Monday, May 22, 2017

Sister Rosetta Tharpe


 I knew her only as a name when I was young. A kind of show-off name, indicating that one was really knowledgeable about early rock 'n roll.  I don't think I heard her mentioned in my Jesus Freak days, though you'd think she would have been in a Larry Norman or Phil Keaggy context. I didn't know any more of her until a few years ago, when I happened upon the 1964 "Didn't It Rain" in an English train station.  I saw immediately that she was one of those seminal rockers. There are four parts to the documentary, of which the above is the first.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Racists

Richard Johnson's comment about progressives in Europe criticising Americans for being racist seems equivalent to Atlanta lecturing those of us in New Hampshire about snow removal. Look how little snow they have on the streets!  All clean, completely under control!

When they have snow, they don't handle it well. So also, European countries where everyone looks like second-cousins are now having difficulties with immigrants.

It's not very different when it's one American region criticising another.  Vermont (or, ahem, New Hampshire) looks at Mississippi with disdain.  Mississippians, black, white,and whatever, have a harder job. If I had to join a mixed expedition to colonise Mars, I might join the Mississippi contingent.

Update:  Correction in the comments

Russefeiring

By chance we were in Norway at the time of Russefeiring, which runs from somewhere between April 1st or 20th, varying by city, to Syttende Mai, which is Constitution Day, the 17th of May. I had read about this a few years ago, but was under the misapprehension that it ran all year, and was a license for high school seniors to be just a bit wild and mischievous. It's briefer and more intense than that. Lots of drinking, lots of staying out all night, lots of casual sex.  As if prom night went on for four weeks. I imagine a lot of the kids keep it fairly mild, but they've had problems nationally.

I had seen a lots of young people in highly-decorated red overalls and was trying to figure it out. Was it a team or club? They had their names in big letters. Was it some new fashion?  I saw blue overalls as well, and a few white, and two of the black walking together.  I asked Chris about it and I recognised it as he explained. We saw a few buses filled with lots of teenagers singing.

I ran up the Bing images of Russ adolescents for you here. Quite the display. I'm not sure what the sticks are for, but I believe they earn them by sleeping overnight in a tree.The other costumes in this picture are the bunad, the embroidered regional dress worn on special occasions.

Also of note.  Some European countries criticise America for it's splashy patriotism and overuse of the flag, believing that  a more subdued approach is more appropriate.  Norway is not one of those countries.  They only became a fully independent country in 1905 and they are openly patriotic and love to fly the flag. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Norwegians

I can't find an overarching theme, or a coherent narrative to my Norway trip, so I thought I would just launch in and comment on things bit by bit.



I very much liked the Norwegians I met, though there were a few moments of stereotype-confirming interactions. In a line-waiting conversation with a couple our age with a Norwegian husband and American wife, the subject of driving an RV came up - I forget how. The gent commented that one needed a special license to drive one in Norway. He segued immediately into "10% of the cars in Oslo are electric now.  They get 10% cheaper every year." Oh. Sorry to bring up terrible gas-guzzling American vacation habits. (We later learned that lots of people drive RV's up to Tromso from Europe farther south, over 2,000 miles.  Yeah, Tromso is way up there.) I made a comment about recent improvements in batteries and let it slide. We were still in Boston, and I wondered "Dear God, it's not starting already, is it?" A waitress in Tromso told my son to take his jacket of the back of his chair and hang it up.  That sort of thing. But very little really.

My sons friends up north tended to be more rural and blue-collar, and they didn't seem very different from a lot of Americans in attitude. They were older, however - Chis is turning 30 but most of his friends now are 40-70, perhaps seeking local parents - and they live out on Kvaloya Island across the bridge from Tromso.  Oddvar is about 30 and a commercial fisherman and has a very strong grip when you shake his hand.  I very much liked him.

So my sample isn't representative. Still, a few things. The official statements in museum films and exhibits, or the promos on Norwegian Air were quite multi-culti, stressing how wonderful it is that Norway/Oslo has so many different cultures now. What they mentioned was the variety of food - which no one on earth objects to, and I suppose is a nice advantage in life.  They didn't find anything else to mention.  I recall this from conversations with New Yorkers and other fans of big cities, dating back to college.  Their place is so vibrant! Such a variety of people! And...food! (List foods here.) And different clothes! Then that seems to be about it. So too Oslo, Bergen, and Tromso, which were the places we went. The exhibit on religious groups reported thoroughly on all the Tromso groups: a pocket of Russian Orthodox, some nuns that came up to start a clinic in the 20's, a Bahai group, a very conservative Lutheran Laestadianist movement popular with the Sami,  a non-denominational prayer group of city employees that meets at City Hall every morning, a few others.  Some nice pictures from the city's history of Church of Norway - old churches, confirmation.  The associated quotes were how much people liked the tradition and belonging, and having faith, but they weren't so sure about the doctrine.  They thought maybe everyone was okay now, not like in the old days.

