Ripon: Anew, One.

The title is the motto I always dreamed for a town neighboring where I grew up.

Twenty-Ten ended and Twenty-Eleven began in the best and worst manners possible. Over Christmas, I was sick with strep throat. Yes, twice in two months, yes, diagnosed on the Eve. M followed suit after the holiday, and the lad has a chest cold that I also managed to give him.

Luckily we had family in town to support us, and after Christmas my friends flew in to stay for a week of smiles and laughs. I love those guys and I’m glad they enjoy staying with my family. We conquered Mario Brothers and caught up on Community. We laughed at one another and at the silliness that sprang from my children’s lips. We ate steak and drank beer. Go ahead and try to beat that; you won’t.

Looking ahead, I’m thinking of a regular weekend feature again. I’ve done videos and music. This time I’m going to try pictures. Ideally they’ll all be ones taken on our own camera. We’ll see how far that goes. I do want to be a little more visual at The Fry Side, but I also want to avoid the blogging cliche of starting every post with a picture.

Just like this site, we’ll just see where the experiment goes.

Happy New Year!

And today, Happy Perihelion!

The Dome’s Down!

This video of the collapse of the Metrodome roof leads to some questions: The stadium was built in 1982. There have been plenty of nasty snowstorms in the past three decades. Nobody saw this coming? Who thought it would be a good idea to build a fabric roof in the Minnesota climate? During the year, every year, we spend a minimum of four months under an increasing carpet of snow.

Of course, there’s also the factor that it takes a major storm to do any harm to a 30 year old fabric roof? Humans are great at making stuff.

(Found via JZeller.)

Happy Holly Daze

This and tomorrow evening are spent at kids’ school functions. On top of a busy routine, blizzards, and needing to put up decorations (I have shamefully not even put up a tree yet) have necessitated that I take care of myself to unwind. This usually involves reading, beer or wine, and killing old-school head crab zombies. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like.

So in light of my delving into the world of video games, here is a meme going around to make geeks’ heads explode. Enjoy.

The Tax Cuts Deal

Atlantic Economist and my long-time blog crush Megan McArdle gives some light to the tax cut deal just struck in Washington and has a thought I wish I’d had before:

Let me get the personal stuff out of the way: I think this is a terrible deal.  I was rooting for gridlock to cause the tax cuts to expire entirely, which would probably have a moderately negative impact on the economy, but would at least somewhat forestall a devastating fiscal crisis down the road.  If it was politically necessary to do tax cuts, I wanted them to be as small as possible, not $900 billion over two years.

Oh yeah, basically things don’t get done in Washington and the world gets better. I for one, even in my family’s tight budget, am willing to chip in a bit more to keep roads and schools open as long as everyone else is too.

Still, the deal wasn’t as horrible as it sounds to left-wing ears. The narrative has surrounded the idea of keeping the wealthy taxed at a lower rate during a recession, though I still think they’ve done nearly nothing but get wealthier while the rest of the people have stagnated. Still, the deal is also getting coverage for a lot of people who need it in the unemployed area.

Back to Ms McArdle, she does a better job at explaining economics than most and goes into her take on an interesting graph that’s been going around the past couple of days too:

My interpretation is rather different. We have an awkward tax structure, to be sure–if you were designing a code from scratch, you probably wouldn’t set it up this way.  However, the payroll tax isn’t particularly different from what the tax code looks like in many places in Europe–most people pay a broad, low rate, and then the carriage trade pays something more progressive. And it has grown over time largely in support of two social programs much beloved of progressives.  If those programs were smaller, the employment taxes would be, too.

To me, this chart shows how dependent the US federal tax take is on income taxes on higher earners, which tend to plummet precipitously in recessions, and are at historical lows simply because we’re in an exceptionally bad recession.  Even the things that presumably worry progressives, like the lower revenues from corporate income taxes, are to some extent simply showing up elsewhere, as taxes on capital gains income.  But you can’t complain about this, and also complain that tax revenues are so low right now; broadly, the most stable taxes are also the most regressive–they’re the taxes on necessities.  In bad times, non-luxuries tend to get cut back and then so does your tax revenue.

I love the thought experiment of eliminating any and all taxes and starting from scratch (and all subsidies as well). All I ever seem to come up with, other than some really basic silliness:

Ken: have you solved the US economy yet?

Fry: I’m trying. Oh how I’m trying.

Fry: I can’t think of what to tax, really. Income based not in brackets but an algebraic formula seems the most reasonable.

Fry: And a law stating that the highest paid worker in a company cannot earn more than 100 times that of the lowest…

Ken: No that’s novel

Ken: and make sure to include perks and bonuses

Fry: And just tax vices instead of criminalizing them.

Ken: also novel

I would also eliminate farming subsidies and increase taxes on junk food and vices. If there are negative consequences (health, waste, excess carbon, etc) then those get taxed. I do believe that it is irrational for a government to affect human nature and behavior, so it might as well make a profit off of it. That said, vice shouldn’t be a baseline for income, it should probably be set off a relatively even rate for the employed.

Alas, I have no concrete ways of better explaining matters of specie and notes. Such topics make me grow weary and I believe I shall now retire. Good morrow to you all!

Keeping Up With The Joneses

I’m trying out a few different pieces of software for keeping up with RSS feeds and Twitter. The newly released beta version of Reeder for Mac has already won my heart for RSS reading, even though some functionalities haven’t been added yet. I miss my highlight and post to MarsEdit in particular. The only thing has been learning a new set of keyboard shortcuts, which isn’t too bad, but skipping arrow keys for navigation is a tough habit to break.

