August Pieces Of My Mind #2

Registering the bones from this summer's fieldwork at Landsjö.

Registering the bones from this summer’s fieldwork at Landsjö.

  • Getting rid of excess stuff. Azerbaijani dude with a huge beautiful beard showed up on his wife’s orders and collected both bike baby seats, the rolling baby stool, the dinner table lamp and the microwave oven. *happy*
  • My wife’s workout app is giving her orders. It sounds like a very, very strange satnav.
  • User interface fail: our new microwave oven has not only start/stop buttons, but also on/off buttons that control whether the start/stop buttons are responsive or not.
  • Oh great, LinkedIn. You tried to find a job for me and emailed me the results. Ten jobs in fact. All of which had in common that they are in my home town and have nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m skilled at.
  • It always saddens me to see a librarian with shelf-inflicted wounds.
  • I idly comment in an Facebook thread on the issue of how old the cult of the Aesir is likely to be, reporting what I’ve understood of my reading of current academic literature on the history of religion. Dude tells me I’ve lost the argument because I’m just arguing from authority.
  • Is there a quick rule of thumb to tell a stylist from a stylite?
  • The Swedish Geological Survey has quietly doubled the chronological resolution of their shoreline maps! You can get them for every 500 years now instead of every 1000!
  • Cherry Twister sound exactly like Teenage Fanclub.
  • An anonymous German university wants my Bronze Age book. That’s nice and I would be happy to donate a copy. But instead of writing me, they’ve put in an order with a bookseller, who’s written me. Annoyingly inefficient.
  • When I get turned down for teaching jobs, I console myself with the thought that the scholars who influence their fields strongly, and get studied by historians of science afterwards, aren’t the ones who teach full time for years and years. As an archaeology teacher, you mainly get to influence the thinking of future archivists and bus drivers. So if you want me to STFU, just hire me and keep me busy.
  • Should I put in the fieldwork report that while registering the bone bags I was semi-nude, outdoors and listening to extremely druggy music?
  • Would you like me to Roger your Bacon?
  • The Chinese just outweirded me again. They’ve got something called “the Hundred Surnames”, which are exceptionally common. Among these are several true homophones, I just learned. So there’s the Zhang family and the Zhang family: same pinyin transcription, same tone, different characters.
  • Feta cheese in a vacuum pack keeps way way past its use-by date. Nom nom nom.
  • Looking inland from Kalundborg’s West Castle, you see a big fat Bronze Age barrow. This, the locals explained, was probably hard to avoid given how common these barrows are in the area.
  • Mulberries are amazingly good. And amazingly messy.
  • I often get the voice parsing input started by mistake on my phone. Now when I want to try it out I can’t turn it on.
  • Dear colleague. I am truly grateful to you for giving your paper in English. I sadly don’t know your native language. But frankly you are boring us all to tears by reading a manuscript out instead of improvising.
  • I learned on this trip that you can easily see across the Great Belt and Öresund. Medieval Denmark was pretty integrated.
  • Colleague demonstrates his grasp of Schwiizerdütsch with a series of vaguely Danish-sounding gurgles. Claims they mean “Have you already had your Ovomaltine cocoa this morning?”.
  • “Redemption” is such a strange word and concept. In US English you can barely read a movie review without coming across it. Yet in Swedish we hardly ever use its equivalents outside a religious context. And since few Swedes are religious, we rarely use the concept at all. I feel no need for or possibility of redemption.
  • Apollo is “Apollon” in Swedish, which means “monkey’s bell end”.
  • Eight young women in head scarves and Pakistani clothes are playing soccer in the field next to our house.
  • Incredible contrast between the 17th century’s oil paintings and Scandy sculpture. Like two completely separate traditions, the latter grotesque and abstract, divorced from the Classical heritage.
  • Hey, I’d vote for Jeremy Corbyn!
  • Been handy today: bought a doormat, long screws (no) with plugs, an electric plug and a window holder ajarer; used them to mat a door, fix a Pilaster book shelf to a newly painted wall, reenable my reading lamp after my dad installed earthed sockets, and hold a window ajar.
  • Updating my freshman presentations. Since last year, the oldest known stone tools have moved from 2.6 to 3.4 mya, and from Homo habilis to some Australopithecine. The bulk date of the great clearance-cairn areas of Småland has moved from the Early Iron Age to the High Middle Ages.
  • Reading this paper by a Scandy scholar whose English is shaky. They describe the defenders of a besieged castle using “guns, piles and stones”. Ow, me bum…
  • Hawkwind’s most beloved song, “Master of the Universe”, has huge information redundancy. It’s just one riff played in unison by bass and rhythm guitar all the way through, plus aimless quiet noodling on the lead guitar and swishy noises from the keyboards.
  • Movie: Dheepan. War-traumatised Tamil man-woman-child form a fake family to enter France, settle in ghetto shaken by drug gang fighting. Grade: pass with distinction.
  • Oh sure, LinkedIn. I’m definitely the right man to head a pharma research team working on immuno oncology. Thanks for telling me about the job!


  1. #1 BirgerJohansson
    September 2, 2015

    Re. Corbyn; more Brit news (courtesy of the Daily Mash)
    “Corbyn insane not to invade Iraq”, says Blair
    -Rest of week written off!
    Funky CV makes applicant stand out as tiresome little shit
    Farage pledges traditionally xenophobic EU campaign
    Poor people prefer shit things, explains Cameron
    “Lying bastard phone said it had 12 percent battery left”
    — — — —
    Queen Elizabeth the Last

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    September 2, 2015

    At least LinkedIn is showing you jobs in the place where you live. They keep on encouraging me to apply for jobs in locations that are, in ideal conditions, an hour or more away by car (and most of that on motorways). Under realistic commuter conditions, the drive time is more like 90-120 minutes, if it isn’t snowing. And those jobs aren’t in my field, either. I’m a physicist, not a biologist, so I’m just as qualified as you to lead that pharma research team.

    I’m familiar with the Chinese surname problem, because I have been collecting references over the years. Just in my (relatively small) field, I have identified at least 19 different authors with the surname Zhang, two of which have identical Pinyin transliterations of their given name (I’m told the characters are different for both surname and given name, but I have no way of verifying this), and a third only identified by that same initial plus the surname. It could be worse: there are at least 24 people named Wang in my field. Last December I found at least five different Wang et al. papers in one issue of one journal, the first authors being five different people. And it doesn’t help that when I download articles from this publisher, the file name has the format Lastname-et-al-Journalname-Year.pdf . Lee is another nasty one: it’s common among Chinese from outside the mainland (in Pinyin it’s spelled Li), it’s one of the most common surnames in Korea (which seems to have even fewer surnames than China), and it’s moderately common in English as well.

  3. #3 Thomas Ivarsson
    September 2, 2015

    Öresund has never been a barrier like it is today. Between Helsingborg and Helsingör the water border is lika a Swedish lake.

  4. #4 John Massey
    September 3, 2015

    Speaking of getting rid of excess stuff, Xi Jingping just announced that he is going to downsize the PLA by getting rid of 300,000 military personnel.

    He is going to sack an army that is about double the size of Australia’s total defence forces. Maybe Australia could rent some of them cheaply.

    The old answer to the gender imbalance problem was “Put the excess young males who can’t find wives into the military and find a war to fight.” In future, that is not going to work.

    All I can say is if Mr Xi wants to stay on the right side of me, he had better keep the Beautiful Pink Army. If I ever get invaded, I want the invaders to be wearing pink uniforms and all be young Chinese women 178 cm tall.

  5. #5 John Massey
    September 3, 2015

    Well, no Pink Army in this morning’s big parade.

    Mr Xi is going to be hearing from me about this. It’s going to impact severely on morale – mine, mostly.

    But the female honour guard were out there doing their stuff, so hopefully some entertaining videos of them will surface some time soon, even if they were wearing boringly sensible uniforms.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    September 3, 2015

    John@4: That’s about 7% of the PLA, as I recall. Depending on turnover, they may be able to pull that off by attrition. I don’t know if China has mandatory national service, as some countries do–the ones that do normally get the bulk of their soldiers that way.

    Of course, it also depends on finding jobs for the soon-to-be former soldiers. What happened in Iraq after the US occupation force disbanded the Iraqi Army is a cautionary tale. Not that I would expect anything that bad to happen in China if Mr. Xi repeated that mistake, but Xi strikes me as the kind of person who learns from other people’s mistakes.

  7. #7 BirgerJohansson
    September 3, 2015
  8. #8 John Massey
    September 4, 2015

    Eric@6: I saw a graphic that showed the down-sizing plan, which they say is to be achieved by 2017. It seems they will be culling from all three of the military wings, and creating a new 4th group under central command. That suggests they are not just cutting by attrition, they are undertaking a fundamental restructuring and creating a leaner, better equipped, more mobile structure better able to project force beyond China’s borders. Which I imagine should be worrying for America.

    China already has big law and order problems arising from unemployed workers migrating from rural areas to the cities – another 300,000 on top of the existing millions probably won’t make a big difference, at least qualitatively.

  9. #9 John Massey
    September 4, 2015

    #7 – Birger: But she’s not bright yellow. More a sort of pale beige, I guess.

    And that psychologist is wrong, as psychologists so often are – there are no such things as emotional intelligence and social intelligence.

    IQ correlates well with something that could be called g for general intelligence. There is a strong correlation between g and how well people turn out doing in life, except maybe in the extreme upper tail of the distribution, where you get individuals who may come across as pretty weird and have difficulty getting along with other people. But that girl looks like she wouldn’t have any real ‘people’ problems – she’s not weird looking and just looks like a bright, cheerful 12 year old.

    I have a general rule of thumb now – if a psychologist makes some public utterance, I make the automatic assumption that what he/she has said is wrong, unless subsequent hard facts/data are produced to confirm otherwise.

    The sobering fact is that to get into a psychology programme at major American universities, you need an IQ of about 95 – i.e. below average adult IQ. I’d say it’s the same in Australia, with the sad addendum that students who are too dumb even for psychology end up doing anthropology. I think that helps to explain why there is such a damning lack of good quality research on Australian Aboriginal people; some of the early stuff was OK, but it was sparse – people were more intent on either breeding them out of existence or just outright killing them than studying them – and the early stuff tends to be locked away now because it tends to contain some pretty ‘uncomfortable’ stuff; and the more recent work is almost all just meaningless trash and made-up stuff.

  10. #10 Eric Lund
    September 5, 2015

    There is some good research in psychology being done, John, but yes, there is a great deal of dreck as well. To be fair, it can be a hard subject to research–most experiments involve human subjects, so you have to worry about protocols, and you have to worry about whether the things your subjects tell you are false (intentionally or otherwise). But that doesn’t excuse poor experimental design, or statistics abuse, which are rampant. There is a reason for the old joke that 43% of statistics are made up on the spot.

    Opinion polling is an extreme form. You can get 20% swings of opinion on some questions (margin of error typically being a few percent) depending on the exact phrasing. That’s an effect that even particle physicists (who tend to insist on five-sigma significance–one, because they can, and two, because they have been burned by alleged phenomena with lower significance levels not holding up under scrutiny) would agree is significant.

    Speaking of significance, another contributing factor to the low signal-to-noise ratio in psychology research is the somewhat arbitrary 95% confidence level (about two sigma). It’s hard in psychology (or many other fields) to get enough statistics to insist on higher confidence levels. There is also a publication bias in favor of positive results, so often a reported effect will be due to a statistical anomaly, but the proof that it was a statistical anomaly is never reported in the literature.

  11. #11 John Massey
    September 5, 2015

    Eric@6 – Here’s an interesting statistic: of the 300,000 Xi plans to axe from China’s armed forces, 170,000 will be officers ranking from lieutenants to senior colonels.

  12. #12 John Massey
    September 5, 2015

    That jibes with another comment I have seen, which is that their existing military structure is top heavy.

  13. #13 John Massey
    September 5, 2015

    One for Birger:

    This September’s supermoon will also coincide with a lunar eclipse, making it a supermoon lunar eclipse – an event which has happened just five times since 1910. The last time the two events converged was in 1982 and the next time will be 2033.

    And it will happen during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the traditional time for moon gazing. But sadly the eclipse won’t be visible to HK.

  14. #14 birgerjohansson
    September 5, 2015

    The lunar eclipse will be visible from Europe the early hours of the 28th,visible from America lathe evening the 27th local time.
    Factoid: the Danish language has 17 vowels or half-vowels. Even Danish kids find it hard to understand, it tales Danish infants longer to learn to speak than kids in other language regions.
    On the other hand, Danes have the lowest rate of galatophobia* in Europe -Britain has the highest.
    *fear of being laughed at.

  15. #15 Eric Lund
    September 6, 2015

    Birger@14: Link?

    English has lots of vowel sounds as well. Long and short versions of A E I O U, as well as OO. Plus OI, and for semivowels there are W and Y. That’s at least 15, and depending on dialect there can be more (e.g., the A in “father” may not be identical to the A in “farther”). However, some dialects merge some of those sounds, so the exact number will depend on which version you are working with. English is also notorious for the number of consonants it has–unlike most European languages, English has retained the two TH sounds, as well as most of the other Indo-European phonemes (the most prominent exception being that English has no equivalent to the German CH or the Greek chi). That’s one of the reasons English is particularly hard to learn as an adult.

    Then there are the tonal languages, including various languages of China and most of Southeast Asia’s national languages. I don’t know if the different tones count as different vowels, but there are differences to the sound–I can detect the four distinct tones of Mandarin Chinese, if the speaker is speaking slowly enough. My background in classical music was actually useful here.

    Denmark, being a small country without mountains, probably doesn’t have that many regional dialects. There are probably differences between Copenhagen and Jutland, with Faroese and Greenland Danish as outliers, but beyond that I’d be surprised if there is much in the way of further localization. That’s fewer than the US, which is notorious for having so few dialects despite the large area and population. OTOH, the Danish/Swedish/Norwegian language split is relatively recent, such that somebody who is fluent in one of those languages can often understand what a speaker of one of the other two is saying. That’s not true of Cantonese and Mandarin, which are sometimes called dialects but are not mutually intelligible–what they have is a common writing system.

  16. #16 BirgerJohansson
    September 6, 2015

    Swedish-language article. Mainly, the Basque seem related to Sardinians and be descended from early agriculturalists that came out of Syria and followed the Mediterranean.
    “Karin Bojs: Den baskiska gåtan har fått sin lösning”

  17. #17 BirgerJohansson
    September 6, 2015

    Statistician Hans Rosling: ‘You can’t trust the media’

  18. #18 BirgerJohansson
    September 7, 2015

    Interesting old Koran -If these Koran fragments actually pre-date Muhammed, it would mean that the Koran –like many other holy books- was assembled from various sources rather than written at a single date by a single holy man.

  19. #19 John Massey
    September 7, 2015

    Basques are also the only Spaniards with no Moorish ancestry. They must have got a lot of late Bronze Age admixture though, unlike the Sardinians, just going on phenotype. Sardinians definitely look ‘different’ – rather attractive, I think.

  20. #20 Eric Lund
    September 7, 2015

    Birger@18: That’s potentially interesting, but as commenters at your link note, it may be a nothingburger. The 95% confidence interval includes all of Mohamed’s life span, so there is no proof that it predates Mohammed. Indeed, they only tested the parchment, not the ink, which could plausibly have been made some years later. (At least there is no evidence that the document is a palimpsest.)

    It’s also well known that the Quran drew on other sources. There are recognizable versions of Old Testament stories in the Quran. Islamic traditions hold that the first complete Quran was assembled in about 653 from various documents, so it’s possible that Mohammed himself (or one of his associates) may have written this document, which then was one of the source documents for the Quran. For obvious reasons, the Quran has gone through much less textual analysis than many secular documents of much lesser importance.

  21. #21 Phillip Helbig
    September 7, 2015

    “Should I put in the fieldwork report that while registering the bone bags I was semi-nude, outdoors and listening to extremely druggy music?”

    Definitely not. Don’t embarrass yourself by admitting that you weren’t fully nude.

  22. #22 birgerjohansson
    September 7, 2015

    I have been on a diet since august. “Nothingburger” sounds delicious!
    A TV program this evening showed the Swedish archaeology dog Fabel quickly locate 1000-year-old human remains by smell (to test the dog, the skeleton had been located by georadar first).
    “For obvious reasons, the Quran has gone through much less textual analysis than many secular documents of much lesser importance.” -Hard to do textual criticism when dodging assassins! Maybe we should recruit Shaolin monks for the job?

  23. #23 birgerjohansson
    September 7, 2015

    There are several recent articles about Basque DNA. This one does not look into the Sardinian link.
    “Ancient genomes link early farmers to Basques”

  24. #24 birgerjohansson
    September 7, 2015

    I may have read too much about current atrocities. The empathy fatigue makes me surprisingly indifferent about the recent photos of drowned refugees. There is only so much you can take in, I suppose this is a kind of safety feature of the brain.

