Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"It's soccer, not football"

Interesting piece on the usage of the word 'soccer', which peaked in the UK in 1980 but has been in decline since. The author suggested that American adoption of the word has been a driver of British disuse of it. I have another hypothesis.

While the word 'soccer' was widely used in the UK and Ireland while I was growing up, it tended to be used by 'quality' newspapers in the UK, and its purpose was to distinguish proletarian association football from rugby union football, which was played by the wealthy. My conjecture is that if you screened for usage rates of 'soccer' vs. 'football' by the Times and Telegraph, on the one hand, versus the Mirror and Sun, on the other, you'd find big differences. In Ireland it was somewhat different; we used 'soccer' to distinguish the game from Gaelic football. The working class in Britain just called soccer 'football'.

As the British boomers grew older and adopted leftish views, in a sort of inverted snobbery that's particularly common in the UK, they rejected their parents' 'soccer' in favor of 'football', as they embraced the egalitarian association football and rugby union became stereotyped as a game played by rich thugs. Now the word 'soccer' is associated with America and is rejected even more vehemently by these same people, but in 1980, when use of 'soccer' in Britain began to decline, nobody knew or cared much about American sport, or what words they used to describe it. It's only with the internet Britons have become so conscious of American usage.

So while the author's data on word usage are invaluable, I think his explanation is somewhat off-base. 'Soccer' iniitially became unfashionable in the UK for an entirely different reason.


Oh, and a belated h/t to Roger Pielke Jr. for tweeting the link to the piece.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trademark cancellation request.

To: US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board
From: Gerard S. Harbison
Re: Request for revocation of trademark serial number 73305529, to University of Notre Dame
Date: June 18, 2014.

It has come to my attention that the University of Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, was granted a trademark on March 8, 1983, for the figure depicted below. As a dual citizen of the United States and the Republic of Ireland, I request cancellation of the trademark registration, per section 2 of the Trademark Act, 15 USC §1052, for the reason that it is grossly disparaging of citizens of the Republic of Ireland as well as Americans of Irish heritage.

The figure is classed ( inter alia) as a human engaged in sport, and is apparently associated with the nickname Fighting Irish, which the above institution has appropriated (without official sanction) for several of its sporting teams. The figure is a grotesque representation of a demeaning Irish stereotype, being misshapen; dwarfish; balding; with s garish shamrock-bedecked hat; a scowling expression; a deformed skull; a tiny emaciated body; huge feet (or badly fitting shoes); and a ridiculous beard. His (its?) fists are raised in a pugilistic attitude.

Note that Ireland is a peaceful nation which, unlike the United States, has fought no foreign wars since its independence, is officially neutral, and has contributed continuously to United Nations peacekeeping missions since 1958 (including no fewer than 13 current missions). Ireland has 10% of the per capita violent crime rate of the United States. The stereotype is therefore not only disparaging; it is grossly erroneous.

In addition, please note that the University of Notre Dame has no legitimate association with Ireland or the Irish. It was founded and is still run by a French religious order. It has been suggested that the nickname 'Irish' was originally an ethnic slur based on a perceived association between Irish and Roman Catholic. The name and the depiction are therefore offensive both in origin as well as current application. I fully understand that had they called themselves the 'Fighting French' the result would have been universal mockery. Still, that is no excuse.

I have previously complained to the President of Notre Dame about their use of the slur and the offensive depiction. I received only a form letter in reply. I therefore request that the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board review this and similar trademarks held by Notre Dame and cancel those which are clearly ethnically offensive.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pleistocene overkill confirmed

Peaceful indigenous people, living in harmony with their environment...

Uh, no. A study just published has confirmed the unfashionable but extremely plausible theory called Pleistocene Overkill. In summary, as our ancestors left Africa and spread out, first over Eurasia, Australia, and then to North and South America, they slaughtered and most probably devoured most of the the large animals. The totals are Africa 18, Asia 38, Australasia 26, Europe 19, North America 43 and South America 62. The extinctions correlate strongly with the arrival of hominins, and are far better correlated with our arrival than with climatic events.

The relationship between hominin palaeobiogeography and extinction magnitude is striking, with universally low extinctions in sub-Saharan Africa (maximum 13%), where hominins and the megafauna have long coexisted, but widespread exceptionally high extinction in Australia and the Americas, where modern humans were the first hominin present.
So if you think it's a shame there are no saber-tooth tigers, dire wolves, or marsupial lions any more, blame Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals. On the other hand, if your folk hailed from Europe, don't be smug; they wiped out pretty much everything, including mammoths, cave lions, wooly rhinos, and the magnificent Elasmotherium, a rhino-like beast as big as an elephant. Africans had the lowest body count, but probably only because the big beasts co-evolved with humans on that continent and learned to run away.

I still think Pleistocene Overkill would be a great name for a heavy metal band.