Ignis Bird and “The Inkwell Communiqués”

Saw a quirky play a few nights back: The Inkwell Communiqués.

In this play, one Ignis Bird (of ambiguous gender, perhaps a pseudonym, perhaps a chimera) is a war tax resister in a running battle with the IRS that he or she decides to take as an opportunity for literature, sniggling, and confusion.

Ignis invents dozens of personalities, and corresponds with the IRS agents assigned to his or her case through them — posting letters from all over the world (and even from within the IRS field office in Utah) from characters like attorney Bedelia Burbot, Beaut Sinewrelli, Baron Bueno Scampo, Rajan Rajan, Sgt. Dodge Bullet, pedagogue Walnut Bean, and Dooly Daffodilt.

The play used some forty actors to bring these characters, and the besieged (and eventually bemused) IRS agents, to life.

Ignis Bird sniggles his or her way in this amusing fashion through the Reagan and Bush administrations, paying none of the taxes or penalties that accumulate, and even gets a parting tip-of-the-hat in a postscript from the IRS case manager who retires, having never been able to locate the mysterious Ignis or his or her assets.

The play’s director, Randall Stuart, hints that this is all based on a true story:

Tonight’s theatrical version represents only some of the “canon” — as there are over 200 letters and 77 personalities tapped-out from one typewriter. We hope you will enjoy this edited version, knowing that there are even more letters to be unsealed.

Those of you still struggling with your “was it worth it” spreadsheets can add in that $70 billion I noted , and now this:

A survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in than would be expected based on the death rate before the war.…

Designed and conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, the study is being published on the Web site of The Lancet medical journal.

The survey indicated violence accounted for most of the extra deaths seen , and air strikes from coalition forces caused most of the violent deaths, the researchers wrote in the British-based journal.

“Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children,” they said.…

The most common causes of death were heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. However, after the invasion, violence was recorded as the primary cause of death and was mainly attributed to coalition forces — with about 95 percent of those deaths caused by bombs or fire from helicopter gunships.

Violent deaths — defined as those brought about by the intentional act of others — were reported in 15 of the 33 clusters. The chances of a violent death were 58 times higher than , the researchers said.

Twelve of the 73 violent deaths were not attributed to coalition forces. The researchers said 28 children were killed by coalition forces in the survey households. Infant mortality rose from 29 deaths per 1,000 live births to 57 deaths per 1,000 .…

“We estimate that there were 98,000 extra deaths during in the 97 percent of Iraq represented by all the clusters except Falluja,” the researchers said in the journal.

This figure is several times higher than the frequently-quoted numbers at Iraq Body Count which are based on civilians whose deaths are reported in two or more independent news sources.

The report in The Lancet can be viewed at this link, and it goes into detail about the data-gathering and -interpreting methodologies.

Remember this story the next time someone from the Department of Homeland Security gets up and screams “Anthrax! 9/11! Dirty Bombs! We need more money!” — 

“It’s all very surreal, quite honestly,” [Stephanie] Cox said . “I thought it was a prank when I first heard. I couldn’t understand why Homeland Security would be investigating a tiny toy store in St. Helens.”

The call came in . A man identifying himself as a federal Homeland Security agent said he needed to talk to Cox at her store.

Cox asked what it was all about.

“He said he was not at liberty to discuss that,” she said.…

“I was shaking in my shoes,” said Cox, who has owned Pufferbelly Toys for more than four years. “My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I’m closed even for a day that would cause undue stress.”

The next day, two men arrived at the store and showed Cox their badges. The lead agent asked Cox whether she carried a toy called the Magic Cube. She said yes. The Magic Cube, he said, was an illegal copy of the Rubik’s Cube, one of the most popular toys of all time. He told her to remove the Magic Cube from her shelves, and he watched to make sure she complied.…

After the agents left, Cox called the manufacturer of the Magic Cube, the Toysmith Group, which is based in Auburn, Wash. A representative told her that the Homeland Security agents had it wrong. The Rubik’s Cube patent had expired, and the Magic Cube did not infringe on rival toy’s trademark.…

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said agents went to Pufferbelly based on a trademark infringement complaint filed in the agency’s intellectual property rights center in Washington, D.C.

Kice also said Homeland Security officials routinely investigate such complaints and follow up if they determine they are valid.

“One of the things that our agency’s responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation’s financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications,” she said.

I don’t have many nice things to say about the IRS, but I’ve always respected their thoroughness in making information easily available on the web. If I want a form, or a statistic, or an obscure ruling, or tax-law-made-simple info for the non-accountant, I can usually find just what I’m after at irs.gov.

(And I’m a linux geek, too, so I respect that they have all of this available in multiple formats, none of which require Windows or other MicroSoft software.)

So I wasn’t surprised when I heard that irs.gov was named the most reliable government web site in the Keynote Performance Awards this week.

The IRS also announced this week that they’re going to be making available on their site PDF forms that you can fill in using the free Adobe Reader. That ought to make ’s taxes a little tidier at least.

It’s public transit, but it’s free-market.* It relies on anonymous volunteers operating without official sanction in an atmosphere of trust and mutual cooperation. It’s slugging and I think it’s pretty cool.

* it does rely on the enforcement of carpool lanes to provide the driver’s incentive, which kind of cuts into the free-market part of the argument, but work with me here, okay?

Zeynep Toufe from Under the Same Sun reflects on the campaign season:

I think something is wrong if who to vote for is your biggest decision this year.… The substantive question isn’t whether or not you’re voting your conscience on Election Day; the real question is whether you have your conscience guiding you every other day. Some get out the vote campaigns have been using the slogan Vote or Die. The unfortunate truth of the matter is if all we do is vote, they will continue to die.