Open Thread for December

She’s looking through the wrong end
She’s looking through the wrong end
She’s looking through the wrong end of the telescope
Turn it around, turn it around

Lucius (Holly Laessig / Jessica Wolfe)

November Pieces Of My Mind #3


We spent five days in Como, Lombardy, Italia: the closest piece of Southern Europe for light-starved November Swedes.

  • My wife and her friend run a club that teaches immigrant women to swim and then possibly become certified swimming instructors. I was surprised to learn that from the funding body’s point of view, she counts as one of the immigrant women. She’s lived in Sweden since 1980 and speaks better Swedish than I do. I keep forgetting that we’re an immigrant family.
  • Swedish has separate words for “less good” and “more bad”. The word “worse” confuses us Swedes.
  • No war horses here / Pale sun lights the library / Facial laser burns
  • Fun discovery: the choice of words on Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s frontispiece alludes to that of a German travel book that had appeared eleven years previously. But in doing so, the language has gone wonky.
  • Watched a lot of movie commercials at the film festival screenings. An observation: advertisers believe that whatever you sell, film festival goers will react favourably to international or interracial couples on screen. Guess they’re right. I mean, I did.
  • Talked to some high schoolers who liked my Social Democrat badge. They explained that they were democratic communists, and that only Marxist-Leninist communists would institute a dictatorship after the Revolution. I had to reply that to me Marxist-Leninist and Communist are synonyms.
  • Arthur Lee of the famous 60s band Love got out of jail in December 2001. He had less than five years left before dying of cancer, but he managed to get a good band together and toured with his old material. I heard them in Stockholm in May 2002 and enjoyed it a lot. And my brief interaction with the band is a fond memory. For some reason I hurried home from the gig and was probably the first audience member to leave the venue. I turned the corner of the South Theatre House running and startled the band badly as they were getting into a car. They stared at me in shock and clearly thought I might be a crazy fan. But I just ran past them, turned around and jogged backwards for a bit, and said “Awesome gig, guys, many thanks, really enjoyed it!” And they all looked relieved, smiled, waved and thanked me too. And I ran on towards the stairs to Slussen.
  • Heard a senior politician say something odd about the Swedish Social Democrats’ weak polling figures at the moment. “We shouldn’t blame the voters, we should offer policies that get the votes back.” Nonono. When the voters move towards conservatism and fascism, you do not follow. If you want to do that, you need to leave the party and join another.
  • Parsec = parallax second.
  • Took a look at the skeptic movement again and was reminded that though I share its opinions, I don’t really care much about the issues. It was really important to me though back when I was surrounded by knowledge-relativist science-hostile humanities people.
  • Many rock bands break up over drugs, money and musical disagreements. The autobiographies of Kraftwerk members Flür and Bartos agree that they broke up because band leader, main song writer, keyboard player and singer Hütter became more interested in high-end cycling than in the band. 😀
  • Karl Bartos worked part time as a drums & percussion teacher through most of his Kraftwerk years.
  • I don’t know how to describe my language skills. I read German and French fairly well, I speak and write them OK, but I’m almost incapable of following an informal conversation in a noisy room.
  • Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek were brothers in law.
  • I knew that a period of constant playing in Hamburg clubs made the young Beatles into pros. I did not know that it was for almost two whole years!
  • Two common yet mindblowing ways in which old stone houses are remodelled through the centuries: 1. Floors and windows moved up and down. 2. Roof rotated 90 degrees. No 2 means that you have to tear down the gables and build new ones on the adjoining wall tops.
  • Funny how, as the Boomers have retired and the rave kids celebrate their 50th birthdays, drugs have become associated with old people instead of youth culture.
  • The German Social Democrats elected a new pair of co-chairs this weekend, Saskia Esken & Norbert Walter-Borjans.
  • Phew, Sweden did OK in the new PISA education study.
  • I talked to a couple of young user experience specialists the other day. They had never heard the 80s techie term “luser”. 😀
  • Khazakstan and Mongolia are only 40 km apart but share no border.

