Twitter Mob Turns on Its Own

People who know nothing about the Bible seem to know a few verses, such as “Judge not lest ye be judged,” but the young, bright users of the Internet will want to think those words through and apply them before a social media mob over takes them. Because (sorry for the remedial) Jesus wasn’t condemning judgement in toto. He was saying, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

To put it another way, if you call out people for cultural offenses, you put yourself at risk for being called out for the same.

This week, a YA author, who led Twitter mobs against perceived social injustices, has had the mob turn on him. He participated in this outcry:

[A] campaign based on misunderstanding and exaggeration led the author Amélie Zhao to take the unusual step of agreeing to cancel the publication of Blood Heir, her hotly anticipated debut novel, which was set to be the first in a trilogy. Advance reading copies had already been sent out. But an angry and underinformed subset of YA Twitter decided that a racially ambiguous character in Blood Heir was black, or this fictional universe’s equivalent of black—the character had “bronze” skin and “aquamarine” eyes—and that therefore certain things that character said and did constituted harmful tropes. (YA Twitter has very conservative norms pertaining to what characters of different ethnicities are allowed to say or do.) The fact that Zhao is ethnically Chinese, is an immigrant to the U.S., and had written Blood Heir in part as a commentary on present-day indentured servitude in Asia didn’t offer her much protection.

Now he has pulled his own novel from publication, having run afoul of his own tribe of trolls.

Jesse Singal (quoted above) notes that this outrage may be warranted or at least understandable if it came from readers who had read the books, but this outrage flames up from shallow reviews, tweets, or public comments before books are even released.

“Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons—sometimes before anybody’s even read them,” Vulture‘s Kat Rosenfield wrote in the definitive must-read piece on this strange and angry internet community. The call-outs, draggings, and pile-ons almost always involve claims that books are insensitive with regard to their treatment of some marginalized group, and the specific charges, as Rosenfield showed convincingly, often don’t seem to warrant the blowups they spark—when they make any sense at all.

(via Prufrock News)

“Uncle Lars Wants you”

Sorry to post another picture of myself.

No, I’m not. I love it.

Anyway, you may recall my small involvement with the group devoted to memorializing the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the commando battalion recruited from Norwegian expatriates and Norwegian-Americans during World War II.

I was recently asked to be their “spokesviking,” and they asked for some pictures of me in my kit, in the James Montgomery Flagg “I WANT YOU” style. I meant to get photos taken during our reenactment group’s Viking feast last week, but the forces of nature made that impossible, as is their wont in these parts.

So I got a friend over to take some yesterday. Here’s one. I sent several off to the 99th people, and I’ve seen a preliminary mock-up of what they’re going to do with it. It’s pretty cool. I look forward to sharing the finished product.

‘Echo Killers,’ by Danny R. Smith

A pair of armed robbers, one big, the other small, knock over a store in the rough Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles. The owner refuses to report the crime, but a little boy tells the cops.

The same pair (apparently) hit another store shortly thereafter, killing a well-liked storekeeper and a wino on the sidewalk.

In Danny R. Smith’s Echo Killers, Detective “Dickie” Jones has a new partner – a feisty Latino woman named Josie – and they join the hunt for a team of outlaws who mirror themselves, in a way – a big Anglo and a Latina. We learn the story of these two outlaws, too. They are Army deserters, and the woman doesn’t know she’s still being hunted by an officer she spent a night with once. Their almost star-crossed story bears the marks of tragedy, as the two hurtle toward one another on a fatalistic trajectory.

This is the third volume in Smith’s “Dickie Floyd” series. “Dickie” and “Floyd” haven’t actually been partners since the end of the first book, but they keep gravitating together. Their personal bond is a tight one. The book’s mood is somber, but the ending is rather sublime – an affirmation of what Luther would have called the policeman’s “vocation.” Another book is coming, according to Amazon.

I liked Echo Killers it a lot. Cautions for foul language, cop humor, and intense situations.

‘Door to a Dark Room,’ by Danny R. Smith

Book two in the “Dickie Floyd” police procedural series (make sure to read them in order; author Danny R. Smith routinely spoils the previous book each time out), set in Los Angeles, finds Detective Richard “Dickie” Jones returning to the job after six months. He got shot in the last book, and has been recovering both physically and psychologically. When Door to a Dark Room begins, his wife has left him, and his partner, Martin “Pretty Boy Floyd” Tyler, has been teamed with someone else. As Dickie eases back into the schedule, he’s assigned to the Cold Case Unit. Until something more compelling comes up.

In the wealthy, secure city of Santa Clarita, a woman realtor disappears. When her car is found, there’s a body in it – but they’re not sure it’s hers, as the head and hands have been removed. And her husband seems strangely impassive about the whole business.

