December Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Copenhagen has a major laughing gas habit. Little metal ampoules littering the streets. They’re sold for whipped cream siphons. Saw them all over town this past summer.
  • Um. I calculated how many issues of Fornvännen and Folkvett I’ve co-edited. 128 issues.
  • I’ve got mixed feelings about having left academic teaching. On one hand I enjoy it and I always get a really good response from the students. On the other hand, given the extremely poor career prospects in archaeology, I am convinced that in most cases a) students are better off long-term without these courses, and b) they serve no societally useful purpose.
  • Nacka’s Social Democrats just elected me to serve on the municipal Education Board. We have over 100,000 inhabitants and some of the country’s best high schools.
  • I recently learned that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is from 1961. It wasn’t a response to hippie weirdness. It inspired hippie weirdness.
  • Me: the Geminids. Autocorrect: the feminists.
  • I wonder how Serbian and Croatian atheists get along.
  • Wise words from Birger Johansson: “Re-incarnation without the transfer of memories is pointless. Memories are what distinguish you from your clone [or twin]. Deleting the memories equals the death of the individual.”
  • Once talked to a guy who made inane political arguments based on folk etymology, or rather, on random word similarities. “Democracy is just THEM-ocracy”, that sort of thing. He didn’t say these things to illustrate his points, he thought he was somehow in contact with the essence of things. Not surprised to learn now that this is a characteristic of Rastafarian preaching.
  • Keep seeing Americans use “inhale” as if it meant eat or drink.
  • On our way to the restaurant there was a tiny drizzle. During our meal there was a huge hailstorm with closely spaced flashes of lightning. Then when I went back to the hotel through the thick drifts of melting hail, there was a tiny drizzle again.
  • New story collection by the amazing Ted Chiang on 7 May! This is a very big deal, given how rare and wonderful his efforts are.

Author: Martin R

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

51 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. Rastafarians: nutters.
    Pastafarians: worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an American spoof religion invented as a reaction to the rising influence of Christian fundamentalists.

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  2. Specialists tell me that a lot of the weirdness in RAH (such as wife swapping) was not uncommon in freethinking circles at the beginning of the 20th century, so rather than turning back to nostalgise about the world his parents grew up in as he got old and sick, he was staying with a culture he had seen growing up and just expressing it in the language of the 1960s and 1970s instead of the 1940s and 1950s. There is a letter to a friend in 1945 where RAH hears that a friend has been killed in combat and consoles a mutual friend that he (RAH) has seen proof of life after death and would be happy to explain in person. But if I want rational, empirical Golden Age SF, I read L. Sprague de Camp!

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  3. English Premier League footballers (at least those who play for Arsenal) inhale nitrous oxide out of party balloons at parties, which seems appropriate. Slight problem there – controlling the quantity inhaled is kind of important.

    “I wonder how Serbian and Croatian atheists get along.” They hate each other – it’s not about the religious divide any more, that was just what got it started. It’s now about numerous acts of violence and brutality inflicted by each side on the other ever since; plus in WWII, Serbs collaborated with Russia, Croats with Germany. Plus no doubt endless other stuff.

    “extremely poor career prospects in archaeology” – it’s the same for most science grads. You get people with PhDs in their 50s still working in unpleasant and uncomfortable (not to mention risky) conditions as medical science lab technicians for wages which are not enough to live on, and with zero prospect of any career advancement. Post-docs working on contract in academia get paid peanuts, plus absolutely no job security. People who want a decent paying job should go for engineering instead of science, and even then there’s no guarantee of continuity of employment. Annual professional staff turnover at the company I work for is 30%.

    The ultimate that I saw last week – a primary school in Mainland China advertising for primary teachers, with a note that candidates without a PhD need not apply.

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  4. There was a student singing group at MIT in the 1980s that claimed as a sponsor the fictitious beer company “Brew Ha-Ha”, billed as the only beer brewed with nitrous oxide. I don’t know if they still use that joke.

