... or, if you're a stickler about these things, after arithmetic. You could think of filing US federal
taxes as a kind of story problem ... a particularly long story problem.
A lot of people seem
a bit daunted by the IRS code itself--now available in its full, uncensored glory at
[ http://www.fourmilab.to/uscode/26usc/ustax.html ]
(among other places).
Unfortunately, most IRS employees fall into the "daunted" category, which makes asking them
questions about tax law a pursuit of remarkably limited utility, best reserved for those occasions when
you're hoping to resolve a dispute over a Trivial Pursuit question rather than any situations with
far-reaching and potentially severe legal consequences.
Like, for example, any questions that might relate to your tax return.
If, for some reason, you do throw caution to the wind and dial up the IRS help line
with a tax-related query, they usually end up having to refer you to a supervisor anyway. The
supervisor won't know the answer either, but can at least be more authoritative
about it. While you don't escape the potential legal consequences that would result
from incorrectly filling out your tax forms by taking this route, you do get to experience
more on-hold music along the way.
They say that half the fun lies in the journey,
and I think there are some new anti-psychotic medications on the market that could
be invaluable in treating the nutcases who would make a remark like that about taxes.
The funny part is that, for anything that can't be easily explained in the medium of cartoons,
the US Tax Code (aka "Code of Federal Regulations, Title 26") is usually clearer than the IRS
publications on whatever your tax topic of interest is.
Not that the IRS's prose style is especially engaging, I admit, so I think a lot of people are just
waiting for the movie version to come out. As far as I know, not only are the film rights for Title 26
still available, but because of the provisions in the US Constitution that limit the copyrightability
of US Government documents, technically, you also wouldn't have to pay for them.
So, if you wanted to, you could produce the first ever movie version of the US Tax code without
ponying up as much as a nickle for the rights--and you'd be doing an end-run around the impending
Writer's Guild of America strike to boot.
I'm thinking doing it as a musical would be best. "Title 26" is a bit dry, so a better name would
be something like "The Eternal 1040" with either Ingrid Bergman or Brigitte Bardot playing
the part of Amortization.
Um, okay, maybe that's a dumb idea. How about casting Tara Reid instead? That might do better
at the box office in this day and age, especially with Ingrid Bergman having been dead for almost
twenty years now, or, if you prefer, you could just think of her as having been fully amortized.
| ...with Brigitte Bardot playing
the part of Amortization |
Getting back to the topic of writing, back when I was working on paragraph one, I wasn't satisfied
with merely describing the tax code as "long"--I figured it would make things that much more viscerally
compelling, at least to statisticians, if I knew the answer to the inevitable, highly personal question,
"how long is it?"
I knew the answer must lie out there somewhere on the net; and, as is the case with so
many other questions, not only does the answer lie out there somewhere, there's a veritable maze of
twisty little answers, all different.
The scary part is that many, if not most, of these "all different" answers come from the lips of our
own elected officials, theoretically the very people who are responsible for the illustrious Title 26.
Last year, they had this to say about the prodigious size of the US Tax Code:
(Note that all of the following quotes were extracted from the representatives' official
press releases and statements as found on
[ www.house.gov ])
- U.S. Representative Rob Portman (R-OH)
"The income tax code and its associated regulations contain almost
5.6 million words -- seven times as many words as the Bible. Taxpayers
now spend about 5.4 billion hours a year trying to comply with 2,500 pages
of tax laws...."
- U.S. Representative J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK)
"The heart of IRS abuse lies in the existing tax code. Most of the folks who work for the
IRS are good people just trying to do their job, but they are caught in a bad, overextended
tax system. At 3,458 pages, twice the length of the Bible, it's impossible for the average
taxpayer to know, understand, and accurately apply its provisions. The length is twice
that of the Bible! Even tax experts cannot do so reliably."
- U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL)
"With its 6,000 pages and 500 million words, the complexity of our tax code is the
prime source of frustration and anger felt by millions of Americans toward their government. "
- U.S. Representative Bill Archer (R-TX)
"The Internal Revenue Code and regulations now come in at one million words and 9000 pages. "
- U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO)
"The Bible, the guide of our lives, is 1,291 pages and contains 774,746 words.
