29 July 2008

stop the slippery slopes

"So once we let gay marriage be legal, can we we legalize child and adult marriage? or how about Brother Sister marriages? Isn't that covered as well? Why this is an exageration, does the arguement not fit? Where do we stop? Perhaps we can legalize Animal/Human marriage as well. I had a teacher who talked to her plants, perhaps thats enough. "

This argument has been refuted so many times on this very thread it's beginning to seem like a very bad record playing over and over. NONE of those arguments are legally valid or merit legitimate concern. The most congruent argument was miscegenation laws dealing with interracial marriage...which have been overturned for the same reasons anti-homosexual laws should be: it's immoral to be so bigoted/intolerant, and it's illegal (unconstitutional). No law will be subsequently passed for child-adult marriage or animal-adult marriage because there are justified harms being prevented or the "rights" of animals are not specifically protected by Constitutional law. It's ridiculous to have to keep pointing out how idiotic this line of defense is.

What these arguments do is reduce the behavior of homosexuality to the moral equivalent of child sexual abuse or bestiality..when it clearly is not. Those behaviors imply harms or create measurable damage (or in the case of human-animal relations imply the rights of animals as necessarily equally protected to that of people, which isn't quite an accurate notion either). Homosexuality seems to only create harm by making Christians uncomfortable. Which isn't enough of a harm to make it illegal or to pass laws which impose penalties because of other related behaviors (such as marriage). Discomfort or displeasure with the behavior of others (or just other people in general) is indeed unpleasant...but it isn't any reason to create a law without genuine harms.

the mighty still falling


When people are able to propose...and get approval for, bridges to nowhere, there's probably a good reason to look more deeply into that person's personal use of power.

When there are hundreds of millions of dollars a year being pissed away by the pork projects of Alaskan Senators (and the lone house rep), maybe it's a good idea to wonder why and for whose advantage this is (usually their own).

In this case I say, good riddance..and don't come back.

25 July 2008

debate over the tax of wealth

"I would like to see facts on that. To my knowledge some rich pay 60 to 70% of their income where the middle class and poor pay 10% to 20%."

Payroll taxes include social security and medicare dollars (most of which won't be seen again by the people now paying them). Those account for ~7%. Usually there are state and local taxes (or sales taxes) which account for another 7-10%. Add in that poor people are more likely to consume tobacco or alcohol products (which have government surcharges) and the natural embedded taxes passed from by corporate and business taxes, or direct taxes and tariffs on things like food/sugar/gasoline and virtually everyone in the lower class pays over 50%. The rich and wealthy can use assets (like capital gains and real estate) to shelter the growth of their money. The poor/middle class generally use 401k or pension monies which are taxable at normal, if not "higher" rates (because they're not provided good information for alternatives).

If some rich are paying 60-70% of their income, they need to fire their accountant. The federal marginal tax rate is "only" 35% on only the money over a certain amount of taxable income and there are plenty of ways to get deductions in that 35% range to knock down the taxable amount further.

I am in agreement that the tax rate needs restructuring and balance, but not with a flat income tax. (sales tax, maybe).

"Well that's if you are counting sales taxes and what not but I am just looking at what you give to the government during tax season. Also saying most poor people smoke and drink and the rich do not is kind of a unfair statement. Also if they choose to do that those kind of figures should be set aside completely. That is a choice that they have made the government does not "force" them into buying those products.

I just don't understand your logic. . . the rich do use all of these things you speak of as well??"

No I'm saying that the poor engage in more activities that are essentially taxes. For example: they buy more lottery tickets. They buy more cigarrettes, they drink more. Etc. Since this also constitutes a larger cross-section of the population (the bottom 50%), that's a big chunk of people more likely to do things that inadvertantly increase the amounts of money they pay in taxes every year. To be fair, those taxes are basically subsidizing the increases in medical care costs or sustaining inferior school districts. Those figures should not be 'set aside', because they are a part of someone's overall tax bill (just as sales taxes or embedded corporate taxes are). Some of these taxes cannot be avoided even by choice, legally speaking.

