August Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • Reading Matt Ruff’s new novel about black Americans in the 50s. Annoyed to find that nothing in the dialogue would sound out of place if spoken by a white American sci-fi fan in 2017.
  • Feared 45 would be the sort who gets the trains running on time and starts wars. Actually can’t get trains running at all, wars with TV hosts.
  • Etymological misunderstanding in this novel. Ruff parses the name Braithwaite as Braith-white, when it is actually Brae-thwaite.
  • There’s this book about edible wild plants in Sweden named “Can you eat these things?” A more important question is “What population density could Sweden support if we reverted to hunting-fishing-gathering?”.
  • I saw a seal between Bullandö and Djurönäset.
  • Apron is furkle in Stockholm Swedish.
  • Wonder how old our current run of seven-day weeks is. It’s survived several calendar reforms and at least one re-naming of the days.
  • I’ve worked a lot with gender symbolism and gender transgression during the Late Iron Age. I’m an LGBTQ friendly scholar. But I’m sad to see the Swedish History Museum spread erroneous statements and wishful speculations on this theme in the country’s biggest newspaper because of Stockholm Pride.
  • In theory of science, you usually reckon with two possible states of debate over a given issue. Either the scientific community is undecided, or it has reached a (provisional) consensus. In poorly funded and staffed subjects such as mine, there’s a common third state: apathy. This is when the scientific community doesn’t care enough about the issue to comment on it. Someone voices an opinion, and then it’s 40 years before someone else replies, and nobody pays any attention to either of the scholars.
  • The post-apocalyptic pictures of the Statue of Liberty or the Capitol sticking up out of water / ice / desert sand reveal a poor understanding of how deserted buildings collapse.
  • The head of a humanities think tank in Sweden has published an argument that strikes me as remarkably silly: “When simple jobs are lost to automation, the market value of humanities skills will rise.” So as the taxi drivers become jobless, a PhD in modern Latvian poetry will grow more valuable. Huh.
  • Too often these standard 350-pp books barely keep me reading along, while part of me just wants them to end. Now I’m reading a feckin’ 1000-page P.F. Hamilton novel and the pages simply keep on turning.
  • According to the POTUS, relations with Russia are “at an all-time and very dangerous low.” Cuban missile crisis, anyone?
  • I gotta say, it’s pretty amazing that I can read daily tweets from William cranial-jacking Gibson himself. Respect!
  • The 20th century: the time of smoking cigarettes while driving combustion-engine cars.
  • Much of English Wikipedia’s article about soy sauce has been written by someone who doesn’t quite know when to use the word “the”, and prefers to skip it. This suggests to me that the information in the article is probably quite accurate.
  • Decryption and decoding are the same. Doesn’t matter if it’s encrypted English or plaintext Swahili. I won’t understand either.
  • Had a strange taste of retirement this past weekend: teenage kids off doing stuff, just me and my wife at my mom’s summer house. Though my wife looks about 40 years from retirement.
  • Holy fuck. Junior has been teaching himself Japanese for the past year and a half. Today I learned that he has picked up 500 kanji characters along the way and reads Chinese food packaging quite easily. :-0
  • A friendly soul at this publishing house apparently knows my daughter’s name. Their envelope of otherwise generic advertising material contained an old tea spoon with “Signe” engraved on it.
  • This Picasso “Pigeons” print hung in our house when I grew up, and I’ve been wondering for decades what the spotted triangular thing in the lower left-hand corner is. A lamp shade? Took me 5 mins on WWW to find that it’s a stylised building that is seen outside the window in early treatments of the motif.

Pablo Picasso, Pigeons, 1957, detail

Pablo Picasso, Pigeons, 1957, detail

Author: Martin R

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

70 thoughts on “August Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. Birger@52 – One of the major problems for the Liberal (i.e. conservative) Party in Oz is that they can only get into and remain in power in coalition with the National Party, which is also conservative but focused on the concerns of rural voters – it used to be called the Country Party, on account of, well, there’s the town, and then there’s the country = the rural areas. With demographic transition, the number of rural voters has decreased quite dramatically, so the Country Party had to try to broaden its voter appeal by transforming into the National Party, but it remains dominated by, well, basically, farmers. Not that I have anything against farmers, I’ve worked as one myself and it was an enlightening experience, but most farmers don’t rank very highly in terms of intelligence – if they did, they would be doing more clean, cool and comfortable jobs than farming, which is bloody hot, hard and dirty work.

    So, as much as the National Party leadership is composed of total morons like Barnaby Joyce, the Liberals have to tolerate power-sharing arrangements with them in order to maintain this coalition, so they can then get into and remain in Government.

