Friday, September 25, 2009

Bald, Bald, Rupunzel

It's 2:19 in Sweden.  It's 8:19 here in Bloomington, IN.  So unless I'm a complete idiot, that's a difference of six hours.

I have enjoyed communicating, since I started this Blog, with my friend Neil Graf.  He'd write lovely comments occasionally.  Sometimes they were humorous, and sometimes they were approving, but mostly they spoke to the fact that he loves and cares about me.

And he does.

Well, I sometimes read Neil's Blog, Nauthis, though not as much as I should.  Neil has been a better commentator on my blog, then the other way around.  You should read his Blog.  Don't be fooled by the utter romance of his Tron like color scheme.  It's not lipstick on a pig: it's pig on a lipstick.  Neil is kinda a genius.

I wouldn't say that about everyone, since clearly everyone I know is following with rapt attention America's economic recovery. Could anything more clearly reflect the fact that I am surrounded by a category of human beings who are not geniuses?  I don't know, and don't need to know Neil's opinion as to the American bailout, and grand scheme to never really acknowledge "our problem."  He gets it, without being asked.  Which takes the pressure off, when I start to sound like a nut case.  Which in flag waving Pleasantville, happens once a week.

Got any kids?  Tell them to forget about Biochemistry (yuck!) and go into real estate.  Where else can real estate go, but up?

Luckily I have established my patriotism as a pseudo religious sort of metaphysical thing.  I love broad categories like "Indiana" and "The USA," without having to be bothered with the way those "states" behave.  It's easy.... like taking candy from a baby.

Indiana is one of the most consistently conservative states in a country which recently decided that business as usual in credit default swaps was gold... that the damn regulators threaten to turn to dross.  Sort of like Rupunzel going bald.

I better stop.  So this is the last thing I'll say.  I'm basically bald.  I have little hair.

Guess what Rupunzel?  Your fucking bald!   (as well. And don't worry, shaving your head is trendy.)


Anyhow, Neil is well read.

Recently he attracted a wonderful couple of folks to my blog, because, unlike mine, on his Blog he actually thought to share a link to mine.  So these folks, from Sweden, have shared some of their thoughts.  And that's been great for me.

I've never much cared who claims to "follow my blog."  But it is undeniably nice to hear feedback.  Though, in case anyone's interested, reading is plenty nice.  You don't have to comment.

Since Ande and Jenny have commented, and at times have shown, as seems to frequently be the case, that they know a great deal more about my country than I know about theirs... I thought I'd read a little about Sweden.

Steve Wolfram (who wrote A New Kind of Science, and I saw speak at the somewhat Orwellian sounding Center for Pervasive Computing) is famous for creating the suite of programs called Mathematica.  It was the first software I have ever heard of, years ago, that could solve and display in typical mathematical terms, Algebra, Calculus and a few other difficult things on the computer. He justifiably has become famous and wealthy for this.

A few months back he launched with much fanfare Wolfram/Alpha: something of a search engine for scientific analysis.  Due to the fact that it is almost impossible not to compare it to Google, Wolfram Alpha can seem a bit underwhelming.

That didn't stop me, however, from asking Wolfram/Alpha, today, what time it was in Sweden.  For I had no idea.  It dutifully answered my query with the time in Sweden, to the minute.  And gave all kinds of other fun stuff.  Try your birthdate some time.  It's fun.

Anyhow, it's approaching four in the morning in Sweden.  And yesterday, I looked Sweden up on Wikipedia, just to give myself a lesson in how little I know, compared to the people Neil has shared with me, about their lovely country.

Most folks know that Sweden's history goes way, way back.  The Vikings must be some of the most important folks in prehistory.  And, Jesus, talk about a place that is mentioned in Beowulf, for crying out loud, and you could be talking about Sweden.

Apparently the Swedes were an attractive enough bunch of (men, I'm guessing) that the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos rather coveted their abilities and asked if they might not serve as his Secret Service: the Varangian Guard.

It's always a sign that a culture has been around for awhile when it retains colorful names for folks in its history: Ingvar The Far-Travelled for example.  Apparently Beowulf storied the Swedish-Geatish wars from the sixth century.  The funny thing is that history this old is more mythic than historic, and yet there are artifacts (many, many Runestones) to give this myth a bit more heft then George Washington's teeth, at Mt. Vernon, 1100 years later.

It never ceases to amuse me that the colorful Romans, and apparently Swedes, were out and about in their complex and dastardly deeds a full millennium before Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.  In short, black and white isn't what makes "classic" TV and movies old.  They were constructed to not deal with the lusty human race.  So how long were the dark ages anyway?  Talk to Mr. Ed.

It floored me that St. Ansgar (Saint indeed!) introduced Christianity in 829, such that by 1100(!)  paganism was giving way to monotheism.  Doesn't that amaze you?  Sweden has been an ostensibly Christian country for nearly 1000 years.  Over four times the age of my country.  Talk about In God We Trust.

