Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 20:47 on 22-07-2009, Shim
I want to know what you were searching for that turned that up. On second thoughts, perhaps not. I will also try to remember in future to see what you're linking to before clicking it... I naively thought that would be an article about it, maybe something from the Daily Mail, good and rabid, you know. Luckily I wasn't reading it at work. All the blame is mine.

Rami, I've seen (approximate title) "Learn Japanese through Manga", which... didn't look too bad actually.
at 18:15 on 22-07-2009, Rami
I didn't know this, but apparently if you like Japanese comics but also want to learn, there's a solution for you...
at 03:55 on 22-07-2009, Rami
They are portraying all those honest, upstanding Americans so negatively! Damn the liberal media and its lies! It's all one big conspiracy by the same sorts of people who silenced the only honest, sane voice in American politics: Sarah Palin!
at 22:03 on 21-07-2009, Sonia Mitchell
Heh, so I managed to find another contentious link. Next time I'll go for something about books again :-)

'The kids who had been given an unfair advantage immediately used their power to try to level the playing field.'

Yeah, I though this was interesting, along with the way it was perceived by the other children. I also like that one of their made-up names for a kid was Marlowe.

When I was in middle school we did an extended history project roleplaying the middle ages. We were assigned a character at the beginning of the project with certain prospects (I was Margaret someone or other). Then we did things like trade our various chickens and devote lessons to court where people were tried for brewing alcohol or some other heinous crime. I guess it paralleled the LegoMarket, but mirroring feudalism.

I think what I actually got out of it was what almost every child gets out of extended school projects (or, for that matter, films that last longer than the lesson) - that just before it all gets wrapped up term ends. I'd be interested if I could remember/read about it now though, see what the teacher thought was happening and how our little court actually worked.
at 19:58 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
What I found scariest was that the teachers did all the things you mentioned and seemed totally unaware they were doing it.

I have just this second finished an article about this whole thing and how fucked up it all was.
at 18:50 on 21-07-2009, Jamie Johnston
Thanks, Dan and Arthur, that's helped me put slightly more fingers on what was troubling me. I think I've also found another, which was in a way more troubling, namely that the teachers very consciously manipulated the children so that they (the children) not only held the same views as the teachers but also believed that they'd discovered those views on their own. I suppose you can say that adults indoctrinating children is both standard and inevitable, but normally it happens by the rather more honest method of telling them what's right and wrong, and what to do and not to do (which makes it rather easier for them to realize later in life that what they were told isn't necessarily true).
at 16:37 on 21-07-2009, Arthur B
You're right:

When everyone had their Legos, the teachers announced that each color had a point value: The more common the brick color, the fewer the points it was worth, while the scarcest brick color, green, was worth a whopping five points.

I misread "the scarcest brick color" as meaning "the brick colour represented in the fewest kids' collections", but it seems to mean "the scarcest brick color overall".

Legopoly seriously needs a second edition.
at 15:37 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
I'm pretty sure it's just that each brick had a set points value (they just say "green bricks were worth five points") in which case the whole thing is flat out stupid.
at 15:22 on 21-07-2009, Arthur B
I think (they're very unclear about it in the article) the idea was that bricks were worth more the fewer people had bricks of that colour - so if only 1 person has green bricks they're gold dust, if everyone has green bricks then they're chicken feed. Where it gets really unclear is whether the bricks held their value from round to round - which wouldn't be a very sensible model - or whether their value was recalculated at the beginning of each round. But in the latter case each kid could maximise the value of their bricks simply by striving to get a set of bricks all the same colour - then you'd have one or two Green Moguls, one or two Red Moguls, and so on, and each brick would be highly valuable because each colour would only be possessed by one or two people.
at 14:57 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
I do wonder how the trading game was supposed to work. If every lego had a fixed value, effectively like currency, then there would be no incentive to trade whatsoever. Perhaps I'm overestimating the average American schoolkid, but surely it's not that hard to work out that there's no such thing as a good trade in this system. "I'll swap you my 2-point brick for your 5-point brick" just doesn't work.
at 13:51 on 21-07-2009, Arthur B
Their experiment also, by having only a fixed number of legos, assumes that it's impossible to get any more wealth/resources into the system, with the result that it ends up being a zero-sum game, which capitalist economics very much isn't - this is why we have economic growth and recession, after all.
at 13:34 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
To be fair, I think that was part of the pint of their criticism of Capitalist Meritocracy - that it's frequently not very meritocratic and that it concentrates power in the hands of the few, and it's then very hard to get power out of their hands.

What's interesting about *that* however, is how spectacularly that demonstration failed. The kids who had been given an unfair advantage immediately used their power to try to level the playing field.
at 11:36 on 21-07-2009, Arthur B
It is, in fact, an example of what the Objectivists blather about when they talk about the jealous small-minded have-nots holding back bold industrialists. :)

But yeah, these teachers are quite disturbingly politicised. In particular, the trading exercise was meant to show up the failings of "meritocracy", when I don't see anything meritocratic about controlling the world because you happened to pick the green bricks. If anything, being given a large amount of wealth through a sheer twist of fate that had nothing to do with any real effort on your part is more like aristocracy.

The thing which got me is the conformity that resulted. All buildings in Legograd are the same size, built from the same number of bricks, comrade. How depressing would it be to live in such a place?
at 11:31 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
It's not just you.

Things I immediately notice from the Lego article:

- They took a project that the students had created spontaneously and turned it into something with an externally imposed structure.

- They behaved, throughout, with a clear, politicised motive that in my personal opinion goes well beyond the remit of a teacher.

- The new "equal" system they wound up with was only "fair" by a relatively narrow definition of "fairness" which I had, until recently, assumed was a straw man created by the right. It enforced fairness by eliminating variety.

- They basically took a system they didn't like, replaced it with a system they did like, and declared it "better".

I spent most of my time reading that article thinking "Jesus Christ, this is exactly what American Conservatives and Daily Mail readers are always complaining about, and what I was fairly sure didn't happen".

Most telling, I think, is the line at the start about the kid whose part of the original Legotown was bigger than everybody else's "because it was the fire station". Now I don't know about you, but I actually think that's a pretty good reason to have a bigger house than other people. Same with the airstrip. I kind of feel that the kids were learning much more about society from the original Legotown than from the sanitized "fruit stalls only" version.
at 18:43 on 20-07-2009, Jamie Johnston
Got to say, I find the behaviour of the teachers in that Lego article deeply troubling for reasons I can't put my finger on. Is it just me?
at 04:45 on 20-07-2009, Arthur B
Let's see... I'm going to assume you don't want to make the investment to get the Vance Integral Editions, which are gorgeous but horrifyingly expensive.

- You will want the Dying Earth stories, obviously. They originally came out in The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga, and Rhialto the Marvellous. Various collections exist; anything which contains the four volumes mentioned should set you up nicely.
- His other major fantasy work is the Lyonesse series, set in a forgotten island and replete with Arthurian and other references and recently reprinted in two volumes by the Fantasy Masterworks guys. The individual volumes are Suldrun's Garden (sometimes just known as Lyonesse), The Green Pearl, and Madouc.
- In terms of SF his most significant series is The Demon Princes, the saga of one man's obsessive interstellar quest to kill the men responsible for the destruction of his home. A two-volume reprint is available.
- Planet of Adventure is the story of a crashed spaceman's interactions with four bizarre alien races competing for control of the planet Tschai, and is available in a one-volume omnibus. The second book has the fantastic title of Servants of the Wankh.
- The Alastor trilogy is barely a trilogy, more three standalones set in the same system of worlds, and is also available in an omnibus.
- The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle are two standalone novellas that recently got reprinted as one volume by iBooks.
- Other great standalones include Big Planet, The Blue World, Emphyrio, The Grey Prince, To Live Forever, The Languages of Pao, Maske: Thaery, and Night Lamp.
- In terms of short stories, there are maddeningly few in-print collections I'm aware of, aside from the obvious example of The Dying Earth. Someone really needs to start doing The Complete Short Fiction of Jack Vance, volumes 1-whatever.

Of the above, my favourites are probably the Dying Earth series, The Demon Princes, Emphyrio, and Night Lamp. Night Lamp, in particular, is achingly beautiful, quite recent, and to my mind (since he's decided to stop writing fiction) is his swansong, coming as it does before the forgettable Ports of Call duology.
at 02:31 on 20-07-2009, Rami
Interestingly, while I have regrettably read very little Vance, I have read the exact story that Times writer gushes about, and it is indeed fantastic. I need to start assembling a fresh book-pile anyway ;-) Are there any Vance collections you'd recommend?
at 20:03 on 19-07-2009, Arthur B
Jack Vance is on the verge of retirement (he's said he's going to write his memoirs and then call it quits), and the New York Times has done a beautiful tribute to him. Read it, and then read The Dying Earth, because the man is a God.
at 19:02 on 19-07-2009, Rude Cyrus
Okay, never mind, it was satire -- still, considering the crazy shit some parents do, it was easy for me to believe it was real.
at 17:30 on 19-07-2009, Arthur B
It's adorable, though I'm a bit sad all the buildings had to be a standard size; couldn't multiple teams band together for major projects?