    In one sense it would be amusing in the extreme if Joyce is forced to step down for holding dual citizenship. But it will also be politically very destabilising. As much as people might have reservations about the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he is actually a moderate and a centrist who holds some socially liberal personal views, and who has led the (so far unsuccessful) move to get rid of the constitutional monarchy in Australia and replace it with a republic.

    So, while Joyce is a buffoon, he is a relatively harmless one, and he is a staunch supporter of Turnbull. So if he has to resign from Parliament, Turnbull will lose one of his key supporters, and there is every likelihood that he would lose the leadership of the governing coalition, which would be taken over by much more right wing and socially conservative elements in the Liberal Party. Which is why Turnbull is now fighting tooth and nail to avoid Joyce having to step down, because he desperately needs his support to remain the leader of the governing coalition. If he loses the leadership, we are left with the spectre of much more right wing elements taking power within the Government.

    And that would not be a good outcome.


  2. So, it turns out that this was the sequence:

    1. An employee of Google, someone called James Damore (not that it matters much who he was) was asked to attend an internal Diversity Workshop, with a bunch of other Google employees.

    2. So he did that, and at the end of the workshop, the attendees were asked to submit written feedback on what had been discussed in the workshop. So he did that – he sat down and thought about it, and put down his thoughts on paper, supported by references to support things he was saying, and he handed that in. What he said was quite detailed, and it can’t be summed up in a few words, and any attempt to do that will simply result in what he wrote being misrepresented.

    3. Then, for a whole month, nothing happened. He got no response to his written feedback, just silence. Not criticism, not immediate sacking for saying evil and unthinkable things, nothing. No answer.

    4. Then someone anonymous in Google pulled up his written response, which was supposed to be a confidential internal memo, and leaked it to Gizmodo, whoever they are. What they did was to strip out all of the references that he had used to support his thoughts, and then made it public, and it went viral.

    5. It was only after it went viral, stripped of the references, that he was then summoned by the Google management, and he was immediately fired. And the CEO of Google then went public, criticising Damore for, specifically, one thing he had said, or one thing that the CEO claimed he had said, to explain why they had sacked him.

    6. Then a whole lot of people started piling on, seriously misquoting what Damore had written, and basically damning him for it; including some cockroach called Zunger. What Zunger opened his hit piece on Damore with was (cutting out the unnecessary verbiage): “You have probably heard about the manifesto a Googler published internally…about, essentially, how… we should stop trying to make it possible for women to be engineers, it’s just not worth it.” Those are egregious, shameful, bare-faced lies. Damore did not ‘publish’ his ‘manifesto’, he sent in the written feedback that he was asked to provide. And he did not write anything remotely like Zunger says he wrote – that is an outright fabrication by Zunger, it is a disgraceful and dishonourable piece of utterly false character assassination. Damore said nothing like that. If I was Damore, I think I would be contemplating suing Zunger and some others for defamation of character, but I doubt Damore will do that; he just doesn’t come across as someone who would do that.

    7. So now, people are starting to wake up and pay attention to what actually happened, and Google are starting to get some kick-back for what they did. i understand that some columnists at the NY Times have now called for the CEO of Google to resign.

    Whether what Damore wrote was right or wrong in what he said is somewhat immaterial at this point. If people disagree with what he wrote, which I understand he is continuing to defend and not back down from, they could respond with reasoned, rational arguments about why they think he is wrong. But they haven’t done that – as far as I can see, the only rational, honest response has been from the crew at Heterodox Academy, who checked out the published science to see whether it supported Damore’s statements, and decided that he was right on some things, but maybe somewhat adrift on some others – but on the whole, he was not manifestly wrong, like in the wrong ball park. Everyone else has just engaged in a whole lot of incoherent shouting, name calling, and outright lies in misrepresenting what Damore said.

    And honest people who think for themselves clearly don’t like that, and they have started to say so. Maybe some of them don’t agree with everything they said, but they definitely don’t like that he has been so seriously misrepresented and then demonised for saying things that he didn’t say.

    So, we’ll see how this plays out. The way it is going, it looks to me like Google could get a lot of negative fallout that could be very damaging to them. I guess we’ll find out.


  3. Interesting… In Sweden, one of the moderate parties in the middle (literally named the Center Party) originated as an agrarian party for the rural population (back then it was named the Farmer’s League)
    During the demographic transition in the fifties it re-invented itself, so even if initially most of its urban voters were former farmers and other rural people, a new generation of Center Party voters were interested in “green” issues but not attracted to the Left party (the former communist party) or the Social Democrats (who mostly just pay lip service to “green” issues).
    So the Center Party (who still has its roots in the rural world) is also politically somewhere near our Liberal Party.
    NB They have no beef with LGBT people or other religions or the other issues most populists hate.
    The Swedish “Green Party” is more to the left (an issue for many otherwise “green” voters), and not very pragmatic, resulting in not getting much influence.
    Our Conservative Party managed to re-invent itself into something more liberal and dominated a government coalition for six years.
    But now they have re-re-invented themselves as conservatives in an effort to get back voters from our xenophobe party.
    The conservatives call themselves “The Moderate Party”.
    So the party names are not always very descriptive.

    Scadenfreude: Our conservatives lost voters when they appeared to reconsider their relationship with the xenophobe party. Previously, our new conservative leader sucked up to the Saudi government and this looks like karmic payback.
    PS I really, really do *not* like the Saudi government.


  4. John@54: You haven’t said which sources you have been reading, so I looked for myself and found, among other things, that there is already a Wikipedia entry on the manifesto. The science is very much in dispute, as you might expect given the political implications of the issue. It’s not my field, so I am not prepared to say which side is right.

    The New York Times columnist you refer to turns out to be David Brooks, who for me carries negative credibility due to his multiple critical research failures. One of the more infamous incidents (which is not mentioned on Brooks’ Wikipedia page) was the time in 2008 he described then-candidate Barack Obama as being somebody who appeared to be uncomfortable at the Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s, a US chain of family-friendly restaurants, does not have a salad bar. Not everything Brooks says is wrong, but that’s the way to bet.

    Finally, there is the matter of creating a hostile workplace environment. That is actionable under both US Federal and California state law. Google have a strong argument that they had to fire the guy once the memo went public, because otherwise they would be vulnerable to being sued on exactly this ground. Even those who claim he got the science right admitted that he could and should have been more diplomatic in his phrasing. Google may be able to credibly claim that they didn’t know about his NLRB complaint, which was filed hours before his firing (it is illegal to fire someone in retaliation for filing an NLRB complaint) because US law demands that legal documents be physically served whenever possible, and there may not have been time for that to happen.


  5. Eric@56 – You are mischaracterising what was intended to be a confidential internal memo by continuing to call it a manifesto.

    I posted the link to the Heterodox Academy’s response @32 above. It is also listed in the Wikipedia piece. Here is the link again:

    It’s long and detailed, but you need to read it all, I’m afraid. It is the most balanced, objective overview that I have seen.

    Reading the reactions given in the Wikipedia piece just confirms what I already thought – Google are targeting the wrong groups internally; they should be eliminating influences in the workplace that are toxic to females and minorities. I have nothing to add to what I have already said. Whatever will happen will happen.

    Birger@55 – I can’t think of anyone who does like the Saudi government. What is there to like?


  6. I do have a couple of after-thoughts to add, though:

    1. I don’t care what happens to Damore. I have no personal interest in him and know nothing about him. I don’t see him as some Champion of some Great Cause (although he is pushing back somewhat against post-modernism and identity politics, both of which are potentially very destructive, but he’s not even going to make a minor dent in those things). But Google were clearly wrong for sacking him for the reasons given by the CEO. He did not make his memo public, someone else did that, and in an egregious manner in that they initially redacted his graphs and references, and he is not personally responsible for the public shitstorm that has resulted from that (although he was maybe naïve in thinking that his memo would remain internal and confidential – the approach I have always adopted is to assume anything I write could ultimately become a public document, because all organisations have leakers who are only too happy to leak stuff that they think will foment trouble). And he did not create stereotypes – in fact, he specifically warned against stereotyping in his memo, and included two graphs to illustrate the point. So on those two points, the Google CEO was dead wrong, and he will have to live with the consequences, whatever they are.

    2. I do have some concerns about Google because I have been using them as my primary search engine. I already regarded them as too intrusive and predatory in using algorithms to determine what I see when I do a search. The thought that they could also be applying some post-modernist ideological filter to determine what I see is just about enough to make me want to stop using it.


  7. “I can’t think of anyone who does like the Saudi government. What is there to like?”

    Export money. A lot of our politicians have been buzzing around Saudi like flies around a dungheap.
    (Goddamit, that metaphor was apt!)

    On the topic of “politicians who refuse to condemn the inexcuseable” let’s move from Saudi stink to The Greatest Leader. USA time zones are behind us, so I missed out on the Trump Tower press conference.
    To quote Stephen Colbert: “It is not *difficult* to condemn Nazis. I did it just now. It felt good”.
    — — — —
    Viral Swedish white elk’s apple habit brings trespassing tourists to couple’s garden


  8. Birger@59 – I don’t count politicians as humans; not neuro-typical humans, anyway. Any that are don’t last in the politics business for too long.



