Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday of esophageal cancer.  I just wanted to say that this loss is enormous to me, as he represented the kind of critical thinking and rational courage that is missing in most of our discourse these days.  We will miss him.

My favorite moment for Hitch:  When debating Mos Def, her referred to his opponent as "Mr. Definately"

What shall we do without him?  The world is a lesser place.

That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fear of Death

Cheery topic, huh?

The thing is, I don't really feel it.  Fear of death, that is.  I have not for a long, long time.  I think I started questioning things like God and religion and the afterlife and so forth right around the time my parents divorced and I was uprooted from my life.  I was 13.

I draw no line of causality here, I just note that this was the time when I went from being fairly religious (christian) to firmly agnostic; I do not know if there is a God or not, nor do I believe it is ultimately knowable.  I certainly do not believe in organized religion as the arbiter of any truth on the subject.  I feel as Christopher Hitchens does; I don't know if there is a God or not, and I don't think the Pope does either.

As part of this shift I confronted the notion of death, and what I felt about it.  Even though I was quite young, the line of reasoning I will offer here was one I quickly developed, and it has remained largely unchanged ever since.

When we die, there are two possibilities, only two.  Either we cease to exist entirely, or we do not.  I cannot think of a middle ground.

If we cease to exist, I see nothing to fear in that.  How can I fear a thing that I will never experience?  It is like worrying about theoretical volcanoes on another planet.  I will never see, feel, or in any other way experience "not existing", so to me this is a purely abstract thing.  In fact, prior to October 27th, 1959 (or up to nine months before that, depending on your point of view) I did not exist as far as I know, and I did not suffer at the time.  "Scott Bain does not exist" is actually the normal state of affairs; it has been true for most of history.  My life span is the incredibly brief exception.

If we do not cease to exist, then we must continue in some other way.  In other words, death is simply change.  Change can be scary, I suppose, but it's nothing new to me.  That 13-year-old Scott Bain changed into something else, then something else, and so on until he became me.  My infant son is long gone, having changed many times over the years.  Change happens all the time, to everyone, and sometimes we don't like it but it evokes no terrifying, primal fear.  Life is change, after all.

Some people say they do not fear death, but dieing:  that it will be unpleasant, painfull, and horrifying.  First of all, this is not certain; some people die in their sleep, or are killed in a sudden way with no opportunity to suffer or even know about it.  But even if a prolonged death is to be my fate, here again it is nothing particularly new.  I have had terrible illnesses and painful injuries before, times when I was so sick I thought it might be better to die.  Most people have.  I know this could happen again, and I certainly do not look forward to having the flu I had in 2010 ever again... but once more, this is not a deep-seated, Nietzschian fear.  It's just something I don't look forward to.

The fear of death is to me, therefore, an irrational fear; which does not mean it is not real.  Irrational feelings are real feelings, and should not be discounted as somehow less important.  But because it is irrational you cannot reason someone else out of it, and I have no intention of trying.  It is a phobia, like fear of heights, and you either have it or you don't.  I don't.

My mother died when I was 29, just as we discovered that I was about to become a father.  My son never got to know his paternal grandmother, nor she him.  Her death, to me, was a terrible loss.  That is what I fear; not my own death, but my own life continuing after losing friends and family, and even beloved pets that are so important to me.  The prospect of life in loss is frightening to me, and for good reason; I've felt that before, too, and it was far worse than any illness, injury, pain, or painful change in myself.

My mother is either gone entirely, which I am sure does not trouble her, or she is somewhere else in some other form.  Either notion is acceptable, as far as my own fate is concerned, to me.  When people talk about wanting to live to be 100 years old or more, I greet that concept with the idea that this would likely afford me the opportunity to watch most of my friends suffer and die, and then having to deal with the loss as I went on.  That someone would want this simply baffles me.

I also wonder why so few people point out the obvious about extending human life.  If we could change ourselves so that we lived 150 or 200 years, the over-population of this planet, already a huge problem, would become massively worse.  I feel that I am taking my turn on this world, and that when my turn is over I have to bow out and make a space for someone else.  Otherwise we will simply extend our time living in a human nightmare, making our earth into the hell that the religious groups fear may be their fate if they do not follow the rules set down by their priests.  I would prefer almost anything to that.

