Cathedral Round-Up #12: The Rise of Mommy-Law

After reading several books and numerous articles by lawyers of various stripes, you can’t help but notice their philosophy of law. (In this case, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, and The Real Watergate Scandal, by Geoff Shepard.) Now, I am sure that actual legal scholars and philosophers have developed a whole vocabulary and system of concepts for discussing these sorts of things, but as I am not a legal philosophy scholar, I am limited to my own bumbling language.

The American legal tradition, from the Constitution on down, is based on the notion that man is his own sovereign; judges do not advocate on behalf of one person or group, but dispassionately arbitrate between them.

Thus the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Government does not chose a side.

For the first two hundred years or so of our country, the proper functioning of law was seen as protecting the interests of the individual, both against predation by others and from over-reach by the state. Just as the scientific method protects truth by demanding a theory be falsifiable and tested against this counter-scenario, so the legal system protects freedom by putting the burden of proof on the Prosecution and demanding that the accused be treated as “innocent until proven guilty.”

Properly functioning, the law protects the individual. This idea of law-functioning-as-intended-protects-people is found in both Just Mercy and The Real Watergate Scandal, in which both authors describe cases of judges and prosecutors interfering with the proper functioning of law to deprive defendants of a fair trial. A fair trial, they argue, would have exonerated their defendants.

Obviously this view is still current among lawyers, who like to see themselves as moral people who deserve their paychecks. But among non-lawyers, the view seems to have shifted radically over the past few decades. SJWs in particular seem to have decided that the legal system is not as the protector of rights, but the protector of oppressors.

To some extent, this is due to the absolutely true fact that rich people can afford better lawyers than poor people can, corporations use the legal system to drive down competition, and there are so many laws now on the books that if they want to arrest you, they can almost always find something to charge you with.

And while the BLM crowd appears to be statistically incorrect on the matter of cop-on-black shootings, they are absolutely correct that there are a lot of black people in prison: “One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001.”

But these are, we might argue, a practical matter, easily resolved by repealing drug laws or forcing everyone to use public defenders or some other measure I leave for you to imagine. Increasingly, though, it seems like the very ground rules of a “free society protected by laws” are coming under attack.

Take Freedom of Speech.

Free Speech has historically been regarded as necessary for the existence of a free, democratic society, both because it is impossible to discuss important political matters if certain opinions are not allowed to be expressed, and because it is an insult to free men to dictate what they may and may not discuss. That Freedom of Speech covers matters deemed noxious to common sentiments like pornography, flag burning, or KKK rallies was seen mainly as an unpleasant but generally ignorable side-effect of a properly functioning legal necessity. Thus even the hyper-liberal ACLU would defend the rights of the KKK to march and pornographers to publish.

Today, by contrast, Freedom of Speech is regarded by many on the left not as defending their own rights, but as a legal fig leaf to protect bigots, Nazis, Klan members, and Charlie Hebdo while they spread their vile, hate-filled messages.

According to Gallup, 27% of college students favored campus restrictions on  “expressing political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups;” 69% favored restrictions on “slurs” and “intentionally offensive” speech; and 63% want their administrations to ban offensive Halloween costumes. Further, 40% of Millennials want the government to restrict speech “offensive to minorites.”

See: Yale’s costume crisis:

(Since Youtube crashes my computer, please let me know if I don’t have the best video.)

When you start demanding that the authorities dictate which costumes you can wear while screaming in outrage at anyone who suggests that you might be old enough to dress yourselves, you don’t want freedom, you want mommy.

That’s why I call this the rise of Mommy Law, a legal philosophy in which the government’s proper role is no longer to mediate between equals, but to defend the helpless–blacks, women, LGBTQIAs, Muslims, etc.–from their oppressors. It is implicit, under Mommy Law, that these groups have no agency of their own and could not take care of themselves without the government’s help.

Thus, for example, it is now seen as the proper role of law to award millions in damages to gay couples just because someone objected, on religious grounds, to baking them a wedding cake. Likewise, the government has decided it is inappropriate to investigate the Orlando shooter’s Islamic ties, because that would disproportionately impact Muslims.

Interestingly, criminal law–especially as it relates to rape–has been the locus of much of this change for decades. Just Mercy goes into this in some depth, because changes in criminal law over the past few decades have ironically had a major effect on black people, so I regret deeply that I do not have the text at hand to quote for you. In short, IIRC, the emphasis in criminal court cases shifted from the “state” prosecuting a criminal who had disturbed the common order (hence the phrasing, “The State of X vs. Joe Bob,” to the state acting on behalf of the victims. Certain rights of the defendant related to cross-examination of witnesses, especially child victims of rape and other violent crimes, have been curtailed to avoid distressing the witnesses.

(Children, of course, actually are helpless and should be treated as such, but the feminist demand that we “Believe the Children” has still led to many people being incarcerated on obviously false charges, like flying through the air on a magic broom.)

This is all quite understandable in light of the feminists’ War on Rape, which you should be familiar with if you’ve ever spent 5 minutes around feminists. Unfortunately for the feminists, most rapes are difficult to prosecute under normal legal standards. Unlike robbery, in which the transfer of one man’s wallet to another man’s pocket is clearly a crime, people–even strangers–engage in consensual sex all the time. In a great majority of cases, we have nothing more to go on than the testimonies of the two people involved, one of whom claims consensuality and one of whom claims not. Victory in such cases requires lower standards of evidence and a weakening of the presumption of “Innocent until proven guilty.”

And with that very long introduction, here are some recent articles from the Yale Daily News:

State Passes Affirmative Consent Legislation:

Last Wednesday, the Connecticut Senate voted 35 to one in favor of a bill requiring both private and public colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent as the standard in handling cases of sexual misconduct on campus.

Commonly defined as “yes means yes,” the affirmative consent standard puts the burden of proof on the accused party, who is now responsible for demonstrating that affirmative consent was given before any sexual activity took place. Lawmakers in support of the bill stressed that affirmative consent means “active, informed, unambiguous and voluntary agreement” and will help university administrators handle sexual misconduct on campus with greater efficacy and clarity. Several Connecticut universities, including Yale, already use an affirmative consent standard. …

Students from different colleges and universities across the state gathered in front of the Connecticut State Capitol in April to demonstrate their support for the bill when it was being considered in the House.

Philosophy Community Signs Open Letter in Striking Rebuke of Pogge:

Nearly a month after sexual misconduct allegations arose against renowned Yale philosophy professor Thomas Pogge, simmering anger within the philosophy community has turned into open outrage as more than 200 philosophy professors around the world — including 16 full Yale professors — have signed an open letter condemning Pogge’s alleged misconduct. …

… philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who was department chair when Pogge was hired, said what Pogge has admitted to doing is inappropriate and unprofessional. During a 2011 UWC investigation, Pogge acknowledged that he had shared a hotel room with Lopez Aguilar and slept on her lap during a flight, although he added that both actions were suggested by her.

“The things about going to the conference with a former student and sharing a hotel room and he admitted to sleeping with his head on her lap. That is not appropriate behavior,” Kagan said in an interview with the News…

Even Affirmative Consent won’t save Pogge.

Teammate launches fundraiser for Montague:

“Just months from graduation and weeks before our basketball team clinched an Ivy League title, Jack Montague was forced to leave school and abandon his team in light of a university sexual assault investigation that presented no evidence that proved his guilt. Not only was Jack stripped of a Yale degree which he had worked over three and half years to earn, he was also denied the once in a lifetime opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament alongside his teammates,” …

The basketball team drew criticism earlier this year for demonstrating support for Montague after rumors of his expulsion began to circulate. In a Feb. 26 home contest against Harvard, 16 days after Montague was expelled, the team took to the court wearing T-shirts with the former captain’s nickname and number on the back. The following week, posters appeared around campus condemning the team for “supporting a rapist.”

Montague suit one of more than 100 alleging universities violated students’ rights:

Filed in a federal court last week, Montague v. Yale University et. al joins more than 100 recent civil suits alleging that college students accused of sexual misconduct were not granted fair hearings in campus proceedings. …

In one of the most powerful critiques of university sexual misconduct procedures, presiding judge F. Dennis Saylor denied Brandeis’s motion to dismiss charges in March, ruling that four of the eight charges, including the breach of contract charge, could stand. …

Explicitly supporting the lower evidence standard mandated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX compliance guidelines, Saylor questioned whether Brandeis’s sexual misconduct procedures have gone too far. …

In recent years, dozens of universities have been taken to court for their handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Lawsuits claiming that accused students’ due process rights were denied have proliferated since the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a public letter to Title IX coordinators in April of 2011. The 19-page document, known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, laid out a series of guidelines for educational institutions that receive federal funding and are thereby obliged to comply with Title IX, the clause of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Perhaps most significantly, educational institutions were instructed to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard  — meaning, the letter explains, “it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred” — when investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.

This lower standard, used in campus proceedings involving sexual misconduct but not in criminal cases, reduces the level of certainty required to find students guilty of sexual misconduct, opening the door for students to claim that their due process rights — to hear and respond to evidence, or to cross-examine opposing witnesses, among others — were violated.

Due process is a constitutional right, but Rendell-Baker v. Kohn (1982) ruled that private universities are not required to adhere to the same standards of due process as courts. A student undergoing a Title IX investigation at a college is not guaranteed the same rights — a jury of one’s peers or the right to know opposing evidence, for example — as a criminal who committed a comparable crime in a non-university setting.

So what else has been going on at Yale?

Yalies Mourn and Offer Support in Wake of Orlando Shooting

Galvez said she was away from campus when the tragedy took place and found it difficult to grasp that people of her community are dying for being their authentic selves.

She added that the shooting was a violation of a safe space for queer people of color, who have been deemed unworthy of love, civil liberties and now the right to live.

“Our Latinx, LGBTQ and Yale communities at large are hurting — we are mourning for our hermanxs,” she said. “There are some that will use this incident to target those in our Muslim communities, however, it is love and not hate that will help us in our path towards alleviating our hearts. Indeed, our Muslim hermanxs are also hurting and mourning with us.” …

As a non-native Spanish speaker, I suppose I don’t have a right to get anal about the butchering of grammatical gender endings in English-renderings of Spanish words, but how do you even pronounce “hermanxs”?

I remember those long ago days of Spanish class, when we first learned about this whole concept of “grammatical gender” and how it operates in Spanish, and some of us started bristling up and saying, “But isn’t that sexist?” Our Mexican teacher immediately shot us down. No, grammatical gender is just part of how the language operates, not an expression of how people feel about men and women.

According to Wikipedia, Proto-Indo-European had to genders, “Animate and Inanimate.” Oh those bigots! Latin had three genders, indicating that the Romans were really into trans rights. Swahili has 18 genders, evidence of severe mutation after a nuclear accident (also, ninja turtles.) English has only a few evil words left, like “duchess,” because it is the current year and we are now enlightened.

(Duchessship is one of the few words in English with three identical letters in a row.)

Etymologically, the term “gender” in “grammatical gender” actually doesn’t mean “the word is a girl or a boy.” It just means “type” or “kind,” as in the word “genus,” a taxonomic rank above species but below family for classifying groups of animals, eg, house cats and wildcats are both in the genus Felis.

I am an absolute blast at parties.

Continuing on…

He added that the majority of the Orlando victims were Blacks or Latinx enjoying Latin Night at Pulse nightclub, a place where people should be able to dance free from stigma and discrimination. That many have overlooked this important fact or used the tragedy to scapegoat Muslims is frustrating, Paredes said. …

LGBTQ Co-Op Coordinator Kyle Ranieri ’18 said the Orlando shooting has deeply affected him and many of his queer friends. To attack gay clubs and bars is to devastate “the epicenter of queer communities,” Ranieri said.

Ranieri said he is pleased with Salovey’s email, which recognized the tragedy as a targeted attack against the LGBTQ Latinx community, but he expects the administration to take steps to ensure a safe campus for queer people of color in the coming semester.

It’s Yale’s job to keep gay blacks and Hispanics safe from the likes of the Orlando shooter, but not from Muslims.

The Divide: A portrait of Muslim Student Life at Yale:

Ishrat Mannan ’17 stood by a lonely table, pamphlets in hand. Her disinterested classmates streamed past her, lining up to attend the event of the day: a talk by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West.” Even though the physical distance that separated them could not have been more than a few feet, Mannan found that she and her fellow Yalies might as well have been in different ideological worlds. In one, Islam was a symbol of peace and a way of life. In the other, it was a foreign relic of a bygone era, interesting to study but not to take seriously. “That huge divide,” recalls Mannan, “just felt really, really disheartening.” …

Acceptance can be hard in a place as secular as Yale.

Whether it is in Global Affairs or Modern Middle East Studies, Islam is usually taught from the specific viewpoint of radical violence and national security. It’s not that good classes about Islam don’t exist at Yale. Rather, it’s that students choose not to take them.

“[Classes about Islamic civilization] are not the popular, sexy classes that get high attendance,” says Bajwa. “Muslim civilization, Muslim history, intellectual history, social history, Muslim culture’s contributions to society, those are the classes that have anemic attendance.” …

I can’t imagine why.

Yale’s general academic attitude toward Islam is just the tip of the iceberg. If anything, it is reflective of subtle Islamophobia on parts of campus. This tension between the Muslim and non-Muslim Yale communities has manifested itself more than once in Yale’s recent history.

Seven years ago, the master of Branford College invited Kurt Westergaard, one of the 12 Danish cartoonists who drew offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, to a Master’s Tea. …

Then in 2012, the New York Police Department’s massive spying operation on at least 15 Muslim student organizations across the country came to light, and with it the revelation that Yale students had been the unwitting targets of extensive surveillance, suspected solely on the basis of their religion. The incident hit hard, but fortunately the Yale administration issued a statement of support for the Muslim community on campus, with former University Vice President Linda Lorimer telling the News that Yale “supports [the MSA’s] goals and aims and is grateful for its leadership on our campus,” adding that she had been “both inspired and educated by the MSA.”

I think that is the opposite of Islamaphobia on campus, but who can keep track of such detaisl?

Perhaps the toughest blow, though came last year, with the William F. Buckley Jr. Program’s invitation of Hirsi Ali, a well-known anti-Islamic speaker. …

Who is this Hirsi Ali? According to Wikipedia:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali … is a Dutch-American activist, author, and former politician of Somali origin. She is a leading opponent of female genital mutilation, and calls for a reformation of Islam.[1]

Ayaan was born in 1969[14] in Mogadishu, Somalia.[15] Her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, was a prominent member of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front and a leading figure in the Somalian Revolution. Shortly after she was born, her father was imprisoned owing to his opposition to the Siad Barre government.[16][17]

Hirsi Ali’s father had studied abroad and was opposed to female genital mutilation. But, while he was imprisoned, Hirsi Ali’s grandmother had the traditional procedure performed on five-year-old Hirsi Ali.[16]

After her father escaped from prison, he and the family left Somalia, going to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia, before settling in Nairobi, Kenya, by 1980. There he established a comfortable upper-class life for them. Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim Girls’ Secondary School. By the time she reached her teens, Saudi Arabia was funding religious education in numerous countries and its religious views were becoming influential among many Muslims. A charismatic religious teacher, trained under this aegis, joined Hirsi Ali’s school. She inspired the teenaged Ayaan, as well as some fellow students, to adopt the more rigorous Saudi Arabian interpretations of Islam, as opposed to the more relaxed versions then current in Somalia and Kenya. Hirsi Ali said later that she had long been impressed by the Qur’an and had lived “by the Book, for the Book” throughout her childhood.[18]

Yup, Hirsi Ali is clearly an ignorant, anti-Muslim bigot. Back to Yale:

What started off as a small event exploded into a raging firestorm that drew in the national media and numerous student organizations across campus. Arguments were made, op-eds were written, letters were sent, and before anyone knew it, Hirsi Ali’s event had somehow evolved into an epic showdown between protecting free speech and preserving a safe space. … “A lot of people have become very open about how disillusioned they are with Yale,” says Mannan…

Just as it is really hard to be black at Harvard, it’s really hard to be Muslim at Yale.

Money Talks: Yale recently decided to name one college after Anna Murray (“an intellectual, an activist and member of the clergy” and “a queer woman of color and civil rights activist) and one after Benjamin Franklin (due to one donor’s request,) and some students are unhappy:

But we shouldn’t honor one donor’s request that stands so wildly in contrast to the prevailing opinion and wishes of students on campus. … But it’s also true that Yale students today are unimpressed — and angry, saddened and deeply frustrated — with this naming decision. But one day, some of us will have wallets that rival Johnson’s, and will be in a position to make these types of decisions to steward and direct this institution. Yale is raising us to be its future alumni, and as future alumni, we can perhaps — as a whole — value the voices of students on campus over our own egos. We must hope for more decisions that look like Pauli Murray College, and much fewer that look like Franklin.

They should have named it after Hamilton.

Our Missed Opportunity:

Amidst the tears and painful conversations last semester, a note of optimism hung in the air. The March of Resilience in November affirmed a widespread commitment to, in University President Peter Salovey’s own words, “a better Yale.” Student activists delivered concrete policy demands to administrators, with some tangible results. Despite the University’s past failures to address the concerns of students and faculty of color, there was a glimmer of hope.

At around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, that hope was unceremoniously dashed.

Murray College, a symbol of progress and equality, will stand next to Franklin College, whose name seems to have carried a $250 million price tag.

The new college will be permanently engraved with the name of Benjamin Franklin, a slaveowner whose only affiliation with Yale is one honorary degree.

Ben Franklin dashed their hopes.

Yale will eliminate a title to which few were attached, and name one residential college after a queer woman of color. But in deciding to do so, they have paradoxically insulted the very students who have fought so hard for change. When paired with its calculated verdicts on Calhoun and Franklin College, the symbols of progress start to look rather unprogressive.

That’s because protesting over the names of colleges is actually really dumb.

Salovey: We cannot seek truth by hiding it:

Some students have expressed the view that their engagement and advocacy in the fall were wasted. Nothing could be further from the truth. We value your voices, and the initiatives we announced then and now reflect our respect for the student, alumni, faculty and staff who participated.

Initiatives for a more inclusive Yale, some already underway and others newly announced in November, are being implemented. We want to be held accountable as we fulfill important commitments to strengthen the academic enterprise, expand programs for students, improve institutional structures and increase representation of diversity on campus. …

Scholars and students across the University engage in these activities each day. The research and education mission of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale is a major participant in conversations on campus and across the nation. The new Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration will add new voices, on our campus and around the world. We must use our voices and our influence as students and as educators to share that knowledge with broader society and seek solutions, not just solace. …

Help us shape the historical study of names and memorials to be undertaken throughout the campus. The Committee on Art in Public Places requests student and faculty insights into what iconography we must create and change to better reflect the nature of our community and our history. Submit a proposal to the juried competition that will select a piece of art to defy the beliefs of John C. Calhoun by shining a light on equality and justice.

Let us end with Yale News’s Commencement 2016 Opinion:

But college is no easier at Yale than anywhere else. In these four years you have lost friends, flunked tests and cried in courtyards when you realized life was more confusing than an admissions brochure made it out to be. You have turned tears into change as you held your Yale accountable. You have called for racial justice, environmental change, mental health reform, sexual consent, international human rights and so much more. From New Haven to St. Louis, college voices like yours are shaping the course of this country. And in expressing your experience of isolation and oppression, you found a community and a home here. Perhaps this is the most important lesson you have taught us: None of us are alone.

The Big 6 Civilizations (pt 2: Egypt)


2. Egypt

I know I don’t have to tell you about Egyptian civilization, but did you know the Egyptians had maths?

Problem number 56 from the Rhind Mathematics Papyrus (dated to around 1650 BC):

Egyptian seked
Seked of the Great Pyramid

If you construct a pyramid with base side 12 [cubits] and with a seked of 5 palms 1 finger; what is its altitude?[1]

Most Egyptian geometry questions appear to deal with more mundane matters, like the dimensions of rectangular fields and round granaries, rather than pyramids. (The Egyptians had not yet worked out an exact formula for the area of a circle, but used octagons to approximate it.)


Picture 4A “pefsu” problem involves a measure of the strength of the beer made from a heqat of grain, called a pefsu.

pefsu = (the number of  loaves of bread [or jugs of beer]) / (number of heqats of grain used to make them.)

For example, problem number 8 from the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (most likely written between 1803 BC and 1649 BC, but based on an earlier manuscript thought to have been written around 1850 BC):

Example of calculating 100 loaves of bread of pefsu 20:
If someone says to you: “You have 100 loaves of bread of pefsu 20 to be exchanged for beer of pefsu 4, like 1/2 1/4 malt-date beer,”
First calculate the grain required for the 100 loaves of the bread of pefsu 20. The result is 5 heqat. Then reckon what you need for a des-jug of beer like the beer called 1/2 1/4 malt-date beer. The result is 1/2 of the heqat measure needed for des-jug of beer made from Upper-Egyptian grain.
Calculate 1/2 of 5 heqat, the result will be 212. Take this 212 four times.
The result is 10. Then you say to him:
Behold! The beer quantity is found to be correct.[1]

“Behold! The beer quantity is found to be correct,” is one of the most amusing answers to a math problem I’ve seen.

Picture 5The Egyptians also used fractions and solved algebraic equations that we would write as linear equations, eg, 3/2 * x + 4 = 10.

But their multiplication and division was really weird, probably as a side effect of not yet having invented a place value system.

A. Let’s suppose you wished to multiply 9 * 19.

B. First we want to turn 9 into powers of 2.

C. The powers of 2 = 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.

D. The closest of these to 9 is 8, and 9-8=1, so we turn 9 into 8 and 1.

E. Now we’re going to make a table using 1, 8, and 19 (from line A), like so:

1        19
2        ?
4         ?
8         ?

F. We fill in our table by doubling 19 each time:

1        19
2        38
4         76
8         152

E. Since we turned 9 into 1 and 8 (step D), we add together the numbers in our table that correspond to 1 and 8: 19 + 152 = 171.

Or to put it more simply, using more familiar methods:

9 * 19 = (1 +8) * 19 = (19 * 1) +(19 * 8) = (19 * 1) + (19 * 2 * 2 * 2) = 171

Slab stela of Old Kingdom princess Neferetiabet (dated 2590–2565 BC), with number hieroglyphs
Slab stela of Old Kingdom princess Neferetiabet (dated 2590–2565 BC), with number hieroglyphs

Now let’s do 247 * 250:

The closest power of 2 (without going over) is 128. 247 -128 = 119. 119 – 64 = 55. 55 – 32 = 23. 23 – 16 = 7. 7 – 4 = 3. 3 – 2 = 1. Whew! So we’re going to need 128, 64, 32, 16, 4, 2, and 1, and 250.

Let’s arrange our table, with the important numbers in bold (in this case, it’s :

1       250
2        ?
4         ?
8         ?
16       ?
32       ?
64       ?
128      ?

So, doubling 250 each time, we get:

1       250
2       500
4       1000
8        2000
16     4000
32     8000
64     16,000
128    32,000

Adding together the bold numbers in the second column gets us 61,750–and I probably don’t need to tell you that plugging 247 * 250 into your calculator (or doing it longhand) also gives you 61,750.

The advantage of this system is that the Egyptians only had to memorize their 2s table. The disadvantages are pretty obvious.

Berlin Papyrus
Berlin Papyrus

See also the Lahun Mathematical Papyri, the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, the Akhmim wooden tablets, the Reisner Papyrus, and finally the Papyrus Anastasi I, which is believed to be a fictional, satirical tale for teaching scribes–basically, a funny textbook, and the Berlin Papyrus 6619:

The Berlin Papyrus contains two problems, the first stated as “the area of a square of 100 is equal to that of two smaller squares. The side of one is ½ + ¼ the side of the other.”[6] The interest in the question may suggest some knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem, though the papyrus only shows a straightforward solution to a single second degree equation in one unknown. In modern terms, the simultaneous equations x2 + y2 = 100 and x = (3/4)y reduce to the single equation in y: ((3/4)y)2 + y2 = 100, giving the solution y = 8 and x = 6.

Some quick notes on the big six civilizations (pt. 1)

Picture 4



Chinese proto-writing
Chinese proto-writing



European proto-writing
European proto-writing


Indus Valley seals
Indus Valley seals
Indus valley seal impression, possibly script
Indus valley seal impression, possibly script




The spread of agriculture
The spread of agriculture

















1. Mesopotamia (Sumer):
fertile-crescent-ted-mitchellSumer (/ˈsmər/)[note 1] was the first ancient urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world.[1]

Proto-writing in the region dates back to c. 3500 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BC.[2]

Cities of Sumer
Cities of Sumer

Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a West Asian people who spoke the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence), a language isolate.[3][4][5][6] …

Sumerian culture seems to have appeared as a fully formed civilization, with no pre-history. …

Uruk, one of Sumer’s largest cities, has been estimated to have had a population of 50,000-80,000 at its height;[28] given the other cities in Sumer, and the large agricultural population, a rough estimate for Sumer’s population might be 0.8 million to 1.5 million. The world population at this time has been estimated at about 27 million.[29]…

Babylonian math homework
Babylonian math homework*

The Sumerians developed a complex system of metrology c. 4000 BC. This advanced metrology resulted in the creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. From c. 2600 BC onwards, the Sumerians wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets and dealt with geometrical exercises and division problems. The earliest traces of the Babylonian numerals also date back to this period.[45] The period c. 2700 – 2300 BC saw the first appearance of the abacus, and a table of successive columns which delimited the successive orders of magnitude of their sexagesimal number system.[46] The Sumerians were the first to use a place value numeral system. … They were the first to find the area of a triangle and the volume of a cube.[47] …

* “Babylonian clay tablet YBC 7289 with annotations. The diagonal displays an approximation of the square root of 2 in four sexagesimal figures, 1 24 51 10, which is good to about six decimal digits.
1 + 24/60 + 51/602 + 10/603 = 1.41421296… The tablet also gives an example where one side of the square is 30, and the resulting diagonal is 42 25 35 or 42.4263888…”

Continuing on:

Sumerian tablet recording the allocation of beer
Sumerian tablet recording the allocation of beer

Commercial credit and agricultural consumer loans were the main types of loans. The trade credit was usually extended by temples in order to finance trade expeditions and was nominated in silver. The interest rate was set at 1/60 a month (one shekel per mina) some time before 2000 BC and it remained at that level for about two thousand years.[49] Rural loans commonly arose as a result of unpaid obligations due to an institution (such as a temple), in this case the arrears were considered to be lent to the debtor.[50] They were denominated in barley or other crops and the interest rate was typically much higher than for commercial loans and could amount to 1/3 to 1/2 of the loan principal.[49]

Periodically “clean slate” decrees were signed by rulers which cancelled all the rural (but not commercial) debt and allowed bondservants to return to their homes. … The first known ones were made by Enmetena and Urukagina of Lagash in 2400-2350 BC. According to Hudson, the purpose of these decrees was to prevent debts mounting to a degree that they threatened fighting force which could happen if peasants lost the subsistence land or became bondservants due to the inability to repay the debt.[49] …

Examples of Sumerian technology include: the wheel, cuneiform script, arithmetic and geometry, irrigation systems, Sumerian boats, lunisolar calendar, bronze, leather, saws, chisels, hammers, braces, bits, nails, pins, rings, hoes, axes, knives, lancepoints, arrowheads, swords, glue, daggers, waterskins, bags, harnesses, armor, quivers, war chariots, scabbards, boots, sandals, harpoons and beer. The Sumerians had three main types of boats:

  • clinker-built sailboats stitched together with hair, featuring bitumen waterproofing
  • skin boats constructed from animal skins and reeds
  • wooden-oared ships, sometimes pulled upstream by people and animals walking along the nearby banks

… The Sumerians’ cuneiform script is the oldest (or second oldest after the Egyptian hieroglyphs) which has been deciphered (the status of even older inscriptions such as the Jiahu symbols and Tartaria tablets is controversial).

reconstructed Neo-Sumerian Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq
Reconstructed Neo-Sumerian Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq

Lamassu Designs has made a lovely infographic on the Sumerian/Mesopotamian calendar/numerical system, which for some reason is failing to download properly. So I’m screencapping it for you:

by Lamassu Design, part 1

by Lamassu Design, part 2

Lamassu Design, part 3

Lamassu Design, part 4

Lamassu Design, part 5

Lamassu Design, part 6

by Lamassu Design, part 7

by Lamassu Design, part 8

by Lamassu Design, part 9

Lamassu Design, part 10

Lamassu Design, part 11

Lamassu Design, part 12

Lamassu Design, part 13

Lamassu Design, part 14

Lamassu Design, part 15

Lamassu Design, part 16 Lamassu Design, part 17


1280px-Ur_mosaic  Standard_of_Ur_chariots

marsh near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
marsh near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
Reconstructed Sumerian finery
Reconstructed Sumerian finery












Fragaria x Ananassa and Hybrid Vigor

103_Fragaria_vesca_LIn honor of strawberry season, I decided to investigate the history of this humble yet delicious fruit.

Since wild strawberries (frangaria) have invaded my garden, I thought I might live near the strawberry domestication ground zero, but it turns out that wild strawberries are incredibly common–their range includes much (perhaps all) of North and South America, Hawaii, Europe, and Asia, including the Himalayas and Japan. (It does not appear that they are native to Australia or Africa, but I might have just missed some.)

F. daltoniana, Himalayan strawberry
F. daltoniana, Himalayan strawberry

Wild strawberries, if you’ve never spotted one, are much smaller and more modest than their commercially-available cousins. The French began trying to domesticate wild strawberries by planting them in their gardens back in the 1300s–Charles V’s (1364 to 1380) royal garden had 1,200 strawberry plants. The plants seem to have increased in popularity over the next couple of centuries, but never became very significant–perhaps because the garden strawberries kept crossing with their wild cousins, preventing significant domestication.

StrawberryWatercolorIn the 1600s, F. virginiana–the Virginia strawberry–spread across Europe after its introduction from eastern North America. (Virginia, I assume.) In 1712, a French spy, Amédée-François Frézier, brought back a third wild strawberry, this one from Chile. Amusingly, the name “Frezier” actually comes from the French for “strawberry”:

A story relates the surname is derived from the fact that Julius de Berry, a citizen of Anvers (i.e. [{Antwerp]]), was knighted by Charles the Simple in 916 for a timely gift of ripe strawberries.[2] The Emperor gave the Fraise family (the surname was corrupted as “Frazer”) three “fraises” or stalked strawberries for their coat of arms.

At any rate, in 1766, the French discovered that crossing F. virginiana and F. chiloensis resulted in a plant with large, tasty berries: the ancestor of our modern domesticated strawberry.

Strawberries and roses are close cousins within the Rosaceae family; blackberries and raspberries, from the Rubus genus of the Rosaceae, are their somewhat more distant cousins.

The 6 Civilizations?

Picture 4

The first six civilizations–Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley (Harappa), Andes, China, and Mesoamerica– are supposed to have arisen independently of each other approximately 6,000 to 3,500 years ago.


Of course, we can’t be absolutely sure they arose completely independently of each other–people from the Andes could have traveled to Mesoamerica and influenced people there, or people from Mesopotamia could have been in contact with people from the Indus Valley or Egypt. But these civilizations are thought to have probably arisen fairly independently of each other, as mostly spontaneous responses to local conditions.

I set out to research the big six because I realized that I know approximately nothing about the Indus Valley civilization, despite it actually being significantly older than the Chinese–for that matter, it turns out that Andean civilization is also older than China’s.

Wikipedia has an interesting definition of “civilization“:

Civilizations are intimately associated with and often further defined by other socio-politico-economic characteristics, including centralization, the domestication of both humans and other organisms, specialization of labor, culturally ingrained ideologies of progress and supremacism, monumental architecture, taxation, societal dependence upon farming as an agricultural practice, and expansionism.[2][3][5][7][8]

Read that carefully.


(Sorry this map is too small to be really useful, but the next one one is better:)


Interestingly, while Mesoamerica has corn and the Andes have beans, potatoes and peanuts, Egypt and Mesopotamia have… not a lot of locally domesticated crops.

It’s understandable how Chinese civilization, which got started much later, might have originally imported rice from further south. But if Egypt and Mesopotamia are the world’s first centers of agriculture, where did they get their wheat from?

Anyway, I have been reading about Gobekli Tepe, an archaeological site in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of modern-day Turkey, about 7 miles from Şanlıurfa, which radiocarbon dating suggests was constructed by 11,000 years ago:

Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
Göbekli Tepe, Turkey

[The site] includes two phases of ritual use dating back to the 10th – 8th millennium BCE. During the first phase, pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected. More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m (20 ft) and a weight of up to 20 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock. …

All statements about the site must be considered preliminary, as less than 5% of the site has been excavated, … While the site formally belongs to the earliest Neolithic (PPNA), up to now no traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found. The inhabitants are assumed to have been hunters and gatherers who nevertheless lived in villages for at least part of the year.[27] …

The surviving structures, then, not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel, they were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i.e., the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry around 9000 BCE.

Hewing enormous monoliths out of the rock and then hauling them uphill to form some sort of mysterious structure that doesn’t even appear to be a house takes a tremendous amount of work:

But the construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies. Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters (330–1,640 ft) to the site.[28] The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons (10–20 long tons; 11–22 short tons), with one still in the quarry weighing 50 tons.[29] It has been suggested that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies took place. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste—much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the Near East.[7]

Eastern Turkey (modern Kurdistan): the first civilization?

There are several other sites in the area, though not as old as Gobekli Tepe, such as Nevalı Çori.

AgriKurdistanSo where did domesticated wheat come from? Einkorn wheat’s closest wild relatives have been found in Karaca Dag, Turkey, about 20 miles away. Wild emmer wheat appears to be a hybrid between a wild Einkorn variety and a not-quite identified species and grows from Israel to Iran, though our first evidence of domestication come from Israel and Syria. (Of course, we may have excavated more archaeological sites in Israel than, say, Iraq or Turkey, for obvious recent geopolitical and religious reasons.)


Regardless, we know that these first Anatolian farmers made a huge impact on the European genetic landscape:

From Haak et al, rearranged by me
From Haak et al, rearranged by me

The guys on the left, the ones with “blue” DNA, are European hunter-gatherers who occupied the continent before farmers arrived. The guys in the middle, “orange,” are farmers. The farmers appear to have arrived initially in Europe around Starcevo (in the Balkans) and spread out from there, eventually conquering, overwheliming, or otherwise displacing the hunter-gatherers. (The teal-blue group is “Indo-Europeans” who lived out on the Asian steppe and so did not get conquered by farmers.) From

European_hunter-gatherer_admixture Neolithic_farmer_admixture


Of course, people have been referring to the region from the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates to the Nile valley as the “Fertile Crescent” for a hundred years, though the major differences of Egyptian and Sumerian civilization make it sensible to speak of them separately. But it looks to me that they may both owe their origins (at least their crops) to some highly-organized Turkish hunter-gatherers.


America: Unraveling at the Seams

It’s hard to concentrate on genetics when you feel like your own society is coming apart at the seams. I am very glad today that I am not in Dallas; I can only imagine what the people there (police and civilians,) must be feeling, but it can’t be good. Likewise, having seen the video of Philando Castile’s death, I am sure the African American community is likewise distressed.

From BLM to Donald Trump, racial tensions are on the rise and whites are usually blamed:

Picture 21

(This was tweeted the day after 9 police officers were shot, 5 killed, in Dallas.)

Or, more subtlely:


This post is not an exhaustive look at the dynamics of race and violence in America (I haven’t the time or resources,) but here are some links on the subject if you want them:

Slate Star Codex: Race and Justice: Much more than you wanted to know, (a review of just about everything on the subject Scott could find;) The Color of Crime, (2016 revised edition;) the Bureau of Justice crime stats website; and from the NY Times: Surprising New evidence shows bias in police use of force but not in shootings. And more, Study: BLM is wrong about police.

CnCpWS5VIAAvFuSRather, this is a quick look at the demographic reality vs the narrative:

Alton Sterling, a black man, was recently shot by police officer Howie Lake (white) and Blane Salamoni (medium-hued Italian.)

Philando Castile, (black) was recently shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez, (Hispanic.)

George Zimmerman, (Hispanic) shot Trayvon Martin (black.)

The recent spree-killing at an Oregon college that killed (IIRC,) 7 people, was committed by a black man.

The Fort Hood Army Base shooting was committed by a Muslim man. The San Bernardino Christmas Party shooting, which IIRC killed 14 people, was committed by a Muslim couple.

CmBL4F7XEAAt_GcThe Orlando shooting, which left 49 people dead, was committed by a Muslim man; most of his victims were black and Hispanic. Most likely all of his victims were gay, (but apparently the shooter himself wasn’t. I am not totally convinced, though.)

6 police officers were involved in the death of Freddie Gray, black. Half of those officers were black, half white. The entire chain of command, from the Baltimore City police force to the Attorney General to the President himself is, of course, heavily black.

Cm8-vNWVMAA3uuEPolice officer Peter Liang, Asian, killed Akai Gurley, black. The judge who threw out Liang’s guilty verdict, Danny Chun, is also Asian.

Mike Brown, black, was shot by a white cop.

Eric Gardner, black guy, strangled by white cops

Spree killer Eliot Roger was half Asian/half white.

The Virginia Tech shooter was Asian.

Mass-murderer Dylan Roof: white guy, black victims

Batman theater shooter: white guy, many victims

Cm798o-WgAAnLIOThat guy who shot up a kindergarten was white. Victims weren’t chosen by race.

Violence by protestors (Hispanic, black, and white?) against Trump supporters (mostly white.)

In the recent anti-cop violence:

The five police officers recently shot by a black guy in Dallas included 4 whites and one Hispanic (Zamarripa.)

An Asian guy ambushed a police officer (I don’t know the victim’s race.)

A black guy ambushed two police offices (victims’ race unknown.)

Black guy attacked police officer’s home, officer’s race unknown.

Three police-related people + one civilian shot at a Michigan courthouse; 2 dead.

CnGf0lvUEAAZimHWhy do people who think that whites are racist against minorities simultaneously try to increase immigration from non-white countries, instead of recommending that non-whites stay very far away? It doesn’t seem like Asians and Hispanics are refraining from shooting blacks, even if whites are the ones who get blamed for it.

Note that these are just the cases that have been prominent in the media/I have heard of/that come immediately to mind. The data, as you are probably aware, shows that most crime is of the far more conventional variety of black on black and white on white, but see all of the links above if you want real crime stats. Also, I have refrained from opining on guilt.


Forgive me; I forgot where this came from. Please let me know f you recognize it so I can properly credit it.

High politics, Low politics, Red politics, Blue politics

I am trying to think through some ideas that have been slowly percolating. Any thoughts/comments welcome and encouraged.

I propose first that we can divide politics–on either side of the Red/Blue tribe divide–into “high” and “low”. High politics are those of the upper classes, the rich, the folks who already have power. Low politics are the concerns of rest of us.

“High” is not necessarily better or more important than “low.” They are just different.

To explain better, I want to draw an analogy with Free Northerner’s distinction between “Nerds” and “Geeks”:

One man did a statistical analysis of the usage of the words and how they correlate with other words. He defined them as such:

geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.

… The statistical analysis comes to this conclusion:

In broad strokes, it seems to me that geeky words are more about stuff (e.g., “#stuff”), while nerdy words are more about ideas (e.g., “hypothesis”). Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas. Of course, geeks can collect ideas and nerds play with stuff, too. Plus, they aren’t two distinct personalities as much as different aspects of personality. Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking.

