Weekend postmortem

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 of Viking 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.

Nordic Music Festival 2018

Did some fighting too. Even better, two of the new guys joined me, and carried on after I was tuckered out.

Does ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Mean ‘Just Preach the Gospel’?

Jesus told a story about a successful man and social outcast who rescued the victim of highwaymen on a Jericho road in response to a lawyer’s self-justifying question. “Yes, yes,” the lawyer said, “I know loving God with all of my heart, mind, and strength means I must love my neighbor, but surely some people are not my neighbors. Some people are actually beneath me, aren’t they?”

And we continue to seek self-justification today.

Jared Wilson offers five reasons for applying the gospel to societal ills as a rebuke to those who suggest orthodoxy means orthopraxy and to spend much time on the latter will undermine the former. (Of course, those who teach this don’t believe that because they only bring it up in select context.)

Jesus did not come simply preaching the gospel as idea but the gospel as kingdom. One need only consider Paul’s words in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 to see how expansive the finished work of Christ really is, just how much it is supposed to impact. For several years now, we’ve had certain corners of the church warning us about neglect of holiness and the law, scolding what they see as “cheap grace” and bloodless belief. Now many in these same corners are insisting that just the gospel message will do the trick against ethnic divisions or other sins. You rarely hear this imperative in response to the challenges of illegal immigration or the systemic injustice of abortion. Perhaps it’s because those issues do not effect us — or indict us — as directly.

‘Love is Blue’

I never intended to designate Friday as music day around here, but I seem to consistently run out of books to review, and thoughts of any kind, by Friday. So I’ve been digging up songs from my past. Several of them were cheerful European songs, which was a kind of a thing when I was a kid.

This one, though it is European, isn’t from my childhood but my adolescence. It was a big hit around the time I finished high school and started college. It meant a lot to me in those days. “Love Is Blue,” written by Andre Popp and performed by Paul Mauriat’s orchestra. It placed fourth in the Eurovision Song Contest, but still went on to become an international hit.

Which is a lesson to us all.

The Ones We Remember

Mary Turner’s story died when she died. Mary Turner’s protest died when she died. Mary Turner’s pre-born baby died when she died. Mary Turner’s name died when she died.

You don’t recognize her name. You don’t recognize her story. And if you were there on May 19th, 1918, you wouldn’t recognize her body either.

Mary Turner was a mother of three. She was a wife to Hayes Turner. She was a woman of colour—and that’s why she was killed in Lowndes County, Georgia.

Samuel Sey tells the horrific story of Mary’s lynching, which took place 100 years ago last May. “Mary Turner is just one of 4,743 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1968—and you don’t know their names. You don’t know their stories. You don’t know their faces—except one: Emmett Till.”

He offers a simple reason to explain and apply this reality to today.

Shippey on Vikings

My friend Dale Nelson suggested I read Tom Shippey’s Laughing Shall I Die, a book on the Viking Age focusing on its warrior ethos. This isn’t a review, because I’m still reading the book. It’s quite long. But I’m finding it immensely congenial, a book that reinforces my prejudices – and who doesn’t enjoy that? Broadly speaking, it’s a sort of a backlash book against the prevailing consensus in Viking studies, the one that says, “The Vikings were really pretty much like everybody else. They just got bad press because their enemies wrote the history books.” I must admit I’ve said the same sort of thing, especially at reenactment events, but I’ve always held secret reservations.

Shippey (a Tolkien biographer and “the Professor’s” successor at Oxford) says phooey to all that. The Vikings, he says, were masters of violence and of psychological warfare. They won by intimidation, and through belief in something like a death cult. Here’s what he says about the political upheavals that wracked Scandinavia in the time of Beowulf:

Using modern terms, the story is one of centralizing power, professionalization of the military, disappearance of local groups and tribal names, and wars – so Hedeager suggests – to control strategic resources including land and access to bog iron.

The last is a modern view, by a modern scholar who characteristically prefers sensible economic motives for war. Our ancient texts, like Beowulf and Hrolf’s saga, suggest just as plausibly that the wars were undertaken for glory, for revenge, to expand power.

The freelance life

Fortune cookie

Week one of unemployment. Or, depending on your point of view, week one of free-lancing. I’m a little confused on the point. In theory, I ought to be throwing myself into my job hunt right now. But (although I’ve cast a few lines into the water), I’ve been too busy… working.

The Norwegian media company I translate for (may they prosper like the North Sea oil fields) sent me a fairly hefty chunk of prose to process – another densely worded script outline. And the deadline was tomorrow, which it almost is now in their time zone. So I jumped on it and turned it in a couple hours ago. Since this will eke out my finances, however briefly, I think it merits priority over mailing resumes.

