All posts by Lars Walker

Global cooling update

I feel kind of lousy tonight, and it’s not just because it snowed today.

I get to feeling under the weather once or twice a year. Usually a good night’s sleep has me feeling better again by the next morning. I’m rarely sick enough to take a day off work. Also I self-medicated with Chinese food tonight. I haven’t gone out to eat much for a while, due to budgetary constraints, but my body said to me, “You need Chinese food.” So after work I went to a buffet which isn’t very good, to be honest, but has the virtues of being near my home and employing an attractive hostess. When I don’t feel well, I do what my body tells me. If it doesn’t actually help, it’s at least a defensible excuse for self-indulgence.

The snow came down thick and fast this afternoon. It only did so for about fifteen minutes, and then the sky cleared again. But it was enough. Notice had been served. Our annual Siberian exile has begun.

The only man I ever knew who hated winter more than me was my dad. All his life, as he ran a Minnesota farm, he dreamed of moving to a warmer clime. Sometime in the late 1950s (I think) he began working for that dream by signing up with a Florida land development company that had a booth at the state fair. He paid ten dollars a month for a lot in the Sunshine State. People joked with him about swamp land. He smiled and joshed back, but it wasn’t really funny to him.

Through the years he paid off one lot, then another, then a third. Then he sold one lot and used the proceeds to build a house on another. The idea was that he’d rent the house out and use the money to make payments, until he was ready to retire down there.

And it came to pass, on a winter day in 1980 (I think) he paused while shoveling snow in the farmyard, tucked his frozen fingers under his armpits, and said to himself, “I own a house in Florida. Why the heck am I doing this?”

So he put his farm up for sale. This was at the peak of the agricultural real estate boom. I believe he got the highest price per acre that any farmer had ever gotten in our community (and it wasn’t that great a farm). It may have been the highest price anybody ever got, since the boom didn’t last much longer. Dad moved to Florida with a nice nest egg to finance his early retirement.

I don’t think he ever saw Minnesota in the winter again. If one of his sons had died up here during the winter, I think he’d have thought long and hard about whether to fly up for the funeral or just send a card.

Shotgun Alley by Andrew Klavan

Hard-boiled detective stories are one of my favorite genres. So it was good news for me when I learned that Andrew Klavan, my favorite contemporary author, had begun a detective series (I love series! It’s almost like having real friends!).

And I wasn’t disappointed. If Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop series isn’t moving Hard-boiled into fertile new territory, it’s at least discovering new treasures in the old fields.

You gotcher tough-guy protagonist. You gotcher smart-guy protagonist. You gotcher psycho killers and your dangerous dames. You gotcher dead bodies and threats and violence. You gotcher subtextual deconstruction of postmodern philosophy. What’s not to like?

The continuing main characters in the series are Scott Weiss and Jim Bishop. On first glance they kind of resemble Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in a dim light. But they’re more complex than Wolfe and Goodwin (whom I also like), and they inhabit a grittier, more perilous world.

Scott Weiss is an ex-cop. He is tall and fat and lonely. His loneliness comes from his over-romantic view of women—he puts them on a pedestal, and they respond by wanting to be just friends. Although he’s smart, his success as a detective comes from an emotional-imaginative quirk. He’s an empath. He has the ability to get into people’s heads, understand their thinking patterns, and predict their actions. It’s good for business, but he can never be a happy man.

Jim Bishop is his alter ego. A burned-out Special Forces veteran, he nearly became a career criminal before Weiss pulled him out of the mud and gave him a chance. He’s physically strong and a dangerous fighter. He rides a Harley and flies planes and helicopters. An adrenaline-junkie, he uses women and throws them away and they adore him.

The two of them make a fascinating moral study. Weiss is a good man who does bad things (he drinks too much and uses prostitutes. He also allows Bishop to operate his own way, though it offends his ethics). Bishop is a bad man who does good things—sometimes. Often to his own amazement.

