Could Greece design a government based around the taxes that it is able to collect?


One of the most common scolds directed at the insolvent Greeks is that their government should become better at collecting taxes. I wonder if that is likely to be any more effective than shouting at an out-of-shape 50-year-old to “get better at running a marathon.”

Heritage Foundation says that currently Greece collects 34 percent of GDP as tax revenue (compare to 44 percent for Sweden, which we can assume is close to the maximum achievable). Why not assume that is as much as can be collected and design a government around that? Singapore shows that it is possible to run an excellent government with 14.4 percent of GDP.

The Greeks supposedly are accustomed to evading taxes? The country could rely primarily on a VAT, which is difficult to dodge (hence its popularity in Europe). Greece could lower its corporate tax rate from 26 percent (much lower than the U.S. (about 40 percent including state taxes)) to 10 percent (compare to 12.5 percent in Ireland), thus encouraging companies to locate in Greece. Greece could just get rid of the taxes that people cheat on, such as personal income tax, and replace them with payroll taxes and property taxes.

Once the government figures out how much it can get residents to hand over reliably, the government can then size itself accordingly (presumably stiffing the Europeans who were dumb enough to extend hundreds of billions of dollars in credit).

In other words, instead of starting from “We need to run all of these programs and spend all of this money,” why not start from “Given that anyone money and people can quickly emigrate to elsewhere in the EU, how much money can we sustainably collect in taxes?”

New Horizons Pluto Mission for Camera Nerds: Ralph


“Ralph: A Visible/Infrared Imager for the New Horizons Pluto/Kuiper Belt Mission” is a paper describing the camera that has been feeding us pictures of Pluto.

How does it compare to a Canon, Nikon, or Sony? The thing weighs 10.5 kg and consumes 7 watts of power. A Nikon D810 weighs about 2 kg with a pro lens and has a 2 amp-hour battery at 7 volts. The Nikon battery lasts for about two hours of heavy use so the power consumption is roughly comparable.

Ralph looks through a 658mm lens at a fixed aperture of f/8.7.  Nikon makes a nice 600mm f/4.0, but most people wouldn’t use it for everyday snaphots.

The Nikon D810 can take a 7000 x 5000 pixel image in an instant using a CMOS sensor (go Sony!). Ralph captures 5024 x 32 pixels at a time using a CCD sensor, purchased from E2v, an English company. What if you don’t want a little ribbon photo? The spacecraft sweeps through a range of attitudes (spinning, basically) until a picture with a more normal aspect ratio is obtained.

Wikipedia says that the whole mission is supposed to cost about $700 million, about 50,000X the cost of a Nikon D810 and 600/4.

Parallel politics in U.S. and Zimbabwe: Marriage to leader is first step to becoming the leader


According to The Week (UK) Some things that Grace Mugabe and Hillary Clinton have in common:


Book wrap-up: Look Who’s Back


I have finished Look Who’s Back, a book in which Hitler wakes up in 2011 (previous post). It is a slight work, but provokes some reflections on the extent to which the worlds of politics and the media have changed.

Hitler is stunned by what has turned out to be popular on television:

So this was a modern-day television set. It was black, with no switches or knobs, nothing. Holding the box in my left hand I pressed button number one, and the apparatus started up. The result was disappointing. The picture was of a chef, finely chopping vegetables. Unbelievable! Having developed such an advanced piece of technology, all they could feature on it was a cook! Admittedly, the Olympic Games could not take place every year, nor at every hour of the day, but surely something of greater import must be happening somewhere in Germany, or even in the world! Providence had presented the German Volk with this wonderful, magnificent opportunity for propaganda, and it was being squandered on the production of leek rings.

He struggles with a party at the TV production company:

What I find disagreeable about these informal yet important gatherings is that one cannot simply retire when one would like, unless one is waging war at the same time. If one is busy executing the Manstein Plan in northern France, or if one is launching a surprise attack to occupy Norway, then everybody is full of understanding, quite naturally. As they are if one retires to one’s study after the toast to look over U-boat designs or help develop high-speed bombers crucial to our final victory. In peacetime, however, one just stands around wasting one’s time drinking fruit pulp.

