April Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • There is no year zero in the common era. 1 BC is followed by AD 1. This is because Dionysius Exiguus worked around AD 500, long before the Indian concept of mathematical zero reached European scholars via the Arabs.
  • I don't quite understand why the guy in Springsteen's "The River" is so super sad. It's not in the lyrics.
  • I love Turkish fast food and "Here Comes The Rain Again".
  • Thorn-stabbed left eye acting up again nine months after that brush-clearing session at Skällvik Castle. Right-hand one showing its sympathy by clouding up too, leaving me unable to read or write much. Annoying. But eye specialist is not worried, so nor am I.
  • I want music discovery algorithms to distinguish between songs I dislike and songs I love but don't want to hear all the time.
  • Movie: Your Name. Anime feature with beautiful scenery, conventional humans and a confused supernatural time-travel body-exchange motif. Grade: OK.
  • Today's my 18th anniversary of editing Fornvännen.
  • -thwaite in English place names is cognate with Sw. Tveta, originally having to do with the wood chips produced when felling trees to clear land.
  • DNA has identified a bunch of strangers as my 3rd or 4th cousins. I've contacted them and started to work with the interested ones to identify our link. In one case we know which Bohuslän hamlet the couple lived in. In another case we know in which two Värmland parishes they lived. Fun puzzle-solving exercise.
  • Reading Becky Chambers's Hugo Award finalist novel A Closed And Common Orbit with two parallel narratives. One is about a whiny adolescent android who does nothing much, and it does not interest me. The other is about a 10-y-o Robinson Crusoe scavenging in a huge tech dump. That keeps me reading.
  • It's kind of hard to play games with secret traitors when Cousin E is involved. He thinks it's super fun to be allowed to betray the team, so he does it as fast as he can regardless of whether he's a traitor or not, all while giggling hysterically. This tends to make life easy for the actual traitors.
  • Xlnt weird, dark, druggy song: Timber Timbre's "Black Water". Turn up the bass!
  • ResearchGate and LinkedIn do a spectacularly bad job of identifying academic jobs I'm qualified for.
  • Movie: Topsy Turvy. Gilbert & Sullivan and the original production of The Mikado. Grade: Great!
  • Danish encouragement: "Men du er jo selvskrevet til jobbet!! SØG DET, DU VIL VÆRE ET KÆMPE FJOLS HVIS IKKE DU GØR DET!!" Honestly, who wants to be a kæmpe fjols?
  • Saturn's ocean moon Enceladus has recently been discovered to have environments that would be habitable to Earth's methanogenic bacteria. If it turns out that there is not in fact indigenous life there, then I think we should seed the place!
  • Dear UK: get a permanent citizen registry and scrap the notion of "registering to vote". In Sweden I just bring my ID to the polling station.
  • The concepts of "man cold" and "man flu" suggest a traditional masculinity where men shouldn't show weakness. Very 1950s.
  • Woo-hoo! I lost my cherry on this day in 1987! 30 years a lover!
  • Advice for you ladies: take nerds to bed. As someone so wisely put it -- nerds read up, and unlike the jocks they always do their best since they can barely believe that they're actually getting laid. Nerds like to figure out how stuff works and optimise.
  • Frustrating. In live debates, people often show signs of not listening to what I say, but to their expectations about what someone with my demeanour would say. It's not that I make long speeches or use unfamiliar words or aggressive ones. I always make an effort to speak briefly, simply, to the point. But time and time again I realise that people I agree with believe that I don't. I have a vague perception that they may see me as too bossy and confident to really be on their side.
  • The buzz word "digitisation" is used commonly and extremely vaguely in Swedish politics. It seems to mean "Internet and automatisation and scifi stuff". It is at the same time something good and modern, and something scary that deletes jobs. It is at the same time inevitable and something that deserves political support to happen.

