Monday, May 16, 2011

The "No-Losers" Tax Simplification Proposal

Let's take a pause for a flight of fantasy, and imagine that we still had an America where political negotiation was possible, and people might listen to a "positive sum" proposal... one in which (at least in theory) almost everybody ought to be able to win. Yes, it is as far-fetched as a sci fi novel! But bear with me as I talk about a way that the tax code might be simplified, without getting snared in the morass of the (insane/stupid) Left-Right Political Axis.

========

President Obama said he would seek a reform of the U.S. tax code, calling the current tax system is a "10,000-page monstrosity." But that promise has been made by others before. Whenever somebody proposes tax simplification, we run up against the fact that every “simplification” would gore somebody’s ox. The more code-trimming you do, the more people will scream.


In fact, I know a simple way the sheer bulk of the tax code - its complexity, in numbers of rules, words or exceptions - could be trimmed by perhaps 70% or more, without much political pain or obstructionism! Because the method is designed to be mostly politically neutral. It does not aim at some utopian fantasy (like the Flat Taxers rave about.) It gores only a few sacred cows. It would be cheap and easy to implement. And almost guaranteed to work! (Only accountants should hate it for the effects on their lucrative business. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, this method has never been tried, or even proposed. Alas.

How can I promise such a thing? First let's note something interesting.

There is nothing on Earth like the US tax code.
It is an extremely complex system that nobody understands well. But it is unique among all the complex things in the world, in that it's complexity is perfectly replicated by the MATHEMATICAL MODEL of the system. Because the mathematical model is the system.

Hence, one could put the entire US tax code into a spare computer somewhere, try a myriad inputs... and tweak every parameter to see how outputs change. There are agencies who already do this, daily, in response to congressional queries. Alterations of the model must be tested under a wide range of boundary conditions (sample taxpayers). But if you are thorough, the results of the model *will* be the results of the system.

Now. I'm told (by some people who know about such things) that it should be easy enough to create a program that will take the tax code and cybernetically experiment with zeroing-out dozens, hundreds of provisions while sliding others upward and then showing, on a spreadsheet, how these simplifications would affect, say, one-hundred representative types of taxpayers.


As I've said, this is done all the time. A member of Congress has some particular tax breaks she despises and asks the CBO for figures on the effect, should those breaks be eliminated. Alas, what inevitably happens is that, as soon as word gets out, her proposal soon faces a firestorm from constituents or powerful interests who will fight like hell to keep from losing millions.

Hence, although American corn-ahol subsidies are propelling high food prices and hunger around the world, nothing is done to end the wasteful programs that costs more net energy than it delivers. There are thousands of other special interest groups that each wish the budget to be balanced... on somebody else's back.

So how would my suggestion get past this?
A key innovation would be to program in *boundary conditions to the experiment*. The paramount condition would be “no losers.”

Let the program find the simplest version of a refined tax code that leaves all 100 taxpayer clades unhurt. If one group loses a favorite tax dodge, the system would seek a rebalancing of others to compensate. No mere human being could accomplish this, but I have been assured by experts that a computer could do this in a snap.

Here's the key point:
If such an iterative search finds a new, much simpler tax structure that leaves none of the 100 groups more than 5% worse off than they currently are, then who is going to scream?

Oh, well, I suppose a lot of people will scream. Cheaters will holler of course, and those who benefit from the cloud of obscurity allowed by an overly complex tax code. Even if farmers are guaranteed adjustments in other areas, they will reflexively protest over the end of Roosevelt-era subsidies. In fact, everybody will complain! But...

...but a lot of the HEAT will be taken out of their complaints, if they see their bottom line is completely unchanged. And that is the secret trick to this approach. To remove enough heat so that a critical mass of reasonable people may calmly re-assess, negotiate, and accept pragmatic change that's good for all.

Will "no-losers" really leave everybody unaffected? Nope. One hundred sample-type American taxpayers won't cover everybody, especially at the upper end. Some in the aristocracy have arranged for tax laws to be enacted specifically to benefit them. They will hit the roof when simplification zeroes out those special exemptions (while leaving the typical 100 types alone). But if enough of the rich are included in "no-losers" they might tip the balance, canceling out the final obstructors, for the sake of a new simplicity. And for patriotism.

Will this method solve all tax-related problems? Of course not! Complexity isn't the only thing wrong with the Tax Code. After simplification must come some genuine tax policy shifts that do advantage some and disadvantage others. Like all of you, I have my favorite injustices I’d love to see redressed, behaviors disincentivized, business ventures stimulated...

But, by starting with “no-losers,” you can use politically neutral optimization routines to find a much simpler system, trimming and slimming the machinery to use the fewest moving parts, in order to achieve the exact same output it is performing right now. Then, and only then, will it make sense to argue about steering the vehicle in new directions.

Honestly, can you think of ANY other way that simplification might plausibly ever happen? Beside armwaving fantasies that will never get past angry interest groups. If so, I'd love to hear it.

==========

... Ah well, I wrote all of the above back when it was at least possible to imagine negotiated positive sum politics. But let's be plain. That is not the case today, amid the outright treason called "culture war," which has so desperately weakened the United States of America. We must face the fact that normal politics is dead. There is only one analogy for the state of simplistic, imbecilic rage that we are currently experiencing.

We are in Civil War part III.

91 comments:

TwinBeam said...

I think you need another constraint - no tax feature will be retained if it affects less than 1,000,000 taxpayers.