Meanwhile, Dickie’s cop instinct is telling him he’s being watched. Soon he becomes convinced a man in a car is staking out his apartment. He keeps quiet about it at first, not sure whether his PTSD has made him paranoid.

In the end, the various investigations converge (I wonder how often that happens in real life – probably not as much as in fiction), and the cops begin moving in on a depraved killer who is not all that smart, but has remarkable animal cunning.

I’m growing fonder of the Dickie Floyd novels. They’re not as accomplished as other series I could name, but they have much to teach us. Author Smith is a former detective, and the real heart of these books is a sort of apologia for good cops – that they shouldn’t be judged by their crude jokes, but by the things they do. And that they’re under considerable psychological pressures, pressures that would destroy most people, and which often destroy them. A little like Joseph Wambaugh, without the despair.

Cautions for lots of profanity, and deeply disturbing crime situations. Recommended, if you can handle it.

Alert the Media: Walker could be wrong

A while back, I blogged about a recent article declaring that a Swedish Viking warrior’s grave, long assumed to be male, was probably that of a woman. I cited Judith Jesch’s critiques of the article, which she considered over the top and under-authenticated.

A recent article in in the Journal Antiquity has addressed those objections. Researchers insist that the body in the grave was indeed that of a woman.

The barrage of questions from the public and other scientists was unrelenting: Were the researchers sure they had analyzed the right bones? Was there more than one body in the burial, of which one was surely a man? And if the warrior’s sex was indeed female, is it possible they were a transgender man? [See Images of the Viking Woman Warrior’s Burial]

Now, in a new study published online yesterday (Feb. 19) in the journal Antiquity, the researchers of the original study have reaffirmed their conclusion that this mighty individual was a woman. The new study addresses all the questions people raised, and more.

Living Science reports on it here.

I have to eat a small amount of crow in this case, but all in all I’ve decided to dig my heels in. I’m suspicious of this story. It doesn’t fit the textual accounts — either the contemporary chronicles or the Icelandic sagas.

I keep coming back to my “dog in the nighttime” argument. If Viking armies were full of fighting females, why are the monastic chroniclers silent about it? How could they resist denouncing “unnatural females” and “monstrous witches” in such a situation?

So I’m waiting for more information. Ms. Jesch seems not entirely satisfied as well.

However, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced.

‘A Good Bunch of Men,’ by Danny R. Smith

A book that didn’t grab me at first, but pulled me in as it went on. That’s A Good Bunch of Men, by Danny R. Smith. Smith is a former police detective himself, so authenticity is his strong suit.

A Good Bunch of Men is the first book in the “Dickie Floyd” series. Dickie Floyd is not the name of the main character, but the corporate name of a near-legendary detective team in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They are Richard “Dickie” Jones, and Matthew “Pretty Boy Floyd” Tyler. Although there’s a mystery to be solved, A Good Bunch of Men is more than anything else a book about a relationship, about how two guys relate as friends and partners in extreme circumstances.

When a transsexual prostitute is found murdered in an alley, the Dickie Floyd team catches the case. When another prostitute of the same sort is found murdered nearby, they begin looking for a serial killer. But the victims’ associates have secrets, and other cops on the case aren’t working very hard. The team will wreck a couple of cars and get into a couple gunfights before the case is closed – explosively.

It’s notable that, although the two detectives make plenty of cracks about the murder victim, “her” lifestyle and her job, that doesn’t affect their investigation at all. The victim was a human being who didn’t deserve to die, and they are determined to get her justice like anyone else. I think that’s precisely the proper attitude.

Also, Dickie wears a fedora hat, which always deserves respect.

I didn’t know what to make of A Good Bunch of Men at first. The trick was in understanding Dickie’s and Floyd’s relationship – the way they talked to each other at first, I thought they were mortal enemies. Turns out it was just cop banter. We know cop banter from any number of novels by Wambaugh, Connelly, etc. – but here it is (I think) more realistic and concentrated. We gradually realize that talking trash is a psychological mechanism cops use for survival. If you think of all those dark stories you’ve heard in your life – the kind that keep you awake and night and make you doubt your faith in God – these guys live those stories. They see that stuff in person. Strong measures are necessary to keep one’s sanity, and those methods look ugly to outsiders.

The cop banter here isn’t as witty as what we get in other books. It’s cruder and less witty. But as I got to know these guys better, I got interested in them. Danny R. Smith hasn’t mastered storytelling yet, and but he shows great promise, and I’ve bought the next book in the series.

Cautions for disturbing material and obscene language.

Series preview

Sofia Helin (Crown Princess Martha) tries to persuade Kyle MacLachlan (Pres. Franklin Roosevelt) to support the Norwegian government in exile, in a scene from Atlantic Crossing.

