in response to the hypothetical buffett tax, the tax foundation published some numbers. link
the accompanying text implies the rich are indeed paying their fair share of taxes. end of discussion, right? heh. no. course you knew that was coming. first, "the rich" means people with large bank accounts. generally, they also have large incomes. but income is a poor predictor for wealth. and it certainly isn't proportional. which is a fundamental implicit assumption when using income tax rates as a proxy for wealth. it's a very effective scam. and you're the mark. second, the tax foundation only shows income tax. just for fun i estimated the payroll taxes of each group. and the total tax rate became remarkably flat. every group was between 20% and 26%. which is a result very different from only looking at income tax. the lowest incomes are effectively paying the same total tax rate as the highest incomes. some think a flat tax is more fair. i'd agree that a flat tax on *wealth* after a sizable deduction would be more fair than a progressive tax on income which would be more fair than a flat tax on income. which is what we have. not fair.
okay so here's the math problem of the day. b has a very precise stopwatch. exactly periodically, he pinches g. a short random time thereafter g yowls. you don't see b pinch g. you only hear g yowl. the problem is to figure out exactly when b is going to pinch g. for that you will need to know the interval between pinches and the phase relative to your own stopwatch. okay, so the easy part of the problem is when the delay between b's pinch and g's yowl is some sort of nice poisson distribution. where most delays are significantly shorter than the pinch period. no sweat. linear regression over a large number of pinches should work just fine. that predicts the yowl. so the pinch happens a standard deviation or two beforehand. done. okay, so let's toughen things up a bit. i can momentarily give b super strength. so his pinches hurt more. or would if i can predict when they're going to happen. this motivates g to delay yowling. to make it more difficult for me to predict when to super the pinch. sometimes he can delay long enough that he gets pinched twice but only yowls once. this is a much harder problem. working solutions obliviate the need for a resume. timmer for employer.
i read recently an article about why the poor and the middle class vote for tax cuts for the rich. the reason given was that they're afraid of becoming the poorest. as long as they keep voting to take money from everyone and give it to the richest, they'll be poorer. but they won't be the poorest. not sure if i buy it or not. but the punchline was great. fear makes people do irrational things. like vote republican.
like many people, i have a problem with the proposed buffett tax. unlike most people i think it won't reach far enough. it shouldn't be an additional tax. it should be more like amt. an alternative minimum tax. a catchall to ensure that people aren't somehow slipping through the cracks in the tax code. and by cracks, i mean chasms. this way, the millionaires who are already paying a high rate won't be affected. and people have helpfully pointed out, with varying degrees of decorum, many millionaires do pay tax rates higher than the middle class. however, the tax proposal should go further. taxable income for alternative minimum tax purposes should be your regular income or the change in your net worth, whichever is greater. pass that one, and you won't need a special millionaire tax. heck we wouldn't even need the regular tax. timmer for president.
so yesterday i said there were a couple of things to be wary of when using irs numbers to determine who's paying their fair share of the tax burden and who isn't. but i only mentioned one reason. the smaller reason. and yeah +13% taxes really is small potatoes. consider this: using the irs numbers is like counting chickens after the fox has already left the hen house. i explain. the tax law is so full of holes that only 1% of warren buffett's gains count as income. sheehs. hell, i'd happily pay 90% tax rate on 1% of my income. sign me up. that'd be an extra 1.5 airplanes in my hangar. what say, we first focus on fixing this $billion hole. then, if we still have the gumption, we can quibble about pocket change. timmer for president.
lotta people seem to be seriously opposed to president obama's proposed buffett tax. and by "people" i mean news organizations. honest to goodness people are all for the idea of taxing someone else. preferably someone else with money. lots of money. like to rival the hoards of dragons. anywho, irs publications are cited to show that the rich are indeed paying their fair share. okay. there are a couple of problems using numbers from the irs. first, the irs publishes income tax. and yeah, income tax is the biggest tax that most people pay. it's not the only tax. warren buffett's famous 17% number includes social security, medicare, medicaid, and the payroll taxes paid by his employer. they total some 13%. they used to be 15%. but president obama got you a tax cut. so if you want to estimate real tax rates for the lower four quintiles you need to add 13%. funny thing happens with the top quintile. the effective tax rate for these bonus taxes goes down. i'd be very surprised if for warren buffett they are even 1% of his 17%. so remember to add that 13% of hidden taxes the rich don't pay the next time someone offers "proof" the rich are paying their fair share.
the assertion is that rich people create jobs. okay maybe. the further assumption is that they'll create more jobs if we cut their taxes. hrm. i call. i explain. let's say i raise your taxes. or equivalently, i cut your wages. what do you do? either you tighten your belt. or you work more. if i cut your wages, you put in more hours to make up the difference. why would things be reversed for rich people? their "job" is to create jobs for others. so if i cut the rich person's wages, he'll have to put in more hours creating more jobs to make up the difference. same as you would. right? so it seems pretty clear that if you want more jobs, and believe that rich people create jobs, you want rich people to work harder for the same pay. ie you want to cut their wages. by /increasing/ their taxes. decreasing them (again) is stupid.
according the cbo, we don't have a deficit problem. which sounds kinda strange. so what's the catch? we need congress to just go home and not do anything. just let the tax cuts expire. and everything will be okay. heh. i think we've identified the problem.
the world didn't appear to warm during the 2000 to 2009 decade. yet measurements in the upper atmosphere say that more energy went in than came out. wtf? someone came up with a computer model that gives a plausible explanation. the la nina condition caused heat to move from the surface to deeper in the ocean. so yes, the earth heated up. but not the surface. i know we keep pretty close tabs on the ocean surface temperatures. i don't know how closely we monitor deeper ocean temperatures. it'd be good to test this model against reality.
g was learning about number bases in school. being heavily gifted with the smartass gene from his father, he took the idea to the extreme. base 1. he concluded there are an infinite number of ways to write the number 1. 1, 01, 100, 00010000, are all 1. i pointed out there is no 0 in base 1. he countered he was using the zero to indicate which digit, which "place", he was using. you know, 42 has a 4 in the 10s digit and 2 in the 1s digit. ie 42 = 4*10^1 + 2*10^0. and in base 1, 010 has a 0 in the 1^2's place, a 1 in the 1^1's place, a 0 in the 1^0's place. ie 010 = 0*1^2 + 1*1^1 + 0*1^0 = 1. qed. geek pwned by my 9 yo. maybe i am getting old.
why is coal so cheap? good question. in short, it isn't. well, it is in terms of dollars per kilowatt-hour. but it's expensive in terms of deaths per kilowatt-hour. warning maths ahead. electricity is worth about $.10 per kilowatt hour. let's burn coal and produce 1 terawatt-hour of electricity. which brings in $100 million. and kills 160 people. worth about $1 million each. or $160 million total. or 60% more than what they charge for the electricity. so when you buy coal generated electricty, you're not paying for it in cash. you're paying for it in blood.
there's anecdotal evidence that young people have learned to fact check things they hear about on the internet. whereas old people don't. which kinda makes sense. old people grew up in a time when the tv news programs were pretty reliable. course there were only two or three channels. and the only competition for information was the newspaper. being accurate was an important part of the news' image. heck, our news program was call accunews. heh. so it's really not surprising that grandma takes the internet news at face value. whereas young people who've commented before fact checking have been viciously flame pwned often enough they've learned to look before leaping. the purpose of a headline is to get you to click the link. because that's the revenue stream. accurately and concisely summarizing the article is contra-indicated. cause if the headline is good, i don't need to click through to the article. and you get no advertising micropennies. my first instinct is skepticism. ergo, i'm a young person. and not an old fart. yet. whew. that's reassuring. cause some days if feel old.
life is good. the beautiful and talented alisa loves me. i came home from work to an early birthday present. there was a brand new rolly mat in my office. with a pritty red bow. aw. the old one was all torn up. they must be making them out of cheaper less durable plastic. cause they don't seem to last as long as they used to. it's not like i've gained that much weight and am stressing the poor things more. well. okay. so maybe i am kinda heavier than i was. but still! shut up.
so i needed to exercise my tired old brain cells and make them young again by learning something new. i stumbled across this functional programming language called haskell. the last time i used a functional language was prologue and lisp. and that was way back. back before wysiwyg. so anywho. i read a bit about it. and it seemed to have some interesting features. like stronger type checking than normal. writing working functional code is a bit of a mind fuck. at least for those of us who are accustomed to giving computers explicit marching orders and expecting them to be followed. to the letter. heh, computer - go jump off the end of memory. wee! haskell isn't completely pure. i don't think any useful functional language can be. in that i mean within haskell there's the ability to write ordinary imperative code. they call it pollution. yeah whatever. a program that solves the mysteries of the universe is pretty useless if it can't actually output the answer. sheehs. haskell isn't perfect. at times it isn't even nice. the syntax is nearly unreadably compact. but not as bad as apl. the standard library is huge. and some of the functions aren't named well. but not as badly as lisp. i'm sure the perfect function is in one of the standard libraries. but that knowledge is useless if i can't find it. i did manage to get a sudoku solver working. it ain't pretty. but then, i don't think anything in haskell ever will be. i never did figure out how to debug a "program". not even with printfs. sheehs. so anywho, the haskell functions would be wonderful things to be able to call from within a real programming language.
