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Rick Zeman writes "Hot on the heels of Verizon's massive data dump to NSA comes news of 'PRISM' where The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time. This program, established in 2007, includes major companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook...and more."

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Zapruder-film-jfk_thumb

Because the President’s limousine passed almost exactly in front of Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder on Nov. 22, 1963, just as he was playing with his new film camera, and precisely at the moment that Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle from a nearby books depository, his silent, 26.6-second home movie has become the focal point of America’s collective memory on that weird day. For many of us, especially those who weren’t alive when it happened, we’re all watching that event through Zapruder’s lens.

Other footage from the scene turns up here and there, becomes fodder for documentaries (like this new one disproving the “second shooter” theory). But Zapruder’s film is still the canonical ur text of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the most complete and most chilling visual record. In many ways, it prefigured all sorts of American pastimes, from widespread paranoia about government to a loss of faith in photographic truth and the news media, from the acceptance of graphic violence to newer concerns about copyright. Don DeLillo once said that the little film “could probably fuel college courses in a dozen subjects from history to physics.” Without the 486 frames of Kodachrome II 8mm safety film, our understanding of JFK’s assassination would likely be an even greater carnival of conspiracy theories than it already is. Well, maybe.

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mega millions lottery

*UPDATE: The statistic above, which has been cited repeatedly including by PBS, may be wrong. Or at least it does not appear to be in the academic study that PBS referred to. Our readers and others have said that the correct percentage is ~2%-3%, not 9%.

ORIGINAL: It has often been said that lotteries are a tax on the poor.

And that's a fair description.

Joe Weisenthal pointed out yesterday that poor people regularly buy lottery tickets, while rich people only buy them when the jackpots have gotten huge.

What's less commonly realized is just how much money poor people spend on lottery tickets.

According to a 2008 study, reported by PBS, households that earn less than $13,000 a year spend a staggering 9% of their income on lottery tickets. (via Scott Heiferman).

That's 9% of an income that is presumably extraordinarily hard to live on to begin with.

Rich, educated people tend to ridicule lottery players because the odds against winning are so astronomical.

As PBS points out, you are 17-times more likely to get hit by falling airplane parts than you are to win the lottery.

And you're 50-times more likely to get hit by lightning.

But poor people keep on buying lottery tickets.

Why?

Because they're stupid?

That's the popular explanation, at least among rich non-lottery players.

But the more accurate explanation is probably that having any chance at radically improving their circumstances is probably better than having no chance.

In any event, the fact that households that earn $13,000 or less spend 9% of their incomes on lottery tickets raises a few questions.

First, are those households receiving money from the government in the form of food stamps, tax breaks, or welfare?

If so, is it really fair to spend taxpayer money on lottery tickets? Is that what the folks who support assistance to poor households expect the money to be spent on?

Second, given that lotteries are primarily used to generate revenue for states, might it not be fairer to just collect the revenue directly, as taxes?

Or have lotteries discovered a magical way to tax people--one in which even anti-tax crusaders voluntarily choose to pay huge taxes in exchange for a minuscule chance of making a killing?

Should the United States government raise ALL its tax revenue that way?

Anyway, the finding that households earning $13,000 spend 9% of their precious dollars on lottery tickets is startling. And depressing. And it's worth thinking more about whether the government should really be sponsoring lotteries.

SEE ALSO: 14 Lottery Winners Who Blew It All

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