In 1520 King Christian II of Denmark, established control of "Sweden" by the infamous "Stockholm Blood Bath."  This is to say he killed a hell of a lot of nobles (who had been elected by a parliament!)  This resulted in some frustration on the part of the Swedes, who on June 6, 1523, turned tables and made Gustav Vasa a King.  King Vasa rewarded his appointment by making Sweden Lutheran (and some say, finally, a somewhat modern State.)

I could be wrong, but part of me thinks that some of the power the early Nobles had in Sweden had to do with the role they played in maintaining order during the Dark Ages.  I have spoken in previous posts about the amazing capacities that guilds and merchants brought to bear throughout Europe after the dissolution of The Roman Empire.  Trade and law was more or less maintained by independent merchant armies, and organizations.  Something tells me that Sweden's character as a people, to this day, carried it back then through those "dark" times. As modern European States developed upon the encroaching Reformation and Enlightenment, such power was extremely threatening to the new order.  Hence, Swedish cities being "strongly influenced" by the Hanseatic League at Visby.  Completely fascinating vacillation of power from The Roman Empire through the Hanseatic League, then to the various arising European States and finally to a singularity known since 1523 as Sweden.

From 1658 through 1721 while other countries were making shadow dances in a bid for Celestial Longevity, Sweden consolidated a startling Empire.  Whether it lasted forever or not is not nearly as interesting as what it was:  the conquering of nearly half the Holy Roman states.  Gustavus Adolphus more or less is credited with this creation as King.  In fact, in a strange state of Apostolic Succession indeed, he planned on being the Holy Roman Emperor.  The southern German states soured on his ambitions, however, and eventually left him with only the northern German states of Swedish Pomerania (and what does that mean? land of apples?) Bremen-Verden and Wismar.

Charles X was responsible for the largest expansion and subsequent contraction (due to war and famine) that Sweden was to know, as a country.  His Son recovered things to a large extent, and gave to his child, Charles XII a much more powerful and militarily agile country.

Shortly after a ego boosting success in Poland (sort of) Charles II made the mistake that Generals have forgotten to their demise ever since:  he invaded Russia only to be beaten in the Battle of Poltava in 1709.  Such was the beginning of the end for Swedish Empire.

Apparently Charles XII was killed by musket (it is recorded that he was shot, but I am relatively sure that the rifle had not been invented yet, so... it is fascinating to me that he was killed in such a manner at all.)  at Fredriksten fortress in 1718.  The loss of his leadership was not helpful for Swedish Empire, so Russia  expanded it's power from there on.

Interestingly, the loss of Eastern Sweden due to the unfolding of these events, was somewhat responsible for the creation of the State of Finland.  This is due to Russia's taking of Finland as the Duchy of Finland (Finland being in a sense on it's own recognizance.)  as part of Imperial Russia.  Later (according to my friend, and historian, Rick, the Finn's kicked Russia's ass.  How did they do that?  Guerilla warfare.  They gave the cities away, and shot anything that walked the roads.  This was the 18th century after all. Hmm... did military historians learn anything from that? )

Once Sweden gained through alliance with Napoleonic France the ceding of Norway to it's lands,  the stage was set for war eventually with Norway.  Charles XIII forced Norway into  a union with Sweden in the Convention of Moss, which did not end in Norway's sovereignty until 1905.  That forced union was the final war which Sweden subjected itself to.

Most of what I am writing comes from Wikipedia.  Any recognition of that fact just goes to show you are smart.  I have reworded, but looked elsewhere damn little.  My desire, here, on my blog, is to celebrate what I have learned, with you.  I don't know much, but I know I love Sweden.

A little interlude is necessary here for literature. I don't have the time to paraphrase, but I certainly wish to analyze, so here is the synopsis of one of Sweden's greatest pieces of literature (on Wikipedia):

Frithiofs Saga:  (made famous by Esaias Tegner)

King Beli of Sogn had two songs, Helgi and Halfdan, and a daughter named Ingeborg.  On the other side of the fjord, lived the king's friend Porsteinn Vikingsson whose son Frithjof (forgive me this rotten translation) was called "the bold" and he was the bravest among men.  Frithjof had been raised together with Ingeborg by their foster father Hilding.

Both Beli and Porsteinn died in war whereupon Helgi and Halfdan took over the kingdom.  The two kings were jealous with Frithjof's excellent qualities and so they denied him Ingeborg's hand.  They took her to Baldshagi (Baldr's sacred enclosure.  A place where right wing Americans can only dream of.) where no one dared hurt another and where no woman and man had intercourse.  Still, Frithjof visited Ingeborg and they continued to love each other.

This caused Helgi and Halfdan to send Frithjof away to Orkney to take tribute and while he was away they burnt down his homestead and married Ingeborg to the aged king Ring of Ringerike.