The idea of just being a freelancer is extremely beguiling. But I need more income sources than this one company. So I guess I’ll be fishing for freelance gigs at the same time I’m looking for a regular job. Sometimes I think the freelance dream is a worthy goal. Sometimes I think it’s moonshine – get a real job. After all, unemployment is way down. Unfortunately, the market for librarians is saturated, and there’s never been a big market for writers.

But we’ll see. I haven’t even gotten my bearings yet.

When I ate at a Chinese restaurant tonight, my fortune cookie said, “You will be wildly successful in the entertainment field.”

I think the Almighty’s just messing with me.

‘Coffin, Scarcely Used,’ by Colin Watson

Coffin, Scarcely Used

I am fond of English police procedural mysteries. But I’m frequently annoyed by the increasing political correctness infecting the genre and turning it into a form of fantasy. So a series of English procedurals written during the 1950s seemed like just the ticket for me, especially when the books are described by critics as “wickedly funny.”

Coffin, Scarcely Used is the first of the Inspector Purbright series, set in the fictional seaside town of Flaxborough. No crime is suspected when a city councillor dies suddenly. But when his neighbor, the former local newspaper publisher, is found dead of electrocution, wearing carpet slippers, underneath an electric pole near his house, questions get asked. As Purbright and his assistant dig into the lives of the two men and their circle they unearth secrets that the foremost citizens of the town would rather keep secret.

I didn’t enjoy Coffin, Scarcely Used as much as I hoped. The whole affair seemed to me lightweight and superficial, in the way of the classic English cozies. I generally approve of cozies in the moral sense, but I prefer the grittiness of hard-boiled stories and the more recent generations of procedurals. And the humor, though sometimes fairly Wodehousian, just didn’t move the needle enough for my purposes.

But you may feel differently. If Coffin, Scarcely Used sounds to you like your cup of tea, enjoy it.

Reading Encourages Virtue

World News Group’s Listening In podcast interviews Professor Karen Swallow Prior today on how reading broadly and deeply enriches our lives and encourages moral virtue. The talk anticipates the release of Prior’s book, coming out in a few days, called On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.

The talk begins by describing the classic understanding of the “good life” and spends some time on courage as a measure of how much good would be preserved over the risk of the action.

The Pure Fun of LitRPG

Professor Joseph Bottum explored a new genre a couple years ago, one he found fairly enjoyable despite its weaknesses.

LitRPG, this new fiction is called, its stories set inside computerized role-playing games. The result is a little hard to describe. It’s sort of a cross between science fiction and fantasy—with a good dose of layered realities, à la The Matrix, as the characters transition in and out of computer simulations. And as of this summer, Amazon lists well over a thousand of the things, with around 90 percent of them existing only as e-books, and 90 percent of those self-published.

If a single one of the novels is well-written I have yet to find it, as I crashed my way through thirty or so of them in the past few months.

I looked up one of the novels he mentioned and found this note on an updated edition, “The new edition features heavy grammar and word choice updates.” So the previous edition must have been a draft. But while the ambitions of these writers are low, their stories are generally pretty fun. “As a result,” Bottum says, “they’re producing what is sometimes more fun, but always more pure, as a species of light genre fiction.”

Apres moi, le deluge

Counting down the last two days of my librarian career. I am not doing well, thanks for asking. Sleeping badly; fuzzy-headed at work, where I flounder to remember to tell people the things I need to tell them before I surrender my keys. Training my boss in the new library management system, which I haven’t yet had time to master myself. Trying – probably with little success – not to be a grump.

I feel a little like a man on death row – half terrified of the end, half wishing to get the bloody thing over already.

The interior turmoil has exterior manifestations – external to me. Stuff is being torn out. Stuff is being brought in. Half the things I’m teaching my boss may prove to be unnecessary, because they’ll be changing to other technology anyway. But I don’t know these things for sure, so I share my antique wisdom.

I’m still skeptical about the operational plan for the library. I may be less than ideal as a resource person to whom students may appeal to for help, but the new alternative seems to be nobody at all, most of the time. I find it hard to believe an absence is preferable to my presence. There will be assistants around in the afternoons, but that’s not when most of the students will be using the resources.

But, as I keep telling myself, it’s no longer my circus.

Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither. The readiness is all.

‘Solveig’s Song’ with Sissel

I am, if you’ll pardon me, a little moody this evening (alert the media!). So I’ll post another song.

I shared a piece from Grieg’s Peer Gynt not long ago. Here’s one more, but it features none other than the Divine Sissel (who is wearing the Bergen bunad — the city folk costume). In the play, Solveig is Peer’s faithful and neglected girlfriend, whom he treats badly, as is his wont. She sings of patiently waiting for him. This is one the standard classic songs in Norway. Amundsen and his men had it on a recording to listen to on their way to the South Pole, I believe.

