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The Son Avenger, and Other Things

One of the blog-related matters I've been wrestling with is that I've gotten way behind on discussing recently-read books. Part of the reason for that is plain old procrastination, with my own personal twist: anything, especially a writing task, that seems likely to take more than, say, fifteen or twenty minutes keeps getting put off: I don't have time to do that right now, I'll do it later. I'll have more time after I get [random thing] out of the way. And pretty soon half a dozen or so such tasks have piled up, while I attend to a series of things that at least in theory should only have taken a few minutes each. Here, I think, is the one that's been in that backlog the longest.

I finished The Son Avenger, the fourth book in Sigrid Undset's Olav Audunsson tetralogy, several months ago. It is very much a worthy finale to Olav's biography. The title I'm using is the one chosen for the Chater translation, which is the one I read, and I don't know whether it originated with Undset or was approved by her. In any case, it (the title) is very apt. I'm not giving away very much if I say that the heart of the story is a murder committed by Olav early in his life, kept secret and unconfessed out of concern for the effect its revelation would have on those whom he loves and for whom he feels responsible. The title suggests the way that dilemma is finally resolved, and what I think of as the holy irony of it.

I'll repeat what I've said before: this is a great novel, and Undset is a great novelist. I don't use the word "great" in the casual sense in which I would say, for example, that Revolver is a great album. I mean a kind of greatness that should stand for centuries, and probably will.

I don't now what the title of this volume will be in the Nunnally translation. It appears that the third volume was (or is to be) released only this month, and I can't find any mention of the fourth on the publisher's web site. It will probably be a single word, in line with the titles of the other three: VowsProvidenceCrossroads. These are defensible titles, but I prefer those of the old translation: The AxeThe Snake Pit; In the Wilderness. The difference is a good instance of my reasons for preferring the older translation: to my taste it is, to pick one of several possible words, richer. A post from November of last year, "Olav Audunsson and Undset Translations," goes into more detail on that question. 

Still, I don't think the new translation (or that of Kristin) is bad, and it seems to have brought new readers to Undset's work, which is a very good thing. And what very great deal of hard labor it must involve.

(Yet I cringe when I recall Nunnally's use of "fetus" when a character feels an unborn child kicking in her womb. There is a phrase used by people in the book to refer to the unborn, presumably an idiom of the time or at least appropriate to it, which a translator can hardly avoid: "the one under my [or her] heart." Or, when a character is suspected but not known to be pregnant, someone says that "she does not go alone." I'm not mentioning this as a political complaint; it's a literary one. "Fetus" jars. It's out of place. It would be like Olav riding off to a council of landholders saying that he's going to "network" with others.)

Here are links to posts about the second and third books: The Snake PitIn the Wilderness. If I wrote about the first one, I can't locate the post now.


I promise I am not going to give in to the temptation to talk about politics regularly, but I am getting this off my chest:

Let's stipulate that Donald Trump is a bad man and was a bad president. I think the opposition to him, which has aptly been called deranged, and the four-year-long refusal to accept the results of the 2016 election did more harm to the country than Trump himself did. Still, I believe what I said in 2015: I think he has a screw loose. And I think that without all the frenzy on the part of the opposition his presidency would still have been, overall, a mess. 

Granting that, I cannot take seriously the political judgment of anyone who doesn't see that Biden is at least as bad, as a man and as president. The blogger Neoneocon summed him up some time ago: not very smart, not very honest, not very nice. That's clear, has been for most of his career, and continues to be demonstrated at least once a week. 

I'm not going to bother laying out the evidence. I've pretty much given up trying to argue about things that are a matter of simple observation. From the moment he took office, Biden has been maliciously, dishonestly, divisive, slandering the very large number of Americans who don't support him, and engaging in the most inflammatory rhetoric of racial hostility since George Wallace. And unlike Trump, who had most of the ruling class and the federal government in particular against him, Biden has them on his side, giving him a degree of power, official and unofficial, that Trump never came close to possessing. 

At this point, anyone who doesn't see this is either a very partisan Democrat or just not looking, perhaps too embubbled in the media environment designed and maintained to suppress everything that doesn't serve the progressive cause, or maybe just too appalled by Trump to see things clearly. I have a certain amount of sympathy for that last one--Trump often was and is, so to speak objectively appalling. But it still constitutes a failure of judgment. 

Just this past week Biden was caught, when he didn't know he was near an active microphone, saying "Nobody f***s with a Biden." That sounds like the voice of a long-successful criminal, suggesting a long history of misdeeds. That's the real Joe Biden. Kindly old Uncle Joe is as much a public relations creation as Ronald McDonald. 

And what did he, and/or the staffers who set it up, believe his Sith Lord speech would accomplish? If Trump had engaged in this kind of authoritarian theater the shock and horror might have produced actual fatalities among those suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. 


This complaint is prompted in part by the evidence of serious corruption involving the Biden family, and the almost complete ignoring of it by the mainstream press. See this National Review story, which ends:

The evidence is that we’re living in an age of deep, dangerous, and pervasive corruption, and most of our institutions are either silent, indifferent, or complicit. This cannot end well.



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Your comments about Biden aside, sorry but I do not miss Trump's constant bashing of anyone and everyone who had ever disagreed with him, his "poor me" refrain which continues on to this day, his inability to even really understand what his job was other than promoting himself and his family's interests. As soon as he was out of the White House it was like a great silence, and that's all I really want from our president for the rest of my lifetime; not some moron pounding a drum each and every day.

One small example of how things are better. When Trump was in office and something happened in a "blue" state he wanted to just lecture them and tell them they were idiots and at fault for what happened. A hurricane hits Florida and Biden works with the "red" governor there to help with disaster relief.

And you are in your own bubble by the way. National Review is as idiotic as any other news service with their reporting. I am not in a bubble because I no longer read any of them, or watch any news on TV, or even intend to vote for the rest of my life. The country is definitely a mess, and I can no longer get myself to worry about it. Politicians are corrupt and care about themselves, and news services care about the bottom line and that is all.

I don’t miss Trump! In this very post I said he’s “a bad man” and “appalling.” I wish he would go away and never emerge in public for the rest of his life. But the time is long past when “but Trump is awful” is an adequate response to Biden’s awfulness.

National Review is not a news magazine. That’s part of the point. Most of the actual news organizations are suppressing a very important story.

"Most of the actual news organizations are suppressing a very important story."

We're also getting ridiculously one-sided coverage of the war in Ukraine as well, but perhaps that's a topic for a different day (although I believe it's all related).

Great book.

Terrible presidents.

However, sick as I am of Biden, I am very worried that he might not complete his term.

He's certainly in some kind of "cognitive decline" as they say. But he can probably be propped up for another couple of years.

"ridiculously one-sided coverage of the war in Ukraine"

I've more or less consciously chosen to more or less ignore it. I mean, I see the news, and I can't see how this is anything but a wicked act on the part of Putin--but as far as learning enough to have a definite opinion about the background, to what extent we helped to bring about the situation, etc., is concerned, I pretty much threw up my hands. I don't know who to believe. From the beginning I had the feeling that the same people who were beating the drums for war in Iraq have the same gleam in their eyes, and that makes me suspicious.

For instance, I don't know how much of this is valid (and I am not a big fan of the site).

But one of the weird things about the "Russia collusion" campaign against Trump was that it memory-holed the friendliness of the previous administration to Russia. Hillary's "reset" button? Never mind. And Obama's "I'll have more flexibility after the election."

"From the beginning I had the feeling that the same people who were beating the drums for war in Iraq have the same gleam in their eyes, and that makes me suspicious."

My feeling exactly. But this time around we're hearing little or nothing from the "Peace Democrats," who were fairly vocal about their opposition to the Iraqi war. Are they speaking up but not being reported on this time around (one problem) or are they keeping silent because it's their guy in the W.H.? (another problem)

The other thing that's occurring now as it did in the lead-up to Iraq is the painting of anyone who's either questioning the primary narrative or arguing for caution/prudence as a Putin sympathizer. You are not allowed simultaneously to call Putin's invasion wicked and to question our involvement.

"painting of anyone who's either questioning the primary narrative or arguing for caution/prudence as a Putin sympathizer"

Or heartlessly indifferent to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. Or an enemy of democracy.

After Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, appeals to the defense of democracy in the abstract, especially those that suggest or say outright that the current conflict is a Munich moment, and that the light of freedom is in immediate danger of being completely extinguished, make me really wary. I have grown deeply disgusted with rulers who send young men, and now women, off to die or be maimed in order to move pieces on a chess board.

Fortunately as far as I know no one is advocating direct military involvement.

I agree with everything you are all saying about Ukraine/Russia. It is so terrible, and I'm not sure what the US can do to help, although if we don't then we are turning a blind eye to suffering. We do that all over everywhere on the globe where the people are not "white" and for the most part people don't care too much.

The Putin part of this is the hardest to swallow, I think. Can he just be allowed to take over any country he wants with the threat of nukes? Why can't the CIA do something about this? We have been lied to for decades with James Bond and Jason Bourne movies!

Rueful chuckle at that last remark. :-/

Yeah, if only Tom Cruise could really do all the stuff he does in movies.


Such a fraud. He can't even be tall.

My take is that we have been lied to by the mainstream media pretty much nonstop for at least the last six years about various major occurrences -- why on earth would we think they are telling us the truth about Ukraine? Especially considering who it is that would gain from an escalation in hostilities?

