In my new life working from home, I’ve found I need background noise. I don’t generally work in silence. I need music at least. Talk radio can be better, depending on the show. Most of all I kind of prefer some kind of TV in the room. I think that’s because my intellect is so dizzying that focused concentration on just one thing would burn out my cerebral cortex. Or something.
Anyway, the H&I channel currently runs an interesting block of programming from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Central Time. They give you 9 hours of a single series on each weekday. Mondays are Nash Bridges, Tuesdays House, Wednesdays JAG, Thursdays Monk, and Fridays Numbers.
Of those five, I only really like House and Monk. Stories about damaged problem-solvers. Can’t imagine why.
I tolerate JAG, most of the time. I like its patriotism and pro-military bias. But from the first it was sexually egalitarian, which annoys me.
Terry Teachout says the reason we all know Art Carney for his role as The Honeymooners‘s Ed Norton and not also for his performance as Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple is one of the saddest stories he knows.
“Carney, who started out as a comedian, discovered almost accidentally as a byproduct of the popularity of The Honeymooners that he had the stuff great character actors are made of.” But when filming The Odd Couple came around, Hollywood could not see that stuff for understandable reasons.
The Great War ended with the official Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, but arms were laid down on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. This Sunday is the hundredth anniversary of what we had hoped to be the end of all wars.
President Wilson proclaimed the following year: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
The war destroyed ancient centers of Christianity in the Middle East, especially among the Armenians and Assyrians. At the same time, the suspension of missionary enterprises shifted the balance in Africa and Asia to native forms of faith. That movement was massively enhanced in 1918 by the influenza epidemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million worldwide. That event showed the utter inability of Western missionaries and medics, and drove many ordinary people to seek help from healing churches, and from individual prophets and charismatic leaders. The great age of the African Independent Churches dates from this time.
As to the West, I can hardly begin! Contrary to myth, the war did not destroy the faith of ordinary people, but it did drive thought and writing by theologians, above all by Karl Barth. Barth published the first edition of his commentary on Romans in 1919, but it was the second edition, published in 1922, that according to one Catholic observer, “burst like a bombshell on the playground of the European theologians.” The book was a frontal attack on the liberal conventions that had shaped mainstream theology since the Enlightenment.
And that does not begin to talk about the great Catholic thinkers like Henri de Lubac, whose war experiences shaped their lives, and we see their lasting influence transforming the church in the Vatican Council of the 1960s.
Dare I say that the Christian world we know today is the product of 1918?
For those of us who believe in turning the other cheek (or at least we believe in the one who said we should turn the other cheek, whether or not we think at all about cheek-turning), civility is never futile. But it may be ignored.
The Intercollegiate Review is talking about civility this season. Alexandra Hudson notes the example of most American abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison “knew that true civility was more than trivial courtesy or naive ‘niceness.’ Civility requires taking our opponents’ dignity seriously, which means taking their ideas seriously, and that sometimes requires forceful and robust argumentation.” Frederick Douglass said, “’If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ But for Douglass,” Hudson explains, “‘struggle’ did not mean winning at any cost. He knew that if he was to ensure that all enjoyed the advantages of the rule of law, he could not undermine the rule of law in the process.”
This would help take the hot air out of online debates and put such discourse back into a humane context. It would also help citizens remember their duty to the physical spaces and neighborhoods around them. The decline of civility is part of a larger trend toward isolation in our society—a pulling away that, while not caused by the internet, has certainly been exacerbated by it.
The dismissal of the Holocaust as “white on white crime” is of a piece with another revisionary gambit. Campaigners for transgender rights at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently suggested that their political opponents be sent to the gulag, explaining (when criticized for this robust expedient) that Soviet gulags were places of “educational” reform and “rehabilitation.” To wit, a group called the lgbtq+ Society at Goldsmiths said, “sending a bigot to [a gulag] is actually a compassionate, non-violent course of action.” Why? Because, according to these sages, the Soviet “penal system was a rehabilitatory one and self-supporting, a far cry from the Western, capitalist notion of prison. [Well, they got that last point right.] The aim was to correct and change the ways of ‘criminals.’ ”
Since you mention gulags, Solzhenitsyn had a thing or two to say. “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
A quiet day today. The sky was overcast, the air cool. I noticed this when I went out to get groceries. They were entirely out of Fishers’ Light Dry-Roasted Peanuts at the Cub store. Can Soviet-style food lines be far behind?
Not much happened. I did some translation, but not the kind you get paid for. Then on to the novel. I’m done with marking up the latest draft of The Elder King, and I made a little start on changing the document file.
I’m scared of this book, again. I go in and out with the fear. I actually think it’s pretty good. Maybe almost great. I think I’m afraid because I’ll have to show it to my first readers soon, and they might tell me it’s not as good as I think.
I started to write an essay on leprosy, of all things, for this blog post, but I accidentally lost it and I’m not up to repeating the effort. I’ll just mention that leprosy’s medical name, Hansen’s Disease, comes from a Norwegian doctor, Gerhard Armauer Hansen (1841-1912), who first identified the bacillus, though somebody else actually linked it to the disease. He seems to have been something of a jerk, and he lost his job at a hospital for trying to infect a woman with leprosy without her consent. The fact that he was an atheist should not be taken as a having anything to do with that. Leprosy was a serious problem in Norway, especially among the poor. Hansen, to his credit, managed to reduce the incidence drastically during his tenure as Norwegian medical officer for leprosy.
More pulse-pounding excitement in my larger-than-life life, today. I got a summons for jury service. It starts on a date next month.
This is a pretty mundane thing, of course, but what struck me as I read the notice was that, if I were writing a novel about my life (not a project I’d recommend), this is precisely where I’d stick in a spot of jury duty. A new experience, outside my ordinary routine, just when things were getting dull and I had no particular commitments.
As if there were a Guiding Hand in the universe, or something.
Actually, I did jury duty once before, when I was living in Florida. I got called in, sat through a voir dire (is that how you spell it?) got rejected for the jury (it was a child abuse case, and I’ve been abused). I was told, along with the rest of the pool, at the end of the day (I think it was the third) that our services would no longer be required.
I expect doing it in the gritty metropolis of Minneapolis will be somewhat different.
I’m living my life right now like a… I don’t know. I need a good metaphor. Like a duck hunter? I don’t know when a job is coming in, but I try to have my shotgun ready and my eye on the sky. The email arrives – “Can you get this episode done before the end of the business day tomorrow?” (8 hours ahead in Norway) – and I clear the decks for action. An episode revision takes about a day to do, but it can vary. I don’t plan on doing much of anything else that day.
I live a life of action, like a TV hero.
Yesterday I actually did have something else going on – one of those rare occasions when a family member drops in to crash on my sofa for a night. It went fine. I was able to go out to dinner with him and still get the work done by about 9:00 p.m. I wasn’t able to make much conversation with my guest, but hey, that was a plus for him. Continue reading How we live now→
Stupid Leif Eriksson statue at Minnesota State Capitol
Leif Eriksson Day 2018. A day America pauses to… pretty much do nothing. Various Scandinavian groups have small celebrations sometime around the date (I’ll be speaking at one on Saturday, and it’s a good one) but the Leif Eriksson parades are few, and nobody gets a school day off.
However, as Christopher Columbus rapidly becomes an Unperson and an Enemy of the People, Leif seems to be gaining ground. Not by winning, but by losing less. For now.
I’m frankly a little embarrassed by most of the comparisons between Leif and Chris. It was fun when Columbus was riding high, and Scandinavians could pretend to be unfairly overlooked. Now it’s just kind of like kicking a guy when he’s down.
So here’s a moment of respect for Cristóbol Colón, who did not intend to genocide anyone. He intended to spread the Kingdom of God, and to save Europe from economic strangulation by the Islamic world. He was successful at both – at least until recently.
Big men do big things. Columbus did pretty big stuff. You can spit at the castle your grandfather built, but knocking it down will take some work. And it will leave you poorer.
Artist’s conception of me addressing the Icelanders
It’s always nice to be asked back, even when you’re a semi-agoraphobic. So I was pleased to be asked to speak for the second year in a row at the annual “Icelandic Leifur Eiriksson Cod Dinner,” in Bloomington, Minnesota. This gala event (some of the best cod I’ve ever enjoyed) will be held at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd., Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 5:30 p.m.
The deadline for reservations was Sept. 30, so maybe it’s too late to get in, unless you’re a popular celebrity like me. But you could contact Steingrimur Steinolfson at firstname.lastname@example.org and check.
It’s a cool opportunity to plug Viking Legacy, which concerns the Icelandic sagas sufficiently that it ought to interest the audience.
I’m moving a lot of copies of this book. It seems to be very well received.
Another Høstfest is høstory now (the 41st, they tell me). Everything went swimmingly. I sold all the books I brought (wish I’d ordered more). Had some interesting conversations, and met some interesting people (including a professional storyteller from Yorkshire and an elderly lady from Ringerike who showed me pictures of Halvdan the Black’s grave mound). No drama this year – everybody seemed to get along fine. Which suits me just fine.
Here’s a shot of our “Viking Village.”
And here’s a shot of my set-up. There was actually no Viking Bar, but I was next door to the Big Lost Meadery booth. I will neither confirm nor deny accepting the daily samples they shared with Vikings. Being next to the mead was good for business in any case.
And this is me looking epic in my personal space. The crowds did overwhelm me at times, but I managed to avoid going berserk.
Rode in and out with a friend. Stayed (for the third time) with one of the neatest couples I’ve ever met – people of great hospitality and excellent taste in Viking books.
I have a new column published at the Intercollegiate Review site today, in which I meditate on the place (if any) of the library in today’s educational institutions.
But mostly I play it for laughs.
Here’s where it would be easy to launch into a screed against this newfangled digital information age. Shelby Foote once said, “A university is just a group of buildings centered around a library.” This was, of course, pure idealism. I doubt any institution of higher learning has literally prioritized the library since that one in Alexandria burned down.
And who am I to complain? If digital media are the enemy, I’m Benedict Arnold.
Posts from me will be sporadic this coming week, as I’ll be making my (more or less) annual pilgrimage to the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota. I’ll be selling books, with Viking Legacy at center stage this year. And I figure there may be people around who’ll be looking for Norwegian translators. So I’ve printed up some business cards. Wish me luck.
Had a Viking gig this weekend. We participated in the Nordic Music Festival in Victoria, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities. Short drive, simple event. The weather was ideal, and everyone seemed pretty happy. I’d found one unsold copy ofViking Legacy, so I brought that (and sold it) and I brought a stock of West Oversea. My sales were not bad. I’d had an idea that this wasn’t a very good event for book sales, but I was pleased. Had some good conversations too. Iceland, the Kensington Rune Stone, the sagas. There were two food wagons, and one of them had hot mini-donuts. You can’t do much better than that.
Here’s our set-up. My Viking tent, with its lean-to annex, is on the left. My presentation has evolved over the years from nudging a place in among the others at a long table, to something like an “installation,” which involves a certain amount of labor to set up, tear down, and transport. Well, that’s what happens when you keep at it long enough. Thank goodness there’s people willing to help me with the work.
Did some fighting too. Even better, two of the new guys joined me, and carried on after I was tuckered out.