Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Literal Meaning of State Names

Most of us, in the course of growing up and getting a basic education, learned the meaning of our state names. For instance, growing up in Pittsburgh, I learned that Pennsylvania literally means Penn's Woods - William Penn being one of the founders of the Commonwealth*. Now I live in another commonwealth - Virginia - the name of which means, Country of the Virgin**.

If you never had the opportunity to learn the literal meaning of your state's (or Canadian province's) name, you may be interested in this article from Simplemost - This Map Shows the Literal Meaning of Every State Name.

Of course, there's a difference between the literal translation of the state's name and the realistic translation, which may differ in actual linguistic accuracy.

For instance ...

The literal meaning of Texas is Friend; however, a more up-to-date translation might be Heavily Armed;

New Jersey was named after the English Channel island of Jersey, but might actually mean, What the $%@¢ You Lookin' At?;

Colorado means Sandstone Soil, but lately might actually translate as Primo Weed; and,

Canada's Yukon literally means Great River, although a better translation might be Freeze Your Cojones.

Those are a few of my suggestions ... do you have any others? Leave a comment.

Have a good day, no matter how you translate it. More thoughts tomorrow.


* For more on the difference between a "state" and a "commonwealth," go here. In any case, I don't seem to be sharing in much of that common wealth.

* Not applicable in all cases.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guest Post

What? Oh, it's you again. Hello.

I'm Lucy, and I live with Bilbo and Agnes's grandchildren. I like them. For humans, they're all right. Bilbo? He's okay, because he leaves me alone. You should, too.

I wrote a post for Bilbo's blog in November of last year because I got tired of reading what Clara the dog was posting, and so I suppose it's time once again to offer my take on current events from a more sophisticated feline viewpoint. You humans appear to be wanting for adult leadership and commentary, so I guess I'll have to step up and fill the gap.

When I last wrote in this space, that distasteful Trump person had - as I predicted - just been elected president, but he hadn't actually assumed the office yet. Now, he has, and you've had seven months to see what you bought. I hope you're satisfied.

We cats are calm, cool, and level-headed. We don't go around insulting and annoying everybody with no good reason. If we don't like you, we let you know ... but this Trump person seems to enjoy antagonizing everybody, even the humans he needs to get things done. I don't think that's very smart. Look at dogs ... they make too much noise, but even they know when to stop barking and act calm. Some of them are a lot smarter than a lot of the people you humans pick to run things on your behalf, and that's saying something.

We cats are quiet planners. We watch and listen and think before we do anything. You humans spend 99.9% of your time talking and less than 1% listening and thinking ... which is how you get yourselves into these messes.

We don't waste motion, and we don't waste time making pointless threats. If you piss us off, we'll get you - but it'll be at the time and place of our choosing and you'll never see it coming.

We're loners, but we recognize the value in cooperating with each other ... there's a reason why a group of big cats is called a pride. You humans might want to think about that, instead of going out of your way to avoid working together. If that scrum of noisy people you call Congress had to hunt together, they'd starve in a week.

And when we hear a tweet, we know it means there's something there worth stalking and attacking. Anyone who spends all his time tweeting is just making noise and drawing attention to himself that he may not really want.

So, if I were you (and I'm glad I'm not), I'd just take a few lessons from the cat world: plan carefully, don't waste motion, listen more, cooperate with each other, and - above all else - stop talking unless you have something useful to say.

But I know you won't do it, so just keep on the way you're going. And good luck with that Trump person. You'll need it.

Have whatever kind of day you want. I'm a cat, and I don't care. Bilbo will be back tomorrow. Until then, meow.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bilbo's Bucket List, Updated

The last time I updated my bucket list (the things I want to do/accomplish before I "kick the bucket") was in January of last year. Because times change, I thought I'd once again take a look at my list and see if it still reflects my goals. Let's see ...

1. Dance at the weddings of all my grandchildren. If Ava (the youngest) gets married at 21, I'll be 81, so that's probably still doable, as long as I keep myself in reasonable shape. I'm working on it.

2. Hold my first (at least) great-grandchild and tell him/her stories. No change. I will absolutely see and enjoy as many of my great grandchildren as I can.

3. Visit Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), and Budapest (Hungary). St Petersburg used to be on the list, but since we visited there for two days during our Baltic cruise last year (you can read about it and see some of the pictures here), I've taken it off the list, and replaced it with Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest. I'm pretty sure I'll get at least to Vienna one of these days, because it's not all that far from Germany, where we intend to spend as much time as we can.

4. Take a really long cruise with Agnes, to Australia or across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or something. Yep ... still on the list. But I'm adding a nice river cruise, either along the Rhein or the Danube (which would help with #3, going by Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). We still love cruising.

5. Dance a waltz with Edyta Sliwinska or Sharna Burgess. I'd still love to dance that waltz with the glamorous professionals, but I already know a lot of wonderful ladies closer to home that I can waltz with more often: beautiful and talented friends like Joy, Lioudmila, Judy, and Leslie (she of the "swoopy" waltz) among so many others.

6. Get another Masters Degree. This used to be "Get my PhD," but since I was unable to narrow down the field of study I want and the topic I'd want to do my dissertation on, I've decided that getting a second Masters degree, probably in either in Political Science or Linguistics, is more doable. Perhaps with a dissertation that connects linguistics and politics ... I have a lot of ideas about that, given the linguistic oddities of the current president. Hmmm ...

7. Publish at least one book. Still on the list. My mother told me once that she thought I had at least one good book inside me, and who am I to disappoint her? I have a lot of notes and ideas for both fiction and nonfiction books, but I need to get serious about the writing.

8. Publish at least one article in a magazine. Still on the list. As I noted last year, this is probably easier than writing a full book, and so maybe I can use it to get myself into the writing habit for the longer book.

So, that's the latest revision of my bucket list. We'll see how it goes. And as for you, Dear Readers, how often do you update your own bucket lists? What have you added or deleted? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Don't kick the bucket any time soon - I need you all. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The New Symbols of Hate

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, when a group of white nationalists and other far-right groups staged a "Unite the Right" rally that degenerated into violence and murder, should shock and dismay everyone who believes in the traditional idea of America as a welcoming and inclusive nation*. And the sad fact that Donald Trump delivered such a weaselly commentary on the situation underscores the utter lack of moral leadership we have at the top of our government.

As you know, I'm interested in language and symbology, and I found this CNN article to be particularly interesting: These Are the New Symbols of Hate. I won't reproduce any of those symbols here, because they don't deserve any more attention; I'll just point out that they are intended to replace the most historically objectionable symbols, such as the Nazi swastika and the "blood drop cross" of the KKK, and help far-right characters identify each other in the murky darkness of their ideas.

As it happens, I have a few suggestions for symbols they could use.

This one seems appropriate ...

As is this one, for those who also consider information with which they don't agree to be "fake news" ...

As for me, I think the right symbol for America is the one we all should honor - 

Have a good day. Don't let the haters win.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yes, I know we've not always lived up to that ideal, but we've managed to build a pretty good place in spite of underlying racist ideas and spasms of things like "No Irish need apply."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poetry Sunday

It's all in how you look at things ...

by Tony Hoagland 

Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon,
you feel the faint grit
of ants beneath your shoes,
but keep on walking
because in this world
you have to decide what
you’re willing to kill.
Saving your marriage might mean
dinner for two
by candlelight on steak
raised on pasture
chopped out of rain forest
whose absence might mean
an atmospheric thinness
fifty years from now
above the vulnerable head
of your bald grandson on vacation
as the cells of his scalp
sautéed by solar radiation
break down like suspects
under questioning.
Still you slice
the sirloin into pieces
and feed each other
on silver forks
under the approving gaze
of a waiter
whose purchased attention
and French name
are a kind of candlelight themselves,
while in the background
the fingertips of the pianist
float over the tusks
of the slaughtered elephant
without a care,
as if the elephant
had granted its permission.

Don't overthink things ... enjoy the candlelight. And don't replace soft candlelight with the ugly glow of misused tiki torches.

Have a good day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

And you thought July was a rough month ...

Country music legend Glen Campbell died this week at age 81 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease; in the midst of a belligerent war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump picked a fight via Twitter with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and threatened military action in Venezuela; popular singer Taylor Swift is in court, accusing a DJ of groping her during a meet-and-greet session; and a Texas megachurch pastor has released a statement saying that Donald Trump has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Considering that we have a national leader who believes conspiracy theories before he trusts his intelligence community, and a population that will believe the stupidest things, what could be more appropriate this week than a collection of cartoons about conspiracy theories?

