Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I've Been Tagged

My friend Grrl Scientist tagged me with the following meme a few days ago. I whimped out on passing it on because I really haven't been in regular contact with anyone lately and, therefore, would feel I was imposing on anyone I subsequently tagged. So, with that thought in mind, I gave some thought to the people I would really like to tag were I to have the opportunity to tag anyone who ever lived, even if they weren't blogging on the world wide web, or for that matter had a clue what that is. So here we go:

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

1. Learn how to play a musical instrument.
2. Visit Iran.
3. Learn how to dance without feeling silly while doing it.
4. Read all the books in my “To Read” section in my bookcase (the way this is going I think subconsciously this must be how I figure I’ll cheat death.)
5. Write something I’m really proud of.
6. Learn how to fly.
7. Learn how to speak Farsi.

Seven Things I Cannot Do

1. Speak Farsi.
2. Fly.
3. Play a musical instrument.
4. Dance without feeling silly.
5. Sing worth a damn.
6. Write as well as I’d like to.
7. Remember jokes.

Seven Things That Attract Me to Blogging

1. The opportunity to connect with other people.
2. The opportunity to share information.
3. It’s a good place to express myself.
4. It makes me feel a part of some sort of odd, ill-defined community.
5. It’s relatively easy to do.
6. It’s an opportunity to write.
7. It functions as something of a diary of my life and the concerns and issues
that have run through it.

Seven Things I Say Most Often:

1. “What a ding dong!”
2. “Learn how to drive!”
3. “I haven’t a clue.”
4. “What a phutz!”
5. “Now that’s interesting.”
6. “I’m not sure, but …”
7. “I gotta get that …” (this doesn’t result in follow through as much, at times
anyway, as I’d like for it to.)

Seven Authors that That I Often Read:

1. James Lee Burke
2. Walter Mosley
3. Michael Ignatieff
4. Mark Salzman
5. Elmore Leonard
6. Robert Parker
7. Tony Hillerman

Seven Movies That I Would Watch Over and Over Again (if I could):

1. Ikiru
2. The Twilight Samari
3. The Unforgiven
4. Strictly Ballroom
5. Tombstone
6. Lord of the Rings (the entire trilogy)
7. Miller's Crossing

Seven People I Want To Join In Too:

1. Jared Diamond
2. Elmore Leonard
3. Leo Szilard*
4. Clarence Darrow*
5. Abraham Lincoln*
6. Ada Lovelace*
7. Jesus Christ, and any significant prophet of the last 4,000 or so years.*

*With consideration given to the fact that these people would have no clue what the internet or the world wide web was about - though I'm inclined to think they'd have caught on pretty darn quick.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Whoooooa ... No More Limbo!

Boninsegna: Descent of Christ into Limbo

Christ's Descent into Limbo by Duccio di Boninsegna 1255-1318

Having been raised a Catholic, but long, long past even remotely considering myself to be Catholic now, I read with some interest Vatican Considers Consigning Limbo to Oblivion. Like wow, a blast from the past. Indeed, a blast from the past that was the linchpin to my shucking the notion of being a Catholic, and eventually my not taking serious any commitment to any other religion fettered with the sort of silliness that the Catholic Church imposed on its members. Mind you, it's not as if the notion of limbo, some in-between world found sandwiched with heaven on top and hell on the bottom, was ever Church dogma, rather it's some weird vestige of the medieval church that was alive and well, and taught in Catholic schools, until very recently. The Church, in a manner of speaking, just sort of went along with the whole idea.

