Penetration and Statistical Normality

A thought about normal sexual behaviour. “Normal”, in the statistical sense, has nothing to do with “healthy” or “morally sound”. It simply means “the most common range of values in a variable”. Now, across all of child-bearing age humanity, what is the normal attitude to getting sexually penetrated? Is it yes please or no thanks?

In the patriarchal tradition, getting penetrated hardly even counts as sexual activity. It’s just acceptance: not thrashing about, kicking at balls or running away when somebody with an erect penis shows up. Being sexually active, in this view, means putting your penis in someone, and so only males can be sexually active. Cf. the telling expression “passive partner”. But really, to the vast majority of penetratees, it’s not just something you put up with. It’s something you long for and seek out. This hard-wired desire is evolution’s way.

There are currently about 101 human males per 100 human females on the planet. For a variety of reasons, including homosexuality, some percentage of women say no thanks to penetration. On the other hand, a considerable percentage of gay men say yes please. In fact, estimates of how prevalent homosexuality is suggest that it is considerably more common among males than among females. Thus it seems that if you ask a random sample of childbearing-age people if they enjoy getting penetrated, the statistically normal response is most likely yes. Or in other words, people like myself who turn down kind offers of penetration are a sexual minority.

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Three New Halls at Jelling

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One of the most beloved novels in the Swedish language is Frans G. Bengtsson’s Viking story Röde Orm (1941), transl. Red Orm / The Long Ships (1943). And one of the most beloved scenes in the novel are the Yuletide celebrations at the court of King Harold Bluetooth at Jelling in Jutland toward the end of the 10th century. It’s got the lines “There’s thyme in it, said Toki in a cracked voice” and “He’s done pissing now”, and a duel that ends in a man’s severed head landing in a tub of mead. (You can see why Bengtsson is one of my favourite writers.)

I recently complained about Skalk running a lot of rather uninteresting material about Jelling’s archaeology. But now something really cool has once more been unearthed there: the foundations of three large buildings of the Trelleborg type, dating from the reign of Harold or his son, Sven Forkbeard. Maybe that’s where the Yuletide feast was? The palisaded enclosure at Jelling with the buildings inside is enormous: the excavators compare it to Amalienborg, placing the 10th century enclosure’s area at six times that of the 18th century palace in Copenhagen.

Via Åsa of Ting & Tankar.

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A Day With the Amazing Randi

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I spent Tuesday in the charming company of James Randi and his assistant, journalist Brandon Thorp. Myself and P.J. RÃ¥smark had taken it upon ourselves to act as native guides and gophers for Randi during his days in Stockholm at the invitation of the Swedish Skeptics. So in the morning we went cane shopping together, though none of the canes we found were sufficiently antique-looking for our guest, and he seemed to manage effortlessly without one. And then we checked out the Vasa 17th century warship museum, since this is Stockholm’s one truly unique attraction as far as I’m aware. (You’ll recognise my M.O. from Massimo Polidoro’s and Manuel Paz-y-Mino’s visit a year ago.) Randi uses the Vasa, which sunk on its maiden voyage due to unrealistic royal demands incorporated into its design, as one of the test cases in his upcoming book Wrong!. In the afternoon there were interviews with Lars Björkvall of Vetenskap & Historia and Christer Sturmark of Humanisten, the latter periodical being a publication of the Swedish Humanist Association.

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In the evening Randi spoke to an audience of over 300 people, while tens of comers had to be turned away at the door. The talk, video clips and Q&A lasted for almost 2½ hours, and it was as usual excellent. I do wish, though, that Randi would stop making fun of PhDs in such a hostile manner. A considerable proportion of the audience last night either have a PhD or are working on one. You can’t both promote science and say that academic qualifications are worthless. Most science is after all produced by formally qualified academics and does not involve people in lab coats being conned by charlatans.

Afterwards I bowed out and went home to nurse a cold, while magicians RÃ¥smark and Houdi took the Swedish Skeptics executive board and our guests to dinner at the Magic Bar, our capital’s magician’s club.

BTW, Randi’s hosts at the remaining stops of the North European tour have a challenge to live up to. After I said something lewd about “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” over sushi, leather-hatted Mr. Thorp disgustedly proclaimed me the single most campy person they had run into so far on the tour.

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Archaeological Outreach and the New Media

Popped down to Lund over the day to teach a class on new media reach-out in archaeology. I showed the students a presentation and spoke for about 2 x 45 minutes. Spending only four hours in town, I had little time to do anything else, though I passed the venue of James Randi’s upcoming lecture, checked out the relocated runestones outside and peered into an enticing sewer trench cut into the stratigraphy of LundagÃ¥rd, Sven Forkbeard’s old hangout.

