Monday, February 27, 2006

I Need an Accountant

Not for my personal finances, Nell's in charge of those. I need an accountant to help me with my tax reading. I just spent thirty minutes trying to work out a partnership balance sheet to reflect contributions by the partners of encumbered property, followed the next year by a depreciation deduction and a charitable contribution. What really screwed me up was that the amount of the mortgage on the property was three times the contributing partner's basis in the property. This means his outside basis would be less than zero, which is fine with me, but Congress doesn't deal in negative bases for some reason. Ugh.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pretrial Answer Handed Back

The adjunct handed back last week's assignment last night. It was a Answer to a Complaint we did the week before. Mine was fine, I got the equivalent of a check, which is all I shoot for in a pass/fail class. But among his numerous written comments, this jumped out at me:

"I do not think its is appropriate to include 'humerous' comments on your written assignments. Please refrain from doing so in the future."

Now its very likely that this post is about to turn into a rant. I was quite infuriated, but also embarrassed. I have a habit of not taking some things seriously enough. But before I go on, you may be wondering what my "humerous" inclusion was. Well, as my fourth affirmative defense, I wrote that the Plaintiff was a member of a communist front organization. To me, this is funny. Two things are worth noting though: first, I had five other legitimate affirmative defenses and without the fourth defense, the answer was complete and correctly done; second, being a member of a communist front organization is a specifically listed affirmative defense in the age discrimination statute my client was being sued under. No joke. Congress provided that if your employee is a communist, they are not covered by the age discrimination statute. So it was a meritorious argument.

Not only was it conceivably meritorious, but Answers are filed prior to discovery, so it's possible that the plaintiff is/was a communist! So it really wasn't even a "humerous" comment. It was a legitimate affirmative defense. And to me, one who is steeped in love for comedy, that makes it EVEN FUNNIER!!!

Now I understand that he's an adjunct, meaning that he's a full time attorney with a caseload and clients to keep happy, and grading these papers takes time away from his real job. When he has to go through a dozen answers, I'm sure he would prefer them to be as brief and to-the-point as possible. And when he sees obnoxious kids like me wasting his precious time, it probably annoys him. And understandably so.

But he wasn't involuntarily drafted to be an adjunct. No. In fact, he gets a pay check for teaching. In addition, he gets to put it on his resume and his firm gets to put it on their website. So he is being remunerated well for his time. And I am paying him. That's right. I pay tuition to fund his hobby-class. And to me, that means that I have a captive audience for my "humor." If he doesn't like it, too goddamn bad. I don't include jokes in my assignments to make his job easier. I do it because it makes me laugh. That's right. ME.

And what's so wrong with enjoying life a little? Now it's a different matter if we were dealing with real clients with whom I had a fiduciary duty. Then it would be inappropriate to get laughs on the client's dollar. But this is pretrial and we litigate in make-believe. Also, as I said earlier, the class is pass/fail!

In conclusion, I will not refrain from including "humerous" comments in future assignments. It makes me happy to do so, it wastes very little of anyone's time, and it has no other social or individual costs. Thus, there is a net gain to society when I use viable legal defenses to make myself chuckle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What Marriage Means to Me

Quoting heavy-weight Jurist Jeremy Bentham:

"Marriage secures, to every man, one safe and unquestionable and ever ready accomplice for every imaginable crime."

While I am taking the quote slightly out of context, I like the sentiment, and it certainly reflects my marriage.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Crappy Computer

Well the ongoing decline of my laptop took a more serious turn today. So far, on of the monitor hinges has broken, the CD drive cover has half broken off, there are numerous cracks on the casing, and the monitor has suffered some asthetic damage via rubbing the space bar when closed. But today, thinks went operational. The CD drive no longer works at all. The real shame is that I was just about to burn Warm Fuzzy a Sleater-Kinney sample CD. Now I have to figure out another way to do it. Damn you Averatec!!!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Some Great News

The blogosphere has been augmented! Arfanser has joined this fledgling community... finally. We are all very pleased to have him on board.

