July Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • “Ways of knowing” = alternative facts.
  • I am on a WorldCon panel about the Medieval mind and fantasy literature. I just had the (unoriginal) idea to say that the High and Late Medieval aristocracy lived largely in an Arthurian fantasy world of their own creation.
  • Last night a skinny cat came miaowing at our door. Turned out to have left his home 200 m from us a week ago. With no sense of direction. And no hunting skills. He’s back with his kind owners now.
  • I’ve bought a lot of ebooks from Google. I would happily continue to do so even though now I’ve got a Kindle, because Google has much better prices. But I can’t get them onto the machine. This is not because Amazon locks them out. It’s because Google has DRM in their files. And so they lose a customer.
  • Was going to write about weaponry from Ringstadaholm. But found that I needed to check in the museum inventory if one object on the list is a weapon frag. But found a reference there for an imported glass shard that I need to comment on. But found that the reference is doubled in the library catalogue, so I had to write to the librarians and ask them to correct it. Now, where was I?
  • Listened to “Girl From The North Country”, was astonished to learn that Bob Dylan can hit actual notes!!!
  • French has an absurd word for grapefruit that should not be allowed: pamplemousse. Turns out it’s a Dutch loan word incorporating a Portuguese loan word: pompel + limões, “swollen lemon”. Shame on you, French people!
  • Geezer Butler finished with his woman ’cause she couldn’t help him with his mind. I think that’s kind of harsh. In over 18 years together my wife hasn’t made the least attempt to help me with mine, but I’m OK with that. I think it would be an unrealistic demand.
  • Rediscovered the joy of shooting peas.
  • LinkedIn is amazing. It just suggested that I apply for a job teaching textile crafts to ten-year-olds.
  • Tried re-watching Breakfast Club after 32 years. Lost interest fast.
  • Stockholm has a Chinese vegetable underground where people grow unusual crops on suburban allotments and deliver produce to restaurants. Yum!
  • Vacation reading: P.F. Hamilton, Pandora’s Star. U.K. LeGuin, Words Are My Matter. M. Ruff, Lovecraft Country (thank you, Birger!).
  • My kids have turned 19 and 14!
  • Here’s a pretty neat cover. The lyrics to the Cocteau Twins’ song “Blue Bell Knoll” from 1988 are just a string of meaningless syllables. The woman in the cover duo is not simply singing lyrics she doesn’t understand. She’s singing lyrics that nobody understands.
  • NASA is sending a ground-penetrating radar rig to Mars.
  • Jack Palance’s 80s work is pretty varied. He has big roles both in Hawk the Slayer and Out of Rosenheim / Bagdad Café.

Comments

  1. #1 John Massey
    July 29, 2017
  2. #2 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Yeah, that went OK.

    I strongly approve of people growing Chinese vegetables. Not only are they delicious and good for you, Chinese food without Chinese vegetables is just not the same thing at all. I tried to grow some in my back yard when we were living in Australia, but the truth is I am awful at growing vegetables. The few things I did manage to get growing well, various random wildlife came and ate. My almond tree did fabulously well though – we left before I had to suffer the tragedy of seeing the flocks of black cockatoos ripping it to shreds to get at the hundreds of almonds that were growing on it. But before the almonds started to grow, the blossom in Autumn was glorious. Yeah, the flowers grew on it in Autumn. I haven’t figured that out yet.

    Kids just morph into young adults while your back is turned. In my mind, my daughter is still 6 years old. Or 5. Or 8. I get a shock when I encounter her by chance in public and think “I know that young attractive woman with the excellent posture. It’s…good grief, it’s my daughter! How did that happen? When did it happen?” That happened today, I just randomly encountered her on the street – I avoid staring at people on the street because I think it is rude, and it took me a while to realise it was her. And I swear I’m not going senile, not yet. It took her a while to realise it was me, too. Well, in her mind I’m probably still 45 or something.

    My daughter twigged about academia and tenure pretty fast – in her case it was not archaeology, but the same general things apply. When she did the honours year of her first degree, which was a year of pure research, the research group that she was working with had already generated 51 PhDs. Fifty one. One research group, working on one subject, at one university. 51. So figure out the chances of all of those 51 people scoring post-doc contracts (where you get worked to hell and paid peanuts), and these are two year contracts with absolutely no guarantee of renewal. Then figure out how many of those post-docs will be fortunate enough to score a job as a lecturer, and how many of those…you can see where this is going. The chance of someone ending up with a tenured position in a university, any university, is very small. And that’s after slaving your guts out for years and years, and being paid peanuts.

    So, having done the calculation, and trying out a few temp. jobs in a couple of things, she decided to take another career path, one that she will find fulfilling and satisfying, and should provide her with reasonably secure and reasonably well paid employment. She could do that, with what she qualified in. Archaeologists might not be nearly so lucky – I’d say they don’t have the path open to them that my daughter has been able to take. But then, my daughter can’t do the equivalent of contract archaeology, so the parallels disappear. But the basic calculation on doing a PhD and progressing from there to a tenured position probably holds. And it sucks.

  3. #3 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Watched the 2017 film “Gifted”.

    Not quite believable in its entirety, but it hits some real-feeling buttons along the way. On balance, worth watching. Captain America does a good enough job of not being Captain America, and the rest of the cast are fine, including the kid and the bloody cat.

  4. #4 birgerjohansson
    July 30, 2017

    “Faster-acting antidepressants may finally be within reach” https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-07-faster-acting-antidepressants.html
    I shall use that when reading the newspaper…..

  5. #5 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    When people continue to ask me how I can stand to live in HK, with my personal freedoms being trampled on and my human rights being horribly abused, I can always send them this, but they don’t believe it – the data must be false, because HK is so obviously an unhealthy environment to live in, and the autocratic, secretive government is just making up the numbers and feeding them to the press, who are just the mouthpiece of the regime:

    http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2104584/hongkongers-top-life-expectancy-rankings-worldwide

    But anyway, what’s the point of living when you have to eke out an existence under such an oppressive regime? Someone needs to tell that to the burgeoning army of bloody old geriatrics who keep getting in my way.

  6. #6 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    The map could be of some utility – it misses a lot of Scandinavia, but captures the really important bit 🙂 :

    http://eurogenes.blogspot.hk/2017/07/map-eastern-europe-c-4000-2500-bc.html

  7. #7 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    http://eurogenes.blogspot.hk/2017/07/yamnaya-related-migrations-into-iberia.html

    *yawn* – Yet another “male mediated genetic influx”. Yes, we know what that means. “We came, we saw, we kicked arse, and we ‘married’ the women.”

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    July 30, 2017

    The Mongols ‘married’ a lot of women.

    “just a string of meaningless syllables”
    This had me look up a YouTube favourite: “Ron Perlman Talks President Donald Trump Speech Patterns”
    https://youtu.be/tHv0RExQsPQ
    Bermuda shorts were invented by a neolithic guy named Bermuda????

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    July 30, 2017

    (OT, more weird syllables) ‘Brain Fight with Tuck Buckford,’
    comedy show host Stephen Colbert makes fun of radio host Alex Jones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qBNml_sSVo
    No neolithic references, but that guy looks…hmmm.

  10. #10 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    Birger@8 – Oh yeah, one Mongol and his male descendants in particular really got around. I believe the number is 1 in 12 of all Asian males are descended from Genghis Khan. And when I say Asian, I mean all of them.

  11. #11 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    Hell, I can go further than that – 1 in 100 of all males alive in the whole world today are descended from Genghis Khan. I believe that is what is referred to by some people as projecting your genetic lineage into the future. Old Genghis and his male progeny projected like crazy.

  12. #12 John Massey
    July 30, 2017

    Ron Perlman was in that good 1981 movie “Quest for Fire”, which was set in 80,000 BC. Well, he was perfect – he has primitive looking human features (and I mean that in the kindest possible way – it was why he was chosen for the role, allegedly, and credibly). He obviously is not primitive in any mental sense in real life, obviously.

    That film featured, not only Rae Dawn Chong, who at that age was a real little doll, and she wasn’t wearing much, but also 4 different kinds of hominins slugging it out, the Neanderthals were depicted as disgusting brutish cannibals, but idenifiably a branch of human (I mean actors playing the parts of 4 different kinds of hominins, obviously).

    Despite some fairly obvious irritants (like wrong time scale; modern African lions with stuck-on sabre teeth; probably very inaccurate depiction of Homo erectus; etc.) that film (or the original 1911 book written by some Belgian guy) was remarkably prescient, given what we know now.

    I love the film so much I have watched it 4 times so far. And no, not just because Rae Dawn Chong was not wearing much, although that was sure as hell no deterrent to watching it. And she was really good in it – in truth, the ‘heroic’ character of the film.

    Today, she might be accused of acting in “black face” because she subsequently appeared in the 1985 Arnold Schwartzenegger film “Commando”, in which she appeared in her natural colouring, and she was way more pale skinned than the jet black (with white tribal paint markings over the top), although her father was the actor Tommy Chong, who was half Chinese half Scottish and her mother was half African-Canadian and half Cherokee. I don’t know, maybe she qualifies sufficiently as a POC (person of colour) to get away with it. But she was in black face in the 1981 film, no question, and by black ‘face’ I mean she was painted black all over on the bits that you could see, and there were very few bits of her, if any, that you coudn’t see..

    It’s worth catching if you can get it. I believe it is available free of charge on Youtube, or was last time I checked, and I will probably end up watching it another couple of times.

  13. #13 John Massey
    July 31, 2017

    I made a mistake – I said the whole of Texas is red except for Houston, which is blue. That’s wrong, Houston is red – it is Austin which is blue.

  14. #14 Birger Johansson
    July 31, 2017

    Triffid sculpture? Huorn? Or the thing from The Thing?
    — — —
    I am expecting the protagonist’s adopted cat in the Laundry novels to turn out to have sinister powers.
    — — —
    There is this (Australian ?) actor who suffer from a mutation that regulates embryonic development of “skin organs” -hair, sweat glands, nails and even teeth.

