December Pieces Of My Mind #2

Walked around Lakes Lundsjön-Dammsjön. The colours are quiet this time of year.
  • In this fantasy novel by Naomi Novik, a Lord of Faerie invests money in a woman’s money-lending and goods trading business. Capitalist.
  • Handled some replica muskets. Learned that they are too heavy to aim without a support, and that the trigger has no spring. It’s just a lever: if you pull the trigger slowly, there is no spark from the flint.
  • Pharrell Williams: “Clap your hands if you feel like a room without a roof, that is / Clap your hands if you feel like an untenanted ruin / Because I’m happeeeeeee”
  • The Franciscan monastery of Lapis Albus – Visovac, on an island in River Krka, has an anti-Serbian memorial room reminding visitors of anti-Catholic acts committed during the 1990s war. The Church (es) does not seem to be a force for peace or reconciliation here.
  • I just bought the e-book version of a fat scifi novel I’m already reading on paper. Because I need the search function to make sense of a few things.
  • Saw some Geminids.
  • I’ve never paid much attention to Lady Gaga, but her singing on the tune “Shallow” is pretty damn impressive!
  • Oh great. The wifi driver on a semi-old Samsung laptop running Windows 8 is not part of the operating system. It’s a separately installed program called Qualcomm something. The kind that you clean out as a matter of course when you find a lot of small useless programs cluttering up the machine. Fortunately wasn’t super complicated to fix using another machine that was still online and a USB stick. The Samsung laptop itself has no IP jack.
  • German-Swedish archaeology professor Jörn Staecker has died aged 57. )-:

Author: Martin R

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

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

  1. Gaga seems to have astonished a lot of people and has been highly praised for her acting performance in the remake of A Star Is Born. I’m no great fan (although there are plenty worse), and there is something I can’t even begin to explain about Bradley Cooper that really irritates me, but I’m curious to watch it.


  2. I am no fan of that genre of music, but it was always obvious to me that Lady Gaga is a talented singer.

    It’s also no surprise to me that good singers can act. A singer often has to play the role of the song’s narrator. Okay, it’s only typically about four minutes at a time, but going from playing a role for four minutes to playing one over a feature-length film is a smaller step than playing the role of the song’s narrator for four minutes. That’s especially true when you become known for your outrageous costumes in music videos, as Lady Gaga is.


  3. I guess military muskets were not really aimed, just used to spray lead at dense formations of other massed infantry. It also is why Native American Indians used a much smaller caliber gun, about .58 caliber, so the could aim them more easily.


    1. Actually T M Hamilton an amateur scholar who was the main expert on Indian trade guns up through the 1980’s said muskets can be aimed up to about 40 yards or so. So use in hunting was possible for Native American Indians who were expert at stalking game and fought at close range and were therefore able to use gunsights which all trade guns had. Interestingly after the Revolutionary War The Upper Creeks got rifles, presumably from US traders while the Lower Creeks continued getting smoothbore guns which were more suited to warfare. I’ve seen a picture of a reenactor shooting a buffalo at close range with a Northwest Trade Gun, which continued in use through at least the late eighteenth century and was a .58 caliber smoothbore.


      1. Wikipedia states that a smooth bore musket was accurate enough to shoot someone at a range of 200-300 yards. That’s pure horse manure. You would be doing extremely well to shoot someone at that range with an accurate rifle with iron sights. Look at the size of someone 200m away from you and you get the point,

        Interesting reflection: a lot of people have pondered why Australian Aboriginal people did not mount more concerted resistance to European settlers. Well, in a lot of cases they did, or tried, but they had been heavily impacted by disease. One on one, an Aboriginal warrior with a handful of hardwood spears and a spear thrower had as much fire power as a trooper armed with a smooth bore musket, and he could ‘reload’ faster. The big difference was that the Aboriginal men fought as individuals, while the troopers fought as a (more or less) disciplined group, with staggered volley fire – the second and then third rank would fire a simultaneous volley while the others reloaded, and then repeat in rotation (as depicted in that brilliant film Zulu, although by then the British soldiers were using the highly effective Henry breech loading rifle – the Zulus had some, but had no idea how to sight them).

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    2. There’s a Historical Village at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat (Vic.). As part of each day’s display there is a demonstration of the smooth bore muskets used by the Australian constabulary back in the convict era (Britain’s troops used rifles – the Colonies were issued smooth bores). The accepted accuracy was that anywhere within 30 degrees of the point of aim was likely to get hit, so the faster an escapee ran, the better his chance of avoiding a bullet. Once the shot was fired, reloading time was pretty slow as well.


  4. There’s a great book on the North American gun trade with the native tribes Thundersticks. The gun trade was quite extensive, and every tribe had to buy guns or get wiped out by their rivals. The Europeans traded guns for animal skins in the north and slaves in the south. They had to keep their customers satisfied or they’d be completely unable to trade. That meant providing guns customized for ambushes, providing customer support in the form of an on-site armorer and supplies like shot and gunpowder. While the natives never built an industrial base, guns totally reshaped their politics and economies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually a major part of the Southeastern North American trade was deerskins. The slave trade dated between 1660 and 1715, intensifying after the foundation of the Carolina colony in 1670. The argument that the author of Thundersticks makes against the notion that Indians only used guns for the bang and flash was largely confined to the Northeast. Southeastern scholars always realized that guns were a preferable weapon despite the shorter range and handicap in wet weather compared to bows and arrows. Glad to see someone from a fancy northeastern university has caught up to the lowly southerners.


  5. Speaking of warfare; I often watch Karl Kasarda and Ian wossname, ” Gun Jesus” , at InRange and Forgotten Weapons.
    A lot of the flak they get for commonsense claims, like “military bolt-action rifles are obsolete” or “bullpup rifles serve no real purpose for civilian users” are due to people having an emotional investment into something that is easy to test.
    The obvious analog is the refusal by the officer class a century ago to admit the machine gun made cavalry obsolete, even though the Russia-Japanese war had demonstrated things had changed.
    – . . . . .
    War -as in raids for looting or for revenge- must be as old as the species. And minor intraspecies clashes with lethal outcome must go back to early multicellular animals.
    The strategies species (and humans) use to de-escalate and avoid a potentially damaging confrontation are of more interest than the confrontations themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Religion comment # Infinity + 1:
    Adam Woods Youtube series “Muhammed Hijab and Allah the Man-God is a useful source of information about a rival religion, but I get slightly irritated.
    They expect muslims to disregard a lifetime of conditioning and follow logic,when their own brand of (evangelical) christianity relies so heavily of the fourth gospel, which is so much different from the others it has “apocryphia” stamped all over it.
    Now, I will go back and learn more about the god with two right hands.


  7. Strong selective sweeps before 45,000BP displaced archaic admixture across the human X chromosome.

    This paper carries some weighty implications. It sets a narrative something like this: There were (at least) two waves of migration of modern humans out of Africa, the first some time between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, and the second ~60,000 years ago. The first group are the ‘ghost’ population (i.e. of whom no human remains have been found) named Basal Eurasians, who did not interbreed with Neanderthals. The main interbreeding event with Neanderthals happened after the second group migrated out, ~55,000 years ago, putatively somewhere in the Middle East.

    Then, during a fairly tight time interval of about 10,000 years, the second group interbred with the first group, and evidently subsequently displaced them, or they died out for other reasons. And this interbreeding caused a strong selective sweep to occur on the X chromosome which purged Neanderthal introgression – not clear why, but it could have been because males who carried the Basal Eurasian X chromosome could have been more fertile.

    Some things don’t appear to add up. Modern Aboriginal Australians have Neanderthal ancestry (and Denisovan ancestry, but that interbreeding event happened more recently, ~35,000 years ago). But there is apparently reliable archaeological evidence of a human presence in Australia by ~65,000 years ago. It looks possible that the people who left that evidence may have come from the first Out of Africa migration event, and then subsequently died out, and that modern Aboriginal people are descended from people from the second migration wave. The oldest human remains found in Australia date to about 37,000 years ago (that ties in fairly neatly with what Eske Willerslev’s group found from genetic dating). All of Australia has been a poor preservational environment, so I am not expecting any discovery of remains older than that to shed further light on it, but it looks plausible.

