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A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me

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If you know that a public company has done a bad thing, and no one else knows about it, how can you use that knowledge to make money? […]

This is a financial column, so we tend to focus on the financial-markets answers: You can short the company’s stock, or buy put options, or buy credit-default swaps. Then you can either sit back and let the market discover the bad thing, or you can bring it to the market’s attention, by announcing the bad thing and maybe also by taking some extra steps—generally suing or calling up a regulator—to get the ball rolling. This approach has some crucial advantages; most notably, if the company is very big and the thing is very bad, this is a good way to make a whole lot of money. But there are disadvantages too. You tend to need a lot of capital to make a lot of money doing this; if you don’t have enough money to make a big bet against the company, you’ll probably have to sell your idea to a hedge fund that does, and you’ll get only a portion of the upside. There are all the general financial risks of short selling: The stock could go up for reasons unrelated to the bad thing, “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent,” etc. There are the specific risks of noisy short selling: The company will accuse you of fraud, people won’t believe your revelations because you have money at stake, etc. There is also the risk of insider trading: Depending on how you came to know of the secret bad thing, there may be some legal risk to you from trading on it.

But those are just the markets-y ways to make money from misbehavior. There are also lots of lawyer-y ways. There are whistleblower programs that can reward you for telling regulators—particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission—about the bad thing. (The SEC’s program focuses on securities fraud, of course, but everything is securities fraud so you can be creative.) If you are a lawyer looking to profit from the bad thing, you can find a victim of the bad thing and sue for damages (and take a cut), or you can find holders of the company’s securities and sue for securities fraud (and take a bigger cut), because, again, everything is securities fraud. […]

The really long game, if you are a lawyer, is that you can become a federal prosecutor, investigate the company for misconduct, push it to hire a fancy law firm staffed with former federal prosecutors to conduct an expensive internal investigation, and enter into a non-prosecution agreement that requires the company to pay millions of dollars to an outside monitor who is also a former federal prosecutor. Do a few of these—expanding the scope of criminal liability for corporations, and normalizing the notion that corporations should resolve their criminal liability by hiring ex-prosecutors as monitors and investigators—and then leave for a private law firm where you get paid to do the investigations and the monitoring, while the next generation of prosecutors creates business for you. […]

Avenatti clearly did not do a good enough job of making the extortion look like something else to satisfy prosecutors. I don’t know if he did enough to satisfy a jury; perhaps we’ll find out. But he didn’t do nothing; the complaint contains some gestures in the direction of Avenatti being a legitimate lawyer with a legitimate case from a legitimate client trying to reach a legitimate settlement. He didn’t just ask for money; he demanded that Nike do an internal investigation and that he be in charge of it. (And be paid a lot.) It’s not pure, naked blackmail; it is a settlement negotiation that gets a little deeper into blackmail territory than you’d ideally like. But any settlement negotiation is, you know, “give me money or I will sue and that will be embarrassing for you,” so it is a matter of degrees.

{ Matt Levine/Bloomberg | Continue reading }

pigment ink on cotton paper { Aneta Grzeszykowska, Beauty Mask #10, 2017 }

Still walkin barefoot, in Beverly Hills

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Litigation stemming from an incident in which a middle-aged woman tripped while stepping backward to take a photograph, and without first looking in her direction of travel, led to an observational study of the frequency with which people taking photographs step back without first looking where they were stepping. Prior research on looking before stepping backward did not exist.

Research assistants asked a convenience sample of middle-aged women to take a photograph of the assistants standing in front of a building. The task required the participants to step away from the building. The study found that 87% of the participants looked back at least once before or during a backward step, and that 83% of the steps away from the building were preceded by or accompanied by a look in the direction of travel. Suggestions for future research are provided.

{ Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting }

related { “The First Moonwalk” — Bill Bailey at the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1955 }

unrelated { Man accused of sexually abusing minor identifies himself as Michael Jackson }

still image { Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars, 1978 }

‘Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.’ –Epicurus

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{ Joel Meyerowitz, Fallen Man, Paris, 1967 }

Killin’ anything that moves 1-2, 1-2, 1-2

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The vast majority of life on Earth depends, either directly or indirectly, on photosynthesis for its energy. And photosynthesis depends on an enzyme called RuBisCO, which uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to build sugars. So, by extension, RuBisCO may be the most important catalyst on the planet.

Unfortunately, RuBisCO is, well, terrible at its job. It might not be obvious based on the plant growth around us, but the enzyme is not especially efficient at catalyzing the carbon dioxide reaction. And, worse still, it often uses oxygen instead. This produces a useless byproduct that, if allowed to build up, will eventually shut down photosynthesis entirely. It’s estimated that crops such as wheat and rice lose anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their growth potential due to this byproduct.

While plants have evolved ways of dealing with this byproduct, they’re not especially efficient. So a group of researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana decided to step in and engineer a better way. The result? In field tests, the engineered plants grew up to 40 percent more mass than ones that relied on the normal pathways.

{ Ars Technica | Continue reading }

photo { Joel Meyerowitz, Florida, 1970 }

Like the days of stopping at the Savoy, now we freak

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According to the most comprehensive survey of casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

photo { Jason Florio | The Metropolitan Rod and Gun Club, established in 1936, is New York’s longest running sporting firearms club }

‘If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.’ –Lieutenant Colonel Walt Weir

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Human memory systems are subject to many imperfections, including memory distortions and the creation of false memories. Here, we demonstrate a case where memory distortion is adaptive, increasing the overall accuracy of memories. […]

Although participants’ memories were systematically distorted, they were distorted in a way that is consistent with minimizing their average error […]

Thus, memory distortion may not always be maladaptive: in some cases, distortion can result from a memory system that optimally combines information in the service of the broader goals of the person. Furthermore, this framework for thinking about memory distortion suggests that false memory can be thought of on a continuum with true memory: the greater uncertainty participants have about an individual item memory, the more they weight their gist memory [Gist traces are fuzzy representations of a past event]; with no item information, they weight only their gist memory.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

photo { Ana Mendieta, Untitled, from Silueta Series, Iowa, 1978 }

A husky fifenote blew. Blew. Blue bloom is on the.

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“Modern” Homo sapiens (that is, people who were roughly like we are now) first walked the Earth about 50,000 years ago. Since then, more than 108 billion members of our species have ever been born, according to estimates by Population Reference Bureau (PRB). Given the current global population of about 7.5 billion (based on our most recent estimate as of mid-2017), that means those of us currently alive represent about 7 percent of the total number of humans who have ever lived.

{ Population Reference Bureau | Continue reading }

photo { Edward Weston, Death Valley, 1947 }

Boomed crashing chords

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In 2014, stories appeared in national and international media claiming that the condition of “selfitis” (the obsessive taking of selfies) was to be classed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and that the condition could be borderline, acute, or chronic. However, the stories were a hoax but this did not stop empirical research being carried out into the concept. The present study empirically explored the concept and collected data on the existence of selfitis with respect to the three alleged levels (borderline, acute, and chronic) and developed the Selfitis Behavior Scale (SBS).

{ International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction | Continue reading }

photo { Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977–1978 }

The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground

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color carbro print { Paul Outerbridge, Hand, Shell, and Leg, 1938 | Carbro process }

At the sign of Mesthress Vanhungrig. However!

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photos { Imogene Cunningham, Triangles, 1928 | Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, c. 1947 }

Three Billboards is a good damn movie. I give it two billboards up!

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Here, we present a method that estimates socioeconomic characteristics of regions spanning 200 US cities by using 50 million images of street scenes gathered with Google Street View cars.

Using deep learning-based computer vision techniques, we determined the make, model, and year of all motor vehicles encountered in particular neighborhoods.

Data from this census of motor vehicles, which enumerated 22 million automobiles in total (8% of all automobiles in the United States), were used to accurately estimate income, race, education, and voting patterns at the zip code and precinct level.

The resulting associations are surprisingly simple and powerful. For instance, if the number of sedans encountered during a drive through a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, the city is likely to vote for a Democrat during the next presidential election (88% chance); otherwise, it is likely to vote Republican (82%).

{ PNAS | PDF }

photo { Tod Papageorge }

‘I shall not speak, I shall not think: But endless love will mount in my soul.’ –Rimbaud

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To test the relationship between ambient temperature and personality, we conducted two large-scale studies in two geographically large yet culturally distinct countries: China and the United States. […] Our findings provide a perspective on how and why personalities vary across geographical regions beyond past theories (subsistence style theory, selective migration theory and pathogen prevalence theory). As climate change continues across the world, we may also observe concomitant changes in human personality.

{ Nature | Continue reading }

photo { Dana Lixenberg, J 50, 1993 }