Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Blessing on Mother

In one of our old books, which was handed down from four generations ago, I found several newspaper clippings–a couple obituaries, an announcement of new officers to a Presbyterian organization, an ad for hearing aids, and a curious poetic blessing on mothers. The only credit is to Harper’s Magazine.

It looks like the kind of folklore people would pass around and think nothing of preserving, because that would be a kin to preserving grass. We assume such things will be around forever. A generation goes by, and maybe someone asks, “Do you remember that thing we used to say? It was so good.” But no one remembers. And maybe it wasn’t actually good.

They were words of their time, spoken like all words with dissipating breath.

I found it on a page scanned from a March 1877 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine with a bit of explanation not included in my paper clipping.

The following was recently written and sent by a distinguished clergyman to his mother. It was sent on a postal card:

    Dear Mother —
    From sweet Isaiah’s sacred song, chapter 9 and verse 6
    First 13 words please take and then the following affix;
    From Genesis the 35th, verse 17, no more.
    Then add verse 26 of Kings, book 2nd, chapter 4.
    The last two verses, chapter 1, 1st book of Samuel
    And you will learn what on this day your loving son befell.

Deciphering this from the King James, we read this.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”

“And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.”

“Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well:”

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:  Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.”

Keep the change

I’m reading slowly right now – lots of translating work to do. Here’s a personal challenge – even when I actually have plenty of time to finish a translation project, I tend to treat it as if I have a deadline looming. Which makes me neglect other important things (like reading books to review). There must be an adjective to describe such a condition. Oh yes, it’s called “obsessive-compulsive.”

I know how much you look forward to my semi-annual reports on dentist visits. Well, you’re in luck, because I just got back from the dentist.  And be prepared for High Drama!!!!!!!

OK, not exactly drama. Change. I have a new dentist.

My old dentist, unbeknownst to me, suffered from a chronic lung condition. He had some kind of crisis, I learned, and decided to move to Texas. He left his practice in the hands of an old classmate, and so I had to go to a new place.

“I’m not sure I’m prepared for a change of dentist at my time of life,” to paraphrase Saki.

New office. Different parking situation. And I had to fill out all the paperwork anew.

Why must I suffer so?

I also had a small cavity, which I’ll have to get filled in a few weeks.

My great sorrow was that I lost my Dental Hygienist. The old DH was a genuine beauty, a vision of feminine loveliness whose hands I looked forward to having in my mouth every June and December. The changeover announcement said that the staff had transferred along with the practice, but I think that was hype. The new DH was very nice, and perfectly solicitous of me. But she wasn’t Heather… or Denise… or whatever the old girl’s name was. No doubt she’s been snapped up by some high-end practice in Edina.

I see no consolation anywhere about me. Except chocolate.

(I apologize for the run-together words in tonight’s post. We have a new posting system at WordPress and it’s driving me nuts.)

New Cambridge Fellow focus of Academics’ outrage

A new research fellow at St Edmund’s College of Cambridge has riled 300+ professors who think he earned the position unethically. The Guardian offers a review of the complaints, which are not based on what Noah Carl has actually written but on characterizations of his research. 

“A careful consideration of Carl’s published work and public stance on various issues, particularly on the relationship between race and ‘genetic intelligence’, leads us to the unambiguous conclusion that his research is ethically suspect and methodologically flawed,” states the letter, which is signed by seven Cambridge professors and more than 700 other academics.

If Carl’s work has been carefully considered, then citing offending arguments and data shouldn’t be a problem. But when Quillette Magazine reviewed the work, they found nothing that aligned with the complaints. They asked one of the signatories to spell out his complaint and received a broad assertion that certain concepts have “at best questionable scientific validity” and cannot be taken in stride by anyone. Again Quillette couldn’t find these concepts in Carl’s work and are arguing for the public rebuke of the professors who appear to have signed a letter grounded in nothing by hearsay.

“Accusing a young scholar of ‘psuedoscientific racism,’ and claiming his work is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed,’ is not something that should be done lightly, given the likely impact on his career,” Quillette editors write. “Anyone who cares about intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity should join us in denouncing this witch-hunt.”