The Dirty Dozen

I stumbled across this today and I had never heard of it before. Apparently, every year the IRS publishes what it calls "The Dirty Dozen," which is a list of the twelve most common tax fraud schemes of the past year. It's a quick read, but the descriptions of some of the frauds are to vague to understand what the con is. My favorite on the list is frivolous constitutional claims. I sometimes search the net for various sites espousing that the income tax is unconstitutional, or even better, that it is entirely elective. One guy, unfamiliar with the use of commas in statutes, even suggested that only Federal employees have to pay tax. Bizarre.

The Tax Gap

The tax gap is the difference between the amount of tax imposed on taxpayers and the amount paid by taxpayers. Yesterday, the Commissioner reported to a senate subcommittee the results of a study analyzing the tax compliance rates for 2001. Here's a brief summary of some interesting numbers.

The IRS has a voluntary compliance rate, as a whole, of 84%. This means that the IRS is collecting 84 of the tax that the American people are obligated (both legally and morally) to pay. So how much is that 16%? $345 billion dollars. That's a lot of cash. 56% of the gap is caused by underreporting of income, shaving some numbers here and there.

I just thought this information was interesting. I don't really have any personal thoughts on the matter, except to say that the number is higher than I would have guessed. The Commissioner thought that 84% compliance was high. So I guess he and I will have to agree to disagree. Here's a link to the story.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Morality Monday

I just had a job interview with a law firm that represents insurance companies and miscellaneous other companies. In other words, it is a firm that represent "the man" against the little guy. Over the course of the interview, the partner said a few times how it was about money and you have to be hard-hearted and cold-blooded (his words). Now I've never been that much of a bleeding heart, but at times I skew a little to the "public good" side of things. But now I'm wondering, Do I have what it takes to represent the "man?" Can I stare a grieving mother in the face and tell her that her son was contributorily negligent and my client isn't going to give her a dime? Does it help matters that I don't believe that people have souls?

I don't really know the answer to any of these questions, but I'm going to think about it some.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Peanut Butter Cookies

My very favorite cookie is the Peanut Butter Cookie. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, with the distinctive criss-cross pattern on the top. As requested by a significant majority of my readers, here's the recipe:

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup crunchy peanut butter (you can use creamy, but why would you want to?)
3 cups flour

Oven: 350 degrees F
1. Mix together everything except the flour. Then mix in the flour.
2. Drop a spoonful of cookie dough onto a baking sheet. (Tip: Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. It is a thousand times better than oiling the pan. Parchment paper is awesome!!!). Use the tines of a fork to make the criss-cross pattern on each lump of dough.
3. Bake cookies for about ten minutes. I have found that the full ten minutes make the cookies crunchier than I like. I think the last time I cooked these I only had them in for about seven minutes, with delicious results.

These cookies are very delicious. I think I might even cook some tomorrow. Mm-mmm.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sick Day

Ugh. I'm sick today. And to make things worse, it is one of the only three days a week that I have tax.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ultimate Sleater-Kinney

It's no secret that I love Sleater-Kinney more than any other band. I first heard their music over last summer. Immediately I liked them, but it wasn't until I saw them in concert last fall (or maybe early winter) that I fell in love. My friends must be getting a little tired of hearing bring up in random conversations that Sleater-Kinney is the greatest band of all time, but I don't think anyone is more displeased than Nell. She seems convinced that I'm going to cheat on her with the band.

In my quest to let those around me know the greatness that is S-K, I have compiled my top twenty-five songs, arranged by album. Twenty-five songs is slightly more than can fit onto a CD, so I am going to have to drop one or two if I want to get it on disk. Also, I haven't gotten around to buying their self-titled debut yet, so no songs from that album are on the list. Without further ado, my list (song name, album name; any notes about the tune will follow a semicolon):

