Friday, April 22, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Chicken Parmesan

I don't know anyone who doesn't like Italian food. Such people must exist, but I don't know any of them. As any Italian will tell you, the secret to a good chicken parmesan is the sauce. As an Italian myself (ed note: you are not Italian. Yes I am. My great-grandmother's nanny was Italian. That makes me 1/64 Italian. ed: I stand corrected) I took coming up with a sauce recipe seriously. Going into my first attempt I knew only one thing: it needed to be thick and hearty. Oh--two things: it needed to be unafraid of garlic three--three things: it needed to be thick and hearty; unafraid of garlic; and spicy but not hot.

I won't say I ever made a bad sauce, but I will say it took me awhile to make something I was proud of. It was mainly a matter of figuring out what spices in what amounts (ed: genius). I've got something now I think is pretty damned delicious and it forms the basis for my...

(click to enlarge)

Chicken Parmesan (serves 4)


4 skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
three eggs, beaten
bread crumbs
canola oil
fresh parmesan


30 oz tomato sauce
2-3 tomatoes, diced
4 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
3 tsp oregano
2 tsp basil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sage
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

I am lucky in that I have a constant supply of fresh canned tomatoes from Donna's family so my sauce starts from a really good base. Because of this, I don't actually use canned sauce and tomatoes. But if I wasn't able to mooch off someone else's garden I would. If you don't have access to the fresh stuff, I'd suggest using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, but hey, do what you want. I won't judge.

Whatever you're using, get it boiling in a large skillet along with all the spices, garlic, and tomato paste. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce. The longer it simmers, the better. Taste it occasionally to make sure the taste is what you're looking for. That's the best piece of advice I can give when making a sauce: taste it!

Give it at least a half hour, then heat some oil over medium high heat. While it's heating, get three small bowls. Fill one with flour, one with three beaten eggs, and one with your bread crumbs.

A quick aside on breadcrumbs: An easy shortcut is to use italian-style breadcrumbs. No shame there. If you want to get a little more adventurous, start with plain breadcrumbs and add your own spices. I'd suggest garlic powder, oregano, basil, paprika, and salt. Play around with the mix until you get something you like. End of aside.

You can do this next step simultaneously with the preparation of the chicken. Get a pan of water going on high to cook some pasta. I use spaghetti, but to each his own. Salt the water and boil until al dente and drain. You can declare your pasta done at this point. I won't judge, but be aware that some Italians might stab you with a sharpened pasta spoon. What I like to do it get another skillet going on medium with some olive oil, garlic, and oregano. When the oil is hot remove the pan from the heat, add the pasta, and stir it around for about 30 seconds or so. Now it's ready to plate.

Coat the chicken breasts in flour, then in the egg wash, then in the breadcrumbs. Put into the hot oil. Once all the breasts are in the pan and the oil is really popping, reduce the heat to medium. Turn when the side that is submerged in the oil is nice and brown, which should only take a few minutes. Flip them over and cook on the other side for about the same amount of time. If you need to, cut into them to make sure they're done all the way through. Nothing messes up a chicken dish like raw chicken.

It sounds like a lot to keep track of. The best way I can think to keep yourself calm in the heat of the kitchen is to open a bottle of wine. For this meal I was enjoying one of my favorite wines: a Red Rock malbec. I've been drinking a lot of malbec lately, and Red Rock is one of the best one I've found. It's really full with a ton of flavor, and at about $11-$12 a bottle I highly recommend it.

Plate the pasta, using a fork to give it a twist. Place the chicken breast on top. Cover with a healthy helping of the sauce. Grate some fresh parmesan on top so it can melt.

I have a thing for fresh garnishes, so I took a couple of roma tomatoes, removed the seeds, and diced them. I piled them in the center of the breast and covered with some fresh black pepper and parsley. Add another glass of wine and you've got yourself a meal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do Women Really Think This Way?

I know a fair number of women. In general they're rational, intelligent, interesting people. They have jobs and families. They drink the occasional beer or glass of wine. They have hopes and dreams and all that happy crap.

