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.

13th Tale: A Deeply Moving Novel

Frank Wilson has a glowing review of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is #5 on USA Today’s best-selling list though I didn’t see it on the American Booksellers Association list. Mr. Wilson writes, “One thing is certain: Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they’ve been shortchanged.”

The publisher praises independent booksellers for The Thirteenth Tale‘s success, saying it reminds readers “of the kinds of books, such as Jane Eyre, that they read as a child.”

Congratulations to Anne, the PalmTree Pundit

Congratulations for Anne, the PalmTree Pundit, for winning our second blog contest. Her winning post begins: “This summer I had grand plans to get way ahead of my children in reading for Omnibus I, our literature, theology, and history curriculum. I even took part in a summer reading challenge, envisioning myself day after day on the beach, reading the Great Books plus some breezier writing, and recovering from homeschool burnout. As usual, my plans weren’t God’s plans. Yes, I did read many books, but most of them weren’t on my reading list.”

That bit about the beach comes from the fact that she lives in a coastal state. Hawaii is a coastal state, isn’t it?

Thank you for everyone who participated.

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.

German Opera Cancelled Due to Outrage Forecast

Roger Kimball explains:

About the only thing less pleasing than having to sit through Hans Neuenfels’s production of Mozart’s 1781 opera “Idomeneo” is the news that Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, citing an “incalculable” security risk from enraged Muslims, has decided to cancel its scheduled showing of the piece.

. . .

Mr. Neuenfels’s version is Modern German–i.e., gratuitously offensive. It is more Neuenfels than Mozart. Instead of appearing as the harbinger of peace, Idomeneo ends the opera parading the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. How do you spell “anachronistic balderdash”?

. . .

There is a certain irony in all this. Our avant-gardist artistic establishment preens itself on being “transgressive,” “challenging,” “provocative,” etc. But it prefers to exercise its anti-bourgeois animus within the coddled purlieus of bourgeois security. It has discovered that there is a big difference between exhibiting photographs of Christ on the cross in a bottle of urine or Madonna having herself “crucified” on her current concert tour and poking fun at Muhammad.

Read the whole thing. You may want to open a dictionary in another window.

The solution here, of course, is a renewal of the art world so that productions like this will never leave the producers’ minds. Nothing is above criticism, but can we return to life, beauty, and community in our artwork? Can we leave behind the tired idea that artists’ must always challenge what they preceive to be the ideas held in the public mind?

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.

Kathleen Antrim Investigates Senator George Allen

Columnist Kathleen Antrim is coming forward with information in her yet-to-be-released book on Virginia Senator George Allen, currently titled, Actions Speak Louder than Words. Her publicist, Kristen Schremp of KAS Publicity, reports Antrim has had “unlimited access to the Senator, his wife, children, family, close friends, staff and colleagues for the past 17 months.”

In short, the recent charges of Sen. Allen’s racism are ridiculous. For more on this, watch for Kathleen Antrim’s next book.

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.

Contest Reminder: Three Books at Stake

Hey! Did y’all forget about the current contest? See this post for details on how to win all three of Lars’ fantasy/sci-fi/historical interest/well-written/fun/inspiring novels. You too can have all of them in time for the Halloween gift-giving season. If you have written a post in response to our contest using our trackback URL and you don’t see your post’s URL in the comment thread of the announcement post, feel free to leave a comment with the URL to make sure we know about your post. Anything blogged in September loosely or tightly regarding your summer reading will qualify.

Let me know if you need more time to put something together. Perhaps we can extend the contest through the first week in October.

Renewing Our Thinking

From a short article last week, Joseph Stowell passes on this story:

Os Guinness tells a great story about a Russian factory worker in the days when Khrushchev was the prime minister. Because of the enormous economic strain in those days, employees would steal tools and just about anything else they could get their hands on. To stop the thefts, a KGB officer was placed at every factory gate where each worker was carefully searched for contraband. Petrov, a long-time laborer, pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with two large sacks of sawdust out the factory doors every day. Each day the guard searched through the sacks of sawdust but consistently found nothing. Weeks into this routine the frustrated guard finally said, “Hey, Petrov, I promise not to tell anybody. I can’t get what’s going on here. I don’t know why you need all this sawdust. What are you stealing?” Petrov grinned and whispered, “Wheelbarrows.”

Read the rest Joe’s article called “Brain Drain.”

We Really Don’t Ban Books in the States

Sherry of Semicolon has a good post on Banned Books Week, which echoes my thoughts on the subject. She starts with some facts on what’s banned in other countries and then states that we don’t ban books in America.

I attended library school and heard librarians say, with a straight face, that when they chose to not purchase Nancy Drew books or comic books, the process was called “selection,” but when parents or citizens tried to voice their opinions about what should or should not be purchased by the libraries that they support with their taxes, it was “censorship.” Librarians were an elite group of educated professionals who knew how to “select ” library materials; others were yokels who were out to keep information out of the hands of the people, book-banners. . . . The only difference is that the librarians are assumed to have good motives, to provide as many materials as possible to the lbrary’s patrons, and the public citizens are assumed to have bad motives, to keep materials out of the hands of others.

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.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture