27 September 2006

Minis: In process and terrain

So I did the trees today. This is the grand sum of my terrain at present, save three more 2'x2' boards to make up the total 4'x4' playing area I'll use whenever I can beg, pay, sucker, or otherwise get someone to play with me. I'm also including a shot of minis in progress. I have a number in my office still in blister packs, and another $50 worth from eBay on the way (have I mentioned I love eBay?).

16 September 2006

Middle East Media Research Institute

I highly recommend MEMRI. Actual TV clips and analysis of Arab media throughout the Middle East.

13 September 2006

But Michael Moore said Canada was the land of peace...

From the BBC:

Gun rampage at Canadian college
A body lies next to a police car at Dawson College in Montreal
Police said the gunman was killed during the incident
A gunman has been killed after shooting and injuring at least 20 people - three seriously - at a college in the Canadian city of Montreal.

The man entered the canteen of Dawson College, in central Montreal, during lunchtime and began firing.

Eyewitnesses described fleeing from the campus grounds as the gunman, clad in black, turned the gun on students.

Montreal's chief of police said the gunman was killed during the police intervention.

Terrified students and teachers from the college of 10,000 fled the campus, some with bloodstained clothes.

'Hiding in bushes'

An eyewitness described the moment that the gunman began shooting.

"He shot the people right next to us. They were all running, we were hiding in the bushes, there was debris flying from the bullets shot right next to us," she told CBC television.

Police with drawn guns were seen sheltering behind vehicles outside the site.

Professor Robert Soroka told Reuters news agency the shooting began at 1245 (1645 GMT), and said he heard about 20 shots fired over 30 minutes.

In December 1989 a gunman shot and killed 14 young women in Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, before turning the gun on himself.

07 September 2006

Interesting Tax Ruling

A consumption tax has it's own issues, chiefly that research shows governments can get away with raising such taxes (value-added taxes are common in Europe) more easily because it is less visible. I'm not sure which argument I buy, but a consumption tax has always seemed fairer to me. The wealthy can't avoid it with lawyers and accountants the way they can avoid income taxes, so they end up paying more tax--something the left is behind. Since an income tax is at some level a tax on work, many conservatives like consumption taxes as well, seeing it as a way to get around the disincentive of an income tax.

What Can the Government Tax?
The answer, never set in stone, may be changing.

By Bruce Bartlett

Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington handed down an important decision relating to the definition of income for tax purposes. What is important about the decision is that it is the first in decades to say the Constitution itself limits what the government may tax. If upheld by the Supreme Court, it could significantly alter tax policy and possibly open the door to radical reform.

In the case, a woman named Marrita Murphy was awarded a legal settlement that included compensation for physical injury and emotional distress. The former has always been tax-exempt, just like insurance settlements. Obviously, it makes no sense to tax as income the payment for a loss that only makes one whole again; one is not being made better off and therefore there is no income. But under current law, compensation for non-physical injuries is taxed.

Murphy argued that just as compensation for physical injuries only makes one whole after a loss, the same is true of awards for emotional distress. In short, it is not income within the meaning of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. The appeals court agreed, ruling that Murphy’s award for emotional distress is not income and therefore not taxable.

Tax experts immediately recognized the far-reaching implications of this decision for other areas of tax law. Tax protesters have long argued that the 16th Amendment does not grant the federal government the power to tax every single receipt that it deems to be income. Yet, in practice, that is what the Internal Revenue Service does.

The problem is that the very concept of income has never been defined in the tax law. It is pretty much whatever the IRS says it is. Tax analysts generally use a definition devised by two economists, Robert Haig and Henry Simons, which says that income consists of consumption plus the change in net worth between two points in time.

But the Haig-Simons definition goes far beyond that of the tax law. Most important, it includes unrealized capital gains. There also is no room in the Haig-Simons definition for things like 401(k) plans, IRA accounts, or other retirement savings, nor for lower tax rates on realized capital gains.

Under Haig-Simons, owner-occupied homes would be treated as businesses, with homeowners taxed on the implicit rent they pay to themselves, less depreciation. And if your home’s value increases over the course of a year, Haig-Simons implies that you should pay taxes on this event, even if you don’t sell your house.

Clearly, the IRS is not going to tax any of these events, nor would Congress allow it to do so. But because tax analysts implicitly accept the Haig-Simons definition of income, even though it appears nowhere in law, there has been a long-term tendency for the IRS to push the limit of what can be considered taxable income.

Now, a federal court has said there is a constitutional limit.

I would like to see the court go further in regards to the question of whether interest constitutes income. To economists, some portion of the interest we receive on our savings is merely compensation for loss — loss of the immediate enjoyment we would receive if we consumed our income today instead of saving it.

Think of it this way. Would you be satisfied receiving your paycheck a year from now instead of on payday? Of course not. You would be suffering a real loss if you had to wait a year to get paid for your work. But if you were offered, say, 10 percent more in a year, you might be okay with this. Collectively, our willingness to put off consumption today for greater consumption in the future is what determines the pure rate of interest.

But in the view of many great economists, such as John Stuart Mill, the future interest one receives is merely compensation for the loss of immediate satisfaction. Therefore, it is not income, and something more like an insurance settlement that simply makes us whole.

Obviously, market interest rates are more than simple discounts between the present and future, as my example implies. Interest rates also represent a return to risk and an adjustment for expected inflation. In principle, however, some portion of interest is the compensation for loss, and therefore not income.

Given the logic of the Murphy decision, it is quite possible that the risk-free, inflation-adjusted rate of interest could also be excluded from taxation on constitutional grounds. Following through on this logic consistently would revolutionize taxation and eventually lead to a pure consumption tax, which most modern economists favor.

I’m not predicting the Supreme Court will follow this logic. But for tax analysts, it does represent the opening of an interesting possibility.

04 September 2006

Minis: Inaugural

So, I've taken up paining fantasy miniatures this summer. I grabbed some paints and some unpainted minis I had around for D&D and went to town. Now I've bought around 30 models for Reaper's Warlord skirmish game. Part of me wonders why I never tried this before. I think the answer is I until now I couldn't unclench enough to just go for it without getting frustrated that it wasn't perfect. Anyway, here's the first Warlord model I've finished:

This is the River Troll after prepping (sanding off all the flashing and mold lines), and after a black priming coat (Krylon flat black).

Here he is with his basecoat (Reaper Master Series, Vallejo)....and after a wash for shading.

Here's the finished product after highlighting and basing work. The water is E-Z water. Inaptly named, I must say, at least for a delicate operation like this. You have to heat it and it cools/hardens insanely fast. Fine for doing little pools, I'm sure, but this was ambitious.

Hopefully, my photography gets better along with my painting.