Open Thread For March

Extra likes for mentions of Nick Cave, the Bad Seeds and Kylie Minogue.

Author: Martin R

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

355 thoughts on “Open Thread For March”

    1. We are all descended from Africa. Some more recently than others.
      But considering the greater genetic diversity in Africa, it would be nice to get some insights into *which* african populations are closest kin -I doubt current knowledge is up to more than a very crude estimate.


      1. Genetically, the Hadza are not closely related to anyone, including anyone else in subSaharan Africa. But in the context, that doesn’t mean anything. Genetically I am not closely related to Chinese, but our ancestors separated from one another only about 45,000 years ago.

        The Hadza, or people like them, have continuously occupied an area in east Africa for at least 50,000 years, possibly much longer, that is very close to where anatomically modern humans are thought to have first evolved, making them prime suspects as the long lost ancestors of all living people outside of Africa (except for recent migrants from Africa, obviously).


      2. So, the evidence, such as it is, is archaeological and circumstantial rather than genetic.

        In terms of genetics, it’s possible to say who we are *not* most closely related to – the Khoisan, who separated from all other anatomically modern humans about 200,000 years ago, and M’buti Pygmies who separated more recently.

        I realize those are not very satisfying answers. The Khoisan are clearly anatomically modern humans who are a lot more like us than different. M’buti Pygmies seem more different, but that’s mostly just on account of very small stature, which might have evolved due to them living as foragers in rain forests.

        It was thought that the Khoisan and Hadza might be quite closely related based on linguistics (they both use ‘click’ languages), but that has been disproven by genetics, and further linguistic research which showed that the Hadza language is unrelated to any other living language. It is now thought that ‘click’ languages might have been some of the earliest languages to emerge after humans developed speech, and the Khoisan and Hadza have retained theirs while everyone else (excluding people like the Xhosa, who are a mixed Bantu/Khoisan population) lost their ‘clicks’. Anatomical research suggests that you need a specially shaped hard palate to be able to speak a ‘click’ language efficiently. So, if you can’t say ‘Xhosa’ with the correct click at the beginning of the word, don’t feel badly – it just means you are physically deformed 🙂
        Does she look like your great great great…grandmother? She could be.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That is actually a very interesting paper for anyone interested in East Asian population history, not just Japanese, and the likely route that people took to get to East Asia, including China obviously (southern route, south of the Himalayas and up through SE Asia). Plus it confirms that the Hokkaido Ainu are direct descendants of the Jomon. It also confirms that modern Japanese have Jomon admixture which occurred only 1200-1700 years BC, which is like yesterday in terms of human history.


  1. There’s hope for the Old Country yet – so far, more than 1 million Australians have signed an online petition calling for Fraser Anning to be forced to resign from parliament, following Anning’s public comments that the NZ mass shooting was a direct consequence of permitting migration of Muslims to NZ. Mind you, that leaves 24 million who haven’t signed yet.

    Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to force him to resign, unless he has been convicted of a criminal offence. He can only be voted out by his electorate. I can safely predict that his electorate is one place I will never choose to live, unless they subsequently do vote him out due to abhorrence for his stated opinions. There is no evidence so far to suggest that might happen.


  2. Manhattan DA Spiked Criminal Charges Against Ivanka and Donald Trump, Jr.
    Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. got a visit from Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who had donated $25,000 to Vance’s campaign. After that meeting, Vance ordered his team to drop the case, then he got a $50,000 donation from Kasowitz.


  3. Regarding the 2006 Slate article John posted on the previous page:

    The issue here is “learning disabilities”, which includes things like attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. US law requires students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, to have reasonable accommodations, and most of the students in this status really do need it. But like any other system, this system can be and is gamed. I don’t think the primary motivation is to get extra time taking the SAT, although that is a useful side effect for the parents who are gaming the system. The point of gaming the system is to get the school district to spend a larger fraction of its resources on these parents’ special snowflakes. School budgets are finite, and the school district has to spend whatever it takes to accommodate a student who is flagged as having special needs.

    There is a separate problem with the leading standardized tests being provided by a private company rather than the government. A private company is not held to as rigorous transparency standards, which is why ETS can get away with lumping data by state (they don’t even have to do that much), causing genuinely needy children from Hartford, CT, to be averaged together with special snowflakes from Greenwich (one of the wealthiest towns per capita in the US, and home to the American hedge fund industry). It is also widely understood, despite ETS’s protestations to the contrary, that these standardized tests can be coached, which again favors children whose parents are sufficiently well-off to afford the coaching. (I was not coached myself, but SAT coaching classes were available in my area at the time, and by a few years after I graduated from high school the evidence supporting the efficacy of these classes was definitive.) Having the government design and administer the tests doesn’t help the coaching problem (state-level standardized tests are also coachable, and teachers teaching to the test is a phenomenon), but it does help with the transparency issue.

    The article explains the reason why people who need extra time to take exams like the SAT are no longer flagged, and the reason is sound: there are students who have genuine disabilities that need to be accommodated, and universities should not (because of privacy laws) need to know who these students are. But that means they also don’t know which of their applicants might be gaming the special needs system.


  4. Eric, there’s this:

    The findings are that coaching and test prep don’t make a practical difference.

    My question is – fine, give students with genuine disabilities extra time. But then, what happens to them when they get into university? My overwhelming memory of university was the sheer crushing workload, and the break-neck speed needed to absorb material and complete assignments. Engineering degrees are notorious for that, though.

    I guess students with disabilities just don’t do engineering, or at least don’t graduate.

    During my professional career, out of the thousands of other engineers I have got to know, only one (who happened to be one of my best bosses) claimed to be dyslexic or have any other kind of disability – I didn’t see any evidence of that, and he was meticulously methodical. When, at very short notice, he told me that the organisation needed me, in effect, to accept a double promotion (i.e. promoted up two ranks at once) to take over his job and, panicking, I told him I wouldn’t know what to do wrt to administrative tasks, he just said “Look in the filing cabinet and copy what I did last year.” It was all in there, written out in beautifully legible longhand in blunt pencil, all crystal clear, and I had no problem at all. He was not only faultlessly methodical and kept perfect records of everything he did, he was a superb manager of people who got the very best out of his staff – I blossomed under his leadership, and when he had to move on, I slipped seamlessly into his role. If he had any genuine disability, I could never detect it, but he was adamant about it. He must have had world class coping mechanisms, or else his disability was all in his own head. Only thing was, he sucked technically – he just wasn’t that bright; certainly not stupid and very capable in dealing with routine administrative/managerial things, but not smart enough to understand technically complex engineering stuff. He was a dinosaur – he graduated in an earlier era when civil engineering was less technically complex, and he couldn’t make the jump without me teaching and coaching him, helping him to understand it all.


    1. First, one has to make sure that people are telling the truth in such surveys.

      But even if they are, there is no puzzle. The question is about the number of partners, not the number of encounters. Take, for example, the Rolling Stones and their fans. Some of the men (the Stones) had hundreds or thousands of partners, while the groupies had just a few. Or consider the fact that most prostitutes are female and most of their customers male. In such a survey, most men will report several partners, many prostitutes, while most women (not the prostitutes) will report fewer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The average in this case is the mean.

        I can think of reasons to explain the Australian data; a lot of them have been established by research:
        1. Women under-report, men over-report.
        2. Women tend to think in terms of relationships, so they might not count things like one night stands, whereas men count everything as ‘conquests’.
        3. Prostitution.
        4. Groupies.
        5. A minority of women having really a lot of partners, while the majority of women have far fewer partners, so it averages out.

        But all of those reasons make the NZ data all the more perplexing.


      2. Australians and Kiwis are not culturally identical, but they are pretty culturally similar.

        It’s a conundrum. I have never seen anyone come up with a plausible explanation.


      3. Well, it won’t decrease with age, will it? 🙂

        The data are broken into different age cohorts, but the basic pattern doesn’t seem to change much among the different cohorts.