None of the women I know seem like insecure idiots. Is it because I'm just lucky enough that the women I know are all above average in the brains and confidence departments? Or am I not seeing the "real" them and they are all actually like the women in this Slate article come off like bad parodies?

My friend "Portia" tends to manipulate situations to get what she wants. In the past, I've indulged this behavior because she has a good heart. The situation devolved last year, after the mutual friend who introduced me to Portia—"Melinda"—got engaged, and then so did I. Portia started playing mental games, sometimes acting as if she didn't even know me, other times trying to drive a wedge between Melinda and me. At Melinda's bridal shower, she only spoke to me when she could insult me. Then, at Melinda's wedding reception, she shoved the maid of honor to the floor because she was doing up the bustle "wrong," spent an hour crying to complete strangers, then had a fight with another bridesmaid on the dance floor. Then she ditched the party completely to hang out with bridesmaids (also strangers) from a different wedding in the same hotel..

Let's imagine this happened to me. Some "friend" of mine got all cuckoo for crazy puffs and started playing weird mind games, assaulting groomsmen and generally "acting a fool", as my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Gordon would say. Here is how I would handle it: I'd never invite him to anything again. I would advise others to do the same. If I was going to be at a function and he showed up, I would consider leaving.

How does the letter writer feel about her miserable excuse for a friend?

And yet I miss her! I wish that she'd been willing to talk, that I could get an apology, and that we could be buddies again.
The absurdity doesn't end there. The advice columnist to which this missive was penned understands complete how the writer feels; of course she wants to still be buddies with someone who assaulted a bridesmaid, kicked her around, toyed with her emotions, ditched your wedding to hang out with strangers and pissed all over your friendship. Because "[i]t can be fun, of course, to have friends who are complete nightmares." Really? Is this how women feel about people like this? I'd like to chalk it up to the two women in the entire world who think this way running into each other by accident. Ladies, please tell me this is the case.

Trump's Opinion on Kelo Decision All the Reason You Need to Dismiss Him as a Candidate

I've never considered Donald Trump to be a serious candidate for President in 2012. I certainly never considered voting for him. He strikes me as less a serious candidate and more of an attention seeker, using the media's restlessness in waiting for Republicans to announce (so they can start the dirt-finding) as a platform to put on a show. Listening to him lend his wholehearted support to the infamous Kelo decision lends credence to that characterization.
"But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place -- now, I know it might not be their choice -- but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good."
The Kelo decision has been roundly criticized from all corners of the legal world, and rightly so. It gives local governments nearly unfettered power to seize property for "community development" purposes, which is a thinly-disguised way of saying it gives local governments the power to redistribute private property to land developers -- like Donald Trump -- to increase the tax base. That this is done at the expense of personal property rights does nothing to discourage these governments, which have a very powerful incentive to enact exactly these sorts of land redistribution schemes.

If Donald Trump really does consider himself a real candidate in 2012, the quote above should be more than enough justification to cast your vote for someone else.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Monday, April 18, 2011

I Invented A Business Process And All I Got Was This Awesome Borg Cube

Microsoft has an incentive for its employees to create patentable processes and applications. I recently worked on just such a process as part of something called the Microsoft Dynamics GP Business AnalyzerTM. You can read about its various incarnations here and here, but the short version is that BA is a tool that can run both within our Dynamics GP application and as a standalone desktop application that gives you access to any SQL Reporting Services report. You can also do some cool things on the fly like render the report with different dates, initiate conversations through Microsoft Communicator 2007TM or Microsoft LyncTM, and edit the report.

Anyway, I just received the standard Microsoft patent award, which looks suspiciously like something that used to chase the Enterprise-D around sector 001:

Competition is irrelevant. From this day forward, you will service us.

Pretty nifty. I have no idea what the blemishes on the side are; they won't come off. I can only assume they were left by the entrails of the other patent seekers that our attorneys eviscerated in the lobby of the patent office. It's nice to get recognized like this. Really cool. There's nothing that says "I'm appreciated" like -- what's that? I get cash too? YESSSS!

In related news, I got new business cards.

The process of submitting a patent was equal parts fascinating and maddening. A lot of time was spent to come up with, "Integrating report actions for a series of reports within a single user interface." You have to describe your application or process in a few short words, but those words have to both convey the full scope of what you're trying to patent and differentiate it from every other patent in the world. Did I mention that patent lawyers make a lot of money?

Anyway, it's a pretty cool program. I know it takes a fair amount of criticism; the argument goes something like, "Microsoft should give you a cut of future earnings". But I see two flaws with that. I'm an employee of Microsoft. I already receive a portion of earnings by getting paid. There's nothing out there that forces them to give me anything above and beyond a paycheck to develop the apps I do. It's my job. The other hole I see is that I am one of a large number of people at Microsoft who could have drawn this assignment. I wrote code based on a specification written by someone else. Sure, I designed the application, but it was based on someone else's initiative. I didn't hatch the original idea for this and create it singlehandedly from conception to market. Anyway, maybe I'm not being assertive enough, or maybe the naysayers are greedy. Either way, I got me a borg cube!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Jambalaya

I've been kicking around the idea of doing a semi-regular post on cooking on this blog for a while. I'm not really interested in being a food blogger, both because I have way too many things rattling around in my head to specialize, and because there are so many others out there who can do a better job of it than me. Besides, much like I tell people that I'm not a photographer, I'm a guy that likes to take pictures, so am I a guy who likes to cook rather than a chef.

But I also suffer from ego just enough that I post a lot of what-I'm-eating-now statuses on Facebook. This leads to infrequent requests for recipes. While I'm more than happy to share, I don't see why I shouldn't use the opportunity to generate a little blog action on the side.

So, I'm going to do a little experiment I'll call Dinner and Drinks, in which I post a recipe along with whatever I happen to be drinking at the time. No, I'm not constantly drunk. But I do tend to open a bottle of something while I'm experimenting or just when I'm making something that takes a long time. Usually it's wine, but tonight's inaugural entry is beer (and not a fancy one at that).

This isn't the first time I posted a recipe for jambalaya, but with this iteration I think I've got down to a science. I made a couple of on-the-fly adjustments and it turned out so good I think I could serve it in a restaurant. Okay, maybe that's a little pretentious. How about this: it turned out so good that if I ate in a restaurant I, personally, would be pleased. So without further ado...

(Click to enlarge)


2 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless chicken breasts
1 lb andouille sausage (sliced)
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 large onion (chopped)
1 green pepper (diced)
1 red pepper (diced)
1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 tsp chili powder (plus more for dusting the chicken)
1 tsp thyme (dried, double if fresh)
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (this makes it a bit hot, but that's my excuse to drink an extra beer)
1 tsp salt (plus more for the chicken)
1 tsp black pepper (plus more for the chicken)
1 tsp white pepper
2 cups white rice
2 cups chicken broth
white wine

First you want to season the chicken breasts with salt, black pepper and chili powder. Brown them well on each side in some olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and cut into bite-sized chunks.

In a large pot heat tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer add the onions, green and red pepper, parsley and garlic. Stir and cook until the onions start to soften, about three minutes. Add all the remaining seasonings and the sausage and stir well. Continue to cook until the seasonings are fragrant and the aromas blend, about 5 minutes.

If you're using a stainless steel pot or some other non-non-stick pot like me, you've probably got some nice crud on the bottom of your mix now. Don't worry, that's a good thing. Put a big spash of white wine in there and scrape those bits off the bottom. Think of them as flavor crystals. This is called de-glazing. It is your friend.

At this point, it's important to know if you're using regular rice or something like Minute Rice. If you're using plain old white rice, add it to the pot now and stir to coat. Otherwise, set the rice aside until you add the shrimp later.

Add the chicken broth, then the chicken, pressing it down so that it is submerged in the liquid. Bring everything to a boil. Cover and simmer (reducing the heat to low) for about 30 minutes. This should be enough time to finish cooking your chicken as well as letting all the ingredients get to know each other, like a hollywood hottub party.

Look around your counter. Do you have a big pile of rice still sitting there? If so, bring the mixture back to a boil. Add the rice and the shrimp and stir thoroughly. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes.

If you added the rice way back before the chicken joined the party, add the shrimp now and simmer for another five minutes over low heat.

