Suicide Chump   

Austin Dispatches

No. 131   

March 24, 2010

e131fig1 For the second time in two years, my cell phone came into use for the purposes I intendedMy parents called at work to see if I was all right after they learned about the guy who flew into the IRS office in North Austin.  

My office,  where everyone was abuzz about the story after lunch, is geographically near both the IRS office in the Echelon office complex off Highway 183 and the house in the Scofield Farms neighborhood owned by engineer and musician Joseph Stack.1 However, the street layout means getting to either place takes longer than a map indicates.

I'm more at risk at 5 p.m. of being trampled to death by my co-workers or run over by them in the parking lot.
I assured Mom and Dad of my well-being, but what details I'd learned after the event made it impossible for me to assume the solemnity that contemporary propriety insists upon during such disruptions to the ordinary workaday world.2 

If there’s a real shock, it’s that anything besides business happened in North Austin. If you live in a city beyond a certain size, specific areas receive most of the attention and thus become the areas that define said city, to locals and outsiders both. Downtown and the University and South Congress districts fulfill this role. The rest of the city is just where people live their lives. Once you’re north of 183, you’re not in mythological Austin, the last 10 years of Austin Dispatches notwithstanding.3

Already at work the story had already turned into grist for jokes. "Hey, he was a contractor. Are you feeling O.K., Dan?"

"Yes. Besides, he was a contract engineer. Are you sure you're feeling O.K.?"

My strongest feeling the day of the incident was curiosity about the condition of Stack's house. Perhaps I could buy it at a discount, plus the repair costs. Alas, the house had burned to the ground.4 

So, we’ll dispense here with the perfunctory sentiments about how this event is a terrible tragedy and our sympathies go out to the dead’s loved ones, etc., and skip to the real issues about What It All Means.

I read his suicide note twice and still couldn't understand it. Typical engineer, he omitted critical information. I learned later that Section 1706 was a change in the tax code in 1986 that affected independent contractors adversely.5 Now, I’ve been working as a contractor since the boom years and this matter was a routine consideration that the trade publications addressed.6 But in his note, Stack was still fuming about that change, and the cost to him of about $50,000 spread over 25 years. And, as one blogger wrote, “I hope people keep their heads and realize that not everyone has a light aircraft to fly into state buildings.” So Stack's response was disproportionate to his hassles.7

Of course, the local and national media tried to fit this story into the stale theme of how dissenters from the American power elite’s policies are a national security threat, and so is patriotism.8

That's just wild talk from the lethal center.9 Trouble is, Stack didn’t conveniently fit the necessary category for a demonization campaign: psychopathic loner with “right-wing” militant tendencies, with suitable psycho-looking mug shot. He was an amateur musician who played in bands around town, was a social acquaintance of Statesman reporter Patrick Beach, and had his own family, who’ve been treated by their mainline church with sympathy.10 

For example, the Statesman reported Stack had a history of cutting people out of his life, as though that’s some rare trait in contemporary society.11 Maybe Stack was a little more conscious about it, but in my experience people just don’t keep in touch very well. You’ve got to calculate a large percentage of your acquaintances will be incommunicado after X amount of time. A columnist for a local entertainment periodical recently wrote a comic rant about how Facebook, the latest fashionable Internet social network, has meant that’s he’s pestered by people he was happy to ignore for decades.12 

e131fig2 Similarly, Stack’s note’s denunciation of capitalism made him sound like just another mush-headed pinko. Such deficient thinking also extends to the strategic and tactical aspects of his attack. Contrary to the caterwauling in the aftermath, his effort fell short of a pinprick in an era that’s seen remarkably meek submission to the tax man. Historically, in America and elsewhere, tax officials have been regularly defied, assaulted and killed.14 But nowadays in the land of the free and the home of brave, it’s the IRS that bullies and brutalizes anyone that anyone in the agency deems a threat. To their credit, the revenuers at least don’t pretend they’re liked.14 

Moreover, Stack’s views were out of the mainstream of tax protest.15 I’ve read the two best books, the sources of lore I heard from many people, include two who served time in federal prison for tax resistance. However, I didn’t quite understand the arguments (still don’t), and the books are somewhat undercut as their authors wrote them while they were incarcerated for following their own advice.16 I’ve also seen summary lists of relevant tax law cases, all of them won by the IRS against a succession of protestors going up against the system one by one, using these arguments. Nonpayment of taxes combined with the legal arguments used in court to date must be considered an ineffective strategy. As an old Bircher once told me, you can't really fight the State while you're in prison.

