Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Links

Thomas J. Craughwell writes, “If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian.”

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, lobsters were so common all you had to do was stroll down to the nearest tidal pool and pluck them out by the bushel. But the Pilgrims wanted meat, not fish — not even fish as succulent as lobster. Very quickly familiarity bred contempt: The better class of colonists scorned the crustacean as suitable only for the poor. In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of a boatload of new colonists from England. Their arrival was a thrilling event, yet Bradford confessed that he and his fellow Plymouth residents were humiliated that they had nothing better to offer the newcomers than lobster.

Also on The American Spectator, Jay D. Homnick riffs on Georgia’s prayer for rain. “Pray today, give thanks tomorrow. Remember also that prayer is not only a means to an end, as Maimonides explains, it must catalyze each of us into reflecting upon our priorities,” he writes.

“God said, I am tired of kings, / I suffer them no more;” Emerson has an interesting poem here, Boston Hymn.

Gaius writes about the Pilgrims early attempts to live communally. This appears to be within the first seven years of their landing in America. According to what I’m reading, the pilgrims’ voyage was funding by London investors who required they work for them for seven years doing whatever profitable work they could find. At the end of those years, the survivors would receive a small share of the profits, but everything belonged to “the common fund” or that of the investors. Even the clothes they wore were owned technically by the men in London. Perhaps that’s why the colony started with a communal attitude.

Now, a little holiday advice: If you start feeling like this little guy, throw out your inhibitions and do something different. Take that walk. Eat that brussel sprout. Whatever you don’t normally do, do it. (Cute warning alert)

What I meant to say

I missed a step yesterday. As I re-read my post, I thought, the transitions here, from Elvis to Rock ‘n Roll to my personal navel-gazing to fear, aren’t flowing properly. But I had other things I wanted to do, so I let it stand.

But now I remember I’d wanted to say something about fear. Something positive, difficult as that may be to believe.

First of all, I was going to say that, in case you were wondering about my problems with book orders in the bookstore due to the internet being down, that it all got worked out. The IT guy came up and burrowed under my desk a while, and then went down to the server and discovered that the problem was there all the time. So I got my service, and all the orders were placed on Thursday (except for the orders of that one instructor who never gets his orders in until just before classes start. I figure if he can live with it, I can live with it).

I employ a mixed media approach in ordering books from publishers. I use the internet to research the books, learn the publishers and ISBN numbers, and after I’ve transcribed all that information on a spread sheet, I call the publishers’ 800 numbers to actually make the orders. It seems to work best for me that way.

And that’s remarkable, under the circumstances. Because I hate calling people on the phone. When I first took this job, the phone calling was one of the duties I dreaded most. It’s related to my Avoidant problem, as you’ve probably guessed.

But I got past it. After I’d done it a couple times, I learned that if I was prepared, making the calls with my orders wasn’t all that difficult.

I need to highlight this in my mind, which is why I highlighted it above. Within my personal scenario, the warped lens through which I look at my life, there is no place for improvement. I see my life as a place where everything is going downhill. Nothing ever gets better. Instead, the inevitable slide takes me, eventually, to the place where I lose my job, my home, all my friends and family, and end up wandering the streets yelling at imaginary enemies.

But this got better. I actually improved at something. I overcame a fear.

I’d better stop now. If I write any more, I’ll find a way to sabotage it.

Have a good weekend.

What Is Chocolate Really?

Apparently, there’s a scuffle going on over a petition to allow more freedom in the definition of chocolate. There’s possibility the Food and Drug Administration will allow companies to substitute vegetable fat for cocoa butter in producing a chocolate confection. According to the website Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate, “it would allow for the unlimited use of vegetable fats from any source and at any level to replace the added cocoa butter in milk and dark chocolate and still allow the product to be called chocolate.” In candies made of white chocolate, which is supposed to have cocoa butter and no cocoa solid, this new standard appears to allow for candies with no cocoa at all. I suppose if you call it chocolate, then it is .

Schoolboy memories

Better today, thanks for asking. Went to bed early last night and slept hard until the alarm woke me. It was almost worth the deprivation of the previous night to enjoy such luxurious, concentrated sleep.