That's it. For my beverage pairing I had a nice bottle (okay 2) of Dos Equis lager. That's not a particularly daring brand and beer snobs are clicking their shortcuts to something more palatable. That's okay. I cracked open a Dos Equis because I like a clean, easy beer for meals that have a ton of bold flavors and a touch of heat. Jambalaya is crammed full of flavor, and I make it hot enough that something straight up like a traditional lager works for me. Plus Dos Equis is good.

I hope you enjoy it. If not, remember...

C'est une recette libre, se plaindre d'arrĂȘt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Winter Trees In Spring

A few pictures of the trees in my neighborhood after a dying winter's little temper tantrum...

(Click on an image to enlarge.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Far Is Too Far in Legislating Morality?

Posts on Say Anything that involve legislating morality always get a lot of comments. Whether it's gay marriage, gay issues in general, smoking, or the drinking age, posts here that deal with the legislation of morality are magnets for debate.

I don't get to spend as much time on Say Anything as I might like (or Rob for that matter, as he probably thought I'd post more often than I do, but I digress) so I tend to not wade into these debates as I usually come very late to the party. That doesn't mean I don't have opinions on these matters. I do, and they're quite strong.

In cases where laws intersect with morality there are always going to be winners and losers. I can use the terms 'supporters' and 'opponents', but I think my original wording better expresses the real outcome of such laws.

People who lose the ability to perform an act they otherwise might enjoy, whether it's smoking a cigarette in a bar or having a beer at age 19 or marrying their homosexual partner feel like they've lost something when the law says they cannot engage in those acts. People who are morally offended by gay marriage or who stop going to bars because an excess of smoke triggers their asthma feel like they're on the losing side when the law says those actions are legal.

When a law is passed there is usually a moral driver behind it. Often these drivers can find their roots in religious tenets. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Certainly, there is not a one-to-one relationship between laws and religious edicts, but it would be folly to argue that there isn't a common basis in ideas espoused in religious texts (the above may share wording with Christian texts, but all religions have tenets that find commonality in the laws of the lands in which they are observed) and the law of the (secular) land. At what point does the government's desire to enforce behavior--or curb bad behavior-- cross the boundary into forcing a certain vision on morality onto a public that might not want it?

The easy answer is that laws reflect the morality of the people. The problem is that this is a very broad statement that doesn't shine much light on the boundary in question. In fact, that statement is so self evident (in a democracy anyway) as to be meaningless in the current conversation. This is because it is rare that a law represents the beliefs of 100% of a population. Theft? I'm sure I could find someone out there who believes stealing isn't always wrong. Murder? There are people who believe that killing abortion doctors shouldn't be illegal. So we're forced to say that laws reflect the morality of a majority of the people. What constitutes a majority? Unfortunately that isn't an easy question to answer. This is because laws don't always affect the totality of a population.

Take smoking laws. While Bismarck was in the middle of a fight between proponents of a smoking ban and its opponents, the idea of an exception for bars was bandied about. The people directly affected by the outcome of such an exemption would logically be those people who work or frequent those bars. The elements of the public that don't visit or work in those bars would be unaffected by the smoking that takes place in those establishments. In this case, the employees of a bar were among those who supported an exemption. It's highly unlikely that the bars' regulars were pushing for this ban en masse. That means the main driver for the bar ban were people who didn't work in the bars and wouldn't frequent them anyway. Sure, there are undoubtedly a few who would start patronizing non-smoking bars. But as someone who watched a similar fight unfold in Fargo, I can cite several instances before smoking was banned of non-smoking bars opening and then closing a short time later due to poor patronage. The truth is that when it comes to smoking in bars the main proponents of a smoking ban are people who rarely go into bars in the first place, and certainly aren't regulars. That would seem to me to be a clear cut case where the affected majority (as opposed to a clear majority) had a morality they did not share forced upon them.

The debate over the drinking age is another curious case. The standard argument for lowering the drinking age to 18 goes something like this: if they're old enough to fight in a war they're old enough to have a beer. I tend to agree with that view, if only because drinking a beer seems like such a small thing compared to, you know, fighting in a war. The argument for keeping the drinking age where it is goes something like this: drinking may not seem like a bad thing, but tell that to all the families of people killed by drunk drivers. This is an argument that sets up a strawman and does a fine job of chopping it off at the knees. Obviously drunk driving is bad thing. Certainly there should be laws against operating a motor vehicle while drunk. Hold on, let me check--yes, there they are. Framing the argument in such a way as to conflate driving drunk with the drinking age is a mistake. The argument can just as easily be applied to older people as well. Is there magic that happens when a person turns 21 that makes him or her less likely the drive drunk? Maybe. I don't know. Nobody does; at least I've never read any definitive studies that would prove this. If no magical line exists, then shouldn't drinking be outlawed completely? It's the only way to ensure that nobody has to break any bad news to the families, after all.

No, a better argument to make against lowering the drinking age would be that there are different levels of maturity and that, as odd as it may sound, it could be that a person can be deemed mature enough to enlist in the military and be sent off to a foreign land to fight, yet not be mature enough to drink responsibly. I don't personally believe that, and I don't think there's ever been any research to prove or disprove the thesis. But at least it is a thesis and not a blind appeal to emotion made by a strawman.

Regardless however, there is a strong moral sentiment in the debate on both sides. Where does it transition from "enforcing the morality of society" to "forcing the morals of one group on another"? For me, we reach that point when the argument for restricting the rights of another can only be supported by tangential arguments that don't hold up under scrutiny. "Murder is a crime" is on a solid moral foundation. A vast majority of people in this country believe that taking a life for reasons other than self-defense is a crime. If there are people out there who think that it should be legal to kill at a whim, their numbers are small. The reason it enjoys so much support is that the logic behind banning it is simple and sound: when you murder someone you take away a life that cannot be replaced. "Theft is a crime" likewise enjoys the support of a vast number of people. This again is because the logic behind it is irrefutable: when you take someone's property you are depriving them of something which they own and to which you have no claim.

The drinking age debate--18 or 21?--rests on much shakier ground. This is partly because we aren't talking about something that is banned outright. We are talking about setting an age limit at which point a prohibition becomes a right. If age-based restrictions were levied in a vacuum this would be easier. However, our society says children become adults at 18 in so many other areas--voting, age of consent, military enlistment--that setting the drinking age at 21 requires a strong logical basis to set it apart. That logic, from what I have heard, is shaky. I've already talked about drinking and driving being a strawman. Drunk driving is illegal regardless of age. That the military has a vested interest in restricting alcohol because soldiers can't be "drunk in a foxhole" is another strawman. No soldier is allowed to be drunk in a foxhole, any more that I'm allowed to be drunk at my job. The military's interest in alcohol restriction doesn't disappear at age 21.

You may not drink (no one will make you). You may not like being around people who drink (no one will force you). You may not want others to drink. There's no logical argument you can make that would convince a person who believes in personal freedom that your morality should trump theirs. You may want to set an arbitrary age when the right to drink materialized. If that age is different than the age when voting, defending the nation, and becoming a consenting adult, you need a sounder argument.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You First, Jerks

Aw... some rich people think their taxes aren't high enough. So naturally they think taxes should be raised for everybody in their tax bracket. Isn't that sweet.

Hey, you really want to set an example? Go to this website and make a gift of all that extra money laying around that you feel so guilty about having. Hopefully that will relieve you of the urge to tell other people what they should do with theirs. Jerks.

(h/t Instapundit)

Monday, April 11, 2011

A.K.A. Macy

My daughter is a wonderful child. She loves to laugh and play games. She's a genuinely caring individual who loves animals and people. She is also entering that awkward stage where she's not quite sure what to do with herself. Her dress, her hair, her likes and dislikes all change with the seasons (it seems that way, anyway) because she's finding herself. And like most kids her age the ideas she has for what she should look like and what's cool come from her school friends.

Her issues -- and I hesitate to call them that, as she isn't in distress -- are compounded a bit by the fact that she is growing like a weed, if said weed were on growth hormones that had been injected with steroids and stretched on a rack.

