The Great Tax Wars

I just finished “The Great Tax Wars” by Steven R. Weisman, a book that was given to me by a friend several years ago. I met this friend during the Foreign Service selection process and he mentioned how much he enjoyed reading tax history. I accepted his offer to send me a copy and have read it off and on over the last 4 years. Although it took me a long time to finish, that’s an indictment of my lifestyle rather than the book itself. It would get packed up in a move and end up deprioritized when unpacked. It’s an interesting read though and recommended for those interested in U.S. political history as much as tax junkies.

I enjoyed this book on several levels. The obvious history of U.S. federal taxation legislation is in and of itself interesting to me. The author succeeds at personalizing these “tax wars” through the politicians fighting them and setting a rich stage incorporating world events and social trends of each era. Conflict and war are at the root of tax policy and he demonstrates the effect warfare has on national finances, then the lesson legislators attempt to learn from each incident. It’s a fun ride through familiar history (Civil War, the Industrial Age, WWI, the depression) with so many familiar names (Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson, William Jennings Bryan) but the tax war focus reveals another facet of these events, tied together over time, that results in a particularly interesting and readable coherency.

I’ve collected another shelf of financial histories that I’ve resisted reading until I finish The Great Tax Wars. It isn’t hard to read, I just kept forgetting to pick it up. I’m excited to move on to some of these others now.

2013 Books read list

Sheesh, I’m way behind on this. Here’s a list of the books I read last year.

