The problem with tainted money

The exposure of the Sackler family as the owners of the company Purdue Pharma that is responsible for creating much of the opioid epidemic by aggressively marketing those drugs has resulted in many of the institutions wondering what to do with the gifts that the Sacklers gave to them. Professor of law Terri Lynn Hegee looks at the legal issues faced by these institutions involved in distancing themselves from disgraced donors.
[Read more…]

Deliberately making tax preparation complicated

The US does not adopt two simple practices that are standard in many countries: the first is to provide free tax filing software to all people and the second is that the government could calculate the first draft of your taxes for you and let you know and you sign off if you agree. Right now in the US, you have to use commercial tax preparation software that offers it free only to people who have income below a certain threshold but do not advertise that service so few take advantage of it.
[Read more…]

How a James Bond film went from serious to parody

On a whim, I decided to watch the second film in the James Bond franchise From Russia With Love starring Sean Connery. I had seen it as a boy a long time ago when it first came out and remembered my adolescent self being highly taken up with the film and really enjoying it so I decided to give it another go. It is usually a mistake to revisit books and films aimed at one’s teenage self and that one enjoyed as a very young person because the second time around as an adult is usually disappointing, so I was ready to feel a little let down.
[Read more…]

The origin of the word boycott

We live in an age when there are calls to boycott businesses and nations that indulge in practices that are deemed to be unjust or discriminatory or otherwise unsavory. The radio program Reveal produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting had two interesting reports, one on the boycotts targeting Israel and the other on the origin of the word ‘boycott’. The word comes from Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott, an Englishman working as a landlord in Ireland enforcing high rents at a time when the country was suffering from a famine, and evicting people from their homes if they could not pay. This was in the late 19th century when that entire island was being ruled by the English and the fight for Irish independence was going on.
[Read more…]

IRS questioned on its audit practices

Following the series of articles from ProPublica that I discussed earlier, members of Congress have questioned the IRS commissioner Charles Rettig as to why its audits are increasingly being directed away from the very wealthy and more towards the poor.

“How can the Congress stand by a tax-enforcement system that punishes working people and gives the wealthy a green light to cheat?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, during his opening statement on Wednesday.

Wyden demanded that Rettig produce a plan within 30 days on how his agency will change a system that is “stacked in favor of the wealthy” and “against the most vulnerable.” Rettig promised to do so.

[Read more…]

The danger to golf spectators

I have mentioned before my surprise that spectators at golf tournaments will line up at places where an errant shot could cause a serious injury. The relative scarcity of such injuries is a testament to the expertise of top golfers who rarely hit wild shots, though it can happen even with world class golfers.

But in the video below, a golfer is seen hitting two consecutive shots off the tee into almost the same spot in the crowd, injuring people. It looks almost deliberate, a suspicion accentuated by the fact that she did not go over to the first person she hit to make sure she was ok. But surely no one would do such a thing deliberately?

The size of the photographed black hole event horizon

Obtaining the first-ever photograph of a black hole was an impressive feat. We tend to think of black holes as being tiny and they are. A black hole represents a singularity in space-time where gravitational field becomes so large that there is extreme curvature of space. But the ‘event horizon’ of a black hole, the region inside from which no light can escape, need not be tiny. It is the event horizon that gives rise to the dark region seen in the photograph and the size of the event horizon for any mass M is given by the Schwarzschild radius that is equal to 2GM/c2, where G is the gravitational constant and c is the speed of light.

The black hole at the center of the galaxy M87 that was photographed has a mass 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun and thus its Schwarzschild radius is about 1.9×1010 km. This is quite large, about three times the distance of the planet Pluto from the Sun, which is 5.9×109 km.

The Julian Assange case and freedom of the press

The removal of Julian Assange from the London embassy of Ecuador following the revoking of his asylum has raised concerns about the implications for press freedom. The US immediately unsealed a secret grand jury indictment that it had obtained earlier and used it to demand his extradition to the US. The main charge against him is that of a conspiracy to hack into government computers to obtain secret documents.
[Read more…]

Netherlands backtracking on sex workers?

Sex work has long been legal in countries like the Netherlands. But now a petition has been launched to change the law and adopt the so-called ‘Nordic model’ of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and France that makes it an offense for people to buy the services of sex workers. The petitioners claim that legal sex work leads to exploitation and human trafficking. What is surprising is that the 42,000 young people have signed the petition. What is not surprising is that many of these young people are religious.
[Read more…]