October Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • The New Dawn rose I’ve been pampering has almost outgrown its trellis.
  • Movie: Kubo and the Two Strings. Oddly titled Japanese fantasy story with beautiful imagery and sappy moral. Grade: Pass.
  • The UK imports roughly the same amount of tea annually as the rest of Europe combined.
  • About the Trump campaign’s response to the “just grab her” clip: me and my nerdy buddies never had those misogynistic locker-room conversations even during our lower teens. Ridiculous of him to claim “all men”.
  • In 1980 a lot of penpal ads in my kids’ mag listed Jimi Hendrix as an idol. Mom and Dad’s music…
  • When I was young I wanted to be free of obligations. In middle age and after 18 years of fatherhood, I now instead wish there were more people who need me.
  • A debate in Swedish media about whether state museums should propagate government-approved ideology reminds me that I am an Alan Sokal Leftie. If you want to be able to change society you have to have an independent method to find out what society is actually like before and after your attempts at changes. This method is called science. And museums, unless they’re art museums, should deal in solid scientific knowledge, not in Left or Right propaganda.
  • Having lived almost all my life outside Stockholm, I’m very familiar with evergreen woods, brackish inlets and ice-smoothened gneiss outcrops. I know very little of rivers, mountains and tides.
  • Selfie pro tip: when you take a picture of yourself in the mirror with your smartphone, look at the phone’s camera in the mirror. Not at your image on the phone. Why do I even have to explain this?
  • I would have an opinion on Bob Dylan’s latest prize if I thought the Swedish Academy’s taste in literary matters was a big deal. And if I cared one way or the other about Bob Dylan.
  • They’re releasing a boardgame named “Don’t Mess With Cthulhu”. This is so wrong. They’re going to get the Obvious Understatement Of The Year award.
  • Spent most of the day copy-editing an interesting paper submitted to Fornvännen. Finished off by googling a saga character that the author mentions, and found that the whole thing has already been published before in another journal. *sigh*
  • Cousin E is convinced that I will make him sleep in the yard if he doesn’t click “like” on all my Fb updates.
  • Me and Cousin E sent four adventurers into Dragon Castle. They all died.
  • I really prefer the FSM to FGM.
  • I once heard that recruiters look at where you sit down on an empty couch, as an indicator of your self-confidence. Since then I’ve been man-spreading dead centre on couches, faking it.
  • My 19 October talk about archaeology and religion in Jönköping is on YouTube (in Swedish).
  • Arlanda airport: a 1980s OKI Microline 182 dot matrix printer is still in use in gate 36.
  • I am on an ATR 72-600 aircraft.
  • Neither in Kirkwall nor Visby does the local curry place serve regional lamb. /-:

Author: Martin R

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

85 thoughts on “October Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. While ebonics is a new development, the history of “mixed” populations is complex especially if they live in geograpcically distant areas like Appalachia. populations that settled early had both linguistic and genetic input from several sources.

    Most african americans of course speak standard English among themselves. My concern is for populations -not just black ones- that are under pressure to conform until all traces of their distinct culural legacy (for instance, language) is wiped out.
    For many “indians”, their original language has already been lost (California has surprisingly many languages). Wealthier communities try to re-create their languages using recordings and written records.


  2. “It is true that on average that African American males continue to lag white American males somewhat on academic achievement”

    I think the explanation is “stereotype threat”, I forgot the exact description, it must be available at wikipedia.

    Stereotype theat is also a factor for women academics. When you include this factor, the arguments in the racist nineties book “The Bell Curve” collapse.


  3. I am referring to the local, spoken language in “pockets” mostly inhabited by african-americans, where you find elewments from the old slave pidgin.

    But that’s limited to a specific geographic area, namely coastal South Carolina. You don’t find it anywhere else. That’s more akin to Swiss German: The Swiss generally know Hochdeutsch, and will speak in that language to non-Swiss German speakers, but among themselves they speak their own dialect, which is barely intelligible to someone from Frankfurt (arguably it is in the process of becoming a distinct language).

