Sunday, May 20, 2012

draft of Scandinavian 81

Here's the beginnings of a draft of the Scandinavian 81. For the moment, I'll content myself with  the top 27. Each name links to the subject's wikipedia page. One day, I hope, this project will morph into a full-fledged, moderated wiki of its own.

1.  Niels Bohr

2.  Alfred Nobel

3.  Tycho Brahe

4.  Fridtjof Nansen

5.  Dag Hammarskjold

6.  Margrete Valemarsdatter

7.  Henrik Ibsen

8.  Carl Linnaeus

9.   Hans Orsted

10.  Jon Berzelius

11.  Alva and Gunnar Myrdal

13.  Kristian Birkeland

14.  Svante Arrhenius

15.  Soren Kierkegaard

16.  Gustavus Adolphus

17. Gro Harlem Brundtland

18. Frederika Bremer

19.  Ole Romer

20. Carl Wilhelm Scheele

21.  Anders Celsius

22.  Olof Palme

23.  Linus Torvalds

24.  Hjalmar Branting

25.  Emmanuel Swedenborg

26.  Sven Hedin

27.   Raoul Wallenberg

I'm nowhere near satisfied with this yet, probably I never will be. I'm not certain that it's even possible to rank individual human beings in terms of their historical influence, even within the same field, much less between fields as various as science, cinema, politics, literature, art. But my reservations won't stop me from trying. If anything, they spur me on.

Norwegians in the News

(this post is in progress)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My own personal Jormungandr

  • This may be among the final posts of Scandinaviana, at least at this address. Hopefully the smoother, more professional incarnation that I've occassionally foretold will materialize before too much longer. A forward step can be seen above, in the beautiful image of Jormungandr recently created by my talented and generous friend, the graphic novelist Gina Siciliano. Jormungandr, you may recall, in addition to being one of my favorite mythological monsters, provides The Scandinavian 81 with one of its central metaphors. From the beginning of this project, I wanted it to be represented by the World Serpent. I'm thrilled with the logo that Gina came up with--I damn well may get a tattoo based on it!-- and I would like to take this opportunity to thank her. For what it's worth, I'll also happily plug her latest published work, Summertime, (not available on Amazon yet unfortunately, but for sale in certain Seattle independent bookstores). She has begun work on her next novel, to based on the life of the fascinating Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Breivik Indicted

There is no question of his guilt. There is only the question of his sanity.
And Anders Behring Breivik, a team of psychiatrists in Norway has concluded, is insane. His unprecedented murder rampage of last July was driven, in their opinion, by “paranoid psychosis” and “psychotic rage.” Based on their findings, prosecutors will seek to confine Breivik in a psychiatric hospital rather than in prison.

The verdict "disappointed" Breivik. "He wants to get sentenced to prisong, because he thinks he is sane," said his lawyer, Geir Leppestad. "He feels that he made these actions based on rational considerations." Many others agree, questioning how an insane man could have so painstakingly premeditated the terrorist onslaught that left 78 people dead.  

A barrage of gruesome details emerged at his indictment last week. They began with the two-thousand-pound fertilizer bomb that Breivik detonated outside a government building in Oslo, killing eight. One of the survivors had to have a foot- long splinter surgically removed from her head. Another had to have a leg amputated below the knee. Several others were seriously wounded in the blast.

Prosecutors then described how Breivik drove to Utoya island, the location of the Labor Party youth camp, where he opened fire at terrified crowds with two automatic weapons. “There was panic and fear of death in children, adolescents and adults during the shooting, reinforced by the fact that there were limited opportunities to flee or hide,” said prosecutor Inga Beher Engh.

Brievik, she noted, shot exactly 100 people, some of them up to eight times, 56 of them in the head. One camper drowned trying to escape. Of the 69 who died, all but seven were under the age of 25. Almost half were under 18. The youngest had just turned 14.

Breivik listened calmly as a 19-page summary of his crimes was presented to the court. He is formally charged with “acts of terrorism involving murder, with the intention of destabilizing the basic functions of society.” Although Breivik has admitted to both the bombing and shooting, he has entered a plea of “not guilty,” on the grounds that his victims were traitors abetting the Muslim colonization of Norway.     

