August Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • Reading Matt Ruff's new novel about black Americans in the 50s. Annoyed to find that nothing in the dialogue would sound out of place if spoken by a white American sci-fi fan in 2017.
  • Feared 45 would be the sort who gets the trains running on time and starts wars. Actually can't get trains running at all, wars with TV hosts.
  • Etymological misunderstanding in this novel. Ruff parses the name Braithwaite as Braith-white, when it is actually Brae-thwaite.
  • There's this book about edible wild plants in Sweden named "Can you eat these things?" A more important question is "What population density could Sweden support if we reverted to hunting-fishing-gathering?".
  • I saw a seal between Bullandö and Djurönäset.
  • Apron is furkle in Stockholm Swedish.
  • Wonder how old our current run of seven-day weeks is. It's survived several calendar reforms and at least one re-naming of the days.
  • I've worked a lot with gender symbolism and gender transgression during the Late Iron Age. I'm an LGBTQ friendly scholar. But I'm sad to see the Swedish History Museum spread erroneous statements and wishful speculations on this theme in the country's biggest newspaper because of Stockholm Pride.
  • In theory of science, you usually reckon with two possible states of debate over a given issue. Either the scientific community is undecided, or it has reached a (provisional) consensus. In poorly funded and staffed subjects such as mine, there's a common third state: apathy. This is when the scientific community doesn't care enough about the issue to comment on it. Someone voices an opinion, and then it's 40 years before someone else replies, and nobody pays any attention to either of the scholars.
  • The post-apocalyptic pictures of the Statue of Liberty or the Capitol sticking up out of water / ice / desert sand reveal a poor understanding of how deserted buildings collapse.
  • The head of a humanities think tank in Sweden has published an argument that strikes me as remarkably silly: "When simple jobs are lost to automation, the market value of humanities skills will rise." So as the taxi drivers become jobless, a PhD in modern Latvian poetry will grow more valuable. Huh.
  • Too often these standard 350-pp books barely keep me reading along, while part of me just wants them to end. Now I'm reading a feckin' 1000-page P.F. Hamilton novel and the pages simply keep on turning.
  • According to the POTUS, relations with Russia are "at an all-time and very dangerous low." Cuban missile crisis, anyone?
  • I gotta say, it's pretty amazing that I can read daily tweets from William cranial-jacking Gibson himself. Respect!
  • The 20th century: the time of smoking cigarettes while driving combustion-engine cars.
  • Much of English Wikipedia's article about soy sauce has been written by someone who doesn't quite know when to use the word "the", and prefers to skip it. This suggests to me that the information in the article is probably quite accurate.
  • Decryption and decoding are the same. Doesn't matter if it's encrypted English or plaintext Swahili. I won't understand either.
  • Had a strange taste of retirement this past weekend: teenage kids off doing stuff, just me and my wife at my mom's summer house. Though my wife looks about 40 years from retirement.
  • Holy fuck. Junior has been teaching himself Japanese for the past year and a half. Today I learned that he has picked up 500 kanji characters along the way and reads Chinese food packaging quite easily. :-0
  • A friendly soul at this publishing house apparently knows my daughter's name. Their envelope of otherwise generic advertising material contained an old tea spoon with "Signe" engraved on it.
  • This Picasso "Pigeons" print hung in our house when I grew up, and I've been wondering for decades what the spotted triangular thing in the lower left-hand corner is. A lamp shade? Took me 5 mins on WWW to find that it's a stylised building that is seen outside the window in early treatments of the motif.
Pablo Picasso, Pigeons, 1957, detail
Pablo Picasso, Pigeons, 1957, detail

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“When simple jobs are lost to automation, the market value of humanities skills will rise.” So as the taxi drivers become jobless, a PhD in modern Latvian poetry will grow more valuable. Huh.

In the early 1970s, following the collapse of the US job market for academic physicists (things went from "tenure track positions for anybody who wants one" to "no jobs available even if you are Nobel Prize material" almost overnight), there was a joke that the easiest way to find a Ph.D. physicist in New York City was to hail a taxi. What does our hypothetical Ph.D. in modern Latvian poetry do to pay the rent when taxi driving isn't an option? Being a waiter is an option, true, but you don't need to be a Ph.D. for that.

Not that I think the occupation of taxi driver will go away. I have been hearing lots of hype about driverless cars, but absent a major redesign of our road networks, I expect that to remain hype. What I do see is that at least in the US, taxi drivers tend to be immigrants. In some cities a particular ethnic/national group dominates (e.g., Somalis in Minneapolis; in other cities it might be Russians or Indians), but of multiple nationalities in some other cities.

Relevant anecdote: A contractor who has done a couple of jobs for me (including a roof replacement project) has a Ph.D. in history, with a focus on music of the Colonial era in what became the US. For him it was always a hobby. While in grad school he did construction work to pay the bills. After completing the degree, he continued to do construction work because that pays better than any job he might get that actually uses his Ph.D.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

Feared 45 would be the sort who gets the trains running on time and starts wars. Actually can’t get trains running at all, wars with TV hosts.

Consider the situation in North Korea. On one side you have a petulant authoritarian with bad hair and a habit of appointing relatives and close friends to positions of power. On the other side you have Kim Jong Un. Maybe the former isn't so idiotic as to get involved in a land war in Asia, but that's not how I would bet.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

And speaking of the Dolt 45 follies, we learned this morning (UTC-0400) that the FBI served a search warrant on the home of former campaign manager Paul Manafort on 26 July. This tells me two things:
1. To obtain a search warrant, a law enforcement agency must demonstrate to a judge that there is probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found. Which means that Manafort is in deep kimchi.
2. FBI raids are not exactly subtle. At minimum, Manafort's neighbors had to know that the raid happened. Yet it took fully two weeks for the news to become public. It's impressive to keep something like that secret for that long, especially when some of the people who know about it are neighbors under no obligation to remain quiet about what happened next door.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric, the neighbors are under no legal obligation to keep quiet. But in a affluent, self-styled "high class" neighborhood there may be a very strong social pressure not to see or hear anything untoward about your neighbors, or to "snitch" about it to outsiders.

To add: I just took a look at the place. It's one of those fairly wide places with lots of bushes, trees and stuff all over the plot of land. If they didn't arrive with sirens blazing, and midday when many people are away, it's quite possible nobody else even noticed.

