August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Concert with local band Amason in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art
  • The Spanish basketball team at the 2000 paralympics consisted of two disabled players and ten who only pretended that they were intellectually disabled. 😃
  • A good political party does not modify its ideology to suit popular opinion. It exists to modify popular opinion according to its ideology. And if popular opinion refuses to follow along, then fuck those voters.
  • Watching a really well-made documentary miniseries about Swedish metal music, I realise that I don’t like a lot of Swedish metal music. It’s either too cheesy and wimpy (Europe) or too fast and aggressive (Entombed). The Swedish metal bands that I like are groovier more recent outfits in the Black Sabbath tradition.
  • The Kobo Clara and the Kindle Paperwhite are both excellent e-readers, both book stores are super comprehensive and the prices there are about the same. Buy either! *shrug*
  • For the past 300 years we’ve been making random unintended interventions into the climate. We need to develop geoengineering technology and start doing this in a planned manner.
  • One reason that so little Swedish metal interests me is that most of the vocalists are either operatic tenors, or hysterical Cookie Monster soundalikes, or unmelodic abyss growlers, or even musical theatre singers. I want straight rock voices like Chris Cornell. In fact, I think all Swedish metal would be improved by Björn Skifs replacing the singer.
  • Rarely an indecisive person, I can’t decide right now if it’s worth €48 to see Franz Ferdinand on their farewell tour. It was easier back in the day when you could ask the counter-question, would I buy one of their albums?
  • Observation after three hours the metal documentary: it’s an ethnically diverse field. Few bands have no members with foreign surnames. But they seem to be mostly 2nd generation, sons of immigrants. What music will the children of the Afghan 2015 teen immigrants create?
  • I know what futuristic music sounded like in 1992. What is today’s futuristic music?

Oiling the Cricket Bat in “The Go-Between”

L.P. Hartley’s excellent 1953 novel The Go-Between deals with a secret affair between a manor-dwelling girl of good family and a young tenant farmer in Norfolk during the summer of 1900. We see it through the eyes of a visiting 12-y-o boy who takes messages between them without understanding what sort of “business” the couple has together.

Sex is very much visible and understood in the surface text here: the plot hinges entirely on these two young people carrying on across the class boundary. But let’s look at the sub-text in the remarkable ch. XV. The author is a 60ish closeted gay man writing in an early-1950s literary climate where homosexuality is not discussed frankly. It seems pretty clear what reading demographic he’s addressing so knowingly here.

At a prior visit, farmer Ted has alluded to a pregnant horse and the link between its pregnancy and “spooning”. This shocks young Leo who has no clear idea of what spooning is about, except that it is a silly laughable thing that grown-ups do. Ted offers to explain more fully about spooning at a later date, but Leo is not sure he wants to know. Now the boy has come to deliver yet another secret message from Ted’s girl up at the manor.

—–

He was sitting on a chair behind the table with a gun between his knees, so absorbed that he didn’t hear me. The muzzle was just below his mouth, the barrel was pressed against his naked chest, and he was peering down it. He heard me and jumped up.

‘Why,’ he said, ‘it’s the postman!’

He stood the gun against the table and came across to me, with a swish of the brown corduroy trousers that he wore in the hottest weather. Seeing the hesitations and reservations in my face he said, ‘I oughtn’t to be like this when callers come, but I was that hot. Do you mind? Shall I put a shirt on? There are no ladies present.’

[…]

‘Well, would you like to come out and see me shoot something?’ he suggested, as if my salvation lay in shooting. ‘There’s some old rooks round here that could do with a peppering.’

[…]

‘Do you ever miss?’ I asked.

‘Good Lord, yes, but I’m a pretty good shot, though I say it. Now, would you like to see me clean the gun?’

No one is quite the same after a loud bang as before it: I went back into the kitchen a different person. My grief had changed to sulkiness and self-pity, a sure sign of recovery. The deed of blood had somehow sealed a covenant between us, drawn us together by some ancient, sacrificial rite.

