August Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Getting your fridge filled with rusty Medieval nails isn't actually as hard as many people think. Just marry an archaeologist!
  • It's been decided that from now on the word is pronounced ever-yone or ever-yawn.
  • Jrette joined me and Lasse for tonight's sailing mini-race. She steered throughout the race, she enjoyed herself and we finished in the middle third as usual.
  • Cousin E admires Newton and Turing. I've lent him Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.
  • I run an academic job application web site through Google Translate. The gender box asks whether I am a human or a woman.
  • The stereotype of the sandal-clad balding dad is eerily similar to that of the woman in sensible shoes. Are they in fact a single category of desexualised middle-aged people who like to pair up with femmes?
  • I'm recruiting girly and also very shy musicians for a New Wave cover band: The Shrinking Violet Femmes. Gonna be quietly awesome!
  • I've never found a use for LinkedIn. It just gives me wildly unrealistic job suggestions and people's "endorsements".
  • Movie: Inside Out. Pixar girl's emotions take turns driving her, creating endless mixed metaphors. Some nicely surreal scenes. Grade: Pass.

More like this

After some instruction I've given Jrette & buddy free range with the little row/motorboat. They're having lots of fun, learning lots and are clearly pleased with themselves. Eider males swimming around in a little posse going "woo-OOO, woo-OOO". The villain in the endless Neal Stephenson novel…
Unpleasant discovery. I've known for a long time that looking at the age of people who get lectureships in Scandy archaeology, the third quartile is at 46. In other words, 75% of all the jobs are given to people aged 46 or less. But now I've looked at the contents of the fourth quartile. And it…
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…
Would it be cruel and unusual to wake Cousin E with a rousing rendition of the Brigands' Song from the Ronja movie? Went to the snow-covered golf course, sat down in the moon shadow of a spruce tree at the edge of the fairway, watched until I had seen three meteors, went home. Place-name scholar…

How's this for quietly awesome? Well, quiet, anyway:

The only purpose LinkedIn has ever served for me is for former colleagues I have lost contact with me to find me again. And messaging a friend when she is working behind the Great Firewall and has no other way of contacting me. People endorse me for all sorts of things without really knowing whether they should (which is irrelevant anyway), and the job suggestions are a bad joke. I already have the last formal job I intend to have (but famous last words...). But I doubt I will ever totally stop working. Why would I?

By John Massey (not verified) on 20 Aug 2016 #permalink

It could be worse - if you marry a keen fisherman, you could end up with your fridge filled with live maggots.

By John Massey (not verified) on 20 Aug 2016 #permalink

Cryptonomicon is brilliant.
I only found three things where the author had been sloppy: The US Navy satellite that mapped ocean depth used passive gravimetry instead of radar.
The submarine propulsion described in the last submarine was apparently a mixture of that of class XXI and of XVII.
The maximum range for Messerschmitt 262 -even with external tanks -was several hundred km too short for the flight described.
The rest is solid gold (yes, that was a pun on parts of the plot).

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 20 Aug 2016 #permalink

This is a big step for materials science, since it paves the way for new classes of advanced composites. Kudos to Germany and China.
"A new way to make synthetic mother-of-pearl"

Yet another factor that makes truly Earth-like planets likely to be rare (see "Fermi's paradox")
"A new Goldilocks for habitable planets"

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 20 Aug 2016 #permalink

#3: I was sad because all the gems in the treasure stash must have been ruined when the gold melted.

When I was a kid I read the memoirs of Adolf Galland, solely because he had piloted an Me 262.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Aug 2016 #permalink

Despite myself and my dislike of anything Disney, I watched the new release of The Jungle Book, and was surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Aug 2016 #permalink

I'm missing a sword. But my battle with my wife was very short and half-hearted on her part, so I should not remain swordless for a great deal longer - not unless the kung fu equipment shop doesn't have a good, well balanced one my size.

This is worth reading, together with the comments:

I think Razib has used the wrong word - 'mongrel' would be a more appropriate adjective for Europeans than 'bastard'. Or maybe both.

I particularly liked the comment by Davidski, which gets to the nub of the problem of people's view of the origins of Europeans being dictated by their ideology/politics:
"The impression I get is that the political right goes to ridiculous lengths to emphasize the genetic origins of Europeans within the current borders of Europe, our homogeneity, and, in particular, Northwest European racial purity. Their views have largely been discredited now thanks to population genomics and ancient DNA.

But at the same time, liberals, including it seems many scientists who are putting out papers on the topic, go to ridiculous lengths to emphasize that we’re all mixed, that there are no human races, or even anything of the sort, and Europeans are just recent migrants from Asia. They’re well on the way to discrediting themselves."

In other words, both left and right are discrediting themselves because they are ideologically driven, instead of objectively assessing the facts.

Concerning how much genetic continuity there was across the Last Glacial Maximum, that has turned out to be very difficult to determine, but on the evidence available now, it looks like maybe some, but not much. But those on the extreme right who wish to believe in full genetic continuity across the LGM, with no more than trivial admixture from 15,000ya onwards (which is obviously not what happened), will be dreadfully disappointed to find out what European hunter gatherers looked like, i.e. they were dark skinned. There is no doubt about that now. Pale skin was a relatively very recent thing in Europe. Curiously, among the British, it is still happening - they are becoming more pale with time.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 #permalink

Pale skin was a relatively very recent thing in Europe.

So is lactase persistence. There are presumably survival advantages to both, but while lactase persistence is a plus at any location where farming or herding is possible, pale skin is specifically an advantage at high latitudes--it enhances the ability to make vitamin D from natural sunlight. The tradeoff is that it increases vulnerability to sunburn, which makes it a disadvantage in the tropics and subtropics. It's also less of an advantage in societies where food scarcity is not an issue.

People who don't live in Europe often forget how far north it is. New York, Madrid, and Beijing are all at about the same latitude. Stockholm is at the same latitude as Churchill, the town known for being the place where polar bears congregate while waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over (it's near the mouth of a major river, so that part of the bay freezes first). The Gulf Stream makes western and northern Europe quite a bit warmer than it should be for its latitude.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 #permalink

But pale skin did not evolve in situ in Europe.

Whereas lactase persistence did. It also evolved independently in northern India and in north-west Africa, north of the tsetse fly belt where people could keep cattle.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 #permalink

To repeat, the hunter gatherers who were the sole inhabitants of Europe up until at least 8,000 years ago had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes. Europe was then progressively invaded by farmers from Anatolia, who had pale skin but dark eyes and hair. And then starting about 4,800 years ago, northern Europe was progressively invaded by steppe herders with Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) ancestry who had pale skin, but variegated hair and eye colours. Having invaded across northern Europe, they then spread southwards. So southern Europeans have some ANE ancestry, but less than northern Europeans. Sardinians, who are the closest proxy today for the Anatolian farmers, have only about 7% ANE ancestry. Sicilians have about 11%.