    This gives him a very distinct appearence, and he keeps getting the role of “freak” or mutant in B films.

  15. #15 John Massey
    July 31, 2017

    Well, earning money from playing the role of a freak is a living, I guess. If someone suffers some kind of ‘disability’ and can turn that into a career, I say bloody good luck to him.

    I question the taste of people who want to watch B films with freaks in them, but there is evidently a market, and he’s using his unfortunate genetic mutation to supply the market with what it wants, and getting paid for it. I can’t fault him for that. Australian society, for all of the ‘virtue signalling’ that goes on there, is not notably tolerant of having such people around them, so he’s probably a lot better off earning a living that way than trying to get a regular job.

  16. #16 John Massey
    July 31, 2017

    Try not to read this paper, unless you are of a mind to deconstruct it, or at least critically examine what it says with a suitably sceptical mind:
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-06587-0#comment-3438997356

    Razib Khan, who is a (human, cat, whatever) geneticist by profession and notably knowledgable/smart, notes: “Many people (are) skeptical of the robustness of this result.” No kidding. I will go further – not only is the paper ideologically utterly repugnant to me (for once – I usually try very hard for any random ideological leanings I might have to not get in the way of seeing reality as revealed by good science), it seems to me to be a load of utter bullshit.

    The ideology comes into it because I strongly suspect (actually you can tell just by reading the paper) that the authors started out with a certain ideological concept, and then got results that confirmed their concept – that’s called “confirmation bias”, and it is a real risk in science.

    Neuroscientists still (not for want of trying) understand precious little of how the modern human brain functions in relation to its structure, and sure as hell not related to skull shape. Most rational scientists gave up on trying to infer anything from skull shape a long time ago. They certainly know nothing about how Neanderthal brains were structured and functioned, and how that might have related to skull shape, not least because no one has ever seen a Neanderthal brain.

    I will reveal that I am slightly more than 3% Neanderthal, and my daughter is a bit more Neanderthal than I am, though you would never guess to look at her. Neither of us has a skull shape that is in any way suggestive of Neanderthal skull shape in any region of the skull. Nothing like it. Further, and something that makes me curious – although there are now a fair number of fossil Neanderthal skulls available, they are almost all male (where they can tell that from postcranial measurements) – hardly any females. I have no idea why that should be – the sample size is now large enough to expect more females to have been found than actually have been.

    Unfortunately, I think this paper, despite being a load of stinking horse shit, will play very well to the “race realist” crowd, also known as the “human biodiversity” crowd, also known as “white supremacists”, and they will try to use it to further their ideological agenda.

    My suggestion is not to let them.

  17. #17 Eric Lund
    July 31, 2017

    people continue to ask me how I can stand to live in HK, with my personal freedoms being trampled on and my human rights being horribly abused

    The Chinese government is rather more sensitive to criticism than I would prefer a government to be, but my impression has always been that as long as you avoid politics, the Chinese government generally leaves you alone. And it’s far easier to be eccentric–whether in habits or in simply not being a member of the locally dominant ethnic group–if you are in a city and therefore have a big crowd with which to blend. In small towns and rural areas there is much more pressure to conform. That’s why rural areas tend to be more conservative than urban areas: people who deviate too much from what is considered “acceptable” behavior are more likely to move to the city, where they are more likely to be tolerated.

    There is a sense in which the Chinese government is more honest about its oppression than the US government: we tend to make noises about how free we are, but in most of the US you have to be a wealthy straight white “Christian” male to fully enjoy those freedoms. I meet three of those criteria, and depending what part of the country, possibly a fourth, but I abhor the religion that passes for Christianity in most of the US–they act as if the words printed in red in their Bibles have that color because they are errors (they are actually the words attributed to Jesus Christ).

    Some Chinese cities do have severe air pollution problems, but my understanding is that the Chinese government is aware of these problems and is taking steps that are intended to mitigate the problem. It can be done: Los Angeles used to have such problems as well, but today the air there is much cleaner.

  18. #18 John Massey
    July 31, 2017

    Eric@17 – I was talking tongue i cheek and being deliberately sarcastic, obviously. My personal freedoms are not in any way infringed, and my human rights are not abused in any way, and that would extend fully to politics provided I comported myself in a civilised and reasonable manner. And the ‘Autocratic’ government is far more responsive to public opinion on real issues than most people imagine, almost unbelievably so.

    The air pollution problems in China (and occasionally now and again in Hong Kong) are very serious and the subject for a separate discussion. But yes, the Chinese leadership is acutely aware of them.

  19. #19 Eric Lund
    July 31, 2017

    I know that China is learning something that Americans learned at a comparable stage of motorway network development: no matter how intensive you make a motorway network, if your economy is thriving demand will eventually overwhelm the network. There is a stretch of Interstate 10 west of Houston, locally known as the Katy Freeway, that was recently expanded to carry 11-13 lanes of traffic each direction, and the congestion on that stretch is now even worse than it was before that expansion project was begun.

    I don’t know whether China has had anything comparable to the “freeway revolts” that occurred in many North American cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Motorways are highly disruptive to any existing neighborhoods through which they are built. This is especially true for motorways built at (like Beijing’s Second, Third, and Fourth Ring Roads) or above (like Boston’s old Central Artery) ground level, but even below-grade motorways can create a huge dead space, like the non-tunnel portions of Montreal’s Autoroute Ville-Marie, which creates a one-block-wide empty space on the streets that run perpendicular to it.

    It is no coincidence that Los Angeles, which became famous for its intensive system of urban motorways, was the city that had the worst air pollution issues. Local topography was a major contributor as well: the prevailing wind direction there is onshore, trapping pollutants against the mountains that ring the Los Angeles basin. The state of California was given special permission to create stricter air pollution standards than the US as a whole (other states may choose to adopt California’s standard; most northeastern states have). Since then, the title of worst air quality has passed to Houston, home of the aforementioned Katy Freeway.

  20. #20 Martin R
    July 31, 2017

    “a one-block-wide empty space on the streets that run perpendicular to it.”

    Pardon? I don’t understand.

  21. #21 Birger Johansson
    July 31, 2017

    Re. the distinguishing nature of living Neanderthal s.
    Can we reconstruct epigenetic information of Neanderthal fossils as well as ordinary genetic information?
    If not too much is lost, one way of learning about Neanderthal people is to grow them.

    Seriously, with the careful medical monitoring they would have a better start in life than most people in the world.
    We know they were clever enough to survive in ice age Europe. That means they would be no “freaks”.

  22. #22 Eric Lund
    July 31, 2017

    Martin@20: Montreal, like most North American cities, has its streets laid out in a grid, with some streets running roughly parallel to the St. Lawrence River (locals use “east” to mean the downriver direction, which in Montreal is about 40 degrees north of east), and others roughly perpendicular. The portion of the Autoroute Ville-Marie I am referring to is between two of the east-west streets. East of the Palais des Congres, which the motorway tunnels under, there are no buildings between the two east-west streets that flank the motorway, even though several north-south streets cross over the motorway. There is an entrance to the Champ-de-Mars metro station, but that is it. There are not even benches to sit on, as you would normally find in an urban park. Contrast with Old Montreal to the south of the motorway, and the Financial District and Chinatown to the north, which are typical urban streetscapes.

  23. #23 Martin R
    July 31, 2017

    What causes these plots to remain undeveloped?

  24. #24 Eric Lund
    July 31, 2017

    To develop that land, one would need to purchase air rights from the owner (presumably the provincial highway authority), and engineer a building that could fit the space and the constraint of having a motorway running underneath it. The latter restriction means you couldn’t build a very tall building–five or six floors max, including street level. Since that’s a typical building height in Old Montreal, it wouldn’t be impossible. Whether it would be cost-effective is another matter. Obviously, developers would prefer to build taller buildings if they can, and Montreal is not yet so land constrained that building over the motorway is the easiest development option.

    North American cities in general are less dense than cities elsewhere in the world (other than Australia, which is comparable). Only Manhattan approaches densities that are routine in Eurasia, and Manhattan is only a small portion of New York City. That’s part of why US public transportation sucks. It doesn’t help that many Americans, including a substantial fraction of those with political power, view public transportation as being for “those people”, i.e., the melanin-endowed–for instance, some people claim that the acronym for Atlanta’s metro system, MARTA, stands for Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta (it’s actually Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). Since the people who hold such opinions generally don’t want “those people” in their neighborhoods, they agitate against any attempt to expand public transportation service in their neighborhoods.

  25. #25 Martin R
    July 31, 2017

    My wife and I rode the bus in Minneapolis a few years ago and were surprised to find that many passengers looked almost destitute.

  26. #26 birgerjohansson
    July 31, 2017

    HOTDAMN, that was fast! The Mooch has been fired by Trump.

    Today is also the 100th anniversary of the (beginning of) the battle of Passchendale. It was to the British what Verdun was to the French.
    There might be some symbolism here, but I am not sure of exactly what.
    Useless leaders?
    Short life expectancy?
    Fireworks going off, filth and mud everywhere?

  27. #27 birgerjohansson
    July 31, 2017

    I am told bicycle commuting is also for “those people”.

  28. #28 Eric Lund
    August 1, 2017

    The US took automobile culture to an unhealthy extreme. The assumption was that everybody would own at least one car, and most families would have one car per driver (many states allow 16 year olds to be fully licensed drivers). Almost everything built between 1945 and 2000 was designed under that assumption, so that even in cities with rapid transit systems the stations are often surrounded by commuter parking. This is the environment I grew up with: the houses I lived in were in 1960s era subdivisions, and while walking to school was possible it was often not easy. (This latter aspect has gotten even worse since I was a kid; while I was expected to get to school either by myself or accompanied by younger siblings, many American parents are so paranoid about strangers snatching their kids that those kids are not allowed to walk to school–in some cases, when they live only a block away.)

    The freedom of the automobile is alluring, but it quickly becomes the tyranny of the automobile. The scale that is appropriate for cars is not appropriate for human beings. Many such neighborhoods have no sidewalks, or only have sidewalks on major streets. In some states residential streets are required to have wider lanes than are typically found on German autobahns. Intersections are designed for the convenience of drivers, not pedestrians.

