Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Podcast stertin noo

*Braken Fences* sterts podcastin noo on the website o the Scots Language Centre.

Ah'd  like tae say a muckle great thank you tae Michael Hance an his staff for this opportunity tae publicise the novel. It'll rin for a guid whilie in fortnichtly instalments, an Ah really appreciate the swatch o space the Centre has gien me.

For onybody newly veesitin the blog, Ah thocht Ah'd post yince again the lovely Nutan, ma inspiration for Beatrice.

Friday, 31 August 2012

It's no aboot Palestine

There a lang an weel conseedert review o the Scots version o the novel at The Blether Region. Ah verra much appreciate the reviewer’s in-depth readin an frank creeticism – Ah tak maist o yer pynts, Scots Anorak, an Ah’ll haud thaim in mind if there ever a sequel. Ah feel Ah sud come back, though, aboot some o the poleetical poseetions the review ascribes tae the novel, an that Ah think are raither in the eye of the beholder. The blog disnae alloo comments, sae Ah’ll mak ma pynts here. But first, the review itsel. 

<<In masterful Scots, Wulf Kurtoğlu's Braken Fences describes a dystopian future where the world is partitioned between the "rational" west and the failed, impoverished states of Islamic fundamentalists. It's an epic tale with believable characters and the thoughtful treatment of moral issues that we expect from the best science fiction.

That said, I have several issues with the book's premise, chief among them the question of what rationality actually is. Part of it is logical consistency, and in the case of western states that identify with human rights and democracy, that means avoiding double standards. If we value individual human rights but adopt a group-rights approach in a key conflict, that's a kind of irrationality. The same goes for an attachment to self-determination except when it comes to independence from big, important countries. Muslims notice these double standards.

Moreover, I'd suggest that people also have a hierarchy of political goals, with most — perhaps even most feminists in Palestine or Kashmir — putting national self-determination before women's rights. What's beyond debate is that liberal attitudes in individual societies closely correlate with their wealth. As was recently pointed out to Mitt Romney, it's hard to be a wealth-creator when you have to wait all day at the checkpoint.

Of course, one can also interpret rationality as secularism, but doing so admits the possibility that the divide between "rational" and "fundamentalist" will not dovetail so neatly with that between Christians and Muslims. Littoral America might be in the "rational world", but what about the rather larger bit in the middle, the America of The Handmaid's Tale? Would Lowland Scotland's Presbyterian colonies in the Hebrides and north-east Ulster get into the RW? Likewise, the secular Ashkenazim of gay-friendly Tel Aviv might feel rather more comfortable enjoying a pint with a Bosnian Muslim, or indeed a Scots one, than spending time with the ultra-orthodox of Jerusalem.

Overall, the notion of a neat division of the world into good and bad guys is a little too neat, owing rather too much to the anti-intellectual, Manichaean nature of discourse in the America of the culture wars. We would never attempt it at home. But, of course, home is a place whose shades of grey we actually know.

Wisely or luckily, Kurtoğlu avoids full-on politics and concentrates on characters. Furthermore, the book neatly succeeds in underlining that it is about fundamentalism rather than race through its majority-Asian cast, including its half-Indian heroine, Beatrice Varshini, whose heritage may or may not be a nod to the rational/irrational partition of India. In one or two places the character of Bill Henderson provides the focus for some un-PC thoughts, but the novel leaves us in no doubt as to what we are supposed to think of that. Predictable emphasis is given to borders and their policing, but also, through the novel's concern for Tibetan refugees, to their inherent injustice at an individual level. Young westerners do "rational service" to protect those borders. This is of course a pun on "national service" for those who remember that, but I'm afraid it reminded me for all the world of the IDF.

Life in the fundamentalist zone is short and brutal, and some of the women there have been forced to disguise themselves as men to avoid persecution, thus providing a symbolic parallel to the ditching of empathy that typifies the once-liberal neo-cons to whom the novel presumably speaks. Furthermore, they make use of what in a nice poetic touch is called "The Ceety o Weemen", a contraceptive plant, for at least some the female half of the FZ has decided to stop procreating and thus halt the cycle of male Islamic fundamentalist oppression. This plan is described as collective suicide. I'm not sure that it is, but it does establish a linkage: stop the gene to kill the meme. But what about those immigrants in the real world who bring their own genes and memes with them? In the west, it is the indigenous or assimilated who use contraception. No western woman wants to have 20 children, after all. But unassimilated immigrants have a higher birth rate. Will liberal westerners, as a certain grocer's daughter once famously said, end up being "swamped"? This theme is expanded upon in the subplot about the resurrected Neanderthals, whose intermarriage with homo sapiens will for genetic reasons result in their extinction. Is there a parallel here with western multiculturalism? Only the reader can decide.

