Brandywine Books
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An ill, ill wind

C.S. Lewis mentions somewhere a conversation with a friend (perhaps Charles Williams but I’m not sure) on the book of Job. The friend noted archly that Job’s comforters were “the kind of men who write books about The Problem of Pain”.

The human disaster goes on in Louisiana and Mississippi (please make a donation to hurricane relief as God has prospered you. I’m going to), but it’s not too early, apparently, for finger-pointing. We seem to be faced with an interesting situation where secularists claim the hurricane is, in some sense, divine retribution for the sins of the Bush administration, while Christian supernaturalists insist that it’s all about natural causes.

The question of why bad things happen is one of the really big ones, and any treatment of it is guaranteed to satisfy nobody. But I’ll take a stab at it anyway.

They sang a song after the San Francisco earthquake that went something like this:

“If it’s a fact God smote the town

For being over-frisky,

Why did He burn the churches down

And spare McSweeney’s Whiskey?”

Or words to that effect.

For most of us who don’t believe in Reincarnation, the comprehensive nature of disasters like Hurricane Katrina is a real problem. How can a God who permits such things be called good? Why do the good suffer with the evil? Why are the evil spared along with the good?

I’d like to propose an incomplete answer in two parts.

Part One: I believe that in general, doing good is rewarded in this life.

People who treat other people well generally have more friends and happier families, and therefore are happier themselves. Honest businessmen are rewarded with a good reputation, which leads to increased profit. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2, NIV)

Conversely, people who treat people badly tend not to do well. They may indeed make a lot of money and acquire certain material benefits by their wickedness, but they are not happy people and they don’t experience the best things that life offers. Their very natures make them incapable of receiving those good things. That they may not know what they’re missing doesn’t make them less unfortunate.

Part Two: This principle is true only in general terms. In particular cases it often doesn’t hold up. Very good people, faithful Christians, are suffering horribly in New Orleans and Biloxi today. They have lost their possessions. They have lost their loved ones. They are crying out for help and there is none to help them. Some of them will be dead themselves tomorrow.

This is a terrible thing, an “evil under the sun”.

But I don’t believe it proves there is no God, or that God is evil or indifferent.

I see it this way. If morality worked like physics, if every good action produced an equal and opposite good reaction, and every evil action produced evil blowback, almost everybody in the world would do good. It would be to their obvious benefit to do good. Most people aren’t idiots. Only crazy people hurt themselves on purpose.

But that “goodness” would not be moral goodness. It would be driven purely by self-interest. It would have no element of mercy or empathy or charity in it. It would be Skinner Box morality, learned behavior predicated on the avoidance of pain.

By permitting random evil in our lives, God permits us to choose good for no other reason than that it is good. He permits us to suffer for doing good. It’s a moral suffering, a suffering that purifies the soul, when a man says, “Doing right will bring me no good in this world, and may in fact kill me, but I will do right anyway, because doing right belongs to God.” The same is true when a man endures undeserved evil and offers it up to God as a sacrifice, seeing no good purpose but believing anyway.

Having said all this, I’m going to go give some money to Samaritan’s Purse now.

Lars Walker

Not Back Yet
To the readers who remember that this blog has two writers and wonder where the lesser of the two is, I offer this small explanation which I normally don't do, explain my absences, because while I want Brandywine Books to be a useful, helpful, wonderful literary blog, blogrolled by many, blogshared by the wealthy, read by editors, authors, publicists, publishers, nonetheless I realize this is a low commitment zone, a simple website free to the world whether or not the world cares, and I assume you don't care to hear about me really, maybe a little, but a lit-blog is about literature, books, and the like, not the blogger--at least, that's my take on it, and I don't mind the personal blogger so many other bloggers do. Maybe that's why they have more readers.

Anyway, I've been busy at work with big projects, at home with family and house improvement, and reading on deadline. I'd love to blog while I did these things, but I enjoy sleeping too. But enough about me. I hope to post soon a review of Jenkins' book, Hedges, a strong book on married and single life (Thank you, Stacy of Mind & Media Publicity) I also want to solidify some weekly features on this blog. I want to post something funny every Monday, though I suppose memes could work there too; and I want to post a Today post on Thursdays. What do you think?

Pray for the Lord's work in the Gulf Coast. Here's one strong group, MNA, dedicated to emergencies like this. But sincere prayer is most important for those of us far away from the New Orleans/Gulf Coast area. I may blog on this later.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The saga of Wier Sjurson Weeks

I really don’t mean to impose an “all Norwegian, all the time” format on this blog, but I’ve had this story on my mind all day, and I really don’t have much else in my head to share.

I mentioned that my earlier post on “The Saga of Lars Swelland” produced an e-mail from a previously unknown Norwegian relative. He’s been trying to reconstruct some family history concerning what finally happened to certain family members who emigrated to America. In the course of our e-mails he gave me a link to an article about a distant relative of ours of whom I’d been unaware. Turns out he was one of the Norwegian pioneers in this country. And yes, I’m about to tell you his story.

Organized Norwegian immigration to the United States is dated from 1825, but was slow in taking off. An immigrant named Ole Rynning, who came to America in 1837, felt compelled to write a book in which he explained to Norwegians that, in spite of what they’d been told, they were not likely to be kidnapped in America and transported to New Orleans to be sold as slaves.

In 1846 Vier Sjurson Vika, the half-brother of one of my great-great-grandfathers (he would change his name to Wier Weeks in America) sailed out of Bergen with his wife and two daughters. They landed in Muskegon, Michigan with several other Norwegian families. Unable to find other lodging, four families pooled their resources to buy a piece of land with a log cabin on it, which they shared.

They were visited soon after by a pastor named Elling Eielsen, a famous man in the Norwegian-American saga. Eielsen was an itinerant pastor and evangelist, a man of extraordinary energy who drove himself hard all his life to serve the needs of his fellow immigrants. He was, unfortunately, not a great organizer, and his ministry suffered from schisms again and again (which wouldn’t be entirely his fault, considering the nature of Norwegian Lutherans).

Weeks told Eielsen he was trying to make contact with a friend who’d settled near Lisbon, Illinois. Eielsen, who lived near Lisbon himself, knew the man well and invited to Weeks to come back with him. So, leaving his wife and daughters in Muskegon, Weeks piled into Eielsen’s wagon, pulled by one horse, and set out. It was frontier in those days, and they slept under the stars. In Lisbon the friend greeted him with joy, insisting that he go back and get his family and stay with him until they got set up.

Eielsen, being Eielsen, was willing to drive Weeks back to Muskegon (he once walked from Illinois to Philadelphia to get a book printed). Once they got there they found that all the residents of the log house had come down with malarial fever and ague. Weeks’ wife survived, but both their daughters died. He himself came down with it and was sick a long time.

When the survivors recovered it was near harvest time, but three of the families agreed to trade their interest in the land to a German farmer for an ox-drawn cart, and they set off for Illinois.

Weeks worked as a carpenter and boat-builder for many years. He worked for a time 25 miles away, but walked back every Saturday night to spend Sunday with his family (there were four children in the end). At one point the community suffered a cholera epidemic. Weeks was in bed sick when a cousin came to the door, saying he’d gotten cholera too, and his employer had thrown him out of the house. Weeks told him he could sleep on a blanket on the wood shavings in the workshop; he had nothing better to offer. The cousin soon died, and there was nobody healthy to bury him. Weeks got up and managed to build a coffin and drag the thing outside, but he didn’t have the strength to bury it too. Eventually some neighbors came to put the body in the ground.