    People are starting to push back against this system. As with many things in the US, one of the arguments is about taxes: US-style suburban development does not pay for itself. The urban crime that so many people thought they were leaving behind inevitably catches up to them–and with so few pedestrians on the streets, it’s easier for burglars and muggers to operate. Worst of all, American-style suburbs tend to have no sense of community.

    I am fortunate to live where I do: a university town that did not entirely escape the ills of automobile culture but is fighting back, and always has had to cater to pedestrians (especially students, but also faculty and staff who live within walking distance). And drivers here actually respect pedestrian right-of-way. So instead of paying for a university parking permit, which is colloquially known as a “hunting license” and most days would at best allow me to park in a car park that is only about halfway to my office, I walk to work, about 15 minutes each way.

  29. #29 John Massey
    August 1, 2017

    Eric@28 – could be describing Australia. And now China, in a more chaotic version.

    Speaking of Australia: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-01/uni-sexual-assault-hrc-report-released/8762638

    That’s not a good look for a country that now lists education as one of its major ‘exports’ and charges foreign students tuition fees that are through the roof.

    Meanwhile, there is no chaos in the White House. Repeat after me: there is no chaos in the…

  30. #30 John Massey
    August 1, 2017

    I enjoyed the ‘hunting licence’ joke, BTW. Yeah, been there and done that.

    A 15 minute walk from work is just about far enough. For a 4 year period I lived a 10 minute pleasant scenic stroll from my office, had a working wife (who worked 10 minutes in the opposite direction) and no kid. Getting into the office to deal with that unfinished bit of work that was weighing on my mind, even on Sundays, was way too easy, and I was still thinking about work by the time I got home again.

    My boss described my wife and me as “the best organised couple in Hong Kong.” No. Breakfast was a cup of strong black coffee and a glass of ‘healthy’ orange juice. There was no lunch, I just worked continuously straight through the day. Every night when I got home, I swam a mile of freestyle in the pool downstairs, bolted down my one meal for the day and fell asleep exhausted on the sofa. My wife used to wake me up to tell me to go to bed.

    I ended up working 16 hours/day, 7 days/week for those 4 years, I was fit as a fiddle, had a 31″ waist line (it had never been less than 33″ since I was at university), was promoted spectacularly fast, and nearly inadvertently killed myself in the process.

  31. #31 Martin R
    August 1, 2017

    I walk or cycle at least half an hour every workday even though I often work at my home desk.

  32. #32 John Massey
    August 1, 2017

    The fairly recent quite strong correlation between the amount of time you just spend sitting over your lifetime and how young you die was kind of worrying. Walking or cycling for an hour/day doesn’t fix the problem, evidently. Some people have adopted standing desks as a solution, but I could get pretty sick of that pretty quickly.

    I think the sensible thing is, when you are working at home, to remind yourself to take a break, get up and walk around a bit every 30 minutes or so. I see my younger workmates sitting immobile working at their computers for hours on end without ever standing up and taking a short break to move around, maybe do a few simple stretching exercises or whatever, and if the correlation is to be believed, they are heading into trouble some time in their lives.

    I spotted your tweet on some rational force acting in the White House that might have the effect of prolonging the Trump presidency (I don’t use Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t know that, so it emails me your tweets now and again). I’m sceptical – I think Trump just sacked Scaramucci because he has enough brain to understand that Scaramucci’s uncontrolled public uncontrolled very angry outburst of foul language was something that the public would really not like. He did make reference to that. The fact that he hired Scaramucci in the first place, when the guy has a history of (1) publicly deriding Trump, and (2) making similar outbursts and getting dumped, suggests that no one is giving Trump a rational steer. OK, Spicer needed to go, but Scaramucci was an awful and irrational choice to replace him.

    Journalists here are already talking about the coming demise of the Trump presidency – they clearly think his days are numbered, and that the numbers are not that big.

    I was on the treadmill in the gym yesterday and there was no soccer to watch, so out of sheer desperation I ended up watching Fox News (God help me), and they had a panel discussion about what Trump has achieved so far in his presidency, and I was staggered by how delusional those people are, and how much they talk about how Trump can achieve ‘even more’ if he just does this or just does that. I’m like, no. None of that is going to happen, very obviously.

    One guy on the panel did make one good point, though – that the voters who elected Trump will ‘turn on a dime’ if he doesn’t quickly deliver all the stuff they voted him in to do. And he is clearly going to fail in that, partly because much of it is just physically impossible, and partly because he is an incoherent moron who can’t even put together a credible administration, despite the length of time he has already been in office, and there is no evidence that will get any better – it’s more likely to get even worse. Currently his overall approval rating is awful, but among the voters who voted for him it’s still not bad, but that is going to start heading south pretty fast once they get the message that he is incapable of delivering what they voted for, and then they’ll dump him like a hot brick.

    Hopefully that will happen before he can do too much more real damage, but I’m not optimistic about that.

  33. #33 Martin R
    August 1, 2017

    I’m not looking forward to the Pence administration either, though.

  34. #34 John Massey
    August 1, 2017

    Incidentally, Twitter seems clearly to be on its way out. Last year just in America alone, two million Twitter users stopped using it. Obviously, the more interesting people that stop using it, the more…well, you can see where that goes.

    One bright spot – If Twitter goes down, Trump will be rendered mute and all people will have to go on then will be the endless leaks from the White House, which seems like a good enough reason to scrap it.

    I don’t know what a satisfactory replacement will be. I doubt it will be Facebook; people turned to using Twitter because of their frustrations with Facebook.

    Currently, the best available option just seems to be Blogs.

  35. #35 John Massey
    August 1, 2017

    M@33 – No, me either.

  36. #36 Eric Lund
    August 1, 2017

    I’m sceptical – I think Trump just sacked Scaramucci because he has enough brain to understand that Scaramucci’s uncontrolled public uncontrolled very angry outburst of foul language was something that the public would really not like.

    I agree with most of your post, but I’ll dissent from this part. Trump is so vain, he probably thinks the old Carly Simon song is about him. (Ms. Simon apparently reached a similar conclusion; during the campaign she allowed the song to be used in an anti-Trump ad.) Everything has to be about Trump, and Scaramucci committed the cardinal sin of being the story. The foul language was a pretext.

    President Pence would definitely be a “be careful what you wish for” scenario. His policies would be at least as bad as Trump’s (he’s a True Believer), and he might actually get things done.

    My admittedly longshot hope is that Trump and Pence go down together in January 2019, which would give us (if all goes well) President Nancy Pelosi.

  37. #37 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    August 1, 2017

    ” I believe the number is 1 in 12 of all Asian males are descended from Genghis Khan. And when I say Asian, I mean all of them.”

    Guy Murchie wrote that all family trees merge after about 30 generations or a thousand years, so this figure is not all that surprising. Maybe one in 12 are descended from every Asian of Khan’s time who had children.

  38. #38 Eric Lund
    August 1, 2017

    Phillip@37: Your premise is reasonable, but your conclusion is almost certainly wrong. There are many lineages where the person(s) alive during Genghis Khan’s day had children but the lineages have subsequently died out.

    It’s true that family trees must get tangled by 30 generations back. If all of your theoretical ancestor slots that many generations ago were filled by distinct people, you would have more than a billion ancestors in that generation, and another billion in the intervening generations. That’s about an order of magnitude larger than the worldwide population at the time. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that I have common ancestors that far back with every human now living. I almost certainly do have some ancestors in common with Martin (some of my ancestors are from Sweden, and many more are from Denmark), and it’s likely that I have some ancestors in common with John (one branch of my family tree has been traced back to somebody who arrived in Connecticut in 1645 from England). But I have no particular reason to think that any of my 30-generations-back ancestors were living anywhere other than Europe (including the British Isles). I’ve never had the appropriate tests done, so I can’t rule it out, but the European Church was recording births at least that far back.

  39. #39 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    Phillip@37 – Guy Murchie, whoever he was, was wrong, likely for ideological reasons – that happened a lot. Lewontin and Gould, both Jewish Marxists, were ideologically driven and wrong about almost everything.

    Lineages go extinct all the time. Endogamy happened a lot, and still does. I note Murchie died when modern genetics was just getting going. Modern geneticists mention a fair few much earlier scientists, but never reference Murchie. I have never seen any modern geneticist of any stripe even mention him, though they make frequent references to Fisher, Haldane, etc. You need to update your priors by reading some modern genetics – you have a lot of catching up to do, because genetics as a science has literally exploded since the 1990s, if you want to engage in any kind of rational discussion on the subject.

    Murchie was not even a scientist, for goodness sake, and a quick reference to Wikipedia reveals a lot of stuff that he said was dramatically wrong, e.g. the China of the 1930s was ‘politically stable’ and ‘Communism was just another form of religion’. He was an idiot.

    You see these ‘star phylogenies’ like the one deriving from Genghis Khan everywhere you look. Check what happened with the R1a and R1b Y haplogroups. R1a migrated both west and east and ended up getting as far as India, probably hence Sanskrit, which is an Indo-European language. R1b is heavily dominant in north-western Europe; R1a in eastern Europe.

    Modern Han Chinese are descended from three such ‘super grandfathers’.

    “Maybe one in 12 are descended from every Asian of Khan’s time who had children.” No. Just no. Very many of these lineages will subsequently have gone extinct; most of them, even. Not every man who has children has a son, who has a son, who has a…get the picture?

  40. #40 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    “all family trees merge after about 30 generations or a thousand years” – This is utter bullshit.

    I have been genotyped, and so I know where all of my ancestors came from, as of a couple of hundred years ago. That tells me that 1,000 years ago my ancestors would have been all over the place; certainly not in any sense “merged”. Some of them were in Australia, for goodness sake, isolated from the rest of the world for at least 60,000 years, and definitely not (yet) merged with my European and North African ancestors by 1,000 years ago.

