Friday, January 27, 2012

As "Real Journalism" Dies, Have Real Journalists Stopped Caring?

I have a pet theory I'm kicking around. It goes like this: as traditional news media declines and the war between "real journalists" and serious news bloggers (note: I am not one of these) who, while not offically working for a news outlet, nevertheless function as journalists begins to tilt to the side wearing the pajamas, traditional news suffer a loss of prestige.

That slide results in a drop in quality on three fronts: first, less people are eager to be identified with traditional journalism. After all, who volunteers to associate with a dying endeavor?

Second, those who do decide to go the traditional media route are less skilled and/or professional.

Third, those already established in the media either try to get out, or at the least stop caring about it.

I have no idea which of those categories applies to David Adams of Reuters, since, as I am not a journalist, I don't have to go research Mr. Adams' background to figure out when he graduated college. However, it's pretty clear that whichever bucket he falls into, he is a data point in favor of my theory.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oh No, That Evil Republican Is Paying Exactly As Much In Taxes As He Is Legally Obligated To!

In the latest installment of The Media Is Trying To Make Me Like Someone Despite My Best Efforts (see previously: Sarah Palin), the gnashing and fainting surrounding the "revelation" that Mitt Romney's tax burden hovers near the 15% range is making me defend the guy behind the inspiration for some of the worst legislation of my lifetime.

Note that no one is claiming that Romney is a tax cheat (which, apparently is not a big deal these days). No, the complaints revolve around the nebulous rallying cry from 2011 that refused to die: he's not paying his fair share! A quick aside: who gets to determine what is fair? Will you be comfortable with that answer when the person or entity wielding the power doesn't share your political views?

Romney pays around 15% in income tax because most of his income is derived from sources that are taxed in the tax code at 15%. So what is the problem with that? Is it that capital gains should be taxed at a high rate? If you immediately answered yes, I bet you don't own any stock. That's too bad; when the economy is tanking it's generally a good time to invest, assuming you can stay in for the long haul. But enthusiastically wanting to raise taxes as long as they don't affect you personally is just so selfish. I can't believe a good liberal would ever be for it. And no self-respecting conservative would push for higher capital gains taxes, so...

Is the problem that Romney has too much money? To which I respond, how much money you make is irrelevant. The only way the amount of a person's wealth could be relevant is if wealth is a zero-sum game. Which frankly, I think a lot of people on the left seem to think. I have bad news for your worldview: this guy having more money doesn't mean that guy has to have less. This should be obvious, but for many it is not. Look at it this way: if wealth was a zero-sum game it would be a true statement that the world is exactly as wealthy now as it was 1000 years ago. Do you think that is a true statement? No, you don’t. So why would anyone make the argument that someone else has too much money? (Note: I could have just as easily used 100 years ago above, but I wanted to invoke that image of civilization at a point where the hot new invention was a bar of soap.)

Okay then, is the problem that Romney is "gaming the system", deliberately structuring his income so that his tax burden is as small as possible? Raise your hand if you don't do the same thing. That's what I thought. I have yet to meet anyone go out of their way to structure their finances with the goal of paying more taxes. That includes Warren Buffett.

Another aside: you should read the whole article at that link. One, because it hilariously talks about Buffet being ready to "take the Republicans tax challenge" by matching any checks Republicans write to the treasury while simultaneously ignoring the fact that the challenge was for Buffet to write his own check. The article tries to twist things around and make it seem like Republicans -- who don't want taxes raised -- should voluntarily write a check in order to not seem like hypocrites while Buffett -- who wants taxes raised -- is a hero for not writing one. The other reason you should read the article is that it's Time, and your last chance to read it could come any day now. (Sorry Canada, you had your chance.)

Back to the whole tax avoidance thing: do people have a duty to pay as much in taxes as they can, or does this moral burden only fall on certain people? People who, say, make "too much money"? If you believe that, then you should be all over people like Warren Buffet, who as we already know, is outraged -- outraged! -- about how little he pays in taxes. Not outraged enough to write that check to the treasury, but you know, outraged!

So, just to be clear: Romney hasn't done anything illegal. He hasn't done anything morally wrong. So just what is the problem here? Besides, you know, Romney having an 'R' after his name.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

You Realize, Of Course, That Today's Environmental Movement Would Kill The Computer Revolution

Glenn Reynolds had a link this morning to a deal on a 32GB flash card and reader. Along with the link he did some reminiscing about days gone by. He later updated the post with a reader comment:
"Heck, I remember when punch cards were hi tech. It would take a stack of cards 47 miles high to store 32GB. That’s a lot of trees.”
That is a lot of trees. Which made me realize something:

If computers didn't exist in 2012, would they ever? If an inventor (a latent Charles Babbage, say) came along now and proposed a machine that could do calculations at a heretofore unheard of speed and all that was needed was lots and lots of wood to make punch cards, would environmentalists sit still for it? Would a president as firmly in the pocket of those same environmentalists support it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Not Long Ago I Had To Kill Zombies On a 32", Non-HD Television

A couple of years ago I began floating the idea to my lovely wife of ditching the dish and getting in with the hip crowd, who use these fancy new gadgets called computers for their entertainment needs. I wanted to get rid of the dish, get cable internet service (which is the best I've been able to find in the area), and rely on Netflix, Hulu and network websites that allow you to watch their shows online.

Donna was hesitant at first, not because she didn't believe computers existed, but because she worried that she wouldn't be able to see all her shows. Pish posh, I explained.

One thing we could agree on however, was that our internet sucked. Our provider, Eye Thirty Minus One* was slow and unreliable. So we made the decision to get rid of our dish and sign up with Cable One, the only cable provider Fargo will ever need, which is a good thing because they are a monopoly. Their televison sucks, with a DVR user interface that hasn't been upgraded since, I don't know, 1954?

It can't do basic things like group multiple episodes of the same show together in a folder, or remember which user's guide was last accessed (meaning you have to repeatedly push the Guide button to get back to your menu every time you access it). There's no preloaded guide that is smart enough to know which channels you subscribe to. It's all very 51/4" floppy. That said, I'd rather have great internet and so-so TV than the other way around.

Especially when, as Christmas 2011 approached, we made the decision to join the 21st century and get a flat screen TV for the living room. A nice 46" Samsung LED SmartTV looks really great. You haven't fought to survive
the zombie apocalypse until you've done it on a giant HDTV.

I then I did some research and found a compact little PC that was all wired and ready to be an entertainment hub. Waiting until after Christmas was a smart idea, as I got it for less than $400 and it included free 2-day shipping.

So we now have a state-of-the-art television with a PC attached for watching movies and TV shows we can't get on cable, an XBox 360 for killing zombies in HD, and a Wii for, well, we have a Wii. We may never have to leave the house again.

*Names have been transparently changed to protect the crappy.