I encountered limbo somewhere in grade school, and if I'm not istaken it was somewhere around the 4th grade in a religious class. Let's set the stage: My parents weren't exactly well off, but it was pretty clear that if I wasn't put into a structured environment I'd likely make a mess of my education. I started out in a local public school but it didn't take long before my natural inclinations for trouble and being bored in general took over and I became what teachers refer to either as a "disruptive element" or that "pain-in-the-ass" kid. My mother wasn't partial to this sort of behavior out of me, Lord knows she didn't put up with it at home, and having been raised a Catholic, and attending what the Catholic church called "religious instruction", which meant I went on afternoon a week to what was specifically Catholic religious instruction, I was in good standing to make the transfer over to the Catholic school uniform-wearing group. Moreover my reading ability was a bit higher than that of my peers and Catholic schools in those days were a bit selective (I haven't a clue if they're this way now or not), and this helped to make me a good candidate for entrance into the local Catholic school a few months into the start of the school year (this all happened a few months into the third year in school.) My mother took advantage of the chance, feeling that it was an investment that was clearly called for if I was to get an education in the normal span of time and in the general correct trajectory of how educations were expected to flow. And yes, she had a reason to do this in the way she did - having unexpectedly walked in on me dancing on a desk in the back of what was otherwise a classroom dedicated to study, my mother saw the light, or at least she did after she tanned my young bottom.

So off to Catholic school I go and it took a year but I finally hit the "limbo" situation, and this was a head squeezer of a religious concept. I was never one to just accept much on the basis of faith (well, if my wife asks this of me that's fine, but when it comes to where we relegate the souls of unborn children ... well, I get ahead of myself here ...), and when I was hit with this limbo thing my head imploded, or some such thing. From the article we learn the following about limbo:

"But limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies, worthy pagans and even a few Muslims ... Unlike purgatory, a sort of waiting room to heaven for those with some venial faults, the theory of limbo consigned children outside of heaven on account of original sin alone. As a concept, limbo has long been out of favor anyway, as theologically questionable and unnecessarily harsh. It is hard to imagine depriving innocents of heaven."

Indeed, it was the last sentence that got me, I mean newborn babies are sent to limbo and not heaven because ... why? Well, they're not baptized, and you can't baptize someone that isn't alive and only baptized souls made it into heaven, ergo babies floated off to limbo. Ok, that was the theological whatever behind this, even if it wasn't officially supported by the Church it did serve wonderfully to do one thing: Guilt parents. I mean it was YOUR kid, right? It died and you may not have had anything to do with that, but oh well, the kid's floating his or her days of eternity in limbo because you didn't get it baptized in time. Apparently back in 1984 the current Pope, who as a cardinal at the time, had this to say about limbo:

"Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."

A hypothesis? Wow ... generations of Catholics have been guilted and allowed to think their kids have been relegated to some lesser state than heaven because of a fouled up "hypothesis". How does the church test theological hypotheses anyway? Does the Church have theological theories? Again I digress ...

What's worse is that this limbo thing wasn't the worst possibility for babies. Since the Catholic Church maintains that we're all tainted with original sin, and even new born babes bear this dark mark on their souls, then the fact was:

The theology is complicated, but the bottom line is that Augustine, believing in man's original sin, persuaded a church council in 418 to reject any notion of an "intermediary place" between heaven and hell. He held that baptism was necessary for salvation, and that unbaptized babies would actually go to hell, though in his later writings he conceded that it would entail the mildest of conditions.

So given a choice, if your kid was going to wind up somewhere without benefit of baptism, what would you choose, limbo or a mild flavor of hell? And who knew that hell came in levels of intensity, sort of like buffalo wings? Why I never became a theologian I don't know ...

Well, wanting to lift the burden of parents having to ponder their innocent but deceased new born as living in hell, in 1905 we're told the following by the then Pope:

"... Pope Pius X stated plainly: "Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either."

Now that was comforting, right? Your kid isn't living in hell, but he or she is dwelling somewhere called limbo where, essentially, no one's around to love them and sure as heck God doesn't care about them. Now that's a God I want to be worshipping ...

Leave it to St. Thomas Aquinas to put a nice spin on this:

In the Middle Ages, theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, postulated a slightly cheerier idea: limbo, from the Latin "limbus," meaning a hem or a boundary. Here innocents would live forever in what Thomas called "natural
happiness," if not in heaven.

Ok, so they don't have God's love, but they're otherwise happy, that's not so bad, right?

Well, my sarcasm has been exercised and I'm once again reminded of why I have such a hard time with organized religion of any flavor, but especially one that considers us damned from the point of birth and is so sure it's the only source of salvation, and if you don't get that salvation or otherwise toe the line you're damned for all eternity. Gee, I wonder if I'm going to go to the mild, medium, hot, or extra-spicy version of hell ... I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

Monday, December 26, 2005



My wife and I were in Boston with friends on Saturday and we all decided to go see Munich . The movie had just been released the day before and a few of us were interested in seeing it, so the group of us, six in all, headed downtown to the theater. For me it was an interesting group to see the movie with, with 5 Iranians (all of whom have been living here for three or more years) and myself as the lone American.

The movie was an interesting one. This was not "War of the Worlds" or "ET", movies that on the whole are strictly focused on entertaining the audience. The movie depicts what occurred after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympic games in Munich. The exact details are not clear as to what Israel did, and the movie is not intended as an historical depiction of what occurred, but what we can get from this is that apparently Israel did send men out to kill as many of the Munich terrorists and those that supported them as possible. This movie is intended to make you think, and I believe it was successful with all of us. One friend felt the movie was Israeli propaganda, and another felt that Spielberg should have been more evenly balanced in his representation of both the Israeli and Palestinian positions. My feelings about
the movie were very different.

First, I don't think this was propaganda, in fact I believe that Spielberg is pointing a finger towards Israeli with this movie and asking, "Is this really the sort of thing you should be doing? Does this buttress your claim to being the 'righteous' people?" And on some level he points the same finger towards the United States, asking if how we're executing this war on terror, with it's eye for an eye Old Testament fervor, is the right way of going about trying to eliminate the problem. I think Spielberg is asking difficult questions of those who on the whole are seen as being in the right, or at least whose actions are rarely seen in the same light as those of the Palestinians for example. So, with the exception of one scene in the movie (where the agents go out of their way to avoid killing a young girl who's the daughter of their target), in my view of things this movie doesn't serve as a propaganda venue for Israel. There's no Palestinian side to show as Spielberg is criticizing Israel and indirectly the U.S., and the story of the Palestinians, for example, is somewhat besides the point - we know enough of what's going on to appreciate why the Palestinians feel aggrieved, and Spielberg to some degree even addresses the issue in the movie, but the intention is to put the spotlight on Israel and how it justifies what it did in this situation.

I think Spielberg makes a number of excellent points: 1. That violence begets violence. 2. That violence begins to de-humanize those who execute it. Of course it's entirely possible to get people to do this sort of thing who aren't entirely human to begin with, who won't suffer as some of the men in this movie do (the Daniel Craig character is an example of this), and there may be more of these men and women out there than many of us would care to think about - how many such men and women were in Germany during the Nazi era? How many Japanese were this way in Nanking? How many American soldiers roaming the American west killing Indians, or American southerners killing blacks? How many Turks killing Armenians? And the list goes on, and on, and on. 3. How can a country or a group of people take the title "righteous" when on the whole their actions are little better than those taken by those they seek to kill? 4. What purpose is served if the men you kill are replaced by killers who are worse? 5. How much "collateral damage", in the form of innocent bystanders, is acceptable?

With point number 3, how can you be righteous and do this sort of thing (for those not familiar with the Jewish claim to being the "righteous people" it may appear that the focus on righteousness may seem misplaced, but it very much fits here), one of the characters in the movie asks why aren't we arresting these men for what they did and hauling them back to Israel, like was done with Eichmann and Mengele? For those not familiar with these men, Mengele was the Auschwitz Angel of Death so named because of the horrible human experiments he performed on Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners, invariably Jews, and Eichmann was the head of the Nazi Department of Jewish Affairs and thereby directly responsible for the deportment and eventual killing of some 3 million Jews. There's not a Palestinian or Arab that has come close to doing the harm to Jews that Mengele and Eichmann inflicted, yet these two are dragged back to Israel from South America to stand trial. Of course there was a cathartic aspect to this, and on some level a need to put to the flesh these two exemplars of man's inhumanity to man, but how much more moral currency would the Israelis have gathered for themselves by capturing the terrorists and bringing them to Israel to stand trial, vice killing in the shadows, with the world nodding knowingly that it was the Israelis doing this but without proof that it was so, with these men considered to be heroes in Israel but without official recognition, or sanction for that matter, from their government.

