October Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • The New Dawn rose I've been pampering has almost outgrown its trellis.
  • Movie: Kubo and the Two Strings. Oddly titled Japanese fantasy story with beautiful imagery and sappy moral. Grade: Pass.
  • The UK imports roughly the same amount of tea annually as the rest of Europe combined.
  • About the Trump campaign's response to the "just grab her" clip: me and my nerdy buddies never had those misogynistic locker-room conversations even during our lower teens. Ridiculous of him to claim "all men".
  • In 1980 a lot of penpal ads in my kids' mag listed Jimi Hendrix as an idol. Mom and Dad's music...
  • When I was young I wanted to be free of obligations. In middle age and after 18 years of fatherhood, I now instead wish there were more people who need me.
  • A debate in Swedish media about whether state museums should propagate government-approved ideology reminds me that I am an Alan Sokal Leftie. If you want to be able to change society you have to have an independent method to find out what society is actually like before and after your attempts at changes. This method is called science. And museums, unless they're art museums, should deal in solid scientific knowledge, not in Left or Right propaganda.
  • Having lived almost all my life outside Stockholm, I'm very familiar with evergreen woods, brackish inlets and ice-smoothened gneiss outcrops. I know very little of rivers, mountains and tides.
  • Selfie pro tip: when you take a picture of yourself in the mirror with your smartphone, look at the phone's camera in the mirror. Not at your image on the phone. Why do I even have to explain this?
  • I would have an opinion on Bob Dylan's latest prize if I thought the Swedish Academy's taste in literary matters was a big deal. And if I cared one way or the other about Bob Dylan.
  • They're releasing a boardgame named "Don't Mess With Cthulhu". This is so wrong. They're going to get the Obvious Understatement Of The Year award.
  • Spent most of the day copy-editing an interesting paper submitted to Fornvännen. Finished off by googling a saga character that the author mentions, and found that the whole thing has already been published before in another journal. *sigh*
  • Cousin E is convinced that I will make him sleep in the yard if he doesn't click "like" on all my Fb updates.
  • Me and Cousin E sent four adventurers into Dragon Castle. They all died.
  • I really prefer the FSM to FGM.
  • I once heard that recruiters look at where you sit down on an empty couch, as an indicator of your self-confidence. Since then I've been man-spreading dead centre on couches, faking it.
  • My 19 October talk about archaeology and religion in Jönköping is on YouTube (in Swedish).
  • Arlanda airport: a 1980s OKI Microline 182 dot matrix printer is still in use in gate 36.
  • I am on an ATR 72-600 aircraft.
  • Neither in Kirkwall nor Visby does the local curry place serve regional lamb. /-:

More like this

The New Dawn rose I've been pampering has almost outgrown its trellis. Movie: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Two film-making high school boys befriend a girl just as she is diagnosed with leukaemia. Grade: Pass With Distinction. Heard this ad for contact lenses offering prices that are "up to…
Leonard Cohen got from the used books store to the cake shop ahead of me. /-: Wish somebody would demolish all the modern houses on top of the ruins of Visborg Castle. The ruin of St. Olav's church in Visby is a protected ancient monument. It is being damaged by the ivy that covers it. Sadly the…
Nalin Pekgul: "Us Muslim immigrants used to invite Jehovah's Witnesses to practise our Swedish". Movie: Sweden, Heaven and Hell. Hilariously over the top Italian exploitation mockumentary about late-60s Sweden that manages to tell volumes about Italy instead. Narration similar to the closing voice-…
A nice interview with Jimi Hendrix's sister Janie on the Bravewords.com site. It's talking about the latest collection of unreleased Hendrix material to hit the stores, Valleys Of Neptune. Janie Hendrix: "He's probably laughing." BraveWords.com: Yeah, he must be laughing, going, "how can I be…

I attended an all male secondary school where I thought (at the time, and still now) many of the pupils had a really bad attitude towards females, but never, not once, did I hear locker-room talk of the kind Trump says all males engage in. Clearly, we don't.

But my daughter got really deeply pissed off with the culture of rape jokes that was prevalent at the first university she graduated from, even among those male students she had previously regarded as somewhat more enlightened in their attitudes and behaviour. Rape isn't funny. Ever. No, my schoolmates never told any of those either, nor did my fellow male students at university, so I'm assuming this is something that has crept into modern popular culture, possibly by way of hip-hop.

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

A lot of hip-hop lyrics are maximally incomprehensible to white middle-class men like myself, because we're taught that overt bragging, particularly about your material possessions and your sexual conquests, marks you as an utter idiot.

I tried to watch your 19 October talk, but it was hopeless - it was like you were speaking in a foreign language.

It is too much to hope, and too much to ask, that you might deliver this talk in English some time. But if you ever do, I am a certainty to watch it.

I do have to admire, though, the way that you can hold an audience for that length of time without the use of 'visual aids', and speaking freely with only occasional reference to notes. That is impressive.

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

Speaking of aircraft, I have had a lifelong love affair with the de Havilland Mosquito - two massive piston engines with a little wooden plane attached. Has anyone ever had another such ridiculous idea that was so fabulously successful?

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

I note some in the Swedish Academy are miffed that Bob Dylan has not responded in any way to his award. Well, what were they expecting? He clearly doesn't care - he never has, and he has always angrily rejected the notion that he was the 'voice of a generation' or 'conscience of a generation' or some kind of 'great poet'. He has maintained a career-long consistent position, from which he has never wavered, that he is just an entertainer - as he put it on one occasion "a song and dance man." He's also clearly barking mad.

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

Second after the Mosquito, I would have to name the Bristol Beaufighter, I think, which the Australian air force used with such devastating effect in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea to inflict devastating losses on the Japanese (with a bit of American help, it must be acknowledged).

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

You have a rare gift as a speaker.

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

In the 'no shit, Sherlock' category:


One day I really want to see a headline quoting 'researchers' saying "Well, actually, it's all a lot simpler than previously thought. We humans really have a way of complicating things with our dumb theories that are actually pretty simple."

The other headline I doubt I will ever see is "This is fully understood. No more research is needed."

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

Regarding the typhoon, on occasions like that, it might be useful to have a second home in that place in Southern Australia where they mine opals. Precipitation 120 mm/year, making the the ground consist of "silcrete" so people can live in bona fide man-made caves (dugouts).
-- -- -- --
It should not surprise anyone that the Air Ministry initially showed no interest in the Mosquito. they even tried to get De Havilland to add a gun turret, wich would have ruined the performance.
But the Mosquito was not easy to fly. And hard to bail out of. Still, infinitely safer than those lumbering unescorted bombers whose wrecks supplied Luftwaffe with aluminium for fighter production.
-- -- -- -- --
The Beaufighter used the wings of the older Beaufort torpedo bomber. The thick wing profile cut down the maximum speed quite a bit, but the Aircraft was versatile.

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

Post-glacial uplift will keep coastal Swedish towns safe when all the luxury beachfrot homes in California and Florida are engulfed. Serves them right for supporting climate denialists. Too bad about the people in the Sundarbans and other coastal third-world regions.
-- -- -- --
By the way, it was a British upper-class twit that supplied the Japanese with the intelligence they needed for their aircrft deveopment program. Churchill later protected him from legal consequences, since it would have been bad if people lost faith in their betters.

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

Marin, calm rivers (as the ones in the south) are nice. rapids, less so. As I grew up, one of the friends of my sister drowned a few hundred yards from our house .The river near Umeå takes lives because the turbulent, fast flowing current is stonger than any swimmer

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

Birger@10 - You refer to Coober Pedy, a curious name that ceases to seem so strange when you know the Aboriginal name that it derived from.

I could never live there - just too perishingly hot and dry. And too much of a gender imbalance - but then, I grew up in Western Australia, which has a similarly undesirable gender imbalance. On reflection, I showed uncharacteristic good sense in getting out of the place, although I subsequently made two abortive attempts to return there to live. For the life of me, I can't imagine why, now.

Besides, opals are bad luck. Never let anyone give you one. They're also overrated in their decorative appeal, in my opinion.

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

British upper class twits have a lot to answer for. Edward VIII was clearly a Nazi sympathiser. His younger brother proved to be of sterner stuff, once he had overcome his speech impediment (if you ever get the chance to watch it, The King's Speech is an outstandingly good film, and historically very accurate).

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

The other headline I doubt I will ever see is “This is fully understood. No more research is needed.”

In the 1890s people who were considering going into physics research were told that basic physics was completely understood, there were only a few details to be wrapped up. One of the students who was supposedly told this was Max Planck. One of the handful of details that still needed to be worked out was the radiation of black bodies. Planck solved that problem in 1901 by postulating that light came in discrete units he called quanta.

Planck's solution was mostly ignored until Albert Einstein pointed out in 1905 that Planck's quanta could also explain the photoelectric effect: metals will emit electrons when illuminated if and only if the wavelength of the light is less than or equal to a critical value which depends on the metal. That was the work the Nobel Committee cited in awarding Einstein the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

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

Birger@15: The Senate was established as a compromise 200 years ago to ensure that smaller states would have a voice. Pretty much the whole country was agrarian back then.

The bigger issue for now is the US House. Current consensus is that Clinton would have to win the popular vote by at least 8 percentage points for the Democrats to take over the House; if she wins by only 6 points, the Republicans would likely retain control of the House despite fewer votes. Your link describes how that is done: you pack as many of your political opponents as you can into as few districts as you can while giving your party majorities in as many districts as you can. This also happens on the state legislature level. Some states, such as North Carolina, are particularly egregious: it is possible for Republicans to retain a veto-proof majority in the state legislature with a minority of the vote.

The prototypical gerrymander is this state senate district created in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1812. The term combines the name of the then Governor, Elbridge Gerry, with salamander, an animal that some commentators compared the district with. The cartoon depicts municipal boundaries as they were at the time (some townships have since been split); it was then standard practice (and still is in New Hampshire) to draw political district boundaries along municipal boundaries.

Rotten boroughs as such do not currently exist in the US, although there were some in places like Florida in the 1950s. Some states were slow to adjust district boundaries to reflect changes in population distribution; at one point 18% of Florida's population could elect majorities in both houses of the state legislature, because the allocation of districts did not take into account the influx of population to the Miami area after World War II.

I also suspect that rotten boroughs continued to exist in the UK into the late 19th century; the character in HMS Pinafore who is in charge of Her Majesty's Navy brags of having been sent into Parliament by a "pocket borough", a district in which one person effectively decided who the MP was. A couple of years ago some businessmen in Missouri accidentally created a pocket borough by creating a special taxing district that they thought had no voters, when in fact there was exactly one voter in the district. Missouri law requires the voters, if there are any, to approve increases in local sales taxes--the merchants wanted a higher sales tax for some unspecified reason.

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

Serves them right for supporting climate denialists.

That might be a fair comment about the Florida state government, but California has been out in front of the rest of the US on this issue. Not that California doesn't have climate denialists, but those voters tend to live in counties that don't border the ocean.

At some point in the next hundred years I will likely have oceanfront property. I'll probably be dead by the time it happens, but that won't be good news for the heirs/purchasers of my house. My county also does not border the ocean, though we do have an inland bay.

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

"Having lived almost all my life outside Stockholm, I’m very familiar with evergreen woods, brackish inlets and ice-smoothened gneiss outcrops. I know very little of rivers, mountains and tides."