For Twitter, last week (I think; time has been very elusive to me this year) I downloaded the newly updated Kiwi 2.0. For ages I had used Tweetie and despite trying other programs, Tweetie still was the simplest, smoothest way to get around Twitter. Kiwi changed that almost immediately. I picked out a simplistic theme that felt Tweetie-ish and dove right in. There is a lot of control and intuitive interactions with keyboard shortcuts being not too difficult to adapt.

However today I downloaded the beta of Weet. I like the smaller interface so far, and again it’s early beta so it’s quite incomplete in features. Like keyboard shortcuts (no underlying theme to this blog post, no siree) being almost absent. And it’s a little odd that navigating up and down is only by mouse right now. You don’t actually select a tweet and press up to the next one. Or a shortcut to start a new tweet. That’s a big deal, something I lived off of in Tweetie and now Kiwi.

Still, take all this with a grain of salt. Two of these programs have only been in public existence for a week and Kiwi just came out with its version update a week ago too. I’ll keep playing with all of them and if anyone cares, or if anyone doesn’t, ’cause it’s my blog anyway, I will write them up again once they’re closer to release.

We Aren’t Fighting Supervillians

Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas makes clear the views on al Qaeda that have driven me crazy since September 12, 2001:

Lex Luthor is incredibly evil, and incredibly powerful. He’s a technological genius, and from his research he created an astonishing pile of wealth. He’s so rich, and so powerful, that he can divert resources from his research labs to produce weapons with which to wage war on Superman. Luthor’s labs produce technologies beyond that available to militaries, technology that makes weapons capable of destroying or disabling the unstoppable, unkillable man. Absent superpowers, nothing short of Luthor’s research labs and financial power could conceivably match an entity like Superman.

Many people look at the world of counterterrorism and seem to think that al Qaeda is somehow like Luthor. But they aren’t. Their technological capacity is probably far less than yours or mine, and surely less than that of the US government. Their knowledge of aviation security is probably less than frequent business travelers. Yet every time they shove some explosives in their underwear, we freak out.

9/11 was an aberration. It never made sense that the cockpit door was so weak, and so rarely locked. And absent a history of suicidal airline attacks, passengers early in the day were more complacent about a hijacking than they were even before the fourth plane crashed that day. Passengers and flight attendants are warier now, and the cockpit door is locked and reinforced. 9/11 can’t happen again, not even if passengers could bring scissors and nailclippers and even pocket knives on board.

So al Qaeda adapted. They tried shoe bombs, and underpants bombs, and now package bombs. Those attacks originated outside the US, not from domestic airports, because we’re doing a better job detecting and disrupting domestic terrorist cells. They take the path of least resistance. They might like to kill Superman, but they can’t.

I’ve said it before, we are not in an existential war. Not even close. These poor and worthless terrorist cells hanging out in the crappiest place to live on Earth are not Nazis, Soviets, or even Redcoats. Not even close. These guys are less than the Luxembourg standing army.

Our response should have been small, proportional, and finishing with us giving al Qaeda the finger and saying “Bring it!” Sorry to our English heritage, but keep calm and carry on is not 21st Century America enough.

The entire article is an easy to grasp read. And Mr Rosenau wraps up the comic book analogy:

After 9/11, we as a nation went batshit insane. We’ll get attacked again. However good our security is, we aren’t Superman, we aren’t invulnerable, and al Qaeda will find a way to hurt us. But they aren’t Lex Luthor, either. They won’t go after the very hardest targets, they’ll go where security is weakest. And we can beat them. If the general public doesn’t spot something odd, and if intelligence and security teams fail to disrupt a planned attack, we can work towards making a society resilient to the occasional successful terrorist attack. But freaking out, allowing ourselves to be groped in public by untrained rent-a-cops, isn’t the answer. It just stokes the fears which will erupt after an attack, bringing the absurdity Drum fears.

No matter what we do, there will be a successful attack. The way to preserve civil liberties is not to surrender those freedoms to prevent an attack. We need to have a serious discussion about risk, so that people treat the risk of terrorism the way they treat the risk of cancer. We accept that flying takes us into the thinner parts of the atmosphere, exposing us to more cosmic rays, and thus raising our cancer risk. But it’s worth it to see our family, to meet our business partners, or to take a relaxing vacation. The risk is small, so we set them aside. We can do that with terrorism, too.

Big Smiles

This made me laugh proper.

I actually watched a recent Simpsons episode the other day. I think a blog mentioned it, so I went for it. It’s a completely different show than it was 15 years ago. Do the math and The Simpsons spans two generations, which is really crazy to think. The only redeemable part of the episode was an opening joke about a Fox News helicopter. The rest was unfunny, uninsightful tripe. To me, the series started going downhill after about season 8, though I kept watching weekly for some time after that.

I wonder now how much the bad writing is outweighing the good. Has the scale tipped too far past jumping the shark? Will the memories of the show be of its current weak level or of the great writing it originally had?

I am also thinking of The Office (US) in this as well. I loved the first couple of seasons, but after Jim and Pam got together, the show had nothing really left to stand on, but makes enough money to limp along. Same goes for Star Wars. Do the current cartoons and the weakness of the prequels diminish the grandeur of the universe that was originally created?

Final thought we’ve all had: What if The Matrix had stopped with a single movie? How strongly captivating would that world still be if it ended with Neo’s phone call? Even if Animatrix was still tacked on, that only added to the discourse about the Matrix universe, not destroying it outright like the sequels did.

I really, really hope that my two most favorite shows, Community and Mad Men do not suffer the same fate. If they each last 4-5 awesome seasons, tops, then all will be well with the world. They will remain perfectly slices of Arrested Development that they should be. Yes, Arrested was canceled before its time, but at least it didn’t wind up dying a slow and painful death.