  25. #25 John Massey
    September 8, 2015

    Hmmm…now that I come to compare lots of photos of Basques and Sardinians, I can’t say I could pick a consistent major difference in general appearance. On average, Sardinians might be a bit darker, I guess, but it’s not really distinctive.

    Here’s Razib on Moorish ancestry of non-Basque Spaniards:

    I can’t help but laugh when I read the way Razib addresses some of his commenters – some guy writes a long pseudo-scholarly sounding comment positing this and that and Razib responds: “hey dipshit, did you read the fucking post?” I’m sorry, I can’t help it, it makes me laugh. A lot.

    I came fairly close to doing that at work yesterday. I guess one really shouldn’t address one’s professional colleagues as a “bunch of muppets”, should one?

  26. #26 John Massey
    September 8, 2015

    The Uppsala researchers also noted: “The difference between Basques and other Iberian groups is these latter ones show distinct features of admixture from the east and from north Africa.” So it’s clear.

    I have some small amount of Iberian ancestry, which inclines me now to think this is where my even smaller amount of North African ancestry comes from – from the Moorish occupation of Spain.

  27. #27 Eric Lund
    September 8, 2015

    I guess one really shouldn’t address one’s professional colleagues as a “bunch of muppets”, should one?

    Not to their faces, at least. But I hear that in the financial industry there is a tradition of bankers calling their customers similar names in e-mails to other bankers.

  28. #28 birgerjohansson
    September 8, 2015

    Ancient pestle shows Paleolithic people ground oats for food

  29. #29 birgerjohansson
    September 9, 2015
  30. #30 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    Fatigue is one thing; this goes a bit beyond the Pale.

    (May be pay-walled.)

  31. #31 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    Awakening the viruses.

    Eric – I had justification. And I reserve other special words for clients. Actually, some of my clients are my former workmates and still good friends.

  32. #32 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    I’m currently listening to Legends of Gypsy Flamenco. My car has an excellent sound system. Whenever my daughter gets into the car, she makes a frantic dive for the MUTE button – she just can’t stand Gypsy singing. Well, they’re not the most likeable of people, and it’s not the most tuneful singing. If she could have her own way, we would have a never-ending programme of Kun Qu and Cantonese Opera, but she knows that’s never going to happen, not in my car. She was bemoaning the fact that in the Mainland there is one 24-hour free to air TV channel that has nothing but Chinese opera, but we can’t get that channel in Hong Kong (thank goodness, otherwise she’d have it on non-stop).

    To my mind the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time (that I know of – there are numerous no doubt very good flamenco guitarists who never made a recording) was Paco de Lucía (otherwise known as Frank Sánchez)(j/k). I don’t think he was a Gypsy – he certainly didn’t live or behave like one; au contraire, he behaved in a very refined manner and was commercially very successful for someone trying to make a living out of music other than pop/rock. Although it could explain his rather dark complexion, but I saw him perform live pretty close up and he was not that dark – more likely some Moorish ancestry, given he was born in Cádiz, about as far south in Spain as you can get.

    Paco dropped dead from a heart attack two years ago on a beach in Mexico while he was playing with his grand children. It must have given the kiddies a bit of a shock, but there must be few better ways to go than that – it would beat the hell out of lying in some palliative care facility stuffed full of tubes., with some fat woman in glasses telling you that you don’t need drugs to control the pain and to put your faith in Jesus.

    Anyway, I now think the mystery of my North African ancestry has been cleared up nicely. I have a larger chunk of Iberian ancestry, and all modern Spaniards who are not Basques have some Moorish ancestry – all of them – so I think that explains my bit of exotic ancestry also. One of my bits of exotic ancestry. I have others.

    Do yourself a favour some time and listen to Paco Lucia. You can skip the raucous singing, and just listen to him playing ‘new flamenco’ or flamenco-jazz fusion, which he pioneered.

  33. #33 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    Paco de Lucía – he took his mother’s personal name as his stage name: Paco (son) of Lucía . I don’t know if that’s a Gypsy thing. Or maybe just an Andalusian thing. Or maybe he just didn’t think Francisco Sánchez Gomes sounded arty-farty- enough.

    I thought about changing my name to Juan de Maria, but my days playing on stage are over.

  34. #34 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    Do you play the guitar, John?

  35. #35 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    Hi Martin. I did, until carpal tunnel surgery on both hands put an end to my playing days.

    I started out being trained as a classical guitarist when I was a kid, so I can read music very well. I dabbled quite a bit in jazz (I had one guitar teacher who was my home town’s premier jazz guitarist, and he taught me a lot), and in Flamenco, which I taught to myself with instruction books and by listening very carefully to a lot of recordings of the old Flamenco masters.

    In my mid-20s, while working at my day job as an engineer, I drifted into a folk club one night for some entertainment, and there was a bunch of mad Irishmen on stage playing traditional Irish dance music. People tried to get me dancing, but I’m a white boy who can’t dance and it seemed safer to be up on the stage with the mad Irishmen, who turned out to be very serious musicians, so I asked the guys in the band if I could join in with them, and they said sure, jump up here with us. And that was it – once I started playing with them, they kept wanting me to keep doing it and become a permanent band member.

    So I ended up playing with those guys for 3 years as a semi-professional musician, working as an engineer during the day and moonlighting as a musician every night, and suffering from major sleep deprivation. I learned a great deal about traditional Irish folk music, and had a wonderful time in the process with a great bunch of guys.

    We were very successful and played some pretty big gigs, including opening for The Chieftains at the Perth Concert Hall – my biggest claim to fame as a musician. At the end of 3 years, the other guys said “Right, that’s it, lads, we’re leaving our day jobs and turning full professional.” At that point I had to say “Best of luck, boys – it’s been a wonderful trip, but I can’t come with you.” They understood – they were mostly in lousy poorly paid trade jobs, but I would have been mad to give up a promising professional career as an engineer for the life of a starving itinerant musician. I mean, we were popular, and we were good, but we weren’t great, not best-in-the-world great, and in music, if you’re not great and you are in a genre that is outside of the mainstream, you are going to have a life of poverty.

    Then not long after that I moved to Hong Kong to take up a job offer doing something I really wanted to do, and my whole life changed dramatically at that point.

    So that was it for my career as a musician. But I kept on playing classical music and Flamenco to entertain friends right up to a few years ago, when my hands went on me and I had to have the surgery, and once they cut those tendons in your hands, you are done for – you lose the touch and fine motor control. These days I am doing well if I can hold a pen and write legibly. It’s not something I cry about – I was pretty good, and I loved playing, most of all with that bunch of wild Irishmen, but I was never truly great. I had 3 great years and have some wonderful memories from that time, and I’m grateful for that.

  36. #36 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    Good story, though I’m sorry about your hands! One of my best buddies plays Irish folk (mainly the pipes and tin whistle) and chairs a monthly session at a pub in the Old Town. Always a good time.

  37. #37 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    I can still grip a tennis racquet well enough, so my hands are not a total disaster 🙂

    I’m not the guy you want as your brain surgeon, though.

  38. #38 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    “Eight young women in head scarves and Pakistani clothes are playing soccer in the field next to our house.”

    I had a teacher once who would sometimes add, after a comment he had made, “Just an observation, not a judgement”. Which, if either, is your sentence above?

  39. #39 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    The subtext of that observation is “Maybe head scarves aren’t always or mostly a sign of female subjugation, at least in Sweden”.

    Norm Sherman of the Drabblecast podcast uses the expression “And that’s a statement, not a fact.”

  40. #40 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    I think the answer is “that depends”. Maybe they are free to play football but not free to choose not to wear the headscarf; not free to choose whom, if anyone, they want to marry; not free to choose whom, if anyone, they want to have sex with, perhaps before marriage, and, if so, a) the sex of the partner and b) what type of sex.

    Iran has a higher percentage of female graduates in STEM subjects than many western countries, but one can’t use this as evidence that they are not subjugated in other areas.

    Or maybe it is the (mistaken) belief that playing football keeps their minds off of sex. 😐

    Also, of course, a headscarf is not always just a headscarf, but sometimes it is. I recall a striking image of Agnetha Fältskog in a headscarf not long before she was elected “rear of the year” in England. 🙂

  41. #41 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    Shawls are analogous to bikini tops, and if anyone wants to forbid shawls then bikini tops must go too.

  42. #42 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    He has a point, but I disagree somewhat. One often hears the idea that men like women’s breasts (more than women like men’s breasts) because they have been “sexualized” to do so by “society”. I’m pretty sure that it is due mainly to biological reasons, sexual selection, and so on. (Of course, the behaviour associated with liking breasts, particularly those of women one doesn’t know personally, can and should be conditioned by society.)

