January Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Stockholm municipality's high school authority is running an ad on Fb saying "Do not enrol your kid in the science programme. Consider vocational programmes instead. Like the cook programme." Wtf?!
  • Ads for wristwatches. Guys, I have a mobile phone, OK?
  • I'm going to assume for the next few years that most Americans are basically like Ursula K. LeGuin and Jon Stewart.
  • I'm reading Dick's 1964 Three Stigmata. It isn't great, but it's exceptionally trippy / psychotic. Was there anything as strange around at that early date? Burroughs' Naked Lunch is from 1959, I guess.
  • Movie: The Whisperer in Darkness. Low budget labour-of-love adaptation from 2011 of H.P. Lovecraft's 1931 novella, filmed in the style of that time and in black and white. Grade: OK.
  • Cousin E is a true original artist, operating far beyond the constraints of cultural convention. This morning he had raspberry jam and bell pepper on his toast.
  • Cousin E's English teacher is great. Tonight we've been reading poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and William Carlos Williams.
  • If you worry about ethnic integration, I suggest you visit IKEA and take a look at the staff and customers there and how they interact. You'll come out calmer.
  • After five months of learning one or two new boardgames every week, Cousin E reports that his favourites so far are Keltis, Power Grid, Detective & Co, DungeonQuest, Bohnanza and Sechs nimmt.
  • The World Science Fiction Convention will be in Helsinki this year, only a few hours by ferry from my home town. I just registered to attend, making use both of the early bird rate and of the newbie discount. Looking forward to it!
  • Robinson Crusoe treats all ailments with tobacco and/or rum in the novel.
  • You do know that "Norwegian Wood" is a song about a man who burns a woman's house down when she won't have sex with him, don't you?
  • Brännkyrka/Älvsjö church is a real architectural kick in the 'nads. Nave c. 1200, tower somewhat later, similar to Bjälbo -- but the chancel was entirely replaced first in ~1810, then in 1975, with a big whopping Modernist box! Never seen anything like it.
  • Three-year postdoc position in herd health management in pig herds
  • I looked at 36 Scandy archaeology lectureships that have been advertised since 2003. Application deadlines cluster in Q2, April-June. Q1: 5. Q2: 20. Q3: 4. Q4: 7. Note however that the median time before someone gets hired is 7 months, so an application deadline in April translates to a new colleague in November. It can't be intended as an effective way to fill staffing needs at the start of a new academic year.
  • I've got a powerful yearning to work digitally with old maps, to see how they translate onto the modern landscape, to go out and look for traces.
  • Xavier descends from Basque "Etxeberri", "new house".
  • My detectorist buddy Robert told me something sardonically funny the other day. "The reason us Poles are such good carpenters is that historically, we've learned that some army or other always shows up once in every generation and burns our houses down."
The library of the Academy of Letters is a former cavalry stable. Note the limestone water troughs, right, and the pillars damaged by horses, left. The library of the Academy of Letters is a former cavalry stable. Note the limestone water troughs, right, and the pillars damaged by horses, left.

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God, why do I never notice what Beatles songs are about?

By Wesley Dodson (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

Wesley@3: Lots of people fail to notice what popular songs are about. Case in point: Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA", often mistaken by Americans for a patriotic song. It's actually about an unemployed Vietnam War veteran.

Several years ago, before his daughter "SteelyKid" was born, Chad Orzel tried to identify a child-friendly subset of his music library. I gave him a hard time for including "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" on the list, as it's an inappropriately upbeat song about a serial killer, while not including "Here Comes the Sun" from the same album.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

Re: old maps: A couple of towns over from me is a state highway that is unusually straight for roads in this region. I discovered why when I saw a map of the area from ca. 1940: there was a railroad line where that road is today, and the road replaced the railway.

Occasionally, if you know what to look for, you can spot evidence of highway plans that never came to fruition. An example in my town: the bypass, built almost 50 years ago, was planned to eventually become a dual carriageway road, but the second carriageway was never built. The evidence is an overpass that is about twice as long as it needs to be: it spans both the existing carriageway and the space where the never-built westbound carriageway would have gone.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

Bridge constructions have not change much;-)

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

Eric, we get those super long overpasses too! Designed for a highway that may never get built. Though usually they're more like tunnels. The highway is a long earthen causeway occasionally interrupted by these concrete tubes that can be super wide in some cases.

I'm fairly sure that the bypass of my town will never be twinned. The Department of Transportation decided to build this motorway instead, about 20 km to the south. The trunk traffic that used to pass through my town shifted to the motorway once it was completed in 2001, and the bypass no longer has enough traffic to justify a second carriageway.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

I love my wristwatch and won't give it up for anything. (I don't have to dig it out of my pocket just to find out the time.)

I thought the running joke about IKEA is it is where couples go to fight.

In my city a major highway was planned through a whole bunch of neighborhoods and a botanical garden. It was eventually canceled, but the connecting overpasses were left up over the lake, where they became unsanctioned diving boards in the summer.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 03 Feb 2017 #permalink

"If you worry about ethnic integration, I suggest you visit IKEA and take a look at the staff and customers there and how they interact. You’ll come out calmer."

Actually, while this statement itself is true, statements like it probably fuel populism. Why? Because there are also examples where integration does not work, including many in Sweden. Pointing at good examples and ignoring bad just fuels the fires of populism. Yes, in some cases integration doesn't work because the natives aren't interested in it, or people have problems because of things having nothing to do with where they come from. But sometimes a clash of cultures occurs because immigrants want to practice FGM or whatever. The right don't want immigrants anyway. It is the responsibility of the left to criticize bad practices, even when practiced by immigrants.

By the way, I'm an immigrant myself.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 06 Feb 2017 #permalink

A lot of old song texts are mental.
And don't get me started on children's tales.
Anne Rice would probably be more appropriate for tiny tots than the traditional junk.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 06 Feb 2017 #permalink

And don’t get me started on children’s tales.

It's probably a coincidence that the men known for codifying fairy tales in the West are a pair of brothers with the surname Grimm.

One of the reasons The Princess Bride is such a good book/movie is because it is such a brilliant parody of the genre. The book explicitly claims to be a "good parts" abridgment, the fictional countries involved are Florin and Guilder (I caught that reference on first read), and quite a few fairy tale tropes are lampshaded. One of many memorable quotes:

Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia," but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!" [He laughs hysterically, but suddenly freezes mid-laugh and dies]

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Feb 2017 #permalink

Love it. I love those elevated walkways through the woods.

Yeah, I think this is going to be really nice for folks who aren't quite mountain goats on their feet.

Yum. Stephen Colbert Returns to Form As a Bowling Green Massacre Truther
“I think we all remember where we weren’t when we didn’t hear that nothing had happened. … Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it wasn’t an inside job.
Think about it! If America isn’t going to be attacked, who’s most likely not to do it? Us! … I demand that the media not release the reports they did not do on the attacks that did not occur. And I will not rest until they don’t!”

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 07 Feb 2017 #permalink

BirgerJohansson @11: Children's tales are amazingly violent (a friend was reading some German traditional kids' stories about not playing with matches and whatnot and in every single one of them the child died).

Or all the people who think that folk songs of a previous age are appropriate for children. Songs that were (coded) about revolution and rebellion and illicit sex are now sung by 4 year olds.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 07 Feb 2017 #permalink

Birger@19 - Yes, interesting, that.

Most Early European Farmers moved into Europe from the Levant during the Neolithic (when you produce more food, you can feed more children, so you need space for your kids to expand into), largely replacing or absorbing the Western Hunter Gatherers in the process (more so in southern Europe; to a somewhat lesser extent in northern Europe, where the EEF and WHG seemed to co-exist peacefully, filling different niches, for a couple of thousand years - this was most pronounced in Scandinavia; so modern Scandinavians tend to have a higher % of WHG ancestry (although still fairly small) than other Europeans.

But in the Baltic, it now seems clear that the Eastern Hunter Gatherers there picked up farming by emulation, rather than being 'replaced' or swamped genetically.

I see from that article that the theory that Indo-European languages might have derived from Anatolia (rather than from the Pontic Steppe) is still not dead. It should be. Maybe the authors are just being polite to the doggedly (and stupidly) persistent proponents of the Anatolian hypothesis, or avoiding picking a fight with them that they don't need to fight, when the point is really very peripheral to the main point of the research finding on the development of agriculture in the Baltic.