      4. What they don’t give are the distributions within each sex, which could have a lot of explanatory power. Like, maybe a minority of women have really a lot of partners and the majority far fewer, whereas the distribution for men might be a lot more even.

        Still wouldn’t explain the New Zealand anomaly, though. And it does look anomalous – I have seen similar data from the USA and other countries, and I have never seen that anywhere else, where the mean number of partners for women was higher than the mean number of partners than men. It’s weird.


      5. And, anecdotally, it’s not some Maori/Polynesian thing – I have known quite a few Maori women, and they don’t behave noticeably differently to white women in that regard. Besides, they’re a minority, and now most are mixed, with culture largely gone.


      6. In the old days, successful men had many women, and unsuccessful men had none. So almost all women would report 1 partner, some men several, and some men none. This model has become unfashionable, because it leads to social tension. (That is, the main reason was that the men who had none weren’t happy, not the women who shared a man. The question was: be one of several mistresses of JFK, or the only wife of Bozo the clown. Women voted with their, well, not feet, but you get the idea. Marilyn Monroe, who could have had essentially anyone she wanted, moved from the most famous sportsman and a successful playwright (two, but not at the same time) to a mistress of JFK.) A long time ago, this was more open. For a while, it was disguised, i.e. 19th-century rich men with many more maidservants than they could possibly need (French-maid costume, anyone)? Not until the groupies of the 1960s did this, probably biological, tendency become apparent again.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Until really quite recently, it was legal for a Chinese man in HK to have up to 4 wives, provided he was wealthy and could afford to support them. (It was also legal in the Mainland before Liberation.) I know the children of some of these 1 man/4 wife families – they tell me their mothers were invariably very unhappy, and there was *always* trouble between the 4 wives. Having lots of money didn’t help.

        Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, remember?

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Right. And JFK was shot, but probably nothing had to do with their sex lives. If anything, it was the lack of acceptance of her relationship which might have troubled her.

        “they tell me their mothers were invariably very unhappy, and there was *always* trouble between the 4 wives”

        How typical is this, compared to other cases of polygyny elsewhere?

        I know of a woman who has lived in Europe for a long time but is originally from Africa and whose father had several wives. (By the way, not some stone-age tribe, but more like jet-set types.)


      9. The Quran also allows a man to have up to four wives, with the proviso that in theory he is supposed to support them equally. I’m not sure how that works in practice.

        To the larger topic, many societies have had, and continue to have, a double standard whereby it is much more acceptable for men than women to have multiple partners. There is a biological basis for this: in 100% of pregnancies before the development of in vitro fertilization, and >99.9% of pregnancies since, the woman can be 100% sure that the child is hers. The male has no such assurance. This becomes problematic in patriarchic societies where a man is expected to leave his possessions to his son, because he needs to be sure it really is his son. So women who have multiple partners tend to be seen as sluts, or worse. In extreme cases, queens have been charged with treason when there is even a hint that the child might not be the king’s (this was an issue in, e.g., Anne Boelynn’s case). So-called “honor killings” are also usually because the woman in question is thought to have slept with a man who is not her husband.


      10. If the averages being reported really are means, and the gender ratio is close to 1:1, then either one or both groups are not telling the truth, or they are defining relationships differently. Ten million men with a mean of 18 relationships with women means 180 million relationships, and if there are also 10 million women involved in those relationships then mathematically they must have been in a mean of 18 relationships; conversely, if the mean for women really is 8 then the mean for men must also be 8. That holds no matter how many of those individuals have had zero partners, whether due to celibacy, preference for same-gender partners, or “men are men and sheep are nervous”.

        Medians and modes can differ for the other reasons John suggests, but for means, only the first two are mathematically viable.


      11. “There is a biological basis for this: in 100% of pregnancies before the development of in vitro fertilization, and >99.9% of pregnancies since, the woman can be 100% sure that the child is hers. The male has no such assurance.”

        Mama’s baby, Papa’s—maybe.