    My wife’s ancestors were in East Asia (90% Han plus 10% of something else, which I am not naming, because I think it has been identified somewhat uncertainly, due to the particular reference populations used by the genomics company that we used, but it was definitely East Asian, just not Han). You can bet for a certainty that the ancestors of all of those people were in place in East Asia 1,000 years ago – this is established science. So to get my daughter’s ancestors you can add Han and the not-Han chunk from my wife to my ancestors – so even more from all over the place.

    This doesn’t look anything like “merged” to me. It looks a lot like the opposite.

  41. #41 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    Phillip: It is worth mentioning, because it has very recently been re-affirmed for a scientific certainty, that the ancestors of modern Europeans split from the ancestors of modern Han Chinese more than 40,000 years ago, with minimal mixing between these two now clearly genetically differentiated populations ever since, except in three north-western Chinese Provinces, which look to have some European-like admixture as recently as 1,000 years ago (probably something to do with the Silk Road) *but nowhere else in China*.

    This fact alone makes nonsense of the trivial mathematical calculation that suggests that all family trees merge if you go back 1,000 years. Clearly, in real terms, they don’t do anything of the sort.

    If you want to look at San bushmen, it is now clear that they diverged from all other anatomically modern humans at least 200,000 years ago, and remained a genetically isolated group (due to changes in African palao-climate) until they came into contact again as a consequence of the Bantu expansion (which started in western Africa around 1,000BC and finished when they reached South Africa by about 33AD. Even then, mixing was not very extensive – the San groups, who are all divergent and clearly genetically differentiated from each other due to endogamy, were mostly killed or driven off into marginal land that was not suitable for farming by the Bantu. So the San are still genetically very clearly differentiated from all other subSaharan African groups, and sub-groups of the San are also clearly differentiated from each other.

    The same applies to some other clearly genetically differentiated African groups, e.g. the Mbuti Pygmies, and some other hunter-gatherer populations in Africa.

    And never mind Native Americans, who remained isolated from the rest of the world for at least 15,000 years.

    So this “merging” thing is drivel – I assume the statement could only ever have been made from a Eurocentric perspective, but even if you confine examination just to what are now the modern European populations, it is not true.

  42. #42 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    33AD above should read 300AD.

  43. #43 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    Footnote: If the European-like admixture detected in the north-western Provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and Shanxi does indeed date to about 1,000 years ago, it most likely came from some Central Asians who had some European-like ancestry, not from Europeans or European-like people. By 750AD the Chinese had for practical purposes lost control of their part of the Silk Road, which is in what is now Xinjiang. Groups like Uygurs and Sogdians filled the power vacuum. Absorption of such groups into the Han substrate is the most likely source of the admixture detected in the three north-western Provinces. What is equally interesting is that this admixture is not detected anywhere else in China, except Xinjiang, obviously, which has a large sub-population of Uygurs.

    The timescale doesn’t fit Tocharians, etc.

  44. #44 Eric Lund
    August 2, 2017

    During my week of vacation last week, I read 1491 by Charles C. Mann. The book tries to paint a picture of what the Americas were like before Columbus arrived, based on the then latest archaeological evidence. Some of this I already knew, but there was lots more that was new to me. For example, the Amazon rainforest was not pristine wilderness 500 years ago, but was carefully managed to provide sufficient food and resources for a population large enough that there were villages every few kilometers along the river and its major tributaries. They knew how to make a kind of soil called terra preta (Portuguese words that translate roughly as “dark earth”), which actually retains some fertility after the rainforest trees have been cut down (in most of the Amazon basin, if the trees are not allowed to grow back the soil becomes agriculturally useless within a few years). Within a few decades, Eurasian diseases had killed off most of the natives. This was a recurring pattern in the Americas: the first European visitors found densely populated areas, but the natives had no natural immunity to European diseases, and death rates of 90% or more were common. Modern estimates suggest that in 1500 there were more people in the central basin of what is now Mexico than in all of Europe.

    In Eurasia, the four river valleys that are generally considered the cradles of civilization (from west to east: the Nile, the Tigris/Euphrates, the Indus, and the Huang He or Yellow River) had regular contact with at least their nearest neighbors. That was not the case with Mesoamerica and Andean cultures: overland travel between the two was quite difficult (and remains so; to this day it is not possible to drive between Panama and Colombia). Maize, domesticated in Mexico from a grass called teosinte, eventually made its way to Peru, but nothing else of cultural significance propagated between the two until the arrival of smallpox in the Andes circa 1524, having spread southeastward from Mexico over the preceding several years. One of the effects of the smallpox epidemic was the succession crisis in the Inca empire that Pizarro was able to exploit in his conquest.

  45. #45 John Massey
    August 2, 2017

    Eric@44 – Good book, isn’t it? Mann’s 1493 is also a good read, but to my mind not quite as good as 1491. Much more complex topic, though.

  46. #46 GregH
    August 2, 2017

    Surely you mean French peuple.

  47. #47 John Massey
    August 3, 2017

    One thing that is relevant to the ‘star phylogeny’ thing is male dominance hierarchy.

    Female chimpanzees, when they are in heat, will mate with any available male. It is left to the dominant male to try to guard the females and chase away males lower down the dominance hierarchy. But if the dominant male does not perform his role properly, like taking suitable care of the kids, etc., sooner or later a couple of lesser males will team up and attack him, and literally tear him apart (adult male chimps are hugely physically strong compared to adult human males and don’t go to anger management classes), and a new dominant male will take over.

    Female humans behave very differently from chimpanzees (in fact, there are very few parallels between chimp and human behaviour at all). Female humans are notably very choosy about sexual partners, and go for a male as high up the dominance hierarchy as they can get; in other words, they ‘peel from the top’. (See for example Trump, Murdoch. Ivana Trump didn’t marry 45 because of his handsome orange face and excellent hair style.)

    In SES terms, human females tend to marry across or up; human males marry across or down. It necessarily must be this was – if both males and females insisted on marrying only someone of higher SES than themselves, no one would ever get married.

    So the consequence of this is that men high in the male dominance hierarchy get to reproduce disproportionately, and a lot of men lower in the hierarchy never get to reproduce at all. About 50% of all human males never reproduce, whereas the majority of females do.

    So a lot of Y DNA lineages are going extinct all the time.

    So it’s hardly surprising that when there is a Mongol-led army rampaging across Eurasia (bearing in mind that by the time he really got going a lot of troops in his army were actually Turkic people like Uygurs, not Mongols – he was very tolerant of soldiers of all religions), with huge numbers of men getting dead and large numbers of women getting impregnated in the process, the dominant male Mongol will have a huge number of kids, the usual proportion of which will be male children, who will also grow up to be high status males and hence will also reproduce highly disproportionately, und so weiter.

    So “maybe one in 12 are descended from every Asian of Khan’s time who had children.” I.don’t.think.so.

  48. #48 John Massey
    August 3, 2017

    BTW, Eric, are you aware that Montreal has developed the largest underground city beneath a city in the world? It has grown organically and piecemeal, largely as private individuals/companies have added to it. There are obvious climatic advantages. Fire safety disadvantages and special ventilation requirements, though.

    No vehicular traffic down there.

  49. #49 John Massey
    August 3, 2017
  50. #50 John Massey
    August 3, 2017

    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0181929

    Wild boars = long distance (5km) swimmers, or human agency?

  51. #51 John Massey
    August 3, 2017

    https://ourworldindata.org/incomes-across-the-distribution/

    Try telling Australians they are all better off. Increases in real estate prices have more than eaten up any income gains, and incomes have now been flat-lining for quite a while. So housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, principally due to (1) poor planning and (2) rampant property speculation by people who can get repeat large mortgages – those folks will be just fine…unless the property bubble bursts. If that happens, a substantial subset are likely to be taking swan dives off tall buildings.

    Greece is obviously in desperate straits, and I can’t see what will change that.

    The place to be is the UK, apparently, or was at least up to 2010.

  52. #52 Birger Johansson
    August 3, 2017

    “Moderates Looking for Obamacare Compromise” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/08/02/moderates-looking-obamacare-compromise/
    Good luck getting the Greatest Leader Ever to sign* the bill.
    — — —
    * i originally wrote the typo “sing the bill” -but since reality is increasingly surrealistic , why not? Imagine Trump on TV singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado”, while the new press secretary (Dr Evil) blames unemployment on the eskimos.

    Once Trump is comitted to hospital, President Pence declares all school textbooks should mention insects have *four* legs, as leviticus says. Also, there should be private ownership of the CIA.

  53. #53 Birger Johansson
    August 3, 2017

    Digging up the past: “Gulag grave hunter unearths uncomfortable truths in Russia” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/03/gulag-grave-hunter-yury-dmitriyev-unearths-uncomfortable-truths-russia

    -The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said in June that “excessive demonisation” of Stalin has been a “means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia”….

  54. #54 Birger Johansson
    August 3, 2017

    Ancient DNA analysis reveals Minoan and Mycenaean origins https://phys.org/news/2017-08-civilizations-greece-revealing-stories-science.html

    Hmm… spontaneous ideas (feel free to spot flaws):
    the Aegean peoples were spread across peninsulas and islands, making it hard for any steppe people to just march in and take over.
    And the study says that there is some influx from the steppes ( but apparently not on the scale of central Europe?).

    If both the neolithic immigrants from the Levant, and the later steppe peoples spoke early forms of Indo-European languages it would explain why both the Mycaeneans and the descendants of steppe immigrants up in central Europe use indo-european languages. It would not be necessary to postulate a wholesale take-over by northern invades in the Aegean, instead a slow flow of individuals would bring “steppe people DNA”.

    If there were epidemics, the geography would make it hard for migrants to move into the Aegean and replace the existing populations before the population size had time to recover.

  55. #55 Birger Johansson
    August 3, 2017

    Norwegian neo-nazis saw a photo of a local bus on internet and thought they were seeing muslim women wearing the burqa. They re-posted the image amid much yelling about evil mooslems taking over.
    The photo actually showed the dark back rests of empty seats. They saw an empty bus, but their brains filled the image with somthing associated with “threat”. This is a marvellous analogy for how the lunatic fringe is processing reality.
    — — —

    “Grandmaster Flash member Kidd Creole arrested for murder” https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/aug/03/grandmaster-flash-kidd-creole-murder Jeez, he is my age. But my middle-age crisis is not as destructive, I just swear at the cat.

