Tag Archives: scandinavia

Kvick Tänkare

EnglishRussia scanned some illustrations from a Russian version of The Hobbit.  Very cool stuff, including this version of Gollum.  At the bottom of the post are some video clips of a Soviet b-movie version of The Hobbit which you can miss except the last one which has their version of Gollum which isn’t to be missed.

Ever wonder what it might look like if you combined the Tea Party anger at incumbency with Nordic politeness?   Well, wonder no more!  The Icelanders have created a new political party (the Best Party) and created their own music video. (h/t Foreign Policy)  Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy…you won’t see any guns, pictures of Hitler or references to Chairman Mao but close enough.

Yeah, keep trying to convince me that there are no such thing as the mole people.

Sven talks about tactical agility.

Salt is attracting some negative attention and there are calls it should be regulated by the FDA as a food additive.  May I just take a moment to thank my ancestors for endowing me with the genes for a slightly low blood pressure.  Not low enough to be a concern but low enough for my doctor to tell me “Hey, you like salt?  Dig in!’

Steve Coll summarizes his lessons learned from blogging before taking an extended break to write a book.  I’m not naturally inclined to write and so this exercise (now in its fifth year) has been a great experience.  I think I’d find it valuable even if no one read this blog but it is also quite nice (and a bit humbling) to think of people deciding to spend their time on what I may have to say.

Some things I did not expect that turned out to be true: 1) An awful lot of people read blogs. Spontaneously conceived essays (if they deserve that elevated name) that are not particularly well-thought-through can instantly go viral on you without warning. …That was a sobering discovery. 2) Goofy experiments that would not work in any other format, such as deciding to read the entire 2009 stimulus legislation and blog about it will be forgiven by many readers on the grounds that we’re all in this experiment together; it’s like going to a rock festival and hearing terrible music but feeling really good about being there. 3) Aggregation and calling attention to other people’s good work without much effort on your own part is enough justification for blogging in the first place.

Some problems that I half-expected that also turned out to be true: 1) Writing fast about serious subjects because they are in the news, without doing a lot of reporting first, can produce crap. 2) Even the better instances of that sub-genre are still not very satisfying over time to the author. …This is just a blog post, however; I am free to revise my thinking in an hour, or whenever…and presumably no one will notice.

Patrick Stewart was apparently just knighted…I wonder if he made the Queen’s clothes just drop off?

Frozen Hell

Think this winter was tough on you?  This week a number of ships were stuck in the Baltic Sea as unusual amounts of ice froze them in place.

Several vessels, including a Viking Line passenger ferry carrying around 1,000 people, had collided with each other as they drifted amid huge blocks of
moving ice.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ferry system that crosses the Baltic it consists of a number of cruise lines that carry people and goods between the various nations that adjoin the Baltic.  Most trips take from a few hours to an overnight and their big attraction is that passage on these ships entitles you to shop at the duty-free store on board.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to take a short trip (they’re pretty cheap) solely for the opportunity to stock up on booze and smokes.

And for short journeys, the ferries are pretty sweet.  They’ve got a few restaurants, a (really, really) small area for limited gambling and entertainment.

Well, I use the word ‘entertainment’ in its broadest and most general sense.  There’s usually some sort of floor show which is usually just terrible.  Imagine a Vegas show (and since I’ve never been to Vegas perhaps I should say ‘Imagine what you imagine I imagine a Vegas show would be like’) on a stage too small by half, choreographed by someone who’s an undergrad hoping to one day get a degree in dance (or whatever it is choreographers get their degrees in) and thinks he/she is the next -insert famous choreographer here since I don’t really know any- staffed by twice as many people as can comfortably fit on the stage and who are all mildly uncoordinated.  Mix in costumes and generic music left over from the 70s disco era and viola!  You’ve got a ferry line show.

So imagine the horror of being stuck in the middle of the Baltic with nothing to keep madness at bay except endless showing of the ‘Buena Vista Social Show’.  I few years ago we saw the show ‘Fire and Ice’ on the ship’s CCTV and we still cringe at the thought of it…

So take a moment, won’t you, to say a prayer for the poor unfortunates who’ve been stranded in the middle of the Baltic listening to countless hours of disco schlock.

Hopefully the bars were well stocked…

Happy Saint Lucia

To all you Scandinavians out there.  More about the holiday here and here.


aland panorama9

On my recent trip to Sweden I took a side trip to the Åland Islands.  It’s really a fascinating place.  While technically part of Finland, the islands are:

…politically neutral and entirely demilitarised, and residents are exempt from conscription to the Finnish Defense Forces.

The place is frequently overlooked and known primarily as a stopping point for ferrys transiting the Baltic Sea.  As I understand it, a brief stop at one of the islands two main ports allows the ships to sell items duty free and have gambling.

That’s a shame because the islands actually have some interesting history.  For example, Russia took the islands from Sweden in 1809 and began construction of a huge fortress complex called Bomarsund.  Unfortunately for the Russians, the 19th century was a time of rapid technological change and the a joint force of British and French forces destroyed the incomplete complex as part of the Crimean War.  You can see pics of the ruins here.