Complaining about "bias" in the media seems sort of quaint now. They've long passed from bias due (one would like to think) to their prejudices to actively propagating falsehoods. And they have the cooperation of much of the government. The Hunter Biden laptop story ought to have outraged most of the country, instead of just those on the right. Not only did the media suppress it, but a host of people from the FBI et al officially pronounced it "Russian disinformation." Naturally most people either never heard of it or accepted that verdict.

And few people know that the whole Russia collusion thing was a fraud that started with the Clinton campaign. Trump was actually right about that.

"who it is that would gain from an escalation in hostilities?" Who would? I have always had trouble believing that the famous "military-industrial complex" would actively encourage war in order to enrich itself. But maybe it does. Or maybe it's those who, for whatever reasons, not necessarily all bad, just think that our power needs to be extended and Russia's reduced.

I saw this quote from Thomas Sowell earlier:

"It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

Applicable to a lot of recent history but especially to war-making.

Hard to say if the MIC actually encourages war, but it does tend to side with the hawks vs. the doves the great majority of the time. I'd say that while it may not actually start wars, it certainly capitalizes on them. After all, there's no money to be made in not sending tanks and missiles to Ukraine.

I find it pretty much unbelievable that there's any discussion at all about which side is in the right in a war started solely by a murderous tyrant with visions of a restored empire.

As I said above, "I can't see how this is anything but a wicked act on the part of Putin." It's not a question of Putin being right. But there are legitimate questions about the role of the U.S. and allies in creating the situation, as well as what our response should be. These are voiced by intelligent, informed, and responsible voices, like Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review. Also the sort of now-instinctive doubts many of us have for almost anything our ruling class says. They lie and lie, and when they're not lying they're acting out that Sowell quote.

No matter how evil Putin is, and he's very evil, he does have nuclear weapons and that changes the calculation.

I know by the way that there are people on the right who actively profess support for Russia. I'm not one of them and consider them to be imbeciles or lunatics.

My take exactly.

"he does have nuclear weapons and that changes the calculation."

Indeed. This time the bad guy really does have WMD's. It's daft to argue, "That's ok, he'll never use them!" What worries me about "our side" is that we seem to have this very dangerous game of chicken going on, which leads me to believe that peace is not particularly high on our agenda. You get the feeling that some of the hawks on our side are actually itching for a fight.

I know. I quit reading Jay Nordlinger's commentary on it because I always had the feeling that there was this implication that if we don't put a stop to Putin's crimes *right now* we are cooperating in his evil.

Sadaam Hussein was evil and we got rid of him. Look at what happened to Iraq. I don't mean that this situation is directly comparable at all except in the sense that the sense of moral urgency does not necessarily dictate effective action.

It's good to quit reading Jay Nordlinger's commentary about *anything.*

For example his music criticism is entirely about things like the conductor's outfit, the composer's politics, the age of the audience, the awfulness of Communism - anything but the music.

Also, he's a Christian Scientist, which is one of the stupidest religions in existence.

I used to like his music criticism. Your complaint doesn't apply all that well to his column in the New Criterion--I mean, he does mention those things, but he gives proper attention to the music. My complaint is different. Or I should say my complaints are different. One, it's entirely about the New York, or once or twice a year the Salzburg, concert scene. In other words it is only very marginally relevant to me. Two, a lot of his mannerisms began to get on my nerves. This bit, from his most recent column (which is Salzburg), touches both:

'In the middle movement of the Bartók, Bronfman was beautiful and wise, and so were his partners: Nelsons and the vpo. As for the outer movements, they were fine. The first movement was a little careful—studied. When it ended, I jotted a word in my program: “gentlemanly.” The last movement ought to be smoldering, jagged, electric. From Bronfman, it usually is. On this night, however, it was slightly subdued. I almost want to say “autumnal.” The great Bronfman has had better outings, and will again.'

I just don't have much appetite for this kind of extremely nuanced commentary on a performance I didn't hear of a work that gets performed pretty often. I used to sometimes wish he would review recordings, but it would be pretty much the same thing.

I guess from a magazine like TNC I would like to hear more about the works themselves and less about performance.

To me, that sort of thing reads like food or drink criticism. A very revealing comment I remember Nordlinger making is that a good concert program should be like a menu, with an appetizer, a main course, and dessert. Ugh.

What I want music critics to do is to discuss what a composer was trying to do with a piece of music in his time and context, and what a musician today is trying to do with it, and whether he succeeds or not. I admit that this is hard to do well. I can think of very few names: Alex Ross, Ted Libbey, Alan Rich, and the late Richard Taruskin.

I agree with your “ugh.” :-) Yes, it is like a food or drink review. And I hate those. It’s really kind of weird that this is essentially the only music coverage TNC offers. They’re very much on top of literature and art.

Of the critics you mention, Alex Ross is the only name I recognize, and he’s really good.

I don't know if this link will work for non-subscribers or not:

Politico is praising Putin for helping get Europe off fossil fuels.

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