        This also explains why both men and women are interested in the woman’s fidelity: she because if it is clear that she has only one sexual partner, then she knows who the father is, and this might lead to more support for children; he because he doesn’t run the risk of investing in someone else’s children. As for men, the woman has an interest in the man’s fidelity: his resources should go to her, not spread elsewhere. But the man has no interest in fidelity. A man can sire a thousand children a year, a woman can have less than 1 on average. So there is an obvious conflict of interest, which explains why female prostitution with male clients is much more common than other arrangements. Of course, they are exceptions (and, no, they don’t prove the rule—people shouldn’t utter adages they don’t understand), but by and large, this is how most people think.


  5. The Australian Study of Sex and Relationships found that Australian men and women reported having had an average of 18 and 8 sexual partners, respectively.

    Something doesn’t add up.

    In New Zealand, it’s the opposite – women report having had more sexual partners than men. I’m not sure how that works either. If men were reporting having more sexual partners, I might suspect that sheep were involved. Actually, if you factor in the sheep in New Zealand’s case, the disparity becomes even harder to explain.


    1. Dang! I didn’t post that fast enough!
      BTW so the culture of that ultra-old Anatolian town would have been completely local, with little influx from the South.


  6. Defeat-addicted government doesn’t know where to go for next fix
    Scotland Yard frees 163-year-old British man after DNA evidence clears him of being Jack The Ripper
    Woman who stopped listening to friend’s problems five minutes ago hopes she’s giving right advice
    Historians uncover lost Socrates dialogues where he just gave up and started screaming that opponent a fucking brainwashed shill

    Britain: Meaningful vote three to be renamed Jennifer


  7. Mitochondrial DNA indicates an influx of people from South Africa to eastern Africa ca 65 000 years ago, just before the great dispersal. This would have meant an influx of other ideas, and tools.
    This is one of the few periods when climate & vegetation made journeys between the two regions easier.


    1. 1. Reference?

      2. Beware conclusions drawn from the study of only mtDNA – past experience shows them to be potentially very misleading.

      3. What ‘great dispersal’?


  8. Let’s get the narrative right.

    ~65,000 years ago, a small group of anatomically modern humans migrated out of subSaharan Africa, because climate conditions at the time made it possible for them to do so. They were certainly not the first group of AMHs to do so, during times when the climate conditions were favourable to such movements; at least one much earlier migration, possibly several.

    Following those movements, there were periods of stasis when they stayed in North Africa and the Middle East, before some split off and moved away in different directions. The main interbreeding event with Neanderthals happened in the Middle East during that period of stasis.

    There was also back-migration into Africa again, at times when that was possible.

    Now, what was the stuff about other ideas and tools?


    1. So, in Australia, there has been an archaeological discovery on the north coast indicating the presence of anatomically modern humans that has been reliably dated to ~65,000 years ago. But genetic evidence from modern Aboriginal people shows that they have been genetically isolated (from people who settled Papua New Guinea) for ~37,000 years, and they have Neanderthal ancestry (and Denisovan ancestry, but I won’t get into that here). The main interbreeding event with Neanderthals happened in the Middle East ~50,000 years ago.

      So what’s going on with that? How can those dates be squared, so to speak? I think that the very early archaeological artifacts are evidence of an early migration of anatomically modern people into Australia, and that then there was another, later migration of AMHs into Australia, this time by people who had Neanderthal admixture. And either: (1) those people interbred with the people who were earlier arrivals, or (2) the earlier arrivals didn’t survive; they died out, or (3) the earlier arrivals were just visitors who didn’t remain in the country.

      Aside from that one very early discovery, the next oldest evidence of the presence of modern humans in Australia dates to ~47,000 years ago, so that fits with everything, although it means that those people got to Australia really very fast (but these dates are all approximate, so it becomes a matter of how fast was fast) once they left the Middle East, probably via a southern coastal route.

      That’s going to remain my thesis unless/until some new find demonstrates that it’s not feasible, because I can’t think of any other way for the migrations to fit the known facts.

      It also means that the people who left that evidence in northern Australia ~65,000 years ago needed to be rather technologically advanced, esp. in relation to ocean crossings. So did the later arrivals. So people who keep talking about some ‘cultural explosion’ among modern humans that prompted them to migrate out of Africa ~65,000 years ago, no, I don’t accept it. Aside from anything else, they couldn’t possibly know that was what they were doing.