Ah, HAH! ...

Jessica Hagy's wonderful blog Indexed nails it ...

Conspiracy theories have always been with us ...

This one goes back a few years, but is no less timely ...

Truth! ...

The danger of finding out the truth ...

The scientific term is Anus Ignoramus Americanus ... 

Conspiracy theorists start early ...

I know this one is true ...

It's all in how you decide to connect the dots ...

Join the conspiracy to encourage the enjoyment of a good day and a great weekend. I'll keep the light on for you.

More thoughts tomorrow, when Poetry Sunday returns.


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for August, 2017

Ah, yes, Dear Readers, a new month brings new opportunities to recognize supreme achievements in ass clownery. And so it is that I've had to sit down, do extensive research, employ sophisticated algorithms, and then - like our esteemed Tweeter-in-Chief - make a decision informed only by my gut and my conviction that I know a whole lot more than everybody else*.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, as we enter the new month I, have decided to present yet another dual award for

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for August, 2017

and the award goes to

Kim Jong-Un
Donald J. Trump

I would think that this period's award is a no-brainer: two individuals with outsized egos, both of whom revel in the use of bombastic and threatening language, and share an utter unwillingness to back down from painting themselves into corners in which tens of thousands of lives are at stake. What more can I say? Kim's motivation is obvious - he wants to survive, realizes that his very existence is at stake, and thus sees no benefit in negotiation or in giving up the only thing that offers him the ultimate protection. Trump's motivation is equally obvious - he desperately wants to prove he's a tough, strong leader despite his demonstrated incompetence.

The Right-Cheek Ass Clowns for August, 2017, are North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un and US leader Donald J. Trump. Let's hope some adults find their way into the room**.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday - more thoughts then.


* I didn't have a sarcasm font to use, unfortunately.

** Here's another, less dangerous way to approach the problem.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Discount Strategy

Last week, Angel wrote about a Chinese amusement park that offered a discount on its admission fee for women over 18 who wore miniskirts. This concept could be considered discriminatory, as there was no equivalent discount for men over 18 who wore miniskirts; on reflection, however, the image of most men in miniskirts would argue against the visuals, if not the fairness, of such discounts.

This leads me to a consideration of the use of various types of discounts to encourage economic activity.

As an officially acknowledged old geezer, I'm getting used to the idea of the senior discount, which is widely offered in restaurants and theaters to those of us living on fixed incomes. Various businesses also offer minor discounts for "paperless billing," in which one agrees to receive bills by e-mail (it supposedly saves the business money on postage), or offer a discount for those who agree to pay their bills by a direct debit* of their bank account.

And, of course, there are the standard "happy hour" discounts at bars, in which the discount is based on the time of the customer's visit; an additional discount is sometimes offered for unescorted ladies, to encourage a higher female-to-male customer ratio.

But let's get back to Chinese discount philosophies for a moment ...

I call your attention to this article from the BBC earlier this week: Chinese Restaurant Offers Bra Size Discounts.

Yes, Dear Readers, the Trendy Shrimp restaurant in Hangzhou offers female customers discounts based on their bra cup size ...

The advertisements for this discount first appeared on August 1st, but have apparently since been removed because of complaints from some local people. The restaurant's manager, Lan Shenggang, defended the discounts, however, stating that, "Once the promotion started, customer numbers rose by about 20%." He also noted that "some of the girls we met were very proud - they had nothing to hide."

When your cup runneth over, it really runneth over ... at least at the Trendy Shrimp restaurant.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for the naming of our Right-Cheek Ass Clown for August. More thoughts then.


* I don't trust this at all. I pay many bills online, but in a way that allows me to schedule the dates and amounts of the payments ... nobody gets the right to reach into my account and pull money out on their own.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Worrying About The Internet of Things

Agnes and I ordered a new refrigerator last week.

This was no small task, given that one no longer just goes out and buys what we used to call an "icebox" ... nowadays, there are vast numbers of styles and features that are available, depending on how much you need to store and how much you are able and willing to spend. An ice maker is a great feature, as is a cold water dispenser, but there are a lot of other things you can get, too. We actually looked at a refrigerator which had an internet-ready video screen ... not bad if you want to refer to the video for a particular recipe you're making, but a little bit more technology than we really needed. Or felt like paying another thousand dollars for.

That video screen option and the Bluetooth connection it uses make that fancy refrigerator a part of what has become known as The Internet of Things ("IoT") ... a growing network of computers and devices that communicate with each other and - theoretically - make life easier by helping us keep track of things and manage our day-to-day activities. If the refrigerator can tell you you're running low on milk, or that your lunch meat has passed its "best by" date, or your oven can suggest a better way to cook a particular recipe, or your light bulbs can tell you when they're about to burn out, it can only help, right? How about "smart highways" that can measure traffic density, flow, and speed and adjust traffic signals to help speed things along? They make life better, don't they?

Consider recent reports that high-end models of the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner could map your home, collect information, and send it to Google or Amazon or other vendors. And that the microphones in your Amazon Echo or Google Home voice assistants are always on, listening to (and recording) everything they hear around them.

Hmmm ...

The idea of machines getting together and realizing that they're actually more powerful than we are is not new. It's the idea behind horror stories like Harlan Ellison's classic "For I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," which led to other stories and films like the Terminator franchise and Stephen King's short story "Trucks*." More recently, Jeffrey Deaver's novel "The Steel Kiss" featured a killer who used Internet-connected devices to murder his victims.

Do I need a refrigerator that's smarter than I am? After all, I've managed to buy milk and eggs for decades without the fridge reminding me to do so. Should I worry about the vacuum telling someone how my house is laid out? It depends on whether it's sending that info to a tech-savvy burglar or to someone who wants to sell me carpets.

I'm hardly a Luddite, but I'm starting to get a little concerned about the relationships among the devices we use, especially when I don't know what's talking to what ... or to whom. I guess I'm just a low-tech guy in a high-tech world.

And that bathroom scale better keep its opinions to itself.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Later made into a silly movie called "Maximum Overdrive."

** I don't actually have one ... I don't trust them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


"Curses! Foiled again!"

This was the standby line shouted by caped, mustachioed villains in old cartoons when their plans went awry. Of course, they never really cursed back then ... it was a more innocent time, and certain standards applied to what was broadcast. Nowadays, of course, it seems as if the foulest and coarsest of language is almost expected, even of young children.

My mother used to say that people who had to resort to shouting four-letter words did so because they weren't smart enough to say anything less ugly, and we were raised to avoid using foul language whenever possible (although my father was fond of referring to certain individuals as horse's asses ... which, given some of the other language you hear in modern communication, seems almost quaint).

I got to thinking about the topic of foul language when I read Kirstin Wong's recent article in the New York Times: The Case for Cursing.

First of all, she distinguishes between swearing and cursing, writing,

"Swearing and cursing are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference in their origins. A curse implies damning or punishing someone, while a swear word suggests blasphemy — invoking a deity to empower your words. For the sake of modern discussion, both words are defined as profanity: vulgar, socially unacceptable language you don’t use in polite conversation."

She also notes that the words we consider objectionable in polite company are objectionable only because we have come to a general agreement within our culture that they should not be spoken aloud. For instance, we've decided that the f-bomb is a bad word, but spelunking isn't. Many of the words we have come to accept as curses involve variations on the act of sex, or "unmentionable" parts of the body ... actions and things we've decided are cultural taboos.

Are there good reasons for swearing or cursing? Ms Wong points out that while swearing can make your language more ... well ... colorful, some studies also show that it can increase your tolerance for pain, and also temporarily increase your strength. This is why you scream %#$! instead of great golden lilypads! when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

Now, I can curse with the best of them, but I try not to do it unless nothing else quite meets my linguistic requirement of the moment. I'm often subjected to my daughter's withering stare and warning of Dad, language! when I'm less than careful with my speech near the grandchildren, and so I try to use expletives that are less objectionable. Great Caesar's Ghost! is a good one, as are Godfrey Daniels! and Mother of Pearl!*. There are also two wonderful (and perfectly innocent) Russian words that I've found can be wonderful expletives when shouted angrily: chemodan! (which means "suitcase") and ptitsa! (which means "bird") ... ptitsa is especially good because you can really spit it out. German also has a lot of innocent words that sound bad just because of how they're pronounced, but one of my favorites is a bit on the more colorful side - Arschgeige (literally, "butt violin") refers to a person who is disgustingly arrogant or egotistical** ... and I can think of several of those without much effort.

