Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What I Wouldn't Give...

 Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Trace Bundy.

I sometimes impress younger people with how old I am by offhandedly mentioning that they didn't play "Stairway To Heaven" at my Senior Prom because it hadn't been recorded yet. Similarly, though this piece is centuries old it was almost unknown until I was just getting out of college.

Follow The Numbers

I had a little too much today of people saying or writing things authoritatively about how things were in the old days in cultural or political matters. People didn't keep their guns in their nightstand at night when I grew up around here. Well, maybe so, but could you cite some sort of confirming evidence of that/  I like numbers myself, but I would take something like I remember it coming up in conversation more than once, sitting around in the camp after a day of hunting.  Why my uncle... That's still not stunning.  Maybe it was the same four uncles every time, and that is just one town and a limited number of years, but at least it's something. Everyone in this town went to church every week in those days...I remember seeing some "interesting" numbers from the early 60s when I did a church 100th anniversary history in the 80s. Church attendance was much higher, sure. But really? Only half of my neighborhoods went.  I'm only counting about eight houses each time, and maybe I just happened to have a depressing effect on church attendance, even as a child...

Give me some numbers. I can take it. Damned lies and statistics gets quoted frequently, but trust me, your accuracy is much worse when you have no statistics.  And statistics can be made to tell the truth.  You grab them by the collar, shove them against the wall, and make them tell you who their friends are.

Theory of Mind

Lingthusiasm 59, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking, looks at Theory of Mind from a more basic perspective, of childhood development and how TOM reflects in language. (Transcript available.) It includes the fun exercise of thinking how one would create a forwardable email to someone who already knows all the info and will distribute it under their own name.  The juggling of which mind is talking to which, a task we complete fairly automatically, is interesting to contemplate.

Or not.  It might be just linguists and researchers who think so.

Anyway, this is long-awaited, and quite disjointed.  I eventually just gave up in order to move the blog forward.

Why is it automatic for some to ask the questions "How would I feel if someone said that to me?" or "Would this be different if it were a boss asking an employee/ a woman suggesting it to a man/ and old friend versus a new one?" while others can do it very well but need to be cued to ask the questions, and others seem unable to do it at all?  WRT that middle category, is initiation sometimes an Asperger's problem?  I don't think I have seen it mentioned, but I can think of some examples in people I know. As this is something that children do not tend to do but some adults do I tend to view its lack as a childishness, or a direct callousness to the needs of others.  But I wince as I say it, because I know very nice people who display exemplary adulthood who find this difficult .

If we divide things into the World of Ideas, the World of Things, the World of People, we usually assign the first two categories to autists, regarding them as weaker in the third, and I can certainly think of a half-dozen examples of those who are rather avoidant of people, just off the top of my head.  Yet I know some hypersocial aspies, and others that are not comfortable in the World of Ideas at all, much preferring the concrete.  It is the middle category that is the key one, then, as the stereotype used to be?

I have also noticed that some on the spectrum seem unable to resist constantly, quietly enforcing their worldview on any conversation. I hesitate to generalise, because I know non-Aspies who do that as well.  Yet it is a prominent feature of a few, constantly working their political, religious, or cultural view into every conversation in a rather obsessive fashion.  And these Aspies seem not to notice it, and in my limited experience from a decade ago, deny that is happening and are resentful.  It's like a slow invasion by a series of hobbyhorses.

What should we be socially consequating?  At what point do we stop saying that we have to be understanding and overlook things?  I am asking this more from a Christian and moral POV than a practical one. Let me make up an example:  A high school boy who seems quite aspie asks a girl to a dance. Yet at the end of the night she is humiliated because he has not danced with her. When friends or family try to point out to him that he has gotten this wrong and he gets embarrassed and goes and apologises, everyone is fine with the outcome.  Unless the girl also has issues of some sort and was more than humiliated and an apology isn't enough to make her come around and feel all right about things.  It's easy to be forgiving when there is no harm, but what if there is?

And what if he takes the opposite stance, digging in his heels and saying "But I don't like to dance.  No one has the right to make me dance.  I don't have to if I don't want to."  Efforts to make the distinction that of course he doesn't have to dance, except in situations where he asks someone to a dance, fall on deaf ears. And we know that he doesn't have quite the ability to understand these things as others do, but he's also being unnecessarily difficult.  I am not looking for a set of rules on this, but a set of questions to ask oneself. 

(I originally stated this as Social responsibility, that is something that society can legitimately consequate because it is disruptive, versus moral responsibility. How should a Christian respond to something that looks like the former mostly, but does not quite qualify for the ladder if we make allowances for limitations, extenuating circumstances, etc, if that helps explain.)

Related, though it doesn't look it, is the issue of Demand Avoidance. As I err on the side of candor ("Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud," above) I find it hard to fathom the idea of not explaining yourself, or at least explaining why you are not going to explain. There are hundreds of mollifying or polite statements we get used to giving  to each other. "Did you mean to come across as that condescending?  Perhaps I did not express myself as well as I should have. I see your point Esmeralda, and would ordinarily agree with it, but in this instance..." Even "Sod off, it's none of your business" may sound rude, but it's way better than just not answering.  Politely ignoring something is when you do it for the other person's sake, not mentioning that they are currently unemployed, or have been divorced twice, or embarrassed yourself at this event last year. But when you ignore someone for your own sake it is merely contemptuous, dismissing them so fully that their voice should not even be heard.

Even at that there are times when it is necessary, when violence is threatened or there is some other safety issue. But in general, the silent treatment is intentionally aggressive, no matter how much it is denied.

Yet that response is common.  It has been made into comedy, by Shakespeare and Moliere, where the audience is aching to say "If she would just tell him that she is the actual princess and not the maid in disguise," or going the other way "if you would just make the accusation that he saw her kissing another man, she could explain that it was her brother..."

(Of course these days it would have to be explaining to her boyfriend that the man she was undressing in front of was her gay cousin who is a fashion designer, but same principle.)

So at first glance it looks as if it should be impossible that we think it wise to just leave so much unsaid - yet it happens so often. Many people just don't want the momentary discomfort of "a scene," and will put themselves - and more importantly put others - through unnecessary pain. Demand avoidance is just running to your room like a schoolgirl, really.

Or am I imposing my emotional preferences on others? I wonder if this activates with aspies more when it is mostly emotional material that they feel unconfident about but is absent when more concret information is being discussed.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Reading Reviews

Product reviews are important to a lot of businesses, it seems. I seldom write them. I really should, as it is the sort of wisdom of crowds that is helpful to others, even if they are sometimes faked or puffed up. I look at the overall, just to make sure there is not something weird happening. 4-point stars, fine, I don't differentiate much between 4.7 and 4.2 unless it is over a large sample. Two stars when there are more than six reviews gets my attention, but that seldom happens.  I read a very few five star reviews to make sure I have perceived this hotel or lawnmower correctly, then I move to the 1- and 2-star reviews for the same purpose. Sometimes no problem for you. "Cheaply made." Yeah, it's single use and what did you expect for four bucks? Most of the terrible reviews leave you thinking that it's the reviewer who has a problem more than the product. Reading a few of those can actually be sort of fun. What did you expect, clown?  

Rather like the 70s SNL episode where Bob Crawford is complaining because the National Park Service does not have any signs saying "Do Not Ride The Bears."

But sometimes these are helpful. "Yeah, that's exactly what I was going to need it for.  Good to know it doesn't do that." 

Hittite Joke

I can't believe I keep forgetting to tell my Hittite joke.

Old Pastor Sjostedt had learned early to start off his sermons with a little joke, just to warm up the congregation.  Often it would be a Norwegian joke - those went down pretty well. But he was reading in the Scriptures one night and he saw   Säg bara sådant som är gott och till hjälp för dem som ni samtalar med, och som kan bli dem till välsignelse, which is "Say only things that are good and helpful to those you converse with, that will bless them."  He was deeply troubled. Some of these things would not bless a Norski who happened to drop in. But they are so funny! It seems such a shame...ah well.  

He went for months, and still found jokes to start with, but it was harder, and his preaching lacked that little punch it used to have, yah know? 

He was reading the Scriptures again, this time in Genesis, about Abraham negotiating with the Hittites. Are there any Hittites left? He wondered, and a little research showed that no, there were no Hittites anymore.  Long since disappeared. Ah, I have it, he said. I can tell my Norwegian jokes, but just change it to Hittites, and no one will be bothered. 

So he gets up to preach the very next Sunday and says "There were these two Hittites, Ole and Sven..."


I actually used this principle in Romania when speaking in a Transylvanian village. There is a form of joke using two common names from a group, such as Jacques and Pierre, and making them dumb and dumber: "J: I threw those nails back in the bin because the heads are on the wrong end...P: "You fool, those are for the other side of the house!" "J: Fire three more shots in the air to attract attention...P: I can't. I am all out of arrows." I chose to tell them about Dmitri and Radu, my interpreter assuring me that these were names often used in Romanian jokes.  

It went over pretty well.  Some things translate decently to other cultures.

Monday, June 10, 2024

In Over My Head

Am I gravitating to more difficult subjects - a patently foolish idea after age 70 - or am I just less supple in my thinking? You saw the Indo-European and Hittite genetics paper and my attempt at explanation, and now I will pass this along.  In my Aspie/Autism research and contemplation I am interested specifically in Theory of Mind at the moment. In looking for a unifying principle in my random notes on the subject that refuses to become a coherent essay, I thought it might be good to check up on the research of what brain areas and structures were implicated in Theory of Mind, and if there wasn't enough of that, of autism in general. I still remember that the amygdala was considered the main candidate years ago, and the anterior cingulate gyrus was thought to be an important center of comparing one narrative with another, so that if it was underperforming, it was hard to replace an old idea with a new one. That seemed like it might fit with questions like "How would you feel if someone said that to you?" or "Did you interpret the tone correctly on this one?" or "Would this sound different coming from another woman?" 

Well, plenty is being done in terms of looking at what brain areas and structures are involved.  Every paper leads to six other papers that has an intriguing title.

Unfortunately, you can get off to an understandble start that we now think that the amygdala is only secondarily involved, except in face perception, where it is very important.  Overall brain connectivity is now considered more promising, and then you are suddenly into speculations that it's the Right temporal parietal junction,  Possibly the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), or the adjacent rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), and medial posterior parietal cortices (MPPC) including posterior cingulate and precuneus.  All in the same paper.

There are two additional reasons for seeing posterior cingulate as a transitional zone and subiculum* as more the final stage of the SHS (AVI: that's the septo-hippocampal system) . First, the posterior cingulate represents a reversal of the architectonic trend which progresses from the perirhinal and parahippocampal cortex, via entorhinal cortex to subiculum. On architectonic grounds the lateral septal area and hypothalamus would be better candidates for a “next stage” of the SHS. Second, the posterior cingulate cortex has return projections to the pre-subiculum, some parts of the subiculum, entorhinal, perirhinal, and parahippocampal cortices. Transmission within the rest of the SHS  is more strictly unidirectional.