      1. I read a brief piece at Phys. org about research done at the university of Huddersfield.
        But you are right, 65000 years ago would have been too late


      2. Also, this was the only “recent” window of opportunity, when humidity was so widespread that it would have been easy for populations to diffuse across these separate African regions. So the “southerners” would not have been likely to have contributed to the group that became the latest big out-of-africa radiation and the main ancestors of asians and europeans.


    2. (Cont’d) – There is possible evidence of modern humans in southern China ~120,000 years ago. This is entirely plausible, given what is known now. There were modern humans in the Middle East ~130,000 years ago, and modern human remains (albeit with some slightly archaic-looking characters) found in Morocco that are ~300,000 years old, which pre-dates by a long way the old idea that modern humans had only evolved by ~120,000 years ago in subSaharan Africa.


  9. Razib Khan: “I don’t think I would ever want to talk to someone who thought my children were crimes against nature (or something).” His children are mixed Bangladeshi/European.

    I think I might want to talk to them, but what I said would likely be pretty harsh and insulting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I once came across some colonial writing where someone — can it have been a character in a Somerset Maugham story? — expressed the opinion that Sino-European children are a hideous sight. This didn’t so much make me angry as just confused. Really? Isn’t it a universally accepted truth that those kids tend to be particularly cute? People have always commented to that effect on Jrette.


    1. I could see that happening to someone who had a strong ideological belief in not having relationships/marriages between people of different ethnic origins. Such a child is basically a refutation of that belief.

      One of Pearl S. Buck’s later novels features a character who is the daughter of a Chinese father and an American mother. She finds herself unable to fit into either culture–too Chinese to be American, too American to be Chinese–and it eventually drives her to suicide. That strikes me as extreme, but John has mentioned a milder form of this with respect to his daughter: Australians view her as Chinese, Chinese view her as a Westerner. I can see how that might be a problem in a society which forces people to be one or the other, and the US in Buck’s day definitely was such a society. Today many societies, including the US, are more accepting of people of mixed ethnic backgrounds.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes, and likewise Filipino-European, Thai-European and South Asian – European mixes.

    But there are a lot of people who think that mixed people are somehow ‘unnatural’. It’s even possible some of those people think both things at the same time – that mixed children are beautiful but some kind of travesty of nature. Such people obviously don’t know much about biology or modern human origins; or much of anything else, I suspect.


  12. This is why I began taking an interest in human genetics and modern human origins in early 2002, after all – so I could help my daughter understand that she was not something unnatural or ‘special’ – just another modern human. A beautiful and talented one, to be sure, but just a normal human.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Americans would do well to be more accepting of people of mixed ethnic backgrounds. They are a lot more ethnically mixed than maybe they realize, including non-Hispanic whites. In reality, what’s the significant difference between a Chinese and a Finn, when it comes to mixing ethnicities?

    Population histories of the United States revealed through fine-scale migration and haplotype analysis.


    1. Now we’re talking! Most of the articles John posts fly over my head since my geographical range isn’t very long, but this is super interesting to me! We’ve known for almost 20 years that the littoral, seal-hunting Pitted Ware Culture’s people bred pigs but very rarely ate them. This study shows conclusively that they did a bit of cereal cultivation too.


    1. My research assistant Mr. Google identifies at least five: one of mendelevium (the first known isotope of that element to be synthesized), two nuclear isomers of einsteinium, one of fermium, and one of lawrencium.

      There is also a game called Isotopic 256, where the objective is to combine identical nuclei (starting from protons) to get a nucleus with mass 256. The catch is that some of the nuclei along the path are unstable and go away if you don’t combine them quickly enough–in this game the isotopes with masses 8 and 32 are unstable (there are no stable isotopes with mass 8, but for some reason the game uses phosphorus-32 instead of sulfur-32). I tried one round and managed to get as far as the mass 64 isotope, which is stable.