By Anomalous (not verified) on 07 Feb 2017 #permalink

-To understand American politics, especially people on the far right who get their news only from Fox News and similar sources, it is worthwhile to learn what the term “epistemic closure” means.
To believe only the news you want to believe, from sources that only tells you what you expect to learn, to only perceive that tiny slice of reality that confirms your biases and prejudices; To essentially become Homo Rupertmurdochis !

“Trump’s World of Epistemic Closure” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/02/07/trumps-world-epistem…

John, are you out there? We could use your take on the Rupert From Hell.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 08 Feb 2017 #permalink

John, are you out there?

I suspect, but am not 100% sure, that John is now posting under a pseudonym. I observe that "Anomalous" has a similar writing style but has only been posting here, at least under that handle, for less than a month.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Feb 2017 #permalink

Birger@23: John's not here. You'll have to make do with a vegetable, which is the nearest approximation.

Hmmm, let's see: Murdoch - born/raised in Melbourne (so an automatic black mark), attended Geelong Grammar (one of Australia's most prestigious private schools for boys) but came out left-leaning politically. Former close friends with Tony Blair, ex-UK PM, until he discovered that Blair was screwing his wife behind his back.

Career journalist, Murdoch built his fortune by, in effect, inventing the concept of the tabloid newspaper, and owning it rather than writing for it, with content focused on muck-raking gossip and sports, rather than real news. As such, he could reasonably be considered to be *the Father of False News*. Implicated in the UK in the illegal bugging of people's phones to pick up bits of salacious gossip.

Well, we have to give him his due - his genius was to realise that the way to get rich from journalism was to give readers what they want, i.e. salacious gossip, page 3 girls with big bazoongas and football, rather than actual factual news. No one ever became fabulously wealthy by over-estimating people's intelligence or tastes.

His political leaning appears to be irrelevant - it is a totally independent variable, like religion - neither shows any correlation with any other behavioural trait like honesty, integrity, treatment of other people, etc. The demonstration of that is the 25% (possibly a low estimate) of Catholic clergy and 'lay brothers' in Australia who have been found out for sexually abusing children while occupying a position of trust. Lesson - never trust a person who avows devout religious belief or a particular political leaning; it is totally independent of and irrelevant to how they will actually behave.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 08 Feb 2017 #permalink

Also, confirmation bias is a universal human trait. Murdoch knew that. It takes a conscious and even forceful effort of will to rid oneself of it, which means ignoring/scrapping priors and being completely objective. Disappointingly few people can or will actually do that, or even realise they are not doing it.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 08 Feb 2017 #permalink

Another term for confirmation bias is cognitive bias. Cognition means knowledge, and epistemic means relating to knowledge. So cognitive bias, or confirmation bias, is a bias towards accepting only that knowledge that agrees with and reinforces what you already believe or want to believe. And epistimic closure means the ultimate end of that process.

Trump suffers from this in an extreme form because he is a narcissist who believes something is true just because he says it is (based on his 'research', which amounts to whatever pops into his head in between Tweets arising from his inbuilt biases and prior assumptions); he then filters incoming information for that which confirms what he has already decided is the truth, and excludes anything which does not give him that confirmation, labelling it as 'false news'. The fact that the mainstream media now largely peddle 'false news' which is not based on a thorough, objective and competent analysis of facts, but largely 'opinion pieces' or some version of the 'truth' which is based on that which is deemed to be politically acceptable to the readership, facilitates him doing this. If no one is telling the unvarnished truth, then he is free to say which version of the 'truth' is the right one, and to label any conflicting versions as 'false news'.

In that, he is suffering from borderline personality disorder; in short, he is suffering from a form of mental illness - not severely enough to have him committed to a psychiatric facility, perhaps, but a form of mental illness, never the less. He actually believes the fabrications that his mind spews out, and his belief is reinforced by selective reading of the 'news' that appears to agree with what he has decided is the truth.

