February Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • I thought my pet was a meerkat, but it was in fact a mere cat.
  • Movie: Wild Tales. A collection of unconnected short wry films about revenge. Grade: pass.
  • Eagle-eyed Roger Wikell found something that looked like a duplicate entry in my database. A flanged axe found at Vappeby hamlet by someone named Winberg, and a flat axe found at Väppeby hamlet by someone named Vinberg. Turns out they are different axes found by different people, one at Vappeby in Torstuna parish and one at Väppeby in Kalmar parish. Phew!
  • Reading Stanislaw Lem's 1959 novel Eden. His big point is that aliens, their structures and their tech are incomprehensible. Sadly Lem makes it pretty clear that he doesn't know either what all the weird shit he describes is or does. Endless descriptions of stuff that might as well be abstract sculpture. Yawn.
  • My social anthropology thesis will deal with gendered behaviour among staff and customers at building supply stores.
  • Jrette faces a history test. Mom & Dad help her study. Both aced high school history. They're friends with both authors of Jrette's textbook. The celeb historian in the teaching videos shown to the class is a work acquaintance of Dad's. Class society perpetuated.
  • I have attended to the Rundkvist family's main outstanding administrative task. I went to the Sibyl's coffee/tea shop and consolidated our customer loyalty stamps. We now only have one stamp card instead of five. Peace.
  • Dear Anglophone scientists, stop prefacing your replies to interview questions with "so". It makes no sense.
  • Realised: the Russians' 1719 torching of the Swedish East Coast was politically analogous to the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Preparing to dredge sediments full of industrial contaminants from the bottom of the Valdemarsvik inlet, divers found a train car that had gone off the rails at the silo on the dock.
  • Watched a 5-y-o girl with Williams syndrome lovebomb strangers on the train. Very sweet. "Oh! I like YOU! Eeeeeeek! Your hair! Eeeeep!"
  • Poofreading: literary analysis from a queer perspective.
  • Laul & Valk's 2007 book Siksälä : a community at the frontiers : Iron age and medieval has a chapter on craniology and ethnic attribution. Errr...
  • Having broken a mirror, Reginald popped wood to counter bad luck.
  • Autocorrect informs me that the English equivalent of Sw. morgonrock, "dressing gown", is Mytholmroyd.
  • Loving your country is a 19th century notion. Love the world and humanity!
  • I sometimes wonder if I'm the father that gets briefly described at the start of a celebrity biography.
  • I want an edition of the writings on the paper stuffed inside the mummified monk.
  • Reading an article in the local paper about egg dishes I was impressed by the wording and factual accuracy regarding Chinese Thousand Year Eggs. In fact, the passage sounded strangely familiar. Turns out I wrote it on Wikipedia and the journalist copied it.
  • Jrette has picked up from the net that nail varnish dries faster if you dip your nails into cold water. Her wording: "It solidifies faster". This strikes me as a misunderstanding of how nail varnish dries. It's simply a question of the solvent evaporating, not of temperature. Add solvent a day later and the varnish becomes liquid again. The water shouldn't do anything at all. Or does the solvent diffuse into the water faster than it evaporates into the air?
  • "Kokomo" from 1988 had no input from Brian Wilson and is widely seen as the Beach Boys' least edgy, least innovative, least respected hit. Still it's the only one I can think of whose lyrics references drugs.
  • I like Google Inbox's new single-click "make this email invisible until after office hours" button.
  • Magpie making fluting lovey noises and messing around with an old nest.
  • Some website said that Melvyn Bragg would be discussing the history of Unix on In Our Time. Turns out it's actually eunuchs.
  • The Danish village name Møgeltønder doesn't mean "Mouldy Barrels" as it looks to a Swede. It means Mickle (i.e. big) Tønder, and refers to a nearby town that was once smaller. And Tønder is originally a common pan-Scandy stream name cognate with Eng. tinder and Sw. tindra, meaning "sparkling, glinting".
  • Movie: The Imitation Game. Alan Turing biopic. Grade: pass.

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To quote Bucky Katt from "Get Fuzzy":"What if you break somebody else's mirror? Will you or they get the bad luck? And what if you break Hitler's mirror? Would that be a good or bad thing?"
Koko by Peter Straub is a good thriller. Without drugs.
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"politically analogous to the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
As was Sherman's policy of burning down everything not a church.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 28 Feb 2015 #permalink

Some website said that Melvyn Bragg would be discussing the history of Unix on In Our Time. Turns out it’s actually eunuchs.

That homonym is notorious enough to have been the subject of a Dilbert comic strip in 1993. And the manual for a computer game I played in the late 1980s included the following footnote: "Eunuchs is not a trademark of Bell Laboratories."

In fact, the passage sounded strangely familiar. Turns out I wrote it on Wikipedia and the journalist copied it.

I had something like that happen to me once. I was asked to review a paper submitted to a certain journal by a group of authors from a provincial university in India which I had not previously heard of. About halfway through the introduction I encountered a series of paragraphs which, in my biased opinion, were very well written. I admit to bias here because those paragraphs were copied, verbatim, from a paper I published in the same journal a few years earlier.

Turns out they are different axes found by different people, one at Vappeby in Torstuna parish and one at Väppeby in Kalmar parish.

Duplicate place names are common in the US, because many places here are named after other places. All of the following are municipalities in New Hampshire (as well as places somewhere else): Albany, Alexandria, Antrim, Auburn, Bedford, Berlin, Canaan, Charlestown, Chatham, Chester, Concord, Conway, Danville, Derry, Dover, Dublin, Durham, Enfield, Epping, Epsom, Exeter. That's just the first five letters of the alphabet, and I don't claim that list is complete. And if you are planning a trip to Portland, check the airport code before you book, lest you end up in Oregon (PDX) instead of Maine (PWM, about 4000 km to the east), or vice versa. (The city in Oregon is named after the city in Maine: allegedly two people agreed to a coin toss for naming rights to the Oregon city, and the guy from Maine won. If the other guy, who was from Massachusetts, had won, the city would have been named Boston.)

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Feb 2015 #permalink

Starting answers with "so" is not nearly as irritating as the people who start every answer with "OK". (Like, OK, I've got this question covered, and then usually get the answer wrong.)

Believe me, if you have been irradiated, ordinary fire doesn't come close. And that's when the people irradiating you are trying save your life, not kill you. My daughter can never forget the real film footage from Hiroshima in which a guy vaporises on the spot. I don't know about political analogues, but the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were unprecedented in terror, and their victims are still dying from them today.

Is craniology no longer respected as a form of assessment? Highly inaccurate and potentially misleading, but now ridiculted? The people who first settled the Americas changed cranial shape some time after they filled the country - hence all of that deranged nonsense about Kennewick Man; his skull was not the same shape as modern Amerindians. Big deal, so what.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

Back 130 years ago when ethnic craniology was big, its methodology was ludicrously bad. Now its methodology is better, but it survives mainly as an Eastern European fringe concern. Because Auschwitz.

Curiously, Leonard Nimoy was one of my favourite actors even before Startrek started, and he struck me as the perfect, almost obvious choice for Dr Spock. He always had a somewhat other-worldly quality, even without the make-up. I guess he had enough Semitic genetic inheritance to make him look not quite 'one of us', or possibly even a bit of central Eurasian admixture.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

I got an adopted Polish Jewish uncle when I was a kid because Auschwitz. His head was kind of round-ish. He could fix a broken mechanical watch or clock like you wouldn't believe. Then someone invented the quartz movement run by a battery, and the world, totally wrongly, turned its back on mechanical movements in favour of the unsustainable alternative, just because it offered greater accuracy at a lower price.

People have no eye for beauty or quality. Or the obvious logic of a watch that never stops, just because you wear it and your body movements keep it wound up. If I ever have a grandson, he will be able to wear one of my watches, and it will not wear out in his lifetime. As my uncle would shrug and say: "Nudding special." But they are - he spent large parts of his life peering at them through a loupe, so to him they were just the trade he was trained in.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

Is craniology no longer respected as a form of assessment?

