Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Downloading You Tube Videos

I had always been a casual collector of music videos, particularly from the pre-MTV era. However the onset of You Tube rapidly accelerated my interest, as clips from Bandstand, Ed Sullivan, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Shivaree and other shows were posted. In the early days of You Tube this was a true bonanza as collectors posted thousands of these clips. But if you look at You Tube today you find very few of these any more because of copyright infringement claims. One poster complained that Dick Clark Productions made him take down a clip (The Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You") even though the alleged copyright holder apparently didn't even have a copy of its own. Fortunately, I learned very early that You Tube videos are not merely streamed, but are actually downloaded onto your computer. So if you can access your browser's cache, you can save a copy of the video for yourself. It's easy in Internet Explorer--just go to tools, Internet Options, settings and view files, then copy and paste. The earlier versions of Firefox had readily identifiable cache folders, but I haven't been able to find them in the recent versions. Fortunately there's a Firefox plug in called Cache Viewer which does a decent, though not complete, job of capturing files in the cache.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

All We Want Is A Fair and Simple Income Tax Law

You hear it all the time. Politicians talking about the goal of having a tax law that is fair and simple. Well, excuse me, but the concept of a tax law being simple and being fair are entirely contradictory. A simple tax law is not fair, and a fair tax law is not simple. Simple means one size fits all, and one size fits all is not fair.

One of the most naive and theoretical income tax proposals I ever heard of was made by a government economist, who proposed that federal income tax rates be indexed for regional differences in the cost of living. Actually, this is a eminently fair proposal. Why should somebody who earns $70,000 and lives in Manhattan and barely scrapes by due to the high cost of living be taxed the same as somebody making the same income, who lives like a king in some rural enclave in the South? But can you imagine how terribly complicated such a system would be? Obviously, the person who made the suggestion didn't.

Or how about the section of the tax law which taxes amounts received as punitive damages, but excludes punitive damages awarded in Alabama for wrongful death? Why do we need to clutter up a simple rule concerning the taxation of punitive damages and create a loophole for those silly Alabamans? Because only in Alabama are wrongful death damages categorized as punitive damages whereas such damages are not punitive damages in any of the other 50 states. The simple rule would be a blanket rule taxing punitive damages, but the fair rule is to exempt Alabama punitive damages that are not punitive damages in any other state in the USA.

So why do politicans keep holding out this goal for tax laws that are conjunctively simple and fair. Clearly that's what their constituents want to hear, with the contradiction between the two attributes not readily apparent to the general public. That raises the question of whether the politicians themselves are aware of the conflict, or are they as clueless as the general public. I can't imagine any politicians with any expertise in the tax law not recognizing the conflict, but for the run-of-the-mill non-tax specialist politician, I suspect they too may be clueless.

Of course the opposite corollary is not necessarily true--tax laws might be both unfair and not that simple. And indeed this can occur in the search for fairness. One of the current health care proposals is an excise tax on employer paid health insurance plans that exceed a certain value. The bill recognizes that a $8,000 plan in New York city is not the equivalent of a $8,000 plan in some low cost part of the country, so it provides for an adjustment of the threshold dollar amount for 17 high cost cities. Well that gums things up from a simplicity point of view. But is it fair? How about the people who live in the 18th most expensive city? How about the person who lives a mile outside the city boundary. And what exactly is the boundary? (SMSA defined, I presume.)

So despite what the politicans promise, you can have a tax system that is fair, you can have a system that is simple, but you just cannot have both.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Football Predictions--Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009

Here are some of my football predictions for the week:

UCLA by 1 over Washington
USC by 5 over Arizona State
Stanford over Oregon
Northwestern over Iowa

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fujianese American Food Diaspora

All my life I've heard the comment that "all Chinese look alike." Indeed, there is some truth in this statement in the same way that all Caucasians look alike if you don't know any of them personally. A lesser known corollary of the original statement is that historically Americans have been unaware of the regional origins of Chinese in America. Their assumption has been that the Chinese in America migrated from all parts of China. But in fact, until the post-World War II era, over 90 percent of Chinese migrants to the United States came from a small number of rural districts outside of Canton known as Toishan. It was as if all the Americans living in some foreign country had originated, say, in Pasadena, Texas (a suburb of Houston). So while the anti-Chinese political movement that swept across 19th America railed against the massive hordes of Chinese who could potentially immigrate to America, in fact they seriously overestimated the potential degree of migration. Indeed, many Toishanese villages ended up sending most of their adult males to America as it was, pretty much exhausting the supply of potential immigrants.

Of course after World War II things changed, particularly after the revision of immigration laws in the mid-1960s, such that Chinese from a wider range of geographical locations are found throughout the United States. But amidst this background, we once again see a stealth migration of a localized Chinese group, which has interesting consequences to food lovers. This is the immigration from Fujian to New York City, and the attendant food diaspora throughout the East Coast, South and Midwest. Essentially, as described by Jennifer 8 Lee in a number of New York Times articles, there is an underground railroad of illegal immigration from Fujian Province to New York City, and then to and from New York City. Arriving in Manhattan Chinatown the immigrant will seek his fortune in the Chinese food industry, somewhere east of the Mississippi River, and quite often outside of New York City. The Fujianese section of Manhattan Chinatown (that part east of Bowery) is home to dozens of employment agencies and bus lines, whose purpose is to serve Fujianese operated Chinese restaurants throughout the eastern United States. The worker will check out job opportunities, listed by area code, pay a small fee for a placement, then hop one of many buses bound for destinations all over the eastern half of the country. Tired of working in Charleston, SC? Take the bus to Manhattan Chinatown, get a new job in Akron, Ohio, and arrive there scarcely 24 hours after you left South Carolina. Stroll through Little Fuzhou any evening and you will see these workers in transit walking the streets, pulling their luggage behind them. An interesting sidelight is that these workers will often to return to Manhattan on their days off. This explains how the Fujianese part of Chinatown can support such a vast network of bus lines to all over the Eastern U.S., as it's not just people changing jobs that are looking for their ride. And not surprisingly these itinerant Fujianese also return to Manhattan for their wedding, with a portfolio of bridal pictures shot in Central Park de rigeur to show the folks back home what it's like in the USA.

The original network of Chinese restaurants in towns throughout America was set up by the Cantonese. However in most cases the second generation of Cantonese had no interest in maintaining the family business, and indeed quite often had no desire to stay where their parents had settled. Consequently, the Fujianese have provided the new blood for operating Chinese restaurants in locales without a significant Chinese population. And with the dream of every Fujianese restaurant worker being to eventually own his or her own restaurant, there is no shortage of Fujianese willing to set up shop in Bowling Green, KY, Bessemer, AL, Davenport, IA, or wherever.

Note that the Fujianese have been very adaptable in setting up their operations. Most Fujianese operated restaurants serve Americanized Chinese food in cities that have little if any Chinese local Chinese residents. On the other hand, they also open up dim sum and Hong Kong style seafood restaurants in locales that have non-Cantonese Chinese communities. Chinese from all regions like Cantonese style food, so in places like Atlanta and St. Louis, which number few Cantonese in the local Chinese community, the biggest and best authentic Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese food.

Interestingly while Fujianese dominate the Chinese restaurant business in the eastern half of the U.S., and Manhattan Chinatown is full of Fujianese restaurants, Fujianese are nearly non-existent in the western part of the U.S. The reason is simple--a high percentage of Fujianese are undocumented, so their main mode of transit is by bus in and out of Manhattan Chinatown, since they don't have the required ID to fly. And there are no buses from Manhattan Chinatown to California.