I still had two strong legs and even wings to fly

In lieu of actual content, here are some entertaining links:

#: I pick on the kid a lot, but really, Ezra Klein does not strike me as very bright. In talking about using carbon taxes to fund government programs, he says the following (emphasis mine):

This is the problem when people talk about replacing, say, payroll taxes with a carbon tax. If you want that carbon tax to fund Medicare and Social Security, as payroll taxes do, then you have to tax carbon at a rate that ensures stable, large returns. Alternately, if you want to tax carbon at a rate high enough that we stop emitting so much carbon, then your tax base is, by design, going to rapidly dry up, and Medicare and Social Security will no longer have funding.

In general, there are two types of taxes: taxes that fund things, and taxes that stop people from doing things. Taxes that fund things cannot be taxes that stop people from doing things, as if people stop doing the thing, there will be nothing to tax.

Really, Ezra? Two types of taxes? Oh man! Quick – somebody tell me which kind I’m paying, so I don’t inadvertently bankrupt public schools or defund the U.S. adventure in Iraq or build shoddy bridges. Am I being taxed to finance the latest project or as penance for my sins? Am I supposed to do less of what I’m doing or do more of it? No one told me! I live in a world of terror and mystery! AAAH!

#: Adobe launched a beta test of their new Photoshop Express product yesterday, a user-friendly entry into the image editing software so popular it’s become a verb. You can sign up for free and use it online. Seriously. You don’t download anything to your desktop; you just manipulate images in your browser. In other news, expect nothing productive of me for the remainder of this month.

#: As a fan of fantasy literature and Bayesian rationality, I was surprised to find peanut butter in my chocolate in one of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s latest posts:

In one of the standard fantasy plots, a protagonist from our Earth, a sympathetic character with lousy grades or a crushing mortgage but still a good heart, suddenly finds themselves in a world where magic operates in place of science. The protagonist often goes on to practice magic, and become in due course a (superpowerful) sorcerer.

Now here’s the question – and yes, it is a little unkind, but I think it needs to be asked: Presumably most readers of these novels see themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, fantasizing about their own acquisition of sorcery. Wishing for magic. And, barring improbable demographics, most readers of these novels are not scientists.

Born into a world of science, they did not become scientists. What makes them think that, in a world of magic, they would act any differently?

If they don’t have the scientific attitude, that nothing is “mere” – the capacity to be interested in merely real things – how will magic help them? If they actually had magic, it would be merely real, and lose the charm of unattainability. They might be excited at first, but (like the lottery winners who, six months later, aren’t nearly as happy as they expected to be), the excitement would soon wear off. Probably as soon as they had to actually study spells.

#: Finally, the Onion once again highlights the path to truth: Study: 93% Of People Talked About Once They Leave Room. I won’t even bother quoting the article, since headline writing has always been the Onion’s strongest suit. But seeing it satirized by America’s paper of record helped me see that yes, it is silly to worry about this sort of thing – which is something I frequently do.

I worry about a lot of stuff. I worry about being talked about behind my back. I also worry about saying something stupid, looking foolish in public, getting in trouble for something I didn’t do, losing my job, wrecking my car, breaking my spine, suffering hideous facial scarring, being arrested, getting rejected by girls, hooking up with girls and then having things be awkward, entering relationships with girls and then coming on too strong, never seeing a girl again, running out of money, having too much money, looking immature, growing old, wasting time, being too serious, being too silly, and skin cancer. Among other things.

I used to spend a lot of time brooding over these unlikely scenarios – high walls in my mind that I could never imagine myself getting over. “I don’t know how I could possibly survive something like that happening,” I’d think.

But you know what? There’s only one thing in my life that I’m not going to survive – and I have no way of guessing what that is. Everything else should be cake.

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10 Responses

  1. The cake is a lie!

  2. Take a look at the user agreement if you’re going to use that Adobe service to host your photos:

    8. Use of Your Content.

    a. Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with
    respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for
    inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant
    Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual,
    irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute,
    derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify,
    adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display
    such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content
    into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or
    later developed.

    “We don’t claim ownership of your content, but we get to act like we own it.”

  3. I like the “fully sublicensable” part, i.e., “we can charge people money to use images you gave us for free.”

  4. “There’s only one thing in my life that I’m not going to survive – and I have no way of guessing what that is.”

    That’s one of the more pithy, if not scary, things that I have read in a while. It really does kinda put things into perspective.

    That being said, the one thing that I almost didn’t survive was narrowly getting run over this morning by some woman who thinks Vassar Street’s speed limit is 10000000 MPH. Somehow, my walk to work has become one of the scarier things in my life.

  5. Vassar Street’s speed limit approaches, but does not exceed, c at ground level.

  6. Damn those new Toyota Gluons!

  7. I don’t know anything about Ezra Klein but I think he has some sort of point about taxes. Obviously all taxes suppress activity to some degree, but some are more liable to do so. A tax of 10% on total income, is not going to stop many people from earning income. On the other hand a tax of $100 per bag on Canadian potatoes, would probably reduce the sale of said item to zero, and hence raise no money. That said, Congress has been known to lie about their motives for imposing taxes.

    Eliezer Yudkowsky is one smart cookie.

  8. I guess, but I think that’s a pretty steep gradient. A tax would have to be remarkably broad to have negligible suppression / discouragement – as you say, a 10% tax on total income – or remarkably small. Further down the curve, the suppression becomes more pronounced: property taxes discourage people from buying homes, cigarette taxes encourage people to quit, etc.

  9. So isn’t Klein’s point that broad taxes are preferable to small ones?

  10. I meant “broad” and “small” as two possibilities for non-discouraging taxes. A 10% tax on total income – “income” being defined broader than it is currently – would be broad enough that it wouldn’t stop people from working. It would undoubtedly make the U.S. a less attractive place to move to, though. On the other hand, an 0.01% national tax on new cars would be so small that it’d be hard to get up in arms about it, even though it hits an easily discourageable behavior.

    In any event, I don’t think that was Klein’s point. We can be charitable and interpret that as his point, sure. But I find the idea that (for instance) states pass a cigarette tax to discourage smoking, and not because it’s a reliable source of revenue, a little naive.

    The purpose of a tax is to fund a program. The effect of a tax is to discourage the taxed behavior. Klein’s looking at two sides of the same quarter and thinking he’s got fifty cents.

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