August Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • I'm confused. For years and years this boy lived with me. Now instead there's a tall young man studying engineering in Jönköping. I somehow helped make this happen. It's strange to me.
  • The most common surnames among my DNA relatives are Johansson, Nilsson and Persson. All three are among the ten most common surnames in Sweden.
  • Miley Cyrus & the Flaming Lips have covered "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" & "A Day In The Life" together. Both are amazingly good!
  • Hehe. NYT writer spells "help reign in spending". Maybe using a reigndeer?
  • "She's a peach" was not coined by Prince in the 90s. Somerset Maugham uses the expression in his 1921 story "The Pool".
  • This high-end Yunnan smells of fudge.
  • A sycophantic psychopomp lures the souls of the rich and vain to the Land of the Dead with flattery.
  • Checked my bank balance and was astonished to find lots of unexpected money. Upon investigation it turned out to be my monthly salary. I haven't had a full-time one since 2001.
  • Enjoyable and uncommon experiences today: received a salary and had lunch with colleagues. Glad I've decided to leave my scholar's lifestyle behind soon, one way or another. Research is fun but it's lonely, it's poorly and erratically paid and it doesn't help you get a job. The academic labour market in my field is a social patronage system rather than a meritocracy.
  • Post-rock is a thing of the past.
  • The leafy walking path to Marksburg Castle doubles back on itself eleven times between the foot of the hill and the car park. Then the steep stairs begin.
  • In her Hugo-winning collection of essays from recent years, Words Are My Matter, Ursula LeGuin states that the big media corporations are trying to get rid of copyright, and that "soma" in Huxley's Brave New World refers to the Greek word for "body". Her editor has been nodding off.
  • Redemption is a ubiquitous concept in US literary criticism. The various Swedish translations, prominently försoning, are all archaic and rarely used. As I understand Swedes, we see neither a need for nor a possibility of redemption.
  • I have become quite unwilling to invest in a scifi/f author's worldbuilding if it is delivered in a confusing, allusive, demanding way. My reaction these days tends to be "If you're not willing to guide me into the world you've made up, then I'm not reading your stuff. I've visited too many worlds and yours isn't immediately important to me."
  • German das heisst is such a cool expression. "It is named" for "that is".
  • AfD, the German Hate Party, hasn't got a lot of posters out this election season. But the one you do see is openly anti-Islamic while also strangely flirting with feminism: it has three women drinking wine and the slogan, "We won't wear burkas, we'll drink wine".
  • Castle Eltz, shown around by the 33rd count, who is also the former treasurer of the German Castle Studies Association. Mind blown.
  • Saw a slightly sinister election poster from the parody party PARTEI. It was at the top of a lamppost. "A Nazi could hang here."
  • LeGuin really likes Tove Jansson's 1982 novel The True Deceiver / Den ärliga bedragaren. Maybe I should re-read it.
  • Fun and unexpected radiocarbon result. The wooden poles that we found stuck into the bottom of Lake Landsjön between the shore and the castle islet: they date from the 11th century, 200 years before the castle was built. I'm glad I decided to date them.
  • Why aren't t-shirts with the logos of popular boardgames sold in game stores?
  • Bloody-minded means deliberately uncooperative in British English. LeGuin, writing in the Guardian, thinks it means literally having violent thoughts.

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“help reign in spending”

NYT columnists have been slipping in quality for years. Rein/reign/rain is a triplet that good writers learn to keep straight. It's one thing when you are punning, as both the Who ("Love Reign O'er Me") and the Police ("King of Pain") did with rain/reign, but a political column is not the place to do that. Unless the columnist's Freudian slip is showing, and he thinks Donald Trump should be King rather than President of the USA (a possibility I wouldn't discount with some political commentators).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Sep 2017 #permalink

Steady job? Congratulations! Welcome to the dark side!

I wonder if he will meet his match in Jönköping.

I didn't realise until fairly recently that for a long time, Sweden had a virtual global monopoly in the manufacture of safety matches, and still appears to dominate what is admittedly a shrinking market.

I should write realise as realize, but my Singaporean friend insists that all those z's are 'very untidy', and I feel a bit the same way.

