- Reading Matt Ruff’s new novel about black Americans in the 50s. Annoyed to find that nothing in the dialogue would sound out of place if spoken by a white American sci-fi fan in 2017.
- Feared 45 would be the sort who gets the trains running on time and starts wars. Actually can’t get trains running at all, wars with TV hosts.
- Etymological misunderstanding in this novel. Ruff parses the name Braithwaite as Braith-white, when it is actually Brae-thwaite.
- There’s this book about edible wild plants in Sweden named “Can you eat these things?” A more important question is “What population density could Sweden support if we reverted to hunting-fishing-gathering?”.
- I saw a seal between Bullandö and Djurönäset.
- Apron is furkle in Stockholm Swedish.
- Wonder how old our current run of seven-day weeks is. It’s survived several calendar reforms and at least one re-naming of the days.
- I’ve worked a lot with gender symbolism and gender transgression during the Late Iron Age. I’m an LGBTQ friendly scholar. But I’m sad to see the Swedish History Museum spread erroneous statements and wishful speculations on this theme in the country’s biggest newspaper because of Stockholm Pride.
- In theory of science, you usually reckon with two possible states of debate over a given issue. Either the scientific community is undecided, or it has reached a (provisional) consensus. In poorly funded and staffed subjects such as mine, there’s a common third state: apathy. This is when the scientific community doesn’t care enough about the issue to comment on it. Someone voices an opinion, and then it’s 40 years before someone else replies, and nobody pays any attention to either of the scholars.
- The post-apocalyptic pictures of the Statue of Liberty or the Capitol sticking up out of water / ice / desert sand reveal a poor understanding of how deserted buildings collapse.
- The head of a humanities think tank in Sweden has published an argument that strikes me as remarkably silly: “When simple jobs are lost to automation, the market value of humanities skills will rise.” So as the taxi drivers become jobless, a PhD in modern Latvian poetry will grow more valuable. Huh.
- Too often these standard 350-pp books barely keep me reading along, while part of me just wants them to end. Now I’m reading a feckin’ 1000-page P.F. Hamilton novel and the pages simply keep on turning.
- According to the POTUS, relations with Russia are “at an all-time and very dangerous low.” Cuban missile crisis, anyone?
- I gotta say, it’s pretty amazing that I can read daily tweets from William cranial-jacking Gibson himself. Respect!
- The 20th century: the time of smoking cigarettes while driving combustion-engine cars.
- Much of English Wikipedia’s article about soy sauce has been written by someone who doesn’t quite know when to use the word “the”, and prefers to skip it. This suggests to me that the information in the article is probably quite accurate.
- Decryption and decoding are the same. Doesn’t matter if it’s encrypted English or plaintext Swahili. I won’t understand either.
- Had a strange taste of retirement this past weekend: teenage kids off doing stuff, just me and my wife at my mom’s summer house. Though my wife looks about 40 years from retirement.
- Holy fuck. Junior has been teaching himself Japanese for the past year and a half. Today I learned that he has picked up 500 kanji characters along the way and reads Chinese food packaging quite easily. :-0
- A friendly soul at this publishing house apparently knows my daughter’s name. Their envelope of otherwise generic advertising material contained an old tea spoon with “Signe” engraved on it.
- This Picasso “Pigeons” print hung in our house when I grew up, and I’ve been wondering for decades what the spotted triangular thing in the lower left-hand corner is. A lamp shade? Took me 5 mins on WWW to find that it’s a stylised building that is seen outside the window in early treatments of the motif.
- “Ways of knowing” = alternative facts.
- I am on a WorldCon panel about the Medieval mind and fantasy literature. I just had the (unoriginal) idea to say that the High and Late Medieval aristocracy lived largely in an Arthurian fantasy world of their own creation.
- Last night a skinny cat came miaowing at our door. Turned out to have left his home 200 m from us a week ago. With no sense of direction. And no hunting skills. He’s back with his kind owners now.