These official sources were quite excited to tell you about having Muslims there.  The quotes from Muslims were all from wise little girls who loved everyone or men who stressed how hard-working their people are.

The everyday people were a little different.  When they found out we were Americans they were very comfortable telling us, after an exchange of pleasantries and their mention of having visited or having relatives in America, how the (ahem) people who are moving here now just want to be given things.  They don't want to work and they don't want to follow Norwegian rules and customs. The Norskis I spoke to don't like "what's happening in Sweden" and very much want to stop that from happening to Norway. It is apparently taboo to say who they mean exactly.  Yet if it's Americans they are opening up to so quickly, I'm betting it's not the Slovakian bartenders they are worried about.

I'll have a later comment about their considerable reluctance to talk about anything religious.  It seemed to be a cultural privacy.

They were careful not to say anything that might offend us, but I did get hints at the resentment of American culture invading and changing the place.  Even though they have largely invited the individual components, it does remain that everyone speaks at least some English, and they use English to speak with people from most other countries as well.  We saw a Japanese girl stop a young man in nautical uniform for directions in Bergen. I only heard the parting, but she said "Thank you. Bye. Have a nice day." Not only American tourists, but other visitors and the Norwegians themselves have clothing with American place-names.  New York, Tennessee, Chicago, Alabama. Our popular culture seems to have greater place than theirs in the stores.  Though the McDonalds in Brygge is in an historic building, it's still a McDonalds.  I got some sense of why they feel just a touch put out.  We would too.

Last unrelated point:  A woman at my college who was not much liked by other women returned from Junior Year Abroad and declared to a partying table of six couples "American women really are the most beautiful in the world."  The other women perked up their ears, suddenly liking Barbara a little better than a few minutes before. She went on to say that European women have the reputation for being better-looking, but it is largely a function of style, dressing and making up more carefully, etc.  I have remembered this on all my trips to Europe, and it may not be true, but there is something to it.  The Norwegians are an attractive people.  The men have sandy hair, seldom going to extremes of long hair or shaved heads, their clothes are a bit more formal than ours. Dark suits, off-white wrinkly shirts, no ties. Few are fat, though fewer still are skinny as you might see in America. Hard not to envy them.

It is similar with the women.  They dress up a bit more. For genetic reasons their hair is straighter, blonder. They wear it longer than Americans (though never 1960's long).  They also are seldom fat and never skinny. They have the type of hair and dress we instantly associate with "pretty girl" in America, but when you actually look at their features, not entirely so.

All in all, they look like alumni weekend at a mid-range American prep school. Comfortably nice looking, rather than stunning or glamorous. Perhaps I am a little negative about it because there is a lot more similarity among them than in an American or any Anglospheric group.

Their houses give the same impression.  They are tidy, attractive, well-kept and most Americans would feel quite comfy moving in.  Yet they are very similar in style and stick to the same colors:  white, brick red, mustard yellow, brownish-green, and a grayish blue. They use the same five for trim colors as well. As above. Colors both dramatic and subdued, somehow.

They have used the same colors for centuries, apparently.  Brygge, on the harbor in Bergen, dates from the Hanseatic League (The buildings are reproductions.  The placed has burned to the ground a few times.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Birdwatchers

Serious birdwatchers write for each other. They write about how many species they have seen in an area, and when they travel, birding seems to be a large factor of where they choose to go.  If they go to a state, for example, they are likely to tell you a great deal about a particular wildlife area, island or marsh and the number of less-common birds they saw there, improving their overall lists.

Reference books have a different problem.  They will identify with great thoroughness everything you might see, including birds only seen briefly in migration. That is what they should do, certainly, as that is what we pay them for.  But this is unwieldy. Birds of Europe has many pages and many birds listed, but birds are often there only a moment. My wife will look through her binoculars and say things out loud, to help her remember them for later when she is looking at the book.  "Chestnut shoulders...small yellow beak...smaller than a robin..." Also, the reference books will go to great pains to identify the small differences between different types of seagull.  For my wife, who grew up in Scituate and surrounded by seagulls, this is not interesting. They're just seagulls.  After the common gull and the herring gull - which don't look all that different to begin with - the only interesting possibility in Norway was hoping one of the black-backed gulls would show up.

Most people who are birdwatching are looking for something different than what the serious birders write about.  They want to know what birds they are likely to see in an area and to bone up on those before they go, so that when they see them, they can quickly incorporate all those other cues of behavior and habitat. They hope not to re-do that work and waste time at every stop.  Once my wife had identified an oystercatcher, she could easily spot them in other places.  They are not going just for the birds and are not likely to make serious detours to places that have nothing else but birds going for them.  They want to see the birds in the places they are already going and identify those.  They might take a side-trip with the promise of many shore birds or if a migration is going on.

Best of all, these tourists-who-like-birds would like to know what rare birds are actually more common in the place they are going.  Tracy saw a golden eagle, but she had seen those before.  More exciting was seeing the white-tailed eagle, which is rare everywhere except northern Norway. If you are reading up on birds of the region before you go, it is good to have the idea "this may be your best chance at seeing a white-tailed eagle" tucked in your head. But I didn't find articles like that when doing research for her in anticipation of our trip.  Everything was reference or "serious birder spends a weekend at a park outside Bergen."

If you know a good birder in your area, you might get them to put up a few paragraphs on what the casual birder might look for on a visit to your area.

Test Prep

Over on the sidebar, Bethany accurately describes the anxiety leading up to final exams.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Shame: Shelby Steele

I had never read any of Shelby Steele, other than three essays and some random quotes, but a college friend recommended Shame: How America's Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, so I got it out of the library and brought it on vacation.

I loved the Introduction, noting that Steele expresses things forcefully and with originality.  That was the one vague impression I had from reading about him and the few examples of his work. I kept thinking  Great point. Well put. Let me go back over that. Yeah, I'll have to keep that somewhere. Somewhere in the next few chapters I had a few places where I thought That's kind of an oversell. I think those liberals you are talking about have some bad motives, but it's not ALL bad motives.  This impression kept growing, and when I hit a section where I disagreed with his conclusions it was even clearer.  Now just a minute.  There's a great deal that can be said that you've left out here. I reconsidered what I had been reading previously and saw a continuing pattern.

Steele writes dramatically, and he captures ideas succinctly.  Unfortunately, succinctly usually means "without regard to possible qualifiers," and this is true.  Shelby Steele is a black 60's liberal who held strongly to some of the better parts of that and found that progressive culture moved away from him, so that he is now considered a black conservative. As a natural consequence,he doesn't really care what other people think he's supposed to think and tells you, in highly declarative terms, what he thinks.  He doesn't care what black intellectuals are supposed to think, or conservatives are supposed to think, or any category.  There is significant value in that in terms of persuasion.  It is probably much more effective in moving the world than my own more guarded expressions, avoiding absolutes.

Yet ultimately, it meant that I simply disregarded whole sections.  It was very valuable to read his opinion that Vietnam was a tactical war for American policy being sold as an existential one by the government.  That made abundant sense and caused me to wonder why we were unable to discuss it that way at the time.  Some tactical wars might be defensible for the American good, given persuasive arguments about communist expansion, downstream (or Domino) effects, and even the fairly simplistic notions that we have to make a stand somewhere, and this place is the best among bad choices. Yet it really isn't the same as Pearl Harbor. It's all very worth thinking about and debating.  But Steele doesn't bother with any of those complications.  He simply declares it was all about power for the federal government and declares that they therefore had to lie about it.

That's just too simple, too pat.

He has similar takes on women's rights, abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, free-market economics, and a half-dozen other subjects.  All are very good expressions of one side of the argument: clear, forceful, precise. Nonetheless, it doesn't work for me because too much is left out.

His most powerful idea is that there was a subtle change in the Civil Rights movement after the major victories that has swollen over the years into an irreconcilable difference.  It is the responsibility of government to remove discrimination. But to invisibly move to expecting the government to remove racism is a serious change philosophically, though it doesn't look very different at first.  Racism is what caused discrimination, the reasoning goes.  Therefore, the only way to make further progress on equality is to eliminate racism. It's not an insane argument, but it is a limited one and it leaves a lot out. Counteracting racism may be a better solution. In fact, that seems to have been what the 1960's victories were.  Stop allowing discrimination.  Ignore what people think about it - that's their own affair.