He is surprised at the comparatively easy life of a 21st century politician:

I have even read that a German war minister was recently photographed with a wench in a swimming pool. While his troops were in the field, or at least preparing for deployment. Had I been in charge, this would have been the gentleman’s last day in office. I wouldn’t have bothered with a letter of resignation—you lay a pistol on his desk, a bullet in the chamber, you leave the room, and if the blackguard has an ounce of decency he knows what he has to do. And if not, the following morning the bullet’s in his brain, and he’s facedown in the pool. Then everyone else in the ministry knows what to expect if you stab your troops in the back while wearing swimming trunks.

…. as well as the changed circumstances of the jobless:

The thought did occur to me that the German Volk might have shrunk, with the result that all these extra people simply didn’t exist. The statistics, however, showed that there were 81 million living Germans. I expect you are wondering why I had not considered the possibility of unemployment. The reason being that my mind had a very different recollection of what unemployed men looked like. The jobless man I remembered from the past went out onto the street with a placard around his neck that read “Looking for any type of work.” When he’d had enough of drifting fruitlessly around in this manner, he would remove the placard, grab a red flag handed to him by a loitering Bolshevist, and return to the street. An army of millions of angry jobless men was fertile ground for any radical party, and I was fortunate enough to have led the most radical of them all. But in the streets of today I could not see any unemployed men. Nor was there any evidence to substantiate the hypothesis that they had been rounded up for some labor service or sent to a camp. Instead, as I later discovered, the country had chosen the capricious solution of a certain Herr Hartz. At Volkswagen, this gentleman had established that one does not earn the favor of the workers only through higher wages and the like, but also by supplying their representatives with financial inducements and Brazilian lovers. Then, as an adviser to the government, Herr Hartz had extended this formula to the workers themselves, albeit with lesser enticements, of course. Rather than running to the millions, the sums were considerably more modest, and rather than real Brazilians, the workers had to make do with pictures of Hungarian or Romanian ladies of pleasure on the Internetwork, which presupposed that every jobless man was in possession of one or more computer. In this way, Herr Rossmann and Herr Müller were able to go on filling their pockets in their staff-less and razorblade-less trade without having to fear that the unemployed might smash their shop windows. The whole scheme was paid for out of the taxes of the small man from the munitions factory. And for the experienced National Socialist, everything pointed to a conspiracy of capital, of Jewish finance.

Hitler is gratified to find that German opinion regarding the Jews seems to have changed little:

“There’s just one thing I want to get straight,” Frau Bellini [TV producer, shortly before Hitler goes on the air] said, suddenly looking at me very seriously. “What is that?” “We’re all agreed that the Jews are no laughing matter.” “You are absolutely right,” I concurred, almost relieved. At last here was someone who knew what she was talking about.

Only one thing was gratifying: German Jewry remained decimated, even after sixty years. Around 100,000 Jews were left, a fifth of the 1933 figure—public regret over this fact was moderate, which seemed to me perfectly logical but not entirely predictable. In view of the uproar that accompanies the disappearance of German woodland, one might have imagined a sort of Semitic “reforestation” to be possible, too.

The book does raise some interesting questions. What kind of appeal would the real Adolf Hitler have today? In terms of telling people what they want to hear, it would seem that he is behind Hugo Chavez and other modern success stories, though if you look at the 1920 Nazi Party 25-point program, there are many parallels with what American politicians are promising. The middle class will be expanded; wealth will be redistributed, e.g., through expropriation of landholdings, confiscation of profits, and nationalization of trusts. The rich won’t be able to sit back and collect dividends and interest due to the “abolition of unearned incomes.” Immigration will be reformed. [The program also demands a return to the German common law that is the basis of English and American law, rather than the civil law that Germany had adopted (see this chapter for how those two systems differ when it comes to divorce, custody, and child support).] Like many politicians around the country, Hitler promised enhanced pension benefits (“an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare”).

What do readers think? After recasting it into modern language, how much of Hitler’s 1920 program could be sold to American voters right now?

[Shortly after this posting went live, Hillary Clinton announced a plan to encourage corporate profit-sharing (TIME), thus aligning with Hitler’s “We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.”]

What can we do with all of our new knowledge about Pluto?