    I haven’t been to Singapore, but I hear that Singlish is a similar thing. Most of the locals know proper English, and use that language with foreigners, but among themselves they use a lingo which includes many words and expressions from various Chinese dialects or from Malayalam.

    And the Gullah pidgin does not explain the relative lack of educational achievement among Black Americans compared to their peers. I haven’t heard anybody complain about the ignorance of Swiss or Singaporeans.


  4. Birger@52 – That makes it all the more curious that African American females are notably less vulnerable to ‘stereotype threat’ than African American males.

    Birger@55 – Already posted and complained about as a statement of the blindingly obvious.

    Eric@54 – For a period before my daughter was born, I fell into the habit of visiting a German bar which was conveniently situated on my route home from work. This bar served only German beers and schnapps, in particular a brand of German beer that takes 7 minutes to pour (an Australian or English beer drinker can die of thirst in 7 minutes, so this place was distinctly unpopular with the local Anglo community, who much preferred a nearby watering hole that served a variety of English bitters and Australian lagers), and consequently the patrons of the bar were almost wholly Germans, with a smattering of other German speakers like Austrians.

    I have always felt a bit bad that, after all the effort I put into learning German and French at secondary school, I had very rarely if ever used them once I left school (I did in fact use German to translate a couple of technical papers, but these days most German authors publish in English to capture an international readership), so I hit on a plan that I would drop into this place every night on the way home from work, indulge in a German beer (I generally detest lagers and pilsners, but have a liking for German dark beers, and Apfelschnapps, which is truly delicious stuff, especially served ice cold) and use the opportunity to eavesdrop on some German conversations, and maybe even get to the point of using my German conversationally.

    Imagine my dismay when I began to put my plan into action, only to find that I could understand barely a word of what all these people were speaking. It was a severe disappointment, and I concluded that my language learning at school had been just a massive waste of time. I had clearly not learned German the way it is spoken in Germany.

    Then one night, a very well dressed and presentable guy breezed into the bar, addressing everyone in the bar in very friendly, loud, ringing tones, and I understood literally *every single word he said*. Revelation. After he had settled at the bar and had got himself a drink, I sidled up to him and said “Excuse me, but I am a bit excited to discover that I could understand every word you said just now, with my schoolboy German. All this time, I have not been able to understand all of these other people, but to me, your German speech is as clear as a bell.”

    He said “Ja, of course. Because they are all speaking German dialects. But I am from Hamelin, so I speak High German, which is the language you would have learned in school.”

    He and I became quite friendly after that, and I was able to use him for language practice. He was a very open and friendly guy, and well educated. But all of the other German people in the bar, including the barman, were useless to me – a generally open and friendly crowd who were perfectly happy to speak to me in English, but no use whatever for practising my language skills.

    It was a sobering lesson for me. Coming from Australia, where virtually everyone not only speaks the same kind of English, but with largely the same accent, I had no way of knowing the reality of Europe, where people speak a bewildering variety of dialects of their parent language. Even in the Netherlands, which is not a large country and all dead flat, and has few geographical barriers to exogamy, people in different parts of the country speak different dialects.


  5. Re . @ 58, no, I won’t be surprised. And she comes without the luggage of selling out to the financial industry.

    BTW “Stereotype threat” hurts male black americans harder, as the cultural stereotypes in USA paint black males as potential “gangstas” (behold how american cops shoot first and ask questions later when a black male is involved. -Being shot for the crime of “walking while black” takes discrimination to its ultimate extreme).
    — — —
    The damp, ice-cold part of autumn has arrived here. But the actual snow cover will not arrive for a month yet so the world is grey-black, except for six hours a day.


  6. #59 – It’s a circular argument. Cops treat black males as potential gangstas because that’s what they are. But I agree – I think the police procedures in America are ridiculous, but at least in part the way they are because of the availability of concealable hand guns. Having said that, it is worth noting that far more black males are shot by other black males than are shot by police, and in absolute numbers more white males are shot by police than black males are (but not at representative levels – i.e. a higher % of black males are shot by cops that the % of white males who are). If you are going to be outraged by something, it pays to have a bit of perspective and look objectively at all of the data, instead of doing ideologically guided selective reading and just cherry picking the way you are in order to support your own ideological ideas.