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  5. “I recently learned that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is from 1961. It wasn’t a response to hippie weirdness. It inspired hippie weirdness.”

    I read it. It’s a page-turner. It’s well written. It has some interesting ideas. (And, of course, it also shows its age in some ways.) I kept waiting for the big event to happen, but it never did.

    The only other Heinlein I’ve read is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which is similar to much “modern” science fiction (Hogan, Forward, Delaney, etc): interesting ideas but rather strange and unbelievable characters (mostly types). Clarke was also not good on characterization, but at least his were just bland.

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    1. I’m not sure what big event you were waiting for, but the resolution of the novel seemed logical to me. Any resemblance between Valentine Michael Smith and a certain carpenter from Nazareth was almost certainly intentional on Heinlein’s part. I will say no more as that would be a spoiler.

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  6. “Specialists tell me that a lot of the weirdness in RAH (such as wife swapping) was not uncommon in freethinking circles at the beginning of the 20th century, so rather than turning back to nostalgise about the world his parents grew up in as he got old and sick, he was staying with a culture he had seen growing up and just expressing it in the language of the 1960s and 1970s instead of the 1940s and 1950s.”

    How common was it? Of course, one couldn’t have been that open about it back then. It took me years to realize that the dancing girls in western movies are prostitutes.

    Apparently Heinlein was also a nudist as well.

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    1. Philipp. if you want the details you can read Patterson’s life of Heinlein … apparently all three of his marriages were what we would call open and many of his friends in the 1920s and 1930s tried similar arrangements. Comparing all those writers would be an a lot of work, easier for you to buy an ebook of “The Best of L. Sprague de Camp” or “Lest Darkness Fall” and decide for yourself.

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  7. 70’s – I was having a drink with an Australian woman from Sydney and a gay American guy from Chicago. We were drinking something with tequila in it, don’t recall what; anyway, I was pretty thirsty and my drink went down fairly fast, and the guy said “Do you always inhale your drinks like that?” IOW, means ingesting something so fast that it is like breathing it in.

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    1. That’s the sense in which I understand it. It is an American colloquialism, and I often hear Americans use the word in that sense. But I have never heard non-Americans use “inhale” thus.

      It’s similar to the peculiar American usage, “to make money”. In pretty much every country outside the US, one would say “to earn money”; to make money (if one is not a government) would employ counterfeiting. Terry Pratchett played with this idea in the title of his novel Making Money.

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    2. Usage of “inhale” is peculiar to US, as far as I am aware, but “to make money” is common usage in Oz & HK. Slight difference in meaning, though – to earn money is used in the sense of to work for a regular salary, whereas to make money is used in the sense of to make a profit by some means; it’s not completely watertight, though, they leak into each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I associate the word “inhale to “Absolutely Fabulous”. There has been a small fire in the house for some reason, and as Saffron goes through the sooty debris in the kitchen, she finds a drunk Patsy sleeping and holding a cigarrette. Saffron yells “she inhaled our kitchen!”.

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    1. Yay! Anarchy reigns again! I’m officially appointing Birger as disrupter-in-chief.

      It’s an absolute no-brainer – jam is far more viscous than cream, so obviously the jam has to go on the scone first. But what that guy and his commenter have both missed is that you don’t have scones, jam and cream for morning tea at all, you have them for afternoon tea.

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  9. – I got the impression the “free love” thing started with the transcendentalists and their critique of the institution of marriage in the early and mid-19th century. A lot of feminists and suffragists came out of that movement. You also had the Mormons who were the target of a lot of prurient interest back then. My town supposedly had a free love commune in the late 19th century, but it was a logging town, so I’m guessing that one usually had to pay.
    – Good luck on the school board. That kind of public service can be challenging but also very rewarding. In our state, there is usually an orientation course to teach one about the board, the laws and so on. Did you go through something like that or do they expect you to figure it out on your own?
    – Americans use “inhale” for eating or drinking when that eating or drinking is done very quickly. It’s a pretty straightforward metaphor. I never understand the French shaving/boring metaphor since I find shaving rather terrifying given my clumsiness even with a safety blade.

