A bit of Fry and Laurie

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie starred in this British sketch comedy show in the early 90s. The sketches usually revolve around elaborate wordplay and meta-humor, and (while weird) they’re consistently hilarious. I’m a big fan of both of the stars and I absolutely love this show.

Here’s a clip of the first sketch of the show. It’s the kind of sharp satire British comedy is famous for, and it’s just as relevant and funny now as it was when it first aired 21 years ago.

The show is available for streaming on Netflix, and there are lots of clips on Youtube (of dubious video quality, like the one above).

Hidden Lucky Star reference in Ruby on Rails documentation

Hidden in the documentation for ActiveModel::Serializers::JSON is a reference to Lucky Star character Konata Izumi:

konata = User.find(1)
konata.to_json
# => { "user": {"id": 1, "name": "Konata Izumi", "age": 16,
#               "created_at": "2006/08/01", "awesome": true} }

ActiveRecord::Base.include_root_in_json = false
konata.to_json
# => {"id": 1, "name": "Konata Izumi", "age": 16,
#      "created_at": "2006/08/01", "awesome": true}
Konata

Konata Izumi from Lucky Star

What this code does is look up a User object with an id of 1, which happens to be the the User record entry for Konata Izumi. The to_json method then generates a JSON string from the object, from which we can gather that Konata is 16 years old and awesome.

Photo of Julian Assange

Wikileaks coverage

I have neglected to mention Wikileaks yet on this blog. Finals week is approaching and I haven’t really had time to mention much of anything lately. Anyway, here’s the short version: I have a huge man-crush on Julian Assange and I’m extremely happy with the work that Wikileaks is doing. I’ve been following them since they published the Australian blacklist back in March of last year, which was the secret list of websites that the Australian government was planning to censor nation-wide.Photo of Julian Assange

Now Wikileaks has come out with three big profile leaks in the last few months, primarily related to the United States and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While much of the (worldwide) coverage of the leaks has been focused on the substance of them and the instances of wrong-doing they bring to light, most of the mainstream coverage here in the United States has been unfavorable in its portrayal of Wikileaks. Worse, a majority of the stories I’ve read in American publications lately have downplayed or even entirely ignored the substance of the leaks and focused entirely on condemning Wikileaks or Julian Assange personally.

Even worse still, and more telling, mainstream news outlets in America have been very much deferential to authority throughout the whole debate. This is something that bypasses the traditional notions of left- or right-wing biases. Glenn Greenwald (who has had some of the very best coverage of the Wikileaks scandals, and is one of my favorite bloggers in general) pointed to this remarkable video of Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, being interviewed on the BBC:

KELLER:  The charge the administration has made is directed at WikiLeaks: they’ve very carefully refrained from criticizing the press for the way we’ve handled this material . . . . We’ve redacted them to remove the names of confidential informants . . . and remove other material at the recommendation of the U.S. Government we were convinced could harm National Security . . .

HOST (incredulously):  Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the Government in advance and say:  ”What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,” and you get clearance, then?

KELLER:  We are serially taking all of the cables we intend to post on our website to the administration, asking for their advice.  We haven’t agreed with everything they suggested to us, but some of their recommendations we have agreed to:  they convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.

ROSS:  One thing that Bill Keller just said makes me think that one shouldn’t go to The New York Times for these telegrams — one should go straight to the WikiLeaks site.  It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government, but that says a lot about the politics here, where Left and Right have lined up to attack WikiLeaks – some have called it a “terrorist organization.”

The rest of Glenn’s article is very much worth reading for an understanding of this issue. This paragraph in particular sums up the relationship the media has with the government:

Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathize with them.  By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not:  hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does.  Just look at how important it was for Bill Keller to emphasize that the Government is criticizing WikiLeaks but not The New York Times; having the Government pleased with his behavior is his metric for assessing how good his “journalism” is.  If the Government is patting him on the head, then it’s proof that he acted “responsibly.”  That servile-to-power mentality is what gets exposed by the contrast Wikileaks provides.

Tax cut vs. tax hike

In a recent story published on the Drudge Report (I’m not going to link to it, but you can find it easily with Google), the recent proposal to extend the bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000 was referred to as a “tax hike.” This is a ridiculous distortion of the truth.

Here’s the situation: the Bush administration and the Republican party passed some (not-paid-for) tax cuts a while ago, and the bill passing the tax cuts stated that they would expire at the end of 2010. Obama campaigned on extending them only for income below $250,000 (ie, if you made a million dollars, you’d pay the lower rate on your first $250,000 in income, and the higher, pre-Bush rate on the rest). So, indeed, under his plan taxes would go up for rich people — specifically, the richest 2%. The controversy going on today is that Republicans want all of the tax cuts to be extended, including those for people in the top 2%.

So why are Democrats so insistent on letting the taxes on those 2% go up? First, the Bush-era tax cuts disproportionately helped rich Americans, according to a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Second, tax cuts for the rich are less useful to the economy than tax cuts for the poor. Third, the tax cuts are still completely un-paid-for and will just be heaped onto the deficit, to the tune of $700 billion for the top 2% alone. A recent New York Times editorial explained it:

Ultimately, the case for the top-level tax cuts is increasingly shaky. If Republicans are the least bit serious about reducing the deficit, they have to acknowledge that doing so requires additional revenues, $700 billion of which would be lost to the top 2 percent of earners in the next decade if their taxes do not rise. Handing out those revenues to the rich would have little stimulative effect on the economy because those taxpayers tend to save rather than spend their marginal income.

The Democrats had very strong support for their plan, so of course they screwed it up somehow. Right now it looks like they’ll end up caving in to the Republicans, who are still technically in the minority during this lame duck session.

But back to Drudge and his silly headline. The compromise Pelosi put forward in congress was to have a bill that specifically extended the tax cuts for the first $250,000, and let the rest of the tax cut extension be voted on separately. So, we have a bill that specifically extends part of the Bush tax cut, and says nothing about the rest of it. Drudge calls this a “tax hike.”

His reasoning is, presumably, because the bill doesn’t extend the tax cut for everyone, it is therefore responsible for raising taxes on the people it doesn’t mention. This is a bizarre bit of reasoning (if you push it far enough, you could say every bill in congress is also a “tax hike,” because they don’t extend or even mention the tax cuts for the rich either), but it’s sadly the way many people are thinking about the issue.

Imagine this: congress passes bill A that says everyone must wear hats. Congress then passes bill B that says people with black hair do not have to wear hats after all. Would it be fair to say that bill B forces all non-black haired to wear a hat? Certainly not. That was bill A’s doing. And similarly, if taxes do end up increasing, it’ll be the fault of the Bush tax cuts that were designed to expire in 10 years.