November Pieces Of My Mind #3


  • As a small finds specialist, I gotta say if you can’t tell whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not, then you need a much tighter type definition.
  • Call me slow, but I just realised today that nationalism is way more of a call to actually do something big when you’re a crowd of small principalities in 1800, like Italy or Germany, than when you’re France or Sweden. I mean, you’re already France or Sweden regardless of any nationalists.
  • Realisation: For all their revolutionary rhetoric, Mao and the CCP never actually participated in any revolution in the sense of overthrowing a government. They emerged victorious out of decades of civil war and the World Wars. China was then functionally Communist for only thirty years before shifting into the current long period of capitalist single-party dictatorship.
  • Following the Hate & Gasoline Party’s success in the recent Swedish elections, the EU majority has lost faith in Sweden as an effective participant in political measures against the climate emergency.
  • Sometimes when I request a book from the stacks at the research libraries I use, I’m done with it efter 15 mins. But I delay returning it as long as possible, so the librarians won’t feel that I’m wasting their time.
  • Just back from a happy week in Lecco on Lake Como in Lombardy with wife and grown-up daughter. Long scenic sunshine walks, good meals, museums, churches, learning to play scopa. We rode the new sleeper train from Stockholm to Hamburg and back. 28 hours from Stockholm to Lecco, about a third of which I spent sleeping. The ride cost three times the cheapest air fare.
  • I’m launching a new e-book format where each book is a large video file of someone paging slowly through a paper book. To read a page you click “pause”. Gonna be rich!!!
  • Reading Bill Bryson’s 1998 book A Walk in the Woods, I came upon some odd figures. He says that it usually takes five months to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. The trail’s website puts it at five to seven months. The trail is about 3530 km long. A month is on average 30.63 days. This means that a normal “thru-hiker” averages a speed of 19.2 km a day, every day for half a year, carrying a heavy backpack. That’s pretty fast. But of course, this is a case of survivor’s bias. The numbers only apply to thru-hikers: people who actually succeed in hiking the entire trail. And they aren’t typical hikers.
  • Augerum near Karlskrona in southern Sweden is not a famous place. It’s mainly known for a modern cemetery. Vendel Period scholars know it for a 6th century jewellery grave in an unburnt boat, excavated by Oscar Montelius. But now Augerum has a new claim to fame. A major meth lab has just been busted there!
  • Movie: Despicable Me (2010). Two hi-tech supervillains compete for who can shrink and steal the moon. One of them adopts three little orphan girls as part of a scheme to steal the shrink gun. Lots of minions! Grade: great!

Recognising the Middle Class in Sweden and the US

Social class is a useful concept to understand society, but it’s also pretty vague in the definition of each class. In ideological training courses taught through the Swedish labour movement you may encounter the idea that there are only two classes, employers and employees. My view is I believe more common, viz that class is similar to subculture: goths and jocks etc. In this view both the owner and the employees of a small plumbing firm are working class. Meanwhile a poorly funded environmental research scientist is middle class, even though she makes far less money.

This is because the main distinction between the working and middle + upper classes in Sweden is not economic, but cultural. The main parameter is higher education, which is open to anyone: no term fees, generous study loans. In 2021, 30% of Swedes between the ages of 25 and 64 years had at least a BA degree. (Swedes are often confused by the English term “an academic”, because Sw. en akademiker means “a uni graduate”.)

As for the upper class, Sweden has a hereditary nobility whose last legal privileges were abolished only 200 years ago. Most noble families are still culturally upper class, but have long been joined there by a large number of wealthy non-noble families. Sweden’s upper class can actually usefully be distinguished on the basis of wealth. So a provisional set of descriptions might be:

  • Working class: no uni degree, possibly economically comfortable, may own a small plumbing business.*
  • Middle class: has uni degree, dominates media and cultural scene, possibly economically comfortable, may be an environmental scientist.
  • Upper class: businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, architects; wealthy.

