Friday, February 24, 2006

TegWar Asks. Answers Are Delivered.

The answer is, surprisingly, yes. But they're in Germany, Norway, and Russia.

Good to know someone's listening. I had started to wonder (Yes, the prize is still available).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Have You Seen Your Boss Today?

If you haven't, don't worry. But don't celebrate either. They are probably playing the 'hide from the staff and hope it all blows over' game this morning? The game officially begins with the coldsweat which accompanies noticing an article such as this morning's "Suits on Overtime Hitting Big Firms." Next, they read the article and learn,
"The suits stem from state and federal laws that require employers to pay time-and-a-half to workers who put in more than 40 hours a week. Salaried managers and independent contractors are exempt -- unless their salaries fall below a certain threshold. Exempt categories are carefully defined to prevent employers from simply using the titles for workers to avoid paying overtime.

...most of the biggest collective-action cases stem from the process of classifying who gets overtime and who is exempt. For big employers, an incorrect classification may involve hundreds of workers."
Cue lumps in throat, blotchy vision, and that vaguely dizzy feeling. Lock the door.

The game is afoot.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Is this News to Anyone Else?

I ask this seriously. In today's Washington Post there is an article about the North Carolina Republican Party requesting church directories from party members. Included in the article is a reference to a similar practice employed by Bush-Cheney in August 2004. According to the article, religious leaders- both then and now- object to the practice. This is the first I am hearing of this.

Actually, that's not true. I am aware of the Bush-Cheney practice. So aware, in fact, that I now understand churches to be the Republican Party's Union Hall. What does count as news are the protestations from religious leaders. While welcome news- you've seen how politicizing churches sickens me- how had I not heard about this?

After searching through my archives for a little context and support, I would like to amend the above paragraph. It turns out I had heard about the religious leaders' complaints (in passing), I had simply not bothered to remember their complaints. Probably because, much like Inspector Renault, they were shocked to learn of such goings on ("I heard nothing further about it, so my assumption was that it stopped").

Finally, I am encouraged by the Republican Party's assertion that, "the tactic did not violate federal tax laws." It's nice to know that legal- not moral or some higher standard- is the threshold to consider when dealing with God and church. Sadly, however, that attitude is not limited to the political party. While religious leaders posture as appalled at Republican "outreach" they also brag that "scores of clergy members attended legal sessions explaining how they could talk about the election from the pulpit."

Very seriously, it is time to ask- is the church a legal, political, or moral institution? Does it boast, much like a businessman in a New Yorker cartoon, "Oh, I think I can be principled when necessary."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Are We Really Living in a World...

where companies trade anchors?

It would seem so as ESPN and NBC have announced a deal which sends play-by-play man Al Michaels to NBC in exchange for expanded broadcast rights and Mickey Mouse's older cousin, Oswald the Rabbit.

Is a guy with a microphone really a tradable asset nowadays? Is anyone else not okay with this state of affairs?

Do I Look Simple? Wait, Don't Answer That

As I type, my email account is probably receiving an unwanted message or three. Maybe it's another of the occasional communiques from my Nigerian 'friend' updating me on the status of our get rich quick scheme. Possibly the message is from CBSportsline encouraging me to sign up for Fantasy Golf (ugh, football is where I draw the line). Or the helpful in spirit, though not really in practice, Progress Report (is it too much to ask for more fact than spin in a talking points document?). Fortunately, I'll never see any of them thanks to the built-in spam filter.

AOL and Yahoo! would like to change that and have me thank them for the service. Thanks to an upcoming pay-for-delivery email service, senders can have their emails routed around the built in spam filter and guaranteed to show up in the Inbox. AOL and Yahoo! have the audacity to bill this as a spam prevention plan. Yes, my Nigerian 'friend' will probably not opt-in for this service (we're trying to get rich quick, but we're not there yet). On the other hand, CBS might be willing to pay.

The spam filters of today are remarkably successful at detecting these nothing but scam and spam emails and keeping them out of the Inbox. So successful, in fact, that the volume of spam is on the decline (a few years ago spam was a virtual epidemic which threatened to swamp email as we knew it). In other words, email providers already have a good spam prevention tool. Only it doesn't bring in much revenue. There's simply no reason to pretend this program has anything to do with reducing the spam in Inboxes. Instead of reducing spam, I expect that what any individual account holder considers spam is likely to increase as a result. In the final analysis, users will receive a degraded service while the provider will see their profits increase.

This is, plain and simple, a revenue raising tool made possible by new technology. Similar plans (the Economist had a nice article on this topic a few months back, but it's behind a pay wall so f'm) are being considered by broadband providers. As AT&T, Verizon, and the like see it, the Yahoo!s and Googles of the world are freeloading on the broadband provider's infrastructure. And they should pay up. While technologically a Verizon could block access to Google within their network, consumers would not sign up with a service provider that didn't allow them to google anything. Instead, the idea in circulation would discriminate against the freeloaders by giving priority over the network to content providers who pay for the special treatment. Google pages would take twice as long to load as MSN pages, for instance. Among the prime beneficiaries of this approach would be content provided by the broadband network itself (a re-AOLization of the Internet if you will... because that has remained quite popular as web navigation has become user-friendly). The net result for the end user is an Internet experience which is on the whole slower (the privileged group wouldn't show up faster than they would absent this discrimination but the 'freeloaders' would be slower). From a consumer perspective we're talking about the same price for an inferior service, higher prices for web content (paying content providers would pass along at least a portion of their costs to the user community), and greater profits for the provider. Sounds a lot like the email scam, no?

Seriously, why would I want either of these (dis)services to take place? In the case of broadband providers, they do have one argument: the additional revenue would allow them to spend more upgrading their network. Faster networks are desirable- but if Verizon wants to provide me with a faster network, they should charge me. However, Verizon, like Willie Sutton before them, would prefer to hit up Google and other content providers. Afterall, Google's pockets are a lot deeper than mine.

More fundamentally, why should I be held captive to Verizon and friends' pursuit of more cash? Isn't there a public interest in unimpeded access to these pipes?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Who Knew?

Apparently, the Olympics begin soon. Tonight, tomorrow some time, Saturday. I'm not really sure. Is anyone? Also, are they in Turin or Torino? Is that a distinction without a difference?

My disinterest has nothing to do with the much advanced theory that these games, thus far, lack dominant personalities. The games - the competitions themselves- lack intrigue. Yes, there are a few potentially exciting events- skeleton (down the tube, all but naked) or speed skating (the wipe-out potential)- but the excitement flows from failure rather than success. By and large, the Winter Olympics are far too contrived (who ice dances? is there a biathlete left?).

Anyway, this is all an elaborate way of asking a favor. Will someone please let me know when these Olympics are over? Otherwise, I fear I'm so far out of this loop I might believe they're still ongoing come April and May.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's More Soap Opera than Family Tree

It all started at Appel Farms last year. Rufus Wainwright and his father Loudon Wainwright III were among the performers. During a father-son duet, Loudon brought out his daughter Lucy Roche. We were confused- Roche? Our intrigue only grew as we flipped through the program for the day's concert* and saw a note for a similar music festival in Rhode Island or some such place. Among the scheduled performers in some such place was Sloan Wainwright. How did she fit into all of this? Our intrigue only grew during Rufus' Halloween concert at the 9:30 Club when he mentioned his mother's upcoming Christmas album- The McGarrigle Christmas Hour.

With these pieces in hand, we were convinced nothing short of a family tree could clear our confusion. Here goes: Loudon III (the son of Martha and Loudon Jr. who worked for Life magazine, as they say, back in the day) is the older brother of Sloan- who was, apparently, Indie before Indie went cool- so that clears that up. Loudon somehow got together with a Quebecois by the name of Kate McGarrigle and that explains Rufus and his little sister Martha. But that marriage didn't last. Loudon later met up with Suzzy Roche (I'm told her name rhymes with Fuzzy Roach). Which accounts for everybody on our radar- and far more simply than had been anticipated. Sloan really threw us- her picture looks much younger than she is- but we were sure Rufus was Loudon's eldest (where that surety came from, I could not tell you).