Being the kind of guy he is, Shelby Steele attributes that shift in thought to the self-protective attitude of government, who saw their raison d'etre vanishing and moved to find a new excuse for preserving and then expanding power.  There's something to that.  The distinction is people do that automatically, without necessarily being calculating about it. Like simple organisms turning toward light or food, we do things without entirely knowing why.  That doesn't make it less true.  I see the new focus on animal rights, the climate, and the environment as an acknowledgement that oppression of humans in America is no longer a critical issue. (And they won't look for human causes abroad* because the data gets inconvenient there.) Crusaders needed to find something else.  They may also have warm feelings towards animals, laudable motives about pollution,  and good philosophical arguments for what they are doing. In fact, I'm sure they do.  They're nice people.  But all this came along in the time and place it did for a reason.

*I don't count human causes abroad that are just disguised forms of why we should do things differently here.

Folk Songs

Because it came up in correspondence, I'm reposting this from six years ago. My children were raised on some pretty violent and seamy lyrics from the folk music of 16th-19th C. The update to the comments is that there has since been a movie made about Van Ronk.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Edvard Grieg



This is the classical composer Edvard Grieg with his lifelong best friend. I think I would have liked him.

We went to the home he had built to get away from distractions and compose, Troldhaugen.  It was remote at the time, but is now simply on a promontory out into the fjord near Bergen, in a suburban neighborhood.  There is a concert hall, built largely underground and most visible only from the water and up close.  Yet it is surprisingly light inside.  Appropriate for one who brought such imagination to the halls of the mountain king.  Very dwarvish indeed.  We heard this piece performed, which I had never heard but like very much. 

Fashion

Ivanka Trump should troll the media by opening a line of Handmaid's Tale dresses and headpieces.

Judd Gregg

Instapundit linked to a recent article of Gregg's in The Hill.  How much you agree with his solutions is not my concern at the moment. What jumped out at me is his analysis that the collapse of the ACA was intended from the start, in order to usher in a single-payer solution.  That accusation has been dismissed as a fevered and even paranoid fantasy of extremists who were unable to give their liberal opponents any credit for good will and basic honesty.  Yet I have heard Democrats say exactly that, including the medical director of the hospital, and have read of others.  I have always thought that this was the intent of the designers of Obamacare, though many of those they claim to represent were not aware of that and were insulted that such a thing could even be suggested.

Gregg has said things like this before, but I think this is is strongest accusation to date.  He was my senator, and his general approach is well-known here. Those from out of state may not be as familiar with him, but he would likely be a poster child for the best of the GOP establishment that has been repudiated by the populists and Trump supporters.  Anyone who advances the opinion that Judd Gregg is a paranoid extremist is pretty much submitting considerable evidence that they themselves are a paranoid extremist.

Then there is also Jonathan Gruber. These are not issues of whose ideas are better or whether the people should be nudged in directions that are good for them.  There are not nuanced discussions of morality here. This is simple honesty.  Higher moralities rest upon the lower, basic building blocks.

Snowflakes Aren't New

Not related to Norway, though they still do have considerable snow up there.

There is much discussion of young people who are "snowflakes," who believe they are quite special. It's a big issue on conservative sites and bigger still at civil libertarian sites, but it's certainly not confined to those.  It irritates adults in general.  When the data comes out from one college or another that the protestors are actually children of privilege compared to other students, it just frosts people even more.

I don't know why seeing that information didn't trigger some thinking about my own experience at college and other large collections of young people.  This is exactly what a subset of rich kids have always done.  They want what they want. They are outraged over small slights.  They threaten to go to the dean, or their parents, or a lawyer if they don't get what they want.  Giving into them also isn't new.  It is stock comedy of cowardly camp directors or craven college presidents who give the little darlings everything they want and ask that the children put in a good word to their father.  It is also a stock feature of more serious plays and films, of people who cannot get justice against an offending young criminal because his father is a powerful figure, or crusading young lawyers or journalists who will stand up to the powerful.

Maybe there are more of them now, because there are more rich people.  Or because they are a larger group, they encourage each other in this pathology and it increases thereby. Perhaps too many institutions in society encourage this behavior now rather than trying to knock it out of the little monsters. Yet I am not sure of any of those explanations.  We don't have much in the way of measuring whether there were more jerks in the old days or more jerks now, and even our measurement of the responses of the supposed adults is indirect. We say "no one would have put up with this in my day," but I can remember specific instances where people did put up with it.  We can measure that there are now more administrators at colleges whose jobs are specifically tied to the monitoring of who is offended.  I suppose that's an indicator.  However, most of what we are quite sure of here may just be our impression.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Norway

Headed for Oslo, Bergen, and Tromso, gone more than a week.  Talk amongst yourselves, or go weigh in at Graph Paper Diaries about state representatives.

Or buckle down and learn some physics over at James's place, you shirkers.