September Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Planting a gingko and listening to early Black Sabbath.
  • Sailboat owners around Älgö have a lot of trouble with their wind indicators. The local crows use them as merry-go-rounds, which messes them up.
  • Me: "I am daft today." Autocorrect: "I am Daddy Toast."
  • Friendly local fellow gladly gave us permission to stash our excavation gear overnight behind his garden shed.
  • Heavy downpour making loud whoosh noise on the roof.
  • Rented a van, collected excavation gear and two students, deposited gear at site, bought extra gear, had lunch, returned van, am now in no hurry to airport. Everything went as planned. (But then a storm hit and my flight was delayed for almost six hours.)
  • Went out of the house at 05:15 heading for Gothenburg, was greeted by a beautiful conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon in the south-east.
  • Opening three trenches today in Kungahälla's Viking Period predecessor. Weights & spindlewhorls tell of trade & textile crafts.
  • Mars Society's scifi writer debate panel on humankind's future in space consists of four white men aged 62 and over. Ouch.
  • Have a feeling that a lot of web sites keep re-asking me if I'll accept their goddamn cookies.
  • How can you figure out the average volume of a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire simply by counting them? I mean, you don't know their total volume to begin with. Makes no sense. Lennon was clearly tripping.
  • The damn fire alarm in my hotel room has a bright green blinking LED that keeps me from sleeping. Last night I put a sticky plaster on it, but tonight I decided to take it down. Wearing headphones with loud riff rock in them. So I couldn't hear the angry beeping from the alarm box in the hallway. So security had to come visit. *sigh*

More like this

Regarding holes in Blackburn, Lancashire: Recall that Lennon was reading a news story about it, oh boy. The story may have left out some details, or maybe Lennon didn't remember that part of the story.

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

I always look forward to reading the latest "pieces" of your mind, Martin. One of the more pleasant items on the internet :)

By Jim Sweeney (not verified) on 20 Sep 2017 #permalink

In fairness to Mr Lemon, he did mention that the holes were rather small. That's probably good enough for civil engineering purposes, although scientists would no doubt require much greater precision.

I have had extensive experience with holes, so I could work pretty confidently from his description. Although I have to admit I have only ever known one hole from Blackburn; one of my former bosses was from Blackburn and he is undoubtedly a hole, although a good deal larger than those Mr Lemon describes.

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

Guys, I just discovered that all comments currently go to spam. Please email me if you feel it's taking too long for a comment to show.

The Guardian notes that today is the 80th anniversary of the Hobbit; the book was published 21 September 1937.

This year is also 100 years since Tolkien got invalided ofta of the West Front with trench fewer.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 21 Sep 2017 #permalink

Spell check is set for Swedish, messing up my english text.

"Nambia" is not a real country. The UN is not the place for campaign rallies, especially for a campaign that ended ten months ago.
And when Trump claimed the Emmys had the lowest ratings ever, Colbert pointed out last year had slightly lower ratings and proudly chanted "we suck less! "
This will be my motto hereafter.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 21 Sep 2017 #permalink

A Swedish journalist infiltrated neo-nazi "alt-right" groups for a year, gaining access to famous kooks in 'Merca.
It turns out the nazis really are nazis.
- - - - -
A news item today mentioned more about DNA from extinct hunter- gatherers, this time in Malawi.
A very dense ear bone is able to preserve DNA even in the hot, humid climate.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 21 Sep 2017 #permalink

More on the news mentioned by Birger:

Carl Zimmer is one of the best popular science writers around, and this unfolding story of ancient population movements in subSaharan Africa is both important and fascinating.

Who would have guessed that the closest living African relatives to everyone outside of Africa would turn out to be the Hadza?

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

Pontus Skoglund has tweeted that their (his, David Reich, whoever) paper on African DNA is on open access in Cell.

Don't have time now to look it up and give the reference right now (plus my desktop has definitely died), but Carl Zimmer's story is probably enough for most people, and Zimmer is one science journalist who is definitely trustworthy.

I have to say that as a scientist (I mean him, not me - I'm not one of those engineers who deludes himself that he's a scientist; I'm not) I find Skoglund to be admirable. Everything that he has done that I have seen has been brilliant, and open access.

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

Birger@9: Tell me about it. At the tail end of the last thread (you may have missed the comment because that was when the spam filter went into "search and destroy" mode), I mentioned that I took that speech personally, because Trump is trying to ruin a song with personal meaning to me. I refer to his calling Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man".

In response, Kim called Trump a "dotard". Nice work on the part of his translator. And sad that between those two, Kim is the voice of reason.

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

It turns out the nazis really are nazis.

No less an authority than the Godwin for whom the law is named has been pointing this out. Godwin's Law refers to gratuitous Nazi comparisons. It is not meant to apply in situations where you are dealing with actual Nazis.

And these days the Republicans who aren't Nazis are overwhelmingly likely to be nihilists. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it's an ethos.

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

If a lawyer can make an argument that the "rocketman" comment has commercial effects, Sir Elton should sue.....
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Neanderthal boy's skull reveals they grew like modern boys…
-- -- -- -- -- --
I recommend the blog "Dispatches From the Culture wars" for a an ongoing, well-informed (and quite fun) commentary of the alt-right/religious right/flat-birthers in USA.

Also,on youTube, you can find video clips of John Oliver / Samantha Bee et al skewering the insanity with great wit (while simultaneously providing a fair bit of journalism of the kind corporate media consider "controversial" (aka pisses off the Trumpistas)

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 22 Sep 2017 #permalink

PNG. Pay walled, but interesting enough.