Here’s an interesting (interesting to me) post from a blog called Shape of Days. The author employs some language I wouldn’t use myself (be warned), but it was interesting to see another blogger writing about his emotional disorder. Indeed, his problem, Borderline Personality Disorder, is a cousin to my Avoidant Personality Disorder. I believe AvPD used to be diagnosed as Borderline, until they refined the criteria, or something.

His problem seems to be more severe than mine, which is some comfort, I guess. He blames it on a “brain defect or malfunction,” and I’m pretty sure mine, on the other hand, stemmed from simply growing up in a crazy environment, where I had to learn crazy behavior to survive. My first mistake was in choosing my parents. The second mistake was that I seem to have run into some remarkably toxic adult authority figures on my way up (or whatever way I was going).

Chief among these was Mr…. I’ll call him Mr. Woundwort. He was football coach and physical education (we called it Phy Ed in that time and place) teacher for our Junior/Senior high school, which meant he was licensed to poison my life for six full years.

The man was a sadist. That wasn’t just something his football players said as a joke after drills. Everyone knew he was a sadist. He was mean at the core. There was a story, a bit of schoolboy folklore, that said he’d accidentally killed his own brother when he was a kid. I don’t know if it’s true, but it would help explain a lot if it were.

Of all his hates, and he had many, his hatred of fat kids was chief. He singled out the fat kids, humiliated them. I was a fat kid. I was on his list from the first day.

One day he had us doing calisthenics, and he noticed that I couldn’t do a push-up. Yes, I wrote that right. I was a farm kid, but I didn’t have the upper body strength to do a single push-up. This was one of many clues which had already proved to me that I was unworthy and defective.

Mr. Woundwort decided this called for special coaching. His own kind of special coaching.

He set the rest of the guys to some game or other. He took a folding chair and a yardstick, and he took me to a corner of the gymnasium. He told me to get into push-up position in the corner, and he sat on the chair and told me to “Do one.” I tried and failed.

He hit me on the butt with the yardstick.

He told me he would keep telling me to do a push-up as long as it took, and every time I failed he’d hit me again.

We went on like that for the rest of the hour. By the time it was done my meager muscles were quivering, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. He had to let me go (he told me he’d test me later, and if I couldn’t do one by then, I’d have to take Phy Ed with the girls), and after showering I went immediately to the school Guidance Counselor, and told him what had happened.

I’m one of those who believe that educational standards have fallen appallingly since those days. I believe students today are coddled and over-rewarded and underdisciplined.

But there are limits, and Mr. Woundwort had gone over the line. Even in those days, I think, what he’d done with me was too much. I don’t know what happened, but Mr. Woundwort eased up on me after that, at least to the point of not punishing me sadistically anymore. So I think the G.C. probably had a heart-to-heart talk with him and made some threats.

I suspect Mr. Woundwort thought I was homosexual. Which is kind of ironic, since one of his prized football players (another sadist, as it happened, one who beat me up many times) later “came out of the closet,” and eventually died of AIDS.

I never told my parents about it, not even when I was grown up.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d take Mr. Woundwort’s side.


I am a frustrated man. A frustrated, tired man.

Today was the first day of our Summer Institute of Theology at the seminary. I was kept busy, off and on, selling textbooks to the pastors who have come in for continuing education. At 4:30 I went home, leaving the operation in the hands of my assistant, with some qualms. He’s a seminarian from a third-world country, and he has never really mastered the cash register. But the last thing he told me was that he felt he was doing better now.

I drove home and fell into bed. No afternoon walk, no lawn mowing (which is needed). I had a bad case of insomnia last night (my own fault—I stayed up late and missed the brain wave curve), and I just wanted a nap. I’d been nodding off all afternoon, and I never nod off in daytime.

I wasn’t horizontal long before the phone rang. It was my assistant. He said he was having a problem with the cash register.

Then there was a noise on the line. My renter had picked up the phone (he always does this. I suspect he’s a little deaf. He seems to hear the phone ringing, but he never hears me talking on it). When he realized I was talking to someone, he hung up. At the same moment I lost the connection with my assistant.

I waited for him to call back. Nothing happened.

I don’t have the number for the phone at the front desk. It’s not a number I’ve ever needed. I tried my office phone, and even the business office downstairs. No luck.

