Tag Archives: Sweden

Kvick Tänkare

While you may think that reading this blog gives you all the 18th century British grenadier goodness you can stand, you really need your very own grenadier.  Fortunately, the people over at Paper Replika have posted plans that let you create your very own.  Looks really cool.

My latest time sink has been Turntable.fm.  I am absolutely hooked.  My most frequent haunt is a ‘room’ which specializes in rock and heavy metal music.  One of my fellow metalheads recommended the movie Anvil! The Story of Anvil and I heartily pass along that recommendation.  Even if you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music (and Anvil isn’t my particular cup of tea) you should check this out.  It’s all about friends, family and following your dreams.  While it would have been quite easy to make a mocking, real-life Spinal Tap, the movie does a great job of showing the human faces of the band and their families.  Quite possibly the best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time. Really, don’t miss this.

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I’m a bit skeptical of the ‘Oh no! China will bury us!’ meme but there are real consequences at the prospect of tens (hundreds?) of millions of people moving from poverty into the middle class.  Some of those we can guess pretty easily like the increase in demand for consumer goods and energy which will make resources scarce and likely accelerate climate change.  Others you might not readily think of.  Take, for example, the boom in hunting mammoth tusks in Siberia to feed the ever increasing demand for ivory in China.

Nearly 90 percent of all mammoth tusks hauled out of Siberia—estimated at more than 60 tons a year, though the actual figure may be higher—end up in China, where legions of the newly rich are entranced by ivory. The spike in demand has worried some scientists, who lament the loss of valuable data; like the trunk of a tree, a tusk contains clues about diet, climate, and the environment. Even Yakutiyans wonder how quickly this nonrenewable resource will be depleted. Millions of mammoth tusks, perhaps more, are still locked in Siberia’s permafrost, but already they’re becoming harder to find.

Probably not a huge deal in the big picture but you never know what this might lead to.

The Swedes continue to astound the world.  Recent low water levels have revealed the wrecks of two 17th century Danish warships.  Pretty amazing when you consider it’s a capital city and the waterways are heavily developed and used.

So, the economy is changing fast…manufacturing jobs are going overseas, technology is making old jobs obsolete, you know the deal.  So, what happens to people lacking education, opportunity for reeducation or other reasons they can’t keep up?  Well, the U.S. government has (unintentionally) created a program to warehouse all these people in poverty.

It’s called disability insurance.  And in addition to poverty wages of about $1,000 a month you also get health insurance.  Since that’s a better deal than most low wage and/or part time jobs out there it basically incentivizes people to stay on the program until they are eligible for social security.  And since ‘disability’ is a subjective evaluation rather than a medical diagnosis, this is a problem that won’t get better on its own.

There’s a whole lot more you should know about our disability system may not do what it was intended to.  Check out this brilliant explainer from NPR.

The Washington Post apparently has an annual peep contest every year.  Check out one of this year’s finalist…Zero Peep Thirty.

Nordic roundup

Absolutely, amazing site by Helsingin Sanomat that takes pictures from early 20th century Helsinki and compares them with modern views of the same places.  Time sink alert!

You know Stellan Skarsgård.  He played ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean and was in Mamma Mia.  Well, he gives an interview which, I think, provides an outsider’s view of America that probably isn’t too unique among our European cousins.

…there are a lot of fantastic things about America, and half of Americans are pretty sane. You have a lot of interesting culture, writers, filmmakers, and intellectual debate, which is fabulous. But it is difficult to accept a system where the level of the political debate is such that Republican senators or congressmen that have gone to great universities can stand up and say, “If you get healthcare it is socialism and your grandmas will be shot.” And nobody says anything!

But elitism isn’t dead among the Swedish political classes.  The mayor of Hörby had a mural painted in the municipal building and had his face painted on the image of a Roman legionary. A local police officer had his face placed on a legionary escorting Christ.

Insert your own interpretation of what that means and if that is the sort of imagery you’d want your local law enforcement to demonstrate.