- I’ve bought a lot of ebooks from Google. I would happily continue to do so even though now I’ve got a Kindle, because Google has much better prices. But I can’t get them onto the machine. This is not because Amazon locks them out. It’s because Google has DRM in their files. And so they lose a customer.
- Was going to write about weaponry from Ringstadaholm. But found that I needed to check in the museum inventory if one object on the list is a weapon frag. But found a reference there for an imported glass shard that I need to comment on. But found that the reference is doubled in the library catalogue, so I had to write to the librarians and ask them to correct it. Now, where was I?
- Listened to “Girl From The North Country”, was astonished to learn that Bob Dylan can hit actual notes!!!
- French has an absurd word for grapefruit that should not be allowed: pamplemousse. Turns out it’s a Dutch loan word incorporating a Portuguese loan word: pompel + limões, “swollen lemon”. Shame on you, French people!
- Geezer Butler finished with his woman ’cause she couldn’t help him with his mind. I think that’s kind of harsh. In over 18 years together my wife hasn’t made the least attempt to help me with mine, but I’m OK with that. I think it would be an unrealistic demand.
- Rediscovered the joy of shooting peas.
- LinkedIn is amazing. It just suggested that I apply for a job teaching textile crafts to ten-year-olds.
- Tried re-watching Breakfast Club after 32 years. Lost interest fast.
- Stockholm has a Chinese vegetable underground where people grow unusual crops on suburban allotments and deliver produce to restaurants. Yum!
- Vacation reading: P.F. Hamilton, Pandora’s Star. U.K. LeGuin, Words Are My Matter. M. Ruff, Lovecraft Country (thank you, Birger!).
- My kids have turned 19 and 14!
- Here’s a pretty neat cover. The lyrics to the Cocteau Twins’ song “Blue Bell Knoll” from 1988 are just a string of meaningless syllables. The woman in the cover duo is not simply singing lyrics she doesn’t understand. She’s singing lyrics that nobody understands.
- NASA is sending a ground-penetrating radar rig to Mars.
- Jack Palance’s 80s work is pretty varied. He has big roles both in Hawk the Slayer and Out of Rosenheim / Bagdad Café.
Yesterday we had a guest entry from Lars Amréus, the Director General of the National Heritage Board about the signage with fringe theories at a much-visited archaeological site in southern Sweden. As I read it, the main take-away message is ”Sorry, I know this used to be our job but it isn’t any more”. So if you want to be charitable, you might say that N. Heritage has not strictly speaking abdicated from its responsibility. It was dethroned and had to hand the crown to N. Property. I haven’t heard that N. Heritage fought the decision, but I don’t know everything. Maybe they did. Or maybe they invited it.
This however raises the question of what Qaisar Mahmood was doing, answering questions about the site in the local newspaper. He’s a section head at N. Heritage, immediately subordinate to Amréus. As late as a few days ago, he spoke about the signage at Ales stenar as something N. Heritage owned. His boss now tells us that what Mahmood should have replied was “Don’t call us, call N. Property”. Did Mahmood even know when the journalist called that the site was not his responsibility? In fact, N. Property has been in charge of Ales stenar since 1 January 2015. And they still haven’t gotten around to putting their logo on the official sign.
Amréus invokes freedom of speech. He has misunderstood it. Freedom of speech does not mean that you have the right to express yourself in media owned by other people. I don’t have the right to write whatever I want in official pamphlets from N. Heritage. I don’t have the right to put up permanent signs on public property. And nor does Bob.
The Director General’s reaction to my words about a hypothetical sign is nothing short of bizarre in its prim formalism. Look at this exchange:
MR: “You should get rid of Bob’s crazy sign. I mean, it’s not like you would let extreme-right Odin cultists put up a sign. So you should take down Bob’s too even though it’s not political.”
Director General: “I strongly resent Dr. Rundkvist’s implication that we would take down a sign put up by extreme-right Odin cultists!”