  56. #56 Eric Lund
    August 3, 2017

    John@48: I have used the Underground Montreal network. Some of my visits to Montreal have been to attend conferences at the Palais des Congres, which is one of the above-ground buildings connected to that network. So is the Hotel Delta Centre-Ville, which I have stayed at a couple of times.

    Montreal is about a five-hour drive from where I live (if there are no delays crossing the border), so it is a relatively easy trip for me. One reason the Delta Centre-Ville is so attractive to me, in addition to its proximity to the Palais des Congres, is that it is about two blocks from the end of the A10, the route by which most drivers coming from the eastern US would enter Montreal. Though I hear that city planners are working on replacing the segment of the autoroute that connects the city center to the Pont Champlain with a surface boulevard.

  57. #57 Eric Lund
    August 3, 2017

    John@51: What you are describing as happening in Australia sounds very much like what was happening in the US, especially in exurban areas, in the 2001-2009 period. We had a phenomenon called “drive till you qualify”, where people would be pushed far out of the city in order to be able to buy the kind of house they wanted at a mortgage payment they could afford (I live in one of the regions that was affected by that–from here to Boston is about 100 km). And we definitely had lots of “specuvestors” trying to make a quick buck off the market–a few of the smarter ones got out in time, but most of them lost everything when the bubble popped.

    We also had bankers, who should have known better, pushing amazingly stupid products like “stated income” loans (also known as NINJA loans–no income, no job or assets–because the banks made no effort to verify the buyer’s claims about his financial status) and negative amortization loans (the monthly payment did not even cover the interest, let alone the principal, on the loan). The banks were selling these loans to Wall Street firms, who would combine them and then slice and dice them into securities and sell them as AAA rated toxic junk. Obviously, such loans are a lot less risky to the originator if they are sold off to some suckerinvestor.

    Many of the serial refinancers in the US were consumers who used the cash obtained in the refi to pay off their massive credit card debts, then proceed to run up the credit card bills again. At the time I was an occasional reader of the Irvine Housing Blog, which was tracking that phenomenon in Irvine, an upscale “planned community” in Orange County, California. But similar things were happening throughout the US. An interesting quirk of California law: the mortgage used to buy a primary residence is “non-recourse” (meaning that if you default, the lender can repossess the house but cannot pursue you if the proceeds from reselling the house fail to cover the outstanding loan balance), but if you refinance, the loan becomes a recourse loan (they can sue you for any deficiency).

  58. #58 Eric Lund
    August 3, 2017

    Meanwhile, in Trumpworld, I live in a “drug-infested den”. It’s true that we have opioid addiction issues in this state, as most of the US does. It’s also noteworthy that Trump linked his victory in the New Hampshire primary to the drug use–was that an implicit admission that his voters use drugs? (In the general election, Clinton carried New Hampshire by a thin margin, and the state elected an all-Democratic congressional delegation for the first time in living memory.)

    It is also good to see Sens. Shaheen and Hassan, as well as Gov. Sununu, push back against Trump’s characterization.

  59. #59 Martin R
    August 3, 2017

    I follow the news about this administration like I’ve never followed any news before. It’s just breath-taking, every day some new surreal craziness. And now a grand jury has been impanelled…

  60. #61 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    Eric@57 – Kansas Business Park in Kansas City, Missouri holds the world record for an underground business park in sheer size of footprint, but that’s not a ‘city’ in the sense of restaurants, shops and even people living underground like they have in Montreal.

    Both are pretty amazing.

    I think Norway holds the record for the span of an underground man-made cavern – they have an underground ice-hockey stadium with a clear span in rock of 65 metres. That is also hugely impressive.

  61. #62 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    Birger, if you missed reading Razib Khan’s blog post on the M&Ms, you should really give it a read – it’s a good post. Here it is again – in effect, he covers your spontaneous ideas:

    https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/08/02/when-the-ancestors-were-cyclops/

    You don’t need to worry about going to the ‘nofeme’ site – they are just a human genomics company where he now works as Science Director or something, whatever that is. So just science, no one grinding any axes.

  62. #63 Eric Lund
    August 4, 2017

    Kansas City is in Tornado Alley, so having some structures underground makes sense, as long as the soil is suitable (which is presumably the case where that business park was built. If you should ever find yourself in the path of a tornado, you want to shelter in the lowest available level of a sturdy building (not a trailer or a motorway overpass), preferably in an interior room or under a solid structure of some kind.

    Luckily for most of us, tornadoes are rare most places outside the central and southeastern US. My town has had at least a couple of tornado warnings in the time I have lived here, but they are not so common that the authorities need to install sirens, as they do in areas along and near Tornado Alley.

  63. #64 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    Eric – that business park in Kansas is called SubTropolis. It’s all in rock, not soil – the underground space was created by the mining of limestone, which is still ongoing, so they are continuing to create more usable underground space. So far it has over 60 hectares of space available for renting to businesses, and they are adding to that at the rate of an additional 1.5 hectares per year.

    Underground mining and then converting the underground space created to usable space works very well financially, and has obvious benefits where there are any unfavourable weather conditions at the surface, e.g. bloody freezing cold winters in Montreal and Norway, and tornadoes in Kansas.

    As Norway runs out of oil, it needs new industry to support the economy, so they are creating underground space to house Data Centres – these create lots of heat that needs to be dissipated, but the Norwegians have ready access to lots of very cold deep fjord water that they can use as cooling water – they run it through a heat exchanger with fresh water first, as the fresh water is much less corrosive, obviously. Politically stable country, seismically stable, lots of suitable geology for excavating large underground caverns, so it looks like it’s working out well. Of course, the Norwegians are among the world leaders in constructing long-term stable underground openings – they have been busily burrowing underground for mining for a very long time.

  64. #65 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    In the case of the SubTropolis in Kansas City, the old vacated underground workings were previously considered to be a liability, but they have turned the underground into profitable and useful space for warehousing, manufacturing, offices, retail operations, data centres, mail distribution centres, etc.

    The question is, when you go down there, is it still valid for Dorothy to say “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more”? 🙂

  65. #66 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    Eric, further and better particulars: the underground space is about 50m below ground surface, in the Bethany Falls Limestone formation. There are other rock strata (not attractive for mining or quarrying) above the Bethany Falls formation before you get to soil.

    SubTropilis is very well connected by road and rail, and is within 2 days travel of 85% of American households, and within 3 days travel of anywhere in the continental USA (I can’t tell if that includes Alaska, but presume so, as they don’t state otherwise). So it is very strategically placed with respect to infrastructure, and a business boost to the Mid West, which I presume can do with it.

    Rental for underground space within it is substantially cheaper than for surface space, and it has obvious climate and security advantages. They obviously implement ventilation and climate control, maintaining the temperature at around 20 Celsius.

    They obviously need special measures for fire control, evacuation and access for fire-fighters, constant monitoring of the roof stability of the caverns and periodic inspection by qualified people to ensure the caverns remain stable long term.

    That’s probably enough but that unless you want to know more, but if more than passingly interested you can do a simple search for both the SubTropolis, who obviously advertise themselves (the space is all owned and leased out by one company) and the Bethany Falls Limestone, which is used as a construction material.

  66. #67 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    OK, who knew what “curtilage” means? It means the area immediately surrounding a house. (Blame the Normans.)

    Merciful Heavens, I’m going blind. I’m editing a 211 page text document full of legalese and Chinglish, for money, obviously, but I’m definitely not enjoying it.

  67. #68 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    Ta cheer upp John and other anglo-saxons, you are not the only ones with ” excentric” politicians. Our previous finance minister freaked out at a party, showed his schlong and yelled “whore” at the hostess.

    Thanks för the link about the Minoans/Mycaeneans.

  68. #69 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    “the mining of limestone, which is still ongoing”

    Jerusalem has underground cavities where the big limestone blocks for Herod’s temple complex were carved out.
    Here in granite country you never find stuff like that. Wood ruled supreme until quite recently.

  69. #70 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    I associate “Clovis” with an old, primitive paleolithic culture.

    “Trump nominee Sam Clovis blasted progressives as ‘race traders’ and ‘race traitors’ in old blog posts” http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/02/politics/kfile-sam-clovis-blog-posts/index.html
    “Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, maintained a now-defunct blog for years in which he”…. (made “interesting” statements).
    Next up: David Duke?

  70. #71 Eric Lund
    August 4, 2017

    John@66: Most Americans incorrectly use the term “continental US” when they mean “conterminous US”, which is the 48 states not including Alaska and Hawaii. It is possible to drive to Alaska, but to reach Anchorage or Fairbanks (the two largest cities) takes almost a week if you start from Seattle or Edmonton, and large parts of Alaska (including Juneau, the state’s capital) are not accessible by road at all. Plus, even for the parts that are accessible by road, you have to deal with customs complications due to crossing the Canadian border at least twice (you can avoid those complications by using ships or airplanes, but air freight is expensive and ships take time). The main reason the cost of living in Alaska is so high is because of the cost of shipping goods up there–having visited Fairbanks myself, I can testify that most grocery store items are much more expensive there than where I live–often twice as much for things like milk that have to be shipped by air.

  71. #72 Eric Lund
    August 4, 2017

    I associate “Clovis” with an old, primitive paleolithic culture.

    The culture in question has that name because the prototypical example of the culture was found near the town of Clovis in what is now New Mexico, USA. The town may well have been named after somebody; lots of US cities, especially in the western half of the country, are (e.g., Houston, Dallas, Lincoln).

  72. #73 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    Physicists shed light on rarely seen 16th-century metal-working technique https://phys.org/news/2017-08-physicists-rarely-16th-century-metal-working-technique.html
    — — —
    I assume most of the current (white) population of Alaska lives relatively close to the coast. The stereotype of rural alaskans living rugged pioneer life probably only applies to a samll, shrinking minority, just like rural communities everywhere in the world.

