Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Lubos Motl approved of and linked to this video about particle physics, s-matrix scattering, and a mention of string theory. You may have to back up and re-watch a few bits.

One of the bits describes the use of Feynman diagrams: Adding up all the various sub-processes that contribute to an overall interaction of some kind. A and B interact somehow to produce C and D, and all sorts of things can happen in the middle.

Yep, those are only a few. (See the video)

Each one of the diagrams represents a contribution that requires a messy integral to solve. With luck, the coupling at each connection is small, and the more and more complicated diagrams contribute less and less, so that you can reach "good enough" without too much pain. Without luck--and QCD doesn't have it--they can get bigger.

This formalism works beautifully for quantum electrodynamics.

The situation reminds me very strongly of epicycles. They work. "There is no bilaterally-symmetrical, nor eccentrically-periodic curve used in any branch of astrophysics or observational astronomy which could not be smoothly plotted as the resultant motion of a point turning within a constellation of epicycles, finite in number, revolving around a fixed deferent."

For Ptolemy's work he only needed to work with a few terms. But the epicycles don't show what's going on nearly as well as ellipses around the Sun. Of course the planetary interactions make our orbital calculations more complex than anything Ptolemy ever attempted, but to land probes we need way better precision than anything he ever attempted.

Lubos and O'Dowd think string theory is the tool we need to wrap up an infinite series of diagrams into a simple form: epicycles turn into universal gravitation and ellipses. I hope so, but I'm not sanguine about progress, given the lack of it so far, and the way supersymmetry is bound up with it. Supersymmetry itself seems rather epicyclic too: it lets you cancel out some divergences when trying to sum terms in perturbation theory. There's that business of adding up lots of finer and finer terms again.

95 theses

Everybody knows about the 95 theses, but for some reason I'd never read more than a sampling of them. They're short: have a look for yourself.

From what I've read, even the oddest sounding ones are based on something that was really happening at the time. The official doctrine might have claimed the contrary, but the peddlers were using the "money clinks, soul flies out of purgatory" spiel.

Some of them are listed separately but are clearly clauses of a single claim.

Some are clearly not quite right: "Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money." Given what this (and previous popes) were like ("Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us"), that is most kindly described as wishful thinking. Luther's later description of the pope as anti-Christ was perhaps a bit abusive, but not without some warrant.

Others read a little strangely, such as #93.

Overall, I'm not sure how many of these would be found objectionable by modern Catholic theologians. OTOH, Quite a few species of Protestants would object to something like #7: "God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest."

Probably if the papacy of the era had not been so deeply invested in claiming "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" for themselves, the whole quarrel would have evaporated without a trace. Of course the indulgence racket wouldn't have gotten going in the first place if the papacy had been less over-reaching, so maybe that's a tautology.

Monday, January 27, 2020

"It takes a village"

Never mind that the original was something like "It takes a village to make a wedding." Go with the modified version a bit.

The village doesn't just supply "support." It supplies roles and norms: You don't get that support unless other people abide by those norms. and play those roles. They'll apply to you too. The village will demand things of you.

The politicians want money and adulation, of course, but the village wants you to do particular things. You're a father? Get out there and do the work to take care of your family. If you spend your time drinking palm wine, you get no respect, and not much in the way of assistance.

The roles can be constraining, no question.

But, if you're not clever or adventurous enough to make your own way, those roles also liberate you from futility. You do X. Maybe you don't like it all that much, but it gives you a way to contribute, and feeling useless corrodes the soul.

I've met quite a few people who would have lived happier lives if someone in their lives had said: "Go do X. And then Y. And follow this example." And I don't mean their peers--when you're young your cohort is as inexperienced and unwise as you are, and if they're the only ones you learn from you won't be a wise adult.

I'm not saying that we need to appoint some directors to tell everyone on the low half of the bell curve what to do. That doesn't work out well for anybody. But somehow or another inherited/traditional wisdom needs to get passed on. For a lot of us that means learning some roles.