-Scott Bain-
September 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Short films made by now-famous directors

Found on Reddit r/Movies and elsewhere.

La Lettre by Michel Gondry

Vincent by Tim Burton

Stalk of the Celery Monster by Tim Burton

Frankenweeine by Tim Burton

My Best Friends Birthday by Quentin Tarantino

Cigarettes and Coffee by Paul Thomas Anderson (precursor to Hard 8)

Dirk Diggler Story by Paul Thomas Anderson (p/c to Boogie Nights)

World Cinema by Joel and Ethan Coen

Comedians by Seth MacFarlane

Larry and Steve by Seth MacFarlane (precursor to Family Guy)

Gulp by Jason Reitman

In God We Trust by Jason Reitman

Consent by Jason Reitman

I'm Here by Spike Jonze (w/ making of)

(making of I'm Here)

How They Get There by Spike Jonze

Bottle Rocket Short by Wes Anderson (pre-feature film)

Hotel Chevalier by Wes Anderson

Doodlebug by Christopher Nolan

Day of the Fight by Stanley Kubrick

Flying Padre by Stanley Kubrick

Escape to Nowhere by Steven Spielberg

Xenogenesis by James Cameron

Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp (p/c to District 9)

The Adventures of André and Wally B. by John Lasseter (p/c to Pixar)

Within the Woods by Sam Raimi (p/c to Evil Dead w/ Bruce Campbell)

It's Murder! Directed by Sam Raimi

Six Men Getting Sick by David Lynch

The Alphabet by David Lynch

The Grandmother by David Lynch

The Amputee by David Lynch

The Big Shave by Martin Scorsese

What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? by Martin Scorsese

It's Not Just You Murray! by Martin Scorsese

Crimes of the Future by David Cronenberg

From the Drain by David Cronenberg

Bedhead by Robert Rodriguez

Last Year in Viet Nam by Oliver Stone

Geometria by Guillermo Del Toro

Freiheit by George Lucas

Discipline of Do Easy by Gus Van Sant

The Junky's Christmas by Francis Ford Copploa

Boy and Bicycle by Ridley Scott

Foutaises by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Rubber Johnny by Chris Cunningham

Rozbijemy Zabawe by Roman Polanski

Lampa The Lamp by Roman Polanski

Morderstwo by Roman Polanski

Teeth Smile by Roman Polanski

This is John by The Duplass Brothers

Scrapple by The Duplass Brothers

Protozoa, by Darren Aronofsky

Sofia Coppola Lick the Star pt1
Sofia Coppola Lick the Star pt2

The Goodbye Place by Richard Kelly:

George Lucas The Electronic Laryrinth (THX1138)

GPS, take me to the Frankfurt Airport!

I recently taught a course for a client of mine in Kaiserslautern, Germany, which is about an hour and a half southwest of Frankfurt.  Naturally I flew into Frankfurt, rented a car, and drove to the course location.  Being new to Germany and concerned that I might have trouble reading the road-signs, it seemed obvious that I should rent a car with a GPS navigation system.

In fact, when I'd emailed my course contact for "good directions from the airport to Kaiserslautern" her advice was "rent a car with a GPS."  Ha!  Okay, sounds good.

I am not a fan of jet-lag, and so I flew in a couple of days early to allow my biorhythms or circadian rhythms or whatever rhythms are involved to sort things out and, like, let me sleep in the nighttime and stay awake in the daytime.  This is especially important when one is planning to deliver 3 full days of stand-up training.  Having the GPS was nice because it helped me explore the area without any concern that I might get lost and not find my way back to the hotel.  I like GPS.  When Andrea and I took a trip up the California coast for our 25th wedding anniversary it was great to be able to type in "seafood", let's say, or "Golden Gate Park" and have it find our way for us.  I'm a fan.