The mural sounds like a hot mess with allusions not only to Christ but also the the Arab Spring, a 17th century anti-Swedish insurgent movement of Danes.  I apologize for not finding an image of the mural but, upon reflection, perhaps it’s best I didn’t.


Those crazy Swedes

This story is really most incredible.  Bonus points to anyone who can weave this into some sort of international spy thriller. So, this truck driver walks into a pizzeria and orders a beer (after having too many)…

Enraged at being cut off by staff at the pizzeria, the driver proceeded to urinate on other diners’ foo

His friends then started attacking other guests at the establishment on the belief someone had called police.

The angry driver then lost track of who was friend or foe, knocking flat one his friends who was trying to help the drunken 29-year-old find the door.

Pretty wild, right?  Oh, it’s not over yet…

While police detained the 29-year-old’s punched out friend, the irate driver managed to escape the scene, only to mysteriously turn up in another man’s kitchen a short time later, bloodied and wearing only his underwear.

The proprietor of the kitchen into which the 29-year-old stumbled kindly offered to give the man a ride, only to find himself eating a knuckle sandwich courtesy of the rampaging truck driver as they made their way to the good Samaritan’s car, according to the paper.

Later in the evening, the 29-year-old tried to steal a car parked in a nearby driveway.

Ok, let’s wind this up…

The drunken driver…was eventually tracked down by police after he left his credit card and a pack of cigarettes in the car he’d attempted to steal.

Whew…that’s exhausting.  How about a bite to eat?

Surströmming – Fermented herring that reportedly (I’ve never smelled it) smells so bad that it will clear out any room in which it is opened.

I’m not kidding…check this out.

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So bad, in fact, that some person smelling it in their apartment building reported it as a gas leak, bringing out the emergency services.

On Saturday, two fire trucks, two police cars and an emergency gas leak team all rushed towards the Stockholm neighbourhood Södermalm, having been alerted by concerned neighbours who smelled gas in the stairwell, but the unpleasant smell turned out to come from something less dangerous.

Mrs. TwShiloh is a pretty patriotic Swede but even she won’t lay claim to this dish.


Nordic roundup

What do you do when you’re the national intelligence service and you’ve had a busy 12 months with an attempted terrorist attack in the capital city, another plot in one of the nation’s major cities and a reorganization?sapo.jpg


Well, if you’re Sweden’s Säpo you take about $800,000 and throw a James Bond themed party for all your employees.


“This was a unique and extraordinary time and we’d been subjected to extreme pressure. We thought that we needed a special gathering for the whole security police team,” he told the paper.

I don’t know much about Säpo but I need to get a job with them…

The Finns, on the other hand, are up to their regular, no-nonsense selves.  There appear to be some threats on unidentified Finnish-language forums that are threatening the Finnish parliament.

Finally, keeping with the Nordic security theme (and part of the reason why the Finns give a damn about what any says on the interwebs) we have the Norwegians and Andres Breivik.  Here in America it goes without saying that he’d get the death penalty, even if there was compelling evidence he was insane (but, based on my imperfect understanding of this case, he doesn’t appear to have crossed that threshold into non-culpable insanity).  Personally, I’m not much in favor of capital punishment but Breivik makes about the best case for it you can find.

Max Fisher over at the Atlantic does a pretty good job of explaining not only how the Norwegians view criminal justice generally but also how that applies to Breivik specifically.  It does provide what appears to be a sensible alternative to our system of locking people up for long periods of time in conditions that seem to do little other than make them more dedicated (and violent) criminals.

Swedish Story of the Day

I think any additional comment would diminish the excellence of this story.

A 35-year-old rubbish enthusiast is wanted by police in Motala, in southern Sweden, after hiding on the town’s garbage trucks and secretly filming the bin men at work.


Kvick Tänkare

One of Scientific America’s bloggers recently moved to Sweden.  He’s in a very rural area and, as jobs are rather scarce he’s looking to become self-employed.  His initial impressions are interesting:

Starting a business in Sweden is not very difficult and there is much support from government and outside agencies. My concern, which I’m looking into currently, is how to pay for the social services taxes as an entrepreneur. Income tax for my bracket (i.e. poor person) is actually very similar to US. But since I am my own employer I will likely need to pay for social services that is usually fulfilled by a traditional employer. This is one of the differences between working in the US and in a socialist system where you buy into healthcare and the social safety net.

Even though it appears there’s a higher entry cost into the entrepreneurial world but if you meet that threshold you don’t necessarily have to worry that a bad case of the flu will bankrupt you.  I wonder if more or less people in the U.S. would take the plunge into self-employment if they didn’t have to worry about health/social costs.

I never heard of the term ‘Tweed Punk’ before but this trailer for an upcoming game looks quite fun. Taking place in an alternate Victorian/Edwardian world, it appears you have to dodge aristocratic robotic hunters and their dogs as they chase you about their estate and the moors. Pretty cool.

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At War tries to track down the pedigree of an unusual gun captured in Afghanistan.

The worst kept secret when it comes to imagination, critical thinking and problem solving is that often the best thing to do is think about something else. It seems there are stories to that effect a couple times a year. Maybe it’s news to some people but it really shouldn’t be. The shocking thing is that, at least in the workplace, and especially when we’re talking about intelligence analysis, there doesn’t’ seem to be much accounting for that fact. Nope…you’re job hours are 9-5. End of story. At least in my case, I find that while I accrue most of my problems during work hours I almost never solve them then. Instead, I solve them when I go running, in the middle of the night out of a sound sleep, or doing any number of mundane activities where my mind can wander and process the problem within my vast neural network 1. It’d be nice, in a field that is supposedly centered around knowledge workers to recognize that fact and build environments and schedules that enhance, rather than suppress, cognitive activity. Believe me, if I get a tasking at 9 am, it’d be better for everyone involved if I could go out for a long run at 11 am, be back at 1pm and have things well in hand before I go home for the day.

i09 has a roundup of the latest findings of the best way to engage that subconscious mental activity. For me, the most important item is that the activity must not require a lot of concentration. That’s why running is good (you just need to not fall down) or meditation or something like that. I’ve found that yoga is very unsatisfactory for that work since it really requires me to get into a state I think the Buddhists refer to as ‘living in the present’. Yoga requires so much of paying attention to the body that it crams out everything else (again, for me). When thoughts do creep in (again, I think this is what Buddhists call ‘monkey mind’ and it is a most excellent concept which I refer to over and over again) the body responds before the conscious mind is even aware of it.

And finally, a final sentimental note about a man and his dog. John Unger has a 19 year old dog suffering from arthritis. The dog apparently finds comfort in floating in the water so during the summer, John takes ‘Schoep’ to Lake Superior, and cradles him in the water, allowing the dog to fall asleep. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true compassion.

  1. Trust us, it ain’t that vast. eds

Scandinavian Roudup

Well, those pesky Russkies are at it again.  Finland has been flirting with the idea of joining NATO for years now.  I’m not sure how realistic of a chance that was but the talk has obviously gotten Comrade Bear a bit edgy and so they’ve moved to nix that idea before it goes any further.

General Nikolai Makarov, the commander of the Russian armed forces…warned directly that possible NATO membership for Finland would constitute a military threat against Russia.

Of course, given the current state of the Russian military I’m not sure what they could do about it.  I suppose they could do what they did to Ukraine a few years ago and just turn off the oil (Finland gets 64% of its supply from Russia) and natural gas pipelines (100%!).

A bit of nostalgia for Mrs. TwShiloh.  I asked if this made her homesick but she just looked at me in that odd way she does when I ask her if those helmets with horns were uncomfortable…

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The Scandinavian states engage in some rivalry that has been described as sibling in nature.  Case in point, is a recent survey of Swedes who air their complaints about the Norwegians.

They claim Norwegians “don’t know how to drive at roundabouts, they park in handicapped areas… are immoral and buy lots of tobacco and alcohol,”
according to accounts from the study, quoted by Expressen.

Sound a lot like Texans to me.  My Swedish contacts also tell me that Norwegians also have an inexplicable fondness for frozen pizza.  Go figure.  You think they’d be tired of frozen things.  Crazy Norwegians.

Bonus non-Scandinavian item!:  Some crazy Germans decided it’d be a good idea to import North American racoons into Germany in the 1920s.  Well, good luck to them because now there’s an estimated one million of the buggers knocking over trash cans and making a general nuisance of themselves.

Personally, I like racoons but they’re native here.  When they don’t have rabies, they’re pretty cool.  Just secure your garbage…

Warfare in the 18th Century: Poltava and the Swedes


I just finished The Battle That Shook Europe: Poltava and the Birth of the Russian Empire by Peter Englund.  Definitely a worth your time but here are the bits I found particularly interesting.

The Swedish king Charles the XII, instituted some military reforms including a system of conscription called indelningverk (which, I think, translates into something like ‘group work’). Provinces were broken up into subdivisions that would supply a cavalry or infantry man, house and support him in peacetime and replace him if lost in wartime. When I went to Skanses (the open air museum in Stockholm that focuses on Swedish life throughout history) they had an example of a little house that a farmer or craftsman might have on their property for a soldier to live in (called a soldattorp or soldier’s cottage). In these provincial regiments (which were different from more traditional regiments that apparently existed in parallel with them) promotions were handled differently from many other armies in that the officers had to start their service in the enlisted ranks and were promoted by merit.

The king had a bodyguard called the Drabants which, at least from the description of their service in the battle of Poltava, served as sort of a Secret Service (frequently surrounding the king in order to take the musket or cannon fire intended for him) as well as a body of shock troops. While I’m sure there was a lot of prestige associated with a posting as a Drabant it did have its downside. Of the 147 that began the Great Northern War in 1700, only 14 were still left alive in 1716.

Pay in old armies always interests me in that it provides some indication of what value society put on soldiering (at least where soldiers had some sort of choice in serving and allocating their labor) and what specific skills or activities militaries wanted to encourage (or discourage by withholding pay). Since plunder remained a legitimate form of compensation for some 18th century armies, Englund describes how the spoils accrued at Saladen were divided among the troops:

  • wounded captain: 80 riksdalar
  • unwounded captain: 40 riksdalar
  • wounded lieutenant: 40 riksdalar
  • unwounded lieutenant: 20 riksdalar
  • unwounded NCO: 2 riksdalar
  • wounded private: 2 riksdalar
  • unwounded private: 1 riksdalar

It’s nice to see the wounded given their due but, of course, it’s not clear if that means any wound or a would sufficient to preclude them from further service. The salary descrepencies today are nowhere near what there were listed as here which might reflect the increasing responsibility and autonomy that lower ranks have increasingly been given over the past three centuries.

Ah…but what of the grenadiers? In the period that I reenact, the grenadiers were really well on their way to losing any real difference from other infantry forces. Still, they maintained some (increasingly superficial) differences in uniform (the sword, the matchcase, etc.) and tougher recruitment standards which made them the ‘go to’ troops when you needed that extra bit of confidence that at attack would succeed or a long would hold under pressure. One of the most visible aspects of grenadiers of all nationalities was their tall caps. In part, the height of the caps were designed to create an imposing appearance to strike fear into the enemy. It worked (or didn’t) along the same lines as ancient warriors who had crests of horsehair or other material on their helmets. Englund however, notes another, more practical, use for the the shaped hats:

Their peculier tall caps replaced the normal wide-brimmed three corner hat, which would have impreded them when they slung their muskets before lobbing their hand-grenades.

Swedish grenadier hat from the early 18th century

Even then, grenadiers were regarded as a form of elite soldier, being used as bodyguards, marksmen and to storm fortifications.

The 18th century was kind of a weird time.  The last of the middle age armor had disappeared but firearms still left a bit to be desired both in terms of accuracy and rate of fire.  So, edged weapons hadn’t yet faded into irrelevance yet.  Ladies and gentlemen, the bayonet.

The bayonet was probably most commonly employed when pursuing the fleeing, and killing off wounded opponents. If bayonet to bayonet fighting did occur it was usually of little consequence, only lasting a few confused moments. Nevertheless, if it did come to hand-to-hand combat the equipment of the Swedish soldier gave him a certain advantage. The sword that every Swede carried was probably the best naked weapon that has ever existed, as well suited for thrust as cut. The Swedish bayonet had a more stable fitting than was otherwise normal. It was a considerably better weapon for thrusting than that of many other armies, whose bayonets tended to fall off, or remain embedded when muscle, skin and bone closed around the blade.

I have no idea if that last bit is true or not but as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts it’s not clear to me that the average 18th century soldier had much training with sword or bayonet.  Without training, weapon quality doesn’t matter quite that much.

The whole battle was a mess from the Swedish perspective (great from the Russian).  The Swedes suffered from debilitating overconfidence, convinced that since the Russians were incompetent in the early years of the war that they would forever remain that way.  So overconfident that the Swedes convinced themselves that it would be a good idea to attack an entrenched foe almost twice as numerous as themselves who also had a more than 3 to 1 superiority in artillery.

Let’s just say it didn’t go well for them.

Still, you can’t say the Swedes weren’t brave.  Here’s a description of the opening of the battle as the Swedes advanced towards the Russian lines:

They had approximately 800 meters to cover before they closed with the compact Russian ranks. The first 600 meters would be taken at the normal pace of 100 strides (75 meters) to the minute: a duration of about 8 minutes. The last stretch would be covered at a significantly higher speed, the standards procedure when attacking a rapidly firing enemy.

Cannon began firing at about 500 meters which meant that the advancing Swedes would have to walk (at a pretty slow pace) into firing artillery for 3 minutes before charging into the enemy and knowing that it would only get worse from there on out.

I suspect my response to being given a order to do something like that would have been along the lines of ‘Go fuck yourself.’

But Russian cannon, flintlocks, bayonets and swords isn’t all the Swedes had to worry about.  They also needed to keep an eye over their shoulder at the knuckleheads behind them:

Some calculations estimate that up to 25 percent of all infantry losses arose when the rear lines accidentally shot their comrades standing further forward.

English: Battle of Poltava 1709

And that is how you have your day ruined.

The Grey

Just saw The Grey last night and it’s a powerful film.  Definitely worth a second look (or a third including whatever commentary is available) to pull out the themes and messages it has.

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Coincidentally, I had just been thinking about how hard it is to convey a sense of terror or dread to an audience that knows it’s sitting in a comfortable theater or living room.  How does one get even a small sense of mortality as you’re munching on popcorn?

The Grey seemed to do so quite well in a number of places.  But, all this is for another post.  I talk about it here because of this news story I saw from yesterday.

A zoo employee is Sweden was attacked and killed by a pack of wolves when she (I assume) went into their enclosure to do some scheduled work.

The incident occurred just after 11am on Sunday morning. According to eye-witness reports, the woman went into the enclosure, was surrounded and then attacked, wrote the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Bad news in 17th century Sweden is good news today…

The 17th century was not a good time to be a mariner in Sweden. Important ships seemed to be sinking left and right. I’ve written about the Vasa (discovered and raised in the 1960s) and the Mars which was just discovered last year.

Now, reports are indicating that another important wreck has been discovered. The Resande Man was carrying royal treasure to Poland when bad weather sent it to the bottom. The brackish water of the Baltic Sea is pretty good at preserving shipwrecks so it’ll be interesting to see how much of the ship is intact and what’s on board.

So, if they happen to get the kinks worked out of the whole time travel thing and you zip back to 17th century Scandinavia, I’d strongly recommend against taking any boat rides.
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