When I was 46 I started writing essays on life, or the state of
the human condition as I once called it. Because I was halfway
between old enough to vote (21) and planned retirement (72) it
was known as the "Halfway Point" series of essays.
Later when I mentioned the essays in one context or another on
USENET, I got requests for copies and eventually for
future essays. Thus the mailing list was born, and it moved to
the Internet when that became widely available. At that time I
moved to writing on a schedule, the 1st, 11th, and 21st of the
Now the trend is to "blogs," and read on demand. I am therefore
making this available as a blog, and we shall see if people read
it here, or by mail, or not at all.
My other writing
OddLinks - informal comments
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Helping the economy through retirement policy changes (02:21)
To fix the US economy we need to lower the Social Security
retirement age, not raise it - no, really
What's wrong with raising the retirement age?
I was looking at the mess the economy and jobs and doing some
projections of effects of raising the SS retirement age, and I came
to the conclusion that the whole idea isn't going to work. If the
retirement age is raised the number of new jobs created by
retirement will drop. If the average middle class skilled worker
works from age 20 to age 66, that's 46 years, and with an even
distribution that means that 1/46th of that workforce will retire
each year, or about 2.2% each year. If we raise the retirement age
to 68, 1/48th of that workforce retires each year, or 2.1%, and they
will be on their employer's insurance plan for another two years,
and they tend to be the higher paid workers, so the net effect is
fewer new job openings, and a greater fraction of the employees
people who have poorer health and more vacation. Is that a recipe
for a happy employer?
What could we possibly
gain from a lower retirement age?
Now just for a moment stop disagreeing with me until you hear the
other side of the idea, the benefits.
If we allowed people to go on SS at a younger age, say 55 for
discussion, skilled workers would work only 35 years, almost 3% of
the jobs would be available for new hires every year, average worker
health would be better, and people would retire with the health to
actually do something, which probably would involve spending money.
So lower cost for employers in terms of vacation and health costs,
earlier retirement for workers, and a better job market?
How can we pay for that?
This gets interesting. The benefits paid by SS have to be roughly
revenue neutral, so they have to take into account the life
expectancy so the earlier someone retires the less they get in
pension. That makes the actual retirement age revenue neutral. And
to allow people to add money to their SS count as if they were
making a higher salary, So if a worker was making $40000 a year,
that worker could pay the SS tax on an extra $5000 and have that
year counted as if the worker made $45000. Since the payment to the
SS system is the same, that is revenue neutral as well, and it
encourages worker saving in a safe investment.
Protecting the fund
For decades lawmakers have simply raided the supposedly safe "lock
box" and taken out money, promising to pay when needed. However, now
that payment is coming closer, these same lawmakers want to cut
benefits to whatever they can comfortable afford. I have another
The SS funds should be used to buy bonds, special bonds with special
protections, and should be available under those conditions by bid.
The amount at risk with any one organization would be limited, both
as a percentage of the total fund to limit value at risk with one
source, and as a percentage of investments under management to
reduce the chance that the total value of the investment could be
recovered. Then buy bonds from corporations, both financial and
industrial. It is probable that preferred stock might suitable,
that's a question for lawyers and economists. And if the total
amount available from suitable higher bidding external sources is
not enough, do not
accept lower quality securities, go back to buying from the
treasury. So the money will be safe, the people who dream of
privatizing SS will get a little of their dream, and the fund will
get the best safe return available.
[all posts this day]
Fluke device implies secure networks cloak kiddie porn (10:55)
I see in a NetworkWorld
article that cops are now using a Fluke device to identify
locations dowloading kiddie porn by determining if the Access Point is
using encryption and is secured (needs a password to access). Wow, who
knew that security is only used by perverts.
Hare's the advice Fluke gives the cops:
Clearly, anyone who understands security realizes that anyone who isn't
doing these things is leaving their AP open to being used for
unauthorized downloading, possibly of illegal materials. A perfect
Catch-22 here, if you don't secure your network it may be used for
illegal activities and compromises your security, if you do it's prima facie evidence of posession
of kiddie porn.
more confidently enter the suspect's location, if they determine a
wireless network is secured, knowing that illegal Internet content is
being downloaded from within that residence
This would be funny if all cops were given proper training and
understood good practice for networking. But inevitably some police
force will get a small grant and buy one of these gadgets, not have a
clue that the claims are at minimum incomplete and misleading, and go
off on a mission to track down a pervert, with a tragic ending.
I look forward to reading about the lawsuits which will come when
some cop actually takes this advice.
[all posts this day]
People are getting harder to reach (18:56)
People are getting harder to reach
With everyone having cell phones these days, it's getting harder to
get in touch. During working hours do I call you on your cell if
it's personal and the work phone on your desk if not? When I want to
talk to a couple, do I call the cell of the man or the woman? When
there was a land line at home, I would call that, whoever was home
would answer, and I could do "couples stuff" like party invites to
whoever I got.
