Where The Action Is Rock Festival, Day 2

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Second day of a rainy festival. This time I had the best of company: my wife joined me to hear Duffy. But we started out with excellent popsters the Magic Numbers. Good music, charming banter and nice to look at.

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Where The Action Is Rock Festival, Day 1

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I spent yesterday afternoon and evening at a rock festival out near the university. I arrived early through pouring rain to scope the place out, wearing my army surplus rain cape and southwester and fieldwork boots, attracting looks. Because of my face? My funny hat? Both? One young man turned to me for help with his ticket. He thought I was crew. My gear is good, though my knees got soaked and my hands numb.
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Vänern Wreck Probably Not a Viking Ship

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A month ago news of a wreck found in Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern, made the rounds of international media. The story gained traction by an early mention of Viking ships and weapons found alongside the wreck.

Finder Roland Peterson from the Väner Museum now explains that though the ship-building technique used in the wreck was available already in the Viking Period, it then survived for centuries even into the 19th century. He thus deems it possible but not certain that the vessel is very old.

I’ve taken some small part in the discussion. Though I know little of ship types, I have some knowledge of smaller Viking Period objects. My buddies Martin Skoglund and Niklas Ytterberg sent me pictures and x-rays of the purported weapons. I am quite sure that they are a) not weapons, and b) not from the Viking Period. In fact, they appear to be two parts of the same iron object: long, rod-shaped, pointy, with a spiral groove around the point and a handle at the base. My guess is that it is a ship’s aft flagpole from the past 400 years.

Hear Roland and myself being interviewed on Swedish national radio about the find.

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Cultural Evolution

Dear Reader CCBC disagrees with me regarding cultural evolution. Here’s my thinking, briefly.

  1. Cultures are different from each other and change over time.
  2. New cultural traits seldom arise for well-thought-out adaptive reasons: most are just made up capriciously.
  3. Not all cultural traits are adaptive, i.e. conducive to the long-term survival of a culture in a recognisable form. Most traits are adaptively irrelevant, but some are counteradaptive.
  4. Cultures that accumulate enough counteradaptive traits will either dwindle and disappear, or change dramatically. In either case, the original culture will no longer be extant.
  5. The disappearance of a culture needn’t mean the death of all its human carriers. They may instead become dispersed and assimilated into other cultures, or stay in place and change their habits.

In My Earbuds Lately

Here are some excellent albums I’ve been listening to lately on my trusty smartphone. If you’re into power pop, alternative rock, US folk and psychedelia, then check them out!

Humanities Have No Important Issues

A seminar in Stockholm tomorrow will treat the question, “What are the most important unanswered questions in the humanities and social sciences?”. In my opinion, the most important ones are “How can peace, prosperity and democracy be established in countries where they are lacking?”. And historian Arne Jarrick (whom I met last week at Alan Sokal’s talk) agrees. In yesterday’s Dagens Nyheter he’s quoted as saying (and I translate),

To build a bridge you need technological knowledge. To bomb the bridge you need technological knowledge. But to understand why the bridge was bombed and how to save societies where such things have happened, you need other kinds of science.

Now, what kinds of science is he referring to? Perhaps he means history. But very few historians work with such issues. In fact, almost all research that aims to help build peace, prosperity and democracy is conducted within the Faculty of Social Science. Not the Faculty of Humanities. Let’s be honest: we’re looking at political science, national economics, foreign aid studies and conflict studies. Not cinema studies or Russian lang & lit or bloody archaeology.

So in my opinion, the seminar’s question doesn’t apply to the humanities. We have no important issues. We have only fun ones. The choice of what questions archaeology should pursue, for instance, is not dictated by societal importance. We pursue lines of inquiry that we find fun or trendy or likely to get funded because someone with money deludes themself into seeing them as important. Whether I study the Iron Age in one part of the country or the Bronze Age in another is not important in any reasonable sense of the word. But I try to keep my output fun for those who take an interest in such things. I certainly wouldn’t bother if I wasn’t having fun.

No Meaning to Life

Why are we here? Why do we live? What is the meaning of life? These questions are poorly phrased as neither “why” nor “meaning” has a distinct definition.

To begin with “why”, it can refer either to the cause of something happening or the purpose for which something was done by an agent. Causality vs. teleology, to use big words. And in the present context, the question “why” can be dismissed for both senses of the word. Teleology: humans/animals/plants/protists are not given life for any particular purpose and there is no agency involved. Causality: the answer to the question “Why am I here?” is “Because your parents had sex”.