The FBI prefers to do their raids at or just before dawn. True, it's summer, so some of them may have been on vacation, but anybody who wasn't either on vacation or traveling on business would likely have been home. And while they probably wouldn't have gone in with sirens blazing (which in that kind of neighborhood would give the homeowner a minute or two of warning as well as wake up the neighbors, their flashing lights would have been on, and those are difficult to ignore (I know this from experience: it is common for the police in my town to pull people over for running stop signs in my neighborhood). The Washington DC metro area also tends to keep relatively early hours, so even though the sun wasn't up yet it's likely some of the neighbors were fully awake.

It could well be that the neighbors were reluctant to discuss it with outsiders. Law enforcement raids are not good for your neighborhood's property values. But it was likely that eventually somebody would let something slip. It's usually sooner than two weeks.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

I once made a rough estimate of Australia's sustainable carrying capacity for humans living as hunter-gatherers, and came up with 500,000 to 1,000,000.

It turns out that is the general consensus on how many people were living in the country when Whitey showed up. By the end of the 19th Century, that had dropped to 50,000 to 100,000, so a reduction of about 90%.

That is consistent with estimated numbers for the Americas, Pacific Islands, and anywhere else where isolated populations have suddenly been invaded by outsiders.

It is also consistent with the estimated population replacement in Great Britain and Ireland when Bell Beaker people migrated in. Which makes me think that disease was likely involved. Strains of Y. pestis are known to have been around by then, so they are a candidate. There could be others; tuberculosis is pretty old.

By John Massey (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

There is an ongoing moral panic in Australia about whether to extend legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples. I can't help but think that this must reflect the fact that most people grossly overestimate the numbers of gay and transgender people there are. Giving equal legal rights to such small minorities can't possibly impact or change society in any significant way, so there is no supportable reason for saying no.

By John Massey (not verified) on 09 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@2 - At least 45 hasn't started killing his close relatives with anti-aircraft guns. Yet.

Damn that man is fat. Borderline obese, being charitable. I didn't realise just how fat he is until I saw photos of him playing golf without his suit coat on. And very physically lazy, apparently - he uses a motorised golf cart even just to get around on the green.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

There is a conundrum for minorities. On one hand, it pays them to artificially inflate their numbers, be very inclusive, and get disproportionate attention in the mass media - that way, it makes politicians think they and their supporters form a substantial bloc of potential voters and therefore make them more likely to pay attention. Example: polls in America show that the general public think that LGBTQI+ people make up 20% or more of the population, whereas the true number is something less than 3% total. The true % of transgender people is really really small. IOW, there is a gross disparity between the general public perception and the reality. Post-modernists play a major mediating role in these gross distortions of true numbers.

But that then comes back to bite them in the arse. This is demonstrated by the number of people in Australia who are eligible to claim disability pensions - it's mind-boggling high; almost unbelievably so, to the point that you think "What is it that is so toxic about living in Australia that is having such a terrible effect on such a high proportion of the population? But an eligible person could range from someone who is profoundly disabled, to someone who just needs to walk with the aid of a walking stick, but is otherwise 'abled'. This impacts adversely on the country's capacity to pay disability pensions and the quantum of the pensions. The guy with the walking stick gets a windfall and carries on with his near-normal life. The profoundly disabled person gets far less than he needs.

I can't help feeling that the moral panic about same-sex marriage, that has been going on in Australia now for at least 10 years, would just evaporate if someone published accurate data on the estimated upper-bound number of people who might be involved. But any attempt to do that would be greeted by general outrage by the very group who are trying to win equal legal rights using the tactic of inflating their own numbers. They are shooting themselves in the foot and don't show any evidence of realising that is what they are doing.

So the objective reality is a really simple question: should a small minority of people, something less than 3% of the total population, have equal legal rights to the other 97+%? To which my answer is why the hell not? They're harmless, they can't possibly do any damage to 'traditional institutions', etc., and they are being denied a basic legal right in a country that prides itself on its human rights record (cough). That has now turned out to be *the* major issue in Australian politics today, with both sides shouting past each other, with seemingly no hope of early resolution, and no hope of de-escalation either.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@8: The US went through a similar debate a few years back. The anti same sex marriage crowd were making arguments about how allowing same sex couples to marry would threaten the sanctity of their (opposite gender) marriages. My reaction to that line of argument was that if your marriage is so fragile as to be threatened by same-sex couples being allowed to marry, then perhaps you and your spouse shouldn't be married.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@12 - You can generalise that to whole population.

'Threat to the 'institution' of traditional cis-gendered heterosexual marriage.'

It's just something people say as an attempted scare tactic, to try to justify their bigotry, and because they think it sounds like a good reason, without thinking about the logic of what they are saying. Unfortunately, it turns out to be persuasive for the chattering masses who don't think things through, or who are looking for any plausible sounding reason to cling on to.

If they were given the real numbers involved, they would be made to look absolutely stupid in public.

A far greater 'threat' if people choose to look at it that way is increasing numbers of couples in Australia who simply choose not to get married. Various public advocates of the perceived benefits of not getting legally married equally come off as just sounding stupid. So they don't want to, they don't want to - no one is holding a gun to their heads. Equally, their public justifications and attempts to persuade other people to copy them are unnecessary, brainless and look suspiciously like flailing around self-justifying; either that or they are narcissists who just push it out in public because they like getting the attention. None of it is going to be persuasive to people who get married because they want to.

There is no reason at all for all of the morally panicking airheads to conflate couples who co-habit without getting legally married, with same-sex couples who are asking to be allowed to get legally married. They are the opposite.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

Some US jurisdictions recognize common law marriage. In those places the debate you reference @13 is moot: if you and your partner live together in the manner a husband and wife would, you are legally considered to be married, whether or not you bothered with the formalities.

In the US there are significant tax advantages to being married. You and your spouse can pool your deductions and exemptions, and the brackets are wider than for single taxpayers. In addition, you pay no inheritance tax on what you inherit from your spouse's estate no matter how big an estate (s)he leaves. The downside is that it is significantly harder to dissolve a marriage than a cohabiting partnership. (I have cousins who have done both.)

The US no longer requires women to take their husband's surname when they marry, although many still choose to do so. I can see this being a disadvantage of marriage in jurisdictions that still require this, as it forces the woman to go to considerable trouble to do something of no benefit whatsoever to her. This is even more true in the internet age, when searches will mistakenly think the married woman is a distinct person from who she was before marriage. It is one thing for a woman to choose to take her husband's name, but I am strongly of the opinion that no woman (or man) should be forced to do so.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@14 - As I understand it, that equates to the laws in Australia relating to common law marriage. Not in HK.