FN also includes this graphic, from Burrsettles’s article, On “Geek” vs. “Nerd”:
geek/nerd plot via Burrsettles of Slackpropagation
Or to put it more plainly:

(also from Burrsettles)
(also from Burrsettles)

There is a great deal of overlap between “geek” and “nerd” culture, otherwise no one would bother trying to distinguish between them–no one makes graphs on the difference between “motorcycle culture” and “chefs,” not because chefs never ride motorcycles, but because they are very distinct groupings. Geeks and nerds, by contrast, lie on a sort of personality continuum, where the main difference is probably IQ. (Though obviously some of the semantic distinctions are random, eg, “goths” under “nerd” and “#Linux” under “geek.”)

To return to our original discussion, “nerds” are the “high” end and “geeks” the “low” end of a single culture. Nerds are (relatively) high-status, with paying jobs that advance the well-being of humanity. Geeks are low-status, with lower IQs (on average) and jobs that are not generally recognized as advancing humanity.

This doesn’t make it morally wrong or bad to enjoy comic books or Firefly; it’s just kind of low status to be obsessed with them.

Young people in search of their own place in the world often explore a variety of different cultures, marked by particular clothes, music, TV shows, etc. This includes geek culture, which many people enjoy in highschool/college, but find less time for as they get jobs, marry, have kids, and generally age.

Studying quantum physics is hard. I can’t do it. <1% of the population can do it. But almost anyone can play video games or watch Firefly. Lots of people can read comic books and put together a nice cosplay. These activities are fun and let people feel like they’re part of the same culture as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Caltech professors.

Let’s go back to politics.

I propose a similar division between “high” and “low” politics. For example, globalism is high Blue-tribe politics; trans rights are low blue-tribe politics. Most of the people who are actively involved in globalization are high-status people like diplomats, businessmen, or lawmakers. Most of the people actively fighting for trans rights are trans themselves or their lgbq-“allies,” all of whom are much lower status than businessmen.

On the right, nationalism is high politics (at least currently); anti-trans rights is low politics.

Basically, SJWs are low blue, and your traditional blue-collar Christian conservative is low red.

Just as lots of nerds enjoy videogames or Linux, so do high-status blues basically believe in a lot of SJW things, and high-status reds believe in a lot of conservative Christian things, but the beliefs do not absolutely overlap. High-status blues do not actually spend their spare time hanging out with trans people or poor blacks and Hispanics, though many SJWs do (or are.)

Likewise, the Republican leadership says it opposes abortion, but has actually devoted far more resources to killing Iraqis than to stopping abortion.

How much of low politics do high class people actually believe in, and how much is just vaguely associated with them? How much do they use as a bludgeon against others without actually believing?

Low politics are very easy to get a handle on, because the vast majority of people talk about them–the vast majority of us aren’t part of the top 1%, after all. They’re also entertaining. But what about high politics?

Right now, I’d say it’s nationalism vs. internationalism. But I’m sure it’s more than just that.

I think this is relevant:


Anthropology Friday: Still A Pygmy (pt 4/4): War, violence, and more war

Today we’re wrapping up our review of Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Micheal Nest

Mobutu Sese Seko

It’s no secret that Mobutu Sese Seko (ne Joseph-Desiré Mobutu) was a shitty dictator who forced school children to sing anthems praising him every morning and had his own citizens tortured if they disputed his claim to be immortal.

Of course Mobuto was not immortal; he is now very much dead.

But let’s back up a minute:

Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.

He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.

Patrice Lumumba

American hates the Soviets, so America + Belgium helped Mobutu overthrow the government, kill Lumumba, and squash the rebellion.

The execution is thought to have taken place on 17 January 1961, between 21:40 and 21:43 (according to the Belgian report.) The Belgians and their counterparts wished to get rid of the bodies, and did so by digging up and dismembering the bodies, then having them dissolved in sulphuric acid while the bones were ground and scattered.[27] (Source)

Mobutu became dictator and changed the country’s name to Zaire to show that he was totally anti-colonialist, despite using Belgian money and soldiers to overthrow the democratically elected government anti-colonialist government of the DRC.

During his reign, Mobutu built a highly centralized state and amassed a large personal fortune through economic exploitation and corruption, leading some to call his rule a “kleptocracy.”[3][4] The nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation, a large debt, and massive currency devaluations. (source)

I seriously question the idea of a “highly centralized state” in the DRC, given the lack of basic things like roads, but I think I know what Wikipedia is trying to say.

But, say what you will, Mobutu did crush several rebellions and bring a relative order of peace to his country:

By 1970, nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed, and for the most part, law and order was brought to nearly all parts of the country. That year marked the pinnacle of Mobutu’s legitimacy and power. King Baudouin of Belgium, made a highly successful state visit to Kinshasa. …

Early in his rule[when?], Mobutu consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to his rule. To set an example, many were hanged before large audiences, including former Prime Minister Evariste Kimba, who, with three cabinet members – Jérôme Anany (Defense Minister), Emmanuel Bamba (Finance Minister), and Alexandre Mahamba (Minister of Mines and Energy) – was tried in May 1966, and sent to the gallows on 30 May, before an audience of 50,000 spectators. …

Mobutu later moved away from torture and murder, and switched to a new tactic, buying off political rivals. He used the slogan “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still”[26] to describe his tactic of co-opting political opponents through bribery.

The idea that Mobutu was somehow more pro-capitalist than Lumumba is silly, of course, but somehow the capitalist colonialists didn’t get the joke:

[Mobutu] initially nationalized foreign-owned firms and forced European investors out of the country. In many cases he handed the management of these firms to relatives and close associates who stole the companies’ assets. This precipitated such an economic slump that Mobutu was forced by 1977 to try to woo foreign investors back.[29] Katangan rebels based in Angola invaded Zaire in 1977 in retaliation for Mobutu’s support for anti-MPLA rebels. France airlifted 1,500 Moroccan paratroopers into the country and repulsed the rebels, ending Shaba I. The rebels attacked Zaire again, in greater numbers, in the Shaba II invasion of 1978. The governments of Belgium and France deployed troops with logistical support from the United States and defeated the rebels again.

Why the US, France, or Belgium should spend their money to help Mobutu is beyond me, but I suppose he was our anti-European communist oligarch and not the USSR’s anti-European communist oligarch.

Mobutu might have started out as a smart guy. The Wikipedia certainly gives that impression. But he ran his country like an idiot.

He spent most of his time increasing his personal fortune, which in 1984 was estimated to amount to US$5 billion,[30][31] most of it in Swiss banks … This was almost equivalent to the country’s foreign debt at the time, and, by 1989, the government was forced to default on international loans from Belgium. He owned a fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles that he used to travel between his numerous palaces, while the nation’s roads rotted and many of his people starved. Infrastructure virtually collapsed, and many public service workers went months without being paid. … A popular saying that the civil servants pretended to work while the state pretended to pay them expressed this grim reality.

Another feature of Mobutu’s economic mismanagement, directly linked to the way he and his friends siphoned off so much of the country’s wealth, was rampant inflation. The rapid decline in the real value of salaries strongly encouraged a culture of corruption and dishonesty among public servants of all kinds.

At some point, according to Isaac Bacirongo, Mobutu actually stopped paying the army, telling them “You have guns; go get money yourself.” (I am only remembering the quote so it may not be exact.) Unsurprisingly, the army began exploiting the ordinary citizens even more than usual, and when the DRC got invaded yet again, didn’t bother defending it.

He was also the subject of one of the most pervasive personality cults of the 20th century. The evening news on television was preceded by an image of him descending through clouds like a god descending from the heavens. Portraits of him adorned many public places, and government officials wore lapels bearing his portrait. He held such titles as “Father of the Nation,” “Messiah,” “Guide of the Revolution,” “Helmsman,” “Founder,” “Savior of the People,” and “Supreme Combatant.” In the 1996 documentary of the 1974 Foreman-Ali fight in Zaire, dancers receiving the fighters can be heard chanting “Sese Seko, Sese Seko.” At one point, in early 1975, the media was even forbidden from mentioning by name anyone but Mobutu; others were referred to only by the positions they held.[41][42]

Isaac Bacirongo once told a neighbor that he didn’t think Mobutu was actually immortal. The neighbor reported Isaac to the secret police, who arrested and tortured him every day for, IIRC, two weeks. They considered transferring him to a formal prison for political prisoners, where he probably would have been tortured more, but in an ironic twist of fortune, decided that Pygmies were worthless and so couldn’t be real political opponents and so not worth the bother of imprisoning. So Isaac was released.

Here the story gets a little complicated, because it involves other countries, but I’ll try to keep it short:

Over in Rwanda, the Tutusis were a small minority of relatively well-off people and the Hutus were a large majority of very poor people. So the Hutus kicked out the Tutsis, leading to a lot of Tutsis living in places like the DRC. The Tutsis got themselves an army, and in 1994, shot down the Rwandan president’s plane. This enraged the already not happy Hutus, who responded by killing all of the Tutsis they could get their hands on (resulting in more refugees.) The Tutsi army responded by invading Rwanda and taking over, resulting in a bunch of Hutu refugees.

Isaac notes that the sudden influx of refugees into his area made the price of unskilled labor plummet. He took advantage of this by hiring workers to build him a second, extremely cheap house.

But of course immigration and the cost of labor have nothing to do with each other.

Private meeting between Kabila, Micheal Jackson, and the guy on the left.
Private meeting between Kabila, Micheal Jackson, and the guy on the left.

Anyway, then Kabila, a dedicated Marxist who’d worked with Che Guevara back in the day*, with the help of the Tutsi army, invaded and conquered the DRC. This worked out for the Tutsi army, which got to shoot all of the Hutu refugees in the DRC, and worked out for Kabila, who promptly abandoned Marxism in favor of being Mobutu 2.0.

*Even Che Guevara didn’t think much of Kabila:

[Kabila] was sent[by whom?] to eastern Congo to help organize a revolution, in particular in the Kivu and North Katanga provinces. In 1965, Kabila set up a cross-border rebel operation from Kigoma, Tanzania, across Lake Tanganyika.[3] …

 Che Guevara assisted Kabila for a short time in 1965. Guevara had appeared in the Congo with approximately 100 men who planned to bring about a Cuban-style revolution. Guevara judged Kabila (then 26) as “not the man of the hour” he had alluded to, being too distracted. This, in Guevara’s opinion, accounted for Kabila showing up days late at times to provide supplies, aid, or backup to Guevara’s men. The lack of cooperation between Kabila and Guevara contributed to the suppression of the revolt that same year.[4]

… After the failure of the rebellion, Kabila turned to smuggling gold and timber on Lake Tanganyika. He also ran a bar and brothel in Tanzania.[5]

Kabila was later shot by one of his own bodyguards.

Isaac himself was only about 500 meters away when the invading army began massacring Hutu refugees who had gathered in his area. He and a friend’s children escaped into the forest, where they reverted to hunting and gathering while hiding from the army. (In this case, it was a very good thing Isaac was a Pygmy; if I had to survive in the Congolese rainforest for a couple of weeks, I wouldn’t know the first thing about gathering food.) Isaac’s entire family thought he was dead until he managed to return home.

The security situation deteriorated from there, with the country split between two armies and a bunch of militias in the forests. Now instead of merely jailing and torturing people, the armies took to shooting them. Trade and commerce broke down because you couldn’t travel anywhere because the different armies would shoot you if you went into a different part of the country, and besides, the armies were just stealing everything. They looted one of Isaac’s pharmacies and then burned it down.

Sad to say, it sounds like everyone was actually better off under Mobutu.

Around this time, Isaac decided to become a Pygmy rights advocate and went to a couple of international conferences to speak about how Pygmies are discriminated against by Bantus, not allowed to hunt in the national parks, etc., and was promptly arrested for making the government look bad. He managed to bribe his way out of prison and fled the country in the middle of the night, convinced that if he stayed, he’d be killed.

Isaac was lucky to escape.

I wager the security situation in the DRC is still a mess.

Come read “In the Shadow of Man” with me

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverJane Goodall’sIn the Shadow of Man” was first published in 1971, and apparently revolutionized the entire field of primatology and our understanding of our nearest evolutionary cousins. From Amazon:

Her adventure began when the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey suggested that a long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild might shed light on the behavior of our closest living relatives. … For months the project seemed hopeless; out in the forest from dawn until dark, she had but fleeting glimpses of frightened animals. But gradually she won their trust and was able to record previously unknown behavior, such as the use—and even the making— of tools, until then believed to be an exclusive skill of man. As she came to know the chimps as individuals, she began to understand their complicated social hierarchy and observed many extraordinary behaviors, which have forever changed our understanding of the profound connection between humans and chimpanzees.

It has good reviews, so I’m optimistic about using it for our next Anthropology Friday series, in about a month. (Though I am somewhat skeptical about this supposed first observed non-human tool-making, given that beavers and otters have long been observed.)

Does anyone want to read along with me? I can post discussion questions and make it a regular “book club” affair. (I guess “What counts as ‘tool making?’ should be our first question.) ETA: I promise to avoid really dumb questions, like “Explain how Jane got to know the chimpanzees,” or “Why does the author include an introduction?”

Oh, and it’s fine to post thoughts/responses even if you disliked the book or didn’t read it all the way through. Or if you really hate the book, suggest a different one for next time.

Summer Schedule Announcement

In honor of my part of the planet being tilted toward the sun during this part of our annual revolution, the kids are out of school and I am extra busy! So in order to not fill this with picture posts and reviews of kids’ movies (yes, I cried at Finding Dory,) I’m scaling back to posting only twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) for the next month or two.

I am, (as always,) accepting guest posts if anyone has one.

I hope everyone has a lovely summer.