Trick-or-Treating with the Easter Crones

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Swedes have taken up US Hallowe’en customs only very recently and half-heartedly, the whole thing being driven by merchants. But we do have something like trick-or-treating: the Easter Crone custom of Maundy Thursday.

Traditionally, there’s no Easter Bunny in Sweden. (My mother once shocked our American nanny by serving a rabbit for Easter dinner.) Instead the holiday is associated with witches, believed to make an annual broom-borne pilgrimage to Blue Mountain on Maundy Thursday. There, of course, they celebrate orgies with the Devil. (Don’t we all?) About 300 people were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Sweden between 1668 and 1676.

What children do is slightly more innocuous: they draw colourful Easter greeting cards, dress up as motley little witches (pÃ¥skkärringar, “Easter crones”), and go round the neighbourhood ringing door-bells. Everyone who opens gets a card and an Easter greeting, and in return the kids expect some candy or a few coins. No threats of trickery are uttered or implied.

This year, my kids being 9 and 4, I borrowed the neighbour’s daughter and led the trio on their first Easter Crone raid. They weren’t terribly enthusiastic at first: the little one threw a tantrum over the clothes I offered her, and the big one was pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. But I had them make three cards each, taught them the script of the typical encounter, and off we went to neighbours we know.

They warmed to the thing pretty fast. The loot was adequate, enough to keep them munching along, and about half of the nine greeting-card recipients gave them money instead of candy. They ended up with the equivalent of ten or twelve dollars, most of which we promptly converted to candy at the grocery store once the kids had run out of greeting cards. Along the way to the store, we met other kids who told us how much they had netted, and there was a fine carnivalian mood all around. I enjoyed it too, particularly since I’m usually the stricter, schedule-driven parent in contrast to the kids’ more artistically minded moms.

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Please Warn Me About Stupid Ads

Seed’s recently taken up with a new advertiser, Proximic, that tries to put relevant ads into bits of the page that us Sbloggers don’t control ourselves. Unfortunately, they do this in a mechanised manner that treats “relevance” in a simplistic way. This means that Sbloggers who criticise something may find their sidebars advertising this very thing.

As a Firefox user, I never see the ads on my blog and I have no idea what they are like. Dear Reader, if something turns up in the ads that you suspect that I may not like much, would you please tell me? Because I can get rid of individual ads. Thanks.

Concert Review: Crawfish Cook and Skandalites

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Last night I had the pleasure of catching two of my home town’s best live music acts, each playing in a basement venue a couple of hundred meters apart on Stockholm’s southern island. The Crawfish Cook and the Skandalites are both 60s-70s cover bands, but since they cultivate genres I usually don’t listen to, they might as well have performed original material.

Crawfish Cook play New Orleans soul funk, with material culled from Doctor John, Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, the Meters and Little Feat. Last night they were an eight-piece: male singer, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboard, sax, trumpet. Groovy indeed! And the audience was really cool, being composed largely of Stockholm Blues Society members. They have the hard-won authority of the blues.

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The Skandalites play 2-Tone ska. This, explains Wikipedia, is “a music genre created in England in the late 1970s by fusing elements of ska, punk rock, rocksteady, reggae and pop music.” Last night, the Skandalites were also an eight-piece: female singer with melodica, male singer, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums, sax, trumpet. And they rawked! I danced like a nutter. I could identify songs by the Specials, Rancid and Kraftwerk (!), but here’s a few more titles that I can make out from a crappy photograph of the set list: you help me attribute them.

  • Gangsters
  • On My Radio
  • Revolution Rock
  • Guns of Navarone
  • Sabotage
  • Get Up
  • Do the Dog
  • Monkey Man
  • Rat Race Kiss

(Fans of Swedish cartoonist Joakim Lindengren may be interested to know that the real people behind his characters The Count and The Executioner are both members of the Skandalites.)

Live music in small venues is magic. Almost anything is good in that setting. And almost anything can be bad in a stadium. Don’t go to gigs where you’re too far from the stage to see the drummer’s trickle of drool! And if you book bands, then let me tell you, the Crawfish Cook and the Skandalites deliver.

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Pimp my Grant Proposal

As I mentioned the other day, I’m hoping to do some Bronze Age research once my current project about Dark Ages magnate farms is done. The Swedish Research Council’s annual application deadline is less than two weeks from now, and I’ve put a grant proposal together. The project title is

In the Landscape and Between Worlds. Bronze Age Sacrificial Sites in the Lake Mälaren Area.

The text is just two pages, and it’s all about the research, no financial details. Dear Reader, I’d appreciate it if you would have a look and perhaps offer some constructive criticism!

Update 26 March: I’ve submitted now. Thanks everybody!

Manson Cult Forensic Archaeology

i-e3422279b1c7a79223c0fcbe1e15c375-hsfridge.jpgHaving done some surface investigations with non-destructive methods, a group of volunteer investigators including Patti Hearst’s Sharon Tate’s sister calls for the excavation of the Manson Family’s last hideout.

