The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 24, 1996 · Page 8
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 8

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Thursday, October 24, 1996
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B2 THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1996 THE SALINAjJOyRJNAL OPINION George B. Pyle editorial page editor Opinions expressed on this page are those of the identified writers. To join the conversation, write a letter to the Journal at: P.O. Box 740 Salina, KS 67402 Fax: (913) 827-6363 E-mail: SalJournal @ aol.com Quote of the day "Hie keyboard is the most bizarre, ridiculous, nondesigned monstrosity foisted upon the American public." Don Norman Vice president of research at Apple Computer, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal By SCOTT SEIRER / The Salina Journal IRS, taxes: go figure THE ISSUE Letting the IRS figure our taxes THE ARGUMENT It wouldn't be good for taxpayers W ith all the election chatter about trimming government costs and, separately, simplifying the income tax labyrinth, a proposal that would spare 50 million Americans from filing tax returns seems too good to be true. But we should just say no. The proposal, raised by the General Accounting Office, would have the Internal Revenue Service prepare the paperwork and figure the taxes for those with the simplest returns. The returns would be based on information the IRS collects from other sources, such as payroll records or interest statements from banks. Taxpayers who opt for the tax- preparation service would do nothing, save for examining completed returns when they arrive by mail and writing a check. Or, possibly, cashing a check if they are due a refund. Only taxpayers who qualify for the short tax forms, such as the 1040EA or 1040A, could participate. There are several reasons why they shouldn't. First, there's the issue of service, and trust. The IRS has a lousy service record. Getting questions answered by the tax collectors can be as hard to achieve as taking a home-office deduction. And even if you do get an answer, the IRS doesn't take responsibility for the accuracy of its information. What's worse is that service likely will deteriorate if politicians make good on their campaign-trail promises to cut the agency's funding. But an even bigger issue is one of fairness. There's no reason to believe the IRS would have the taxpayers' interests at heart while preparing their tax forms. Any digging for deductions and credits that could be done would be lacking. Taxpayers would be the losers. And they could be perpetual losers because, insulated from the tax preparation process, they would be less likely to think that the complex income tax code could be played to their benefit. The tax bill, arriving like a utility bill, likely would draw no thought of how it might have been reduced. And with the IRS handling the details, participating taxpayers would have no accountant or tax practitioner at hand to suggest ways of trimming the government's claim on income. The possibility of saving the IRS an estimated $37 million annually by putting some tax returns on auto-pilot is alluring, but it's no bargain. Whether it's the work a taxpayer faces in preparing a return, or the burden of funding one's share of the cost of government, paying taxes is not easy. It's best for all of us if that message is constantly before us. THE PRECED/N& OP//vJ<oNS ABOUT EV£RVTH/M6 EXCEPT CAMPAIGN RNANICE REFORM WERE BROUGHT TO Vou BV ARCHER DANIELS /AID/LAND, SUPERIAARKETtt>*N THE AMERICAN TOAV. ASSOCiAT/Ofs/, T^E TOBACCO INSTITUTE, TWH AFL.-OO, O v\ 4H! SUBT/71ES! v „ T NONE OF THE ABOVE A debate not worth talking about Do we really care about the election, or do we just want to sit around and gripe a lot A Sept. 4 Salina Journal story announced the Commission on Presidential Debates' search for citizens of all ages to join in focus groups to watch, discuss and complete surveys about the debates. The headline read, "Willing to critique debates? Group wants you." As a former debate coach and current editor for a company serving debaters, the story caught my eye. I phoned two coaches I knew alerting them to the potential of the project -r dubbed Debate Watch — for community outreach with their debate programs. Neither coach called me back. Flash forward a month. I ran across the Debate Watch packet I received after contacting the Commission. It was now only days before the first debate. To hell with the rest of them, I thought: I think it's a good idea, and I'll try to get something together. I sent 250 e-mail messages to members of America Online residing in Salina, former Salinans, and former debaters, asking them to pass the word and RSVP if interested. The plan was simple. Small groups would gather 30 minutes before to one or more of the debates, meet, mingle, then fill out an anony- T BY