And by roles, I don't mean Tinder swipes. That may be a face-saving way of proposing interest or rejecting it, but it's impersonal. It isn't a social role.

But are roles what we want--even when they obviously work? Are we willing to want them--and not just for other people?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

They do it better

Here in Wisconsin we have corn mazes in the fall. In Japan, on the other hand... True, their artwork isn't interactive, but it beats crop circles.

They use different colors of rice plant to get different colors.

For some reason the link text includes "Chinese" rather than "Japanese."

If you missed seeing it before, look at Simon Beck's snow art.

Saturday, January 25, 2020


Via NotEvenWrong, an essay on women in STEM suggests possible changes to make it easier for women. Executive summary: sexism exists but isn't the main driver-out-of-women. The virtual impossibility of beginning a family and still keeping up with cutting edge research is the big issue. (FWIW, this effects men too, but nowhere nearly as strongly.)

The essay assumes that STEM means research, and in particular academic research.

Cutting edge research is a form of exploration. That generally requires devoting huge blocks of time and energy--going all out, as it were. In its extreme physical forms, most men can't handle it, very very few women--and no children.

Luckily academic research virtually never involves those kinds of strains (though one of the polar expeditions was to retrieve penguin eggs!), and very few of us die in the effort. But the competition often demands a single-mindedness that shunts much of the rest of life to one side.

I'd guess, from what I've seen over mumble mumble years, that most of the (mostly men) find some kind of satisfactory work-life balance. But it takes a while to figure it out. And marriages tend to come surprisingly late. And it takes a while to learn that incremental effort beyond a certain (individual) point generally doesn't produce much.

The icons are men like Erdos, who lived and breathed mathematics--no family, no home to take care of, just math as long as he could. Dang few of us are Erdos. We can't master everything he did, and what we do master we take longer to learn.

The competition is real--can I put in a few more hours to solve problem X and stand out from the crowd? If the difference between me and the fellow down the hall is that he's a little faster, I can get to the same place he did with just a little more time and concentration, right?

But there's something else at work too, that isn't as easy to solve with sociological cures. In physics and math (I can't speak to engineering), the nature of the discipline is abstraction and problem-solving, and it attracts people who are good at both, and love to do both. See a problem: try to solve it. The problem becomes a fascination, and when you're young you don't know your limits and it eats more and more of your time. And maybe there's a haunting realization that most mathematicians, and maybe physicists, do their best work when young. (I know exceptions)

I think that the nature of the field, and the people attracted to it, build an environment that is not friendly to taking it easy and watching the baby learn to walk. Most of us learn to, but not quickly enough.


A smidgen of clarification: news stories said a Vesuvius victim's brain turned to glass. Make that a glassy substance: there's no silica in it like window glass. Glass is a very generic term for solids that seem uniform but have no obvious crystal structure. (Sometimes there's microscopic crystal structure.) This one seems to be scorched proteins and fats, and maybe some other stuff that didn't show up in the report.

Thursday, January 23, 2020


A new immersive performance will allow audience members to experience a plane crash.

Better sign up quickly: "The show will run from 15-23 February throughout the day; tickets £8."

It isn't at an airport.

I once opined that airports should setup a mock-up cabin (at least one size) and give passengers who go through an escape drill a voucher for a few bucks off their next flight.

I'd go for that. And make sure the rest of the family did too. I'm not so sure about a simulated crash, though--if only because the "many worlds" spiel would drive me nuts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


We'd never use whalebone corsets to force a woman's waist into such an unnatural shape, or bind a girl's feet to make them look like Consort Pan's(*). That was cruel, and kind of creepy.

No, instead of squeezing body parts to be permanently smaller, we inject alien substances to make parts permanently bigger. Surgery is obviously kinder and less barbaric.(**) And more body positive: Positive means plus, right?

No, I lie. We do body reductions too. I forgot about liposuction. But we're not the barbarians they were. We use High Tech™

(*) Lin Yutang suggested that it wasn't just the modern Chinese government decrees that abolished foot-binding, but the discovery that Western high-heel shoes gave the same look and gait without much pain or expense.

(**) Yes, I know that the practice of vanity surgeries makes reconstructive surgery reasonably safe and affordable. Few things are entirely without some good effects.


"Some people I know criticize his sermons. They say they're too boring and predictable, although personally, at the end of them I always experience this tremendous sense of awakening."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Where a fireball came from

A fireball over Kyoto in 2017 has been analyzed. Several sites got views of it, and they reconstructed its trajectory and think it came from "near-Earth asteroid 2003 YT1." As we saw with the Ryugu touchdown, asteroids can have lots of loose chunks, and I suppose that, something like comets though not as dramatic, bits can come off when they warm up in the Sun. Bits of me peel off when I spend too much time in Sun too.

It wasn't a huge chunk--they think only a few cm--but it's cool that they were able to track down where it probably came from. "The parent body 2003 YT1 could break up, and those resulting asteroids could hit the Earth in the next 10 million years or so, especially because 2003 YT1 has a dust production mechanism." (Dust production mechanism means stuff comes off it.)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Social creature

Sometimes I just want to watch the sunset in silent meditation and prayer.

Usually I want to show it to someone else. I can't put a finger on why, but it is better when someone else is grateful for it too.

I've spent enough time traveling and eating alone to say that there's something similar with food. "Eating you can do by yourself; dining demands friends." Whether I'm among the hosts or the guests or just customers, the food and drink are better when I'm with people. Eating isn't just an animal thing, it's a social thing. I wonder if when I eat alone I gain weight from the high-fat things I eat, or lose it because I don't have the same appetite/

Checking around, I find that Dalrymple got there first, writing of extreme cases: "Meals here were solitary, poor, nasty, British, and short."

Very different lyrics...

AVI linked to a Seekers song and I went hunting to see what else they did. Answer: quite a few hits, including one I only heard a time or two: The Carnival is Over, which is based on the tune from Stenka Razin.

Fortunately the Seekers didn't borrow the lyrics. True, water and parting of lovers play a role in both songs, but the situations and cultures differ a bit.

Stenka Razin led a rebellion against the Russian nobility back in 1671.


I was curious what had become of the site(*) and got distracted by a little history that I wasn't familiar with.
He loaded wooden boxes of 24-pound howitzer shells onto two mules and led a small force toward the Confederate camp. When they neared the enemy camp, the men lit the howitzer fuses, slapped the mules, and ran for cover—only to find that the mules had also turned and were loyally following them. The men again tried unsuccessfully to steer the mules into the Confederate camp, finally gave up, and ran for their lives. They were able to get just far enough away to escape injury when the shells—and the mules—exploded. No Confederates were killed in the highly irregular attack, but a number of their own mules stampeded into the darkness and were lost.


About this same time, the Confederates launched a cavalry charge against the Union right that included 40 lancers from the 5th Texas, the only recorded instance of lancers being used in the Civil War. The lancers and cavalry encountered a devastating fire that finally broke the charge. In columns of four, banners fluttering and spears leveled, the lancers rode forth against the Coloradans. “Some of them came near enough,” one of the Colorado volunteers wrote, “to be transfixed and lifted from their saddles by bayonets, but the greater part bit the dust before their lances could come in use.” Union Captain Theodore H. Dodd shouted: “They are Texans, give them hell!” His men, who had no love for Texas residents, responded with withering fire. Only three of the 40 lancers got off the field unharmed.


All that stood between Sibley and his triumphant march to California were the troops at Fort Union, 60 miles east of Santa Fe.


The engagement at Glorieta Pass was so disastrous to Confederate hopes that some historians have labeled it the “Gettysburg of the West.” In its way, it was at least as decisive in its far-reaching consequences. Jefferson Davis’s long-standing dream of vast gold fields, expanded slave territory, and bustling California ports had been crushed in the rocky defile at Glorieta Pass, never to be renewed for the remainder of the war.