I hadn't heard anything about the CDIO Initiative started by MIT. I still don't know much about it. That is at least partly because no university in Hong Kong that graduates engineers is participating. On the other hand, Tsinghua, the Mainland's top engineering university, is participating, as is Jönköping, not to mention an extremely long list of Russian technical institutes. The national distribution of participating tertiary institutions looks really odd, which makes me very curious about it. Not suspicious, just odd. On the face of it, I see no particular logic to it. But then, I don't understand what it is.

In my spare time I'm currently trying to help a young Mainland colleague prepare for his professional assessment. Until he can obtain professional qualification, he will continue to be worked insanely long hours and paid peanuts as a sub-professional, although he has professional level engineering skills. The danger is that once he does become professionally qualified, they will have to pay him a lot more, and he could well be deemed to be 'too expensive' to retain and could be 'let go', through no fault of his own. But I think the risk is remote - his written English is just about OK, but his spoken English is so awful that I see no way for him to get through the professional assessment interview. He won't even understand the questions, let alone be able to frame succinct, intelligible answers. I can pick holes in his written submission and guide him in responding to the technical questions he is likely to be asked - that is the part that is achievable. But he is now 28 years old, and I cannot teach him to speak English in the space of a few weeks. Absurdly, what he should have been doing for the past 4-5 years to prepare himself for this is not learning from me technically, but spending every lunch hour gossiping to me in English about anything we could think of.

Contrast the German Hate Party with one of the things that has happened in America (and a hell of a lot is currently happening in America, and all of it is really bad), which is that the Leftist Feminists have formed an alliance with Islamic militants. If that seems an odd/unlikely pairing, just think of "The enemy of my enemy...".

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Sep 2017 #permalink

Jokey headline in this week's South China Morning Post Sunday Magazine: "Don't cry for me, Shinawatra." Subtitle: "Yingluck's bad luck could be Thailand's good fortune."

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Sep 2017 #permalink

Yingluck's gamble, explained simply: she would win the political support of the Thailand's rural poor by giving government subsidy to rice farmers - in essence, the government would buy all of the farmers' rice for a guaranteed high price.

For a long time, Thailand has been nick-named 'Asia's bread basket' (a more appropriate metaphor would be Asia's rice bag). Thai rice was clean, good quality and cheap, and there was a hell of a lot of it, and Thailand had a virtual monopoly on the world's rice markets as a consequence; the problem was that internal competition between the rice producers resulted in low prices, which kept Thailand's big population of rice farmers dirt poor.

So, Yingluck's plan, her big gamble, was that the Thai government would borrow money to buy up all of the farmers' rice at this guaranteed good price, then stockpile the rice and, using its virtual monopoly on the international rice trade, would sell the rice on the international market at an elevated price, thereby recovering the money used to pay the farmers.

This policy was so popular with poor rural Thais, and there are so many of them, that she rode it to electoral success and became Thailand's first female prime minister.

But her gamble failed. What happened in the interim was that other countries (notably Australia, for one, which had not traditionally been a rice producer, but is now in the business big time and has become very good at it) started exporting large quantities of clean, good quality rice, at prices which undercut the price the Thai government was trying to sell its massive stockpile for. Outcome - Thailand has been left with a huge stockpile of unsold rice which is just going to sit there and rot, unless it sells the rice for a much lower price, which leaves the Thai government with a big financial debt that it can't pay.

That is "Yingluck's bad luck" that is referred to. Her gamble failed, for a reason she failed to foresee. So, what she has been charged with is, not corruption like her older brother before her, but simply financial mismanagement and a gamble that didn't pay off. She has now skipped the country ahead of her forthcoming trial to avoid being found guilty and imprisoned, and she is effectively now an international fugitive.

The other thing that happened was that the much-loved King of Thailand, historically a force for national unity in times of political conflict, died. His successor is much less loved and he does not seem to enjoy the respect of the Thai army generals and the political establishment that his father had.

I don't quite follow the writer's logic on why Yingluck Shinawatra's bad luck could be Thailand's good fortune. He seems to think that her ignominious removal from power and flight in panic from the country to evade imprisonment might finally pave the way for Thailand to develop a mature democracy free from corruption and dodgy financial dealings, and also free from the endless military coups aimed at preventing the country descending into anarchy. But then, I can't follow the intricacies of Thai politics.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Sep 2017 #permalink

OK, I think I have got my head around CDIO.

