A Taxing Situation

I've known for a while that, last year, I paid more federal tax on the first gallon of gas I bought than Exxon-Mobile, with its $50B in profits, paid out. (I'm sorry, I'd like to say where I got that conception of the problem from... Maybe a Matt Taibbi-penned Rolling Stone article? If not, he's still a fantastic reporter; one of not many looking to stick it to the powerful. In any event, I can't find it and would be happy to have it pointed out to me.)

This Daily Kos diary discusses one of the strategies by which those taxes are avoided.

This sort of thing leads to a weird situation where I'm not at all sure there's any direct way to monitor. I think it leads to a need to just base taxes on corporate reporting statements, or something along those lines. Frankly, if you're going to do business in America, you should pay taxes in America. It really is as simple as that.

And it looks like it might be nearly impossible to actually trace the money. I don't know. Anyone see the problems with that approach? (Other than that it only works for publicly-traded companies, although I think making it only apply to publicly-traded companies isn't too big a deal. Remember, for those companies, they want profits to look as large as possible, so investors will be more likely to buy. Hence, more tax liability. Simple.)


Thinking through thieves

When friends and I play RPGs (pen and paper; occasionally D&D, but mostly Champions/Fantasy Hero), occasionally new races become available. One of my friends, if he sees that race being particularly strong, likes to ask the question, "why doesn't that race rule the world". While I think he doesn't sufficiently take into account demographic/sociologic questions in that analysis, it's a useful tool.

And looking at Abé's drákon, it becomes a particularly relevant question. After all, the drákon have all the advantages of humans (tool use, communication, coordination) with a number of advantages all their own. They almost never get sick, they don't harbor vermin, they're stronger than a hundred men (in fact, they were stronger than the strongest weapons men had at that time), they have senses hundreds of times as sensitive as a human's (with none of the problems that would be caused by such sensitivity), they're exceptionally attractive (particularly useful if you want to take over by marriage), they're at least as intelligent as humans, and they never fight among themselves. Oh, and they can turn into either smoke or dragons. And occasionally they get other Gifts, as well.

A minor detail from a personal perspective, but important when analyzing the race: they also breed at about the same rate as humans.

When looking at all that, their life expectancy back in the 18th century would be significantly longer than a human's. In fact, possibly considerably longer, because there's no signs of infant mortality being an issue among them, and that was far and away the biggest detractor from lifespan back them.

Really, there isn't a single reason that they wouldn't take over the world (or at least as much of it as they were interested in).

Yes, they can be kept in human shape when blindfolded (or kept in total darkness), but with that kind of strength, good luck keeping them blindfolded. You can chain them up, but they're apparently strong enough to snap those chains with a stray thought, so who cares?


Really on target

Just going back through comics this week, and this one hit home pretty spectacularly.

I got my MS from George Mason two years ago (geeze, doesn't feel like it's been that long), and I actually did get a request for a donation during the graduation ceremony. (The added insult being that I didn't even receive the diploma that day.)

On Target?

Was walking through a Target parking lot today, and saw a white minivan that, behind the rearmost window on its passenger side (maybe driver's side as well; I didn't look), had a Honda logo, then had "本田ホンダ". That would be HondaHondaHonda. I'm sure there was a point there, but damned if I know what it was.


More thieves around

I mentioned The Lightning Thief a while ago; as I said, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I also read, a while ago, one by Shana Abe called The Smoke Thief. I picked it up fairly randomly in a bookstore, and read it shortly thereafter when my wife and I were on vacation. It seemed like a decent fantasy novel, maybe with a little bit of history thrown in.

It made for an enjoyable read; my only real objection is with the main character's choice of profession. I understand she started as a thief when she was in a strange place with no money or place to live, but she obviously kept going well past the point of any sort of need. And I kind of wonder why she was, specifically, a jewel thief.

In a weird sort of way, given the drakon's affinity for gemstones, it might have made sense if she was keeping them (even if only for a while). But no, she was just selling them, so it didn't really make a lot of sense to restrict herself like that (especially not when she was still poor, although that period seems to have been very brief).

Oh, and her use of Alpha for the leader of the group... I'm having trouble putting my finger on exactly where, but her use of that bugged me (especially w/r/t the sequels, but I'll get to that later).

In any event, aside from those minor details, it was an enjoyable book. After re-reading it again earlier this year, I decided to look into whether there were any sequels, and there turned out to be two: The Dream Thief and Queen of Dragons.

The second, The Dream Thief was also fairly enjoyable. The whole dream thing kind of fell apart for me a bit when the events depicted in the dreams she'd been basing her whole life on were just starting to occur (you know, the events that would have shown that her dreams were not merely subconscious fantasies). And then they were broken almost immediately. There really should have been more corroboration of her visions of the future. As it was, we only have establishment of one of her dreams actually coming true.

There was also the question of why Zane accepted the charge to find Draumr. He agreed to go find a diamond where he had no way of knowing when he had actually found it. He did eventually get enough info to be able to at least guess, but he agreed before he had that. Generational wealth is one thing, but to claim that wealth, you need to be able to prove success. He agreed before he had any way to do that. That makes no sense.

