November Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • There was a major 19th century arts magazine titled Glissons, n'appuyons pas. This means "Let's glide, not support", that is, "Let's live an easy life without having to support ourselves". Opera reviews were a big thing in the mag.
  • Private parking is "idiot parking" in Greek, because here the word idiot means "private person". Our sense of the word comes from the ancient distinction between a skilled person who could take part in public affairs and an untrained one who was just himself, an idiot. The Greek word for the mentally challenged, meanwhile, is vlakas.
  • I saw an old high-wheel bicycle the other day at Malmö's tech museum. And it struck me: maybe they were designed like that because everybody expected them to be as high as the back of a horse?
  • Gyros in Kavalla involves none of the sauces common at Swedish kebab places, nor the sublimely odd German curry mayonnaise. Here they offer you mustard and ketchup.
  • None of the movies I saw at the festival won a prize. This probably somehow has to do with the fact that I go to daytime screenings.
  • In 1435 King Erik put a new bailiff at Stegeborg Castle: Ivan Fleming. The bailiff is reported to have been shaken but not stirred by this royal preferment.
  • Having cooked my own simple dinners for a week, tonight I treated myself to a taverna meal. Fava-bean hummus for a starter, then the chef's special, a super-rustic stew of cuttlefish and onions. Swedes, imagine a really savoury cuttlefish kalops. Yum.
  • Renting a car today and taking the ferry out to Thassos to go for a spin with a retired wind power expert.
  • Recently I've begun to realise that a lot of things I believe about the world were true 20 years ago and I can't honestly say that I have any idea what their current status is.
  • Beta is pronounced "v" in modern Greek. Thus basileos --> Vassilis. But some loan words are pronounced with a "b" sound. So they write "mp" for that. As in delicious mpeikon.
  • Kavalla has been flipping between Semitic, Greek, Latin/Romance and Turkic languages since the Phoenicians arrived 2700 years ago.
  • At home, my Sisyphean attempts to empty the fridge are constantly frustrated by other family members who inexplicably keep putting new food into it. But here at the Swedish house I finally get to empty one! The place is closing for the season and I'm one of the last few visitors. People are going home and leaving their food behind. I get to empty the fridge and lead a Spartan life where I don't buy anything! Woo-hoo!
  • No, Jason Mraz. If you have the expression "God-given right" and need another syllable, you can't put "God-forsaken" instead.
  • I wonder what's going to be my main occupation a year from now. Hope it'll be fun.
  • I've been wondering what's best, to change currency in Sweden before I travel or to get it out of an ATM in the country I visit. So now I've done both. In the case of euros and Greece, you get a slightly better rate in Sweden, but the difference between the two rates is less than 1%.
  • Vassilis is a photographer who came to Uppsala in the 70s and used to be married to a Swedish woman. "I like Swedes, I really do. Swedes are Man's best friend."
  • After two weeks of work and being cut off from my family, I can feel myself sinking into substance abuse. I have run out of tea. Going to hit the instant coffee. Wish me luck. "First it giveth, then it taketh away."
  • How do we know that Denisovans are not Heidelbergensis? One has morphological traits, the other has a genome.
  • The Akademibokhandeln chain bookstore cancelled this anti-racist event. Not because they had received any threats. But because they were afraid they would receive threats. Still, it's taking place anyway thanks to the Workers’ Educational Association, ABF. I've had the pleasure of co-organising events with them for the Swedish Skeptics, and also given talks there myself.
Inscriptions, backstage at the Kavalla Archaeological Museum. Inscriptions, backstage at the Kavalla Archaeological Museum.

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But some loan words are pronounced with a “b” sound. So they write “mp” for that. As in delicious mpeikon.

Also holds for words of Greek origin, such as the equally delicious μπακλαβα, or as we call it, baklava.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Dec 2016 #permalink

shaken but not stirred

I see what you did there.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Dec 2016 #permalink

What I want to know about a pennyfarthing (old high-wheel bicycle) is how you get on. Or more to the point, how you get off.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 02 Dec 2016 #permalink

JustaTech@3: Getting off such a bicycle is actually quite easy. The challenge is to get off without hurting yourself. That, I don't know how to do--I've never had occasion to try.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Dec 2016 #permalink

"How do we know that Denisovans are not Heidelbergensis?"

We don't.

From Wikipedia: "In 2013 researchers published sequenced DNA from fossils in the Sima de los Huesos cave in the Atapuerca Mountains, all classified as members of H. heidelbergensis and thought to have given rise to Neanderthal. "The fossils’ identity suddenly became complicated when a study of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from one of the bones revealed that it did not resemble that of a Neanderthal. Instead, it more closely matched the mtDNA of a Denisovan...".

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

JT@3 - From Wikipedia: "The rider must first grasp the handlebar and place one foot on a peg above the back wheel. Then the rider scoots the bicycle forward to gain momentum and quickly jumps up onto the seat while continuing to steer the bicycle and maintain balance." The mind boggles.

I imagine dismounting would have to be achieved by slowing down and leaning to one side as it came to a stop, so that you landed on one foot as the bicycle toppled over sideways. It sounds anything but elegant. Wikipedia suggests that dismounting would be achieved by the same means as mounting, i.e. you would have to place one foot on the peg above the rear wheel and then step down onto the ground, but doing that while having any forward momentum sounds like it would result in disaster.

I get crotch-ache from regularly riding my modern bicycle for long distances, even on smooth cycleways, because it is what the bicycle cognescenti refer to as a "hardtail" (i.e. it has no sprung suspension, although it has a minimally sprung seat). I cannot imagine how truly uncomfortable and spine-jolting a penny-farthing with its steel wheels or solid rubber tyres and lack of pneumatic tyres must have been.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

Martin, I think the relationship between H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. neandertalensis, Denisovans, H. rhodesiensis, H. sapiens idaltu and H. sapiens sapiens is what palæoanthropologists refer to as "the muddle in the middle". Ultimately, hopefully, geneticists might sort it out, but given that there was interbreeding in all directions, plus there must have been transitional people from one 'type' to another, plus there is evidence that modern humans interbred with another, as yet unidentified, archaic human in Africa after the first modern humans migrated out, plus there is now ample evidence of modern human back-migration from Eurasia into Africa, it's a safe bet that it won't be easy or simple.

It would be interesting to put your question to John Hawks. I have never emailed him before, but I might just do that and see if I get an answer. I imagine his response might be a bit abrupt, though - he is a self-acknowledged 'lumper' rather than a 'splitter'.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

The good news for those who might enjoy reading the occasional Razib Khan article on genomics or history but are deterred by the long list of crackpots of varying crackpottedness who post on the Unz site, is that Razib is moving. I'll put up his new address when he has completed the transition. The new site he has described sounds different and entirely science-focused, which is what a lot of folks (including me, although I do benefit from some of his writing about history) seem to want.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

OK Martin, I have sent a message to John Hawks via Facebook (he no longer provides an email address), simply stating your question, so we'll see whether he answers and, if so, what he says.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

Yay! Almost instantaneous response from the excellent John Hawks. I quote his response in full:

"Hi, John -- thanks for writing! I'll give this a bit of thought and post something about it. It's not a bad question at all and there are two kinds of answers -- the kind that takes for granted H. heidelbergensis exists, and the kind that doesn't. Will update later."

So, Martin - you have the satisfaction of asking a good question :)

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

"...maybe they were designed like that because everybody expected them to be as high as the back of a horse?"

According to Wikipedia, after the invention of the original 'bone-shakers', bicycles began to be designed with larger and larger front wheels because with direct drive (i.e. the pedals attached directly to the hub of the front wheel) a larger front wheel meant that higher speeds were attainable.

Wikipedia goes on the make the blindingly obvious statement: "Penny-farthing bicycles are dangerous." Judging from the number of scars disfiguring my otherwise perfect body (cough) resulting from bike crashes, my modern bicycle is also dangerous. Or maybe it's just me riding my bicycle that is dangerous. Actually, I have never crashed my current hybrid, and I never crashed the little folding bike that I had. But the road racing bike that I had in between - that was the one I crashed a lot. Basically, it could go very fast, and so I did. And crashed. Repeatedly. Having your feet fastened to the pedals might be great for cycling efficiency, but when you start to go over...

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

FUUUCK! The second co-worker from my corridor at my workplace to get cancer this autumn died Saturday. The first one died two weeks ago.
And three relatives died this year, including my mother....

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

Birger@12 - Sadly, it's a reflection of the world we now inhabit. People are not dying of other things, so an increasing proportion are dying of cancer. Having a lot of environmental carcinogens around doesn't help, and also lifestyle factors can play a very big part. For example, there is no 'safe' lower limit to alcohol consumption as a cause of breast cancer in women. All those papers you see published that talk about how moderate alcohol consumption is correlated with living longer - it's all crap. They get that result because they count chronic alcoholics who have sworn off booze as 'non-drinkers', for whom the damage of years of hard drinking has already been done. There is quite a bit of stuff like that. 'Fat shaming' has become a political thing, but the reality is that being too fat increases the probability of some cancers.

It's a gloomy outlook, but the older you get, the more people you know will suffer from some form of cancer. To state the blindingly obvious, but I can say it because I know it to be true, a lot of cancers are not a death sentence if they are detected early enough. In fact, with many cancers, early detection and mainstream medical treatment can mean that they are effectively cured.

Early and regular screening is the answer for bowel cancer, which makes it eminently survivable.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

Donald Trump Taps Ben Carson To Lead Housing & Urban Development

Hmm...this is the very guy who claimed the pyramids of Egypt were used for grain storage, because Bible.
Looking forward to policy of building Ziggurats to ease American housing problems.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

Birger@15: That's actually one of Trump's less disturbing picks--Carson is mostly harmless. The same can't be said of Sessions for Attorney General (who when nominated as a federal judge 30 years ago was considered too racist for the position, and has a habit of prosecuting people for registering voters) or Flynn for National Security Advisor (who is into conspiracy theories, especially those involving Muslims taking over the world).

Meanwhile, Trump is doubling down on his contact with the President of Taiwan. It's one thing for Donald J. Trump, private citizen, to be in contact with the President of Taiwan. It is quite another matter for Donald J. Trump, PEOTUS, to be in contact with the President of Taiwan, on an unsecured line, no less. If my goal were to provoke a US-China war, I'm not sure I could do a more effective job than Trump has done.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

China is not going to start a shooting war with America over something like a diplomatic exchange with Taiwan. It would take a hell of a lot more than that.

Trump does seem to be hell bent on provoking and insulting China in any way he can think of though. Someone want to explain to me what currency devaluation and trade tariffs have to do with relations with Taiwan? Absolutely nothing - complete non-sequitur. If Trump is determined to damage US-China relations as badly as he can to the point of starting a cold war with China, he has made a good start.

Trump is a bully, and the Chinese don't take kindly to being bullied - not after the European humiliation of the Qing Dynasty. To the Chinese, that happened only yesterday.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

Oh yes, I am confident they are under no delusions on that score.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

But in the conduct of bilateral relations between two sovereign states, one with a population of over 1 billion people and the other with a population of several hundred thousand million, one of those states can hardly be expected to bend over backwards to accommodate what it regards as harmful to itself, simply because it recognises that the top banana of the other state is a crude, belligerent and unintelligent bully who has found himself in charge of the lolly shop and is out of control.

And that is particularly true when the bully is the top banana of a globally hegemonistic state that is greatly more militarily powerful than the other, goes on spending far more money annually on maintaining and increasing that military superiority, and is intent on continuing to enrich the top 1% of its citizens at the expense of all other countries.

I continually see discussion coming out of America about the concern over the increase in the capability of the Chinese military and how to contain it, when the reality is that America continues to outstrip China in military spending by a very long way. So what the hand-wringing in America is about is really how to ensure that they maintain the extent of their global military domination and their sole super-power status, rather than any serious concern about a military threat to the USA from China. China harbours no such ambitions. Its concern is with defence of their own territory and protection of their own trade routes, which includes having forward bases to enhance their security, search and rescue capabilities to protect the main sea trade routes that serve Chinese ports, in a situation where the USA has sought to project its military power into that region, a region which is of no importance to America in terms of trade routes.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

...several hundred million...

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

"I’ve been wondering what’s best, to change currency in Sweden before I travel or to get it out of an ATM in the country I visit. So now I’ve done both. In the case of euros and Greece, you get a slightly better rate in Sweden, but the difference between the two rates is less than 1%."

Living in Germany and getting, say, UK pounds or Croatian kuna: I've found the best rate is to get cash at my bank, and get the corresponding amount deducted from my checking account. (Of course, in some places, one doesn't need cash anymore these days.) Whether exchanging cash for cash is better at home or in the foreign country depends on many factors. Generally, ATM rates are best (and there are cards with no fee---other than the standard 1% for foreign-currency transactions---for cash withdrawal), but you have to be careful. There was a new law a while back which said that if you get your account charged in the foreign currency, then some good (for you) official rate applies, essentially that if you buy something online with a credit card in a foreign currency. But some ATM operators have found a loophole, charging you in your "home" currency. This sounds better to some, and they offer a fixed rate which is printed on the screen. This is true, but it is not good for you. Better to get charged in the foreign currency. The rate applies whenever the transaction is processed on the backend, and might differ slightly from the rate at the time of the withdrawal, but only slightly, and is in any case better than the other option.

So, if you don't get foreign currency from your bank before travelling, get it from an ATM (with a no-fee card) and opt to get charged in the local, foreign (to you) currency.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

China is not going to start a shooting war with America over something like a diplomatic exchange with Taiwan.

The people in charge of China aren't stupid. They know that starting a war with the US is likely to lead to Mutual Assured Destruction.

I'm not so confident that Trump won't start a war. He's completely narcissistic (he's so vain, he probably thinks the old Carly Simon song is about him) and easily baited. I'm not convinced that he understands the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction. He probably isn't even aware that the most famous classic blunder is, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." I do assume that if the US shoots first, the Chinese will shoot back.

It doesn't help that China's foreign minister (who people who know far more about such things than I do tell me is not a hothead) has threatened to close the Washington embassy if Trump persists in official contacts with Taiwan's government.

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

I'm no fan of Trump, but have never understood the one-China policy of the US, which I guess goes back to Nixon (not actually known as a communist). My take is that when forced to choose between a small democratic country and a large nuclear power, the USA chose the latter. Am I missing anything?

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 07 Dec 2016 #permalink

I think you're missing the reason that countries have diplomatic relations at all. You should have good contacts with the most dangerous foreign powers, not with the ones whose domestic politics you admire most.

@28 - Yes, you are missing that both the People's Republic of China (so called 'Communist' China but which in reality is now Socialist China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) will not tolerate anything other than a one-China policy (this was endorsed by the previous Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou - in other words he agreed to the 'one China' policy, but without specifying which one was the 'official' one, and that China and Taiwan are indivisible, i.e. Taiwan should never become an independent country). So if Taiwan is recognised as the one China, it means not recognising 'Communist' China as a country - which means leaving it out of the UN, trade relationships and all other kinds of international recognition and participation.

Nixon wanted to engage with China, in order to establish normalised relations. Bill Clinton the same - he wanted normalised relations with China and a policy of engagement with China, so that world leaders could start talking to them about human rights, etc., but also so that they could get the benefit of China participating in global trade. The USA saw the huge potential in China and was desperate to have the opportunity to start investing in China, and trading with China.

So, in the situation where the one thing you can't have is to recognise both the PRC and the RoC, which China do you engage with - the one that has a population of 1.4 billion people or the one that has a population of 23.5 million? Do you want active engagement, negotiation and a peace treaty with the PRC or the RoC? Because neither side will let you have both.

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

Incidentally, it is worth noting that below the political and military level, Mainland China and Taiwan have a very close trading relationship; they collaborate seamlessly on all sorts of stuff. Taiwan is crawling with tourists from the Mainland and vice versa. On all but the political and military levels, they are extremely friendly and clearly regard one another as countrymen.

The Chinese make no distinction between race and nationality, so if you are Chinese, you are Chinese. Only about 1,400 non-Chinese have ever been granted Chinese citizenship. But 'Chinese' also includes 55 other ethnic minorities living within China along with the Han majority, so it's not a strict racial definition - some of those minorities are genetically indistinguishable from Han, i.e. they differ in culture and language only, and some differ genetically, but in which case all show some genetic affinity, i.e. they are close to Han genetically compared to, say, modern Europeans; e.g. one of the biggest ethnic minorities, the Uygurs, are an ancient hybrid population between West Eurasians and Mongols, who are not very distant genetically from Han. The same goes for Tajiks and other 'Turkic' people living within China's borders. And Tibetans, of course.

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

So, a case in point - the so-called London Convention:…

Basically, in crude everyday type language, signatories to the London Convention agree not to use the world's oceans as a toxic waste dump.

If you scroll down to the list of signatories, the People's Republic of China is a signatory; Taiwan is not. It can't be, because it is not recognised as a sovereign country in its own right. It is more desirable to have the PRC as a signatory because it has far greater potential to seriously pollute the world's oceans than Taiwan does, simply as a function of population.

That is just one example; there are a whole host of international treaties and agreements of all kinds, where there are compelling reasons to want the world's most populous country (and now the world's second largest economy) to sign on as a party who will agree to abide by the rules.

So Taiwan doesn't have to abide by the dictates of the London Convention, and it doesn't abide by them - it's very undesirable, but not the end of the world. It's notable that Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are also not signatories to the London Convention. In Indonesia's case, that is a major worry, because they have a very much larger population than the others. But it is also a valid basis for criticism of Malaysia and Singapore - they really have no valid grounds not to sign on.

If you want to know, Hong Kong is covered under China's membership of the London Convention, and does strictly abide by the rules. I can personally vouch for that.

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

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...proper Trump-era hate mail!
"Mikey Gets Email"
“…especially for Mickey’s grave with his big jewish nose and tiny jewish prick. Why the jews all have such little dicks? But such big bank accounts?”
(The grammar and spelling seem a bit off...)

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 07 Dec 2016 #permalink

"I think you’re missing the reason that countries have diplomatic relations at all. You should have good contacts with the most dangerous foreign powers, not with the ones whose domestic politics you admire most."

OK, then the USA should have been on friendly terms with Cuba. Oh, wait, they are not dangerous (except if there are Soviet missiles there). Hmmm. A country becomes democratic and the result is that the superpowers break off relations, because it is more important to have good relations with the dangerous, non-democratic countries? Not really a good incentive.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 07 Dec 2016 #permalink

You still haven't got it. If the USA wanted to engage with the PRC in peaceful terms, it had no choice but to discontinue recognising Taiwan as the Republic of China. Neither China nor Taiwan would have tolerated the recognition of both of them as separate sovereign entities.

That is a unique set of circumstances.

Cuba is irrelevant - an impoverished country of 11 million people and no threat to anyone. The USA and Australia should both have established diplomatic relations with Cuba and dropped the sanctions against it a long time ago, on humanitarian grounds - it was nothing short of mean-spirited bloody mindedness not to do so, for the sake of some worn out principle.

A better example for you to give would be North Korea. But why am I feeding you the answers when you don't seem to have what it takes to understand them?

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

Phillip@34: You seem to know as much about Cuba as you do about China: little or nothing. Within two years of his successful revolution, Castro announced to the world that he was Marxist-Leninist, and his policies over the next three decades plus were consistent with that political viewpoint. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Castro opened Cuba up to foreign tourism and investment out of economic necessity.

The US policy toward Cuba is mainly rooted in US politics, and I'll admit that there was never any other rational basis for it. (Unlike Iran, where the US actually had good reasons for closing its embassy in Teheran.) Much of Cuba's upper class moved to Miami in the 1959-1965 period, and they became an influential group in Florida politics, but they always held on to the dream that they would someday return to Cuba to live the good life they had there. (Their US-born children chose instead to go into business and politics in the US.) It doesn't help that some of the US's anti-Castro schemes were cartoonishly like a Bond villain's.

Obama has actually taken steps to normalize relations with Cuba. Starting this fall you can take a scheduled commercial flight directly from the US to Cuba, for the first time since the 1960s (until now there have only been charter flights). Of course full normalization of relations takes time. And of course Trump has threatened to end this thaw with Cuba.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Dec 2016 #permalink

As for Taiwan vs. mainland China, John has said most of what I would say, and (as someone who lives there) said it better than I could. That Taiwan is part of China is the one point on which the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party are in agreement. I understand that some Taiwanese political parties favor Taiwan independence, but so far they have never seriously tried to effect that goal. Whether that's because they haven't had the political power to do so, or whether they calculate (probably correctly) that China would retaliate for such a move, I do not know.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Dec 2016 #permalink

Birger@39 - Yes, surprise surprise - Neanderthals were sentient beings capable of making conscious decisions about adapting their hunting strategies, depending on the prey animals available in the area they were living in.

And we are supposed to believe that anatomically modern humans underwent some 'cultural explosion' 50,000 years ago, which gave some of them the idea of migrating out of Africa.

No - modern humans migrated out of Africa when the climatic conditions made it possible for them to do it. There was no sudden cultural explosion.

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

Addendum to @ 33.
A commenter: "I think what he was trying to convey* is that Weinstein's execution, followed by life imprisonment (???)** and placement of a giant cross on his grave, is that teh Joos need to stop being so, um, Jewey, and start worshiping Jesus like good Americans.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 08 Dec 2016 #permalink

* I think this may be a close approximation. If my 'Murkuhnese-to-English translator is calibrated correctly.

** Forget it, he's rolling.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 08 Dec 2016 #permalink

John@40 - Binford is rolling over in his grave :)

By Doug Edwards (not verified) on 08 Dec 2016 #permalink

Doug@43 - Likewise, Renfrew is not too happy these days, and Gimbutas would be smiling.

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

Thousands displaced for China's huge telescope
“Lu Zhenglong, whose case was heard Tuesday, said officials demolished his house without warning or consent when he was not even present, burying his furniture.”

I am prepared to believe the central government meant well, but the local bosses are doing things their own way, as usual.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 09 Dec 2016 #permalink

It's 3.00pm on a Saturday afternoon, and the bastards have sent me 5 hours of work to do.

And I can't complain, because I need the work.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Dec 2016 #permalink

Plus it means that one of the junior guys is having to work over the weekend, so out of solidarity with him, I will do it and get it back to him by tomorrow.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Dec 2016 #permalink

That's nice of you, John. I get the impression corporate culture is often "screw the junior people".

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 10 Dec 2016 #permalink

You are right, Birger.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Dec 2016 #permalink