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    1. I went through a fad of using a straight razor for a while. Now, that’s terrifying. It’s worrying enough when a practised barber with a very steady hand shaves you with one of those. If you do it yourself, it’s genuinely scary.

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  10. JRR Tolkien’s eldest son- who died 2003- became a catholic priest, and was accused of sexual abuse of boy scouts 1968.
    (See article at The Guardian)

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    1. They will need a toaster with a specially wide slot.

      I had a colleague I thought very highly of, who was an enormous Englishman. He was not only very tall, but enormously fat as well. He was huge. Four years ago, he died very suddenly at the age of 59. After the funeral service we all trekked off to the crematorium to see him fed into the oven. Problem – his body mass exceeded the maximum rated capacity of the oven. The government jobs-worfs who operated the oven said they couldn’t barbecue him without getting a special letter of approval. “How long will that take?” “Oh, it could take a month or two.” “BULLSHIT!!!” we all yelled in unison, and bullied them until they reluctantly agreed to cram him into the oven. He was appropriately reduced to ashes without the oven exploding or anything else untoward. None of this improved the state of mind of the grieving widow, though. She should have been grateful – if he’d had to be interred whole, the size of his burial plot would have cost her a King’s ransom.

      Then we all trekked off to his wake and got absolutely stinking drunk.

      I still miss him. He was churlish, a curmudgeon, perpetually inebriated, hugely frustrating to work with, technically brilliant, and one of my strongest allies and supporters, and I miss him. One of my last memories of him was when I was standing on the footpath outside the office talking to him while he smoked one of his innumerable cigarettes, having a technical discussion (we only ever discussed work), and he absolutely floored me by quoting to me verbatim from a paper I had published in 1988. He had memorised the whole bloody paper, word for word.

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  11. LOL! One of my Chinese nieces by marriage (i.e. married to one of my Chinese nephews) is an artist (painter + occasional sculptor + craft stuff + plus she has had a line of watches made with her designs on the watch faces) who gets paid to give art classes. She has just posted on Facebook a photo of her teaching one of her classes, and there is a kid sitting in the front row, closest to the camera, slumped in his chair, legs splayed out in front of him, head flung back and his mouth stretched wide open in an enormous yawn.

    Suggestion: be more selective of the self-promotional photos you post, my dear.

    This girl absolutely floored my wife’s older brother (her father in law to be, at the time) when she took him to show him an exhibition of her paintings, which were all of female nudes – the same model in various poses, all totally starkers. He found that embarrassing enough, but it took a few moments to register on him that they were all paintings of herself, complete with accurate anatomical details. If she painted those while looking at herself in a mirror, I should add contortionist to her list of skills, going on my brother in law’s red faced, gob smacked description.

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  12. Chinese 60.000 year old stalactites will be used to calibrate C-14 measurements for the method. Since this is ten times the half-life, it is at the extreme end of the useful time period for the method.

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  13. The space station has turned cameras downwards, to capture meteors from the current stream and get spectral analysis of the component matter. As the meteorites are believed to be fragments from the asteroid Phaeton, it is like probing the surface of an asteroid without going beyond low-earth orbit.
    – – – – –
    If you view “Muhammed Hijab and Allah the Man-God ( part 4)” at Youtube, there is an interesting part beginning 13 minutes in and continuing to 27 min in.
    While there are countless smaller muslim groups with divergent beliefs, there is a continuity of imams in the mainstream “umma” of islamic scholars who to this day stick to a completely literal interpretation.
    I was not aware of this fact, I thought this was limited to a small relic of scholars in, say, Saudi Arabia.
    Basically, if you say references to god’s eyes or hands are allegorical, you are a heretic.
    This is bad, they are holding a billion muslims back. And if you join a muslim group that have a more reality-oriented theology (like the Achmahiyads) you are a heretic to the mainstream groups. This may not have consequences inside a western country, but in muslim countries it will make you a second-class citizen.
    I assume most ordinary muslims are unaware of what the religion says, just as nominal christians are unaware scripture says insects have four legs, & the world is flat and can be seen from the top of a mountain.