The Neanderthals bring me to what I felt was the novel's main failing. There is just too much going on. The book seems weighed down by its philosophical concerns, starting with the three lengthy quotations on the first page. I also felt that there were too many minor characters. In some cases their reappearance in the action, or the news that they had passed on, necessitated flicking back to check. Given the fact that perhaps only one in 20 of the Scottish population could nowadays wheech through the Scots version, that seems an indulgence.

Linguistically, as one would expect from one of the very greatest Scots academics of her generation, Braken Fences is a masterpiece of accessible yet full-bodied Scots. As in Philip Robinson's reverse-kailyard works, there is sometimes English dialogue and Scots description, but any Scots novel nowadays is bound to be experimental. The language's full range is also deployed stylistically, with the Neanderthals speaking an Insular dialect. Given the popular associations of the word "Neanderthal", that could of course cause offence, but the novel incorporates the most recent scientific beliefs that they were much more intelligent than previously thought. Complaints about verisimilitude with regard to the speech of Shetland in a science-fiction context seem to me bizarre.

I agree with other reviewers that this is an important book, and a further step in the normalisation of the language. It deserves to be read and argued about, and I hope that this review will make people go out and buy it. I also look forward to more from its author, who has already done much for Scots, and has much to offer in future.>>

As Ah sayed, Ah think some o the poleetical pynts are raither in the eye o the beholder. 

There a wey o thinkin that blames aathin that gaes on in the Muslim warld on the Palestinian seetuation. Ah dinna subscribe tae that wey o thinkin, sae Ah was bumbaized at first by the reviewer bringin Palestine intil’t (there nae mention aither o Palestine nor the Middle East in the novel) alang o Maggie Thatcher, Mitt Romney an American neo-cons (wtf?). But thinkin it ower, Ah see whaur ony creeticism o Islam can be tane as reflectin badly on the Palestinians, which wad be a major riddie tae yin wey o thinkin. An certes the novel is concairnt wi the spreid o fundamentalism in yince moderate Muslim kintras, the likes o Xinjiang, an especially wi the implications o that for Muslim weemen. 

Gin the novel relates tae ony real-warld poleetical seetuation, it’s no the parteetion o the Ottoman Empire, but, as the reviewer recognises in fack, the Parteetion o India. The settin is really juist the Parteetion o India on a global scale.

Ah think it’s a bittie unfair, an aa, tae describe the novel’s settin as “a neat division of the world into good and bad guys”. There no muckle tae recommend the Fundamentalist Zone (unless o coorse, ye’re a fundamentalist), but the Rational Warld as Ah pent it is faur fae perfeck naither.  Besieged as it is, the RW maks siccar its population is kep in line. The saft totalitarianism Ah imagine there is based on the tradeetional parochial seestem o the kirk or the Pairty seestem o Chinese Communism.

Which brings me tae my final pynt in the novel’s defence. The warld Ah imagine isnae parteetioned atween “the ‘rational’ west” an the lave. Ah howped Ah’d made it clear that the drivin force ahint the creation o the RW, an the dominant pooer maintainin it, is a coalition o India an China. The Wast is gey marginal. Leukin in ma crystal baa, whit Ah saw (tho Ah dinna spell this oot in the novel) wis the Wast in decline, nae langer believin in nor willin tae staun up for its inheritit values o Jewish indiveedualism, Roman law, Christian charity, an Enlightenment rationalism. But the Wast is no the warld. Some at least o thir values – an certes the legal an scientific achievements o the Wast – can juist as weill be carriet furrat by the mair robust an self-confident cultures o India an China. (Ah wad, of coorse, be delightit tae be proven wrang aboot the vitality o wastren culture, but we'll nane o us be here tae see it ...)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Matt Ridley on Neanderthal hybridisation or no

Juist when it seemt that the question o modren hybridisation wi Neanderthals wis sattled, an Dienekes had come roon tae acceptin it - efter bein the yin commentator that peyed attention tae the possibeelity o it bein a statistical artefact - it's aa up in the air again wi a paper confirmin the viabeelity o the statistical explanation. Naethin new, really, nae new data or that. Bit there a guid summary o the discussion by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal, 'Did Your Ancestor Date a Neanderthal?'

Dienekes has a series o technical posts discussin raicent papers in the field. As Dienekes pynts oot, the strangest argiement agin hybridisation is the wint o Neanderthal mitrochondrial DNA (i.e. a genetic contribution fae Neanderthal weemen) in modrens. The obvious answer is that the encounters o Neanderthal men wi modren weemen were casual, if no violent. Bit it's ay possible that the modren groups involved were matrilocal.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The advance o radical Islam

I set the novel in Xinjiang because it's a place wi a moderate brand o Islam, but currently bein infiltratit by radicals, sae (in the future settin) there's aye a possibeelity o findin a basis o common humanity, at the same time as there's a totalitarian society that's aamaist unbearable for weemen wi some smeddum. Cud hae walit Tatarstan, it seems (gin Ah'd heard o't ...) New York Times report o killin o moderate Muslim clerics by Islamic radicals in Tatarstan
Here's a story fae 2009 aboot Pakistan - a lang wey further doon the ilk road. Pervez Hoodbhoy in Newsline Magazine.
Thanks tae Tarek Fatah for baith thir links.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Neanderthal news

Widely reportit in the last twa-three days, Colin Shaw haes haed anither leuk at the over-developed Neanderthal richt erm, an strangly suggests it cam fae repetitive wark, sic as scrapin hides, raither nor intensive wark sic as huntin (the established view) - 'Neandertal humeri may reflect adaptation to scraping tasks, but not spear thrusting'

This fits in wi Bent Sørensen's views aboot Neanderthal claes. He haes a gey yuisefu approach tae reconstructin Neanderthal life in his airticle 'Energy use by Eem Neanderthals', publisht a couple o year syne, whaur he wirks oot whit it wad tak tae survive at different temperatures, an concludes that Neanderthal life nott weel-fittin claes, shuin, bedcovers, win-breaks, an some wey o preservin flesh (dryin?). There a guid review an discussion by Tim Jones here at, includin a quote fae an interview Sørensen gied tae Discovery magazine: “Neanderthal tooth marks indicate chewing hides for softening, which is essential for clothes making.” (This is the wey Inuit tradeetionally prepared hides an aa.)

In anither new airticle, Erik Trinkaus pu's back fae his earlier nory that Neanderthals maun hae huntit by gettin in richt close tae their prey because their remains shaws injuries the like o rodeo riders 'Neandertals, early modern humans, and rodeo riders'. It's aa up in the air again - turns oot the pattren o injuries in early modren humans is juist the same, an the daft idea that Neanderthals wisnae built for flingin things is oot the windae an aa.

Nae surprises, though yuisefu confirmation fae new data, in Karen Hardy et al., (£) 'Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus'  - Neanderthals cooked their mate, an yaised medeecinal herbs.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mair nice stanes

As early as the Acheulian industry (Homo Erectus), fowk wis pickin up an hainin interestin stanes, the likes o fossils an crystals, accordin tae a thorough-gaun review o museum objecks by M.-H. Moncel et al ‘Non-utilitarian lithic objects from the European Paleolithic’, Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 40/1 (2012) 24–40.

From the abstract: “The occurrence of non-utilitarian lithic objects, often modfied, in Middle Stone Age or Upper Paleolithic sites is now widely accepted as evidence of symbolic behavior associated with the appearance of Homo sapiens. However the occurrence of non-utilitarian and unusual objects in far earlier sites raises questions about their signficance.”

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Weemen fechtin back

Very disturbin story - rang a bell wi me, cos yin o the things Ah envisage in the novel (juist as a minor pairt o a sub-plot) is opportunistic violence by weemen agin men in thir misogynistic kintras. Mystery of the sudden surge in acid attacks on MEN by WOMEN

Anither seemilar story, involvin a Hindu quine this time. She pysont her faimily efter they beat up the untouchable loun she wis tryin tae elope wi. 

Anither wumman fechts back, shoots a rapist deid in Turkey.   

An here's a photie somebody postit on Facebook o an Iranian mullah beaten up by lassies. An anither minor, bit tellin, incident in Iran.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Weill that's fairly made ma day! Richt generous review fae Rab Wilson, in the current issue o Lallans (no. 80, Simmer 2012, juist oot) - "a vera important an aiblins laundmerk buik ... best novel scrievit in Scots in raicent times ... muives alang at a crackin pace an aye-an-oan haes ye thinkin that aspecks o the story cuid indeed becam a reality." An whit aboot a sequel. Maks it aw worthwhile. Mony thanks, Rab.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sailing on the big blue wet thing

This news o seafarin Neanderthals, fae the New Scientist, comes oot at the ilk time as the announcement o new beuk Across Atlantic Ice be Dennis Stanford an Bruce Bradley. They've been pittin furth their idea for a whilie aboot an ice-corridor route tae the New Warld.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Neanderthal art

Excitin news that cave paintins haes been fund in Spain that micht, juist micht, be the haundiwark o Neanderthals. They shaw seals - they're raither elegant an stylised.