The interesting thing about China (including HK, and I imagine among Chinese women elsewhere) is that, traditionally, women have retained their own surnames after marriage, and most Chinese women still do that, including my wife. No one here regards that as abnormal. It is not an indicator that we are not legally married, and no one reads it that way. A few women, generally people in official public positions, adopt a compromise solution of just adding their husband's surname to their own surname, but that's a bit clunky.

But in Australia she uses the English personal name she was baptised with in a Christian church, and my surname. To do otherwise would cause endless confusion, and it avoids people who are not older members of her own family from using her Chinese personal name, which to Chinese is a real no-no. I address her by her Chinese personal name, but then according to traditional rules I'm allowed to do that. But most of her friends use her English personal name, because the traditional rules do not permit them to use her Chinese personal name.

It's not confusing once you get used to it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Aug 2017 #permalink

Seven day weeks were Babylonian.The Babylonian calendar, on which our own civil calendar is based, dates back to the 8th century BCE. The seven day week was probably older. It was embedded in the first Old Testament creation story which dates back well before then, perhaps to the 14th century BCE, but the seven day week structure may have been added later.

(I gather the Romans had an eight day week around the time Pompeii was buried, 79 CE, but Rome shifted to a seven day week some time in the next century.)

Old Ceylon (Serendip) had an eight-day week, I think. An attempt to restore it after independence floundered because, not compatible with European standard.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

A few women, generally people in official public positions, adopt a compromise solution of just adding their husband’s surname to their own surname, but that’s a bit clunky.

Perhaps it's clunky by Chinese standards, but it's not anything I would find out of the ordinary. It's roughly comparable to Western women taking on hyphenated names, i.e., F. M. Lastname becoming F. M. Lastname-Husbandsname.

Things get considerably more complicated in Latin America. In Spanish-speaking countries most people have two surnames, the father's name and the mother's name (in that order). Some have four (the grandmothers' family names are appended). Brazilians also typically have two surnames, but they put the mother's name before the father's name. A common practice when women from these countries marry is to append a "de Husbandsname". But if you only refer to them by a single surname, you must be sure to use the father's surname; e.g., the president of Mexico is Enrique Peña Nieto, but you would refer to him as President Peña, (or President Peña Nieto), never President Nieto.

My experience with women from mainland China is that they usually keep their surname, and that most of the exceptions are women who marry Western men. Overseas Chinese tend to follow the practice in the country where they live, if there is a strong cultural preference one way or the other.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

The moon will interfere with viewing the Perseid meteors.

OT. I recommend the novels by Ben Aaronovitch.

OT I believe Nevil Shute was involved in the design of the quite successful airship R 101.
Considering the shortage of tall mountins in Australia, the new generation of better airships- manouverable like helicopters- would be as useful as STOL aircraft, but cheaper. In roadless terrain they would probably require less maintenance cost than Landrovers.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

Tax advantages -the most extreme tax avvikande loophole can be found in "The Restaurant at The End of the Universe" by Douglas Adams.
No, I av not adding a spoiler.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@18 - It becomes clunky when rendered in English in print, because the sequence is English personal name - husband's Chinese surname - woman's Chinese surname - woman's Chinese personal name, which is usually double barrelled.

But yes, not clunky cf some Spanish names, or married people who both adopt a combination of both of their surnames, hyphenated, particularly when they come from different cultures/language groups, so you get odd-sounding combinations.

A lot of Mainland women have only a single syllable personal name, like retired tennis player Li Na. Which is really keeping things short and elegant. (It still confused a lot of tennis commentators, though, who thought her family name was Na *sigh* - tells us something about the intelligence of tennis commentators. So sometimes she used to reverse it, to try to make things easier for them, and call herself Na Li, which just confused the commentators even more.)

I don't know the reason for the prevalence of single syllable personal names in the Mainland, but I fancy it was something to do with Communism - not giving children fancy or pretty sounding names.

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

I like the now elderly Australian former tennis player and now commentator 'Fiery' Fred Stolle (so nick-named in Australia because his temperament was the opposite of fiery - completely unflappable) - I think he's a very good commentator because he shuts up unless he has something to say that will add value to the viewing experience, but poor old Fred has real trouble with Chinese names.

His nightmare comes whenever Zhang Shuai is playing. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't get anywhere close to the correct pronunciation. His other nightmare is Zheng Jie - the way he pronounces her name is just unrecognisable.

And everyone, and I mean literally almost every single person, including all of the newsreaders, in the Western world mispronounces Beijing. They pronounce the 'j' as you would in French. You would think that people could at least get the pronunciation of the capital of China right, but no, they are all convinced that the mispronunciation is correct. When I correct people, they look at me like "He doesn't know what he's talking about."

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric - an example of the clunkiness that I am referring to is HK's new Chief Executive (i.e. Boss), who is quoted in the English language print media as "Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor". For a Chinese name, that is pretty clunky. Everyone refers to her in English, including on English language TV and within the civil service when she was still just another civil servant, as just "Carrie Lam". In Chinese media, she is just referred to as "Lam Yuet-ngor"; they leave out her unmarried surname.

Tangentially, she didn't actually want the job of Boss - immediately after she was summoned by the Beijing heavies and told they needed her to run for the job, basically because there was no one else good enough to do it, her facial expression in public was of someone who had suddenly become deeply bereaved. She had been looking forward to imminent retirement from public life, and had said so publicly on numerous occasions. She has since given every appearance of becoming reconciled that she is in it for the long haul, while still not looking like she is getting high on the exercise of power.

When the Leader puts his hand on your shoulder and says "Your country needs you", saying no to him is not an option. Well, sooner a reluctant Boss who is doing the job out of a sense of duty is preferable to having someone like the previous incumbent, who was a dumb, narcissistic and overly ambitious idiot and bare faced liar that everyone hated.

They don't hate the new Boss; at least, not yet. And she has got away with being assertive on some major public issues, which would have been greeted by howls of protest if enforced by the previous incumbent. Early days yet, though. But I know her, and at least she has a functioning brain, and pretty good judgement.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

John, any self-respecting "leader" should have lots of giant portraits (and the odd giant statue ) of himself/herself comissioned.

Moral panics are fed by those who reap benefits from moral panics; politicians, newspapers and religious leaders. In The 1980s the 'med

BTW If you are interested in miscellaneous tidbits of London history, you can do worse than reading Christopher Fowler. Or Ben Aaronovitch. The latter author is quite a wordsmith, as well as having a genuine sense of humor (a rare thing ) .

Goddammit my spell checker wants to turn "can" into "cancer".
OT With solar power costs going down and graphene filter/desalination technology improving water scarcity in coastal, sunny regions might get sorted.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

Damn, I touched the "submit " too son.