‘Now you take this cleaning-rod’ he said, ‘and this bit of four-by-two’ — picking up a piece of frayed, white, oily rag — ‘and you thread it through the eye of this cleaning-rod, same as you would a needle.’ Screwing his eyes up, for the kitchen was not well lighted, he suited the action to the word. The slightest movement brought into play the muscles of his forearms; they moved in ridges and hollows from a knot above his elbow, like pistons working from a cylinder. ‘And then you press it down the breech, like this, and you’ll be surprised how dirty it comes out.’ He pushed the wire rod up and down several times. ‘There, didn’t I say it would be dirty?’ he exclaimed, triumphantly showing me the rag, which was filthy enough to satisfy one’s extremest expectations.

[…]

‘Now I’ll just clean the other barrel’ he said, ‘and then I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.’

Should I accept his offer? Tea would be waiting for me at Brandham Hall. I saw his cricket bat standing in a corner, and to gain time I said: ‘You ought to oil your bat, too.’ It was rather pleasant to give instructions after receiving so many.

“Thank for reminding me. I shall want it again on Saturday.’

‘May I oil it for you?’ I asked.

[…]

I handled the bat as reverently as if it had been the bow of Ulysses … I poured a little oil on to the middle of the bat and began to work it in gently with my fingers; the wood seemed to drink it thirstily and gratefully as if it too was suffering from the drought. The rhythmic rubbing half soothed and half excited me: it seemed to have a ritual significance, as if I was rubbing out my own bruises, as if the new strength I was putting into the bat would pass into its owner.

July Pieces Of My Mind #3

Patrik’s place, Sickla
  • American: “Life’s a bitch, huh?” Pole: “Tak, ‘to be’ jest być.”
  • Had a girlfriend once who broke up with me because of my cheap binoculars. She was a Zeiss queen.
  • Remember 9/11 Truthers?
  • A considerable chunk of the European working class is voting right-wing populist. I believe the main reason is that, having poor powers of source criticism, they’ve been duped into buying Russian-sponsored conspiracy theories by alternative news sources online. We’ve got to come up with a meta-conspiracy here. What are the aims of the conspiracy that wants me to believe this? And who’s behind it? Whose agenda am I unwittingly furthering? It’s clearly not just the Left in general, they are quite open about their goals here which disqualifies them as conspirators.
  • Just gave the finger to a large, fast and extremely loud motorboat.
  • Idea for a personality: the Incel Poser. You’re not actually celibate, you just aspire to the cool subculture.
  • Movie: Pig (2021). A drama for romantic foodies about rival master chefs, lost love, dad issues and a stolen truffle pig. Grade: OK.
  • Radio astronomers are planning a telescope on the other side of the Moon to avoid interfering transmissions from the Earth. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build a time machine and send the telescope back to AD 1800?
  • Conflicting messages from some missionaries. They were playing a country song with the chorus “God is good all the time”. Meanwhile one of them was shouting that unless we repent we will all go to hell.
  • Movie: Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988). Stylised slapstick jealous confusion among three women who love a philandering actor, who himself is rarely on-screen. Grade: OK.
  • When I read about immersive virtual reality, I feel like going out into the woods and sitting on a tree stump. Or eating something greasy. Or making sweaty hairy love.
  • Reading a book whose author has the rare discipline not to write anything interesting in the endnotes. It’s all just literature references, so you can ignore them while reading. 👍
  • Funny when authors slip into home country parochialism. Here’s a British author who says that unlike the famous Mohamed al-Fayed, Lyndon LaRouche is less known. He’s forgetting that the book will probably be in read in countries where nobody knows or cares who owns Harrods.
  • I was angry recently because I learned that a New Age distance healer had caused a relative of mine to go off their blood pressure meds. Now I remembered two boyhood conversations about books with healer lady’s husband, who is a charming man and an alternative medicine practitioner too. 1) He hinted that Mika Waltari’s 1945 novel The Egyptian was so accurate about conditions in ancient Egypt that Waltari had probably been using memories from a past life. 2) He recommended Baigent et al.’s 1982 made-up historical conspiracy book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as an excellent exposé of what was really going on.
  • Henry Lincoln, a scriptwriter on 1960s Dr. Who, also co-wrote The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
  • Not only have I organised frequent game nights of my own for 14 years, I often also procure gamers for friends who need to fill a chair at their sessions.
  • So annoying how many Americans believe Viking Period boat burial involved burning on the water, for which there is no evidence. The pyres were on land and we have excavated hundreds under mounds.
  • The lyrics to the 1985 hit song “St. Elmo’s Fire” is a very long collection of disconnected cliché motivational phrases.
  • Thinking about anti-Semitism. As a Leftie I can totally understand hostility towards the global banking & capitalist system, including those global bankers or capitalists who happen to be Jews. But most of those bankers & capitalists are not. And most Jews are not bankers or capitalists on any scale. It’s kind of a stretch to believe that every Jewish hairdresser, archaeologist and pop musician is in on an evil global conspiracy.
  • And another teenager killed over drug turf in the municipality, most likely by a teenager, again. You stupid sad fucks. Even Hell’s Angels think your subculture is idiotic and stay away from you. Because they want to make money, not die or serve prison time for murder uselessly.
  • Weird aspect of research in the humanities: each speciality has so few participants that it is often meaningless to seek a consensus of opinion. Almost nobody takes a stand for or against most published interpretations. Compare physics, medicine etc.
  • 45 says the US is going to hell. He’s right, and it’s because of his voters.
  • Movie: Soul (2020). On the brink of his big break, a frustrated jazz musician gets mixed up in the business of unborn souls. I was astonished to learn that the music is by Trent Reznor! Grade: good!
  • Customer comes up to Jrette at the supermarket where she works, starts to ask where the noodles are, interrupts themselves, looks really embarrassed, “… if it’s OK to ask you about noodles?” Jrette laughs and replies, “You know what? I’m Chinese and I know everything about noodles.” ❤
  • The only conservative I’ll take seriously is one who’s hostile to business and wants to reinstate the hereditary privileges of the nobility.
  • Movie: Insomnia (2002). Under the shadow of an internal affairs investigation, two LA homicide detectives are sent to Alaska to help investigate the not very complicated murder of a highschooler. But things do get complicated. Grade: good!
  • Very much not impressed by the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm’s Old Town. It’s tiny. It exhibits very few original objects. About half of the little floor space is currently devoted to an exhibit on the prize banquet.
  • On my way into town I often cycle past the spot where Elisabet Ehrlin was found dead one morning in late November of 1975. Almost all the absurd damage her body had suffered from a john in the throes of an alcoholic psychosis was post-mortem. Two months later he murdered another woman. Then he went out to find a police car and made a full confession. I’m not dignifying him by mentioning his name. But I send a thought to Elisabet now and then.

