January Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • People who got some very bad ideas drummed into them during the postmodern 1990s are now writing policies for Swedish schools.
  • New study of twins documents that indeed, pot smokers aren't as smart on average as other people. But most likely they become a) stupid and b) pot smokers because of their social environment. Pot smoking is a symptom, not a cause.
  • Of course my new pun "The posthuman always rings twice" turned out to have been already invented.
  • Fiction writer Michael Reaves gets AD and BC mixed up, claims that Akkadian was the lingua franca of the Arabian world until AD 700. Context shows that he really does mean post-Mohammed. *sigh*
  • The rule in Norway seems to be that every time I apply for a job, there needs to be one of my many buddies, one of my very few enemies and one person I've never heard of on the application review committee.
  • I just realised that my PhD supervisor never supervised one other grad student to thesis presentation. Figures.
  • The Chinese word for century eggs sounds a lot like Swedish for "the willie". My wife just told me she has a craving for century eggs. "I know honey, you always do."
  • Listening to Planet Money about tipping. I've said before that I find tipping pointless. Now I realise that it goes beyond that for me. I simply don't want table service, good or bad. I want to go get my own food at the counter. I don't like interacting with wait staff.
  • The other day Facebook suggested that I join an alcoholism rehab group. Now it's asking me for the Stockholm address of the Former Commie Party's youth section.
  • Me & YuSie went to a really kickass vocal concert in Fisksätra church. Seven members of the Synagogal Ensemble Berlin plus their cantor and their director, each singer being a pro-level soloist. And they performed 19-20th century religious classical music by Jewish composers, with lyrics in Hebrew or Yiddish. Not quite like anything I've heard before. Consciously blending the Western classical tradition with Oriental tonality. Good stuff!
  • Ken & Robin once pointed out that the rational way to deal with a haunted house is to burn it down, not explore it at night.
  • Reading about scientific publishing fraud where Chinese biomed researchers exploit the fact that journals allow them to select their own peer reviewers. In my opinion those journals are also to blame for providing a completely flawed process.
  • Sudden insight: the little knob at the end of the hook on a coat hanger is there to avoid the hook snagging on clothes.
  • Don't list several verbs and several objects in a sentence: "create, innovate and develop discourse, strategies and interpretations". It's ugly and unclear. Often the listed words are actually just synonyms, "create, innovate and develop", that is, pointless padding of your text. Gina Wisker, I'm looking at you.
  • What is Pekka Salonen's position with the European Space Agency? When I Google him I just find a lot of stuff about classical music.
  • A mythomaniacal surgeon in Stockholm performed an experimental procedure on five dying patients without prior animal trials. That's bad. But it gets worse. He didn't even have a permit for the animal trials he hadn't done.
  • Wife brought freeze-dried durian from China. Looks like insulation foam. Smells like cat pee. Tastes kind of OK if you like fermented herring.

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Not just Swedish schools. The one that really triggered my daughter's derision was "There is no right and wrong, only different levels of understanding."

Social environment never affected anyone's level of general intelligence. It might well affect their behaviour.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Jan 2016 #permalink

I have the impression that a considerable part of what IQ tests measure is acquired skills. And different social environments will make a person more or less good at such tests within the parameters set by their brain architecture.

You have that impression after reading the vast literature on it, including twin studies, testing of adopted kids, etc., or you just have that impression?

According to your theory, Korean kids adopted by American parents must have very different brain architecture from their adoptive parents.

And none of it is heritable? Smart parents can have dumb kids if they bring them up in the wrong social environment, and vice versa?

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

See the consistently rising IQ scores in e.g. the US over the 20th century. That's not genetics.

Correction - social environment could affect someone's intelligence if it means they suffer severe malnutrition for a prolonged period during childhood, which will cause developmental deficiency. Otherwise, general intelligence is highly heritable, and regresses to the mean - that means it is most likely your child will have an IQ somewhere between yours and your wife's. Not always, but mostly. My daughter was an exception; she turned out to be smarter than both me and my wife.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

#5 - Correct. That's called the Flynn effect, and it's due to better nutrition. It has stopped now in the modern developed world, where IQs have now levelled off. They are still going up in developing countries as childhood malnutrition is eliminated.

It could be one of the few things that is genuinely epigenetic; i.e. malnourished parents may have an adverse developmental influence on their kids. It might take a few generations to work through.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

Height is another one - the Dutch went from being short to very tall as the general population was lifted out of poverty and became better nourished, but it took several generations to work through.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

Height and intelligence are similar in that they are both highly polygenic, and highly heritable, hence me using height to compare to intelligence.

