Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 25, 2019

Four Things

Image via Wikipedia.

1. Recently, I read Steven Johnson's entertaining and thought-provoking book, Wonderland, which explores the roles of delight and play in the creation of the modern world. One section concerns the spice trade, from which we learn of how difficult it was at first to grow vanilla beans anywhere but Mexico:
[T]hat seemingly trivial act -- a boy tricking a flower into producing seed, in the hills of a remote island -- would somehow shift billions of dollars of economic activity from one part of the world to another, and turn a spice that was once pursued by only the elites of society into a flavor so ubiquitous that its name has become a synonym for the commonplace and the ordinary. (loc. 1703)
Until that moment, only a specific species of bee native to Mexico could cause the plants to produce fruit. They otherwise could grow easily in plenty of other locations around the world.

Johnson has a very interesting idea, but I am not sure he did as much as he could have with it. But then, many (if not practically all) intellectuals fail to appreciate the importance of play for the rational animal.

2. Here's another from Wonderland, regarding the game Monopoly:
Ironically, the game that became an emblem of sporty capitalist competition was originally designed as a critique of unfettered market economics. [Lizzie] Magie's version actually had two variations of game play, one in which players competed to capture as much real estate and cash as possible, as in the official Monopoly, and one in which the point of the game was to share the wealth as equitably as possible. (The latter rule set died out over time -- perhaps confirming the old cliché that it is simply less fun to be a socialist.) (loc. 2564) [link and bold added]
That's no cliche, and it figures that even the fun version of the game is a poor representation of capitalism, starting with the fact that it is zero-sum.

Incidentally, you can also learn from the book that the shopping mall, which many leftists love to use as a cudgel against capitalism, was invented by a socialist architect, who saw them as, "machines for selling" (loc. 695 ff.)

3. It is well known that even the most hardened criminals dread it, but how bad is solitary confinement, and why? Poker players, known to bet on almost anything, eventually got around to learning part of the answer empirically, in the form of what at least one regarded as a sucker bet (although a high-stakes one):
[Rory] Young was relieved. He had come to a gradual realization that he hadn't given enough weight to the fact that [Rich] Alati was there by choice. "So if you're in solitary confinement in prison, that's a scary situation. You don't know if you're going to get out ever," he said. "Here, if he lasts, he gets 100k, but these guys in solitary confinement get nothing -- they have to do that."
Young's relief cost him a negotiated $62,400.00.

4. In case you ever need to know how to spot an AI-generated face in an image, Kyle McDonald has you covered at Medium.

-- CAV

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