The stories are told by an anonymous narrator who presents himself as the author. We are apparently meant to believe that Klavan himself worked at the Weiss Agency as a young man, and that these stories are his reminiscences (oddly though, there is no indication that the stories took place in the past. All the technology seems completely up to date. It’s almost as if these are memoirs from the future).

I liked the first book, Dynamite Road, very much, but I liked Shotgun Alley even better. Weiss and Bishop are hired by a very wealthy man, an aspiring political candidate, to find his daughter, Honey. Honey is only seventeen years old, but has run away from home and gotten involved with an especially vicious motorcycle gang. Weiss turns Bishop loose on the case, knowing that Bishop will do a number of things that he (Weiss) doesn’t want to know about.

There’s also a subplot about a case that Weiss works himself, with the help of Our Narrator. It involves a doctrinaire feminist college professor who hires them to trace the identity of a man who’s been sending her obscene e-mails.

Shotgun Alley is a love story, when you lay it all out, only the love is pretty messy.

You need to be warned about sex, violence and bad language. This book has them all, in pretty strong doses. Klavan is a confessed Christian, but he does not—repeat, not—write CBA fiction. I have a stomach for this kind of stuff, especially in a good cause, but it may not work for you.

I for one eagerly await the appearance in paperback of the next installment, Damnation Street.

Begrudging defense of Columbus

I find myself in an ambivalent position in regard to Christopher Columbus.

As a Viking nut, I have to be a Leif Eriksson supporter. Leif was here nearly 500 years before the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and we’ve got artifacts to prove it (unless you believe that the Viking stuff at L’Anse aux Meadows was planted by the world-wide Norwegian conspiracy, headed by the Sons of Norway. Wait! I said too much!).

By the way, here’s a picture from L’Anse aux Meadows, taken during my visit there in 2004. This is not the site itself, but a reconstruction of some of the original Norse buildings, erected just a few paces away. I was standing in the archaeological site when I took it:

http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b27/larskval/Picture.jpg

But I feel I have to defend Columbus too, considering the number and nature of his current enemies. One book I recommend on the subject is Columbus and Cortez, Conquerors for Christ, by my friend John Eidsmoe. No doubt Eidsmoe takes positions that are open to dispute, but if you’re going to argue with a defense, you might as well argue with a strong one.

One thing Eidsmoe argues is that Columbus (contrary to current canards) did not make wholesale war on the native inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands in order to enslave them. What he did was take sides. He found two tribes in his original area of discovery—the peaceful Arawaks and the warlike, cannibalistic Caribs. He chose to defend the Arawaks from the Caribs, and felt himself morally justified in enslaving the Caribs, who were themselves enthusiastic slave-hunters. After he was replaced as governor, his successors failed to make the same distinction between the tribes, and that’s a great tragedy. But it’s not Columbus’ fault.

It’s true, however, that Columbus had more luck than wisdom in his original discovery. Washington Irving wrote an influential book which sealed forever in Americans’ memories the falsehood that Columbus set out to prove the world was round. He did no such thing.

Columbus did think the world was round. But his critics thought the world was round too. Everybody with any education already knew the world was round (I have a book in my library called The King’s Mirror, a Norwegian book of advice for a young man written in the 13th Century, which contains a passage employing sophisticated means to demonstrate that the earth is “round like a ball”). The difference between Columbus and his critics was that Columbus thought the earth was small, and his critics thought it was large.

And his critics were right. The calculations Columbus trusted were way, way off.

Fortunately he bumped into America and found alternate career opportunities.

Let’s face it—Leif Eriksson and his relatives came and went, and nothing changed much. Columbus, like him or not, was the cause of big, big changes.

So enjoy what’s left of your Columbus Day.

Movie Review: Beowulf & Grendel

(At last I’ve got my desktop back, and substantially operational. Now I can post the movie review I promised last weekend.)