hrm. the indexed site has an interesting graph
of compromise vs budgets. one way to look at it is - you make a lot of deals and promises to the recipients of your few dollars. think poor kids at christmas time. been there. course on the other hand if you're more of the nordstrom crowd you just pay the sticker price. there is no negotiation. cause none is needed. okay. let's apply that thinking to the deadlock in congress. there's no compromise. negotiations quickly become brinksmanship. hrm. what's to be done? we vote in the other party, but the nonsense intensifies. flail. the indexed graph suggests a solution, cut the government's budget. ie lower the total collected taxes. sounds good to me. timmer for president.
we got a short call from my mother, they're evacuating the street due to flooding. do you have your cell phone? click. huh. i checked the news. cause i had this fear this might be a scam to get people out of their houses and burgle them. if the susquehanna river got high enough to threaten my mother's house, then it would be over the flood wall protecting sunbury. which would be dramatic. seems it was just some city 'crats being super conservative. or bored. or both. there might have been a problem with sewage backing up into homes. but woot. the river crested one house downhill from my mother's. 3' lower than the peak in 1972 from hurricane agnes. still, the little league field was under water. as were the train tracks. exciting. the weather forecast was for one more day of rain. but it didn't happen. fortunately. if it had it probably would have put the river over the top. literally.
so jupiter's in the sky. and there's a super nova peaking in m101. so b got out the telescope and set it up. only to discover that it's pretty difficult to aim it at anything other than the moon. cheap ass parents. sheehs. so anywho, why did he pick tonight of all nights? he gave up and came in to watch minecraft videos. i walked into the room, it's thundering and lightning outside and is about to rain. this is a rare enough occurrence that they thought i was joking. really? they said. thunderstorms are actually kinda rare here. but we did get one last night. so they raced outside to gather up the table ladder telescope binoculars lenses etc. flash in the clouds. was that lightning? yes. i don't think so. then there was a nice pretty bolt to the ground lit up the world. THAT was lightning. i don't hear any thunder. 10 seconds later. do you hear thunder now? what? do you hear thunder now? what? i couldn't hear you because of the thunder. nm.
fire is so pretty. apparently cats like it too. we got our normal 6 am wake up call. it's time to feed the cats. i ignored them for a bit. but one of them managed to stow away in the bedroom when the door got closed last night. so i stumbled out of bed and into the kitchen. what's the funny sound? why does it feel so warm in here? ah well. gotta feed the starving kittehs. is the water running? is it the refrigerator? no, it's coming from over th.. ACK! the middle burner, the big one, the one we use for cooking corn on the cob and inflating hot air balloons, was going full blast. some bad cat had jumped up on the stove top and managed to land on top the burner control, pushing it down and turning it to high. seems unlikely. maybe we didn't quite get the knob turned to the off indent. then the cat wouldn't have to push it down. only turn it. hrm. pyro cat. sigh. well, at least there was no pot left on the burner. and the pilot light lit the burner. waking up to a house full of gas would be bad. but then, not waking up would be worse.
people seem to be pretty conflicted about social security. surveys seem to indicate that they want smaller cheaper government. and since social security is 50% of the government, it sure seems like that's an obvious place to aim the knife. yet simultaneously and contradictorily seemingly people are just as opposed to slashing this sacred cow. so what's up with that? do people really want smaller government? or are they just aping the currently popular political meme? or are people so stupid they don't understand what smaller government means? some researches decided to find out. they suggest that people think about the social security program in two different ways. one view is it's a retirement fund. ie they expect to get back the money they paid in. kinda like a federal pension. the other view is that it's an entitlement program. i'm not sure i like that phrase. it implies that people are getting something they don't need or haven't earned. which i think might be the researchers' point. people want to keep the pension program part of social security. but they're happy to cut the "big government" entitlement part of social security. which seems like a completely reasonable position. so the conventional wisdom that it's political suicide to propose cutting social security might not be truth after all.
years while ago, i tied some loops in a clothesline and strung it around the back patio. it's a lovely green. well it was. it's been a bit sun bleached. and the birds love it. they pick and pull at the little nylon threads. then fly off to build their nests with it. apparently the little girl birdies prefer making like, well birds and bees, in a colorful abode. or something. some of the sections have gotten kinda thin. which presents the birds with a dilemma. they can work really hard and grab the bright green material from a fresh section. or they can collect the much easier and more drab strands from an existing breach. gonna have to replace it sometime. maybe i'll tie the loops so they look like cats.
my latest invention is a hanger hanger. i'm sure people have been using a hanger to hang hangers on for ages. but i've made enough improvements that i feel the need to boast about them. the biggest problem with hanging hangers on a hanger is balance. the hanger hanger tends to tilt. and all the hangers slide to the bottom of the hanger hanger. you can try to keep the hanger hanger balanced by adding new hangers to the end that's up. but it's pretty precarious. the slightest perturbation sends all the hangers to one end. and if your hanger hanger is hanging on the doorway top jamb and not on a clothes rack, the hanger hanger tends to fall off and explode hanger shrapnel all over the floor. so for the hanger hanger mark one, i wrapped the bottom of the hanger hanger with clothesline. and gorilla glued it in place. now the hangers don't slide and you can easily keep the hanger hanger balanced. the next problem is when the hanger hanger gets full. one hanger is kinda light. but many hangers are more than a hanger hanger can handle. you quickly get to the hanger that breaks the hanger hanger's back. the middle of the bottom sags to the point where the cheap plastic is in serious danger of breaking. so hanger hanger mark two has clothesline that connects the bottom of the hanger hanger to the hanger hanger hanger. knotted and gorilla glued. now the middle of the bottom of the hanger hanger has sufficient structural integrity to handle as many hangers as will fit on the hanger hanger. i should patent this. and sell it on late night tv. i'm gonna be so rich.
so i've been yakking about energy recently. and i haven't mentioned fusion. in theory, it's clean and abundant. if only we could figure out how. so i was thinking about setting up a fusion reactor in my garage. it's not that hard. high school students have done it as science projects. heh. it may come as a surprise that fusing hydrogen just like the sun does is so easy. the problem of course, is getting more energy out than you put in. hence the allure. okay so here's the deal. a typical chemical bond energy is some 10s of electron volts. it takes some 10s of kev to smash hydrogen nuclei together closely enough they can fuse. ie you need temperatures some 1000x hotter than fire. as i implied before, it's not that hard to create these conditions. the problem is maintaining them. energy has this annoying habit of trying to even itself out. ie the hot plasma tends to heat up the icy cold walls of the container. the next problem is when nuclei fuse they tend to release energy in the 10s of mev range. ie 1000x hotter than the plasma. which makes it kinda hard to harness and/or diffuse to maintain the reaction. but yeah okay. all that stuff is surmountable. and we should achieve ignition within the next 10 years or so. i'm also cheating. fusion power is advertised as clean. like you could brush your teeth with it clean. it's not. at least not the reactors i've described and we're pursuing. those all involve using heavy isotopes of hydrogen - deuterium and tritium. the problem is fusing them produces neutrons. which have this annoying habit of whizzing out of the plasma and smashing into the walls of the containment vessel. making it radioactive. ie dirty. very dirty. not as dirty as fission of course. but still way more dirty than what you could in good conscience call clean. there are clean fusion reactions. one could in theory smash protons together to form deuterium. actually you get helium2 when you do that. which is extremely unstable. almost all of the time if flies apart undoing everything you've worked so hard to do. but very extremely rarely it decays to hydrogen2 and an electron. even inside the core of the sun, a proton bounces around for a billion years before it fuses with another proton to form deuterium. doing that in a controlled way on earth just isn't gonna happen. the other promising aneutronic reaction involves bombarding boron with protons. this yields three helium atoms, no neutrons, and a boatload of energy. the problem is, the activation energies are 10x higher than for deuterium-tritium. so the all too true joke assessment is, fusion power is the energy source of the future. and always will be.
so why haven't we been building newer safer better nuclear power plants? it's easy to point the finger at the anti-nuclear crowd. but the truth is, it's money. nuclear power plants are expensive. they require large numbers of high salary employees. believe me, if someone could make a profit running a nuclear power plant, someone would. but they can't compete with the cheapness of coal oil and gas. the prices of oil and gas are rising. never to fall again. because the cheap good stuff is gone. and what's left is the expensive crappy stuff. coal is still cheap. and will be forever for all practical purposes. the problem is, it's dirty. and there's no political will to force coal based power to internalize the cost of the damage it's doing to society. wind is good. we should build wind farms for the same reason we build hydroelectric dams. they're cheap. but there just isn't enough of it. solar is interesting. very interesting. it's still really goram expensive. like 3x more than nuclear. but it's on an intersting curve. so my rosy picture of the post peak oil future looks like this: coal becomes valuable as a raw material for making plastics and fertilizer. it becomes too expensive to burn to make electricity. and we use solar and nuclear instead. my fear is we burn everything in reach and render the world fairly uninhabitable.
so what lesson should we learn from fukushima? acts of god happen. there's nothing we can do to prevent it. however, there are things we can do to minimize the damage. the daiichi power plants are old. like really old. like the oldest designs around. we should be shutting them down. and we should be replacing them with second or third generation nuclear power plants. ones that cannot overheat even if you shut off the power. ones that consume their own waste instead of stockpiling it. this isn't science fiction. all of these things are possible. consider cars. no one in their right mind would think a car built in the 30s is as safe or reliable as a car built today. we don't see them on the road because they've been retired and replaced by newer safer better models. the same thing should happen with our nuclear industry.
in 2010 the daiichi nuclear power plants produced some 29 terawatt-hours of electricity. they've been in operation for some 40 years. over the course of their lifetime they've produced some 580 twh. let's pretend they were never built. and japan burned coal for power instead. from current statistics, one can estimate that 93,000 people would have died from mining accidents and pollution. i kinda stuck my head in the sand at the start of this catastrophe. my fears of a knee jerk reaction backlash against nuclear power got the best of me. still, 93k is a ballpark estimate for the number of deaths caused by chernobyl. which was 10x to 100x worse. the death toll from fukushima is likely to be in the 1k to 10k range. that's on top of the 13k deaths from the earthquake and tsunami. yeah, thousands of people dead is bad. make no mistake about that. but letting an irrational fear of nuclear power force us to choose an alternative that would kill 10x to 100x more would be a humanitarian disaster of our own making.
okay so part of my brain has never really grown up. it's still locked in that middle school state where every boy wants to be punched in the face and every girl wants her ass grabbed. despite all protestations to the contrary. so anywho, whenever i see an attractive woman wearing a strapless tube top like number, that part of the brain wakes up, tank-it-tank-it-tank-it-tank-it. i could just reach out with one finger. hook that piece of cloth. a quick little tug. and boobies! hahahahahahahha! yeah okay. so note that i've never actually done this. nor even really gotten all that close to being in danger of it actually happening before the more sensible parts of my brain could re-establish control. but still there's this chunk of curiosity outstanding. anywho, the other day i came across this video of this guy yanking down the tops of unsuspecting women. and yeah the first time was fucking hilarious in a sort of shocking way. but by the 10th victim or so, it really wasn't funny anymore. at all. it was just some asstard being an asstard. sigh. my curiosity with respect to this activity has been satisfied.
let's compare and contrast the two level 7 nuclear catastrophes. chernobyl was caused by human incompetence. fukushima was an act of god. one reactor in chernobyl blew up dumping 1-9 billion curies of radioactive stuff into the environment. at fukushima, three reactors were breached and leaked some 80 million curies. we're all kinda guessing at the numbers. so take them with a grain of salt. chernobyl is now encased in a concrete grave. fukushima is still leaking. but less every week. chernobyl is in the middle of nowhere. fukushima is in a city of millions. chernobyl doubled the background radiation dose in the united states. yowch! fukushima's impact will take years to quantify. it's kinda weird that they get the same rating. heh. fukushima is a 7 by definition, sure. but man, looking at the numbers, chernobyl should be an 8. if god said, i'm really sorry but i'm going to nuke one of your nuclear power plants. but i am a merciful god and i'll let you choose an explosion like chernobyl or a massive leak like fukushima. heh. i'll take fukushima every time. first, there's 10x to 100x less radiation. second, it's spread out over a much longer time period. which is way way easier on us biological lifeforms. and third, we can blame god instead of man.
as i get older i look in the mirror and think i look like my grandpa roush. the roush genes are strong. and yeah i've got a bit of the husky jowl look going. but then i went home for grandma's funeral. and i hung out with some real roushes. heh. one uncle could be a clone of his father. the other uncle and most of the male cousins are definitely roushes. which reminds me. i need to call my mother.
i'm thinking about making a cron job that sends out an email every morning: are the test servers down? or is it just me? is someone on it? who's bringing donuts? thanks.