  73. #74 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    Typo strikes again! I blame having recenly watched a clip with video coverage of Alex Jones. Do not repeat my mistake, it does things with your brain.

  74. #75 John Massey
    August 4, 2017

    Birger@68 – I ain’t no filthy Anglo-Saxon, brother. Proud Norman, me.

    Eric@71 – Thank you for the clarification. I admit Alaska from Kansas City in 3 days sounded like a bit of a stretch.

  75. #76 Eric Lund
    August 4, 2017

    I assume most of the current (white) population of Alaska lives relatively close to the coast.

    This is almost correct. Alaska’s white people mostly live in the (by Alaskan standards) big cities. Anchorage, the state’s largest city by far (it has half or more of the state’s population) is indeed along the southern coast, as are Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka, which are also relatively large. But Fairbanks, the second largest city, is in the interior, and most of the inhabitants are white. I know white people who have lived in cabins without indoor plumbing (once you leave city limits, indoor plumbing becomes very hard to do in places that have permafrost, so you don’t have to get very far out of town to experience this).

    Outside of the larger cities, you will find a few oil workers in Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse, where the oil is pumped out of the ground, and in Valdez, which is where it is transferred to tankers to ship it elsewhere. Other than that, it is mostly Inuit and Aleut villages, and a few other groups along the southeastern archipelago. Villages close enough to the coast are reachable by boat, at least part of the year, and a few along major rivers (mainly the Yukon and Kuskokwim) also have boat access in summer. But to get to most interior villages, your options are bush pilot or (in winter) dogsled. There is just one rail line in the entire state (Anchorage to Fairbanks), which is mainly used by tourists (the entrance to Denali National Park is one of the stops), and the road network becomes extremely sparse outside the immediate vicinity of Anchorage and Fairbanks, which are almost 600 km apart.

  76. #77 Birger Johansson
    August 4, 2017

    I hope the Aleutians can save their language from extinction. It has some unique features compared to other languages.

    If an electromagnetic “Jules Verne” gun ever becomes a practical launch system, the peak of Denali would be excellent for polar orbit satellites.

  77. #78 Birger Johansson
    August 5, 2017

    I grew up at a dairy farm so I suppose I am one of the “local milk people” (sic! ).
    When you put it like that it sounds downright sinister.
    “Don’t go out at night or the milk people will liquefy you”.

    Also, the grand jury will be the grandest, best jury in American history.

  78. #79 John Massey
    August 5, 2017

    But in pre-history, the milk people were likely to be big and scary nomadic pastoralists, aka Steppe people – better nutrition and more protein than Neolithic farmers living on a largely grain-based diet. Don’t tell the Vegans – they continue to disbelieve that animal protein is important. They need to be acquainted with something called nitrogen balance, but if they remain wimps because they don’t get it, we can keep beating them up for treating us as inferior sub-humans. Besides, they all cheat like hell – what they actually consume doesn’t equate to what they say they do. And most don’t stick at it for very long.

    Birger, was it you who was asking recently about the Malagasy (i.e. the population of Madagascar)? If so, I just noticed this new paper:

    http://m.pnas.org/content/early/2017/07/11/1704906114.abstract

  79. #80 John Massey
    August 5, 2017

    Birger@77 – If a language is not self-sustaining, it’s because no one is using it any more. It’s a certainty that far more languages have existed in the past that have gone extinct.

    Can’t save ’em all. I disagree with the people in Australia who are trying to ‘recreate’ Aboriginal languages that have already gone extinct – they are creating something that never existed. The people of those language groups have also gone extinct, so they don’t care. A prime example is the recreated “Noongar” language – but within the people classified as Noongar based on cultural practices, there were multiple language groups who spoke different languages (probably close enough in at least some cases to be mutually intelligible, but not the same), so the Noongar language that people have created never existed as that.

    People can make shit up as much as they want – it’s when they insist on it having some kind of status within a society that it becomes not OK (e.g. Bob Lind’s ravings).

  80. #81 Birger Johansson
    August 5, 2017

    Thank you, John.
    BTW I highly recommend the transcript of Trump’ s phone call to Mexico for its comedy value.

  81. #82 birgerjohansson
    August 5, 2017

    Secrets of ancient Irish funeral practices revealed https://phys.org/news/2017-08-secrets-ancient-irish-funeral-revealed.html

  82. #84 birgerjohansson
    August 5, 2017
  83. #85 Birger Johansson
    August 6, 2017

    There is more stuff happening in Washington, but it is four in the morning so fuggit.

  84. #86 John Massey
    August 6, 2017

    Birger@84 – Telling tales out of school, here, but years ago a big landslide occurred in some natural terrain in HK, you see.

    So we were, amongst numerous other things, scouring the surrounding terrain to see if we could see any other signs of instability – walking over the ground, peering at stereo pairs of aerial photos, looking at the lidar, and all the other stuff you do.

    And we discovered this bloody great tension crack in the hillside! That ran for miles! And a big tension crack like that can indicate movement in the hillside to indicate that progressive failure might be occurring, and might be a precursor of another big landslide! Oh shit!

    We were really worried about this, until someone figured out that the ‘tension crack’ was actually a line of old military defensive trenches dug by the British military during WWII.

    Yes, they were going to hold off the Japanese with trench warfare. Well, that worked really well in WWI (not), so why not?

    As it happened, the Japanese snuck into HK under cover of thick fog, and were well advanced before anyone discovered they were there, and by that time they had already passed this line of trenches, which didn’t have any actual soldiers in them at the time, because the very unsporting Japanese failed to yell out: “OK, you guys, we’re coming now!” before entering HK.

  85. #87 John Massey
    August 6, 2017

    I might add that the Japanese had relentlessly bombed and shelled HK for a full week without stopping before their infantry attempted to advance into HK, so it’s not like they didn’t know they were coming, it was just a matter of when.

    Churchill had already decided that, in the event the Japanese decided to invade HK, it was indefensible (unlike Singapore, which everyone thought was ‘impregnable’), so he did not waste any more than nominal troop deployment to HK (in other words, he was fully prepared just to sacrifice it), and the unsuccessful defence of HK was fought largely by a bunch of completely green Canadian soldiers plus HK volunteers – even so, the ‘battle for HK’ was intensely fought, with very high casualties on both sides (unlike in Singapore, where the British and allied forces basically rolled over and surrendered without much of a fight to a numerically weaker Japanese invading force, largely due to total dissatisfaction on the part of the troops with their highly incompetent and useless leadership).

  86. #88 John Massey
    August 6, 2017

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-06/nick-xenophon-crackdown-on-bank-executives-money-laundering/8779284

    The biggest bank in Australia, of which I have been a customer continuously since I was in primary school, has been accused of breaching the law 53,700 times. You would think that the law enforcement agencies might have acted a bit sooner, instead of allowing 53,700 breaches to stack up, given the nature of the alleged offences. Maybe they were asleep at the wheel too. But anyway, they have.

    Watch this space, because a lot of people in Australia are not very happy about it.

    Surprisingly to me, there has been no news yet of any kind of run on the bank. But we’ll see.

  87. #89 John Massey
    August 6, 2017

    And then there’s this:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-06/churchs-words-ring-hollow-in-light-of-merciless-legal-tactics/8763302

    A lot of people in Australia are not very happy about that either.

    Ungrateful people – they should just count themselves lucky that they live in a free and ethical society which respects the rule of law and where their rights are not trampled on.

  88. #90 Eric Lund
    August 6, 2017

    Back during the 2000s real estate bubble/financial meltdown, a lot of banks in the US did illegal things, but the real scandal was how much they did that was actually legal.

    One of the few things Congress has actually done this year is to repeal legislation that was specifically intended to prevent a recurrence. I fully expect US financial markets to have a Wile E. Coyote moment (i.e., gravity kicks in when he realizes he has run off a cliff) at some point, but I don’t know when that will happen.

    I also strongly suspect that Donald Trump has ben laundering Russian mob money for well over a decade. Trump is a real estate developer by profession (I use that last word very loosely), so he depends on financing to get his projects built. He can’t get that money from US banks, which are all too familiar with his repayment practices (he doesn’t), so he has to get it from sketchier sources, such as people who need to convert their ill-gotten wealth into forms that they can actually spend.

  89. #91 Birger Johansson
    August 6, 2017

    Give Al-Quaeda a list of their names and addresses. Fight evil with evil.

  90. #92 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    Um, Birger, but if in effect they have been funding AQ, that might not work.

    Oh jeez – what a hero. Let no animal die that I may eat. How noble. What virtue-signalling. The fact that he is a parasite, doing nothing but training and eating endless big mounds of grains and nuts, means that society is supporting him somehow. Why should it?

    http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/2105436/vegan-hong-kong-bodybuilder-hin-chun-chui-wrestles-protein

    Observations:

    (1) His normal (outside of competition) body fat % is dangerously low. This directly adversely affects the immune system. His claim that some meat-consuming body builders have body fat % of 30% is just outrageously ridiculous. Someone with body fat that high is obese. Almost by definition, you just don’t see obese body builders – they train way too hard to accumulate that much fat. I’ve never seen them, and I have spent plenty of time hanging out with some real hardcore body builders (not because I have ever been one, but because they were my friends – and I’ll note that they were not parasites either; they had regular jobs and trained in their spare time).

    (2) Wet farmed rice is really good at taking up arsenic from the soil. This is a real risk, because a lot of insecticides contain arsenic. Arsenic is carcinogenic in sub-lethal doses. But most of the arsenic is in the husks of the rice. Lesson – never eat brown rice, only ever polished white rice. As an addendum to that, I suggest no one ever eat American rice, which is notably high in arsenic – the reason being that, when large areas were devoted to farming cotton, arsenic-based insecticides were used to combat pests like the boll weevil. Many of these areas that are no longer used to grow cotton have been converted to the wet farming of rice.

    (3) Venus Williams, of whom I am a long term fan, has openly admitted publicly that she is what she calls a “Chegan”, i.e. a Vegan in name only who cheats on her diet. Well, Venus is just an honest person. It turns out that most Vegans are cheats – they eat differently from what they say they eat in order to feel ethically superior and signal virtue (and try to shame anyone who does not likewise claim to be Vegan). Further, very few Vegans stay that way for very long – a few years, maybe.

    (4) Warning – never stand behind this guy – he must fart like a brewery horse.

    I have noted of late that there has been a whole string of stories pushing the Vegan ‘lifestyle’ coming out of the South China Morning Post. Someone on the staff clearly has an agenda.

    All I can say on that is to warn those people never to try to get between my daughter and a good steak, because she will turn feral on them in an instant. And they do not want to be around when my daughter turns feral.

  91. #93 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    I have read that in India there is a sub-sect of Vegans who will not consume any vegetable if the plant has to die in order to be eaten. So, potatoes are off the menu, because the potato is the root of a plant, and by digging up the potato you are killing the plant. But tomatoes are OK, because you can pick the tomatoes without killing the tomato bush.

    Some of these people subsequently figure out that must be wrong too, because even if you don’t kill the plant, you are ‘hurting’ it by picking the fruit. Which means there is no animal or vegetable source that they can eat. And you don’t get far eating inanimate stuff like rocks.

    These people become Airists, who believe that they can actually survive despite eating nothing, if they just, like, meditate the right way long enough, etc. So all they consume is air and water. And, true enough, they do go on living…for a while. Not for very long, though.

  92. #94 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    http://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/08/06/172890

    So now, archaeogenetics is definitely a thing. But it can’t operate in isolation, without reference to other disciplines. Dating is an important example – to infer dates of ancient remains, genetics in isolation needs to make assumptions about mutation rates of genes in humans, which can, and often do, turn out to be wildly wrong. It needs to be ‘anchored’ in time by other disciplines like archaeology and the earth sciences. Archaeogeneticists now clearly recognise this, and defer to the other disciplines in order to establish reliable dating.

    What do you assume about the length of a human generation – 20 years? 25? 30? What the ‘correct’ value might be could vary a lot, depending on geography and which period of history and pre-history you are considering. Over the full span of human existence, the mean turns out to be something closer to 25 years than 20, but within that span it could fluctuate pretty wildly. A human female becomes physically capable of reproduction at an age of about 12 or 13 and continues to be so, but with increasing attendant risks past about the mid-30s, until menopause.

    The now deceased but highly respected Biblical scholar Geza Vermes caused a bit of a shit storm when he stated that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary would most likely have been no more than about 12 years old when she gave birth to Jesus – she would most likely have been married off to Joseph at age 11, so the most likely assumption is that she would have given birth for the first time when she was 12”.

    There were a lot of raised eyebrows and uncomfortable shuffling of feet about that, but he was totally unrepentant – he stated that (paraphrasing again) “would be normal for that location at that time in history”. And he was a very solid historian who knew what he was talking about. I have read some of his work, and he was very solid, using multiple well-attested cross references to support everything he asserted.

    Well, if he was right, and I have no grounds to doubt him, then just about all of the depictions of Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth from people’s imaginations would be pretty wildly wrong – actually, all of them, of those I have seen.

    So now, what do you assume about the length of a human generation in any particular period? It all gets impossibly difficult without the solid anchor of archaeology and the earth sciences, and the ancient written records, of course, where they still exist. The most reliable thing is if you can cross reference, triangulate as it were, from multiple sources in different disciplines.

  93. #95 Martin R
    August 7, 2017

    Note though that the generation length is not equal to women’s average age when giving birth to the first child. It is equal to women’s average age when giving birth to any child that survives to reproduce. Because demography isn’t about firstborns only. So if Mary gives birth at age 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 27, then the generation length is 20 years.

  94. #96 Birger Johansson
    August 7, 2017

    Re. Child marriages. A very famous inventor of a famous religion is supposed to have married a girl when she was 9.

  95. #97 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    Martin@95 – Yes, absolutely. In the case in point, Geza Vermes determined that Jesus had, I think he said, at least two brothers, and an unknown number of sisters (evidently they didn’t count girls back then, but the evidence suggested the number of his sisters was likely to be non-zero).

    But the point I am trying to illustrate is that, although of course generation length gets averaged out over all of the children that a woman gives birth to who manage to survive long enough to reproduce themselves, which evens out what could otherwise be wild fluctuations, it still does fluctuate somewhat. Assuming 20 years when it might actually be 25 makes a big difference when you are calculating over tens or hundreds or even thousands of generations. So, it’s not safe to make blanket assumptions about what the mean generation length was during any particular period without some evidence to base that on.

    And you can’t get that from genetics. It needs the help of people in other disciplines to establish what it was. And archaeologists are among the people who can be very helpful with that sort of thing. I don’t want to go through the chocolate vs potatoes thing again, I do understand your point about that. But archaeologists have their uses which are more than just entertainment value. The more I see geneticists deferring to the work of archaeologists, the more convinced about that I become. Another thing that you obviously just can’t get from DNA is any information at all about material culture; so if you want to nail down who the Bell Beaker people were, in terms of their ancestral origins, etc., you really need to talk to archaeologists.

    Birger@96 – Yes. And that would not have been regarded as particularly outlandish at the time. Among that famous religion in some countries, it still happens today.

    Incidentally, more genuine doubt appears to exist about whether that famous inventor was a real historical person than exists about Jesus, at least among serious historians, who now seem to have reached a consensus that Jesus was an historical person, although very different from the person that modern day Christians imagine him to be.

  96. #98 Martin R
    August 7, 2017

    Maybe you’re right that archaeologists can offer data on generation lengths. I just don’t see how. We can’t tell how many children a buried woman has given birth to. Nor can we tell how many she would typically have given birth to if she hadn’t been killed in a raid at age 27.

  97. #99 Eric Lund
    August 7, 2017

    John@97: Jesus lived in what was then part of the Roman Empire, so of course there would have been records of an actual person if he existed.

    A co-worker whose native language is Arabic tells me that written Arabic was not fully systematized until several centuries after Mohammed’s time, so it is much less likely that contemporary records exist. We do know that the new religion began spreading quite rapidly shortly afterward.

    Oral traditions would have preserved some of the details, but many others would have been lost. For instance, the first peoples of Cascadia preserved knowledge of a major earthquake that occurred in January 1700. They of course would not have preserved the exact date, but the Japanese did–their records mention a tsunami that was not accompanied by a local earthquake. And the date matched other evidence: drowned forests whose last growing season was 1699. So we can’t rule out Mohammed existing–we just can’t prove that he did.

  98. #100 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    No, probably not, but archaeologists can tell which people had Bell Beaker material culture. As far as I can see, they are the *only* people who can.

    If the ultimate objective is to tie everything together into a coherent narrative about the past in four dimensions, all of the relevant disciplines are essential players, even the linguists, at least some of whom seem to be somewhat reluctant participants.

  99. #101 Martin R
    August 7, 2017

    Eric, we have no written record for most people who lived in the Roman Empire. No census lists have survived. The leader of a small cult in the Galilee who was active for a few years around AD 30 would most likely just be forgotten by history, regardless of whether the cult later blossomed into a world religion or not.

  100. #102 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    I’m trying to watch The Manchurian Candidate on Netflix, never having seen it before, and it’s doing my head in.

  101. #103 Eric Lund
    August 7, 2017

    John@102: Which version are you watching? I have seen the circa 1960 version, with Frank Sinatra as the captain who figures out what’s going on and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin (Sgt. Shaw’s mother). That version is actually quite good. There was a remake about a decade ago, which I haven’t seen, and which I have heard is not nearly as good as the first version. I have also heard that the remake took a few liberties with the script: the villains in the newer version are a corporation, not the North Koreans as in the original.

  102. #104 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    Martin is right, Eric – so far as I know, no contemporaneous record of Jesus’ existence has survived, if there ever was one. From what I recall from my reading into the subject years ago, to Roman historians, John the Baptist was a much bigger noise. He had a much bigger following, evidently.

    But this is a discussion I really don’t want to have at this point, and I won’t. I’ve done whatever research and reading I have done on that (actually rather a lot, not because I’m religious – I’m not, but because I was interested in what the historical truth was, as far as it could be determined), and I’m done with it. I don’t see a point in replaying it.

    I think I’m also done with The Manchurian Candidate. Half way through, but not going to finish it.

  103. #105 John Massey
    August 7, 2017

    Eric@103 – No, I was watching the 2004 version. I’m a bit of a Denzel Washington fan, but that is one film I am definitely not going to finish watching. Yes, the villains in this version are a corporation.

  104. #106 Birger Johansson
    August 7, 2017

    I recomend “The Star of Betlehem; A Skeptical View” by Aaron Adair. He incidentally touches on many non-astronomical subjects about Rome and Palestine in the processs of critically viewing the various theories.
    — — —
    Before you start a new thread I want to cram in these vital
    news items:
    Students home to dump boyfriends and fix parents broadband
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/students-home-to-dump-boyfriends-and-fix-parents-broadband-2013121382025
    Holidaying Trump reveals true tentacled form: Alien creature Donald Trump has dropped its human being disguise while on holiday.
    Young people should be forced to attend raves, say 40-somethings
    Livingstone publishes list of all the people he should have killed when he was mayor
    OJ Simpson to run for president

  105. #107 Birger Johansson
    August 7, 2017

    After 100?
    The “Century series”:
    F-104 Starfighter was a small air-superiority fighter that remained in use in Europe for a long time.
    F-106 was not very successful due to delays.
    F-111 suffered from a very protracted development and conflicting specification demands. It turns out you cannot replace a strategic bomber (B-52) with a medium-sized attack aircraft.

  106. #108 Birger Johansson
    August 7, 2017

    USA: As a student, the Mooch replacement (Stephen Miller) campaigned against having to *pick up his litter* since they had “janitors that are paid to do that for them“.
    -Last Week Tonight with John Oliver august 6/ (Stephen Miller turns up at ca. 4 minutes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJh_EmXSlwM
    Then the episode explains why a rapid surge in hiring border guards is guaranteed to get a lot of corrupt or incompetent people into uniform.

