The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Cato Institute hopes you can't do math

Some of my libertarian-minded friends have circulated an article written by Cato Institute senior fellow Daniel J. Mitchell, an anti- flat-tax advocate, claiming that Cam Newton will pay a 200% tax to California on his Superbowl earnings. Mitchell quotes "a Certified Public Accountant" writing in a Forbes article at length, ending with this legerdemain:

If the Panthers ... lose [the Superbowl, Newton] will only net another $51,000. The Panthers will have about 206 total duty days during 2016, including the playoffs, preseason, regular season and organized team activities (OTAs)....

Seven of those duty days will be in California for the Super Bowl... To determine what Newton will pay California on his Super Bowl winnings alone ... looking at the seven days Newton will spend in California this week for Super Bowl 50, he will pay the state ... $101,360 on $51,000 should they lose.

Except that's total bullshit. Did anyone else spot the problem with this?

See, Newton didn't earn $51,000 for losing the Superbowl; he earned over $1.1 million for losing the Superbowl. And a $100,000 tax on $1.1 million seems pretty reasonable to me, despite how unreasonable it seems to the Cato Institute (which thinks any tax on income is unreasonable and wants to repeal the 16th Amendment).

If Newton works 206 days in 2016, and 7 of them are in California, then 3.4% of his annual gross income is apportioned to California. But Newton will probably earn $31 million in 2016, not $51,000; and 3.4% of $31 million is, it turns out, $1,053,398.

(Come to think of it, the $51,000 bonus seems kind of small, doesn't it? I mean, since we're talking about fantasy money and not the compensation that most people earn.)

Mitchell's problem isn't that states like California have higher income taxes than other states. His problem is that doesn't want any income taxes, period. Fine; make that argument. But don't foist patently misleading headlines on completely misleading articles and claim you're presenting a real argument.

Bad software testing could have thrown an election

The Daily WTF (a must-read if you're in a technology job) today described how poor testing caused 2,000 ballots to be thrown out in a 2014 election in Brussels:

It wasn’t enough to sway any one election, but the media had already caught wind of the potential voter fraud. Adrien’s company was hired for an independent code review of Delacroy Europe’s voting program to determine if anything criminal had transpired.

He noticed something strange in the UI selection functions, triggered when the user selects a candidate on the viewscreen.

He found two commented lines, dated June 28, 2013, a year before election day. A developer, looking at Card_Unselect(), realized that by unselecting a candidate, it also unselected everyone in that candidate’s list. They commented out two lines, thinking they had fixed the error. However, the unselection algorithm never decremented the check counter, which kept track of how many candidates had been chosen. If a user checked a candidate on one list, changed their mind, and picked another from a separate list, then both votes would be counted.

It hadn’t been a case of fraud, but some poorly-placed comments.

It also could have been prevented—or at least discovered immediately—through automated unit testing.

"Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

Eddie Lampert's murder of Sears

Sears, Roebuck & Co. was founded only a couple years after the Chicago fire (and the Apollo Chorus). For decades people equated the Sears brand with mail-order retail. They could deliver anything, anywhere, and people in rural 19th- and early-20th-century America depended on them. Their success and business acumen culminated in them commissioning the tallest building in the world just over 40 years ago.

Their current chairman, Eddie Lampert, took over in 2004, and immediately applied the teachings and wisdom of the sociopathic author Ayn Rand to running the august company. He set managers against each other, extracted cash without reinvesting, merged with bankrupt K-Mart, and in the process squandered two-thirds of the company's value—$6 billion just since 2012.

The company took another step to total collapse this week when they announced that they planned to write down the value of the name "Sears" by $200 million. This came in its official report that included dry but painful descriptions of its unbelievably bad Christmas season and its continuing hemorrhaging of cash and people.

The slow death of Sears by Lampert's hands is just sad. Lampert's ideology, and probably his narcissism, have killed one of America's biggest names. I don't think we've ever seen a better example of what happens when Ayn Rand's beliefs go up against reality.

The best map ever drawn?

Salon's Seth Stevenson highlights the Cartography and Geographic Information Society's "Best of Show" map from this year. It may not be the best map of the U.S. ever drawn, but wow, it's impressive:

David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.

A few of his more significant design decisions: Your standard wall map will often paint the U.S. states different colors so their shapes are easily grasped. But Imus’ map uses thick lines to indicate state borders and reserves the color for more important purposes—green for denser forestation, yellow for population centers. Instead of hypsometric tinting (darker colors for lower elevations, lighter colors for higher altitudes), Imus uses relief shading for a more natural portrait of U.S. terrain.

This object—painstakingly sculpted by a lone, impractical fellow—is a triumph of indie over corporate. Of analog over digital. Of quirk and caprice over templates and algorithms. It is delightful to look at. Edifying to study. And it may be the last important paper map ever to depict our country.

I may have to buy one. The 1:4,000,000 version is only $14, folded.

New research clarifies where the moon came from

In the last 40 years, astronomers have gathered more and more evidence that our moon came out of a scarcely-imaginable collision between a baby (100-million-year-old) Earth and another proto-planet named Theia. (Watch this video for a good explanation.) Just two weeks ago, astronomers at UCLA announced a clarification: Theia didn't hit Earth in a glancing blow, as previously thought. Instead, the two planets hit head-on:

“We don’t see any difference between the Earth’s and the moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” said Edward Young, lead author of the new study and a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry.

The fact that oxygen in rocks on the Earth and our moon share chemical signatures was very telling, Young said. Had Earth and Theia collided in a glancing side blow, the vast majority of the moon would have been made mainly of Theia, and the Earth and moon should have different oxygen isotopes. A head-on collision, however, likely would have resulted in similar chemical composition of both Earth and the moon.

“Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them,” Young said. “This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the moon versus the Earth.”

So why am I reviewing catastrophic astronomical events? I'm reading Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Seveneaves, which posits (in its opening paragraph) the collision between our moon and what is probably a small black hole. Stephenson imagines what would happen from a serious, scientific perspective. 

Seveneves isn't what you would call a character piece. I'm 45% through it, according to my Kindle, and thoroughly fascinated. But Stephenson is almost the anti-Ishiguro.

Another aside: I have to see the tidal bore in the Bay of Fundy someday. It just sounds so cool—especially in context.

Disqualifying characteristic of Rubio?

Buzzfeed via TPM reports that Marco Rubio is probably not ready for the White House:

The key line is: "Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness — and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined."

Now plenty of us get anxious. But there's probably nothing you want less in a President than a propensity to panic in moments of crisis. It's almost terrifying. Now I'm panicking.

For all that, not to put too fine a point on it but the presidency is a fairly unpredictable enterprise with a more or less nonstop stream of crises, some trivial, some potentially world shattering. Coolness under pressure and the ability to make decisions are the two critical attributes in any leader or executive and likely the two most important for a President. What's the 3 AM red phone line call for Rubio? Even better is the reference to panicking over crises "both real and imagined."

Again, not Obama.

The current Republican rap on Obama is basically that he doesn't panic enough. Too cool and collected, when the world is burning around him. Whatever you make of that, Obama isn't a panicker. No drama. Again, you cannot put that much stock in any single article. But the charge is about the most devastating one that can be leveled at a candidate for President. And recent debate evidence tends to confirm the diagnosis.

Yep.

What's it like for a woman to run against Sanders?

Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin ran against Sanders during her 1986 re-election campaign:

When Sanders was my opponent he focused like a laser beam on “class analysis,” in which “women’s issues” were essentially a distraction from more important issues. He urged voters not to vote for me just because I was a woman. That would be a “sexist position,” he declared.

[B]oth Clinton and Sanders have declared they are favor paid maternity and sick leave, and equal pay for equal work. What sets them apart? I believe it is both style and substance. Sanders can shout his message and wave his arms for emphasis. Clinton can’t. If she appeared on stage as angry at the “system” as he is, she would be dismissed as an angry, even hysterical, woman; a sight that makes voters squirm.

An angry female voice works against women but is a plus for men. It demonstrates passion, outrage and power. Sanders bristled when he was accused of sexism after he implied that Clinton was among the shouters. Ironically, it is he who has, according to his doctor, suffered from laryngitis.

For the record, I've been supporting Hilary Clinton for years. Nothing I've seen of Sanders suggests he has the temperament or flexibility to be an effective president, and if he wins the nomination, I think any of the three Republican front-runners will McGovern him into obscurity.

One reason people are pissed off

Calculated Risk updates the "scariest jobs chart ever:"

The chart shows each of the post-World War II recessions in terms of job losses from the pre-recession peak. Notice that the 2001 recession line slides right into the 2007 line, as the Republican policies that led to the housing boom and bust tanked the banking sector.

We haven't fully recovered from the 2001 recession, in other words. We've had a generally-down cycle for almost 15 years now. That is why we should not elect a Republican legislature until they figure out how economics works.

Bruce Rauner does the impossible

Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg put the Rauner administration in context in a column a couple of weeks ago:

Not only did Rauner fail to make tangible progress, but he didn’t even tread water properly. The normal operation of the state, such as passing an annual budget, failed to occur, sacrificed on the altar of the governor’s hunger for term limits, union enfeeblement and other unrelated pet causes. He’s like an office manager getting himself hired by promising to expand a business who then promptly fails to pay the electric bill, as a point of principle against the electric company monopoly, so they turn the lights off. Now we’re sitting in the dark, listening to him explain.

But give credit where due: Rauner has accomplished something real, something that I would have thought impossible:

He makes Rod Blagojevich look good.

In 2014, Rauner won every county in Illinois except Cook, beating Pat Quinn by about 150,000 votes out of 3.6 million cast. That's not a huge mandate. But it has turned into a huge disaster. ("A yuge disaster?" Hm.)

Good analysis of the Democratic candidates

Mark Russell, a writer in Oregon I've never met, posted one of the best descriptions of the differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that I've seen on Tuesday:

[T]he truth is that this is not a battle between good and evil so much as an awkward contest between two animals who evolved in entirely different ecosystems.

Hillary Clinton is like a grizzled hunter in the Amazon. Every day is a battle for survival. She has suffered every venom and poison imaginable and from her time as being the wife of a Democratic governor in a red state to being Secretary of State to the most besieged administration in modern history, she has lived her entire life in a rainforest filled with things determined to kill her. Her political survival instincts have adapted accordingly.

Bernie Sanders is like a wallaby. He hails from the benign ecosystem known as Vermont, where he lacks any natural predators. He will be the beloved senator from Vermont for as long as he cares to be. So he hops around wherever he wants, unafraid that anyone might use his words to crucify him. Propose a $15 minimum wage? Just have a friendly chat with anyone who disagrees. Call yourself a "socialist?" Sure, why not? We're all friends here. On the other side of the world, though, if Hillary Clinton channels her inner Eleanor Roosevelt, the Republicans call it a seance. Write a few State Department e-mails from your personal server? Suddenly there's a major Congressional investigation, even though nobody cared when previous Secretaries of State did exactly the same thing.

I'll be reaching out to him for permission to publish his whole post.