Open Thread For December

Extra likes for mentions of Croatia, high school teaching and forthcoming books about Medieval castles.

Author: Martin R

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

40 thoughts on “Open Thread For December”

  1. Croatian mercenaries, inventors of the “cravat” and the straighter variant we now call a tie.
    The limestone formations in the west gave the name to “karst”.
    And the island Krk may have led to the surname Ameicans spell Kirk, so there is a space connection, too (unless it is from “kirk” as in church, in wich case I will yell “fake news” and continue with my pet theory). Home of Josif Brosz Tito.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Considering that there are many more Scots than Croats in the US, particularly in places like rural Iowa (where James T. Kirk supposedly was born), I’d say the name probably comes from the Scottish word for church. That doesn’t rule out the alternative derivation, but I’d say most people with that surname are of Scottish rather than Croat ancestry.

      Likewise, there is a small town in Montana called Crow Agency, the existence of which I was reminded in a YouTube video I recently saw. The author of that video seemed to think the name had something to do with birds. No, it’s derived from the name of the indigenous group on whose reservation the town is located, and that has some relationship to why the town was on that particular list, which was of the worst towns in the state of Montana. The US has had a habit of forcibly moving survivors among indigenous groups to some of the worst land available, so most reservations have no economy to speak of (the few that do happen to be close enough to populated areas to draw tourists to certain establishments designed to separate those tourists from their money).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As an example of historical US treatment of native populations: Local lore in eastern Washington state is that one of the reasons Hanford was selected as the location of a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility is that the land occupied by the site was so bad, even white people thought the natives deserved better.

        IIRC, the poorest county in the US is the South Dakota county that includes the Pine Ridge Reservation. Or maybe the reservation includes the county; I’d have to look at a map to be sure.


  2. All hail Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer.
    And three cheers for White House chief of staff Kelly.

    I will try to find more material about spotting cancer through abnormally methylated DNA in the blood.

    The Chinese are planning to send a lander to the far side of the moon.


  3. Ref. Croats, coincidentally (well, not exactly), I watched a movie on Netflix last night confusingly called The Maus, about a Bosnian Muslim woman and her German boyfriend at the end of the Bosnian War – they’re in a forest full of land mines driving to the airport in Sarajevo to catch a flight to somewhere or other, and their vehicle breaks down, so they start walking and stumble on two Serbian males. Damn it was dark. I felt like I deserved a medal just for watching it. But considering stuff that happened, maybe not too much of an inaccurate reflection.

    Very recent history in Australia, Croatian and Serbian mobs regularly violently set upon one another outside international sporting events like the Australian Open tennis tournament, including guys of Croatian and Serbian ancestry who had been born in Australia and had never been to the former Yugoslavia. Some historical hatreds go back a long way and are self-perpetuating.

    When I was a kid, my family were very friendly with a Croat family, which was unusual because they were typically very clannish. My mother knitted me a bright red sweater, and I was wearing it when we went to visit them once, and the father of the family refused to let me into their house until I had taken my sweater off.

    That guy had migrated to Australia in the 1920s, but never learned to speak English – he spent his whole life just mixing with the local Croat community, working as an unskilled labourer plus working his own vineyard after working hours, and he carried the full burden of inter-ethnic hatred between Croats and Serbs. I thought objecting to the colour of my sweater was carrying things a bit far, but what would I know, I was just an Australian kid who hadn’t been taught to hate anybody.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a particularly silly hatred too, originating when a group of indistinguishable Slavic speakers settled to either side of the border between the Western and Eastern Empire. Which became a border between Christian denominations. They still speak the same language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do I remember correctly that Serbians use the Cyrillic alphabet? I know that Croats use the Latin alphabet, with a few accented characters you don’t see in Germanic or Romance languages.


      1. Wikipedia: “Serbian is practically the only European standard language whose speakers are fully functionally digraphic, using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.”


  5. When I worked in Australia, I worked with a guy whose parents were from Montenegro and a girl whose parents were from Macedonia (the Macedonia that was part of Yugoslavia and is now the Republic of Macedonia, not the Macedonia that is northern Greece). They could converse with each other perfectly well in their ‘parent’ language, but they really didn’t like each other, whereas they both got on OK with everyone else.

    That seems like a particularly odd one, because at least superficially they wouldn’t seem to have that religious divide, and they don’t share any common border. But both groups in Australia were typically clannish. And they all seemed to have a palpable dislike of Italians, for some reason.


  6. No, I remembered that incorrectly – the guy’s parents were from Dalmatia, which is now part of Croatia (but he always insisted that he was Dalmatian, not Croatian). I guess that makes their mutual dislike of each other more logical, if logic has anything to do with any of it.

    I belatedly remembered that because I recalled that when I first met the guy, he told me he was a Dalmatian, and I said “Well, why aren’t you white with black spots, then?” Oops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tip: It won’t be African Americans or Puerto Ricans.

      Most of the people who labelled David Reich a racist for saying that this kind of research will be important were white American academics in anthropology departments.


  7. Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter in the TV series is marvellously creepy, the series wisely sticks to the “less is more” motto and relies on psychological horror.

    I am not a gun nut, but the Youtube channels “In the range” and “Forgotten weapons” make the subjects fascinating. And the episode about the improvised WWI close-up melee weapons really bring home the brutality of the conflict. No wonder it produced blackshirts and brownshirts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder if Congressman Crockett would have approved of his name being so used. He seems to have been a man of some principle: he strongly opposed many of the policies of the odious President Andrew Jackson, including the Indian Removal Act.

        He also seems to have been a man of considerable courage. There is some controversy about how he died at the Battle of the Alamo, with a story put around that he had surrendered and was executed, which seems like it was fabricated in an attempt to discredit Santa Anna (for his brutality in executing prisoners of war).

        An eye witness to the aftermath of the battle, who was a cook for one of the Mexican officers, stated that he saw Crockett’s body surrounded by 16 dead Mexicans (no mean feat, given he had only a muzzle loading rifle, not a modern military assault rifle to blaze away with), with Crockett’s knife buried in one of them, but the eye witness was just a black former American slave, so why would anyone believe him? Well, as he was in the employ of the Mexicans as a free man, having been enslaved by Americans, I can’t think of a reason why he would fabricate such a story, which lends a ring of truth to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am watching a concert on Swedish TV and suddenly recognized the Bach piece being played; it was the one chosen by Tarkovsky for “Solaris”.

    The Davy Crocket device played a vital role in a Jack Reacher book by Lee Child.


  9. The archaic ghosts in the machine(s).
    Models of archaic admixture and recent history from two-locus statistics.

    “Using this approach, we show that human evolutionary models that include archaic admixture in Africa, Asia, and Europe provide a much better description of patterns of genetic diversity across the human genome. We estimate that individuals in two African populations have 6−8% ancestry through admixture from an unidentified archaic population that diverged from the ancestors of modern humans 500 thousand years ago.”

    More bloody racism. I need a sarcasm font for this. It’s like there are two running commentaries going on simultaneously which are talking past each other, one in scientific publications and the other in humanities departments and public discourse.

    Humans are all the same – there are no ‘meaningful’ population differences; medical genetics is racist and wrong headed. Gender is ‘fluid’ and shouldn’t be marked on birth certificates (despite it being very large majority ‘fixed’ by the time of birth). Human sex is a spectrum, not very strongly bimodal (despite the fact that there is no spectrum, and that it is very large majority bimodal). There are no structural differences between male and female brains, and behavioural differences between boys and girls are due to social conditioning, despite the fact that brain structural differences start happening due to differences in gene expression in foetuses in the womb – social conditioning must have amazing reach if it can affect unborn children. No one uses the ‘r’ word any more, which is right and genetics is proving that, but ‘populations’ and ‘ancestry’ are going to get targeted at some point, while ‘celebrating’ one’s ‘heritage’ is absolutely fine.

    Biologists are now afraid to openly discuss this stuff publicly because it can mean the destruction of their careers at the hands of the ‘outrage’ mobs, but do so privately in the ‘inner sanctum’ of those who recognise scientific reality. The truth has become the conspiracy. Publicly the battle has been lost, and they know it.

    It’s kind of interesting that a lot of American scientists are now openly pushing Sci-Hub, continually broadcasting to their blog readers where the latest address is that they can access it. No one has any excuse for not being able to access paywalled papers, because there is some Russian woman who continues to engage in blatant piracy, and they all support what she is doing.

    Youtube is absolutely convinced that I am Chinese, and I am now going back to editing contract specifications for sewerage pipes, instead of being distracted by all of this.

    But not before a desperate and blatant play for a ‘like’ – I said it to him at the time (more or less), and I will say again now that Martin’s new book on Medieval Castles should become part of required reading in high school history curricula.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John!

      Many humanities scholars with a poor nat-sci grounding get racial oppression mixed up with genetic diversity. It’s quite different to say for instance that a certain breast cancer gene is only found in descendants of Native American women, and on the other hand to say that this or that ethnic group is a master race.

      Luckily, natural scientists can and do mostly ignore the sillier humanities folks.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. But I know one American Anthropologist, at least to talk to online, whose name was notably absent from the open letter signed by so many of his colleagues which accused David Reich of racism. I’m not in a position to judge how good he is at Anthropology, but he’s a decent, reasonable, rational and intelligent person. He’s also I guess what you could call a Scientific Anthropologist, or what he and Greg Laden would call a Biological Anthropologist.

      Well, there is another one – Jennifer Raff, but she’s a Geneticist + Anthropologist. She didn’t sign the letter either. Neither did Greg Laden, but I don’t know if he would have been invited to. It seems likely Fuentes and Raff would have been, unless they are personae non grata with the American Cultural Anthropologists.


  10. Deep thought and space defence
    Invaluable information from The Daily Mash:
    -Colleague selflessly keeping entire office updated on her sleeping patterns
    -Next Tory leader to be someone you hate even more
    -How to make sure every single conversation ends up being about you


  11. Civil engineering is full of quaint 19th Century English terminology, mixed in with modern methods and materials. Marks to anyone who can tell me what a “puddle flange” is. Or a “holiday” in a protective coating on a water supply pipe.

    Drove me mad as an undergrad – I had to learn a whole new vocab.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The flanger guitar effect got its name from John Lennon at Abbey Road studios. He knew how the new piece of gear sounded but had no idea how the electronics worked, so he would tell the engineer to “put some flange on it please”.


    2. Flange is one of those words that people seem to find innately funny. Waterworks engineering would have adolescent schoolboys in fits of laughter. Contrary to popular belief, a stopcock is not a chastity belt. Why they just can’t call it a tap is beyond me.


    3. I am familiar with flanges from having worked with vacuum systems: that’s the technical term for the places where you might attach something to the vacuum chamber.

      I’m not sure why somebody operating a water works would want a “puddle flange”. Aren’t puddles something a waterworks operator wants to avoid creating?

      As for adolescent schoolboy stuff, don’t forget electric/electronic connectors. Any given connector will have two flavors: pins and sockets, also known for obvious reasons as male and female. And there is also the mnemonic for resistor color codes: “Bad boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly” (black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, and white represent the digits 0 through 9, in that order).


      1. You’d think so. When was antiquated Civil Engineering terminology self-explanatory? A puddle flange is what you need when you need to put a water pipeline through a wall.


    1. Years ago a bunch of US political bloggers, mostly of the political left, successfully conspired to make George W. Bush’s official White House biography the top result of a search on the words “miserable failure”. In response, Google tweaked their algorithm to ensure that such a thing did not happen again, at least in that fashion. But any system that can be gamed will be gamed.


  12. Film review: Beirut (2018) – Period piece/espionage thriller set in Beirut in 1982. Good.

    Activists didn’t like the trailer, so boycotted the film. Watching the trailer nearly put me off watching the film – glad it didn’t.

    And in other news, I set a new personal record today for pages edited in one day. I would be happy never to read the words puddle flange, stopcock, spigot, etc. again. But then, tomorrow is pay day, so 🙂


  13. It’s ridiculous that it’s unconstitutional for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for president.

    It is. I was trusted with life and death decisions when I was 21, because it was an essential part of my profession. I was mature, responsible and bright enough to make them.

    Fluid intelligence starts inevitably to decline from about the age of 28. By the time you get to septuagenarians, the loss of fluid intelligence is becoming a problem, to a greater or lesser extent.

    My impression of Schwarzenneger was that he wasn’t a bad governor, although I don’t think he is actually all that bright – not stupid for sure, but not really up there in the 140s. But once you get much above that, you get problems associated with people being too bright – they can’t work in cooperative teams because they are too intolerant and impatient with less bright team members. Well, that’s stereotyping them, but it’s definitely a thing – often extremely intelligent people just can’t hold down any kind of corporate job because they are too disruptive. If you can corral them into a corner somewhere by themselves and just let them generate ideas, it can work, but how many people like that can you afford? If they are at the top, then you get monsters like Steve Jobs, who treated everyone including his own daughter like shit.


  14. When Daughter tells female colleagues that she liked the film The Silence of the Lambs, they respond: “But it was so misogynist!” What? Small, young, inexperienced female justifiably scared out of her wits is faced with a monster (make that two monsters) and a terrifying situation, and she overcomes all of that, saves a girl’s life and kills the serial killer before he can kill her. She triumphs. What is misogynist about that?

    Plus it is one of the truly great films of the 20th Century, won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his horrifying portayal of Hannibal Lecter, and Jodie Foster won a thoroughly deserved Academy Award for her performance as the rookie FBI trainee Clarice Starling who is yanked out of her training to use her behavioural psychology skills in interviewing the incarcerated Lecter, to try to get a lead from him on who the serial killer might be.

    The only thing we can think of is that, in the film, the serial murderer (not Hannibal Lecter, the murderer who is on the loose) is a trans person. So we can only think that what they mean is that it is misogynist against trans people who are transitioning male -> female. But even that doesn’t stand up to logical scrutiny. Are they saying that no such trans person would be capable of being a monster, and it is misogynist to portray one as such?

    My guess is that these people might never have seen the film themselves, and are just repeating some social media meme that they have seen put around by someone. Either that or they have seen it, but haven’t seen any more deeply into it than that some trans person is portrayed as a serial killing monster, rather than the people we all know are the *real* monsters: those cis-gendered hetero-normative white males. All of them. Us. Well, Hannibal Lecter is such a person, and he is portrayed as a cannibalistic serial-killing monster, but that doesn’t assuage their contrived outrage.

    I’m over this stuff. I seriously don’t care. It’s not my job to try to fix it. Those people’s thinking is about 1 mm deep, they are not living in the real world, and that’s their problem, not mine or my daughter’s. But she just feels like every time she opens her mouth about something, she is trying to tip-toe through a social-outrage minefield while having no idea where to expect the mines to be buried. She can’t even express a personal view about one of the great all time classic films (a pretty safe topic, you might think) without triggering manufactured, seriously misinformed and totally disingenuous outrage.


    1. There is an important distinction here: a film can have misogynist characters like Hannibal Lecter without being misogynist. The key is whether the female lead overcomes the obstacles in her way, and does so without large amounts of help from male supporting characters (some help from the guys is OK, but she has to be the one who takes the key steps).

      That goes in general: a film or novel can have a major character with character flaw X, and not suffer from flaw X. It depends on how the other characters deal with it.


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