During the 18th Century, the tallest people in the world were the Plains Indians of North America. They lived on a diet very high in bison meat and fat - Europeans introducing the horse to North America was great for them, because they could hunt a lot more bison on horseback than they could on foot, and more safely.

Now the tallest people in the world are in northern Europe, and notably some regions of the former Yugoslavia. It's notable that the tallest people have a diet that is high in meat, and dairy products.

Now I'm digressing and going off on tangents. James Flynn himself didn't know what has caused the Flynn Effect - he guessed it might be due to living in a world of increasing information. But now that it has flattened off in a few of the most developed countries, while still happening in less developed countries as they develop, it looks a lot more like the elimination of childhood malnutrition - which is not just down to food supply, but also the elimination of childhood diarhorrea due to improved sanitation, which is what causes a lot of the malnutrition.

So in other words, if that is correct, people who have lived in America or northern Europe for several generations are now achieving their full genetic potential in general intelligence, and are not going to get any smarter, while people in, say, India and Africa should catch up somewhat.

Probably the best thing that India could do would be to make it mandatory for every household to have a modern toilet. Over a few generations, the investment would be paid for by a rise in mean IQ for the whole country.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

But politicians don't work on timescales of several generations, they only look as far ahead as the next election. So, India being a democratic country, it won't happen.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

#10 - Yes, but 50% of the households that do have roofs have no toilet. 50%. It's down basically to habit, culture and choice for those folks.

If those people were forced to add a toilet when they built a house, not only would childhood disease and malnutrition drop, but so would the rape statistics.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

There is a suspicion - just a suspicion, mind - that part of the spectacular height increase in the Dutch is down to the fact that they inject growth hormones into their livestock.

My wife wanted to know why French chickens are so much smaller than Dutch chickens, but taste better. She has never bought anything Dutch since I told her.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2016 #permalink

Netflix is now available in Hong Kong, but they said they are going to feature a lot of local and regional material.

That's what I figured. That's why I got a VPN. I have better things to do than watch endless Cantonese soap operas and Mainland TV shows. I dig a lot of the modern Chinese movies, but if they run true to form they will only make the trash available.

It remains to be seen whether they can shut me down - nothing has happened so far. At the moment, they think I'm somewhere in California.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Jan 2016 #permalink

At last I have found a film on Netflix that I think is worth watching - the 2013 film The Best Offer, starring Geoffrey Rush. It's not brilliant, but it is good, and Rush does his usual brilliant acting job. The critical response was mixed, with no one getting very excited about it, and I think that is about right. But it's an intriguing film and I found it enjoyable to watch. I have not found anything better on Netflix so far than this one. Verdict - definitely worth watching. And it's eye candy - the direction and cinematography are excellent, and the settings are all very interesting. There are much worse ways to spend two hours than watching this one.

While on the subject of Rush, he also did a brilliant job in the 2010 film The King's Speech, which is another film definitely worth watching, even for republicans and foreigners.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Jan 2016 #permalink

Damn, that was meant to be on the movie recommendations thread. Which looks like it's about to scroll down off the bottom of the page.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Jan 2016 #permalink

I read years ago about the Indonesian case. Apparently the same virus is quite common in rabbits and causes horn-like growths on them, but only a rare genetic defect allows the virus to infect humans.

Apparently, Boys With Long Hair Violate Rights of Conservatives http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2016/01/31/apparently-boys-with…
The thing with "we don't need to follow laws we do not approve of" sounds very, very conservative (giggle).
I assume short hair became the default in the 19th Century since it showed you could afford to go to a barber, thus making it a sign of status.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

#19 - They made an elementary error, apparently. But back migration from Eurasia to eastern Africa as far as Ethiopia is a no-brainer - the people even speak Semitic languages, and are much lighter skinned than the neighbouring Kenyans. People still think they look 'black' because their eyes are preferentially attuned to detecting fine differences at the more pale skinned end of the spectrum of human skin colours, but if you put an Oromo person next to a Kenyan highlander, the difference is stark.

#21 - I played the female lead in a school play once and got to wear a shoulder length wig. It was a nice feeling, and I regretted not being able to wear my hair like that all the time.

I felt somewhat more ambivalent about the padded bra and suspender belt. Stockings just itch - I don't know how women can put up with them. And stiletto heels - I had to practise walking in them for weeks, just to make sure I wouldn't sprain my ankle on stage.

But the hair, yeah - I deeply resented the fact that by the time I was in a position to grow my hair long (i.e. I was free), I had already started going bald. If not for that, I would have had shoulder length hair by choice, and would just have had to tie it up when working on site, just like female engineers do.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

#20 - It seems that short hair for men was a consequence of the Great War happening. Before that, it was fashionable to wear it somewhat longer. It was also used an excuse to mutilate the genitals of male babies in the Anglo world. Both were put down to 'hygiene'.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

It did happen, and the pictures should be on a ship sailing in my general direction at this very moment. When they arrive, I'll send you a scan and you can post it if you like.

We were very friendly with an Anglo-Indian family who were all rather tall, and one of the daughters was the same size as me when I was 16, so she lent me a lot of her clothes to wear, and shoes - she thought it was a spiffing wheeze. She balked at lending me her undergarments, though, so my mother had to buy those, which resulted in some very odd discussions with shop ladies.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

The truth was, her arse was a lot bigger than mine, and her underwear wouldn't have fitted me anyway.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

I enjoyed thinking myself into being a female to play the part - it was mind-expanding. You have to remember to change everything, mannerisms - women move in subtly different ways to men.

But after a few hours of it, I would get sick of it. But for those few hours, it was fun. And curiously, it made me feel very sympathetic toward women - like I walked a mile in their shoes, so to speak.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

What a non-sequitur. More logical would be "Nordic transgender film cheered. Of course reactionary religious nuts don't like it."

Cheered DESPITE Arab bans? That makes it sound like anything the Arabs don't like, we shouldn't like either. Sadly, there are people, often former sensible left-wing politicians, who actually think this way. Sic transit gloria mundi.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 05 Feb 2016 #permalink

Haha, what a silly way to phrase the issue. As if anyone in Scandinavia pays any attention to what the government of Qatar thinks about our movies. d-;

Historically, "Banned in $LOCATION" has been a selling point for many books and movies. Boston used to serve this purpose in the US, back when the blueblood descendants of Puritans were in charge. Today, other countries--most frequently China, but others play that role from time to time--serve that purpose. See also the Streisand Effect.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Feb 2016 #permalink

So finally we have the evidence for why Martin's grandma was one of the Master Race:


Quote: "an ancient northern Eurasian population contributed genetic material both to the ancestral population
of the Americas, and also to the ancestral population of northern Europe."

I don't know why the authors found that surprising - people have been talking about evidence for it for years now.

So...Happy Lunar New Year

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Feb 2016 #permalink

#38: the Fenno-Ugric languages probably arrived in northern Scandyland long after the initial peopling of the area. But the lithics and pottery styles suggest a steady influx from the East already from deglaciation onward.

But Birger, those criminals had more than 120 playing cards! They were playing bridge!!! We can't use poorer countries like Thailand as moral dumping grounds.

Maybe that's why I keep seeing geneticists shrugging Scandinavia off as "a special case". I don't know.

What do we know. We know that there were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Sweden - maybe two different 'types', let's say, for the sake of argument: those who exploited terrestrial resources and those who exploited marine resources. We also know that with deglaciation, there was a steady influx of farmers into the area as soon as it was suitable for farming.

Here is where Sweden might be a bit special and different - we know that hunter gatherers and farmers coexisted in Sweden for at least a couple of thousand years, apparently peacefully, and apparently without the farmers genetically swamping the hunter gatherers. But I don't know which type of HG, or maybe both. Maybe they coexisted peacefully because the HGs exploited marine resources which they could trade with the farmers, without the farmers taking over their hunting grounds. Maybe lots of Sweden remained unsuitable for farming - certainly it seems like farming in the north of the country would be hard.

Then in the late Bronze Age (European Late Bronze Age) people from northern Eurasia who were animal herders swept into Europe and there was large scale population replacement. The population replacement was more complete in the north than in the south of Europe, and they missed the Sardinians completely - the people in the mountainous inner areas of Sardinia were too resistant to being invaded. These people were ancestral both to Europeans (more so northern than southern Europeans) and to Native Americans via northeast Asia and Beringia.

These people brought Indo-European languages with them. And they hit northern Europe in a broad sweep, so probably hit Sweden pretty early in this mass migration. At that point, population replacement in Sweden might have been really heavy - these people had horses, which gave them a major military advantage.

Finno-Eugric is attributed a younger time depth - so they were later arrivals again than the Indo-European speakers. And maybe they filled niches that no one else wanted, like the cold northern areas.

Does that work? I mean, does that fit the mental pattern you have archaeology? Or is it completely dissonant?

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

I wonder why the magic number 120. A deck of cards has 52 cards plus two Jokers, so a total of 54. Which does not divide evenly into 120 at all.

Thailand is an on-again-off-again democracy. The army takes over when the corruption of the democratically elected government becomes too transparent.

The current king has been a stabilising force for the country. It remains to be seen what happens when he dies. His son is not an acceptable person to be made king. His eldest daughter seems like a very sensible person, but it is not known if Thais will accept a queen instead of a king.

Well, I guess this experience of the bridge club reinforces the advice that it pays to know the laws of the country you are in - the laws as they are, not as you personally judge that they should be. Being of foreign origin does not give a person any kind of exemption to the local laws.

Johnny Depp recently entered Australia illegally carrying two small dogs, and without putting them into quarantine. Australia has no rabies and intends to remain that way. Mr Depp was lucky his dogs were not taken away from him and killed. Being rich and famous gives no special exemption to laws that were put in place for reasons that are good reasons in that country.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

#44: Not only coastal/inland folks, but different folks from Denmark/Finland that got deglaciated before Sweden.

"with deglaciation, there was a steady influx of farmers into the area as soon as it was suitable for farming." No. Farmers arrived catastrophically in S Scandinavia about 3950 cal BC. Prior to that, the area's last Mesolithic culture had been in lively contact with Neolithic Germans for over 1000 years yet yet consciously avoided starting their own agriculture.

Coexistence: Sweden is too big and ecologically diverse to be usefully analysed as a unit on this issue. The last HGs in northernmost Sweden switched to reindeer transhumance only about AD 1000.

So, the steady influx of people from the east, as attested by the lithics and pottery - what peoples were they?

So I presume the arrival of farmers was catastrophic in the sense that it either displaced or replaced the HGs in southern Scandinavia, or simply swamped them genetically.

Not all Mesolithic people were marginalised or killed off by the invasion of Neolithic farmers, as attested to by my own mtDNA, which is known to have appeared in Europe during the Mesolithic - presumably post-glacial. It is now thought there was no genetic connection between the first anatomically modern humans (the Cro Magnons) to enter Europe, and the HGs who reoccupied Europe as it deglaciated.

It's not unknown for HGs to make pots - there is evidence for it in China.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

MInd you, my mtDNA could be Berber. I've been told I have a small fraction of North African ancestry, which I assume was acquired as part of a larger Iberian fraction, and it could have come from there. It's not Sami, wrong subgroup, but there's nothing to say it had to have originated in Europe, when it occurs at moderate frequency among the Berbers.

Meanwhile, on school policies, have a read of this:


The sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks was this one:
'Instead, course lecturers concentrate on teaching “learning theories, the role of technology, mathematics of indigenous cultures, learners’ attitudes towards mathematics and curriculum trends”.'

Mathematics of indigenous cultures? I'm reasonably well up to speed on Aboriginal culture, not so much Torres Strait Islanders but not totally ignorant. It's the first I've heard that either had anything resembling mathematics, aside from very simple counting. I'd love to see the curriculum.

Thank you, post-modernism. The country of my birth now does not have enough qualified mathematics teachers to be self-sustaining.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

People in Lapland may not have much in common with people in Scania, they may even have entered from the East, never passing the Southern regions.
It is darn hard to solve population movements if only a handful of skeletons have survived, and with little to connect them to material cultures.
-- -- --
Me want full-scale Giger creature replica! With the dorsal tentacles and everything.
"Meet the soft, cuddly robots of the future" http://www.nature.com/news/meet-the-soft-cuddly-robots-of-the-future-1…

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 08 Feb 2016 #permalink

#48, John -- we must constantly renegotiate the first five decimal digits of pi, to ensure their continued cultural validity!

we must constantly renegotiate the first five decimal digits of pi, to ensure their continued cultural validity!

The claim that one or more US state legislatures passed bills setting the value of π to exactly 3 (as specified in the Bible) is an urban legend. There was an attempt in 1897 to pass a bill in Indiana that would have set π to exactly 3.2. The bill passed the House of Representatives but died to much ridicule in the state Senate,

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Feb 2016 #permalink

And just when I thought the peopling of Europe was getting too complex to get my brain around, this comes out:


U5 - that's my great great great...great grandmother. The red dots. The maps blow up big if you click on them.

So it looks like sometime around 14,500 years ago, the red dot people staged a major takeover, and by 7,000 years ago had moved into southern Scandinavia, having survived a population bottleneck during the LGM in a south-eastern European refuge.

But U5 is now rare among Europeans, except the Sami, where it occurs at 50%. But I'm not descended from the Sami U5 because that's a different haplogroup sub-group. Not that anyone should give a damn who I'm descended from, but I find it kind of interesting.

This makes mathematics seem childishly simple.

Birger is right - it's like trying to connect dots when there are only a handful of dots spread over 10s of 1,000s of years.

By John Massey (not verified) on 09 Feb 2016 #permalink

TY for Synagogal Ensemble Berlin