Open Thread For May

Winter plays its wild games no more among our mountains
The drift blossom melting, dying
The sky is one big smile in the bright evenings of spring
Sun kissing life into woods and lakes
Summer’s coming soon in scarlet waves
Gilded, shifting to azure lie the meadows in the flames of the day
And well-springs dance in the grove

Author: Martin R

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

617 thoughts on “Open Thread For May”

  1. Sad news: the world’s oldest man dies in Hampshire, 112 years old…yes, he was ten years old when WWI ended. Is anyone collecting the DNA of people like this?
    .
    Irm Herrmann, star of 20 Fassbinder films, has also passed away.
    .
    Canadians are worried about sightings of ‘killer hornets’ spreading.

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    1. Killer wasps bah! I’ve been dispatching the things for decades after they have flown in through our open windows.

      Arm yourself with a tennis racquet, and always keep your eye on the ball er I mean wasp. Don’t use a big backswing, it makes it too difficult to make small corrective adjustments during the execution of the stroke to allow for the wasp suddenly changing direction. In fact, you don’t need any backswing at all, but you need a full follow-through to execute a powerful shot. Power comes from swinging freely from the shoulder and accelerating the racquet head into the wasp, not from trying to ‘power’ the racquet with your arm muscles, which just slows down the shot. Drop the racquet head down and swing from low to high, to put topspin on the wasp and loop it nicely straight out of an open window – no messy corpse to clean up afterwards.

      And wait until you are confident that you will hit the thing with a good powerful stroke – they don’t like being attacked and will react aggressively, so swinging and missing is hazardous.

      Canadians are such wimps – no Viking warrior spirit. If you miss and the wasp gets you, I’ll see you in Valhalla.

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  2. Birger has pointed me to something interesting concerning the ASPM gene and the association of one variant of the gene with tonal languages.

    The ASPM gene is involved in brain development. From Wikipedia: “A new allele (version) of ASPM appeared sometime within the last 14,100 years, with a mean estimate of 5,800 years ago. The new allele has a frequency of about 50% in populations of the Middle East and Europe, it is less frequent in East Asia, and has low frequencies among Sub-Saharan African populations. It is also found with an unusually high percentage among the people of Papua New Guinea, with a 59.4% occurrence.

    The mean estimated age of the ASPM allele of 5,800 years ago, roughly correlates with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities. [Editorial note: No idea who wrote this, but this inferred correlation is utter bullshit.] Currently, two alleles of this gene exist: the older (pre-5,800 years ago) and the newer (post-5,800 years ago). About 10% of humans have two copies of the new ASPM allele, while about 50% have two copies of the old allele. The other 40% of humans have one copy of each. Of those with an instance of the new allele, 50% of them are an identical copy. The allele affects genotype over a large (62 kbp) region, a so called selective sweep which signals a rapid spread of a mutation (such as the new ASPM) through the population; this indicates that the mutation is somehow advantageous to the individual. [Editorial note: but no one has a clue what that advantage is, i.e. why the new variant was under such strong selection.]

    Testing the IQ of those with and without new ASPM allele has shown no difference in average IQ, providing no evidence to support the notion that the gene increases intelligence. However statistical analysis has shown that the older forms of the gene are found more heavily in populations that speak tonal languages like Chinese or many Sub-Saharan African languages. [AHA!!!]

    Other genes related to brain development appear to have come under selective pressure in different populations. The DAB1 gene, involved in organizing cell layers in the cerebral cortex, shows evidence of a selective sweep in the Chinese [ so again, this is somehow advantageous to the individual, but no one has a clue how]. The SV2B gene, which encodes a synaptic vesicle protein, likewise shows evidence of a selective sweep in African-Americans [ditto].”

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  3. 567!

    Genomic History of Neolithic to Bronze Age Anatolia, Northern Levant, and Southern Caucasus.
    https://www.cell.com/cell/pdf/S0092-8674(20)30509-2.pdf?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867420305092%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

    Paywalled, because it’s Cell, but it has a map. (Maps are always good.) And it has an Abstract Video, which is a cool idea, with two of the authors talking directly to the viewer – pretty nice, and first author Eirini Skourtanioti is rather decorative as well as useful. Plus some nice pics of artifacts to keep the archaeologists happy. Always good to see geneticists and archaeologists working together and integrating their findings. 1+1= a lot more than 2.

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    1. Actually, Eirini might be quite a good representation of what a European farmer looked like during the Neolithic, although she should probably be more dark skinned.

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    2. The really interesting thing is that population mixing was already going on in that region over a pretty long distance before the rise of larger polities, not as a consequence, which has always been the assumption. Plus long distance movement of ancient people, but that obviously happened quite a lot and I don’t know why people still seem surprised by it – well, it is a surprising fact in itself that people back then really got around, I suppose, but that is now hardly a new finding.

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  4. Riots in Minneapolis. Clearly some serious injustice going on there. Trump has mobilised the troops. Should China intervene, do you think?

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  5. My paternal grandmother, of immigrant Scottish parents, was an eccentric woman, physically cold and undemonstrative, but she left me in no doubt that she loved me, and dragged me around to various Scottish-associated events in an effort to convince me that I am Scottish (an obvious fiction) and educate me in the ways of my ‘ane folk’. My sister escaped all of this – I was the oldest male heir, and entrusted to carry our Scottish heritage forward into the future, which I have dutifully done (cough).

    When I was 10 years old, she took me to a jumble sale at the Presbyterian Church that she frequented (while my grandfather attended the Methodist Church – they couldn’t agree which church my father should be baptised in, so he wasn’t). Anyway, she took me to this jumble sale, and browsing the heaps of worthless junk on offer, I spied a real gem: a beautifully hand-crafted Chinese vase, made of polished wood, unusually enough, and bearing a beautiful carving of an apple tree in the Chinese artistic style. It was selling for 9 pence. Recognising a rare bargain when I saw it, at a ridiculously low price that I could just about afford, I bought it from my meagre pocket money, and presented it as a gift to my Grandma. She loved it, and mounted it in a place of prominence in her home on a shelf in the entrance hall, where everyone would see it when they came in, and there it stayed for the best part of two decades.

    When she died, after I had moved to HK, I discovered that she had bequeathed it back to me in her will. I was thrilled to get it back, and I still have it – I keep it in the bedroom, look at it every night before I turn in, and remember that happy day long ago that I spent with my Grandma. And the vase is back in China, after spending who knows how long in Australia, after having spent who knows how long in China to begin with.

    Life is strange.

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    1. All 13 cases imported to HK from Pakistan yesterday were 46 years or younger (youngest was 2) and *all 13* were asymptomatic when tested on arrival. Of course, not all of them might remain asymptomatic, but they might; at least some will.

      But I am wondering how many of these infected people have been infected during the trip from Pakistan to HK – if not on board the plane (less likely) then maybe at the point of departure (more likely). If some of them were, they would still be in the incubation period when they arrive.

      HK has developed its own sampling and testing protocol which is very reliable, so false positives are unlikely.

      The thing about cruise ships is, although the passengers (but not the crew) tend to skew older, they have to pass a medical of sorts to be permitted to embark, because the cruise lines don’t want medical emergencies happening while they are at sea. So while the passenger demographic skews older, they are likely to be healthy older; no serious chronic health conditions.

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  6. John, about Scottish heritage; a fossil milliped was found in Scotlant. At 475 Myr, it is the oldest land-living arthropod.

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    1. The gap is in people of mixed ancestry. They make up a very large proportion of the world’s population – African Americans, First Nations people, the large majority of the populations of Central and South America (although Mexico has a surprisingly high number of people who are unadmixed Native Americans, or with very little admixture) and the Caribbean, a large population in South Africa, and most of the populations of the islands of Polynesia, just to name a few off the top of my head. And the numbers are growing as traditional barriers to mixed marriage are progressively coming down. You don’t have to go back very far to find that Japanese people are all mixed – all of them (although I suspect that Junior would not gain many friends by talking openly about it without first knowing how it is viewed by whoever he is talking to).

      This is a problem that concerned me when I first started to look into human genetics in 2002, and it still concerns me. I have a dog in the fight, so to speak.

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  7. Something for those with a political interest.
    The former leader of the Swedish conservative youth organisation, MUF, leaves to a conservative “think tank” dedicated to neoliberalism, or “market liberalism” as they call it.
    .
    – I question their quasi-religious attitude to the market as a perfect self-organising force. The universe is full of self-organising systems, but their nature is stochastic.
    The market can indeed self-organise in a way that seems miraculous, right up to the moment when it does *not*, and everything falls apart.
    We today have few survivors who remember 1929, but most people know what that year signifies. The crash of 1929 happened after a decade of de- regulation in the American society, and this did indeed help boost the economy…. for a while.
    In the 1990s, American society de-regulated the banking sector, removing regulations dating from the Great Depression. It worked…. for a while.
    Market forces are not sentient. They have no will, any more than a stone rolling down a hill. And when a stochastic process has a result that hurts you instead of helping you, it will not help to burn incense on an altar dedicated to Adam Smith.
    Add that market forces operate inside human minds and are affected by every cognitive bias and psychological quirk, it is amazing that we can operate with more complexity than an and hill. Give market forces credit for that, but not for more than that.

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  8. USA: Arresting a TV camera team for doing their job is a BAD move that will inevitably backfire.
    .
    Film: ‘The One I Love’ is listed as science fiction, but it would be more correct to describe it as speculative fiction, rather like Groundhog Day is speculative fiction. Anyway,it has a clever concept.

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  9. Haha haha! Amy Klobuchar, who once was in the Democratic presidential primary race, just saw her political career go up in flames.
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    As a prosecutor, she refused to prosecute several police officers suspected of wrongdoing. One of them was the police who now choked a suspect to death on camera, triggering the current riots.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When talking about bad movies, titles like ‘The Room’ or ‘Plan Nine From Outer Space’ have become memes.
    In the parallel world of Anime, there are certainly very bad ones like ‘Girl Detective Club’, but the one that dwarfs them all is the 1974 ‘Chargeman Ken’.
    It is so bad, Japan is full of parodies of it. Every single aspect of it stinks. The animation process is full of errors, the plot is never explained, it recycles the same music over and over, the episodes were aired in the wrong order. This is what Donald Trump could have made if he was born in Japan.
    Eventually Japan had a live action version made for the fans, with some the most bizarre plot elements including the classic “dynamite in the brain”. 🙂

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  11. Revisiting ‘iyashikei’ (healing) – videos that induce a feeling of peace and calm:
    -Nicholas Moran aka the Chieftain has a one-hour video of him assembling one of those small plastic models you glue together ( I think it is a Japanese ’97’ tank). This is a supplement to the video where he was painting a room and we literally got to watch paint dry.

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  12. For fun, go to ‘Dispatches from the culture wars’, they have a story about religious right nutters claiming there will be a literal pentecost this Monday, as both Jews and Christians have been huddled indoors praying* (because of the virus) so just as the angel of death passed over the Jews, the virus will pass over the religious. And this pentecost will grant Xians mystical powers.
    I am not good enough at sark to rise to the occasion, I leave it to you….
    .
    * “For the first time in 2000 years Jews and Christians have been praying together…” Hello? Spanish flu? Black Death?

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  13. ….And let us not forget Ramadan, which ended recently. Surely that outporing of religious feeling killed every single virus particle in muslim countries (Mr. M literally did not think any disease was contagious BTW).
    .
    There is insane stuff going on in Britain, easing the lockdown without fixing the organisation för testing and tracing.
    This is what Machiavelli called ‘corruzione’ , meaning both corruption and misrule. Mad King George was better than this.

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  14. Finally, what some people have been waiting for – some evidence for sexual selection in humans. Cautionary note: read in full to understand how they define sexual selection. Plus you don’t really need a scientific study to tell you that a schizophrenic male with IQ < 70, no email account and no female partner is unlikely to reproduce.

    Sex-biased reduction in reproductive success drives selective constraint on human genes.
    https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.26.116111v1

    One part I found quite interesting: "personality traits associated with increased reproductive success differ between males and females, with increased extraversion in males but greater neuroticism in females being linked to increased reproductive success." More neurotic women have more children? Who would have predicted that?

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  15. Concerning the correlation between BMI and severity of illness in Covid-19 patients, I wonder how well that applies to people who are ‘fat-fit’ and ‘skinny-fat’. A fat-fit person is someone who has a body fat %, but is very physically fit; there are such people, and many of them are very far from being diabetic or having any of the other so-called ‘metabolic’ diseases. A skinny-fat person is someone who has very low muscle mass and is very unfit physically, but has a high body fat %; there are many such people, and they may well be diabetic and suffer from other metabolic diseases, although they do not look to be ‘fat’ from their general appearance.

    BMI is used as a proxy for body fat %, but it often does not work well applied at the individual level. When Shaquille O’Neal was at the peak of his career as a basketballer in the NBA, he was infamously declared to be clinically obese according to his BMI. In reality, he was just massively muscular, and had a healthy body fat %. In fact, BMI was not devised to be used on an individual level; it was meant to be used at a group or population level, where it works well enough. But on an individual level you can get some bizarre calculations: notably, body builders who have dangerously low body fat % during competitions, to increase muscle definition, would be classified as obese because they have so much muscle mass.

    I suspect the correlation for severity of Covid-19 illness should be with body fat %, not BMI, but there is no way to know for sure, because no one seems to know why the correlation between severity of illness and BMI exists, apart from some medical people mumbling vague things about high body fat % being associated with inflammation in various parts of the body. I even wonder if the correlation should be with general level of physical fitness, and nothing to do with body fat % at all, but I don’t think anyone can tell me that either. Plus there is the complication of how you define physical fitness – in this case, I would think it would need to be cardio-vascular fitness, but body fat % still needs to feature in there somewhere, because if your body fat % is too low, your immune system is adversely affected.