    There is also evidence of a human presence in southern China 80,000 – 120,000 years ago, and in island SE Asia by about 70,000 years ago. Likewise, they could have been from people from the first migration event who subsequently died out. That would fit with the archaeological evidence of an early human presence in Australia.

    The thing to bear in mind is that dating by genetic means is necessarily much more approximate than dating from geological evidence because it relies on estimates of mutation rates, etc. But the more researchers can detect events like strong selective sweeps and interbreeding events, the more time-constrained the various events become, and hence more reliable.


  8. The impressive journey of a young wedge tailed eagle. Wedgies are pretty impressive birds – very big wing spans, and big vicious beaks and claws. So this young male was hatched in the Perth hills, took off on a flight that took him over some of the harshest, driest country in central and western Australia, nearly to the northern coast and at altitudes of more than 3 km, and then made a return journey, reached the southern coast, and has arrived back 1 km from where he was born.


  9. Wife is aware that I really suffered from the cold last winter, so she has been engaged in a veritable orgy of coat-buying for me, in a range of warnesseses, and I have recycled a lot of my old stuff, some of which was indeed very old (like pre-Daughter vintage and earlier).

    For the warmest stuff, she has gone full-on Haglöfs. So, come the very cold weather, I will be a Haglöfs Man – I rely on my Swedish advisers to tell me if that is good or bad, but I like what she has bought for me; it’s soft, comfortable, allows good freedom of movement, definitely not bulky, plus it’s wind and waterproof. What I don’t yet know is whether it will be warm enough for the coldest of the cold weather – difficult to tell until it gets cold enough; the coats are deceptively thin compared to most other padded jackets. I had one older padded jacket that was just way too thick, bulky and uncomfortable to wear; it made me feel like the Michelin Tyre Man, so much so that I avoided wearing it when I really needed to, thereby defeating the whole purpose of buying it in the first place. So, Wife has inherited that, because she has always liked wearing stuff that is too big for her (right from when we were first married, she would grab my favourite sweaters to wear).

    Other parts of the battle plan: (1) Last winter, there was a period of 6 weeks when I felt so cold that I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and go to the gym (which is really self-defeating, because the gym is one place I can get moving and get myself warmed up), and just sat hunched over my computer all the time (very bad idea – I sat there immobile, aside from shivering, for so long that I lost track of time and started losing whole days; one week I lost two days; no recollection that they had happened), so I lost an awful lot of physical condition, and it was a long, hard effort requiring a lot of determination to get that back once the weather warmed up enough for me to be able myself to get mobilised to go and work out again. So, over summer, I have been working hard at building myself up as much as possible, with the intention that I will hopefully be able to keep that going through the really cold days, clad in my slinky new Haglöfs duds. (2) Last winter, my skin got very badly ravaged by the cold, dry weather, particularly the very cold, dry NW monsoon wind that blows hard when the weather is at its coldest. So, my tactic is going to be to get myself into the wet sauna every time or so after working out, to see if that helps to counteract that. And I’ll see what happens. Plus of course adopting the Eric Doctrine of hat, scarf, gloves and warm footwear before going out into that hateful wind – minimising any exposed skin anywhere and keeping the extremities warm.

    The dry sauna at the gym is just insanely hot, 82C and of no interest to me, but the wet sauna is a more sensible 44C, and very very wet. That’s also good for the lungs, by the way – TMI, but the very humid air helps to fluidise mucous in the lungs so you can cough the stuff out, and also does the same with your nasal passages and sinuses, so you can keep them clean. My ENT doctor told me that – I had always assumed that hot dry air would be better for the lungs and sinuses, but he said no, it’s the opposite, and that I should make a habit of regularly sitting in a wet sauna. Well, here it’s a good idea – somewhere else might be different, I suppose.


  10. Goopshit – should be included in the OED as a new English word. In the post-modernist world we live in, many people make clear that the Truth is what they choose to believe it to be.

    “…we appreciate their guidance in this matter as we move from a pioneer in this space to an established wellness authority.” An established what??? Who appointed Goop as a health authority, exactly? Problem is, the more that Goop gets called out and penalized (trivially in proportion to its ill gotten gains) for making false, misleading and even dangerous statements, the more people go to the site to see what the fuss is about, and in the words of the grasping Gwynneth Paltrow: “I can monetize those eyeballs.” Can people read that and not see her for what she is, when she is making it perfectly clear herself?


  11. Today’s Cantonese lesson: In Canto, Santa Claus is called “sing daan lo yan” – literal translation: “holy birthday old person.” Not too imaginative or descriptive; no “fat old person with a big white beard in a red suit with white trim and a sleigh full of goodies drawn by reindeer that can fly”, just “old person somehow associated with a holy birthday.” Well, I guess they can be excused for being slightly confused about the association; it’s certainly not obvious. What was obvious to me by the age of 4, having begun to entertain serious doubts at age 3, was that it was all bullshit – I would be dragged into department stores and various other places to see “Father Christmas”, and even Blind Freddy could have known that it was a whole bunch of different diseased looking old fat guys with foul breath and bad fake beards. Plus it was equally blindingly obvious that the neighbours’ kids always got much better stuff than I got, even though I was obviously much better behaved than them and knew it. Not an experience I ever enjoyed – no idea why adults would think it would be, or why they felt compelled to try to make me believe in something so pointless. But adults do a lot of that kind of stuff to kids – I didn’t; I remained steadfastly non-committal and let my daughter figure things out for herself, which she was well able to do. Well, I did once commit the sin of telling her that an Australian stock whip, used for herding cattle and sheep while on horseback, was a “rabbit whip” for taming wild rabbits – I felt dreadful guilt when she actually believed me, so never tried that sort of stupid joke again. She trusted me implicitly, still does when the subject is something she knows that I know about, and it was a betrayal of that trust not to always tell her the truth, or just say I didn’t know when that was the case.

    Canto for Merry Christmas is “sing daan faai lok” – lit. “holy birthday happy”. The adjective coming after the noun is a bit of a weird word order, but it’s replicated in Happy New Year, which is “san nin faai lok” – lit. “new year happy”. “Faai lok” is definitely an adjective, not the noun “happiness”. The noun appears twice in the symbolic characters for marriage – the character for happiness twice side by side, so “double happiness”, usually accompanied by depictions of a dragon and a phoenix, representing male and female.


  12. Abdurahman bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Al-Hasan bin Jabir bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Abdurahman bin Ibn Khaldun was quite a guy. I haven’t read his autobiography, but the fact that he wrote one suggests that even he thought so.


    1. Amazingly, the home in which he was born and the mosque he studied in are still intact, and evidently still in use. Well, maybe the home is not being used as a home by someone, although it looks well preserved – it would be beyond belief if it was occupied by some of his descendants. But the mosque appears to be still in use as such – what else would it be? It’s tiny, though.


  13. Jennifer Raff’s top picks for 2018 – easy read, very good brief summaries, and a reminder that it has been a highly productive year for palaeogenomics, with the promise of a lot more to come. Almost makes me wish I had a Forbes subscription so I could read more of her public engagement stuff. I try not to be too much of a fawning fan just because she’s slender, athletic and pretty in a country where those attributes are becoming a rare commodity (and an accomplished kick-boxer)(and a mother)(and a good scientific anthropologist with a sound grasp of genetics and, as far as I can judge, relevant archaeology), but she is good at communicating science to a lay public audience, I think.

    Five Amazing Things We Learned About History From Ancient DNA In 2018.

    I think her top pick, the discovery of the girl who had a Denisovan father and a Neanderthal mother, but one most closely related to European Neanderthals rather than Neanderthals who had inhabited the Denisova Cave, strongly hinting that some Neanderthals had undertaken a very long distance migration, and that some Neanderthals and Denisovans had wound up encountering one another in territory that was probably marginal for both in terms of survival, deserved No. 1 status.

    I think she is making a mistake in writing a book – it is pretty predictable that it will be obsolete even before it is in print. Better to publish a series of essays that track new discoveries and meld them with existing knowledge and theories. David Reich regrets writing the book he wrote, even though it is still a very worthwhile read – it took him away from research for two precious years, and garnered a lot of undeserved and ill informed criticism, although I think history is likely to judge it more kindly.

    I don’t have too much sympathy for the ethics issues surrounding genomic analysis of ancient remains. I can’t help feeling that Raff has a careful eye on keeping her job in relation to this – not that I blame her for that. Ethical concerns about genetic data of living people are a lot more genuine. The reality is that a lot of the present day Cherokee ‘Chiefs’ carry no Native American genes at all. Modern indigenous groups’ claims to direct descent from ancient people, and therefore ‘ownership’ of the remains by various tribes and what is said about them, are at the least extremely tenuous or delusional in most cases, and at worst just a cynical exercise. Include them in the work by all means, if they have anything at all to contribute, but don’t give them power of veto or control over what is published, not unless you want to end up publishing a lot of mythology and retrospectively manufactured ‘cultural’ horse manure, or nothing at all.

    Putting a brake on such research due to fabricated ethical concerns would serve no one’s interests. I know I laud Eske Willerslev and his group a fair bit, but I think he has established a good standard and modus operandi to go by, and it has worked demonstrably well. And the indigenous groups involved have declared themselves very happy with the outcomes. You can’t do better than that. He should give a lecture series on it, or write it all down so that it can become the gold standard.

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  14. Historical Genomes Reveal the Genomic Consequences of Recent Population Decline in Eastern Gorillas.

    A clever piece of work, but it carries the disheartening implication that it might already be too late for a lot of big bodied mammals which have suffered very major population declines leading to loss of vital genetic diversity in recent times, leading to inbreeding and accumulation of a lot of deleterious alleles which will be passed on. Short term bottlenecks followed by population recovery are much less of a problem.

    This is an approach that could usefully be followed for other species including humans, making use of museum specimens to compare to present day populations. It seems certain that museum collections must contain a treasure trove of genetic information among their collections, some of them hidden away and virtually forgotten about for many decades. Reportedly, Q. Fu has been scouring Chinese museum collections for remains that could turn out to be Denisovan. But she has been ominously quiet for a long time now – I have an uneasy feeling about that; it’s not like she and her fellow modern geneticists don’t have their enemies in China.


  15. People living outside of the USA (there are some, surprisingly) might not be familiar with the so-called Hispanic Paradox which, roughly stated, is that, all things being equal in terms of broad indicators like income level, Hispanics living in America have better health outcomes than non-Hispanic whites. People have sought all kinds of social science type explanations for this (such as: only the healthy people migrate into the USA; the sick ones stay in their home countries), but nothing has stacked up. What everyone failed to do was to resort to real science and look at their genes. Duh.

    Genetically regulated gene expression underlies lipid traits in Hispanic cohorts.


  16. Pretty interesting short historical summary of the American economy from 1945 to 2018. The solution to the problem of what to do with all of those returning American soldiers (8 million served in the armed forces overseas during the war) was to turn Americans into a nation of rampant consumers.

    The factor missing from that summary is immigration, which Peter Turchin showed over the long term has a direct effect on income disparity, but I don’t think it’s a major flaw in the general narrative.


  17. If you want to know where Indians came from (or I should say South Asians = Indians + Pakistanis + Bengladeshis) and who the people were who built the Indus Valley Civilisation, you don’t need to spend hours reading Tony Joseph’s new book Early Indians, you can get a distillation of it in a few minutes from reading Razib Khan’s review of Tony Joseph’s book in India Today. [Naughty naked dancing girl statue alert – one way to get the punters paying attention, I suppose.]

    I want to say a word about Tony Joseph – despite the misleading name, he is an Indian national living in India (maybe some Anglo-Indian ancestry; no idea). The guy must have nerves of polished steel, because he regularly contradicts Hindu extremists (and, increasingly, mainstream Hindus, including academics, the Prime Minister and government cabinet ministers) about Indian origins in pieces in a lot of the big circulation Indian newspapers including India Today and the Hindu Times.

    He writes well and lucidly for a lay audience, and his book is probably a pleasure to read, but the world is full of books crying out to be read, and there is only so much time available to read them.


  18. Speaking of books crying out to be read, has anyone read Azar Gat’s book War in Human Civilisation (which actually covers war *before* human civilisation as well, all the way up to the near present day), and if so, is it worth the effort? It came out in, I think, 2006, but it’s a subject that doesn’t date fast, and it seems to be very highly thought of. I would love to read it, but it is a daunting 839 pages, and I don’t know how much war I can take.


  19. Interesting statement: “Contemporary genomics is a gigantic global project that is propelled primarily by its potential health applications. The largest genotyping capacity in the world is in China; the largest single data source is the UK biobank; the epicenter of important statistical advances has been Australia; the most extensively genotyped nation is Iceland. In the United States, the largest datasets are held by a private corporation that individuals have paid to have assay their saliva.” If you had the impression that the USA is leading the world in genomics, it’s not wrong exactly, but the reality is more complex. Australia popping up as the world leader in statistical advances probably comes as a surprise to many; plus maybe also that the UK has the single largest data source, in a collective public enterprise that I just can’t praise highly enough.

    The Arrival of Social Science Genomics.

    You might not want to give the whole thing a close read, but you can get the key points pretty well by giving it a quick scan. Criticisms of social science genomics by sociologists like Catherine Bliss might be worth reading solely because they are pure comedy – she gets wrong everything that she could possibly get wrong. She doesn’t even understand what a null hypothesis is. If she had set out to write a book to demonstrate the stupidity of sociologists and their abject failure to comprehend modern biological science, she coudn’t have done a better job. I’m tempted to suggest that the major malaise that afflicts the social sciences is that they are populated by idiots. The people among them who are not idiots see the merit, and the imperative, of incorporating genomics as an essential component, while knowing full well that very few things can be explained by genes alone.

    I understand a lot of things intuitively that I am not great at verbalising or explaining. This paper sets out moderately well why I don’t believe in genetic determinism. A trait as simple as height is highly polygenic, and even then not wholly heritable because a whole range of environmental factors play an important role. It is proving to be the case that the same goes for very many important human traits, including intelligence and personality. They can’t be predicted from genotyping, which can only give probabilities, and even then those probabilities can’t factor in the unknowns of environmental factors. And even if someone is in the intelligence ‘sweet spot’ around IQ 135, who turn out as a group to be the highest income earners, it avails them nothing if they lack the industriousness to apply it, the inability to work cooperatively and respectfully with other people, or the sense, or even the vocation, to choose what to apply it to in order to maximise income. There’s not much joy in being a well-off financial auditor if you detest your work and it makes your life a misery. If you have the vocation to jet off to the Congo to combat Ebola and that makes you feel that you have lived a life worth living, well, admiration for people like that, and a note that none of them become wealthy from doing it, and some lose their lives in the process.


  20. Ethnicity is Just an Estimate – Yes, Really!

    Um, no, it isn’t even that, Roberta. That’s in the category of ‘not even wrong.’

    If I was the sort of person who falls about laughing, rather than feeling internally amused and derisive, this piece would have me rolling on the floor in uncontrollable mirth. I should say that the blogger, Roberta Estes, is no idiot – she is an expert at unraveling genealogies, both her own and other peoples, at least in the USA. She’s the sort of person that American law enforcement agencies would go to in trying to solve very old cold cases, if there weren’t people to go to who are even better at it. One reason I don’t haunt her blog is that I have zero interest in my own family genealogy, and no interest in anything she says. I have my reasons. “For genealogists, the gold is in the cousin matching.” Seriously? I know all of my first cousins, second cousins and a few third cousins, and none of them is worth a knob of goat shit, or has any interest in me and my family at all as people, as many of them have made abundantly clear. Why on earth would I want to find out about my vast tribe of fourth cousins inhabiting various parts of the Anglosphere? I don’t. They are nothing to me.

    As far as unearthing ancestors, the family genealogists (two maternal uncles) both hit a brick wall once they reached the generation who migrated to Australia (all of my grandparents were born in Australia; all of their parents were migrants to Australia). The only person who ever told me anything about where her parents came from was my decidedly eccentric paternal grandmother, who was obsessive about convincing me that I am actually Scottish, that my ancestral origins lie in Fife where her parents were born and grew up (hence their desire to migrate to Queensland; somewhere they could get warm after the unrelenting climatic misery of Fife, I guess), and that I carry the blood of the Bruces, Black Douglases and Campbells (knowledge, which if true, is of no earthly use to me – I’m not about to go parading around in a kilt or trying to claim the throne of Scotland if it becomes independent).

