Link: Addicted To Wealth

A young man who earned his way into insider status in the financial industry, compares the compulsion to acquiring money as an analog to other addictions, an attempt to compensate for or avoid some other deeper pain inside.

It’s a cool story, but I doubt it is universally true. But there is something else he realized as his eyes opened that is certainly true:

I’d always looked enviously at the people who earned more than I did; now, for the first time, I was embarrassed for them, and for me. I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners. What had seemed normal now seemed deeply distorted.

We need banks and investors, as a way to pay for real things, but the notion that credit “products” like credit default swaps are anything more than a way for the sharps to skim their percentage off the world economy is a sham.

I’m not qualified to know where to draw the line here, but I’m sure that one great injustice we can all line up behind is the fact that income derived from this mostly-worthless churning of money should be taxed at the same rate as income that is earned by labor. At least.  It should certainly not be taxed at a lower rate, as it is now.

Movies: Philomena, starring Steve Coogan and Judi Dench

philomenaposterCoogan is the executive producer, co-star and co-writer of this adaptation of a true story. I had no expectations going in, but very much enjoyed Tristam Shandy and The Trip, both of which starred Coogan. Stephen Frears has made some excellent movies in his now long career. And Judi Dench is always powerful and charming.

The odd bit here, the story of an older woman’s search for the son she bore in a nunnery out of wedlock, who was given up for adoption 50 years earlier against her wishes, is Coogan’s decision to frame the story as a mashup of an odd couple road movie (think Rain Man) and an expose of the sordid workings of the Catholic Church (think The Magdalene Sisters). As such we bounce from fish out of water comedy to fervid religious angst, all of it nicely acted and perfectly presentable, all of it without any frisson at all until the actual facts of the case start coming a little clearer.

Then, it is our imaginations that are required to connect the dots. The movie does very little heavy lifting, it seems content to rest on the formidable talents of its stars, who pull if off if you don’t ask too much or think about it too hard.

Astronomy Wiz Falls Down a Wormhole.

I enjoy Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy posts that I read on Slate. I’m sure his Bad Astronomy blog is well worth visiting, but I hadn’t until tonight. And I have to say, I love the handmade feel of the site. And I love his enthusiasm for the deep space photos and the climate change fight, and even mathematics.

Which is where this story comes from. Yesterday Phil wrote a story about a mathematical equation that defied description. It’s kind of like the idea, If God can do anything, can he make a rock he can’t pick up? In this case the question was, what is the sum of 1+2+3+4+5….

Those ellipses mean that the sequence goes on forever. It’s a headpounder. If the sequence of numbers is infinite, it seems like the sum of this infinite sequence must be infinite, but Phil told a story in which the sum was -1/12th.

And he posted a video. In which some giggly physicists, highly respected apparently, demonstrate by a series of algebraic transpositions (I’m certainly not using the right math lingo here) that the infinite (which Phil identifies as divergent) series has that value of -1/12th.

I watched the video in the original post and I liked the kookiness, and I loved the way math was a form of play (not something I have any familiarity with), but I didn’t understand how you could just add and subtract these infinite series and make any sense. It all seemed somewhat arbitrary. Despite Phil’s hype of this explanation as mindblowing, my mind was unblown. Good for me, it turns out.

According to Phil’s mea culpa today, you really can’t add and subtract infinite series. Phil got gulled into a bit of pop-math hocus pocus, I guess. He doesn’t call out the guys in the video. But his elaboration on the original post is good-writer magic, and explains why his blog is popular.

I think the bigger issue here is our need to question what we see and hear. Phil Plait is a thoughtful and honest writer with a lot of expertise. He notes that that expertise is not mathematical, but he does love the numbers, so he writes about them. That doesn’t mean he or his source is always right. We need to be skeptical about all claims, especially the mindblowing ones.

And welcome when someone who made a mistake admits it. As Phil did.

New Sherlocks Start Tomorrow! Yawn.

what-calm-i-m-waiting-for-sherlock-season-3-6But not for the reason you think. My daughter was so excited by the prospect of new episodes of Sherlock that I hooked up Tunnelbear to my internet connection. Tunnelbear is VPN software that anonymizes your data stream, so you can watch local content from other countries. So we streamed Sherlock from the BBC1 website in the UK, just as if we were holed up in our seaside cottage in Port Wen in Cornwall, eating pasties.

Tunnelbear works great, and it also encrypts all your data, so you can’t be tapped by evil doers in public wifi hotspots and the NSA everywhere. At least in theory. They gift you with 500mb of data per month, and if you Tweet their praises @thetunnelbear they’ll give you another GB, which combined is enough for more than an hour of TV watching a month from England or France or a few other countries they have servers. For $5 a month or $50 per year you can use the service as much as you like. This advertisement generates no remuneration, it is just an expression of amazement and enthusiasm.

With a one-month subscription our little one and her little friend have seen the whole season of the gangly detective and his very nice sidekick, already, and won’t be troubled by the late night scheduling on a school night during mid-term time that caused so much consternation last time. No spoilers, but I’m told episode 2 is just the best Sherlock ever.

Something Dry But Important.

The FCC’s net neutrality rules were overturned this week. Yawn. But this is a big deal. The gist is that with net neutrality rules in effect the phone and cable companies who deliver the internet into our homes are required to treat all the info coming from the internet the same. Whether it is my personal website, Facebook, Netflix or Comcast’s own Video On Demand service, the information has to flow unimpeded through the same pipes. As it were.

Without net neutrality, which is no longer the law of the land, Comcast could charge Netflix extra to deliver it’s stream into your house, for instance. Or, if your internet provider didn’t like what I had to say, it could block my personal site.

One of the greatest and most important attributes of the internet has been its status as an open sandbox or playground, available to all who have something to say. Without it, as this very clear article makes plain, our internet would look a lot more like our cable TV service. That is, unresponsive and expensive and pretty awful.

It is in all our interests to let the politicians who work for us so that they know that we want them to re assert our rights to net neutrality.