Reading about US politics though, I realise that the class terminology there is quite different. Considerably more Americans than Swedes of working age have at least a BA: 35% in 2018. But in my reading, it seems that education does not really figure into the US definition of the middle class. As Wikipedia puts it, “With the development of capitalist societies and further inclusion of the bourgeoisie into the ruling class, middle class has been more closely identified by Marxist scholars [and mainstream US discourse] with the term petite bourgeoisie.” And the petite bourgeoisie according to Marx is “small shopkeepers and self-employed artisans … they typically work alongside their employees, unlike the haute bourgeoisie.” In the US a plumbing business owner is middle class. (You rarely see the term upper class used at all in US writing.)

The US definition of the middle class, then, has a solid Marxist foundation. But Marx didn’t foresee the rise of a culturally dominant but not particularly affluent class of university graduates. They don’t own a lot of stock and so cannot be said to control the means of production. They are almost entirely employees, not business owners. In their mental and material culture they are sharply distinct both from the comfortable petite bourgeoisie and the wealthy upper class. And in their political leanings, they have increasingly become the supporting pillar of the Swedish Left, as a large proportion of the working class voters has turned to right-wing populism. The small-business-owning petite bourgeoisie has long voted Conservative. Karl Marx would be extremely confused if he took a look at social class in Sweden of 2022.

* Side note: From a gender and class perspective, something pretty strange is happening to the current generation of the Swedish working class. About half of the men have begun to vote far-Right, while the women still largely vote Centre-Left. And nursing school has been extended to become a degree in higher ed. So in many Swedish marriages right now, there is a growing gap across the breakfast table both politically and in terms of class aspiration. Mothers with degrees encourage their children to study.

November Pieces Of My Mind #2

Morning commute

  • Taken my annual flu shot.
  • Between ignorant wishful thinker voters and “business friendly” politicians, I don’t think democracy can deal effectively with the climate crisis. And the poor are already first to suffer.
  • Last night the moon was shining into our white bathtub and the light was reflected out again. A moonlight bath.
  • What happened to programmable keyboard macros? They used to be a big deal.
  • Are you in the 95th percentile for wealth? I’ve got good news for you and everyone who isn’t as rich. I want to tax everyone richer than you until they’re on your wealth level!
  • I just came across the phrase “Republican base voters”. Surely that should be “base Republican voters”.
  • Over the decades, theoretical archaeologists have ascribed agency to material culture, to animals, to plants, even to the landscape. I think this is a ridiculous misuse of the word agency. But additionally, I believe that people have no agency. Because free will does not exist according to the mainstream of neurology and philosophy. And so agency is a fictional concept.
  • The Dems donated to crazy Arizona Republican Lake’s primaries campaign because she was more beatable than her GOP rival. Lake got the nomination and then lost the election by a slim margin. Risky tactic!
  • The ATA archives in Stockholm, which is the central archive for Swedish archaeology from its birth two centuries ago, have created an online file cabinet for my excavation reports and put everything I dug from 2011 to 2018 in it. I’ll be delivering the reports for 1997-2010 as well shortly. Let posterity say what it wants about me: at least nobody will complain about me not writing up my sites!
  • My contemporaries are getting boss jobs at various museums and government bodies. Making me the director of anything at this point would be like handing the administrative reins of a music college to a prolific psychedelic rock guitarist.
  • One thing that’s better on the Kindle than on the Kobo is that all your Kindle ebooks are available to read in your web browser, but only some of your Kobo ebooks.

Stockholm International Film Festival 2022

You really need to see Mad God.

I’ve seen fourteen films this festival season: one at the genre gathering Stockholm International Fantastic Film Festival (formerly Monsters of Film) and thirteen at Stockholm International. Unless noted otherwise, all the movies are from this year and haven’t seen theatrical release yet.