Here‘s an account of the battle from the U.K. embassy in Finland.  My favorite part is the description of how two Brits were awarded the Victoria Cross during the battle:

…Lieutenant John Bythesea and William Johnstone, Stoker. Both went ashore from the Arrogant with the intent of stopping the mail flow from Bomarsund across Wärdö to the mainland. They lay in wait for three days until five Russians arrived on 12 August with the postbags. Johnstone ambushed the men, at Bythesea’s signal, attempting to throw a rope around the group whilst Bythesea provided cover with just one pistol. Two of the men dropped their bags and fled while the remaining three finally surrendered. Bythesea ordered the men back to their own boat and then forced them to row it back to Arrogant, with the mailbags.

Trying to throw a rope around the group?  Did this guy read too many stories about cowboys lassoing cattle in the Wild West?  How great is that?

If you like castles, Åland’s got one of those as well.  The very nicely restored Kastelholm.  (pics here).

While Bormarsund is just a ruins, both sites are great for exploring and there’s good background information about each.

I was only there for a bit more than 24 hours but the place looks fantastic for biking.  Really well maintained bike trails are everywhere, there are a plethora of beautiful views and there are a variety of camping options (from B&Bs to tent sites to small cabins).

So, if you happen to be near the top of the world go check it out.  But only during the summer months…

Drilling isn’t boring

The Norwegian state oil company decided it needed a themesong.  Rather than go with the typical corporate drivel they attempted to do something hip and ended up with the following.  I was a bit dismissive at first but the damn song is catchy so now I’m thinking I’m just jealous.


I just finished this fantastic book by Jeff Janoda who took one of the Icelandic Sagas (specifically the Eyrbyggja Saga) and fleshed out the characters and plot to make it more palatable for us 21st century types.  The story reminded me a great deal of a tragedy in the Shakesperean tradition where you have people of power to think they can shape their own destiny yet find that fate takes them down paths they could never have imagined (usually to terrible consequences).

He tackles the difficult problem of explaining the numerous traditions and beliefs that ruled 10th century Iceland without drowning the reader in exposition or watering down the concepts to the point where the setting becomes generic.  Most of the concepts are placed in a glossary in the back with the list of the dramatis personae in the front.  In no time even the most unfamiliar names and similar sounding characters distinguish themselves as separate entities (not easy when you’ve got characters named Thorfinn, Thorgils, Thorleif, Thormod, Thorodd, and Thorolf).

Usually, books I finish either are given away because I know I’ll never crack them open again or they might go back on the shelf with the intention to enjoy them again after the passage of time erases all but the general flow of the story.  Rarely, I’ll finish one and want to start right back at the beginning because I enjoyed the story so much and Saga easily fell into that category.

I’m not sure what (if anything) the author is working on next (his website is maddeningly out of date) but a sequel or retelling of another one of the stories would certainly worth while.  Unfortunately, too many examples of literature that are cornerstones of our (or other) civilizations are being lost because they just aren’t accessible to the general population  (the Iliad, Odessey, Aeneid, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, etc., etc. etc.) but work like this can really help to make such works relevant to new audiences.


Swedish culture coming to America!

Being married to a Swede I’m always excited at the possibility of my fellow Americans being exposed to the rich and fascinating culture of Sweden.  So, I was thrilled to see this report of a new reality show coming to America called ‘Swedish Mansion’.  The jist of the show is:

A group of six “Scandinavian Supermodels,” including a Miss Norway finalist, will soon start living together and have their daily lives recorded in what is being termed the “Swedish Mansion.”

My wife was less than thrilled at the news of the show and I was a bit perplexed.  So, after thinking about it a bit I decided to allow her to apply to be in the second season of the show.  She was even less enthusiastic about that idea.  These Swedes sure are an enigmatic lot.

I’m just can’t wait to see some of those great Swedish folk traditions recorded on camera for the first time.  Like naked tickle fights and foxy boxing

And what’s with the Norwegian getting into the ‘Swedish Mansion’.  These Norwegians are getting a bit too big for their britches if you ask me.  They’ve got tons of oil, celebrate their national day in Stockholm, and apparently they eat a lot of frozen pizza there…they’re like the Texans of Scandinavia!

Iceland…the place to be

Congratulations seem to be in order for Iceland which has been rated as the best place to live. Props also go out to Sweden and Finland (although my mother-in-law would say this was clearly a bogus list since it’s obvious to everyone that Finland is the best place in the world to live).

The U.S. got bumped out of the top 10 but is in a still respectable 12th place. Hey, at least we beat Denmark.

I got to visit Iceland for a week in the late ’90s and had a great time. It was a beautiful place with a tourist industry still too new to get ‘Disneyfied‘ (hopefully it’s resisted that temptation).


Viking culture and RPGs (and I don’t mean rocket propelled grenades)

Brian, over at Gamecrafter’s Guild just had an interesting post about a way to look at gaming universes. In order (I assume) to make a gamemaster’s task of creating a whole world from scratch:

(T)he world is a dark place. Civilization is comprised of tiny settlements and the occasional large city, mostly isolated from each other and separated by vast expanses of wilderness. They are, effectively, points of light in a sea of darkness. This philosophy is present, they say, to provide more opportunities for adventure, and to make creating your own setting, one point at a time, easier.

