Where It All Gets… Interesting…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking – far too much, actually – about this election. I am not going to blog here about the relative merits of each candidate – anyone undecided between these two extremely different candidates at this point hasn’t been paying attention. In fact, this will probably be my last election-related blog prior to the first results coming in. There are a few things bothering me, however, that I have to get off my chest:

1. Smoke and mirrors
2. Media spin
3. One party rule by super-majority: threat to checks and balances, or just another day in D.C.?
4. Who really pays

Continue reading “Where It All Gets… Interesting…”

We Voted

We voted. Have you?

Fair warning: if you go wearing a propaganda T-shirt and try to start a riot in line about whether or not this is the kind of country where people want to live, yes, you will get to meet a nice member of the HPD. (Apparently, not everyone got that memo…)

Quote of the Day

“It was during the first period of this constitution that the Athenians appear to have enjoyed the best government that they ever did, at least in my time. For the fusion of the high and low was effected with judgment, and this was what first enabled the state to raise up her head after her manifold disasters.”

-Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (hat tip: Steve Schwartz)

Greg Mankiw’s Work Incentives

Greg Mankiw’s new post on his personal work incentives is required reading for anyone who wants to discuss taxes in this election cycle.

The idea is simple: our tax system uses marginal rates, meaning one rate applies to the first dollar earned and different rates kick in at different thresholds. (That is, unless you’re so economically productive or generous as to get stuck in the Alternative Minimum Tax system and get taxed at high flat rates.) The higher rate is called a marginal rate. This is the rate which applies to the last dollar a worker earns in a year. This rate is the rate which determines how much it’s worth to you to make the effort to earn that last dollar. If you’re acting rationally, it’s the rate which determines whether you take a second job, have a one- or two-income family, or start that business on the side you’ve been talking about.

Mankiw takes it one step further and asks how much he could leave for his kids out of that last dollar under each presidential candidate’s plan. You could do the same thing for any long period of time, of course, like saving for retirement or for your kid’s college education.

Do yourself a favor and read the post.

Skipping Down the Garden Path

I offer a final thought for the evening. Last night, a dear friend and I were discussing the state of the world and the nation, particularly with reference to some of the more extreme economic proposals made by politicians and pundits of varying degrees of skill. My friend is one of the most intelligent, well-educated, level-headed, and reflective people I have ever known. He noted that the proposals in question reflected a radical embrace of a radical degree of government control of private affairs. He said, “I fear for America. The people really won’t stand for democracy much longer.”

Coming from this source, that sent chills down my spine. I hope he’s wrong. But I think he might be right.

[Author’s note: In the spirit of my four other posts today, I choose not to explicate this post any further. As one of my favorite math professors used to say, “The proof of whether I’m right or wrong – and I’m right – is left as an exercise to the reader.”]

In Praise of Logic

Sometime in the last few generations, logic started getting short shrift. I don’t mean logic as a concept; plenty of people can, and do, invoke “logic” as a defense for completely absurd arguments. No, I mean LOGIC, the formal subject of study, the one involving formal concepts like “and,” “or,” and “xor,” as well as fancy Latin words for various fallacies. Logic has gone missing, and we’re all of us the worse off for its absence.

When I was young, I had to do lots of logic games. These were the type involving a grid (or several grids) and a bunch of Xs and Os as the problem solver tried to determine which statements or pairings of entities were correct and which were not. For example, a problem might center on allocating livestock to farmers or favorite subjects to school students, given sufficient but incomplete facts. There were a lot of variants, but these are the ones I remember most.

My complaint is not that I did this and “kids these days” don’t. My complaint is that most kids didn’t do problems like that, then, either. See, I only did those games because I was assigned to the school’s “academically gifted” or “gifted and talented” programs (the name changed at some point for political correctness reasons). The rest of my classmates got the chance to do exactly one of these problems during my elementary school years, as I recall. Only a few of us did them regularly.

Continue reading “In Praise of Logic”

What Kind of Lie?

I stumbled across a page earlier – I don’t even remember what site, now – that referred to a “bold-faced lie.” This is another one of those phrases that have evolved to the point that there are now at least a few variants, but little certainty on the “correct” (i.e., earliest or original) variant.

See, I grew up hearing “bald-faced lie” about 70% of the time and “bold-faced lie” the rest. These days, I hear the latter probably 80% of the time. I wonder which one is correct. The problem is that there are good explanations for at least three variants:

  • “Bare-faced lie” – British dominant version, according to some. Possible explanations:
    • This could make sense, as “bare” would mean naked, exposed, unconcealed, or obvious. Thus, “bare-faced”: obvious on its face.
    • I also have read that it could originally have been a derogatory reference to Native Americans. In the same sense as “Indian giver,” the phrase would thus imply unfair dealings by the native inhabitants of North America, many of whom have little facial hair by nature.
    • Possibly it dates to the sixteenth century, when beards were the social norm in English society, making a clean-shaven face audacious, like telling an obvious falsehood.
  • “Bald-faced lie” – Common American usage. Same explanation, but updated and possibly Americanized.
  • “Bold-faced lie” – Common American usage. Possible explanations:
    • Bold, as in audacious. It takes a “bold face” to tell an obvious lie.
    • Bold, as in typeface. The lie is so obvious, it might as well have been printed in bold to draw attention.

So, once again, the glorious Internet has given me more questions than answers. Does anybody know anything about this?

Quote of the Day: Runner-Up

“Hope, danger’s comforter, may be indulged in by those who have abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all upon the venture see it in its true colours only when they are ruined; but so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never found wanting. Let not this be the case with you, who are weak and hang on a single turn of the scale; nor be like the vulgar, who, abandoning such security as human means may still afford, when visible hopes fail them in extremity, turn to invisible, to prophecies and oracles, and other such inventions that delude men with hopes to their destruction.”

– The Athenians, in Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War (the Melian Dialogue)

The Joy of Mondays

Remember last week, when I wondered who puts trash in a neighbor’s trash cans immediately after the garbage truck comes by? The question this week is who manages to fill every trash can in sight to the point of overflowing with wet, stinking, mostly-unsacked garbage immediately after pickup? That’s what happened on our street, yesterday. Fortunately, I was able to get the city to treat it as missed trash and send a truck by.

Really, people, who does that?