  1. Columbine:  Excellent look at the student attacks on the Columbine  High School. Non-prejudicial writing examines the perpetrators and discusses the aftermath with the benefit of time and distance. Includes discussion of the investigation into the attack as well as some of the hyperbole, myth, and misinformation about what happened on that day and why. Highly Recommended
  2. No Easy Day: The insider account of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  Great writing about the assault itself but the first half of the book covers the authors’ life as a SEAL and isn’t nearly as well written.  See Lone Survivor for a much better discussion of the entrance process and life as a SEAL narrative.  Recommended for the account of the raid on OBL.
  3. The Unthinkable: Well written look at the human response to disasters and emergencies. Thought provoking in a reflective way and likely to inspire readers to consider their own response to such situations.  Interesting in both its look at human nature as well as the impact it has on one’s own  emergency preparedness.
  4. Second & Third Shift (Wool Prequel): Books two and three of the Wool prequel trilogy.  Fun stuff.  If you haven’t read Wool, do so! Then read these.
  5. The Godfather: A classic that I’d always wanted to read and finally picked it off the shelf.  Good story. One of the last physical books I’ve read.
  6. War -Sebastian Junger: Junger’s account of life in a remote FOB in Afghanistan. Powerfully written, an excellent account of what its like to live, fight, and die in these places.  See also Tim Hetherington’s photo book “Infidel” and the documentary “Restrepo”. These three media accounts cover the same topic at the same time and pack a powerful punch. All are highly recommended.  Note: Hetherington was killed while covering the war in Libya in 2011.
  7. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet: Interesting look at the physical structure of the internet. The author travels the world to physically visit the data exchanges, witness the landing of undersea fiber optic cables, and explore the literal tubes under the streets that carry the data we’ve all come to depend on.  Interesting in a geeky way and recommended.
  8. The Greatest Game Every Played: One of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a true golf story of an old U.S. Open match and the local amateur who competed against the titans of the golf world but even non-golfers would find it an amazing and enjoyable story. I’m not afraid to reveal that it brought tears to my eyes. Highly recommended.
  9. Pirate Cinema: Cory Doctorow’s fiction tale examining the impact of restrictive corporate copyright control on the media (music and movies, primarily) of our social lives. It’s a pretty obvious diatribe against current political trends towards increasing copyright controls but its fairly readable and enjoyable.
  10. Bloodbrothers: An early Richard Price novel but no less awesome for it.  A story about young men coming of age. It isn’t the content of Price’s novels that are so compelling, it’s the quality with which he ushers us into the world of the characters. He’s easily the best writer I know of.
  11. A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Sci-fi Classic that I’ve been intending to read for year. Finally got around to it. Worth it for that old-school, fear-of-nuclear-annhilation feel that it has.
  12. Old Man’s War: Future Earth gives you the option to join the military at the end of your life. Nothing is known what happens after you join except that you never come back to earth and no one ever hears from you again. Well written, fun story. Recommended.
  13. America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy: Decent book looking at the work of the Foreign Service. Especially recommended for family members and friends who may be interested in what kind of work Foreign Service Officers and Specialists do.
  14. Good Intentions – Elliott Kay:  I guess this genre is called “urban fantasy”. Rather readable story about an every day guy who gets mixed up with some demons and angels. Decent story but mostly reads like a geek fantasy: nice but under appreciated guy ends up with multiple beautiful girlfriends who love having mind-blowing sex (and don’t mind that he has multiple girlfriends), friends who fight for him, and he ends up saving the world.
  15. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2): More from the Old Man’s War series, looking at the special forces. Good stuff
  16. SuperFreakonomics:  More good stuff from the Freakonomics guys. If you like Freakonomics, be sure to check out their podcast.
  17. The Mike Murphy Files (and other Stories): I got this as part of a StoryBundle. Gritty noir-style writing. Fun.
  18. The Walk up Nameless Ridge (short story): Good short story by Hugh Howey, author of Wool.
  19. Spin – Robert Charles Wilson: I think I got this via StoryBundle as well.  Reminded me a bit of Oryx & Crake. Enjoyable.
  20. I, Zombie – Hugh Howey, short story: I like zombie stories but am not a rabid fan or anything. Would say that this is fantastic, written from the zombie viewpoint. It’s actually the view of the people who end up conscious and aware but utterly incapable of controlling the zombie body or communicating with the outside world. Horrifyingly awesome. As good as World War Z.
  21. The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How we Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves: I was disappointed in this.  Check out my review on GoodReads. Reading that review now, I didn’t realize how much I guess I hated this book.
  22. Wool Omnibus (re-read): I re-read Wool and the Prequel trilogy before diving into the final book.
  23. First-Third Shift (Wool Prequel: Re-read)
  24. Dust (Silo #3): The final chapters of the Silo saga. I know some where disappointed with this finale (“underwhelming” is a word I heard frequently) but I thought it was well executed. People complained about the finale of Breaking Bad too.
  25. The Remaining: Enjoyable series examining the collapse of society in a zombie breakout. Looking forward to Book 5 this year, which might be the last book planned.
  26. The Remaining: Aftermath
  27. The Remaining: Refugees
  28. The Remaining: Fractured
  29. One Second After: Fiction but based on official analysis of the aftermath of an atmospheric nuclear explosion that destroys the entire electrical system (electricity and all machines that use it in any fashion). Good read but a bit polemical and you can feel the author is trying to make the point that we need to ramp up our national posture to ensure that such events never happen. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t make efforts to protect from such calamities but it’s a bit Cassandra-ish.
  30. Indian Creek Chronicles – Pete Fromm: Great story recommended by dad about a guy’s winter spent in Montana protecting salmon eggs. He signed up for the job without any preparation or even awareness of what he was getting into.  A great coming of age tale with some pretty neat tales. Highly Recommended.
  31. The Last Colony (Old Man’s War #3): More of the Old Man’s War series. Perhaps not as good as the first two but still enjoyable. If you like the first ones, these are worth reading.
  32. Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4)
  33. The Human Division (Old Man’s War #5)



Goodbye Abuja

And just like that, 2 years is finished. The worst part of this job is dealing with the constant departure of friends, and this time it was me that was leaving everyone. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it might have been, perhaps because I'm prepared for it and then again perhaps just because the emotions associated with leaving are offset by the emotions associated with what's coming up. Maybe it's because I traveled out so many times I'm just not processing that I'm not going to see these people again for a long time, if ever. I did make fantastic friends there, in the Foreign Service, in our Armed Forces, and Nigerians. My Nigerian friends in particular I will miss, as they are unique and the odds are longer that I'll see them again.