Eventually he had his own farm and was a leader in the community. He was also a lay preacher. He helped to found two Lutheran congregations which are part of the church body I work for today, still active and thriving. He was, according to the article, “a friend and admirer of Abraham Lincoln”. Wish I knew more about that. It’s certainly likely that Lincoln would have known any prominent Republican in antebellum Illinois, and he himself once said, “…I know the Norwegians from Illinois, and I know that no immigrants have advanced America more than they….”

Wier Weeks died in 1900, 87 years of age.

If he’d known how future Norwegian-Americans would live, he’d probably have stayed in Norway.

Lars Walker

Monday, August 29, 2005

New American dream achieved

First of all, a story of extreme cluelessness, as usual from personal experience.

Last week Brian, our IT guy at work, came up to the library to do some maintenance, and he mentioned that when students have trouble with our printers I should recommend they get jump drives to move the documents to other, more cooperative computers.

As he explained this, I suddenly realized what a jump drive was for. I’d seen them, but had always assumed they were just another form of data storage, like a zip drive. Using them as a superior alternative to jockeying floppies around had never occurred to me.

Now I am the happy owner of a jump drive of my own. What other wonders am I missing, just because I never asked anyone to explain?

And that brings me to the subject of this post.

I’ve achieved the New American Dream. Not the Old American Dream (a good job, a home of my own, a wife, 2.6 kids and a collie) but the new one – Victimhood.

I’ve been diagnosed with a disability, and (theoretically) may now begin my campaign for special accommodation or reparations or something.

I’ve been seeing a Christian counselor for a few months. Last week he asked me if I was familiar with Avoidant Personality Disorder.

As a matter of fact I was. I’d come up “Avoidant” in an online psychological test, and had run APD through a search engine (I try not to say “googled”, since I don’t use that engine, being a vindictive conservative who never forgets). I’d recognized myself right away.

My counselor tells me I’m a textbook avoidant. Most diagnoses involve hitting four or five of the seven markers. I hit every single one.

Avoidants are people who desire relationships with other people, but are so frightened of rejection that they opt for unhappy loneliness over the possibility of greater pain if they took a risk.

Let me try to explain what it feels like to be an avoidant.

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy stands on the edge of a gorge, and his map tells him he should be able to walk across the gorge on thin air?

Because he has no choice, he steps out into what looks like open air, and discovers that the whole gorge is a trompe l’oeil painting, and that there was in fact a bridge in front of him that he couldn’t see?

For the avoidant, the space between himself and every other human being is like that painted gorge. He may know in his mind that he can walk across the gorge, but it still looks like open air to him. And every step into that air is an act of genuine courage.

It’s made worse by the fact that sometimes there really is just air there. Sometimes you do fall. And for the avoidant, one bad experience counts for more than a hundred good ones. Because results that fit one’s essential world view are always more persuasive than ones that don’t.

I know what you’re all wondering – what does this mean for Walker? (Either that or, “Is there a point coming eventually?”)

APD is treatable, but I don’t believe it ever goes away. That means that, though I may learn to walk across the gorge, I’ll always see the cliff, and the cliff will look real to me. It will always be easier to turn around and go back where I came from.

This’ll make it tough to continue my career as an author. In today’s market, the advantage is with those who can go out there and hustle, hustle, hustle, making contacts and nagging the world for attention.

In that game I’m definitely a benchwarmer.

It also makes marriage unlikely. I know (from reading it somewhere) that women want to be pursued. They need to feel that the man is overcoming obstacles, paying a price, to woo them. And while it’s true that I struggle more and pay more just to make eye contact with a woman and say hello then some men expend on a whole courtship, my kind of pursuit does not make a woman feel effectively courted.

But let’s end on a positive note. There’s a good way to look at this. For the avoidant who chooses to change his ways, life is a perpetual adventure, an Indiana Jones script of one thrill after another. Life’s an adventure, they say. That’s especially true for us.

Lars Walker

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Cruise post 7

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I set the alarm clock for 6:00, because our disembarkation time was 8:05 and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it. We had breakfast and packed up our carry-on stuff. We had plenty of time, and had to loaf a while before leaving for our meeting place.

We trooped off the ship, into the luggage shed, and then lined up for a taxi out on the street. We got our cab, and I sat in front so I could pay the driver with my credit card this time, as Baal had done on the way in.

When we arrived at the airport, the driver informed us he didn’t take credit cards. We weren’t prepared for this. We had no Euros (the Norwegians haven’t adopted it). He was willing to take dollars in payment, but was rather vague on the exchange rate. We settled on a price at last (probably inflated), and we got into the airport.

We sat around a bit, then decided we might as well try to check in and get rid of our bags. Check-in at the kiosk and baggage check went fine, and we wandered off to our gate, making it through customs and security. Baal noted that it seemed there weren’t many seats by the gate, but we were early so we found two together.

We read books for several hours (I had just picked up Nelson DeMille’s newest paperback, Night Fall, perfect airline reading. It's about the crash of TWA Flight 800). At last the Departures board announced that our flight was boarding. There had been no announcement that we’d heard. We passed by the boarding desk, and discovered that there was a second security scanner there (“Take your laptop out of its case, please, sir”) and that the actual waiting area was beyond. We got right on the plane, and takeoff was on time.

We discovered to our delight that there were two empty seats in our row, so that when I moved one seat to my right, Baal, I and the little old lady on the other end all had elbow room on both sides.

Except that this old lady was no ordinary old lady. She was Super Nazi Grandma. She said to me, in a sinister middle European accent, that as we were sitting we couldn’t “enjoy” the extra space. So would I move back to my original seat so she could stretch on on three seats and take a nap? When I pointed out that I was “enjoying” having elbow room she said sharply, “Thank you very much!”

So when the seatbelt sign went off I moved back to the seat next to Baal again and the old lady got her nap. Baal was disgusted, and (I think) not only with her.

It got worse. Some time later, when she’d finished her nap, she sat up, but did not return her old seat. The selfish old biddy sat regally in the center of her three seats, mistress of her domain.

Much later in the long flight she went to the washroom, and Baal suggested I reclaim the center seat again. “Or would you rather switch with me?”

I, naturally, chose to switch, so he took the center seat, and we had elbow room again.

I am an utter and total wuss.

You could argue, I suppose, that it’s hard for anybody to say no to little old ladies, even when they’re unreasonable. But I know that it would have been the same if it had been a man, or a small child, or a woman. I just can’t stand to have people mad at me.

I didn’t manage to sleep more than a doze now and then, but I finished most of the DeMille book.

There was a short delay on the tarmac at the airport, but immigration and customs went fine. Brian from work was waiting for us, and although he didn't get my message he’d very sensibly checked the Northwest web site for our arrival time, and so hadn’t had to wait long. All was well. He took us back to work, where our cars waited, and Baal decided to drive home right away.

So that’s it.

A pretty good cruise, all in all. Don’t know if I’ll do it again. It’s expensive when you add all the incidentals in, and the promotional value isn’t all that great. But it was nice to have someone along.

Lars Walker

Friday, August 26, 2005

Cruise Post 6

Friday, August 19, 2005

Our sea day, headed home. We slept in, and I went over my presentation. I also went to the internet center to open an account so I would be able to check my e-mail later on. I was in the Crystal Room -- my designated venue, at 9:30 – half an hour early, as recommended. There was not a soul there. No projector, no screen. I waited until 9:40. Still no sign of life. I found a shipboard phone outside the door and called the Cruise Director, who wasn’t in his office. For lack of a better idea I then called the Communications Center, which forwarded me to some other officer, I forget which one. That guy told me A/V people don’t usually arrive until a quarter till (not my experience) and not to worry.