I’ve spent most of the past quarter century doing archaeological research. Over this period I’ve seen the National Heritage Board grow less relevant to what I do. Three of its units are still extremely important to me: the world-class Sites and Monuments Register, the ATA archives, and the library in Stockholm, though that is run in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Letters. I also greatly appreciate the Runes Project (staff: 2 PhD runologists), though if I’m not misinformed it is at least partly funded by the Royal Academy. What N. Heritage increasingly offers is answers about heritage ideology. This is not useful to me. But then, I am not the Ministry of Culture and N. Heritage makes no claim to cater primarily to my needs.
So. Who should we talk to at the National Property Board to get the Ales stenar situation rectified? Anybody know?
- Los Alamos means “the poplars”.
- A friend lent me J.P. Hogan’s 1980 novel Thrice Upon A Time. It’s set in 2010 but has pre-PC “mini” computers the size of fridges, with text terminals and command-line interfaces. Four years before Neuromancer…
- 1970s computer designers: “What? You folks run your screens in graphics mode all the time? But why? It’s so inefficient compared to text mode! Must be unbearably slow!”
- Had some skin moles lasered. The smell of burning hair is strong immediately inside the clinic’s front door. The lasering makes a noise like quietly frying bacon.
- Pluto’s orbit is outside Neptune’s. But the planet that Pluto gets closest to is Uranus. Because it is locked in orbital resonance with Neptune which means it is not overtaken by that planet at the point where their orbits are closest.
- I don’t understand the business model of running / walking / cycling for charity. I donate regularly to several charities, but I am not influenced in this by anyone running.
- Chinese snacks and gift items are horrendously over-packaged. More packaging than content.
- Wife puts stones in the bird bath as life-saving platforms for bugs. But OCD magpies find them incredibly annoying and keep throwing them out.
- Kindle gets my advertising demographic wrong: “Are you looking for a clean saga that will capture your heart?” Nope nope nope. Maybe you should ask the folks browsing in the Christian Romance section. You know, over there at the opposite end of the enormous book store from where you found me.
- Just signed a contract to temp for two months at Gothenburg Uni. It means I’ll have temped at most of Sweden’s seven archaeology depts. Uppsala, Lund and Södertörn remain.
- Funny how red become the Republican Party’s colour. In the 80s its voters used to say “Better dead than red”.
- You read sometimes about scholars whose careers were cut short because they didn’t have the informal support necessary to secure a steady job. It’s been the other way around with me. I would never have been able to write all these books and papers if I’d had steady teaching duties. People who don’t like my kind of archaeology have certainly made sure that my income’s been slight. But thereby they’ve also made me an exceptionally loud and prolific participant in various fields of research. Historians of scholarship may one day wonder how the hell Rundkvist managed to put out all this stuff. An important part of the answer is that he didn’t have the informal support necessary to secure a steady job.
- I want to see a major scientific inquiry into what frozen-up computers are doing.
- Removing the ads from your Kindle takes only a minute on the customer service chat line.
- I watched Hawk the Slayer at my first con in 1986. All I remember is the cheesy cut & repeat effect when the elf shoots his bow super fast.
It seems that my comments yesterday on the small issue of signage at Ales stenar touched a nerve regarding something bigger, having to do with the National Heritage Board’s overall societal role in relationship to archaeology and public outreach. Lars Amréus is the Board’s Director General, an archaeologist and Qaisar Mahmood’s boss. He has kindly written a guest entry in response to mine. My comments will follow in a later entry.
I’m a regular follower of Dr. Rundkvist’s blog. I often find it both interesting and engaging. Above all, I appreciate that Dr. Rundkvist is an ardent advocate for knowledge, fact and scientific method, which I believe is hugely important in our times of “fake news” and “fact resistance”.
Therefore, I was surprised to read Dr. Rundkvist’s blog entry about the archaeological site Ales stenar, since it contains several errors, some of which could easily have been avoided with some simple googling.