When the course was over it was time to fly home and, unfortunately, I had a 9:35am flight out of Frankfurt.  Given the drive time and the vicissitudes of international travel security, I knew I had to leave very, very early in the morning.  It seemed like 6am should do it, but I am paranoid about being late.  I left at 5:30am.

I got everything into the car, fired up the GPS, selected "airports" and looked at the selections.  It started off with "Terminal 1, Frankfurt Hahn", then "Terminal 2, Frankfurt Hahn", then just "Frankfurt Hahn".  Following these it listed airports located in cities other than Frankfurt, and given that all three "Hahn"s were exactly the same distance away I assumed it didn't matter which one I picked.  I picked the general one, "Frankfurt Hahn".  I figured once I got close I'd be following signs to "rental car return" anyway.

As I traveled along things seemed okay, at first.  But then, after a while, it seemed like I was being directed to smaller and smaller roads, and away from the main "A" roads (the Autobahns, as you may know).  I was momentarily concerned that I'd somehow goofed up the GPS settings, but a little sign would routinely confirm that I was indeed on my way to the airport; with an airplane symbol, the word "Hahn", and and arrow pointing me to continue.  So I did.  The road got down to a one-lane-each-way affair, and in more than one case I had to slow down for farm equipment.  And a cow.  Still, little brown signs with airplanes on them beckoned me onward.

As I approached the airport I really began to wonder.  It just didn't look like the airport I'd flown in to.  "Oh well," I thought, "maybe we're approaching from the other side".  Sometimes GPS takes you on the scenic route, but it gets you there.  I saw a car-rental-return sign for "Sixt", which was the right company, and so I pulled into the lot and parked.

Nobody was there.  Nobody anywhere, really.  No signs telling me what to do.  No clearly-marked doors. Crickets with German accents.  Sauerkraut tumbleweeds.

I saw a workman off in the distance, wearing a plastic green-neon-colored vest, enter a small portable office.  He was the only person I could see anywhere so I walked the 200 yards or so, knocked on the door, and asked if he could help me.  He was very cordial, and began to tell me where the entrance to the airport was and how to get there, and how to turn in my rental car keys... when I just thought to ask him "this is the Frankfurt airport, right?"

"Yes," he said, and then after a moment, "Frankfurt Hahn".

"Is there another one?" I asked.  His eyes got big.

"Oh, no, you want the main Frankfurt airport?  That's Frankfurt Mainz!  This is the little one, just for local, private planes!"

Ah.  The "little" one.  "How far away is the big one?" I asked, but before he could answer the look on his face told me everything I needed to know.  Far.  Quite far.  Frankfurt is a large city and I was on the wrong side of it, with the rush hour just beginning.

"What time is your flight?" he asked.  I told him.  He slowly shook his head.  I think he was about to offer me somewhere to spend the night.

You may have heard that the autobahn has no speed limits.  This is, for the most part, true.  I capitalized on this fact at this point, big time.  I'd rather not go into details, except to say that I think I experienced a slight degree of Einsteinian time-dilation on the A4.

I made it (barely, OJ-ing my way through the airport and running up to the gate at the last minute, just like in a rom-com but without Jennifer Aniston), but you may be wondering... what went wrong with the GPS?  It was simple: nothing.  The average GPS, when displaying a list of locations, orders them by distance - nearest to farthest.  Had I scrolled down I would have found more entries for Frankfurt, including Frankfurt Mainz, and I probably would have stopped to ask someone before getting too far down the road which was the right airport for me.  Perhaps my car rental agreement would have made this clear... had it not been, you know, in German.

This was just another in a long line of examples illustrating the dangers of relying too much on technology.  In years past I would have figured out my route on a map, and in so doing would have educated myself about the city of Frankfurt.  With the GPS I didn't have to, so I didn't, and then my ignorance reared its head when I misused the GPS.

And darn near got stranded in Germany.

People who know me well often point out that I am overly concerned about allowing enough time for things.  I always show up early to places, often sitting in my car and listening to music until my appointed time arrives.  I wanted to write this blog so I could just give them the URL to it whenever this particular criticism is offered...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tweetin' Weiner

I actually have some sympathy for the congressman, but the fit was too good to resist...

