Happy Birthday, Mike

Today is Tangled Up in Blue Guy‘s birthday.

Mike, my wish for you is that this be the year you manage to get back to school. However, I hope you realize that even if school eludes you a little longer, you’re taking big steps toward your dreams. The formality of a university program can only add gloss to the scholarship you practice on your own. It can’t touch the work you’re doing to educate others as you learn.

I’m also hoping you get exactly what you want this year politically, but that has some selfish motivations mixed in. And who knows, maybe you’ll finally win that argument with your friend. What ever the year brings, I wish you much joy of it and I look forward to another year of co-conspiracy.

Happy birthday!

Capital Gains and Retirement Income

Mike has a nice WaPo excerpt on the impact of the McCain and Obama tax plans. It has a beautiful graphic that tells the story very eloquently. However, a question came up in the comments:

This may be a strange place to ask for financial information, but I just had a conversation about Obama’s tax plan with my USAmerican mother. Though she is no fan of McCain, she told me that Obama’s plan significantly increases the capital gains tax, regardless of total income, so even for someone whose income might be around $50K, if the income is mainly from investments (ie for a retired person) they would pay more taxes. Does anyone know if this is true, or is it a McCain scare tactic implying that Obama wants to stick it to seniors with a fixed income? (As a Canadian, I plead justifiable ignorance of the US tax system.)

Mike just changed his layout, and every time he does, I get locked out of commenting for a while, so I can’t respond there. But this is worth its own post anyway.

Most Americans with retirement savings have them in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. These numbers refer to the sections of the tax code in which money going into and coming out of these plans is given special tax treatment. The biggest difference between them is that 401(k) plans also provide tax benefits to the sponsoring employer. 403(b) plans are sponsored by nonprofits and government agencies that don’t need the tax breaks.

Now, I’m no expert on Section 401(k) or 403(b), but Wikipedia confirms my lay understanding that “[t]he character of any gains (including tax favored capital gains) are transformed into ‘ordinary income’ at the time the money is withdrawn.” In other words, no capital gains taxes. Just income taxes.

This makes sense, considering that the purpose of these plans is to encourage citizens to prefund their own retirement rather than relying on the government. There is no incentive for the government to take anything more than they would have taken if the money were taxed as the employee earned it instead of it going into the plan.

To make a long story short, Theo’s mama has nothing to worry about from a capital gains tax increase. In fact, she’s a whole lot better off under Obama’s plan.

Whether it’s McCain’s camp doing the scaremongering? That one I can’t answer.

Update: Here is some more information from Snopes on additional lies being spread about Obama’s tax plan.

Carnival of Elitist Bastards Is Up

I don’t often write like an elitist bastard. I’m pretty careful about it, actually. Still, sometimes it just needs to be done.

Luckily, there’s a place for this kind of writing. I say, “luckily,” because if done well, it can be highly entertaining to read. Blake Stacey, of the newly relocated Science After Sunclipse, has collected some of the best elitist bastardry of the last month and incorporated it into a sheer work of art at his own blog. He deigned to include my post, but I think he did it to just to show up my writing, the bastard.

But he can’t overshadow them all, no matter how hard he tries. This month’s carnival contains some of the elitest of the elitists, so go check it out.

Obama Wins Minnesota 60%-40%

At least he does if the voters are limited to registered readers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I was flipping through the comments on the local article about McCain’s inexplicable VP pick. Comments can be voted up or down, and it got to the point where I didn’t have to read the comment to know which candidate it favored. Pro-Obama? Approved by 55%-75% of readers. Pro-McCain? Approved by 35%-45% of readers.

Looks like good news for Al Franken’s Senate campaign, too. Funny comments had about a 90% approval rating, regardless of affiliation.

Now This Is Civilized, Mostly

Here’s how to start your morning.

  • Prep for dinner with friends while making breakfast.
  • Leave the robots behind you cleaning the house.
  • Enjoy a nice, cool walk to work.
  • Be greeted by name at the coffee shop.
  • Have your Friday mocha ready by the time you’re done ordering.
  • Get to work to find that your research has been featured in the news.
  • Plan for a party.
  • Get back to work.

For the record, I recommend skipping the part where you take a chunk out of your dominant index finger with your thumbnail while tying your shoes. It really doesn’t add to the effect.

Oh, It Burns–Must Share

Kelly shared this lovely ad from France. Well, that wasn’t what he called it. His description: “Orangina Phatasmagoria as imagined by Furry Enthusiasts on a Binge.” I’ve tried to resist, but I must pass it on. If I can’t unsee it, you must see it too.

Full disclosure: I own a cell painting of Omaha the Catdancer (NSFW) and several back issues of the comic and just about got the artist killed in a mosh pit once. The ad still leaves me speechless.

For the full fun, click through to YouTube for the comments.

I’ll Take Mine Dense, Please

Periodically, someone blames the interwebs for declines in attention span and amount of reading people do. I’ll cop to the first. As I spend more time online, I find myself unwilling to devote the time necessary to watch the news, listen to a discussion on the radio, or watch a movie. All these things I used to do without hesitation now seem to take so bloody long.

You’ll note that I didn’t talk about reading. That hasn’t changed…well, unless I’m in the middle of an online argument, that is. Nope, books get all the time they need, without complaint. My only complaint is that there isn’t time for more of them.

So what’s the difference? Why are my viewing and listening habits changing when my reading habits aren’t? Information density.

I’ve been spoiled by tabbed browsing and information-rich websites. When I’m sitting in front of a screen or a speaker, I’m all too aware of how much more quickly I can read than someone can speak. Inflection and expression just don’t add enough additional data to fill in and make the medium worthwhile.

All the extra processing power has to go somewhere. My fingers twitch to be productive in the pauses, but they’ll reach for text if I let them do anything. My attention wanders down tangents and alleyways, looking to make the kinds of connections I can make online. Instead, I lose the main thread. If I do keep myself focused, I over-analyze. I get critical of the smallest points or spoil my own fun.

Luckily, there are things I can still watch, like the excellent surreality of shows like Life on Mars (highly recommended–see the British version before the US team totally screws it up, cause that’s what they’re doing). I can watch short videos that illustrate a point and films where close observation of human behavior is the point. For just about anything else, though, like the convention speeches, I’m reading transcripts.

And contrary to what the internet pundits say, I’m reading more than ever.

You People Need to Time Things Better

Every year brings a few invitations for friends’ and relatives’ weddings. Not this year. This year, we received two.

One is for one of my favorite cousins. The fact that I only have four cousins makes this no less true or meaningful. She’s one of the people who, without complaint, makes the world keep going. She played the music for my wedding. I look at her and see her mother, who died all too recently. She’s sweet and funny and cheerful and always quietly herself.

The other is for our second-best man at our wedding (she looked good in the tux, but not at all masculine). She’s my husband’s ex-roommate, the ex-fiance of one of my good friends from college, and hooked into our lives in so many little ways that a friend refers to her as ubiquitous. She’s a force of nature.

I’m so happy to see both of these people happy, but I want to shake them. Off all the days this summer to pick from, they had to put their weddings on the same day–in different towns, so we can’t even manage one ceremony and one reception.

I’ve been staring at the date on the calendar all summer, knowing this was coming. Finally, this morning, I had to put the RSVP cards in the mail. We made the choice over breakfast. Bah. I’ll get over it and be happy for them again soon, but not just yet. I’m still grumpy over having to choose at all.

All I can say, guys, is get it right next time.

Personally, I’m Anti-Tolerance

I hang out in a number of places where diversity is discussed. Differences in weight, cultural standards, socioeconomic status, religious practices, age, physical ability, skin color, sexual preference, gender identity, sexual practices, communication styles–either everybody’s grappling with them or I’m only interested in the people who are. And yet, there’s one thing I run across in almost all these places that would drive me away if I were any less stubborn.

Tolerance.

One little word, it almost looks helpless sitting alone like that. Nothing about it warns of the headache that I get every time someone uses it.

“We should work to increase tolerance of _________.”

“________ is tolerated much better than it used to be.”

“I’ve always thought of this community as so tolerant.”

Gack.

Could we be more exclusionary as we seek inclusion? Could we find a word to more clearly state that power lies where it has always lain? Could we use one to make it more obvious that membership of the outsider is temporary and conditional? Could we draw the line between us and them any deeper?

It’s a big, weird world out there, people. In here too, for that matter. Wake up and embrace it. If you hold back and tolerate it, you’re missing half the point and all the fun.

Persuasion

I’m walking up the street with my friend. I’m maybe fourteen or fifteen. She’s a couple years older. A fine mist starts.

Friend: It’s raining.

Me (struck by some awesome whim): No, it’s not.

Friend: No, really. I just felt a drop.

Me: I don’t feel anything.

The rain gets slightly heavier.

Friend: It’s definitely raining.

Me: Uh, I’m sorry. I don’t feel anything.

Friend: Look. I can see it.

Me: I…[shrug] sorry.

Friend: You can’t see that?

I shake my head slowly.

Friend: But I’m sure it’s raining.

Me (feigning concern): Um. Look, are you sure you’re okay?

Friend: But I can feel it. I’m getting wet.

Me: I’m really sorry.

I bite my lip. My friend looks at me, then at the ground. We walk along in silence.

Friend (quietly): You really don’t think it’s raining, do you?

Me: Oh, of course it’s raining. I’m just messing with you.

It was then and there that I learned just how malleable people are, that however much we might think of ourselves as discrete individuals, we’re prey to all sorts of outside influences. It was a hell of a lesson, even if I gave it to myself.

Oh, yeah. She hit me pretty hard for that one. We both agreed I’d deserved it.