Delete Your Social Accounts

Richard Clark reviews a curious book that argues social media is the shadow that stalks and soon will strangle you. It is Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. 

If the claims of this book sound like cynical fear-mongering, then it’s time to wake up. The downsides of social media are no longer up for debate, and this is coming from someone who has esteemed its virtues for years. The structure upon which social media has been built, in the big picture, brings our meanest, dumbest, most impulsive tendencies to the forefront of public life.

This has bled into other areas of life and media as well. We are being actively encouraged to overshare our personal lives and spit out hot takes on all the major social platforms. Taking time to think, meditate, and rest is becoming weird and maybe the best way to become out of touch. This joke about only doing devotions so others will think well of you is where some people actually live.

I wonder about the shelf life of our current social platforms. Will my children take to any of them or will they consider them a bit stupid? I won’t be surprised if five to ten years from now the major platforms will be gone or greatly changed because the money or the people or something else just isn’t there to sustain it.

‘A Private Investigation,’ by Peter Grainger

A Private Investigation

Bittersweet. The last of a good thing is always bittersweet, and Peter Grainger’s DC Smith books have become one of the small pleasures in my life. This one may be the last in the series (though the ending is ambiguous).

As A Private Investigation begins, Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith is rapidly approaching mandatory retirement, two weeks away (it was a little weird for me to start this book just as I was two weeks away from the end of my own job). Smith is keeping a low profile, tidying up the records on his last case. No one expects him to do any serious investigation; he’s just filling time. His old team has been broken up. His new superiors, one a former subordinate, the other a long-time rival, are keeping their distances.

And then a teenage girl disappears. It strikes Smith as odd that his career should end with the abduction of a young girl; that’s what his first major case was.

But then there’s a shock – a connection is discovered between that old first case and this present one. Which does not impel Smith into action – that would be against regulations. But he pays attention, and gives his friends on the case some useful pointers.

But that won’t be enough. Someone is preparing a final showdown. D.C. Smith’s career will not end quietly.

I very much enjoy this whole series of books. D.C. Smith is a fascinating, engaging character – reserved, ironic, quirky, but beneath it all a man who truly cares about victims and the justice due to them. Also, here and there, author Grainger throws in hints of a conservative world-view.

There may have been some bad language, but I don’t recall any. I really have no cautions for you. I enjoyed A Private Investigation, and recommend you read the whole series.

Who knows? There may even be another book.

Two New Animated Godzilla Movies

I never watched the original Godzilla from 1954 in Japanese or 1956 in American English, but I think I did see one of those early films, one with Mothra or Rodan maybe. What I remember is a Godzilla that acted more like the savior of Tokyo and all Japanese children, not the embodiment of retribution against human hubris as he is today. He was more like the giant robots I played with as a kid. (Does anyone remember the robotic Shogun warriors? I had Raideen. Hey, there’s Godzilla with the warriors in a commercial.)

In this decade, the Godzilla franchise has turned back to the themes of the original movie. The King of Monsters was originally a symbol for the atomic bomb. Though they kill him at the end of the first movie, we are told another beast just like him could emerge if nuclear weapons testing continues. We were the horror we unleashed on the world, something as destructive as a giant radioactive dinosaur! There’s an argument in the 1954 movie about releasing the research done to create the weapon that kills the monster. “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist – no, as a human being – I can’t allow [the release of the research] to happen!”

In the new stories, the nuclear threat has been blended with pollution and all threats to the environment in summing up the reason Godzilla exists, and the anime movies I mean to review here (two parts of a trilogy) don’t try to offer a cogent reason for the monster’s existence, only hints and statements quickly abandoned to the action.

The Earth after Godzilla
The Earth after Godzilla in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters begins with the human race on an interstellar ark searching for a new place to live. We quickly learn Captain Haruo Sakaki is the angry radical of the group who believes the leaders are cold-hearted and aimless. He’s also the one who hateses Godzilla the mostest, my precious! After a tragedy with a landing party, leadership concludes it’s been roughly 10,000 years since they left Earth (time having shifted due to their spacecraft’s warp drive). Surely Godzilla is dead and Earth can receive them again.

With little development in the story, we learn humanity has been joined by two alien peoples, both of whom lost their planets to monsters like Godzilla. One group, the Exif, is primarily represented by the priest Metphies. He calls on the others to seek a vague god figure and harmony while also encouraging Haruo to pursue his passion to destroy Godzilla (If you believe in yourself, kid, you too can kill a really big monster). The other group appear to be all logical warriors, the Bilusaludo. This group was on earth trying to build the Mechagodzilla counter-weapon before the King of Monsters smote them with his unyielding wrath.

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