The A/V guys did show up about five minutes later, but they had to run around looking for components, and so when it got to be 10:00 I just started speaking to the group that had gathered (not a bad size), and took questions. I didn’t have a mike, so I just used my actor voice.

When the projector was hooked up and ready I went into my talk, and it seemed to go well. I took questions again at the end, and had to break it off when 11:00 arrived.

Baal (who’d come for the lecture) was lying down with vertigo when I got back to the room, so I went to lunch by myself. Afterwards I went to one of the “hot spots” and did manage to get a Wi-Fi connection. I answered e-mails, including one from Lavon, telling me who’d be picking us up at the airport. Then I checked the blog, and attempted to create a post, which failed. Then I gave up for the time being. At that point Baal came by, having decided to sit with a book, watching the sea. I took my computer back to the stateroom and then joined him with my own book.

I also talked to a woman in the gift shop about when to pick up my unsold books. She said to come back after 9:00 and talk to the manager.

We went to supper (casual dress code), and the Boston couple brought a copy of TYOTW for me to sign. When the meal was over we were all fairly sad to break up our company. They were a fun group.

We read in our stateroom, and I went back to the gift shop at the designated time. The woman told me to come back between 10:30 and 11:00 to talk to the manager and get the books and my money for the ones they’d sold.

It was around then that I re-checked my documentation and realized I’d told Lavon the wrong time for our arrival. Much as I hated to buy more internet minutes, I went back to the hot spot and tried to make contact. Repeated failures, sometimes because the signal was down, sometimes because my computer wasn’t loading the sign-in page for some reason.

We were required to have our luggage, except for carry-ons, packed and tagged and outside our doors for pick-up by 10:00 p.m. We accomplished this.

I went back to the bookstore a little after 10:30 and was told the manager was on break, and that I should come back again.

At that point I began panicking, as is my wont. I was afraid our driver would show up two hours early at the airport and waste a trip. I’m not sure what I was afraid of with the bookstore, but I seemed to be getting the runaround. I was getting whiney. Baal pointed this out to me.

I finally got to see the manager and got my cash. Seven books had been sold. Could be worse.

I gave up on my laptop at last, and just signed in on one of the ship’s computers. I was able to send my warning e-mail about 15 minutes before closing time at work, Minnesota time. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Then to bed, to lie awake and worry.

Lars Walker

Take a Risk on Variety
Welcome to the Lars' Norweigan Cruse Blog. I hope you've been enjoying the vicarious trip of our world-famous author. In a couple weeks, drop by to read about Lars' Round Up at the United Nations in which Ambassador John Bolton will say, "Now, we'll see some action!"

In the meantime, I want to pass on this comment from a post today by soon-to-be-popular author Jared Wilson over at Jared talks a little about the reasons his first novel, a supernatural thriller, has been rejected, which drew this comment:
I'm a Christian woman and I would prefer sci-fi and fantasy novels. I love imagination. I don't buy much Christian fiction currently because I don't care for much of what they are selling. Some publisher needs to start taking some risks and discover that there are a whole bunch of us waiting for some variety.
I believe there are new imprints with editors who believe they are taking risks, but we will have to see how they define the risk. It's one thing to believe you are thinking outside the box; it's another to do something you fear is crazy. And we know what the critics will say. If an imprint takes risks and fails, the editors were stupid or reckless; if they do the same and succeed, they were geniuses.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The benefits of raising one's profile

Had an e-mail today from a man in Norway who turned out to be a distant relative. He read my old post on "The Saga of Lars Svelland", and contacted me because he recognized the story as that of a family member.

One is tempted to say, "Small world." But that would be trite. "Praise God" is probably better.

Lars Walker

Cruise Post 5

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Well, it wasn’t entirely rain-free today, but it wasn’t bad.

We decided to go to the Midnight Buffet last night, something we haven’t done before. But it was chocolate night. Had to give it a shot. Had a couple kinds of cake. Not Baker’s Square French Silk pie, but not bad at all.

We slept in because our tour wasn’t scheduled until 1:15. We got up to see the wooded hills and business buildings across Bergen Harbor. It was raining.

We got breakfast just before serving ended, then went out to explore the city. We were docked at the wharf I remember from my last cruise, maybe a half mile from the city center.

You leave the harbor area, then turn right down the Bryggen Street (I don’t recall if it’s called that, but it probably is). You pass what’s left of the castle on your left, dominated by Haakon’s Hall and the Rosencrantz Tower, all that’s left of the medieval castle. They were both reduced to scorched walls by the explosion of the German ammunition ship Blucher in 1944, and restored later. Your walk takes you past the great black stone walls surrounding the castle area.

Beyond that are a hotel and some commercial buildings, then what’s left of the old Bryggen (Wharf), which used to be called Tyskebryggen (the German Wharf) until WWII soured Norwegian/German relations. The Bryggen consists of a couple of blocks of narrow-fronted wooden buildings, the old trading houses of the Hanseatic merchants from the Middle Ages to (in a diminished capacity) the early 20th Century. The genuine old buildings (dating to 1702) all lean a bit to their own left, away from the castle, as they were knocked askew by the Blucher explosion in ’44. The only thing that saved them was the fact that they were built on the accumulated rubble of centuries, so their foundations had some give in them.

These buildings are said to be almost identical to the original medieval trading houses of the Hanse. They burned down and were rebuilt numerous times in their history, but were always rebuilt essentially on the same plan. We walked through the area behind the wharf, where some of the older structures are also preserved.

We walked through the fish market, a major tourist attraction. One vendor offered us a free taste of whale meat, which we accepted. It tastes, as it looks, a bit like beef liver.

We moved on into the downtown and I stopped at a Norli’s bookstore and bought an expensive large book about St. Olaf and the outdoor play they do about him every year near Trondheim.

Baal was interested in shopping for Norwegian knives, so I tried to find an outdoors or hardware store. After much searching we did find a hardware store, but he’s pretty sure he can get better prices on the internet.

Then we went to look for chocolate, having both decided that that would make good gifts and souvenirs. The selections we found at a convenience store and a newsstand were not great, so I wanted to find a grocery store. I was quite sure I’d seen one somewhere, but couldn’t recall where. He suggested I ask someone for directions. I agreed that that would be wise, but I wasn’t eager to do it. At last he asked a young lady who directed us to the lower level of the same building where I’d bought my book. I didn’t find quite what I was looking for, but it was adequate and we both loaded up (expensive stuff, like everything else in Norway).

Baal was having one of his recurrent vertigo attacks and wanted to go back to the ship to take a pill and rest. So we did that. I went to the outdoor grill near the casual buffet and got a hamburger and fries for lunch. Baal felt well enough to go out again in time for our tour.

The tour turned out to be a foot tour. The guide, a young man from Belgium of all places, took us to (but not into) the castle and told us something of its history. He took us to the Bryggen Museum, where we looked in through the window at excavations of the original Bryggen wharf, buried deep under all the rubble of the centuries. I was beginning to think this would be the Tour Where You Don’t Go Inside Anywhere.