November Pieces Of My Mind #2


  • Had a fun insight regarding Nils Mattsson Kiöping. He describes a pearl fishery at an Indian town named Keylepatan Peleback. –patan is common in the area’s place names. But I’ve been wondering about “Peleback”. Turns out it’s misprinted Swedish: perlebanck, “pearl bank”, a word he uses repeatedly elsewhere.
  • Smug budding cineast: I’ve watched so many French art-house movies in recent years that I’m beginning to recognise the actors.
  • Came across a bizarre car engine design: super easy and clearly labelled if you need to jump start it, but apparently incapable of providing a jump start without major disassembly. We eventually found the battery under the passenger seat.
  • This buddy of mine has a colourful love life. He’s my age, tall, good-looking, educated, and for years and years he has been attracting young female East Asian sex tourists. These relationships start on the net, then the ladies fly in to Stockholm and have their way with him. They’re young, as I said: by now we’re talking a 20 year age gap. But he told me something astonishing recently. These women have trouble finding lovers at home because past 25 they are regarded as too old. Me, I’m at the stage where if my wife threw me out I’d consider 35-y-o divorcée soccer moms titillatingly young! 😀
  • In Swedish, a suburb is by default assumed to be cheap multistory tenements unless specified by the prefix villa-. In US English a suburb is middle class homes, and if it’s not, then it’s a “project”.
  • “Not to brag, but smugness comes easily to me.” /@Puncroaker
  • Got a letter from my buddy the eminent place-name scholar where he says one of my books is super useful to him and has basically done all the work for him in his current project. ❤
  • Lemon & sugar in my tea instead of milk today. I’m keeping vegan to honour the memory of my mother-in-law Chou Hsiu-chen, thereby participating remotely in a sutra chanting performed in a temple hall at leafy many-buddha’d Lingying near Hangzhou. Mother raised four strong children during the Cultural Revolution, then emigrated to Sweden where her youngest went native and eventually married me. “I have fulfilled my historical task”, Mother was fond of joking on the subject of her children. She has seven grandchildren and one step-grandson.
  • Kraftwerk’s single ”Die Roboter” reached the German Top-10 and was thus played on the ZDF-Hitparade TV show (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) on 21 August 1978. 27 million people watched this programme on average. But the show was dedicated mainly to German schlager music. On the night when ”Die Roboter” premiered, the #1 tune on the Hitparade was Father Abraham with ”The Song of the Smurfs”. ”Merciless competition”, as Karl Bartos comments in his autobiography.
  • Looking up old 90s course mates from grad school in the main biblio database for Scandy archaeology. There seem to be two things that really make an archaeology PhD stop publishing research: one is getting a university job, the other is getting a non-archaeological job. In both cases you have no time and no motivation to do research. The ones who have published a lot work in contract archaeology and their output is excavation reports, “grey literature”.
  • Ge. Vermummung and Eng. mummery both go back to Old Fr. se momer, ‘to mask oneself’.
  • Got some of the kids’ old skiing gear out of the shed to take it to the 2nd hand store. Had a short but sharp attack of grief and missing my small kids.

Boardgaming Retreat 2019


Interstellar cluster fuck in Eclipse

The annual boardgaming retreat is 48 hours with fellow gamers at an off-season rural hotel. This one was my ninth, at a golf and country club near Trosa. I played ten sessions of nine different games. Only the tiny filler Tides of Time was entirely new to me, and all were very enjoyable!

To give you an idea of how popular each game is, I’ve included its current BGG rank in the list below. For instance, Eclipse’s 40 means that right now there are only 39 boardgames that the largely US-based users of rate more highly. And they have rated tens of thousands of games!

