Archive for the long-winded rants Category

Questions I would like the news to address

Posted in long-winded rants, politics ACK! on December 21, 2011 by Alex

I don’t watch the news.  I especially don’t watch news about politics.  I really, especially don’t watch cable news about politics.  You may be wondering why, if I don’t watch any of these things, I am about to rant about it.  Perhaps I should rephrase my opening statement:  I don’t purposefully watch cable news about politics.  Sometimes, it just can’t be helped, and when I am subjected to the news I find myself asking questions that never get addressed by the talking drones on the screen.


I have boiled down the arguments about taxes that appear on every cable news network:

Republicans:  Taxes bad!

Democrats: Taxes good!

This is about as nuanced as it gets, the larger words being reserved for hurling insults at the opposing party.  Now, I get taxed, and have legitimate questions about taxes, how much I pay, how much I should pay, and especially, where the hell does all the tax money go?

Here’s what I would like to see:

  • A graph of tax levels (and don’t be misleading and show just income tax levels.  Please include sales tax, property tax, taxes passed onto consumers by cost of goods, etc..) vs. how much money the government takes in.  This can be done at the federal level and at the state level and would be quite informative.  This can be done on a timeline over the last (say) 20 years.  Now, of course a graph like this would not be the complete story, but it could help establish some context for other questions about taxes.
  • A breakdown of government spending.  This could be done with a pie chart!  News networks love those!  I imagine that almost the entire pie would be military spending, so this could be broken down into two additional pieces:  military spending that is actually necessary, and military spending that can be reduced by not buying equipment at one thousand times its actual value.  This is, of course, subjective, and would provoke debate, but hopefully it would be a more intelligent debate than “SPENDING BAD!”  On the home front, how big of a slice do we have for education, health care, unemployment, welfare, research and development of new technologies, public works, social security, and whatever else the government spends money on?

The Economy:

There is nothing more vague on cable news than talk about the economy.  I hear things quoted like the unemployment rate, or stock prices, or interest rates without any context provided to let me know what these numbers actually mean.  At a basic level, I don’t even know what the government is trying to accomplish with economic policy.  What’s the goal?  Is it to maximize the median wealth of the entire population of the country?  Is it to maximize the total wealth of the country?  To put this in terms I understand (i.e. mathematically), the problem of economic policy is clearly some kind of optimization problem.  But this problem is impossible to solve if you are not even clear on what it is you are attempting to optimize.  For crying out loud, news networks, what is the objective function?!

I came up with all of these questions after watching Fox News for about 5 minutes this morning.  I don’t claim to have answers to any of these, and I certainly don’t think news networks should provide the answers, but they can at least bring up the questions, right?


My uncle John, who shall be referred to on this blog as “Uncle Medicare Expert” sent me the following informative article.  Now this is the kind of information that would make me actually watch news!

Things We Don’t Need

Posted in long-winded rants on April 24, 2011 by Alex

For all my life, there has been a multitude of objects that I have bought that I simply don’t need.  In recent years, I have learned to get rid of some of these things.  But every time I go to someone’s house, my eye catches glimpses of products that provide no useful function whatsoever, yet the sellers of said products claim that they are indispensible for life in a modern, first world country.  The following is an arbitrary and incomplete list of these objects.

  • The fearsome foursome of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and body wash.  I’m pretty sure all four of these things perform the same function: getting dirt and sweat off of you.  Body wash is the worst of these four, since a bar of soap will do the same job, at a tenth of the price.  Shampoo is an amazing cottage industry, with different types for different types of hair, shampoo to give you more volume, shampoo for oily hair, shampoo for shiny hair, for curly hair, straight hair, animal hair and on and on.  All you need is one bottle of shampoo for all of your hair needs.  Any generic brand will do, preferably one without bits of plastic in it that wash down the drain into the ocean, as detailed in this fine book.  Conditioner is completely unnecessary, and should be disposed of immediately in the most violent way possible.
  • Pennies.  I have been unsuccessful in removing all of the pennies from my household.  It is dead money which will never be spent.  They pop into existence like virtual particle anti-particle pairs, they break vacuum cleaners and washing machines, contribute to the terrible fashion statement of sagging pants by weighing down the pockets, leave little copper colored rings on coffee tables, and they taste bad.  Let’s just all agree that inflation has officially passed the point where pennies have any monetary value, and dispose of them like the long-dead half cent piece and the bit.
  • Razor blades with better technology than NASA.  I think I know where all of the talented engineers go after college.  They get hired by Gillette to produce the shaving experience of the future.  These engineers could be designing more efficient power systems, cars, defense systems, or buildings that can handle earthquakes and tsunamis, but those jobs don’t pay as well.  I’m pretty sure the technology of cutting hair off your face didn’t need to be improved past 1960’s technology.  By the way, you don’t even really need the shaving cream that goes with it.  Put the can down and dry shave like a man!
  • Ergonomically designed chairs.  Like the razor, the chair is a device that was perfected in the mid twentieth century, and the only improvements have been adding moving parts that break and need to be replaced.  The shape of a chair will not improve your posture or cure your back pain, making an effort to stand up straight and taking the pennies out of your pockets will do that.
  • Hot Pockets.  No, wait, I need those.  They are the fuel for this rant.  Hot pockets and coffee.  And whiskey.
  • Forks and spoons as separate utensils.  Let us all celebrate the genius who invented the spork by minimizing the number of objects we use to eat.  If you are the type of person that sits down for a regular meal with three forks, two spoons, two knives and three plates, then I hate you and hope you impale yourself on your extraneous cutlery.

These are just the objects that came to my mind immediately.  If I were to actually sit down and do exhaustive research on this, then I am sure I could come up with lots more.  Give me more suggestions for useless objects in the comments section and I may be inspired to write more about this topic.  The computer with wireless internet is probably the one object in my house that is worth the money.