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10 Arguments Against Paying Taxes (That Won't Work)

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No one can accuse the IRS of not being thorough. On their website, they've addressed some of the more common arguments that folks have made to avoid paying taxes. Most of these arguments have gone to the courts numerous times and found to be without merit. So if you don't want to pay your taxes, you'll have to dream up something more creative than these 10 examples.

1. Taxes are "voluntary"

This argument comes from a misunderstanding of the word "voluntary," which appears in a few tax-related sources, including the instructions that come with your 1040 tax form. Unfortunately, the legal definition of the word "voluntary" in this case refers to the process by which taxpayers report and pay taxes on voluntarily reported income, as opposed to a system where the government just tells you what to pay and you fork it over. And don't think that you can be tricky and say that filing a tax return might be mandatory but paying the taxes is voluntary. They've already thought of that one, too.

2. Compensation is not income

Here's the argument: If I work for compensation, then I'm not actually profiting. I'm just bartering my time for money, which is a zero-sum transaction, and, consequently, I have no gain or profit that can be legally taxed. This can be misconstrued as an "exchange" and not actually income. The IRS rebuttal: Clever, but not convincing.

3. Taxes in America aren't for Americans

Apparently there's a sentence or two in the tax code (which is over 50,000 pages, by the way) that discriminates between U.S. and non-U.S. source income. It's just a small point explained so that folks don't pay double taxes if they happen to have income from multiple countries. A few individuals have plucked this one little idea and claimed that no taxes are due on income earned in America by Americans. Only aliens have to pay. The IRS rebuttal: Read the other 49,999 pages and get back to us.

4. Money isn't legal tender


Some folks are a little peeved that they can't take a couple of Benjamins into their local banks and exchange them for equal amounts of silver or gold. They therefore claim that the income they earn paid in such "worthless" tender cannot be taxed, as it inherently has no value. Truth is, they've got nothing to be peeved about. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution says that the states cannot declare anything as legal tender other than gold and silver, but imposes no such limits on the Congress. So if you're paid in "worthless" Federal Reserve notes, you're welcome to donate them to the mental_floss Christmas party fund, but you still have to pay your taxes on them.

5. I am not a citizen

Some creative former accountants and militia members got together and figured out that if they rejected their U.S. citizenship in favor of their state citizenship, they'd be outside of the tax-levying powers of the IRS. Or, put more succinctly, "I am a free-born citizen of (insert Mountain West state here), and you have no right to my money, Mr. Tax Man." The IRS rebuttal: Creative? Probably. Creepy and unconvincing? Definitely.

6. "The U.S." only includes federal land

Another state's rights argument claims that states are sovereign and only federal lands such as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and federal enclaves like reservations and military bases are subject to federal taxation. The IRS rebuttal: Seriously? We've got a baby shower in the third floor break room to go to and you're taking up our time with this?

7. Individuals aren't people

I'm just going to quote the IRS on this one since it's pretty priceless: "Some maintain that they are not a 'person' as defined by the Internal Revenue Code, and thus not subject to the federal income tax laws. This argument is based on a tortured misreading of the Code."

What misreading you might ask? Well, the code defines a person as "an individual, trust, estate, partnership, or corporation." I can state without much reservation that I personally am not a trust, or even a partnership, but I'd have a hard time arguing that I am not an individual. This sounds like a claim for rhetoric or philosophy majors only.

8. My religion doesn't believe in taxes

Whether your religion doesn't like taxes or doesn't like the programs those taxes fund, the courts have held that "necessities of revenue collection through a sound tax system raise governmental interests sufficiently compelling to outweigh the free exercise rights of those who find the tax objectionable on bona fide religious grounds." Nice try, though.

9. I plead the Fifth

This is a beautiful legal argument. If I have income from illegal sources, then the reporting of such income forces me to incriminate myself in direct opposition to the rights granted me by the Fifth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court has established "that the self-incrimination privilege can be employed to protect the taxpayer from revealing the information as to an illegal source of income, but does not protect him from disclosing the amount of his income." Basically, you don't have tell us your income came from illegal iguana smuggling, but you still have report the income. 

10. Taxes are slavery

This argument asserts that the compelled compliance with federal tax laws is a form of servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The short rebuttal: It isn't. The long rebuttal: It isn't, and that's insulting to millions of people descended from the people the Thirteenth Amendment was meant to protect.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]