“Vass said that, considering the quantity and the types of markers of human decomposition found, the cadaver dog’s response, and the probing exercise, he found enough evidence to warrant further testing at a deeper level and a full-scale excavation at Barker Ranch, according to the report he issued to law enforcement.”

Thanks to Luanne Efird for the tipoff.

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I’m a Wikipedia Inclusionist

Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia and most of its contents are naked text that hardly takes up any disk space. Thus there is no reason to limit the subjects its contributors can write about. Fans have written hundreds of detailed articles about Pokémon characters. This is fine with me though I have no interest in the subject: the articles are not in my way and they are apparently of interest to a lot of other people.

When I started adding my first bits of stuff to the Swedish version of the encyclopedia, I was surprised to find that higher-up users would delete my short contributions about individual archaeologists. They clearly only wanted to have longer articles about professors and their ilk. There’s even a long ego-boosting discussion preserved on-line about whether or not yours truly was interesting enough to merit an article.

This all surprised me. Why would anybody want to remove articles on topics that someone found interesting enough to write about? I now realise that what I have been seeing is an on-going battle between inclusionists and deletionists. A fine recent article in The Economist lays the matter out clearly.

“Deletionists believe that Wikipedia will be more successful if it maintains a certain relevance and quality threshold for its entries. So their ideal Wikipedia might contain biographies of the five most important leaders of Solidarity, say, and the five most important Pokémon characters, but any more than that would dilute Wikipedia’s quality and compromise the brand. The presence of so many articles on trivial subjects, they argue, makes it less likely that Wikipedia will be taken seriously, so articles dealing with trivial subjects should be deleted.”

This concern about Wikipedia’s “brand” makes no sense to me. Wikipedia is far beyond the level where it need prove anything to the world. It’s there, it’s huge, it’s extremely useful, and whenever I find it lacking on some point I have endless opportunity to do something about it.

I’m an inclusionist, and proud of it.

Thanks to Marcus Widengren for the tipoff.

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Unsuccessfully Grokking Prostitution

Dear Reader DuWayne asked what I think about prostitution. By way of answer, here’s a re-run of an entry on that issue from May 2006. Two years later, I am no wiser.


News reports from the German brothel industry pending the World Soccer Championship have set me a-thinking about prostitution. It’s one of those tricky issues where I find it hard to make up my mind.

Is prostitution a problem? If so, who are the victims? Who are the perpetrators? What are the ethical aspects of prostitution? Quite apart from ideals, what is the best practical stance for society to take regarding prostitution? Are there important differences between prostitution and participation in pornography? Should we allow people to do whatever they like with their bodies as long as they aren’t harming themselves physically? Are there physically harmless acts that nobody can perform without harming their minds? Or that nobody in their right mind wants to perform?

To me, prostitution is a deeply alien thing. One of the main points of sex for me is the mutual affirmation involved: “I want you and you want me, yippee, let’s get it on”. Not “I want you and you need cash, spread ’em”. But then, I’m reasonably pretty and outgoing, so I’ve been lucky with women. Imagine the horror of having a strong sex drive, a repulsive exterior and a shy personality. I can see that it might feel better to get it on and pay for it than not to get it on at all.

Apparently the people who either buy or sell sex are a minority among the population. And I gather that most prostitutes have a history of childhood sexual abuse. So we might perhaps tentatively say that prostitution is a symptom of a psychological problem in both buyer and seller. I mean, what kind of self-image does a john have? Either he deludes himself that he’s actually buying love, or he gets off on thinking himself able to “dominate” the prostitute, or he believes that the only way he can get someone to go to bed with him is by paying them.

I’d be absolutely shattered if someone I care about began to buy or sell sex. I’d see it as a big problem that I’d have to help do something about. But then again, I know a charming and popular guy who used to be a sailor when he was young, and he makes no secret of the fact that he would buy sex regularly when on shore leave. And I know another guy who runs a bar in the Far East, and he is explicitly aware that the bar girls used to cater to his needs (before his marriage) only in order to be able to use his place to pick up business. “I’ve got no looks and no charm, I’d never have a chance with gorgeous girls like these back home in Sweden.” Again, it might feel better to get it on and pay for it than not to get it on at all.

Take a young junkie, supporting himself and his habit by turning tricks, occasionally getting beaten by johns or his pimp, inexorably wearing himself down. What’s his biggest problem – drugs or prostitution? What’s the hen and what’s the egg? If society manages to get him de-toxed, will he also quit selling himself? If society gets him a real job, will he de-tox of his own accord so he can keep the job? Or should we decide that junkie prostitutes no longer have free will in any meaningful sense and that we must take care of them forcibly to keep them from dying on our doorsteps?