(sung to the tune of Rockin' Robin)

He works in the congress all day long
Ev'ry now and then he snaps a pic of his dong
They want his resignation, short and sweet
For tweetin' his junk to chicks he don't meet

Tweetin' Weiner
Tweetin' Weiner

They call him tweetin' Weiner 'cause his weiner's what he likes to tweet

Ev'ry TV pundit showed that thang
Weiner half-insisted that it wasn't his wang
He finally admitted that he had lied
You'd think a guy that's packin' that would have more pride

Tweetin' Weiner
Tweetin' Weiner
They call him tweetin' Weiner 'cause his weiner's what he likes to tweet

He never had the nookie, nor spent a dime
He iddn't like Vitter, he committed no crime
He wasn't in the men's room tappin' his feet
All he did was snap his crotch and tweet tweet tweet

Tweetin' Weiner
Tweetin' Weiner

They call him tweetin' Weiner 'cause his weiner's what he likes to tweet

-Scott Bain-

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Singular Flight Experience

My recent return from Des Moines was a two-leg journey. One flight from Des Moines to Phoenix, then a second flight from Phoenix to Seattle (why one would fly such a stupid route is a topic for another time). Although I try very hard to ensure that I have at least 2-hour layovers when making connections, I had been unable to do so on this one; I knew once I landed in Phoenix that I would have a mere hour to make my flight back home to SeaTac.  Does that seem like a long time? You obviously have not been flying recently.

The first flight of this adventure was... well, if not the worst experience of my flying life, it was certainly the strangest.  Maybe both, and I fly a lot.

The whole thing began after I had checked out from The Wildwood Hotel in Des Moines, and stopped by the computer in the lobby to check in for my flights and print both of my boarding passes. The US-Air site was up and working (unusual) and I was able to get exit-row-window seats on both legs of the flight. I am over 6'2" tall, so this is rather critical to me. I'd never been able to get extra legroom on two flights in a row like that. I felt incredibly blessed...

...until the browser crashed without saving my changes. I logged back in, and it crashed again. And again.  The hotel had Internet Exploder installed, a rather old version that barfed on Flash code. I thought "I could try to fix this, or I could just download and install Firefox". The latter was faster, frankly.

Firefox installed, I tried again, but the seat map would not display due to the lack of the Flash plug-in, and the plug-in would not install due to my lack of admin privileges. I could install Firefox, but not a Firefox plugin.  Right.  I noticed that one could simply enter the selected seats into a little text box, and amazingly I remembered both seat numbers. Bam, it went in and I printed both boarding passes.

"Our glitch for the mission," I thought, like Lovell on Apollo 13 after the CECO failure. Actually, just like that as it turned out.

When I arrived at DSM, there were no lines at security and I sailed through. Once in, however, I looked at the "Big Board" (only about 10 lines long in this tiny airport) to find my gate. All flights had been assigned a gate except mine. I was pretty early, so I sat down to wait for the gate assignment. After some time had passed with no gate listed, I noticed there was another US-Air flight to Phoenix, 10 minutes before mine, but with a different flight number. There were two flights from Des Moines to Phoenix, on the same airline, 10 minutes apart? Weird. Anyway, it had a gate assignment so I went there to ask about the situation.

When I arrived, the gate agent informed me that yes, this was my flight. The "Big Board" was wrong. The other flight number was the Monday-Friday flight, and was a different number and time on weekends, and they had neglected to change it. So, there was only one flight, and it was mine, and they listed two because... well, just how important could that be? Only that I would have missed the flight if I had not asked.  Nah, we don't have to be all that accurate when it comes to airport information-radiators.

So I boarded. Waiting in line at the door to the aircraft I heard a flight attendant on the plane say over the PA system that this flight was quite empty, that everyone should be able to have a row to themselves, and that people should feel free to move to any seats they liked. Keep in mind that most of us were not yet on the plane when she said this. 