There are plenty of other expressions we can use to describe undesirable or irritating people without resorting to cursing. My friend Lily recently referred to someone as a slimy douchenozzle, which I think is a marvelous combination, and much more emphatic than the more common expression douchebag.

And, of course, if horse's ass was okay for Dad, it's okay for me, too.

What are some of the expressions you use when you don't want to use objectionable language? Leave a comment and let the rest of us in on your linguistic skills. You never know when you may need to fire off a broadside in genteel company.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Courtesy of the master of cursing without really cursing, W. C. Fields.

** I think it derives from the attitude of such a person that even when they break wind, it sounds like a maestro playing a Stradivarius. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Government by Voucher

A mainstay of GOP economic policy is the use of "vouchers" as an alternative to direct government funding of (mainly social) programs.

So, what's a "voucher?" For purposes of the current discussion, we'll define it as, "an amount of money provided by the government to an individual or family to defray a particular category of expense, such as health care or a child's education at the school of the parents' choice." The voucher concept appeals to conservatives and libertarians because it removes the government from a role in individual decision-making, allowing the individual to apply a given amount of money as he or she sees fit.

Of course, from a conservative or libertarian perspective, the government shouldn't be giving anyone any money at all ... the individual should be totally responsible for his or her own life and decisions, and should not expect the government to channel anyone else's hard-earned money to them for any reason. But as long as the reality is that some form of government assistance will be needed by a certain part of the population, vouchers are the go-to answer for conservatives and libertarians.

So ...

Why not let vouchers take the place of government budgeting?

Since Congress hasn't actually passed a budget for years, relying on "continuing resolutions" to fund the nation's business, why not admit that budgets are passé and just run the country by giving vouchers to each cabinet department and independent federal agency? I think the federal government could save a huge amount of money by dumping the whole budget sham with all its vast administrative overhead and just delivering shrink-wrapped pallets of hundred-dollar bills to each department to spend however they want, much as the DoD and CIA do to rent the temporary allegiance of warlords in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For instance ...

Give the Department of Defense a voucher for, oh, say, about $600 billion*, and tell the Secretary of Defense that he can spend it on whatever he needs for the national defense.

Give the Department of Education a few million** to spend on frivolous things like ... well ... educating our children and preparing them for a future as productive citizens.

No vouchers needed for the Environmental Protection Administration, since it's being managed into politically-mandated uselessness, anyhow.

Financial management by voucher ... how could it be any worse than the mess we have now?

Have a good day. If you don't have one, let me know and I'll send you a voucher.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* The DoD Budget Request for FY 2017 was $582.7 billion. See page 1-2.

** The Department of Education Budget Request for FY 2017 was $69.4 billion, but that was clearly too much, since it's obvious that the American populace isn't especially well educated. The department can get by with a lot less, as can most school districts, since teachers make up a lot of funding shortfalls out of their staggeringly large salaries ... and in any case, teaching junk science and "creation science" is cheap, anyhow.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Musical Sunday

As you know, Dear Readers, my taste in music is pretty eclectic. I like something out of almost every genre except rap and hip-hop, and one of my more outré likes is early punk rocker Patti Smith, who is well represented by this classic tune ...

Dance barefoot, but watch where you step.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

We're into August, and it can't be worse than July, right? ...

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a first-ever travel advisory, warning people about traveling through Missouri because of incidents arising from discriminatory laws; in a telephone conversation with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, Donald Trump referred to the state of New Hampshire as a "drug-infested den;" Mr Trump was also quoted by a journalist with Golf Magazine as referring to the White House as a "dump," which Mr Trump denies; mass hysteria has gripped India over reports of women being attacked and having their hair cut off while they are unconscious; and according to a study published this week, scientists for the first time have successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a common mutation which can cause serious disease.

This week, in honor of the slow-motion wreck that is our government, here's a new collection of cartoons featuring crash-test dummies ...

It's an obvious question ...

Unfasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a wild ride ...

Well, that wasn't difficult to foresee, was it? ...

The unforeseen victim of the move to driverless cars ...

Sauce for the gander ...

Crash test jockeys ...

