Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Only Right Feeling Is Guilt

Writing from the British Isles, Brendan O’Neill describes an old man he remembers from his childhood neighborhood, one he says he in every neighborhood. One who is friendly and racist. What reminded him of this man is Lena Dunham’s support of an argument against sushi being prepared and served by white college kids. Because Asian food should not be made, served, or, I guess, eaten by non-Asian people due to the sin of cultural appropriation.

‘Barbecue is a form of cultural power’, says a writer for the Guardian (where else). It’s a tradition of ‘enslaved Africans’ and you insult those people when you peel the pork off a pig belly in some Hackney hangout. Eating, like everything else, is racism. Even tea is under attack. It’s a ‘boring, beige relic of our colonial past’, says Joel Golby, a writer for Vice, the bible of Shoreditch bores. You can’t even have a cuppa without being induced to feel colonial guilt.

(I wonder if Joel Golby is being honest there. He may just be griping over his own cup of tea.)

I was thinking that might leave us with a simple dietary rule: if your grandmother wouldn’t have made it, you can’t eat it. But even that doesn’t work. The sins of the past, if they cling to our food stuffs today, will never leave us.

There’s no logical end to this rationale. I saw Christophe Gans’s marvelous version of Beauty and the Beast this week. It’s a movie in the vein of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, though a step more edgy. If we apply to it this cultural appropriation logic, Gans was right to make his movie, because he’s and his actors are French and the original fairy tale was French, whereas Disney is a bunch of cultural thieves for making what may be the best animated movie ever and their new live-action edition is like a sushi taco.

I have a volume of the works of Chekhov behind me. It was printed in the US in 1929 by Black’s Readers Service Company. If I enjoy reading this book, am I guilty of taking from Chekhov’s culture? Is the publisher? Is the translator?

O’Neill’s point is that the old racist in his neighborhood is now the new racist in the college commons, both telling him not to eat that junk from another culture and stick with the meals his mama makes. And the old racist may being living by his creed, but the new one doesn’t have the time to think about it.  (via Prufrock News)

Multitasking Doesn’t Go Deep

Multitasking is a great method for shallow work, but in order to do something thoughtful, something perceptive that will last a while, you need to focus. Author Cal Newport calls this “Deep Work.”  The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania examines some of Newport’s thinking. This idea, they say, may not apply to every line of work. Creative work would benefit the most. Social media is geared to work against your focus, attracting attention to itself constantly.

Interestingly, [Marshall] Meyer says he suspects there is a link between lack of focus, and the natural selection that has led to the kinds of leaders and leadership style favored today. “In the last 20 or 30 years, there’s been a lot of attention to leadership, and the two characteristics of leadership that stand out are charisma and positive mood affect,” he says. “And that’s contributed in my judgment to the dynamic we now have where people are up, outgoing, and are consistently swamped with information and don’t focus and don’t have the time to focus. No one has thought about historic changes in personal leadership styles, and no one has thought that maybe the person who is by nature introspective and even a little depressed might make the best decision.”

For Your Spectation

My latest essay for The American Spectator Online discusses a recent event on the Minneapolis art scene. No, really.

Apparently it never occurred to anyone involved with the Scaffold sculpture, in the throes of their virtue signaling, to consult the leadership of the Lakota tribes about the matter. It turns out the Lakota didn’t care to see a huge scaffold erected in their honor. The first time, apparently, was plenty. The re-opening had to be delayed while the sculpture was dismantled (probably to be burned).

Read it all here.

Uber than thou

I will never be the Ubermensch, alas, but I am currently living the Uber life.

You know about Miss Ingebretsen, my tastefully beautiful PT Cruiser automobile. She’s been teaching me hard lessons about having tastefully beautiful women in your life – they tend to be high maintenance. Recently I’ve been having Miss I. in the shop almost on a weekly basis. And that was just the preliminaries.

