April Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • 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, sorcerer, ape or sea monster. What am I doing wrong?
  • I re-read two random chapters near the end of Peake's Titus Groan for the first time in 30 years. It's really, really good stuff.
  • I grieve for the multitudes of Windows users who don't know what flag-key plus M does.
  • The drumming on "Rock And Roll All Nite" is neat, meticulous, steady, a little fussy. I imagine Gene Simmons's aunt coming into the studio and laying the track down in one take.
  • Provincial museum in neighbouring country asks me to review two papers for an anthology. I pass one and flunk one. Museum person expresses confusion. A few months later they inform me that two new reviewers have passed the paper I flunked. Apparently the definition of academic peer review varies. /-:
  • Why isn't Mary Roach's Grunt available as e-book in Sweden? Not Amazon, not Google, not Kobo.
  • Nope. Tried reading five of the Hugo-nominated novels, didn't feel like finishing any of them. The sixth nominee is the third book in a series, so I'm not even giving it a try. I guess it's obvious: these are nominations by the general fan majority, and I already knew that I don't share the majority taste.
  • Movie: His Girl Friday. Hectic gag-studded 1940 rom-com set among newspaper reporters. Grade: great!


More like this

I've already read three of this year's six Hugo-nominated novels, and am highly unlikely to read two of the remaining three, but since I have voting rights, and want to be as responsible as I can about this, I started on Palimpsest by Cat Valente last night. The language is very rich, and I'm not…
In the time of the lilacs, in the month of laburnum I didn't like any of this year's Hugo-nominated novels, so I'll be voting ”No award” there. But the short-story category really has me confused. The novels aren't great, but most of them are certainly science fiction. Only one of the six shorts…
When the Hugo nominees were announced, Catherynne Valente's Palimpsest was the only one of the three Best Novel nominees I hadn't already read that I was pretty sure I would read. I have very little interest in Robert Sawyer's work, and I've read just enough of Paolo Bacigalupi's short fiction to…
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-…

But of course you have apes in your ancestry. All 30 of them, assuming no overlap in the last four generations. You yourself are an East African plains ape. (Credit Brad DeLong for the term.)

In the US, census information becomes public after 72 years. I know that all of my grandparents were born in the US, so census data exist for at least three generations back, including both of my parents, who were born by 1940. I'd probably have to look up records in Denmark and Sweden if I wanted to go further back, since seven of my eight great-grandparents were born in those countries. (The eighth, my mother's mother's mother, is descended from somebody who arrived in Connecticut in the mid 17th century and married a white girl who was born there.)

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

Gravity: I don't remember any time travel there?

Too bad about the Hugos! A childhood friend of mine wrote one, but I have to admit I haven't read it yet.
What do you think about the new "series" award? I'm quite partial to The Vorkosigan Saga, myself. And it will be a good way to recognize/award authors who write great series where no individual book stands out.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 01 May 2017 #permalink

birger@4 - Scientist at work - my daughter took a selfie fully encased in sterile plastic, mopping down the ceiling of the lab. I treasure it, but she has forbidden me to post it (or any photo of her) anywhere on the Internet. Pity - I could post it on Facebook and claim it is a photo of a visiting alien defying gravity, and at least a few million people would believe it.

I got totally confused between "Grunt" by Mary Roach and "Grunts!" by Mary Gentle.

Careful, Martin - predatory monsters are very clever at disguising themselves and concealing their evil deeds.

Call me a Philistine or tell me my scale of values is wrong, but while witnessing the ongoing terminal destruction of Aboriginal Australians, I simply don't give a damn that a couple of Kazakh teenage girls are learning to become eagle hunters.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 01 May 2017 #permalink

I have been told by some highly competent professional taxation advisers that Australia is the only jurisdiction in which, not only does the government change the tax regulations every year, adding yet further layers of impenetrable complexity, but in some cases they make the changes retrospective for up to 10 years.

So you thought that you had done a careful job of assessing your tax liability for the 2008 tax year and paying the tax you owed? Well, yes, maybe you did. But they have just changed the regulations and made them retrospective, and there is a legal obligation on your part to sift back through your personal accounts to check whether or not the changes mean that you need to pay more of your money to the government for that year. If you fail to do so, and are 'randomly' selected to be audited, you could be charged with tax evasion and made to pay a heavy financial penalty.