Or take a former member of the Romanian national gymnastics team. If her choice is between working a checkout counter at a supermarket six days a week, or recording ten mullets-and-Doppelpenetration movies a year and making considerably more money – should we pity her if she chooses the latter? Or maybe the question is, should we think in terms of choice, of free will, at all? Because most pretty Romanian supermarket clerks for some reason don’t move into porn.

In Sweden, it’s illegal to buy sex or facilitate a sex-money-transaction. It’s legal to sell sex, recognising that prostitutes are, by-and-large, victims with quite enough problems that they really don’t need police harassment and criminal punishment as well. In Germany, just a short ferry ride across the Baltic, buying and selling sex is legal, pimping is not. Quite a number of prostitutes are legitimate businesspeople and pay taxes. Legitimate businesspeople having sex with sixty paying strangers a week. I really find that demeaning.

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German Incest Case

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Locksmith Patrick Stübing and Susan Karolewski are a German couple with four children. They are also full biological siblings. “Eeeeewww”, I hear you say. And I agree. Eeeeewww. But why do we feel that way?

The incest taboo is as close to a cultural universal as you can get, and is most likely genetically determined. It is counteradaptive to want to bonk your siblings, as this may lead to the accumulation of harmful recessive alleles in the offspring. But how is this implemented from a practical evolutionary perspective? Humans have no physical way of identifying their biological siblings, usually relying for this information on whatever mom & dad tell them. Instead, it appears that humans are built in such a way that they don’t generally want to bonk people of the same age with whom they have grown up in close contact (the “Westermarck effect“). Historically, this would have kept our ancestors from mating with siblings, cousins and younger aunts/uncles.

Stübing was placed in an orphanage at age four. Three years later, Karolewski was born. When he was 23 and she was 16 the two met for the first time. This means that their anti-incest biological programming never had any opportunity to do its thing. They became a couple, got a home of their own and had four children. So far, so good.

But three of those children have been taken into foster care. And Stübing has received several jail sentences due to a German law from 1871 prohibiting sex between siblings. (I don’t know why Karolewski hasn’t.) Says the federal Constitutional Court in a recent ruling, intercourse between grown-up siblings jeopardises “the family’s vital function in society”. The ruling also refers to the “health of the population”.

This ruling is bad and wrong in so many ways. To be able to discuss this in principle, let’s assume (as appears likely) that all sexual contact between the couple has been consensual and that their children were not taken into custody for any other reason than their parents’ close biological relationship.

  1. This is a victimless crime.
  2. The couple’s children have become the victims of unnecessary state intervention.
  3. People with genetic defects are free to procreate provided only that they are not close relatives, cf. Tay-Sachs and similar effects of religio-ethnic isolation.
  4. The idea that the state should monitor the genetic makeup of the population is a holdover of long-discredited eugenic pseudoscience, which Germany has particular historical reason to distance itself from.
  5. Even if the Stübing-Karolewski children do accumulate genetic defects, then this is a temporary problem lasting only one generation, as they are unlikely to repeat their parents’ procreative stunt.

The whole affair is deeply controversial in Germany, and I’m happy to note that the vice president of the Constitutional Court, Winfried Hassemer, has reserved himself against the ruling in very strong language.

All western countries have legislation to protect children from sexual abuse by teens and adults, all western countries outlaw rape, regardless of biological relationships. And for evolutionary and cultural reasons, the great majority of all people on Earth aren’t remotely interested in bonking their siblings. Adults around the planet are constantly engaging in all manner of consensual sexual intercourse that might make me go “eeeeewww”, but none of them has asked me what I think. It’s none of my business. Besides, looking at Stübing and Karolewski, I would never have guessed that they are related, thus obviating any queasy feelings. To tell the truth, I find all of my six female cousins pretty hot, though we’ve never been that friendly. And my kids are just about as far from inbred as it is possible to be.

In Sweden, I am sad to say, sex between siblings is also a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail. This kind of legislation is outdated and should be overturned. Stübing and Karolewski are trying to use their case to make that happen in Germany.

BBC News, Der Spiegel, Svenska Dagbladet.

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Dungeons & Archaeologists

Lore Sjöberg at Wired celebrates the achievement of recently deceased gaming wizard Gary Gygax with an entertaining look at what it would be like if Dungeons & Dragons characters behaved like archaeologists.

May 16

We have nearly finished our initial survey of the outer flagstones of the dungeon entrance. Already we have made wonderful discoveries! Initial tests indicate that the stones may have come from an open pit quarry near the Elonges River, nearly two miles from here! Also, we were attacked by a Phantom Fungus and lost two more graduate students.

Thanks to Johan Lundström for the tip-off.

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PLoS ONE Journal Club

PLoS ONE, the Open Access science journal, has finally published something with an archaeological bent: a fine genetics paper about the original peopling of the Americas. As part of their effort to stimulate scientific conversation about the journal’s papers, they’ve put a “Journal Club” on-line where discussion can take place. Myself and Greg Laden offered initial remarks on the paper, and now the mike is free for anyone who wishes to contribute.