For a long time, employers in Australia (and everywhere else) have complained that engineering graduates are not 'industry ready'. I have always considered this unreasonable - there is a great deal of engineering science and mathematics to learn in the formative education of an engineer, and an engineering graduate cannot master all of the skills and experience necessary to practise at professional level without further formative training and experience in the work place, 'hands on' under responsible supervision by a suitably experienced supervisor. To me, the most important single attribute of an engineer is that s/he should have a good grasp of the applied science and mathematics that goes into engineering, plus ethics, which are really important. All the other stuff is acquired through working experience. You learn it by doing it - as long as your technical fundamentals are really sound and you behave ethically, you can do that.

But this does not stop employers from bitching about it. Basically, they do not want to put money into training engineering graduates, they just want to be able to hire them off the shelf and ready to go, like so many wind-up toys (and as cheaply as possible, obviously).

So, if I read it correctly, the CDIO Initiative is an attempt to address this within the academic education of an engineering graduate, so that s/he comes out more 'industry ready'.

But just check out and try to get your head around the syllabus elements that they see as necessary in a degree programme to achieve this:…

Well, good luck with that.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Sep 2017 #permalink

I should write realise as realize, but my Singaporean friend insists that all those z’s are ‘very untidy’, and I feel a bit the same way.

This is one of the differences between US English and UK English. There are many words with this suffix, which is spelled "-ize" in the US and "-ise" in the UK. As a former British colony which gained independence in the 1960s, Singapore presumably prefers UK spellings. Elsewhere, it probably depends whether you are more likely to be dealing with US or EU customers. Europeans tend to learn UK English.

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

For once, it's not a UK/US split. The Oxford Dictionary gives "-ize" as the preferred spelling, but lists "-ise" as an optional alternative. So a majority of UK English writers use "-ize", with a minority preferring "-ise".

My Singaporean friend gained her education in England, and speaks/writes better English than I do.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Sep 2017 #permalink

The safety match was invented in Sweden. Ivar Kreuger, a Swedish civil engineer who built the St. Regis Hotel in NYC and a stadium in Syracuse, NY came up with a clever idea. He would lend money to various nations, but as part of the deal he would get a monopoly on producing and selling safety matches. Everyone needed matches. People were still using lanterns and stoves without pilot lights. This let him raise money against the combined income streams from the interest on the bonds and the royalties on the match sales. He was known as the Matchbox King, a true wheeler and dealer. He knew how to stage manage things. On his trip to sell bonds in the US he holed up in the radio room constantly sending radiograms as if he couldn't leave his business for a moment. His trip didn't work out too well. The US credit and fire starting markets were not quite like the European ones. He returned to Europe and got involved underwriting a $50M loan to Nazi Germany, one of the largest government loans ever at the time. While negotiating this loan in Paris, he shot himself in the head. The loan went through anyway, and the Nazi government kept up the payments until 1945. His death was ruled a suicide, but not everyone accepted this. Apparently, a lot of Swedes, among others, developed theories that he had been murdered while others were sure that he was still alive, but in hiding. It was great story, and the moral is that the safety match was invented in Sweden.

BTW "She's a peach" dates back to at least 1896. Check out 'A Cheerful Liar':…

Also, congratulations on your new job. Having read that post on "premium mediocre" at Ribbonfarm, I'll congratulate you on moving above the API.

Kaleberg@9 - Thanks for the history; I didn't know any of that.

Reportedly 'strike anywhere' matches are still popular in the USA, notably among 'survivalists' (those funny people who stock up on bottled water, dried vegetables and of course lots of firearms and ammunition, and wait for whatever they are afraid will happen - disease pandemic or whatever - a lot of Americans seem to be individually very risk averse about certain things compared to people in other countries). I don't know why they favour the 'strike anywhere' sort of matches - I imagine maybe because if you have a box of safety matches and the box gets wet, you are screwed.

'Strike anywhere' matches are illegal in Australia and in many other jurisdictions, but evidently not in America. It seems like a possible reason Kreuger was less successful in the USA, but I'm guessing.

By John Massey (not verified) on 04 Sep 2017 #permalink

I think I've heard of him. His name wasn't Johansson, Nilsson or Persson, was it?

By John Massey (not verified) on 04 Sep 2017 #permalink

Re. firearms. Texas has legalised the carrying of swords, because that is a higher priority than building infastructure that can deal with hurricanes.

Also, today is the start of moose-hunting season in Sweden.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 04 Sep 2017 #permalink

Re: match selling grandfather, I thought of a string of dreadful suttee jokes, but decided they were better left unwritten.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Sep 2017 #permalink

John@12: I find it difficult to snark about American survivalists. To call them a lunatic fringe is only half right: yes, they are lunatics, but they have the implicit support of many people in government. They are worried about the breakdown of American society due to some combination of greedy bankers and immigrant hordes. I'll grant them that Wall Street bankers do tend to be too greedy for their own good, but the real threat to American society is the survivalist cosplayers.

As Birger notes, open carry of swords and machetes is now legal in Texas. At least they are being consistent: the Second Amendment only speaks of bearing arms and is not specific to firearms. And machetes can be useful for hacking your way through jungle. Too bad the jungles of Texas are all of the urban/suburban variety.

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

I can't really get my head around that - what is the point of walking around some city in Texas carrying a sword? I see the occasional person in HK doing that, but they are bona fide practitioners of traditional Chinese martial arts, and often opt for a telescoping version of the tradition Chinese long sword that makes it a lot easier to carry around, but of course renders it utterly useless as any kind of weapon - that isn't the point, it's just a prop to use in some form of stylised exercise.

And hacking through otherwise impenetrable jungle with a machete is orders of magnitude more difficult and physically demanding than it is ever portrayed as on screen. I know, I've tried. You need a small army of very fit guys all doing it together to make any headway at all. And if you only need to hack a little bit, like the occasional slender branch or thorn bush, then you really don't need to do it at all.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Sep 2017 #permalink

what is the point of walking around some city in Texas carrying a sword?

It makes no less sense than walking around some city in Texas carrying an assault rifle, which was already legal, and far more dangerous to innocent bystanders.

Too many Americans have a fetish for walking around armed, thinking that as a "good guy with a gun" they can stop a bad guy with a gun. They never consider the consequences of this principle: if a good guy with a gun and a bad guy with a gun are shooting at each other, how do innocent bystanders tell which is which? I know that in that scenario I'd have a 50-50 chance of guessing wrong, and assume the same is true of almost all civilians and many cops. And that's not even considering how marksmanship goes to hell in a live fire exercise. Dead innocent bystanders don't care whether the bullet that killed them came from a good guy or a bad guy.

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

Eric@24 - I think that's part of what I don't get. Swords are unwieldy (the Romans figured that part out when they adopted the gladius as standard issue to their infantry), you need a lot of training to be able to use one effectively, and if people can walk around with firearms, they are useless, like that Sean Connery line in whatever movie it was: "Bringing a knife to a gun fight".

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Sep 2017 #permalink

John, you are quite right that under most circumstances carrying a sword around makes no sense. The exceptions would be things like cosplaying or attending an SCA convention. And of course you don't want to be in the position of needing to use one against a guy who is firing a gun in your general direction.

But at the same time, in a state that allows you to walk the streets while openly carrying an AK-47, it makes no sense to prohibit walking around with a sword. An openly carrying swordsman is less dangerous to the public than an openly carrying gunman precisely because longswords are so unwieldy. I have tried fencing with a foil (it was one of the options for satisfying a university physical education requirement). That is awkward enough--and foils are designed to both be lightweight and do minimal damage if they hit. Epees and sabers are much more difficult; they don't let casual fencers like me play with those.

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

Eric, OK, thanks; I get it now.

2017 Alien: Covenant
Grade: Blah. Despite the favourable reviews, it's still blah.

It makes me realise how important the screen chemistry was that Sigourney Weaver was able to generate as the reluctantly heroic Ellen Ripley in Alien and Aliens. Nothing in the franchise since has come anywhere close to the first two films, in my view, and I suspect that's largely down to a much younger Sigourney Weaver. By the third film, she was showing her age and that magic was lost, plus the script was rubbish. And Katherine Waterston is no young Sigourney Weaver; not even close.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

LinkedIn's Top Job Pick of the week for me:
"Grdudate (sic) Geotechnical Engineer". This is for an American parented multi-national company with over 20,000 staff spread over more than 50 countries. You'd think they could at least get HR staff who can spell Graduate. Although from what I've seen of HR staff, maybe not.

We had one diminutive young female Chinese HR staffer who was a gem, but she left (I suspect I know why) and no one else since has been anywhere near as good/helpful as she was. She even took on the job of identifying for the Police the corpse of one of our Engineers who died suddenly and unexpectedly, because his wife was too upset to do it, and the then Boss wasn't up to doing it. I would have done it if asked, just to spare this poor nice HR girl - corpses don't bother me.

No, LinkedIn, see, part of my current work is that I help to train and mentor Civil Engineering Graduates who want to become specialist Geotechnical Engineers. I don't need to do this myself - not again, after decades of professional practice as a...oh never mind.

I've figured out how they do this now - they have some really simple, inept and totally inappropriate algorithm that just picks up on key words, matches maybe one key word to a job advertisement and spits out at you whatever it gets. So, no, I do not want to be a senior manager for Starbucks either.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

Everyone is no doubt aware of the well-tested evidence that males are better than females at 'mental rotation' - this has been so thoroughly tested that it was no longer contested, although no one could think of a reason for why it should be so.

But it turns out that there are no sex differences in mental spatial ability - it was all just an artifact of the test used to measure it.

Whole paper is pay walled, unfortunately.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

Firefighter ‘Prophet’: “Baal Feeds on Aborted Fetuses”…
He’s got his caananite deities wrong. It was Moloch, a Philistine (and thus probably Aegean) god that was most into child sacrifice. The original caananite gods* (including those of the Phoenicians, including Carthage) would accept child sacrifice in case of emergencies.
*this originally would have included El/Yahwe, although later versions of OT were rewritten to say basically ‘El/Yaweh never, ever wanted child sacrifices, I promise, cross my heart, seriously, never’.

(from Patheos comment thread)
‘-Is this like Huītzilōpōchtli and human hearts?
‘-What about miscarried fetuses? Does Baal feed on them too? Or does God always get them first?
‘-Baal and God ought to share. That's a lot for any single entity to eat
‘-I thought God's diet was foreskins.

‘-He (Baal) is the counterfeit Christ.’
Comment: You cannot be too careful here! I ended up with a whole pallet of Jesus knock-offs from China. Cheap, worthless crap. Could not pardon even the slightest sin’.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

John@29: I have comparable issues with the jobs LinkedIn suggests for me. It sees the words "Research Scientist" in my job title and assumes I would be interested in research scientist positions in Greater Boston. (That they consider me to be in Greater Boston despite being 100 km from the city center isn't their fault; the Federal government considers my county to be part of Greater Boston.) The problem is that almost all of the research scientist positions they offer are in biotech, despite my background being in physics. (Some of the positions they suggest are in Big Data, which makes a little more sense.) And the job locations may be in places that take an hour or more to drive to at off-peak times, whereas my present office is within walking distance of my house.

ResearchGate's job suggestions are also awful, but for different reasons. They tend to recommend post-doc level positions (I am > 20 years past my Ph.D.) in places that are nowhere near where I live, and often not on the same continent. At least these jobs are physics or astrophysics jobs, but they are almost never in my specialty.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

Birger@31: I heard about that study via Brad DeLong's blog. Brad is a professor of economics at UC Berkeley (so he may know Ms. Wu). He had a post a couple of weeks ago taking a well-known Harvard economics professor to task for defending the guys posting on EJMR. So while what Ms. Wu documented applies mainly to graduate students and postdocs in economics, there are senior professors out there with similar attitudes.

Physics is not immune from this kind of thing, either. I know that some people are trying to reduce it, but some guys are sexist pigs, and they will act like sexist pigs if they think they can get away with it. And yes, there are misogynistic women out there, too.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

Birger@31 - I am fully familiar with it.

I am happy to say that I have played a very active part in smashing through a lot of that, and have a reputation for it. Engineering is a pretty small circle in HK, and everyone knows to tread very carefully around me when talking about female engineers - they know what they will get back from me if they transgress, and it won't be pretty.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

Wonder Woman (2017)
Grade: Excellent in parts (and the comedic cameo role by the little fat English woman stole the show, for me), but the climax was too drawn out and over the top for my taste.

Diana discovering the full extent of her powers and how to harness them is interesting enough, but that story having been told, where does she go to from here?

With Iron Man, it is Tony Stark's fallibility, weaknesses and gratingly irritating personality (until you twig that he is Aspergic, but even then it's a case of tolerating rather than liking him) that keep him interesting. The Black Widow is nasty, sneaky, toxic, cynical and with a hidden and unfathomable dark side, and it is seeing her overcome this to win one for the good guys' team that is fascinating. The Wolverine was so humanly vulnerable that he has ended up getting old, worn out and dying on screen.

It is the failings and human frailties of these characters, and seeing them overcome their own weaknesses, that keep them interesting. With the Superman character, they ran out of new things to say, because once you establish that the superhero is godlike and invincible, there is no more story. In his case, they had to invent Kryptonite as a ploy to kick the can down the road a bit longer, but that only served to go one more step. Then there is nothing left to tell that is not just boring repetition. Invincible superhero beats the bad guys. Again. Well, why wouldn't he? There is zero probability that he will lose. So the Superman 'franchise', such as it was, is dead. Nothing new left to say.

The same applies to Diana. They left an opening at the end of the film for some follow-ups, but I don't see them succeeding. Having become a perfect and invincible goddess, she has nowhere else to go.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2017 #permalink

A topic Martin has touched on before.

Well, maybe. Boudica was real enough. Possible in leadership roles where they were not on the front line. But generally, women fighting against men in close physical combat is just a non-starter. Men have too much of an advantage in upper body strength.

Written historical sources attest that the Scythians had female warriors - but they were horse-mounted archers, who could fight from distance without engaging in close combat against males. That's credible.

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

Reported to be around 170 cm, with gracile bones. Quite tall for a woman, I guess, but she was no big boned giant. Died in her 30s, but no evidence of trauma.

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

The former Mexican president, Vicente Fox, has made a quite funny video dissing Trump.
I don't know how to copy the link with the phone, you can try googling "Vicente Fox 2020".

By Birger Johanssontå (not verified) on 09 Sep 2017 #permalink

Today is Teacher's Day, so in honour of my daughter, this is her lecturing to me on Peking opera, something she knows I really don't like, not least because all of the roles are played by men - I have an instinctive dislike of all-male art forms:

"Whether or not you like Peking opera, its cultural status and artistic merit is not really up for debate. Female roles in Peking opera have to be played by men in order to be perfectly executed, because the art was developed by generations of men, and has adapted to make the best use of male physical characteristics. It’s just a fact of life."

Sends me this clip of an 11 year old boy performing a female part:

Then adds the following commentary: "For now, the falsetto is too shrill, and his acting is not yet fully developed, but all these things will come with time. He has the talent. Hopefully, by the time he is grown, there will be an audience for him. It is necessary for China to experience a cultural renaissance, but it is not inevitable."

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

It's worth picking up on John Hawks' Twitter feed at the moment - the excavation team are back at the Rising Star cave complex in South Africa, digging for more Homo naledi fossils in both the Dinaledi and Lesedi Chambers, and Hawks is live tweeting their progress, plus posting videos of the team of 'underground astronauts' at work.

Lee Berger and Hawks recently published a book on this subject, and someone wrote a really nasty review of it - someone who doesn't like what they are doing, which is broadcasting live on what they are finding as they find it. It's a 'hit' piece. There is evidently a part of the palaeoanthropological 'establishment' that still thinks that fossil finds should be squirrelled away and the findings not released until, say, 12 years later - and then only 'controlled' access to the fossils should be given to others to study them (put your hand up, Tim White).

Needless to say, I am on the side of Berger and Hawks with what they are doing, not least because it gives due credit to all of the members of the team, and because it gets people excited about human evolution because of the immediacy of the discovery process. It could be interpreted as 'attention seeking' I suppose, and Berger in particular does seem notably self-promotional, but then, why not? He is promoting the work of the younger scientists in the team at the same time - they are the real stars of the show, the skinny little girls and guys who have to run the risks of going down 100m below the ground surface into very difficult to access cave systems to make these finds.

Elen Feuerriegel has become a celebrated name in Australia because of what she is doing, and it's a welcome relief from the endless glorification of dodgy sports people behaving badly. Even if people can't figure out how to pronounce her surname (direct translation from German = Firebolt - cool name).

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

Fighting skill must come into it. I for one have none. Also, kick a woman in the groin and she goes "Ow". Kick a man in the groin and he's down.

The Ice Queen of women's tennis being chillingly icy, and obviously racist:

Maria Sharapova has been called out as 'racist' in America for talking in her autobiography about Serena Williams' physical build and 'intimidation factor'. Well, Masha (her actual birth name) is fairly imposing herself at 6'2".

I once stood right next to Serena Williams, when she was just shy of her 18th birthday, back in the days when no one bothered about player security at the HK Tennis Centre because they didn't need to.

Serena came across then as just a nice, friendly, outgoing kid, not scary at all - but physically? Hell yes, even at that age she was physically intimidating. She was as tall as I was. I had been doing a lot of heavy weight training at the time and was carrying a fair bit of muscle, but the width and muscularity of Serena's shoulders were awesome - and I'm not undervaluing the adjective. She made me feel like a wimp.

Since then, many female players who have played against Serena have commented on how intimidating she is to play against. She's clearly the best female tennis player of all time, and she hits the ball bloody hard, and she roars like a lion when she does it. She is a very big, muscular, imposing woman - and she clearly is a woman, as she has just proven by giving birth to a daughter.

Racism is an easy label to throw at people who say things you might not like. I, my wife and daughter all feel pretty strongly about racism, having all been subjected to our fair share of it over the years. Do any of us think that Masha Sharapova is racist? No. We don't. We have watched her play many times, and never once has she given any indication that she is even aware of racial differences. There is apparently no love lost between her and Serena because they are bitter on-court rivals, and not too full of sisterly love for one another off court, but that does not constitute racism.

Americans seriously need to get off the bloody identity politics, because it is tearing their country apart. Yes, I know, the current Prez doesn't help, but they need to work around him until they can figure out how to get rid of him, not allow him to be a divisive influence.

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

No, you kick a woman in the groin, and there's no reaction. They have nothing there you can hurt. I know, I've done it in martial arts training, full contact sparring. Punch them in the tits - yeah, that hurts them. It also enrages them.

Can a trained female fighter beat a trained male fighter in close combat? No - the difference in strength, particularly in upper body strength is too much. A young woman in her 20s is about as strong in the upper body as a 70 year old male, assuming he does not engage in strength building exercises.

Can a trained female fighter beat an untrained male with no natural ability in fighting? Yes, maybe, but would that circumstance arise on a battlefield?

There was a reason I taught my daughter how to punch and kick when she was young. I was repaid for my efforts when I came home tired from work one night, and she ambushed me and kicked me right in the nuts. Dropped me like a rock. "Oh sorry, Dad, I was just practising." She once also dropped me flat on my back when she punched me hard in the nose, when I wasn't expecting it.

Yes, in martial arts training, you teach women how to kick men in the testicles, how to gouge their eyes out with their fingers, how to punch them in the throat, right in the larynx, and all of the other dirty tricks you can think of for them to seriously hurt men. Women need everything they can learn to help to protect themselves against men, and their strength disadvantage is a big handicap.

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

I hasten to add that I have never punched a woman in the breast, not ever, because (1) I have a strong protective instinct towards females and I just could never do that, and (2) it's not an obvious target that you train to hit instinctively when you are learning to fight against other men - punch a guy in the pectoral muscle and he'll just laugh at you. If you punch him really very hard in the heart, you can drop him, but it needs to be a very strong punch, and there are easier and more vulnerable targets.

But I have seen other guys punch girls in the breast while sparring - it hurts them, for sure, but not enough to slow them down much, and it turns them instantly into howling, scratching, biting, shrieking banshees who will do anything they can to damage the guy as seriously as they can - really damage him. Not really sure why, apart from the fact that it obviously hurts, but it is one thing that will absolutely infuriate a woman.

Tip to women - if you are being attacked by a man in real life, the best thing to do is grab anything you can to use as a weapon: a pair of nail scissors or even just a pen, and jam that into him as hard as you can, anywhere where it will hurt him. Jam a pen into his eye if you can - I doubt any man can remain interested in raping a woman when he has a pen sticking out of one eye socket.

Also, learn to kick, hard and accurately, and to block punches with your legs. Men are also stronger than women in the lower body, but the strength difference is quite a bit less than in the upper body. Plus it gives you more reach, when you are at a height disadvantage. Also, women have relatively long bodies and short legs compared to men, so the centre of gravity is lower, which makes it easier for them to remain balanced when they kick, plus they are naturally more physically flexible, which also helps to kick higher. And it surprises people, because they don't expect someone to have trained to fight with their legs - most people don't. If you are wearing shoes, even just giving him a good hard kick in the shin or in the knee cap will slow him down pretty well for a while.

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

Great photo of Elen Feuerriegel currently excavating in the Lesedi Chamber, a long way underground and in a space that is so small she can barely squeeze her diminutive frame into it. No headroom - she doesn't even have enough space to lift her head if her neck gets tired. Glasses look like they could do with a clean, too.

I'd be out of there, me. I've been underground for work enough times, but not in such confined space. The woman is a hero.

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

The Swedish entertainer Hans Alfredsson has died, aged 86. It is difficult to explain how big he was, think of a combination of Dario Fo and Charlie Chaplin.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 10 Sep 2017 #permalink

The singer Shanaya Twain has been able to resume her carreer aftere a fifteen-year hiatus. Her problem with the vocal cords were identified as coming from a borrelia infektion, a legacy of a tick bite.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 10 Sep 2017 #permalink

David at the Eurogenes blog: "It’s now clear via a wide range of methods that about half of the genomes of modern-day Eastern and Northern Europeans, and up to about a quarter of the genomes of modern-day Southern Europeans, are derived from such Yamnaya-related sources."

After reading that, I realised it is ambiguous. To be clear, what he means is that all of the genomes of modern day Eastern and Northern Europeans are about half Yamnaya-related, and all of the genomes of modern day Southern Europeans are about a quarter Yamnaya-related. When I say "all of", there are obviously exceptions, e.g. recent migrants among modern day populations, or people of mixed parentage or ancestry; "all of" means people of exclusively Eastern, Northern and Southern European ancestry.

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

Addendum - you should exclude Sardinians from Southern European (especially people from the mountainous interior) because they are the nearest living proxy to Neolithic Europeans before the waves of Yamnaya-like invasion from the steppe. The invading steppe herders never managed to penetrate Sardinia.

And also, to a lesser extent, Sicilians, although they are more complicated because, more recently, Sicily has been something of a melting pot.

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

Found a secret little gem of a murder mystery hiding on Netflix, masquerading as the 2017 film The Invisible Guardian.

It's actually a Spanish film called El Guardián Invisible based on the first part of Trilogía del Baztán by Spanish (Basque?) author Dolores Redondo. Most dialogue in the film is in Spanish with English subtitles but, slightly oddly, there is some English spoken between the lead character and her husband, who appears to be English.

The lead character is played by a Spanish actress who I find very beautiful - not very young or pretty, more sort of 30s approaching 40, but beautiful, in a very refined way.

Don't waste your time looking up the film or the lead actress - there's nothing available online in English or Spanish about either of them. I had to enter the Spanish name of the film into Wikipedia to discover the trilogy and its writer. Wikipedia also tells me that 700,000 copies of the trilogy have been sold, and that it has been translated into more than 15 languages.

Entertainingly, Dolores Redondo entered something else she had written under the pseudonym Jim Hawkins, and with a false title, in a Spanish literary competition, and she won the prize, so I presume that at that point her amusing little bit of subterfuge had to be revealed.

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

I think I've cracked this Netflix thing.

All of the American and English films on there that are any good are films that I have already seen. The rest are rubbish, as are the Bollywood and HK films, except for the 'foreign' (i.e. European or Brazilian) films, some of which are really rather good.

The problem is, Netflix shows the film titles in English, so you have to figure out which of the English-titled films are actually 'foreign', and then just try your luck with them, because there are no reviews of them to be found online.

You can be misled and find yourself watching the first 5 minutes of some dreadful Bollywood or Filipino stuff, which is irritating. But then, I presume most people are in a 'geography' where they won't be offered those. Penalty I pay for living in Asia and East of Suez.

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

German das heisst is such a cool expression. “It is named” for “that is”.

It also is cognate to, and means the same as, "det heter" in Swedish. "It height" is archaic English (I think Tennyson used it, probably because it sounds archaic, in Idylls of the King), with the same meaning: it is called. In German, it can also be used to mean "that is", "i.e.".

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 15 Sep 2017 #permalink

For once, it’s not a UK/US split. The Oxford Dictionary gives “-ize” as the preferred spelling, but lists “-ise” as an optional alternative. So a majority of UK English writers use “-ize”, with a minority preferring “-ise”.

This is the "Oxford z". It is etymologically more accurate. "ise" in English came from imitating French, and is now common in tabloid papers.

There is also the Oxford comma. It can be essential, as this example omitting it illustrates: "I dedicate this thesis to my parents, God and L. Ron Hubbard".

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 15 Sep 2017 #permalink