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I have more imminent travel plans. I'll be at the World Humanist Conference in Oslo this coming weekend, and then on Monday the 15th I'll be doing this: Sted: Asylet, Grønland 28 [kart] Tid: Fra kl. 18 og utover Facebook-event Paul Z. Myers er en amerikansk biolog som jobber ved University of…
Couldn't quite catch a word in an old Blur song. Turned out to be "jumbojet" with the stress placed on the wrong syllable. JumBOjet. Grötrimslyriker, as we say in Swedish. The Swedish Anti-Theft Association offers tags for keyrings. You put the tag on your keyring and pay an annual fee, and then if…
Movie: Little Big Man. Tragicomedy about the Old West and the fate of the Native Americans. Grade: OK. Submitted my tax returns. Always super easy, which is one of the benefits of having a low income and few assets. I've researched my ancestry fully four generations back and found no madman,…
OK so Google Inbox is excellent and I use it all the time. Takes so much of the stress out of e-mail. But I wonder, when are we getting Google Imbolc? Hehe. This Swedish author intends to talk about the actions of the Medieval aristocracy, instead puts "their acting". And his language reviewer does…

Tpyo strikes again

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

Voter registration is a major issue in the US as well. In many jurisdictions it's easier to change your address than to change your voter registration to the new address. And we don't have a national ID card, because the Usual Suspects will moan about the Mark of the Beast. Driver licenses are state issued, and some states make these licenses difficult to obtain.

Politicians who support these restrictive measures claim that it is intended to prevent fraud, but they define fraud as "the wrong kind of people are voting". Here in New Hampshire, that means university students, many of whom are from out of state (but are legally considered by the Federal government to live here, since they are here for a majority of the year). In most other US states, they mean people of recent non-European ancestry.

There are people alive in the US who do not have birth certificates, because it was not required at the time of their birth, and some jurisdictions were less than rigorous about registering everybody's birth. It can be difficult for these people to obtain identity documents, since often a birth certificate is required.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

I always thought the man in "The River" was sad because the intense love he and Mary had had when they were younger, his wonder at her very existence, has been replaced by ... not exactly indifference, but lack of communiction at the least:
"Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember
Mary acts like she don't care"

Hope your eyes both stop acting up, I've been missing your posts.

Americans on Facebook tell me that the song is about Rust Belt unemployment and hopelessness.

Eyes almost well again, thank you!

Americans on Facebook tell me that the song is about Rust Belt unemployment and hopelessness.

That is a frequent theme in Bruce Springsteen's music. See also "Born in the USA" and "Your Hometown".

It is observationally true, at least in the US, that people who marry young are more likely to divorce than people who wait until they are older to marry for the first time. The narrator of "The River" and Mary may well be on that path. Recall that they got married because he got Mary pregnant, and that they were both teenagers at the time (it is not clear whether Mary had graduated from high school).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

Was little Dio interested in anything before his saviour? I am told that astronomers just took the first year of their Babylonian data as year 1 for the same kind of reason.

In Canada the issue with voter registration is that the rolls used to be available to the public. Being able to look up the home address of anyone who wants to vote sounds good to all kinds of scary people (remember that Rick Perlstein article about the grifter who paid people who copy down the name and address of everyone who donated to certain politicians?), so changes were made to keep the data safe but require a bit more book-keeping.

"I don’t quite understand why the guy in Springsteen’s “The River” is so super sad. It’s not in the lyrics."

Really? They're really sad: a love which once was has gone, the memory more painful because the (formerly) loved one is still there.

I'm not a Springsteen fan and don't know much of his stuff, but I think that this is a great song, both lyrics and music.

The "river" is also a metaphor, of course. Pretty obvious, but still a good choice here.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

The way I've seen a "man cold" presented is that it is one that a woman would shrug off and continue with work, but a man lies pathetically on the couch as though he is dying. Ie men are bad patients/ actually wimpy.

I don't think this is true, but that's the way I've seen it used.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

Was little Dio interested in anything before his saviour? I am told that astronomers just took the first year of their Babylonian data as year 1 for the same kind of reason.

The Hebrew calendar counts years from the estimated date of creation as told in Genesis. The current year (2 October 2016 to 20 September 2017, sundown to sundown) by that calendar is 5777. Which implies a creation date more than two centuries later than Archbishop Ussher's estimate of 4004 BC. That's one reason why I consider the latter estimate an excellent illustration of the difference between precision and accuracy.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 #permalink

cloudy eyes - can sympathize, have vitreous detachments in both eyes, and there are days when it is very difficult to read. No fun. On the other hand my re-watch of LOTR extended edition is moving along much faster than usual.. ha.

The River song is based on Springsteen's sister and her husband - married young with no prospects and no jobs, a miserable existence for some time. His biography is worth reading.

Nerd sex - from Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Betty Childs: [blissfully] Oh, you were wonderful.
[gasps in ecstacy]
Betty Childs: Are all nerds as good as you?
Lewis: Yes.
Betty Childs: How come?
Lewis: 'Cause all jocks ever think about is sports, all we ever think about is sex.