As Martin notes, it was associated with some of the most pernicious forms of racism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Northern Europeans, who had the biggest skulls on average of any ethnic group in the world, were alleged on this basis (among others) to be vastly superior to southern and eastern Europeans, to say nothing of the wretches in Africa or Asia, who had to have white (northern European) men come and run their affairs for them. In addition, craniology is closely related to the 19th century pseudoscience of phrenology. Learned men of the day would routinely infer capability or personality traits from the shape of a person's skull. Today we know that phrenology is utter hogwash, and that having a larger skull doesn't necessarily mean higher intelligence (Neanderthals had bigger skulls than modern humans, a fact discovered only after skull size was being routinely touted as evidence of northern Europeans' superiority). That's why craniology deserves a look askance when authors try to derive conclusions from it without supporting evidence from other lines of inquiry.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

Neanderthals on average had bigger cranial capacity than moderns, not just bigger skulls, and look what we did to them. But then, we have limited samples, even of them. I was surprised to learn recently that most Neanderthal fossils are of children. And too few were females to draw any firm conclusion about the source(s) of the severe bodily injuries they suffered during their lives - it is hypothesised that they went along with the men on big game hunts to make up the numbers, Neanderthals only ever living in small groups, but there are too few female fossils to draw any certain conclusions about that - the injury evidence (so called 'rodeo rider' type injuries) is apparent in too few female fossils.

Yes, I'm aware of the brain size vs r-a-c-e thing. Unfortunately, 19th Century anthropology, and even Charles Darwin himself, has blackened a lot of what would be perfectly valid lines of investigation today in the much more worthy pursuit of unravelling the tangled web of ancient human origins and migrations. You only have to look at the amazing array of human body parts from 'inferior r-a-c-e-s' scattered in museums throughout the world, these days mostly hidden in basement vaults and not even properly curated.

That is why hair is such a valuable source of DNA samples - hair samples, particularly willingly and happily donated by the owner, cannot legitimately be regarded as a human body part - we cut the stuff off and throw it way all the time.

I would be perfectly happy to donate a sample of hair to a museum, but I erm don't have any to donate.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

In fact, I was reminded recently of something I pointed out to Razib Khan when he was enquiring with me about whether I or any of my Aboriginal acquaintances would be willing to give a DNA sample (there is a yawning gap in knowledge of Australian Aboriginal genetics, for the usual political reasons) - Aboriginal people used their own hair as a material for making useful articles, like belts and string bags for carrying food in. Museums in Australia are full of such human hair objects, and surely sampling from them can be no offence to anyone - but likewise, the numerous objects I remember seeing very clearly as a child and young adult are now all hidden away in the museum vaults. The sample of human hair willingly donated by an Aboriginal man in the 1930s that was sampled and tested not so long ago did not come from any Australian museum, it came from London.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

I was again particularly taken by the potential usefulness of hair to provide DNA samples yesterday while watching a programme on the unravelling of the identity of the mysterious "Red Queen" of the Maya.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Mar 2015 #permalink

The genius if In Our Time is that its supposed scope, "the history of ideas", can be stretched to almost anything, and often has been. I can well imagine Bragg doing one on Unix.

The ones who were vaporised were lucky. So were the ones who were killed by the blast wave outright. Most died slowly from massive burns, or were trapped under debris as the firestorm swept over the ruins.
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Stanislaw Lem: Eden: he is also describing an authoritarian alien society, and had to be very cautious to avoid the Polish literature censorship of 1959. This, plus the early phase of his authorship makes the book less enjoyable.
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Place dangerous to bloggers:
US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31656222

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 02 Mar 2015 #permalink

Eric, was there not a British bloke who claimed that the shape of the ears indicated the personality...to the point of where you could anticipate criminal tendencies.
BTW, after his death the ear thingy was exposed as not being supported by his data (coughFraudcough).
I forgot the name, but he was influential in the shaping of the British school system during the 1940s or 1950s, in regard to the age at which test results would best indicate future talent.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 02 Mar 2015 #permalink

Birger, do you know of any 2D numerical models for modelling blast wave attenuation? Not a trick question - I need one.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

John @18: Try asking around the physics or civil engineering departments at your local university. There might be somebody there who knows somebody. Or surf over to Uncertain Principles (also on ScienceBlogs) and ask Chad Orzel that question.

I know people who run 2-D shock models, but the models are designed for rarefied media (collisional mean free path is long compared with other physical length scales), which is probably not what you have in mind.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Thanks Eric. If it was known locally, I would know about it. The US Department of Defence use only empirical equations, which I guess are just deduced from scattered observations, and I want something I can use to cross-check against those equations, because I know how dodgy empirical equations can be when there are too few data with a lot of scatter.

If the Americans had such a model, the DoD would be using them, and they are good in open-access publishing what they use.