*involved, somehow, in suppressing the incorrect alternatives to new memories. Therefore, when it's not working, incorrect alternatives are still in play, preventing the correct memory from being encoded and set down.  Or something.  One sees that if you learned this maze of brain structures, you could make just about any claim you liked and the number of people who could refute you would be very small. All the people who knew the field might agree you were talking nothing but gibberish, but that would still be a small number.

I used to have a few brain researchers I could run into and ask questions about these things, and they were good at bringing it down to my level, or pointing out which sections were just required fill in order to not offend powers-that-be who were determined to show that this or that structure was deeply involved, despite the complete lack of evidence.  So that was Very Helpful, Piglet.

Or you get sections where you are pretty sure what is being said, but have little idea how this fits into anything else, as with Harvard Medical School re theory of mind:  

The investigators found that some neurons are specialized and respond only when assessing another’s belief as false, for example. Other neurons encode information to distinguish one person’s beliefs from another’s. Still other neurons create a representation of a specific item, such as a cup or food item, mentioned in the story. Some neurons may multitask and aren’t dedicated solely to social reasoning.

“Each neuron is encoding different bits of information,” Jamali said. “By combining the computations of all the neurons, you get a very detailed representation of the contents of another’s beliefs and an accurate prediction of whether they are true or false.”

 I'm getting to my random fun stuff on the topic, I swear.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Sexual Selection for Hair, Eye, and Skin Color

I have seen similar essays by Peter Frost for years - it seems to be a main focus of his research - but I don't believe I have ever posted it. Recent Evolution of Hair, Eye, and Skin Color In Europe.

The emergence of diverse coloration in Europe is recent.  Frost believes it is due to sexual selection, not the commonly-maintained idea that it has to do with sunlight at higher latitudes and Vitamin D.  

 European hair and eye colors get attention not only through their brightness and purity but also through their diversity – they come in many hues. Sexual selection is known to create color polymorphisms as a means to maximize the “novelty effect.” A color can get attention simply by being rare. When an attractive color becomes more frequent in a population through generations of sexual selection, it loses some of its novelty and, hence, some of its attractiveness. The pressure of selection then shifts to less frequent colors, including those that have recently appeared through mutation. Thus, over successive generations, the population will accumulate more and more color variants.

He notes that some of the changes are estrogen-mediated, and gives support for the theory that color change to more arresting colors in other species is usually related to mate attraction for both males and females.  

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Weird Nerd Trade-Offs

The Weird Nerd Comes with Tradeoffs by Ruxandra Teslo at her substack goes in interesting directions on a favorite topic of my. She suggested they were autists, or at least overlapped strongly, which drew a lot of criticism.  She has not changed her mind, but thought it wiser to change terminology in her writing.

David Foster sent it along, and I have liked a few things on her site.  She goes one step deeper on a lot of my favorite topics, which is usually all I can stand at one go. 

In one of her interviews, Katalin Karikó recalls her mother calling her from Hungary around the time when the Nobel Prizes were awarded and asking her if that year she was going to win it. The question, in its loving naivete, must have stung worse than an insult: not only was Karikó not close to this remarkable feat, she was actually unsuccessful by much less ambitious metrics. Put simply, she had left her family in Hungary to work in the US, but for little actual measurable reward, be it status or money. Karikó did not get grants. Karikó did not get tenure. What Karikó did was work until late at night on a topic people did not pay that much attention to at the time: mRNA for vaccines. And she did that for decades. Paul Graham talks about an underrated quality one needs for extreme success, namely the willingness to be low status. And Karikó had plenty of that: she lived her convictions, in this case the conviction in the importance of mRNA through rejections, humiliations (her office was vacated without her having received prior notice) and hardship. I would go even further and say: she had intellectual courage.

The comments on this and other essays are good as well. Sometimes the commenters can let you know what is a valuable site.

Friday, June 07, 2024


Lord grant my prayer because it is so important and I need it.

Lord grant my other prayer because it is so trivial in the grand scheme of things (though important to me) that answering it won't disrupt anything much.

Losing Our Religion

 The post over at Unsupervised Learning interviewing Ryan Burge is subscriber only on my desktop. I can read only a little, and I can listen to but 20 minutes out of a 50 minute podcast. But I can listen to it in full on my device and get at the full transcript, though it is clunky to read it there.  I'm old.  I don't like long-form reading on a phone. I can use it to extract specific quotes or review a section, but it's usually not otherwise worth my effort.

I like Burge.  His substack Graphs About Religion is quite interesting, and I don't doubt his use of data. But his generation is showing in his analysis. He is the age of my two oldest sons and of bsking. He has an impression, I think accurate and fitting the data of how many people have claimed to be evangelical over the years, that there was a more unified evangelical popular culture in the 1990's.  Evangelical kids went to large festivals, listened to common music, had similar t-shirts and other merch, and shared cultural beliefs more than they did before and after. He grew up Southern Baptist himself, and is now American Baptist, a much less evangelical branch.

He points specifically to the political uniculture that everyone was and is expected to be right wing, and it clearly frosted him then and still does. Perhaps that is a little strong.  At minimum, he feels it is confining, limiting. I tend to agree. I was always conscious of only partly sharing the common beliefs when my children were in Christian schools.

