Showing posts from June, 2012

Transitional markers

It sounds like Iceland is not going to be marking the transition to a new president anytime soon, even though today was an election day there. That is too bad, because transitions are a good thing. Yesterday afternoon, several of us from my department went out for beers to celebrate our own little transitional moment. The occasion was both the end of the first summer teaching session and to celebrate the fact the my classmate, Carl, accepted a teaching position at Gustavus Adolfus college in Minnesota. It seemed like a good moment then to mark the transition from the old departmental make-up, which has included Carl teaching for the last six or seven years straight, into the next phase. Another classmate of mine, Molly, started talking about other types of transitions we go through as graduate students in the Scandinavian Department at Berkeley. She recently finished her PhD qualifying exams, a process I went through in 2007. That is a grueling process of being locked in a room by

Universal Health Care

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the U.S. made a ruling on what had been called the most monumental case in U.S. history, though surely that was a slight exaggeration. It was anyhow on all the news outlets constantly for the last several weeks, and  when the actual case was being heard back in the spring, it was covered like the O.J. Simpson trial. So the entire U.S. has been focused on this court case for the better part of six months, no joke. For Icelanders, it might be hard to imagine just how important this court case was for Americans. On the legal side, it was ruling on a small technicality of the law that, if overturned, would have put in jeopardy a whole slue of Federal government policies. The reason for this is that to overturn this law, the court would have had to rule that the Federal government was not allow to impose taxes for anything that was not strictly financial (commerce) in nature. This would have put all sorts of government incentives--everything from environment


Included in the package of Icelandic hotdogs I was sent were two bags of Icelandic candy called kúlu-súkk. This is a very clever name for a very yummy candy. A kúla being something small and round, and súkk being an English borrowing for the verb suck, which works well for chocolate-covered balls of soft licorice that melt in your mouth with just the barest salty aftertaste. It is also a clever name because it is very similar to the name of a town on the east coast of Greenland, Kulusuk, where flights departing Iceland for Greenland often land. So it is a bit exotic and unknown, reachable and yet removed. I have never been to Kulusuk, but now I kind of want to.

Appropriate beginnings

American academic essay writing is different than Icelandic in a lot of little ways. I notice this often, since I teach the American style but read a lot of Icelandic essays. Basically this means I am mentally editing all the Icelandic essays I read to conform more to the American system. Right now I am trying to teach my students, most of whom are Asian, the American essay writing style. One of the biggest challenges with the American essay is coming up with a good beginning. One that isn't too dramatic or over stated (ie: since the beginning of time man has sought the truth of the universe) because that is just forced and inauthentic and too much pressure for one little college essay.

It takes a village

In order to get hotdogs from Iceland for the 17th of June Icelandic Independence Day Celebration, a fairly complex network of people became involved. And it reminded me of just how much more interconnected Icelanders are with one another, than Americans. Here, if you want to get something done, you have to do it according to specified channels. There isn't a network of subtle relationships interconnecting all Americans. There are family, friends, and business relations, but not 50 people who fulfill all of those roles at once floating around. So in a way, even though there are less Icelanders, each one is capable of getting more done. Like getting hotdogs halfway around the world for no cost on five days notice.

Real hotdogs

This weekend, the Icelandic American Association of Northern California is going to be celebrating 17 júni at a park north of San Francisco. Somewhat ironically, it is going to be held at the Sons of Norway lodge, but once you get over on this side of the ocean differences between the Nordic countries get a little fuzzy. But I have insisted on one little bit of purity. If I am going to eat a hotdog at a 17 júni barbeque, it has to be an Icelandic hotdog. No approximation of it, nothing similar, no high-grade American dog, nothing but a real íslensk pylsur will do. So far there are still some details of this plan up in the air, but I shall keep you updated.

Last day of school

Today is Palmers last day of first grade, and I am going to be volunteering in his classroom. Poor kid has been a bit anxious about the end if the school year, and hasn't slept well all week. I hope my presence in the classroom will help calm him down, so he can have at least a better day.

Viking women

Last week I taught the Vinland sagas to my summer session students, and just finished grading their essays about them this morning. Almost everyone focused on the character of Freydis, with several of the students making broad generalizations about "women in the sagas" based on her character. So although the course is a literature survey, and not a course on the Vikings, I felt compelled to at least give a few comments on women in the Viking and early medieval period. The students had somehow gotten the impression (probably from The Saga of the Faeroe Islanders, which we also read) that women in the Viking Age were really degraded (I guess I did not emphasize enough that its misogynistic attitude probably reflected the view of its medieval redactor). So today I launched into a mini discussion of the non-saga evidence we have about the role of women, and ended up talking a lot about Eddic poetry, especially the heroic poems that comprise the latter half of the Poetic Edda. O

Presidential debates

In the United States, where the President wields a great deal of power, presidential debates are extremely important events, carefully planned out well in advance. All candidates who are participating are sent details about the program and all the rules in advance, and have a chance to comment and critique the format formally in writing ahead of time.  So I am trying not to have too American of a response to the idea that this evening's presidential debate in Iceland was so adhoc and unplanned that the respondents did not even know the simplest things about the format of the debate before the television program began.  Spaugstofan indeed. 

It all makes perfect sense

I made a quick trip down to Southern California Friday and Saturday, and although I had seen my mom, my dad, and my brother just a few weeks ago for my graduation ceremony, apparently in the interim I have gained a significant amount of weight. Of course I knew I was trending in that direction, but it wasn't until this weekend, when my mom and dad and brother all separately, and without malice, made the straight forward comment that I have put on some weight that I realized it has now gotten to the point where not only do I notice it, so do others. It was perhaps especially noticeable because my brother has, in contrast, lost at least 10 pounds since I last saw him 2 weeks ago. So this led to the typical conversation about why I am gaining weight. The explanations bandied about included: 1) I am sitting at my desk too much, writing my dissertation, and snacking; 2) I am not getting enough exercise; 3) I am not terribly happy these days and I always gain weight when I am unhappy;