December Pieces Of My Mind #3

Long walk through sunlit winter woods to Bollmora for cake.
  • I dream of a future with no spectator sports.
  • I’ve been lucky with my genealogy. I just found my first “father unknown”, a man in generation 5 born probably around 1800.
  • Movie: Green Book. Italian American bouncer as driver and bodyguard for a highly refined black pianist on a 1962 tour of the Deep South. Buddy movie across a racial divide. Grade: Excellent!
  • I’ve never watched Die Hard and the concept of a Christmas movie is unfamiliar to me.
  • People spray “1983” on walls in Šibenik. Local pride: that was the year when the town’s basketball team won the Yugoslavian nationals to everyone’s surprise.
  • Exchanged some thoughts with this guy about Israeli politics. Came to think about my kids. Listing only the religious affiliations that we know of, their ancestors have been Scandy pagans, Finnish pagans, Catholics, Lutherans, Russian Orthodox, Jews, Taoists, Buddhists and Maoists. And now these young folks have no stake in either of these creeds.
  • Remember deep fried parsley? Senseless 80s food fad.
  • I’m having a Kickstarter to buy myself the Agri decumates.
  • Heard of “purity balls”? It’s when you’ve recently washed your scrotum.
  • On the boat from Zlarin back to Šibenik was a loud cheerful older lady with a prominent black moustache. She looked just like Monty Python’s Terry Jones in drag.
  • I may have to go on the dole in January. I’ve decided to treat it as a study grant to read up on the Pre-Roman Iron Age in the Lake Mälaren area.
  • Tolkien understood something that many later fantasists (including Peter Jackson) have not: the land outside a Medieval town wall is used for agriculture and poor people’s housing.
  • My wife was concerned about the spruce needles raining off the Christmas tree. I told her not to worry. “They smell nice. Just think if we had gotten a tree made from raw chicken.”
  • Movie: Lady Bird. High school senior has various troubled relationships, notably with her mother. Grade: OK.
  • What if there’s fossil fuel on Mars?
  • The Smithereens should by rights have consisted of leftover musicians from the breakup of the Smiths.
  • “… Irish sources speak of warriors taking out the brains of their defeated victims and mixing them with lime to form a ‘brain ball’ that could be used as a weapon or displayed as a trophy” Enc Celtic Mythology & Folklore, P. Monaghan 2003, p. 242
  • I keep returning to this: perse means “asshole” in Finnish, and it is always worth replacing the expression “per se” with “asshole” when reading academic writing.
  • Everybody remembering to listen to the Christmas Oratorio?
  • I love love love my kids’ academic and archaic turns of phrase.
  • You own one knife and one fork that have so far never been used together for eating. You will never know which ones they are.
  • Hay-on-Wye is known as a book town. It has had a hugely popular annual literary festival since 1988 and used to have ~40 used book stores (currently ~2 dozens). I’ve known about the place for something like 30 years and been convinced that it’s in Cornwall. Recently I met the Hay Festival’s sustainability officer and learned that it’s in southern Wales.
Fisksätra Marina hibernating


Author: Martin R

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

15 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind #3”

  1. You’re unacquainted with christmas movies? Surely you’ve seen one of the numerous adaptations of A Christmas Carol. I guess it’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are pretty USA centric.


  2. A future with no spectator sports? We would lose such sources of holiday cheer as seeing the Tide thoroughly cuck and pwn the Sooner soy boys in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night. Saban was mad at his team anyway for just winning by 11 points.


  3. “I keep returning to this: perse means “asshole” in Finnish”
    Actually it means only “ass”. Asshole is persläpi. (In these days of hate speech, you better get yours insults right.)


  4. wanted to go see the Green Room, but it’s already off circuit here.. drat.
    yes, the whole idea of a Christmas movie seems to be a US TV-based phenomenon.. it’s alien to me too as a South-African emigrant.
    In addition to the Christmas Oratorio, my new tradition (wait..) is the Cambridge King’s Choir festival of lessons and carols, available on the BBC live and for a month afterward. It features a new carol each year, which is also an oddly dissonant concept..


  5. In the 1980s, there were sometimes Spitting Image Christmas specials on TV, making fun of the idiocy and corruption of the last year. I really miss that.
    This year I found a gem on Youtube with a comedian under the headline “2018 : The year Aretha Franklin had a better year than you”.


  6. I have only seen one of the Die Hard movies. I think it was the second in the series; it’s the one set at Washington Dulles Airport. Several plot elements are patently ridiculous and it is painfully obvious that airport security was pre-9/11. So you haven’t missed much.

    I am not aware of a Christmas movie/TV special (other than year-in-review type shows like the ones Birger mentioned, or things like the Queen’s message in Commonwealth countries) that does not assume a US (or at least North American) cultural setting.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I’m having a Kickstarter to buy myself the Agri decumates.” What, all of them?

    The first Die Hard film was actually pretty good, and you would get the Christmas connection if you watched it (i.e. definitely not the way you would want to spend Christmas). It was borderline credible, but just barely. All of the sequels have had to try to outdo the preceding film in order to keep selling the franchise to the punters, so the plots have become increasingly ridiculous and not credible. The first film had the hero say something that is instantly memorable to every person who has ever seen it and probably by now familiar to a lot of people who haven’t, after the foreign (obviously) villain refers to him as a cowboy: “Yippee kai yay, motherfucker.” (Origin: the now obscure old American pop song “I’m an Old Cow Hand from the Rio Grande” – I mean the yippee kai yay part, not the other part.)