They asked many other academics for comment and received responses like this from Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business

Greg Lukianoff and I open chapter 5 of The Coddling of the American Mindwith a Durkheimian analysis of witch hunts. It works beautifully to explain the otherwise inexplicable and shameful open letter denouncing Rebecca Tuvel and calling for the retraction of a philosophy article that hardly any of the hundreds of signatories had read. That whole affair was an embarrassment for the academy and those who signed the open letter. Here we go again. If hundreds of professors think that Noah Carl conducts bad science, let them make the case, with quotations and citations. The “open letter” denouncing Carl is just a list of vague assertions and charges of guilt by association. If the signers think we should condemn anyone who gives ammunition to “extremist and far right media,” they should write a new letter condemning themselves.

Maybe the review process proposed by Susan Harlan in “A Poem About Your University’s New and Totally Not Time-wasting Review Process for Tenure and Promotion,” would help curtail these open letters. While a mob of professors is not funny, this is.

Yule be sorry

Christmas tree
Photo credit: Tj Holowaychuk@tjholowaychuk

What a weird season this is turning out to be. I enjoy what I’m doing for a living, but working part-time, from home, turns out to leave me less free time than I had when I was an upstanding cog in the system.

I usually put up my Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving, and I start writing my Christmas letter around the same time. Now it’s the 5th of December, and I’ve done nothing! Nothing!

I have failed as a Norwegian. Christmas is one of the things we do. My ancestors are ashamed of me.

But tonight I’ve put in six hours already, and I have a little latitude on the deadline, and I’ve made a personal commitment to starting the Christmas letter this evening.

Heaven knows I have a lot to write about. Mostly about my new semi-career, the schedule for which is the reason the letter will be late.

My Christmas letter is kind of an annual epic production. First I write it in English, then I translate it to Norwegian, for the recipients over there. Those letters have to go out first, because of postal transit time.

And there was something else, wasn’t there? … Oh yeah, the tree.

Well, the actual old tradition was to decorate and light it on Christmas eve. I may end up being traditional this year.

Itinerations of a Norwegian

As Steve Martin used to sing, “I’m a ramblin’ man.” Though I think rambling a while and coming home again wasn’t quite what he had in mind. To and fro, hither and yon. And back.

This past weekend I went down to Iowa to attend the annual Jul celebration at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Jul, as you must know if you’ve read my books, is what Norwegians call Christmas. Some family members who live down there were curious to attend the event, and invited me along. Note: It’s a one-day event.

If you live in these parts, you know what happened next. A massive ice storm glazed most of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Nobody was going anyplace. Instead of visiting Vesterheim, we vegged out at their house, watching Netflix. Then I drove home yesterday night. I got free food and lodging — who am I to complain?

Today I had another ramble to do. My translating boss has asked me to do some research for a book to tie in with “Atlantic Crossing.” I’d made an appointment with the archivist at the Norwegian-American Historical Association in Northfield, Minnesota. It’s not a long drive from the Cities.

The drive went OK. The problem was finding my way around St. Olaf College, where NAHA makes its home. Parking is hard to come by at Holy Oley, and I ended up parked in a remote outpost. I found my way to the proper address with the help of my GPS (I swear all the St. O. buildings look the same), and learned after asking around that NAHA is located down the stairs, down the hall, and then down another stairway.

I found it at last. The archivist and the director were both very gracious and helpful. I spent the proverbial day flipping through dusty files – which is kind of fun. Found some things I hope will be useful to my Norwegian masters. Then I went out in the cold and searched about 20 minutes for my parking lot – it was the third one I checked. Then home. It was rush hour when I got back, but miraculously the traffic ran fairly smoothly.

And that’s where I’ve been. No grass grows under my feet. Especially in December.

Watch for ‘Atlantic Crossing’

1944: Olav and Martha in America
In 1944: Left to Right: Crown Prince Olav, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, Eleanor Roosevelt, Crown Princess Martha, and Thomas J. Watson.

I don’t know how many readers of this blog are not also my friends on Facebook. If you’re one of those, you’ve gotten this news already. But if you’re not, I now have clearance to tell you about one of the translation projects I’ve been working on. It’s a miniseries called Atlantic Crossing, and shooting begins in December. Here’s a fresh article from Variety, announcing the casting of Kyle MacLachlan as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The story is about the Norwegian royal family during World War II, focusing primarily on Crown Princess Martha, who was married to the future King Olav V of Norway, and mother to the current king, Harald.