She already wears size 6 1/2 women's shoes and buys her dresses in the junior's section. Did I mention that she's nine? To give you an idea check out these pictures from the 2011 Butterfly Ball. Macy is the one on the left. The girl on the right is six months older than Macy. There's a little bit of visual hyperbole going on here, as Macy's friend Bella is little on the small side for her age (though not alarmingly so).

Macy's got that gawky awkwardness her dad suffered through as a kid. I was really tall for my age, and running the bases in little league made me look like a hyperactive chicken experiencing shock therapy. This is not to say that Macy looks like that (or any other sort of comical beast) on the soccer pitch. She honestly doesn't. But I think she's old enough to know that she's a little different while at the same time being too young to really understand that everyone is different. I'm working on that.

In the meantime, I'm enouraged when I see her try something new and break out of what she knows is safe and familiar. At the Butterfly Ball I got out on the dance floor and shook my groove thing. I didn't do this because I'm a good dancer (that's entirely beside the point) or because I enjoy it (I'm more of a 'sit at the bar and laugh at the white girls' type), but because I didn't want Macy to spend the entirety of a dance wishing she understood why she was too shy to get out there.

I was able to convince her after awhile (with the much-appreciated help of young Bella who had no reservations about breaking out the Sprinkler, the Cowboy and the zombie moves from Thriller whether the situation called for it or not) that even though we were standing on a crowded dance floor, no one could see us. Nobody out there gave a damn what we were up to as long as we didn't step on them. Once she realized what I was saying was true, she opened up. She even came up with a couple moves on her own. It was fun to watch.

That brings me to another tentative step into self-determination she is taking: she wants to be called "MJ" now. Actually, she brought up to me a while back and, like an idiot I didn't take her seriously. But I'm trying to accomodate her now, even if most of my sentences start with, "Macy -- I mean MJ". It's hard to call somebody one thing for nine years and then switch, but I can see the smile she gets in her eyes when I correct myself. I think she sees it as an affirmation that she can make some decisions for herself and determine her identity. I think that's great.

Desire to End Roth IRAs Exposes Economic Misconceptions

Gerald E. Scorse penned an opinion column in Sunday's LA Times that calls for the dissolution of the Roth IRA retirement vehicle. In doing so he demonstrates several wrong ideas about both how economics work and the ownership of wealth in general.

He first points out the differences between the Roth and other retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans (which are like 401(k)s for non-profits; for a more detailed explanation, go here). Basically, most retirement vehicles allow for savings to be invested tax free. Finds paid out at retirement time are subject to taxes. Roths require taxes to be paid up front (another way to look at it is, there's no initial tax break upon investing). However, future withdrawals are made with out penalty; no taxes are paid on withdrawals. So far, so good.

Next however, Scorse makes an ill-fated comparison to the healthcare law, referring to Roths as a "fiscal Frankenstein", a term an (unnamed) opponent of the healthcare reform bill used to describe the legislation. It's a false comparison. Government-controlled healthcare is an open-ended mandate for federal spending which will require ever-increasing revenue streams (i.e. taxes) to maintain. The funds paid out from a Roth IRA don't come from taxes. Most Roth IRAs, being investment vehicles that utilize stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other "risk-based" investments, aren't federally insured. (Some Roths, those offered by banks, are FDIC insured for up to $250,000.) Scorse writes:
In return for little more than ordinary upfront taxes, Congress waived untold billions in future Treasury receipts. Then, too, Roths could be a drag on the U.S. economy. Since no withdrawals are required, assets can lie idle indefinitely.
Yes, they can lie idle indefinitely. So what? They can lie idle indefinitely in a savings account until the sun burns out. Should there be a cap on how long money can sit in such an account, accruing interest? Apparently so, as money sitting in an account and not generating revenue for the government is "a bit like toxic instruments on the nation's books".

That statement exposes another misconception: all money belongs to the government. The idea that Roth IRAs are somehow cheating the federal government out of receipts that it is somehow entitled to shows a fundamental lack of respect for how wealth is created. This misconception was on display last year when Barney Frank was heard explaining why estate taxes were such a great thing. Inherent in both Frank's explanation and Scorse argument above is that any money an individual keeps is a gift from the government, to be rescinded or expanded at its whim. It's the federal government's world and you're just living in it.

