Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Category: Uncategorized

If it involves more than a few thousand dollars, for God’s sake, verify by phone call.

Blind Trust in Email Could Cost You Your Home

The process of buying or selling a home can be extremely stressful and complex, but imagine the stress that would boil up if — at settlement — your money was wired to scammers in another country instead of to the settlement firm or escrow company. Here’s the story about a phishing email that cost a couple their home and left them scrambling for months to recover hundreds of thousands in cash that went missing.

As we move to a time where we all have 401Ks and we control our own retirements funded by very large sums of money accumulated over a lifetime (and away from corporate-controlled pensions), we’re moving towards a time when each of us will have large, six-figure and seven-figure amounts held in accounts in our name.

Worse, we are also moving towards a time when easily falsified instructions can be transmitted via e-mail, falsified instructions which can quickly drain our accounts and destroy our lives.

So when you see an instruction for a sizable amount of money–please, please, please pick up the fucking phone.

Why does government want to poke its nose in everyone’s shit? Because people want to poke their nose in everyone’s shit.

Most Americans Don’t Want People To Buy Soda And Candy With Food Stamps

It should come as no surprise that Americans hold strong opinions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as “food stamps.” But there appears to be more of a bipartisan consensus on the matter than heated rhetoric on the matter might suggest.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Voice of the People, a nonpartisan polling group, and conducted by University of Maryland researchers, an overwhelming majority of American voters of both parties favor restricting SNAP benefits from being used to buy soda and candy, as well as incentivizing fruit and vegetable purchases and increasing the overall amount of SNAP benefits available.

Why do we have a government hell bent on limiting our freedoms by limiting what we can consume?

Because busy-bodies think they know better than us as to how we should live our lives.

It’s one reason why I support a universal basic income, potentially either implemented as a guaranteed payment or as a negative income tax–at least in theory.

Because I would like to see all welfare replaced with guaranteed payments to low-income families that are unencumbered by the “moral demands” of a bunch of busy-bodies who thin for a dollar they should get ten dollars worth of control over the poor.

I’ll never get what I want, because the desire to control how other people live their lives is too baked into the psyche of the Left and the Right. (At least the religious Right is up-front and honest. The Left–not so much: claiming to support cultural diversity on the one hand, slamming those who make choices they disagree with on the other. Think NASCAR, Sarah Palin failing to abort her Down-syndrome baby, complaints about hunting, or suburban and exurban living.)

But I can dream of a time when we allow the poor to make their own decisions unencumbered by the moralizing of busybodies who insist they know better.

New technology, but not a new tactic.

Facebook report admits foreign governments are influencing discourse

One of the things that struck me as funny was the number of protesters around the world who have English protest signs.

Such as Iran, Egypt, and Japan, just to name a few.

Why print protest signs in countries where English is not commonly spoken? Because those signs are for our consumption–and to influence U.S. policy.

Like it or not, U.S. policy directly or indirectly affects the entire world. And so influencing U.S. policy is seen–by foreign governments and protesters alike–as a legitimate target. Which means trying to influence U.S. voters.

Now I’m not suggesting the Democratic conspiracy theory that Russia bought the election for Trump. If Russia did, it appears they bought a pig in a poke.

What I am saying is that foreign countries attempting to influence U.S. policy has been going on for as long as the United States has been a government. After all, it was the intercession of King Louis XVI of France who helped the founding of the United States. George Washington warned against foreign influence, preferring to keep the United States neutral in the war between the British and the French that was part of the French revolutionary wars.

The Murchison Letter shows the degree of influence the British had on American elections in 1888; the publishing of this letter caused Irish-American voters to run from the British-preferred Democratic candidate and into the fold of the Republicans–and ending Grover Cleaveland’s first presidential term. (He would run again for President and win four years later.)

The British again imposed their influence in the 1940 election–going so far as to create a map supposedly showing German plans to divide up North and South America after conquering it.

And let’s not forget the Russians, who have been trying to influence U.S. policy for decades. Take, for example, the supposed quid-pro-quo between Ted Kennedy and Boris Yeltsin. There are reports that the KGB helped to foster the peace movement in order to undermine what they perceived as U.S. imperialism, and in darker corners of the conspiratorially minded web we find stories of the KGB undermining Martin Luther King Jr. (as they were nervous King’s march for equal rights and freedom would strengthen the notions of the American dream), as well as promoting conspiracy theories on JFK’s assassination.