This explains the apparent relatedness between northern Europeans and Native Americans - Native Americans also have ANE ancestry. They appear to have derived from the mixing of ANE with some Chinese-like population.

So 'Europeans' started out dark skinned and stayed that way for a long time, but then became progressively more pale skinned with waves of migration, first from the Middle East, and then from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

So the pale skin/high latitude relationship is somewhat cryptic - it's not as straight forward as it seems. It did not evolve in situ in Europe, although at least in the case of the British, it seems to be continuing, mediated obviously now by migration of darker skinned people into Britain.

Also, the steppe herders who migrated into Europe were not lactase persistent. That is something that evolved in situ in Europe afterwards.

Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 3,100 to 3,200 years ago, was most closely related to the Anatolian farmers, he had pale skin, and he did not have lactase persistence.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 #permalink

Pale skin is caused by loss of function mutations on a few clearly identified genes. Once the function is lost, it can't be regained. So when the ancestors of Native Americans migrated south into Meso-America, they did not become more dark skinned again. The process of skin lightening is irreversible.

East Asians also evolved pale skin, but via different genetic pathways. So northern Chinese and Koreans look 'differently coloured' to Europeans, but they are equally as pale skinned as northern Europeans, when skin reflectance of light is measured. The different appearance is due to some small differences in the spectrum of the reflected light, plus the 'quality' of the skin, if I can put it like that. Although pale skinned, northern Chinese do not suffer from sunburn nearly as much as Europeans, and they suffer much less from skin cancer. They also may not show a tanning response on extended exposure to solar radiation. Some have freckles, but they are much more rare among northern Chinese than among north western Europeans.

My daughter is more pale skinned than either my northern Chinese wife or myself. But she has never suffered from sunburn a single time, even when she has spent a whole day out in the sun in sub-tropical Hong Kong. Whereas, as a child, I regularly suffered from sunburn quite badly in southern Australia. My daughter also shows very little tanning response on prolonged exposure to solar radiation. But she does develop freckles. Neither my wife nor I have freckles, but my father had red hair and freckles, and my norther Chinese mother-in-law had freckles. So I, and possibly also my wife, carry the alleles for freckling, but they were not expressed in us. But they were expressed in our daughter.

My daughter also has some red hair, mixed in amongst the black. It only shows when she is standing in direct sunlight, when her hair looks like it is shot through with strands of burnished copper. I do not have red hair, but if I grow my moustache or beard, it comes out red - looks weird, which is one reason I never grow a beard.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2016 #permalink

I like the way Davidski (it's his little joke - he's Polish and his name is David) the genetics blogger, has described Europe: "Basically, most of Europe is just a cul-de-sac that got overran repeatedly from the Balkans and the steppe. And this pattern stopped, or at least its impact stopped being important, when population densities in Europe became high enough to mitigate its genetic impact."

"Mongrel" seems like as good a descriptive word as any to me. It's not a word that would appeal to the 'net-Nazis', apparently of which there are a number, busily concocting origin myths for Europeans with which to convince their followers. I don't feel like looking them up.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2016 #permalink

I also like this. Someone asked Razib Khan to name his top three unsupportable theories (i.e. these theories are FALSE) (theories meaning theories in human genomics/origins), and Razib listed the following three (I have made corrections to his fast-output text, but retained the meaning):

1.That phylogeny and phenotype track closely. Just because you can’t tell the physical difference between two populations (e.g., Solomon Islanders and sub-Saharan Africans) they must be phylogenetically close. This is not the case. (i.e. This is FALSE. Sub-Saharan Africans and Melanesians are genetically relatively distant. Having had a fair amount of exposure to Melanesians in Australia, I have no difficulty at all distinguishing between them and sub-Saharan Africans, just by appearance.)

2. The physical types (i.e. of people) we see around us are ancient. (i.e. This is FALSE.) Many of them clearly are not. Change is continuing to this day.

3. That the history of the human race can be modeled as a series of unidirectional branching migrations out of Africa. That’s OK to a first approximation, but misleading in any fine-grained sense. (In other words, this is a not-wrong but grossly OVER-SIMPLIFIED representation of ancient human origins.)

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2016 #permalink

Eric - here's one you might like.…

Apparently, the prevalence of food allergies correlates with latitude, which is attributed to Vitamin D deficiency. Melbourne is not all that high latitude - not compared to Scandinavia or Canada. But it has more than its fair share of food cranks and people who worry about 'cleanliness', who might unwittingly be setting up their small children to develop food allergies.

Nina Jablonski was the first person to map skin tone to latitude, and suggest an association between pale skin and Vitamin D synthesis. (She worked in Hong Kong for quite a while, but I never came across her, unfortunately - just work in totally disparate fields and mix in different circles.) But she did that work before much was known about ancient population movements. As it happens, quite pale skinned people lived in north Africa for long periods of time, and they had the loss of function mutations that lead to pale skin while living in an environment that is not low in solar radiation. So what looks like a simple and obvious correlation on a world map, on closer inspection might not be that obvious.

I see that Jablonski is still working on the same hypothesis, but I haven't read anything she has published in a long time now. So I don't know if she is any closer to making what seems like a perfectly plausible theory into anything more than that.

The other thing is that people began to worry about dark skinned people living at high latitudes, like African Americans living in Canada and the northern states of the USA, having Vitamin D deficiency, with the attendant health concerns. But further research suggests that people with African ancestry might not need as high levels of Vitamin D as people with European ancestry, i.e. they might be adapted for it. I know Razib Khan, who is quite dark skinned, had a blood test that showed he had Vitamin D deficiency, so he started swallowing spoonsful of Cod Liver Oil. Rather him than me, I think it's noxious stuff. But that was when he was living in Oregon - he has since moved to California, and now to Texas, so I guess maybe he has stopped worrying about it.

Apparently there was an infamous episode in America where they got Whoopi Goldberg to make some public service TV announcements encouraging African American adults to drink milk fortified with Vitamin D, with the outcome that a whole lot of African Americans got violent diarrhoea because they were lactose intolerant, which didn't make her too popular.

There was the surprising finding in Australia that a high proportion of whites living in southern Australia who have Vitamin D deficiency. Southern Australia has lots of solar radiation, even in winter. People were attributing the finding to the government promotion of people using sunscreen to make them less susceptible to skin cancer. But again, I'm not convinced it's that simple.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2016 #permalink

The article you link also mentions the anticorrelation between germ exposure and development of allergies. That would also partially explain a correlation with latitude, because children in cooler climates are likely to spend less time playing outdoors in places where they would be exposed to soil microbes (i.e., when and where the ground is frozen or snow-covered). Allergies seem to be more common these days than they were a century ago, although some of that may be better diagnostics rather than improved sanitation.

