December Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Copenhagen has a major laughing gas habit. Little metal ampoules littering the streets. They’re sold for whipped cream siphons. Saw them all over town this past summer.
  • Um. I calculated how many issues of Fornvännen and Folkvett I’ve co-edited. 128 issues.
  • I’ve got mixed feelings about having left academic teaching. On one hand I enjoy it and I always get a really good response from the students. On the other hand, given the extremely poor career prospects in archaeology, I am convinced that in most cases a) students are better off long-term without these courses, and b) they serve no societally useful purpose.
  • Nacka’s Social Democrats just elected me to serve on the municipal Education Board. We have over 100,000 inhabitants and some of the country’s best high schools.
  • I recently learned that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is from 1961. It wasn’t a response to hippie weirdness. It inspired hippie weirdness.
  • Me: the Geminids. Autocorrect: the feminists.
  • I wonder how Serbian and Croatian atheists get along.
  • Wise words from Birger Johansson: “Re-incarnation without the transfer of memories is pointless. Memories are what distinguish you from your clone [or twin]. Deleting the memories equals the death of the individual.”
  • Once talked to a guy who made inane political arguments based on folk etymology, or rather, on random word similarities. “Democracy is just THEM-ocracy”, that sort of thing. He didn’t say these things to illustrate his points, he thought he was somehow in contact with the essence of things. Not surprised to learn now that this is a characteristic of Rastafarian preaching.
  • Keep seeing Americans use “inhale” as if it meant eat or drink.
  • On our way to the restaurant there was a tiny drizzle. During our meal there was a huge hailstorm with closely spaced flashes of lightning. Then when I went back to the hotel through the thick drifts of melting hail, there was a tiny drizzle again.
  • New story collection by the amazing Ted Chiang on 7 May! This is a very big deal, given how rare and wonderful his efforts are.
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Farewell to Fornvännen

Yesterday was my last day as Managing Editor for Fornvännen, Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (est. 1906). I started in April of 1999 and so I’ve been involved in 20 annual volumes of the quarterly, almost 80 issues. It’s been fun, and a great education!

From the start I purposely grabbed as much responsibility as I could. A main reason was sheer careerism: I needed a better platform in academic archaeology than the shaky one I had as a PhD student. Another reason was that originally I was paid by the hour, so the more work the better. Fornvännen has been my one steady source of income for all these years. The Royal Academy of Letters is a very good employer and takes care of its people.

The Fornvännen editorship was the one big occasion where academic nepotism worked for me rather than against me. My thesis supervisor got me the job when I was only 27. As for being an academic platform, it certainly gave me more professional recognition and expanded my contact network enormously. But through the years I found that academic job application referees didn’t value the editorship very highly.

An unexpected drawback was that good editors make enemies in their line of daily work. One influential professor apparently became my sworn Nemesis after I turned down an exceptionally bad debate piece of hers. I guess it’s give and take: without the editorship far fewer colleagues would know who I am today, but fewer would also bear a grudge against me.

Still, the editorship was fun and valuable to me through the years, just in itself. But I always also saw it as a means to an end: tenure. In 2016-17 I finally came to accept how little meritocracy there is on the massively over-populated academic labour market in the Scandinavian Humanities, how gross the nepotism is there. I abandoned all ambition in that direction. And I’ve grown quite tired of copy editing and proofreading. So in February I told my co-editor friends that I’d do the four issues for 2018 and then resign on November 30.

I look forward to seeing what my highly qualified successor Dr. Peter Carelli, Editor-in-Chief Prof. Mats Roslund and the other eminent members of the editorial board will do with the journal. I wish Peter a long, happy editorship!

 

November Pieces Of My Mind #3

Boberg

Bobergs Storgård, Fornåsa parish, Östergötland

  • After a friendly meeting and lunch with my successor Peter Carelli, I just handed in my keys to Fornvännen’s editorial office. 80 issues! Wonder where I’ll be working a year from now.
  • Charlottenborg’s manor house near Motala lost its third floor when an owner installed a fish farm up there which leaked and caused severe rot.
  • Oh, the excruciating feeling when you help a not very computer savvy person and you realise that they’re double-clicking when they shouldn’t.
  • Theobromine isn’t psychoactive. If it were, then pushers would be selling it in the street. In fact, the compound is useless as a drug. People just eat chocolate for the fat and sugar.
  • I wonder what it would cost to get Annie Lennox to record a new vocal track for “The City Never Sleeps” where she sings “You know it feels like ancient sushi” instead of “You know it feels like distant thunder”.
  • Dreamed that my buddy had bought completely ineffective insulation strips for an extremely draughty window at their desk.
  • DNA genealogists are now analysing samples of the stamp glue on letters from long-dead relatives.
  • Studying post-war popular music styles with Jrette. Music-nerd-dad heaven. ❤
  • I’ve been an Amazon customer since 1997.

lars

Church, cathedral, moon, sunrise. (S:t Lawrence’s, Linköping)

chapman

Af Chapman, built in 1888 in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Behind the ship, Skeppsholmen with the Admiralty Church and Admiralty House.

 

November Pieces Of My Mind #2

Sculpture panel by Stig Blomberg in Skandia, a sumptuously decorated 1923 movie theatre in central Stockholm. Those women don’t seem to be big bagpipes fans.
  • I enjoyed Heinlein’s Door Into Summer. But it must have been weird in 1957 too for a grown man to groom an 11-y-o girl, then go into cryo sleep until she’s 21, and marry her.
  • Archaeology studies the lives of people thousands of years ago. Most of us today don’t even know anything about the people who lived in our homes 20 years ago.
  • The European Space Agency was founded in 1975. Australia founded its space agency last year. That’s a country of 25 million largely well educated people. They’re going to do some cool stuff!
  • Black Sabbath’s song “Paranoid” is about depression, not paranoia. The Pixies’ song “Ana” has an acrostic in the lyrics (SURFER), not an anagram.
  • I shared the bench in court with a pregnant judge today. She was an impressive lawyer.
  • My new art film project is Hardcore Hugs, a 10-minute compilation of expressions of tenderness or affection from porn movies.

Boardgaming Retreat 2018

gamers

It was really good to come back to the annual boardgaming retreat after a year off. 48 hours at an off-season golf & country club near Trosa with fellow gamers.

I played thirteen sessions of twelve different games. To give you an idea of how popular each game is, I’ve included its current BGG rank in the list below. For instance, Container’s 586 means that right now there are 585 boardgames that the largely US-based users of Boardgamegeek.com rate more highly. But they have rated tens of thousands of games!

  • 7 Wonders Duel (2015). Ranked 13. Neat two-player version of the excellent civilisation-building card game.
  • Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (2018). Ranked 2104. Abstract tile game: a somewhat more intricate take on the basic ideas of last year’s hit Azul. Either is fun, either is enough.
  • Century Spice Road (2017). Ranked 210. This cards & cubes game’s illustrations are nice, but there’s hardly any player interaction. Don’t know why it’s so popular.
  • Chosön (2014). Ranked 3465. Card game with fun illustrations and some unusual mechanics. I’d like to play this again.
  • Container (2007). Ranked 586. Container shipping & trade. We played a recent edition with massive plastic ships that would serve well as close-combat weapons. I didn’t understand the strategy at all, but I’d like to learn.
  • Gaia Project (2017). Ranked 7. Civilisation expansion & development. Scifi re-skin of the 2012 fantasy hit Terra Mystica. Not great, not bad, huge replayability.
  • Heaven and Ale (2017). Ranked 348. Euro game ostensibly about monks making beer, where the theme has little to do with the mechanics and player interaction is scanty.
  • Koba Yakawa (2013). Ranked 2295. Minimalist card game with almost as few components as Love Letter and far simpler rules. Fun for what it is!
  • Secrets (2017). Ranked 2094. Hidden roles game about CIA and KGB agents. I soon became completely confused.
  • T.I.M.E. Stories (2015). Ranked 58. Beautifully illustrated co-op story game, like a shared choose-your-own adventure. The box contains the basic rules and hardware plus one fine scenario. It has roughly the same re-playability as a short novel has re-readability, though. Many additional scenarios are available, each costing 54% of the basic box’s price. Compare this to normal boardgames where you buy the basic box and happily play 25 times without having to buy anything more.
  • Tichu (1991). Ranked 127. Interesting variation on the popular Chinese card game Zheng Fen, which combines trick-taking and hand-shedding. You can easily play Tichu with a normal Western card deck provided you can find four jokers or other extra cards with the same backs plus a felt-tip pen.
  • Twilight Struggle (2005). Ranked 5. Long two-player cards-chits-board game about the Cold War. Fun for modern history buffs.

I’ve blogged before about the retreats in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

ship

Container

Stockholm Film Festival 2018

prospect

Prospect

I discovered film festivals in 2014, but I didn’t go to one last year because I like my evenings at home and I was working full time at the National Archives then. This year I’ve been able to go to the Stockholm International Film Festival thanks to the telecommuting nature of my current job. But I do spend two days a week in Linköping, and the upcoming final weekend of the festival will coincide with a boardgaming retreat, so I only managed to see 7½ films this year.

My festival M.O. is to first decide when I can see some films, and then watch whatever is on at that time and seems reasonably interesting. Hardly ever do I watch more than two movies on one day, or it becomes a chore. This way I caught three really good ones:

  • Cold War / Zimna Wojna. Stormy intermittent love affair between two Polish musicians at home and in exile 1949-64. Pretty monochrome photography.
  • Prospect. Low-budget scifi about bio-mineral prospecting on a lawless jungle planet. Strong female teen lead. Way better than most big budget scifi. Would be even better if 15 mins of slack were cut. Take your lower teen kids to this one!
  • The Man Who Feels No Pain / Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota. Indian action comedy about a boy who grows up sheltered because of an innate inability to sense pain – and is educated by his grandfather by means of 80s martial arts movies. Smart and funny!

And some OK ones:

  • Ex-shaman / Ex-pajé. Slow, largely wordless, beautifully shot semi-documentary about a former village shaman in the Amazon who is now a Pentecostal church warden.
  • Girls of the Sun / Les filles du soleil. Traumatised French journalist follows a unit of Kurdish former sex slaves into urban skirmishes against the Daesh. Violent and beautiful. Golshifteh Farahani, oh man…
  • EXT. Night. A young film director, a vivacious prostitute and an old cab driver spend a confused night on the town together in Cairo. Engaging characters, vapid dialogue, not much by way of plot.
  • The Trouble With You / En liberté!. French romantic comedy about a mentally scarred ex-con and the widow of the crooked cop who put him in jail on false charges.

And one that I left, bored and sleepy, after half an hour:

  • Manta Ray / Kraben rahu. Supposedly about a Thai fisherman and Rohingya refugees, though it was hard to tell. Slow, pretty, no dialogue, no action…

Here’s what I saw at festivals in 2014, 2015 SIFF, 2015 MIF and 2016.

November Pieces Of My Mind #2

sergels

Sergels torg

  • I’ve lost count of how many graves I’ve emptied.
  • Funny how gear brings us together. For years I’ve mainly kept in touch with my dear old thesis supervisor thanks to his computer troubles. And now my former driving pupil wants to meet up for his first tyre switch on his first own car, because I know how to do this and my dad has power tools.
  • Running around the block really helps when I get sleepy on the afternoon of a caffeine day. On a non-caffeine day, only a nap helps.
  • Jrette’s buddy invites 70 kids to Halloween party, tells them to bring all their friends. On social media. When Jrette arrives, there are hundreds of kids in front of the house, whose inhabitants have barricaded themselves and are shouting from a window for everyone to please leave! 😀
  • Movie: Bohemian Rhapsody. Bio pic plus band movie. Grade: excellent!
  • Autumn comes along, days get a little shorter, and it becomes painfully clear that I am simply biology, neurochemistry, matter: instant vague feelings of failure and loss.
  • The new Clark Ashton Smith documentary is interesting but appallingly lacking in female interviewees.
  • I’m getting really tired of the coverage of that silly academic. I have no idea why anyone pays him any attention and I’m making a point of not finding out. He’s a typical fad intellectual.
  • leaves