But he errs greatly in seeing this as some divisive force that grew up in the 80s and topped out in the 90s, referencing Newt Gingrich.  That movement was very much a counter-reaction. The evangelicals did not decide to separate from popular culture so much as recognise that they were positively hated in the shiny bright culture who thought they were smarter and better.  The religious left, whose existence was denied for many years, aspired to be part of this NYT/WaPo NYC publishing, academic culture, held the reins of power in American religion. The seminaries and faculty of denominational schools tilted left, so that a liberal clergy and conservative laity was common across the mainstream denominations. They gravitated to headquarters and boards, and they decided where the charitable and political action money was going to be spent. Not only UCC and Episcopal churches funded radical causes in other countries, but even the Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, etc did so as well. 

I was in a more conservative denomination teaching a middle school unit on the Ten Commandments and receiving materials from the publishing arm at headquarters and was given things like advocating for minimum wage increase under the category of Thou Shalt Not Steal. The social gospel held the institutional power and saw it threatened and lashed back in hatred. I grew up UCC, and I read enough of CS Lewis's commentary on what was happening in C of E in the 40s and 50s to know that this had been going on a long time and was deeply embedded.

We didn't start the fire.

To Love Somebody

The Burritos, under the influence of Parsons, cover another pop/rock song and make it country.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Wild Horses

The Flying Burrito Brothers were a big favorite of mine in the early 70s.  You probably would only recognise the names of Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow now.

CS "Jack" Lewis, Ulsterman

We went to CS Lewis Square, a 24-hour access park where there are 7 statues from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The last statue is of Professor Digory as a young man, opening the door to a wardrobe. I suppose everyone thinks it is a statue of Lewis himself.  I certainly did at first. The official name is The Searcher Centenary Statue. Carved into the pavement surrounding the statue is a box with words along the edges. "C.S. 'Jack' Lewis - Ulsterman" is the first side. He would have flipped to see that as his main descriptor, I thought. The name of the statue is along the second side. The third side gives his Date of Birth and Date of Conversion...that's interesting.  The fourth side is Writer. Scholar. Teacher. Christian. Accurate at least, and I suppose it's in chronological order. 

But...Ulsterman?  As the lead descriptor? Yet I reconsidered. The statue is right in front of a public library branch which has a display of Lewis's children's books. I don't know how widely-read Lewis is in Northern Ireland now, and many children may not have ever heard of him. So the inscription is letting them know, right off the bat, "he was from around here.  He's one of us." It's a possible hook to get a kid interested, as are the statues themselves. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Origin of the Indo-Europeans (and Hittites!)

(I should edit, but I'm too tired.)

Okay, I'm ready to have a go at this. I mentioned the new preprint The Genetic Origins of the Indo-Europeans, that names everybody who is anybody* in this branch of anthropology a few weeks ago. I am told it is reasonable and easy to understand, but it takes me longer than others, maybe. The subsequent reports I see want to start in media res, at a point we can say "yup, those are definitely Indo-Europeans." They are definitely better informed and probably smarter than I am, and they usually start with discussing three clines of genes around Central Asian rivers over 5000 years ago. From our vantage point these rivers seem close together, but the Dniester is about 1000 miles west of the Volga. Not neighbors, really.

But being both arrogant and stupid, I would rather tackle this chronologically, starting almost 7000 years ago. 6500, anyway. Yet just to get those clines out of the way, it is two smaller ones and one big one, and they all have a fair bit of Caucasian Hunter Gatherer genes in them. They were on Ukrainian and Kazakh rivers.

One of my first posts in 2006 was about the controversy of the Indo-European homeland. I vaguely put it in the Marija Gimbutas versus Colin Renfrew camps. I will not link to it, because I was being a smartass and it provided little good information.  (Hard to believe, I know.) The Anatolian branch of Proto-Indo-European does not share characteristics with all the other branches, from which we conclude it split off first.  This would be the Hittites, Lydians, Luwians. Their language says they are related to the people of the Pontic Steppe north of the Caucasus Mountains. Yet they have not seemed to be part of the explosive takeover of most territory from Mongolia to Ireland over the next few millennia, including a section from the Altai to Hungary very quickly.

We used to put the split between these first two groups around 4000BC. This has been nudging back and 5000 BC is now in play.  The paper should actually be called "The Genetic Origins of the Indo-Europeans and the Hittites," because we cleared up both in this one. There had even been a theory that the Anatolians were the first speakers, and the later groups which went on to dominate the world split off from them incurrent Turkey and migrated north. The earliest dates for the language PIE rather than the people were 4500 BC, and now that is nudged back as well.  It now looks that a number of tribes played a small genetic role in mixing with Caucasian Hunter Gatherers across a wide range.  In fact, it's a wider range every time we look. Sometimes we name a group according to where we first found it, then find out to our embarrassment they actually lived a lot of other places as well, and the name doesn't fit so neatly. Even before its Yamnaya (Russian for "pit-grave") segment started taking over Eurasia in 3400BC, CHG covered a lot of territory.  To make it clear, all Yamnaya has a lot of CHG in it; but not all CHG turned into Yamnaya. 

All groups we can find evidence for look like they engaged in a great deal of violence. Popularisers and even real anthropologists can forget themselves and see some groups as more peaceful, but this is only in contrast to the insane levels of violence of the young Yamnaya. (That's us, remember.) Even Gimbutas, who has been largely vindicated and I admired greatly, spun a tale of the kurgan peoples overrunning more peaceful matriarchal societies from Asia into Europe. Pop culture references to The Goddess as a concept date from her book on the subject in 1974. Yet it turns out they were also plenty patriarchal and violent after all, now that we have better archaeology. 

I should do a post on why (some of) both feminist and antifemist myths of the current day would like there to have been societies that showed greatly elevated status of women in the past, even though the evidence is sparse.

Back on task...on to the clines.  So by about 3600 BC there is this stew of various tribes admixing in the usual patrilocal way, so that women are moving from the tribe of their birth to just about anywhere up and down the river or less often, east and west between rivers. While fascinating to the specialist, the three river clines are unremarkable in general at that point.  They all have a lot of Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer in them, but CHG is mixing with a whole bunch of other groups. In the granddaddy of the clines, the Caucasian Lower Volga, it is mostly just CHG. (It has some older Neolithic West Asian in it, but new genetic bits of that had stopped coming in long ago.)  They have already achieved dominance and pushed the other groups - and definitely the males - out. We might be suspicious that this is the core Yamnaya, poised to explode out and conquer the world.  Yet that seems slow in coming. If their dominance is that thoroughgoing, there must have been considerable violence.  Yet not the signature violence the people who became us were noted for.  

In the two other clines, there is still a lot of general mixing going on, even though the CHG are more numerous. In the northern Volga, they are mixing with their distant cousins the Eastern Hunter Gatherers. EHG was itself a mixture over the previous millennia: Ancestral North Eurasians, Paleo-Siberians, Khvalynsk, and even some Western Hunter Gatherers. They mixed with the more purely CHG downriver.

In the Dnipro-Don cline to the West, the CHG that were already there had been mixing with Ukrainian Neolithic Foragers for a few centuries, if not more. So it is already 50-50 CHG and UNLF when the that big group from the Lower Volga starts to move in, expanding a considerable distance westward through the Don, Dniper, and eventually Dneistr Valleys. 

If you are looking for a workable analogy for all these tribes mixing, separating, moving back together in different configurations, all the while maintaining some main threads, compare it to the development of English. It comes out of a group of languages in Northern Germany and Denmark that were already moving back and forth, trading wives, fighting in each other's war bands at times and becoming more similar - then they move across the water to Britain where they pick up some local wives and local words, but settle in different places along the shore. As they move from raiding to settling, they starting trading wives of similar language again, but the kaleidoscope has turned. Next, one batch of Vikings comes in, then another. The important people start picking up some Latin. Then the Normans come in and it starts all over.

I was tempted to add a layer of complexity,  I slapped myself silly.

So there are some precursors to the world-conquering aggression, and they seem to be from the CHG. Should we conclude that the explosion out into the Steppe in 3300BC, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, comes from some subgroup of CHG in the CLV cline?  That would look like the way to bet. But everyone shakes their head, winces. The y-haplogroup pieces are not convincingly in place. Once the fuel is piled up the spark might come from anywhere. We have 90% of the story, but that seems to be a bit weird and elusive.

But once it starts, there is no more talk about mixing anymore, certainly not on the y-chromosome.  The Yamnaya eliminate all before them.  All this kaleidoscopic complexity ends for a few generations. In every conquered land some form of calm returns in even the next generation as people need to forage, even farm again.  The strike-force of dog-eating males trying to make a name for themselves moves on to the next raid, but the people left behind have to start getting along and admixing again.  Yet now, they are admixing with much nearer relatives, also recent descendants of the invasion. Genetically, the complete autosomal DNA is a lot more similar. And simpler. They may come from different river-groups and thus different clines, but they are still closely related. It's something like 5000 miles from western Mongolia to Hungary but in 4-500 years you've got fifth-cousins in both places. There is a single example of 3rd-cousins that far apart. 

I am leaving out the Tocharians and the early Iranian farmers, fascinating as they are.  Maybe some other time.

One last thing.  As most of this audience is European, you are going to care more about what happened as this whole 300-1000 year long war party moved west all the way to Ireland, and eventually America. That's another story, but I can tell you how this study bears on it. We had strong suspicions that the Corded Ware culture was largely Yamnaya, and it turns out to be 75%.  That's including a few generations of captured wives, so they must have been bringing a few Yamnaya women along as well.  the succeeding Bell Beaker Culture, another 500 years on, is still 60% Yamnaya. We suspected.  Now we know.

And that's Europe.  The Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Slavic, Baltic branches all come from that. So if your Irish grandmother married an Italian or a Pole, it's all still descended from a few thousand people from around Volgograd or Astrakhan about 6000 years ago. About 10% of all the genes in all the people in the world come from that small group. The Greeks split off early - so did the Armenians and Albanians.  They are Yamnaya but not Corded Ware/Bell Beaker. And of course the Uralic groups, the Hungarians, Finns, Saami, and Estonians are not even Indo-European.  But everyone else in Europe is. 

Heckuva founder effect.

*Iosif Lazaridis, David Reich, Nick Patterson, David Anthony - even I recognise the names!

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Baby Changing Stations

I am stalling, because I have two longer posts that I am not getting well in hand, one expanding on the Indo-European Origins paper, one on a lot of unrelated questions about social and moral considerations about Theory of Mind.  So instead, an observation: Now that people aren't having babies so much, there are baby-changing stations everywhere. I thought there were a fair number of babies about in Ireland, but they have fewer than we do here. As with the Scandinavian countries, it likely just means that the culture is welcoming and tolerant of having them about in shops and parks, so the mothers and fathers don't hesitate.

I suppose I could give you a fun digression on Theory of Mind as it shows up in Linguistics, which brings in the child development and experimental psychology aspects.  The Lingthusiasm podast "Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?" I am currently trying to work out why it occurs spontaneously in some people, can be easily cued in others, but some just cannot seem to get that skill to go - and they are often very touchy about your suggestion that they aren't getting it right. I keep thinking it's neurology, though I admit that's my default these days.