  • Above and Below (2015). Ranked 206. Resource management and action point allowance with beautiful art and a story book that the players read bits out of to each other. One of the event’s most-played games this year.
  • Eclipse (2011). Ranked 40. A Finnish design: interstellar colonisation and war with a nifty resource management engine.
  • Glory to Rome (2005). Ranked 175. Intricate card-based logistics game by Carl Chudyk who later released the excellent Innovation. Good fun, not too long!
  • The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018). Ranked 125. You’re herbalists cooking potions. Like a deck-building game but you draw little tiles from a bag instead. A push-your-luck mechanic keeps you worrying that your cauldron’s contents will explode!
  • Scythe (2016). Ranked 10. Intricate cube pusher / worker placement / mini war game in the dieselpunk world of amazing Polish military fantasy painter Jakub Rozalski. Not enough interaction for my taste.
  • A Study In Emerald, 2nd ed. (2015). Ranked 1172. Lovecraftian horror meets spy fiction and detective fiction in Victorian Europe in another hit game by the revered Martin Wallace, based on a 2003 story by Neil Gaiman. Combines deck building with various other mechanics in a nice salad. (The 1st edition from 2013 is ranked 710.)
  • That’s Pretty Clever (2018). Ranked 154. Like Yahtzee only fun and intricate.
  • Tides of Time (2015). Ranked 992. Neat short two-player card game where you play a card, then swap hands with each other, and repeat this until you run out of cards.
  • Yellow & Yangtze (2018). Ranked 1206. This is a modified, streamlined and re-skinned version of Reiner Knizia’s classic 1997 Tigris & Euphrates, which is one of my personal favourite games. At rank 74, T&E is the second-most popular 1990s design on BGG. The main difference between the versions is that Y&Y has a hex grid instead of a square grid. Both versions are excellent games but you only need one of them.

I’ve blogged before about the retreats in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018.


Stockholm Film Festival 2019


Give Me Liberty

Being contracted to do translation work during November and December I’m free to set my own work schedule, and so I have set a new record for myself in the number of films I saw at the Stockholm Film Festival this year: twelve feature films and one shorts package. All are from 2019 and had their Swedish premières at the festival. None was bad or boring, and three get my special recommendation:

  • Bull. Black rodeo, Oxycontin, rural Southern poverty, teenage anger, absent parents, a tentative replacement dad.
  • Give Me Liberty. Young Russian American man drives for a disabled people’s bus service but keeps getting sidetracked by various other needy people. Noisy confusing warm-hearted multicultural story.
  • Perdrix / The Bare Necessity. Absurdist rom com with militant nudists, bored policemen, maghrebois WW2 reenactors in the Vosges and a family that is just itching to get disrupted.

And nine features plus the shorts programme were all well worth watching:

  • Alice et Le Maire / Alice and the Mayor. Bright young Lit PhD becomes staffer and adviser to troubled Social Democrat mayor of Lyon.
  • The Art of Self-Defence. After getting violently mugged, a wimpy guy joins a cult-like karate dojo. Movie has severe tonal issues: not a very funny parody, not a scary horror story, not realistic enough by far to grip you. Lead actor good though.
  • Bait. Old-school but not old Cornish fisherman watches the touristification of his village with disgust. Interesting lo-fi b/w cinematography and secondarily applied studio sound.
  • Colour Out Of Space. A competent big-budget movie version of the story H.P. Lovecraft considered his best. A meteorite hits a farm, plants and animals mutate, everybody goes nuts, the area is eventually reduced to prismatic ashes.
  • Esto no es Berlín / This Is Not Berlin. Teenage boys discover drugs, bisexuality and avant-garde art in 1986 Mexico City. Another nostalgic look back at somebody’s coming of age.
  • La femme de mon frère / A Brother’s Love (2019). Neurotic political philosopher finishes her PhD and ends up jobless and sleeping on her brother’s couch in Quebec. He gets involved with the doctor who gives her an abortion and she starts falling apart.
  • La Gomera / Whistlers. Romanian-Spanish police thriller about missing drug money. Incomprehensible motivations, gratuitous pornography, gratuitous lessons in the Canary Islanders’ whistling language on location, an oldish charmless male lead.
  • Le Miracle du Saint Inconnu / The Unknown Saint. Moroccan robber comes out of jail only to find that a shrine has been built on the rural spot where he buried the loot. Beautiful imagery, quietly funny, pretty slow.
  • Tu mérites un amour/ You Deserve A Lover. Young attractive Parisian has complicated love life. No plot. Lots of close-ups of kissing.

