Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster



Wednesday, August 27, 2014 :::
 

I'm scheduled to meet with my advisor, and appear to have given up on any hope of being prepared for that, so I'm reading Matt Levine instead. If you don't know about the difference between the way the US taxes income and the way every other country does — i.e. that basically every country taxes economic activity within its borders, but the US taxes a lot of economic activity outside its borders as well — then Welcome to our blog! and maybe go read his synopsis of the international corporate tax system. The upshot as it concerns the Tim Hortons deal is that, if BK and TH join to become a Canadian company, BK will pay somewhat less in taxes (viz. on its non-US operations), while if they join to become a US company, TH will pay a lot more in taxes (viz. on its non-US operations), and this is a legitimate merger for non-tax reasons, but TH kind of doesn't want to volunteer for all those new taxes.  What I want to address is more
  • Your U.S. subsidiary makes a pill for $1.
  • Your U.S. subsidiary licenses the patent on that pill from your Bermuda subsidiary for $9,995.
  • Your U.S. subsidiary sells the pill for $10,000.
  • Your U.S. subsidiary has $4 of net income, which is taxable.
  • Your Bermuda subsidiary has $9,995 of net income, which is not.
This seems fair to me if the R&D work behind the patent is done in Bermuda. Since (If?) it's not, at least in theory you might tax the value of the patent minus its R&D "cost-basis" as it leaves the country; in practice, it probably wouldn't be easy to value the patent. I'm not sure whether making expatriation of capital a taxable event is workable or not.

I will add that "eliminate corporate taxes" is another idea I like in theory more than in practice; my practical objection is that it's hard to say what is an expense incurred in the production of revenue.  If I'm a traveling salesman, maybe I need a car for work as a legitimate business expense, so I go find myself a Maybach and write off its depreciation on my taxes.  Well, I am not a tax lawyer, so this isn't tax advice, but the IRS is going to see through that.  In actual practice, a lot of expenses are going to necessarily be a combination of employee perk and unavoidable expense, and there are going to be rules of varying levels of arbitrariness and well-foundedness to try to keep evasion to a minimum without screwing people too hard, or at least let's suppose that's an IRS goal.  A lot of that complexity can be kept out of individual income taxes only to the extent that it can be shoved into corporate taxes, where I think complexity is likely to be easier to bear (and easier for those who can't bear it to legitimately avoid it at lower cost).  So ultimately perhaps you can (should?) have a corporate tax rate of 0, but you still might want corporations filing forms that clarify whether some of the employees or clients are receiving in-kind income that can be taxed at some other level.


::: posted by dWj at 11:31 AM


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Monday, August 25, 2014 :::
 