  14. Here’s some cool stuff about Ethiopia, although it might not sit well with New Atheist types.

    Many mistakenly assume that Christianity in Africa arrived with Europeans.

    First, the Highland Ethiopians converted to Christianity in the Fourth Century, before most of Europe had even heard of Christ. Second, they have been using an African written language for more than 2,000 years, despite the stereotype that Africa is a place without writing. Third, they have been making bound books since the Sixth Century. This form of Christianity is really ancient, and has nothing to do with Europe.

    The Christianity practised by the Oromo people of the Ethiopian Highlands (the people who now totally dominate world middle and long distance running) is *really* different to that practised by everyone else, although there are superficial similarities to Catholicism (e.g. they wear crosses around their necks, and look to the sky and cross themselves after they win a race.)

    Word of caution, though – it’s not actually God who is helping them to win all of those races, it’s high altitude adaptation. And a lot of very hard training. But they seem to give Him the credit anyway. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

    *I plagiarised some of the above.


  15. There was a continuous band of christian states through Sudan up to Ethiopia, but the pope stupidly asked them to contribute to the crusades, and Saladin crushed them.


  16. Warning: Comment freakout coming up. Keep your Geiger counters ready as I charge into trans-uranium territory (240 and more)


    1. Now that Greta Thunberg has suggested that nuclear power might be good in the fight against AGW, it will be interesting to see the reactions of her supporters. (As my history teacher used to say, just an observation, not a judgement.)


    1. Makes sense to me. A big god needs a big temple, and societies have to reach a certain degree of complexity in order to build big temples.

      Man made God in his image.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Article in the Guardian about a self-biographical film about the Black Metal scene in the 1990s Norway.
    “Before you know it, it is no big deal to kill a man”

    The Guardian also has an article about trafficking of Rohingya women to Chinese men, a result of skewed gender demographics?


    1. Yes, skewed gender balance. Similar things have happened with Cambodian women. Some have gone willingly, so it becomes a matter of how trafficking is defined.

      In Australia ‘mail order brides’ from the Philippines were a thing for quite a while – the Philippines had (and still has) a surplus of women, and Australia had a surplus of men, particularly in some states/areas. In my view that qualified as trafficking, because the women were driven to it by poverty and the need to help to support their large extended families, but it wasn’t called that by the Western mainstream media because, well, they were Australian males, not Chinese.


      1. Filipina mail order brides were also a thing in the US in the 1990s. At least at the time, divorce was not allowed in the Philippines, and some of the ads for such women explicitly mentioned this.

        Same caveats apply.


  18. Thai women who wanted to get married used to travel by the busload to dwindling towns in Northern Sweden. There have been awful cases reported where some were abused by their husbands, but I get the impression that most of these marriages worked pretty OK. The women started a lot of small businesses and improved the local gene pools.


  19. Tracking human population structure through time from whole genome sequences.

    Click to access 585265.full.pdf

    Most of the timings more or less make sense, given inherent inaccuracies, but there are some surprises, not least the very deep ancestry (1 million years) in Africans.

    I need to give it several more close readings to try to get my head around as much of it as I can. Just wanted to get it up because it’s so interesting (and surprising). French? Seriously?


  20. Some people really get into the re-enactment thing, in this case pretending to be Bell Beaker Culture folks. I have never really understood it, myself. Maybe I lack imagination or something.

    The guy is wearing his stone guard on the outside of his forearm, in keeping with the latest theory that those things acted as a weight to steady the arm of someone using a bow, as well as being a status symbol. Well, it’s a theory.


    1. Oh, no – on closer inspection, he has two; one on the outside of his forearm and one on the inside. Now I’m really confused. Balancing weight + status symbol + wrist guard? I dunno.


