September Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Ben Aaronovitch = Benjamin Aaronson wrote The Rivers of London. I wonder if it’s a pen name for my grandpa’s grandpa Aaron Benjaminson, who was a farmer in Tanum.
  • Two students are trying to play verbal chess while digging. The board is in their heads.
  • “Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy / But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine / Oh my Lola” /Ray Davies
  • Sudden thought: Christianity is a 2000-year extension of a state of spiritual emergency that Jesus thought would last a year or two.
  • Sweden has recently reformed its coinage. Convenient for me and the students: when it was time to seed trenches B and C with fresh coins before backfilling, for once we had lots of recent issues.
  • Talked about books with a dinner party dominated by Swedish non-geek journalists. Almost no overlap of references. Someone read the country’s biggest newspaper’s recommended books list out. Nothing rang a bell with me. I pay no attention to Swedish-language publishing, particularly not as regards mainstream fiction.
  • I’m kind of surprised that nobody’s tried to buy my loyalty. People have demanded it on the flimsiest of grounds, but nobody’s willing to pay. The stupidest case was the asshole Norwegian professor who told me to shut up online because I was hurting the workplace environment at his department. The one he was keeping me from employment at.
  • Just taught 7 Wonders to nine Dutch and Spanish students. Phew!
  • Threw out some hooks, and lo & behold, I got a nibble right away!
  • Public transport apps really make your movements across town incredibly efficient. I could never have come up with these combos back in the days of paper time tables.
  • At the Museum of World Culture: benumbed and queasy from a context-less global kaleidoscope of dissociated fragments.
  • The charcoal from the hearth the students excavated earlier this week is alder, Alnus sp. This is good news because alders don’t live for very long, and so the risk of a high intrinsic age is low when we get a radiocarbon date. (The centre of an oak trunk is hundreds of radiocarbon years older than this year’s fresh growth.)
  • I just deleted the automatic reminder in my calendar that has had me checking the academic job ads every third Monday for 14 years. *bliss*
  • Fun idea for a Rechthaber with a lot of spare time. Apply for all academic jobs in some field and systematically & immediately publish all applications and evaluations online to invite public scrutiny. In Sweden the authorities can’t refuse to divulge any paperwork having to do with public-sector hiring.
  • My new buddy the Palestinian engineer from Homs tells me his brother is at university and doing super, super poorly. On purpose. To avoid graduating and getting conscripted into Assad’s army.
  • This is very weird. I no longer have any reason to improve my archaeological qualifications. If anything, I may one day have to re-train completely to become a licensed librarian or teacher. But I no longer have to publish or perish. It’s been one of my main drivers since I was 22.
  • I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in Norwegian’s time-table accuracy from Gothenburg to Stockholm in the past three weeks. First week the flight was 6 hours late. Second week, 3 hours. And yesterday only ½ hour!!!

It looks a little tyred (Garden Society of Gothenburg)

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Jes Wienberg Shot Down My Habilitation

Habilitation, docentur, is a symbolic upgrade to your PhD found in Scandinavia and other countries with a strong element of German academic traditions. You can think of it as a boy-scout badge. It confers no salary, but it opens certain doors including that of supervising doctoral candidates. Though formally handed out by the faculty, it’s impossible to get without support from your department, as I learned from my abortive attempt at the University of Stockholm in 2010. If on the other hand you do have the support of your department, it’s impossible to avoid getting your habilitation – a mere formality. Almost impossible to avoid.

After heading freshman archaeology for two years in Umeå, in February of 2015 I applied for habilitation there with the kind support of the department’s ämnesansvarige, professor Thomas B. Larsson. He asked me, as is customary, to suggest a few names for the external reviewer. Trying to be shrewd about it, I picked two people who had written enthusiastically about my work in evaluations for jobs, and then I tried to think of a third person. Somebody senior, somebody impartial, yet vaguely friendly. And I thought of Jes Wienberg.

Wienberg is a professor of Historical Archaeology in Lund. We’ve only met once and have never collaborated. He owed me nothing and I owed him nothing, but we had corresponded amicably for about 15 years. My first memory of contact with him is from 2001/02 when I got his permission to re-print a really good article of his in the skeptical pop-sci journal Folkvett that I co-edited at the time. In 2004/05 he helpfully commented on the manuscript of a pugnacious debate piece of mine that appeared in the journal META, published at his department. He went on to publish in the scholarly journal I co-edit and was always helpful with recommendations when I needed a good reviewer for some new book on Medieval matters. Wienberg was never a big presence in my professional life, but he was a friendly one. Until he accepted the task of reviewing my habilitation application. And delivered his verdict.

The process took more than a year. I wasn’t directed to send my publications to the external reviewer until May 2016. I mailed the hefty stack to Wienberg on 24 May, and then I got the whole thing back on 8 June. Right at the end of the spring semester, when there are so many exams to correct, grades to set and bits of admin to finish, Wienberg spent less than two weeks getting familiar with 846 pages of research into prehistoric archaeology, a field he is not active in. And his verdict was roughly this:

Rundkvist fulfils all formal criteria for habilitation. But I don’t like his methods of research. So I refuse to give him my recommendation.

Those who read Scandy can check here whether the above is a fair summary of Wienberg’s evaluation.

Wienberg’s behaviour caused much consternation at the faculty in Umeå. Nobody ever does this. Habilitation is a ceremonial act. If you’re asked to review work that you absolutely loathe, then you just don’t accept the job. “Sorry, I’m too busy right now.” And Wienberg’s value judgement of my stuff was completely beside the point, because those publications had already passed peer review and been published in high-profile venues. He wasn’t just questioning my work, he was questioning the insight of among others Thomas B. Larsson and two fellow professors at his own department in Lund who had accepted reams of my writing for publication.

But anyway, I never did get habilitated. A friendly old Umeå professor from a neighbouring discipline did his best at the faculty to effect a re-submission opportunity for me, but it came to nothing. Due to flagging student numbers I no longer worked in Umeå, and my support from the departmental staff was lackadaisical. One guy wrote me explicitly that the question of my habilitation was linked to what the playing field would look like the next time a professorship became vacant in Umeå. We climb over each other to reach the top.

And so I learned yet again that a career in academia is never about the formal rules for how stuff should work, never really about qualifications. It’s a tribal system of social patronage. I also learned, belatedly, not to trust Jes Wienberg.

Three Fortunate Young Oslovians

Oslo colleagues have asked me to give a fuller account of the spring 2017 hiring that I called the most egregious case I’ve seen. This is not because they’re trying to make the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History look good, but because they feel that I unfairly singled out a single hire, when in fact there were three. I’m happy to oblige. For one thing, I hadn’t even noticed that one of the three has no PhD.

Some background. Norway has a strong tradition of research performed at museums. Bergen’s museum, for instance, was doing major science long before there was a university in town. The førsteamanuensis positions at the Oslo museum that I’m discussing here have 40% research time built into them. Hear that, academics everywhere? A full-time, lifetime job with 40% research time. 20 people applied for those three jobs.

I’ve kept stats on who has gotten lectureships and førsteamanuensis positions in Scandy archaeology for the past 14 years. The median age of the hires is 43. Half of the hires are between 40 and 46. The youngest person to get one of these jobs since I started counting in 2003 was 32, at Uni Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, this past spring.

But yes, there were three hires. They’re 32, 35 and 39, that is, all three are exceptionally young. One worked at the museum when the jobs were advertised, another had worked there previously, and one of these two hasn’t got a PhD! A third one had a post-doc position at Uni Oslo’s main campus just across town, where this person had done their PhD (post-doc at your home department, huh!?). This one is also a long-term collaborator on two projects of the hiring committee’s chairman, who is a professor at the museum in accordance with the fine Norwegian rules for these things.

I believe that by the time they reach 45, two of these people will have strongly competitive CVs. (They’re getting paid to do research at 40% of full time, after all, and all three certainly seem bright enough.) My point in bringing them up is that in 2017 none of the three have this. There is nobody under the age of 40 in Scandinavian academic archaeology who can compete in front of a fair and impartial hiring committee with people who have published research voluminously for a quarter century. Because nobody starts publishing research at age 15. So it’s pretty damn egregious the whole thing.

Yeah, Screw You Too, Academia

I recently received a long-awaited verdict on an official complaint I had filed: there was in fact nothing formally wrong with the decision by the Dept of Historical Studies in Gothenburg to hire Zeppo Begonia. Since the verdict didn’t go my way, as planned I am now turning my back on academic archaeology. The reason is that qualifications don’t count in Scandyland.

Being friends with people inside, and preferably being a local product, is what gets you academic jobs here. I need to cut my losses and move on. I would call this post a burning of bridges if there were any to burn, but there are none. Fourteen years on this joke of a job “market” have demonstrated that it doesn’t matter whom I piss off now: there won’t be a steady job for me either way.