I happened to check the IMDb page for Atlantic Crossing, the coming miniseries I helped translate, yesterday. I found the above picture there, and thought it might interest you. I happen to know, through my high-level personal connections in the industry, that this scene was filmed in Czechoslovakia, last month. My boss, who’s one of the script writers, sent me a picture of herself sitting at that desk, in the set replica of the Oval Office.

Don’t rush to pencil in a viewing date, though. The thing apparently won’t be released until early 2021 — and that’s in Norway. Heaven knows when it’ll be available here.

Early Review of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”

On this day in 1895, the great American orator and statesman Frederick Douglass passed away. To mark the day, Bookmarks has reproduced a review of Douglass’s 1845 autobiography that ran in The New York Tribune on June 10, 1845.

We wish that every one may read his book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage,—what a man may be subjected to the insults of spendthrift dandies, or the blows of mercenary brutes, in whom there is no whiteness except of the skin, no humanity except in the outward form, and of whom the Avenger will not fail yet to demand—’Where is thy brother?’

Narrative was well-received, selling close to 30,000 copies by 1860.

Translator’s notes

Oslo, where I work. OK, remotely. But this is how it looks while I’m working. Photo credit:
Håkon von Hirsch@hakonvh

Sorry about not posting yesterday. That will happen from time to time, under the new regime. My schedule is not my own.

Last week I got zero assignments. Null, as we say in Norwegian. In the resulting vacuum, I went a little nuts. I developed a sudden mania I’d never had before – I went out to lunch every day, sometimes to restaurants I’d never visited. I felt I needed to discover my options, up my dining game a little. It passed, thank goodness. I ain’t made of money.

Yesterday a job came in – and, not surprisingly, it was a big one with a tight deadline. I always get a little nervous when I take one of those on, because I’m still uncertain of my powers. I live in terror of not meeting a deadline – causing my boss to fail to deliver on a contract, bringing the whole business down in ignominy. In fact, I’m better than I think, and I don’t generally have much trouble. I got this job done before I expected to.

And today, another job and another tight deadline. But I finished the first draft before supper, and I’ll give it a polish this evening and send it off, so they’ll have it in Oslo when business starts tomorrow. No sweat.

But I did sweat, a little. I’m a worrier.

General observations on the Norwegian film industry from my perspective: I’d say 60 to 80% of my work is on scripts concerning spunky single mothers trying to make it in a man’s world. (Even the one I can tell you about, Atlantic Crossing, is about a woman raising her children alone – though she’s a princess without many career worries.) That scenario appears to be what they think people want to watch just now. I suppose it indicates that the bulk of the audience, both for movies and TV, is women. Which is probably true. But is it cause or effect?

Not to say that these scripts are heavy with radical feminism or man-hatred. They’re generally pretty good in that regard. It just seems that the production companies want to see stories through women’s eyes.

The need for Christian artists

Andrew Collins writes in his article, “How Art Moved Me Beyond the Cliché,” about overcoming a blasé familiarity with Scripture. “I recently read through the Psalms—one song every morning or evening. But when I got to Psalm 23, something happened. I read through it in a minute or two, and not a single substantive thought went through my head. When I reached the end, my mind was blank.

“Why? Because it’s Psalm 23! Everyone knows it. I’ve probably had it memorized since I was 7 years old. Over the years, the psalm has dissolved, for me, into a rote sequence of words. What a shame. Gratefully, I remember Jon Foreman’s song ‘House of God Forever.'” 

I’ve had a similar revitalizing through Michael Card’s songs from the Psalms in his album, The Way of Wisdom. His renderings of Psalm 23 and 139 have stuck with me for twenty years.

Godzilla 3: Dream of a Deadly Death

Today I watched Godzilla: The Planet Eater, the third part of the impressively animated Netflix series released last year. Whereas the second part was largely a UPS van stuffed with technobabble, this story swapped that out for a cathedral stuffed with religiobabble. I thought this part might have a slower build, because the characters must have exhausted themselves by this point, but having to listen to the priest of the deadly death for at least forty-five minutes was boring.

Viewers would be excused for thinking this was a screed against religion as a whole. Words are said to that effect, but the religion in question is the cult of the void, the enlightened understanding that nothing is everything, death is peace, and all struggle should be assisted into oblivion preferably by a physician or qualified government agent.

No, this story seems to come from the root of Godzilla mythology. Those nuclear bombs we made, all that E=MC2 stuff (written clearly on a chalkboard during one of the priest’s expositions), brought judgment on our heads. Godzilla rose from the earth because our civilization was too advanced, but he was only phase one. Ghidorah the Golden Demise is phase two.

