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April 09, 2020


Besides the DNA they've found, researchers have extrapolated about 40% of Neanderthal DNA from the DNA of people who have Neanderthal ancestors. It would be interesting, but would it be moral to bring back Neanderthals?

researchers have extrapolated about 40% of Neanderthal DNA from the DNA of people who have Neanderthal ancestors.

Which would be more impressive, were it not for the fact that people share some 40% of our DNA with . . . a banana. Be autounding if one couldn't also extrapolate 40% of a Neanderthal's DNA.

..., were it not for the fact that people share some 40% of our DNA with . . . a banana.

Which would be indistinguishable between modern humans and Neanderthals.

What we need is some Stoned Ape theory!


would it be moral to bring back Neanderthals?

Some well-grounded answers can be found, at least by implication, here. I haven't finished watching it yet, but so far they're talking about creatures like woolly mammoths, not Neanderthals.

My own not-well-grounded answer would be: no. It's one of those ideas that prove that some smart people are also...not very smart after all.

By accident, I'm having my own private Black writers' week:

-- Ibram X. Kendi's How to be an Anti-Racist, which is hard going but well worth the effort;

-- Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam, a murder mystery, the first of a series, which I'll definitely keep going with;

-- N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, which I may have heard of here. I don't read a lot of Sci-Fi or fantasy, so I don't have much to compare this to. (Nothing compares with LOTR or Harry Potter.) But after some initial irritation with the portentous, not to say pompous style of the first chapter or two, I settled in and am enjoying it a lot.

Last week I read Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, by Nobel prize winner Olga Tokarczuk. That one was hard going in a different way, not really my cup of tea at all. But sometimes ya gotta stretch your horizons, I guess.

I'm also halfway through a re-read of How to be Both, by Ali Smith. I love that book.

N. K. Jemisin's style... yeah. it's a bit heavy sometimes. but i'm going through her "Inheritance" trilogy right now and i'm liking it.

i don't like that everything has to be a trilogy, these days.

would it be moral to bring back Neanderthals?

Look at it this way. Suppose you can get your hands on some DNA from Einstein. Or Beethoven. Would it be moral to create a clone? How about creating a clone of your child, who died in a car crash last year? I'm having trouble with all those.

Recreating a non-sentient animal would, to my mind, be a whole different deal. For them, I'd say you'd have to have provision for them that didn't violate the animal cruelty laws, and didn't do ecological damage. But otherwise not really a problem.

recently read an interesting article that really makes one go "hmmm" about the subject of "non-sentient animals".


Some folks here are familiar with Steven Mithen, I think. He's an archaeologist, and has written several books at a fairly popular level about human pre-history.

One of his books, entitled "Singing Neanderthals", presents his hypothesis that human singing and music-making preceded language. He anchors this in an analysis of hominid evolutionary biology.

Most of the evolutionary biology is over my head, although I can more or less follow along. But I find the basic hypothesis - that music preceded language, and is more or less our original language - more than appealing.

Also on the Neanderthal tip - my wife bought me one of those Geno kits a couple of years ago, as a Christmas gift. Apparently I have a relatively high level of Neanderthal DNA, about 3%. About 3% Denisovan, also. It's a bit of a puzzle, I also did the Ancestry thing - they have me as almost 100% northern European, but Geno has me about half Mediterranean and half northern Europe.

Timescales matter, I guess.

As far as reading these days, I'm more or less reading fluff - Pratchett at the moment - and mostly for the lulz. Maybe it's time to re-read Hitchiker's Guide. Life's heavy enough.

Stay well y'all.

"Where did we humans come from? When did we become the dominant species on the planet?

Experts take you on an exploration of the last half-decade of new evidence from ancient DNA, fossils, archaeology and population studies that have updated our knowledge about The Origins of Today's Humans."
University of California Television (UCTV): Tales of Human History Told by Neandertal and Denisovan DNA That Persist in Modern Humans (YouTube: 18:29 02/21/2020)

Panis militaris - a study on everything food related about the Roman army.

Should start to read some Ammianus Marcellinus and Giacopo Sannazaro for the upcoming semester (still no news about how this will be handled with the campus in lockdown).