My only other qualm with the main thrust of the story was that Zane was awfully familiar with Lia, given his expressed thoughts on doing anything with her. Snapdragon was a very cute nickname, but why would he have ever come up with it when they very rarely saw one another and when he thought her family would kill him (literally) if he got too friendly with her? And why did he keep referring to her as wife? It made sense when they were in public, pretending to be married, but he kept doing it when they were in private. The first time he did so might have made sense, in that he was pointing out to her how absurd she was being, but why did he keep doing it?

Where things really went off the rails for me was when she tried to make details really concrete. Sixty thousand pounds back in those days would be enough to buy a palace in Britain. (Or at least a REALLY nice manor, with large grounds, and a village attached. See below.) Although I wonder what it would have bought in gemstones. One thing to keep in mind about this series is that it's taking place mid- to late-eighteenth century. Back then, gems were absurdly expensive.

How much so? Well, I remember a display at the Tower of London where they talked about how the Crown used to borrow diamonds from De Beers for coronations. Yes, they were so expensive that not even the Crown could afford large numbers. They didn't get within reach of even the 90th percentile until the African diamond mines were discovered, which, as near as I can tell, was in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.

Getting back to details; at the end, Lia mentions her dowry being 30k pounds. Per annum. Both of those are absurd: dowries are lump-sum. A woman from a very wealthy family, back then, might have her own annual income, but it was unrelated to whatever dowry might convey with her.

And to talk about how large an amount that is, let us consider several things. Mr Darcy, the well-known character from Pride and Prejudice, had an annual income of only 10k quid. Granted, he was only a gentleman, not a Marquess, but let's still keep going.

As the youngest of three daughters, Lia would have had the smallest dowry of the three (I'll admit I have no idea how much less to expect, but we'll just assume that it's only a small amount less). Then consider that a daughter's income is generally going to be a fairly small part of her father's income. Well, how much money was 30k sterling back then? It's equivalent to making 43M pounds in 2008.

If we assume that the daughters have equal income of 30k, and their combined income was 10% of what Kit made (that's as high as I can imagine it being; remember that their husbands are supposed to take care of them. The only way I can picture it being higher would be for a wealthy merchant trying to marry his daughter into poor nobility; certainly not the case here), then he's got an income, in 2008 pounds, of over a billion pounds. Per year. What could they possibly be doing to be that rich?

And how can someone that rich manage to be obscure?

And if they're that rich, the Crown will be, at the least, attending all their weddings.

And as a Marquess, Kit would have to be going to state functions on a regular basis. (I hadn't realized that Marquess is the second highest layer of nobility in England, behind the Dukes.)

You know, the more I look at this, the more it bugs me. An historian Ms Abe is not.

Of course, I was looking for fantasy, and even Smoke Thief felt like it was borderline to being a romance novel. Dream Thief definitely felt like it jumped off the edge of that divide.

I don't have a whole lot to say about Queen of Dragons. I'm more than halfway through it, but I'm having trouble moving forward because what little grounding in realism there was has basically disappeared.

Having Lia and Zane disappear didn't make too much sense. Having them being known to be in Brussels but never making it the rest of the way back to England makes no sense at all. Having the tribe not hunt them down as runaways shortly after they disappeared was similarly senseless (or at least hunt her down; I suppose they wouldn't care too much about Zane, except as a lead to Lia).

Having Kit and Rue disappear made even less sense. Why did they not get hunted down? The first book, Kit thought to himself that he would have been hunted down if he had decided to run off, so why didn't that happen?

I'm also completely confused about why bastard children of the drakon would hunt down their more full-blooded cousins. Actually, from reading it, I thought that Maricara was saying that the sanf used bastard cousins as bait to suck in the drakon. But then, when they went back to the subject, they were talking as if the FitzDrakon WERE the sanf. Maybe I just misunderstood when reading that first part, although that would be a very unusual occurrence for me (at least, misunderstanding to that degree would be).

Another irritation is that suddenly the drakon are superhumanly strong. (Yes, that doesn't explicitly conflict with anything that occurred earlier, but there wasn't any indication of it either.) How superhumanly? The door to the Dead Room is 4-ft thick iron. Ignoring that I doubt they had the technology to make hinges for a door that heavy back then, how heavy is that, exactly? Well, if we assume that it's a pretty small door, maybe six feet tall, and that it's four feet wide (I just can't imagine a door thicker than it is wide), we're looking at a door that's a shade over 47k pounds. Yes, that's almost 24 tons (roughly 20 metric tons).

And Mari managed to make marks on that door. I've got news for Ms Abe; if you want to mark that door, you need to use something stronger than the door. A wooden chair leg ain't going to do it. You hit the door that hard with a wooden leg, and the leg will shatter. Not just break, but actually shatter. If their bones strong enough to make those marks (not to mention strong enough not to shatter whenever they flex their muscles), then they are essentially bulletproof. They have no need whatsoever to be afraid of the sanf. If they can move 25 tons of iron, then breaking any binding the sanf would try to put on them (to keep them from removing the blindfold that keeps them from Turning) would be child's play. For that matter, they certainly would not need to Turn for the purpose of fighting.