Bruce Springsteen said he always wears his father's clothes on stage. Apparently he always has. It has to do with some issue that he has needed to work through with his father; that his father never approved of him pursuing a musical career instead of getting a 'real job' suitable for a man. You'd think by now his old man would be persuaded that Bruce made the right choice.

The song "Born in the USA" was written by Springsteen when it was planned that he would star in a movie on the same subject as the song (the film of the same name was made subsequently, but starring Tom Cruise in place of Springsteen) and both the song and the film very specifically address the harmful effects of the Vietnam War on Americans and the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home. It is an ironic retort to the indifference and hostility with which Vietnam veterans were met.

This was a real thing - Australian servicemen returning from Vietnam suffered the same treatment. Well, firstly they all returned mentally badly screwed up because of the things that they saw and did in Vietnam, and then they found that, rather than being greeted as returning heroes like soldiers did after all previous wars, they returned to a population which was very highly disapproving of Australia's (and America's) involvements and actions in the war - so instead of being treated as heroes, they were treated as pariahs. This really happened. I saw it happen. And most of them never recovered from it.

"I had a brother at Khe Sanh
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there; he's all gone"

'Man flu' is a real thing, apparently. A while back, a group of medical researchers got a group of men and a group of women, both infected with the same strain of influenza, and made observations on the severity of each person's symptoms. What they found was that, on average, the men suffered more severe symptoms than the women. The symptoms of influenza are simply the body's immune system's reaction to the virus, and apparently, on the mean, men's immune system reacts more severely than women's immune system does.

Add to that the fact that men are big sooks when they get sick and act like wimps, whereas women are more inclined to just suffer through it, and I think that provides a full explanation for what is apparently a very real phenomenon.

Springsteen explains "The River" in this clip - he wrote it for his brother-in-law and sister: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAs_Wr7kJ1Y

I'm wrong, of course - the title of the Tom Cruise film was "Born on the Fourth of July." Same subject.

whereas women are more inclined to just suffer through it

How much of it is inclination, and how much is necessity? In the 1950s, at least in the Anglophone world, women were expected to run the household, so they had no choice but to try to shrug it off and carry on, unless the illness was so severe that they couldn't ignore it. In literature, upper class women seem to get the contemporary equivalent of "man flu", because they don't have to run the household themselves--they have a staff to take care of such things.

These days there is less overt sexism than in the 1950s, at least in the West, but those attitudes have not vanished entirely. During the US Presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton felt she had to keep working through her illness, to the point that she collapsed in public due to pneumonia. And there are definite, often but not always unspoken, expectations about different gender roles.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Apr 2017 #permalink

Oops! That Doonesbury strip was not the one about bespoke fake news, it was the one about juggling family problems!

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 21 Apr 2017 #permalink

Birger@21: That's getting close to what I do for a living, and I know Prof. Donovan IRL. I suspect "Steve" is an acronym, but the article neither confirms nor denies this, and I am not coming up with anything off the top of my head. This is a field that likes to have Fun with Acronyms; e.g., one project I worked with was called FAST (a recursive acronym, as the F stood for "Fast"), and at one time NASA used a proposal system that was actually called SYS-EYFUS (if you know the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology and are familiar with the lifestyle of the soft money scientist you will recognize the similarity).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Apr 2017 #permalink

BTW, if you have not seen the miniseries, Rowan Atkinson has made a great performance as inspector Maigret, on a par with John Thaw as Morse or Roy Marsden as Dalgleish.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 21 Apr 2017 #permalink

Eric @17: Yes, that's it exactly. "Inclined" wasn't the right word; I think "likely" would have been better.

There was a terrible ad a few years ago for the flu medicine (the prescription stuff) that showed a filthy house and a dad feeding two kids ice cream and sending them to school in summer clothes in the snow, while poor mom lies in bed covered in tissues. The tagline was "can you really afford to be down with the flu?"
So, so obnoxious and sexist (mom is a job you can't ever take a day off, dads are totally incompetent at basic life skills).

By JustaTech (not verified) on 21 Apr 2017 #permalink

"incline" = "to tend to do something". I don't need lessons in English, thanks.

Birger@20 - Great piece of work by the good folks at ANU, which is a good university, and their finding makes absolute sense - much more so than the previous theory.