    If one wants to play the discrimination card, unfairness is women forced to cover their head hair and men not, or women forced to cover their breasts and men not forced to cover their beards.

    But women forced to cover their breasts and men not is not discrimination. Discrimination would be one of the above examples, or men forced to cover their feet and women not (though, looking at, say, Hollywood red carpets, many men voluntarily cover their feet (and backs, etc) more than women).

    I think many play the discrimination or freedom card in such debates because there are, for good reason, strong laws against discrimination and for personal freedom. (Of course, even if one doesn’t believe that forcing women not to be topless is due to discrimination, one can still be in favour of allowing toplessness, or full nudity, for that matter, where it currently is not, but for the right reasons.) The next time there is a demonstration for the right to wear headscarves, or burqas, in the name of personal freedom, volunteer to take part if you can be nude (or, in your case, semi-nude, whatever that means) and see if the organizers are really interested in personal freedom and, if so, if that is only for themselves and not for others.

  43. #43 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    ‘He’ is Martin in an earlier incarnation.

    There is very little evidence for anything that has evolved in humans due to sexual selection. Lots of supposition, and it’s often the default that people go to when they can’t think of anything else, but no evidence.

  44. #44 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    If you haven’t been keeping track of the Rising Star Expedition, it’s time to get clued up about it, because it seems that things are about to get *very* exciting, paleoanthropologically speaking.

  45. #45 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    “There is very little evidence for anything that has evolved in humans due to sexual selection.”

    How do you explain permanent breasts in humans but not in most (all?) other mammals?

    Although there are other explanations, based on sperm competition related to mating habits etc (the sizes of penises (penes?) and testes are closely related to these), perhaps sexual selection might play some part in the fact that the human penis is by far the largest primate penis, not just relatively but absolutely. And what about men’s beards and deep voices?

  46. #46 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    Doesn’t dong size just trail the rapid increase in baby head diameter?

  47. #47 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    I don’t have to explain anything – if I did, I would be just opinionating, and my opinion on this subject is worthless, just like yours is.

    I am asking for *evidence* of sexual selection, and as far as I know, there is any for anything in humans. No one knows why men have beards and deep voices. There is no evidence for sperm selection among humans. Chimpanzees yes, but chimpanzees behave very differently from humans.

  48. #48 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    I hate it when chimpanzees compete with my sperm.

  49. #49 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    Here he is – my guitar hero Paco de Lucía, the man who could genuinely have claimed a number of things, including having invented a new musical genre, and having saved Flamenco music, because until Paco reached out to musicians of other nationalities in other genres, Flamenco was dying. But he was far too modest a man to make any such claims, and I loved him all the more for it. It was a tragedy when he died at the age that I am at now, when he still had so much left in him.

    If it really irritates you that, whenever a classical or Flamenco guitarist walks out of stage, the first thing he does is tune his guitar, the reason is that as soon as those hot stage lights hit your guitar, it goes out of tune. And keeps going out of tune at regular intervals. I used to tune religiously between sets, every time, together with the fiddle player, because they have the same problem.

  50. #50 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    I meant sperm competition in humans, of course – there is absolutely no evidence for this. There is no evidence for sexual selection of anything.

    A Canadian anthropologist named Peter Frost claims that Europeans, and Europeans alone, evolved varied colours in hair and eyes due to sexual selection (he’s wrong about that, because blue eyes occur among Indians), and he has theory about how this happened, but it is all purely speculation on his part. He has absolutely no evidence for it.

    Wereas the evidence for selection for lactose tolerance among societies that took up dairy culture is overwhelming, and the genetic mutations that took place to cause lactose tolerance to be driven to fixity in northern Europeans have been identified. No question.

  51. #51 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    “Doesn’t dong size just trail the rapid increase in baby head diameter?”

    Why should it? In some cases, such as the mis-named and mis-understood Irish elk, there are such effects, but I fail to see a connection here.

  52. #52 Phillip Helbig
    September 9, 2015

    What, in principle, could evidence for sexual selection look like?

  53. #53 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    A genetic mutation that is selected for because it confers some obvious reproductive advantage.

    Larger breasts in women confer no such advantage, and there is no evidence that larger breasts have been sexually selected for, otherwise all women would have large breasts, and that is clearly not the case. In fact, if you want to opinionate about breast size, then you need to explain the EDAR gene variant in East Asian women that causes them, inter alia, to have smaller breasts on average than European and Indian sub-continent women, but with a higher density of milk glands. It also causes different density of sweat glands, and more coarse hair texture.

  54. #54 John Massey
    September 9, 2015

    In surveys in America, white males have repeatedly stated that they find East Asian females more attractive than European females, despite the differential in breast sizes. So if there is sexual selection based on breast size, it’s heading in the direction of smaller breasts being more attractive.

    The opinions given for why East Asian females are more attractive to white males is that they look younger.

    So if there is sexual selection going on in America, it is for youthful looks, not breast size.

  55. #55 BirgerJohansson
    September 9, 2015

    Statistically, these big critters are a worse threat than any immigrants (and never mind what the SD politicians say).
    “Swede wins prize for elk sensor innovation”
    — — — — —
    No evidence for sexual selection. So my attempt to produce GM peacock lumage has been a waste of effort!

  56. #56 BirgerJohansson
    September 9, 2015

    Typo: should be “plumage”
    A lso, China aims to be first to land probe on moon’s far side

  57. #57 Martin R
    September 9, 2015

    Dong size: it actually goes into the birth canal. Whose caliber increases with baby head size.

  58. #58 John Massey
    September 10, 2015

    It’s as good a theory as any I’ve read. People have written whole books on why humans have smaller balls and bigger dongs than other anthropoids, but it’s all theorising – no one actually knows why. And relative lack of sexual dimorphism.

    I’m still laughing picturing Birger sporting a highly coloured crest.

  59. #59 John Massey
    September 10, 2015

    We can take some educated guesses.

    Humans don’t need big testicles because sperm competition doesn’t happen. The % of non-paternity events among humans is actually very low, less than 1%, although a lot of people will try to kid you that it is as high as 10%. No, nowhere close. It might titillate the mumbling masses to think that, but human females are much more faithful creatures than that.

    Relative lack of sexual dimorphism indicates males don’t fight each other to gain access to females (at least, not normally). This suggests that most humans are monogamous, or at least serially monogamous.

    On dong size, another clue might be that humans are the only animals that mate when the female is not in estrus – i.e. when there is no chance of the mating resulting in fertilisation.

    So the theory is that we developed big dongs because we just have sex for fun a lot of the time. But this is just a theory. Worse still, it’s just a psychologists’ theory, and we know how often they turn out to be right – not very often. We are expected to believe that sexual selection happened in humans because females are more attracted to big dongs because they are more fun. It’s not impossible, but there is no proof for it. When surveyed, some women say they are, and some say they are not – there is no consistent clear preference. And even if true, I presume there is an upper limit, beyond which a big dong ceases to be fun and becomes a pain in the arse.

    Martin’s dong size theory seems just as viable.

    Whether Birger becomes more successful with females once he has successfully sprouted highly coloured feathers remains to be tested.

  60. #60 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    Note that I mentioned permanent breasts, not big breasts. I will refrain from concluding anything from the fact that you read “breast” and immediately thought “big”.

  61. #61 John Massey
    September 10, 2015

    Other primates have permanent breasts, but they are flat. Very clearly visible, but flat, or flattish.

    When you wrote “How do you explain permanent breasts in humans but not in most (all?) other mammals?” my first thought was that you must be blind if you can’t see the clearly visible breasts in other primates. But then I figured by “permanent breasts” you must meant permanently prominent. I don’t wish to get into some semantic argument about whether ‘prominent’ means ‘big’, but that is what I took it to mean.

    You can refrain from concluding from that whatever you like.

  62. #62 BirgerJohansson
    September 10, 2015

    BTW Scammers try to sell crap claiming it will affect the vomeronasal organ of women to make men irresistibe, when at most the v.n. organ may syncronize menstruations. There is no short cut, just try to look symmetrical (it implies good health, and is therefore perceived as beauty).
    — —
    Lots of morphology stuff are accidental. Like, why men have tits. Why humans still have an appendix. Why are our nostrils pointed downwards (plathyrrine primates) instead ou sideways (katharrine primates)? And why is the sun up during the day, when it would be of much more use during the night?
    — — — — — —
    ( English-text article this time) ‘Archaeology on steroids’: Huge ritual arena discovered near Stonehenge

  63. #63 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    Of course they’re visible. The point is that human breasts are only slightly smaller, if at all, when not lactating, than they are when lactating. Is that true of any other mammal?