I’ve been waiting for Beowulf and Grendel for some time. There was an official website, where they posted photos and production information, but as is the case with so many movies, there were problems in the distribution phase. I had high hopes for it. The costumes, in particular, looked to be far more authentic than anything we’ve seen in a Viking movie to date. (Technically it’s not really a Viking movie, since it takes place in the 6th Century, and the Viking period didn’t officially start until the 8th Century. But I doubt if a Northman living in those times would have seen any important difference.)

The film never did get meaningful release. It played in a handful of theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and now has gone to DVD. This is unfortunate in many ways, since it’s a well-acted, visually fascinating piece of work.

But I don’t like it much.

It was great to look at. The costumes, as I said, were outstanding. The armor and weapons were (thankfully) done with exacting care, barring some not-unthinkable improvisations (in contrast to the ones used in The Thirteenth Warrior, apparently the result of a scavenger hunt through the props department). The Icelandic locations were grimly beautiful as only Iceland can be–though a little disorienting, since the story is expressly set in Denmark, and Denmark has never–now or then–looked much like Iceland (it was heavily wooded in Beowulf’s time).

But Beowulf and Grendel is a preachy movie, and what’s worse, it’s a sort of preaching I don’t like.

If you read the Beowulf poem, you read the story of a heroic young man (played by Gerard Butler in the movie) who kills a mighty monster in order to protect the people of a family friend, King Hrothgar of Denmark. It’s a black-and-white story. Grendel, the monster, kills because he’s bloodthirsty and evil. Beowulf kills him (and later his fearsome mother) because he’s brave and strong and good.

The movie turns all this on its head. The new slant isn’t really revolutionary, because we’ve heard it all before, time and time again. It merely spoils the story. Grendel is now the heroic social outcast. He’s the utterly innocent victim of racial prejudice. He never kills anyone except those who’ve injured him (he’s able to pick those precise ones out through his superhuman sense of smell). It’s the Danes (typical imperialist, bigoted Europeans!) who have killed his father for sport.

I have no objection to humanizing villains. It’s something I take pains to do in my novels. A villain is more effective, more believable and more morally useful when the reader can sense our common, perilous humanity and recognize once again Solzhenitsyn’s profound dictum that “the line between good and evil passes through every human heart.”

But it can be overdone. The filmmakers (director Sturla Gunnarson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins), instead of offering insight into human complexity, have essentially switched sides. Now it’s the Danes who are mindless, bloodthirsty monsters, and Grendel who is the pure and unsullied Ideal.

Aside from being a cliché, this approach makes the movie a lot duller than it might have been. Beowulf, pretty much the only Dane with a lick of decency or compassion, fights without enthusiasm, and his victory is a hollow one. Suddenly The Thirteenth Warrior (which was based on the same story) looks better as a movie. At least there was serious fighting with important stakes in that movie, not to mention a hero who cared about what he was doing.

The whole thing is summed up in a line at the end, where one of Beowulf’s men, listening to a friend composing the first draft of the epic poem, says, “[His] story is sh*t.” That’s what this movie all boils down to. It’s a movie about Beowulf done by people who despise Beowulf.

It’s rated R and deserves it. Lavish use is made of the “F” word, and there’s some gore (though not as much as there might have been) and sexual situations. An Irish priest (unimaginatively named Brendan) shows up in order to demonstrate how impotent and misleading Christianity is. The real voice of wisdom in the film (again, predictably) is a witch played with offputting smugness by Sarah Polley (who was the little girl in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).

I’d planned to buy this movie. I’m glad now I rented it first.

Bitter? Moi?

Haven’t got much to tell tonight. I’ve delayed coming online in order to keep my phone free so the repairman may call me and tell me my desktop (home of my high-speed connection) is fixed. Of course there’s been no such call.

The only thing I’ve got to report is a call that did come in—at work—from the friend I call Chip (for blogging purposes, not personal conversations).

