Monday, December 31, 2007


The holiday season for many is stressful and anxiety producing. I've found that as get older, I just use it for an opportunity to relax, I'm not required to perform (outside of preparing a meal occasionally), the kids are grown out of the "Presents-Frenzy" stage, and my needs are few. Saturday the Weaver even consented to play a game of Monopoly™ with me, a definite regression on my part to those idle hours wasted in my youth when I should have been studying calculus. She humored me by letting me win. Sunday was spent at the Art Institute, where there were several excellent textile exhibits (my favorite were the Indian veils and saris) This was followed by a leisurely lunch (With wine! Most civilized!) and then a few hours in the Magers and Quinn bookstore in the Uptown area of Minneapolis (I was looking for Mysteries by Knut Hamsen, but no luck.) At home, we relaxed even more, with a trashy movie (the Banger Sisters) and then a game of Scrabble™ (she didn't let me win this time.)

Tonight will see us hosting a birthday/birthday/New Year's party for two of my sisters ... definitely low key. I will have to help clean the house (they'll give it the "white glove test") but it wasn't too bad to begin with.

So happy New Year, everyone! If what I've written here has brightened your day upon occasion then my efforts have not been in vain. You have surely brightened mine.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Invasion

The mother ship had landed in a remote area. The aliens- tall and thin with glowing heads- had already begun to march across the countryside. Why had they come? What was their intent? Is this the end of the world as we know it?

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After Hours

When one is in a gigging band there is a never-ending stream of songs, both old and new, that are auditioned for material. Perhaps the most interesting of those are the ones played after hours, sometimes for an audience of just a few band members and friends. Digging through the archives recently I rediscovered one such "gem" which was created to commemorate the lifestyle of a certain mutual acquaintance:

Don't talk about the things you know are pointless,
just plug that juke box and have a drink on me...
Ah, how 'bout a drink for every dink in this whole god-damn bar,
and tell my landlord I'm in Tennessee...

...'cause I got one way of livin',
I got no hands on the wheel,
got my left foot in the coffin,
and the other on a banana peel...

Well even though I think you're just an asshole,
do you think it's alright if your wife comes home with me?
She says she's sick of your underwear tricks and she can't get no sleep.
Now what do you think about that for honesty?

... Yeah I got one way of livin',
I got no hands on the wheel,
got my left foot in the coffin,
and the other on a banana peel...

Well, this friend of mine, he got into a little bit of trouble,
needless to say,
needless to say he got into a little bit more trouble...
and then he got into a whole lot of trouble...
needless to say you know what happened...
there ain't no moral, ain't no end, but I'll tell ya...
needless to say...

... I got one way of livin',
got no hands on the wheel,
my left foot's in the coffin,
and the other's on a banana peel.

-Jimmy D., 1978

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

           Season's Greetings

By Professor Batty

Comments: 6 

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tiger In The Snow

           Buster in the snow

Another year, another holiday season. To the feral cats of Anoka, this has been a tougher one than usual- with bitterly cold weather, snow and ice storms and it isn't even Christmas yet. Still, they seemed healthy enough, and they have sort of a development of cat-sized "townhomes" in which they can safely weather the elements. Buster, their fearless leader, came right up to me (after my absence of several months) and demanded to know where his sardines had been. After all the cats had eaten, he did relent of his righteous indignation enough to allow me to take this portrait. Whenever there is fish to be had he won't carry a grudge.

Merry Christmas, old friend.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another Early Christmas Gift

Well, this has been the year for early gifts! Gifts that, due to the nature of their presentation, are just THERE- right before your eyes, no waiting, no unwrapping. This time, it was a Christmas card from the Diva of the Wacom Sharon Spotbottom. It was received via e-mail, a nicely sized jpeg of Sharon in all of her xmas guises. If you are curious, stop by her site, check out her December posts for this year, last year, and 2005. (My favorite is of Sharon-Santa stealing a present from a blind child- Sharon can be naughty!) Her art clicked with me the from the very first time I saw it; highly recommended to those in need of some holiday cheer of a different sort.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


First grade brought new opportunities, and new responsibilities. Kindergarten was a breeze- I remember the crisp rustle of construction paper and the slightly sour tang of milk-glue giving hours of delight. In first grade this was replaced by reading primers (See Dick go! Go Dick, go! See baby Sally! etc.,) and the aroma of spirit duplicator worksheets (I wonder how much alcohol I absorbed through my skin?) But the Really Big Show was the Christmas Pageant. It required the learning of lines, of blocking and stagecraft, direction and (gulp) PERFORMANCE. I was one of the three wise men, with a crepe beard and a brown bathrobe, and one line- "We come from the East, with gifts for the Christ-child!"

The show was staged for the mothers and a few night-shift fathers of the kids; the auditorium was packed as we thespians waited our turn in the long hall that went down to the primary grades wing. My teacher, Miss Studer, was a friendly young woman who, like every other grade school teacher I had, would leave the year after having had experienced the glorious educational experience that was me. She was in charge of keeping the manger scene under control. As I sat on the steps leading up to the auditorium, silently mouthing my line over and over, a palpable knot of fear made itself manifest in the pit of my stomach. "I'm nervous!" I exclaimed to Miss S. She smiled sweetly (she did everything sweetly) and said "Why would a nice boy like you have anything to be nervous about? The play will be fine, and it will be over sooner than you know."

And she was right, of course, but then you could hardly see me standing in the back (the BVM and the baby Jesus - who was really just a light bulb- were the "stars"), although my mother did see me, and later she told me how good I had been. The seeds of my downfall into the "performing arts" were sown that afternoon, if only I had known!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


"You're up early today..."

"There's no point in lying in bed thinking about the work you have waiting, might as well get up and go..."

"Late again tonight?"

"7 to 7..."

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Monday, December 10, 2007

Top Ten: Laxness In Translation

There is now an entire web site devoted to LAXNESS IN TRANSLATION. Find this post and much, much more at that site.

The celebrated Icelandic author Halldór Laxness wrote many novels, essays, plays and stories in his long career. Those of us not empowered with a fluency in Icelandic are limited to a novella, a few short stories and this list. They are available although Salka Valka and The Happy Warriors are hard to find.

Translation is an art form in itself; I'll leave any judgment concerning the English versions of these books to experts. Icelandic is a very precise language (blessed with a vibrant set of idioms) and English has a lot of Icelandic "DNA" in its structure and vocabulary which should allow for a good conversion. Not being a native Icelander, I'm sure I've missed many cultural references in these books, conversely, reading Laxness has exposed me to many facets of Icelandic history, culture and psychology. I have read that Laxness has done more to shape the Icelandic sense of national identity than any other author has for any other culture.

This post is part of a challenge from Rose, who is also a big Laxness fan. With today being the 52nd anniversary of Laxness' Nobel banquet speech it only seemed fitting to present our views at this time. (note: this post has been updated several times since it was first published)

Therefore, I hereby humbly present my personal "top ten" list of Laxness in translation...

#10. The Great Weaver From Kashmir (Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír) (1927)
... It was his first work to gain wide recognition- the story of a self-centered young man on his quest to become the "most perfect human." Full of long philosophical passages, although brilliant at times. A full review is here.

#9. Paradise Reclaimed (Paradísarheimt) (1960)
... The "Mormon" novel, parts of it take place in Utah (kind of dry-!), in it Laxness explores religious and social themes, particularly familial estrangement. Based on a true story. Many people like this one a great deal, naturally popular with the LDS. Here is another reader's perspective.

#8. Atom Station (Atómstöðin) (1948)
... Pointed political satire aimed at the Icelandic government's acquiescence to the establishment of the United States military base in Iceland in the late 40's, with a memorable heroine in Ugla, who is a country girl who sees through the duplicity of the politicians. Her character may have been loosely based on Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who reputedly saved the waterfall Gullfoss from exploitation in the early 1900's. It has probably not been distributed in the U.S. until recently because of sub-plots concerning Communism and Anarchism. Laxness was effectively blacklisted in the U.S. because of this book. Full review here.

#7. World Light (Heimsljós) (1937-40)
... A very strange novel, first published in four parts with almost the entire first part taking place with the hero in a sick-bed! Ólafur's struggle with religion, sexuality and morality may be a bit much for a modern reader, especially after several hundred pages of his confused thoughts and morally suspect deeds. The book examines the saint/scoundrel paradox of the Icelandic Skáld (poet/writer) with insight and contains a wealth of peculiar Icelandic phrases and observations- ending with a transcendent finale. Very highly thought of by Icelandic readers.

#6. Under The Glacier (Kristnihald undir Jökli) (1968)
... The "Modern" Laxness novel, complete with new-age charlatans, a most pragmatic Pastor, the woman/goddess/fish Úa, and the hapless seminarian "Embí" who is trying to make sense of it all. A novel of ideas, very funny, very droll, its subtle humor may take repeated readings to appreciate. Quite possibly the most "Flippist" novel ever written. Susan Sontag's last review was of this book. Halldór's last original novel, written when he was in his sixties, it was much discussed in Iceland after its publication. My review is here.

#5. The Happy Warriors (Gerpla) (1952)
... Presented in a strict saga style, set in the era of transition between Christianity and Paganism, concerning two would-be "Heroes" who are out of date with the times. Masterfully written, full of cultural and historical references; it might not be the best choice for the casual reader, however. A full review here.

#4. Iceland's Bell (Íslandsklukkan) (1943-45)
... Icelandic history in the guise of a sprawling romance-saga; the English version has numerous footnotes which help to explain the mixture of Icelandic, Latin and Danish references; it is not for the attention-deficient but worth the effort, if only for Snæfríður's impassioned speech before the Danish authorities which speaks for subjugated peoples everywhere. Check out this in-depth review, in two parts, for more on this magnificent book.

#3. Independent People, (Sjálfstætt fólk) (1934-5)
... Icelandic male psychology (and much more) While reading it I found myself thinking that Bjartur, the hero, was almost exactly the same as my grandfather (and I also found more of myself in Bjartur that I'd care to admit...) Widely available, I grew up with this book in our house- it was a Book-Of-The-Month-Club selection in the late 1940's. Along with Iceland's Bell and World Light, one of the main reasons Laxness won the Nobel prize in literature. The late poet Bill Holm had been known scour used bookstores for copies to give to friends! Amazon has over sixty 5 star reviews of this book.

#2. The Fish Can Sing, (Brekkukotsannáll) (1957)
... Probably the most delightful of Laxness' novels. The orphaned Álfgrímur is, for the most part, a happy and simple child living in a world of colorful Pickwickian-style eccentrics in the turn of the century Reykjavík. His coming of age, particularly in his relationship to the mysterious Garðar Hólm, may be a metaphor for Iceland, then reluctantly emerging into the modern world. In light of the recent Icelandic presence on the world's music scene, Álfgrímur's graveyard dialog with Garðar is eerily prophetic. This is another work where nearly every paragraph holds some brilliant observation or subtle characterization. I've written about it here before, with a full review here.

#1 Salka Valka (1931-32)
I have also featured this title here; this story started out as a screenplay and it has a definite cinematic quality- it has been filmed twice. As to the book itself, I have no praise that can surpass this article by an Icelandic writer.

For a good first novel, I would suggest Fish; if you like sprawling sagas, try Bell. If you can find it, Salka is absolutely tremendous- overwhelming at times- a real find of a book, it is scandalous that it remains almost unknown in this country. Laxness also published two earlier juvenile novels and some later memoir/novels which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in English.

You can read Rose's post here.

A final word of warning: Reading Laxness causes true addiction! Beware!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 11 

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas Cactus

The Christmas Cactus, the only houseplant that thrives in our arid indoor winter clime, has begun to bloom again. You aren't here to appreciate it, you are in another world now. Christmas won't be quite the same here, excepting the cactus. The whole family has been dispersed by the four strong winds of fate, and you've gone beyond them all. It will be a quieter time, this year, with more reflection than celebration. Next year it will be better, with the little ones a year older, with the sadness of your departure tempered by time and memory, and life returning to its everyday routine. Next year.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Found In A Snowdrift

We had a major snowfall last week-end, I had driven into Minneapolis to check out an annual art sale held in a downtown restaurant. The City of Minneapolis takes a "wait and see" attitude toward plowing the streets, usually giving everyone a couple of days to flounder about in the the snow before any plowing commences. I had parked on the street; there was a spot a few blocks away from the sale that wasn't completely drifted in; it was a one-way; I exited to the curb.