  8. Here you go – the wonders of the Internet. Apparently that line was so popular, they have had Bruce Willis repeat it in every one of the sequels. Hollywood logic – if something sold, keep endlessly reselling the same damn thing.


  9. More on Judith Rich Harris. Pretty enlightening about academia.

    “We are in considerable doubt that you will develop into our professional stereotype…” (Obviously not OK, that.) “…she suddenly realized she didn’t believe what she was telling readers…” (Too honest for her own good.) So she was kicked out of her PhD programme and locked out of academia. And still in 2019, most people don’t believe what is actually abundantly clear to any clear eyed observer.

    It’s not that children don’t behave the way that their parents want them to when they are children and in the presence of their parents – most of them do most of the time. It’s obvious that adolescents are not trying to emulate mature adults, they are emulating other adolescents to some extent at least (unless they are as rebellious and single minded as my daughter, who belligerently resisted any kind of peer pressure), filtered by innate genetically derived personality traits. Social media amplify this, and even work on so-called ‘mature’ adults. What it is, is that when the children become adults, as long as their childhood was relatively benign, it doesn’t impact much on the way they turn out – that’s down to genetics + the ‘dark matter’ of environment (broad sense). Most people spend their lives trying to act out the roles that other people want them to play – someone notable said that once, don’t remember who but I’ve never forgotten it.

    The thing I like most about Rich Harris’ work is that she sought to alleviate parents’ guilt-tripping over the minutiae of child-rearing. “If only we had forced her to be more independent, she wouldn’t be so helpless and clingy.” “If only we hadn’t forced her to be more independent, she would have been closer and more supportive in our old age.” “If only I had played Mozart to my vagina while I was pregnant, she would have turned out to be smarter.” Nope. Mostly, unless subjected to actual abuse, and given a safe, supportive home environment, good enough nutrition and educational opportunities, kids turn out as adults the way they turn out.

    She did have her own stubborn crackpot theories about human evolution, though, notably in relation to hairlessness and skin colour, things she actually had no particular competence or learning in. Well, people still don’t understand skin colour perfectly, but she wasn’t to know that. She was smart, but not perfect.


      1. Yes, I know he did.

        Paraphrasing as best I can:
        1. She considered that Neanderthals must have been covered in long hair, because they had no known sewn clothing to enable them to survive in a cold climate, and they couldn’t stay huddled by the campfire all the time because they only ate big animals and needed to go out to hunt.
        2. She considered that modern humans couldn’t have had dark skins after they evolved to be hairless, because they turned pale so fast when they migrated out of Africa.


      2. Helbig, I was just about to go to bed last night when your request arrived. If you are having difficulty working out what is wrong with Rich Harris’ dogmatic opinions on those subjects, let me know and I will try to point you in some right directions. I’m not the ideal person to do that, but I have read enough into those subjects to have a pretty good idea of where she was wrong.

        OTOH, you could come back to me with your own ideas on why she was wrong, which would both surprise and delight me if you are on the right track, and i could fill in some gaps.

        Plus consider this: smart people are capable of being very wrong and even batshit crazy when opining about things that are outside of what they know. Steve Pinker (I think rightly) thinks highly of Rich Harris’ work in her own field, but when she strayed outside of it, her ideas were just uninformed and dumb. The troubling part is that she was so dogmatic about them (humility and listening non-judgementally to others are important) – things that were ‘obvious’ to her sitting in the house she was confined to for decades by ill health, and evidently not reading the relevant literature, just thinking about things and dreaming up her own theories. The other consideration is that when she died recently she was already 80 and no doubt in cognitive decline, and a lot of what is known about these things is fairly or even very new, and her capacity to take it in might well have been limited by that time, particularly if she had not been following all of the relevant literature all of the way through, and with no scientific background. She understood statistics very well, but no actual science.

        Her smartness was in seeing clearly what other researchers didn’t in reams of data from twin and adoption studies, because the other researchers were all blinded by confirmation bias, i.e. they were ideologically primed to expect to find that parental influence had a big effect, and so they failed to see all of the evidence pointing to the fact that it doesn’t. Rich Harris herself got a big shock when she first realized that what she was seeing was not what she was expecting, and that what she had been writing was false. And she had the guts to admit that and publish it, and was punished by the academic establishment for ‘not conforming to the expected stereotype’ (I can’t believe some tenured academic in a position of power and responsibility actually wrote that to her, but this sort of thing is still very much alive and well today, although people don’t use those words – e.g. you can read up on why Alice Dreger walked away from a tenured position in academia).

        I think that is what Pinker admires her for. It’s almost self-admiration coming from him, because he did the same or a similar thing when he wrote The Blank Slate, which is a classic and one of the truly great books of the late 20th Century. He also upset a lot of people mouthing the ‘accepted narratives’ when he wrote The Better Angels Of Our Nature, but I think he was on point (whether humanity continues on that upward trajectory remains to be seen – I suspect we might be witnessing it begin to turn downwards now). OTOH I think his defence of Larry Summers was wrong-headed.


      3. She didn’t publish anything on it, that I know of. I only know about those ideas she had because Razib Khan once asked her 10 Questions (he went through a phase of that, where he would ask 10 Questions of eminent people in their fields and report their answers), and she volunteered those ideas in response to a couple of his questions (which were not intended to be about those things). He diplomatically avoided responding to her opinions. Well, the point of the exercise was not to debate anything, it was Q&A. He did report that she was very kind and responsive in her manner when he emailed her, but she came across to me as very dogmatic in her answers, more so than many other people he put questions to. Maybe her life experience had made her like that, I don’t know. It seems possible.

        Razib also thinks highly of Pinker, for what it’s worth.


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