Pro-tax university professors find a tax that they don’t like


A lot of my Facebook friends are university professors. As such they get, as part of their compensation, free tuition for their children (or, oftentimes, partial payment for tuition if they send their kids to other colleges). Some of them have graduate students, who get their fictitious tuition paid when on research or teaching assistantships.

All of these folks publicly supported Hillary Clinton prior to the election, denounced the Trumpenfuhrer’s hints about shrinking the government’s role in our society, and generally advocate for higher tax rates so as to enable the government to fulfill all of our collective dreams.

How are they reacting to the latest proposed tax law changes? With desperate lobbying efforts to preserve their own tax exemptions. Examples:

To my California friends and family, especially those who have children to educate: Republican representatives in these CA districts near you have BIG influence over *which version* of the tax bill—including whether it taxes things like tuition remission, etc.—eventually gets approved. It’s not an exaggeration to say the future of American higher education is at stake.

A crucial decision remains to be made between the House and Senate versions of the GOP tax bill. So here’s a plea to everyone who cares about the future of American universities: not only must we CALL OUR REPS, we must urge our friends and family to do so as well! I’m calling not just my own reps and senators but others’ too, identifying myself as a professor and trying to convey my sense of urgency about this bill.

[mass email to faculty at University of Chicago] Doubtless all of you are thinking about the potential effects of the Republican tax bill, which appears bent on directly attacking higher and lower education in the United States. …  The bill passed by the Senate *does not* include the grad student tuition waiver tax proposed by the House bill. …

For students like Mollie Marr, pursuing her M.D. and her Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine, losing the tax waiver could mean dropping out of OHSU. Paying the estimated tax on top of her non-deferrable undergraduate student loans would leave her about $500 a month to live on. … students, staff and faculty to share their personal stories and perspectives about the impact of losing this tax waiver … Call and email your U.S. representatives and senators.  [official OHSU news release]

If universities actually are delivering something of value to professors’ children via tuition waivers, shouldn’t these good folks want to pay tax on that value? A core principle of U.S. income tax is that you pay tax on the fair market value of stuff that you receive in exchange for work. Also, if universities are delivering something of value to graduate students in exchange for work, why should a Walmart cashier have to work extra hours to make up for the tax not collected? (see Ugliest part of the Republican tax plan: What if universities were forced to calculate the value of a graduate education? for an exploration of what the imputed value of this tuition waiver should be, though)

These same folks have spent years on Facebook arguing for the government to collect more in taxes. Now they’ve found a tax that they don’t like!


Why college students need to be drunk before having sex


Emily Yoffe (born 1955) earned a reputation as an old scold with her article “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk.” (Slate; see also this recent interview with Yoffe).

Anecdotally, it is older women that have been the least sympathetic regarding the suffering of the sexual assault survivors that have been featured in the news. For example, asking “What were they doing in his hotel room?” or “Why did they go to a married man’s hotel room?” in response to a story about Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, and “Why was she falling-down drunk at a fraternity party?” in response to a story about on-campus mishaps.

Of course, the younger women (and men) that are worthwhile targets for advertising think very differently about this, thus sustaining the media interest in these stories.

The book iGen sheds some light on this inter-generational disagreement:

There’s another reason iGen’ers are uncertain about relationships: you might get hurt, and you might find yourself dependent on someone else—reasons that intertwine with iGen’s individualism and focus on safety. “I think it’s good for people to be on their own for a while, too. People who are so heavily reliant on relationships for their whole source of emotional security don’t know how to cope when that’s taken away from them,” says Haley, 18, whom we met earlier. “A relationship is impermanent, everything in life is impermanent, so if that’s taken away and then you can’t find another girlfriend or another boyfriend, then what are you going to do? You haven’t learned the skills to cope on your own, be happy on your own, so what are you going to do, are you just going to suffer through it until you can find someone else who will take you?” Haley’s view is the famous couplet “Better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all” turned on its head: to her, it’s better not to have loved, because what if you lose it?

This fear of intimacy, of really showing yourself, is one reason why hookups nearly always occur when both parties are drunk. Two recent books on college hookup culture both concluded that alcohol is considered nearly mandatory before having sex with someone for the first time. The college women Peggy Orenstein interviewed for Girls & Sex said that hooking up sober would be “awkward.” “Being sober makes it seem like you want to be in a relationship,” one college freshman told her. “It’s really uncomfortable.” One study found that the average college hookup involves the woman having had four drinks and the men six.

As Lisa Wade found when she interviewed iGen college students, “The worst thing you can get called on a college campus these days isn’t what it used to be, ‘slut,’ and it isn’t even the more hookup-culture-consistent ‘prude.’ It’s ‘desperate.’ Being clingy—acting as if you need someone—is considered pathetic.”

So it seems that the generations are talking past each other.

More: read iGen.

Why isn’t there an insanely profitable all-female Wall Street bank?


“The Cost of Devaluing Women” (nytimes) says that women are systematically excluded from jobs on Wall Street and that this leads to underperformance:

Homogeneity has led Wall Street firms to travel in packs, going after the same opportunities at the same time: junk bonds in the 1980s, tech stocks in the late 1990s and subprime lending in the run-up to the crash 10 years ago. … one can draw a line from the gender discrimination on Wall Street through to the lack of women — and lack of diversity of thought — in the industry to increased risk and to the financial crisis.

If there are women out there with amazing skills who have been pushed out by the big banks, why isn’t there an all-female bank that is able to deliver amazing performance at a low cost? Or maybe a mixed-gender bank that doesn’t practice gender discrimination and is therefore super profitable to the point that it can put the “brotrader” banks out of business?

Wall Street is all about greed, right? Why isn’t there someone greedy enough to want to become the richest person on the planet by starting a bank staffed entirely by women whose contributions to the established banks weren’t recognized?

Sheryl Sandberg proves that Facebook is a monopoly?


Yesterday, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a two-page manifesto regarding what “workplaces” should do to eliminate sexual harassment. Does this post suggest that Facebook is a monopoly whose profits are no longer tethered to the efforts of its employees? The COO of a company in a competitive industry wouldn’t have the time to tell managers at other enterprises how to run their respective shows.

Arguably Sandberg is actively harming the interests of the Facebook shareholders. She is enlightened, presumably, and Facebook is thus a paradise of gender equality and female advancement. Why not stay quiet about Facebook’s methods so that the most able women will quit their jobs elsewhere and join Facebook?

Alternatively, maybe the example of Sandberg will discourage employers from hiring women. Shareholders pay a COO and she spends a lot of her time telling competitors, unrelated companies, non-profit and and government employers, etc. how to do stuff. Wouldn’t shareholders be better off hiring a boring white male that nobody outside the company wants to interview or hear from?

[Separately, would a rational reader of Sandberg’s elaborate prescription simply refrain from hiring any men? In an all-female company the managers wouldn’t have to spend 24/7 thinking about sexual harassment issues. There don’t seem to be any practical penalties for employers who discriminate against men (New York Times will even celebrate you for it!).]


Coco the movie should credit ISIS and Kevin Spacey?


Who else has seen Coco the movie? It is an impressive visual spectacle and we enjoyed it, but wouldn’t take children under age 7.

The movie is preceded by a “short” populated by the Frozen characters. It is so long, dull, and vapid that people behind us in the theater said “Thank God that’s over” at the conclusion. I’m wondering if ISIS is actually behind Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It is difficult to think of a better way to get Americans to turn away from Christianity, though the short is too embarrassed to mention Christmas explicitly (but at the same time is not neutral regarding religion because there is a huge Christmas tree created at the end; a token Jewish family is depicted, but everyone else seems to be Christian). Because the word is impolite to utter, Christmas is referred to as “That Time of Year”. Certainly it is tough to think of a better reason to convert to Islam than this film. If there is any danger of this short being shown I would advise getting to the theater no earlier than 30 minutes after the official start time.

Coco itself has some dialog that relates to the current Hollywood Sexual Cleansing. A big star points out that “Success doesn’t come for free. You have to do whatever it takes to seize your moment.” Could this have been written by Kevin Spacey? Or perhaps one of the young actors who got a boost in his career by “doing whatever it takes”?

Dog-lovers will appreciate the on-screen time and effort that went into depicting a canine character.

I wonder what the cultural appropriation police think of this movie. Gingo honchos at Pixar make a movie about Mexican culture and then substitute an ugly-sounding language for Spanish.

Readers: What did you think of Coco?


Windows update required as much computation as all scientific analysis through what year?


A recent Windows 10 Creators Update ran for roughly one hour on my desktop PC. The boot drive is an SSD and therefore I don’t think that much of the time was spent waiting for the hard drive. I don’t think that the update process per se requires much network access because the operating system told me that it had already downloaded the update. In any case, the computer is hard-wired to Verizon FiOS at 75 Mbps so there can’t have been too much network delay.

The CPU is an Intel CORE I7 5820K clocked at 3.3 Ghz. This machine has 6 cores. If we assume that an average of 3 of the cores were busy for the entire hour, that is equivalent to all of the scientific computation done through what year?

Instructions done in one second: 3 cores times 3.3 billion = roughly 10 billion instructions (the i7 is at roughly one instruction per cycle?). Instructions done in one hour: 36 trillion (3.6×10^13).

Good old days: The IBM 360/95 that was still kind of exciting when I worked on the Pioneer Venus project at NASA did 3.8 million instructions per second (Wikipedia). It would have taken 9.5 million seconds to run 36 trillion instructions on the IBM 360/95. That’s about 110 days continuously. So plainly by 1968 when the IBM 360/95 had been delivered to Goddard Space Flight Center there had already been more than 36 trillion instructions run.

How about the IBM 7090 workhouse circa 1960? Wikipedia says it could do 100,000 floating point operations per second. If the i7 can do floating point instructions at the same speed as other instructions (a big assumption? I’m not sure that Web page JavaScript is bound by FLOPS), it would take the room-sized mainframe roughly 10 years to execute 36 trillion instructions.

So I’m going to guess that my latest Windows update took roughly as much computation as the first 11 years of modern computing (start with EDSAC in 1949 and through 1960). Not all of that was done for scientific purposes, though, so maybe 1949-1962 is a better estimated period?

Readers: Corrections? Better ideas?

Who understands the House and Senate tax bills?


My grand theory that “any law that can be passed already has been passed” seems to have been proven wrong. Both the House and the Senate have passed significant changes to U.S. tax rates, at least on business, but the changes are at least slightly different? When does the final bill reach the Trumpenfuhrer in the Reich Chancellery?

My Facebook friends are preparing for Armageddon. Here is a sampling:

[from a university professor who is guaranteed to get a paycheck until she is too senile to navigate into the office (i.e., she has tenure)] I just got out of a meeting of shell-shocked professors and deans, staring wide-eyed at the disaster that is about to befall higher education in America.

My physician friend explains how the GOP tax bill has the potential for catastrophic effects on her patients’ health, and describes her experience when calling various senators about the bill’s implications.

If you have Republicans representing your interests in government, please read about how they are stampeding to screw 99% of their constituents over with a tax bill they dare not debate in public, and which the father of Reagan’s tax bill regards as insane in its particulars.

To my friends in states with GOP senators who are wavering on this catastrophic tax bill, thank you for calling them!

The tax “reform” plan is as dumb and evil as the health care “repeal and replace” plan. Getting rid of the estate tax, which only affects the very wealthy, will be expensive.

… as a Middle Class New Yorker I am angry that I will face a tax increase under the Republican Party’s “soak the middle class” tax plan.

[from a former university professor] Speaking of taxes, this might be a moment to remember that the lying, treasonous, self-dealing, justice-obstructing, nepotistic, emolumental, sexually abusive moron has never published his.

From what I have heard, it is unclear why this is a disaster. Tax rates for both corporations and individuals will end up pretty close to what the UK runs (some of their personal income tax rates seem higher than U.S. federal rates, but when you add in what U.S. states and cities charge, the overall government rake should be the same). Why shouldn’t our government be able to live on what is sufficient to feed the UK government? Especially given the fact that the UK government rolls health care into their direct government spending. (I guess one could argue that the U.S. government is spectacularly inefficient compared to European counterparts and therefore needs a larger percentage of GDP.)

One question is what the real tax rates will be. Alternative minimum tax has been retained for both individuals and corporations? If so, how can anyone who is not a CPA even estimate his or her tax liability?

Estate tax is gone or not? (If so, there will be a lot accountants and lawyers needing to find new work! Most of the estate tax workarounds rely on professional advice.)

How about the hedge fund managers’ favorite tactic of stuffing all earnings into a Bermuda insurance company and thus deferring income tax liability for 50 years? Is there anything in the bill to make that tougher? (see also New York Post)

What about taxing the bogus “free tuition” that universities pretend to give graduate students? NSF and DARPA fund a lot of graduate students. Presumably they aren’t going to want to see their budgeted funds drained away by the IRS and put back into the Treasury for other agencies to spend. (See Ugliest part of the Republican tax plan: What if universities were forced to calculate the value of a graduate education?)

Readers: Does the stock market go crazy after this? Or are most publicly-traded companies already so good at tax-avoidance that the cash differences will be minimal?


The Hollywood Cleansing


Sometimes teenagers are the wisest among us. I promised to send something to my nephew, a high school student, and asked him to nag me if I didn’t inform him that it had shipped. His reply:

Please take your time Uncle Philip. I know you’re extremely busy especially now that your weblog needs to keep up with the Hollywood Cleansing -which is up to about three guys a day now.

When will the sexual harassment fervor reach the world of classical music?


I asked a young violinist whether the world of classical music could be the next domino to fall as American society purges itself of accused sexual transgressors. “It’s rampant,” he responded. How can be positions be traded for sex, though, when many auditions are blind? “It is still possible to trade sex for access to the best teachers. I know of an 83-year-old teacher with a 26-year-old girlfriend. She seems to be okay with it.”

All-American Example of Begging the Question


One thing that Americans can’t do is use the term “Begging the question” correctly.

How about this real-life example that might stick in American minds…

friend: (pointing to open box on kitchen island) Look at this rifle that I got today. [an IWI Tavor]

me: (to the 11-year-old girl on the other side of the kitchen island, using a knife to sculpt a diorama for an English class) Why does your dad need another gun?

girl: Because he’s my dad.

What do logic- and philosophy-minded readers think? Was the girl begging the question?

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