Open Thread For January

What are your biggest plans and hopes for 2019? I have no big plans and only one big hope: to find a steady job where my archaeological knowledge and skills matter.

Author: Martin R

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

157 thoughts on “Open Thread For January”

  1. And in other climate-related news, we are having a less air-polluted winter thanks to El Niño. Weaker NE-N-E winds means less industrial shit from the Mainland blown our way, and more frequent rain takes a lot of the respirable suspended particulates out of the air.

    Nothing against female children, but La Niña does us no favours on air quality in winter, when it is invariably much worse than summer.


  2. Meanwhile, speaking of female children, have I ever mentioned that I have the world’s best and most beautiful Daughter? Must have overheard me telling Wife that I lacked a fleece ‘mid-layer’ to go under my new cold weather coats, so last night, without anyone asking her, she took a detour during her long commute home after a long hard day at work to go and buy me one: right size, right colour, right everything, out of her own money. Didn’t mention it when she got home. I only found out when Wife handed it to me today.

    The minor tragedy about this is that, the way the weather is going, I might not need it this winter. But you never know, and there’s always next winter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, It’s a bit more complicated than I have ineptly tried to describe – not that I’m sure the SCMP’s explanation is much better:

    All I know is that air quality is currently Good, when this time of year it should be Shit.

    And it’s not ‘could be’ – it has already been and is continuing to happen. It’s been a real breath of fresh air. Very damp, not too cold, and good air – just the way we swamp dwellers like it (except for Daughter, who prefers the cold, although she does also prefer gloomy, overcast weather).


  4. Rhymes with Pell:
    Fell (adj.) Cell, Hell.
    You know, the threat of hell is supposed to deter people from misbehaving.
    Looks like it’s (grabs megaphone) NOT $€@ WORKING !!!!!!!


    1. You forgot Smell (as in bad).

      I have puzzled over the hell question, and the sin question. So many priests have done this stuff (and nuns, notably wrt sadism), that they must either be among the world’s worst hypocrites, or else they have some really weird way of rationalizing it. Maybe they just confess it and do penance, and that gets rid of it for them, and they are protected by the confidentiality of the confessional (but not any more in Australia, they’re not – the law has overridden the church on that and ruled that priests can’t take refuge in the excuse that they need to keep confession of such crimes confidential as a legal defence, so in future they will be liable to prosecution). I can think of other ways of getting rid of it.

      But Anglicans, Salvation Army and some other sects have gone in for it too, and they don’t have confession, or the (unacceptable) excuse that they were driven to it by celibacy. I can think of ways of getting rid of their ‘problems’ too. Multiple.


    2. In my more charitable moments, I find myself hoping on behalf of the people who preach about hell that it doesn’t exist. Because if it does, that’s where almost all of them are going.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. California just got a new governor.
    And Russian media is doing a desinformation campaign to make Russian people think western European countries in general and Sweden in particular are hellholes, that have legalised pedophilia.


  6. File under “Better Living with Chemistry”.

    That eloquent (much more in writing than spoken, as evidenced by a recent podcast) physician Omar Ali points to this article:

    Don’t throw out your expired drugs, if they are useful and you still remember what they are for and the dosages you should take (clear explanatory labeling will take care of that), because they still work and, if stored properly, will go on working for decades, and won’t poison you.


  7. I guess everyone already knows about this, but just in case – if you want to check your Internet speed, you can go to:

    Hosted by Netflix, interestingly or not. Well, they have a vested interest in streaming content.

    If your speed is way down below what it should be, it probably means someone is hitchhiking on your Wifi network, so you need to stop them from doing that.


  8. “Republicans almost universally advocate low taxes on the wealthy, based on the claim that tax cuts at the top will have huge beneficial effects on the economy. This claim rests on research by … well, nobody. There isn’t any body of serious work supporting G.O.P. tax ideas, because the evidence is overwhelmingly against those ideas.”


    1. In the 1970s an economist with the ironically appropriate surname Laffer drew a curve on a napkin to make the argument that there was a tax rate at which tax revenue was maximum. Republican politicians used this curve to support the idea that tax rates needed to be reduced, based on the claim that US tax rates were then beyond the maximum in the curve.

      In one sense the Laffer curve is trivially true. There is a basic theorem of calculus that says that any non-constant function (tax revenues as a function of tax rates would fall into that category) must have a maximum. But the theorem in question is an existence theorem: it gives no information regarding where that maximum is located. There never was any evidence that the curve’s actual shape was anywhere nearly as symmetric as Laffer drew it, or that actual US tax rates were beyond the maximum.

      This is one of the ways in which the practice of economics resembles Lysenkoism. It would be convenient for many powerful people if these economic ideas were true, just as it would have been convenient for Soviet propaganda if Lysenko’s ideas had been true. But there never has been any evidence that these economic ideas actually are true, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, much as Lysenko’s theories proved less capable than Mendelian genetics at predicting the inheritance of characteristics.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Bloody spell check. Messaging my daughter. It kept changing “arvo” (Australian English for afternoon) to “Argo”. Plus, trying to ape the way Arnold Schwarzenegger talks by typing “You haf to sharck da marscles” (trans. “You have to shock the muscles”, which is true, you do) and it kept changing “marscles” to “Mars led”. What?

    Daughter told me this morning that elephants suffer from PTSD. Didn’t know that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a web site called, which appears to be temporarily offline, devoted to some of the hilarity that ensues when spell checkers think they know better than the people who are typing.


    1. “Jolly” West, former CIA employee. Sounds like a villain out of some Hollywood B Grade movie.

      Giving a drug like that to an animal as big and strong as an elephant has to qualify as symptomatic of mental illness. He was probably lucky Tusko collapsed with seizures and then died.

      A state of war exists between humans and 6,000 wild elephants in Assam. They keep expanding the tea plantations, which disrupt the elephant trails. The elephants won’t eat the tea plants (interesting), but they stop to rest in the tea plantations and trample the plants, so the humans try to drive them away with fireworks, etc. Elephants feel like their young are being threatened, so they charge. First rule – don’t plant your farm across an elephant migration route if you don’t want big trouble. Last year, elephants killed 70 people in Assam, and 70 elephants died (mostly from falling into deep defensive ditches dug by the tea farmers). At that rate, the humans will outlast the elephants, but the elephants will go down fighting.

      As an undergrad, my daughter befriended a very small, nervous girl from Assam. I bought my daughter a pepper spray (legal in Western Australia) to carry with her when she had to be out at night (the area around the university and student residences is a hunting ground for male predators). When I found out her friend often had to be out at night, I offered to buy her a pepper spray too. “Oh, no need” she said, shoving her hand into her handbag, “I always carry this.” And pulled out a big plastic bag full of dried chilli powder. “And I also use it to sprinkle some of it on my lunch *giggle*.” Perfect solution – a defensive weapon you can eat because you have personal immunity to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. All is not lost. The Assamese have a plan which they are putting into action, to relocate farmers away from the elephant trails, so the farmers can farm in peace, and the elephants can resume using their trails in peace. It is reported to be difficult, but achievable. The farmers are willing to move – they don’t enjoy being invaded by a herd of up to 100 elephants, which suddenly appear during the night (now there’s a scary vision). It doesn’t solve the problem that the elephants’ habitat is steadily being reduced, but I guess it is a start in the right direction.

        Many Assamese revere elephants, seeing them as the earthly manifestation of Ganesha the Elephant God, the Remover of Obstacles, so they are strongly motivated to try to protect the elephants. For once at least, I hope religion wins.


  10. If elephants are immune to Y. Pestis, they should start getting marmots as symbionts, riding along with them. Screw that, get xenomorphs.
    The news that muslims volunteer to clean up the US national parks has now gotten the kooks to say “so *ther’es* where those 100 million illegal muslim immigrants are hiding”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Local ‘independence activists’ (who are a small group of fringe loonies) and ‘democracy’ activists (who are a larger group, who successfully torpedoed a government attempt to actually make the CE elections *more* democratic because the proposal still wasn’t ‘perfect’) objected to PLA soldiers from the garrison resident in HK (for the defence of HK against external threats) helping by cleaning up typhoon debris blocking the Country Park trails, claiming it as yet more evidence of increasing encroachment by Beijing on HK’s freedoms. As it was, they deliberately chose to help out in the Country Parks where they would have minimum public visibility so they wouldn’t spook the locals. So, we’ll see if the no doubt bemused soldiers are quite so willing to volunteer to help next time.