I don’t think I’ve told you what Chip does for a living. He drives a limousine. It’s a perfect job for him. He likes to drive and he likes to talk to people. When I think of a guy finding his niche, Chip leaps (or rolls) to mind.

Anyway, he called me at my office number and said, “I’m driving a guy named Neil Gaiman around today. You ever heard of him?”

I said yes, I’d read one of his novels.

Chip had to hang up then, because Gaiman and his handlers were at that moment piling back into the limo to be transported from Minnesota Public Radio to some bookstore. Or something.

He called back later to tell me where Gaiman would be speaking and signing books this evening, in case I wanted to come.

I chose not to. I had a computer repair call to wait for. And frankly I’m still somewhat miffed that in a world where there’s probably only room for one big novel about Odin trying to set up shop in modern America, it was Gaiman’s book that found that particular niche and not my own Wolf Time.

If Gaiman wants to meet me, let him ask me to lunch. That’s what I say.

The phone continues silent.

A hypocrite’s pretty much like a prude, right?

Today Gene Edward Veith at Cranach blogged on the point (which I’ve brought up myself here) that in our society today all crimes, however vile, are considered preferable to hypocrisy. In theory the modern American thinks that a man who struggles in the privacy of his soul with a besetting sin like drunkenness is a hypocrite, and therefore far more to be condemned than a mass murderer, providing the mass murderer commits his crime in public, before the eyes of all.

In my comment I referenced a poem of Ogden Nash’s, which seemed to me prophetic. I’ll post the poem here. This version comes from the collection Verses From 1929 On, published by Modern Library.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE IRKSOME PRUDE

Once upon a time there was a young man named Harold Scrutiny.

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Harold had many virtues and practically no vices.

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He smoked, to be sure.

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Also he drank and swore.

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Moreover, he was a pickpocket.

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But, for all that, Harold was no prude.

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I am no prude, Harold often said.

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But Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad is a prude, the old prude, said Harold.

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One day Harold went into the subway to pick some pockets.

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There was a man on the platform penciling a beard on the lady on the toothpaste placard.

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Hey, said Harold.

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Hey who, said the man.

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Hey you, that’s hey who, said Harold.

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Aren’t you going to give her a moustache?

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Sure I’m going to give her a moustache, said the man.

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What do you think I am?

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I think you’re somebody that puts beards on ladies on toothpaste placards before they put on the moustache, said Harold.

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Don’t you know enough to put the moustache on first?

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You put the moustache on first, why then you can turn it up or turn it down, whichever you want, said Harold.

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You try to turn a moustache down after the beard’s on, it runs into the beard, said Harold.

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It don’t look like a moustache, only like a beard grows up and down both.

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Go on, said the man, go on and pick some pockets.

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Harold turned to his work, but his mind was elsewhere.

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Suddenly the lady on the toothpaste placard got off the toothpaste placard and arrested him.

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It was Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad all the time.

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You got a beard grows up and down both, said Harold.

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Detective Guilfoyle searched Harold.

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He certainly was surprised at what he found.

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So was Harold.

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Harold hadn’t picked any pockets at all because his mind was elsewhere.

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He had picked a peck of pickled peppers.

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Detective Guilfoyle wanted to call Harold a name, but he couldn’t because he was a prude.

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Harold picked his pocket and later became the smokingest swearingest, drinkingest Assistant District Attorney the county ever had.

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Don’t be a prude.

Paul by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [in George MacDonald’s Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Chapter XI).

For some years I have told people that there is one author in particular whose sandals I feel myself utterly unworthy to untie. That author is Walter Wangerin. If I could trade my entire past and future literary output for the ability to say that I’d written The Book of the Dun Cow, I’d… well, I’d be strongly tempted. If any work of expressly Christian fiction written in my lifetime is likely to endure, I think it will be that marvelous book. Not only for its outstanding literary quality, but for the Holiness Lewis found in MacDonald and I find in Wangerin.

