September Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Planting a gingko and listening to early Black Sabbath.
  • Sailboat owners around Älgö have a lot of trouble with their wind indicators. The local crows use them as merry-go-rounds, which messes them up.
  • Me: “I am daft today.” Autocorrect: “I am Daddy Toast.”
  • Friendly local fellow gladly gave us permission to stash our excavation gear overnight behind his garden shed.
  • Heavy downpour making loud whoosh noise on the roof.
  • Rented a van, collected excavation gear and two students, deposited gear at site, bought extra gear, had lunch, returned van, am now in no hurry to airport. Everything went as planned. (But then a storm hit and my flight was delayed for almost six hours.)
  • Went out of the house at 05:15 heading for Gothenburg, was greeted by a beautiful conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon in the south-east.
  • Opening three trenches today in Kungahälla’s Viking Period predecessor. Weights & spindlewhorls tell of trade & textile crafts.
  • Mars Society’s scifi writer debate panel on humankind’s future in space consists of four white men aged 62 and over. Ouch.
  • Have a feeling that a lot of web sites keep re-asking me if I’ll accept their goddamn cookies.
  • How can you figure out the average volume of a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire simply by counting them? I mean, you don’t know their total volume to begin with. Makes no sense. Lennon was clearly tripping.
  • The damn fire alarm in my hotel room has a bright green blinking LED that keeps me from sleeping. Last night I put a sticky plaster on it, but tonight I decided to take it down. Wearing headphones with loud riff rock in them. So I couldn’t hear the angry beeping from the alarm box in the hallway. So security had to come visit. *sigh*

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

111 thoughts on “September Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. Thank you.

    My daughter has *finally* decided that she is now too old to have a candle-lit lantern to play with, but she and my wife still indulged themselves by eating Cantonese moon cakes. I can’t stand the things, whereas I really like Shandong style moon cakes – but there is now only one bakery in HK that makes and sells them, and it is a long way from where we live, so my wife didn’t manage to make the trip to get some this year. (Seemingly perversely, here the official public holiday for the Festival comes on the day after the actual Festival day – but it makes practical sense, because on the Festival day the kids get to stay up extra late to play with lanterns and gaze at the full moon, so being able to sleep in and take it easy the next day is a good idea. So it is deathly quiet and peaceful out there today – nothing to hear except the birds.)

    I have a big soft spot for Brunei – I really like the place, just because it is so bloody weird, unworldly and irrational. Brunei is oil-and-gas-rich, but all of the wealth is owned by the Sultan, so it is a strange mixture of conspicuous, over-the-top, gilded, ostentatious luxury and dusty tumbledown third world under-development. My wife and daughter do not share my enthusiasm for it, they find it oppressive and tawdry. Plus I guess they feel kind of awkward being among the very few Asian females in the place with their hair on display in public.

    It is and has long been a Muslim Sultanate. The Sultan is the Boss, and when you are there, you are left in no doubt about that – giant portraits of the Sultan stare down at you from everywhere in Bandar Seri Begawan, the snappily named capital city, if it can sensibly be called a city – it’s more like a fairly large, sleepy 1950-ish Asian country town.

    The law requires that all local women must wear the hijab. But Brunei is close to the equator, so it is always stinking hot and humid. So all of the local teenage girls walk around dressed in skin-tight shorts, skimpy tops, rubber flip-flops on their feet, and head scarves – it’s a visually arresting sight until you get used to it – obedient compliance with the letter of the law, if not the intent, by every single one of them.

    Alcohol is strictly illegal. Non-Muslim ‘foreigners’ of adult age visiting Brunei are permitted to carry in one bottle of alcoholic beverage each, which they must consume in the privacy of their own hotel rooms. If you want to drink beer when you go out, then you need to go to a local Chinese restaurant where, if you say exactly the right words quietly enough to the waiter, you can be served beer in a Chinese teapot, which you need to consume by pouring it into diminutive Chinese tea cups. But that is never a problem for me, because I don’t drink.

    Personal safety and loss of possessions are just not an issue there. There is no crime in Brunei. None. Think for a moment about the criminal penalties prescribed under Sharia Law, and you soon figure out why. And the eyes of the Sultan are everywhere.


