Category Archives: Uncategorized

Commitment (in two senses)

null
Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev

I’m still keyed up about my sudden admittance to the ragged outskirts of the movie industry. For all I know, this translation experiment will be a failure, culminating in shame and derisive laughter. And yet it seems to be going pretty well so far. Which leads me to ponder, after the manner of a script doctor, where this plot line in my life started.

It was a summer in the 1970s. I’d recently graduated from college, though I was still living in an upstairs apartment on campus. The woman I had fallen in love with, more than any other before or since, had recently left the country. I had a strong feeling that I’d never see her again (I was almost right), and that I would be forever sad and alone (I nailed that one). So what was I to do with the shards of my hardly-begun life?

I resolved to do two things. I would write a novel, and I would learn Norwegian.

My true motive for writing the novel was (I’m pretty sure) to Show Her. I would be a great and famous literary figure, and she would kick herself for missing out on a good thing every time she saw me guesting on the Carson Show.

That didn’t work out very well. The novel would be finished – eventually – and it would be published, about 20 years later. But to date it has failed to make me a beloved cultural icon.

My motive for learning Norwegian, I think, was that I had a vague idea that someday I’d travel to Norway, where I’d meet a wonderful woman who’d be impressed that I spoke her language and make me forget my sorrows.

That hasn’t worked out very well either.

But I stuck with the plan, by gum. And now the two of them together have snagged me an interesting job.

At this point, I suppose, I should close with a hackneyed meditation on the importance of perseverance.

But that’s only one possible lesson. Another is a similarly hackneyed bromide: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”

Fortunately, insanity is no handicap in the film industry.

The Norwegian word for ‘translator’ is ‘oversetter’

From time to time on this blog, thanks to Phil’s patience and longsuffering, I review movies and TV shows. Sometimes they’re foreign productions, often Scandinavian ones. One of my most frequent complaints about foreign films is the poor quality of the English translations.

It appears I’ll now be in a position to do something about that problem.

Briefly stated, I responded a couple days ago to an inquiry in a Facebook group, asking for people with Norwegian translation skills and writing abilities. I figured I might as well take a shot, and today I have an agreement to work as a freelancer with Meteoritt (Meteorite), an Oslo-based company that does translation, closed captions, and subtitles for film and television productions.

They’ve got me working on a very interesting project right now – but I can’t tell you what it is. There’s a non-disclosure agreement, for reasons that make sense once you get involved. When the project is released, I’ll be able to tell you I worked on it.

Some of you may be asking (as I asked myself) “What will that mean for your novel-writing?”

Well, in the short run, it will make it difficult.

But in a few months, if things go as I expect, my day job situation is likely to change. At that time I’ll probably be in a position to spend more time on the novel.

Maybe all this won’t work out. Maybe I’ll find the company incompatible, or the work too challenging. But if it prospers, it could set me up for my old age in a very agreeable manner.

I’m very happy about this.

‘Lost Conquest” documentary

Here is a link to a recent documentary (a little over an hour) about Viking enthusiasm in Minnesota, concentrating on the Kensington Rune Stone. I am not in it; I was in the throes of graduate school when it was made. But several friends and acquaintances of mine are featured. I missed the Midwest Viking Festival this past summer, but hope to make it again this year. See it here.

“Bill” by Wodehouse

Were you aware that, aside from being the funniest writer in history, P. G. Wodehouse helped invent the American musical comedy?

He and another Englishman, Guy Bolton, came to America early in the 20th Century to write for Broadway. At that stage, the theaters were running translated, Americanized versions of Viennese operettas. And that’s what Wodehouse and Bolton did at first. Then they branched out and began to write original plays of their own.

For one of those (now forgotten) shows, Wodehouse wrote the lyrics to a song named “Bill.” The production failed, but years later Jerome Kern (one of their collaborators) and Oscar Hammerstein dusted it off and inserted it into their production of “Showboat.” Thus it became the only Wodehouse song that remains in the songbook today.

Here it is.

“Let bookworms gnaw his entrails…”

Are you troubled by “friends” who borrow your books and never return them? Or return them soiled and dog-eared? Atlas Obscura reports on a book that describes the drastic measures medieval librarians employed — placing curses on the heads of book thieves and mutilators.

“These curses were the only things that protected the books,” says Marc Drogin, author of Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses. “Luckily, it was in a time where people believed in them. If you ripped out a page, you were going to die in agony. You didn’t want to take the chance.”

Read it all here.

Christian Smith: Higher Ed is Full of BS

You’ve probably heard Christian Smith quoted in a sermon or lecture within the last decade, even if you don’t know who he is. He’s the one who gave us the label “moralistic therapeutic deism” as a descriptor of what is commonly taught in American churches. Earlier this month in a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Smith describes the state of American higher ed in words I don’t expect pastors will quote so freely. He lists 22 things that are worthless in our university system.

Calling out the BS is not about my personal experience, limits, or feelings. It is not even only about the unconscionable fact that countless millions of students are receiving compromised and sometimes worthless college educations, as sickening as that is. Ultimately, we must grasp the more dreadful reality that all of this BS in the academy is mortally corrosive of our larger culture and politics.

It’s tragic, he says, but his contemporaries have probably lost all understanding of that concept.

No, the idea of tragedy is incomprehensible in institutions drifting in a Bermuda Triangle marked by the external-funding addictions of the STEM fields, the obsequious scientism of the social sciences, and the intellectual fads, ideological doctrines, and science-envy that captivate and enervate the humanities.

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.