Here are the main points of my talk. (And here’s the whole thing in Swedish.)

Old media – New media
Gatekeeper – No gatekeeper
Pros write – Everybody writes
You get interviewed – You write
You have no control – You have complete control
Large unspecific audience – Small specialised audience
Audience silent – Audience talks back
Audience pays – Free entry

Don’t become a brief candle
Don’t start a new blog for each excavation. Nobody will find it before the project is over. Instead, ask for permission to publish your entries on the central blog of your department, museum or excavation unit. It already has an audience and will survive your project. Or ask a big-name blogger in your field to write some guest entries for them.

The new media also have its national papers and cable TV vs. the Bloom County Picayune and college radio stations.

Check out Arkeologiforum’s aggregator for Swedish archaeology blogs.

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From Gaza to the Museum of National Antiquities

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Back in August of 2006 I wrote about an absurd plan to relocate the Israeli embassy in Stockholm temporarily to vacant office space in the Museum of National Antiquities. This plan became reality. But the Israelis are having trouble with the building they’re headed for on a more permanent basis, and so the embassy is still there, over three years down the line.

The Israelis have had one or two rockets too many fired at them from the Gaza strip, and so are doing their best to cut off supplies to the area. Pro-Palestinian groups have responded by organising aid flotillas. Recently Israeli forces attacked such a group of ships on international water outside Gaza, and somebody made the mistake of lowering young soldiers onto a boat full of angry Turkish activists. Chaos erupted: the panicked soldiers shot nine Turks dead and wounded many. This was a huge news story, particularly in Sweden as other boats in the flotilla were carrying a bunch of pro-Palestinian Swedish intellectuals and politicians who have excellent access to the mainstream media.

Now, the Gaza flotilla raid is linked back to the Museum of National Antiquities in at least two ways. In 2004, the Israeli ambassador vandalised an art installation in the museum because he interpreted it as pro-Palestinian and pro-suicide-bomber. And sure enough, one of the Swedes on a boat in the flotilla was Dror Feiler, saxophonist and co-creator of that art installation. The subsequent demonstrations around the embassy in Stockholm led to the erection of an aluminium riot fence around the area, manned by police. The fence and a few policemen were still in place last Tuesday when I visited the library of the Academy of Letters.

I am a friend of all peaceful and non-nationalistic Israelis. But I must admit that I look forward to the day when I no longer have to pass their embassy on my way to my country’s main archaeological museum and research library. It’s scary.

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Pimp My Book Manuscript

From ’05 to ’09 my main research project concerned the Late Iron Age elite in Östergötland, one of historical Sweden’s core provinces. It’s Beowulf country, Beowulf centuries, Beowulf people: the resulting book manuscript is titled Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats. Elite Settlements and Political Geography AD 375-1000 in Östergötland, Sweden. The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters has now accepted the manuscript for publication in its main proceedings series whose first volume appeared in 1789, ”Handlingar, Antikvariska serien”. The list of colleagues who have published there before is awe-inspiring, and I am very pleased indeed.

Before the manuscript goes into production I must re-work it a bit as per suggestions by an academic referee. And while I do this, I would also be very grateful for comments, corrections and questions from Aard’s readers. Here’s the manuscript as I submitted it back in November (a ½ MB PDF file). Please have a look! And don’t be afraid to ask layman’s questions. I have been campaigning for accessible and comprehensible writing in my field for years, so I’d better measure up on that point.

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Kinky Ikea Bathrobe

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So Ikea sells this bathrobe called “Njuta”. It’s a verb, meaning “experience (intense) pleasure”, and it’s usually reserved for pretty powerful kinds of pleasure such as good food, good music, good sex. And Junior’s robe size here is Small to Medium, which goes some way towards explaining why the sticker on his new bathrobe reads:

Experience Intense Pleasure

S/M

The Amazing Randi Tours Sweden

i-fb2454d70167264e2a9646366a22c071-the_amazing_randi.jpgJames Randi — magician, escapist, author and skeptic extraordinaire — will give three lectures in Sweden next week under the auspices of the Swedish Skeptics Society. Everyone is welcome: entry fee 50 kronor. Be there before the doors open! Among my duties is the task of buying homeopathic sleeping pills on which our guest can OD.

Tue 15 June. Stockholm, Roslagstullsbacken 21, Oskar Klein Auditorium. Doors open 18:00. Talk begins 19:00.

Wed 16 June. Gothenburg, Sven Hultins gata 4, RunAn. Doors open 18:30. Talk begins 19:00.

Thu 17 June. Lund, Lundagård, Palaestra et Odeum. Doors open 17:00. Talk begins 18:00.