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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.

Aaaaargh!

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.)

The Joy of Eight

In which each player lists eight facts/habits about themselves, the rules of the game being posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed, eight people tagged at the end of the post, listing their names. The player then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read his blog.

In this post, I am to list eight facts/habits about myself, and I’m tempted to list such banal observations as my possession of ten fingers and two ears. No matter what you think about me, I do in fact have ten fingers and, though I can’t see them at the moment, I also have two ears. What else is there to know about me?

  1. Here’s a deep one. Though I believe a newish pair of khakis shrunk an inch in the wash, I still wear them. I look silly in them sometimes, but I am silly sometimes so maybe it fits me perfectly.
  2. Like Lars, I have read The Lord of the Rings aloud to my wife, children, and sister-in-law–The Hobbit and part of The Silmarillion too.
  3. I also read The Man Who Was Thursday off the Internet to my fabulous wife, and my oldest girl, who was three or four, heard part of it and asked to hear it again a little later. She is so cute.
  4. I wear size 11.5 shoes and currently own two pair of ECCO brand. They have been great, comfortable shoes, but when they wear out, I think I’ll buy something cheap. Maybe a penny-loafer.
  5. I am in the habit of rising promptly with my morning alarm and falling asleep in a chair a few minutes later, sometimes bending over in such a way that my arms or legs go to sleep too. I’m trying to break that habit.
  6. I work as an in-house graphic designer for CBMC.
  7. Sometime this year, I hope to start a fight in the steel cage at iStockphoto. I don’t have the skills for it yet. The photo editing I did a little while back–kid’s stuff.
  8. In college, a friend and I wrote a little murder mystery for our friends to role-play. It didn’t come off the way I wanted, but it was fun, so I supposed we succeeded in our first time at role-playing a story. My co-writer got herself murdered because she knew who the real criminal was and wanted to see all of the action, so she pursued him, not thinking she could easily become a victim.

Tags: Jared of Thinklings (and whatever other blogs he plants)

Philip of Thinklings

Mark Bertrand

Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard

Kevin of Collected Miscellany

Scott, who is the nameless warrior

Amy of Books, Words, and Writing

and You. Leave a comment to let me know where you post your list. (Most links removed because they ain’t good no longer.)

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:

Saex

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.

Hooper slam-dunks it

I have a new disaster to report.

I had my semiannual visit from the AC/Heating guy today. He discovered that my 1984-model air conditioner is down for the count. Dead. Defunct. Gone to join the Choir Invisible. “It had a heart attack,” the service guy said. In technicalese, the condenser blew and it’s not worth replacing in such an old unit.

So now I have to go through the hassle and expense of replacing the thing, through my homeowner’s warranty company. Much mirth to follow, I’m confident.

If you were worried about my Mock Bløtkake last Friday, I’m almost sorry to have to report that it went pretty well. The Cool Whip didn’t slide off the sides of the cake, downward into oblivion like my writing career. It was pretty much a success. So where’s the humor in that?

I noticed something interesting in my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Hooper includes biographical sketches of a number of Lewis’ most important or prolific correspondents. Among them is the late Kathryn Lindskoog, who spent much of the later part of her life accusing Hooper of creating fraudulent Lewis stories, which he then passed off as Lewis’ own work.

In the sketch about Kathryn Lindskoog, Hooper says nothing at all of that aspect of her career.

However, in the sketch on scholar Alistair Fowler, he details how Fowler has given personal testimony that Lewis showed him the Dark Tower fragment “as far back as 1962.” The Dark Tower is the document that Lindskoog particularly singled out for attack.

But again here, Hooper is silent about that side of the matter.

I consider this very classy on Hooper’s part. If I’d taken the heat he’s taken, I fear I would have found some way to make the connection explicit, to do a little victory dance.

But I’m a small vindictive man, who relishes petty vengeances.

Hooper has earned even more of my respect.

One small squawk of defiance

I’m in a rantin’ mood today, buckaroos. There shall be links. There shall be outrage. There shall be metaphors strained like gnats and camels. There shall be depressive, hopeless prognostications about how the world is going by hand to a h*llbasket.

But stay with me. I plan to end on a positive note. If I survive.

First of all, why should I be the only Minnesotan with (or in) a blog who isn’t writing about the decision of the Minneapolis Star & Tribune (better known locally as “the Strib,” or “the Star & Sickle,” or “the Red Star”) to cancel James Lilek’s daily column and move him to a reporting gig.

This is the kind of innovative, forward-looking thinking that’s got the paper buying more barrels of red ink than black these days. At the rate the Stars & Garters is devaluing, I’m saving up my own spare change against the day when I’ll be able to buy it myself.

I can’t cancel my subscription, because I haven’t subscribed in decades. The last time I bought a copy of the paper, shortly after I returned to God’s Country from Florida, I read the following in the newspaper ombudsman’s column (quoted from memory):

Q: Why didn’t you ever refer to the Unabomber as a “left-wing radical,” since you regularly call abortion clinic bombers “right-wing radicals?”

A: It would be inaccurate to call the Unabomber a left-winger. He criticized the Democrats as much as he criticized the Republicans.

Me: And we all know abortion clinic bombers never criticize Republicans.

It’s bad enough reading people who can’t reason any better than that. It’s insufferable to be lectured to by people who can’t reason any better than that.

But Lileks’ll do OK. He’s already bigger than the Strib. He’ll be able to write his own ticket.

And it’ll be a funny one.

So, the pro-American won the election in France. This is a good thing, but I’m cautious.

It seems to me the real solution to France’s problem is the mass deportation of millions of unassimilated immigrants. And that ain’t gonna happen.

My uncle Orvis alerted me to this excellent article from Brussels Journal: The Rape of Europe by Paul Belien.

The German author Henryk M. Broder recently told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (12 October) that young Europeans who love freedom, better emigrate. Europe as we know it will no longer exist 20 years from now. Whilst sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Broder pointed to the other customers and the passers-by and said melancholically: “We are watching the world of yesterday.” Europe is turning Muslim.

As Broder is sixty years old he is not going to emigrate himself. “I am too old,” he said. However, he urged young people to get out and “move to Australia or New Zealand. That is the only option they have if they want to avoid the plagues that will turn the old continent uninhabitable.”

Hal G. P. Colebatch posted a great piece today at The American Spectator, (the best darn conservative journal in the whole durn world, after all), about the lack of seriousness with which our present war is being conducted:

In 1940, during the most desperate part of World War II, amid an avalanche of disasters, a British ship named the Lancastria was bombed and sunk as it was evacuating British troops from the collapse of France. It is thought that more than 3,000 soldiers died aboard this one ship — the equivalent of an entire brigade gone at a stroke.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill, not knowing how many more disasters Britain could take, at once ordered that the story be suppressed. Nothing was said about it in Britain during the war, and it has remained little known to this day.

Very insightful, as Colebatch’s stuff always is. I’m proud to say that he’s a friend of mine, at least by e-mail. He’s a fellow Baen author as well as a fellow Spectator columnist.

I just worked up the courage to start reading The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. (I think this volume has reached the actual physical size limit for a book that a man can be expected to actually carry around and read on the bus or in a coffee shop. It may be above the maximum for most women. It’s 1,810 pages.) Lewis is a congenial spirit for me, not least because he’s constitutionally pessimistic, always expecting some kind of disaster to knock at the door. One of the first letters in this collection [covering 1950-1963] is to his friend Cecil Harwood, on the news that Harwood’s wife has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Still love to both: I wish it were of better quality—I am a hard, cold, black man inside and in my life have not wept enough.” That problem would be remedied.

It’s interesting to note the things Lewis worries about, writing in the early ’50s. He worries about China, in relation to the Korean War. He also worries about Persia, the place we now call Iran, interestingly enough, but he’s worried about the Communists operating there, not radical Muslims.

There’s comfort in this, I think. One obvious lesson is, as Roseanne Rosanadana used to say, “It’s always something.” The halcyon days we look back to, when the world was safe and secure, never really existed.

But there’s another lesson, I think. And that’s that Lewis, for all his obsessive worry, didn’t know what was going to happen. The things he feared never took place. The Russians didn’t roll over Europe. Communism, in fact, was doomed. No one could guess it back then. The challenge we face today is arguably worse, but it’s a different challenge from the ones Lewis and everyone else expected.

We don’t know the future. Unexpected disaster may be on its way, but it’s equally likely that rescue may be coming from a direction we never guessed.

And you know what? If we just mope around (as I tend to do) and say, “It’s over. It’s done. Europe’s lost. America’s going. Prepare for the end,” we’re doing precisely what I’ve criticized the Democrats in Congress for doing—telling the enemy they’ve won.

They’ve only won if we let them. The only war they’re winning is the morale war. The wonderful thing about a morale war is that all you have to do to win is decide to win.

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:

Saex1

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:

Saex2

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.