A Dristig & Drabanterna Retrospective

I recently reviewed Mattias Dristig’s card game NätTrollz. A man of many talents, he is also a band leader, and I have received three CD:s for review. There are 16 tracks total on these discs, which would in the age of vinyl have made them EPs unless some tracks had been super long. Much of the following will only be comprehensible to people familiar with Swedish folk rock, but I guess it’s never too late to go down that rabbit hole.

Dristig, I would guess, is a typical Swedish 19th century military name. When 300 new recruits showed up all named Svensson, Larsson or Nilsson, officers needed to be able to tell them apart. They would give the men short new surnames, many of which were manly adjectives. Dristig is an archaic word for ‘brave’. And his band Drabanterna are the ‘bodyguards’ or ‘henchmen’. So this band is pretty much named Braveheart & the Bodyguards.

A pair of musicians perform on all three discs: Mattias Dristig writes all lyrics and most tunes, sings his heart out and plays rhythm guitar; Kristoffer Åberg plays lead guitar, bass, banjo and more. Camilla Hederstedt sings backup beautifully on two of the discs. (Somebody give this woman a record deal!) Other members come and go, doing a fine job too.

The musical style is called progg in Sweden. It’s a 70s style, but it has nothing to do with virtuoso prog rock, odd time signatures or scifi cover art: it’s folk rock with politically progressive lyrics. On the 2017 sleeve, Dristig identifies four main enemies: neofascism, capitalism, patriarchy and the middle class! A graduate of Saltsjöbadens Samskola, your reviewer hunkers down a little self-consciously and becomes acutely aware that he’s a member of Sweden’s non-revolutionary Left.

I would compare this music primarily to Lars Winnerbäck, Stefan Sundström and Ulf Lundell, which may just be a sign of a life lived in Stockholm. Dristig & Drabanterna are based in Gothenburg, where the obvious references may be other ones. I don’t know the genre very well, so the reader beware: this is not an expert review.

  • 2008’s Kinesisk demokrati (yes, they appropriated the G’n’R album title) has four songs. #1 is about homelessness and sounds like The Clash. #2-3 are folk ballads in triple time, one about insomnia and depression, the other about media exhibitionism and quite similar to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. #4 is a piano ballad about depression and mental care facilities. Some fiery guitar solos here don’t recur on later discs.
  • The 2012 offering Fru K har kommit hem (“Mrs. K has come home”) ranges quite widely in style: it has two boogie tunes (#1, #4), two Swedish folk songs / visor (#3 in triple time, #6 in quadruple), one Greek-style folk song (#2) and one pop tune that reminds me of The Kooks (#5). Lyrical themes are anti-capitalism, alcohol, lost love, class hatred, environmental politics and childhood summer memories. Song title #5 translates as “The need for new environmental policies”, which is magnificently progg. Reminds me of the Norwegian metal parody band Black Debbath’s excellent tune “Åpent brev til sporveisdirektøren”, “Open letter to the director of public transport”!
  • The 2017 disc Kallt (“Cold”) with six tunes is the band’s latest release apart from two singles, as far as I can tell. It has two boogie tunes (#1, #5), three folk ballads in triple (#2, #3, #6) and one folk rock song. Lyrical themes are diminishing social solidarity, missing your loved one, loyalty to friends, political protest and breaking up.

All in all I’ll say that though it’s not my genre, I believe I recognise this as quality stuff in its genre. There’s a lot of boogie, a lot of folkie ballads in triple time and a lot of political agitation. I’ll be happy to buy a ticket the next time Dristig & Drabanterna play Stockholm.

Most of the band’s catalogue is available on Spotify and Deezer. As for information about them, they haven’t got a super focused internet presence, but you can check Dristig’s publishing website for news, and you can thumbs-up the band’s page on Facebook.

September Pieces Of My Mind #1

In nearly twelve years in this house I can’t recall any previous bird collisions against the windows. This female blackbird (Turdus merula) never knew what hit her. Makes me sad! It’s one of my favourite species, visible and audible all year around our suburb. Lucky the nesting season is over, at least.
  • “You might be thinking, and I could not blame you, that it is more plausible that Emanuel Swedenborg was having schizophrenic episodes than that the schizophrenics were having Swedenborgian episodes.” Mary Roach, Spook
  • Yay, legendary game designer and raconteur Ken Hite recommends my castles book in the Ken & Robin backers’ newsletter!
  • Shit’s getting weird here. Facebook just served me an ad for a New Age ayahuasca snorting event in Stockholm.
  • Went yacht racing with my daughter and she was at the helm throughout. ❤
  • Post-WW3 fiction often features high tech that still works. I envision a post-war world where no electronics work at all. You’ll be knapping arrowheads from iPads and scavenging iron for farm tools from crashed battle drones.
  • When I was a kid I believed that any book that many people read would always stay popular, a universally understood reference. Strange and poignant to learn that successful authors can return to obscurity even in their lifetimes. Very Ecclesiastes.
  • Vikings did not cremate people in a burning ship on the sea. It would just have burned down to the water line and dumped a barbecued grandpa on the neighbours’ beach. They burned the dead in a ship on land.
  • A buddy of mine just announced that he’s going to be a grandpa soon. First guy my age in my circle to do so. His son is 21, mine is 22. Woah!
  • Years ago I invented monomolecular filament dental floss. It will cut through teeth, flesh, bone and brain, but by God, it will never ever snap when you try to floss.
  • Yay! You can order jeans in odd sizes online! When I buy them in stores I always have to settle for the right length and a way too large waist.
  • Eddie Herlin did a damn good job of straightening out the gold foil figures from Aska that were folded up or bent. So now they’re going back soon to Björn Falkevik and Cheyenne Olander for a second round of hi-res photographs! All of them are the embrace motif, but there are a couple of really unusual designs there…
  • I’m on Återskapat, the biggest Swedish reenactor’s podcast!
  • I’ve started using the buses and trains occasionally again. I had forgotten how much fun it is to see lots of people!
Go home, Late Medieval Finnish church builder, you’re drunk. (Perttelin kirkko)

August Pieces Of My Mind #3

A windy and rainy racing day. Ingaröfjärden, Nämdöfjärden, Jungfrufjärden.
  • My wife watches clips from the Chinese 1963 Shanghai opera movie Flowers As Matchmakers and sings along in true smurfy style. Suddenly we are very much not in Kansas anymore. 😃
  • Pickelhering or Pickelhäring was the nickname given to the comic character or stage buffoon in English comedy troupes that travelled through Germany in the 17th century. The term literally meant “pickled herring”‘. /Wikipedia
  • The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is a shocking album. Shockingly innovative songs, shockingly bad sound engineering.
  • The talk in Swedish that I gave Tuesday is still online and has had more than 10,000 views so far.
  • If you spray WD-40 onto gaffa tape, then the world simulation crashes and you get to meet the Demiurge.
  • Why, Polish people? Why?! You modify your numerals according to gender!?
  • Wife doing swimming society admin at her friend’s house. Son in Tokyo. Daughter at teen party. Just me and my Kindle and Alistair MacLean.
  • Someone on Twitter expressed intense hatred against the inheritance tax because it works against parents’ drive to help their children. Seemed not to understand that it is cumulative, and that you’re not just giving your own earnings to your kids, you’re perpetuating social inequality by giving seven generations’ worth of accumulated capital to your kids.
  • I’m pushing 50 and the annual death count among my friends and acquaintances has started to rise. Usually it’s like 1/2 or 1/3 a year. Last year it was 3, and this year (because of the pandemic) it’s 4 already in August. I don’t like this.
  • I enjoy shifting my grip on objects single-handedly, by tossing them just slightly into the air.
  • Almost all the resources in archaeology go to the infrastructure intended to make research and outreach possible. Almost none go to actually producing any research or outreach. It’s like building a space station and not hiring any astronauts. We’re producing a lot of good grey literature, but almost nobody gets paid to read it or synthesize it.

August Pieces Of My Mind #2

Guldgubbar, gold foil figures from the Vendel Period 540-790, are tiny and unbelievably detailed. They typically weigh less than 1/20 of a gram.
  • When somebody says foreigners are crap I often think “Really? Then what’s so great about you?” And then I think “Aha, yeah, no, I see”.
  • The late Ed Brayton was one of the original bloggers at Scienceblogs.com in 2006. Always kind to fellow science fans and skeptics, never lukewarm, often very funny. He will be missed, as will his blog Dispatches From The Culture Wars.
  • Reading Vonnegut for the first time, Cat’s Cradle. Awesome!
  • The different chocolates in a box can’t have exactly the same production cost. What if the really good ones are less expensive than the nasty ones? And you could actually have a cheaper box containing only the best ones?
  • Why does Kraven the Hunter have that name? Means “Unwilling to fight; lacking even the rudiments of courage; extremely cowardly.”
  • Woke to have a pee at 04:30, couldn’t get back to sleep because I started thinking about taking another soil sample.
  • Unbelievable that passion fruit and carambole are the result of selective breeding. They’re crap now. Must have been hopeless to start with!
  • When I taught high school Swedish last year I did a lesson on the history of the language where we modernised the 16th century Bible translation’s opening of the Nativity narrative from the Gospel of Luke. I chose this as a possibly familiar passage from a text that was easily available. When we were done I asked the students to read their version out loud, and they did, happily. There was just this one boy who refused. Only afterwards did I realise that he probably did so on religious grounds, coming from a Muslim family. The text had a religious meaning to him that nobody else in the room felt.
  • Reading Alistair MacLean for the first time, Eagles. (Cue shocked gasps.) Incredibly good. I had no idea he was so funny in addition to the thriller aspect!
  • Axel Löfving and Margrethe Watt have begun to identify stamp identities and stylistic parallels for the Aska gold foil figures. The first secure stamp identity is a very, very long way to travel. Two foil figures made with the same die and found at different sites.
  • Hear me talk about my recent Vendel Period excavations in Swedish!
  • Last night’s talk was my 196th since I started counting in 1995. That averages out to about eight talks a year for a quarter century. I’m available for talks #197, 198, 199, 200 etc!
  • I’ve got a small box on my desk. Labels and tape show that first Fryxgames used it to send something to my buddy Johan. Then he used it to send scifi paperbacks from the Fantikvariat to me. Now I am using it to send Vendel Period small finds to a conservator in Kalmar.
  • The pizza & kebab place at the gas station has added a long Thai menu as well. The staff today was a 50ish Middle Eastern man with an accent, a quiet 60ish Thai lady and a 25ish Middle Eastern man with perfect Swedish pronunciation. Integration isn’t just about immigrants learning to live with the Swedes.

Third Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga

A piece of a decorative mount from a Vendel shield, c. AD 700. Embossed bronze foil with Style II animal art has been tinned and folded around the iron mount. Most of the foil is now missing.

At the beginning of this week there was no topsoil left in the trench, and so we left the 19th century behind and moved down into sunken features belonging to the mead-hall itself. Some highlights.

  • There is very little evidence for any activity in the trench between the year when the hall was torn down (maybe around AD 1000?) and the start of intensive coin dropping in 1805.
  • There is no rich or distinct floor layer in the trench. The topsoil and some partial post-destruction stone pavements sit directly on the fabric of the platform where the stones in the sunken features poke through.
  • We knew from the geophys that the hall has double walls. Cutting across the northern wall however, we found not two, but four foundation ditches with closely spaced postholes on their bottoms. This means that the hall has two phases built on the same spot, and that we only saw one of them in the geophys. The innermost wall line has yielded a large and rather crudely made iron key.
  • The great hearth pit has been backfilled with a layer of clean stones, no soot, a lot of air pockets. In this covering layer was a piece of a decorative shield mount from about AD 700 and an iron pendant with a close parallel in a seeress’ wand from the 10th century, plus flint flakes from fire making. I’m not sure at the moment if this is also where the slate spindle whorl was found.
  • Though the roof-supporting postholes are clearly visible in the geophys, we have failed to find them in the trench. They seem to be backfilled with material identical to the platform into which they are dug, and any large stones in them must be deeply buried.
  • A 1980s radiocarbon date places the construction of the platform in the interval 660–880 cal AD. Rich burials found nearby in 1885 and 1920 suggested that the platform would belong in the later part of this interval, around AD 800. This has proved incorrect: we have made some finds that place the use of the hall firmly in the 600s or 700s. More about these a week from now.

John Massey’s Coronavirus 101

John Massey is an engineer, not a medical professional. But he is smart, interested and well read, and he has a solidly fact-based worldview from a Hong Kong observation point. So I think his information is worth sharing, not least to avoid unnecessary fears. Bottom line: it’s not the end of the world.


Infection: By droplets from coughing or sneezing (max. range about 2m) which can hit you in the eyes, nose, mouth and infect you that way; picking up virus from surfaces (fomites, where it can stay alive possibly for weeks) and then touching the mouth, nose, eyes, where the virus enters through the mucous membranes; direct contact with infected people (shaking hands, kissing, whatever); in at least some circumstances (maybe when the disease has progressed in an infected person to infect their lungs) by airborne transmission (aerosols when people breathe out, so much greater range than droplets, and it can spread through ventilation ducts, central air-conditioning systems, etc.) It is at least as easily transmissible as seasonal influenza, maybe more so.

Incubation: Anywhere from 2 to 14 days (and in a few cases seemingly a lot longer), during which people are asymptomatic but already infectious, so disease control becomes really difficult, particularly combined with aerial transmission. In that scenario, trying to trace all ‘close contacts’ of infected people to identify those who might be infected and quarantine them all becomes an impossibility. But still worth doing, because taking some of those people out of circulation for 14 days quarantine will help to reduce the rate of spread of the virus. The problem then becomes – where do you put them all to keep them in quarantine? Home quarantine becomes an option, but then some people will sneak out, abscond, need to get out to buy food and other essential supplies. But all quarantines leak, they always do, but still worth doing to slow down the rate of spread.

Asymptomatic: Some people remain asymptomatic and recover naturally, but are still infectious while they have virus in their bodies.

Mild: Fever, dry cough, sneezing.

Severe: A % of mild cases will progress to severe, when people begin to experience breathing difficulty – if this is going to happen, it seems to happen about 5 days after the first onset of symptoms (but evidently what takes about 5 days in China is happening in a matter of a few hours in Iran, so it looks like the virus has mutated there to become more virulent), when the virus infects the lungs, and people need supplemental oxygen to keep them alive long enough while they recover from the infection.

Critical: A % of severe cases will progress to critical, where people need intensive support like mechanical ventilation to keep them alive.

Death: A % of critical cases will result in death.

Iran: Worryingly, in a lot of informally reported cases, people have suffered permanent damage to the heart muscle – the whatever, the myocardial muscle. The big pump.

Everywhere: In all severe and critical cases everywhere, some people suffer permanent lung damage.

So, imagine two scenarios: Scenario A and Scenario B.

In Scenario A, public hospitals receive new cases at a rate they can cope with and have sufficient resources to provide the necessary level of medical care, while ensuring that medical staff have sufficient personal protective equipment (masks, eye shields, plastic body suits, etc.) to avoid being infected themselves. Scenario A is what has happened in all areas of Mainland China + Hong Kong + Macau except for Hubei Province. In Scenario A, the fatality rate seems to be around 1%, so about 10x the typical fatality rate for seasonal influenza, which is around 0.1%.

In Scenario B, public hospitals are overwhelmed by being presented with so many cases that they do not have the resources to cope, have only enough beds and can only provide the necessary medical support for the more severe cases, and they do not have sufficient PPE for medical personnel, so a % of them also become infected and some die. This is what has happened in Wuhan (where the case fatality rate has been around 5%) and to a lesser extent in the rest of Hubei (where the CFR has been around 3%), and 3.8% of medical personnel have become infected.

When do you have an epidemic? When you have locally self-sustained transmission of the virus, with an R0 > 1. R0 is the average number of people that one infected person can infect. For SARS-CoV-2, it is working out at about 2.8 on the Chinese data, but you need to watch out for ‘super spreaders’, people who have the ability to shed a much greater viral load and infect many more people, and there have been some of those. R0 is not a constant, and if you can get R0 < 1, the epidemic will die out.

Testing: Difficult, because the early symptoms look like seasonal influenza or a bad cold, so there will be far more suspected cases than confirmed cases. The test developed for it is genetic matching from nasal and pharangeal swabs, you need 3 consecutive tests spaced a day apart to avoid false positives and false negatives, and the test is proving to be imperfect – some people who initially test negative go on to infect others, and then test positive later.

Recovery: The criteria that the Chinese are using, which are pretty solid, are 2 consecutive negative tests + no fever for 10 consecutive days + improving lung scans. But worryingly, some people who have recovered and have been discharged have subsequently infected some others, so now China is quarantining all recovered and discharged cases for a further 14 days.

National epidemics:

China: Guangdong, the second most severely affected province, but still a very long way below Hubei, the epidemic has peaked and died down to close to zero, and they have downgraded their health alert from I to II – I think only Guangzhou and Shenzhen are still locked down, Shenzhen hasn't had a single new known infection for days now, and everywhere else everyone is back at work, but schools remain closed – so in Guangdong they have done a super job; well done, people. Hubei, the epidemic is still going strong but seems to be peaking (which it will at some point – all epidemics peak at some point), and they have started to ease some of the controls on people's movements. Wuhan has been much harder hit than anywhere else in the country. Everywhere else in China seems to have peaked and be on the way down.

South Korea: exploding and in very deep shit.

North Korea: reports daily that they still have zero cases. Believe that and you will believe anything. Anecdotal reports that they are burning bodies like crazy.

Japan: exploding, maybe not quite as bad as South Korea, where it is running wild in the armed services and everywhere, but still a very worrying situation.

Italy: starting to explode. They are trying to control it aggressively by locking places down, canceling all of the football matches (you know things are bad in Italy when they cancel the football) and all of the other sensible stuff they can do, but it still looks like they could be in for a bad time, particularly with their aged population.