Still, I haven’t been a big reader of Wangerin’s books. That was partly because I thought he’d gone over the top with his sequel, The Book of Sorrows, a book almost unendurable for me from an emotional point of view. Also he’s a pastor in good standing in the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, and I have to assume that means we have major theological disagreements, particularly in terms of our views of Scripture.

But if Paul is typical of the stuff Wangerin’s been putting out all these years, I’ve got some catching up to do. I can quibble with some of his dramatic choices, but taken all in all this is a fine, spiritually nourishing work of fiction, one that I heartily recommend to all readers.

The book is largely a retelling of the material we are given in the Book of Acts in the Bible. The story of Paul’s life is told from multiple viewpoints—people who knew Paul like Barnabas and Prisca and James the Apostle and Timothy (one exception is the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s tutor, who keeps us posted on events in Rome). Each chapter presents the story from a different point of view, friendly or hostile to Paul. Each narrator is well-defined and believable as a character. Wangerin makes use of historical research to flesh out Scripture’s spare accounts, helping stories and passages we’ve known all our lives take on new vividness.

I can hardly think of a better commentary on Acts and the Epistles than this, as a gift for a new Bible reader.

I wouldn’t have handled some of the material the way Wangerin does. He alters the scriptural account in small ways. For instance, as he tells it here, Barnabas’ break-up with Paul was not a result of a fight over giving John Mark another chance to accompany them, but over the dispute about eating with Gentiles. Dramatically, though, it works better this way, and we all know that it’s possible for two witnesses to remember different causes. Wangerin is also bold enough to add small paragraphs to biblical passages, as if restoring lost sections. I don’t think I’d have the nerve (or the temerity) to add to Scripture that way.

Wangerin also invents some unrecorded incidents (though not many), and one in particular (concerning a prison escape) struck me as kind of far-fetched.

But overall I enjoyed the novel very much, and it improved my comprehension of the New Testament (and I speak as one who’s read the New Testament many times).

I encourage you to read Paul. Drink in the Holiness. Wangerin’s health is bad. We may not have many more books from him.

Belated aaaaaargh!

I promised to review Beowulf & Grendel tonight. Can’t do it, due to the Great Software Conspiracy.

All my software is colluding to frustrate me. First of all, I’ve found it impossible to reinstall Norton System Works on my desktop after getting the hard drive replaced and reinstalling my original manufacturer software. Last night, after the umpteenth online chat with tech support, I admitted defeat. Today I took the computer back to the shop.

And that means that my review, which I wrote on that machine but prudently saved to my jump drive, can’t be posted, because it was written in Microsoft Works and this computer can’t read that (nor does the conversion utility work. All part of the conspiracy).

My cataloging software at work isn’t functioning properly either. It goes without saying that the technical support person who was supposed to call me back never did.

I’m delayed posting because a) I took the computer to the shop, and b) I couldn’t resist taking my evening walk, late as it got to be. Today was a beautiful day–beautiful like a final farewell to a loved one, on a deathbed or at the airport as they go off to war. “You’re not going to get another evening like this,” I said to myself. “Use it or regret it forever.”

Indian Summer evenings, at least, aren’t controlled by software.

I amaze myself once again

This is what it’s like to be me:

I have an e-mail friend out east who had emergency surgery the other day. Today I went into the bookstore I manage for the Bible school, to get her a get-well card (no customer discount, in case you were wondering. Our margins are already pretty low).

The card rang up to two dollars and change. As I was digging my money out, I started thinking, as I always do, about whether to pay exact price or get change.

I like to do exact price because, like everybody else in America, I’ve got too much of my personal assets invested in coins in peanut butter jars. But I often just get the change because I don’t want to keep the clerk (and the people in line behind me) waiting while I fumble in my coin purse.

I was about to do just that today, and then I thought, “I’m the clerk here. I have time to wait for me to count change.”

The utter irrationality of my way of living is a constant amazement to me.

