February Pieces Of My Mind #2


These milestones helped prevent arguments with farmer taxi drivers.

  • Please let me remind you that the Pixies have a song about a bird sleeping in a tree and dreaming about a mountain on Mars. This makes me happy.
  • Re-reading the Akallabêth after 30 years.
  • Death Angel is a cooperative boardgame about killing aliens. I just realised why it’s so hard to get it to the table. The people who like co-ops are not the same people who like to kill aliens.
  • Making my own Silmarillion edit which only covers events on land that remains above sea level in the Third Age.
  • I have my students do read-alongs of classics straight from Gutenberg.org with me providing running pronunciation aid and explanations, and they just don’t want to stop. Or miss a cue!
  • I knew that it’s fun to teach university archaeology. After a week in Stocksund I can now report that it’s also fun to teach high school languages.
  • Microsoft Outlook knows that users like to separate addresses in group mail with commas. It recognises when you try to do this. But rather than accept this and act, it has an error message where it instructs you to change the commas to semicolons. *facepalm*

This historical newspaper may need the attention of a document conservator.



101 thoughts on “February Pieces Of My Mind #2

  1. Early Holocene Morphological Variation in Hunter-Gatherer Hands and Feet.


    Deceptively simple title – there is a hell of a lot of information in that paper. Really a lot.

    Modern African female distance runners, who are overwhelmingly dominant in flat races now, favour a front foot strike mode of running – it beats heel strike running, if your body parts can take it. They have a necessarily limited life in competitive racing over the shorter distances, though – seem to graduate to longer distances with age, and can keep competing in very long distance races until quite a bit older. One curious factoid I picked up a while back – long legs are more efficient on flat ground, short legs are more efficient on steep terrain.


  2. If your head is spinning from the sheer number of papers on ancient DNA that have been coming out (not alone on that – now nearly 1,000 ancient genomes), Pontus Skoglund + Iain Mathieson continue not to disappoint by kindly summarising everything for everyone, while also inviting comments on the preprint. I’m just so bloody impressed by those people. And the two ladies who have put out the above hands & feet paper, with a masterful summary of the literature on just about everyone as a scaffold for their own findings. Why do I have the impression that osteologists tend to be female?



  3. An idea for saving endangered animals: -provide the black market in China and other asian countries with fake but real-looking rhinoceros horns and jaguar fangs.
    It should be possible to deposit mimic substances with 3D printers, getting the texture right to stand up to ordinary microscopes will be hard but possible -it is not like the balck market has lab-grade equipment.
    — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
    “National Security Council distracted by whimpering Jared Kushner pawing at door throughout meeting”
    “Otherwise intelligent man believes he is good at betting on sport”
    “Woman condemned for failing to breastfeed despite not having children”
    “Only thing that causes cancer is fags, Britain tells scientists” http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/health/only-thing-that-causes-cancer-is-fags-britain-tells-scientists-20180215144352


    • One reason the elites in both the UK and the US are in bad shape is that in recent decades they have failed repeatedly and spectacularly. The dot-com bubble in 2000. The financial crisis of 2007-2010. Brexit. The election of Donald Trump. People have noticed that hardly anybody among the supposed elites has suffered significant consequences for these things.

      Here in the US, it’s an open secret in the academic world that the quality of undergraduate education at Harvard is not significantly better than students get at Flagship State University. The one thing you get from attending Harvard that you don’t get at state universities, the thing that has historically made Harvard’s much higher tuition a worthwhile investment[1], is membership in the Harvard Alumni Association, which gives you access to many in the elite world. Several other elite universities in the US have similar issues. I am less familiar with the UK system, but suspect there are similar issues with Oxbridge.

      At least in the US, major media outlets are a big contributor to the problem. There is no excuse for the New York Times, and other major media outlets (most of which are based in New York), not to have known what Donald Trump was for decades, because Trump operates in that environment. But the US media have failed in other ways: they keep reporting things said by people that they should know have repeatedly lied to them as if there were any credibility to those statements. And I have noticed that the BBC tends to do the same thing in much of their US reporting.