As an individual I’m excited that we have so much new information about Pluto from New Horizons. As an engineer, though, I’m wondering what we can do with it.

A Google Pluto or Google Maps-Pluto program that lets us fly around and explore the topography seems like an obvious first step. What happens after that, though? Does knowing about Pluto help us look for and understand exoplanets? Something else?

What was supposed to happen between Bill Cosby and the women who are suing him?


The New York Times tells us that President Obama is now opining on the propriety of drugging women and then having sex with them (“Asked About Cosby Scandal, Obama Weighs in on a Sexual Violence Discussion”). Now that the President is engaged on this issue, I have a question: Has anyone explained what was supposed to have happened in an ideal world? A rich married guy was in a hotel room alone with a younger woman and … then what?


  • Domestic Violence chapter of Real World Divorce
  • review of Missoula
  • review of Cosby: His Life and Times (“What about the fact that the 500 pages of the book teach us less about the accusations of sexual assault against Cosby than does a casual visit to Wikipedia? To my mind that means we can’t accept this book as a definitive guide to Bill Cosby as a human being, but the book remains a definitive guide to his professional accomplishments.”)

Peyton Place


Peyton Place is no longer an exciting source about sexuality, but the 1956 novel is a great window into America’s and New England’s recent past. The book’s action starts out in the 1930s.

A central character is a woman who went to Manhattan, got pregnant, was supported by her married-with-two-kids boyfriend, and then returned to Peyton Place, New Hampshire after the boyfriend died, leaving her moderately well fixed for cash. As proper society of the time had no place for women who bore children out of wedlock she has to invent and live a lie. Even her lie is not good enough for people who worship the white picket fence married-with-kids lifestyle:

“That MacKenzie woman,” she said to her husband. “Don’t tell me a young widow like that is any better than she should be. Don’t tell me she doesn’t do a lot of running around that no one has heard about. Don’t tell me she hasn’t got an eye on every man in town.”

Prior to the age of no-fault divorce, marriage was a decision not to be taken lightly:

Oh, she’s probably waiting to make sure,” said Jared’s mother. “After all, he may be a nice young man, but he doesn’t come from around here, and one can never be too careful where marriage is concerned. …

“I am not. You don’t want anything to do with Ted Carter, Selena. He comes from a terrible family. I heard my mother talking to Mrs. Page once, about Ted’s mother and father. Mrs. Page said that Mrs. Carter is no better than a hoor!” “D’you mean whore?” asked Selena.

[The accusation against Mrs. Carter stemmed from her first marriage:

Roberta Carter had been seventeen years old and her name had been “Bobbie” Welch the year that Harmon Carter, aged eighteen, had conceived his great plan. Harmon was employed at that time as an office boy in the Cumberland Mills, a position he had held since leaving high school at the age of fifteen. Bobbie was employed as a part-time secretary and cleaning woman by Dr. Jerrold Quimby. This was during the same year that young Matt Swain was serving his internship in the Mary Hitchcock Hospital at Hanover. Young Swain, as he was then called, was supposed to go into Old Doc Quimby’s office when he finished at Hanover, for that was the year that Old Doc Quimby was seventy-four years old, and much in need of a younger man to help him.

And: “Old Doc Quimby’s an old man. A woman smart enough to land him wouldn’t have to wait long for his money.” And: “Old Doc Quimby depends on you for everything. He needs you. If you wanted to go ahead and marry him, I’d wait for you.”

Old Doc Quimby had been a widower for twenty years, and did not mind it a bit as long as he could hire someone to come in to look after him. There was the hook, and Bobbie, under Harmon’s tutelage, sunk it deep. She threatened to quit her job; she refused to cook the old man’s meals; she left his dirty clothes where he dropped them; she spread the word around town that he was a vile, old lecher and an impossible man to work for. Old Doc Quimby, unable to find a replacement for Bobbie who would come into his house and look after him, had succumbed wearily. Bobbie married Old Doc Quimby, and Peyton Place rocked with shock and, later, laughter. The town called Old Doc Quimby a senile old man, an old fool of the kind there is no other like, an old fool who did not know enough to see that he was being cuckolded regularly by young Harmon Carter …

Two weeks before the date of the first anniversary of his marriage to Bobbie Welch, Old Doc Quimby put his revolver to his head and shot himself.

