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Subject:Signs you're getting old, #47
Time:11:43 am
I just got an email about my 10 year High School Reunion today. 10 years already... wow.

Who knows if this will actually happen though, since the email was all about how the class president (I'm guessing that's who it is anyway - I don't know if I ever really knew) only has contact info for 26 out of the 250 people in our graduating class. I'm only one of those 26 because I signed up for one of those dumb classmates.com sites a couple years ago out of boredom at work. Lucky me.

I'm not really still friends with anyone from high school, and I'm not particularly eager to see most of them again. But I've certainly changed a lot since high school... it would be kind of interesting I guess to see how they've all changed too.
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Current Music:Ambulance Ltd - Swim
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Subject:Do we really need Social Security Reform?
Time:10:16 am
There's three main areas to focus on:

1. How does the system work now, and
2. Is there really a "crisis" that will require a change?
3.  What is the solution proposed by the Bush Admin?

1. How does the system work now?

Social Security is a guarantee that when you are too old to work, you
will still be able to receive money to live on. Children whose parents
die also can receive some benefits, as can some people who have become
disabled. This fund comes entirely from payroll taxes. All employees
are taxed 6.2% on up to $88,000 of their income (anything above that
is not touched), and their employers contribute another 6.2%. The
money taken out of paychecks now is put towards benefits for current
retirees. So our parents' payroll taxes are supporting their parents,
when our parents retire our payroll taxes will be supporting them, and
eventually our children's generation's taxes will support us when we
retire. This is a "social safety net" that allows all retirees in this
country to have some sort of support, regardless of whether they have
children to support them. Also, all the money paid to the gov't in
payroll taxes is stored by investing it in US Bonds, which has allowed
the country to implement large projects for the common good, such as
the interstate highway system.
Because there was a need to have some sort of cushion in case of
unexpected circumstances, the amount of taxes taken in has been
slightly more than was needed (about 4 out of every 5 dollars was used
for benefits, and the fifth dollar saved). This resulted in a sizeable
Social Security Surplus, or Trust Fund. This surplus is basically
invested US Bonds as well, and used to pay for the current
generation's retirement benefits, added to the next generation's
payroll taxes. In 2000, this surplus was up to about $0.6 trillion.
During the elections that year, Al Gore proposed putting this surplus
into a "lock box", to keep it separate from the rest of the Federal
Budget and protected from administrative borrowing.

(Some notes on the budget surplus:
In 2000, there was also a Federal Budget surplus of about $232
billion. Bush gave almost all of that away on the "tax refunds" of his
first couple years in office. Then in 2002, the Iraq War required
larger and larger amounts of money. Bush responded to this by
decimating the SS surplus - no "lock box" for him. Rather than having
a combined surplus of around $8.5 trillion (as was the case in 2000),
the 2004 budget had a record deficit of $413 billion. )

2. Is there really a "crisis"?

In short, no. According to long term projections, Social Security will
be balanced for about 50 years. After that time, there is a chance
that, depending on wages, birth rates, and immigration, that there
will be more money needed for retirees than is provided by that
current amount of payroll taxes. Even this possible chance for a
shortfall does not constitue a crisis. In 10 or 20 years, the
projection of this will be much easier to read, and there are several
easy steps to take at that time to keep the program solvent. One is to
raise the cap on payroll taxes; that is, allow some earnings above
$88,000 to be taxed. Other changes might include raising the
retirement age to delay slightly when benefits are paid out, and to do
some kind of need-based dispensing of benefits to determine those who
might be in more dire financial situations at retirement age than
others.
There are two main reasons why those on the right have been saying
there is a need for "Social Security Reform". One is purely based on
their wallets. If the Bush reform is enacted, trillions of dollars
will be sent through financial companies, who will make a fortune on
fees, and through other large corporations. Obviously, this is will
make many CEOs and board members happy.  Second, and more the driving
force in this proclamation of "crisis" is based purely on their
ideological views. Conservatives tend to favor a "smaller government"
system (though this hasnt' been the case with the current
administration), which allows people more personal freedom and
independence to do what they wish with their lives, thus the desire
for "personal investment accounts". Also, conservatives tend to
believe in The Market as the foolproof way to solve any problem, and
trust the Market Forces to govern better than people. This is why they
favor these taxes being invested into the stock market rather than
distributed by the government to retirees.