The ability to tan is not necessarily correlated with ethnicity. My sister, who is even lighter skinned than I, gets sunburned but does not tan at all. I have observed that some east Asians, including some Chinese, can acquire tans.

Most commercially available milk in the US is fortified with vitamin D. Most people who lack the lactase persistence gene stop producing lactase in late childhood (exact timing varies according to several factors, one of which is exposure to lactose), so vitamin D deficiency in children is not an issue here even for those with very dark skin. Adults are another matter, of course. I can see how Razib Khan, who is from the subcontinent, might have trouble in Oregon--presumably he was in the Willamette Valley (which is where that state's university towns are), which generally has cloudy and rainy winters, so he probably wasn't getting much winter sun there. Summers are generally warm and dry, however, so there may have been more going on.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Aug 2016 #permalink

Observations about Chinese, even just restricted to the Han ethnic majority, are complicated because southern Han are actually northern Han hybridised to some extent with the Austronesian people who occupied southern China before successive waves of northern invaders. Southern Han tend to be somewhat darker skinned than northern Han because of this, and smaller in stature. By the time you get to the most southerly part of China, Hainan Island, where there is still a sizeable 'native' population of Austronesians, the 'local' Han are noticeably small and quite brown skinned.

Politically, it is unpopular to notice the genetic spread in Han from north to south, whereas it is OK to recognise the 55 ethnic minorities also living in China, some of whom are clearly genetically distinguishable from Han, and some who are genetically indistinguishable from Han but who have entrenched and very noticeable cultural differences. To my eyes, some just look like Han women wearing big, silly hats, whereas others like the Uygurs are clearly distinguishable. On a global PCA plot, my daughter plots with Uygurs (old mixed East Eurasian and West Eurasian population, versus very recent East-West mixture, but the age of mixing does not show up in principal component analysis). She can pass as a Uygur (and somewhat humorously has done so) and has been mistaken for Turkish by some Turkish people. In some of the other ethnic minorities, the visible differences are more subtle. The Hui, who are Muslims with ancient Persian (Sogdian) ancestry, are now virtually indistinguishable from Han.

But it's all relative - if you focus back from fine grained to coarse grained, the relative genetic differences among the ethnic groups in China become insignificant compared to the differences between, say, Chinese, Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans (and that ignores the fact that there is some very considerable population structure in Africa).

Yes, some Chinese, given enough sun exposure, will tan very deeply. Thai people, who originated in southern China, will tan almost black, given sufficient sun exposure. But then, I have to be careful there as well, because there are a number of different ethnicities living in Thailand who collectively make up the Thai people. Some of those hats are just plain silly, aren't they? It's almost like they are competing to see which ethnic minority can come up with the biggest, silliest hat.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

The Bounty mutineers made a fundamental error. The group that arrived at Pitcairn Island comprised 14 men (8 Europeans and 6 Polynesians), but only 12 Polynesian women - a recipe for disaster.

10 years after they had arrived at Pitcairn, only one adult male survived, a European. That was a fairly predictable outcome.

Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutineers, survived on Pitcairn for only 3 years and died at the age of 29, apparently murdered.

William Bligh, the captain they mutinied against, died when he was 61, after a reasonably successful career. It seems he was, in reality, not a cruel captain by the standards of the day; on the contrary, he seems to have been relatively compassionate. But he was evidently highly intelligent, in addition to being an excellent seaman and navigator, and did not suffer fools gladly. He made enemies of other men by insulting them. His career and longevity do not appear to have suffered because of it, however.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

China sets sights on new global export: nuclear energy
-But since the heat excangers in all nuclear reactors develop cracks over time, requiring expensive renovations, it would help if materials science caught up w ith a problem that has been around since the first reactor.
-Also, we need reactor types that can destroy the "transurans", the long-lived elements that are making waste storage such a problem.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

Birger@22: They are building nuclear power stations as fast as they can go, so they can phase out the old coal burning plants. Hong Kong is now ringed by nuclear power stations.

They are also relatively advanced in developing alternative energy. They were already using hydrothermal power as part of the supply to the main grid when I went there in 1996.

Good luck to them on 'exporting their nuclear skills' - many countries including the UK and Australia are wary of getting into bed with the Chinese over power supply because of concerns about 'national security'.

And they will never succeed in selling nuclear power to Australia - too many Australians are much too bitterly opposed to nuclear power. There are some valid reasons - if solar power can work anywhere, it should be in Australia, which gets more annual solar radiation than any other continent or large island. It also has more than ample space for wind farms, but there is already large and growing opposition to wind farms.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

Razib: "the typical phenotype of Northern Europeans probably really coalesced only around ~5,000 years ago." Which means that it only coalesced in southern Europeans more recently than that; hence Ötzi having no ANE ancestry 3,200-3,100 years ago.

I have seen speculation that the typical phenotype of northern Han might have really coalesced as recently as only 3,000 years ago. There are some notable prominent Chinese paleaoanthropologists who would absolutely hate a finding of anything like that. It's not an unreasonable fit with Chinese history/origin myth, though, with the beginning of the Xia Dynasty dating to about 2,700 years ago.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

Correction - about 4,700 years ago.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

many countries including the UK and Australia are wary of getting into bed with the Chinese over power supply because of concerns about ‘national security’

The US as well. Since the collapse of the USSR, the most frequent country to come up in US spy scandals is China. Some of it is well-founded fears, some of it is the natural result of China becoming the leading rival to the US in world affairs, and some of it is paranoia.

Nuclear power has done badly in the US, mostly because of its high cost as US nuclear plants are always custom designed and built. The waste disposal issue was also a political FUBAR: when the bill to select the site is colloquially known as the Screw Nevada Act, it should not be a surprise that residents of Nevada think they have been screwed.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

The Chinese are now finding they have exactly the same problem with finding a disposal site as every other country with nuclear power. Chinese people are no more inclined to want a radioactive waste repository anywhere near their back yard as anyone else. Currently the search for a site is "on hold" in China. I predict it is likely to stay that way for a very long time.

Changing topic, the British TV series "River" on Netflix is not bad. It's set in London, but the lead actor is Stellan Skarsgård. He does a pretty good but not perfect job of disguising his faint Swedish accent.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink


The comments on that thread I posted degenerated and went wildly off-topic, so Razib closed the comments in a fitting manner.

Unfortunately, many interesting threads on human evolution degenerate in a similar manner - all the crazies come out. And that's not counting all of the comments that Razib undoubtedly vetted and blocked. Occasionally he lets some of them through, just so sane people can see some of the garbage that he has to contend with.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2016 #permalink

Further correction - about 4070 years ago. Maybe. Or less.

I wish people would stop using 'B.C.' dates. I don't see the relevance when talking about ancient times. I don't see much relevance for even relatively recent dates, in most of the world. What is wrong with using Before Present?

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

Unlike AD 1, the present moves. It would be awful to have to say that "In 1966, scholars believed that the Battle of Hastings had taken place 900 years previously, which translates to 950 years ago as I write this".

Yes, I see that. But as a benchmark it's historically inaccurate (i.e. if there was an historical Jesus, he was not born in 1 AD, he was born a few years before, if descriptions of astronomical phenomena and Roman historical records of census-taking are anything to go by), and totally arbitrary for much of the world. It's just an anachronistic thing that we are stuck with, because Constantine decided it was a good idea to pretend he had become a Christian (he didn't).

Everything we now write is automatically time-stamped.

I keep getting tripped up by the Bronze Age too, because it happened over different time scales in different places, and in China it never actually stopped, it just got added to. I guess this is no problem when you are working at a local or regional scale, but when trying to get a global overview, it's really rather annoying.

I need a 4 dimensional map of the world, and I haven't got one.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

Never mind why Dennis the Short put the epoch in that particular year. We've been using it for 1500 years now and it's super useful.

This is about as close to what I need as I have found, so far. But it is deficient - it ignores the indigenous American civilisations, for one thing. OK, they were Neolithic in technology and had no domesticated animals large enough to pull carts, but advanced in other ways, as Birger was noting recently.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

had no domesticated animals large enough to pull carts

Andean cultures had the llama, which could pull a cart, and several peoples in the North American interior, e.g., the Lakota and the Shoshone, adopted horseback riding pretty much as soon as horses became available (they are not native to the Americas). It's mainly that neither the Andean cultures nor the North American First Peoples thought to put the wheel to practical use.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

The Andean cultures put wheels on toy carts for kids to play with. It's not a huge mental leap. They made much bigger mental leaps than that.

Martin told me that the Scandies had the wheel, before they would have got domesticated horses or oxen.

Anyway, my point is that the American civilisations should have been on there, and they're not. They don't show anything in the Americas before the arrival of the Spaniards, which is really selling the indigenous Americans short.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

What is wrong with using Before Present?

It doesn't much matter what the agreed upon reference point is, but as Martin says, there needs to be some reference point, so that scholars a few centuries from now, or even a few years from now, have no difficulty reconstructing the chronology.

The 1 AD benchmark was widely adopted in the West because it was convenient for them, and more transparent from the previous "in the Nth year of the rule of king X" dating that was commonly used before. For other applications, a different epoch may be more convenient, e.g., Unix systems use an epoch time of 1 January 1970 and count seconds (not including leap seconds) from the start of that day--negative timestamps do not occur (except as an error flag) because Unix was invented in the 1970s.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

Scandies did not have the wheel before the oxen, which arrived along with the rest of the neolithic package about 3950 cal BC. Horses were later though.

And then the steppe herders arrived with horses about 2800 cal BC. Am I getting this right?

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

If not in Scandinavia then, at least in northern Europe. And they did get to Scandinavia some time. The Y R1a haplogroup, which is at high frequency in Scandinavia, came from the Yamnaya. The Y R1b haplogroup also came from them, but occurs in higher frequency in western Europe.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

The Corded Ware Culture certainly reaches Sweden in the 2700s cal BC. As for the first horses, I don't know.

Corded Ware = R1a
Beaker = R1b

It looks like there is a good chance that the Corded Ware people arrived with horses, and spoke an Indo-European language.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

Birger@45 - The problem with that article/method lies in "regions threatened by earthquakes". Everyone knows where the tectonic plate boundaries and active faults are and where earthquakes occur frequently, but what can't be predicted are large intra-plate earthquakes that occur in areas that have been historically quiet. The Tangshan Earthquake was in that category. Many earthquakes large enough to be very damaging are in the same category.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 #permalink

Finished watching "River" on Netflix. Pretty good. Worth watching, I think - it had me absorbed.

I think it is not plot-spoiling too much to say that the back story is about a schizophrenic Swedish kid who moves from rural Sweden to London when he is 8 years old to live with his grandmother. The kid grows up to be a police detective, trying to manage his own mental illness without professional assistance.

I have been trying to decide whether they wrote the back story first and then chose a Swedish actor to play the lead, to fit the back story, or whether they chose Stellan Skarsgård to play the lead, and then wrote the back story to explain Skarsgård's very mild but detectable Swedish accent. I think probably the latter; otherwise, why Sweden, particularly? London is now notable for its high immigrant population, but not for migrant Swedes, particularly, I think. But it's hard to tell, because the story has a lot in it about migrants, and moving from one country to another.

My German (actually Prussian) great grandfather migrated to Australia when he was 9 years old, but reportedly spoke all of his life with a German accent and idiosyncratic speech (e.g. to describe "winking" he would say "I close mine (mein) eyes and look mit (with) one").

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

#47 - by Beaker I meant Bell Beaker, obviously.

My real job is regrettably intruding on my dabbling and distracting me. Unfortunately it is the real job that pays me, not the dabbling.

Wikipedia: "In terms of phenotypes, Wilde et al. (2014) and Haak et al. (2015) found that the intrusive Yamnaya population, generally inferred to be the first speakers of an Indo-European language in the Corded Ware culture zone, were overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. These studies also showed that light pigmentation traits had already existed in pre-Indo-European indigenous Europeans (in both farmers and hunter-gatherers), so long-standing philological attempts to correlate them with the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the steppes were misguided."

In fact, I have been misguided by these attempts, which I think derive from people inclined towards white supremacist ideologies, which have morphed into equating Indo-European speakers with 'superior white races', a sort of modern equivalent of the old Nazi 'Nordic' myth that has to be modified to accommodate findings from modern genomics.

It's deeply regrettable that it is necessary to try to discern someone's leanings in this direction before believing anything they write. I know for a certainty that Razib Khan has been considerably harrassed by white supremacists - I stumbled on some of their hate-filled diatribe seeking to deconstruct him. He does a commendable job of staying objective and not allowing himself to be fazed by this constant and deeply unpleasant undertone.

So, if European hunter gatherers started out dark skinned, it suggests that there is something in Nona Jablonski's/Eric's theory that paler skin was selected in people living at higher latitudes, and Vitamin D synthesis seems an obvious candidate.

No one has a really plausible theory to explain selection for lighter eyes and hair. One theory is based on sexual selection, but I am very skeptical that sexual selection played much of a part in modern human evolution. It seems to be the default explanation that people go to whenever there is no other apparent explanation, but I remain skeptical. In peacocks, for example, then yes, sexual selection is rather obvious.

But anatomically modern humans are by nature monogamous or serially monogamous, male humans are notoriously not particularly fussy about who they mate with, and most people succeed in obtaining a mate and having some offspring, so I don't see where sexual selection comes into it. There is no evidence to suggest, e.g., that blue eyed blonde women on average had more children than dark eyed, dark haired women. The mutation that gives rise to red hair has been identified, but no one knows why it should have been selected - possibly just randomness, but then why only in Europeans. And as the late well known palaeoanthropoligist Dean Martin put it: "Everybody loves somebody sometime." In other words, most people end up pairing up and producing offspring, and there is no evidence for preference for a particular trait that would lead to selection for that trait.

So the evolution of light hair and eyes remain a mystery, even if the 'Vitamin D synthesis' theory explains selection for paler skin. But then, the EDAR mutation that has gone to fixity (i.e. 100% of people have it) in East Asians is also a real mystery. It is known what some of the phenotypic effects are that this mutation has, from experimentation with mice; mice with the EDAR gene mutation developed coarse straight dark hair (i.e. 'typical' East Asian hair), smaller breasts in females, some rearrangement of the milk ducts and milk secretions, and rearrangement of sweat glands. But none of those things seems to be a likely candidate for strong selection, aside perhaps from those traits pertaining to the production of breast milk. The other traits are apparently meaningless 'side effects' of a genetic mutation that was strongly selected for some other reason, but no one knows what it is.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

Red hair, EDAR mutation: can't the prevalence of these be put down to the founder effect? Natural selection doesn't just preserve adaptive alleles, but also adaptively irrelevant alleles.

Red hair could be founder effect. There is no apparent selection for or against red hair; similarly blonde hair that persists into adulthood (lots of kids have blonde hair which turns darker when they become adults); similarly variegated coloured eyes (blue, green, hazel). With no selection for or against, their frequency is continuing to remain about the same. So that does suggest to me that they were just founder effects from founders who happened to have those mutations. So you get pops like the Scandies with relatively high % of blue eyed blondes, but still with the majority having dark hair, or the Scots and Irish, with relatively high frequency of red hair, but still at relatively minor proportions of the total populations.

But the EDAR mutation is something else; it has been so strongly selected for that it has gone to fixity in all East Asian populations. If it were a founder effect, we would expect to see the physical traits associated with it in some but not all East Asians. But they all have it, every single one of them.

Selection of lactase persistence in Europe was described by Razib Khan as "a hammer blow of selection", i.e. it happened very quickly relative to how long selection for a trait tends to happen, and so was very strongly selected for - it provided a much higher chance of survival and successful reproduction (by successful I mean kids surviving to adulthood and successfully reproducing themselves). But even amongst those populations that have the highest frequency of lactase persistence, it has not gone to fixity, i.e. not 100% of adults in those populations have it. Even among Europeans, it is only at a frequency of 80%; at lower frequencies in southern Europeans and higher frequencies in northern Europeans. From memory, it peaks at close to 100% in Dutch and Scandies, but the percentages are in the 90s, not 100%.

That means that the EDAR mutation was even more strongly selected for than lactase persistence, i.e. very strong selection. It was something so favourable to survival in China, which is where it is presumed it first arose, that literally all Chinese and their derivative Korean and Japanese populations have it. During the Pleistocene and Holocene China has always remained relatively humid, so I'm wondering if the difference in sweat glands has something to do with it. Chinese breast milk is different in composition to European breast milk (so much so that when my daughter was researching human breast milk, she had to turn down Chinese volunteer donors because they would have been a confounding factor in her research) - Chinese mothers produce a lesser volume of milk, but appear to make up for it with a greater proportion of colostrum and other goodies that are good for bubs. So I suspect breast milk might be a possible.

But what ever the trait was that was selected so strongly for, it was something powerful; possibly disease resistance while moving into a new environment with previously unencountered pathogens and parasites, but no one knows.

And it had to have happened relatively quickly. Another hammer blow.

It's a conundrum.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

Yeah, just checking numbers, Dutch have the highest lactase persistence at 99%, followed by Danes and Australian whites at 96%, Swedes at 93-95%, Brits at 85 to 95%, and so on down the list.

Wikipedia: "In some East African ethnic groups, lactase persistence has gone from negligible to near-ubiquitous frequencies in just 3000 years, suggesting a very strong selective pressure." So very strongly adaptive and happened very fast.

Well, it looks like the EDAR mutation was even more strongly adaptive, and happened even faster. If it was a founder effect, everyone in the founding group would need to have had it, and if it was neutral, you would see people who had lost it, just due to drift.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

Does Juniorette have lactase persistence? I guess you'll find out when she gets older. My daughter has it - she often enjoys a large glass of milk with no ill effects at all.

Despite the assurance I have been given by numerous people who are supposed to know better than I do that 100% of Chinese are lactose intolerant, even my wife occasionally enjoys a glass of milk with no obvious adverse effects, and eats her breakfast cereal with milk poured all over it. And there is no doubting my wife's ancestry - she is 100% East Asian (although it gets a bit more cryptic when you try to break down the East Asian into sub-groups).

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

Neither my wife nor Jrette has any problem with lactose, nor does my wife have the common East Asian problem with alcohol. Zhejiang is a coastal province and my father-in-law is from Shanghai, so there's probably a certain amount of genetic eclecticism involved.

Likewise, my wife has no problem processing alcohol. But it is widely acknowledged by those who should know that the inability to process alcohol is very variable among Chinese, even within the same family. My wife's older brother cannot handle alcohol at all. Her father can. One of her uncles gets seriously ill if forced to drink. One of her grandfathers (not really; just an older family relative) was in the habit of constantly chewing raw cloves of garlic and washing them down with neat Johnny Walker Scotch Whisky by the tumbler full, while playing Ma Jong, and he never appeared to be affected by the alcohol in the least. He died not so long ago at some ridiculously old age - way too old for a man who drank the way he did and chain smoked.

As for 'typical' East Asian facial traits that are very noticeable to Europeans, like 'single eyelids' and epicanthic folds that are regarded as 'typical East Asian facial traits', I am quite satisfied that they were founder effects. You see exactly the same traits among some African groups, noticeably the San (the so-called 'Bushmen'), and among Chinese they vary a lot. Not all Chinese have pronounced epicanthic folds, and not all Chinese have 'single eyelids' - and I mean without surgical intervention.

So all of the trumped up explanations about how these eyelid traits helped them to survive sandstorms in the Gobi Desert or whatever are 'just so' stories that are a load of bull. They are not adaptive traits at all, just founder effects inherited from African ancestors. Subjectively, pronounced epicanthic folds seem to me to be more prevalent in the north than the south, but it's just an impression.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

what can’t be predicted are large intra-plate earthquakes that occur in areas that have been historically quiet. The Tangshan Earthquake was in that category. Many earthquakes large enough to be very damaging are in the same category.

The biggest earthquake to have happened in North America since the US became an independent country happened not along the Pacific Rim, but at New Madrid in southeastern Missouri, along the Mississippi River. The effects of that one were felt in Boston, almost 2000 km away.

The Seattle and Portland regions were slow to recognize the local earthquake danger because the Cascadia subduction zone has not had a major earthquake since 1700, before the first Europeans visited the region. (We know the exact date of this earthquake from records of the tsunami it caused in Japan.) This despite the presence of several obvious volcanoes in the Cascade mountains, including Mt. Rainier (if that one ever erupts, it would take a big chunk of Seattle's southern suburbs with it). New buildings are built to withstand such an earthquake, but anything more than about 30 years old is potentially at risk, as is anything in the lowlands close to salt water due to possible tsunamis (the Olympic Peninsula will partially protect the Seattle region, but the Pacific coast would be toast).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

This link should work better. “Bible contradictions”

-when you hover over one of the linking arcs, it lights up and tells you in the upper right-hand corner of the screen which verses are being linked together. Click on an arc and it takes you directly to those verses as compiled in the Skeptics Annotated Bible.

That’s not all. The visual also shows you where in the Bible you’ll find the passages featuring Cruelty/Violence, Discrimination against Homosexuals, Scientific Absurdities/Historical Inaccuracies, or Misogyny/Violence/Discrimination against Women.

(For instance, check out the category "Misogyny/Violence/Discrimination against Women"
See the long bar on the far left side? That means the Book of Genesis has more anti-women verses than any other book in the Bible. And all those bars are clickable and lead you to the specific passages in the Skeptics Annotated Bible.)

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

Birger@61 - make them more ductile. Designing new buildings not to collapse in large earthquakes is not all that difficult, provided the building owners are prepared to pay for it, and accepting of the limitations it places on the architecture. It's a matter of cost/benefit, depending on the magnitude of risk. If the risk is the same as that of a meteorite impacting the earth that it is so large it would cause the end of human civilisation, normally taken as 1 in 10 to the power -8 per year, i.e. 1 in 100,000,000 per year, then risk experts say it is so low as to not be worth worrying about. So then it becomes a matter of what level of risk is tolerable. For individual risk (i.e. the risk that a particular person will be killed by a specific hazard) the normal yardstick is that anything below 1 in 100,000 per year is tolerable. Above that, it becomes a question of how much it costs to reduce the risk below that level and whether the cost is worth the reduction in risk, up to a point. If the individual risk is 1 in 1,000 per year or higher, it is regarded as 'not tolerable', regardless of the cost required to mitigate it. To do the cost/benefit calculation, it is necessary to put a financial value on a human life. The value normally adopted is about US$2 million.

How they arrive at a value for a human life is kind of interesting. They get groups of people, ordinary people from anywhere. Then they don't ask "How much is it worth spending to prevent you from being killed by this hazard?" because of course the person will say "Any amount. Me being killed is not tolerable." So they ask "How much is it worth spending to prevent that person over there from being killed by this hazard?" and, depending on the nature of the hazard, in modern developed countries, the answer usually comes back around the region of US$2 million.

But that is not how lawyers and law courts value human life in cases where people have been killed and their families are being awarded compensation. In those cases, they usually use lost earning potential, which results in a much lower figure. If the person killed was a child, the projected lost earning potential is calculated to be low, so normally the compensation awarded to a family for the death of a child is pretty small. Shockingly low, actually.

The much harder thing to do is to retrofit old buildings so that they can withstand a large earthquake without collapsing. That is really difficult. And to do it without altering the external appearance of the building, or damaging its 'heritage' value, is virtually impossible. That is really what we would be talking about in the case of old buildings collapsing in central Italy. People won't let you do that, they would prefer to live with the risk. Unless it has just been realised, of course, in which case they will say that it should have been done. People are always much wiser immediately after a tragic event than they were just before it occurred.

In a lot of cases, frankly, human venality is in play - people gamble by taking a chance that a low probability (but high consequence) event will not occur, so they will not invest financially in lowering the risk of the event occurring. Elected politicians are just as venal in this regard as anyone else, and possibly more so - they are gambling on the risk not being realised before the next election. I have my reasons for regarding all politicians with disgust. And lawyers.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2016 #permalink

To put it kind of bluntly, people in Christchurch knew they were living with high earthquake risk and that many buildings had not been designed for it, but they put their heads in the sand and just hoped it wouldn't happen, and then it did happen. And they know that the risk has not magically gone away, and that it will happen again some day, but they are rebuilding Christchurch where it is anyway, because it is too costly and painful to relocate the whole city to some less vulnerable location, and they console themselves by thinking that they can engineer away the problem by adopting better building codes and tightening up on enforcement. And they can, and it works for a while. But maintaining constant vigilance is difficult long-term.

People in Christchurch had got away with building some newer buildings that did not meet the relevant design code, and which collapsed during that earthquake, due to lax enforcement. It is one thing to come up with building codes, and a different thing to ensure that the codes are always met. It is a lesson that people have to keep learning in very painful ways, over and over. There will always be people who are willing to gamble on the risk not materialising while they are still around, particularly when it is other people's lives they are putting at risk and not their own.

Everyone knows that one day Lisbon in Portugal will be hit by another big damaging tsunami. Nothing is more certain. Everyone in Naples (Napoli) knows that they are living with the risk of a large volcanic eruption. They talk about it endlessly, grand evacuation plans for the city, etc., but they don't actually do much about it, because they don't feel that the risk is immediate enough to get really mobilised about it.

Most big cities everywhere are located where they will be directly adversely impacted by climate change/sea level rise, but there is very high inertia involved in getting government authorities to do anything about it, because they regard it as too distant into the future and therefore not their problem to worry about; and it is too costly to do anything immediate in any case, so the problem gets left to a future generation. The small Pacific island nations are worried sick about it, but they don't have much of a voice in the international forums (fora?) that count for anything. Most politicians are not technical people who have a real understanding of the potential problems, and they have no motivation to really get a grip on them. Once they get as far as hearing about "risk" and grasp that we are talking about something in the mid to long term future, they immediately lose interest.

A Norwegian friend of mine, a very good engineer, once told me the truth - the only time that people will give engineers the resources (i.e. money) they need to combat risks is in the immediate aftermath of a tragic event. By the time three years has passed, people have already stopped thinking and worrying about the event and have become complacent again. It's human nature - people want to know if something is 'dangerous' and therefore something needs to be done urgently, or 'safe' and they don't need to think and worry about it. Humans don't have an intuitive grasp for 'risk' and thinking in terms of statistical probabilities of hazards being realised, and they are not well equipped to think about and react to hazards that are at low probability of occurring but with potentially high consequence if/when they do occur. It's the old 'fight or flight' response thing - "Tell me something is dangerous, and I will prepare to fight or run like hell, but otherwise I will assume I am safe and not worry." People are not well equipped to live with the constant knowledge and awareness of risk - it is too stressful for them to cope with. Or they become like the folks living in the reconstructed Tangshan, and just drink themselves numb every day, to take away the constant stress reaction that would kill them if they didn't. They actually said that to me, when I commented on how much they drink: "So would you if you had to live here."

People have already rebuilt the part of Sumatra that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, despite the certainty that the event will be repeated about 600 or so years into the future. It is an interesting but intractable problem to even figure out systems for warning people living 600 years in the future that something really really bad is going to happen. The Japanese, with their long history of being impacted by tsunamis, have come up with some novel ways of maintaining community awareness of tsunami risk in different parts of Japan, but that did not prevent the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. All they needed to do in that case was to build the emergency generators at a higher elevation, a relatively low cost item, but they didn't do it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Aug 2016 #permalink

Birger@59 - when people start talking about stone tools, my eyes glaze over. I've tried to understand stone tool technology, but can't sustain interest long enough to ever get into it. I can appreciate the beauty of a well made Clovis spear point, but that's about it.

I will read and waffle about human genomics until the cows come home, but when people start talking about the Aurignacian or whatever, I'm out of there. I know I should persevere, but can't. I can get interested in metals, no problem. Different ways of making things out of lumps of rock? Nah. I could trip over a hand axe and see nothing but a lump of rock.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Aug 2016 #permalink

Movie report: the 2016 film "Tomorrow Already in Hong Kong." It's a reference to the international date line, so yes, the film is aimed at an American audience, and stars 1) an American male of European ancestry and 2) an American female of Chinese ancestry. They happen to be married to each other in real life, but that's a bit of trivia that no one really needs to know, except I guess it helps a bit with the on-screen chemistry. Or not. I don't care. The back and forth dialogue is trivial and unimportant. Culturally, they are a complete match, so the racial difference doesn't translate into any potentially interesting cultural differences - it's just two random Americans saying random American things to each other.

The back story is about a successful expatriate guy working in banking who chucks in his job to write a novel. Not credible. No one does that, not in HK. If you are making a good living in banking and have a burning desire to write a book, you do it in your spare time or while you are on holiday or something; you don't actually throw away a career in banking to write a book that no one will want to publish, and which will not earn you any real money even if you can find a publisher.

Equally unbelievable is that the woman is a designer of children's toys. No one does that in HK any more either.

Lightweight, instantly forgettable boy-meets-girl romance froth.

The only notable thing is that, if people want to know what some of the urban areas of Hong Kong look like, it has some good representative day time and night time shots. But you only see fairly close up within-urban-area stuff, so scenes teeming with mostly ordinary looking Chinese people everywhere, which is what urban HK is. You don't get any sense at all of Hong Kong's geographical setting, topography, or its large, steeply hilly and thickly vegetated green areas. And no sense at all of life on the water, which is very vibrant, Hong Kong being built on smallish near-shore islands plus a chunk of the Chinese mainland. One of the best/most enjoyable things you can do in HK is get on a boat and get to some of the outlying islands, where the pace of life is totally different. They didn't do any of that.

So, they missed a golden opportunity to show some of HK's really quite dramatic scenery. Maybe the budget just didn't allow for it, but it would have been a much better film visually if they had been able to manage a few wide angle shots, or some aerial shots or whatever. I guess the best thing I can say about the film is that it's short.

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

Films tend to be made on an assembly line, without much thougt to matters beyond "will this get the teenage audience separated from their money?"
The encouraging exceptions are few and far between.
-- -- --
"Swedish woman bumps into bear near pub"…
What did she expect? Since "bear" means "hairy gay man", pubs and bars.are their natural habitat.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 29 Aug 2016 #permalink

"The gender box asks whether I am a human or a woman."

A pretty obvious goof. In French, "homme" is both "man" and "human" and, my French French teacher tells me, there is no word which means just "human" in French.

I'm reminded of the lyric "Are we humans, or are we dancers". :-)

I knew a woman who, annoyed at forms which have a box for "sex" for no reason, said "I always put F for frequently".

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 29 Aug 2016 #permalink

#67 - I got the name wrong. It's "Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong." Whatever - don't watch it, unless you are mildly curious about seeing some of the urban areas of Hong Kong.

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

Since “bear” means “hairy gay man”, pubs and bars.are their natural habitat.

Depends on the kind of bear. You would not want to meet a grizzly bear or a polar bear at such close quarters. It's a valid reason for carrying a rifle in the back country of western and northern North America, and the reason why Svalbard is one of the few places in Europe where one is not only allowed but encouraged to carry firearms.

Lewis and Clark's party met a grizzly bear somewhere in the mountains of what is now Montana. It took them eight rifle shots (not counting misses) to kill the bear.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 29 Aug 2016 #permalink

Birger@68 - Films vary a lot. Some Chinese films are definitely worth watching, particularly those that are a product of the so called 'Greater China', i.e. they are collaborative efforts between the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There are some excellent Chinese directors, and the Mainland can supply vast panoramic outdoor sets, and casts of extras in the 10,000s. If you ever want to be depressed out of your mind, watch the Chinese film "Back to 1942". The excellent Mainland Chinese actress turned director Zhao Wei (aka Vicki Zhao) recently got herself into hot water by casting a vocal Taiwanese separatist as the male lead in one of her films - but it was a 'crowd reaction' type of hot water, not an official government type. Previously hugely popular with Mainland movie watchers, she had to recast the role to avoid being lynched, metaphorically speaking. Other Greater China collaborative efforts have been very well received - the sum total seems capable of producing much better films that each of the parts.

I was going to write a piece one day about my favourite Chinese films, but I never got around to it, and I haven't seen a really good one for a while now.

I'm fairly choosy about what I watch, and usually research a film before I watch it. That way, I estimate that about 10% of the films I watch are worth watching. But I obviously steer clear of those that are made to appeal to the American teenage market, with the exception of some of the Marvel films - I'm a real sucker for any film that has Scarlet Johansson playing the Black Widow, or anything with Robert Downey Jr in it, especially in roles like Sherlock Holmes or Ironman where he clearly has Asperger's. I have a soft spot for Downey Jr because he's so quirky and different from the usual 'hero' type. Even when he's playing someone relatively normal, he's still good to watch.

Eric@71 - there are not all that many things that could cause me to freeze in total paralysis out of sheer uncontrollable fear, but encountering a bear in the wild is definitely one of them.

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

The other American actor I will be willing to watch in anything is Forest Whitaker. He's just really good in anything he does. But you don't see him in much - I get the sense that he's really choosy about roles. Or maybe they just don't want to cast a dumpy not-handsome black man in many films, I dunno.

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

Sunday, intense winds at the edge of a thunderstorm drifing towards Scania resulted in rare "arcus" clouds, sinister-looking structures that appeared to be CGI from a horror film.
-- -- --
Famous Swedish hockey players died Monday, at 76.
And so did Gene Wilder, at 83.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 30 Aug 2016 #permalink

It's certainly crazy and Stalinist, but I gotta say, there are few faster and more humane ways to go than by point-blank Flugabwehrkanone.

On the one hand, reports of unconventional execution methods in North Korea have to be viewed with some skepticism. At least one such report--involving being torn to bits by a pack of dogs, IIRC--turned out to be a hoax.

OTOH, Kim Jong-Un has a tendency to be as cartoonishly evil as a Bond villain, and he apparently has used this execution method before. Apparently, falling asleep in Kim's presence can be a capital offense.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 30 Aug 2016 #permalink

#77 - When we were living in Perth, the rear wall of the house faced north, so it got all of the sun all of the time. Redback spiders always choose to build their webs somewhere sunny but with patches of shade (like on the mortar between the bricks of a brick wall) - they will build most of the web in the sun, where it is most likely to catch insects, then hide themselves in the shaded bit, ready to dash out when something touches the web.

Every morning, I would get up early, go out the back and kill the crop of redbacks that had set up shop on the rear wall during the night. I would kill at least half a dozen of them every.single.morning. My biggest morning haul was 12. Needless to say, the redback is not an endangered species - we had a plague of them.

When we sold the house to some newly arrived South Africans, I put a live redback in a screw-topped jar and kept it to show their kids, so that they would know what to watch out for (we also had plagues of numerous much more harmless species). The 12 year old girl reacted appropriately - she was very interested, so I handed her the jar - then when the redback, which she was presuming to be dead, suddenly darted menacingly toward where her fingers were holding the jar, she screamed blue murder.

When I was a little kid, we had an outdoor toilet made of corrugated galvanised steel sheets nailed to timber uprights, so the sun shone in through the corrugations, and...well, I'll leave that horror story to your imagination. Sitting there trying to have a crap when you are 4 years old and there are a dozen deadly venomous spiders sitting a few inches away from you, waiting for you to touch one of their webs, really teaches you to focus. Every so often, nagged by my mother, my father would go and de-spider the toilet, but he was fighting a losing battle. There are always more redbacks to replace any that get squished - they sail in on the wind attached to a strand of web.

I see now that we have succeeded in exporting the redback spider to Japan, where it is now giving fits of the horrors to lots of Japanese people. Aaar, it makes ya proud to be Australian, it does.

In Sydney, the local terror is the funnel web spider. People in Sydney have to keep their shoes tied inside old ladies' stockings (old stockings belonging to ladies, or stockings belonging to old ladies - both will work) - otherwise, a funnel web is likely to set up home in one of your shoes and bite you when you put the shoe on.

Life in Australia requires constant vigilance against the army of venomous creatures out to get you.

But at least they're not bears. Or North Korean Beloved Leaders.

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

I watched Captain America - Civil War. Ant Man puts in an appearance, so it might appeal to Jrette. I dunno. But he only gets a bit part. Spiderman gets more of a role.

To me, the appeal of Ironman 1 to 3, aside from Scarlett Johansson, who was absolutely drop dead gorgeous in Ironman 2 and reason enough by herself to watch that film, was the Tony Stark character played by Downey Jr, an impossible-to-live-with Aspergic who was a lone capitalist rebel doing his own thing outside of the System, borderline loony and therefore dangerous. The appeal of the original Captain America film was that most of it was set during WWII, so everything was gloriously steam-punk-ish, and he was of course the ultimate patriotic good guy hero fighting the ultimate Nazi evil.

In this latest in the Marvel-Avengers franchise, Stark is much less annoyingly Aspergic and rebellious (and therefore much less enjoyable) and is the one arguing that they should allow themselves to be controlled by the System, while Captain America, the erstwhile ultimate obedient patriot, is the one rebelling against being controlled - so, a total character reversal by both, and it just didn't work for me. The main characters were not recognisable as the people they were in previous films. And Scarlett is getting too middle aged looking to be a 5'3" woman in high heeled shoes beating up big muscular guys. Plus she's turning much too nice and cuddly. The whole point of the Black Widow character is that she is so untrustworthy, unpredictable, secretly venomous and nasty, physically adorable but very uncuddly.

Several of the standard Avengers crew, like Thor (and so no Loki either) and the Hulk are missing from this one, and Samuel Jackson doesn't put in his standard black-eye-patched-leadership appearance. Wouldn't fit the story line.

I think they've pushed the franchise one or two too far and they're running out of plots, and spoiling their own carefully crafted characters. But I read that there is another Avengers movie in the pipeline, so it seems they intend to push it at least one more further out, and likely further away from the things that had previously appealed to me. So I might give the next one a miss. Also the next Thor movie, which they are making partly in Brisbane (which they reportedly converted to make it look like New York - you really need an imagination to picture that).

You can go on milking a cash cow for only so long.

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

#84 - It's those f***ing Indo-Europeans who did it! If they had just left us European hunter-gatherers and Sardinian farmers alone, we would have been alright.

And they don't know that the Justinian Plague was the first great epidemic in Europe. That might have happened during the first migration of steppe herders into northern Europe. It could well explain how they managed to sweep so quickly right across northern Europe. If so, there should be skeletal evidence for it, if they look for it.

Changing topic, I usually don't have a lot of time for the hand-wringing of American bio-ethicists, but the liberal activist Alice Dreger is someone I have a lot of respect for. It is shocking to learn that these days, she usually needs to be protected by bodyguards whenever she speaks in public - and it's not right wing loonies and crackpots that she needs to be protected from.

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

In the steppes, the reservoir animal for Yersinia pestis is believed to be the marmot. It's not too hard to imagine it transferring to humans in that environment.

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

I was laughing, because one of the projects my company is working on is to transfer a major, unsightly and smelly sewage treatment plant from valuable surface river-front land into underground man-made caverns, so that the surface land can be redeveloped for housing and recreation - a very worthwhile project, and one strongly supported by the community.

But the company decided they needed a cute-looking mascot for this project, to get kids interested and informed in it, so someone drew a cartoon character wearing a safety helmet, which they called Mr Marmot. (Because marmots are burrowing animals that live in the Eurasion continent, see.)

Meanwhile, I was like "Erm...guys...marmots...plague...are you sure this is such a great choice for a mascot?"

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