  107. #109 Eric Lund
    August 7, 2017

    Birger@108: The video at your link was taken down due to a copyright claim. HBO’s people are usually good about posting John Oliver segments the day after the show airs, so unless they don’t want the content to be viewed in your country, you should be able to find it through the official channel.

    Jim Acosta may have phrased the question inartfully, but I have every reason to think that if the English language requirements for green cards become law, they will be applied in a discriminatory manner. To be fair to Miller, it won’t just be the UK and Australia that pass muster–Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand will probably also qualify–but the examiners are likely to find ways to disqualify other applicants. I base this expectation on reports from colleagues who speak perfectly good English but are not native speakers: they invariably get complaints from some of their students about the quality of their English, because the students are not accustomed to hearing people for whom English is a second language. Most Trump supporters have a similar lack of experience with foreign accents. And it would not surprise me if English speaking ability as measured by such a test were found to be correlated with the applicant’s skin color, unless steps were taken to prevent such bias (at minimum, having the determination made by people who hear only recordings of the applicant, who is identified by number rather than by name).

    Because of my profession, I have been forced to develop a relatively high tolerance for the accents of non-native English speakers. After all, they almost always speak better English than I do French, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, etc. Most Americans have considerably more trouble with foreign accents, and they are far more likely to get the job of determining the quality of an applicant’s English (mostly because I would not want a job with Trump’s ICE goons.

  108. #110 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    Birger@106 – That’s one book I don’t need to read. Geza Vermes did a masterful job of deconstructing the Synoptic Gospels and demonstrated that most of the material written about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth was made up, e.g. he wasn’t born in Bethlehem, for a start. If you accept, as Vermes asserted, that the first of the Synoptic Gospels, that attributed to ‘Mark’, was written about 30 years after his death by someone once removed from Jesus (i.e. never knew or saw him, but knew people who did), then it makes sense that the last few years of his life were reasonably well attested from people’s memories (although undoubtedly embellished, e.g. miracles, etc.), but prior to that there was no first person witness to the events of his life. Anyway, enough of that. The Wikipedia entry is actually a reasonable summary of the historical consensus, although Vermes would have quibbled with quite a bit of the detail.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-08/aboriginal-anzacs-racial-science-jihad-wunsdorf-pow-camp/8771110

  109. #111 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    Interesting paper on Neanderthals, mostly:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/08/01/1706426114.long

    One curious thing – they seem to be using a generation for Neanderthals of 29 years, which seems anomalously high. But a possible contributary reason might be that they think that most Neanderthals derived from relatively few couples having large numbers of children.

  110. #112 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    This is really kind of weird:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-08/is-a-serial-killer-more-likely-to-be-religious-or-atheist/8784826

    In my observation, there is almost universally a total disconnect between people who signal that they are devout Christians, taking Christianity as an example that I am most familiar with, and the way they behave ethically/morally etc., to the extent that I have formed (me being an amateur psychologist again) a kind of mental model that people’s ‘spirituality’ for want of a better word forms a separate independent insulated layer in the way their brain functions and directs their actions, which has no connection at all with the way they behave, and particularly in the way they treat other people.

    The one exception I can think of was one of my maternal uncles, now deceased, who really did try to live his life as a ‘good Christian’ – he was a genuinely good and very charitable guy, who spent his whole life trying to ‘walk the talk’, as it were. He never ever pushed religion at all, or even talked about it, he just tried very hard to live a virtuous and charitable life himself. But a score of one, out of a whole lot of self-proclaimed religious people I have known who were absolute bastards in the way they behaved, is not a very convincing score.

    But you get this really weird phenomenon that, when polled, people say they believe atheists are more likely to commit extreme moral violations, despite an abundance of evidence all around them that, if anything, the opposite is true.

    Jordan Peterson, Prof. of Psychology at the University of Toronto, who got himself into some hot water a while back and has become rather famous as a consequence, says that you need to observe how people behave, rather than listen to what they say, to find out what they are really like as people, because there is generally a big disconnection between the two. And I have to conclude, from my anecdotal subjective observations of people, that he is absolutely right.

  111. #113 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0151

    It’s worth reading the paper, because this is really quite astonishing. Even atheists are more likely to believe that other atheists are likely to behave in egregious ethical ways. It suggests that there is something hard-wired in human brains to think this way, despite the fact that it is clearly wrong from readily observable evidence.

  112. #114 Eric Lund
    August 8, 2017

    John@112: I have observed the same thing: that people who are loud and proud about claiming to be Christians tend not to walk the walk, while those who are devout but avoid bringing up their faith in inappropriate contexts do a much better job of actually following the teachings of Jesus.

    Obviously I don’t directly encounter loud-and-proud Jews or Muslims, but I do know several quiet adherents of both faiths, enough to believe that the anticorrelation of professing and practicing applies to all of the Abrahamic faiths.

    In the US, Christianist extremists have been known to bomb or shoot up abortion clinics. I view the difference between these types and Al Qaeda or ISIS as being one of degree, not of kind.

  113. #115 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    Eric@114 – I have a limited sampling of people of most other religions to go by.

    I had an ‘adopted’ Jewish uncle who knew me from when I was born, and who I was in contact with very frequently until I moved to HK, after which I saw him only occasionally, but he was closer to me than any of my real uncles, and was a very significant older male influence in my life when I was growing up – he was of the kind who never mentioned his religion much at all, although he might mention in passing that he had been to the synagogue – in fact, I knew damn well that he never missed going there. In his attitude towards and treatment of other people, he was exemplary to the point of being outstanding. I got to know his circle of Jewish friends, and they were all the same way. There must be some bad Jews out there somewhere, but I never got personally acquainted with any of them well enough to know much about them. I’m told the sort of Ultra-Orthodox crowd can be pretty rough, but I was never exposed to any of them – but then, they are really pretty extreme.

    The palliative care doctor my father had when he was dying of cancer was an Iranian Muslim, and he was outstanding – not only a skilled doctor, but also very empathic. He knew why my father was refusing to take his morphine, despite being in serious pain – he knew that I understood my father – old soldier who was too proud to admit he couldn’t take the pain, plus he could feel that the morphine was killing him. So he took me aside and said “You need to tell your Dad to take it. He is going to need it increasingly from now on.” So I went in and told my Dad to take it, and he said “Well, if my son says I need to take it, I had better take it.” That was pretty insightful of the doctor, to know that my father would not take an instruction from him, but at that point would take an instruction from me because he trusted me.

    My family and I got pretty friendly with a family of Kurdish Muslims from northern Iraq when we were living in Perth – they were fine, nice people who never once mentioned religion. The only thing the guy ever said to me was that the tragedy of the Kurdish people was that they had no country that they could call their own. Both he and his wife were very good in their dealings with other people, but then they were refugees in a strange country, so you would expect them to be on good behaviour. But you could see that they were just nice, good hearted people. Through them I got to know another Kurdish Muslim, but he was a bad tempered, nasty piece of work – I decided to give him a wide berth, because I sensed he had huge resentment bubbling just under the surface, and it wouldn’t take much at all for him to lose his temper.

    I have known a few other Muslims, if I think hard enough – I knew one Pakistani Muslim who made a big show about it. He was a wealthy family and had been a spoiled rich kid, and it showed.

    I know some Chinese Buddhists, of course – they are all a pretty relaxed bunch, never mention religion to anyone, and generally speaking are pretty good about the way they treat other people. I think Asian Buddhists generally are inclined to keep it to themselves; it’s a private, personal thing. Westerners who convert to Buddhism can get pretty vocal about it, as some kind of virtue-signalling, from my experience.

    I have known a couple of Hindu couples/families pretty well. One couple I didn’t like at all, they were dishonest in their dealings with other people, and would make a show of being nice to your face, but stab you in the back first chance they got. The other Hindu family were just a nice, ordinary, friendly bunch who were fine in the dealings with other people.

    That’s about it that I can think of, at the moment.

    I agree on religious extremists – they can all get really nasty to the point of being indiscriminately murderous, and it doesn’t matter which religion they are extreme about.

    But then you get people like the Columbine killers – they were nihilists who hated the whole world and everyone in it, including themselves, and planned (and carefully documented) for several months what they wanted to do, which was to kill themselves but take as many other people with them as they could. I got the sense that they were not religious at all, i.e. they were not motivated by any kind of religious extremism. Nihilism can be just as dangerous as religious extremism – if nothing means anything, there is nothing to stop a person committing unspeakable acts.

  114. #116 John Massey
    August 8, 2017

    Damn, that was a bit too long. Sorry about that. Avoidance of verbosity was never one of my failings.

  115. #117 Eric Lund
    August 8, 2017

    Nihilism can be just as dangerous as religious extremism – if nothing means anything, there is nothing to stop a person committing unspeakable acts.

    I suspect this is the reason so many people expect atheists to behave less ethically than religious folk. Many people don’t fully understand the difference between atheism and nihilism, especially in cultures such as fundamentalist religious communities where the two are deliberately conflated.

    A big part of that is projection. Many loud-and-proud religious types are sufficiently self-aware that they think they would do hideous things if $DEITY were not watching them (and some of them do those things anyway, especially if they have convinced themselves it is $DEITY’s will), so they assume that somebody who is not explicitly guided by $DEITY will commit hideous acts.

  116. #118 Birger Johansson
    August 9, 2017

    Projection: The core of Republican ideology since ca 1980.

    If you go to YouTube and type “John Oliver – Steven Miller” you should get a fun three minutes.
    Also try “The Original Trump Haters” – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (about Scotland, what else? ).

  117. #119 Birger Johansson
    August 9, 2017

    Tau Ceti: Four Earth-sized planets detected orbiting the nearest sun-like star https://phys.org/news/2017-08-earth-sized-planets-orbiting-nearest-sun-like.html
    Two of them are super-Earths located in the habitable zone of the star,

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