prognosticator of the week month year

I'm going to have to nominate Will Wilkinson. Because he damn near nailed it, and I don't know who else did.

taxes on inaction

Thought experiment time!

Suppose that Congress were to raise income tax rates across the board by X%. Coupled to this tax hike would be the introduction of a tax credit that would completely offset the tax increase, for which one need only provide proof of maintaining a health insurance policy that meets a certain set of standards to qualify.

Question 1: How is this functionally different from a tax ("penalty") imposed via the income tax system upon people who do not buy health insurance?

Question 2: If your answer to the above is that it is not different, then don't tax credits or deductions given for engaging in other behaviors (buying a house, having children) constitute an effective tax on not engaging in those behaviors?

My argument here is not that this is necessarily a good or bad thing. Simply that it is nothing new.

If you object to the state manipulating personal choices via the tax code, you've a great deal more to be upset about than health insurance. Of course, if you have kids and a mortgage, you have a considerable stake in the system and it is completely understandable that you might not object too strenuously.

Speaking as a person with a respectable income, no kids, and no mortgage, let me just say...you're welcome.


your humble host's prediction not so groundless after all


Facebook's U.S. user numbers dwindled in May from April and March, according to data compiled by research firm comScore, in the latest sign that growth may be leveling off at the No. 1 social network.

Last month, Facebook attracted 158.01 million unique visitors in the United States, edging lower from 158.69 million in April and 158.93 million in March, comScore said.
 You heard it here first.

(Link via Sully)

the ruling

I said I wasn't going to do this, but I have a couple of quick thoughts that I don't think ought to be terribly controversial.

1. It seems that the Court has decided that the penalty for not having insurance is a tax, and that this is something that Congress has the power to do. I suppose reasonable people can disagree over the first point, but the second is pretty clearly spelled out in Article I.

2. Regardless of what you think of the outcome of this particular case, the fact that this was not a ruling that expanded further the scope of the Commerce clause is a good thing if you care about unchecked legislative power, generally.

3. Whether the ACA is constitutional, whether it is good policy, and what it means politically for certain interested parties are three completely separate questions, and the Court is only to be concerned with the first. I am not convinced that the ACA is particularly good policy, but I also find the status quo it purports to remedy indefensible. At least now, we have a chance to find out whether or not it will deliver as promised, rather than having it gutted and have to start over from exactly where we were. That may or may not turn out to be a good thing, but there really is only one way to find out...


both ends, and the middle

This is the first night I've spent quietly, in my home, since June 14. Well, on the 15th I just had a couple at the pub, went for Chinese, and came home by 9pm to pack, which is pretty tame compared to the nights that followed.

The next day I flew to Boston by way of Atlanta (I booked kind of late, hence the bad routing) but the upside of that was that I managed to book a long enough layover in the ATL to have a leisurely lunch outside the airport with my sister and brother-in-law, which was great. She's going to make me an uncle for the second time (my sister in law will beat her to it probably in the next couple of weeks) this fall, so odds are the next time I see her, she will be someone's mother. So that's pretty intense.

Back to the airport, all's clear here we go, the plane begins to accelerate down the runway and I immediately begin to nod off (I think this is a conditioned response, but I cannot explain it) when suddenly, the plane is braking--HARD--flaps up, rubber squealing, and we come to a stop that I imagine was exactly as controlled as it could have been an not a bit more.

Needless, to say, I was very much awake at this point. A plane at the other end of the runway had turned in front of us. (So that's a thing that can happen.) We burned our brakes. Back to the gate (after waiting 30 minutes to be cleared to move at all), to the bar across from the gate*, where I made fast friends with a few of the other people who had just seen their life flash before their eyes.We had the kind of conversations you can only have with people you know you will never see again. By the time we were walking down the jetway back to the plane (2 hours later) one woman and I were discussing in great detail our respective plans about having/not having children, and why (not). We never exchanged names.

The delay meant a cab ride to my accommodations (the trains had stopped, which kills me because I love trains and hate cabs. Also, I'm cheap, especially when traveling alone.) I checked in at 1:30 AM. Of course, despite the long day it was only 10:30 on my body clock and I was restless, so I ventured out just as the bars were emptying into the streets. I was quickly reminded that Seattle is really a pretty mellow place. Why are there so many cops out?  Why is everyone yelling so much?