  2. The sultan likes everyone else to follow sharia law….
    there is no shortage of material on internet about the sybaritic excesses of the Dear Leader.


  3. “Catalan independence has been a frequently and much discussed issue in the mainstream media for quite a while; several decades at least, in my memory. It was hardly lacking publicity.”

    Sure, but the situation now is much different than even just a few weeks ago. Your statement that it has been in the news for decades is true, but irrelevant because the current situation is much different.

    “Do you have any evidence for your claim, or are you just constructing a conspiracy theory?”

    The evidence is there. What other explanation is there for the behaviour of the Catalan prime minister?

    By the way, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories…

    “I do hope that you have some solid evidence, because if it is purely your own fabrication, it is a pretty nasty thing to assert.

    …I also don’t travel to countries with Sharia law, much less praise them, because I respect humanity.


  4. Birger@103 – There’s no shortage of material evidence on the ground either. Tourists are welcome to tour the royal palace, etc., in order to be impressed by how obscenely wealthy the Sultan is, which we have done, and were suitably nauseated by it all, with my wife muttering “This is just all too much; it’s disgusting” and me muttering back “Quiet. Don’t criticize the ruling elite when you are on their territory.”

    But there is no poverty in Brunei. No one goes hungry. Everyone has a decent-enough place to live. Students of sufficient ability are funded to attend overseas universities by the Sultan. Others all get paid employment, enough to have a decent enough standard of living, by the standards of South-East Asian countries. Unemployment is zero – if you don’t have a job, the Sultan will get someone to create one for you. I’d say that the citizens of Brunei are materially better off than a lot of Americans and Australians.

    So, as far as I can see, the citizens go along with the “we all love the Sultan because he takes care of us” meme, while turning an indifferent eye to his ostentatious material self-indulgences, even though they don’t actually mean it.

    The total lack of anything like real poverty in Brunei also helps to explain the apparent total absence of crime (aside from a few desperate foreigners begging for a teapot of beer from a few obliging local Chinese – which I have no doubt the local law enforcement know full well goes on, but as long as it is non-Muslims serving small amounts of beer to other non-Muslims, and done sufficiently surreptitiously so that they can safely turn a blind eye to it, they don’t give a damn.)

    The Sultan imposes Sharia Law on his subjects. But he is an Islamic moderate and appears relatively benevolent, and is desperate to encourage tourism to Brunei (he is realistic enough to know that the place can’t hope to survive on oil and gas revenues forever, and then if it doesn’t have tourism, it has nothing), so he does not hold tourists and other visitors to the same religious and legal standards as he does the local populace.

    It’s not a place I would enjoy living permanently, or a style of governance that I would condone or recommend. But for the time being at least, the citizens (including a substantial resident Chinese commercial minority) seem happy enough to go along with it, as long as they have a good standard of living.

    And at least it’s not Saudi Arabia, with it’s expatriate population of desperate Brits frantically brewing alcohol from potato peelings in their basements. The Sultan subsidises Air Brunei to encourage tourism, and alcohol is not served on their flights (allegedly, although on one flight, without being asked, the stewardess very surreptitiously offered my wife a solitary can of Foster’s Lager, which she was holding like it was contraband pure gold or something, and which my wife instantly declined – I was entertained by the fact that she offered it to my wife but not to me; couldn’t figure that one out), so it’s cheap to fly out for people who are desperate to get out and binge drink for a while.

    It’s not for me, though, except for the occasional short visit. I like to be free and to be left alone by the authorities unless I actually need their assistance with something, and the HK authorities are better at leaving me alone than anywhere else I have ever been. And also pretty good at not disgusting people with ostentatious displays of material consumption (ignoring for the moment that the previous Chief Executive once removed is currently on trial for corruption).


  5. Birger@104 – Don’t remind me about the bloody cats. It’s an issue that I get considerably ‘exercised’ about.


  6. Phillip@105 – When you have prevented as many people’s premature deaths as I have, often risking my own life in very uncomfortable, unpleasant, physically exhausting and hazardous conditions in order to do so, you can tell me about how much respect for humanity you have. And no, I will not be drawn into elaborating on that, save to say it is not an idle boast, just a fact.

    Meanwhile, suggesting that the Catalan political leader was hoping to incur violence against his own people in order to garner international sympathy, in the absence of any evidence that he actually wanted that, is so disgraceful that I am not willing to comment on it further. [Stuff redacted /MR]


  7. British writer Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize in Literature
    Nigel Farage et al might get upset that this Anglo-Japanese bloke is described as “British” and ignore his contribution to Brit culture.
    — — — — — —
    If Australians don’t want to kill the cats, neutering them or spaying them will help a bit. Good luck interacting with wild cats.

    The concept of a “gene driver” might be tested on rabbits and feral cats to stop reproduction. There is a risk of gene flow to domesticated animals, but the boffins should be able to find ways to turn off synthetic genes with medication.
    — — — — —
    Re. cynical political leaders… I think old Michael Collins deliberately wanted to create martyrs, as he must have realised the chances of success for the Easter Uprising were exactly zero. But Irland is not Catalonia.
    — — — — —
    Re. Catalonia, it would help if the EU leaders try to get involved before things really go south, but they seem to be complacent. And the leaders in Madrid have all the diplomatic finesse of Boris Johnson.


  8. I watched both films, and read “The Remains of the Day” – it came across to me as surprisingly British (I didn’t know at the time that Ishiguro had migrated when he was quite so young), but with a strange extra dimension I couldn’t put my finger on. It fits with what he said about himself – a funny mixture. I have read other things he has written, and they all had that same indefinable quality. I tried to read “Never Let Me Go” before I watched the film, but I struggled with it, and it didn’t help that I knew, or guessed, where it was going, so I never could bring myself to finish it. I don’t doubt he is deserving of a Nobel, and he can’t really sensibly be classified as anything other than a British writer. Screw Farage.

    I have read a bit of Japanese fiction in translation. The stuff I have read is truly weird – full of evil white foxes and whatever. It was beyond me culturally to understand it at more than a very superficial level. Chinese classical literature seems to me to be much more ‘normal’ and easier to grasp. But that could be my own bias – I feel much more ‘friendly’ towards Chinese than Japanese. In personal contacts, I can deal comfortably with Chinese, whereas I find Japanese difficult and not hugely likeable. You could call that prejudice on my part if you wanted, but there are reasons for it. It’s not that I haven’t tried being friendly with some Japanese. The closest I came was with a guy, an engineering academic, who was half-Japanese, but who was born and had spent his whole life in Japan. He became more interested in me when I told him I had a half-Chinese daughter, and he talked pretty openly about difficulties faced by mixed people – well, openly for a Japanese, that is, which is still not hugely open. I asked him what it was like for him as a mixed person in Japan, and he said “I was a mixed child in Japan during WWII. As you might imagine, life was very…difficult for me then. But now it is OK.”

    Feral cats are really difficult to control, even harder to shoot than introduced foxes. I know, I have tried, unsuccessfully, with both. They grow huge, and are fearsome predators. It is now law in Western Australia (don’t know about the other states) that all domestic cats have to be registered, microchipped and neutered, and no household is permitted to keep more than three, but of course people keep cheating the system. The local government rangers have a hard time enforcing the law.

    A lot of the bird killing is actually done by people’s domestic pets in the back yards of their houses. Feral cats in the wild are really badly impacting small marsupial mammals. The sort of ironic side is the finding that, in areas where dingoes are not so stringently controlled, the dingoes help to keep down the feral cat population by killing them. Dingoes are of course also introduced, just more like 3,500 years or so ago, but it seems pretty clear that they were responsible for the extinction of the thylacine on the mainland. Too late to cry about that now. A big problem with dingoes, though, is that they hybridise with sheep dogs, which are very smart animals.

    I think the Catalan leader was, and still is, naive and unrealistic in what he seems to think he can achieve. But going by recent history, I don’t think he could be expected to anticipate the violent suppression that the referendum triggered. I didn’t see anyone predict that response before the event. That didn’t happen on previous occasions. But now Spain has a ‘centre right’ government which is evidently capable of doing some really stupid stuff, when it doesn’t need to. This could all rapidly go badly wrong. I don’t think complacency is warranted at all at this point, given the stupid stuff the current Spanish government has now shown it is willing to do.


  9. I’m redacting the bits where you guys squabble over each other’s mental health. If this annoys you, consider that it may be a sign that I am going nuts, and that I deserve your pity.


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