Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dogs as pet and meat

From Roger Cohen's Op-Ed in New York Times, Dog Days in China:
Another noted a local saying: "when the dog meat is being simmered, even the gods become dizzy with hunger."
Growing up in China, I ate a lot of dog meat. It is more flavorful than lamb, a bit chewier, and quite delicious. In New York, my wife and I had a Cocker Spaniel, Tom. When it passed away several years ago, we buried it in our backyard instead of making it a stew. If today I travel to China and eat in a Chinese restaurant that legally serves dog meat, I will order it. There is no evolutionary reason not to. Tom will not know, or care.

I suspect that "the gods" - plural in the quote from New York Times - refer not to the Christian God, but to numerous Chinese deities. There are plenty of Chinese folklore in which a dog becomes a meal for its palindromic counterpart.

I love dogs very much, both as pets and as meat. It depends on whether they are sitting by my table, or on it.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The following immortal words of The Declaration of Independence are in peril of misinterpretation:
... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Note that it is the pursuit of Happiness - not Happiness itself - that is among the unalienable Rights. The Obama administration and the current Democratic Party seem to leave out that crucial word "pursuit", and they kowtow to Americans' sense of entitlement. Forgotten are J.F.K.'s words "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." Americans now want their happiness handed to them on a plate.

It is often asserted that the citizens of the welfare states, such as the Scandinavian countries, are happier, and that Americans are among the less happy in the world. The surveys may say so, but the immigration trends seem to point to the opposite - I personally know quite a few friends who came to the States from the Scandinavian nations. Do immigrants come to the United States in search of misery? That seems to violate the basic human instinct.

Some Americans will always be happier than others; that disparity will remain ubiquitous in this world. But the strength of the United States lies in its social mobility. Nobody is limited by his or her circumstance of birth; everybody is truly blessed with the equal and unalienable right: the pursuit of happiness.

Math in Tax

I just had my taxes done. As I reviewed my tax returns, I noticed the following description on how to figure the limit on itemized deductions (

If your itemized deductions are subject to the limit, the total of all your itemized deductions is reduced by the smaller of the following reduced by two-thirds:

  • 80% of your itemized deductions that are affected by the limit. See Which Itemized Deductions Are Limited , earlier, or

  • 3% of the amount by which your AGI exceeds $166,800 ($83,400 if married filing separately).

That is a mouthful, and the rule seems contrived! Who stipulated it? The numbers seem to come out of the blue without rationale. To a scientist, it borders on the absurd. It is analogous to defining the speed of light by saying that light travels at the speed such that in a minute it covers the distance of one billion times the height of the White House on the north side. Anybody care to point me to the origin of this rule?

To assist the Americans to figure their itemized deductions, the IRS publication includes a worksheet that breaks down the calculations step-by-step. Here are lines 9 to 12:

9. Enter the smaller of line 4 or line 8 9. 2,784
10. Divide line 9 by 1.5 10. 1,856
11. Subtract line 10 from line 9 11. 928
12. Total itemized deductions. Subtract line 11 from line 1. Enter the result here and on Schedule A, line 29 12. 141,212

Do you see that line 10 is completely superfluous? Line 11 really is simply line 9 divided by 3, and line 10 does not seem to be used anywhere else in the tax return. Is it simply an opaque layer to conceal the absurdity and arbitrariness in the tax code?

Here is how to figure the limit on itemized deductions, in layman's language, but for the arithmetically more adept:
If your itemized deductions are subject to the limit, the total of all your itemized deductions is reduced by the smaller of the following:
  1. 4/15 of your itemized deductions that are affected by the limit. See Which Itemized Deductions Are Limited , earlier, or
  2. 1% of the amount by which your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $166,800 ($83,400 if married filing separately).
More concisely, if the total of your itemized deductions is smaller than 3/80, or 3.75%, of the amount by which your AGI exceeds $166800, your eligible deduction will be limited to (1 - 4/15 ) = 11/15 ~ 73.3% of your total deductions; otherwise (if you manage to list a lot of itemized deductions compared to your AGI), your eligible deductions will be the total deduction reduced by 1/100 (AGI - $166800), and since that reduction is a fixed amount, there lies your opportunity of tax evasion.