s sideline in manufacturing paper.

I’d known that he established a paper mill, called the Eker Paper Mill. In it he employed unemployables – the blind, the crippled, amputees – allowing them to live productive lives and contribute to the community. I thought that a very nice thing.

What I didn’t realize was the significance of the paper mill itself.

Cheap paper was a new thing in those days. Paper use had formerly been limited to the elite, and the paper they had was often of poor quality. But new manufacturing techniques involving paper pulp permitted a larger public to get hold of the stuff.

Hauge immediately recognized the wider significance of cheap paper.

It was usual in those days for the common people to be able to read. They had to be able to read to finish “Confirmation,” the Lutheran process that gave young men and women access to the Bible and the Catechism, in order to be full church members.

But those people generally could not write. (I’d never thought about this, but writing is a very different skill. Only the upper classes [and not all of them] could write in those days.)

Hauge had a vision of “awakened” (his term) Christians corresponding with each other all over the country. They could share inspiration, news, and practical information, forming what we’d call today a Haugean “network.”

In order to make that happen, he did two things. One, he built a paper mill (perhaps more than one; I’m not sure), and he organized classes to teach people to write.

This, by the way, was alarming to the authorities. They saw no reason why people should have any regular contacts outside their home parishes. Revolution was abroad in Europe, after all; you never knew what those peasants might get up to. This accounts for some of the hostility Hauge encountered, leading to his ten year incarceration.

But his followers kept writing on Hauge’s paper. Eventually they started newspapers and publishing houses. And today he is a hero of literacy and liberal politics in Norway.

The importance of being Urnes

The Urnes Stave Church, by I. C. Dahl

Dendrodating indicates that part of Urnes Stave Church, which was estimated built before 1100, was constructed using timber from 1069 and 1070. The slightly younger part of Urnes is dated to 1129-1130.

For the sake of clarity: dendrochronology can date the year a tree was felled for the stave churches. The likelihood is that the felling year was also when the construction began.

Recently I’ve given a couple lectures about the conversion of Norway to the Christian faith. In those lectures I argue for a “revisionist” view (based on the arguments of Bishop Fridtjof Birkeli) that questions the traditional narrative, which credits two violent 11th Century missionary kings with the conversion. The view I’ve adopted holds that the conversion was a gradual, centuries-long process, and mostly a peaceful one. Much of the credit for that process arguably belongs to the 10th Century king Haakon the Good, whom the sagas tend to dismiss as a missionary failure.

That view gained a little credibility recently, when results of new research on the famous Norwegian stave churches was released by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage. New findings push the dates for some of the oldest stave churches back several decades. As stated above, wood in the Urnes stave church, previously dated to just before 1100, has now been re-dated to about 1069. That’s three years after King Harald Hardrada died – within spitting distance of the Viking era.

As you can see in the drawing above by artist I. C. Dahl, the Urnes church is far from the most beautiful of the stave churches – a fair amount of remodeling has gotten done on it over time, smoothing out some of the distinctive features. But the wall panel you can see has caused the “Urnes” name to be given to a whole era of Viking art – an elegant fusion of Norse and Celtic styles which I consider delightful.

Dendochronology has been an important and invaluable scientific tool for archaeologists for a while now. By identifying patterns in tree rings (a little like fingerprints) they’re able to date ancient wood to the exact year when the tree was cut. But to make dendochronological comparisons, you need to either be able to examine the end of the log, or to do a bore sample – and obviously nobody wants to drill a sample hole in a stave church pillar. The new technology of Photodendrometry allows scientists to examine the rings without destruction to the material – and to do it more accurately.

You can count on me to keep you updated on advances in Viking scholarship – whenever they confirm my own prejudices.