It’s like being a university professor.

I declare tonight Movie Night in my domicile! The new Beowulf and Grendel movie, which played for about three hours in six widely separated theaters (none of them around here) has just come out on DVD. Some of my Viking contacts say it doesn’t s*ck, which is pretty high praise by Viking movie standards. I dusted the cobwebs off my Blockbuster card and rented it this afternoon.

I’ll let you know what I think. Monday, maybe.

Unsacred honor

We experienced a spike in site hits yesterday, thanks to Hunter Baker of Southern Appeal, who kindly linked to my recent post on dealing with honor cultures. I followed the link and participated in a comment discussion over there (plus a smaller one here). Some people raised legitimate questions about my views, and I hope I answered them ably. I also learned some things (even at my age).

I’m always a little alarmed to find myself taken seriously. When I’m over here at Brandywine Books, I feel like I’m more or less among friends, as if I were kicking back with buddies. When I give an opinion, I expect to be treated with some respect, but I take it for granted that the audience knows my weaknesses and humors me a bit. Facing strangers who seriously examine my arguments as if I’d spoken with some kind of authority makes me feel like an imposter in a Wodehouse story. “Did I pull it off? Apparently so. Jolly good! Now to the public house to restore the tissues!”

I’m not an expert, of course, except in a minor, amateur way in the area of Viking history and life. One might reasonably ask, “What right does that give you to spout off about Islamic culture?”

Perhaps none.

But I see a pattern here which I’ve rarely seen mentioned. When I look at the warrior culture I actually know about (the Norse) and compare it to my spotty knowledge about warrior cultures around the world, the similarities appear to me to outweigh the differences.

Whether you look at the Samurai in Japan with his bushido code, or the American Plains Indian with his warrior code, or the Zulu in Africa or the Mongol on the steppes, they exhibit highly similar behaviors. They do not tolerate insults. They do not apologize or forgive. When accused of crime or weakness, they deny or blame others. Rather than live with shame, they will willingly throw their lives away to kill the ones who wronged them. If they can’t manage that, they’ll commit suicide.

There are minor differences from culture to culture, of course, but the broad pattern seems to hold true wherever men are warriors.

Many people, no doubt (if they agreed with my observations), would attribute these similarities to basic human instinct, behaviors developed through evolution to permit the community to survive.

I attribute it to Original Sin. Because it’s really all about pride.

Which is not to say I despise the Men of Honor. I’m a Viking geek, after all. I see much to admire in honor cultures.

And there are kinds of cultures worse than the ones based on honor.

But honor and shame is a stage in cultural development that needs to be gotten past. It’s better to believe in compassion and forgiveness.

Unless you take it to the extent of national suicide, as I think some in this country would like to do.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong.

I’m not a Man of Honor, so I won’t kill you for it.

Pork-related thoughts

I’m late, late, late posting tonight. I needed to order replacement software from Hewlett-Packard after my computer crashed, and I got it today. I immediately set to work installing it after work, and needless to say it took longer than I expected. All I really wanted was to use Microsoft Word to compose this post in.

So, needless to say, everything in MS Office is working now, except for that. I’m using the MS Works processor instead.

Big news in Minneapolis tonight. We got the 2008 Republican convention.

My personal theory is that the Democratic city administration planned this, for nefarious purposes. They know that, considering the current crime rate in their city, it’s likely that a large part of the Republican leadership will end up on slabs in the morgue.

A side benefit will be that they’ll be able to use it as proof that taxes aren’t high enough.

Speaking of Silly Cities, Luther At the Movies pours scorn today on the city of New York for proposing a ban on transfats here. I fear for the fate of those politicos, now that they’ve been anathematized by the Mighty Doctor.

Speaking of pork fat (no, I don’t mean Dr. Luther), I was talking to a guy down in Iowa at the Viking Meet this weekend.

He said he used to work for the Department of Agriculture.