In the 1980s the 'mericans went hysterical about non-existing satanists.
Culture warriors also spread a lie about public money being used to pay for an art installation involving urine and a crucifix.
Two generations earlier people in central Europe claimed the Jews were into ritual murder of children.
Same kind of ignorant/manipulating mutants, but the 1933 crowd actually went genocidal.

Never give those people power, ever.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

Birger@25 - Entertainingly, the only Leader who still has a large statue of herself in a prominent public place in HK is Queen Victoria. There was a suggestion a while back that it was time she was put away, but the public objected so vociferously that the idea was immediately dropped.

The biggest public statues in HK by far are of the Gautama Buddha, surrounded by multiple smaller (but still big) statues of kneeling female Bodhisattvas, and of Guanyin.

On Hainan Island, the southern most part of the People's Republic (if you don't count the newly constructed islands in the southern part of the South China Sea) there is an absolutely colossal statue of Guanyin. It's huge, and must surely be the largest statue of anyone in China by far.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

Birger@26 - The extremely painful lessons of the 20th Century were that extremists of both the Left and the Right should never be given power. You could safely extend that to extremists of any kind, including post-modernists, who are hell-bent on leading modern Western civilisation down the path of nihilism, destruction and constant revolution.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. In an era when the Canadian Government can pass legislation on what people shall and shall not be permitted to say in public (aside from having an obvious ban on any kind of hate speech, which is a no-brainer), we are already well on the downward path.

Incidentally, I was startled to see recently that Canada still has anti-blasphemy laws, whereas America does not. Canada is apparently not the enlightened country that it is often represented to be.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

I am, of course, overlooking staunchly Catholic Quebec - it's a fair bet they played a hand in retention of the anti-blasphemy laws.

America, Australia, the UK, Norway and Sweden have no such coherent power bloc that can hold the national government to ransom, and so no anti-blasphemy laws. Infamously, Ireland has them, of course. Another surprise to me is that Finland still has them. And Russia. China obviously does not.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@22: I find it generally true that Anglophones have a tendency to mispronounce foreign names, which gets particularly bad with Chinese names, but is not limited to that. About the only exception involves people who are seriously into classical music--in that world, you are expected to be able to pronounce Eastern European names.

The Pinyin transliteration system with tone markers is a one-to-one mapping: if you know how to pronounce a word, you know how to render it in Pinyin, and if you see a word rendered in Pinyin, you know how it is supposed to be pronounced. But the mappings are significantly different, so most English speakers will butcher any Chinese name that includes a C, Q, or X. But the C and the X have precedents in European languages (Polish/Czech and Portuguese, respectively)--it's just that most English speakers never encounter those mappings.

There are several US cities that have French or Spanish names pronounced as if they were English. For example, Versailles, Indiana, which is pronounced VER-sails. At least in that case, they were using a place name they had seen written out but never heard pronounced.

There is no excuse for butchering Beijing the way most English speakers do. (I am more forgiving of French or Portuguese speakers who pronounce it that way, since that is how the J is pronounced in those languages.) The English J is a much closer approximation to the Pinyin J.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2017 #permalink

I find it amusing when US people with Slavic surnames pronounce them as if the orthography were English.

On that Google memo. Yes, *that* one.

This is the most comprehensive, completely objective analysis of the literature that I can find and, if and when you can spare the time, it’s quite interesting to read:…

From the analysis, which is very detailed and comprehensive as far as I can tell, I conclude two things:

1. When comparing males and females, a clear distinction needs to be drawn between ability and preference. There is no clear difference in ability between high achieving males and females (except in the ability to visualise rotating 2D and 3D objects in space, which males are better at than females, which seems like a rather odd thing to find a difference on - but the real kicker here (and something that is not covered in this analysis, it’s something I picked up elsewhere) is that this ability can be taught and learned very simply, and after some very simple teaching, high achieving females can learn to be just as good at this as high achieving males; i.e. males already get it, females need to learn it, but it is very easy to teach and learn; so it’s not, or need not be, a real thing). However, there is a clear difference between what females are interested in (typically 'people' oriented tasks) and what males are interested in (typically ‘things’ oriented tasks). In countries where the greatest progress has been made towards gender equality, this difference in preference has become more pronounced, not less - the so-called ‘gender paradox’ - which suggests that the difference in preference is biologically mediated, and does not result from social conditioning.

2. James Damore had a point which should have been viewed more objectively and dispassionately by Google, to see whether his point should be considered, and therefore whether they should re-evaluate their practices to determine whether they could make them more effective, both in terms of achieving more diversity in their work force, and playing to the strengths of that diversity in order to achieve better outcomes, and they have very publicly shot themselves in the foot by just dismissing his point and sacking him.

That does not deal with a somewhat different issue, one that I am personally very familiar with, which is that some engineering environments can be very female-unfriendly because of the behaviour of some of the males in those environments, and that alone can deter females from wanting to pursue those kinds of career. In my experience, the only way to deal with that is to address the behaviour of the transgressing males, and either get rid of them, or teach them such a hard lesson that they are forced to change their behaviour. If Google has a problem in that regard (which some female commentators have strongly suggested) then they need to get their house in order very quickly, and rein in the transgressing males *hard* in a way they will never forget. Instead, they have just tried to sweep the problem under the carpet by sacking one person who chose to tell them what he thought because he thought it was important.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Aug 2017 #permalink

The socially conservative opposition against gay marriage is really poorly thought out. It makes the opponents look like they prefer gay people having promiscuous anonymous sex in sauna clubs over them forming monogamous long-term pairings.

It's bizarre. Gay couples are forming long term stable relationships anyway, and some are raising children. It's happening. All the opponents are doing is denying them the legal rights afforded to hetero couples who choose to be legally married. It's like a form of denial. "We don't approve of what you are doing, so we are going to deny you your legal rights, because that would signal that we approve, when we don't."

The former (Labor = liberal) Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated publicly that she was opposed to it, and declined to introduce a bill into parliament to legalise same sex marriage because she was worried about her public personal approval rating and was trying to cling to power - this despite the fact that one of her own Cabinet Ministers, Penny Wong, was openly lesbian and living in a long term relationship with her female partner (and still is).

The current (Liberal = conservative) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated he is personally in support of it, but has declined to introduce a bill into parliament because he is concerned that a large section of his political party will rebel against it, and he will lose the leadership of the party (and hence will be replaced as Prime Minister).

So it turns out it is all about incumbent Prime Ministers clinging to power in the face of conservative public emotional reactions (I won't call it thinking, because I doubt much rational thought has gone into it), rather than having the courage of ethical conviction and putting a bill before parliament, which is the correct way to deal with such matters.