What about “meaning” then? It can mean “message”, or “purpose”, or “justification”. We’ve already dismissed the notion that there is any external purpose to human life. As for justification, nothing alive needs justification since life is a spontaneously occurring thing. What is the justification of a pebble? As to the message of life or of a life, that’s up to each individual. Nobody made you alive in order to send any messages to you or to the world.

So to my mind, and I know I’m far from the first to come to this conclusion, the question of the meaning of life is meaningless. What is the meaning of life? What is the kliboque of zatanareho? Urdle boing foosu yukyuk? Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?

To many people, particularly those of a religious bent (like so), the idea that there is no meaning to life is horrifying. They may associate it with suicidal, antisocial, homicidal tendencies. Not so. Even though there is no external meaning offered to us, we are all free to choose the purpose, message, justification of our lives. I live to have fun with those I love, taking care not to do so at the expense of others’ pain or fear.

Life just is. I just am. Now, you may ask “How should I live?”. That’s a much more cogent question, and one about which I have strong opinions. But I’m not going to preach about that.

Baroque Lion Mask from the Peerless Palace


Kai and Anneli recently gave us a very welcome present: a cast of a lion mask from the Peerless Palace in Stockholm. North European Baroque is such a weird and lovely style. The wreck of the Vasa is a prime example, and there’s a lot of it on the facades of houses in the Old Town too.

The Peerless Palace (Sw. Makalös) was on the spot currently occupied by the Carolus XII Plaza, within easy view of the Royal Castle across the water. It was built in the 1630s by Count Jacob De la Gardie who, among many other honours, was married to King Gustavus II Adolphus’s old sweetheart Ebba Brahe. After a chequered history — the palace spent its three last decades as a royal play house — the building burned in 1825 and the ruins were demolished. Sculptural fragments were reused around town, and excavations on site have located more.

The lion mask would originally have been garishly painted. The cast is made in a material similar to sandstone. I hope it’s rainproof, because I’ve hung it on the garden wall. Wish architects would go back to using facade sculpture again!

Update 17 June: The cast doesn’t appear to like rain much. A trickle of lime-enriched water along the black garden wall showed that stuff was leaching out of the cast, and it gained a lot of weight on a rainy day. So I’ve taken it indoors before it starts to deteriorate.

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Weekend Fun

The way I like to lead my life is basically Epicurean: “Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear as well as absence of bodily pain through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires.” I live for fun. But I try to emphasise the social side of my modest pleasures: I like to have fun together with people I love, not at the expense of others. Call it the Golden Rule.

Now, my work is largely fun, but still I distinguish between work-fun and non-work-fun, because I am by character pretty dutiful and work-fun is sort of related to my livelihood. And of course I have non-work duties that aren’t always fun, and I have to fight an urge to let duties take over my spare time, because that makes me unhappy.

In an effort to increase my fun (and hopefully yours), I’m going to run a weekly feature here for a while: Weekend Fun. I’ll write about the fun I have during the weekends (so I’ll remember those activities better), and I’ll ask you to tell me about yours (so I can copy you). This is serious business: remember that it’s about the purpose (I won’t call it “meaning”) of my brief life!

I won’t list the obvious reading blogging music-listening nookie evening-walk snuggling podcast-listening, because it would quickly become repetitive and I’m in no danger of forgetting those.

So, during this, the first weekend of June, I have done the following for fun:

  • Went to Fisksätra’s 33rd International Festival. Had some excellent injera and samosas, talked to my erudite and fun(ny) friend Mattias L, watched some capoeira, listened to some Bob Marley tunes. Would all have been more fun if I hadn’t been freezing my balls off.
  • Had a menu dégustation at the one-star Edsbacka krog with my wife to celebrate our first ten years together. I don’t think my stomach has ever before had such a diverse mix of plant and animal parts in it at one time. After our three-hour dinner we realised that neither of us had brought any means of payment. But the charming maitresse de and I sorted things out in a friendly manner.
  • Went to a farewell party for a friend who is leaving to study in Japan for nine months.
  • Went geocaching in the Boo area that is very near my home as the crow flies but which is separated from said home by an arm of the sea.

What about you, Dear Reader? What have you done for fun?