Vox has an article about an attempt by graduate schools to have the Taft administration rank undergraduate colleges. It elicited blowback:
Public universities argued that looking only at grad school preparation was myopic, since their mission was to serve the needs of the state.
This seems like one of the least valid complaints about the whole enterprise.
One of the most important things to do when using metrics is to attend to their limitations; accordingly, if you are creating a list ranking the best X, especially when X is very diverse along many dimensions, you have to say what you mean by saying that one X is better than another; usually, at least at a first pass, this involves stating the reason for constructing this ranking in the first place. If you are constructing a ranking of colleges so that graduate schools have a guide as to which colleges best prepare their students for graduate school, you should construct the ranking that serves that purpose and be perfectly clear that that's what you are doing.
Perhaps, at the time, Virginia Tech was doing an excellent job of preparing students to be engineers and a terrible job of preparing them for graduate school — perhaps in part because it had no intention of preparing students for graduate school. On a ranking of "What school should you attend if you want to be an engineer?", perhaps it should have rated quite highly. On a ranking of "What school leaves you best prepared for graduate school?", perhaps it should not. On a ranking of "Colleges and Universities" that purports to measure graduate school preparation, "the needs of the state", the caliber of the football team and the preparation of students to be good citizens and/or employees, perhaps it would rank somewhere else — and perhaps the group of people who should care where it ranks would be reduced from few to none.
Indeed, these days there are already numerous private rankings, some less laughable than others, with the least laughable ones ranking schools in different subjects — a school that leaves its engineering students well-prepared for graduate school may or may not leave its history students as well-prepared for graduate school. Indeed, the very wrong-headed counterargument
The only reason to oppose transparency, some proponents argue, is that reveals facts colleges would rather conceal.
falls to the rebuttal that what the Education department should do is make the data available, without pretending to find a Platonic ideal ordering on that data that applies a proper weight and consideration to each element to recognize a single abstract notion of "College".
The justification for a new set of rankings from the federal government seems to be
... Obama wants federal financial aid to depend on how colleges do in the new federal quality rating system.
To the extent that there will be federal money going to these colleges and it is appropriate for the federal government to monitor colleges that should be subsidized in this way, it makes sense for the government to produce a metric of how creditable one school is over another, and this aim should be an important input into the design of such a metric. Once it is produced, it would be irresponsible for the department of Education to ever be unclear about what it has measured or why; indeed, if
College presidents argue that the ratings effort itself is misguided, or that measuring graduates' incomes is the wrong way to measure the value of higher education, or that there is no way a rating system will capture the different missions of community colleges and elite private universities.
those college presidents may be correct, but especially as regards the last two points, graduates' incomes may well be a good measure of which students' loans should be guaranteed, but nobody should pretend that that is the only valid measure of the value of higher education, or that doing well on any single rating system should be the primary goal both of community colleges and of AAU universities.


::: posted by dWj at 11:59 AM


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Thursday, August 14, 2014 :::
 
This post is at least superficially about baseball, but it's kind of about logic and rules.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner. The “unless” means that the opposite is also true, that if the catcher is in possession of the ball, he can block the plate, at which point it is the runner’s job to avoid or minimize their contact.
I was going to elaborate this more, but I don't think anyone who reads this blog confuses converses and contrapositives, or will have any trouble figuring out that this is fantastically wrong.

As it happens, just from the screencaps I seem to be running 100% on guessing which half of the plays that he thinks are indistinguishable (he thinks all 6 runners should be out) from each other were called each way, even though I would need video to really know that the rule as he quotes it is being applied correctly.  In half of them, the catchers look as though they have a leg sticking out toward the runner; unless they're falling away from the runner to catch the ball or something, this gives a strong impression that they were unnecessarily in the way before they had the ball.  The player was constructively safe before the catcher had the ball.


::: posted by dWj at 7:20 PM


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Thursday, June 12, 2014 :::
 
The second of these two notes is valuable, but I want to play with it a bit.

The system of governance established for the federal government and, by and large, for the state governments as well, delegates to the federal government certain tasks, places certain constraints on state and federal governments, and largely leaves the political branches of those governments free to use their best judgment (or whatever else they feel like using) to make decisions within their respective purviews.  For at least two hundred years it has also been fairly standard practice for the judicial branch to step in where those governments seem to have overstepped their bounds.  In the last century this has been used in highly dubious contexts and, in less dubious contexts, in highly dubious ways; it seems to me that the system in some kind of principle is supposed to leave the legislature and executive as much freedom as practical to decide how to correct these oversteps, except to the extent they can't or won't.

While much political "discourse" make the simplifying assumption that education and health care are each homogenous, atomic things, such that one either has one or doesn't or, at best, can have more or less of it, in fact actual details of what education to provide and how (best?) to provide it are, even conditional on an agreement that the state should provide them, admissible of a wide range of reasonable beliefs.  If the outcomes in some manner consistently, for example, provide better education to white students than to black students, particularly if they do so in a way that is because of decisions or actions that seem to be motivated by race, then a strong case can be made that the courts should insist on a correction, perhaps putting in place its own (approximately minimal) correction until the other branches of government can act, and certainly doing so if the other branches demonstrate repeated failure to act.  If the legislature and executive branches are trying as hard to comply with the constitution as the judicial branch is, however, then republican principles insist that they make the decisions.

