Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cold War Reimagined

The Prisoner—a science fiction series about a former spy confined in a mysterious totalitarian enclave—was both the most experimental and the most anti-authoritarian TV program of the '60s. It first aired 50 years ago today, so I'll mark the occasion with one of my favorite installments: "Living in Harmony," the episode that answers the question, "What would a western written by Philip K. Dick look like?"
If you've never been exposed to this show before, this would not be the place to begin; half the story's pleasure comes from seeing a familiar series reimagined in an entirely different genre. But if you've experienced the series a few times but never encountered this episode, you're in for something wonderfully weird.
For yet more from Reason on The Prisoner, check out this article by Larry Niven, this article by Emmanuelle Richard, and this video by the fine folks at Reason TV. And last year, when we hit the 50th anniversary of the day the series started filming, I devoted a different Friday A/V Club post to another Prisoner episode. I make no apology for taking another bite at the apple: Surely this is a show worth watching at least once a year.

BERRIMA: Berkelouw Book Barn Bookshop & Cafe

Berkelouw Book Barn Bookshop & Cafe - Berkelouw Books

At NSW Parliamentary Library every issue of Playboy and Penthouse were indexed some of the best investigatory writing took place in those naughty magazines. No-one ever really believed any man who used the old excuse for buying Playboy magazine - "for the articles", as opposed to for the photos of nude women.

The nude women were the main attraction.

Yet the magazine does have a long and proud literary tradition, publishing stories by authors like John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Arthur C Clarke, Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who has died at the age of 91, once joked with a group of centrefolds at a magazine anniversary party: "Ladies, it's been a wonderful 25 years, and I owe it all to you. Without you, I would have had nothing but a literary magazine."

Former Playboy literary editor Amy Grace Loyd summed up the magazine's formula in 2009: "You've got things drawing a man's eye, then you've got things that are enriching his intellectual and spiritual life."

… Playboy also gave authors an outlet for stories with uncensored, adult and controversial themes, and paid its writers well.
Gary, Gin, Mal Evan - 11 Great Authors Who Wrote For Hugh Hefner's Playboy

This Amazing Tree That Shows How Languages Are Connected Will Change The Way You See Our World Bored Panda

The federal government has put the national opera company on notice that it is expected to engage ‘an appropriate balance’ of Australian talent, or face a fine of up to $200,000.

Might Quentin Tarantino direct a Star Trek movie?

John Clarke's pictures from nature live on in 2018 calendar

Times Literary Supplement: “…Both Evans [The Emoji Code, Vyvyan Evans] and Danesi [Marcel Danesi, The Semiotics of Emoji] set out to explain why emoji are an important development, why it is interesting to study them, and why we can ignore naysayers who cite them as another example of the erosion of standards

The Village Voice – Keepers of the Secrets: “I was told that the most interesting man in the world works in the archives division of the New York Public Library, and so I went there, one morning this summer, to meet him…Our destination was Room 328. archives division of the New York Public Library, archives division of the New York Public Library, A sign above the door called it the “Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts.” Inside, there were a handful of quiet researchers stooped at large wooden desks, and in the corner, presiding over a cart of acid-free Hollinger document boxes, was the archivist Thomas Lannon. Lannon is younger than you’d expect, just thirty-nine years old…The New York Public Library’s Schwarzman building is most famous for the ornate and cavernous Rose Reading Room, now reopened after two years of restoration. The stacks under the library can hold 4 million books (the actual number in storage is lower, though no one is quite sure), which are delivered to the reading room by 950 feet of miniature rail running at 75 feet per minute. But the real gem of the library, in Lannon’s view, is the stuff that you can find only in boxes like the ones now strewn across the table. “You can get a book anywhere,” he said. “An archive exists in one location.” The room we’re standing in is the only place that you can read, say, the week’s worth of journal entries in which New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal contemplates publishing the Pentagon Papers. It’s the only place where you can read the collected papers of Robert Moses, or a letter T.S. Eliot wrote about Ulysses to James Joyce’s Paris publisher, Sylvia Beach. These collections aren’t digitized. The only way to find out what’s inside them is to ask for a particular box — often with just a vague notion of what will be in it — and to hold the old papers in your hands. “I don’t know how one could be interested in libraries and not archives,” Lannon told me. They tell you “the stories behind things,” he said, “the unpublished, the hard to find, the true story.” This, I began to see, is why someone might have been inclined to call Lannon the most interesting man in the world: it’s because he knows so many of these stories himself, including stories that no one else knows, because they are only told here. That is the paradox of being an archivist. The reason an archivist should know something, Lannon said, is to help others to know it. But it’s not really the archivist’s place to impose his knowledge on anyone else. Indeed, if the field could be said to have a creed, it’s that archivists aren’t there to tell you what’s important. Historically momentous documents are to be left in folders next to the trivial and the mundane — because who’s to say what’s actually mundane or not?…”

Friday, September 29, 2017

Study Reveals How Information Spreads on Social Media Dragons...

Democracy can be an unsightly spectacle. Much of the demos is ignorant or has just enough knowledge to screw things up. Is "epistocracy" Might be the answer

Emilio Ferrara. Contagion dynamics of extremist propaganda in social networks. Information Sciences 418-419, pp. 1-12 (2017) doi:10.1016/j.ins.2017.07.030
[Emilio Ferrara’s] “latest work titled “Contagion dynamics of extremist propaganda in social networks” has been published on Information Sciences. The study aims at modeling and understanding the diffusion of extremist propaganda, in particular content in support of ISIS, on social media like Twitter. Starting from a list of twenty-five thousand annotated accounts that have been associated with ISIS and suspended by Twitter, we obtained a large Twitter dataset of over one million posts these users generated. We studied network and temporal activity patterns, and investigated the dynamics of social influence within ISIS supporters.  To quantify the effectiveness of ISIS propaganda and determine the adoption of extremist content in the general population, we drew a parallel between radical propaganda and epidemics spreading. We identified information broadcasters and influential ISIS supporters and showed that they generate highly-infectious cascades of information contagion. To read further, please refer to the published journal version. The paper is also available on arxiv.”

Suing Someone for a False Information Return

Moses came down from the mount with tablets inscribed with 10 commandments. Most of us know (most of) them, and most of us fail to live by (most of) them. But if Moses had turned them over and looked in the fine print on the back, he’d have found the 11th Commandment:

Don’t get caught.

That in essence summarizes the rise and fall of the South African arm of the international accounting firm KPMG which has been caught with its hands in the slush fund jar. It stands accused of taking money from companies owned by the politically connected Gupta family 
How KPMG got caught up in the breathtaking corruption of South Africa's private sector  

“SAVING $1,000 A YEAR ON TAXES IS NOTHING. LESS THAN $100 A MONTH:” Mic senior politics writer Emily Singer responds to Trump’s tax cut proposal, smugly writes off huge chunk of America.

 Tax Cut for Cleaning? Italians Take Up Bartering in Stagnant Economy Wall Street Journal

TaxProf: Last week I went to the ABA Tax Section Meeting in Austin and really enjoyed attending a terrific panel on Section 7434.  The moderator was Professor Leslie Book, of Villanova School of Law and the presenters were Stephen Olsen, of Gawthrop Greenwood, PC; and Mandi Matlock, of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc., Austin, TX.  

Section 7434(a) provides: “If any person willfully files a fraudulent information return with respect to payments purported to be made to any other person, such other person may bring a civil action for damages against the person so filing such a return.”

The panel went through the surprisingly large amount of case law on this section to address a variety of common issues that arise in these lawsuits.   For a good overview of these issues see Stephen's useful blog post here

A leopard can’t change its spots: Newest Republican tax framework is what we knew it always would be—tax cuts for the rich. Economic Policy Institute

This testimony before the US Senate Committee on Finance on individual tax reform makes five main points.

First, the current tax reform effort is occurring at a time when low- and middle-income families are facing deep financial challenges. Economic disparities are vast and have been widening for decades. The US also has one of the lowest levels of economic mobility relative to our competitors. Our debt as a share of GDP is projected to grow to unprecedented levels in coming decades, largely because of the retirement of the Baby Boom and increasing life expectancy. This growth in debt will be a drag on economic growth. For all these reasons, tax reform should increase revenues and enhance progressivity. Doing so would boost economic growth and make the tax code fairer at the same time. At a bare minimum, tax reform should maintain the current level of revenues and progressivity—and these both should be measured consistently and without resort to budget gimmicks like a “current policy” baseline.

 Rachelle Holmes Perkins (George Mason), The Threat of Law: Regulatory Blackmail or an Answer to Congressional Inaction, 65 Kan. L. Rev. 621 (2017):

In light of the obstacles affected taxpayers are up against in the face of regulations of dubious authority, Treasury is able to wield what I term an effective “threat of law.” While certainly less binding than an actual legitimately exercised “force of law,” the effects (at least in the nearterm) can be identical. For example, with respect to the Inversion Notice, taxpayers could either comply with Treasury’s Inversion Notice or potentially face a myriad of negative consequences. When faced with these options, while some taxpayers rolled the proverbial dice and found ways to structure around the Inversion Notice, others declined to play this game of tax chicken with Treasury and called off their transactions.

Via TaxProf blog: ABA Tax Section meetings are fun!  Last week I attended a fascinating panel presentation at the Austin meeting titled "Beyond Bitcoin: Blockchain and the Tax System."  The panel was moderated by Stow Lovejoy, of Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP and included Amanda Wilkie, CIO of Withum Smith & Brown; Tony Tuths, of KMPG in Short Hills; and Lisa Zarlenga, of Steptoe & Johnson.
In this Article, I will explore the contours of this so-called “threat of law” that Treasury can employ even in the absence of legitimate congressional authority to do so.

My main takeaway from the panel presentation is that the same programming ideas underlying the Bitcoin concept are being used in myriad other financial applications.  They raise not only significant tax issues but also regulatory issues, as detailed in this recent report from the SEC dealing with virtual "tokens" issued by a "Decentralized Autonomous Organization" (DAO).  DAO's are like something from the Matrix movies.  They are a “virtual” organization embodied in computer code and executed on a distributed ledger or blockchain.  The SEC report discusses how and why "tokens" function as securities.  The rise of the machine?  It's all Mr. Smith's fault.  No, not Agent Smith.  The other one, Adam.

GOP 9 page tax plan framework and corporate impact

  • Axios – “Here’s a [copy of the] summary of the plan that’s being released today, obtained by Axios from outside sources. More details to come.”
  • Axios – What you need to know about the GOP tax plan – “While it includes some key policies — like the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes — it leaves many crucial details to congressional committees to fill in.”
  • Washington Post – GOP proposes deep tax cuts, provides few details on how to pay for them – “The nine-page framework they released to kick off negotiations left many key questions unanswered, including how they plan to avoid adding trillions of dollars to the government’s debt. The framework leaned heavily on limiting taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans, such as the alternative-minimum tax, and opposition to these changes from Democrats suggest it will be a battleground as negotiations intensify. Republicans were also careful not to identify numerous tax breaks they might remove, focusing instead of promises to lower rates so much that President Trump estimated the effort would amount to the biggest tax cut of all time. The “unified framework” was meant to serve as a starting point for negotiations on a tax deal, which lawmakers hope to complete by the end of the year. Republican leaders are now tasked with resolving controversial questions to unite their party — and possibly some Democrats — behind tax legislation, such as what corporate tax breaks to protect and how much revenue they are willing to lose in pursuit of new economic growth…”
  • The New York Times – Trump Tax Proposal Benefits Wealthy, Including Trump – “The administration’s tax plan provides large benefits for the wealthy, modest benefits for the middle class — and no direct benefit to the poor.”
  • Bloomberg – “President Donald Trump and Republican leaders launched an urgent effort to get a major legislative win this year, announcing a long-awaited tax plan that will immediately set off a fight over how much top earners should pay. The framework proposes cutting the top individual rate to 35 percent — but leaves it up to Congress to decide whether to create a higher bracket for those at the top of the income scale, according to the document released Wednesday. [Read the 9-page outline of Republicans’ tax overhaul plan here]. The rate on corporations would be set at 20 percent, down from the current 35 percent, and businesses would be allowed to immediately write off their capital spending for at least five years. Pass-through businesses would have their tax rate capped at 25 percent…”

Taxpayers can’t rely on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and answers and other “unofficial” guidance that the IRS posts on its website, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson recently explained in a blog post [IRS Frequently Asked Questions Can Be a Trap for the Unwary]. While tax professionals already know about this issue, you may find it unsettling. Here’s what you need to understand.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Meanwhile, the biggest country song in the nation right now, Body Like a Back Road by Sam Hunt, is currently in its record-extending 30th week at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart:

SO THE PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE IS WORKING: “North Korea apparently is so confused by President Donald Trump that it’s asking US experts for help understanding him.”

For Millennials, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities. With millennials now set to top 17m of the UK population by 2019, their high focus on experiencing life supports the growth of an economy driven by the consumption of experiences.  Other developed economies are seeing the same trend.  The combination of this generation’s interest in events is fuelling the growth of the so-called “

experience economy”

Just do it: the experience economy and how we turned our backs on ...

Millennials jump into experience economy - The Australian

New York Times DealBook:  PwC, the Accounting Giant, Will Open a Law Firm in the U.S., by Elizabeth Olson:
Law firms already elbowing one another for multinational clients will soon have a new competitor: The Big Four accounting firm PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, plans to open a law firm in Washington, D.C., next week.

FOSSBYTES: “…With the complete rollout of Google Feed, the users have got more control over what they can read about in Feed. Now, right from the search results, one can choose which topics to follow. In some cases, you’ll see a new Follow button, which can be used to add topics to your Feed. After that, based on your search history and engagement with Google products, you’ll be served news stories. Right from the Feed, you can unfollow the topics. Further, in the article, I’ll tell you how to use Google Feed and its different features…” [h/t Pete Weiss]

This did not happen in decades past. Look at the Billboard charts from the ’80s — it was a new #1 song almost every week!

Prolonged sitting could lead to an early death, study finds

Revolutionary Possibility Jacobin. From China Miéville’s October: “Those who count themselves on the side of the revolution must engage with these failures and crimes. To do otherwise is to fall into apologia, special pleading, hagiography – and to run the risk of repeating such mistakes. […] The standard of October declares that things changed once, and they might do so again.”

The Raj Chetty course “Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems”

Syllabus, slides, and videos of the lectures, here you go.
People are moving less and want to stay in the same town where they were before, and they’re switching jobs less and want to stay in the same job where they were before, people apparently just want to listen to the same songs they’ve been listening to already...

The co-authors on this paper (pdf) are Andrew Leigh and Mike Pottenger, here is the abstract:

The paper estimates long run social mobility in Australia 1870–2017 tracking the status of rare surnames. The status information includes occupations from electoral rolls 1903–1980, and records of degrees awarded by Melbourne and Sydney universities 1852–2017. Status persistence was strong throughout, with an intergenerational correlation of 0.7–0.8, and no change over time. Notwithstanding egalitarian norms, high immigration and a well-targeted social safety net, Australian long-run social mobility rates are low. Despite evidence on conventional measures that Australia has higher rates of social mobility than the UK or USA (Mendolia and Siminski, 2016), status persistence for surnames is as high as that in England or the USA. Mobility rates are also just as low if we look just at mobility within descendants of UK immigrants, so ethnic effects explain none of the immobility.

Social mobility is indeed difficult to pull off

Walmart is testing a service that delivers groceries straight to your fridge when you’re not home.
On Friday, the retail giant announced a partnership with August Home, a smart-lock startup, that would allow a delivery person to enter customers’ orders and put groceries away in their refrigerators…
Delivery drivers will have a one-time passcode that allows them to unlock the August smart lock if customers do not answer the door when the delivery team arrives to drop off groceries. They will then drop off packages in the foyer, unload groceries in the fridge, and leave — with the door locking behind them.
Customers get a notification when the driver rings the doorbell. August home-security cameras allow them to watch the entire process from the app if they wish.

The most disturbing pieces of music ever?  What about Jozef Imrich on Fujara?
Some Nobel Laureate predictions

Cops should get more sleep

Whose interests? Why defining the ‘public interest’ is such a challenge.
The idea of the public interest is central to public administration, but its exact meaning is hard to pin down. Recent events show it’s about more than just compliance.

Discover Which Corporations are the Biggest Regulatory Violators Throughout the United States  – Now with data back to 2000

“Violation Tracker is the first national search engine on corporate misconduct. It covers banking, consumer protection, false claims, environmental, wage & hour, unfair labor practice, health, safety, employment discrimination, price-fixing, bribery and other cases initiated by 43 federal regulatory agencies and the Justice Department since 2000; in all, 300,000 cases with total penalties of more than $394 billion. Other types of violations will be added later. Violation Tracker is produced by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.

Agency Data Sources
User Guide and Webinar
Update Log

Send questions or comments to Philip Mattera of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.
The Violation Tracker site was built with the help of Rich Puchalsky of Grassroots Connection.”

Texas lawmaker spent $51K on online psychic.

Discover Where Corporations are Getting Taxpayer Assistance Across the United States

SUBSIDY TRACKER is the first national search engine for economic development subsidies and other forms of government financial assistance to business.

Subsidy award entries: 540,000 (341,000 state/local; 199,000 federal)
Subsidy programs: 974 (836 state/local; 138 federal)
Parent companies covered: 2,844

Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations (report on federal data)
Megadeals (largest state and local subsidy awards)
Inventory of data sources
Update log
User Guide  

Send questions or comments to Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera.
The Subsidy Tracker site was programmed by Rich Puchalsky of Grassroots Connection.

Right to Know — better services, greater public trust.
Today's the day to pause complaining about FOI burdens and celebrate what an informed citizenry can do to help public services.
The future of payments for government.
In the future of payments, every device is a payment device. New payment technologies will enable citizens to interact with you through the channel of their own choosing.

When public boards go rogue.
Government boards have become confused about their role in the public sector: "They don't know who the shareholder is."