A second psychiatric evaluation is due to be published on April 10th, less than a week before Breivik's trial is scheduled to begin. If it conflicts with the first report, prosecutors may decide to seek prison for Breivik after all. Norwegian law allows for a maximum penalty of 21 years, but convicts can be held indefinitely if they are judged to remain a threat to society.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I haven't entirely forgotten about this blog, even if everyone else has. Yet I'm far from finished with my Scandinaivian history project; in some ways, it's more of an obsession than ever of mine. A blog was never the format that I envisioned for my multibiography of history's 81 most influential Scandinavians. I tried it because it was recommended to me--and available for free. Although blogging proved more fun than I anticipated, and has helped focus my thoughts on this undertaking, it has outlived most of its usefulness. Soon, I hope, there will be a proffesional-looking "Scandinaviana" home page. It will link to the Scandinavian 81, in progress, and also to this blog, or another like it, in which I'll continue to report and reminisce about Scandinavian-related news, particularly pertaining to influential persons of Scandinavian descent. Other features will follow as they occur to me.

When I finally bother to learn how to do it, I'll be linking rather than sumarizing most Scandinavian-related stories, offering only the briefest comments to contextualize and tie them together.

Fortunately, I'm far from alone in this brave new world. I have one friend, for example, who's just designed an excellent web page to accompany his recently published book, also excellent, on Seattle history. He claims to be eager to help me design and create a new page for Scandinaviana. I have another friend who's a very talented artist. She has just published an intensely personal graphic novel, and has started working on another; but despite her workload, she has agreed to create a "Jormungandr" logo for me, probably to be used as the "header" for the 81. I saw some of her initial sketches, which were beautiful. I can't wait to see the final rendition and to post it here.

In short, I believe better times are ahead for this project. It might even turn into something someone might actually want to look at!

....Meanwhile, in Scandinavian news....The low level war between Denmark and Somalia continues. Readers of Scandinaviana  may recall that late last year seven Danish citizens, including three children, were released after a capitivy of several months at the hands of Somoli pirates. A $1 million ransom was allegedly paid. Last Tuesday more hostages were freed by a different method as the Danish navy intercepted and attacked a Somali pirate "mothership".  17 suspected pirates were apprehended in the fight, and over a dozen captives liberated. Two hostages, however, were apparently killed during the fighting--by what means, the New York Times did not specify.

Did you know there even was a Danish navy? I'll bet it was the most action it's seen since King Canute the Great invaded England in 1015.

Two more distinct modern countries could hardly be imagined than these two antagonists, Denmark and Somalia. Denmark is a stable industrialized democracy with little unemployment, crime or corruption. Its citizens enjoy one of the world's highest average incomes, and they're apparently among the happiest people in the world. Somalia, by contrast, is a failed state even by African standards. There hasn't been a government to speak of in over twenty years; the country is controlled by brutal warlords, and its people have lived with violence and extreme poverty on a daily basis for decades.   

It's worth reflecting that Denmark was once also best known to the outside world for piracy. For hundreds of years Danish pirates invaded and inflicted untold misery on England, Ireland, Frisia (Holland) and France--burning towns, abducting women, and carrying as much loot back north with them as they could stuff into their fearsome dragon-headed warships. It was a long, long road from Viking times to the age of Social Democracy. The Somalia of this epoch seems to have been a relatively tranquil and civilized place. A sobering reminder of how the fortunes of history can, and indeed must, shift over the long course of time.   

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I finally saw Trollhunter, the Norwegian monster mockumentary notable for having achieved some box office success last summer in the U.S. (at least here in Seattle). Trolls, the terrifyingly mishapen griants out of Norse mythology, are real; the Norwegian government, like the American government in the Xfiles, conspiratorially keeps this secret from the public. Occassionally, the monsters stray from their remote wilderness territories, threatening human and animal life. It then falls to Hans (Otto Jespersen), the government's designated troll hunter, to track down and exterminate them--humanely, if possible, but above all discretely. Under no circumstances are the people to discover the truth, that trolls are real. Human fatalities of troll attacks are blamed on bears. But, disgruntled by the thankless task of "troll management," Hans permits three determined college students to observe and film him at work. After all, the people "have the right to know."

Though I found Trollhunter a satisfying blend of horror, humor, science fiction and satire, it left me slightly disappointed. The word-of-mouth recommendations I received were all glowing. I let my expectations get high. It's a good movie--unpretentious, funny and fun. Early on, it achieves genuine suspense. It just didn't live up what I wanted to see.

Sadly, an American remake of Trollhunter is already in production. Americans are a parochial people. Like baby birds, we need our cinematic fare chewed up and regurgitated for us: Americanized. Scandinavians watch Holywood movies all the time.They don't require, as we seem to require, their own specially-tailored versions of even the pulpiest of motion pictures. What's the matter with us?      

I predict the American Trollhunter will

(1) have twenty times and budget of,

(2) and be less than half as good as the original.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One century ago today five Norwegian explorers, led by Roald Amundsen, were the first human beings ever to set foot on the South Pole.