Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sister Blog

There has been more action at my sister blog Fire Dick Jauron than over here. Do go check it out and pray for the demoralized fans of Buffalo that their deliverance from Dick will soon come.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air from Bronson Arroyo

This is really great. Bronson Arroyo not only admits he used Andro until 2004 and would not be surprised if his name was one of the "magic 104". He also has some of the most level-headed comments on the whole situation I've heard from any active player. No moralizing, just honest. Like this:

"In my mind, I think you have to lump the whole era together," Arroyo said, according to the report. "A lot of people were doing it, a lot weren't. I think pitchers probably gained 3 or 4 mph on their pitches and power hitters got some more power.

"But guys like David and Manny, if they did something, it didn't make them who they were. Did it make them a little better? Probably"

And this:

Before 2004, none of us paid any attention to anything we took," he said, according to the Herald. "Now they don't want us to take anything unless it's approved. But back then, who knows what was in stuff? The FDA wasn't regulating stuff, not unless it was killing people or people were dying from it.

Mike Schmidt, who I love, noted in his book Clearing the Bases (which came out in 2006) that while he didn't try steroids, he could imagine being tempted, especially if everyone else was doing it - due to the competitive edge it may provide (or simply to keep up with the Joneses). It's time for everyone to stop acting surprised that a major league baseball player, particularly one who is paid to hit home runs, would do what the likely majority of his peers was doing, especially when it wasn't banned in baseball, especially when the rules weren't clear on what you could or could not do, and especially where if the roles were reversed, nearly every one of us would have done the same thing (or at least have been tempted).

I also liked this take by Jon Couture.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Bad Samaritan (and the daily, o.k., weekly updates)

The other day, I was stupidly wondering if there was such a thing as a "Bad Samaritan". It doesn't seem to me to be a phrase that is in common usage. I wouldn't say that a Bad Samaritan is necessarily someone who doesn't stop to help another - the help was what made the Good Samaritan good - if he had continued walking down the road, he would have been an Apathetic Samaritan. No, a Bad Samaritan is someone more insidious, someone who actively throws someone else under the bus (think T.O. with the Eagles or Linda Tripp viz a vis Monica Lewinsky).

Come to find out that, of course, the Bad Samaritan already exists in popular culture. Indeed, besides the eponymous DC comic character, we have the book by economist Ha-Joon Chang, decrying capitalism and identifying "rich countries" as bad samaritans (timely!).

Despite these minor cultural references, the phrase is not commonly used. I promise to change this. I hereby am instituting a new "feature" on this here blog, in honor or Marv Albert's "Close Plays of the Month", I will begin the "Bad Samaritan of the Week" award.

Well, next week.

On to the updates.

The Taxes Update

The McCain/Levin Options Bill

Not much new to report since my last post. There are some reactions from the interwebs:

OMB Watch, while noting that the bill is unlikely to reach the Senate floor (not so sure about that), thinks this is a good start to reducing book-tax differences. Well, it may reduce a book-tax difference, but it results in a massive windfall for the IRS, at the expense of corporations who are using stock options to presumably incentivise their employees. It's a stealth tax on corporations (and by extension their shareholders)

The Health Care Tax Update

Lots has happened since my last post on this topic.

Surtax = explicitly limited to millionaries, and probably a nonstarter in the Senate

Repeal of tax exclusion for employer-provided health care = dead, in terms of direct tax, but back-door tax (sorry, "fee") on employers who provide "gold-plated" insurance

Sin taxes on soda, fatty foods, lipo, abortions... = all on the table., although Megan Mcardle hates the idea and the NY Times economix blog questions whether they work.

They probably don't work, at least not at any level that will be politically palatable. Also, they're regressive and I'm not generally a fan of taxes on such personal behavior when it is not precisely clear that the failure to tax is costing society at large.

Some more good links on the tax debate:

Conor Clarke at the Atlantic thinks taxing health care will lower costs in the long run (he's right).

This Washington Post piece is contra.

I linked to it above, but this piece by Len Burman at the Tax Vox Blog is remarkable, going over whether a fee imposed on health insurers, rather than a direct tax on health insurance benefits (with some subsidies for lower income people) is a regressive tax. Really a brilliant post.

Finally, another post from the Tax Vox Blog pointing out, as I have before, that Obama has really painted himself into a corner by promising deficit-neutral reform that also brings costs under control, without imposing taxes on the "middle class".

Unfortunately, this is all a bunch of silliness since there won't be any real vote on any real bill until after the August recess. Still, the level of detail into the tax policy issues is fantastic.

Especially for a tax geek.

The Baseball Update

Yeah, Papi tested positive for steroids. Here is the piece by Michael S. Schmidt (can't believe he is only 25 years old). Here is Papi's statement. Here is some video from NESN.