Just one of numerous reasons why I tend to choke on my congee when people warn me that I am living under an oppressive authoritarian regime, and lack the personal freedoms that I would be guaranteed living in a wonderful Western style democracy.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 01 May 2017 #permalink

Yay! Razib Khan just commented that he thinks I am right in my assessment of the Ancient North Eurasian steppe ancestral contribution to the modern Indian population.

That's like the Archangel Gabriel commenting that you are indeed, in his personal assessment, one of the lesser angels. It'll do me until we get confirmation from God.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 02 May 2017 #permalink

When the astronaut has moved inside the event horozon the aliens save him (and the robot). He finds himself inside a tesseract where he can look back into the past, and sees his daughter.
He communicates backwards in time, which in terms of paradoxes is just like physically sending a Cyberdyne Systems T-900 into past LA to kill someone.
-- -- --
Nit-picking 1.: It would be cheaper andf easier to sequester CO2 and save Earth than to send billions of people to a wormhole at Saturn for a journey to some new terrestrial planet.
If you let a few teenage nerds work on the script you could probably make it exciting too.
Nit-picking 2: At first stage separation, the speed will be anything between Mach 7 and Mach 12, *NOT* Mach 1.
Goddamn script writers are illiterate morons.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 02 May 2017 #permalink

"I imagine Gene Simmons’s aunt coming into the studio and laying the track down in one take."

Assuming any aunts existed, they were all dead. His entire family except for his mother and her brother perished in the Holocaust. As a result, his mother immigrated to Israel, where Chaim Witz was born. He speaks Hungarian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English, German (I've heard him speaking German on television---not bad), Spanish, and perhaps some more as well.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 02 May 2017 #permalink

Birger@22 - The first paragraph in that article is false, so I didn't bother to read the rest.

There was no 50,000 year 'explosion'. It's bullshit. One example to illustrate why I say so - clear archaeological evidence has recently been found of major innovation in stone tool technology in Africa 70,000 years ago. Projectile points. Really fine workmanship.

Just that one example blows the '50,000 year old great leap forward' theory out of the water. There's lots of others, and people are finding more all the time.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

I wonder if the old 50 000 year "horizon" may be an artefact of preservation conditions changing with climate? Or were people just not looking for older possible sites?
-- -- --
Study could provide first clues about the social lives of extinct human relatives (but only those with sagittal crests) https://phys.org/news/2017-05-clues-social-extinct-human-relatives.html

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

He finds himself inside a tesseract where he can look back into the past, and sees his daughter.
He communicates backwards in time

No. Just no. Aside from the paradox of time travel issues, there is the not so minor detail that gravity does not work that way.

1. By definition, anything inside an event horizon cannot communicate with anything outside that event horizon. The gravitational field is so strong that even light cannot escape.

2. Nor can she communicate with him after he has crossed the event horizon, because in her frame of reference it takes an infinite amount of time for him to cross the event horizon.

3. The premise ignores the well-known problem of spaghettification: tidal forces near a black hole will tend to stretch objects in the direction toward the center of the black hole and compress them in the other directions. Admittedly, one can hand-wave this objection away by specifying a sufficiently large black hole.

Since science fiction deals with what-if scenarios, it is acceptable to handwave away one basic principle, such as the time-travel paradox, if it is necessary to drive the plot. To get away with more than that, you have to be able to argue that all of the changes you are making to the basic physics of your universe are closely related, e.g., you can also waive event horizons if wormholes are your universe's method of time travel. But you actually have to make that argument; you can't just handwave both things away. Which is what this movie seems to be doing. Robert Heinlein notwithstanding, there is nothing magical about a tesseract.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

Birger@24 - "Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." Simon, P.

You are seeking an explanation for something that does not exist.

Preservational environment varies both temporally and spacially. But finds are also a function of where people look for them, like the drunk searching for his keys under the street lamp. I have a Swedish friend who writes whole books on the subject of where to look for things.

Chimpanzees use rocks as tools. They use sharpened sticks to spear bush babies to eat.