The entry has been written out of the assumption that the Swedish National Heritage Board (RAÄ) owns or manages the site. This is not true. For some time now, this has been the responsibility of the Swedish National Property Board, a government agency whose primary purpose is to manage and disseminate information about historic buildings, landscapes and ancient monuments of Swedish national importance. Consequently, there is no RAÄ staff working at the site, and RAÄ is not responsible for the information presented at the site.
The County Administrative Board of Skåne has decided that a sign presenting what might be described as “alternative facts” about the site should be allowed to be displayed. Dr. Rundkvist criticizes RAÄ for not appealing this decision to court. However, the fact of the matter is that there is simply no legal ground for RAÄ to appeal.
As an archaeologist, it is sometimes frustrating to see how archaeological sites are used for various purposes: political, personal and otherwise. But perhaps we need to remind ourselves that in the other end of the scales lays Freedom of Speech. In an open and democratic society people do have the right to say many things; even incorrect, stupid or repulsive.
Some of us may be surprised, and perhaps even saddened, by the decision of the County Administrative Board to allow “alternative facts” to be presented at Ales stenar. But until proven otherwise, it must be considered as a decision that rests on Swedish law.
Regardless of what some may believe, it is not the responsibility of RAÄ to be the judge of which interpretations are correct, incorrect or perhaps partly correct when it comes to archaeological sites in general. The information presented at each site is the responsibility of the owner/site-manager, in practice often in co-operation with the County Administrative Board. As far as I know, there is no formal way of bringing on-site information to scrutiny by a national expert authority.
The wider discussion of the interpretation of archaeological sites lies, of course, with the scientific community as a whole. It would be highly inappropriate, and indeed impossible, for a government agency such as RAÄ to act as a judge in matters of academia.
Finally, I strongly resent that Dr. Rundkvist implies that decisions at RAÄ are made (by a named official) based on (his claimed – not proven) political preferences. RAÄ is an agency under the Swedish government and by the rule of Swedish law. Dr. Rundkvist presents no evidence to suggest decisions have been made outside the mandate given to the Board. Given the main purpose of his blog, he should stay clear of presenting such theories without evidence to support it.
Swedish National Heritage Board
Bob Lind has yet again managed to get the National Heritage Board to abdicate its responsibility at Ales Stenar, a beautiful 7th century AD burial monument near Ystad in southern Sweden. Bob has self-published odd interpretations of the site that have found no traction among professional archaeologists. He has kept vigil at Ales stenar for decades, lecturing to visitors, ranting at the municipal guides and occasionally attacking them. He has a very large sign on site, next to the National Heritage Board’s, with permission from the County Archaeologist. My colleague Björn Wallebom has criticised this, and the local paper ran a critical article yesterday, quoting myself and others.
In 2007 the National Heritage Board’s representative Ewa Bergdahl said on this subject,
There isn’t just one single truth. This place is so incredibly more complex than previously believed, … You have no privileged position with us just because you do research at a university
And this tiresome old post-modernist anti-science relativism persists at the Board. This time it’s Qaisar Mahmood, my buddy from Leftie and refugee volunteering circles, who says stupid things to the press without the benefit of any archaeological training.
Our responsibility is to present the image we think is right. It would be wrong if we took measures to exclude other images. … We have seen no reason to file a complaint against the County Archaeologist’s decision. We take responsibility for what is ours. Just because we don’t file a complaint it doesn’t mean that we support or open the door to other versions.
Vårt ansvar ligger i att ge den bild vi tycker är rätt. Det är fel om vi skulle gå in och utesluta andra bilder. … Vi har inte sett något behov att överklaga länsstyrelsens beslut. Vi tar ansvar för det som är vårt. Bara för att vi inte överklagar betyder det inte att vi står bakom eller släpper fram andra versioner.
1. The National Heritage Board’s responsibility is to present the image that scientific consensus thinks is right. Nobody else’s. Certainly not its non-archaeological office staff’s.
2. The Board owns this property. Its staff are not taking responsibility for what is theirs.
3. The fact that the Board doesn’t file a complaint does mean that it supports and opens the door to other versions.
4. If someone wanted to post an equally pseudo-scientific sign about Odin that contained hints of extreme-right propaganda, then the Board would not allow it.
