Monday, January 30, 2012


All this concern lately about growing economic inequality has me a bit puzzled lately, because it seems the fretters are missing the mark. Reduced inequality isn't necessarily a good thing, nor is greater inequality always a bad thing. For example, if I'm earning a healthy $100K, and my rich employer is making an even better $1 million, in which case am I better off the following year: (a) my salary increases to $150K while the employer's increases to $2 million, or (b) my salary decreases to $75K while the employer's decreases to $500K?

In scenario (b) you see that inequality has decreased, but I'm certainly not better off (and we're not including what other effects would happen at my hypothetical employer's company if his income drops by 60%), and scenario (a) shows a greater inequality gap yet I'd obviously see a 50% rise in my income as a good thing, even while my wealthy employer's income was much greater to begin with, and in fact doubled. So "inequality" in and of itself seems to be a pointless thing to measure.

On the other hand, I'm more concerned about the following:

1) Inflation-adjusted incomes, and whether they're rising, stagnant, or dropping.

2) Opportunities for economic mobility. Does the hypothetical $100K earner (or for that matter the $20K earner, or the $50K earner) have the opportunity to get that $1 million income, short of winning a lottery or discovering a long lost dead relative who put some hilarious stipulation in the will to spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million?

3) What is the quality of life at the bottom rung?

That said, it doesn't bother me that some people make a hell of a lot more than I do, even more than most. Either they deserve what they've been making, or (at least it seems) they just won one of life's lotteries and were born a Hilton or Kennedy, but in either case it doesn't take away from the rest of us. Imagine for a minute that the "rich"--however you define them--found a way to actually earn nothing one year (and I don't mean shifting income for tax purposes, but actually have no increase in net worth, at all). Would this help anyone? Certainly it wouldn't help those who work for them, or would be selling something to them, or would have their businesses invested in by them. Nor would it help society that depends heavily on those sweet, sweet tax dollars from them.

None of that is to say that our mess of a tax code--which can work to result in surprisingly low effective tax rates for the very rich, as was seen in Mitt Romney's returns last week--doesn't need reforming, or that the rich shouldn't be paying a greater amount than the poor. (And stay away from the term "fair share"--otherwise we have an endless argument over what "fair" means. If the rich should pay more than the rest, it's because of one pragmatic reason--that's where the money is, and the rich are better positioned to pay a larger percentage of their income without having to send their kids to school with newspapers tied around their feet). Nor is it to say that a societal goal of increasing the opportunities for mobility and alleviating the harships of the poor--whether through liberal or conservative means--are not desirable. But let's put to rest this idea that "inequality" is always a bad thing.

After all, the chimps at the zoo seem pretty equal, but who wants to live like that?

Friday, January 27, 2012


Everything in life is a matter of perspective--here's what I mean:

1) Driving to work today in a heavy downpour (it was 63 degrees out) would normally have made me depressed. Except, it's late January--normally that would be a major blizzard this time of year. I'll take rain over snow when I'm driving!

2) Suffering a bad cold is pretty miserable. But when you're suffering severe stomach pains or a scratched cornea, you'd trade that for a cold any day.

3) Obama pisses off a lot of Republicans these days, arguing about his power grabs and big government policies. But they could have gotten a Democrat in there who would have passed a single payer health care program, a cap and trade plan for reducing carbon emissions, and allowed the 2001 tax cuts to expire a year ago.

4) If the "undead" are what we call dead people that come back to life as zombies, then we should have a term for those who haven't died yet, like "nondead". That's sort of off topic though.

5) A thirty minute commute to work is a giant PITA when you're used to a ten minute commute. But then listen to the guy with the hour-long commute and you'll quit your bitching.

6) The economy has sucked pretty bad for about four years now, with a weak job market and housing market. But 30 years ago we had all of that, plus pretty awful inflation, meaning whatever money you did make or save was rapidly losing its value.

It could always be worse!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

We Need A New Metro Line

I eagerly await the day that the Silver Line--which will connect Dulles Airport, Reston, and Tysons Corner to the DC area Metro system--is completed, if only because of the amount of terrible drivers who will now be given a chance to ride the rails instead of tailgate and crash all over I-66. And "Silver" is a nice touch, though it shows that they are running out of distinctive colors for the various lines. "Gold" won't work, since it's too close to yellow, "black" won't work because people will think that means it's haunted, and "plaid" is a bad idea because the line will get infested with Scottish hooligans fighting over whose clan is to be represented.

I do propose a "polka dot" line though, to reach key underserved areas, like southwest Arlington, Fair Oaks, and Chantilly, but we're still running into the problem of "how do we pay for it". It's simple really:

1) Enable the tracks to be used by private operators after hours for special "party trains" that serve drinks, dancing, gambling and delicious food as they cruise slowly around the city.

2) Rent out concession space at the stations for coffee, beer, and snack sales. To alleviate any litter problem, install cameras in the cars and on the platforms, and anyone caught littering is subject to 1000 hours of community service cleaning up litter. Far worse than a fine.

3) Those guys hustling for cash on the trains? There's really no way to stop them, so instead require them to fork over a quarter of their take to the Metro system when they exit.

4) More ads.

5) Add a "luxury car" with its own guard for each train. People buying VIP weekly or monthly passes can sit on plush couches, watch movies, be served snacks. It'll add some revenue, and enable the rich people to take Metro instead of taking up too much road in their luxury SUVs.

6) Add "low class" cheapo cars, with special "cheapo" passes--these would be standing room only, unheated cars with no frills. These cars would take on people who are bargain searching, who don't mind standing and being in a more crowded car than normal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Why does anyone cover the State of the Union addresses these days? The speeches are always long (at least an hour) and filled with mindless robotic applause (only by the President's party, the opposition party has to be very careful about what they applaud, because oops if you're a Republican and you clap when the President says the damn Republicans are being jerks). Nothing new is ever addressed--just cheap spin about what a great job the Prez did in the past year, a bunch of poll-tested garbage for the coming year that isn't likely to ever get passed in its intended reform, and pointless sweeping statements that can mean almost anything in actual practice. So I generally skip these speeches.

But since they're going to be covered by the media anyway, why not make them entertaining? Here's some ideas:

1) Have the President bring out a puppet in the perfect likeness of the leader of the opposition party, and have "conversations". It can be like Obama saying "gee, John Boehner, what do you think of my proposal to increase college graduation rates?" Boehner-puppet: "I think it sucks! College is for nerds!" Then the real Boehner can go "Oh I didn't say it that way!"

2) Have the address given by an impressionist who does a great sendup of the President.

3) Require the entire speech to be given in limerick form.

4) Limit the speech to a half hour, with a buzzer sounding if they go over.

5) Really, the puppet idea. I'd have a hard time not re-electing a president who used a puppet in the SOTU.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So You Want to Make Your Own Independent Movie

Being a bit of a movie buff, I've learned quite a lot about what it takes to make different kinds of pictures. (In the "business" we call them "pictures." I'm not actually in the "business") While for most novices we can't just go and make our own films--war films require too many actors, sci fi requires too many special effects, westerns require too much land--there is always the easy career starter of the independent film. These "mumblecore" fests may not make a lot of money, but they're cheap to put together and can get you the acclaim you need as a budding producer.

Here's what you'll need for your indie film:

1) Dialogue that is unlike anyone's real dialogue. Your characters have to be talky, and have to engage in all sorts of discourse (using big words like "discourse", which no one would in real life) with their equally talky friends about mundane things like why cigarettes haven't changed at all in a hundred years and yet soda cans are totally different now.

2) Either Parker Posey or Chloe Sevigny, since they signed some weird contract with Hollywood that requires either of them to be in every single indie film ever made.

3) Light acoustic guitar strumming. Nothing says "sensitive thoughtful quirky" quite like light acoustic guitar strumming.

4) A famous actress going for "indie cred". She can appear as the "manic pixie dream girl" love interest, or go a "braver" route and make herself look less glamorous. Nothing says serious actressing like uglying up!

5) The male actors need to be shaggy headed. I don't know about you, but when I encounter a shaggy headed guy in real life, I have to look around to make sure I'm not accidentally getting into the scene for an independent film.

6) A crappy car. Why is it that every independent film has to have at least one really-out-of-date-but-not-actually-a-classic-yet car? I think it's the quirkiness!

7) Deep title. Let's say the plot is about a young adult who failed out of college and hasn't told his folks yet and they think he's just visiting for the holiday but he's really planning to stay there long term. Avoid an obvious title like "Idiot Failure Boy" or "Look Who's Flunked". Instead, go with a title that elevates the film, like "Prodigal Son" or "Dried Ivy".

Monday, January 23, 2012

South Carolina Must Really Hate America

It is fitting that South Carolina has gone from goading the rest of the South into a disastrous attempt at secession 150 years ago, and just this weekend have voted overwhelmingly to nominate Newt Gingrich for president. Clearly, the primal scream of sending a message has trumped even defeating Obama for the palmetto-leaf folks (they really need a better nickname for South Carolinians. I prefer "Dixienuts").

I won't entertain the possibility that Gingrich could ever get elected president, as Obama would need to admit to actually being an Iranian double agent to get beaten (and even then would still win the blue states) by that guy. Newt's approval ratings are somewhere between traffic jams and mysterious rashes. His debate strategy is satisfying in the sense that everyone loves an insult comic, but this is not a guy who can win moderates and if anything will drive up turnout among the Democratic base.

But a lot of Republicans don't care about that--right now, it's about sending a message that they don't care for Mitt Romney. Romney, to be sure, is a very weak retail politician, given to craven flip flopping, fancy hair, and exhorbitant wealth that has created a distance between him and the voters--and basically, the GOP base didn't like it any more when it was John Kerry filling that role. (What is it with Massachusetts, anyway?)

I still predict Romney gets the nomination in the end--he's got more establishment support, money, and ground organization--but his weak spot has shown. It's going to get uglier before it gets prettier.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hipsters Defined! Still No Cure for Cancer

Scienticians at Harvard have many different things they can study for the betterment of mankind. How to cure cancer. How to find a new energy form cheaper and safer than oil. Whether there are any nearby planets that can support life, and maybe even be populated by sexy Amazon warriors. Instead, the Harvarders are studying what in fact makes you a hipster.

The researchers have determined in fact that being a hipster is defined by liking what no one else likes, and I call total BS on this one. After all, we don't see hipsters flocking to places like Iowa, where no one wants to live, and buying Tiny Tim songs that no one wants to listen to, and eating raw chicken drenched in milk because no one in their right mind would eat that. People who truly like what no one else likes isn't called a hipster, they're simply called weird.

Hipsters, I'd argue, are better defined by THINKING that they like something no one else likes, that they're sort of uber-cool because they have discovered something that is about to be popular so that they can look down on those who get on the bandwagon later. They'll listen to the indie rock band that hasn't gotten famous yet, not because they just happen to like this music they discovered, but because they want the joy of saying they were into it WAY before they went mainstream. They'll live in that neighborhood that is just starting to become livable, not because the rent's still cheap but because once it's a popular place they can then say they were living there years ago.

Hipster is about snobbery, but not snobbery in the "I can afford nicer things than you" or "I am smarter/faster/better than you" sense--rather, it's snobbery in the "I am more cool than you because I am ahead of you on what's popular" sense.

But hey, I knew this way before those Harvard researchers made it mainstream.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tacky Taxes!

Mitt Romney's latest revelation that he pays probably about 15% of his income in taxes has completely shocked the Internets, leaving much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. How could this guy who makes an annual income in the tens of millions of dollars end up paying an effective tax rate so low?

The answer of course is that the vast bulk of Romney's income comes in the form of long term capital gains, which are taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income. Why is this? Surely income that is earned by toil shouldn't be taxed higher than income earned by sitting back and watching your money work for you, right?

Well, for all you complainers, keep in mind that this is exactly what we get when we elect the sort of Congressboobs that think the tax system should be tinkered and picked at so that it can engage in not just revenue raising but in social engineering. The tax code is so full of deductions, exclusions, alternate schedules, credits, and so forth, that it should surprise no one that the very rich (who can hire full time tax professionals) can find ways to take their earnings to avoid taxes as much as they legally can. Romney (and rich investors like him) benefit from the lower capital gains rate because Congress wants to encourage more investing, since it's good for the economy. However, the tax code shouldn't be "encouraging" any behavior, but rather just finding the most reasonable and effective way to raise revenue.

Plus, there's just something very wrong with a tax code so complicated that even well-intentioned taxpayers are never really 100% sure that they did their taxes right. Even when they double checked and went to H&R Block. Ask yourself this--if you heard you were going to face an IRS audit, would you think to yourself "no problem, I did nothing wrong!" or "oh crap, what did I do wrong???"

Of course, anyone really favoring true tax reform would have to give up their own goodies--home mortgage deductions, charitable deductions, exclusions of certain benefits from employers--and since no one wants to do that we can't expect our Congressfrauds to risk their careers voting for such a change. So as much as real tax reform is needed--since the economy in the long run is better off with a simpler system, so that people and businesses make decisions that are best for them without "encouragement" from the tax code--I wouldn't hold my breath.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nope-a to SOPA

Plenty of websites today (notably, and Wikipedia) are going black as a protest against some legislation currently snaking through Congress that is intended to curb online piracy. The legislation, in typical Congressitude, is well-intentioned but basically overreaching and likely to cause more harm than good, shutting down innocent websites without due process and severely curtailing the free and open spirit of the Internet. This is not remarkable--Congress is widely known for faux outrage, misunderstanding the consequences of what they enact, and having absolutely no idea how the real world works which is why they are in Congress. A team of gerbils with a dartboard is likely to pass better legislation than Congress, and yet Joe Lunchpail will always vote against Proposition 433 (the "Gerbils Are Our New Masters" Act).

What is remarkable is the coordinated and widespread outcry about the anti-piracy legislation, which is likely to cause its defeat. The government can detain people indefinitely without charges, it can launch drone strikes against U.S. citizens abroad without due process, and it can use tax dollars to basically buy U.S. automakers to hand over to the unions, and you hear a collective "meh" from the citizenry. But strike at our favorite websites, and you'll draw blood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Burger King Delivery

Up until now, the hardest thing about fast food was the long and dangerous journey to the burger joint, the wait on line behind low-wattage customers, and the calorie-laden trek home. But those days may soon be behind us! Behold, Burger King delivery!

From that writer's perspective, the service and product--what amounts to BK dropping by your house with your meal, for a slight delivery charge--was most excellent, in that the fries stayed fresh and the burger didn't soggy up the bun. (Granted, some nutritionist he quoted went all Debbie Downer with the whole "think of the calories!" hysteria, but I'm sure some clod complained when Edison invented the lightbulb that this would deprive future generations of the glories of candlewax pickings) Could this be the beginning of a new era for fast food? Service at home???

My initial reservations about the idea have always been based on two things--small dollar items not being cost effective to deliver, and the inability of the burger and fries to still taste good by the time they arrived at your door. As to the first concern, this can be solved with bulk order requirements (no different from Chinese places offering free delivery if you order above a certain dollar amount). Most often you'd order for burger/fry delivery when you're among others, or very very ravenous.

The second concern is trickier--fries notoriously have a very short tastiness window, and once cold they can never be reheated adequately (Lord knows I've tried). This is why at McDs they serve you the fries after everything else, and when they are hot out of the fryer. How can the fries survive a trip across town?

I have faith though--think of the innovations pizza delivery companies have come up with over the years to maintain freshness (I have to credit Dominos for this, as their pizza may not be very good they certainly have revolutionized the delivery system). Cardboard pizza boxes that retain heat and let moisture out; thermal sleeves that keep the temperature up; drivers who obey no traffic law devised by God or Man. I'm sure with the amount of money at stake that our burger/fry delivery folks will come up with ingenious solutions for their freshness problem in the coming years.

Just don't try adding deep fryers in the passenger seats. It creates more problems than it solves.

Friday, January 13, 2012

You Damn Dirty Ape!

Having watched the recent film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"--an attempt the reboot the classic Nixon-era series--I can't help but wonder a few things about the story. Spoiler alert--the apes rise!

1) There were a hell of a lot of apes going amok at the climax of the film. Now, counting the zoo, testing labs, circuses, and random Italian guys with organ grinders, how damn many monkeys could there possibly be in the San Francisco area? It's not like everyone owns a pet monkey (despite San Fran's large hipster population).

2) I would have at least expected one great "Oh, CRAP!" moment in the film from a banana daquiri vendor as he sees a crowd of apes jumping towards him. Why would the film fail to include such an obviously necessary scene?

3) James Franco near the end should have ripped off his "human" mask to reveal he was an ape in disguise all along. It would have explained his acting.

4) What, are we supposed to be rooting for the apes to take over and kill a bunch of humans simply because an ape-jailer in the middle of the film was being a jerk to the apes? Because by that theory we should be rooting for inmates at maximum security prisons to take over the Earth. No thanks, hippies!

5) The original series was supposed to be an allegory about how humans of varying races treat one another. The reboot seems to be giving us the message that if you're ordered to euthanize all the lab apes, there's a good reason for it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Random Political Thoughts

1) Presidents and presidential candidates should never be seen wearing jeans. They always just look weird and uncomfortable when wearing them.

2) Yard signs--what the hell? Does anyone ever go driving through a neighborhood or along a main road and say "hey, that sign says to vote for Candidate X, and provides no other information! They got my vote!"?

3) All this talk of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps". What even is this??? How do you physically lift yourself up by pulling at your own footwear? As a metaphor, this is physically impossible.

4) Four years too late, I realize that Sarah Palin would have had the perfect line for Katie Couric when she was asked which newspapers she read (instead of her actual, idiotic "all of them" response). She could have said "I read the Billings Gazetteer. It's an obscure paper, I'm sure you haven't heard of them." Right there she would have locked down the hipster vote!

5) People who make fun of Mormons for their more "out there" beliefs seem to be okay with Catholics, who are required to believe that every Sunday they are in fact eating the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Is there some rule that if a religion's belief system is old enough, it's no longer fair game to make fun of it?

6) The media can use statistical models to project the winner of an election with under 2% of the returns sampled. By that theory, how come sports media haven't been able to predict the winner of a football game just two minutes into the game?

7) The Constitution doesn't specifically say that the president of the United States has to be a homo sapiens. You know it's only a matter of time before a lovable gorilla is elected and then made subject to the most embarrassing Supreme Court case of all time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No Snow? How you like them apples?

Everyone who's heard my rants knows I have no love of snow, since I bring that fact up every time it snows, sleets, rains heavy, there's good food to eat, there's background music, or I've ridden in a car that day. Snow sucks.

So yesterday's blizzard brought the usual "oh crap" moment because on the drive home it wouldn't take much for DC's ordinarily chaotic tumble of morons to let the mushy unsalted roads become a quagmire of stopped cars for hours. I fortunately missed that mess last year, and fortunately for this time, the snow didn't stick. Close one, snow--but you'll have to do better than that to mess up this guy! (Knocks on wood)

Anyway, a Mainer buddy of mine raised the point that the lack of snow is hurting the tourism industry up there, because Maine is partly dependent on ski bums from Massaholia and parts beyond to support their lumber-based economy. I am skeptical of her argument, since of course if the roads are hazardous enough then the obnoxious Bostonians won't even be able to drive their BMWs up to Sugarloaf or Sunday River, and may take their vacations elsewhere, like that island where you get to hunt the most dangerous game. Humans!

If you absolutely must ski, and there's no snow, then I'd suggest instead riding a mountain bike down the slope. Voila. Thank me later, Sully.