The one method that hasn’t really been tried recently is mass anti-income tax resistance.17 During the early ‘80s recessions, unemployed auto workers talked about it, and the U.S. government essentially conceded it couldn’t practically enforce penalties against so many people, according to that anti-state radical Andy Rooney.18 About 10 years later, on a radio public affairs program hosted by some democratic socialist, I heard about a tax resistance effort that would start as soon as 1 million people had signed a pledge to cease paying, to stop the military-industrial complex. But the show’s participants kept fretting that the same effort would also shut down social welfare programs. Doubtless, they were also scared of IRS retaliation.

All this may account for why the story’s moved off the front pages so quickly. More cynically, maybe Stack failed to kill enough people for the media to keep exploiting it.19 

He got one thing in his note right: Austin is “a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance.”20

Neighborhood News

To wit: Capital Metro commuter rail began regular service March 22 for less than 1,000 people in a metropolitan area of more than 1 million. Even the Statesman acknowledges the private streetcar system several decades ago flopped, the new MetroRail won’t really reduce road traffic, and Cap Metro wasted $4.5 million buying steel railroad ties that everyone in the industry knows interferes with signals, which contributed to the project delays and lead to Cap Metro spending more money replacing the steel ties with wood and getting rid of the leftovers.21 Cap Metro’s boondoggle means the trains’ runs add to my commute time each way while I’m waiting for them to pass, when their horns aren’t awaking me an hour before my alarm clock.

I live near the Kramer Station, and my current contract is near the Howard Station, but again, a map is misleading. To use the service for a daily commute, in the morning I'd have to cross the busy intersection at Gracy Farms Lane and Stonehollow Drive, walk in the opposite direction around an asymmetric block, or else trespass through an office park parking lot, dodging security guards and commuting vehicles. Either way, I'd have to cross Braker and Kramer lanes during the morning rush hour, trudge through the damp grass and mud alongside the roads to arrive at the Kramer Station before the 7:44 northbound leaves. (Otherwise, I'd have to return home and drive, already late, to work, because the 7:44 is the last morning northbound train.) The Kramer-to-Howard Station stretch takes 6 minutes, according to the Cap Metro timetable. That's if everything works properly. I'd disembark at Howard, cross unprotected against the morning rush hour traffic on Howard Lane, and trudge through the damp grass and mud to avoid the commuting vehicles on the narrow lanes of the office park where I work.22 

In the evening, I'd have to reverse the process. Also, I'd have to make sure I caught the 5:15 afternoon southbound from Howard Station, or else wait 35 minutes for the last southbound train of the day.

It's still quicker to drive.

Feb. 26, I witnessed the aftermath of a collision at Parmer Lane and the northbound frontage road of MoPac Expressway. Coincidentally, Community Impact Newspaper determined that intersection is the fourth most dangerous in Austin, based on 33 reported collisions last year.23

Phase II of The Domain, including an Italian restaurant, officially opened the same day.24 The Westin hotel opened a few weeks later.25 A new house is being built on Bittern Hollow, between Mederas Drive and Quail Pass Cove. InSite Magazine praises a small Indian take-out shop at the strip mall at Parmer Lane and Lamplighter Village Avenue.26

March 6, A SWAT team rushed to the apartment complex at 11701 Metric Boulevard and arrested a woman who fired a gun.27 Amazingly, the call didn't result in a trigger-happy massacre. After all, we're talking about a SWAT team.28 

J.B. Is Back

British tabloids reported James Brown's daughter said his body's missing from his crypt.29 According to early sketchy reports, passersby heard a voice from the crypt say, "Let me get up and do my thing.30  I got ants in my pants and I need to dance."31 Authorities checked and found papa didn't leave no mess.32 Other witnesses reported seeing Brown, who'd got the feeling,33 head off on the good foot34 to catch the Night Train35  for a meeting with the funky new president.36

NBC is moving ahead with a remake of “The Rockford Files.” Transatlantic reaction since the story first emerged last summer has been skeptical, and rightly so.37

Political Follies

Alexander Haig, who managed to lose his insider status by irritating the rest of the American power elite, finally died Feb. 20, after a lifetime of feasting on the lifeblood of the American people. On the plus side, his short-lived presidential bid was the focus of one of the funniest pieces of take-down reportage I’ve ever read. From the Jan. 18, 1988 Time magazine (talk about losing status):
Campaigning late one evening in an American Legion hall in Portsmouth, N.H., Haig made a point about the Persian Gulf, then slapped a veteran at the bar on the back and demanded, "Right?" The man mumbled his allegiance to Democrat Michael Dukakis. "You mean you're Greek?" Haig bellowed. Wagging a finger playfully, Haig continued, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." No answer. Haig walked away, then turned back. "I'll tell you something about Greek sailors," he said, adding a locker-room comment about the danger of turning one's back on them. Startled, the Dukakis supporter at last looked up, as Haig filled the stunned silence with a hearty guffaw.38
Too bad the Chronicle writers never mastered this approach. Otherwise, they wouldn’t sound so scattershot and incoherent parroting the Texas Democratic Party’s repudiation of Kesha Rodgers, a black LaRouchie who’s the Democratic primary winner for U.S. House District 22 in Houston. She calls for impeaching President Obama. Naturally, the Chronicle makes a fool of itself by attacking Lyndon LaRouche as simultaneously a communist, a fascist and an ultralibertarian. In reality, LaRouche and his followers write and talk like updated New Dealers – nothing libertarian about that, as Mike Gravel found out the hard way – and try to work within the Democratic Party – the political stance of the Chronicle staff, come to think of it.39 

Austin Death Watch

The Statesman reports an increase in gang violence: drive-by shootings and random stranger-on-stranger slayings. Reading between the lines, young nonwhites are determined to live up to their hotheaded stereotypes, while the police are dithering.40 
Or maybe they’re red-handed. A third Austin cop was arrested in Williamson County, this time for theft.41 Meanwhile, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is looking to leave town for the top cop job in Dallas. The policeman's union will be happiest to see him go.42

In a related vein, a recently convicted nonwhite killer successfully wooed two female Travis County jail guards. The secondary issue is why women are doing a man's job, and poorly at that.43 The primary issue is why we have a jail system when we could eliminate a major governmental expense and prevent the perpetuation of a career criminal population by lapidating convicted felons.44 

Instead, Austin’s power elite is lamenting having screwed itself over again. Specifically, the City’s tax abatement program for designated historic properties – by itself interference in property rights and catallactics – is costing the City about $1 million annually when this latest recession is re-exposing the City’s prolificacy for what it is.45 

Speaking of prolificacy, a Texas judge has ordered Austin to give back a downtown city block that it seized by eminent domain to businessman Harry Whittington. The City seized the property to build a $10.4 parking garage for the Austin Convention Center. Now the appellate judge in the case told the City to also pay Whittington about $3 million in damages and another $700,000 in legal costs. The City plans to fight the case further, because putting Austin residents on the hook for at least $15 million just isn’t enough.46

The Chronicle predictably thinks the increased size and breadth of the year’s South by Southwest is a good thing.47 It’s left to The Onion’s Austin city editor to remind us that we’ll “have to fight it out with the tourists over $15 spaces.”48 Whittington was unavailable for comment.

Speaking of parking spaces, the University of Texas plans to add more parking meters in the U-District to eliminate the occasional free parking spaces people like me learned to look for.49 

City building inspectors are hassling the residents of the Fairview neighborhood over anonymous complaints about alleged building code violations that existed before the residents ever owned the houses.50  South Austin residents haven’t learned their lesson, because they’re complaining to authorities about their neighbors’ roosters waking them in the morning, instead of settling the matter themselves.51

City apparatchiks are revising the City’s comprehensive plan, designing a Strategic Mobility Plan, implementing a Bicycle Master Plan, and manipulating a planning exercise over Congress Avenue.52 All this planning reminds me of journalist John T. Flynn warning about the Planned Society as a new brand name for statist ideologies by and for pretentious busybodies.53

Speaking of whom, the March 12 Chronicle fairly drools over a one-woman play back East dredging up the bovine bones of former resident Molly Ivins, whose career amounted to a minstrel show for the white wine-and-brie set on the coasts who knew so little of politics or history that they thought it was quaintly novel to hear a grotesque hick spouting cornpone communism. Moreover, actress Kathleen Turner is neither fat enough nor intrinsically dumb enough to play Ivins.54 Perhaps Susan Sarandon is available, if queers aren’t still puking on her.55 

Media Indigest

Bernie Madoff’s mistress’ memoir actually made me sympathetic toward Madoff. She comes across as materialistic, self-absorbed and vindictive, and that’s even when she’s not cheating on her husband of nearly 40 years. The rich schnook couldn’t even find an attractive woman for his affair. In between detailed descriptions of the furnishings in the hotel rooms where she trysted with Madoff and his, er, small endowment, it’s clear she expects to be lauded for her candor.56 A blogger speculates her husband "prudently and cynically [encouraged] the success of his cheating wife’s book to restock the family’s lost finances" before he files for divorce and takes half.57

Still, the book might be the basis for a good comedy. But an adapter who stayed true to the source material would be denounced as misogynistic and possibly anti-Semitic – doubly so if the adapter is Jewish. Triply if it’s a Jewish woman.

Business Roundup

The Business Journal reports that several local technology companies, include two I interviewed at, have been most successful at obtaining successive rounds of venture capital, rather than turning a profit or actually producing something.58

Toyota’s reported problems surrounding the brakes on its Prius model gave me a smug satisfaction.59


Plohetski, Tony. “Target of Anger.” AAS 19 Feb. 2010: A1; Orum, Anthony M. Power, Money and the People: The Making of Modern Austin. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1987: 324, 339.
2 Eisler, Dan. “Re: Plane flew into a building in Austin...” E-mail to Don McCaig, 18 Feb. 2010.
3 AD No. 17 (June 10, 2000); AD No. 96n14 (Feb. 6, 2007); AD No. 98n59 (June 11, 2007).
4 Gonzales, Suzannah. “At Suspect’s Home, Devastating Fire and Astonished Neighbors.” AAS 19 Feb. 2010: A11.
5 Harrell, B.L. “Stack Had a Long List of Tax Grievances.” AAS 20 Feb. 2010, final ed.: A1+.
6 Melvin, Sean P. “Incorporate or Not.” CP Oct. 2001: 30-32+.
7 Rothbard, Murray N. The Ethics of Liberty. 1982. Rpt. New York City: New York UP, 1998: 85.
8 Cervantes, Bobby. “Pilot a Domestic Terrorist.” DT 23 Feb. 2010: 4; Cominsky, Martin B., and Karen Gross. “Pilot Acted as Lone Wolf, but Others Share His Extremism.” 8 Mar. 2010: A9.
9 Postrel, Virginia. "The Lethal Center." Reason. Aug./Sep. 1995: 4+.
10 Beach, Patrick. “Shock and Disbelief as Friends and I Realize We Knew Suspect in Plane Crash.” AAS 19 Feb. 2010: A6; Kreytak, Stephen. “Bitterness Not Obvious to People Who Knew Stack.” AAS 19 Feb. 2010: A1; Vail, Isadore. “Crash Victim’s Church Joins Benefit for Stack Family.” 8 Mar. 2010: B1+.
11 Price, Asher. “Who Was Joe Stack?” AAS 7 Mar. 2010: A1.
12 “Pisspot the Rabbit.” “Twitter on My Facebook.” Whoopsy! Mar. 2010: 13.
13 Adams, Charles. For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization, rev. ed. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 1999; Adams. When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.
14 Burnham, David. A Law Unto Itself: Power, Politics, and the IRS. New York City: Random House, 1989.
15 Harrell, op. cit.
16 Schiff, Irwin. The Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxees – a Shocking and Comprehensive Analysis, With Ways for Fighting Back, 2nd rev. ed. Las Vegas: Freedom Books, 1999; Stang, Alan. Taxscam: How the Internal Revenue Service Swindles You and What You Can Do About It. Phoenix: Mount Sinai Press, 1988.
17 Beito, David T. Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance During the Great Depression. 1989. Rpt. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008.
18 Rooney, Andrew A. “Trust.” And More by Andy Rooney. New York City: Atheneum, 1982: 214-215.
19 Vail, Isadora. “Mourning ‘a Man of Impeccable Integrity.’ ” AAS 27 Feb. 2010: A1.
20 “Quote of the Week.” AC 26 Feb. 2010: 17.
21 Castillo, Juan. "Census Consensus: My, How Texas Has Grown." AAS 24 Mar. 2010: B1+; Nichols, Lee. “Can It Be? MetroRail Prepars to Launch.” AC 12 Mar. 2010: 25; Wear, Ben. "MetroRail Launches With Smooth Start." AAS 23 Mar. 2010, final ed.: A1+; Wear. "Rail Effect on Traffic? Negligible at First." AAS 15 Mar. 2010: B1-2; Wear. “Steel Rail Ties a Kink in Line.” AAS 14 Mar. 2010: A1+; Wear. “Streetcars Redux.” AAS 8 Mar. 2010: A1+; Wear. “Where’s the MetroRail? En Route.” AAS 9 Mar. 2010: B1+.
22 Kelso, John. "Cap Metro's Train Is Fun, but It Won't Replace My Wheels." AAS 23 Mar. 2010: B1-2.
23 Wilkinson, Kelsey. “Austin’s Most Dangerous Intersections in 2009.” CIN 26 Feb. 2010: 11.
24 “Community Impact: Northwest Austin.” CIN 26 Feb. 2010: 4.
25 Young, Tiffany. “The Domain Phase II Set to Open February 2010.” CIN 11 Dec. 2009: 17.
26 Mann, Marsha. “Curry, Samosas & Naaninis … the New Comfort Food?” ISM Mar. 2010: 5-6.
27 “Woman Arrested After SWAT Call.” AAS 6 Mar. 2010: B2.
28 Balko, Radley. Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2006.
29 Johnson, O'Ryan. "Funeral Director Lays Brown Rumor to Rest." Boston Herald 14 Mar. 2010: 18.
30 Brown, James. "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, Pt. 1." 1970. Star Time. Polydor. 849108, 1991.
31 Idem. "I Got Ants in My Pants (And I Want to Dance), Pt. 1." 1972.
32 Idem."Papa Don't Take No Mess, Pt. 1." 1974.
33 Idem. "I Got the Feelin'." 1968.
34 Idem. "Get on the Good Foot, Pt. 1." 1972.
35 Idem. "Night Train." 1961.
36 Idem. "Funky President (People It's Bad)." 1974.
37 Battaglio, Stephen. “TV Redos: Book ‘em!” TV Guide 1 Mar. 2010: 14; Robertson, Ed. Thirty Years of The Rockford Files: An Inside Look at America’s Greatest Detective Series. New York City: ASJA Press, 2005.
38 Stanley, Alessandra. “Why Is This Man Running?” Time 18 Jan. 1988: 23.
39 Nichols, and Richard Whittaker. “Dems Ditch Rogers.” AC 19 Mar. 2010: 22.
40 Plohetski, and Claudia Grisales. "Gang Links in a Surge of Random Violence." AAS 5 Mar. 2010: A1+; Plohetski. “Teens Face Murder Charges in Gang Case.” AAS 6 Mar. 2010: A1+.
41 AD No. 130n42 (Feb. 17, 2010); “Austin Cop Accused of Theft.” AAS 9 Mar. 2010: B2; “Naked City.” AC 12 Mar. 2010: 16.
42 Plohetski. “Acevedo Rejcts Pay Offer to Stay on.” AAS 12 Mar. 2010: A1+; Smith, Jordan. “Naked City.” AC 19 Mar. 2010: 18.
43 Kreytak. "Reports: Murderer Romanced 2 Guards." AAS 5 Mar. 2010: A1+.
44 North, Gary. An Economic Commentary on the Bible, Vol. IV: Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990: Ch. 11.
45 Dunbar, Wells. “What’s Historic?” AC 26 Feb. 2010: 26-28; Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, 3rd rev. ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1966: 232-234.
46 Dirr, Jacob. "Whittington Wins." ABJ 15 Mar. 2010: 1+; Greenhut, Steven. Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain. Santa Ana, Calif.: Seven Locks Press, 2004.
47 Dunbar. “Austin Interacts.” AC 19 Mar. 2010: 18.
48 O’Neal, Sean. “Agenda.” The Onion 25 Feb. 2010, Austin ed.: 27.
49 Coppola, Sarah. “More Meters for UT Area.” AAS 8 Mar. 2010: A1+; Longoria, Bobby. “Parking Changes Pending.” DT 9 Mar. 2010: 1-2.
50 Gandara, Ricardo. "Neighborhood in South Austin Flooded With City Code Violations." AAS 10 Mar. 2010: A1+.
51 Toohey, Marty. “Rooster Racket Has Some Crying Foul.” AAS 13 Mar. 2010: A1+.
52 Gregor, Katherine. “Charrette Duet.” AC 19 Mar. 2010: 20; Idem. “ ‘Every Day It’s Getting Worse.’ ” AC 12 Mar. 2010: 22; “New Bike City.” Idem., 26-27; Young, Tiffany. “Austin to Replace City’s 30-Year-Old Comprehensive Plan.” CIN 25 Nov. 2009: 1+.
53 “Eggheads Through History.” 1954. Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays of John T. Flynn. Ed. Gregory P. Pavlik. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1996: 144.
54 AD No. 35 (Feb. 14, 2002); AD No. 96 (Feb. 6, 2007); AD No. 125 (June 20, 2009); Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. I: The Path to Power. 1982. Rpt. New York City: Vintage Books, 1990: Ch. 2; Faires, Robert. “ ‘Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.’ ” AC 12 Mar. 2010: 33; Fehrenbach, T.R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, rev. ed. New York City: Da Capo Press, 2000: Ch. 34; Hardeman, D.B., and Donald C. Bacon. Rayburn: A Biography. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1987: Ch. 2; Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History, rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1998: Ch. 1-4.
55 “Susan’s Sickener.” The (London) Sun. 22 Feb. 2010: 23.
56 Weinstein, Sheryl [Lisa Pulitzer]. Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 2009: 121.
57 “Roissy” [J. Wiedmann]. “August 2009 Beta of the Month.” 21 Sep. 2009 Roissy in DC <>.
58 Calnan, Christopher. “Refueling Often.” ABJ 5 Mar. 2010: A1+.
59 Eisler. “Re: Austin Dispatches No. 130.” E-mail to Chris Loyd, 19 Feb. 2010; McEvoy, Claran. "As Toyota Suits Mount, Lawyers Seek Control of Litigation Location." San Francisco Daily Journal, 26 Feb. 2010: 1; “Smug Alert.” South Park. Comedy Central 29 Mar. 2006; Taguchi, Toshiaki. “Toyota’s Responsibility to People, Process, and Environment.” Investing Under Fire: Winning Strategies From the Masters for Bulls, Bears, and the Bewildered. Ed. Alan R. Ackerman. Princeton, N.J.: Bloomberg Press, 2003: 230-231.