I may not be smart enough to run with this, but this series may be an effectively illustration against atheism. Godzilla embodies the earth fighting for itself. Ghidorah is a nihilistic void. Mankind has only its own wits to use and cannot keep up. All of the talk here of gods and salvation only makes a kind of sense because of the echoes of actual sense found in the Bible and other major religions. Many atheists understand this implicitly. What they call the nonsense of Christianity is more of an argument against what they think God may actually be, an actual creator who has every right to hold his creation accountable for their actions. Far better to paint priests and believers as a death cult.

But Christians (and Jews, Muslims, and some others) aren’t the ones arguing for death in our civilization. We’re the ones saying the weapons of war must be used wisely. Nuking a city must be a last resort, because we want everyone to live in peace.

But nuclear bombs have been dropped. Maybe the idea of a god-like monster rising up to lay down the smack on our hubris appeals to some who have no knowledge of a far greater, far more terrifying judge.

Time Passes Hand in Hand with Seasons

Dylan Thomas wrote about the seasons washing over
the Welsh Glamorgan county–the summer so beautiful, the winter barren. Time repeatedly rides up from the coast, bringing nothing unusual, nothing but change. Here’s the sound of a winter thaw.

And now the horns of England, in the sound of shape,
Summon your snowy horsemen, and the four-stringed hill,
Over the sea-gut loudening, sets a rock alive;
Hurdles and guns and railings, as the boulders heave,
Crack like a spring in vice, bone breaking April,
Spill the lank folly’s hunter and the hard-held hope.

Read the whole thing here: “Hold Hard, These Ancient Minutes in the Cuckoo’s Mouth”

( Photo by Bit Cloud on Unsplash )

‘Deceptive Appearances,’ by P. F. Ford

I’ve been following P.F. Ford’s series of detective novels set in the fictional town of Tinton, in England. They started out as police procedurals – of a sort – and then became private eye stories when both the heroes, Dave Slater and Norman Norman (sic) went into that business.

In Deceptive Appearances, the thirteenth in the series, Dave and Norman get a visit from a young man who tells them his sister, Martha Dennis, is missing. Would they try to find her?

The two detectives are suspicious. The young man’s story seems improbably convoluted, and he just strikes them as shifty. But they’re not in a position to turn business down, and the fellow pays an advance, so why not check it out?

They will find that the sister isn’t a sister, but is an investigative journalist. Who has been using an assumed identity. And who may or may not be the same person as an unidentified body in the morgue. Their investigation will lead them to an elderly recluse, a millionaire pornographer, and the world of human trafficking. Also Dave will enter a tentative romance with a damaged woman.

I’m not sure why I enjoy the Slater/Norman books so much. They are, to be frank, not terribly well written. The steps of the investigation seemed a little improbable to me. The dialogue tends to be flaccid – it could use a lot of tightening up.

But I like the characters, and the generally upbeat tone of the books. And there’s little objectionable material in them. So I recommend them, as light reading, for the appropriate audience. Like me.

‘The Vikings on Film,’ by Kevin J. Harty

You know this film has a reputation of being a very bloody film, lots of blood, lots of fighting, and it’s just not true; there is in fact no blood shown in this picture except in this one shot where Kirk has his hand up holding the hawk and you see a small stream of blood trickling down between his fingers … but everybody talks about how bloody it was because of the impression you get. (Director Richard Fleischer on the 1958 film, “The Vikings.”)

The world of Viking reenactment is not without its controversies. I’ve seen many a dispute over subjects like acceptable levels of authenticity, whether heathenism should be compulsory, or the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone.

But one subject that almost always yields agreement is Viking movies.

We hate them all.

Some of them we hate fondly, and we enjoy watching them even as we scoff at them.

Some we consider insults to our intelligence.

But we pretty generally agree that we’re still waiting to see a good one.

So I was curious to read Kevin J. Harty’s collection of critical essays, The Vikings on Film.

My verdict: Not as enlightening as I hoped, and way too much Film Studies jargon.

There was a certain degree of the sort of thing I wanted most – stories about how the various films came to be, and evaluations of how they worked – or didn’t. As I should have expected, there were numerous critical lamentations over the levels of “problematic” masculinity in the stories.

I was surprised by some of the evaluations. The reviewer who writes on “The 13th Warrior,” doesn’t think it works very well. I think it works quite well as a story – it’s the costumes and armor that appall me. Another reviewer thought “Outlander” (the Sci-Fi version of Beowulf with Jim Caviezel) was generally successful – not my impression at all.

And some movies, like “Beowulf and Grendel” (which I hated, but which had good costumes), are barely touched on.

I didn’t read all the reviews, because they concerned movies I haven’t seen, or that don’t interest me – such as the animated “Asterix and the Vikings.”

All in all, I didn’t regret reading The Vikings on Film, but I wasn’t much enlightened by it either.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture