Friday, January 27, 2012

Dear HR:

I’ve always thought that my real strength lies in the diversity of my interests/talents, and all along I’ve been resistant to focusing on one ability exclusively.
• On occasion I describe myself as a walking film studio because I’ve become familiar with almost every aspect of filmmaking (except producing and acting, at which I would fail miserably), from writing to set design to directing to cinematography to editing to effects to sound mixing to scoring to creating posters and trailers. 
• Meanwhile, the left side of my brain has been contemplating creating a new global language, one that embodies utter simplicity and that could, hypothetically, replace English as the resented, unwieldy lingua franca (as Latin was the lingua franca in the Roman Empire). I’ve learned that the Phoenician alphabet was the first to be useful for practical applications and was used widely throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, replacing cumbersome cuneiform writing, and I’ve based the new alphabet on that alphabet. Phoenician has the advantage of being the root of almost every language except Mandarin, and thus the new language wouldn’t seem as eurocentric as it would if it employed the Latin alphabet. I would borrow the absence of tense from Asian languages to simplify the learning of the language by keeping all verbs in the infinitive. I would also eliminate gender from the vocabulary, an aspect of language that never should have developed in the first place. In French, a film is masculine but a theatre is feminine? Who decided that?
• I’ve written a potentially controversial novel about an archaeological dig in Jerusalem uncovering artifacts which seem to suggest that the Torah/Pentateuch arose out of a deception in 622 BCE. I learned from The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein and Silberman that biblical scholars since the early eighteenth century have speculated that the scroll of the law found by the priests during Temple repairs, as described in II Kings in the Bible, was actually a newly composed scroll but was presented to the people of Israel as if it were ancient writing handed down from Moses. The novel resulted from my wondering “What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?” In extrapolating from that possible ancient deception to the current conflict over the West Bank and Gaza, I’ve arrived at the unpopular conclusion that the modern nation of Israel may have no claim to the land. Israel ceased to be a nation governed by Jews after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the second century CE, and the land was under Muslim control from the seventh century CE until 1948. Israel seems to base its claim to the land on the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses and others. If those covenants actually originated with the scribes and priests in 622 BCE and thereafter, Israel’s claim to the land is very tenuous. That doesn’t mean I’m antisemitic; it just means I’m a realist who wants the conflict resolved. Enough.
• I also wrote an atypical novel about the Templars in twelfth-century Jerusalem because, a few years ago, I overlaid The Da Vinci Code with Brokeback Mountain and a story emerged.
I could discuss additional topics, like songwriting without having formally studied music or my study of drawing and oil painting in high school and college or my interest in object-oriented programming in ActionScript 3 for Flash, but your eyes might glaze over. And even though this letter sounds like I’m all about me-me-me, I’m the type of person who focuses on not being egocentric. I like being just another member of a bright, cooperative team.

Thanks very much for considering me for this position.

John Garvey

(A cover letter I ended up not using. I don't know about you, but if I were hiring and read a cover letter like this, I'd want to get that guy on my team. Hm, funny.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buffett must be the GOP's thorn in the flesh

Warren Buffett Ready to Take Republicans' Tax Challenge

By Rana Foroohar, Time

Warren Buffett is ready to call Republicans' tax bluff. Last fall, Senator Mitch McConnell said that if Buffett were feeling "guilty" about paying too little in taxes, he should "send in a check." The jab was in response to Buffett's August 2011 New York Times op-ed, which made hay of the fact that our tax system is so unbalanced, Buffett (worth about $45 billion) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Senator John Thune promptly introduced the "Buffett Rule Act," an option on tax forms that would allow the rich to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt. It was, as Buffett told me for this week's TIME cover story, "a tax policy only a Republican could come up with."

Still, he's willing to take them up on it. "It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can't be solved by voluntary contributions," he says with a chuckle. So Buffett has pledged to match 1 for 1 all such voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress. "And I'll even go 3 for 1 for McConnell," he says. That could be quite a bill if McConnell takes the challenge; after all, the Senator is worth at least $10 million. As Buffett put it to me, "I'm not worried."

Buffett doesn't want to sound ungrateful, especially since McConnell and other Republicans have lobbied to keep taxes low for the ├╝ber-rich, saving him between $6 million and $7 million this year. Oddly, though, conservatives can't seem to make up their mind about taxes. On Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, supply sider Arthur Laffer bashed Buffett for, among other things, shielded income, because he doesn't pay taxes on unrealized capital gains (currently taxed at 0%) or charitable contributions (which are tax deductible). "Well, I had a net unrealized loss in 2011," says Buffett. "But if Arthur has a plan for how he wants to tax unrealized capital gains, I'd love to hear it -- it's an interesting thing for a Republican to put forward!"

If Buffett had his way, he'd pay more than the 17% rate he currently forks over on his net adjusted income -- and he'd have the government put that additional money to work by making sure that whatever portion of the 99% that isn't thriving in the market economy gets some help. As Buffett wrote in Fortune a few years back, "I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions."

Buffett doesn't want to hobble capitalism. He just wants to give it a heart. And he says the way to do that is to change our tax policy to ensure that people who earn their money from investments rather than by working for a paycheck contribute their fair share. "We need a tax system that takes very good care of people who just really aren't as well adapted to the market system and to capitalism but are nevertheless just as good citizens and are doing things that are of use in society." Note to bond traders: your higher taxes should help subsidize the building of bridges and the running of state-sponsored day-care centers.

Buffett has plenty of other prescriptions for America -- from more progressive consumption taxes to penalties for errant corporate directors to an overhaul of health care. He's also got a few choice words for the Republican field and their ideas about bootstrapping and "merit" economies: "This whole business about [Newt] Gingrich going down to Occupy and saying, 'They ought to be getting a job,' that's just ... you know, maybe they can be historians for Freddie Mac too and make $600,000 a year." When I ask whether Mitt Romney is a job creator or destroyer, Buffett says that while businesses shouldn't keep people they don't need, "I don't like what private-equity firms do in terms of taking out every dime they can and leveraging [companies] up so that they really aren't equipped, in some cases, for the future."