Stream: Dice Games Prove Evolution Because Humans Believed In Punitive Gods?

Some men testing out whether they evolved from less altruistic beings.
Some men testing out whether they evolved from less altruistic beings.

Today’s post is at the Stream: Dice Games Prove Evolution Because Humans Believed In Punitive Gods?

Answer this question: could you, by counting the number of coins some guy puts into one of two cups, deduce that mankind evolved from brutes into cooperative, altruistic animals because men sometimes believed in the existence of punitive gods?

Because that’s exactly what Benjamin Grant Purzycki and eight others did, as documented by their peer-reviewed paper “Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality” published in the prestigious journal Nature…

What’s that? What were the dice games? Glad you asked…

The participants were told to mentally pick a box, their own or their confrere’s. Then they were told to toss a die, half the sides of which were painted black, half white. If the die came up black (a 50% chance), the participants had to put one coin into the box they pre-picked. If the die came up white, the participants had to put one coin into the box they didn’t picked…

Look: you’re in a room, unseen, and perhaps bored with this dumb dice game. You know you’re going to get to keep the coins in the self box. So you slide in an extra one, or maybe two. Who cares anyway? It’s just some silly experiment. Or, in Game Two, since you’re not benefiting, you might figure the split should be 50-50, and you notice that as the experiment runs along, the dice rolls are leaning one way or other, as dice will, so you “correct” the totals a little to make them closer to 50-50…

The big question is why. Why did (a few) people cheat or make mistakes (if they did)? Was it because they thought [name of god] would punish them if they didn’t? Maybe in some cases. Boredom? Surely in some cases. Wanting to please the researcher? Probably not infrequently. Forgetting which damn cup you picked and which color went with what cup? Absolutely. Or some other of hundreds of other possible reasons? You bet…

Go there and read the shocking conclusion! No, seriously, go. It helps keep me fed.

Grammy Awards: Triumph Of The Vulgar

The Grammy Awards were held Sunday night, the music industry’s biggest night of the year. It is well to exam this accurate cultural barometer. The crucial question of interest, which will become apparent as you read, is this: can we recover?

Best rap song was Alright by one Kendrick Lamar, the most feted musician of the night (he won multiple awards). The lyrics of that music? An edited, expurgated sample:

Alls my life I has to fight, nigg*
Alls my life I
Hard times like God
Bad trips like: “God!”
Nazareth, I’m f——d up
Homie you f——d up
But if God got us we then gon’ be alright

Nigg*, we gon’ be alright
Nigg*, we gon’ be alright…

Behind my side we lookin’ at you from the face down
What mac-11 even boom with the bass down
Schemin’! And let me tell you bout my life
Painkillers only put me in the twilight
What pretty p—y and Benjamin is the highlight…

That same gentleman won best rap album of the year with To Pimp a Butterfly, which inter alia contains the song The Blacker the Berry, which angrily informs the listener:

I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village
Pardon my residence
Came from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my d*** is big, my nose is round and wide
You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re f——‘ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession
I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion
I’m guardin’ my feelins, I know that you feel it
You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’
You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigg*

Given the wide scale success of black musicians such as Lamar, including the enormous successes that man and others like him have garnered, plus the near-ubiquitous presence of his weepingly awful music, the plan to “terminate” his “culture” isn’t going well.

Best album Uptown Funk, by somebody called Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. Excerpt of lyrics from the title song (the song is repetitive so this sample is not as small as it seems).

I’m too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire man…

Come on, dance
Jump on it
If you sexy than flaunt it
If you freaky than own it
Don’t brag about it, come show me
Come on, dance
Jump on it
If you sexy than flaunt it
Well it’s Saturday night and we in the spot
Don’t believe me just watch…

The song of the year was Thinking Out Loud by an Ed Sheeran, a song fashioned more along classical pop lines, with only a touch of innuendo, a splash of narcissism:

When my hair’s all but gone and my memory fades
And the crowds don’t remember my name
When my hands don’t play the strings the same way (mmm…)
I know you will still love me the same…

Rock and roll was not missing. The best rock song was from a group called Alabama Shakes, with Don’t Wanna Fight. The song’s lyrics, but at least they were easy to memorize:

I don’t wanna fight no more [x6]

No, no, no, no!

I don’t wanna fight no more [x7]
I don’t wanna fight, I don’t wanna fight!
I don’t wanna fight no more [x8]

Reminiscent of the subtlety of the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, no?

The language used in these, and in many other well received songs, is, though it is difficult to tell, a corrupted form of English. I have studied this argot and have discovered the best way to learn it is the same way to learn to play popular music: stop the lessons early.

