Daily Archives: 09 Mar 2013

Meaningless Chess

Bobby FischerIt has been a strange and hectic day today, so I am just going to offer up a few thoughts.

Mickey Spillane was born today in 1918. I more or less knew that. What I didn’t know was that he only died a few years ago—in 2006 at 88. He was a favorite of Ayn Rand, who had a great love for pulp junk, which is more or less what Spillane wrote. But I don’t claim to be an expert. I haven’t given up many hours of my life to consuming his products. But in his way, he was as good as Elmore Leonard. Admittedly, that isn’t saying that much.

It’s Ornette Coleman‘s 83rd birthday today. I don’t really understand him. He seems to try very hard to upset me. He is probably brilliant, but we all have our limits, and he is one of mine.

Raul Julia was born this day back in 1940. He unfortunately died very young back in 1996. I especially remember him as Gomez Addams. But he was generally wonderful—especially in Kiss of the Spider Woman. There are others. I wish he had lived longer; we certainly would have received another 20 or so films.

Bobby Fischer, on the other hand, lived a good deal too long. Born on this day back in 1943, he lived long enough to show everyone just how crazy he was. However, he did leave a great legacy in terms of his games, which are far more interesting than the games of most grandmasters. This is due especially to his incredibly aggressive play with black. He also understood what was wrong with modern chess and his invention of Chess960 shows how the game could continue to be relevant in the decades to come.

And this all reminds me that life is meaningless and Fischer would have been happier if he had just played more chess, which of course is a meaningless way of spending a life and that is the whole point.

Martingale Doesn’t Depend On Odds

Roulette WheelOn Facebook someone said he needed $1000 for furniture. He asked what the odds were that he could win it on Lotto. Someone responded, “Go to the casino and put $500 on Roulette. Pick black, if you win, you doubled your money. If you lose, then bet $1000. Sooner or later black will come up…”

This is the Martingale better system. It works like this: bet $1. If you win, pocket the extra $1 and start over. If you lose, bet $2. Continue until you win. At the end of this sequence, you will always win $1. Always!

There is a catch, of course. You have to have a really big bank roll to back this up. If you’ve spent much time flipping coins, you know that getting heads six times in a row is not all that uncommon. To allow for this, you would have to have a $63 bank roll. And there is a still a 50% chance you would lose on the seventh flip (or roll or card deal or whatever). So you are risking enormous amounts of money for very little reward. And it is a very time consuming way to make money. If you had enough money to make it worth while, you would be far better off in the stock market.

Yesterday, Matt Yglesias wrote about this Facebook suggestion. But he did so in order to make the lamest comment I’ve ever seen. He noted that on a roulette wheel, there are two numbers (0 and 00) that are neither red nor black. Thus the odds of winning are less than 50%. Okay, but that makes no difference to the Martingale system! You could use the system by taking 21 red. It just means that you would have to have a much larger bank roll. But otherwise the theory is the exactly the same. The odds don’t matter in the least.

I’m surprised that Yglesias has been making so many elementary thinking errors recently. I think it comes from his putting out so many articles each day. He should slow down and try for a bit more quality.


There is another issue with the Martingale system: table limits. If you are at a table where you can bet $1, it is unlikely the table will allow you to bet $30. Of course, you could just go to another table or another casino. You don’t have to play the same game. You could bet $1 on a coin flip, move on to the roulette wheel, and when your bets get above $1000, you could go onto the stock market. The theory is the same. If you up your betters exponentially, eventually you will get all your money back. Plus one dollar!

Enjoy the Global Warming Jobs Report

We're not technically in a recessionHave you noticed something about winter? Every year we have really good jobs reports. People start talking about an economic recovery. And it somehow always evaporates by the time spring is in full swing. That’s what I thought when I saw that in February we created 236,000 net new jobs. Ain’t that what we saw last year?

Alas, yes. As Dean Baker pointed out this morning, last year we created 271,000 net new jobs in February. The year before that it was just less than 200,000.

I think we are seeing global warming in our economic data. The reason that the BLS has to constantly revise its jobs reports is that they create seasonally adjusted numbers. There are, for example, more construction jobs in the summer when the weather is good. But our winters have been quite mild the last few years. And this year, over 20% of February’s new jobs were in construction. If we remove these jobs (which isn’t valid, but it gives an idea), the number would be 188,000 net new jobs—much closer to the 160,000 jobs that were expected.

Don’t misunderstand: the jobs report is good. Hooray! But it is almost certain that the next couple of months will see bad jobs numbers because of the Sequester. The sad thing is that the economy is growing right now despite government austerity. The government cut 10,000 jobs in February. And now we are going to see even more. But even if the economy continued to add jobs as we did last month, it would still be after 2020 before we got back to something like full employment.

It is possible that under normal circumstances, this month would be the start of some generally stronger job creation. But instead, Republicans in Congress have decided that they are going to slow any growth we would otherwise see. So take a moment to appreciate our global warming February numbers. The rest of the year should have anemic numbers, and maybe worse.