July Pieces Of My Mind #2

Lynn was my nanny and helped raise me from age 4 to 7. Now she’s visiting from Connecticut! Here we are at the public beach where she used to take me and my kid brother back in ’78. ❤
  • The assassin shot Shinzo Abe because Abe supported the Moonies, to whom the assassin’s mom gave so much money that she went bankrupt 20 years ago.
  • The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper in May of 1967. In November, 20-y-o Elton John began recording sessions for his first album, Regimental Sgt. Zippo, strongly influenced by the Fab Four’s offering. It was shelved for over half a century and released on vinyl only last year, and on digital four days ago. It’s good stuff!
  • Girl, you so fine Parliament should pass a sumptuary law against you!
  • I’m a lecteur paisible et bucolique, sobre et naïf homme de bien, but I enjoy reading dark stuff anyway.
  • 41st summer at my mom’s place in the archipelago, and the fauna has changed drastically. Common in 1982, almost absent today: Great Crested Grebe / skäggdopping + Eider Duck / ejder. Absent in 1982, common today: Great Cormorant / ålkråka + Grey Heron / gråhäger + Oystercatcher / strandskata. Seals and eagles were absent in 1982, and though not exactly common now, we see them several times a year. And beavers have made brief visits! No change: gulls, terns, Merganser / storskrake, Mute Swan, White Wagtail / sädesärla.
  • I’m a 1st generation PhD. When I went to uni my surname just meant “hockey player” to my professors. No academic history. I just had a realisation that kind of shook me. The family name actually does mean something now if Junior and Jrette go into the humanities. In archaeology of course, but since my wife took my name and has a high profile in Chinese Swedish circles, in sinology too. Lecturers may raise their eyebrows when they see the name on the student roster.
  • You know those scholars who work with the same thing for years and years? Bragging time: over the past year I’ve had papers in big international journals that deal with the Roman Period, the Vendel-Viking Periods and the 19th century. (And I published a historical source edition on the 17th century.)