I don't really care, except that I guess I wish he hadn't been so strident in some of his statements following the A-Rod disclosures. Perhaps he really was blindsided by this as he says.

Anyway, Nomar Garciaparra gave a fascinating (and wide-ranging) interview today after the Sox-A's game. He noted something I had never heard before - that some players essentially told the testers to mark them down as positive for steriods (apparently by refusing the test) so that the overall positive tests came in above 5% (the threshold for mandatory testing starting in 2004). If you listen carefully, it sounds almost as though Nomar is intimating he is one of those guys. Either because it's true, or because he tested positive and is setting up his cover story now.

Oh, and go to hell Dan Shaughnessy. Wonder what the odds are that CHB had this column sitting in his rusty file cabinet for the past 4 years, just waiting, panting, foaming at the mouth, hoping the day would come when he could finally publish it.

The Death Update

Harry Patch, Britain's last living WWI veteran, died this past Saturday, July 25. He was 111. This comes just a bit after WWI's other surviving WWI veteran, Henry Allingham died.

Every once in a while I'll see an article or short piece of the "last" veteran of something, sometimes a war, sometimes, the last person who did a particular job, whatever. If you do the math (WWI ended in 1918, soldiers should have been about 18 minimum to serve), all remaining WWI vets must be at least 109. Actually, god bless Wikipedia, here is the list. Nearly 70 million men served. There are 3 left.

Anyway, the obit is here

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Diiii Heard That - R.I.P. Les Lye

Les Lye, known to people of my generation (at least those of us who lived in or near Canada) as "Barth" from the Canadian TV show You Can't Do That on Television died Tuesday at the age of 84.

He actually played most of the adult characters on the show, notorious for the "sliming" of people when they answered "I don't know" to a question. But chief among them was dirty, crusty diner cook "Barth":

Here is a gallery of various of his characters, strangely hosted by a german tribute site.

I have an odd memory of a particular episode where each character he portrayed smoked - and bad things happened as a result. Apparently he wasn't a smoker and as a coda to the episode, one of the kids interviewed him out of character - he wheezed and coughed like he couldn't breathe to emphasize the evils of tobacco, I guess. I bought it (of course I was 11).

Anyway, I was able to establish my Canadian street cred having watched the show and I'm grateful for his work.

The obit is here

The taxes update was earlier today. The baseball update is off for today as the Sox are off.

I'll end though with the quote of the day, courtesy of Shysterball (describing the Jays-Indians series):
And man, between the Indians putridity and the sense of foreboding surrounding the Jays at the deadline, this series is more depressing than watching "Requiem for a Dream" while listening to a Morrissey box set.


Finally, DeWayne Wise's amazing catch:

McCain, Levin Introduce Bill to Alter Tax Treatment of Stock Options

Senators John McCain and Carl Levin yesterday introduced legislation (S. 1491 - see below for link) which would radically change the way corporations deduct compensation paid to their employees in the form of stock options.

I note that we've been down this road before

Under current law, (Section 83 of the Code), a corporation deducts compensation related to a stock option granted to an employee at the time the employee exercises the option (this is correspondingly the time the employee recognizes the income). The amount of compensation expense (and therefore the amount of the deduction) is the "spread" at exercise - i.e., the difference between the fair value of the stock upon exercise and the exercise price the employee must pay.

The accounting treatment is different - and is the reason for the bill. Under accounting rules, corporations are required to book expense related to stock options upon grant and book the "fair value" of the option (determined under Black-Scholes or some other option pricing model) at the time of grant.

The book expense will often (nearly always) be less than the tax expense. From a financial accounting perspective, companies like this - they show a small expense for book purposes, which has a minor impact on earnings and then get to monetize a much larger expense via the greater tax deduction.*

a few years ago, companies were allowed, for GAAP purposes to book zero expense upon grant, on the basis that the options had no "intrisic" value at grant if they were granted out of the money or "at the money" (i.e., the exercise price was at least equal to the value of the underlying stock at grant). This changed a few years ago and now companies are (rightly) required to book comp expense based on the fair value of the options

The Levin/McCain bill would change current law and limit companies' tax deduction to the amount reported as compensation expense for book purposes.

This makes no sense to me. The employer's tax deduction is based on the compensation its employee includes in income - you have yin and yang. It's fundamental in the tax law that corporations are entitled to deduct compensation paid to their employees (so long as it is not "excessive"). This would alter that fundamental law on the basis that the accounting treatment is different; however, there is no dodge here.

Perhaps the Senators want to steer companies away from making large option grants in the first place:

By eliminating what Levin called an “excessive and outdated corporate tax deduction,” the Michigan senator said, “we would not only eliminate a tax incentive that encourages corporate boards to hand out huge executive stock option pay, but also ensure that profitable corporations do not use outsized tax deductions to escape paying their fair share of the tax burden.”Breaking that parity and tying the comp deduction to the accounting treatment

The deductions are not "outsized". They match the income that employees are reporting and paying tax on. If the link between the employee's income and the deduction is broken, the IRS will have a windfall (unless companies begin to report much higher comp expense for accounting purposes, which seems unlikely).

Perhaps I am missing something, but this strikes me as particularly unfair and silly. If the Senators want to limit stock option grants, then they should limit stock option grants - just make the $100,000 limit applicable to incentive stock options applicable to all stock options (or perhaps choose a greater limit).

Update: Man, the Tax Prof is fast

Further Update: Here is the legislation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big 100th Post Extravaganza

... Not really - I'm pressed for time.

The Baseball Update

Sox picked up Andy LaRoche from Pittsburgh - should slide in to a 3B/PH role and hopefully help out against righties. Sox also picked up Chris Duncan from the Cards for Lugo. Duncan seemingly replaces Mark Kotsay as 5th OF/general 1B utility guy. I hope he does well. Here are some reactions:



Via Leitch on why Sox fans will enjoy Duncan

Jere Smith

Update: More from the Hardball Times on the Duncan deal. And More from Pinto on the same deal.

My take? LaRoche has done much better in the second half than the first half and does reasonably well against righties, and makes a natural platoon w/ Lowell, but this is the definition of a marginal move - how many more runs will Laroche create than Kotsay (who is basically who he is replacing on the roster?) The Duncan move I guess has some upside if he can capture his '07 power, but the Sox did not improve themselves appreciably.

Meanwhile, we have these opposing tweets:

Sports Guy

John Henry

Meanwhile, meanwhile, Sox are down 3-1 as I write this, looking tired. Didn't most of these guys just have a few days off?

The Taxes Update

USA Today got Nancy Pelosi today to say that she could lived with a scaled-back surtax to fund health care. President Obama seemed to be o.k. with that in his presser tonight (while definitively killing the idea of scrapping the tax exclusion for employer-provided health care benefits).

What does this mean? Your taxes will not go up to fund health care unless you make > 500K (for individuals and gay spouses) or 1M (for hetero married couples).

The Death Update

R.I.P. Gidget.

Words fail.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Commando (and the daily updates)

The movie Commando (which happens to be on AMC tonight) stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alyssa Milano, Rae Dawn Chong and Dan Hedaya, among others. Alyssa Milano was 12 when the movie was filmed. Now both she and Governor Schwarzenegger are prominent Californians (Milano has her own clothing line for Chrissakes).

I wonder what it would be like to now be 36 or so, looking at a time capsule of sorts, that is continuously rerun on basic cable. If you didn't like the performance, or the way your rockin mid-80s outfit looked:

Here's the deal - Commando will be shown in heavy rotation on TNT, AMC, Spike, whatever mid-tier basic cable station decides it needs Testosterone Week. I'm sure Milano is getting nice residuals from the movie being shown so much, but it must be at least a little awkward to see your 12 year old self, a bit awkward, definitely not thespian-developed, trying to deliver silly one-liners across from the future Governator.

Maybe the money is really good.

The Baseball Update

Ugh. Sox get knocked out of first by the immortal Tommy Hunter and Jason Jennings. Time for the return of Three things I noticed:

(1) Jacoby Ellsbury will never be a fully successful major league hitter until he learns to take a pitch or two. The 0-4 tonight was partly a product of lack of discipline, particularly on his last at bat - a weak first pitch floater to CF.

(2) I think Francona has gotten a bit tentative with his 'pen in close games. I was surprised he left Beckett out there for the 8th after already getting through 100 pitches (particularly since in the 7th he let the first 2 guys on).

(3) Jere Smith is typically optimistic about the Sox, particularly given that they're sitting in the wild card, even after the loss, and that there is almost half a season yet to play. And yet.. and yet..

it is not traitorous to point out that the Sox have legitimate flaws. They haven't settled on a leadoff guy who can get on base with regularity (the indispensable John Couture pointed out on his blog the other day that the Sox haven't exactly been lighting it up from the leadoff spot. There are other flaws too - obviously the pen is in a bit of a funk. The 5th starter situation isn't fully sorted out. Lester still has bumps (witness last night). Drew and Bay are in a funk. And Ortiz, despite the semi-strong last month, still is not consistently getting the job done.

This is not to say that the Sox are in any danger of missing the playoffs, but a criticism of obvious weak spots and a hope that something is being done to address them (giving Buccholz a longer look is a good sign) is not inconsistent with being a fan.

The Tax Update

On hiatus for tonight.