So, clearly, you would be familiar with rivers, mountains, and tides if you had lived inside Stockholm all your life. :-)

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 24 Oct 2016 #permalink

Eric@16 - I was definitely not thinking of Physics when I wrote that. To paraphrase something Stephen Hawking said "When we know everything, we will be God."

I was taking a potshot at psychologists and 'social scientists', who keep churning out papers containing results that are unrepeatable. Something like 80% of their papers are subsequently shown to be just plain wrong or their results cannot be repeated by researchers repeating the same experiments; and they inevitable summarise by concluding that "more research is needed."

I read somewhere in some Australian publication the other day that "one in four people are mentally ill." What utter crap. Talk about crap-talkers trying to create a paid niche for themselves. I have spent enough time inside psychiatric hospitals to know the ways in which genuinely mentally ill people behave. Those folks are crazy. The large majority of people are not mentally ill, at least not seriously disturbed enough to be classified as mentally ill; nowhere close. Being a bit neurotic or suffering from depression now and again don't qualify as being crazy; those conditions fall within the spectrum of the normal human condition.

If psychologists and social scientists are wrong and useless, which most of them are, why should they be paid for being wrong and useless?

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

Worse still, why should they be paid to be the Thought Police?

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

New report finds substantial racial, linguistic segregation among preschoolers http://phys.org/news/2016-10-substantial-racial-linguistic-segregation-…

Many black americans speak a bona fde pidgin language dating back to the slave years. There was a big debate some decade ago by cultural conservatives who wanted to sweep the issue under the carpet, but denial of this fact makes integration at school harder.
For instance, immigrant children from, say Finland will need tutoring in Swedish Before they can take full dvantage of a Swedish-language school, likewise people who have grown up with a pidgin variant will require extra tutoring in English.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 #permalink

Birger@23 - A lot of Aboriginal children in remote communities in northern Australia do not speak English. Brilliant idea! - it's OK, we'll teach them in their native language, and teach them English as a language subject.

Educational outcome - dismal failure, despite a lot of very well intentioned and motivated people trying very hard to make this work.

It's nonsense. Before she began attending kndergarten, my daughter spoke only English, because my wife insisted that she wanted our daughter to speak English with 'mother tongue' fluency. So then when she was 3.5 years old, we enrolled her in an otherwise 100% Chinese, Cantonese-speaking only kindergarten, and my wife then started speaking to her in Cantonese - in retrospect, it was a cruel thing to do to a small child, because her initial lack of understanding of Cantonese singled her out, and made her a target for racism *by the kindergarten teacher* (note - not by the other kids; not until the kindergarten teacher had taught the other kids that my daugher was different and 'not Chinese' - even then, her best pal outside of kindergarten refused to discriminate against her). But within 6 months she was speaking fluent Cantonese, and never mixed Cantonese with English, i.e. she never confused the two languages: when she spoke Cantonese, she spoke good Cantonese with no accent; when she spoke English she spoke good English with no accent.

OK, sample of one, but the exception disproves the rule. It's crap - language is not holding black children back from integrating at school if they start young enough.

What you will find, if you dig into it, is that a lot of racism is perpetrated against kids in kindergarten and primary school, and it is perpetrated *by the teachers*. It happens, a lot. I compared notes with Razib Khan, who confirmed to me that he faced discrimination in his early educational years for having brown skin, and it was perpetrated *by the teachers* - the other kids didn't discriminate until they learned to *from the teachers*.

It happens. It happens a lot.

At the age of 3 or 4, kids are little sponges - they soak up language like you wouldn't believe. They don't need extra tutoring, except maybe to ease their way in a bit easier than my daughter had to do. But what they really need are *teachers who do not treat them differently on the grounds of race*.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbour who was a Swedish guy married to an Australian woman. They had two young daughters, who spoke only English. At a certain point, they decided they were going to go and live in Sweden. Within two years, they were back, basically because the wife couldn't get to first base with learning Swedish and was suffering. But both of the kids came back to Australia speaking fluent Swedish, having never been tutored in the language.

If you think I feel strongly about this issue, you would be dead right. You need to be *very* careful about who it is who is teaching your kids when they are very young - very often, by the nature of the job, these teachers are not too bright, and they inflict their racist attitudes on the kids.

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

The reason why I am concerned is, in USA the authorities have typical paternalistic attitudes towards pople of colour, and would prefer to wipe out any distinguishing cultural im tems. In Sweden, children of Finn-speaking parents in the region near the Finn border were forbidden to speak their own language in school, even on recess, on pain of corporal punishment.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 #permalink

Should be cultural features, not cultural items.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 #permalink

Exoplanets: A rare opportunity for planet hunting in Alpha Centauri A predicted for 2028 http://phys.org/news/2016-10-rare-opportunity-planet-alpha-centauri.html
12 years is a short time when planning and launching space missions. I hope they launch space telescopes and send them out of the plane of the ecliptic so they can get the maximum information from the gravity microlensing as the line of sight sweeps through the solar system.
To get many "pixels" you need a line of telescopes situated orthogonal to the movement of the microlensing focus.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 #permalink

John@24: You're not alone in your observations. Here's a number from the movie South Pacific (1958), which is based on the Rogers and Hammerstein musical: You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

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

World's oldest giant panda in captivity dies in Hong :(

Drug target for triple-negative breast cancer found in new study :)

Earth-sized planets with abundant water statistically likely around red dwarfs (alas, "bottomless" oceans mean there is no dry land) http://phys.org/news/2016-10-earth-sized-planets-abundant-statistically… Hmmm…..set up a giant impact to splatter away the water, the way the material forming the moon was the ejected outer layer of the Earth?

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 #permalink

Birger@25 - There are reasons. Black male culture is anti-education. They speak Ebonics, which does not date back to the days of slavery, it is a recent invention as a deliberate part of creating their own black sub-culture - it did not exist in the 1950s, even in the areas where there was segregation. There is no problem with them wanting their own sub-culture as such, or at least I don't see one, but when it is underpinned by rejection of education and deliberate 'dumbing down' as part of being 'manly', it obviously becomes problematic, including being very problematic for themselves later in life.

Black women in America are substantially outperforming black men in terms of academic achievement, at least in part because of this self-destructive male sub-culture. As a consequence they are also outperforming the men in employment and many other ways.

I don't see any parallel here with Finns in Sweden. None at all. There are any number of African Americans with slave ancestors who speak General American as well as anyone. The 'pidgin' story is simply not credible. And this story is not about trying to ban school students from speaking to each other in Ebonics, it is about integration into the education system.

No one in America that I know of objects to Hispanic kids in school speaking to each other in Spanish in the playground.

This is yet another creation of social scientists/education 'experts'. Black male kids are perfectly capable of learning to speak General American English if they want to, but they don't want to. They choose to set themselves apart. The black female kids don't have a problem.

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

Birger@33 - Well, it *was* the world's oldest. It had to die some time. It had stopped eating, and was clearly suffering. Letting animals suffer is not a good thing.

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

Eric@32 - Yes, spot on.

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

When William the Conqueror died, he was so fat that they couldn't fit him into his coffin. When they tried to force his body in, it split.

He must have eaten more than his fair share of cake after Hastings, then. Because at Hastings he was a capable fighter and leader who led from the front and had no less than three horses killed from under him.

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

Maybe his horses died from being overloaded, I dunno.

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

Black male kids are perfectly capable of learning to speak General American English if they want to, but they don’t want to. They choose to set themselves apart. The black female kids don’t have a problem.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. It's true that some black male kids do learn to speak standard American English, and these kids often go on to do well in school and in careers. But they still face prejudice from white society. "Driving while black" is an issue in much of the US.

But more importantly, anti-education attitudes are not restricted to black males. You also see attitudes like that among rural whites: men more than women, although both genders are affected. The traps of poverty and drug addiction are affecting these people as badly, if not worse than, inner city predominantly black neighborhoods. There are de-industrialized mill towns in northern New England where I would be more afraid to walk alone at night than I would in most neighborhoods of Boston or Manhattan. And the drug of choice in rural New England is heroin, not meth, which is prevalent in many parts of the southern and western US and can be a great deal worse.

This divide is reflected in US politics. The split between Republicans and Democrats is mostly (there are a few prominent exceptions like Vermont) rural versus urban. Even within states that tend to be one way or the other, you see this divide: Washington State tends to vote for Democrats in statewide elections because the Puget Sound region, where most of the people live, tend to vote for Democrats, while the rest of the state, especially east of the Cascades, is moderately to strongly Republican. Meanwhile, Kentucky's big cities (Louisville and Lexington) aren't big enough to offset the rural vote, so the Democrats of the cities tend to lose statewide to rural Republicans. Most of the rural folks seem to want things to stay this way. The ones who don't end up moving to the cities.

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

Birger, think about what it is you are saying - that since the abolition of slavery, African Americans have not had enough intelligence to learn to speak American English. That idea would not only be outrageously racist, it simply isn't true. Even if they were, in effect, learning it as a second language, it would not be true.

It is true that on average that African American males continue to lag white American males somewhat on academic achievement, but not to a degree that would suggest they are idiots. Nowhere anywhere near that. And how come this 'pidgin' problem does not afflict African American females?

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

Maybe his horses died from being overloaded, I dunno.

There is a story told of President William Taft, who weighed in at about 160 kg. One of his ambassadors sent a cable inquiring about Taft's health. He replied that he was fine, and had been out horse riding. The ambassador responded: "How is the horse?"

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

Eric@39 - Of course they face prejudice from white society. My daughter faces prejudice from white society.

She also tends to face prejudice from Chinese society, until she opens her mouth - once fluent Chinese language comes out, they forget what she looks like, and Chinese culture takes over, so the prejudice evaporates.

She speaks English a damn sight better than most Australian whites, but that doesn't make them any less prejudiced against her - if anything, it makes them more prejudiced. She speaks English like Queen Elizabeth II, and with a much better working vocabulary than they have, and they really resent her for it. Upstart Chink - who does she think she is?

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

Eric@41 - LMBAO!!!

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

She speaks English like Queen Elizabeth II, and with a much better working vocabulary than they have, and they really resent her for it. Upstart Chink – who does she think she is?

Change a couple of details, and this would describe a big chunk of the political opposition to Barack Obama. There was a conspiracy theory, which should have been fringe but was kept prominent by certain media types, that Obama was born in Kenya. Obama was actually born in Hawaii, though his father was Kenyan. You can hear the Midwestern US accent in his speech--he got that from his mother, who grew up in Kansas. And he has a far better command of English than most Americans, even some who are highly educated. Needles to say, they call him uppity.

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

Many of the regulars here publish papers in journals, so this Tumblr might be of interest: Sh!t My Reviewers Say

A sampler:

The manuscript is too long for what the authors have to say. However, additional text is required as outlined below

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

#44 - There are even times when she speaks English like Queen Elizabeth I, but she tries to suppress those (not always successfully). I double up with laughter whenever she starts talking like someone from the 19th Century - blame the Brontë sisters for that.

She is the only person I know who has read the whole of the Analects of Confucius, in Chinese obviously, just so she can call bullshit on Chinese people who try to pretend to know more than they do about what they claim as their cultural heritage, while asserting that she can't possibly know as much as them because she is not 'real Chinese'. She also throws people by quoting verbatim from Chinese classical literature.

She had read the whole Bible (OT+NT) from beginning to end by the time she was 11, then managed to get herself in very deep shit in Religious Education class. Teacher: "Noah was a very good man." Daughter pipes up: "Noah's daughters got him drunk and then had sex with him. I don't think that's very good, do you?" Oops. Needless to say, she did not win praise from the teacher for Bible knowledge for that effort. No, she got punished for knowing too much. Making a display in front of the whole class that you know more than the teacher does is never really a good strategy.

Now she's learning French, German and Russian in her 'spare time', while engaged in very full and arduous post-grad programme. (Her logic was that she wanted to include one Romance language, one Germanic language and one Slavic language - seems reasonable.) So now I'm getting emails from her in Russian. Her recent reference to something being 'Potemkin' had me head-scratching, until I found out what 'Potemkin villages' were. Basically 'false fronts only for show'. It's a useful concept, once you know it.

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

You might get the impression from this that she is into Literature. No, she's definitely STEM - did a double major in Biochemistry and Genetics. Now she has fallen in love with Mathematics, which is definitely not a bad thing.

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

"not had enough intelligence to learn to speak American English"

NO!!! I am referring to the local, spoken language in "pockets" mostly inhabited by african-americans, where you find elewments from the old slave pidgin. They obviously speak "ordinary" English with the outside world, just as the "Amish" speak English -instead of plattdeutsh- with the outside world.

This variant also has elements borrowed from Northern England, because the earliest slaves worked side by side with "transported" English convicts (I forget the English world for temporarily unfree labor that must work off a debt).

The language remain because culture is resilient, just like many cajun who still speak french among themselves!
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

In an unsurprising development, a highly placed member of a particular church in Australia is under suspicion of being a sexual predator.

Iran rocked by abuse allegations against top Qur'an reciter https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/26/iran-abuse-allegations-qu…

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 26 Oct 2016 #permalink

While ebonics is a new development, the history of "mixed" populations is complex especially if they live in geograpcically distant areas like Appalachia. populations that settled early had both linguistic and genetic input from several sources.

Most african americans of course speak standard English among themselves. My concern is for populations -not just black ones- that are under pressure to conform until all traces of their distinct culural legacy (for instance, language) is wiped out.
For many "indians", their original language has already been lost (California has surprisingly many languages). Wealthier communities try to re-create their languages using recordings and written records.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 26 Oct 2016 #permalink

"It is true that on average that African American males continue to lag white American males somewhat on academic achievement"

I think the explanation is "stereotype threat", I forgot the exact description, it must be available at wikipedia.

Stereotype theat is also a factor for women academics. When you include this factor, the arguments in the racist nineties book "The Bell Curve" collapse.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 26 Oct 2016 #permalink

I am referring to the local, spoken language in “pockets” mostly inhabited by african-americans, where you find elewments from the old slave pidgin.

But that's limited to a specific geographic area, namely coastal South Carolina. You don't find it anywhere else. That's more akin to Swiss German: The Swiss generally know Hochdeutsch, and will speak in that language to non-Swiss German speakers, but among themselves they speak their own dialect, which is barely intelligible to someone from Frankfurt (arguably it is in the process of becoming a distinct language).

I haven't been to Singapore, but I hear that Singlish is a similar thing. Most of the locals know proper English, and use that language with foreigners, but among themselves they use a lingo which includes many words and expressions from various Chinese dialects or from Malayalam.

And the Gullah pidgin does not explain the relative lack of educational achievement among Black Americans compared to their peers. I haven't heard anybody complain about the ignorance of Swiss or Singaporeans.

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

Birger@52 - That makes it all the more curious that African American females are notably less vulnerable to 'stereotype threat' than African American males.

Birger@55 - Already posted and complained about as a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Eric@54 - For a period before my daughter was born, I fell into the habit of visiting a German bar which was conveniently situated on my route home from work. This bar served only German beers and schnapps, in particular a brand of German beer that takes 7 minutes to pour (an Australian or English beer drinker can die of thirst in 7 minutes, so this place was distinctly unpopular with the local Anglo community, who much preferred a nearby watering hole that served a variety of English bitters and Australian lagers), and consequently the patrons of the bar were almost wholly Germans, with a smattering of other German speakers like Austrians.

I have always felt a bit bad that, after all the effort I put into learning German and French at secondary school, I had very rarely if ever used them once I left school (I did in fact use German to translate a couple of technical papers, but these days most German authors publish in English to capture an international readership), so I hit on a plan that I would drop into this place every night on the way home from work, indulge in a German beer (I generally detest lagers and pilsners, but have a liking for German dark beers, and Apfelschnapps, which is truly delicious stuff, especially served ice cold) and use the opportunity to eavesdrop on some German conversations, and maybe even get to the point of using my German conversationally.

Imagine my dismay when I began to put my plan into action, only to find that I could understand barely a word of what all these people were speaking. It was a severe disappointment, and I concluded that my language learning at school had been just a massive waste of time. I had clearly not learned German the way it is spoken in Germany.

Then one night, a very well dressed and presentable guy breezed into the bar, addressing everyone in the bar in very friendly, loud, ringing tones, and I understood literally *every single word he said*. Revelation. After he had settled at the bar and had got himself a drink, I sidled up to him and said "Excuse me, but I am a bit excited to discover that I could understand every word you said just now, with my schoolboy German. All this time, I have not been able to understand all of these other people, but to me, your German speech is as clear as a bell."

He said "Ja, of course. Because they are all speaking German dialects. But I am from Hamelin, so I speak High German, which is the language you would have learned in school."

He and I became quite friendly after that, and I was able to use him for language practice. He was a very open and friendly guy, and well educated. But all of the other German people in the bar, including the barman, were useless to me - a generally open and friendly crowd who were perfectly happy to speak to me in English, but no use whatever for practising my language skills.