I had an excellent tour in spite of the family separation. I learned so much abrupt Nigeria, about the Foreign Service, about reporting assignment and consular work. I'm even more excited for the future than I was when I joined because now I know that I really do love this job and that I'm good at it. Seoul is going to be a whole different ball game, of course, and there's the whole 9 months of intensive language training before we even get to that point though.

Few people read this blog and its unlikely that my friends will see this but I'm wish that they could know how truly and sincerely grateful I am for their friendship. We had fantastic times and made tremendous memories and I honestly won't forget them. And I sure hope we get to meet again…

An Eminent Silence

All three of my girls, the Eminent Wife, the Eminent Daughter, and the Eminent Feline, departed Abuja for the last time last Friday. The paperwork for the Feline came down to the last hour before the driver picked us up for the airport but we got everything done (including a last minute photocopy on a neighbor’s printer after the constant power outages blew mine up. So many wasted ink cartridges, grrrrrr……). They departed Abuja without incident but had a helluva time in Frankfurt when the Feline decided to go DevilCat on everyone and escaped from her carry-on case. It took a couple hours, threats by staff to call the apparently uber-expensive fire response team, and several scratches to get her calmed down and back in her case. But she made it on the flight and through customs without the 180 quarantine, so all’s well that ends well.

Today marks 4 weeks till my own permanent departure. Plenty of work to do, including a significant amount of writing as well as the standard rigamorole of checking out (changing magazine subscription addresses, arranging packouts, selling vehicles, selling personal goods, saying goodbye, final meetings, separating clothes and other household effects into three categories: vacation (2 suitcases)/ training (600 lbs for a year) / Korean (see everything else in a year!), and so on).  Busy busy!

And as a slight aside, I’m oh-so-excited to watch tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones. Several friends are watching but haven’t read the books and it’s going to be so much fun to see their reactions!

Excuses, excuses

How quickly five months flies past.

The biggest reason I haven’t posted much here is that much of what is going on with me isn’t suitable for posting on a public blog. Not that there is any big problem or scandal going on, but when one’s life is dominated by office politics during the day and scotch and cigars in the evening, it’s better to ride it out in silence.

I’m down to four weeks left at post. During the last few weeks, I’ve got to finish up 3 large writing assignments, host some representational events, and complete my annual review. The latter will be quite an interesting experience due to the aforementioned office politics and deadlines. In addition, there’s a lot of work to do winding down and checking out of the embassy and housing. I’m hoping to sell off most of my stuff as well, so there’s that additional negotiation and hassle. Needless to say, it’s going to be a whirlwind.

My family has been visiting here for the last week or so. They came down to help sort out what stuff goes to the States for our year or so of training and what goes to Korea. We only get 600 pounds of stuff to the U.S. which boils down to about 6 suitcases. The rest of everything else gets put in storage until we arrive in Asia in June 2014. They are also bringing the Emminent Feline back to Japan with them to avoid logistic hassles with me and my intended month-long road trip in July. It looks to be good to go but we’re finding that the interface between the Japanese and Nigerian ways of doing things isn’t easy. Hopefully we avoid the 6 month quarantine in Japan.

My band has played its last show, at least the last with me.  It was an amazing adventure with them and we really turned into a good band by the end. We went from by-the-book covers to originals with our own arrangements of covers and a lot of jamming and just relaxed fun music making.  Every show was better than the one before and while I still have a long way to go before I can confidently call myself a bassist, I know I made huge strides in what I brought to the stage. Being able to have the confidence to play a song I’d never played before live on stage with just a couple notes whispered to me as the music started was so exciting.  It’s honestly quite sad to say goodbye to it, as we all know we still had a lot of growth potential if we’d been able to play together for another year. But no regrets, only tremendous memories.