    But I’m not remotely Scottish and have no wish to be. No other grandparent was willing or able to say anything much at all about their parents. My Protestant Irish Great Grandmother had a lot to say about the hatred and disrespect she had for her father and how she was spat on by Catholics in the main street of Listowel [which spell check wanted to change to ‘dishtowel’], but nothing beyond that – turns out she was the product of German Palatines who were relocated to Ireland (hence some indeterminate variety of Protestant, probably as the nearest approximation to Lutheran), not ‘Celtic’ people at all, which came as a rude shock to my sister – so my sister did what any good post-modernist would do; she chose not to believe it because it contradicted the truth she had constructed in her head about her non-existent ‘Celtic’ ancestry. It explained perfectly to me why great-gran chose to marry a Lutheran German migrant farmer in Australia, so that one little puzzle was solved, if it needed solving. I found out a bit about my German great grandfather’s parents, but that was pretty unedifying, and in any case of no practical import at all. [Once on Facebook, my sister once said to one of our first cousins: “Always remember, you are of proud Celtic and Viking stock!” – I couldn’t stop myself from chipping in and saying: “Actually, no, you’re not.” They both unfriended me, which I found pretty amusing.]

    But this piece is so stupid in relation to so much that I couldn’t help but read it for sheer derisive entertainment value.

    First up, understand that in this context, the word ethnicity is really just a euphemism for genetic population grouping (‘race’ if we were using the ‘r’ word, but we’re not) – and they totally confuse genetic population grouping for modern nationality in Europe!!! So, predominantly, white Americans get themselves genotyped hoping to find out what proportion of their ancestry belonged to the ‘French race’ or the ‘German race’ and they get very ticked off when Ancestry or 23andMe just can’t tell them that because they can’t differentiate between modern French and Germans, as much as those two national populations might detest that fact. That is stupid beyond belief. [Genetic diversity in Europe is more pronounced north to south than it is east to west, but on the whole really not very diverse at all.]

    [I have some sympathy for African Americans who get sucked in by African Ancestry, who claim they can tell them which African tribe their African ancestors came from, when they can’t possibly do anything like that.]

    Then the good hearted, well meaning Roberta overlays maps of American states on Europe to show Americans how ‘small’ Europe is in relation to Texas, for example. What possible point is there in doing that? Despite the size of the Americas, Native Americans are the least diverse major population (i.e. major ‘race’) in the world. Europeans are not diverse by the standards of many populations (e.g. Indians) and certainly not by the standards of Africans, but they are a lot more diverse than Native Americans. Overlaying maps demonstrates absolutely nothing, although her readers seemed to think that it explained everything to them. No, it explains absolutely nothing.

    The whole thing is just pathetically funny beyond words.


  21. I have over-simplified my ancestry slightly in the above account for the sake of demonstrating a point. As my hateful maternal grandfather often used to remark when people asked him why he was so dark, and why he had facial features that were somewhat suggestive of some Aboriginal ancestry: “There must have been a n*gger in the woodpile hahaha…” Yes, there was, but *she* was whitewashed out of existence by the family oral historians by having his mother be a migrant to Australia when in fact she wasn’t. That was the one thing in my family genealogy that I was interested in confirming, and I did get confirmation, first by a diligent search through parish records, etc. and piecing things together, and then by genotyping. But there the story ends – I can’t find out any more about her, because she has been so effectively whitewashed out of existence. I know which region of Australia her forebears lived in and probably where she came from, and that’s all.

    The point I was trying to demonstrate is that migration can and often does act as a ‘loss of history’ – the migratory voyage is a firewall that can’t be penetrated when no robust long term family links are maintained with those who didn’t migrate. Family members conveniently ‘losing’ an ancestor because their existence would be considered shameful sets up another impenetrable firewall.

    Tolkien seems to have been motivated to create a ‘history’ for the English because they didn’t have one. Yes they did, they must have, but with the migration of Germanic people into the UK, and with language shifts, and with interbreeding with the existing inhabitants, that history was lost to them. Those existing inhabitants who changed their names, customs and language in order to be accepted by and get along with the new Germanic overlords would have deliberately buried theirs. Instead of dreaming up a new one, he could have set about researching the history and mythology of the migrant peoples before they migrated, but that would necessarily have meant acknowledging that their history was that of ‘foreigners’ in mainland western Europe who, long before Tolkien’s time, no longer had any shared culture or language with the English, who were in any case hybrid people, to a greater extent than Tolkien must have imagined. Plus in Tolkien’s day, as a consequence of two world wars against a Germanic enemy, espousing an essentially Germanic history and mythology would have been at the very least unpalatable and likely something much worse.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. OT: Just finished the latest Jack Reacher book. And the latest SF by Alistair Reynolds, with protagonists descended from east africa instead of europe, nice variety there.


    1. By *real* Chinese, I am referring to the fact that Chua was born and raised in Illinois of parents who migrated to the USA from the Philippines. Her mother had lived in the Philippines from age 2. Only her father was a product of China proper, in Fujian, and he subsequently migrated to the Philippines as a young man, where he and his wife lived during the WWII Japanese occupation. Chua is not culturally Chinese.


  23. Judith Rich Harris has died at the age of 80. She did pretty well, considering she was plagued by ill health due to an autoimmune disease for most of her life. If her name doesn’t mean anything to you, she was the behavioural psychology researcher who dropped an absolute bombshell when her book The Nurture Assumption was published in 1998. Her colleagues and parents everywhere were equally outraged at her insistence that parents are not the most important factor in child development; in fact, she insisted that by the time people reach adulthood, the influence exerted by their parents while they were growing up is virtually non-existent. There is one component, heredity, and then there is the environmental ‘dark matter’ of behavioural psychology – no one knows where that comes from or what it is. Her thesis was that it must be peer influence, but subsequent research has failed to find really solid evidence for that.

    People were so enraged by her assertion that ‘parents don’t matter’ that an army of other behavioural psychologists spent decades trying to prove her wrong, and couldn’t. That didn’t prevent her career from suffering as a consequence of her outrageous assertions (she was dismissed from the PhD programme at Harvard because the ‘individuality and independence’ of her work didn’t satisfy Harvard’s expectations that she would toe the party line at the time, which was that parenting was the most important factor in a child’s development), which did nothing to stem the endless flow of ‘good parenting’ theories being peddled by people who had nothing but a slim bit of anecdotal evidence at best. In 2018, parents still cannot swallow the bitter pill that the best they can do for their children is to provide a safe, comfortable and supportive home and good nutrition, and good advice when their children ask for it; they cling to the conviction that their influence on their children absolutely *must* have a strong controlling effect on how their children turn out. It doesn’t.

    She followed up publication of The Nurture Assumption much later with another book titled No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality in 2006. In that book she sought to address what the environmental ‘dark matter’ is. I haven’t read the second book, so I have no idea how well she addressed the mystery, but people are still searching to discover what this dark matter is. I no longer care – my job as a parent, such as it was, is done, although I retain certain duties, such as unpaid taxi driver and proof reader of my daughter’s English language output (or that portion of it that I am able to comprehend). My wife does the editorial job on her Chinese language output.


  24. I was entertained to read this response by Judith Rich Harris to Jerome Kagan (a prominent American psychologist, older and ‘more established/respected’ than Harris) in a rather ‘brutal’ exchange in 1998 in which Kagan was attempting to criticize and belittle her work:

    “Stopping me – telling people that I don’t know what I’m talking about – will not help your cause. This is not a leak that can be plugged. It’s the beginning of a deluge. I know this must be upsetting to someone who has put in 45 years laboring under what has turned out to be a false premise. I don’t blame you for being mad at me. But killing the messenger will not stop the message.
    What I’m really shouting is not “Fire!” – it’s “Hey, the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” If that message sounds to you like “Fire!” it’s not surprising. After all, Jerry, you’re one of the tailors.


    That was telling him.


  25. Old NYT review of the Nurture Assumption:

    Not sure that Harris was right about the ‘deluge’ – crackpot theories about parenting have only increased since, rather than being washed away in the flood.

    Note the sales of that risible book by that detestable person Amy Chua: The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. My wife’s network of *real* Chinese mothers were all outraged by it, insulted that non-Chinese would think they were anything like Chua, and all agreed she was at least borderline guilty of child abuse.


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