THE BAY JAMES TALLEY for the Salina Journal mous predebate survey. We'd watch the show without press commentary, complete a post- debate survey, and discuss what we'd seen. We'd end with a post-discussion survey and send the paperwork to Debate Watch HQ, where the results would be tabulated to give direction of future debates' format and content. It would be like a Salina Town Hall Meeting, where liberals and conservatives, young and old, gay and straight, married and single, could sit down over doughnuts and coffee and get to know one another better and maybe learn a thing or two. . I pictured the 72-year-old former physician who once complained to me about one of my columns. We now converse regularly, even though he leans more to the GOP right and I more toward the liberal left. The discussion created common ground and enhanced understanding. We like each other despite — or perhaps because of— our differences. The talk has made us more real and human to each other. Debate Watch might accomplish the same thing. That was the vision. The reality was depressing. Of the 250 invitations I sent, I received 13 responses. Of those, eight commended the project but demurred participating. Apparently, no one much cared or knew anyone else who ' did. I sent flyers to Tony's Pizza and my local convenience store to tap into informal gripe groups always carping about the government. A friend and I contacted local schools and veterans organizations. I heard no word from the vet groups, zip from the schools, and the convenience store never posted the flyer. Debate No. 1 came and went. The only RSVPs declined. I decided to skip the VP debate and shoot for groups on the Oct. 16 final presidential debate. Two hundred fifty people had my phone number, e-mail address, and street address. No one queried about meetings. In 1992, Debate Watch recruited only about 700 participants nationwide. Surely Salina alone could have topped that. The popularity of political talk shows here, our strident letters to the editor, the people I meet who are eager to talk about the race — all suggested Salinans would jump at the chance to spout off about politics for the record. Thank you to all respondents for your interest. Those of you who heard nothing about the project, blame word-of-mouth for not caring enough to add the news to its grapevine bulletin boards. As for the rest of Salina, despite our ravings, we must not be that into politics. We must not care who will lead America for the next four years. I guess people with e-mail prefer to get vicarious kicks surfing the net over meeting with their fellow citizens. Too few of us even go to the polls these days, but voting is the bare minimum of civic responsibility. Studies show that discussion groups can inform voters, open their minds about issues previously closed to them. Proximity to those from opposite political camps can remind us not to demonize our political opponents. Apparently, we don't want to get more involved or run the risk of releasing a few prejudices. . Nothing better shows how Americans get the leadership they deserve. Cigar smokers at peace with themselves LETTERS TO THE JOURNAL P.O. BOX 740, SALINA, KANSAS 67402 Journal is oblivious to motorsports At first glance, reading the Oct. 6 LifeSports feature on Rob Pickrell's Pro Solo2 National Championship, I thought it was neat that the Journal finally recognized someone locally in the sport. Then I got to the second paragraph: "Pickrell, 36, became the first Salinan to win a national championship last month ..." Not so! But then, considering the Journal's demonstrated uncaring attitude about motor- sports in general and Solo in particular, not surprising. In 1986 (remember when the Solo Nationals were held in Salina?) SCCA created the first "triple crown" of Solo. It was the first year the Pro Solo finale was held in conjunction with the Solo II National Championships, and the first of a five- year run of a Solo I National Championship. I was a Solo I National Champion that year. I also had the poor judgment to be a member of the Journal staff at the time. The Journal hates to put in print anything its own staffers may'accomplish elsewhere. I got one measly paragraph at the very end of a story that mainly focused on a driver from Detroit. "Oh, yeah, Rocky was there too and won something." Rob's win in Pro Solo2 (yes, there has been a slight change in the name recently) was stunning. Also stunning was how the story deftly confused his accom- plishments in that arena with those in the Solo II Nationals: "The national championship was a top of the ladder for Pickrell in the sport of auto racing. He finished 32nd, 25th and 20th in the first three years before earning a fifth-place trophy in 1991." His championship is in Pro So- Io2, the event described with the "mirror image courses" in the story. Those other finishes were in the Solo II National Championships. Similar, but not the same. And by the way, after that fifth place trophy in 1991, Pickrell has never failed to trophy at the Solo II Nationals, winning five more including placing third this year for his best Nationals finish ever. I guess missing that item is not surprising for a publication that, a month after he won his championship (Sept. 8) finally got around to noticing. But then, this is the publication that when the Nationals were here "covered" it with a few fluff features and some results in the small print, and still is oblivious to the largest professional sports event in the state of Kansas — the NASCAR and NHRA races at Heartland Park Topeka. Where were you guys last weekend (Sept. 26-29) for NHRA's Sears Craftsman Nationals at Heartland? Some 98,000 people were there, some I'd wager from north-central and northwest Kansas. Even the Hays Daily News was there. But not the Journal. — Rocky Entriken Salina Cutting through the smoke, we find the cigar craze has an aroma of contentment about it L eave it to a Jewish Sufi to put the current U.S. cigar craze into some sensible perspective for me. "It's not about Freud or oppression politics," said my friend Jonathan Lewis. "It's about the psychic body of the & plant. My theory is, the psychic body of a well-cured tobacco leaf is peace." Jon discovered psychic plant bodies nearly 30 years ago while studying with a Sufi murshid and Zen master, Sam Lewis. (No relation, except cosmically, of course.) Murshid Sam talked of the stimulating, soothing, healing or enlightening properties of all sorts of plants, from teas to the date palm. "It's illogical not to think to- v ~ bacco has a psychic body," said Jon. A cigar smoker who actually predates the current mania, Jon recently took his psychic body theory and $150 to one of Cigar Aficionado magazine's Big Smokes. The 4-year-old, wildly successful quarterly — whose sister publication is the even more successful Wine Spectator — puts on dozens of STEPHANIE SALTER San Francisco Examiner these expensive cigar taste-a-thons. With a circulation well over 150,000, Cigar Aficionado attracts subscribers who mainly are like the magazine's advertisers: mucho high end. .. "Well, it wasn't worth 150 bucks," Jon reported the day after the Big Smoke at the Hyatt Regency. "The hors d'oeuvres were good, but they ran out. As you know, I'm not much of a boozer, so I only had a couple of glasses of Ruffino chianti. It was pretty good. A lot of the other guys were drinking Armagnacs and cognacs and Drambuie and all that stuff that's supposed to go well with an after-dinner cigar." Note the term "guys." Jon estimated that, among the 300 paying guests at the Big Smoke, perhaps 30 were women. "A couple of them were obviously there just scooping up men," said Jon. "An event like that is an incredible place to be female. But the majority were like the men: there to smoke cigars. It was business." As part of his theoretical research, Jon asked dozens of the Big Smoke attendees what they were feeling as they puffed away on one of the 30 cigars they were given by manufacturers. (On display were cigars from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands.) He read me the list of responses he'd scribbled down. Almost everyone said "peaceful" or "relaxed." One man sighed, "La pura vida" (in Spanish, roughly, the perfect life). DOONESBURY This one cool guy named Mike said he felt peaceful and relaxed, so I told him my theory," said Jon. "He nodded and said, 'Where do you think the expression "smoke the peace pipe" comes from?'" Another man, who lives up on the California-Oregon border but roams the West to attend Big Smokes, took the words out of Jon's mouth when he wondered: "Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a room with this many guys who'd been smoking cigarettes for 2 1/2 hours?" Cigarette tobacco, you see, has been adulterated by chemicals; it's been chopped, mixed, wrapped in paper. Its nice psychic body has been shot." I couldn't help but pose some of the less-attractive theories for the current cigar craze. The phallic substitute? The screw-you-I've-got- mine power trip? The newest expensive trophy toy for overgrown rich boys? "If any of those were predominantly true, these (smoking) meetings would be terrifically inharmonious," said Jon. Jon is probably right about the psychic body of the tobacco leaf. But wasn't there one inharmonious aspect of the Big Smoke experience? "Well, the place got so filled with smoke, even I had to leave the room," said Jon. "The next day, I had to take all my clothes to the dry cleaner. That was another eight bucks. But that was OK. The smell reminded me of my grandfathers and uncles when I was a little boy. It's a nice smell." By G.B. TRUDEAU 1HAVZ DOWN 70 WWR& PARK... FWGHTFUL- YOUN&MAN \ I _ NAM& LUCCA, WHOSBUe IPO? UJCCA IS MY MAIN MAN/

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