A court in California has decided that California's laws regarding public education are insufficiently attentive to their role in providing some students with a worse education than others, and (I'm not quite clear how important this is) there is a tendency for students in the former group to be racially categorized differently from students in the latter group.  The (currently stayed) injunction seems, at least to me, not to be the minimal adjustment to those rules necessary to change this, though it is at least worth noting that the "minimal adjustment" would be to spread unnecessary misery equally among students rather than to eliminate it.  New Jersey, in its feature-length constitution, guarantees students an education, and if California has such a provision, that would seem more obvious grounds for the injunction that was actually produced.  (Never mind the actual rulings to which it has led in New Jersey.)

Taranto seems to indicate that the decision in California is an extension of its Supreme Court's previous moonbattery (not his word) in its most consistent manner, and while there's something to be said in jurisprudence for consistency, there's also something lamentable about the apparent succession of rounding errors that seems to sometimes lead the court rather strikingly to 0=1.  It should also be noted that there is some consensus in the legal world that the role of a lower court is in fact to apply the higher court's previous moonbattery in its most consistent manner; especially with the stay in place, it seems like the preponderance of evidence is that the judge did his job, even if it has produced a result that everyone hates for a different reason.


::: posted by dWj at 4:43 PM


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Wednesday, June 04, 2014 :::
 


::: posted by dWj at 1:17 PM


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Tuesday, May 06, 2014 :::
 

The first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest starts in a matter of hours, with the second semifinal on Thursday and the final on Saturday. I listened to the contestents, some of them so you don't have to. These are roughly in order from my favorites to my least favorite, with a brief reaction to each song and a link to the youtube video. A lot of these could easily be switched around, but the Icelandic entry is by far the worst.