The Neolithic transition in PNG was horticulture, with domestication of taro.

Date is wrong for human occupation if humans entered Australia via PNG. The date for first evidence of human occupation of Australia has now been pushed back to, certainly, 60,000 ya, but likely 65,000 ya.

That in turn means OoA had to have happened at least 70,000 ya; not the 50,000 that some people keep endlessly quoting.

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

Stuff has happened all over the world, but it is four in the morning, so fuggit. One thing that stuck in my memory is that Colorado Springs is haunted by a serial pooler.

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

I was sitting with my family in a Thai restaurant once, in Perth, close to a sports ground where they play Australian football. There had been a match between the Hawthorn 'Hawks' (Hawthorn being one of the older inner-city suburbs of Melbourne) and someone else (like I care who the hell it was and who won), and when the match ended, some of the Hawks supporters came into the restaurant for dinner, evidently jubilant that the right team had won this pointless exercise where 36 grown men rush around a large flat area chasing an oval shaped ball and bashing the living sh*t out of each other.

And one guy came in, late middle age, who had a completely shaven head, and he'd had a big, very dark image of a hawk with its wings spread tattooed on his head, with the wings sort of draped down his neck behind his ears. It looked utterly bizarre, like he'd had some sort of dark blue wig tattooed on his head.

And I looked at this guy curiously, trying to work out WTF he had on his head, because it looked really weird. Problem was, apparently I looked at him for about a nanosecond too long, so he became aggressive towards me, as if I was being offensive to him.

Well, if he didn't want people looking at the huge and very weird looking tattoo of the hawk covering his head, why did he have it done? So people wouldn't look at it?

Anyway, the latest medical news on tattoos is that nano particles of the inorganic chemicals that are used in the tattoo inks circulate in the body through the lymphatic system and collect in the lymph nodes, and stay in the lymph nodes for life. No one knows what effects that has (yet). But no doubt they will figure it out, given time. The more tattoo ink someone has injected into their skin, the more of these particles collect in their lymph nodes over time.

Lymph nodes are important, for various reasons; probably more important than permanently signalling your support for some football team all over your head that no one is allowed to look at. A scarf or some sort of coloured hat would seem like a more prudent option, although less of a 'permanent personal commitment', I suppose.

Wikipedia tells me that "without lymphatic flow, an average resting person would die within 24 hours." So I guess the guy with the hawk tattoo on his head better hope that the particles of ink collecting in his lymph nodes don't get to the point where they block them completely.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Sep 2017 #permalink

Typo. "Pooler" should be "pooper".Colorado Springs must be becoming smelly.

Good news for Martin. The Girl With All the Gifts is now a film.

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

Colorado Springs is known for two things: the US Air Force Academy, and the politically active religious right. With some overlap between the two: too many of the propeller heads are unclear on the concept of separation of church and state. But if somebody were protesting one of those things in Colorado Springs, the religious wingnuts would be the more likely. Those folks are used to pretending that their you-know-what doesn't stink.

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

It is now officially Monday. I am beginning to worry what will turn up on the news once the US East Coast wakes up.

And the German parliament now has a far-right party for the first time in more than fifty years.
-- -- --
Apparently the humanoid civilisation David murdered in the last Alien film were not engineers, but another "client" species, like the humans.
But the film has the exact same paradox as the previous one; the protagonists just happen to land in the exact fucking right place, on a world the size of Earth.
-- -- --
And everyone sleepwalks to their deaths, even though they still must have som DNA left from ancestors who survived on the f*cking Serengeti.
Mutational meltdown?

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

"Mutational meltdown?"

Katy Perry has 100 million followers on Twitter. If that's not evidence of a massive accumulation of deleterious alleles, I don't know what is.

I experienced a huge coincidence last night. I mean, a really very long shot. Anyone listened to Steve Winwood's "Higher love" lately? No, me neither, until last night, when I heard it twice - once when I was looking up Tegan and Sara on Youtube to get another good look at the tree tattoo on Tegan Quin's right forearm (that being the only tattoo I have ever seen that I actually like - it's familiar but I can't quite place it; I fancy it's from an old Japanese woodblock print) and I got diverted by something in the sidebar and found myself listening to Steve Winwood for the first time in probably 30 years. And then I was watching an episode of a dumb series on Netflix (well, one of the slightly less dumb of the endless dumb series) and sure enough, in this episode they were playing Steve Winwood in the background. Chance against? Must be several million to one. Who plays/listens to Steve Winwood any more? Well, I did, twice in one night - first deliberately and then the second time inadvertently, after nothing for about 30 years. If I was superstitious, that might spook me, but I'm not. Coincidences happen.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Sep 2017 #permalink

Oh yeah, what got me side-tracked in the first place - Tegan Quin's tree tattoo. I've seen that live and up close - but I had to nearly burst my ear drums to get right up next to the stage where she was playing. Very low security - the security guys were there, but very low key. Good concert. The Quin twins talk a lot to the fans at their concerts. They're 37 now. Jeez. Steve Winwood is 69. No no, can't be.

You can get a look at Tegan's tree on the upper part of her right forearm in this clip. You can tell which one is Tegan because they are wearing labels, but anyway, she's the one with slightly longer hair. See if you recognize the picture. No, I don't know how many nano particles of tattoo ink she has collected in her lymph nodes so far - a fair number, I would think.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

News flash - in a piece of absolutely ground-shaking news that has flown silently under the radar of all of the Western news outlets, China has, quietly and without fanfare, lifted the ban on import of foreign labour. This has been triggered by ageing Chinese population and consequent labour shortages. Cue flood of Filipino, Indonesian and maybe Vietnamese contract workers into China. That could help to fix another problem - China has an excess of unmarried males. The Philippines have an excess of unmarried females. So, this could actually trigger a genetic shift in the Chinese population. It's not a huge shift - Southern Han are already a hybrid of Northern Han and Austronesians (which is what most Filipinos are).