(*)answer here

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

John and the woman caught in adultery

The story of the woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11 is not found in some of the very oldest manuscripts, as the Wikipedia article informs us. I gather that textual analysis plays by a specific set of rules. I am not a Greek scholar (I know the alphabet), and don't understand why anyone would claim that it was "certainly not part of the original text of St. John's Gospel." The style seems consistent with the rest of John, but that may of course be due to the translators. And it seems to match Jesus' readiness to forgive people. And since it is cited in the mid-200's (see the wikipedia article), the story plainly is older than that.

I've had a sneaking suspicion that since John lived as long as he did, he had the opportunity to issue a "revised" version--"I forgot to include this bit."

But just to see:

The episode is only about 230 words in English. I wondered how much space that would take up in Greek.

Voila Papyrus 66, an extremely old codex. The second image on the wikipedia page displays "The first page of the papyrus, showing John 1:1-13 and the opening words of v.14" That's about 210 words in English. So the missing section would be about 1 face of a page of papyrus. That sounds like a nice easy transcription error: "It's too dark. Let me finish this page and start again tomorrow."

Monday, January 13, 2020


For some reason shoveling 2" of snow off the sidewalk leaves me a little more tired than shoveling 5" did when we first moved here.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dice game followup

In the post on a dice game, I didn't explain the meaning of the graphs.

A player has about a 50/50 chance of winning some points in her turn. That's in a good range--not too rare, not too often. But one attractive feature of the "losing turn" is that it isn't a one-and-done. There's a little tension: "I missed once, will I miss the second time too?" It makes the game a trifle slower, but the dramatic advantage should compensate for that. Clever.

Getting multiple points in a turn is common enough to make that something to hope for--and even getting a winning throw isn't so rare that the women wouldn't see it every few games. This also helps cultivate a little drama.

The more biased the chips are, the more likely early players are to win, but the effect isn't that dramatic for reasonable estimates of unfairness. If the chips are dramatically unfair, players will notice and quit using them. So it seems to be a pretty fair game.

The prize (some yard goods that she would give to a man in exchange for something of equal value) was something easily provided by the other women, something the man had to supply, and an exchange which emphasized the reciprocal obligations of men and women in the tribe. And--probably now and then an unmarried winner used it for signaling interest.

I'll work up some estimates for how many women can play the game before it gets too unfair. If there are 1000 women playing, the winner will appear in the first few hundred and the last ones will pretty much never get a turn. If you've only got 2 players, the odds are close to even for them both.


Actually, this is a terrible game. Below see the table for the number of women playing and the relative odds of the last woman in the group to those of the first woman in the group. If you can randomly pick who goes first, who second, and so on, you're OK, but otherwise the first players have quite an advantage.

# playerswin rate ratio of last to first


The easiest way to fix this is to skip the "first past the post" rule, and allow points to keep accumulating. The first past woman with 10 or more points marks the final round, which continues until all are done; then the woman with the highest number of points wins--with tie-breaker rounds as needed. Of course, that's a different game then, but probably similar enough.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Attacks on faith

I was reading about the Hussites the other day, and it struck me that one of the things that seems to have driven the religious conflict was "trying to take the faith away from us."

Never mind the establishment--they were the "money-changers in the temple", and the Hussites threatened their extortion scheme. Of course they were violently angry.

But a lot of ordinary folk became deeply involved.

On the one hand, the Hussites were taking away the rituals and traditions that were still central to many people's lives. Not all the priests were money-hungry, and people could see that.

On the other hand, the rapacious corruption of the religious leaders and of the framework they built was taking the soul out of the religion, and many people felt that loss deeply. They wanted the soul back. And the leaders were making innovative changes: the congregants were now officially banned from receiving the Eucharist in both kinds. So the "rebels" also were standing up for tradition: both the tradition of the spirit of the faith and of the letter of the practice.