But he took us into the Hanseatic Museum where we saw the business places and living quarters of the Hanseatic merchants (the Hanseatic League, in case you’re wondering, was an alliance of northern German cities that pooled resources to dominate northern European trade for several centuries, starting in the 13th Century (if I remember correctly). They lived in their own quarter there at the Bryggen, forbidden to marry or to have any social contact with Norwegians. Boys joined up at the age of ten, and often spent their entire short lives in the service. They were initiated in brutal “games” that involved keelhauling, hanging from their arms in smoke-filled rooms and being beaten, and lived under strict discipline in narrow quarters, sleeping two to a bed in box beds in houses that were unheated by rule in order to reduce the fire danger. Baal said he thought it was a recipe for sexual abuse of boys, and I can’t argue with him.

At one point I got into conversation with a younger man who had his wife and daughter along. He’d heard me tell the guide that I came from Minnesota. He said he came from North Dakota, west of Fargo. “What town?” I asked. “McVille,” he replied.

That’s pronounced “MAC-ville,” by the way, and readers from the AFLC, the church body I work for, will recognize it. It’s one of the North Dakota towns at the heart of our heartland. He said he and his family were living in the Netherlands now.

When I told him I worked for the AFLC, he kind of wandered away, and when we stopped for lunch, he and his family disappeared.

I imagine he moved to Europe precisely to avoid people like me.

When the tour was over we decided to linger in the town. The weather had shifted completely. Not only was the sun shining (a historically rare occurrence in Bergen) but the day had actually grown warm, so that I, who rarely complain of heat, wished I’d left my sweater back on the ship. We sat in a street café for a while and watched the people go by. I told Baal I always felt the girls of Bergen weren’t quite as pretty as the girls of Oslo. He said he’d seen several stunners. But then he’s never been to Oslo.

Finally it was time to get back to the ship or be left behind. We read and relaxed in our stateroom until it was time to dress for dinner. This was the Gala Formal Night in the Grand Restaurant. Our tablemates had all taken the Grieg tour (something I need to do sometime myself) and had enjoyed the day and the nice weather. Baal and I had lobster for our entrees, and we all had Baked Alaska for dessert. There’s a sort of ritual on this particular night, where the waiters bring in the Baked Alaska in a sort of formal march, and we are all expected to wave our napkins. There was also an introduction of the officers and cooks, whom we applauded. And we sang Auld Lang Syne for some reason.

The English couple had bought my book The Year Of the Warrior, and made a great business of taking our pictures while I autographed it. I did not mind. We were the last table in the place to get booted out.

Back to our stateroom. Baal went out and I went over my PowerPoints. Tomorrow’s schedule came, and I am slotted for 11:00 a.m. in one of the lounges. So it looks like I’ll only do the two presentations. I’m actually a little disappointed. But worse things have happened to me in my life than working for my passage and being underworked.

Lars Walker

We interrupt these journal posts...

to ask a couple rhetorical questions concerning Pat Robertson's ill-considered, thoughtless and inappropriate suggestion that the US assassinate Hugo Chavez.

We all know that if a prominent Muslim cleric had called for the assassinations of George Bush and Tony Blair (and it shouldn't be "if" but "when"), there would be no outrage from the media. We would be told that the important thing was to understand the frustrations and anger that drove the cleric to speak in that way.

So how come no media people are asking us to understand Pat Robertson's frustrations and anger?

I can think of only two reasons.

1. The media simply considers Islamic fundamentalism good and Christian fundamentalism bad, which makes them bigots by their own standards. Or,

2. The media believes that it's reasonable to expect higher standards of speech and behavior from Christians than from Muslims. Which amounts to a tacit admission that Christianity is superior to Islam.

Which is it?

Lars Walker
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cruise Post 4

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The alarm got me up at 7:00 this morning. I’d had a pretty decent night’s sleep, which was a pleasant change. And I was less stiff than I expected, though I still walk like Walter Brennan.

The view outside our window was not the best we’ve had. We saw buses parked in front of a warehouse on the wharf. A larger building blocked most all the rest of the view. But a sign said Ålesund, and that was where we were supposed to be.

Breakfast in the casual dining restaurant as usual, then back to our room for our outdoor gear, cameras and tickets. The wait was short, and soon we were boarding a bus for a tour of the Trollstigen and the Trollvegen, things I hadn’t seen before and had a hunch Baal would like. It was the most expensive tour we booked on the cruise.

The guide took us to the deck of a closed restaurant for a bird’s eye view of the city, which is a remarkable one. It’s built on seven islands all connected by bridges and (today) tunnels. In 1904 most of the town burned down in the middle of the winter, leaving hundreds homeless (there was only one death though). The town was rebuilt in stone, which is unusual in Norway, and most of it was done in a Nordic version of the then-new-and-popular Art Nouveau style. Thus Ålesund is one of the greatest repositories of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

We had to stop at a city museum, not to look at the exhibits but to give some of the passengers a chance to use the toilets (I used them myself, not being one to let an opportunity go to waste).

Then we headed out through Skodje and Sjøholt, past a number of farms. We left the main highway and followed the curve of the Storfjord south to Stordalen, where we looked at the old Stordal church. Our guide told us photographs were permitted inside, but the elderly local guide in the church asked us please not to take pictures. It’s a round church, and distinguished by having all its inside walls painted in a naïve style in the 18th Century. Once again there were the pews with doors and narrow benches, though there were no hat racks in this church.

After that we went on to Linge, where we stopped at a restaurant for a very fine Norwegian buffet. Baal was glad to get at least one real Norwegian meal on this trip. We talked to the people at the table we shared, and I answered some questions about Norway for them. Linge is a beautiful place on a lakeshore, surrounded by mountain cliffs.

Baal asked the guide about real estate, and he said that property is really pretty cheap, especially in rural communities. It’s the ancillary expenses like hooking up to power and water that cost you.

Our guide was something of a card. At one point he was describing livestock in fields we passed and said, “And there’s some sweater-pigs.” Meaning, of course, sheep.

We stopped briefly at Gudbrandsjuvet, which is a place where a waterfall runs through a narrow notch in the mountain, and according to legend a poor young man named Gudbrand, forbidden to marry his wealthy sweetheart, jumped across the gap with her on his back to get away so they could be married. Today it’s crossed by a bridge.

The guide made much of Norwegian strawberries, a subject on which I concur. He picked some up at a roadside stand for us to try. They were great, but Baal said he’s grown better. Obviously he’s mistaken, and anyway it’s past the prime of the season. I will brook no contradiction on the subject of Norwegian strawberries.

We passed a couple spots associated in legend with St. Olaf. Over the fjord at Linge there’s the shape of a snake on a cliff, and legend says that it was a dragon sent by the old gods, which Olaf threw up against the rock and killed. In another place there is a field of large boulders, supposedly thrown there by Olaf to clear his way to march through the valley.

Finally we neared Trollstigen (Troll’s stairway), which you approach by driving up a steep switchback road. I rather thought that was the Trollstigen itself, but that was nothing. It’s going down the other side into the Romsdal Valley that’s the big show. I forget the number of swings in that road, but it’s very steep on a nearly vertical rock face. The bus scraped on the pavement in some of the turns and the back of the bus hung over the edge, sometimes with a couple thousand feet below. About midway we passed a famous bridal-veil waterfall where the face of a troll can be made out in the rock, against a background of mist.

At the bottom finally, we stopped below the Trollvegen (Troll’s wall), a massive wall of granite topped by sharp peaks in the clouds (it was a somewhat overcast day, as most of them have been, but it wasn’t actually raining or foggy, so our guide said we were doing pretty well for recent weeks). People have taken to jumping off one of the peaks with parachutes, but a severe downdraft makes that perilous. It’s now against the law, but people do it anyway. About three a year die.