Gleaming amidst the snow was a shiny aluminum tube, with a black plastic collar. "Hmm... a flashlight..." I mused as I tossed it into the car to examine later. The next day, when I had a chance to examine my find, I noticed that it felt kind of slippery for a flashlight. It was stylish: with a conical end, a raised design that coiled around its shaft, and the aforementioned collar at the other end. But where the lamp should have been was only a small screw-head. Turning it over, I saw a sticker with the words, "MUST CLOSE CAP TIGHTLY" printed on it. I turned the collar, loosening it and it came off- there were batteries inside, but still no light. I screwed the collar back on, tightly, this time...

It started vibrating!

Oh My!

Then I remembered where it was exactly that I had parked.

Near "Sex World", a certain sort of "boutique."

Then I also remembered why I don't go downtown much any more.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Laxness Alert!

December 10th marks the 52nd anniversary of Halldór Laxness' speech at the Noble prize award dinner. In honor of that moment Rose and I will be posting our impressions of many of his novels (mostly those which have been translated into English.) Those of you who regularly stop here have no doubt seen many references to him, along with an occasional quote. I know that Laxness is not for every taste, but perhaps, just perhaps, we can entice an adventurous reader or two into this realm of wonderful fiction. Those of you familiar with his output or actually had to study his work in school may hold other views; we'd both welcome comments- or write a post of your own- reflecting on the man, his work, his influence, etc., any format, likes or dislikes.

Monday, December 10th, is Halldór Laxness day at Flippism Is The Key and at Icelandic Fever!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Kennedy Speech

" I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind--and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office... "

It would be interesting to see how Mitt Romney's upcoming speech on religion compares with John F. Kennedy's speech from 1960. What Kennedy stated, in unequivocal terms, would be a political "kiss of death" for many of the current presidential hopefuls. That Mr. Romney, a practicing Mormon, feels the need to define his position on this matter is as much due to the way Mormonism is viewed as a cult as is the perception that the Mormon church "runs" the State of Utah. The public, many of whom are weary of an President acting on his personal faith, deserve as clear-cut a statement (from every candidate) as Kennedy gave. I find it most alarming (but not surprising) that many modern Catholics consider the Kennedy speech a "disaster and a sell-out".

The whole speech is here...

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, December 03, 2007

Antarctic Update- 2

Another message from my eldest, on a geological expedition in Antarctia:

Hello! We've been in McMurdo Station, Antarctica for nearly a week
now. We've been busy preparing for our departure into the field. Our
camping gear, scientific equipment, food, radios, snowmobiles, fuel,
and personal gear all has to be gathered, sorted, packed, and put into
the cargo system before we can fly to Siple Dome and then on to Scott
Glacier. In addition, I had to take a two-day snow camping course
which included a night out in tents on the Ross Ice Shelf about a mile
out of "town". The weather was beautiful, and by the end of the class
we had a view of the entire 12,500 feet of Mt. Erebus, the southernmost
active volcano in the world.

We're scheduled to fly out on Wednesday, although flight schedules in
Antarctica often change. I've attached a few photos from the trip thus

1 - As our NZ-Antarctica flight approached McMurdo, we had an amazing
view of the Transantarctic Mountains in northern Victoria Land. Our
field area at Scott Glacier won't be as completely snow covered but
otherwise will probably look similar.

2 - Me on the NZ-Antarctica flight, with lots of cargo behind. We flew
on a C-17 operated by the New York Air National Guard for you airplane
buffs out there.

3 - A view of McMurdo Station from the top of a local hill. Most of
the station is cargo storage yards, fuel tanks, etc. The middle of
"town" is where most things happen for us.

4 - A photo of my snow camping classmates as we waited to be picked up
at the end of our class. Mt. Erebus rises to over 12,000 feet behind.

I just watched the documentary "Encounters at the End of the World", by
Werner Herzog. It's a quirky look at McMurdo, the people down here,
and our relationship to Antarctica. If you can find it (it had a
Discovery Channel credit at the end), I would recommend it. It may not
be out yet, however.

I'll try to send another email before we leave for the field.


-- Seth.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

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