Suppose your simpler code condenses tax features affecting me down to 2 items - maybe a common deduction and a very uncommon tax credit. Same tax amount, but the tax credit is very narrowly targeted at only about 5000 tax payers. It clearly exists only for our benefit, and maybe we aren't a very popular group - oil billionaires perhaps. (I wish.)

Wouldn't I be right to suspect that some future "revenue enhancement" effort will target my little group's tax credit, throwing us under the bus? Which will make me and my billionaire oil buddies decide to lobby against your scheme?

David Brin said...

My method will automatically "lump" taxpayers into larger groups.

Nevertheless, yours is a good suggestion. To pass it might have to start at a lower threshold, say 10,000 or less.

Rob said...

I would donate the nighttime use of my 24-core, 12 GB RAM computer for such computations.

In fact, could such a thing be crowdsourced, the way SETI@Home works, analyzing all kinds of scenarios and doing a bit of hill-climbing to find an optimal solution?

William said...

Part 3? When was part 2?

Tony Fisk said...

Be sure to categorise 'clades' by number of people, rather than size of money involved.

Tax simulations via computer brings me back to Portugal and someone commenting on the criminal element, I recently read 'Thinking in Systems' (first/second year electronics principles, applied to social environments). Meadows explicitly described the system trap (aka anti-patterns) that leads to the 'war on drugs': namely several parties having a different optimum point, and the escalation in effort (and 'collateral damage') that arises as each strives to gain that point. Her solution is for one (brave) party to just let go: after an initial readjustment, things settle down to be an overall less contentious state. Yes highly counter-intuitive. The thing about complex systems is that they have inherent delays in their feedback loops, which means that you may have to do the exact opposite to what you think you need to do to get the desired effect.

I'm thinking of setting up a simple generic systems emulator to demonstrate some of this stuff.

nubif: the steaks of tomorrow (printed medium rare)

sociotard said...

Part 3? When was part 2?

Brin counts the civil rights movement of the 50s-70s as part 2

Carl M. said...

You might find some number crunching I did here to be of interest. I looked at a flat tax which folds in payroll taxes with a universal stipend to replace personal excemption, standard deduction and perhaps a bit more to get a bunch of able-bodies people off of conditional welfare. The next page on the site investigates some simple two-tier proposals.

Another huge reform you can do is treat capital gains on the sale of C corporations (and derivatives thereof) as ordinary income. To make this neutral, cut the corporate tax rate down to 20% or so. The only problem is that this constitutes a tax hike on Bill Gates and others who built companies during the higher corporate tax rate regime.

Robert said...

I did consider one thing. I've heard thoughts of a national sales tax bandied about... and I have to admit that if you were to limit it to only items costing over $100 that it might work (in conjunction with lower income and corporate taxes). By limiting it on items over $100 you first prevent it from being a tax predominantly on the poor. It'll be more of a tax on the middle class, sure, but it will also hit all those things like luxury yachts and the like.

If the tax is across-the-board with no deductions of any kind, then it becomes quite fair and simple to implement. (I could see a case for allowing hospital equipment to be tax-free, as well as equipment for nonprofit organizations, but once you start allowing loopholes you allow people to get away with cheating on taxes.)

I'm sure there are problems with this, however. While raising the minimum level before the sales tax kicks in to $100, you do help reduce the impact on the poor. (Heck, I suppose you could even go for $500, which would mean a lot of merchandise such as low-end washers and dryers and the like would also be tax-free.)

The truly sad thing is, for the longest time I was against a national sales tax as a tax against the poor. But wouldn't the minimum purchase level allow for the poor to avoid the worse of the sales tax?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

right now a national 5% sales tax on internet purchases, to go to the states.

stigant said...

>> Let the program find the simplest version of a refined tax code that leaves all 100 taxpayer clades unhurt. If one group loses a favorite tax dodge, the system would seek a rebalancing of others to compensate. No mere human being could accomplish this, but I have been assured by experts that a computer could do this in a snap.
<<

What's the smallest number that can't be expressed in less than 100 words?

TwinBeam said...

While the sheer volume of the tax code is an issue, it's not a big deal for a majority of taxpayers, who file the 1040A short form.

Those who get hit hardest with the complexity are individual investors and small businesses.

I suspect most of them would point as much or more to the costs of record keeping as being equally or more onerous than the complexity of the code. The volume of information that needs to be collected and kept and reported seems to have soared.

Jonathan S. said...

Well, Dr. Brin, I've done my part - emailed a link to your blog post to the senators from my state. They're both Democrats, so maybe that'll help. Couldn't hurt, anyway, right?

mobedist: one who follows a philosophical tradition best embodied by two turntables and a microphone.

Paul said...

Re: Taxes and "10,000 pages!!!1one"

It doesn't matter how large the tax code is, what matters is how much applies to you/your business.

So there's 10,000 pages today: But say 500 pages applies to you. Reform the system, reduce it to 2000 pages, but in order to do so you remove the finely grained specifics, so now 1500 pages applies to you and your compliance costs increase.

I'm not saying that's the case in the US, but beware of the law of unintended consequences. Your computer optimiser should try to reduce the compliance costs per tax-payer, not just worry about the number of pages.

(I think many small business owners would be happier with a slightly high-taxing, lower paper-work system - provided you never ever told them that.)

Paul said...

Re: Portugal's drug reform

It's surprising, when they've gone so far, that they didn't take the final step and take over the drug trade themselves. Ie, government run recreational drug clinics.

