The Kensington Runestone

>> Saturday, May 11, 2013

I first heard of The Kensington Runestone at a family reunion in 2008. Sitting at a table for lunch, someone brought it up as a hoax and then someone else said it's not a hoax, a good book had just been written about it.

What? Scandinavians in Minnesota prior to 1492?

My interest was piqued.

My distant relative noted that the Scandinavians really got around since they made it to Istanbul/Constantinople and Baghdad, something that I had heard about.

I noted this book in my book list, and finally got around to reading it recently, almost 5 years later.

I don't believe the stone to be a hoax because as the author noted, "The Runestone doesn't look obviously fake to us, and unlike most offerings of fakes, no one tried to make money from it.” I also have a hard time believing that a Swedish immigrant with less than a high school education would suddenly just come up with the idea to plant a runestone. Seems like a complete stretch to discredit the stone.

The best arguments in favor of the stone are:
  • known Norse settlement (Vinland) in New Foundland (L'Anse aux Meadows)
  • some other archaeological evidence for Norse and English in Arctic Canada
  • geologic tests performed on the stone
  • an increase in tuberculosis around A.D. 1000, which was endemic within Scandinavia
  • the Norse fur trade, which Scandinavians went to great lengths to trade furs even in Europe
As Alice Beck Kehoe notes at the end:
It is a real paradigm shift to believe that the Americas have never been truly isolated. In 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a German geographer created the first globe showing the earth as the planet we know. Also in 1492, Topa Inca Yupanqui was nearing the end of this glorious reign over Tawantinsuyu, "the Land of the Four Quarters," stretching from Ecuador into Chile. His merchants sailed the length of the Pacific coast of South America, trading as far north as Mexico. There, the armies of the Lord of the Mexica, Ahuizotl, extended his power over many nations of Mesoamerica, causing tons of tribute to be delivered annually to the magnificent capital, Tenochtitlan, on its web of green canals. Overland trade routes stretched thousands of miles northwestward, through Paquime on the border of what is now the American Southwest and on through Nevada to San Francisco Bay. The trans-Mexican trade met the great North Pacific Rim trade system touching Alaska, the Aleutians, Kamchatka, Manchuria, Japan, Korea, and on to China, where it merged with the South Pacific system. In eastern North America, the twelfth-century state with its imposing capital at Cahokia had given way to many small kingdoms from the St. Lawrence Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly all these regions were flourishing, gaining population, and improving techniques of mass production and shipping of goods.

A world perspective, rather than the usual Eurocentric perspective, shows that in the fifteenth century there was already a world trading system in the northern hemisphere, carried in commercial sailing ships. From northeastern Canada to Greenland and Iceland to Norway, commerce followed the Atlantic coast of Europe, where in Portugal it could branch off to continue along the Atlantic coast of Africa and by 1487 around Africa, or follow the long-established route from Mediterranean ports, especially Venice and Genoa, across that sea to Egypt, through the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and via Malaysia and Indonesia to the South China Sea, then through the North Pacific Rim system to British Columbia. There was also the Scandinavians' route, in smaller boats, across northern Russia to Turkey, linking into overland Asian trade routes. The principal American trade system covered South and Middle America into California on the west, where the Pacific coastal trade linked British Columbia and California with inland North America via the Gulf of Mexico. Yet another system, that of the South Pacific, like the native American system linked tenuously into the Asian segment of the principal world system. What changed in the late fifteenth century was understanding and increasing use of planetary wind patterns, for very good reason usually termed the trade winds, to power trade across, not just around, the Atlantic and Pacific.

This more anthropological perspective accommodates and extended westward journey inland by Norse whose countrymen had been utilizing the entire North Atlantic for centuries. The Kensington Runestone is in the pattern of runestones erected for fallen comrades by Scandinavians in long-distance fur procurement. It is, in this perspective, not an anomaly. Nor is it anomalous that neither American archaeology nor European history documents this privately funded enterprise that could not compete with traditional Scandinavian exploitation of Russian furs. A few centuries later, the Hudson's Bay Company preferred to hire men from Orkney, islands off northern Scotland that had belonged to Norway. Orkneymen managed well in Canada's forests and waterways. The Kensington Runestone party would have lived in the same cultural tradition, familiar with boats, hunting, hard work, and life apart from families. From the perspective of Scandinavian history, we should expect at least one entrepreneurial effort to explore west from Vinland.