I got to my choice, hand-picked, window-exit-row seat with all that lovely legroom and, of course, someone had taken it. I showed this guy my boarding pass and said he had my seat.

"They said take any seat you want," he said gruffly.

"I'm pretty sure that means any unclaimed seat. I have this one assigned to me," I replied.

He stared straight ahead and ignored me. After a minute or two I waved down a flight attendant who came over and told the guy he'd have to move. He did. To the seat right next to me.

So now I was sitting next to this giant, seething twerp, fighting for the armrest and noticing that the air inside the plane was getting extremely hot. They had the main door open (on a crude jetway without much of a seal), and the 90+-degree Des Moines air was pouring in. I twisted the little airjet over my head and... nothing came out.

The (same)  flight attendant came on the PA again and explained that the US-Air ground crew in Des Moines had changed to a new company, one that was inexperienced and had failed to connect the plane's external power umbilical, and so until the engines were started we would have no air conditioning. I glanced out the window and noted that the baggage handlers were not using the powered loading belt, but were putting the luggage on one bag at a time. Three handlers moving one bag at a time, slowly.  "Inexperienced" indeed.

The heat continued to rise, as did the CO2 content and general human-humidity. My bulbous seatmate was getting particularly ripe as the temperature rose well above 100 degrees. Three mothers with infants, obviously concerned about the lack of actual oxygen content in our atmosphere, had walked up to the front of the plane with their babies and were holding them, at arm's length, out the cabin door into the sunny jetway, so the little ones could breathe as they screamed. That single image was probably the strangest thing I'd even seen on an aircraft.

Until a few minutes later. It was obvious to all of us that the "nearly empty plane" was, in fact, completely full. The gate agent, or someone, had gotten that wrong (probably because they thought there were two flights as well). So our favorite flight attendant got back on the horn and, with vague apologies, said that we could not "take any seat" but would have to move to our actual assigned seats. Now.

Watching an entire planefull of people, in 100-degree, oxygen-free, BO-reeking air attempting to reshuffle their positions using the tiny little aisle between the seats was a visual I cannot adequately describe. People climbing over seats and one another, hauling out their carry-on luggage from the overheads (while the flight attendant told them "don't move your overhead bags"), snaking moistly past one another's typical American obesity, some actually crawling under and over others, sweat dripping from one person's head onto another's face, people being bashed with roller bag wheels... well, it was like the most unpleasant orgy scene imaginable. I silently thanked providence that I was already in my correct seat, that I had no carry-on luggage, and that my hostile neighbor had to make his way through that sweating knot of humanity to some other place, far away from me.

The flight attendant sternly admonished us that we could not take off until people were in their seats. This was the same idiot who had told people to take "any old seat," long before most of us were on the plane. Now I began to think about that 1-hour layover I supposedly had in Phoenix shrinking away as people desperately tried to claw their way to their official seats. I glanced out the window and watched the Remedial Baggage Handling School for the Mentally Impaired as they slooooowly placed each bag into a carefully-selected nook, discussing each selection with ultimate care.

Finally the pilot, who seemingly had a brain cell or two functioning, decided to fire up the engines on one side of the plane, the side opposite the baggage handlers, so we would at least have some air. He announced this, and we could hear the hiss of the airjets functioning. But it did not really get much cooler because, for reasons unknown to me, they still had the cabin door open (even though the moms were back in their seats with their gasping, grey little babies). I mentioned this to the flight attendant, and she joined the other crew members near the door so they could all discuss this for, oh, 10 minutes. Finally they figured out the difference between "open" and "closed" and with a whump, the air started to cool.

Time crawled by, but eventually we were in the air. And really, really thirsty.

The beverage cart came down the aisle, everyone begging pitifully, poignantly for something to drink, and when they got to my row I asked for a club soda with lime as I usually do. I was rummaging around in my bag for my book so I didn't notice until well after the cart had moved on that everyone in my row was given something to drink... except me. I tried to get her (yeah, same chick) attention but could not.  Sincerely, I was about as thirsty as I can remember being in a good long time, so I rang the bell for the attendant.  But, of course, the aisle was blocked with the cart so it was another 15 minutes before I could get something to drink. Note to self; always bring a bottle of water along. Other note to self; they take them away from you at security anyway.

