Sunday, March 23, 2008

Work, publication, and reading update

One work-related item that I did have to take care of in Mexico was the exploding offer (mentioned in an earlier post) for my article on taxable and accounting income. The offer was from the Georgetown Law Journal, and after very minimal efforts to stir up a couple of expedited reviews I decided to accept. A perfectly good placement, and no reason I could see, especially while on vacation, to play silly games aimed at raising the prestige factor slightly.

OK, I'll fess up to the one other bit of work I did, which was to plan (at a basic conceptual level) my remarks at the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium this Thursday, where we will discuss "How Americans Think About Taxes: Public Opinion and the American Fiscal State," a forthcoming (Princeton University Press) book excerpt by Andrea Louise Campbell of MIT's Political Science Department. I like the excerpt, which discusses why tax politics has moved recently in a less progressive direction despite the arguable financial self-interest to the contrary of non-rich American voters. Campbell uses, among other inputs, detailed polling data over several decades and a sophisticated theory of perceived cost-benefit from tax rules. Naturally, given my work and interests, this is a topic on which I have plenty of my own ideas. I anticipate a fruitful discussion.

I also found the time to read 4 books. (Reading fast is a bloody nightmare when it comes to packing for a vacation trip - you end up with plenty of bulk and still have to worry about running out.) First was "Zhou En-Lai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary." This perhaps unlikely bit of beach reading is a book written by a Chinese exile and U.S. emigre who for years had access to top secret Chinese Communist Party files from the 1960s and 1970s. After a slow start it became fascinating and even genuinely moving, showing how Zhou worked with the utterly mad and monstrous Mao, trying above all to survive and also to moderate him but also enabling him. The book reaches the conclusion that Zhou tried to be a decent person but failed because of the demands the system placed on him plus his own human failings such as the need to subordinate himself and comply. Extra points for satisfying the curiosity of one who grew up reading the crazy news from China in the Cultural Revolution era without having any information (which no one in the West had) about what was really going on behind the scenes. E.g., what was the deal with Mao's "closest comrade in arms," Lin Biao? Now I know, and it's a much more interesting story than I had expected.

Second book was "Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer" by Chuck Thompson, an at times uproarious collection of travel experiences packaged as an expose of all the fakery and hype in the travel industry. Good not so clean fun.

Third was "Mayflower," by Nathaniel Philbrick, a history of the Plymouth Bay and related settlements from founding through the horrific Indian wars of the 1670s. Guess who were clearly the bad guys. A good read but not in my view great.


Finally, Joshua Ferris, "Then We Came to the End," the only novel I have yet read that is written in the first person plural (a shifting "we" that is one of the strong points). It's set in a yuppie (and otherwise)-filled ad agency and shifts gradually from satire to a bid for something, in the author's view, more. Agreed, the pure satiric take would have risked being very over-familiar after all the TV and other such treatments of same. And anger at the workplace or the bosses (shared by many of the workers in the novel, but not by the author) would have been tedious as well. I did like it, and found it absorbing, but in the end it was perhaps a bit too book-groupish rather than memorable. Reading Ian McEwan (such as "On Chesil Beach"), when one can stand to, can make a lot of other mainstream contemporary fiction look a bit thin.

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