      [1]Past performance is no guarantee of future results.


      • Except that Trump’s voters had a higher median income than Clinton’s voters.

        Also, democracy assumes a well-informed electorate. When mainstream news sources are as skewed as they are in the US, that assumption is questionable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Except Trump didn’t rely on news sources. He used Twitter to talk directly to huge numbers of voters in short sound bites; promised MAGA; told immiserated rural whites he heard their pain and promised to lift them up again; promised to support big business and eliminate unfair foreign trade competition; all the other stuff. That was a very smart thing to do.

        Tactically, Bill Clinton did something sort of similar in an earlier era – he used telephones to talk to random ordinary people in the electorate and take soundings on how he was doing. Not exactly the same, but same general idea – talk to people directly, unfiltered. “Hi, it’s Bill Clinton.” Huh? He’s talking to me? Me? That guy actually cares what I think, enough to phone me to talk to me? Except Clinton was seeking feedback, getting a read on how people thought he was doing. Trump doesn’t need feedback, because he’s a genius and his own random thoughts are what matter, not what other people think.

        Talking directly to voters instead of just reading/believing news sources, ‘pundits’ and polls and trying to use news media to talk to voters turns out to be a smart thing to do. No filtering – voters receive what you are saying unfiltered, and it’s in small, instantly digestible sound bites. The sound bites are irascible, temperamental to the point of mental instability, impulsive, chaotic and idiotic, but that doesn’t matter if they are what people want to hear, and you learn quickly about what people want to hear by a rapid iterative process. And your Twitter network grows exponentially, really fast. Trump can work a crowd. And he’s very stress-resistant.

        Only possible conclusion is that Trump is not a total idiot – he got elected after running a very cheap campaign; seems like he surprised even himself, didn’t think he could get elected. In the best possible world, there’s no way someone like that can get elected.

        Commentary I read suggests mid-term elections are likely to swing strongly towards Dems, but not enough to get the big numbers in both houses required to successfully impeach him. So he doesn’t care. Doesn’t care what polls show; doesn’t care about what people say they think of him, or the endless analyses that show he is so wrong about so much, or that he contradicts himself so often. Doesn’t care about lying egregiously and being called out for it. He’s there for the duration. I was wrong about that – after he was elected, I felt that he couldn’t last long, but I now have no confidence of that.

        He claims to have an IQ of 160. Not hardly, that would put him up in the rarified atmosphere of the world’s top echelon of physicists and mathematicians. He’s nowhere close to that, not even in the same ball park. But he believes he is, and what he believes about himself is all he cares about. He’s a narcissist – he believes his every random impulsive thought is pure genius, his every random sound bite is pure gold. He knows that to win is everything; whether it is founded on sane, rational thinking, natural justice, falsehood or idiocy doesn’t matter.

        People endlessly talking about all of the manifest ways in which he is awful is just futile background noise. Anyone with a functioning brain doesn’t need to be endlessly told that. It doesn’t help. He’s there and he’s not going away any time soon. Like endlessly pointing out how stupid Creationists are. Yes, we know already. Sure, you can keep saying it, but understand that you are preaching to the choir – it won’t change anything.