  64. #64 John Massey
    September 10, 2015


  65. #65 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    Cows? OK, perhaps. However, domestic cows have been highly modified by selective breeding for milk production, so it is not inconceivable that a permanently enlarged udder would be a by-product.

    So, any wild mammal?

  66. #66 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    The subtext of that observation is “Maybe head scarves aren’t always or mostly a sign of female subjugation, at least in Sweden”.

  67. #67 John Massey
    September 10, 2015

    Anatomically modern humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees about 5 million years ago.

    We must obviously have diverged greatly in appearance from that common ancestor.

    But it is a fair bet that the common ancestor looked more human-like than chimpanzees, and that chimpanzees have also diverged greatly in a different direction towards being more chimpanzee-like.

    At that time there were many other primates which are now extinct, and we can’t know what they looked like because all we have are skeletal remains.

    Is there any reason why anatomically modern humans should look anything like any other animal that is not extinct now?

  68. #68 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    “Is there any reason why anatomically modern humans should look anything like any other animal that is not extinct now?”

    No, in the sense that of course animals which are not closely related generally look quite different. But the question is whether permanent breasts (of whatever size) are the result of sexual selection in humans (and perhaps milk-optimizing selection in cows). The fact that a) human males are interested in female breasts more than is generally the case in the animal kingdom and b) no other wild mammal has such permanent breasts, then the question arises as to whether sexual selection played a role. It is an obvious explanation and there is no other obvious explanation.

  69. #69 John Massey
    September 10, 2015

    Humans are not wild-type. We haven’t been for a very long time.

    Males might be interested in female breasts just because females have them. All adult females have them, in varying sizes, ranging from dead-flat chested upwards. This is not evidence for sexual selection; it is evidence against sexual selection, otherwise there would be no dead-flat chested adult females anywhere. And around where I live there are lots of them. Lots, almost to the point of being the dominant phenotype.

    Completely flat chested females are still able to attract mates. My wife did. She was as flat as a board, and I wasn’t the only bee buzzing around the honey pot, there were lots of them, and some of them had a lot more financial resources than I did, to the point of being fabulously wealthy – I was just the one who got lucky enough to be chosen.

    Gene function and pleitropic effects can be obscure. Human breasts might need to be the way they are in order to function, or it could be an obscure pleitropic effect. No one knows why the EDAR variant was selected to fixation in East Asians.

    You have no idea, because the new born young of anatomically modern humans are unlike the new born young of any other species.

    So you might think it is an obvious explanation, but the fact remains that you have no evidence to show that it is so. And unless or until you have evidence, you are uninteresting to me.

  70. #70 Eric Lund
    September 10, 2015

    We are expected to believe that sexual selection happened in humans because females are more attracted to big dongs because they are more fun. It’s not impossible, but there is no proof for it. When surveyed, some women say they are, and some say they are not – there is no consistent clear preference.

    “It’s not the size of the stick, it’s the magic in the wand.” Seriously, it seems that many human females cannot achieve orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone–they have to be touched in other ways. Of course these women will prefer men who understand this, and there is some suspicion that the more well-endowed the male, the less likely he is to understand this.

    Contra Martin’s theory is the observation that human infants are more helpless for a longer period of time than the infants of any other primate species. It is speculated that, because humans are bipedal, it must be possible for the baby to be born while the mother is standing up, so the gestation period is shorter than it otherwise would be. But this would imply that other primates have comparatively larger members, and they don’t.

  71. #71 Phillip Helbig
    September 10, 2015

    It is clear that the large brain leads to all kinds of difficulties in birth. The main reason gestation is so short is that the head would be too big otherwise.

    Born while standing up? That usually doesn’t happen, and I can’t see any advantage in it.

  72. #72 birgerjohansson
    September 10, 2015

    Martin, can you alter the settings so the system does not eat a comment if the address / email fields have not been filled?
    Being reminded *after* a truckload of text has gone to the hereafter can ruin the day.

    BTW A new species of biped homimin has been discovered in a cave in South Africa, but the remains have yet to be dated.

    Apparently Chinese scholars dismissed the whole stick-needles-into-people- business long ago.

  73. #73 birgerjohansson
    September 11, 2015

    Zap to stop puking
    I love technology. This will make sea journeys/flying much easier. And astronauts will no longer waste the first day in orbit with being sick as dogs.
    ““guns, piles and stones”. Don’t forget “taunting, with a French accent”. Throwing a wooden badger with a catapult is optional.

  74. #74 John Massey
    September 11, 2015

    #72 – That’s the Rising Star Expedition announcing their findings.

    Happy viewing:

    If you live outside America you might need a VPN to watch that.

    A nice sidelight to the Rising Star story is that the only anthropologists they could find who were slim enough to fit through the slot in the rock to get to the fossils were an international team of young women, so they got to do the dangerous work and be the stars of the expedition to recover the fossils. And dangerous work it certainly was.

    I’m surprised they haven’t got a date yet. It’s been a while now; couple of years.

  75. #75 Martin R
    September 11, 2015

    Sorry Birger, there’s no such setting. But try just pressing the “back up to previous page” in your browser after such a mishap!

  76. #76 John Massey
    September 11, 2015

    We do, but what we wrote gets eaten 🙂

    So anyway, a new species of Homo, and lots of them, down the bottom of a very deep, inaccessible cave, with only the bones of one owl and no other species present in the same chamber – and all filmed as the discovery was being made. Pretty exciting. Those girls all deserve a medal. For those who can’t access that PBS film or don’t want to spend the time to sit through it:

    This is the brave new world of open science, and I welcome it. This is the opposite of Tim White, who I dearly wish would drop on his pointed head.

  77. #77 John Massey
    September 11, 2015

    Oh Mama, can this really be the end?
    To be stuck in the spam filter with the Memphis blues again.

  78. #78 Eric Lund
    September 11, 2015

    Birger & John: Martin’s proposed solution has worked for me in the past. I hit the back button and find that the text in the comment box is still there. But it may be browser- or settings-dependent. I use Safari on MacOS. Perhaps other browsers don’t, or you have a setting that always reloads the page when you use the back button. My experience has generally been that I prefer not to auto-reload the page when I navigate with the back button, and indeed one of my pet peeves is sites that break the back button.

    Martin would know better than I the details of the spam filter, and I think there are some settings under his control. Too many links will get your post flagged as spam. First-time posters (or anybody who looks like a first-time poster; e.g., if you made a typo in your e-mail address) are likely to hit the moderation queue. I don’t think ScienceBlogs does this, but many sites look for certain character strings and moderate any post containing those strings, which creates problems with false positives–this can get amusing on some political sites because the name of at least one significant school of political thought contains the name of a certain prescription medication.

  79. #79 Martin R
    September 11, 2015

    Kibo used to have trouble with newsgroups where people talked about skiboots a lot.

  80. #80 birgerjohansson
    September 11, 2015

    “dude with a huge beautiful beard”
    Sounds like the character played by John Rhys-Jones .
    “The Scandinavian Sci-Fi” con in Uppsala this weekend has invited eighties pop icon Samantha Fox and actor John Rhys-Jones aka Gimli the Dwarf . Swedish-language radio interview:

    “the text in the comment box is still there”. Nope. Browser-inuced problem? But I do not encounter the problem on most other sites.

  81. #81 birgerjohansson
    September 11, 2015

    #80:Comment octagenarian! Also, today I re-measured my weight (intense diet) and found I weigh less than an eight of a ton. My sumo wrestler ambitions are in ruins.
    — —
    Former East Bloc countries (and Britain. And Denmark) in the European Union are having a hissy fit about demands that they accept a fair share of the refugees-mostly Syrians*- that are pouring into Europe.
    Jeez. EU has nearly 400 million people. If they accepted one refugee for every 2000 inhabitants the problem would be solved. And since John Cameron is dragging his feet (only 15000 over five years!) I suggest we send another 100 000 to the posh neighbourhoods in London**
    *The Syrian refugees are mostly well-educated, so they can take up the slack when the 1940s and 1950s demographics retire, leaving a huge gap.
    ** When the guys from the finance sector move away from their new darkie neighbours the property prices in London might finally get normal again. Everybody wins.

  82. #82 birgerjohansson
    September 11, 2015

    I saw a diagram of those South African caves. Two incredibly narrow passages. Those lady paleontologists must belong to the slimmest percentile, or be polymorph T-1000 androids.
    — — —
    Junk Science Episode 11: Acupuncture

  83. #83 John Massey
    September 12, 2015

    They were small. Not just slim, but tiny. I don’t know how tall Lee Berger is, but judging their height against him on the film when they were hugging, they looked child-sized.

