Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Alice film

I've been distressed by the unavoidability, in some media settings, of ads, previews, feature articles, etc., that bring to mind the forthcoming film based on Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass.  Part of the problem is its reminding me of my distress when, during a long airplane flight, I watched the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland.  (And I usually like Tim Burton.)

The Alice books are on a very short list of my favorite books ever.  I first read them as a child, have done so many times since, and still love them, reflecting how profound they are, not to mention how audaciously radical (not, of course, in a political sense),  But I understand that books and movies are different sorts of creatures, and that one should generally view the latter as wholly separate works.  I actually rather like the Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland, although obviously this requires not holding it even remotely to the books' standard.

So what bothers me about the new film adaptations of Alice?  I think it has to do with their making the Mad Hatter a lovable snuggle toy whom Alice must try to save, and the Red Queen a figure of evil whom the heroes must vanquish.  To me, this grotesquely gets the books wrong, and in a way that particularly stupidizes them (to coin a word).

As to the Mad Hatter, it's rank sentimentalizing.  While the books have sentiment, they ruthlessly limit where and how it is expressed (and the Mad Hatter is a chilly weirdo). As done in the movies, I find it repulsive and cloying.

And the Red Queen as evil, requiring the standard Hollywood denouement?  This just feels totally wrong (albeit, with no criticism whatever of Helena Bonham Carter's - as always - game and spirited efforts). While the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (whose amalgamation with the Red Queen in Looking Glass I am willing to accept) does, it's true, go around threatening to have everyone's head chopped off, she isn't evil, in that context - she's crazed and absurd, in a weird, hyperbolically comic manner that relates to Carroll's own stepping into a child's shoes to look at the grown-up world (not to mention at competing visions of logic and reason, with a sheltered and naive child being the only sane one).  To me, it trivializes and vulgarizes the book's vision to make the Red Queen a standard Hollywood villain, even if an unusually flamboyant one.

Then again, it's only a movie (or two), and the books are still there, both free on Kindle and on any decent home library's shelves.

I suppose it's good in a way for the Alice books to get renewed attention.  I have the impression that, while they were widely loved by people in my generation and those preceding us, they mysteriously have enjoyed less of a following among millennials and still-younger age cohorts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Another upcoming talk

On June 17, I will be back in Washington, to participate in a panel (9-10:30 am at AEI) discussing Eric Toder's and Alan Viard's forthcoming "A Proposal to Reform the Taxation of Corporate Income."  This is the follow-up, with significant revisions, to their preliminary study from 2014, "Major Reform Needed: A Call for Structural Reform of the U.S. Corporate Income Tax," which discussed entirely replacing the existing corporate income tax with a shareholder-level mark--to-market regime.  The other discussant will be Joann Weiner.

UPDATE: More information about the event is available here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Godwin's Law versus the Wodehouse Rule

The corollary to Godwin's Law holds that whoever first makes a Hitler comparison in a debate loses.

But it's probably also a good rule of thumb that whoever first makes an apt Wodehouse reference in a debate automatically wins.

In today's NY Times, Matthew D'Ancona risks the Godwin corollary in order to take advantage of the Wodehouse rule:

"There is a magnificent passage from P.G. Wodehouse's 1938 comic masterpiece 'The Code of the Woosters' that is often cited as definitive evidence of Britain's exceptional immunity to demagogues, autocrats, and Trumps.  Confronted by Roderick Spode, tyrannical leader of the Black Shorts, Bertie Wooter lets rip:

"'The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone.  You hear them shouting 'Heil, Spode!' and you imagine it is the Voice of the People.  That's where you make your bloomer.  What the Voice of the People is saying is: 'Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?'

"One of the many reasons that Bertie's outburst is so enduringly funny is that he is normally such an equable gent.  His exasperation is the voice of Englishness recoiling from the sheer vulgarity of the would-be autocrat."

D'Ancona goes on to disclaim, but not quite 100%, the evidently suggested Hitler to Trump analogy.  But, in contrast to the optimism behind seeing Bertie's rant as definitive and unanswerable, he adds: "If a figure like Mr. Trump can stand at the threshold of the Oval Office in a freedom-loving country like America, then we must assume the reverse: It could happen anywhere."

He then goes on to note Wodehouse's later naivete about giving radio broadcasts from a German prison camp, based on not understanding that "his celebrated comic language was being annexed by the Third Reich to gloss over a terrifying reality."  D'Ancona concludes, in relation to the currently high levels of Trump-mockery in the U.K.: "Britain must not make Wodehouse's error, believing that a gift for repartee provides everlasting immunity [from] vicious autocrats."

Without myself running afoul of Godwin's Law, let me draw a different conclusion from the above-quoted Wooster passage. While derision and belittling laughter don't work against bullets, they can be powerful tools indeed against bullies, and against bombastic would-be autocrat types.  Indeed, in many settings they work better than anger (a point that Bill Clinton's seemingly good-humored, and yet sharply pointed, 2012 convention speech deftly showed).  In 2016, if done astutely and effectively, they might prove to be Trump's political (and even psychological) kryptonite.

Wooster for President!  (Since Jeeves is surely uninterested in the job.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lack of empathy

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Here's an enjoyable song by a new group (Car Seat Headrest) that hit an unfortunate speed bump (as described here) right before the May 20 release of their new album.

Ric Ocasek, who had two catchy hits in the 1980s and that's pretty much it, refused to give these guys permission to use a sample from "Just What I Needed," with the result - since they mistakenly (but in good faith) thought they had permission - that all physical copies of the album had to be destroyed just before its May 20 release.  The song with the sample was apparently great, but this one's not bad either.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

OECD-BEPS conference in Amsterdam next week

I have now written my (15-20 minute) talk, along with skeletal slides, for the upcoming NYU-Amsterdam Center for Tax Law conference, in Amsterdam on June 1, concerning OECD-BEPS et al.  My topic will be "The U.S. Response to OECD-BEPS and the EU State Aid Cases."

I'll plan on posting the slides here early in the week after the conference, and I may even post the talk (which is about 2500 words long) on SSRN.  I figure that, since I tend to prepare distinctive presentations each time I speak at a conference, I might as well seek a larger audience than just the people in the room, and a longer half-life than just until the next talk starts.

Totally different from my last talk (at NTA), and much more focused on current developments.

I'll note that my assigned topic, the "U.S. response," is ambiguous, as it could refer either to what people in the U.S. international tax policy community seem to be thinking about the above-referenced developments, or to what U.S. policymakers might actually do.  I'll address both, although the latter is inevitably speculative, not to mention tied in with what ends up being the outcome of the 2016 presidential and Congressional elections.

Information about the conference is available here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

An example of why I still need my own iTunes playlists and CDs ...


... is Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers album, not available on Spotify.

Monday, May 16, 2016

My lunch talk last Thursday at the NTA Spring Symposium

Here are the slides that I used last Thursday for my lunch talk at the National Tax Association's 46th Annual Spring Symposium, in Washington, DC.  I called the talk "Ten Observations Concerning International Tax Policy."  I am planning to publish and/or to post in some way, and then to link here, a written-out version of my full remarks using these slides, but the mechanism for that is still being determined.

UPDATE: It looks as if the talk will be appearing in Tax Notes, perhaps on or about June 20.  I'll be publishing it, expressly as a recent talk that I gave, in "Current and Quotable," rather than turning it into an article.