The Soapbox

This page written circa 17 March, 1999.

Beware the Ides of Multiplication

"The hardest thing in the world to understand", Einstein is reputed to have said, "is the income tax". Actually, it is persistently idiot-proof, like a lot of things here in the USA. To an intelligent person, it seems laborious, needlessly lengthy, and obfuscatory, but it is best described as detailed, uncluttered with any explanation of underlying logic, and unassuming of the user's intellect. I see that it has much in common with the medical system.

This month's major project, after the tax forms, has become renovation of the main bathroom. (The bath was miserably small, five feet long, and pathetically shallow, and the space ugly with its glass doors fitted and daft as a shower without.) In another gruelling assault, Tony and I extracted the cast iron tub, and the tiled walls. His assistance in the last months has been a godsend, and the bathroom battle another thing for which I am indepted to him. (Expect before-and-after pictures in the house section, eventually.)

Anyhow, the task of buying in all the materials needed to rebuild the bathroom has begun. The old bath was enamelled cast iron, the new one will be a modern composite of fibreglass with a shiny coating. The old walls were constructed of tiles laid on a base of concrete rendered over chicken wire, in turn stapled over tar paper, all on top of gyprock. The new walls will look like tiles, but they will be made of a sheet of plastic that looks like tiles neatly laid and grouted. I am not sure that the new materials will be better. However, they will certainly demand less craftsmanship for their installation. This classy pseudotile cladding will cost half as much as the triangular spa bath, motor and plumbing included, and much more than tiles would have cost, barring labour. The saving will be that no tiler is needed... we will not be reliant on anyone's ability to lay tiles, we will be insulated against any possible idiot tradesman.

America copes well with stupidity in its citizens. I am moved to make a case against improving the literacy of the common man. It would cost a great deal to bring up the mean level of literacy and education. Given the current level of taxation, I am not keen to foot any of that bill. Andrew will argue that education will pay back hansomely in national prosperity (and if an opposing case can be made, Andrew, please make it), but I observe that America is doing relatively well even if a large fraction of the population have not progressed beyong reading street signs and filling in tax forms. We (America) need a cadre of educated people, but since we currently already have in place all the mechanisms for each of us to shield ourselves against a high level of uselessness in the populace, we are probably better off to leave most of them at the street-sign level and keep the change.

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