“The lottery’s only objective is to maximize the funds you pay for educational activities.”

Salil Mehta:

One should remember that the only objective for the Lottery, anywhere in the world, is not to make you rich. Contrary to their advertisements, the objective is not to show you a good time. Wasting your money is never a good time. The lottery’s only objective is to maximize the funds you pay for educational activities. The lottery does this by taking all of the proceeds, then first diverting nearly 45% of it towards educational benefits, and also towards store commissions and advertisements designed to trick you into spending more into the system. Say you played 292 million times with hypothetically a $1 ticket, and then won exactly one time. In this case your reward would not be anywhere close to $292m. The funnel would start at a gross level of just 55% of $292m (or a loss of $131m on your ticket purchases since 45% was skimmed straight away to the government). And then your net amount would still be less than this 55% gross payout, since this reward is again taxed as income. There is nothing sexy about this arrangement; it extorts a non-tax deductible dollar from you and many others, who could least afford it. And each time putting offering 55 cents into a community savings jar, until one day that amassed jar is given to basically just one person at random (but not before the government comes back to tax that jar as “income”). The whole scheme is an educational tax for those who instead could use a free education in probability theory.

A loser’s lottery [StatisticalIdeas]

April 26, 2016  |  

“Donald J. Trump’s vision for the future of our nation is as deeply disturbing as it is profoundly un-American.”

Boston Globe editorial board:

Donald J. Trump’s vision for the future of our nation is as deeply disturbing as it is profoundly un-American.

It is easy to find historical antecedents. The rise of demagogic strongmen is an all too common phenomenon on our small planet. And what marks each of those dark episodes is a failure to fathom where a leader’s vision leads, to carry rhetoric to its logical conclusion. The satirical front page of this section attempts to do just that, to envision what America looks like with Trump in the White House.

It is an exercise in taking a man at his word. And his vision of America promises to be as appalling in real life as it is in black and white on the page. It is a vision that demands an active and engaged opposition. It requires an opposition as focused on denying Trump the White House as the candidate is flippant and reckless about securing it.

PDF here.

The GOP must stop Trump [BostonGlobe]

April 11, 2016  |  

“The offshore world is not a bunch of independent states exercising their sovereign rights to set their laws and tax systems as they see fit.”

Nicholas Shaxson:

…the offshore world is not a bunch of independent states exercising their sovereign rights to set their laws and tax systems as they see fit. It is a set of networks of influence controlled by the world’s major powers, notably Britain, the United States, and some jurisdictions in Europe. Each network is deeply interconnected with, and warmly welcomes offshore business from, the others. Wealthy U.S. individuals and corporations use the British spiderweb extensively: Enron, for example, had 881 offshore subsidiaries before it went bust, of which 692 were in the Cayman Islands, 119 in the Turks and Caicos, 43 in Mauritius, and 8 in Bermuda, all in the British spiderweb. The United States returns the favor to wealthy British interests investing tax-free, in secrecy, via Wall Street. Not only that, but the world’s most important tax havens in their own right are not exotic palm-fringed islands but some of the world’s most powerful countries themselves.

Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens [Amazon]

Surrounded Islands

On May 7, 1983, the installation of Surrounded Islands was completed in Biscayne Bay, between the city of Miami, North Miami, the Village of Miami Shores and Miami Beach. Eleven of the islands situated in the area of Bakers Haulover Cut, Broad Causeway, 79th Street Causeway, Julia Tuttle Causeway, and Venetian Causeway were surrounded with 6.5 million square feet (603,870 square meters) of floating pink woven polypropylene fabric covering the surface of the water and extending out 200 feet (61 meters) from each island into the bay. The fabric was sewn into 79 patterns to follow the contours of the 11 islands.

Surrounded Islands [C&J-C]

“Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.”

Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler:

The amygdala is an almond-shaped sliver of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. Anxious under normal conditions, once stimulated, the amygdala becomes hypervigilant. Then our focus tightens and our fight-or-flight response turns on. Heart rate speeds up, nerves fire faster, eyes dilate for improved vision, the skin cools as blood moves toward our muscles for faster reaction times. Cognitively, our pattern-recognition system scours our memories, hunting for similar situations (to help ID the threat) and potential solutions (to help neutralize the threat). But so potent is this response that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.

These days, we are saturated with information. We have millions of news outlets competing for our mind share. And how do they compete? By vying for the amygdala’s attention. The old newspaper saw “If it bleeds, it leads” works because the first stop that all incoming information encounters is an organ already primed to look for danger. We’re feeding a fiend. Pick up the Washington Post and compare the number of positive to negative stories. If your experiment goes anything like mine, you’ll find that over 90 percent of the articles are pessimistic. Quite simply, good news doesn’t catch our attention. Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.

NYU’s Dr. Marc Siegel, in his book False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear:

Statistically, the industrialized world has never been safer. Many of us are living longer and more uneventfully. Nevertheless, we live in worst-case fear scenarios. Over the past century, we Americans have dramatically reduced our risk in virtually every area of life, resulting in life spans 60 percent longer in 2000 than in 1900. Antibiotics have reduced the likelihood of dying from infections … Public health measures dictate standards for drinkable water and breathable air. Our garbage is removed quickly. We live in temperature-controlled, disease-controlled lives. And yet, we worry more than ever before. The natural dangers are no longer there, but the response mechanisms are still in place, and now they are turned on much of the time. We implode, turning our adaptive fear mechanism into a maladaptive panicked response.

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think [Amazon]

“We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone.”

Charles Fishman:

Americans spent $21 billion on bottled water in 2009. It doesn’t seem like an astonishing sum of money – about $65 per person, $1.25 a week. But in the context of water, $21 billion is huge. Consider, for instance, what Americans spend for all the water delivered to their homes – 350 gallons per family per day, 365 days a year. The water bill comes to about $412 a year. Which means we spend $46 billion a year on all the household water we use all year long— to run the morning shower, to boil the pasta, to water the lawn. As a nation, we spend $46 billion for a year’s water, always on, whenever we need it. And we spend another $21 billion – almost half as much – for bottled water, for an amount of water that wouldn’t get us through eight hours of water use at home on any given day. But there’s an even more arresting comparison. We spend about $29 billion a year maintaining our entire water system in the United States – the drinking water treatment plants, the pump stations, the pipes in the ground, the wastewater treatment plants. So as a nation, we spend very nearly as much on water delivered in small crushable plastic bottles as we do on sustaining the entire water system of the country.

[…]

We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 8.33 pounds a gallon. It’s so heavy you can’t fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water – you have to leave empty space.) Meanwhile, of course, one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us in the developed world an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need.

[…]

Bottled water is the final flowering of the old water culture. Nothing says indulgence, in fact, like paying for something you don’t need to pay for, like paying for something you don’t need. Superficially, it looks like a somewhat silly triumph for capitalism – look what really smart, creative people can do with something as utterly pedestrian as water. In fact, it’s a reminder of exactly the opposite – the market has created very persuasive solutions for water problems that don’t exist, while failing to find any solutions for real water problems.

This is old news, but still…

FIJI Water is a miniature miracle of the modern global economy – water from an aquifer on the isolated north coast of Fiji’s main island, bottled in a state-of-the-art factory that fills and packs more than a million bottles of water a day, water that then makes its way by truck, cargo container, ship, and even the Panama Canal, to the hippest clubs and restaurants in Los Angeles (5,520 miles from Fiji) and Miami Beach (7,480 miles from Fiji). Meanwhile, more than half the residents of the nation of Fiji do not themselves have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American living in Beverly Hills or Miami or Manhattan to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fijian water than it is for most people in Fiji.

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water [Amazon]

March 23, 2016  |  

“SPY is the world’s most-traded security. On average, SPY trades $25 billion worth of shares each day, or $6 trillion a year”

Eric Balchunas:

Today, SPY is the world’s most-traded security. On average, SPY trades $25 billion worth of shares each day, or $6 trillion a year – four times as much as Apple, the second-most traded security. In fact, SPY trades as much as the 24 most-traded stocks combined. It also accounts for about $50 billion worth of options volume each day, which is almost 50 percent of the entire equity options market. SPY also happens to be the largest ETF, with $166 billion in assets, as of Feb. 8.

The ETF Files [Bloomberg]

March 8, 2016  |  

“I consider that we are still monkeys; we just came down from the trees rather recently, and it’s astonishing how well we can do.”

Freeman Dyson:

I consider that we are still monkeys; we just came down from the trees rather recently, and it’s astonishing how well we can do. The fact that we can even write down partial differential equations, let alone solve them, to me is a miracle. The fact that we ourselves at the moment have very limited understanding of things doesn’t surprise me at all. If you go far enough in the future, we’ll be asking totally different questions. We’ll be thinking thoughts which at the moment we can’t even imagine. So I think to say that a question is unanswerable is ludicrous. All you can say is that it’s not going to be answered in the next hundred years, or the next two hundred years… To say there are unanswerable questions makes no sense. But if history comes to a stop, if we descend into barbarism or if we become extinct, then the questions won’t be answered. But to me that’s just a historical accident.

Legendary Physicist Freeman Dyson on God, Unanswerable Questions, and Why Diversity Is the Ruling Law of the Universe [BrainPickings]

March 8, 2016  |  

“If you do vote for Trump, at least look at him very carefully first. You owe that to the rest of us.”

Louis C.K.:

…voting for Trump is a way of saying “fuck it. Fuck them all”. I really get it. It’s a version of national Suicide. Or it’s like a big hit off of a crack pipe. Somehow we can’t help it. Or we know that if we vote for Trump our phones will be a reliable source of dopamine for the next four years. I mean I can’t wait to read about Trump every day. It’s a rush. But you have to know this is not healthy.

If you are a true conservative. Don’t vote for Trump. He is not one of you. He is one of him. Everything you have heard him say that you liked, if you look hard enough you will see that he one day said the exact opposite. He is playing you.

In fact, if you do vote for Trump, at least look at him very carefully first. You owe that to the rest of us…

[…]

Again, I’m not saying vote democrat or vote for anyone else. If Hilary ends up president it should be because she faced the best person you have and you and I both chose her or him or whoever. Trump is not your best. He’s the worst of all of us. He’s a symptom to a problem that is very real. But don’t vote for your own cancer. You’re better than that.

Louis C.K. Compares Donald Trump to Hitler: ‘He’s an Insane Bigot’ [Variety]

March 8, 2016  |  

“Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn’t know how to turn the cameras off, even when it’s filming its own demise.”

Matt Taibbi:

Trump isn’t the first rich guy to run for office. But he is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can’t resist a car wreck. The more he insults the press, the more they cover him: He’s pulling 33 times as much coverage on the major networks as his next-closest GOP competitor, and twice as much as Hillary.

Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn’t know how to turn the cameras off, even when it’s filming its own demise.

The problem, of course, is that Trump is crazy. He’s like every other corporate tyrant in that his solution to most things follows the logic of Stalin: no person, no problem. You’re fired! Except as president he’d have other people-removing options, all of which he likes: torture, mass deportations, the banning of 23 percent of the Earth’s population from entering the United States, etc.

How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable [RollingStone]

February 25, 2016  |  

“His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo.”

The best Nigerian email scam so far, hands down:

Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Plot 555
Misau Street
PMB 437
Garki, Abuja, FCT NIGERIA

Dear Mr. Sir,

REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.

Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
tip@nasrda.gov.ng

http://www.nasrda.gov.ng/

[via Anorak]

February 11, 2016  |