I'm not an economist

>> Friday, May 3, 2013

but I totally agree with this statement:

The specific set of silly ideas that has laid claim to the name "supply-side economics" is a crank doctrine, which would have little influence if it did not appeal to the prejudices of editors and wealthy men; but over the past few decades there has been a steady drift in emphasis in economic thinking away from the demand side to the supply side of the economy.
~ Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics



>> Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some books I feel so eager to read, and then I read them and find out that I pretty much knew most of the information anyway. Bottlemania was this book for me.

Part of this is that by the time I had bought this, a lot of people had already begun feeling like bottled water is a waste. A perfect example of this would be folks who would buy a bottle of water at The Grand Cinema, when I was working as a volunteer, rather than getting a free cup of water or two. After the movie, we'd all find tons of bottles that would have to go into the recycling, because some folks would just throw them into the garbage. A free glass of (tap) water (with ice) or a small bottle of water? Hm. This is why I take my own bottle of water to the movies in my bag.

But there were three quotes in the book I found interesting.
Every time I hear about Coke or Pepsi's elaborate filtration procedure, I sink a little deeper into a funk. Why is there so much stuff to remove from tap water? Because we've neglected our pipes and conduits, I remind myself; we've washed drugs and industrial and agricultural contaminants into our rivers; we've condoned urban sprawl, which sends sediment, upon which bacteria thrive, into our reservoirs; and our efforts at disinfection sometimes make matters worse.

The alternative--bottled water--presents another set of issues. Producing and transporting it burns oil, which contributes to global warming, and the bottles themselves may harm our health by leaching chemicals. As we hurtle into the future, all of our drinking-water choices seem to be problematic. If only we'd taken better care of our resources yesterday, we wouldn't be in this mess today. And while my first instinct is to blame the government for letting agriculture, industry, and developers off the hook, I have to admit it's all of us: it's the way we've come to live. We want convenience, cheap food, a drug for every mood, bigger houses, and faster gadgets. Whether it's building a second home or manufacturing meat, magazines, or mopeds, it all takes a toll on our water. (p. 160-1)
In coastal areas, groundwater pumping by agricultural and industrial interests has allowed salt water to creep into freshwater aquifers from the sea. Elsewhere, overpumping has pulled has pulled heavy metals and other pollutants into drinking water and washed away soil or bedrock to create sinkholes--depressions in the earth's surface sometimes big enough to engulf trucks or houses. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 80 percent of the nation's identified land subsidence, or sinking, is a "consequence of our exploitation of underground water." In Massachusetts, groundwater pumping for municipal supplies converts parts of the Ipswich River, in the summertime, into a shallow canyon of mud. In eastern Michigan and in eastern Texas, commercial extraction of groundwater has dried up neighbors' drinking-water wells, and in other states, reports the Michigan Chronicle, a Detroit weekly, "groundwater pumping has severely diminished lakes, streams and underground aquifers used for drinking water and to irrigate farm fields." (p. 58-9)
Global warming will affect the quality of our water as well as its quantity. In warmer temperatures, more microbes flourish in surface water; if they move into pipes, they could feed biofilms, which include pathogens, in the distribution system. Climatologists agree that global warming will make the earth, on average, wetter. But more rain and snow will fall closer to the poles, and precipitation will fall during sporadic, intense storms, rather than smaller, more frequent ones. A warmer climate will bring more frequent floods, which will increase the flow of sediment and polluted runoff into our water supplies. Floods will damage pipes that move good water in and bad water out. In drier areas, perversely, we'll see more droughts. Not only will there be less water for home consumption, industry, and agriculture, there will be less water to dilute pollutants. (p.202-3)
Yay! I'm so excited!