Last Saturday I was driving along 42nd Avenue North in Robbinsdale, on a routine jaunt to the grocery store, when Miss I. gave a discrete cough and shut down. Right there in the street. Wouldn’t start again, of course.

I had her towed to the garage, which was closed at the time, of course. Had to wait till Monday morning to tell the mechanics what I’d laid on their plate. Then it was Uber to work. Later the shop guy called me back: “I haven’t got any good news for you,” he said. Continue reading Uber than thou

Danish Day, 2017

I apologize for standing you up last night. My service provider, apparently, suffered a major outage in my area. At least that’s their excuse.

I wanted to tell you about Sunday. I’ve done this almost every year pretty much as long as I’ve been blogging. Danish Day at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis. The first big event of the summer for the Viking Age Club & Society.

As you know (or if you don’t, pay attention!) I finally broke down and got a smart phone last winter. I’m cautiously learning the pleasures associated with that device (though I never plan to tweet. I fail to see the charm of tweeting, or of following tweets).

On Sunday I did my first Food Selfie. I’d bought what they call a Danish Hot Dog (or pølse), and I thought I’d take a photo with my phone and post it to Facebook.

Poelse

Got lots of responses. Amazing what fascinates people nowadays. Our lives must be very dull.

But amidst all the discussion, in which I defended (for instance) the use of ketchup on hot dogs against the authority of Clint Eastwood himself, I got a response from my distant cousin in Denmark, who had intelligent and enlightening things to say about the Danish hot dog tradition.

It’s all quite silly, but I have to concede it’s fun. And if we can have international fun in these troubled times, why not? Continue reading Danish Day, 2017

‘The most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech’

Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us the phrase about shouting fire in a crowded theater. Most people are against such shouting, despite today’s audiences being more likely to look around with irritated curiosity than to panic. Pulling the fire alarm in a crowded theater would cause a problem, and this censorship of free expression is the law. (Why can’t you pull a fire alarm to express yourself? Why can’t you call 911 to talk to give your opinion? Is this 1984?)

Here’s what Justice Holmes actually wrote. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

He gave this opinion in support of the Supreme Court’s conviction of Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, for writing a pamphlet in opposition to the WWI draft. Two similar cases came up that year and were decided the same way. Calls to “assert your rights” were compared to inciting panic in entertainment houses.

Back in 2012, Trevor Timm wrote about how abused the shouting-fire phrase has become and how much damage it has done to America’s concept of free speech. “Its advocates are tacitly endorsing one of the broadest censorship decisions ever brought down by the Court. It is quite simply, as Ken White calls it, ‘the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech.'”

We call them ‘wall hangers’ nowadays

Viking sword
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Via Dave Lull: An article from J-Stor by James MacDonald, on new Danish research that indicates that some Viking swords were never meant for a fight. “The trick to creating an ideal sword using this technique is to distribute different types of metal that balance hardness and flexibility—durable enough to hold an edge while absorbing the shock of contact. The scanned swords were not made in such a way that they can both cut and flex.”

I mentioned the story to a reenactor friend last weekend, and he wasn’t greatly surprised. The sagas do not speak of swords made entirely for show — what we call “wall hangers” today. But we know that sword making was an iffy proposition. The “Havamal” says, “Praise no sword until it has been tested.” And one unfortunate character in one of the sagas comes proudly home from Norway with a beautiful sword with gilded furniture. But when he tries it in a fight, it bends, and he has to set the tip on the ground and try to straighten it by stepping on it.

So it’s not unreasonable that a status-conscious Viking might have bought a sword purely for show, as a status symbol, but would depend in battle on his trusty axe, which was easier to use anyway.

Memorial Day 2017

On Memorial Day, it is customary to remind people, in the midst of their barbecuing, to take a moment to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers in many wars, so that we might enjoy our freedom.

I think it would be more appropriate, this year, to take the ashes from our barbecues, strew them on our heads, dress in sackcloth, fall to our knees, and beg forgiveness for the uses to which we’ve put that freedom.

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.