Saturday, February 27, 2010

Storm report

I was a little apprehensive about driving back to Ossining from central New Jersey Friday night in view of the late week storm . However the drive proved easy as the major roads were OK and traffic was less than normal. I287 was fine with little evidence of heavy snow. Once over the Tappen Zee bridge into Westchester there were a few problems but nothing too bad. For some reason the usual ramp to the Saw Mill was closed but I was able to find an easy alternative. And the sticky wet snow had caused fallen branches which encroached on the right hand lane of the Saw Mill in a few spots but the center lane was fine.

My condo seemed to have received about a foot of heavy wet snow. The picture shows a tree across a nearby road. Fortunately it didn't block my way home.

Tax simplification

Yglesias claims that:

... It would be fairly simple for the IRS to mail people “pre-completed” forms, subject to the taxpayers’ review and correction. Rich people would still want to hand their documents over to an account for analysis, but for normal people you’d just read the thing over and sign. ...

I believe that this is wrong, it would not be in fact "fairly simple". To complete even a simple return correctly you need to know the taxpayer's marital status and number of dependents. I don't believe the IRS currently has a reliable independent way of determining these facts. For a slightly more complicated return you need to know the amount of property tax paid which again I don't think the IRS knows.

Even for things like wage, interest and dividend income which the IRS theoretically knows as it receives W2 and 1099 forms things are not so simple. At one time the IRS was not matching many such reports with actual returns filed. Perhaps things are better now but I suspect the mismatch rate is still too high for the IRS to reliably fill out returns.

And of course to mail you your return the IRS would have to know your current address. Considering the periodic stories about unclaimed refunds for taxpayers the IRS is unable to locate this seems dubious.

If Yglesias wants to make the income tax less annoying he should concentrate on simplifying the rules, many of which make no economic sense.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Free Credit Reports

I just ordered my government mandated annual free credit reports for the first time. I tried to do this a few years ago when they initially became available but gave up when I was unable to do it online. This time I was able to get the Equifax and Experian reports online. Transunion's I had to order to be mailed to me after fighting through an incredibly obnoxious automated voice recognition system. Hopefully it will actually be mine and be sent to my address.

There wasn't much of interest in the Equifax and Experian reports, just information on the one credit card I have. I had heard that utilities sometimes provide payment records to the credit bureaus but apparently mine don't.

I have no idea how one credit card account in good standing would translate into a FICO score.

Music videos

Until recently my only exposure to cable TV was in motels or hotels while traveling as I didn't subscribe. Fifteen or twenty years ago there were cable TV channels which seemed to mostly play music videos. But some years later I couldn't find music videos on cable any more. Does anyone know why they went away?

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I recently read "The Secret Sentry" by Matthew M. Aid. I won't be giving a serious review of this book but I will note it contains an egregious error. On page 179 in connection with the 1983 Beirut marine barracks bombing the book states "... The resulting explosion was massive, the equivalent of twenty thousand pounds of TNT detonating, giving it the sorrowful distinction of being the largest nonnuclear explosion in history. ...". This is of course wrong. Wikipedia provides a list of large non-natural non-nuclear explosions many of which involved the equivalent of much more than 10 tons of TNT. Three rather well known examples are the Halifax Explosion , the Texas City Disaster and the Port Chicago Disaster each of which was upwards of 100 times as large. There have been many other lesser explosions which were still bigger than the marine barracks explosion. It is hard for me to understand how someone could make such an error and it is the sort of thing that in my eyes severely damages the author's credibility in general.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dollar menu

Although chain restaurants in Westchester were required to start posting calorie counts for their menu items some time ago I hadn't actually eaten in a restaurant with calorie counts until yesterday when I visited a MacDonalds. One of the arguments the restaurants unsuccessfully made against the law was that it would make their posted menus crowded and confusing with which I have to agree. It is not surprising to me that early indications are that the law is having little effect. The counts did reinforce a point that I had only recently become aware of, the MacDonalds dollar menu is a really good deal from a food as fuel point of view. So I had three McDoubles instead of two Big Macs, more calories for about half the price.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Stephen Carter's novels

Stephen Carter is a black academic who also writes novels. As I recall I rather liked his first, "The Emperor of Ocean Park", which I read several years ago. I recently read his latest, "Jericho's Fall", which I thought was ok. This inspired me to locate and read his other two novels, "New England White" and "Palace Council". Unfortunately I found both to be seriously flawed. The books reminded me a bit of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown . Both authors have some writing talent in the sense of getting you to keep turning the pages but have problems with the bigger picture. They also have conspiratorial world views and weird obsessions which can make it hard to maintain suspension of disbelief. And they both seem prolix. As a result I found myself liking the books less and less as I read through them. I like novels to make sense when considered as a whole and I don't think these books are very satisfactory in that respect. So in my opinion these books can be safely skipped.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Feeling poor

Turbo Tax has a feature that compares your return to the US averages (for 2007). I was a bit disconcerted to see the average salary and wage income reported to be $420,000 and the average tax paid reported to be $190,000. This seemed quite high and in fact appears to be wrong. According to this (table 1) the correct values are about $60,000 and $8,000. Apparently Turbo Tax was comparing to the top 5% (or so) of returns, not all returns. So my poverty is only relative.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I think Yglesias misses the point here :

I have a condescending attitude toward this op-ed. Of course I think my views are correct and based on fact and reason. If I thought my views weren’t correct and based on fact and reason, I would adopt different views—correct fact-and-reason based ones. Does Alexander really think that conservatives don’t think their views are correct? Does Alexander not think his own views are correct? Not based on fact? Not based on reason? I’m not sure it’s possible to be condescending enough to this op-ed.

Of course people think their beliefs are correct or they would change them. But people differ in how confident they are that they are correct. People who think political issues are obvious and clear cut are more apt to consider their opponents evil rather than simply mistaken. Which makes them more inclined to try to crush opponents rather than convert them. Obviously fanaticism is found on both ends of the political spectrum but I think liberals have greater tendency than conservatives to see political struggles as battles between good and evil.

Friday, February 5, 2010

English please

I have recently gotten some comment porn site spam in what appears to be Chinese which I have deleted after complaints. In the future I will automatically delete comments which I can't read which means anything not in English.