I’ve been applying for academic jobs all over Scandinavia since 2003. The longest employment I’ve been able to secure was a 6-month temp lectureship at 55% of full time – during one of three happy years when I headed freshman archaeology in remote Umeå. But time and time again, I’ve seen jobs given to dramatically less qualified colleagues.

Norwegian university recruitment is particularly ugly. There, rules stipulate that the “external” hiring committee has to be chaired by a senior faculty member from the hiring department itself – with predictable results. The most egregious case I’ve seen was not long ago at the University of Oslo’s archaeological museum, where a [uniquely young] recent [University of Oslo] PhD with hardly any publications at all got a steady research lectureship. She had been working closely with a professor at the museum. Who chaired the hiring committee. And who was once, prior to this, super angry with me when I complained about the Norwegian system on Facebook, haha! I’ve seen the same thing at the Oslo uni department and at NTNU in Trondheim recently. Local people with poor qualifications who could never compete anywhere else get permanent positions.

Denmark’s system is completely non-transparent. You don’t get a list of who applied and you don’t get to read their evaluations, like you do in Sweden and Norway. What tends to happen in my experience is that you get a glowingly enthusiastic evaluation, which feels super nice, and then they hire some Dane. The country has only two archaeology departments that produce these strangely employable Danes.

Finland’s university humanities used to be poorly funded. To boot they have recently been radically de-funded from that prior low level. The Finns understandably never advertise any jobs at all.

Sweden is no better than its neighbours. Our hiring committees for steady jobs are fully external, so that’s good. But you get steady jobs on the strength of your temping experience. And temp teachers are hired with no external involvement at all, like in the recent case of Zeppo Begonia in Gothenburg. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The Faculty of Humanities at this university, let me remind you, was severely censured by the Swedish Higher Education Authority back in May for many years of gross misconduct in their hiring practices. Local favouritism is the deal here.

There are quite a few people in Scandy academic archaeology whom I’d like to see driving a bus for a living. Zeppo Begonia is not one of them. He is a solid empiricist prehistorian of Central European origin whose work I respect and admire. If you ask me who should get research funding, I will reply “Zeppo Begonia”. I would like to see many more Zeppoes in my discipline. I think we should import them to replace some of our own shoddy products. But look at our respective qualifications for this measly one-year temp lectureship at 60%.

  • The ad specified that you needed solid knowledge of Scandy archaeology to do the job. I’m 45 and I’ve worked full time in Scandy archaeology for 25 years. Zeppo is 39 and started working and publishing here four years ago.
  • I have published five academic books. Zeppo has published one.
  • I have published 45 journal papers and book chapters in a wide range of respected outlets. Zeppo has published 23.
  • Zeppo and I have both been temp teachers for some percentage of four academic years.
  • I have published 29 pieces of pop-sci, including one book, plus eleven years of this blog. Zeppo has published no pop-sci.
  • Out of Zeppo’s research output, little deals with Scandy archaeology, but several of these pieces are co-authored with senior figures in archaeology at the University of Gothenburg. Hint, hint.

This, as you can see, is just ridiculous. And there is no legal recourse unless you are discriminated against on grounds of race, gender etc. The appeals board has proved to ignore qualification issues. Believe me, I’ve tried.

To finish off, a few words for my colleagues at Scandinavian archaeology departments. Have you published five academic books and 45 journal papers? Are you extremely popular with the students? Have you worked in Scandinavian archaeology for at least 25 years? Have you got other heavy qualifications, like an 18-year stint as managing editor of a major journal and 11 years of keeping one of the world’s biggest archaeology blogs? If your answer to any of these questions is no, then I would have your job if Scandy academic archaeology were a meritocracy.

The head of department, Helène Whittaker, has declined to comment on the case of Zeppo Begonia. I use this pseudonym for him to emphasise that he has done nothing wrong. He just applied for a job.

September Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Planting a gingko and listening to early Black Sabbath.
  • Sailboat owners around Älgö have a lot of trouble with their wind indicators. The local crows use them as merry-go-rounds, which messes them up.
  • Me: “I am daft today.” Autocorrect: “I am Daddy Toast.”
  • Friendly local fellow gladly gave us permission to stash our excavation gear overnight behind his garden shed.
  • Heavy downpour making loud whoosh noise on the roof.
  • Rented a van, collected excavation gear and two students, deposited gear at site, bought extra gear, had lunch, returned van, am now in no hurry to airport. Everything went as planned. (But then a storm hit and my flight was delayed for almost six hours.)
  • Went out of the house at 05:15 heading for Gothenburg, was greeted by a beautiful conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon in the south-east.
  • Opening three trenches today in Kungahälla’s Viking Period predecessor. Weights & spindlewhorls tell of trade & textile crafts.
  • Mars Society’s scifi writer debate panel on humankind’s future in space consists of four white men aged 62 and over. Ouch.
  • Have a feeling that a lot of web sites keep re-asking me if I’ll accept their goddamn cookies.
  • How can you figure out the average volume of a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire simply by counting them? I mean, you don’t know their total volume to begin with. Makes no sense. Lennon was clearly tripping.
  • The damn fire alarm in my hotel room has a bright green blinking LED that keeps me from sleeping. Last night I put a sticky plaster on it, but tonight I decided to take it down. Wearing headphones with loud riff rock in them. So I couldn’t hear the angry beeping from the alarm box in the hallway. So security had to come visit. *sigh*

A Female Viking Warrior Interred at Birka

In archaeology, we distinguish osteological sex from artefact gender. Osteo-sex is with very few exceptions (odd chromosomal setups) the same thing as what your genitals are like. Artefact gender is the material correlate of a role you play according to the conventions of your time: e.g. whether you keep your genitals in Y-fronts or lacy knickers. We judge these two parameters from separate source materials. Your skeleton can’t tell us anything about your gender, and your grave goods can’t tell us anything about your osteo-sex. They are in principle able to vary independently.

Nevertheless, 1st millennium Scandinavians seem to have been quite conventional about this: mismatches between osteo-sex and artefact gender are extremely rare. The graves are clearly divided into osteo-female jewellery graves and osteo-male weapon graves. If you exclude cremated bones and poorly preserved inhumations that can cause misdeterminations, the number of mismatches shrinks even more. And when you do see a mismatch it’s typically partial: e.g. a male skeleton buried with a full set of weaponry and horse gear, plus a single ladylike brooch. I was until recently not aware of any well-preserved and richly furnished Scandy inhumation of the 1st millennium with a complete mismatch between osteo-sex and artefact gender. But now we have one.

Birka’s grave 581 is one of the famous chamber inhumation graves where this Swedish Viking town’s 10th century elite buried their dead. It has loads of high-quality weaponry and two horses. It has no hint of any female attire. And it has the skeleton of a person whose funny bent position suggests that, like in many other chamber graves, the individual was buried sitting on a chair and then keeled over inside the chamber.

In the 1970s, the skeleton had become disassociated from the artefact finds, and an osteologist (sadly uncredited in the paper discussed below) quietly identified it as female. In 2014 osteologist Anna Kjellström identified the bones as belonging to Bj 581, the famous weapon burial, and agreed that the skeleton is female. Certain archaeologists have replied that they don’t believe this because of the weapons. Others have suggested more diplomatically that maybe the bones represent two individuals, or that a male body was removed while still articulated. Others again have simply dismissed the whole issue with reference to 19th century sloppiness in keeping the Birka bones correctly labelled grave by grave.

Now a team of researchers, of whom I am proud to count half as my professional buddies, have sequenced the genomes of the bones. Yes, plural. To test if the skull and one arm are from the same person. There is only one person there, and just as Kjellström said, she’s biologically a woman. I am extremely happy with this investigation, because it gives us our first real female Viking, and it shows that osteologists can indeed judge osteo-sex correctly on well-preserved ancient skeletons. Very commendably, the paper is available online in full for free: Open Access.

Here’s a few notes.

  • The grave was selected for analysis because of the controversy over its osteo-sex. It is not a randomly chosen weapon burial that happened to prove female. If you pick a random Birka inhumation, this is not the result you are likely to get.
  • Assuming that burial furnishings speak directly about a person’s role in life (which is always debatable), we don’t know if the dead person was perceived as a cross-dressing woman, or just as a man. In other words, we have no way to tell if she was “out”. There are examples of both from later centuries, where for instance Joan of Arc never tried to pass as a man despite wearing armour and commanding an army.
  • The plan of the grave shows which bones were well preserved. This should be enough to counter the charge that maybe the skeleton currently labelled Bj 581 is not in fact the one found in this weapon grave. This the authors should have written a few sentences about. I take their silence to mean that having already published her arguments about this elsewhere, Kjellström considers the issue uncontroversial.
  • We still can’t rule out the early removal of an articulated male body. But such an argument ex silentio would demand that we place similar female bodies in all other weapon graves as well. We can’t just create the bodies we want in order for the material to look neat.

The “Discussion” section hasn’t been properly copy-edited.

  • I don’t know what “The archaeological material provides a reference for the Viking Age” means.
  • Because of the odd phrasing, I don’t know what the authors are trying to say about earlier scholarship here: “Although not possible to rule out, previous arguments have likely neglected intersectional perspectives where the social status of the individual was considered of greater importance than biological sex. This type of reasoning takes away the agency of the buried female.”
  • “Grave Bj 581 is one of three known examples where *the* individual has been treated in accordance with prevailing warrior ideals lacking all associations with the female gender” : “The” here should be “a female”.

Hedenstierna-Jonson, Charlotte et al. 2017. A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2017. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23308

I discussed the issue of shield maidens in 2013, the year before Anna Kjellström went public with her identification of the female skeleton with Bj 581.

September Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • Five years since my first teaching gig. Still temping today, still enjoying it, still think I should have a steady job.
  • LinkedIn suggests that I might apply for a job as home language teacher of Kannada, a Dravidian language spoken in southern India. 15% of full time.
  • Did Timothy Leary use TripAdvisor?
  • Richard Bradley discusses my 2015 book at length in his new book A Geography of Offerings. *happy*
  • I want to text my lower-teen self that I just favourited Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart”. He would be absolutely disgusted.
  • Breakfast: bread that I baked, mushrooms that I picked, crayfish claws that my wife left.
  • Our first real Viking warrior burial that has been genetically identified as female! This paper will prove a milestone. Here’s the burial itself. It doesn’t get more warriory than this.
  • Satisfying little discovery today: one of the most honoured guests at the wedding in July of 1359 at Stensö Castle, the uncle of the bride, was the owner of Landsjö Castle, whatever was left of it at the time.
  • Placed 7th out of 12 boats in the mini race.
  • The new Ride song “Charm Assault” has the expression “your lies begin to unfurl”. Think you meant “unravel” there, mate.

August Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • I’m confused. For years and years this boy lived with me. Now instead there’s a tall young man studying engineering in Jönköping. I somehow helped make this happen. It’s strange to me.
  • The most common surnames among my DNA relatives are Johansson, Nilsson and Persson. All three are among the ten most common surnames in Sweden.
  • Miley Cyrus & the Flaming Lips have covered “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” & “A Day In The Life” together. Both are amazingly good!
  • Hehe. NYT writer spells “help reign in spending”. Maybe using a reigndeer?
  • “She’s a peach” was not coined by Prince in the 90s. Somerset Maugham uses the expression in his 1921 story “The Pool”.
  • This high-end Yunnan smells of fudge.
  • A sycophantic psychopomp lures the souls of the rich and vain to the Land of the Dead with flattery.
  • Checked my bank balance and was astonished to find lots of unexpected money. Upon investigation it turned out to be my monthly salary. I haven’t had a full-time one since 2001.
  • Enjoyable and uncommon experiences today: received a salary and had lunch with colleagues. Glad I’ve decided to leave my scholar’s lifestyle behind soon, one way or another. Research is fun but it’s lonely, it’s poorly and erratically paid and it doesn’t help you get a job. The academic labour market in my field is a social patronage system rather than a meritocracy.
  • Post-rock is a thing of the past.
  • The leafy walking path to Marksburg Castle doubles back on itself eleven times between the foot of the hill and the car park. Then the steep stairs begin.
  • In her Hugo-winning collection of essays from recent years, Words Are My Matter, Ursula LeGuin states that the big media corporations are trying to get rid of copyright, and that “soma” in Huxley’s Brave New World refers to the Greek word for “body”. Her editor has been nodding off.
  • Redemption is a ubiquitous concept in US literary criticism. The various Swedish translations, prominently försoning, are all archaic and rarely used. As I understand Swedes, we see neither a need for nor a possibility of redemption.
  • I have become quite unwilling to invest in a scifi/f author’s worldbuilding if it is delivered in a confusing, allusive, demanding way. My reaction these days tends to be “If you’re not willing to guide me into the world you’ve made up, then I’m not reading your stuff. I’ve visited too many worlds and yours isn’t immediately important to me.”
  • German das heisst is such a cool expression. “It is named” for “that is”.
  • AfD, the German Hate Party, hasn’t got a lot of posters out this election season. But the one you do see is openly anti-Islamic while also strangely flirting with feminism: it has three women drinking wine and the slogan, “We won’t wear burkas, we’ll drink wine”.
  • Castle Eltz, shown around by the 33rd count, who is also the former treasurer of the German Castle Studies Association. Mind blown.
  • Saw a slightly sinister election poster from the parody party PARTEI. It was at the top of a lamppost. “A Nazi could hang here.”
  • LeGuin really likes Tove Jansson’s 1982 novel The True Deceiver / Den ärliga bedragaren. Maybe I should re-read it.
  • Fun and unexpected radiocarbon result. The wooden poles that we found stuck into the bottom of Lake Landsjön between the shore and the castle islet: they date from the 11th century, 200 years before the castle was built. I’m glad I decided to date them.
  • Why aren’t t-shirts with the logos of popular boardgames sold in game stores?
  • Bloody-minded means deliberately uncooperative in British English. LeGuin, writing in the Guardian, thinks it means literally having violent thoughts.

August Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • I don’t get it, safe deposit boxes, Sw. bankfack. Are they a disappearing bank service? Do I know anyone under the age of 50 who has one? What do you guys keep there?
  • Do you wonder if I’ve got my shit together? I’ll tell you. I have street maps of Helsinki from visits in 2002 and 2009 instantly retrievable from the bookshelf next to my desk. That’s how together I’ve got my shit, OK?
  • Sonja Virta: in the 1966 edition, Tolkien added to The Hobbit that Gollum is small and slimy. Illustrators had been drawing him too big.
  • New adjective: beshatten = very dirty. “Honey, can you find clean pants for Jr? His old ones are completely beshatten.”
  • WorldCon 75 restaurant guide: “Pasila is what the architects and city planners of the 1970s thought the future should look like.”
  • I hardly know any Finnish grammar, but it turns out I have this passive vocab that surprises me. A homeless man shuffled up to me and said “Something something kello“, and I actually understood immediately that he was asking for the time, not for a handout. It was 12:30. He thanked me politely and shuffled off.
  • Jrette saw seals, Perseid meteors and a big red August moon at camp.
  • “I hope you find your peas / Falling on your niece / Praying” Kesha
  • I pick up a spoon and a candy wrapper from the floor of Jrette’s room. “Are you QUESTIONING my INTERIOR DECORATION?!?!?”
  • The Federmesser is this Late Palaeolithic archaeological culture in Northern Europe. The word means “feather knife”. I’ve never studied its remains since they’re extremely rare in Sweden (Ice Age, 3 km thick ice, OK?). But I’ve assumed that the name is literally descriptive of a characteristic artefact type. Now I learn that a better translation is “quill knife”. Or as most people would put it, “penknife”. The Federmesser culture is the Penknife People!
  • Here’s an unexpected turn. Atheists are joining the dwindling Swedish Church in order to vote in the church elections and keep the Swedish Hate Party out of its governing boards. I consider myself a political opponent of both organisations, though I’m of course far, far more friendly to S. Church than to S. Hate.
  • Tomorrow I’m driving Junior and his furniture 330 km to Jönköping and engineering school. “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
  • The 45th presidency is like when your toddler messes with your laptop. Suddenly you have a Croatian keyboard map, a mouse cursor shaped like a banana and the screen is rotated 90 degrees. And you’re like “I had no idea you could do this! Now, how do you undo it?”
  • Local paper warns that rising sea level may obliterate thousands of islands in the Stockholm Archipelago. Neglects to mention that this would also recreate thousands of islands that have recently become part of larger land masses through post-glacial uplift.
  • Such a good day together with Junior. Now he’s in his new solo home. I bought him a toaster.

Stop Prefixing with “So”

I was pleased to learn from Current Archaeology #330 (p. 65) that Chris Catling shares my distaste for the habit scientists have recently picked up of prefixing their answers to interview questions with ”So…”.

Q: Where did you find the new exciting fossil?
A: So we found it in Mongolia.
Q: How old is it?
A: So it’s from the Early Cretaceous.

What annoys me about this isn’t just that it’s new. I know that us speakers change language over time. My irritation is down to the fact that I reserve ”So”, when used in this position in a phrase, for two other purposes. Either to mean ”thus, ergo, it follows that”, or to indicate that I spoke about this before and was interrupted, and now I want to pick up where I left off. Neither of these apply to your first response in an interview. To my ear, it’s as bad as opening with ”Nevertheless” or ”On the other hand”.

Dear scientist, if a question about your recently published work, the work for which you have scheduled an interview with the radio, takes you by surprise, then feel free to prefix your reply with ”Well…” while you think about it. If you must.