Homo erectus had the controlled use of fire at some point, certainly more than half a million years ago. Cooking food made a lot more nutrients available.

How far back in the timeline of human evolution do you want to go looking for 'punctuated equilibrium' before you realise that you can't find any punctuation point?

By Arachæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

Well that was really clever - make a tpyo in your handle and go into the spam filter for a while.

Everyone agreed that A. afarensis was a small species, because someone found Lucy. They agreed on that right up to the time that some other people found some other A. afarensis remains that proved that Lucy was just a very small member of her species.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

Everyone in Australia spells Fuchsia as Fuschia, because they all pronounce it as "few-sha" - they can't face the horror of how a non-German speaking Anglo pronounces Fuchsia, despite current generations all liberally peppering their speech with F bombs every third or fourth word - so poor old Dr Fuchs does not get memorialised.

Well, I have 36 new relatives on 23andMe, and I don't give a flying fuchsia. Add them to the thousands.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

Birger@24 - There are other errors in that piece that should just be a source of embarrassment to the authors.

Example: "migration was always out of Africa, not into it". Now known for a certainty to be absolutely false. There is clear genetic evidence of back-migration from Eurasia into Africa. I mean, why wouldn't people do that? "Hey, look at the map - that's Africa we're heading towards - better not go back there; it took us long enough to get out of there in the first place." No.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

China tells everyone to stop being irritating. Well said.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

"Your comment is awaiting Armageddon."

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 03 May 2017 #permalink

Re: "no madman, sorcerer, ape or sea monster." You could always have a family portrait painted and hide it away, in hopes of inspiring Lovecraftian anguish in a racist great-grandchild ;)

Mano Singham's blog had a discussion about the aggressively stupid "Andrew Jackson" statement, here are two comments (with nods to The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy):
"A potted plant would make a better president at this point"
"...when nominated the candidate, Mr. Potted Plant, said: 'Oh no. Not again!'.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 04 May 2017 #permalink

"Chemtrails Causing Alzheimer’s".
Of course they are... http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/05/04/coach-dave-chemtrail…

Chemtrails, just like that white fluffy stuff that forms above his coffe pot...
This guy is apparently making a well-paid career making shit up. Not even clever shit, but maggot-dumb shit.
-If I get a stroke and lose all ethical concerns, I must follow his lead.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 04 May 2017 #permalink

Birger@36: The President's job is not to wield power, but to attract attention away from it.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad was very good at his job. Donald Trump, not so much. I think I'd rather have Zaphod Beeblebrox as President.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 May 2017 #permalink

Come to think of it, a good H2G2 analog for Donald Trump would be the Ravenous Blugbatter Beast of Traal, a creature so mind-bogglingly stupid, it thinks that if you can't see it, it can't see you.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 May 2017 #permalink

First with the (relevant) news, instead of all the childish cartoonish ideological wittering (you have to grow up some time): the big Bell Beaker paper is out. Also introduces the concept of bioarchaeology, i.e. a synthesis of the two disciplines, which I feel certain is a desirable trend.


Warning: I haven't finished with my 50,000 year rant, yet. If you haven't got the point of the '50,000' yet, it's inspired by racist Eurocentrism. Think about it.

As usual, apology for being relevant/on topic/wanting an adult conversation on archaeology which overlaps with this Blog, which is, after all, meant to be a Science Blog.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

"Bell Beaker men were big on mail order brides."
-- -- -- -- -- --

-If only cartoons were irrelevant... There are government secretaries (Ben Carson) who think the pyramids were used for storing grain. One influential talk radio host recently attributed tornados and storms to "weather terrorism" whatever that is. This madness is the new normal, and the best way to fight it is by relentlessly mocking their spokespeople (logic simply has no effect).

Since skepticism is part of the business of this blog, I feel I am not too far off. My ideology is simply about consensus reality (Earth is older than 4004 BC) fighting utter madness.
-- -- -- --
Normal weirdness: The Stekenjokk mountain road is being cleared of snow. It takes time because the snow is 18 ft thick.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

The Bell Beaker people almost totally replaced the previous inhabitants of Ireland, just as they did in Britain:


You need to take some lessons in persuasion techniques, Birger. Endless comics don't do it, because the persuadable people in the middle ground who are your target audience are not reading the comics. But with luck, a fair % of them will be reading popular science.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

There are some parallels between the Bantu expansion in Africa and the Neolithic invasion of Europe by Near Eastern farmers:


Personally, I have just as strong an objection to the mixing of ideology with science as I do to the mixing of religion with politics.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

Probably of interest to Poms - or maybe I should call them PoBI:


The only people who read the relentlessly mocking comics are the already-persuaded - so you are actually getting nowhere in converting persuadable people of the merits of perceiving and understanding reality. A lot of the persuadables probably can't even 'get' the point of the comics, even if they find them and bother to read and try to understand them - I am willing to bet almost none of them do, ever.

Not that I have any objection to an occasional joke/funny cartoon or whatever, none at all. But this *is* meant to be (primarily at least) a science blog.

It should also occur to Martin that prospective employers will read his blog as part of making an evaluation. He could do himself a lot more good if he posted a lot more good discussion here about archaeology - in amongst the fun/eccentric stuff if he wishes. I have been trying to avoid pointing that out for a very long time (a) for fear of giving offence and (b) because it really is a glaringly obvious point.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

I've been busy writing my castles book in recent months. Whenever I come up with a meatier subject that takes my fancy, of course I blog about it. But most of the ideas I have are easily dealt with in a tweet or brief Facebook update, and then I collect them here as pieces of my mind. I currently don't pay any attention to archaeological news outside Medieval castles. But reader questions are of course always welcome.

Epistemic closure is a serious problem, and the advent of social media and 24-hour "news" channels has made the problem worse. It is unfortunately true that most of the people who need to see the mocking cartoons will not see them. But the idiots do need to be mocked, because logic will never reach them either. And contra Birger, this kind of madness is not normal, and should not be regarded as normal. Attempts by American media to normalize it should be resisted.

Take a look at the situation on the Korean peninsula. On one side of this potential conflict, we have a petulant authoritarian with bad hair, a habit of appointing relatives and cronies to positions of power, access to nuclear weapons, and the temperament to start a war over a perceived insult. On the other side, we have Kim Jong Un. And there are no adults around with the ability to put either of these toddlers in time out.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

John of the changing handles: You are coming into someone else's space and trying to control what other people say in it. In my culture, that is grossly offensive. I suspect that you have some issues in your offline life which bring you here, but sometimes we have to be civil even though its hard.

I am more likely to click Birger's links than yours, because forming a professional opinion on what genetics can say about the distant past would be work, but jokes are a nice break from it.

Pretty sensitive culture you have there, Sean. Do you also have 'safe spaces' and ban freedom of speech? I'm delighted to hear you have been deeply offended - at best I was hoping to mildly piss you off enough to prod you into saying something worth reading. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, except for one helpful clarification.

But your amateur psychology is spot on - I did have a big issue in my offline life which was deeply troubling me, and I did indeed bring it here. Guilty. (Not too guilty, because in response Eric taught me an intriguing new word which is potentially useful.) But yesterday the VW mechanics actually found and fixed the slow leak in my left rear tyre, the clever little buggers, and they charged me a whole whopping US$12 to do it. Very proud of themselves, they were, and rightly so. So, problem solved. A quick inventory reveals that 'offline' I have a real job, I'm still married to my first wife, I have a beautiful, caring and very succesful daughter, and I live where I want to live. Nope - can't find any other issues. It was the slow leak that was reducing me to a neurotic nightmare, but it has been fixed.

Anyway, you have answered one question for me that has been bugging me for a very long time - the reason I can't get more serious discussion going is just mental laziness; either that or just lack of sufficient intelligence. Thanks for clearing that up.

Eric, living in the country that, outside of the USA, probably has the most reason to be worried by the Orange One, I'm sympathetic - and very worried by the apparent lack of adults in America. And I read Birger's comics and laugh at them just as much as anyone else. I click on all of his links, and read all of the stuff he posts, and derive enjoyment and gain enlightenment from doing that. Let me make it clear that I am not sniping at Birger, him least of all people. But (a) you have to realise that preaching to the choir doesn't get you far, and (b) I was making a plea for some more serious discussion of 'academic' issues relating to the synergy derived from modern genetics when allied with archaeology (which is what I came here for in the first place), in terms that lay people can understand and participate in.

But Sean has just cleared up my mystification at why I can't get it. I think Birger termed it 'reader fatigue'. In his case, I imagine that's true. In the case of most others, I suspect it's just mental laziness, lack of intelligence, or simply an unwillingness or lack of interest to engage in those topics. IOW, Sean and people like him simply can't be bothered. It's too hard. The modern genetics revolution has passed them by, and now it's just too hard to catch up.

Martin - I don't use Twitter, for very specific reasons, and I quit reading you and commenting on Facebook a long time ago, mostly because you have a few *really* nasty commenters; in particular one anonymous Dane who decided he was going to stalk me, for whatever bizarre reason I can't imagine. He can go and stalk someone else - I'm not going to feed him.

The posts on the castle digs have been great. But my plea is that there is just too little content like that, or general discussion of other people's output. And I was attempting to point out a reality and give what I think is constructive advice. You don't want it, fine. I said it; I won't commit the sin of repeating it.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 05 May 2017 #permalink

It's OK, Martin. I think I'm done here.

By Archæopteryx (not verified) on 06 May 2017 #permalink

The second phase of the French election starts now. I am frightened.

The fight against wilful ignorance must be fought on many fronts. Sadly, not all read about popularised science. Satire can often reach those who rarely pick up magazines or watch Discovery channel. *This* episode is about history. Civil war history.

Re. population genetics, I hope some of the smarter Mormons will start to realise indians did not come from the middle east. Some Le Pen voters may one day realise racism is bullshit. A lot of people will never change their minds. I hope their children will absorb science instead of BS.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 06 May 2017 #permalink

Some Le Pen voters may one day realise racism is bullshit. A lot of people will never change their minds. I hope their children will absorb science instead of BS.

There may be hope for the children. I have much less hope for people who reach adulthood without having their racist views unchallenged.

The best antidote I know of to racism is being exposed to different people as your equals. Americans in big cities are on average far less afraid of Muslim terrorists than those in the countryside, even though such terrorists are more likely to strike in big cities, because in the cities you are more likely to encounter Muslims under circumstances where you realize that they are not so different from you. Likewise with the Brexit vote: urban and university constituencies, whose residents are far more likely to come into contact with immigrants as peers, tended to vote Remain while rural and rust belt constituencies in England and Wales, who tend to regard everyone from east of Calais as wogs, were far more likely to vote for Brexit.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 May 2017 #permalink

Explainer: Why is Stephen Fry being investigated for blasphemy and what happens next? http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/newsireland/explainer-why-is-stephen-fry-…
If Stephen Fry has to pay the fine, it woud be the Irish version of the Scopes trial.

Wogs? Do they still use that word?
The Major: "They are not n*ggers, they are wogs!"
(This exchange has been censored from re-runs of Fawlty Towers.)

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 07 May 2017 #permalink

Wogs? Do they still use that word?

Usual caveats apply since I don't actually live in the UK. My guess is that it's one of those words that aren't supposed to be used in polite society, but still get used sometimes when the speaker thinks nobody to whom the word would apply is within earshot.

I understand the difference between the two terms the Major uses in that line. The first applies to sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants in the Americas and Europe. The second is a generic term for people who are not of the British Isles, including people with a similar skin shade to those who do.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 May 2017 #permalink

Birger: well, in the meantime, I am volunteering at the local makerspace so the Syrians and Iraqis can finish their sewing and alteration projects. And David Neiwert (who has been watching a lot of crazy, ugly people for a long time) finds that amateur humour is much more effective at battling fascism than amateur violence.

BTW, John, hang in there. Genetic data will keep getting even more important, as the methods are refined.

"Archaeogeneticist pinpoints Indian population origins using today's populace" https://phys.org/news/2017-05-archaeogeneticist-indian-population-today…
-I wonder if the Indus civilisation formed in part because of the need for a centralised state to respond to threats as migrations pushed groups against each other.

By Bir gerJohansson (not verified) on 09 May 2017 #permalink