The entry about the Fake Advertising Mom provoked a reaction I didn’t see coming. I said that pregnancy and nursing changes a woman’s body in plainly visible ways and that the fake moms in ads usually show no such signs, in addition to being too young to be realistic mothers of the children they’re photographed with. This, to my mind, was a feminist observation.

I picked up feminism from my first wife who had been a women’s-lib radical on the extreme left during the 70s. In that mode of thinking, feminists accept and celebrate the female body for what it is. Attempting to look like 20 when you’re 35 is seen as a symptom of patriarchal repression. Such a feminist doesn’t shave and wears her stretch marks with pride.

Instead I got this barrage of angry comments and blog responses from people who think that it is misogynistic to suggest that a woman cannot look like 20 at 35 and after becoming a mom. This reminds me of the Onion’s headline, “Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does“. My critics apparently buy into the skinny waif ideal, they assume that I do too, and so they automatically conclude that I’m hostile to women. Not true.

To me, it’s sad to see a woman touting her ability to get skinny again after childbirth as a virtue. Sweetheart, you don’t need to look like the models in the ads. And, frankly, once that first baby pops out, you will never look quite like a girl again. My point is that you really shouldn’t want to. (The men don’t mind. That’s why children get siblings.)

And to those who think that men have no right to voice an opinion on these matters, I’d just like to take this opportunity to thumb my nose.

For a characteristically wise and graceful (though slightly condescending) treatment of the issue, see this entry by the incomparable Dr. Isis.

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Last night somebody googled the phrase “martin rundqvist republikan” and ended up here on my blog. Note the K: this person probably didn’t wonder if I’d vote for Sarah Palin. They wondered what I think about the Swedish constitution, which provides the country with a decorative king. Outside the US, “republican” means “anti-monarchist”. And yes, I am an anti-monarchist. I think it’s a disgrace that the Scandy countries, which are among the world’s strongest democracies, are still symbolic monarchies. And I think it’s deeply wrong that the hapless royals are born into their golden cage.

But there’s a paradoxical twist to this issue. When polled, most Swedes voice strong support for the current constitution and the royal house. So although monarchy is by its very nature undemocratic, it would be undemocratic to take monarchy away from the Swedish voters. Republikanism (with a K) is in fact a minority position of the intellectual elite in Scandinavia. And if we’d decide that anybody who supports monarchy is too stupid to be allowed to vote, then bang goes our strong democracy. So I tend not to think too much about the issue.

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UK Contract Archaeology in Deep Slump

As pointed out here many times before, archaeology is a bad career choice as the labour market is tiny and ridiculously overpopulated. I mainly keep tabs on the academic subset of this labour market. But via Alun I’ve received news that UK contract archaeology, the business where you remove and document sites that get in the way of land development, is in poor shape because of the economic recession. The Institute for Archaeologists announces that one in six jobs in contract archaeology has been lost since the start of the recession, with more losses likely in the near future.

In Sweden, there has been a tendency for archaeological unemployment to vary in counterphase with that of other professions. In other words, when everybody else experiences a boom, we get a bust, and vice versa. This is because in a quasi-socialist state, the government usually invests in public works to combat unemployment during a recession, and public works generate a need for contract archaeology. But I guess it’s been a long time since the Labour Party in the UK advocated quasi-socialism. And judging from all the closed shops I saw in Chester back in February, the recession seems to have hit the UK much harder than Sweden. (My crappy mutual fund has gained 7% in the past two months, yay!)

But still, this is actually unimportant news to would-be archaeologists. Because when there are 10 000 archaeologists and 600 jobs, it makes no difference if 100 of those jobs disappear. The only reasonable way to do archaeology and have a good life is to work four days a week as a doctor / lawyer / engineer, and spend Fridays and weekends doing amateur archaeology.

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Ireland and Lithuania Pass Old Testament Laws

In the West we shake our heads, and very rightly so in my opinion, at sharia, Islamic law rooted in the culture of 7th century AD Arabia. This is the body of thought that leads to judicial stonings and mutilations to this day.

The legislative assemblies of Ireland and Lithuania, each just a short boat ride from Swedish shores, have recently shown that the mindset they cultivate is certainly not that of AD 700. They are aiming for Old Testament times, 700 BC or earlier.

In Ireland, blasphemous speech is now illegal. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

In Lithuania, is is now illegal for media and schools to spread information that “agitates for homosexual, bisexual relations, or polygamy.” “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

To all free-thinking and tolerant people in Ireland and Lithuania, this must of course be a huge embarrassment. You have my sympathy! I hope these laws will not mark the beginning of a slide backward to the Bronze Age for your countries.

Libertarian Columnist Smears Sweden in the Guardian

Dear Reader Tom Stinnett alerted me to a really doom-laden article about Sweden in yesterday’s Guardian. Says Ruben Andersson (apparently a Swedish expat and anthropologist),

Sweden’s conservative coalition government has stood still as the financial crisis has engulfed the country. Jobs, social services and healthcare are eroding. The Sweden Democrats – the equivalent of the BNP – are on the rise. The social state is failing. The Swedish dream is no more. … Sweden’s homemade financial meltdown of the 1990s … finally killed off the dream. Poverty was added to the pessimism. Savage cuts hit schools, unemployment rocketed, the krona sank – leaving the social system in a disarray from which it has not recovered.

Now, I certainly don’t pretend to have a very comprehensive or updated view of the state of my country’s social security system and national economy. But I’ve lived here for decades, and I do know that our society is very far from “eroding”, “failing” and “in disarray”.

Swedish media have been discussing the uncertain future of our high-taxes, cheap social services system for about twenty years now. They have been unfailingly gloomy about it. But it still costs me only $19 to see a doctor (no, the queue is never long as Andersson claims) and $260 a month to have a child in daycare. Swedish universities still don’t charge students a fee, and anybody can still have six years’ worth of government loans to support them through their studies.

Andersson’s piece appears to be the first he’s sold to the Guardian. My impression is that in order to make the sale, Andersson fed his editor a scary interesting story that happens not to be true. His choice of words suggests that he has pretty extreme libertarian opinions that cause him to want the Swedish system to fail. He would dislike it simply on first principles even if the system showed no weaknesses whatsoever.

Psychiatric care, the source of many … scandals, has a near-medieval penchant for authoritarianism with few European equivalents. People are locked up for months for not taking medicine, given no therapy, and spat out of the system into despair and destitution. The mentally ill die in wards and in outpatient isolation. And they do not even have charities to turn to

This is bollocks. The main problem with the Swedish psychiatric care system is that out of misguided respect for their integrity, patients who can’t really take care of themselves are allowed to roam free and homeless. And note the guy’s highly suggestive love of charities. He simply doesn’t like high taxes and collective solutions. He then goes on to talk about “Sweden’s second-rate public services”, which is just a joke.

Dear Reader, to get a fair large-scale grip on current Swedish society, you shouldn’t listen to me, because I spend most of my time in the 1st Millennium AD. And you certainly shouldn’t listen to Ruben Andersson, because he is an axe-grinding anti-collectivist who is more interested in influencing society than describing it.

Never Mind the Burkas

If president Sarkozy really believes that Muslim women are subservient to male members of their families, then he shouldn’t try to regulate their clothing. He should draw the full consequences of his beliefs and forbid Muslim women to vote in French elections. If, on the other hand, he believes that these women are autonomous enough to vote independently of their husbands and fathers, then he should let them dress as they please.

Via Mathias Klang.

Silence is the Enemy: But What is Wrong With Those Men!?

Living in a country that hasn’t seen war for two centuries, and never having done military service, I’m completely baffled by war rapes and the post-war rapes that have become part of the cultures of certain African countries. Particularly the high incidence of child rape going on e.g. in Liberia and Congo.

The appeal of gambling I sort of understand.

The appeal of drugs and drink I sort of understand.

The appeal of corruption and personal enrichment I sort of understand.

And I sort of understand the strategic military value of demoralising the civilian population by ordering e.g. Japanese troops to rape and murder the women of Nanjing in 1937 or the Red Army to systematically rape East Berlin’s female inhabitants in 1945. Most war crimes are committed for some strategic reason, however twisted.

But I can’t understand the appeal of committing rape. I can’t understand it when the victim is a grown woman, no matter how attractive, and I certainly can’t understand it when the victim is a kid. To me, forcing myself sexually upon someone would not be like enjoying shop-lifted candy, a guilty pleasure. It would be like eating a shit sandwich. I gladly pay to eat candy. I would gladly pay to not have to commit rape, if those were the options. I like sex, but rape isn’t sex. It’s more akin to torture, something I would also gladly pay to not have to commit.

“Yay! The war has broken down the fabric of society! Might makes right! I can do whatever the fuck I like! I’m gonna gamble, I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna enrich myself! And then I’m finally gonna be able to have as many big steaming shit sandwiches as I like!” I don’t get it.

The Liberian and Congolese rapists are not acting on any unbridled universal male urges. To my mind, they are simply insane, probably due to war trauma and a broken culture, like the members of Charlie Company at My Lai. There are certain things that no sane person will do, and raping children is one of them.

In the long run, Darwinian selection acts upon cultures. But us in the world at large can’t wait for that to make the current cultures of Liberia and Congo go extinct, taking millions of people with them.

Please check out the blogs Isis the Scientist, Tara Smith’s Aetiology, and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s The Intersection. They’re donating their blog incomes to combat post-war rape and have pledged to cover the developing situation. And if you can, consider donating to Doctors Without Borders.

Archaeology Misused in Jerusalem

A headline caught my eye: “Archaeology in the Struggle for Jerusalem“. As usual when archaeology is used for political ends, it is actually subservient to written history in this case.

In the Bustan neighbourhood of the Silwan precinct in East Jerusalem, the municipality of Jerusalem has ordered 88 buildings torn down. Most are inhabited by Palestinians, most were built without a permit, most can be expected to sit on top of interesting archaeology. But not just any cool anonymous Prehistoric stuff for us nerds: the municipality wants to make an national archaeological park of the area to show off a certain historically documented period. They’re not curious about the Chalcolithic, they don’t itch to learn more about Canaanite settlement, they aren’t fans of Saladin curious about the 12th century AD. When we learn that the nationalist settler association Elad are intended to run the park, we know what levels they’re going for: The Kingdom of David and the 1st Millennium BC. Anglophone readers will know the place name Silwan as Siloam, of Pool fame, one of the sites where the Old Testament can be linked to the archaeological record.

If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve seen this sort of thing after the fact: the great open pits of the Fori Imperiali, where Mussolini had entire neighbourhoods torn down in order to shovel away the Middle Ages and reach the Imperial Period. In that case, it was basically rich Italians evicting poor Italians, so any protests would have been far more quiet than in East Jerusalem.

At Tell Hazor in the Galilee, where I did my first digging in 1990, excavations have largely been funded by wealthy New Yorkers. That is, until the team reached the pre-Israelite period and hit upon the ruins of a Canaanite palace. Very cool stuff! Then it suddenly proved quite hard to find the money to build a protective roof over the remains. Canaanites, schmanaanites, you know?

Extreme nationalism is an ugly thing regardless of the specific ethnicity involved. On-lookers everywhere wish that Israel would just elect a mixed-ethnicity secular liberal government and stop looking to the past. I mean, come on, those buildings in Bustan were built without permits because Palestinians can’t get building permits in Jerusalem. Archaeology should proceed in constructive dialogue between scholars, local people and other interested parties. To project managers: if you start to feel a need to evict living people forcefully in order to get at a site, you’re doing it all wrong and for the wrong reasons.

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What’s The Financial Crisis Got To Do With Me?

As a scholar working in an abstruse subject I live a life largely divorced from what concerns most people. We have no newspaper subscription. I really don’t have much of a clue. But I am aware of the poor state of the world economy. Now, how has it affected me so far?

The only effect of the financial crisis on my life that I am aware of is that the mortgage my wife and I took out in December is absurdly cheap. We currently pay less per month to live in a 114 sqm house than we did last year to live in a 80 sqm apartment.

In the long run, it seems the crisis will have both good and bad effects for me. On one hand, the foundations that fund my research are likely to have less money than usual to dole out over the following years. On the other hand, the slump will prompt the government to invest in roads and railroads, which will create archaeological job opportunities, and it will lead to unemployment in other sectors, which will prompt the government to invest in the university system to keep the kids off the streets, which will create further job opportunities for scholars in abstruse subjects.

So I’m not really bothered by the global financial crisis.

What about you, Dear Reader? How has the crisis affected your life so far? And what effects do you foresee?

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Let’s Turn The Population Trend

i-ab760a188315530720bd0937527b32f9-gerbils.jpgImagine that you’re ten years old, you’ve got a cageful of gerbils and your weekly allowance is just big enough to feed five of them. If one of the females pops out a brood of pups, you’re in trouble. You can either try to weedle a bigger allowance out of your parents, try to give gerbils away, starve the gerbils… or start killing gerbil pups.

Now, at more than six billion people in our worldwide gerbil cage, we’ve pretty much got the same choices, only we can’t give people away — but we can control the number of pups born. And we need to. Because within the next century, our global population is going to come down one way or the other. Famine, war, pandemics — or contraception. Those are our choices.

The key thing is to make sure that next generation is smaller than the current one, and continue that way for centuries until we reach a sustainable level again. Chinese dictatorial population practices have been highly successful in this regard: on one hand, the one-child-per-couple policy (ethically defensible in my opinion), on the other the underground tendency for selective abortion of girls (ethically iffy but unintentionally very effective in curtailing population growth). We need to do even better by democratic means.

Woman or man — thy loins must never issue more than two children, preferably less! That’s the replacement rate. But by all means have a whole gerbil-like clutch of children, a full quiver, a soccer team — through adoption. Empty the world’s orphanages! And regardless of whether you decide to have kids at all — put money into the education of girls. Because one of the surest ways known to sociology of keeping nativity figures down is to give girls an education.

Putting children into the world comes with a certain responsibility. They’re not going to thank you for putting them on the planet if in 30 years their kids are dying of dysentery and malnourishment in a refugee camp. Let’s try to ease population down, and maybe we can avoid a crash.

This is my contribution to the Global Population Speak Out initiative.