So he is going to duck the issue by putting the question to a 'national plebiscite' (a vote by mail by all registered voters) next November, which is truly bizarre. That is not how Western democracies work, by putting every question to a vote among the whole electorate. Also, historically, such polls of all voters almost always fail. The last public referendum in Australia which managed to succeed was on the question of (believe it or not - it almost defies belief) whether or not Aboriginal people should be counted in the national census (previously they had not been - incredible, I know, but true). That succeeded by a massive landslide. But that was when I was in my first year at university, when I was 17 years old and too young to vote! I was getting myself worked up to become very 'mobilised' about it (a rare thing for me), as were my fellow students, but we didn't need to - it was so obviously the right thing to do, and should have been done more than 100 years before it actually was. (It was such a bizarre thing that most people did not realise that previously Aboriginal people had been excluded from the census, and were deeply shocked when they found out.)

Q: Do you regularly count how many people there are in your country?
A: Oh yes, of course - all except the people who were here first; we don't count those.
Unbelievable - it had to be put to a national referendum because it required a change to the Constitution, but the outcome was a foregone conclusion. I only mention that because that was the very last time that a question was put to all registered voters and succeeded, and that was when I was 17 years old!!!

The same sex marriage issue is an ethical/moral question, on which a responsible Government needs to make a decision, even if it is one that goes against the (frequently poorly thought through) majority of public opinion. When the Australian Government abolished the death penalty, they did so because it was the correct ethical decision, despite the fact that at the time the majority of the voting public favoured retaining it. The majority of the voting public would still favour reinstating it today, if given the choice, but no responsible Government will do that, on clear ethical grounds. Some things just can't be trusted to public sentiment, because it is exactly that - sentiment, gut reaction, anything but clear objective rational thinking on a subject that a lot of heteronormative people don't even like to think about because the subject disgusts them.

Well, we all know what disgust does. Disgust, uncontrolled and let loose, leads to spraying humans en masse with Zyklon B in concentration camps. Zyklon B was the same toxic gas that was used to rid cockroach and rat infested German factories of infestation in the lead up to WWII. The symbolism reveals the collective thought process.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Aug 2017 #permalink

I should perhaps add for those who don't know that where it surrounds the city of Perth, the Swan River is actually a tidal estuary. Even when I was a child, one main road along the bank of the estuary regularly used to flood during storms that coincided with high tides, to the extent that it was too hazardous to try to drive on.

Now the Police just close that road, when there are actual waves from the estuary washing across the road. Nothing has been done to raise the level of the road, and as far as I am aware, there are no plans to.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Aug 2017 #permalink

On the topic of the census: US museums of *natural* history used to have a section on the archaeology of Native Americans...


I suspect at least part of the thinking behind the original decision not to include Aboriginal people in the census might have included: (1) they had no clue where they all were - I remember as an older child (maybe around 12) a front page news piece about some central desert people who made contact with whites for the first time; and that was really not very long ago; and (2) even as late as the 1930s, people fully expected Aboriginal people to go extinct (a not unreasonable projection, given the rate of die-off during the 19th Century) and decided to make the final phase of the process quicker and less painful by what was termed "biological absorption", in other words full scale genocide by genetic swamping, i.e. continually marrying them off to whites so that they would progressively cease to exist as a recognisable racial group - known more popularly in crude terms as "Breeding out the Abo".

Obviously that didn't happen, or at least it didn't happen everywhere. Meanwhile, the Australian Government had been perfectly happy for Aboriginal men to join the armed forces during WWI and be sent off to die in the trenches alongside their white countrymen, who did get counted in the census.

Meanwhile, nice bit of sleuthing, this:…

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

And there's this - I'm no judge, but it seems interesting:…

"Biological absorption" - that's going to be my apt piece of early 20th Century terminology for the week. I think that is what is happening to me, I'm being biologically absorbed, but I'm a willing victim. The Normans were always good at that sort of disappearing trick.

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

Who married off young aboriginal people, who was on the receiving end, and how did the aboriginals people react to the policy?

John@34: It may be that all that is needed in Australia on the topic of same-sex marriage is a little push. That is what happened in the US.

Most of the early-adopting states on the topic of same-sex marriage were forced to because courts ruled that those states could not deny the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Massachusetts in 2004 was the first such state. Initially public opinion in most of the US was against it, and part of why George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 was that several states (including Ohio, often a swing state) had state constitutional amendments on the ballot to prohibit same-sex marriage. All such amendments passed.

But as people noticed that the sky wasn't falling in states where same-sex marriage was legal, opposition declined. in 2009 New Hampshire became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being under a court order to do so, and despite the state legislature flipping from Democratic to Republican in the 2010 wave election, a repeal bill two years later failed. In 2012 four states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington) had statewide referenda on the subject, and in all four states the pro same-sex marriage side won. In 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell case that all US states had to allow same-sex marriage, because the equal protection provision of the Constitution required it.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@35: I see several things not detailed in that propaganda piece:
-There is a "build it and they will come" mentality in the developments mentioned. That's as unseemly in an urban environment as in a suburban or exurban environment. Maybe they have market research indicating a demand for that kind of housing in Perth, but that article didn't mention any of that.
-These people will need food. No doubt most of the best farmland near Perth has already been sacrificed for suburbia, as happened in much of the US. I didn't see and roof gardens or things of that nature that would take up the slack.
-What happens to the existing suburbs? Do they become concentrations of poverty, as is already happening in much of the US (Ferguson, MO, being one of the more prominent examples), or will much of it be abandoned entirely, as happened in many neighborhoods in Detroit?
-A lot of that development is waterfront. Is it hardened against rising sea levels?

They do mention building/expanding a public transit system, so at least they are doing something to address the issue of how people get to and between these new developments. How you get there from car-dependent suburbia is another question.

Overall, it looks like the city of Perth is making a few big bets instead of lots of small bets. What happens if unforseen conditions prevent one or several of those projects from being completed? If you make lots of small bets, you can afford to have some of them go wrong. The risks are much higher if you make a few big bets.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@32: One of the best pieces I have seen on the Google-bro's manifesto is this Medium piece by Yonatan Zunger. Zunger worked for Google until shortly before this memo was written, so he has some insider knowledge. TL;DR: Even if his claims about gender differences were true (most of them are not), he should have been fired for demonstrating his incompetence at engineering, and had Zunger been in his report chain, Zunger would have had him fired as soon as he could arrange the necessary meeting with the guy, his immediate boss, somebody from Human Resources, and somebody from Legal.

From what I hear, techbro culture is pervasive in Silicon Valley, and if anything Google has less of it than most tech companies based in the area. Google has only about two male employees for every female employee; average in Silicon Valley is more like 4:1. Google should be doing better at that, but at least they are trying.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

Martin@40 - 1. The Chief Protector of Aborigines (see for example one Auber Octavius Neville, referenced below). 2. Low SES whites with poor marriage prospects. 3. They were forced. Some were willing to go along with it - there were some compensations. But obviously, many resisted, or were just beyond the reach of their 'Protector'; despite the confident predictions, Aboriginal people have not become extinct, they have multiplied. It turns out to be really difficult to achieve total genocide, especially in a state the size and low population density of Western Australia. Around the turn of the century (19-20) was probably a low point in total Aboriginal population. From that point, their numbers increased again. It's an important general principle - linear population projections never turn out to be correct. Not ever.

Classic quote from this 'Protector': "Are we going to have one million blacks in the Commonwealth or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia?" He saw his job as achieving the latter. He failed.

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@42 - The whole propaganda piece is a load of crap, and most of it won't happen. I have seen many such grand plans unveiled before - none of them actually happened.

The point I was driving at is that nowhere is any consideration given to rising sea levels, for a CBD that is notably vulnerable and already experiences some of the adverse effects.

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@43 - I couldn't care less about Google or James Damore, I just think it's an interesting case study.

You have to be joking about the Zunger piece. 1. He is dead wrong about the literature. See the very detailed piece on meta-analyses that I posted. 2. He grossly misquotes Damore - that is specifically exactly what Damore did *not* say. If you think he did, you haven't read his memo (which originally included many references to the literature - those references were taken out before the memo was put out by Gizmodo and went viral).

However, I know better than to try to debate a subject with someone who is already fully committed, so I'm not going to try. I have a strong vested interest in the subject of gender differences and toxic male work environments because: (1) I have worked with, and have recruited and mentored, many high achieving female engineers, in real engineering (software engineering barely qualifies as engineering in my book), and (2) my daughter is a scientist. So I have been paying attention to the literature and the whole subject area of women in engineering and science, and have been personally very active (and successful) in removing some of the toxic elements that prevent female engineers from achieving their full potential.

But watch that space; I predict Google will continue to fail in achieving their stated policy. I don't hope that they will, but I predict that they will.

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric - PS: I could maybe add that Damore has a PhD in computational biology from Harvard, and so he has been reading the relevant literature carefully, because that is his basic professional discipline, and understanding it, I daresay better than you, and certainly better than Zunger.

I realise the tactic is to demonise the 'enemy', then set up a straw man, and then attack the straw man. All of the 'hit' pieces on Damore that I have seen pretty much follow this post-modernist tactical model. Some verge on hysterical and delusional; many others are just straight out dishonest and cynical.

In this case, the guy has a name, not 'Google-bro'. So the demonisation of him is very transparent - he's not an intelligent and informed person who wrote a carefully worded and referenced memo intended for internal discussion, he's a thing; a 'tech-bro' with a 'manifesto'. No, he isn't. What he wrote was an internal memo with references, intended for internal discussion on things he thought were going wrong and not leading to the achievement of Google's policy, not a 'manifesto'. So the demonisation is complete - he's a 'tech-bro' with a 'manifesto', rather than being a person who has studied the literature carefully in his spare time, and who wrote a memo seeking discussion about some things he thought were going wrong, precisely because these were forbidden subjects for internal discussion - things that people within Google are not even allowed to talk about. This is the 'ideological echo chamber' that he refers to. If you can't even discuss and identify a problem, because it involves 'forbidden speech', you can't fix it.

Zunger creates a classic straw man full of things that Damore specifically did *not* say, and then proceeds to try to pull apart the straw man. Very very dishonest at best. In doing this, Zunger has contributed to a much more toxic environment than any memo from one notably mild-mannered, serious person could possibly achieve.

Zunger shoots himself screaming down in flames with this statement: "It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs." How, by being forced to play with dolls rather than toy guns and trucks when they were kids?

No, it isn't true at all. First, male and female behaviours are statistical distributions with a lot of overlap, as Damore very specifically points out and illustrates with a picture, so that even morons like Zunger can understand. Any difference exists only on the mean. If you only look at the means, and treat males and females as being from Mars and Venus, you are going to get the whole thing badly wrong. Damore gets that. Further, it has been clearly demonstrated in the literature that any such difference does not arise from social conditioning, it is biological. This is the 'gender paradox' that every serious scientist in the field of human psychology head-scratches about - in those countries that are more advanced towards gender equality, this difference becomes more marked, not less. That is because when all of the social influences and barriers are removed, all that is left are the biological differences. Some people assert that "there are no biological differences between males and females." Well, if you believe that, you are either nuts or you have been drinking too much of the post-modernist Kool-Aid. How do you think we reproduce, by cloning?

You cannot change people's personalities by social conditioning. It can't be done. You can force them to change their behaviour by social conditioning, sometimes, and with some notable failures, but that is very different from changing their personalities. On the mean, women show differences in personality traits from men - a smart organisation plays to the respective strengths, the positive traits, determined on an individual basis (bearing in mind we are talking about largely overlapping distributions), and extracts maximum benefit from them.

It is all pathetically dishonest, and I'm sick of the whole stupid culture wars thing.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

Some lighter stuff (fun, provided you are outside missile range)
North Korea: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Daily Mash: White supremacists ‘commemorate the past’ by living with their parents
Britain: All service station food to be edible by 2040
Disaster for British pervs as sex robots become self-aware
Still no condemnation of mouse killing by cat-owning community
Final Brexit deal ‘to be tested on mice’

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

Birger@52 - One of the major problems for the Liberal (i.e. conservative) Party in Oz is that they can only get into and remain in power in coalition with the National Party, which is also conservative but focused on the concerns of rural voters - it used to be called the Country Party, on account of, well, there's the town, and then there's the country = the rural areas. With demographic transition, the number of rural voters has decreased quite dramatically, so the Country Party had to try to broaden its voter appeal by transforming into the National Party, but it remains dominated by, well, basically, farmers. Not that I have anything against farmers, I've worked as one myself and it was an enlightening experience, but most farmers don't rank very highly in terms of intelligence - if they did, they would be doing more clean, cool and comfortable jobs than farming, which is bloody hot, hard and dirty work.

So, as much as the National Party leadership is composed of total morons like Barnaby Joyce, the Liberals have to tolerate power-sharing arrangements with them in order to maintain this coalition, so they can then get into and remain in Government.

In one sense it would be amusing in the extreme if Joyce is forced to step down for holding dual citizenship. But it will also be politically very destabilising. As much as people might have reservations about the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he is actually a moderate and a centrist who holds some socially liberal personal views, and who has led the (so far unsuccessful) move to get rid of the constitutional monarchy in Australia and replace it with a republic.

So, while Joyce is a buffoon, he is a relatively harmless one, and he is a staunch supporter of Turnbull. So if he has to resign from Parliament, Turnbull will lose one of his key supporters, and there is every likelihood that he would lose the leadership of the governing coalition, which would be taken over by much more right wing and socially conservative elements in the Liberal Party. Which is why Turnbull is now fighting tooth and nail to avoid Joyce having to step down, because he desperately needs his support to remain the leader of the governing coalition. If he loses the leadership, we are left with the spectre of much more right wing elements taking power within the Government.

And that would not be a good outcome.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

So, it turns out that this was the sequence:

1. An employee of Google, someone called James Damore (not that it matters much who he was) was asked to attend an internal Diversity Workshop, with a bunch of other Google employees.

2. So he did that, and at the end of the workshop, the attendees were asked to submit written feedback on what had been discussed in the workshop. So he did that - he sat down and thought about it, and put down his thoughts on paper, supported by references to support things he was saying, and he handed that in. What he said was quite detailed, and it can't be summed up in a few words, and any attempt to do that will simply result in what he wrote being misrepresented.

3. Then, for a whole month, nothing happened. He got no response to his written feedback, just silence. Not criticism, not immediate sacking for saying evil and unthinkable things, nothing. No answer.

4. Then someone anonymous in Google pulled up his written response, which was supposed to be a confidential internal memo, and leaked it to Gizmodo, whoever they are. What they did was to strip out all of the references that he had used to support his thoughts, and then made it public, and it went viral.

5. It was only after it went viral, stripped of the references, that he was then summoned by the Google management, and he was immediately fired. And the CEO of Google then went public, criticising Damore for, specifically, one thing he had said, or one thing that the CEO claimed he had said, to explain why they had sacked him.

6. Then a whole lot of people started piling on, seriously misquoting what Damore had written, and basically damning him for it; including some cockroach called Zunger. What Zunger opened his hit piece on Damore with was (cutting out the unnecessary verbiage): "You have probably heard about the manifesto a Googler published internally...about, essentially, how... we should stop trying to make it possible for women to be engineers, it’s just not worth it." Those are egregious, shameful, bare-faced lies. Damore did not 'publish' his 'manifesto', he sent in the written feedback that he was asked to provide. And he did not write anything remotely like Zunger says he wrote - that is an outright fabrication by Zunger, it is a disgraceful and dishonourable piece of utterly false character assassination. Damore said nothing like that. If I was Damore, I think I would be contemplating suing Zunger and some others for defamation of character, but I doubt Damore will do that; he just doesn't come across as someone who would do that.

7. So now, people are starting to wake up and pay attention to what actually happened, and Google are starting to get some kick-back for what they did. i understand that some columnists at the NY Times have now called for the CEO of Google to resign.

Whether what Damore wrote was right or wrong in what he said is somewhat immaterial at this point. If people disagree with what he wrote, which I understand he is continuing to defend and not back down from, they could respond with reasoned, rational arguments about why they think he is wrong. But they haven't done that - as far as I can see, the only rational, honest response has been from the crew at Heterodox Academy, who checked out the published science to see whether it supported Damore's statements, and decided that he was right on some things, but maybe somewhat adrift on some others - but on the whole, he was not manifestly wrong, like in the wrong ball park. Everyone else has just engaged in a whole lot of incoherent shouting, name calling, and outright lies in misrepresenting what Damore said.

And honest people who think for themselves clearly don't like that, and they have started to say so. Maybe some of them don't agree with everything they said, but they definitely don't like that he has been so seriously misrepresented and then demonised for saying things that he didn't say.

So, we'll see how this plays out. The way it is going, it looks to me like Google could get a lot of negative fallout that could be very damaging to them. I guess we'll find out.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

Interesting... In Sweden, one of the moderate parties in the middle (literally named the Center Party) originated as an agrarian party for the rural population (back then it was named the Farmer's League)
During the demographic transition in the fifties it re-invented itself, so even if initially most of its urban voters were former farmers and other rural people, a new generation of Center Party voters were interested in "green" issues but not attracted to the Left party (the former communist party) or the Social Democrats (who mostly just pay lip service to "green" issues).
So the Center Party (who still has its roots in the rural world) is also politically somewhere near our Liberal Party.
NB They have no beef with LGBT people or other religions or the other issues most populists hate.
The Swedish "Green Party" is more to the left (an issue for many otherwise "green" voters), and not very pragmatic, resulting in not getting much influence.
Our Conservative Party managed to re-invent itself into something more liberal and dominated a government coalition for six years.
But now they have re-re-invented themselves as conservatives in an effort to get back voters from our xenophobe party.
The conservatives call themselves "The Moderate Party".
So the party names are not always very descriptive.

Scadenfreude: Our conservatives lost voters when they appeared to reconsider their relationship with the xenophobe party. Previously, our new conservative leader sucked up to the Saudi government and this looks like karmic payback.
PS I really, really do *not* like the Saudi government.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@54: You haven't said which sources you have been reading, so I looked for myself and found, among other things, that there is already a Wikipedia entry on the manifesto. The science is very much in dispute, as you might expect given the political implications of the issue. It's not my field, so I am not prepared to say which side is right.

The New York Times columnist you refer to turns out to be David Brooks, who for me carries negative credibility due to his multiple critical research failures. One of the more infamous incidents (which is not mentioned on Brooks' Wikipedia page) was the time in 2008 he described then-candidate Barack Obama as being somebody who appeared to be uncomfortable at the Applebee's salad bar. Applebee's, a US chain of family-friendly restaurants, does not have a salad bar. Not everything Brooks says is wrong, but that's the way to bet.

Finally, there is the matter of creating a hostile workplace environment. That is actionable under both US Federal and California state law. Google have a strong argument that they had to fire the guy once the memo went public, because otherwise they would be vulnerable to being sued on exactly this ground. Even those who claim he got the science right admitted that he could and should have been more diplomatic in his phrasing. Google may be able to credibly claim that they didn't know about his NLRB complaint, which was filed hours before his firing (it is illegal to fire someone in retaliation for filing an NLRB complaint) because US law demands that legal documents be physically served whenever possible, and there may not have been time for that to happen.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric@56 - You are mischaracterising what was intended to be a confidential internal memo by continuing to call it a manifesto.

I posted the link to the Heterodox Academy's response @32 above. It is also listed in the Wikipedia piece. Here is the link again:…

It's long and detailed, but you need to read it all, I'm afraid. It is the most balanced, objective overview that I have seen.

Reading the reactions given in the Wikipedia piece just confirms what I already thought - Google are targeting the wrong groups internally; they should be eliminating influences in the workplace that are toxic to females and minorities. I have nothing to add to what I have already said. Whatever will happen will happen.

Birger@55 - I can't think of anyone who does like the Saudi government. What is there to like?

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Aug 2017 #permalink

I do have a couple of after-thoughts to add, though:

1. I don't care what happens to Damore. I have no personal interest in him and know nothing about him. I don't see him as some Champion of some Great Cause (although he is pushing back somewhat against post-modernism and identity politics, both of which are potentially very destructive, but he's not even going to make a minor dent in those things). But Google were clearly wrong for sacking him for the reasons given by the CEO. He did not make his memo public, someone else did that, and in an egregious manner in that they initially redacted his graphs and references, and he is not personally responsible for the public shitstorm that has resulted from that (although he was maybe naïve in thinking that his memo would remain internal and confidential - the approach I have always adopted is to assume anything I write could ultimately become a public document, because all organisations have leakers who are only too happy to leak stuff that they think will foment trouble). And he did not create stereotypes - in fact, he specifically warned against stereotyping in his memo, and included two graphs to illustrate the point. So on those two points, the Google CEO was dead wrong, and he will have to live with the consequences, whatever they are.

2. I do have some concerns about Google because I have been using them as my primary search engine. I already regarded them as too intrusive and predatory in using algorithms to determine what I see when I do a search. The thought that they could also be applying some post-modernist ideological filter to determine what I see is just about enough to make me want to stop using it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

"I can’t think of anyone who does like the Saudi government. What is there to like?"

Export money. A lot of our politicians have been buzzing around Saudi like flies around a dungheap.
(Goddamit, that metaphor was apt!)

On the topic of "politicians who refuse to condemn the inexcuseable" let's move from Saudi stink to The Greatest Leader. USA time zones are behind us, so I missed out on the Trump Tower press conference.
To quote Stephen Colbert: "It is not *difficult* to condemn Nazis. I did it just now. It felt good".
-- -- -- --
Viral Swedish white elk's apple habit brings trespassing tourists to couple's garden…

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

Birger@59 - I don't count politicians as humans; not neuro-typical humans, anyway. Any that are don't last in the politics business for too long.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink…

Construction of ever larger container ships requires dredging of deeper navigation channels and berths in seabed sediments that are usually highly contaminated with a range of really nasty pollutants. This issue is already highly problematic.

One day someone will build a ship long enough so that it never needs to leave port to reach the port it's destined for, because they can just roll the containers from one end of the ship to the other to cross the ocean. (That's meant to be a joke.)

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

Your ship would almost be as big as the real Noah's ark, you know, the one who brought breeding populations of 2 million beetle species, and aquaria for the thousands of species of freshwater fish. And ten thousand Mexican workers to shoverl the dung.
You can power the mega-ship with lithium batteries.

"Supervolcanoes: An American source of lithium for batteries?…

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

Jordan Peterson says that the person or people who came up with the story of Noah's Ark, which he thinks probably existed as a story long before the OT was ever written, like maybe 10,000 years ago or even earlier, did not believe the story literally themselves. They knew it was a practical impossibility. He says it was written as an allegorical story, to illustrate a principle, and the writer(s) who included it in the OT did not intend readers to take it literally either - they were meant to get the meaning behind it, which is, roughly paraphrasing: "Life is full of suffering, and then we know we will all die at the end of it. The only way you can stand to live such a life is to put meaning into your life, by always telling the truth, and doing something to make things better. Because if you don't do that, you will be plunged into chaos and your life will be awful." That was his interpretation of what was meant when the writer(s) wrote that Noah "walked with God", i.e. he was a virtuous man who lived a good life.

It's an interpretation I had never thought of before - I had always thought of it as a 'history' of something that was meant to be taken literally, as a description of something the writer(s) believed had taken place as a real event, and had consequently dismissed it as self-evident nonsense. He says no, he does not believe that they did ever believe it. And he has researched ancient Mesopotamian stories, that long preceded the writing of the OT, that say similar kinds of things; and thinks that even they might not have been original ideas, but borrowed from even older stories.

I don't know, true or not, but to me it was a novel way of thinking about it. I do get Peterson's point about always telling the truth, or what you believe to be the truth - because if you deliberately tell falsehoods, then where the hell are you? Where does that leave you? I can anticipate some obvious responses to that (used car salesman, politician, etc.), but I think his point is actually a pretty good one, and the more I think about it, the more persuaded I am that he's right. It can get you into real trouble, for sure, but he argues that's better than the alternative.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

John@57: You really need to do a better job of vetting your sources. See if you can spot the red flag in the statement that is described on Heterodox Academy's "About Us" page as being something its members endorse:

“I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom.”

Since you are neither American nor an academic, I'll give you the answer: the emphasis on "political diversity". In the US academic world that is a code phrase for, "Right wing B.S.-ers should have tenured faculty positions, too." That so many of their members are tenured or tenure-track professors puts the lie to their notion that people of their political persuasion can't get academic jobs.

Perhaps it's not fair to tar every member of the Heterodox Academy with that brush, but the same About Us page lists selected publications by many of the members. When I see paper titles like, "What many transgender activists don't want you to know: and why you should know it anyway" and " Conservative criminology: A call to restore balance to the social sciences" (those aren't cherry-picked either; many others have similar-sounding or similarly egregious titles), I am not inclined to trust them. It also doesn't help that climate change deniers (including Judith Curry, the one name on the member list I recognized) appear to be vastly overrepresented.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

Eric, I'm fed up with ideologues. If you don't want to trust the two authors of that response (assuming you did actually read it), then just go back to the range of responses given in the Wikipedia piece. I'm past discussing it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

My award for the most unappetising sounding table fish caught by HK fisheries goes to the Gizzard Shad.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Aug 2017 #permalink

"He says it was written as an allegorical story"

A common ploy: when science says it's bullshit, re-brand it as an allegory. Aside from the obvious problem with this, note that there is no way to tell what in the Bible is supposed to be an allegory and what is to be taken literally. If one can pick and choose (and people do), what is the point. Also, some things, such as Original Sin or the Virgin Birth, make no sense at all unless taken literally.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 17 Aug 2017 #permalink

Phillip@68 - No one's forcing you to watch it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 17 Aug 2017 #permalink