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Calvin Trillin

Verse Columnist

Calvin Trillin, the author of Random House’s Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Election in Rhyme, is The Nation‘s “deadline poet.” He has been acclaimed in fields of writing that are remarkably diverse. As someone who has published solidly reported pieces in The New Yorker for forty years, he has been called “perhaps the finest reporter in America.” His wry commentary on the American scene and his books chronicling his adventures as a “happy eater” have earned him renown as “a classic American humorist.” His About Alice—a 2007 New York Times best seller that was hailed as “a miniature masterpiece”—followed two other best-selling memoirs, Remembering Denny and Messages from My Father.


  • Politics September 19, 2002

    A Scholarly Analysis of Developments (Including Satellite Photos,

    Osama's split and Wall Street's sagging.
    It's time to get that puppy wagging.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Political Figures September 12, 2002

    Building a Coalition, W.-Style

    We'll talk to Germany and France,
    Brief Russians and Chinese,
    Consult with Turkey and Japan,
    Then do just as we please.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Armed Conflicts September 5, 2002

    War Against Iraq: The Context

    The terrorism war begins to sag.
    The perpetrator we were meant to bag
    Remains at large, and wartime fervor fades.
    Then Bush and all his hawkish White House aides
    Drop sanctions as the way to tame Iraq
    And say, "Without delay, we must attack."
    If that war sags, there's still a backup plan.
    It's war without delay against Iran.
    And when the zest for that war, too, has faded?
    That's easy: North Korea gets invaded.
    But then it's hard to think of what to do.
    Destroy Bahrain? Bomb France? Invade Peru?

    Calvin Trillin

  • Politics August 29, 2002

    Richard Perle: Whose Fault Is He?

    Consider kids who bullied Richard Perle--
    Those kids who said Perle threw just like a girl,
    Those kids who poked poor Perle to show how soft
    A mamma's boy could be, those kids who oft-
    Times pushed poor Richard down and could be heard
    Addressing him as Sissy, Wimp or Nerd.
    Those kids have got a lot to answer for,
    'Cause Richard Perle now wants to start a war.
    The message his demeanor gets across:
    He'll show those playground bullies who's the boss.
    He still looks soft, but when he writes or talks
    There is no tougher dude among the hawks.
    And he's got planes and ships and tanks and guns--
    All manned, of course, by other people's sons.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Political Figures August 15, 2002

    The Accidental Commoner

    Al Gore is a man of the people.
    At least, that's the case as we speak.
    The earth-toney Harvard elitist,
    Though gone, could return by next week.

    Calvin Trillin


  • Business August 1, 2002

    George W. Bush and Dick Cheney Lecture CEOs on Corporate Responsibility

    "Creative accounting" is something we hate.
    From now on your numbers will have to be straight.
    No taking of options for stock you contrive
    To dump when insiders can tell it will dive.
    And loans? If you want one, then go to the bank.
    These sweetheart loans stink! They're disgusting! They're rank!
    This type of behavior we strictly forbid.
    Just do as we say now, and not as we did.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Corporations July 18, 2002

    A Spirited Defense of George W. Bush Against Accusations That He Dumped His Harken Stock Because of Inside Information

    He says he had no clue the stock would tank.
    About the details he is still evasive.
    Though "on the board but clueless" could sound lame,
    With Bush, a clueless claim sounds quite persuasive.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Politics July 3, 2002

    On the Congressional Response to the ‘Under God’ Controversy

    They pledge allegiance to the thought
    That every politician ought
    To take a stand that's foursquare for the Lord.
    They think if they say, "God is great!
    Don't separate him from the state!"
    Election is the blessing he'll afford.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Politics June 27, 2002

    Death and Taxes 2010

    "How long do I have?" James Pierson asked, trying to maintain eye contact with the man behind the desk.

    "Three months, eleven days, seven hours and forty-three minutes," David Barnett said.

    "That specific?"

    "Well, it's now the afternoon of August 19, 2010," Barnett said. "We're advising people not to wait until the very last day. December 31 is a time when there can be a certain amount of New Year's Eve chaos at hospitals, and that could put the death certificate over until next year, or at least muddy the waters if there's a question that ends up in court. So, getting it done in 2010, if you're being prudent, means getting it done before December 31, or three months, eleven days, seven hours and forty-three minutes from now."