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  14. Most commenters seemed to think this video is funny. I think they are a bunch of uncompassionate psychopathic bums. I found it very sad. She must obviously have known she has European admixture – phenotypically, it’s a dead give away, if she has any awareness of what real West Africans look like. She could even be majority European ancestry, although if I had to guess it would be minority but very substantial, like more than 20%, and maybe up around 40%. What she doesn’t seem to get is how little of her DNA is contributed by the mitochondrial. It’s like a big deal and a huge and unwelcome shock that her maternal lineage was European – her ‘self image’ just took a really major blow. She has also fallen for the bullshit sales pitch that her DNA can tell which African ‘tribe’ she derived from. It can’t possibly do that. Maybe she also missed the point that they could not tell her what male line she descended from, because she does not carry Y chromosomes – she needs a brother, father or other very close male relative to get tested to tell her that.

    It’s what happens when people construct a self-image that is at odds with reality, like those guys in England who proclaim themselves to be Viking or whatever, based on their DNA results, when they are obviously not remotely any such thing. Or Elizabeth Warren claiming she is Native American because she has 0.5-1.0% Native American ancestry. I am more Aboriginal than Elizabeth Warren is Native American, but you won’t ever see me claiming to be an Aboriginal person because it would be deeply dishonest of me to claim that. I do occasionally claim to be Norman, but that’s meant to be satirical, poking fun at the English people who take this male line stuff seriously as if it means anything real.

    Although she’s clearly not too bright and a bit of a ditz, I do have some considerable sympathy with her (at least partly because of my daughter’s experience of being treated as different ‘things’ in different countries, when she is a person, not a ‘thing’). In the false black-white one-drop dichotomy operating in America, she will obviously have been treated as black all of her life just based on her mid-brown skin tone, dark eyes and thicker lips, and found a way to take pride in that, when the reality is that she is a person of mixed ancestry, and her journey of self discovery should have been to get to the point of feeling completely comfortable with that. But society has not permitted her to do that. And now that bubble she was living in has been pricked *but not in a significant way that should have made her feel anything had changed*!!!

    The kicker is that her mother clearly knew from genealogy that they derived from a European woman who had married a black man, but it seems like she was never told that, or maybe was told but just didn’t take it in, so this shock that she got should actually have been no surprise at all.

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    1. It should not have been a complete surprise to this woman that she has substantial European ancestry. Many if not most black Americans do. It should not be surprising that male masters, or their male children, abused their slaves/domestic servants, and that it was not unusual for children to result from these relationships. Coupled with “one drop” laws that classified anybody with any non-European ancestry as non-European, and you get situations like this. It is relatively rare outside of immigrant communities to find West Africans in the US who have no European ancestry.

      There were parts of the US where, as recently as 1967, the relationship of her grandparents would have been illegal. It still would have been considered shameful for some decades after that; only recently have racially mixed couples become acceptable in even the more liberal parts of the US, and there are some places where it would still be frowned upon.

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      1. African Americans on average have about 20% European ancestry. Some obviously have a lot more. It would be a very rare individual indeed who had none, of those who are descended from slaves rather than recent immigrants from Africa. There is a substantial population of people who have mixed African American and Native American ancestry, and some people will be tri-hybrids, and not just Puerto Ricans and immigrants from Central and South America, and the West Indies. Haiti.

        I think she must surely have known that she has substantial European ancestry. The sad part is that she seems to have confused her mtDNA with her ‘identity’ or ‘heritage’, when it is only a very small part of her total DNA. Having a great great great (or more) grandmother on her female line who was of European ancestry does not make her European, but that was her reaction in the video – she thought that was what the genomics company was telling her, and it came as a nasty shock to her. It’s nonsense. She is what she has always been, a person of mixed ancestry, and that finding changes absolutely nothing.

