August Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Getting your fridge filled with rusty Medieval nails isn’t actually as hard as many people think. Just marry an archaeologist!
  • It’s been decided that from now on the word is pronounced ever-yone or ever-yawn.
  • Jrette joined me and Lasse for tonight’s sailing mini-race. She steered throughout the race, she enjoyed herself and we finished in the middle third as usual.
  • Cousin E admires Newton and Turing. I’ve lent him Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.
  • I run an academic job application web site through Google Translate. The gender box asks whether I am a human or a woman.
  • The stereotype of the sandal-clad balding dad is eerily similar to that of the woman in sensible shoes. Are they in fact a single category of desexualised middle-aged people who like to pair up with femmes?
  • I’m recruiting girly and also very shy musicians for a ‪‎New Wave‬ cover band‬: The Shrinking Violet Femmes. Gonna be quietly awesome!
  • I’ve never found a use for LinkedIn‬. It just gives me wildly unrealistic job suggestions and people’s “endorsements”.
  • Movie: Inside Out. Pixar girl’s emotions take turns driving her, creating endless mixed metaphors. Some nicely surreal scenes. Grade: Pass.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

88 thoughts on “August Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. Red hair, EDAR mutation: can’t the prevalence of these be put down to the founder effect? Natural selection doesn’t just preserve adaptive alleles, but also adaptively irrelevant alleles.

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  2. Red hair could be founder effect. There is no apparent selection for or against red hair; similarly blonde hair that persists into adulthood (lots of kids have blonde hair which turns darker when they become adults); similarly variegated coloured eyes (blue, green, hazel). With no selection for or against, their frequency is continuing to remain about the same. So that does suggest to me that they were just founder effects from founders who happened to have those mutations. So you get pops like the Scandies with relatively high % of blue eyed blondes, but still with the majority having dark hair, or the Scots and Irish, with relatively high frequency of red hair, but still at relatively minor proportions of the total populations.

    But the EDAR mutation is something else; it has been so strongly selected for that it has gone to fixity in all East Asian populations. If it were a founder effect, we would expect to see the physical traits associated with it in some but not all East Asians. But they all have it, every single one of them.

    Selection of lactase persistence in Europe was described by Razib Khan as “a hammer blow of selection”, i.e. it happened very quickly relative to how long selection for a trait tends to happen, and so was very strongly selected for – it provided a much higher chance of survival and successful reproduction (by successful I mean kids surviving to adulthood and successfully reproducing themselves). But even amongst those populations that have the highest frequency of lactase persistence, it has not gone to fixity, i.e. not 100% of adults in those populations have it. Even among Europeans, it is only at a frequency of 80%; at lower frequencies in southern Europeans and higher frequencies in northern Europeans. From memory, it peaks at close to 100% in Dutch and Scandies, but the percentages are in the 90s, not 100%.

    That means that the EDAR mutation was even more strongly selected for than lactase persistence, i.e. very strong selection. It was something so favourable to survival in China, which is where it is presumed it first arose, that literally all Chinese and their derivative Korean and Japanese populations have it. During the Pleistocene and Holocene China has always remained relatively humid, so I’m wondering if the difference in sweat glands has something to do with it. Chinese breast milk is different in composition to European breast milk (so much so that when my daughter was researching human breast milk, she had to turn down Chinese volunteer donors because they would have been a confounding factor in her research) – Chinese mothers produce a lesser volume of milk, but appear to make up for it with a greater proportion of colostrum and other goodies that are good for bubs. So I suspect breast milk might be a possible.

    But what ever the trait was that was selected so strongly for, it was something powerful; possibly disease resistance while moving into a new environment with previously unencountered pathogens and parasites, but no one knows.

    And it had to have happened relatively quickly. Another hammer blow.

    It’s a conundrum.

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  3. Yeah, just checking numbers, Dutch have the highest lactase persistence at 99%, followed by Danes and Australian whites at 96%, Swedes at 93-95%, Brits at 85 to 95%, and so on down the list.

    Wikipedia: “In some East African ethnic groups, lactase persistence has gone from negligible to near-ubiquitous frequencies in just 3000 years, suggesting a very strong selective pressure.” So very strongly adaptive and happened very fast.

    Well, it looks like the EDAR mutation was even more strongly adaptive, and happened even faster. If it was a founder effect, everyone in the founding group would need to have had it, and if it was neutral, you would see people who had lost it, just due to drift.

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  4. Does Juniorette have lactase persistence? I guess you’ll find out when she gets older. My daughter has it – she often enjoys a large glass of milk with no ill effects at all.

    Despite the assurance I have been given by numerous people who are supposed to know better than I do that 100% of Chinese are lactose intolerant, even my wife occasionally enjoys a glass of milk with no obvious adverse effects, and eats her breakfast cereal with milk poured all over it. And there is no doubting my wife’s ancestry – she is 100% East Asian (although it gets a bit more cryptic when you try to break down the East Asian into sub-groups).

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  5. Neither my wife nor Jrette has any problem with lactose, nor does my wife have the common East Asian problem with alcohol. Zhejiang is a coastal province and my father-in-law is from Shanghai, so there’s probably a certain amount of genetic eclecticism involved.

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  6. Likewise, my wife has no problem processing alcohol. But it is widely acknowledged by those who should know that the inability to process alcohol is very variable among Chinese, even within the same family. My wife’s older brother cannot handle alcohol at all. Her father can. One of her uncles gets seriously ill if forced to drink. One of her grandfathers (not really; just an older family relative) was in the habit of constantly chewing raw cloves of garlic and washing them down with neat Johnny Walker Scotch Whisky by the tumbler full, while playing Ma Jong, and he never appeared to be affected by the alcohol in the least. He died not so long ago at some ridiculously old age – way too old for a man who drank the way he did and chain smoked.

    As for ‘typical’ East Asian facial traits that are very noticeable to Europeans, like ‘single eyelids’ and epicanthic folds that are regarded as ‘typical East Asian facial traits’, I am quite satisfied that they were founder effects. You see exactly the same traits among some African groups, noticeably the San (the so-called ‘Bushmen’), and among Chinese they vary a lot. Not all Chinese have pronounced epicanthic folds, and not all Chinese have ‘single eyelids’ – and I mean without surgical intervention.

    So all of the trumped up explanations about how these eyelid traits helped them to survive sandstorms in the Gobi Desert or whatever are ‘just so’ stories that are a load of bull. They are not adaptive traits at all, just founder effects inherited from African ancestors. Subjectively, pronounced epicanthic folds seem to me to be more prevalent in the north than the south, but it’s just an impression.

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  7. what can’t be predicted are large intra-plate earthquakes that occur in areas that have been historically quiet. The Tangshan Earthquake was in that category. Many earthquakes large enough to be very damaging are in the same category.

    The biggest earthquake to have happened in North America since the US became an independent country happened not along the Pacific Rim, but at New Madrid in southeastern Missouri, along the Mississippi River. The effects of that one were felt in Boston, almost 2000 km away.

    The Seattle and Portland regions were slow to recognize the local earthquake danger because the Cascadia subduction zone has not had a major earthquake since 1700, before the first Europeans visited the region. (We know the exact date of this earthquake from records of the tsunami it caused in Japan.) This despite the presence of several obvious volcanoes in the Cascade mountains, including Mt. Rainier (if that one ever erupts, it would take a big chunk of Seattle’s southern suburbs with it). New buildings are built to withstand such an earthquake, but anything more than about 30 years old is potentially at risk, as is anything in the lowlands close to salt water due to possible tsunamis (the Olympic Peninsula will partially protect the Seattle region, but the Pacific coast would be toast).

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  8. This link should work better. “Bible contradictions” http://bibviz.com/

    -when you hover over one of the linking arcs, it lights up and tells you in the upper right-hand corner of the screen which verses are being linked together. Click on an arc and it takes you directly to those verses as compiled in the Skeptics Annotated Bible.

    That’s not all. The visual also shows you where in the Bible you’ll find the passages featuring Cruelty/Violence, Discrimination against Homosexuals, Scientific Absurdities/Historical Inaccuracies, or Misogyny/Violence/Discrimination against Women.

    (For instance, check out the category “Misogyny/Violence/Discrimination against Women”
    See the long bar on the far left side? That means the Book of Genesis has more anti-women verses than any other book in the Bible. And all those bars are clickable and lead you to the specific passages in the Skeptics Annotated Bible.)

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  9. Birger@61 – make them more ductile. Designing new buildings not to collapse in large earthquakes is not all that difficult, provided the building owners are prepared to pay for it, and accepting of the limitations it places on the architecture. It’s a matter of cost/benefit, depending on the magnitude of risk. If the risk is the same as that of a meteorite impacting the earth that it is so large it would cause the end of human civilisation, normally taken as 1 in 10 to the power -8 per year, i.e. 1 in 100,000,000 per year, then risk experts say it is so low as to not be worth worrying about. So then it becomes a matter of what level of risk is tolerable. For individual risk (i.e. the risk that a particular person will be killed by a specific hazard) the normal yardstick is that anything below 1 in 100,000 per year is tolerable. Above that, it becomes a question of how much it costs to reduce the risk below that level and whether the cost is worth the reduction in risk, up to a point. If the individual risk is 1 in 1,000 per year or higher, it is regarded as ‘not tolerable’, regardless of the cost required to mitigate it. To do the cost/benefit calculation, it is necessary to put a financial value on a human life. The value normally adopted is about US$2 million.

    How they arrive at a value for a human life is kind of interesting. They get groups of people, ordinary people from anywhere. Then they don’t ask “How much is it worth spending to prevent you from being killed by this hazard?” because of course the person will say “Any amount. Me being killed is not tolerable.” So they ask “How much is it worth spending to prevent that person over there from being killed by this hazard?” and, depending on the nature of the hazard, in modern developed countries, the answer usually comes back around the region of US$2 million.

    But that is not how lawyers and law courts value human life in cases where people have been killed and their families are being awarded compensation. In those cases, they usually use lost earning potential, which results in a much lower figure. If the person killed was a child, the projected lost earning potential is calculated to be low, so normally the compensation awarded to a family for the death of a child is pretty small. Shockingly low, actually.

    The much harder thing to do is to retrofit old buildings so that they can withstand a large earthquake without collapsing. That is really difficult. And to do it without altering the external appearance of the building, or damaging its ‘heritage’ value, is virtually impossible. That is really what we would be talking about in the case of old buildings collapsing in central Italy. People won’t let you do that, they would prefer to live with the risk. Unless it has just been realised, of course, in which case they will say that it should have been done. People are always much wiser immediately after a tragic event than they were just before it occurred.

    In a lot of cases, frankly, human venality is in play – people gamble by taking a chance that a low probability (but high consequence) event will not occur, so they will not invest financially in lowering the risk of the event occurring. Elected politicians are just as venal in this regard as anyone else, and possibly more so – they are gambling on the risk not being realised before the next election. I have my reasons for regarding all politicians with disgust. And lawyers.

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  10. To put it kind of bluntly, people in Christchurch knew they were living with high earthquake risk and that many buildings had not been designed for it, but they put their heads in the sand and just hoped it wouldn’t happen, and then it did happen. And they know that the risk has not magically gone away, and that it will happen again some day, but they are rebuilding Christchurch where it is anyway, because it is too costly and painful to relocate the whole city to some less vulnerable location, and they console themselves by thinking that they can engineer away the problem by adopting better building codes and tightening up on enforcement. And they can, and it works for a while. But maintaining constant vigilance is difficult long-term.

    People in Christchurch had got away with building some newer buildings that did not meet the relevant design code, and which collapsed during that earthquake, due to lax enforcement. It is one thing to come up with building codes, and a different thing to ensure that the codes are always met. It is a lesson that people have to keep learning in very painful ways, over and over. There will always be people who are willing to gamble on the risk not materialising while they are still around, particularly when it is other people’s lives they are putting at risk and not their own.

    Everyone knows that one day Lisbon in Portugal will be hit by another big damaging tsunami. Nothing is more certain. Everyone in Naples (Napoli) knows that they are living with the risk of a large volcanic eruption. They talk about it endlessly, grand evacuation plans for the city, etc., but they don’t actually do much about it, because they don’t feel that the risk is immediate enough to get really mobilised about it.

    Most big cities everywhere are located where they will be directly adversely impacted by climate change/sea level rise, but there is very high inertia involved in getting government authorities to do anything about it, because they regard it as too distant into the future and therefore not their problem to worry about; and it is too costly to do anything immediate in any case, so the problem gets left to a future generation. The small Pacific island nations are worried sick about it, but they don’t have much of a voice in the international forums (fora?) that count for anything. Most politicians are not technical people who have a real understanding of the potential problems, and they have no motivation to really get a grip on them. Once they get as far as hearing about “risk” and grasp that we are talking about something in the mid to long term future, they immediately lose interest.

    A Norwegian friend of mine, a very good engineer, once told me the truth – the only time that people will give engineers the resources (i.e. money) they need to combat risks is in the immediate aftermath of a tragic event. By the time three years has passed, people have already stopped thinking and worrying about the event and have become complacent again. It’s human nature – people want to know if something is ‘dangerous’ and therefore something needs to be done urgently, or ‘safe’ and they don’t need to think and worry about it. Humans don’t have an intuitive grasp for ‘risk’ and thinking in terms of statistical probabilities of hazards being realised, and they are not well equipped to think about and react to hazards that are at low probability of occurring but with potentially high consequence if/when they do occur. It’s the old ‘fight or flight’ response thing – “Tell me something is dangerous, and I will prepare to fight or run like hell, but otherwise I will assume I am safe and not worry.” People are not well equipped to live with the constant knowledge and awareness of risk – it is too stressful for them to cope with. Or they become like the folks living in the reconstructed Tangshan, and just drink themselves numb every day, to take away the constant stress reaction that would kill them if they didn’t. They actually said that to me, when I commented on how much they drink: “So would you if you had to live here.”

    People have already rebuilt the part of Sumatra that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, despite the certainty that the event will be repeated about 600 or so years into the future. It is an interesting but intractable problem to even figure out systems for warning people living 600 years in the future that something really really bad is going to happen. The Japanese, with their long history of being impacted by tsunamis, have come up with some novel ways of maintaining community awareness of tsunami risk in different parts of Japan, but that did not prevent the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. All they needed to do in that case was to build the emergency generators at a higher elevation, a relatively low cost item, but they didn’t do it.

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  11. Birger@59 – when people start talking about stone tools, my eyes glaze over. I’ve tried to understand stone tool technology, but can’t sustain interest long enough to ever get into it. I can appreciate the beauty of a well made Clovis spear point, but that’s about it.

    I will read and waffle about human genomics until the cows come home, but when people start talking about the Aurignacian or whatever, I’m out of there. I know I should persevere, but can’t. I can get interested in metals, no problem. Different ways of making things out of lumps of rock? Nah. I could trip over a hand axe and see nothing but a lump of rock.

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  12. Movie report: the 2016 film “Tomorrow Already in Hong Kong.” It’s a reference to the international date line, so yes, the film is aimed at an American audience, and stars 1) an American male of European ancestry and 2) an American female of Chinese ancestry. They happen to be married to each other in real life, but that’s a bit of trivia that no one really needs to know, except I guess it helps a bit with the on-screen chemistry. Or not. I don’t care. The back and forth dialogue is trivial and unimportant. Culturally, they are a complete match, so the racial difference doesn’t translate into any potentially interesting cultural differences – it’s just two random Americans saying random American things to each other.

    The back story is about a successful expatriate guy working in banking who chucks in his job to write a novel. Not credible. No one does that, not in HK. If you are making a good living in banking and have a burning desire to write a book, you do it in your spare time or while you are on holiday or something; you don’t actually throw away a career in banking to write a book that no one will want to publish, and which will not earn you any real money even if you can find a publisher.

    Equally unbelievable is that the woman is a designer of children’s toys. No one does that in HK any more either.

    Lightweight, instantly forgettable boy-meets-girl romance froth.

    The only notable thing is that, if people want to know what some of the urban areas of Hong Kong look like, it has some good representative day time and night time shots. But you only see fairly close up within-urban-area stuff, so scenes teeming with mostly ordinary looking Chinese people everywhere, which is what urban HK is. You don’t get any sense at all of Hong Kong’s geographical setting, topography, or its large, steeply hilly and thickly vegetated green areas. And no sense at all of life on the water, which is very vibrant, Hong Kong being built on smallish near-shore islands plus a chunk of the Chinese mainland. One of the best/most enjoyable things you can do in HK is get on a boat and get to some of the outlying islands, where the pace of life is totally different. They didn’t do any of that.

    So, they missed a golden opportunity to show some of HK’s really quite dramatic scenery. Maybe the budget just didn’t allow for it, but it would have been a much better film visually if they had been able to manage a few wide angle shots, or some aerial shots or whatever. I guess the best thing I can say about the film is that it’s short.

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  13. Films tend to be made on an assembly line, without much thougt to matters beyond “will this get the teenage audience separated from their money?”
    The encouraging exceptions are few and far between.
    — — —
    “Swedish woman bumps into bear near pub” http://www.thelocal.se/20160829/swedish-woman-bumps-into-bear-on-her-way-home-from-pub
    What did she expect? Since “bear” means “hairy gay man”, pubs and bars.are their natural habitat.

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  14. “The gender box asks whether I am a human or a woman.”

    A pretty obvious goof. In French, “homme” is both “man” and “human” and, my French French teacher tells me, there is no word which means just “human” in French.

    I’m reminded of the lyric “Are we humans, or are we dancers”. 🙂

    I knew a woman who, annoyed at forms which have a box for “sex” for no reason, said “I always put F for frequently”.

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  15. #67 – I got the name wrong. It’s “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.” Whatever – don’t watch it, unless you are mildly curious about seeing some of the urban areas of Hong Kong.

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  16. Since “bear” means “hairy gay man”, pubs and bars.are their natural habitat.

    Depends on the kind of bear. You would not want to meet a grizzly bear or a polar bear at such close quarters. It’s a valid reason for carrying a rifle in the back country of western and northern North America, and the reason why Svalbard is one of the few places in Europe where one is not only allowed but encouraged to carry firearms.

    Lewis and Clark’s party met a grizzly bear somewhere in the mountains of what is now Montana. It took them eight rifle shots (not counting misses) to kill the bear.

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  17. Birger@68 – Films vary a lot. Some Chinese films are definitely worth watching, particularly those that are a product of the so called ‘Greater China’, i.e. they are collaborative efforts between the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There are some excellent Chinese directors, and the Mainland can supply vast panoramic outdoor sets, and casts of extras in the 10,000s. If you ever want to be depressed out of your mind, watch the Chinese film “Back to 1942”. The excellent Mainland Chinese actress turned director Zhao Wei (aka Vicki Zhao) recently got herself into hot water by casting a vocal Taiwanese separatist as the male lead in one of her films – but it was a ‘crowd reaction’ type of hot water, not an official government type. Previously hugely popular with Mainland movie watchers, she had to recast the role to avoid being lynched, metaphorically speaking. Other Greater China collaborative efforts have been very well received – the sum total seems capable of producing much better films that each of the parts.

    I was going to write a piece one day about my favourite Chinese films, but I never got around to it, and I haven’t seen a really good one for a while now.

    I’m fairly choosy about what I watch, and usually research a film before I watch it. That way, I estimate that about 10% of the films I watch are worth watching. But I obviously steer clear of those that are made to appeal to the American teenage market, with the exception of some of the Marvel films – I’m a real sucker for any film that has Scarlet Johansson playing the Black Widow, or anything with Robert Downey Jr in it, especially in roles like Sherlock Holmes or Ironman where he clearly has Asperger’s. I have a soft spot for Downey Jr because he’s so quirky and different from the usual ‘hero’ type. Even when he’s playing someone relatively normal, he’s still good to watch.

    Eric@71 – there are not all that many things that could cause me to freeze in total paralysis out of sheer uncontrollable fear, but encountering a bear in the wild is definitely one of them.

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  18. The other American actor I will be willing to watch in anything is Forest Whitaker. He’s just really good in anything he does. But you don’t see him in much – I get the sense that he’s really choosy about roles. Or maybe they just don’t want to cast a dumpy not-handsome black man in many films, I dunno.

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  19. Sunday, intense winds at the edge of a thunderstorm drifing towards Scania resulted in rare “arcus” clouds, sinister-looking structures that appeared to be CGI from a horror film.
    — — —
    Famous Swedish hockey players died Monday, at 76.
    And so did Gene Wilder, at 83.

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  20. On the one hand, reports of unconventional execution methods in North Korea have to be viewed with some skepticism. At least one such report–involving being torn to bits by a pack of dogs, IIRC–turned out to be a hoax.

    OTOH, Kim Jong-Un has a tendency to be as cartoonishly evil as a Bond villain, and he apparently has used this execution method before. Apparently, falling asleep in Kim’s presence can be a capital offense.

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  21. #77 – When we were living in Perth, the rear wall of the house faced north, so it got all of the sun all of the time. Redback spiders always choose to build their webs somewhere sunny but with patches of shade (like on the mortar between the bricks of a brick wall) – they will build most of the web in the sun, where it is most likely to catch insects, then hide themselves in the shaded bit, ready to dash out when something touches the web.

    Every morning, I would get up early, go out the back and kill the crop of redbacks that had set up shop on the rear wall during the night. I would kill at least half a dozen of them every.single.morning. My biggest morning haul was 12. Needless to say, the redback is not an endangered species – we had a plague of them.

    When we sold the house to some newly arrived South Africans, I put a live redback in a screw-topped jar and kept it to show their kids, so that they would know what to watch out for (we also had plagues of numerous much more harmless species). The 12 year old girl reacted appropriately – she was very interested, so I handed her the jar – then when the redback, which she was presuming to be dead, suddenly darted menacingly toward where her fingers were holding the jar, she screamed blue murder.

    When I was a little kid, we had an outdoor toilet made of corrugated galvanised steel sheets nailed to timber uprights, so the sun shone in through the corrugations, and…well, I’ll leave that horror story to your imagination. Sitting there trying to have a crap when you are 4 years old and there are a dozen deadly venomous spiders sitting a few inches away from you, waiting for you to touch one of their webs, really teaches you to focus. Every so often, nagged by my mother, my father would go and de-spider the toilet, but he was fighting a losing battle. There are always more redbacks to replace any that get squished – they sail in on the wind attached to a strand of web.

    I see now that we have succeeded in exporting the redback spider to Japan, where it is now giving fits of the horrors to lots of Japanese people. Aaar, it makes ya proud to be Australian, it does.

    In Sydney, the local terror is the funnel web spider. People in Sydney have to keep their shoes tied inside old ladies’ stockings (old stockings belonging to ladies, or stockings belonging to old ladies – both will work) – otherwise, a funnel web is likely to set up home in one of your shoes and bite you when you put the shoe on.

    Life in Australia requires constant vigilance against the army of venomous creatures out to get you.

    But at least they’re not bears. Or North Korean Beloved Leaders.

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  22. I watched Captain America – Civil War. Ant Man puts in an appearance, so it might appeal to Jrette. I dunno. But he only gets a bit part. Spiderman gets more of a role.

    To me, the appeal of Ironman 1 to 3, aside from Scarlett Johansson, who was absolutely drop dead gorgeous in Ironman 2 and reason enough by herself to watch that film, was the Tony Stark character played by Downey Jr, an impossible-to-live-with Aspergic who was a lone capitalist rebel doing his own thing outside of the System, borderline loony and therefore dangerous. The appeal of the original Captain America film was that most of it was set during WWII, so everything was gloriously steam-punk-ish, and he was of course the ultimate patriotic good guy hero fighting the ultimate Nazi evil.

    In this latest in the Marvel-Avengers franchise, Stark is much less annoyingly Aspergic and rebellious (and therefore much less enjoyable) and is the one arguing that they should allow themselves to be controlled by the System, while Captain America, the erstwhile ultimate obedient patriot, is the one rebelling against being controlled – so, a total character reversal by both, and it just didn’t work for me. The main characters were not recognisable as the people they were in previous films. And Scarlett is getting too middle aged looking to be a 5’3″ woman in high heeled shoes beating up big muscular guys. Plus she’s turning much too nice and cuddly. The whole point of the Black Widow character is that she is so untrustworthy, unpredictable, secretly venomous and nasty, physically adorable but very uncuddly.

    Several of the standard Avengers crew, like Thor (and so no Loki either) and the Hulk are missing from this one, and Samuel Jackson doesn’t put in his standard black-eye-patched-leadership appearance. Wouldn’t fit the story line.

    I think they’ve pushed the franchise one or two too far and they’re running out of plots, and spoiling their own carefully crafted characters. But I read that there is another Avengers movie in the pipeline, so it seems they intend to push it at least one more further out, and likely further away from the things that had previously appealed to me. So I might give the next one a miss. Also the next Thor movie, which they are making partly in Brisbane (which they reportedly converted to make it look like New York – you really need an imagination to picture that).

    You can go on milking a cash cow for only so long.

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  23. #84 – It’s those f***ing Indo-Europeans who did it! If they had just left us European hunter-gatherers and Sardinian farmers alone, we would have been alright.

    And they don’t know that the Justinian Plague was the first great epidemic in Europe. That might have happened during the first migration of steppe herders into northern Europe. It could well explain how they managed to sweep so quickly right across northern Europe. If so, there should be skeletal evidence for it, if they look for it.

    Changing topic, I usually don’t have a lot of time for the hand-wringing of American bio-ethicists, but the liberal activist Alice Dreger is someone I have a lot of respect for. It is shocking to learn that these days, she usually needs to be protected by bodyguards whenever she speaks in public – and it’s not right wing loonies and crackpots that she needs to be protected from.
    http://www.unz.com/gnxp/the-ending-of-the-liberal-interregnum/#comments

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  24. In the steppes, the reservoir animal for Yersinia pestis is believed to be the marmot. It’s not too hard to imagine it transferring to humans in that environment.

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  25. I was laughing, because one of the projects my company is working on is to transfer a major, unsightly and smelly sewage treatment plant from valuable surface river-front land into underground man-made caverns, so that the surface land can be redeveloped for housing and recreation – a very worthwhile project, and one strongly supported by the community.

    But the company decided they needed a cute-looking mascot for this project, to get kids interested and informed in it, so someone drew a cartoon character wearing a safety helmet, which they called Mr Marmot. (Because marmots are burrowing animals that live in the Eurasion continent, see.)

    Meanwhile, I was like “Erm…guys…marmots…plague…are you sure this is such a great choice for a mascot?”

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