Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Income-Swapping Society

The Income-Swapping Society

This idea came to me in a dream. (Yes, so help me Freud, this is the kind of dream I have.) I have no idea how it would work in real life. (I woke up before my subconscious could supply a scenario.) However, I thot I'd share it. Perhaps folx whose talents run to fiction (or building D&D worlds) can find something to do with it.

The basic idea is this: "Several times a year" (or so my dream said; I'm figuring about 2 months out of every 3 or 4), half the people in a society would be given a chance to swap incomes with some randomly selected person from the other half. (My waking brain supplies some details. In an odd-numbered month, people born on odd-numbered days would be matched with someone born on an even-numbered day; vice-versa in even-numbered months.)

Each person with an option would get "a couple of days" (I'm thinking maybe a week) to get to know the person whose income would be traded. Then he or she would decide whether to do it or not. The decisions would be enforced by society as a whole.

Now, you'd probably figure that most people would take the swap if it meant more money and decline the opportunity if it meant less. Heck, I can imagine the news coverage of the person who, in any given month, got matched with Bill Gates. It would be the equivalent of winning the lottery without the nuisance of having to buy a ticket. But I bet there'd be many instances of someone of modest means getting matched with someone who's truly desperate, taking pity on them, and okaying a trade that would provide some temporary respite for the unfortunate one.

I think the long-term effects of this kind of policy would be to even out the wealth disparities in the country.

My conscious mind supplies a cross-reference to A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Rawls asks the provocative question "What kind of society would you design if you knew you'd have to spend your entire life in it but didn't have any control over who you'd be?". That is, once the society was set up, you'd be dropped into some random body in it, and you'd be stuck there. You'd have no way of knowing in advance if you'd be rich or poor, male or female, strong or weak, gay or straight, immigrant or native, black or white, old or young, slave or free, etc.

RIght off the bat, you could see that pretty much nobody would ask for a society that featured slavery, or peonage, or an untouchable caste, or any other subset that was regularly subjected to systematic oppression and degradation. Who'd want to take a chance at having to live like that? No one.

A lot of people would probably go for a society where almost everyone had the basics taken care of, but maybe 10-15% were pretty well off, tho not obscenely so. That would appeal to the gambling instinct.

Rawls postulates that almost everyone would opt for a society founded on basic tenets of honesty, fair play, and equal opportunity. I think an income-swapping society would tend to move in that direction.

At the very least, it would give everyone a periodic opportunity to find out how "the other half" lives. It would spread the loot around better than what we have now. And it would give us something new and different to talk about around the office water cooler.

I don't foresee any presidential candidates adding this to their platforms any time soon, tho.

Feedback welcome. Comments that are e-mailed to me will get posted on my blog at

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kanye West Expanded

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West observed on national television that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Shortly thereafter, I and about a bazillion others expanded that observation to note that George Bush doesn't care about anybody else, either.

But leave it to another George (Carlin) to expand it to the top level with the observation that Bush is just the front guy for the rich owners of America, NONE of whom care about anybody else. Of course, nobody says it better than George does here.

(In fairness, I should note that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have shared the title Richest Man on Earth between them for the last couple of decades, seem to feel that they have adequately conquered that mountain and are now setting out to claim the title of Most Generous Men on Earth. For that, I believe we have to thank Bill's wife Melinda.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Eliminate Tipping?

I found the following article thot-provoking:

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Posted October 8, 2007

Commentary: Here's a tip: Wisconsin should be first 'no-tipping' state

By Bill Bollom

I think Wisconsin should pass a law making it the only non-tipping state in the US.

This past March, my wife and I were visiting Singapore, where we lived 25 years earlier. Our taxi driver was having a devil of a time getting to our hotel because of road construction. He turned off his meter. When we finally arrived, I tipped him a couple of dollars. He told me, "No, tipping is illegal in Singapore." He pointed to the sign on the dash, "PLEASE, NO TIPPING."

He asked me, "What do you do in your country?"

"I'm retired. I'm a CPA and a retired university professor."

"Did your clients and students tip you? Do you tip your doctor? The meter tells you what the trip was worth. I always do my best work. No tip is necessary to encourage me to do a better job. I'm a professional. I'm as proud of what I do as you are, sir."

My wife and I really liked the no-tipping law in Singapore. And the taxi driver was right. Tipping assumes that the receiver wouldn't do his best unless he is paid extra; it smacks of a superior-subordinate relationship, and it passes on to the customer the obligation of the employer.

Also, the practice is demeaning. On some of our U.S. travel tours, guides, historians and bus drivers stand at the bottom of the bus steps, hands outstretched like a common beggar.

Finally, I'll bet everyone reading this has at one time or another been in a conundrum about tipping, like when the bellhop wrestles your bag from you, wheels it 10 feet to the front desk and wants a tip. I know it upsets my evening.

We are in a system where the employer pays a low wage and assumes tips will bring employee income up to a reasonable level.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone was paid what they were worth and there was no tipping? Prices may rise, but tightwads – referred to as "free riders" in economic literature – would finally pay a fair share, no longer getting off the hook.

I find it difficult to understand how the custom of tipping keeps growing. Now, even coffee shops feature a tip jar. It wouldn't surprise me to see one by the gas station cash register, but it would rile me.

