Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Candidates' tax plans

I was reading this morning in the Times about the various presidential candidates' tax plans, as well as a related article in the business section about some hard-to-dispute truths about the effect of taxes on economic growth. I personally believe that continued tax breaks for the very wealthy is bad policy. Our government is running at an enormous deficit, and while I don't like paying taxes either, when a country is at war it's got to pay for it somehow.

A couple of things really stand out to me as remarkable. First, I am actually somewhat surprised that all of the Republican candidates are planning to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I would have expected *someone* to have a different stance on these. For one thing, tax cuts are simply not tied to economic growth. The economy has grown substantially in eras of decreasing taxes, as well as in those of increasing taxes. There is no proof that these tax cuts have done anything to stimulate the economy.

But more than that, I find the Republican candidates' strategies for paying for these cuts to be remarkable. McCain appears to have given it the most thought by proposing we prioritize our spending, although part of his prioritization includes eliminating things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. While I support reform in all three (and can offer very specific recommendations for Medicaid), the elimination of these programs entirely would be complete folly - and since there is absolutely no chance of that happening, to propose this equates to doing nothing. Giuliani plans to cut the budget 5-20% across the board. How simple... but a little more evaluation would probably show that it's easier said than done. Romney's, however, is my favorite: he plans for economic growth. Wow. Such an easy solution - right there under everyone's noses!

I'm not going to pretend that the Democratic candidates' plans are perfect (and Edwards actually gives me a headache), but I do appreciate that they are addressing the growing income gap in this country. Our country's budget deficit needs to be eliminated. That cannot happen without taxes going up. While social issues ruffle feathers and get voters excited, a change in our economic policy needs to be the most important factor in the coming election.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Umbrella etiquette

I don't mind the rain. Even when I'm commuting, it's only the rare rainstorm that annoys me. But other people's misuse of their umbrellas can drive me crazy! There are two very simple rules I'm shocked require restating:

First, if it's not raining, don't use your umbrella. This includes (a) when it was recently raining but has since stopped, as well as (b) when it's snowing. Umbrellas are for rain. Period.

And second, unless you are actually golfing on a golf course, you do not need a golf umbrella. These enormous things take up the entire width of a sidewalk, push other people out of the way, and are invariably carried by little tiny people. They poke normal sized people with normal sized umbrellas in the eye, because no one who is rude enough to carry the golf umbrella is polite enough to lift it out of the way of the level of the other umbrellas.

This morning, when it wasn't raining, a tiny little man with a giant umbrella ran me off the sidewalk. I was reasonably proud of myself for not grabbing his umbrella and smashing it on the street.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A nice person

I was just reading this post about something a very nice person at Zappos did, when my office phone rang. It was a guy who knew me by name, but didn't know me personally. He was calling the last person that a friend of mine - who left her cell phone in his store - had called. When I told him it was my work phone, so I couldn't see the phone number, he asked if he could dial my cell phone so that I could let my friend know that he had her phone. He had no idea how much an act of kindness brightened up my day! So, if you're in need of a very nice guy to repair your shoes, you should totally patronize David Shoe Repair at 460 Hudson.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Senseless loss

Four years ago, one of my very good friends was diagnosed with desmoplastic small round cell tumor, a particularly nasty type of cancer with a very low survival rate. He went through a rather successful surgery, followed by some chemotherapy, which he endured rather well. For the next three years, he lived pretty normally - he lost some weight, but enjoyed being a daddy to his little baby (now toddler) and had a ton of fun with his wife and his friends.

Late last year, things took a decided turn for the worse. When we saw him in at our fantasy football draft in August, he was a little jaundiced and a little thin, although he still had the characteristic smile for everyone. And he gave everyone plenty of characteristic crap - and penalty Woo Woo shots - for doing stupid things. By December, though, he wasn't doing very well.

James was moved into a "pain management" facility early this week, and he passed away last night in his sleep. When I learned he was not expected to regain consciousness, I was saddened more than I thought possible. I'd known for years that this was possible, even the likely ultimate outcome... but for some reason I'd just believed that he would beat this disease. He fought his ass off, strongly, courageously. But the sarcoma ultimately won.

I ask everyone reading this to tip a glass in the celebration of James' life. I know you hear it a lot when someone dies, but this was truly the rare person who makes everyone else's life better, just for having known him. He transcended time and distance - whether you'd seen him last on Saturday or ten years ago, you knew he was your friend. And you knew that for no other reason, he'd go to bat for you and you'd sure as hell do the same for him. I'm going to miss him. His optimism, his fierce loyalty, his kindness, his friendship.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Verizon and NARAL -- Update

As update to my prior post: I received this email today in response to an email I sent to Verizon Wireless' public policy director:

Thank you for contacting us on this important issue. We issued the
following statement. Please share with interested folks.


BASKING RIDGE, N.J. - On Wednesday, September 26, Verizon
Wireless received a letter from NARAL regarding the company's policy on
text messaging. The following statement may be attributed to Jeffrey
Nelson, spokesperson for Verizon Wireless.
"The decision to not allow text messaging on an important,
though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed
the process that led to this isolated incident.
"Upon learning about this situation, senior Verizon Wireless executives
immediately reviewed the decision and determined it was an incorrect
interpretation of a dusty internal policy. That policy, developed
before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately
protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against
communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent
to children.
"Verizon Wireless is proud to provide services such as text
messaging, which are being harnessed by organizations and individuals
communicating their diverse opinions about issues and topics. We have
great respect for this free flow of ideas and will continue to protect
the ability to communicate broadly through our messaging service."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Irving Plaza r.i.p.