Popularity of Sports

 I was reflecting on Gaelic Games and how other sports have become popular in Ireland now and thinking on sports skills in general, whether Gaelic (American, Australian, Canadian) Football, Hurling, Rugby, Tennis, Golf... I thought I noticed that we like sports which combine power and finesse (heck, even the deadlift is highly dependent on form and technique), and was going to write about it.

Yet something nagged at me.

I wrote about it 6-7 years ago, and what I said then looks a little better than what I was going to say now.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Leper's Plot

In 1321, there was a panic in southern France that the lepers were conspiring together to put bags of infected powder in the wells and harm the healthy population. Confessions forced under torture showed that - surprise! - it was really the Jews, acting on behalf of the Muslims, who were conspiring. This followed on the heels of the Shepherd's Crusade of 1320, begun in Normandy to get rid of the Muslims but within a few months - Shazaam! - decided that killing Jews was better. 25 years later the Jews were apparently carrying the plague and poisoning the wells with it - again. Darn them!

For those who are trying to fit together a theory of how American leftists who care deeply about patriarchy, racial distinctions, and colonialism decided that the Palestinians, who fail badly on those counts, are the cause they need to be most concerned about in this wide world of injustices, let me simplify this for you.  Whenever people are paranoid about something, their next trainstop on the way out of town is always the Jews.

My theology would say that whatever covenant God has with the Jews about descendants and land might still be operative and historically interesting, but should be fairly irrelevant to the Christian. As a practical matter however, I can't overlook centuries of the Jews being "chosen" by every group of nutcases as soon as they get their bearings about whatever torqued them off first. I figure it has to mean something.

Airline Rules

I always get annoyed at the airlines repeating the rules endlessly, about seatbelts, and smoking, and emergency exits, armrests, and the like. But by the end of the flight I can usually count a few people who have ignored things with obvious safety implications.

So I get it that the airlines have legitimate concerns, but I am betting that there are better ways to get the behavior they want.

What they are doing clearly isn't working.  Doing it harder and louder is unlikely to be effective.

The Cute New Boyfriends Theory

Treasured beliefs die hard. When looking at European prehistory and population replacement, it was a shock to some anthropologists to think that it was all so, so violent. With some it was tied to the idea that primitive peoples were not all that violent, but only in the later years with the supposedly "civilised" men in the Mediterranean and especially Europe did the rest of the world learn violence. Hierarchy and stratification was the problem. Before that, most tribes were more egalitarian, as the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes who have been driven to marginal lands and existences are now. 

If you think that you sniff an argument against capitalism and in favor of communism buried under that I will nod in agreement.  If you wait long enough, that argument leaks out.

One of the places it isshowing up now is in the Indo-European/Yamnaya/Corded Ware replacement of the European farmers who were in place beforehand (ushering in a thousand-year Dark Ages, BTW). Entire y-haplogroup lineages disappear in less than a century, replaced by R1b. From that bottleneck people started moving around and admixing again, so R1b is merely the dominant, not the exclusive lineage now.  But at the time they ran the table.  Lots of mtDNA lineages, the female-to-female lines remained diverse, indicating that they didn't kill all the women, they took them as victims first, concubines next, and wives thereafter. 

This is stretched to maintain that not all the replacement was violent, that some of it was these masculine, horse-riding steppe invaders outcompeted the local men, sweeping the local girls of their feet, so that they dropped their old boyfriends in favor of new ones they liked better. I have actually heard female anthropologists use similar language, fairly giggling in a worldly-wise way. 

Where to begin? If these men had simply been outcompeted, 30% in the first generation, 30% in the second generation, etc, a few of their lineages would have snuck through. Even if the conquered were now slaves. Even apes have strategies for distracting the chiefs so that your pals can sneak around the back door, hoping it will be your turn next time. If they were allowed to be alive at all, some of the previous farmers would have sided with the victors, or their sons would, and in the following generations who came from what lineage would be less them.  But not to us, who now have the DNA. The pattern I just described does happen.  You can see in in the British Isles in the Saxon invasion, the Viking invasion, and the Norman invasion.  In recorded history, it the far more common pattern in Europe. (Other places, not so much.) But you can see the weakness of this arguement when you envision what complete replacement really means.

It does not mean that every single encounter was violent. Some clans would see the writing on the wall and give their daughters semi-willingly, as that is what they had been doing beforehand anyway, back when the opponents and allies were more closely related (or at least not all R1b.) Some Iberian mixtures seem to be at least somewhat cooperative, and after the first generation, a lot of them would be. But these were not the norm.

Second, where on earth does the idea come from that these women had any choice in the matter? Except in warfare and other violent expansion, even the young men weren't given much choice. As soon as things settled down even a little, chieftains, and then families, decided who the tribe's boys were going to mate with and pretty much assigned them out. To think that in such a situation the girls were whispering "Aren't these new fellas simply scrumptious?  I'm going to try and catch the eye of that one over there, the one with the feather in that dashing cap." Women having much say is rather um, recent. Sexual selection did operate, but most of that would be secretive.

Third, and this is more speculative, the succeeding waves of steppe invaders are described as quite unattractive - short (because hunched), scarred, unshaven in the extreme, smelling funny, mostly violent. How is that the answer to a maiden's prayer?

Saturday, June 01, 2024


There were reruns of this 80s game show in a pub. I found it a fairly unbelievable coupling, but it lasted at least a decade, so apparently they liked it fine in the UK. Two players on a team, one throws darts to create a multiplier score of some sort for his partner, who answers general knowledge questions. Money. Prizes. Prestige.