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    1. BMI is not simply a number; it has dimensions (kg/m^2). Which means that under the reasonable assumption that the body’s other dimensions should scale with height, then people who are much taller than average (a category which includes most professional basketball players) would be expected to have high BMIs regardless of body fat percentage, since mass should increase as the cube of the height. In fact, for an exceptionally tall person to have a “normal” BMI would be a bad thing, because that person may have a hard time getting adequate blood flow to the head during strenuous exercise–blood flow capacity really does scale as the square of the height.

      I suspect one reason for the widespread use of BMI is that it can be determined by nonintrusive means. Body fat percentage and cardiovascular fitness can only be determined through laboratory testing or extensive in-person testing. But it bothers me that so many people treat it as just a number, without acknowledging (even by those who would be in a position to debate the merits) that it says something about the physics of your physiological model.

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    2. Agree with everything you said. Plus people have bones, and tall people…..yeah.

      You can perform caliper tests on yourself, which are pretty simple to do and give a reasonable approximation of body fat %. Not too intrusive. I have done them on myself a few times, and got numbers for body fat % that seemed reasonable – to the nearest 2%. Or you can look at yourself in a mirror 🙂

      The other thing about BMI is that they need to adopt different limits for ‘normal’, ‘overweight’, ‘obese’ etc. for East Asians and other populations than they do for whites. Japanese have their own limits and define a Japanese person as obese at a lower BMI than used for whites. The whole thing is pretty messed up.

      Of course the other thing about body fat is that it matters a lot where you carry it – belly fat is a lot worse in terms of health outcomes than fat on the arse and hips.

      As for testing cardio-vascular fitness, that is intrusive all right. I have taken a stress ECG twice. They are not fun – the supervising doctor runs you until you are right at the point of collapse, and then he keeps running you as he gradually lets you slow down. If you can get through a stress ECG without having a heart attack, you are not going to have one anywhere. My doctor sent me to have one twice, and both times he was really pissed that I performed better than he did. I tried to tell him that training for and playing competitive tennis a few times per week and lifting weights is going to do more for your fitness than performing surgeries, but you can’t tell doctors anything.

      But then it seems like if you can get to the age of 60 without having a heart attack, you are probably not going to have one. It’s a bit like if you can get to the age of 23 without becoming seriously mentally ill, you are not going to – most serious mental illness starts to manifest some time before the age of about 23.

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  16. Just as an example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning all of those Mr Olympia body building titles, he was 6’1″ and said he was around 280 lbs during competitions – that would give him a BMI of 36.9, which would definitely class him as obese (BMI of 30 or greater), when any photo of him during any of those competitions makes it very clear that he had a really very low body fat %; so low that many of his veins and arteries were clearly visible beneath his skin, a sure sign of very low body fat %.

    https://fitawards.com/history-of-arnold-schwarzenegger-in-mr-olympia/

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  17. Wikipedia claims that he was 6’2″ – well, he was never 6’2″ except maybe in his dreams, and his competition weight was 235 lbs (which is ridiculously low – don’t know where someone got that information from, although Arnold is pretty infamous for telling different versions of the ‘truth’ at different times – in that respect he is a good Republican). I head him say during a recent interview that his competition weight was around 280 lbs. But even if I accept 6’2″ and 235 lbs, that would still give him a BMI > 30, so obese, which he very obviously wasn’t.

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    1. Which is pretty screwy, because arrival of Celtic speakers was probably LBA/IA, and the Celtic languages are accepted as IE languages – the question is whether they have an Afro-Asiatic substrate.

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  18. More Iyashikei; (mostly peaceful, unhurried stories ) the main protagonist is nature, the story is about appreciating the little things in life as we follow a girl in the Japanese countryside in the future, as nature is slowly reclaiming the land.
    Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OVA 1 – Ep. 2 part 2/3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbeQvtaAdSI

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    1. No electricity supply. How come she still has gas, and (presumably) running water? Why does she seem to sleep all day, and then get up and make coffee just before it gets dark (with no lights)? Do I need to watch another 376 episodes to find out? Because I don’t think I’m up for that – although watching everything falling into disrepair, with vegetation taking over, is kind of fun.

      The squirrel one is a smidgen risqué, no?

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      1. I’ll get to it. I might just take a while getting around to it. A little bit of Lee Berger goes a very long way with me.

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    1. I’m not trapped indoors. HK never shut down. (Touch wood and whistle.)

      I taught that superstition to my wife as a joke, and have regretted it ever since. If she can’t find some wood nearby to touch while she whistles, she touches my head instead. Very funny, Wife.

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