Surreal tax questions

Today was a holiday here in California, which meant technically no work today – or more realistically, only a few hours work in the morning. So far 2010 has been a very hectic year so it was great to spend my first quiet day of 2010… sitting indoors, doing my taxes while looking out at the beautiful sunny day?!

All was going well until, under “Other Income Adjustments”, I was asked if I earned any income from:

  • Reward from a crime hotline
  • False Imprisonment Compensation
  • Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payment

For the record, my answer was “No”, to all of those questions. But I found it surreal enough that I decided to stop, go outside and catch the last of the sunshine. I’ll try again tomorrow, but it has me still wondering what other unexpected questions might be lurking in the IRS tax codes of the USA.

5 thoughts on “Surreal tax questions

  1. The Turkish Empire thing is a California state tax quirk only, not an IRS quirk. The IRS has its problems, but some states (CA, MA are the ones I’ve dealt with most closely) almost have it beat. In comparison to those, IL’s tax return was very very simple….

  2. I like to think of tax-code development as similar to source-code development. The particular case you cite is common: a list of things that might cause you to enter a nonzero value in a particular line. There’s a very low barrier to adding a line here: some congressman finds out that a constituent’s boss got $120k from the OTESP and didn’t pay income tax on it, and he puts an amendment on the next appropriation bill to add this item to the list. Nobody objects, and it’s done. Conversely, there’s a high barrier to removing items: an amendment to remove the False Imprisonment Compensation line would be akin to saying that those who win a big settlement are free to not report it.

    This sort of thing crops up in software, too. It’s easy to add a new config keyword, for example, but much harder to remove it. The worst case I know of is autoconf scripts – looking at even the most inane stanzas, I have to assume that it was added for a good reason (15 years ago?) and that removing it might cause build failures on some obscure platform. Tests can help this sort of thing in general, but not for autoconf!

    One does wonder whether the additional cost of ink and instruction-booklet real estate justifies the inclusion of some of these items.

  3. @Dustin:
    Talking about source code: Then comes along the bold coder, who notices something which existed since Netscape days, and that he’s never ever used because he didn’t know it was there (the throbber link, maybe); even now that he knows it’s there in plain view he’s still not gonna use it. So he asks a couple of his fellow developers on #firefox, and no, none of them is using it, and several of them don’t even know it is there. Maybe a senior one answers: «Oh, it is still there? That’s old Netscape stuff, I thought it was long gone.» So our bold coder goes ahead and removes it (via the approprite process of making up a BMO bug, attaching patches to it, having them reviewed, superreviewed, approved, and finally pushed to the codebase), because, he says, “it is not discoverable and, anyway, nobody uses it”. After that release comes out he is the first surprised by the mass of complaints and duplicate Bugzilla “regression” reports saying, in essence, “where did my favourite feature go?” But it’s too late: the developers, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that the feature shall be removed, and now that it is, any request to get it back will be RESOLVED WONTFIX. So another bold hacker has to publish an extension for what used to be a standard (and innocuous) part of the standard code.

    (This is a true story, of course [with just a little poetic embellishment in places], and I mentioned one example of “feature taken away” but it isn’t the only one.)