  • Malta – Malta likes Mumford and Sons. So do I. This might be my favorite.
  • Armenia – The oddsmakers' favorite. A well-constructed ballad.
  • Sweden – I didn't care for the bent notes – or whatever the vocal music term is – but this is still a pretty song.
  • Spain – Very nice ballad.
  • Switzerland – Like last year, the Swiss have produced a simple, catchy, quirky, enjoyable tune that probably won't make the final despite being better than songs that will.
  • Slovenia – Moving into soft rock territory. The video is slightly strange, but I like the song.
  • Georgia – Reminds me of late-70's Jethro Tull or early-70's Yes. I actually liked this song, but I can fully understand someone's hating it. It's hard to place in the rankings because it's quirky. I don't think folk music fares well at Eurovision.
  • Ukraine – The Ukrainians could have tried not to call attention to their geopolitical situation, but instead they entered a song called "Tick-Tock." It may have carried less of a "time is running out on our independence" connotation at the time the choice was made. It's fast-paced and not regrettable and the singer is pretty, which doesn't hurt.
  • Finland – It's like emo music except that I like it. Actually, the opening reminds me of Peanuts, but telling you that before you listen to it probably just poisoned your listen. Anyway, give it a shot.
  • Albania – This is different and not bad. Reminds me of something I listened to in college in the mid 90s, though I can't think of a name. Not my favorite, but give it a shot.
  • Belarus – Fun, though Marc Anthony's version was better (someone in the comments says, not unreasonably, "Robin Thicke," but I think Marc Anthony is closer). Maybe a little bit of a Maroon 5 sound.
  • Latvia – Sort of similar to the Swiss entry, but quirkier and simpler. My wife likes it as a kid's song.
  • Italy – I think this is a harder rock sound than anyone else in the contest, which still only puts it with the likes of Roxette or No Doubt – it won't draw any comparisons to Loordi (except, I suppose, the one I just made).
  • Germany – Not terribly creative. This is both a strength and a weakness.
  • Romania – Kind of a power ballad. It seems like it's missing something.
  • Netherlands – Think Lady Antebellum, or that sort of pop song that you hear on country radio stations these days. I wouldn't avoid this song, but I wouldn't seek it out, either.
  • Montenegro – A pretty good ballad. Not among my top few choices, but probably above the median.
  • San Marino – This could play over the end credits to a James Bond movie. It probably wouldn't keep me in the theater. To be fair, the movie probably wouldn't, either.
  • Austria – This makes me think of James Bond (as San Marino did). I haven't decided what I think about the concept of a drag queen with facial hair.
  • Ireland – Decent Europop. I can't think of anything else to say.
  • Russia – Apparently, Russian alchemists have distilled the essense of the decent but unmemorable, middle-of-the-pack Eurovision song.
  • Portugal – See Russia, but replace the word "decent" with "mediocre."
  • Moldova – Kind of interesting in places, but not very many of them.
  • Denmark – The ESL lyrics perpetuate a long-standing Eurovision tradition. Among the oddsmakers' favorites, but not among mine.
  • Hungary – You can always count on Eurovision to produce light, entertaining pop songs, unlike this one about child abuse. It isn't a bad song, but it seems more out of place than, say, the French and Polish entries.
  • Israel – More ESL lyrics, though not as good an example as the Danish entry. I don't really listen to Pink, but I think this is what she sounds like; if you're a fan of hers, maybe you'll like this more than I did.
  • Macedonia – More on the rock end of the spectrum. Pretty forgettable.
  • Belgium – Yes, he's definitely a tenor.
  • Azerbaijan – I kept waiting for it to really get going. I'm still waiting.
  • UK – Pointless. Pretty high in the odds I saw, probably because those odds were from English bookees.
  • Norway – A minimalist ballad. If I were in a different mood when I heard it, maybe I would have found it pretty, but it just bored me.
  • Lithuania – This feels more like the second draft of a Europop song than like a finished and tested Eurovision entry.
  • France – What the heck was that?
  • Estonia – No
  • Greece – Greece used to reliably produce good candidates, but for the last few years, they have instead produced candidates like this one.
  • Poland – I've never heard a Polish joke about entering a nationalistic song in an international competition, but maybe I will. I'm not sure whether the video is supposed to be sexy or whether its over-the-top sexiness is supposed to be comically ludicrous, but I don't think it works on either level. Repetitive and hostile to the concept of melody. To be clear, when I describe a song as "hostile to the concept of melody," I rarely mean it as a compliment.
  • Iceland – It's okay to write a song with a message - even a banal message - but you should try to follow two rules that this Icelandic entry missed: first, deliver the message with some subtlety and, second, make the song not be utter crap.

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::: posted by Steven at 2:37 PM


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Monday, April 14, 2014 :::
 
FYI, the three paragraphs I'm quoting here are not consecutive paragraphs in the story I am quoting:

In the year since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Adrianne Haslet-Davis has become one of the most recognizable survivors.

On Sunday, she was to be the face for survivors of the attack again, this time on NBC's "Meet the Press," but she left the studio in tears Friday saying on Twitter that she felt "so disrespected."

Since the attack, Haslet-Davis has refused to speak the names of the two bombing suspects. She said she agreed to do the show on the condition that the names wouldn't be mentioned. Upon arriving to tape the show, however, she was told that producers couldn't make that guarantee given the nature of the discussion, NBC News spokeswoman Erika Masonhall told the Associated Press.

I don't want to blame the victim here, and I don't want to say that nobody should appear on NBC news, but you should keep in mind whom you're dealing with. At least they didn't rig her gas tank to explode.

I suppose I should acknowledge that they haven't done anything that egregious in the last 20 years, as far as we know, but even recently they have a pattern of bad behavior, and you should always be prepared to walk away, as she did.

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::: posted by Steven at 12:24 PM


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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.


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