  21. Your Flamenco word for today is ‘alzapua’.

    Google Translate can’t handle it; just translates is as ‘alzapua’, which doesn’t surprise me. But in Spanish ‘alza’ means ‘rise’ and ‘pua’ means ‘plectrum’ or ‘pick’. You don’t use a plectrum in Flamenco; you use your thumb nail, which you grow elongated for the purpose (and, if you’re wise, you harden with nail hardener so you don’t just rip it off). What it means in Flamenco is an upward strike with the thumb nail – it has come to mean a rapid series of motions where you strike downwards hard across the strings with the thumb and simultaneously perform a ‘golpe’ ( = ‘knock’, which means you strike the body of the guitar with one of your fingers, usually the ring finger, or the middle finger if you prefer, but I use the ring finger) so you get this percussive sound of the thumb striking the strings, not a strum but a hard downward strike across the strings, and the finger simultaneously striking the face of the guitar), then strike upwards again forcefully with the thumb, then downwards forcefully with the thumb again but only on the bass note. It’s a sound sequence unique to Flamenco; one of many.

    Flamenco guitars have strike plates glued to the face (nowadays made of transparent hard plastic, so they are not visually noticeable, but they are there), so you don’t damage the guitar by repeatedly striking the face with your finger – just one of quite a few differences between Flamenco guitars and classical or folk guitars, although superficially they look very similar.


      1. Well, the programme did have some relation to Flamenco (and apparently Romero also plays Flamenco):

        Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
        Federico Moreno Torroba: Concierto en Flamenco
        Georges Bizet: L’Arlésienne-Suite Nr. 1 und 2

        I had heard only the first piece before (who hasn’t?). I like hardly any “modern classical” music, but this is an exception. (I’m also not a fan of modern painting etc, though Dali, Magritte, and Escher are exceptions.)

        As an encore, he played a piece written by his father (that and the Concierto de Aranjuez were played from memory).

        It was an enjoyable concert by a good soloist accompanied by a good orchestra with a good conductor:
        Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla conducted by John Neal Axelrod.


      2. He’s an accomplished classical guitarist, but he’s not recognised as a Flamenco guitarist by other Flamenco guitarists.

        Concierto de Aranjuez is one of those ‘edge’ cases – it’s really classical, especially the first two movements, but it was recorded and played live by Paco de Lucia (which met a lot of criticism by classical purists, because he didn’t play all of the notes in the written score – his response was that he considered it more important to get the rhythm right than to play every single note in the score, and Rodrigo said afterwards that Paco had played it the way he intended it to be played when he wrote it, but he was a doddering old man by that time and seemingly pretty senile). (What Paco didn’t mention was that he had to learn the whole thing by ear and play it from memory because he never did learn to read music.)

        Torroba wrote for classical guitar, so what he might have considered to be Flamenco might not be recognised as such by the Flamenco crowd, although it might have some flavour of Flamenco to it to classical audiences.

        Flamenco is rough, you know, and loud – it’s stuff to play outdoors around the campfire for people to sing and dance to. It’s far more a folk genre than anything approaching classical music, although the modern greats of Flamenco have elevated it to something far above the normal level of a folk genre.

        I agree 100% with you about modern classical, and also about painting.


      3. “I count myself lucky that I got to see Paco de Lucia play live when he was probably at his peak. That was pretty special.”

        I never saw him, but saw another of those San Franciscan Fridays, Al Di Meola, a while back. Interestingly, Di Meola played everything with a pick. (I also recently saw John Mayall, with Carolyn Wonderland on guitar, who played everything with her fingers.) Of course, picking a classical guitar and finger-playing an electric (think of Mark Knopfler) are not that unusual, but the exceptions rather than the rules.


      4. Romero also greeted the maker of his guitar, who was in the audience. I don’t recall the name, but probably it was Hermann Hauser III. (Segovia’s guitar made by his grandfather is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)


    1. Andrés Segovia said he first learned guitar from Flamenco players, but they “taught him all the wrong things.”

      He was right – what is right for Flamenco is not right for classical. Two very different things that only come together occasionally.

      In learning Flamenco, I have had to over-write a whole lot of technique that I learned from studying classical – apart from common stuff like hand strength, barred chords, picados and arpeggios, I had to go right back to the start and learn again as a complete beginner. Even tremeloes are different – classical uses 3 finger tremeloes, Flamenco uses 4 (index finger is repeated). And there are a whole lot of techniques in Flamenco that are just not ever used in classical. Hell, even the position you hold the guitar in is different.