    Pierson swallowed. He found the phrase "getting it done" off-putting. Finally, he said, "I don't suppose there's a chance that this could be reversed."

    "Well, in theory there's always a chance," Barnett said. "The Democrats could come back after recess and announce that they've changed their minds, and, despite everything they've said in the nine years since 2001, they're going to make the repeal of the inheritance tax permanent, but I don't think it would be wise to count on that happening."

    "So it's now or never is what you're saying?" Pierson said.

    "Well, it's this year or never. Look, under the provisions of the original law, the exemption has been raised and the rates lowered every year for the past nine years. It would have been shortsighted to die in order to take advantage of any of those tax reductions, because this year the tax is gone altogether. But the law still has its sunset provision: It fades away on December 31, 2010, unless it's renewed. So, given the Democratic majorities in both houses and the current deficit, it's likely that starting January 1, 2011, the estate tax will be the same as it was before the rates started coming down. From a tax liability standpoint, there is no alternative to taking advantage of this window of opportunity."

    "No alternative?"

    "Look, Jim," Barnett said, "Why are you in the business you're in?"

    "Because the company had enormous paper losses that saved me a bundle in taxes and the only thing it actually owned was shares in some airliners that we depreciated the hell out of before we fobbed them off on some bush airline in Central America."

    "And why do you drive the vehicle you drive, even though the dozer attachment makes it difficult to park in any space smaller than the Wal-Mart parking lot?"

    "Because we can write it off as farm equipment, of course," Pierson said.

    "This is my point," Barnett said. "You've always run your life according to what makes sense from a tax-liability standpoint. You have a vacation condo in Louisiana, where you exist in what amounts to a steam bath all summer, because it's in a development that juts out into the gulf and we figured out how to depreciate it as a shrimp boat. You and Margaret tried to time the birth of your children for late December to get an extra year's deduction. You've planted a lot of weird-looking trees so we could have your backyard declared an experimental forest and take a $14,000 loss every year, not to mention deducting what you pay the kid to mow the lawn. I'm just your tax consultant, Jim. But it seems to me that if you don't take advantage of the 2010 window, you wouldn't be you."

    "I'd be alive, of course," Pierson said. "There's that."

    "But don't you see: You'd just be living for the government," Barnett said. "Just because you live past 2010, 50 percent of your estate will go right into Uncle Sam's pocket. What's the point?"

    "Fifty percent!" Pierson blurted out--and then, before he realized what he was saying, added, "I'd sooner die than give the government 50 percent!"

    "Exactly!" Barnett said.

    Pierson was silent for a while. Then, his voice still tentative, he said, "Have you been making any suggestions about method? When you said 'window of opportunity' a moment ago..."

    "No, no," Barnett said. "What we're recommending is a high-quality hunting rifle. It's dependable, easy to operate and almost certain to be completely undamaged by the incident, so that it can be passed on in mint condition to the heirs--who, of course, would pay absolutely no inheritance tax on it."

    "A high-quality hunting rifle would be rather expensive," Pierson said. "I don't suppose..."

    "Yes, we believe that under a loophole in a rider to the Reserve Officer Training Act, as rewritten in 1978, we have a way to deduct it," Barnett said, "as long as you register your cellar as an Alternate Emergency Munitions Collection Point."

    Pierson nodded his head silently, and then said, "I wouldn't imagine..."

    "Yes," Bartlett said. "We believe we've figured out a way that your heirs could depreciate the hunting rifle."

    "Over ten or fifteen years?"

    "Six years," Bartlett said, beaming with pride.

    "Six years!" Pierson said.

    "Wow!" He nodded his head again, slapped his hands on his knees, and stood up. Then he said, with new resolution in his voice, "That settles it."

    Calvin Trillin

  • Business June 27, 2002

    A Crisis of Faith Brought On by Martha Stewart

    Agnostic's what he was, had always been.
    He'd never prayed a prayer, confessed a sin.
    He's thinking, though, if Martha goes to jail,
    On Sundays henceforth he will never fail
    To be in church. In fact, forevermore,
    He'll be in synagogue the day before.
    It's not as if this man's the sort of pill
    Who wishes fellow human beings ill.
    But he's convinced: If Martha takes the fall,
    There is a God in heaven after all.

    Calvin Trillin