Maybe my assistant thought I hung up on him, and is afraid to call back.

I should have dressed and driven back to work. But I’m honestly so tired I’m afraid to drive.

And now I can’t sleep.

Oh fudge.

Well, I could have worse problems. Like this lady, for instance.

Dale sent this link to a story about an appalling case of contemporary censorship in England.

Every year American librarians rend their garments and sit in ashes, scraping themselves with potsherds, because of all the horrible “censorship” they endure, when parents try to keep them from making porn available to their children.

I’ll just bet the English librarians don’t say a word about this genuine act of censorship.

(Note: Dale points out, correctly, that this isn’t technically censorship, because it’s not a government act. But in suppressing the publication and distribution of a book, a foreign government has managed to restrict the ongoing discussion of ideas in England. It’s much closer than anything the ALA bellyaches about annually.)

Saex talk

We got a little rain today (and that’s a good thing), but it was just a little. When I got home, the evidence suggested that we’d gotten a little more right here. Even better. And the skies were full of dark clouds. I took my afternoon walk on the theory that my vulnerability would prove an irresistible temptation to the heavens, but it didn’t work (could it be that the universe isn’t specifically engineered to frustrate me? This could crush my entire paradigm!).

But when I sat down to start this post it was raining again. A tentative, Avoidant rain, unsure of its welcome. I didn’t have much hope of it, but lo, it continues, even unto this minute.

The weekend went OK. I didn’t have anyplace to go, so I washed and waxed Mrs. Hermanson and did some repair and staining on the latticework underneath my screen porch.

My treat was the arrival of this object:


This is a Viking saex, hand-made for me by author and knifemaker Michael Z. Williamson. If you’re wondering why a guy who’s been hinting at financial constraints throws away money on things like this, the answer is that I ordered and paid for it a couple years ago, when I was flush, and it’s been delayed for various reasons. So this was a long-awaited pleasure.

I posted about saexes (or seaxes, or saxes, or saekses, ad infinitum) a while back, when I made a sheath for the back-up saex I’d bought for live steel. This knife is not for live steel. This one is fully sharp. Even Crocodile Dundee, I believe, would concede that this is a knife. It’s 16 ½” long.

If you look closely you can see Viking runes inlaid in the side of the blade. These spell out (in Old Norse) a line from the poem, Bjarkamál: “Breast to breast the eagles shall claw each other.” The Bjarkamál was a very popular war poem in the Viking Age. One of King (St.) Olaf’s poets sang it before the Battle of Stiklestad, and this particular line was nearly the last words of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of The Year of the Warrior.

The saex was one of the most common, and prized, weapons in the Dark Ages, and continued to be so long after the Viking Age had passed. It has been suggested that possession of this weapon was restricted to free men, and was a mark of freedom—the Saxons took their name from the weapon. Most men couldn’t afford to invest valuable steel in swords which had no practical use outside of warfare. But every free man had one of these, useable as a machete, a butcher knife and an offensive weapon.

It’s still raining, very lightly. This would be perfect if it just lingered and lingered. I don’t think that’s in the forecast, though. But we’ll take what we can get.

Walker plays the sax

Today is a rainy day, cool but not cold. My lawn is starting to green up.

I still expect another snowfall before spring.

I meant to post the pictures below on Monday, but was prevented for reasons explained yesterday. Then I figured I’d better review the Barnitz book while its memory remained fresh (memories go bad faster than ripe bananas for me these days). So I left it to today to report on my big weekend project.

The Vikings had two kinds of swords. One, called a sverd, was a double-edged, one-handed broadsword. The other was similar to the sverd, but had only one cutting edge. This somewhat cheaper sword was called a saex (or seax, or sax). There was also a shorter version called a scramasax, which was used as a utility knife, chef’s knife and backup weapon. A few weeks ago I bought this replica scramasax on eBay:


The knife itself is pretty decent. It appears to be a copy of a 7th Century Frankish scramasax presently located in the Cleveland Museum of Art (which I’ve visited, years back—great arms and armor collection). A knife like that is kind of early for my own Viking “impression,” but it wasn’t uncommon for weapons to be passed down from generation to generation.