After the German invasion, Crown Prince Olav and his father, King Haakon, fled into exile in England. Martha took the children to neutral Sweden, her native country, where her uncle was king. But the machinations of the Nazis there led her to make the “Atlantic crossing” to the U.S. There she was welcomed by President Roosevelt, already a friend. Roosevelt enjoyed her company very much – which gave her the opportunity influence him to assist the Allies while the U.S. was still neutral. Much of the drama of the series involves the way Martha, a shy woman, moved out of her “comfort zone” to champion the Allied cause.

The issue that will probably raise the most public interest, though, is the question of Martha’s exact relationship with FDR. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marriage was well known to have been in name only, and Franklin loved the company of women. There are many rumors about affairs, and Martha is the subject of some of them. Continue reading Watch for ‘Atlantic Crossing’

Duty done

My great adventure in the judicial system is over. Turns out this week is perhaps the best week in the year to be called for jury duty. We pulled one jury panel out of our pool, and that was yesterday. Nada today. The powers that be (apparently) looked at the calendar, said, “Nobody’s gonna start a trial on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” and told us all we could go home, our obligations fulfilled. Saved the county our (minimal) pay. Happy hint: If you want to make a group of people very happy, hold them confined for two days, then let them go unexpectedly.

Here’s a cute feature – there are two ways of responding to a jury summons in these parts. You can report physically, as I and the others in our pool did, and sit around for a week waiting for your name to be called. Or… you can call in before the first day and asked to be placed on the “call list.” If you’re on the call list, all you have to do is call the courthouse the day before and ask if you’ll be needed the next day. If they tell you no, you’re free for the day.

Ah, but there’s a catch. A diabolical one, worthy of a Democratic Party county.

The term of service is two weeks. The people who turn up corporeally sit around for a week (if not empaneled) and usually get to go home after that first week.

On the second week, they summon the call-in people. Who therefore have to come in after all.

And next week the docket will be choked with cases they postponed for the holiday this week.

I chose… wisely.

Day one in the belly of the beast

I completed my first day of jury duty, and have survived to tell you about it. It was a day of much adventure – not in the task itself, which was a yawner, but in a peripheral matter, transportation.

Minneapolis has made a conscious decision to discourage automobiles. So I figured I’d take the bus. There was a time when I rode buses a lot – but that was in another age. I found that today they’re discouraging buses as much as cars – there are very few bus shelters with schedules posted downtown. What the Oligarchs want, I think, is for the masses to rise up and demand more light rail. They love light rail in Minneapolis – unsurpassed opportunities for graft.

It’s been a long time since I stood at a bus stop on a chilly street in Minneapolis, watching for a bus that might come in a minute or an hour – who knows?

But that was later. I had gone online and planned my trip into town. That trip went fine, except that I got off the bus too soon and had to walk a few blocks to get to the Hennepin County Government Center, which towers like a vertical peanut butter sandwich over downtown.

My day in the juror pool is quickly described. Mostly nothing. We sat in the assembly room, a large carpeted room full of circular tables. After a while a judge gave us a greeting. Then we waited some more. Then the jury manager gave us an orientation talk and showed us a film. Continue reading Day one in the belly of the beast

‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight here! This is the war room!’

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.

For instance. Continue reading ‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight here! This is the war room!’

“Few things sting more fiercely”

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.

Did 1918 Give Us Today’s Christian World?

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.”

Collin Hansen asked Baylor Historian Philip Jenkins about WWI’s influence on Christian peoples. Did the war or the end of it change the global church in significant ways?

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?

Can We Stop Yelling and Talk a Minute?

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.”

Here’s a word from Douglass that still resonates today: “Had the pulpit been faithful, we might have been saved from this withering curse.”

Gracy Olmstead recommends pulling back from our current hot spots and talking face to face.

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.

Bury Evil and Penalize Truthsayers

Progressive ideologues undermine every freedom they enjoy and increasingly blame the Jews for everything. From The New Critereon, “The way we live now”:

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 lgbtqSociety 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.”

Writing, leprosy, and other afflictions

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.