July Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • “Ways of knowing” = alternative facts.
  • I am on a WorldCon panel about the Medieval mind and fantasy literature. I just had the (unoriginal) idea to say that the High and Late Medieval aristocracy lived largely in an Arthurian fantasy world of their own creation.
  • Last night a skinny cat came miaowing at our door. Turned out to have left his home 200 m from us a week ago. With no sense of direction. And no hunting skills. He’s back with his kind owners now.
  • I’ve bought a lot of ebooks from Google. I would happily continue to do so even though now I’ve got a Kindle, because Google has much better prices. But I can’t get them onto the machine. This is not because Amazon locks them out. It’s because Google has DRM in their files. And so they lose a customer.
  • Was going to write about weaponry from Ringstadaholm. But found that I needed to check in the museum inventory if one object on the list is a weapon frag. But found a reference there for an imported glass shard that I need to comment on. But found that the reference is doubled in the library catalogue, so I had to write to the librarians and ask them to correct it. Now, where was I?
  • Listened to “Girl From The North Country”, was astonished to learn that Bob Dylan can hit actual notes!!!
  • French has an absurd word for grapefruit that should not be allowed: pamplemousse. Turns out it’s a Dutch loan word incorporating a Portuguese loan word: pompel + limões, “swollen lemon”. Shame on you, French people!
  • Geezer Butler finished with his woman ’cause she couldn’t help him with his mind. I think that’s kind of harsh. In over 18 years together my wife hasn’t made the least attempt to help me with mine, but I’m OK with that. I think it would be an unrealistic demand.
  • Rediscovered the joy of shooting peas.
  • LinkedIn is amazing. It just suggested that I apply for a job teaching textile crafts to ten-year-olds.
  • Tried re-watching Breakfast Club after 32 years. Lost interest fast.
  • Stockholm has a Chinese vegetable underground where people grow unusual crops on suburban allotments and deliver produce to restaurants. Yum!
  • Vacation reading: P.F. Hamilton, Pandora’s Star. U.K. LeGuin, Words Are My Matter. M. Ruff, Lovecraft Country (thank you, Birger!).
  • My kids have turned 19 and 14!
  • Here’s a pretty neat cover. The lyrics to the Cocteau Twins’ song “Blue Bell Knoll” from 1988 are just a string of meaningless syllables. The woman in the cover duo is not simply singing lyrics she doesn’t understand. She’s singing lyrics that nobody understands.
  • NASA is sending a ground-penetrating radar rig to Mars.
  • Jack Palance’s 80s work is pretty varied. He has big roles both in Hawk the Slayer and Out of Rosenheim / Bagdad Café.

Author: Martin R

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

119 thoughts on “July Pieces Of My Mind #3”

  1. Eric, we have no written record for most people who lived in the Roman Empire. No census lists have survived. The leader of a small cult in the Galilee who was active for a few years around AD 30 would most likely just be forgotten by history, regardless of whether the cult later blossomed into a world religion or not.


  2. I’m trying to watch The Manchurian Candidate on Netflix, never having seen it before, and it’s doing my head in.


  3. John@102: Which version are you watching? I have seen the circa 1960 version, with Frank Sinatra as the captain who figures out what’s going on and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin (Sgt. Shaw’s mother). That version is actually quite good. There was a remake about a decade ago, which I haven’t seen, and which I have heard is not nearly as good as the first version. I have also heard that the remake took a few liberties with the script: the villains in the newer version are a corporation, not the North Koreans as in the original.


  4. Martin is right, Eric – so far as I know, no contemporaneous record of Jesus’ existence has survived, if there ever was one. From what I recall from my reading into the subject years ago, to Roman historians, John the Baptist was a much bigger noise. He had a much bigger following, evidently.

    But this is a discussion I really don’t want to have at this point, and I won’t. I’ve done whatever research and reading I have done on that (actually rather a lot, not because I’m religious – I’m not, but because I was interested in what the historical truth was, as far as it could be determined), and I’m done with it. I don’t see a point in replaying it.

    I think I’m also done with The Manchurian Candidate. Half way through, but not going to finish it.


  5. Eric@103 – No, I was watching the 2004 version. I’m a bit of a Denzel Washington fan, but that is one film I am definitely not going to finish watching. Yes, the villains in this version are a corporation.


  6. I recomend “The Star of Betlehem; A Skeptical View” by Aaron Adair. He incidentally touches on many non-astronomical subjects about Rome and Palestine in the processs of critically viewing the various theories.
    — — —
    Before you start a new thread I want to cram in these vital
    news items:
    Students home to dump boyfriends and fix parents broadband
    Holidaying Trump reveals true tentacled form: Alien creature Donald Trump has dropped its human being disguise while on holiday.
    Young people should be forced to attend raves, say 40-somethings
    Livingstone publishes list of all the people he should have killed when he was mayor
    OJ Simpson to run for president


  7. After 100?
    The “Century series”:
    F-104 Starfighter was a small air-superiority fighter that remained in use in Europe for a long time.
    F-106 was not very successful due to delays.
    F-111 suffered from a very protracted development and conflicting specification demands. It turns out you cannot replace a strategic bomber (B-52) with a medium-sized attack aircraft.


