Frank Gets a Job — Learns Valuable Lessons

Technical WriterWell, dear readers, I have started a new job of sorts. It is freelance writing — technical stuff with no byline. And it seems like it is going to be consistent work. But it has been getting in the way of my constant stream of frankly curious wisdom. Not that you would notice, because I haven’t missed any scheduled articles yet. But right now it is 5:30 pm on Saturday and I am just starting to write the last article for tomorrow. [Update: this was originally scheduled for Sunday evening, but got pushed back. -FM] Normally, I’m a bit further ahead than that. In fact, I prefer to stay two days ahead. And I hope to get another half a day’s writing in by the time I go to sleep. I can do that because I have nothing that anyone would mistake for a life.

None of this means that anything is going to change on Frankly Curious. I like the current publishing schedule, and I’m going to try to stay with it. What else am I going to do? What would I pull out? As it is, I’d rather be publishing eight articles per day — every two hours from 5 am to 7 pm. But if I publish some short articles or miss scheduled article, just assume all is well and I am just making money. (It is my current wish to get enough money ahead so I don’t have to pay for my checking account. Such are the simple pleasures of my life!)

It’s been interesting to do this kind of technical writing. In one way, it isn’t different from what I write here (especially in the Computer/Meta category) or over on Dirt Cheap Computers. But I have to play it straight there. Here I have what is charitably called “Style!” I can be cheeky and opinionated. For example, I’m likely to just authoritatively tell you what to do. If I wrote an article about CMS, I would just tell you to use WordPress because it works really well and there is such a huge base of users that problems are fixed quickly and there are always people around to help you. But in this work, I would have to write something like, 10 Most Popular Content Management Systems Online. (Note: I didn’t write that and it is not from the company I am working for.) That is an excellent and useful article, but not a lot of fun to read or write.

One nice thing about doing this kind of work is that it brings me back to the days when I first was starting on the commercial internet. I created my first website in 1993 — but that was when I had my very own IBM RS/6000 right on the internet and so I ran httpd and created some pages. In early 2000, I was no longer at a college and so I had to sift through endless options in terms of hosting companies and various bits of software to run on it. It was very confusing and it would have been helpful to have some guidance. Today, the technology available is so much greater. But so is the help. It’s nice to be part of that, even though I wish I could write things like, “You’re thinking of serving your own videos?! Are you crazy? Why don’t you just go buy a ball-peen hammer and see how many whacks it takes to crack your skull?” Like I said: “Style!”

Another good thing about this work is that it is very educational. Even when it comes to stuff I already know well, there is nothing like having to explain it to others for making it clear to yourself. Also: I’m being asked to write about things that I don’t know much about. Who knows? It may end up changing the kind of stuff we do here, because most of the work that I am currently doing is for people who have websites like Frankly Curious — with or without the “Style!”

How Could We Know Dylann Roof’s Motivation?!

Brian BeutlerShortly after a gunman killed nine congregants of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the state’s Republican Governor, Nikki Haley, issued a statement which read in part, “we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

About nine hours later, investigators solved that supposedly eternal mystery. The FBI identified the suspect as Dylann Storm Roof, a young man who adorns himself in the apartheid-era flags of Rhodesia and South Africa, and who was recently given a .45 caliber pistol for his 21st birthday. Law enforcement officials called the rampage a hate crime, which at the very least tells us a lot about what motivated him to enter a place of black worship and take the lives of others.

—Brian Beutler
Hillary Clinton, Today Is Your Moment to Talk About Racism in America

Again With the Flat Tax!

Rand PaulLast week, Mark Thoma wrote, Blow Up the Tax Code and Start Over??? He started it with, “Here we go again with the flat tax proposals.” Of course! Because this is the start of the presidential election and the flat tax is about the only policy the Republicans have that sounds appealing. Of course, it isn’t appealing. As long as people like Rand Paul (the case at hand) stay vague, it all sounds great. It is only when they get down to the details that we see that everyone who makes less than a hundred grand a year will end up paying more in taxes.

The reason that the flat tax sounds so appealing is that everyone thinks that filing taxes is a pain. It is! Even if you just have to file 1040-EZ, it’s still a pain. No one likes paper work. So the idea that we could just write down how much money we made and multiply it by some percentage rate sounds great. But wait: that isn’t what people hate about filing their taxes. No one says, “Oh, I have no problem with all the work I do to figure out my adjusted gross income; but looking up my tax in that table! That’s just terrible!”

So that’s the truth of the matter: the marginal tax rates are absolutely the least onerous part of filing our taxes. And that’s the only thing that would change with a flat tax. And even it wouldn’t be an improvement! What’s harder: looking up a number in a table or multiplying one number with another? I think it’s a wash. So you have to wonder: why are conservatives so all fired excited about the flat tax? There’s no surprise in that answer. As with all efforts by conservatives to “reform” the tax code, the intention is to lower taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor.

This is why conservatives have a laser focus on the federal income tax: it is modestly progressive. State income taxes tend to be pretty flat. State sales taxes are regressive. Property taxes are flat. And the payroll tax — the biggest federal tax on the working poor — is highly (Ridiculously!) regressive. Forget all you hear from libertarians about how great “local control” is. The reason they believe in “local control” is because the poor are usually stuck wherever they are but the rich can move anywhere they want. Thus local governments gouge the poor and let the rich off so as not to cause them to move away.

Thoma noted that even Rand Paul admitted that his flat tax would lower the taxes on the rich. But in order to offset this, Paul claims that the tax loopholes mostly benefit the rich. There is something to that. But it is clear this is just a way for Paul to imply that his flat tax wouldn’t be a giveaway to the rich without having to actually show this. But it’s just perfect: make the one modestly progressive tax in the United State flat because that’s “fair.” But ignore all the other taxes that harm the poor.

Of course, according to Paul, his “Fair and Flat Tax” would create an economic boom. He knows this because he had the people at the nonpartisan Tax Foundation look at his plan. The Tax Foundation may be nonpartisan, but it is conservative — very conservative. Thoma — who is usually pretty restrained — commented, “I bet it would almost be as good for the economy as the Bush tax cuts. Oh wait…” But I think it is amazing that the mainstream media allow Republicans like Rand Paul to talk about the federal income tax to the exclusion of all other taxes. The only people who really care about that tax are the rich. How about we talk about the payroll tax? If we got rid of the cap, maybe we could lower that tax rate.

Morning Music: Marty Robbins

Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs - Marty RobbinsToday’s Morning Music post is brought to you by JMF. Because of him, I’ve had the Marty Robbins song “El Paso” going through my head all day. He writes regularly over at Twinkie Town. I am not quite sure what it is and I’m too harried to research it right now. But it’s some kind of online community for Twins fans. It’s all very cool, although I probably wouldn’t say that if it were for the Vikings, which are a football team and thus boring.

Anyway, the weekend before last, he wrote, Slump-Break Game 61: Twins @ Rangers. As you probably know, the Rangers are that team that George W Bush was part owner of. It seems to be the only business venture he ever made money on. Of course, I think its kind of hard not to make money with an MLB team given its Congress mandated monopoly.

Anyway, in preparation for the game, JMF wrote special lyrics to the tune of “El Paso.” I’ll give you a taste of them here, but if you want it all, you will have to head on over to his article. It’s quite clever.

Down in a suburb of Dallas, Arlington
Several grifters were planning a scheme.
They hoped to buy low and sell high on baseball
New stadiums prop the value of teams…

You can sing along with Marty Robbins from his album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs:

Anniversary Post: Cuyahoga River Fire

Cuyahoga River FireOn this day in 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire and the nation noticed. It became big news because Time published an article, America’s Sewage System and the Price of Optimism. It remarked: “the river is a constant fire hazard because of quantities of oil deposited in it by numerous industries in the Cleveland area.” It’s the perfect thing for Republicans. No need to “drill, baby, drill”; you could just ladle the oil out of the water.

What most people don’t understand about that Cuyahoga River fire was that it wasn’t unusual. The first reported fire on the river was in 1868. This is, of course, the tragedy of the commons. Why not let your industrial waste spill into the river? It only hurts you as much as everyone else and it greatly helps you in terms of your profits. The libertarian response to this is to make all property private. But imagine if the Cuyahoga River had been privately owned. To start with, it would cause all kinds of logistical problems. But if enough companies were dumping waste into the private property of the Cuyahoga River, there would be no practical way for the owner to sue them all.

The better solution is the most direct one: make laws outlawing the dumping of pollution into the water. This is, in general, the difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals just look for solutions. Conservatives figure out what is ideologically permitted and then look for a solution from that vastly smaller pool of choices. Thankfully, the Cuyahoga River pollution problem was dealt with by using straight regulation. And as a result, today even the worst parts of the river meet acceptable standards.

Happy anniversary to the Cuyahoga River fire — it did a lot to move forward clean water regulations!