Small towns are notorious for their long memories and their sharp tongues, and Peyton Place did not spare Bobbie Quimby and Harmon Carter. It was years before the words hurled at them began to soften, and the epithets hurled by Peyton Place ran the gamut from “Whore” and “Pimp” to “Harlot” and “White Slaver.”


If a woman married a dud there was little remedy for the mistake:

John Ellsworth was a job shifter, perpetually discontented with his lot and forever looking for a plot of greener grass. Lucy had been a registered nurse when she married John, and she always said that it was a good thing she was, for she had had to work ever since to support the two of them, and later, the daughter who was born to them. Very often, Lucy Ellsworth said that she would leave John if it weren’t for Kathy. But after all, a child needed her father, and John might have his faults but he was good to the little girl, and a woman couldn’t ask for much more than that now, could she? Kathy was thirteen and in the eighth grade, and sometimes Lucy said that when the child was older, old enough to realize what was happening, then the two of them would leave John and his restlessness.

New Hampshire today has some of the world’s most lucrative child support guidelines, making an out-of-wedlock pregnancy potentially far more profitable than going to college and working. Back in the 1930s, however, an unmarried pregnancy was a potential disaster:

In Peyton Place there were three sources of scandal: suicide, murder and the impregnation of an unmarried girl.

Selena had never been one to let the opinions of Peyton Place bother her in any way. “Let ’em talk,” she had said. “They’ll talk anyway.” But now, with this terrible thing that had happened to her, she was afraid. She knew her town, and its many voices. “A girl in trouble.” “She got in Dutch.” “She’s knocked up.” “The tramp. The dirty little tramp.” “Well, that’s the shack dwellers for you.”

“Selena,” said Dr. Swain as gently as he knew how, “Selena, there is nothing I can give you at this point that will make you miscarry. The only thing now is an abortion, and that’s against the law. I’ve done a lot of things in my time, Selena, but I have never broken the law. Selena,” he said, leaning forward and taking both her cold hands in his, “Selena, tell me who this man is, and I will see that he is held responsible. He’ll have to take care of you and provide for the baby. I could work it so no one would know. You could go away for a little while, until after the baby comes. Whoever did this thing to you would have to pay for that, and for your hospitalization, and for you to look after yourself until you get back on your feet. Just tell me who it is, Selena, and I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

Even when the father was from a wealthy family, the woman might have a difficult time getting cash:

“You’re not buying me off that cheap, Mr. Harrington,” she screamed. “It’s Rodney’s kid I’m carrying, and Rodney’s going to marry me.” Leslie Harrington picked up the check the girl had flung. He did not speak. “Rodney’s going to marry me or I’ll go to the police. They give a guy twenty years for bastardy in this state, and I’ll see to it that he serves every single day of it unless he marries me.” Leslie buzzed for his secretary. “Bring my checkbook, Esther,” he said, and Betty flounced to a chair, a smile of satisfaction on her bruised lips. When the secretary had come and gone, Leslie sat down at his desk and began to write. “You know, Betty,” he said, as he wrote, “I don’t think you really want to bring Rodney to court. If you did that, I’d have to call in a few boys as witnesses against you. Do you know how many witnesses it takes to testify against a girl and have her declared a prostitute in this state? Only six, Betty, and I employ a great many more than six men in the mills.” Leslie tore the new check from his book with a crisp rip. He looked at Betty and smiled, extending the check. “I don’t think you want to take Rodney to court, do you, Betty?” Beneath the red bruises, Betty’s face was white and still. “No, sir,” she said, and took the check from Leslie’s hand. With her back to him, on her way to the door, she glanced down at the paper in her hand. It was a check made out to her father for two hundred and fifty dollars. She whirled and looked at Leslie Harrington, who still smiled and who looked right back at her. “Half of two fifty is one twenty-five,” he said quietly. “That’s what it’ll cost you to come back again, Betty.”

