Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pronouncing Old Norse names

I haven’t yet posted any links to Prof. Jackson Crawford’s videos. I have not viewed as much of his stuff as I probably should have, but what I’ve seen impresses me very much. In this short one he tells us how the Vikings pronounced a number of names of gods and mythological characters. If you’re wondering whether I pronounce them that way, no, I confess I don’t. But it’s good to learn.

Have a good weekend.

The Draw of Historical Re-enacting

We have many historical re-enactors or living historians where I live. Our neighboring battlefields and monuments need context to understand what happened on this land 150 years ago and more. Just to the north of where I live is a park dedicated to the Cherokee nation and the beginning of the Trail of Tears. A few miles down the road is a national battlefield where the Confederate army won a major battle just before losing a bigger one.

What is the draw and the danger of re-enacting portions of history?

It isn’t only recreational. Craftspeople specialize in creating historical replicas, like the armour that was used in the Marathon re-enactment. Experimental archaeologists test specific hypotheses about aspects of history as a form of academic inquiry. Inevitably, some guesswork is involved; recreating the past means you have to fill in a lot of little gaps in the historical record. . . .

Even within specific groups of re-enactors, people hold a range of views about how closely clothing, items, and activities should mimic the originals. “Some people are button and stitch counters, and they’re not much fun,” says one re-enactor, dressed in wool clothes and standing in a field outside Hamilton, Ontario. (He was taking part in an annual living-history recreation of late medieval Italy, in the spring of 2016.) “They’re so historically correct it becomes ridiculous.”

(via Prufrock News)

The death of a fruitful man

I went to another funeral today (they come more and more frequently these days), down in Kenyon, Minnesota, my home town. The departed was Jim, one of my dad’s cousins. In point of fact, his farm was right across the road from ours – probably a half mile from house to house, due to the distance between our driveways and the length of his driveway.

In spite of our kinship and proximity, I never knew Jim terribly well. Turns out there was more to him than we ever guessed – farmer (we knew that), helicopter mechanic in Korea, electrician, small businessman, lifelong learner, short-term missionary, skier, and parasailer.

But the achievement that impressed me most, and must have impressed everyone there, was that he left behind a large number of descendants. He and his wife had had five children, and with their grandchildren and their spouses they filled up several pews in our little church.

The virtue of leaving a large family (with a godly heritage) behind is something any Bible character would have understood. Not for them the anxious handwringing of the modern man or woman, wondering if he/she might be “wasting their lives” if they expend their energies and financial resources on “mere” child-rearing. The idea that leaving a large progeny behind is a noble goal went without saying in Bible times.

As I thought about Jim’s life, it occurred to me (and I said it to the widow), that he had lived a really good life. In basic human terms, stripped of fripperies and cheats like ambition and acquisition, he had lived a truly blessed life in a charmed place in a charmed time in history. There are only a few things that matter when you’re on your deathbed, and Jim was rich in them.

Which made it all the more poignant to read this article over at Threedonia (it contains links to a Smithsonian article; I’ll let them have credit) about the great evil and suffering inspired by a book we all trusted back when I was in college: Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. (No Amazon link; the heck with it.)

The International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council, the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund, the Hugh Moore-backed Association for Voluntary Sterilization and other organizations promoted and funded programs to reduce fertility in poor places. “The results were horrific,” says Betsy Hartmann, author of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs, a classic 1987 exposé of the anti-population crusade. Some population-control programs pressured women to use only certain officially mandated contraceptives. In Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan, health workers’ salaries were, in a system that invited abuse, dictated by the number of IUDs they inserted into women. In the Philippines, birth-control pills were literally pitched out of helicopters hovering over remote villages. Millions of people were sterilized, often coercively, sometimes illegally, frequently in unsafe conditions, in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

But better that than being a Science Denier, I guess.

Did Gingerbread Houses Come from Fairy Tale?