Such a disappointing child ...

Reasons for getting grounded ...

Studying for the test in the best way ...

Texting while driving is never a good idea ...

And there you have it - the first iteration of Cartoon Saturday for the month of August. It's all part of my ceaseless efforts to help you cope with all the unfunny stuff that assails you every day. 

It's going to be a sunny and not-quite-so-hot day here in NoVa, so perhaps I can get some gardening done ... or go for a nice walk or a bike ride ... or sit out on the deck with a nice gin and tonic. This is my kind of decision-making.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Patti Smith visits for Musical Sunday.


Friday, August 04, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Welcome to August, and a new crop of amazing finds ...

Well, it would, wouldn't it? ...

Proofreader with grammar knowledge wanted ...

Sometimes, things just don't translate well (the sign in Russian actually says "No Exit") ...

And sometimes, you should get someone who actually speaks both languages to do the translation for you ...

And the donation covers ... what? ...

A good business plan considers diversification ...

He probably didn't have a permit for a handgun ...

Well, it is, isn't it? ...

Another criminal mastermind taken off the streets ...

Climate change is making it difficult to make accurate forecasts ...

And away we go, into a new month of strangeness. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... we'll help you cope. More thoughts then.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

About Foxconn and Tax Credits

I have often written about taxes in this space, as you know if you've been with me for any length of time. My position on taxes is this: I don't like to pay them any more than anyone else does, but I recognize that if I expect my government to provide services I need or want, I need to pay my share of the cost. As the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, famously said, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society*."

Unfortunately, taxes in this country have strayed far from their original purpose of providing funds to operate the government and provide basic services. Over the years, they have morphed into a tool for tinkering with the economy, for rewarding political supporters** or penalizing enemies, and for supporting experiments in social engineering. "Tax credits" are the go-to solution for every program a government wants to appear to support, but doesn't want to have to pay for directly.

I thought about this last week when I saw this headline in the Washington Post business section: Foxconn Deal to Build Massive Factory in Wisconsin Could Cost the State $230,700 per Worker. The story details how Foxconn, the huge technology firm that provides parts and supplies to Apple, Google, and many other companies, has agreed to build a giant factory in Wisconsin which would employ 3,000 people by 2020, with potential growth to 13,000. If the factory is built (which is by no means certain***), and if it does eventually employ 13,000 people, an economic analysis suggests that the tax breaks granted to entice Foxconn to build the plant will cost the state of Wisconsin about $230,000 per worker in lost tax revenue.

Which goes to the question I always ask when "tax credits" are touted as the solution to a problem: how will the lost revenue be made up?

The stock answer is that tax credits pay for themselves, because the losses will be made up by increased taxes on on individual earnings and on other businesses which benefit from the economic boom generated by the original tax breaks. This reminds me of the old joke that compared daylight savings time to the man who cut off the lower half of his blanket and sewed it to the top to make it longer.

As I see it, tax credits are a false solution to economic problems. Allowing individuals and businesses to reduce their tax liability, even for ostensibly good reasons, reduces the amount of money taken in by the government for use in funding its programs and operations, and that shortfall needs to be made up somehow ... usually by higher taxes on somebody else.

Americans don't like taxes, but the historical truth is that we're not so much anti-tax as we are anti-taxation without representation. We elect (or vote out) a President, members of Congress, governors, state legislators, mayors, and other local officials who we make responsible for decisions - with our input - on the imposition of taxes. Today, of course there's a joke that says "If you thought taxation without representation was bad, you should see it with representation." Nevertheless, although we complain bitterly about high taxes, we here in the US enjoy one of the lower overall tax burdens in the world.

So ...

If you're a resident of Wisconsin, and you're looking forward to one of those jobs at Foxconn making flat-panel displays, you should understand that you will very likely pay higher taxes on your paycheck and higher fees for other services to compensate the state for the huge tax breaks your employer is getting for giving you that job in the first place. Good luck with that.

Have a good day ... one that isn't, hopefully, too taxing.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Or Donald Trump's version of America, which increasingly doesn't seem to qualify as "civilized."

** "A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul." - George Bernard Shaw

*** According to the article, Foxconn announced plans to build a new $30 million plant in Pennsylvania four years ago, but the factory was never built.

