Damn, Wish I’d Written That

Bobbi at The Adventures of Roberta X absolutely knocked one out of the park today, as she often does.  The histrionics and batshit craziness surrounding this inauguration have been mind-blowing.  We all (myself included) need to take a deep breath and realize that not much really changes quickly, despite the acceleration of social media and the desperation of the legacy media locked into the 24-hour news cycle.

(Side note: interesting discussion on the origins of “batshit crazy” at Stack Exchange)

Medical Brilliance

I just ran across a fascinating new post about Manu Prakash, a bioengineering professor from Stanford who’s come up with a hand-powered centrifuge that costs $0.20.  It’s based on a whirligig (the children’s toy) and was designed for use in field hospitals that don’t have reliable electricity for testing for malaria.  It’s been field-tested in Madagascar and seems to work perfectly!  He’s also the guy who came up with a $1 microscope made of paper.  I’d give a lot to be able to come up with those kinds of insights while helping people and saving lives.

A Fallen Childhood Landmark

Some of my fondest memories are from the trips that we used to take during the summer when I was a kid.  My dad was usually able to schedule things so he didn’t have any jobs booked during a multi-week stretch during summer vacations.  He’d load up my mom, my brother, and me into the Winnebago and we’d take off for a road trip.  We traveled all over the country in that motor-home, and had some fantastic times.

I distinctly remember going through Big Trees State Park and visiting the drive-thru tree.  Unfortunately, the tree fell during the storms yesterday.  I think that trip was the one where we visited Yosemite and had deer wandering through our campsite.  Not a big deal to folks who are used to deer, but for a kid who grew up in an L.A. suburb it was really impressive.

My mom would usually have to call me up front to look out the windows because I’d have my nose buried in a book, but the scenery I remember from those trips will always stick with me.

Slant

Nicki over at The Liberty Zone has an interesting post up about all of the hollerin’ going on re: “Fake News”.  Couldn’t agree with her more.  It looks to me like headlines are much more extreme in the last year or so, especially after the election.  The other major factor is the rush to publish first.  It’s at the point where it just doesn’t make any sense to form a strong opinion on stories until you’ve let 24-48 hours pass.  The full 180s that major media outlets are pulling are mind-blowing.  It’s not one side or the other either, it feels like the gaslighting is coming from all sides.   I found a fairly useful tool that helps to cut through some of the clutter: the Allsides Bias Rankings (their News page is worth reading too).  I’m not saying I always agree 100% on their ratings, but crowdsourcing to detect bias is better than just guessing.

IRShenanigans

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that calling the IRS is an absolute nightmare.  When I was involved with the corporate filing industry, one of my biggest frustrations was getting the IRS to issue an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  To their credit, the IRS does have an online tool to obtain EINs.  However, it only worked correctly for individuals with a Social Security Number starting their first company.  The online tool was supposed to be able to generate an EIN for new companies that were being started by existing companies (i.e., a new LLC owned by an existing corporation).  Unfortunately, that part of the tool never worked.  Non-citizens starting new US companies (a sizable chunk of my client base) also couldn’t get the tool to work.  To get around that, you used to be able to: 1) call the IRS, 2) give the operator the info needed to get the EIN, and 3) receive the EIN immediately over the phone with a confirmation letter being sent by fax and mail.

About 4-5 years ago (if I remember correctly), Congress and the IRS got in a big budget fight .  The IRS response to the budget cuts was to drastically slash staff and training for customer service (see the Ways and Means Committee blog from this past April).  At the start of the budget kerfuffle, one of the first things that the IRS did was to stop accepting calls to get a new EIN.  Instead, your choices were to fax in or mail the EIN obtainment form (Form SS-4).  Mailing the form in gave you a minimum 4-6 week wait time for any response, so that wasn’t an option.  The only workable solution was to fax in the form and wait for a faxed reply.  In theory, this dropped the wait time from 4-6 weeks by mail to 3-4 business days.  Anyone who’s dealt with government at any level knows about the huge gulf between theory and reality.  The real world result was you’d fax in the form and then frequently get no response or a rejection by fax for an incorrect reason.  You’d then have to call the IRS, wait for anywhere from a half hour to multiple hours for someone to answer the phone, and try to get the operator to fix the problem.  As you can imagine, folks starting new businesses weren’t very happy about that.  Having to wait 1-2 weeks to even start the process of opening a bank account so a comapny could start conducting business is a huge bundle of frustration..

I’ve been out of the industry for close to 2 years, but looking at the IRS site nothing seems to have changed.  It looks like only 38% of calls to the IRS were answered in 2015.  Democratic politicians will tell you that Republican budget cuts are the reason for the problem.  Republican politicians will tell you that the problems are caused by bad internal  management at the IRS.  As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.  Either way, the end result is that people starting small businesses end up with a kick to the balls because of political infighting.

Dwindling Away

I see that one of the last 3 Shakers has died (h/t to Iowahawk).  Not really shocking; there’s a reason that groups organized around celibacy aren’t exactly found on every corner.  Reminds me that my Freshman Advisor at Beloit College in Wisconsin was raised as a Mennonite (his first name was Menno).  At least the Shakers didn’t have reality TV crews following them around.  Looks like NatGeo already got the Hutterites and the Mennonites, and the less mention made of what’s been done to the Amish, the better.