Monday, November 30, 2009

The American View of the World




Juvenile but funny.

(From The Faculty Lounge.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rescue of Chinese Cats To Be Sold For Meat



ChinaSmack -- which posts translations of tabloidy news pulled from the Chinese internet -- reports on a successful attempt to stop a shipment of cats to be sold for meat. WARNING: Some of the photos are hard to look at; the one above is the mildest.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Less Useful, The Better

Sherman Oaks, California

Seth at Seth's Blog makes a good point about the academic status heirarchy.

Academics show their high status by doing useless research. Useful research is low status.
That's certainly true in the legal academy. Useless abstraction orgies about nebulous constitutional law concepts are lauded as brainy. Useful works which could be applied by judges, officials or lawyers are derided as banal.

See also: The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and The Legal Profession.

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Hitler Explodes: Academic Peer Review

Someone (possibly YouTube user indusieumgresium) has posted a "Hitler Explodes" clip regarding academic peer review and the current controversy over the quality of global warming research.

(If you're not familiar with the "Hitler Explodes" micro-genre: The scene is from the excellent German film Der Untergang. Hitler, played by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, is being given information about troop movements which makes it clear that the war is lost. For at least the last two years, people have been adding humourous subtitles to the scene.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sometimes, Politics Should Be Nasty: The 2007 U.K. General Election That Never Was


Sherman Oaks, California

One of the more irritating stock arguments in politics is the claim that an opponent is being "uncivil." In reality, this means that the opponent is making an effective and often accurate argument.

The creaky bromide of "civility" was dragged out when Congressman Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" during President's Obama's health care address. Obama said his health care reform plan would not cover illegal aliens, and Wilson took spontaneous objection. Days of media hand-wringing ensued.

But there are situations when leaders should be yelled at, when face-to-face mockery is an appropriate form of expression.

One example: Throughout 2007, British prime minister Gordon Brown and his Labour Party prepared to call a general election in the autumn. (Under U.K. law, a Parliament convenes for five years. During those five years, the Prime Minister may, at any time, call a general election, re-setting the five-year clock.)

But, as the presumed polling day drew closer, Labour's numbers were anemic. If Labour called an election, it could very well lose, so Brown scotched the idea.

The next Prime Minister's Questions was a firestorm. As you can see in the video, Opposition leader David Cameron taunts Brown mercilessly.

And why not? Brown had exercised one of his most important prerogatives for the self-interested purpose of maintaining himself and his allies in power. Resorts to reason or tact or diplomacy would have been worthless in such a situation, so Cameron and his backbenchers chose, quite correctly, to loudly ridicule Brown for his cravenness. The act of impertinence sends a powerful message: Brown's ability to command the Commons was dwindling, and he was holding onto power by a technicality.

Two years later, Brown has yet to recover from this disastrous performance. He is viewed, by his countrymen and his fellow politicians, as weak. Ridicule helped reveal the truth. Ridicule worked. More of it, not less, should be directed at whichever Emperor is currently residing in the White House.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Final Life Photo (For Now): Gandhi


To complete the triumverate of nationalist leaders, this is a photograph of Gandhi slipping into a white Packard which was provided for his use by a benefactor. The photo was taken for Life in May 1946 by Margaret Bourke-White. According to the caption, Gandhi would slip away so that he could walk without being disturbed by his followers, who camped around his compound.

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The Strangest Thing I've Ever Heard A Radio DJ Say

"I'm not really a Fleetwood Mac fan. I'm more of a Lindsey Buckingham fan."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jinnah


Here's another photograph from the Life collection (which you can search here).

This is the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He was, like Gandhi and Nehru, a London-educated barrister.

The photo was taken in 1943 by William Vandivert. Jinnah would become Pakistan's first leader on August 15, 1947, and he would die thirteen months later from tuberculosis and lung cancer.

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Which American Television Program Was Set In Singapore?

This one. (Best copy of the opening credits I could find.)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

A Stranger At Home


Nehru:

I have become a queer mixture of the East and the West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. Perhaps my thoughts and approach to life are more akin to what is called Western than Eastern, but India clings to me, as she does to all her children, in innumerable ways; and behind me lie, somewhere in the subconscious, racial memories of a hundred, or what ever the number may be, generations of Brahmans. I cannot get rid of either that past inheritance or my recent acquisitions. They are both part of me, and, though they help me in both the East and the West, they also create in me a feeling of spiritual loneliness not only in public activities but in life itself. I am a stranger and alien in the West. I cannot be of it. But in my own country also, sometimes, I have an exile's feeling.


Pictured: Nehru with (presumably) family members. The photo was shot in 1946 by Margaret Bourke-White for Life. Note the English tea setting.

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"I did not become His Majesty's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of His empire."



But you did, Sir Winston, you did.

Here's a viral video about the dissolution of the great European empires.

It's a neat video, but it only shows half the story. The video names each piece of empire as it was granted independence or otherwise spun off. It would have been better if it first identified each piece as it was absorbed.

That approach would show, for example, how the British incrementally absorbed cities and kingdoms on the Indian sub-continent (Surat in 1613; Calcutta in 1757; Bengal in 1765; Punjab in 1849; Awadh in 1856) which, in 1947, became "India" -- a polity that had never before existed.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill: Expats Exempt From Coverage Mandate, But Some Would Have To Pay Higher Medicare Taxes

Sherman Oaks, California

The current draft of the U.S. Senate’s health care reform bill is 2,074 pages long. I have not yet read the whole thing, but I’ve tried to identify the provisions which would affect U.S. citizens who live abroad.

Here’s what you should know:

1. Formalities. The bill is titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and it’s sponsored by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. The bill is currently numbered H.R. 3590. (Why does a Senate bill carry a House of Representatives number? Presumably because all bills which raise taxes or spend money must formally originate in the lower house, as per Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution.)

2. Coverage Mandate. All “applicable individuals” are required to be covered by health insurance. H.R. 3590, Section 1501(b) (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 5000A(a)).

3. Fines and taxes. If you are an “applicable individual” and you are not covered by health insurance, a fine of about $63 a month can be imposed. H.R. 3590, Section 1501(b) (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 5000A(c)). Since this would be an I.R.S. fine, failure to pay the fine could expose the person to the I.R.S.’s many civil penalties. See Letter from Joint Committee on Taxation dated Nov. 5, 2009. Criminal penalties could not, however, be imposed for failure to pay the penalty. H.R. 3590, Section 1501(b) (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 5000A(g)(2)(A)).

4. Expats exempt. As with the House bill, people who reside outside of the United States for at least 330 days in a 12-month period “shall be treated as having minimum essential coverage” for each of those 12 months. H.R. 3590, Section 1501(b) (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 5000A(f)(4)).

5. Higher-income expats have to pay ½% more. U.S. taxpayers earning more than $200,000 individually or $250,000 jointly will have to pay an additional one-half of one percent of their income as Medicare taxes. H.R. 3590, Section 9015(a), (b) (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 3101(b)). Consequently, the Medicare tax for these higher-income expats will increase from 2.9% to 3.4%. Medicare tax must be paid by U.S. citizens regardless of where they reside. And there is no cap on Medicare tax, so expats have to pay it on all wage income.

6. New plastic surgery tax may increase medical tourism. The bill seeks to impose a 5% tax on elective plastic surgery, to be paid by the patient and to be collected and remitted by the doctor. H.R. 3590, Section 9017 (proposing new Internal Revenue Code section 5000B). This adds another weapon to the marketing arsenals of non-U.S. hospitals seeking to attract medical tourists.

7. Effective Dates. The plastic surgery tax would start in six weeks – on January 1, 2010. H.R. 3590, Section 9017(c). The higher Medicare tax would kick in January 1, 2013. H.R. 3590, Section 9015(c). The coverage mandates and fines for non-coverage would begin January 1, 2014. H.R. 3590, Section 1501(c).

In sum: Expats earning healthy salaries would see a tax increase under the Senate plan, although they would not be mandated to obtain qualifying health insurance coverage.

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Mocking The Elderly And Infirm Is OK If The Feeble Old Man In Question Is Third In Line For The Presidency And Should Have Retired Long Ago

Clip One:



Clip Two:



Clip Three:

Increased Taxes =
Increased Willingness To Leave


Sherman Oaks, California

Shopzilla and about 30 other internet companies are contemplating moving their headquarters out of Los Angeles because of City Hall's insistence on reclassifying the firms into a higher bracket for purposes of L.A.'s absurd gross receipts tax on businesses.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (pictured) appears unaware that (1) businesses can move, (2) the weather is nice in Burbank, Phoenix or Bangalore, and (3) internet businesses can certainly move.

If a jurisdiction's taxes are too high, people and businesses will leave. It's a simple formula, but state and local leaders in California seem to think they can increase spending and raise taxes ad infinitum without repercussion.

Coverage: L.A. Biz Observed. Los Angeles Business Journal.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Second Quote From Pico Iyer:
The Dark Side of Being a Travel Writer



From an interview with Pico Iyer published in Travel Writing by Don George:

As a travel writer, how do you get the numbers to add up in terms of an income?

Quite simply, you don't -- and you never will. If you're going to try to write about place, I think you have to surrender at the outset any idea of doing it for the money; all the rewards will be internal ones. There was a boom in the publishing of "travel literature" a few years ago, and there will always be a market for travel pieces in magazines and newspapers, but really it can only be something on the side. To take an example, I have to write 10 pieces a month (on subjects other than travel) just to pay the bills; and although I've published eight books now, I can still only afford to live in a two-room flat in the countryside in Japan, paying rent as when I was a student, without bicycle or car or printer or almost anything. And I will get as much income from three weeks of covering the Olympics as from writing a book that almost kills me over a period of two years.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Editorial Note

Sherman Oaks, California

I have made various changes to the blog. Please tell me if they suck.

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First Quote From Pico Iyer:
The Dark Side of Expat Life























From Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer (pictured):

Expatriation in any place is a shortcut to upward mobility, but in Hong Kong, where the British held symbolic sway yet the law of the commercial jungle obtained, the dice were even more loaded. Hong Kong had the jitters of an arriviste.

"I know this Welsh architect. He left a dull job in some grimy town and came over here. Suddenly he had maids, cars, an oceanfront villa in Repulse Bay. The firm paid for his children's schooling and for his private clubs. When his time was up, after thirty-six months, he was willing to do anything -- anything at all -- to extend his stay. Anything. He was almost begging."

One of the appeals of expatriation, I had always thought, was that it allowed one to treat real life as romantic; abroad, one could credit the lies one saw through at home. But one of the dangers of expatriation, I came to see, was that it tempted one to live the lies that would be seen through at home. Expatriation was often just evasion disguising itself as election. Expatriation permitted every John to become a sahib, and every girl to turn herself into le Carre's Lizzie Worthington, and both of them to flourish their new identities before people who could do nothing but defer.

"So this policeman comes here -- just a regular British bobby -- and all of a sudden here he is, with sixty men at his beck and call, two thousand subordinates in all. You can imagine the exploitation that follows."

Thus the trappings of expatriation become traps, and a freedom from attachments never did quite amount to detachment. Many Brits, I gathered, longed not so much to flee snobbery as to exercise it in a system in which they could at last be on the giving, rather than the receiving, end. Expatriation allowed them to get their revenge on Britain, even as they became more and more British the farther they got from home. Expatriation encouraged them to define themselves by their distance from the world around them, to make their very separation their identity and their exile their home. It did not seem a happy exchange.

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Impressive

Sherman Oaks, California

Judge Posner's academic CV is 164 pages long.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Xincheng Noodle House


Sherman Oaks, California

The Beijinger Blog posts about Xincheng Noodle House (pictured), a Chinese whiskey bar that's as Old Beijing as they come. A shot of firewater is 15 cents, and a plate of peasant food is less than one dollar.

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Monday, November 16, 2009


Sherman Oaks, California

An Onion-like site called Not The Nation posted a satirical piece on the invisibility of Western women in Thailand:

Female Expat Maintains Positive Self-Image Despite Living in Thailand

Canadian Martha Herkimer has surprised experts and local residents by defying a long-established pattern and successfully maintaining a positive attitude and image of herself while living in Thailand.

Despite several years in a largely male-dominated community that constantly issues unspoken but unmistakable negative evaluations of her appearance and general worth in comparison to local women, Herkimer, who is from London, Ontario, has somehow not internalized such criticisms and avoided the precipitous plunge in self-esteem that most white females experience after moving here . . . .

"She seems pretty nice. I don't really know her that well," said Matthew Broadus, 28, who has worked in a cubicle beside Herkimer for two and a half years. "What's her name again?"

But experts caution that Herkimer may be heading for a breakdown. "It's almost inconceivable that she can remain totally unaffected by how poorly her sweaty, hulking figure compares to those of the much more slender and lithe Thai women who surround her," says Dr. Thanawat Tepchai, a clinical psychologist. "I mean, how can she not be sickened by her blotchy face and hairy forearms when everyday she must witness the smooth, faultless skin of the local women that all her male friends date?"

The name of the site, Not The Nation, is a play on the English-language Bangkok newspaper The Nation.

Pictured: Three reasons why white women who move to Bangkok become invisible.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

And Now It's Time For the Original Opening To Eastenders

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Letters We Never Finished Reading

"Being married to an American-born Chinese with Hainanese parents, I was amazed at Bernard Charnwut Chan's comments on Hainan chicken."

-- First sentence of a letter to the editor of The (Hong Kong) Standard, November 6, 2009.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another Blog's Review of Goa

Sherman Oaks, California

Six months in the Indian beach state of Goa had its ups and downs for one blogger.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Best Version On YouTube

There's a subtleness to the performance. You think the frog might be suffering from clinical depression. Then he appears to get better, maybe. The song ends in a black pool of doubt.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Note


Sherman Oaks, California

Alan Alda has never hosted Saturday Night Live.

Why Expats Should Not Be Forced To Buy National Health Insurance

Sherman Oaks, California

Yesterday, I wrote about how expats will be exempt from Pelosi-Care’s mandatory coverage and penalty provisions if the bill, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday by five votes, becomes law.

Today, the topic is why it’s important for expats to be exempt.

1. Many expats pay cash for health care. Expats often have no need for anything other than catastrophic health insurance. In many countries, routine health services are inexpensive, so you pay cash and are done with it. A visit to an English-speaking doctor in China can cost about 100 RMB, or US$13. Many expats only re-enter the States’ overpriced system if, God forbid, something truly bad manifests.

2. Enough already with the extraterritorial taxes. Almost every other industrialized nation keeps its paws off citizens’ out-of-country earnings. If a Briton moves to Malaysia to work for a Swedish company, the Exchequer has no claim to any of the income.

The United States, however, takes the position that every cent earned anywhere on the globe by a U.S. citizen is subject to income taxes, Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes. It’s truly outrageous – a tax to hold a passport. A mandate that expats purchase U.S. health insurance would be yet another extraterritorial tax imposed on people who want to escape Uncle Sam’s smothering, rib-cracking embrace.

3. Many expats qualify for the local national health plan. A mandate would require some expats to pay twice. Expats who have settled down in their adopted countries often qualify for the local national health plan, which is financed through taxes the expats pay in-country. They shouldn’t be forced to buy an additional policy that duplicates coverage.

4. When will you Obama supporters admit you were conned? This point isn’t about expats but about the laughable idealism of people who voted for Barack Obama thinking he would “do something” about health care. This is what he’s done: He’s refused to lead the process, ceded the drafting to Congressional leaders who are owned by the insurance lobby, and allowed them to pass a health care bill which forces people -- on pain of tax, fine or imprisonment -- to buy coverage they may not want, need or can afford. When people were casting a ballot for Hope And Change, how many were thinking, “I want this eloquent, smiling man with the pretty words to do nothing while Congress forces me to transfer my money to insurance carriers.”?

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

How To Legally Avoid Pelosi-Care: Become An Expat

Sherman Oaks, California

Pelosi-Care has passed the House of Representatives, but, if it becomes law in its present form, you would be able to avoid its coverage mandates and penalties by living outside the United States.

At the start of the weekend, blog chatter focused on the civil and criminal penalties proposed in H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. If you refuse to be covered by an acceptable health insurance plan, you are subject to an additional tax, a fine or imprisonment, according to an analysis released Thursday by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.

But expatriates would be exempt.

Every "individual" is required to be covered "by acceptable coverage at all times." Every parent is also required to insure each of his or her dependent children. Proposed Internal Revenue Code sections 59B(a), (d)(1).

A 2.5% tax is imposed on each individual who "does not meet the requirements" of coverage "at any time during the taxable year." Proposed Internal Revenue Code sections 59B(a). Failure to pay this tax can result in various monetary fines or in imprisonment. See Internal Revenue Code Section 6662(a) (20% penalty), Section 6663 (75% penalty), Section 6702 ($5,000 penalty), Section 6651 (½% penalty per month, up to 25%); Section 7203 (fine of up to $25,000 or one year imprisonment); Section 7201 (fine of up to $250,000 or up to five years imprisonment).

The bill specifies certain classes of people who are exempt from the requirement to obtain health insurance coverage. Dependents (e.g., adult children who are in college or otherwise not financially independent) are exempt. Proposed I.R.C. section 59B(c)(1). Conscientious objectors – which I assume means Christian Scientists and adherents of other faiths that reject modern medicine – are also exempt. Proposed I.R.C. section 59B(c)(5).

Most importantly to Knife Tricks, expats are exempt. Or, to be precise, expats – defined as U.S. citizens who are outside the country for at least 330 days in a 12-month period -- are "treated for purposes of this section as covered by acceptable coverage during such taxable year." Proposed I.R.C. section 59B(c)(3). A similar exemption applies to people who reside in U.S. territories like Guam or American Samoa. Proposed I.R.C. section 59B(c)(4).

None of these provisions is law yet. The health care debate now moves across the Capitol to the Senate. (And language hidden elsewhere in the bill's 1,990 pages may impact these exemptions.)

Hopefully, the Democrats' attempt to fundamentally alter the U.S. health care system -- on pain of tax, fine and imprisonment -- will fail. But, if these exemptions remain intact, it’s comforting to know that a one-way international airline ticket provides escape.


NEXT POST: Why it's important that expats be exempt.

UPDATE: Links to bill fixed.

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Hong Kong's Boozy, Low-Tax Success Story


Sherman Oaks, California

In February 2008, the government of Hong Kong repealed its tax on wine.

As a result, wine sales are booming, and Hong Kong is positioning itself as a city for foodies and high-end wine sales.

"Wine imports soared 80 percent in the 12 months after the tax was dropped, in February 2008, to a total of 3.2 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $400 million," the New York Times recently reported.

Hong Kong is now the second largest market (after New York City) for fine wine sales, The Independent reported.

And the London Evening Standard noted the increasing appeal of Hong Kong's lower income taxes.

"One reason many Londoners might be considering a move is that while the UK government has become obsessed with legislating against excessive bankers' bonuses, and taxing entrepreneurs and financiers until they bleed at 50 per cent, Hong Kong enjoys a 16 per cent salaries tax rate," the paper reports. "'That makes a huge difference to somebody earning, say, £1 million a year,' admits one such banker who didn't wish to be named."

That makes a huge difference to anybody.

So raise a toast of 1998 Screaming Eagle cabernet sauvignon to Hong Kong's enlightened leaders:

"Here's to low taxes. Here's to a better life."

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

The L.A. Soda Pop Store


Sherman Oaks, California

BoingBoing posts an interview with John Nese, who owns a store in Los Angeles devoted to the sale of boutique soda pops. It's a fantastic place that's so old school it sells candy cigarettes.

Nese indirectly confirms something I've suspected: the store is the public face of a wholesaling operation. There was no way a person could make money selling retail quantities of Bubble Up, Double Cola and Boylan Bottleworks Grape Soda.

Here's the store's web page.

And they sell Beemans, the lucky gum of pilots.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ageism In Action

Sherman Oaks, California

Erika Schickel posts a funny piece about what it was like returning to hipster restaurant Swingers years after working there as a waitress.

I used to eat at Swingers all the time, but I haven't been there in years.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

People Have Wisened Up To The Blue State Scam

Sherman Oaks, California

Commenter Grumpy Puppet won't like it, but urbanist Joel Kotkin has the numbers. Younger, better educated, more affluent people are leaving the hip cities (like Boston and Los Angeles) and moving to less glamourous surrounds in places like Memphis, Indianapolis and Kansas City.

The big blue cities in the big blue states aren't worth it anymore.

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Reporter Expelled From Singapore

Sherman Oaks, California

Reporter Ben Bland of The Asia Files has been kicked out of Singapore. No explanation was given, but a cynic might think the expulsion has something to do with the fact that Bland is a reporter who does not toe the line of the ruling People's Action Party.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

13 Hours of Hong Kong on Hulu

Sherman Oaks, California

With apologies to Knife Tricks readers outside of the United States, hulu has loaded all 13 episodes of Martin Yan's Hong Kong.

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Has California Priced Itself Out of the Market?

Sherman Oaks, California

William Voegeli's op-ed piece "The Golden State isn't worth it" is a must read for people who believe in government.

Voegeli's condemnation of California is damning. Taxes are high, and public services are poor or mediocre. Meanwhile, in Texas, taxes are low, and public services are better-than-average.

As much as I love the weather and like being near my friends, I, too, have been contemplating for months about leaving California. What, exactly, do I get for my tax payments that I can't obtain elsewhere at lower cost?

Other states and countries have pleasant weather. There are decent universities -- the main public resource I use -- all over the world, and most academic publications are now a mouse click away. The cost of housing is lower in the red states, and the cost of servants is quite reasonable in the developing world.

When I look at California government, I see a bloated welfare state captured by public sector employees and the archipelago of "public interest" organizations and trade unions which subsist on government contracts. The Legislature exists for these entrenched people -- not for entrepreneurs, not for middle-income working people, not for small business people.

There's a point where I have to wonder if it's worth it. State income tax is 9.55%, while the sales tax in Los Angeles County is 9.75%. That's almost 20% before I factor in federal income taxes, federal payroll taxes, state payroll taxes, property taxes, etc.

How much longer is it worth it?

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Situational Ethics?

Sherman Oaks, California

When, if ever, is it OK for a newspaper to print a travel piece about Cuba written by U.S. citizens who broke federal law to travel there?

When the piece is strong, according to the Washington Post.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Costs of Attending An Academic Conference


Sherman Oaks, California

Academics like to grumble about the lack of money their departments make available for conference attendance. So, as I zipped off to my first conference, I decided to keep track of how much it cost.

One advantage of academic conferences is that they're planned months or years in advance. So you can nail the lowest-priced reservations by locking in the dates. Plus, the entire enterprise is a fairly low-overhead affair, since humanities and social science professors don't have a lot of money to throw around. Med school conferences are probably pricier.

I attended the 38th Annual Conference on South Asia, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which ran from Friday, October 23rd to Sunday, October 25th. I arrived one day early to attend the Pre-Conference on South Asian Legal Studies.

Here's the cost breakdown:

-- Late Student Registration: $70.00

-- Airfare (LAX to Madison; Expedia non-refundable advance purchase): $334.40

-- Hotel (Best Western Inn on the Square, 3 nights, 14-day non-refundable purchase): $336.17

-- Meals, Shuttle, Taxi and General Walking Around Money: $200.00

So that comes to a total of about $940, or about $235 a day.

Not outrageous, but not cheap either.

Maybe the grumbling profs have a point.


Pictured: Lubar Commons in the University of Wisconsin Law School. The Pre-Conference on South Asian Legal Studies took place in this room (although the photo is of a different event several years ago).

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