Oh, and how strong is four feet of iron? Well, I actually don't have a good answer for that directly, but stay with me for a moment.

The WWII-era Iowa-class battleships had 16" bore guns that fired a 2300-pound projectile over twenty miles. The rule of thumb the military used for ships back then was that a ship needed to be armored sufficiently to withstand its own weapons. What did that mean? Well, it meant the ships had a jacket of 17" of high grade steel for armor. If we assume that iron is one third the strength of that steel, then 4' of iron is just about enough to stop an Iowa-class main gun shell.

Have I made my point yet? (And I didn't even bring up the scene of Kimber throwing a marble bench through a stone pillar.)

And finally, let's return to the question of being Alpha. In any animal society where an Alpha is recognized, it is recognized on merit (usually the merit in question is fighting ability, although I don't know if that's universal, or merely prevalent). So neither Kit nor Kimber automatically become Alpha, just because daddy was. Being eldest doesn't matter either; Rhys would have just as good a chance as Kimber.

And Alphas do not just step aside when they're no longer the biggest, or toughest, or whatever. They're pushed aside (into irrelevence, exile, or death, depending on species).

And acting Alpha? Don't make me laugh.

Okay, enough of this. The first book is pretty decent, the second is ok, and the third just loses all contact with reality. Once again, we're reminded of why the Harry Potter series is so good. The whole was planned from the beginning, and stays consistent throughout, whereas this one obviously changed along the way. (Another minor way it changed is that in the first book, only Kit and Rue are especially beautiful, but by the second book, it is all drakon.)


Brought to you from a new location

I haven't posted in quite a while; my wife and I just moved two weeks ago. We'd lived at our previous house longer than I'd ever lived in one place, at seven years (and two weeks, but who's counting?). My previous long was only five and a half years, and we left that house over twenty-five years ago. I never really thought of myself as being particularly peripatetic, but that summary sure sounds like it.

College was what really threw things into turmoil. I lived in one dorm freshman year, two different ones my second year (technically, I was a junior), and then it got really confused. Between co-op and a variety of other things, I moved a dozen or so times over the next six or seven years. It did get me to cut down a lot on my earlier pack-rat tendencies.

In any event, not only had we lived in that house so long, but it was the first move involving all of the possessions of both my wife and myself, not to mention the first since our daughter was born, so there was a lot of stuff to be moved.

Man, was there ever. The movers did a good job getting 90% of our stuff moved in one day (six of them with two trucks; didn't realize a three-bedroom townhouse could hold that much). By the time they arrived, half of my books, and all of my CDs, movies, and electronics were already moved (I'd done that on my own). And it still took us four more days to get the last stuff moved over or thrown out. With my wife and I taking turns going over at night, after putting our daughter to bed, to sort out and move stuff. Ouch. Oh, and we only moved about four miles.

Anyway, we're finally completely out of the old house, and working on getting unpacked at the new house. Hopefully, more posting will be happening now.

end of the line

Watching the series against Les Habs was a really painful exercise. The story felt all-too-familiar. Last year, going into the playoffs, I was feeling optimistic that it was a new, young team that didn't need to carry (or care about) the Caps history of terrible playoff luck. And last year, they did a good job of avoiding that. Well, there was that game seven against Pittsburgh where they didn't really show up; but not too bad overall.

But this year certainly looked like an historic collapse. It certainly felt familiar, given so many previous years of results. And, frankly, I was angry that they could do this to me again. I guess I was seeing red. :)

But in reading one of the post mortem analysis in the Post, one of the writers (Wise, maybe?) was castigating Boudreau for not adapting to Montreal more. He brought up Einstein's definition of insanity, questioning Boudreau's basic competence.

Seeing that, though, made me realize how extreme of an example of a hot goalie they ran into. In those last three games, they took 134 shots, scoring only three; a 98% save percentage for Halak. Expecting the goalie to continue to save that many shots actually is insane. Dropping that down to a merely outstanding 93% (picked because that would still be tops in the NHL most years; in fact, there are only 27 goalie seasons that even round to that level) would have resulted in six more goals. Dropping it down to Halak's career average of .919 would have resulted in eight more.

So there really wasn't much need for change. There was no reason to expect that sort of performance from Halak (or anyone else, for that matter). And any lesser performance would have resulted in at least two more Caps wins.

For an even more in-depth analysis, take a look at Gabe, who found that it was even more lopsided than my fairly simplistic analysis showed.

So where does the team go from here? I'm not sure, but I certainly don't see any need for drastic changes. Sign the restricted FAs; bring back Corvo for one or two more seasons, if possible. Beyond that, I'm not sure who to keep and who to let go. Knuble certainly did better than I expected, so I wouldn't mind seeing him come back for one more year (though not more than that, or at least not guaranteed for more than that). Is Chimera's speed worth bringing him back? Not sure. Belanger's face-off ability? Again, not sure. Definitely bring up Alzner and Carlson to start the season next year. Dunno about who else to bring up from Hershey. Probably let Theodore go, even though he did play quite well this year; get by on a 60/40 or so split between Varly and Neuwirth.