In fact, for the civilian use of explosives for excavating underground space in rock, I would expect the Scandies and the South Africans to know as much as anyone, because they have done it more than anyone.

I am thinking we might have to write a numerical model for it ourselves. We have good numerical specialists, but it is not a problem that anyone has thought to throw at them before. I am always the trouble-maker asking the difficult questions.

I am simply looking at the simple case of an accidental detonation of a fairly small quantity of bulk civilian explosive at atmospheric pressure, and modelling the attenuation of the shock wave from that as it radiates away from the source, to see how far away someone needs to be so that the shock wave will not kill or seriously injure him.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

There has to be such models, considering how important it is for the military to plan shelters.
But remember that civilian explosives have slower gas velocities -a fact that may be relevant for lasting brain damage from IUDs being more common than expected for blasts with purely military high-velocity gas explosions.
So military models may not be exact matches for civilian explosives.
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Something for John Massey?
"Aboriginal legends an untapped record of natural history written in the stars" http://phys.org/news/2015-03-aboriginal-legends-untapped-natural-histor…
Dr Hamacher said his findings challenged the view that oral traditions only last a few generations. "Recorded Accounts of Meteoritic Events in the Oral Traditions of Indigenous Australians." arxiv.org/abs/1408.6368

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Hmm, companies must have tons of experience with civilian explosives (including creating algorithms) -universities working on the problems for mining and tunnel construction may even have professors dedicated to that single field.. But given the post- 9/11 suspicious culture, such information may not be available for the public.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

A Swedish Skeptics buddy of mine spent his grad school years at the Royal Institute of Technology blowing up a single block of granite little by little.

Or rather, the most sophisticated mathematical models may be kept under wraps. The simple case you are interested in should not be problematic in that way. Alas, we have no civil engineering here in the local university. Chalmers?

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Google is not helpful, on account of far too many hits. Mostly stuff like dust explosions or methane explosions in ines.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Birger, the problem is, it is only a problem when you are stuck for space. Mostly, you just store the stuff far enough away from where anyone will be, and it's not an issue. It only becomes an issue when that distance gets tight, and you need high certainty that it will be enough.

No no, I have very high IQ Chinese colleagues with PhD's from Oxford and Cambridge in engineering mathematics - I was just hoping to save them the time and effort of developing our own model. Like you say, it can't be that hard.

You are also right - it's not a subject that people are generally willing to discuss openly, due to the obvious security sensitivities.

No matter - we have Norwegian colleagues who might have a go at it if my local colleagues don't have time or inclination.

Yes, now and again that issue of the longevity of Aboriginal oral histories comes up. One that is frequently debated is the collective 'memory' of sea level events that happened, such as parts of the mainland being cut off by rising sea levels and becoming quite distant offshore islands - it is hard to know if it is a genuine oral history of the actual event, or someone just looking at it and imagining.

I tend to be in the 'long oral history' camp, because Aboriginal people spend lots and lots of time, generally at the end of the day when the sun is setting, sitting in groups singing, and getting the words exactly right counts as extremely important. Some of the stuff they sing is maps of parts of the terrain - someone said if you could put all of those songs together, you would have a complete map of Australia - not just topography, but other stuff that mattered for survival. Repetitive, but important.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

We know that oral traditions can persist for hundreds of years. The Inuit of Greenland remembered where the settlements of the Greenland Norse, who died out in the early 1400s, were. The next time white men came to Greenland, in the 18th century, their Inuit guides led them directly to the settlement sites. Proving that oral traditions can last for thousands of years is a bit harder. But the First Peoples of what is now the northwestern US had among their oral traditions stories which are believed to be retellings of the flooding in the Columbia River basin caused when the ice dam on glacial Lake Missoula gave way, something like 10 ka ago. So I find it plausible that Australian aboriginals would have some stories that were preserved for that long.

As for blast modeling, the US DoD would certainly have it, but the good stuff is almost certainly classified. And probably some of the computers that run the good codes aren't even connected to the internet, for obvious security reasons. The computer at Los Alamos that runs the hydrodynamic simulations of nuclear explosions is supposed to be one of the computers that you can only connect to if you are physically in the same room. But of course people who work in mining would have need for codes of this kind. Again, ask university types; any such code in private hands is almost certainly regarded as a trade secret.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

For anglophonistians: “Cute” originally meant “shrewd,” “keen,” or “clever.” Abbreviation of "acute".
The Daily Mash:
"Paris mass grave contains tourists who were unable to get served." A mass grave beneath Paris contains the bones of foreigners who starved while attempting to summon a waiter, it has emerged. http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/paris-mass-grave-conta…
Other news: “Sinkholes: Badgers’ revenge.”
“Prince George rejects Christianity. “
“Of course I smoke crack, says Boris.”

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

(OT) Skeptic alert: Is it likely that any politician would give up more than 97% of expected damages in a lawsuit without getting something under the table?
"The governor of New Jersey and presidential hopeful, Chris Christie, is in trouble again.
"A judge was poised to rule on damages, and New Jersey was seeking $8.9 billion – $2.6 billion to help restore the damaged areas and $6.3 billion in compensatory damages. The fact that Exxon was responsible was not even at issue anymore.
And then the Christie administration decides it’ll settle for $250 million, most of which the governor can now apply to his state budget shortfall – rather than, say, environmental recovery.
What I don’t get is this: if Christie gets to apply all but $50 million to the state budget shortfall (which he also created), why wouldn’t he support taking more money from Exxon? A judge was ready to take much more, but Christie’s office called and said, never mind, we’ve settled out of court.
Does anyone else think Christie and his cohorts may be getting some kind of under-the-table incentive to settle? Maybe we should check to see if Exxon contributed to Christie’s PAC."

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

Sorry Eric - that just got so far removed from the original problem as I tried to frame it, that I gave up. I know what people in construction and mining use, and I know what DoD publish to be used by the US armed forces for ammunition dumps.

Birger: you need to tell the Japanese about the meaning of 'cute'. Laughed myself helpless about the mass grave for tourists in Paris. I believe it.

Here's a French factoid for you: the French consume 2 litres of Pastis annually for every man, woman and child in France, making it one of the most popular drinks.

Another interesting factoid is that France was one of the last legal jurisdictions to lift the ban on Absinthe (the Green Fairy), which they did only in 2009. I spotted a bottle of Absinthe in the duty free shop in Perth Airport last time I was there which was 80% alcohol by volume, i.e. twice as strong as whisky, standard vodka, etc. That's going some, even for a green fairy.

Re: Christie, dunno, but it sounds plausible. Maddow is usually pretty intelligent/careful/thorough.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

I thought to mention the Pastis and Absinthe because in 2008 the French company Pernod Ricard bought out Absolut Vodka.

Is Absinthe legal in Sweden? The allegations of psychtropic effects that led to its original banning worldwide have largely been disproven - it's just what happens to people when they drink 80% alcohol, presumably not too long before they drop dead. There are some excellent 19th Century French paintings of Absinthe drinkers, all of whom look somewhat the worse for wear. And some very decorative paraphernalia, such as Absinthe spoons, glasses and water siphons - drinking Absinthe was a procedure. I don't know what people do now - just drop the sugar straight in and pour in the water, perform the proper procedure, or drink the stuff neat - if the latter, there's going to be a new crop of people looking the worse for wear.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

Hot tip - if you are interested in the latest developments in human origins and ancient migrations, follow Pontus Skoglund on Twitter - he's an absolute mine of useful information, and he really churns them out.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

Pastis is also the name of the guy who draws the cartoon "Pearls Before Pigs". I especially like the amoral Rat character. Even his "better nature" angel sits on his shoulder and goes "Lie! Cheat! Steal!"
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Skepticism twarthed. Sometimes obvious frauds are not frauds: "Baby Weasel Flying On A Woodpecker" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/03/baby-weasel-woodpecker-photo_n…
Actually a "lesser weasel", and it is trying to kill the woodpecker, but the bird escaped alive.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

Birger @39: The best-known example of what you are talking about is the explosion of Thera, in the Mediterranean Sea, sometime around 1600 BCE. At least one civilization, the Minoans, collapsed in the aftermath. So did the society which produced the Linear B script (I'm not sure if that was the same civilization).

The connection between the Maya collapse and this tsunami is less obvious. Most if not all of the classic Maya sites are well inland, including Chichén Itzá and Tikal. (I have visited the latter.) From what I understand, the collapse of the classic Maya civilization was brought about by a regional climate change leading to less precipitation, and consequent crop failure. Something like that may have had the same cause as the tsunami, but it would take a bit of work to prove the point.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

I discovered a tsunami that hit Fujian Province in the 18th Century, killing 100,000 people. The event was known, obviously, but no one realised it was a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Taiwan Strait.