Apart from scattered bits all over the place I've been reading

A history of Italian Cinema
by Peter Bondanella

What Fanon Said
by Lewis Gordon

and just started

by Alberto Bolano

but I don't know if I'll have the stamina for that one as I'll find it rather hard to concentrate these days and then there's work and childcare ... Stay healthy everyone!

Kendi's book is indeed a struggle, but well worth it. I have finally reached chapter 18. My copy is from the public library and is way overdue, but it is closed due to the virus.

Also just finished "Stalin and the Fate of Europe" by Norman Naimark. It was OK for those of us who are interested in origins of the Cold War stuff.

I haven't been able to read anything serious for two and a half years, and before that only biographies and autobiographies fell into that category anyway.

But of the "non-serious" stuff (in which I include fantasy and sci-fi rather unfairly, since the best of it uses thought-experiments to great significance and effect) I really enjoyed The Vorkosigan Saga (ObWi recommendiation), The Old Man's War series (I think ObWi - cleek I think you said you didn't read Zoe's Tale? I think it was well worth reading in the context of the whole), and other Scalzi stuff including now the Interdependency Trilogy, and the Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, which just got better and better (as is often the way with these series).

Somewhere near the beginning of this spate, I read the Fifth Season, and although I admired it in some ways, I seem to remember I found it rather joyless.

An interesting aspect of this reading has been that age categories have been completely unimportant; the Thief series for example is, I think, classified as Young Adult, as are others I have read, like the Grishaverse (OK, but not particularly recommended). As far as I can see, this mainly seems to mean no sex. As a matter of fact, I have always read children's fiction among my many other categories of interest, with absolutely no self-consciousess, long before Harry Potter, so when that broke and there were stories about adults reading the HP books with special covers it just made me laugh. In fact, my sister recently gave me a book she'd heard about called Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise because she'd heard it was so good (it was), but also because I always had.

Anyway, to conclude this rather rambling comment, I should just say that I've recently read a series by Joe Abercrombie, the first trilogy of which starts with The Blade Itself, and the second series of three books are sort of standalone, though in the same world. I recommend this series, they are well-written, cynical and witty, with various interesting viewpoints along the way (excellent on war in general), and good characters, and although I think you do really need to read the trilogy first this is another series which gets better and better.

I'm currently re-reading William Gibson's The Peripheral to remind myself of the details of the world before tackling Agency. I'm about halfway through an anthology of activist-oriented afrofuturist short stories titled Octavia's Brood that I picked up last fall at the World Fantasy Convention. And I've got Justin Farrell's Billionaire Wilderness sitting on my desk to be read. (It's a look at the richest, and most economically unequal, county in the US: Teton County, WY.

It takes me forever to read a book anymore. Grad school did me in. Same with writing.

And on the other side of the publishing biz, I have no idea right now if my wife's follow-up novel, scheduled for October release, will still be on target or if the release will be delayed. All the big US publishers are in NYC.

Also, the Nebulas and the Hugos have gone to an online format. I really don't know what will happen to the convention scene, either. A lot could change as a result of this pandemic. Science Fiction authors are neither the youngest nor the healthiest group of people.

Just finished Deacon King Kong by James McBride. Terrific novel.

Am reading some economic history - Eichengreen's Hall of Mirrors about the Depression and the 2008 financial crisis. As someone (Lincoln?) once said about a book, "People who like this sort of thing will find this to be the kind of thing they like." Not everyone's cup of tea, but it is mine.

Recently read Gilgamesh and The Book of Job by Stephen Mitchell, again maybe an idiosyncratic taste, and some Civil War/Reconstruction history, two by Eric Foner and The Second American Revolution by Gregory Downs.

I'm also a big fan of Donna Leon's series of Venetian mysteries featuring Commissario Brunetti.

I just received Gibson's "Agency" in the mail.

Briefly, besides the Dresden history, at the moment I'm reading:

The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant -- closely observed, spot-on dialogue, including inner, and her ex-patriot stories (Europe) are stunning.

Supreme Ambition by Ruth Marcus about the shit show of the Kavanaugh debacle.

Jonathan Metzel's "Dying of Whiteness": guns, opioids, racism and resentment, and more guns.

Savoring the Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick, indispensable American literary critic and cultural commentary from a time in American letters that will never return. Every sentence is exquisite and bejewelled. She writes about males writers like no other critic, but she was married to Robert Lowell, nearly twice, so there you go.

Don Quixote on deck. Will read Nabokov's lectures on the book alongside.

Then on to the stacks on the table.

More posts and threads like this one.

I read Gilgamesh some years ago (not Stephen Mitchell's I don't think) and was delighted to finally find the source of the quotation which is written in silver script above the fireplace in the house on the Street of the Cherry Trees in Paris.....

(For Dorothy Dunnett fans)

I've been mostly rereading old favorites. But I'm thinking it's about time to go back and (carefully!) work my way thru my collection of Astounding/Analog.

I've actually got a complete run from when I was born in the late 1940s to date. (When I was in college, I stumbled across a guy who sold back issues out of his basement to the local SF club. So I was able to get the earlier ones.) Some of the old (OK, and the new) stuff is pretty terrible. But a lot is a) quite good, and b) I've never seen in an anthology.

Oh yes, I remember now, it was called the Hotel des Spheres....

The problem with Gilgamesh is that there is a new updated edition every few years adding a few more fragments.
Why not start an Arbeitsbeschaffungsmaßnahme and teach a lot of out-of-work people cuneiform (and basic) Akkadian to transcribe the mountains of fragments in the museum depots of the world (after some students have scanned them in high-def)? The tablets have likely gathered so much dust that the students have to wear masks anyway, so Corona should not be of concern.

Just seeing the word, "Arbeitsbeschaffungsmaßnahme" makes my day.

In German, more than any other language I am aware of, there's always "a word for it". And when there isn't, you can always create a combined word to do the job. Amazing language.

Since I've watched just about everything I can bring myself to watch from Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc., I may have to return to books.

As for young adult fiction, Bella Forrest does a pretty good job of world-building and story telling in her The Girl Who... SF series.

Quite a few audiobooks can be found on YouTube.

YouTube Search: ("audio book" OR "audio books" OR audiobook OR audiobooks) author, title, etc.

A "big book" I worked my way through in the past few months is "Capital in the 21st Century".

From internet rants, I expected it to be lots of polemic, but mostly it was rather detailed economic history in the 18th and 19th century, in which the main "polemic" was "keep better records, dammit!"

...and only a few, trivial equations. Crap, I was *hoping* for a few nonlinear partial differential equations, but NoooOooo....

How Democracies Die is lying here waiting for me.

Mostly I'm reading through tutorials and documentation and other stuff for the computer vision part of the cat-chasing robot project. The last time I did anything with pattern matching was >20 years ago, and the state of the art is quite different. Next week I think I'll build a small turret with servos and a laser that the software can control to point at what it thinks it's seeing in my living room. I never said this was going to be a straight-line project...

Crap, I was *hoping* for a few nonlinear partial differential equations,

When you see that kind of thing in a book about economics you should immediately stop reading.

I'm not familiar with the Aquatic Ape theory, so thank you for highlighting that!

Some anthropological theory books I enjoy even if the theories are wrong (or thought to be wrong) if the ideas are fascinating in and of themselves. They provoke my inner debunker to argument.

I argued my way through "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" (and was delighted to see its central theory referenced in HBO's Westworld). The one thing Jaynes said in the book that really pissed me off was his reliance on animals being non-sentient/non-conscious. Even when he wrote it (mid-70s) we knew that at least cetaceans and great apes were sentient/conscious. That undermined the bicameral mind theory for me all by itself, though it's still a fascinating idea.

One of the striking things about the aquatic ape theory is that it is an attempt to deal with what some argue is a male centric bias in evolutionary accounts and it sure seems that the vehemence in denying it is rooted in being called out. That doesn't make it right or wrong, but as Daniel Dennet observes

‘many of the counter arguments seem awfully thin and ad hoc.’ When he asked his colleagues, including distinguished paleoanthropologists and other experts, exactly why the theory is wrong, he did not get ‘a reply worth mentioning, aside from those who admit, with a twinkle in their eyes, that they often have wondered the same thing.’


This Atlantic article has directions to the rabbit hole

Those are fascinating articles, lj - thanks much! I had never ever heard of this theory before, now I can see myself becoming obsessed with it :)

Right? I just don't know enough to be sure I'm not going Bigfoot or Area 51 in entertaining AAT, but it's really intriguing.

now I can see myself becoming obsessed with it

My work here is done...


Even when he wrote it (mid-70s) we knew that at least cetaceans and great apes were sentient/conscious.

I strongly recommendThe Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins
by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell.

Amazing stuff.

An anthropology-professor friend thinks AAT is sketchy, but I’m still interested, even if just for fun.

On animal sentience, I’d add elephants to the list.

The theory has mostly been ignored, which means there are no recent books about it.

After a bit of searching at the Seattle Library, I can't find anything by Morgan, Hardy or the scientists who kept trying, using a slightly less inflammatory thesis ("Warerside apes" rather than "aquatic").

I checked UW's anthropology library; nothing there, either.

"The Aquatic Ape" is, however, available via Amazon.

Powell's lists the title as "out of stock."

I'd prefer to buy from an independent bookstore; if not Powell's, then another one.

I'll keep looking.

i've always assumed When People Were Shorter And Lived By The Water was an aquatic ape reference.


well, *cough* Genesis Library *cough*

“there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

we're all aquatic apes now.

“there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

we're all aquatic apes now.

If only. Snarki, I have you to thank for Scalzi. Also, a recent reminder that I hadn't read all of Iain M Banks sci-fi stuff, just the Culture novels. So now, I'm rationing the rest. Thanks.

"On animal sentience, I’d add elephants to the list."

On animal humaneness and empathy, I'd add elephants to the list.

Particularly when you compare them with The Inhumane Society now in charge of otherwise human affairs.

That Thomas Nast popularized THEM as elephants was one of the more inaccurate anthropomorphisms in political history, as we learn every day that passes.

But then he came up with Santa Claus too.

Nast was more accurate in portraying Democrats as donkeys, particularly as the original specimens exemplified by the genocidal Andrew Jackson were jackasses extraordinaire.

I've been suggesting for a while that the GOP avatar should be changed to a pig.

With apologies to pigs, of course.


A howler monkey riding a goblin shark (and waving a lamprey) would be my choice.

Alternatively an entelodont (entelodon, archaeotherium or daeodon).

The Trumper mascot?


(yes, I know, the 'hurling off a cliff' was staged...but TrumpCo is the group doing the hurling)

lj - you are a treasure. I didn't even know that site existed. Thank you!

Bloodsucking vampire squid, surely ?

Bloodsucking vampire squid, surely ?

Nah, too much brain. Jellyfish, maybe. The kind with stinging tentacles.

I haven't read any Fran Lebowitz since Metropolitan Life in the 70s (which I loved. I have often quoted her approvingly, when she explained she wasn't very sociable, since her two favourite pastimes were essentially solitary: smoking, and plotting revenge), and suddenly two interviews in the last two days - the first an oldish reprint from the Paris Review, the second a piece in I assume a current New Yorker, since it deals with the pandemic. She still makes me laugh, she doesn't sound like anyone else, but I don't recall her expressing that many political views in the past (or maybe she did and I wasn't as interested in the late 70s!). Here it is for anybody interested:


I also loved her theory about why kids were so sticky; it was because they didn't smoke enough.

I read the Lebowitz interview yesterday.

Marry me, Fran.

Bloodsucking vampire squid’s idiot cousin that got its tentacles knotted, then.

Lot to like in there.

This is me, too.
I was so shocked when hugging started. I thought, Are you out of your mind?

Past Reading: William Bennett's The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories

I can't remember if he included A Thousand and One Nights' Scheherazada staying up all night telling whoppers to keep her head on under threats of death from the likes of subhuman vermin like Bennett, but Bennett will be sent to the guillotine and there are no more dog shit stories he can tell to forestall his bloody fate.