It was a sobering lesson for me. Coming from Australia, where virtually everyone not only speaks the same kind of English, but with largely the same accent, I had no way of knowing the reality of Europe, where people speak a bewildering variety of dialects of their parent language. Even in the Netherlands, which is not a large country and all dead flat, and has few geographical barriers to exogamy, people in different parts of the country speak different dialects.

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

Birger: Don't be surprised if the American President after next is Michelle Obama.

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

Re . @ 58, no, I won't be surprised. And she comes without the luggage of selling out to the financial industry.

BTW "Stereotype threat" hurts male black americans harder, as the cultural stereotypes in USA paint black males as potential "gangstas" (behold how american cops shoot first and ask questions later when a black male is involved. -Being shot for the crime of "walking while black" takes discrimination to its ultimate extreme).
-- -- ---
The damp, ice-cold part of autumn has arrived here. But the actual snow cover will not arrive for a month yet so the world is grey-black, except for six hours a day.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 27 Oct 2016 #permalink

#59 - It's a circular argument. Cops treat black males as potential gangstas because that's what they are. But I agree - I think the police procedures in America are ridiculous, but at least in part the way they are because of the availability of concealable hand guns. Having said that, it is worth noting that far more black males are shot by other black males than are shot by police, and in absolute numbers more white males are shot by police than black males are (but not at representative levels - i.e. a higher % of black males are shot by cops that the % of white males who are). If you are going to be outraged by something, it pays to have a bit of perspective and look objectively at all of the data, instead of doing ideologically guided selective reading and just cherry picking the way you are in order to support your own ideological ideas.

It starts early - a recent study of teachers in pre-schools found that they spent more time watching the black boys than the white boys, and disciplining them more severely than the white boys. But it was the reverse with the girls - they spent less time watching the black girls than the white girls, and tended to go easier on them.

But correlation does not imply causation. So, does this suggest that the teachers are prejudiced against the black boys because they expect them to behave more badly, or do they watch them more because the black boys do in fact behave more badly? If the latter, then it would imply that the black girls behave better than the white girls, which doesn't really make sense, on the face of it. So that suggests that the teachers are prejudiced *against* the black boys, but are sympathetic *towards* the black girls - maybe because being a black female in America really sucks, and the teachers know that.

So that suggests that young black males turn into gangstas because they learn from experience from when they are very young that the 'system' is against them.

It's hard to know, because people who do and publish such studies invariably have some ideological axe to grind. And the findings of such studies are notoriously unreproducible. Also, race politics, indeed identity politics in general, in America seem to have reached such a fever pitch that it is very difficult to establish anything reliably that has to do with (1) how people behave and why, and (2) whether they are unfairly treated or not. Social scientists feed on this like a school of piraña, and it would be better if they all went away and got real jobs.

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

What you do need to know, though, and not just label this as racism because it suits your ideology to label it as such, is that human behaviour is highly heritable. It is one possibility that at least needs to be entertained and examined further, that small black boys act up more than small white boys, and small black girls are actually better behaved than small white girls.

I am not saying that it is so. I am just saying that it is one of the possibilities that needs to be considered, if one is to be truly objective. If one is not truly objective, then one is by definition 'prejudiced' and just as bad as the people he accuses of prejudice.

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

John@57: The US is not quite as uniform as Australia in how English is spoken. We have definite regional variations, with the South and New England being particular outliers. But everyone is exposed to the Standard American accent and dialect from an early age, and there are only about five regional variants distinct enough to qualify as dialects. Contrast with England, a much smaller country in both area and population, and with much more centralized (the roles that Washington, New York, and Los Angeles play in the US are all combined in London for the UK). England has more than 50 regional dialects, and that doesn't include Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Professor Henry Higgins was only slightly exaggerating when he claimed he could place the origins of any Englishman within six miles just from hearing his accent.

A co-worker once went to a conference in Birmingham, England. One night she went out to dinner with a group of German colleagues. She had to get her colleagues to translate the waitress's accent for her, because she could not understand a West Midlands accent.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 Oct 2016 #permalink

Eric@62 - The puzzle about Australia is that vocabulary and pronunciation were all fairly similar (with a few minor variations) even before the days of commercial air travel and television. Australia was established by the union of a group of separately established colonies created at different times, separated by very large distances and, in some cases, impassable deserts. The Australian accent differs a lot from any English accent, including Cockney, which is very different. Initially at least, there was very little contact between the colonies - the contacts were between the individual colonies and Mother England.

Early settlers were made up of troopers and criminals largely from London, Irish political prisoners, and Scottish free settlers. And not all of the settlements were convict settlements. Adelaide in South Australia was a free settlement - it never received convicts.

Australia was created as a 'commonwealth' of the former separate colonies on independence in 1901, notably against the objection of Western Australia which did not want to join, and subsequently tried unsuccessfully to secede in the 1920s.

So how Australians all wound up sounding like each other is really a bit of a mystery.

Even more mysterious, they wound up sounding fairly similar to people from New Zealand, which was a whole different country separated by a substantial sea voyage, and never a penal colony.

But by the start of World War I, Australians and New Zealanders all sounded fairly similar to each other, and unlike anyone else.

It's a bit of a head-scratcher. No one has ever come up with a convincing explanation.

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

Eric@62 - I once had an engineer working as a member of my staff who was a Geordie from Newcastle. There was nothing wrong with his written work, but I literally never understood a word the man said. I used to dread catching the bus to work because he used to catch the same bus, catch sight of me, sit next to me and engage me in conversation all the way to work, absolutely none of which I understood, particularly with the engine noise from the bus. Asking him to repeat himself didn't help - I just got another stream of unintelligible mumbling. So I was reduced to nodding and mumbling noncommittally.

Whenever it came time to do his annual performance appraisal, I just used to mark him as Good, to avoid actually having to attempt to discuss his performance with him.

Then one day I bumped into him at the sports club we were both members of, and he yelled out a remark to me that I actually understood for once, and it was deeply personally insulting. I think he intended it to be a joke, but it was a direct insult.

So all those years, it's possible he had been insulting the shit out of me, and I never knew; I had just kept agreeing with him. Maybe it was just as well.

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

Some archæology at last.


Here's the important take-home message: "We have suggested, based on a variety of datasets, that modern humans were present in the Indian sub continent before the super-eruption, and that these populations survived this event."

They were referring, of course, to the massive eruption of Mt Toba c. 74,000 years ago that covered the whole of the Indian sub-continent in a layer of volcanic ash.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Oct 2016 #permalink

-So humans can give roaches a run for their money. I wonder how they managed to find drinkable water, with a deep ash layer all over.
-- -- -- --
Re. dialects n Britain; even if reious languages hve gon extinct, traces of them may remain in intonation and other details. Nearly all scots speak English, but with a reconisable scottish flavor. The Swedish spoken by the Swedish minority in Finland has some qualities in common with the finn language. And even if all people in India end up speaking e nglish, it will be a very Indian version of English.

-- -- -- --
Why vikings buried their dead under mounds http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/gunnar-is-dead
"Gunnar is dead"

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 28 Oct 2016 #permalink

As it is, they seem to be making this assessment based only on continuity of material culture across the Toba event.

If they could also find genetic continuity across the event, that should just about seal it, as hard as it is to imagine the pre-Toba population surviving through it; they would not only need drinkable water, they would need food sources. Plants could not have survived the event, which means animals also could not survive the event (except for marine resources, of course).

I'm feeling a bit skeptical.

Another possibility seems to be that the pre-Toba population was wiped out, but that after the event, long enough for the ash to weather and become fertile again, and become repopulated with fauna, another population moved rapidly in to occupy the empty sub-continent who had the same or very similar material culture.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Oct 2016 #permalink

long enough for the ash to weather and become fertile again

I can't speak about Toba, but in the case of Mount Saint Helens it didn't take very long. I visited that mountain about 30 years after the eruption. By then vegetation through most of the Toutle River valley had fully recovered, and recovery was in progress on the west side of the mountain itself. That's still long enough to create problems for the animal population in the immediate vicinity, but it could easily be repopulated from a surviving population far enough away.

Toba's case is a bit more complicated because it was a big enough eruption to produce temporary global cooling. Precipitation could also be a factor--the side of Mt. St. Helens I saw is the windward side, which is much wetter than the leeward side (in Washington state one can travel from rainforest to desert in the space of about 300 km as the crow flies). Any population that was too close would have been wiped out--based on estimates I have seen for what would happen if Yellowstone erupted, humans would need to be at least 1000-2000 km away to have a reasonable chance of survival. But the area could have been repopulated within a century or two, which is probably within the error bars on any dating technique.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Oct 2016 #permalink


I still feel skeptical about continuity in southern India. How do you survive a 6m thick ash fall that covers literally everything? Shelter in caves - fine, most caves are wet, but where does the food come from?

It doesn't help that no human remains have ever been found at Jwalapuram, from either before or after the event.

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

"But the area could have been repopulated within a century or two" - yes, that's what I'm thinking. It seems to me, on the face of it (and I note here that I am definitely not knowledgeable on this subject) that MSA technology was likely to be associated with all modern humans who had migrated out of Africa around that time, so repopulation by a group who had the same technology surely can't be out of the question. Maybe I'm missing something, but the continuity of stone tool technology alone doesn't seem to be sufficient proof that humans survived the Toba ash fall in southern India, when it is hard to imagine how they could have survived it. The ash layer is there for anyone to see, so that's not open to question.

"at one site in central India, the Toba ash layer today is up to 6 m (20 ft) thick and parts of Malaysia were covered with 9 m (30 ft) of ash fall." You don't survive that. I don't see how.

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

Oh yes, *that* Alan Sokal. Sorry, asleep at the wheel here. Thoroughly good chap, in my not noticeably humble opinion.

I want someone to tell me how to pronounce Csikszentmihalyi. Not that I think he's probably worth much. Although I agree with his idea about the state of flow, but anyone who has played tennis and experienced being 'in the zone' knows what this feels like - it's when you make 'Self 1' shut up and let 'Self 2' take over (one of the best short reads on this subject is "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey, which contains virtually nothing about how to hit a tennis ball, and is all about drilling strokes until they are 'grooved' and then letting go, disengaging your self-aware conscious mind and trusting your subconscious mind and central nervous system to take over and do what they know how to do without needing to be told - the same way you do when you drive a car or ride a bicycle, without consciously thinking about it. It's a very slim little volume and well worth a read, even for someone who is not interested in tennis - it applies to pretty much any activity.)

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

Went to the local "Alien" film marathon (Alien + Aliens) organised on account of the 30th anniversary of the second film.
It was fun meeting SF enthusiasts with wildly varying ages and backgrounds. Also, It is a strange feeling to be up until only a handful of people remain in the city center

And when speaking of film: Bond villains?
"House Republicans Already Have a Plan to Make Hillary Clinton’s Presidency a Living Hell" The triumph of tribalism and entrenched interest groups over long-term survival. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/republicans-have-a-plan-to…

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 30 Oct 2016 #permalink

Birger@76 - It has been known for a long time that some Aboriginal groups made alcohol, but it was very weak and in very small quantities. How adapted Aboriginal people are to alcohol can be judged from how well they handle it now (i.e. very badly). (But then, a whole lot of white Australians handle alcohol very badly too, it just takes more of it - plus a drunken Abo gets noticed; a white drunk being loud, aggressive and objectionable is just regarded as a 'normal social drinker' in Oz.) Survival hint - you don't want to be anywhere near an Aboriginal person when drunk, male or female.

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


A religion that requires its priests to be unmarried and celibate has to be suspect. The 1970s and 1980s were not that long ago that societal attitudes to sexual abuse of children by 'authority' figures were all that different.

It is notable that (1) teachers who knew of the behaviour of abusive priests did nothing, and that (2) parents who had complaints about their children being abused took their complaints to the church, and expected the church to deal appropriately with them, instead of going straight to the police over what were, after all, clearly criminal offences.

That's some brain-washing. But then, I was physically assaulted by a teacher in primary school, far beyond what was an acceptable level of discipline at that time. My father wanted to just leave it alone. My mother complained to the headmaster and threatened to go to the police if nothing was done; so the headmaster just warned that teacher not to hit me again in case my mother followed through with her threat and it got the teacher into legal trouble (i.e. he was concerned about the teacher, not me or the other kids). That teacher went on to assault other small boys in my class so badly that they needed hospital treatment; one for a broken arm, and another for severe lacerations requiring stitches. It never occurred to anyone to report him to the police. He continued to get away with it throughout his career. He was a big angry man with an uncontrollable temper, and we were little kids 9 and 10 years old, for chrissake, and our misbehaviour was not that bad, just normal kids' high spirits, but even our own parents were not prepared to take the steps necessary to protect us from someone with a clear track record of unacceptably serious violence perpetrated on small children.

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

Like the Plains Indians of North America (the tallest people in the world during the 18th Century), once they got access to horses, Aboriginal men took to riding them like ducks to water. They failed to make a success of sedentary farming, but took to the more nomadic existence of herding cattle on horseback like they were born to do it.

Makes me wonder what Australia would have been like if its native fauna had included horses when the first humans occupied it. They would have been a lot harder to invade, that's for sure.


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

Why are identity politics not regarded as a form of tribalism. Wrong tribes?

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

It turns out that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is not really that difficult to pronounce; it seems more that Hungarian does not render well in the Roman alphabet. What looks impossibly difficult to say on paper, really isn't when you hear someone say it.

There are other languages like that. People seem to have inordinate difficulty pronouncing Pinyin, because they are fazed by the pronunciation of ch, q, x, zh, etc., when it's actually very simple once you know it. My perpetual bugbear is English speakers who pronounce the 'j' in Beijing as if they were speaking French - this mispronunciation has become so commonplace in the West, that when I correct people and tell them the way that Beijing should be pronounced, they don't believe me. The tennis player Garbiñe Muguruza pronounces it correctly, but then she's been there (plus she's of mixed origins and English is probably her third language after Basque and Spanish, so she's probably quite linguistically agile and receptive - she certainly speaks English well enough). If it's not too hard for a professional tennis player, it's surely not impossibly difficult for more literate people to get.

When Russian is rendered into a Roman alphabet from Cyrillic script, it comes out awful, and nowhere near the way it should be pronounced. Czechs and Poles are probably, like Russians, inured to English speaking people mangling their names.

The various varieties of Gaelic are not pronounced anything like they look like they should be pronounced when rendered in the Roman alphabet. You have to study and learn it.

Even modern scholars do not pronounce Latin the way the ancient Romans did, and they invented the bloody Roman alphabet, or at least adopted and adapted it. Cicero did not pronounce his name the way that scholars do today - that is a known fact, but scholars of classics still mispronounce it.

What's the problem - is it that the Roman alphabet is just not a good fit for certain spoken languages (which surely can't be the case for Latin, given that it is actually the Latin alphabet), or are people just too dumb or lazy to find out how those languages should be pronounced?

We live in a world where Forvo is but a mouse click away. I don't get it. And Forvo is pretty amazing - it has Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, once you know to look under Hungarian for it.

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

Actually, it's even easier in Csikszentmihalyi's case - Wikipedia has a sound file which gives a very clear correct pronunciation of his name.

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

John@81: In most cases the reason native English speakers have trouble with other languages is because the mappings between letters and symbols is not the same as in English. As someone who has studied other languages, it's not that hard for me to get, but too many native English speakers never make the effort.

The Pinyin 'ZH' is a special case, because it actually is pronounced differently depending what part of China you are in. Near Beijing it represents a "backwards" J sound, but near Wuhan it is more of a "backwards" Z sound. (I have a co-worker who is originally from somewhere near Wuhan, whose surname starts with 'ZH', and he pronounces it as the Z sound.)

The Pinyin C and X pronunciations, however, have precedents in European languages (Polish and Portuguese, respectively). I can understand the Q being mangled, as its Pinyin mapping is a Chinese innovation. But I agree that there is no excuse for a native English speaker to botch the J in Beijing.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 31 Oct 2016 #permalink

Eric@83 - There is standard Putonghua pronunciation, and consequently standard Pinyin pronunciation. Yes, Mandarin speakers in one part of China might be unintelligible to other Mandarin speakers only a few hundred kilometres away, particularly in the south-west.

People in Tianjin sound different from people in Beijing, although not unintelligible - they have an easily identifiable 'local' accent.

But there is standard speech, just like there is with French, Standard German, Bahasa Indonesia, etc. So the issue of doubt about the 'right' way to pronounce something shouldn't arise - there is a defined standard pronunciation. And if you take formal instruction in Mandarin, that is what you will be taught, or should be.

The Mandarin J is not exactly the same as the English J, it is more forward, with the tongue immediately behind the front teeth - but it still sounds much more like the English J than the French J. I think the widespread mispronunciation is largely the fault of people like TV newsreaders - they started saying it incorrectly, and people naturally assume they have checked on pronunciation and got it right, when they haven't.

If I tell someone that a BBC newsreader is saying it wrong, who is that person going to believe - a BBC newsreader or some random civil engineer?

I'm a long time fan of Emmylou Harris, but she really pissed me off recently when I was listening to one of her more recent recordings, and she sang something about playing Ma Jong - and sure enough, she got the J wrong.

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