In other words, he is not mentally competent to hold the position he holds. Every potential president will apply cognitive bias to some extent, because all humans do that unless they force themselves not to do it, or unless their work is subject to some form of external critique such as peer review that requires them to do it (for the President of the USA this external critique could take the form of briefings by advisers, or 'reality checks' as Bill Clinton used to engage in). But Trump does it to an extreme extent, and no one is giving him any reality checks - probably because he simply will not listen to any advice that does not reinforce what he has already decided is the truth.

In other words, unlike Murdoch, who knowingly and very successfully manufactured salacious or vindictive gossip knowingly for profit, Trump is nuts; an out of control egomaniac that no one can exert any kind of influence over, except forcefully by the law courts, the Congress or the Senate. He is currently trying to discredit the courts for doing exactly that - exerting control over what he wants to do.

The saving grace in all of this is that both the Democrats and the Republicans hate him and want him gone, sooner rather than later; they recognise him for what he is, an out of control nut case. Sooner or later he will try to pull something so egregious that it warrants impeachment, and because both parties hate his guts, they will jump at the chance.

In the mean time, they and the courts will do everything they can to stop or hinder him, in whatever legitimate way they can, including tying him up in an endless maze of court actions and other legal or bureaucratic blocks..

I will be surprised if he manages to serve a full term.

Homo trumpus interruptus.

His wall will never be built, either, simply because it will prove to be a practical impossibility. Imagine the Panama Canal in reverse, but much longer. Oh, they might start bits of it here and there, but it will never be completed. And while they are building some bits of it, people on both sides of the border will be busily demolishing sections that have already been completed. Those of us mature enough will remember how quickly the Berlin Wall was demolished, once people on both sides had the will to bring it down. And that was waaay shorter.

Trump's Wall will become one of the great standing jokes of history. The USA does not have the Roman Legions at their disposal, or anything like them. The Great Wall of China took a monumental effort over millennia with a work force of millions, and was still never finished - it actually comprises sections of wall in different areas, not a single contiguous structure.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 #permalink

The danger for groups trying to counter Trump is that they themselves will engage in cognitive bias, and the creation of false or exaggerated claims. This has already occurred with the 'comparative photos' of Obama's and Trumps inaugurations - people were not comparing like with like, with respect to the time of day. This is too easily detected and countered, and is self-defeating; it actually feeds into Trump's claims of 'false news'.

People need to be self-disciplined, competent, stick to the truth and use proper, established legal avenues.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 #permalink

"If you worry about ethnic integration, I suggest you visit IKEA and take a look at the staff and customers there and how they interact. You’ll come out calmer."


This is not fake news. According to the link above, 1/3 of the population of Malmö are immigrants and the city has a big problem with gang violence. Ignoring possible connections between the two doesn't help anyone and hurts many. I don't believe in free will, but even if it is not "their fault", it is irresponsible to say that there is no problem or that it is the right wing which causes problems. The right wing is essentially a reaction---not the correct one---to real problems.

If you want to know what went wrong with Sweden, read Fishing in Utopia.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Feb 2017 #permalink


People in Australia better not hold their breath waiting for a national policy on energy. There will be decades of political wrangling, trying to design a horse and coming up with a camel.

The answer is disruptive technology. When millions of households are independently generating their own power supply, and tax paying voters make it clear to politicians that they are not willing to subsidise power companies that are going bankrupt, then the transfer of the whole country to renewable energy will happen organically, virtually overnight. And some smart entrepreneurs who can see this coming will make an absolute fortune. That process has already started.

Australian tax payers subsidised unprofitable automobile manufacturers in Australia for decades, to the tune of billions, until the penny dropped and people realised that those companies would never be able to become profitable, and the companies have had to close down. In the meantime, tax payers have been milked dry, and the industry closures are very painful, with a lot of people losing their jobs who are unskilled to take up other employment. It didn't need to be such a painful process, if only people had been willing to face the truth much earlier.

What did go wrong with Sweden, by the way? You don't seriously expect me to read some dated novel about some British guy going fishing to find out. By any international indicator, Sweden seems to be doing pretty well. It weathered the global financial crisis better than just about any other developed country. So, some things have changed. That's the nature of things - they change.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 14 Feb 2017 #permalink

Well, that is certainly the impression I get from any data I can glean from various sources - doing OK and better than most, but Helbig said "If you want to know what went wrong in Sweden..."

