Saint LaVoy, Martyr

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, When He Walked Among Men

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, When He Walked Among Men

It is the ultimate goal of all armed U.S. militia members to die in a blaze of glory. Or, anyway, to die. They know they can’t win, that most Americans regard them as dildos. Now that Robert Finicum was shot while grabbing for his loaded pistol, he is being touted as a patriot, hero, and—dare I say it?—martyr. He is forever frozen in time now that he has had his moment.

He can never go back to his eleven children in Colorado City, Arizona.

Wait a minute! Colorado City, Arizona. Isn’t that the isolated town in Northwestern Arizona that is run by the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints? Isn’t that the town ruled by Warren Jeffs, its patriarch, now serving time in prison for child sexual assault?

Is the late LaVoy a polygamist? Eleven children, but how many wives? How was that association missed by the national press?


On The Other Hand

Icelandic Author Halldór Laxness (1902-1998)

Icelandic Author Halldór Laxness (1902-1998)

In yesterday’s blog post, “[Not] The Nobel Prize for Literature,” I blasted the Swedish Academy for awarding prizes to a lot of mediocre writers who have not stood the test of time. As with all annual awards in the arts—and I include the Oscars and the Pulitzer Prizes in this as well—there are a goodly number of clinkers, but there are also some real finds.

Probably the one Nobelist whose work I have discovered and grew to love, perhaps the greatest is Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s sole laureate in literature. In the last few years, I’ve read mot of his work that is available in English translation, including such masterworks as Independent People, Iceland’s Bell, The Atom Station, and World Light.

Although no one I know has ever read any Laxness, I regard him as a giant of world literature. In 2013, I even visited his house in Mosfellsbaer (see below).

Gljúfrasteinn, Home of Halldór Laxness

Gljúfrasteinn, Home of Halldór Laxness

Other Nobelist authors whose work is little known today, but whose work I love,are Knut Hamsun of Norway, Ivan Bunin of Russia, François Mauriac of France, Ivo Andrić  of Yugoslavia, and Miguel Ángel Asturias of Guatemala.

Sometimes, the awards like the Nobels are useful, when they are not tainted by politics. It is said that Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina lost his chance at the prize when he accepted an honor from Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. At that point, one leftist member of the Swedish Academy essentially said, “Over my dead body!”

[Not] The Nobel Prize for Literature

Yet Another Great Writer Who Never Received a Nobel

Yet Another Great Writer Who Never Received a Nobel

I don’t have too much good to say about the Swedish Academy, which decides who will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you look at the list of its recipients, it would not take too much effort to produce a list of as great as or even greater literary figures who have not received the laureate. Let me take a stab at it:

  • Kobo Abe (Japan), Woman in the Dunes
  • Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Things Fall Apart
  • Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Japan), Rashomon
  • Jorge Amado (Brazil), Gabriela: Clove and Cinnamon
  • W. H. Auden (UK), Poetry
  • Georges Bernanos (France), Mouchette
  • Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), Ficciones
  • Joseph Conrad (UK/Poland), Nostromo
  • Richard Flanagan (Australia), The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • Graham Greene (UK), The Heart of the Matter
  • Vassili Grossman (Russia), Life and Fate
  • Henry James (US/UK), The Ambassadors
  • James Joyce (Ireland), Ulysses
  • Yashar Kemal (Turkey), Memed, My Hawk
  • Gyula Krúdy (Hungary), The Red Post Coach
  • Stanislaw Lem (Poland), Solaris
  • Osip Mandelstam (Russia), Poetry
  • Vladimir Nabokov (US/Russia), Lolita
  • Fernando Pessoa (Portugal), The Book of Disquiet
  • Marcel Proust (France), In Search of Lost Time
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Russia), Roadside Picnic
  • Italo Svevo (Slovenia), Confessions of Zeno
  • Leo Tolstoy (Russia), Novels and Stories
  • Mark Twain (US), Novels and Stories
  • Evelyn Waugh (UK), Brideshead Revisited
  • Virginia Woolf (UK), Mrs Dalloway

As you can see, I have not overloaded the list with the names of American authors, in the interests of being fair. If I wanted to, I can add names like Philip Roth, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and a few others.

These can replace such figures as the following, whose reputations have not kept up with the times: Bjornsterne Bjornson, José Echegaray, Giosue Carducci, Rudolf Christoph Eucken, Paul von Heyse, Verner von Heidenstam, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontopiddan, Carl Spitteler, Jacinto Benavente, Grazia Deledda, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Pearl S. Buck, Frans Eemil Sillanpaa [SIC], Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Earl Russell, and a few dozen others—mostly Scandinavian nonentities which at one time were highly thought of by a couple dozen mouldy Swedish academics. (Please forgive me for being lax about the diacritical marks in the above names.)