New Englanders of the 1930s loved to talk about their open-minded attitudes toward racial minorities who lived in other states:

Talk was cheap. It cost nothing to give voice to what you wanted people to think you believed. Mary wondered if medical ethics could be compared to the question of tolerance. When you talked you said that Negroes were as good as anybody. You said that Negroes should never be discriminated against, and that if you ever fell in love with one, you’d marry him proudly. But all the while you were talking, you wondered what you would really do if some big, black, handsome nigger came up and asked you for a date. … You knew that you were safe in saying these things, for there hadn’t been a nigger living in Peyton Place for over a hundred years…

General practitioners actually treated patients instead of simply deciding to which specialist they should be referred:

Everyone in Peyton Place liked Doc Swain. He had warm, blue eyes of the type which, to his eternal disgust, were termed “twinkling,” and his kindness was legend in the town. Matthew Swain was one of a rapidly disappearing species, the small-town general practitioner. The word “specialist” was anathema to him. “Yes, I’m a specialist,” he had once roared at a famous ear, eye, nose and throat man. “I specialize in sick people. What do you do?”

Being a schoolteacher in the days before $100,000+ salaries and fat pensions was not fun:

Constance MacKenzie provided ice cream, cake, fruit punch and assorted hard candies for Allison’s birthday party, and then retired to her room before an onslaught of thirty youngsters who entered her house at seven-thirty in the evening. My God! she thought in horror, listening to thirty voices apparently all raised at once, and to the racket made by thirty pairs of feet all jouncing in unison on her living room floor to the accompaniment of something called “In the Mood” being played on a record by a man to whom Allison referred reverently as Glenn Miller. My God! thought Constance, and there are still apparently sane people in this world who take up schoolteaching by choice! She sent up a silent message of sympathy to Miss Elsie Thornton and all others like her who had to put up with many more than thirty children every day, five days a week.

Poverty was truly bleak:

In northern New England, Lucas was referred to as a woodsman, but had he lived in another section of America, he might have been called an Okie, or a hillbilly, or poor white trash. He was one of a vast brotherhood who worked at no particular trade, propagated many children with a slatternly wife, and installed his oversized family in a variety of tumble-down, lean-to, makeshift dwellings.

Birth tended to be destiny. The young people whom Grace Metalious follows through about 20 years end up having similar characters and circumstances to their parents.

Who can explain the Iran Nuclear Deal?


Who can explain the Iran nuclear deal? The New York Times has a summary page, but it seems to raise as many questions as it answers.

Iran, for example, will be able to buy ballistic missiles starting no later than eight years from now. But why would Iran want a stack of expensive ballistic missiles if it could not put nuclear warheads on top? Maybe the U.S. would do something insanely expensive like this, but any other country?

Iran will be able to keep a massive nuclear technology program going, with “enrichment sites” and “centrifuge production sites.” Now that fracking has unlocked more oil that we can burn, the Chinese have figured out how to make solar cells inexpensively, and the Europeans have figured out how to make windmills, is there a conceivable economic case to be made for nuclear energy? Forbes says that nuclear can’t compete with wind in China: “The variance between the nuclear roadmap and nuclear reality in China is following the trajectory of nuclear buildout worldwide: delays, cost overruns, and unmet expectations.”

Wouldn’t this therefore be an agreement that Iran can have nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles starting no later than eight years from now?

Tangentially related at best:

Man Speaks Out About Shark Attack


A friend’s Facebook status, accompanied by the below picture: “Good. More people SHOULD speak out about shark attack. It’s NEVER OK.”


Comments included the following:

  • “No means no, especially when it comes to Shark Attacks”
  • ” I feel unsafe”
  • “It wasn’t attack-attack.”

Stupid questions about Greece


A couple of stupid questions about this latest “bailout” of Greece…

  • Why would anyone leave money in a Greek bank at this point? Wouldn’t a resident of Greece be concerned about other residents wiring out their euros and leaving the bank insolvent? Why wouldn’t everyone who lives in Greece keep his or her money in one of the foreign banks that has branch offices in Greece? If that happens, what is the function of a Greek bank?
  • How much actual cash earned by workers elsewhere in Europe will flow into Greece? The bailout is advertised as “$96 billion” but does that mean the creditors will wait to get paid $96 billion that they are supposedly owed (a fictional/theoretical “bailout” since in fact the creditors were not going to get paid) or that people will take hard cash that they’ve recently earned and hand it over to Greeks to spend?


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