The Japanese have long understood what tsunami are. The Chinese had excellent records and understanding of earthquakes, but no understanding of tsunami and what causes them - they confused them with storm surges.

The thing to know about tsunami generated by large earthquakes on the subduction zones of tectonic plate boundaries are cyclic over periods of hundreds of thousands of years, therefore they will recur, but they are predictable.

The challenge is: how do you warn populations living hundreds of years in the future of the destruction that will occur again and how to be prepared for it? It is not an easy problem, but it is an ethical one to solve.

It is a discomforting thing to know that Aceh has been rebuilt as if a devastating tsunami will never happen there again, whereas it certainly will, roughly 600 years from now.

Eric, tsunami have enormous kinetic energy, and will keep running inland until the kinetic energy is exhausted by high topography. I am not familiar with the topography of the Yucatan Peninsula, but it could be possible for tsunami waves to travel very far inland, as they did in Aceh.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

The challenge is: how do you warn populations living hundreds of years in the future of the destruction that will occur again and how to be prepared for it?

Supposedly there were signs along the east coast of Tohoku warning people not to build houses below that point, left by people who recalled a tsunami that hit the region some 1200 years ago. As land suitable for building is scarce in Japan (unlike Californians, the Japanese normally do not build houses on steep hillsides), these signs were ignored in many places. But they turned out to be quite accurate: the actual distance that the 2011 tsunami penetrated was quite close to the signs, and nobody who built inland of the signs had their house directly damaged by the tsunami.

Very few structures are intended to last 600 years, so rebuilding in a place where such an event is unlikely to recur over that time is a rational bet for people alive today, if you think sea levels won't rise much. I think the latter is going to be the bigger problem in the next 100 years. I expect that Miami, the city in which I grew up, will have to be abandoned, and it could well happen during my lifetime.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

It is no problem for the people living today. I am talking about how to retain the collective community memory, in order for people to be prepared far into the future. Rising sea levels just exacerbate the problem.

The Japanese have a lot of different ways of retaining this collective memory, because they have had more experience than anyone else, as suggested by the very name for the phenomenon being a Japanese word. As might be expected, some of the ways they have tried have been quite innovative, and there are useful things to learn from studying them.

For example, thick groves of trees help to dissipate the kinetic energy of tsunami waves. They also build monuments, and insert lessons permanently into the school curriculum. Children learn and retain the information better than adults, and the right age to aim for are the "tweeners" - the 10 and 11 year olds; children at that age are very "rule driven", they love to learn rules for things. It is notable that Tilly Smith was 10 years old when she got security guards to clear the beach in Phuket, saving as many as a hundred lives.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

I am not surprised. The Swedish civil service often give diplomat jobs to former politicians instead of to career diplomats, to the frustration of the actual diplomats.
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I am conflicted about this. It is like finding the original Spanish fortress of Cortez. Or the Beerhalle where Hitler laid his final plans for machubernahme.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

An omen of the end of the world? Sharknado # 3 will be filmed. And Ann Coulter will play the vice president.
I should dig up some new link to a discovery, but I feel punch-drunk.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Yes, he doesn't look, sound or behave like the diplomatic type.

He now wants to get back into the Foreign Correspondent's Club, but they are saying "He tore up his membership card, which indicates he no longer wanted to be a member" and they see no reason to agree to reverse his own decision.

People don't like punters abusing the staff, esp. big foreign punters abusing long-serving Chinese staff who are just trying to comply with the club rules they have been given - it's an historical sensitivity. I would say he has shot his bolt there, and it was front page news, so Sweden may as well withdraw him and send a proper diplomat to be Consul General, because he's now at and will remain at respect-zero here. Not Swedes in general, obviously, but him personally.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

I can sort of see why Islamic fundies would want to destroy pictures of people. But why would anyone put resources into bulldozing ruins? Ridiculous.

This is going to produce endless tiresome meta-archaeological writings about people's attitudes to ancient monuments. I can just hear the pantings of colleagues who call themselves archaeologists but are mainly interested in the present.

But why would anyone put resources into bulldozing ruins?

Because some of those ruins are presumably temples to gods other than Allah, and might tempt people to turn away from the True Faith. It would be a ridiculous thing to do if ISIS were secure in their faith. But in my experience with American Christianists, a fundamentalist's faith is often quite fragile, so they might not grok the notion that these gods, worshipped by people who lived several millennia before Mohammed, would not be worshipped today.

There are American Christianists who advocate murdering doctors who provide abortions (and a few who have done more than advocate), because under their interpretation of the Bible, abortion is an abomination. The difference between such people and ISIS is one of degree, not of kind.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Luckily, though the US armed forces are heavily pro-religion, they aren't controlled by batshit fundies like the ones in Syria and northern Iraq.

The pro-religion of US armed forces is more a form of social conformity. I think the same explains the big resurgence of Orthodox religion in Russia. Neither is the batshittery of real religious loonies.

When I was a kid, people attended church in Australia as a form of social conformity/networking/social cohesion, and there was a real divide between Catholicism on one side, and the Anglicans and Protestants on the other. Now that has all gone, and Australia is essentially a non-religious country aside from certain new migrant groups. The Prime MInister is a religious nutbag, but even his own party want him gone.

On the subject of dodgy craniometry, further evidence to support the contention that after people occupied the Americas, cranial and facial shapes changed due to external environmental factors/geography (this is not artificially induced skull shape changes as practised by some people like the Maya):


By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

BTW, although in ruins, Nimrud was still full of depictions of people and supernatural beings like half-human half-animal type folks, so a massive affront to any true believer and ripe for bulldozing.

There is plenty more to come.

I enjoyed the way the UN declared it a war crime. How useful of them. Do they mean kidnapping and beheading people on TV is not? Just more evidence to convince me that the UN is a sham and a massive and totally useless bureaucracy.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Martin, I think that the answer is to be found in strategy not theology. All the textbooks for terrorists tell them to commit spectacular outrages. In theory, this will bring them attention, make them look strong, and provoke the authorities into ineffective repression which will bring the terrorists more supporters and make the authorities look weaker. To the two-legged beasts in charge of an organization like that, prisoners, children, and archaeological sites are just resources to be used to get attention, money, or create the Perfect State under God's Law. As a möchtiger Assyriologist this makes me very angry, but I do not know what outsiders can do other than refusing to give this organization what it wants. As in other cases, its likely that some people are helping Iraqi scholars smuggle things out of the occupied areas or bury them, so that they can present the two-legged beasts with unshaved beards with a prized collection of mediocre pots and shiny forgeries to destroy. That can't protect fixed sites like Nimrud, but my only consolation is that there are so many sites in Syria and Iraq that even the most enthusiastic vandals and looters can't destroy them all.

Yes, although they do seem to encourage looting at unexcavated sites so they can sell the things they find. The Assyriological community may have some advice, but unfortunately limiting the damage is mostly up to Iraqis and Syrians now.

Readers with strong stomachs can follow the destruction of monuments via an American blog at https://gatesofnineveh.wordpress.com/ I wish that I knew of something else which outsiders could do to help.

”Luckily, though the US armed forces are heavily pro-religion, they aren’t controlled by batshit fundies like the ones in Syria and northern Iraq”

…although the fundies are trying hard, and have been partially successful in infiltrating the US military. This has triggered a backlash, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (founded by Michael Weinstein) is fighting back:
The vast majority of their clients are practicing Catholics and Protestants of mainline denominations who claim to be targeted by proselytizing evangelical superiors.
Weinstein’s friend Ed Brayton routinely publisher the crudest of the (usually anti-semitic) hate mail Weinstein gets on the blog Dispatches From The Culture Wars, a site I highly recommend. The hate mail is unintentionally hilarious.

Also by Ed Brayton:”The Department of Justice has hired a Muslim imam who called for Ayaan Hirsi Ali* to be put to death a few years ago. Fouad El Bayly, the leader of the Islamic Center of Johnston, Pennsylvania, was hired to teach prison inmates about Islam. Because that’s what we want is a bunch of ex-cons trained in reactionary Islam.”
(*Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali dared criticize Islam)

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 08 Mar 2015 #permalink

After WWII the French kept German POWs for years, having them repairing the infrastructure Wehrmacht had destroyed.
I can see a similar use for the ISIS POWs once their militia collapses (since they have deliberately pissed off all the major powers, this is only a matter of time. Unfortunately they will cause maximum destruction during that time)

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 08 Mar 2015 #permalink