Gin the date fae the surroundins (43,500-42,300 year syne) is confirmed whan the pigments is analysed, it wad be verra likely that this wis the wark of Neanderthals raither nor modrens. No a muckle surprise - 200,000 year auld pigments haes been fund, and there haes aareadies been pigment finds at Neanderthal sites - John Hawks gies an overview here
There a bone objeck fae Slovenia that micht be a Neanderthal flute - guid summary (bit anonymous) o aa the argiements for an agin here.
Twa-three year syne, a stane objeck wis fund at a Neanderthal site in France that leuked a bit lik a face, bit verra crude an haurd tae tell fae a naitral objeck - it's a stane wi a bane ludgit through it, giein an effeck lik een. Bit there's been some haunlin o't tae shape it, sae maybe it wis some kinna idle playock. Descreeption o the find be J-C Marquet and M. Lorblanchet 'A Neanderthal face? The proto-figurine from La Roche-Cotard, Langeais (Indre-et-Loire, France)', an discussion be Paul B Pettitt, 'Is this the infancy of art? Or the art of an infant? A possible Neanderthal face from La Roche-Cotard, France'.

A mair convincin stane face wis fun be an amateur archaeologist in Hampshire in 2004 (though he's described here as a "retired fisherman"). Ah havenae been able for tae turn up ony further information aboot that ane.

Sae lang syne, we'll ne'er hae but a keethin sicht.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The fences gings up

Greece is pittin up a fence on its Turkish border - short notandum here. The EU isnae pleased (nae surprise there than) - the apparachniks will ay be howpin tae mak Turkey pairt of the EU, ower the deid body o democracy if necessar. 

As that airticle mentions, there a razor wire fence alang the US Border wi Mexico (the drug lords tunnels unner it). 

India recently completit its border fence forenent Bangladesh. It passes athort heavily populatit areas, an there  accusations o brutality an a trigger-happy staun be the Indian forces. There a Marxist interpretation here (it's aa a capitalist conspiracy agin the peasant population ... aless o course it's a defensive meisure the likes o whit fowk hae biggit sin time immemorial). India has fences forbye agin Pakistan on the disputit N-W Frontier an agin Burma.

The Wikipedia airticle 'Separation Barrier' lists mony mair defensible barriers, includin thir anes, aa alang international borders:

Botswana agin Zimbabwe (juist tae keep kye fae wanderin in wi foot-an-mouth disease, ay ay);

Brunei agin Malaysia - there a Malaysian enclave that stauns atween twa bitties o territory that maks up Brunei - it's mair lik a Berlin or Belfast wa in scale, bit it is an international border. Seemilarly wi twae Spanish enclaves in Morocco;

Turkey in defence o territory held in Cyprus;

Iran wi Pakistan - this is a jynt meisure agin the Sunni Baluchi tribe that straddles the Border an harbours the Iranian Resistance Movement (or Jondullah resistance) - detailt discussion (sympathetic tae the Baluchis) here fae Nizamuddin Nizmani;

Israel wi the mair hostile o its neebors - we'll likely see the Border wi Egypt strenthent in the near future;

Uzbekistan agin Kyrgyzstan, athort the disputit ferm lan o the Ferghana Valley, an causin hardship tae the tribes at straddles the Border. Verra messy wi nummers o the twa ethnic groups aboot balanced in the Ferghana Valley. The Uzbeks an Kyrgyz are baith Sunni Muslims, bit the Uzbeks kythed in the Ferghana Valley as conquerors i the saxteenth century, pushin the Kyrgyz (thairsels fairly recent, likewise Turkic, stoory-feet) up intae the hills. The Uzbeks o Osh is strandit on the Kyrgyzstan side o the Border; there wis ethnic violence there in 2010; aabody blames ither, tak yer pick. Accoont here fae Christya Riedel o the findins o an international commission o enquiry;

South Korea agin the North;

Morocco in defence o territory held in the Western Sahara;

South Africa agin Mozambique an Zimbabwe.

Mair are planned.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Man the hunter

Auld yin but a guid yin - theory that modrens had the edge as endurance rinners. Dennis M. Bramble & Daniel E. Lieberman. Endurance running and the evolution of Homo Nature 432, 345-352 (18 November 2004).

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Modren admixture in Neanderthals

Dienekes passes on abstracts o papers fae a recent collogue o the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on Modren-Neanderthal admixter. He comments parteecularly on a paper be Fred H. Smith an Arika M. Ward, 'Vindija Neandertals as evidence for gene flow from early modern humans', leukin at the morphology o Neanderthal harnpans an chafts fae a late site in Croatia an giein  evidence o modren gene flow INTAE Neanderthals. Dienekes links back tae his ain speculations aboot this fae circumstantial evidence - bit this is the first hard evidence.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Interview on BBC Radio Shetland

Interviewed be Mary Blance on the Shetland late programme on 19 Jan 2012.

