I’m going to write about taxes. Probably not the smartest move if I want to attract more readers (which I do), but I’ve got two things going for me. First: I’ll shamelessly target nostalgia with some gratuitous Hardy Boys references. Secondly, I’m betting that a lot of people are as tired of hearing bumper-sticker political arguments as I am. Topics like marginal vs. average tax rates or statutory vs. effective taxation might not sound thrilling, but you know what’s even less thrilling? Listening to your relative tell you that he’s going to “go Galt” if he has to keep supporting that slacker 47%. Or maybe hearing your high school buddy argue that it’s criminal for corporations to get out of paying their fair share of taxes. (If you don’t know why one or both of those is stupid, just keep reading. Soon you will.)
On Monday the Internet was abuzz with news that Angus T. Jones (the “1/2” from “Two and a Half Men”) had found Jesus, declared the show “filth” and asked people to stop watching it. (He’s stuck making it for another year because of a contract.) To which I responded “It took him 10 years to notice?” Yesterday, Vulture (a popular blog covering the media) printed Angus’s apology and noted that we now had “Two polar opposite perspectives.” Except that we don’t. Angus apologized to the cast and crew of the show (who depend for their livelihood on people watching it) and also expressed gratitude to Lorre and others (for giving him 10 years of work and stacks of cash), but the heart of his earlier comment was that the show is “filth”. Nothing he said actually retracted that. And why should he?
Stewart Baker has some odd ideas about male psychology and the TSA. According to his view, men have a constant desire to perform in public. Demonstrating competence fuels our secret desire to attract a watching woman’s attention and get to have sex with her. But the TSA keeps changing the rules, and men feel humiliated when an authority figure shatters that facade of confidence. This, reasons Stewart, is the real root of anti-TSA hatred. To which I respond: really? The view of masculinity is weird (maybe I’m just a beta male), and the only time I get mad at the TSA is when I hear about how they mistreat children, the elderly, or other vulnerable folks. I’ve never had a problem with them myself. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the lone voice defending the TSA would have such an alien argument behind it…
There have been lots of articles about the wonders of the Obama campaign’s cutting-edge technology, but even as a sad Romney supporter it had never occurred to me that this might be a bad thing. Tom Steinberg begs to differ. His main point seems to be that the technical arms race between GOP and Democrats is wasteful because of mutual cancellation: “But everything you build in this field always attracts people trying to undo your work by directly opposing it.” Tom would rather people work on tech that won’t be counter-acted, and that will therefore make our lives better. That’s plausible, but the article made me wonder about something else. If a campaign can be won or lost on the basis of technical prowess or some other factor that’s independent of political differences, are we risking a society where democracy exists in theory, but in practice has already become irrelevant? If money can corrupt politics, can’t a decisive marketing advantage do the same thing?
I did not like Red Mars (by Kim Stanley Robinson or just KSR) very much. I was pretty clear about this in my Goodreads review, where I gave the book a solitary star. I got a couple of responses to that review, and they asked me to go into more detail about the problems I had with that book. So, in this post, I shall. Along the way I can promise fun with economics and political philosophy for everyone!
Although this had never occurred to be before today, I now believe that there is something deeply beautiful in the human capacity to feel offended.
I’ve spent far, far too many hours debating politics online. Along the way I’ve been offended quite a few times, and I dare say I’ve dished out more than I’ve taken. Back in the day I took a confrontational approach to debating controversial issues, and I had a couple of theories–long since abandoned–to rationalize what I was doing.
Anyone with kids knows who true this is: vacation means work. It’s beautiful work. It’s fulfilling work. It’s the work I love more than any other work in the world, but when the schools close and the kids belong to their parents full-time again, it’s just plain work. In other words: I’ll be updating less during vacations, which might be fine if y’all are also spending time with your loved ones. Still, I’ll have a few posts.
As you can tell from my first post, I’m deeply suspicious of irony, and so I loved Christy Wampole’s courageously non-ironic article for NYT’s Opinionator. “Ironic living is a first-world problem,” she writes. “For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.” The solution, she quotes a friend, is that “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.” Read the whole thing and let me know if you agree.
In most cases where the the politicians debate about policy they can usually cite a bevy of economic experts, academic papers, and think-tank research to bolster their respective positions, but there are some issues where the experts pretty much all agree and the politicians don’t want to hear it.
One fun example is the tax plan NPR asked 5 economists to create that–though it reflects pretty unanimous economic consensus–is a political non-starter with either the Democrats or the Republicans. (Hint: removing the mortgage interest tax deduction doesn’t make anyone happy.)
Another example that’s like that is price gouging.
Every so often as a teenager I would feel overcome by personal failures. This would culminate in an evening spent in recrimination and prayer as I tried to stoke the embers of idealism against the chill of disappointment. After a few hours of listening to my favorite music, I would feel renewed fiery ambition. In that spirit of fervor, I often scribbled hasty notes full of schedules and goals to guide my new life. At last I would go to sleep secure in my hopeful exhaustion that this time would be different. And yet each time I rose the following morning to look at the notes I had left myself, they seemed as foreign as if they’d been written by an alien hand. I had passed through the low valley and traversed the high peak, and both had left me unscathed. For good or for ill nothing had changed. I was as I had always been.