It may not surprise the reader to find that my sympathies lie with the losers here. But I think I understand the hostility to them.

I may wait a long time for the canonization of St Huss or St Wycliffe. Unfortunately.

Cleanliness and God

Maybe I'm all wet, but it seemed to me as though ancient Hebrew religion was designed to emphasize how holy and separate God was.  God wasn't everywhere like the pantheists wanted, nor multiple as the polytheists and animists hoped, nor someone you could pick up and hide under the saddle-blankets.  Pictures were right out--they couldn't get close to God that way either.

He was separate.  You couldn't get near without being clean yourself, and even the priests couldn't get very close--and they had to be careful not to "put holiness on the people" afterwards!

Yet they were assured that He was their God and they were His people--even if they could not approach Him.

Once they got that lesson down solid, Jesus taught the rest of the lesson. I can't remember who said that if Jesus had come to the Hindus they'd have showered Him with flowers--and not understood Him at all.  They hadn't gotten lesson 1 yet.

Relative risks

One of Althouse' commenters, "The Crack Emcee, wrote "Black people don't go anywhere because we don't feel free to roam, simple as that."

I wondered at that. Under what circumstances would that be reasonable? I gather he is a composer and DJ, both of whom run into a different section of society than I see, but I'm not sure that skews the environments that much.

My naive incredulity arises because, statistically, in the USA, a random black man is an order of magnitude more likely to commit violent crimes than a random white man.

But when he goes out into the rest of the US, the white men abound by an order of magnitude more than the black, so the likelihood of running into a violent white predator is roughly the same as of running into a black one.

There's something else that skews the numbers even more. Within his own culture, he can probably spot the "tells" for people he wants to avoid better than he can in the "white culture," especially in rural areas with which he seems to have little experience.

The folks I hang around with are not a representative sample of Americans. I can probably find white druggies and "rowdy" drinkers without too much effort, but I avoid them. Sometimes the signals are obvious.

If he is doing the same, he probably is at greater risk from white folks whom he can't read than from the black folks he can.

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."

FWIW, yesterday the police chased down a fellow who shot at his girlfriend in the house across the street from us. (nobody hurt) I had not made an effort to get to know the man.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Moral truncation

On thinking about it more, moral truncation is much more generic than politics. You can easily see it anywhere. I can hardly do better than Uncle Screwtape in showing how it develops.
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from our Father’s house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there,

Your affectionate uncle Screwtape

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The format is a bit unusual: much of the book is autobiographical, telling the story of how he evolved his conclusions. He got there by observations, measurements, and actually living in India rather than just reading Western interpretations of it. And then iterating on his results.

Probably everybody knows his conclusions: moral choices are based on 6 moral foundations: the spectra of

  • Care/Harm
  • Fairness/Cheating
  • Loyalty/Betrayal
  • Authority/Subversion
  • Sanctity/Degradation
  • Liberty/Oppression

It turns out that “conservatives” are able to describe “liberal” positions more accurately than the reverse, and he interprets that within his framework as further evidence that his fellow liberals use only 2 ½ of the 6 moral foundations: they value Care, Liberty, and to a lesser extent Fairness overwhelmingly more than Authority or Sanctity or Loyalty. Conservatives were more evenly spread. Each group regards itself as obviously moral.

In the third part of his book (motto: “We are 90% chimp and 10% bee”) he examines what bonds people. We are social creatures, and have developed many rituals for bonding ourselves together—and they work very well, whether they are in psyching up for a football game or drilling in boot camp. He notices that the main question of leadership is not “Why does someone want to be a leader?” but “Why does anybody follow?”

He takes great care to make sure this all fits into an evolutionary model—though his work is nowhere nearly as forced as some of the just-so “selfish gene” stories to explain altruism. His model of the “super-organism” works better.

His first model of human behavior is the “elephant and rider”: the first and generally final reaction is not driven by conscious thought; it is usually justified ex post facto.

And yet, at some level that elephant is driven by thought.

Haidt reminds us of the twin studies that show that separated-at-birth twins often wind up with quite similar tastes and politics—and even similar spouses. In our culture, that taste in politics is guided into the liberal or conservative framework (or libertarian, which he discusses and I will ignore). In the liberal case, the child’s inchoate preferences wind up with either the 2 ½ moral foundations and in the conservative the 6.

But. When else in history have people, born with the same innate preference suites, divided into these particular kinds of social/political groups?

History is full of divisions, but until the growth of the WEIRD culture, has any subgroup shown this particular kind of moral truncation? I don’t believe we’ve evolved a new kind of human so fast—and in any event the modern ultra liberal attitudes have no Darwinian future (he also notices this). If people are the same, the difference comes from the social environment.

I have to conclude that the division isn’t entirely intrinsic to people’s preferences. We have to model what’s happening as a moral re-training that magnifies one set of moral foundations and lets the rest wither. How? Exercises of moral imagination, selecting one set of narratives over others, defining a new group identity in terms of a specific moral matrix—That sounds a bit like a religion, doesn’t it? And Rodney Stark showed that most religious conversions came about through a preponderance of friends from the new cult. One writer recently complained that Howard Stern had turned wimpy and PC in his old age {never heard him myself}--I wonder what Howards friends are like.

WEIRD can be rich, but it tends to be barren. I’m told the Roman Empire cities tended to be population sinks. People could get relatively rich, but tended to die off in plagues and whatnot, so only a continuous stream of aspirants from the countryside kept them going.

You can think of comparable, though not identical, instances of moral truncation in the past: the fiery hands of Moloch--“Caring” was not exactly the chief moral pillar in those lands. “If he had different gods, he would have been a different man.”

So I think the elephant, at least in part, can be shaped. Perhaps not so much by the “rider”, since it takes a lot of self-awareness to know what effect the sea you swim in has on you (*), but by the society you interact with, and the subgroups you gravitate toward.

Qui bono from moral truncation? The Prince of this world, of course, but in our WEIRD land, the humans benefiting are the ones with the nicest places in the economic machine. When not tied down by family/community bonding, workers are conveniently fungible. As I estimated some time back, adult consumers consume more than children do. (Does that word “consumer” make your skin crawl? What a world of objectification is in it.) There’s lots of money to be made from anomie.

It is an interesting story, and his framework seems to have a great deal of descriptive power--possibly even predictive, if one can "shape the way the elephant grows."

AVI takes issue with "moral truncation", judging that liberals use all 6, but in ways that weren't captured by the questions. I think this makes calling our partisan divide a religious divide a more useful model. You judge:

An example of a moral question having to do with sanctity/degradation was: “A man buys a chicken at the butcher shop. On a whim, he has sex with it, and then cooks it and eats it.” People divided (in split seconds) into 2 groups: those who were disgusted and then came up with more or less relevant explanations of why the act was wrong, and those who were not and explained their position as “it Harms no-one.”

An example from AVI's approach might have been "A man builds a dam across a stream to make a millpond."

(*) Yes, I mix metaphors sometimes.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Virtual Strike

"Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields announced on Friday that, effective immediately, the Atlanta Police Department has a “no-chase policy.” ... In the email, the chief pointed to the failure of the judicial system as a key reason for changing the department’s chase policy"
“I don’t want to see us cost someone their life in pursuit of an auto theft person or a burglar when the court’s not even going to hold them accountable,” Chief Shields said. “I mean how can we justify that? And I think we are better than that.”

I gather that Georgia forbids collective bargaining by police. Strikes are off the table. On the other hand, this kind of go-slow sounds so wonderfully caring: "It's for the innocent bystanders." It's going to be hard to call it a strike.

Does anybody have any statistics to show why we should disbelieve Shields' claim about the Atlanta court system?

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Women's dice game

Menominee women's dice game as seen in the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Six of the dice were thin circular disks; one was carved in the form of a turtle, and one represented a horse's head. They were formerly made of buffalo rib, but horse ribs were common in later times. One surface of each die was colored blue or sometimes red, and the other was left white. The bowl was held with both hands and the dice were shaken to the far side of the bowl. Then the bowl was given one flip and set on the floor and the score was counted, as follows:
  • All of similar color except 2: 1 point
  • All of similar color except 1: 3 points
  • All of similar color except turtle: 5 points
  • All of similar color except horse: 10 points
  • All of similar color: 8 points
  • All of similar color except turtle and horse: 10 points

The scoring varied according to each tribe, and each woman kept her own score using beans in front of her. Each woman shook until she missed twice and then passed the bowl in clockwise rotation. The first to score ten points won the game, and her prize-a piece of yard goods-was given to one of the men spectators, who in turn was obliged to reciprocate with a gift of equal value in the future.

OK, obviously the lady can score more than 10 points in a turn, though that won't happen often. If the chips (not really dice) were fair, the probability of red or white would be 0.5, but it might vary a bit. If they were fair, how much would a woman score in a turn--on the average? I made a stupid typo in my program, and I wanted to use the exercise to learn some python plotting I wasn't familiar with, so this took longer than it should have, but for your interest:

And if you want to know how things change if the chips aren't fair (systematically), that's here:

The award scheme is clever. The woman probably didn't need any "yard goods" herself--that was the sort of thing women made anyway. But she got to make a forced exchange with a man for something the men provided.

Friday, January 03, 2020


We were looking at grain grinding stones in the AmerIndian section of the Milwaukee museum. Not a sign of a rotary mill in sight. Was it obvious why?

The go-to place to look for inventions is usually China. The Mo was developed around 250BC.
That's pretty recent.

However, it looks like Greeks in about 400's BC invented a hopper mill (grain fed through a hole in the top stone), and somebody in Spain probably invented a rotary mill about the same time. The diffusion must have gone the other way this time.

This source suggests that the requirements of olive processing demanded innovations in milling that some clever folks transferred to grinding grain.

The rotary quern and rotary mill aren't very suitable for processing the typical crops of African rainforests, so is isn't surprising not to find them there. And since they were invented so recently they'd have to have been re-invented in the Americas--but they weren't. The labor needed to make one wouldn't seem likely to pay off quickly unless more than just a couple of families were grinding their grain with it. Several AmerIndian cultures had densely populated farming sites, so they could certainly have used it if they had it.

As a side note, I was curious about where North American Indians got their beans: ""These four cultivated species have similar origins in the Americas, tepary found in NW Mexico and southern Arizona, scarlet runner and year-beans found in Southern Mexico and the highlands of Guatemala and the lima bean mirrors the common bean in that it has two centers of origin: one in Andean region and the other in Middle America." I knew about the Andes and Central America, but not New Mexico. Obviously the seeds went all over the place--I have no idea how quickly, though. I wonder if anybody has been able to trace that spread.

Witch hunting

Famously, there are a number of tribes in the Congo area among which there is no such thing as "death by natural causes." If an adult dies unexpectedly, a witch is to blame.

The authorities look for and punish the witch. There are some usual suspects, of course: albinos, twins, people who inspire envy... But the blame can fall on anyone.

We'd never do anything like that here.

Here, if someone has had unhappy luck in life and can properly define their intersectionality, the bad luck is someone else's fault, and the self-appointed authorities look for and punish the guilty party and group. There are some usual suspects, of course: "patriarchs", "capitalists", "cis-normatives," etc, but anyone who has at any time failed to abide by the party's rules from the past, present, or future, is vulnerable.

These things are nothing like each other, of course.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

What is your vision for 2020?

I need to distinguish more clearly between my plans and God's plans.