Four get my particular recommendation:

  • Mad God (2021). Dark dirty rusty industrial dieselpunk hell dump with a lot of heritage from Bosch, Piranesi, Giger, Moebius, Gilliam, Jeunet & Caro. Puppet animation with some live acting, no dialogue. Mind-blowing. My jaw was on the floor. WTF factor off the scale.
  • Medusa Deluxe. Secrets, rivalries and a scalped dead man at an annual regional hairdressing competition in England.
  • Brian and Charles. Heartwarming naïvist comedy about a lonely inventor in rural Wales who builds and befriends an intelligent robot.
  • I Love My Dad. Estranged absent dad impersonates a pretty girl online in order to talk to his depressive son who has blocked him.

Eight were OK:

  • Boy From Heaven. Rural student gets involved in clandestine political machinations around the election of a new Sunni Pope equivalent. The cast is exclusively male, the dialogue deals exclusively with Islam and Egyptian politics, and it is entirely in Arabic.
  • Broker. Director Koreeda returns to the theme of elective family relationships among criminals dealt with in 2018’s Shoplifters in this road movie about orphanhood, baby selling and childlessness.
  • Living. Lavish costume tear jerker about a post-WW2 senior civil servant who is jolted out of his sleepy complacent bureaucratic rut when learning that he’s dying of cancer.
  • The Kings of the World. Five homeless street urchins leave Medellin to try to make good on the oldest boy’s inherited land claim in a distant scenic rural area controlled by the paramilitaries. They meet with a little kindness, a lot of severe hardship and an unsurprising end.
  • Funny Pages. Young aspiring cartoonist living in squalor among comics-fan misfits and the violently insane. Awkward, occasionally funny, disturbing.
  • Nightsiren. Multi-generational witch hysteria and witch activity in remote Slovak mountain village.
  • A Man. After a Japanese man dies in a workplace accident it is revealed that he has been living under someone else’s identity. Apparently it’s a case of identity exchange, not theft. What was he ashamed of?
  • Emily (2022). A wildly fictionalised Emily Brontë smokes, does opium, gets a tattoo and shags the curate. Grade: OK.

And two were duds:

  • Wetiko. Young urban Maya man is lured out to a druggy New Age religious retreat in the jungle. Everyone is very stoned. Everything is very trippy. Nothing very interesting happens for most of the movie. (Horror fans may note that wetiko is the Algonquin form of the word wendigo.)
  • Rodéo. Penniless misfit woman joins motorbike thief and racing gang.

Here are my capsule reviews from the 2021 film festival season in Stockholm.

November Pieces Of My Mind #1

The Stockholm Furniture Design Museum is closing down for lack of public funding.

  • The kettle drummer at my daughter’s choir concert (Rutter’s Requiem, 1985), looks just like Gary Gygax.
  • Movie: Sami Blood (2016). Young Sámi woman goes to racist residential school c. 1930, is torn between her reindeer nomad upbringing and Swedish-speaking mainstream modernity. Grade: good!
  • Movie: Bacurau (2019). Murderous American vintage gun aficionados descend on an isolated Brazilian village in this oddly paced siege narrative. Grade: OK.
  • Never mind daylight savings time, let’s abolish November!
  • Train hits something hard in the dark, like a boulder on the track, and rattles to a stop. I check our GPS position, and we’re at Bollbacken in Tortuna?! I spent half of 1993 here, excavating a Middle Neolithic seal hunting camp with a Pre-Roman urn cemetery on top! It was a dig in order to build this railroad! Update: It was an elk and the train’s front is completely messed up. We returned backwards to Västerås. The front of the train was full of grey fur and a length of intestine was dangling from it. The heavy smell of elk butchery could be felt even inside the carriage.
  • What’s the political stance called where you don’t trust undemocratic selection processes for leaders (Lenin, Hitler, Charlemagne), but you don’t trust the democratic process either to reliably deliver fair, competent, non-corrupt leaders?
  • Deflecting a threatening asteroid: save rocket fuel by shooting large pieces of orbital junk at it? Or bolt an ion engine to a smaller asteroid?
  • The Russians have deployed troops to shoot their own demoralised troops. This will demoralise the troops doing the shooting, etc, etc.
  • I’m at Junior’s manga convention watching animé from 1983. The Swedish voice acting is pretty good!
  • Arnold in Predator: I hit the fuel dump. Me: “I hate to feel damp”?!
  • Movie: Predator (1987). Sportsman goes trophy hunting on one of his favourite planets, is inconvenienced by armed conflict between factions among the prey. Grade: great in its genre but it’s not my genre. Annoyingly busy score, by the way. The orchestra seems to believe that it’s at a screening of a silent film and has to carry the sound entirely on its own.
  • There should be a word for when you use a bit more than necessary of a product just because you want to empty the package and keep your shelves neat.
  • If you have an accident with some furniture and there’s no sticky plaster in the drawer, then a Chinese psychologist will med-tape a piece of a panty liner to your head. That’s what I’ve learned today.
  • The best Depeche Mode song since 1993 is probably not by Depeche Mode themselves. I think it may be “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse from 2009. Other candidates?
  • I’ve bought 13 movie tickets to the Stockholm International Film Festival!

October Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Movie: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Two goofy high-schoolers are close to failing their history class. George Carlin gives them a time machine and they recruit some historical celebrities to help them ace their presentation. Grade: OK.
  • Here’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle providing a style template for H.P. Lovecraft in his 1910 story “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot”. “A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe. Vague shapes swirled and swam amid the dark cloud-bank, each a menace and a warning of something coming, the advent of some unspeakable dweller upon the threshold, whose very shadow would blast my soul.”
  • Creative people often describe an urge to make whatever they make. I’ve reached an age where I’m at peace with the realisation that I’ve had extremely ample opportunity to learn a few creative skills that were once vague ambitions of mine, yet I never did. The reason that I never learned to play an instrument well, write code or write novels, then, is not that anything kept me. It’s that I didn’t care enough. What I care about doing, the evidence of decades suggests, is apparently writing scholarly studies and popular outreach.
  • Dreamed about a Star Trek episode where everyone is ordering delivery food and they all want various types of high-end sausage.
  • Someone should establish a new field of research: the Codicology of Word Processor Files.
  • Interesting academic tradition in Łódź: the university offers its staff free candles to be lit on the graves of deceased colleagues for Hallowe’en.
  • Seven years ago I published a book on the landscape siting of Bronze Age artefact deposition, a.k.a. sacrifice. Then I’ve done other things. But now I’ve written a paper on Bronze Age hoards because one of them popped up near Stockholm. So I’ve read up on what’s happened in that field since 2015. I’m very pleased to find that one thing that’s happened is that colleagues have started citing or even quoting my book!
  • My attitude to politics has changed in the past decade. It’s become clear to me that in politics, you can’t expect rational fact-based argument. You have to deal diplomatically with a lot of people driven by fear, anger, ignorance and internet propaganda. 50% of them have below median intelligence, 50% (not the same subset) have below median education. I am way too impatient and contemptuous to function successfully in that arena. A case in point: when I was on the municipal school board, I once exasperatedly told another representative during a plenary session that the long-winded argument she kept making time and time again was pointless and counterproductive. And she was on that board for my own party.
  • Every country that legalises recreational cannabis should require beverage producers to label their bottles and cans RECREATIONAL ETHANOL.
  • My spoken Polish may be crap, but I cook a pretty decent żurek!
  • When I’ve hung laundry to dry and I take my stuff down and fold it, I always feel a little happy and excited like if I had received gifts.
  • Poland is an Eldorado for beautifully conserved top-quality industrial brick masonry architecture, old factories now being used as malls and gyms. I just discovered that we have something similar at the Hjorthagen gasworks in Stockholm.

Dinner With Phillip

It’s a rare pleasure when I get to meet Aard’s regulars, strewn as they are across the globe. Nine years ago when I began teaching in Umeå I met Birger Johansson. And tonight I met Phillip Helbig, everyone’s favourite Texas-Deutsche Kosmolog! I was taller than he expected and he was less red-headed and be-spectacled than I expected. We had dinner at a pub on Stockholm’s South Island and found a lot to talk about.