The Declaration of Independence castigated King George III "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent," not for "imposing Taxes on us."

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Why Do Americans Smile So Much?

Staff writer Olga Khazan at The Atlantic published an interesting article back in May of this year titled "Why Americans Smile So Much." Ms Khazan begins her article by quoting a comment made by a Reddit user in Finland: "When a stranger on the street smiles at you: (a) you assume he is drunk; (b) he is insane; or (c) he’s an American."

It's true: generally speaking, we Americans are noted around the world for the degree to which we smile, even though we are no longer as open and friendly a people as we used to be. One reason may be the diversity of our population which, unlike many other countries, is made up of immigrants from all over the world. The results of a study cited in Ms Khazan's article suggest that "when there are a lot of immigrants around, you might have to smile more to build trust and cooperation, since you don’t all speak the same language." Another theory holds that Americans value high-energy, happy feelings more than some other countries.

Perhaps there's an element of what the Germans would call Schadenfreude - the pleasure we feel at the discomfiture of others ... in this case, a sense of superiority at being from the United States*.

Or maybe it's just gas.

Big, happy smiles are also big business in America**: how many ads do you see every day for toothpaste, teeth-whitening treatments, and cosmetic dentistry?

All theories aside, though, to listen to our news and to all the political snarkery and to observe the prevalence of road rage and gun worship*** in this country, one might rather ask why Americans still smile at all.

Have a good day. Smile.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Not necessarily applicable in the age of Trump.

** For those who can afford dental insurance, anyhow.

*** You may remember the often-quoted (and misquoted) line from Owen Wister's classic Western novel The Virginian in which, after the villain Trampas calls him a "son of a bitch," the titular Virginian lays his pistol on the table and says quietly, "When you call me that, smile."

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Code Names the Secret Service Should Use

Before we get to the subject of today's post, a quick update on my jury duty adventure from yesterday: I took that shower for nothing ... once again, I was not selected for a jury, and didn't even make it out of the assembly room for an interview. Sigh. Ah, well ... at least they treat prospective jurors well here in Fairfax County: you're allowed to bring in your laptop or tablet, the assembly room has free Wi-Fi, the restrooms are clean, there are lots of vending machines, and all the court officials are pleasant and helpful. If history is a guide, three years from now I'm sure they'll call me up to go through the whole kabuki dance again.

Okay, on to today's post ...

As you probably know, the United States Secret Service uses code names for U.S. presidents, first ladies, and other prominent persons and locations. These originally provided a measure of security before the availability of encrypted communications; today, they are used mostly for brevity, clarity, and tradition.

This Washington Post article from just over a year ago provides the code names assigned to the candidates and their family members, going back to the election of 1976; if you want to go back all the way to the code name of Woodrow Wilson's wife (GRANDMA), as well as those assigned to fictional characters, you can check out this article on Wikipedia. By the way, the Post article also includes a tool that allows you to generate your own code name ... mine turned out to be "BUBBLE GAME."

In the current administration, the nicknames are MOGUL and MUSE for Donald and Melania Trump, and HOOSIER and HUMMINGBIRD for Mike and Karen Pence; Hillary and Bill Clinton were EVERGREEN and EAGLE, respectively.

Now, those are fine code names, all duly and properly selected by the White House Communications Agency, but I'm sure we can do better with a little more thought. Here are my suggestions for more appropriate code names:

Donald and Melania Trump: TWEETSTORM and TROPHY; or BACKSTAB and BEAUTY.

Mike and Karen Pence: HOLYROLLER and HEALER.

Hillary Clinton: EMAIL.

Anthony Scaramucci: %#$@۠!

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: FAKENEWS.

Sean Spicer: OLDNEWS.

Mitch McConnell: BLAMESHIFT.

Bernie Sanders: CURMUDGEON*.

Jeff Sessions: GETLOST.

Rex Tillerson: BACKBENCH.

James Mattis: BIGBOOM**.

Reince Priebus: FALLGUY.

Those are some of my thoughts ... if you have any suggestions, leave a comment. In any case, leave a comment if you use the code name generator in the Post article to let us know what we should call you.

Have a good day, whatever your code name is.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* If I ever ran for president, that's the code name I'd want!

** I know his more-or-less official nickname is "Mad Dog," but I think mine is more appropriate for a Secretary of Defense.