Monday, November 12, 2018

There are two types of people in the world: one kind, and the other kind ...

... Or alternatively, there are two types of people of people in the world, those who believe there are two types of people in the world, and ...

Death to cliched overstatement and all that, but still bimodal division can sometimes help to sharpen a point, brought to mind most recently by the portion of the weekend just past that I spent reading the booklet and/or playing the bonus material from the 50th anniversity super deluxe reissue edition of a famous double album called The Beatles, aka the White Album.

By the time I was in my teens, it was no longer quite so true, in terms of the "two types of people" trope, that one was either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan. Even leaving aside that most people were both, hence it was a matter of relative preference rather than exclusivity (i.e., more like "Jets or Giants" than "Mets or Yankees"), by this time the Beatles were a few years in the past, and hence it was more like "Stones or Grateful Dead." I was more in the former camp, though decently appreciative of the latter. There also was perhaps a bit of "Springsteen or punk / new wave" - although Springsteen had some new wave cred, e.g., Patti Smith had covered "Because the Night" - and here I was definitely in the latter camp. Springsteen felt a bit too earnest, un-ironic, and reverently retro to me - again, with all due respect for his virtues.

One also could say, along I would think with Brian Eno, that the real 1960s choice for older cohorts ought to have been "Beatles or Velvet Underground." (Sorry, Stones.) Except that here, once I caught up with the Velvets' legacy in the late 1970s, my answer was definitely "both."

Returning to Beatles vs. Stones, however - with apologies for returning to a topic that I gather I have addressed here once before, albeit rather a long time ago (in August 2005), I did have a horse in this one despite its being a retro issue by the time I was able to take sides. The Stones spent the 1960s doing one great song after another (albeit, with dross mixed in as album filler). They also had a handful of great albums - in particular, the very good Between the Buttons (1966, with Brian Jones diversifying the sound palette) followed by the immortal Exile on Main Street (1972) and then the crucial comeback album Some Girls (1978). And Jagger in his true glory days could express vulnerability, not just grandiose swaggering, in a way that added to their work's depth. But the Stones had good enough image management - not least by Jagger and Richards themselves - to succeed in creating widespread misapprehension of the true contrast between these two great and artistically overlapping groups.

I refer, of course, to the conceit that the Beatles were mainstream while the Rolling Stones were outrageous rebels. Now, it is true that the Stones sometimes went places where the Beatles, apart from Lennon, didn't entirely want to go. But does anyone today think that "Street Fighting Man," contrasted at the time with "Revolution" as showing that the Stones were more anti-Establishment, was even 10% as cathartic and heartfelt? (BTW, I hold no brief for Lennon's post-Beatles "Imagine," which I find mawkish and unconvincing.)

If the standard Beatles vs. Stones view were more accurate, then we wouldn't see such outcasts and outsiders as Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain, and Fiona Apple embracing the Beatles so fervently.

I see 2 main distinctions between the Beatles and the Stones. (Other than the Beatles' having the inadvertent wisdom to break up at their peak, hence never have a decline phase other than as individuals.) The first is that the Beatles were outlanders who didn't know the hip London definition of cool; hence they had to make it up for themselves. This aided their being more creative and original. (The Stones were overly in thrall to the idea of simply re-creating the blues as practiced by their heroes - the Beatles' cast of heroes was more diverse and hence more artistically empowering.)

The second was the dynamic nature of the Lennon-McCartney partnership. (But note also that Harrison chafed at being an underling, to the band's artistic benefit, especially at the end.) Jagger once commented that, of every 10 things the Beatles were going to do, both Lennon and McCartney wanted to run 9 of them. He then added, with the benefit of several decades' hindsight, something like: "You can't run a business that way."

No, you can't, which is why the Beatles exploded into a rain and reign of lawsuits and bitter take-down songs about each other, whereas the Stones' corporate enterprise just kept going and going and going, well past the point of tedium. But going back to the very day (back in 1958) when Lennon and McCartney met, there was no clear hierarchy between them, but rather a dynamic tension. Lennon was the older and more forceful one with the cohort of bandmates / followers. But McCartney had more musical chops and had already started songwriting. So it was a continual struggle, friendly and synergistic until it inevitably blew up, that made each of them both better and keener. In a sense, each made the other feel like Scottie Pippen, being strengthened by his daily practice battles with Michael Jordan.

By contrast, Keith Richards has great fun chafing at Jagger in his autobiography, and he notes that he'd write most of a song, then hand it to Jagger to finish up (e.g., the verses in Satisfaction). Plus, he was clearly the main force behind Exile on Main Street. But his chafing reflects that Jagger, as lead singer and group spokesman, was far closer to being the boss than either Lennon or McCartney could ever dream of being in their partnership. This dynamic instability and rivalry (e.g., who gets the next single? Whose material is going to be stronger on the next album? He's written another "masterpiece" - John's very word for "Hey Jude" - how am I going to answer it?), combined with mutual admiration and help, and with their both complementary and overlapping strengths, pushed each of them further than he would ever have gotten by himself (or ever would again).

But this bring us to one last "two types of people" bit. Among Beatles fans, as one of the reviews of the White Album reissue noted, there are Sgt Pepper fans, and White Album fans. Well-honed pop perfection, or crazy creative explosion that's all over the map, sometimes excessive or silly but almost always (if you can peel back the years and all the over-exposure) fresh and startling? Count me as very firmly on the White Album side (although I also give highest marks to the very cohesive Rubber Soul and Revolver albums). It's an astounding achievement, with multiple stunning peaks, and (for the most part) all the more lovable, and admirably audacious, for its flaws.

The expanded reissue has a crisp sound where you can hear separate instruments more clearly, plus a fantastic 75-minute Unplugged album (aka the Esher demos, which I already had but not with such high-quality sound), plus 3 more disks of often very interesting outtakes and alternative or early versions. These last 3 require prior fandom and knowledge in order to be worth it (and again, some of it had been bootlegged with inferior sound), but if you have that they're very interesting. Plus, they often have a great live band feel. The material on these disks confirms that the Beatles mostly made the right choices in developing the White Album material - leaving aside the regrettable over-orchestration of Good Night - but its release further enriches their legacy. (I didn't buy the Sgt Pepper reissue, knowing that there wouldn't be all that much of fresh interest there.)

Here's hoping that next year they'll do something of a multi-disk character with the Get Back / Let It Be sessions (the Abbey Road sessions were too concise and focused to leave as much interesting material lying around). Or maybe it could all be combined in a "Beatles 1969" package.  If they do it right, as they did this time, I'll buy it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Tax conference in Copenhagen, DK

On Monday, I discussed the new U.S. international tax rules, and what they might mean for the future (from both a U.S. and a European Community perspective) at an International Tax Conference that was held at the Copenhagen Business School.

The slides are available here. The paper on which the talk was based is available here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

Slide 23 was new, reflecting that I was giving the talk to an EC audience. I elaborated a bit in person on the last text box in the slides, from the perspective of: What should tax policy folks in the EC be thinking about the U.S., as an ally/partner/rival/potential dealmaking counterparty, etc.?

It was lovely to be in Copenhagen, which I had not previously visited, although close family members had (rightly) given it rave reviews. I lucked out on the weather, and if, after getting home after 10 pm last night I had to give a two-hour Tax I lecture this morning at 8:50 am, then I have only myself to blame, and/or I chose to do this with my eyes open.

Sometimes these days, when one visits a lovely European city on business, one asks oneself, on the return: Why exactly am I going back? (Leaving aside all my personal and professional connections in the U.S., which needless to say are entirely binding.)

I absentee-voted before leaving on the trip, as I knew the polls would be closed by the time I got back.

Suppose you were to guess: How many times, while I was in transit or away, did I check any U.S. news of any sort on my various screens or otherwise, leaving aside sports and culture?

If the over-under is one time, and you are betting on this, I strongly advise you to take the "under."

In addition to touring Copenhagen a bit during such time as I had (I was there for about 72 hours), I also managed  to read 3 books on Kindle, each of which I quite enjoyed: Mick Herron's Slow Horses, Angela Thirkill's High Rising, and Donald Westlake's The Fugitive Pigeon. The common theme was (a) escapism / easy to read while tired and/or stressed, plus (b) good literary quality.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

It's time for more cat pandering

Gary can be irresistible, unless you are a small prey object or play item.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

International tax talk tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, I'm flying to Detroit, thence by wheels to Ann Arbor where I will give a talk at the University of Michigan Law School. It will be in re.my recent Tax Notes article, "Tne New Non-Territorial U.S. International Tax System," part 1 of which is available here, and part 2 here.

This is actually the first of 5 occasions on which I'll be discussing the paper, and/or issues within its purview, within the next couple of months. The other 4 occasions are as follows:

1) this Friday, October 26, at a Fordham Law School conference entitled The Future of the New International Tax Regime, registration & other info available here.

2) Monday, November 5, Copenhagen Business School, International Tax Conference: Recent Developments in International Tax Law, registratrion and other info available here.

3) Friday, November 16, National Tax Association Annual Meeting, in New Orleans, 1:45 pm session on a panel entitled Legal Perspectives on the TJCA.

4) Tuesday, December 11, faculty seminar at Bar-Ilan Law School, Tel Aviv.

I'll also be back in New Orleans on January 5, participating in an American Association of Law Schools annual meeting panel entitled "The 2017 Tax Changes, One Year Later." But here I suspect the paper would be somewhat misdirected in terms of what I anticipate being asked to discuss.

It's always good for business if you can standardize your talks and keep giving the same thing. (At the cost of its being boring for you, and for any repeat audience members.) But in this set of instances I'll be speaking to some rather distinct audiences, besides which my speaking times will vary from 13 minutes to 50. So I will certainly have to do a lot of customizing.

As it happens, the topic remains of current interest to me, as I have in mind the plan of writing a short book updating my 2014 publication, Fixing U.S. International Taxation. I see what's happened since then as affirming and even vindicating the analysis in that book, which I feel in retrospect substantially anticipated what policymakers and scholars would increasingly realize are the real topics of interest in international taxation. (And the book is far less about saying "This is the answer" than "These are the questions.") But there's a need for an update - and I'm doing a fresh (although much shorter) book, rather than a new edition - because the law has changed, the debate has moved forward, and there are lots of new developments to discuss.

So I will have the new enterprise in mind as I discuss the by now months-old article with these various audiences.

Friday, October 19, 2018

2019 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, Phase 1

We now have pretty much finalized our lineup of speakers for the spring 2019 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, which I will be co-leading with Lily Batchelder.  It looks like this:

1.      Tuesday, January 22 – Stefanie Stantcheva, Harvard Economics Department.
2.      Tuesday, January 29 – Rebecca Kysar, Fordham Law School.
3.      Tuesday, February 5 – David Kamin, NYU Law School.
4.      Tuesday, February 12 – John Roemer, Yale University Economics and Political Science Departments.

5.      Tuesday, February 19 – Susan Morse, University of Texas at Austin Law School.
6.      Tuesday, February 26 – Li Liu, International Monetary Fund.
7.      Tuesday, March 5 – Richard Reinhold, Willkie, Farr, and Gallagher LLP.
8.      Tuesday, March 12 – Tatiana Homonoff, NYU Wagner School.
9.      Tuesday, March 26 – Michelle Hanlon, MIT Sloan School of Management.

10.  Tuesday, April 2 – Omri Marian, University of California at Irvine School of Law.
11.  Tuesday, April 9 – Steven Bank, UCLA Law School.
12.  Tuesday, April 16 – Dayanand Manoli, University of Texas at Austin Department of Economics.
13.  Tuesday, April 23 – Sara Sternberg Greene, Duke Law School.
14.  Tuesday, April 30 – Wei Cui, University of British Columbia Law School.
All sessions will meet from 4:00 to 5:50 pm in Vanderbilt 208, NYU Law School.

I called it above "Phase 1" of the 2019 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium because we are planning to switch to the fall semester, and hence will have 14 more sessions in September - December 2019 (and then again in September rather than January 2020, etc.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Domestic mischief

How might this have happened? Garbage cans get knocked over rather often in our house, and all resident humans deny responsibility.







'







The only lead we have to go on is that this individual was found very near the crime scene. Name Gary, age about 6, known to enjoy playing with rolled-up pieces of paper, which he will even, on occasion, fetch repeatedly (well, up to a point) like a dog.


Thursday, October 04, 2018

Broader implications of Trump's tax cheating

My NYU colleague, Lily Batchelder, looks at issues broader than a particular individual's criminality, in an NYT op-ed today.