      1. No, he definitely was not a fan of Flamenco – considered it the “wrong” way to play a guitar and said so loudly and often.

        I went to see Segovia play live when I was a kid. What a bad tempered old bastard he was – if someone in the audience coughed involuntarily while he was playing, he would stop playing and glare accusingly at the person until he/she was squirming with embarrassment, before continuing to play. He had the audience terrified. OK, he didn’t want people making noise while he played, but there were less dickish ways to get the message across – he could speak English perfectly well, but never said a word to the audience during that performance.

        But then neither did Paco de Lucia. He could speak pretty passable English too.

        And neither did Paco Peña, although he is altogether a more affable little guy who speaks near perfect English. I went to see him when I was 18, and it was he who first kindled my interest in Flamenco. He is more what I would call a classical Flamenco player, almost academic about it and very traditional. He went to live in the Middle East for a while to study Middle Eastern music, which is one of the roots of Flamenco. He’s more of your learned, polite gentleman type than your rough earthy Gitano (filthy thieving bastardos that they are). If I had to describe the full spectrum of Flamenco playing, I would put Paco Peña at one end and Tomatito at the other.


      2. If we presume that Spanish classical music grew out of indigenous Spanish folk music, which seems like a reasonable presumption, the fact that Flamenco grew out of a melding of indigenous Spanish folk music, Middle Eastern music and Gypsy music must mean that there are bound to be some commonalities, but we can’t take that too far.

        For example, only about 30% of Flamenco is played in Western musical scales (and perversely, that’s the 30% I don’t like and refuse to learn or even listen to). 70% is played in augmented Phrygian scales; so not just Phrygian scales like those used in Middle Eastern music, but augmented Phrygian scales. The ancient Greeks invented the C Major scale (which as you know is all ‘natural’ notes, it has no sharps or flats), and they also invented the E Phrygian scale, which you get if you start on E, the third note of the C Major scale, and go up an octave on the natural notes (no sharps or flats) and end on E again. But the Flamencos are not happy with that, they have to augment it by adding an extra two notes, D# and G#, to the E Phrygian scale (so they have both D and D#, and G and G#), so now it’s no longer an octave because it has 10 notes, and the result is that it sounds definitely weird and almost discordant to people who are used to Western music and unfamiliar with Flamenco.

        And they’re not happy using Western time signatures either – no 4/4 or 3/4 or 6/8 time for them. No. For example in the aire (‘style’ I guess you could call it) of Solea (which is somewhat dark and melancholy because solea comes from soleadad meaning loneliness), they count 1-2-3*-4-5-6*-7-8*-9-10*-11-12*, where the * denote accented beats, and they call that a bar, whereas in Western musical notation it occupies several bars. Worse, sometimes in the same aire they will count 1-2-3*-4-5-6-7*-8*-9-10*-11-12*. But you can’t find that out by reading the music because they don’t have a way of writing it down, so you can only find it out by listening to a piece being played and figure it out by yourself, or by having a teacher who can tell you.

        Segovia had some good reasons for saying Flamenco is “wrong” – it doesn’t obey Western musical conventions, and it doesn’t have a system of written notation so that you can learn all this stuff by reading the music. So it’s virtually impossible to self-learn Flamenco, you have to have a teacher. Or else grow up among those people, so that by the time you are old enough to get a guitar in your hands, you have been so exposed to it that it is second nature.

        I wanted to learn Flamenco ever since I was 18, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t find a teacher until, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I finally found an ‘online’ teacher – it”s not interactive so he has no idea who I am, but he explains all of this stuff in his lessons, and because he is also a classically trained musician who also plays classical guitar, he can sort of translate it into terms that mere mortals like me can understand. And he’s good.


  22. The North Bergen school in New Jersey put on “Alien” as their school play. The next generation will be OK.


  23. (Rolls on floor laughing) Uri Geller now claims he can stop Brexit by using his psychic powers on Theresa May.


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