  8. USA: As a student, the Mooch replacement (Stephen Miller) campaigned against having to *pick up his litter* since they had “janitors that are paid to do that for them“.
    -Last Week Tonight with John Oliver august 6/ (Stephen Miller turns up at ca. 4 minutes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJh_EmXSlwM
    Then the episode explains why a rapid surge in hiring border guards is guaranteed to get a lot of corrupt or incompetent people into uniform.


  9. Birger@108: The video at your link was taken down due to a copyright claim. HBO’s people are usually good about posting John Oliver segments the day after the show airs, so unless they don’t want the content to be viewed in your country, you should be able to find it through the official channel.

    Jim Acosta may have phrased the question inartfully, but I have every reason to think that if the English language requirements for green cards become law, they will be applied in a discriminatory manner. To be fair to Miller, it won’t just be the UK and Australia that pass muster–Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand will probably also qualify–but the examiners are likely to find ways to disqualify other applicants. I base this expectation on reports from colleagues who speak perfectly good English but are not native speakers: they invariably get complaints from some of their students about the quality of their English, because the students are not accustomed to hearing people for whom English is a second language. Most Trump supporters have a similar lack of experience with foreign accents. And it would not surprise me if English speaking ability as measured by such a test were found to be correlated with the applicant’s skin color, unless steps were taken to prevent such bias (at minimum, having the determination made by people who hear only recordings of the applicant, who is identified by number rather than by name).

    Because of my profession, I have been forced to develop a relatively high tolerance for the accents of non-native English speakers. After all, they almost always speak better English than I do French, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, etc. Most Americans have considerably more trouble with foreign accents, and they are far more likely to get the job of determining the quality of an applicant’s English (mostly because I would not want a job with Trump’s ICE goons.


  10. Birger@106 – That’s one book I don’t need to read. Geza Vermes did a masterful job of deconstructing the Synoptic Gospels and demonstrated that most of the material written about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth was made up, e.g. he wasn’t born in Bethlehem, for a start. If you accept, as Vermes asserted, that the first of the Synoptic Gospels, that attributed to ‘Mark’, was written about 30 years after his death by someone once removed from Jesus (i.e. never knew or saw him, but knew people who did), then it makes sense that the last few years of his life were reasonably well attested from people’s memories (although undoubtedly embellished, e.g. miracles, etc.), but prior to that there was no first person witness to the events of his life. Anyway, enough of that. The Wikipedia entry is actually a reasonable summary of the historical consensus, although Vermes would have quibbled with quite a bit of the detail.



  11. This is really kind of weird:

    In my observation, there is almost universally a total disconnect between people who signal that they are devout Christians, taking Christianity as an example that I am most familiar with, and the way they behave ethically/morally etc., to the extent that I have formed (me being an amateur psychologist again) a kind of mental model that people’s ‘spirituality’ for want of a better word forms a separate independent insulated layer in the way their brain functions and directs their actions, which has no connection at all with the way they behave, and particularly in the way they treat other people.

    The one exception I can think of was one of my maternal uncles, now deceased, who really did try to live his life as a ‘good Christian’ – he was a genuinely good and very charitable guy, who spent his whole life trying to ‘walk the talk’, as it were. He never ever pushed religion at all, or even talked about it, he just tried very hard to live a virtuous and charitable life himself. But a score of one, out of a whole lot of self-proclaimed religious people I have known who were absolute bastards in the way they behaved, is not a very convincing score.

    But you get this really weird phenomenon that, when polled, people say they believe atheists are more likely to commit extreme moral violations, despite an abundance of evidence all around them that, if anything, the opposite is true.

    Jordan Peterson, Prof. of Psychology at the University of Toronto, who got himself into some hot water a while back and has become rather famous as a consequence, says that you need to observe how people behave, rather than listen to what they say, to find out what they are really like as people, because there is generally a big disconnection between the two. And I have to conclude, from my anecdotal subjective observations of people, that he is absolutely right.


  12. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0151

    It’s worth reading the paper, because this is really quite astonishing. Even atheists are more likely to believe that other atheists are likely to behave in egregious ethical ways. It suggests that there is something hard-wired in human brains to think this way, despite the fact that it is clearly wrong from readily observable evidence.


  13. John@112: I have observed the same thing: that people who are loud and proud about claiming to be Christians tend not to walk the walk, while those who are devout but avoid bringing up their faith in inappropriate contexts do a much better job of actually following the teachings of Jesus.