When I call a cell I never know where you are (and some people want
it that way). Am I disturbing you in the car, at work, out shopping,
doing business? A cell will get to you anywhere, but for a
non-urgent call, is that really necessary? I still keep a land line
at the house, that's the way to reach me when I'm there, I don't
want to carry the damn cell phone around the house with me, I want
to take it off, put it on the charger, and forget it. Not to be, too
many people send me texts these days, so I sometimes do wind up carrying the
phone around. I thought Google voice was going to be the answer, one
number which rings everything I have and I get your message
wherever. Only if you send me a text, I have the "email SMS" option
on, and so I get your message as a text, and also as email on my
cell and my desktop. If I'm home and have the cell nearby, the house
phone and the cell ring, which do I answer? And if you leave me
Google voice mail, I get it on the cell as a missed call, and
transcribed to text and emailed to me elsewhere (including on the
I think having a cell phone is a valuable thing, so someone can be
reached at any time, but the downside is they are expected to have
that phone with them all the time. Have a phone associated with a place is nice in some
ways, I want to talk to you at work about some things, and at home about certain
other things, and for many things I just want to talk to you
I notice people are slowly getting into the practice of sending a
text saying something like "call me from work when
convenient," or perhaps "from home" for other things. Perhaps that's
a way to return the link between the phone and the place, so I
understand the intent when you send me a message like that.
Now where do you want to be when I make that call?
[all posts this day]
UpstateNY - why a property tax cap can't work long term (09:53)
I was against the new NY State tax cap in property taxes, because in
the long run it can't work, nor can any approach which limits income
but not cost.
The state has capped the increase in property taxes for smaller
municipalities to 2%, as a tax cutting measure. While this sounds
good to the innumerate, limiting county and city income creates a
problem rather than solves one. The reason local taxes are so high
(mine are supposedly the highest in the nation) is that expenses are
Let's look at causes before talking solving cost through
If you expected to find a clever solution here, at least in terms of
a cheap or quick solution, look to
politicians, they will always promise a clever solution until the
day after election.
- Unfunded Mandates -
the state can, and has, and will mandate that counties and large
cities do certain things on behalf of the state. The state
doesn't pay for these services, so there is no penalty to the
state legislators, and state taxes don't go up. Medicaid is one,
but New York is very concerned about the poor, as long as
someone else has to raise taxes to pay for it.
- Cost of living increases
- things cost more, and the current method of limiting
inflation, recession and high employment, is unpopular.
Therefore any approach which limits revenue increases to 2% is
bound to be less, perhaps far less then enough at times. And
employees cost more, because they need to be paid more so they
can afford to live. Holding down pay only helps if the pay is
generous, after that low wages result in low quality people,
every position being an entry position, employees leaving as
soon as they get some experience on their resumes, etc. Turnover
drives training costs, and providing service with inexperienced
people and those no one else would here, is a ticket to bad
service. Politicians hate poor service, it leads to unhappy
voters and turnovers in office, too.
- Infrastructure costs
- roads and bridges are aging and crumbling in many localities,
for the most part these are old cities and towns. My street is
being repaved as I type, after being designated the worst street
in the city, due to using the lowest bidder the last time. The
first thing the city did was give us a truckload of cold patch
and a Rough Road sign,
but ridicule of that "solution" forced the repaving.
If the roads are old, what's underneath is old, too. The water
lines and sewers are both aging and to some extent obsolete, and
it's hard to keep the streets paved when you have to dig them up
- Environmental issues
- there is increasing cost to limiting damage to the environment,
but there is also increasing cost associated with damage from the
environment. Special interests have limited the regulation of
coal plant emissions, so cheap sulphur rich coal can be burned,
and few filters limit sulphur in the exhaust. So on the east
coast the lakes are dying, and buildings and roof materials are
being dissolved with acid. Anything in a part of the country
where water freezes and thaws has additional damage as any
slight roughness of surface turns to scaling, and large cracks
turn to total failures.
- Pension costs - the
Governor wants to limit salaries for administrators, which takes
away the option of hiring a few really good people at the right
level to make things work better. See below for another
Just for grins, here are my thoughts on these things:
- Mandates - have the
government which passes the mandate fund the mandate. Leave the
choice of paying the local government to do the work, hiring a
service to do the job, or doing it at the mandating level.
- Cost of living - the
state wants the local governments to merge. That doesn't scale
well, government should serve local interests. However,
encouraging merged purchasing to improve discounts, reduce
personnel count, and hopefully allow the best people to
negotiate prices, and full or partial merging of highway
departments, up to some level where administrative costs match
economies of scale, do seem useful.
- Infrastructure - the
way to limit cost seems to be buy good goods. Contracts should
go to the lowest qualified
bidder, and if a road is to be repaved, consideration given to
replacing what's under it. Obviously on a case by case basis.