Years ago, when my wife and I traveled in India, tipping was a nightmare. At every turn, someone had his hand out for a tip. Just when you thought someone was simply lending a helping hand, like offering up an empty airport trolly cart, his hand immediately went out for a tip. Our airline check-in agent demanded a tip before he'd give us our boarding passes. There was much shouting. My wife would not leave the check-in counter. The temperature was 100 degrees with about equal humidity. There was a line of about 350 people behind us. She wouldn't budge. She'd had enough of India and wasn't tipping to get her boarding pass. It was eventually given to us without a tip; my wife simply hollered the guy into submission. Events like this can ruin a guy's day.

We lived in Budapest in 1992. There, people had to give doctors 'tips' so they would suture them up with fine thread instead of thin rope.

My point is tipping can get ugly. Argentines outlaw it. Aussies find it foolish. Our own airlines prohibit it. If the latter survives without it, can't we eliminate it entirely?

Let's make Wisconsin the only no-tipping state in the USA.

I think it would be a great state promotion: "ESCAPE TO WISCONSIN -- WHERE TIPPING IS ILLEGAL BUT SERVICE ISN'T."

Northwestern Community Columnist Bill Bollom is a retired faculty member at UW Oshkosh and author.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Letter to Mitch Albom

Mr. Albom:

Re your article at:

In ancient Rome, teenagers who wanted to rebel against the Establishment announced to their shocked parents that they had become Christians.

During the Renaissance, teenagers who wanted to rebel against the Establishment announced to their shocked parents that they had become Protestants.

In modern America, teenagers who want to rebel against the Establishment announce to their shocked parents that they have become atheists.

In all cases, it's a matter of identifying with the alarming minority point of view for the sake of saying "up yours" to the proper, socially accepted majority point of view.

Perhaps if the proper, socially accepted majority point of view weren't usually so oppressive and quick to condemn teenagers, this form of rebellion wouldn't be so common -- or occasionally produce such tragic results.

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Any idiot, upon seeing the 1st automobile, could easily predict that it would revolutionize transportation. Only someone with exceptionally keen insight could have foreseen that it would also revolutionize the sex lives of teenagers.
-- Isaac Asimov

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Do you ever watch the TV game show Jeopardy? The gimmick is that they don't ask questions and expect answers, they tell you what the answer is and then ask what the question would have been.

They've been doing this for so long that it's become ritualized and stilted. For example, could you imagine a real-life conversation that went like this?

"Who is Ludwig van Beethoven?"

"His 'Für Elise' is one of the most famous piano compositions of all time."

I kind of wish they'd set aside one week when they could go back to the original idea behind the gimmick -- the idea that a person is so well informed that he or she can walk into the middle of a conversation, hear only the most recent comment, and infer what the question had to have been. Except that these would be real questions, not the stock, formulaic ones that they use on the TV show.

Here's what I mean:

Category: Sports
Answer: Sam Bowie
Question: Who was picked between Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan in the NBA draft?

Category: Space
Answer: Michael Collins
Question: Who was the only guy on Apollo 11 who DIDN'T walk on the Moon?

Category: Politics
Answer: 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th, but not 2nd
Question: Which amendments in the Bill of Rights has the Bush Administration ripped the living guts out of?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Football, Take 2

Last week I wrote about how my 2 favorite football teams — the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers — each had the longest winning streak in the nation at its respective level. I concluded: "I mention all this because I don't expect it to last much longer, but I'm enjoying it for all it's worth while it does."

This weekend's results:

Badgers 26, Illinois Fighting Illini 31
Packers 20, Chicago Bears 27

So the flatlanders do it to us cheeseheads again. Alas. Well, I DID enjoy it while it lasted. Next week we get to start some new winning streaks.

I'm just so glad we get to do all this with footballs instead of guns.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sputnik!

Our little lad turns 50 today. I remember the day he was born as if it were yesterday. In fact, here's his baby picture:

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The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I'm not exactly a football fan as such. What I am is a fan of 2 particular football TEAMS: the Green Bay Packers at the pro level and the Wisconsin Badgers at the college level (and, truth to tell, my 3rd favorite team is whoever's playing the Dallas Cowboys that week).

I am pleased to report that each of those teams owns the longest winning streak in the nation -- 8 straight games for the Packers and 14 straight for the Badgers -- dating back to the 2006 season. The Packers (4-0 this year) are 1 of only 4 undefeated teams (out of 32) in the NFL, while the Badgers (5-0), currently ranked #5 in the nation in both main polls, are 1 of 13 undefeated teams (out of 119) in NCAA Division 1.

"How could this happen without either of them having won a championship last year?", you're probably wondering.

Well, in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts, who DID win the Super Bowl, lost their penultimate regular-season game (vs. Houston on Dec. 24) before closing out with a win and going 4-0 so far this year. (That loss wasn't unexpected. The Colts had already locked up their division title and kept most of their regular starters on the bench to rest up and avoid injuries prior to the playoffs.) Of course, if you add in the 4 straight victories the Colts racked up in the post-season, their streak is actually 9 straight games, but I will cheerfully concentrate only on regular-season games. The Packers' 8-8 record wasn't good enuf to make the playoffs, so they ended 2006 with 4 straight wins.

In college, the 2 teams that had camped out atop the rankings for most of the season (both from the Big 10: Ohio State and Michigan) both lost their bowl games. The team that won the national championship, Florida, had lost to Auburn on Oct. 16. Wisconsin's last loss, to Michigan, was on Sep. 23. That loss cost Bucky the Big 10 title, but Big Red went on to defeat Arkansas in the Capitol One Bowl to close out the season with a victory and national rankings of #5 and #7 in the 2 main polls.

I mention all this because I don't expect it to last much longer, but I'm enjoying it for all it's worth while it does.