I'd be happy to read Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year to him at bedtime after he loses a million or two again of his dumb kids' college money at the slots, and then it's his head in a basket for the asshole.

Don't any of these vampires ever fucking die?

The same exact filth, nearly to the man and woman, plaguing us with their lies for the past forty years, all reading from the same exact script every fucking day, which they must hand out overnight every night at Republican Murder Central to feed their shit base.

It's going to stop and I know how.


Whoops, that was a Covid-19 mention.

I imagine in Africa right now blogs are asking folks to talk about something, anything, other than the plague of locusts.

Locust recipes, anything.


Locusts you say?...

"The desert locust, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization describes as “the most destructive migratory pest in the world,” can fly as far as 120 miles a day. Tens of billions of locusts can travel in the same swarm. The FAO says that locust swarms now threaten food security and livelihoods in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda as well as the Arabian Peninsula. Kenya has been hit especially hard. One swarm there measures 37 by 25 miles, and agricultural officials there estimate that 1.2 million acres of pasture and cropland have already been destroyed. The U.N. says that more than 20 million people in East Africa are facing food shortages."
Green Colonialism in Africa Led to the Locust Plague: Massive swarms devour crops, while European environmentalists seek to ban insecticides.

Let them eat locusts...

Locusts are kosher. I know this anyway (I forget how), but after all, John the Baptist ate locusts and honey in the desert, didn't he? And presumably he was a good Jew, like Jesus.

Since there are other Lebowitz admirers here, I am linking the 1993 piece from the Paris review, on which they lifted the paywall for a week (til, I think, tomorrow). She's so good on not writing:


Ooops, wrong link.


William Bennett's The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories

Great adventures in unintentional humor.

The Lebowitz New Yorker interview cheered me up considerably! Thanks, GftNC.

>William Bennett's The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories

That would be a no. Unintentional humor? I guess that's what you could also do with your imagination if you listened to Trump. Yeah. No.

You knew Bennett was full of it when he got busted for gambling


It seems the so-called "radical" Europeans want to spray with pesticides, but there are other roadblocks preventing it.


Kenya is spraying.

No one is stopping them.

In fact, they are forced to spray, by their governments.

I'm sure people are being sprayed too, and the libertarian humans are siding with the libertarian locusts and yelling "Hold on, no one ASKED me if you could spray me!"

Liebowitz, according to the Paris Review intro, was thrown out of a Joe Piscopopelian day school for "non-specific surliness".

I know how she feels. %-)

While house-sitting for an architect and premium furniture designer, she was sitting in a one-of-kind designer chair, and noted that she was sitting beyond her means.

That, I've never done. I'm a down market sitter at all times and when I lie down, my station in life is reduced even further.

Joe Biden should hire Liebowitz as his press secretary and when White House press conferences resume, you know, like the seasons and birdsong, I will tune in again and see how she handles FOX and OAN and Breitbart, slicing and dicing the dummy dumb arrogant goose-stepping fascists with her rapier tongue from the dais.

Yes, I loved "non-specific surliness". But you can quote almost any of it, and give pleasure. I don't know why I abandoned her so long, I'll be rectifying that.

Damn, I wish I could remember which Carl Hiassen novel started with someone having an 'episode' in an anger-management class.

Perhaps it was 'Lucky You'. Hilarious.

From a Lebowitz interview here (quoted on her wiki page):

Of Bloomberg she said, "I object to people who are rich in politics. I don't think they should be allowed to be in politics. It is bad that rich people are in politics, it is bad for everybody but rich people, and rich people don't need any more help. Whenever people say, "Oh, he earned his money himself," I always say the same thing: "No one earns a billion dollars. People earn $10 an hour, people steal a billion dollars."[19]

My kinda girl.


Universe in Verse on at 4:30 et. I think it will be great.

Marty, I would have loved to have seen and heard this, but I found your post too late to watch it live, and gather from the link that watching the whole thing later will not be possible. I'll check in from time to time to see excerpts though - what a great sounding event. Thank you.

GftNC, I would have lo ed to have seen it too. I only got the link when I put it up here and when I started live streaming it I couldnt get sound. No idea why.

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