The Three Houses of the Poet

Isla Negra Where Neruda and His Wife Are Buried

Isla Negra Where Neruda and His Wife Are Buried

I haven’t written about South America lately, so I decided to return to it. If my visit to Chile seems haphazard and unplanned (Puerto Varas to Valparaíso to Santiago), it is because my sightseeing goals were, to say the least, abstruse. Remember, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Argentina if it weren’t for my readings of such writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Juan José Saer, and César Aira. My favorite Chilean writer is the poet Pablo Neruda. So I went to Chile to visit his three houses.

It’s not really abstruse, I guess, because Neruda was not only a great poet; he was also a great domestic architect and designer. He had some money to work with because he was not only a poet, but served various diplomatic posts, particularly in Mexico.

The first house I visited was at Isla Negra, about an hour south of Valparaíso. It was my favorite of the three, located as it is on a nice stretch of beach. Also it was not trashed by Pinochet’s fascist supporters after Salvador Allende fell, like La Chascona in Santiago was. Isla Negra seems to go on forever, with quirky bars, dining rooms, nautical and railroad themes, and fascinating collectibles.

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso

High on a hill, on Avenida Alemania, with a sweeping view of Valparaíso’s bay, is the towering La Sebastiana. Like Isla Negra, it still has all the original furnishings, with the poet’s quirky love of nautical themes. On the day I went, the house was full of French tourists.

Santiago’s La Chascona

Santiago’s La Chascona

Finally, in the city’s ritzy Bellavista area is La Chascona, which means “messy hair.” The reference is to wife Matilde Urrutia’s hair. This house is tucked against a hill and does not have any sweeping views the way the other two houses do. Although the original furnishings were trashed in 1973 by fascisti supporting dictator General Augusto Pinochet, Matilde managed to salvage many of her late husband’s original decorations, such that one scarcely notices the damage that had been done.


“The Long Day Wanes”



You would think after ten years circumnavigating the Mediterranean, losing all of his crew to various disasters, being imprisoned by the witch Circe, and massacring the many suitors of his wife Penelope, that Odysseus would take a rest. According to Alfred Lord Tennyson, he does—for all of three years. In his poem “Ulysses,” Odysseus is eager once again to hit the road:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I don’t know about the mariners he addresses in the last stanza, considering that all his original crew is no more. Perhaps these are new ones, eager to embark on ticking off their own bucket lists.

Wackadoodle Warriors

Ammon Bundy and His Motley Crüe

Ammon Bundy and His Motley Crüe

For several weeks now, we have been regaled with stories about the Men of Malheur (French for “unhappiness”) holed up with their leader, Ammon Bundy at an Oregon federal wildlife refuge. They are dressed in camouflage, armed to the teeth, and muy macho. The fact that  cynical Americans have been mailing them dildos and sexual lubricants suggests another view of these wackadoodle warriors.

All of them are equipped with copies of the U.S. Constitution. Considering their educational level, however, it might as well be Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I rather suspect that most are hoping to fall in a hail of bullets defending their beliefs, whatever they may be. Fortunately, the Feds are willing to pick them off one by one as the protest decays, which it gives every sign of doing. Eventually, it will all end up in court, with the defendants angry and confused as to why they are being picked on.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The resemblance of these bozos to a “well regulated militia” is at best highly speculative.

Beyond the Law?

Enron’s Ken Lay—Convicted But Died Before Sentencing

Enron’s Ken Lay—Convicted But Died Before Sentencing

There is one class of people who are almost untouchable when they commit economic crimes while at the helm of their companies: I am referring to Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), to which I might also add Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Chief Operating Officers (COOs). To date, there has been no major prosecutions of the bank and securities firms CEOs who were responsible for the Great Recession of 2008—despite the fact that they, in many cases, knowingly put together subprime mortgage securities backed (essentially) by hope and pixie dust.

There have been cases of CEOs who have served time (or are serving time). These include:

  1. Jeff Skilling, Enron
  2. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
  3. Sanjay Kumar, Computer Associates
  4. Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco
  5. John Rigas, Adelphia
  6. Martin L. Grass, Rite-Aid
  7. Joseph Nacchio, Qwest
  8. Walter Forbes, Cendant
  9. Richard Scrushy, HealthSouth
  10. Bernie Ebbers, WorldCom

Ken Lay of Enron would have joined that list, but he died of a heart attack before sentencing. For more information about the above, click here.