The Way of the World

After finishing Blackwater, I was looking through my books for something to read, something that would be much less technical. I came across The Way of the World. I have the cover with the near-panoramic picture of NYC, which is not helpful at all in describing/depicting its subject matter. I bought this four years ago. I couldn't remember what it was about. All I can remember is that it was a well-reviewed book back when I got it for a discount.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Even though Suskind was writing about current events from about 2006 to early 2008,  it still felt like relevant material for today since basically all the same issues are still on going: Pakistan, CIA tracking nuclear terrorism, foreign relations, upheaval in the Middle East, etc.

But George W. Bush is still a dumbass with Dick Cheney as an asshole extraordinaire. The few chapters/sections specifically about them just reminded me how much I had forgotten them being involved in national politics. I think that's still a good thing given all the damaged they caused around the world.


I think this is my favorite

>> Saturday, March 30, 2013

To find many joys
in not being confused
is likely not so sophisticated.
Be that as it may,
the dancing Hotei.

~Hoshina Masayuki (1609-72)


Don't ever bother asking for the secret recipe

>> Friday, March 15, 2013

"It's like crack, baby! The first one is free."
~The homemade fudge-maker


The East

>> Friday, February 1, 2013

I saw this kind of on a whim; although its subject matter is something I thought was interesting back when I read a short synopsis while filming. I almost didn't buy a ticket, but changed my mind last Saturday when I felt I needed something different to do on my weekend.

Sundance tickets are $15 each. After seeing three festival films in 2010, I haven't felt the need to attend for quite a while. Part of that is because of weather, money, and work. Also, you usually can catch them later in the year much more cheaply.

But I went yesterday and wasn't disappointed.

Although I was surprised that Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden sells BEER at its concession stand. BEER at a movie theater in UTAH! Is this just a Sundance thing? Do they do this at Park City too? Or is this just unique to Peery's Egyptian? I have no idea and am not going to bother to find out.

I'm not going to give a synopsis of the film since that can be found elsewhere. The one thing I truly enjoy about seeing films at Sundance or other film festivals is that I don't have to encounter a barrage of advertising about it before seeing it. I can just go in, see it, and form my own opinion.

It's interesting that while I was speed walking back to my car after it was over that I heard and saw two young guys talking about activism while they were leaving. I don't remember their remarks, but I find it interesting that I thought a lot about the fictional group's motivations for their actions.

"The system is broken."

The first thing that popped into my head while watching The East is that I hope more people realize that corporate espionage agencies, like the one portrayed in the film, actually exist. It's bad enough that the government spies on its own citizens in almost unlimited fashion, but there are corporations doing it too! And I'm not going to give those firms the benefit of the doubt that they're contributing to anything good in the world. They're not. If this film can get some sort of wide release, I think that would open some good conversations on why we have corporate intelligence firms in existence. Because that Julia Roberts-Clive Owen film was way too happy and too long ago for people to realize that those companies are spying ON YOU.

But that phrase, "The system is broken," is something that appeared in The East multiple times. It stuck with me a little bit, and I could definitely see where the writers got it after watching If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front later the same night. Why did members of the ELF resort to arson and property damage? Because they felt the system was broken and that their concerns could not and would not be addressed in anyway.
Which begins to feel like a lot of movements these days since the people's movements that created so much change in the '50s and '60s don't seem to make a dent in things.

And that made me wonder: why isn't there a group like The East? Or, perhaps, when will there be a group like The East to come about?

Or is that just still to come, like, say in a future populist revolt?

Would that be in 2015? 2016?


Still a few around who don't agree with Mr. Gates

>> Monday, January 21, 2013

In February, Gates makes one of his final trips to West Point. He is speaking to an audience of cadets, many who will be deploying to finish off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates the Sovietologist spent days and nights in the seventies and eighties analyzing the Soviet leaders' speeches, looking for clues, for signs--to divine the true mind-set of the leadership by reading between the lines. And what does Gates say in this speech? Gates, the man who has designed and overseen the last four years of the military fighting machine, the man who calls himself Secretary of War? "Any future secretary of defense who advises the president to again send a big American land army into the Middle East or Africa," he tells the cadets, "should have their head examined."
-- The Operators, Michael Hastings, p. 335.



>> Sunday, January 20, 2013

To get some of the books from Group A:

Into Group B:

Because I would just like to look like I've made progress...on something.

That and I'm tired of seeing the Money Girl cover near the top of the list.


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