If you wish only to discuss payroll and income taxes, the total percentages are still roughly higher for someone who is poorer in income. The federal marginal income rate is 35% on taxable income over 350k. This is only on taxable income, and only on the money OVER 350k. It's not on the money below it. There the rate is 33%, and so on down the line until someone who has only made around 9k of income when they finally pay no taxes at all (on income). What happens with a decent accountant is that 1) someone making a larger income learns to put money aside where it will grow at lower taxed rates (like capital gains for stocks/real estate) or no tax (life insurance/municipal bonds), generating a much lower relative tax burden and 2) the available income to tax is then attacked with itemized deductions, which come off the top not the bottom of the income bracket. If one is running a business say, it is fairly easy to come up with deductions (this before one calculates in the HMI deduction, which is often substantial), which again lowers the relative tax burden. Since someone of higher income is more apt to have access to these deductions by virtue of being more likely to run a business or own a home/property, they can get out (legally) of much of the additional tax burden we impose (and I don't begrudge them for doing so). It is essentially voluntarily stupid to pay any amount exceeding 25-30% of one's total income in federal income tax unless one is exceedingly wealthy, like 9-10 figures of income. Even then the amount will be roughly 35%. By contrast, the poor do not generally have additional income to contribute to tax-free savings, do not have available deductions (tax credits are a different story) and then to boot get screwed by putting money away in taxable savings (401k) if they can, and usually do their taxes at some place with a sign for instant tax refund credits (@ 2000% interest). I suspect most of those problems would be alleviated with a decent personal finance course, but that's another matter entirely.

As far as payroll taxes, these only apply on the first 97000 of income. Therefore, if someone makes more than that, they aren't taxed at the same rate as someone making less, like say the 9000 a year person. To be fair, this wasn't originally a tax, but we screwed that up decades ago, so it's NOW a tax. It is intended that these dollars are essentially banked away for use by that individual, but most economists seem to understand that Social Security is doomed without some revisions (at some point). Which means if that money may not be coming back it is an additional tax which disproportionally targets the poor or middle class. (now I'd argue we could just get rid of these taxes or make them privatized instead, but that's not very popular either).

22 July 2008

foreclosure bailouts

"Should the federal gov't bail out consumers at risk of foreclosure on their homes?"

It doesn't punish the government itself that much. They can just raise taxes, print more money, and still continue bad policies (other than not following/enforcing rules).

The biggest reason the government regulators weren't doing much is that there were federal mandates to give a quota of loans to underrepresented groups: usually poorer minorities who had bad credit. These were not people who 'got cocky', but did buy houses they couldn't afford (mostly because nobody put in plain English what their loans were). The victims were intended to benefit and so weren't protected. The "rules" were suspended because it looked like sound social engineering rather than bad credit/business decisions. Of course, the banks did exceed this by then spinning off these bad loans in other products, minimizing their risk by passing the buck. There are programs out there which provide education, budgeting, and loans to people with bad or little credit...but this was a much larger scale.

Speculators shouldn't be protected or bailed out, and those do account for a significant population of people who got screwed. But I'd have to wonder whether the government needs a bigger slap on the hand too for this somehow. Aside from that, I don't mind the plan either. I'd prefer not to see death spirals in neighborhoods and I'd prefer to see the banks make more bank-like decisions instead of playing a game of musical chairs with billions of dollars.

18 July 2008

more reason to stay out of the other country

That guy knows it's him (edit: there was a picture link of an obese male with no head, but the link was busted). Why do we bother cutting off the heads? Or are there no heads anymore. I think I'll need some insulin and a wheelbarrow for my half cinnabon.

Anyway, 8 of the top 10 obese states were in the south. Which raises some odd questions. Does this have to with poverty? Is this related to climate? What? (Florida wasn't on there). It was implied that rural citizens and black women were typically overweight and more common in the South. Maybe that's it, but that doesn't really explain why those two groups are overweight.

Since the study that this is based on is a self-responding phone survey, maybe there is less of a stigma of obesity in the South in general. It was also indicated that this study undershoots actual measurements.


16 July 2008

ASG and random sports

Just in case people forget that baseball games can last for a very long time, it was decided to very nearly end up playing all night, and all of the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately this plan was aborted at around 2 am and before the last available pitchers at an all-star game ran out of pitches to throw. The unsurprising loss of the game went to a guy who hasn't a history of accomplishing good things against good competition.

I did like the pre-game stuff with the Hall of Famers...
but they've done it before (in 1999). And several of them didn't show up, but did then. Koufax, Yaz, Bench, Morgan, Ryan, Musial.. and of course the now dead Ted Williams. Which since he is dead, I can't hold against him that he didn't show just to spite the Yankee fans.

In other sports news, Denver has decided they will suck at basketball next year by giving away their best player (Camby), and only defensive player. I'm sure that will go over well.

15 July 2008

give us something to lose our money on


It would be funny except that we already did this:
create a bubble in internet stocks
create a bubble in real estate
creating a bubble in energy futures

Update edit 7/17: after oil dropped 10 dollars a barrel in the past two days, it would appear we are in the process of popping the third economic bubble on this list. So yes, we need something else to lose money on.

14 July 2008

more xenophobia


Not that I am beer drinker, or any thing alcoholic drinker...but what was really lost here? Supposedly a piece of Americana just disappeared according to the reactions posted in the story. But the breweries themselves didn't shut down. The beer itself is to be the same. Only the name was sold. If the worst thing people can come up with as far as the Belgians is that "they share a border with the Dutch", in the words of Austin Power's father..then I can't see a reason to be overtly concerned that they now own the rights to Budweiser.

Wait a minute. ..Beer Education 101? That's the quality of our college education system? ...And so why exactly don't other countries deserve to be able to buy our stuff?

more invented controversy


I'm not quite sure what Obama is saying that is so offensive or unnecessary. There are legitimate points that issues such as unemployment (as the recent study I pointed out on career earnings suggests) or crime/jails disproportionately effect blacks and that the reasons for this are at least obliquely related to racism and bigotry. I have however seen little evidence that these things are not uncreditable at all to the present nature of the blacks effected (in general, certainly there are individual cases which merit great concern). For example, the case of New Orleans post-Katrina where there was considerable concern over the lack of government response and accountability. This was a legitimate concern...but I have seen very little accompanying concern as it regards other natural calamities. It is not the government's first responsibility to take care of its citizens. Helping them in times of crisis and need is acceptable. There again, government should not be seen as the first paw to turn to. Where there is an ounce of self-respect and self-reliance, it must be drawn out. There often is not in the targets of Obama's message. Maybe that's offensive, but it does contain at least a granule of truth.

There are reasonable and well-considered arguments on the subject of race and racism. I have seen and acknowledged that there appear to be cultural gaps which provide still further intellectual, educational, occupational, or motivational problems and which cause difficulties in law enforcement and the general social welfare. Obama appears capable of noting these as well and because of his mixed status, at least is given a pass to open these necessary dialogs with his speeches. I think that is a healthy thing. The sooner there is a common ground on which to debate the actual issues which still cut at the roots, the sooner we may find some progress that all sides can find measurable.

at last our long national nightmare is over


Good riddance. I tire of your pointless babbling and obvious homerism for the ACC.
I can recall watching OSU-FLA two years ago and finding that rather than acknowledge the repeat champion and the twenty point lead they had, Packer was busy championing Greg Oden, who did have a pretty good game..but his team was down 20!!!. Shut up idiot and provide commentary on the game. How if he was so great was his team losing? We don't know because Packer wasn't explaining it (well actual basketball observers like myself know, but casual NCAA fans don't). At about the two minute mark it was like someone in the truck told him that Florida had won the year before, the major players had all stayed in school another year, and they were about to win again. This was the story the entire game, but somehow it wasn't really mentioned. What a great commentator.

The next great issue is where Packer spent an inordinate amount of time during every bracket selection wondering why more ACC teams didn't get in. Well they were the top RPI conference, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, I cannot recall any serious basketball junkie who fills out a bracket sheet ever looking at the RPI, the RPI conference ranks, or much of anything related to it (other than road records). The committee uses it in selection, but nobody intelligent looks it for picking out the sheet. Why should there be undue importance placed on something like that?

10 July 2008

to be diverse, or to be bland


It's not obvious yet what this study will mean (because it's working study). But the analysis shown there basically confirms that balkanized diversity (diversity for the sake of diversity) isn't all that good. It apparently doesn't pay to speak in redneckese or ebonics. It's one thing to honor our own roots, but if it's going to cost 5-10% of our career earnings, that's a steep price to pay I should think. It would be just as easy to plaster a confederate flag on the wall at home or listen to "Fitte" on the way in to work while adopting a more normal manner of speech (usually in English without a southern drawl).

There was also a further study which teased the data available to generate IQ type scores for intelligence. Since there was (not surprisingly) a correlation between the IQ and education level of people in the study, it may simply be that one measure of intelligence is the level of conformity in obvious behavior (such as speech) that one has. It could also be that education and intellect are still as predictive (if not more so) as the quality of voice and dialect that are used. The study doesn't yet say if these were among factors that were corrected for during the regression analysis. Since stereotypically these are among voices that people consider associated with stupidity.. it isn't too terribly surprising to find some correlation with IQ (if we presume IQ to be at least distantly related to intelligence).

Of the more surprising things that were involved (certainly I'd never thought about it) was the advice given to Asian graduate students: change your first name to something Anglo-American before your first job. Since my own experience with Asian descended students has been that they already have Anglocized names, I'd think that someone already figured this out. What that could suggest is that we still have a considerable level of prejudice involved, which isn't all that pleasant to consider. It could be that that 5-10% is the cost of prejudicial thinking. In which case it is still a steep price to pay.

We still haven't yet worked out a necessary balance between cultural appreciation and its provision of intellectual diversity versus levels of conformity needed to smooth out differences or interrelations between people and cultures. But it does appear from studies like this that individuals or groups should not move too strongly in either extreme. Maintaining a strong group identity at the cost of economic advancement or conforming at the cost of some personal identity (which may have some measurable value).

Somewhere in between. As usual.

08 July 2008

war powers finally about to die?


It's about time someone took a serious hard look at this thing. It's bloody unconstitutional to begin with. But nobody wants to butt heads over it because it looks bad to 'endanger national security'.

07 July 2008


I found a couple of observations after watching some of the US Olympic trials.

First, apparently the only summer sports we compete in are track and swimming (and whatever team sports we qualify in, basketball obviously, soccer not so much). Because those are the only ones on TV. I guess I saw some glimpse of the fact that we have gymnasts, who I recall used to be very good (and I guess probably still are). I can recall from the last go around on these in '04 that the only things on TV were: swimming for the first week, track for the second, and basketball spliced in for the later rounds. When they get bored they put some things like rowing, weightlifting or wrestling (the real kind) on. Oh and beach volleyball because men will definitely watch women in tight to practically non-existent bikinis jumping around for an hour in sand. Much like the swimmers, these tend to also be the pool of women who can then capitalize on their Olympic fame with lots of money for nude photos.. I suppose this is an improvement over the original Olympics which were competed in the nude.

Anyway, I also found that it doesn't strike me as a particularly reasonable way to do these things. In basketball for example there are at least two automatic qualifiers: host country and the winner of the previous FIBA tournament from two years ago. Why track for example doesn't accept an automatic bid from the reigning world champion in a particular event seems to demean the competition in some way, because it's no guarantee that the best in the world at some specific athletic event will be there. The 200m guy we had got what amounts to a cramp during the qualifiers and won't be going (at least for the 200). I'm not convinced that's the best way to decide who are the best 3 athletes we have in a given event, but it usually does ok. I think the women's pole vault champ didn't qualify either, as another example. Maybe these are relatively isolated incidents, but considering part of the spirit of the games was the celebration of perfect athleticism it would seem to me that the most renowned athletes should be in attendance.

I suppose this would be a good time to raise the debate by insisting that we also elevate the celebration of mental achievements to a sense of jovial competition where accomplishments are more publicly accepted and broadcast. Unfortunately I think the typical American is likely to get rather bored listening to a scientist or economist who developed a new way to look at the world (a way which nobody had quite considered and expounded upon and which may change the ways that they themselves can conduct their own lives) versus seeing a man race faster than they could ever possibly expect to over a given distance (I mean seriously, <4 minute miles or <10s 100m runs?). Both are worthy achievements in a way as our bodies can be an important expression of self and the perfection of that form, while it lasts, is a thing to be admired in as much as it is a perfection of the self in some way, just as the mind is. One is more widely recognizable and sadly with the increases in specialization taking hold, there are few who can navigate both seas in any small measures without being swept off in one current or the other.

the remake dartboard


Question: Does anyone actually write anything out in Hollywood anymore?

I also love among the comments this line: "Keanu has found another role that suits his wooden forms of expression well."

It seems like the routine now is 'update' old movies or TV shows by improving visual effects (CGI), which they could probably do without having to actually pay new actors to interact with the visual effects anyway. Why someone hasn't tried splicing old footage with CGI is a good question to pose to any graphics people out there. But there doesn't seem to be much similar effort placed in acting, writing, or character developments.