Tuesday, May 30th, 2023


Don’t Bet On It

"Blackjack, a fast-paced card game, historically paid out a ratio of 3:2 when a player hit 21 on the first two cards. That means a gambler wins $15 for every $10 bet. Now, many blackjack tables on the Strip pay out at 6:5, which means that same $10 yields only $12." That's just one of the ways Vegas is working to squeeze more money out of its average visitor. WSJ: Why You're Losing More to Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. I've been thinking about casinos ever since I watched a documentary called Inside The Edge: A Professional Blackjack Adventure. What's amazing about this look at professional Blackjack players who have figured out ways to win is that they're all banned from casinos from coast to coast. Consistent winning, even through skill, is simply not allowed in casinos. And in most states, winning is a perfectly acceptable reason to kick a player out of your casino. 3:2? 6:5? No matter how you do the math, you come up empty.


Home Sick

"At a time when home education was still a fringe phenomenon, the Bealls had grown up in the most powerful and ideologically committed faction of the modern home-schooling movement. That movement, led by deeply conservative Christians, saw home schooling as a way of life — a conscious rejection of contemporary ideas about biology, history, gender equality and the role of religion in American government." Peter Jamison with a very interesting (and pretty disturbing) story in WaPo (Gift Article): The revolt of the Christian home-schoolers. It's odd that we refer to these folks as deeply conservative, as if they fall neatly into some semi-reasonable portion of the political spectrum. This is something, but it sure isn't conservative. It's more like extremism, and it's also growing. "Across the country, interest in home schooling has never been greater. The Bealls could see the surge in Virginia, where nearly 57,000 children were being home-schooled in the fall of 2022 — a 28 percent jump from three years earlier. The rise of home education, initially unleashed by parents' frustrations with pandemic-related campus closures and remote learning, has endured as one of the lasting social transformations wrought by covid-19.
But if the coronavirus was a catalyst for the explosion in home schooling, the stage was set through decades of painstaking work by true believers like those who had raised Aaron and Christina." From SCOTUS to school boards, religion is at the forefront of this American political moment (and maybe all the other political moments, too.)


Living on the Margin

"The prices of oil, transportation, food ingredients and other raw materials have fallen in recent months as the shocks stemming from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have faded." So that means that consumer prices are finally dropping as well, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that corporations are enjoying the larger margins and consumers are still buying even at higher prices. NYT (Gift Article): Companies Push Prices Higher, Protecting Profits but Adding to Inflation. (The people who could barely afford groceries before are the ones really getting hurt by this trend. They know the feeling.)


Quite a Terms of Service Warning

"Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war." I suppose I could be accused of linking to too many warnings from people who are opposed to AI. But this warning is coming from the people running AI, including Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Top AI researchers and CEOs warn against ‘risk of extinction' in 22-word statement. (At least AI helped them to be concise.)


Extra, Extra

American Kevolution: "If passed by Congress, the deal to raise the debt ceiling would enact changes in environmental permitting, institute tighter work requirements for food stamps, and claw back some money from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), according to the 99-page legislative text." Here's What's in the Debt Ceiling Deal. (There's no doubt that America's biggest and growing problem is the historically massive economic divide. My guess is that making additional work requirements for those on food stamps and reducing funding for the IRS is not going to help the situation.) Meanwhile, the deal is far from done. Debt ceiling bill faces a tough path in the House as GOP opposition grows. (One of the questions is whether the deal too sane to enable Kevin McCarthy get it passed, or to even keep his job.)

+ State Farm "Was" There: State Farm is no longer accepting property insurance applications in California. (You may not believe in climate change, but bean counters sure do.)

+ Uganda Law: A new anti-gay law in Uganda calls for life in prison for those who are convicted. Penalizing people, at any level, for being gay is insane. There, and here.

+ Battle Pax: Could a GOP candidate win an election while under indictment? It's an interesting question these days. The answer for Ken Paxton in Texas has been yes, but his luck is running out. Texas Monthly: The Texas House has voted to impeach the attorney general. After nearly eight years under indictment—during which he won two elections—why now?

+ Rap God: The New Yorker: How to Hire a Pop Star for Your Private Party. "The bar-mitzvah boy, in keeping with the customs of his forebears, had chanted his way into adulthood; then, following a more recent tradition, the celebrants had relocated to a warehouse-size event venue that is highly regarded on Chicago's mitzvah circuit. A production company had installed the décor, including roller coasters stencilled across the dance floor and a banquet table made to resemble a red Ferrari. The whole affair was invisible to the outside world, except for the word 'Andrew' projected by brilliant red floodlights onto an exterior wall. The entertainment had been arranged by Andrew's father, an executive at a financial-services company. At first, he had doubted that Flo Rida, his son's favorite artist, would agree to come, but an agent informed him that most big-name musicians are available these days, under the right conditions." (There is a longstanding rumor that my parents attempted to get Barry Manilow to perform at my Bar Mitzvah. I can neither confirm nor deny this allegation.)

+ A Legal Graze Area: "Targeted grazing is part of California's strategy to reduce wildfire risk because goats can eat a wide variety of vegetation and graze in steep, rocky terrain that's hard to access. Backers say they're an eco-friendly alternative to chemical herbicides or weed-whacking machines that are make noise and pollution." But there's a labor dispute. California overtime law threatens use of grazing goats to prevent wildfires. (This would make a decent story arc in Yellowstone.)

+ The Write Stuff: Lots of spoilers in this Vanity Fair interview with Jeremy Strong on Succession's Brutal Finale and Kendall's Ending. What a crushingly great show. And Strong nails this timely (spoiler free) point: "Here we are in the middle of this writer's strike, and we're nothing without the writers. Nothing. There's nothing meaningful without these writers. … It's the writing that took this character where we've seen him— brought to the precipice—so many times."


Bottom of the News

"For decades, the word panel's work has been a closely guarded secret. This year, Scripps — a Cincinnati-based media company — granted The Associated Press exclusive access to the panelists and their pre-bee meeting, with the stipulation that The AP would not reveal words unless they were cut from the list." Exclusive secrets of the National Spelling Bee.

+ "Kraft Singles, the standard for American cheese, cannot legally be called American cheese, or even 'cheese food,' due to being made with milk protein concentrate and consisting of less than 51 percent actual cheese." The Next Generation of American Cheese. But as the writer of this article points out: "We're at the point where we can all admit it's good." At this point, I'm all for anything we can all admit.