If he were a gambling man, he said, he’d go into raising hogs.

Right now, he said, you can keep a certain number of hogs in an enclosed setting without violating environmental rules. If you feed that number of hogs, you can make good money. Not from the meat, but from the manure, which is much in demand with fertilizer companies.

The problem–the gamble–is that there’s a disease going around among hogs. It’s related to the Chronic Wasting Disease that affects deer. It’s in every country that raises hogs, so there’s no guaranteed safe source of stock. And if one of your hogs has it, you’re flat out of luck. Bankrupt.

Or worse. The disease is also dangerous to humans.

Maybe kosher is a good idea, after all.

Insufficiently Old Spice

Via Libertas: Andrew Klavan (whom I want to be when I grow up… or down…) takes former President Clinton to pieces, discards the polystyrene filler, and finds about a microgram of substance left today, in this LA Times opinion piece.

Today was a turning day in Minnesota weather. Yesterday was nice, and today was nice until the afternoon (coincidentally just about the time I took my walk). The skies clouded up and rain began spattering. Tomorrow promises to be heavy jacket weather, with more chance of rain. The trees are beginning to slip into their clown outfits.

I’ve got a lot of caulking to do.

I bought a new bottle of Old Spice aftershave today. I’ve been off it for a while, for reasons I’ll explain (I know you won’t sleep if I don’t tell you), but I realized it’s really my favorite inexpensive brand. Nothing else measures up. So I re-stocked.

My main reason for not buying it was typically substantive, for me. I was angry about the packaging.

Remember the old Old Spice bottles? They had historical sailing ships on them, “etched” in blue to look like scrimshaw. They even noted the ships’ names. I loved those bottles. I loved to have them lined up in my medicine cabinet.

Then Procter & Gamble acquired them, and some hotshot went in to shake things up. “Old Spice is dull,” he probably said. “Old Spice is an old man’s brand. Old Spice is the Oldsmobile of shaving products.”

So he zipped it up. Gone were the proud old clippers, as if in a hurricane. In their place we found a yuppie sailboat, something designed to please Ted Turner.

I don’t want hip aftershave. I don’t want aftershave that promises to turn me into a 23-year-old, cocaine-thin male model with collagened lips and face stubble. I want aftershave with a sense of history.

I want my ships back!

What do I get instead? A new picture on the bottle. It features a small red and blue banner with a teeny-weeny little sailboat on top of it. The whole thing is lost in a vast expanse of blank, off-white bottle.

I’ll bet their next project is to paint the bottle green and shape it like a human sexual organ.

What’s in your wallet?

Well, I’m back. I’m almost disappointed to say I came home unscathed, except for sore muscles and a combination burn/bruise on the inside of my left forearm. That came from shooting my bow. (Ah-ha moment: “That’s why archers wear those arm guards!” There was a time when I was younger when I shot with a bow quite a lot. I never needed a guard back then. It must be a function of aging).

It’s a six-hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, but I made it there ahead of the other Minnesota participants and checked in to the local motel. (If the original Vikings had had motels, they’d have slept in them too. They might not have paid their bills, but they would have used the nice dry beds).

On Saturday we played with Skjaldborg, the Nebraska Viking group that was hosting us. They set up an interesting exercise that worried me at first, but turned out to be a lot of fun.

The “gauntlet,” as it was called, involved first throwing a couple spears at a pile of straw bales. Then the subject grabbed a shield, pulled his sword, and ran (while being shot at with blunt, rubber-tipped arrows) to another man armed with shield and sword, fighting his way past him (for the purposes of this game, the subject never got “killed”). Then he had to fight past a guy with a spear who guarded a narrow, marked-off passage called “the bridge.” Finally, he had to fight two guys with shields and swords at once.

It was better than chocolate. Afterwards we did some group fighting, and later the guy from Missouri who’d brought up his Viking boat pulled it out to a nearby reservoir so we could do some sailing. Here’s a picture. Look like fun?

