Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Monopoly Was Invented to Demonstrate the Evils of Capitalism

aeon  Edited by Nigel Warburton

‘Buy land – they aren’t making it any more,’ quipped Mark Twain. It’s a maxim that would certainly serve you well in a game of Monopoly, the bestselling board game that has taught generations of children to buy up property, stack it with hotels, and charge fellow players sky-high rents for the privilege of accidentally landing there.

The game’s little-known inventor, Elizabeth Magie, would no doubt have made herself go directly to jail if she’d lived to know just how influential today’s twisted version of her game has turned out to be. Why? Because it encourages its players to celebrate exactly the opposite values to those she intended to champion.

Born in 1866, Magie was an outspoken rebel against the norms and politics of her times. She was unmarried into her 40s, independent and proud of it, and made her point with a publicity stunt. Taking out a newspaper advertisement, she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. Her aim, she told shocked readers, was to highlight the subordinate position of women in society. ‘We are not machines,’ she said. ‘Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.’

In addition to confronting gender politics, Magie decided to take on the capitalist system of property ownership – this time not through a publicity stunt but in the form of a board game. The inspiration began with a book that her father, the anti-monopolist politician James Magie, had handed to her. In the pages of Henry George’s classic, Progress and Poverty (1879), she encountered his conviction that ‘the equal right of all men to use the land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence’.

Travelling around America in the 1870s, George had witnessed persistent destitution amid growing wealth, and he believed it was largely the inequity of land ownership that bound these two forces – poverty and progress – together. So instead of following Twain by encouraging his fellow citizens to buy land, he called on the state to tax it. On what grounds? Because much of land’s value comes not from what is built on the plot but from nature’s gift of water or minerals that might lie beneath its surface, or from the communally created value of its surroundings: nearby roads and railways; a thriving economy, a safe neighbourhood; good local schools and hospitals. And he argued that the tax receipts should be invested on behalf of all.

Determined to prove the merit of George’s proposal, Magie invented and in 1904 patented what she called the Landlord’s Game. Laid out on the board as a circuit (which was a novelty at the time), it was populated with streets and landmarks for sale. The key innovation of her game, however, lay in the two sets of rules that she wrote for playing it.

Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (designed to reflect George’s policy of taxing the value of land), and the game was won (by all!) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, in contrast, players got ahead by acquiring properties and collecting rent from all those who were unfortunate enough to land there – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest emerged as the sole winner (sound a little familiar?)

The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and hence to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes. ‘It might well have been called “The Game of Life”,’ remarked Magie, ‘as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seems to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.’

The game was soon a hit among Left-wing intellectuals, on college campuses including the Wharton School, Harvard and Columbia, and also among Quaker communities, some of which modified the rules and redrew the board with street names from Atlantic City. Among the players of this Quaker adaptation was an unemployed man called Charles Darrow, who later sold such a modified version to the games company Parker Brothers as his own.

Once the game’s true origins came to light, Parker Brothers bought up Magie’s patent, but then re-launched the board game simply as Monopoly, and provided the eager public with just one set of rules: those that celebrate the triumph of one over all. Worse, they marketed it along with the claim that the game’s inventor was Darrow, who they said had dreamed it up in the 1930s, sold it to Parker Brothers, and become a millionaire. It was a rags-to-riches fabrication that ironically exemplified Monopoly’s implicit values: chase wealth and crush your opponents if you want to come out on top.

So next time someone invites you to join a game of Monopoly, here’s a thought. As you set out piles for the Chance and Community Chest cards, establish a third pile for Land-Value Tax, to which every property owner must contribute each time they charge rent to a fellow player. How high should that land tax be? And how should the resulting tax receipts be distributed? Such questions will no doubt lead to fiery debate around the Monopoly board – but then that is exactly what Magie had always hoped for.

Yup, That's Weird

10+ Of The Weirdest People Ever Spotted Riding On The Subway

Do you take the subway to and from work? Well, you might want to think about walking instead once you've seen this bizarre bunch of people who were snapped on various tubes, subways and undergrounds around the world. From men dressed as sharks, foxes, the abominable snowman and even Napoleon Bonaparte, to women with chickens on leashes, dogs in bags, ducks on laps and kittens beneath their skirts, this collection of pictures, compiled by Bored Panda, reminds us that no matter how interesting life can be above the ground, nothing compares to what you'll find if you're brave enough to venture beneath the city.

#10 So I Think I Sat In The Train With Gandalf/Magneto

So I Think I Sat In The Train With Gandalf/Magneto

“Iomante” Ainu Bear Sending Ritual

Rare Ainu bear sacrifice ritual photos found after 61 years

The Asahi Shimbun  by YASUHITO WATANABE/ Staff Writer  July 26, 2017

The "iomante" ritual, which sends the spirit of the bear back to heaven, shot in February 1956 (Provided by Ichiro Ushiroyama) 

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido--Rare images of a bear-sacrifice ritual carried out by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people have been made public by the photographer who took them in 1956 and rediscovered them at his home.

Ichiro Ushiroyama, 82, donated in early July the valuable set of about 100 of the photos and negatives to a museum in Asahikawa, the city he is originally from, and also where the ritual took place.

“My father and grandparents when they were younger are in the photos," said Kenichi Kawamura, 66, director of the Kawamura Kaneto memorial museum of Ainu in Asahikawa. "It is a great documentation that can tell the details of costumes and instruments used. It will be useful for passing the culture on to future generations.”

Ushiroyama, a former news photographer who is not Ainu, took the photos of the “iomante” (bear sending ritual) at an Ainu settlement in the Chikabumi district of his hometown 61 years ago when he was a second-year photography student at Nihon University’s College of Art in Tokyo.

A night ritual held after the bear-sending ritual in the house of the chief, shot in February 1956 (Provided by Ichiro Ushiroyama) 
The iomante is one of the Ainu people’s many sacred rituals, in which people catch a bear cub--considered the manifestation of a god--to keep it with great “hospitality” for one to two years before “sending its soul back to heaven” by shooting it with arrows.

At the time, there was a large settlement of several hundred Ainu in Chikabumi, and Ushiroyama negotiated a number of times with the elders of the community to gain permission to photograph the ritual, which was usually off-limits to outsiders.

Over four days in February 1956, Ushiroyama captured the moment of bear shooting, as well as other important processes of the ritual. Among them are “Kamuinomi” where more than 200 people gathered in the middle of a snow-covered field to pray to Ainu gods for the ritual’s success before the iomante.
A funerary dance for the bear was performed by the women of the settlement, and a night ritual took place where people consoled the bear’s soul while drinking at the settlement chief’s “chise” (house).

“I was given special permission to photograph it as I was a student," Ushiroyama said. "I remember the cold weather, the darkness inside the chise, and the kindness of people I felt then. I am pleased to have left a valuable record as a photographer.”

Ichiro Ushiroyama (Photo by Yasuhito Watanabe) 
Iomante rituals were frequently conducted in Chikabumi until the 1960s, but the practice almost disappeared in the 1970s and has been little-known since.

According to the memorial museum in Asahikawa, an iomante was held in 1985 and 2000 to teach the tradition to younger generations, but no ritual has been held since 2000.

Even though it is a ritual with a long tradition, the public was not allowed to photograph it, and photographic records taken in the 1960s and earlier are rare.

Vocabulary Lesson

The stories behind familiar Japanese words

by   Special To The Japan Times  
Today I thought it would be fun to take a look at the origins of half a dozen Japanese words that have found wide usage in English.


This word became familiar to millions of Americans of my generation as the title of a 1963 hit song by Hisashi “Kyu” Sakamoto (坂本九). It was originally titled “上を向いて 歩こう” (“Ue o muite arukō,” literally, “walk while looking upward”), leading a writer in Newsweek to quip that naming a sentimental romantic Japanese song thusly was analogous to calling “Moon River” “Beef Stew.”

The story behind the actual dish is interesting as well. Around the mid-19th century, when Japan began loosening its policy of national isolation, Westerners began arriving in Nagasaki, Kobe, Yokohama and other ports. At this time few Japanese habitually consumed meat, and some believed that preparing beef in a 土鍋 (donabe, an earthenware vessel) would leave behind a permanent residue, ruining it for other purposes.

So, the apocryphal story goes, someone came up with the idea that a metal 鋤 (suki, shovel), carefully washed beforehand of course, could be held over a fire to cook the mixture of beef, tofu, onions, etc. And thus came the word すき焼き or 鋤焼き (sukiyaki, “shovel cooking”). True or false? Nobody’s really sure. But so says the Kōjien dictionary.