I guess I was paying attention to other stuff in April of this year, but the Irving Plaza music venue has undergone a name change. It's now the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. Apparently the ownership group has a grand plan to rechristen a number of venues all over the country as "Fillmores", for cohesive brand messaging. While I am sure they believe it's the right thing to do, this irritates the hell out of me! Repainting the interior? Hanging curtains? The shuttering of the Wetlands in 2001 made Irving Plaza the de facto hub for jambands in NYC. I'm so sad to hear it's gone corporate!


I'm currently struggling with whether I should pursue any recourse for what I believe was lousy maternity leave treatment. I still feel like I was screwed. I'm in sales, and I returned to no live accounts. Particularly given our long sales cycle, that very materially affects my ability to close deals, and therefore to make money. But I am not sure if I want to go down that path - of being the trouble-maker and ruffling feathers. That said, "well behaved women seldom make history." I'm trying to determine if the EEOC would agree that I was discriminated against; what do you think?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Children of God

I just finished reading Children of God, Mary Doria Russell's sequel to The Sparrow. It was quite good; not as good as the first, but an interesting read.

Like the original, the book takes place on Earth, another life-supporting planet called Rakhat, and a hollowed-out asteroid used as transport between the two. Also like the original, Children of God is about a Jesuit mission to Rakhat, and the Rakhat scenes take place amid a society much changed by the catastrophic events set off by the first mission to Rakhat. But the books are less science-fiction than they are character-driven studies of people and their faith, or lack thereof.

At the end of the first book, the character of Emilio Sandoz is in the process of reevaluating his faith. He has trouble reconciling the God he has always loved with a God who could allow his horrible treatment in Rakhat. He chooses to abandons the church, and he falls in love. When he is kidnapped and forced to return to Rakhat, he has to confront the world he had hoped never to see again.

Since the original mission to Rakhat, there has been major societal upheaval, led by Sofia Mendez (she survived!) and Supaari VaGayjur. While Hlavin Kitheri was busy influencing the succession laws of the Jana'ata, Supaari and Sofia were teaching the Runa self-sufficiency and spurning them to revolt against their oppressors. By the time Emilio returned to the planet, few Jana'ata even survived, and those who did were in hiding.

As Emilio learns of the new situation on Rakhat, and of Sofia's survival, he is forced again to examine his relationship with God. This continual struggle is what makes Emilio's character complex and compelling - for him, there are no easy answers. In order for him to finally have peace, he needs to understand why he was meant to travel to Rakhat the first time, and why he had to return.

Russell's narrative is incredibly powerful. Her best passages are those in which nothing really happens, in which her characters simply grow. In addition to Emilio's spiritual journey, those of Sofia, Supaari, Ha'anala, Danny Iron Horse, Isaac and even Nico are tightly woven tapestries. The reader is able to understand what drives each character's actions and what makes him or her tick. None of these characters is shallow or single-faceted; all of them have fascinating layers. Russell's mastery of the written word - more so than the plot itself - is what makes Children of God a pleasure to read.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

I read this morning in the Times about the latest development at the organization called One Laptop Per Child. I first learned of this a couple of years ago... essentially, the group is trying to get laptops to under-educated children in the world's poorest areas. It's been quite controversial, for reasons including the lack of much less-expensive and higher-impact malaria nets in the same regions targeted by OLPC.

I'm really impressed with what they've done. The price of the laptop has not been driven quite down to $100, but they've now got a deal where you buy one laptop at $400, receive it and the tax paperwork by Christmas, and a second laptop is sent to a student in a poor country.

Apparently some critics (bloggers) are panning the design of this inexpensive laptop because for $1000 a consumer can get something much "better." But what I found very interesting about David Pogue's piece is that these laptops have some amazing innovations in technology, from battery design to the indestructible case. And its interface and built-in programs are wildly compelling to children. Plus, it was described as looking something like Shrek's robot cousin.

I really think that OLPC has taken an innovative stab at fighting devastating poverty. Malaria nets may be the single most needed item in many parts of the world, but bringing valuable educational tools to those most in need might just play an important role in driving permanent change.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Little Women, redux

I just got my 1903 copy of Little Women in the mail today. It's in great shape - the binding is even tight - you'd never believe it's over 100 years old! I found it in an eBay store; I bought it from a woman liquidating her late husband's personal library.

I cannot wait to read it again!


I've been enjoying my blog. I still don't know exactly what people will expect when they come here, but I have been having a good time with it.

Since I work at a Web 2.0 company... and since I now have a blog... I thought I would try another new experiment. I am going to "twitter", in the voice of the Bug. For those of you who are interested, you can follow along and see what the Bug is up to. Although sometimes it just may be what I am up to. You can see my twitter badge in the sidebar. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Verizon and NARAL

I was absolutely infuriated last week when Verizon announced that they would not carry text messages that their users opted to receive from NARAL Pro-Choice America. To tell you the truth, I didn't even realize a cellular provider could do that! Apparently, in the small print of your carrier's terms and conditions, it states that they don't have to carry information that they find to be objectionable. Ultimately, Verizon backed down from this assertion in this case, and agreed to carry NARAL's opt-in messaging. But regardless your stance on the issue of choice, it should be clear to everyone that net neutrality is a very real issue, and one that can directly impact your life. Carriers provide the backbone on which digital communication is delivered; that they may be able to deny service based on the content of the message is very scary.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Used Formula

This is what the Bug did to me after work today: