January Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Rare religion sighting: we put up two charming Iraqi ladies for the night because of a friend’s birthday party, and they turned out to be Mandaeans, Gnostic believers in John the Baptist as Messiah.

  • One of my best old friends calls me, grieving, and tells me his old roomie died this morning of cancer. Age 37, leaving a wife and two small kids. I’m glad I don’t have to reconcile shit like this with any idea about a good lord directing things from behind the scenes. The universe isn’t trying to please us or mess with us, it’s just one big indifferent randomiser.
  • Last night I went to bed early with a headache. This morning I awoke and it was still there. Who suffered my headache while I slept? Probably the guy who listens to trees that fall when nobody’s around.
  • A Bronze Age axe hoard from the Sussex village of Sompting has lent its name to a type of axe, the “Sompting axe”. It sounds like an expletive to me. “Oh sompt! You sompter! I’m so Sompting tired of you and your Sompting axes!”
  • When editing academic writing I sometimes come across people finding a piece of relevant 19th century academic writing and presenting this proudly as if they’ve made an important discovery. I always change this to a simple literature reference. Let’s just assume that all previous publications on your subject are part of the collective fund of knowledge.
  • Blood oranges are way better than blood diamonds.
  • Facebook is feverishly trying to find out what TV shows I like. It doesn’t seem to have an option for people who don’t watch TV at all.
  • Calling an entry you made on your blog “a blog” is like calling an article “a newspaper” or a steering wheel “a car”.
  • This is crap! Cold and dark and naked trees. Anyone can see that I should at this moment be watching a summer production of a Shakespeare comedy in the ruins of a Medieval church on Gotland, on a sunny July evening, after a good meal. Come on now!
  • Preparing for this summer’s excavations of two small Medieval castle ruins near Norrköping with Christian. Funding: check. Student labour: check. County museum colleagues on board: check. Land owners on board: check. Housing for team at one site: check.
  • Feels good to have a few less projects to juggle now that the Aska paper is in the can, the Linnaeus teaching is done and the Umeå teaching is almost done.
  • The Ball-Tick states are named for a small mite-like creature that causes the men in the area no end of pain and irritation.
  • A Chinese novel translator who shall not be named just informed me that “The monkeys stood there blinking with standing birds” should actually be understood as “The monkeys stood there blinking with erect penises”.
  • “Money, money, money / Must be funny / In the Rickmansworth
  • A charming old lady who I got to know in the local historical society in the 90s has died. Her children are emailing the sad news to everybody the old lady corresponded with, using her own email account. Death customs of an on-line culture.
  • “There is no pain, you are receding / A fish-and-chip shop on the horizon”
  • Ikea now makes apartment building construction kits. They’re developing the vacant lot next to my block.
  • Director of Stockholm Museum of Spirits (i.e. booze) responds to my criticism of an exhibition that promises to teach visitors about night clubs in Stockholm in the past 150 years but which starts its tale in 1970. Director blithely points out that in one room there is an 8-minute film loop that contains some material about certain decades before 1970. Oh right then.
  • Looking through a new academic book on press history, my colleague found two footnotes that contained reciprocal referrals, meaning that the reader ends up in an infinite loop and can never finish the book.
  • I just asked the Skype Test Call lady pantingly what she was wearing.
  • Woman on bus says “Everything happens for a reason”. Now I don’t know if I should praise her causal-mechanist worldview or despise her new age worldview.

Comments

  1. #1 Phillip Helbig
    February 5, 2014

    “A charming old lady who I got to know in the local historical society in the 90s has died. Her children are emailing the sad news to everybody the old lady corresponded with, using her own email account. Death customs of an on-line culture.”

    Yes, that happened to me too (i.e. getting such an email, not dying), as it happened from someone in Sweden. In some cases the children might be in for big surprises. :-)

  2. #2 Birger Johansson
    February 5, 2014

    “…unless quantum is involved”. Fixed it!

  3. #3 Sean
    February 5, 2014

    In my field, things written before the First World War can contain insights which are not part of common knowledge, precisely because people often just cite older scholarship for form’s sake without reading it. Sometimes a theory is proposed, someone wrote a devastating rebuttal, nobody writes about the idea for 50 years or so, then someone notices the same evidence which inspired the first theory and reinvents it unaware of the rebuttal. Therefore marking when older scholarship contains important ideas and is not just being included for completeness is useful to me.

  4. #4 Jonathan Lubin
    http://www.math.brown.edu/~lubinj/
    February 5, 2014

    I’m told that a hundred years ago, Sears, Roebuck sold house kits in the US.

  5. #5 Martin R
    February 5, 2014

    Sean, I agree, we should mark when the old work contains something useful. But what we should not do is preen in what we write now because we found that old work.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    February 5, 2014

    I’m told that a hundred years ago, Sears, Roebuck sold house kits in the US.

    They did indeed. They are called “Craftsman” houses. I don’t think they were sold after the 1920s, but the name survived for some decades as a line of hardware tools. A few of them still exist in my neck of the woods.

  7. #7 Birger Johansson
    February 7, 2014

    “Died of cancer, age 37, leaving a wife and two small kids”
    cancer sucks.
    I hope that two generations from now people will fail to undertand what a shadow cancer cast over our generation, the way the young ones today don’t understand what it meant to live during the cold war and Mutual Assured destruction.
    (OT) Scientists find 800,000-year-old footprints in UK http://phys.org/news/2014-02-scientists-year-old-footprints-uk.html

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    February 7, 2014

    (OT) Denying climate change isn’t scepticism – it’s ‘motivated reasoning’ http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/05/denying-climate-change-scepticism-motivated-reasoning
    As men t ioned in the a r ticle, other examples include nuclea r ene rgy and possibly GM organisms.

  9. #9 Jane
    February 8, 2014

    @Birger – the Guardian article is interesting, and exposes exactly the problem with right wing ideologies. If their proponents were open to objective examination of the facts their own movements would collapse immediately. Sadly they aren’t called “conservative” for nothing.

  10. #10 Birger Johansson
    February 8, 2014

    Jane, a subset of (American) rightwingery is creationism.
    -Fellow skeptic Ethan Siegel provides a string of respectful, no-sarcasm answers to questions from creationists that might just cause some of them to open their minds https://medium.com/starts-with-a-bang/8712e42fbb0d

  11. #11 Jane
    February 8, 2014

    Nice article. I wish it *would* cause them to open their minds, if only because I hate the thought that creationists are bringing up their children to think the same way.

    For a completely snarky look at creationism, see John Scalzi’s report on his visit to the Creation Museum a few years back:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2007/11/12/your-creation-museum-report/

    As is his wont, Mr Scalzi not only described his visit and took a large number of highly entertaining photos, he also got people to donate just so that he would go at all – then gave the money to an organisation that works to achieve separation of church and state in the US.

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    February 10, 2014

    Iraqi Christians: Most were living safely alongside their muslim neighbours until a salafist-inspired antichristian campaign after the whole cartoon-of-Muhammed stuff in Denmark.
    This campaign was launched to distract Saudis from the corruption that caused a mass death by trampling in Mecca during the pilgrimage- the money alloted to building safe ways for the mass of pilgrims had been embezzled.
    Ultimately an internal Saudi corruption scandal forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi christians to escape abroad. Note this happened on the watch of the US occupation, with a US president who claimed to be super-christian.
    Also re. Iraq: there is a Kurdish sect that worship an angel -Melek Taus- with the same name attributed by muslims to Satan, causing much repression from the muslims. And sunnis and shi’a are fighting each other, stirred up by corrupt politicians. For a while a Swedish suburb had more iraqi refugees than all of USA and Britain together.

  13. #13 Martin R
    February 10, 2014

    Ah yes, the Yazidi and their Peacock Angel!

  14. #14 Birger Johansson
    February 10, 2014

    “Everything happens for a reason” is a kind of thinking that ties into fate, portents etc.
    Here is a bit of skepticism about the most famous portent of all:
    ” The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View” http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Star-Bethlehem-Skeptical-View/dp/0956694861/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=2YBA0DQ0DMG3R&coliid=I1KZUDRV0Z3M8F
    As Randolph Hearst said: “never check a good story!”

  15. #15 Birger Johansson
    February 10, 2014

    Cancer: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/09/this-is-a-real-thing-2/#comments
    The mentined site seems to have t aken down the image now, possibly after protests.