There were no major sites on the road back, just ordinary, mundane fjord magnificence. Many of the passengers slept, and I dozed a bit myself.

We were scheduled to have a short city tour as well, but we got back too late, and so had to rush to the harbor to board before the deadline. No chance to explore Ålesund ourselves.

A short rest before dinner (informal dress code – sports jacket) with the usual suspects. Then back to the room and now I’m writing this. I’m pleased with the day. I wanted Baal to see some real mountain Norway, and he seemed impressed, though he’s done mountains in Alaska and Washington before.

We’re at sea again now, heading south to Bergen. It’s a proper Viking sea tonight, gray and choppy and white-capped. The forecast for tomorrow, though, is no rain, which is almost unheard of in Bergen. We’ll see.

Lars Walker

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cruise post 3

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

This morning the alarm clock worked and we got up at 7:00. I was stiff as I expected. The Nordfjord, down which we were sailing, was a bit less dramatic than the Sognefjord and Aurlandsfjord yesterday. The mountains were more mountain-shaped, and tree-covered, rather than being rock walls. We ate breakfast as usual and were ready to join our tour group at 9:15. The weather was cool and overcast, with light rain off and on.

Olden is a very small town like Flåm, dependent on tourism. Pretty, with widely spaced clumps of houses and working farms on the slopes above. We followed the river (a glacial river, and therefore milky green, good for salmon fishing, our guide said) to the lake at the mountain notch that leads to the glaciers, Jostedalsbreen and Briksdalsbreen. Quite a number of the farmers along the way have rows of small cottages on their land that they rent out to campers and vacationers, a valuable second (more likely third) income.

It’s a magnificent drive up into the glacier valley. The mountains are generally conical, and they loom at times in ways that make them almost seem to curl inward above you. Our bus climbed until it stopped at a souvenir shop/café place, where our bus got parked and we were told we had two hours to climb up and back. The climb ought to take about 45 minutes.

What a climb that was. I thought the downhill walk on the switchback in the Flåm Valley was tough. This was a very steep ascent up the mountain notch on a switchback path. The tour description hadn’t really prepared me for how intense a workout it would be. Not that I’m sorry. The scenery was spectacular – gray and green mountains, snow on the tops, with misty clouds obscuring the very peaks from time to time. And as we ascended, every now and again we’d get a peek at the Briksdalsbreen, white and blue-green. We could also see the larger Jostedalsbreen far above.

Baal, accustomed as he is to lugging giant canoes through the north woods with one hand, probably had to hang back a bit to allow me to keep up, but he was good about it and I don’t think I entirely embarrassed myself. From time to time we’d have to squeeze over to the edge of the wet gray road (Baal said the road surface was glacial sediment, something he’d seen in Alaska) to let the small tractor-like vehicles they use for carts go past, carrying less hardy sightseers. The tractors don’t go all the way to the top, but for most older visitors I think it’s a wise investment. All the tourist brochures show carts pulled by Fjord Horses taking the tourists up, but our guide told us later that the horse-drawn cart service had ended just the day before. Apparently the numerous tourists scare the horses, and there have been accidents. A sad thing. The horses had been pulling the carts for a hundred years (not the same horses all that time, of course).

There were a couple Fjord Horses in a field by the path at one point, and I took Baal’s picture with one of them. He loves Fjord Horses. I told him, “There were two things I wanted you to be able to do in Norway. One was hike, the other was see Fjord Horses. Now I’ve done my duty. The rest of this trip is about me.”

Fjord Horses, for the uninitiated, are a native Norwegian horse, probably the best known Norwegian horse. They are dun (yellowish) in color, with dark stripes down the centers of their manes and tails. It’s traditional to crop their manes short, except for the forelocks. They are small horses, but sturdy and patient, and good for farm work.

“You can make it, Mr. Frodo,” Baal said to me as I puffed my way up the trail.

“You’ll have to carry me, Sam,” I replied.

“I don’t think so,” he responded.

The trail leveled at some point before we met the horses, and stayed level most of the rest of the trek, only tilting up a bit at the very end. The Briksdalsbreen is an irregular sheet of ice, looking like a flood coming down from between the mountains, frozen in place. The ice glows a bright blue-green in places.

There was a team of ice-climbers on hand, working on some sort of analysis of the ice melt in relation to global warming, according to a sign. It was financed by a university in England. They were preparing for their day’s climb when we were there, but had not yet gotten onto the ice.

It had been misting on and off, but it began raining seriously about the time we headed back down. But we stopped at a wayside washroom, and when we were done there it had diminished. After that the day grew steadily brighter, though never less than overcast.

The way down was easier, but I was still very happy to be done with it when we reached the parking lot. We’d been promised a 45 minute or less walk each way, and I think we did a little better than that. We looked around in a gift shop (I bought a calendar and some postcards) and then adjourned to the cafeteria next door where we’d been promised cake and tea. We hit the cake pretty hard (it was our only lunch, and it was good) and found a place at a table with a couple we hadn’t met and one of the Norwegian guides, who said she didn’t have a clue what she ought to be doing, but wasn’t really concerning herself. She was an older lady from Bergen, who wore her hair in pigtails. Baal said later he thought she must have been quite a beauty when she was younger.

Then it was onto the buses for the drive back. The driver said life on the glacial lake is dangerous. A neighboring lake had had two avalanches in the first half of the 20th Century with heavy loss of life from tidal waves, and most of the farmers had moved away. Farming in Norway is heavily subsidized, to preserve the way of life. Baal approves.

We were back in Olden around 2:30, with three hours to kill before sailing time. We walked around the town, which didn’t take long (but felt like a lot of work after the beating my legs have been taking). We poked through some shops. Baal wondered if there was something like a hardware store, but we couldn’t find anything. We looked in at the Olden Old Church, which goes back to the mid-eighteenth century, and has been kept (or restored) in (or to) its original form. It’s cruciform in design, with one arm being the altar area, and the other arms being filled with pews, all facing the raised pulpit near the center. Each pew has a door, and the benches on the rear seats are extremely narrow. A frame at the top of the back of the pew also pushes the sitter forward, so it’s quite uncomfortable (Baal and I both tried it). We speculated that it might have been an incentive for people to sit in front. Or possibly such seats were reserved for less respected members of the congregation.

There were forked tree branches nailed to the ends of the pews on the right-hand side of the arm facing the altar, and on all the pews on the right-hand arm. My guess is that those were hat racks, as it was traditional for men to sit on one side and women on the other. Women, of course, would have kept their headgear on.

Baal was fascinated by the carpentry of the place.

At last we limped back to the ship. Baal went off to do things of his own, and I worked on my next PowerPoint. We met as agreed at the table for dinner (it was casual night). Everyone had had a nice day, although the wife of the Boston couple hadn’t made it to the top of the Briksdalsbreen climb. We talked mostly about movies we liked.

Then Baal and I spent time out on the deck in deck chairs, warmly clothed, and watched the fjord go by, reading books in intervals. At last I got too cold to stay and went back to the stateroom. Baal lasted longer on the deck. But we’re both back here now.

Tomorrow Ålesund. Another place I’ve never been before. I hope I’ll be able to walk.

Lars Walker

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cruise post 2

Monday, August 15, 2005

Today was our first port of call in Norway, Flåm, a place I love and of which I have good memories and nice pictures. We were scheduled to depart for our tour at 9:30 a.m., and I set the alarm for 7:00, so we could spend time watching the fjord go by before breakfast.