3.  What is the solution proposed by the Bush Admin?

The basic idea is to cut benefits for everyone to keep the system
solvent without the need for a tax increase. However, they can't just
propose a simple cutting of benefits, so the chance to make up this
money is given in the form of a Personal Account. This allows you to
put up to 4 percentage points of those payroll taxes into this special
account. This account would be used to invest in the stock market. For
every dollar you make in this account up to some amount (now assumed
to be 3% rate of return, but that could change), your benefits would
be cut accordingly. This is on top of other guaranteed benefit cuts.
If you opt out of the system, your benefits are still cut, but there
is no chance of making more money for retirement than is possible
through the current system.
Once you retire, you are forced to use your saved up benefits to buy
an Immediate Annuity, which will make periodic payments of just the
amount needed to keep you at the poverty level. The goverment will
handle all details of this annuity, and any money you have left over
after buying this annuity is yours to spend as you wish. When you die,
the government gets all the money left in the annuity - it is NOT
inheritable.

In this proposed system, the benefits are cut for future retirees, but
not for current ones (anyone currently age 55 or older). But the
current working generations payroll taxes would be diverted from this
generation of workers. So where will the money come from to pay for
the current retirees' benefits? Bush proposes borrowing money from
Japan and China until the year 2015. The claim is that they'd "only"
need to borrow $614 billion. But the people currently aged 55 or older
will be around for 30 or more years, collecting benefits from a system
that will only have 2/3 or less of the income it needs to be solvent.
This seems to indicate that much more money than that will eventually
be needed. Less rosy projections indicate that this amount will be
closer to several trillion dollars.

This presents some major problems with this suggested "solution". One
is that by using the stock market to gain value, Social Security
becomes much less secure. In the current system, everyone is
guaranteed a consistent rate of return. In the proposed one, what you
get depends on whether you retire when the market is up or down. In
addition, benefits are being cut sharply, so an extremely high rate of
return on the investments would be needed to make up the difference.
This return would need to be around 6.5 or 7% for the proposed system
to work and have the government finances not collapse. Without getting
into too much financial jargon, that essentially means that stocks
would have to be priced like the tech stocks were during the Internet
Bubble in the 90's, and that they would rise at the same rate.
Unfortuantely, stocks now are much more expensive than they were back
then relative to the corporation's profit, which means a much lower
returns.  (Interestingly, this presents a flaw in the privatizers'
logic: if the economy were to grow at such a rate that the return on
these investments would be enough to make up for the cut in benefits,
then it would also be enough to keep the current system of Social
Security solvent with no changes. So this "solution" is inherently
flawed, and unnecessary. )

Another problem is what happens with the money being borrowed. Future
generations will be saddled with even more debt, in addition to the
huge deficit the budget is running at now. And this points to the
ultimate goal of this plan: the elimination of Social Security. In
2015, the money will have run out from the initial loan taken now, and
the goverment will still have millions of retirees to pay benefits to,
with no Trust Fund and substantially less money coming in through
payroll taxes. Today's younger generations of workers will be the ones
to bear the brunt of transforming the program, getting substantially
less benefits while at the same time seeing most of their taxes going
towards paying off the loans. This clears the way for another cry of
"crisis" and another round of benefit cuttings. Evnetually, there will
be nothing left of the current system to save, and the transition to
complete dependence on vagaries of the market will be complete.

This kind of privatization is not new - other countries have attempted
it before, with little success. Argentina, Chile, and Britain have all
done something similar, and none have seen the kind of success that
Bush is promising for the US. The Chilean government is still throwing
huge amounts of money at the program to keep it afloat after switching
to private accounts over 20 years ago, showing the fallacy of any
government savings from this. Britain has also been trying this for
almost 20 years, and a recent report warns that at least 75% of
retirees there have not made enough using the privatization system to
stay out of poverty. Argentina has fared the worst: their economy
collapsed and they were forced to default on their loan of over $800
million, with closing banks and devalued currency.
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Current Music:Dilate - Caldera
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Subject:How to Dismantle Inauguration Day
Time:09:26 am
Carrie's understandably frustrated with Bush's 40 million dollar inauguration day allowance, especially in the face of all the areas that are desperately in need of money right. She's tried to figure out ways that it might have been better spent, and then tacked on some ideas of how to spend your Inauguration Day best. Personally, I think I would have tried to divvy up that money a little differently, and given a lot more internally to this country, since there's a lot of people here in the US that need help badly as well. Regardless, it's an interesting idea and a good starting place for discussion.
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Subject:The 2004 raln Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence
Time:10:02 am
I've been crazy busy this year, the past 4 or 5 months in particular (hence the lack of posts), so I haven't been as on top of seeing movies and checking out new music or video games as I normally like to be. And it's only December 16 - probably way too early for a year-end list. Despite all that, here's my Top Fives for 2004:

Best New Releases
1. AC Newman - The Slow Wonder
2. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Shake the Sheets
3. Iron Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
4. Interpol - Antics
5. Junior Boys - Last Exit