    The two male cavers who made the discovery and helped out with safety during the fossil recovery had to be really small skinny guys too.

  84. #84 John Massey
    September 12, 2015

    A rare film clip I just found again, with Paco de Lucia playing the part of himself.

  85. #85 BirgerJohansson
    September 14, 2015

    Swedish body language -Denmark is classy, as usual.

  86. #86 BirgerJohansson
    September 14, 2015

    Martin, something for chaperoning your daughter’s dates:
    Victorians and utilitarian ethics

  87. #87 Phillip Helbig
    September 14, 2015

    “Martin, something for chaperoning your daughter’s dates'”

    Does the custom of dating exist in Sweden?

    Does “date” here refer to the appointment or, as it is sometimes used, to a person? (“This is my date.”)

  88. #88 Martin R
    September 14, 2015

    Dating in Sweden is mainly associated with dating web sites and grownup singles. AFAIK most young people here meet their partners through friends and get together without the ritualised movie-dinner-yourplaceormyplace thing. And cars play no big part in the love life of teens. Swedish parents are fine with their kids bringing their sweethearts home and having premarital sex under the family’s roof. Provided that the swetheart is willing to wipe dishes and take out the recycling.

  89. #89 Phillip Helbig
    September 14, 2015

    “AFAIK most young people here meet their partners through friends and get together without the ritualised movie-dinner-yourplaceormyplace thing.”

    As I suspected. Your international readers might not be aware of this.

    “And cars play no big part in the love life of teens.”

    Right, no need, despite the Roxette song. (Actually, the old Volvo estate cars (station wagons/combis/caravans/whatever—the long ones) should probably be the vehicle of choice for such activity.)

    “Swedish parents are fine with their kids bringing their sweethearts home and having premarital sex under the family’s roof.”

    Including those of the female Pakistani footballers?

  90. #90 Martin R
    September 14, 2015

    Haha, sloppy wording there. I meant ethnic Swedes, not necessarily all Swedish citizens. But then, I don’t really know what the rules are regarding those scarf-wearers. I must ask Junior to find out for me.

  91. #91 Phillip Helbig
    September 14, 2015

    ” I meant ethnic Swedes, not necessarily all Swedish citizens.”

    Sometimes, the difference can be crucial.

  92. #92 Eric Lund
    September 14, 2015

    And cars play no big part in the love life of teens.

    My impression of Sweden, from my two visits there (Uppsala and Stockholm), is that Sweden did not suburbanize to the extent, or in the same way, that the US did. Meaning that most Swedes can actually get to things (at least some things) by walking/biking/public transit. There are large parts of the US where this is not possible, hence the historic emphasis here on obtaining a driver license as soon as one is old enough. It’s not just rural areas, either: most of the US housing stock built between 1945 and 2010 has minimal or no access to public transport. There are signs that this trend may finally be reversing, at least for those who can afford a more urban lifestyle. But these are in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, where real estate prices (per square meter if not in absolute terms) are particularly high. Cheap urban housing is available in places like Detroit, but there is a reason that housing is so cheap.

    Assimilation usually takes a generation or two. Those Pakistani footballers (let alone their parents) may not be fine with bringing sweethearts home for premarital sex, but there is a good chance their grandchildren will be. That’s how it has gone with various immigrant groups to the US: by the third generation few cultural differences remain between these groups and other groups who have been here longer. In my family, my grandmother spoke Danish at home and only learned English when she went to school (she was born in the US), but none of my generation know Danish.

  93. #93 Phillip Helbig
    September 14, 2015

    “My impression of Sweden, from my two visits there (Uppsala and Stockholm), is that Sweden did not suburbanize to the extent, or in the same way, that the US did. Meaning that most Swedes can actually get to things (at least some things) by walking/biking/public transit”

    Pretty much the same in most of Europe, at least with regard to the big cities. Where Sweden does differ from most of Europe is the lack of traditional farming villages in the countryside. They used to exist, but a few hundred years ago farmers moved onto their land (like in the States), to cut down on the spread of diseases. In the countryside (and Sweden is a big country, for Europe, about the size (and shape) of California, and especially in the north is sparsely populated), although there is public transportation, cars are more important, but usually not for romantic activities.

    “Assimilation usually takes a generation or two. That’s how it has gone with various immigrant groups to the US: by the third generation few cultural differences remain between these groups and other groups who have been here longer.”

    I think the case is different with immigration a) in Europe, b) in the 20th century and c) with people from mainly Muslim countries. Why? For one thing, it is easier to keep contact with the old country, both because it is closer and because of modern technology. Also, most countries in Europe are not predominately Muslim, so for those whose faith is important—and it is for most, at least to some extent—this is an obvious barrier to fitting in, not comparable to Catholic Poles and Irish and Germans in the US. In addition, massive immigration, in the modern sense, is comparatively recent in Europe, whereas the USA and some other countries were essentially founded on it.

    “Sweden, from my two visits there”

    “my grandmother spoke Danish at home and only learned English when she went to school (she was born in the US)”

    And I was thinking Eric Lund must be Swedish. Sounds like a good Swedish name, though it would probably be spelled “Erik”. The city of Lund, by the way, is named after London; Canute (or, in Swedish, Knut) the great was king of both areas.

    One case of rapid integration in Europe, though about a thousand years ago, are the Normans. The term derives from Northmen or Norsemen, of course—Vikings. In 1066, they were already speaking French, though they had arrived in France only a generation or so before.

  94. #94 Phillip Helbig
    September 14, 2015

    By the way, I’ve been following this blog for a long time, but for some reason, until recently my comments didn’t make it through. Whatever has changed—I don’t know, but nothing on my side—I hope it isn’t changed back!

  95. #95 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    The abstract by Laziridis et al. in particular is recommended reading.

  96. #96 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    #92 – Based on actual data, assimilation among South Asians has not happened in the UK. What has continued to happen among Pakistanis is first cousin marriage. The outcomes of this among a relatively small sub-population are that group mean IQ has been dropping as they become progressively more inbred, with commensurately poor educational and economic consequences, and congenital defects resulting from genetic mutations are becoming more common. The contrast group are the Hindus, who likewise have remained endogamous, but who shun first cousin marriage, while still maintaining caste and arranged marriages, and who have continued to do well academically and have become prosperous.

    In America, the biggest mixed-marriage group is European males-East Asian females. South Asian females don’t marry out much.

  97. #97 Martin R
    September 15, 2015

    The reason that Swedish farmers moved onto their land in the 19th century was the Laga skifte land amalgamation reform. Its goal was increased agricultural yield. Prior to the reform, the land of a village’s various inhabitants was interleaved in long thin strips across every field. It was inefficient and it meant that you couldn’t move onto your land. It was feckin everywhere in small allotments. A High Medieval system designed to spread risk and keep tax payers from starvation.

  98. #98 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    “feckin everywhere in small allotments” – sounds exactly like agricultural land in HK, except it’s in patches, not long thin strips.

  99. #99 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    Birger: Last week I saw a large flock of Eastern Great Egrets take to the air and head south – must have been upwards of 30 birds.

    Then right on cue, a few days later the weather pattern changed.

    Singly, Great Egrets are pretty impressive birds. A big flock of them is majestic. Among the HK population, some migrate seasonally and some stay here all year round. No idea why. They are very well adapted to living around humans here, so maybe that’s why some of them stick around for the winter – certain human activities like rowing on the river stir up the sediment and probably make food more available for them to hunt.

  100. #100 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    Also worth a look among that growing list of abstracts posted by Razib is that by S. Översti, P. Onkamo and J. Palo, esp. if you are Swedish and/or interested in Swedish hunter gatherers.

  101. #101 BirgerJohansson
    September 15, 2015

    There is some concern in Sweden about genetic diseae popping up among a small subset of Pakistanis whose parents in the old country practised first-cousin marriage. We also see rare genetic diseases in villages in Västerbotten, where population in the past was so small you got some inbreeding. We have something called “Skellefteå disease” caused by a mutation that happened some time four centuries ago. Nasty incurable stuff.

  102. #103 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    But is it a small subset? Everything I have read about the UK data suggests it is a general practice. For the sake of the football playing girls, one hopes not, withal. It seems to have become very politicised there, with government being accused of seeking to interfere with traditional cultural practices and lots of to-ing and fro-ing about associated risks.

    Yes, I had momentarily forgotten that historically eugenics was practiced in Sweden for a period of time.

    I discovered to my utter disgust that disabled girls in Australia are still being sterilized, often without even parental consent, but that is another subject, and my sister says it’s complicated and that I should not jump to swift and sweeping judgements. One of the reasons used to justify it is that they are very likely (read ‘a virtual certainty’) to be sexually abused when ‘in care’, and it prevents pregnancy. I’m likely to be swiftly and sweepingly judgemental about that.