This movie will cause you to think if you're the thinking type. But I'm more and more convinced that far too many of us aren't, or that many who are use convenient excuses to justify expedient or viscerally satisfying actions ("They'll know that they can't kick Jews around without the cost of their blood.", "We'll bomb those bastards out of the hills of Bora Bora"), which don't go very far to eliminate the problem, and can often result in bigger problems than were originally intended to be corrected.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The NSA Is Reading Your Email

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
The NSA is reading your email

It's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice.
The NSA is reading your email

It sees you when you're sleeping
It knows when you're awake
It knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout, I'm telling you why.
The NSA is reading your email.
The NSA is reading your email.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Gee, There Goes All Your Personal Information ...


In my personal experience if you don't establish specific limits on something which you expect others to adhere to you'll rarely ever get what you specifically say you're striving to get. The easiest example that comes to mind is with my students and any given project that I may assign them. If I don't lay out specific parameters for what I want, what I get will vary from right on, to anything that falls into the cracks between what I did say and what I didn't. Students are extraordinary at finding those things that leave them with the option to say, "But you didn't say that in your instructions." Now you may assume that whatever you don't want was a given in some way, but you learn quickly to never make that point in a discussion with someone who's bent the expectations, nothing should be assumed or thought of as a given as the human animal will bend any situation to fit his or her comfort level. To be fair sometimes I haven't been entirely clear and a student's interpretation isn't deliberately self-serving, and that's fine, that's MY bad and I live to learn. I'm just amazed at the number of students who will bend and twist like Houdini in a strait jacket to get over when the instructions were indeed pretty darn clear.

Now in my experience in the Navy the situations you dealt with were a bit more complex, but there were common threads to what I see with students. If you tell someone or a group of someone's to do something you have to be very specific about what they should and shouldn't do. Here the problem isn't a matter of simply avoiding the path to least work, but rather there are situations where you don't want someone going too far. So you have to do two things: 1. make your instructions as clear and comprehensive as you can, and 2. given that you're human and can't possibly anticipate every possibility, check on what you have your people doing, and have those working for you regularly check as well. An extraordinary example of this line of thinking failing is Abu Ghraib. There you had military personal given great latitude in what they could or couldn't do, and no one apparently was overseeing what they were up to, at least not on a regular basis and those who were checking up on things appear to have been willing to look the other way when questionable, though not necessarily flat out illegal, situations arose.

Now what astounds me here it that I've learned these lessons in my life experiences, but we have a president who's a Harvard Business School MBA, not to mention a Yalie, and you'd think that they somewhere in that blue-blooded education that G.W. would have picked this up, I mean they have to at least teach this stuff at these places to make up for any lack of practical
experience. But no, it appears that G.W. was absent for those lessons - well, given his grades, maybe not. I mean how else do we explain his, "We don't torture" proclamation, which certainly sounds right, with the efforts by himself and his people to undermine any legislation which codifies that we don't, and otherwise would hold accountable anyone that did? Today we learn, for myself via Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report, that the NSA, like a huge electronic vacuum cleaner, is sucking up all manner of digital communication to sift through, in spite of the fact that G.W. proclaimed that we were only tracking a few hundred people and their electronic communications. Of course a lot of the information the NSA is actually capturing would normally require, at a mimimum, a court sanctioned directive to allow it to happen, but in G.W.s mind this falls out as somehow being approved under some far-sweeping post-9/11 congressional authorization which, unbeknownst to the rest of us, was giving away the farm of our personal privacy - but of course this is G.W.'s interpretation of said legislation and it doesn't seem that it's universally seen that way by everyone, thank God.

Maybe our privacy should be transparent when it comes to fighting terrorists, but it seems to me that this should involve a good number of checks and balances to ensure that there's no flat out violation of our privacy, and somehow G.W. doesn't see this. If someone isn't overseeing the NSA and what it's up to we have a situation akin to that with me and my students, i.e. a good number of them will try to get away with anything I don't specifically hold them accountable for. Do you want the NSA sifting through your personal communication without court or congressional oversight? G.W. doesn't have a problem with this, and he apparently doesn't think you should either. Frankly I think that's taking the power of the presidency a number of steps too far. When the man in office thinks it's ok to give away your privacy it begins to seem to me that we have a guy who somehow thinks he's the king. Congress and the courts were specifically set up to keep the president in check, they serve to oversee the process and, just as importantly, to make sure the process itself is legal. This isn't because the people we elect to the office are bad or wish to abuse their power (though a few were of this flavor, unfortunately), but because presidents and the people who work for them are human and sometimes don't fully appreciate the repercussions of what they're asking to do and congress and the courts are there to help instill a reality check. But G.W. and, just as importantly, Cheney, only seem to believe in their versions of reality, and they're no more interested in having it evaluated and kept in check than the rest of us would tend to be inclined to open up our telephones and computers to the NSA for some info vacuuming.

So let us keep in mind that under the present administration's way of doing business big brother is alive and well, and very likely sucking up your email and phone conversations, but don't worry, they're only interested in a few hundred of us and really aren't paying attention to what the rest of us are saying, thinking, or sharing with the world at large. Trust the president, for surely that's what he expects.

Friday, December 23, 2005


It's hard to believe, but finally there's some extended time off just to collect thoughts, mull them over, get some work done that's been piling up, and maybe figure out what I'll do a few days ahead of myself vice day-to-day. Before this job I swear there was a part of me that thought teachers had it sort of easy with all that time off, though on the whole I always thought that what they did allowed them to earn that time. Now I appreciate that the time is a matter of survival, if you're a teacher and you don't get that time you'll be nearly dead by the time spring rolls around.

Part of what I miss is not regularly writing for this blog. I'm not sure what's a healthy dose of "regular", but I do know that I'm far from being where I'd like to be with writing and, for however much of it's actually going on, communicating with readers. I do get to visit other blogs, but as to be expected the regularity there has been diminished, though when I find 5 or 10 mins at work it's pretty easy to do some quick scanning. Hopefully I'll get to develop some of the thoughts that I've been wrestling with these past few weeks.

Anyway, whatever, we're going to chill out here at home. Originally we were planning to travel down to NYC and NJ to visit family, but we both came to realize that this just wouldn't work as we were too tired and there was too much we wanted to try to get done here. So some major chilling is in order, along with just enjoying Christmas in general, and I'd like to wish any visitors the best of Christmas/holidays, and a terrific new year!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Simple Pleasures Can Lead to Deep Thinking

From, picture by Frank Morrison

Ok, just so you don't skedaddle right off, the simple pleasure in question isn't scatological (well, depending on what station you're listening to, I suppose - I'd likely describe Bill O'Reilly that way), but this was sort of cute and it seemed to apply in a general way, so ...

My lovely and wonderful wife, Feri, gave me a Sirius satellite radio for Christmas and was kind enough of heart and spirit to let me have it now, vice having to wait two weeks. My drive to work is 32 miles, which means I don't get consistent radio reception and even on good days, for reasons I've yet to figure out, I don't get NPR consistently or without much annoying static from the heart of downtown Providence. I didn't want to keep buying Teaching Company CDs, which are fine all-in-all, but then you do tend to tune them out in the car after awhile leaving you with background noise that every now and then gives you something to listen to as you make your way up or down I-95. Music CDs became cumbersome and my collection, as large at it may be, just wasn't enough, and I was missing listening to the news without the inanities most of the local radio stations (and this is no way reflection of just RI, this applies EVERYWHERE I've ever been to varying degrees) pummel you with as you make your way across the FM dial - alas, my car radio doesn't tune in AM very well at all, so I'm pretty much left with whatever is on the FM dial.