I also saw five movies at the 2019 Monsters of Film festival a few weeks ago, and here’s my capsule reviews from the 2018 Stockholm Film Festival.

November Pieces Of My Mind #1


Main reading room, National Library, Stockholm

  • Had a Boomer moment yesterday. Somebody called me on the phone to ask for the email address of the head Social Democrat on the municipal council, of whose name this person was fully aware.
  • It’s the shifting of the seasons. And tyres.
  • Did my eighth public talk in less than a year about Medieval castles last night.
  • Michael Landon (Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie) had a Jewish dad and was named Orowitz before he took his screen name. No wonder we see him wearing Levis.
  • Wir pfeifen auf den Gurkenkönig.
  • Movie: Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Rom-com where a Chinese American woman realises that her Singaporean Chinese boyfriend is the heir of a real estate empire and has quite a demanding family. Grade: OK.
  • You don’t see a lot of movies these days where the hero’s adversaries stumble into a gay bar and have to dance the tango with guys wearing BDSM leather gear.
  • I just ordered a 1924 American book that is not in a single Swedish research library on the strength of a recommendation from Avram Davidson. Pretty sure it will prove useful as I finish annotating Nils Mattsson Kiöping.
  • Sudden realisation: being easily domesticated is adaptive. Cows and sheep are among the most successful large animal species on the planet.
  • Me and Jrette went out for her first driving practice yesterday. It went super well. She’s already been driving around on her moped for over a year. ❤
  • No CNN, come on, you can’t write “All four White House officials who are scheduled to give depositions on Monday … won’t show up” when you clearly mean that none will, and preferably not even if you meant that only some will.
  • Cool German word: Triebtäter, literally “one who does deeds because of his urges”, Sw. driftdådare. Means “sexual offender”.
  • Relieved to see no female nudity and no fucking in the film Alice and the Mayor. Always just makes me feel manipulated and embarrassed for the actors. There’s porn enough on the net.
  • A Social Democrat buddy gave me a flattering characterisation: “Oh right, I keep forgetting that you’re not actually an engineer!” No wonder that I find so much of current university humanities so pointless.
  • The Swedish government is preparing to make citizenship contingent on a language exam. This will probably result in a lot of families being split in their citizenship. The kids will make it, parents without exceptional language talent will not, particularly if they don’t interact much with native Swedes. And that depends heavily on income level. We should be frank about the fact that this measure will select future citizens based on social class.

October Pieces Of My Mind #3

svensk framsida lores

Look what the Östergötland County Administration has got in the works! Publication hopefully in February.

  • Bibimbap means “mixed rice” in Korean.
  • There are about 120 museums in greater Stockholm. In the past seven years I’ve visited a bit more than 1/3 of them. It’s one of my long-term projects to see them all.
  • Karl Bartos of Kraftwerk completed training as a phone exchange technician before going on to the Robert Schumann Conservatory to study classical percussion.
  • Roger Waters was 28 or 29 when he wrote the lyrics to “Time”, where he meditates on everything being too late: “No-one told you when to run – you missed the starting gun”.
  • Movie: Incredibles 2. The superhero family joins a pair of tech billionaire siblings in an attempt to make the use of super powers legal again. Grade: neat and fun!
  • Chris Fern suggests that the Staffordshire hoard is King Penda’s CV.
  • For anyone who wonders what the prog-rock generation’s grandchildren are doing in the way of ostentatiously ornate pop compositions, let me pass on Jrette’s tip here and introduce you to Jacob Collier, b. 1994.
  • Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flür is depicted on the covers of Computer World (1981) and Electric Café (1986) but doesn’t play on these records. Then he left the band.
  • I have something big to be Vaguebooking about and I can’t talk about it until December. Gnnnnh!
  • Fridge cleanout for lunch: a chicken drumstick, an avocado, a potato, fried cabbage, boiled bulgur.
  • So annoying when a scholar publishes a conjecture or a provocative reinterpretation and the media are like “What everyone thought was wrong! Scholarship has now determined that” etc.
  • Here’s one for you biologists. The payroll administrator at this night school that I’ve lectured at occasionally has a name and a handwriting that makes her signature look like “Lotta Annelid”.

October Pieces Of My Mind #2


The church of Hedvig Eleonora (1737), named not for a saint but for a royal. The project started when Queen Hedvig was 33 but wasn’t finished until 22 years after her death.

  • Reminding everyone: Google Translate’s smart phone app can scan and OCR convert pretty much any kind of text. You never have to type text from a book or archive document again.
  • Facebook thinks I should like a page from a rural school for grownups called “Healing writing”. And I am oh so very grateful that I am not one of those who have to read these writings.
  • I was kicked out of the prostate study. My test results were too healthy.
  • On his way home from Turkey in 1714, Carolus XII stayed in Șimleu Silvaniei / Szilágysomlyó. This is a magical name for Migration Period scholars because of a great gold hoard with Scandy connections.
  • The battery in my electric toothbrush has worn out. Replacing it involved soldering, for which I lack skills and gear. So I bought a new toothbrush. And refused to bring another charger home, leaving it in the store.
  • Etymological problem upon reading Leiber. Is it Lankh-mar and Ilth-mar? Or is it Lank-hmar and Ilt-hmar? Not many local speakers you could ask.
  • In his autobiography, Karl Bartos of Kraftwerk writes the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” as “Bäng!”.
  • Adam van Düren, the architect behind Glimmingehus, knew runes and carved his motto with them in Lund Cathedral.
  • The German version of the genealogy web site MyHeritage is named MeinHerritage.
  • The worst thing about biting a cusp off a molar isn’t that you have a messed up tooth. It’s that the sharp edges cut into your tongue all the time.
  • Facebook’s algorithms just suggested that I might want to buy a tee-shirt with a drawing of Velma from Scooby Doo in the nude with enormous floppy galumphing breasts. I just can’t tell if Zuckerberg knows me not at all or too well.
  • Interesting ambivalent development among Chinese Swedes: 30-40 year old Chinese restaurants are closing down. Because the young folks now have university degrees and better jobs. As intended by their parents.
  • Want to get massively, royally baked? Visit Venus!
  • Hey recently middle-aged peeps: don’t buy expensive plastic-framed reading glasses and expect them to hold together, like I did twice. Buy dirt cheap metal-framed ones in family packs.

Monsters of Film 2019


Fatma Mohamed is marvellous as the eerie fashion shop clerk of In Fabric.

Monsters of Film is an annual genre film festival in Stockholm that started in 2012. I went in 2015, and then managed to come back this year when I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I saw five feature films and a shorts compilation in less than a week. Unexpectedly, one of the movies went straight into the select list of my all-time favourites!

  • In Fabric (2018). About a cursed dress, a depraved fashion store and their victims. Grade: Fucking Amazing! It’s scary, funny, sensual, sexy, surreal and yet relatable. I’m going to seek out more of Peter Strickland’s films!

Three of the feature films and the shorts block were also very good:

  • Code 8 (2019). Mutant superheroes are 2nd class citizens in a city with blanket surveillance and militarized policing. Grade: Great! This is the BIG scifi movie of 2019/20!
  • Extra Ordinary (2019). Driving school instructor and also exorcist in a small Irish town clashes with aging pop star and also black magician in this horror comedy. Grade: Good!
  • Achoura (2018). Morocco’s first big-budget horror film. Four childhood friends reconvene to fight dimly remembered supernatural horror. Good acting, cinematography, found sets, fx; confusing and overpopulated first act, not clear who the main characters are. Grade: Good!

And finally one that is better than expected given the era and genre in which it was made:

  • Night of the Demon (1957). American psychologist comes to England for a conference and to help investigate a Satanic cult. His scientific skepticism soon frays. This film is based on a so-so M.R. James story and is referenced in the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s opening song. Grade: OK, would have enjoyed it more without the ridiculously bombastic score.