I was also starving. They had announced they had "food for purchase" and so I took out my credit card and waited. The food cart simply never arrived, no explanation.

When we landed in Phoenix I knew we were quite late (and even moreso since, when we got to the gate there was another plane there and we had to wait for it to pull back first), but my FlightView android app said the gate we were arriving at was #4, and that my departure gate was also #4. Same plane? Perhaps. Maybe my problems were over. Flightview had never (not once) given me bad info, so I relaxed a bit. The flight attendant (yeah, same one again) announced that everyone had to get off, even if they were continuing on the same plane, because they were changing crews. Why one thing meant the other thing eluded me, but then again I was working with a lightly-poached, dessicated brain at that point.  We all slogged our way off the plane into the 99-degree Phoenix jetway, which took forever because of all the people in the forward part of the plane who had luggage in the overheads of the rear part of the plane.  Collisions, climbing, snaking again as I desperately tried to get to the door. 

Upon exiting the plane I found we were actually at gate B5. B? So "#4" didn't even make sense in the Phoenix airport.  Bad info in the same system had mislead Flightview, but again, how important could that be? I checked the PHX flight board and found that my flight to Seattle was not at this gate, not on this plane, but rather on another flight currently boarding at A25. A concourse, next to B, right? Not that far, right?

Wrong. Other side of the freaking airport. So I began to run.

They have people-movers everywhere in the Phoenix airport. Running on those moving belts can really speed you up if other people really do "stand to the right" as 100 signs and a constant announcer tells them to, but they don't. Also, more than half these motorized belts were not working anyway. Of course not.  So I ran down the main corridor, dodging the beeping carts full of overweight people and knots of teenagers stopping randomly and unpredictably to tweet.

I saw the gate up ahead, the door still open, and I realized I was going to make my flight! I also realized that my bag, not understanding the situation very well, probably was not running from one gate to the other.  That's the real reason for long layovers, gang, to give your luggage a fighting chance to make your next flight.

I made it home without further incident, and my bag actually made the connection as well (a fact that proves the existence of a power greater than our own, at least to me), which was good because I noticed, while waiting at the assigned carousel, that the US-Air luggage office, right next to the escalator, was closed, dark and unmanned. I have no idea what I was supposed to have done if my bag had missed my flight.

I just booked my next trip, to Philly. As you might have guessed, I insisted on a direct flight... the only one available being on US-Air.

-Scott Bain-

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inbox Zero, one year later

One year ago this month I began the practice of "inbox zero", and I can report that this simple technique is, for me, a complete success.

Inbox zero is a so-called "life hack", a simple and perhaps non-obvious practice that has a significantly positive effect on daily life.  For those who are unfamiliar...

How many emails do you have in your inbox right now?  A dozen?  A hundred?  A thousand?  More? 

Consider:  how often do you go to your physical mailbox (the one outside your house), take the mail out, read some of it, and then put most of it back into the mailbox?  For most of us the answer is "never", and yet this is what you do with your virtual (e)mailbox all the time.

Inbox zero is simple. I don't do that.  Ever.

When I check my email, after deleting all the obvious spam, I open each email and do one or more of these five things things with it:

1) Reply to it
2) Take the action it requests me to take
3) Forward it to someone else to take the action
4) Put it in my "follow-up" folder
5) File it away into an appropriate folder for archiving

...and then I remove it from my inbox.  My inbox is either empty, or I have yet to check it.  I never, and I do mean never, leave my inbox with even a single email in it.  I only check my "follow up" folder when I have the time to take on a task.

This sounds difficult, but it is not.  I thought, when I started, that it would be hard to start this procedure because I had so many emails in my inbox at that time that it would take forever to go through it.  So I didn't... I put it all into a folder called "old inbox", knowing I could get to it if I needed any of those old emails later. 

Interestingly, I never did.  I still have it, but I've never gone back to it.