Iran: officially, not bad – the Ayatollahs are censoring the news, and everything is pretty much OK. Informally, via anecdotal reports from doctors and others in Iran, it is exploding all over the country, and the virus seems to have mutated there into a much more virulent strain; very high numbers of infection, very high deaths. Really bad. Major disaster.

Indonesia: Thinks it has no cases, but then it has no test kits, and no health care system to speak of. They could have a raging epidemic and not know it. That could apply to a lot of African countries too – lots and lots of Chinese people coming and going to various African countries, so it defies belief that none of them have any of it. Ethiopia still has regular commercial flights to China – they must be out of their minds.

USA: The CDC is sensibly on high alert and actively doing what they can to prepare, getting extra equipment, PPE, etc. The biggest risk to the USA is Canada, which is being run by an idiot. Yes, a worse idiot than Trump, if that's possible.

UK and Australia: The governments keep saying they are well prepared, when they are not remotely – if they get an epidemic, they are screwed, they will be straight into Scenario B.

HK: 74 known cases so far with 2 deaths, so already far fewer than Italy. The local epidemic curve, such as it is, has died right down and we are only getting the occasional small trickle, but some people keep doing dumb things like going to church or the local Buddhist centre or having big group dinners. But people are paranoid and panic-stricken, and the atmosphere is anxiety inducing. The known infection rate so far is 0.001% of the population, so I can't take seriously the idea that we have something you could call an epidemic, but we need to stay careful. By this stage in 2003, with the SARS epidemic (which I suppose I now have to call SARS-CoV-1) we had more than 1,000 infected and 50 deaths, and by the time it burned itself out at the start of summer we had 299 deaths. This could be potentially a lot worse, but so far the reality is far better. So far.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored in Yokohama: Don't want to talk about it. Complete shit-show. If you want to read about the whole dreadful debacle, you can Google it. In short, Japan has earned itself widespread international condemnation for the way it has grossly mishandled the whole dreadful mess, and also condemnation from some of its own very experienced infectious disease control specialists.

Vaccines: none yet, and even if they can find one, it will take about 2 years to test, mass-manufacture and vaccinate everyone, so forget that. I don't want to sound gloomy, but no one has yet managed to find a vaccine for SARS or MERS.

Treatments: none yet, but some individual reported successes with some antivirals, and with plasma from blood taken from patients who have recovered, which has antibodies against the virus (this is far from a new idea, and seems to be quite promising). But they all need proper trials, which will take at least months. In the meantime, the best they can do is just keep you alive long enough for your body's immune system to fight off the virus.

Who dies: Mercifully, not kids, not even newborns whose immune systems are not fully developed, and not healthy young people. Most at risk of dying are older people, and/or people with pre-existing health conditions like chronic heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory illnesses. And more men than women, both because of smoking patterns in China (half of all men smoke, while fewer than 2% of women do) and because women generally have somewhat better disease resistance. If you are over 80 and have some prior health condition (which almost everyone does at that age), you are basically screwed, but then at that age you are not going to be around for a hell of a lot longer anyway. If you are over 70, you have about an 8% chance of dying, but worse if you have one or more of the above health conditions (assuming Scenario A, not Scenario B).

Immigrant Child, Bilingual Household

My wife and I are a pretty obvious match: two bookish middle-class people of the same age. The big difference is that she was an immigrant child, arriving in Sweden with her parents and sibs at age 7. But this has been more of a boon than a problem for our relationship: we keep a bilingual household even though I’m not an immigrant. I’m not. Wait a minute, am I?

Long-term Aard readers know that I advocate multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism and have little regard for nationalism or patriotism. I grew up reading scifi about galactic federations, so narrow tribalism dividing some small part of Earth has never been my thing. I’m a little embarrassed though that it’s taken so long for me to realise that there may be a little more psychological conditioning behind my attitude than that.

Right around my 4th birthday we moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and I was plonked down into Kindergarten. There I learned to speak English and understand the ways of New England children by the sink-or-swim method. I remember trying to figure out rules for how to remodel a Swedish word into an English one that people around me would understand. I was an immigrant child for two years.

For part of our stay in the US a live-in nanny took care of me and my brother. This excellent, warm-hearted young woman came from a local Connecticut family, and when we returned to Sweden she came along, living with us for several years until my brother was old enough. One big reason that our nanny moved with us was to keep speaking English with us. I spent a big chunk of my childhood in a bilingual household. Our current one is in fact the second I’ve lived in.

So as I said, my wife and I are a pretty obvious match. In more ways than I have really appreciated until now.