Our family has made gingerbread houses since we were married. We can’t remember whether we made them every year in the beginning or what year my wife worked up a chocolate version. We have made one most years since the kids were born (The photo above is from many years ago). This year’s house was much softer than usual, even though my fist still hurts from busting it last night.

Some people are saying gingerbread houses were inspired by Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” but that story was published in 1812. While it may have popularized family gingerbread house-making, Germans were making these cookie houses for a couple hundred years already and had become a Christmas tradition. Tori Avey of The History Kitchen offers many more interesting details from the history of gingerbread.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

Onomatopoeia Are Like Sensual Puns

I just learned Onomatopoeia is the name of a villain in Green Arrow and Batman comics.  Hmpf.

Putting that aside, an onomatopoeia is a word formed from an imitation of related sounds, such as splash, thump, or blink. Wait, blinking doesn’t make any sound, but perhaps it is an onomatopoeia by another name. I don’t know Latin enough to suggest an alternative word.

This writer on Japanese language and culture applies the term to many interesting Japanese words. “A well-cleaned floor shines pika pika, while a light, fluffy futon is fuwa fuwa.” The word for “thorn” is ira and for “annoyed” is ira ira.

Saint Thomas’ Day

Erling Skjalgsson's Death

For a change, I’m going to write a day-specific post the day before, so that if you read it tonight, it can depress you all day tomorrow.

December 21 is Saint Thomas’ Day, the shortest day of the year (though they didn’t know that in the Viking Age. They always figured St. Lucia’s Day, December 13, was the shortest of the year. I’m not sure why. Centrifugal force, maybe).

The death of Erling Skjalgsson (“hero, as you know,” he said, “of my Viking novels”) at the sea battle of Boknasund (Soknasund in the sagas, but that’s probably a scribal error) on December 21, 1028, is one of the earliest datable events in Norwegian history. The earliest is another event in which Erling was involved, the battle of Nesjar, on Palm Sunday (March 25) 1016. Erling didn’t come out too well on either occasion, though the defeat at Nesjar was hardly his fault. Jarl Svein Haakonsson was his commander in that battle, and Svein did not distinguish himself against their enemy, the wily Olaf Haraldsson (later Saint Olaf).

Erling fell victim to a ruse the day he died, again fighting against Saint Olaf’s men. I won’t go into the details; suffice it to say that Erling died with honor and Olaf went away frustrated, soon to flee the country altogether.

Before you ask, yes, I’m toiling away at my next Erling book, which still lacks a final title. As I’ve told you before, it’s a hard book for me to write. I think there are two reasons.

One, Erling’s nemesis, Olaf Haraldsson, appears in this book. This is the beginning of Erling’s long final struggle, a Game of Thrones-like political duel with the young, arrogant Olaf. I like Erling, and do not look forward to depicting his fall.

Two, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking, “I’ve got to finish the Erling books before I die.” I don’t expect to die any time soon, though the actuarial tables are beginning to catch up with me. But I think I have the subconscious idea that once I do finish the Erling books, I will die. Which is nonsense, but that’s the way my mind works. I’m a fantasy author.

So remember Erling Skjalgsson tomorrow, on the 989th anniversary of his death (think Davy Crockett at a maritime Alamo). Or if you’re doubtful about that, you could remember Saint Thomas the apostle.

‘Det lyser i stille grender’

I almost posted something about My Senator, Al Franken, tonight. But the more I thought about it, the less I had to say. In my opinion this is pretty much all political triangulation — on both sides. No actual repentance is apparent anywhere.

Christine Keeler, the “party girl” at the center of the Profumo Scandal which brought down an English Conservative government in my youth, died the other day, old and poor. I was reminded of Mark Steyn’s obituary on John Profumo, the disgraced politician in the case. Profumo gave up politics and gave his life to good works, working in soup kitchens, etc., for the rest of his life. I think we can be fairly sure Al Franken will not be doing that. Nor will Roy Moore (or, less likely, President Trump), if things should go so far.

