Books and taxes -- 04/15/08

Today is April 15th -- the deadline day for completing income tax forms (and for paying any amount due) here in the U.S.

It has just struck me that I'm not quite sure how those of you off in other lands have to handle your taxes. Of course you have taxes, I'm just wondering how much of a paper work burden is imposed. Here in the U.S. it seems as if the tax code and the paper work gets more and more complex each year, to the point where anyone who does not have the most plain vanilla low income situation must turn to either a tax professional or to tax software. Think of the cost of the complexity of the tax code, the millions of hours wasted in the paperwork, the billions of dollars that effort costs, the dislocation of the economy as people make decisions based on an attempt to minimize taxes rather than to make the best choice, the proliferation of tax accountants, tax advisors, tax lawyers -- a huge industry producing absolutely nothing of any value but costing untold billions of dollars. (No, I'm not a supporter of various flat tax proposals... mostly because they have no prayer of ever being implemented. I do, however, think that a simple tax code with perhaps three levels of taxation -- that is, it would be a progressive tax, large incomes would be subject to a higher tax rate -- but there would be no exemptions, no deductions, no tax shelters. Okay, so that would never pass either. Politicians need complex tax codes so they can get bribes "campaign contributions" from lobbyists and special interest groups to make things even more complex.)

But for the first time ever, there is no mad last minute tax marathon here. As was noted in late February, we did our taxes early this year. The first time. Ever. It feels good not to have that insanity. I think maybe we should try to do that again next year.

And continuing on a book and author theme from my Sunday entry, we attended an author lecture at URI last night. We had seen an item in the newspaper about a British novelist coming to URI to take part in some classes and to deliver some public lectures. Monday had been fairly busy for us (Nancy has the week off because of spring break and I took yesterday and today as vacation days) and we weren't sure if we wanted to go out again, but then I searched for the author -- Chris Cleave -- online and found his website and found an entry he'd written after arriving here ("Sunset in America") about wandering along a beach and watching the waves and surfers and birds -- and we thought that if he can write that well while totally jet-lagged, we had to go to his lecture.

He talked about the role of humor in writing about politics (or, rather, about ideas and events that were highly charged politically) -- and was dynamic and lively (and funny) as a speaker as well as providing some insightful commentary on Niccolo Machiavelli, Aristophanes, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Tom Lehrer. He also fielded questions with wit and clarity despite the fact that he had just arrived in Rhode Island from London on Sunday afternoon and here it was just Monday night and by the time he was answering questions it was past one a.m. back in London. (The campus bookstore had set up a table in the lobby so we were able to purchase a copy of his novel... which he graciously signed for us after his talk.)

His novel -- Incendiary -- is in the form of a letter from a working class woman in London who has just lost her son and her husband to a terrorist bombing. Her letter is to Osama bin Laden, an attempt to make him see how much she loved her son, an attempt to make bin Laden love her son, so that he will not want to kill any more innocent people. (The book went on sale on July 7th, 2005 -- the day of the London terrorist bombings. He discusses that on his website.)

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