  103. #104 BirgerJohansson
    September 15, 2015

    The f*cking eugenics movement and their impact in Sweden is a disgrace. We even got an “institute of racial hygiene” before Nazi Germany did.
    — — — — —
    I wonder if cousin marriage is intended to keep agricultural land inside the extended family. It would work for a few generations, after that youi had better hope some of the children were conceived “outside wedlock” by unrelated lovers.
    — — — — —
    An A for effort: Latino brujas have taken offence over Donald Trump’s hateful description of Mexicans, and have gathered to curse him.
    Since his success is the result of sacrificing a bunch of orphans to Bel-Shamaroth I fear he is parctically invulnerable to sorcery, except possibly a balrog attack.

  104. #105 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    Yes, I think cousin marriage is intended to be a way to keep whatever accumulated wealth there is within the family, and it is also a convenient way to keep the girls locked up and under control.

    I have been researching – it turns out Paco de Lucia’s father was of Gypsy ancestry, but his mother was not. At least they saw the wisdom of exogamy, and produced a prodigy – he toured America for a year when he was 12.

    We can let Paco’s ghost deal with the likes of Trump.

  105. #106 BirgerJohansson
    September 15, 2015

    A way to spread the genes geographically, thus avoiding the perils faced by some pakistanis. Also, it explains why Stewie Griffin looks the way he does.
    — — — — —
    Britain (Daily Mah): Bad weather ends tiresome obligation to act happy.
    Man who just got elected ‘definitely unelectable’
    David Cameron visit better than a British passport, says refugee

  106. #107 Eric Lund
    September 15, 2015

    Also, most countries in Europe are not predominately Muslim, so for those whose faith is important—and it is for most, at least to some extent—this is an obvious barrier to fitting in, not comparable to Catholic Poles and Irish and Germans in the US.

    But it’s not just Catholic Europeans in the US–similar opinions once prevailed regarding Jews, and Buddhists/Taoists/etc. from Asia. There was a period when people from Asia (especially China) were prohibited by law from immigrating to the US. No other ethnic group has had a similar restriction. In those days, only people from northern and western Europe (Finns were explicitly excluded from this group) were allowed to become naturalized US citizens.

    There may be a problem in some European countries which do not allow their immigrants to assimilate. Germany, for instance, has a problem with non-citizen Turkish guest workers (some of whom are third generation residents of Germany). But it doesn’t need to be a problem.

    Inbreeding will always be a problem for isolated populations. In the US, people from Appalachia are often stereotyped as stupid, in part because the mountainous terrain has historically made it difficult to travel and therefore meet people to whom one can out-marry. First-cousin marriage is allowed in some US states and prohibited in others.

  107. #108 John Massey
    September 15, 2015

    It’s impressive, or should be, that Australian Aborigines understood the perils of inbreeding within fairly small extended family groups and had systems to deal with it. It’s more than the Habsburg royalty of Spain understood.

    But Aboriginal people had other problems that they didn’t comprehend that were likely doing them harm, like old husband marriages to young girls. No one knew until very recently that this can greatly increase the frequency of deleterious genetic mutations, which can impact on e.g. cognitive ability.

  108. #109 Eric Lund
    September 15, 2015

    It’s impressive, or should be, that Australian Aborigines understood the perils of inbreeding within fairly small extended family groups and had systems to deal with it. It’s more than the Habsburg royalty of Spain understood.

    I can’t be sure, but my guess is the Aborigines learned it the hard way, as the Habsburgs did later on. The bad effects of brother-sister and parent-child incest are likely to show up right away. It typically takes a few generations for issues with repeated first-cousin or uncle-niece marriages to show up, as with the Habsburgs and with the fictional Buendía family from One Hundred Years of Solitude. A culture with a strong oral tradition, like the Aborigines, is likely to remember this lesson. It seems to be more of a problem for speakers of Indo-European languages, including English, Spanish, and Urdu. That’s why the Catholic Church had to specifically prohibit cousin marriage (they had the written tradition to recognize the issue).

    Old man-young woman marriage seems to have been a problem in every society I have heard of. Alpha males tend to get the females, and in human societies, especially after the development of agriculture, alpha males are often in a position to enforce this. It’s only been in the last century or so that Western society has developed an attitude of squick toward May-December romances. Wife husbandry is a common fictional trope for a reason.

  109. #110 Phillip Helbig
    September 15, 2015

    “here was a period when people from Asia (especially China) were prohibited by law from immigrating to the US. No other ethnic group has had a similar restriction. In those days, only people from northern and western Europe (Finns were explicitly excluded from this group) were allowed to become naturalized US citizens.”

    True, but this was not based on any negative experience, but rather on fear and misunderstanding.

    “Jews, and Buddhists/Taoists”

    All religions which don’t mind if others are non-believers, and might actually prefer them to be. Quite different from Christianity and Islam.

  110. #111 Phillip Helbig
    September 15, 2015

    “The reason that Swedish farmers moved onto their land in the 19th century was the Laga skifte land amalgamation reform. Its goal was increased agricultural yield.”

    Yes, reading up, it seems that this was the reason. I remember seeing a Swedish docudrama about Rutger Macklean and seem to remember that at least a subsidiary goal was to stop everyone in the village from getting sick if there was a contagious disease in one family. But I’m getting old and maybe my mind is playing tricks on me.

  111. #112 Eric Lund
    September 15, 2015

    this was not based on any negative experience, but rather on fear and misunderstanding

    And this differs from the attitudes taken by right-wing anti-immigrant parties towards present day immigrants how?

    In the US it isn’t just Muslims. It’s also Mexicans (and to a lesser extent people from the rest of Latin America), who I will remind you are at least nominally Catholic. If anything, the Mexicans get it worse due to the long border with the US.

    As for Muslims, yes, Wahhabi types are dangerous. But not all Muslims are Wahhabi. There are plenty of self-described Christian sects I regard as more dangerous than more mainstream forms of Islam. The city of Boston was founded by a self-described Christian group, and they have been an important influence on US history ever since.

  112. #113 Phillip Helbig
    September 15, 2015

    “And this differs from the attitudes taken by right-wing anti-immigrant parties towards present day immigrants how?”

    When laws were passed restricting Chinese immigration to the USA, there was not a large population of Chinese in the USA. In many European countries, a) there are large populations of Muslim immigrants and b) there are problems related to the “clash of cultures”.

    So, there is a difference.

    Whose fault such problems are is a different question.

    But your question is loaded: “right-wing anti-immigrant parties”. With the current debate about the huge influx of new immigrants, one hears this false dichotomy more and more: either one is a violent right-wing racist who wants to kill immigrants, or one thinks the solution to all problems is completely open borders. No middle ground. Sorry, false dichotomy.

    Unrestricted immigration also poses dangers to the left, not just (obviously) to the right. Things like Martin mentioned such as a realistic view of teenage sexuality. This exists in no Muslim dominated country. Integration, assimilation? Doesn’t work if the community is too large. Many immigrants don’t even speak the local language, even after decades.

    To some extent, one can ignore this, unless “Sharia sheriffs” use violence to try to force people to conform to their views (this has actually happened in some European cities). This is obviously illegal and usually the police take care of it, but apparently there are “no-go areas” in some European cities where non-immigrants cannot count on their legal rights being upheld. Influence on the laws of the land is minimal, in part because many immigrants choose not to become citizens of their adopted country, especially if (as is often the case) they have to give up their other citizenship. Left-wing ideas like allowing more than one citizenship and/or allowing non citizens to vote could, of course, change this.

    As I see it, such false dichotomies are part of the problem. Most people don’t want a right-wing government, and in recent history in Western Europe this has been a bigger danger than a left-wing government, so many people say nothing rather than say something which could be construed as possible being right-wing. This leaves those who think, literally, that abolishing all border controls and allowing free movement for everyone (accompanied by enough welfare to survive) is the only possible solution.

  113. #114 Eric Lund
    September 15, 2015

    On the contrary, Phillip, there was a large enough Chinese population in the western US by the 1870s that several pogroms were committed against Chinese communities. This hasn’t happened yet with Muslim communities in Europe, but I don’t consider it farfetched.

    As for the claim about “no-go areas”: Sources, please. I am aware of claims of such, made by news sources of dubious reliability. says these claims are false. The claim about immigrants not speaking the language depends on your standards for being able to speak the language: it is difficult for adults to learn new languages, especially languages with distant or nonexistent relationships to their native language. But most people who are immersed in a language will acquire some rudimentary skill in that language. I encounter immigrants routinely, and while the ones who came over after the age of 12 have an obvious foreign accent, they can generally speak the language.

