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Saturday, February 3, 2007

What Tax Profs Are Reading ... Jim Maule

Maule_6 Book_club_logoIn our latest installment of What Tax Profs Are Reading, Jim Maule (Villanova) shares his thoughts on the 44 (!) books he has read since July 2005 (or at least the ones he remembers).  Other Tax Profs are welcome to submit reviews of books (tax or otherwise) here.

1. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-Class Life, 1790-1840, by Allen F. Davis & Mark H. Haller. I enjoy history, and I am rarely pass up the chance to read a book that enlightens my understanding of local history. It enriches the backdrop against which I do some of my genealogy research. Others will find this book helpful in comprehending the social history of a city famous for being a "city of neighborhoods."

2. August 1944: The Campaign for France, by Robert A. Miller. More history, this time focusing on another area in which I have much interest, namely, the Second World War. The activities of D-Day and the several weeks following it have received much attention, whereas the activities of August 1944 are overlooked. Many histories "jump" from the Normandy breakout to the Battle of the Bulge. But significant movement took place in between those two events. This is a book for serious students of World War Two history.

3. Fort Washington and Upper Dublin (Images of America Series). I confess. All I read, and could read, were photograph captions. As much as I like history, I particularly enjoy historical photographs. Do I get credit for a thousand words of reading for each photograph scrutinized? Definitely a book for those with a special connection to this small section of Montgomery County north of Philadelphia.

4. The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850, by Brian Fagan. Tossing some science into the history, Fagan gives a thorough account of an episode in human history that certainly wasn't discussed in any of my K-12 or college history courses. It's important to understand how a variety of natural cycles, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, can have a significant impact on regional and global climate. As the atmosphere cooled at the end of the so-called Medieval Warm Period, famine set in. Famine, in turn, affected royal collections (taxation, to use a modern term), which in turn created unrest. Tens of thousands died as a consequence of severe storms. Thousands of European villages were deserted as population decreased. The search for fish moved westward, sparking the rumors of a "new world" to be discovered by Europeans. The wild weather had more than a little to do with the misfortune of the Spanish Armada. Several huge volcanic eruptions during the seventeenth century added dust to the atmosphere and contributed to even lower temperatures worldwide. Changes in climate were a factor in the introduction of the potato into Europe, and though its immediate effect was salutory, in the long-run it contributed to the well-known Irish emigration when blight caused crops to fail two centuries later. Ultimately, during the eighteenth century, the lingering adverse impact of climate change on food supply contributed to the dissatisfaction that culminated in several revolutions near the end of that century. For anyone interested in law, and the historical context in which it developed, this book provides an insight well worth acquiring.

5. Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy, by Andro Linklater. Ever wonder about those perfectly square townships in the upper Mid-West? Or those roads that run straight for miles, intersecting at perfect 90-degree angles? True, I did meet some of the explanation in my K-12 history classes, but Linklater takes his readers into a fascinating depth. The title of the first chapter suggests why property lawyers and property professors would find this book even more interesting: The Invention of Landed Property. Science again demonstrates its relationship to law. Why is the land marked out in miles and not kilometers? How did the Louisiana Purchase affect the pace of the great survey? This is a fun book, as it pulls together not only history and science, but law and politics, war and treaties, personalities and twists of fate.

6. The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World, by Ken Alder. So the kilometer didn't trump the mile when the U.S. was mapped. But who figured out the length of a meter? Here's a bit of a response: the men who did so did their work in France while revolution raged, sometimes not knowing to whom they reported or, more importantly, from whom they would obtain funding. Yes, it's science, but it's also an adventure story. It would make a fun movie. Of course, there's law and politics. And even some glimmer of tax issues. The error? Ha, I'm not telling. Read the book.

7. Dragonriders of Pern, by Todd McCaffrey. Todd takes over for his mother Anne McCaffrey, and the sage of Pern's people, dragons, fire-lizards, and other creatures continues. A society without lawyers? With no IRS? Indeed. Simple adventure and science-fiction. Fun stuff.

8. The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth, by Mark Frauenfelder. The title almost says it all. Yes, I confess to having read this book. How could I not? What is the worst-smelling flower? The weirdest quack medicine side effect? Hint: It turns a person's skin to another color, and pretty it's not. Don't get bit by a brown reclude spider. There are dozens. It's a good way to fill up one's mind with trivia most useful at one's next social gathering.

9. The Worst-Case Scenario: Book of Survival Questions, by Joshua Piven & David Borgenicht. If you notice some similarities in title (Measuring America/The Measure of All Things, The World's Worst/The Worst-Case Scenario), it's because my book club often pairs its offerings in this manner. You encounter a rat in a dark place. Do you (a) shine a flashlight in their eyes to chase them away, (b) stamp your feet, (c) yell loudly, (d) move slowly backwards? When jumping from a moving train, should you try to land on your feet? Would you rather be in a car with no brakes or on a runaway train? Hundreds of these questions and choices face the reader. Fortunately, most people won't meet up with most of the possibilities, but they do energize the brain. No, I didn't see questions about law faculty office doors being pounded by students unhappy about their grades. Fun book, nonetheless.

10. Battles Lost and Won: Great Campaigns of World War II, by Hanson W. Baldwin. It is what it says it is, and it's good reading for those of us deeply interested in the topic.

11. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. A friend loaned me this book. My friend figured I'd like it, and I did. Like most law professors, I am appalled at the horrible punctuation I too often see in the writings of professionals and professionals-in-the-making. What's great about this book is that Truss has dug up all sorts of instances in which the misuse of a punctuation mark, or the failure to use one, generates hilarious outcomes. Those pandas have marvelous appetites and good aim. And they can run away quickly, yes? This book is a must-read for law faculty and law students.

12. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. Here's another one from my librarian friend. We have a word thing going. We both enjoy history. They meet up in a fascinating tale that is not without forays into the criminal law. It could also have been sub-titled, How Not to Let the World Know You're a Madman. Gee, I wonder why my friend told me she thought I could relate to this book. Fortunately, none of the other books she's sent my way involve insanity. Perhaps it was temporary.

13. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman. From the author of Lost Christianities, which I read and reviewed for TaxProf Blog some time ago, comes another work that ought to be read by anyone who thinks they have religion "all figured out." I suspect many people will be uncomfortable with what Ehrman reveals, and denial and refutation will be prevalent. Ehrman's description of how he came to question the texts, a journey that took him through Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Princeton Theological Seminary, serves notice that almost nothing is permanently set in stone. Lawyers who struggle with textual interpretation, trying to balance literal application with deeper meaning, will identify with the struggles of theologians and faithful who encounter similar challenges in parsing texts. Perhaps the method of textual resolution used in theological contexts can inform the legal world as it struggles with the meaning of words.

14. The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, by Miles Harvey. This is a story of a man who stole maps. Most were stolen from libraries. That's how my librarian friend came to be interested in this book, and she passed it along to me because she knows I enjoy, and collect, maps. None of my maps has anything near the value of what this fellow was stealing. Map theft is rampant, because there are people with substantial amounts of money willing to pay for stolen goods. The detective work that led to this particular thief's identification and capture is better than what is found in a mystery novel. As I often tell my students, we don't need to make up this stuff. Oh, speaking of theft, yes, I have returned this book to my friend.

15. A History of the English Language, by N.F. Blake. Language has history? Of course. An important aspect of figuring out the meaning of a word is understanding its origins. This book is very technical, and at times my reading pace slowed to a crawl. Yet because the development of language mirrors changes in society and culture, and the movements of people, peering into its background is useful not only for legal wordsmithing but also for my family history avocation. So when did the various punctuation marks enter into usage? So did you really understand Beowulf when you read it the first time in what really isn't the oldest form of the English language? If you were taken across time and dropped into Alfred's England, could you figure out how to order dinner?

16. The Revenge of Anguished English: More Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language, by Richard Lederer. This book is a blast. It is crammed full of verbal goofs, word twists, and every sort of grammatical slip-up. With chapters dedicated to blunders by children, lawyers, physicians, and a nice array of other occupations and professions, Lederer has readers laughing from cover to cover. Jump on the web, google the title, read the reviews, where you will find examples of the word calamaties that Lederer collects by the hundredfold.

17. Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions, by Jelle Zeilinga de Boer & Donald Theodore Sanders. If we can stop worrying for a moment about volcanoes and climate change such as the Little Ice Age, we can turn our fretting to earthquakes. The ground rumbles, buildings fall, sometimes people die. Relief arrives. Local problem? Hardly. Would Sparta have faded under the ascendancy of Athens were it not for the earthquake that nearly destroyed the city? Would the Wesleys and Whitefield have found so many adherents were it not for the 1692 earthquakes that hit Jamaica and England? The 1755 Lisbon earthquake tore apart not only buildings and lives but faith. The Pentecostal movement had its birth in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The inability of government to deal with the destruction caused by the 1972 Managua earthquake, and the ensuing corruption and incompetence, led to broad-based support for the Sandinistas. These are some of the examples the authors share to illustrate the notion that earthquakes are more than local or regional events.

18. The Night Attila Died: Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun, by Michael A. Babcock. It's a murder mystery, except that the victim is not a novel's fictional character. The victim was one of the most feared invaders of Europe, responsible, some say, for the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire. But apparently he annoyed more than a few people. And in his prime, he died. Not on the battlefield, but in his bed. Who did it? Read the book.

19. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, by Peter Heather. Yes, more history. Though this topic received significant coverage in my K-12 history courses, so much new information has come to light from archealogical digs, manuscript discoveries, and other sources, that the traditional views of why Rome fell no longer carry as much weight as they once did. Heather concludes that the barbarians destroyed the Empire, which had become their enemy because of its imperialism. It was only a matter of time before the Huns disrupted the scene by pressuring the German tribes to move westward. Of course, by paying more attention to the gathering of internal power and by investing too many resources into the conflict between Rome and Constantinople, the empire's elite lost the opportunity to be prepared for the unexpected. The history of Western civilization would have been very different had even one of the many cascading events played out a bit differently. Though that history is finished, the lessons to be learned are not.

20. Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, by Matt Lake. This book was a birthday gift from my sister and her family. In 2005. The 2006 gift was a huge blow-up lawn ornament penguin, and that's another story but not a book. Lake describes all sorts of "roadside oddities, ancient mysteries, ghosts, and bizarre beasts" that are found, or supposedly found, in Pennsylvania. Albino cannibals of Ghost Mountain? The Magic Garden of South Broad Street? Gravity Hill in New Paris? One could spend months driving to all the places that have found a place in Lake's book. Even something VERY close to the Villanova University School of Law is in this book (but no one on the law faculty could guess what it is, and none have them have yet guessed).

21. Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, by Mark Sceurman & Mark Moran. The national version, a companion gift to the Pennsylvania volume. It's not quite a "best of" because it was written before the state volumes (which are not yet complete) were commissioned. There is some strange stuff to see in this country, off the beaten track. Visit the Neon Graveyard. Take the family to, no, on second thought, go alone to the Mutter Museum. Don't leave the kids alone with the Phantom Clowns. Meet Lizard Man. And on and on it goes.

22. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, by Simon Winchester. Winchester is a very good writer. His account of the San Francisco earthquake is no less captivating than his tale of the madman who helped write the Oxford English Dictionary. Like a detective, he has pulled together a coherent description of a very chaotic time. Years ago, Robert B. Maule sent me a copy of his first-hand account of the aftermath. Born in San Francisco in 1894, he went with his father, William Lewis Maule, into the city to give aid. Winchester's account dovetails with what Bob wrote. I doubt that means I'd be less believing of Winchester in the absence of Bob's story, but it made the book more personal than it otherwise would have been. Even so, one doesn't need that sort of connection to appreciate this book.

23. A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The first in the Cadfael series. Cadfael is a Benedictine monk living in the twelfth century. Attached to the abbey at Shrewsbury, he finds himself involved in solving a murder. Or two. Fiction set in an historical context is the best kind. This came to me courtesy of my librarian friend, who has good taste in books and no less of an interest in reading than do I.

24. One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The second in the Cadfael series. More dead people. Cadfael meets King Stephen. And solves another murder.

25. Monk's Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The third in the Cadfael series. Yes, these are coming my way courtesy of my friend.

26. Dragon's Fire, by Anne McCaffrey & Todd McCaffrey. Yes, good news, another book about Pern and its people. 'Nuff said.

27. America: Flying High, by Jim Wark. Once again I did little reading, because this is a 640-plus page compilation of photgraphs taken from low-flying airplanes throughout the country. Printed on high quality stock *- the book seems to weigh a ton *- this volume brings perspectives that few of us have had. Usually we're on the ground or miles high. Not this time. These simply are great pictures, worth eyeing for more than the usual half-second.

28. The World: Flying High, by Enrico Lavagno. Yes, another paired set. America has no monopoly on sites worth seeing from a low-flying airship. Few, if any, of us will get to travel to all the places portrayed in this no-less-heavy 640-plus-page photograph collection. Yes, there were some captions to read. But they're overwhelmed by the photography.

29. Saint Peter's Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The fourth in the Cadfael series. Some even have television versions. They're not very true to the book, but I'm watching them anyow. Yes, after I read the book.

30. The Leper of Saint Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The fifth in the Cadfael series.

31. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalen: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman does a good job dissecting the popular "biographies" of these three important early Christians, separating the portions with historical corroboration from the supplementation added in later centuries, sometimes with deliberate intent to influence theology or church policy. Which letters of Paul did Paul write? Which were written by others? How can one tell? Why are the accounts of Paul in Acts inconsistent with some of his writings? Curious? Sit down with this book.

32. Queen Emma and the Vikings: A History of Power, Love, and Greed in 11th Century England, by Harriet O'Brien. Wow, a soap opera. Unlike soap operas that are based on real life, this is real life. Women generally had a rough time of it during the medieval era, but Emma became more than a power behind the throne. Actually, several thrones, considering her two marriages. Intelligent, crafty, aware, and careful, she survived under circumstances that would have broken most people, men and women alike. England during the eleventh century was a place of violence, as internal strife and invaders brought misery, death, destruction, and disruption. She was a Norman, and thus of Viking descent. Married to two kings of England, she also gave birth to two more kings. To William the Conqueror she was a great-aunt. England would not be what it is today had Emma not been Emma. Oh, through her daughter Godgifu, she is one of my ancestors. And quite possibly yours, too.

33. To The Marianas: War in the Central Pacific: 1944, by Edwin P. Hoyt. Yes, another World War Two book. This time, it's a detailed description of a campaign in the Pacific to which I had not previously given much attention. I found this book at the church fair, and so I hope the $2 gets put to good use. I certainly got my money's worth.

34. The Glory of the Solomons, by Edwin P. Hoyt. Guess where I obtained this book. Guess what I paid. This is another set of battles that I had not examined in any detail. Yes, it's a book for those who want in-depth studies of last century's (and perhaps all history's) most devastating conflict.

35. Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels: The Ways of Medieval Warfare, by Antonio Santosuo. Whenever someone is tempted to consider how wicked are the ways of the present world, they should pick up this book to learn, or confirm, what doesn't get emphasized. Our ancestors were no less gruesome, and in some respects, even more outrageous, when it came to resolving disputes. Quicker to the fight, less accepting of negotiation, more susceptible to disease, less likely to survive injury, they fought for all sorts of reasons, reasons no different than those advanced today as justification for using violence rather than intellectual skills. Religion, money, love, greed, insult, name it, it started at least one war during the Medieval era. And these folks were more closely related to each other, with battles often pitting brother against brother, cousin against cousin, and sometimes even aunt against nephew.

36. The Virgin in the Ice, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter).The sixth in the Cadfael series.

37. The Sanctuary Sparrow, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter).The seventh in the Cadfael series.

38. The Devil's Novice, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The eighth in the Cadfael series.

39. Naked Beneath My Clothes: Tales of a Revealing Nature, by Rita Rudner. Hah, if you didn't see Rita's name you'd start wondering what I was dragging onto Paul's blog. I wonder how many filters will add TaxProf blog to their lists of "bad" sites. Oh, never mind, I think some of Paul's own posts took care of that. No, Rita's book has nothing to do with undress. She is one of the most hilarious comics I've ever heard, or, now, read. Her wit, and her quiet sarcasm, resonate with me. She takes everyday situations, finds the humor, and then delivers it with a feigned innocence that can be charming. Well, she is charming. I've met her. She's also down-to-earth and pleasant. So is this book. Charming, pleasant, down-to-earth, and flat-out hilarious. Reading it in her "tone" left me howling at times. If you appreciate her humor and haven't read this book, get it. Read it. If you haven't heard of Rita Rudner, pity. Get the book. Read it. The only scary thing is that I know more than a few tax law professors who approach humor with very similar styles. Well, her father was a lawyer.

40. Douglas MacArthur: The Far Eastern General, by Michael Schaller. The third of the books I picked up at the church fair, Schaller's biography of MacArthur does much to tear away the hero's mantle in which he had been wrapped for so long. It's a problem when a person worries more about image and prestige than the job at hand. Anyone trying to measure the present and future in East Asia will find some interesting foundational explanations in this book.

41. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, by Nicholas Wade. This is genealogy and family history on a grand scale. Using the results of DNA studies, Wade tracks the migration of humans out of Africa. He examines the development of language, the domestication of the dog, the impact of evolution on social behavior, the growth of religion, and the rarely discussed notion that humans are continuing to evolve. I wonder how many people don't know much, if anything, about the topics addressed by Wade. No matter how many, they ought to know. This book is written in a style that does not require technical expertise, a scientific background, or even a huge vocabulary.

42. Normandy Breakout, by Henry Maule. I'm also collecting books written by members of my family, no matter how extended. Can I acquire them without reading them? No. At the time, Maule's analysis of the latter days of June 1944 in Normandy was considered one of the most thorough. More information has come to light that has generated deeper accounts, but this particular book remains one of the important ones.

43. The Great Battles of World War II, by Henry Maule. This is another of Henry Maule's books on the Second World War. It was long after I began my extensive reading about the war that I discovered Henry Maule, and even longer before I learned he has written about it. This book is heavily annotated with photographs, many of which I had not previously seen. Like the others, it was the result of a "Maule shopping day" on ebay. There are more Maule books in the "to read" pile.

44. Dead Man's Ransom, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). The ninth in the Cadfael series.

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Or maybe David Cay Johnston was onto something...


More Hope for the Truly Rich

The New York Times
July 27, 2006 Thursday


For the past five years, Congress has passed every tax cut championed by President Bush -- except one. A handful of Senate Republicans and most Senate Democrats have, to their credit, blocked four attempts since 2001 to repeal the estate tax on America's wealthiest families.

But the heirs to America's mightiest fortunes may be shielded from taxes anyway. This week, David Cay Johnston reported in The Times that the government is on the verge of eliminating the jobs of nearly half of the Internal Revenue Service lawyers who audit estate-tax returns -- 157 of the agency's 345 estate-tax auditors. The I.R.S. says the layoffs are warranted because the Bush tax cuts mean fewer people are obliged to pay estate taxes.

That's not very reassuring. Fewer smaller estates are subject to the tax today than when Mr. Bush first took office; currently, those worth up to $2 million are exempt. But large estates are still taxed, and with inequalities in income and wealth producing ever more billionaires and millionaires, there's ever more gold in those hills for auditors to mine.

The I.R.S. also says that it's confident it is catching estate-tax cheats because a mere 10 percent of estate audits brings in 80 percent of the additional taxes. The logic is that auditing a greater percentage would yield diminishing results.

Maybe. But six years ago, the I.R.S. said that most of the taxable gifts it audited had shortchanged the government, and it pledged to hire more lawyers to audit big gifts.

The underlying fact of the matter is that the I.R.S. hasn't released the data that would allow researchers -- and the public -- to verify whether cutting back on estate-tax audits represents sound tax enforcement. A research organization at Syracuse University, called Trac, used to routinely request and receive comprehensive I.R.S. audit figures -- by size of the estate, the number of hours spent and the amount of extra recommended tax.

Researchers analyzed the data and posted it on the organization's Web site, so the public had a continuing sense of the I.R.S's fairness, efficiency and effectiveness. But in 2004, the I.R.S. stopped giving Trac the data. In 2006, a federal court ordered the agency to provide the requested records. But the information released since then has not been comprehensive. If the I.R.S. wants to avoid suspicion that its actions are politically motivated, it should release all the data that researchers need to evaluate its actions.

Posted by: DG | Feb 3, 2007 11:33:19 AM

Ah, Davis and Haller, Peoples of Philadelphia. Now that takes me back to a history class I took in the fall of 1984--great course and great book, which was part of the turn to quantitative analysis in history so popular in the 1970s and 1980s (and that may be making a comeback). Quite a list of books; reminds me that we can tell a lot about people by what they read.

Posted by: Al | Feb 4, 2007 2:01:47 PM