Slept badly, as I have every night so far. Woke up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep, and not wanting to turn on a light and read because it would disturb Baal. Eventually I did sleep, so it could be worse, but I find myself too fuzzy in the brain to do the division necessary to convert kroner to dollars (about 6 to 1 these days).

In any case I woke to find Baal moving around. I asked him if he was getting up already. He said that it was about 8:00. I said nonsense, it was only a little after six. Turned out my alarm clock needed its batteries changed.

I panicked, of course, certain that we’d never be able to get our breakfast, change dollars for kroner (something we’d forgotten to do thus far), and make it to our departure point in time. Baal knew better, of course, and calmed me down.

Out of our window, by the way, was one of the most dramatic panoramas anyone has ever seen – the rock walls of the Aurlandsfjord, towering above the green water. Norway, yeah. Land of my dreams, land of enchantment. Right. Right. Gotta get dressed.

We got dressed, went to the exchange desk (where to my surprise there was no line) and had our breakfast in plenty of time to return to our room for our sweaters, rain jackets (the weather forecast was iffy) and cameras, etc. and be where we were supposed to be.

Our tour was the Flåm Railroad and Hiking the Flåm Valley. It involved a ride up the famous Flåm funicular railroad, past stunning scenery, then leaving the train shortly before its terminus up at Myrdal on the Bergen-Oslo line.

We sat across from a couple from Utah, very nice people with lots of questions about Norway I was happy to answer (some of them correctly). He’s a lawyer and, apparently, they are Mormons.

At one spot on the ride the train always stops to allow passengers to take pictures of a particularly impressive waterfall. I’d done this before with Dad, in ’94, but they’ve added a new wrinkle. A girl dressed in a long red dress comes out from a ruined building on one side of the waterfall and begins swaying as if singing, while a song plays through loudspeakers. At one point she goes into hiding, and immediately a girl in identical clothing and wig appears at a nearer spot and continues the song. The idea is that she is the huldre (elf woman) of the waterfall, trying to lure the listeners to their deaths in the dangerous waters. Kind of hokey, but I liked it, and it’s a way to teach people a little about Norwegian folklore.

We got out at the designated place, near a small mountain hotel. We were given time to use the washrooms (long lines ensued), an open-faced sandwich and a box of orange juice to fortify or refresh us, depending on whether we chose to consume them then or later. I ate mine right away.

There were three guides. The leader was a blonde woman named (if I remember correctly) Niva, who warned us not to get ahead of her, even if we could, and if we did the tour company could not be responsible. Not that it was dangerous, but “we know the trail and you don’t.”

I found Niva extremely attractive. She was probably in her thirties, or maybe even forty, blonde and fit as one would expect from somebody who makes that hike on a regular basis. She looked like a Norwegian Olympic skier.

We started down the path, which at the beginning is an old switchback road built by railroad workers in the course of construction. It is a very long, steep switchback. Not deadly dangerous or deadly demanding, but steep enough and covered with loose gravel that could give someone a nasty fall. The switchbacks seemed to go on forever. The entire hike was between six and seven miles, I believe, and the switchback was a little under half that distance. Baal and I were near the front most of the way. I marvel at how some of the older people accomplished it.

Finally the path leveled off as we reached the floor of the valley, and the going was easier then. We stopped at a little goat farm for a break, and then marched on.

It’s a narrow, steep-sided valley, where pastures and farms are spotted here and there among the tree-covered slopes. Some of the farms are currently worked, and some are falling into disrepair, leaving beautiful old steep-roofed houses to deteriorate.

Baal and I talked much about how it must be to live in such a place, to take such beauty for granted while accepting the inconveniences winter would bring in a place where the winter days are short and the winter itself long and hard.

Baal said that the place actually reminded him a lot of his home in northern Minnesota, if you just turned it 90° so that the flat land became a mountainside. He felt he could understand living in such a place, trading a certain amount of convenience for beauty and fresh air.

At one point Baal walked forward and asked the head guide about farming in the area. Most farmers, she told him, have to work a second job, precisely what he does. I then asked her (in Norwegian) if she was going to walk back up when we were done. That was a joke. She seemed delighted that I spoke Norwegian, and we conversed a bit. I told her I had studied Norwegian in college, and that I wrote books and was lecturing on the cruise. It went fine, and was probably good for building my character, but my natural shyness with women compounded with my frustration over the inadequacies of my Norwegian, and I didn’t talk to her again after the rest break.

At last we reached the Bereqvam station, where we caught the funicular back down to Flåm again. The tour had gone faster than expected due (according to Niva) to the fact that the cool weather had everyone walking briskly. So we had over an hour to explore Flåm (not a time-consuming occupation), look through some souvenir shops (astronomical prices compounded by the poor exchange rate) buy some ice cream bars, pick up a resupply of chocolate (Freia of Norway, the best!) at a Co-op grocery store, and just sit and watch things a bit before re-boarding. It started raining just as we were lining up to re-board.

We went out on the deck to watch as the ship left the port, and then changed (informal night in the dining room, which means a sport coat for the guys) and joined our table. We were a very happy company that night. Everyone had enjoyed their tours, and the English couple had hair-raising stories to tell about safaris they’ve done in Africa.

I wish the sun had shown brighter though. Not a day for taking really good photographs.

Baal, however, reminded me that the hike would have been much harder on a warm day.

Baal went to watch the evening show, but I decided to work on my PowerPoints, as tomorrow is Olden, and the Cruise Director said he might want me to lecture that night.

But I’m not on the schedule, so I guess I’ve got tomorrow free.

It’s late now, and Baal is in bed trying to sleep, so I’d better end this entry.

Lars Walker

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cruise Post 1

Back from Norway. My first journal entry is below.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I have successfully completed my first presentation on this cruise. As far as I can tell it went pretty well. But let’s start at the beginning.

My brother Baal showed up at the library around 2:00 on Friday, as expected. I closed the library at 3:00 and Lavon, a friend from Headquarters, picked us up and drove us to the airport. We arrived before 4:00, well in time for the scheduled 6:00 departure.

But the gods of air travel weren’t about to let us off that easy. The plane didn’t depart at the scheduled time. Eventually we heard an announcement that there would be a delay. Thank you for your patience, and for flying Northwest Airlines.

In the end we had a three-hour delay, and got free meal vouchers and phone cards from the airline. They moved us to a different gate. I was stewing about missing the ship, as is my wont, and Baal kept reassuring me that we had several hours grace time at the Amsterdam end, so there shouldn’t be a problem. At last our 6:00 flight took off around 9:30 p.m. We settled in our seats and I stopped worrying about missing the flight entirely. Instead I worried about lost luggage.

Around 10:00 p.m. Minnesota time they brought out our dinners. I had eaten in Minneapolis. I did not want another dinner at ten at night. Baal ate his though. “It’s something to do,” he said.

I read M.K. Lawson’s book Cnut: England’s Viking King. I marvel at how dull this book is. It’s not Lawson’s fault. Despite Knut’s (I prefer that spelling) adventurous career and notable accomplishments, we don’t know a heck of a lot about him, especially about his reign in England. He doesn’t have a saga of his own that’s come down to us. So Lawson is reduced to counting the number of times the names of Danes appear in old charters to make some kind of guess as to what Knut’s policies and political strategies were.

This is a book best read during a long flight, when there’s nothing else to do but sleep, and you’re an insomniac like me.

