Romney’s Income Tax Returns

Let me say this about that:


Now that that’s out of the way: This morning on NPR, talking heads were speculating on why a usually astute politician like Romney would not release his income tax returns. One fellow guessed that Romney may have taken a beating on some of his holdings during the downturn, and might have paid no income tax, which, it went without saying, would look bad to us little people.

Just to be clear: the idea is that every year, each American who made any money in the previous year is supposed to fill out a bunch of forms to see if they owe the federal government any income taxes. If, after following the rules and doing the math, you made any “taxable income” you have to pay some tax.  Boo hoo. 😦   However – now, follow this closely – if you discover you have not made any taxable income, you don’t have to pay any tax for that year. Sometimes, due to some complicated rules in the tax code, you might even get some of the money you paid in previous years back! Woo Hoo! 😉

So, here it is: Romney, it is suspected, lost a bunch of money when assets he owned decreased in value due to the late economic unpleasantness. It might turn out that he lost more money in one place than he made in total everywhere else  (such as salary). Overall, therefore, he lost money that year – technically, he had no taxable income. He then would pay no taxes for that year, and might even have gotten some money back.

(Usual disclaimer: not an apologist for Romney – he’s a cipher on a good day. Both our major parties are despicable.)

Here’s the catch: we, the voters, are assumed (alas! correctly assumed) to be too dense to understand this. We are assumed (again, correctly in most cases) to believe that Romney is cheating, is a rich dude who didn’t pay any taxes, and that’s so unfair!

Now, it may be true that rich people don’t pull their weight in supporting our federal government – I tend to think that’s roughly true. But, as I’ve explained at length elsewhere on this blog, income taxes are not a material concern for the truly wealthy.  They own assets that produce more wealth, and would only pay income taxes on that wealth if they sold it – and even then, with prudent planning, you can minimize income taxes.

Keep in mind, there are people like you and me, who have to work for a living, to whom income taxes are a real material issue – we see our paychecks reduced by withholding, or have to write checks to the government regularly – and, it’s not always what we’d prefer to do with our money. But there are also people like the members of the Walton family, for whom work is strictly optional – their assets – largely ownership of billions of dollars worth of WalMart stock – are making them wealthy whether they work like a dog or lie around drunk all day. They don’t care very much about income – wages and salaries, and the taxes on wages and salaries, are for the little people.

Romney may be a bad man for all I know – but it’s not because he may have not paid income taxes one year. If you really think that’s unfair, then you’ll have to come up with some way to tax his assets, because some years he may just not make any taxable income.

Good luck with that.

Today’s Science Headlines

A part of the on-going reality check of Science(tm) reporting, we here look at today’s Google News science headlines:

Oldest spiral galaxy in universe discovered

One little word would have made this accurate: ‘yet’. Or one might eagerly read on to see what inconceivable breakthrough allows men looking through telescopes to become assured that what they’re looking at is the oldest spiral galaxy, and that it isn’t even possible that there could be an older one out there among the trillions of galaxies that we haven’t really looked at yet.

Trivial, yes, but characteristic of the subtle incompetence or dishonesty that infects virtually all science reporting.

Have archaeologists uncovered Mona Lisa model’s remains?

How does such a mishmash of conditionals – archeologists have discovered what may be the skeleton of a woman who may have been the model for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the ruins of a convent which may have been where this woman was buried – become a science headline?  I think the line between science and barely tethered speculation is a few blocks back in the rear-view mirror.


The Christian Hangover: Rambling about Hegel, Marx and That Crowd

Over at John C. Wright’s wonderful blog, rambled in a comment about the above, and since having my disorganized thoughts not read in *2* places is way better than having them not read in only one, I link and post here:

Been reading Hegel’s “Science of Logic”, which underlies and illustrates your point. In it, Hegel is (commendably) clear about what he’s doing: he’s substituting ontology for logic. Logic is for the ‘little people’ like natural scientists and mathematicians. Real philosophers have gotten past all that and just get their knowledge directly, somehow.

So, Hegel lays down the rules: logic can’t get you anywhere; you can tell who the enlightened are by simply checking to see if they agree with me. Corollary: trying to use logic is sufficient proof that you are unenlightened and wrong – if you got it, you wouldn’t be trying to reason about it.

This leads to some interesting structures in his writing. In “Phenomenology of Spirit” he begins with several incomprehensible – even by his standards – pages where he lays out his findings in a series of logical contradictions, then gradually backs into some discussion that could be read as illustrating his findings. It’s clear he’s doing this because that “method” – understanding the sum of concrete reality in an alogical flash, then sifting through the details to see how they can be understood within that flash – is what he’s ‘developed’ to supersede and replace logic.

In the hands of Hegel, who, after all, was a happily married man in good standing at his local Lutheran church, there’s a certain, I dunno, harmlessness or good intention? that seems to be almost always on display in his writings – an example of what I’ve long refered to as the ‘Christian Hangover’ – having drunk deeply of Christ for centuries, cultures that have rejected or are in the process of rejecting Christ still tend to produce people who are roughly Christian in their outlooks.

For if you reject logic, you reject THE Logos.

Eventually, people sober up. Marx is almost right: he didn’t set Hegel right side up, but he does represent Hegel sobered up a bit – Marx realizes that Hegel’s rejection of logic is the rejection of God. But Marx hasn’t sobered up enough to see that his Utopia is still Christian insofar as it holds any appeal at all: no male or female, no Jew or Greek, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, they sold their belongings, gave the money to the poor and lived as brothers. And so on.

We now live in a world that is struggling mightily to sober up from their Christian Hangover, and doing a hell of a job. So, Mr. Wright, your attempts at logic are sufficient proof that you are on the wrong side of history. You have demonstrated beyond question that you are a member of the oppressor class. And your opponents not only don’t need to be rational, being rational would be abandoning their principles and joining the Dark Side.

Let’s be Fair to Old Higgs and His Boson

A couple days back, I posted that the discovery (if it holds up) of the Higgs Boson will mean diddly to roughly 99.9% of people. While this remains true, figured I’d provide links to a couple pieces where enthusiasts make worthy attempts to explain why we should care.These are cool articles. The Higgs is way cool.

First up: Guest editorial from Forbes.This is a lovely and informative essay, and I share the writer’s enthusiasm personally, but it makes the standard science writing overreaches that need to be called out.

Some juicy bits:

This discovery is up there with Copernicus.  If we did not find the Higgs boson, everything that we understood about how the universe works would have been wrong.

That’s a tad tribal. It would just be harmless hyperbole if so many physicists and their fans didn’t really seem to believe that ‘understanding the Universe’  is totally contained within their understanding of the small subset of the Universe that physicists study within the rules of materialistic science. I mean, does the writer understand the relationship between a mother and her daughter as a function of how the Standard Model has been rescued by the discovery of the Higgs? Kinda doubt it. Or more subtly,  does the writer understand that enthusiasm for the Higgs is totally dependent on an understanding of the Universe that one can never reach from within the universe studied by physicists under the rules of science? Knowledge is good – find that in a bubble chamber. Continue reading “Let’s be Fair to Old Higgs and His Boson”

Offense versus Defense: Arguing With Moderns

(Note: Yes, I’m now descending into a sports analogy. Resisted for over 200 posts. Those without the ‘sports’ gene please bear with me – it will make sense.)

Here I compare basketball offense – attempting to score when your team has the ball – with modern argument. Continue reading “Offense versus Defense: Arguing With Moderns”

Science Marches On!

What’s wrong with this headline?

Evidence for ancient life on Mars could be just below surface, new study finds

formaldehyde in its native environment, not proving the existence of life on other planets.

So, are we talking about Evidence for ancient life on Mars? No, we’re talking about how evidence for ancient life on Mars could be just below the surface, along with my missing socks and Hoffa’s body – can you *prove* they aren’t, huh? So, maybe not what it’s really saying. Yep, finally, the last 3 words are what we’re really talking about:

Researchers say that evidence of ancient life on Mars could take the form of simple organic molecules lying just beneath the Red Planet’s surface, and that it could be detectable by NASA’s newest rover, which is scheduled to touch down on the planet next month.

Bunch of nested ‘coulds’ there. The real science here, if any, is that somebody traced a series of questions back, did a little research and maybe even ran a few experiments, to try to better focus efforts to find organic molecules on Mars, and concluded that some very simple molecules could survive for quite a long time just a few centimeters down in the dirt, despite the super-harsh conditions.  So, if you happen to have a rover on Mars – NASA is planning on having a new one there shortly – you could dig down a few inches and look for formaldehyde, which would prove conclusively that there’s formaldehyde in the dirt on Mars not too far down. Oh, and suggest that maybe some life processes created the formaldehyde – so – ready for some more nested ‘coulds’? – the formaldehyde could have been created by ancient Martian life, so life could have existed on Mars long ago.

I’m as interested in life on Mars as anyone, but sensationalist headlines over the possibility that there might be evidence of life somewhere on Mars seems, I dunno, a little breathless.

Will the Higgs Boson Change the Way We Understand the Universe?



1. Unless you are a high-end sub-nuclear physicist, you don’t ‘understand’ the Universe in any way such that the existence or non-existence of the Higgs boson means squat to you. From this perspective, your – and my – understanding of the Universe is a hopeless cartoon simplification of reality – if it even rises to that level. But more important –

2. ‘Understanding the Universe’ is a philosophical exercise that takes into account the latest discoveries of physics, on some level, but is hardly defined or constrained by them. For example, we will read or see many essays and fluff spots asking us to consider what the Higgs Boson means. The answer, from within the world of physics is – exactly – nothing. It just is (or isn’t). Even so small a claim that it helps us (if ‘us’ is limited to elite physicists) to understand other stuff only ‘means’ something if our understanding the Universe better means something – and that, my friends, is a philosophical question no number of massive super-cooled boondoggles will ever answer. By definition.

But is it cool? Sure! Waaaaay cool!

Christianity, Freedom, and All That

Just a ramble here: two things about Christianity that are both unique and endlessly fascinating – the sayings and life of Jesus and the Incarnation. One can ponder the Beatitudes, the Parables, the Cleansing of the Temple, the Birth or Crucifixion narratives, or Jesus’ burning questions, ‘Who do people say I am?’ and ‘Who do you say I am?’ for years and hardly scratch the surface of meaning and implications. In the same way, the idea of an Incarnate God – and not just any god, like a wood nymph or river god, but the One, the Creator, the Infinitely Divine God – that’s a head scratcher, to say the least.

Of course, Comparative Religions try to boil out the uniqueness of Christianity by a combination of magnifying the trivial in other ‘religions’ and glossing over the huge divide between any set of beliefs that came before or arose independently of Christ and all that has happened in His shadow. Thus, trivial harvest myths become the same as the story of the Resurrection, while creation myths involving endless gods and goddesses fighting, killing and fornicating with each other are seen as the same as the One God saying ‘Let there be light’ into the formless, dark void. And so on. Continue reading “Christianity, Freedom, and All That”

Falling Silent: Worse Than Yelling

Yesterday, took a look at a sterling example of the all-too-common approach to political discourse of yelling at your opponent to the cheers of your tribe, with not even the slightest attention paid to what your opponent is actually saying or to the accuracy or even reality of your own claims. This was contrasted to actual argument as pursued by level headed people who know how to argue.

Lat night, my wife told me of an encounter with a far worse approach than partisan haranguing: silence.

She attends a Bible study class as a favor to an infirm elderly lady who needs a ride. At this class, the discussion swung around to politics, and started getting heated. My beloved is the very picture of meekness – until you get her riled up. Certain people were espousing positions she found utterly ridiculous and false. Seeing as she is, in fact, one of those people trained in argument, she attempted to draw her interlocutor’s attention to certain factual errors and fallacies in her position. Her response: “I get my news from CNN” followed by – silence. My wife assures me that this woman is a fine and generous soul.

Setting aside the snide implication of the ‘CNN’ crack,  which, in my experience, is a way of dismissing your opponent’s views as reflecting ‘tainted’ media (Fox), withdrawing from the field when your assumptions are challenged is frankly tragic. Of course, with the rabble-rousers and demagogues who are passing for political commentators these days, it’s not hard to see why a gentle soul would simply flee – but that doesn’t make it a good thing.