P O S T E D B Y S T U A R T
1. I checked on a statement you made during our most recent White Courtesy Telephone conference call. You said that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt have no equivalent in contemporary philanthropy.
This is technically correct. You foundation CEOs no longer believe you are gods. You only act as if you do.
And in a world where everyone speaks in hushed tones for fear of offending the panjandrums of philanthropy, it is unafraid to call even the largest foundations to account, naming names if necessary.
I polled 349 colleagues. While 82 percent responded positively to the word "panjandrum" only 4 percent knew what the word meant, sort of.
3. [Dixie Moline, White Courtesy Telephone staff writer,] quoted this passage from the May 1909 Scientific American:
Much excitement has been created by Prof. Pickering’s proposal to build a system of mirrors, by means of which light can be rhythmically flashed to Mars. According to Prof. Pickering, a system of reflecting surfaces of adequate area could be constructed at a cost of $10,000,000. … If an answering signal should be received, it would be safe to say that the event would transcend in interest and importance the most stirring occurrence in the history of the earth, and would inaugurate a new era in the progress of the human race.
On our conference call you asked if we would have funded Professor Pickering’s project.
My answer is yes, and here’s how I figured it: Professor Pickering’s thesis is that there might be intelligent life on Mars that would see our signal and respond.
Let the probability that this thesis is true equal one in a billion or 0.000000001.
What is the value of showing the thesis to be true, according to the author? He writes, "the event would transcend in interest and importance the most stirring occurrence in the history of the earth, and would inaugurate a new era in the progress of the human race." I estimate the value of this at $7 trillion, about ten times the size of Obama’s stimulus package.
If we fund Professor Pickering’s project, the expected return = benefit minus cost = ( 0.000000001 x $7 trillion ) minus $246,477,592* = negative $246,470,592. We’d be $246 million in the hole.
If we don’t fund the project, the expected return is roughly zero.
Even though logic tells me it would be foolish to fund Professor Pickering’s project, I think that whole mirror thing would still be cool as shit.
* $10,000,000 in 1909 dollars adjusted for inflation.