Whit some listeners seems tae hae tane oot o the interview is that ma 'Shetlan' (as spoke be the Neanderthals) is nae Shetlan at aa, an there some WTF at the Scots Language Centre page on Facebook. As Ah say there in ma ain defence, it stertit aff as auld-farrant Scots an Ah felt that it wis stertin tae soun lik Shetlan - that's whit Ah wis hearin (as best an ootsider can). 

Ah didnae wint tae mak it ower deeficult tae read, though, so I didnae yaise 'd/t' for 'th'. Leuks lik that's THE big shibboleth for the locals - miss that oot an it turns intae Orkney.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Neanderthal archaeology - watch this space
Frae the press release:
The group at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot will mainly follow the research track entitled 'The Timing of Cultural Change.' Its goal: to shed new light on such fascinating aspects of human history as the spread of ideas, the changes in lifestyles, the different rates of development in various parts of the world and the migration of people from one geographical area to another. Traditionally, these questions have been explored by relative dating – that is, comparing changes in tools or pottery in different regions. However, absolute dating – determining the actual age of objects and strata – is needed in order to establish when a particular change occurred and how fast it spread throughout the region. To document the distribution of cultural changes in the last 50,000 years, the scientists will conduct much of the work in the field, performing a scientific analysis of findings at the archaeological site itself, to be followed up by laboratory studies. They will use high-resolution radiocarbon dating, which makes it possible to date specimens with a precision of 20 to 40 years, taking advantage of such advanced techniques as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS—see below) analysis of radiocarbon content.

The group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig will mainly conduct research along the track entitled 'Physical Anthropology through Bone and Tooth Structure-Function Studies.' Scientists in this group will investigate issues in recent human evolution, particularly those relating to the co-occurrence of Neanderthal and early modern human populations in the Levantine region, at the crossroads between Africa and Eurasia. The study of fossil remains of these two populations has been traditionally based on the shapes of bones and teeth, examined more recently with the help of 3D computer reconstructions. Scientists in this track will make use of high-resolution computer tomography both at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and at the Weizmann Institute, a technology that makes it possible to perform such reconstructions down to the level of micron-sized details. The scientists will examine the relationship between structure and function in bones and teeth, which is essential for understanding evolutionary changes. Since this relationship is difficult to establish using fossils alone, the focus of the studies in the new Center will be on modern bones and teeth.

Particle Accelerator for the Study of the Past
The new AMS equipment is expected to have a major impact on archaeology research both locally and internationally, as the only machine of its kind in the entire Middle East. Designed especially for conducting mainly archaeological research, it will be installed at the Weizmann Institute in a designated laboratory in the Physics Faculty, in the end of 2012. Archaeological dating used to rely on counters tracking the decay of the radioactive carbon isotope called C-14, a time-consuming process that requires large quantities of material. In contrast, AMS performs direct measurements of C-14, by accelerating the carbon atoms to a high speed and separating out the C-14 even when it is present at the minute concentrations of one in a quadrillion (1 followed by 15 zeroes) carbon atoms. This approach makes it possible to perform the dating very fast and on minute quantities of material, such as a single lentil, a grain of wheat or a small trace of collagen in bones – an essential feature, since over thousands of years, organic matter on which radiocarbon dating is based tends to disappear.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

25% aff at Lulu up tae 31 January.

Enter coupon code at the checkoot.

Disclaimer: Use coupon code LULUBOOKUK305 at checkout and receive 25% off your order. The maximum savings with this promotion is £50. You can only use the code once per account, and you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer ends on 31 January 2012 at 11:59 PM PST. While very unlikely reserves the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so. Finally, incurs the cost of this discount, so it does not impact the Author's proceeds of the book. This coupon does not work with self-purchases, i.e., if you are the author of the book you are trying to purchase, you cannot use this coupon. This coupon will work for multiple titles but savings cannot go past the maximum of £50.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Faces o early humans

This leuks weill worth seein:

Safari zum Urmenschen
Japanischen Palais,

till 30 Aprile, fae Tuesday tae Sunday, 10am tae 6pm, closed Good Friday

Neanderthal reconstructions fae the exhibition, prentit be the Daily Mail.

This wabsteid is guid place tae fun oot aboot exhibitions, Atelier Daynes - this is the quine at daes a lot o museum feegures.