5. When the National Heritage Board allows a sign with a discredited interpretation at a high-profile archaeological site that it owns, then it is equivalent to public hospitals allowing faith healers to roam the corridors, tending to patients.
Qaisar, archaeology is a science. I do not get to speak for medicine, Latvian studies or meteorology. You do not get to speak for archaeology. Scholarly consensus is the arbiter of truth in these matters.
Update same day: Qaisar Mahmood and the Board’s Custodian Lars Amreus have responded briefly on Facebook and Twitter to my criticism. If I understand them correctly, their line is that the Board of National Antiquities does not in fact own Ales stenar, they recently handed it over to the National Property Board. This organisation has never made any claim to archaeological authority. And it creates the question, why then does Qaisar Mahmood of National Heritage talk to the press about Ales stenar? As I said, this is an abdication of responsibility.
And another update: Qaisar has given me a long public reply on Fb, and I’ll try to summarise it fairly here. He’s saying that my expectations of what role the National Heritage Board is supposed to play in Swedish archaeology are no longer supported by its directives from the Ministry of Culture. The Board has in fact not abdicated from any position of archaeological authority in the case of Ales stenar. It can’t abdicate, because it no longer makes any claim to such a position. Those are not its orders from our elected officials. I’m sure Qaisar knows what he’s talking about. I just shake my head and wonder, will the real Board of National Antiquities please stand up?
My blogging about Bob’s antics has grown voluminous over the years. Read it all here with a new category tag.
- Swedish 1960s translation of the Game of Life. I just found a uranium mine. According to Boardgame Geek, there are 13,879 better boardgames than this.
- I bought a Kindle and I like it. Better than reading on my phone. No screen glare. Weeks between recharges. Bigger page.
- As a boy I was shocked to learn that most people have to pay a monthly fee to keep a roof over their heads. I found this to be a horrifically unstable arrangement, similar to staying at a hotel. My parents had never spoken to me about their mortgage loan. I felt that the only monthly expenses anyone should by rights have to reckon with were food and utilities.
- Reading Neal Stephenson’s 90s WIRED essays about stuff that was cutting edge 20 years ago. Very strange.
- Me and Cousin E stumbled into our first Magic the Gathering tournament & got crushed. Found out it was elite level. National champion took part.
- There’s a German brand of athletic braces etc that’s named Bauerfeind, “Farmer’s Foe”.
- Gossamer: “Middle English: apparently from goose + summer, perhaps from the time of year around St Martin’s summer, i.e. early November, when geese were eaten (gossamer being common then).”
- I’ve sung “Rock And Roll All Nite” twice to Cousin E, and he really liked it! Showed his appreciation by turning over and pulling the duvet over his head. Didn’t know the kid was into Kiss!
- Young folks will soon see me as an arrogant and elitist greybeard. Funny how they will have no idea that I was once an arrogant and elitist 15-year-old.
Abisko national park is in the mountains of extreme northern Sweden, Sámi country, reindeer country, where half of the year is lit by constant sun and the other half is frigid darkness and aurorae.
Getting there takes 17½ hours by train from Stockholm Central. There’s a sleeper train with no changes, so if you only count time when you’re conscious, the trip takes 10 hours. You can fly to Arlanda airport and get right onto this train without making the detour into Stockholm. And the trail head is next to the platform when you get off.
Some friends and I went up hiking over the Mid-summer weekend 22–27 June, spending three nights in Abisko and two on the train. There are many huts and hostels in the area, so none of us brought a tent or a sleeping bag. Only Mårten brought a portable stove – to make espresso.
You don’t actually even need to bring a water bottle. There’s clean water in every stream. We arrived right at the start of the area’s hectic summer, with meltwater rivulets everywhere, innumerable flowers and a bewildering variety of bird calls. Very few mosquitoes bothered us. The treeline is near, so the landscape varies dramatically as your path lifts and dips. With a GPS or map and compass, of course, you needn’t even follow paths. The King’s Trail suffers from erosion, so the less people use it the better.