Apparently, that's just Saturday night in Boston. I ended up in a diner that had a bouncer. I ate quickly and went to bed.

The next 5 days I was at a scientific meeting up in New Hampshire. (Just to give you an idea how small this world is: there were about 170 people at the meeting. I had shared an office or lab space with 13 of them at some point. I count several others among my closest friends.) There was an open bar every evening, that (mercifully) closed at midnight, though I managed to stay up talking to people until 2AM or later every night, and still made it to breakfast by 8 every morning. I did not miss a single session.

(It was a great meeting, and one that may prove to have helped my career immensely. Stay tuned.) 

Meanwhile, the wife is going stir-crazy back home, so when she picks me up at SeaTac Friday night (10PM, PDT), she's got her dancing clothes on. A friend's 80s cover band was playing at a venue near our place to kick off Pride weekend. I was informed that I was to rally. I did. The band was great. I sipped a can of Ranier, which for a serious beer drinker is basically the equivalent of a night off.

Saturday my eyes popped open at 8AM and I have no idea why. I went to the lab to catch up on things that had piled up, came home mid-afternoon, and bottled some beer I'd brewed before leaving town. It was mindless work that didn't involve talking to anybody, and I loved every minute of it. When the wife came home (she also had had things to do at the lab) I proposed dinner at the pub. It was dead (the party was happening elsewhere on the Hill) so we figured we were good for a beer or two and a pizza, and then go home. Instead, we ended up having amazing wide ranging conversations** with the other three people at the bar, then eventually with the bartender (whom we know pretty well.) We closed it.

Sunday was the Pride parade, which is always great fun. We met up with friends downtown. I watched for the first couple of hours, then had to duck out for a while to take care of a couple of things at the lab***. The wife went with the others to the after-festivities at Seattle Center. She texted me to say "there are too many people here, you will hate it" which is why I love my wife. She found her way to someone's rooftop party, just a few blocks from our place, so I re-joined her there. That spilled back out onto the streets of the Hill eventually****, which involved a couple of drinks and generalized craziness*****, all in great fun, after which we excused ourselves home, collapsed in a heap, and off to work this morning like grownups.

I am strangely, miraculously, not exhausted. In fact, I got a hell of a lot done today. Perhaps it is the 16 hours of daylight we're enjoying right now. But in any case, I think I'm going to edit one more piece of a grant, have a little tea, and then read a book. Seriously.

*If you think you have encountered indifferent service, you have not, unless you have been to the Samuel Adams Brewhouse by the T Gates at ATL. Never have I seen so little beer served to so few people in so much time by so many employees.

**The content and circumstances of these are probably worthy of a post or two of their own.

***If this seems like a recurring theme, it is. Some jobs do not fit neatly into a 50-hour work week.

****I should point out that I am completely, 100% sober at this point. Remember that part about going to the lab? 

*****In which our role was primarily "married straight couple here to observe"


(slight return)

Howdy, both of you.

Sorry for the light participation in the internets this past week. I judge the quality of a scientific meeting as inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend in front of a computer during said meeting, and by that standard the one I just attended was exceptionally good. I'd tell you about it, but I signed something saying I wouldn't...not because it's top-secret government or corporate stuff, but just because the meeting is all about facilitating exchange of unpublished data, so everything presented is considered "privileged communication".

I will say this, though: if you have a son that wants to play football, think really long and hard about it. Seriously.


I really ignored the news this week. And I think I might just keep doing that for a bit. My brain is full of other things, some of which are kind of exciting. So I don't know. Expect more cerebral discharge, and less politics for a while, is what I'm saying.


sometimes good politics is good policy

I think this is brilliant, for the record.

There's no obvious reason why this should be an issue that breaks down along partisan lines. (This being an election year, and the GOP being defined by nothing so much as reflexive opposition to anything and everything Obama does, it of course will.) Force the Republicans to argue in favor of deporting children. Cut off the "alternative DREAM" proposals being advanced by some slightly saner Republicans at the knees. Expose the fractures within the GOP on immigration in an election year.

The fact that it happens to be the right thing to do is almost gravy.


the mormon thing, ctd

I think this is mostly right*:

Perhaps my anti-Mormonism is showing but I think there’s a a pretty major difference between being unwilling to support candidates of a certain religion for theological reasons and being opposed to them for political reasons. Evangelicals believe Mormons aren’t true Christians, a distinction that is completely pointless to me and not particularly relevant to questions of policy. Liberals believe Mormons … are conservative, which is mostly true...

