Cromulent Book of the Week: The Gun

The Gun by C.J. Chivers

The Gun by C.J. Chivers.The Gun is one of my favorite books of all time. C.J. Chivers, a former Marine infantry officer and now a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, traces the often obscured origin of the infamous AK-47 assault rifle. The Gun is not a technical overview of the weapon, as Chivers makes clear in the introduction, but a social history of the weapon.

The automatic Kalashnikov offers a lens for examining the miniaturization and simplification of rapid-fire firearms, a set of processes that when uncoupled from free markets and linked to mass production in the planned economies of opaque and brittle nations, enabled automatic firepower to reach uncountable hands.

You do not need to be versed in small arms or even particularly interested in weaponry to enjoy this book. Chivers illuminates not only the development of the weapon and its creator, but also its proliferation and its immense and varied symbolism.

It’s available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

The US Tax Code is a Monstrosity

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The US tax code is 75,000 pages. At 1 page per minute it would take 1250 hours, or 52 days, to complete.

You can download the entire tax code here but beware; the whole thing is in 63 separate files. The largest section is Title 26, the Internal Revenue Code. It concerns most of the run of the mill taxes we deal with when we file. How many pages does that take? Over 6500.

Download it, look over a few random sections, have a minor stroke, and then delete the file when you regain consciousness.

What is even more astounding is the fact that Americans spend almost 9 billion hours each year on tax preparation; compliance costs the US economy over $400 billion.

I am way too dumb to suggest a better system, but there is no way that what we have currently is fair, efficient, and practical. At the very least there should be more of a public debate on the merits of alternative tax laws, perhaps a flat tax or the FairTax.

 

 

For a Few Thalers More…

joachimsthaler

I almost never carry cash anymore and I’m not alone. A 2014 survey found that 2 in 5 Americans have less than $20 on them on a regular basis while 9% carry none at all. Over the next few decades banknotes will become extinct and we’ll pay for goods and services with a thumbprint, retinal scan, or by farting into a plastic tube (fingers crossed).

That day has not yet arrived though. The dollar bill is one of the most recognized objects in this country and all over the world. Want a snack from a roadside vendor in rural Ghana? Show him a dollar bill and chances are his face will light up like a Christmas tree. The plain ol’ greenback is a potent symbol but where did we get the word “dollar”?

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Joachimsthaler, 1525

In the early 1500’s a rich vein of silver was discovered in St. Joachim’s Valley in the Kingdom of Bohemia (today the Czech Republic). Local authorities minted coins from the silver, calling them joachimsthalers, thal (pronounced like “tall”) being the German word for valley. The first skeleton of a Neanderthal was found in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in the 19th century.

Over time the name shrank to thalers (literally “from the valley”) and entered into other European languages. A popular Dutch coin, the leeuwendaler or “lion dollar”, became well known and much-used in the American colonies and after independence “dollar” was chosen as the name for our currency.

A hundred years from now “singles”, “C-notes”, and “sawbucks” will be museum pieces but no matter how we pay for that cup of soylent green, it will still be in dollars.

What is going on in Yemen? Hint: Nothing Good.

yemen destruction

The US has not only gotten itself involved in yet another foreign conflict but we are almost single-handedly keeping the fight going with wide ranging aid to our “allies” in Saudi Arabia. We’ve been involved in the Middle East for over 60 years now and yet the region is still a mess with numerous civil wars, failed states, and a cavalcade of dictators, monarchs, and kleptocrats that would make Stalin proud.

Yemen is a mess and I wish I could accurately and neatly sum up just how bad it has gotten in this long forgotten country in the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. What I can say (I’d rather yell it) is that while the US did not start this mess, we are the primary reason for its continuation. I’m ashamed of my country and all Americans should be too. I’ve put together a brief overview of what is happening, who’s involved and why, and the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding.

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Cromulent Manifesto?

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First of all, “cromulent manifesto” is a nonsense phrase taken from a Simpsons episode over 20 years ago and if you get the reference…here’s an imaginary cookie. This site is my experiment with a website heavy on history and particularly why the past matters. Oh, and also random opinions and ramblings about God knows what.

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