It does raise some interesting questions, though; e.g. how did a habilis-like creature manage to get to Flores, which is east of the Wallace Line; how did they manage to defend themselves against all those Komodo Dragons (which are now known to have a toxic bite) - which are admittedly somewhat (but not hugely) slow moving, but are very sneaky ambush hunters?

It suggests that this habilis-like creature might have inhabited a much larger area, but with remains being found only on Flores because of the generally poor preservational environment.

It also suggests that they managed to survive in the area until anatomically modern humans passed through, at which point the modern humans might have triggered their extinction. Given that they are thought to have persisted until c.54,000 years ago, it seems almost too coincidental with the time that the ancestors of Papuans and Aboriginal Australians would have reached the area on their way through to Sahul.

I'm very excited by this work by the ANU crew - it ticked a lot of boxes for me that have been sitting empty for a long time. I'm just waiting to see what John Hawks and other palaeoanthropologists make of it. One hopes they have better sense than to try to disagree with a lady named Dr Argue.

Birger@22 - the comment at the bottom smacks of ignorant and patronising racism. The current generations of East Asian women go back to work, and leave their babies in the care of contract-employed foreign domestic helpers or older female relatives.

There is some well established research that showed that Navajo babies also cry a lot less than modern European babies. Navajo babies get strapped to a board and are carried around like that on their mothers' backs, but they just seem to put up with it, whereas European babies would be screaming their heads off.

The behavioural differences, between African, East Asian and Navajo babies on the one hand and European babies on the other, have not been satisfactorily explained (unless one is inclined to accept the patronising hand-waving and opinionating from people who think they know what happens in East Asia, when they haven't a clue), but it seems like heritable behaviour - i.e. it has a lot more to do with natural behavioural differences in the babies themselves, and nothing to do with how they are treated.

Birger@18 - That, on the other hand, has got me hopping mad. Despite funding cuts, the CSIRO is a good organisation, and they are now saying they have a good fix on the area the plane went down in. To me, that is reason enough to reopen the search effort and go and search in the area the CSIRO are indicating. But no, the Australian government is just sitting on its hands and saying it's up to Malaysia, and the Malaysian government sure as hell isn't going to do anything about it.

People need closure, the CSIRO has done a brilliant job of showing them where to look, which is an area not previously properly searched, but they won't do it. Damn them to hell.

The truth is, too much time has passed, and no one gives a damn any more except the people who lost family members on that plane - and no one is listening to them any more, because they just plain don't care.

My daughter thinks I have a sick mind because I went into hoots of laughter over the description of a 2012 French film, the female lead of which plays the part of "a double amputee Orca trainer."

Hey lady! The big thing with the teeth is trying to give you a hint that it wants to be left alone - how many more body parts do you want to lose before you figure it's time for a career change?

Very annoying.

Meanwhile, an Indian company is seeking to open the world's largest coal mine in Australia. They need to be stopped.

When it comes to climate change, governments and big corporations talk a big game, but they are all contemptible liars.

That's why I admire a guy like Elon Musk - at least he is trying to do the right things.

a 2012 French film, the female lead of which plays the part of “a double amputee Orca trainer.”

Part of me hopes this isn't a documentary, but another part of me fails to see how it could be anything but. Fiction has to be plausible. This isn't. And it isn't even being Played for Laughs, the way that the Black Knight of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Apr 2017 #permalink

If it was a documentary, I would not have found it amusing.

That male/strong, female/weak thing shows up in all sorts of places. In Australia they have a she-oak tree. The tree doesn't look anything like an oak tree and isn't related, but the wood looks a bit like oak except it is much weaker as lumber.

That 'The River' song isn't just about lost love, but also about lost expectations. Springsteen is sort of the poet of America's industrial collapse. The midwest used to be full of industrial cities, each noted for its manufactures. They peaked during WW2, when the demand for war materiel took off and every plant ran flat out. They remained viable after the war, but by the 1960s the physical plant was obsolete.

The plants were closed and replaced by more modern ones that needed fewer workers. By 1980 most of the cities of the midwest were hollowing out, and the good union jobs vanishing. I remember meeting a guy from Akron in 1980, so I asked him about tires. Akron was once noted for cranking out bias ply tires. He told me that the entire center of town was full of abandoned tire factories. Everyone was using radial tires, and they were made elsewhere. The factory workers were left behind.