July Pieces Of My Mind #1

Olavinlinna Castle
  • Saw a reference to some rather odd psychological research into aggressively xenophobic internet trolls. These are men (mostly) who act disagreeable and are not open to new ideas or pieces of foreign culture. “The main findings that we see repeated in study after study is that these individuals score really low on the parameters AGREEABLENESS and OPENNESS.” Oh really? Tautology, much?
  • Drove Jrette to the bus for YMCA camp where she will be one of the sailing instructors. Her fifth summer there. ♥️
  • Like a trout returning to spawn in the river where it hatched, I’ve gone to where my parents honeymooned. I wanted to see an inland Finnish summer like the ones in Paasilinna’s novels.
  • Olavinlinna is the sister of Stegeborg that I have studied quite closely, each built in the 1470s by one of the powerful Kalmar Union magnates, the Axelsson Tott brothers. Both had the excellent taste to sign their work with heraldic devices and founder’s inscriptions.
  • Highway diner food in Sweden is often pretty grim. But in Finland it is excellent! Unlimited kalja, Finnish kvass, with your lunch! Kiitos!
  • We don’t talk enough about Guglielmo Querton Xoni, the glorious man commemorated with a statue in the 1984 text adventure game The Tracer Sanction.
  • Sudden “man, I’m dense” insight. The reason that the Finns call Sweden Ruotsi after Roslagen is this: when you sail across the Baltic from Finland Proper via the Åland Isles, you land in Roslagen.
  • Finnish donuts are are flavoured with cardamom.
  • Just learned that Westminster government ministers serve actively as MPs. All Swedish MPs are what the English call “backbenchers”.
  • The virus that causes tick-borne encephalitis can pass from a cow into its milk. This means that you can get encephalitis from eating unpasteurised cheese. Not kidding.
  • Apparently disgruntled toddlers cry differently in different languages. English-speaking ones go WAAAH. Our own Swedish-speaking ones used to go ÄÄÄÄH. This morning on the Finland ferry our breakfast was disturbed by a pair of cute little sisters who went IIIH, the vowel in green beans.
  • Movie: The Zero Theorem (2013). Harassed IT-guy loner is assigned a pet project by company management to prove that everything is pointless, makes friends with a cam girl and a script kiddie. Largely shot in a disused Bucharest church. Grade: OK.
  • Thinking about democracy, it’s struck me that though everyone says that higher education is vitally important, nobody dares say that people without higher education lack something vitally important.
  • ‘Oh frabjous day! / Cab Calloway!’ / He chortled in his joy.

June Pieces Of My Mind #3

Bonfire on St. John’s Eve, Sandvig, Bornholm
  • Hey research people, do you get requests for recommendations on popular books in your field? I genuinely have no idea about those in mine. Not my job to read them.
  • Drug turf murder in my area. Everyone involved is between 16 and 20. The killer is pleading self defence, since the victim pulled a knife. Well good luck with that, kid. The CCTV footage shows with great clarity that the reason the guy pulled a knife was that you and six other boys were beating him severely. Oh, the stupid pointlessness of it all.
  • WTF, my first Uni Umeå students are turning 30!
  • Dreamed that I was lost in a windowless complex of corridors, staircases and rooms. I was convinced that it was real and I had been there many times before. Then I realised that I was dreaming, but I still believed I had been there before, and in the dream I thought to myself, “And here I’ve been thinking for all this time that the windowless complex was real!” (I believe I was also considering the possibility that the complex was real, I had been there often, but this time I was only dreaming about it.)
  • There are some opinions that are too stupid, ignorant, outdated and just generally benighted to even be allowed into the discussion in 2022. Opposition to reproductive rights is one of them. And the American voters agree when polled.
  • As “wifi” increasingly becomes a synonym for “broadband”, it’s getting harder to do IT support for family members. The problem is often that your relative has no functioning broadband at the moment, though their wifi is just fine. Try explaining that.
  • I once talked to a writer of contemporary Swedish fiction who felt that it was everyone’s duty to buy and read contemporary Swedish fiction. I disagreed.
  • One great thing about streaming music is discovering bands from countries whose music scene I didn’t know anything about. Suddenly I’m into Greek bands!? If you like Kyuss, listen to 1000 Mods! If you like Apples in Stereo, listen to Whereswilder!
  • Was Obi-wan a coenobite?
  • Conference. An American colleague repeatedly mentions a layer of “goocha”. I put my hand up and ask what it means. Is it an Italian word, guccia? No, it’s a Swedish word, gyttja.
  • Movie: Underwater (2020). Survivors flee a breached deep-sea installation across the abyssal plain in this big-budget scifi horror movie that owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft and Aliens. Grade: OK.
  • Idea for a fun prank: using a time machine, bring lots of second-hand synthetic fibre clothes to the 16th century and trick a paper maker into buying them as raw material.
Granite quarry, Moseløkken, Bornholm

