Poem: Seeing Things

randomness explained physically

this peculiar ability to discern patterns amid

chaos is the natural state of the universe or

so we say when perfection exceeds our vision of

what is possible and what is beyond mere possibility

veering into realms explored in sweaty paperbacks and sterile laboratories

where the where of who we are

in the vastness is the main and only concern for

one gets lost without an anchor to hold him

safe and far

safe and near

but always somehow safe

we say we see

how it’s all arranged

Lotteries, Poker, and Other People’s Money

mkscreen

Braving odds of 176 million-to-1, scores of otherwise sensible Americans, including several of our intelligent friends, were infected with Lottery Fever this past week, standing in lines of up to three hours to buy a ticket at “lucky” liquor stores and gas stations.

The prospect of a $640 million jackpot and the assurance that some of the money would go to our schools made throwing away hard-earned wages seem like an altogether fun thing to do. At $1 a pop, the lottery is a cheap fantasy while it lasts.

Like any fixed-odds proposition, a category that includes almost every casino game, including slot and poker machines, roulette, craps, and baccarat, lotteries are unbeatable. There’s no such thing as a professional lottery player; it’s not a viable way to end up with more than you started with. Sure, someone has to “win” the Mega Millions or Powerball, . . . → Read More: Lotteries, Poker, and Other People’s Money

Acceptable Collateral Damage

untitled

Every time we get into our car, we die a little.

Every time we return safely home, someone else hasn’t. That driving an automobile is a dangerous activity is not open to dispute. We all understand the frequency of accidents, and what happens when cars crash: terrible collisions that ruin (or end) lives. This specter of harm hovers over all our machines, including motorcycles and airplanes, each of which has a long-term expectation to return a predictable amount of mayhem and misery. Cars, though, are America’s default choice for getting from here to there. Our nation is built around them. So, aside from their environmental impact and all the other unpleasantness they cause, cars are also the most frequently used method for injecting danger into seemingly safe lives.

The inevitable injuries and deaths associated with driving a car must then be considered one of the “costs” . . . → Read More: Acceptable Collateral Damage

The 85% Diet

weighing scale fat man

Facing the physique-softening indignities of middle-age, a friend — call him Chumley, or Chum – adheres to a different diet-and-exercise plan every few weeks or months. He’s done them all, with varying degrees of success. (The old-fashioned “burn more calories than you consume” method doesn’t come with a glossy recipe book or 4-hours-a-month workout plan, so he’s not much interested in that approach). Chum isn’t fat or even obviously overweight, but he has certain “problem areas,” including his padded obliques (“love handles”), and he’s constantly searching for a magical formula to make them disappear.

This is challenging, because although Chum is remarkably vain he’s also obsessed with food and thinks about eating as frequently as most men think about sex.

Chum’s newest diet plan involves maintaining an orthodox low-carb, low-calorie, high-protein, mostly-vegetarian menu, with no white flour, very little processed anything, and plenty . . . → Read More: The 85% Diet

Suckers!

PT barnum-MONEY GETTING Poster

Casinos have a term for their customers. It’s not nice, so the term isn’t used in polite company. But the folks who give away their money at slot machines and dice tables and roulette wheels, the folks who tote around their Player’s Card and receive complimentary buffets and tickets to the magic show, are affectionately known to the trade as suckers.

Mr. Phineas T. Barnum believed there was one born every minute. His estimation might have been ungenerous. It’s probably more like every second.

The revelations emerging daily from Washington and Wall Street of “financial abuse” perpetrated by Goldman Sachs and friends are old news to those who have long posited the financial markets as the world’s largest casino. (It’s also the most fun casino, since participants usually get to play with other people’s money.) The shenanigans, ranging from the development of . . . → Read More: Suckers!

Where the Money Is

money-house

Take a walk around your city’s downtown. Look at the skyline. Note the names on the tallest buildings. See who has the wealth.

In Los Angeles, almost all the skyscrapers bear the names of corporations that handle money: banks, accounting firms, insurance companies. This seems right. These organizations, one reckons, ought to have lots of money because, well, they have lots of money, even if it’s mostly other people’s money. Once you get past the fact that these super-rich cartels construct their towering edifices with wealth created almost magically, alchemically, accumulated either by selling our money back to us at prices hundreds-of-percent above what they pay for it (banking), pooling our money and amortizing the risk while skimming off the vigorish like an old-timer bookie (insurance), or counting it in creative ways (accounting), these enormously profitable concerns announce their spectacular success with tangible evidence poking . . . → Read More: Where the Money Is

Unfortunate Misapprehensions

Head in Sand

With each day’s news comes further affirmation that it is entirely possible to be reasonably intelligent, highly educated, and specially trained while also being utterly ignorant of what’s commonly understood to be reality.

No, I’m not speaking of the funny folks with advanced degrees who denounce the Theory of Evolution in favor of loopy fairy tales such as “intelligent design” and “creationism.”

I’m referring to people like Mr. Gary Norton, the district attorney in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, who believes it his duty to prosecute residents of his jurisdiction for playing poker in their homes. Pennsylvania is one of 37 states where a game of skill doesn’t qualify as a game of chance, and in January of this year a judge there dismissed charges against a man accused of running a poker game out of his garage, noting that when skill predominates it’s not . . . → Read More: Unfortunate Misapprehensions

Asking the Right Question About Lotteries

Lottery Mega Millions

A nearly destitute rancher, living in one of the ten poorest counties in the United States, in South Dakota, just won $232 million in the inter-state Powerball lottery. He will take home a lump sum of nearly $89 million after taxes.

More important to some — namely, those who market state lotteries and those who donate to them — is what the rancher represents: the down-on-his-luck guy who proves that if you buy a ticket (or a few of them) anything is possible. Dreams really do come true. Things will get better. Blessings fall from the sky. Etc.

The rancher and his family, credulous newspapers have reported,own neither a house nor a telephone; their moblie home was repossed last year; they owe more than $3,500 in back taxes.

Yet he purchased $15 in lottery tickets, one of which changed his life.

The right . . . → Read More: Asking the Right Question About Lotteries

Tough Questions

faq_questionmark

Is it worth keeping millions of Americans employed in an industry that produces products which harm our country? Would those laborers be better utilized making something that’s good for society? Or is it simply more important to provide jobs — to maintain jobs — no matter how pointless and unhelpful they are?

Other than the daunting odds of succeeding, is there a compelling reason uneducated, unprivileged parents shouldn’t steer their children away from a formal “education” in dysfunctional public schools and, instead, nurture their nascent athletic talents?

Why do we call a women performing fellatio on a paying customer “prostitution” and a Senator crafting legislation to please her campaign contributors “democracy”?

If God is omniscient, why must He rely on his mortal minions to protect his divine reputation? If one causes offense to God, is it the righteous man’s duty to stick up for the . . . → Read More: Tough Questions

Department of I Tried to Warn You

stockstumble

One of the most useful tools at a blowhard’s disposal is a search function of his gaseous blatherings. When one is in the business of spouting unsolicited opinions, few of which garner attention or reflection worthy of their profundity, having the means to retrieve long-ignored pronoucements allows the self-annointed know-it-all to remind himself (and anyone else who can be persuaded to look) that his ideas and arguments were more or less correct, and that his fellow citizens would probably be better off today had they taken his oracular assertions as seriously as they do the fashion choices of their favorite television court jesters.

For a pointedly non-random examples, type the words “stock market” in the search function on this site. (You can add the words “pyramid scheme,” too, for more specificity.) You’ll see that as far back as 2003, the shrieking harridan that occupies this . . . → Read More: Department of I Tried to Warn You