  11. Celebrity Master Surgeon abandoned after pilot episode leaves four dead and three injured
    If you don’t buy my milk they will kill me, cow tells vegans
    Did you get through the weekend without drinking? No – or No, but for really solid reasons?
    Giving kids screen time less harmful than putting up with their shit, agree parents

    Liked by 1 person

  12. AARGH! Sidmouth, Devon, has its own, 64-meter-long fatberg.
    The US TV channels cave to the other fatberg, agrees to broadcast presidential TV address.


  13. The coverage of the probe of the far side of the moon has completely ignored the lunar communication satellite that makes it possible.
    You can either have a satellite that is over the horizon of the probe for part of its orbit, or place the satellite at an unstable point in line with the moon and Earth, 40.000 km beyond the moon. In the latter case the satellite needs to occasionally use fuel to stay in position.
    Have any of you learned anything about the satellite not available in the major news sites?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The relay satellite is in a L2 halo orbit, ca. 65 000 km from the moon (that is actually further away than L1, I confused the numbers for the two points) L2 is not a stable location, I don’t know how long the satellite will remain.
        Since the relay satellite required a lunar flyby with narrow tolerances I am actually more impressed by this than by the lunar landing.
        “How China’s lunar relay satellite arrived in its final orbit”


      2. The relay satellite needs to be in place only for the lifetime of the lander. And when the mission is over they can either crash the relay satellite into the moon, or boost it into an orbit around the sun. (Starting in the late 1990s it became a requirement that satellites in orbits high enough to not re-enter naturally had to have de-orbit capability, so that junk would not accumulate as rapidly in space.) But there would have to be another relay stage in there somewhere, as presumably a relay on the opposite side of the Moon from the Earth would not be able to transmit directly to Earth.

        They could have opted for L4 or L5, whichever is above the horizon at the landing site, because those points are stable, and had the relay send directly from there to Earth. But it’s harder to dispose of something at those points because (1) those points are stable and (2) there isn’t a convenient planetary body in the vicinity, as there is for L1 and L2.


  14. Thanks.
    I mentioned I have sometimes watched David Wood, an evangelist who has it in for that pesky rival religion.
    He is a sort of “soft” islamophobe, he makes a careful distinction between muslims and the crap he digs up from the holy scripures, but some of his viewers are apparently of the Fox News crowd.
    As I have watched some videos, I get recommendations for Youtube videos of random misogynistic crap by far-righters. I want to shout to the algorithms “Hey, I’m a jerk, not an asshole!”
    Did I mention, while David Wood spots a contradiction in a rival religion at 10 miles away (he has a very good memory for details) he -as an evangelist- has no problem with food magically appearing at that wedding in Caana (theme from “I Dream Of Jeannie”. “Get some food” BOIIINGG!).
    And that Lazarus became Patient Zero for the zombie plague is OK. It is because of Jesus we preppers need flame throwers and extra ammo.


    1. Keep in mind that Wood’s salary depends on his not noticing the contradictions in his own religion.

      One of the minor annoyances of YouTube’s interface is that there is no way to signal, “No, I am not interested in watching this video, ever.” Or even “No, I am not interested in watching this video, because I have already seen it 20 times.”


  15. ‘Nutritionists’, ‘dietary experts’ and ‘medical experts’ have been on an extended campaign now to reduce the amount of NaCl that people ingest. Most of that is completely unnecessary and can even be harmful.

    When people dig into a lot of the research behind these sorts of ‘guidelines’, what they find is that they only apply to a subset of people, but they are applied indiscriminately to everyone. For example, the salt guidelines are *very* critical for a minority of people who have hypertensive tendencies, but for the majority of people they don’t matter at all. For most of us, any excess salt that our bodies don’t need is just pissed out, and you can get real problems if you don’t get *enough* salt. It’s not just me saying that – a lot of biologists who understand body chemistry a lot better than I do are saying it.

    A good thing to go for is Lo Salt or a similar product that has a good balance of Na and K. But you also need to be mindful of getting enough iodine, and Lo Salt is not iodised. As people have reduced salt intake in response to the concerted campaign against it, iodine deficiency has been rising because of the decrease in the use of iodised table salt.

    A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t already have high blood pressure or labile blood pressure, then salt will not do you any harm at all.


  16. The TV series “bones” is loosely based on novels with realistic depictions of forensic work, where the bodies often are skeletonized.
    If Sweden had a dedicated forensic group for this kind of work, Martin might be a candidate.
    It is just a matter of creating a demand ….


  17. Not old bones, but an old video of Trump saying interesting things.
    “Well, this is awkward. The Daily Show dug up footage of Donald Trump, during a 2004 address at Wagner College on Staten Island—they gave him an honorary doctorate in humane letters—giving graduates the following advice:
    ‘Never, ever give up. Don’t give up. Don’t allow it to happen. If there’s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it. Go over it. Go around it. But get to the other side of that wall.’

    Also, a fossil has been found of a huge whale-eating whale.


  18. The earliest modern humans outside Africa.

    Frustratingly, pay-walled. But the finding should come as no surprise. The evidence is mounting for multiple migrations of modern humans out of Africa, with the most recent being ~60,000 years ago. A broad consensus has emerged among geneticist working in the field that the main interbreeding event between modern humans and Neanderthals happened in the Middle East ~55,000 years ago.


  19. Where Indians Come From.

    It’s a longish read, but this is the best and easiest to understand summary I have read about Indian origins, and it is very complete, including culture, language, the beginning of the Hindu religion, and of caste. He (?) takes a gentle swipe at Hindu Nationalists on the way through.

    Read that, and you probably don’t need to read anything else.


  20. With agriculture going on for so long in the Levant, it is strange any fossil-carrying strata remains at Mt. Carmel.
    Anyway, the border between areas dominated by modern humans and neanderthals must have fluctuated a lot during all this time. This should make artefacts without associated fossils of questionable use for learning the material culture differences between the species in the region.


      1. I’m actually married to a Macedonian (from the country, not the province, i.e. Slavic). Yes, in general the farther south in Europe one goes, the darker the people become. Yes, I’ve seen Sicilians and Greeks as well. Yes, most are darker than people in northern Europe. Still, two points remain: Why was this term applied to Albanians? Also, Albanians in my experience are on average a bit darker than the other groups you mentioned—perhaps because originally all were darker, but in other places there has been more mixture (not that many people immigrated to Albania, which was quite isolated for a long time).


      2. For what it’s worth, ten minutes of internet research suggests that it is at least far from clear that the Latin word for “white” is related to the “Albania” in the sense of the name for the country east of Italy.

        What about the Beatles’ “White Album”? 🙂


  21. Let me google even more for you:
    “The national name Albania is derived from Albanoi, an Illyrian tribe mentioned by Ptolemy about 150 AD.”

    There is no confidence at all that the Albanoi were ancestral to modern Albanians, so it’s probably irrelevant.

    When you say ‘darkest’, what are you referring to? Skin colour? Hair and eye colours? All of those? In any case, I contest your assertion. I googled lots of pictures of Albanian people, and there are plenty of fair skinned, light haired people in those photos, as well as dark haired people. I wouldn’t say in general that they are any more olive skinned or predominantly dark haired than other people from south east Europe.

    DNA of modern Albanians suggests they are most closely related to Greeks and Macedonians.


    1. Let me google even more for you:
      “The national name Albania is derived from Albanoi, an Illyrian tribe mentioned by Ptolemy about 150 AD.”

      A bit more googling throws up a few more explanations. Even if the above is correct, what does Albanoi mean?