All to sow discord within the United States, and to help reduce U.S. influence around the world.

Like it or not, what we do in the United States influences the world.

So of course various countries have been–for centuries–trying to influence what we do in the United States.

Hell’s bells, every time a foreign diplomat “voices alarm” over what the United States does, every time foreign leaders express fear about U.S. leaders or engages in name calling of our Presidentand this is not a new phenomenon with President Trump–they are attempting to influence U.S. policy.

Oh, thank God!

I thought I was going senile.

Nope. I’m just undergoing the location updating effect.

Antifa is not just a local Berkeley phenominon.

A Chilling Threat of Political Violence in Portland

Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.

Let’s be blunt.

The Left is showing its colors.

I note this because historically, the left-wing has felt rather free to use violence to advance its agenda, going back to the days of the anarchist bombings in late 19th century Europe.

And today they are freely flying the left-wing colors, using terminology that would have been quite familiar to Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Ferdinand. (His death triggered the start of World War I.)

Except there is a problem with the Antifa–“anti-fascists” (so-named because, ironically, they consider Republicans and those who are self-professed conservatives as “fascists”) gaining significant ground in the United States.

We shoot revenuers. And we celebrate that fact.

Bottom line: people will die.

If it is a member of the Antifa who sought to “crack some Nazi heads” and started beating the crap out of random innocent bystanders whose crime was to believe in tax reduction and limited government–frankly there will be no love lost from me.

Addendum: This is why you guys on the Left cannot have nice things. Except posh fainting couches: y’all have some really nice fainting couches.

And now for something completely different: a spider weaving a web.

Trump’s tax plan.

White House unveils dramatic plan to overhaul tax code in major test for Trump

Of course the devil is in the details, and anyone who tries to score how this will work for the rich verses the poor is playing bullshit political games, so ignore them.

But if the reforms Trump wants to put into place–as described at the press conference–I believe it would increase our taxes.

This is because one major feature of Trump’s tax plan is to eliminate all deductions from personal taxes, except for the standard deduction (which would be doubled), and the home mortgage deduction.

Looking at my personal 1040 that I recently filed, I notice the standard deduction for Singles is $6,300 and married (filing joint) is $12,600.

What this means is that if your itemized deductions (such as what you pay in local taxes, property taxes and the like) is less than twice the threshold numbers, then you’ll have a lower taxable income under Trump’s plan. Greater than that, and you’ll have a higher taxable income.

In my case, depending on the cutoffs of Trump’s proposed tax brackets, our taxes may go up a few hundred dollars a year. I can envision those who are genuinely in the top 1% (we’re not even close) paying significantly more.

Does this bother me?

Not really.

Honestly, if the tax code is greatly simplified, I’d rather pay a little more but have less stress while paying taxes. Right now because of the income bracket we’re in–high enough to come on the IRS radar, but not high enough to make hiring a tax attorney worthwhile–every April 15 fills me with dread. So much so that I often deliberately overlook certain deductions (such as the home office deduction) because the fine print on the deductions–such as recapturing the value of the deductions when a house is sold–gives me a headache and massive heartburn.

So I already pay a little extra to reduce my stress. Stupid, but true.

If we were to greatly simplify the tax code–and even use a European system where the government (which already has most of the information necessary to prepare your taxes for you) sends you the tax form for you to correct rather than the other way around (on penalty of audit or worse)–it would make paying taxes a lot less stressful.

Even if, for some of us, we wind up pay a little more.

As a footnote, do you know what a “tax loophole” is?

It’s a tax deduction we don’t like.

Meaning if you’re an average middle-class schmuck who owns a house, has a couple of kids and recently installed an energy efficient hot water heater (because the old one broke down and leaked water everywhere)–guess what?

You are taking advantage of a bunch of “tax loopholes.”

The problem with measuring inequality.

Reports Of Extreme Income Inequality Are Exaggerated Due To Shift In S-Coproration Income Among The Very Wealthiest

Since 2000, different measures of top income inequality have exhibited very different trends. Top income shares based on measures of total income show a continued rise, whereas top income shares based on wage and salary income show no increase in inequality post-2000. The most important difference between these two measures of income is the income that accrues to S-corporations. Moreover, the majority of the recent increase in top income shares is due to an increase in average earnings at very high income levels, much higher than that assumed in typical discussions of top income inequality. Once incomes above the 99.99th percentile are excluded (around $7 million in 2012), we see that little continued growth in top income shares has taken place in the last 20 years. Put simply, so far in the 21st century, all the action in top income shares has been S-corporation income at very, very high income levels.

Basically reports of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer has been–at least in part–exaggerated by the increasing use of S-corporations by small business holders.

As more and more small corporations register as S corporations (where profits flow to the owner(s) of the corporation as household income) instead of C corporations (where profits are reported as corporate profits), we see a shift in reported income away from corporations to individuals.

Which makes sense.

In my case, if I had organized as a C corporation, about half my reported income would instead be reported as corporate profit instead of personal income. That’s because C corporations (the traditional thing we think of as a corporation, like Apple or Google) can make a year-over-year profit, and tax-wise, there are advantages to having the corporation hold the profits rather than paying them out in bonuses. (There are also advantages to the C corporation owning my car or my house instead of me: by declaring those items as owned by the C corporation I don’t have to pay taxes on that money. Today that’s rarely done–but two decades ago that was extremely common.)

S-corporations, on the other hand, operate more like partnerships or sole-proprietorships when it comes to income: the S corporation does not make a profit but instead flows all that profit to the owners of the corporation.

Which means in the land of S corporations, while the top-line profits remain the same, my income doubles–and my corporation makes no profit.

The idea that we were seeing a growing divide between the rich and poor is a useful one to demagogues and progressives who seek to strip wealth from the rich and pay it out to the poor (with their cronies keeping a cut of the transaction). At the extremis, the idea we are living in a world of growing extremes is an argument for Socialism–for State ownership of the means of production, and greater regulation of the economy by the State.

And just because it failed in Venezuela doesn’t mean it won’t work here, supporters of the various flavors of Socialism argue.

But it seems to me that–beyond housing prices causing distortions in wealth (as home owners get ahead while renters fall behind in most markets)–most of the distortions in wealth we are seeing today are artifacts of how we measure the data, rather than representative of reality.

Just look at the long-term trend:

Five hundred years ago, wealth (and power) was concentrated in an aristocracy, with a very thin merchant class (the “middle class”), and the vast majority being poor peasants working the land.

Two hundred years ago, wealth (and power) was concentrated in an aristocracy–even in the fledgling United States, where suffrage was restricted to white male land-owners, representing less than 10% of the total population. The merchant class had grown enough that it permitted many in the United States to join the landed gentry–which caused disapproval amongst people like Napoleon (“nation of shopkeepers”) and Marx (“petit bourgeoisie”), who saw the rise of an uncouth class of nouveau-riche as undermining all that was right in the world.

A hundred and forty years ago, wealth (and power) was concentrated in the wealthy “robber-barons”, men who were so rich they could command the United States military to intervene against worker strikes. Men who were so wealthy (relative the rest of us) that when the United States suffered a 20-year long recession in the late 1800’s which lead to a panic in 1893 and a huge depression, the United States had to go, hat in hand, to J.P. Morgan for a bailout.

(The fact that the United States had to go to J.P. Morgan and a cadre of the very rich for a bailout was the impetus for the United States to create the Federal Reserve. Without the Federal Reserve, modern recessions would need the assistance of people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to keep the government afloat–and in today’s polarized world, such bailouts would undoubtedly come with more political strings than Mr. Morgan’s bailout.)

Today, the trend of history is definitely away from an aristocratic few having all the wealth and power, and the vast majority having no power at all. This long-term trend has had short-term setbacks, but by and large the trend of history is definitely towards economic equality and economic opportunity for the majority.

The trend is not as fast as we would like: major shifts in consciousness never come overnight. But the trend is there.

And where we see massive setbacks in this growing opportunism, we see it as the result of governments imposing itself on the economy to tip the scales supposedly towards the poor. Venezuela was started with the best intentions of using the wealth of that petro-state to create economic equality amongst the poor. Even in the United States we see members of both parties fighting the trend by passing laws that favor corporations as modern-day royal estates who are responsible for their peasant-employees–despite the fact that 50% of us are self-employed or work for small businesses. (Meaning the model used by most government administrators of the United States being a sort of corporate-feudal state–such as was used when crafting Obamacare–simply does not fit reality.)