I always find it odd that people on the Right who claim to believe that private enterprise is efficient and government is inefficient, place the control of the drug trade in the hands on "private enterprise" while putting enforcement in the hands of government. How do they think that will work?

Government drug clinics: Bankrupt the dealers, get oodles of extra revenue, guarantee drug purity, and give drug purchases the glamour of the post office crossed with a free health clinic.

Tony Fisk said...

...tax the users.

Hmmm! That might be a form of addiction in itself.

tiggi: generic name applied to uplifted plush toys

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

The thing about complex systems is that they have inherent delays in their feedback loops, which means that you may have to do the exact opposite to what you think you need to do to get the desired effect.


I once heard that sort of thing described in terms as a practical joke. A married couple has an electric blanket with separate controls for each side. As a practical joke, you switch the controls, so that each of them (unknowingly) turns the heat up or down on the OTHER person.

As HE gets hotter, he turns down HER heat, which makes HER turn the heat up further...on HIS side. The net result (including the feedback of the other partner's action) is that the right thing to do to the controls is the opposite of the intuitive thing. (Barring the obvious action of "switch the controls back", of course)

sociotard said...

Can we still comment on the long-term mississippi situation? The other thread wasn't open long.

Anyway this was a solution I saw elsewhere. I doubt its pragmatic, but it is clever and way out there. It's almost like something from a scifi novel.

Move all permanent structures twenty miles and at least a hundred feet up from the current river basin. Mark out farms and other such economic claims by GPS, people can move into the basin during the working year in purpose build mobile communities that can be relocated in a hurry in case of flood. In other words a return to base-camp nomadism.

Tacitus2 said...

I will return to the political fray presently. Just now I am contemplating the unfairness of a universe in which Moammar Quadaffi is alive and kickin' but Harmon Killebrew is dead at the young age of 74.

Tacitus
Detritus of Empire

lightning said...

As I understand it, the problem is that "nobody* knows what the tax code really is -- it's written in legalese, not math, and the definitions are not defined tightly enough to do a real mathematical model.

A nice simplification would be to require new tax laws to be specified mathematically; ideally, in the form of a spredsheet. It'd also be nice if the definitions were tight enough to keep things out of the tax courts. (Not likely, I know.)

I'd also like to see a requirement that any taxpayer (Joe Blow or Exxon Corporation) could ask for an official statement as to what the law "really" means (with numbers!) -- and have that statement stand up in court. Right now, you can ask the IRS for an opinion -- but it's legally worthless. (Another requirement on this would be to require a "timely response" -- an official response is worthless if it takes a year to get. I'd say three weeks.)

Tony Fisk said...

In the wake of Katrina, I contemplated a tale which incorporated a future New Orleans (Newer 'leans) in a festive, carnival spirit as the populace bustled about moving the port to wherever the river now rolled, or was about to (think 'Monster Moves' on steroids).

Due to inertia, and a lack of local knowledge, contemplation is all it stayed.

David Brin said...

This tax thing was cited on Slashdot (500 responses) and popsci.com and io9!

Alas, only perhaps 1% of the responses actually dealt with the actual core content of my proposal... that simplification can only happen if the heat of self-interest were largely removed from the process. The specifics of the process (genetic algorithms would work) aren't the issue.

The issue is that current tax debates and proposals (from flat taxers to simple brackets etc) CANNOT HAPPEN! Because any large minority of heated opposers can stymie even a majority that wants a change, in today's America.

"No-losers" reduces the heat and the number of angry opponents down to a level where the attraction of simplification might actually get a sufficiently large majority behind it to steamroller over the remaining screaming objectors.

That is the key point. I hope some people will talk about that. As well as the greater lesson that it offers regarding modern politics and the unfortunate phenomenon of "minority-rage-veto" that long ago banished majority rule.
 

Tony Fisk said...

Just received an e-mail reminding me that next Saturday (May 21) is the last chance for ... just about anything!

Responded with a link to apocamon.

David Brin said...

I will be with my son at Maker Fair... the exact opposite of the BoR junkies in every conceivable way. Believers not only in an optimistic, human-improvable future, but in the holy injunction that we be co-creators.

I plan to look at my watch during my speech and timing the minutes till Rapture.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys

Did you see a newspaper article about the guy who is offering a "look after your pets" service for those who are raptured upwards leaving their beloved pets behind.
He guarantees that he will not be raptured as he is an atheist.
Payment in advance!

To David’s looking at his watch – what about us? When it is lunchtime on the 21st in California it will be 7am on the 22nd here – we will have missed it

Tony Fisk said...

My plans involved the local farmer's market (making of a less 'tinkery' variety). Still, I wondered about the timing as well.

There is only one moment possible: when it is May 21 on the entire Earth (ie midnight at the international date line)

That may mean I *do* get to see 'The Doctor's Wife' on Saturday night! ('lift-off' will be at 9pm AEST, or 4am PDT)

David Brin said...

Duncan and Tony, hmmm. How many hours are you ahead? Your midnight on the 21st is what California time?

Send me an all is well and I'll report it to the audience!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi David,

Midnight on the 21st here will be 5am on the 21st in California,

I will try and leave a message after midnight (I will probably be watching the F1 qualifying) but I don't think me and mine are very good candidates for the rapture and how would I tell if some of my neighbours disappeared? (They are not good candidates either)

Tony Fisk said...