The singer once had a future. He had a great love and a possible future. He saw them as eternal, like a river. That's a common metaphor for English speakers - old man river, flowing on forever, even though rivers can be pretty janky in real life. Things didn't work out as he and she had hoped. The river had dried up. He could no longer find work. Neither of them still loved, though he still missed doing so.

Hence three of the alternative common names for the Sheoak - the Ironwood, the Bull-oak and the Beefwood. (I need a sarcasm font.)

Hot on the heels of the news that Hobbitses weren't really just shrunken erectines with more primitive wrist morphology and pinheads, comes the claim that the shape of the brain of Homo naledi is suggestive of it having the capacity for language.

No, they don't have a naledi brain, they have a cast taken from inside the brain case which shows what its brain was shaped like, and they say it looks like it might have had the mental capacity for speech.

Aside from the facts that naledi has never (so far) been successfully dated, so they have no idea how old it was, and no one has come up with a credible theory for how 15 of them ended up in a remote, almost inaccessible underground cavity, come on people - it was the size of a small bodied human but had an endocranial volume similar to Australopithecus.

Yeah, my grandfather had a cockatoo that could talk, too - it just had no idea what it was saying.

Sometimes apparently intelligent people can say some really dumb things. Having the capacity to use a limited range of vocalisations to mean different things - well, that wouldn't be nearly so far-fetched; there are modern monkeys that do that. No one calls it 'speech' though, because it isn't.

A lady named Dr Argue
Nominatve determinism

Several years ago I learned of an American of Korean ancestry by the name of Sue Yu. Needless to say, she became a lawyer.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Apr 2017 #permalink

Independent Macron is ahead of Le Pen.

Quote from American blog;
"There are actually sound right-wing arguments for acknowledging the reality of anthropogenic climate change and doing something about it. Principally the economic argument that the effects of it are going to cause untold billions of pounds of damage and developing measures to prevent it will make economies more stable and productive. It’s not right-wing politics per se that clashes with this acknowledgment – it’s the most short-termist, lazy, slash-and-burn economic philosophy that values immediate profits from existing industries over long-term stability and growth. Sadly the American right seems to have drunk deep from that particular poisoned well.!"

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 23 Apr 2017 #permalink

"Hundreds join kippah walk in northern Sweden to protest against Nazi threats" https://www.thelocal.se/20170424/hundreds-join-kippah-walk-in-northern-… Alas, I pretty much slept through the weekend and missed out on this.
BTW the Moderate party (conservatives) hardly ever take part in demonstrations but this time made an exception
-- -- --
-Yeah, but unlike the platypus, the males have no venom!
“Totally bizarre facts about the star-nosed mole” https://phys.org/news/2017-04-totally-bizarre-facts-star-nosed-mole.html

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 24 Apr 2017 #permalink

"Several years ago I learned of an American of Korean ancestry by the name of Sue Yu. Needless to say, she became a lawyer."

Saw a poster advertising a concert by a singer called Sing Min Song.

I recently gave my wife an entire book of real and funny names.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 24 Apr 2017 #permalink

Independent Macron is ahead of Le Pen.

Of course it's too early to open the champagne bottle, but this is good news. John Oliver had a comment along the following lines: The French have long prided themselves as being superior to the English and the Americans; now they have a chance to prove it.

Other good news: It looks like Donald Trump's endorsement of Le Pen worked against her. There seems to have been a similar effect in the Netherlands, where Trump's endorsement of Geert Wilders may have contributed to the underperformance of Wilders' party in the recent NL parliamentary elections. And current polling in Germany suggests that Angela Merkel is benefitting from her stance in opposition to Trump.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 24 Apr 2017 #permalink

Saw a poster advertising a concert by a singer called Sing Min Song.

There is a famous paper among physicists and astronomers in which Prof. George Gamow, helping his then student Ralph Alpher prepare a paper on some of the latter's thesis work, persuaded Prof. Hans Bethe to join as a co-author, so that the resulting paper would have the author list Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow. As in alpha-beta-gamma (the paper is sometimes referred to as the αβγ paper).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 24 Apr 2017 #permalink

There is a lot of outrage that Saudi Arabia was permitted to join a UN group addressing women's rights.
The Swedish opposition had a lot of justified (but hypocfritical) criticism about Swedish support for the Saudi representative.

- - -
Every noon at 12,00, Swedish radio broadcasts the "daily poem", a tradition that today had its 80th anniversary,
Here is my contribution:

Rosor är röda violer är blå
Saudi är skit och Iran likaså

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Apr 2017 #permalink

Birger@48 - I suppose it depends somewhat on who the Saudi representative was and what s/he had to say. For once, Google Translate made perfect sense of your poem.

Daughter: "There is something therapeutic about being sterile."

Strange child. She was talking about working in a medical science research laboratory, naturally. Not that she sees a promising long term career as a lab rat.

Whoops!!! They've got a date for H. naledi.

And it ain't that old. In fact, it's stunningly recent. At least, the ones they have found were. Who knows how long it was extant as a species?


Things have had a curious habit of becoming extinct wherever/whenever modern humans have shown up - Pleistocene megafauna, moa, archaic humans.....it's beginning to look a bit suspicious.

We might have to rename ourselves Homo destroyer.

Super interesting about H. naledi! Thanks John!

Recalls what S.J. Gould one wrote: given how modern humans treat each other, it's a good thing there aren't slightly less intelligent hominids around any more...


In theory, with totally random mating among an infinitely large population...

The only thing driving evolution is mutation rate (and interbreeding). And that is pretty small.

I'm waiting for Birger to make a joke about the current prevalence of slightly less intelligent hominids.

"There is a lot of outrage that Saudi Arabia was permitted to join a UN group addressing women’s rights.
The Swedish opposition had a lot of justified (but hypocfritical) criticism about Swedish support for the Saudi representative."

Note that Amnesty International recently started supporting the right to prostitution, which demonstrates that not everyone who thinks of himself as a liberal/leftist thinks the same.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 26 Apr 2017 #permalink

“The Fast and the (Long) Dead”

As opposed to "the quick and the dead", which is actually from the Bible (King James version), not a reference to pedestrians in car-centric cities.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 26 Apr 2017 #permalink

Colour me sceptical. But never say never. The past is full of surprises.

Martin, you need to change name to something Jewish-sounding if you want this class of, er, readership communications.

I prefer Tevye's attitude about this in Fiddler on the Roof:

Yes, I know that we are Your chosen people. But please, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 Apr 2017 #permalink

Is there anything worse than a slow leak?

So, one of the big four Australian banks takes a responsible position on climate change (well, at least it's a start) and promptly get criticised and ridiculed by a Federal Government Minister for it.


I applaud Westpac Bank for taking the position that they have, and if I was King of Australia that Government Minister would immediately be relieved of his responsibilities and placed in stocks in a public place where everyone could hurl shit at him.

But that is not going to happen.

The stink of hypocrisy is overwhelming.

I'm just posting this here now for the sake of promptness - there is far too much complex information for me to take it in quickly or be able to offer any kind of sensible commentary.

But just bear in mind that a lot of the dating definitely looks screwy. That is, it looks screwy, but it might not be.

But we are obviously going to see a lot more genomic information coming out of Africa in the coming 10 years, which has implications for everyone in the world, given that we are all African, ultimately.

Is there anything worse than a slow leak?

Yes. An intermittent problem, also known as a Heisenbug. Because it will invariably work correctly when you show somebody knowledgeable or call tech support.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 #permalink

Oh yes - like an intermittent worrying-sounding noise in a car engine.

Vehicle service personnel are at least as ineffective in tracking those down as they are finding and fixing a slow leak in a tyre.

I'll know what to tell the Cantonese-speaking mechanic next time I have one of those: "It's a Heisenbug. It only happens when you're not here to hear it."

Now, here's a thought to blow your mind: for most of the existence of anatomically modern humans, the Khoisan people have had the largest effective population size.


All of us born of populations living outside of subSharan Africa derive from a founding population that migrated out about 60,000 years ago of no more than about 1,000 individuals. In other words, our ancestors went through a pretty severe bottleneck, which African people did not go through - and as that paper shows, climate change within Africa favoured expansion of the Khoisan populations in southern Africa while people living in other parts of Africa suffered a population decline and loss of some genetic diversity.

In fact, non-Africans have gone through serial bottlenecks as people split up and migrated to different parts of the world, with serial founder effects.

Of course, it's necessary to factor in archaic human admixture, both for non-Africans and Africans, but that amounts to no more than about 2% of the modern human genome for most people.

Another way to think about it is that for most of the existence of modern humans, the most common people on earth, i.e. the people with the largest population, were the 'Bushmen' of southern Africa. And they remain the most genetically diverse, despite undergoing great population reduction within historical time.

Compared to them, we're all trivial in terms of genetic diversity. I find that amazing. And somewhat humbling, somehow.

Yeah - I'm certainly no expert, but I suspect the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is pseudo-science. Which means this Göbekli Tepe paper is in the same category.

I would like to get a more informed view on that, though.

I would have thought the genetic continuity of Clovis found in the Anzick boy, which I think straddles the start of the Younger Dryas, should just about kill it.

Axolotl@80: I agree that the Göbekli Tepe paper is probably bogus. I'm not an expert in the subject, either, but as I understand it, consensus opinion is that an influx of fresh water in the Northwest Atlantic (due to melting of North American glaciers) interfered with the thermohaline circulation. A sufficiently large comet might do it, but unless you have good evidence for it (e.g., an impact crater of the right age and size), one should prefer the non-catastrophic theory. The K-T asteroid theory had compelling evidence in its favor, such as a single stratum with an unusually high iridium abundance in many widely separated locations, even before they found the crater (Chixulub). I am not aware of comparable evidence from the Younger Dryas.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 30 Apr 2017 #permalink

Birger@84 - Excellent piece. Very useful.

Eric@83 - Yep. I think we might have to chalk this piece of work up to confirmation bias.

They have started with the presumption that the impact hypothesis could be correct, and then they have made their interpretation of the carvings fit the theory, thereby providing "compelling evidence."

Confirmation bias is the twin sister of cognitive dissonance - latching onto anything that appears to support the theory, and ignoring any evidence that suggests the theory might just be an intricate fabrication. That's one way to get "compelling evidence" - by ignoring all the evidence that does not fit.

I was initially interested because of my interest in tsunami events caused by megathrust earthquakes on subduction zones of tectonic boundaries, which are cyclic, but which recur with periods of hundreds or even thousands of years. They throw up the challenging question of how to warn people living hundreds of years in the future that the events are going to occur again and that they need to be prepared for them.

This question came up after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami - that was Sweden's worst natural disaster, in terms of Swedish lives lost, and it happened to them in southern Thailand.

In the past the Japanese came up with some different and quite ingenious ways of doing that, in different communities in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the Fukushima event - at least, not the magnitude of it.

Of course, tsunami can be caused by other types of events as well; those are not cyclic, and are largely probably impossible to predict, in the generality.

Sorry, episodic thinking - one way that the consultants to the Thai Government thought of to provide warning to people living hundreds of years in the future is to build massive, long-lasting monuments. (That's why Göbekli Tepe made me think of the subject of tsunami warnings.)

Another thing they thought of doing, which would fit the need for preparedness in southern Thailand, is to build lots of pyramids for people to run up, to get themselves to a high enough elevation to be above the highest tsunami wave height - assuming you are confident you can predict that. But you need to build lots of ways up the pyramids - because otherwise, inevitably what will happen (at least in this part of the world) is that people will stand back to let the elderly and infirm climb up first, and those people will slow everyone else down who needs to get up there in a hurry.

Unfortunately, no one foresaw the Fukushima event – at least, not the magnitude of it.

I've long since lost the link for this, but apparently there was an event of similar magnitude off the Tohoku coast some 1200 years earlier. Apparently there were signs in the region which said (loosely translated): Don't build houses closer to the shore than this. Those signs proved accurate in 2011: areas closer to shore were devastated, while only minor damage was observed further inland.

Providing warnings to people living hundreds of years in the future (or even thousands, in cases like the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository) is a hard problem. The Japanese have had it relatively easy here: linguistic drift has been considerably slower than for many other languages. Even most native English speakers need annotated guides to understand Shakespeare's plays, and that was a bit more than 400 years. Chaucer's English differs enough from modern English that it's effectively a foreign language (the past, as they say, is another country). How do you tell the people of 5000 AD that they should stay away from this mountain top?

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 May 2017 #permalink

You have some of the details about the 2011 tsunami wrong, Eric, but I'm past caring. The modern inhabitants had got the messages and had built protective tsunami walls, and the builders of the Fukushima power station had also got the message, but the 2011 event proved to be a lot bigger in magnitude than that 1200 years earlier. But like I say, I'm past caring.

As for warnings, symbols or simple pictures are far more effective in conveying meaning about hazards to people generally than words anyway. This is a subject that I happen to know a lot about. That is not the difficulty - the difficulty is in creating a warning monument that will be certain to survive for thousands of years.

If that is what the builders of Göbekli Tepe were trying to do (and it's a big if), they certainly succeeded in terms of longevity.