The radio comes with a "do-it-yourself" installation kit for the antennae and all else. It was the
antennae that had me worried, but needlessly as I somehow managed to get the thing installed in way that looked neither ham-fisted or desperate; I was rather pleased with myself. Then it wasn't all that hard to get the thing activated and then receiving radio signals WITHOUT static - oh joy, oh joy! NPR comes in loud and clear and I have over 120 channels of whatever to listen to if it choose, though a large percentage of that will likely never be touched by me - though I do admit a perverse curiosity with regard to the Martha Steward channel, but I think my willpower will keep me out of trouble there. At this point I'm figuring the near $13 per month I'll spend on satellite radio will be well spent relative to the paucity and inconsistency of the alternatives, and the associated expense of some of those alternatives.

This morning Feri and I went on a jaunt to one of the local parks where we ate a breakfast bought at one of our favorite breakfast places, Seven Stars Bakery, and then went for a walk to get some exercise on what was overall a lovely day weatherwise. What was really neat, given that our drive was 30 mins one way, was that we both got to listen to and enjoy NPR. The show that was on at this time was something called "On the Media", henceforth OTM.

I don't recall listening to OTM before, frankly I haven't had enough consistent access to NPR and I don't tend to listen to the radio at home, but as I would expect it was interesting to the degree that most NPR broadcasts tend to be interesting, at least for someone such as myself. The program is dedicated to media issues of various flavors. In this show we learned about the
ethical dilemmas of reporters covering Katrina, or any extraordinary disaster; the correction of some of the reporting that has occurred out of New Orleans that over time has been found to be exaggerated or totally unsubstantiated; and the piece that really caught my attention was regarding the recent report card that the U.S. government, though here represented by the Bush Administration, received for following through on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The person being interviewed (unfortunately I don't recall his name) was commenting on how the media seemed to be shirking its responsibility (I'm sort of paraphrasing here) with regard to what can only be considered a bad report card for preparing this country against terrorist attacks. For those who haven't been following this, basically the government has been evaluated on the measures its taken in light of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations and if the government were to be given a report card it'd get more F's than A's on the progress its made to protect this country.

Where this guy feels the media has fallen on this issue is in its initial coverage, which was often overwhelmed by much lesser news fodder of the day which on the whole was more appealing to the average citizen - yes, it seems that the average citizen is more concerned with the remote possibility of bird flu than the very real possibility that people who've tried for the past ten years and been almost successful once (the first World Trade Center bombing) and startlingly successful a second time, won't be back again. On top of this he made an excellent point about something that seems to be what journalism is supposed to be all about, which is the follow up coverage that should come with this. Take the report and all the areas in which the government has failed, and write at least one story a week about why there was a failure of follow through on the part of the administration and what's being done about it, or not as the case may be. But no one seems to be chewing that particular line of attack, and it seems to me that this would indeed be a significant public service.

I think it's sort of worth considering why people aren't upset with how unprepared we apparently are for the next possible terrorist attack. I'm still trying to understand how we're managing to pump billions into Iraq and our own shores aren't that much safer for it, and indeed our adventure there in the end may result in this country being even less safe. But even if Iraq were a stunning success that's not to say that it diminishes the deadliness of an enemy that by and large isn't sitting in Iraq, and we're still left with unprotected harbors and much else that could in the end have us re-visiting some version of 9/11.

Well, it's good to be thinking again while I tool along in my car, though I have to admit that much of that thinking is likely going to result in head shakes of wonder and bafflement.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Carnival of the Vanities

This week's The Carnival of the Vanities is up and running Denali Flavors: Carnival of the Vanities #168. Some good blog reading to be found there, I highly recommend it for those with a desire to peruse and ponder.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Alternative Minimum Tax: Be Afraid, VERY Afraid.

Taken from Dallas Federal Reserve

Taken from Tax

This isn't the first time this subject has adorned this blog, and surely it's worth more than one turn in the barrel, especially after this morning's read of the NY Times brought to me Edmund L. Andrews piece, Hmmm. What's This Alternative Tax? Hey, Wait! Ouch! To get a general idea of where this is going, just take the lead sentence to the article:

DO House Republicans harbor some sort of deep rage against moderately affluent families with lots of children?

Mind you, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) has been around for some time, but Andrews is referring here to changes to the tax law that overwhelmingly favor the rich and essentially stick it to the non-rich, which in this case includes not only the poor but those who on the whole are doing alright for themselves without being necessarily "rich". The current tax bill extends Bush's tax cuts for dividend income and capital gains, but does nothing to change the AMT, which is beginning to reach into the pockets of the not so rich, something it was NEVER intended to do.

The AMT's origins, as with many things, though hardly all, that come out of our legislators started with good intentions. So what's the AMT? Here again I fall back on Andrews:

The A.M.T. was created in 1969 to stop the very richest taxpayers from using tax breaks to avoid all or most of their income taxes. But it is set to engulf millions of families with fairly modest incomes, for two reasons: it isn't indexed to inflation and it has a perverse interaction with President Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. They lowered normal income taxes but not the alternative minimum tax. If the A.M.T. turns out to be higher than the ordinary income tax, a person has to pay the higher amount.

So in short, whatever the rich may have had to pay in tax under an AMT construct are balanced by sustaining the reduction in capital gains and dividend income taxes, which the rich benefit from FAR more than the average Jane and Joe do, and FAR, FAR more than the average poor person does. Jane and Joe, on the other hand, with increasing income over the 30 years since the AMT was put into effect, now find themselves within the reaches of this law and thereby find a real chance of their looking at a nice tax bill for simply being middle class. Unlike with the rich it's reasonable to expect that there'll be no where near an offset for that tax bill in whatever capital gain or dividend income the "not rich" may normally make in the course of their tax year.

It's not as if the politicians are not aware of the problem with AMT, but on the whole sucking up to Bush is more important to the Republicans than doing something about all the people in this country, in particular those who've managed to work their way into a middle class status (whatever the heck that means, exactly, and the article points out that the AMT can stretch down to people making as little as $58,000, so this could mean YOU), that they're likely to hurt financially. Indeed, the politicos in DC have been passing temporary fixes on a yearly basis for a number of years now, skirting a need to address the real problem and at the same time managing to make Bush and the neo-cons like Grover Norquest (who thinks this is a great country, especially for guys like him, and no one should have to pay taxes for the privilege of living in it - gotta love 'em) happy. The problem is that the overall revenue generated by taxes has been thrown out of whack by Bush's tax cuts and a need for some sort of income stream still exists, so we've reached a point where temp fixes of the AMT are becoming too expensive, making it that much harder to do something about the AMT without making somebody, especially rich somebodies and their patron president St. George the Clueless (cheap shot admittedly, but this guy really does get to me) unhappy .

Given that it's the middle class that largely have the luxury of blogging and the time to peruse blogs, you, dear reader, are a likely victim of a tax that was put in place some 35 years ago for rich people. Now if ever you needed to get in touch with your political representatives in congress to let them know that you're not happy about this, NOW is that time. So if you've not
been particularly politically active up to now please take the time to find your house and senate representative at the following web sites:

The House: United States House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session: Homepage

The Senate: U.S. Senate

and let them know that you'd appreciate not getting a higher tax bill for this year for a tax that was never intended for you to begin with, and then ask them what they're doing about making sure that this isn't going to happen to you.