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to be a Sherlocksmith

Sherlock Holmes has brought us many great additions to our pop culture, including the phrase "No shit, Sherlock" and the acceptability of cocaine use to cure boredom. He also taught us that we can make all sorts of grand inferences from the slightest of clues. Learning from this, I am using the powers of deduction in everyday life:

1) I observed the 18-wheeler in my blind spot on the highway yesterday, which continued to speed as I did, regardless of the fact that he had a slower car ahead of him and would have to slam on his brakes. From this, I deduce that the driver of this truck had a load of dead hookers in the back, and this caused his nervous, erratic behavior. Anyone with dead hookers is a registered Democrat (Republicans tend to keep their hookers alive on highway drives, and Independents never let dead hookers affect their driving), so it is obvious to me that Obama needs this trucker's vote come November.

2) I observed one of the entry gates at our parking garage was out of order for over 24 hours. Gates out of order generally mean poor property management, which thus means I should avoid using the bathrooms at work lest the toilet explode.

3) I observed that one of the elevators in our apartment building has been out of order for several weeks now. From this I deduce that we live in the slum.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Things That Would Be Real Neat

1) Having all the players of the NFL and all the players of Major League Baseball switch sports for one season, so we could determine once and for all if baseball players can play football better than football players can play baseball.

2) If the outer reaches of DC's Metrorail system connected with the outer reaches of Baltimore's, to Philadelphia's, to New York's, so you could basically take Metros and subways all the way from DC to Manhattan without leaving the system.

3) Helicopter shuttles leaving from various nearby office buildings that could take you to the local airports.

4) Festive holidays at the end of winter instead of the beginning, so you'd have something to look forward to during all the cold.

5) Living upstairs from a bakery that serves beer and good pizza as well.

6) If the best actors in history were cryogenically frozen in their prime, so eventually we can see that Kevin Bacon/Laurence Olivier film we always wanted.

7) If just once the president would leave some background radio music on when he gives some address from the Oval Office, so everyone can think "hey does he know he left that radio on?"

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa Does Their Iowa Thing, Now Back to Being Cold

With the Iowa caucuses finally over, there is now a virtual tie between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Michele "Don't Look Directly at My Eyes" Bachmann and Rick "Oops" Perry are about to drop out of the race, leaving only a few contenders left to run as NotRomney:

1) Rick Santorum. He's riding high today, but don't expect this to last. He opposes contraception, which even most Catholics favor, and in his last campaign he lost his Senate seat by a whopping 18 points. The only reason he's done so well in Iowa is that (a) he spent a ridiculous amount of time there, retail campaigning, while the caucuses are very low-turnout affairs, and (b) he hasn't had time as a top contender to get media scrutiny as others have. The next couple weeks will be rough on him.

2) Ron Paul. How far can a candidate go when he's borrowing the platform of William McKinley? It's just not serious to ask us to go on the gold standard. While libertarianism is attractive in general, an extreme uncompromising form of it will get absolutely nowhere in reality, with a divided government as we have always had. Then there's the crackpot newsletters he's spent the past few weeks disavowing. He may "go the distance" but don't expect him to win the nomination.

3) Newt Gingrich. He was doing well in the polls until people realized this was Newt Gingrich.

4) Jon Huntsman. Completely skipping the Iowa caucuses may prove to be a big mistake, as this makes him miss a great deal of media attention. For whatever reason, he just never took off--even though he's fairly conservative (more so than Romney, I'd argue) and very qualified to be President (both governing a medium sized state and serving as ambassador to China). He lacked the Obama-bashing tone of his rivals, which may have convinced Republicans he was a secret liberal, but I think his failure to catch on may have simply been a lack of sellable message or poor national campaign skills. Unless he pulls a crazy upset in New Hampshire, he's done.

5) Mitt Romney. How could Mitt Romney run as the NotRomney? I'd say only Mitt Romney himiself could pull that off! He'd be at his flip floppingly best if he emerged on stage one day with a big fake mustache and glasses, and said he was Trey Romnekowski, an ultra-conservative steelworker turned politician from Pittsburgh, running for President on a strong message to save the party from Romneyism. Hey, why not? If people could believe that Michele Bachmann's husband can cure people of being gay, the Romnekowski campaign still wouldn't be the most outlandish thing to happen this campaign season.