Zero (fighter plane)

How did the Zero, the feared Japanese fighter plane of World War II, come by such a strange name? Simply enough, “zero” refers to a date.

Japan’s founding mythology holds that the legendary 神武天皇 (Jinmu Tenno, Emperor Jimmu), the first emperor of Japan, ascended to the throne on the 11th day of the second month, 660 B.C. It’s still observed by the national holiday called 建国記念日 (Kenkoku Kinenbi, National Founding Day).

In the 15th year of Showa, 1940, special celebrations were held to mark the 2,600th year since Emperor Jimmu’s ascension. The same year, Mitsubishi began mass production of the Imperial Navy’s new fighter plane, designated A6M, for use on aircraft carriers. Its official name was 零式艦上戦闘機 (Rei-shiki kanjō sentōki, model zero carrier-based fighter). The “zero” in this case referred to the last digit of 2,600, and in colloquial usage the plane’s name was shortened to 零戦 (Rei-sen or Zero-sen).


Although universally understood as meaning a gangster, the preferred term used in the media is 暴力団 (bōryokudan, literally, “violent groups”).

The pre-modern forerunners of the yakuza included professional gamblers known as 博徒 (bakuto). Among the popular games of chance offered by the bakuto was one called 三枚 (sanmai, three-card), played using かるた (karuta), a word deriving from the Portuguese carta for small cards with multicolored designs, which were introduced to Japan in the 16th century. Each card was assigned a numerical value between 1 and 9, and the strength of a player’s hand was determined by the sum total of the cards.

A winning score in sanmai would be 9, 19, 29, etc., but the next higher number, ending in zero, is worthless. So in the patois of the bakuto, the losing numbers 10, 20 and 30 were called buta, a word of unknown derivation but, possibly from the Portuguese puta, meaning “prostitute.”

A yakusa no buta — that is, a losing hand of 20, composed of three cards valued at 8 (ya), 9 (ku) and 3 (san), abbreviated ya-ku-sa — came to mean something totally worthless, a loser. Shortened to “yakuza,” the name reflected the bravado that the bakuto would assume to promote their illegal business.

Kōban (police box)

Police box: A kōban in Yokohama.
Police box: A kōban in Yokohama. | ISTOCK
Japan’s first 交番 (kōban) dates back to Tokyo in 1874. A Prussian officer, Wilhelm Haehn, was brought to Japan to train its newly organized police force and Haehn is credited with proposing a system of small sub-stations that became the forerunner of today’s kōban. As these mini-stations were originally staffed by three-man squads working in shifts, they were popularly called 交番所 (kōban-sho), literally a place where the 番 (ban, guard) would 交代する (kōtai suru, exchange places).

Interestingly, in police nomenclature, kōban are referred to as 派出所 (hashutsu-jo or hashutsu-sho, literally a “dispatch place”). Despite kōban’s near-universal popularity in the colloquial language, the term did not receive “official” recognition until 1994 — 120 years after they came into existence.


This is a crude variant of 切腹 (seppuku, literally, “cutting abdomen”), usually described as ritual suicide by disembowelment. Hara-kiri reverses the kanji order of setsu (cut) and fuku (abdomen) and pronounces them according to their kun-yomi (native Japanese reading).

In pre-modern times seppuku was typically performed by members of the samurai class, allowed as a means of saving face, in that they ended their lives by their own hand, rather than executed in the manner of common criminals.

Seppuku still crops up in modern usage in such expressions as 切腹では済まない (seppuku dewa sumanai, “Even ritual suicide will not atone for his misdeeds,” i.e., when something is unforgivable). Whereas it’s common for English writers to describe an elected official who knowingly turns against the wishes of his voter base as “committing political hara-kiri,” in Japan the term 自爆 (jibaku, to blow oneself up) has become more common.


“Tycoon,” referring to a capitalist who strikes it rich and dominates the market, derives from the Japanese 大君 (taikun), which means “great lord” or “supreme commander.” No one today can lay claim to such a title, but in pre-modern times it referred to a ruler, such as a 将軍 (shogun, generalissimo), who was not of imperial lineage. Japanese would be likely to refer to a foreign business magnate like Warren Buffett as 大富豪 (dai fugō), but for reasons of modesty perhaps, this term is seldom used for their own countrymen.

2 from NASA APOD


Int-Ball Drone Activated on the Space Station
Image Credit: JAXA, ISS, NASA
Explanation: What if you were followed around by a cute floating ball that kept taking your picture? Then you might be an astronaut on today's International Space Station (ISS). Designed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the JEM Internal Ball Camera -- informally "Int-Ball" -- is a bit larger than a softball, can float and maneuver by itself but also be controlled remotely, can take high resolution images and videos, and is not related to Hello Kitty. Int-Ball was delivered to the ISS in early June and is designed to allow ground-control to increase the monitoring of ISS equipment and activities while decreasing time demands on human astronauts. Int-Ball moves by turning on small internal fans and sees with a camera located between its two dark eyes. 
The Milky Way over Monument Valley

Image Credit & Copyright: Tom Masterson
Explanation: You don't have to be at Monument Valley to see the Milky Way arc across the sky like this -- but it helps. Only at Monument Valley USA would you see a picturesque foreground that includes these iconic rock peaks called buttes. Buttes are composed of hard rock left behind after water has eroded away the surrounding soft rock. In the featured image taken a month ago, the closest butte on the left and the butte to its right are known as the Mittens, while Merrick Butte can be seen farther to the right. Green airglow fans up from the horizon. High overhead stretches a band of diffuse light that is the central disk of our spiral Milky Way Galaxy. The band of the Milky Way can be spotted by almost anyone on almost any clear night when far enough from a city and surrounding bright lights, but a sensitive digital camera is needed to capture these colors in a dark night sky.

And for those of you who like your pretty photos annotation-free...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

OK, I've Lived Too Long

Her dilemma: Do I let my employer microchip me?

Self-described “body hacker” Jowan Osterlund of Biohax Sweden holds a microchip implant earlier this year. Microchips are being implanted into volunteers to help them open doors and operate office equipment. (AP Photo/James Brooks)
Melissa Timmins has a week to decide: Does she keep her hand to herself, or does she let her employer microchip it?

The implant is the size of a grain of rice. It would slip under the skin between her forefinger and thumb.
 It would sting for only a second. Then she could unlock doors or log onto her computer with a wave. Her flesh could hold her credit card, her medical records, her passport . . .
“At first, I thought it was a joke,” she said.

Timmins, 46, works in sales at Three Square Market, a Wisconsin company that makes vending-machine software. The offer came after her boss returned from a business trip in Stockholm, where he encountered Biohax Sweden, a start-up that aims to endow body parts with technological power.

On Aug. 1, Three Square Market will throw a “chip party,” where employees can insert the $300 microchips, provided free from management. About 50 of 85 employees are expected to accept the company’s present. (Chips and salsa will be served.)

The Radio Frequency ID chips, as they’re called, could also function beyond the office. If Timmins got the implant, she could use it to buy snacks at shops or vending machines that support the technology.
People have long tagged pets. And businesses regularly use chips to track shipments. Implanting employees, however, still sounds like an idea out of science fiction.

Electronic-privacy advocates argue that trackable data is hackable data, and that someone, somewhere, could find a way to invade your privacy. Hand implants could also be miniature logs of comings and goings, or tiny purchase histories.

Tony Danna, Three Square Market’s vice president of international development, has no privacy concerns. He asked: Weren’t people worried about cellphones?

Last month, Danna, 28, visited Epicenter, the start-up hub home to Biohax Sweden, and met the brains behind the chips. A worker there was first chipped two years ago, and now about 150 employees have the implants.

“How do I get one of these chips in my hand right now?” Danna recalls wondering.

For him, the appeal is convenience.

“I don’t want to have to carry my wallet or passport or car keys,” he said.

Eventually, he added, the technology will be everywhere, and Three Market Square wants to be at the forefront. He said his company’s chip program will be the first in the United States.

Timmins, the sales associate, likes the idea of being first. Of beating the guys in Silicon Valley and New York City from River Falls, Wis. — population 15,000.

But she’s still on the fence, and not because she thinks her boss or some hacker could secretly track her. Phones these days, she said, already make that easy.

“I’m just concerned about implanting something into my body,” she said. “I’m thinking about infections. Then there’s the other side of me that thinks: This is exciting. Cutting-edge.”

Workplace dilemmas used to be less . . . corporeal. Do we join the union? Log hours from home? Enroll in that savings plan?

Timmins said she'll sleep on her chip decision for a night or seven. Then she'll go to the party, size up the syringes and make the call.

Danielle Paquette is a reporter covering the intersection of people and policy. She’s from Indianapolis and previously worked for the Tampa Bay Times.

Whaddaya Mean It Flopped?

We Know How Valerian Got Made—But Not Why It Failed

Vikram Gounassegarin/STX Entertainment
Wired Adam Rogers 7.24.17
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets flopped. At least that’s the way things look after the opening weekend of the Luc Besson-written and -directed sci-fi film: It headed into Monday with just about $17 million in receipts and a splattery 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (and a better audience score of 60 percent, to be fair).

Now, I spent bits and pieces of the last two years working on a print feature about Besson and Valerian. But it wasn't exactly about the film itself; by the time I had put my story to bed, I’d only seen about 20 minutes of the actual movie. This is a not-so-secret secret of print magazine features: The lead time of monthly magazines like WIRED means that the journalism is often done before the film. So I wrote a story more about Besson and the weirdness of international film financing.

This weekend, though, after getting home from Comic-Con, I finally saw Valerian. Forget about the movie’s financial health for a moment; the real question is, is it any good?

And I think the answer is: kind of. Maybe? It was a mostly fun B-movie. Besson’s signature delirious visuals and propulsive storytelling, sacrificing sense for speed, are all there—except in the scenes where computer-generated aliens fight with each other, which are a snooze.

I’m shocked, though, at Besson’s unusual missteps in casting. The supporting characters are all as weird as usual (Herbie Hancock!), but in Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne ... well, Besson has not found another Bruce Willis-Milla Jovovich action romance. No matter how many times DeHaan tells us he's a swashbuckling rogue, or Delevingne says she hates procedure and believes in love, they ain’t selling it. I’ve been trying to swap them out in my head—Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet, or Anthony Mackie from the Marvel movies and Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist—and every dreamcasting I try makes for a better viewing experience.

During our conversations, Besson insisted to me that what made his movies feel so different was injecting emotional subtext into high-octane action. Nikita doesn’t want to kill people; Lucy's superpowers so disconnect her from humanity that she can’t even enjoy driving in a Paris car chase. But maybe taking human actors out of the equation and replacing them with CG spaceships—or Rihanna-voiced protoplasmic jellyfish creatures—makes that impossible. Or maybe Besson just doesn’t edit humanity into pew-pew with the deftness of a J.J. Abrams or Patty Jenkins. (Though the big VFX fight between Wonder Woman and Ares is the worst part of that otherwise terrific movie.)

Neither The Fifth Element nor Lucy—Besson’s other cult science fiction movies—fared particularly well at the domestic box office or under the blistering keyboards of US critics. Now, though, both play frequently on cable, and have both become more compulsive: Like I said in my story, if channel surfing takes you to Fifth Element, you stop clicking and dive in. The same holds true for Lucy. Given those predecessors, Valerian seems to have at least a shot at aging well. It has the quirks and gee-whiz moments that grab you in its predecessors. So for a moment, ignore the fact that it cost over $200 million to make. I think it might mature into a movie that people keep watching.

Otherwise, it's another Jupiter Ascending, a singular directorial vision applied to a highly designed sci-fi epic that just plain sucked. Besson wrote the script, pored meticulously over the production designs, and directed it in his usual painstaking way. Through his production company, Besson essentially financed it himself (primarily by selling foreign distribution rights in advance). That means no blaming studio executive notes for the final product. This is what unfettered creative output looks like—for better or worse.

In my original pitch to my bosses to write a feature about Valerian, I said the movie was either going to be the most awesomest goddamn thing since Guardians of the Galaxy or a catastrophic, David-Lynch’s-Dune-why-God-why disaster—and either way it’d be a story. If nothing else, it'd give us a chance to figure out how expensive epic movies get financed. I think I got close to figuring out the latter. As for the former, well, maybe the cable viewing audience of 2037 will be able to answer that with a click. Or without one.