  114. #115 John Massey
    September 16, 2015

    #109 The Aboriginal rules are strict and complex. Example – it is forbidden for a man to look at his mother-in-law. True – he is not even permitted to look at her, let alone converse.

    Punishment for breaking such a rule could be severe, like being speared in the thigh. If that doesn’t sound too severe, think about what it means to a nomadic hunter, to be unable to walk.

    It takes a bit of head-scratching to figure out the logic. But if a man fathered a child with his mother-in-law, relatedness would quickly become complex and difficult to follow, with the inherent risk of unwitting inbreeding.

  115. #116 Phillip Helbig
    September 16, 2015

    “On the contrary, Phillip, there was a large enough Chinese population in the western US by the 1870s that several pogroms were committed against Chinese communities.”

    How large as a percentage of the total population? “Large enough for a pogrom” is arbitrary; for some, 1 person is enough.

    ” This hasn’t happened yet with Muslim communities in Europe, but I don’t consider it farfetched.”

    Pogroms are far-fetched. Incidents of racially motivated violence? Happens, and has happened, almost everywhere, for various reasons. (Just to be clear: violence is never an appropriate reaction, except in cases of very literal self-defense.) In the news recently have been cops in the USA.

    There is some fear of the reverse: violence of immigrants against “natives”. The self-appointed “Sharia Sheriffs” are an example of this. Not uncommon is violence between different groups of immigrants, or against those of one’s own group who have become too integrated. “Honour killings” and so on.

    As for the claim about “no-go areas”: Sources, please.

    How about the Swedish police? Reliable enough?

    Politically correct, of course, the connection to immigration is down-played, but there are maps so one can see exactly which regions are being discussed. I’ve been to some of those regions.

    “The claim about immigrants not speaking the language depends on your standards for being able to speak the language”

    Speak well enough to interact with the natives in day-to-day life.

    “it is difficult for adults to learn new languages, especially languages with distant or nonexistent relationships to their native language.”

    Sure, and for some more difficult than others.

    “But most people who are immersed in a language will acquire some rudimentary skill in that language.”

    That’s the point. They are not “immersed in the language” since they live in “parallel communities” with essentially no contact to the outside world. This is not that uncommon; probably most people from England living in Saudi Arabia don’t speak Arabic. But they don’t collect money from the state.

    “I encounter immigrants routinely, and while the ones who came over after the age of 12 have an obvious foreign accent, they can generally speak the language.”

    So do I. Most can. But some can’t. All should.

    I do have considerable personal experience. I myself am an immigrant, as is my wife (from somewhere completely different), and we both learned German as adults. Most of the people I work with are immigrants (and we speak German).

  116. #117 Phillip Helbig
    September 16, 2015

    Just to be completely clear: In most countries, most immigrants are law-abiding inhabitants. (Whether they are citizens depends on a number of factors: how easy naturalization is, whether more than one nationality is allowed, what advantages naturalization brings, etc.) My objection is only to those who claim that there is practically no crime related to immigration or, if so, that it is almost never the fault of the immigrants.

  117. #118 BirgerJohansson
    September 16, 2015

    Technically, we are all immigrants from Africa. There will always be one or two who are just “coasting along”.
    — — — —
    Black Monolith time: “Earliest evidence for ambush hunting by early humans in the Kenyan Rift” No-brainer, but useful confirmation: “The animal populations that humans selected to domesticate grew increasingly tame”

  118. #119 Phillip Helbig
    September 16, 2015

    “Technically, we are all immigrants from Africa.”

    True, but completely irrelevant to the current debate. Well, not irrelevant, but harmful, since it suggests an illogical syllogism: we are all immigrants, I am not evil, therefore no immigrant can be evil.

    Of course, there is the KKK and there are racists everywhere, but they are a small minority. Even “concerned citizens” who raise issues about problems with integration are not racist in any meaningful sense of the word, though they often get painted as such, or anti-immigrant, or right-wing, or whatever, even if no other aspect of their behaviour suggests this.

    There are many cities in Europe where there are large Japanese communities. These people are usually not Christian, come from a very different society, have a very different native language, are immediately recognizable as foreigners, but there is practically no concern about them, because there are practically no problems associated with them. No Japanese schoolboy has ever called anyone a slut for not wearing a headscarf. That’s what it boils down to.

  119. #120 Eric Lund
    September 16, 2015

    @Phillip: Try this for numbers: Eliminationism in America: VIII. The author is a recognized expert on the subject of eliminationism.

    In 1870, Chinese were about 10% of the population of California and a third of the population of Idaho. By 1910 almost all Chinese had been driven out of Idaho.

    As for your Swedish police link, it appears from the title to be discussing gangs (criminal networks). Criminal gangs among marginalized populations are not a new phenomenon; we have them in the US as well, and not just among immigrants. But immigrants often are marginalized populations. That makes them easy prey for such gangs, and at the same time fertile recruiting grounds for youths who need some kind–any kind–of protection. That is not the same thing as “no-go” zones. The Chinese community, too, had its criminal gangs (“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”).

    It also differs only in detail from what Americans were saying about Chinese and other Asian populations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The anti-Asian agitators were certain that Chinese, and later Japanese, could never assimilate. That was mainstream thought at the time–a couple of the more prominent examples, Kearney and Geary, have major streets in San Francisco named after them (ironically, Kearney St. passes through San Francisco’s Chinatown).

    It is historically true that not all anti-immigrant movements have been of the political right. The populist movement of William Jennings Bryan comes to mind. But starting in the twentieth century, that is where most of the prominent anti-immigrant movements have been found, and they are the ones who have been quite vocal about it.

  120. #121 Phillip Helbig
    September 17, 2015

    @Eric: Maybe we’re talking past each other. First, I hope you understand the distinction between KKK-type racism and a liberal (in the social sense) concerned whether there is a danger that immigration could turn back the clocks on things like women’s rights, acceptance of LGBT people, and so on. Just because someone emigrates from a country where I would not like to live doesn’t mean that he is willing to give up everything about his past life. (Recently, some refugees from different places were literally on the same both. Some of them drowned the others because they had a different religion.) Not that he should, but if it threatens the culture of the new country, they have a right to be concerned, just like Amazon Indians have a right to retaining their culture (even if many aspects of it would be illegal in many “western” countries).

    It isn’t that long ago that people defended the right of immigrants to practice FGM (even Germaine Greer did so). In many cases, the left remained silent for fear that they might be mistaken for the right.

    The fact the Chinese in Idaho were unjustly accused of not wanting to be integrated doesn’t mean that every group wants to be immigrated. When the Turkish president visits European countries and tells Turkish immigrants not to become integrated and is greeted by the applause of thousands, those concerned about this are not necessarily right-wing nuts.

  121. #122 Martin R
    September 17, 2015

    Regarding the ethnic resilience of the Chinese diaspora, I’ve come across a pretty funny attitude to Jews among Chinese acquaintances. Turns out that they have a fairly traditional Western picture of Jewish people. “They’re a strongly inward-looking diaspora that doesn’t intermarry much and is greatly focused on making money.” The difference is that Chinese people tend to see this as high praise! Jews, in fact, are seen as the smart and business-savvy kind of Westerner. The Chinese themselves are sometimes known as south-east Asia’s Jews, and often suffer pogroms in e.g. Indonesia and Malaysia.

  122. #123 Eric Lund
    September 17, 2015

    Martin @122: It may also be significant that both Jews and Chinese have a strong cultural emphasis on education. An observant Jew (at least if male) is expected to be able to read the Torah in the original Hebrew, and for much of China’s history, passing the civil service exam was a ticket to a reasonably comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

  123. #124 Martin R
    September 17, 2015

    The Way of the Swede is to marry whoever happens to be nubile and wander by in the street. This ensures that the grandkids will only speak the area’s majority language.

  124. #125 birgerjohansson
    September 18, 2015

    (OT) Donald Trump Names Favourite Bible Verse. It Doesn’t Exist.
    Personally, I like the part of the Bible where Gandalf tricks the three trolls that have captured Bilbo and the dwarves.

  125. #126 Eric Lund
    September 18, 2015

    My favorite Bible verse also doesn’t exist:

    And the LORD spake, saying, “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it.”

    I can’t really fault Trump, compared to other Republican presidential candidates, for this one. The American religious right has a seriously warped view of what’s in the Bible. They seem to be completely ignorant about the verses concerning economic matters, and I find their attitude toward bearing false witness to be remarkably casual.

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