    Obviously I don’t directly encounter loud-and-proud Jews or Muslims, but I do know several quiet adherents of both faiths, enough to believe that the anticorrelation of professing and practicing applies to all of the Abrahamic faiths.

    In the US, Christianist extremists have been known to bomb or shoot up abortion clinics. I view the difference between these types and Al Qaeda or ISIS as being one of degree, not of kind.


  14. Eric@114 – I have a limited sampling of people of most other religions to go by.

    I had an ‘adopted’ Jewish uncle who knew me from when I was born, and who I was in contact with very frequently until I moved to HK, after which I saw him only occasionally, but he was closer to me than any of my real uncles, and was a very significant older male influence in my life when I was growing up – he was of the kind who never mentioned his religion much at all, although he might mention in passing that he had been to the synagogue – in fact, I knew damn well that he never missed going there. In his attitude towards and treatment of other people, he was exemplary to the point of being outstanding. I got to know his circle of Jewish friends, and they were all the same way. There must be some bad Jews out there somewhere, but I never got personally acquainted with any of them well enough to know much about them. I’m told the sort of Ultra-Orthodox crowd can be pretty rough, but I was never exposed to any of them – but then, they are really pretty extreme.

    The palliative care doctor my father had when he was dying of cancer was an Iranian Muslim, and he was outstanding – not only a skilled doctor, but also very empathic. He knew why my father was refusing to take his morphine, despite being in serious pain – he knew that I understood my father – old soldier who was too proud to admit he couldn’t take the pain, plus he could feel that the morphine was killing him. So he took me aside and said “You need to tell your Dad to take it. He is going to need it increasingly from now on.” So I went in and told my Dad to take it, and he said “Well, if my son says I need to take it, I had better take it.” That was pretty insightful of the doctor, to know that my father would not take an instruction from him, but at that point would take an instruction from me because he trusted me.

    My family and I got pretty friendly with a family of Kurdish Muslims from northern Iraq when we were living in Perth – they were fine, nice people who never once mentioned religion. The only thing the guy ever said to me was that the tragedy of the Kurdish people was that they had no country that they could call their own. Both he and his wife were very good in their dealings with other people, but then they were refugees in a strange country, so you would expect them to be on good behaviour. But you could see that they were just nice, good hearted people. Through them I got to know another Kurdish Muslim, but he was a bad tempered, nasty piece of work – I decided to give him a wide berth, because I sensed he had huge resentment bubbling just under the surface, and it wouldn’t take much at all for him to lose his temper.

    I have known a few other Muslims, if I think hard enough – I knew one Pakistani Muslim who made a big show about it. He was a wealthy family and had been a spoiled rich kid, and it showed.

    I know some Chinese Buddhists, of course – they are all a pretty relaxed bunch, never mention religion to anyone, and generally speaking are pretty good about the way they treat other people. I think Asian Buddhists generally are inclined to keep it to themselves; it’s a private, personal thing. Westerners who convert to Buddhism can get pretty vocal about it, as some kind of virtue-signalling, from my experience.

    I have known a couple of Hindu couples/families pretty well. One couple I didn’t like at all, they were dishonest in their dealings with other people, and would make a show of being nice to your face, but stab you in the back first chance they got. The other Hindu family were just a nice, ordinary, friendly bunch who were fine in the dealings with other people.

    That’s about it that I can think of, at the moment.

    I agree on religious extremists – they can all get really nasty to the point of being indiscriminately murderous, and it doesn’t matter which religion they are extreme about.

    But then you get people like the Columbine killers – they were nihilists who hated the whole world and everyone in it, including themselves, and planned (and carefully documented) for several months what they wanted to do, which was to kill themselves but take as many other people with them as they could. I got the sense that they were not religious at all, i.e. they were not motivated by any kind of religious extremism. Nihilism can be just as dangerous as religious extremism – if nothing means anything, there is nothing to stop a person committing unspeakable acts.


  15. Damn, that was a bit too long. Sorry about that. Avoidance of verbosity was never one of my failings.


  16. Nihilism can be just as dangerous as religious extremism – if nothing means anything, there is nothing to stop a person committing unspeakable acts.

    I suspect this is the reason so many people expect atheists to behave less ethically than religious folk. Many people don’t fully understand the difference between atheism and nihilism, especially in cultures such as fundamentalist religious communities where the two are deliberately conflated.

    A big part of that is projection. Many loud-and-proud religious types are sufficiently self-aware that they think they would do hideous things if $DEITY were not watching them (and some of them do those things anyway, especially if they have convinced themselves it is $DEITY’s will), so they assume that somebody who is not explicitly guided by $DEITY will commit hideous acts.


  17. Projection: The core of Republican ideology since ca 1980.

    If you go to YouTube and type “John Oliver – Steven Miller” you should get a fun three minutes.
    Also try “The Original Trump Haters” – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (about Scotland, what else? ).


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