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25 November 2011

Invalid Object?

I'm in the middle of finishing my semester so that means lots of experimentation in architecture/imaging programs. This often leads me to obscure forums looking for answers to problems, so I thought this was appropriate.

I've been a big fan of XKCD lately (link).

Where Did All the Real Republicans Go?

For the past several years I've been increasingly concerned about the change in course of the GOP. They have a different ideology than myself, and that's fine. In fact I think it's necessary for a healthy political process, but it seems like they're making up their own reality. All the while I've been worried that the change was not in fact with the GOP but perhaps my own biases... maybe? So what to do/think.

Historically when I think of Republicans this is what I think of:
I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. -David Frum
And although I don't entirely agree, I find it to be a reasonable position. It does one no good to only read things that they agree with - it's intellectual incestuousness. So for a while I've been searching for a voice on the right that I could actually listen to. Someone who held a different viewpoint than myself, but who actually lived in reality. It seems that person is David Frum - a former Bush speech writer, prominent blogger and writer, and Harvard Law Grad. Here are two of his pieces that I've found very helpful.

The first piece of his I read was this one: Were Our Enemies Right? which if you have to read only one thing this month please read this - it's short and dead on. First he brings up an example from Susan Sontag:
Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?
The point is of course that liberals were entirely wrong about the realities of communism. It was corrupt, people starved, and once great nations were reduced to ineffectual countries that hurt generations of its citizens. Argue all you want about the idea of communism but it just didn't work. As Frum says, "You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts." So he puts a new spin on this for our modern day economic situation:
Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Wall Street Journal editorial page between 2000 and 2011, and someone in the same period who read only the collected columns of Paul Krugman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of the current economic crisis? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?
Frum has more or less been shunned by his conservative peers for saying such things just as Sontag was booed loudly by her liberal crowd. Krugman is reviled by the right and he can often be a little shrill to my own ears, but the guy just keeps being right... it's actually kind of shocking.

Anyways, Frum has a new article about the direction of the GOP entitled When Did the GOP Lose Touch with Reality? It's a bit long but it's entirely worth it. I'm interested to hear what people think. He says a lot of things I've been thinking for years but had no credibility in saying as I'm not associated with that ideology.

22 November 2011

What I've Been Reading Lately

I love trees, fractals, and polymaths. Hence, I found this article on the branching of trees interesting. Basically, the thickness of all the branches of a tree combined are the same at any height. So if the diameter of the trunk is say 3' near the ground then all the branches at any given height will have a cross-sectional area of 3'.

An app that gets around the NYT's firewall. It works flawlessly and it's free.

If I wasn't doing architecture this is something I'd pursue... intaglio-type photo printing. This guy, Justin Myer, is an acquaintance of a close friend of mine, Justin Santora, and they've traded some work in the past - it's really nice stuff. The process is really fascinating too.

Some truly fantastic older photos.

Architecture I've been looking at: small house, wood, video... how the? With boilers!

The economy is bad. It's going to remain that way for the foreseeable future. No recovery, any time. Get it? Not happening. If you hear otherwise it's just spin, lies, ignorance, or some combination thereof. The fastest way out is of course spending (aka stimulus). Doesn't matter how it happens. First, a history lesson then a more recent one. Read them both or do not talk to me about the economy. Wonk note: 2.5% of GDP is huge. The US needs 2.5% (or so) real (as in, above inflation) GDP growth just to keep up with population growth (same GDP with more people equals less income to split up). That's correct, anything less than that and our standard of living per capita is actually going down. With growth right now hovering right around the 2.5% area anything that adds to that helps dig us out of our collective hole.

How to make a zip line. Hell yes.

I'm a firm believer in simple solutions. So is this former Forumla One designer who made a car that gets 350 MPG. Nothing crazy, it's just really light. Think about it. The typical car today is about 3,000 pounds - to move what, a 150 or 200 pound person? My bike weighs 20 pounds and moves my 180 pounds.

Car:Person =  20:1 or 10:1 with two people
Bike:Person = 1:9

My bike requires 180 times (I know the numbers are rough, but it proves a point doesn't it?) less mass to move me.

I'm tired of writing so I'll leave you with this. A beautifully made graphic of causes of mortality from 2008. It's official, the world is now so safe that most of us die from cancer.

13 November 2011


"Become who you are." - Nietzsche

I took some photos of my friend Derek a while ago for a project he's been working on for a little over half a decade now. He basically grows out his facial hair and then trims it into some style and documents it with photos. For his final photo he just grew out a gnarly beard.

Anyways, the first photo is a digital photo edited in Photoshop while the second is  4"x5" color slide film. I may have said this before on here, but I have a theory on film/digital photography. Digital photography tries to duplicate reality and does it very well - film does not. Film is a chemical process that was refined for roughly the last 100 years. The object was not to look real; it was to please the photographer, and to that end each manufacturer makes several types of color film that produce slightly different hues. My personal favorite is Fuji RDPIII (Provia). What's interesting to me is that digital photographers spend a lot of time in Photoshop making their digital photos look like film (think of all the iPhone apps that do this) not because they want it to necessarily to look like film, that may be what they're going for, but in reality they're just trying to make Reality (with a capital "r")  look more pleasing; which is what film does. Film is a tangible interpretation of what humans find aesthetically pleasing.

The Internet is Dead, Long Live the Internet

If you're at all interested in the evolution of internet technology and human computer interaction then you should watch this TED talk. The beauty of this particular talk is that the speaker, Roger McNamee, gives names and assigns trends to a lot of the phenomena that I think a lot of us have felt in our interaction with the web - but haven't, up until now, had a name for.

03 November 2011

Income Inequality Addendum

The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) just released a report showing growth in incomes and growth in income as a share of overall income.

This first one shows growth in income over the last 30 years among the various quintiles (each 20% of the income spectrum). The gains were as follows:

275% for the top 1 percent of households,
65 % for the rest of the top quintile
< 40% for the second, third, & fourth quintile
18 percent for the lowest quntile

So everyone's income grew, that's good, but here are the gains as a whole (taken from Krugman).

Not so pretty. Also, that top 1% could be broken down further. I like to think of this as market share. Basically there's a pool of something - customers, income to be had, etc. - and there are entities vying for control of that pool. Well, the 99% is losing out.

02 November 2011

Occupy is Right, Stop the Skepticism and Apathy

I've been unexpectedly alone among my friends in my support for the OWS movement and it's bothering me quite a bit. I'm convinced that most people are completely unaware of just how one sided our society is. Further, all the critiques I've heard of OWS is the same utter crap that the news media (see: owned by rich white conservative men) spouts. Here are the three main gripes I hear about the Occupy Movement:

1- "They don't have a clear message."

Yes they do. OWS is fighting against economic and political inequality. They want everyone to pay their fair share. And they're right. The system is broken and unfair.

2- "There's a bunch of weirdos at their protests."

There always is. In the 1960's there were a lot of LSD dropping and free-sex having protestors, but out of it came the civil rights movement, women's rights, and anti-war protests. Does that invalidate them?

3- "They're just bitching. They/we don't have it that bad. Plus, nothing is going to change."

That's utter apathy and it misses the point. Sure, a lot of us live quite well in the bottom 99%, but even as our country has grown richer in the last 30 plus years our share has not increased. Study after study shows that wealth inequality is bad for just about everything in a society from crime rates to levels of happiness. Even the richest are better off in a more fair society.


First, here's the past 100 years or so of income distribution in the US as given by the New York Times:

Currently the top tax rate is 35% for any income made over $379,150 and that doesn't include capital gains (money made on stocks, interest, etc.) which is currently taxed at 15% (really low). It is common to hear people saying that high taxes are bad for an economy. Yet, during America's greatest economic growth, post WWII to somewhere in the 1980's, the top marginal income tax rate was between 70-94% and included capital gains. So no, high taxes are not bad for an economy (see: Northern Europe).

It has come to my attention that the chart that was once here contained some incorrect information. I will repost this when they release the new data (hat tip: Joe). The chart showed varying effective tax rates among similar income earning groups compared with various levels of income earners. The point was that a percentage of the very wealthy pay a very small effective tax rate.

Income Inequality is bad for EVERYONE.

The more a country taxes the rich the happier its people. It's really just a small part of that video from above.

Also, the top 1% is misleading. It's more like top 0.1% (both of these graphs are taken from Krugman's analysis of CBO data):

The top 20% of income earners haven't gained any income share since the late 1970's while the top 1%'s share has grown from about 8% to about 17% - or more than doubled.

The top 1% minus the top 0.1% share of income has grown from about 5% to 8% - a 60% increase - not bad, but the top 0.1% of earners went from 2.6% to about 8% - about a 300% increase. It truly is the super wealthy who are making all the income gains.


There was a study done a little over a year ago that I wrote about before where people of all ages and political affiliations were asked who had the wealth in America.

Of course, everyone was totally wrong. Reality was far more unfair than they had realized. In fact, when asked what the division of wealth should be, people overwhelmingly responded that it should be more fair than what they thought it was - which was to generous to begin with.

So how do we fix our system?

Simple, see that bottom line in the graph? That's what people want. That's the society Americans say they want to live in. To accomplish this first we have to elect people who will represent our interests - fairness. Now the fun part, Congress will set goals as to what percentage of the total national income any group is allowed to keep as income. Say the top 0.1% gets 5% of earnings, top 1% gets 5%, etc. Whatever we choose. Next, the IRS and CBO changes the marginal rates (which now include capital gains taxes) of those income tax brackets every year to bring the targeted goals to within range. It'll take a few years to settle out, but eventually the tax brackets will stabilize. If you think that's too socialist or whatever then simple... just lower your targets and let the rich get richer. This is already what we do, we just don't set goals. We just set arbitrary numbers that mean nothing.

My guess is that the vast majority of people would pay less in taxes, more income brackets would be created near the top end, and those really high end brackets rates would be close to 70 plus percent.

Parting Thoughts:

The top 400 wealthiest people in America have more than the bottom 50% (about 155 million people). That means one person has as much as 390,000 people. That's like getting rid of Chicago and replacing it with 7 people.

"No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.  Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order." -FDR