Science Debate 2008 Invitations Issued

i-32523212dc3d7827c72894c8b5059a25-sciencedebate2008.jpgScience Debate 2008 is an initiative to inject more science policy into the run-up to the US presidential elections. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum over at The Intersection just announced that they have sent formal invitations for an April 18 public science policy debate in Philadelphia to candidates Clinton, Huckabee, McCain and Obama.

Every Sb reader’s help is needed. Says Sheril:

“This is our collective call and if there were ever a time that we need your help, it’s now. We need to make a ton of noise about this. We need to make the campaigns say they’ll come to the Philly debate. Together we can make this happen!”

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Swedish Ethno Groove

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I’m a big fan of Swedish-Finnish ethno band Hedningarna (“the Pagans”). Centred around three musicians working with a series of very fine singers, the band released five albums from 1989 to 1999. Their method was to go for the most primitive acoustic instruments known to Swedish ethnic music and plug them into various exotic electronics, producing a sound heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix yet unmistakeably rural and Scandinavian. Most aficionados count the second and third albums (Kaksi and Trä), where two amazing Finnish traditional female singers dominate the sound, as the band’s creative peak. But I really like the fourth one too.

1997’s Hippjokk is the only Hedningarna album without any female vocals. The songs are either instrumentals or sung by men, including Sami guest vocalist Wimme Sarri who puts in some really badass yoik. Another thing that really sets this disc apart is its focus on groove, repetitive string figures, harvandet as the band put it in interviews. It’s not really riffing, more basic, more monotonous. And hugely groovy.

One funny and rocking track on the fourth Hedningarna disc is “Drafur och Gildur”, a song they picked up from live roleplayer darlings Sorkar & Strängar. This is a testosterone-drenched song telling a gory tale of woodland trolls who mess with the wrong pair of dwarves. I translate from the Swedish original:

Drafur and Gildur
By Martin Ahlman

Heavy-booted footsteps ring
Dwarven singing rides the wind
Down into a little clearing
Where wily trolls are waiting

Trolls have set an ambush here
To test the mettle of the dwarves
Drafur enters the woods
Keeping his axe handy

The trolls have waited long enough
Sneaking out from the forest eaves
Drafur stands listening
The birds are strangely quiet

Suddenly roaring and screeching
Trolls come running from the woods
Drafur muses to himself
“Time for some axercise!”

The first troll is hoping
To bash Drafur’s legs to pulp
This ambition is thwarted
When his head takes leave of his neck

More and more trolls appear
Drafur wishes they would just go away
Trolls have tiny brains
But there are too many of them

Suddenly the trolls’ luck turns
And hope springs in Drafur’s heart
Through a scarlet mist
He spies Gildur kicking troll ass

Trolls in hordes advance
Drafur and Gildur join forces
Back to back the dwarves
Paint the ground with blood of trolls

Drafur, grinning like a wolf
Swings his double axe
Stiff-necked trolls he chops
Dispatching them unfalteringly

The wrath of the dwarves has awakened
Any troll in range gets its skull cracked open
They start backing away
As Gildur beheads the stragglers

Few trolls are left now
Soon the dwarves will get some rest
Their blood boiling
They slay the last attacker

If you haven’t understood our song
Let us sing it once again:
The best fighters around
Are dwarves, no doubt about it

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Magic Holy Bird Frisbee

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Back in October when myself & the family were in Beijing, we spent a Friday at the city’s main amusement park. The place was almost deserted, so the kids didn’t have to stand in line at all. They would repeatedly ride these huge attractions all on their own.

Beijing amusement park has an old 80s part full of run-down Japanese gear, all flaking paint and rusty welding work. Then there’s the northern periphery where they’ve installed new bigger attractions, each with a long explanatory sign in Engrish. One is a two-story carousel intended to create the impression of visiting a European castle. For some reason, this is achieved by plastering the place with pictures of the Baron Münchhausen.

The weirdest ride is named, and I kid you not, Magic Holy Bird Frisbee. It’s inspired by Mayan civilisation in a grotesquely plastic way, but also for some reason features colossal statues of lizard people, a female one of whom is being mean to a busty bikinied hominid.

Try saying the ride’s name out loud. Magic. Holy. Bird. Frisbee. That is just pure poetry!

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Dream Blogging

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I hardly ever remember my dreams. When waking and then going back to sleep, like on a Saturday morning, I can however sometimes bring back fragments into the real world.

This morning I dreamed that we were moving to a new apartment in an unfamiliar area that was apparently not far from where we live now. The apartment swap took place one object at a time: I would carry a lamp over to the new place, and the bearded guy who lived there would come walking the other way with a potted plant. It was after dark. Asphalt, fluorescent street lights, passing the front of a grocery store.

I had no idea that I was dreaming. I made a mental note to myself that moving houses was a blogworthy subject. And so, with this entry, I’m fulfilling the plan my dream-self made.

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Kurt Cobain and the Umbilical Noose

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The past week I’ve twice heard Nirvana’s 1993 song “Heart Shaped Box” on the radio. I realised that its lyrics have a number of remarkably powerful lines. Kurt Cobain was a talented man. Here are the song’s two verses.