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The boat’s a real beauty, built by a craftsman. Light to row and fast under sail.

As we put the boat back on its trailer, the weather began to turn Norwegian, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying authentic Viking cold rain. When I’d enjoyed as much of that as I could stand, I retired to my motel room.

The next day the other Minnesotans left early, but I stayed till around noon. We did the gauntlet again, but this time you had to “earn” your shield by actually getting your spear to stick in the hay pile. I suck as a spear thrower, so I had to do the rest with sword only.

Needless to say, the only way to handle a situation like that is to go on strong offense, attacking the defenders at a full run. I was completely winded and utterly happy when I was done.

Then some more group fighting, and then I packed up and drove home in a warm glow.

I am a mess as a human being. I am constantly hobbled and crippled by fears, neuroses and impacted memories. When I go to a reenactment event and set up my day shade, I remain a mess. I remain a mess while plans are made and instructions given.

But when the battle starts and the steel is in my hand, my complexes become simplex. I’m just a man among other men, with one thing on my mind. “In the zone,” “one with my weapon,” whatever cliche you like, that’s what I become.

It appears I have good instincts. The first time I ran the gauntlet, I faced a man with a spear for the first time in my life. I did what came naturally with my sword, and they told me afterwards it was a “textbook” parry.

It’s also play. I’ve never played much in my life, never done a lot of the rough stuff with other guys. To do it now, and know I’m not bad at it, bucks me up incredibly.

There’s a psychological technique called “play therapy,” isn’t there?

I think there’s a doctoral thesis in this, for some perceptive graduate student.

Today I’m wiped out. Tired and achy. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I caught my death in Saturday night’s rain.

Do you get a Viking funeral if you catch pneumonia in an encampment?

If so, I’d call it even.

The legend of the microwave and the bird

I forgot to mention that Libertas recently posted this review of Andrew Klavan’s new novel, Damnation Street. As you know, I boost Klavan at every opportunity. I’ve got to read these newer mysteries. Unfortunately, no store in the Twin Cities seems to carry them in stock. Wouldn’t have anything to do with his politics, do you think? Nah, not here.

This will probably be my last post till Monday. I’m driving down to Iowa for the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, and although I’ll be staying in a motel room and bringing my laptop, I never count on web access.

Today’s interesting anecdote:

I was asked to sit in on what is called a “President’s Lunch” at the Bible School today, because a couple who plan to donate a large number of books to our archives were going to be there. When they told me where they came from, I told a story about my one visit to that town. I had been there with my musical group in the early ’70s, and my hosts had told me an anecdote about a microwave oven.

The lady laughed. “That was us,” she said. “That was our story.” They turned out to be the same people we’d met on that first visit. (Not so great a coincidence, considering the size of the town.)

The story goes like this:

This was just when microwave ovens were first entering the consumer market. They were very high tech stuff, and not a little frightening. Some people refused to eat food cooked in the things.

This particular couple had a neighbor who was selling microwaves. He made them a thirty-day offer. “Try it out, see how you like it,” he said. “You can cook almost anything with this, in almost no time. You can cook a twelve pound turkey.”

The couple told him they were going to take a chance and cook their Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. They told him several times, to make sure he knew how important it was to them.

On Thanksgiving Day, at lunchtime, when everyone was sitting down with their families to eat, they called their neighbor.

“What have we done wrong?” they cried. “Come over here! Look what your microwave oven has done to our twelve-pound turkey!”

The neighbor and his wife left their meal and came over immediately, instruction book in hand.

“Look at this!” said the couple.

There on the turkey platter sat a tiny miniature bird, trussed, browned, but so small….

The dealer and his wife obsessed over the malfunction for some time, until the stifled laughs of the couple’s children tipped them off.

The couple had carefully stitched up and cooked a Cornish Game Hen.

I’ve always thought that was a pretty good practical joke.