    Båthöjden

    • Despite my cleaning efforts, a little bird (Parus major) is eating the remains of the egg thrown by Hallowe’en hooligans at my study window.
    • The French word for fencing, escrime, is cognate with Eng. skirmish, scrimmage, scrum; Ge. schirmen “to protect”; Sw. skärm “screen”.
    • Colleague brings his 16-month son to work, an extremely outgoing and cheerful little person who toddles around the office speaking wordlessly to everyone and sitting on everyone’s lap.
    • I send someone’s paper manuscript to Joe Bloggs for peer review. When the author receives the anonymous reviewer comments, he responds “If this reviewer is not Joe Bloggs, then it’s a member of the Joe Bloggs Fan Club”.

    tray

    Found my gaming group depicted on an antique brass tray.

     

    The Early James Bond Novels

    Cord_37_Super_Charged_White_sf

    A 1937 Cord.

    In the past decade I’ve been reading Ian Fleming’s novels about James Bond. I recently finished the fourth one, Diamonds Are Forever. The first four novels were published, one each year, from 1953 to 1956. Thus they pre-date the movie franchise, which began only in 1962: here Bond is still exclusively a 1950s spy novel hero.

    Fleming writes beautifully, with part of what makes the novels so good being the loving descriptions of consumer goods: clothing, cars, weaponry. Bond wears a fedora, and in Diamonds, he sleeps in long pantsless silk night shirts. In Live And Let Die, he appreciatively rides a late-1930s Cord that would look roughly like the car pictured above. In Diamonds, he has lunch at a rural American highway diner where he thinks the jukebox looks like something out of science fiction. Not, obviously, like quaint 1950s design.

    Bond must be in pretty bad shape from substance abuse: he drinks hard liquor constantly and smokes three packets a day. In Live he asks HQ for diving gear. They send it over and helpfully add a box of amphetamine pills. After a week of physical exercise, Bond prepares for a dangerous underwater mission by swallowing speed down with whiskey.

    I was surprised to find that Bond hardly performs any independent action in Diamonds. He just goes where people tell him to go and follows orders. The secret agent is no more than a convenient observer of various milieux that Fleming wants to describe: diamond smuggling, horse racing, a Las Vegas casino (reminiscent of Casino Royale), a Western ghost town. Indeed, the year after the novel appeared, Fleming published a non-fiction book on diamond smuggling.

    In Diamonds, when the first piece of violent action happens (51% of the way through the book), Bond is immobilised in a medicinal mud bath coffin and is barely able to even be a spectator, let alone do anything. 63% into the book, Bond himself comments angrily on his own passivity! And when a few pages later he finally does something, it’s barely a blip: Bond plays some high-stakes roulette against orders. Then he goes back to being a passive victim of his circumstances until the last few pages of the novel when he saves his love interest from the villains – a reaction more than an action.

    There’s a recurring masochistic fantasy in these novels, where Bond is immobilised and tortured in ways that would never happen to Sean Connery’s Bond. We’ve already noted the mud bath coffin, where Bond is made to witness torture. In Casino, the villain ties Bond to a chair and whacks his balls with a carpet beater until the agent passes out! And in Diamonds, two villains don football boots and kick the helpless Bond systematically until, again, he loses consciousness. When he wakes up he can barely crawl across the floor.

    Fleming came of age in the 1920s. The novels pre-date the Swinging Sixties and the Sexual Revolution: Bond is not a particularly active or promiscuous lover here. Weeks pass where we have no hint that he is going to bed with anyone. He ogles (and Fleming lovingly describes) women here and there, but when he finally does get intimate with a woman he likes to spend months with her and contemplates marriage even before they go to bed the first time (Casino, Diamonds).

    Novel Bond is very different from movie Bond.