Modern life is extremely inter-connected.  So many things can demand our attention, and we have a kind of "queue" in our brain of all the things we are doing, just did, and are about to do.  The size of this queue produces stress, stress that we often fail to even feel anymore because it is so ubiquitous.  Since adopting inbox zero, I have found many positive effects:

1) Less stress in general
2) I am much more responsive to people, without more time spent on email.  In fact, I spend less
3) I am more organized, non only about communication but about most things
4) I don't check my email as frequently as I used to
5) I don't lose information as often as I used to (this is remarkably different)

Also, I've had no problems sticking with it.  Once you do inbox zero for a couple of weeks, you find yourself wondering that you ever handled your email any other way.  I heartily recommend it.

-Scott Bain-

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Money Does

We're in the midst of a very contentious fight over the right way to close the budget deficit;  one the one side, it is believed that simply reducing taxes on the rich will eventually accomplish the feat.

This is the belief of the conservatives, and I understand what it is based on.  It is based on the nature of an industrial economy.  Unfortunately, we are no longer an industrial economy.

In 1952 (to pick a year at random) if you gave a tax break to a wealthy person (which means, essentially, giving them extra money to spend) and given that they would obviously want to find a way to make more money from this windfall, they would invest it in something that was likely to grow.  They would expand their business, or build a new one, or invest in the expansion of someone else's business.  This would create jobs that, ultimately, would expand the tax base and contribute to the shared coffers that pay for our social programs.

In other words, putting money in "at the top" would mean growing the economy.  In 1952.

Today if you give a wealthy person "extra money", what are they likely to do with it?  Their goal would be the same; grow the money into more money.  This is only natural, you or I would probably do the same.  But is the best way to do that still investing in a business?  Probably not.

In most cases the windfall will be invested in complex, "innovative" financial instruments: CDO's, credit-default swaps and the like.  It will be invested in the financial sector itself.  Or, it will be invested in overseas endeavors where the economies are emerging (like China, India, and the like).  It will rarely create jobs here at home.

The Bush era proved this.  The Bush tax cuts invested massively in the upper end of our economy and we lost jobs, lost tax revenue, and exploded the deficit.  It did not work because it cannot work in an economy such as ours.

So, it is not that the conservative "trickle down" theory is baseless, it is that it is obsolete.  Put money in at the top of an economy based on the financial sector, and you grow the financial sector.  Into a bubble.  Eventually the bubble pops, and all that wealth simply disappears, or gets recycled back into financial products. 

Prior to 1985 the financial sector had never represented more than 16% of the US economy (in 1947 it was 2.5%).  In the current decade it represents more than 40%, and is growing steadily.*

We are a consumer based economy, like it or not.  Jobs are created by consumption of goods.  The only way to grow the job base, and thus the tax base, and thus the economy itself is to inject money into consumption.

In other words, the middle class is where the tax breaks should go, and the only way to make that workable is to shift the burden upward.  This does not have to constitute class warfare, it's just a realization of how the modern US economy works, and making policy based on reality.

The problem, of course, is that rich people own our politicians, and they naturally don't want to be burdened with higher taxes.  The problem, of course, is money distorting our political process.  What we should do about that is another subject.

-Scott Bain-


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rules and Exceptions

An interesting thing to note:

If one believes, as I do, that there is an exception to every rule, then this has two implications.

First, the notion that every rule has an exception means that if one believes something to be in fact a rule, then among other things one must provide, as proof, the exception to it.  This is simple logic: if all mules are sired by horses, then to prove that something is a mule one (at least) must find the horse that sired it.  Finding an exception to a rule does not prove that it is a rule (other things have exceptions too), but failing to find an exception means that it cannot, in fact, be a rule.

Second, if one believes that there is an exception to every rule, then this belief itself is being proposed as a rule.  Therefore it must have an exception.  Failing this, by its own standard, it cannot be held to be a rule.  So does the rule "there is an exception to every rule" itself have an exception?

If so, then there must be at least one rule that has no exception.

There is.  It is this:

There is an exception to every rule.