Scorse ends by quoting Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center:
"In the long run, turning billions of dollars from tax-deferred to tax-free savings will be a huge loser for Treasury. My colleagues at Tax Policy Center figure that, through mid-century, allowing unlimited Roth conversions will reduce federal revenues by $100 billion."
Scorse uses the qualifier "nonpartisan", which always seems to mean "partisan but not for profit". The Tax Policy Center is a joint venture of the the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institute. Nonpartisan? Maybe. Left-leaning? Certainly. This is not an attempt to discredit Gleckman. But it does serve to put his perspective on taxes into a clearer context.
That context ignores the effect that a greater percentage of capital in the hands of private citizens has on treasury receipts. More money in the private sector means more money to spend on goods and services which generates tax revenues. More money in the private sector means more money in the hands of those who create wealth and jobs, which also generate tax revenues. That's the other misconception at play here: money in the hands of government and money in the hands of the private sector are essentially the same when it comes to wealth and job creation.

Roth IRAs encourage planning for retirement. They provide a way for everyone, regardless of income, to prepare for a future where there is money to support them without living on the dole. The logic that says this should be taken away inevitably increases the risk that people looking to retire must rely on the federal government to take care of them through entitlement programs. It creates a perpetual cycle in which more people need the government to take care of them, leading to a need for more government, which needs more tax receipts, and so on. Which illustrates another misconception: the government knows better how to spend your money than you do. That's the real "fiscal Frankenstein".

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two Lovely Butterflies At A Ball

Last night was the 2011 Butterfly Ball, where fathers and daughters get to dress up and get down with their bad selves to music that the fathers have never heard of. This year we had an extra belle -- a Bella, actually. Our friends Kris and Sunnylet me take their daughter Bella to the ball, as Kris had a prior engagement and couldn't go. So Sunny and Bella came up from the Twin Cities for the weekend. While Donna and Sunny went to dinner at Toscana (mmm... Toscana), MJ[*], Bella and I danced the night away at the Crystal Ballroom at the Ramada and gorged ourselves on the cheesecake bar.

Check out those heels.

[*] Did I mention that she wants to be called "MJ" now?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ten Years Gone

It was ten years ago this month that Microsoft bought Great Plains Software, absorbing into its unsatiable but ultimately benevolent maw the only company that would hire me for which I have plied my Computer Information Systems degree. A lot has changed in that time; the Fargo campus has grown to three buildings with two more rumored to be on the drawing board. Several valued men and women have left to start their own businesses. Other things have stayed the same. We still have the Holiday Wine and Cheese. Our products are still industry leaders. The grass in the parking lot medians only gets cut once a summer.

There's a big celebration planned for June, but in the meantime those of us who were here when the buyout took place received our "ten years at Microsoft" awards. They kind of look like something Superman used to learn about Krypton and weigh as much as a condominium. Pretty cool thing to put on the mantle, though.

My God... It's full of stars!

New At Say Anything: Congress Lacks The Will To See Ryan's Budget Proposal Enacted

You can debate the merits of Paul Ryan's budget proposal. You can applaud or deride the merits of this specific cut or that.It seems unlikely to me that a budget this ambitious and far reaching would ever make it through the Congressional meatgrinder of partisan politics, dealmaking and good old-fashioned greed. That these cuts--or cuts like them in scope if not in the specific areas outlined in the proposal--are necessary seems beyond argument. I think, however, that our Congress lacks the will (and in some cases the desire) to enact this much cutting in one swoop. This proposal would represent the largest reduction in the size of government in our lifetime. That idea alone is scary to all the wrong people. I'm afraid that the goal Ryan's proposal seeks to acheive is beyond our current Congress.

(Click to read the rest of this article at Say Anything)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pictures of Cars (and Elvis?)

Donna's parents are in town this weekend in advance of a trip to Las Vegas. The trip had a dual purpose: while Donna and her mother went shopping for wedding dresses, her dad and I went to the Topper's Car Club's spring car show. Donna found a dress for her and the bridesmaids (Amber, we'll be contacting you soon).

Meanwhile, I took pictures of some cars (click any image to enlarge).