Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.


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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Spooky weekend

I can't wait for the weekend, when The Covert Comic pauses in his never-ending quest to make internal CIA web sites both user-friendly and safe for democracy and offers brilliant insights into national security issues and general philosophy. This week's gems:

When reading Homeland Security guidelines for understanding and responding to the terrorism threat, if you replace every instance of the word "terrorist" with the word "mime," the original meaning holds and is even strengthened.

Back when everything was secret, everyone knew what was happening. Now that everything's unclassified, no one has any idea what's going on.

Remember, Socrates was killed by a committee. So it's not like committees are totally useless.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Crime doesn't pay (at least after taxes)

"I bet that if you actually read the entire vastness of the U.S. Tax Code, you'd find at least one sex scene."-Dave Barry

For the past ten years, I've had taped to my desk a brief excerpt from Instructions to IRS Form 8582, Passive Activity Loss Limitation:

"Passive activity income does not include the following: Income from an activity that is not a passive activity."

It's one of the few unambiguous portions of the Tax Code. Every year I check to make certain it's still there in the Form 8582 instructions. It's remained constant, like the North Star; a bastion of security in an otherwise confusing maelstrom of befuddling regulations.

This year, Andy Green, a friend from work, noted yet another gem of charming arcana, from the Miscellaneous Income section of IRS Publication 525:

"If you steal property, you must report its fair market value in your income in the year you steal it unless in the same year, you return it to its rightful owner."

Unlike my previously cited example of elegant simplicity, this 32-word bombshell could provide years of employment for a battery of tax law experts and criminal attorneys.

First off, isn't this provision unconstitutional? If you're required to report income from your thievery, doesn't it mean you're being forced to waive your fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination?

Then there's the fair market business. If you need to have the goods you've lifted appraised to determine their fair market value, can you deduct the cost of the appraisal as a business expense?

And what if you fenced the goods? One can safely assume fences do not pay top dollar for handling hot items, so there's undoubtedly a major disparity between the fair market value and the cash you actually receive from the transaction. Is the difference deductible?

And, as Andy notes, this provision means the victim of the crime is also going to be burdened with paperwork. What if the thief, just to be nasty, returns the stolen goods in the year following the theft?

The victim of the theft, if he had claimed the loss on his taxes, would now have to either file an amended return for the previous year or otherwise declare the value of the returned goods. Let's say the stolen property was a car. It's now a year later. The fair market value of the car has depreciated in a year. Can the victim deduct from the recapture of the prior year's loss the additional year's depreciation and associated costs, such as repairs? What if the victim's insurance company had reimbursed him for the stolen vehicle?

Wow. The mind boggles.

One can assume criminal income is handled in the same manner as honest income. Unsuccessful, low-income thieves would be ignored because their pursuit would cost more than could be collected in taxes and penalties. Still, one or two get nabbed and hung out to dry every year just to serve as examples.

Egregious thieves (MCI, Enron, the local auto repair shop) have highly compensated tax experts to get them off.

Which means, as with honest folk, middle class thieves probably have to carry the majority of the burden.

Have a happy tax day.

"The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."
Will Rogers

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Royal intrigue

There's a rumor that Queen Elizabeth permitted the remarriage of Prince Charles only if he signed a document in which he agreed not to succeed to the Throne, but pass the Crown to Prince William.

Which, in the grand scheme of things, is about as significant as McDonald's decreeing Ronald has to pass on his red honker to Mayor McCheese instead of the Hamburglar.

No matter how high or great the throne
What sits on it is the same as your own.
-E.Y. Harburg

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Quote of the day

A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law.
-Benjamin Franklin

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Cingular, Coricidan, and Congestion

Let me tell you something about Cingular's bars.

They're meaningless.

More precisely, they're an inaccurate measure of the wireless carrier's capabilities.

The bars, of course, reference the indicator on your cell phone which displays the strength of the cellular signal. Common sense would seem to indicate that a strong signal means more reliable communication.

Snap out of it. This is the 21st century, where marketing types and the government lie with impunity. Oh, excuse me. They don't lie, they just don't tell you the complete truth.

Take CoricidanHPB tablets. As someone recently diagnosed with hypertension, I was looking for a replacement for Sudafed, which is highly effective but can elevate blood pressure.

"Powerful cold and flu relief specially designed for people with High Blood Pressure", Schering-Plough's website and television advertising touts. They're even a "proud sponsor" of the American Heart Association's hypertension website.

This all sounds great, until you read a little further and discover the reason why this over-the-counter remedy is safe for hypertensive cold and flu sufferers is because it doesn't contain a decongestant.

Doesn't contain a decongestant?

So, in other words, the reason why it's safe is because it doesn't treat the major symptom of a cold, nasal congestion? How can these bozos get away with this?

But where was I? Oh yeah, Cingular and their goddamn bars.

The office building where I work in downtown Chicago as well as my Edgewater apartment have marvelous signal strength... five bars all the time. Yet whenever I get calls during morning and evening rush hour, there's a very good chance the caller will get directed to my voice mail. And there's an equally good chance my phone won't display there's a voice mail waiting for me for as long as 20 minutes after I've received the call.

Why is this, since I have five bars? Because there are no available channels to route my call.

Think of it this way. You're in an elevator with five beautiful blondes with dubious taste. So, you have it made, right? Nope. The five blondes are otherwise occupied with five losers who happened to latch onto them first. So while you can see the blondes, marvel at their giant hair and savor the redolent waves of Eau de Tart floating in your direction, you just ain't getting any, Harry. You have to wait until one of the other losers moves on. Decorum prevents me from further analogies.

No wonder I'm hypertensive. And congested. And incommunicado.

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Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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