Evidently things turned a bit pear-shaped for a while around 1989-1990, economy-wise, although I was not aware of it at the time, but that seems to have been fixed.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 14 Feb 2017 #permalink

In Malmö, it seems to have gone through a kind of 'mini-Detroit' type period, when the ship building and other heavy industries closed down. But unlike Detroit, it seems to have dragged itself out of that, with the adoption of new technology industries. Plus it has a young population. Skanska is still doing OK, so far as I know; in fact a lot better than OK.

Sweden as a whole has a low annual murder rate by international standards. For the whole of Sweden, exposure to crime has been dropping annually since 2005. Significantly lower incarceration rate than most other countries.

I'm trying to see what the problem is, and not seeing it.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 14 Feb 2017 #permalink


Sweden does seem to be somewhat under-policed - not hugely, but somewhat. Could do with some more cops. The thing that will cause crime rates to drop like a rock is a visible uniformed police presence on the streets - not doing anything, just walking around.

As the NYPD figured out, it's a lot better to do that and discourage people from committing crimes in the first place, than to wait for the crimes to occur and then try to catch the perpetrators and incarcerate them. If there's some big problem with gang violence in Malmö, it's what they need to do. Just walk around in uniform.

That explains why crime rates are so low in Hong Kong by any international standards. We have lots of cops visible on the streets. And no, I don't feel oppressed by it; it makes me feel comfortable. Most HK coppers are nice people, and I like to see them around. The one and only time I got a speeding ticket in HK (and I truly deserved it - I was driving excessively fast around my favourite drag strip, where I used to race taxi drivers for fun, and got caught fair and square), the young cop who pulled me up actually apologised to me when he handed me the ticket.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 14 Feb 2017 #permalink

Most HK coppers are nice people, and I like to see them around.

That, unfortunately, is not true for a lot of US cops. Especially if you are an ethnic minority. There are too many cases of cops shooting unarmed civilians (though TBF, the cops have to assume that anyone they interact with is armed, thanks to our utterly stupid gun laws). Most of the major police unions in the US endorsed Trump for president.

That's not to say we don't have good cops in the US. But the "thin blue line" is a phenomenon, and trust has to be earned. Too many police departments have not earned that trust, or worse yet have squandered whatever trust they had.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Feb 2017 #permalink

Eric, it is a huge game-changer that Hong Kong is a gun-free society.

Police here interact with civilians in a very different way than I see American and Australian police doing it. Their whole body language is different - much more relaxed, open and receptive.

If you approach a cop on the street here, s/he automatically assumes that it is because you want to report something or ask for directions to somewhere, so their whole demeanour is relaxed, receptive and helpful. And if they need to stop you for something, maybe for a random identity document check, or because you have just jay-walked across the road, likewise, they are very relaxed and polite about it. If you just jay-walked, you are likely to get a stern lecture and told not to do it again, for your own safety, but that's fair enough - it's delivered politely.

I do understand why American cops behave the way they do when they stop someone in a vehicle; I get it completely, but I still find it shocking.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 15 Feb 2017 #permalink

The oddly asymmetric proto-language hunter:

"At Radcliffe, Patterson is investigating ways in which DNA reveals how populations (and languages) spread throughout Eurasia. Speakers of Indo-European languages were living 2,500 years ago in western China, on the Russian steppes, on the Atlantic coast of Europe, and in India."

By Artichoke (not verified) on 15 Feb 2017 #permalink

"What did go wrong with Sweden, by the way? You don’t seriously expect me to read some dated novel about some British guy going fishing to find out. By any international indicator, Sweden seems to be doing pretty well. It weathered the global financial crisis better than just about any other developed country. So, some things have changed. That’s the nature of things – they change."

First, it is not a novel. Second, it is not dated. Third, it is not primarily about fishing (just as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has very little to say on Zen and not much more on motorcycles). Fourth, it is important that he is British; sometimes outsiders see things that insiders can't. Fifth, he is fluent in Swedish, had a Swedish wife and child, and so on, so he is an insider as well. This is what makes his stuff worth reading. Sixth, it is not primarily about the economy. Seventh, while Sweden is doing well compared to the rest of the world, that is not setting the bar very high.

Read the book.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 15 Feb 2017 #permalink