Darts was on television fairly often.  We saw a major match with the contestants being introduced like WWE fighters, costumed, with danging girls in a row on the stage beside them. We didn't see any in the flesh, though.

Irish Food Slang

A bap is what we would call a bun, as in a hamburger bun. 

A bun is more of a sweet bun, like a sticky bun or a hot cross bun.

Wheaten bread when plain is like our whole wheat bread, but it might have raisins, honey, or treacle (molasses) flavouring it. Sometimes oats in there.

Soda bread is similar to wheaten, but with - you  guessed - more baking soda.

Tiger bread  is a crusty bread with a trick of the crust that makes it patterned and cracked. I couldn't have any, but it looked like fun. 

The waitress said we could get a pound loaf, but I never learned what that was.

After due consideration I concede that Great Britain has it right on the names for crisps and chips as opposed to our potato chips and french fries. But it is even harder to get simply plain versions of the former in Ireland than in America and they are saltier, as most things are. OTOH, chips are usually just plain, though sweet potato fries are sometimes available. Curly fries, truffle fries...I never saw any on a menu. 

It is easier to get just plain coffee or just plain tea, which is nice.

Bacon is thin pork chops, like Canadian back bacon.  Our version is called streaky bacon.

Porridge is oatmeal.  You are more likely to get overnight cooked rolled oats that's a bit creamier, but that's not always the case.

I found I like white pudding, the crispy kind, after all.  The soft grey stuff we'd seen in England did not enchant, but the Irish version of the pork/fat/oat sausage has onion, pepper and some spices in it. Sliced and fried for breakfast.

People will tell you that Irish restaurants are very savvy about having gluten-free items, and this is more than half-true. What is wholly true is that they are savvy about knowing they have to say so. Sometimes this is only "Well you can have a salad," or "You can have it without the bread." Yet I remain grateful, as I was able to have GF fish-and-chips three times in eight days, and it is hard to find in NH, even at seacoast restaurants. There is a fairly consistent practice of having a numbered (or color-block) list of possible allergens at the bottom of the page, with the numbers next to each menu item above. It can get up to over a dozen possibles. Just remember that the numbers tell you what is in the dish, not what is left off.

You can sometimes get GF beer. Peroni's makes one, but I don't know if it is available in the US. I usually just drank cider, which is reliably there at any pub.

The Irish

I will build on this list over the next few days.

One of our frequent remarks early in the trip, when observing people being kind and helpful to us and to each others was "You don't see that in London." Late in the trip, an Irishman allowed that you might not see it much in Dublin either, and what we were seeing was an urban/nonurban divide.

Relatedly, I recalled how a friend who recently visited Northern Ireland felt uncomfortable with the tension she felt in Belfast and Derry. I did get a whiff of politicised tension in those places 

...but my stronger impression was that it was the ubiquitous graffiti, the density of tattoos, piercings, and the shops that provided them, and the general disrepair of down-on-their-luck neighborhoods that gave that impression. I don't think The Troubles are the majority portion. Lots of "disaffected youth," as we used to say.

I wondered if there were something slightly maddened about Donegal County, as it had a far greater concentration of people flying county flags and displaying the colors from balconies. We asked about this when we were in County Galway and were assured that this only meant that they had some sort of Gaelic Athletics Association match on, and the whole county was mobilised for it.  When Galway or Mayo counties had a team in that weekend, they did much the same. I expressed surprise, as my experience attending a hurling match in Dublin 20+ years ago was poorly attended.  About ten fans, including the four of us and a dog. They were amazed in turn, but quickly found the explanation.  Some counties are mad for hurling, some for Gaelic football, with some overlap. A hurling match in a football county is not important. This explained my initial puzzlement. 

GAA games are very political in terms of Irish identity. "Foreign" sports like rugby, cricket, and soccer are looked down upon, and not so long ago boycotted entirely. TV has changed that a fair bit.

The Irish have a separate second-person plural, yuz, or perhaps yahs or yaz. There is not a proper one in English, but the number of dialects which have a you guys, y'all, a you'ns, or a youse is fair evidence that we want one and feel we need it.

They Cut Lund's Brain

Originally published here January 2016.  It comes in again because book group is reading The Rose Code, well-researched historical fiction about women at Bletchley Park in Britain during WWII. I read little new fiction now, but am liking this, the intertwined stories of three women who were codebreakers, including one who is clearly autistic but absolutely shines at it, her lateral thinking and obsessive interest in a problem giving her insight into some of the most difficult puzzles faced. She was confined to an asylum some years after the war.


He came back to the hospital around 1980, after having been out since the early 60's.  Richard had been able to be placed at one of those small-town boarding houses that still existed then, where a woman would take you in and cook your meals and do your laundry in exchange for your disability check.  You got to live with a couple of other guys, equally disabled, and got to sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes, waving to the people who came to recognise you and your harmlessness. The family might drag you to church or to Grange or some hobby of theirs like flea markets.  They remembered your birthday and they gave you a cake.  They had a stocking for you at Christmas. If you said crazy things no one minded, really. A sparse life, but not abusive, usually.

Things could go wrong.  If you got violent or uncooperative, they would send you back, and after we had tuned you up and haggled with them a bit, they would have you back. But not always.  You might have become difficult beyond their ability (or at any rate, their willingness) to have you back.  Maybe you hit one of the other men, who was still afraid of you. Or maybe you had said alarming things to the granddaughter that made them think you were no longer safe.

So Richard was back, and it was our job to fix him and then sweet-talk and reassure the landlady that he could be wedged back in.  And...letting her complain about how bad he'd been and go on irrelevantly and at length how hard her life was, with her daughter moving back in with a baby and her husband's back finally gotten too bad for him to work anymore.