It’s true, you will say, and as your grandparents as their grandparents before them said, that vulgar music has always been with us. The difference is that now the triumph of the vulgar is complete. Go almost anywhere and low music with cant lyrics will be heard: it cannot be escaped. Even the Grammy’s best “classical” instrumental solo was won for an ugly, atonal song (here is a version, by another player and not by the winner, whom I could not find). Beauty is absent. Worse, and the reason the answer to the question which I asked at the beginning is No, is that those who know better refuse to speak out, fearful of being called elitist or—the worst calumny possible—“racist”. Cowardice explains much.

Perhaps the rot is only in the lyrics. Perhaps the music itself has redeeming qualities? There, dear reader, you will have to excuse me. I entered into YouTube the best dance/electronic album, which was from Skrillex and Diplo, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack U, the lead song of which was Don’t Do Drugs Just Take Some Jack U. Unfortunately, I was able to listen to it.

My doctor advises me that the effects should be temporary and can be cured by steady application of the balm of beautiful music. I chose Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid, which for your ease and edification I linked at the top of this post. I chose this version because a snippet of the piece was included in the disappointing movie Master and Commander, a movie based on the greatest novel (in twenty volumes) in the English language by Patrick O’Brian.

What Happens If You Take Away Women’s Birth Control?

From the paper: circles are PP counties, triangles are non-PP counties.
From the paper: circles are PP counties, triangles are non-PP counties.

The titular question is in earnest, dear reader, just as it was for Amanda J. Stevenson and four others. Yes, those fine academics were just as perplexed as you probably are, but they, unlike you, were in a position to research the question, whereas you and I can only guess.

And research it they did, leading to the peer-reviewed paper “Effect of Removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program“, found in that prestigious organ the New England Journal of Medicine. Thanks to reader Gail Finke for uncovering this treasure.

The paper’s abstract opens with “Texas is one of several states that have barred Planned Parenthood affiliates from providing health care services with the use of public funds.” Now this is very strange, because, at least for us civilians, health care meant those acts done to preserve human life. Yet Stevenson uses the term in the precise opposite sense: the killing and prevention of human lives. I have no explanation for this except to admit that academic minds are in a class far above our own.

Let’s press on. Texas cut off state funds from PP offices commencing in 2013. PP of course still received federal and private monies, and I can’t see from this article that any PP office was forced to close because of lack of state monies. Still, it is obvious that if any PP office had less money to spend because of these cuts, they would spend less money.

Before the cuts only 23 Texas counties had PP offices, and 231 did not. Women in Texas do venture outside their home counties, so it’s unknown how many who lived in “dry” countries went for “wet work” in PP counties. Stevenson does’t say. She and her co-authors did note that about 8.2% of women 18-44 who took money from Medicaid had babies in non-PP counties before the state’s ban on funding. About 9.1% of women in PP counties had babies before the ban. About women paying their own way Stevenson is mute.

After the ban, how many babies born? I have no idea. Stevenson did not see fit to report the raw numbers and instead present some sort of statistical regression, probably because she and her co-authors were under the delusion that changes in counts cannot be “real” until they are certified by wee p-values.

Yes, sir. This happens time and again in research. I’m making these numbers up, but if in 2011 there were 28,000 babies born, and in 2014 there were 30,000, it is true (contingent on accurate counting) that in 2014 2,000 more babies were born. No p-value is needed to make this claim. It matters not one whit whether this difference was “statistically significant.” The difference is there and true regardless.

Anyway, Stevenson suggests, via an unnecessary and complex model that (government-funded) births increased in PP counties after Texas ceased their funding.

Why might this be so? We’re right back to the question posed in the post’s title. (It’s starting to get exciting, isn’t it?)

Stevenson also tracked, and this time actually reported the raw numbers, that Medicaid claims for injectable and short-acting hormonal contraceptives decreased, both in PP counties and non-PP counties, after Texas cut off funding. Don’t forget, women are allowed to cross county lines.

The authors commented: “Among women using injectable contraceptives, fewer women who received an injection in the quarter preceding the exclusion continued to receive an injection through the program than did those in an earlier cohort.” Probably nobody saw this coming, which is why Stevenson says Texas “abruptly excluded Planned Parenthood affiliates” from the public teat.

Are you sitting down? Here is the stunning conclusion: as a result of taking few contraceptives there was an “increase in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid”!

There’s the answer! Isn’t science amazing?

Don’t answer yet, because it gets better. Stevenson said, “it is likely that many of these pregnancies were unintended”.