Highly Anticipated 2004 Releases That Are Not On My 2004 Top 5 of the Year List
1. Rjd2 - Since We Last Spoke
2. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
3. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
4. Elliott Smith - From a Basement on the Hill
5. Cake - Pressure Chief

Highly Anticipated 2005 Releases That Will Hopefully Make My 2005 Top 5 of the Year List
1. The Decemberists - Picaresque
2. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
3. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
4. Built To Spill - TBA
5. Mercury Rev - The Secret Migration/M83 - Before The Dawn Heals Us

Older Albums I Didn't Hear Until 2004
1. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
2. M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
3. Josh Rouse - 1972
4. Menomena - I Am The Fun Blame Monster
5. Bonobo - Animal Magic

Concerts
1. Austin City Limits Festival - Zilker Park, 9/17, 9/18, 9/19
2. The Decemberists - Paradise Club, 6/12
3. Pixies/Mission of Burma - Tsongas Arena, 12/2
4. Mouse on Mars/Ratatat/Junior Boys - Middle East, 10/25
5. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Middle East, 12/16


Movies (I saw so few new releases this year, so this list isn't very complete, unfortunately)
1. The Incredibles
2. Sideways
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Fahrenheit 9/11
5. Ocean's 12 / Spiderman 2

Movies I'd Have Liked to Have Seen
1. Shaun of the Dead
2. Napoleon Dynamite
3. I Heart Huckabees
4. Kill Bill 2
5. Harry Potter 3 / Bourne Supremacy


Books I Read (not necessarily new in 2004)
1. Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
2. London Fields - Martin Amis / The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis
3. Devil In The White City - Erik Larson
4. Crimes Against Nature - Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
5. The Winter Queen - Boris Akunin

Books On My Shelf I Intend To Read In 2005
1. Quicksilver - Neal Stephenson
2. The Clinton Wars - Sidney Blumenthal
3. Fargo Rock City - Chuck Klosterman
4. Porno - Irvine Welsh
5. The Culture of Fear - Barry Glassner


Video Games of 2004
1. Halo 2 - XBox
2. ESPN NFL 2K5 - XBox
3. Everything or Nothing - XBox
4. Half-Life 2  - PC (even though I haven't played it yet)
5. Knights of the Old Republic II - XBox (haven't played this one yet either)

Video Games I'm Really Looking Forward To In 2005
1. Timesplitters 3: Future Perfect - XBox
2. NBA Street V3 - XBox
3. Conker: Live and Reloaded - XBox
4. Jade Empire - XBox
5. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath - XBox



