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.

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Rules for Washington

I used to enjoy the Abu Muqawama blog but didn’t read it (or much of anything in that vein) after embarking on this new career. Today I was browsing old bookmarks and discovered that he hung up the blog last year. He concluded his final post with some “rules for Washington” that strike me as good advice.

*** Rules for Washington:
(1) Do a good job in the job you’re in. Don’t be so focused on what your next job might be that you leave a bad taste in the mouths of
those with and for whom you currently work.
(2) Don’t be a jerk. As Nate Fick always says, it’s an iterative game with a limited number of players. The people you’re working with today might be the people you’re working with – or for – tomorrow.
(3) Be a servant-leader. Toward the end of my less-than-stellar athletic career, I played a few seasons as a flanker in rugby. It’s not the most glorious position, but the people who do it best are the people who keep up a very high work rate doing all the ugly stuff – largely rucking and tackling – a team needs someone to do in order to win. So volunteer for the crappy work in the office. Go fetch coffee. Put together binders. Do it with a smile on your face, and keep a bottle of Old Overholt on your desk for your co-workers when times get tough.
(4) Have a sense of humor. This blog covered Very Serious national security issues with a Lego jihadi as its mascot. That was always by design. If you take yourself or the issues too seriously, the terrorists win.
(5) As Charlie always reminds people, stay away from the marrieds. Sounds like an obvious one, but people screw this up too often.
(6) Don’t write op-eds in the Washington Post defending torture or, if you happen to edit the Washington Post, hire people who defend torture. Because torture is wrong. Yes, always. Do I really have to explain this? … F***, really? I quit.

Cherry Blossom – Washington DC 2014

DSCF1854

The Eminent Child took this photo.

Department of State by State

Department of State by State.

Cool map showing how the work of the U.S. Foreign Service affects each state.

The terrifying surveillance case of Brandon Mayfield | Al Jazeera America

The terrifying surveillance case of Brandon Mayfield | Al Jazeera America.

THIS is what scares me most. Our national intelligence collection strategies in the current climate of fear of terrorism is a powder keg.

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)

 

 

Drafthouse Cinema

We happened to stumble across a draft house cinema a few weeks ago while looking for a restaurant with friends and it turns out they’d been there. “It’s a good time,” they said, so we went, and I think I’m in love.

It’s a full restaurant with table side service inside a movie theater. They’ve got deep soft chairs with tables and counters and play recent as well as classic movies. We saw Catching Fire a couple weeks ago and tonight we’re going to watch Gravity. It looks like they also have classic movies from time to time as well as stand up comedy and whatnot.  My favorite part was that precisely at 7:00, the lights dimmed and the movie started.  No opening trailers, no announcements, just a movie! In spite of the service and people eating it was quiet and immersive.  Great concept, well executed.

I’ve since modified my retirement plan to a full on brewery-taproom-bar-cinema-live music club concept.

Obama Not Ruling Out U.S. Military Action In Congress

About time, really.

Happy, uh, New Year?

I blink and we’re two weeks into 2014 already!

The year has started out strong. The Eminent Spouse has settled in to teaching and I may have had a breakthrough with Korean. I’ve really struggled with language production even though I have very little issues with the conceptual side of the language. I think it is due to the similarities between Japanese and Korean and it’s proving extremely difficult to overcome my natural inclination to create high-level sentences.

Because the grammar is so similar, my brain wants to use Korean in the same way I use Japanese. In the long run this is going to be a big boon, I believe, but for the first few months its been excruciating. I just don’t (or didn’t) have the grammar currency in Korean to cash the checks my brain was writing. It’s getting easier as I’ve learned more of the essential grammar and now its a matter of learning sufficient vocabulary and getting the grammar tools down in rote memory so they can just pop out instead of being explicitly processed every time.  Last week I had a few class sessions where I felt that I was understanding the teacher’s side of things and producing my half of the conversation without too much delay or relying on help from the teacher. It was fun and hopefully portends well for my performance from here on out.

Other than school, the Eminent Child has been assigned as a Printer for their colonial life social science module. We had to go pick up some rubber stamps at the craft shop for her project demonstrating the work of colonial era newspaper printers.  Fun stuff.

Not much else of note, I suppose.  We did start watching Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix. Good stuff, but I had a parenting self-check when I realized that Netflix censors MitM from under-12 Kids’ accounts. I don’t know if our family enjoyment of the show makes me a good or bad parent.

Merry Christmas!!

Our first family Christmas in the U.S. (of course we’ve visited for the holidays before) was a terrific success.  We had a fantastic relaxed day, enjoying the games and food we got for presents. We chatted with family online and just had a nice day. I got some Calvin & Hobbes books, a couple great cooking books, and a new LEGO Mindstorms set. I’ve been wanting one of those for YEARS, ever since the first one was released. We made a remote controlled contraption with spinning blades that the Eminent Child delighted in chasing the Eminent Companions around the house with.  Good laughs!