The Western news media appear to have totally missed the significance of that. They don't even appear to be aware that it is happening.

So, China has done what Japan is not willing to do.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

And in other ban-lifting news:…

Interesting to see the Vietnamese consul general being quoted making what looks suspiciously like a racist remark: “Vietnamese are more disciplined than other people.” The 'other people' he is referring to are Filipinos, Indonesians, Cambodians, etc. He might be right, though, and I doubt many local readers would read that as racist.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

A Men's Rights movement that isnt creepy: "Let Italian men live"
"Experts Warn Repeated Attempts At Eradicating Obamacare May Have Created Ultra-Resistant Super Law"…
Are you a cat? Take our test to find out if you are a cat.
New dating app launched for Remainers incapable of discussing anything else
Friend with wife, children and six-figure job thinks he's better than you

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

"And the German parliament now has a far-right party for the first time in more than fifty years"

True. Many see this as newsworthy. Actually, it is more like the norm in most countries with PR. The newsworthy item is that, as you say, there was no far-right party in the Bundestag in the last several decades. (Some members of the CDU/CSU fraction have or had far-right tendencies, such as voting against recognizing the border between Poland and Germany.)

Of course, the point of comparison is other countries with proportional representation, not with countries with a two-party or on-party system.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

The bullshit that people keep pushing - a lot of people have apparently been 'taught' at university that the extra-pair paternity rate (i.e. the cuckoldry rate) is about 10%. The 'evolutionary theory' is that a woman marries a dull dependable Beta male who will support her children financially, but then secretly mate with some genetically superior Alpha male in order for her children to inherit the best possible genes.

Well, that's the theory. But in reality, it is all bullshit. In both European and Chinese societies the cuckoldry rate has been found to be consistently only around 1% or even less, not only now, but in the past as well. The truth is, females are far more faithful than a lot of people seem to want to believe. And Alpha and Beta males don't exist in humans. Wolves, maybe, but not humans.

It's a bit like the "10% of all males are gay" meme that kept being repeated like a mantra, even though it was only ever a made-up number. No, the reality is not even close. Try about 2.4% max.

One day someone should publish a book of 'bullshit statistics that we choose to keep repeating, even though they have been proven repeatedly to be utterly false'.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the vote the far-right parties in other countries would have received had these countries also taken on as many refugees as Germany. I think only Sweden took on more (in comparison to the population) and Sverigedemocraterna are indeed stronger.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

The turmoil of taking on a sudden flow of refugees means existing infrastructure (both physical and personnel) gets temporarily overwhelmed.

‘bullshit statistics -but how will you make people take notice of the correct statistics?
There are regular 'troll factories' (many funded by Putin) with both human operators and bots that are comitted to drowning out objective truth with bullshit.
You don't need a Ministry of Propaganda anymore, the proles cannot access what is really going on.

Someone (I forgot the name) suggested it should be compulsory to teach kids a "bullshit detection kit" -a set of rules to make people spot claims that likely are BS, and don't internalise ideas until they thus have been checked.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

Birger@36 - about published peer reviewed scientific papers which are confirmed by independently authored other peer reviewed scientific papers?

The number of published studies on recent and historical extra-paternity rates just keeps mounting, and they all show the same finding, for all of Europe going back into history, and for China, going back into history, and the actual number is something slightly less than 1%.

The problem is that *tenured university professors* in American universities keep teaching their students that the actual number is 10%. They can't detect the difference, which is that 10% is the number when a father suspects that a child or children he is supporting financially are not actually his children, so he demands a paternity test - and in about 10% of cases the father's suspicion turns out to be true. In 90% of cases it turns out to be false.

But apparently *tenured university professors of Biology* in American universities are incapable of telling the difference between cases of suspected non-paternity, and the actual number for the whole population, and so they teach all of their students the wrong number.

Not Putin; American life science tenured academics. Well, I guess you could assert that they are paid by Putin to say that, and I don't know of a way to prove that you are making it up.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink

Latest example:

So, the 'evolutionary theory' as applied to humans has been demonstrated in practice not to happen, in multiple different studies on multiple different populations in multiple different countries; not now, and not in the past either. But that doesn't stop tenured American academics from teaching the theory, or so I am advised by people who have studied life sciences at American universities.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Sep 2017 #permalink…

Cancer is mostly environmental. So, tweaking genes is not going to achieve much at all. One of the carcinogens not mentioned is alcohol, which I suppose is included in the 'diet' segment of the pie chart. It is known for 100% certainty that alcohol increases risk of breast cancer in women.

There are some environmental carcinogens you could be exposed to that you are not aware of, e.g. radon. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of radon (colourless, odourless radioactive gas derived from the decomposition of uranium naturally occurring in rocks, heavier than air, so tends to accumulate in closed spaces with no air flow) and the so-called 'daughters of radon' (the decomposition products - radon has a very short half life, but the decomposition products are also radioactive) is a known cause of lung cancer, including in non-smokers who have no exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. The solution is to keep your indoor living and working spaces well ventilated, so that it can't accumulate.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Sep 2017 #permalink

Lassi, thanks for that. I was aware of the observation about dominance hierarchies in primates.

Ann Gibbons is another usually-fairly-reliable science writer, but who occasionally wanders off-track a bit:…

But this quote sounds ridiculous: “something with an Asian flavor but closely related to Neandertals.” That was not from Gibbons herself, but someone called María Martinón-Torres. She might turn out to be right (although there is currently no way to prove it - the always reliable Fu Qiaomei has already said that they have been unsuccessful in extracting DNA from these remains) that these are remains have the same DNA that has been labelled as Denisovan, but she is purely speculating at this point.

What does 'with an Asian flavour' mean? If the multi-regional hypothesis of evolution of modern humans had any real validity, I suppose it might mean something, but it hasn't.

If she had said "with a Melanesian flavour" it might just about mean something, but it would still be a pretty bizarre way to describe small amounts of archaic admixture in modern humans.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Sep 2017 #permalink

Ref. my #47, I have now tried to load my raw data file into that site, but unsuccessfully. No idea why. Maybe my data file is not in the right format or something. I guess I should have tried it and got it working for myself before suggesting it to others.

If anyone else manages to get it to work, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Sep 2017 #permalink

Lassi@49 - It always confuses me when economists are labelled as 'scientists'. Are they?

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Sep 2017 #permalink

“China is rewriting the story of human evolution” also strikes me as a dubious, or at least greatly premature, claim - if it is, I have yet to see any real evidence of that. Or maybe María Martinón-Torres knows something I don't.

Generally, China has been a pretty poor preservational environment extending back through the Pleistocene, compared to Europe, because it was always relatively humid. The occasional odd find in a cool dry cave environment is not much of a basis on which to 'rewrite the story of human evolution'. There is a reason why the only remains attributed to 'Denisovan' have been found in Siberia, scant as they are.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Sep 2017 #permalink

Hugh Hefner has passed away at 91.

And two black holes have merged (commemorating his death?) , converting two solar masses to pure energy.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 28 Sep 2017 #permalink

"Maybe we can keep the emeritus professors healthy for many years longer."

Nooo! We can't get rid of the old bastards fast enough as it is.

Lemme tell ya, cryotherapy on your scalp is a whooole new experience. Just be grateful you grew up in Sweden (or wherever), rather than the blast furnace I grew up in.

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


Hugh Hefner has passed away at 91.

And two black holes have merged (commemorating his death?) , converting two solar masses to pure energy.

No; Hef would have had at least a threesome!

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 28 Sep 2017 #permalink

"Lassi@49 – It always confuses me when economists are labelled as ‘scientists’. Are they?"
I'm still waiting for scientific evidence to support that hypothesis.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 28 Sep 2017 #permalink

I am boycotting Twitter.

They won't ban He Who Must Not Be Named because he is 'newsworthy.' I think that is an excuse - they are too scared to ban him.

I was never a user, but I used to lurk and read the Tweets of a certain list of people who I thought might say something interesting (e.g. Martin). But no longer. As of yesterday, I am no longer a Twitter reader.

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

Archaeolinguistic hypothesis on how Indo-European language came to be adopted in southern Scandinavia, but with loan words from a now long extinct Neolithic language. The hypothesis ties in with the respective material cultures: Funnel Beaker and Corded Ware + adoption of single grave culture.

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

No. 2 on China's most wanted list. In 1989, he was front and centre on every HK person's TV screen day and night during the Tiananmen students' pro-democracy protest:

He keeps trying to turn himself in, but they keep refusing to arrest him and then turning him away and ignoring him, in a process that is bordering on pure farce.

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

But not all Uygurs in China are having difficulty being allowed in and out of the country. It seems on the face of it to be a function of how good looking they are:…

Well, that seems fair.

Chinese border guards always view my daughter suspiciously, until she answers them in Mandarin; at that point, they cease to be interested and just let her in and out of the Mainland, as often as she wants. She doesn't even need a passport.

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

The Assyrians got everything they deserved, if you ask me. Skinning your enemies alive is unlikely to endear you to people.

On the ancestry of Greeks:…

Don't believe the stuff at the bottom about the source of Indo-European languages. Renfrew pushed his boat out on that a long time ago, and refuses to reconsider, despite all new evidence since.

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

The Assyrians also invented the whole "women should be wrapped up in cloth until you can't see them" business.
Repressive all over.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 Oct 2017 #permalink

Speaking of repressive, Catalan Police try to shield voters from the Spanish Civil Guard in referendum declared illegal by the national government. So far, 840 civilians reported injured.

I think we have not seen the last of this.

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

It was not just declared illegal by the national government, it is unconstitutional and this was confirmed by the highest court. There is absolutely no question that it is illegal, and similar things are illegal in most countries, including those from which politicians criticize the national government in Spain.

Personally, I think that the people in Catalania, or anywhere else for that matter, should have the right to secede. So, I disagree with the constitution here. However, society will not work if people respect only those laws they agree with.

Could the national government have handled things differently? Probably. The same goes for the Catalan government. However, there is no question that the referendum was illegal and hence has no legal force.

I will be on holiday in Catalania next week.

Even if Catalania decided to secede and was successful, not only would it not be a member of the EU (which Catalans want), but there would be no chance of this, since Spain would have to agree.

What we need is pressure to change laws in all countries to allow secession and boycott countries who don't comply.

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

Yes, other countries have split---Czecholslovakia, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia. Note that the original country doesn't exist anymore. Yugoslavia is a good example: first once seceded, then another, then only two (of 6---now (with Kosovo---7) left calling themselves Yugoslavia, then even they stopped. The situation is not really comparable to Spain, though, because most of the people in other regions (and maybe not even most in Catalania---90 per cent means little when those against it usually didn't vote at all, since it wasn't an official referendum) don't want to secede. Because of this, and for other reasons, many if not most people in Yugoslavia were OK with the country disintegrating, or at least thought that it was a reasonable price to pay. Also note that Czechoslovaka, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia were not democracies.

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

"society will not work if people respect only those laws they agree with."

Exactly. I agree with you 100%, Phillip, which must be an all-time record.

But given that the referendum was illegal, and therefore the vote would have no legal standing (particularly as those Catalans who do not wish to secede evidently boycotted it), and that the voters do not appear to have in any way behaved violently, why then was there a need for the Civil Guard to beat up 840 people to prevent them from voting, to the extent that the Catalan Police felt motivated to try to protect people from them, which brought the Catalan Police into direct confrontation with the Civil Guard? Why not just let it go ahead, and then make clear that the vote has no legal standing and means nothing?

If a lot of Catalans did not have valid grounds for wanting independence before, they surely do now.

And now it seems at least possible that the independence movement, which was previously a non-violent movement, engaging in civil disobedience at most, might turn violent. Not that I wish to see that at all, but they surely now have some motivation.

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

For years, one of my Australian nephews concealed the fact that he was not eating his broccoli by shoving it down inside the sofa (probably a good reason for not letting kids eat their dinner sitting in the living room watching TV).

His parents only found out when they noticed a strange smell, and found that the inside of the sofa was stuffed full of badly rotting broccoli.

I have never liked green peas. Can't stand them; never could. When I was a kid, my trick to get rid of them was to stuff my mouth full of them, then pretend I needed to go the bathroom to wash my hands, and spit them down the plughole of the hand basin.

My father figured out my trick when the drainage pipe draining the hand basin became blocked and the water wouldn't drain out of the basin any more. So he undid the plug at the bottom of the U-bend in the drainage pipe and about 5 years worth of rotting peas fell out.

I was, shall we say, unpopular with the management as a consequence of this discovery, although they did have to give me marks for ingenuity.

I still won't eat f*ckin' green peas, hate them - at least, I hate them cooked. I absolutely love them raw, and always have. An obvious solution to this dilemma would seem to have been to let me eat the peas raw when I was a kid, given that they were always bought fresh, not tinned or frozen. But no, that solution was never permitted. I see that more as a reflection on the cognitive ability of the management, rather than anything else. Some vegetables, like carrots, need to be cooked in order to release all of the nutrients, but that doesn't apply to green peas.

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

As I said, the central government could have handled this better. But so could have the regional government: the whole thing is a farce, and the referendum a deliberate provocation. It seems that in some sense they wanted people to get beat up, hoping that such images would increase sympathy for their cause, which seems to have worked, at least based on tweets from J. K. Rowling, Julian Assange, and even various high-level politicians.

I don't know the motivation of the central government. As you say, if it is illegal anyway, and the result thus having no consequence, why not let them go ahead? Maybe (I'm speculating) if they had done nothing, and if there had been a huge majority, then maybe Catalan would have declared independence, perhaps leading to an even bigger problem.

The solution has to be the recognition that basic human rights imply the right of a people to secede from a country.

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

The problem with that argument is that some (unknown) number of Catalans do not wish to secede - that is known because some of them have appeared on TV saying so very clearly.

Apparently a similar referendum was held in 2014, the central government ignored it, the same thing happened (those in favour of secession voted, those against did not, so a similar landslide win for those in favour) and nothing happened.

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

"The problem with that argument is that some (unknown) number of Catalans do not wish to secede – that is known because some of them have appeared on TV saying so very clearly."

Why should that be a problem? Few decisions will have unanimous support. That's like saying that homosexuality should be banned because a few people at a Baptist prayer meeting, or maybe even a significant fraction of the population, don't want it.

The whole point of a referendum is to let the majority decide. Anything else is not democracy. (I think that there are only a very few questions which should be decided by referendum---representative democracy should be the default---but questions like this should be.) Suppose that it is 60 per cent for secession and 40 per cent against. Are you arguing that the 40 per cent should have their way, because their opinion counts more? Or because the status quo counts more, even if there is a significant majority against it?

Russia argued that letting the Baltic states secede from the USSR should be forbidden because the Russian people there don't want it. And then there was the "heim ns Reich" philosophy. Not good precedents.

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

heim ns Reich ---> heim ins Reich

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

The Spanish government may have fucked up by using so much repression.
The undecided may be swayed by this, like the Irish got swayed by traditional British idiocy after the Easter Uprising.
And if there is EU mediation, it will no longer be just Madrid's sandbox.

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

Tom Petty is in critical condition.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 02 Oct 2017 #permalink

Phillip@78 - Opinion polls taken before the referendum indicated that a majority of Catalans (49% against vs 41% in favour) were opposed to secession. Most of those people chose not to vote in the referendum because it had been declared to be illegal - this conclusion is supported by the % of potential voters who chose not to vote.

Birger@80 is right - the Spanish government has really screwed up on this.

The grand irony is that if the national government had permitted the referendum to go ahead and had encouraged everyone to vote, the likely outcome would have been against secession.

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

But the national government couldn't really do that, I guess, because the referendum was unconstitutional.

So their best option, under the circumstances, would have been to state that the referendum was unconstitutional and that consequently the outcome, whatever it was, could not be recognised under the constitution, and then just ignore it.

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

"Opinion polls taken before the referendum indicated that a majority of Catalans (49% against vs 41% in favour) were opposed to secession."

OK. But I said that a majority should be able to decide to secede, and you said that wouldn't work because "a number" don't want to. That is not a valid rebuttal. You are now claiming that a majority don't want to leave, which of course is a non-issue of the majority decides.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 03 Oct 2017 #permalink

I'm not claiming anything, I am simply quoting to you what the opinion polls were reported to be showing. Opinion polls are not always reliable. On the other hand, your assumed 60% in favour was just a fabrication on your part.

Besides, as a result of amendments to the Spanish constitution in 1978, Spain is "indivisible", i.e. secession is unconstitutional, no matter what the majority of Catalans might want. If they want to change that, they need to go through the process required to amend the constitution, and they haven't done that. So it's a moot point. Human rights doesn't come into it - Catalonia and its citizens have the collective right to seek an amendment to the constitution, which they have not done, as far as I am aware.

It seems to me that all the national government needed to do was to ignore the whole thing. They didn't; they decided that the best course of action was to forcibly try to prevent people from voting. I think that was a major error on their part. Almost criminally stupid, actually, if you think about what such a process entails.

[Stuff redacted /MR]

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

Like, who the hell cares about what J.K Rowling thinks about it? Seriously?

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

I have one for you, Birger, that I pinched off Razib Khan:

The allele for blue eyes (a mutation) first appeared (as far as known from finds of remains, but there are now rather a lot) among Hunter Gatherers in Europe less than 15,000 years before present (which means before 1950), during the late Pleistocene. But those people had dark skin and hair - a startling (to us) combination with blue eyes.

The alleles for pale skin did not appear in Europe until the Holocene.

So, although modern people might associate blue eyes with pale skin, there is no direct connection. Different unrelated mutations.

Variegated hair colours did not happen in Europe until the steppe herders turned up, in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age.

So, people might identify blue eyed, blonde haired, pale skinned people as a 'type', maybe even as a 'race', but they're not - that combination is as a result of mixing.

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

I assume Herr Hitler and friends would be unamused.

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

Thanks, John. The reference to steppe peoples is amusing, since today we associate that environment with mongols and other asiatic-looking peoples. It will not be popular with local kooks.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
The Daily Mash has the latest massacre covered:
“Arm everyone with machine guns, say unspeakable bastards”…
"Every American should be given an automatic weapon, according to the country’s bastard pieces of shit."

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 03 Oct 2017 #permalink

Birger@91 - the apparent east-west cline across Eurasia, with progressively less East Asian (incl. Mongol) admixture the further west you go, is a reflection of relatively recent history. On a global PCA plot of the first two principal components, my daughter plots with Uygurs, and smack dab on Hazara (she looks like she could be a Uygur or a Turk (pretty much the same thing, really), and has often been mistaken for such (even Turkish people have mistaken her for a Turk), but she looks nothing like Hazara). Both are (on an historical scale) recently admixed groups. However, obviously, my daughter is a *really* recent mixture. Tatars are slightly west-shifted from Uygurs, so look less 'Asian' than Uygurs. Tennis-playing brother and sister Marat Safin and Dinara Safina are Tatars, but don't look perceptibly Asian (but of course they could have been further admixed with modern European - I don't know their family history).

And for an analysis, the results of which we can already guess: more guns do not make people safer. Duh.…

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

OT - One of the more popular ways to commit suicide in HK is by burning charcoal inside a sealed room. Burning the charcoal produces carbon monoxide, which is toxic in high enough concentration, and when breathed induces subconsiousness and then death. So it's a private and 'painless' way to go (I suppose - never tried it myself) - people just get drowsy, black out, then that's it. Less messy and public than jumping off a building, plus no risk of landing on innocent passers-by.

So a new idiom/euphemism has entered HK Cantonese - someone committing suicide is referred to as "having a barbecue". HK Cantonese speakers often have a somewhat macabre sense of humour.

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

Well, I didn't want to make too much of it, but you are the one who made reference to J.K. Rowling.

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

Do you really miss the point? I personally don't care what she thinks. My claim is merely that this sort of publicity is what some separatists wanted to happen, perhaps even at the cost of violence.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 04 Oct 2017 #permalink

Catalan independence has been a frequently and much discussed issue in the mainstream media for quite a while; several decades at least, in my memory. It was hardly lacking publicity.

Do you have any evidence for your claim, or are you just constructing a conspiracy theory?

I do hope that you have some solid evidence, because if it is purely your own fabrication, it is a pretty nasty thing to assert.

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

"In coal mines incomplete combustion may occur during explosions resulting in the production of afterdamp. The gas is up to 3% CO and may be fatal after just a single breath."

That's pretty damned impressive - one breath and you are dead, just due to something preventing your blood from carrying oxygen.

There used to be a problem in HK with gas burning water heaters that did not have external venting of the gases resulting from combustion of the gas, particularly among Chinese women - being modest creatures, they would close the bathroom door and window before showering, and would be found dead in the shower, from CO poisoning.

The government had to make those kinds of water heaters illegal, to stop suppliers from selling them. Once they did that, Chinese women stopped dying in the shower.

Now, they only die from CO poisoning when they actually want to. That is, except in one current infamous case where a rather prominent university professor has been charged with killing his wife and one of his daughters by subjecting them to CO poisoning in the family car - he intended to kill only his wife, from whom he was getting a divorce, to prevent her from getting a financially favourable divorce settlement, but the daughter unexpectedly got into the car with her mother, so she died too.

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

Meanwhile, why does a Consultant in Surgery at a prominent local private hospital want to join my LinkedIn network? I sincerely trust he's not doing it as a way of touting for work among some of my more mature colleagues! Whatever, I'm not risking it - he's not getting in.

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

I am forgetting my manners. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to Mrs Rundkvist. And Miss Rundkvist also, if she is culturally that way inclined.

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

Thank you, John, and likewise to your family! We have had hot pot at home with Cousin E and played a boardgame together.

Thank you.

My daughter has *finally* decided that she is now too old to have a candle-lit lantern to play with, but she and my wife still indulged themselves by eating Cantonese moon cakes. I can't stand the things, whereas I really like Shandong style moon cakes - but there is now only one bakery in HK that makes and sells them, and it is a long way from where we live, so my wife didn't manage to make the trip to get some this year. (Seemingly perversely, here the official public holiday for the Festival comes on the day after the actual Festival day - but it makes practical sense, because on the Festival day the kids get to stay up extra late to play with lanterns and gaze at the full moon, so being able to sleep in and take it easy the next day is a good idea. So it is deathly quiet and peaceful out there today - nothing to hear except the birds.)…

I have a big soft spot for Brunei - I really like the place, just because it is so bloody weird, unworldly and irrational. Brunei is oil-and-gas-rich, but all of the wealth is owned by the Sultan, so it is a strange mixture of conspicuous, over-the-top, gilded, ostentatious luxury and dusty tumbledown third world under-development. My wife and daughter do not share my enthusiasm for it, they find it oppressive and tawdry. Plus I guess they feel kind of awkward being among the very few Asian females in the place with their hair on display in public.

It is and has long been a Muslim Sultanate. The Sultan is the Boss, and when you are there, you are left in no doubt about that - giant portraits of the Sultan stare down at you from everywhere in Bandar Seri Begawan, the snappily named capital city, if it can sensibly be called a city - it's more like a fairly large, sleepy 1950-ish Asian country town.

The law requires that all local women must wear the hijab. But Brunei is close to the equator, so it is always stinking hot and humid. So all of the local teenage girls walk around dressed in skin-tight shorts, skimpy tops, rubber flip-flops on their feet, and head scarves - it's a visually arresting sight until you get used to it - obedient compliance with the letter of the law, if not the intent, by every single one of them.

Alcohol is strictly illegal. Non-Muslim 'foreigners' of adult age visiting Brunei are permitted to carry in one bottle of alcoholic beverage each, which they must consume in the privacy of their own hotel rooms. If you want to drink beer when you go out, then you need to go to a local Chinese restaurant where, if you say exactly the right words quietly enough to the waiter, you can be served beer in a Chinese teapot, which you need to consume by pouring it into diminutive Chinese tea cups. But that is never a problem for me, because I don't drink.

Personal safety and loss of possessions are just not an issue there. There is no crime in Brunei. None. Think for a moment about the criminal penalties prescribed under Sharia Law, and you soon figure out why. And the eyes of the Sultan are everywhere.

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

The sultan likes everyone else to follow sharia law....
there is no shortage of material on internet about the sybaritic excesses of the Dear Leader.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 05 Oct 2017 #permalink

"Catalan independence has been a frequently and much discussed issue in the mainstream media for quite a while; several decades at least, in my memory. It was hardly lacking publicity."

Sure, but the situation now is much different than even just a few weeks ago. Your statement that it has been in the news for decades is true, but irrelevant because the current situation is much different.

"Do you have any evidence for your claim, or are you just constructing a conspiracy theory?"

The evidence is there. What other explanation is there for the behaviour of the Catalan prime minister?

By the way, I don't believe in conspiracy theories...

"I do hope that you have some solid evidence, because if it is purely your own fabrication, it is a pretty nasty thing to assert."

...I also don't travel to countries with Sharia law, much less praise them, because I respect humanity.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 05 Oct 2017 #permalink

Birger@103 - There's no shortage of material evidence on the ground either. Tourists are welcome to tour the royal palace, etc., in order to be impressed by how obscenely wealthy the Sultan is, which we have done, and were suitably nauseated by it all, with my wife muttering "This is just all too much; it's disgusting" and me muttering back "Quiet. Don't criticize the ruling elite when you are on their territory."

But there is no poverty in Brunei. No one goes hungry. Everyone has a decent-enough place to live. Students of sufficient ability are funded to attend overseas universities by the Sultan. Others all get paid employment, enough to have a decent enough standard of living, by the standards of South-East Asian countries. Unemployment is zero - if you don't have a job, the Sultan will get someone to create one for you. I'd say that the citizens of Brunei are materially better off than a lot of Americans and Australians.

So, as far as I can see, the citizens go along with the "we all love the Sultan because he takes care of us" meme, while turning an indifferent eye to his ostentatious material self-indulgences, even though they don't actually mean it.

The total lack of anything like real poverty in Brunei also helps to explain the apparent total absence of crime (aside from a few desperate foreigners begging for a teapot of beer from a few obliging local Chinese - which I have no doubt the local law enforcement know full well goes on, but as long as it is non-Muslims serving small amounts of beer to other non-Muslims, and done sufficiently surreptitiously so that they can safely turn a blind eye to it, they don't give a damn.)

The Sultan imposes Sharia Law on his subjects. But he is an Islamic moderate and appears relatively benevolent, and is desperate to encourage tourism to Brunei (he is realistic enough to know that the place can't hope to survive on oil and gas revenues forever, and then if it doesn't have tourism, it has nothing), so he does not hold tourists and other visitors to the same religious and legal standards as he does the local populace.

It's not a place I would enjoy living permanently, or a style of governance that I would condone or recommend. But for the time being at least, the citizens (including a substantial resident Chinese commercial minority) seem happy enough to go along with it, as long as they have a good standard of living.

And at least it's not Saudi Arabia, with it's expatriate population of desperate Brits frantically brewing alcohol from potato peelings in their basements. The Sultan subsidises Air Brunei to encourage tourism, and alcohol is not served on their flights (allegedly, although on one flight, without being asked, the stewardess very surreptitiously offered my wife a solitary can of Foster's Lager, which she was holding like it was contraband pure gold or something, and which my wife instantly declined - I was entertained by the fact that she offered it to my wife but not to me; couldn't figure that one out), so it's cheap to fly out for people who are desperate to get out and binge drink for a while.

It's not for me, though, except for the occasional short visit. I like to be free and to be left alone by the authorities unless I actually need their assistance with something, and the HK authorities are better at leaving me alone than anywhere else I have ever been. And also pretty good at not disgusting people with ostentatious displays of material consumption (ignoring for the moment that the previous Chief Executive once removed is currently on trial for corruption).

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

Birger@104 - Don't remind me about the bloody cats. It's an issue that I get considerably 'exercised' about.

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

Phillip@105 - When you have prevented as many people's premature deaths as I have, often risking my own life in very uncomfortable, unpleasant, physically exhausting and hazardous conditions in order to do so, you can tell me about how much respect for humanity you have. And no, I will not be drawn into elaborating on that, save to say it is not an idle boast, just a fact.

Meanwhile, suggesting that the Catalan political leader was hoping to incur violence against his own people in order to garner international sympathy, in the absence of any evidence that he actually wanted that, is so disgraceful that I am not willing to comment on it further. [Stuff redacted /MR]

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

British writer Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize in Literature…
Nigel Farage et al might get upset that this Anglo-Japanese bloke is described as "British" and ignore his contribution to Brit culture.
-- -- -- -- -- --
If Australians don't want to kill the cats, neutering them or spaying them will help a bit. Good luck interacting with wild cats.

The concept of a "gene driver" might be tested on rabbits and feral cats to stop reproduction. There is a risk of gene flow to domesticated animals, but the boffins should be able to find ways to turn off synthetic genes with medication.
-- -- -- -- --
Re. cynical political leaders... I think old Michael Collins deliberately wanted to create martyrs, as he must have realised the chances of success for the Easter Uprising were exactly zero. But Irland is not Catalonia.
-- -- -- -- --
Re. Catalonia, it would help if the EU leaders try to get involved before things really go south, but they seem to be complacent. And the leaders in Madrid have all the diplomatic finesse of Boris Johnson.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 05 Oct 2017 #permalink

I watched both films, and read "The Remains of the Day" - it came across to me as surprisingly British (I didn't know at the time that Ishiguro had migrated when he was quite so young), but with a strange extra dimension I couldn't put my finger on. It fits with what he said about himself - a funny mixture. I have read other things he has written, and they all had that same indefinable quality. I tried to read "Never Let Me Go" before I watched the film, but I struggled with it, and it didn't help that I knew, or guessed, where it was going, so I never could bring myself to finish it. I don't doubt he is deserving of a Nobel, and he can't really sensibly be classified as anything other than a British writer. Screw Farage.

I have read a bit of Japanese fiction in translation. The stuff I have read is truly weird - full of evil white foxes and whatever. It was beyond me culturally to understand it at more than a very superficial level. Chinese classical literature seems to me to be much more 'normal' and easier to grasp. But that could be my own bias - I feel much more 'friendly' towards Chinese than Japanese. In personal contacts, I can deal comfortably with Chinese, whereas I find Japanese difficult and not hugely likeable. You could call that prejudice on my part if you wanted, but there are reasons for it. It's not that I haven't tried being friendly with some Japanese. The closest I came was with a guy, an engineering academic, who was half-Japanese, but who was born and had spent his whole life in Japan. He became more interested in me when I told him I had a half-Chinese daughter, and he talked pretty openly about difficulties faced by mixed people - well, openly for a Japanese, that is, which is still not hugely open. I asked him what it was like for him as a mixed person in Japan, and he said "I was a mixed child in Japan during WWII. As you might imagine, life was very...difficult for me then. But now it is OK."

Feral cats are really difficult to control, even harder to shoot than introduced foxes. I know, I have tried, unsuccessfully, with both. They grow huge, and are fearsome predators. It is now law in Western Australia (don't know about the other states) that all domestic cats have to be registered, microchipped and neutered, and no household is permitted to keep more than three, but of course people keep cheating the system. The local government rangers have a hard time enforcing the law.

A lot of the bird killing is actually done by people's domestic pets in the back yards of their houses. Feral cats in the wild are really badly impacting small marsupial mammals. The sort of ironic side is the finding that, in areas where dingoes are not so stringently controlled, the dingoes help to keep down the feral cat population by killing them. Dingoes are of course also introduced, just more like 3,500 years or so ago, but it seems pretty clear that they were responsible for the extinction of the thylacine on the mainland. Too late to cry about that now. A big problem with dingoes, though, is that they hybridise with sheep dogs, which are very smart animals.

I think the Catalan leader was, and still is, naive and unrealistic in what he seems to think he can achieve. But going by recent history, I don't think he could be expected to anticipate the violent suppression that the referendum triggered. I didn't see anyone predict that response before the event. That didn't happen on previous occasions. But now Spain has a 'centre right' government which is evidently capable of doing some really stupid stuff, when it doesn't need to. This could all rapidly go badly wrong. I don't think complacency is warranted at all at this point, given the stupid stuff the current Spanish government has now shown it is willing to do.

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

I'm redacting the bits where you guys squabble over each other's mental health. If this annoys you, consider that it may be a sign that I am going nuts, and that I deserve your pity.

No problem, Martin.

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