Ok that's all I can come up with for now... I'll update this as I inevitably remember stuff I left off the list.
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Current Music:William Orbit - Ogive Number I
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Subject:Must be a devil between us
Time:08:25 am
I made it to the Pixies/Mission of Burma show up at Tsongas Arena in Lowell last Thursday. I'd already seen the Pixies back in September at the ACL fest, but it was insanely crowded there, I couldn't really get very close, and I ended up having to leave about 3/4 of the way through the set because the people I was with really wanted to avoid the crowds on the way home (didn't work - the wait for taxis was 3 hours, so we ended up walking back). So with the $45 ticket price, the out of the way venue, and the fact that I'd just seen them a couple months before, I wasn't *that* pumped to go, but I couldn't pass up the offer of a ticket because, well, it was the Pixies. I never thought I'd get to see them even once, so I might as well take advantage of the opportunities that I'm given now, right?
So, I'm glad I did. Tsongas Arena is pretty far from top of my list of good venues for shows, especially early on when the reverb in the place was horrible, but the size was perfect. We got there in time to see the second half of The Bennies opening set. They didn't do too much for me, to be honest. Pretty much cliche-filled hard rock. The lead singer is a little dude in a wheelchair, and good for him for not letting a handicap stop him and rocking out and all that, but the band is Generic City. Oh well. Mission of Burma was up next, and they were really pretty good. I wish I'd been more familiar with their material. As it was they only played two of the three songs by them I'd heard, but a lot of the stuff I didn't know was good too. The sound in the arena was still pretty crappy at that point, and it wasn't really close to full yet, but my improvised napkin earplugs worked well enough that I could hear the vocals and guitar through the mess of reverberating bass and drums. By the end of the set the sound had settled down a bit (I think due to the crowd finally starting to show up).
Finally the Pixies got on stage. By this time it was really pretty full on the floor where we were, but since we'd gotten there relatively early (and most everyone else got there pretty late) we were less than 20 feet from the stage. A far cry from ACL, when I was probably 150-200 feet at least from the stage, and packed in with a ton of drunk sweaty people. The crowd this time was not as physical (except for the Angry Dude next to me who *hated* it when people tried to push past him to the front) and a lot less sweaty, but was made up much more of fans that actually knew the music than was at ACL. Anyway... great set. They didn't really do any of that chronological or alphabetical order stuff they'd done in the past, and just played a fantastic mix. Unfortunately, they were pretty light on Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde material (the only ones I can remember right now were Velouria and U-Mass, respectively) but there's more than enough quality music from the first three albums. They didn't talk much at all with the audience (a bit with each other though), but almost always just jumped right into the next song as people were still applauding for the previous one. I thought I'd miss that communication (I like it when bands interact with the crowd) but I certainly didn't mind them packing in as many songs as possible). The last song of the set was an extended version of Gigantic, and over the end of it the band said goodnight to each other in turn, and all looked a little surprised that the song was going on for so long. After that, they all put down their instruments and came out to the front and sides of the stage, and took a while to wave and smile to the people in the crowd, walking around and trying to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Kim Deal, with her huge smile throughout the show, and Joey Santiago, taking pictures of the crowd and really hamming it up during Vamos, seemed to be having the most fun, but especially in this last little goodbye waving part they all seemed really happy to be there, and almost surprised at the reaction of the crowd. After that they grabbed their instruments again for one last song - an excellent rendition of the obligatory Where Is My Mind?
All in all, a really fun show and well worth the trek up to Lowell and the $45.
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Subject:Say Halo 2 Heaven
Time:09:02 am
So, I played it last night. I was convinced that I was going to wake up the next day a different person, changed in some way by the coveted disc spinning away in my Xbox. But today I feel pretty much the same as I did yesterday. A little calmer, a little older and wiser perhaps, but otherwise unchanged. That's not necessarily a bad thing. There was no way Halo2 could have lived up to my expectations.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad game. Not at all. I loved the first one (a few scattered issues aside), and this one is not worse in any way. It's just that, so far, it's not really noticibly better, either. I've only done the first level and a half or so, but haven't quite been blown out of my seat like maybe I expected. And maybe that will take a little while to arrive - the first Halo didn't start getting really good until midway through the second level either. So far not much has changed though, and the things that are different haven't affected gameplay a ton - yet. Dual-wielding, while cool, is so far a little more confusing than it is useful. And hijacking the Ghosts is pretty fun too, but kind of difficult to do without taking a ton of damage. Now the AI friendlies are far more active in using vehicles, particularly the Warthogs, but they're not very smart about it. I'm not really used to the screen setup yet either. I'm used to looking here for my health, there for my grenades, etc, and the changes to it aren't quite intuitive. Again, I've only played about a level and a half, so I have a long way to go on this one.
I don't mean to give the impression that this is a bad game, or that it is a disappointment in some way - far from it. There's a lot that went right in this game, and everything I loved about the first one is back with incremental upgrades. The graphics are great, the cutscenes are well done, the sound is balanced much better this time around (I always had a tough time hearing Cortana in the first one), the locations you fight through are far more varied and interesting. Some of the more fun elements of the first one show up pretty quickly this time around (tank, rocket launcher, Ghosts), so I'm getting the feeling that there's still plenty of surprises waiting for me further on. I can't wait to get home this afternoon and get back out there with Master Cheese.
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Subject:let's go.
Time:12:00 pm
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Subject:Mandate
Time:08:52 am
Vote, suckas.
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Current Music:Brian Eno - 1/1
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Subject:This White House *is* a nice house
Time:10:04 am
Blender had two big politically minded musicians - Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips (for the left), and, er, Ted Nugent (for the right) - sit down and whip up a quickie "protest" song for their side. Wayne's song isn't the greatest, but it definitely fits with his goofy style and sounds intentionally corny. You could definitely say that Nuge's song fits with his persona as well, although I don't really detect any irony in there after hearing him talk a couple times. Check out his website - he's selling this song on there for $10, and he's got a great review exerpt about it - written by Ted, of course.

As a side note, it's interesting (but not surprising?) how overwhelmingly pro-Kerry the many musicians and actors are. Especially with music it seems - they chose Wayne Coyne most likely because he'd run around with some guys in animal suits for the photo shoot, but it wouldn't be all that difficult to find any number of well- or lesser-known artists to pen a song for the left (including plenty that have done so already - two "Rock against Bush" comps?). But who does the right really have, aside from Ted Nugent? Charlie Daniels? Alice Cooper? Vanilla Ice?? Um... Dr. BLT?
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Subject:Making History
Time:02:05 pm
Wow... in the next two or so weeks, there's three epic chances for historic victories of Good guys over Bad:

1. Red Sox vs. Yankees
2. John Kerry vs. George Bush
3. Me vs. the Covenant in Halo 2

If all three work out, imagine just how great and different life as we know it could be by early November.
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[icon] When I say "me", I mean my brain
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