Time passed. The guy in the aisle seat next to me fell asleep right after supper with his tray down, completely blocking passage for anyone who wanted to use the washroom, or just move around in the aisle to keep from having a blood clot. I finally worked my nerve up to wake him so I could use the loo, and I managed to get through the rest of the flight without using it again, by my accustomed judicious policy of self-dehydration.

It takes about eight hours to fly to Amsterdam. I did sleep at last, for about two hours, twice. We had a decent breakfast of egg-muffin sandwiches and yoghurt, and at last touched down in Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam (pronounced, I’m pretty sure, “Skiffle”).

Immigration was no problem. By the grace of God our bags arrived.

I had tried to figure out, on the basis of guidebooks, the best way to get to the cruise port terminal in Amsterdam, and it looked like the thing to do was take a train to the Central Station, and then find out what kind of transport there would be from there to the terminal. But the machine in the airport that was supposed to dispense tickets would not accept either Baal’s or my cards. A helpful lady at a bank window told us we’d do best to go to a ticket station out in the main lobby.

On our way out there we ran into a Celebrity Cruise lines representative in a company blazer, holding a sign. She suggested we talk to another Celebrity guy, who told us our best bet was to spend money on a taxi (apparently the trains, which according to the map go past the terminal, don’t stop at the terminal, an obvious scam by the deceitful Dutch to throw business to the cab drivers). He led us to a counter where we ordered up a taxi, and a woman led us out to the street. Our driver was a small middle eastern man in a neat black suit. He had small, well-manicured hands and drove with them at the 5:00 and 7:00 positions on the wheel. The cab was a Mercedes.

The Netherlands is, as we have been told, is indeed extremely flat. If you’ve been to Iowa, you’ve got a pretty good idea of the countryside.

I recall Geography lessons when I was little, where they talked about Holland. One of the things they described was how clean it was. “The Dutch people even sweep the streets in front of their houses,” we were told.

Well that custom has passed, along with the rest of the Puritan ethic. Everywhere we drove the streets were filthy with accumulated trash. There were some quaint old narrow, steep-pitched town-houses here and there, but mostly it looked like a place people have stopped caring about. Baal thinks we just saw the worst part of town. I, for my part, am ready and willing to think the worst of the death-loving, marriage-hating Dutch.

We were delivered to the terminal precisely at 2:00, the very end of the recommended embarkation window for lecturers. There was a line at the check-in desk, but we made it through at last, got our cruise cards, and boarded the ship.

It’s big. Much taller and, I believe, a fair amount longer than the Royal Princess, on which I did my first cruise. Occupancy is 1,750, and I’m told we are fully booked.

This is a much more diverse crowd than the Princess cruise. That one was mostly American, with some English and a smattering of other nationalities. I would guess that this cruise is about half and half, Americans to Europeans of various sorts (correction: I learned later that the passenger list is only 1/3 American). The English and the Germans seem to be in the lead, but there are all kinds of others, most of whom I can’t identify because I don’t recognize their languages.

We settled into our cabin (small but nice) and I troweled off the grease in the shower, with much gratitude. We rested and talked a bit, waiting for the first business of every cruise, which is to get through the mandatory lifeboat drill. Our muster station turned out to be the Celebrity Theater, the main entertainment venue in the ship. “Will you be lecturing here?” Baal asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m not that important. I’ll probably be in the theater-conference room area.”

After the drill I went to the Guest Relations desk, as recommended in my instructions, to try to make contact with the Cruise Director, who’s in charge of scheduling lectures. I was told that it was a busy time now, and that if I came back later he’d be around.

So I wandered around with Baal a bit, just trying to get our bearings. We climbed to the upper decks to see the boats below us in the harbor. The Dutch have many boats, and a lot of them are nice old-fashioned wooden ones. Some large motor/sail boats also went by. And tour boats with glass roofs, all their passengers staring up at the rich s.o.b.’s on the cruise ship.

At that point we split up (I forget why), and I thought I’d better check on the Cruise Director again. I went back to the stateroom first (again I forget why. Must have wanted to get something. Maybe I just needed a hit from my chocolate stash) and there I found a blinking message light on the phone and a note under the door. There would be a meeting of lecturers at 5:30. It was now 5:40.

Fortunately it wasn’t far to go. I rushed up and apologized all over the place. The director, a fairly genial Scotsman (assuming there is such a thing), said it was no problem.

We are sparsely supplied with lecturers for this cruise. Besides me there’s an elderly Englishman who used to produce for the BBC and will be lecturing about old movie stars. And there’s a couple retained to teach bridge. That’s it. On this cruise I am the resident Norway expert.

I learned my first lecture would be the next day (Sunday) at 10:00 a.m., in the Celebrity Theater. “Not that I assume you’ll have an audience of 700,” said the Scotsman, “but because that’s the venue I have open at the time.”

The ship was scheduled to embark at 5:00 p.m., but it didn’t happen. Apparently there was a non-optional annual inspection to be done, and they couldn’t leave till the inspectors were through. It was just like Northwest Airlines, except more comfortable and better food.

Ah, the food. One of the things we’d done while scouting the ship was to get a table assignment for the main dining room. Apparently lecturers don’t get those seats assigned automatically. We have to ask for them. Maybe it’s to show us our place. The first cruise I did I never did get an assignment. I was too busy trying to find someone who could make sure I had a PowerPoint projector for my lectures.

But we got our assignment and showed up on time for the first dinner seating at 6:15 (casual attire). Apparently this is the losers’ seating. Everybody wants the late seating. Do people actually want to eat at 8:30 p.m.? When do they digest this food? How do they get from lunch to supper? Personally I like to eat at 5:00. I’ll eat earlier if it comes to that.

Some of our tablemates were vocally disappointed that they didn’t get the late seating. They are all older people. One is a couple from Bristol, England. He’s an investment guy who looks like a fishmonger (which his father, he says, was). Then there’s the couple from Boston. She’s the main talker at the table. He looks like Old Joe Kennedy. And there’s a couple of older ladies from Houston who apparently take cruises together all the time. One of them seemed annoyed with the other, who had booked this cruise without really asking her. She quietly made it clear that she wasn’t interested in Norway, didn’t care about Norway, and would rather be in the Caribbean. They were both upset that they were being forced to eat before sundown.

But we all got along, and I did my best to be as outgoing as I could, even making conversation with the Norway-hater.

I’m unused to fine dining, but I don’t think I made an utter ass of myself. I had broiled hake (which the Bristol man explained is a long, thin ocean fish). It was delicious, though smaller in quantity than what I’m used to eating, barbarian that I am. Some sort of chocolate Bavarian cream thing for dessert, also good but small.

The ship finally left the dock while we were eating.

We attended the opening night production in the Celebrity theater, evaluated the dancers (the majority of whom, sadly, are male) and listened to the featured comic, an Englishman who wrote for Benny Hill for seven years. I thought he was funny.

Then to bed. Baal wanted to nose around a bit, but I reviewed my PowerPoint for the next day and turned in. Baal got back and was sleeping before I was anyway.

The sea was choppy. We could feel it more than I remembered ever feeling it on the first cruise. “This ship is so big,” I’d told Baal knowledgeably, “that you won’t feel anything short of a hurricane.”

Not entirely true. But I don’t blame my bad sleeping on the choppiness. I’m just a bad sleeper.

Woke to my alarm clock this morning at 7:00 a.m.. I wanted to be up in time to have a good breakfast and be in place for my lecture by 9:30.