        And so are we all mixed, if we go back far enough. And all African.

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      2. I blame African Ancestry.com for a lot of her shock and confusion. They promise to tell people which tribe their ancestors came from, which is a ridiculous scam – they can’t possibly do that. Genomics companies can’t even distinguish between French and German ancestry, and genotyping of people of European ancestry has been far more dense and fine grained than for Africans. But she paid her money expecting them to deliver, all they did was test for her mtDNA Haplogroup, she was waiting excitedly to learn which West African ‘tribe’ she ‘belongs’ to, and they told her, in effect, that her tribe is in Europe. That was the massive punch in the guts right there – she belongs to a ‘European tribe’, which in her mind means that she’s white. I think she has a right to feel that she was seriously misled. I could be more hard hearted and suggest she should have got herself more informed about genetics first, but that’s a tall order for people, anyone, and she’s evidently not overly bright and has a pretty cock-eyed view of things. Not her fault.

        She has now woken up to that, has abandoned African Ancestry.com, and says she will now get genotyping done by Ancestry.com, who will tell her what % African ancestry she has, so she can at least get reaffirmation that she is still, on balance, a ‘black’ person, to try to restore her lifelong self image, no doubt strongly reinforced by what society has told her all of her life.

        Well, my female line ‘tribe’ were hunter-gatherers in Europe c.8,000 years or more ago. What does that mean for me in real terms? Nothing. Is it fun to know? Sure, but it’s just entertainment, nothing more.

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    1. And has been for more than two decades at this point.

      In 1996 physicist Alan Sokal performed what he later admitted was an uncontrolled experiment: whether a nonsensical essay that flattered certain views that were popular among humanities professors would be published in a scholarly journal. He found that the answer was yes: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” was published in the journal Social Text. It would not have taken much knowledge of quantum gravity to spot the nonsense in that article, but no physicist was asked to review it. The biographical sketch attached to that essay included the true detail that Sokal had taught mathematics in Nicaragua during the Sandinista regime. He did it in part because he was angry that his nominal political allies were resorting to obscurantism, which tends to favor authoritarian regimes.

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  15. The 19th Century was the century of the Europeanisation of the world. The 20th Century was Americanisation. A lot of people are saying the 21st Century will be the century of Asianisation.

    That should be re-Asianisation. Up until the 19th Century, China had the world’s largest economy.

    I’m less confident of that, though. The Chinese have done a lot to damage their own potential in their headlong rush towards modernisation.

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  16. This is big. I am lost for words to describe how big it is.

    In the space of less than 10 years, more like 5, Australian Aboriginal people have gone from being highly suspicious of scientists who want to study them, and very resistant to giving DNA samples, to actively driving and participating in the research into modern and ancient Aboriginal genomes, for reasons that are important to them. I give a lot of credit to Eske Willerslev and his team for this – he won people’s trust, got them actively engaged in the work, and showed them what could be revealed about their past, and they were thrilled by the results.

    This is a huge step forward for Aboriginal people, and for the world’s genetics research community. I’m thrilled.

    Ancient nuclear genomes enable repatriation of Indigenous human remains.
    http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/12/eaau5064

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  17. The art of computer programming: history of combinatorial generation.

    Click to access fasc4b.pdf

    “Donald Knuth’s latest fascicle (fragment) of his upcoming sequel to The Art of Computer Programming is a departure from the dense mathematical exposition of his previous fascicles.

    The title may seem dry, but it covers the origin of the I Ching hexagrams, Vedic and Greek poetry, and mentions an A.D. 965 game in which players roll dice to determine their personality traits (sound familiar?)

    Knuth spends a lot of time on Ramon Llull, a pre-Renaissance man who enumerated the characteristics of Godliness, virtue, and sin, then developed writings, grids and circular diagrams based on the combinations of these characteristics.”

    I find the I Ching impossibly boring and stupid to wade through, as opposed to the Tao Te Ching, which I have read several times.

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