The House always wins …

Why do people gamble in casinos, especially if, as the old adage goes, “the House always wins.” By way of example, check out this report by Chris Opfer about blackjack payouts in Las Vegas. Pay close attention to this part of Mr Opfer’s report:

But like skinning a cat, frying a fish, or badgering a cocktail waitress, there are several ways to squeeze more cash out of the gambling masses. One is to simply change the rules … In March, the Venetian and Palazzo casinos changed the payouts on blackjack hands from three-to-two to six-to-five. That might not seem like a big difference to casual observers, but experts say the change significantly increases the casinos’ house edge …

[One way to win at the game of blackjack] is by making a “blackjack” or “natural 21,” that is, drawing an ace paired with a king, queen, jack, or 10 in your first two cards. A player who beats the dealer usually get paid at a one-to-one rate. Bet $10, win $10. Getting a blackjack is a less frequent occurrence, and one that’s a bit more lucrative. Until recently, it was standard for casinos to pay out blackjacks at a three-to-two rate, meaning that a $10 blackjack hand pays the winner $15. At the Venetian and Palazzo, the same hand now pays $12.

“It’s like a hidden tax that you’re being charged by the casinos,” Henry Tamburin, a gambler, gaming instructor, and author of Blackjack: Take the Money and Run, says of the payout change. “Most people don’t realize that.” Tamburin says a player can expect to hit a blackjack about once every 21 hands. At an average of 80 hands an hour, that translates to the house snatching an extra $12 out of players’ hands every 60 minutes. Spread that over every player at every table at a casino and you can see why pit bosses might go all in on six-to-five.

In other words, “the House” not only decides which games to play; it can also literally change the rules of the game in the middle of the game! Notice, moreover, that this observation is true not only of casinos in Las Vegas but also of the game we call law. That is, ordinarily, a simple majority vote in Congress or in the Supreme Court suffices to change the rules of the law game. For example, Congress has the power to change the rules of the copyright game, while the Supreme Court has the ex post (and self-declared) power to review any changes made by Congress. But is majority rule consistent with the ideal of the “rule of law,” especially in the case of unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court judges? We don’t think so. In fact, if we could amend or re-design Article III of the U.S. Constitution (which, by the way, makes no mention of the power of “judicial review”), we would seriously consider imposing a two-thirds “super-majority” voting rule on the Supreme Court to limit the judiciary’s power to change the rules of the game. (Our modest rule-change proposal, though, is not without irony.)

Warning: the House always wins.

Which side is winning the propaganda war?

Does the ceasefire also apply to the propaganda war?


Check out this book of maps edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Tom McCarthy: “Mapping it Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartography.” Here are some samples from the book. Here is one of our favorites:


Michael Craig-Martin, “Globalisation” (2011)

Laboratory Life, B. Latour & S. Woolgar (1979)


We are reblogging this review of Bruno Latour’s classic book about science mainly for the question posed in the next to last paragraph of this post–namely, why do scientists (and scholars generally, we might add) care so much about priority and about getting credit for their work (e.g. citations, awards, etc.)? Is it simply another example of human vanity, or is it about something else?

Originally posted on A Fine Theorem:

Let’s do one more post on the economics of science; if you haven’t heard of Latour and the book that made him famous, all I can say is that it is 30% completely crazy (the author is a French philosopher, after all!), 70% incredibly insightful, and overall a must read for anyone trying to understand how science proceeds or how scientists are motivated.

Latour is best known for two ideas: that facts are socially constructed (and hence science really isn’t that different from other human pursuits) and that objects/ideas/networks have agency. He rose to prominence with Laboratory Life, which followed two years observing a lab, that of future Nobel Winner Roger Guillemin at the Salk Institute at UCSD.

What he notes is that science is really strange if you observe it proceeding without any priors. Basically, a big group of people use a bunch of animals and chemicals and technical…

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“Crimes Against Logic”

That is the title of this fun little book by Jamie Whyte. (Thanks to Steven Landsburg for the pointer.) By the way, many of the logical fallacies exposed by Whyte are especially relevant to law and judging, such as his critique of “chaotic verbiage” (page 66). Consider, for example, legal words like “reasonableness” or “probable cause” that are not testable and do not really promote any clarity. We especially liked Whyte’s point about how persons in authority often will “don a simple robe” in order to substitute “sanctimony for evidence” (p. 32). We strongly recommend Whyte’s little book.

While we are on the subject of logical fallacies, Alex Tabarrok just wrote up this excellent post explaining why “legislative intent” in the field of statutory interpretation is nonsense … yet many judges, lawyers, and law professors still take the idea of “legislative intent” seriously, as if that were a coherent or meaningful concept.

Read at your own risk.

The science of aircraft boarding

Silicon Valley is mostly white and male …

Check out these dismal and disgraceful stats published by USA Today yesterday. If you’re too busy, here’s the “Cliff Notes” version:

Over the past two months, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn have reported that their staffs are between 62% and 70% male. Whites and Asians make up between 88% and 91%.

That has dismayed Blacks and Hispanics who say they are major consumers of technology yet make up just a tiny percentage of workers reaping the economic rewards in the nation’s top paying industry.

P.S. Twitter is just as bad. In other words, here’s another reason to hate Google, Facebook, etc. Seriously, what’s going on here? Are these tech companies reluctant to hire minorities and women, or are members of these under-represented groups simply not applying for jobs at these firms?

Welcome to Silicon Valley.