But Richard wasn't fixing up all that well.  He was difficult and now refused to clean his room or take a shower, even when I was hooshing him in good directions.  He might suddenly turn and get combative - our word for when someone is violent in response to intervention but not initiating violence - but generally he was just stubborn. He had been very assaultive years ago in the hospital, but had been a lamb, mostly, since he had gotten a frontal lobotomy at our facility in the late 1940's.

Not all lobotomy patients were alike.  They were less violent and angry after the procedure, but their impulsiveness or delusions might remain. The older staff had general advice on what to do with them, as they had known many in earlier years, but it was generally acknowledged that it was all still very unpredictable, and some were still obstreperous or surly even after they'd had their brain messed with and been placid for years.  Just one of those things.

I'm sorry, I have to stop for a bit.  The memory is very painful now that I'm in it again, back there with Richard Lund 35 years ago.


Richard Lund isn't his real name, of course. Even now I couldn't identify him clearly because of confidentiality laws.  He had no wife, no children.  His parents had died.  I want to say he had no siblings, but perhaps there was a half-sister, now living in western New York or some such. There was no mention of her in the record beyond his childhood. Revealing his name would hurt no one, and my inability to fully commemorate him is ironic in terms of what I will write later, but there it is.  Rules are rules.  Even if I were to reveal it, you would be unable to track him down, because he shares a name with a semi-famous person from a few decades ago, who gobbles up all the search engine space.

He was my assigned patient, and he was annoying in a few ways. He was always reluctantly cooperative at best, and likely to sucker-punch me at odd moments once a week. Yet what grated on me most was his vocabulary.  He was a poser, showing off that he knew words, but using them wrongly. Underneath it all, there was the unspoken assignment that I was supposed to be brushing him up, or his placement would be lost. As if this were my fault. I was increasingly frustrated, and it must have showed. One of the nurses suggested I take an hour or so to read through his old histories and see if there were anything helpful there. I took the hint, and gratefully accepted the time off the unit so as not to lose my temper.

State hospital records were a ridiculous contrast in those days.  There would be a shift note by the unit staff 3 times a day, 365 days a year, for as many years as a soul lived in hospital, pages and pages of slept 6-7 hours...ate 75% of dinner...attended walk group without incident. Useless after a week or so but preserved forever. Clinical notes, by psychiatrists, social workers, or psychologists, were more sparse.  In one of the oldest charts I ever saw I read Virginia's yearly notes from the psychiatrist, 1926-1935, two sentences each.  One learned to paw through the thick brown binders ignoring whole sections in order to find some three page treasure, such as a social history, some psychological testing, a school record.

Richard's chart from the late 1930's - 40's bounced back between two dramatic themes: he was continually assaultive, responding to no reasoning, no sedative, and no intervention.  He had an eye for the helpless victim and wreaked havoc among them, poor quivering souls who wanted only to be left alone. So frontal lobotomy, in the context of no restraining medications and the other choices being physical restraint - in chair, in cuffs, on bed - was the kindest choice, however grim it seems now. I had seen enough of the violent preying upon the innocent, and the violent in restraints for days on end, to know that the choices were not clean.

The other theme was his poetry.  He had been published in a half-dozen of the small, ephemeral literary journals of the day. Taped into his record were two Table of Contents from reviews I had not heard of, but also included poems by William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. Someone in 1944 had included three of his published poems, and in the back section were replies from editors and poets who he had evidently appealed to to get him OUT of this hospital. His requests are not recorded, but a secretary for William Carlos Williams had sent a rather odd, distant reply, saying that there was nothing that could be done but praising a poem he had written years earlier. An editor of Pound's replied that he no longer had any contact with that man since his arrest after the war. (Pound was confined to an institution himself at the time.)

So he was a poet - perhaps second-tier but real, and rising - and the State of NH had given one of its sons a lobotomy.  Local Boy Does Good, from a town too small to have its own high school. But that all came to an end.

For good reason, but I still hated it.


I went back to the nurse and said "You knew what I was going to find when you sent me, didn't you?"  She allowed that she had.  One of the older nurses had vaguely remembered Richard was a poet, and knowing me, she thought I might be one of the few who understood what it signified. I am no fan of any poetry, but I was enough of a failed writer myself to understand what he must have dreamed and nearly grasped.  I brought the thick binder down to the day area where Richard and a few others silently sat and asked: "I found some poetry that Mr. Lund wrote years ago. It was published in real literary magazines.  Do I have your permission to read it aloud?" His expression changed not in the slightest. He had a perpetual look of one-half tick above neutral, except when he would instantly turn to fist-clenched anger for a minute or so, and I detected no flicker.  That's not enough for "consent," but I really wanted to read the poems and I pressed on. 

One nice woman listened intently and gushed after I finished the first poem, looking at Richard and praising him in cooing tones. I couldn't tell if he had heard me, or cared in the least.  He was unmoved by the second and third readings as well, except that he corrected my pronunciation of the name of an obscure Greek goddess, putting the accent on the correct syllable. Nothing more.

"Mr. Lund, if you want to do any writing again, I can get you notebooks, and put them in a safe place every night.  And I promise to read what you write."  He did not look at me nor turn a millimeter in my direction nor blink an eye.  "Nope.  They cut Lund's brain and he's in a wall.  It's all Ozymandias now."

I thought for years that the Ozymandias reference was just his broken posturing again.  I get it now.

But this is the last thing that will ever be said or written about him, and I can't use his name.