Phillip tip-toed onto the Aard scene eleven years ago with comments about nude saunas, astronomy and Swedish literature, and he has been with us since. We knew already in late 2011 that he is a polyglot Scandy speaker, a theoretical star gazer and and a lover of those wonderful things that are within two arms’ reach. He is also a dad, a former finance IT guy and an active research scientist.

I hope it won’t be nine years before I get to meet another Aard regular!

October Pieces Of My Mind #2

Occasionally the Blockhusudden bike ferry’s route is crossed by a bigger ferry.
  • Asimov, commenting on Sherlock Holmes, mentions “the English caste system” without even stopping to wink at the reader.
  • During last night’s Delta Green session, the players got the idea that maybe the erratic behaviour of the staff at an exotic physics experimental station was due to them having piped some of their data into a sound system earlier. So they played “Macarena” really loudly on repeat to clean everyone’s mind up. When this didn’t help and people started to get violent, the player characters in their desperation killed several of the staff with a fire axe — with Macarena” still really loud on repeat.
  • Sweden is one of the world’s least religious countries. Oddly, we just got a vice premier from the political branch of the Pentecostal Church. Hello?
  • Wetland archaeology day conference. Looking forward to learning and speaking. Feels good to be welcomed back to my old departement! It has not always been so.
  • Reading Cory Doctorow’s 2013 novel Homeland, where the rag-tag protestors who organise in obscure corners of the Internet against the government are unequivocally good guys. Eight years later they stormed the Capitolium to overturn an election.
  • Wonder what happens when 45’s incoming litigation load and lawyers’ willingness to extend him credit reach the point where he can no longer even respond to the attacks.
  • “I should love to perform ‘There Are Fairies in the Bottom of My Garden’, but I don’t dare. It might come out ‘There Are Fairies in the Garden of My Bottom’.” /Noel Coward
  • For my UK friends who take an interest in Scandy politics: Sweden just got a new Tory government whose every move has to be approved by our UKIP equivalent AND our LibDem equivalent!
  • The drones that Iran sells to Russia are so slow that the Russians have begun using them as guided missiles, crashing them into things. This is being called “kamikaze drones”, though they are of course by definition not crewed. The first Japanese kamikaze missions were flown in October of 1944, and are generally read by historians as a sign of desperation.
  • Suddenly it hits me: I should really have incorporated John LaZar’s immortal line “It’s my happening, and it freaks me out!” into my birthday party speech.
  • To everyone who has noted that the Royal Academy of Letters has given travel grants to Martin Rundkvist this spring and to Martin Lundqvist this autumn, I just want to emphasise that there is no substance whatsoever to the hurtful rumours that I am the same person as myself.
  • Movie: Castaway on the Moon (2009). Two young people living in self-imposed isolation. He is a Robinson on a litter-strewn wooded sandbar in an urban river, she an apartment shut-in with a telephoto rig at her window, overlooking him. A shy conversation begins. Grade: great!
  • The biggest language that has not yet produced a Nobel-winning work of literature is Hindi. Comparisons are difficult though because the number of published works per speaker varies wildly from language to language.
  • Ukraine 2022: Birth of a Nation.
  • Donating blood. The med student intern who takes care of me arrived as a refugee from Syria in 2015. She speaks Swedish and is on her fourth year in med school. How many Hate Party voters can boast of anything similar?
  • Say “murdered union activist” and people from most countries will assume that the murderer acted at the initiative of business owners. The most well-known Swedish case though, Björn Söderberg in 1999, is completely different. Söderberg was murdered by neo-Nazis because he blew the whistle on one of their number who had infiltrated the local union club at the stationery warehouse where Söderberg worked.
  • I love the Arctic Monkeys. I do not love big stadium concerts with huge TVs hanging from the ceiling. So I’m skipping their Stockholm gig.