They had a breakfast buffet set up in the casual dining area where you could get “customized” pancakes, waffles and omelets. I had a couple waffles (Belgian, predictably and unfortunately, in my opinion). Baal had waffles and an omelet, in case you’re keeping score.

Back to the room. I went over my presentation again and finally decided the time was right to go to the theater. Unlike my previous cruise, everything was waiting for me as promised, ready to plug in to my laptop. The cruise director showed up shortly before the start to give me an introduction. I asked him what I should do about putting my books on sale (this line allows you to sell your books through the gift shop, though they take a 30% cut) and he told me how to do that. His introduction, as I expected, was exaggerated and over the top. These are things you have to get used to in “the biz”.

I think the lecture went well, and Baal seems to think so too. There was one group that left about fifteen minutes into it, but most of the audience seemed to be following me, and there were a number of questions afterwards. I was pleased with my performance, so I’ll take it as a success.

Rested till lunch, and Baal and I went to an Italian buffet they had set up in the same place we’d eaten breakfast. I’m not a big booster of Italian food, but I found things I enjoyed.

At 2:00 I went to the lecture by the comedian from the night before. He talked about his association with Benny Hill. A rather sad story, all in all. Benny must have been a strange man to work with, though not a mean-spirited one, except in the English sense of cheapness. According to him, Benny was killed by Thames Television, which fired him and ironically ended up inheriting all his money, because he had no family left.

Then back to the room to doze until supper. This was formal night. Baal had rented a tux from the cruise line, and I had assembled my own do-it-yourself formal outfit – a modern black suit with a 19th Century black vest and a 19th Century black cravat and a watch with a chain. Looked pretty classy and distinctive, if you ask me, which you didn’t. Baal hadn’t worn even a suit in years, so it was strange for him. And the cruise line people didn’t give him the Extra Wide shoes they promised, so he was a bit uncomfortable (my new black shoes, incidentally, are a pleasure to wear. Wish I could afford to buy the good stuff all the time). But I think we cut pretty dashing figures as we made our way to the dining room, Baal feeling, he said, like an idiot.

But there were lots of tuxes in the dining room (though they allow dark suits and some guys push the envelope pretty far). And the dinner, as usual, was excellent. I had the halibut, my weakness for fish still controlling my mind, and Baal had some kind of steak thing, if I remember correctly. The two unhappy ladies had apparently made enough of a stink to get switched to the late seating they wanted, because they were seen no more at our table. Good riddance to them. The rest of us made a jolly company and swapped stories to considerable laughter.

The weather, by the way, settled down today. The waves were lighter and the sun even shone in the afternoon. Hope it keeps up while we’re in Norway. Scenery depends so much on a clear view.

After the meal was the Captain’s Toast in the Celebrity Theater. It’s a cruising tradition, I guess, where everyone gathers and is given a glass of champagne, the captain introduces his crew to the passengers, and all toast the success of the voyage. Most of our officers are Greek. The captain is Greek, and is the youngest captain in the fleet. I left soon after the ceremony was done. Baal was doing other things, and I wandered the decks in my black suit, pretending I was a mysterious stranger in a 1920’s movie, destined for adventure and romance. I found neither, but did manage to find a comfortable chair and finish the Canute book, thank Heaven. Next up: John Sandford’s latest paperback. That’ll definitely make a change.

Lars Walker

Friday, August 19, 2005
Is Freedom in the Eye of the Beholder?
I learned of another comic book movie coming next March, V for Vendetta. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman are the leads, directed by the Wachowshi Brothers. The trailer looks good. The original story may be strong. It's in Britain under the rule of fascists, because Hitler won WWII. The revolutionary, V, has taken a Zorro-like jester motif to fight the government. The movie synopsis says he blows up a couple London landmarks in sparking his revolt.

What leads me to this post is the response by the artist or illustrator of the book, David Lloyd, to an obvious question about this type of story following July 4 in London. At the most recent ComicCon, this question came during a panel discussion.

Question 16: David Lloyd, as a creator of the original story, and the rest of you making it, what are your feelings about the London bombing, and also present-day London with video cameras all over the place... which is kind of how the story of V FOR VENDETTA was.

David Lloyd: Yeah, that's very interesting about the CCTV cameras, because when we did that in the '80s, there weren't that many around. I mean, society has actually become a lot more like the one that we actually painted. The question about London and terrorism, and what's happened there -- I think it's important that we try and understand terrorists. I think there should be lots of movies made about terrorists, and politics generally, and one of the reasons I'm so happy about this film is that it does have a very strong and uncompromising political message, and there aren't many films made like that now. So, in terms of what's happening in London over the last week, I think it's going to be healthy to try and understand what leads a person to terrorism. There's that old cliche, isn't there - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - and if we try and understand that, then maybe we might be able to solve the problems that cause terrorism more easily.

V may be styled as a terrorist, but is freedom is the eye of beholder such that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter? Is that how he sees the Irish struggle against Britain in Northern Ireland (recent reports describe the IRA legitimately laying down their arms, thank God)? I can understand how the natural yearnings to be personally free and to rule over others conflict; but terrorism is not freedom fighting, not be today's definitions. And maybe the definition is the trouble.

We know who the Nazi were. If they ruled Europe, what would their resistance be called? If terrorists, would the label mean the same it does to us today in a world of real terrorists who kill anyone, even themselves, for a cause no one can agree to? Freedom fighters, which perhaps V is, fight for life and liberty in law. They fight for the people tilling their gardens, who want only to breathe clean air. They fight for children to be able to kick cans in the street without fear. They fight to worship God as they choose. Terrorists fight to intimidate, shock, and scrap down your will to resist them, so that they will become the dictators in the end. That isn't just another man's freedom fighter. No freedom is being defended there.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Briefly with Love
To reader who is asking when are you going to blog something substantive again: shut up.
  1. I've been enjoying impersonating superheros and famous personalities on this Thinklings thread. Feel free to join in and tell The Incredible Hulk what you think of his rampages.
  2. The group at World's Zeitgeist blog are nutsy fruit loops. Gideon Strauss is one of them, an admirable blogger here and on his own site. He notes the Camille Paglia interview on The Morning News, provoking some response.
  3. In other news, Westminster Abbey turned down the filmers of upcoming Tom Hanks' movie, The Da Vinci Code. Steve Bloomfield of The Independent reports, "Experts are warning that hordes of tourists are removing stone work, hymn books and other fittings, and could even carve their initials in the walls of churches featured in the novel." The Abbey, in which Britain's oldest door has been found, has already complained of vandalism.
  4. World's blog points out a church in Carlisle, Penn, that is using Harry Potter's Hogwarts as a vacation Bible school theme. Broomstick flying lessons? Give it up.
  5. Remind me again whether art imitates life or vice versa. From the Washington Post, a first-time novelist has his book on terrorism in London released July 7, the same day the London tubes were attacked.
    "I wrote about something that could happen, and then it did happen, and now I feel that I'm fundamentally tied, probably for the rest of my life, to those events," he says. "Within 20 years' time, people will still be reviewing my book and saying, 'Chris Cleave, whose controversial debut was published in London the same day as the London attacks, comma, has written another book.' "
    The novel is Incendiary.
I found my two-year old in the recliner pretending to read one of her favorite books before breakfast.

Let me also say that there's something in Samuel Barber's "Overture to 'The School for Scandal' op. 5" that stirs me deeply. I love it.

So, what did you do today?
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