We’re right back at another mystery. How did these women get pregnant if they didn’t intend to? Yes, you’ve heard that question before, but its answer remains elusive, an imponderable scientific conundrum. Somehow—the clues lead in all directions—women are non-pregnant one day, and, without any intention whatsoever, are pregnant the next. More research is clearly needed.

Scalia Dissents: Some Favorites


With the passing of that great man I thought it appropriate in remembrance to quote from one or two of Scalia’s dissents. Readers may have their own favorites. The reader will note that Scalia’s crystal ball was fully functional.

There is, incidentally, a book of the same name as today’s post.

PGA Tour, Inc V Martin

The court (in 2001) decided in favor of expanding the power of central government under a desperate interpretation of the Americans with Disability ACT (ADA). A case in which Equality won and Reason lost. Scalia dissents.

Nowhere is it writ that PGA TOUR golf must be classic “essential” golf. Why cannot the PGA TOUR, if it wishes, promote a new game, with distinctive rules (much as the American League promotes a game of baseball in which the pitcher’s turn at the plate can be taken by a “designated hitter”)? If members of the public do not like the new rules–if they feel that these rules do not truly test the individual’s skill at “real golf” (or the team’s skill at “real baseball”) they can withdraw their patronage. But the rules are the rules. They are (as in all games) entirely arbitrary, and there is no basis on which anyone—not even the Supreme Court of the United States—can pronounce one or another of them to be “nonessential” if the rulemaker (here the PGA TOUR) deems it to be essential.

If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf—and if one assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the Court has made to get to this point—then we Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” U.S. Const., Art. I, [sec]8, cl. 3, to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.

Lawrence v Texas

In which the court (in 2003) expanded the power of central government under a desperate interpretation that said, by implication, the Constitution supported buggery. A case in which Equality won and Reason lost. Scalia dissents:

Countless judicial decisions and legislative enactments have relied on the ancient proposition that a governing majority’s belief that certain sexual behavior is “immoral and unacceptable” constitutes a rational basis for regulation…State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers‘ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding…

What a massive disruption of the current social order, therefore, the overruling of Bowers entails…

If all the Court means by “acting in private” is “on private premises, with the doors closed and windows covered,” it is entirely unsurprising that evidence of enforcement would be hard to come by. (Imagine the circumstances that would enable a search warrant to be obtained for a residence on the ground that there was probable cause to believe that consensual sodomy was then and there occurring.) Surely that lack of evidence would not sustain the proposition that consensual sodomy on private premises with the doors closed and windows covered was regarded as a “fundamental right,” even though all other consensual sodomy was criminalized.

I remind the read that bestiality is legal in several Enlightened countries. It is, of course, everywhere immoral, which proves the law is often an ass. And that truth, dear reader, is what justifies rebellion.

United States v Windsor

In which the court (in 2013) expanded the power of central government under a desperate interpretation that said the Defense of Marriage Act didn’t really mean it. A case in which Equality won and Reason lost. Scalia dissents:

The Court is eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case…

[This decision] is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and every-where “primary” in its role.

Obergefell et al. v Hodges

In which the court (in 2013) expanded the power of central government under a desperate interpretation of the Constitution where it was “discovered” &pi = 3. No; I’m only kidding. It was “discovered” the Constitution required adults to swear two (or more) men can “marry” each other. A case in which Equality won and Reason lost. Scalia dissents:

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built…it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.

In the American legal tradition, liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement…

Whether we define “liberty” as locomotion or freedom from governmental action more broadly, petitioners have in no way been deprived of it.

Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in same-sex relationships. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace. They have been able to hold civil marriage ceremonies in States that recognize same-sex marriages and private religious ceremonies in all States. They have been able to travel freely around the country, making their homes where they please. Far from being incarcerated or physically restrained, petitioners have been left alone to order their lives as they see fit…

Petitioners claim that as a matter of “liberty,” they are entitled to access privileges and benefits that exist solely because of the government. They want, for example, to receive the State’s imprimatur on their marriages…

…the majority goes to great lengths to assert that its decision will advance the “dignity” of same-sex couples…The flaw in that reasoning, of course, is that the Constitution contains no “dignity” Clause, and even if it did, the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity…

The majority’s musings are thus deeply misguided, but at least those musings can have no effect on the dignity of the persons the majority demeans…

Our Constitution—like the Declaration of Independence before it—was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from—not provided by—the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on “due process” to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the “liberty” protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society. I respectfully dissent.

The Story

Even though the sample is small, the moral of the story is obvious. An increasingly powerful central government awards itself powers it does not possess, resulting in a populace which is all but mandated to worship the State and, since this is a Democracy, itself. To which all we can say is God bless Antonin Scalia. Requiescat in pace.