There are class action suits, but these have a way of punishing the innocent and leaving the guilty scot-free. For one thing, it is the shareholders who suffer, not the executives. In many cases, it is the shareholders who have  initiated the cases and suffer from the resulting devaluation of their securities. And probably the biggest beneficiaries are law firms specializing in class action cases. These boys make out like bandits.

Whether CEOs wind up doing the perp walk is not the main point. I would be happy to see blame ascribed and large fines levied.

Thomas Bewick and His Tail Pieces

Bewick Depicting Himself as a Traveler Drinking Water from His Hat

Bewick Depicting Himself as a Traveler Drinking Water from His Hat

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was one of Britain’s great unsung artists. Known as an engraver and a naturalist (he authored A History of British Birds), he won the admiration of no less than John James Audubon, who visited him in 1827:

As length we reached the dwelling of the Engraver, and I was at once shewn his workshop. There I met the old man, who, coming towards me, welcomed me with a hearty shake of the hand, and for a moment took off a cotton night-cap, somewhat soiled by the smoke of the place. He was a tall stout man, with a large head, and with eyes placed farther apart than those of any man I have evr seen: a perfect old Englishman, full of life, although seventy-four years of age, active and prompt in his labors. Presently, he proposed shewing me the work he was at, and went on with his tools. It was a small vignette, cut on a block of boxwood not more than than three by two inches in surface, and represented a dog frightened at night by what he fancied to be living objects, but were actually roots and branches of trees, rocks, and other objects bearing the semblance of men. This curious piece of art, like all his works, was exquisite.

The illustration described by Audubon is shown below and constitutes one of the artist’s famous tail-pieces, which were dashed off to fill blank space at the end of a chapter.


The Tail Piece Described by Audubon

The Tail Piece Described by Audubon

This is not to detract from Bewick’s carefully observed engravings of birds and mammals of his native Northumberland. It’s merely to admit that I am not as acute an observer of nature as Bewick was and could not appreciate them as much as other naturalists such as Audubon and Sir Joseph Banks.

One image that afforded me some amusement was of a traveler urinating on the wall of a Roman ruin:

How Not to Appreciate a Roman Ruin

How Not to Appreciate a Roman Ruin

Note the shadow of the traveler cast on the wall, something one doesn’t usually see on a casual illustration of this sort. But Bewick was always meticulous in his observations.


Downbeat on Tweet

Do I Really Care?


Several months ago, I started signing up for Twitter. When I was asked to name three Twitter accounts I was interested in following, I couldn’t think of a single one. I just wasn’t that interested in following anyone. And what would I tweet? There was that 140-character limitation that encouraged users to murder the English language. And when Twitter and tweets were in the news, they were usually from political or entertainment figures like Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian—on whom I do not care to waste my time.

What is more, that whole hashtag convention struck me as forcing one’s thoughts into other people’s channels. Nope, not for me.


Now Tell Me You’re Not Hungry

Now Tell Me You’re Not Hungry

Those of you who are vegetarians can stop reading now. Following is a piece from today’s Iceland Review about how Icelanders celebrate the start of Þorri.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the old month þorri, which generally is celebrated with traditional Icelandic food, enjoyed at large gatherings called þorrablót, held in various places throughout the month.

The food, typically served as buffet, includes the items listed below:

Dark rye bread, slightly sweet and slowly baked, commonly called þrumari or thunderer, because of the thundering it frequently produces at the rear end of those who enjoy it.

Dried fish, or harðfiskur: extremely addictive, despite its distinguished, strong smell. It’s most frequently enjoyed with a bit of butter.

Putrefied shark, served in tiny cubes the size of sugar cubes, but quite different in taste. These cubes are not for the delicate, but a delicacy to others.

Brennivín, also known as Black Death or aquavit, brewed from potatoes. This beverage is ideal for getting the shark down your throat.

Rotten eggs. The best ones are said to come from the West Fjords. They are indeed rotten and smell rotten.

Rams’ testicles which have been boiled and then cured in whey. You will be spared any further description.

Pressed meat from the heads of lambs, or head cheese, often cured in whey. Don’t let the description scare you away. This is considered delicious.

Liver sausage, made from the liver of sheep, is every child’s favorite. Its cousin, the blood sausage, is also popular, but together we call them slátur, meaning slaughter.

If none of the above is to your liking, rest assured you will like the hangikjöt or smoked lamb, which cannot be missed.

Note that the food above is proof how well our forefathers made use of their resources and let nothing go to waste. For preservation, meat was either smoked or stored in whey, and fish was dried.

So, if you’re invited to a þorrablót, don’t let the chance go by to experience it. Dress up and be ready to dance after dinner. [Or something.]