1. Call the Doctor, Call the Doctor
2. Stay Where You Are, Call the Doctor
3. One More Hour, Dig Me Out
4. The Drama You've Been Crazing, Dig Me Out; absolutely awesome song! on my top 5 list.
5. Little Babies, Dig Me Out
6. Dance Song '97, Dig Me Out
7. Start Together, The Hot Rock; opening track off my favorite album. they played it live at the New Yorker Festival (available on iTunes)
8. The End of You, The Hot Rock
9. God is a Number, The Hot Rock
10. Get Up, The Hot Rock; my favorite S-K song. just fantastic.
11. Banned from the End of the World, The Hot Rock
12. Memorize Your Lines, The Hot Rock
13. A Quarter to Three, The Hot Rock
14. Ironclad, All Hands on the Bad One; this is Warm Fuzzy's favorite song off Scarlet Panda's favorite album.
15. You're No Rock and Roll Fun, All Hands...; this is a really fun song that both Nell and I like to sing along to
16. Was It a Lie?, All Hands...
17. The Ballad of a Ladyman, All Hands...; I'm still not sure what a "Ladyman" is, but this song kicks ass.
18. One Beat, One Beat
19. Light Rail Coyote, One Beat
20. Combat Rock, One Beat; great tune, in my Top 5
21. O2, One Beat
22. The Fox, The Woods; opening track off their newest album. Great album and their heaviest to date.
23. Jumpers, The Woods; allegedly roughly inspired by a New Yorker article.
24. Modern Girl, The Woods; Great tune, kind of in the same vein as "You're No Rock And Roll Fun" in that they both seem to be light-hearted romps
25. Entertain, The Woods

Great songs from a great band. Download these songs from iTunes or the like, or better yet, go buy all the albums. Whereas I don't have any qualms about stealing music generally, S-K has more than earned the small price of a CD or two.

Morality Monday, Part II

The thing about the Corporate form is that it really can't, by itself, be the root of anything. The corporation is merely a tool that allows "evils" to be carried out more efficiently and without exposing the real actors to any personal liability (except in the rare case when the corporate veil is pierced). So the corporation is just a tool. But perhaps eliminating the coporate form is a first step to exposing the atmosphere of corruption and selfishness that seems to pervade America.

As a starting point, the corporate form seems to take from society without necessarily giving back. It does this in two ways. First, shareholders and members of the corp are sheltered from liability for their actions. This disconnect between personal action and personal responsibility should be alarming to more people. If I ran my car up onto your porch and destroyed the front of your house, and then I told you that I was acting in a corporate capacity so that it wasn't really me that damaged your property but the corporation, you might be a little sceptical. And when you tried to sue me to recover for the damage I caused, but the court said that your qualm actually WAS with my corporate personality, you might be a little confused. And when you sued the corporation and a jury rendered judgment in your favor for the cost of repairs, but you couldn't collect because the corporation doesn't have enough capital to cover the judgment even though they aren't legally undercapitalized so as to warrant piercing the corporate veil, you might be a little pissed. And then when you saw me, the actual person who ruined your house, living in my own luxury mansion swimming in my vault of hundred dollar bills which is totally sheltered from your legal calim, you might feel a little pissed on.

Secondly, the corporation is able to raise massive amounts of capital very quickly through the issuing of ownership shares. I'm not going to go into this point right now, though.

Admittedly, the corporation does not get these benefits for free. Because income is taxed both to the corporation as an entity when earned and also to the shareholders on distribution, the government gets two bites at the apple. However this (extremely fair) double tax treatment has been extremely mitigated by Bush's tax cuts, part of which reduced tax on dividends (which are the distributions to shareholders) to 15%. That's the same rate as we give capital gains (something about which I will complain on a Tax Tuesday sometime)!!!!!

Society is giving up a lot to accomodate this fairly strange business form, and it's not getting a whole lot in return. I think its high time that we stop coddling these barons of industry.

And don't get me started on LLCs!
Admittedly, the corporation does not get this for free

Monday, February 06, 2006

Morality Monday

Last week I linked to a Dawkins article he wrote about a show he produced for the BBC called, "The Root of All Evil?" The point of the show and the article was to determine whether religion was the cause of all of society's ills. The answer Dawkins came to was no, religion is not the sole cause of war, strife, hatred, and racism, but it sure isn't helping things. The take-home point is that there is no single cause for "badness" in the world. There are as many causes as there are ideas of right and wrong.