    It starts early – a recent study of teachers in pre-schools found that they spent more time watching the black boys than the white boys, and disciplining them more severely than the white boys. But it was the reverse with the girls – they spent less time watching the black girls than the white girls, and tended to go easier on them.

    But correlation does not imply causation. So, does this suggest that the teachers are prejudiced against the black boys because they expect them to behave more badly, or do they watch them more because the black boys do in fact behave more badly? If the latter, then it would imply that the black girls behave better than the white girls, which doesn’t really make sense, on the face of it. So that suggests that the teachers are prejudiced *against* the black boys, but are sympathetic *towards* the black girls – maybe because being a black female in America really sucks, and the teachers know that.

    So that suggests that young black males turn into gangstas because they learn from experience from when they are very young that the ‘system’ is against them.

    It’s hard to know, because people who do and publish such studies invariably have some ideological axe to grind. And the findings of such studies are notoriously unreproducible. Also, race politics, indeed identity politics in general, in America seem to have reached such a fever pitch that it is very difficult to establish anything reliably that has to do with (1) how people behave and why, and (2) whether they are unfairly treated or not. Social scientists feed on this like a school of piraña, and it would be better if they all went away and got real jobs.


  7. What you do need to know, though, and not just label this as racism because it suits your ideology to label it as such, is that human behaviour is highly heritable. It is one possibility that at least needs to be entertained and examined further, that small black boys act up more than small white boys, and small black girls are actually better behaved than small white girls.

    I am not saying that it is so. I am just saying that it is one of the possibilities that needs to be considered, if one is to be truly objective. If one is not truly objective, then one is by definition ‘prejudiced’ and just as bad as the people he accuses of prejudice.


  8. John@57: The US is not quite as uniform as Australia in how English is spoken. We have definite regional variations, with the South and New England being particular outliers. But everyone is exposed to the Standard American accent and dialect from an early age, and there are only about five regional variants distinct enough to qualify as dialects. Contrast with England, a much smaller country in both area and population, and with much more centralized (the roles that Washington, New York, and Los Angeles play in the US are all combined in London for the UK). England has more than 50 regional dialects, and that doesn’t include Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Professor Henry Higgins was only slightly exaggerating when he claimed he could place the origins of any Englishman within six miles just from hearing his accent.

    A co-worker once went to a conference in Birmingham, England. One night she went out to dinner with a group of German colleagues. She had to get her colleagues to translate the waitress’s accent for her, because she could not understand a West Midlands accent.


  9. Eric@62 – The puzzle about Australia is that vocabulary and pronunciation were all fairly similar (with a few minor variations) even before the days of commercial air travel and television. Australia was established by the union of a group of separately established colonies created at different times, separated by very large distances and, in some cases, impassable deserts. The Australian accent differs a lot from any English accent, including Cockney, which is very different. Initially at least, there was very little contact between the colonies – the contacts were between the individual colonies and Mother England.

    Early settlers were made up of troopers and criminals largely from London, Irish political prisoners, and Scottish free settlers. And not all of the settlements were convict settlements. Adelaide in South Australia was a free settlement – it never received convicts.

    Australia was created as a ‘commonwealth’ of the former separate colonies on independence in 1901, notably against the objection of Western Australia which did not want to join, and subsequently tried unsuccessfully to secede in the 1920s.

    So how Australians all wound up sounding like each other is really a bit of a mystery.

    Even more mysterious, they wound up sounding fairly similar to people from New Zealand, which was a whole different country separated by a substantial sea voyage, and never a penal colony.

    But by the start of World War I, Australians and New Zealanders all sounded fairly similar to each other, and unlike anyone else.

    It’s a bit of a head-scratcher. No one has ever come up with a convincing explanation.


  10. Eric@62 – I once had an engineer working as a member of my staff who was a Geordie from Newcastle. There was nothing wrong with his written work, but I literally never understood a word the man said. I used to dread catching the bus to work because he used to catch the same bus, catch sight of me, sit next to me and engage me in conversation all the way to work, absolutely none of which I understood, particularly with the engine noise from the bus. Asking him to repeat himself didn’t help – I just got another stream of unintelligible mumbling. So I was reduced to nodding and mumbling noncommittally.

    Whenever it came time to do his annual performance appraisal, I just used to mark him as Good, to avoid actually having to attempt to discuss his performance with him.

    Then one day I bumped into him at the sports club we were both members of, and he yelled out a remark to me that I actually understood for once, and it was deeply personally insulting. I think he intended it to be a joke, but it was a direct insult.

    So all those years, it’s possible he had been insulting the shit out of me, and I never knew; I had just kept agreeing with him. Maybe it was just as well.


  11. Some archæology at last.


    Here’s the important take-home message: “We have suggested, based on a variety of datasets, that modern humans were present in the Indian sub continent before the super-eruption, and that these populations survived this event.”

    They were referring, of course, to the massive eruption of Mt Toba c. 74,000 years ago that covered the whole of the Indian sub-continent in a layer of volcanic ash.


  12. -So humans can give roaches a run for their money. I wonder how they managed to find drinkable water, with a deep ash layer all over.
    — — — —
    Re. dialects n Britain; even if reious languages hve gon extinct, traces of them may remain in intonation and other details. Nearly all scots speak English, but with a reconisable scottish flavor. The Swedish spoken by the Swedish minority in Finland has some qualities in common with the finn language. And even if all people in India end up speaking e nglish, it will be a very Indian version of English.

    — — — —
    Why vikings buried their dead under mounds http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/gunnar-is-dead
    “Gunnar is dead”


  13. As it is, they seem to be making this assessment based only on continuity of material culture across the Toba event.

    If they could also find genetic continuity across the event, that should just about seal it, as hard as it is to imagine the pre-Toba population surviving through it; they would not only need drinkable water, they would need food sources. Plants could not have survived the event, which means animals also could not survive the event (except for marine resources, of course).

    I’m feeling a bit skeptical.

    Another possibility seems to be that the pre-Toba population was wiped out, but that after the event, long enough for the ash to weather and become fertile again, and become repopulated with fauna, another population moved rapidly in to occupy the empty sub-continent who had the same or very similar material culture.


  14. long enough for the ash to weather and become fertile again

    I can’t speak about Toba, but in the case of Mount Saint Helens it didn’t take very long. I visited that mountain about 30 years after the eruption. By then vegetation through most of the Toutle River valley had fully recovered, and recovery was in progress on the west side of the mountain itself. That’s still long enough to create problems for the animal population in the immediate vicinity, but it could easily be repopulated from a surviving population far enough away.

    Toba’s case is a bit more complicated because it was a big enough eruption to produce temporary global cooling. Precipitation could also be a factor–the side of Mt. St. Helens I saw is the windward side, which is much wetter than the leeward side (in Washington state one can travel from rainforest to desert in the space of about 300 km as the crow flies). Any population that was too close would have been wiped out–based on estimates I have seen for what would happen if Yellowstone erupted, humans would need to be at least 1000-2000 km away to have a reasonable chance of survival. But the area could have been repopulated within a century or two, which is probably within the error bars on any dating technique.


  15. “But the area could have been repopulated within a century or two” – yes, that’s what I’m thinking. It seems to me, on the face of it (and I note here that I am definitely not knowledgeable on this subject) that MSA technology was likely to be associated with all modern humans who had migrated out of Africa around that time, so repopulation by a group who had the same technology surely can’t be out of the question. Maybe I’m missing something, but the continuity of stone tool technology alone doesn’t seem to be sufficient proof that humans survived the Toba ash fall in southern India, when it is hard to imagine how they could have survived it. The ash layer is there for anyone to see, so that’s not open to question.

    “at one site in central India, the Toba ash layer today is up to 6 m (20 ft) thick and parts of Malaysia were covered with 9 m (30 ft) of ash fall.” You don’t survive that. I don’t see how.


  16. Oh yes, *that* Alan Sokal. Sorry, asleep at the wheel here. Thoroughly good chap, in my not noticeably humble opinion.

    I want someone to tell me how to pronounce Csikszentmihalyi. Not that I think he’s probably worth much. Although I agree with his idea about the state of flow, but anyone who has played tennis and experienced being ‘in the zone’ knows what this feels like – it’s when you make ‘Self 1’ shut up and let ‘Self 2’ take over (one of the best short reads on this subject is “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey, which contains virtually nothing about how to hit a tennis ball, and is all about drilling strokes until they are ‘grooved’ and then letting go, disengaging your self-aware conscious mind and trusting your subconscious mind and central nervous system to take over and do what they know how to do without needing to be told – the same way you do when you drive a car or ride a bicycle, without consciously thinking about it. It’s a very slim little volume and well worth a read, even for someone who is not interested in tennis – it applies to pretty much any activity.)


  17. Went to the local “Alien” film marathon (Alien + Aliens) organised on account of the 30th anniversary of the second film.
    It was fun meeting SF enthusiasts with wildly varying ages and backgrounds. Also, It is a strange feeling to be up until only a handful of people remain in the city center

    And when speaking of film: Bond villains?
    “House Republicans Already Have a Plan to Make Hillary Clinton’s Presidency a Living Hell” The triumph of tribalism and entrenched interest groups over long-term survival. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/republicans-have-a-plan-to-make-clintons-presidency-hell.html?wpsrc=nymag


  18. Birger@76 – It has been known for a long time that some Aboriginal groups made alcohol, but it was very weak and in very small quantities. How adapted Aboriginal people are to alcohol can be judged from how well they handle it now (i.e. very badly). (But then, a whole lot of white Australians handle alcohol very badly too, it just takes more of it – plus a drunken Abo gets noticed; a white drunk being loud, aggressive and objectionable is just regarded as a ‘normal social drinker’ in Oz.) Survival hint – you don’t want to be anywhere near an Aboriginal person when drunk, male or female.


  19. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-31/pell-failed-to-care-for-young-abuse-victims-commission-told/7980336

    A religion that requires its priests to be unmarried and celibate has to be suspect. The 1970s and 1980s were not that long ago that societal attitudes to sexual abuse of children by ‘authority’ figures were all that different.

    It is notable that (1) teachers who knew of the behaviour of abusive priests did nothing, and that (2) parents who had complaints about their children being abused took their complaints to the church, and expected the church to deal appropriately with them, instead of going straight to the police over what were, after all, clearly criminal offences.

    That’s some brain-washing. But then, I was physically assaulted by a teacher in primary school, far beyond what was an acceptable level of discipline at that time. My father wanted to just leave it alone. My mother complained to the headmaster and threatened to go to the police if nothing was done; so the headmaster just warned that teacher not to hit me again in case my mother followed through with her threat and it got the teacher into legal trouble (i.e. he was concerned about the teacher, not me or the other kids). That teacher went on to assault other small boys in my class so badly that they needed hospital treatment; one for a broken arm, and another for severe lacerations requiring stitches. It never occurred to anyone to report him to the police. He continued to get away with it throughout his career. He was a big angry man with an uncontrollable temper, and we were little kids 9 and 10 years old, for chrissake, and our misbehaviour was not that bad, just normal kids’ high spirits, but even our own parents were not prepared to take the steps necessary to protect us from someone with a clear track record of unacceptably serious violence perpetrated on small children.


  20. Like the Plains Indians of North America (the tallest people in the world during the 18th Century), once they got access to horses, Aboriginal men took to riding them like ducks to water. They failed to make a success of sedentary farming, but took to the more nomadic existence of herding cattle on horseback like they were born to do it.

    Makes me wonder what Australia would have been like if its native fauna had included horses when the first humans occupied it. They would have been a lot harder to invade, that’s for sure.



  21. It turns out that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is not really that difficult to pronounce; it seems more that Hungarian does not render well in the Roman alphabet. What looks impossibly difficult to say on paper, really isn’t when you hear someone say it.

    There are other languages like that. People seem to have inordinate difficulty pronouncing Pinyin, because they are fazed by the pronunciation of ch, q, x, zh, etc., when it’s actually very simple once you know it. My perpetual bugbear is English speakers who pronounce the ‘j’ in Beijing as if they were speaking French – this mispronunciation has become so commonplace in the West, that when I correct people and tell them the way that Beijing should be pronounced, they don’t believe me. The tennis player Garbiñe Muguruza pronounces it correctly, but then she’s been there (plus she’s of mixed origins and English is probably her third language after Basque and Spanish, so she’s probably quite linguistically agile and receptive – she certainly speaks English well enough). If it’s not too hard for a professional tennis player, it’s surely not impossibly difficult for more literate people to get.

    When Russian is rendered into a Roman alphabet from Cyrillic script, it comes out awful, and nowhere near the way it should be pronounced. Czechs and Poles are probably, like Russians, inured to English speaking people mangling their names.

    The various varieties of Gaelic are not pronounced anything like they look like they should be pronounced when rendered in the Roman alphabet. You have to study and learn it.

    Even modern scholars do not pronounce Latin the way the ancient Romans did, and they invented the bloody Roman alphabet, or at least adopted and adapted it. Cicero did not pronounce his name the way that scholars do today – that is a known fact, but scholars of classics still mispronounce it.

    What’s the problem – is it that the Roman alphabet is just not a good fit for certain spoken languages (which surely can’t be the case for Latin, given that it is actually the Latin alphabet), or are people just too dumb or lazy to find out how those languages should be pronounced?

    We live in a world where Forvo is but a mouse click away. I don’t get it. And Forvo is pretty amazing – it has Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, once you know to look under Hungarian for it.


  22. Actually, it’s even easier in Csikszentmihalyi’s case – Wikipedia has a sound file which gives a very clear correct pronunciation of his name.


  23. John@81: In most cases the reason native English speakers have trouble with other languages is because the mappings between letters and symbols is not the same as in English. As someone who has studied other languages, it’s not that hard for me to get, but too many native English speakers never make the effort.

    The Pinyin ‘ZH’ is a special case, because it actually is pronounced differently depending what part of China you are in. Near Beijing it represents a “backwards” J sound, but near Wuhan it is more of a “backwards” Z sound. (I have a co-worker who is originally from somewhere near Wuhan, whose surname starts with ‘ZH’, and he pronounces it as the Z sound.)

    The Pinyin C and X pronunciations, however, have precedents in European languages (Polish and Portuguese, respectively). I can understand the Q being mangled, as its Pinyin mapping is a Chinese innovation. But I agree that there is no excuse for a native English speaker to botch the J in Beijing.


  24. Eric@83 – There is standard Putonghua pronunciation, and consequently standard Pinyin pronunciation. Yes, Mandarin speakers in one part of China might be unintelligible to other Mandarin speakers only a few hundred kilometres away, particularly in the south-west.

    People in Tianjin sound different from people in Beijing, although not unintelligible – they have an easily identifiable ‘local’ accent.

    But there is standard speech, just like there is with French, Standard German, Bahasa Indonesia, etc. So the issue of doubt about the ‘right’ way to pronounce something shouldn’t arise – there is a defined standard pronunciation. And if you take formal instruction in Mandarin, that is what you will be taught, or should be.

    The Mandarin J is not exactly the same as the English J, it is more forward, with the tongue immediately behind the front teeth – but it still sounds much more like the English J than the French J. I think the widespread mispronunciation is largely the fault of people like TV newsreaders – they started saying it incorrectly, and people naturally assume they have checked on pronunciation and got it right, when they haven’t.

    If I tell someone that a BBC newsreader is saying it wrong, who is that person going to believe – a BBC newsreader or some random civil engineer?

    I’m a long time fan of Emmylou Harris, but she really pissed me off recently when I was listening to one of her more recent recordings, and she sang something about playing Ma Jong – and sure enough, she got the J wrong.


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