Now, it all makes sense. Except for the degree of cross-involvement. Their careers are better described by a flow chart. Basically, everybody sings with everybody else. Loudon has shared the mike with Kate, her sister Anna (whose daugther Lily Lanken has performed with her mom and her cousin Martha), and Suzzy (i.e. all four on the same stage). Martha used to back up Rufus. And all the parents have trotted their kids out for songs over the years.

*The quick and dirty run down: Mavis Staples was lively, Madeleine Peyroux was smooth and sensual, Aimmee Mann was an absolute powerhouse, and Rufus's solo gig was remarkable.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Don't you hate it when...

I'm currently reading The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth by Benjamin Friedman. In short, he's arguing economic growth is responsible for the success/ extension of the liberal project (i.e. democracy, personal freedom, a more open society, the other good social justice stuff). More precisely, stagnation and decline lead to a retrenchment of these social goods. If you believe Friedman and you want democracy- then you want growth (not a high income level, but growth). Not the world's most mind bending idea, but a serious challenge to the stability of modernity.

But do we believe Friedman? At this point, I'm not sure.

To support his case, he is highlighting periods of stagnation and retrenchment as well as those that featured growth and the expansion of rights. Too many of his examples feel as though he is painting with too broad of a brush. A certain degree of oversimplification is to be expected, if a bit unsettling in total. Blatantly misleading simplifications, however, are a different case entirely.

Take, for instance, page 144:
In the new era of rising incomes [post-1896, especially the Progressive period],the country also took its first step toward more explicit redistribution via taxes. The constitutional amendment that authorized... an income tax provides yet another instance of the difference that follows with economic growth. Before the free silver issue so completely preempted their agenda, the populists too had favored introducing an income tax... In the midst of the economic stagnation of the late nineteenth century, however, the idea had failed to come to fruition. By contrast, after more than a decade of sustained growth, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Sixteenth Amendment in 1909... and by 1913 the necessary three-fourths of the states had ratified it.

For the moment, take it from me- that's not exactly accurate. Fortunately, there's a footnote:
In 1894 Congress passed the populist-supported Wilson-Gorman tariff Act, which also instituted a graduated income tax, but the Supreme Court ruled the measure unconstitutional before it took effect; Pollock v. Farmer's Loan Trust

Now that's more like it. Maybe I'm naive here, but I've never understood footnotes to be the place you undermine your main text. Support, gritty details, acknowledge debates- sure. But contradict yourself- no.

Here's the deal. The income tax was passed in 1894, ruled unconstitutional in 1895 (and only the income tax portion of the tariff Act was struck). This would have been the nation's second federal income tax- the first was on the books between the 1860s and 1872 or so. After losing before the Court, the movement was deflated - they couldn't change the Court and re-passing the tax (i.e. ignoring/ challenging the Court) was considered too transgressive an act (especially given the tensions in the country at that time).

Moving forward to 1909, growth had not been peachy (I'm sure we've all heard of the Panic of 1907). More importantly, the strife over the previous tariff bill (Wilson' Gorman) had been so deep, no one wanted to revisit tariffs until they had to. One of the key cleavages of support for the income tax was sectional (the East had money income and opposed; the Midwest, well, didn't have income and supported). Come 1909, the Midwest has enough power (numbers in Congress; number of States) to force the Establishment's hand. In the truce that was negotiated, the income tax would be put up as an amendment and the rest of the tariff would be passed. The Establishment thought they had a sweet (and sweetly poisoned) deal in trading a bill (the tariffs were the pork of their day, oh, and the primary source of revenue) for a longshot at an amendment. However, the states (several of whom had long had income taxes of their own) didn't have any real problem with a federal income tax.

The details aren't quite as neat as Friedman's initial statement would lead you to believe. The details, in fact, tell a story which doesn't mesh particularly well with his overarching claims about growth and society's moral goods. This is more a story about who has political power and who doesn't. Yes, the growth angle can fit in, but requires more finesse than he cares to attempt.

Do we believe Friedman's, big picture? To a degree, but not as far as he'd have us. Since he goes a bit too far sometimes, that's probably a good thing. (As a side note, he's not attentive enough to issues of distribution, if you ask me).