But the Tax Code and its regulations which are referred to by some as,
'a person's worst nightmare come true' is 9,471 pages and over 7 million words."
- U.S. Representative Vito Fossella (R-NY)
"the tax code runs 17,000 pages and contains a mind-boggling 5.5 million words.
By way of comparison, War and Peace is only 1,444 pages and
the Bible checks in at 1,291 pages."
- U.S. Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC)
"The federal tax code with its 44,000 pages, 5.5 million words, and 721 different forms is a
patchwork maze of complexity and a testament to confusion over common sense. "
- U.S. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC)
"The IRS tax code is 44,000 pages and growing,"
- U.S. Representative Dave Hobson (R-OH)
"the current tax code, which at 1.3 million pages is twice the length of Tolstoy's War and Peace"
So, depending on whom you ask, our elected representatives are of the opinion that this
particular section of the United States Code is somewhere in between 2,500
and 1,300,000 pages.
But one thing they do know for sure, at least if they're members of the Republican Party, is that
Title 26 is longer than the Bible.
By the way, if you go to the US Government Printing Office
[ www.gpo.gov ] you can
order a complete set of Title 26 US Code of Federal Regulations (the part written by the IRS), all
nineteen volumes of it.
According to the US Government Printing Office, it's 13,079 pages in total. The full text of Title 26 of the
United States Code (the part written by Congress) is a mere 3,653 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross
page count to 16,732.
The number of words has been left as an exercise for the student.
Tuesday, April 3rd
Day of the Dummies:
According to Amazon.Com's newsletter, April is "Dummies Month." Just doesn't seem
fair to me--here in the US, we've even merged all the US-President-related holidays into
one generic "Presidents' Day," but now Dummies get a whole month.
Granted, there are more dummies than US Presidents, especially when
you take the overlap into account, so that might explain the disparity; that, and
perhaps dummies just celebrate reeeeaaaally slowly or it simply takes that much
longer to notice that the dummies on your staff have taken off work.
| Granted, there are more
dummies than US Presidents, especially when you take the overlap into account |
So maybe "Dummies Month" makes some sense after all, but what remains baffling
no matter how much quality pondering time I devote to it is why Hallmark and
other fine greeting card companies haven't yet come out with a line of specialty cards
and gifts aimed at this 30-day holiday stretch.
Even if Hallmark may have missed the starting gun on this one, the rest of the world is rushing
to hurl themselves into into the gap. Microsoft, for example, is already starting the promotion
of "Frontpage 2002," due in stores Real Soon Now, having rethought their naming/numbering
scheme after the difficulties encountered in getting products to market like Windows 95 that
had been burdened with a remarkably yearlike numerical ID which was all too rapidly overtaken
by its eponymous date.
At least Microsoft hasn't fully embraced the trend of inventing secret code names that
they tell everyone about for their projects, like Intel is so fond of. In Microsoft's case, that
probably wouldn't be quite as annoying, because the main side effect is to generate an
bewildering array of often-misspelled names for the same CPU or chipset, so that anyone
trying to track down (or prevent) subtle and annoying compatibility problems has to rely on
a secret decoder ring to match the part numbers that appear on the chips themselves with
the geographical or mythological references that appear in the manuals and/or configuration
But if Microsoft did get into the whole un-secret "secret" codeword craze, I bet they'd go
for different brews of coffee rather than relying on obscure-but-mundane geographical
names. Frontpage 2002, for example, might be particularly well-suited to bear the
prestigious standard of "Kopi Luwak," often described as the most expensive brew of
them all. Kopi Luwak (also known as "Lauc," "Lauk" and many other
variant spellings people have come up with over the years, making it one of the best-suited
varieties of coffee for the "stuck on that one, last hint" crossword puzzle creator) is also
described in other, more interesting ways. The interested student may find more details
here: [ http://www.thecoffeecritic.com/fusion3/html/kopi.shtml ]