Five Things: March 28, 2024

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The IRS already has all your income tax data – so why do Americans still have to file their taxes? | Beverly Moran

Tax preparation companies lobby Congress to keep tax preparation costly and complicated. Indeed, Intuit, maker of TurboTax, the tax preparation software, has listed government tax preparation as a threat to its business model. ProPublica reported in 2019 on the company’s 20-year fight to prevent the government from making tax filing simple and free for most citizens.

The biggest downside to pre-Spring isn’t Daylight Savings Time, it’s taxes.

There are few things I’ve dreaded more in my adult life than the annual ritual of filing taxes, and even though we’ve had a CPA doing ours for the past several years, it’s still a source of anxiety, particularly the many years I worked for companies based outside of the state I lived in. Did they withhold the right amount of taxes? What can and can’t be deducted? Is buying a house a good or bad thing? Which of my favorite countries have extradition agreements with the US?

I miss the good old days of the EZ form, which apparently no longer exists so now I get to dread helping my son do his taxes, because there really is no easy way to do them anymore, even if you didn’t make much money and definitely don’t owe any taxes. Of course, Capitalism is a big part of the reason, but I didn’t realize how banal the actual explanation is.


How Donald Trump, Joe Biden and grassroots liberals could upend Democratic politics in one of the country’s bluest states | Gregory Krieg

Following Trump’s election, rank-and-file liberals in New Jersey – like many other largely Democratic states – rushed to enmesh themselves in local politics. But their ambitions were mostly thwarted. Though New Jersey Democrats picked up US House seats in the 2018 midterms, the state seemed immune to an explosion of political insurgencies, typified not only by the rise of “The Squad” but also the ascent of younger female and minority candidates who sought to wrest power from what they viewed as an indifferent, self-serving establishment.

It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve lived in NJ longer than I did my birthplace of NYC, and I’ve slowly come to embrace it as home, no longer hesitating when someone asks, “Where are you from?” while we’re on vacation. One thing I still don’t love, though, is the unique brand of Jersey politics that makes living in a pretty deep Blue State (with some notable exceptions here and there) feel like it might as well be a Red State.

From the ridiculous fragmentation of the state into a million arbitrary little fiefdoms — many built on white flight and racism — to the cartoonishly powerful Democratic Machine that limits real progress almost as much as Senator Joe Manchin, voting in local elections can understandably seem like a total waste of time. When Tammy Murphy immediately became the frontrunner to replace the corrupt Senator Bob Menendez — primarily because the Democratic Machine moved quickly to anoint her — it was just another day in NJ ending in Y. Ironically, it looks like that may have been the final straw needed to mount a real challenge to the status quo… and it may actually work!


NAACP urges Black athletes to avoid Florida public universities over anti-DEI policies | Becky Sullivan

“From racist voting policies, to unraveling reproductive freedoms and attempting to rewrite Black history, DeSantis has waged war on Black America,” wrote NAACP Board of Directors Chairman Leon Russell and President and CEO Derrick Johnson in the letter. “To all current and prospective college student-athletes — the NAACP urges you to reconsider any potential decision to attend, and compete at a predominantly white institution in the state of Florida.”

The US is steadily drifting back into Green Book territory as states around the country propose and enact a variety of discriminatory laws targeting Black people, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community. Coincidentally, Donald Trump is somehow a legitimate Presidential candidate. Again.

This isn’t the first time the NAACP has spoken up about Florida being dangerous for Black and LGBTQ+ people, but this one is more narrowly targeted for impact as “Black students make up an outsize proportion of college athletes, especially in football and basketball,” two very popular and profitable college sports in Florida.

I’m traveling for work next month for the first time since 2020, and I’ve had to give a lot of thought to where I wouldn’t be willing to go the past couple of years. Florida and Texas are obviously tops on the “Nope.” list, but there are several other states vying for it, too, and it’s been particularly disappointing to see how many organizations are still willing to host their biggest events in them despite a few years of clear evidence that they don’t want to welcome certain people there at all.


How AI is shaping the music listening habits of Gen Z | Beatriz Ilari & Lynne Snyder

When it comes to the way AI influences your listening habits, you might wonder whether you like a song because you truly like it, or whether you only enjoy it because AI has fed you enough similar songs that familiarity has bred appreciation. Some listeners feel that algorithmic curation causes them to be stuck in a listening rut. Their playlists are populated with songs and artists they’ve never heard of before, yet they all sound eerily similar.

We can throw algorithms under the ever-growing AI umbrella, but at least they’re a practical example of using a technology in positive ways — that can still have some noteworthy downsides.

I’ve been using YouTube Music (and its previous versions under other names) for years now, and barely ever listen to the radio*, so this isn’t really a uniquely Gen Z thing beyond algorithmic playlists always being a normal part of their lives. I fondly remember the old days of literal mix tapes, but I also remember how much of a pain in the ass they could be to create, which is what made them special.

I don’t have any problem with algorithmic discovery of music — half of my favorite playlists are Google creations — but it’s also true that I don’t know who the artists are on the vast majority of newer songs I think I like, and Google’s mood playlists definitely lean hard into “eerily similar” matches. When something really catches my ear, I’ll pause and look them up, but music is usually a background experience, so that doesn’t happen very often.

*The one exception to radio is WFMU, not because I actually listen to it live on the radio, but because they archive EVERYTHING, and the unofficial Woof Moo app (Android only; sorry, not sorry) makes it super easy to create queues and listen on-demand. My favorite shows are Bodega Pop, Downtown Soulville, Put the Needle on the Record, and Radio Futura, and I’ll frequently binge a week’s worth in a day when I want something curated by humans with unique tastes, playing songs I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.


Titanfall Is Still EA’s Most Innovative Shooter 10 Years Later | Levi Winslow

What made Titanfall cool, though, aside from merely piloting a big-ass mech, was the amalgam of varying gameplay styles. At one moment, you’d be on the ground in tense firefights with enemy soldiers, grapple-hooking and wall-running from building to building in an attempt to get the positional advantage on the battlefield. The next, you’d double-jump into your summoned mech, load up your firearms, and stomp around the warzone to crush the opposition both literally (with either your robot feet or fists) and metaphorically (by completing the objective and getting the most kills).

Throughout most of my gaming life, I was never into shooters, and had zero interest in online multiplayer. DOOM, Halo, Call of Duty, etc, all passed me by without a hint of interest, but there was something about Titanfall that hooked me immediately from its first reveal trailer.

Titanfall was the first (possibly only?) game I did a midnight release for, heading over to our local GameStop to pick up my reserved copy at midnight sharp, and then coming home to play it… but having to wait until the next day because the installation took forever! I played the hell out of it for months, and it finally opened the door for me to enjoy other shooters, although nothing else came close to it.

Ironically, when Titanfall 2 came out, I devoured the single-player campaign, but ended up spending more time playing Battlefield 1, which released at the same time, moved a little slower, and the Support and Medic roles were more my speed. I came back to T2 a couple of years later, though, and found my reflexes could finally handle it — and I loved it as much as the first one. It’s the only first-person shooter I can still play because my old man brain can’t handle first-person perspective anymore — and I’ll jump into it for an hour or so now and then as a break between other games. I’m actually planning on replaying the story campaign again, too, something I never do. (First, though, it’s Diablo IV time!)

Part of me hopes Respawn will eventually make a sequel, but the bar is set so high now, I’d almost rather it lives on in memory only, and EA keeps the T2 servers running for whenever we want to jump back into the fight.

Titanfall license

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