Maybe we don’t like our friends to be richer because it’s harder to have dinner with them, not because we’re jealous

A lot of studies have shown that people aren’t made happier by any particular income, but only by having the same or a little higher income than their peers. This is used as evidence that humans care more about status than they do about wealth itself (and that’s why communism will never work blablabla).

I’ve never heard anyone consider the possibility that being poorer than your friends makes it hard to socialise, which has an effect on happiness. If all your friends are poor, you hang around at each others’ houses drinking Aldi beers. If most of them start going to bars, and you can’t afford to, suddenly it’s harder to drink with them, or every time it involves feeling a bit guilty about having to rely on them shouting you.

Your friends start going to $30 restaurants instead of $11 restaurants, and you can’t get dinner with them much anymore. Or go to festivals with them, or concerts, or whatever.

Presumably if your friends are ultra rich and you’re only super rich, they’re all helicoptering to the Bahamas while you can only afford to helicopter to the Adirondacks.

This seems like such a blindingly obvious thing to miss that I wonder if it actually has been addressed and factored in, but also it’s exactly the type of human element that economists *do* tend to miss, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

tl;dr humans aren’t as shitty as economists think we are

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How to be arrogant without annoying people too much

This advice is for people who are already pretty arrogant, and also for people who would like to be more arrogant, but worry that it will make them obnoxious and unlikeable.

I have quite a few friends who I think would be described as arrogant, and I was trying to think about what these people have in common, other than arrogance – what separates them from the arrogant people who are not my friends, because they’re unpleasant to be around. And it’s this:

They are all instantly, effusively supportive of other people’s endeavours. If you need a volunteer from the audience, and the audience has gone dead quiet, they’ll step up. If it’s your first gig and no one’s dancing, they’ll get up and dance in front of the stage, alone, until other people start to join in. If you say you’re thinking about taking a public-speaking class, they’ll tell you that’s awesome and you should definitely give it a go.

Basically, they have tickets on themselves, but they have tickets on everyone else, too. There’s almost no limit to how highly you can think of yourself, if you think of other people just as highly.

It’s pretty easy to imagine this: you’re at a dinner party with two people who are pretty good cooks, but who think they’re excellent cooks. Potentially annoying situation. One of these people whispers to you “ehhh this food is okay I guess. I wouldn’t have used so much ginger.” The other is all “it is so nice to be here with you and eating this food. Seconds, please?”

You can see which one is pleasant to be around, right? It doesn’t mean you can’t ever be critical of anything, but you can generally not dampen your friends’ attempts to try new things. You will notice the second person didn’t actually compliment the food. You can always find something to be pleased with, and if you can’t, why are you there?

(Note: You don’t have to be as one-note excitable as my hypothetical arrogant person obviously, you can be supportive in a tone that’s more low-key and natural for you, send an email of private encouragement, flyer for their comedy show, endorse them on LinkedIn, support their Patreon, go to their launch party, commission an artwork, ask for their advice, gossip about how great they are to your mutual friends.)

I mean this is just an excellent trait to have in general, and I’d like to get better at it. But according to my chemical analysis, it’s also specifically the one that neutralises the toxic parts of arrogance.

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Artist feud over the right to use the world’s blackest black

d3b85deb-72aa-4e67-adb4-9996396b172cPlease enjoy this story of cartoonish villainy

So firstly: Vantablack. It’s the world’s blackest pigment, absorbing 99.96% of visible light, and turning any surface it’s painted on into a flat black hole. It’s pretty toxic and has to be grown in a special sealed chamber. It was created for military and aerospace uses, but obviously artists were pretty excited about its possibilities too.

But when they approached the manufacturers of Vantablack, they found they had already made an exclusivity deal with Anish Kapoor, the world’s 7th richest living artist (Damien Hirst is the richest).

PEOPLE WERE EXTREMELY UPSET. “He’s signed an exclusive agreement with the creators of Vantablack which blocks any other artist from using it. Nobody forced him or them to enter into an agreement like that. It’s a heinous ego-driven pact which stops every other artist after him from working with Vantablack on art projects.”

Kapoor refused to engage or explain. He says this wouldn’t happen with any other colour, people just get irrational and emotional about black.

Next: Artist and paintmaker Stuart Semple had a pink that was “particularly special. It just is like nothing else, it’s so vibrant. You can’t photograph it. It’s nuts. Like, the pinkest pink thing ever.”

“When everybody started complaining that Anish Kapoor wouldn’t share Vantablack, I thought it was a really bad thing for him to be doing, and I was upset by it as well.”

“And I thought, ‘Wait, hang on, if you’re upset about it, you’ve got all this awesome stuff that you’ve been making, all these colors, you should be sharing them. It’s wrong to be criticizing him and not sharing them.’”

So Semple released The World’s Pinkest Pink. But if you want to buy it, you have to agree that “by adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated with Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor.”

A few weeks later, Anish Kapoor posts a photo to instagram: his middle finger dipped in The World’s Pinkest Pink. Then Semple gets told through a third party that Kapoor is suing him. “I wrote to them and said, ‘Look, it’d be really nice if we could just be friends, and he could say sorry for taking the pink, and give me the £3.99 back that it costs. And then we can just call it quits and it’ll all be fine.’ But they just ignored it and said they were suing me.”

Realising they would probably never get access to Vantablack, Semple and friends developed the second blackest black in the world: an open source, cherry-scented pigment called Black 2.0 that’s thousands of times cheaper than the official stuff and much easier to work with. But will that dastardly Kapoor get his hands on Black 2.0 as well?

“I don’t want him to have it. I think the way he’s been acting is really dodgy. And all the time and effort that’s gone into Black 2.0, and how much everyone cares about it, it would just be a real downer if he got it. What I really like is the fact that loads of us can make really cool black things, and he’s stuck in his science lab, paying gazillions of pounds to get quite a similar thing. I think that’s so cool! Yeah, I don’t want him to have it. It would upset me if he got it.”

Full interview with Stuart Semple, including details on the suing aspect.

Update: Okay, someone’s written Semple/Kapoor slashfic now. (It’s SFW, but please don’t consider this mention to be an endorsement or recommendation.)

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If you find a coin, do you always pick it up?

I have a question for you: What makes you feel more rich / abundant?

a) finding a coin on the ground and picking it up
b) finding a coin on the ground and leaving it there

Leaving the coin makes you feel like “I am so comfortable in my riches that I can just leave that 50c be for someone else”. But on the other hand, I worry that… finding a coin is like being granted a tiny blessing by the universe, and not picking it up is like refusing that blessing, and the universe will be like “oh you don’t want luck and wealth and blessings? Fine, no more for you”. I’m an atheist in theory, but I still think this way.

I used to be much more neurotic about correctly interpreting and responding to the messages of the universe. I would walk straight-backed and tall when I got caught in the rain, never hunching or holding a newspaper over my head, because I didn’t want to insult the universe by showing that I hated the rain it was giving me. If any poles or trees inadvertently formed an archway, I had to walk under it. Because if imagine if that was the gate to Narnia and you missed it? Worth going a metre out of your way on the off-chance.

I’m better now. I’m still superstitious in ways my brain makes up as I’m walking, but now I twist everything to be a good omen. Pretty much every ‘sign can be interpreted both ways – lucky or unlucky – so it’s not so hard to choose lucky. I recommend this! It’s the best of both worlds: the delight of being surrounded by tiny messages and omens, with none of the fear and worry of believing in bad luck and evil eyes. Look out for lucky omens on your walk into work tomorrow! At the very least you might see a coin on the ground.

 

Why do we throw coins in fountains?


I had always just thought ‘to make wishes’, but this article says, and it makes sense, that it’s more about sense of connection to other people. You know that each coin in the fountain represents another person who’s stood here, and you take your coin, and watch it transform from something that’s small and represents you, to a part of a larger pattern that represents the community of people who’ve been there.

I think it also ties you to the place – especially if it’s somewhere you wouldn’t ordinarily go. Leaving a coin in a fountain in Rome creates a connection between you and the city. The article mentions contagious magic – the coin has been close to you, in your wallet, or pocket, and so it carries a bit of your essence (see ‘Other People’s Clothes‘ from last week’s Whippet).

Contagious magic is a really common element of folk magic — using a bit of a person’s blood or hair to get control over them, for example. This also reminds me of training hunting money in Hoodoo traditions. You would write your name on a bill, then ‘train’ it by rubbing its corners with whiskey, leave it under a magnet, burn a green candle over it, read Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”), etc., prosperity stuff, and then you spend it on something relevant to success — a work blazer, a guitar pick, anything tax-deductible I guess. You train the money and then send it out into the world to hunt down more for you. So goes the theory.

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The ghost miners of South Africa

South Africa’s Mponeng mine produces about a billion dollars worth of gold a year. It’s one of the deepest mines in the world, basically an underground city, and the whole massive, byzantine structure exists to mine a seam of ore less than a metre thick. That’s how valuable gold is.

The temperature inside the mine is a loathsome 60° Celsius, so to cool it there’s an ice-making plant on the surface that produces 6,000 tonnes of ice a day. “They mix it with salt and it becomes this kind of slushy slurry, and they pump it down into these pipes into a deep reservoir that sits there. Giant fans blow air over it, and the cold air descends down these registers into the deepest mining levels and reduces the temperature to a bearable 30°C.”

Along with the official miners are so-called “ghost” miners – illegal miners who have broken in and been down there so long they’ve developed an ashy pallour from lack of sunlight. SInce the entrances are the focus of security, once they’re in there’s no easy way out.

“They steal ore from there; they refine it inside the tunnel, usually using very, very toxic methods, like mercury, which no doubt poison them. Security isn’t very keen to go looking for these people because, in a mine, you can hear someone coming a long way off, and these people are armed and they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot security and get into gunfights.”

The legal miners have no incentive to get rid of them because they run a black market trade in basic overworld items that the ghost miners can’t access. “A loaf of bread that costs less than $1 on the surface costs $12 underground. Making a couple of extra sandwiches and putting them in your lunch bucket, you can make some serious extra money.”

There are so many ways that people are living in this world that you would not know about, would never occur to you (even if it’s obvious someone must be in retrospect).

Interview with the author of Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal on NPR.

Addendum from Wikipedia: “Tunnel walls are secured by flexible shotcrete reinforced with steel fibers, which is further held in place by diamond-mesh netting.” Diamond-mesh netting! I bet it doesn’t look like I’m imagining.

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The curse of the Bahia Emerald, a giant green rock that ruins lives

“Right now, in a vault controlled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, there sits a 752-pound emerald with no rightful owner. This gem is the size of a mini­fridge. It weighs as much as two sumo wrestlers. Estimates of its worth range from a hundred bucks to $925 million.

“Over the past 10 years, four lawsuits have been filed over the Bahia emerald. Fourteen individuals or entities, plus the nation of Brazil, have claimed the rock is theirs. A house burned down. Three people filed for bankruptcy. One man alleges having been kidnapped and held hostage. Many of the men involved say that the emerald is hellspawn but they also can’t let it go. As Brian Brazeal, an anthropologist at California State University Chico, wrote in a paper entitled The Fetish and the Stone: A Moral Economy of Charlatans and Thieves, “Emeralds can take over the lives of well-meaning devotees and lead them down the road to perdition.”

This is a long read but I can only beg you to please still read it. The story is like a Coen Brothers movie, and the writer had had the decency to tell it like one. Bookmark or something for when you have time.

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“What’s your favourite historical crime?”

Reader question from someone who doesn’t realise I’ve already got a fair bit of crime in this issue. (Oh my god, CRIME starts with C.)

Look there’s so many good ones, but: Jenny Diver was probably the most skilled pickpocket (‘diver’) of the 18th Century. Among a million other tricks, she would put pillows under her dress so she looked pregnant, and she had a pair of waxwork arms made that rested on the faux-pregnant belly. She had relatively upper-class looks so she could go to church services in rich areas of London and pick the pockets of anyone sitting next to her without being suspected.

She lived extremely well, had a gang of about eight others, and when she was finally convicted she was so famous, she was allowed to travel to her execution in a mourning carriage, wearing a black dress and a veil.

“If any Woman hath more Art than another, to be sure, ’tis Jenny Diver. Though her Fellow be never so agreeable, she can pick his Pocket as coolly, as if money were her only Pleasure. Now that is a Command of the Passions in a Woman!” — John Gay, 1738

Ask me a question on literally any topic (doesn’t have to be about criming) by commenting or emailing thewhippet(at)mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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The CEO of Sriracha is charming and checked out of capitalism

“My dream,” CEO David Tran says, “was never to become a billionaire.” It is “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

He says he has not once hiked the wholesale price at which he sells Sriracha—a number he won’t share with anyone—no matter that inflation has more than tripled food prices since 1980.“We don’t have a detailed record on where it’s being sold,” Tran admits. As far as he knows, Sriracha is available in the US, Canada and Europe. “But it’s probably sold elsewhere, too,” he conceded. [It’s massive here in Australia.]
His unwillingness to compromise on quality means that the chilies for Sriracha need to be processed within a day of being picked. So Huy Fong’s Rosemead factory sits only an hour away from Underwood Family Farms, which has been the company’s only chili supplier for the past 20 years. Finding new land fit for further chili harvesting has proved difficult—the land needs not only to be vast, but also fit for the purpose. “I can’t buy land that’s being used to harvest oranges,” Tran explained. “It’s not right for chilies.”

“The other upshot of the high demand is that in 33 years, according to Tran, Huy Fong Foods has neither employed a single salesman nor spent a cent on advertising. Advertising would merely widen the gap between demand and supply even further. “I don’t advertise, because I can’t advertise,” Tran explained.” Full article with excellent chilli harvest photos

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