Check out the Swedish Tourist Association’s mountain hiking site.
- It would be quite nice if writers feared for their lives over the difference between publishing city and printing city in bibliographies. Then they would be more motivated to get it right.
- My parents are great. They’ve got so much hiking gear, at 74 they still know exactly where they keep it, and they’re happy to lend it to me. All I’ve had to buy for four days’ mountain hiking is boots and a pair of sufficiently long waterproof pants.
- 24 applicants for Stockholm U archaeology lectureship, several with exceptional qualifications. Looking at the list I realise that you could staff two new departments from scratch simply by picking people from that list.
- Another reflection upon that list of 24 applicants. The average qualification level on that list is distinctly higher than among people who already have steady lectureships in archaeology at Swedish universities. Because recruitment isn’t generally very meritocratic. And once you have a lectureship you have neither opportunity nor motivation to continue improving your qualifications.
- Miguel Coimbra has illustrated a crazy number of boardgames. And his art is always great!
- I’ve been contracted to direct a gay erotic naval war movie set in Classical Greece. The title is Battle of the Salamis.
- 19th century manuscripts in the ATA archives taught me to create a straight margin by folding the edge of the paper.
- Donated blood, was taken care of by a med student who looked Jr’s age. So weird to me that I have become an affable avuncular presence. I do in fact feel less gawky, gangly and awkward than a quarter century ago though.
- I just sealed an agreement with the Dept of Historical Studies at Gothenburg University to head their field archaeology course in September. If the County Archaeologist gives their approval, then me and the students will join the long distinguished line of excavators at Kungahälla, with Kristina Bengtsson as our main advisor.
- Oh man. Does “steatite ashlar” mean anything to you? Täljstenskvadrar in Swedish. *breathes heavily*
- A colleague just told me that the EU’s water directive means that enormous numbers of old mill dams in disrepair will have to be machined away in the near future. And that my 2015 book on Bronze Age deposition offers almost the only well-founded overview of what this may mean in terms of contract archaeology.
Academic recruitment procedures in Sweden are a mess. There are at least four strong contradictory forces that impact them.
- Meritocracy. As Head of Department you are legally obliged to find and employ the most qualified person on the job market, even if it’s just for six months. This is after all the public sector.
- Labour laws. As Head of Department you are legally obliged to give a steady job to anyone who has worked at your uni for a total of four semesters in the past five years, regardless of their qualifications.
- Funding. As Head of Department you cannot give anyone a steady job unless you know how to pay them long-term. Else you will have to fire someone soon, which will get you into big trouble both with the Dean and with the labour union.
- Nepotism. As Head of Department you want to employ your buddy Bengt. He can be a recent home-grown PhD whom you want to give a break. Or he can be an old stalwart that you’d be ashamed to meet in the departmental coffee room if you didn’t help him.
This is coming to a head in a big way. Five years ago it became mandatory to advertise even the shortest academic jobs, the ones that were typically quietly given to Bengt before. At least one Swedish university largely ignored this and has now endured official censure and much bad press. Academic leaders currently don’t seem to know what’s best practice. I’ve asked around with just one of the questions involved, and nobody in charge seems to know quite what the answer is.
Remember, as Head of Department, because of funding constraints you generally cannot allow anyone to pass the labour law’s four-semesters-in-five-years threshold and get automatic steady employment. But when you advertise a short contract, chances are high that the most qualified applicant will be so near the limit that the short contract would effectively mean automatic steady employment. How do you deal with this situation, even ignoring any impact of nepotism?
So far I’ve never seen any department say plainly that “We realise that Berit has by far the strongest qualifications, but because of the labour laws we will instead employ Nisse, despite his weak CV”. I have however seen a case where the department suddenly discovered and described many flaws in Berit that made her an unattractive candidate, despite the fact that they had happily employed her on a series of short contracts up until the day when the labour law’s limit came into sight.