The first seconds of May 21 actually occur 4am Friday morning in California (remember, daylight saving! I have a 17 hour time difference etched on my brain from the few months I once spent in California. The trip over was impressive in one sense: the plane departed at 12 noon, and arrived at 12:15pm! Longest quarter-hour of my life!!)

I still think this event can only happen as the last seconds of May 21 expire at the date line but, if I'm awake as the witching hour sweeps past, I will note if, as happened in the 'Nine Billion Names of God', the stars start going out.

Tony Fisk said...

(I will probably be watching the F1 qualifying)

Hey Duncan, will 'The Quiet Earth' be showing on one of the other NZ channels?

Paul said...

David,
"Slashdot ... Alas, only perhaps 1% of the responses actually dealt with the actual core content of my proposal..."

"You must be new here."

Duncan,
"but I don't think me and mine are very good candidates for the rapture and how would I tell if some of my neighbours disappeared?"

Hmmm, maybe all those other predictions for rapture were right! It's just that no one actually got raptured, we weren't good enough, we're all Left Behind.

(David, midnight here is 7.30am the previous day in California.)

Paul said...

Tony Fisk,
"The first seconds of May 21 actually occur 4am Friday morning in California (remember, daylight saving! I have a 17 hour time difference"

Errr, 24 - 4 = 20hrs.

Janus said...

Civil War part 3:
"Of course there's class warfare. My class is winning."
Warren Buffet

Tony Fisk said...

4am May 21 in moony (then) California is 9pm (17 hours later) in Melbourne... and 12pm at the IDL. The rest of the World hopefully have better things to do, then.

Hopefully that is clearer.

imenesu: a copyright breach claim from Apple computer.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Tony

"Hey Duncan, will 'The Quiet Earth' be showing on one of the other NZ channels?"

I had to look that up - but its very appropriate!

I will scan the channels and see

Tim H. said...

Simplification of the tax code seems a good start, but thinking about how large an employer Eternal Revenue has become, and how many jobs exist mostly for dealing with Infernal Revenue, persuading Republicans and Democrats to grow up and be professional will be the least of your problems. BTW, I'll be at work midnight of the 21st.

Robert said...

This one has heard Apple trademarked the letter "i" - from now on if you use that letter when referring to yourself you are liable to be sued by Apple. This one surmises that people will start referring to themselves in the third person as a result of this action.

Rob H.

Carl M. said...

I had a look at the Family Radio site just for giggles. Talk about far fetched!

Anyway, have a look at the last chapters of Revelation. The rapture happens at the last trumpet blast. We currently live in a time of growing worldwide peace and prosperity. This may change rather suddenly, but most definitely hasn't changed yet. Yes, we had some rather devastating times during the 20th century, but we have since recovered, and those devastations never reached Revelations levels, save perhaps in Cambodia.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Just received an e-mail reminding me that next Saturday (May 21) is the last chance for ... just about anything!


Thom Hartmann had a guest on yesterday who argued with a completely straight face that the end times begin on Saturday--not just that the Christians will be taken up to heaven, but very specific terrestrial symptoms, such as an earthquake like "Japan times millions".

Thom is congenial to guests like these, and while he made some light hearted fun (like "Can I have your house?"), he didn't ask the question I would love to hear asked of these people publicly, which is "Will it change your worldview at all, one jot or tittle, if Sunday morning comes without your predictions having come to pass?"

LarryHart said...

Speaking of the Rapture:

If only the right-wing members of the House of Representatives would be taken up to God on Saturday! Maybe Dems should schedule the vote on the debt ceiling for early next week, when the make-up of the House might be radically changed.

Quoting a Roger Whittaker lyric:

If only, Lord, if only
If only, Lord, if only

Anonymous said...

I just had a disturbing thought.

I am not a Good Christian (or much of a Christian for that matter) and not a terribly good person. But I consider myself a reasonably good person.

What should I do if I'm caught up in the Rapture?

I'm not prepared for it. I don't really want it. Does anyone know if there is a way to politely refuse?

Robert said...

Tell the angelic host that your health insurance doesn't cover repair of ruptured discs. =^-^=

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Wow!

Has anyone actually gone to the Family Radio website?

http://worldwide.familyradio.org/en

They've got "infallible proofs" like this one:


God in His great mercy has given a marvelous proof that the year 2011 is the year of Judgment Day and the end of the world. Remember in 2 Peter 3:8, in the context of pointing us to the flood of Noah’s day as well as to the destruction of the world at the end of time, He declared: “one day with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.”

Years ago we learned from the Bible that the flood occurred in the year 4990 B.C. More recently we learned that Judgment Day is to occur in the year 2011 A.D. 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C.


Sounds good, but they seem to miss a few steps. Like, when exactly did it say in the Bible that the Flood happened in 4990 BC?

Or:

God in His mercy has given another tremendous proof. It is as follows:

We have learned that the precise date of the cross was April 1, 33 A.D. when coordinated with our present modern calendar. April 1, 33 A.D. is the only date that meets all the requirements of the Bible, such as being a Friday that falls on the correct date for the Passover, which was the date Christ was to be crucified.

We also have known for some time that the date of the first day of the Day of Judgment coincides with the day when the Rapture will take place, on May 21, 2011. But then it was discovered that there are exactly 722,500 days from April 1, 33 A.D. until May 21, 2011. This fact gives us another infallible, absolute proof that May 21, 2011 is the date of the Rapture.


722,500 days later? Dang, it MUST be true.