The main problem with this knife, and the reason, I suspect, why the guy on eBay is selling them off cheap, is the sheath that comes with it. This sheath’s first sin is the black leather, which is something all serious reenactors eschew. It seems the Vikings did not blacken their leather.

Secondly, the sheath has too narrow a “collar.” The collar is important in a knife hung horizontally (in the Viking manner), because you need to hold it in the sheath with friction, as you can’t depend on gravity. But this sheath’s collar is too narrow to allow the knife to be completely sheathed. The guard comes up against it and is too big to squeeze inside. The only way to use this sheath is to slit the collar’s closed side, creating a pair of “wings” on either side that hold the knife only loosely. Since the knife is grip-heavy, this makes it prone to slipping out, especially in the action of live steel.

So I made a sheath of my own. It looks like this:


I’m pretty happy with it. It’s tight enough to hold the scramasax securely, and the rear belt loop is far enough toward the collar to make it hang pretty straight. You’ll note that the knife is suspended with the cutting edge upward in this configuration, but that’s something many reenactment groups prefer, or even insist on. It has the advantage of putting the weight down on the knife’s spine, which then doesn’t cut into the bottom of the sheath (an academic point here, since I gelded the blade for live steel use). And it’s no problem to draw that way, because it’s worn behind the back.

My real innovation is the shape of the collar. Instead of it being cut straight across, it’s cut at an angle. This wasn’t the result of a plan, but of the shape of the piece of scrap leather I was using. Once it was done, though, I found I rather liked it. It has a humped, whale-backed appearance that looks very Scandinavian to me.

Probably wouldn’t be approved by the English reenactors, though. But I already know the English reenactors would laugh my impression off the field.

My vengeance, needless to say, would be terrible to behold, but that would be bad for transatlantic relations.

Romper Room wonks

Tonight I cooked one of my brother Baal’s purple potatoes for supper. Did you know there are such things as purple potatoes?

It tasted like a potato. No surprises there, thank goodness. But a purple potato is deeply disturbing on a fundamental level. It’s purple inside and out, with thin of sheath of white between the “meat” and the skin. It looks like some kind of unnatural hybrid of potato and beet, and you can’t help thinking that it’s going to taste like something approved by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Visual cues mean a lot to most of us, and by that standard, I just don’t… (ready for this?) dig purple potatoes.

But it was interesting. Definitely interesting. Maybe three-year-olds will like them, if you tell them they’re dinosaur livers.

Rodham Devon, it was cold today. Cold out of a clear cerulean sky, so that if you kept your window shades open you got a nice solar rebate on your fuel oil bill. But the ambient temperatures more than adjusted for that. On a day like today, there’s nothing between us and the interstellar wastes except a little rind of planetary atmosphere. The sunlight drops in and bounces right back where it came from. Minnesota. A nice place to visit, but even sunlight doesn’t want to spend time here in the winter.

Lots of talk about the Iran Study Group report today. From what I hear and read on the web, it seems pretty much like what everybody expected.

I keep flashing back to my childhood. Elementary school. Green chalkboards and linoleum. A “cool” teacher telling the class, “Today we’re going to have a discussion on current events.”

And he would ask our opinions on how we thought various issues in the news ought to be handled.

The answers were always the same.

In domestic affairs, the answer always was, “The government should make a law…”

In international affairs, the answer always was, “We should sit down with other countries and talk about it.”

“That’s very good. Very thoughtful,” the teacher would say.

(Thomas the weird kid, of course, would say something like, “I think we ought to drop an atom bomb on ‘em.” But the teacher would tell him sternly that if he had nothing appropriate to offer, he should just be quiet.)

Fifty years later, it seems like most of us are still trying to impress that teacher.

Maybe it’s because our culture has bought into the myth of the Wisdom of Children (an opinion that seems to gain adherents as the birth rate decreases).

Or maybe it’s because we’re just culturally stuck in an infantile mode, dressing even in middle age like kids in an Our Gang feature, and bragging loudly about the toys we’ve accumulated (like Viking live steel gear, I know).

But I think a lot of us—even the old codgers of the Iraq Study Group—stopped refining our thinking about public affairs back in elementary school, and we haven’t noticed that the world is a little more complex than we knew in fifth grade.

What was your suggestion again, Thomas?

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.