I’m done brewing beer. I only made about half of what I intended. Two of my last three batches didn’t ferment. I know that I messed up the first of those two by letting my mash temps get too high but I don’t know what happened with the last one. Perhaps my yeast finally gave up the ghost? I wish I would have been more consistent with it but it was fun and produced some drinkable swill.  I’m excited to pick it up again eventually.

I don’t know what all will happen between now and then but I can say with relative consequence I’ll be back in Idaho for the 4th of July.

Sunday, December 9

A big reason I haven't posted much over that last month is that I've been fighting off a persistent illness for the last 3 weeks or so. It's kind of minor in that I'm not incapacitated or in need of hospitalization but its significant enough that I've missed a few hours of work a couple days a week recently. It started with waking up to a sore, achy body with a healthy dose of fatigue, the kind of thing that typically you can take a day or two off and bounce out of. But with everything at work, I couldn't take a full day off and could make it through the day with Tylenol and throat lozenges. But the sore throat kept getting worse, culminating in a loss of voice last week. I took the day off and didn't mask symptoms with Tylenol (which I think was ultimately making it worse since I was taxing my system) and finally feel like I've got my energy back.

It was frustrating because I'd been pretty regular with working out, tennis, and golf. I bought myself clubs for Christmas so I don't have to borrow clubs but wasn't able to use them until today. I'm a horrid golfer but we've got good people to play with. It's so nice just getting out on the course; not quite wilderness but its quiet and gets you walking for a couple hours, plus the mental element of golf is an enjoyable (if infuriating) challenge.

Between workouts, golf, beer making, at least one day of sleeping in, and the band, I don't have much down time on weekends at all anymore. I really enjoy playing music but it's getting the shortest attention. I don't want to give it up but sometimes wonder if its a selfish choice to keep up with it without committing to it. It's a bit irrelevant in the short term due to holiday travel by members, so we'll see what happens next year when we all settle back in.

The beer is going well but I've discovered that I like brewing and bottling but really don't care for cleaning the bottles prior to bottling. It's incredibly time consuming, especially the rinsing of the bottles. They need at least 3 good rinses and its just takes time to fill and empty a bottle, especially when you need about 50 of them per batch. I've got 3 batches ready to go though and have to just man up and do it. It's good timing, though, as they'll all have 5+ weeks of carbonation and conditioning by the time I get back. The feedback on what I've made so far has been positive and I'm feeling good about what the final 7 months have in store.

I'll be going home in a few days for about a month. The initial plan was for me to arrive after Christmas and we'd made plans for that but then I was able to get an earlier week schedule. The Eminent Child is still expecting me after Christmas though and I'm so so so so excited to surprise her. I should be able to get home before she gets home from school and I just can't wait to see how she responds to find me waiting for her.

That's pretty much what's happening, in a nutshell.

Back online – for now

My data plan on the iPad runs on recharge cards. A 1 month 5 gigabyte plan is 8000 naira, a little over $50. Charge cards are sold in 1500 increments, so I buy $60 worth of cards and use $50 of the credit each month. A couple weeks ago my credit expired so I loaded up the credits to discover that the page where I buy the data plan wouldn't load. I kept trying and trying without realize that in the background, I was checking email without a data plan, just using the basic credit. Needless to say, this is pretty expensive.

I finally get the data plan page to load a couple days ago but now I'm out of credits, but I got some more and now we are back in business. A for updates on me, I've started golfing as a great way to get out of the house. I'm terrible, as is to be expected for someone who's never golfed before, but the people I golf with are understanding and we all have a good time. I ordered some clubs of my own (merry Christmas to me!) that should be here in a couple weeks.

Wrk is going good. I've been here long enough now that I'm understanding how the job works and am getting into the flow of it. Meeting Nigerian contacts can be challenging as they do not always maintain appointments but that just goes with the territory. I've a ton of projects going on that keep me busier than I could ever want to be.

I am ready to my family again for sure. It's only been about 10 weeks this time but being apart from them is something that doesn't get easier over time or the more you do it. I'm pretty much wet to arrive home a week earlier than originally planned which should make for a good surprise for the Eminent Child. I'd wanted to surprise them both but had to come clean with the plan because of how much work the Eminent Wife puts in to helping schedule things. I'll have a nice final R&R then before returning to Abuja for the last time. Once I come back in January, I'll be here until July. The girls are planting to visit one more time then, and this will be everyone else's last chance to come down too!

Had the first bottle of beer made from grain. Seemed very tasty to me. I'll be bottling up some more later today.

I'm watching the Eminent Canine of friends who are out of town. It's nice having home around even though the Eminent Feline bullies him.



Wednesday November 1, 2012

Yet again time slips away and it's been weeks since an update. Not a whole lot going on with me though. Work is work and I'm getting better at the process and improving my writing. I've been busy making beer and my first batch is bottled. The whole process is so simple and straightforward, it's surprising more people aren't doing it. It is a bit time consuming, I suppose, with the brew itself taking about 7 hours from setup to cleanup and bottling taking a couple hours. I like it, as it gives me something to do by myself other than reading or looking at a tv or computer. I even like cleaning my equipment at the end of the day; it's makes for a nice satisfying resolution to the brew. And then nothing is as happy sounding as a fermenter bubbling away the next day.

I did go golfing last weekend which turned out to be a lot of fun. I hope to make a habit of it too. I'm still not putting in enough time on the rowing machine but tennis and golf has to help some, right?

This weekend my band is playing again. Sometimes I almost regret joining because the practices break up what would otherwise be a wonderful lazy weekend day but I have so much fun performing, it makes it worth it. I also reflect back on what I teach the Eminent Child about the value of practice and the sense of achievement one gets from investing time and effort to develop a skill or achieve a goal. I'm sure it will be a good night. Can't stay out too late as I've got a tennis game the next day. Not sure I'm ready to play with others but I'll just have to step up. Serves will be interesting.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Was busy all last weekend, never enough time to do the relaxing stuff you want to do, had to say goodbye to more friends. Got more beer done, feeling good about that. Didn’t get the first two batches transferred to secondary but finally got to it today. The beers look a bit light in body and didn’t have much aroma, so we’ll see. It will probably only sit for a few days as I really want to bottle this weekend, but we shall see.

In the meantime, work is good. It’s frustrating to not be very good at it but I get good feedback on how to improve. Speaking of work, the State Department hosted an incredible media session where they laid out everything known about the attack that killed our Ambassador in Libya.

Fml October 12, 2012

So here I am at 4:00 in the morning, afraid to fall back asleep in case my alarm system goes berserk again. I don't remember if I wrote about it when it happened last time, but previously it was caused by an obvious short in a wire that we found after enduring a night filled with excitement from the alarm tripping again and again. That was fixed, but tonight I wake up and realize my alarm is going off again in the middle of the night. We have heavy security doors and I couldn't hear it going off, at least not loud enough to wake me up.

It's always a little freaky to wake up to blaring klaxon and you don't want to go barging out into a problem situation. I wasn't too worried as my building is one of the most secure we have. I can't imagine any breaking in here and I figured its just another system problem. I get up, turn off the alarm, and talk to the guards. Turns out the alarm has been going off for an hour. I feel terrible to my neighbors because the guards check on everyone in the building in these cases. 2 minutes after I shut down the noise, it goes off again unprovoked, which probably means it will continue to go off at random times for the rest of the night.

And THAT is why I'm afraid to fall back asleep. I don't want to sleep through it and put my neighbors through that again. I don't particularly want to get woken up like that anymore because you wake up in such a state of high alert. It's too late for phone calls back to the states but to early for calls to Japan so here i sit. Sheesh.