Instead, here’s an old film clip of one of my favorite Christmas songs from Sissel — one that, for some reason, seems to have fallen off her Christmas repertoire. The song tells, very broadly, of how the light of Christmas spreads gradually over the whole earth on Christmas Eve night.

‘Walkin’ in my Winter Underwear’

Why is this the best time of year? Because when I’m reading a long book, as I am now, I can share wonderful musical moments like this in lieu of a review. It’s a precious memory from my childhood, from a kid’s show called “Lunch With Casey,” broadcast in the Twin Cities in the 1960s. I’ve shared it before, but I’m doing it again because I know how much it means to you.

Why Does Halifax Send Boston a Christmas Tree Every Year?

On the morning of Thursday, Dec. 6, 1917, the captain and crew of a French munitions ship called Mont-Blanc were eager to reach the safety of Halifax Harbour, and with good reason,” writes John U. Bacon for The Boston Globe. The ship was chock-full of explosives for use against Germany. But before it could reach the harbour, you might say mistakes were made.

The ship exploded at in dock at a force estimated to be one-fifth that of the first atomic bomb.

About two hours after the explosion, Governor Samuel W. McCall sent a telegram to the mayor of Halifax: “Understand your city in danger from explosion and conflagration. Reports only fragmentary. Massachusetts ready to go the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of. Wire me immediately.”

Probably the only feminist post you’ll ever see from me

All of a sudden, it seems old cases of sexual abuse are being dragged out into the light. Almost all at once. As if there’s been a massive sea change in our society. Perhaps that’s true. There comes a moment when the dam breaks, when the worm turns, when the last straw sends the camel off to the chiropractor.

But I’m inclined to think of it as chickens coming home to roost.

I’m fairly sure there’s lots of political maneuvering going on at the moment. I’m certain there are plenty of slimy things still hiding under a lot of rocks. Both sides are firing warning shots, to remind their opponents that this is a game any number can play.

That’s because of the place we’re at in history.

Any man (and yeah, we’re talking mostly about men here) who’s alpha enough to have achieved political power (or Hollywood power, for that matter) by our present decade was probably coming into sexual maturity in the 1970s, or at least in the 1980s which were the residue of the ‘70s. And that was the age of the Sexual Revolution. We had at last shucked off the carapace of Puritanism (or Victorianism) and discovered the Prime Truth: Sex Is Good.

I remember the propaganda. Sex is Good. Always good. Morally good. Good for you. Good for society. Sex good. Experimentation good. Marriage bad.

What nobody mentioned was the tremendous pressure this put on young women. “Come on baby, I know you want to. Hey, you’re not repressed, are you? You’re not one of those hung-up bourgeois, are you? You want to smash capitalism, don’t you? You want to end the Vietnam War? Then get with the program, girl! Here, ingest this.”

And of course they couldn’t complain. Didn’t want to be square. Didn’t want to be one of those God Squadders.

Today, at long last, women are starting to feel free to tell the stories. And alpha males everywhere are suddenly very worried.

Post-dental thoughts

I’m late to blogging tonight. I had my semi-annual dental exam and cleaning after work. Alas, my customer rating will have to be only a C, because I didn’t draw the beautiful young dental hygienist tonight. My dentist did the job himself. Let’s hope they up their game next spring.

From Futurism.com: “Eight ‘Facts’ About the Human Body Debunked by Science.”

“It’s impossible to prove that no two [fingerprints] are the same,” Mike Silverman, a forensic science regulator in the United Kingdom, told The Telegraph. “It’s improbable, but so is winning the lottery, and people do that every week.”

I remember seeing the tongue-rolling thing used as an example in one of my school textbooks (high school or college; I forget), no earlier than the 1960s. Even though, according to this article, it was debunked around 1952.

Tip: Books, Inq.