There’s definitely evidence of liberal intolerance of Mormons, but what liberals aren’t tolerating is conservative churches injecting their beliefs on social issues into the public sphere. What anti-Mormon evangelicals aren’t tolerating is that Mormons believe in Jesus’ magicalness incorrectly.

This liberal anti-Mormonism will make no difference in the election, of course — these are people who wouldn’t vote for a Republican no matter his religion. The conclusion of the study says that still-extant anti-Mormon feeling among conservatives is what could actually affect the outcome in November. (And even that is likely to affect the result only at the margins.)

*Apologies to linking to Salon, which is an abomination of web design. I do try not to make a habit of such things. 


dark thoughts

I'm starting think this obesity epidemic isn't all that big of a deal.

That isn't to say people aren't in fact getting fatter (they are), that being fat isn't bad for you (it is), or that people wouldn't be a lot better off if they ate less (and less garbage) and moved more (they would.)

I'm just not sure that I give a shit any more.

Don't get me wrong--I give a shit about how I look and feel, and act accordingly. I'm in about the best shape of my (adult) life these days. I'm not monastic about it or anything; I drink more than most doctors would say is OK, I love a good cheesesteak, and I even indulge in the occasional cigarette. But you won't find me touching a soda, and my fried potato consumption is probably 1/10th of what it was a few years ago. I shop the edges of the grocery store, and stay out of the middle. I exercise, hard and often. And I eat a hell of a lot of salad at dinnertime....

I'm just thinking that those of us who devote our careers to understanding the mechanisms of human disease are wasting our time, ultimately. We've largely gotten a handle on heart disease; which is to say, plenty of people still have heart attacks, but lots more survive them. Ditto strokes. A lot of cancers are a lot more survivable than they used to be. The positive returns to the decreased rates of smoking (which declined steadily for 40 years since the Surgeon General's Report, leveling off around 20% in the US five years ago) are undeniable, especially on the fronts of heart disease and lung cancer.

And yet...people stubbornly, persistently, and inevitably continue to insist on dying of something.

It's important to remember that all we can do is lengthen the journey a bit. The destination remains the same.

And frankly, I do not want to live on a planet full of centenarian baby boomers. The thought that it could be 2050, me in my 70's, and still having to hear about how great the fucking Beatles were, how important Woodstock was, and how they changed the world by smoking a lot of dope and fucking everything that moved, makes me think that a whole lot of life-shortening type II diabetes might not be such a terrible thing.

I probably need a vacation.


ray bradbury, rip

   A night bird called among the ruins as they walked. Dad said, "Your mother and I will try to teach you. Perhaps we'll fail. I hope not. We've had a good lot to see and learn from. We planned this trip years ago, before you were born. Even if there hadn't been a war we would have come to Mars, I think, to live and form our own standard of living. It would have been another century before Mars would have been really poisoned by the Earth civilization. Now, of course--"
   They reached the canal. It was long and straight and cool and wet and reflective in the night.
   "I've always wanted to see a Martian," said Michael. "Where are they, Dad? You promised."
   "There they are," said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.
   The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver. The Martians were there--in the canal--reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.
   The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water...
That ending always stuck with me. Thanks for all the great stories, sir. 


i've got no dog in the fight in wisconsin...

...but I do worry that the pattern of both sides claiming shenanigans before the polls are even closed bodes ill for our political system, generally. Every election being seen as illegitimate by the losers is not a sustainable state of affairs.

a sentence i hope to incorporate into a novel someday

"She's the kind of person that forwards emails about leaving water bottles in the sun."

--an old friend over dinner last night.


not that there's anything wrong with that...

If you ever find yourself needing to pen an apology, you could do a damn sight worse than using this one by Jason Alexander as a template.


private booze in wa state today

I did not roll out of bed, cross the street to the local Safeway, and buy a handle of whiskey first thing this morning. It is very unlikely that I will ever do such a thing. But I do really like knowing that I could. More to the point, I look forward to not having to endure the harsh fluorescent lighting, joyless decor reminiscent of the DMV, and surly entitled state employees on the relatively rare occasion that I do purchase something stiffer than wine.

That, and you know...competition and stuff.

Dominic Holden pens a nice eulogy for our dismal, defunct state liquor stores.