Stop building new roads. No, really. And raise the gas tax for
highway maintenance by a dime a year for a decade. This will
cover inflation (the tax hasn't changed in years), faster
rebuilding, and encourage voluntary purchase of economical
vehicles. Mandating "better gas mileage" reduces choices,
forcing buyers to consider the choices increases choices and
makes the buyer happier with the choice.
Pre-fund roads and bridges, don't just fund the construction,
require payment up front for maintenance. Put the future costs
in a lock box allocated to just that project. This would
discourage building roads and bridges which aren't really
needed, and make the real cost clear. It would also encourage
using better materials, such as corrosion resistant steel in
girders instead of or in addition to painting, better road beds
under the pavement, perhaps concrete rather than asphalt in the
- Environment - time to
pay for pollution, this is one of those "you can pay me now or
you can pay me later" issues.
- Pension costs - cap
the salary which can be counted toward pension. Social Security
taxes and benefits are capped, government pension contributions
can and should be, as well. Allow Medicaid and Medicare to
negotiate prices for drugs and services just like private
insurance. No, it's not a perfect solution, it just makes the
cost of imperfection lower.
[all posts this day]
Saving money, saving jobs, saving Borders (18:23)
I see in the New
York Times that the purchase of Borders by the Book of the Month Club has
been rejected. The committee supervising the bankruptcy feels that they
would get more for the unsecured creditors if the assets were sold,
rather than as an operating business. And I suppose that is the job of
the committee, and they are just following orders, and if thousands of
people lose their jobs, and thousands of others are stuck with ebook
readers and gift certificates, that's not the concern of the committee,
and no one ever got in trouble for following orders, right?
Actually we hung
people for following orders After World War II, but that won't happen
here, the means are legal, if heartless. The physical assets of Borders
are worth more than the people, who are carried on the red side of the
ledger as liabilities.
However, the government(s), whichever one or ones which
will pay unemployment, welfare, medicaid, ADC, they care. The
government which doesn't get income taxes, or Medicare taxes, or Social
Security taxes, they care. And if you think the people laid off won't
be "on the dole" as the British say, consider that many, perhaps most,
of the clerks in most chain bookstores are not the top of the income
brackets, in many cases they are only a little over the minimum wage,
some people on fixed incomes working to make ends meet, students trying
to work their way through college, people like that. Borders
competitors won't set up hiring halls to grab all the experienced
people, the competition carries people as liabilities, too.
What is the cost to government of throwing them out of work? What are
the social costs? Perhaps the government, some local, or state, or
federal government, would pay the difference between the offer from
Book of the Month, which keeps the stores open, and the value of
tearing the whole organization down and selling it for scrap. Out of
pure old pragmatic "it's cheaper that way" motives. Perhaps because
there's an election coming and "saving jobs and money looks good."
Democrats should like it, it saves jobs, keeps people working, and if
the Republicans fail to pass it, the GOP takes the blame for committing
us to unemployment and welfare costs while leaving working people out
of a job. Republicans should like it, it actually is a money saving
approach, and they might let a Democrat sponsor the bill and then pass
it while bemoaning the cost, complaining that it's an "entitlement
program" and simultaneously calling it their idea and taking credit for
saving both jobs and money.
The nice thing is that if either party submits it, then the other party
risks being labeled as responsible for job loss and added taxpayer
expense if they oppose the idea. Therefore, if someone will give it a
start, it will probably pass, both parties will try to take credit, and
one sensible bit of bipartisan legislation could actually get passed.
[all posts this day]
CapdistNY - Thoughts on Gay Marriage (12:42)
Just a few thoughts on the legalization of gay marriage in New York.
First, it s the proper thing to do, although I am amazed that it
passed in the Senate with so many assorted fringe groups opposed.
But in the long run, more people would have remembered a vote
against that will remember a vote for. Unless, of course the sky
does fall because gay people get married. The people who benefit
will still be gay, the merchants will still be selling weddings,
wedding rings, honeymoons, receptions, etc. The bigots will be
busy trying to make some other thing they don't do illegal.
I note with amazement that the Catholic Church manages to
believe the pedophile priests should be protected, but gay people,
consenting, are unacceptable. Bishops who deny communion to those
"living in sin" or "voting for perversion" moved priests to new
parishes, bribed witnesses (they called it civil settlement, I
don't), just amaze me. When it's my turn to be God for a day,
pedophiles and those who protect them get a "go directly to Hell,
do not pass GO" card in the great Monopoly game in the sky.
I have said before that the state should only do civil unions,
and leave marriage to be a religious or social ceremony. I stand
by that, but I realize that all the laws which convey rights and
duties on married people would have to be rewritten, etc. And just
as a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage would never
pass, neither could one explicitly allowing it. We couldn't even
pass the Equal Rights amendment to give women rights.
I look forward to your letters.
[all posts this day]