Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Updates from the psych ward, pornography edition remix

Occasionally I post on Facebook or Twitter entertaining but anonymous tidbits I hear about the goings on on the behavioral health floor at a local hospital. Typically they are a little sad but mostly funny. Today's was entirely sad.

A fairly young patient was admitted because she had attempted suicide. The reason she had attempted suicide is because of marital problems. The attributed source of her marital problems is that her husband is supposedly addicted to pornography.

Interestingly, pornography addiction is a made-up disease. There is no diagnosis for it in the DSM-IV. Which is not to say that looking at porn can't interfere with your life to the point of detriment (the generally accepted threshold for whether or not a behavior is addictive). For instance, viewing it at work may get you fired.

I don't know how often this woman's husband was looking at porn or the degree to which it got in the way of other things, but I do know of anecdotal examples of people describing someone as "addicted to porn" when that person was looking at it once every three weeks. Once every three weeks is not addiction. Once every three days probably isn't either. But if a man claims he has never looked at pornography at all, he is lying.

Here's the question that matters: how dangerous is it? The study referenced in the link above found that access to pornography actually decreases the incidence of rape and violent crimes against women. It acts as a sort of release valve, so to speak.

I am therefore left to wonder regarding the patient I described whether viewing pornography was a problem because it caused actual, direct problems, or whether it was a perceived problem because she had been told it was a problem, whether or not any adverse behaviors resulted from it. It could be that it would have been more or less harmless for this couple except that their culture informed them that they were supposed to make a big deal out of it so they did.

Obviously any details about the degree of harm caused by pornography in this case are conjecture. Here is what is not conjecture: this woman came to believe that the problem was so severe that the only solution was to take her own life. I can't help but wonder if she would have been in that situation if she believed that human beings are sexual creatures and having outlets to exhibit that sexuality is a healthy, normal, and critical aspect of life.

Here in Utah, modesty is a big deal. I often hear repeated "modest is hottest." We have clothing stores with names like "Sexy Modest" and "Diviine ModesTee."I have seen this tired meme posted to Facebook too many times to count.

If this is true, then by "pigs" this must mean "almost everybody." I have seen the attention my wife gets when she wears a form fitting shirt. It spans almost the entirety of those possessing a Y chromosome. I don't blame you--I stare at her too. I will also glance at a woman's butt as she exits the room. Sorry ladies if that bothers you, but I am not alone. Every man in the room is doing it. We all have hormones. Hormones are not evil. Literally not one of us would be interested in life if we got rid of them entirely.

There are appropriate ways to behave in every context. Just as it would be unacceptable (and not particularly hygienic) to wear a three piece suit in the swimming pool, neither would it be appropriate to wear a bikini in a conference room. But when a society scandalizes someone for having bare shoulders outdoors on a sunny day, especially when those shoulders belong to a four-year-old, something is wrong.

The human body is a beautiful thing. We should be comfortable with it. We should be comfortable with its many shapes and sizes and variations. We should accept its imperfections and embrace its uniqueness. We should each do our best to make ours as healthy and happy as it can be. And we should be familiar enough with the human form that when we see it, we can admire it without losing self control, regardless of how much of it the individual chooses to show.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Romney's tax plan: a comparison

I am the primary breadwinner of a middle class family. We live in a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood, and we paid for that home with a mortgage. We have two vehicles that each have over 100,000 miles on them. My wife works part time to supplement the household income.

Let's say I have a friend who is also the primary breadwinner of what on the surface most would assume is a middle class family. He lives in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but he does not have a mortgage. The vehicles he and his wife drive are similar to ours. Neither he nor his wife has to work because they have amassed a fortune in the multiple millions of dollars and therefore have more than enough money to live on for several lifetimes.

Just for fun, let's examine how the Romney tax plan would affect each of us.

1. Across the board reduction in tax rates by 20%.

Impact on me: I would save at best a few thousand dollars a year, only because my income is above the median household income in the US. Those closer to the median would see little if any benefit.

Impact on my hypothetical friend: saving a lot more than a few thousand dollars a year.

2. Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains.

Impact on me: none. I don't exactly make a lot in interest or capital gains.

Impact on my hypothetical friend: none, until you factor in item 3.

3. Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income below $200,000 a year on interest, dividends, and capital gains.

Impact on me: none, per comment on 2.

Impact on my hypothetical friend: depending on how he manages his portfolio, he could quite easily eliminate all tax liability. Since he has no income from wages and can live on less than $200,000 a year, he could buy and hold securities or sell losers to offset enough of his capital gains such that his AGI never gets above $200,000 a year. Since all his income comes from interest, dividends, and capital gains, despite his significant net worth, he may pay zero dollars in income tax.

4. Eliminate estate tax.

Assuming we were both to die under the Romney plan, Impact on me would be zero, since I'm not worth enough that it matters.

Impact on my hypothetical friend would potentially be significant, though I'm sure he has already reduced the potential for estate taxes through careful planning.

5. Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Impact on me: none.

Impact on my hypothetical friend: it would keep him from having to pay taxes even though he would have otherwise escaped liability through management of his interest, dividends, and capital gains. The AMT would prevent the situation from arising in #3 where someone of significant means has avoided tax liability. Repealing it would allow a lot of wealthy people to avoid more tax than they do already.

Closing comments: lest anyone think that putting more money in my hypothetical friend's pocket will lead to more jobs, let me disabuse you of that notion right away: it won't. He has made his money but isn't looking to start or grow a new business. He's content to just manage his portfolio. Anything less he pays in taxes will just result in a larger number on the statements that his brokerage firm sends each quarter.

Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, the revenue the government would lose by eliminating my hypothetical friend's tax liability would have to be made up for somewhere else, either by raising my taxes (perhaps eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, which would cost me more than a 20% marginal rate reduction saves me) or by cutting programs, perhaps the programs that helped me get through school and become a contributor to the economy in the first place.

Don't let Romney's naked assertions that he knows how the economy works and that you should trust him to solve the problems fool you. He's solving problems alright, he's solving the problem of having to pay taxes for people who are already wealthy. He does nothing to help the working middle class.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Willful ignorance

Nike announced today that they cancelled their endorsement contract with Lance Armstrong. Registration for this weekend's Livestrong ride in Austin is rumored to be down significantly from years past. Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong board. The house is burning, and Lance, trapped by his steadfast refusal to acknowledge the truth, is sitting inside while it all falls down.

Grizzly Adam used superlative terms to describe the scope and scale of doping in cycling. I commented that he's missing an important qualifier: cycling is just the largest conspiracy that we know about. But to think that larger, wealthier sports--where the competition to land a spot on a team is higher and the upside of doing so is much greater--do not have doping conspiracies at least as large that simply have not been exposed is naive.

In the early 2000's, I cheered as much as anyone for Lance as he was sweeping across France seven years in a row. I didn't think he was doping because I didn't want to think about it. I was enjoying the show too much. At some point, it just smelled fishy, too good to be true. Ulrich and Basso were doping, but Armstrong still won? Hmm.

Similarly, when I watch the NFL or Premier League or MLB, I enjoy the show. But like Lance, the show is too good to be true. Whether the shoe ever drops and a conspiracy larger, richer, and more sophisticated than cycling's is exposed is simply a matter or whether the business owners getting rich from sport ever decide that cleaning up the sport is good for their bottom line. Athletes have already shown that the incentives are just too great to ever police themselves. To think otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coming clean

Today's announcement by USADA of the publication of findings against Lance Armstrong and his US Postal team should come as no surprise for long-time fans of cycling.

Though it comes as no surprise, it still has stirred up a lot of emotion, especially amongst those racers who could have made the big show had they doped and chose not to.

I started racing at 35. And I'm kinda chubby. A pro contract was never in the cards for me. So perhaps I don't have the ability to muster vitriol the way others whose dreams and careers were derailed might.

Here is what I do know: the racers named in the report had a choice whether to speak up or stay silent. They chose to speak up. Perhaps they were coerced, but they still came clean, something the biggest name of the bunch refuses to do.

I don’t applaud what they did, but I do applaud their choice to be honest about it now. That, at times, can be the more difficult choice. The sport didn’t need them to dope, but it did need them to come clean.

Monday, October 1, 2012


When I began racing bikes several years ago, I was not alone. My brother, Steve, and I were together at almost every race. Throughout the years of racing, we have met and become friends with many other racers, to the point that the race itself has become secondary, and the primary function of racing is seeing our friends at the venue.

Among these friends are two other sets of brothers, the Bradleys and the Cottles. Seth Bradley told me, "you and Steve are the fast brothers, we're the good-looking brothers." I don't know about this, given that Seth and I have raced a lot together, and he has finished ahead of me quite a bit more than I have finished ahead of him. Besides, for a short, paunchy, middle-aged guy with thinning hair who has been given the nickname "Gimli," I think I'm reasonably good-looking. Regardless, the Cottles are the wise brothers, universally admired both for their success on the race course as well as their kindness and insight when mentoring other racers.

Just over a year ago, I was fearful I would lose my brother after a racing accident. In the fickle game of roulette that is life, Seth lost his brother Matt this spring, while Daren's brother Doug passed away over the weekend. In each case, like Steve, it was an unforeseeable accident. There is no good explanation and no platitude that will make it all feel better. I am simply reminded to never trade the assurance of a today for the assumption of a tomorrow.