Monthly Archives: February 2008

Stimulating thoughts

Much has been made in the media lately about the so-called “Stimulus Package” that has been passed by both sides of the house. Checks will soon be winging their way to a bank account near you.

Otto von Bismarck once said, “There are two things that you should not see being made; laws and sausages“. Just like sausages that can only honestly be described as a “processed meat food product”, the name “Stimulus Package” is one that defies description.

It is technically defined as a “One-time Tax Credit” on our 2008 taxes. Eligibility is based on taxable income; the “rich” won’t get a check. At the other end of the spectrum are those who will get checks but will pay no taxes in 2008.

So… the rich pay in taxes but get no check, while the poor pay no taxes… and get a check anyway! To quote Timon, “Did I miss something?

Now we’ve dealt with the what, let’s move on to the why. Why are we being sent checks? Apparently the theory is that we will all run out and spend the money on luxury items and thus “stimulate” the economy.

Will the economy be “stimulated” by this extra money? I doubt it. Many will have spent the money before the check has arrived. Others will use it to pay off debts. Still others will save or invest the money. Some will “blow” the money, to be sure, but the impact on the economy will be minimal and short-lived. The phrase “Bandage on a gunshot wound” comes to mind.

What is most amusing about all this is the underlying assumption; that giving people back some of their taxes will stimulate the economy. If this is true, then it follows that abolishing income tax (and replacing it with a purchase tax like the Fair Tax) would result in an economic boom, “the likes of which the world has never seen”. I happen to agree.

The saddest aspect of this whole affair is what our economy has become. It has stopped being about making, building and selling things, and has become based on how much money we spend on crap we don’t need. That is what the economists mean when they say things like “Consumer Spending is down X% on this time last year“.

The last time something like this happened was a few years ago (wasn’t that an election year? Naah… must be a coincidence). Back then it was called a “tax refund”, and some people did not get one.

I remember having to explain to a relative that the reason that she did not receive a tax refund because she had not paid any Federal Taxes. She was not pleased, which I can well understand; however, the principle is easy enough to figure out: A tax refund given to one who did not pay tax is also known as a bribe.


Proof that spammers have no brains

As well as being unable to spell the word “Viagra”, spammers seem to be lacking in the finer points of written English. Here are some of the more hilarious examples that I have received lately, along with my possible interpretations.

  • Gain the enormous sensual vibe in your relationships – a Pontiac Vibe, perhaps?
  • Your wife won’t recognize your “friend” – Who was that masked man?
  • Show the world the giant you’ve been hiding – The monster in the cupboard, perhaps?
  • Your enlarged package will satisfy her to no end – The UPS man will be pleased…
  • Change your garden tool into a POWER DRILL – Of what use would that be in the garden?
  • Be the Stallion you’ve always wanted to be – So you can feed me hay and keep me in the shed?
  • Your woman will be astonished by your instrument – Nice Violin you’ve got there.
  • Takke a vieew off malee heaalth reeform rebates – Duuuude, your keyboaaaard is broooken.
  • Where adding a few inches could mean changing your life for the good. – Great! I’ve always wanted to be a bit taller.

Seven lessons that the Music business can learn from AllofMP3 (RIP)

For those who do not know, AllOfMP3 was a website based in Russia, from which music could be downloaded at approximately one-quarter of the cost from domestic providers such as iTunes. I use the past tense because the Internal Music Cartel known as the RIAA (AKA the “Music Mafia”) had them shut down as part of the price of Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

However, there are lessons to be learned from the experience; lessons that the music business refuses to learn. The world has changed, but they cling to the old ways. AoMP3 was a signpost to the future – a signpost that the music business is, apparently, desperate to avoid.

  1. Piracy is not the issue – price is. People who love to paint AoMP3 as a “piracy organization” conveniently forget that people actually paid real money to download songs from AoMP3. These people could have used peer-to-peer to get free music, but didn’t. It follows that there are a whole lot of folks who will happily pay 25c for a song, but not the $1 that you insist is not enough to keep the music industry in the style to which it has become accustomed addicted. eMusic proved this  point some years ago, when they halved the cost of their (legal) music downloads, and sales rocketed sixfold. Unfortunately the music business insisted on their full rate, forcing eMusic  to operate at a loss, so the experiment had to be abandoned.
  2. Give the customer what they want. Don’t like MP3 format – Want your music as OGG files of even WAV format? AoMP3 did that. You still haven’t gotten the clue.
  3. Quality matters. AoMP3 offered downloads at all bit rates – higher quality at higher prices. For some of us, 160kbps is simply not enough – we want higher quality options than is on offer.
  4. You’re not in the art business… Music stops being art when the artist hands over the masters. After that it’s mass-produced synth-pap, and should be treated as such.
  5. …you’ re in the data business. AoMP3 charged by the megabyte – bigger files cost more. The longer the song, the higher the quality the more you paid. Seems fair to me, though I am sure that  the “musies” disagree.
  6. DRM doesn’t work: The music business things that our “rights” need to be “managed”. Why? Because they don’t trust their customers. AoMP3 distributed unprotected MP3s which play on any device at a price which was low enough that it “wasn’t worth burglary”. All this tedious mucking about with licenses and “trusted devices” just serves to annoy your customers. As those who purchased music with Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” DRM found  out when it would not play on their brand-new Microsoft Zune player. “For Sure”, indeed!
  7. Your customers are not thieves: People did not go to AoMP3 because they were looking for something free – they can do that already. They were willing to pay for the product. This fact seems to be blissfully ignored by big music, perhaps because they feel that they, rather than the market, get to set the value of the product. Sorry to bust your bubble, but that is not an option. You can insist on your “rights” if you wish, but you cannot stop your customers from walking out the door.

Before you hit the “Forward” Button…

A few words of wisdom for those who are thinking of forwarding me e-mail messages…

  1. Is it true? Mark Twain said “A lie can travel around the world before the truth has finished putting on its shoes”. A huge majority of the warnings and calls to action turn out to be untrue with just a few minutes of research. It takes only a few minutes to check out the veracity of that “Scam Warning!!!”.
  2. Is it relevant? Forwarding “Breast Cancer Awareness Week” to a bunch of burly guys ain’t the smartest move… (exception: if someone you love is fighting or has fought this battle, then or then you have earned the right). For your information, Testicular Cancer Awareness Week is April 1-7, and Prostate cancer” Awareness Week is Sept 15-21. Maybe I should e-mail that to all the ladies I know; perhaps that would be mean of me…
  3. Is it reasonable? No, Bill Gates is not going to give you anything for forwarding an e-mail message to a bunch of people – if he can’t track down spammers, what makes you think that he can track your e-mail? And no, don’t send it out “just in case”. All you will do is waste my time and try my patience.
  4. Do you care enough to write? Some people love to forward, but never seem to write anything. A one-line personal message says “I care”. Reams of forwarded stuff says “I’ve got too much time on my hands”. Perhaps you have, but I haven’t – don’t waste it.
  5. Is it brief? I don’t need to see the names and addresses of the last thousand recipients, with a “thought you’d like this” comment from someone I don’t know. Don’t be afraid to cut out the crap that I don’t need to see.
  6. Is it timely? A lot of the forwards out there are perfectly true, but have been doing the rounds for years.