Remember, trust no one. Except Brandywine Books. Oh, and the Bible.

Contemporary Buildings Actually Hate You

Let’s be really honest with ourselves: a brief glance at any structure designed in the last 50 years should be enough to persuade anyone that something has gone deeply, terribly wrong with us. Some unseen person or force seems committed to replacing literally every attractive and appealing thing with an ugly and unpleasant thing. The architecture produced by contemporary global capitalism is possibly the most obvious visible evidence that it has some kind of perverse effect on the human soul.

Brianna Rennix & Nathan J. Robinson explain why you dislike contemporary architecture and, if you don’t, why you should, with some truly stunning examples. (via Hunter Baker)

The joys of home ownership

In my mind, it’s a great big crisis; high drama.

What it is, is that I agreed long ago to go along with my neighbor on a mutually beneficial property improvement project. And yesterday I signed the contract and cut a check, and the work will probably start this weekend.

My neighbor has been as amiable as he could be. I’ll be slightly in debt for a few months, but I saved a big chunk of money by scheduling at this time of year, so that’s OK.

Everything’s fine. And I feel like retiring to my fainting couch.

Is this what it’s like to be a grown-up?

And now, this:

Gene Edward Veith shared this “open letter” today, taken from a comment on his blog. It’s a letter to the next church shooter, inviting him to consider the writer’s own church.

And the whole “death” thing raises a very important point. Ours is a Christian church and death is a particular interest of ours. We think we have it figured out. As you enter our sanctuary, you won’t be able to help noticing that the most prominent feature displayed there is a large cross – an ancient Roman instrument of execution. It’s our teaching that it was a death, the death of God’s Son on a cross like that, that frees us from the fear of our own death. Don’t misunderstand – we’re not seeking death, but we’re not fearing it, either. Jesus demonstrated that if we followed Him through our own death, we would then follow Him into resurrection and eternal life. He demonstrated this for us and that demonstration was remarkably well-documented both in the Book He left for us and in the lives of His closest friends and followers, most of whom died rather than deny that Jesus’ resurrection had happened. Which to our way of thinking is a very strong endorsement.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2017/11/dear-next-mass-church-murderer/#Mu5vrWCFBfEv2QZ3.99

It’s also worth doing well

I have very few fond memories of the time – decades ago – when I used to watch the 60 Minutes TV program. But one of them is (I think, it might possibly have been a different show) a segment on the Portsmouth Sinfonia, “the worst orchestra in the world.” Atlas Obscura has an article about it:

The original Sinfonia consisted of 13 members, mostly students who had little to no musical experience. The “scratch” orchestra was meant as a one-off joke, part of a larger collection of silly acts. And they didn’t win the contest. Still, their playful irreverence hit a nerve. Spurred on by an outpouring of enthusiasm for their initial performance, the Sinfonia continued to play, growing in size over the next several years. Their policy was that anyone, of any skill level, could join, with the exception being that skilled musicians could not join and simply play poorly on purpose. Another rule was that all members had to show up for practice.

For a while they attracted large crowds, and they even cut a couple albums. People (like me) were charmed by the blatant effrontery of the thing. It was a sort of an embodiment of Chesterton’s maxim, in his essay on amateurism, that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

The concept is fun, but it seems to me there’s a serious side too. The pleasures of bad music, like other pleasures of the flesh, are fleeting. In the end, quality counts. There’s a difference between enthusiasm and virtuosity, and virtuosity has staying power. It’s worth preserving.

Which brings me to this link, from Legal Insurrection, about protests at very liberal Reed College, Portland, Oregon. A number of students are angry that the school’s Humanities 110 course, a core course in the freshman curriculum, concentrates on western civilization.

I’m gonna go ahead and say it. Western civilization is the best civilization the world has ever seen. The very anger of the course’s opponents is a symptom of their cognitive dissonance, a refusal to accept the evidence of history, science, and their own senses.