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RKUL: time well spent 05/05/2021
Recommendations for everything, pollen edition
Your time is finite. Your phone and the internet stand ready to help you squander it. Here are my latest picks for spending it well instead. Feel free to add more in the comments.
Thanks for reading and here’s to a May well spent!
Books, what else?
I can’t recommend Edward Watts’ The Final Pagan Generation: Rome's Unexpected Path to Christianity enough. The transition from paganism to Christianity has great resonance with our age.
I’m re-reading David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, which as I’ve mentioned here, has aged impressively well. But I have a new recommendation. I’ll add a link when it goes live, but I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Marie Favereau’s new The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World for unherd.com. The book is nearly 400 pages and an excellent corrective to the Russian historiography of the “Tatar Yoke.”
You’ve probably heard of Joe Henrich because of his excellent books on cultural evolution. But if you’ve run out of Henrich, don’t overlook LSE’s Michael Muthukrishna, who works in the same area. He brings a similar mindset to a wide variety of topics, including the origin of human social systems, how they differ and how they evolve.
My 2020 podcast with Joe.
I recently hosted a Clubhouse discussion (@RazibKhan) about the best introduction to population genetics. I suggested John Gillespie’s Population Genetics: A Concise Guide. Though if you are a biologist, go on, bite the bullet and get Hartl and Clark.
Noah Smith has some thoughts: Why politically guided science is bad. Of course, I think it is bad. But to stop that train, someone needs to have courage, stand up and say that science is about truth before it’s about politics (they don’t call it politics; they call it “social justice”). I am skeptical that will happen since courage has not been a big requirement in faculty acquisition decisions, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
Everyone is talking about Richard Hanania’s Why is Everything Liberal? Cardinal Preferences Explain Why All Institutions are Woke. Here I would like to mention that the Soviet Union experimented with cultural radicalism in the 1920’s. Marxists-Leninists imagined that the family and marriage had no future in their utopia. They abandoned that experiment. History has some common patterns. Just wait.
My 2021 podcast with Richard.
On the intersection of law, forensics, and DNA, I highly recommend David Mittelman’s Substack.
Some of you are very interested in ancient DNA papers. I hear the dam is finally going to break again on those after this slight pause during COVID-19. I don’t have any specifics to share, but am counting on 2021 being a blockbuster year for us consumers of ancient DNA supplements (though if you need a fix now, The genomic history of the Aegean palatial civilizations is a good read).
My Two Cents
There’s still no free lunch, free subscribers; my most in-depth pieces for this Substack await you beyond the paywall. The two-part series on India has probably been my favorite to work on so far, while readers seem partial to the Rome piece (50 comments and counting!):
Come to think of it though, there are occasional free... inoculations (against ignorance?). My most “liked” (by Substack’s anemic standards) post here by far is a free one from February on a historic Chinese genocide no one ever references. The more you know...
My last post, Our Three-Body Problem has elicited some negative reactions due to the fact that most people don’t know much about comparative history. It is a defining feature of our bewildering age that we have to spell out the most obvious truths. Here’s mine: we should all read more about the history of other societies than our own. That would clear up so many confusions and misunderstandings. And leave me a lot less to Khan-splain, which I guarantee you, isn’t my favorite pursuit. I too once looked forward to reaching adulthood and having amazing conversations with people who knew everything about everything.
The Unsupervised Learning podcast is coming up on a half birthday and has 25 episodes. Most recently I have been discussing the origins of Indo-Europeans: last week with historical linguist Thomas Olander. Up next are archaeologists David Anthony of The Horse, the Wheel, and Language and Kristian Kristiansen. This is all in concert with my series on the steppe, which will first focus on the Indo-Europeans.
All my podcasts get ungated two weeks after their Substack release. So I encourage subscribers on the free plan who’d like to automatically get them to subscribe to that podcast stream (Apple, Stitcher, and Spotify).
The new subscriptions just keep on flowing in week after week (thank you!), so especially for those who signed up more recently, here are my first five podcast guests, all of whom I can unreservedly recommend giving a listen:
You can’t make this up
And you don’t have to, because my kids go to public schools. Today we have an example brought to you by the company learnzillion. When I was an American elementary school kid, we had publishers of textbooks, now we have… whatever this is. I think we’re supposed to call it a curriculum. No textbook, no authors and from the looks of it, no editors. But hey, they probably had an ace diversity consultant who saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire, because the story problems feature both a brown child named Dev and a brown teacher named Mr. Patel.
My kid’s teacher commiserated with him that “the mathematicians” weren’t very clear here and suggested the trapezoid was the best answer “because its sides are different lengths,” and then subsequently taught the class a square can never be a rectangle, but a rectangle is always a kind of square. This is a public school with some of the highest test scores in the state. It’s hard being a city on a hill, ok?
OK, that wasn’t time well spent. But, still, the more you know...
I hate promotion. So, 19 years of near-continuous blogging later, people who apparently thought they were following me closely still tell me all the time they “just found the blog.” And friends regularly reach out expressing surprise that they came across me or my content in X,Y or Z venue. Am I everywhere you want to be? I don’t know. But you can check here: https://www.razib.com. You’ll find links to the few different podcasts I’ve contributed to or run, my total RSS feed, links to more mainstream or print articles when I remember to post them, my Twitter, the occasional guest appearance here and there, etc.
Facebook message me
My long-time blog, GNXP
A group blog, Secular Right, most worthwhile for Heather Mac Donald’s prescience
My total feed of content
My Indian/South Asian focused blog, Brown Pundits
My old podcast, The Insight
My new podcast, Unsupervised Learning
19 years of blogging makes for a lot of ancient content that might just as well have been set to self-destruct. Some subset though is worth revisiting. Here are a couple candidates for this month, from 2019: Stuff I Was Wrong About! and from 2005, A Prayer for the Emperor.
I was an early COVID-19 hawk. But I’m tiring of some of the low-information alarmism and moral panic I’m seeing out there almost a year and a half on. Get vaccinated! Lighten up on the sanitizing. We can do this.
Talk is cheap
...but an anonymous source tells me the attention we paid this announcement played a role in Michigan State choosing to memory-hole the initiative. So what’s the next horror we need to shine some sunlight on? DMs are open as they say.
My original post: Verwoerd’s Revenge.
Over to you
Comments are open to all for this post (don’t get used to it! I’m a ruthless moderator.), so if you have more reading/listening suggestions or tips on who I should be talking to or what I really should be writing for you, please weigh in.