      1. Who knows? It’s irrelevant anyway. That’s why I mentioned the Ottoman Empire. Long after the Albanoi were an identifiable group, Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire, and was under occupation by Turks for a long time, and in those situations, at least some intermixing is an inevitable outcome. Some Albanians are Muslims.

        The most common Y DNA haplogroup in Albania actually derives from North Africa, but that doesn’t mean much in terms of ‘colour’ – Berbers are pretty pale skinned.

        BTW, it was not me who suggested that the name Albanian derived from the Latin root word ‘albus’ meaning ‘white’, it was Eric. I had my doubts at the time that he was right, but it wasn’t a big deal so I didn’t respond. I think he also got it wrong when he said that it was an easy mistake to make – the person who made what I thought was a pretty funny mistake is Chinese and a mathematics teacher, and I doubt he has any grasp at all of Latin roots, so in his case it wasn’t an easy mistake to make at all, it was a dumb/ignorant mistake. But again, no big deal.

        If you know the history, there were a lot of ethnic Greeks in Anatolia and a lot of ethnic Turks in Greece, and at a certain point they ‘repatriated’ in both directions – the Turks kicked out the (at least notionally) Orthodox Greeks and the Greeks kicked out the (at least notionally) Muslim Turks. In the meantime, it’s beyond question that intermixing took place, and it’s likely that their DNA forms a continuous cluster with no clear dividing boundary, the same as for French and Germans, and for British and Irish. It’s what humans do. Greek coffee and Turkish coffee are indistinguishable. When I was single I had a Macedonian girlfriend for a while, and she had learned how to make coffee the ‘right way’ from her mother (you have to bring it to the boil 7 times or whatever the process is), and she actually called it Turkish coffee that the Macedonians had picked up from the Ottoman Turks. She said it was something that all Macedonian girls have to learn because it is traditional to serve it to visitors. Well, that’s what she said. There’s a lot of residual ill feeling between Greeks and Turks though, hence the situation in Cyprus.

        If it comes to that, Spain or parts of it were under Moorish occupation for a very long time (and modern Spaniards show some North African ancestry as a consequence), and Sicily was a melting pot because it was a trading cross-roads for a lot of history, which included Arab traders who were active slave traders in the Mediterranean. Plus in Andalusia, there has been a lot of intermixing with Gitanos, so people there are pretty dark (check out some Flamenco dancers and singers – Flamenco is derived from a three way mingling of Arab music, Gypsy music and Spanish indigenous musical traditions, hence the weird scales and time measures, and the guitar started out as an Arab instrument – the highly respected and more academically inclined Flamenco guitarist Paco Peña actually went to the Middle East to make a formal study of Arabic music for some years). Hence I have to challenge your assertion that the Albanians are the darkest people in Europe, whichever way you meant that. For the title of ‘darkest’, surely the Romani would qualify, unless you don’t regard them as Europeans. In that case, people from Andalucia would surely be candidates. And Sardinians, at least from the interior, who are the closest modern proxy to Neolithic farmers in Europe, who were more dark skinned that modern Europeans.


    2. You can google pictures of Italians and find fair people as well. My main claim is that there is no reason why the name should derive from the Latin word for “white” if it refers to the people. They might not be the darkest in Europe, but I doubt that there are any other folks in Europe (apart from immigrants from Africa and so on, of course) who are darker (hair, skin, eyes) on average.

      Most closely related to Macedonians and Greeks? No surprise there.

      I once read that a DNA study indicated that statistically one cannot genetically distinguish between Greeks and Turks.

      I know someone who regularly ordered a Turkish coffee at a Greek restaurant.


      1. As above, I’ll bet that the Gitanos in Spain are darker than Albanians, and probably Andalusian people in general.

        Google for pictures of Romani (= Gitanos = Gitanes = Gypsies) – they are a pretty dark bunch, which is not too surprising, considering they started out in northern India, but with a lot of mixing along the way en route to Europe and then again when they got there. But you might not consider them to be bona fide Europeans.

        I do, but I’m not you (despite owning several sleeveless sweaters in a range of fetching colours and styles).


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