        Recently, a group of protesters tried to get Alice Dreger de-platformed from a speaking engagement at a university, for being not-Alice-Dreger. They had no idea who Alice Dreger really is, knew nothing about her career or history of activism, had read not a single word she ever published, had not watched a single Youtube video of her giving a public lecture – they had just heard rumours that she was anti-something-or-other. People had created false Facebook pages and Twitter accounts purporting to be her, full of all kinds of false stuff. She remained behind afterwards to talk to the protesters. Initially, they just refused to speak to or listen to her. Finally, when some of them were prepared to engage, she told them that people had done all of this false stuff about her. Their response? Well, but, why didn’t you prevent that from happening? So, the fact that she does not spend her whole life just trying to prevent people from spreading false stuff about her must mean that on some level she agrees with it, or is in some way responsible for it. I wouldn’t have bothered – for the sake of 100 people, I would have just walked away. If you don’t know Dreger’s history, you can look her up in Wiki, and watch her on Youtube, she’s pretty amazing – she lectures like a machine gun for >30 minutes non-stop, and you need to concentrate on every word, because it’s all coming at you really fast, eloquent, well phrased, rational, logical, complex, evidence-based stuff from first hand clinical practice; no ums or ahs or pauses to collect thoughts. Really impressive. And then you can either accept or not accept things she says; or challenge her and she’ll respond very sincerely. It’s not hard – any fool can look her up in 5 seconds flat. Or you can just believe rumours you’ve heard and then try to attack her and get her taken down for being not-Alice-Dreger. I’m not hopeful this will change any time soon.

        Liked by 2 people

      • In response to protesters telling her she was anti-trans, Alice told them a story from her clinical practice. She had listened and talked to a 6 year old girl, who said she wanted to have gender reassignment surgery because when she grows up she wants to work in construction and marry a woman. Alice told her that she could do both of those things while still remaining a woman. Kid didn’t know that. Ethically, was Alice wrong to tell the kid what her options are? Should she have just said fine, stepped aside and let a surgeon loose on a 6 year old kid? Of course, the kid could still make that decision later if she wanted, but at least she should be informed of what her future options are. Protesters went “Oh, yeah, maybe. Well, why have you let people tell lies about you?”

        In her clinical practice, Alice has listened to lots of trans people, including people who have undergone gender reassignment, and what their lives have been like subsequently, and she has written down everything they have told her. It’s not like she has no insight into it, or that she is lacking in sympathy for those people – she has been an outspoken activist in supporting their rights. Protesters didn’t know that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Commentary I read suggests mid-term elections are likely to swing strongly towards Dems, but not enough to get the big numbers in both houses required to successfully impeach him.

        You need a majority in the House to impeach and 2/3 in the Senate to convict. The latter is a mathematical impossibility, as only 8 of the seats up for reelection this year are held by Republicans, so even an across-the-board Democratic sweep would give them 57 seats (and most of those Republicans are in deep red states; only Heller of Nevada represents a state that Clinton carried), ten short of the 2/3 threshold.

        What does change if the Democrats get a wave election is that the majority party gets to choose the committee chairmen. That makes it much harder for Republicans in Congress to obfuscate the problem. The current chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes of California, has been actively trying to bury the scandals (he has not been entirely successful because there are so many of them, and so many among the intelligence communities of nominal US allies who don’t want those scandals to be buried). His likely replacement would be Adam Schiff, also of California, who actually knows this stuff (unlike Nunes) and knows better than to get on the wrong side of the spooks.


      • You only have to look at where people holding most of the top political positions in the UK Government went to university to realise that yes, Oxford and Cambridge do have some of that ‘going there for the connections you make’ thing going on. The same applies in broadcasting, newspapers, the civil service, the arts and elsewhere. Not all people who attend Oxbridge are after that, they really are academically exellent, but there is no doubt that there is a proportion of sudents who attend to meet the right people.


      • OK. Well, if you don’t read things, then don’t read this:

        Much more detailed and informative research, open access, pointed to by Pontus Skoglund.
        As you don’t read, I’ll dumb down some points into sound bites:
        1. Modern day population of Vanuatu: 80-90% Papuan, 10-20% Austronesian. But Vanuatu is lots of islands, so there is genetic diversity, and really a lot of linguistic diversity (world famous for it).
        2. Several different waves of migration.
        3. Wave of migration of mostly Papuan people but with some component of Austronesian ancestry into Vanuatu, previously settled by Austronesians, with almost complete population turnover, which is very unusual – it takes something really special to get almost complete population turnover.
        4. But then, back migration from Polynesia from east to west, by people who were majority Austronesian ancestry but with some Papuan ancestry from a different source population than the Papuans who initially migrated into Vanuatu. So then, you got some dilution of the Papuan ancestry in Vanuatu, that results in the genetic mix of people there today.
        5. So, language continuity? Or was it more like Austronesian->Papuan->Austronesian? Seems impossible to know, but to claim continuity of language from original Austronesian settlement right through to the present day seems like it might be a bit of a stretch; at the very least maybe they should say they don’t know that and there’s no way to find out. Skoglund’s co-authors make no such claim, and it seems rightly so – they can’t know.
        6. Thing that should really astound people: all native populations of Pacific islands >25% Papuan. All of them. ‘Near Oceania’ and ‘Far Oceania’.

        Other things to know from past papers:
        1. There was Papuan migration into the eastern islands of present day Indonesia, after population by Austronesians.
        2. Austronesians were bloody amazing – migrated out of Taiwan, down through Philippines and Indonesia, then to Melanesian islands, got mixed up/killed off/eaten/whatever with Papuans, but surfed on to inhabit all of the islands of the Pacific, and also migrated west, first to mainland Africa and then to Madagascar. And lastly in the Pacific migrated into New Zealand between 1250 and 1300 AD.
        3. Present day population of Madagascar is a mix of Austronesian and African. So initially people didn’t know if that resulted from (a) Austronesians mixing with Africans on African mainland before then migrating to Madagascar, (b) Austronesians taking African slaves on mainland and then taking them to Madagascar, or (c) both Africans and Austronesians migrating into Madagascar and mixing there. But that has since been elucidated: the correct answer is (c). But there is lots of genetic substructure on Madagascar, different proportions of African/Austronesian ancestry; geographically it’s huge, with mountains, which favour development of genetic substructure – see mountain villages in Italy, with ancestry going back to pre-Roman times.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For your entertainment, watch the youtube episode
    “Failed tanks: The Arjun”
    In the long history of white elephants and wasteful, incompetently managed projects, this stands out like nothing else.


  5. Hmm. .. now that Kushner has had his security raring downgraded, why not replace him with Kushiel* ? Some people in that bunch will meet him sooner or later anyway.
    (* Hell’s jailer)


  6. Dogz and katz.

    Try telling someone who owns pugs (multiple) that their pets are inbred to buggery, that they have been purposely bred to be excessively brachycephalic because it appeals to human notions of ‘cuteness’, and that by buying them they are just rewarding animal breeders who keep breeding them because they can sell lots of them, and the poor little buggers spend their whole lives labouring to breathe as a consequence. Doing animals absolutely no favours.

    I actually did that once. Told them straight out. It really doesn’t play well to them, I can tell you. Not at all. But then, it’s not a nice thing to say to people who love their pets.

    My daughter wanted a pug for a while until she figured that out by herself. Now she doesn’t. But she wants her own large flock of specially trained attack-ducks so she can send them out to rain duckshit down on people who bug her. I wouldn’t describe her as neurotypical.

    Queen Victoria had pugs. Figures. After Albert died, she got a pet Scotsman. And then after he died, later she got a pet South Asian suffering from gonhorrhoea and had him teach Urdu to her, until she died. Cannot recommend either of those films (Mrs Brown and Victoria & Abdul), although Billy Connolly did a fine job of acting the part of the Scotsman – he got nominated for a ‘BAFTA’, but had the misfortune to be nominated the same year as the guy in Trainspotting, so didn’t win. Also got nominated for a ‘BAFTA Scotland’ for the same performance, which he said people just usually have to turn up to win, but didn’t win that either for the same reason – guy in Trainspotting was also Scottish. You can just be dead unlucky sometimes.


  7. Wrong about that – it was Robert Carlyle who won the BAFTA the year Connolly was nominated, and McGregor who won the BAFTA Scotland ahead of Connolly the same year.


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