"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Friday, April 15, 2011

More TSA Inanity

I wasn't planning to post anything else today, but this news item on CNN made me change my mind.

Guess what? If you think that our airport screening procedures are pointless security theater that violates your constitutional rights, and you have the audacity to express that opinion within earshot of a TSA functionary, you may be -- no, not the Ebola virus -- A TERRORIST. Yes, that's right, expressing contempt for the procedures used by the TSA is one of the "behavioral indicators" that the TSA is training officers to rely on when deciding whether a passenger is "high risk."

Many people have said it, but it's worth repeating here: 1984 was meant to be a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

Tax Whimsy

This ditty was inspired by pondering the recondite nature of AMT in my car this afternoon, after spending too much time attempting to understand what my tax prep software was doing. (If you are not a CPA or a tax attorney, I do not recommend doing this, as it is likely to trigger an existential crisis.)

I do not like you, AMT;
How you compute is hard to see.
How much would we all have to pay
Just to make you go away?

Or, if you prefer, expressed as a haiku:

O, dear AMT,
How inscrutable you are.
And now my brain hurts.

If there is one characteristic of the U.S. income tax system that people can agree on regardless of political affiliation, surely it's that AMT is a hot flaming mess. Any tax form which includes instructions like the following makes me want to poke myself in the eyes with a sharp pencil: "First figure any ordinary income adjustment related to (3) above. Then, refigure Form 4684, Form 4797, and Schedule D for the AMT, if applicable, by taking into account any adjustments you made this year or in previous years that affect your basis or otherwise result in a different amount for the AMT."

I accept paying taxes as a necessity for the maintenance of civilized society. Asking people to read these forms, however, is just SADISTIC.

Thought for the Day

"Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here's American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators. Here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America! You are free to do as we tell you!"

- Bill Hicks

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thought for the Day

"I think the basic sentiment applies: When are we going to say we have finally had enough? Hey, here's a suggestion - how about when it's become "standard operating procedure" for the government to put its hands in a six-year-old girl's pants? ... That seems like it should be a pretty good line in the sand, doesn't it?

"In any other context, if you saw a stranger doing that to a six-year-old girl, wouldn't you kick that person's ass? Wouldn't you at least try? Even at some risk to yourself? I bet you would. So why do we walk by when the government does it? Have we really become such cowards that we are willing to put up with six-year-old girls being groped because we think otherwise we can't be 99.999% safe?"

- Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thought for the Day

"Boris Fyodorov, the late finance minister of Russia, struggled for much of the past 20 years against oligarchs, corruption, and abuse of authority in all its forms. He liked to say that confusion and chaos were very much in the interests of the powerful—letting them take things, legally and illegally, with impunity. When inflation is high, who can say what a piece of property is really worth? When the credit system is supported by byzantine government arrangements and backroom deals, how do you know that you aren’t being fleeced?

"Our future could be one in which continued tumult feeds the looting of the financial system, and we talk more and more about exactly how our oligarchs became bandits and how the economy just can’t seem to get into gear."

Simon Johnson, The Atlantic, May 2009

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thought for the Day

"No government can exist without taxation, which is equally necessary to the republic and to the monarchy. The sovereign who labors in the public cause must be paid by the public; the judge the same, that he may have no need to prevaricate. The soldier must be supported that he may commit no violence, for want of having whereon to subsist. In like manner, it is necessary that those persons who are employed in collecting the finances should receive such salaries as may not lay them under any temptation to rob the public. These various expenses demand very considerable sums, and to these must still be added money that should only be laid apart to serve for extraordinary exigencies. This money must all be necessarily levied on the people; and the grand art consists in levying so as not to oppress. That taxes may be equally and not arbitrarily laid on, surveys and registers should be made, by which, if the people are properly classed, the money will be proportionate to the income of the persons paying. This is a thing so necessary that it would be an unpardonable fault, in finance, if ill-imposed taxes should disgust the husbandman with his labors. ...

"The sovereign ought frequently to remember the condition of the poor, to imagine himself in the place of the peasant or the manufacturer, and then to say, 'Were I born one among the class of citizens whose labors constitute the wealth of the state, what should I require from the king?' The answer which, on such a supposition, good sense would suggest it is his duty to put in practice."

- Frederick the Great, Essay on Forms of Government, 1777

Monday, April 11, 2011

An exhausting job

You know, I've been pretty harsh on President Obama in this blog, and I think deservedly so. When you run for the highest elected office of what is probably still the most powerful nation in the world, you sign up for being held to a much higher standard than the rest of us schmucks. However, I saw something today that made me feel some pity for the guy.

Here's a picture of Barack Obama from the end of March 2011.

Here are pictures of Barack Obama from November 2008.

The fact that the job is wearing him down is not an excuse for hypocrisy and a failure to stand up for the beliefs he expressed on the campaign trail. But it does make me have more sympathy for him, because it makes me think that perhaps he also finds distasteful many of the actions he's taken as president.

Here's a suggestion, for what little it's worth. Stop listening to the people who tell you that you always have to make ugly compromises in order to get anything done at all. Try taking a stand once in a while, rather than constantly calculating what will get you re-elected. Expressing a clear vision and implementing it may not get you re-elected, but neither will alienating principled voters who supported you last time around because of the beliefs you claimed to espouse. See if living like a person who has real values doesn't lighten the load a bit.

Thought for the Day

"Nihil tam incredibile est quod non dicendo fiat probabile: nihil tam horridum, tam incultum, quod non splendescat oratione, et tanquam excolatur."

["Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it likely: nothing so frightful or so squalid that it does not shine through eloquence and thereby become polished."]

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thought for the Day

"I want the power to act as I please in a way that is legal and I expect not to be harrassed or hindered simply because a small group of people that also act like me happen to do things that are illegal. I expect to be able stand anywhere on the sidewalk my taxes paid for that I damn well please and if, as may happen, the police get itchy about it, I expect NOT to have my pockets searched just because I'm standing there.

"I expect to be innocent until proven guilty. I demand that my government realize that they work for me, not the other way around. I insist that laws be crafted by those that represent the people should actually SERVE constituent interests rather than special interests rife with rich coffers built by past piss-poor laws. I expect evidence to be utilized when building policy rather than silly faith-based propaganda. I seek the richness of knowledge and joy over the false happiness of extravagant wealth.

"I expect my fellow citizens to disagree on anything they wish except that we have the right to disagree. I expect businesses and merchants to work within the framework of reality and common sense, not the false battlefield set up by politicians paid off in the legal bribes we call lobbying money. Most of all, and I mean MOST OF ALL, I expect this country and its representatives to be loyal not to a flag or the gang-like ideology of our country, but rather to our ideals and our freedoms."

- Dark Helmet, commenting on Techdirt