The curse of the alchemist fallacy, which devalued glass, has now struck innovators. / Dennis Jarvis
The Baffler,  July 21, 2015

Daily Bafflements

The curse of the alchemist fallacy, which devalued glass, has now struck innovators. / Dennis Jarvis


• The Desert Sun reports that the Tex Wash bridge that tumbled to the ground in southern California over the weekend received an A “sufficiency rating” last year: “There are 45 bridges on Interstate 10 that have received lower ratings than the bridge that collapsed Sunday near Desert Center,” it comfortingly continues. “There are also 119 obsolete and 79 structurally deficient bridges in all of Riverside County.” Helaine Olen gave an account of the downward slope in transportation infrastructure spending in the US on the blog in May: “The most recent grade for our overall infrastructure? A D+.” So that’s hopeful.

• Innovators! Take heed of alchemy’s cautionary tale and don’t innovate to get rich. After all, until scientists learnt to manufacture glass, it was considered a scarce material that only Venetian glassblowers could work with, but its value has since depreciated—this is the alchemist fallacy, the cursed law of irony that states that working out how to turn lead into gold would just reduce the value of gold. Besides, argues the FT, “Our intellectual property system gives too much protection to ideas that would have been created anyway, such as simple software, business methods and Mickey Mouse.”

• “The cultural mood is very accepting of interference,” said Baffler contributing editor Heather Havrilesky on Saturday, on the This is Hell! podcast, speaking of our generalized tolerance in the face of corporate interests mining our personal data. Find this timely exchange online (Heather comes in around 3:02:40).

• Today in authenticity: an app designed to help you share your most banal moments without improving them with filters or even vetting the camera angle—because banality is decidedly in. “Instead of seeing the world through your eyes,” says the founder, “you see the world through your phone.” Authentic? Not really. (Thanks Fast Company.)

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Some seventy-two years from the last American execution for desertion, the firing squad is a tough-guy pantomime for hacks and hams.

 October 11

The clowns are not only fundamental to our social institutions; they're literally in charge of them.