Free Tax Advice (Well, Not Really)

Photo from McClatchy

Sophia Loren and Spiro Agnew have it in common. Al Capone, Leona Helmsley, and Wesley Snipes are also all linked, but in a different way. And Martha Stewart and Lindsey Vonn make the list, even though their situations were completely different. What’s the common thread? Tax problems, a fitting subject for a blog five days before April 15th.

It seemed like a great time to pontificate about tax rules and hand out some free tax advice, for today is the last day I will be helping out with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. As a reminder, this program partners with the IRS and United Way to allow volunteers to file taxes for free for those whose income falls below a threshold. If your income is low, and you didn’t take advantage this year, mark your calendars next February to find out where the nearest VITA site is near you! As I tell clients, your taxes are done for free, which means you get what you pay for. Same with today’s blog. But here are a few tidbits of tax advice, both frivolous and useful.

The 861 Tax Protest Argument

Wesley Snipes tried to use what is called the “861 argument” to avoid paying taxes, which points to section 861 of the IRS code that defines income sources. Snipes and others argued that the IRS code doesn’t explicitly list all possible ways you can earn income, and therefore any income-generating activity not on the list is not taxable. Multiple tax protesters using this logic have been taken to court in the last thirty years, and none have won.

No tax protester has successfully argued that you can legally avoid paying taxes.

Snipes followed the advice of two fraudsters, Tom Clayton and Larkin Rose, who called themselves the American Rights Litigators, and then later renamed their group the Guiding Light of God Ministries. Much later, they were renamed federal prison inmates # 357-551 and #AX7-832. Not only did Snipes refuse to pay millions owed for money made as a film star, but he attempted to amend previous year filings and request millions in refunds. At one point after he was indicted for tax evasion, he tried to enter South Africa on a false passport. (He also wanted his trial venue to be moved out of Florida because Ocala is racist. The judge disagreed.)

Continue reading “Free Tax Advice (Well, Not Really)”

Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái! Happy Lunar New Year!

 恭喜发财

(simplified Chinese)

I hope I haven’t already insulted somebody.

San Francisco, my homeland for the last forty years, has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, so the Chinese New Year festivals here have always been spectacular. The elaborate parade, which will be held on February 23, is deemed the largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia, even featuring a 288-foot-long dragon (“Gum Lung”).

SF Chinese New Year
SF Chinese New Year Parade, photo by sponsor Southwest Airlines staff

News stories talk about where to get the best traditional food (e.g. dumplings) and fanciest red envelopes. People do wish each other Gung Hay Fat Choy enthusiastically, which seems to be where some of the argument starts. Continue reading “Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái! Happy Lunar New Year!”

Choose Your January Adventure

It’s the second week of January, so a traditional time to sip on a steaming cup of self-recrimination while you finish putting away holiday decorations. Why’d you eat so many of Aunt Marnie’s cookies? Why that extra bottle of wine? So many parties with melted Brie…so little time.

Resolutions get made, then broken or ignored. Exercise machines are purchased, then used as clothes hangers. January can be a dangerous time because–and I’m going to get northern California new agey here–so much negative energy is generated from remorse after all the positive warm and fuzzies from December celebrations now decisively over. You have to clean up after the party, not just the house, but your body and your emotions, knowing that it’s a long time to the next fun and games.

Still, January can be useful. Let’s talk about how.

Adventure diagram
Diagram by Carl Richards, “It’s 2019. Want some Self-Improvement?”

Adventure=Change

Continue reading “Choose Your January Adventure”

The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis

Greensleeves illustration
Greensleeves illustration by Walter Crane. Based on a theme written by ??

This may not seem like a holiday-themed post, but in the theater of mad decorating that took place at our house last week, listening to Christmas carols led to all sorts of topics. One of my favorite carols popped into the mix: “What Child is This?” played by Vince Guaraldi on The Charlie Brown Christmas CD.  Naturally, the song led to a discussion of “Greensleeves” which naturally led to… anyone? anyone? Henry the Eighth… which naturally reminded of something I recently learned about syphilis.

The Earworm Virus of “Greensleeves”

The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written as a poem by William Chatterton Dix, who mused on what the magi might have said besides, “Where the Holiday Inn?”  Dix was an English insurance company manager whose near death illness invoked a spark of divine inspiration so intense that he began writing poems like “The Manger Throne.”  At some point, when a hymnal was later created in 1865, his poem was set to the ‘borrowed’ tune from “Greensleeves.”

The little ballad, played by strolling bards at Renaissance festivals and the more famous pick-up lute quartets, had been around for nearly three centuries. The song has long been attributed to Henry, and the legend goes that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn as she was rejecting his advances. Continue reading “The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis”

The Demise of Ghosts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

The Puritans killed off the ghosts.

Marcus the Carcass
Marcus the Carcass, the kajmeister Halloween mascot.

Or, to say it more properly, Martin Luther and the Reformation Christians were the ones who turned the dead into the bloodcurdling beings that inhabit today’s stories. Halloween stories being an appropriate topic for today’s blog, I was reading about the history of horror, and I wondered how medieval societies felt about ghosts. When I read about the Dance of the Dead and the role of Martin Luther, it all sort of clicked into place.

In the medieval period, the dead were considered simply another age group. The blessed dead who were consecrated as saints became part of daily ritual life and were expected to intervene to support the community. Families offered commemorative prayers to their ancestors, whose names were written in “Books of Hours,” prayer books that guided daily devotion at home. —[Emphasis mine] from “How the Dead Danced with the Living in Medieval Society,” theconversation.com

Just Another Age Group

Prior to the Reformation, medieval societies had a more platonic relationship with the dead. Maybe not platonic–how about balanced? The dead represented ancestors who could be either blessed or just normal ol’ ghosts. Some spirits intended harm, like demons or tricksters, but not all of the walking dead were malicious. Hence, many medieval paintings, particularly murals, showed the dead dancing among the living. The dance was part of the transition of life as one aged and eventually crossed the line into that other state of being. Continue reading “The Demise of Ghosts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated”