For the second time in two years, my cell
phone came into use for the purposes I intended.
My parents called at work to see if I was all
right after they learned about the guy who flew into the IRS office in
March 24, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Toyota’s reported problems surrounding the brakes on its Prius model
gave me a smug satisfaction.59
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Orum, Anthony M. Power, Money and the People: The Making of Modern Austin.
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2 Eisler, Dan. “Re: Plane flew into a building in Austin...”
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3 AD No. 17 (June 10, 2000); AD No. 96n14 (Feb.
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4 Gonzales, Suzannah. “At Suspect’s Home, Devastating Fire
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5 Harrell, B.L. “Stack Had a Long List of Tax Grievances.”
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6 Melvin, Sean P. “Incorporate or Not.” CP Oct. 2001: 30-32+.
7 Rothbard, Murray N. The Ethics of Liberty. 1982.
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8 Cervantes, Bobby. “Pilot a Domestic Terrorist.” DT 23
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9 Postrel, Virginia. "The Lethal Center." Reason.
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10 Beach, Patrick. “Shock and Disbelief as Friends and
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8 Mar. 2010: B1+.
11 Price, Asher. “Who Was Joe Stack?” AAS 7 Mar. 2010:
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15 Harrell, op. cit.
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19 Vail, Isadora. “Mourning ‘a Man of Impeccable Integrity.’
” AAS 27 Feb. 2010: A1.
20 “Quote of the Week.” AC 26 Feb. 2010: 17.
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Negligible at First." AAS 15 Mar. 2010: B1-2; Wear. “Steel Rail Ties a Kink
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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
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23 Wilkinson, Kelsey. “Austin’s Most Dangerous Intersections
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24 “Community Impact: Northwest Austin.” CIN 26 Feb. 2010:
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26 Mann, Marsha. “Curry, Samosas & Naaninis … the New
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27 “Woman Arrested After SWAT Call.” AAS 6 Mar. 2010: B2.
28 Balko, Radley. Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary
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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.
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39 Nichols, and Richard Whittaker. “Dems Ditch Rogers.”
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40 Plohetski, and Claudia Grisales. "Gang Links in a Surge
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41 AD No. 130n42 (Feb. 17, 2010); “Austin Cop Accused
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51 Toohey, Marty. “Rooster Racket Has Some Crying Foul.”
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