So take heart. The shift of income from C-corporations to S-corporations does not represent the rich getting richer. It represents a restatement of income, and to an extent it represents a rise in the tax base and a decline in take-home pay (as tax avoidance strategies that worked with 1970 C corporations don’t work today).

If you want something to worry about, worry about this:

In San Francisco, a family of four with an income as high as $105,000 per year qualifies for Section 8 housing.

Which means the vast majority of the wealth being created in Silicon Valley does not come from new technologies being created to better our lives. It is instead coming from the “bootlegger/baptist” relationship between home owners, land developers and environmentalists who are getting rich on skyrocketing housing prices, as even the best paid developers in the region cannot afford a place to live.

When you consider that a home owner effectively lives in his house for free–most homes generally sell for more than they are bought for, meaning if you can pay cash for your house you are only out the opportunity cost of investing that cash elsewhere–if you want to become part of the “rich,” buy a house.

The “March For Science” would not bother me so much if it weren’t for bullshit like this.

“Mindless Eating,” or how to send an entire life of research into question

If you are truly a supporter of science, the following things would worry you:

P-hacking and trolling datasets for correlations. If–as was done by Dr. Wansink–scientists start trolling datasets for correlations in order to “salvage research”, you get crap correlations. (And there are a lot of spurious correlations which have no meaning whatsoever.)

Statistical abuse, and the fact that a lot of scientific research is being done by people who have no clue how to properly use statistics to find correlations.

The replication crisis: remember, if a knowledgeable individual with experience in your field cannot replicate the results of your paper–either because you do not fully publish the data set (or at least refer to the data set), publish the tools you use to process the data (and a lot of research uses custom software to crunch data), or publish the methodology you use (such as the apparatus setup)–then you have not published a scientific paper. What you’ve published is a fucking press release.

Confirmation bias, which leads people to accept results because they sound right rather than results that were actually proven by replicatable and carefully recorded observation. In this case, we have a researcher using bad techniques to draw conclusions about nutrition which have driven policy and marketing–including the marketing of 100 calorie snack packs and the creation of food programs designed to “nudge” children into making better nutrition choices–implemented because they align our preconceptions and the profitability of food corporations.

(Take 100 calorie snack packs: we accept paying more per unit of food and significantly increasing the amount of waste because we think this will help people lose weight. But what if that isn’t the case? What if people don’t actually lose weight? All we’ve done is increased the cost of packaged foods and increased the amount of waste going to landfills.)

Of course most of the people marching in last week’s “March for Science” probably couldn’t solve a fucking quadratic equation much less discuss coherently the problems with the replication crisis, the proper use of statistics, or how to present a scientific paper in a way which allows practitioners in the field to replicate the results. They probably don’t understand the need for testing and publishing null hypothesis or the need to properly trace data back to its source. (Fields such as nutrition are especially vulnerable because they often rely on participants accurately recalling what they ate in the past 24 hours–a method which is fraught with significant errors. Yet results in the field of nutrition are used to drive public policy affecting all of our lives.)

If those marchers want to do something to help science, they may want to look at shit like this, rather than smugly watching Bill Nye saving the world by having Rachel Bloom sing about her vagina.


When science adopts a political narrative it stops being science.

The ‘March For Science’ Shows How Carl Sagan Ruined Science

Like I said, I’m a big fan of Carl Sagan. There was a lot of merit in his history of science, his style was thoughtful, and he was adamant about the principle of tolerance for opposing ideas. People like Bill Nye who muse about imprisoning “climate deniers” are unworthy of claiming any part of his legacy. Yet that has been the trend.

Sagan clearly hoped that his stirring narrative about science would inspire young people to go beyond and beneath the narrative and learn the actual method of science. Instead, his successors saw the success of his approach—in terms of attention and celebrity and moral authority—and chose to use the narrative as a substitute for science.

If you don’t really need science so much as the narrative, then what you get is our own era’s official replacement for Sagan: Neil deGrasse Tyson. As the decades pass, Sagan’s imitators become less thoughtful and more propagandistic, less interested in conveying the actual scientific method and more concerned with just telling the public what to think. It’s also about making those who accept the approved “pro-science” political agenda feel they are superior to all of those ignorant, knuckle-dragging bigots who disagree with them. It equates science, not just with the politics of the Left, but with the Left’s attitude of smug condescension. That’s how you get Tyson’s fake-but-accurate narratives or the meme-swapping superficiality of the IFL Science crowd.