Checking in with some co-students from 1996

The archaeology department at Uni Stockholm published the anthology series Aktuell Arkeologi with eight volumes from 1979 to 2004. The series editor was Åke Hyenstrand. To be precise, he edited the first volume while working at the National Heritage Board’s Stockholm headquarters, and then presided over vols 2-8 after he became Chair of Archaeology at the university in 1987. The last volume appeared the year after Hyenstrand’s retirement.

(The title means ”Current Archaeology”, and since 1993 there has been an English-language annual titled Current Swedish Archaeology. It is nominally published by the Swedish Antiquarian Association, but that organisation has no physical office and all of its editors have been affiliated with Uni Stockholm.)

Aktuell Arkeologi was mainly a venue for the department’s most active PhD students to present their projects and gain some publishing experience. Up until a 1998 reform of higher education, humanities and social sciences departments would have lots of unfunded PhD students whose status as actual candidates was often hazy. The ones who published in Aktuell Arkeologi were more committed than most.

Let’s look at what happened to the nine scholars (including me) who contributed to vol. V in 1996.

  • Only four have achieved a doctorate. Of the other five, two died young.
  • Only one has achieved a steady academic job comparable to US tenure (not me).
  • Only three have more than 35 publications in our main bibliographic database, VITALIS. None of them has tenure. One of these productive writers didn’t graduate from the PhD programme, but he has been a contract archaeologist and his ”grey literature” excavation reports are also in the database.
  • Only three have published in the past five years. All have ”PhD” after their names.

June Pieces Of My Mind #2

Lindesberg
  • Interesting how very few religious bigots will attack me for saying that I find all religions silly, but lots of them will pounce if I call their guy or book specifically silly.
  • The woman in my area who set fire to her ground floor apartment and left without alerting any neighbours has been sentenced to something that translates as “forensic psychiatric care with special discharge examination”. There was no barbecue, as she claimed. She just poured lighter fluid on the living-room floor, dropped a lit match and left. The district court comments, “we see this all the time, people with poor impulse control who get drunk and light fires in response to life problems”.
  • Send the Marines! I found a tick on my Balzac!
  • Idea for a new fresh kind of crazy right-wing extremist in the US: you’re not paranoid and hostile to the federal government, your Bible prophecy warns about the state government!
  • This I did not know! “The phonetic values of most Linear A syllabograms were already known from B, but the language expressed in Linear A has remained a mystery.” Linear A kan be read out loud, but it’s like me reading Swahili out loud and not understanding a word.
  • At a recent academic ceremony, the Rector of Uni Łódź Elżbieta Żądzińska said i.a. “There is only one nauka [Wissenschaft / vetenskap / scholarly and scientific inquiry in the wider sense]. We are meeting at the University of Lodz to celebrate your doctoral and postdoctoral promotions, but in fact we are celebrating your entire nauka-related achievements and contribution to world nauka. Because nauka cannot be practised individually, alone.” I agree wholeheartedly, but I wonder if prof. Żądzińska (a biologist) knows how controversial the idea of unitary, cumulative, rationalist science is in some sub-cultures in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Always refreshing to me when someone from the natural sciences ignores or is genuinely unfamiliar with social constructivism.
  • Idea for a covers album: keep the lyrics of famous pop tunes, write new melodies.
  • Polish niedźwiedź, ‘bear’, goes back to a Proto-Slavic *medvědь, ‘honey eater’.
  • China was ruled by actual Communists for only 30 years. It’s been a capitalist dictatorship since Deng’s pronouncement in 1979, “To Get Rich Is Glorious”.
  • Movie: Lost City (2022). Romance writer and her hunky but inept cover model end up in improbable romance plot on jungle island. Lots of jokes about genre conventions in this star studded action comedy. Grade: good!
  • I wonder what Lempel and Ziv are doing these days. Maybe they’re buddies. Maybe they play boardgames and go hiking.