The Death Update

I honestly had forgotten that we had female pilots in WWII. These were the WASPs (when the WACs were much more well known). Virginia Sweet, who passed away on July 12 at the age of 88, like her fellow WASPs, flew mostly transport and non-combat "ferrying" flights, sometimes in beat-up planes, so male pilots would be available for combat flights. A somewhat sad story, the WASPs didn't get the recognition they deserved (and apparently weren't eligible for the GI Bill when they were done - because they were civilians, but still). Here is an example of the shabby treatment they received:

Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at family expense without traditional military honors or note of heroism. The military would not even allow the U.S. flag to be put on fallen WASP pilots coffins.

The obit is here

Monday, July 20, 2009

John Smoltz and the Big Inning (Plus the Daily Updates)

John Smoltz wasn't exactly mowing them down tonight (although he did get his FB in the low '90s with movement), but he was plenty effective, through 5 IP he had allowed only 4 hits, 3Ks and no walks. Then it all fell apart - 2B, HR, K, 1B, K, HR, HR and he's gone. He ended up throwing 96 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.

This is not a new thing for Smoltz. In his July 6 start against the A's he allowed 4 in the 4th inning (although with less violence - no home runs). And in his first start of the season, against the Nationals (!!!) he allowed 4 in the first.

Scott Baker of the Twins is another guy who's been snakebitten by the curse of the "one big inning". In his 18 starts this season, he's allowed 3 runs or more in a single inning 10 times (including a 5 spot against the Royals). Baker's problem has mostly been the home run ball, with his HR/9IP rate way up over last year.

Now my gut reaction when I see something like that is to say, "well, take away those bad innings and Baker's got a 3 ERA" or "Smoltzy just needs to minimize the damage and he'll be an effective 4th starter".

But that's wrong.

Joe Posnanski makes the point today in a great post that is ostensibly about the Royals injury issues this year, and whether you can lay any of the blame for their horrible year at that door. Joe concludes not.

We will have to get better or make some changes, there’s no other way.”

Trouble is: That’s not the vibe I get from the Royals. Here’s the vibe I get: “Injuries killed us.” And, plainly, that just makes me ill. There’s an old saying: “Winners win and losers meet.” Well, I think it’s also true that “Winners win and losers complain about injuries.” Or “Winners win and losers gripe about umpires.” Or “Winners win and losers make excuses.” Or simply, “Winners win and losers lose."

The One Big Inning is like that. It seems aberrational until it's not. Eventually, the One Big Innings can't be excluded from the calculus. Sometimes a 5.4 ERA is a 5.4 ERA, it's not the product of bad luck. With Baker, yes, his high FB/GB ratio will get him in trouble when the wind is blowing out, and that's a fundamental flaw that will hold him back from his ace status. With Smoltz, it's still too early to tell and the Nats game can be explained away due to first game jitters, but it's not a good sign that the third time through the lineup tonight he wasn't fooling anyone.

The Baseball Update

As I write this, the Sox are down 6-2 and likely heading for the loss. The Yanks won on a walkoff from Matsui tonight. AL East = TIED.

Soxaholix said it best today. I dread the next 3 months if the Yanks pull ahead.

The Taxes Update

Really the Health Care Update, but the National Journal had a great exchange today about the proposed "surtax" on high earners to fund health care. Really good back and forth and enlightening for the views of left of center guys like William Gale:

It is poor leadership because it furthers the myth that we can solve our fiscal problems by taxing “other” people or with gimmick taxes. It has been said many times already and will be said many times again: we are going to need broad based tax increases and spending cuts to bring the fiscal house into order and the more politicians continue to act as if we can just foist the financing on a small group (be it rich people or foreign corporations or obese people or people who drink soda, etc.) the worse are our prospects for solving the problems.

As they say, read the whole thing.

The Death Update

Of course, Walter Cronkite's passing is the most prominent. has a great tribute up (probably over by the time you read this) to Cronkite, an online viewing of the Apollo 11 moon landing with Cronkite's commentary, at exactly the time it happened 40 years ago.

There are plenty of other appreciations of Cronkite on the web - the Atlantic's writers had some good ones.

In other death news - Gordon Waller of the '60s group Peter and Gordon. I have fond memories of listening to "A World Without Love" on the oldies station my dad listened to for a couple of years in the late '80s (Buffalo peeps - 104.1 or 103.3?) on the way to school in the mornings. It is a McCartney song. But despite the poppy, sing songy melody, the lyrics are kind of dark. Sample lyric:
Birds sing out of tune
And rain clouds hide the moon
I'm OK, here I stay with my loneliness
I don't care what they say, I won't stay
In a world without love
I read something the other day asserting that McCartney's songs were lacking in angst. I challenge anyone who's heard "For no One" or "World Without Love" to defend that statement.

Anyway, back to poor Gordon. The obit is here.