But it got me thinking, what are the really big contributors to "evil" in the world? Immediately we encounter a huge porblem: who defines what is good and what is evil? As is clear from some of my previous posts, I skew to the left of center, especially on social issues, but more and more recently on economic issues. So obviously I think the income disparity in the United States is an evil, although in many ways it is a cause of evil as opposed to an end in itself. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think my position has some merit. A lot of social ills (however you may deifne "ills") seem inextricably tied with poverty. Now its pretty clear that the main causes of poverty in this country are video games and rap music. I don't think anyone will argue with that statement, nor do I think it needs any empirical support (res ipsa loquitor). But are there some other causes out there? Perhaps evils that are heralded by mainstream America as absolute goods?

Well, here's one: the Corporation. The corporate form has been around for centuries, but until very recently (the 20th century), society viewed it with great scepticism. Senator Wagner, for instance, who I love to quote, had this to say:

"Facism begins in industry, not in government."

And how about the (dare I say) great Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, dissenting in Ligget v. Lee in 1933:

"Through size, corporations, once merely an efficient tool employed by individuals in the conduct of private businesses have become an institution--an institution which has brought such concentration of economic power that so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state.... Ownership has been separated from control; and this separation has removed many of the checks which formerly operated to curb the misuse of wealth and power."

Time for class. More later. Comments welcome.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Grizzly Man

Just saw Grizzly Man on the Discovery Channel. Decent flick, but the main character (R.I.P.) was a little irritating. I have to admit, despite the naysayers, my favorite part of the film was Warner Hertzog's narration. Just fantastic. It reminded me of Jacques Cousteau.

My Intro to Origin of Life Biology

I just read this fairly concise article that summarizes and discusses the current state of research in the area of biochemistry regarding the origin of life. It's the first I've been exposed to the chemical origins of life with any specificity. I recommend reading it (if you've got thiry to fourty-five minutes) if you're interested in early evolution. It takes some degree of familiarity with DNA and RNA which most college grads (and most high school grads) should have.

A warning though. The author, David Berlinski, is a senior fellow at the Discovey Institute. The DI is, of course, the driving force behind the push for Intelligent Design. As such, be a little wary of the frequent emphasis on the gaps in modern knowledge and the use of probabilities. But if you keep one eye out for possible bias, it presents a really interesting and succinct summary of a very intriguing field of study.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

First Shootout of the Season

Believe it or not, tonight was the first shootout I've seen this season in the NHL. I don't get to watch very many games, owing to the fact that Nell prohibits the watching of sports in her presence and the limited availability of NHL games in the States. But I saw my first, and the Blues won it! It was fantastic. And the bizarre thing is, Tkachuk wasn't one of the shooters! Strange but exciting, and the gamble paid off.

Dawkins on the Discontinuous Mind

I stumbled across this essay by Dawkins discussing the problems inherent in discontinuous thought. The essay was written in 1993 or thereabouts and doesn't seem to contain as much of the vitriol that characterizes much of his writing (and is one of the things I really enjoy about his writing). Also, he talks about lawyers specifically:

"The discontinuous mind is ubiquitous. It is especially influential when it afflicts lawyers and the religious (not only are all judges lawyers; a high proportion of politicians are too, and all politicians have to woo the religious vote)."

He goes on to share an anecdote which illustrates the point of discontinuity well:

"Recently, after giving a public lecture, I was cross-examined by a lawyer in the audience. He brought the full weight of his legal acumen to bear on a nice point of evolution. If species A evolves into a later species B, he reasoned closely, there must come a point when a mother belongs to the old species A and her child belongs to the new species B. Members of different species cannot interbreed with one another. I put it to you, he went on, that a child could hardly be so different from its parents that it could not interbreed with their kind. So, he wound up triumphantly, isn't this a fatal flaw in the theory of evolution?"

The thinking embodied in the lawyer's statement has interesting implications that Dawkins discusses further both in this essay and in The Ancestors' Tale.

Behe Essay

Here's an essay by Behe, one of the principal supporters of ID, and one of the few with a biology background. I've mentioned him numerous times before, but this essay is a concise explanation of why Behe considers ID to be science. Despite its brevity, it still manages to reference the watch analogy, compares bacterial flagellum to manmade motors, and discusses the similarities between ID and the Big Bang Theory. All three points are classic ID arguments and at least one is mentioned in every article supporting ID.