June Pieces Of My Mind #2

On a whim I searched for my surname in the Sites & Monuments Register and was awarded with a distribution map of fieldwork I have directed
  • Boiled cauliflower is bland and boring. But try slicing it and baking it at a high temperature in the oven with oil and salt. Good stuff!
  • Archaeoscience friends! The other day when I was feeling happy I had the idea that you guys should develop a method to measure lifetime happiness in human bone. Preferably including variability over the life span.
  • Proponents of market capitalism tend to confuse a description of how the market works with a prescription for how we should organise society. It's basically "Don't bring an umbrella, it's supposed to rain!"
  • I got a letter with some apparently irrelevant genealogical info from a DNA relative. She comments, apologetically, "I am 86 years old and I suffer somewhat from dementia."
  • I had no idea bird baths are such fun. Never get tired of watching our feathered neighbours at their ablutions.
  • Got my WorldCon scheduling today. I'm giving one talk for grown-ups, two for kids and I'm on one panel.
  • Cousin E taught me a piece of Chinese innuendo: "romantic action movie".
  • I was pleased and surprised to find an uncredited summary of one of my papers in the local history annual on the back label of a beer bottle from the Fisksätra micro brewery.
  • Wednesday evening sailboat mini race. Sunshine, birdsong and barely any wind.
  • I want to live in constant summer.
  • Today's my 25th anniversary as a professional archaeologist. With the exception of a few months on the dole in 1993 and 2001, I've supported myself and two kids exclusively with archaeological work and spent most of that quarter century at research.
  • I'm doing something utterly Lovecraftian today: sending a strangely heavy, black stone (found in the overgrown ruins of an abandoned Medieval castle on an island) to a university professor to learn his professional opinion about it.
  • Copy editing Timo Salminen's paper for Fornvännen's October issue, I learned something fun. As late as 1878, Oscar Montelius wasn't aware of the Pre-Roman Iron Age in agricultural Scandinavia, which is 530 years long. He thought that the Bronze Age ended about AD 1 and was immediately succeeded by the Roman Imperial Period! My guess is that this was because of the PRIA's notoriously scanty grave furnishings.
  • I just gave some wealthy sponsors of my research a guided tour of the multinational council housing estate where I live. They happily went along and were quite interested.
  • Begonias are named for Michel Bégon (1638-1710), a French official and plant collector.
  • First swim of the year in Lake Lundsjön!
  • 24 applicants for Stockholm U archaeology lectureship, several with exceptional qualifications.
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“Don’t bring an umbrella, it’s supposed to rain!”

Have these people not heard of insurance? Most of the time I carry an umbrella, I don't need it, but sometimes it rains, and if that happens when I need to go somewhere, it's handy to have an umbrella, or something else to keep my head and upper body dry.

That said, you should not carry an umbrella in Seattle unless you want to be taken for a tourist. Locals there wear raincoats, or jackets and hats. Seattle is quite rainy compared with most of the western US, but it averages less precipitation annually than much of the midwestern and northeastern US (including where I live).

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

Ooh, have you tried roasted cauliflower with paprika? So good!

Chop into florets, drizzle with oil mixed with salt and paprika, spread onto baking tray and cook at 425F for about 20 minutes. (Sorry, I've only got American units for cooking.)

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

Eric Lund: Seattle and Vancouver, BC are home to a good number of rain wear manufacturers and retailers. There's a whole outdoor wear industry, and umbrellas just aren't part of it. On the plus side, it's one of the best towns to be in when you want to buy a rain hat or rain coat. REI even has a rain room where you can try things on and see how they deal with water.

J.A.T., that sounds great!

Everybody, I'm sorry that all your comments currently go to moderation. Wordpress is glitching and not recording your IP numbers properly, so it thinks every comment is from a first-time commenter. Nobody is being singled out for this unfriendly treatment.

I want to live in constant summer.

Oh, you said that already. Well, me too.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

I'm not being moderated - but I'm the only one who needs to be!

I love plain steamed cauliflower. I must be weird. But yes, it is definitely improved by some paprika.

Umbrellas are not only useless in typhoons, they are positively dangerous. All of the times I got called out on emergency duty during raging typhoons, I just went out in shorts, a T-shirt, a safety climbing helmet and climbing boots, and reconciled myself to getting soaked to the skin for many hours on end - it's warm wet, not cold wet, so no big deal. Besides, it's so humid that if you wear any kind of waterproof gear, you just get wet on the inside from sweating - rainwater feels cleaner, even though driven by wind so strong that the impact of the rain drops is physically painful.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

"I want to live in constant summer."

You can, just not in Sweden.

While I enjoy summer, I think that the change of the seasons---more obvious in very northern or southern regions---is also important.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

Not much fun when the change signals the start of two months of zero Celsius, icy drizzle and shrinking daylight.

I'm a former resident of Florida. Endless summer is overrated.

It's true that even in the tropics and subtropics you have seasons. It's just that they typically take the form of rainy season/dry season rather than the large temperature variations you see in the so-called temperate zones.

I can understand not liking icy drizzle. I don't like it either. I'm fine with snow, but sleet, freezing rain, and worst of all, mixed precipitation (you get all of the downsides of snow and none of the upsides) get old fast. Which is why so many people moved to places like Florida and coastal California in the first place.

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

Martin,
Thanks for the info about the moderation! I know Orac had to turn it on over at RI because of a rampant sock-puppeteer, so I assumed that the restriction was just following me around ScienceBlogs.

The Seattle bias against umbrellas makes sense because it's not really rain, more of a persistent drizzle. What's funny is to watch life-long Seattleites react to a real rainstorm. "Why do these raindrops hurt?!"

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

Moderation? Here is one that is mega-unmoderate:
Scott Lively of the Christian Right Declares America the ‘Great Satan’ http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/06/21/scott-lively-declare…
-Maybe that's what Trump meant by "Make America Great Again."
It is lovely when people from different religions can come together on an issue (sarcasm).
-- -- -- --
(from the blog Great American Satan: "Uncomfortable Positions" https://freethoughtblogs.com/gas/2017/05/14/uncomfortable-positions/
About making a stand in one’s own personal subculture.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

Regarding the rainy region around Seattle and the US northwest, I am told that Skagit county is in "rain shadow" -rather like northern Sweden is in rain shadow from Norway(and thank Zuul and Gozer for that, or it would be like England).

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

"measure lifetime happiness in human bone"

I think male ursines have a special bone for that.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

Birger@12: Actually, pretty much the entire Puget Sound region, as well as Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast in BC, are in rain shadows (from the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island mountains, respectively). That's why Seattle gets as little precipitation as it does. On the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, as well as parts of coastal British Columbia that aren't in rain shadows, you can find temperate rain forests. And east of the Cascade Mountains you can find deserts. But the Columbia River and its tributaries provide plenty of irrigation water to portions of that desert, which makes it a good place for growing apples, as well as good wine country (among US states Washington is second to California in wine production, and I have found that at least in my price range Washington wines are better than California wines).

Sea level snow is rare in that part of the world. I have been in Seattle when it has snowed there. The city pretty much shuts down. They do own one snowplow, because snow does occasionally fall on some of the higher hills within city limits, but it isn't nearly enough when snow levels drop to sea level. The state maintains the motorways, so those fare a bit better (the one that goes east from Seattle crosses a ~900 m mountain pass 85 km east of the city center). But even so one should check the pass report before traveling across the mountains, because traction tires or chains may be required, or the pass may be temporarily closed for avalanche control.

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

BTW, Isn't Seattle in the same general region as the "scabbed lands" catastrophic flooding erosion feature?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

Someone else (American) who has views on market capitalism. Warning - she uses somewhat strong language:

https://medium.com/@girlziplocked/the-kids-are-socialists-because-capit…

Latest polls in Australia show that fully 40% of all adults, and >50% of young adults, no longer believe in democracy as a suitable form of government. I think they are confusing democracy with free market capitalism.

Australia has no socialist party. The most left-leaning of the major parties is now almost indistinguishable from the most right-leaning of the major parties in order to try to capture the votes of the 'moderate' (i.e. dumb) centre, and none of the minor parties is socialist - they are either 'green' or more extreme right wing.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

Birger@16: The "scabbed lands" are in the Columbia River valley east of the Cascade Mountains. As the glaciers were retreating at the end of the last Ice Age, a no-longer-existing lake called Lake Missoula (it was somewhere around where the modern Montana city of that name is) broke through its ice dam, and the main channel of the Columbia River wasn't big enough to handle the resulting flow.

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

I think they are confusing democracy with free market capitalism.

There has definitely been a fair amount of propaganda in Anglophone media conflating the two. It's not just Rupert Murdoch, although he deserves the largest share of the blame (he is a major media player in the UK and the US as well as his native Australia). I'm old enough to remember a time when being even the least bit cozy with Russia/the USSR was considered highly unpatriotic in the US (in contrast to the current US administration). "Red Scares" have been a reliable way to get votes in the US since at least the 1940s (see Nixon, Richard; McCarthy, Joseph; Reagan, Ronald; and Bush, George W.) Thanks to the Cold War, Americans came to associate democracy with capitalism. Perhaps something similar happened in Australia.

The US doesn't have a socialist party, either. We do have Greens, but unlike their European counterparts, ours are buffoonish and (at best) ineffective. A Norwegian Conservative informed me that in his country Bernie Sanders would be considered a mainstream conservative; here, he is as far left as public discourse will allow, and that only because he lives in a small state that tolerates these things.

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

"We do have Greens, but unlike their European counterparts, ours are buffoonish and (at best) ineffective."

The big policy initiative of the Greens in Western Australia is that they want to ban kids' balloons because they are made of plastic.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

Antiques road show: The Queens speech featured two tired- looking 90-year olds.
It looked downright cruel, like the popes dragged out to the balcony when they were three-quarters dead...

Germany had a bit of a storm yesterday, with railroads still closed down by tree trunks across the tracks.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

"Midsummer day" chilly and overcast, ends with sustained
rainfall. At least it is consistently miserable, you do not get any false hope.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 24 Jun 2017 #permalink

Abrahamic religions usually feature gods and angels depicted in sombre grey or white garb. Melek Taus, the guardian angel of the Yazidians, is an exception. He is something of a peacock.
-- --
The new Trumpcare version in the senate is so vile the Republicans are rushing it through as fast as possible .
They do not want any un-american "debates" or "analysis".

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 25 Jun 2017 #permalink

Seth Meyers can express this much better than me.
'Senate GOP Tries to Rush Its Cruel Trumpcare Bill': “A Closer Look With Seth Meyers” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMhy9aE6tN4
There is a lot of other stuff first, but it is worth looking through the segment.
-- -- --
Unseen 'planetary mass object' signalled by warped Kuiper Belt https://phys.org/news/2017-06-unseen-planetary-mass-warped-kuiper.html
Not just "Planet Nine" but also "Planet Ten".
The inner one would have the mass of Mars...which is a lot more than the mass of Pluto.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 25 Jun 2017 #permalink

Dutch Chinese guy in Hong Kong for the first time, asks: "Um...when will it stop raining?"

Well, you see, we are now in what is called 'the wet season', so basically, it won't stop raining. In fact, it will continue to get worse between now and September. If we happen to get a couple of dry days, enjoy them, because they definitely won't last.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Jun 2017 #permalink

Not just “Planet Nine” but also “Planet Ten”.

So Dr. Emilio Lizardo was prophetic:

Where are we going?
PLANET TEN!
When?
REAL SOON!

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

John@27: My experience with monsoon climates, both in Florida and in eastern Asia, is that the rain usually comes in the form of thunderstorms. It typically rains for 15-30 minutes at a time, then stops, at least until the next thunderstorm arrives. It's similar in most of the eastern two thirds of the US, although outside the subtropics thunderstorms are usually associated with large-scale weather fronts, which rarely remain in one place for very long.

I am aware that in inland southern China a quasi-stationary line of thunderstorms will often develop, and severe flooding can ensue if this line remains in the same location too long. I do not know whether such lines of thunderstorms extend to the coast. A typhoon would also have lots of thunderstorms embedded in a large-scale weather system, although typhoons tend to be in motion.

If the former scenario is typical for Hong Kong, then it makes sense to ask how long these thunderstorms typically last, i.e., "When will it stop raining today?" If the latter scenario applies, then most Europeans would not be familiar with it (for purposes of this question this guy would effectively be European), and it's still reasonable to ask the question.

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

Eric@26 - Yes, for practical purposes this guy is Dutch, and it was a reasonable question for him to ask - it just caused hilarity among people familiar with HK summer weather.

Yes, during the wet season we get rain from 3 main sources: typhoons (most of the heaviest rain comes as the typhoon is departing, rather than when it is approaching), low pressure systems that move through, but if met by a north-easterly airstream coming the other way they can balance each other and the low pressure trough can sit stationary along the southern coast of China for a long time, and convectional thunderstorms that, to the unfamiliar, just seem to blow up suddenly out of nowhere on a fine sunny day. The heaviest prolonged rainfall comes from low pressure systems that just sit stationary on the coast, when it rains heavily for days and days without stopping. In such cases the rain won't stop until the system finally gets out of balance and the low pressure trough finally moves away.

In HK it is possible for it to rain heavily all day long without stopping, for several days in a row without stopping, or even for weeks without stopping. This has so far been a somewhat wetter than average June, with heavy rainfall almost every single day this month, on many days lasting for the whole day - hence the plaintive question from the Chinese Dutch guy about when it would stop, and the answer - once everyone had stopped laughing - it won't.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Jun 2017 #permalink

Erm, that was to Eric@29.

By John Massey (not verified) on 26 Jun 2017 #permalink

""Why UK millennials voting for socialism could happen here" http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/339675-why-uk-…

-Actually,what we have in Scandinavian countries is not socialism, but a political consensus for a *mixed* economy, and this is model that works fine here and in Germany. Last time I checked, Angela Merkel was a conservative, and Germany remains the strongest economy in Europe.
Corbyn and Sanders would fit right in in Berlin.

Anglo-saxon conservatives are the outliers (unless you count countries like Hungary and Poland).

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 27 Jun 2017 #permalink

Shades of past experiences - when my daughter was a child, she looked to Western eyes like an 'Asian', whereas I do not. Often when I was out somewhere with her, walking around holding her hand, when my wife was absent, I got some very nasty looks from people of European ancestry, as if I was some kind of child abuser. I used to silently pray that they would contact the Police and report me, instead of just staring at me fixedly with angry looks on their faces - to any Chinese Police Officer, it would be immediately obvious that we were father and daughter.

This never happened with Chinese people - to Chinese eyes, my daughter looks like my daughter, and always did. The typical Chinese reaction to seeing me and my daughter walking around holding hands was to smile benignly at the (to them, obvious) sight of a father and daughter out together. To them, the family resemblance was obvious; to Westerners it was non-existent.

Perception is a strange thing. Westerners see my daughter as Asian. Chinese people see her as Western. In reality, she's half way in between.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

John, I had similar experiences with tiny Jrette. Chinese people saw her as a Western child. Swedes largely saw her as an adopted Chinese child. When she grew tall I started walking arm-in-arm instead of hand-in-hand with my daughter because I felt people might get the wrong idea.

It is not unusual to see adult children and their parents walking hand in hand in HK - sons and mothers, fathers and daughters. I used to hold my wife's grandmother's arm when we were out walking - she would get snitchy if I didn't. Well, she had bound feet and wasn't too steady walking, so... My daughter still sometimes holds my hand when we are out walking somewhere. When she does that in Australia, yeah - people still stare. Not in HK.

It is also very common for teenage schoolgirl friends to walk around holding hands. When my Australian ex-brother in law came to HK for the first time, he asked me why so many Chinese schoolgirls were lesbians.

Cultural cognitive dissonance.

When my daughter was 9 years old, I took her to watch an exhibition tennis match between the then very young Serena Williams and Monica Seles, who was on the verge of retirement. (For the record, Serena started her first service game with two double faults, and Monica won in 3 sets in an absolutely cracking match.) But the event was largely spoiled for me because two white American women sitting in the row in front of us kept turning around all through the match and giving me filthy looks. I wanted to call out "Hey, why don't you call the cops?" so I could enjoy watching them being given a stern lecture by a Chinese female Police Officer about how HK people don't like strangers interfering in private family matters.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

Laughing at my own recollection (just something people of a certain age do, I suppose) - I was out with my wife's family having lunch one Sunday in a very large Chinese restaurant. It was a very hot, humid day, and the restaurant was very crowded, absolutely packed, stuffy and airless. And Grandma passed out. Just flaked out on the floor.

When she came round, she said she couldn't walk. So someone needed to pick her up and carry her outside to put her into a taxi, to take her to hospital to have her checked out. My wife turned to me and said "Sorry." "What?" "Grandma wants you to carry her." "Why me?" "You're the only one she trusts not to drop her." That old woman adored me and I could do no wrong in her eyes, and I appreciated it, I really did, but she was a real Shandong woman, built like a brick outhouse, and weighed a metric tonne. Her two Chinese grandsons were grumbling, like "Why is he always the favourite?" They would have been welcome to the job, but the old lady wouldn't hear of it. No, it had to be me.

So, young European male carries elderly Chinese woman in his arms like an overgrown baby out of a very crowded restaurant - we did get quite a few strange stares that day. Life in an ethnically mixed family has its 'interesting' moments.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

It has generally been my experience that most people of primarily European ancestry view people of mixed European/non-European ancestry as non-European. Barack Obama's mother was white, but he has always been considered black because his father was black. Things have been improving a bit in the US on that front: if Jrette or John's daughter ever needed to fill out a US census form, they could check both "White" and "Asian". That is a recent change, within the last decade or so. It's a natural result of increasing intermarriage.

Since I live in an American university town, I see many ethnic Chinese students around town. Some are ABCs (American-born Chinese), but most carry PRC passports, and many of the others are ethnic Chinese from other Asian countries. The ABCs are culturally little different from many of the white students. The ones from China are a distinct group. But even among the PRC students are some that clearly have some Western ancestry, e.g., the shade of red hair that results from the interaction of blonde hair genes and Asian hair genes.

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

I see that Michael Nyqvist has died, very young.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40426177

I am saddened by that - I really enjoyed his performances in the Swedish productions of the Girl With the DragonTattoo Trilogy. And, although I have been unimpressed by Noomi Rapace in everything I have seen her in subsequently (admittedly in pretty crappy roles), I thought she absolutely nailed the role of the eponymous Girl brilliantly. I thought the Swedish films were far superior to the Hollywood remake. Just no comparison.

I still have the DVDs, hoping that one day I will be able to talk my daughter into watching them.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

Eric@40 - You can tell the difference between how a Whitey living in a mostly White country perceives people of mixed ancestry, and how their perception undergoes some kind of phase shift after they have been living among a mostly Chinese population for a while - they acquire the ability to discern easily between Chinese and half-Chinese people easily. And, you know that old joke about how all Chinese look the same, well, that stops happening.

It's all just environmental conditioning. You see a lot of Chinese around your town, so you have probably developed more sensitive perception of their appearance that the average American White, and can see things that others can't see.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

@John: I have been fortunate to live most of my life in places where immigrants and children of immigrants have been a substantial minority of the population. Starting in Florida with the Latin American (mostly but not exclusively Cuban) population, and then in university towns with students from all over the world. It certainly does affect how I view the world. Some of my relatives have lived most or all of their lives in rural/small town environments, and to the extent that I know their politics, they tend to be far-right wingnuts. Accents usually don't bother me, but I have heard anecdotally that many white American students complain about the accents of foreign-born professors (this isn't limited to Asian professors; my former boss, who is German, has had this problem as well). And as you note, I have little difficulty identifying individual east Asians once I have matched name and face (that part can give me difficulties no matter what the ancestry of the person I have just met).

As for the old saw about east Asians looking alike, I have heard that there is a similar phenomenon among east Asians who do not routinely deal with Westerners: they tend to think that all Westerners look alike. Again, the ones who do routinely interact with Westerners learn to tell them apart.

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

In the humor program "Not the Nine O'Clock News" Margaret Thatcher was walking through a British factory with a visiting Chinese dignitary. He said "I am sure they are very nice people, but they all look the same". Mrs Thatcher agreed.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

"As It Is in Heaven" ( Så som i Himmelen ) with Nyqvist was nominated to Oscar for best foreign film.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

Eric@44 - Not to the same extent. People of European ancestry have variegated hair and eye colours, whereas (almost) everyone else in the world has black hair and brown eyes, so seeing Europeans as 'all the same' is not really credible. It's more something that people just say to 'hit back' or, equally likely, simply because Asian people are not paying attention to Europeans because they are not considered relevant/significant, so they don't bother to note details of appearance - they're just all put in a 'foreigner' box and ignored. When you pay no attention to a whole class of people, whatever might define that class, then yes, of course they all look the same, because you have specifically labelled them as such.

I used to play a lot of men's doubles tennis in a club competition, for quite a while with a doubles partner who was a Chinese guy I got on pretty well with. One evening we were scheduled to play against the Indian Recreation Club. So, I and my Chinese partner were waiting on the court for our opponents to arrive, and two Indian guys appeared in the distance, walking towards us. He peered at them and said "Have we played these guys before?" Deadpan, I said "I can't tell. They all look the same to us, don't they?" My partner stared at me very hard for about 15 seconds and then started laughing, and couldn't stop. He was still laughing when the Indian guys arrived on the court and said "Hi. What's the joke?"

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2017 #permalink

Searching for the ghosts of our evolutionary past. We might never find them. Or, quite suddenly, we might. The recent Moroccan discovery and its implications came as a total shock to almost everyone (I would have said to absolutely everyone, but I don't know that for a certainty - but it seems very likely, although Dienekes Pontikos was predicting something similar as far back as 2012). There is far more yet to learn about modern human ancestry than is currently known.

https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/06/30/basal-humans-in-our-evolutionary-closet/

While I am at it, I would like to correct some incorrect stuff that has been bandied around: Razib Khan is not racist (I know for a fact that he has been a target for white supremacists in the past, and for all I know he might still be - he deletes all that stuff from comments). He is not alt.right. He is not a Trump supporter. He does not belong to the HBD crowd - he thinks they are mostly dumb. He is an atheist. He has noted very recently that economically he aligns with Macron, but predicts that Macron will very soon drop a lot in popularity. I have been reading Razib's prolific output on human genetics ever since he started in 2002, and never once have I felt that he was saying something inappropriate or offensive. I have learned a lot from him, much of which has been very helpful. He can be pretty rough on commenters sometimes, but they are people who had it coming, in my view.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2017 #permalink

"Barack Obama’s mother was white, but he has always been considered black because his father was black."

No. It's because he looks more black than white. As he said himself, "If you think I'm not black, just watch me try to get a taxi on the south side of Chicago".

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 30 Jun 2017 #permalink

When I was at university, I had a good friend from Tanzania. Very bright guy; he had been to university in Moscow and could speak fluent Russian. But he came from a tribal background, so there was lots of interesting stuff he could talk about. On weekends, he would often sit in our living room chatting. When the sun went down, he would gradually disappear. When all we could see were his eyes, and his teeth when he smiled or laughed, someone would get up and switch the light on, and he would magically reappear.

As one NBA star commented after returning from a trip to West Africa: "I thought I was black, but those people are *really* black."

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2017 #permalink

On average, African Americans have about 80% subSaharan African ancestry - mostly West African, which is where most of the people were taken from to supply the slave trade to the Americas and the Caribbean. So at 50% Kenyan, Barack Obama would be noticeably more pale skinned than the majority of African Americans. You could only see him as looking 'more black than white' from a Eurocentric perspective. If you saw him in an American city with a large African American population, I doubt this would be possible.

Mr Obama and his family are currently on holiday in Indonesia, and I have been eyeballing some of the press photos of him standing next to Indonesian men. I would say his skin tone is about the same as adult Indonesian males. So relatively, he is really quite light skinned.

But that is not the point!!!

Eric is much better qualified to comment on race politics in America than I am, but there tends to be a hangover from the era of the Jim Crow laws, when the 'one drop' rule was operating, meaning that anyone who had even one drop of African blood was classified as 'black'. To some extent, that is still operating today, so unless some can 'pass as white' (i.e. has pale skin and no visually discernible African-looking features), they are automatically classified as 'black' - and likely 'claimed' by other African Americans as black also, because disadvantaged minorities usually welcome an increase in their numbers because they think it gives them more political clout.

So Mr Obama is not classified as 'black' because he looks more African than European, he doesn't; he looks exactly like what he is, half Kenyan and half north-western European - it is because he cannot 'pass as white', and other Americans don't see him as white, so almost by default they see him as 'black', not 'mixed race'. That was the point he was making about trying to get a taxi - the taxi drivers in the south side of Chicago 'see' him as 'black'.

Hell, even this woman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Dolezal was able to defraud people for a long time by claiming 'black identity', even though she has zero African ancestry and is of German, Dutch, Swedish and Czech ancestry going back 4 generations, just by going to tanning salons, putting tanning lotion on her skin and getting her hair permed, and she got away with it until her own parents stated publicly that she was a white woman posing fraudulently as black.

Her claim that 'race is just a social construct' and that her racial identity is genuine while not based on biology or ancestry, is absolutely definitely not OK - not when it is used to obtain benefits and employment intended for people of a particular disadvantaged minority, in this case African Americans.

So you are wrong about Barack Obama, Phillip - he is considered black for the reason Eric gave, and because he has visibly discernible part-African traits, not because he looks more black than white. He doesn't - he looks like what he is, no more and no less. In America, being half-African makes him an African American, not 'mixed'. If he were half Indonesian, or half Chinese or even half Indian, then he would be considered 'mixed', but being black is a special category in America for historical reasons.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Jul 2017 #permalink

And in relation to the American Presidency, 'orange is the new black' has taken on a whole new sinister meaning.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Jul 2017 #permalink