As he wrote this, I thought about an audio lecture I was listening to by The Teaching Company about the Vikings. Scandinavia during the Viking Age resembled the world of darkness Brian described. I began to think of how what is known about Scandinavia during that time might be reflected in world made up of “points of light in a sea of darkness”. So, here are my thoughts…


The area didn’t benefit from Roman roads so there was no system for moving overland (with the exception of walking/skiing over frozen rivers/lakes in the winter). Most of the interior was thick forest so attempts to travel overland took a great deal of time and were seen as pretty dangerous. Sea travel, by contrast, was seen as quick (a journey by sea that took 3-4 days could takes several weeks over land) and relatively safe.

The geography of the area manifested itself in the viking culture in several ways that could add some interesting twists to an RPG game:

  • Sea captains (those who had a boat(s) and could command men) became the wielders of power. The kingdoms that eventually formed in Scandinavia had their origins in powerful ‘Sea Kings’ who consolidated power.

Possibilities for gameplay:

  1. Area is witnessing the rise of skyship/caravan captains and the decline of traditional rulers (clergy?)
  2. PCs become ‘apprentices’ of powerful captain
  3. An outside power comes in (a new religion like Christianity? An expanding empire?) and PCs must decide to assimilate or resist and to what degree.
  • Viking captains not only engaged in the familiar pillaging and plunder but were also expert traders. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of for vikings to conduct a raid on a town and then set up a market a short distance away to sell back captives and goods. For vikings, trade and raiding were seen as equally important. They were one of the only ways to get goods to and from the outside world.

Possibilities for gameplay:

  1. Competition between captains for trade/plunder routes
  2. Raiding missions
  3. New captain (players?) trying to establish new trade routes and win their fortune
  • The geography of the area wasn’t favorable for stone excavation. The area didn’t have the limestone and marble deposits that were present in the Mediterranean so they became expert at woodwork instead. Also the isolation and climatic extremes resulted in people who were much more in tune and connected with nature.

Possibilities for gameplay:

  1. Increase in magical/sacred items with a nature connection
  2. Increased abilities in natural/sea settings (hunting, fishing, sailing, tracking) among PCs and NPCs
  3. Power/magical ability tied to sacred spots
  • Isolation also meant that it was difficult for invaders to attack viking settlements. Therefore, much of the male population could leave on raiding/trading expeditions, confident that outside armies couldn’t reach their homes.
  • A warrior ethos pervaded the society. This meant that virtually every free male in society was expected to be able to fight. In Western Europe at the same time, military service was seen as a distinct skill and therefore, with the exception of temporary peasant levies, the domain of knights and men-at-arms.
  • Since settlements were isolated and fairly small, there was a need to get rid of excess population. This was accomplished through colonization. England, Ireland, Iceland and parts of Western Europe all served as places for viking populations to move and establish new settlements.

Possibilities for gameplay:

  1. PCs are members of new settlement, struggling to explore their new land and survive
  2. PCs are sent to find out what happened to a ‘lost’ colony (like Greenland)
  3. PCs sent out to ‘scout’ the location of new colony

What’s the relationship between the humans (?) and the folk? Perhaps at the edges of both civilizations there’s more interaction than would normally be assumed or tolerated at the centers of power. During the viking age, while the Frankish kingdoms were being plundered mercilessly, Frankish traders were selling/trading high quality swords to the vikings (that would then be used on Frankish victims). This sort of trade was outlawed by Frankish rulers but didn’t stop anyone from making a quick buck. On this topic there’s also some pretty interesting parallels with colonial Americans living on the frontier and their interactions with Native Americans (which may be the subject of a whole new post).

That’s all that comes to mind right now. Although, I’m only half way through the lectures so perhaps more will present itself…

Denmark does good…what’s taking the U.S. so long?

Denmark announced today that they’re going to give asylum to about 200 Iraqis who were employed by the Danish military contingent in Iraq.

The U.S. has been absolutely disgraceful in the way it handles Iraqis it employs. We ask these people to risk their lives and then throw them to the wolves when we’re done with them.

Ah…hearts and minds at its best.

60 Minutes had a great story about the Iraqis that we employ. When Iraqis we employ come to us asking for help because they and their families are threatened with death the official response has frequently been: “Hey, you knew the risks. You got paid. You deal with it.”

Check out this article by the New Yorker as well.

So, let’s review…Sweden and Denmark give asylum to Iraqi who are most at risk while the U.S. (who started this whole mess) takes 4 years to ‘pledge’ to begin accepting Iraqi refugees (which is quite different from actually letting any of those ‘dirty foreigners’ into the country).

I can’t wait for the torrent of accusations when all this is over about who’s to blame for losing the war in Iraq. I’m sure the right will blame everyone (the media, Democrates, soldiers -just wait, Coulter, Malkin, et al will start blaming us once they have new books to promote-, Iran, etc.) except themselves for making such a mess of this.