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black

Meat-eating orchids forgive no one just yet
Cut myself on angel hair and baby’s breath
Broken hymen of your highness, I’m left black
Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back

On the cover of the band’s 1992 singles collection Incesticide is the above painting of Cobain’s, speaking chillingly of a broken mother-son relationship. The song lyrics reinforce my impression that the man had serious mother/women issues, and was well aware of them. “Heart Shaped Box” is on an album named In Utero

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Job Rejection Blues

I got another job rejection letter today. Five out of 79 applicants (6%) got research positions in Linköping, 2.5 hours by car from my home. The five are two chemists, one neurobiologist, one environmental scientist and one gender studies scholar. At least I wasn’t beaten by any colleague.

What bugs me is the way they trimmed those 79 candidates down to eleven that were interviewed. One criterion was that they only contacted people who have already had post-docs. This biased the selection heavily toward well-funded disciplines where post-docs are plentiful. It’s much easier to get one in chemistry than in gender studies. This means that the gender scholar had to be much better than the two chemists to even be considered for the job. And it meant that my qualifications were disregarded entirely.

I don’t doubt that the University of Linköping got five kickass scientists. But they made it very hard for scientists in poorly funded disciplines to compete. I wonder if this was intentional, to make sure they got people who can pull in big grants.

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Bob G. Lind Can Sing Too

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As chronicled here in many entries over the past months, computer consultant, New Age author and homeopath Bob G. Lind has carved out his own niche in Swedish amateur archaeology with controversial interpretations of Scanian archaeological sites Ales stenar and Höga stenar. Another Bob Lind is a famous US folk singer. Yet now I’ve learned that Bob G. Lind is a singer and a song-writer too!

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My Malmö colleague Ingela Kishonti has kindly sent me scans of the cover and labels of a 45-rpm vinyl single that Bob G. put out in 1978 on NCB/K.M.C. Records. (This does not appear to have been be the same as the current UK hip-hop label of the same name.) The A-side is a song of Bob’s own with the self-explanatory title “Hej Angelie”. The B-side is Bob’s Swedish lyrics sung to Alex North’s theme song for the 1976 TV series Rich man, poor man (which was based on Irwin Shaw’s novel of the same name). The TV series aired in Sweden under the title De fattiga och de rika. Both tracks were arranged by Anders Neglin, who would later go on to score several successful Swedish TV series and produce albums for many big Swedish pop acts.

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This disc is of course a fine cultural artefact in and of itself. But what makes it absolutely priceless is the title of Bob’s Swedish lyrics to the TV theme song: Dröm men ändå verklighet. He should have this printed on the cover of everything he’s ever written! It means “A dream, but still reality”.

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Abandoned Club Houses of Djurhamn

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Spent the day walking around Djurhamn with my colleague Kjell Andersson of the Stockholm County Museum, searching for visible field monuments and generally scoping the area out for our coming investigations. We found no new features belonging to the 16th and 17th cenury harbour, but we identified some good areas for further metal detecting and test pitting.

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Also, I added two sites to my growing collection of abandoned club houses and tree houses (of which I have spoken before here, here and here). Note that one has the remains of a PC, an old 386 or 486 judging from the empty processor socket.

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US Politics Have No Left Wing

This is the first time that I’m aware of the US primary elections. I’ve never been very interested in the news, having at best a hazy idea even of Swedish politics. Blogging is entirely responsible for my heightened awareness of US political matters over the past two to three years. I’ve taken to reading US blogs and hanging out in web forums dominated by Americans. And what I’ve learned scares me.

US politics often look absurd from a European perspective, since the entire bipartisan system maps onto the conservative half of European politics. A case in point is that the US “Left” is called “the liberals”, while the Liberal Party in Sweden is part of the Right wing. How could it be otherwise? Liberalism is about free-market capitalism, small government, low taxes, all Right-wing ideals. Yes, both US parties advocate low taxes. Normal taxes are 30% to a Swede. And that’s rock bottom, before adding the effect of progressive taxation. That’s how we can afford universal health care. Hint, hint.

So, believe me, US politics don’t have a Left. Looking at the presidential candidates, I am frankly appalled. None of them would be a viable politician in Sweden. They all support the death penalty, none advocates strict gun control and all make frequent mention of their religious beliefs in public. These are extremist stances. Not even the tiny Christian Democrat party mentions God publicly in Sweden, for fear of alienating the pragmatic rationalist majority.

From a European perspective, US politics are an ongoing battle between the extreme Right and the middle Right. The Republican presidential candidates are really, really scary people in my view. So all of us in the world at large who live under the shadow of US political hegemony are holding our breaths, hoping that Clinton or Obama will make it into office. They’re pretty bad, but the alternative would be unspeakably dreadful.

Update 5 February: Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, chairman of the second-most conservative party in the Swedish Parliament, said today that he agrees with Barack Obama’s policies. This confirms what I said above very nicely. One of the most conservative viable politicians in Sweden is apparently on the same page as one of the most progressive US presidential candidates.

Blog reactions: Pharyngula, Uncertain Principles, PhysioProf, ~C4Chaos, Anthology of Ideas, Chymico-Physico Elucidations, Shaman Sun, Questionable Authority, Evolving Thoughts, Quaint Recusant, Awesome Title for a Blog, Lakeshore, Too many topics, too little time, Unfiltered Perception, Daily Awesome, Crimes & Corruption, Khannea, Stemmetje, Liberté, égalité, fraternité Remote Central.

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Business Time

One evening last week in North Carolina, walking back from Chapel Hill to the Holiday Inn along road 54, I heard this brilliant send-up of everything Barry White ever recorded on the radio. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you “Business Time” with Flight of the Conchords, live on stage!