    Construction of ever larger container ships requires dredging of deeper navigation channels and berths in seabed sediments that are usually highly contaminated with a range of really nasty pollutants. This issue is already highly problematic.

    One day someone will build a ship long enough so that it never needs to leave port to reach the port it’s destined for, because they can just roll the containers from one end of the ship to the other to cross the ocean. (That’s meant to be a joke.)


  10. Your ship would almost be as big as the real Noah’s ark, you know, the one who brought breeding populations of 2 million beetle species, and aquaria for the thousands of species of freshwater fish. And ten thousand Mexican workers to shoverl the dung.
    You can power the mega-ship with lithium batteries.

    “Supervolcanoes: An American source of lithium for batteries?


  11. Jordan Peterson says that the person or people who came up with the story of Noah’s Ark, which he thinks probably existed as a story long before the OT was ever written, like maybe 10,000 years ago or even earlier, did not believe the story literally themselves. They knew it was a practical impossibility. He says it was written as an allegorical story, to illustrate a principle, and the writer(s) who included it in the OT did not intend readers to take it literally either – they were meant to get the meaning behind it, which is, roughly paraphrasing: “Life is full of suffering, and then we know we will all die at the end of it. The only way you can stand to live such a life is to put meaning into your life, by always telling the truth, and doing something to make things better. Because if you don’t do that, you will be plunged into chaos and your life will be awful.” That was his interpretation of what was meant when the writer(s) wrote that Noah “walked with God”, i.e. he was a virtuous man who lived a good life.

    It’s an interpretation I had never thought of before – I had always thought of it as a ‘history’ of something that was meant to be taken literally, as a description of something the writer(s) believed had taken place as a real event, and had consequently dismissed it as self-evident nonsense. He says no, he does not believe that they did ever believe it. And he has researched ancient Mesopotamian stories, that long preceded the writing of the OT, that say similar kinds of things; and thinks that even they might not have been original ideas, but borrowed from even older stories.

    I don’t know, true or not, but to me it was a novel way of thinking about it. I do get Peterson’s point about always telling the truth, or what you believe to be the truth – because if you deliberately tell falsehoods, then where the hell are you? Where does that leave you? I can anticipate some obvious responses to that (used car salesman, politician, etc.), but I think his point is actually a pretty good one, and the more I think about it, the more persuaded I am that he’s right. It can get you into real trouble, for sure, but he argues that’s better than the alternative.


  12. John@57: You really need to do a better job of vetting your sources. See if you can spot the red flag in the statement that is described on Heterodox Academy’s “About Us” page as being something its members endorse:

    “I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom.”

    Since you are neither American nor an academic, I’ll give you the answer: the emphasis on “political diversity”. In the US academic world that is a code phrase for, “Right wing B.S.-ers should have tenured faculty positions, too.” That so many of their members are tenured or tenure-track professors puts the lie to their notion that people of their political persuasion can’t get academic jobs.

    Perhaps it’s not fair to tar every member of the Heterodox Academy with that brush, but the same About Us page lists selected publications by many of the members. When I see paper titles like, “What many transgender activists don’t want you to know: and why you should know it anyway” and ” Conservative criminology: A call to restore balance to the social sciences” (those aren’t cherry-picked either; many others have similar-sounding or similarly egregious titles), I am not inclined to trust them. It also doesn’t help that climate change deniers (including Judith Curry, the one name on the member list I recognized) appear to be vastly overrepresented.


  13. Eric, I’m fed up with ideologues. If you don’t want to trust the two authors of that response (assuming you did actually read it), then just go back to the range of responses given in the Wikipedia piece. I’m past discussing it.


  14. “He says it was written as an allegorical story”

    A common ploy: when science says it’s bullshit, re-brand it as an allegory. Aside from the obvious problem with this, note that there is no way to tell what in the Bible is supposed to be an allegory and what is to be taken literally. If one can pick and choose (and people do), what is the point. Also, some things, such as Original Sin or the Virgin Birth, make no sense at all unless taken literally.


  15. “The head of a humanities think tank in Sweden has published an argument that strikes me as remarkably silly: “When simple jobs are lost to automation, the market value of humanities skills will rise.” So as the taxi drivers become jobless, a PhD in modern Latvian poetry will grow more valuable. Huh.”

    Physicist: I would like to apply for a job as a taxi driver.
    Boss of taxi firm: Do you have any special qualifications?
    Physicist: I have a master’s degree in physics.
    Boss: Sorry; all my drivers have at least a doctorate.

    Liked by 1 person

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