  16. #16 Eric Lund
    February 10, 2014

    there is a Kurdish sect that worship an angel -Melek Taus- with the same name attributed by muslims to Satan

    “Divine” and “devil” come from the same root. It’s a question of whether you are talking about the obviously real god that my people worship, or the obviously false god that those people over there worship ;-).

  17. #17 Martin R
    February 10, 2014

    I like the way many fundies seem almost to believe more in the Devil than in God. d-;

  18. #18 Birger Johansson
    February 11, 2014

    Totally OT, but here are some new love poems to cheer up your rainy February days:
    http://www.gocomics.com/richards-poor-almanac/2014/02/10
    The imagery is very…non-standard.

  19. #19 Birger Johansson
    February 12, 2014

    Not John or Jesus: The Messiah of Sochi
    “The Saga of Bob Costas and Vlad Putin, by John Scalzi and Tom Tomorrow”
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/11/the-saga-of-bob-and-vlad-by-john-scalzi-and-tom-tomorrow/

  20. #20 John Massey
    February 13, 2014

    And in other totally unsurprising news, the Solutrean Hypothesis is shown to be utter rubbish:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v506/n7487/full/nature13025.html

  21. #21 Birger Johansson
    February 13, 2014

    From an African perspective, it would hardly matter which way the post-african migrants took to Alaska, but one group has an epicantic* fold and the other has not. If you like to puke, you can read a horrible white-supremacy novel (White Apocalypse) based on the Solutrean Hypothesis.
    Actually the book is unintentionally funny, if you are one of those who like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.
    *forgive the spelling.

  22. #22 Martin R
    February 13, 2014

    John, that’s excellent news! Thank you!

  23. #23 John Massey
    February 14, 2014

    Birger, my own crackpot theory is that it may have been due simply to founder effect in very small effective population sizes at the time of divergence, and that it derives from ancient population groups within Africa. Not selection. Not enhanced resistance to dust storms in the Gobi Desert (I did actually see that theory in a paper once). Just chance.

    There’s a whole generation of young Korean girls having eye surgery who are probably cursing that ancient ancestor, if they actually think of it in those terms. Personally I wish they would just leave themselves alone; it is a feature I find singularly attractive and endearing. It never hurt Sandy Lam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lxu0SPunkBw My daughter tells me that singing in Cantonese is even more difficult than singing in Mandarin, for self-evident tonal reasons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inaxogxd2cM

    Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but hardly physically repellent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSuyCsc4ZwA The common joke about Sandy among Chinese when she was young was that she always looks half asleep.

    Unravelling genetic substructure in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the particularly interesting/exciting things going on at the moment, although it is inevitably accompanied by the usual nauseating wave of white supremacist lunacy. The finding that Neanderthal introgression probably affected mostly skin and hair (and maybe lactation, sweating and teeth morphology, but that’s my own crackpot theorising again), not brain size or intelligence, barely slowed them down. They seem to have carefully sidelined the finding that East Asians, and therefore Native Americans, have 20% more of it than everyone else outside of sub-Saharan Africa, due to a second hybridisation event after divergence.

  24. #24 Martin R
    February 14, 2014

    I agree, those young women should save their money and leave their lovely eyes alone. China is one of the world’s most fecund nations and those women certainly don’t have to wear paper bags on their heads to attract men.

  25. #25 Birger Johansson
    February 14, 2014

    (And here is a light note on which to end the week:)

    Hoax debunked: Kola Borehole http://xkcd.com/1330/

  26. #26 John Massey
    February 14, 2014

    Martin, I don’t properly understand this, but if you haven’t seen it before, scroll down to the map at the bottom.

    http://biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2014/01/13/001792.full.pdf

    What I need is a continuous 4 dimensional map of climate/environment so I can get my head around how many of who went where when and why.

    There are no figures provided on numbers of paper bags, but the people headed into Central Asia didn’t seem to need any.

  27. #27 Martin R
    February 14, 2014

    overall higher female than male effective population sizes

    In other words, it’s much easier for a woman than a man to get laid.

  28. #28 Birger Johansson
    February 18, 2014

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