When Frithjof returned with the tribute, he burnt down Baldr's temple in Baldrshagi and went away to live as a viking.  After three years, he came to King Ring and spent the winter with him.  Just before the old king died, Frithjof's identity was apparent to everybody and so the dying king appointed Frithjof earl and made him the care taker of Ring's and Ingeborg's child.  When Ring had died, Frithjof and Ingeborg married and he became the King of Ringerike.  Then he declared war on Ingeborg's brothers, killed one of them and made the second one his vassal.

I don't know about you, but this wouldn't fly in the American parlance of typical behavior.  By and large we Americans like our virgins "like a virgin."  "Touched for the very first time."

To be continued....


Jenny said...


Thanks for this post. Your writing about Swedish history served as a reminder to me. Ande is by far more knowledgeable of history than I am, even tough, I am also interested in this. I know a lot, I must admit, about the history of literature, though. This makes me feel a bit self-centred, as that part of history can be connected with my own hang-up on writing. Well, I have a MA in Ethnology and Folklore (which explains why I am now at 33, re-educating myself to become a Swedish-English translator), so I have also some knowledge of that part of the past. But still, I feel that I really should inform myself on the aspects of history that you bring up here. Therefore, I am grateful for this.

One interesting thing, talking about rune stones. Ande and I live just nearby this fascinating pagan site Gamla Uppsala, Old Uppsala. Here is a link, and you are not the only one who confides in Wikipedia:

And being an avid reader of nauthis, I can understand your statement: “Neil is kinda a genius”.

Take care,


Ande said...

Thank you for your wonderful post. Let me first of all say I had no idea about Wolfram/Alpha, and it blew me away. I always wanted something like that to ask. I ended up spending hours asking things I never had the energy to look up myself.
You really did a lot of work into the history of Sweden. It got me interested in history again. Hmm, I think Sweden really can think itself lucky not to be another province of Russia, and even luckier to have had the unfortunate Fin’s to take most of the beating from Russia over the years (the Fins where really tougher than us).
I laughed out loud when I read the extract from Frithiofs Saga; it pretty much sums up the whole Viking age. I think its much alike the Iclandic Viking prose "Snorres Edda” which I read several times, a copuple of years ago.


Andy Coffey said...

Yeah, I don't know much about history of any kind. Which is embarrassing, but it sure makes reading fun. I'm like a middle aged child. I don't know anything about literature, which remains one of my biggest frustrations with myself. Novels strike me, as well as poems, of course, as some of the only tools of the true human soul. The rest of our lives almost serve to diminish us.
But there is much for me to celebrate. I'm writing to a poet, for Christ sake. A seeking, educated, poet.
I read an advice columnist once who was asked by a reader, "I'd like to be a doctor, but I am thirty-four. What should I do?" The advice columnist wrote back, "How old would you be if you never became a doctor?" Age...
I think it is smashing that you live near those stones. I will go there one day, and remember your words, wherever you might be, at the time.
I will enjoy your link very soon. And share my thoughts on my blog. Thanks.
My prayers are with the Genius. And in the words of a song, "He's calling my crazy down."
Thank you Jenny.

Andy Coffey said...


How delightful that you would have discovered the odd and quite lovely Stephen Wolfram from me. I am so surrounded in Bloomington by nerdy scientist types (and they are a huge pleasure to me, you can be sure) that is pleases me to no end to introduce you to Wolfram. His program, like I said, has amazing promise, when coupled with his Mathematica software, but I don't really know how to use it that way. So a gleaming instrument of science, powerful beyond my comprehension, is in fact to me, a mere toy. Ha!
I'm glad you laughed at the Frithiof's Saga. I love in it how he dwells with people and creates intimacy, and understanding by showing them his nature. I have sort of experienced that myself, in my travels. Togetherness has such power, and a winter with the right person, might indeed, make a King.
As always, thanks Ande. You both are such a pleasure to me.

Anonymous said...

Look! It's my friends, talking to each other. We are truly blessed or something.

Folks, Baltimore, MD is my new favorite city. It is an old town, and in disrepair. It is crumbling elegantly. Baltimore is populated by kind, helpful people. yeah, yeah, of course the hospital staff were good to us, but I mean even out in the street.. good people who reach out and hold you.

aw shucks. i'm just another bozo on the bus. if anyone is a genius, it's you, Andy.

America: it sure hasn't been the same since the Bering Land Bridge flooded over again...

Andy Coffey said...


For Christ sake, when did you post this comment?
Funny thing, my buddy Matt Boyer is currently living in Baltimore. The complexity and nuance of his comments about the place, indicate to me that it really does have a lot going for it. Though, any city is going to charm someone from our town on the crick.
This genius stuff is just a lot of fun. I suppose in the end I'd rather not be called, or call someone a genius. Though this one dude used to call me "shortbus." Alas, I suppose I called him "Doublewide." Which would you prefer, Mr. Genius.