To be fair, the significance of the number 722,500 is explained later on.


The number 722,500 is made up of two sets of identical significant numbers. Each number is intimately related to God’s salvation plan:

5 x 10 x 17 x 5 x 10 x 17 = 722,500


So there you have it.

Seriously, what ARE these people going to be thinking Sunday morning?

LarryHart said...

Waitaminute:


Years ago we learned from the Bible that the flood occurred in the year 4990 B.C. More recently we learned that Judgment Day is to occur in the year 2011 A.D. 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C.


Did I read that right? The Bible says the Flood happened in 4990 B.C. ?

It's only 5771 on the Jewish calendar, but the Flood happed 7000 years ago?

You learn something new every day.

Jonathan S. said...

Apparently the Rapture is supposed to occur at 6 pm. Does anyone know what time zone was meant? Or will the Lord be taking His Chosen to Heaven in shifts, at 6 pm local time wherever they happen to be?

LarryHart said...

Johnathan S:

Apparently the Rapture is supposed to occur at 6 pm. Does anyone know what time zone was meant? Or will the Lord be taking His Chosen to Heaven in shifts, at 6 pm local time wherever they happen to be?


My first guess would be 6pm in Jerusalem, since it's derived from the time of the Crucifixion. But that might make too much sense.

Second guess would be 6pm GMT. After all, God inspired the King James Bible because He knew the entire world would soon be speaking English. It just makes sense that GMT, the time-zone of England, would be "God's Own Time-Zone" as well.

David Brin said...

I love Buffett.

Tony & Doug... so... by 3pm California time, most of the world will already be in May 22. Certainly it will be past midnight in Jerusalem... Okay I get it.

Tim H, simpler tax code would let the same # of IRS staffers go after more cheaters.

Anonymous asked: "What should I do if I'm caught up in the Rapture? 
I'm not prepared for it. I don't really want it. Does anyone know if there is a way to politely refuse?"

I LOVE guys like this! It's a bit similar to my "suicide saint" scenario but more modest and courteous. This is a person who was well brought-up!

"Years ago we learned from the Bible that the flood occurred in the year 4990 B.C. More recently we learned that Judgment Day is to occur in the year 2011 A.D. 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. "

Huh? Didn't Bishop Ussher calculate the CREATION to have occurred in 4004 BC? Then 2,000 years (2 days) to Abraham and another 2 days to Jesus and another 2 days till the end. Then a seventh day (1,000 years) of "rest for Jesus's reign.

Jeeze, who ARE these guys? Heretics, they think the trumps blow after the SEVENTH day? AFTER the day of rest? Yokels.

(Trumps... Trump?... eek!)

"We have learned that the precise date of the cross was April 1, 33 A.D."

So it was all an April Fools joke? The Muslims knew it all along. They say the blessed prophet Jesus simply tricked em all and slipped away.

Carl M. said...

At least one of these deluded individuals has been posting comments on my web site today. Oh well.

For the record, lest you think this phenomenon is particular to Christians, think of the interesting folk who take on relativity or alternative energy.

And how many bad predictions has Popular Science racked up over the years, yet people still subscribe?

David Brin said...

There are Christians who believe that this world matters and that the future is an extended adventure for our heirs to be elevated co-creators in.

Patmos followers are another story. Whether they predict the end times or avow that "no man can know."

David Brin said...

Wow. Stunning video: NASA captures giant comet hitting sun. My doctorate was for analyzing the composition and behavior of comets BTW. Put a lot of it into HEART OF THE COMET. And at Caltech I was a solar astronomer! Combo-interests! Amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mat4dWpszoQ

Tim H. said...

"Tim H, simpler tax code would let the same # of IRS staffers go after more cheaters."
In a rational world, yes. In ours? Not so much. I would expect that would work out about like the small mental health clinics that were supposed to take the place of large state asylums, or the new generation of reprocessing plants that were going to take over from federal facilities. The "Free-Riders" would just see another opportunity to grant tax cuts to their campaign contributors.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin reasonably asks:

"Years ago we learned from the Bible that the flood occurred in the year 4990 B.C. More recently we learned that Judgment Day is to occur in the year 2011 A.D. 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. "

Huh? Didn't Bishop Ussher calculate the CREATION to have occurred in 4004 BC?


The site actually refers to the 4004 B.C. date as one that was "erroneously believed" for many years. They now know better. The new creation date is 11,000-something B.C. As far as I can see, the only citing of sources is "We've seen that the Bible says..."

Carl M:

And how many bad predictions has Popular Science racked up over the years, yet people still subscribe?


Some people believe the world is warming and in danger of inhabitability in the near future. Yet how would most thinking people to a prediction that the earth will no longer be habitable starting next Saturday? I think even Al Gore would be taking bets on the long side of that one.

I'm not faulting people their religious faith, but when they're buying into a strange variation on that faith (the Bible says no such thing unless you're willing to read into it), one has to wonder just what these people will think when their infallible predictions are proven false--not just "in our lifetime" but literally before next Tuesday.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmmm! May 21.

It's just occurred to me that a lot of republicans are deciding not to bother running for president. Maybe they're playing wait and see?

Tim H. said...

Perhaps they think their chances post-rapture will improve?

Tony Fisk said...

Mississippi re-opened to shipping http://bbc.in/lCba6e

I seem to recall this was cited as an example of a JIT failure mode. Anyone want to keep an eye on the knock-on effects of the closure?

Errm. How would post-rapture improve GOP candidate chances? (are Abaddon's lot and winged lions eligible to vote? Think of the queues! ... Aha! Could this be a defence strategy? )

Seriously, it would be rather revealing if someone like, say, Huckabee, changes his/her mind about running come Monday (if it does come...we-e-ll, I gather it will, but perhaps a bit different to normal).

Carl M. said...

Oh, and looking for a year on which Passover fell on a Friday is a questionable algorithm. Passover kicks off a sabbath regardless of which day of the week it is. All seven of the Biblical annual holy days are sabbaths. Only one (Pentecost) has to happen on a particular day of the week (Sunday). Given that the number of mentions of Jesus being in the grave for three days, I think it is quite unlikely that he was crucified on a Friday afternoon. I'd look for a year on which Passover fell on a Wednesday evening.

The texts are ambiguous and downright contradictory on these points. The synoptic Gospels have Jesus celebrating the Passover at the beginning of the days of unleavened bread. John has him being crucified at this time. Anyone who claims the Bible is error free has this contradiction to reckon with. However, the sequence in Luke can be read to include two sabbaths, the annual and the weekly, with the Marys purchasing and grinding herbs on the day between.

David Brin said...

Carl, I think that calling the holidays "sabbaths" is a Christian latter-day invention. I know of no Jews (neither, presumably Jesus) who would use that terminology.

David Brin said...

One of our community members has reported that Intel-chipped macintoshes are now subject to some nasty trojans and viruses.

He recommends all INTEL Macs get Sophos anti-virus protection http://www.sophos.com/

Do any of you have opinions about this?

Rob said...

I think the ancient Jews called their holidays "feast days" or something similar, as a more literal translation from Hebrew or Aramaic. The Sabbath was something else altogether. ICBW.

Matthew, who makes a literary connection between the span of time Jesus was dead and the story of Jonah in the belly of the fish, insists repeatedly that it would be "after three days".

I think it was also Matthew that got his initial genealogy technically wrong in order to make a wider point. The only other reference in the Synoptic Gospels is in Mark 8, which could have an alternate translation as "three days later", something more roughly consistent with the other narratives.

The actual narratives, including Matthew's, depict Saturday as the only full day he was clinically dead, which without Matthew's specific agenda is consistent enough.

In short, there's no reason to invent two Sabbaths for the first Holy Week. There's enough ambiguity in the texts that a synthesis of it predicts and tells a story of a man who died after 3 p.m. on Friday and rose again sometime after 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Robert said...

Sounds like your typical party-goer in the U.S. these days. Gets smashed Friday and wakes up Sunday wondering what he was doing. =^-^=

Yes, I know I'm going to burn. But hey, if the Divine lacks a sense of humor (and the platypus suggests he/she (or both/neither) has one) then I'd rather burn. ^^;;

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I know that two of the gospels are thought to have been written in the 1st century - and possibly by witnesses - but that linguistic evidence strongly suggests two of them were wholly written in the 2nd century.

Matthew is definitely one of the latter. (As also evidenced by his attitude toward "the jews" - a distinction no 1st century author would possibly have made. Does anyone know which the other one is?

The interesting this is that the earliest one - linguistically from the time of Jesus, refers in the Jailhouse Scene to "the mob". A later one says "the people". And I think it is Matthew that says "the Jews"... leading to the whole Christ-killer slander.

Rob said...

Would that necessarily be true? I thought the Maccabees or the early rabbis had drawn a distinction between "the Jew" and "the Greek", the latter being Jewish, but with some Greek syncretic beliefs thrown in. Or something like that. In that context, Matthew would have been completely comfortable in saying "that faction did it but it wasn't us here in the Diaspora. We're the safe ones!"

At a hazarded guess, I'd say Mark and Luke were penned earlier than Matthew or John. There's also supposition that the Matthew we have from the koine Greek traces back to an Aramaic source document we don't have. That opens an opportunity for an eyewitness account with a language-barrier interpretation layer between what we have and what was witnessed.

In any case, the latter two had agendas beyond an eyewitness accounting. The Jehovah's Witnesses disagree; they think Matthew was written first, but I don't know the basis.

All nice and fuzzy. Some would say that's the way God intended. I disagree; I'm not a closed-canon guy.

@Rob H. -- If you burn, it won't be me setting the torch to you.

David Brin said...

The Diaspora did not begin until 73 CE. Forty years after the crucifixion. Indeed, Matthew is drenched with post-Diaspora linguistics. It was clearly written after Chistians and Jews became major rivals in the Roman Empire.

Rent the movie AGORA.

Tim H. said...

On mac malware
The worst I've heard of is malware posing as anti-virus, one must give the malware explicit permission to infest your mac. Folks in the security business want mac malware to become more real, for sales reasons. John Gruber has an excellent essay here:
http://daringfireball.net/2011/05/wolf
I think if we do see a specific X86 mac virus, it will be taking advantage of a vulnerability specific to a Mac OS that only runs on X86. Malware that targeted X86 specifically would make it a whole new ball game.
BTW, Dr. Brin, have you found a contemporary word processor you can live with?

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

Oh, and looking for a year on which Passover fell on a Friday is a questionable algorithm. Passover kicks off a sabbath regardless of which day of the week it is. All seven of the Biblical annual holy days are sabbaths.


Is that a Christian view? I ask because I haven't heard that terminology used in Judaism, though I'm certainly not of the Orthodox faith.


Only one (Pentecost) has to happen on a particular day of the week (Sunday).


Again, that sounds more Christian than Jewish to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that. :)


Given that the number of mentions of Jesus being in the grave for three days, I think it is quite unlikely that he was crucified on a Friday afternoon.


I used to make fun of that "contradiction" a lot, but in reality, I believe Jesus rose "on the third day" rather than "after three days". Remember, those folks weren't using zeroes at the time.

Then again, I do believe he was cricufied on (Holy) Thursday, and DIED on (Good) Friday.


I'd look for a year on which Passover fell on a Wednesday evening.


And just to be clear, Passover doesn't "fall" on one particular day. Passover is eight days long. The traditional Seder (which the Last Supper was one) is held on the first TWO evenings of Passover. So there's plenty of leeway as to which years fit the bill. But you're also right--the Last Supper being on a Friday doesn't seem to fit.

LarryHart said...

Rob:

I think the ancient Jews called their holidays "feast days" or something similar, as a more literal translation from Hebrew or Aramaic. The Sabbath was something else altogether. ICBW.


The word "sabbath" literally refers to the seventh of something. A "sabbatical" happens after seven years, for example.

The Commandment "Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy" literally means "Remember the holy character of the seventh day." The connotation of "sabbath" as meaning a special day derives FROM its use in this context.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The Diaspora did not begin until 73 CE. Forty years after the crucifixion.


I just recently re-read the novel "Masada" (it was a tv miniseries in the 80s). It took place in 73, and referred (accurately) to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem three years earlier.

However, I was totally yanked out of the fourth-wall when a Roman character referred to something related to the emperor Nero as having happened "back in 62". As if first-century Romans were already using the Christian calendar.

Rob said...

Ah, no you don't; that term describes the post-Exile scattering as well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Diaspora -- "The diaspora is commonly accepted to have begun with the 8th–6th century BC conquests of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, destruction of the First Temple (c.586 BC), and expulsion of the population, and is also associated with the destruction of the Second Temple and aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt during the Roman occupation of Judea in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD."

Rob said...

"Shabbat" is Hebrew for "cease/cessation", or "rest", or "stop", I thought. Wikipedia backs that up, but it's a secondary source.

Rob said...

@Tim H -- I'm sure Mac malware is far less prevalent than PC malware, but the tech news is full of reports in these last two weeks that AppleCare call centers are getting hammered with people asking for help to excise it, a service they refuse to perform.

Lessee... http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-20063683-263.html

Also...http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/an-applecare-support-rep-talks-mac-malware-is-getting-worse/3342?tag=contentMain;msg5134129

And... http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-20062597-263.html

LarryHart said...

Rob:

Shabbat" is Hebrew for "cease/cessation", or "rest", or "stop"


Ok, I'm no linguist, but I think we're running into similar-sounding words, just as we determined that the word inFERno is not derived from fire.

Shabbat (sometimes pronounced Shabbos) is indeed the name of the holiday celebrated on Friday night and Saturday day.

However, I believe it is an entirely separate word from "sabbath", meaning "seventh (day)". I'll admit they sound similar, but I think that's coincidence, or synchronicity if you roll that way.

"Shabbat" is like saying "Independence Day", whereas "the sabbath" is like saying "The fourth of July". They describe the same holiday, but in different senses.

Tim H. said...

Mac malware so far is trojans, not virii, this may change in the future, but for now, you must explicitly grant permission to a trojan to infect a mac. The worst offenders are supposed anti-malware.

Bernard Guerrero said...

David, the flaw I see here is that in assuming that "the system IS the model", you ignore the very real but much more controversial dynamic impacts of changes to the tax code. That is, the tax code doesn't exist as a system unto itself, but rather in interaction with hundreds of millions of taxpaying entities who change their behavior and in so doing modify the inputs to the tax machine.

For instance, a revenue neutral rebalancing that impacts taxpayer "clade" 1 by eliminating taxes A, B & C while increasing the take on D sounds great, in theory. Nobody's ox is gored, net. However, the shift in taxation from a spread of activities A, B, C & D to a sole reliance on D won't be activity neutral, even if it is revenue neutral. Some economic activity will now be relatively favored or disfavored, shifting real-world investment & hiring patterns, causing ripple effects on "clades" 2-100, etc. And the effects themselves are not all immediate; many investment & hiring plans stretch over years, requiring that our economic model be accurate over long stretches. This is NOT a "snap".

David Brin said...

Bernard I never said it was a snap. What I said is that "no-losers" is the only conceivable way that action will actually take place.

Tacitus2 said...

Senate Democrats decline to put forward a budget. They did not do so last year either, making it something like 750 days since we have had one.

One might, if of that frame of mind, question their sincerity regarding fiscal and political responsibility.

Being the grownups in charge is no fun some times.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus, you seem to be stretching mightily to assign equal blame to the Democrats, while the GOP holds the debt ceiling and the budget debate hostage to the demands of the minority.

If the Democrats could even get something to the floor past the filibustering minority, the House's idea of compromise would be "pick our way or we'll let it all fall apart." So really, what's the point.

You know I'm pretty desperate when my big hope rests upon superstition. Maybe a whole bunch of House Republicans really will be taken up to Heaven on Saturday. I can't think of a bigger win-win situation.

Robert said...

Anyone know how to stop or suppress tinnitus? Damn ringing is getting annoying. Though I think I've figured out one of the triggers: mastication (or chewing). (What really sucks is I have it in both ears. It's just the right ear has been fairly light for years, while the left ear just recently started screeching on and off for the last couple of weeks.)

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart

An actual budget might help advance the current discussion of deficits and of national priorities. These weasely continuing resolutions are not the same thing.

The House Republicans at least appear to be trying to address the fiscal issues, show me something from the Dem side as thoughtful as the Ryan plan (admitting its shortcomings).

Leaders should lead.

Regards tinnitus, its a difficult problem. If taking aspirin at anything above casual levels, it can be a factor, as can be certain iv antibiotics like gentamicin.

Growing older, and too much Def Leopard as a lad, are also factors, but not amenable to remediation. But be sure and wear hearing protection for power tool work etc.

Tacitus

Tony Fisk said...

Got a similar problem, Rob (although it's currently only affecting very high frequencies. I suspect the after-effects of a bout of hog flu a couple of years ago might have hadsomething to do with it.)

I find a good night's sleep can help. Hasn't gone through the double-blind test study mill though

David Brin said...

Criticize away! This is the sort of thing I would hear from a sane conservatism.

Now... recruit 150 million more like you, Tacitus.

Look at what happened to Newt yesterday.

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hypnos said...

(that was me before. Wrong person logged on the PC)

How is the Ryan plan thoughtful? It's a bold faced fraud that only made-up Heritage Foundation numbers can support.

Here's Krugman take on it:
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/12/ryans-five-point-plan/

"So if we focus only on the real stuff, this is a plan to leave the deficit pretty much where it is, but to sharply cut aid to the poor while sharply cutting taxes on the rich. That’s serious!"

Between a party that offers nothing, and a party that pushes a fraud, the choice shouldn't be difficult.

Leaving aside the fact that the deficit could be closed in 5 years just by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, unwinding the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, and cutting a good chunk out of the ridiculous $800 billion Pentagon budget.

David Brin said...

The very coolest mashup of two rock songs that I have EVER seen/heard... and themed perfectly for Saturday's Rapture!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnhKPw2NXIw&feature=share




http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=dnhKPw2NXIw&feature=share

Tony Fisk said...

Will have to check mashup later.

Meanwhile (As R. Bunthorne would put it), a little something of my own:

They tell a tale about a rapture from the clear blue sky.

The faithful dutifully listen/ No-one questions, why
the end of all things'/ ultimately what their Lord brings.

Constrained in thought to never wonder if it's all a lie:

a tie that binds/ to husks and rinds.

myzoski said...

An interesting Google tech talk about
"Predator", a visual tracker that learns from its errors.
http://www.youtube.com/user/googletechtalks?blend=1&ob=4&rclk=cti#p/u/2/lmG_FjG4Dy8

Applications in surveillance and other areas...

Paul said...

David,
Whether or not you are concerned about malware bothering your Mac directly, there is also a risk that you pass Windows malware onto Windows users without realising it, even though it doesn't affect you (because it doesn't affect you.)

Nonetheless, whatever you decide, The Rule is that you never use the anti-virus package recommended by the person who convinces you to use an anti-virus package. (If that makes sense. The Holmesian principle of rejecting the first cab.)

(siongul: Commander of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish cult on Cardassia. qv:ST:TBS)

Tony Fisk said...

In a theatre of the mind, an 'Earth' trailer briefly shows Daisy McLennon tweaking movies, to the Blondie beat.

Gonna eat 'em all! Rap-ture!

PS: nearing midnight here. Went out to view the sky.

My God! It's full of stars

(Well, clouds actually)

oding: what Debra Harry does with Keith Morrison

Tony Fisk said...

12 o'clock, and all's we-

LarryHart said...

Tacitus:

The Democrats don't have an alternate budget proposal? Maybe the corporate media isn't giving it coverage, but they do have one:

http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=70

http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/
index.cfm?sectionid=70

The advantage of their proposal over Ryan's is that it actually addresses the deficit. As opposed to Simpson and Bowles, who headed up a "deficit reduction" commission and made "tax cuts" their number one priority.

Someone else already beat me to Krugman's take on the Ryan plan, but I concur. It is not "courageous", nor does it do the one thing it is given credit for doing--actually reduce the deficit. Whatever "savings" he gleans from not covering the costs of medical care for seniors, he gives away in corporate tax cuts. He wants to repeal ObamaCare even though every analysis I've seen says that doing so actually COSTS money.

His plan does exactly what Bowles and Simpson did--use the mandate to reduce the deficit as an excuse for implementing a right-wing agenda, even when doing so actually INCREASES the deficit. It's not just that I disagree politically with his agenda (though I do), but that his "reasoning" makes no sense.

It's what Naomi Klein described as "disaster capitalism" at its worst--use a crisis to implement an otherwise-unpopular plan even though the plan DOESN'T even address the crisis.

David Brin said...

onward

Anonymous said...

Simplifying the tax code could *really* have no losers -- not the government nor any of the taxpayers, in theory. Consider that a simpler tax code makes the IRS's job much simpler. The IRS can do as well with less money, then. That money came from taxes, so it can be diverted from the IRS to a general all-around tax reduction, or to reductions aimed specifically at the "losers" that otherwise would emerge from the simplification. Anyone that would have been 2% worse off may instead of neutral, or even slightly better off, with money that would otherwise have paid for a higher IRS workload.

rewinn said...

@Anon -
(A) How much in IRS funding would be saved by simplifying the tax code?

(B) How does this stack up against increasing IRS funding to stop tax cheating?1